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A hard fist connected with the side of his face. Stars. Dizzy. Pain. What? He blinked a few times and shook his head, trying to bring himself back from the daze. Oh yes. He ducked, avoiding a second punch, and grabbed the man by the arm. His tight grip pulled the man’s arm closer, he examined the sovereign ring on his finger.

“This better not leave an imprint on my cheek.”

“Sherlock, can we get a move on?” Dr John Watson stood in the doorway of the plane. He had finally managed to get it open.

Sherlock glanced at John and then back to the man struggling to get his arm free from his firm grasp. He was pulling and flailing his other fist around like a small child, while Sherlock held him there still, as if he were made of paper.

John carried the case with the ticking bomb down the steps of the plane, followed by Sherlock who was dragging the man behind him. Inspector Lestrade and his team waited on the runway surrounded by flashing lights and sirens. Two police officers took the man from Sherlock. He dusted his coat down and gently fixed his hair before walking past Lestrade to the police car behind him. He leant down to examine his bruised cheek in the wing mirror.

“I won’t tell you again,” said Lestrade.

“Tell me what?” said Sherlock. “Here, can you see the Queen’s face imprinted there on my cheek? Just under my eye?”

Lestrade rolled his eyes and turned his back. “Going off on your own, Sherlock. It needs to stop.”

“Then start figuring it out before I do and I won’t have to,” Sherlock replied as he watched the inspector walk away.

III

Dr Margaux Cave walked through the hospital corridors with her head buried in her notes. She knew that if she avoided eye contact and hid her face, she would dodge the awkward ‘sorry, I’m not that kind of doctor’ conversation with passing patients and visitors. The white lab coat didn’t help. She was flicking back and forth between two pages, examining the quick diagram she had sketched earlier, when her forehead collided with Dr Grant’s chest.

“I am so sorry,” she said as she bent down to pick her notes up from the floor.

He crouched, helping her put her pile back together. “No, I’m sorry, that was my fault.”

They stood up together, laughing quietly.

“I didn’t realise you were coming into the hospital today, Dr Cave,”

“Please, just call me Margaux, being a doctor is important around here. I don’t think any of your patients would benefit from a PhD in forensic psychology.”

Dr Grant laughed. Margaux was almost certain she had used that joke on him before. But he would always let out a laugh, every time.

“So you’ve been down in the labs?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’ve been running tests on some blood samples.” She waved her notes as she spoke. “I was actually on my way to find Molly Hooper, to see if she can spare me a body.”

“A body?” Dr Grant’s golden skin turned pallid.

“Mhm. Preferably a middle-aged male.” She folded her arms as if she was talking about the weather or her favourite tv show. “But honestly, I don’t really mind what kind of body it is as long as she lets me dismember it.”

Dr Grant rubbed his hand on the back of his neck.

“Sorry, I forget how creepy that must sound to people who aren’t in my head.” She ran her fingers through her thick, dark, wavy hair.

They stood in silence for a moment, searching for words. Any words.

“So I’m guessing this means you’re working on a case?” asked Dr Grant.

“Yeah, a murder actually. Drowning. But the body wasn’t found in water. So to find out where he was drowned I need to see the reaction that different kinds of water have on… well… human flesh.” Margaux trailed off into almost silence.

“Wow.” Dr Grant looked around before continuing. “See, when I saw you coming down the corridor, I bumped into you so I could ask you on a date. But I don’t really know how to follow what you just said.” He laughed.

His pager beeped. He looked down at the small screen hooked to his waist and sighed. She could tell he was biting the inside of his mouth from the way a dimple formed in his cheek. He was handsome, she thought. She had never noticed before. He looked back up to Margaux.

“Emergency, I have to go. Sorry.”

“Of course, go. But er, Doctor Grant… Maybe I could do with a drink one night. If you’re not completely put off by the dead people talk.”

He smiled at her as he began to walk away. “Sounds good.”

III

John sat at his computer, taking turns between typing and sipping a bottle of beer. Sherlock lay on the couch playing a solemn melody on his violin.

“What about ‘A Story of Fight or Flight’?” John called from the desk.

Sherlock stopped playing. “What?”

“As the title for the blog post… The man on the plane… ‘A Story of Fight or Flight’?”

“Mm. Too obvious.”

“Well what do you suggest?” John sighed.

“Who cares?” Sherlock put the violin on the ground and curled up on his side. “It’s all pointless.”

“Pointless? You stopped a man from potentially hijacking a plane today!”

“Boring.”

“You’re… You’re not normal,” said John, taking a large gulp of beer.

There was a knock at the door. John looked over at Sherlock. Sherlock remained a lifeless ball on the couch. Another knock. John looked over again. No movement. With a huff, he got up from the desk and walked over to the door. In the hallway stood Mrs Hudson, and behind her, Inspector Lestrade.

“Is he in?” Lestrade asked as he stepped into the flat.

“Check that heap of self-pity over there on the couch.” John pointed to Sherlock.

“Is he alright? Do you think a nice cup of tea might make him feel better?” asked Mrs Hudson.

John nodded, letting her walk around into the kitchen.

Lestrade stood over Sherlock with his hands in his pockets. “When you’re done sulking, we need your help.”

“You made it very clear on the runway that my help was not wanted.” Sherlock mumbled.

“Your help is wanted. It’s just… going off on your own… the paperwork that comes with it, Sherlock, the backlash if it goes tits up!” Lestrade let out a sigh. “Look, there’s a very important man who’s asked for our help. It’s a weird one. Like really bizarre. We’re stumped. Which means you’ll probably solve it before dinner time.”

Sherlock sat up from the couch, his bright blue eyes glistening with curiosity.

III

It had been all over the news. A successful businessman, on a trip to Burma, came across a large piece of Painite – the most rare mineral known to man – while hiking with friends. After bringing the mineral back home, it wasn’t long before a deal was set in place with the museum in his home city. A deal that would soon make him a millionaire. The soon-to-be millionaire’s name was Bartholomew V. Mentford, and someone, somewhere wanted him dead.

Sherlock and Watson’s footsteps echoed across the marble floor as they crossed the length of the museum. On the other side, they could see a man. He was average height with tanned skin and messy hair. He was wearing an old pair of jeans and a leather jacket.

“You must be Mr Holmes,” said Bart as he reached out his hand to shake Sherlock’s. “And Dr Watson?”

John nodded and shook Bart’s hand.

“Thank you both for coming.”

“That’s perfectly alright. We were told you’ve been receiving some threatening messages?” asked John.

Sherlock scanned Bart’s appearance. Fake watch. Cheap haircut. Old clothes.

Bart nodded tentatively, “Yes, it’s quite scary actually–”

“Show me the messages,” Sherlock interrupted.

“Er, sorry Mr Mentford,” John began, “What Sherlock means is… Well, yes, show us the messages basically.”

Sherlock watched as Bart took the phone from his jacket pocket. It was an old smart phone, maybe a couple of versions behind the newest release, and there were scratches around the edge of the screen. Well-used. He fumbled with it, taking a few attempts to unlock it and find the messages.

“Sorry, it’s new,” Bart laughed. “Not entirely sure how to work it yet.”

Something was off. Sherlock couldn’t help but think that if a successful businessman needed a new phone, he would buy himself a brand new, top-of-the-range version. He thought about how to ask the question delicately.

“Surely if a successful businessman needed a new phone, he would buy himself a brand new, top-of-the-range version?” He said.

Oh well. Sherlock didn’t care about how he appeared to others. He was a high-functioning sociopath after all.

“Yeah…” Bart stammered. “It’s a funny story really–”

“I’m bored already. John, get the phone and give him the spiel.” Sherlock stepped away, looking around the museum as John began to talk.

John cleared his throat. “Mr Mentford, in order for us to get to the bottom of this, we’ll need to take your phone with us. As you’re receiving threats, you’ll be under police surveillance and you’re advised to keep a low profile.”

“But I can’t; there’s a ball here at the museum on Saturday, it’s in honour of my discovery. That’s where I’ll be receiving my check and signing the stone over to the museum. I can’t miss it,” said Bart.

Three days until Saturday, Sherlock thought. “Okay, Cinders, you can go to the ball,” he said.

“What are you doing?” John whispered as he walked over to Sherlock.

“He’s up to something, John. I have three days to prove it before he gets that check.”

“Well, what’s he up to? How do we prove it?”

“Well I don’t know!” Sherlock sighed. “I don’t know what it is. It’s like a mind block. I just can’t… think.”

“Well where do we start then?” asked John.

“We need to pay someone a visit.”

“Who?”

“The only other person smart enough to work this out.”

III

Molly Hooper was careful extracting blood from a cold, dead arm when she caught Sherlock’s clean scent in the air. She looked up from the body and there he was; his tall, slender frame draped in the grey coat and long scarf, his dark, curly hair falling just slightly into his piercing eyes. He smiled. She felt a palpitation in her chest.

“Hi,” she said.

“Has Dr Cave been by today?” Sherlock asked.

“There was a woman who came in earlier asking for a dead body. She showed me her badge but I didn’t catch her name.”

“Yep that sounds like her.”

“If she hasn’t left, she’ll be up in the labs.” Molly nodded with a smile.

Sherlock left the room, returning after a few moments to say thank you.

“We still need to work on his people skills,” said John as he left the room.

III

Margaux swished the petri dish gently as she moved her hips from side to side; playing quietly from the radio was her favourite song.

“Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over,” she sang as she placed the dish under the microscope.

She continued to sing as she examined the dish through the lens. Sherlock and John entered the room, stopping in the doorway as they noticed her. They stood for a moment, watching her as she sang and swayed, making notes, completely unaware she was being watched.

“We can come back later,” said Sherlock.

Margaux let out a scream, almost dropping the vial of blood she was holding. “Jesus!” She shouted, clutching her chest as she panted.

After a few moments, Margaux’s raised eyebrows began to furrow. She folded her arms and stood staring at Sherlock. John watched Margaux as she stared at Sherlock, then turned his attention to Sherlock who was staring at Margaux. He flitted back and forth between the two. Finally, it was Margaux who broke the silence.

“You really should have made an appointment to see me at my office.” Her arms remained folded.

“Nice to see you too, Dr Cave,” said Sherlock sarcastically.

John let out a small laugh, “So I’m guessing from your obvious disdain that you know Sherlock well…”

“Barely, really,” Margaux began, “Mr Holmes has this incredible talent for showing up when he… wants something. Then falling off the face of the earth again after he gets it.”

John looked at Margaux in disbelief, then up to Sherlock who seemed oblivious to her tone.

“How long has it been?” Margaux asked. “Six months?”

“Something like that. I forget,” said Sherlock.

John slapped the palm of his hand against his forehead. Margaux let out a sigh and returned to her work.

“I’m working on a case here. What do you want?”

“Your help.”

Margaux glanced into his clear, blue eyes. “Fine,” she said reluctantly.

Chapter Text

She stood on the step of 221B Baker Street, her arms crossing her thick coat over her chest. The cold had turned the end of her nose pink and her wavy hair was blowing ferociously in the wind. She was shivering, yet still she stood there, staring at golden numbers, not quite ready to lift the door knocker. What was she doing? Sherlock Holmes saw her as another tool in his repertoire, a source of information; to Sherlock, Margaux was nothing more than a device when his brilliant mind hit a speed bump, when he needed a second set of eyes or a search fast-tracked through the database. But there was something about him that compelled her to say yes. Every time. That was why she was standing in the freezing darkness outside his flat. That was why she finally lifted the knocker and tapped it against the door.

III

“So this Margaux…” John began as he sat in his armchair, “There seemed to be a bit of tension there…”

“Did there? I hadn’t noticed,” replied Sherlock. He was standing staring at the wall which was covered top to bottom in notes, photographs, clues and maps.

“You could have literally cut it with a knife,” John laughed.

“Don’t use the word ‘literally’ if you don’t mean ‘literally’, John, it’s irritating. You can’t literally cut tension with a knife because tension is a feeling, a non-tangible thing. Cheese. You can cut cheese. Or cake. Or hair. But not tension.”

John rolled his eyes behind Sherlock’s back. “Fine well, I don’t know, there seemed to be…”

“Seemed to be what?”

“There seemed to be some history there. Did you two… ever…”

“Did we ever what, John? If you could try and finish a sentence, that would be really helpful.”

“I don’t know, Sherlock! It’s weird talking to you about this stuff.”

Sherlock spun on his feet to face John. A slight smirk began to tug at the corner of his mouth; he enjoyed winding him up far too much.

“Did we ever have sex? Is that what you’re trying to ask?”

“Well… yes.” John took a sip of tea trying to clear his throat.

“No. We didn’t. I’m a sociopath, John, I don’t do feelings.” He waved his arm dismissively and turned back to the wall.

“So you wouldn’t mind if I asked her out then?” asked John.

“Why would you do that?”

John wasn’t sure if Sherlock understood that ‘out’ meant ‘on a date’. “Well because she’s beautiful, and smart. I think we’d have a lot in common.”

Sherlock let out a laugh, louder than he had meant to. John’s smile dropped, he rolled his eyes again and took a deep breath as he thought about what to say next. His next words were interrupted by a tap on their open door, and in the doorway stood Margaux.

“It’s cold out there,” she said.

III

John offered Margaux some tea. She nodded and watched as he disappeared into the kitchen. She took off her coat and draped it over her arm, walking slowly to Sherlock’s side, both of them fixated on the wall of clues. She stood six inches smaller than Sherlock, her eyes just skimming his shoulder as she turned to look at him and the intensity in his face as he studied his work; the clenched jaw, the pursed lips, the furrowed brows sitting heavy over his blue eyes. She looked back to the wall.

“So what is all this?” she asked.

“This man.” He pointed to a picture of Bart Mentford, “A wealthy man about to become a whole lot wealthier. Found a piece of Painite while hiking with friends in Burma.”
Margaux nodded, listening intently.

“Brings it back, museum offers him a huge deal, he starts receiving death threats.”

“Jealousy?”

“No.”

“Maybe he stole the Paintite?”

“No. No, no, no, come on, Margaux. You’re the only other person brilliant enough to think outside the box.”

“Well if you haven’t got a clue then how am I supposed to?” Margaux laughed.

“Look at him.” Sherlock walked up the picture of Bart and pushed his finger into it. “Something isn’t right. But what?”

“I don’t know, just give me a second,” said Margaux as she began to walk along, examining the clues.

Sherlock closed his eyes, trying to escape to his mind palace. He flitted through fact after fact, memory after memory. Nothing. He opened his eyes and turned to Margaux who was smiling.

“What? What is it?” He asked.

“It’s obvious.”

“What is?”

“This Bartholomew Mentford man. The answer’s right in front of you.” She laughed again.

Sherlock scanned the wall again, confused.

“He’s not Bartholomew Mentford. He’s an imposter,” said Margaux.

III

John handed Margaux a cup of tea and leaned on the back of the armchair where she was sitting. They continued to watch as Sherlock paced the flat back and forth over and over again, mumbling to himself. She took a sip of tea and gave John a smile, he smiled back.

“But how!?” Sherlock stopped pacing and pivoted to face them.

“Is it really bothering you that much that I figured it out and you didn’t?”

“Yes!”

Margaux laughed and shook her head. Sherlock growled and began pacing again.

“I need a cigarette. John, where have you hidden my cigarettes?”

“I threw them out.”

“Fine. I’m going out to buy some. I’ll be back after I’ve smoked the entire pack.” Sherlock walked out of the flat.

“Are you ever going to tell him how you figured it out?” John asked.

“Maybe. For now I’m enjoying the fact that I’ve outsmarted Sherlock Holmes.” She laughed.

John laughed too, moving from the back of the armchair to the couch. “He is an enigma.”

“He’s fascinating,” replied Margaux calmly, then she began to giggle. “Do you want to know something really embarrassing?”

“Go on,” John smiled.

“Some time last year, he had asked for my help to find something in the criminal archive. We worked so closely for an entire weekend, and after he solved the case…” She couldn’t believe she was saying the words out loud. “I came onto him.” She laughed. “and he completely rejected me.”

“You are joking.”

“Nope.” She looked down to her tea, swirling the cup gently, watching the light glisten in the reflection of the milky, golden liquid.

She was enamoured by him. John could tell. And Sherlock had rejected her, was he mad? Well, yes. Still, John was in awe.

“Anyway, I better get going. If you or Sherlock need any more help, just call.” She stood up and put on her coat. “It was lovely to meet you, John.”

III

She took off her coat and shoes by the front door, making sure to lock it behind her. She poured herself a glass of water and made her way into the bedroom where she undressed and slipped into bed. She covered her eyes and let out a sigh. She would tell him how she figured it out eventually. Right now, she needed sleep. She switched off the bedside lamp and curled on her side. Moments passed in the darkness, the hum of traffic from the street below was the only sound. Until the loud buzz of her phone against the bedside table made her jump. She rolled over and unlocked her phone. Text Messages: Sherlock Holmes (1).

Chapter Text

Margaux sat at her desk, staring at the clock and absentmindedly chewing on her index finger. She wondered why people said ‘tick tock’, because when she really listened to it, there was no difference in sound from one second to the next, if anything it was more of a ‘tick tick’, she thought, or a ‘tock tock’. God she was bored. She shook her head, tucked her hair behind her ears and returned to the files spread out on the desk in front of her.

A man found dead in the middle of a field; no Wallet or ID, no water for miles, yet the state of his body and the autopsy clearly showed he was drowned.
“It has to be…” Margaux whispered to herself.

III

The lady on reception was young with short, dyed ginger hair. She was typing on the computer, tilting her head to one side and chewing on a sweet from the bowl next to her. A whoosh from the revolving door revealed Sherlock, fixing the collar of his coat as he walked towards the front desk, followed shortly after by John who brushed away the hail stones that had fallen on his shoulders.

“You need a pass to get beyond this point,” said the receptionist as the two men flitted past her.

They stopped, turned around and walked to the desk.

“Well then give me a pass,” replied Sherlock.

“That’s alright I’ll just wait here then,” John added sarcastically.

The receptionist rolled her eyes and pushed another sweet into her mouth, “I can’t just give you a pass,” she began, “you need to be registered as a visitor and have the reason for your visit confirmed by an agent or member of the bureau.”

“Well I’m here to see Dr Cave…” said Sherlock.

The receptionist typed on her computer for a moment before leaning back in her chair and looking up at them slowly.

“She’s in the offices upstairs. And you still don’t have a pass, so…”

“This is ridiculous. Can you just call Doctor Cave in her office and she’ll tell you who I am, then you can just let me through.” Sherlock was growing increasingly frustrated as John stood calmly beside him, bracing for the eruption.

“Well you’d still need a pass to get beyond this point,” the receptionist sneered.

“Is this a joke?” Sherlock laughed in disbelief, holding his arms out and turning around as if he was being watched. “Has somebody–”

John stepped forward, “Hi…” He glanced at her name plate, “Sophia. I’m Dr John Watson. My friend here is Sherlock Holmes, he’s a consulting detective, and we’re working closely with the police on a case at the moment. We’ve enlisted the help of Dr Cave, can you just… let her know we’re here please?”

The receptionist rolled her eyes and began to tap slowly at the keys on her computer. Agonisingly slow.

Sherlock placed his hands on the desk “Can you please just…!” He took a deep breath and turned to John. “You know I could have very well gotten myself through there by now–”

“Yes I know, but we agreed no more breaking and entering. At least not for a while.”

“This is exactly why I don’t follow the rules, John, because anyone can enforce them.”

“I find your tone extremely offensive,” said the receptionist.

“Offensive? Ha! You know what I find offensive? The fact that you’re taking your break-up out on me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Here we go.” John sighed.

“It’s not my fault he ran off with someone else!” Sherlock shouted.

“I don’t understand…” The receptionist could barely speak.

“And with your best friend too, ooh harsh. Y’know I could feel sorry for you if you weren’t such an imbecile,” Sherlock continued.

“How did you…”

“It’s obvious!”

“Alright Sherlock, you made your point,” said John in an attempt to save the girl’s feelings.

It was too late.

“Your eyes are still swollen from crying and there’s a faint red stain around your mouth, no doubt from the red wine you were drinking last night… while crying. There’s still an indent on your ring finger which means you only removed a ring recently and I noticed three photographs of you with the same girl that have been torn from your cork board and tossed in that bin over there. Your best friend. You’re wearing…” He inhaled. “Chanel. Number five. Expensive. He bought it for you. So the fact that you’re wearing it to sit behind a desk all day means he must work here too. The worn out ‘camera room’ label on that phone makes me think he’s security of some kind. Am I right?”

The receptionist sat in silence for a moment. “Yes,” she muttered.

“He doesn’t want you back. You weren’t a good match. Move on.”

“Sherlock?” Margaux’s voice echoed across the reception.

Sherlock turned to see Margaux standing on the other side of the turnstiles in her grey blazer and matching trousers that hugged at her thighs. Her hair was still tucked gently behind her ears as she stood, eyes wide, staring across the room at him.

“I didn’t realise you were here,” she said. “Sophia, are you okay?”

Sherlock and John turned to the receptionist who was sat sniffling behind the desk.

III

“She was right, you know? You do technically need a pass to be up here right now,” Margaux laughed as she sat down at her desk.

“I’ll send her some flowers.” The corners of Sherlock’s mouth curled into an endearing smirk.

“So…” John awkwardly interrupted. “The plan? I mean the ball is tomorrow and we have nothing to prove this man is a fake.”

“Ah!” Margaux lifted a finger into the air before pulling the pile of papers from her draw and spreading them across the desk.

She lifted several photographs of the drowned man, along with a sheet of DNA tests. “I think this is the real Bart Mentford. And whoever is sending the death threats knows this.” She was still proud that she had beaten Sherlock to the answer. “This is all DNA results extracted from the body, all we need is something we know belonged to the real Bart Mentford and a sample of DNA from the imposter. We run tests against the DNA from my drowned man and there we have it; case solved thanks to me.” She winked and gave the men a smile.

“This is perfect.” Sherlock stood up, carried away in his excitement for the case. “You’re brilliant Margaux, just brilliant.”

“How are we going to get the samples? The guy’s on lock down until the ball,” said John.

Sherlock thought to himself for a moment, his eyes darting back and forth as he came up with a plan. Then it came to him, suddenly, like the striking of a match. He pivoted on his feet, shifting his gaze between John and Margaux.

“What?” asked John.

Sherlock fixed his eyes on Margaux, allowing them to scan her just once.

“No,” she said. “No! Not only is that ridiculously dangerous, but I’m not some bloody Bond girl you can just throw a sparkly dress on and use as bate!”

“Am I missing something?” said John.

It was as if Sherlock and Margaux were having their own, unspoken conversation. From a single glance, she knew the plan he was concocting.

“Sherlock thinks we should attend the ball; dress up all nice and get the samples ourselves,” she said. “Aren’t you, Sherlock?”

“Would it help if I said ‘please’?” He asked.

Margaux let out a laugh.

“It would be a good way of distracting him; stalling the check-giving...” John added.

"You two are mad! No wonder you've ended up living and working together; you're kindred spirits," she said.

"Seven o'clock tomorrow evening, 221B Baker Street," said Sherlock as he and John stood up. "Wear something pretty," he added with a smile, purposely trying to annoy her.

III

Somehow, Margaux had found herself standing in the dressing room of a shop, examining her body in an array of different dresses. She couldn't believe they had convinced her to do this. She lifted her hair up and turned to look at the back of the dress. This was her favourite so far. It was delicate and backless with a space in the side to hide a DNA swab. She decided to buy it. Maybe it would be exciting; she had always wondered what it felt like to be on the front line of the investigation instead of in her office, or the labs of St. Bartholomew's Hospital.

She walked back to her apartment, hanging up the dress immediately and examining it for a moment. Was it too much? It was a ball, of course it wasn't too much. Why did she care? Was she really getting excited to see Sherlock again? Stop it, Margaux thought. Maybe she should call Dr Grant and go for that drink. Maybe.

Chapter Text

“The freak is here,” said Sergeant Donovan as she pushed open the door to Lestrade’s office. “He’s on one again.”

Lestrade stood up from behind his desk as Sherlock walked in.

“I was just about to call you,” Lestrade began. “to see if you’d gotten anywhere with Mr Mentford’s case.”

“He has one living relative; is that right?” Sherlock sat down, clasping his hands together under his chin.

“He’s got an elderly uncle…”

“In a coma. Two- no, three years.”

“How did you know… Never mind.” Lestrade sighed and sat on the edge of his desk. “What are you getting at, Sherlock?”

“I need access to his uncle. Five minutes, tops.”

“Are you having a laugh? Of course not!”

“Why? It’s not as if he’ll notice I was there.” Sherlock’s compassion was lacking. Granted, meeting John had revealed a certain kindness he never knew existed in himself before. But there was still a long way to go.

“Sherlock, I cannot grant you a warrant to go snooping around a coma patient!”

“Fine.”

“You’re still going to do it, aren’t you?” Lestrade rubbed his tired eyes.

Sherlock stood up; the perfect posture of his tall, slender frame commanded the room. He looked at Lestrade and huffed.

“I assume you haven’t been able to find a source of the threatening texts?” Sherlock asked.

“No. Whoever sent them used some sort of blocker, and they must’ve known he got the police involved because the messages stopped the second we got the phone.”

“You’ll want to be at the museum tonight, about nine-ish. Bring a police car. Handcuffs. Oh and you might need a tazer.”

Lestrade stood for a moment, processing Sherlock’s words. He looked up from the ground to where he had been standing, but he was gone.

III

Margaux tapped her knuckles against the door and gently pushed it open. She peered her head inside to see Molly Hooper pressing her eye into the lens of a microscope, examining a dot of blood encased between two glass slides. Molly lifted her head, her eyes flickered to the doorway where Margaux stood.

“Oh, hello.” Molly placed the slide down, “I’m so sorry, I’m terrible with names…”

“Margaux.” She smiled and gave a gentle wave.

“Of course, sorry. Did you sort out the… body thing?” Molly asked awkwardly.

Margaux let out a quiet laugh, “I did,” she said. “Clean water. Probably done in a bathtub.”

“Blimey.” Molly shuffled across to her computer.

“I just came in to… well… because Sherlock Holmes sent me. He said… Uh, well it’s quite rude actually…”

“He wants me to stay here all night, doesn’t he?”

Margaux nodded.

“What does he need?” Molly asked kindly.

“You don’t mind?”

“Of course not.”

“He needs you on standby to test some DNA samples.”

“Right. Okay,” said Molly with a nod and a smile.

She was under Sherlock’s spell. It was obvious. And Margaux knew that feeling all too well. Margaux turned on her heels to leave the room, but stopped after a few steps.
“Molly…” she began. “Would you say you’re particularly close to Sherlock?”

“Well, not as close as I’d like to be.” Molly laughed awkwardly. “Oh dear, that sounded a bit wrong. Sorry.”

Margaux laughed.

“What I mean is… He’s not interested in me. But I don’t think he’s interested in anyone really. Friendships, relationships, all a bit pointless to someone like Sherlock.”

“Yeah.” Margaux nodded. “Well thanks.” She smiled and left the lab. She knew Molly was right. It was all pointless.

III

John pulled his tie tight around his neck and fixed his collar down over it. He brushed down the front of his shirt and pulled on his blazer, turning to Sherlock who stood at the window of their flat, looking out onto the dark street below. He was dressed in a clean, well-fitted tuxedo with his hands clasped together comfortably behind his back. His dark curls remained wild, yet he had tucked the sides slightly behind his ears. He was still. Gazing at the glittering frost that lay fresh on the road.

“Excited?” John broke the silence as he fastened his cufflinks.

“For what?”

“For the ball. Dancing, drinks, glamour, nailing the imposter.”

“Ecstatic.”

“You’re nervous, aren’t you? I can tell.” John smirked.

Sherlock spun around, his movements precise and fluid, his balance perfect. “Nervous?” He scoffed.

“You are!” John continued. “I’ve been around you long enough to pick up on these kinds of things. You’re nervous. What for?”

“Nothing– I mean, I’m not nervous. Shut up.” Sherlock strode across the floor past him and into the kitchen.

John laughed.

“I would have thought this would be right up your alley; pretending to be social, normal, charming. You do that so well,” he teased.

Sherlock paced the kitchen, checking his watch every few moments.

“What is it, Sherlock? I’ve never seen you so apprehensive…”

A knock at the door sent the flat into silence. Sherlock’s eyes flitted to the door and back down to the floor. He began pacing again. John’s mouth curled into a smile. He was nervous because of her.

They hurried into the living room. Sherlock wandered around for a moment, searching for a place to stand. He settled on the fireplace; standing with his back to the door, hands behind his back, watching the empty fire as if there were blazing, crackling flames inside. John opened the door. His eyes widening for a moment before smiling and welcoming Margaux inside.

“We said seven,” Sherlock quipped as he turned around.

He stared at Margaux as she stepped into the flat. She smiled, biting her lip for a second. Nervous. She ran her hands across her hips, smoothing down the pearlescent lace that hugged every curve of her body. Uncomfortable.

“You said seven. I, however…” Her thick, dark hair had been tamed in smooth waves. She flicked it off her shoulder. “Didn’t.”

Flirting. She was flirting and she didn’t even realise it, he thought.

“You look beautiful, Margaux. You scrub up well.” John smiled. They laughed.

“That would imply that there are times when she looks not ‘scrubbed up’. Which she does not,” Sherlock added.

“It’s a figure of speech… a joke.” John shook his head in amazement. “You know you could just say she looks beautiful, Sherlock, it won’t kill you.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Tell you what, the sexual tension,” John began, “you could LITERALLY cut it with a knife.” He aimed his words at Sherlock. Margaux blushed.

Sherlock’s nostrils flared. “You can’t LITERALLY cut–”

III

A waiter outstretched his hand which carried a tray of champagne glasses. John took one, nodding to the waiter in thanks. Margaux followed, taking a sip of the cold, bubbling liquid. Sherlock shook his head, the waiter walked away.

“He’s by the bar,” Sherlock whispered.

“Stay close by,” said Margaux before walking off in the direction of Bart Mentford’s imposter.

They watched as her walk grew increasingly smoother and more alluring; her hips rocking more noticeably from side to side the closer she came to the bar. She took another sip of champagne and flicked her hair, stepping between a crowd of people, catching the bartender’s attention almost instantly.

John looked up to Sherlock, his eyes fixated on Margaux.

“Have you?” John asked.

“I told you, no.”

“No, not with Margaux. I mean ever. Have you ever… loved someone, fancied someone, been with someone?” It was as if the question had been bursting at the seams of John’s body since he first met Sherlock.

“Now isn’t the time, John. Let’s go before he sees us watching.” Sherlock gently nudged him.

“A large glass of your best red.” Margaux smiled, resting her chin on the back of her hand.

She hated herself right now; Dr Margaux Cave PhD, the girl who solved Sherlock Holmes’ case before he did, with one look, was using her body hugged in a tight, backless dress as bait. How did she get to this point? Sherlock owed her one.

She took the glass and sipped at it, catching Mentford’s eye, pretending she hadn’t noticed. He left his group and stepped along the bar to join her.

“Hello.” He grinned.

“Hi.” She smiled.

“I’m not sure we’ve met…”

“Oh, I came with a date but he’s disappeared.” She looked around. “I don’t think he was interested in me.”

“Not interested in you? He must have been blind.” He gave her another slimy grin, revealing a gold tooth at the back of his mouth.

Margaux continued drinking her wine, almost finishing the glass in a few large gulps. “To be honest…” she put her lips to his ear. “I don’t think he liked the fact that I’m quite drunk,” she whispered, letting out a giggle as she returned to finish the dregs of her glass. She could feel herself losing brain cells every time she spoke.

“Well at least say you’re going to stick around to watch me receive my check?”

“Oh, you’re Bartholomew Mentford!?”

“Yes.” He laughed. “And I’m about to become very, very rich.”

Sherlock watched from across the room, taking a mental photograph as Margaux reached out and touched the man’s arm. He couldn’t hear her laugh, he was too far away from her, but it was as if he could feel it; warm, inviting, attractive. The plan was going well. She was luring Bart in and soon, he would invite her into the private lounge where she would be able to get his DNA and try to extract a confession. Just keep going, Sherlock thought.

“Sherlock…” John directed their attention to the museum attendants bringing out the painite stone in a large glass box and an envelope containing the check. “We need to buy some time.”

Sherlock fixed his tuxedo jacket and ran a hand through his hair, making his way over to the attendants. His cold, chiselled face softened as he grew closer, almost warming to a smile when he touched one of them on the shoulder.

“Excuse me? Sorry to bother you,” he began.

The girl looked up at him. Smiling in response to his gentle expression, regarding his well-dressed frame and striking eyes.

“My… friend over here… He’s drank one too many champagnes,” he laughed, shooting John a look. “I was wondering if you could all help me? Only, I’m supposed to remain in here for Mr Mentford. I’m his assistant.”

“Oh, erm…” said the girl.

John began to sway, shouting and slurring at guests who passed by him. Sherlock and the attendant looked at him, he held up his middle finger and took a large swig of champagne.

“I’m so sorry to ask this of you all, I know you’re busy with all of this. It’s just… This is the first time I’ve ever brought a boyfriend to an event and he promised he wouldn’t embarrass me like this…” he began to cry.

“Oh dear, please don’t cry,” the girl tried to comfort him. “Of course, we’ll help. Our staff room is just back here.” She gestured to the other attendants who rallied to collect John and drag him out of the hall.

Sherlock continued to cry until the attendants had turned their backs. He gave John a wink who pretended to struggle as they escorted him away.

Bart had just ordered another glass of wine for Margaux. Her third glass.

“So what do you do for fun?” He asked.

“Oh, this and that you know, I like to attend fancy events in pretty dresses,” she giggled.

Margaux glanced over his shoulder. Why was John being dragged away? She focused her gaze on Sherlock who stood near the display case and check, looking at his watch. They had bought time, she had to hurry up.

“Actually… Bart… Do you want to know a secret?” She moved closer to him.

He nodded, in awe of her.

“I didn’t come here as someone’s date. I’m a geologist. A very experienced geologist. And I’m interested in striking up a couple of deals with you tonight.” She leaned in to whisper in his ear again, pressing her body up against his chest. “Some professional, some purely for pleasure.” She pulled away. “Can we go somewhere quiet?”

“Follow me.” He began to lead her out of the hall.

III

She ran her hand over the arm of the luxuriously embroidered couch. She sat down, taking another sip of wine. He walked to the drinks table and poured himself a scotch from the decanter, turning to her and smiling. She had switched on the recorder in her bra the second they stepped into the private lounge, just in case.

“So… this deal…” he pressed. “The professional one.”

“Well, in preparation for tonight, I read a few of your business essays,” she began, watching him tense up. “The one where you talk about promoting industries for a fee… what was that called again?”

He had no idea.

“Anyway, I thought it would interesting for you to become a member of the geologists’ institute. It would mean incredible exposure for us,” she continued.

“I um, I… I’m not a geologist.” He pulled at the collar of his shirt.

“No, of course not. But you must have some knowledge to have come across that piece of Painite and known what it was?”

“Oh, yes, well…”

“What’s the matter, Bart? Come and sit down.” She patted the empty space beside her.

He sat down. She began running her fingers through his greasy hair.

“You know sometimes I want to just run away. This might be the wine talking but… Don’t you wish you could just… not be you anymore? Take that money and just… run?” She worried she was being too obvious, but she was running out of time.

“Would you really like that? To just disappear?” He gazed at her.

“Absolutely.” She began to lean in. “But only in a dream world, hey?” She laughed.

“Well… What if I could make it a reality?”

“What do you mean?”

He shuffled closer to Margaux, grasping her arms as he spoke.

“My name isn’t Bartholomew Mentford,” he began. “But in a few minutes, I am going to get a check for a ridiculous amount of money… Then I’m going to disappear.”

This was it. She’d got it. Now all she needed was his DNA. She leaned in and began to kiss him. He wrapped his arms around her with ferocity. She pushed herself into him, seizing her moment and biting hard on his bottom lip.

“Ow!” He pushed her off, blood dripping onto his white shirt.

“Sorry, got a bit carried away.” She jumped up and ran to the box of tissues on the coffee table.

Swiftly, she pulled the swab from her dress and tore the packet. She disguised the swab amongst the tissue and returned to pat away the blood. He sat calmly, allowing her to clean him up and watched as she stepped away to get rid of the tissues.

She discretely pulled the container for the swab out of her dress and began trying to get the swab safely inside. Suddenly, the door swung open.

“Mr Mentford, they’re waiting for you–” A security guard stepped in the room.

Margaux jumped in shock, revealing the tip of the swab and its container.

“What’s that?” Bart asked, standing up in anger.

Chapter Text

“Just some tissue.” Margaux’s voice was higher in pitch than she had meant it to be. She hid the container behind her back, balling her other fist to hide the swab inside the mound of tissue paper.

“Shut the door,” Bart instructed the guard.

The guard slammed the door shut and stood in front of it, blocking it with his huge body.

“I would like to leave now,” said Margaux, turning away.

Bart stormed towards her, pulling a gun from the drawer next to the couch and grabbing her wrist tight. She dropped the tissue on floor, the swab rolling out of it. Bart looked down and took a few steps back.

“What do you know?” he said.

“Everything.” Margaux revealed the swab container and dropped it on the floor next to the tissues. She took the recorder out of her bra and switched it off, throwing it over to the couch and raising both hands. “But that’s it, that’s all of my evidence, so…” she trailed off, her eyes wandering to the floor.

“How can I be sure?”

Margaux raised her arms higher in the air. “I’m not sure what else you think I could hide under this ridiculously tight dress. A gun too, perhaps? Or maybe a sword–”

“Who are you working for?” Bart interrupted, marching towards her and holding the gun inches from her face.

“No one.” She lied. “I… I worked on the case of a body found in a field. I managed to identify it as Bartholomew Mentford. Then I saw your story in the paper; I put two and two together and realised you’re a fraud… and a murderer.” She scowled. “I’m working alone.”

“I can’t trust you,” he began. “You can come with me to accept my money. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

He grabbed her and turned her to face the door. He pushed her into it, clutching at one of her arms, his other hand pressing the gun into her lower back. He nodded at the guard to open the door and pushed Margaux into the foyer.

III

Sherlock bent down, examining the piece of Painite which sat inside its case. It was a huge chunk of deep, brownish-golden crystal, the edges were jagged and to any normal person, it was completely unremarkable. But Sherlock could see its value. As he leant in close, watching how those jagged edges reflected the light like glitter, he could see straight through the stone, as if it were a piece of rich amber-coloured glass. It reminded him of Margaux, somehow. He couldn’t look away.

“Ladies and gentlemen…” the museum curator addressed the room. “If you could all make your way over here, we would like to invite Mr Mentford to… sign some very exciting contracts!” She smiled, the room murmured with subdued laughter.

Sherlock peeled his eyes from the Painite, turning to see Bart Mentford’s imposter strolling into the room; cut lip, bloody shirt, hair sticking to his forehead with sweat, fake smile. Something had happened. He glanced to the woman in Mentford’s arms. Margaux. She was smiling too; a worried smile. Every few moments, she would look up at Mentford, her smile dropping instantly, before looking around the room again.

Sherlock and Margaux’s eyes met. He scrunched his brow inquisitively, as if asking her what she was doing. She replied with a quick glance down to the arm holding the gun behind her back. Sherlock understood.

John appeared at Sherlock’s side. “I couldn’t have kept them any longer. They were… Wait, what’s Margaux doing with him?”

“John, I need you to go into the room they’ve just come out of. There will most likely be blood, either on furniture, on tissues in a bin or on a swab if she managed to get that far. Get it to Molly.” Sherlock spoke without breaking eye contact with Margaux who was being led like a piece of arm candy across the room by Mentford.

“Right. Will she know what it’s for?”

“Yes. She already has the other two samples. She’s waiting.”

“Got it.” John nodded, rushing through the crowd towards the room.

III

“I’m putting the gun in my pocket,” Bart muttered to Margaux. “But if you try anything, it will take me seconds to pull it back out. Now smile, we’ll probably be in the papers tomorrow morning.”

He began grinning and waving to people, shaking their hands as he walked by. He kept one hand on the small of Margaux’s back. The backless dress allowing his clammy hands to press against her bare skin. She shuddered, forcing a smile and placing a hand gently on his chest as if he had said something funny.

“Don’t worry, my job in all this is done,” she said, smiling sweetly at him.

“What does that mean?”

She ignored him, walking a few steps ahead and standing next to the display of Painite. Bart stepped up to the curator and shook her hand. The room erupted into applause and the curator began her speech.

Sherlock and Margaux locked eyes again, a full conversation beginning through nothing but subtle glances, head nods and mouths curling at the corners.

III

John entered the room, immediately spotting the crumpled tissues and blood soaked swab on the floor. He picked them up and pushed them into the pocket of his blazer. He stepped out of the room, closing the door carefully behind him, and ran for the exit of the museum.

III

Margaux gently clapped as another geologist finished another exceptionally long speech. Sherlock’s fingers tapped against the pocket containing his phone as he anxiously waited for John’s text. The text that meant he could stop everything. He tapped and tapped as he waited, watching the charade playing out in front of him. He looked at Margaux as she clapped, his eyes trailing the curves of her body. What was he doing? Stop. He blinked a few times and averted his gaze to the mayor as he began his speech.

“It is always a wonderful thing when something so magnificent is brought to this city,” the mayor began, “I would like to begin by thanking Mr Mentford for enriching London’s culture and–”

“If only the real Mr Mentford were alive to hear you say that, I’m sure he’d be touched,” Sherlock interrupted. He held his phone tightly in his grasp, John’s text illuminating the screen.

“Excuse me?” The mayor asked as Sherlock stepped through the crowd, parting them effortlessly.

“That man right there is an imposter.”

Bart’s back stiffened, his hand hovering over the gun in his pocket.

“How? Oh this is my favourite bit, have a seat. Oh and detective Lestrade, this where you arrest him,” said Sherlock confidently. He was almost excited.

Lestrade appeared at the back of the crowd, along with a team of police officers.

“Bartholomew V. Mentford was a ghost man. No social media accounts, no driver’s license, no family except one remaining relative who happens to be in a coma. He had no local friends; only some from school and university who now live in various parts of south-east Asia, Burma in particular, where he visited this summer and made his discovery. He was a man who, to the tabloids and the museum here in London, could have had any face. Your face.” He pointed to Bart. “To find such a rare mineral, you would have to be an experienced hiker; your soft hands and weak knees suggest you are not.”

Margaux laughed slightly, covering it with a cough.

Sherlock continued, “Bartholomew was a businessman, successful in his own right. He would not wear an ill-fitting, cheap suit and a polyester shirt to such an important event. He would know that the amount of money he was about to agree to was only half what the Painite was worth. He would still be tanned from his trip…”

“This is ridiculous!” The mayor interjected. “If this is an imposter then why hasn’t the real Mr Mentford come forward!? It’s been all over the news for christ’s sake.”

“Because he’s dead. Drowned at the hands of this man. Most likely an attendant of some kind; a cab driver. Privately hired many times by Mr Mentford so knew he didn’t have any connections in London. Got talking to him about the Painite after helping him get it in the boot of the car to take him home from the airport. Caught wind of how valuable it was. Went back to his home later that night where he broke in, drowned him in the bath and disposed of his body in a field. Of course by this point, the real Bart Mentford had already made all of the arrangements for the Painite by phone, so all this man had to do was fill the role.”

The room was silent. No one dared breathe. The footsteps of the police echoed as they walked towards Bart.

“And I can prove it,” John called out from the other end of the museum. He ran towards the crowd holding a piece of paper. “DNA doesn’t lie. And when we tested yours against Mr Mentford’s uncle who is currently lying in a coma, there was no match. However, the body of a man found in a field matched perfectly…” John couldn’t help a small, victorious smirk seeping through the edges of his mouth.

“Sir, you are under arrest,” Lestrade began.

III

On a higher floor of the museum was a small balcony looking out over the streets of London. Margaux leaned gently against the railing as she gazed into the darkness, watching the lights of cars and buildings. The wind carried a cold, wet mist that pricked the hairs on her arms into goosbumps as it fell across her skin. The faint sound of music and sirens from the city brought a strange calmness. Sherlock stepped out onto the balcony, slowly joining Margaux at her side. Neither looked at the other, yet there was a comfortableness between them, like they didn’t have to.

“You owe me,” she said.

“You enjoyed it,” he countered.

The bustle of people could be heard from inside the museum, making the cold, wet stillness of the balcony feel like a different world.

“I did enjoy it, up until I had the barrel of a gun pressed into my back.” She shivered, but not from the cold.

Sherlock finally looked down to Margaux, her profile illuminated in the warm glow of streetlights. She looked up at him. It made him think of the Painite; golden amber with the clarity of glass, almost identical to the colour of Margaux’s eyes. He knew now why he had thought of her when he saw it. He noticed her shiver, he was perceptive after all, and pulled a packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket. He took one from the pack and placed it between his lips before offering one to her. She looked at them for a moment before sighing and taking one for herself. He lit hers first, watching as the smoke escaped her lips, when he realised he couldn’t decipher how she was feeling. It was infuriating.

“You don’t have to stand out here with me, you know. I only came out to get away from the crowds,” said Margaux.

“I didn’t come out here for you. I couldn’t be bothered shaking any more hands.”

“Oh how awful it must be, to be so admired,” Margaux joked sarcastically.

“I suppose I should… Say thank you,” Sherlock began painfully. “And I guess while I’m here, a normal person would ask if you were okay…”

Margaux laughed. “I’m okay. Really.”

What happened next happened in four seconds. Four seconds that could only be described in slow motion; as if happening on film and someone had slowed reality right down. The police struggling past the open doors with the imposter in tow, him catching a glimpse of Margaux’s pearlescent dress as she smoked on the balcony, the police losing their grip on him, long enough for him to run to the doorway and pull the gun from his pocket. Sherlock’s ears pricking like a wolf’s, his head turning before Margaux could even blink, his fingers wrapping themselves around her cold arms and dragging them both to the balcony floor. The deafening burst of a gun being fired, the bullet skimming across the hairs on Margaux’s head, her weightlessness under the effects of Sherlock’s adrenal strength as he pushes them both into the corner, covering her with his own body. The police tackling the imposter to the ground, throwing the gun out of his reach, Margaux’s sharp intake of breath against Sherlock’s chest.

Chapter Text

They rode together in the back of a black cab. Neither spoke. Instead they sat looking out at the dark streets through streams of rain against the window. The cab stopped on Baker Street. Margaux climbed out. Sherlock leaned forward and handed the driver money before climbing out after her. They stood together outside 221B; Sherlock took off his long grey coat and draped it over Margaux’s bare shoulders. He walked up to the door, she followed.

III

Inside the flat was warm and Mrs Hudson had vacuumed, Sherlock could tell. He wondered if John was back yet. Probably not. He seemed to hit it off with one of the guests at the museum; yet another woman to add to the list of girlfriends Sherlock couldn’t quite remember the names of. He removed his scarf and loosened his bow tie before walking to his desk and closing the pages of research that he no longer needed.

“Well, thank you,” said Margaux, catching Sherlock’s attention as he wandered around the flat. She took his coat off and lay it gently on the couch.

“What for?” he asked.

“Well where to start? Thank you for… letting me stay here tonight with you and John. Thank you for… lending me your coat. Thank you for… Quite literally saving my life on that balcony.”

“Saving your life? I was saving my own, you just so happened to be the first thing I grabbed on the way down.”

“It’s okay to admit that you care,” Margaux laughed. “You’re not losing any points for caring.”

Sherlock paused. He shut his laptop and looked up at Margaux. “I saved you because that’s what I do.”

She sighed and stepped towards him, “You didn’t just save me, Sherlock. You threw yourself in front of me like a shield. Why can’t you just admit that you’re not completely made out of stone?”

“You’re trying to create something that isn’t there, Margaux.”

“Attraction is human.”

“Attraction is stupid. Weak. A waste of time–”

“I’m not stupid. Weak, maybe.”

“Why would you be so eager to call yourself weak?” His eyes burned through her as he tried to figure her out.

Margaux laughed in disbelief. She didn’t think she could be any more transparent. “Because for some reason my heart beats in my bloody throat every time you look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like this, right now,” she began. “This face, these eyes, the way you’re looking at me right this second…”

“I’m simply looking at you.” Sherlock stood up and walked across the room into the kitchen. “It would be rude to not look at the person you’re talking to.”

“But see you’re not denying it. Because you can’t deny it.” She followed him slowly.

“What do you want from me, Margaux?” Sherlock turned around quickly, startling Margaux who was right behind him. “Do you want me to tell you you’re different? That I’ve fallen in love with you and that I just can’t bare not being next to you?” He stepped closer to her and cupped her face in his hands, his voice deep and slow as he spoke. He walked her backwards to the kitchen table, lifting her onto it and pressing his body between her legs. He grasped her hair in his fists. “Do you want me to kiss you?” His lips were close enough to touch hers. “Undress you? Take you right here on this table? Because I could.”

There was silence. Margaux’s breath quivered.

“Because I’m brilliant at pretending to feel,” Sherlock finished. He stepped away, leaving her breathless.

Margaux gulped, bringing herself back to reality. “Of course, how could I forget, you’re a “sociopath”. And I suppose the fact that your pupils dilated just now when we were face to face, and the fact that your pulse sped up… that’s all just a sociopath mastering the art of involuntary biological reactions? Which is physically impossible to do by the way.”

Sherlock walked around the table and sat in a dining chair. Margaux swivelled around to face him, still sitting on the table.

“Do you know what I think?” she said.

“Of course, I know what everyone thinks,” Sherlock countered.

“I think you’ve gone your entire life feeling nothing. I think feeling nothing has made you the brilliant mind that you are today. I think you felt nothing for so long that you assumed it was because you couldn’t feel. But you can. You just don’t want to. And I think you hate the fact that I make you feel something.”

“I think you’re lonely,” Sherlock replied quickly. He stood up and put his hands on the table, leaning in to Margaux’s face. “You have four… no, five tattoos. Stick-and-poke, done yourself to cover scars. The angle of the scars suggest they were inflicted by other people; older, taller, stronger people. There is a clear expression of distain in your face whenever family is mentioned, subtle, but clear, even now, when I said the word 'family', you glanced to the ground. I’d say you were emancipated from your parents at sixteen, no, fifteen wasn’t it?"

"You're deflecting."

"No. I'm proving a point. You’ve worked and fought for everything you have, so much so that nothing you want is ever the easy option.”

“Who says I want you?” said Margaux.

“You do. Right now. It’s written all over your face, it’s in your body language…”

“How is it you can sense that in me, but not in yourself?”

“Because I don’t–”

“Shut up.”

“Love, attraction, romance… it’s all futile. It’s messy, it just clouds your thinking.” Sherlock continued.

“How would you know?”

“I know everything.”

“No you don’t.”

There was a long, intense silence as Sherlock and Margaux stared at each other, and while his hands remained planted on the dining table, she turned her back to him. But he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was so frustrating. How dare she make him confront his feeling when he was so comfortable supressing them.
After a long bout of silence, Sherlock walked around the table, bringing himself face to face with Margaux again. His glances darted between her eyes and her lips as he slowly and tentatively leant in to kiss her. Margaux’s hands gripped the edge of the table she was sitting on. She kissed him back, sensing his nerves, allowing him to lead.

He pulled away, his eyes remaining closed as he whispered against Margaux’s lips. “That was just, it’s just an experiment. Just to… Just to see…”

“Of course. Just an experiment,” Margaux whispered back.

Sherlock kissed her again. This time, Margaux couldn’t help but weave her fingers into his hair. He cupped her face with his hands in response and pulled his body closer to hers. Without warning, Sherlock lifted Margaux with such ease it was as if she were a doll. They continued to kiss as he carried her to his bedroom.

III

She pushed off his tuxedo jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. He wrapped his hands around her waist and unzipped the back of her dress. He threw her onto his bed and climbed on after her, the pair continuing to kiss as they shuffled up to the headboard. He knelt up to unbutton his trousers.

“Is all of this still part of the experiment?” Margaux asked breathlessly.

Sherlock didn’t answer. Instead he leant down and tucked a piece of fallen hair back behind her ear. He wanted to see her face. She was beautiful. He kissed her again. What was he doing? He didn’t care.

III

John fumbled with the lock. He pushed the door open and stepped into a familiar scene; Sherlock wrapped in his dressing gown, drinking a cup of tea in his armchair.

“You stink of lager and shame,” said Sherlock from behind his newspaper.

“She was… interesting,” said John as he threw himself in the chair opposite, covering his tired eyes with his arm.

“You’ll not be seeing her again, she thought you were too short.”

“How do you…!? Forget it, I don’t want to know. I’m just glad that’s over,” said John as he stood up and began rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. “Any painkillers? My head is killing me.”

“There should be some in my nightstand,” Sherlock called as he continued reading the paper.

John nodded and made his way to Sherlock’s bedroom.

The morning sun seeped through the dark curtains, casting a warm, dim light into the bedroom. John opened the door and stepped over to Sherlock’s nightstand. He slid open the drawer and looked inside. A shuffling sound startled John for a moment. He looked up to see Margaux sleeping in Sherlock’s bed. Her hair was strewn messily across the pillow and the makeup around her eyes had smudged from sleep. John covered his mouth, closed the drawer and quickly left the room.

“Did you get the painkillers?” asked Sherlock as John walked back into the living room.

“Painkillers? Painkillers!? When exactly were you going to mention that there’s a naked woman in your bed?” John shouted.

Sherlock looked up at John. He slowly and calmly closed his newspaper, folded it and placed it on the table. He took a sip of tea. “Ah yes, Margaux… spent the night.”

John let out a laugh. “Spent the night.”

“Yes. She was shaken after the incident at the museum.”

“And you… comforted her?”

“Don’t be vulgar, John.”

John sat opposite him again. “Right, so… you slept on the couch?”

Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes. “If you have a question, John, just ask it. This is tiring–”

“Did you sleep with her?”

“Yes.”

“Really?” As much as he wanted to know, John wasn’t quite ready for the answer.

Sherlock rolled his eyes again. “Yes.”

“Well… Well what does this mean?” John found himself growing excited. “Do you like her? I mean, is she…”

“Oh for god’s sake, where did I put my gun?”

“Why?”

“So I can shoot myself.”

“Oh, Sherlock come on! This is brilliant. In all the time I’ve known you, I thought you were… I don’t know what I thought you were. But this is… Oh I’m so happy for you.”

“Oh, hi John,” said Margaux as she stepped into the living room.

“And this is why I don’t do emotion,” Sherlock said to Margaux. “It’s abhorrent.”

Margaux looked down at John who was still grinning. She had pulled on a t-shirt from Sherlock’s dresser. Sherlock stood up and left the room.

Margaux sat in Sherlock’s armchair. “Don’t expect much from him, John,” she began. “I don’t.”

Chapter Text

John sat down at his computer. On the desk, he had placed his journal, a pen and a mug of tea. He opened his blog and clicked the 'new post' button in the corner. He had fallen behind with updating the blog. Mostly because Sherlock had become uninspired, bored, fed up of potential clients and their mundane, waste-of-time problems. But there were a few to recall, so he cracked his knuckles and began to write. He thought back to the case of the missing girl whose parents came to 221B Baker Street.

III

"She's seventeen. But she's a young seventeen y'know," the dad began in his thick cockney accent.

"What he means is she's got severe OCD. So she's been very sheltered because she's too scared to go outside a lot of the time," the mum finished, holding back tears.

Sherlock paced back and forth with his palms together in front of him while John sat in his armchair making notes.

"Have you contacted the police?" Sherlock asked.

"Yes."

"Well then let them handle it." He waved his hand at them and sat in his chair opposite John.

"But Mr Holmes, you don't understand... She'd volunteered for an experiment."

Sherlock's ears pricked. He looked at the couple with more interest now.

"What kind of experiment?" he asked.

"This one. Claiming to completely cure her OCD. It was only supposed to be for two weeks. She's been gone a month and a half." The mother handed him a leaflet.

A flame ignited behind Sherlock's eyes. He took the leaflet and examined it closely.

...

They walked through the halls of the research facility dressed in white lab coats, avoiding workers and breaking through key-coded doors. Nothing. No trace of the girl or the experiment she had agreed to take part in.

"Do you think there's another building? Or like a basement or something?" John whispered.

"Maybe. Let's just keep looking," Sherlock whispered back.

They walked along another corridor in silence. Sherlock peered around a corner, revealing a love bite on the side of his neck. John choked on a laugh as he tried to supress it.

"Can you die quietly please?" Sherlock whispered.

"Just admiring your hickey."

Sherlock's eyes widened; he placed a hand on his neck and gave John a scowl.

"It's Margaux, she got a bit carried away the last time I... saw her." Sherlock returned to peering around the corner.

"I know. We live together. I heard it all."

"Well it won't be happening again so you can just shut up about it."

"That's what you said the last time, and the time before that." John was enjoying himself.

"Well I mean it this time. Now can you make yourself useful?" Sherlock disappeared around the corner, walking slow and confidently in his lab coat as if he was meant to be there. John followed a few moments later.

They found the girl on an abandoned floor of the facility, along with three other test subjects. They were sleeping in hospital beds, connected by tubes and wires to machines.

"You don't have to pretend you don't like her," John whispered as they carefully unclipped the people from the machines.

"Of course I like her. I don't dislike her, do I," Sherlock snapped.

"I mean you like her," John continued. "You're... dating her."

"Ah, that's where you're wrong," Sherlock began as one of the researchers entered the room and charged for him. "I'm not dating her, and I don't do silly crushes." He dodged the researcher and swung his fist around, punching him and knocking him out cold.

"So what are you doing sleeping with her then? I didn't take you for a no-strings-attached kind of guy. Then again, I didn't take you for a strings-attached guy either." John continued to unhook the wires from the subjects as Sherlock fought off each person who came charging into the room.

Sherlock groaned "For god's sake, John. I've engaged in sexual intercourse with Margaux three and a half times..."

"And a half?"

"In the past two months. It's never planned and it's never accompanied by a date or romantic gesture. It's nothing."

"Does she agree?"

Sherlock turned to face John, trying to catch his breath. "Yes," he said.

III

John pondered over a title for the post. 'The Cloaked Trials' seemed fitting. He typed it in and clicked publish.

"Just sent another one live," he said.

"Which one?" Sherlock answered from the kitchen. He was sitting at the table looking through a microscope.

"The one with the girl on the OCD experiment."

"Ah yes. That was an interesting one."

John looked through his journal, stopping on a page crisp with notes.

"I still need to write about the Bart Mentford case. Are you ready for me to do that yet?"

Sherlock picked up another slide and placed it under the microscope. "That case is still ongoing," he said finally.

"We're never going to know who sent those threatening texts; might as well put the case to rest. The police have."

"The police are idiots."

John flicked through to another case. He already knew the title he wanted to go with for this one, so he typed it in; 'The Framed Widower'.

III

They walked into the prison, signed their names and walked to the assigned table. Sherlock crossed one leg over the other and clasped his hands together in his lap, his posture remaining perfect.

"I loved her," said Mike.

"Then why is everybody saying you killed her?" Sherlock replied coldly.

They sat across from Mike in his dark grey prison jumpsuit. His head had been shaved and his sunken eyes were framed with deep purple shadows. It had taken Sherlock one glance to know he was innocent, but he didn't want Mike to know that.

"Look, she was involved in something bad. Really bad. But I don't know what. I was just getting close to figuring it out when she was killed. I think that's why she was killed. And they made it look like I'd done it." Tears welled up in the corners of Mike's eyes. "My wife meant everything to me. I didn't hurt her, I swear."

"Do you know where the keys are to your house?" Sherlock asked.

Mike nodded.

...

"Give me your wallet," said Sherlock quietly.

"Why?" asked John.

"Just do it."

John handed over his wallet and watched as Sherlock opened it and slid out his bank card.

"Thanks." Sherlock slipped the card into the crack of the door and began fiddling with the handle.

"You know, if you can do this to the evidence locker then you could have just done it to his front-bloody-door," John whispered.

Sherlock stopped for a moment to ponder what John had said. He was right. Never mind. Sherlock shrugged and continued to mess with the lock. The door popped open and the pair stepped inside, looking through boxes of evidence for Mike's keys.

...

The house had not yet been cleaned since the murder of Mike's wife. They examined the blood spatter on the walls and the dried footprints in the carpet. Sherlock crouched near the stairs where the prints stopped, looking through his small magnifying glass.

John wandered into the living room, looking through drawers and cabinets, taking a moment to stop and admire the beautiful black-and-white wedding photographs on the bookshelf.

"It was a woman," Sherlock called from the stairs. "A woman committed this crime and tried to make it look as though Mike did it."

John joined him in the hall.

"Young. Mid-twenties, and blonde; fake blonde. With a trained dance background."

III

John continued to type up the case, adding his writerly flare to the story. He remembered how Sherlock uncovered the truth of Mike's wife; of what she had been involved in. He wrote about the closure Sherlock brought to a young girl's family and the justice in finding her killers. He wrote about the happiness of watching Mike get to walk free. Yet now he sat, staring at the screen as he pondered on how to end the story.

"Sherlock, how exactly did that whole thing end with Mike?" John called over.

"Who's Mike?" Sherlock replied, his face buried in a book.

"Mike Weller? The guy who almost went down for his wife's murder?"

"Oh, Mike. Eh," Sherlock shrugged. "He thanked me, shook my hand. I gave him the number of an excellent crime scene cleaner... the usual."

John let out a small groan. "Just seems a bit of an anti-climax for the blog post really."

"That's life, my friend."

John sighed, finished the post and clicked 'publish'. He closed his laptop and stood up.

"I'm going to nip to the shop, do you want anything?" He asked as he pulled on his coat.

"No."

"Okay..."

Sherlock closed his book and looked across the empty flat. He thought about John's question; about his final meeting with Mike Weller. He wondered if he should tell John the truth. But then, he still didn't quite understand that night himself yet.

III

"Mr Weller, I hope you don't mind me dropping in like this." Sherlock stepped through the door.

"No, not at all Mr Holmes. Any time, really."

Mike led him into the kitchen and offered him a drink. He shook his head and watched as the kettle began to boil on the stove.

"I've actually come over here with something for you," Sherlock began. "Something I found that I've kept hidden until now to avoid the police confiscating it."

"Whoa, well is that..."

"Legal? No, of course it isn't. Do you want it or not?"

"Sure."

Sherlock pulled a VHS tape from the breast pocket of his coat and placed it on the kitchen counter. He watched as Mike gulped, the kettle whistling behind him.

"It's from your wife."

Mike nodded and picked up the tape.

"Well... bye." Sherlock stood up and headed for the door.

"Wait! Mr Holmes, have you watched it?"

Sherlock turned. "No, I have not."

"Well, would you maybe... stay with me while I watch it?" Mike was holding the tape as if it were his most precious possession.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Fine."

He sat on the couch in the living room and watched as Mike fumbled with the VHS player. He slotted the video in and backed up quickly to sit in a chair. On the screen appeared Mike's wife. She was pretty; her eyes glossy and her nose red.

"Hi Mike," she began. "If you're watching this video then I'm gone. Cliché right?" she laughed. "I'm going to tell you the secret. The one you've been trying to figure out for the past few months." She took a deep breath, a breath that Mike seemed to mirror simultaneously.

Sherlock glanced between the television and Mike, the love between them still evident through a screen.

"back when I was training as a dance teacher, after one of my evening classes, I was witness to three students purposefully pushing another girl down the stairs. They killed her. I watched the whole thing happen from behind a door but they caught me, and they threatened me. They said if I went to the authorities, they would claim that it was me, that I'd coerced them into helping me and that I had been abusing them. It was their word over mine. I was young, I was scared and so I kept quiet. The girl's death was ruled as an accident and I never spoke of it again.

Mike, I'm making this video because I don't think I'm going to be around much longer. I don't know who it was but somebody has called in an anonymous tip to the police and these girls think it was me. I know you've noticed something's been wrong with me lately and your nosey arse has been trying to figure all of this out. But you're getting too close to the truth, and these girls don't like it. Mike if anything happened to you because of a mistake I made when I was twenty-two, I don't think I'd ever forgive myself. I must pay for what I did, or rather, what I didn't do, and if it means protecting you well... it's all worth it in the end.

I'm leaving you this tape because I don't know what's going to come out about me after I'm gone; I don't know how much your opinion of me may change and I want you to remember me like this. Mike, I didn't ever think I was capable of loving someone the way I love you. Before I met you, I was cold, damaged, distant. But you... you have made me appreciate life. You have made me value life so much that I would give mine up for you.

I love you. Goodbye."

The tape ejected from the player and the screen glowed blue. Mike sat in silence, glaring at the television. Sherlock didn't dare speak. His wife's words would echo inside the walls of his mind palace forever: 'You have made me value life so much that I would give mine up for you.' He stood up and walked out of the room, letting himself out of the house and walking down the street until a cab pulled around the corner. He stopped it.

He had somehow found himself outside a flat that wasn't his own. He stood outside, the words still running on a loop in his head. A man stepped out of the building, leaving the heavy door open for Sherlock to walk inside. He climbed the stairs and came to a yellow door. Number Six. He knocked.

Margaux opened the door and peered her head around it. There stood Sherlock. He was paler than usual, the blue of his eyes clashing with the irritated red in his waterline.

"Sherlock? Has something happened?" She asked.

He stepped towards her, placed his hands gently on her face and kissed her. She welcomed the kiss, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. They staggered together into her flat, enough for Sherlock to close the door with his foot.

"Are you okay?" She whispered.

He avoided her question with another kiss. Softer than he had ever kissed her before. She took his hand and led him into the bedroom.

III

The internet didn't need to know about the tape. Not to mention the fury Lestrade would unleash on Sherlock if he found out he had withheld evidence. He went into his bedroom and changed into his pyjamas and dressing gown.

III

A loud bang startled John as he walked through the front door. Another bang. He ran up the stairs to the flat, pushing his fingers into his ears. As he approached the doorway, he saw the cause of the bangs. It was Sherlock; slumped in his armchair firing a gun at the wall.

"What the hell are you doing!?" John shouted.

"Bored," said Sherlock.

"What?" John couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.

"Bored!" Sherlock shouted.

Chapter Text

Irene Adler – The Woman – stood naked in front of Sherlock Holmes. She gave nothing away except her measurements, and a smirk that grew larger as she stepped towards him. His eyes were wide as she stood above him and tugged the priest's collar from his neck.

"There, now we're both defrocked," she said.

"Ms Adler, I presume?" He replied, trying to keep his cool.

III

Margaux tapped on the door and opened it slowly.

"Hi," she said with a smile.

"Hi," Molly replied as she carried a tray of samples across the lab.

Margaux stepped in and closed the door behind her, lifting a lab coat from the hanger and putting it on.

"I hope you don't mind me coming up here again, I swear I won't be in your way; I just had to finish these tests before everything gets delayed over Christmas."

"Oh no, don't be silly, of course I don't mind." Molly waved her hand as she spoke. "I'll be leaving soon anyway; got to get my last few Christmas presents together for Sherlock and John's party. Are you coming?"

"Oh, probably not."

"Other plans?"

"Not really. I'm just... not sure I want to go anywhere." Margaux smiled, attempting to lighten her tone.

"But it's Christmas. You can't be all by yourself at Christmas. Plus, I've already bought you a present so..." Molly leaned on the table next to her.

"Well thank you. You didn't have to get me anything."

"It's just a token."

They smiled at each other. Margaux started setting up the machine she was sitting at, while Molly picked up another tray and carried it away.

"Are your family not big into Christmas?" Molly asked.

"Oh I don't see my family."

Molly stopped and turned to Margaux, her mouth open, her eyes darting around looking for a way to fix her mistake.

"Ah... Well I, er..."

"It's okay, Molly. I've been emancipated from my parents since I was fifteen."

"I had no idea, I'm so sorry."

"Don't be sorry; they're terrible people," Margaux laughed as if it were nothing.

"Well then... you absolutely have to come."

"Maybe."

Margaux returned to her task as Molly finished up quietly, taking off her gloves and hanging her lab coat next to the door. She pulled on her own coat and wrapped a scarf around her neck before reaching into her pocket and pulling out a set of keys. She placed them on the table and smiled at Margaux.

"They're to lock up," Molly began. "You can give them back to me at the party." She allowed a small smile as she turned around and left the lab.

III

'Merry Christmas, Mr Holmes x'

Sherlock rolled his eyes at the text and clicked his phone off. He lifted his violin and began to play.

Christmas lights and a crackling fire illuminated the dark, warm flat. Mrs Hudson sat in Sherlock's armchair with a glass of sherry as she listened to the merry songs. John greeted Lestrade at the door, taking his coat and offering him a beer in exchange.

"Just a water for me thanks, John," said Lestrade.

John nodded, keeping the beer for himself as he left to pour a glass at the kitchen sink.

"Lovely, Sherlock," Mrs Hudson began as the violin stopped. "That was lovely."

Sherlock took a bow.

"Mmm marvellous. That was very good." John agreed.

"I wish you could have worn the antlers," Mrs Hudson giggled drunkenly.

"Some things are best left to the imagination, Mrs Hudson," said Sherlock.

John's girlfriend stepped towards Sherlock with a tray of mince pies, staring blankly as she offered one to him.

"No thank you, Sarah," said Sherlock.

"Uh no, he's not good with names," John interrupted quickly.

"No no no, I can get this," he insisted. "Sarah was the doctor and then there was the one with the spots, and then the one with the nose, and then who was after the boring teacher?"

"Nobody," she replied bluntly.

"Jeanette!" Sherlock smiled. "Process of elimination."

He glanced through the front door and down the dark hall where he saw the outline of a woman. She was small, like Margaux, with long hair, like Margaux; he felt his heart beat faster. Until she stepped into the light. "Oh dear lord," he muttered to himself.

"Hello everyone," said Molly cheerfully as she shuffled into the flat. Her hands were full of gift bags and her poufy hair was accompanied by a pair of sparkling, oversized earrings. "It said on the door just to come up." She was beaming.

A murmur of greetings flooded the flat as she began to take off her coat.

"Everybody's saying hello to each other, just wonderful," he said sarcastically.

Sherlock liked Molly. She was a good friend. So much so that he almost felt bad for being disappointed to see her. But it wasn't Molly; anyone could have walked into the flat at that moment and, unless it was Margaux, he would have been disappointed all the same.

"Holy Mary!" said John as Molly removed her coat.

She was wearing a tight, black cocktail dress with a neckline that glittered almost as much as her smile. She stood awkwardly, fiddling with the dress and looking for a place to put her hands; staring at Sherlock, waiting for him to notice. He never did.

They returned to drinking and talking while Sherlock wrapped himself up in the hit count on John's blog to distract himself from her absence.

"Hope I'm not too late." A voice came from the doorway.

Everyone turned to see Margaux standing in her coat and a thick scarf, with a single perfectly wrapped gift in her hand.

"Oh, hey, glad you could make it," said John as he helped her take off her coat.

Underneath, she wore a dark green velvet top that hugged tight to her body. It was tucked into a flowing black skirt that sparkled softly in the light, stopping at the middle of her shins to reveal a pair of block-heeled shoes. She looked over to Sherlock who glanced back momentarily, before returning to his computer screen. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and smiled at John with her perfectly painted red lips as he handed her a glass of sherry. She stepped over to Mrs Hudson, patting her kindly on the shoulders and perching on the arm of her chair.

"How's the hip?" Margaux asked.

"Oh, it's atrocious. But thanks for asking," Mrs Hudson replied.

"I've seen much worse," Molly interjected. "But then I do post-mortems."

The room fell silent.

"Oh, god sorry–"

"Don't make jokes, Molly," said Sherlock.

Lestrade handed Molly a glass of wine.

"Thank you! I didn't expect to see you, I thought you were going to be in Dorset for Christmas?" she said.

"That's first thing in the morning, me and the wife," Lestrade began. "Back together, it's all sorted."

"No, she's sleeping with the P.E teacher," Sherlock added.

"And John..." Molly quickly continued. "I hear you're going to your sister's, is that right?"

"First time ever, she's cleaned up her act, she's off the booze." John replied.

"Nope," Sherlock mumbled.

"Shut up, Sherlock," said John.

"God you're in a bad mood," Margaux laughed.

"See you've got a new boyfriend, Margaux." He quipped. "And you're serious about him."

"What? What makes you say that?"

"Or is it that you're just madly in love with someone in this very room?" Sherlock continued smugly.

"Take a day off," said John.

"Shut up and have a drink," added Lestrade.

"Oh come on, surely you've all seen the present she's holding. Perfectly wrapped with a bow. And she hasn't even bothered to bring one for anyone else. So they must be special then." He stood up, pivoting on his heels to face her.

He walked up to her slowly, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he spoke. He plucked the present from her hands and began to examine it.

"Shade of red echoes the lipstick, either an unconscious decision or one that she's deliberately trying to encourage. Either way, Dr Cave has love on her mind."

Margaux looked down at the floor, her embarrassed expression difficult to hide.

"The fact that he may be right here in this room is evident in the clothes she's wearing; a skin-tight top and a skirt that just about shows her freshly shaven legs..." he lifted the tag on the gift, stopping almost immediately.

There was silence. Margaux looked up at Sherlock with satisfaction as he read the name on the tag. She stood up and took a step towards him, bringing their bodies close enough to touch.

"I'm very particular about who I give presents to," she said quietly, aiming her words directly at him.

She took the gift from his hands and walked up to Molly.

"Merry Christmas, Molly." She held out the gift and smiled. "Don't worry, I'm not in love with you; that's just the way they wrapped it in the shop."

The flat murmured with laughter. John couldn't hide his grin.

"You always say such horrible things." Marguax turned to Sherlock. "And then you expect me to love you."

He felt her words in his bones. The quiver in her voice. He fidgeted on the spot; how could he fix this? He needed to fix it.

"I am sorry, Margaux. Please forgive me."

John scrunched his brow in shock. An apology? Sherlock stepped towards Margaux, but she shook her head. He froze as he watched her pull on her coat and leave, the flat plummeting into silence once again.

Ahhh – The inappropriate text tone broke the silence. Molly jumped in shock.

"That wasn't me, I swear," she insisted.

"No, it was me," said Sherlock.

"Really?" said Lestrade.

"My phone."

"Fifty-seven," John began. "Fifty-seven of those texts..."

'Mantlepiece' - the text read.

Sherlock turned to the fireplace, noticing a small red present tied with black rope. The Woman. He was fascinated by her. Her wit, her boldness, her lack of fear.

"Excuse me," he said as he took the present into his bedroom.

He opened it quickly, taking out the phone from inside and lifting it up to his face. He examined it closely. It was the phone. Her phone. He knew what this meant. He took out his phone and dialled Mycroft's number.

"I think you're going to find Irene Adler tonight," he began, momentarily interrupted by Mycroft's ramblings. "No. I mean you're going to find her dead."

He returned to the living room moments later, heading straight for his coat and scarf.

"Molly would you mind? I believe there's a body that will need a post-mortem."

Molly nodded, confused. She grabbed her coat and followed him out of the flat.

III

In the space between Christmas and New Year's Eve, Irene Adler had died and reappeared. Sherlock and Mrs Hudson had found themselves held at gunpoint in their own flat, and Margaux had not been in touch once.

The bell tolled twelve.

"Happy New Year, John."

"Do you think you'll be seeing her again?"

Sherlock lifted the violin to his chin and began to play Old Lang Syne. He wouldn't tell John he wished her a Happy New Year.

"And what about Margaux?" John added as he sat listening to him play.

"What about her?"

"Have you... heard from her?"

Sherlock turned his back on John. He gazed out the window onto the snowy street as he continued to play.

III

He returned from the lab where he had been running tests on Irene Adler's phone. Walking up the stairs to 221B, he played with it in his hand. What could the pass code be?

As he reached the top of the stairs, a familiar scent surrounded him like a cloud. He felt the hairs on his arms prick under his sleeves. He turned the corner and walked towards the front door, pushing it open to see her standing there. Her glassy amber eyes fixing on him almost immediately.

"Margaux."

"Hi."

He instinctively moved closer, surprising himself with his own need to be near her.

"Mrs Hudson let me in." She was nervous. "I don't know what I'm doing here; I left work and got in a cab and then I was outside your building. I don't know why..."

"Well... it's nice to see you."

"Yes. You too. And Happy New Year." She smiled.

He smiled back. "Happy New Year. And Margaux... about Christmas..."

"It's okay. It's fine."

They stood in silence. Their own comfortable silence that no one else would understand. "Well you're probably busy, I'll leave you to it." She walked past him towards the door, stopping before she left. "Oh actually, before I go, I think I left a necklace here a while back. I've been meaning to get it back but I keep forgetting. Can I..." She gestured towards his bedroom.

"Of course."

Margaux walked through the kitchen to his bedroom. She opened the door and immediately felt the air leave her chest. In his bed lay the woman. A beautiful, dark haired woman, sleeping peacefully in his bed. She tried to pull the air back in but it wouldn't seem to reach her lungs. She left quickly.

Sherlock watched as she walked back into the living room. Her eyes were teary, the colour had drained from her face. Something was wrong.

"I read too much into things." She said, choking on the lump in her throat. "I know I said I wouldn't and I've acted like I haven't. But this really hurts. More than it would hurt if you meant nothing to me."

Sherlock was baffled.

"So I'm going to go." She nodded, holding back tears.

"Margaux, wait, what are you talking about?"

Irene Adler stepped into the living room wearing one of Sherlock's robes. Sherlock looked up at her, what was she doing here? Then he closed his eyes and sighed.

Margaux looked back at Irene. "I'll get out of your way."

"No. Margaux. No..." There was a panic in Sherlock's voice as she left the flat.

Irene stood calmly, watching her leave, admiring her body. She took a sharp intake of breath and let out a soft whistle. "Who was she and does she want a job?"

"Shut up." Sherlock snapped.

"I've got clients that would drop to their knees for a girl like her, just like that." She clicked her fingers.

"I said stop it!"

"Ah, does Sherlock have a little crush? Well I'm heartbroken. I really thought we had something going on here."

"What do you want?"

"Your help," she answered quickly.

Chapter Text

Lonely was a feeling Margaux was used to, but it wasn't one she enjoyed. She had spent her whole life alone; with bad parents and failed relationships, she had learned the only person she could rely on was herself. She liked to leave the television on, even if she wasn't watching; the hum of voices in the background made her feel less alone as she padded around her flat on dark, quiet nights.

She knelt next to the bookcase in her living room, searching the bottom shelf for her favourite book, when she noticed their faces on the television. She walked over and perched on the arm of the couch, lifting the remote and turning up the volume.

"Another case solved and another life saved thanks to the enigma that is Sherlock Holmes," said the news reporter, followed by footage of Sherlock and John at a police press conference.

"The hat's a bold choice, Sherlock," Margaux muttered.

She switched it off and threw the remote onto the couch before walking over to the window and peering through the blinds. She wasn't shocked to see him standing there; his hands in the pockets of his long coat, staring at her building from across the street. He did it most nights; stood there and debated with himself about whether to ring her buzzer or leave, never getting closer than the other side of the road. Always distant. Always brooding. She wondered if he ever noticed her watching him from the window, if he made the trip especially because he wanted to see her, or whether she was a last minute thought as he passed by her street on his way home. She wondered how she would feel if he ever stopped coming.

Margaux woke in the morning feeling groggy. Her head was pounding and her stomach turning with hunger as she flicked on the lamp and checked her phone. The autopsy report she had been waiting for was ready, which meant she would get to spend time at the hospital with Molly. No matter how ill she felt, the thought of a day with Molly was enough to make her smile. She dressed in a knee-length dress and thick, knitted cardigan. She traded breakfast for a cup of coffee and swallowed two painkillers before leaving her flat in a hurry.

III

"Hiya," said Molly as the door swung open.

She pulled off her latex gloves, slid the protective goggles onto the top of her head and turned around with a smile.

"Hi," answered Margaux between deep, painful breaths.

Molly's smile quickly changed to concern. She stepped towards her. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, sorry, I was half way here when I got a call from my boss," Margaux began, struggling to catch her breath. "There's been a massive breakthrough in the case. The autopsy report you sent over... something isn't right. So I needed to get here before you released the body... So I ran..."

"Okay, well you look knackered, let's get you a seat." Molly grabbed a stool and dragged it towards them. She helped Margaux sit down, examining the pained expression on her face. "Are you sure that's it? You don't seem right."

"I don't know. I missed breakfast and I had an awful headache this morning."

"Right, I'll go and get you a water from the machine."

Molly ran across the hall to the vending machine, pulling the change from her pocket and sifting through it. She put the coins in the slot, pressed the button and waited for the thud.

The bottle wasn't very cold, Molly thought, as she hurried back to the lab. Maybe she should have got some sort of chocolate bar too. Never mind. She opened the door and glanced around the room; for a moment, it seemed as though Margaux had gone, until Molly noticed her lying on the floor. A small trail of blood trickling from her nose.

"Margaux?"

III

They were landing in Sherlock's lap. Case after case. It was as if 221B had grown a revolving door; spitting out clients, one after the other, like a collection of short stories he couldn't put down. But there was a white noise in the background of everything he did. A constant niggle of unease, like something was wrong. Or more so, like something was coming.

He stepped into the flat and was greeted with John's backside waving in the air next to the window. He was bent over looking for something.

"Lovely view, thank you," Sherlock said blandly.

John snapped upright and turned around.

"I can't find my cufflinks. I thought maybe they'd fallen out of my pocket or something. Have you seen them?" John replied.

"No."

"Great."

"I've got a pair, you can have those. I have no use for them, all my shirts have buttons," said Sherlock as he turned towards his bedroom.

"Why do you have a pair if you don't–"

"A gift."

"Oh yes, the art gallery," John muttered to himself as he watched Sherlock leave the room.

As he stepped into the bedroom, he was greeted by another backside. A female, early thirties (though she liked to act like a twenty-year-old judging by her outfit, Sherlock deduced). She was bent over by his bed, the sound of the door startling her. She stood up straight and turned to him.

"Oh hello," she said breathlessly.

"You must be... Rita."

"Yeah, sorry, John said I could use his room to freshen up, I must have come into the wrong..."

There was an awkward silence. Sherlock stepped aside gracefully, allowing a clear path between Rita and the door. She didn't leave.

"Can I help you in some way?" He scrunched his brow.

"Sorry." Her laugh was wrapped in an east end accent. "I've just seen a lot of you on the news, I'm a bit star struck. Only gone and ended up in Sherlock Holmes' bedroom, haven't I!" She laughed again.

But he didn't laugh, and in response, her smile dropped.

Her colder expression took Sherlock by surprise. "My boss is very interested in you," she said calmly. It was like a different person had taken control of her body.

"If your boss needs my assistance then I'm sure he or she could make an appointment to see me, instead of sending their employee to snoop around my bedroom."

"Oh, he doesn't need your help. Quite the opposite, actually." A smirk crept across Rita's glossy lips.

"What does that mean?"

"Rita, ready to go?" John called from the living room.

"Yep!" she shouted back. "Lovely to meet you, Mr Holmes." She walked past him and out of the room.

John peered his head into the room "Sherlock, you got those cufflinks?"

Without speaking, Sherlock stepped to his chest of drawers, pulled out a box – still wrapped – and handed it to him.

"Cheers," said John before disappearing.

III

Dr Grant's face was still blurry as he leaned towards her, looking in her eyes with a torch.

"You might have a slight concussion from the fall but nothing to get too worried about, looks like your poor nose broke most of the fall. Things still blurry?" he spoke softly.

"Just a bit."

"Well your eyes are fine so that should wear off. Have you fainted like that before?"

"A couple of times when I didn't feel well as a kid." She rubbed her eyes. "But y'know, I had a headache this morning so I took some painkillers that were probably way too strong for me and I didn't eat and..."

"Don't worry. It's all just precaution."

She nodded.

"Now... Could I get you to do a wee sample?"

Margaux let out an unexpected laugh before dropping her face into her hands. "This is not what I thought I'd be doing today."

"Well if it makes you feel any better I've just asked my crush if I could have a sample of her piss. So, you know, it could be worse."

Even through the blurriness she could see his dimpled smile. She laughed again, softer this time.

III

She sat on the edge of the hospital bed, listening to the clock. She looked down at her watch and squinted to see the hands ticking around. Dr Grant released the blood pressure cuff and checked her eyes with his torch again.

"Everything's normal. Once your blood and urine results come back, we'll let you get on with things," he said.

Margaux nodded as she rolled down the sleeve of her cardigan.

The curtain slid open, suddenly enough to make the pair of them jump. A tall, blonde man in a white coat stepped in and closed the curtain again behind him.

"Dr Grant, I'm Dr Hartley, I'm taking over this assessment," he said.

"I don't think that's necessary, we're fine here," Dr Grant replied.

"I'm sure Margaux won't mind."

Margaux sensed a shift in the atmosphere. It was uncomfortable.

"I-I'm sorry, I'm slightly confused, who has requested this?" asked Dr Grant.

"Is there something wrong with me?" Margaux added.

"Not at all. I'm just aware that Dr Grant will be needed elsewhere. So I'm going to take over here." He stepped aside and gestured to the curtain.

"Right... well..." Dr Grant muttered. "If you need anything, Margaux, just..."

Margaux nodded before watching him leave. Suddenly wishing she was going with him.

III

Sherlock had said goodbye to another potential client. Yet another case not worth his time. There had been three so far today; two, he solved within seconds of meeting them, the other, a classic case of paranoia. Today was not a good day. His concentration had been hindered by the encounter in his bedroom. Rita. She was strange. She made him feel strange. And now John wasn't answering his calls or texts.

He closed the door on his latest appointment and headed straight for his bedroom; searching it once again. He was convinced she had taken something, or left something behind. But there was nothing. He took out his phone and called John again, and once again, nothing.

"Sherlock," Mrs Hudson called.

"Yes?" he said as he walked back into the living room.

"Another client," she whispered, her head peering around the front door.

Sherlock sighed, "Send them in."

He turned his back on the door and took his phone out of his pocket.

'Urgent. Call at once.' He sent to John.

"Hello again."

He turned swiftly. It was Rita. He wondered if he had ever felt a sense of dread and relief at the same time before.

"Is John with you?" He asked.

"Oh..." She glanced around carelessly. "Must've lost him."

Neither of them moved, the silence agonising.

"Who are you?"

"I'm your next appointment," she answered casually.

"No one would go to the hassle of getting close to John just for the chance of me taking their case. So I'll ask again... Who. Are. You." His intensity was scalding; enough to frighten even the coldest of people.

She composed herself. "I'm just the messenger really. See, I was supposed to have a bigger part in all this, hence dating John and all that. But there's been a slight change of plan; a new finding that's just... thrown everything up in the air really."

"Your boss..." Sherlock paced the room slowly. Then it hit him. "Moriarty."

"Spot on," said Rita, touching her nose.

"Where is John?"

"Who do you love the most?"

"What have you done to him?"

"He's fine, god, can you just answer my question... Who do you love the most?"

"Will you shut up with your ridiculous questions and just get to the point," he snapped, frustration seeping into his words.

"Was just trying to build a bit of tension! Drama and all that," she sighed. "Moriarty sent me to tell you that he's waiting for you, and that he's already played his first move. There, done." She waved her hands around and headed for the door.

"Waiting for me where?" asked Sherlock as he followed her onto the landing.

"Aren't you Sherlock Holmes? You ask a lot of questions for someone who's supposed to already know everything. He said the game has to start where it will end."

Where it will end. What did he mean? Sherlock placed his fingers on the sides of his head and closed his eyes. Think. Think!

"Tell John I'm sorry it didn't work out," Rita called from the bottom of the stairs.

III

The game had to start where it was going to end.

Sherlock stood on the street outside St Bart's Hospital. He shielded his eyes and looked up to the roof, the pale grey sky, the clouds of smog. He followed the building down; every brick and every window until he reached the pavement. He flicked up the collar of his coat and went inside.

'The game has to start where it will end.' He replayed the words over and over as he walked through the corridors of the hospital, pushing through doors and running down flights of stairs. All the way down until he came to the morgue.

"Molly."

"Oh, hello Sherlock." She smiled, her eyes widening with excitement at the sheer sight of him.

"The basement. The very bottom of the hospital, is that still out of bounds?"

"You never just come to visit me, do you."

"Molly."

"Yes, it is. There's some rooms down there where they store things but there's been a lot of water damage, a leaky pipe or something I think, it's damaged the foundations but then again it could– "

"Molly."

"Sorry. Sorry, yeah. It's out of bounds. The maintenance guys aren't even allowed down there now." She picked up a pair of gloves and stretched them over her hands. "Why?"

She looked up. He was gone.

III

The doors of the lift opened into almost darkness. Sherlock stepped out, the concrete floor was cracked and wet.

"John?" He whispered tentatively as he walked. "John?" He whispered again.

"Sherlock?" John's voice came from further down the hall.

He rushed towards it, his shoes splashing in shallow puddles as he ran.

"About bloody time." John whispered as Sherlock came into view. He was attached to a pipe with a pair of handcuffs.

"I don't even want to know how you got yourself into this," said Sherlock as he examined the cuffs.

"Shut up and just get them off me."

"Here, this may help." A soft, calm voice called out.

A few feet down the hall stood Moriarty with his hands in the pockets of his clean, expensive suit. He pulled a hand from his pocket to reveal a small key. He threw it to Sherlock who caught it with ease.

"Now player one is here, we can get started," he said before opening a door and disappearing into the room.

Sherlock unlocked the cuffs and stood up, following Moriarty.

"What are you doing? Let's just go!" John shouted.

"There's more to this, I can't just walk away."

"Last time we came face to face with that lunatic, we almost blew up. So yes, you can and you should walk away."

They stood staring at each other for a moment. Finally, john rolled his eyes, let out a sigh and headed towards the room with Sherlock.

"It's handy to have lots of eggs in lots of baskets," Moriarty began as they stepped into the room. "It means when you need a place to orchestrate an elaborate plan, you've got people who'll cordon off an entire hospital basement just for you." He smiled.

Sherlock looked around the room. It was packed with old equipment and furniture, nothing remarkable except a large mirror extending the length of the wall behind Moriarty.

"Don't get me wrong, as you can see there has been a bit of a flood. Hope you didn't wear your nice shoes. But nothing a good plumber can't sort out– "

"What do you want?" Sherlock interrupted.

Moriarty rolled his eyes before continuing. "This used to be a viewing room way, way back in the day. Medical students would all come in here to watch live autopsies. Isn't that interesting."

"Not really. Basic knowledge," Sherlock quipped.

John shook his head.

"The point is... Look at the trouble I've gone to for you. And at first, I wasn't doing things for you, I was doing them because I was fascinated by you. What I wasn't expecting was for you to get off on it. To revel in it."

"I revel in stopping you–" Sherlock began.

"No. You don't. Otherwise you wouldn't be standing here right now. No, it's the glory. It's like a drug... I have become your best fix." Moriarty spoke through his teeth. "But this little cat and mouse thing we've got going on, it got me thinking. Is there anything important enough to you that would make you finally put an end to this. To me?"

He flicked a switch on the wall, causing the mirror behind him to become transparent. The room on the other side was dark, Sherlock and John squinted as they tried to make out the shadow in the middle of the floor. Moriarty turned around, noticing the darkness.

"Oh," he laughed matter-of-factly, and flicked another switch which brought the room to light.

"Margaux." Sherlock's lips moved, though his voice was almost inaudible as he stared through the glass.

She was sitting in what looked like an old dentist's chair; her arms and legs strapped down, the dried blood from her nose still visible above her lip. She was terrified.

"Sherlock? Sherlock!" she cried out as her eyes focused on the men behind the glass. "Help me."

"I mean, I'm obviously not talking about her," Moriarty began. "She's not important to you. But Sherlock is important to Sherlock. Sherlock saves Sherlock. So I'm thinking that a piece of Sherlock may be just as impor... Oh I'm sorry, I just realised you all don't have a clue what I'm talking about do you? Okay just give me a sec."

In one fluid movement, Moriarty unlocked the door connecting the two rooms, stepped through and locked it from the other side. With each slow, menacing step he took, the more Margaux struggled to break free. He leaned down next to her and stroked her hair.

"Relax," he whispered before rolling a machine out from under the chair. He grabbed the hem of her dress and lifted it up to her chest. "This is going to be a bit cold," he said, mimicking an old lady.

Margaux could feel the straps digging into her thighs as she tried to struggle free. A sudden cold across her stomach took her breath away. There was nothing she could do, except wait for Sherlock to do something. Moriarty lifted a small device and pushed it hard into her stomach. She gasped and let out a small cry as he slid it around.

A heartbeat.

Moriarty turned to Sherlock with an open mouth. "Oh how exciting," he said excitedly.

Margaux shook her head. No. This was part of his plan. It had to be. She couldn't be.

"There's a part of you, in there. And I could just..." He pulled a gun from his pocket and pressed it against Margaux's temple.

Margaux gasped. She shut her eyes, bracing for it.

"Whoa! Stop! Stop!" John shouted, bashing his hands on the glass. He turned to Sherlock. "What are we going to do? He's obviously after something so what is it? Figure it out!" John ran to the door, throwing his entire body against it. He stepped back and ran at it again. Nothing. He began to kick it, searching the room for things to break it down. All the while, Sherlock stood still. Like he wasn't really there; a ghost, with eyes fixed on Margaux and every case he'd ever solved sifting through his mind.

"You sent the texts. The threatening texts to the imposter. That was you. Trying to get police attention so I would solve the case," he finally spoke.

"I was helping you," Moriarty replied. "Like I did with those people; the fake painting, the missing man–"

"By tying bombs to people's chests – to John's chest."

"You work better under pressure. When there's glory at stake. You work better when there's something. In. It. For. YOU!" He screamed.

Margaux jumped.

"You didn't care about those people," Moriarty continued. "You didn't care about the man who was killed by that faker. You don't care about the victims of these crimes you help solve. But you cared about John. And that got me thinking... What is Sherlock Holmes' Achilles heel? Well I thought it was him so that's why I sent Rita in. But then this happened today and I just thought... oh how poetic. How perfectly, beautifully timed. A little speck of dust that has found its way off of you, flitted through the air, and against all odds, settled itself on her. A cluster of cells and nerves with arms and legs and a beating heart containing... you. I mean in all honesty I didn't think you'd have it in you to even–"

Suddenly, Sherlock let out a scream, slamming his hands against the glass.

"Don't let him get to you, Sherlock. You have to figure something out or she will die!" John shouted, still trying to break down the door.

"I can't... I..." Sherlock began to think.

It has to start where it will end. That was what Rita had said. The game had to start where it would end. This was the start. There was no way out but to play. He took his phone from his pocket, keeping it out of sight, and opened a new text to Mycroft.

'St Bart's Basement. Moriarty.

S.'

He had to stall.

"It doesn't matter what I say, John. He already has our story written out. He's already set up the game," said Sherlock as he watched a smile begin to grow on Moriarty's face.

Margaux's chest grew tight, she couldn't breathe and it hurt. She was having a panic attack. The pain grew stronger, radiating from her chest to her throat and triggering another pain, one she had never felt before, in her abdomen. She let out a scream, it echoed in the pit of Sherlock's stomach.

"I accept," said Sherlock. "I will be a piece in your narrative, I will play your game."

"What game!?" Shouted John as he charged for the door.

"The game, John. Sherlock vs Moriarty. The story in which the moral is to show me my weakness. In which he triumphs... The story where I am exposed as the selfish, sick man who gets off on other people's misfortune."

*Warning for possible trigger below: hints towards miscarriage (not graphic)*

Margaux screamed again. She was certain she was dying. Moriarty peeled his eyes from Sherlock to glance down at her. Noticing the blood, he let out a whistle.

"Oh dear. Good job we've got a doctor on sight ay? Ha." He gestured to John.

Sherlock began to panic; he needed to get to her. "I'll play," he said, glancing at the hinges of the door. "Two more kicks of this door and it'll be down." He spoke the words to John, but it was almost as if they were aimed at Moriarty.

John ran at the door again, causing the frame to splinter and crack. He stepped back, gave it one final kick, and sure enough, it fell to the floor. Sherlock watched as Moriarty ran to the light switch and plunged the rooms into darkness. Then he felt a breeze skim past him scented with his cologne. He was gone.

Sherlock searched for the switch and turned the lights back on, watching as John rushed to Margaux to free her from the straps. He ran into the room and quickly to her side. He clasped her hand.

"She's bleeding. We need an ambulance now," said John.

*End of possible trigger*

III

She wondered if she was strange for feeling grief. Either way, she felt it. She looked down at the cannula in her hand as it rested over her flat stomach and felt guilty. She was sure there was a part of her that would always feel that way.

Sherlock stepped into the room, closing the door gently behind him. He walked over to the hospital bed where Margaux lay and sat in the chair next to her. Neither spoke. As usual, they didn't need to. But she was finding him hard to read.

"I swear I didn't know." Her voice was raspy.

"I know," he said calmly. "Have they said anything? About..."

"Not yet. But they're pretty sure it's gone," she said, trying to give a small smile as a tear escaped the corner of her eye.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too."

They sat in silence for a while longer, until visiting hours ended and he had to leave.

A knock on the door came soon after, somehow she thought he had snuck back in, and became disappointed when she was greeted with a smiling doctor.

"Margaux Cave?"

"Yes."

"I have some incredible news for you."

III

Margaux had been discharged from hospital and taken home by a team of Mycroft Holmes' most trusted employees. She closed the door and double bolted it immediately, and now she found herself alone with the television again. She stood next to her bed with her phone in her hands. Just call, she thought. You want to talk to him so just call. Suddenly, there was a shift in the room; it felt fuller somehow, and his clean scent surrounded her.

"I thought I locked the door," she said, her back still to him.

"Window."

"That's breaking in. It's against the law you know." She turned around.

"I didn't think you'd mind." His voice was low and serious, almost troubled. She had never seen him like this.

"Sherlock, are you okay?"

He stepped towards her, his movements so smooth it was as if he was floating.

"I just... I just came because I wanted you to know. That this." He placed his hands near her stomach. "This would have been... a really good thing."

Margaux took a sharp intake of breath. The emotionless, socially inept Sherlock Holmes was being sincere, desperate to touch her, trying his best to articulate how he felt. She cupped his face in her hands, but instead of saying what she was going to say, she just smiled.

"I know," she whispered.

He left shortly after. She locked the door behind him and walked over to close the window. She watched him step into the street and hail a taxi. She watched him climb in. She watched the lights of the cab disappear around the corner.

She would tell him. But not tonight.

Chapter Text

The Crown Jewels, the Bank of England and Pentonville Prison; Moriarty had played a strong move. Because it was a game. A game that Sherlock did not want to play but could not forfeit. A game that Sherlock knew was going to end with his own death.

Sherlock stepped up to the stand, his eyes fixed on Moriarty’s smirk as he took his position. It was a smirk that he had seen before, one that could tint even the worst crimes with a sense of playfulness and charisma. But not this time. Now, when Sherlock looked at Moriarty, he saw nothing but the night under St. Bart’s Hospital; when all he could do was watch through a pane of glass as his only chance of becoming a father evaporated in front of him. At the hands of that man, wearing that smirk.

III

“Sorry are you in the queue?” Margaux asked an old woman who was standing in front of her in the newsagents.

The woman shook her head and moved to the side, allowing her to join the queue. Margaux stood patiently, hugging a packet of Oreos to her chest and glancing at her watch; she had six minutes to get back to work. The queue shuffled up.

“Mad isn’t it. Makes you sick,” a man said as he paid for his things. “No way a man gets away with something like that. My neighbour went to jail for eighteen months over a dodgy insurance claim and you’re telling me he’s walked away scot free? Load of bollocks.”

Margaux looked up to the counter, the man was holding a newspaper. She glanced down to the racks at her side, a sudden feeling of nausea wrapping around her like an unwanted hug. His face. His smug, calculating face plastered in black and white across every pile of papers.

‘MORIARTY WALKS FREE: SHOCK VERDICT AT OLD BAILEY TRIAL.’

“Excuse me, love. I’m in the queue now, are you still waiting?” said the old woman from behind her.

Margaux’s shaking hands grasped the packet of Oreos and pushed them back onto the closest shelf. “No, sorry. You go ahead.” Her words were barely audible as she ran out of the shop.

Outside, the air seemed colder, smoggier. She sat down on a step and began to cry.

“Margaux?” A warm voice startled her.

She looked up to see Dr Grant standing above her. He was wrapped in a coat and scarf, holding an earphone in one hand, the other one still playing music in his ear, just loud enough for Margaux to recognise the song.

“Dr Grant.” She sniffed.

“Hey, now if I can’t call you Dr Cave then you can’t call me Dr Grant. It’s Oliver.” He smiled, offering her his hand.

She took it, allowing him to help her up.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Oh, I just… saw someone I didn’t really want to see.”

He gave an understanding sigh “Ugh that’s the worst, I’m sorry. Here.” He extended his arms and pulled Margaux into a hug. It made her feel safe. He really was lovely.

“Dr– Oliver,” she began “we never did go for that drink…”

“Oh, right, erm,”

After a moment of silence, Margaux smiled, “Girlfriend?” She asked sincerely.

“Yeah. She’s amazing.” Dr Grant gave in. “We’ve not been seeing each other long but things are going great. She’s just… You know when you’re with someone who’s really romantic and affectionate and they just make you feel so… happy?”

“No. What’s that like?” She thought about Sherlock; the cold, distant sociopath. She thought about how even his body was cold; clean and pale like marble. She thought about how his touch was cold; inducing goose bumps with nothing but his fingertips, how his eyes glowed blue like a glacier, and froze over whenever he felt he was getting too close. She had grown to love the cold.

Dr Grant smiled. Margaux smiled too, wiping the tears that had escaped onto her cheeks.

“Do you want me to walk you anywhere? Just in case you see this person again?” He asked.

“No, don’t worry. He’s kind of unavoidable.”

Unavoidable. Moriarty was everywhere.

III

Sargent Donovan looked around smugly as she stepped into 221B Baker Street behind Lestrade. Sherlock knew she was begging for it all to be true, for him to be caught out as a fraud, she was revelling in it. He outstretched his hands, allowing the handcuffs to be tightened, remaining silent as they pushed him out of the flat.

Donovan stepped towards John, suppressing a smile. “Well I said it. First time we met–”

“Don’t bother,” John interrupted.

“Solving crimes won’t be enough,” she continued, folding her arms across her chest proudly. “one day he’ll cross the line.”

Moriarty was everywhere. This was something Sherlock knew all too well. Moriarty was everywhere, and then suddenly, he didn’t exist. All that remained was a man who appeared to be solving mysteries he had created for himself.

III

“Stop,” said Margaux suddenly to her taxi driver. She climbed out of the cab, blue and red lights illuminating her face. Led by panic, she ran towards the police cars.

The door of 221B was wide open, with officers wandering in and out. She stepped onto the pavement, pulling her badge from her pocket and showing it to an officer as he tried to stop her.

“Inspector Lestrade,” she called out quickly, catching him as he came down the concrete steps.

Lestrade seemed concerned, flustered, “Margaux, you should probably go–”

“What’s going on? Are they okay? Sherlock and John? Mrs Hu–”

“They’re fugitives. Well, not Mrs Hudson. She's fine, she's inside.”

“Fugitives?”

Lestrade looked around before he spoke, “Someone’s made it look like he’s been staging his cases. And well, John just chinned the Chief Superintendent for calling Sherlock a weirdo.”

Margaux looked across to the man holding a bloody tissue to his nose.

“Go. Margaux,” said Lestrade, staring intently into her eyes, “fugitives need places to hide,” he said quietly. She understood.

She walked back into the road, away from the noise and the lights.

“You had a lucky escape,” a voice shouted from behind her.

She turned back to see Sergeant Donovan standing next to a police car. “Sorry?” she called back.

“He’s sick. I don’t even want to think about what lies he spun to have you drooling all over him.”

“Excuse me?” Margaux said with more anger as she approached Donovan.

“Ask yourself, what sort of man would kidnap two kids just so he could impress us all by finding them?”

“Ask yourself, what sort of police sergeant would target and harass a man based on a personal dislike?”

Donovan shook her head. “You’re deluded.”

“And you’re shit at your job,” said Margaux angrily before turning around and walking away.

III

“Got your message,” said John as he rushed into the lab.

Sherlock was sitting on the floor of the lab, bouncing a ball against the wall. He stopped. “The computer code is key to this. We find it, we can use it. beat Moriarty at his own game,” he said.

“What do you mean use it?”

“He used it to create a false identity. So we can use it to break into the records and destroy Richard Brook.”

“Bring back Jim Moriarty again,” John nodded.

Sherlock stood up. “Somewhere in 221B, somewhere on the day of the verdict he left it hidden.”

“What did he touch?”

“An apple, nothing else.”

“Did he write anything down?”

“No,” Sherlock said, growing frustrated.

John tapped his fingers against the counter and walked away, the noise causing something to click in Sherlock’s head. He tapped his fingers against the counter, a specific sequence, he had it. he turned away from John; this was it. It was going to start where it would end. That’s what Moriarty had told him.

He took out his phone and typed his move.

‘Come and play. Bart’s Hospital rooftop. SH.

PS. Got something of yours you might want back.’

III

The London landscape blended with the dull, grey sky. A breeze lifted the curls from his forehead and placed them down again gently. The game was coming to an end, power shifting rapidly between the two players. This was it.

He took a deep breath and stepped out onto the roof.

III

“I’m a doctor,” John slurred as he pushed through the growing crowd, “he’s my friend,” he muttered as he knelt at his side, the thud of his knees hitting the pavement echoed in his head like a heartbeat. He felt arms wrapping around him, pulling him back. He grasped at his wrist, pressing his fingers in hard, begging for a pulse, squeezing harder as if it was trying to get away from him. He felt nothing. They turned the body on his back; his stark, blue eyes the only feature undistorted by blood and bruising. They were looking straight at him. “No, no, no,” John continued to mutter as they pulled him away.

III

“He’s gone. I’m sorry,” said Molly softly, patting John’s shoulder.

“I just. He can’t.”

“The trauma was… It was severe. He died shortly after impact.”

“I don’t…” John blinked, trying to make the spots in his vision disappear.

“You have to go home, John. You need to rest.” Molly spoke with sincerity, as if she could cry at any moment but wouldn’t allow it.

“This was all him. Moriarty.”

“They found him too. Dead. Up on the roof.”

John’s breath stopped for a moment as a lump grew in his throat. “He wasn’t a fraud. Sherlock, he wasn’t a fraud.” He turned to Molly, “Moriarty was real. Everyone must know.”

“They will.”

John picked up his jacket and left, stepping past police in every corridor. He came to the hospital reception. Even more police; fighting off a sea of photographers and news reporters. John turned to find a quieter exit. Then he saw them. The lump in his throat turned to acid and his limbs felt hollow, he stormed towards them.

“You,” he growled.

Standing with Lestrade was Philip Anderson and Sargent Donovan.

“You. Well this is what you wanted,” John began angrily “to see him disgraced, ruined–”

“John,” Lestrade tried to interject.

“Well is dead good enough for you? Because you did this.” John flitted between Anderson and Donovan.

“John, we’re all feeling–” Lestrade tried again.

“No! We’re not ‘all feeling’ anything! Sherlock Holmes is dead. My best friend is dead.” John began to walk away. Stopping and turning back suddenly. “And he wasn’t a fraud. He didn’t do any of those things. So you make sure the world knows that. It’s the least you can do.” He turned away, walking slowly, feeling his limp again for the first time in years.

III

She stood in the middle of her living room staring at the television. Her eyes burned but she refused to blink; ‘SHERLOCK HOLMES DEAD’ flashed across the bottom of the screen, like a banner, as casually as a football score. She forgot how to breathe, her lip quivered as the first warm tear escaped the corner of her glossy amber eyes. Margaux hit the ground, crumpling in on herself like she was deflating, gasping for breath, clutching her stomach as it twisted in agonising grief.

He was gone.

Chapter Text

Dr John Watson had been to war. He had witnessed people die. He had tried desperately to protect his men, watched as innocent people were caught in the devastation. He had been traumatised by the sounds of explosions, the gargling of blood in the throats of injured soldiers, the fear he would never make it home again. Dr John Watson had been to war, yet he had never felt so destroyed, so numb and so hollow as he did in the two years since Sherlock Holmes died.

He turned the key in the lock hearing the familiar clink. He stepped inside and shut the door behind him, taking a deep, slow breath before turning around and walking along the hallway to the bottom of the stairs. His most treasured memories lingered in that stairway, so intense they almost echoed with Sherlock’s voice, their conversations. He glanced at them, taking another breath, as Mrs Hudson opened her door and stepped out, her face twisting in confusion.

John opened the door to 221B slowly; the breeze causing the dust to lift from every surface and swirl around the air, like the glitter inside a snow globe. He looked around the room. Nothing had changed. It was like stepping into a piece of earth where time had stood still.

Mrs Hudson stepped past John towards the windows. “I couldn’t face letting it out,” she began as she opened the curtains, coughing as the dust caught in her throat. “He never let me dust it.”

“Oh, I know,” John replied with an almost smile, just visible under his newly grown moustache.

“So why now? What changed your mind?”

“Well, I’ve… got some news.”

Mrs Hudson stopped what she was doing and looked over at John with a sympathetic frown. “Oh god, is it serious?”

“What? No. No, I’m not ill. I’ve erm, I’m… moving on.”

“You’re emigrating.”

John closed his eyes, holding the growing frustration back. “Nope. Er no, I’ve uh, I’ve met someone.”

“Oh!” Mrs Hudson clapped her hands together and smiled. “Aw lovely.”

“Yeah, we’re getting married,” John smiled. “Well I’m going to ask anyway.”

“So soon after Sherlock.”

“Well yes?”

“What’s his name?” Mrs Hudson asked.

John sighed. “It’s a woman.”

“A woman!?”

“Yes of course it’s a woman.”

“You really have moved on haven’t you–”

“Mrs Hudson, how many times? Sherlock was not my boyfriend.”

“Live and let live, that’s my motto–”

“Listen to me,” John began, pointing his finger at her, “I am not gay!”

III

Her dark, wavy hair was shorter now. To her shoulders; easier to manage. She tucked it behind her ears as she leant down to her laptop to click to the next slide. She stepped out from behind her desk, pointing to the slide which was now projected onto the large board.

“So as you can see from this chart here, contrary to popular belief and stigma, ninety percent of violent crimes and homicides are committed by those without mental illness. Can anyone tell me how this fact may affect our approach to rehabilitation?”

A few tentative hands raised around the lecture theatre. Margaux blew an escaped strand of hair out of her face before stepping forward and pointing to one of her students.

Two years had felt like a lifetime. Sherlock’s death had drawn a line, and everything from that point was new; she knew nothing, she felt nothing. It was as if she couldn’t remember how it felt to be the person she was before, like she was remembering someone else’s life.

Sometimes she would wake in the middle of the night, with her hair curled and stuck to the back of her neck with sweat, and the nightmare was always the same; Sherlock’s funeral. But Moriarty was there, dragging the coffin away while everybody’s backs were turned and Margaux was the only one who could see him. She would shout to everyone for help, pointing to the coffin as it grew more and more distant. But no one cared, no one cared even when she began screaming in their faces; in John’s face, in Mycroft’s face, shaking what her brain had conjured as Sherlock’s parents by the shoulders. She would run after Moriarty as he grinned and laughed, mocking Sherlock’s coffin. She would try her hardest to run but her legs would never work. Then she would wake up.

Like John, Margaux had experienced trauma. She had fought and worked her entire life to be normal, happy, successful. She had lived in dangerous places, fallen into darkness where death could have been so easy, so peaceful. She had witnessed crimes that haunted her, and felt the pain of loneliness. But her dreams had never woken her until he was gone.

She dismissed her class and began gathering her things, shutting down the projector and slipping her laptop into her bag. She pulled on her thick, woollen cardigan and checked the pocket for her phone as she headed for the door.

“Dr Cave,” a voice came from the front row.

She turned to see a handful of students hovering around the chairs, taking extra time to pack up.

“Yes?”

“Could we ask you a question?” One of the students said nervously.

“What about?” Margaux walked towards them, putting her phone back in her pocket.

“We… We were wondering if it’s true that you… knew Sherlock Holmes.”

Her eyes flitted between the group, her silence growing more and more awkward with each glance.

“Erm,” she began. “Yes. Yes, I did know him. I worked with him on a few of his cases,” she stuttered. “W-What does this have to do with my lecture?”

“Oh, sorry. It doesn’t really. It’s just that Alex,” one of the students pointed to her friend, “he’s been reading this site called ‘The Empty Hearse’ and in one of the theories, there was mention of a Dr Cave. So we just wondered–”

“Theory? What do mean theory?” Margaux could feel something bubbling inside her, it was hot and angry like magma.

“Well, the whole site is based on the theory that Sherlock Holmes didn’t… that he didn’t actually… well… die.”

Margaux took a sharp breath, looking past the students to the wall behind them. she could feel her eyes glazing, but not from sadness. She wasn’t sad, she was furious; there were people in the world who believed he was alive. There were people, not just in the world, but right there in front of her, discrediting her pain and grief with nothing more than cheap conspiracies. She composed herself quickly.

“I knew Sherlock Holmes,” she began through gritted teeth. “He was an astonishing mind. If you must read about him during my lectures, I suggest you make it about the crimes he solved and the people he helped.” She could almost feel the steam rising from her head. “Do some research that actually counts towards your degree, or drop out and stop wasting my time.”

Margaux walked away, letting the heavy door slam behind her.

III

John looked across the table at Mary. Her eyes creased as she smiled at him; her cropped blonde hair and warm smile complimented their pale green colour, making them glitter. He loved her. He was so in love with her that all he could do in that moment was smile back as the ring box pressed into his chest through his pocket.

“You okay?” She asked.

“Yeah, yeah, me? I am fine.” He let out a small laugh to hide his nerves.

“Now then what did you want to ask me?”

“More wine?” John stalled.

“No, I’m good with water thanks,” she replied. “So…”

“So… Mary, listen, erm… I know it hasn’t been long. I mean, I know we haven’t known each other for a long time…”

“Go on.”

“Yes… As you know these last couple of years haven’t been easy for me, and meeting you… yeah, meeting you has been the best thing that could’ve possibly happened–”

“I agree.”

“What?”

“I agree, I’m the best thing that could’ve happened to you.” Mary smiled. John laughed. “Sorry,” she said.

“No, no, it’s… So… if you’ll have me, Mary, could you see a way of…” he cleared his throat. “If you could see a way to–”

A large bottle of champagne appeared in front of John’s face. Accompanied by the annoying voice of a French waiter.

“Sir, I think you’ll find this vintage exceptionally to your liking.”

The waiter continued to talk as John and Mary stared at each other. Mary giggled as she watched John awkwardly attempting to shoo the man away. But he persisted. Mary put her hand to her head, covering her face from the waiter and pulling a funny grimace. The waiter removed his glasses and fell silent. John looked up, ready to tell him to get lost, but the words melted away before they reached his lips.

Sherlock.

“Interesting thing, a tuxedo. Gives distinction to friends and anonymity to waiters.” Sherlock smiled.

John staggered to his feet, pushing his chair out clumsily behind him. His breaths became sharp and his eyes wide. Mary watched on, growing worried.

“John, what is it? Wh–”

“Well,” Sherlock began. “Short version: not dead.”

III

Margaux slept uneasy that night. Her nightmare even more vivid than usual. She dragged herself into work with a large cup of coffee in her hand. She would often arrive early for her lectures, meaning she had the room to herself, the only few minutes of quiet she could get.

She set up her laptop, sipping her coffee and mindlessly scrolling through her notes. She looked over at the row of seats where she had stood yesterday with her students. ‘The Empty Hearse’, even the title made her shift in her seat uncomfortably. She continued to scroll but the thoughts wouldn’t leave. She gave in. Opening a new page, she typed it in and clicked on the site.

‘A club founded by Philip Anderson (forensic scientist for Scotland Yard) for like-minded people to meet and discuss theories that Sherlock Holmes is still out there’ she read.

“Anderson, you prick,” she muttered.

She clicked through the pages, reading different theories and looking at pictures of so-called evidence; ‘A sighting of Sherlock in Japan’, she couldn’t help but let out a small laugh. She looked at the door, still no sign of anyone, so she clicked on the website's search bar and typed in ‘Dr Margaux Cave’. A blog post written by a man named Theo appeared with her name highlighted through the paragraphs several times. She began reading it when the first flood of students began filing in. Margaux clicked off the page and brought her presentation up, standing up to greet everyone.

“Dr Cave!” Alex, one of the students from the day before came running in with his phone. “Dr Cave, have you seen?”

“Seen what?”

“It was all true!” He handed his phone to Margaux who brought it close to her face. It was a web page from BBC news, the headline reading: ‘BREAKING NEWS: HAT DETECTIVE ALIVE’.

She handed the phone back quickly.

“Surely that’s some kind of hoax.”

“It’s not! Look at Twitter…” He fumbled with his phone and handed it back to her. The screen covered in tweets and articles. All with the tag #SherlockHolmesAlive.

Margaux’s heart began to race. She gave Alex his phone back once again.

“Well, I guess an apology is in order,” she struggled to speak, her voice breaking. “I’m sorry, Alex. I think I’m going to have to leave. Can you let everyone know?”

She grabbed her bag and walked out of the theatre, leaving her coat and her laptop behind.

III

The dust had settled on Sherlock’s reincarnation. He had attempted numerous times to speak to John, each time being met with either rejection or a punch in the face. But he wasn’t worried, he knew he would eventually want to come back, it was just a matter of waiting to allow John’s unremarkably normal brain to process his return. In the meantime, the cases were piling, and he needed a partner.

Molly sifted through her notes in the back of the black cab, the notes she had frantically scribbled down as she tried to keep up with Sherlock’s fast observations. How did John do this? She thought as closed the pad. She was tired. On the last case, Sherlock had called her John, never correcting himself. Either because he couldn’t be bothered or hadn’t even noticed. She looked up at him as he stared ahead intensely.

“So, is John still struggling with the fact that it was all… fake?” She asked.

“John will get over it. Everyone will. And eventually it’ll be like it never even happened,” he replied, never looking at her.

“Do you really believe that?”

“People are too selfish, too wrapped up in their own lives to waste what little brain capacity they have holding onto information about other people. Yes, I believe they will forget.”

“I think that’s an assumption you’ve made based on yourself. I don’t think everyone is like that.”

Sherlock turned to look at Molly for the first time, his eyes still able to burn right into her. “Are you saying you don’t think John will ever forgive me?”

“No, I actually think John will forgive you. I just think there’ll be other people who’ll find it harder to forget.”

“Who?”

Molly sighed and returned to her notebook. In all the time she had known him, she had found his confidence captivating. But right now, she didn’t see confidence, she saw arrogance, and all she could do was shake her head.

III

A man gets on a train and by the next stop, he’s gone. Sherlock thought about is as they stood in the flat decorated in train memorabilia. A man gets on a train and by the next stop, he’s gone. How.

He stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at Molly. “I’m going to need maps, lots of maps, all the maps, all the maps.” He hurried down the stairs, passing Molly. “Fancy some chips?”

“What?” She replied.

“I know a fantastic fish shop just off the Marylebone row, the owner always gives me extra portions.”

“Did you get him off a murder charge or something?” asked Molly sarcastically as she followed him down the next flight.

“No. I helped him put up some shelves.” He said with a smirk.

“Sherlock,” Molly began as they reached the bottom. “What was today about?”

“Saying thank you.”

“For what?”

“Everything you did for me.”

“It’s okay. It’s my pleasure.”

“No,” said Sherlock in a low, gravelly voice. Molly stopped walking and turned back to face him. “I mean it.”

“I didn’t mean pleasure, I mean I didn’t mind, I wanted to.” She nodded.

“Moriarty slipped up, he made a mistake. Because the one person he thought didn’t matter to me was the one that mattered the most; you made it all possible.” He took a breath. “But you can’t do this again, can you?”

“I’ve had a lovely day.” Molly smiled kindly.

“I’d love to, I just…”

“Congratulations, by the way,” Sherlock added as he looked down at the diamond ring on her finger.

Molly looked down at it too, twisting it, suddenly nervous. She began to ramble about her new fiancé, useless facts, she couldn’t help it.

Sherlock smiled a rare smile, one that reached his eyes and caused his cheeks to crease. “I hope you’ll be very happy, Molly Hooper.”

III

“Who are you!?” Mrs Hudson shouted.

Sherlock turned away from his portion of chips, glancing down the hall. “Mary?” He called out as she ran up the stairs to meet him.

She showed him the message on her phone. John Watson was in trouble. Sherlock dropped his chips on the floor and ran, followed by Mary. He ran out into the dark, wet street, the rain bouncing heavily from the pavement. Think. How to get there the fastest possible way. Think!

“Sherlock, what are we waiting for?” Mary cried.

“This.” Sherlock held the palm of his hand up, stopping a biker in their tracks. They convinced him to hand it over, climbing on and riding away quickly, weaving in and out of traffic to the place John had been left.

‘Save John Watson’ Sherlock thought as he turned the corner sharply. In the distance, he could see a bonfire igniting.

III

John stood in 221B, fiddling with the edge of a piece of paper as Sherlock hurried an old couple out of the flat. He finally shut the door and pressed his back up against it.

“Sorry about that.”

“No, it’s fine. Clients?” John asked.

“Just my parents,” Sherlock said matter-of-factly.

“Your parents?”

“In town for a few days.”

Your parents?”

“Mycroft promised to take them to a matinee but now he’s trying to talk me into doing it.”

“Those were your parents?” John rushed to the window. “Well, that is not what I…”

“What?”

“I mean, they’re just… so… ordinary.”

“it’s a cross I have to bare.”

John laughed, walking to the middle of the living room. “Did they know too? That you spent the last two years playing hide and seek?”

“Maybe,” Sherlock mumbled.

“Ah! So that’s why they weren’t at the funeral–”

“Sorry. Sorry again!” Sherlock threw his arms up. “Sorry,” he said again, more sincerely.

He noticed John had shaved the moustache. He looked better, Sherlock thought. John sat down the armchair, the cuts on the side of his head more visible in the crack of light from the window.

“How are you feeling?” Sherlock asked.

“Yeah not bad. A bit… smoked.” John joked. “Last night, who did that? And why did they target me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it someone trying to get to you through me? Is it something to do with this terrorist thing you talked about?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see the pattern. It’s too nebulous. Why would an agent give his life to tell us something incredibly insignificant, that’s what’s strange.”

“Give his life?”

“According to Mycroft. There’s an underground network planning an attack on London, that’s all we know.” Sherlock walked to his wall filled with notes. “These are my rats, John.”

“Rats?”

“My markers. If one of them starts acting suspiciously, we know something’s up. Five of them are behaving perfectly normally but the sixth… He’s just done something very suspicious indeed.” He pointed to a picture of the man from the train. Lord Moran.

John watched the security footage from the train again.

“Yep that’s odd. Nowhere he could have got off?” he asked.
“Not according to the maps. There’s something, something I’m missing.” Said Sherlock, grabbing his head in frustration. “Something that’s staring me in the face.”

“Well bloody hell I’m getting flashbacks,” John said with a small laugh.

Sherlock turned to look at John, tilting his head like a confused dog.

“Last time you had this much on the wall and no clue what the answer was, we ended up in St Bart’s convincing Margaux Cave to wear a slinky dress.”

Sherlock stared at John, a blank expression trying to distract from the thuds in his chest that he was sure John could see. When he left, he thought of her a lot. Too much. He spent a lot of time alone, almost all of it, actually, and those moments when he thought of her were enough to make him want to go back. He couldn’t explain his feelings, he had never so much as had a crush at school, they scared him. So he hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on her. Even now that he was back, he was doing everything he could to stop thinking about her, so much so that he had almost convinced himself that she hadn’t mattered.

He turned away from John back to the wall, examining it closely; she would solve it in moments, he knew that. He was going to have to see her again.

The thudding in his chest continued.

Chapter Text

The yellow door was now grey. Bleak and streaky. Sherlock looked at it with an air of disappointment.
“Are you not at all nervous?” John asked.
“Why would I be nervous?”
“Because you haven’t seen the woman in two years.”
“I hadn’t seen you in two years and I wasn’t nervous.” Sherlock answered, his eyes still focused on the door. “Yes. But the difference is, you and I weren’t fuc–” The door opened slightly, a woman with greying hair peered her head around. “Yes?” Sherlock’s stern, lifeless expression suddenly became charming and attractive. “Hi,” he began with a smile, “We’re looking for Margaux.” “I don’t know a Margaux, sorry.” “Well this is her flat, is it not?” “Well I’ve lived here for a year now so I don’t think so.” Sherlock huffed.

They stepped out of the building onto the street, the sun was setting and the breeze was cold. Sherlock flicked up the collar of his coat and began to walk. John zipped his jacket up, shoved his hands in the pockets and followed.
“You were nervous,” he jabbed.
“I wasn’t nervous, will you shut up.”

They knocked on three more doors around London, none of which held Margaux on the other side. Sherlock had come to realise that his sources had failed him.
“This would be a lot easier if she had family,” he said.
“Ah yes, how dare she be emancipated from her negligent parents, to which she was the only child. How selfish of her to be all alone in this world,” John replied sarcastically.
“You know what I mean.”
“What about Molly Hooper?”
“Are they still friends?”
“I don’t know. I would assume so,” John guessed.
III

“We catch up every now and then. It’s hard now with her not coming to the hospital to work anymore. But yes, we still talk,” said Molly as she stood over a corpse with a scalpel in the morgue.
“Do you have her current address?” Sherlock asked, un-phased.
Molly hesitated. “I don’t know if I feel comfortable just giving someone’s address out.”
“Come on, Molly, it’s me,” Sherlock said with a charismatic smile.
“Smooth,” said John.
“I don’t know–”
“Do you have it written down somewhere?”
“Sherlock, I really don’t know–”
“You send Christmas cards every year, and you post them as opposed to hand-deliver which means you keep all of your contacts and addresses in one place. You’re slightly messy and very sentimental, so the list is most likely in an old diary that you keep in your office- no, your car. No. Handbag.”
“Sherlock,” said Molly.
“It’s an old diary, well out of date, but it’s compact so you continue to use it,” Sherlock continued as he walked towards Molly’s bag. “She moved at least a year ago, and we’ve had a Christmas since then which means you have her new address, most likely written next to her old one, as I said: sentimental, can’t bring yourself to cross the old one out.” He reached into her bag.
“Sherlock, come on, you can’t go through her bag,” said John.
“Oh relax, what do you expect I’ll find? She’s not a weirdo or a drug addict or something.”
“No that’s just you,” John quipped.
“There won’t be anything personal or embarrassing, she’s not due on her period for at least another two weeks.”
“Sherlock!” Molly shouted.
He pulled the diary from her bag, flicked through the pages effortlessly and memorised Margaux’s new address.
“Thanks.” He winked.
Molly shook her head. He was infuriating.
III

It was time to try again. He adjusted his stance, his posture perfectly straight, his chin up. He placed his hands behind his back and waited.
“Sherlock, you need to ring the bell,” said John.
“Hm? Oh.” He stared at the doorbell, watching it intently but never moving his hands.
“Would you like me to press it?”
“Hm?”
“Oh for god’s sake.” John pushed the doorbell and stood back in the corridor.

She had moved thirty minutes away from her old flat. This one seemed bigger, Sherlock thought as he scanned the length of the walls between the front doors either side. He braced himself for a boyfriend to answer the door. It seemed the most logical deduction of why she moved.
They heard a chain rattle, followed by a click and a creak as the door opened slowly. There she was, standing on the other side; her smile suddenly evaporated as she laid eyes on them.
Sherlock smiled another rare, genuine smile. “Surprise,” he said.

She walked slowly back into her flat, the two men following behind. She turned to face them in the middle of the hallway. She was barefoot, her hair tied in a ponytail, her face clear of makeup except the slight stain of whatever lipstick she had worn that day. She was wearing a jumper underneath a pair of well-worn dungarees. She seemed smaller, or perhaps Sherlock had just forgotten. There was silence among the three; John watched as the pair stood opposite each other. He saw the pain in Margaux’s face, the confusion, the betrayal, and he recognised it all in himself.
Sherlock inhaled as if he was about to speak, “So–” but he was met by a hard, stinging slap across the face.
“You pretended to die,” she said slowly and quietly. “You come back here after two years, knocking on my door uninvited and the first thing you say is ‘surprise’?”
“I’m sorry,” Sherlock whispered as he clutched his cheek.
After a few moments, Margaux rolled her eyes and sighed. “I better get you some ice,” she said indifferently.

She led them into her living room and gestured to the couch. The pair sat down. John felt something hard under his leg, he reached under the cushion and pulled out a small, plastic toy car. He placed it on the table next to him. Margaux handed Sherlock a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel, placing it roughly against his cheek.
“Congratulations,” Sherlock said.
“For what?” Margaux replied.
“Your son. How old is he?”
John glanced at the car again, then around the room, now noticing the corner filled with toys, the tiny armchair next to the television and the basket of nappies and wipes tucked away under the coffee table.
Margaux cleared her throat, struggling to form a sentence. “He’s um, he just turned one.” She nodded.
“Well congratulations indeed,” John began. “You and your other half must be over the moon.”
“Uh, no other half. It was a one night sort of thing.”
“She’s lying,” Sherlock said, leaning towards John who was sitting next to him.
Margaux pointed her finger at him, “don’t you dare start.” She turned away and began pacing the room slowly.
Suddenly, the living room door creaked open. For a moment, it seemed as though no one was there, until a soft voice whispered from around the back of the door.
“Mummy…”
Margaux’s eyes widened. She went to him and picked him up swiftly, “What is it, love?”
The little boy looked over to Sherlock and John. He was fair skinned with soft, round cheeks and bright blue eyes piercing through masses of dark eyelashes. His hair was dark and wavy like Margaux’s, just long enough to fall into his face. Margaux brushed it back with her hand, kissing him on the cheek.
“I not tired,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes.
“Oh I think you are,” Margaux laughed.
“No, no, no, no,” he started to shout.
Margaux shushed him gently. She looked over to Sherlock and John, and back to her son. She sighed.
“Okay, a few minutes.”
She placed him on the floor and he ran quickly over to his toys, sitting down and beginning to play quietly. John’s brows furrowed slightly as he watched the toddler play.
“What do you want, Sherlock?” said Margaux as she sat on the other couch.
“There’s something I’m missing. Something that’s tying two bizarre and dangerous events together. I need you to take a look.”
Margaux laughed. “See, I thought it couldn’t get any worse than finding out you’d died on the news. But then, two years later, I found out you were actually alive on the news too. Now the first time I’m seeing you, it’s because you want my input on a case.”
“Margaux,” John interrupted distractedly, “how old did you say he was again?”
“Hm? Oh he’s one.”
“You said he’d just turned one?”
Margaux glanced between the two men. “Yes.”
“Right.”
“Look, Margaux, I’m sorry. I’ve said it to everyone, I’m sorry. I will explain everything to you but first I need your help.” Sherlock was becoming distracted by drips of cold water onto his shirt and trousers.
“The bag’s defrosting. Let me get you a different one,” she said, standing up and taking it from him.
“Vaughan, mummy’s just going into the kitchen, okay?”
The boy looked up at Margaux and nodded with a smile, before returning to his toys.
“Vaughan?” said Sherlock.
“Yes. What can I say? Unusual names run in the family,” said Margaux as she left for the kitchen.

She threw the bag of vegetables back in the freezer and leant against the counter, covering her face with her hands. She let out a huge breath before reaching for the bottle of gin in the cupboard. John walked in, looking down at the bottle in her hand.
“Gin and Tonic?” Margaux offered.
“No thanks,” he smiled. “Actually, go on then.”
She poured two glasses of gin and topped them with tonic water from the fridge. John noticed her hands were shaking.
“He’s been home for weeks, John.” She looked over to him, tears forming in her eyes. “I’m not saying I was this big, important person in his life. But to not even cross his mind when he came back?”
“I don’t doubt for one second that he’s thought of you.”
“Clearly,” she scoffed. “And you. It’s been two years; you didn’t pretend to die, what’s your excuse?”
“Hey,” John began, holding his hands up. “I swear I tried to catch up with you. It was a couple of months after he… Well, I went to your work. They said you–”
“Yeah, I took paid leave for a few months and never ended up going back. Sounds stupid now that he’s sitting in my bloody living room but, Sherlock’s death… It changed things.”
“Yeah don’t I know it.” John took a sip, “Where are you now then?”
“I lecture in forensic psychology at the University of London. Yes, I’m a teacher.” She laughed into her glass. “It was just easier with having Vaughan. More ‘sociable’ hours; I can take him to nursery and pick him up again. It is better.”
“Well he’s lovely, definitely worth it,” John nodded.
“Oh absolutely.”
“And very clearly older than twelve months.”
They looked at each other intensely, the silence growing uncomfortable.
“He’s Sherlock’s, isn’t he.” John finally said.
There was another long, empty silence. Margaux put her glass down on the counter.
“I was going to tell him the baby survived. Then he decided to go and die before I got the chance.”
“Margaux…”
“Don’t tell him, it’s been too long now,” she said quietly.
“Tell him? Margaux, it’s Sherlock, it’s only a matter of time before he bloody deduces it for himself.”
“Well then there’s no need to tell him, is there.”
“Yes there is. He’s sitting in there right now with his son and he doesn’t even realise it.”
“And I’ve spent the last eighteen months raising his son by myself; explaining to a baby that his daddy lives in a special place that we can’t ever visit. Now he’s suddenly back, and he’s sitting on my couch, and you’re saying I owe it to him.”
“He didn’t know, Margaux.”
She leant on the counter again, rubbing her eyes.
“Fine. But I’m not telling him tonight.”

She handed Sherlock a fresh bag of frozen vegetables. His face looked red and she felt a whisper of guilt forming in the back of her mind.
“Can I please just show you the footage?” Sherlock asked.
“Fine.”
Margaux walked over and sat between them. He took out his phone and played the clip of the train.
“What the…”
“Exactly. Now where did he go and how is he planning on destroying London?” Sherlock placed the tips of his fingers together and rested them on his chin, watching her as she began to think.
“Jesus, Sherlock, I’m not a crystal ball.”
Vaughan walked up to Margaux. She lifted him up and sat him on her knee. He gazed up at Sherlock, his eyes mirroring the ones looking down at him. Sherlock allowed a slight smile and patted Vaughn’s head awkwardly. Marguax and John shared a glance.
“I’ve exhausted every inch of my mind palace and I cannot come to any sort of answer.”
Vaughan turned and reached up to John, trying to touch the cuts on the side of his face.
“Oh, love, don’t touch,” said Margaux. “John! I didn’t notice how bad they were.”
“Yeah, got buried in a bonfire, as you do,” he joked.
“A bonfire?” she laughed. “A bonfire,” she said again, more seriously now. “A bonfire, Sherlock... Where did the man get on the train?”
“Westminster.”
“How many carriages?”
“Seven…” Sherlock’s eyes widened at Margaux. Hers widened back. Their silent conversations still blowing John away.
Sherlock stood up suddenly and began walking around the room, his movements excited, enthusiastic. “Oh that’s brilliant. That’s just brilliant. I’ve been a blind idiot!”
“Sorry?” John asked.
“Margaux that’s it, you’re right. Oh my god it all makes sense now.”
“Hello? Normal person over here? Can you please explain?”
Sherlock loaded the video again, showing it to John. “Look, seven carriages leave at Westminster. But only six carriages arrive at St James’s Park.”
“But that’s… It’s impossible,” said John.
“Lord Moran didn’t disappear, the entire tube compartment did,” Sherlock replied.
“The driver must have diverted the train and detached the last carriage.” Margaux agreed.
“Detached? Detached it where? You said there was nothing between those stations,” said John.
“That carriage vanished,” said Sherlock, still pacing. “It must be somewhere.”
“But why?”
“Lord Moran and a full train carriage disappears somewhere between Westminster and St James’s Park,” Margaux explained. “Around the same time, you’re almost killed at a fireworks party. Do you see it yet?”
Sherlock turned sharply. “What’s the date today?”
John looked down at his phone, “November…. Oh my god.”
“Remember, remember the fifth of November,” said Margaux.

III

“Tonight there’s an all-night seating at the House of Lords to vote on the new anti-terrorism bill. Lord Moran won’t be there,” said Sherlock as he walked quickly through the dark streets.
John caught up at his side, “So what do we do now?”
“We need to go back to the flat and give the train guy another call. There must be something down there.” Sherlock hailed a black cab. The pair climbed in. “Baker Street please.”
Almost the entire cab ride was quiet. John could see the familiarities of the streets around him, they were close to home.
“So,” John began. “Margaux. A kid. How do you feel about that?”
“How do I feel about what? How do I feel about seeing Margaux with a child? Or how do I feel about discovering I have a son?”
John almost choked on his own saliva. “You know?”
“Of course, John. She said the boy was twelve months old but his size and co-ordination place him clearly at eighteen months. Even then, he was still extremely advanced for his age; his ability to understand, comprehend and construct sentences, the clarity of which he speaks, his ability to play so intricately. All genetic.” He gestured to himself. “Plus the fact that Margaux was so very obviously lying about having a one night stand, and he looked exactly like me.”
John sat with his mouth open. “Sorry, is that it, are you done?”
“Also, she named the child Vaughan. Clearly a subconscious way of connecting him to his father; by giving him an equally unusual name.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I have the case to think about.”
“Sherlock!”
“Okay, fine… I feel it is her right to be in control. It is up to her to invite me in.”
“And if she did invite you in… Would you want to be… in?”
“I don’t know.”

III

They stepped onto the dark carriage tucked away in the forgotten underground station. They walked slowly from one end to the other, shining their torches, in the hopes that they would find something.
“It’s empty. There’s nothing,” said John.
Sherlock’s eyes zoomed in on the thin, red wire travelling down the walls of the carriage and disappearing under the seats. He ripped up the cushion to reveal rows of packages and wires taped underneath.
He turned to John, “this is the bomb,” he said. “It’s not carrying explosives; the whole compartment is the bomb.”
The pair began ripping up every seat cover, revealing more and more packs and wires. Sherlock looked around, searching for an origin point, he took a few steps and noticed a loose piece of floor. He bent down and lifted the panel.
“We need bomb disposal,” said John as he shined his torch on the large metal contraption buried in the floor.
“There might not be time for that.”
“So what do we do?”
“I have no idea.” The phrase sounded strange coming from Sherlock.
“Well think of something.”
“Why do you think I know what to do?”
“Because you’re Sherlock Holmes. You’re as clever as it gets.”
“Doesn’t mean I know how to diffuse a giant bomb. What about you?”
“I wasn’t in bomb disposal, I’m a bloody doctor.”
“Soldier, as you keep reminding us all,” said Sherlock, shining the torch in John’s face.
They looked down at the bomb, noticing a digital display. It read ‘2:30’. Suddenly, the carriage came to life, illuminating and humming as if someone had flicked a switch. The display began to tick down; 2:29, 2:28, 2:27…

III

Margaux finished another small glass of gin, no tonic this time. She sat on the floor with her back against the couch, Vaughan was curled up, sleeping under a blanket just behind her. She looked down at the palm of her hand, it was red from where she had slapped Sherlock. She cupped the cool glass to ease it.
She had wished often for him to come back to life. Now that he was here, she realised she had forgotten how cold and emotionless he could be. She glanced back at Vaughan, fixing the blanket over his legs.
“What do I do?” She whispered.

III

John stood, eyes closed, bracing for the explosion. He was silent, breathing heavily, his thoughts turning to Mary and what could have been. He could hear Sherlock’s sobs from the ground as he knelt over the bomb. Then he listened closer and realised he wasn’t sobbing, not even whimpering, in fact, Sherlock was laughing. John looked down at the bomb. It had been stopped.
“You!”
“Your face,” Sherlock laughed.
“You utter…”
“Your face!”
“You cock!”
“I totally had you.”
“I knew it, I knew it, I knew you…” John began pacing, both relief and anger driving his movements. “I will kill you, if you ever breathe a word of this–”
“Scouts honour.”
“To anyone! You knew how to turn it off!”
Sherlock bent down to the bomb. “There’s an off switch, John. There’s always an off switch.”

III

He popped open a bottle of champagne and walked into the living room of 221B. He handed out glasses to Lestrade, Mary and Mrs Hudson as they talked amongst themselves.
“Ah a spring wedding,” said Mrs Hudson to Mary.
“Yeah, you will be there, won’t you, Sherlock?” asked Mary.
“Hm, weddings… not really my thing.”
“Hello everyone,” a voice came from the doorway.
Sherlock turned to see Margaux standing with Vaughan in her arms. Mrs Hudson and Mary stood up immediately.
“Oh Margaux, hello dear how are you?” said Mrs Hudson cheerfully.
“I’m well thank you, how are you?”
“Who’s this!?” said Mary, gazing at Vaughan’s rosy face and striking eyes.
“This is Vaughan,” said Margaux, taking him over to them.
“My, aren’t you just a dream, come her,” said Mrs Hudson, taking him and placing him on her lap.
Mary smiled, “Hi, I’m Mary, John’s fiancé. Well, that is if he ever asks me. We were interrupted last time.” She shot Sherlock a glance, he grinned.
"I'm Margaux… a friend." Mary glanced at Sherlock again, this time she didn’t have to say anything.
“Champagne, Margaux?” said Sherlock, diverting Mary’s stare.
“Sure.” She stepped over to him, taking a glass and watching as he filled it with such care. “Thanks,” she said, taking a sip.
She took off her coat and unwrapped her scarf, holding it awkwardly over her arm.
“Here, I’ll take that,” said Sherlock.
He walked over and placed her coat and scarf over his armchair, she followed behind.
“So, you almost blew up?”
“Eh, I’ve been closer to death.” He winked.
She couldn’t believe his confidence. The night before he had received a hard slap for faking his own death, now, not even 24 hours later, he was joking about. A small laugh slipped out. It was funny. She couldn’t help herself. They both took a sip of champagne.
Sherlock watched as Margaux glanced over at Vaughan. He had noticed she kept doing it, like an automatic tic. “It suits you, you know.”
“Hm?”
“Motherhood.”
“Well you haven’t seen me at 3am on no sleep,” she scoffed.
“Hmm, I believe I have,” he replied.
She wasn’t sure if he was completely aware of the joke he just made. She laughed and pushed his arm gently with her fist. Now he was looking over at Vaughan.
“Sherlock…” She began tentatively.
“I know.”
“Wh–”
“I know,” he said again, this time looking down at her.
He hadn’t seen eyes like hers before, and never any since. He thought of her eyes during every golden sunset when he was away.
“Well I want you to know that I don’t expect you to… Well, I mean I know you’re not always…”
There was a long silence. He watched her as she gulped down the entire glass of champagne, her chest rising and falling rapidly with every quick, worried breath.
“May I introduce myself to him. Properly?” He asked.
“Is that what you really, honestly want, Sherlock?”
He shrugged. His jaw clenched as he looked over at the group fawning over the boy.
“It’ll be fine,” he said nonchalantly before stepping away from her and over towards the group.
She shook her head and exhaled. This was going to be interesting.

Chapter Text

Sunlight filtered through the heavy clouds, barely illuminating the already dull, dusty flat. The living room was quiet, except the out-of-sync ticking of several clocks. Sherlock sat in his armchair with one leg crossed over the other, his arms laid flat over the armrests as he gripped the edges with his hands. He was squinting slightly, focusing ahead with his lips pursed.

“So, tell me about yourself,” he said in a low, serious voice.

Vaughan sat in the armchair opposite; his legs outstretched in front of him, too short to reach the edge. His round blue eyes observed Sherlock through darks curls that had fallen into his face.

“What do you like to do? What are your interests?”

Vaughan continued to sit quietly, gazing at his father blankly.

“Do you like literature? Chemistry?” Sherlock continued as Mrs Hudson walked in. “Any good at solving crimes?”

“Oh, Sherlock, don’t be ridiculous, he’s a baby,” she said as she placed a tray of tea on the table next to him.

“Yes, Mrs Hudson, but he’s my baby, which means there must be something more remarkable about him.”

Vaughan scrunched his face at Sherlock like he had taken offence to his comment. Sherlock pulled a face back at him.

“He is remarkable,” said Mrs Hudson. “He’s here isn’t he. And against all those odds.”

“Ah yes, yes very sentimental; ‘children are miracles’ blah blah blah.”

Mrs Hudson tutted, shook her head and left the room.

Sherlock turned his attention back to Vaughan. He sighed and uncrossed his legs, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. “In all my extensive study and knowledge, I never thought communicating with a one-year-old would be something I had to know.”

Vaughan giggled. “Silly,” he said.

Sherlock leaned back, placing his hand on his chest as if he were terribly offended, “I silly?” he replied.

Vaughan continued to giggle; the sound was sweet and light, like bubbles. Sherlock’s cold expression began to crack, his face creasing into a warm smile. Then he began to laugh too.

III

Margaux couldn’t keep still. The water in her glass rippled as her knees bounced against the table leg. She looked around the café for what felt like the fiftieth time. Nothing. She propped her elbow on the table and rested her chin on her fist. She picked up the small, one-sided menu and skimmed over it again.

“Terribly sorry,” a voice came from behind. “A national security issue arose.”

Margaux looked up to see Mycroft taking a seat opposite her. “Well I hope it’s all okay now?”

“As it can be,” he replied absentmindedly, more focused on wiping down every surface with a handkerchief from his pocket before he touched anything.

“Not a regular here then?” She asked cynically.

Mycroft peered around the small, ‘greasy spoon’ café with a grimace. “I prefer my breakfasts without the risk of salmonella.”

“Well I do apologise for putting you through this utter horror, Mycroft.”

He smiled a sarcastic smile before clicking at the big, burly man behind the counter. “Sparkling water,” he called out.

The server’s brows raised and his fists curled, the gaps from his missing teeth now visible as he almost growled at Mycroft.

Margaux slapped her head with her hand. She looked over at the server apologetically. “Does being completely socially inept run in the family? Or is it just Sherlock and you?”

Mycroft turned his attention back to Margaux, fixing his suit and clasping his hands together on the table in front of him.

“Well our parents are nauseatingly delightful, so it’s hard to say really.”

They looked up to see the server glaring at Mycroft; he slammed a glass of water down on the table and rummaged through the pocket of his apron, pulling out a small, possibly used, cocktail umbrella. He opened it and tossed it into the drink. Walking away slowly. Margaux stifled a laugh, covering her mouth to hide her smile. Mycroft looked down at the glass in disgust, using his handkerchief to push it away.

“Anyway,” he said. “what seems to be the problem?”

“I asked to meet with you because I want to know why… Why you didn’t tell me he was still alive. In all those times I met with you, when I told you I was pregnant with his child, when you saw how absolutely devastated I was…”

“It had to be believed, almost to the point where it became fact. Not even John Watson knew.”

“But–”

“Even the people that did know where sworn to secrecy.”

Margaux thought about it for a moment. “Okay, fine. But in that case, why you didn’t tell him about Vaughan,” said Margaux. “While he was gone, I’m certain you had some contact with him, so why didn’t you tell him?”

“Why? I had him located all over the world, in extremely dangerous situations. I couldn’t possibly compromise those missions, or risk that he may attempt to return to London sooner than planned.”

“So why not once he came back?”

Mycroft paused for a moment.

“Because my brother is reckless. He lacks empathy. He’s a loner, an addict, and I think your son–”

“Who is also your nephew.”

“Would do better in his absence,” Mycroft finished.

“I don’t think you give him enough credit for what he’s capable of.”

“What? Sex? Anyone is capable of that, even Sherlock. No offence.” He gestured to her. “Though that doesn’t mean I wasn’t surprised–”

“Mycroft.”

He sighed. “For the past two years, I have had eyes on you and your son. Watching and making sure that you’re safe, comfortable, not in danger.”

“I suppose from a Holmes, that’s a relatively sweet gesture.”

“It is how we work best, Margaux. From a distance. That’s why I didn’t tell him.”

Margaux took a sip of water. “He wants a relationship with Vaughan. He wants to try. How do you explain that? A self-proclaimed sociopath like Sherlock Holmes…”

“I learned a long time ago to stop analysing my siblings.” Mycroft stood up from his seat. He pressed a button on his phone and lifted it to his ear before continuing to speak to Margaux. “Maybe he’s changing. Softening in his new-found role.” He stepped away, speaking on his phone.

Margaux turned in her chair and watched him walk away. “You know you are his uncle. Wouldn’t hurt you to soften a little either,” she called out. “Instead of watching us from afar.”

She checked her watch, it was almost time for her second lecture of the day. She picked up her bag and left the café.

III

Darkness had fallen quickly, bringing a cold wind with it. The streetlamps glowed a warm orange, illuminating the quiet roads that peeled away from bustling highstreets and busy traffic.

Margaux crept up the stairs, a single strip of light poured from the crack in the doorway at the end of the landing. She could hear a violin. A soft, gentle melody that dipped and flowed like a hymn or a lullaby. She got to the door and opened it slowly.

Sherlock noticed her walk in, he smiled at her and continued to play. She smiled too, admiring the song even more now she could hear it clearly. Vaughan was lying on the couch asleep, curled under a blanket, half his face hidden behind his favourite dummy. She regarded Sherlock again, this time noticing how tired he looked; his dark curly hair was curlier than usual, falling into his eyes and sticking up slightly at his crown, the first few buttons of his pale blue shirt had been undone and a tea towel was draped over one of his shoulders. On the coffee table were bottles and cups, nappies, wipes, half-eaten snacks. It was as if he had been watching a full playgroup of children as opposed to one, very well behaved boy. She couldn’t help but smile.

“You got him to sleep?” She whispered.

“Only just,” he replied. “I’m scared that if I stop playing, he’ll wake up again. How do toddlers work?”

She laughed, “You can stop.”

Sherlock stopped playing, breathing a sigh of relief as Vaughan continued to sleep. He put his violin down.

“Sorry I took so long,” said Margaux. “My last lecture ran over and then I got stuck taking a seminar for another module.”

“Would you like some tea?” Sherlock asked as he walked into the kitchen.

“Please.” She followed. “So, how was it?”

“How was what?”

“Being here. By yourself. With Vaughan. For the first time.”

“Well it went better than the last time I saw him.”

“The last time you saw him, you tried to shake his hand. He grabbed your finger and tried to put it in his mouth.”

“Exactly, so this time was better,” he said as he flicked the switch on the kettle.

He turned around and leant back against the counter, folding his arms over the undone part of his shirt. He yawned. He seemed so… human.

“Well he definitely makes you earn your sleep,” she said.

He nodded. “I’ve worked on murder cases less stressful.”

Margaux laughed. “I’ve come to expect nothing less from a child who is half Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock smiled, their eyes locked on each other. The kettle clicked. He broke eye contact quickly, turning to pour the water.

“Truthfully,” Margaux began. “I was… apprehensive about leaving you alone with him today.” She spoke to his back as he continued making the tea. “It’s just… being a father. I get the feeling it was never really on the cards for you. Then I come along and suddenly you’ve got this little boy and you’ve already missed out on so much of his life and then I’m asking you to babysit like it’s all completely normal–”

“Milk and sugar?”

“Um, yes please, two sugars. But… Sherlock, I–”

“I know what you’re trying to say,” he said, turning around to face her again. “And you’re right. Procreating was never something I intended to do, both because I am not an emotionally nurturing person, but also because I did not feel the need to bring a child into the world when inevitably, I would absolutely, without a doubt screw them up.”

Margaux looked down at the ground.

“But he is here,” he said. “And stranger things have happened… I came back from the dead, surely I’m capable of having a pleasant relationship with my son.” He smiled.

Margaux breathed an internal sigh of relief. She looked up at him and smiled back.

III

She carried Vaughan into Sherlock’s bedroom and tucked him in the middle of the bed, pillows surrounding him like a wall. She came back into the living room and sat in the armchair opposite Sherlock.

“Thanks for letting me put him in there,” she said. “He’s very easily woken by the sound of voices and stuff.”

“When are you going to learn to stop thanking me for these things? Letting my son sleep in my bed isn’t a favour.”

“I know, I know, sorry.”

Rain began to patter on the windows. They sipped at their tea in the warm, dim lamplight of the flat.

“Are you impressed by how well I’m handling all of this?” He smiled smugly.

Margaux scoffed. “Sure, now that he eats without getting most of it on his clothes and can somewhat communicate, I’m sure you’re finding it a breeze.”

Sherlock laughed in his throat, he had missed winding her up over the past two years.

“I’d have paid to see you while I was in labour, pushing out a baby, demanding all of the drugs.”

“Sounds wonderful,” he replied calmly, a smile creeping through.

“Oh yeah? All that screaming and contracting, all the… fluids.”

“Mhm, I’m devastated that I missed it.”

“The blood, the sweat, the crying.”

“Quite frankly, Margaux, now you’re just turning me on.”

There was a long silence before Margaux burst into laughter. Sherlock allowed himself another quiet giggle.

“I didn’t think you were capable of being turned on. I didn’t think that was in your very limited repertoire of emotions.”

“I’m not. But I became very good at doing it to you.”

“Are you trying to insinuate that I’m easily seduced?” Margaux asked in disbelief.

“I’m not insinuating, I’m telling you that you are.”

Margaux’s brows came together, one corner of her mouth lifting, causing a dimple to form in her cheek.

“What?” Sherlock asked.

“So you used me.” She thought back to her meeting with Mycroft. His words echoing around her head. ‘Sex? Anyone is capable of that, even Sherlock.’ No. He was wrong. He had to be wrong. And Sherlock was lying, playing up to the sociopath he had painted himself to be.

“If you truly believe that I used you, then it was only as much as you used me," he said.

“I didn’t use you.” She felt a pang of hurt in her chest.

“Then I didn’t use you either.”

They took another sip of tea simultaneously.

“You’re not that good of an actor,” she said, shaking her head. “And I’m not that easily led.”

“Love makes you do silly things.”

“I’m not in love with you.” Margaux’s words were quiet, like they were struggling to come to the surface.

III

The rain grew heavier, pelting the windows as if it were hard enough to smash through. They had been talking for hours, though it only felt like moments. Margaux stood up and walked to the window.

“Bloody hell, it’s only getting worse. I may have to leave Vaughan here tonight; waking him up at this time, just to take him out in that rain seems stupid,” she turned to Sherlock. “If that’s okay with you? I’d come back for him first thing in the morning.”

Sherlock stood up and joined her at the window, standing close enough for his clean scent to envelope her. He made a noise deep in his throat, like he was thinking.

“You should stay too, save yourself the trip,” he said plainly.

“Oh don’t worry about me.”

“No, I insist. I’ll sleep in John’s old room.”

“Are you sure?”

He looked down at her. “Of course, I’m sure.” He walked away, leaving her at the window, and headed for the kitchen. “A night cap?”

“Sure... Sherlock, I couldn’t possibly borrow a tee shirt or something? Since I’m staying?”

“Mrs Hudson left a fresh pile of laundry on the chair in my room,” Sherlock called out as he poured two glasses of brandy.

She flicked on the lamp on the bedside table. It was dim and buzzed slightly. She sifted through the pile of clothes; shirts, trousers, more shirts, until she came across a tee shirt. It was the one she had worn a few times after spending the night with him. It almost felt as though it was hers, since she had never seen him wear it. She lifted it to her nose and inhaled the fresh, laundered scent. She kicked off her shoes, slid off her trousers and unbuttoned her blouse. She slipped the tee shirt over her head and flicked her hair out from under the neck. It was short, barely covering her underwear. She looked through the pile for some shorts or pyjama bottoms. Nothing.

She walked back through to the kitchen, holding the hem of the tee shirt down. He had placed her glass of brandy on the kitchen table and was sitting sipping on his own. His eyes traced her body as she walked into the room, just for a moment, before he realised and stopped himself.

“Any pyjama bottoms? Shorts? Joggers?” She asked.

“What are joggers?”

She sighed. “Never mind.” She pulled out her chair and sat opposite him.

“So how is it here without John?” Margaux asked.

“There’s no one to annoy. Which in itself is annoying.” He smiled.

“I’m sure he still comes here a lot though, with you working on cases together?”

“He’s here most days. It’s the nights which are different.”

Neither of them spoke after that; sharing the occasional glance and soft smile as they finished their drinks.

When they were empty, Margaux took the glasses and placed them in the sink. She walked into the living room, collecting the bottles, cups and bowls that had been scattered around the place. She walked back to the kitchen, throwing them into the basin and filling the sink with warm, soapy water. She felt a shift behind her and the scraping of Sherlock’s chair against the floor.

She stood, waiting for the water to fill when suddenly, his cool, soft hands wrapped themselves around her waist. She turned her head, glancing up at him from the corner of her eye as he stood behind her. His body began to press against her back, his breath growing closer to her ear. She shivered. His lips grazed her ear, travelling down to her neck where he planted his first hungry kiss. She gripped the edge of the sink with both hands, unable to speak, as he continued to kiss her neck, gripping her waist firmly with his hands. She leaned her head back, welcoming it, her breath growing heavier as she pressed her body into his. Then suddenly, he stopped. His lips were gone and his hands disappeared from around her waist. She gasped, plummeting back to reality, her mind still cloudy, her body still tingling. She turned swiftly to look at him.

He was stepping back towards the table with a smirk.

“I told you; easily seduced,” he said before walking towards the door. “And you said I’m not that good of an actor.”

She stormed towards him furiously, her hands still wet from the sink, following him into his bedroom. She opened her mouth as if to shout but he held a finger to his lips, pointing at Vaughan sleeping in his bed.

"I can't believe you just did that," she whispered.

"Did what? Proved my point?"

"You are unbelievable."

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

Margaux woke to two small, soft hands patting and prodding her cheeks. She opened her eyes slowly, adjusting to the dim morning glow melting through the window. Next to her in the bed was Vaughan, propped on his knees, his hands still squishing her face. She gazed up at his perfectly round blue eyes and smiled; she hoped they would never lose their blueness.

“Up?” said Vaughan.

Margaux nodded and peeled back the sheets. She drowsily climbed out of the warmth of Sherlock’s bed, longing to curl back up under the sheets and sleep for a little while longer. They smelled of him, the pillows especially. Sandalwood and sea salt, undeniably him. She had slept with her face buried in their scent for most of the night.

Margaux lifted Vaughan off the bed and let him walk beside her to the kitchen. She glanced at the clock. 6:52 am. Her eyes felt gritty as she poured milk into a saucepan.

“Good Morning.” Sherlock’s voice startled her.

She turned to the living room where he was sat at the table on his laptop, wrapped in a dressing gown, dark curls untamed, a mug of coffee beside him.

“I didn’t think you’d be up so early,” she said.

“John’s bed is terribly uncomfortable. No wonder his girlfriends never lasted long; probably all died of sciatica.”

Margaux laughed, stirring the warm milk before taking it off the stove and pouring it into Vaughan’s bottle. “You can’t die of sciatica.”

“Don’t be pedantic, Margaux. That’s my job,” he replied, taking a sip of coffee.

“You should have just slept with us. There was plenty of room.” They exchanged a glance, both knowing her suggestion was futile.

“I’m not a bed sharer,” he said matter-of-factly.

Margaux smiled and shook her head. “Okay, Sherlock.”

“What?”

She carried Vaughan into the living room, sat him on the couch and handed him his milk. “I think you forget sometimes that we did the thing that made this thing.” she gestured to their son. “More than once.”

“Your point being?”

“`You’re a bed sharer,” she said with confidence.

“Only when it’s forced upon me,” he countered as he watched her walk back to the kitchen.

“You’re also a cuddly sleeper,” she added.

“Mm,” he grimaced.

There were parts deep within Sherlock that screamed whenever he tried to push Margaux away; parts of himself he had locked away a long time ago. Parts that had always been locked away, that he never knew were there, that now cried out to him begging him to let her in. He knew that with every insult, every jab, every expression of disinterest, he could lose her. But he couldn’t stop.

He closed his laptop to look at Vaughan who sat quietly, gulping his warm milk. He was so like Sherlock; his hair, his eyes, his marble-like skin, his inquisitiveness and his incredibly advanced development. But it was in the moments of giggles and smiles and arms extending for hugs that he was Margaux. And Sherlock was so thankful for that.

III

The living room door opened, just wide enough for John to peer his head around it.

“Oh, you’re up,” he said, “thought it’d be too early for you.”

“I’m starting to get the feeling people assume I’m not a morning person,” said Sherlock.

“That’s because you’re not,” John countered as he sat down next to Vaughan and gently pinched his cheek.

“Hi John.” Margaux smiled. She was standing in the archway between the kitchen and living room, clutching a mug of coffee, sipping at it slowly like it were an elixir.

John blinked a couple of times and averted his gaze, “Oh, hi.”

Margaux suddenly became very conscious of her bare legs and the hem of Sherlock’s tee shirt that barely grazed the tops of her thighs.

“Sorry about the lack of trousers,” she said. “Impromptu stay.”

“Ah.” He looked down at Vaughan, a grin fighting with the corners of his mouth.

Vaughan grinned back as if he knew why John was smiling.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Get your mind out of the gutter, John. Your newly-engaged smugness is incredibly irritating.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

“You didn’t have to. Just because you’re drunk on love doesn’t mean you have to romanticise everything you see. If you must know, I slept in your bed; terribly uncomfortable. Explains your high levels of irritability when you lived here.”

“Well,” Margaux interrupted. “I better go and get dressed; early lecture.”

III

She slipped on her trousers and shoes, buckling the thin straps tight around her ankles. She looked at her blouse which lay crumpled on the chair, she couldn’t wear the same outfit again; students notice those things. She sifted through the pile of fresh laundry and pulled out one of Sherlock’s shirts. She put it on and buttoned it up, leaving the top few undone. She rolled the sleeves to just below her elbows and tucked the bottom into her trousers. It was much too big for her but it would have to do, she thought, as she combed her fingers through her hair and wiped away the small crystals of sleep that had formed in the corners of her eyes.
She walked back to the living room and picked up her phone from the table.

“That’s my shirt,” said Sherlock.

“I know, thanks for letting me borrow it.”

“I didn’t let you–”

“Working late today, Margaux?” John interrupted.

‘Hm, I’m not sure yet. I hope not,” said Margaux as she sifted through notifications on her phone. Voicemail (1).

She clicked on the voicemail and listened closely. ‘Hi Margaux, this is Claire from playgroup. So sorry for the inconvenience but the rain last night has damaged the roof of the nursery. We will be closed for the rest of the week. Sorry, again.’

III

“So you’re sure you’ll be okay?” Margaux asked again for what felt like the fiftieth time.

“We’ll be fine,” assured John.

“Any problems please just call me okay?” She said as she ran down the stairs. She stopped at the bottom and looked up at the two men with her son. “Sherlock…”

“Yes, yes, of course,” he said as Vaughan climbed up his chest and tugged at his hair.

“Okay.” She sighed, taking one more glance before leaving through the front door.

III

Sherlock sat in his arm chair with his legs crossed and his hands pressed palm-to-palm, resting under his chin as he listened. The woman sat opposite was not much younger than Sherlock himself. Slim and attractive with fiery auburn hair that bounced softly as she moved; professionally styled at least once a week, Sherlock observed. She sat cross-legged with her arms poised across her lap as she told him about her problem.

John walked into the room with Vaughan resting on the side of his hip, like a koala clinging to its mother. In his free hand, he was holding a bowl containing his mushed up lunch, a bib over his shoulder and a packet of wipes tucked into his armpit.

“Sorry to interrupt,” he said to the woman. “Sherlock, can you just grab his juice out the fridge? I’ve got no hands free.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and sprung from his seat. He walked towards the kitchen, cupping Vaughan’s cheek in his hand for just a moment as he passed them. He retrieved the juice, placed it on the table and pulled out a chair for John, before returning to his seat opposite the woman and recomposing himself.

“What a sweet family,” she said. She was the fourth potential client to make that assumption so far.

‘We’re not gay!” John shouted from the kitchen.

“The child belongs to me. Dr Watson is simply lending a helping hand while his mother is at work.”

“Oh, my apologies.” The woman stopped for a moment, her eyes drifting off as if she were thinking about something. “It’s funny, the papers always paint you as this… loner type. They never talk about your wife and child.”

“She’s not my wife–”

“Sorry, girlfriend –partner, oh how old fashioned of me to assume you were married. That’s my dad’s beliefs coming out in me, there.” She laughed nervously.

Sherlock let out a laboured breath. “Miss Crossley, we could be here all day so I’ll just save you the discomfort of your foot continuously finding itself in your mouth; No wife, no girlfriend, just a child. A series of sexual encounters with the same woman resulted in the conception of our son whom we now raise together as friends. Clear?”

“Y-yes. Sorry…”

“Can we get back to the matter at hand?”

‘Oh, yes…” she stammered. “So I keep having these… blackouts.”

Sherlock regarded her again; drinks occasionally, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do drugs, goes to the salon once a week, gym three times a week, serial dieter, is currently reading a romance novel set in the 1950’s, engaged to be married, recently set the wedding date. The list of observations was endless. But a running theme throughout them all was normality.

“They started as small moments of fuzziness, almost like after a few glasses of wine,” she continued. “But they’ve gotten worse –longer. I’m missing full days now, and I always feel drowsy and nauseas. I even wondered if I could be–”

“You’re not pregnant.” Sherlock interrupted.

“How do you…”

“He knows everything,” John’s voice chimed in.

“Well… you’re right, Mr Holmes, I’m not pregnant. I’m also not sick. I’ve had every test imaginable and everything has come back normal. The worst part is… When I ask my fiancé what happened during my blackouts, he says nothing.”

“Miss Crossley, you don’t have a case; I suggest you find a better doctor.” Sherlock dismissed.

“But Mr Holmes… I think I’m being poisoned.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock was a sponge; absorbing every detail from the furthest corners of what he could see, taking photographs with his eyes, sound bites with his ears, storing it all for a time when he could be bothered to sift through it. He allowed his mind to wander, saving himself from the draining task of listening to Miss Crossley talk. And talk. And talk. He had first asked who would want to poison her. Now, he found himself wondering who wouldn’t.

“Because it seems like a silly thing, doesn’t it? To think you’re being poisoned. Which is why I’m almost certain I am being poisoned, otherwise I’d have never come to you. Does that make sense?” said Miss Crossley, clutching the door handle as the black cab swung around a corner.

“Not in the slightest,” Sherlock replied.

John held back a chuckle as he looked out of the window, hoping, like Sherlock, that Miss Crossley would allow a moment of silence.

“Have you ever had a case like this before?” She continued. “I mean, you do believe me, don’t you? You must do, to even be here, right?”

They turned onto the street of St Bart’s Hospital.

“Stop the cab,” said Sherlock.

The driver slammed his foot on the brake, squealing to a halt. Miss Crossley and John jolted forwards.

“Come on, John,” said Sherlock as he lifted Vaughan who was sitting in his pram down onto the pavement.

“Where are you going?” asked Miss Crossley as she watched the two men climb out of the cab.

“Before I can even begin to solve your problem, Miss Crossley, I must first make a stop. I assure you it is fundamental to your case,” said Sherlock, closing the door. “You go on, we will be at your home shortly.”

They stood on the pavement watching the cab disappear around another sharp corner. Sherlock and Vaughan let out a sigh in unison. John looked down at the toddler who seemed equally as exhausted by the woman as his father. Sherlock spun the pram and began wheeling it towards the entrance of the hospital.

“I thought you said this was fundamental to the case; what can Molly do?” asked John.

“I can assure you, this is very important.”

III

Molly slid her protective goggles onto the top of her head and pulled off her gloves.

“Oh, hello! What a lovely surprise.” She waved at Vaughan who smiled and put his arms out to her. “Where’s Margaux?”

“At work.”

“So… you two… are in charge of taking care of him… alone?” Molly asked in disbelief.

“Don’t sound so surprised,” said John.

“Sorry, John, you’re just… I’ve never seen you around children before. And well he’s Sherlock Holmes,” she said as she bent down and unclipped Vaughan from his pram, lifting him out and carrying him over to her work station “Are they doing a good job of looking after you?” she asked in a high-pitched voice.

“Ya,” said Vaughan. “Car very fast!”

Molly turned her head slowly to the two men with a raised eyebrow. Sherlock cleared his throat.

“Yes, thank you for that, Vaughan. Moving swiftly on… an interesting case just came up. Quite peculiar actually,” said Sherlock.

“Oh really? Do you need my help? I mean, I’ve got a lot to get through but I’d be happy to look at something if you need me to?”

“Actually…” Sherlock began as he took the changing bag off John’s shoulder and placed it in the pram. “How would you like to spend the afternoon with a charming little boy who bears a striking resemblance to his equally charming father?”

“You? Charming?” John scoffed.

Sherlock parked the pram against the wall next to the coat rack.

“Oh I’d love to,” said Molly, “But I can’t. See, I was hoping to get all this work finished before lunch. I’m meeting my fiancé at one o’clock; he’s reserved a table at Fiori’s Bistro.”

“Well that’s fine,” replied Sherlock, “you like Italian food don’t you, Vaughan?”

Vaughan gazed at his father and then at Molly. He gave a shrug and returned to playing with the access card around her neck.

“I- I don’t think it’s a child-friendly sort of place…” Molly tried.

“He has food, drink and nappies in the bag,” Sherlock began as they headed for the door. “But…”

“Oh, and he’s cutting his last tooth. His favourite teething ring is the one shaped like an owl. Terribly childish but he loves it.”

“Sherlock!?”

“Sorry, Molly.” John added.

As quickly as they had come, they were gone again. Leaving Molly standing in the lab, as quiet as it had been before. This time, a small blue-eyed boy sat on the edge of her table.

III

Margaux stood near the door of the lecture theatre, allowing the final few students to wander out slowly like the last few drops of water from a tightened tap. She tried to check the time, forgetting she had left her watch on Sherlock’s nightstand in the morning rush. It felt strange to not be wearing it, the indent of the buckle was still slightly visible on her delicate wrist.

“It’s quarter past a freckle,” said a familiar voice.

Margaux looked up to see Mary’s soft, bright face smiling at her.

Mary had a smile that on anyone else wouldn’t look right; a half smile, confident, almost mischievous. But on her it was comforting and kind. She leant a shoulder on the doorframe and folded her arms as the last student left the room.

“Mary? Hi! What are you doing here? Oh god, is there a problem? What have they done? Is Vaughan alright?”

Mary held her hands up. “Hey, nothing’s the matter. I just finished meeting a friend, she teaches nursing here and I noticed you as I was walking past... Hang on, what do you mean? Oh, Margaux you haven’t left them with him have you?”

Margaux nodded reluctantly.

Mary let out a huff, like a laugh and a sigh in one. “Coffee?”

“Yes. Please.”

III

Margaux opened her bag and rummaged for her purse. “Let me get this,” she said.

Mary took a ten pound note from her pocket. “I’ve got it.” She smiled as she handed the barista the money. “You get the next one, yeah?”

Margaux closed her bag and nodded gratefully.

“I’m not usually this… manic,” said Margaux as they sat down at a table. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m just all over the place at the moment.”

“You don’t seem manic. A bit tense, maybe.”

Margaux sighed and lifted the cup to her lips. Mary sat quietly, allowing her to enjoy what was probably the first uninterrupted sip of coffee she’d had all day. She watched as the rolled-up sleeve of her shirt slid to her elbow and then back down her forearm as she drank. Her slender frame drowned under navy blue fabric, her delicate neck hidden behind a stiff, unflattering collar.

“Margaux, I’m sorry if this seems rude but I have to ask… Are you wearing a man’s shirt?”

“Oh, yes, I spent the night at Baker Street and didn’t have a change of clothes. Borrowed one of Sherlock’s shirts – to his absolute horror,” She laughed.

Mary raised an eyebrow.

“Vaughan fell asleep there and then that rain started so it just made sense.”

Mary lowered her brow slowly. She rested her elbows on the table and wrapped her hands around her cup.

“Is there something going on between you two? You can tell me. I won’t tell John, honest.” She winked.

“No,” said Margaux. She brought the cup to her lips before stopping and putting it back on the table. “Well, I don’t know. I mean… He’s so cold and clinical. Sometimes he talks to me like I’m a client or something.”

“Charming as ever is our Sherlock,” Mary nodded.

“But then other times, like last night…” She leant in and began to whisper “You’d swear he was flirting with me. In the kitchen, he– Well it was like he was– ugh, I don’t know. It’s like when he looks at me, he’s never just looking at me. There’s always something going on behind his eyes.”

“Cogs turning.”

“More like two cogs fighting with one another; one cog wants to love me and the other is an unaffectionate, sociopathic loner. It’s like the only way he’ll let himself get close to me is if he can justify it by calling it a test, or an experiment, or pretending he’s doing it to wind me up or prove a point.” Margaux paused to look at Mary. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m laying all of this on you when we’ve only met a few times,” Margaux laughed nervously.

Mary reached her hand over to Margaux. “John has told me a lot about Sherlock; both in mourning and since he’s come back. The overall theme seems to be that he lives behind a brick wall. Always has. But in the short time I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve realised the wall’s not impenetrable. He can soften. And he’s scared of that.”

“I don’t want to pressure him. I don’t want to push him too far and scare him off. But I can’t wait around, Mary. I want to be loved, not tolerated. I feel like I’m waiting for something that’s never going to happen.”

“Then don’t wait. Don’t wait,” Mary shook her head. “Your soulmate could still be out there. I mean, take me and John for instance; I had the biggest crush on this bloke I worked with. Wouldn’t even go on a date with anyone else because I just wanted this guy to be the one so badly. But then wham! I met John and suddenly he was the only future I’d ever wanted.”

Margaux smiled. “You’re wonderful for him. Talk about men softening, he practically melts whenever he’s with you.”

Mary smiled and squeezed Margaux’s hand. “You’ll find that too. You’re ridiculously clever, beautiful, funny, strong, you’re a great mother – even if you did think leaving him with Sherlock and John for an entire day was a good idea…” she grinned.

Margaux laughed. “I know. God knows what they’re up to.”

III

Miss Crossley lived in a detached, orange-brick newly built house. It had a generous driveway and a small patch of grass in the front garden, so green it almost looked artificial. John knocked on the door and waited as Sherlock slunk around the side of the house.

“What are you doing?” asked John.

Sherlock peered his head back around the corner. “The bins, John. Disposed packaging, half-eaten poisoned food, discarded medical equipment.” He disappeared again.

Miss Crossley opened the door. She was wearing the same clothes as earlier, but her high heels had been replaced with a pair of plush slippers. She gestured for John to enter before looking around outside.

“Where’s Mr Holmes?” she asked.

“Oh he’s digging through your bins,” John replied bluntly.

She brought them through to the kitchen, offering them a drink which they both declined. She leaned against the counter and watched as the consulting detective surveyed his surroundings. He walked around the place taking more mental photographs; meaningless, overused quotes on the walls – Sentimental yet unoriginal. House plants decorated the corners of rooms – all vibrant and green – well looked after. A spotless pale grey carpet ran through the entire ground floor. Miss Crossley was wearing slippers and a shoe rack sat at the front door, yet she had let the two men keep their shoes on – submissive. He opened every kitchen cabinet, looking through all the food, glasses, crockery, cutlery. Nothing. He bent over and examined the water taps. Nothing.

The front door creaked open. “Loz, you home?” A voice called out as the door closed again.

“Yeah, through here!” she replied.

Miss Crossley’s fiancé walked into the kitchen. He had taken his shoes off at the door confirming Sherlock’s observations. He was average height and average build with short, mousy hair. His nose was slightly too large for his face and there were lines forming in the outer corners of his eyes.

“Who’s this?” He said, gesturing to the two men.

“Jason, this is Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson… They’re not a couple.”

“Thanks for that,” said John sarcastically before stepping away to answer his buzzing phone.

“They’re here to try and get to the bottom of my blackouts.”

Jason sighed. “I’ve told Lauren she needs to stop with all this poisoning nonsense. I’ve offered to pay for her to go to a private doctor and have tests but she’s absolutely convinced!”

Sherlock observed the way he talked about his fiancée as if she wasn’t there. He regarded the man again. “How long have you been a biologist?” he asked.

“Erm, since I left university about ten, eleven years ago. Why?”

“How did you know he was a biologist?” Miss Crossley asked.

“He knows everything,” said John as he slipped his phone back into his pocket.

“Botany, specifically,” said Sherlock. “Which explains why your plants are so well looked after.”

“Anyway, I just came home for my lunch…” Jason pushed past them gently and began making himself a sandwich at the counter.

“Shall we talk in the living room?” said Miss Crossley.

John nodded and followed her out of the kitchen. Sherlock stayed put, watching Jason assemble his sandwich.

“Your fiancée is–”

“An idiot? Yes.” Jason said, slamming his knife through a tomato.

“I was going to say very welcoming.” He continued to watch. Soaking in every creepy feeling the man emitted. “When is your wedding set for?”

“It’s not. I told Lauren I wanted a long engagement.”

Two options hovered above Sherlock’s head. “Divorced?”

“Widowed. My first wife died very suddenly.”

“Ah, I see. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Can you just go and set her straight please? She’s obsessed with this ridiculous poisoning theory.”

A knock at the door interrupted Sherlock’s thought process. He stepped out of the kitchen and met John who was peering into the hallway.

Miss Crossley walked to the door “It’s like a mad house in here today,” she laughed.

“Not really,” Sherlock quipped quietly. John hit him on the arm.

She opened the door, revealing a dishevelled woman standing in the front garden.

“Molly?” Said Sherlock.

Molly glanced down the hallway, struggling to keep a grip on Vaughan who was wriggling in her arms. She dragged the pram and bag towards the door and placed Vaughan on the carpet inside.

“I missed my lunch,” she said. Sherlock had never seen Molly like that before; anger visible behind her eyes, seeping from her gritted teeth. “And what you’ve done, Sherlock. That- Well it- It’s not okay... It’s actually very inconsiderate. Quite selfish, really.” She walked away.

Sherlock ran quickly to the front door. “Wait! Molly… I…”

She stopped and turned back. Waiting for the apology.

“How did you know where we were?” He asked facetiously. “Was it John? It was John wasn’t it.”

She clenched her fists and huffed, pivoting on her heels and continuing to walk away.

Vaughan stood up and headed for the stairs.

“Nope,” said Sherlock, scooping him up in his arms. “Don’t even think about it. Unless… is there a clue up there?”

Vaughan looked at his father, “I d’no” he shrugged.

“Listen, Sherlock, maybe we should continue our investigation back at Baker street,” said John, gesturing to Vaughan who was hanging over Sherlock’s shoulder trying to pluck the leaves from a tall fern-like plant.

III

Margaux ordered another coffee to go while she waited for Mary to come out of the bathroom.

“Are you… Sherlock Holmes’ girlfriend?” the barista asked with a nervous smile.

“Sorry?”

“It’s just, well I follow a couple of blogs about him and you look really familiar.”

“Erm no,” Margaux replied awkwardly. “I’m a friend.”

The barista placed the coffee on the counter. Margaux looked around, relieved to see Mary walking towards her.

“Is it true he has a child? There’s just so many conflicting blog posts about it–”

“You should follow Dr John Watson’s blog,” Mary interrupted. “It’s the only one worth reading.”

They walked out of the café.

“Thank you,” Margaux whispered.

They walked back to the university together. Margaux listened happily to Mary’s wedding plans. She imagined a veil weaved into her short, blonde curls, a dress that fit just right. She imagined fistfuls of confetti and flower petals showering them on the steps of a church, smiling faces and laughter. She had never been to a wedding. The only time she had ever been inside a church was when she was a young girl, alone and hungry, collecting a box of donated food to get her through winter. She shook the memory away. No. She promised herself she wouldn’t let her mind drift back there.

“You are coming, aren’t you?” Mary’s question interrupted. “To the engagement party on Saturday? Vaughan is welcome. And hey if you’re lucky, Mrs Hudson might even offer to take him home so you can stay and have a drink.” She nudged.

Margaux smiled. “Of course, I’ll be there.”

Her phone began to ring. She apologised to Mary and pulled it out of her bag. “Hello? Hi Molly what’s– Sorry, what? They did what!?”

III

Sherlock sat in his armchair examining a piece of scrunched-up paper from Miss Crossley’s bin. John sat at the computer, quietly researching as Vaughan played on the floor with two leaves he had managed to steal from the house.

“Sherlock… His name is Jason Banks right?” asked John.

“Something like that.”

“I found a bunch of articles online about his first wife.”

“Oh yes, he said she passed away.”

“Did he say it was ruled as suspicious circumstances?”

Sherlock sat straighter in his chair. He turned his head to the side “Go on…”

John continued to read from the computer “Police have stated it is highly probable that Hannah Banks was a victim of foul play. A relative of Mrs Banks shared that she had been distant, confused and forgetful in the months leading up to her death; admitting that she had even taken out a large life insurance policy with no memory of doing so. Police deemed her husband Jason Banks a suspect after discovering he was the sole recipient of the insurance pay out. However, with little to no evidence, Mr Banks was cleared.”

“Interesting,” Sherlock pondered as he straightened out the paper in his hand. “This letter is addressed to Miss Crossley. A confirmation that her life insurance policy has been set up. Crumpled and stuffed in the bin outside.”

“We’ve got him.”

“But how. How is he poisoning her?” Sherlock stood up and began pacing. “He’s a botanist, so could very easily get his hands on something deadly. But doctors didn’t find traces of anything in her tests.”

Vaughan toddled over to Sherlock, tugging on the leg of his trousers, “Dadda,” he said, waving his handful of leaves.

“Not now, Vaughan, please.”

The boy scrunched his face and followed his father around the living room, pestering him to look at the leaves. “Dadda!”

“Oh for Christ’s sake. John, can you take him for a nap.”

“I’m not your bloody nanny, Sherlock, do it yourself.”

Sherlock huffed. He took Vaughan in his arms and walked him through to the bedroom.

“No!” Vaughan shouted, scrambling off the other side of the bed.

“Will you please stop this, I’m trying to solve a case.” He caught him and placed him back on the bed, pointing at him sternly.

Vaughan sat still, obeying the finger for just a moment before making a run for the edge of the bed again. He clambered across the bedside table, knocking a bottle of cologne and watching it smash on the floor. He threw the leaves into the pool of liquid.

“For God’s sake, Vaughan!” Sherlock shouted as he lifted him away from the shards of glass.

“Oops.”

Sherlock looked down at the two bright green leaves floating in the fragrant puddle. Nearby the silver spray nozzle was still attached to a piece of thick jagged glass.

He looked down at his son with wide eyes. “I know this is all coincidence, but you’re a genius,” he said.

John stood up from the computer as Sherlock rushed back into the living room.

“What was all the commotion?”

“Vinea Evanescentium,” said Sherlock as he scanned through his books.

“English please?”

“Vinea Evanescentium, John. Fading Green.” He pulled out a book and flicked through the pages until he stopped on one and began to read aloud. “Fading Green is a rare plant that is safe to touch and consume raw. However when exposed to intense heat or boiled, the leaves secrete a poisonous oil which is undetectable in colour and smell and almost completely untraceable in blood and urine.” He slammed the book closed. “He’s a narcissist, John. Arrogant enough to keep his murder weapon in the hallway of his home. And he’s a botanist, which explains why he would have knowledge of the plant in the first place. It all makes sense.”

“Okay, so he’s boiling it up and putting it in her food?”

“No, John,” he stepped across the room until they were face to face. “It’s in her perfume.”

III

Margaux sat with her fists clutching the arms of the chair. Mrs Hudson closed the door behind her and went back downstairs, leaving her sitting in the flat alone. Waiting.

It didn’t take long for the sound of a car pulling up outside. She listened for the doors opening and closing, followed by the creak of the front door and clunking of shoes on the stairs. When they walked into the flat, Vaughan beamed at the sight of her. He reached his arms out for her to take him. She stood up and walked over to them silently. Taking her son in her arms, she lifted the rest of his things and stormed out of the flat.

“Hello to you too,” Sherlock said sarcastically before removing his coat and scarf and flopping back into his armchair.

“I think she knows,” said John.

“Knows what? That we solved the case?”

John shook his head. He wondered why he was always so surprised by Sherlock’s social ignorance.

“No. I think she knows that we left him with Molly earlier.”

“Okay,” Sherlock shrugged. “So what?”

“So… Judging by the silent treatment she just gave you, I think she’s pissed off.”

John went home to Mary shortly after, leaving Sherlock alone in the flat. He had always prided himself on his ability to be completely content in his own company. But tonight was different. There was an itching inside of him; something niggling away at him, infecting the quiet. He tried to ignore it but it wouldn’t stop. Why was she able to get under his skin like this? She was in his mind, behind his eyes, taking root in his bones. He didn’t like it.

He put his coat back on and headed for the door.

III

He followed her into her living room, stopping in his tracks as she turned abruptly to face him. “You left him… in. a. morgue!” She shouted.

“Actually I left him in a laboratory– ”

“I will punch you in the face.”

Though she was smaller than him, he didn’t doubt for one moment that there was truth in her threat.

“I made sure he was safe, well looked after...”

“That’s not the point, Sherlock! I left him with you– no, I didn’t leave him, you offered. I just can’t believe you would do something like this. Not just to Vaughan, but to Molly. They’d been planning that lunch for weeks and she missed it because of you!”

Sherlock’s face twisted. He looked uncomfortable as he searched for an appropriate response.

“And I can see that you’re trying to care but you don’t, so you can lose that stupid facial expression.” She pointed at his face. “I understand empathy is an alien concept to you, Sherlock, but surely in that abundance of knowledge you can deduce why what you did was bad.”

“I only left him with her for an hour or two.”

“Yes, only an hour or two because she brought him back!”

“I don’t understand why you’re so angry. He saved a woman’s life today!”

“He’s a baby! He should be throwing toys around and having midday naps, not solving bloody crimes!”

He noted how Margaux flung her arms around as she spoke. Passionate. How her voice inflected and she tripped over her words. Rage. He had zoned out, missed her last sentence or two. He wondered what his next move should be. He reached out and cupped her face, pulling it towards his. She stopped speaking immediately, placing her hands on his chest and pushing herself away from him before their lips could touch.

“What… are you doing?” She said quietly.

“You’re angry. Physical affection such as kissing has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and lower blood pressure. I thought I’d try and calm you down, stop this escalating further.”

“You’re unbelievable,” Margaux scoffed. Y’know, you can’t just go around kissing people to shut them up.”

“Why not? I thought humans did that all the time.”

“Would you do that to John? Mrs Hudson? Would you try and plant a big wet one on Mycroft in the middle of a debate?”

Sherlock grimaced.

“Exactly. So you don’t get to do it to me,” she said. There was a quake in her voice, like it killed her to say it.

“Your conviction is lacking.”

“Yeah? Well… so is yours.”

Neither of them spoke for a while. Margaux sat down on the couch and put her head in her hands. “Just go,” she said. “I’ll see you at John and Mary’s engagement party this weekend.”

Sherlock nodded and walked to the door, stopping before he opened it. “Margaux, I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“For disappointing you.”

She sighed. “It’s not me you should be apologising to, Sherlock. You said you wanted to be in his life so be in his life. Not as his babysitter, not as his ‘colleague’, but as his father. His dadda.”

“I’m trying,” he said, almost whispering.

“I know.”

They shared a silent exchange. She watched as his hands hesitated on the doorknob, his gaze flickered between her eyes and her lips. He opened the door, yet turned back to her again. “Margaux…” His voice was deep and serious now.

“See you this weekend,” she countered quickly.

He paused for a moment. “Yes,” he nodded before walking out of the room and out of the flat.

Margaux exhaled, dropping her face back into her hands.

When he looked at her like that, she knew it could only spell hurt. As much as she longed for that look, she knew she couldn’t give in to it. His gaze was a shot gun, and she was the prey.

Chapter Text

London at twilight was a deep, cold blue; grasping onto the last few moments of sun before it disappeared below the skyline. February had a cold, dry wind that whistled and rushed against the window of Margaux’s bedroom.

She sat at her dressing table examining her reflection. Her hair was freshly washed, still wet, and tied up in a knot on top of her head. She combed through her thick, dark eyebrows and set them in place, drew a flick of liner across her lids and coated her lashes in mascara. She enjoyed putting on makeup. There was something therapeutic about it, she thought.

Margaux had made and lost many friends throughout her life, only a few had stuck. She met Hugo and Steph at University when they were nothing more than a group of awkward, unsure teenagers. She watched them fall in love, stood side by side with them at graduation, waved them off after their wedding as they began their new life in America. Now they kept in touch through emails and photographs. She loved them, but an ocean was a long way to go for a hug or a cup of coffee. Her other friend Rose, she had known since high school. Margaux had been there, in the school bathroom, when Rose’s pregnancy test came back positive. They cried together, worked badly-paid jobs together, and now Rose lived in a terraced house on the outskirts of London with her two children. They had almost nothing in common but that didn’t matter. Rose was her best friend; they just clicked, like two puzzle pieces.

Margaux sent Rose a text, thanking her again for taking Vaughan for the night. Her phone buzzed almost immediately.

‘Enjoy yourself xx’

She smiled and returned to her reflection. She finished her makeup with a sweep of lipstick and dried her hair in soft waves before slipping on her dress; mid-length, figure hugging, straps that draped off her shoulders. She smiled at her neighbour in the corridor as she locked her front door and rushed downstairs to the cab that was waiting outside.

III

“Welcome.”

“Hi, thanks for coming.”

John and Mary had stood near the door of the bar shaking hands and hugging people for what felt like hours.

“Welcome, so glad you could make it,” said Mary as a guest entered. She turned to John and spoke quietly “My cheeks hurt from smiling.”

John laughed and put his arm around her waist.

“Ah, here he is,” said John as Sherlock walked into the bar.

He stood across from the couple in his well-fitted suit, hands behind his back, curls parted slightly on one side. He regarded the dimly lit bar decorated in flowers, banners, engagement celebrations.

“Hello,” he said.

“Aren’t you going to congratulate us?” said Mary teasingly.

“I congratulated you when you got engaged. Saying it again now would be futile.”

“Of course, silly me.”

Sherlock walked past them and took a glass of champagne from the bar. He sat down at a table with Mrs Hudson, Greg Lestrade, Molly and her Sherlock lookalike fiancé. He had been warned not to mention the eerie similarities.

“Did you lock up when you left?” Asked a tipsy Mrs Hudson.

“No, Mrs Hudson, I left every door and window wide open with a big ‘burgle us’ sign outside,” he replied.

“Oh Sherlock,” she shooed him with her hand and returned to talking to Lestrade.

III

Mycroft sat at his desk, sifting through a mound of files. He made a note on the final page of a brown folder and placed it to one side, immediately picking up the next one.

A man in a suit with an earpiece stepped into the room. “Mr Holmes, there’s been some unusual activity surrounding Dr Cave’s flat,” he said.

Mycroft set down the file. “What sort of activity?”

III

Margaux patted John on the shoulder. He turned around and hugged her.

“I didn’t see you come in,” he said.

“So glad you made it,” said Mary as she pulled her into a hug.

Margaux handed them a card and bottle of champagne. “Congratulations you two. I put Sherlock’s name on the card as I highly doubt he thought to get you one.”
The pair laughed.

“Nope, you’re right, he didn’t,” said John.

Margaux weaved through the crowd to a table of familiar faces. She smiled and waved as she took a seat amongst them all.

“Just in time. My round everyone,” said Lestrade as he took in everyone’s order. “Drink, Margaux?”

“I’d love a gin, thank you,” she smiled as he walked off to the bar.

“Where’s Vaughan?” asked Molly politely.

“Oh, my friend is babysitting. She offered to have him overnight so I can have a drink.”

“I didn’t know you had friends,” said Sherlock bluntly.

Everyone silenced as they turned to look at him with rolling eyes and shaking heads.

“What was that? 30 seconds before he insulted me? I think that’s a new record,” said Margaux.

Everyone giggled. Except for Sherlock who was trying to figure out what he did to insult her.

“Oh my, Margaux, you look gorgeous. I remember the days when I could dress like that,” said Mrs Hudson.

“You still can! I’ll lend you this dress next time you’re going out,” Margaux joked.

“Please god no,” Sherlock muttered, unamused.

Margaux kicked him under the table. He turned his head to look at her, mouthing ‘what?’. She shook her head and returned to the conversation.

“Photo?” A woman stood next to the table with a professional camera in her hands. “I’m a friend of Mary’s, offered to take some snaps for her.” She took a step back and photographed the group before stepping forward again. “Just a few close ups.” Molly and her fiancé leant into each other and smiled as the woman took their picture. She nodded and thanked them before stepped to the other side of the table and photographing Mrs Hudson and Lestrade. “And now this beautiful couple,” she said as she pointed the camera at Sherlock and Margaux, gesturing for them to get closer.

“Oh, we’re not a–” Margaux began.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Sherlock mumbled.

His face was stern and emotionless. His body was stiff and upright in his chair. Margaux turned to the camera and gave an uncomfortable smile.

“Come on, we’re here celebrating love! You can do better than that,” the woman joked before returning behind her camera.

Margaux looked at Sherlock, who had remained in the exact same pose, and sighed. She placed her hand on his arm which was sitting in his lap and rested her head on his shoulder. She smiled again.

“Gorgeous,” said the woman before wandering to the next table.

“Well if that wasn’t the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do…” Margaux joked.

 

The party was buzzing with music and laughter. Mrs Hudson was dancing with a very happy older man, his hand in hers, a glass of sherry in the other. Molly and her fiancé sat kissing and giggling like teenagers, her occasional glances over at Sherlock went unnoticed. Margaux sat at the table watching everyone dance as she swirled the ice around what was left of her gin. A barman walked up to the table placed a glass of water in front of her. He took a cocktail umbrella from his pocket and dropped it in the glass. Margaux looked up at him confused.

“They asked me to make it and bring it over,” the barman shrugged before walking away.

Margaux stared at the drink for a moment before it clicked. She rolled her eyes and stood up, heading for the exit.

Sherlock was standing across the room when he noticed her leaving. He followed slowly, rudely walking away from a woman who was trying to talk to him.

III

Outside, the sky was pitch black; the stars drowned out by the lights of the city. Margaux’s breath turned to fog in the winter air as she stepped outside the bar and walked around the side of the building. Next to a sleek black car stood Mycroft. Hands in the pockets of his suit as he waited.

“You’re getting way too creative with your summoning,” said Margaux.

“Well I’m not going inside; didn’t get them a gift,” he responded dryly.

Margaux stopped parallel to him and folded her arms.

“What’s this about? Must be important for you to have come here,” she said.

“I’ve come with an offer. For you and your son.”

Sherlock walked around the building, stopping before the corner. He pressed his back against the wall and listened carefully.

“I have the ability to make people disappear,” Mycroft continued. “Sometimes for their own good. There would be new identities, a new home, new location, money to live on of course.”

“Bloody hell, you hate me that much?”

“On the contrary, I have reason to believe it is what’s best for you and your son.”

Sherlock’s body tensed, his spine straightening against the wall.

“It is somewhat my fault,” said Mycroft matter-of-factly.

“What could you have possibly done to endanger two people you actively ignore?” she said.

“I’m afraid it comes with the territory of involving yourself with a Holmes.”

Margaux paused for a moment. “Which Holmes are you referring to?”

“Yes, which Holmes?” said Sherlock as he emerged from around the corner.

Mycroft rolled his eyes at the sight of his brother. “If I wanted to speak with you I’d have put a little umbrella in your brandy,” he said.

The reference flew over Sherlock’s head. Instead he stepped up to Mycroft, bringing them face to face.

“What have you done?” He almost growled.

Mycroft exhaled slowly. “I have been monitoring Dr Cave’s flat.”

“Why? Since when?”

“Since it was brought to my attention that she was expecting a child.”

Sherlock’s face twisted in confusion. “You knew?”

“Of course I did. Don’t be so obtuse.”

“How could you–”

“May I remind you that you let the world believe you were dead for two years…” Margaux interrupted. “Now can we save the soap opera family feud for another day?” She turned to Mycroft. “Who’s been sniffing around my building?”

“The details are not important. What is imperative here is that I get you and your son as far away from here as possible.”

“Mycroft, if you’ve endangered my family then you will have hell to pay,” said Sherlock.

“Your ‘family’? Oh, dear baby brother. I’m afraid you’ve gone soft.”

“Family… in the biological sense,” he said with a stammer.

Margaux averted her gaze to the pavement.

“I may have let the knowledge of your existence slip…” Mycroft said to Margaux.

“Oh no,” said Sherlock in realisation.

“Yes. It was only a matter of time. But I had hoped that an evacuation plan would be in place by the time–”

“Our parents! Mycroft, you bloody idiot!”

Margaux raised her hands and stepped back from the two men. “Your parents? I thought this was a serious threat! Am I in danger or not?”

“Not unless you’re allergic to painfully dull conversation,” said Sherlock.

“The word ‘danger’ can possess several meanings…” said Mycroft.

“Okay, you two are the most dramatic men I’ve ever met. I’m going inside. Bye Mycroft.”

They watched as she walked away and disappeared around the corner. Sherlock looked at his brother and shook his head, following her inside.

III

The music lowered to a faint hum as glasses clinked and voices silenced. John and Mary walked to the middle of the room and raised their glasses. John cleared his throat.

“Well, I’m not really a speech sort of person, but… I just wanted to say thank you all so much for coming to celebrate with Mary and I tonight.” He glanced at Mary and smiled. “When I met Mary, I didn’t think there was any hope left for me. Ever. But she gave me a reason to smile again. To go outside again. To get out of bed again.”

A small laugh rumbled amongst the guests.

“When I look at Mary, I see hope. She is hope. I can’t wait to marry you.”

They smiled at each other and shared a kiss. Everyone cheered and raised their glasses.

“Now let’s get absolutely bladdered!” shouted Mary.

III

Margaux sat at the bar watching Sherlock from across the room as he avoided conversation with everyone who approached him. He was almost impossible to read. She imagined he liked it that way. But she had begun to learn signs; small indications of what was going on behind those eyes. She sighed and rested her cheek against her fist, her elbow propped on the bar.

“Hi.”

She turned to see a man taking a seat next to her.

“Hi.” she smiled politely.

He was attractive. Heavy brows and deep dimples. His hair was dark with flecks of grey glittering at the edges.

“Come to get away from all the dancing too?” he asked.

“Mhm, absolutely.” She pointed to her throbbing feet inside her high heels. They shared a laugh. “John or Mary?” she asked.

“Well both actually, I used to work on reception at the doctor’s surgery.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, what about you? John or Mary?”

“John.”

“Cool, how do you know him?”

“Oh I’m sort of an… ex colleague… old friend… new friend… slash kind of non-biological in-law. I don’t know what I am.”

“Do you know your name?” He smiled.

“It’s Margaux,” she smiled back. “Yours?”

“Harry.”

They shook hands gently.

“I have to admit, I’ve been looking at you all night. You’re incredibly beautiful,” said Harry nervously.

“Well thank you.”

“What are you drinking? My round.”

Sherlock glanced up to see Margaux and Harry talking and laughing. He zoomed in on the details, the open body language, the relaxed facial muscles. He scanned Harry quickly; he was an office administrator, mid thirties, never married. He quit smoking four years ago, had a chocolate Labrador called Bonnie… or was it Minnie? No, it was definitely Bonnie. He noted the new shirt, new shoes, beard freshly trimmed, the way he would periodically place his hand on Margaux’s thigh as they laughed, pull her in close by the arm to talk in her ear when the music got too loud. He had come to the party hoping to meet someone.

Sherlock straightened his tie and fixed his suit jacket in place. He put his arms behind his back and walked casually across the room.

“Hey love…” he said coolly, cupping Margaux’s face in his hands and pulling her into a kiss.

Her eyes widened in surprise as their lips met. She kissed him back, too stunned to do anything else.

He pulled away, his hands remaining on her face for a moment as he smiled. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

“Wh…” He was doing his ‘nice guy’ act. Why was he doing that?

“I just came over to see if Vaughan’s alright. How is he?” He turned to Harry. “Our son." He emphasised the 'our'. "Has she told you about him? He’s staying out for the night so we can have a drink.” He put his arm around Margaux.

She looked up at him; her utter shock disguising the anger bubbling up inside her. She couldn’t find words. Instead she sat there like a spectator.

“Oh, no she never mentioned… That’s er, that’s nice,” said Harry, his face beginning to flush. “Well it was nice talking to you, Margaux. See you at the wedding.” He stood up and walked away hastily.

Sherlock slipped onto Harry’s vacant barstool, looking at Margaux with a pleased expression.

“You never cease to amaze me. You haven’t cracked a smile in my company all night and now you’re jealous of another man talking to me?”

“I wasn’t jealous,” Sherlock countered.

“Yes you were.”

“No I wasn’t. I was merely–”

“Admit you were jealous or I’m leaving.”

“I wasn’t jea–”

“Okay,” she said as she stood up, fixed her dress and began to step away.

“Alright, alright fine,” said Sherlock quietly.

She turned back to him and sat back down.

“I may have been…” it was killing him to say the words. “Seeing you with him may have made me feel slightly territorial–”

“Not a possession.”

“Slightly… protective,” he corrected.

Margaux grinned and took a sip of her drink.

“Don’t move away,” he said.

“Hm?”

“I will… I will introduce you and Vaughan to my parents. Just please don’t let Mycroft send you away.”

“I won’t.”

Chapter Text

The room was quiet except for the occasional clacking of cups against saucers. Sherlock sat in his chair with one leg crossed over the other staring ahead stonily. His parents sat on the couch sipping their tea. His father cleared his throat. Sherlock snapped his head around to look at him with burning intensity.

“Oh for goodness sake, Sherlock. How long are you going to keep this going?” said his mother.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied.

“If anything, we should be angry with you. Fancy that, keeping a love child a secret from your parents,” his mother continued. Sherlock grimaced at the phrase ‘love child’. “And at your age–”

“Fancy turning up at the flat of a woman you’ve never met trying to spy on her and her child… At your age.”

“We weren’t spying.”

A faint knock echoed up the staircase. Sherlock watched as his parents shifted in their seats; his father’s posture straightened. His mother grasped her necklace and twiddled it between her fingers. They waited quietly for a few moments before another knock.

“Well aren’t you going to get that?” asked his father.

“Mrs Hudson!” Sherlock bellowed. “Door!”

Downstairs, Mrs Hudson could be heard shuffling around panicked, cursing Sherlock and his laziness. The door creaked open followed by a muffled conversation and footsteps up the wooden stairs.

When Margaux walked into the room, he felt a sense of calm that only came with familiarity. Like climbing into your own bed after a night away, or the perfume your mother wore when you were a child. Her hair was dark and glossy – her natural waves bouncing just below her collarbones framing her lightly freckled face, providing stark contrast to her amber-hued eyes. She clutched Vaughan’s hand who stood at her side. He was wrapped in a coat and scarf; his plump cheeks red from the cold.

Sherlock stood up from his chair and walked over to greet them. He took their coats and gestured for them to go and sit down.

“Margaux, these are my parents; Siger and Violet Holmes.”

“Very nice to meet you.” She shook their hands and sat down, lifting Vaughan onto her lap.

“What a lovely name, Margaux. French origin meaning pearl,” said Mrs Holmes.

“Thank you, I always thought it sounded like I was named after a bottle of wine.”

“The Chateau Margaux is an excellent red,” said Mr Holmes absentmindedly.

Sherlock cringed.

“So you must be Vaughan?” Mrs Holmes smiled.

Vaughan nodded, curling into his mother shyly.

“He’ll come out of his shell in a few minutes,” Margaux reassured.

“Of course, we’re just happy to finally meet you.”

“’Finally’ she says, like she didn’t only find out you existed six days ago,” said Sherlock.

“So, Margaux, our son never mentioned what you do for a living…” his mother continued, purposely ignoring him.

“Well I’m a doctor of forensic psychology,” Margaux began.

“Small talk. Great. Wonderful,” Sherlock muttered. “Vaughan, shall we go and look at some cells under the microscope?”

“Yes!” Vaughan jumped down excitedly, as if he’d just been offered ice cream or a new toy.

He ran to his father with his arms outstretched. Sherlock slid open the doors and together they disappeared into the kitchen.

“Anyway, as I was saying… my doctorate is in forensic psychology. I teach it at the university, but I used to work as a forensic investigator.”

“Ah is that how you met Sherlock?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Not exactly love at first sight, I’d imagine,” said Mr Holmes.

Margaux laughed. “No, not exactly.” She was in awe of how laid back they were; so calm and pleasant, so ordinary in the most wonderful way.

It was strange to think that her son could be made up of parts of two people she had never met before that day. She had always seen a resemblance of Sherlock in Vaughan but now she was seeing the inheritance. Sherlock’s father’s smile was an emblem, his mother’s striking blue eyes were heirlooms.

She talked with them for a while. They seemed thankful for her willingness to get to know them; to share stories and ask questions. With sons like Sherlock and Mycroft, they would often be reduced to nothing more than embarrassing parents. But Margaux took interest in the small things, like stories from Sherlock’s childhood, where they would visit on holidays, how proud they were of even the smallest achievements. Mrs Holmes’ intelligence was unmatched – pure genius wrapped in a warm, kind shell. If she was her mother, Margaux thought, she would never stop wanting to learn from her.

Sherlock and Vaughan joined them in the living room as Mr Holmes was speaking.

“Whatever you feel is best, Margaux,” he continued. “We don’t want to confuse the boy.”

“Or step on his other grandparent’s toes,” Mrs Homes added.

“That won’t be possible. Margaux’s parents are, more than likely, not even aware of their grandson’s existence. Nor would they care,” said Sherlock from across the room.

Margaux felt her heart rattle in her chest. She looked at him open mouthed. Even for Sherlock, the insensitivity caught her off guard.

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry,” said Mrs Holmes.

Margaux shook her head, forcing a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “It’s fine.” The words struggled to leave her.

“Pardon me if I’m speaking out of turn, but is it irrevocable?” asked Mr Holmes.

“Neglect and emotional abuse from infanthood to emancipation at fifteen. Even if she, for some ridiculous reason, wanted a relationship. It is unlikely the feeling would be reciprocated.” Sherlock spoke bluntly, as if he were spouting a general fact.

“Oh, Sherlock,” said Mrs Holmes. “I apologise for our son’s lack of filter.”

“I’m more than used to it by now,” Margaux reassured. She forced a small laugh, shaking away the sadness that was beginning to well up inside her. She called Vaughan over and sat him on her lap again. “Vaughan,” she began. “do you know who this is?” she pointed at Mr and Mrs Holmes.

Vaughan shook his head.

“They are your Daddy’s Mummy and Daddy. Do you know what that means?”

He shook his head again.

“That means that they are your Nanny and Grandad.”

Vaughan looked at them curiously.

“We are so happy to meet you,” said Mrs Holmes.

Vaughan turned to Sherlock who was sitting in his armchair. “Your mummy and daddy?” He pointed at the couple.

“Yes. My… Mummy and Daddy.” He forced the words out.

Margaux smiled. Vaughan giggled. He seemed excited; suddenly recognising himself in them. He climbed down from Margaux’s lap and walked up to them, showing them a glass slide he had been clutching in his fist.

“Oh, what’s this you’ve got?” said Mr Holmes.

“Blood sample,” he replied in his sweet, light voice.

Margaux glared at Sherlock.

“He wanted to keep it,” said Sherlock with a shrug. “What? It’s not like it’s his blood.”

 

They talked a while longer, until the afternoon sun beamed through the windows, casting light over the dust that lay across every surface. Sherlock told them it was time for them to leave. They seemed unbothered by his abruptness as they stood up and slipped on their coats and scarves.

“Well it was so nice to meet you both,” said Margaux.

“And you. I must say, we never thought we’d see the day when we’d be introduced to a lovely lady–”

“Wonderful,” Sherlock interrupted sarcastically. “Yes, Sherlock is a monster, we are all surprised he has reproduced.” He ushered them to the door.

Margaux followed, reaching out to hug them.

“Thank you,” whispered Mrs Holmes.

“What for?” she replied quietly.

“For saving him. For loving him for who he is, and letting him love you.”

“Oh, Mrs Holmes. I love your son because he’s Vaughan’s father. But there’s no relationship here… He doesn’t work like that.”

“Don’t give up on him.” Mrs Holmes’ looked into Margaux’s eyes in a silent plea.

“Anyway,” Mr Holmes began as they headed out of the door. “We’d love to have you, Sherlock and Vaughan for Christmas.”

“It’s February,” said Sherlock bluntly.

Margaux hit him gently on the chest. “Christmas would be lovely,” she said. “But of course, we will arrange to visit soon as well.”

 

They managed to draw a smile from Sherlock before leaving. Margaux listened to the front door close downstairs before turning to him.

“They’re so normal,” she smiled.

“Why is everyone always so surprised?”

“Because you’re just… not.”

He rolled his eyes and looked into Vaughan’s pram where the toddler was napping soundly.

“Anyway, I should go,” she said.

“When I said visiting time had ended, I didn’t mean you.”

She collected the cups and saucers and carried them to the kitchen. She placed them in the sink carefully and turned on the tap, stopping for a moment, staring blankly at the running water.

“Why did you say those things about me to your parents?” She turned off the tap. “I never told you any of that.”

“You did,” he stepped into the kitchen. “Just not with words.”

“Come off it, Sherlock. How could you know…” She trailed off as he walked towards her.

“Your father was a selfish alcoholic who left when you were a baby. Your mother was an abusive narcissist. But unlike narcissists with more than one child who distribute their abuse, you were an only child so you received it all. She would humiliate you on purpose. Not buying you clothes that fit, not explaining to you about puberty or menstruation, telling people your embarrassing stories. As a child, you were treated as a chore. As you got older, you became a burden. You would be left alone for long periods of time. Days, weeks. You would go hungry; dehydrated, starving. This is evident in the fact that even now, you never leave food on your plate, even if you’re full. People would notice your malnourishment, report it to authorities. But she always knew just when to come back and pretend everything was fine. Which is why you never told anyone the extent of the neglect until you were fourteen. Because you always thought nobody would believe you. Because the miniscule moments of kindness were worth the months of neglect. She made you feel ugly, which is why it’s hard for you to accept compliments. She would ridicule and oppress your academic talents which is why you display such diffidence when referring to yourself as ‘Doctor’. She would make her problems your fault, which is why you’re always sorry. Even when it’s not your fault. You're sorry. You were blamed for everything; her bad luck, her misfortune. You were blamed for your father leaving, for your mother not being able to follow her dreams, you were blamed when her relationships would break down because she was convinced that you, a child, were flirting with her creepy boyfriends. I see it in the way you look at Molly Hooper. Guilty. As if you have taken me away from her even though I was never hers to begin with. There is a scar on your right shoulder from where you were burnt with a cigarette. There is a scar on your left forearm where you attempted to take your own life but changed your mind last minute, hence the shallowness of the scar and hesitation mark. The day after you did that, you went to the police. Emancipated a year later. Still tormented by the fact that she never tried to find you. She wasn’t charged, but you were removed from her life and she barely even noticed.”

A tear escaped the corner of Margaux’s eye as she tried to stop her bottom lip from trembling. She wiped away the tear and cleared her throat.

“Well…” she began, losing the words before they had even formed in her mind. She turned to the sink and started washing the cups.

“But as they say, it made you the person you are today,” he said, a speck of guilt flickering through him.

“No, it didn’t," she said. "It’s not something I’m thankful for. It didn’t shape me into the person I am today. It wasn’t a motivator for me. In fact, it made every success I’ve ever had harder to achieve.” She looked up at him again. “Neglect. Do you know what that feels like? To be so unremarkable, so unlikeable that they just… don’t care about you. To spend your life wondering why you were so unworthy of love. It’s not a badge of honour. It’s a scar. A big, ugly reminder of the fact that I wasn’t even given a chance.” The tears were falling quickly now, dripping from her jawline and clouding her vision. She tried to keep her voice calm and low as she spoke. “Your mother thanked me as she was leaving today. She hugged me and she thanked me for being in your life. Because she loves you so much, her worst fear is your loneliness. I will never know what that’s like.”

The kitchen fell into silence besides Margaux’s occasional sniffing. She wiped her cheeks with her sleeve. He stepped towards her slowly and reached out his arms. She looked up at him and watched as he tentatively pulled her into a hug. She wrapped her arms around him, the feeling of security overwhelming as his hold tightened around her.

Sherlock’s phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the screen. Lestrade. It must have been a bad one for him to call, he thought.

“I think this is a case,” he said quietly.

Margaux lifted her head from his chest, placing her hand over the wet patch of tears she had left on his shirt. “You better answer it,” she gave a half smile.

 

She packed Vaughan’s things into his bag and covered him in layers of blankets as he continued to sleep in his pram. She put on her gloves and was buttoning her coat when Sherlock walked in from the kitchen.

“I’ll give it to Lestrade, it seems rather interesting,” he said.

“Well you better call John and get on it.”

“Yes, yes you’re right. Here, let me help you downstairs with that.”

“By ‘that’ do you mean our child?”

“Our child plus pram and other items, yes.”

Vaughan awoke on the bumpy journey down the steps, smiling as he watched his parents struggle to turn the sharp corner. When they finally reached the bottom, Sherlock opened the door for them and helped them outside. They stood on the street for a moment before he waved down a cab.

“Do you want a lift home?” He asked.

“No don’t worry, we’ll walk. You’ve got to get on the case.”

The cab stopped. Sherlock nodded and opened the door.

“Be safe,” said Margaux as she began to push the pram away.

“Bye daddy,” said Vaughan.

Sherlock waved at him and climbed in the cab.

He spent the entire drive thinking about a young girl. Alone in a dark, cold house. Her amber eyes heavy and sad. He wondered why he felt such an urge to save her. To take her away from that place and make her feel loved.

Chapter Text

The Best Man was a role. A responsibility. It was a title Sherlock never expected to be appointed, but it was one he wanted to make sure he did right. Since John had asked him, he had researched diligently; The best man must assist the groom in choosing the suits. The best man must be aware of who the ushers are and their duties. The best man must prepare a speech. The best man must take care of the rings. The best man must organise a stag do.

A stag do. Sherlock sighed at the prospect. He sat at his table with a notebook, pen poised between his finger and thumb, but nothing came. He pushed the pad and pen to one side and pulled his laptop close, searching: 'how to organise a stag do'. He clicked the first link and read carefully:

'Choose a date that's suitable for the groom and guests.' He picked up his phone and called John.

"John, when is Mary's hen party?" He asked immediately.

"Hello to you too, Sherlock. She's having it next Saturday," John replied.

"Okay, so you'll be free that day since she's unavailable. Great, save the date; it will be your stag do."

"Oh, oka- hang on… wh–"

Sherlock ended the call and placed his phone back on the table. Choose a date – check.

He returned to his laptop and scrolled down the list. 'Personalise the stag do to the groom.' He clicked on the list of examples and scanned them, discounting each suggestion until one caught his eye. 'A pub crawl around places with significance to the groom.' Brilliant, he thought, pulling out a map of London that was scattered with red ink crosses. Each one symbolising a place where they had found a dead body. It didn't take him long to locate a pub near each cross on the map. He organised them into an order they could travel through, writing the list in his notebook. Check.

'Invite all of the groom's closest friends and relatives.' He stood up and turned to face the mirror.

"Would you like to attend John's stag night?" He asked his reflection. "Yes," he replied to himself before sitting back down. Invite guests – Check.

'Allow the groom to let loose and get drunk, but make sure you look after him.' Easy, he thought, as he walked to the kitchen. He bent down and fished through the cupboard under the sink before pulling out two tall, thin chemistry beakers. He sniffed them, trying to decipher what chemical they last contained. It smelled noxious – possibly poisonous.

"Best to give them a rinse," he said to himself.

III

The Saturday of Mary's hen do finally arrived. Mrs Hudson stood in the doorway with Vaughan on her hip. She was wearing an apron over her clothes, her wrinkled cheeks lightly rouged with her favourite blush. She had been to many hen parties over the years, she told Margaux, none of them ever ended well. So for this one she didn't mind babysitting instead. In fact, she was excited to spend her night with him. They waved Margaux off as she climbed into a taxi before going back inside to start their quiet night together.

Margaux hurried out of the cab and into the restaurant. The host showed her to the large table at the back where Mary and her friends sat laughing over wine. The table had been reserved – decorated in silver balloons and glittery confetti. Mary had been dressed in a bright pink 'bride to be' sash and a puffy white veil. She saw Margaux walking towards them and pointed to her ridiculous veil with a laugh. Margaux laughed too as she approached the table and leaned over, greeting Mary with a kiss on the cheek.

"Everyone, this is Margaux," said Mary.

"Are you the murder detective?" said one of her friends.

"Forensic investigator," Margaux corrected politely.

"Doesn't sound as exciting."

"This is Janine. She's my maid of honour," said Mary.

Margaux smiled at Janine as she sat down.

"and this is… Andrea, Claire, Jenny, Louise, Saira, Wendy, Danielle, other Claire and Kara."

The women around the table waved.

"You're just in time," said one of them before pulling out a naked blow-up doll with John's face stuck on it.

Mary squealed in embarrassment and covered her face with her hands.

III

Daylight poured through the windows of the pub. John stood at a table checking his phone while he waited for Sherlock to buy the first round of drinks. He was wearing his smart brown jacket over a checked shirt and blue jumper and had sprayed himself with Mary's favourite cologne. Nights out were something he and Sherlock almost never did. He was excited to see his friend loosen up, silently questioning if it were even possible. He looked up from his phone to see two large chemistry beakers of beer on the table. For a moment he was perplexed, then he remembered he was on a night out with Sherlock Holmes and suddenly it all seemed a touch more normal.

Molly had provided Sherlock with both his and John's ideal intake of alcohol to keep them modestly tipsy for the entire night. Exactly 443.7ml of beer was to be drank at every location within a specific amount of time. No more, no less. Sherlock had developed a chart to keep track of everything that went in and out of the body. Organised fun. He started the timer on his phone.

John sighed and picked up his beer. "What? Are we on a schedule?" he asked.

"You'll thank me," he replied.

They clinked their beakers and began to drink.

III

They made Mary carry the blow-up doll everywhere she went. From the restaurant to the bar across the road, and from that bar to the next. The streetlights flickered to life as the darkening streets became littered with drunken Londoners looking for their next place to buy a drink. People cheered and sang at Mary as they passed her in the street, and each time Mary would cheer and sing with them. Charisma radiated from Mary, so strong it was as if Margaux could reach out and touch it. They walked into a night club and headed for an empty booth.

"My round," Margaux shouted over the loud, thumping music.

"Champagne!" They shouted.

"Tell 'em it's a hen do, they might do it cheap," one of the women added.

Margaux laughed and walked to the bar.

"She's pretty," said Janine as they watched her push through the crowded dancefloor. "How do you know her again?"

"Oh, it's too complicated when I'm sober, never mind when I've been drinking since one o'clock."

Margaux returned with a tray carrying two bottles of champagne and glasses for the group. They popped the corks and shared out the drink; clinking their glasses together to toast to Mary and her future husband.

She found herself checking her phone periodically through the night. It was like a tic. Being away from Vaughan was something she was getting better at. For so long she had been by herself; besides Rose and the preschool, Margaux had never left him anyone. Mostly because she had no one else to leave him with. It had taken time to get used to having a network of people around them. This was what having a happy, loving family felt like, although this one was somewhat unconventional. She unlocked her phone again and began to compose a new text.

'Hi, how is your night going? Mrs Hudson said Vaughan's fast asleep. I don't know, I just thought you'd like to know that… I miss you.' I miss you? She was definitely drunk.

"Truth or dare!" said Mary's friend.

"How old are we? Sixteen!?"

"It wouldn't be a hen do without some risqué games," Margaux teased.

"Oh go on then… truth," said Mary.

"What was your first night with John like?"

The group made a simultaneous 'oooh', so loud it could be heard over the club's music.

"We went to a pub and got a bit too drunk. I invited him back to mine and he fell over the doorstep into the house knocking me over on the way," she laughed at the memory. "We lay there on the floor in my hall for ages just giggling. Then we went upstairs and it was all just really… lovely."

"Oh come on, truths are meant to be embarrassing!"

"Well sorry! I can't help that John's perfect," Mary replied jokingly smug.

They played round after round of truth or dare; revealing all their gruesome secrets. Next, it was Margaux's turn.

"Dare," she said, immediately regretting her decision.

They deliberated for a moment before turning to her. "Walk up to the man you find most attractive and give him your worst pick up line."

She downed her champagne and stood up, brushing off her thighs and flicking her hair off her shoulders. She looked around the club until she spotted him standing at a tall table; he had broad shoulders, sandy hair and a handsome face blanketed with a layer of stubble. She took a deep breath and headed straight for him. She patted him on the arm. He stopped talking to his friend and turned to her.

"Yeah?" he said.

"Can you laugh and tell me to go away so they think I've done my dare?" She said bluntly.

He laughed, "who dared you to talk to me?"

"They did," she gestured to the booth of women behind her. "They told me to find the man I'm most attracted to and use a bad chat up line. But I don't know any chat up lines so…"

He glanced to the booth and back to her, then he laughed. "You were most attracted to me, eh?"

"I'll be honest with you. Sober me would never admit that. But I'm very tipsy right now so yes. Yes I was."

"I'm Jay," he said with a smile.

III

John left Sherlock standing awkwardly at a table as he went to the bar for their next 443.7ml's of beer. He was feeling fuzzy; tipsy and lightheaded like Sherlock had planned. But that wasn't enough. He ordered a round of shots, downing half at the bar and pouring the rest into Sherlock's beer.

They left soon after. The cold, quiet street feeling like another world compared to the hot, loud club they had stepped out of. Sherlock took out his phone, two screens. No, one screen. Why were they swirling like that? Walking in a straight line was hard. He stopped and squinted, applying all his effort to unlock the home screen.

"What's the matter?" John slurred, stopping next to him.

"I'm looking for the map with our next pub. But this… thingy is in the way."

John looked at the phone. "That means you've got a text."

"Ah," said Sherlock.

He clicked on the text and read over it several times before the words would stick.

'Hi, how is your night going? Mrs Hudson said Vaughan's fast asleep. I don't know, I just thought you'd like to know that… I miss you.'

He made a strange noise in his throat.

"What? What is it?" asked John.

"I miss you," he said.

"Well thanks, mate, but I'm right here."

"No, that's… that's what she said." He tapped his finger against the screen heavily, pointing at the text.

John took the phone and read the message.

"Tell her you miss her too."

"Why would I do that?"

"I don't know. Because that's what people who like each other do."

They walked the fifteen-minute journey to the next location. Sherlock clutched his phone in his hand the whole time. When they got to the entrance he read the message again before clicking 'dismiss' and returning the phone to his pocket.

III

Margaux stood waiting for the bartender to serve her. She checked her phone again. Still nothing. She sighed and placed it on the bar in front of her, feeling a shift in the space beside her. She looked up to see Jay smiling with a drink in each hand. She felt her cheeks flush as she took one and followed him to an empty table. They sat down and clinked their glasses together.

"He's cute," said Jay, pointing at the picture of Vaughan on the lock screen of Margaux's phone.

"Ah, thanks," she replied. "My son. He's a dream."

He took out his phone and showed her a picture of a little girl with long sandy hair and big brown eyes.

"My daughter," he said with a proud smile.

Margaux felt the muscles in her back loosen and her posture relax into a comfortable position. They fell into flowing conversation – laughing, sharing stories, flirting, touching. He offered to buy her another drink. She accepted and watched him walk away to the bar before running back over to the booth where Mary and her hen party were still celebrating.

"He is bloody gorgeous," said Mary enthusiastically.

"And he's so nice. And really interesting. Oh, and get this, he has a daughter!"

"Fate!"

They laughed. Margaux checked her phone again. '0 new messages.' Her stomach felt heavy. She put it away and forced a smile.

"He's gone to get us more drinks. What do I do, Mary? It's been so long since I did this."

Mary grasped Margaux's arms and looked deep into her eyes. "You deserve this," she said. "Remember… Do. Not. Wait."

Margaux nodded, remembering back to their conversation in the café. She returned to the table where Jay was sitting again.

"Sorry, was just catching up with the bride," she said, touching his arm softly as she sat down.

"Sorry?" he pointed in the air, gesturing to the loud music.

She shuffled closer, "I was just talking to my friend about you," she shouted in his ear.

"Good things, I hope."

"Most definitely."

His mouth curved into a smile. There was a small gap between his two front teeth. It suited him, making him seem even more charming. He noticed her glancing down at his teeth and back up to his eyes, taking it as permission to kiss her. She accepted it calmly, though inside her heart was thudding. She leaned into the kiss and deepened it slowly as his hand found its way to her cheek, her's to his thigh. This was good, she thought. She wanted this.

III

"I know ash!" Sherlock shouted drunkenly over the booming music.

John covered his face with his hand, this couldn't be good.

"Don't. Tell. Me. I. Don't!" Sherlock continued, poking a disgruntled man in the chest with every word.

The man swung a punch at Sherlock who swayed and staggered back, missing the blow. The man stumbled forward into a table before his friend rushed to help him. John jumped up from his seat and grabbed Sherlock, pulling him away from the men as he flailed his arms as if ready to fight them.

"Alright, enough! That's…" John's words trailed off into a slur as he propped him up. "Stand up straight."

Sherlock pointed towards the men. "Ashtray. I know ashtray."

 

They got a cab back to Baker Street, making it as far as the stairs in the hall before lying down next to one another; defeated by alcohol.

"I have an international reputation," said Sherlock.

John opened his eyes for a moment, saying nothing.

"Do you have an international reputation?" Sherlock mumbled again.

"No, I don't have an international reputation."

"No." He stopped for a moment before turning his head to John, his eyes remaining closed. "And I can't even remember what for. Sss… crime… something or other." He settled his head back down.

The door to 221A creaked open as Mrs Hudson stepped out, a bag of rubbish in her hand, and stopped at the sight of them.

"Oh! What are you doing back? I thought you were going to be out late," she said.

"Ah, Hudders. What time is it?" Sherlock slurred.

Mrs Hudson checked her watch. "You've only been out two hours."

The men tried to sit up, wedged between the wall and bannister. Sherlock slipped down onto the next step with a thud.

"You better get yourself together, Sherlock. If you wake that little boy you'll be getting something extra in your morning tea," Mrs Hudson warned.

Sherlock and John turned to each other and began to giggle.

"Go on upstairs, the pair of you."

 

In the flat, they decided to play a game. They sat opposite each other, a piece of paper stuck to each of their heads. On John's was written 'Madonna', on Sherlock's 'Sherlock Holmes'.

"Am I a vegetable?" asked John.

"You, or the thing?" said Sherlock, holding a glass of whiskey.

They both giggled.

"Funny," said John.

"Thank you."

"Come on…"

"No, you're not a vegetable."

"It's your go."

"Er, am I human?"

"Sometimes."

"Can't have sometimes," Sherlock corrected. "Has to be, erm…" He shifted in his chair, struggling to stay upright.

"Yes you're human."

"Yes or no… okay, am I a man?"

"Yep."

"Tall?"

"Not as tall as people think." John raised his hands.

"Hm, nice?"

"Ish."

"Clever?"

"I'd say so."

"You would?"

John giggled.

"Am I important?" Sherlock continued.

"To some people."

"Do people… like me?"

"Er, no they don't. You tend to rub 'em up the wrong way."

"Okay. Am I the current King of England?"

"Are you…" John burst into laughter. "You know we don't have a king?"

"Don't we?"

"No."

"Your go."

"Am I a woman?"

Sherlock regarded John's paper for a moment, letting out a snort of laughter.

"What?" asked John.

"Yes."

"Am I… pretty?"

"Er, er, beauty is a construct based entirely on childhood impressions, influences and role models."

"Yeah, but am I a pretty lady?" He blinked at Sherlock who leant forward, squinting at the paper again.

"I don't know who you are," said Sherlock. "I don't know who you're supposed to be."

"You picked the name!"

"Ah, but I picked it at random from the papers."

"You're not really getting the hang of this game, are you, Sherlock?"

Sherlock paused for a moment. "So I am human, I'm not as tall as people think I am, I'm- I'm nice-ish… clever, important to some people, but I tend to rub them up the wrong way." He laughed. "Got it."

"Go on then."

"I'm you, aren't I."

A knock on the door disturbed them. They turned around to see Mrs Hudson standing in the doorway holding a baby monitor. Next to her stood a woman in a nurse's uniform.

"Client!" said Mrs Hudson. "Sorry, got to get back." She pointed to the baby monitor before hurrying back downstairs.

"Hello!" said John.

"Hello!" Sherlock copied, waving at the woman.

"Come on." John gestured for the woman to come in and take a seat.

"Which one of you is Sherlock Holmes?" She asked timidly.

Taking on a case while intoxicated was not one of Sherlock's brighter ideas, but that didn't stop him from trying.

III

It was early hours of the morning. Margaux stood outside the club in the cold, dark street. Her arms were folded across her chest as she puffed on a cigarette. Like she had done all night, she checked her phone again, no longer surprised to see 0 new messages. She took a long drag of her cigarette and blew out the smoke with a sigh. Jay stepped out of the club and joined her.

"I never took you for a smoker," he said.

"It's an 'every now and again' thing," she replied. "Mostly when alcohol or stress is involved."

"Ah."

They turned to face each other. Jay leaned down and kissed her, unbothered by the taste of fresh smoke on her lips. She wrapped her arms around the back of his neck as they kissed; welcoming the feeling of his hands on her waist, his body pressing against hers.

"This place is closing soon, where are you heading after here?" he asked, resting his forehead against hers.

"I'm probably going to go home," she replied, almost whispering. "Do you want to come with me?" She couldn't believe she'd said it. But she didn't care. It felt right. She wanted this.

 

Inside, Mary and her friends were at the center of the dancefloor; cheering and singing, dancing with their drinks in hand. Margaux pushed through the crowd to find Mary. She tapped her on the shoulder.

"I'm going home with Jay!" she shouted over the music.

Mary stopped dancing immediately. "Really? Are you sure?"

"Yes, I really am! Thank you so much for inviting me, Mary. I've had an amazing night."

They hugged each other before parting ways. As Mary returned to dancing, Margaux made her way to the exit. She found Jay waiting at a cab. He held out his hand, she took it in hers and they climbed inside together.

III

The fluorescent light burned through John's eyelids. The door of the holding cell clinked loudly as it opened. John grimaced at the sound as it bellowed through his fragile head.

"Wakey, wakey," said a cheerful voice.

"Oh my god," said John, struggling to keep his eyes open as he looked towards the door. "Greg? Is that Greg?"

On a bench near John, Sherlock lay fast asleep.

"Get up," said Lestrade. "I'm gonna put you two in a taxi. Managed to square things with the desk sergeant."

John struggled climbing to his feet. Lestrade laughed.

"What a couple of lightweights. You couldn't even make it to closing time!"

"Can you whisper?" said John as he walked towards the door.

"Not really!" Lestrade shouted in his ear.

Sherlock startled awake, sitting upright immediately. He glanced around the cell.

"Come on."

III

They walked up the stairs and into 221B, flopping themselves on whatever furniture they got to first.

"Never again," John muttered, his face buried in a cushion.

"I'll be having a word with Molly. Her calculations were well off."

Mrs Hudson knocked on the door. The two men groaned at the sound. She rolled her eyes and stepped into the flat.

"You two look worse than Mr Hudson. And he's dead," she said.

Sherlock was curled on his side in his armchair, he turned his body around, noticing Vaughan standing next to her.

"Ah, hello, Vaughan," he said, as if he were greeting a fellow adult.

"Hi," he replied.

"John, I just rang Mary to let her know you're back. She's on her way round," said Mrs Hudson. "How about some nice breakfast? A full English should sort this right out."

They groaned again. She didn't seem to notice.

It wasn't long before Mary arrived. She looked pale and tired. Her short hair was hidden under a hat and there were smudges of glitter around her eyes.

"You two look how I feel," she said as she walked into the flat.

She shifted John's legs to make room for her on the couch, sitting down and leaning back with a sigh. "How the bloody hell did you end up in the police station?"

"Something about a case… I don't remember," said John.

"Most interesting case in ages and I blew it," Sherlock added.

"How was your night, love?" asked John.

"It was great. Drank too much, laughed too much, danced too much."

Mrs Hudson came back upstairs with Vaughan. "The breakfast's cooking, come down when you're ready," she said.

"Oh, hello Vaughan," said Mary in a soft, high pitched voice.

"Hi."

"What are you doing here?"

"We're just waiting for your mummy to come and get you, aren't we," said Mrs Hudson. "She sounded a bit rough on the phone as well."

"Yeah I'm not surprised. She went home with a guy last night so she's probably had no sleep," Mary laughed at her own crude joke. But it wasn't long until she realised she was the only one laughing.

"Margaux went home with a guy?" asked John.

"Oh dear," Mrs Hudson mumbled as she took Vaughan's hand and went back downstairs.

"Yeah. She met him last night. They really hit it off."

Mary kept glancing over at Sherlock as she spoke; assessing him. Observing his reaction. Wishing for something to click. But there was no reaction. Not so much as a blink or a sigh. Instead, he remained curled up in his chair, eyes closed, arms crossed. Stoic. She shook her head and stood up.

"Right, I'm off. See you at home." She bent down and kissed John on the forehead.

"I'm going down to Mrs Hudson's so I'll walk you to the door," he replied, rolling slowly off the couch onto the floor. She helped him stand up and they began to leave.

"Bye, Sherlock," she said.

"Mhm."

Sherlock suddenly became very aware that he was alone. The flat was quiet. So quiet, he could hear the clocks ticking out of sync with one another. He remained still for as long as he could. Partly because moving hurt his head, but mostly because he felt like his chest was full of glass marbles. Heavy and clattering, yet fragile and breakable. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, reading the message again.

'I miss you.'

Chapter Text

III

It had been weeks since the nights out that had left everybody feeling worse for wear. Margaux had noticed a shift since that night. A change in dynamic. In the weeks that followed, Sherlock would speak to her as if she were an acquaintance, keeping conversation shallow and polite. When they would come together, it was evident that his focus was Vaughan. He would come to her flat, he would spend time with his son and then he would leave. At first it seemed as though he had simply forgotten how to interact with other people, but it wasn't long before she noticed that she was the only one receiving the brunt of his cold, distant regard.

John and Sherlock stood near the entrance of the church. It was a warm, bright Spring day. The blossom tree had shed soft pink petals across the grounds in the gentle breeze, and there was a hum of excitement as the guests arrived, congratulating John with a handshake or a hug, before heading inside. Margaux and Vaughan climbed out of a taxi and made their way down the path of the church. She was wearing a pale blue dress that nipped in at her waist and flowed to just below her knees, the sleeves were long and sheer with delicate floral embroidery, and her hair was loosely pinned at the nape of her neck. Vaughan was wearing a suit, specially made to match the groomsmen, even down to the small grey top hat on his head. Sherlock picked him up, asking him questions about his suit, while Margaux gave John a hug.

"I won't ask if you're nervous because that's a stupid question." She smiled.

John nodded with a laugh. Margaux glanced up at Sherlock who was concentrating on their son. Purposely ignoring her.

"I'll leave him with you until you're ready to come in," she said. "Congratulations, John." She smiled, giving him a kiss on the cheek and venturing inside the church to find a seat.

The ceremony was beautiful. An aura of love and happiness surrounded the couple as they were pronounced husband and wife. They ran outside hand-in-hand to the sound of wedding bells, the guests circling the path, cheering and clapping for them. They stood together smiling for photographs, John in his smart suit, Mary glowing and ethereal in her gown. Margaux placed confetti in Vaughan's hand and they threw it together as John and Mary stepped into the middle of the crowd. She watched as Sherlock and Janine stood together for photographs. Taking note of the way Janine leaned in to talk to him. She wondered what they were saying.

"The famous Mr Holmes," said Janine. "I'm very pleased to meet you. But no sex, okay?"

Sherlock's eyes widened. "Um, sorry?"

Janine let out a laugh. "You don't have to look so scared. I'm only messing. Bridesmaid, Best Man… It's a bit traditional." She punched his arm playfully.

He grimaced. "Is it?"

"But not obligatory."

"If that's the sort of thing you're looking for… the man over there in the blue is your best bet. Recently divorced doctor with a ginger cat. A barn conversion… And a history of erectile dysfunction." He blinked as he assessed his observations. "Reviewing that information, possibly not your best bet."

"Yeah, maybe not."

"Sorry, there was one more deduction there than I was expecting."

"Mr Holmes," she began, taking his arm. "You're going to be incredibly useful."

III

The reception venue was a pretty country hall surrounded by gardens and stone fountains. The walls were laced in ivy, the tall arched windows painted white, allowing light to pour in from outside. Sherlock, John and Mary stood outside greeting the guests as they arrived. Being pleasant was laborious, how did people manage to be like that all the time, Sherlock thought.

"David!" Mary called out, reaching her arms out to hug the man approaching them.

He leaned away, awkwardly avoiding the hug with a nervous laugh. "Mary, congratulations." He held her hands briefly. "You look, um, very nice." He quickly moved on to shake John's hand, leaving Mary confused. "John, congratulations. You're a lucky man."

"Thank you," John replied.

"Um, er, David, this is Sherlock," said Mary.

Sherlock gave him a disingenuous smile.

"Er, yeah. We've um, we've met," said David, looking down at the floor.

Assessing the guests wasn't an official Best Man role. But it was one Sherlock felt could benefit them, and one he found incredibly interesting. David was Mary's ex. Whenever she tweeted, he would respond within five minutes regardless of time or current location, suggesting he had her on text alert. In all his Facebook photographs, Mary would take centre frame whereas John would be partly or entirely excluded. He was still in love with her. This was enough for Sherlock to downgrade him to a casual acquaintance – putting the fear of god in him in the process.

David stammered, struggling to find anything to say. Instead, he just walked inside, waving feebly at them as he went.

"Here they are! Hello," said Mary excitedly as Margaux and Vaughan approached.

They hugged, giving a kiss on each cheek.

"Congratulations, the ceremony was beautiful, I'm so happy for you!" said Margaux as she moved on to John, giving him the same hug and double kiss.

"We're so glad to have you here, both of you," said John as he crouched down to Vaughan's level. "You looking after your mum today?"

Vaughan nodded and they high fived.

Margaux stepped aside to Sherlock.

"Hi," she said.

"Hello, welcome."

"Thanks…" she gave an awkward laugh. "You look very nice."

"As do you."

Mary and John looked at each other, sharing the same confused expression.

Margaux leaned towards him so she could speak quietly. "Is everything alright?"

"Dr Cave, you're holding up the queue."

Her stomach dropped in both hurt and embarrassment. She scooped up Vaughan and quickly went inside without uttering another word.

"Doctor. Cave?" Mary scowled before another guest quickly came and stole her attention.

III

The photographer wandered around the hall, capturing shots of people talking and drinking. He approached Molly and her fiancé Tom who stopped kissing to smile for the camera. Next, he snapped Mrs Hudson at her table with Mr Chatterjee. Nearby sat Greg Lestrade, drinking alone, raising his glass solemnly. The photographer turned to snap Margaux sat with Vaughan on her knee. She pointed to the camera, trying to get Vaughan to look into the lens, and smiled.

Sherlock watched from across the room. His jaw clenched, lips pursed tightly.

"He's nice," said Janine as a waiter passed them.

He inhaled deeply. "Traces of two leading brands of deodorant, both advertised for their strength, suggestive of a chronic body odour problem manifesting under stress."

"Okay, done there. What about his friend?"

Sherlock turned to where she was looking to see another waiter in the kitchen.

"Long term relationship, compulsive cheat."

"Seriously?"

"Waterproof cover on his smartphone, yet his complexion doesn't indicate outdoor work. Suggests he's in the habit of taking his phone into the shower with him, which means he often receives texts and emails he'd rather went unseen."

Janine smiled adoringly at Sherlock. "Can I keep you?"

He glanced back over at Margaux who had noticed them talking. She was watching them carefully, her face twisted in what Sherlock could only decipher as worry. He saw this as an opportunity. "Do you like solving crimes?" He asked, making sure she was still watching.

"Do you have a vacancy?"

Margaux watched as Sherlock and Janine parted ways, catching his eye as he walked across the room. She smiled at him and gave him a gentle wave. He averted his gaze and continued walking to the back of the hall.

**III**

A clinking glass echoed through the hall, causing conversations to disperse.

"Pray silence for the best man," said the head waiter.

The room burst into applause as Sherlock rose to his feet. The speech had proved a bigger rival than some of the criminals Sherlock had put away. But now was the time, whether he was ready or not.

"Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends... and, erm... others. Er... w... A– also..."
"Telegrams," John murmured.

"Right. Erm…" He patted his pockets before noticing the telegrams on the table in front of him. He cleared his throat. "First thing's first. Telegrams." He picked them up and showed them to the room. "Well, they're not actually telegrams. We just call them telegrams. I don't know why. Wedding tradition. Because we don't have enough of that already, apparently."

He read the telgrams half-heartedly. Rushing through them and making small quips and sarcastic comments. John sighed at him, Mary rolled her eyes. There was a small rumble of laughter amongst the guests while Molly watched on admiringly and Margaux covered her eyes with her hand.
"John Watson," he gestured towards John. "My friend, John Watson. John. When John first broached the subject of being best man, I was confused. I confess at first I didn't realise he was asking me. When finally I understood, I expressed to him that I was both flattered and… surprised. I explained to him that I'd never expected this request and I was a little daunted in the face of it. I nonetheless promised that I would do my very best to accomplish a task which was, for me, as demanding and difficult as any I had ever contemplated. Additionally, I thanked him for the trust he'd placed in me and indicated that I was, in some ways, very close to being... moved by it." He paused. "It later transpired that I had said none of this out loud."
John let out a laugh.

Sherlock reached into his pocket and retrieved his cue cards, clearing his throat as he began to sift through them. "Done that, done that, done that bit, done that bit, done that bit. Hm… I'm afraid, John, I can't congratulate you. All emotions, and in particular love, stand opposed to the pure, cold reason I hold above all things." His eyes involuntarily darted to Margaux for just a second. Long enough for her to notice and drop her head. "A wedding is, in my considered opinion, nothing short of a celebration of all that is false and specious and irrational and sentimental in this ailing and morally compromised world." A sense of discomfort travelled around the hall. "Today, we honour the death-watch beetle that is the doom of our society and in time, one feels certain, our entire species. But anyway, let's talk about John."
"Please," said John desperately.

"If I burden myself with a little help-mate during my adventures, it is not out of sentiment or caprice; it is that he has many fine qualities of his own that he has overlooked in his obsession with me."

Greg laughed again, Margaux kicked him under the table.
"Indeed, any reputation I have for mental acuity and sharpness comes, in truth, from the extraordinary contrast John so selflessly provides. It is a fact, I believe, that brides tend to favour exceptionally plain bridesmaids for their big day. There is a certain analogy there, I feel."
Janine looked up at him, almost offended by his words.

"And contrast is, after all, God's own plan to enhance the beauty of his creation… Or it would be if God were not a ludicrous fantasy designed to provide a career opportunity for the family idiot."

Mary and John began to cringe, hiding behind their hands as the guests watched on in horror.

"The point I'm trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful," he made a point of looking down at Janine as he spoke. "And uncomprehending in the face of the happy. So if I didn't understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody's best friend. Certainly not the best friend of the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing."
The guests relaxed into their seats. Mary smiled at John, proud to be his wife.

"John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship. But, as I'm apparently your best friend, I cannot congratulate you on your choice of companion. Actually, now I can. Mary, when I say you deserve this man, it is the highest compliment of which I am capable. John, you have endured war, and injury, and tragic loss," he leaned in "So sorry again about that last one." He straightened up again. "So know this: today you sit between the woman you have made your wife and the man you have saved – in short, the two people who love you most in all this world. And I know I speak for Mary as well when I say we will never let you down, and we have a lifetime ahead to prove that."

Mrs Hudson began to cry, holding a tissue to her nose while Molly wiped a tear from her eye. Margaux sat back in her chair, she was proud of him.
"If I try and hug him, stop me," said John.

"Certainly not," Mary replied.

 

"Ah, yes. Now on to some funny stories about John..." he looked up to see the room full of guests snivelling and whimpering into their napkins. "What's wrong? What happened? Why are you all doing that? John?"

 

"Oh, Sherlock!" said Mrs Hudson.

 

"Did I do it wrong?"

 

John stood up. "No, you didn't. Come here." He pulled him into a hug before the room began to applaud.

"I haven't finished yet."

 

"Yeah, I know, I know."

 

"So, on to some funny stories about John… If you could all just cheer up a bit, that would be better. On we go. So, for funny stories," he took out his phone. "One has to look no further than John's blog; the record of our time together. Of course, he does tend to romanticise things a bit, but then, you know, he's a romantic." He gave a slight wink at the couple. "We've tackled some strange cases: The Hollow Client, the Poison in the Plant. We've had some frustrating cases, 'touching' cases, and of course I have to mention the elephant in the room. But we want something ... very particular for this special day, don't we? The Bloody Guardsman."

He told the story of the case in great detail; the soldier with the stalker, the shower full of blood, John saving the young man's life. With each word he shocked, confused and perplexed the guests.

"Private Bainbridge had just come off guard duty. He'd stood there for hours, plenty of people watching, nothing apparently wrong. He came off duty and within minutes was nearly dead from a wound in his stomach, but there was no weapon. Where did it go? Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to consider this: a murderer who can walk through walls, a weapon that can vanish. But in all of this there is only one element which can be said to be truly remarkable. Would anyone like to make a guess?" The room was silent. "Come on, come on, there is actually an element of Q and A to all of this." Still, no one spoke. "Scotland Yard, have you got a theory?"

Greg looked up, staring at him blankly.

"Yeah, you. You're a detective, broadly speaking. Got a theory?"

 

"Er, um, if the, uh, if the, if-if-if if the blade was, er, propelled through the, um… grating in the air vent... maybe a-a ballista or a, or a, or a catapult. Erm, somebody tiny could-could crawl in there. So yeah, we're loo... we're looking for a… dwarf?"

 

"Brilliant."

 

"Really?"

 

"No."

 

Lestrade sighed and lowered his head.

 

"Next!" said Sherlock.

Margaux inhaled, opening her mouth as if she were about to speak.

"Not you, you'll get it right away, that's no fun," he said, shooing her with his fingers before moving on.

"He stabbed himself," Molly's fiancé whispered.

 

"Hello? Who was that? Tom…"

 

Tom stood up awkwardly. "Um... attempted suicide, with a blade made of compacted blood and bone; broke after piercing his abdomen. Like a meat... dagger."

A few of the guests sniggered. Molly sat next to him, mortified.

 

"A meat dagger," Sherlock repeated.

 

"Yes."

 

"Sit. Down," said Molly through gritted teeth.

He sat down immediately.

"There was one feature, and only one feature, of interest in the whole of this baffling case, and quite frankly it was the usual. John Watson. Who, while I was trying to solve the murder, instead saved a life. There are mysteries worth solving and stories worth telling. The best and bravest man I know, and on top of that, he actually knows how to do stuff… Except wedding planning and serviettes. He's rubbish at those."

 

"True," John interjected.

 

"The case itself remains the most ingenious and brilliantly-planned murder – or attempted murder – I've ever had the pleasure to encounter; the most perfect locked-room mystery of which I am aware. However, I'm not just here to praise John, I'm also here to embarrass him, so let's move on to some–"

 

"No-no, wait, so how was it ... how was it done?" Lestrade interrupted.

 

"How was what done?"

 

"The stabbing."

 

Sherlock looked down awkwardly for a few moments, then raised his head. "I'm afraid I don't know. I didn't solve that one. That's... It can happen sometimes. It's very, very disappointing."

Margaux began to open her mouth again. Sherlock raised a finger as if to say: 'zip it'. She rolled her eyes and took a swig of wine.
"Embarrassment leads me on to the stag night. Of course, there's hours of material here, but I've cut it down to the really good bits."

He told the story of the stag night, keeping it light and entertaining, avoiding the intrusive thoughts of the morning after that kept trying to force their way in. He told the story of the woman that came for help; inspecting the flat of her ghostly lover while completely intoxicated. He recalled her story of The Mayfly Man, his flawed deductions, falling asleep on the shaggy rug which he later threw up on. He recalled the landlord threatening to call the police. 'Oh, no, this is a famous detective. It's Sherlock Holmes and his partner, John Hamish Watson.' She had said as they stumbled around the apartment 'clueing for looks'.

"Married. Obvious, really," he continued his speech. "Our Mayfly Man was trying to escape the suffocating chains of domesticity. And instead of endless nights in watching the telly or going to barbecues with awful dreadful boring people he couldn't stand, he used his wits, cleverness and powers of disguise to play the field. He was–" He looked around the room to see that people where losing interest; confused, bored. "On second thoughts, I probably should have told you about the Elephant in the Room. However, it does help to further illustrate how invaluable John is to me. I can read a crime scene the way he can understand a human being. I used to think that's what made me special. Quite frankly, I still do. But a word to the wise: should any of you require the services of either of us, I will solve your murder, but it takes John Watson to save your life. Trust me on that – I should know. He's saved mine so many times, and in so many ways." He held up his phone. "This blog is the story of two men and their frankly ridiculous adventures of murder, mystery and mayhem. But from now on, there's a new story. A bigger adventure. Ladies and gentlemen, pray charge your glasses and be upstanding…" He picked up his glass while the guests stood up with theirs. The photographer stepped forward with his camera at the ready. "Today begins the adventures of Mary Elizabeth Watson and John Hamish Watson. The two reasons why every single one of us is–" He stopped speaking. His blue eyes widening as the champagne glass slipped from his hand.

The photographer began taking pictures, the bright flash bursting over and over again in his face. He was thinking back to the woman on the stag night. She said 'John Hamish Watson.' She said that. Hamish. How did she know John's middle name? He never told anyone because he hated it so much, taking years to even confide in Sherlock. Then something else echoed in his mind. Something else she said. 'Enjoy the wedding.' She knew about the wedding. More importantly, she had seen a wedding invitation. He began to deduce; barely one hundred people had seen the invitation. The Mayfly Man saw five women. For one person to be in both groups, could be a coincidence, but the universe was rarely so lazy. So someone went to great lengths to find out something about the wedding; lied, assumed false identities, which meant criminal intent. Which meant… The Mayfly Man.

"Here today," he finally finished, seconds before the glass shattered on the floor. "Oh, sorry, I…"

"Another glass, sir?" said the waiter.

"Thank you, yes. Thank you, yes."

Margaux watched carefully; he was acting odd, something was wrong. She lifted Vaughan into her arms, holding him tightly.

"Ladies and gentlemen, people tell you not to milk a good speech; get off early, leave 'em laughing. Wise advice I'll certainly try to bear in mind. But for now..." Sherlock leapt over the table, making the guests gasp in shock. "Part two. Part two is more action-based. I'm gonna... walk around, shake things up a bit."

He began to walk around the hall, taking a good look at each person as he walked past.

"Who'd go to a wedding? That's the question. Who would bother to go to any lengths to get themselves to a wedding? Well, everyone Weddings are great! Love a wedding."

 

"What's he doing?" Mary asked John quietly.

"Something's wrong," John replied.

"And John's great, too! Haven't said that enough. Barely scratched the surface. I could go on all night about the depth and complexity of his... jumpers. And he can cook. Does a... thing –thing with peas…"

 

John and Mary exchanged a confused glance as Sherlock continued to examine each guest carefully.

"Might not be peas. Might not be him. But he's got a great singing voice, or… somebody does. Ahh, too many, too many, too many, too many!" He noticed he was frightening people. He unclenched his jaw and smiled. "Sorry. Too many jokes about John! Now, er... Where was I? Ah, yes... Speech!" He pointed at the top table. "Speech. Let's talk about…" then it clicked. "Murder."

 

John sighed while Mary frowned, glancing over at Margaux with wide, confused eyes. Margaux shrugged and shook her head.

 

"Sorry, did I say 'murder'? I meant to say 'marriage'. But, you know, they're quite similar procedures when you think about it. The participants tend to know each other, and it's over when one of them's dead. In fairness, murder is a lot quicker, though. Janine!"
Janine stared at him in shock.

He stood behind a man who was sitting at one of the tables. "What about this one? Acceptably hot? More importantly, his girlfriend's wearing brand-new uncomfortable underwear and hasn't bothered to pick this thread off the top of his jacket, or point out the grease smudge on the back of his neck. Currently, he's going home alone. Also, he's a comics and sci-fi geek. They're always tremendously grateful; really put the hours in," he laughed.

He turned his attention to Lestrade. "Geoff, the gents." He jerked his head towards the door. "The loos, now, please."

 

"It's Greg," replied Lestrade.

 

"The loos, please."

Lestrade's phone beeped. "Why?" He asked as he took it out of his pocket.

 

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's your turn," said Sherlock, gesturing to the door again.

Lestrade looked down at his phone. Sherlock Holmes (1).

 

'Lock this place down.'

 

"Yeah, actually, now you mention it…" he said, standing up and beginning to walk out.

 

"Sherlock, any chance of an end date for this speech? Got to cut the cake," said John.

 

Sherlock gave a manic smile, dancing down the aisle towards the top table. "Oh! Ladies and gentlemen, can't stand it when I finally get the chance to speak for once." He glared directly at John and spoke his last two words clearly. "Vatican Cameos."

John straightened in his chair.

"What did he say? What's that mean?" asked Mary.

"Battle stations. Someone's going to die," said John.

 

"What?!"

John placed his hand on hers, willing her to stay calm and quiet.

"You." Sherlock pointed at John. "It's always you. John Watson, you keep me right."

John stood up as Sherlock walked towards him. "What do I do?"

"Well, you've already done it. Don't solve the murder. Save the life." He took a sharp breath and turned back to the guests. "Sorry. Off-piste a bit. Back now. Phew! Let's play a game. Let's play Murder."

"Sherlock…" Margaux whispered.

"Imagine someone's going to get murdered at a wedding. Who exactly would you pick?"

 

"I think you're a popular choice at the moment, dear," said Mrs Hudson, unamused

 

"If someone could move Mrs Hudson's glass just slightly out of reach, that would be lovely. More importantly, who could you only kill at a wedding? Most people you can kill any old place. As a mental exercise, I've often planned the murder of friends and colleagues." He rubbed his hands together. "Now, John, I'd poison; sloppy eater, dead easy. I've given him chemicals and compounds, that way, he's never even noticed. He missed a whole Wednesday once, didn't have a clue. Lestrade's so easy to kill, it's a miracle no-one's succumbed to the temptation. I've got a pair of keys to my brother's house. I could easily break in there and asphyxiate him… If the whim arose."

 

"He's pissed, isn't he?" Tom mumbled to Molly.

Molly stabbed a fork into the back of his hand.

"Ow!"

 

"So, once again, who could you only kill here?" Sherlock continued. "Clearly it's a rare opportunity, so it's someone who doesn't get out much. Someone for whom a planned social encounter known about months in advance is an exception. Has to be a unique opportunity. And since killing someone in public is difficult, killing them in private isn't an option. Someone who lives in an inaccessible or unknown location, then. Someone private, perhaps, obsessed with personal security. Possibly someone under threat. A recluse, small household staff."

At this point, he knew who the victim was. He had narrowed it down so carefully that he was almost certain. He took a name card from a table and wrote a note on it, placing it in front of one of the guests.

"There is another question that remains, however, a big one. A huge one. How would you do it? How would you kill someone in public?"

The man lifted the card and read the note. 'It's You.'

"There has to be a way. This has been planned."

Vaughan began struggling in Margaux's lap. She shushed him and tried to keep him still but he continued to fidget.

Sherlock turned to look at him. "What is it, Vaughan? What's your theory?"

"Oh don't be ridiculous, Sherlock," said Mrs Hudson. "He's a baby."

Vaughan began lifting his little jacket up over his head, hiding himself for a moment before revealing his face again. Sherlock held his hand up at Mrs Hudson as he stepped closer to Vaughan.

"What's that, son?" He straightened up and turned to the rest of the guests. "My son, everybody, isn't he great," he turned back to him. "What are you trying to tell me?"

"He's playing peek-a-boo, Sherlock. That's what toddlers do," said Margaux.

Sherlock continued to watch as Vaughan hid himself under his jacket. Then it clicked. He gasped and straightened up, his eyes wide. The invisible man with the invisible knife. The one who tried to kill the guardsman.

"You're a genius, Vaughan," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be a short interlude." He picked up a glass. "The bride and groom!"
"The bride and groom," the guests mumbled in utter confusion.

Sherlock turned sharply to John. "Major Sholto's going to be murdered. I don't know how or by whom, but it's going to happen."

**III**

No one expected the wedding to become a crime scene. Not even Sherlock. On a day that was supposed to be about love and happiness, the bride and groom found themselves outside a hotel room door, begging John's friend to let them save him. Major Sholto had been taken away in an ambulance. He was going to be okay.

Within a few hours, it was as if nothing had happened. The wedding party was in full swing, and Sherlock found himself in the foyer, dancing the waltz with Janine. He was counting the steps out loud, frustrated with her for not keeping up. They stopped dancing.

"Just… hold your nerve on your turning," he said.

"Why do we have to rehearse?"

"Because we are about to dance together in public and your skills are appalling." He smiled at her.

She laughed. "Well, you're a good teacher."

"Mm."

"And you're a brilliant dancer."

"I'll let you in on something, Janine."

"Go on then," she whispered flirtatiously.

"I love dancing. I've always loved it."

"Seriously?"

"Watch out," he said, looking around to make sure no one was there, before performing a perfect pirouette.

"Oh, whoa!"

He cleared his throat. "Never really comes up in crime work but, er, you know, I live in hope of the right case."

"I wish you weren't… whatever it is you are."

"It's not the first time I've heard that."

III

Margaux stood at the edge of the dancefloor, smiling as she watched John and Mary dance their first dance. They waltzed together, gazing into each other's eyes like they were the only two people in the room. At the side of the room, Sherlock played the violin. A song he had composed especially for them; gentle and light. Margaux turned her attention to him, admiring how he swayed as he played, his eyes fixed on the newlyweds with pride. She felt a sudden pang of sadness, yearning to know what had changed between them, why he couldn't even bring himself to look at her anymore.

John dipped Mary backwards, making her gasp. They giggled and kissed each other as the song came to an end. The room broke into applause directed at the couple, while Janine whooped for Sherlock. Margaux watched him; the way he looked at Janine as she cheered, the way he picked up his buttonhole flower and threw it across the room to her, the way he glanced in Margaux's direction to see if she'd noticed. She didn't look away, instead she pleaded with him silently, begging him to stop this.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Sherlock began, "Just, er, one last thing before the evening begins properly. Apologies for earlier. A crisis arose and was dealt with. More importantly, however, today we saw two people make vows. I've never made a vow in my life, and after tonight I never will again."

Margaux looked down at the floor before pushing her way through the crowd to the tables at the back of the room.

"So here, in front of you all, my first and last vow. Mary and John: whatever it takes, whatever happens, from now on I swear I will always be there. Always. For all three of you." He stopped for a moment, tripping over his words. "Er, sorry. I mean, I mean two of you. All two of you. Both of you, in fact. I've just miscounted. Anyway, it's time for dancing. Play the music again, please, thank you." The disco lights began to flash and the music began to play. "Okay everybody, just dance, don't be shy. Dancing please! Very good!" He stepped down off the stage and walked over to John and Mary. "Sorry, that was one more deduction than I was expecting."

"Deduction?" asked Mary.

"Increased appetite, change of taste perception, and you were sick this morning. You assumed it was just wedding nerves. You got angry with me when I mentioned it to you. All the signs are there."

"The signs?"

"The signs of three."

"What!?"

"Mary I think you should do a pregnancy test. Wh– the… the statistics for the first trimester are–"

"Shut up," John interrupted. "Just shut up."

"Sorry."

"How did he notice before me? I'm a bloody doctor!"

"It's your day off."

"It's your day off!"

"Stop panicking."

"I'm not panicking."

"I'm pregnant, I'm panicking!" Mary interrupted.

"Don't panic," said Sherlock. "None of you panic. Absolutely no reason to panic."

"Oh and you'd know about that. You've never had to bloody panic," John gestured to Margaux sitting at the back of the room alone, rocking Vaughan who was sleeping in his pram.

"Yes, I would. You're already the best parents in the world. Look at all the practice you've had!"

"What practice?" asked John.

"Well you're hardly going to need me around now you've got a real baby on the way." Sherlock's mouth curved into a smile.

John laughed and pulled them both into a hug.

"You alright?"

"Yeah," said Mary breathlessly.

"Dance," Sherlock instructed.

"Hm?"

"Both of you, now, go dance. We can't just stand here. People will wonder what we're talking about."

"Right."

"And what about you?" Mary asked tearfully.

"Well we can't all three dance. There are limits," John joked.

"Yes there are," said Sherlock.

"Come on, husband. Let's go."

And with that, they were gone. Dancing amongst the crowd under the flashing lights. Sherlock lowered his head, avoiding eye contact with people who may try to pull him into a dance. He looked over at Margaux, only once, before turning away and beginning to look for Janine. She was dancing nearby, his buttonhole flower pinned to her dress. She smiled at him, he smiled back and began to walk towards her, stopping immediately when she pointed to the man she was dancing with, followed by a big thumbs up. She turned away and continued to dance.

He walked up to the stage and picked up the sheet of music he had written for Mary and John. He folded it, placed it in an envelope and left it on the stand before stepping down and pushing through clusters of dancing guests to the exit.

III

Outside, the warm spring day had turned into a cold, breezy night. He flicked up the collar of his coat and began to walk, the vibrant party growing softer with every step across the dark, quiet garden.

"Where are you going?" A trembling voice echoed behind him.

He stopped and turned slowly to see Margaux standing in the middle of the lawn.

"I'm leaving," he said. He looked over at the disco lights coming from the manor. "Where's Vaughan?" He asked.

"He's asleep in his pram, Molly's watching him."

"Good. Go inside and enjoy the rest of the party." He turned and continued to walk.

"Don't walk away from me," her voice grew slightly louder – irritated.

He looked at her again; her hair blowing in the cold breeze, goose bumps forming on her arms and legs.

He sighed. "It's cold–"

"I'm fine," she said with a shiver.

He took off his coat before walking towards her and draping it around her shoulders.

"Why are you leaving?" she asked.

"I watched them get married, I solved a case, I played them their song. There's nothing left for me here now."

"Nothing left? Sherlock, wh–" Her voice shook before trailing off quietly.

Neither of them spoke again for a long time. Usually in those silences, they were speaking without words. But not this time. This time they were simply looking at each other, allowing the quiet to engulf them.

"Jay…" Sherlock finally said, almost whispering.

Margaux's brows furrowed in confusion as her eyes darted around his face. "Wh– I…" She was dumbfounded. "Is this what this has all been about?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he tried to leave again.

"Stop. Walking. Away from me!" her assertiveness caught them both off guard. "Tell me! Is this why you've been giving me the cold shoulder?"

"I'm… removing myself from the situation–"

"Cut the bullshit, Sherlock." She pointed her finger at him. "May I remind you, it was you who rejected me, then slept with me, then pushed me away again." She stepped closer to him, pushing her finger into his chest as she spoke. "I solved cases for you, I was there for you the second you asked me to be… I was almost killed because of you. Then you pretended to die. So I grieved for you, raised your son by myself, and then I let you back into both of our lives when you decided it was a good idea to come back." Her eyes began to water, her voice croaking as she fought the urge to cry. "You flirt with me when you're bored, you say the most hurtful things like it's nothing, you treat me like a stranger when it suits you, and now… Now, you have the audacity to be upset that I met someone else? Well, let me tell you something, Sherlock. You don't get that luxury. You're not entitled to that."

He looked down at the floor, his jaw clenched, unable to speak. She slipped off his coat and pushed it into his hands before stepping away from him.

"I didn't sleep with him," she said. "Not that it's any of your business."

"Marg–"

"I wanted to, though; I took him back to my flat, we had wine, we talked, we kissed. But when it came down to it, I couldn't do it… Because he wasn't you." She wiped away the tears that were trickling down her face, crossed her arms over her chest to shield herself from the cold. "You don't want me, but you don't want anyone else to have me either, right? Well there you go. It seems as though I don't want anyone else to have me either."

She walked back inside quickly, feeling the sobs forcing their way up her throat, the tears mixing with her makeup and stinging her eyes. She didn't look back once. But she knew Sherlock – she knew he wouldn't care enough to chase her.

III

The hotel room was small and cosy. In one bedroom, Vaughan was sleeping soundly in the travel cot. Margaux covered him with his blanket, kissed her hand and touched it against his forehead. She left the door open a crack before returning to her own bedroom. She slipped off her dress and climbed into bed, trying to calm down enough to fall asleep by inhaling and exhaling deeply. A knock on the door startled her. She got up immediately and pulled a hotel robe around her before opening the door with a shaking hand.

"Hi there, Margaux Cave?" A young hotel employee stood smiling on the other side.

She felt as though she could cry all over again. But instead she held it inside, smiling politely. "Yes?"

"Your phone was found in the hall downstairs, someone identified it as yours." She handed her the phone.

"Oh. Thank you so much, that's really kind of you."

The girl nodded and left down the corridor. Margaux closed the door, her hand barely leaving the handle before there was another knock. She opened it again. But this time, it was him. She stepped to one side gesturing for him to come in, but he stayed put, standing on the other side of door.

"Hi…" She said timidly.

"I just came to tell you I'm sorry," he began. "My behaviour was unjustified. Above all else, you are the mother of my child and you deserve to be treated with a level of respect that I did not display."

She took a deep breath. "Thank you."

Sherlock nodded. "Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

And with that, he left. Margaux closed the door slowly behind him before sitting on the edge of her bed and dropping her head into her hands. She was exhausted; the type that couldn't be cured by sleep. She should have asked him to stay.

After a few moments, there was another knock on the door. Softer, more hesitant. She opened it again, stepping aside as she had done before, and this time he walked straight into the room. She closed the door and leaned back against it, watching him pace the carpet. He wanted to speak but something was stopping him. The two cogs were fighting again, she thought.

"I fear…" he began quietly, struggling to let the words leave him. "I fear I may become lost in you…"

She looked at him in amazement, understanding how hard it had been for him to say those words. "I've been lost in you for years," she finally replied. "Maybe it's where we're meant to be."

He stared at her for a moment before approaching tentatively. She remained still with her back against the door, careful not to move in case she scared him away, like a deer scarpering at the sound of snapping branches. He took a final step, bringing them face to face, and brought his hand to her cheek. It was cold, almost trembling as he brushed his fingers over her cheek, her jaw, and weaved them into her hair. Finally, he leaned down and kissed her.

It was as if their bodies had never forgotten the other's touch; the way her palms curved perfectly around the back of his neck, the way his fingertips incited goose bumps wherever they traced, the way they moved so fluidly to the bed, never breaking their kiss. Getting lost.

III

Margaux woke to the sound of birds chirping outside the window. She walked through to check on Vaughan – still sleeping. When she returned to the bedroom, Sherlock was sitting on the edge of the bed. His shirt was unbuttoned and his hair was messy, falling into his eyes as he bent over to put on his shoes. She pulled her robe tightly around her waist and sat in a chair opposite him.

"I have to go. There's a case I need to start preparing for," he said.

"No rest for the wicked," she replied.

He stood up and buttoned his trousers. Her eyes trailed the sliver of bare torso between his open shirt. She bit her lip absentmindedly.

"Compose yourself, Margaux," he said.

She blinked and shook her head, realising she'd been staring. "Sorry," she said with a smirk.

Sherlock grinned as he fastened his buttons, picked up his coat and headed for the door. He stopped and turned as he opened it.

"Oh," he said. "I thought you should know I'm going to make Janine my girlfriend."

Margaux stood up and followed him. "What?"

"There is somebody I need access to. Somebody dangerous. She is a way in."

"So you're just going to use this woman?"

"Yes."

He was so matter-of-fact that it made her laugh.

"Sherlock, do you understand why I'd be upset by that?"

"Yes, but I have to do it."

Margaux sighed. "One step forward and two steps back," she muttered under her breath.

"Hm?"

"Nothing."

Chapter Text

Margaux sat at her desk inside her small office which was hidden down a rarely-visited nook of the university. She took a break from marking coursework, placing her pen down on the mound of papers and stretching out her fingers to ease her aching hand. Her favourite song began to play from her laptop. She leaned back in her chair, humming softly and allowing her mind to wander, for just a moment, into nothingness; no worries, no commitments, no memories or feelings. Just music.

It wasn’t long before a knock at the door concluded her moment of peace. She sat upright and turned the volume down on her laptop.

“Yes?”

The heavy wooden door opened with a creak and into her office stepped Mycroft.

“Oh no, what’s happened?” She sighed.

“Am I not allowed to pay you a visit?” He replied dryly.

“You’re allowed. But you never do. Which is why the sight of you in my office is, quite frankly, a bit unsettling.”

“Fair enough.” He glanced around the room. The cluttered shelves and mismatched furniture were enough to raise his blood pressure. He decided to remain standing. “I’ve tried to have you brought to me, but Anthea informs me that you refuse to get in the car.”

“Because normal people send texts, Mycroft, they don’t have their assistant pluck the person off the street,” she replied. “What can I do for you?” She picked up her pen and returned to marking her students’ work.

“I…” Mycroft closed the door before continuing. “I came to offer you a job.”

“If it’s to spy on your brother then absolutely not.”

“Sherlock is already… well-monitored.”

Margaux raised an eyebrow.

“No, actually, for once this has nothing to do with my exhaustingly difficult brother,” he continued. “There are many… things… that happen behind the scenes, without which the country would either crumble or explode into outrage. Things we don’t even tell Her Majesty.”

“I gathered that after almost being killed by Jim Moriarty, yet somehow being admitted into hospital for a ‘fall down the stairs’.” She air-quoted.

“Precisely.” He stepped further into the room, examining a shelf of knickknacks as he spoke. “A large, well-oiled machine is required to make these missions run as smoothly as they do. Private autopsies, a removal or… ‘reinterpretation’ of evidence, a–”

“Ah okay, so you’re asking me to leave my job here… to help you cover up government conspiracies.” She couldn’t help but laugh.

“Well you don’t exactly want to be a teacher for the rest of your life, do you?”

“What’s wrong with being a teacher?”

“Nothing. But is it what you… want? Isn’t it exhausting having to juggle such a structured job with raising a child?”

“Well I’ve been doing it just fine for almost two years now. I hope you ask your male employees that question too.”

“Of course. But you understand why I ask that of you in particular; what with Vaughan’s father being rather… unreliable.”

“He’s just distracted with his new girlfriend,” Margaux replied matter-of-factly, brushing her hair out of her face with her fingers. “It’s fine. I don’t suspect it’ll last long.”

“His new… girlfriend?” he felt the sudden urge to sit, almost dropping to the armchair beside him.

“Mhm. I hear he’s rather smitten.” She enjoyed watching his face twist into utter confusion.

“I’m not convinced he comes with that feature,” Mycroft replied.

Margaux smiled, a laugh escaping under her breath. Though, she didn’t know what she found funnier; the idea of Sherlock being smitten, or the fact that he was so easily able to mimic it.

Suddenly, it was no longer funny.

“Why are you offering this job to me?” she asked.

“Because we need someone who’s good with the forensics.”

“I’m a forensic psychologist, an investigator, not a pathologist.”

“No, but you were an external specialist for Scotland Yard for several years, so I know you could turn your hand to pathology with your hands tied behind your back. Your level of expertise is unmatched.”

“my ‘level of expertise’ is no higher than any of the other people you could hire for this job.”

“No need to self-deprecate, Margaux. I’m not here to stroke your ego; the fact is that you are extraordinary.”

“No, Mycroft. I’m not. I know the notion of ‘average’ is hard to comprehend for a Holmes. But I’m of the same calibre as hundreds of others in my field. I’m intelligent, yes. I’m skilled, yes. But that doesn’t make me extraordinary,” she said bluntly.

“I heard you solved a case when my brother could not. Does that not make you remarkable?”

“Hm, perhaps the fact that my intelligence stands five-foot-six inches tall in a bra and mascara makes it seem more remarkable than if it were to be stomping around in a long grey coat and a pair of size 11 shoes.”

“He’s a size 11?” replied Mycroft, purposely missing the point.

She rolled her eyes and sighed before continuing. “My achievements in forensics are not exceptional because I’m a woman. And my beauty is not contrary to being clever. I’m not a novelty. And I’m not interested your job offer. Sorry, Mycroft.”

She returned to the papers on her desk, waiting for the witty retaliation.

“Shame. I was looking forward to spending time with you,” he said, a hint of sarcasm lined his words.

“Well you know what I’m going to say to that, don’t you?”

Mycroft reached for the door handle, waving his other hand at Margaux dismissively. “Yes, yes, I know.”

“If you ask me, it’s in your best interest to build a relationship with Vaughan now, before Sherlock gets a chance to put his version of Uncle Mycroft in the boy’s head.”

Mycroft let out a small laugh in the back of his throat before walking out of the office and closing the door behind him.

Margaux exhaled. Her encounters with Mycroft were always fleeting. Yet they always, somehow, left her feeling like she needed a lie down.

 

III

 

Margaux shuffled up the aisle of the hot, crowded bus. She grasped the closest pole, smiling politely to the woman she was reaching across, and took a firm stance as the bus began to move. She wished she never sold her car; maybe it was time to invest in a new one. She could feel her hair sticking to the back of her neck and her bag kept slipping off her shoulder. With every stop, she contemplated getting off, going to Mycroft’s office and accepting the job. But her pride kept her in place, wedged between two passengers until the bus creaked to a halt at her stop.

She walked down the busy London high street as her meeting with Mycroft played on her mind, stirring equal parts pride and regret, anger and guilt. She turned sharply into a newsagent’s and headed straight for the counter to buy a pack of cigarettes. Afterwards, she stood outside the shop, lighting up and taking a long drag. She exchanged an accidental glance with a man sitting on the steps, noticing his tired demeanour; a sleeping bag rolled up beside him, a polystyrene cup of coffee in his dirty hands. He looked away quickly, worried he was making her uncomfortable. But instead, she took out another cigarette and offered it to him. It was a silent exchange, like a smile across a noisy crowd or the squeeze of a hand in a doctor’s office. He placed it between his lips as she bent down and lit it before saluting him kindly and continuing her walk down the street.

She checked her watch, 2:50pm, she was going to be late for Vaughan. Again. She mapped out the fasted route to the nursery in her head, turning down an alleyway in an attempt to cut her journey in half. The alley was cobbled; slick with oil and rainwater that dripped from drainpipes. Ahead, two men huddled together talking quietly, their faces hidden by dark hoods. Instinctively, she fixed her bag on her shoulder as she approached them, avoiding eye contact.

“Excuse me,” she said quietly, trying to step around them.

They shuffled aside, allowing her to continue walking.

“Margaux?” A familiar voice echoed from behind her.

She turned around to see a pair of glacial blue eyes peering at her from underneath a hood.

“Sherlock?” She asked in disbelief.

“What are you doing down here?”

“What are /you/ doing down here?” She countered sharply, looking around the dingy alleyway before taking a clearer look at his face.

His skin was sallow and dull, stretching over sunken cheeks. His unkempt hair fell limply in his eyes from underneath his hood and his eyes darted around her face, searching for a point to focus on yet never settling for more than a few seconds.

“You’re high,” she said.

“I’m…” he glanced to the other hooded man before turning back to Margaux. “It’s for a case.”

“A case? Right, so this guy’s your business associate, is he?”

“I’m Gary. I mostly do weed, coke and morphine,” said the other man chirpily. “But I know a guy who can do you a good deal on pills–”

“It was sarcasm, Gary,” she interrupted.

“Margaux, I assure you, there is a reason for all of this. I am fully in control,” said Sherlock.

“You haven’t bothered to see your son since the wedding, and you’re telling me it’s because you’ve just decided to start using again? That doesn’t seem like control, Sherlock. I mean, you can’t so much as come to my flat for dinner because you’ve been too busy… Too busy…” she couldn’t think of what to say. “Too busy snorting coke off Janine’s tits!”

Sherlock’s eyes widened in shock. As did Margaux’s, and Gary’s. Sherlock stifled a laugh which annoyed her even more.

“It’s not funny.”

“I know,” he said, suppressing a smirk.

Margaux took a deep breath. “You know what, Sherlock, I’ve had a crappy day; I don’t need this right now,” she said before continuing her walk down the alleyway.

“Where are you going?”

“To pick up Vaughan from nursery. You remember Vaughan, don’t you? He’s about this tall, dark hair, blue eyes, kind of looks like you?”

“What kind of question is that? Of course I remember him.”

“I think she was using that sarcasm thing again, mate,” said Gary.

 

III

 

The long summer day faded into a cool night. Margaux poured herself a glass of gin, checking on her sleeping toddler once more before finally retiring to the couch. She flicked through TV channels absentmindedly, glancing occasionally at the papers stacked on the coffee table. Perhaps marking her students’ work would be easier with a touch of gin in her system. Her thought was interrupted by a buzzing in the hallway. She jumped up and made her way to the intercom near her front door.

“Hello?” She said, holding her finger down on the button.

“Hi Margaux, it’s Janine and Sherl!”

Sherl? She almost gagged.

“Oh, hi, Janine. Is there a problem?”

“Nah, just thought we’d stop by.”

She reluctantly buzzed them into the building, leaving the door ajar and retreating back to the couch. They got to the flat moments later; Janine’s bright white smile accompanied by a bottle of wine and Sherlock on her arm as they stepped into the living room. Margaux pointed her in the direction of the kitchen, sending her off to pour the wine, before glaring at Sherlock from across the living room. He sat down on the couch opposite her, crossing one leg over the other.

“What the f–”

“I tried to stop her,” he interrupted. “But she insisted.”

“Why on earth would the three of us ever ‘hang out’? Why?” she whispered through gritted teeth.

“Lovely wine glasses, Margaux,” said Janine as she walked into the living room and sat down next to Sherlock, placing a hand in his lap.

“Thanks…”

“I hope you don’t mind us turning up like this. It’s just, he said he ran into you today and that you mentioned he hadn’t seen little Vee in weeks…”

Little Vee. Margaux clenched her jaw.

“And I just felt so guilty that I’ve had all this amazing time with Sherl,” she placed her hand on his face and gazed into his eyes. “I just kind of felt responsible… for him not getting to see his son.”

“Sure. Well I mean, Sherlock’s a big boy. He’s perfectly capable of coming to see him by himself, y’know… during the day… when he’s awake.”

Sherlock glanced at Margaux, igniting one of their silent conversations. However, this one seemed more of a silent telling-off. ‘You’re being rude, Margaux. Stop it. Now.’

She sighed “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to know his Daddy was here.”

Janine smiled.

They didn’t stay much longer, to Margaux’s relief, but it was long enough for her to notice how Sherlock had Janine enchanted; utterly convinced of his love. She noticed how his warm, affectionate smile would drop whenever she looked away, how he seemed reluctant, just for a second, before touching her. But she also noticed how convincing he was, how naturally the role of the charming boyfriend came to him, how easily he could mould himself to whatever she desired. She wondered if she had also been the victim of a false smile, a reluctant touch. Janine was part of Sherlock’s current case. But Margaux couldn’t shake the memory that she, herself, had once been nothing more than ‘just an experiment’.

Chapter Text

A loud frantic knocking echoed through the house, jolting John awake. He threw on his dressing gown and rushed to the front door.

"I know it's early," said the tearful woman on the doorstep. "Really, I'm sorry."

Mary appeared behind him, closing her dressing gown around her and peering down the hallway. "Is that Kate?" she called to John.

"Yeah, it's Kate," John replied as he continued to stare blankly at the snivelling woman.

"Invite her in?"

"Er, sorry yes. Do you want to come in, Kate?" He said before stepping aside and allowing her to walk into the house.

Mary smiled sympathetically as she walked to towards her, rubbing her arm kindly.

They showed her to the living room where she took a seat on the couch and continued to cry into a piece of crumpled tissue.

"There you go," said John as he placed two mugs of coffee on the table.

"It's Isaac," Mary informed him.

"Ah, your husband."

"Son."

"Son, yeah."

"He's gone missing again," Kate sobbed. "Didn't come home last night."

"The usual," said Mary.

"He's the drugs one, yeah?" he replied as he paced the floor.

Kate blubbered.

"Er, yeah, nicely put, John."

"Look, is it Sherlock Holmes you want? Because I've not seen him in ages," he said.

"About a month."

"Who's Sherlock Holmes?" asked Kate.

"See, that does happen," said Mary sarcastically.

"There's a… a place they all go to," Kate continued. "him and his… friends. They all do whatever they do. 'Shoot up', whatever you call it."
"Where is he?"

"It's a house. It's a dump. I mean, it's practically falling down."

"Where, exactly?"

 

III

 

The small high street café was busy in the crisp summer morning. The scent of coffee and freshly baked bread seeped out of the open doors and lingered in the air outside. Margaux ordered herself a coffee and a cold juice for Vaughan who sat comfortably on her hip. The gleaming sun had attracted most of the customers to the tables outside, leaving a free table in the corner of the café. She sat down, placed Vaughan next to her and handed him his juice. She watched as he settled into his chair, gazing out of the nearby window to watch the bustling of people outside. He hadn't slept well that night, he was tired. She ran her hand over his head gently and smiled.

She took a sip of her coffee, burning her tongue, and tapped her fingernails on the screen of her phone which sat on the table in front of her. She looked around the café before finally picking it up and dialling a number.

"Yes?" Answered a deep, bored voice.

"I'm listening…" She said.

"Listening to what?"

"Don't make me say it, Mycroft."

There was a long pause on the phone before he finally replied.

"What changed your mind?" He asked plainly.

"Nothing. I just changed it."

"Well then–"

"But there are conditions," she interrupted with a nervous enthusiasm.

"Go on."

"You will pay me what I currently earn at the University."

"How about we double it?"

She cleared her throat, checking around her again before continuing.

"And I won't let you relocate me. I stay in London. In my flat."

Mycroft sighed. "Fine."

"And no contract. I want to be able to walk away whenever I want."

"Okay."

"And… You tell no one I work for you. Not Sherlock, not John Watson, not even your parents."

There was another silence. She waited patiently, gripping the phone tightly to her ear.

"Well I'm glad to have you on board, Dr Cave," he finally said.

"Don't screw me over, Mycroft."

"Would I ever?"

She hung up and placed her phone on the table, exhaling heavily through pursed lips. She couldn't help but feel like she'd made a mistake. The reason for changing her mind sat heavy in her gut, muffled and buried deep; all she could do was follow where it drew her.

 

..

 

She swirled the remnants of coffee around the bottom of her cup as she noticed Vaughan growing more irritable with every yawn.

"Let's get you home for a nap, hey?" She said.

"Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?" asked a soft, wispy voice.

She looked up to see a tired-looking woman pointing to the seat opposite her. She looked heavily pregnant; seemingly out of breath as she rested a hand on her large, round stomach which protruded under her blouse. Margaux nodded with a smile, gesturing for her to sit.

"Cheers." The woman sighed.

She had pale skin and high cheekbones, with frizzy auburn hair cut into a choppy fringe which fell into her eyes. They were blue. Bright blue.

"I just can't get comfortable," she laughed, rubbing her stomach.

"I remember that feeling," Margaux smiled.

The woman glanced at Vaughan, watching him carefully for a moment. "He's very like you."

"Do you think so? All I see is his father. They're like twins."

"You always see what you love the most."

Margaux smiled awkwardly. The woman's eyes flashed up to hers, like she sensed the discomfort.

"I'm sorry, was my comment misplaced?"

"Er, no…" Margaux shook her head. "No of course not. It's just funny… His father is the only one who looks at our son and sees me." She let out a small laugh.

"Hm, how interesting," the woman replied softly.

Margaux shifted in her chair before looking down at Vaughan who was drifting into sleep.

"Vaughan, love, come on; let's go home so you can sleep properly," she lifted him onto her knee as she spoke.

"Vaughan? What an unusual name."

Margaux smiled and nodded as she stood up. "Nice speaking to you. And congratulations," she said as she left the café with Vaughan in her arms.

The woman's hands dropped from her bump, her smile fading slowly as she looked out of the window and watched them walk away down the street.

 

III

 

John stopped the car outside the abandoned house. He jumped out quickly and opened the boot.

"What is that!?" Mary laughed, pointing at the bar tucked inside his top.

"It's a tyre lever."

"Why?"

"'Cause there are loads of smack heads in there, and one of them might need help with a tyre," he said sarcastically. "If there's any trouble, just go. I'll be fine."

He began walking towards the house, his palms sweating, his breath heavy.

"Er, John!" Mary called out.

He stopped and turned to look at her.

"It is a tiny bit sexy."

"Yeah I know."

 

..

 

Inside, the house was derelict. Littered with empty pill bottles and dirty syringes. Graffiti and questionable stains over every wall. John squinted through the dimly lit halls.

"Isaac? Isaac Whitney?" He called out.

He walked slowly into a room occupied by catatonic bodies on dirty mattresses.

"Isaac?" He whispered.

One of the bodies raised their hand slowly, as if his arm weighed a ton and it took all his strength to lift it. His eyes were glassy, his voice barely audible.

"Hello, mate," said John as he knelt beside him, before placing a hand behind his back and attempting to lift him. "Sit up for me. Sit up."

Isaac sat up slowly, swaying as John leaned in to take a better look. He lifted one of the boy's eyelids, watching as they rolled back in his head.

"Doctor Watson?" Isaac mumbled.

"Yep."

"Where am I?"

"The arse-end of the universe with the scum of the Earth. Look at me."

"Have you come for me?"

"Do you think I know a lot of people here?"

Isaac let out a distorted laugh. Suddenly, the person lying next to him rolled over, propping himself up on one elbow and focusing his red-eyed gaze on John.

"Ah, hello John. Didn't expect to see you here," he took his hood down and squinted. "Did you come for me too?"

The vein in John's neck began to pulsate, he gritted his teeth and huffed, grabbing his friend by the scruff of his neck and dragging them both out of the room.

 

..

 

 

Mary sat in the driver's seat, tapping her fingers against the steering wheel anxiously. She looked across to the house to see Isaac walking towards the car.

"Hello Isaac," she said as he approached the window.

"Mrs Watson, can I… can I get in please?"

"Yes, of course, get in. Where's John?"

"They're having a fight," he replied as he crawled into the backseat.

"Who is?"

At the house, a door crashed open, breaking off its hinges.

"For God's sake John, I'm on a case!" Sherlock shouted.

"A month! That's all it took. One," John replied as he followed him down the fire escape.

Sherlock vaulted over the bannister. "I'm working," he said as he jumped from wall to wheelie bin, eventually landing on the ground.

"Sherlock Holmes in a drug den! How's that going to look?"

"I'm undercover."

"No you're not!"

"Well I'm not now!"

The car squealed to halt in front of the two men.

"In. Both of you. Quickly," said Mary.

III

"Bloody hell, so are you going to be like… killing people?"

"No?" said Margaux through a mouthful of food, a confused look on her face.

She sat at her kitchen counter, digging into the Tupperware of breakfast that Rose had brought to her. She would bring Margaux food a lot. Mostly pasta, because she would almost make too much.

"So… you're helping people get away with murder?" Rose pressed.

"Who mentioned killing anyone?"

"No one! It's just weird. Like top secret government stuff; what else would they need a forensics expert for besides bodies and crime scenes and all the rest of it?"

"You're making me wish I never told you."

"You're making me wish you never told me."

Margaux laughed. She put down her fork and tucked her hair behind her ears before leaning over the counter towards her friend.

"In all seriousness, Rose. If anything ever happens to me in this job, they will cover it up and make it seem like I never existed. So, I wanted you to know the truth about what I'm doing, because if there ever comes a day when I stop answering the door for your leftover food, I wanted you to know why. The real reason why."

Rose gulped. "Alright, James Bond."

"No, I'm being serious."

They kept eye contact quietly, assessing each other. After a few moments, the silence was interrupted by Margaux's phone ringing. She ran to it quickly, worried the noise would wake Vaughan from his nap.

"Hello?" she answered breathlessly.

"Margaux, did you know about Sherlock?" said Mary frantically on the other end of the phone.

"Did I know about–"

"John's only just gone and dragged him out of a bloody drug den!"

"What!?"

"Did you know? He can barely open his eyes. Looks like he hasn't showered in weeks!"

"No I didn't… Well I didn't know he was so bad. Where is he now?"

"We're at St Bart's, Molly's testing his urine now. I think you should come."

Margaux rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. He was an idiot. An idiot. The biggest idiot she'd ever met.

"Mary, I can't. I don't have anyone to watch Vaughan…"

Rose began to point to herself, silently offering to babysit. Margaux shook her head and placed a finger over her lips.

"And I won't bring him there. Not when Sherlock's in that state."

Mary sighed down the phone. "Okay. Okay, you're right."

"I'm sorry. But do me a favour, though?"

"Yep…"

"Tell him he's an idiot."

"Will do."

III

Molly removed her rubber gloves with a snap. Her face was moody like a thunderstorm, creasing and twisting in anger.

"Well? Is he clean?" asked John.

"Clean?" she scoffed, throwing her gloves down.

She walked up to Sherlock, bringing them face to face, before slapping him suddenly. A hard, stinging slap. She slapped him again. Harder. He blinked, trying to make the stars in his vison disappear.

"How dare you throw away the beautiful gifts you were born with," she began furiously. "And how dare you betray the love of your friends. Say your sorry."

"Sorry your engagement's over," he replied smugly, cradling his cheek. "Though I'm fairly grateful for the lack of a ring."

"Stop it. Just stop it." She walked away from him. Stopping after a few steps and turning around. "You have a son. You irresponsible, selfish man."

Sherlock rolled his eyes.

John stormed towards him. "If you were anywhere near this kind of thing again, you could have called. You could have talked to me."

"Please do relax. This is all for a case," he replied matter-of-factly.

"A ca– What kind of case would need you doing this?"

 

..

 

They sat in the back of a black cab. Sherlock's scruffy clothes filling the car with the musty smell of cigarettes and damp. John grimaced.

"You've heard of Charles Augustus Magnussen, of course," said Sherlock.

"Yeah. Owns some newspapers. Ones I don't read."

Sherlock frowned, looking around the cab. "Hang on, weren't there other people?"

"Mary's taking the boy home; I'm taking you. We did discuss it."

"People were talking, none of them me. I must have filtered."

"I noticed."

"I have to filter out a lot of witless babble. I've got Mrs Hudson on semi-permanent mute."

He got out of the cab and focused his attention on the front door of 221B Baker street, letting out a sigh. "What is my brother doing here?" He made his way up the steps.

"So I'll just pay then, shall I?" John called out sarcastically from the cab.

"He's straightened the knocker," said Sherlock as he came face to face with the door. "He always corrects it, he's OCD. Doesn't even know he's doing it."

He tilted the knocker to one side before letting himself in.

"Why do you do that?" asked John as he followed inside.

"Do what?"

"Nothing."

Inside, Mycroft sat on the stairs.

"Well then, Sherlock," he began. "Back on the sauce?"

"What are you doing here?"

"I phoned him," said John.

"The siren call of old habits. How very like Uncle Rudy. Though, in many ways, cross-dressing would have been a wiser path for you."

"You phoned him," said Sherlock, folding his arms.

"'Course I bloody phoned him."

"'Course he bloody did," Mycroft added. "Now, save me a little time. Where should we be looking?"

"We?"

"Mr Holmes?" A familiar voice called out from upstairs.

He knew immediately who the voice belonged to, immediately filling with rage at the thought of him snooping around his flat.

"For God's sake!" he shouted, running up the stairs and into his flat. He turned into the kitchen and glared at him. "Anderson."

"I'm sorry, Sherlock. It's for your own good," he replied.

Sherlock put his hood up and threw himself into his armchair.

"Some members of your little fan club," said Mycroft. "Do be polite. They're entirely trustworthy, and even willing to search through the toxic waste dump that you are pleased to call a flat. You're a celebrity these days, Sherlock. You can't afford a drug habit."

"I do not have a drug habit. This is not what you think. This is for a case."

"What case could possibly justify this?"

"Magnussen. Charles Augustus Magnussen."

Mycroft took a deep breath before turning to Anderson and his colleagues in the kitchen. "That name you think you may have just heard – you were mistaken. If you ever mention hearing that name in this room, in this context, I guarantee you – on behalf of the British security services – that materials will be found on your computer hard drives resulting in your immediate incarceration. Don't reply – just look frightened and scuttle."
They fled the flat with haste. Leaving Mycroft to turn to John.

"I hope I won't have to threaten you as well," he said.

"Well I think we'd both find that embarrassing," replied John.

Sherlock let out a snort of laughter. Mycroft snapped his head to look at him.

"Magnussen is not your business."

"Oh you mean he's yours," Sherlock taunted.

"If you go against Magnussen, then you will find yourself going against me."

"Okay, I'll let you know if I notice." He climbed out of his chair and walked towards the door. "Er, what was I going to say? Oh yeah." He opened the door. "Bye bye."

"Unwise, brother mine," Mycroft replied as he stepped past him.

Sherlock grabbed his arm, twisting it up behind his back and slamming him into the wall.

"Brother mine, don't appal me when I'm high," he growled.

"Don't say another word, just go," said John. "He could snap you in two, and right now I'm slightly worried that he might."

Mycroft wriggled free from his brother's grip, turning towards him as if about to speak.

"Don't speak, just leave."

The flat fell into silence as Mycroft left. An uncomfortable, muggy silence that lingered thick in the air.

"Er, Magnussen?" John asked.

"What time is it?" Sherlock asked dismissively.

"About eight."

"I'm meeting him in three hours. I need a bath."

"It's for a case, you said?"

"Yep."

"What sort of case?"

"too big and dangerous for any sane individual to get involved in."

"You trying to put me off?"

"God no. Trying to recruit you," Sherlock smiled as he walked into the bathroom. "And stay out of my bedroom!" he called out.

John waited a moment before crossing the kitchen towards the hallway that lead to Sherlock's bedroom. He stopped suddenly when the bedroom door opened, revealing a woman wearing nothing but a shirt.

"Oh, John, hi. How are you?" She tugged at the bottom of the shirt.

"Janine?"

"Sorry, not dressed." She made her way to the kitchen. "Has everybody gone? I heard shouting."

"Yes, they're gone."

"God, look at the time. I'll be late. Sounded like an argument. Was it Mike?"

"Mike?"

"Mike, yeah. His brother… Mike? They're always fighting."

"Mycroft."

"Do people actually call him that!?"

"Yeah."

She gave a surprised laugh. "Huh! The Holmes' just love weird names don't they! Sherlock, Mycroft, Vay-hawn."

"Vaughan…"

"That's the one," she said dismissively, like she didn't really care. "Could you be a love and put some coffee on?"

"Sure, right, yeah."

"Thanks. Where's Sherl?"

"Sherl," he repeated under his breath. "He's just having a bath. I'm sure he'll be out in a minute."

"Oh like he ever is."

He watched, bewildered, as Janine walked to the bathroom and knocked on the door, opening it almost immediately.

"Morning! Room for a little one?" She stepped inside, closing the door behind her.

John stood in shock as the sound of giggling and splashing water seeped from under the bathroom door.

 

..

 

 

Sherlock put on his jacket. His hair was washed and combed, his eyes seeming brighter than before. His clean scent once again surrounded him like an aura as he walked across the living room.

"So, it's just a guess but you've probably got some questions."

"Yeah, one or two, pretty much," replied John as he sat on the edge of the coffee table, still in shock.

"Naturally."

"You have a girlfriend?"

"Yes, I have."

Now, Magnussen. Magnussen is like a shark – it's the only way I can describe him. Have you ever been to the shark tank at the London Aquarium, John – stood up close to the glass? Those floating flat faces, those dead eyes ... That's what he is. I've dealt with murderers, psychopaths, terrorists, serial killers. None of them can turn my stomach like Charles Augustus Magnussen."

"Yes, you have."

"Sorry, what?"

"You have a girlfriend. Janine is… your girlfriend?"

"What? Yes! Yes, I'm going out with Janine. I thought that was fairly obvious."

"Yes. Well… Yes. But I mean you, you, you are in a relationship?"

"Yes, I am."

"But… Margaux."

"I don't see the correlation."

"Margaux. You and Margaux, you're so… And now suddenly… Janine?"

"Yes. Janine."

"But why?"

He watched them smile and cuddle on the armchair, he nodded as she suggested a double date, he witnessed an intense, passionate kiss at the front door before she left for work. His hand itched as he used all his willpower not to take his phone out and call Mary, tell her everything. Instead he waited until Sherlock waved her off, noticing the kind, loving smile drop instantly once she was out of sight.

"You know Magnussen as a newspaper owner, but he's so much more than that. He uses his power and wealth to gain information. The more he acquires, the greater his wealth and power. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he knows the critical pressure point on every person of note or influence in the whole of the Western world and probably beyond. He is the Napoleon of blackmail and he has created an unassailable architecture of forbidden knowledge. Its name… is Appledore."

"Dinner," John said blankly.

"Sorry, what, dinner?"

"Me and Mary, coming for dinner… with… wine and… sitting."

Sherlock turned to him, blinking rapidly. "Seriously? I've just told you that the Western world is run from this house and you want to talk about dinner?"
"Fine, talk about the house."

"It is the greatest repository of sensitive and dangerous information anywhere in the world… the Alexandrian Library of secrets and scandals – and none of it is on a computer. He's smart – computers can be hacked. It's all on hard copy in vaults underneath that house; and as long as it is, the personal freedom of anyone you've ever met is a fantasy."

They were interrupted by a knock on the living room door. Mrs Hudson opened it, dithering as she stepped inside.

"Oh, that was the doorbell. Couldn't you hear it?" She asked.

"It's in the fridge. It kept ringing."

"Oh, that's not a fault, Sherlock!"

"Who is it?"

Chapter Text

Charles Augustus Magnussen was grey. Grey hair, grey suit, grey eyes, even his cheeks were ashen and hollow. He glanced at them through his thin, frameless spectacles as he stepped into the flat. Hands in pockets, calm and confident.

“I understood we were meeting at your office,” said Sherlock.

Magnussen’s henchman finished his body searches of the two men, stepping aside, allowing his boss to get a full look of the flat.

“This is my office,” he replied, walking towards to the couch.

He turned to look at john:

JOHN HAMISH WATSON
AFGHANISTAN VETERAN (SEE FILE)
G.P (SEE FILE)
PORN PREFERENCE: NORMAL
FINANCES: 10% DEBT (SEE FILE)
STATUS UNIMPORTANT
PRESSURE POINT: > HARRY WATSON (SISTER) ALCOHOLIC
MARY MORSTAN (WIFE)

“Well, it is now,” he continued before walking to the dining table, picking up a newspaper and returning to the couch to sit down.

“Mr Magnussen,” Sherlock began. “I have been asked to intercede with you by Lady Elizabeth Smallwood on the matter of her husband’s letters,” he continued to speak, struggling to stay on point as his words were seemingly ignored. “Some time ago you… put pressure on her concerning those letters. She would like those letters back.”

Magnussen looked up at him silently:

SHERLOCK HOLMES
CONSULTING DETECTIVE
PORN PREFERENCE: NORMAL
FINANCES: UNKNOWN
BROTHER: MYCROFT HOLMES
M.I.6 (SEE FILE)
SON: VAUGHAN CAVE
OFFICIALLY DECEASED 2011-2013

PRESSURE POINT:
MARGAUX CAVE (SEE FILE)
JIM MORIARTY (SEE FILE)
REDBEARD (SEE FILE)
HOUNDS OF THE BASKERVILLE
OPIUM
JOHN WATSON

Interesting.

“Obviously, the letters no longer have any practical use to you, so with that in mind…” Sherlock trailed off. What was he looking at? Magnussen snorted.

“Something I said?”

“No, no. I-I was reading.” He adjusted his glasses. “There’s rather a lot.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrowed.

“Redbeard.”

Sherlock blinked, feeling the air leave his chest.

“Sorry… S-sorry. You were probably talking?”

“I…” He cleared his throat. “I was trying to explain that I’ve been asked to act on behalf of–”

"Bathroom?” Magnussen interrupted.

“Along from the kitchen, sir,” his henchman nodded.

“Okay.”

Sherlock could feel the tension building, starting at his finger tips and collecting in his clenched jaw. “I’ve been asked to negotiate the return of those letters,” he said, more firmly. “I’m aware you do not make copies of sensitive documents…”

“Is it like the rest of the flat?” Magnussen gestured around the living room.

“Sir?” The henchman replied.

“The bathroom?”

“Er, yes, sir.”

“Maybe not, then.”

“Am I acceptable to you as an intermediary?” Sherlock pressed.

“Lady Elizabeth Smallwood. I like her.”

John glanced between the two men, trying his best to supress a look of confusion.

“Mr Magnussen, am I acceptable to you as an intermediary?”

“She’s English, with a spine.”

He pushed the coffee table away with his foot and stood up from the couch. Sherlock frowned. From the corner of his eye, he noticed the henchman removing the guard from the fireplace.

“Best thing about the English,” said Magnussen as he stepped towards the two men, looking at each of them. “You’re so domesticated. All standing around, apologising.” He nodded to Sherlock before walking past them both to the fireplace and unzipping his trousers. “Keeping your little heads down. You can do what you like here. No-one’s ever going to stop you.”

John blinked rapidly at the sound of him urinating, while Sherlock kept his eyes fixed on the wall across the room.

“A nation of herbivores. I’ve interests all over the world but, er, everything starts in England. If it works here…” he zipped up his trousers. “I’ll try it in a real country. The United Kingdom, huh? Petri dish to the Western world. Tell Lady Elizabeth I might need those letters, so I’m keeping them. Goodbye.” He began to leave before stopping and turning his attention to Sherlock, pulling a stack of letters from his pocket. “Anyway, they’re funny.”

It took a moment for them to leave. Sherlock and John remaining silent, stuck in place as they watched them exit.

“Jesus!” John shouted in outrage, exploding like a bottle of champagne that Magnussen had been shaking up.

“Did you notice the one extraordinary thing he did?” replied Sherlock.

“Wh… There was a moment that kind of stuck in the mind, yeah.”

“Exactly. When he showed us the letters.”

“Okay…”

“So he’s brought the letters to London. So, no matter what he says, he’s ready to make a deal. Now, Magnussen only makes a deal once he’s established a person’s weaknesses; the ‘pressure point,’ he calls it,” said Sherlock excitedly, picking up his coat and putting it on. “So, clearly he believes I’m a drug addict and no serious threat. And, of course, because he’s in town tonight, the letters will be in his safe in his London office while he’s out to dinner with the Marketing Group of Great Britain from seven ’til ten.”

“How-how do you know his schedule?”

“Because I do. Right, I’ll see you tonight. I’ve got some shopping to do.”

“What’s tonight?” John called out as he watched Sherlock leave down the stairs.

“I’ll text instructions!”

“Yeah, I’ll text you if I’m available.”

“You are! I checked!”

 

III

 

The black cab grumbled to a halt at the side of the road.

“Right, you coming to keep me company while the kids are in school?” Rose asked Vaughan in a high-pitched voice.

He nodded excitedly, allowing his mother to fix the straps of his little green backpack on his shoulders.

“Be good.” Margaux smiled before opening the cab door and helping them inside. She waved as they drove off, breathing a sigh as she stood alone on the pavement.

She didn’t want to, but she had to see how bad he was. With her own eyes. She needed to call him an idiot herself, not through someone else. She took out her phone and dialled Mary’s number.

“Hey. I changed my mind. My friend has taken Vaughan so I’m going to jump in a cab to St Bart’s–”

“You’ve just missed us,” Mary replied.

“Oh, right, where are you now?”

“I’m just in my neighbour’s. John took Sherlock home. Maybe try Baker Street?”

“Okay.”

“You alright, Margs?”

“Y-yeah… Yeah I’m fine.” She pressed her fingers against her temple. “Was it bad?”

Mary sighed. “Well he got a slap from Molly… Twice.”

“That bad?”

“That bad.”

“Alright. I’ll see you soon.”

“Bye, love.”

She slipped her phone back into her pocket before sitting down on the kerb and pulling her knees to her chest. She sat there for a moment, taking in the warmth of summer. The sound of a car engine turned onto the street. Margaux shielded her eyes from the sun as she watched it drive closer, stopping in front of her and winding its window down slowly. She looked inside the car.

“Already?”

“Afraid so.”

She huffed and climbed in.

 

III

 

Justice Reginald D. Barker was dead. His cold, pale body sat upright in the desk chair of his office – eyes blank, mouth open. Mycroft stepped into the room with his hands in the pockets of his suit trousers, followed by Margaux who was wishing she’d changed out of her jeans and t-shirt.

“Assassinated,” said Mycroft.

Margaux walked up to the body. “How do you know?”

“The injury to the back of his head. The tiny, pin prick hole. It’s a signature. We’ve seen it many times.”

“Why was he assassinated?”

“He was judging a trial; the defendant is one of the leaders of a major black market weapons dealership, we’ve been after them for years. They’ve had him killed, because a dead judge at the hands of this gang equals a mistrial, an investigation, an enquiry, new charges, a new hearing, new trial. All giving them enough time to plan his escape.” Mycroft turned to Margaux. “And he will escape.”

“So…”

“So. You’re going to make it look like Justice Barker had a heart attack. Shouldn’t be too difficult; he looked like he wasn’t far off having one anyway.”

“Mycroft.”

“Sorry.” He took a few steps around the room. “As far as your autopsy shows, he died naturally. Therefore, no breaches, no security risks, no re-trial. Bad guys: caught. I’ll have him transported to St Bart’s for you,” Mycroft finished before leaving the room.

 

III

 

They wheeled the body into the morgue. Molly showed them where to put it as they flashed their government credentials. Margaux trailed behind the group of officials, giving a nervous smile and nod.

“As always, Mr Holmes hopes he can rely on your discretion,” said one of the officials.

Molly nodded timidly as they walked out, leaving the two women alone. She turned to look at Margaux with a confused expression.

“First day on the job…” said Margaux jokingly.

“You work for Mycroft now?”

“It seems as though I didn’t quite know what I was signing up for.” She bit her lip anxiously. “Please don’t tell anyone.”

Margaux wasn’t right for this job. She knew it when she turned it down, and she knew it now, as she stood over Justice Barker’s large, lifeless body. She had spent her career delving into the minds of criminals, solving crimes with science and psychology, before eventually teaching it to others. She had always been criticised for her unconventional investigations; experimenting with corpses, spending more time at the morgue of St Bart’s than behind her own desk. But it was what made her so good at her job. Performing an autopsy and tampering with evidence, however, was not her forte.

“I won’t say anything,” said Molly. “What happens in the morgue, stays in the morgue. Sorry… That wasn’t funny.”

“No, it was funny.” Margaux laughed.

“So, what have you got to do?”

“Make this murdered man look like he had a heart attack.”

“Oh.”

They stood quietly for a moment, staring at the body.

“I can’t believe I’m doing something so corrupt.”

“Hey, I can’t judge. I helped fake Sherlock’s…” Molly trailed off awkwardly, realising who she was talking to.

She wished she could suck the words back in like a vacuum. But instead they sat there, heavy in the air like smoke.

“Ah, lest we forget,” Margaux joked, trying her best to alleviate the discomfort.

“Sorry.”

“it’s fine, really. Can you help me?”

“Sure.”

They began to prepare; putting on lab coats and clear plastic goggles. They heaved the body onto the slab and wheeled a tray of equipment to its side.

Margaux glanced down at Molly’s hands as she stretched on a pair of latex gloves. “Oh no, what happened?” She asked.

“Hm?”

“No ring. Is your engagement over?”

“Oh, God you’re turning into him.”

“Sorry. I just… noticed. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Molly sighed. “Something just wasn’t right, you know? He wasn’t… I guess I thought because he was sort of what I wanted, I could just fill in the blanks. Turns out it doesn’t work like that.”

Margaux nodded empathetically. “It’s hard when your heart lies somewhere else.”

“What? Oh, no that wasn’t- well, I mean…”

“It’s alright. I know the feeling. A bit too well.”

“Yes, but I’m not… I don’t… I would never…”

“Molly. It’s okay. I love that you love him. And I’m eternally sorry that he doesn’t– that he can’t.”

“I’m sorry too.”

They smiled at each other kindly.

“I guess we’re just a pair of rejects standing over a corpse,” Margaux laughed.

“Yeah. At least he’ll never turn us away.”

They laughed together.

“I’m really happy to have you as a friend… Even if you did help Sherlock fake his own death.” She winked.

Molly smiled awkwardly.

 

 

“I am sorry, Margaux,” said Molly as they slid the body into a freezer cabinet and began to clean up.

“What for?”

“For helping Sherlock… disappear.”

“You don’t need to be sorry, Molly. You did what was asked of you. If anything, you saved lives; Moriarty had hitmen ready to kill people if he didn’t jump.”

“No, I know that. I mean I’m sorry for not telling you that he was alive. I let you and John and so many other people go through all that grief while knowing I could stop your pain.”

“But you couldn’t. It had to be believed. We know that now.”

Margaux turned around to see Molly getting upset, trying to blot her watering eyes on her sleeve.

“Hey, what’s the matter?” Margaux asked softly.

“Sorry, I just– Whenever I think back to it– It was so hard being the only person that knew both sides. I had to watch you go through your pregnancy thinking you were alone, grieving for him while raising a baby, all the while I knew he was alive. And then on the other side, I knew he was out there, I knew that he had a son and had no way to tell him.”

Margaux walked over to her and placed her arm around her gently.

“I tended to say no to the secret jobs after that,” said Molly. “Which is probably why Mycroft hired you.”

Margaux comforted her for a while longer. She had never blamed Molly, not even for a second. It broke her heart to see that she had carried the guilt for so long.

 

III

John rushed through the front door.

“Mary? Mary!?”

He ran into the kitchen, almost colliding with his wife who stood with a steaming kettle in her hand.

“Bloody hell, John.” She noticed his panicked expression, the beads of sweat on his brow. “What? What is it?”

“Janine.”

“What?”

“Sherlock and Janine. They’re seeing each other.”

“Good one.” Mary snorted before walking back to counter and continuing to make her tea.

“No. I’m being serious. We’ve been invited to… dinner.”

“Dinner!? I don’t believe that man. He starts his morning being dragged out of a drug den, and by the evening he’s got a girlfriend and is asking us on a double date! He needs help, John.”

“I know,” he replied, taking a mug of tea from Mary as he spoke. “But right now, there’s no helping him. He’s convinced he’s in control of the drug-use. Says it’s for a case.”

“What sort of case requires him to have sleepovers with smack heads?”

“This guy… Charles Magnussen. You know the one who owns the papers? Met him earlier, he’s an absolute creep.”

Mary felt a wave of sickness come over her as she pretended she was listening. She pursed her lips and walked to the fridge calmly, grabbing the milk and adding it to their mugs with a forced smile.

 

III

 

Margaux poured herself a glass of gin and took it into the living room. She turned on the television and curled up on the couch, the decision of whether to stick with her new job weighing heavily on her mind.

She began to hear scratching at the front door, accompanied by shuffling and banging as if someone were trying to get in. She rushed to the door, her heart thudding as she tried to think of the easiest and closest object she could grab to defend herself. But as she looked through the peephole, the feeling of panic dissipated, immediately replaced by anger and confusion.

“How did you get in the building?” She asked as she opened the door.

“I’m Sherlock Holmes,” he replied confidently, walking inside. “Also, someone was coming out as I was going in.”

“Ah.”

She watched him make his way into the living room, following close behind. He threw himself down right where she had been sitting. She let out a huff before taking a seat on the other couch. His eyes were sunken, his hands fidgeting in his lap.

“I heard John found you in a not-so-flattering situation this morning,” she said.

“You normal people and your gossip.”

“I believe whatever state you were found in earned you a slap from Molly Hooper.”

Sherlock inhaled deeply. “I came here to see you and to see my son. Not to be lectured.”

“Well your son isn’t here, he’s staying in Rose’s. And thank God. I’d hate for him to see you like this.”

“Your righteousness is painful.”

Margaux ground her teeth together, taking a sharp breath. “You know what, Sherlock... leave us alone.”

“What?”

“Leave us alone.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes, as if he were a teenager being told off by his parents.

“I don’t want you around us like this. I have to protect Vaughan.”

“From what?”

“From you.”

Sherlock huffed and began to speak.

“No,” Margaux interrupted. “I’ve come to accept the fact that you’re an absolute idiot. But he… he doesn’t deserve this. He’s not your acquaintance. He’s not a chore. He’s your son, and he expects nothing from you but love. Actual love. Love that you really, honestly feel. Turning up in this state, this isn’t love.”

“You complain I haven’t spent time with him and then when I come over you berate me.”

“Because you’re not spending time with him. I don’t know why you’ve come here, but it’s not for him. Not really. You have so much to offer him, to teach him, but instead you’re off doing god knows what with god knows who, turning up here like a petulant, drug-fuelled lump on my couch.”

“It’s. For. A. Case–”

“Yes, Sherlock, you keep saying. But what I don’t think you realise is that you doing this to yourself - your willingness to destroy your mind and body for ‘a case’ does nothing but show how much more important work is to you than us. Him. I don’t care what the case is. I don’t care how interesting or evil the person you’re following is. I don’t care. Nothing warrants this.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Margaux’s eyes fixed on him, while his remained glued to the wall ahead.

“I think you forget that I never chose this role,” he finally said.

He spoke slowly, trying hard to be concise and coherent. He felt sad and his head was pounding; he was coming down from his high.

Margaux blinked. “Excuse me?”

“I was like this as a child. I was like this before I lived in London. I was like this when we met and I was absolutely like this when you decided to get into bed with me.”

“You’re saying I knew what I was getting into…”

“Precisely.”

“I knew that you were going to get me pregnant and then fake your own death…”

“Obviously not.”

“That I should apologise to you. For making you a father when I knew that didn’t fit in with your ‘quirky detective’ persona. Silly me. How dare I.”

“You’re overreacting. Putting words in my mouth.”

“It was sex, Sherlock. Just sex. I never once lay down with you trying to conceive a child. But it happened, and I stepped up and did my bloody job. And when you came back after pretending to die I gave you the choice. You opted in. So don’t you dare try to defend your drug addiction by saying I forced fatherhood on you.”

Sherlock turned to look at her. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead he began to heave. Margaux grabbed a small bin from the corner of the room and shoved it under his chin.

“Stay here until you come down,” she said. “I don’t want you going back out there like this.”

“Mhm, yes,” he replied feebly.

Margaux headed for the living room door before stopping and turning to him. “There’s a vivid memory I have. It’s one I held on to so dearly when I thought you were dead... You broke into my flat – climbed through my window. It was when you thought I’d lost the baby.” She stopped for a moment, looking down at her stomach. “You held your hands over my stomach and you said… ‘this would have been a really good thing.’”

Sherlock didn’t reply. But he was listening. He thought about Margaux almost every day when he was in hiding, and he remembered that moment too; how it felt to mourn something he never even knew he wanted.

He was Sherlock Holmes. The great consulting detective. The charismatic, enigmatic, fascinating man who solved crimes and cracked mysteries when no one else could. Currently sitting on a couch with his head buried inside a bin. He sighed, willing for her to come back. But she never did.

...

She wasn’t tired, but there was a man she was very angry with sitting in her living room, so she went to bed anyway. She turned off all the lights and climbed under the duvet, lying with her back to the door, gazing out of her window at the night sky.

The door creaked open behind her. She was too exhausted to continue their fight, so she remained still. Ignoring him. Pretending to be asleep. She waited for him to speak, but instead she felt the weight shift on the mattress as he climbed in behind her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his face into the back of her neck.

“I’m sorry,” he said in a whispered mumble, almost inaudible. “I’m so sorry. It will be over soon, I will be me again soon.”

She turned her head slightly. He pulled back, almost embarrassed that she had heard him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you, I just–”

“I wasn’t asleep.”

“Oh.”

His voice was feeble and quivering.

“Sherlock, what’s happening to you?”

“The come down is often the part I find most challenging. I find I can become quite… not myself.”

Margaux rolled over to face him, looking at him closely. He was shaking, his cheeks sunken, his eyes teary and irritated. He looked as fragile as glass, she was scared he was breaking. She placed the back of her hand against his forehead. No fever. There was nothing he could do except ride it out. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into her, holding him as he shivered. He held her tight; for the first time in his life, welcoming the embrace without a second thought.

They lay together for a while. Margaux drifted off to sleep while Sherlock clung to consciousness, his arms around her never slackening until his phone began to buzz in his pocket. He slipped out of bed and looked at the message.

‘You said you would text me instructions? J.’

Sherlock checked the clock. 7.15pm. It was time. He patted his pocket, checking for a ring box, before creeping quietly out of the flat and hailing a taxi to Magnussen’s office.

Chapter Text

CAM Global News' skyscraper ascended into the night sky` like a mountain of glass and steel. John walked through the revolving doors and into the foyer, glancing over to a TV screen where CAM was broadcasting the latest news. 'JUDGE DIES OF HEART ATTACK AMIDST TRIAL.' He continued walking, stopping as he noticed the security barriers. He looked around before checking his watch.

"Magnussen's office is on the top floor, just below his private flat," Sherlock began as he appeared behind him.

John's eyes widened, he turned around coolly, not wanting to show he had been startled.

Sherlock glanced towards a set of lifts, focusing on the key card readers beside them. "But there are fourteen levels of security between us and him," he continued. "Two of which aren't even legal in this country. Want to know how we're breaking in?"

"Is that what we're doing?"

"Of course it's what we're doing."

He pulled a card from his pocket and got them through the barriers. They ordered coffees at the canteen and carried the cups as they walked through the building.

"Magnussen's private lift," Sherlock said as they stepped onto an escalator. "Goes straight to his penthouse and office. Only he uses it and only his card calls the lift. Anyone else even tries, security is automatically informed."

They stepped off the escalator. Sherlock held up the card. "Standard key card for the building. Nicked it yesterday. Only gets us as far as the canteen. If I was to use this card on that lift now, what happens?"

"Er, the alarms would go off and you'd be dragged away by security."

"Exactly."

"Get taken to a small room somewhere and your head kicked in."

"Do we really need so much colour?"

"It passes the time."

Sherlock stared at John, handing him his coffee. He took his phone from his pocket and pressed the key card against it.

"But if I do this… If you press a key card against your mobile phone for long enough, it corrupts the magnetic strip. The card stops working. It's a common problem; never put your key card with your phone. What happens if I use the card now?"

"It still doesn't work."

"But it doesn't read as the wrong card now. It registers as corrupted. But if it's corrupted, how do they know it's not Magnussen?"

John glanced around them. "Huh."

"Would they risk dragging him off?"

"Probably not."

"So what do they do? What do they have to do?"

"Check if it's him or not."

"There's a camera at eye-height to the right of the door. A live picture of the card user is relayed directly to Magnussen's personal staff in his office – the only people trusted to make a positive ID. At this hour, almost certainly his PA."

"S-so how does that help us?"

Sherlock allowed a slight grin. "Human error." He patted the breast pocket of his coat. "I've been shopping."

He approached the lift, John followed curiously behind.

"Here we go, then," said Sherlock as he pressed the card against the reader, causing the system to beep.

"You realise you don't exactly look like Magnussen…" said John.

"Which, in this case, is a considerable advantage," he replied, staring into the camera.

"Sherlock, you complete loon! What are you doing?!" Janine's voice whispered through the speaker.

Sherlock's face warmed suddenly into a smile.

"Hang on– was that? That..." John stammered.

Sherlock held his hand up at John. "Hi, Janine. Go on, let me in."

"I can't! You know I can't. Don't be silly."

"Don't make me do it out here. Not..." he paused to look around. "In front of everyone." "Do what in front of everyone?"

Sherlock looked down for a moment, exhaling loudly. He took a small, dark red box from his pocket and opened it, holding the large diamond engagement ring up to the camera. Janine gasped through the speaker while John stared at the ring in shock. Sherlock ignored both, continuing to hold his position. His eyes glittered, creasing slightly at the corners. Suddenly, the light on the card reader turned blue and the doors of the lift slid open. He clicked the box shut and turned to John, out of view of the camera. His smile dropped.

"You see?" he began, emotionless. "As long as there's people, there's always a weak spot."

"That was Janine," said John, still in shock.

"Yes, of course it was Janine. She's Magnussen's PA. That's the whole point."

"Did you just get engaged to break into an office?"

"Yeah." He stepped into the lift. "Stroke of luck, meeting her at your wedding. You can take some of the credit."

"Je-Jesus!" John looked down at the coffee cups in his hands. He dropped them into the bin next to him before following Sherlock into the lift. "Sherlock, she loves you."

"Yes. Like I said – human error."

The doors closed and the lift began to ascend.

"What are you going to do?"

"Well, not actually marry her, obviously. There's only so far you can go."

"So what will you tell her?"

"Well, I'll tell her that our entire relationship was a ruse to break into her boss' office. I imagine she'll want to stop seeing me at that point. But you're the expert on women."

The lift stopped and the doors opened. Sherlock switched on his smile and stepped out, expecting to be met by a bouncing, excited Janine. Nothing.

"So where did she go?" asked John as they looked around.

"It's a bit rude. I just proposed to her."

"Sherlock…" John called out.

Sherlock walked over to see John crouched over Janine as she lay unconscious on the floor.

"Did she faint? Do they really do that?" he asked.

John touched the back of her head, feeling her warm, wet blood on his fingers. "It's a blow to the head. She's breathing. Janine?"

Janine groaned quietly. Sherlock made his way to another room where another unconscious man lay. "Another in here. Security."

"Does he need help?"

He examined the suited man on the floor, noticing the tattoos on his hands. "Ex-con. White supremacist by the tattoo, so who cares? Stick with Janine." He continued to look around, bending down and bringing himself eye-level with Magnussen's desk chair. The leather was 35°C, he was still in the building. "Upstairs," he whispered.

"We should call the police."

"During our own burglary?! You're really not a natural at this, are you?"

John signed and returned his phone to his pocket.

"No, wait, shh!" He could smell something… familiar. "Perfume – not Janine's." He continued to sniff around the room, filtering through different brands quickly before finally settling on the scent. "claire-de-la-lune. Why do I know it?"

"Mary wears it."

"No, not Mary. Somebody else."

A noise from upstairs interrupted them. Sherlock darted across the room and up the stairwell to the private penthouse. He walked softly along the carpeted hall, following the sound of voices. He approached the door quietly, listening to Magnussen as he cowered on the floor. A figure dressed in black holding a gun to his head.

"You're-you're doing this to protect him from the truth ... but is this protection he would want?" said Magnussen.

Sherlock stepped into the room slowly. "Additionally," he began confidently. "If you're going to commit murder, you might consider changing your perfume… Lady Smallwood."

Magnussen stiffened. Glancing past the person to Sherlock. "Sorry, who? That's… not… Lady Smallwood, Mr Holmes."

Sherlock frowned in confusion before the person turned to face him, aiming the gun at his chest.

Mary Watson.

He drew a short breath, struggling to comprehend the sight of his best friend's wife dressed as an assassin. Her face was cold and harsh. She was Mary, but not the one he knew. She was… a liar.

"Is John with you?" She asked calmly.

"He's, um…"

"Is John here?"

"He-he's downstairs."

She nodded.

"So, what do you do now? Kill us both?" asked Magnussen.

"Mary, whatever he's got on you, let me help," said Sherlock as began stepping towards her.

"Oh, Sherlock, if you take one more step I swear I will kill you."

"No, Mrs Watson. You won't." He began to take another step and, without hesitation, Mary pulled the trigger.

He felt the bullet pierce through his torso, taking his breath away, blurring his vision.

"I'm sorry, Sherlock. Truly am."

"Mary?"

III

He awoke in a hospital bed. Mary stood in the room, talking quietly and firmly. Willing him not to tell John. He tried to focus on her, to talk back, but the pain kept him paralysed. He tried to keep his eyes open as she spoke, but it became impossible. Unconsciousness won; he drifted off again, and Mary evaporated from the room, as if she'd never been there at all.

III

'EXCLUSIVE – SHERLOCK HOLMES KISS AND TELL: 7 TIMES A NIGHT IN BAKER STREET'

Sherlock squinted to read the headline of the newspaper which was being held up in front of him by red varnished fingers. The headline disappeared, revealing another paper; a picture of Janine, smiling as she posed in a deerstalker hat. 'HE MADE ME WEAR THE HAT' printed above it.

"I'm buying a cottage," said Janine, slamming the papers down.

She was sitting on the edge of his hospital bed with a tense smile. Her lips pressed tightly together, concealing her rage.

"I made a lot of money out of you, mister."

He picked up one of the papers and looked at it.

"Nothing hits the spot like revenge for profits," she said.

"You didn't give these stories to Magnussen, did you?"

"God no, one of his rivals. He was spitting."

Sherlock let out a grunt, his best attempt at a laugh restricted by pain.

"Sherlock Holmes, you are a back-stabbing, heartless, manipulative bastard."

He raised his bed to a sitting position, speaking as it rose slowly. "And you, as it turns out, are a grasping, opportunistic, publicity-hungry tabloid whore."

"So we're good then."

"Yeah, of course." He smiled. "Where's the cottage?"

"Sussex Downs."

"Hm, nice."

"It's gorgeous. There's beehives, but I'm getting rid of those."

Sherlock placed his hands by his sides, trying to push himself up. But instead, pain shot through his chest, causing him to gasp.

"Aw, hurts, does it?" asked Janine sarcastically. "Probably want to restart your morphine. I might have fiddled with the taps."

"How much more revenge are you going to need?" He said as he increased his dose.

"Just the occasional top up." She looked around the hospital room. "Dream come true for you, this place. They actually attach the drugs to you."

"Not good for working."

"You won't be working for a while, Sherl. You lied to me. You lied and lied."

"I exploited the fact of our connection."

"When?" She laughed.

"Hm?"

"Just once would have been nice."

"Oh. I was waiting until we got married," he said plainly.

"That was never going to happen." She stood up. "Got to go." She kissed his forehead, wiping her lipstick from his forehead with her thumb. "I'm not supposed to keep you talking... And also I have an interview with The One Show and I haven't made it up yet."

Sherlock sighed as she walked to the door.

"Just one thing," she said.

He looked across to her.

"You shouldn't have lied to me. I know what kind of man you are. But we could have been friends." She didn't give him time to respond, instead she slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her.

He leaned over and tried to increase his dosage again.

III

Janine walked down the hospital corridor, stopping for a moment to zip up her handbag. She glanced ahead, letting out a huff as she noticed the person walking towards her.

"Great," Margaux muttered under her breath as she got closer, suddenly recognising Janine.

It was too late to turn around, the hallway too empty to pretend she hadn't noticed her. Instead, she took a breath and smiled.

"Oh, hi," she said, as nonchalantly as she was capable of.

"I suppose you knew," said Janine, resting her weight on one leg, chewing the inside of her mouth – unamused.

"Knew what?" she replied blandly.

A smirk crept across Janine's face, she let out a laugh and shook her head. "I feel sorry for you, y'know," she said. "You're a good girl. Smart, pretty… And you're wasting yourself."

"On what?"

"On him." She gestured to the card and small bunch of flowers in Margaux's hand. "It's like bringing those flowers to someone with no sense of smell. They can see that they're lovely. They know they're supposed to inhale and smile. But no matter how hard they try, they just smell… nothing."

Margaux nodded gently. The words travelled straight to the place where she was most insecure. But she couldn't let her see that.

She tilted her head and smiled. "Good job I'm not a flower then isn't it. No, I'm more like a bee sting. Really hurts and could potentially kill you." She said sarcastically.

Janine let out a muted laugh before shaking her head and continuing her walk down the corridor.

"I saw the paper, by the way. You look good in the deerstalker," Margaux called out behind her. "It's funny, he never asks me to wear anything in bed. Says he likes to be able to… see… all of me."

He had never said that. Margaux knew he hadn't. He was Sherlock Holmes, of course he hadn't. But seeing the tension in Janine's face made it worth the fib. She pivoted on her feet and headed for Sherlock's room.

III

She placed the bunch of flowers on the table next to his bed and handed him the card.

"It's all from Vaughan." She smiled, sitting on the chair and pulling it near the bed.

Sherlock opened the card filled with colourful scribbles and drawings of disproportionate people. "He's been practicing," he remarked.

"Yes, he's captured you wonderfully," she replied, pointing at the tallest, thinnest stick figure.

Sherlock laughed, immediately wincing in pain.

"It's funny," she began "I fell asleep last night in bed with this guy… Woke up this morning and he was in hospital with a hole in his chest…"

"That is… rather peculiar."

"What happened, Sherlock?"

"It appears I've been shot."

"Oh really? I had no idea," she replied, leaning forward and resting her folded arms on the edge of the bed.

He sighed. "It appears I'm not the only one who's after Magnussen."

"Magnussen?"

"Yes, Magnussen. Keep up, Margaux."

"How can I keep up? I've barely seen you in over a month."

"There's been a reason for that."

"Ah, let me guess… For. The. Case," she joked softly.

He glanced down at her and smiled. "Yes, actually... He knows people's pressure points – uses them against them. You are one of mine." He said frankly.

Margaux's brows raised. She sat back in her chair. "Oh."

He clicked the button for more morphine, but it was already on maximum.

"Do you want me to call a nurse?" asked Margaux.

"No."

"Okay. Well I just nipped in to see how you were. I'm going to go and let you get some sleep." She placed her hand gently over his.

"You don't have to go."

"It's fine, having a pressure point in the room probably isn't doing you too much good." She gestured to the heart monitor next to the bed, pointing at the increasing line. "I'll come and visit you again when you're rested." She squeezed his hand and stood up. "I'll get you a nurse for that heart rate." She winked at him kindly before leaving the room.

Sherlock rested his head back against the pillow, glaring up at the clinical, white ceiling. He grabbed the button, grunting in pain as he turned down the morphine to almost nothing.

III

Mrs Mary Elizabeth Watson stared up at a picture of her face as it lit up an abandoned building. She expected nothing less from a man like Sherlock Holmes.
The door was ajar, she stepped inside to a narrow, concrete corridor that grew darker the further down she looked. At the bottom, she could just make out the silhouette of a man sitting in a wheelchair, a medical drip at his side.

She kept her phone to her ear. “What do you want, Sherlock?”

“Mary Morstan was stillborn in October 1972,” said Sherlock’s through the phone as Mary began walking slowly towards the figure. “Her gravestone is in Chiswick Cemetery where, five years ago, you acquired her name and date of birth and thereafter, her identity. That’s why you don’t have friends from before that date. It’s an old enough technique known to the kinds of people who can recognise a skip-code on sight, have extraordinarily retentive memories…”

“You were very slow,” said Mary before stopping halfway down the corridor.

“How good a shot are you?”

She reached inside her coat and pulled out a gun, cocking it and holding it at her side. “How badly do you want to find out?”

“If I die here, my body will be found in a building with your face projected on the front of it. Even Scotland Yard could get somewhere with that.”

She nodded.

“I want to know how good you are,” he continued. “Go on, show me. The doctor’s wife must be a little bit bored by now.”

She reached into her bag and pulled out a 50 pence coin, flicked it high into the air and fired her gun at it. She stepped aside slightly, letting it fall to the floor, before looking back towards the figure. The air behind her shifted, the shadow of a stiff collar and curly hair appearing on the wall. Sherlock hung up the phone.

“May I see?” he asked.

Mary looked down at the figure again before turning to Sherlock with a laugh.

“It’s a dummy,” she said. “I suppose it was a fairly obvious trick.” She placed her foot on the coin and slid it to Sherlock who caught it under his shoe.

“And yet, over a distance of six feet, you failed to make a kill shot,” he said between winces of pain. He held the coin up, examining the bullet hole through it. Sweating and shaking as he continued. “Enough to hospitalise me, not enough to kill me. That wasn’t a miss. That was surgery.”

They glared at each other for a moment.

“I’ll take the case,” he said.

“What case?”

“Yours. Why didn’t you come to me in the first place?”

“Because John can’t ever know that I lied to him. It would break him and I would lose him forever. And Sherlock, I will never let that happen. Please… Understand. There is nothing in this world that I would not do to stop that happening.”

“Sorry.” He walked to the fuse box, placing his hand on a switch. “Not that obvious a trick.” He flicked the switch.

Mary sighed, turning around slowly to see John sitting at the end of the corridor. She gasped. He stood up from the wheelchair.

“Now talk, and sort it out. Do it quickly,” said Sherlock.

John began to walk down the corridor towards his wife. She sighed again.

Chapter Text

John rolled his shoulders and kneaded his fingers into his neck. He had put his aching body down to sleeping on the couch. But in the back of his mind he knew that in the months he had called the living room his bedroom, his sadness had seeped into his muscles, wrapped itself around his joints and invaded his sleep.

Mary stepped into view, pulling her dressing gown tighter around her expanding stomach and clutching the pile of post that had just fallen through the letter box.

"Oh, sorry, I thought you'd have left by now," she said, feeling as though she had disturbed a private moment.

"Don't worry, I'm going soon," he replied as he stood up from the couch.

"Oh, come on, John, you know I didn't mean it like that."

He walked to the doorway where she stood, avoiding eye contact as he passed her on his way into the kitchen.

He began making himself a coffee.

"Tea?" he asked without turning around.

John always knew when Mary was in the room with him. She had discovered he was the only person she couldn't sneak up on.

"Please," she replied as she sat down at the counter to sift through the post.

John placed a mug of tea in front of her as she came to a cornflower blue envelope sealed with stickers. Opening it carefully, she quickly realised what it was.

"They're having a party for Vaughan's birthday," she said.

"When?"

"At the weekend. Saturday."

"Right, well I'll nip into town and pick up a present later."

Mary sipped her tea. "We could do that together…"

"Be easier if I just did it."

John gulped down his coffee, picked up his jacket and left. Mary sighed and looked down at her stomach, patting it gently.

III

Upbeat pop music played faintly through the toyshop. The place was deserted besides a single employee sitting behind the counter. Margaux walked down the aisle, pulling an empty wheeled basket behind her. Trailing behind was Sherlock.

"Tell me, what does one buy for a toddler? What could a toddler possibly need?" he asked as he walked along the shelf, pressing the 'try me' button on every toy as he went.

Margaux stopped walking, turning around slowly to the cluster of noise and lights erupting from every box around them. She looked up at Sherlock, glancing between his eyes and his extended finger as it hovered over the next toy.

"I don't know about toddlers, but maybe I should buy you one of these. You seem to be having fun," she said.

"Don't place a button level with my eyes and expect me to refrain from pushing it."

"Oh."

"What?"

"Nothing, I just didn't realise it was your second birthday too."

Sherlock gave a half-hearted, sarcastic laugh before pushing his hands inside his coat pockets.

"If you're not interested, you can go, you know. I don't mind."

Sherlock shook his head. "I've missed enough of his life already. If the role of a father includes an afternoon of torturous shopping once a year, then I suppose I shall endure it."

"Twice a year."

"Hm?"

"Our role also requires us to be Father Christmas."

Sherlock groaned.

They walked further around the shop, filling their basket with different playsets and plush toys. Sherlock noticed an aisle stocked with musical instruments; everything from full-sized guitars to tiny electric drum kits. He picked up a plastic violin, reading the description on the packaging closely. Margaux smiled as she watched him carefully choosing a colour, eventually settling on blue, and placing it in the basket. He noticed it had become heavy, and without words, he pushed her hand aside and took the handle himself, ignoring the twinge in his torso as he heaved it along. Margaux folded her arms. She had learned to pick her battles with Sherlock; fighting with him over who got to pull the basket wasn't worth it. She walked ahead, picking up a plastic gun and turning to him. She pointed it at him, closing one eye as if she were taking aim.

"Too soon?" She teased.

"It's a shame you weren't the one to shoot me," he said plainly. "Judging by the way you're holding that gun, I'd have come out unscathed."

Margaux rolled her eyes, stifling a smile, and put the gun back on the shelf. "I'm better with my hands."

"Mhm."

To Sherlock's delight, they finally reached the till. Margaux lifted everything onto the counter as the cashier began to scan them. Sherlock stood close by, his dark curls falling into his face, buried into the screen of his phone. Margaux noticed the cashier repeatedly glancing at the distracted detective, as if he were waiting for him to look up and catch his eye. She placed the last thing on the counter.

"Sherlock, can you put this back please?" She asked, pushing the empty basket towards him.

He gave a grumble and took the basket from her like a moody teenager, his eyes barely peeling from his phone as he walked it back to the stack near the door.

"Is that actually Sherlock Holmes?" asked the cashier.

"Yep." She smiled.

"Wow… Hey, I've got a good mystery for him."

"Hm? What's that?" said Sherlock as he approached the counter.

"This guy has a case for you."

"Y-yeah… I um. Well, it's more of a myth really…" said the cashier, racing to catch Sherlock's attention as he began raising his phone slowly to his face. "When I started working here, they told me about this…secret room. Somewhere here, inside the shop. Apparently the original owner had it built and he stored loads of money and valuables inside. Then he died before ever revealing where it was."

Sherlock looked around and shrugged. "Where exactly in this toyshop, that is the size of a toy shop, do you think someone could hide an entire room?"

Margaux glanced around as he spoke, assessing each wall and ceiling panel.

Sherlock looked down at her. "You're not seriously entertaining this?"

"Shush," she said, leaning against the counter. "How many rooms are back there?"

"Lord."

"Two. Well, three," the cashier began. "A stock room, staff room and a toilet."

"And you've searched? For this secret room? The walls, ceilings, floors?"

"Yeah, we search all the time. It's like a competition for us to see who can find it. The owner says he doesn't have a clue what we're talking about so we've gathered it's just a myth."

"Hm," she replied, continuing to look around.

Sherlock locked his phone and put it back in his pocket. The idea of Margaux accepting a case that was proposed to him ignited his competitiveness. He walked to the entrance, flipping the sign on the door to 'closed', before heading behind the counter and disappearing into the back room. Margaux and the young man followed.

"I- I thought you weren't interested," said the cashier, still star struck by the sight of Sherlock Holmes mooching around his staff room.

"The idea is entirely ridiculous. Therefore, I should solve it in a few minutes."

Margaux walked slowly around the room, running her hand across the wall as she checked for seams in the wallpaper, hidden door hinges and uneven panels.

"So, what are you? Like a female Sherlock Holmes?"

"No." she laughed. "He's the male me."

The cashier laughed.

"We're nothing alike," Sherlock interrupted. "I suppose that's why I'm able to tolerate her." He knelt down and pressed his ear to floor, knocking his knuckles against the floorboards.

"That's true, we are very different."

"I didn't realise you were married–"

"Not married," Sherlock said quickly.

"Oh, sorry. I just thought because of the stuff in the media about a woman and child…"

"Woman and child, yes. Wife, no."

"I'm not marriage material," Margaux joked.

Sherlock stood up and glared at her before heading into the kitchenette. They followed him in, watching as he lazily glanced around.

"Sorry to break it to you…" he leant in to read the cashier's name tag. "Josh." He drew out the 'sh', as if it were the first time he'd heard the name. "The secret room doesn't exist."

"Oh… Okay."

"How are you so sure?" Margaux pressed.

"This street was originally composed of residential buildings. This shop would have been two houses, a wall dividing them just here." He pointed to the uneven gap between the two small windows above the sink. "Buildings like this were small. Practical. No more than two bedrooms, no inside lavatory, and therefore, no underground space."

Margaux looked around the kitchenette as Sherlock continued his lengthy, articulate history lesson. She counted the rings of coffee that had stained the counter, the carton of long-life milk sitting on the side. Then she noticed something strange. She cocked her head, bringing her brows together in confusion.

"Sherlock…"

"The pipes have been updated over time. Slowly filtering out the use of copper and…"

"Sherlock."

"Well you see, it's just impossible that a property such as this–"

"Sherlock!"

"What!"

She pushed past him gently, leaning over and pushing her finger into the line of rubbery sealant that bordered the counters. It lifted with ease, as if it were never actually attached, revealing a small gap between the back of the counter and the tiled wall. She turned to Sherlock.

"Impossible," he said quietly before crouching down and opening the cupboard underneath.

Margaux followed his lead, kneeling next to him and gazing inside. They looked at each other for a moment; Margaux's mouth creeping into a smug smile, while Sherlock's eyes battled with the urge to roll around inside his head. He shifted his weight back onto one leg, using the other to kick hard at the board at the back of the cupboard. It caved in, his foot almost penetrating through it. Margaux crawled inside and pulled at the board until it broke off, revealing the entrance to a tunnel.

"Brilliant. Take Sherlock Holmes shopping – make an archaeological discovery," she said.

III

John crossed the road as the green man beeped. He looked inside his shopping bag again, assessing his choice in gift, wondering if Mary would have agreed with it. He shook his head and closed the bag, allowing it to swing in his hand as he walked down the street towards a bustling crowd. He slowed down, confused by the commotion, looking around to see police urging people to step back and reporters talking into cameras. He looked up at the sign – 'Weller's Toys' – then looked back down to see Sherlock and Margaux standing near the entrance talking to a man in a suit. The hairs on the back of his neck pricked with worry. What were they doing here? Something bad had happened.

"Ah, John. What took you so long?" said Sherlock casually as he gestured for them to let his friend through.

"What took me… You know you didn't ask me to come, don't you?"

"Didn't I? Oh, I'm just so used to you turning up." He returned to talking with the suited man.

John looked to Margaux who could sense his confusion.

"This stuff really does follow him," she began. "We only came shopping for Vaughan's birthday. Ended up uncovering a hidden room full of guns and diamonds."

"Bloody unbelievable."

"For anyone else, yes. For Sherlock? Tuesday afternoon."

III

Dust danced in the light around 221B as Mrs Hudson placed a tray of tea on the table next to Sherlock's armchair, lifting a cup of juice from it and handing it to Vaughan who was playing quietly on the carpet. Margaux paced back and forth angrily, reading aloud from the newspaper in her outstretched arms.

"Another case cracked and mystery solved by the remarkable Sherlock Holmes," she read sarcastically. "Yesterday afternoon, a room of jewels and weaponry was uncovered underneath Weller's Toy shop, which is thought to have sat untouched for over a century. Weller's employee Josh Keenan stated that it took Mr Holmes just minutes to find the stash while shopping with a female friend. Could this be the infamous lover of the controversial detective? Is this the mystery woman with whom he is thought to have a secret child?" She looked at Sherlock as he sat in his chair. "I have a name!" She crumpled the large, thick newspaper and threw it into the cold, dead fireplace, knocking a half-burnt log onto the hearth and scattering ash across the floor.

Mrs Hudson rushed over to clean it up.

"Ugh, sorry Mrs Hudson. Just leave it, I'll see to it," Margaux sighed.

Sherlock looked up at Margaux with raised eyebrows.

"What? I'm annoyed! Also, I'm the one that actually found the cave of bloody wonders."

"I'll call the papers and have them issue a correction."

"No, it's… Ugh, it's fine, I just… Is this my life now? We're not even together and I've basically been reduced to the hat detective's arm candy." She threw herself into the armchair opposite him, letting out a heavy huff. "Is this what Vaughan's going to grow up reading about us? That we're your dirty secret?"

"I've never made any attempts to keep either of you secret."

"No, just from your parents…"

The corner of Sherlock's mouth curled upwards.

"If you want my opinion–"

"No, Mrs Hudson, we don't," Sherlock interrupted.

She perched on the arm of his chair, ignoring his quip, and continued. "I think you should get married."

Margaux let out a small giggle before realising she was serious.

"Marriage, yes, excellent. Because yours turned out so well," he replied.

Mrs Hudson hit him with a tea towel. "Oh, Sherlock will you shut up," she looked over to Margaux. "I just think if you're worried about all this newspaper stuff, about how it's going to affect Vaughan and all the rest of it, why not? Avoids all confusion."

"How?" said Margaux, almost scared to ask.

"Well because it's easier. You'd be Mr and Mrs Holmes. Or Mr and Mrs Cave, I know they're doing that these days too. You'd all share the same name, he could introduce you as his wife and son and that'd be that. No questions of morals or secret love affairs."

"Excellent. You've outdone yourself Mrs H," he said, standing up and showing her out of the room.

"And let's face it," she continued as she approached the doorway. "He's in lov–"

Sherlock closed the door before she could finish, turning around to face Margaux and running his fingers through his hair.

"Anyway…" he said, returning to his chair.

"What? You're not going to get down on one knee?"

They looked at each other for a moment and began to laugh.

Chapter Text

The clouds were threatening to break. Heavy and grey, yet so soft it was as if rain could dissolve through them at any point. The late-August breeze was not harsh or cold. Instead it carried a warmth, clinging to the last few days of summer that would soon give way to dying leaves and cooler mornings. Sherlock stood looking out across the London skyline, his arms folded and resting in front of him on the safety railing of the rooftop. He could see Magnussen’s building in the distance, and the scar on his torso began to ache. The breeze fanned his dark curls, lifting them out of his eyes, allowing the gloomy clouds to dull their blueness. He glanced over the edge, looking down to the pavement below; the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive played on loop in his head and he felt Moriarty’s breath against his ear – the smell of his cologne. He stepped back, shaking away the unwelcome memory, before looking behind him to the group of excited children running back and forth, the monotonous hum of chattering adults and the faint beat of pop music.

Margaux placed a tray of sandwiches on the picnic table, gesturing for the group of mums to help themselves. She looked across the rooftop garden, past the small nook of grass and flowers where the children played, past the seating area where Rose was introducing herself to Molly, Mrs Hudson and Mr and Mrs Holmes, past the posts strewn with birthday banners and balloons, to the far corner where Sherlock stood. Alone. She made her way over and stopped at his side, leaning her arms on the railing as he did, looking out over London.

“I should mention that when I decided to have Vaughan’s party on the roof of my building, I swear the symbolism of your untimely death didn’t cross my mind,” she said “Well maybe it did. Just once.” She looked up at him. “Could have called it a Moriparty.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow.

“It’s like Moriarty and Party–”

“Yes, Margaux I got the joke. What I find funnier is how easily you’re able to amuse yourself.”

She bit her lip to suppress a smirk. Sherlock looked down at her, trying not to smirk too.

They looked over their shoulders to see John and Mary walking through the door from the stairwell, watching as they made their way over to Mr and Mrs Holmes, never once speaking to each other, not even walking side by side. Margaux turned her attention to the table of mothers as they looked in her direction and whispered to one another.

“Oh by the way,” said Margaux, turning back to Sherlock. “I was wondering if you could maybe… crank up the sociopath, just for a few hours, and charm the hell out of the mums from the nursery. For me?”

“Certainly, what tier of charm would you like?” He replied before snaking his arm around her waist and pulling her in close, using his other hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Hm, a few notches down.”

He released his grip of her waist, instead placing his hand gently on the back of her neck and rubbing his thumb softly back and forth against her skin. He slipped the other hand in the pocket of his trousers, looking down at her and smiling kindly.

“That’s perfect.” She smiled back as they began walking slowly across the rooftop. “I’m only asking you to do this because they’re all snobs–”

“Well we should introduce them to Mycroft.”

“Sh.” She nudged him gently. “But really, I just need them to see you and like you and then maybe they’ll stop thinking of me as that woman who had a secret love affair with that detective–”

“Say no more.” He gave the back of her neck a reassuring squeeze before letting go and allowing her to walk ahead.

“How is everyone?” She asked as she approached the table, noticing their eyes landing on Sherlock as he stood a few steps behind. “Oh, I don’t think any of you have met Vaughan’s father; everyone this is Sherlock.”

Sherlock stepped forward and extended his arm smoothly, allowing just the right amount of smile to reach his eyes. “Pleasure.”

“Oh, hello.” One of the women shook his hand. It was as if Sherlock’s touch had melted her, just a little. “You know, it’s funny. Whenever I see it in the papers, I always think what a strange name Sherlock is. But now I’ve met you, I think it suites you well.”

Sherlock smiled. “Well, what can I say,” he began, placing his hand on the small of Margaux’s back. “We’re partial to a unique name in this family.”

Margaux looked up and laughed politely at his perfectly friendly, perfectly charming, perfectly delivered joke. Trying to ignore the shudder she felt as she watched him so easily pretend to adore her; touching her, enjoying her, calling them a family. She wondered if it was killing him. If he couldn’t wait to drag his hand away, if his face was hurting from smiling, if he couldn’t wait until it was all over.

III

 

The children sat in a small circle on the false grass, tucking into birthday cake and sporting their colourful, pointed party hats. It was the first time Sherlock had watched Vaughan in the company of other children his age, and it was the first time he had truly realised how advanced his two-year-old son really was. Vaughan sat amongst the other toddlers talking to them in full, clear sentences while they stared back at him blankly, he ate his cake neatly, using a napkin to wipe icing away from his own mouth, and he was quieter than the other children; calm and reserved.

“Our son is a genius,” Sherlock said plainly, as if he were stating a fact as absolute as the colour of the sky.

“Of course he is, we all think so,” said Mrs Holmes.

“No, mother, I’m not talking like the parents who are so blinded by love that they believe their positively average child is extraordinary. Vaughan is a genius. We should have him evaluated.”

“Should have you evaluated,” Mary muttered under her breath.

“Hm?”

“Nothing.” She smiled.

“You were always so very bright, Sherlock,” said Mr Holmes. “But with that came a lot of emotion – such a sensitive child.”

“What? Sherlock? Really?” John quipped.

“Oh yes, he was a lovely boy,” said Mrs Holmes.

Margaux turned to the children, noticing Rose’s four-year-old daughter wedging a Skittle up Vaughan’s nose. She looked over at Rose who had noticed too.

“Lila, no sweets up Vaughan’s nose please,” she called over.

Lila pulled the Skittle out of his nostril and placed it in the palm of his small hand. Vaughan looked down at it for a moment before popping it into his mouth and eating it.

Margaux leaned in to Sherlock “Yeah, your son’s a genius,” she said.

Sherlock grimaced.

“Oh, have you two given any more thought to marriage thing?” asked Mrs Hudson.

The others turned to Sherlock and Margaux with confused faces that seemed almost choreographed. He rolled his eyes and she cleared her throat.

“What marriage thing?” said John. “Marriage like… to each other?”

“No, John, she’s asking our opinion on marriage as a concept, she wants to know our political and socioeconomical stance,” said Sherlock.

“Really?”

“No, John, it’s Mrs Hudson! Of course she’s suggesting that Margaux and I get married!”

“Oh, what a lovely idea,” said Mrs Holmes, turning to Mrs Hudson. “I agree that would be so wonderful.”

“Hush, mother.”

“Why are you so against marriage?” Asked Mary.

“Because marriage is a man-made concept, a social construct. It is the institutionalisation of monogamy which, in itself, does not coincide with innate human behaviour. It is a commercialised trap designed to involve the government in making two people’s intangible ‘feelings’ contractually binding for legal benefits.”
Margaux sat awkwardly, her lips pressed together as she stared blankly ahead, catching eyes with Molly who also sat quietly, feeling equally as uncomfortable with the conversation. Margaux feared if she looked up at Sherlock she may scream; he was embarrassing her, making it clear to everyone close to them that the thought of marrying her was preposterous.

“I don’t understand you, Sherlock,” said Mrs Hudson.

“Forgive me for not feigning surprise.”

III

 

The mothers and their children began to leave, thanking Margaux for inviting them and wishing Vaughan a happy birthday one last time.

“I’m off too,” said Rose as she stood with a child under each arm.

Margaux laughed as the children wriggled to break free from their mother’s grasp. She gave her a quick hug and walked them to the top of the stairwell, watching as they made their way down the steps carefully.

Vaughan was sitting on his grandfather’s lap, tearing through the wrapping paper on his last few presents. He held up his new violin, examining it carefully as the adults beamed and cooed over Sherlock’s thoughtful gift. Margaux smiled, looking to Sherlock for his reaction, but he wasn’t there. She placed her hand on Mary’s shoulder.

“Where’s Sherlock and John?”

“Work stuff,” Mary replied, rolling her eyes.

Margaux huffed, looking over to the far corner of the roof where Sherlock and John stood huddled over Sherlock’s phone.

“I bet you it’s that bloody Magnussen guy. He just can’t let this one go.”

Mary’s eyes dropped to the ground immediately as she tried to force a half smile.

 

“It’s this,” said Sherlock as he showed John a document on his phone. “I have to get it to Magnussen.”

“Sherlock, you can’t–”

“No rest for the wicked, I see,” said Margaux as she approached the two men, her arms folded, hair blowing gently in the breeze. “You just missed Vaughan opening his violin.”

“Hm? Oh… Did he like it?”

“I think so. He’d probably like it more if he had his dad to show him how to use it.”

“I’ll be over in a moment. First, I just need to–”

“Can it not wait?”

Sherlock turned to John, taking in a deep, slow breath. “You see,” he began. “I’m already hen-pecked, why would I need to get married?”

“Sherlock,” John scowled.

“Wow, the charming act sure wore off fast,” said Margaux as she pivoted on her heels and walked back over to the group.

 

III

 

The rain eventually won, pattering down onto the rooftop and soaking the decorations and half-eaten plates of food. Margaux rushed around, clearing everything away as the others showed themselves out, shouting their goodbyes from the echoing stairwell.

She made her way down to her flat with Vaughan on her hip and a heavy bin bag in her other hand. Sherlock followed behind, his arms full of gift bags and unwrapped presents.

“Where do you want these, Margaux?” he asked as he stepped into her hallway.

She didn’t answer, instead she placed Vaughan down and walked off into the kitchen to clean up.

“Margaux, they’re getting rather heavy…” he followed into the kitchen. “Margaux…”

“Put them anywhere, Sherlock, I really don’t care.”

He dropped the bags and boxes where he stood. “Is this a bad mood? I feel I’ve gotten better at detecting them but I’m still not sure.”

“Yes, this is a bad mood.”

“Why?” He asked, genuinely puzzled.

Are you–” She scoffed. “It doesn’t matter.”

Vaughan walked into the kitchen and sat at his pile of new toys.

“Is this because I was working on the Magnussen case?”

“No. Well, I mean, I’d rather you hadn’t. But I don’t care about that.”

“Ah, well okay then.” He pulled up a stool and sat at the kitchen counter, pulling out his phone and returning to the Magnussen case.

Margaux stared at him, her mouth open.

“I…” She began, trying to quell her anger before it boiled into rage. “You didn’t have to be so bloody cruel.”

“About what?”

“About the marriage thing. You made me look like an absolute idiot in front of everyone.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes, Sherlock, you did. You acted like you’d rather pull your own teeth out than marry me.”

“You thought Mrs Hudson’s suggestion was ridiculous too. You laughed when she first said it.”

“I laughed at the idea of getting married for the sake of convenience. Not at the idea of marrying you.”

Sherlock blinked a single, exaggerated blink.

“And once again I’ve made a fool of myself. Putting more cards on the table when you haven’t even… sat down at the bloody table.”

“So, what are you saying? You want to marry me?”

“No, Sherlock, I actually don’t. Because heaven forbid I enter into the institutionalisation of monogamy with you.”

“Then why are you angry with me?”

Why was she angry? Margaux thought about it for a moment as she stood with her arms full of dirty paper plates and half empty cups.

“Well…” She began.

Vaughan glanced up from his toys to watch his mother stammering. He turned to Sherlock with a raised eyebrow, as if he understood her awkwardness. Sherlock raised an eyebrow back at him.

“Well, because…” she continued. “Because it would be nice to think that you’re not completely opposed to the idea of… I- I don’t know, to the idea of… being with me. One day. Maybe.”

Vaughan gave a soft sigh before taking one of his toys and toddling off into the living room.

“I never said I wasn’t,” said Sherlock, matter-of-factly.

“Okay then.”

She returned to cleaning up while he unlocked his phone again. Their comfortable silence filled by the gentle rainfall on the window and the clanging of dishes in the sink. She lifted the clean cutlery and slotted it away neatly into the drawer, turning to him suddenly.

“Oh,” she began, startling him slightly. “I completely forgot, I got you a gift.”

“Me? I thought gifts were reserved for the person whose birthday it is. Isn’t that the whole point of the birthday tradition? A celebration of the self? Christmas for narcissists.”

“Did you just imply that our two-year-old son is a narcissist?”

“In the making.” He gave a slight smile.

Margaux rolled her eyes as she rooted through the drawer. She pulled out an envelope and handed it to him tentatively. He opened it and slid out the paper carefully, taking a few moments to read over it.

“I know it probably seems superfluous to you,” she said quietly, almost nervous. “But it’s sort of a big deal. I mean, it matters y’know? So, I… Well…”

“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “This is. This is… Yes. Thank you.”

Margaux nodded and smiled. “Okay.”

He placed the paper down on the counter. A letter certifying a legal name change. Vaughan Cave was now Vaughan Cave-Holmes.

He had never thought about it before, he was certain it hadn’t mattered. But seeing the name in front of him, printed onto paper, he felt… warm.

Margaux picked up the rest of the dirty paper plates and carried them to the bin. She threw them in, swiping her hands together to clean them off, and turned around. Her heart fell into her stomach and for a moment, she forgot how to breathe. On the kitchen floor was Sherlock, down on one knee, looking up at her.

“What are you doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Sherlock, come on, get up.”

“I feel like I get it now.”

“You get what?”

“Why it would be more efficient… better.” He looked around, reaching over to a piece of tin foil that had fallen on the floor. He twisted it up and curved it to shape a ring, holding it up to her with a shrug.

Margaux smiled before kneeling in front of him, bringing them face to face. “Sherlock, this time last year, I thought you were dead. This; the fact that you’re even here right now on my kitchen floor, the fact that I can take my hands and put them here on your shoulders, the fact that I can touch you, see you… shout at you for being a bloody idiot.” She laughed gently. “That’s better.”

“So, the answer’s no?” He asked, a hint of relief laced in his tone.

“Mhm, the answer’s no. For now.”

Chapter Text

Mycroft’s slow exhales kept rhythm with the ticking clock. It was the only sound in the office besides the faint hum of the computer screen which he was sure only he could hear. He leaned back in his chair causing the taught, stiff leather to squeak crudely, and slid open the bottom drawer of his desk. He took out a large magnolia envelope to reveal a collection of sweets and chocolate bars hidden underneath. Pursing his lips, he gazed at them longingly before glancing over to the treadmill in the corner of the room and letting out an audible sigh.
A knock at the door startled him. He threw the envelope back on top of his secret stash and shut the drawer quickly.
“Yes?”
The door opened, allowing a sliver of light into the dimly-lit office.
“Hi, sorry I was just… Mycroft would it kill you to open the blinds?”
He rested his elbow on the arm of the chair, rubbing his chin with his finger. “Margaux, I fear you have met with my mother on one too many occasion. You’re starting to sound like her.”
Margaux rolled her eyes, purposefully ignoring his comment. She stepped into the office, keeping a hand on the doorframe. “You sent for me?”
“Ah yes. Paperwork.” He gestured to a pile of folders on the edge of his desk. “I’d have mailed it to you so you could do it at home, but we can’t risk it falling into the wrong hands.”
“It’s fine,” she said, waving her hand as she walked over and picked it up. “I might actually stick around and do some here. You don’t have a free desk I could park myself at, do you?”

He showed her to a small, unoccupied office near his own with a large sliding glass door separating it from the hallway. She walked in, placing the folders on the L-shaped desk and hanging her jacket over the back of the chair, her woollen collar still damp from the unrelenting September rain she had travelled through.
“Feel free to fire up the computer,” said Mycroft. “Your own personal log-in should be up and running. Username is M.Cave. Password is ‘password’.”
“Oh, mhm. Maximum security, very impressive.”
Mycroft gave a snarky laugh, causing Margaux to flash an exaggerated wide-toothed smile. He turned to leave.
“Oh, Mycroft.”
“Yes?”
“Vaughan loves the train set you got him for his birthday. Hasn’t stopped playing with it since. I think it’s his favourite gift, to Sherlock’s dismay,” she said.
“Good. I’m… I’m glad he likes it,” he turned to leave once again before stopping. “And I’m exceedingly pleased to hear of my brother’s anguish.”
Margaux laughed quietly as she watched him leave the room; hands clasped behind his back as he strode back to his dark, quiet office. She sank into the large button-back desk chair and slipped the first sheet of paper from the top folder.

III

Sherlock sat at the kitchen table, his back so perfectly straight it was as if there were a piece of wire holding his spine upright. He stared down the lens of his microscope, working calmly and quietly as he had done for most of the afternoon. A small hand reached up from underneath the table, placing a plastic cup and saucer next to him. Without taking his eye from the lens, Sherlock picked up the cup by the handle and pretended to take a sip.
“Mm, excellent cup of tea, thank you,” he said, before placing it back down on the saucer.
Vaughan smiled proudly from the kitchen floor and returned to playing with his tea set.
Sherlock’s phone buzzed aggressively against the table. He picked it up.
“Hello?”
“Is John with you?”
“No. I do believe he’s at his proper job.” He air-quoted ‘proper’, as if still offended by John’s choice of words.
“Okay good, I’m coming up.”
Within minutes, Mary had let herself into the flat. She turned the corner into the kitchen and stood in the archway, her hands resting nervously on her round stomach, as if she were waiting for permission to come and sit down.
“Mary!” Vaughan shouted as he ran to her.
Mary’s serious expression brightened as she greeted him with a warm hug. “Hey Vee!”
“Don’t let Margaux hear you calling him that,” said Sherlock from behind the lens.
“Oh, she won’t mind.” She rubbed her hand through Vaughan’s dark, wavy locks “Will she, ey?”
Sherlock pushed his microscope aside, clasping his hands together and resting them on the table in front of him. “You want to talk about John.”
Mary stiffened before turning to Vaughan with a smile. “Hey, I’d love one of your famous cups of tea.”
Vaughan grinned and ran back to his tea set. “I will make you seven-thousand,” he said.
“Oh perfect!” she laughed kindly as she waddled to the table and lowered herself carefully into the chair facing Sherlock.
“He’s still not talking to you then?” he asked.
“Sher–” she laughed in disbelief. “He hasn’t spoken to me in months. Not properly anyway. You know, he’ll… offer me a drink or some breakfast in the morning, say goodbye when he leaves for work, some days if he’s feeling generous he’ll say goodnight before retiring to the couch for the night.”
“Hm, he’s making progress.”
“Progress? He’s my husband, Sherlock. I’m pregnant with his child and he can barely look at me. I feel like I can’t be excited about having a baby because he’s missing out on so much.” She looked up into Sherlock’s glacial eyes. “Who knew out of the four of us that you and Margaux would be the stable couple.”
“We’re not a couple.”
“Well neither are me and John at this point.” She shook away the bitterness and sighed. “Has he looked at it yet? The USB, has he read it?”
“No.”
She folded her arms and rested them on her bump. “Sherlock, you have to make him look at it. I need you to. I can’t go on living in this limbo. You tell him to read it all and then make a decision; stay or go. Please, Sherlock.” She held back a cry, yet tears still escaped quietly from her irritated eyes.
She wiped them away and sniffed sharply as Vaughan approached her with a plastic cup and saucer. She cleared her throat and forced a smile.
“Ah thank you so much!” She took a pretend sip. “Wow, Vaughan, you make the best tea in the whole world.”
“In the whole universe?” he asked.
“In the whole entire universe.”
Sherlock watched them talking. He couldn’t help but think that in spite of all the violence and deception, all the hiding and looking over her shoulder, Mary would be the most gentle mother. The way she talked with Vaughan, understood him with ease, comforted and encouraged him; John was lucky his child would have a mother like Mary. Sherlock made a mental note – He must remember to tell Margaux that she is a good mother more often, that he is grateful for her. Vaughan crawled under the table to continue playing and Mary turned her attention back to Sherlock.
“My past, everything I’ve done, it’s a lot. Even for me. It’s stuff that sticks to you forever no matter how much you… change. I need him to know it all. I need him to make the conscious decision to let it all stick to him too.”

III

Margaux threw down another completed folder and moved onto the last. She was starting to feel tired, perhaps it was time for a coffee break. She shifted in her seat, propping her elbow on the desk and resting her head against her closed fist, when she heard the beginnings of a heated conversation muffled through the glass of the office door. Immediately she knew, not even having to glance up to know that Mycroft was standing with Sherlock in the hallway. Even through glass she could feel the competition for power in their conversation.
She peaked around the computer screen, seeing the two of them as she expected. Sherlock stood taller and leaner than his brother, rainwater dripping from his tousled hair creating damp patches on his shoulders. She could see his arm wrapped around a bundle hidden under his long Belstaff coat. It was Vaughan, resting calmly against his father’s chest, so snug to his body that the coat could have buttoned up around both of them. What was he here for? She wondered. Whatever it was, it was important enough to bring Vaughan out in the rain.
She dipped her head behind the computer screen, willing him not to turn around and see her. She hadn’t told him about the job and she wanted to keep it that way, at least for now. She strained to listen.
“I thought you were the government.” She heard Sherlock say. “Make it all disappear.”
“Dear baby brother, if only it were that simple.”
“It is,” Sherlock replied as he readjusted his grip on Vaughan, hoisting him back up gently. “Do you believe she is a threat?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why–”
“Because even if we did erase it all, it will never truly disappear.”
“Why?”
“Because Charles Augustus Magnussen has it too.”
Sherlock shifted his stance in frustration, turning away from Mycroft to face the office where she sat listening.
She ducked down further until her head lay almost flat against the desk. She didn’t dare move until she heard Mycroft speak again.
“I will do my best, Sherlock. Though I must say, it won’t be a case of a missing piece of paper or two. Mary Watson’s past lives have totted up quite the file. So big it’s earned its own codename. Thorn74.”
She heard him chuckle quietly.
“Say goodbye to uncle Mycroft, Vaughan.”
“Goodbye, little one.”
Footsteps faded down the hall. Margaux waited a few minutes before checking they had gone. She leaned back in her chair and inhaled slowly, her eyes burning into the keyboard in front of her. She blew the air back out through her mouth before flicking on the computer screen, opening the search feature on the internal database and typing with trembling fingers.
Thorn74.

III

The rain had finally eased off, leaving behind its musky perfume that rose from the slick grey pavements of London. Margaux pulled her jacket tight across her chest as she walked down the street, her cheeks flushes and her damp hair hanging limp as it stuck to her face. She ran up the steps and rang the buzzer, waiting a few moments before Mrs Hudson opened the door and welcomed her inside.
“Oh dear, I’ll bring you up some tea,” she said kindly.
“Don’t worry Mrs Hudson, I’m not staying long.” Margaux smiled, removing her jacket and brushing her hair out of her face. She draped the jacket over her arm and climbed the stairs to 221B.
She tapped gently on the door before letting herself inside. “Hello?” she called out.
“You’re wet.” Sherlock appeared in the archway of the kitchen holding his violin in one hand.
“Yes. I think it might have been raining.” she replied sarcastically. “Where’s…”
Vaughan appeared behind his father holding his small blue violin.
“We’re learning to play,” said Sherlock.
“Oh lovely.” She smiled.
She took a seat on the couch and watched as Sherlock played a lulling melody. Her heart swelled as Vaughan tried to copy his father, pulling the plastic bow back and forth against the strings. When they finished, she applauded enthusiastically.
“Well done!” She squealed, walking to Vaughan and squeezing him tightly.
She stood up straight and turned to Sherlock, leaning close to him. “That was beautiful,” she whispered, placing a hand on his arm.
He looked down at her hand and raised an eyebrow. She removed it quickly before punching him playfully instead.
“Can I take you to dinner tonight?” She asked plainly, as if she were asking a friend to meet her for coffee.
“Sure,” he replied. “I know this Italian place in Paddington; the owner gives me discounted food because I solved his–”
“How about somewhere I choose? Preferably a place where we don’t know the owner’s criminal history.”
“Hm. Okay.”
“Pick me up in a cab around Six Thirty?”
Sherlock nodded, clasping his hands together behind his back and walking to the window.
“Wear something nice,” Margaux added as she picked up her jacket. “I think I’m going to book somewhere fancy.”
He turned to her. “Why? This isn’t… Is this… a date?”
“Nope. But I’ve walked around all day looking like a drowned rat. I just feel like dressing up a bit. Also, looking like we’re on a date will raise less suspicion.”
“Suspicion of what?”
She crouched down to Vaughan and kissed him on the head before making her way out of the flat towards the stairs. “See you at six thirty!”

III

He wouldn’t tell Margaux that he tried on three shirts before settling on one. He also wouldn’t mention that he showered, and combed his hair. She told him to look nice, he rationalised as he slipped on his blazer and fixed the cuffs of his shirt underneath it.
He took Vaughan down to Mrs Hudson who welcomed him inside excitedly. She loved babysitting; the warm flush in her cheeks whenever she greeted his son was almost enough to elicit a smile in Sherlock. Almost.
“Oh Sherlock, don’t you look handsome,” she remarked as her eyes skirted over the deep burgundy shirt that hugged his slender torso.
“Yes yes. Shouldn’t be long. Please don’t… lose him.” He turned away and headed for the door, putting his coat on effortlessly in the process.
Mrs Hudson rolled her eyes and shut the door.

When the cab rolled to a stop, he saw her standing under the shelter of the building’s porch. She gave a wave and hurried over, climbing in the back beside him. She gave the driver the name of the restaurant and relaxed back into her seat, looking out of the window at the already darkening sky.
“You look nice,” she said with a smile.
“Yes, and you,” he replied stiffly.
“Bloody ‘ell, you can do better than that, mate,” the driver joked.
Margaux let out a small laugh.
“Forgive me,” Sherlock began sarcastically. “I’m not well-versed in niceties.”
“I’m just saying, to be punching that far above your weight, you should have better compliments than ‘and you’,” the driver replied.
Margaux was trying so hard to hold in her laughter that it escaped in a quiet snort. Sherlock looked at her, thoroughly unamused.

As they stepped into the restaurant, the host offered to take their coats. Sherlock removed his own and handed it over, while the host helped Margaux by gently slipping her coat off her shoulders and hanging it on the rack. Sherlock didn’t make a habit of gawping; it was never something he felt compelled to do. However, as his eyes trailed the delicate material that clung to her body, mapped the curves of her waist and hips, the thin straps that sat flush against her collarbones and skimmed her exposed décolletage, he couldn’t help but admit to himself that he was staring. And he couldn’t help but notice the slight smirk on her face that showed his staring hadn’t gone unnoticed. His breath hitched and he gulped, attempting to compose himself.
She smoothed her hands over her dress and turned to follow a waiter to their table, feeling Sherlock’s arm brush hers accidentally as they walked side by side. She leaned in towards him, talking quietly.
“Is the Sherlock Holmes getting a bit hot under the collar?”
He looked around the restaurant as he spoke, his voice deep and gravelly. “I just find it odd. How seeing you in a beautiful dress can make me want to… remove it.”
She felt a jolt of electricity in the core of her stomach. Did he even realise what his words did to her? Or was he simply speaking his mind like he so often did?
“Peculiar, don’t you think?” he added.
“Mhm.” Was all she could muster as they were seated.
“Can I bring you anything to drink?” asked the waiter.
They looked across the table to each other.
“Are you a red or a white kind of guy?” she asked.
“Neither,” he responded. “But on this occasion, white would be fine.” He directed the waiter to a wine on the drinks menu.
The waiter nodded and walked away, leaving them sat across from each other in a bustling restaurant, yet somehow so completely alone.

Chapter Text

They sat at the small intimate table near the window as the rain pattered against the glass, scattering their view of the street with droplets glittering in the candlelight. Condensation trailed down the stems of their glasses, settling in cold puddles on the sleek wooden table.

They reached for their glasses in accidental unison, neither particularly enjoying the sharp, dry taste.

“Well, this is nice,” Margaux joked.

“Indeed. Nicer than where I suggested anyway.”

“I don’t doubt that.”

Sherlock leaned back and rested his hands in his lap while Margaux found herself absentmindedly gazing at him. The glow from the candle flickered along the structure of his face, making his cheekbones more prominent, his jaw sharper, his eyes darker. She had never seen him wear a shirt in this way before; buttoned to the collar, the luxurious burgundy fabric hugging his broad chest, his arms rippling under the long sleeves.

“You’re staring.” His voice was dark and smoky, like a burning wick.

“Would you like me to stop?”

“I don’t know, does your staring make this a more believable ‘date’?”

Margaux laughed as she flicked her hair off her shoulders. She glanced around the restaurant before leaning in and speaking quietly.

“I thought talking over dinner would be less conspicuous.”

“Margaux, I plead with you to never attempt a career in espionage,” he said, pitying her attempt to be discreet.

“Okay fine, I wanted to discuss something with you. But first, I need to tell you something…”

“Ugh you’re not pregnant, are you?” he grimaced.

“How the bloody hell could I be pregnant? I haven’t had sex since…” she began to count on her fingers before giving up. “Well you know, you were there.”

“I just noticed what could be a few early signs.” He nodded towards her chest.

“My breasts? Sherlock this isn’t because of pregnancy, I’m just wearing my good bra.”

“I also identified a possible swelling in the ankles.”

She looked down at her feet. “They’re just my ankles.”

“It seems my deductions drew the wrong conclusion. Shame. I was spot on with Mary.”

“Mm,” she replied, unamused. “Anyway, what I–”

“May I take your order?” A waiter interrupted.

They chose their food and ordered more drinks, giving up on the wine and opting for brandy and gin. The waiter nodded, taking their menus and hurrying away to the bar.

“You were saying…” said Sherlock.

“Yes. Erm. Well, a few months ago, I accepted a job offer…”

He raised his eyebrows, willing her to spit it out.

“From Mycroft,” she finished.

“What!? Doing what?”

“If I told you I’d have to kill you?”

“You’re terrible at this.”

“Yes, I know. But I really can’t discuss what I do in a public place. All I–”

“You’re resigning,” he interrupted as he sat up straight, his tone growing more irate as he continued to speak. “You’re not working for him anymore. I specifically told him to never– When I see him I’m going to– And you! Why would you accept it!?”

“Sherlock, this is all beside the point. The only reason I told you this is so I can explain how I know what I know.”

“What do you know?”

“I was there today, when you were talking to Mycroft…”

They glared at each other.

“Thorn74. A.G.R.A?” she finally said.

Sherlock took a deep breath, his nostrils flaring and his jaw clenching tightly. When he looked like this, it almost scared her. Like he was possessed by his own anger.

He exhaled and began to speak calmly. “You read her file?”

“Yes. All of it.”

“And?”

“And nothing. My opinion of her hasn’t changed.” She took another sip of wine. “I’ve been through things in my life, done things I would never dream of doing today. Granted, I’ve never assassinated anyone, but my past is far from clean. I would hate to think that after all the hard work I’ve put in to changing, all the sacrifices I’ve made to become the person I am today, that my future husband could stop loving me because of the person I used to be.”

“John still loves her. I understand how I may appear to have sabotaged their marriage. But I set him up to find out about her past because he needed to know. If I was going to take her case then it was imperative that he knew. He will come around.”

“I know. I believe you did what you did for a reason. You know John better than anyone and I trust that you know what you’re doing.” She gave a sigh before leaning in slowly. “What I don’t trust… is Magnussen.”

The waiter brought them their starters and new drinks. Margaux took her time folding a napkin, laying it across her lap and taking a large gulp of gin and tonic. Sherlock sat like a marble statue, cold and still as he waited for her to continue.

“The man is dangerous,” she finally said as she tucked into her food. “I read about him too. He uses information – life-destroying information – like some sort of insurance against people.”

“Yes, I know. Now you see why I’ve been so focused on him.”

“I do. That’s why I wanted to speak to you… We need to stop him.”

“Oh yes, thank you Margaux, I hadn’t thought of that.” He rolled his eyes and stuffed a forkful of food in his mouth.

She kicked him gently under the table. “I know you’re working on it. But I want to help. We both know that he’s not going to give up the information he has on Mary. Not unless you make it worth his while by trading him something more valuable.” She looked around the restaurant. “So I was thinking Mycroft’s–”

“Laptop. Yes, I’ve been working out a plan for weeks.”

They thought more similarly than Sherlock would ever care to admit. She was sharp and he was logical, yet their biggest difference lay in her warmth; in her kind intentions and unwavering loyalty.

“Well now you have me, I can help,” she said.

“No.”

“What do you mean no? She’s my friend too and I want to help put an end to–”

He shook his head. “I’m not putting you at risk. I can’t.”

“What risk? It’s a laptop.” She smiled.

“Mycroft isn’t the risk, Margaux. You said yourself Magnussen is dangerous. He identifies–”

“Pressure points – and I’m one of yours. I remember.”

“Exactly. Being involved with me almost got you killed by Moriarty. I’d be a fool to make you vulnerable to Magnussen.”

“Then what can I do? Anything?”

“You really want to help her, don’t you.”

“Of course I do.”

“Then just… be there for her.” He winced at the soppiness of his words. “When the time is right, I’ll move forward with my plan.”

“What if he doesn’t accept a trade?”

“I don’t know.”

“If he doesn’t accept a trade, I suppose the only thing left to do is kill him…”

The silence between them was heavy and intense. They looked at each other across the table, examining each other’s eyes as Margaux’s comment lingered in the air.

“I’m joking…” she reassured.

“Yes. Yes of course.”

No more words were shared over their starters. Instead they ate quietly, allowing the sounds of the restaurant to fade in like white noise as they exchanged glances and accidentally brushed legs beneath the table.

 

III

 

Their main courses were placed in front of them. Margaux thanked the waiter while Sherlock didn’t acknowledge his presence. The people skills, she thought, still lacking.

“So…” Sherlock began. “You really want me to believe that you asked me to dinner just to discuss Charles Magnussen?”

She swallowed a mouthful of food. “Not just that. I wanted to spend time with you too. Two birds, one stone.” She shrugged.

He sank into silence again, his brow furrowing as he stared at the flame of the candle.

“Look,” she began. “I’m sorry for snooping into things–”

“No, it’s not that. I’m just so angry with Mycroft. I explicitly told him to never involve you in anything that could get you in trouble or hurt. If anything ever happened to you I’d–” He stopped himself.

The cogs in his head were fighting again. This time, the one that felt for her almost won. He couldn’t let that happen.

Margaux bit down on her bottom lip as she gazed at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Protective Sherlock is quite sexy.” She laughed.

“Protective Sherlock is furious.”

“Which is also, arguably, quite sexy. I should put myself in danger more often.”

“Why would you do that?”

“That was another joke.”

He lifted his brandy glass, examining the golden-brown liquid as it swilled amongst the ice cubes. “You’re lucky you’re beautiful, Margaux, because you’re not very funny.” He took a sip.

She felt another jolt in her stomach. The word ‘beautiful’ on Sherlock’s lips was so alien, yet so satisfying.

“I think that’s the first time you’ve ever called me beautiful. Is this… are we making progress?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I’ve told you you’re beautiful before.”

“No you haven’t.” she scoffed.

“Alright, well I’ve thought it.”

“Thanks?”

 

III

 

London was draped in darkness and the candle on their table was almost burnt to the base. They sipped on another round of drinks while their meal settled in their stomachs, watching the rain as it drizzled down the window next to them.

“I feel like there’s a lot I don’t know about you. I feel like I only know what you want me to know.” said Margaux. The gin burned in her throat, igniting a confidence she never knew was there.

“What do you want to know?”

“A lot.”

“Well then ask.”

“And you’ll answer? Honestly and without editing yourself?”

“Yes.”

“And you won’t deflect? Or refuse? You won’t dismiss me?”

“No.”

He watched as she shifted excitedly in her seat, tilting her head from side-to-side and rolling her shoulders as if preparing to run a race. He glanced at her exposed collar bones as she moved – delicate, sensitive, will elicit sexual pleasure if kissed in the correct spot. He shook the mental note away, returning from his momentary visit to the mind palace.

“Okay,” she said with a nod. “Were you a mummy’s boy?”

“Yes... against my will.”

“You said you wouldn’t edit your answers.”

He sighed. “Sorry, yes.”

“What were you like as a teenager?”

“Like this but skinnier. The occasional spot.”

“The ‘occasional’ spot.”

“I always got a single big painful spot right here.” He pointed above his nose between his brows, cracking a smile at the thought. “Always in the same place. And another one here.” He pointed to the corner of his mouth. “My mother always tried to squeeze it, even against my protests.”

“Do you think we would have got along as teenagers?”

“It depends. What were you like?”

“Like this but skinnier,” she repeated.

He rolled his eyes.

“Underweight. Eyebrows that met in the middle, completely un-ironically interested in serial killers and crime. Listened to nothing but Crowded House and The Verve while smoking cigarettes out my bedroom window.”

“What’s changed?” He joked.

She was still petite, though no longer underweight, with dark, fluffy eyebrows. And he had found her on more than one occasion smoking a cigarette out of the window of her flat, her favourite songs playing softly from her stereo.

Margaux laughed. “Oh, and my hair was really long, like really stupidly long. People would tie it in a knot around the back of my chair in college so that when I stood up, I’d almost break my neck.”

“Despicable.”

“People are arse holes... So do you think we’d have been friends?”

“I think we’d have shared a silent glance of understanding across the canteen at lunch.”

She gave a nod. That would do fine.

“Next question,” he said.

“If you’d have been there when I gave birth, what name would you have suggested for the baby?”

“Hm, I don’t know. I’ll think of some names for the next one instead.”
“The next one!?”

“Well it only makes sense given how well our genes combined the first time.”

“It’s not some biological business agreement,” she laughed, attempting to mask her horror.

“Maybe it should be; I’ve always wondered what my bone structure would look like on a girl.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Next question,” he said again as he took a sip of brandy.

“Did you agree to come to dinner with me because you felt like you had to?”

“Yes. I felt I owed it to you.”

“You owed it to me... So you’re here for me, not you?”

“Can it not be both?”

“Yes, yes of course.”

“Next question.”

She became quiet for a moment, watching as he tilted his almost empty glass into his mouth, his lips slick with brandy.

She cleared her throat. “The first time we ever... You called it an experiment. Was that true?”

“At the time I believed so. But now I don’t.”

“Did you sleep with me to prove a point? To prove that you could if you wanted to?”

He thought about his answer for a moment. “You frustrated me. You still do.”

“Sorry about that,” she giggled.

“I’d never experienced frustration manifest itself as... desire before. I wanted you to stop talking, but I wanted to make you stop talking.”

Her breath hitched. He continued, seemingly unaware of his affect.

“I never made room in my mind for love, sex, attraction, because it was unnecessary - took up space, and you had the nerve to sit with your back to me and tell me I was wrong. That was... sexy?” He grimaced at the word, disliking himself greatly for using it. “You drew it out of me; ignited a fire in a part of me I never knew existed. I was angry with you for making me feel it, so I wanted you to feel it. In my touch, on your lips, between your legs...”

Margaux made an audible gasp. He raised an eyebrow.

“You don’t even realise what your words can do–”

“I know exactly what they do.” He allowed an ever-so-slight smirk to tug at the corners of his mouth. “Maybe we should move on to your next question.”

She waited a moment before speaking. “Was I your first?”

“What do you mean?”

“Was I the first person you ever...”

“That’s a juvenile question.”

“If it’s juvenile then it should be easy to answer. Yes or no, did you lose your virginity to me?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

“Did you lose your virginity to me?”

Margaux laughed into her gin before realising he was serious. “Oh...” She placed her glass down, trying to be serious too. “No.”

He accepted her answer with a nod.

She looked around the restaurant, noticing the staff beginning to clean up.

“I’m going to go and pay the bill. I’ll meet you outside.” She stood up and smiled.

He watched her walk away. The back of her dress draped low, revealing a trail of bare skin from the base of her neck to the middle of her back. Her back – soft, ticklish, will arch when– Once again, he shook the thought away. Must. Not. Go. There. He got up and walked to the door, taking both of their coats from the rack and pushing through the large doors into the cold, wet night.

“Do you want to walk a bit?” her voice appeared behind him. “I wouldn’t mind a cigarette before we hail a cab.”

He nodded and they began to walk down the street.

She placed a cigarette between her lips before offering him one.

He slid one out of the box. “Terrible habit,” he tutted.

“Well I only do it when I’ve been drinking or when I’m stressed, and I’ve just been to dinner with Sherlock Holmes so I’m pretty much both,” she teased.

They walked down a few streets as they smoked and barely talked. She felt uneasy in her heeled shoes on the broken pavements, taking his arm without a word. Smiling to herself when he neither protested nor pulled away.

III

They knocked at Mrs Hudson’s flat. She opened the door slowly to stop it from creaking, smiling as she laid eyes on the pair.

“Oh, don’t you two look wonderful together,” she whispered.

Sherlock rolled his eyes, disregarding her comment. “Judging by your whispering, it is clear that our son is asleep in there.”

“Yes, he drifted off about an hour or so ago. I just wrapped him up and popped him in my bed. I don’t mind keeping him for the night; seems a shame to wake him.”

“Are you sure? I’m sorry we’re so late, I didn’t mean for you to have to put him to bed,” said Margaux apologetically.

“Don’t be silly, dear. He’s a pleasure to look after. I’ll keep him, you go on and have a good night’s sleep.”

They wished each other goodnight and Mrs Hudson closed the door. The distinctive sound of a chain lock rattled from inside her flat. Margaux walked down the hall towards the front door and Sherlock turned to make his way upstairs, stopping on the first step. She turned to look at him.

“I’ll see you in the morning?” she said.

“Yes. Would you like me to wait with you until you get into a cab?”

She shook her head. “I’ll be fine. I’m going to call a private hire so I’ll just wait here until it turns up.”

“Ah.” He nodded, glancing up the staircase.

Margaux folded her arms and shifted her weight from one foot to another. “Y’know, I’ve been thinking about the thing you said earlier, about wanting to remove a person’s clothes when you like how they look in them...”

“Yes, a rather strange paradox,” Sherlock replied.

“Mhm.”

They stood feet away from each other, their eyes boring through the dimly-lit hall and fixating on each other. Margaux could feel her heart beating in her throat, Sherlock was sure he could hear it.

They rushed towards each other with a desperate hunger, their lips colliding roughly as if life poured from the other’s mouth. Their fingertips traced the maps of each other bodies with familiarity; his fists balling in her hair as her hands grasped the back of his neck. They stumbled up the stairs in a chaos of kisses and heavy breaths, teeth and tongues, fingernails and goosebumps, when Sherlock lost his footing near the top of the stairs causing him to fall backwards into the bannister. Margaux pressed her body against his, pinning him to the rail as she traced kisses along his jaw and began to undo the first few buttons of his shirt.

Control. His sociopathic nature craved it in all aspects of his life. It fuelled him, comforted him, and this was no different. As his collar popped free and he felt her lips on his neck, the heady mix of desire for control and desire for her took over. He grabbed her by the arms and lifted her onto the step above him, bringing him face to chest, eyes to collar bones - delicate, sensitive, will elicit sexual pleasure when kissed... he leaned in, trailing his teeth gently across them until she let out a soft hum of pleasure that weakened her knees. She placed her hands on his face, pulling his lips up to meet hers as they continued their clumsy journey up the stairs and along the landing until they reached the door of 221B. He pushed her back against the door, harder than he had meant to. She gasped.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, cupping her face in his hands and placing a soft kiss on her parted lips. “Did I hurt you?”

She shook her head, returning the kiss with a reassuring smile and reaching for the door handle behind her.

They stumbled into the flat. Margaux closed the door behind them and lead him to his armchair where she pushed him down and straddled his lap. His fingers clutched at her thighs as their lips met again.

“Anyone want a cuppa?” John’s voice bellowed from the kitchen like cold water on a roaring fire.

Margaux jumped, almost letting out a scream, before turning to see John sitting at the kitchen table holding up a mug as if he were toasting to them. It took a moment or two for the realisation to kick in. Sherlock sighed as Margaux climbed off him and fixed her dress.

“For god’s sake, John,” she said, embarrassment flushing her cheeks.

“Next time, maybe scan a room before you decide to have sex in it?” he replied.

“Excellent advice John, thank you,” said Sherlock.

Margaux reluctantly made her way to the kitchen and sat down opposite him.

“You coming over too?” John called into the living room.

Sherlock very carefully and gently crossed one leg over the other. “You’ll have to… give me a minute.”

John let out a small laugh and Margaux let her forehead fall to the table. If she thought hard enough, surely she would melt away into it? That way she could spare herself the humiliation of the next few hours.

Chapter Text

Sherlock finally stood up from his armchair and walked to the kitchen. He fastened the buttons of his shirt, hastily covering up the places she had kissed, as if her lips had left scars – brandings of his weakness.

“I’m sensing this is a bad time,” said John as he watched him flick the switch on the kettle to re-boil it.

“Not at all,” he replied.

The two men turned to Margaux as she sat quietly, her forehead still glued to the table.

“Not a bad time, is it Margaux…” Sherlock pressed.

“No of course not,” she sat up. “I haven’t had sex since May, but you wanted to pop ‘round for tea at half past ten so…” she gave John a sarcastic smile.

“I apologise,” he laughed. “But if it’s any consolation, I’m pretty sure what I just witness will scar me for life.”

Sherlock poured hot water into his mug. “Tea, Margaux?”

“I think I should just go. I’ll be back in the morning for Vaughan.” She stood up.

“You don’t have to go. There’s a perfectly good spare bed–”

“’Spare bed’,” John scoffed. “Like you weren’t about to do it in your armchair five minutes ago.”

“And that, John, is why I’m leaving. The moment’s gone; the cloud of desire has lifted and he’s no longer interested,” she said.

Sherlock stared at her blankly. He assumed he was missing her point, but he didn’t care much to try and understand.

“I can be alone and sexually frustrated from the comfort of my own bed at home. No need to do it here. Goodnight, boys.”

She walked out of the flat and picked up her coat from the floor where Sherlock had hastily stripped it from her only ten minutes earlier. She thought about the story of Jekyll and Hyde and how much it reminded her of Sherlock; the intelligent, tormented doctor who wore his hair neat and his posture proper, who inside of him resided Hyde – the impulsive monster. She wished Sherlock’s Hyde had stuck around a little longer that night. 

III

They waited until they heard the front door slam shut. John walked to the window and watched as Margaux climbed inside a taxi on the road below. He sighed and re-joined Sherlock at the table.

“Listen I’m sorry for ruining your night. If I’d have thought there was even the slightest possibility that I’d be interrupting... that. I wouldn’t have come.”

“Don’t be sorry, John. It was a lapse of judgement on my part – shouldn’t have happened.”

“Wha- why not?”

“Because all of this... This ‘leaving the kids with a babysitter so mummy and daddy can have date night’. That’s not me. I wasn’t meant for any of this. Giving in to physical urges and lust... I can’t lose focus like that anymore.”

“Lose focus from what? Being Sherlock Holmes? You know you’d still be you, right? Sharing your life with someone wouldn’t make you any less… you,” said John. “Also, just because you’ve built yourself up to be this cold, pragmatic loner doesn’t mean you have to stay that way forever. It’s okay to change.”

“But I haven’t changed.”

“Look mate, you can never predict a woman like Margaux Cave walking into your life.”

“What do you take me for, John?” he scoffed. “I’m not some simple man who loses all comprehension the second a pretty girl shows interest.”

“I’m not just talking about her looks, Sherlock. I’m talking about her. She’s perfect for you. I don’t know how to put it into words, you’re just... you’re fire and ice. You’ve met your match in each other, yet when you come together, that intensity creates…”

“A big puddle of water? Great analogy.”

“You become... one,” John sighed.

Sherlock deflected John’s romanticism with an eye-roll that was almost audible. He let out a huff and leant back in his chair.

“And she’s the mother of your child. That means something,” John finished.

“It means we’re two fertile adults.”

“It means that against all the obstacles you put in place to stop people getting close to you, she somehow got through. Enough to create life with you.”

“Hmm that’s very good, John. Tell me, when did you last spend time with the woman who created life with you?”

“That’s not fair.”

“Isn’t it? Have you looked at the USB yet?”

John took a gulp of his lukewarm tea. “No, I haven’t.”

“Why?”

“Because I... I don’t know if I want to.”

“Then why have you brought it in your pocket?”

“How did you–”

Sherlock stood up, threw his mug into the sink and walked off towards his bedroom. “If you can’t face going home tonight then your old bed is available, since Margaux didn’t take up the offer.”

John slid his hand in the pocket of his jeans and touched the USB, wondering what deductions Sherlock had made to know he was carrying it with him. He pondered how even after all this time, he could still be so easily steered into changing the conversation. Even when he felt like he was leading, he knew he never really was. Sherlock was in control. Always. And it was infuriating.

Sherlock slipped off his shoes and unbuttoned his shirt. His belt had already been undone. When did she do that? He took off his trousers and climbed into bed, pulling the plain white sheet right over his head. He sighed as he curled up on his side, glaring at the vacant space next to him. His bed had never felt empty before.

III

September was a stony, grey bridge leading summer towards autumn. On one side was a clear blue sky, clouds of pollen in a warm breeze. On the other resided dark evenings and rain pattering on crisp brown leaves. September was much like its bridge; stony and grey, growing colder and duller with each day that passed. It had been two weeks since their dinner. Neither of them spoke of that night again, partly because of the feelings of embarrassment that had attached themselves to the memory, but mostly because she was sure he had expelled it from his mind; forgotten it, as easily as a dream that fades as soon as you wake up.
Margaux stood in the lab of St Bart’s Hospital, leaning against the cabinets in the corner of the room with her arms folded across her chest. She looked out of the window, her gaze skimming the tops of scaffolding that wrapped itself around the building opposite. She watched as a pair of builders began their slow, careful descent down the scaffolding ladders, wondering if they would survive a fall from this height should their feet slip. She leant towards the window and tilted her head upwards, attempting to see the edge of the hospital roof from where she stood; she wondered how he survived the fall, or if he even fell at all. She knew he would never reveal the answer.

Molly walked through the door with an exasperated sigh. Her face was flushed from the harsh wind, a thick scarf bundled around her neck and tucked into her buttoned-up coat. She took off her hat and smoothed her ponytail with the palm of her hand.

“I didn’t think I’d have to put on a hat and scarf this early in the year,” she joked.

“I know, I always forget how unpredictable the weather is this time of year. The sun will be splitting the pavement by midday,” Margaux replied as she continued to gaze out of the window.

Molly gave a polite laugh as she hung up her coat and scarf. “When you said that you were coming in today, I didn’t think you meant first thing in the morning.” She took her lab coat from the cupboard and slipped it on as she spoke.

“Well I woke up at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep, and Vaughan was sleeping over at Baker Street so I just… got up and came here.”

“Oh. Something on your mind?”

“Just this case Mycroft’s put me on.” She rubbed her eyes. “I just need to get it over and done with before it drives me completely insane.”

“What is it? I could always help. I- I mean, if you need me to.”

“I have to fake someone’s death. Oh, the irony!” She laughed.

The laugh reminded Molly of the time before they were friends; when she could never remember Margaux’s name and knew her simply as Dr Cave – the strange one – the one who would request corpses from the morgue so nonchalantly it was as if she were ordering lunch, who would laugh at her own joke in the middle of the lab, who would sing along to music and sway her hips while examining the DNA samples of murderers. Everyone always commended Sherlock on his minuscule steps towards sociability. However, it was as if the change in Margaux had slipped by undetected; she had softened and somehow toughened at the same time. She was kind and funny, a loyal friend, a protective mother. Yet there was still a spark of strange in her, Molly thought, an endearing, peculiar quality.

“Y-Y… You have to…” Molly stammered.

“I have to fake someone’s death.” She lifted a manila folder from the counter beside her and read the first page inside. “Julien Amadio.”

“W-why?”

“Mycroft won’t tell me a thing. Clearly this is something too classified, even for the people orchestrating the whole thing.”

Molly sat down in her desk chair and cleared her throat. “Erm…”

“I know you can never tell me how you did it. So, I won’t ask.”

Molly breathed an internal sigh of relief and she felt the muscles in her shoulders relax. She swivelled the chair to face Margaux. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

There was a long silence before Margaux spoke again.

“I will need a body though, if you can get one for me,” she said chirpily. “40 to 45 years old, 5ft 10, 196 pounds, medium skin tone, dark hair…”

There’s the strange again, Molly thought with a smile.

By midday the sun was gleaming as it warmed the air and dried the pavements. Margaux had gained everything she needed for her job within an hour of Molly arriving, yet she had decided to stick around. She pulled up a stool and propped her elbows on the worktop, resting her chin on her fists as she watched Molly work. They talked about their favourite things, their best and worst memories, their opinions on trivial pop-culture dramas and celebrity scandals. It was nice to talk about something other than work.

Margaux checked her watch. “Do you want to go for lunch?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I can’t. I’d really love to though. I just can’t leave because…” Molly gestured to the abundance of tests and paperwork in front of her.

“It’s okay, don’t worry. I’m going to head off before the weather changes again. If you need an extra pair of hands just call me.”

“I thought you weren’t a pathologist,” Molly joked.

“I’m not. But I’m pretty slick with a pair of gloves and a petri dish.”

They shared a smile as Margaux took her coat from the hanger and left.

III

Sherlock stood in the shower with his arms outstretched, palms flat against the cold tiles. His head was stooped, the water pattering against the back of his head and trickling down his face. He ran a hand over the scar on his torso, grazing the bump of thickened skin with his fingertips; he was sure he could still feel it aching, but perhaps that was just the memory.
The water began to run cold – Mrs Hudson still hadn’t had the boiler repaired. He sighed as he reached for the dial to shut the water off when suddenly the shower curtain whipped open, revealing two men in dark suits standing in his bathroom. He turned his head to look at them through the wet locks of hair that had stuck to his face.

“Gentlemen,” he regarded them plainly, as if not startled by their presence at all.

One man leant over and turned the water off, while the other grabbed Sherlock roughly and heaved him out of the bath.

.

He stood in the living room with his hands covering his crotch, water still dripping from his bare skin.

“Can you at least get me my robe?”

Mycroft nodded towards one of his men, sending him to retrieve it from the bedroom. Sherlock glared at his brother who was sitting in his armchair, one leg crossed over the other.

In the doorway, Mrs Hudson let out a squeal, followed by the deafening crash of the tea tray hitting the floor. “Oh, Sherlock, have some decency!” her voice quivered.

“You say that, Mrs Hudson, yet I notice you still haven’t looked away,” he replied.

She huffed and tutted, averting her eyes as she began cleaning up the mess.

The man returned and handed Sherlock his robe. He slipped it on and tied it tightly around his waist before stepping towards Mycroft and clearing his throat. Mycroft rolled his eyes and stood up, moving aside for Sherlock to sit in his armchair.

They sat opposite each other as Mrs Hudson brought a fresh tray of tea to their side. She blushed as she exchanged a glance with Sherlock.

“Calm down, Mrs Hudson, you may have a pulmonary,” he said as he sighed and pulled his robe tighter across his chest.

She hurried back downstairs to her own flat where Vaughan was napping, leaving them glaring at each other in silence.

It took several minutes for Mycroft to finally break. “Well I’m pleased to know you’re alive. I was starting to get somewhat worried,” he said dryly.

“Somewhat worried. This is just… somewhat worried?”

“Well what did you expect me to do, little brother? You haven’t been returning my messages, and it’s been over two weeks.”

“So, you had the Kray twins ambush me in the shower…”

“I brought them for precaution. You see, by now I’m accustomed to your unpredictability and lack of willpower.”

“I haven’t used in months.”

“Congratulations. Would you like a celebratory coin? Perhaps a sash?”

“What do you want, Mycroft?”

“To know why you’re ignoring me.”

“Your neediness is sickening.”

“Not needy. Just curious.”

Sherlock poured himself a cup of tea and lifted it to his lips. His brow sat heavy over his eyes as he scowled at his brother.

“I warned you…” he began. “I warned you to never involve her in your work.”

“Ah,” Mycroft responded as he bit into a biscuit. “Because your work is much safer.”

Sherlock stopped for a moment, catching his angry rebuttal before it had a chance to surface. Instead, he sighed.

“I want you to fire her,” he said.

“Now why would I do that?”

“Because she has no business working for you. I don’t even understand why you would go out of your way to offer her a job!”

“Short answer: I wanted to. I wanted to provide her and Vaughan with financial security. I wanted to be able to guarantee her safety while also having access to her expertise–”

“Her safety? Why?”

“Well believe it or not, Sherlock, but the wellbeing of my nephew is of the upmost importance to me.”

“Forgive me for finding that hard to believe, considering this is the first time I’ve actually heard you refer to him as your nephew.” He took a sip of tea. “Mycroft, if this is some ridiculously elaborate way of telling me they’re in danger–”

“Not at all.”

“Then. Fire. Her.” He spoke through gritted teeth as he stood up. “Also leave. I’m cold and I’d like to get dressed.”

“Very well,” replied Mycroft. He walked out of flat, followed by the two suited men.

Sherlock shook his wet hair like a dog, shuddering as drops of water snuck under his robe and trickled down his back.

Chapter Text

Margaux decided to deliver lunch to Molly. She knew her well and was almost certain that if she were too busy to leave the lab, that meant her lunch would consist of a cereal bar and a fizzy drink from the vending machine.

She joined the queue in the hospital cafeteria and took her phone from her pocket as she waited.

‘How are my two favourite boys? I am of course referring to Vaughan and John.’ She sent her text with a grin.

After a moment, her phone buzzed in her hand.

‘Ha. Ha. Ha. Hilarious.’ Even his texts dripped with sarcasm. ‘John isn’t here and I haven’t seen Vaughan in a couple of hours. I assume he is fine.’

‘Well that’s not concerning???’

‘What you just said was not a question. Why the question marks?’

She huffed as she read his text, shuffling up the line as she typed her reply. ‘Here’s a question: Where is my son?’

‘Sleeping downstairs.’

She let out a giggle as a mix of realisation and relief washed over her.

‘I’ll be home soon–’ She stopped typing, deleting her words slowly. ‘I’ll be at your flat soon. Just taking Molly some lunch x’ She stepped up to the counter, ordered and paid, before checking her phone again.

‘Lunch sounds good. Bring lunch.’

Margaux put her phone away and stood aside as she waited for her order. She glanced up to see a familiar dimpled smile approaching her.

“Margaux?”

“Doct– Oliver? Hi!”

Oliver Grant hadn’t changed at all in the years since she had last seen him, except for the horn-rimmed glasses that now adorned his face. He pushed them up his nose as he spoke.

“How are you?” he asked.

“I- I’m… yeah I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m good too. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve ran into you here. When I stopped seeing you around I assumed you’d moved away or something.”

“Oh, no I left the investigative field for a while.”

“Ah,” he nodded. “So, what do you do now?”

“Erm well…” she cleared her throat. “If I told you I’d have to kill you.”

Oliver burst into laughter. Margaux thought about when she used the same joke on Sherlock at dinner; 'You’re terrible at this', he had said, his face cold and stern. But Oliver was warm with genuine amusement, even though her joke really was terrible.

“What about you?” she continued. “I’ve been visiting the labs for a while and haven’t seen you around.”

“Yeah I just transferred back last month. I was working over in Essex.”

“Oh really? Why Essex?”

“I, er, I moved to be closer to my girlfriend.”

“Oh,” she nodded as she took her order from the server. “Well,” she continued, gesturing to the cartons of hot food in her hands. “I better get this up to Molly. It was nice seeing you, Oliver.”

“You too,” he smiled. “Actually, Margaux… I just finished for the day. Do you want to go for a coffee? We never did go on that date.”

“Oh, I’d love to but I can’t, I have to head straight home.” She said it again. Home. Why did she keep calling it home?

“Well if you want someone to sit with at the bus stop, I’ll be there,” he smiled.

 

III

 

The car pulled away from the kerb smoothly. Mycroft settled back and pulled the seatbelt across his front. That didn’t go well, he thought, as he watched London go by through the tinted window. Sherlock’s anger had almost been palpable, and his need to protect Margaux and his son was almost instinctive, second nature. As if his ability to feel had lay dormant for his whole life, and Margaux had woken it.

He thought back to his conversation with her, in the café almost a year ago:

'My brother is reckless. He lacks empathy. He's a loner, an addict, and I think your son–'

'Who is also your nephew.'

'Would do better in his absence.'

He sighed at the memory; the harshness of his words.

'It is how we work best, Margaux. From a distance.'

Perhaps he was wrong.

 

III

 

Margaux rummaged through her bag as she stood in the middle of the street. Her hair blew wildly in the ferocious wind, catching in her eyelashes and sticking to her balmy lips. She grabbed a stray hair tie from the bottom of her bag and pulled her hair into a bun before continuing her walk down the street. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in a shop window, wondering why she could never seem to achieve the ‘effortless up-do’ effect that so many women had mastered. Instead, she approached the bus stop feeling as though she resembled Miss Trunchbull from Matilda, or Gollum.

“Hello again,” a voice appeared beside her.

She turned to see Oliver standing with his hands in the pockets of his buttoned-up coat.

“Hi,” she smiled.

“You suit having your hair pulled back,” he said sincerely.

“Oh, thanks,” she replied before double checking her reflection in the bus stop window; nope, still Gollum-like.

“So,” Oliver continued. “Still can’t tempt you with a coffee?”

“Er…”

“You know what, I’m sorry. I’m being totally presumptuous assuming you’d still be single after all this time, I–”

“No, I am! Single, I mean. But…” she sighed. “Oliver it’s just not– you see… I have a little boy.” And a Sherlock, she added in her head.

He gave a slight nod.

“You don’t seem surprised,” she said.

“Well after the time you fell and hit your head and that doctor practically forced me to leave the examination, I was concerned because I didn’t hear anything about you afterwards.”

Margaux shuddered at the memory, suddenly remembering the feeling of a gun pressed against her head.

“So, I went back a couple of days later and checked over your bloodwork to make sure everything was fine. Turns out you were pregnant,” he finished jokingly.

“No way! Was I?” she joked back.

Oliver chuckled, sitting himself down on the cold metal bench in the bus stop. Margaux followed, sitting beside him.

“How’s motherhood treating you?” he asked.

She shrugged. “It’s not something I ever thought I’d do. But I couldn’t imagine my life without him now. What about you? Any kids?”

“Nah. My girlfriend and I talked about trying for a baby but we never found the right time. Now she’s my ex-girlfriend so I guess it's a good job we never did.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be. If that hadn’t ended, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now.” He looked down at her and smiled.

She smiled up at him, feeling a blush beginning to warm her cheeks.

 

III

 

Sherlock sat cross-legged on the floor of the living room. Vaughan sat opposite him with his small legs outstretched, watching as his father held up a large poster of the periodic table.

“Now, this one?” said Sherlock as he pointed to a square on the poster.

Vaughan stared at his father blankly.

Sherlock sighed. “It’s Iridium.”

Margaux walked into the flat and placed a brown paper bag on the arm of the couch, cocking her head to one side as she watched them curiously.

“Right, let’s go back to an easy one.” He pointed to another square. “Au?”

Vaughan glared at the square for a moment. “Gowd,” he finally said softly.

“Good! Yes! Gold!”

Margaux cleared her throat. “Er, Sherlock?”

“Oh, hello Margaux.”

“Hi… What are you doing?”

“Well we’ve surpassed colours, numbers, the alphabet, all the childish stuff–”

“Childish? He’s only two.”

“I wanted to try something more challenging. The solar system proved too easy so we’ve moved on to this.”

“Again, he’s two,” she said as she joined them on the floor. “Also, don’t think I haven’t noticed you trying to brainwash him into loving chemistry.”

“Well it’s better than ‘forensics’,” Sherlock air-quoted with a mocking voice.

Margaux raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry,” he said quickly as he rose to his feet and walked over to the bag. “Lunch, excellent,” he checked his watch. “Though, now it’s more of an early dinner.”

“Yeah, sorry. I got chatting to someone outside St Bart’s. Oliver Grant, have you met him? He’s a doctor there.”

Sherlock carried the bag into the kitchen and began dishing out the food. His ears pricked, noticing the change in her voice; the way it inflected differently, cracked in the wrong places. She was holding something back.

“I don’t believe I have,” he said calmly.

“Well he’s nice. He seems to still really like me, even after so many years. I think I might invite him to my birthday–”

“Are you coming to get your food or am I to serve it to you like a waiter?” he interrupted crudely.

She stood up with a huff and marched to the kitchen. “Well considering I took a detour on my way here just to pick this up for you, Sherlock, I’d say walking my plate three feet across the room shouldn’t have been too difficult of a task.”

 

They sat at the dining table eating quietly, the only sounds being the clattering of forks against plates and Vaughan’s enthusiastic mumbling as he picked at his food, most of it ending up on the table itself. Sherlock and Margaux continued to glance at each other, always missing the other’s eyes by seconds. She purposely kicked her foot against his leg. But instead of reacting, he simply tucked his legs tighter under his own chair.

“So…” she began. “You’re really sulking because I said Oliver fancies me.”

“Actually, you said he ‘likes’ you. But good to know physical attraction is present also,” he replied.

“Yes. It is,” she said, deciding to fight fire with fire. “I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be fancied.”

“Well I’m pleased for you.”

“You didn’t deny it… You are sulking, aren't you.”

They finally locked eyes, neither wanting to be the first to look away. Sherlock was beginning to understand what John had meant when he said they were a match for one another – fire and ice – her amber and his blue meeting in a fierce glare, almost connecting in the space between them.

Their silent battle was interrupted by Vaughan knocking over his cup and spilling juice down his front. Margaux jumped up and reached for a roll of kitchen towels.

“Oh it’s okay, love, don’t cry,” she said, trying to sooth her now crying toddler. “Sherlock, can you see to him while I clean this up?”

He put his fork down reluctantly and stood up, scooping Vaughan into his arms and removing his wet clothes. He carried him into the bedroom to change him as Margaux patted and wiped down the table and floor.

A knock at the door interrupted her cleaning.

“Sorry,” said Mrs Hudson from the doorway, before stepping aside and allowing Greg Lestrade to enter the flat.

“Hi Greg,” said Margaux breathlessly.

“Hi, Margaux. Is, er, is Sherlock here?”

Sherlock returned from the bedroom with his freshly changed son still in his arms.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said Lestrade as he stepped towards them with his hands in his pockets.

“Oh, don’t be, trust me,” he replied.

Margaux gave Sherlock a sarcastic smile. Vaughan giggled.

“Was wondering if you’d mind coming down to the station,” Lestrade continued. “A teenage girl’s gone missing and her parents just received a ransom note.”

“I suppose,” he huffed as he grabbed his coat. “Margaux, call John and have him meet me there.”

“I’m not your secretary.”

“Oh just call him, Margaux,” Sherlock continued, before walking out the door.

“Erm… Sherlock, I think you’re forgetting something,” she called from inside the flat.

He stopped on the landing and turned around. “Hm?”

“Maybe put the baby down?”

He looked down at Vaughan, almost recoiling in horror as he realised he was still carrying him. He put him on the floor and patted his head awkwardly.

Perhaps he was growing too accustomed to the role of a father; his arms had become carriers, his chest a pillow, his hip a seat. His son’s presence had become so familiar that as he left the flat without him, he was overcome by a feeling in the pit of his stomach, the sensation that he had forgotten something.

Chapter Text

Mary lay back on the examination bed, letting out a small, slow exhale to calm her nerves. She turned her head to John who sat in a chair beside her. They exchanged an awkward smile; the kind of smile that happened between strangers passing in the street, not husband and wife as they waited in the ultrasound room.

The technician entered the room. She was fair skinned with pale lavender hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“Good morning! Have I got Mary Watson here?” she asked as she looked down at a folder in her hand.

“You do indeed,” Mary replied chirpily.

“Brill. And is this the father?”

“Yes, this is my husband John.”

John gave a polite wave.

“Lovely, okay, let’s get started,” said the technician as she pulled on her gloves.

Veins of silver and purple snaked up Mary’s stomach like tree branches. Her bump was expanding rapidly and it was clear she had grown uncomfortably large. She flinched as the cold gel hit her skin, relaxing again as the transducer pressed into her stomach.

“So, everything was fine at the last scan?”

“Yes, everything was perfect. I just haven’t felt any movement in a couple of days. They picked up a heartbeat but the midwife suggested an ultrasound too, just to make sure.”

The room settled into silence as the warped thud of a heartbeat played through the monitor followed by the shadowed image of their baby.

“Okay so today’s date: 8th October, you’re 26 weeks, measurements are fine, strong heartbeat…” said the technician as she clicked away on the keyboard, recording every detail. “And oh, look at that, baby Watson just rolled over.”

“Yep, I definitely felt that!” said Mary as she turned to John with relief.

He reached over and clasped her hand in his own. Was this progress? Mary wondered. She hoped so.

John’s phone began to beep loudly.

“Sorry,” he said as he pulled it from his pocket.

’Emergency. 17 Marylebone High Street. Come immediately. S.’

John shifted in his seat. “Erm…”

“Sherlock?”

“Yeah. I think he needs me. He said it’s an emergency. But I can–”

“Go,” she said with a genuine smile. “It’s fine, honestly. You should go.”

 

III

 

John rushed across the busy road with his hands in the pockets of his jacket. He hurried along the high street, following the numbers of each building until he reached 17. His brow furrowed as observed the name above the door before stepping inside and walking towards the back of the shop.

“What’s the emergency?” he asked.

“Ah, John, excellent,” replied Sherlock. “I need you to help me pick out a birthday card for Margaux.”

John’s concern turned to confusion, which quickly evolved into anger.

“You…” he gritted his teeth. “I left my pregnant wife in the middle of an ultrasound… to help you choose a birthday card?”

Sherlock looked down at John with a vacant expression. “Well it’s rather overwhelming,” he gestured to the rack of cards and began to read them. “’To an awesome person’, ‘To a great girl’, ‘my favourite colleague’, ‘for a wonderful friend’, ‘good friend’, ‘best friend’, ‘girlfriend’, ‘incredible girlfriend’, ‘beautiful girlfriend’, ‘one I love’, ‘fiancée’, ‘partner’, ‘wife’… It’s quite ridiculous.”

John sighed and began to speak before stopping himself. He knew Sherlock better than most people. He knew that something as simple as buying a greetings card, something most people did without thinking, was enough to make Sherlock’s brain combust. So, instead of scolding him, he decided to help.

“Well, first of all I think she’d actually hurt you if you gave her a card with ‘colleague’ on it.”

 

III

 

Sherlock slipped the small bag containing the cards into the inside breast pocket of his coat. He flicked up his collar and hailed a cab.

“Why you’ve left this until the day of her birthday, I will never know,” said John as he climbed in the cab behind him.

“I had other things to be doing.”

“Like what?”

“Like meeting with clients, working on Mary’s case, ignoring my brother. My schedule has been rather hectic, John.”

John rolled his eyes. “At least tell me you’ve called her to wish her a happy birthday…”

“Why would I do that? I’ll see her later.”

“Sherlock. You have to– You know what, get your phone out you’re going to text her now.”

He pulled out his phone and typed quickly.

‘Happy Birthday. S’ he showed John the message.

“You can’t send that. You need to make it more personal.”

‘Happy Birthday, Margaux. S’ he showed him again.

“Oh, give it here, will you,” said John, snatching the phone from his hand.

‘Happy Birthday, Margaux. Have a wonderful day and I will see you soon. All my love, S. x’

Sherlock took the phone back and scoffed. “She’s very intelligent, John, you expect her to believe this was from me? Even Vaughan would know this wasn’t me and he can’t read.” He typed for a moment.

‘Happy Birthday, Margaux. I look forward to seeing you. S’

“Will this do?”

John nodded.

The cab pulled up outside a large department store. They climbed out and made their way inside.

 

III

 

Margaux rushed to her front door, opening it to a warm smile.

“Happy Birthday!” said Mary as she stood in the hall holding a purple glittery gift bag.

“Thank you!” she replied, showing her inside.

Mary walked into the living room, throwing herself down on the couch as gracefully as she could manage. Vaughan ran over to her excitedly.

“Careful, love, remember you’ve got to be gentle with aunty Mary,” said Margaux.

“Baby,” said Vaughan as he pointed to her swollen belly.

“That’s right,” Mary replied with a giggle.

Margaux sat on the couch and opened the gift bag, gasping as she pulled out a small box. She opened the box and slid out a lipstick, beautifully packed inside a heavy gold tube. She recognised it immediately; it was the one she had mentioned months ago as they wandered around the designer makeup counters.

“Oh, Mary! You shouldn’t have done this.”

“Do you like it?”

“Of course I do. But I can’t accept this, it’s just too expens–”

“But you like it, and you wanted it, and I had to convince John that you would prefer this to the ‘Grandma’ mug he picked out for you. So, Happy Birthday and shut up,” Mary grinned.

“Well thank you,” she said before leaning in for a hug. “So how was the scan? Everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. Hadn’t felt the baby move in days and then it rolls over the second she starts the scan. Typical.”

Margaux laughed. “When I was pregnant with Vaughan, if he ever stopped moving for too long I’d drink a glass of orange juice and within minutes he’d practically start dancing.”

“I’ll remember that,” Mary chuckled.

Margaux’s phone buzzed on the coffee table. “Sorry,” she said as she picked it up.

Mary noticed her expression as she looked down at the phone. “Everything okay?”

“Happy Birthday, Margaux. I look forward to seeing you. S,” she read aloud.

They looked at each other for a moment before sharing a laugh.

“Coming from Sherlock that’s practically a declaration of love,” said Mary.

“Either that or he’s been forced into it by John.”

Mary giggled before struggling to her feet. “Well I’ll let you get on and we’ll see you at Baker street later. I just wanted to stop by on my way home. See you later, Vee!”

They walked to the door. Margaux couldn’t help but thank her again for the gift before she left. She didn’t like to burden people with stories of her past, of the birthdays that would get ‘forgotten’, or the gifts that would be presented, only to be taken away or hidden from her soon after. She grasped the lipstick in her hand; it was truly the nicest gift she had ever gotten.

 

III

 

“This is impossible,” said Sherlock as he stood in the middle of the department store.

He was out of place – a dark, cloaked figure amid a sea of bright, happy people. He stood tall and rigid amongst the bustling crowds and pale marble floors, his dark hair windswept and curlier than usual, his heavy brow almost scowling as he looked around, unable to hide his disdain for the overwhelming floral scent wafting from the fragrance counters.

“What did you have in mind?” said John as he leaned forward to examine a silk nightdress hanging on a rack, confused by the see-through lace cut-outs on the breasts. “Well that’s not going to cover anything.”

“I didn’t have anything in mind.”

John gestured to the revealing nightdress.

“No,” said Sherlock sternly.

“Just a thought. Here, maybe ask a shop assistant for some advice?”

“Alright, very well.” He looked around before gliding over to a young girl in a formal shirt and nametag. “Excuse me, I’m purchasing a birthday present and require some advice.”

She looked up at him wide eyed. He knew the look; she recognised him.

“Sure…” she finally said.

“What would you suggest is an appropriate gift for a woman with whom you share a child and occasionally engage in sexual intercourse with?”

John bit his lip, trying hard to stop a smirk breaking through. He still enjoyed watching people interact with Sherlock for the first time.

“Erm… I…” she looked around awkwardly. “Maybe… Maybe a nice perfume? They’re over there.”

Sherlock nodded and the two men began to walk away.

“Perfume’s not a bad idea,” said John.

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because Margaux wears the same perfume every day, she has done for years.”

“So?”

“I like the way she smells; like honey and old books. I could pick her out of a crowd with my eyes closed, I don’t want her to change it.”

“Aww.”

“What?”

 

III

 

The walls of 221B were strewn with fairy lights, cream and brown bunting hung from ceiling and music played gently from the radio. Mrs Hudson set out a tray of drinks and glasses, and next to it sat a homemade birthday cake.

Molly arrived first, clutching a gift bag in her hands. She blushed as Sherlock stepped forward, handing her a glass of champagne. John and Mary arrived soon after.

“Ooh you’re getting so big,” said Mrs Hudson as she cooed over Mary’s bump.

“I know, and I feel even bigger,” she replied.

John joined Sherlock in the kitchen. He was standing with his arms behind his back.

“Got her present ready?” asked John as he lifted a bottle of beer from the fridge.

“Hm? Oh, yes it’s in my drawer.”

“So you found some wrapping paper then?”

Sherlock looked at John with a puzzled look. “No. Why would I wrap something on the same day it’s due to be opened? Seems rather pointless.”

“Right of course, how stupid of me… Beer?”

He shook his head and began making his way to the living room as a familiar voice sounded from the front door. He stepped in to see her standing there; she was smiling, her eyes glittering with the reflection of the fairy lights as she looked around in awe of Mrs Hudson’s quick decorations. She was wearing a cream lace blouse tucked into slim, check trousers and a pair of heeled loafers. He noticed her shifting her weight from side to side – regretting her choice of footwear. Beside her stood Vaughan, still wrapped in his coat. It was past his bedtime and his rosy face twisted in a disgruntled frown.

He approached them, his movements stiff, as if all too aware of the collection of eyes watching him.

“Margaux,” he nodded.

She placed her hand gently on his arm, like instinct. “Hey,” she said with a smile.

He looked at her for a moment before turning his attention to Vaughan. “What’s his problem?”

“He’s tired. Do you mind if I take him through and put him to bed?”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Mrs Hudson interjected. “You’re the birthday girl, get yourself a drink, I’ll see to him.”

“Or his father could do it…” John added as he stood in the archway of the kitchen sipping his beer.

Sherlock turned around, “Or perhaps uncle John could do it. Considering he could use the practice,” he countered with a glare.

“Oh, I’m quite alright, thanks. But maybe you should–”

“Boys, she’s already taken him…” Margaux interrupted.

They looked around, now noticing that Mrs Hudson and Vaughan were gone. John gave a shrug and walked away to sit down.

Sherlock turned back. “Where’s your friend, lady-what’s-her-face-woman?”

Margaux blinked at him. “Rose? My best friend who you’ve met on several occasions?"

“Rose! That’s it. I knew it was some sort of flower.”

“She couldn’t get a babysitter.”

“Ah.”

She looked around the flat for a moment. “Where’s Greg?”

“Who?”

“Greg Lestrade…”

“I didn’t think you’d want him here.”

“Why not?”

“Because you think he’s annoying.”

“No, Sherlock, you think he’s annoying.”

“Oh, yes.”

“What about your parents?”

“Not in the country, but I’m sure you’ll receive their card in the post.”

“And Mycroft?”

“Declined the offer.”

She rolled her eyes.

III

Flames roared in the fireplace, yet the hum of conversation was the warmth that filled the flat. Mrs Hudson had spent her evening begging Sherlock to play his violin. Do it as a gift to Margaux, she had said, as if she had forgotten who she was trying to guilt trip.

There was a gentle tap against the door.

“Hi, sorry, the door downstairs was open and there was a note saying–”

“Oliver!” Margaux jumped from her seat and rushed to him.

“Oh, thank god she knows him, I thought we were being burgled,” said Mrs Hudson.

“Robbed. You mean robbed,” said Sherlock sharply. “A burglary occurs when the victim is not present. A robbery occurs when the victim is present.”

“Everyone, this is Oliver,” said Margaux with her hand on his arm.

Oliver greeted everyone with a smile, recognising Molly from the hospital and giving her a small wave. He took a beer from John before joining Margaux on the couch and handing her a birthday card. She smiled and thanked him with a hug.

“That pissed you off?” asked John quietly as he stood next to Sherlock.

“Why would it?”

“We all warned you she’d move on if you didn’t do something.”

 

The night continued with more drinks and laughter. Oliver was charming, soon falling into flowing conversation as if he had known them all forever. He told funny anecdotes, stories of his weirdest patients and showered Margaux with attention and praise. The women swooned as they got to know him. Sherlock could have sworn he saw John swoon too.

Molly helped Mrs Hudson light the candles on the cake. It was a lopsided sponge covered in swirls of buttercream and a shakily drawn ‘32’. But to Margaux, it was perfect. They sang Happy Birthday and she blew out the candles. Everyone gave a tipsy cheer and Mary raised her glass of lemonade with a smile. Oliver leaned in to Margaux’s ear.

“Happy Birthday, beautiful,” he said quietly.

She felt her cheeks heat up as she turned to look at him. He was gazing into her eyes, as if completely enamoured by her. She leaned forward tentatively, their lips meeting for just a moment in a quick kiss. It didn’t feel right. She shook away the feeling.

Sherlock stood across the room, his eyes glued to them. He couldn’t help but feel like something was off with this man. Or maybe he just wished there was. He scanned Oliver as he stood with his arm around Margaux’s waist:

His hair was lightened in parts, bleached by the sun. There were bags under his eyes – sleep deprivation, or perhaps overworked. No, the bags mixed with his slight delay in reaction and processing time meant he was definitely sleep deprived. He was a non-smoker, occasional drinker, kept his phone in the breast pocket of his jacket, his keys and wallets in his trousers, and… Sherlock gritted his teeth as he observed the outline of a condom packet in his back pocket. He shook the anger away and continued. No tan line or indent on his ring finger – not married. No tattoos, polished shoes, modestly priced clothing. Then Sherlock noticed it. A damp, discoloured patch on the shoulder of his jacket, as if something had been cleaned away with a wet sponge. And on the other shoulder, a long blonde hair. That was when everything clicked into place.

“So you met at the hospital?” asked Mary.

“Yeah! I’d seen her around for a long time and always had a massive crush on her. So, I finally managed to ask her on a date but things got in the way…”

“Then when I asked him on the date, he was seeing someone,” Margaux finished.

Everyone chucked, except Sherlock.

“Fast forward three years and we just so happened to bump into each other again, so I asked her if we could finally go on that date.”

“That’s so sweet,” said Molly.

“So, I’m gathering by the sub context of that absolutely thrilling story, that you are in fact now single?” Sherlock interjected.

“Well yeah,” Oliver replied with an awkward laugh.

Margaux’s eyes shot across the room to Sherlock, exchanging one of their silent conversations, asking him what the hell he was doing.

He continued anyway. “Funny. Why would I bet my life on that not being true?”

“I’m sorry, what–”

“You hugged your girlfriend before you left, hence the blonde hair on your shoulder and the smudge of makeup – too dark to be Margaux’s – on your collar. As well as hugging your girlfriend, you also burped your new born baby. I know because there’s a patch on your jacket from where the infant was sick on your shoulder. The stain is a milky-colour and its position corresponds to the manner in which you would hold a baby while patting its back after feeding it. Tell me, Oliver, is it a boy or a girl? Ah, don’t bother speaking, your face just told me it’s a girl. Congratulations.”

Margaux turned to Oliver, her heart thudding in her chest.

“Sherlock, that’s enough,” said Mary.

“You have dark circles under your eyes,” Sherlock continued.

“He’s a bloody doctor, of course he does,” said John.

“Not consistent with stress or overexertion, but that of sleep deprivation. Also understandable with a new baby. You have a picture of your girlfriend and daughter as your phone wallpaper, which is why you keep your phone in an inside pocket – lowers the risk of anyone seeing it. I’d also wager a guess that you have Margaux’s number saved under a different name to avoid suspicion.”

“Do you want to give it a rest?” said Oliver angrily.

“You recently spent time abroad, somewhere hot. Spain–”

“Sherlock,” said Margaux.

“Which is where you cheated for the first time and realised how easy it was. But you felt guilty, swore you’d never do it again. But then…” he gestured to Margaux. “Who could blame an eye for wandering when it’s wandering after her, right?” his voice oozed with sarcasm, as if he were performing a skit.

“Sherlock!” she shouted again. “That is enough!”

The room fell into silence.

She drew a shaking breath and turned to Oliver. “You said you were single. You said you didn’t have any kids…”

Oliver scoffed, his eyes darting between Sherlock and Margaux. “You don’t actually believe him, do you?”

“Show me the wallpaper on your phone,” she said.

“Wh… Why should I? This is ridiculous, Margaux. You’re telling me he got all that from a stain on my jacket? Who are you going to believe here, him or me?”

“I believe him,” she said matter-of-factly.

Everyone in the room held their breath as they watched on.

“You… believe him?” he replied.

“Yes, I do. But of course if I’m wrong, you could just show me your phone.”

“I…” he looked around at all the eyes watching him. The suffocating quiet. “No.”

“Okay well goodbye,” said Margaux as she walked to the door, opening it wide and gesturing for him to leave. “And congratulations on the baby.”

He walked out swiftly, his eyes never leaving the floor. She shut the door behind him and turned around to see everyone staring at her, even Sherlock. She took a deep breath and approached him slowly.

“I’m going to overlook the fact that you just almost ruined my birthday, but only because I almost went home with that creep.”

III

The cold, autumn night nipped at Margaux’s cheeks as she sat on the bottom step outside Baker Street. She lit a cigarette and folded her arms, sighing out the smoke and closing her eyes. The door creaked open behind her, followed by footsteps and the feeling of an arm brushing against her own. She turned to see John taking a seat next to her on the step, resting his forearms on his knees.

“Just came to see if you were okay,” he said.

She nodded. “I’m fine. Honestly. The champagne is probably helping soften the blow.”

He laughed, taking a moment before speaking again. “You were so quick to believe him. What if he was wrong?”

“He wasn’t wrong.”

“How can you be so sure?”

She took another drag of her cigarette. “Sherlock is good at reading people; making deductions based on observations. I’m good at reading Sherlock. I know his intentions. Do you think I’d have stuck around this long if I didn’t?” She gave a gentle, knowing smile.

In that smile, John saw patience. He saw resilience and confidence. He knew Sherlock well. But it was clear that she knew him differently.

III

“Right, I’m quite pregnant and I want to go home to bed. But I’m also nosey and want to see what everyone got you, so can you open your presents now?” asked Mary as she gulped down the last of her lemonade.

“Ooh yes!” said Mrs Hudson excitedly before jumping up and collecting the small pile of gifts and cards.

“You know I didn’t expect a single thing from any of you…” said Margaux.

“We know,” said Molly with a smile.

 

She opened each present with care. A beautiful knitted jumper from Molly, a bath set from Mrs Hudson and a mug with ‘Grandma’ printed on it from John – she exchanged a smirk with Mary. She read each card closely, thanking each person as she went, even surprised to see one signed from Mycroft amongst them. She began to giggle as she looked at the pile of cards beside her.

“What’s funny?” asked Molly.

“I didn’t get my first birthday card until I was 7,” she said as she continued to giggle, her throat warm with alcohol. “It was from my best friend in school and I hid it in my room so my mother didn’t take it away from me.”

The room fell silent. Her eyes widened as she realised how uncomfortable she had made everyone.

“Not an appropriate story for a birthday party,” she said to herself.

“Sorry, hang on, you didn’t get your first birthday card until you were 7?” asked Mary.

“Oh, did I not mention my mother was a terrible person?”

Mary leaned in towards her. “You know I’m a trained assassin, right?”

John cleared his throat. “When I turned 18, I got so drunk that I vomited into my pint glass and got kicked out the club, I tried to do a cartwheel in the street and my arms gave way underneath me, and I woke up the next morning with a permanent marker Clockwork Orange eye that took three days to fade…”

Everyone began to laugh, turning their attention away from Margaux. She looked across to John, mouthing ‘thanks’ as she relaxed into her seat.

 

III

 

The quiet after a party was like smoke that rose from a husked-out fire. it was warm and calm, settling amongst the half-drank glasses of champagne, the torn up wrapping paper and cut up birthday cake. Sherlock stood in the middle of the empty living room looking around at the mess everyone had left. Margaux joined him at his side and let out a sigh.

“It’s not as messy as it could be,” she said.

“Eh, Mrs Hudson will no doubt come up in the morning and tidy it.”

“You’re the worst.”

“I suppose that means you don’t want your gift?”

“You got me a present!?”

“is that so hard to believe?”

“Yes.”

He turned and made his way to the bedroom, leaning over the bed to check on Vaughan who was sleeping soundly in the middle of the double bed. She followed in after him, sitting on the edge of the bed as she watched him slide open the drawer of his dresser. He handed her two envelopes. She opened the first one, swallowing against the lump that formed in her throat.

“To the Best Mummy, on your Birthday,” she said quietly.

“What? Don’t you like it?” He asked, noticing the quiver in her voice.

“No, no I love it. This is so thoughtful, Sherlock, thank you.” She wiped a tear away before it had the chance to escape and opened the next envelope.

She didn’t know what she had expected, but when she looked down at the impersonal plain white card, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. She opened it slowly, and suddenly, the disappointment was replaced with another feeling entirely.

‘They had cards for every title, but none could accurately do justice to your importance to me.’

She looked up at him, her eyes glassy and her mouth gaping open. “Sherlock…” she breathed.

He handed her a small, brown leather-bound journal. Its cover was delicately engraved with vines and autumn leaves. She ran her hands over its ridges, admiring the beautiful patterns, before opening it and letting out a giggle. On the first page, in Sherlock’s unmistakeable inky scrawling, it said ‘Merry Christmas for Narcissists’.

“It’s nothing much,” he said quietly. “Were you aware that you’re incredibly difficult to buy for?”

She stood up, lifted herself onto her tip toes and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tight and without hesitation.

“Thank you,” she whispered into the crook of his neck.

He slowly began to reciprocate the hug, placing the palm of his hand on the back of her head, his other arm wrapping around her shoulders. He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t surface; he wanted to tell her he was sorry about Oliver, he was sorry that it took 7 years for someone to acknowledge her birthday, he was sorry he couldn’t give her more than what he was already giving her – he wasn’t ready. Though he so desperately wanted to be.