Actions

Work Header

"Entertain Me."

Chapter Text

It was nine thirty something when Ryuunosuke Naruhodou heard suspicious movement coming from the small hallway that led up to Mr. Holmes' room and when he finally decided to look up from this morning's breakfast – Mr. Holmes came stumbling into the room in his usual casual garments – the oversized violet shirt with the bronze vest tucking it into his grey trousers, the gloves, the boots – but without the equipment he usually carried around at all times and without the tired, yet welcoming smile. In fact, his expression was glum. Naruhodou knew it mustn’t have been one of his random acts of depression, since his hair was in perfect order, with even the few grey hairs that sometimes stuck out in the poor lighting of the room being nowhere in sight, and he hadn’t spoken of his melancholy just yet, which was always a good sign.

“Good morning, Mr. Naruhodou. Ms. Susato”, he greeted, albeit somewhat irritated, and dragged his feet across the floor to meet them. Naruhodou stared at his friend’s posture – his arched back, furrowed brows and the way he leaned against the small table (if they could call it that way) with his entire weight.

“Good morning, Holmes-sama”, Susato beamed, but received a tired look from the detective across her.

“You mean ‘mourning’, I believe”, he started, and before anyone could ask, he leaned back and raised his hands into the air overdramatically, “Today is the day, my friends. Today, I make myself a fool and stay one for the rest of my miserable, indecent life.”

“Umm... what?” Naruhodou asked as the great detective leaned forward again, tiredly looking at his companion.

“Don’t you remember?” the detective asked and glared at his friends for a while before sighing in defeat, “Iris and I had a little... fight, yesterday afternoon.”

“Oh!” Susato jumped, “You mean...”

“Yes”, the man pouted and played with the single egg on his plate, “the great detective Sherlock Holmes... the great detective, has been assigned a mission, my friends... Going out, and trying to find... a cat”, he looked as if in physical pain when he said those words. Leaning back at the table, he looked at Naruhodou for condolence, but the man just kept eating his bacon.

Susato suddenly giggled. If she hadn’t, Holmes would have started crying. But now that she did, his frustration only grew.

“Look, Naruhodou-sama... Holmes-sama is worried!”

“I... wouldn’t exactly call him ‘worried’, Susato-san”, he said as he looked to the flabbergasted man, “Rather... he looks ill.”

“Well”, the man pressed a finger against his forehead, “it wouldn’t be the first time I got ill from stupidity...” he kept mumbling, unaware of the fact that the other two couldn’t really hear him, “In fact, I used to get sick a lot whenever I didn’t get cases, or couldn’t learn something new... It’s really a problem, actually, so I refrain from taking vacations. They literally make me sick.”

“Susato will make sure everything stays in order for as long as Holmes-sama is gone”, she happily said before pausing and thinking for a while, “But... Holmes-sama. I believe you told Iris-sama not to have high hopes...”

“Ms. Susato... with all due respect. I’m a great detective”, he mumbled, “When. Why. How. To find a cat straying in a city whose population is bigger than the population of most poorer or smaller countries. On top of that, I wouldn’t really doubt the fact that the kitty is most probably hiding in a tree next to the apartment and is unable to come down... Wagahai isn’t really the type of cat to just run out and away. He’ll come back on his own... kitties always come back on their own. I had a cat once, a cat of my own. Disappeared once, came back for my birthday... And then disappeared again, forever, but that isn’t really... the point.”

Susato was silent. Naruhodou looked from one friend to another, but didn’t really know what to say, so he kept looking into his empty mug.

“It’s really bothersome”, Holmes chided, rising from the table without having taken a single bite, “Detectives live for their work, and having any kind of distraction close to me could be devastating. I can’t let myself sink into such... nonsense.”

“You haven’t had a real case in three months, Holmes-san”, Naruhodou said, “And you aren’t even doing anything against that.”

“But, dear friends,” he began, completely ignoring Naruhodou’s remark, and took a handful of cat food from the box that stood on a cupboard, Naruhodou not missing the look of disdain the detective shot at the food, “that cat is too important for Iris. I can’t just let it starve as well... the guy’s quite grown on me. I guess. But a kitty is a kitty. If a man forgets to buy food for a day, it will just abandon its loving caretaker”, he sighed and shrugged his shoulders, “It’s a cruel world, my friends.”

“It probably tried to survive, Holmes-san.”

“A charming man like Holmes-sama draws a lot of attention”, Susato exclaimed again, obviously delighted by the idea of having Holmes run around the town trying to find a kitten, “I bet you won’t have any problems at all.”

Holmes scoffed as he opened the door to leave, standing on his tiptoes as if he could see more of the outside that way – he couldn’t – before looking back to his friends who were expectedly watching him.

“Wasn’t there a tree just outside the apartment...?” he put his pointer finger against his forehead, “I could have sworn there to be a young maple tree...”

“They’ve removed it to put up a World Fair sign”, Naruhodou claimed and received a suspicious look from the great detective.

“It’s a cruel world after all...” he mused, “When did that happen?”

“Three months ago...” Susato said, furrowing her brows.

“Hum.”

“I... guess you have one less place to search at.”

“Good old Mr. Naruhodou. Optimistic as always, I see. No worries. I’ll find the kitten.”

“Good luck, then”, Naruhodou silently said.

“Ah, please, don’t wish me luck. I’ve bought the most expansive cat food I could find, and even tasted it myself. He should come running once he catches the scent of it”, he said with a wide smile and slammed the door shut, leaving the attorney and his legal assistant alone. Susato smiled in Naruhodou’s direction as he kept eating his breakfast.

“Holmes-sama is trying really hard... I really hope nothing goes wrong with that...”

“Why would something go wrong?” the defence attorney said with a full mouth and received a glare from the girl next to him, but she merely shook her head before her smile morphed into a worried frown.

“I know this might sound odd but... But I have a really bad feeling.”

“Bad feeling?”

“...Never mind. Finish your breakfast, Naruhodou-sama! We still have to investigate the murder scene!”

“Yeah, yeah... ” he mumbled before his brows suddenly furrowed, and he stared ahead of himself, “Which reminds me, have you read yesterday’s news article?”

Susato tilted her head to the side as her smile completely disappeared, but she still answered: “Yes... It has left a rotten taste in my mouth, really... It’s about last month’s murder, I believe...? How many mysteries are still left unsolved, and how inspectors can’t find the perpetrator because every week they find a contradiction in their findings... But, really... Who would have the heart to do such a treacherous thing... to the king himself?” she delicately clasped her hands and looked to the floor, “With his own sword, nonetheless...”

“It wasn’t his sword, though...!” Naruhodou exclaimed and straightened in his chair, receiving a confused glance from Susato and choosing to sink back into the chair.

“Well, the method is still unclear... There was a stab wound... and dark finger imprints on his throat and... Well, I choose to believe it’s at least a sword!” she clenched her fists, “At least that way he’d perish by what he loved most!”

“...Susato-san... I’m sorry, but that seems kind of... How do I put that now. Um.”

“I see where you’re coming from, Naruhodou-sama. But no. I strongly believe it was the sword that had taken his life – I choose to believe it to be that romantic. In fact, almost like in one of Iris-sama’s novels...”

“I heard investigators were trying really hard to pin the blame on someone... I mean, find the culprit of course, but the late king’s brother refuses to let anyone in anymore after so many trials and errors. The article itself states that one night he had enough and ordered his servants to throw anyone related to the local police out of the castle.”

“He must be stricken by grief...” Susato turned solemn again, “Poor man... Ever since his brother died, his demeanour changed drastically. He must be in great pain, and with no results coming from the investigations...”

“Or he’s afraid to be found out.”

“Naruhodou-sama!” Susato exclaimed and glared at him, “How can you imply such a thing... He’s to be the future king and – Oh! But you’re just joking around at this point and wasting time...! Don’t you care about your defendant’s wellbeing?”

 

***

 

The streets were covered in a thick layer of fog and the scent ran up Holmes’ nostrils as he hastily paced towards the town centre – he supposed that was where he would find the kitten considering all restaurants were standing in that direction – all the while looking at the wet floor to avoid any unwanted eye contact. He didn’t really want for people to start questioning why he was waltzing down the wet streets with cat food in his gloved hands and without his coat or hat as well. Actually, as long as he didn’t have to see these people judge him, it was alright.

He’d find the cat in no time anyways. That was, at least, his belief.

As he was a man prone to thinking while walking, his mind wandered everywhere and anywhere – from unsolved cases to Iris’ cooking to Mr. Naruhodou’s inability to cross his eyes to inspector Gregson’s head that reminded him of a pickle to the question of why all dry cat food tasted like the same type of fish – all the while rushing down the alleys.

A huge fat white cat suddenly turned its head into his direction and glared at him. He stared back before suddenly laughing and continuing.

“Iris really loves this little troublemaker...” he spoke to himself, shaking his head in disbelief as a small smile spread on his face, “He’s been with us for a few weeks and she’s already all over him”, the smile disappeared completely, “Still... for the cat to just wander off and leave its caretaker... When you can’t provide for them anymore, they just leave you... Are... are human children like that as well?”

He suddenly stopped in the middle of the road.

There was a small family restaurant across the road he stood at – The Wet Noodle, it was called, and was one of the smallest restaurants he had ever visited. It was closed at Saturdays and Sundays – and it was Saturday – so the lights were completely shut and it looked abandoned with the few plastic chairs spread around the small round wooden tables outside, and the old red and gold protection above the door and half-shuttered windows. Sherlock had visited the place once, and he could still remember the wet summer day when the rain fell down so suddenly and heavily that the citizens that hadn’t brought an umbrella – including Holmes and his five-year-old roommate – had to run and somehow shelter themselves from the downpour. Luckily, he immediately found a free spot – right in front of that restaurant – where dozens of citizens were already squeezing beneath and yelling at the rain to stop.

The detective grabbed his little roommate that was frantically trying to catch every single raindrop that fell from the sky, threw her upon his shoulders and with the giggling child ran across the street, squeezing himself between an old, lanky man with a moon-shaped face and his chubby maid – the man, for some reason, tried to stay as far away from her as possible, so Holmes had to seize the opportunity.

His young roommate started slapping his cheek all of a sudden to get his attention, so the man looked up – to see Iris pointing at the inside of the restaurant, where an old gentleman was walking towards an occupied table with a bowl of noodles – the only thing they serves besides a few drinks – and a boy about fifteen years old was running after him with three plates on both hands – his son – yelling something at the old man that was straining his old ears to hear what the young one had to say. Iris beamed upon seeing those two – especially the way the boy was balancing six plates at the same time – and forced Holmes to go in.

The noodles were so salty that Holmes thought of suing the place. But he didn’t really have money back then and didn’t have an attorney as a friend.

As he turned to the left, he saw numerous buildings and a few wives putting their wet clothes onto the open balconies. One in particular looked at him in an odd way, before yelling something to him, but the man didn’t really understand what she was saying, or even trying to show to him by frantically pacing forwards and backwards and waving her hands. In return, the man smiled and waved his hand back, not knowing what else to do in such a situation. Iris and he used to wave at random strangers and the little girl would always giggle when someone would actually return their greetings.

As he turned to the right, he saw an approaching carriage. There were two huge black horses speeding down the road and he suddenly remembered the first time he took Iris for a coach ride – the girl had fallen in love with horses ever since then and –

“Oh. Wait.”

The horses started crying out as the coachman was urging them to stop abruptly, and Holmes stood completely frozen, staring at the huge black creatures that were coming closer and closer and felt everyone’s eyes at him, a couple of children shouting and crying from the sides and a man jumping to the road but staying there like frozen since the horses looked too intimidating for him to continue. The great detective’s eyes just widened and he wanted to move – he would have found enough strength to move, no doubt, he was used to jumping aside, but his brain was convinced it was too late already – and he couldn’t. His ears got clogged a second later and all he could hear was static – ever-raising static that grew only louder as time progressed, and the carriage drawn by those demonic, fearsome beasts as its wheels hit the road – yet he refused to look away. He could feel his knees trembling heavily, his mouth drying, his muscles tightening, his teeth clenching, chattering, could feel how much expecting the impact hurt, maybe more so than the impact itself, he had had those before, and he waited and waited and – the horses suddenly stopped in front of him, the carriage drifting to the side and the horses crying out.

As if free from a spell, the man staggered backwards whilst looking into one of the critters’ angry snout, before falling to his backside and staring.

The carriage was massive, adorned; certainly private, and a sight that was rare in the streets of the city. Even for the upper class. Despite his great observation skills – he couldn’t deny the fact that Naruhodou’s were greater though – he couldn’t see any details at all at the moment. He didn’t know what he was looking at.

He felt a pair of hands grab onto his shoulders and shake him a bit, and with a trembling hand he put his on top of the burly man’s that was holding him. A woman ran over to him as well, afraid to actually touch him before the massive carriage door opened – and out came a small coachman that realigned his hat as he walked towards the detective sitting on the floor and look ahead of himself.

“You... You cretin!” the man that was shaking Holmes’ shoulders exclaimed and angrily approached the coachman who had a grim expression on his face himself, “You had almost ran over this man!”

“Almost, you say! Hm!” the man exclaimed, putting his hands behind his back and straightening, “Almost – but I didn’t! I didn’t!”

The other growled.

“Almost, yes. But if you continue like this, well, one day you’ll run someone over! Really... What fool did ever hire you to drive a carriage...! Pffft, he must be just as crazy in the head like you-“

“Don’t you know who I am?!” the small coachman suddenly stepped forward, as if to assault the man that was defending Sherlock, “You don’t?! Hah! What a shame! One would think you had at least that much competence... this carriage, you know...?”

“Stop targeting us!” the woman that had finally managed to put that piece of cloth she was clenching in her hands from before on top of Holmes’ shoulders suddenly exclaimed, stepping forward alongside another few individuals who wanted to be part of the scandal for some reason, Holmes finally becoming aware of the situation surrounding him and curiously looking at the angered people – all of dressed in rather poor clothes – hearing voices around him but not really paying attention to what was being said until the carriage opened another time – and silence ensued.

The first that came out of the carriage was a small, hyperactive terrier that seemed to be out of its mind just because of the people around him, before he jumped to the ground and ran ahead to salivate on top of the scattered pieces of dry cat food before wildly devouring them. The Yorkshire didn’t seem to mind anyone around after that.

The dog earned a few bewildered glances, but what got the audience to freeze was one perfectly polished boot, and then another. Out of the carriage stepped a tall, broad-shouldered, slim man who had hidden himself in the dark green cloak he wore, though his chin was raised up proudly and his listless, leery eyes were watching everyone from above, as if in disdain, boredom and mild annoyance, his colourless lips turned into a impertinent frown. His purplish wavy hair, his unusually pale complexion, the scar right above the bridge of his nose – everyone had already known who exactly it was and thus fell into utter, bone-chilling silence, as if everyone had just disappeared and all before it never even happened. No one seemed to remember to bow – no one except Holmes, who quickly realized he was the subject of the prince’s uninviting glare. Sherlock stumbled up and forgot to bow immediately as the man stepped closer, but van Zieks just narrowed his glassy eyes before turning his head to the coachman who seemed to be trembling himself.

“What is happening, Mr. Kerr...?” the man but whispered, looking at the bewildered people around him, “From the carriage’s abrupt stop, I can only presume-“

“Yes – yes, my Lordship!” Kerr exclaimed before the other could even finish his thought, before pointing at the detective that was looking at the duo in a wild interest, “Th-This man, he... He just, just stood at the road – no, jumped in front of the carriage, he, he...” he stopped as van Zieks stepped forward, his gaze piercing through the detective’s eyes and even though Holmes could see the listless eyes were watching his, it felt as if the man was looking right through him instead of at him. The royal man then abruptly looked down to see the small dog choking on the cat food and spitting it out and furrowed his brows.

“Basker, these are not your needed nutrients”, he silently said and gently pushed the dog away from the dry food with his boot. The dog listened and began barking up a tree it found in close proximity. The few people who hadn’t vanished up to this point were now looking at the small creature, and the prince made his way towards Holmes in a slow pace.

They stared at each other for a few seconds – van Zieks was waiting for the man to bow, to be more precise, and once he realized he wasn’t going to, he narrowed his eyes yet deeply bowed himself, the green robe flying open to reveal his expansive clothing laced with gold and a sword on his side. Holmes stared with wide eyes, and could see flashes in his periphery.

“Forgive my coachman’s impudence of almost running you over”, he remarked before slowly rising again and realigning his cloak, his eyes looming over the shorter man, “yet I must ask. Why did you step in front of the carriage...?”

“I didn’t... not really”, Holmes cleared his throat and looked away from the menacing eyes of his interlocutor, “I was just... searching.”

“Searching. In the middle of the road”, van Zieks deadpanned. Holmes could swear his face didn’t move an inch when he said that.

“W-well...” he could feel his body temperature rise as the other didn’t look away from him at all, and what he was about to say wasn’t really something he could be taken serious for, “I was searching for... for a cat.”

“For a cat”, the man deadpanned before he sneered, “A cat, you say...?”

Holmes wildly shook his head before charmingly smiling, finally bowing and looking up to meet the man’s eyes again.

“Yes, your Lordship, I’m searching for my cat.”

The man’s sneer vanished when he saw Sherlock’s cheekiness, and he looked to the sides, saying: “We have ourselves a farceur, alright...”

A few whispers came from the road and another few individuals left the scene, including the man that got into a fight with the coachman to defend Holmes. The blond’s wry smile only grew, though.

“Oh, what is that? Looks like my comedy won’t really be selling well, considering how many people left already...” he said under his breath, but still looked into the prince’s irritated eyes and smirked, “What a shame, what a shame... Say, is my queasy smile at fault?” he shrugged his shoulders before chuckling to himself, “You look pale, sir. I’d suggest some vitamin D, sometimes...”

“That cheeky bastard...! Do you know to whom you’re speaking at the moment?!”

“It is alright, Mr. Kerr,” the man said a stopped him from moving forward with a simple gesture of his gloved hand whilst not removing his eyes from the blond, “I believe I can handle such sauce on my own...”

“Sauce?” Sherlock asked and burst into loud laughter which caused him to writhe, “I must say, I haven’t heard that word used in such a context for fifteen years at least...! Tell me, who was your English teacher?”

“What?”

“Well, you look like a knowledgeable bloke, so I figured...”

“Bloke?” the tall man asked and sneered in disbelief, looking to the floor and then to the coachman who was just as pale as him, even though his face was usually reddish in colour. Van Zieks looked back to the man to see him direct a lazy smile towards him.

“Oh, I am sorry for my rudeness, your Lordship, I just thought even a person like you could use some humour, that’s all...”

“A person like me...” he repeated, his brows suddenly furrowing as he quickly stepped to the side to shoot daggers with his eyes at the insolent man, protectively wrapping his cloak around him, “Mockery!”

“No, no... I don’t have anything against you... though against your dog...”

“What with it”, the man hissed and kept glaring.

“It’s a nice dog. Purebred, no doubt, with its coat and size... no doubt it’s passing through the hoop”, he muttered before looking to it, “Though it’s kind of odd not seeing the usual skinny greyhound step out of that carriage before its master.”

The tall man in front of him widened his eyes, yet his shoulders seemingly relaxed. As he wasn’t responding, Holmes smiled and put a hand to his hip. Mr. Kerr kept looking at the both of them for some time, looking at the boisterous blond, then at the frozen prince, then back to the detective whose smile was slowly growing into a smirk, then to van Zieks who still didn’t move nor say anything back. The coachman stepped forward, but upon immediately being looked at by the blond’s vivid eyes, he stopped.

“My Lord... My Lord, he is not worth your time...” the coachman said, wiping a few beads of sweat from his high forehead with the handkerchief he had put into his breast pocket, “The musicians are about to come to the castle, my Lordship, and you’ll have to wait for them there, you know... It’s a tradition to wait for guests... And... after all...” his voice suddenly gave out and silence ensued yet again. The masses that watched the scandal a few seconds ago had disappeared, and everyone had returned to their activities from before, yet they still kept away from the road.

Sherlock Holmes looked to the coachman and snapped his fingers.

“Ah, yes, yes... The pianists... They’ll come into the castle so the future king could bask in their tones, yes...?”

“No, no, the violinists... not the pianists, those preformed terribly! My Lordship wouldn’t have any of it...!” the coachman abruptly stopped once he saw the gleam in the blond’s eyes.

“Oh, yes, silly of me” Sherlock chuckled and looked to the taller man again, looking at his eyes which were directed to the floor and the somewhat calmer facial expression, “Anyway, your Lordship, I am to thank you”, he silently said and continued when he realized he wouldn’t receive a response anytime soon, “Your dog seems to have found what I’ve been looking for”, he said and looked back to the tree, where he could clearly hear and make out the kitten with the red bow around its neck as the dog leaped around the tree to reach it, laughing, “But I’d still prefer to put that thing on a leash... Don’t get me wrong, but I’ve read about all kinds of dogs quite a lot, all for my profession, of course, and I can tell that this breed has a very energetic, wild personality... we wouldn’t want it to get into trouble, would we...?”

The other looked away from the spot on the floor, moving to another, before finally meeting Holmes’ eyes, making his smile melt away in an instant.

Sherlock dropped to his knee and bowed his head deeply.

The coachman, after standing like frozen for a second, swiftly approached the prince and grabbed onto his strong upper arm with shaky hands, urging him to turn around, hastily whispering: “Your Lordship... this man – this man clearly has bats in the belfry. Let’s leave.”

Barok van Zieks turned around without looking at anything in particular and headed towards the carriage.

Chapter Text

"Objection!” the lawyer yelled as loudly as he can, pointing at the empty wall in front of him and earning a questioning head tilt from the little girl that was watching from the side, “Objection!” the attorney repeated with the same serious look on his face, pointing at the empty wall again.

“Narudy, what are you doing?” Iris silently asked whilst scribbling something onto the paper in front of her with a crayon before looking at the blushing attorney that was now scratching the back of his head and coyly smiling into her direction.

“Ah... Iris-chan... I forgot you were there...” he silently confessed before straightening again, “I was just practicing for tomorrow’s trial. I haven’t had a case in a while and was afraid I would get rusty...”

“Oh”, she nonchalantly said and kept scribbling – upon closer inspection, Naruhodou could see she was actually drawing something with her crayons and ignored his presence for a while, before abruptly adding, “I think you’re okay.”

“I hope so...” the man said under his breath and fumbled with his hand accessory, before the door suddenly burst open and a gust of wind blew through the entire room, making the two look at their unexpected guest – before seeing Holmes, with a small colourful cat comfortably sleeping in his arms, rushing past them and ignoring them completely as he just stepped into his corner where his workshop filled with papers lay, immediately looking around for something with impatient sounds coming from him. The front door closed on itself with a loud bang.

“Holmesies, you found him!” Iris happily exclaimed and approached her caretaker who just dumped the cat into her arms instead of saying anything, but that didn’t seem to bother the young pink-haired girl at all as she just turned the other way and walked off towards her end of the room, adding, “Thank you!”

Sherlock mumbled a quick ‘you’re welcome’, knowing that no one would hear it but being to immersed into his own actions at the time so he didn’t trouble himself to try and repeat his words louder.

“Welcome back, Holmes-san”, Naruhodou said and approached the tall gentleman, only to watch him carefully as the detective started throwing papers around him with his lens on for some reason, writhing and growling all the while until a huge smile spread across his face once he stumbled upon a news article that seemed to be of interest to him. He stepped away from the workshop and removed his lens, quickly rereading the article while gently biting on his index finger, the look of pure concentration on his face. Naruhodou hurried to pick up the papers that fell down and looked to him again, “Holmes-san, you really shouldn’t throw everything around like that... we could think it’s trash and throw it away, you know...?”

“Not right now, Mr. Naruhodou”, the man impatiently said and looked to him in ten seconds, then to the heap of papers he was trying to keep in his arms, “I haven’t had the time and nerves to sort them out just yet, give me a few days until I finish with my case, then I’ll be up to the task...” he absent-mindedly said and kept mumbling to himself gleefully. The attorney still smiled widely at that and put the pile of documents on top of the desk again.

“So, you got a case? Really?” the defence attorney asked, but was silenced by an index finger being raised into the air to stop him before the detective pressed the paper to his face again and sniffed it, raising his head and nodding to himself with his brows furrowed in concentration before walking back to the desk with his back hunched and lower lip chewed on, putting it neatly onto the desk and grabbing duct tape to secure it to the wooden surface. He then began searching through the pile of papers again, this time neatly and delicately, with only his index and thumb, before silently exclaiming in merit upon finding a picture and sealing it to the desk next to the newspaper article. He then looked behind himself to face the confused man and approached him from behind, ushering him closer to the workshop, knowing that Naruhodou’s protests were more of a habit than a display of emotions at the moment. Once he pushed him in front of the papers, he got to his right and tapped his finger lightly against the desk, smiling when seeing Naruhodou’s brows furrow in thought.

“Those are...?”

“Yup.”

“And it’s...”

“Ah-huh.”

The exchange student looked up at him in bewilderment as the detective put the ever-empty pipe into his mouth, smiling knowingly and closing his reddish eyes.

“It may come as a surprise to you that this man looks now entirely different from the man photographed here”, he looked to the back of the photograph and hummed to himself, “at September 15th, so, approximately three months ago. The thing is,” he chuckled, “this man, this smiling young lad here, changed his overall appearance one month ago; you haven’t had arrived here at that time. If you had come earlier, you would have seen the young prince silently sitting at the fountain in the middle of town, writing something down or just reading a book without being noticed by anyone – and if he’d be noticed, he’d simply smile and tell them ‘not to mind his presence’. Being the younger one, he didn’t really have a position in the royal family anyway. On to another...!” he changed the subject and slowly pushed Naruhodou’s focusing face from the picture of the smiling man to the picture the newspaper article from a month ago displayed – the prince’s face was now devoid of colour and a smile and had an unnaturally dark presence to it, with his brows furrowed, lips frowning, agitated eyes looking right into the camera and a fresh-looking cross-shaped scar above the bridge of his nose, which the article didn’t fail to mention and referred to it as ‘a scar of fallen angels’ (the entertainment article beneath it talked about scars and their meanings, so it mostly served as a means for the reader to continue). The face was the only thing visible on him though, since he was surrounded by a mass of people and was, on top of that, hiding the rest of his body by wrapping his cloak around him. Next to him stood a young bespectacled man who looked as though he was shouting in the direction of the photograph being taken, and a giant black Shire horse opening its mouth right above his fair curly hair. Naruhodou winced.

“This picture was taken three weeks ago, approximately...” Holmes silently said, as to not disturb Naruhodou from looking at the black and white picture; he seemed to have taken great interest in it, “It’s the first time he was seen after his brother’s death and the last time he went somewhere without a carriage.”

“It’s like... looking at an entirely different person...” Naruhodou mused before suddenly looking up at Sherlock, who was listening attentively, “Here he was... look at that smile! He had this big smile, and now...”

Despite Naruhodou’s limited English when speaking without forethought, Holmes understood.

“There was another scandal before the king’s demise, on the 17th of June... But years ago”, Holmes continued, “Someone had locked a couple of servants in the horse stall and burned it at night and the entire castle came storming to see the giant fire that erupted. It was stopped too late, unfortunately”, he waited a few seconds before looking into the exchange student’s eyes, “Now, those two servants were extremely loyal – that’s what the paper said at that time, at least... I haven’t gotten a copy, ironically, but I made some notes – and the staff knew they hadn’t come back, so their deaths weren’t a surprise... but what shocked the populace was another corpse that was discovered in the remains.”

“Another...”

“Suffice to say, a state of agitation came about everyone. The culprit must have been someone living inside the castle, since a guard said that there was no guest that day and they had watched very intently – and those are royal guards, for crying out loud.”

“And the horses?”

“The servants had been cleaning and made the horses go outside at that time.”

“But what’s with the third person...?” Naruhodou was getting progressively keener.

“Unidentified”, Holmes mumbled and kept looking ahead of himself for a few seconds before facing the attorney, “Can you believe it?” his eyes sparkled as he complained, “The royal family – with royal guards – and with a cruel security system and with the ever-careful king who insists on having every package and letter he receives checked not once, but thrice by three different people before receiving it himself – and a single, unidentified person slipped in and caused a ruckus of great calibre because of their unknown existence... The man couldn’t have been transported in as well. He must have been inside the castle, but he wasn’t part of the staff, and no one seemed to recognize him... A mystery, really...”

Naruhodou looked back to the pictures.

“The entire staff seems to have an alibi; the king was peacefully slumbering, the guards were on duty... it’s almost as if it burned down by itself.”

“So...” Naruhodou suddenly said, looking up at Sherlock again, “What you’re saying is... that the prince seems to be involved.”

The great detective showed a smile.

“You seem to grasp the situation, dear friend”, he suddenly burst into laughter and writhed, before pointing his index finger up and lazily smiling, “Indeed, the king’s brother was nowhere in sight that night. In fact, only he and the horse handler weren’t there. So, naturally, the suspicion fell upon the groom”, he spread his arms, “But the prince stood up for him. And when people started talking about a conspiracy in the kingdom involving the stableboy and the prince, the king was quick to disperse the rumours and the case had lost all the possible perpetrators”, he pressed his index finger to his forehead and closed his eyes, “The king had always been very protective of his ten years younger brother... So he shut the case down and told the investigators not to step foot into the royal castle again.”

After a long pause, Naruhodou turned towards the detective again.

“So... you think prince van Zieks is at fault?”

The detective slowly looked over to him, staring at him for a few seconds, before bursting into uncontrollable, loud laughter that caused him to writhe and hold onto his hat again. He then suddenly calmed and spread his arms out again, arching his back to get closer to Naruhodou’s height so he could look directly into his eyes, saying: “I don’t have any evidence against him”, he then straightened and put a hand onto his hip, “And without evidence and facts, it’s all just mere speculation.”

“Then why did you choose to tell the entire story to me?” Naruhodou loudly asked, looking a bit offended.

“Dunno”, the detective shrugged and smiled widely, “It’s nice to fantasize.”

The defence attorney opened his mouth, but nothing but a sigh came out. The detective chuckled.

“You know, some imagination would do you good as well, Mr. Naruhodou. It might help you solve a few cases, and perhaps you’ll get more friends out of it.”

“Ouch.”

“But, you know...” the detective said after a little while, “Doesn’t it strike you as odd?”

“What does?”

“Dear Mr. Naruhodou”, the detective chuckled and shook his head, “try to remember what I’ve told you. History repeats itself. And crimes, crimes do too, thus. Don’t you see the obvious connection between these two cases, apart from both of them being murder cases involving, more or less, the same people and the same royal suspect...?”

Naruhodou cupped his chin and thought for a while, before suddenly exclaiming and looking up again, saying: “Ah! In both cases, the investigation was stopped abruptly and the police was forbidden of entering!” Naruhodou’s expression suddenly turned dispirited before he continued, “But... that seems as if the prince is always protected... First, the king, and then second, he himself shuts the investigation down...”

“Sure seems like it, doesn’t it...?” the detective silently confirmed, putting the latter newspaper article back to its original place. As he looked to the other picture, he made a motion towards it as if wanting to tear it down, but then stopped in mid-air and just pressed the duct tape to the table from all sides, as if securing it to stay there.

“So... you think he’s the one behind the... the killing of his own brother?”

Holmes shot a curious glance towards the man before looking back at the picture of the smiling prince being patted on the back by the young king. He then took the small letter opener that was thrown to the other end of the workshop and looked at its sharp end.

“The biggest cases are often times the most obvious ones, and not really that interesting. Now, the smaller cases, where smaller things are at stake, and where personal problems play a bigger part then fame and fortune, those are often times the perplexing ones” he said and stabbed the smiling van Zieks with the letter opener, right where his heart would be, “In other words, I have no idea”, the man laughed again as Naruhodou stared at the pierced piece of paper. The detective then raised his index again, “But I intend on finding out myself.”

“So, it is a case, Holmesies!” the young girl exclaimed from her part of the room, rushing over to the detective and grabbing him by the hands, pulling him back a few steps and smiling brightly, “Will it be one I can write down as well?”

“I can’t know that”, the detective chuckled, “I’ll try to make it interesting somehow, if nothing else.”

“Oh!” the girl put a hand over her mouth before straightening and putting her gloved hands behind her back, “You’ll be on your own, then?”

“What?”

“You said you’ll try to make it interesting.”

“Ah, yes...” Holmes said and suddenly squatted down to meet her eyes, “About that...” he began and then just watched her instead of saying anything, until her smile disappeared.

“So it’s one of those cases again...?” she calmly asked and looked to the ground, but established eye contact the moment after, “For how long will you be gone, Holmesies?”

“I can’t say for certain. It’s really a... messed-up affair I’m diving into at the moment. Well, trying to dive in, anyway. But, Iris – this is a chance only the luckiest investigators alive get – and they won’t even know I’m actually trying to get to the bottom of this, that’s the best part! If I actually get in, then it’s only a matter of time until I’ll be able to investigate on my own... I’ll just have to perform greatly, and all is settled... So. Final answer. The time span I’ll spend in the castle could be anywhere from one day to two months. Depends on the future king, though.”

Iris was silent for a while, looking only into his excited eyes before nodding: “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay”, she removed his hands from her shoulders and shook them before stepping away and nodding again, “I’ll take care of Susie, Wagahai and Narudy in the mean time.”

“Thank you”, Sherlock said and stood up, slightly smiling as usual – but Naruhodou didn’t miss the look of guilt in his eyes.

The little girl smiled and snapped her fingers, adding: “I’ll make Susie help me with cooking sometimes, so that she won’t be too bored... And we’ll write something together. Oh, and maybe we can reread my novels together!” then she clasped her hands and looked towards the exchange student that stepped away from surprise, “And Narudy... Narudy will help me laugh.”

“Really...?” Naruhodou silently uttered and arched his back, “That’s all I’m good for...?”

“But make sure to eat regularly and diversely!” Iris suddenly exclaimed, crossing her arms and resting her chin against her chest, looking at her caretaker with a reprimanding look, “That means fruit and vegetables too, Holmesies.”

“...Of course”, the detective laughed.

“And act politely, those are really important people.”

“Of course.”

“And... and shower at least every third day.”

“I can’t promise that”, the detective spread his arms as his smile disappeared completely. As both of them smiled at him, though, he straightened again and continued, “Seems like you have sorted everything out”, he bowed, “Well then, if you’d excuse me”, he started in the other direction, “I need to prepare for my concert.”

“Concert?” Iris asked.

“Yes, concert...”

“Please don’t tell me you’re going to play in your room now...” Naruhodou cut him off, “I really wanted to study the case files today, for tomorrow’s trial...”

“Ah, no, no...” the detective laughed loudly again, “I am going to sleep! Nothing is better than some time for your brain to rest before an important performance... there’s no way it would be able to store new information before such a stressful event anyway.”

***

“Mr. Naruhodou”, Sherlock silently said once he spotted the young man leaning against the small table in the back, looking over at him once he was called with a tired expression on his face – entirely in the dark. Holmes debated whether he should turn on the cheap lights or not before ultimately deciding against it and just stepped closer to his friend who had obviously stayed awake – or tried to, at least – to see him off, “I didn’t expect you being up at such an hour. You usually fall asleep at one a.m.”

“Why do you know that...?” Naruhodou silently asked, but decided not to question him further as the detective burst into muffled laughter.

“Seriously, Mr. Naruhodou, it’s just a case. You don’t have to be worried.”

“I’m...” the defence attorney silently said, leaning his head against his arms resting on the table, “I was studying up until an hour ago and then decided to wait for you to leave.”

“Ah.”

“I actually expected you to wear a disguise...” the exchange student continued as he finally lay eyes on the detective’s clothes – which were the same as before, only this time he had put his lens around his neck and had a few chemicals strapped to his belt, alongside his paint gun and was nervously squeezing a violin and its respective fiddle bow in his left hand, “Since you don’t want the people to recognize you. I think.”

The detective spent a few seconds trying to think of a good excuse to cover up the fact that he had just overslept again and didn’t really have time to change clothes. He then snapped his fingers.

“It doesn’t matter if someone recognizes me, really. If I’m there to play the violin, that’s what I’ll do.”

“But you’ll be investigating.”

“Well, yes, but...” he pressed his index finger against his forehead, thought for a second and then pointed it to the air, “People play a lot of roles in their lives, yes? Today, I’m just a violinist, and no one can deny my playing if I choose to play for the future king, right? And... I think he’ll be surprised to see me. Sooner or later he’ll realize it’s me anyway, and why not just be completely honest, then? Everyone values honesty and simple-mindedness... it’s another story whether someone takes advantage of it or not.”

Naruhodou didn’t respond; just stood up, approached the man and shook his hand.

“Good luck, then.”

“What’s with you wishing me good luck, all the time?” the detective laughed and pulled his hand back, approaching the door but turning back to face the exchange student, “It’s just a case.”

“Susato-san said... she had a bad feeling.”

Holmes was silent for a while, before spreading his arms, “So?”

“Susato-san is strangely correct with those things... it’s as if she has a talent to tell the truth without realizing it. I swear, it creeps me out sometimes. She predicts things, Holmes-san...”

The detective laughed whole-heartedly this time, slapping his hand against his mouth to stop himself so he wouldn’t wake the sleeping roommates. Instead of proving Naruhodou wrong, like the attorney thought he would, the detective went on another tangent: “I forgot to tell you something before. Well, not really you, but Iris, whom I’ve visited already, but she’s sleeping like a log. So, I’ll tell you”, he snapped his fingers and smiled, “If van Zieks kicks me out of the castle, I could be sulking in my room tomorrow already – in that case, I will probably leave mud stains on the floor since I’ll be directly headed to my room without taking off my boots. But if not, I might live in the castle for a while – maybe even a long while. In that case, I’ll be writing to you – but you can’t write back to me.”

“Naturally.”

“Well then”, Holmes sighed and quietly opened the door, stepped outside, and then looked back to the exchange student that stood in the middle of the room, “Um. Aren’t you going to wish me good luck?”

“Huh?”

The detective laughed, accidentally smacking his prized violin into the door and quickly feeling it for scratches before looking back to him, “My heart’s racing, I’m sweating up a storm, I’ll have to run to catch the 2:30 a.m. carriage that is set for the castle at such a sinful hour for some reason and my knees are giving in, I’m tired as all hell and overall feel like rubbish at the moment all of a sudden, so I think I’ll be needing that ‘good luck’ from before after all...”

Chapter Text

Sherlock Holmes had been reminded, that day, how much he actually despised travelling at bitter cold nights through humid places, where the smell of wet wood would climb one’s nostrils – stay there for hours on end - and where your feet would suddenly become so cold you couldn’t feel them anymore, no matter how warm your boots were. And, wearing no coat at all, he was, naturally, freezing, yet refused to act like it since he was surrounded by mostly well-clothed gentlemen that all carried violin cases and avoided eye contact with just about anyone. The wooden vehicle was wet as well – and it smelt of decay. Holmes specifically noted the few scratches on his seat and a small burn stain on top of the carriage and was busying himself by looking at it and trying to figure out how it came to be. The floor had been freshly muddied, but there were older, drier mud tracks as well – one particular gentleman was sitting on a dried footstep – when he sat at it Holmes burst into laughter, but no one had asked for an explanation; instead, most of them just shot him a look of disapproval and sat at the other spaces, one man silently cursing because there was not enough space since tools had been thrown on top of a seat and Sherlock was the one that had to squeeze in between two gentlemen, eventually. No one wanted to sit outside in the cold.

He had expected for a bigger carriage to come and pick them up, since they were going to play for the future king, but there wasn’t such a thing – they were travelling by an omnibus that was driven by a small, shivering man, and not the royal coachman, and had to pay before entering.

To the detective’s left, there was a tall, broad-shouldered, bearded gentleman that wore immaculate clothes with only a few wrinkles and had a top hat that reached the ceiling of the omnibus. He was holding his case under his arm that also held a walking cane. To his right, there was a shivering young blond whose clothes were oversized and tearing up at some parts and his top hat was bended at the middle, but he still looked warm and his cheeks were a reddish colour. He had a shy smile that he shot towards anyone that would accidentally look at him and had begun a conversation about hats and horses a few times – he was the only one that spoke during the ride. His violin case was being cradled in his arms.

The man across Holmes, the one that sat on a stain, was short and plump, and would suddenly start sweating sometimes before he’d wipe his sweat away with the handkerchief he wore in his breast pocket. His case was thrown into the middle of the carriage and he was sitting in such a manner that the man next to him had to squeeze against the tools – he was a skinny man with a long pale face and white hair, covered in a hood and cloak. He kept looking at his pocket watch and had eventually told the coachman to stop the omnibus, standing up at his thin legs and stumbling out into the night in the middle of nowhere. The first few seconds, he just stood with his back turned to the passengers, and then everyone watched as the lanky gentleman just turned to the side and started heading somewhere without saying another word – it was then that Holmes realized the man had no violin case.

The coachman started yelling after him once he realized the man wasn’t planning on returning – but the lanky man had disappeared back into the direction where they had come from.

Once the carriage had started again, they were silent for another few minutes, the only sounds being the heavy breathing of the gentleman across the detective, the horses’ hooves hitting the pavement and the wheels of the omnibus slowly turning to reach their desired location. Sherlock’s nose was runny, but he tried to muffle his snuffling, until he stopped breathing through his nose altogether. His eyelids were constantly falling shut as the tired eyes under them burned – no matter that he had slept the entire day – and he had almost fallen asleep, with his body, against his will, starting to paralyze from his fingertips to his limbs and then trying to lean onto something or someone, until the silence was interrupted: “What an interesting fellow”, the man he was trying to lean on suddenly said in a questioning voice before looking at the space the man had been sitting at before, only to see it was already occupied by the plump gentleman that was now sitting across the entire seat. The bearded gentleman frowned and turned his head the other way.

“I – I agree, sir”, the young man on Sherlock’s other side accepted, “Only goes to show how open-minded Mother Nature is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Uh, well. I’ve never seen such an eccentricity. You know, sir, I came to the stop second – that man that just left had been there first, and he looked as if he had been standing at the same spot for some time already. His cloak was soaked and it rained a few minutes prior to my arrival, and he was already looking at his watch. He didn’t stop looking at it until the omnibus came.”

“Oh hoh”, our protagonist leaned forward all of a sudden, looking at the shy young man that had smiled again, “Say, you don’t happen to know why he was even allowed to enter the omnibus if he didn’t have a violin on him?”

“H-he didn’t have a violin?” the man gaped.

“Well, just now, he left with nothing in his arms... and nothing was left behind as well”, Holmes shrugged.

“I could have... sworn that he had a case with him when he stood on the carriage stop... He must have forgotten it and realized that in the middle of the ride”, the man whole-heartedly laughed, “Well, one competitor less.”

“This is an omnibus, not the royal carriage”, the tall man next to Holmes spoke up again, looking at the detective from the side while still facing the wall in front of him, “The coachman most probably didn’t receive any instructions on how to identify the people who would be waiting at the agreed spot on the agreed time. He was just told to get from point A to point B.”

“He should have been able to see that everyone except him had a case, though”, the man sitting on the opposite side loudly grumbled to himself, “Sound logic.”

“It doesn’t... quite make sense yet, though. There had always been strict scrutiny when it came to anything royal. I was really surprised not to see a giant carriage park in front of us”, Sherlock said and laughed before abruptly stopping and spreading his arms, “And we get a half-decomposed omnibus being pulled by two old jades dragging their limping legs.”

“I think it makes perfect sense”, the boy next to him said in a muffled voice.

“How?” Holmes was surprised and was now looking intently at the young man who had put both hands on top of his mouth and decided to remain silent whilst trembling, before the detective looked at the man across him and saw how little he cared for the conversation.

“You’re not very accustomed to the new lifestyle of the royal castle it seems”, the gentleman next to him suddenly said and bit back a sneer by biting down into his cane before looking back to the wild-eyed man, “All three of us had visited the castle a few times before. Prominent citizens such as I are sometimes invited into the castle on quick celebrations – the prince never shows up – and sometimes people like Mr. Redifast, the man sitting next to you, are invited because of their knowledge, to tutor the new personnel.”

“Horses”, the blond next to him declared before smiling widely again, and then putting both hands over his mouth again.

“And sometimes, sometimes there are attempts at live concerts in the castle. I say attempts, because the prince usually doesn’t want to waste time – he listens to one sonata, if even, and leaves, because he has an exceptional taste – of course, we get paid for our services, which is why we’re here in the first place.”

“Waste time... on music?” Holmes asked, laughing, “Every melody deserves to be listened to.”

“Last time that brute slammed his heel on top of the piano to stop me”, the man across him suddenly grumbled, feeling encouraged by Holmes’ comment and getting red in the face, “Then he had the nerve to tell me I’m an embarrassment to his piano.”

Holmes was enthusiastically turning to every speaker, soaking in all the information he could get, as if his tiredness had completely vanished.

“All that is happening inside the castle”, the gentleman suddenly pointed up, “is rarely told to the prince. He called for attention a few weeks ago, just once, and never showed up to the event out of unknown reasons. Nowadays, the servants are the ones calling for people of all kinds to enter the castle because they know the prince doesn’t really care anymore. His Lordship never calls for anyone, but the staff does – they order an omnibus, tell the coachman to come to a specific place at a specific time, and people gather. Sometimes they order multiple omnibuses, usually at an ungodly hour, so that people who need to use the omnibus at day aren’t deprived of using its service.”

“Very considerate”, Sherlock said, pressing an index finger to his forehead, “And you’re saying His Lordship doesn’t even show up, most of the time... Yet you still get paid?”

“The staff orders, he pays”, the grumpy man across him said, “He’s got money to spare, I guess. Instead of donating it to the country so it wouldn’t be in such a poor, miserable position as it is right now, he rather uses it like this, giving it to randomly selected people, random people that stumble upon the ads in towns or in newspapers, that foul man, that...”

“You’re attending as well, you know”, the young man silently said and started shivering again as soon as the man locked eyes with him and said nothing anymore.

“And do you expect to see His Lordship today?” Sherlock continued questioning.

“Oh... I hope not...” Redifast said and cuddled the case in his hands, “Out of seven times I’ve visited the royal grounds, I’ve seen him once... Tall, menacing... I hope to never see him again.”

 “Ooh?” the detective laughed and clasped his now-pink, shivering hands, “But the ad in the newspaper said he was interested in coming...” he put a foot onto the seat, leaning back relaxedly. The gentleman to his left scoffed and scooted further, touching the side of the carriage and sliding his top hat back into its vertical position, “But, do tell.”

“I-It’s nothing noteworthy, sir”, the fair blond said and realigned his hat, “I was just... talking to a young man, close to my age... We were discussing whether the horses they use for their carriages are the best ones to use after the lesson I had given, when suddenly... a tall figure approaches from the side. I could see his... his eyes on me...” he started shivering, “They’re still haunting me to this day, sir, those empty, empty eyes...”

“Did he say something?” Holmes nonchalantly asked, earning a gape from the youth who composed himself after a few seconds, before slightly frowning.

“N-No, sir... He... He just kept walking towards the stable and disappeared inside of it. I didn’t see him coming out of it, or anything... It’s as if he had disappeared in it, it’s as if he was just an illusion...” the man hugged the violin case, “Maybe he even was... Ever since I’ve seen that image in the papers, I’ve had nightmares of his grotesque form hovering above me...”

“You’re giving him too much credit, lad”, the plump man across them suddenly said, laughing and then coughing, “That man’s no ghost, and he sure as hell isn’t scary.”

“Ah...!”

“I’m not suggesting he’s harmless, but... He isn’t scary at all. What this man is, dear gentlemen,” he looked into Holmes’ eyes, “is a fraud! I’d bet half of my fortune that the man is responsible for the king’s demise. Look at me any way you want, young, shivering lad, but I’ m telling you – the papers are right. Allow me to explain”, he said and finally straightened, wiping sweat off his high forehead again, “Before the king’s death, he was a kind, caring man... Right. What he really did was, in fact, try to make us think that he was such a person, and not foul and rotten like he really is, so no one would fight the idea that he should inherit the throne. See, the monarchy works in such a way that it would be near to impossible for a younger sibling to inherit the throne; cousins and children always come first, but...” he sighed, as if in deep pain, “The king had no one, dear gentlemen. So that devil came to snap his neck to make sure he’d be the heir.”

Sherlock hummed, his brows furrowing in concentration.

“Now that it’s already decided, he can act like his real self again. It’s that easy.”

“You haven’t had that kind of opinion of him the last time I’ve seen you”, the tall gentleman next to Holmes said, furrowing his brows, “Now that he insulted your key playing, you’re trying to form a group of supporters of your theory.”

“Let me speak, Fairplay”, the sweating gentleman growled, before beckoning the detective’s attention with his wet eyes again, “Do you think a person can change completely in one night? It is obvious that the man had been like this the entire time and was just hiding his true self... He walks proudly, looks down on others, never misses a chance to showcase his dry humour, slams his hand – better yet – his foot on desks, tables, pianos, anything, when things don’t go his way, that semblance of... of refinement, the theatrics, and when he apologizes...! Oh, when he apologizes, I’ve seen it...!” he was visibly getting more and more upset, so that Redifast’s trembling hands were instinctively reaching out to him, even though he was still three feet away from him, “He apologizes in such a soft voice that one would think him to be saint, but his eyes – cold and impertinent, obvious lip service...!” he suddenly stood up and realigned his hat, with everyone looking at him with wide-open eyes as he was slowly cooling down.

“Gentlemen”, he said after a half a minute, slightly bowing, “I won’t stand deceit. My action by going to such a place for money, while actually wanting the man in jail, is double-faced. I won’t be performing with you tonight. Best of luck.”

The omnibus had, understandably, stopped again, and the plump man vanished from their sight after a minute. This time, the omnibus didn’t wait after one of the passengers decided to leave and just started again, the horses angrily huffing as they continued towards the castle. The three men that stayed in the vehicle sat silent for a minute, still huddled up on the same side, before Fairplay stood up and slowly sat on the other end of the carriage. Holmes changed his position as well, leaning against the wall and huddling up in the corner, with both his feet on top of the seat and his chin pressed to his chest.

“A passionate gentleman”, Fairplay said, rising his chin.

“It just goes on to show how open-minded Mother Nature is... with such eccentricities...”

“...But, in all honesty,” the bearded man continued, “his opinion is unjustified and lacking. If he hadn’t been angered the last time, he wouldn’t have had formed such an opinion.”

“I wouldn’t call it lacking...”

“You can’t be serious”, the man straightened, almost knocking his hat off as it brushed against the ceiling of the vehicle, “The gentleman put nothing but his personal experiences into his story and supported the rumour flying around the kingdom, Mr...”

“Holmes.”

“Mr. Holmes”, the man finished and furrowed his brows as if thinking about something, but then just shook his head, “You mean to tell me that you agree with his opinion?”

“I haven’t said that”, the blond laughed, tiredly closing his eyes and readjusting his position, “I said I wouldn’t call it lacking... It’s a solid argument, really.”

“You would think that real musicians have emotional intelligence...” the tall gentleman across the detective silently said, but Sherlock heard him and burst into loud laughter that got Fairplay to look out of the window instead of looking at the other passengers, seeing how the giant castle stretched its glorious form out in the distance, trees and stars being the only things that surrounded it. All the lights were still on, despite the late hour, making the huge building look like an entire village on its own.

The detective stared at the bearded man for some time, looked to the window himself and then swiftly tapped the young man’s shoulder and the boy next to him took off his hat and turned to face the half-asleep man who was sweetly smiling to himself.

“Y-Yes?”

“You’re going to wake me when we arrive, yes?”

“W-Wake you, sir? We’ll be here shortly... A few more minutes, you know...?”

“Then I’d like to thank you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“But, what for, sir?”

“Information”, he said and straightened again, widely smiling and snapping his fingers, “I’d give my thanks to the gentleman across me as well, but I believe he doesn’t want to hear a thing from me anymore...” he laughed again, the man across him shooting daggers into his direction before looking out of the carriage again, “I’ve always wondered why some people just don’t get along... but they just don’t get along. You know, I’ve had this friend, once upon a time, that had another friend, but he was never really a friend to him, more like a threat, but still they...” he abruptly stopped, furrowing his brows and biting on his lower lip as he thought of something, before looking back into the blue eyes of the blond, “Thanks to all of you, I’ve painted myself a picture of the delicate matter.”

“Oh, sir, I’m glad... even though I didn’t say much”, the shivering man smiled, “You know, Mr. Holmes, there is something I’m willing to tell you, so I’d feel of use.”

“Hum?”

“Since two violinists left earlier, and it’s just us... I believe you’re very likely to be the only one playing for the future king.”

“Wh-what?” that got the detective to sit up straight and lean forward, suddenly not feeling so cold anymore, “How do you mean...? You mean – alone?”

“Well, to be honest, sir...” the young man said and smiled brightly, “Mr. Fairplay and I are on secret missions, you know...?”

“...Secret missions...” the detective mumbled to himself, pressing an index finger to his forehead.

“Why, Mr. Redifast-“ the bearded gentleman raised his voice, but calmed down immediately and started nibbling on his walking cane before looking out of the window. Holmes felt like crying. He got the urge to shout to stop the omnibus and crawl home, back into his bed, but his voice wouldn’t come out of his throat. On top of that, his heart started racing all of a sudden, and an odd feeling of warmth spread across his face. He had thought that after so many cases that were dealing with life-threatening situations, he would have stopped feeling such immense excitement – and now he was anxious about playing a violin alone?

“I don’t know how to play the violin, and my case is empty anyways... I’m travelling to see a... horse again...” the man blushed, “You see, I’ve become really attached to that stallion and just want to visit it  as often as I can... I intend on sneaking out upon being seen with the equipment and just tend to the horse for a while.”

“And I’m here on a diplomatic mission to meet up with the prince’s counsellor...” the man looking out of the window said whilst not removing his sight from the dot he stared at, “I work in a bank. I’ve been told to travel with you all because the castle won’t open at any possible time, and I’ve also been told to blend in – hence the violin. The counsellor has a few financial problems since he’s new at the position and the prince isn’t a king just yet so he is no help. And he didn’t want to tell the future king about me. But... Mr. Holmes, where are you headed to...? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to climb up while the omnibus is moving?”

Chapter Text

As the guard standing in front of the giant building took Holmes by the shoulder and walked him across the hallway, the young detective couldn’t help but to look at all the paintings of royalties – all from the same family – that stretched themselves out across the entire giant hallway in which each step would echo along the way. Not only was everything around him painted – including the walls and colourful windows that displayed the family crest – but it was also laced with ivies that crawled through the walls from the outside, making Holmes’ racing heart calm over time. The light at the end of the echoey hallway was beckoning him closer, but it didn’t feel as lustrous as it looked from the outside – Mr. Fairplay referred to the castle as The Village of Lights – before disappearing with a maid that called his name. As for the other, the detective didn’t see the blond young man accompanying him leave – he just disappeared at one point. Since the guard didn’t complain at all, Redifast must have been off the hook as well.

The burly guard shot him a few curious glances along the way, but didn’t ask anything at all. Holmes was just happy no one was pointing out that he’s the only one to have come to play yet.

As they were exiting the hallway, Holmes’ eyes got stuck on the giant painting portraying the deceased Klimt van Zieks, his calm and elegant form being surrounded by deep pink roses that were arranged to look as if they were growing around the picture.

The next room they entered was the throne room – the floor he was walking on was so polished that the man could see his own pale face in it. It was styled like a chessboard and lead to stairs in the distance – next to the main bridge, there were heightened platforms on which small blue carpets were placed, and next to those carpets stood giant candelabras that were all lit instead of the diamond chandeliers on top of the cross-ribbed vaults, so that the room appeared dim. In the middle of the throne room, there was a small glass dome through which faint moonlight was shining. Along the checked pathway stood beige columns, and between the columns bluish green royal flags with the golden family crest in its middle. Alongside a number of narrow gothic windows and the throne on top of another platform the stairs led to, there wasn’t much else.

Sherlock’s steps slowed on their own as he walked towards the empty throne.

He didn’t know why, but he felt sick – perhaps because of all of the ornaments and riches he wasn’t used to. A feeling of strong distaste suddenly rose in him and he puffed his chest out.

Once he was led to the throne, he was told to wait on spot as the guard disappeared, slamming the giant door behind him shut so that the echo reached the end of the huge hall. The detective suddenly laughed, pressing his violin closer to his chest before loudly sighing and almost fainting. His knees were trembling like mad and his heart started racing again, but as nothing was happening for the next few minutes, the feeling slowly started disappearing – but then a door to the throne’s left suddenly opened, and out came a rushing young man who carried a bunch of flags in his arms. He was dressed in a simple white shirt, knee-high boots and trousers held by suspenders, and his dark hair was flowing left and right as he was looking around restlessly for something. Upon locking eyes with the violinist that stared down, he seemed to calm before he sighed and stepped closer to the door he came from. Upon straining his ears, Holmes could hear the words: “Yes, yes... They came – but I can only see one...”

His words got muffled after that and Sherlock pouted. He kept looking into the small door’s direction for a while before laughing again.

“You know...” he suddenly said, the sound echoing through the hall, “I would really consider putting up some soft surfaces around... a sofa, perhaps. Right in the middle. And more canvases. And... and...” he stopped and paled once he saw the young man from before staring up at him with an annoyed-looking expression on his face, and the future king himself looking up confusedly.

Looking at the prince in such an environment now had a different effect from before on Holmes, even though he looked the same, albeit a bit fatigued. He wore the usual green, closely-knit wear laced with gold, but had left the cloak and sword behind. His eyes were completely listless, but Sherlock immediately knew he had to have recognized him by the way his face paled after a few seconds of looking straight at him. A chuckle escaped the detective who stepped back as the two started up the stairs, the shorter looking up at the prince with a questioning look as van Zieks refused to look away – he was glaring at this point – from the violinist who was spinning the bow of his violin in his hand nervously.

“Ahah... Your Lordship”, Sherlock managed to whisper, bowing his head as the tall man passed by him and slowly sat on the throne, propping his head immediately upon seating down.

“Asougi,” the prince silently called, making the young man next to him look to him, “How come that once I actually want to come to one of these performances, the folk shows such condescension?”

“I don’t know, My Lordship”, his interlocutor said with a quick bow of his head, putting his arms behind his back.

Barok kept glaring at the man behind Asougi for a few seconds before closing his eyes shut and straightening, silently speaking: “You are allowed to leave, then.”

“Thank you, My Lordship”, the man said with another quick bow of his head and rushed down the few stairs before disappearing behind the door again. After being left alone with the man that was so emotionlessly staring right into his eyes, the detective couldn’t help but smile again and scratched the back of his neck with the fiddle bow, the other man lazily looking to the bow and then back at Holmes again. Then his white glove moved exceptionally slowly to his chin, before he propped his head against the armrest again and bit the inside of his cheek while still looking at the nervous violinist.

After a while, Sherlock laughed again and silently asked: “Is there something on my face...?”

The tall man looked to the floor, furrowed his brows, and then looked back up at him, opening his lips but not saying anything for a few more seconds. He crossed his legs.

“It is four twenty five in the night.”

“Thanks”, the violinist laughed and watched the other man’s eyes narrow at him, “Though I have always considered that time to be in the morning, not in the night...”

“Your commentary is unnecessary”, the man answered, straightening in his throne again and raising his chin proudly to look down at the detective, “I’ve stayed up the entire night.”

“You smell of wine”, the blond pointed out, pointing into the air and lazily smiling.

The prince’s brows furrowed and he looked to the side for a mere second.

 “It makes one sleepy, yes, but it also contributes to poor quality sleep.”

Van Zieks opened his mouth to say something, but kept glaring at the man whose knees wouldn’t stop trembling, even though his voice sounded completely relaxed.

“It makes you wake up randomly, blocks rapid eye movement sleep, makes you prone to snoring...“

“What are you asserting?” the prince stopped the violinist mid-sentence, impatiently grasping the armrest yet staying completely calm in his demeanour, with only his scar moving unnaturally as his brows shifted, “I did not call upon you for biology lessons, nor do I have sleeping problems.”

“Sorry, then”, the man said and frowned, spreading his arms out, before remembering it was the prince he was talking to and thus bowed with the grace of a potato bag, “I mean, I formally apologize for listing random facts you did not ask for”, he raised his head again and put a hand at his hip, steadying his shaking legs, “Oh. And I guess I also have to apologize for my behaviour yesterday. I’m not really sure what had come over me that morning, I assure you I’m not so insolent most of the times. Especially not towards authority figures”, he trailed off, pressing an index against his forehead, “You suck up to authority figures last time I checked”, he chuckled and spread his arms again, widely smiling, “That’s what the elders say, anyway. It helps in some situations, right?”

The other man’s brows furrowed and he nervously motioned with his leg.

“What are you entailing...?”

“Nothing at all”, the man quickly said whilst still smiling, “I was merely trying to converse with you, that would be all.”

“Which brings us back to the prologue”, the prince sighed, “I am not here to converse. The only thing I am here for is to listen to your mediocre playing before continuing my daily routine.”

The blond chuckled bitterly, his smile losing its purity.

“I assure you, my playing is anything but mediocre.”

The prince kept staring into his eyes for a while before clicking his tongue and turning the other way, his fingers playing a repetitive melody against the hard armrest.

“Forgive my impudence”, he silently said before looking back up at the bitterly smiling man, “I did not want to offend you, if I did.”

The man standing in front of him suddenly burst into loud laughter, writhing and pressing a hand against his paining head before suddenly stepping closer to the sitting man and spreading his arms in his usual fashion, making the tall young man flinch back into the throne to keep away from the eccentric blond.

“I did not expect that from you at all, good sir”, Sherlock said as he searched for the pale man’s piercing blue eyes that were skilfully avoiding his, “In all I’ve heard from you around the kingdom, I’ve never heard of you being but a child.”

“A child?” the prince said and managed to straighten, making the blond slowly step away, even though he was still invading his private space, “Forgive me, but I do not understand what you mean. Now, if you’d please start with the music and stop talking, I do not have much time...”

“I forgive you”, Holmes said and watched the man’s frown for a few seconds before bursting into loud laughter again, making the other raise his chin and look at him in a questioning, almost curious glance that was still laced with mild-annoyance. The violinist gently fiddled with the tuning pegs of his instrument, gently smiling once he locked eyes with the young prince again who looked as if he wanted to look away, but didn’t move a muscle, “If I told you that I’ve learned how to play that thing without ever attending any classes or reading any books, would you believe me?” he silently added and briskly played a short melody, just to show he knew how to play, before looking back to the prince whose attention he had, apparently, caught.

“What I meant is, you aren’t acting like I’ve expected you to act”, he laughed, “I thought you would let me be thrown out of that window over there”, he pointed to the window of his choice, “the moment I started going against your will.”

The man scoffed, looking away.

“I’m...” he waited for a second, trying to cancel out the three words he loved adding to his name as an apposition when introducing himself, “Sherlock Holmes, by the way. You might not have heard of me just yet, for I’m not working as a professional and have just started playing a year ago or so”, he said and swiftly bowed again, a smile spreading across his face – he wasn’t lying, after all – before happily continuing, his smile getting smaller, “I am sorry to have scared away the other musicians. I... heh,” he shyly laughed, “did not intend to do so, really. A few words, a few motions, and they ran off...”

“Mr. Holmes...” the pale man silently started, waiting for the blond to look his way before continuing, “Forgive my impudence, once again, for reading between the lines...” he showed a small smirk, “But I must say, you are most definitely buying time here. I must inquire of you not to worry.”

“One of the musicians travelling with me was talking about their last performance in this castle”, Sherlock chuckled, “He told me you slammed your foot on top of his piano and called him a disgrace.”

“It was my piano”, van Zieks nonchalantly replied without changing his expression, his eyes softening, “Frankly, this is your instrument.”

“You’re just trying to make me play, aren’t you”, Holmes uttered and pressed an index to his forehead again.

“I’ve been doing so from the very beginning”, van Zieks replied, waiting for a few seconds before adding, “Try using the word ‘Lordship’ sometimes too. Being that... you’re speaking with the future king.”

“As His Lordship wishes”, the blond bowed before bursting into laughter and changing his stance, placing his shiny Stradivarius (he was convinced the violin was one, no one else was) at his shoulder, a look of seriousness appearing on his visage as he touched its neck, then slid his hand down as if to prepare the instrument to produce a higher pitch. His right hand pressed the bow against the strings and waited. All of a sudden, the nervousness came back and he felt his heart trying to jump out of his chest. Breathing through his mouth, he tried to get enough oxygen to calm himself down. He closed his eyes, trying to imagine himself in his usual environment, his tiny apartment, absolutely alone and with only a pile of unwashed clothes listening to him. He breathed through his nose, his brows furrowing.

A soft melody came from the small instrument, the tune steady for a few seconds, before he breathed heavily and repeated the same string of notes with a slight variation at the end of the movement before the violin cried a high pitched, long tune. His fingers suddenly started moving faster, the pace becoming brisker until the notes started overlapping each other, jumping from one to another, changing, crying out, pleading, begging – the strings screeching in agony at a short, high-pitched section – then back to the fast pace, then back to the overlapping notes – before another slow segment came into play with the blond finally opening his eyes, sighing and slowly moving his fingers in a lazy manner, as if picking out which sound to play next, slowly looking over to the man in the throne that sat like frozen, their eyes meeting before Sherlock tightly closed his eyes again and quickened the pace, his fingertips dancing on the strings as the fiddle produced loud, painful sounds that kept getting faster and louder, the man clenching his teeth, the strings quivering, the man sniffling, the strings crying out – until a string suddenly jumped from its position and the melody stopped in an unsatisfying sound.

Barok flinched at the outcome and finally straightened in his throne again, watching the man’s expression form into a bitter smile before the violinist suddenly opened his reddish eyes and threw the instrument away from him, clenching his hands into fists before calmly crossing his arms against his puffed out chest, refusing to open his eyes again and biting his lower lip.

“It broke”, he calmly stated, before angrily pointing at it, “That damned thing broke!” he then clenched his hand and put it above his lips, looking between the ‘Stradivarius’ and the future king, not sure who to approach. The man wasn’t looking at him though; he was looking towards the broken instrument that had produced the tones he heard before and was then violently thrown away. Sherlock watched him as the man straightened to see the violin better and then slowly stood up, approaching the instrument carefully.

“Don’t touch that”, the blond spat, the future king meeting his eyes, “I can’t play a damn thing on it before it breaks apart.”

“It didn’t break apart”, the prince softly said, picking it up by the neck and sticking his arm out, looking at it from a distance before looking back to the violinist who was still seething, “Other than that,” there was a tinge of amusement somewhere in his voice, “it looked as if you were trying to cut through it on more than one occasion.”

“Oh”, the violinist uttered and chuckled, a warm feeling spreading across his face as the taller came closer and wanted to hand him the violin which was still being carried by him a foot away from his body, “I get distracted”, Holmes took his instrument and bowed his head, light-heartedly chuckling as the prince didn’t step back but kept looking at the violin, before he burst into another fit of laughter and added, “It’s like I’ve left a piece of my soul in the music and... now I’m... all tired.”

“A piece of your soul”, van Zieks silently said, unable to fight the small smile that fought to appear on his face for the last few minutes, “You have a... a very hazardous soul, then, Mr. Holmes.”

“Interesting word choice”, Sherlock answered and chuckled again, forming his hands into fists and pretending to be boxing against the purple-haired man, “I’d prefer ‘ingenuous’.”

“Are you sure that’s the word you’re searching for?” the prince asked in a soft voice that got Holmes to stop moving around and think of where exactly he had found the word inside of the English thesaurus, but he never got to ask since a voice came from below, which got the prince to turn around and walk towards the stairs to see the same young man as before.

“My Lordship,” the man bowed again, “I’ve come to inform you that it’s half past five...” he turned towards the direction they had come from before and then looked back up, his eyes darting to Holmes for a mere second before meeting the prince’s eyes again, “I’ve visited your room but you weren’t in sight, so I figured you stayed in the throne room...” he kept looking to the violinist who was carefully inspecting the armrest behind the prince, a huge smile spreading across the man’s face, “Breakfast will be served in fifteen minutes at most.”

“Half past five...” the man silently repeated, looking up at the glass dome through which a few sunrays came, illuminating the ground beneath it. He gently touched his head with one of his fingers, shaking his head as if in disbelief, before looking back to the youth, “Forgive my impudence of causing you trouble. I haven’t kept track of time.”

“Is My Lordship’s guest going to join you?” Asougi asked and raised a brow whilst looking at the blond.

“I... wouldn’t like to impose...” van Zieks said, but noticed the strange way his servant looked in the violinist’s way, so he turned to see his guest as well, seeing the blond sit on his knees on top of the throne, scratching something off the top, before turning back to the raven-haired man with the same expression on his face as before, “I’ll be in my chamber, as usual. Mr. Holmes, here,” the blond leaped out of the throne upon hearing his name, turning into the direction of the prince’s voice, “will be a guest of the castle as long as he desires.”

“As usual, I’ve already prepared a room”, the man bowed again, shooting a glare at Sherlock, who showed a wide smile.

“My deepest gratitude”, Barok said and slowly bowed, keeping his head down for a few seconds before drawing himself up, “Please prepare a seat at the breakfast table for him.”

The youth nodded his head and started for the door, so Barok turned back to Holmes, who was trying to put the string back into its original place, mumbling something and obviously getting frustrated since it didn’t work, but stopped once he realized he was being watched again and smiled lazily, hiding the violin behind his back. Van Zieks opened his mouth, only to close it again when he realized he couldn’t think of a proper sentence. He just got closer and crossed his muscular arms against his chest, watching the blond from above with a calculating look.

“If you’re worrying about that stupid violin, don’t”, the man said and smiled, to which the future king replied by just keeping his eyes on him – obviously, the prince wasn’t thinking about the instrument, but Holmes thought it wouldn’t hurt to ignore that fact, “I’ll fix it... somehow. I’ve fixed it before.”

“That might explain the breaking”, van Zieks mumbled, rising his chin and walking around the violinist who shot him a competitive look. Before Holmes could say anything back – he had opened his mouth already – Barok van Zieks continued, “My counsellor is an inventive man. He would most likely be able to fix it for you in a short amount of time... Which does beg the question of how long you wish to stay. I will pay you for your performance once you decide to leave.”

“I... uh...” Holmes started, unsure of what to say – he hadn’t expected the hospitality and didn’t think he’d be deciding how long he would stay himself, “I have...” he laughed again, “All the time in the world, actually.”

Van Zieks looked at him from head to toe before speaking again: “Yesterday morning you were rushing down the streets and jumped in front of a carriage to find a cat.”

“I have someone to take care of it”, the man quickly replied and smiled at van Zieks’ questioning expression, but his smile vanished once the tall man looked to the immaculate floor and went completely silent for a while, before suddenly meeting his eyes again – showing mirrors of gray and blue livid from emotion – before his sight fell to the floor once again. He sighed, and then looked up, facing the door.

“I will have to impose a task on you, however”, he silently said, furrowing his brows and vexedly looking down at the blond again, “If you wish to stay here, you will have to fulfil it”, the man then walked down the stairs on his own, so Holmes, naturally, rushed after him, only to stop right outside the door once van Zieks entered it as the taller man quickly motioned for him to stop with his gloved hand. Barok kept glaring at him for a few seconds – Holmes felt smaller, somehow – before slowly pointing at the hallway, “Past this hall is a large spiral stairway, and on the next story there is but one room and a balcony – those are reserved only for me. For as long as you are here, you will be visiting me each day, at exactly eight in the night, and will be staying with me for two hours.”

“That’s a... weird request.”

“I don’t wish to be disturbed at any other moment”, the prince ignored him, “Hopefully, your violin will be fixed shortly, so that you will not be deprived of practice.”

The violinist laughed before spreading his arms again, saying: “I don’t practice.”

Barok kept looking at him for a few seconds, before shaking his head and abruptly turning around, turning his head to face the shorter man, continuing: “I will be expecting you tonight.”

And then he left, leaving Holmes standing in front of a closed door, in the middle of a giant room, utterly confused as to why Barok van Zieks had changed completely in a matter of mere seconds.

Chapter Text

Out of all things that the detective expected to happen once he’d enter the counsellor’s office uninvited and unknown, a wrench immediately flying towards him and him barely dodging the spanner that instead hit the door with a loud noise was not one of his thought possible outcomes. He added it to his mental list for the future though and looked past the – not one, but three – desks the person had pushed together to create a bigger platform for all the equipment and books to put at, seeing a lanky pale man dressed in a formal white lab coat – another surprise – with big, bushy fair hair in which a pencil had been stuck, big round thick glasses, freckles, tattered trousers and dusty (not muddy, dusty) boots, holding a small red book in one hand while he was flailing around with the other as if trying to keep flies away from him.

Holmes turned back towards the door to see the two servants that had escorted him to the counsellor’s office, just to check whether they were still there – but they seemingly stayed outside.

“Can’t you wait for another few more minutes, Barok?” the bespectacled man loudly asked, his raspy high-pitched voice reminding of a child who was denied something.

“Uh... Hullo”, Sherlock said and the other froze before suddenly turning around and gasping from surprise, throwing his back against another desk he had pushed against the wall and leaping to the other side once a flask fell to the ground, a purplish, steaming liquid spilling to the ground and slowly dissipating through multiple cracks in the wooden floor. He kept watching the liquid with a guilty expression on his face before he suddenly looked back to the detective that was looking at the broken flask. The detective suddenly burst into laughter before pointing up.

“I can come later”, he quickly said and vanished behind the door, but the young man immediately started calling after him, which is why he reappeared.

“Sorry for the mess”, the curly-haired man said and awkwardly smiled, “And for calling you the wrong name...” he suddenly straightened, his facial expression turning serious, the reflection in his glasses hiding his baby blue eyes, “I didn’t expect any newcomers, really... Um. Visitors, I mean. Uh... huh...” he scratched his head behind the bushy fair blonde hair, “Just this night a certain mister came to me... I had to wake at an extremely early hour just for him to start explaining why I shouldn’t try to walk into a mall again before my... situation gets better, and now you... Say, are you carrying even more bad news for me?”

“Nope”, the detective simply said and elegantly bowed, “I’m Sherlock Holmes”, he looked back to the blond’s baby blue eyes that were constantly moving about, as if he was trying to follow his own train of thought, “I am one of the violinists that were called...”

“Oh really?” the lanky man asked, a big smile spreading across his face, “So, you played?”

“Yup.”

“And?” the lanky man loudly asked, grasping the detective’s shoulders, earning a confused glance from the other, “How did it go?”

Sherlock slowly raised his violin, showing him the string that jumped out of its position. The bespectacled man’s enthusiasm slowly dissipated, just like the last contents of the flask that still lay on the floor. He suddenly loudly sighed, his arms dropping to his sides and his eyes closing, “Let me see that...” he unenthusiastically took the violin from Holmes who decided to watch him, realigned his glasses and slowly started straightening again as his eyes grew progressively wider, his long eyelashes batting, “B-But... the string... broke completely naturally!”

“Yes”, the blond said, uneasily smiling and pointing up, “Should I be worried?”

“Ah, but that’s...!” he turned to Holmes, “What did he say, when he gave it back to you?”

“To take it to the counsellor, to fix it. So I could play it the next time again.”

The bespectacled man suddenly excitedly exclaimed, stumbling – or running, Holmes wasn’t exactly sure what that motion was supposed to be – to the other end of the room and throwing things about before finding a small notebook and opening it with shaky arms, arching his back as he tried to write something down, but realized he had nothing to write with. Holmes watched the desperate man for a while before walking next to him and taking the pencil out of his hair, handing it to the man that instinctively grabbed it and scribbled something in small characters across the entire page in a matter of seconds.

“That’s improvement, improvement, I say!” he declared once he was done writing and threw the notebook and the pencil aside before turning to Holmes once again, inelegantly bowing “Dr. Benjamin Dobinbough, royal scientist and counsellor.”

The detective stared at him for a few seconds before loudly laughing, grabbing the man’s hand and shaking it wildly with both hands, almost knocking Benjamin’s glasses off as his entire body shook from the other man’s grip. The lanky man then managed to put another hand on top of Holmes’ and returned the squeeze.

“Well, Mr. Benjamin”, the detective said once they let go and snapped his fingers into the scientist’s direction, “I’m glad to have met you. But what about it? Why are you so keen on trying to help the future king’s anger issues?”

“What?”

“Well, strings being broken unnaturally, keeping a record of his behaviour, you being a scientist and all...” he put a finger against his forehead as he was explaining, to which the scientist shook his head and raised his hands in denial.

“No, no, His Lordship doesn’t have anger issues. Far from it, actually.”

“...Almost”, Sherlock uttered under his breath.

“He sometimes breaks things when he slams his foot on top of them, but that’s a bad habit, not a sign of anger. More to the point, I’m writing times of improvement into the notebook, which has... been... empty... until now. But... I’m certain you’re here for another reason? Or did you just deliver the violin for me to repair? Honestly, I can’t believe he’s told you to play again” his thoughts were scattered all over the place, but strangely, Holmes could understand everything the man was saying and was just lazily turning his head into the directions the scientist walked, “This might even work. Yes. Yes! You see,” he suddenly turned to him, “I’m certain you know, but the whole castle’s been trying to help his state. He’s become incredibly indifferent towards... everything, and I’ve tried to do something about it... Yet it went down the drain”, he said, smiled, and pointed to the flask at the floor, “I’m not sure potions would help him, though.”

“Um... does he know you wanted to put that into his food...?”

“What, no, of course not!” the scientist exclaimed, that awkward smile creeping to his face again, “But I was just desperate at this point... (It would go into his drink, though...) And I’m his best friend, you know – but moving on!” he suddenly calmed, “This is all so stressful”, he whispered to himself before looking back at the guest that was particularly interested in a flask with green contents in it, “You were saying?”

“Hoh?”

“You came here because of a reason, or?”

Sherlock spent a few seconds staring ahead of himself before snapping his fingers, pointing at him, “You must be really close to him, then. You called his name instead of his title, the way you care about him and ask random strangers how certain events played out...”

“I’ve... just said I am his best friend”, he stared ahead a few seconds, “I think.”

The detective pressed his finger against his forehead again before smiling and snapping his fingers.

“I was right, then.”

They both stared at each other for a few seconds, before Holmes burst into laughter again.

“I’m... sorry, really”, the detective said under his breath, looking back to the blue eyes of the counsellor, “I’ve heard your question, don’t think I’ve ignored you... I was just thinking on my own, and couldn’t be disturbed in the process. Yes, I came here because I wanted to ask a few questions.”

Benjamin blinked a few times before shrugging and pushing a pile of books away to make some space for himself where he could sit at.

Holmes realized the office had no chairs whatsoever.

He raised a finger into the air, but instead of asking anything, he suddenly took note of the environment around him – the office was cramped with all sorts of books – ones which were thrown into the corners and ones that were neatly put on top of the desks in the middle of the room. Every other shelf that didn’t have books on it had a flask or two with complicated, spiralling tubes that tied the flasks to each other. A few drawings of the human body and bones were sealed to the wall and notes were thrown just about everywhere. There was a blackboard on wheels full of formulas standing in the corner. Holmes approached a small container then, looking into its inside and carefully lifting the container up and sniffing it.

“Is that... carbon dust?” he silently asked, looking back to the scientist who knowingly smiled.

“Yes, ordinary carbon dust. I’ve been researching human anatomy for the past two decades and, believe it or not, fingers caught my attention.”

Holmes gently put the container back and looked back to the flasks that displayed a variety of colours.

“A particularly interesting matter to me is the tip of a finger. I’ve noticed tiny swirls on my fingers first, and that left me wondering how exactly they came to be... Soon enough I’ve discovered that everyone has such swirls on their fingers, and those are different from person to person. I also heard, between you and me, that a certain gentleman had interest in such things as well and published a paper and whatnot, but the police declined his offer in another land. I think he’s on the right track, though.”

“Those flasks contain my blood mixed with water”, the scientist stated when he saw Holmes’ curious glance, “I don’t know why.”

“And that thing in the back?” Sherlock asked and pointed to the corner, where a giant machine seemingly made out of a telephone pole lay, half-broken and full of spider webs.

“Ah, that’s just a hobby of mine”, Benjamin answered and smiled as he scratched the back of his neck, to which Holmes nodded multiple times before looking back at him.

“Your collection is astounding”, he breathed, lightly laughing, “I hope mine grows as big one day.”

“You’re free to use my lab if necessary, Mr. Holmes, if you know how to put it to use. But... do keep your hands away from that thing in the back”, he looked into the corner and narrowed his eyes at the machine, “It took the life of a hamster.”

Holmes raised a questioning eyebrow at the younger man whose smile had suddenly vanished from his face, his eyes hidden by the reflection in his glasses. He then bit on his thumb and made a nervous motion. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Sherlock decided to continue the conversation.

“It sure is cramped in here...” he laughed, “Almost as cramped as my apartment.”

“Well...” he smiled and scratched the back of his neck again, completely changing the air around him (Sherlock immediately felt ease), “It’s not that small of an office, actually... It’s just everything around me that is big, so it takes up most of the space.”

“Why don’t you clear the books you threw into the back, then...?” he pointed to the air, “Those are kind of unnecessary... and after learning about house dust mites, I’m kind of worried with those old books around...”

“Oh, no... I couldn’t. You see, these are not mine.”

“Hoh?”

The scientist suddenly clammed up, and Holmes’ eyes glinted in intrigue.

“Ah! Nothing deceives the great detective Sherlock Holmes’ eyes!” he exclaimed and burst into laughter, before leaning forward in his usual fashion, “Those must be your predecessor’s, yes?” he straightened again and put a finger to his forehead, “Hmm... I can only assume that fact to be correct, based on the way your face paled as soon as you realized I was on the right track...”

The detective put a pipe into his mouth – the scientist didn’t see where he had gotten it from – and just held it in his mouth for a few seconds, closing his eyes and thinking of his next words, before the doctor suddenly exclaimed again and flinched, crossing his arms over his chest and nervously shivering: “W-Wait! You can’t be – no way!”

“Eh?”

“I... I knew I’d heard of that name before”, the doctor said under his breath, his eyes searching the detective’s entire form.

 “Hoh?” Sherlock huffed and looked to the side, “My name...?”

“I’ve heard of a Sherlock Holmes before... That man got involved in a case that happened three months ago, with a famous criminal wanting to rob a bank, and that criminal disguising himself as a young gentleman that worked under a red-haired elder man that was then offered a job to earn money by simply writing an encyclopaedia, just so the criminal could dig towards the bank as the other was writing, or something... It was all around the news! The name ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stood out to me as well, because I’ve never, ever heard of a man named ‘Sherlock’. An amateur detective, isn’t that right...?!”

“Amateur, eh...?” Holmes mused and removed the pipe from his mouth, putting it back into his pocket and pressing his index to his forehead, “I wouldn’t say amateur.”

“The same bank owner was here as well hours prior...! This can’t be a coincidence, can it?”

“Everything happens for a reason, dear Mr. Dobinbough”, the detective said and pointed up, before his smile completely vanished, “But we don’t have time to dawdle.”

“I agree”, Benjamin said and tried to look serious as he pointed to the door, “Sir, you have to leave immediately, before His Lordship finds out you’re a detective. No detectives are allowed in here.”

Holmes was just smiling for a few seconds, before realizing what he had just done. He suddenly started flailing his arms around and dropped to the floor, earning a muffled exclamation from the doctor that immediately ran to his aide.

“Mr. Holmes”, he continued as he tried to push the heavy man up, but realized he couldn’t even dream of being able to lift him, so he left him lying on the cold dusty ground, “I’m very thankful for what you’ve done for the future king and I am sure he had a great time as well. But, as the royal counsellor, I have to make you leave before he gets a grip on the situation.”

“But – but I didn’t sneak in!” Holmes exclaimed and sat up, looking at the bespectacled man with wide eyes, “I earned my entrance ticket; I’m not going to disturb him... yet.”

“That’s out of the question”, the scientist strictly said, flinching once he realized his voice had cracked in the middle of his sentence, “I am very sorry. Uh... Off you go”, Benjamin pointed to the door, and Holmes stared at him for a few seconds, wanting to tell him that Benjamin was able to call the guards at any point, but decided against it in his own favour.

“But I... he told me... He told me to visit him every day, for as long as I stay here. He also told me he will be waiting for my arrival today – I can’t just leave now, don’t you think?”

“His Lordship van Zieks warned me of detectives’ ‘tricky antics’ and persuasion methods... Even if he did say that, Mr. Holmes, I – we can’t risk having you around. All investigators are forbidden of entering the castle ever since that day, and are forbidden forever. The future king has developed a certain... hatred for investigators after that incident.”

“Hatred, you say...?” Holmes calmly asked, getting up and checking his light violet shirt for dust, “That’s news to me...”

 “...I’m the only one that knows... about it... I mean, I’ve been keeping an eye on him the entire time, since he started feeling sick and was easily irritable. The day he heard what had happened came to be such a shock for him that he couldn’t say a single word to anyone around him, so when the investigation started, and it started immediately because he was the king, of course...” he sighed, all the enthusiasm in his voice suddenly dissipating, “When the investigation started, he couldn’t say a single word. I tried to answer for him, but I don’t think I got anything right... I had a feeling he knew more about it than I did, but he wouldn’t say. The next few days, he talked only if necessary. And once it became apparent that the investigators wouldn’t solve anything, and even started blaming him, he suddenly disappeared into his chamber. The next morning, I woke to a note sealed with duct tape to my forehead, saying I should disband the investigation under all costs. Now, what was I to do?”

“Elementarily, you listened.”

“The next day, he wouldn’t stop talking about the detectives’ incompetence and smashed an entire wine glass right in front of me, declaring his hatred towards them. Whenever someone speaks about them now, he either scoffs or walks away.”

Holmes bit his lower lip and frowned, before loudly laughing and pointing up once the doctor looked to him questioningly.

“Well, if his faith ran out, someone simply has to restore it!”

He then started laughing again, writhing in the process. The spectacled man stared at him for a while, before questioning: “Wait. So, you’re not here to arrest him?”

“Arrest him? I’m but a private detective; I don’t have the right to do so...” he put the pipe back into his mouth, closing his eyes.

“I... I mean”, Benjamin flailed his arms about, trying to word his thoughts, “There’s so much evidence piled against him, and every single person that doesn’t know him could easily say that he’s the culprit, and that’d be it... Not only is there evidence, Mr. Holmes, there’s also a ton of rumours, and facts, and carefully crafted theories...”

“Do you believe in him?” Holmes suddenly asked, the same lazy smile on his face.

“...Was?” he shook his head, “What?”

“Do you believe in his innocence, Mr. Dobinbough?”

“I... I...” he blushed as he clenched his hands into fists, flailing with his legs that didn’t reach the ground, “Of course I trust him! He would have never done such a thing, let alone to his brother...!”

“Then he didn’t do it.”

“I... I’m really confused”, the scientist confessed, “Flattered, relieved, but confused. It’s natural for me to have believed in his innocence from the start, because I know him, and he’s my best friend... But a detective that doesn’t know him, on top of that...?”

“I never said he didn’t do it.”

“But...” the scientist stopped every motion, before flailing his arms again, “You just said that and... You...”

“I don’t care what most people believe, Mr. Dobinbough”, Sherlock kept talking and snapped his fingers, his gentle eyes meeting the scientist’s, “I’ll believe what I choose to believe. If I got something wrong, it’s my fault to have chosen wrong. I advise you to do so, too...  There are a lot of people out for his blood at the moment, and common hatred has clouded minds of investigators...” he laughed, writhing, “But, you see”, he pointed up, “I’m still sunny as a spring day.”

“You mean...” the doctor looked away, but flinched once he felt a warm hand on top of his shoulder.

“Let me assure you, Mr. Dobinbough”, he started with a serious expression on his face, “I’ll see to it that the truth comes to light... If you let me investigate – in secret, of course – I’ll do everything in my power to solve this mystery without coloured judgement.”

Benjamin was utterly confused and the lump in his thin throat was getting bigger by time, but in a second of putting his rationality aside, for the first time in his life, he nodded his head determinedly as the detective’s smile spread across his face.

“We have ourselves a deal, it seems. Let me assure you, I’m the greatest of the great, and you don’t have to worry about...” the detective talked and looked to the other side, suddenly growing pale in the face and stopping mid-sentence. He took a deep breath and cursed himself for taking such a long nap before again before he swiftly turned to face the counsellor again, “I’ll ask a question or two the other time, then”, he said and quickly glanced back to the grandfather clock that was standing in the corner that was about to sound, “I’m afraid I’m out of free time... I must tend to the future king immediately.”

He ran out of the office and slammed the door shut, disappearing just a second before the clock sounded. Benjamin stood to his thin legs and looked to the clock confusedly, before humming a tune and approaching the desk where he had thrown his old notebook at, searching for it before opening the last page he had written into, watching it for a few seconds with furrowed brows.

“Yes... that could actually work, it... really could...” he mumbled, “If Barok doesn’t realize he’s a detective, and if this detective’s really as great as I’ve been reading... then there’s a chance, isn’t there?” he stopped, looking around the room before looking back into his notebook, his smile fading, “Oh... Benjamin, you nitwit!” he smacked his forehead, “This is a double-edged sword... But I’m sure that if such a thing happened to me in a parallel universe... he’d do the same for me, somehow.”

He widely smiled.

Then he looked back to his notes, searching for the pencil he threw away before.

„Barok zeigt große Interesse in die Musik die von einem Mann namens ‚Sherlock Holmes‘ gespielt wu rde. Mach den Mann den Safe hinter dem Rosenbild öffnen. Wisch die Abdrücke weg.“

He then added another sentence.

  „Reparier die Geige nicht bevor.“

Chapter Text

Once Sherlock finally reached the stairs that led to van Zieks’ private room, his knees were already trembling again and he was panting in his hurry. He cursed censored swear words with each step up the stairs he took as he ran upwards, getting dizzy at the sight below him but ignoring it since he really didn’t have time for his light fear of heights and shaking stones beneath his boots. Once he reached the last step, he heavily sighed and looked around himself – only to see a giant hall with absolutely nothing but a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and a distant door that had been closed shut. The hall was dark, but there was a dim light source coming from the far right, ushering Holmes to get closer.

Once he approached the light source – it turned out to be a rose-covered balcony – he completely froze.

The future king had been sitting at a small black table on which a simple gas lamp in the shape of a flower slowly burned right next to a bottle of wine, whilst he was swirling the dark-coloured liquid around in an expertly-crafted glass before bringing it to his livid lips, only to decide against drinking the blood-like beverage and closing his narrow eyes tightly, his scar twisting in the usual unnatural way again. Two dark locks fell right over his eyes as he sighed and pressed his gloved hand against the bridge of his nose. He was dressed in the same garments as before and wore a cloak around him that was dancing with the light breeze that played a small symphony with the rose leaves around him, and in the background crickets chirped as an accompaniment to the roses. The white marble tiles on the floor were immaculate as everything else in the castle, with only a few pink petals lying on it here and there. The space was narrow – but just enough for two people – incidentally; there were two white wooden chairs on each end of the table. Sherlock was sure he was to sit on the other side, but he didn’t have the courage to move from his place on his own, so he waited to be told what to do instead.

“You’re late” the prince silently said, slowly gesturing to the empty chair across him – the violinist obliged. Van Zieks kept glaring at his visitor as the man was just looking around curiously, ignoring his inquiry, “Mr. Holmes, you are late.

“Oh, huh... sorry”, the detective mumbled and chuckled as the other’s eyes just narrowed.

“Aren’t you going to try to think of a proper excuse?”

“No, not really”, the detective immediately replied, adding, “There’s no excuse for sleeping in.”

The prince shot him a curious glance before looking to his intertwined fingers and closing his eyes tightly.

“It was a... rather late hour...” he silently stated, looking to the side, “That also may be the reason why so few of you violinists attended.”

Holmes shrugged.

“But, forgive my musings”, the prince added after receiving no response, straightening in his chair, “I hope you were well-received.”

“Oh... yes, of course”, the man said after realizing he had been talked to, “There were a couple of servants with me at all times, even as I slept, I realized when I woke up”, he laughed, “They showed me around the place. And a maid saved my piece of the breakfast I didn’t fetch earlier. Oh, but there’s one servant who glares at me whenever I walk past, so I started doing the same. Bad idea”, he burst into laughter before spreading his arms and frowning, “Now I walk the longer path every time to avoid him.”

“That is...” the purple-haired man searched for the right word, “...perturbing.”

“That it is”, the great detective said and pointed up, before looking up towards where his finger pointed and the smile his visage showed started disappearing in deep thought, “I... didn’t know you were a fan of roses” Sherlock said after a little while, looking back at the other as the man glared into his direction.

“I’m not.”

“Yeah, I never got why people love reproductive organs of plants being shoved into their faces”, the blond said and chuckled, earning a confused glance from the man across him, who then drew himself up.

“My brother had developed a liking of roses over time. He used to plant them in the garden by himself.”

“Huh.”

“I had my balcony covered in those plants as a commemoration of him”, he said and looked to the roses above him before a moment of silence ensued. He suddenly looked back to the man across him, who was realigning his sleeves, continuing, “Have you visited the gardens yet?”

“Oh, no, no such thing”, the violinist laughed, calming pretty quickly as he realized his interlocutor wasn’t about to laugh with him, “I didn’t find the time to.”

“You had the entire day” the prince felt the need to point out, his brows furrowing.

“Was I supposed to? I slept in, I’ve said that already”, the man replied before bursting into a quick laugh that must have sounded through the entire castle, given that they were on the top of the castle and were out in the open, “I’m going to look into the matter tomorrow, then, though I do believe I know how it looks. If you’d like me to, Your Lordship.”

The man across him narrowed his eyes, nervously swirling his godly chalice in his hand.

“It was merely a suggestion.”

The blond hummed before looking behind him, catching the sight of a few stars scattered around the vast black that was that autumn night.

“I never explained myself”, Sherlock suddenly added, catching the man that was looking inside of his glass chalice off guard and making him quickly look his way, “When I told you that you looked like a child, at that particular moment, you got offended. It wasn’t a comment on your attitude or conduct”, the violinist suddenly looked his way, to which the other man looked back into his chalice, “It’s that you apologized just as easily as you said something wrong. Not a lot of adults do that. Hell, I can’t do that.”

“I do not particularly care”, the man deadpanned, meeting the blond’s eyes and glaring at him for a while. Holmes went silent. It wasn’t really easy to make him fall silent, but the prince managed to shut his mouth by saying one single sentence. He suddenly thought of Mr. Naruhodou, and how glad that man would be if he managed to make him shut up for once. After that thought, however, he noticed van Zieks’ eyes on him and looked his way, silently humming as to make him know he was listening, “What is with that queasy smile?”

“Oh, I was just thinking of a certain person”, Holmes answered honestly, putting both feet on top of his chair and leaning back, not missing the look of disapproval on the prince’s expression.

“Do I want to know?” Barok deadpanned, taking a quick sip of the beverage in his hand before putting the chalice down and leaning his weight against the coffee table.

“I don’t think he would be a person of interest to you”, Holmes stated and popped his neck bone by looking up at the rose fence above him, “It’s just that he can never shut my yap, yet Your Lordship does it so easily.”

“Was that supposed to be flattery?” the man asked, his eyes getting narrower.

“Not at all, Your Lordship”, he said and laughed, spreading his arms as he leaned forward, his legs slamming against the floor again, “I’ve never learned how to flatter someone, to be more precise”, he paused, before snapping his fingers, “Now, flattery on me, though... That’s another story in its entirety.”

“I do not wish to hear of it.”

“Your Lordship is quite close-minded.”

“A suffering mind cannot endure creativity that is not one’s own.”

“But Your Lordship is quite the gentle soul, though.”

“I’m bored”, van Zieks suddenly deadpanned in a fit of frustration, straightening in his chair and taking hold of the chalice again, swirling its contents in his hand and then pointing it the gaping violinist’s way, “I do not appreciate foreplay. Entertain me.”

Holmes stared at him. Van Zieks stared back.

Then the violinist suddenly burst into an uncontrollable burst of laughter, writhing in pain and slamming his fist against the small coffee table, to which van Zieks replied by quickly stripping it from the wine bottle that started to quiver at the blond man’s movement, “Entertain you, you say?!” he managed to squeeze out before laughing again, throwing himself into the back of the poor wooden chair that would have fallen over if there was no fence right behind it – the prince had already moved closer in fear he’d lose that man in the depths of his own premises – but the blond seemed to have gotten a scare himself so he stopped laughing for a while and scooted closer to the table, before chuckling yet again. Van Zieks debated whether he’d slam a fist against the table to make the chuckling goof stop, but instead just got a tinge of red on his face as he now felt like he was being ridiculed. Of course, being the future king, he could have stopped the ridicule and punish the vulgar fool in front of him, but he felt like that was completely unnecessary – the event continued for another minute, thus. Once the violinist almost choked on laughter, he suddenly calmed down and stood up, heading for the exit – the prince was seething and didn’t think of calling him back – but instead of vanishing from his sight, Sherlock Holmes had the audacity of approaching the prince from behind and putting his hands onto his shoulder pads, gently patting him whilst still chuckling.

“You crack me up, really.”

The prince immediately stood up, glaring down at the four inches shorter man that had the most innocent smile on his face the future king had ever seen. It prevented him from objecting and just got him to wrap the cloak around the lower half of his face and look to the floor.

“You really need to work on your wording”, the detective mumbled and played with the man’s huge cloak, to which the prince responded by violently turning around to make the other stop touching already. He furiously realigned his cloak and stood tall, his expression being the same as always once he decided to finally reply.

“My wording is appropriate, but your mind is... vulgar”, he hissed before hiding the lower half of his face again, looking back to the detective that had spread his arms and was smiling in his direction. 

“Oh, no, well, I never...” he laughed, but just straightened again and put a finger against his forehead once he stopped talking, “I blame the horses. Do you blame those for my behaviour?” he asked and spread his arms towards van Zieks again, hoping the man wouldn’t run off – he looked extremely fragile at the moment, with his face even paler than usual and his eyes darting about like Naruhodou’s. Almost.

“I did not...” the man closed his eyes tightly, moving his cloak with his gloved hand, playing with it by letting it fly left and right, “I should not be letting this happen.”

“Then why are you?”

Van Zieks didn’t answer. He kept hiding in his cloak, though.

“No, no, I think it’s great”, the detective chuckled again, “I think barriers between people should be destroyed as soon as possible”, he pointed up, “And since we’re going to have to see each other for a while...”

“What barriers?” the man exclaimed, moving in such a theatrical manner that Holmes had to suppress another chuckle, turning around and walking a few steps towards the small fence before looking back, “There are no barriers, except of the one that saved your pitiable life!”

“Do you-“

“And yes, I pity you, peasant!” he slammed his steel heel on top of the coffee table. He glared down at the man in front of him, hoping for a negative, intimidated reaction, but the detective kept smiling his way.

“That’s so nice, thank you.”

“Someone ought to refine your barbarian antics... Truly, the empty vessel makes the loudest sound”, he kept declaring with his listless eyes fervently set on Holmes, who couldn’t help but to crack a smile at the other.

“Shakespeare... good choice of authors to brainwash someone”, Holmes calmly uttered, watching the empty eyes of his interlocutor for a while until the man closed them tightly and put a hand against the bridge of his nose, shaking his head left and right.

He then calmly put his foot back down and stood still for a second, before slightly bowing: “Forgive my impudence of slamming my steel boot against the coffee table. Please”, he then gestured with his hand for Holmes to sit back to the table, and so he did, smiling all the while. The prince approached the table, threw himself back into the chair and propped his head, loudly exhaling through his nose. After staying silent for a while, he mumbled, “Please, do explain yourself.”

“Sir van Zieks”, the man called instead, looking at the other for as long as he didn’t lift his head back up, his eyes looking away from the table and were nowhere near looking into Holmes’. Sherlock decided to cut the man some slack, chuckling before realigning the small lace that had been placed into the middle of the small table, “What I meant is that it’s always better to tell everything bad about yourself right from the start, so that the other person doesn’t suffer afterwards. For example, I’d like to tell you that my laugh is obnoxious, I sit like a child, I fall asleep at random locations, randomly get depressed from time to time – I just get some alone time then, no one really has to worry – and am extremely stubborn. Oh, but you knew all that already... Now you”, he said and gestured towards him, but the man kept looking to the ground with his back relaxing against the plastic chair, and his arms protectively crossed over his chest, pouting.

“Or not”, Holmes added, sitting back into his chair. They sat in silence for a while, looking to the ground and roses above them and listening to the howling wind that crept up the small hills in the distance before throwing itself against the castle’s stony structure. Van Zieks suddenly looked at a pocket watch that he had kept with himself, clicking his tongue and crossing his arms again, staring ahead at the detective who flinched away at the sudden movement.

“I wanted to have you here for one reason”, he said and pointed to him – or through him, so Holmes looked behind himself before realizing he really did point to him – rising his chin as he continued, “Mainly, for you to entertain me.”

“I’ve figured as much” the detective pointed out, receiving a sharp glare from the prince across.

“I’m an... empty man, Mr. Holmes”, the prince sighed, leaning against the wooden table again to allow his voice to go down in volume, “Desperate, on top of that.”

Holmes’ lip twitched upwards and he found himself leaning forwards as well as to hear the man’s silky voice that kept getting more and more silent, as if he didn’t want anyone else to hear him. But he had stopped talking and was now looking at the man in front of him, yet Holmes got that familiar feeling of being looked through instead. Those blue eyes looked completely detached from reality, eerily holding onto something in the distance Holmes couldn’t see.

“It is unfortunate your instrument broke”, the prince suddenly continued in his normal voice, leaning against the back of the chair and crossing his muscular arms over his chest, looking up, “I could naturally afford you a new one, but I know the mind of a musician.”

“Yes, I’d never play on another violin than my own”, Holmes said without thinking ahead of what to say, fighting the urge to dig deeper into the prince’s short speech as he so nonchalantly changed the topic of their conversation. One was now clear to Holmes though – the man was deeply troubled by something. Inspired by his own observation, the detective smirked as he continued, “Excuse me, what I’m about to ask of you is completely unrelated to your question. May I?”

Van Zieks seemed confused for a moment, but the confusion was visible only in his light eyes that had looked away upon noticing the man’s smirk.

“You may.”

“I’ve noticed a huge collection of books around the castle. And coupled by the fact that you’ve quoted Shakespeare on a prior note... You seem to be quite interested in literature, I take it?”

“More or less”, the man answered and closed his eyes, “Most of the books displayed were the property of my brother. My interest mostly lies in plays, but I did read most of them in my free time.”

“Are you Russian?” Sherlock suddenly asked and leaned forward, earning a confused glance from the prince that took a few seconds before he could reply.

“No.”

Sherlock nodded to himself and leaned back into the chair, cupping his chin and humming a tune. After waiting for a few seconds, van Zieks couldn’t help but ask: “Might I know the reason behind your inquiry?”

The violinist hummed in acknowledgement and intertwined his fingers, leaning closer.

“What do you think... Are all Russians suspicious people, or are all suspicious people Russian...?”

“I don’t quite follow”, the man hissed and the detective suddenly straightened again and snapped his fingers with a lazy smile resting on his pale visage.

“Never mind that”, he locked eyes with van Zieks and waited for a few more seconds before continuing, “A few years ago, a certain Russian man published a book that was soon released upon the masses, capturing the hearts of devoted readers. It was translated to English some ten years ago. A really good book and a recommended read, really.”

Van Zieks merely nodded to make him proceed. Since Holmes expected him to retort, he couldn’t help but chuckle at the small surprise before recollecting his thoughts again.

“Yes”, he started, spreading his arms and waiting for another few seconds, his eyes darting towards Barok’s scar just before starting to talk again, “It’s a crime novel.”

Barok’s frown deepened.

“But this time around, the reader doesn’t follow the investigator, but the perpetrator instead.”

“The perpetrator”, Barok repeated, showing slight interest by looking at the detective from the side.

“Yes, the perpetrator”, the blond pressed a finger against his forehead, “Our main protagonist is the offender”, he spread out his arms, “Though the story itself isn’t focused on the crime,” he snapped his fingers, “but on the character himself.”

Van Zieks crossed his legs and leaned forward with such great refinement only he could display; slowly intertwining his gloved fingers and gently pressing them to his pale, wine-graced shining lips that Holmes suddenly noted for one reason or another and immediately looked back to his mildly-interested eyes.

“In fact,” he took a quick breath through his mouth, “the crime takes place on the very first part of the book. The book, of course, follows more storylines and characters, but the main focus is our murderer protagonist. You see, he has an ideology – I don’t wish to ruin the plot for you – and commits the crime for a specific reason one could... actually understand.”

“Murder is a... heinous crime”, his eyes looked to the floor for a mere second before they met Holmes’, which shone in intrigue, “And you are to tell me you-“

“That’s beside the point”, Holmes quickly cut him off, effectively stopping the man, “Thorough the novel, you see the main character interacting with others, fighting his demons, caring for his family, struggling financially...”

“The point being...”

“He changes, Sir van Zieks. You watch him morph into a sad, sad being.”

Van Zieks suddenly stood up. He kept watching the man calmly sitting against the table before taking out his pocket watch, kept waiting for a few seconds, and soon nodded.

“It’s ten p.m.” he said as he looked back to his pocket watch, gently closing it and stuffing it back into his pocket, before turning the detective’s way and slowly bowing, “You may leave.”

Sherlock stared a few seconds more before suddenly stirring.

“Oh, uh, now?” Holmes said and stood up as well, laughing as his hand passed through his fringe, “...Do I have to?”

The prince’s eyes just narrowed as the tall gentleman stumbled towards him before stopping himself a few feet away again, smiling widely all the way.

“Of course I have to”, the detective laughed and bowed just as tastelessly like the last time, the wind blowing his hair into his eyes so he had to comb it aside with a hand, “And I may. I... I hope that was entertaining enough, yes?”

“Goodbye, Mr. Holmes”, the prince strictly said, his brows furrowing and a frown appearing on his pale face.

“Yes”, the blond said as he pointed into the air, and waited a few seconds, staring at absolutely nothing, before turning on his heels and walking right back from where he came from.

Chapter Text

The gardens of the Village of Lights were a massive green ground adorned with dark hedge mazes that encircled the entire stony castle, graced with ivies that stretched themselves out on the walls and climbed up the huge building with years of searching for their spot beneath the sun and light pink roses that had been planted next to the hedges to make it look as if the hedges themselves grew the pretty flowers. The entrance into the gardens was a passage made of light metal material to hold up even more roses that climbed on top to the top of it. The petals that flew to the cobbled path that prevented getting lost in the mazes were cleaned every night, so that the petals that fell to the ground during the day would make the path look prettier with its pale, gentle colour. Inside of dark green bushes along the path, small lanterns that offered dim light at night were hidden.

Where the hedges would stop and one would come to a small green clearing, where the grass wasn’t taller than half an inch, one would be able to see white stone statues in different poses, their empty eyes always looking to the flowered ground beneath them. A few barrels were pressed against the castle’s walls on a particular spot, and a small wooden table with a few chairs around it (no one had sat on them for a few years already) that were half-covered in moss on one side stood next to them. In the middle of the gardens, a giant white fountain stood in all its baroque glory, a jet of water parting in the air and its small drops swiftly falling back into the fountain in which a few coins were scattered to disappear in their own kind. It also lay on the cobbled path that was circling around it before heading into three different routes – back, forward and to the side – if one would follow the side path one would reach a small wooden shack that was located beneath two huge willow trees that cast their shadows over the shack.

If one would follow the forward path, one would have to pass through a tunnel of trees; all the branches had grown intertwined, making the tunnel a structure through which little of the morning light could pass. The tunnel led to a couple of stairs finally, where a small wooden arbour stood proudly, a bottle of wine standing on the wooden seat inside of it.

Barok van Zieks was sitting right next to the bottle, with his legs crossed and looking into a little book, taking his eyes from the paper only to narrow them as he looked towards the early sun, biting on his lip before his eyesight fell back to the papers in his hands and started moving left and right with the letters. He wore a simple white frilled shirt he tucked into his trousers and his hair was a bit wavier than usual since he hadn’t styled it carefully that day. He chugged on the wine next to him and tightly closed his eyes before putting it aside again.

“Isn’t it a bit early for that, My Lordship?” the young man a few steps away from the arbour asked as he had turned back to the prince that didn’t look his way.

“No”, he simply answered and dived back into his book.

Asougi frowned, but looked away again and crossed his arms, standing guard for no reason in particular. It wasn’t his job to guard the prince, but he would do it nonetheless. Whenever the future king would approach the stable, Asougi would end up following him if he didn’t have anything to do. He didn’t really get along with the rest of the staff, and Barok van Zieks usually stayed silent; something that was getting kind of worrisome over the time, though. This time around, Asougi didn’t follow the prince out of no other reason but to seek company, though – he was surprised to see him up and about at such an early hour, and all alone, with no business to have to attend to.

The prince hadn’t come to see the gardens in a long while.

The young man realigned his red cravat and put his hands down his pockets, looking back to the prince who didn’t lift his head up at all; he seemed to be alright, which is why Asougi turned on his heels and wanted to get back to his rightful position, but the prince’s voice suddenly stopped him.

“Do we have Russian books?”

Asougi confusedly turned around, looking the man in his light eyes that stared right into his in complete seriousness, to which the young man almost laughed, but managed to stay as calm as ever. Barok looked back to his book before meeting Asougi’s eyes again.

“I’m afraid I don’t know, My Lordship” Asougi answered, a muffled chuckle escaping him, before continuing when he saw the disappointed look the prince shot towards him, “I’m not in charge of the books in the castle, as far as I know...?”

“You used to work in the library yourself, Mr. Asougi”, he silently said, the young man having to strain his ears to hear what the prince was mumbling about as he had turned back to his book again, “I figured you would have known.”

Asougi stayed silent for a while, curiously glancing at the reader.

“I can always check”, he proposed, putting his arms behind his back, before his curiosity stopped him from heading back to the library and he turned his head to see the man once again, “Is there a particular reason for your sudden change of taste, Your Lordship?”

“Not... really”, the man slowly answered, as if picking his words with extreme caution, “I have been reminded of the sudden spikes in literature the land had experienced recently and wished to see the fruit with my own eyes... And had never paid attention of which books are put on display”, he stopped for a moment, eyeing the raven-haired man, “What is with that sudden interrogation?”

“Nothing, Your Lordship.”

The man just looked back to his book again, pressing the bottle of wine by its neck with his long, gloved fingers, but never lifting it. Asougi kept looking into his direction for a while before briskly making his way back to the castle to check on the books they had in the library – he was almost positive they only had national books and a few world-famous old literature, but it never hurt to check – and more importantly, he really had better things to do than stand guard if no one would ever come after him anyway – he suddenly stopped in his thoughts and tracks as he saw a familiar blond-haired man with the pink shirt and grey trousers the servants brought to his room yesterday fiddling with the doorhandle of the small wooden shack below the trees. He sighed, narrowed his eyes and swiftly started towards the man, but in the one single second he looked to the ground, Holmes somehow managed to appear right in front of him instead, catching Asougi off guard and making him flinch.

“Ah, good morning, Mr. Asougi”, he loudly said, spreading his arms out towards him and making the other narrow his eyes and step back.

“How did you-“

“How did I know your name?” he cut him off by pointing a finger into the young man’s face before pressing it to his forehead, “Well, you might not remember anymore, but you were with His Lordship when he came to the violin concert, that day... He said your name, and I managed to remember it, somehow!”

“I... didn’t really want to ask about that”, Asougi said but looked away and ignored the man’s remark.

“Are you the new groom?” Holmes asked with an innocent smile, and Asougi froze, which Sherlock took as a confirmation. The younger crossed his arms and ignored the question, addressing the more important issue.

“Why are you tampering with the shack?”

“Tampering?” Holmes asked and loudly laughed, writhing, “You tamper with crime scenes, not with small little modest shacks.”

Upon receiving a strange glare from the shorter man, Holmes decided to answer another way.

“I was merely looking at the strangely shaped lock. I had never seen a lock like that in my entire life, and was wondering where it could have come from...”

“All the locks of the royal castle are custom-made and are property of the building, sir”, Asougi asked, crossing his arms, “And please, don’t touch anything that is locked. It is locked for a reason.”

“For a reason, you say?” the detective asked as a glint appeared in his eye, “What could be as secret as to be locked inside of a shack like that...?”

“Sir, you are forbidden to touch that shack again”, the shorter simply deadpanned and passed next to him, heading back to the castle before being called by the violinist again and turning around swiftly, putting his arms behind his back as if awaiting an order. Holmes shot his a weird glance, but decided to let it go.

“You seem to be in a rush?” Holmes timidly asked – something the young man had to raise a brow at – and looked behind himself, only to laugh and look back to the waiting man, “Are you in a rush? Do you have some time to spare...?”

“I have a job to do, sir. Maybe another time...” he said, but didn’t leave just yet and kept looking to the ground with a focused expression on his face, biting his lower lip, before raising his head again, “Is it important?”

“Not... really...” Holmes confessed, chuckling, “I was told to visit the gardens, a recommendation and whatnot, and I’m really astounded by its beauty and all... but. How do you. Exactly get around?” he burst into a fit of laughter as he saw the other man’s confused expression, “You see, I’ve been stuck here for about an hour and a half, and I have barely made it out of the previous hedge maze... Really confusing horticulture here...”

“Have you tried following the path?”

“...The path...?” Holmes asked with his index pressed to his forehead.

“The cobbled path, sir”, Asougi repeated, sighing, “If you follow the path, you really can’t get lost.”

“Oh, understood!” Holmes exclaimed and snapped his fingers, briskly turning around again and following the path towards the fountain before stopping to look back at the man, “Thank you.”

“Uh... you’re welcome”, Asougi stated, turning around again to finally look for Russian authors in the library, but stopped once again to look back at the blond that was still looking at him, as if waiting for him to disappear so he could start snooping around the shack again. He really didn’t know what to say then, since their eyes met and the man was now clearly expecting another question, and Asougi figured it wasn’t in his job description to question the royal guests’ odd behaviours (though he suddenly got to question the prince’s choices of guests as well), which is why he decided to let it slide for the time being. Instead, he asked, “If you didn’t follow the path, how did you even get here?”

“Oh”, the detective chuckled, “I just stepped over the hedges.”

“You stepped over the...?” Asougi started, but closed his mouth and nodded. Holmes put a finger against his forehead.

“Well, at first I tried taking the maze, but the challenge proved to be too much, so I had to find another way to get across.”

“But... you can see everything across...”

“Exactly”, the detective pointed up and smiled into the man’s direction until Asougi really didn’t feel like staying here and chatting to the man anymore. They exchanged parting words and turned away from each other, the young man disappearing behind the bushes and Holmes pretending to walk away by slowly circling around the fountain, until he was sure the raven-haired man had left – then he suddenly stopped and touched the fountain’s marble structure, feeling a crack in its structure but just waving dismissively with his hand. The detective then noted the few coins in the fountain, biting on his lip as he watched them and thought of whether he could reach them – he figured it was too deep for his arm to reach – before humming a tune and stepping up at the marble, leaning closer to the water as he held onto the middle part of the structure with his bare arm – he had rolled up a sleeve to avoid getting wet.

“Eight coins in total...” the man said under his breath, leaning closer again, “Seven of them seem to be inside of the water for quite some time... one looks fresh enough.”

He carefully stepped down, eyeing the fountain before reaching for his gun and firing it a few times to check every place on it for blood – nothing appeared.

“No reaction, huh...” he mumbled, “Just like my chemistry jokes”, he said and burst into laughter again, passing a hand through his hair and writhing, before calming and slowly putting the gun back to his side, heavily sighing and continuing to mumble to himself, looking back to the shack with distaste in his eyes, “Ugh... Custom-made locks are hard to pick... Let alone that thing...” he put a finger to his forehead, “Maybe I can find that strange key lying around somewhere... It must be hard to oversee, since it had such a weird shape...”

He looked back to the hedges.

“Couldn’t have been done there... It’s a narrow space. Those things still wouldn’t have been able to recover if the king would have fallen on top of them... and there couldn’t have been planted new ones, since those are all connected and are pretty much stable – old, I mean. Why am I talking to myself. ”

He looked back to the glorious castle and frowned. The detective then looked to the third path that led to a tunnel of trees, and immediately rushed in its direction – upon reaching the middle of the tunnel, he could see the roof of the arbour after a stairway, and his legs instinctively started walking faster – until he reached the clearing and stopped dead in his tracks, his heart skipping a beat from surprise. He lost all of his investigating enthusiasm a second after.

The prince had been sitting at the arbour, calmly reading a book inside of the small wooden construction Holmes had wished to investigate, taking up half of the seats with the way he sat. He was holding the small book far away from him, with his right arm completely stretched out, as if he couldn’t read it from a closer distance, and must have felt someone staring at his back, which is why he slowly turned his head into Holmes’ direction, eyeing him from the side. The detective stood frozen for a while, feeling his hands first tingling, then warming all of a sudden, before he turned the other way and disappeared from the prince’s view as fast as he could.

Van Zieks watched him leave with mild interest, but just looked back to his book.

 

***

 

Staring at the blank ceiling above him with a bored expression on his face, he sighed and gently stroked the paper he had pressed against a book he had found inside of the crates of unnecessary, additional furniture the servants had brought to him by the prince’s order (the only time he had actually checked what the people brought was a minute prior, to find a hard surface he could write on, and he was pretty much sure this was the only time he’ll ever check what was inside of it), pressing his pencil against the writing surface, and waited for a few more seconds for some kind of inspiration to flow into him.

It was hard thinking about home in such an environment.

The familiar scent of chemistry experiments gone wrong wasn’t there, the sofa he lay on top of was too soft to be considered part of his home, there was no sibling-like bickering coming from the neighbouring room, no cat was scratching at his door and Iris’ hums as she would cook were never reaching his ears. In fact, everything seemed to be too perfect for him to live normally here. No one was bothering him in his work – which he had always thought was something that would actually help him, and it suddenly felt like the worst bore of all – he wasn’t used to such lonely silence.

His hair smelt of expansive shampoo and it was distracting him. He had taken a sample before and stuffed it into a miniature container for future replicas, when he’d come back home.

He suddenly laughed, realizing he was getting sentimental, and it was just the second day of staying here. Maybe it was the fact that he knew he would have to stay much longer, considering how the investigation was going. Deciding not to think about it, he got the paper closer to his face to start writing down, but his sentimentality remained sitting in the back of his mind, ready for when he would need it again.

 

“ Dear Iris, Mr. Naruhodou and Miss Susato,

 

I hope all of you are doing well back at the apartment. I’ve told you I was going to send some letters to inform you of my adventures. My usual letters are short and crude, yes, but this time around, I’ll try my best to explain everything around me, because, Iris, I know you want me to be more detailed so you could write about my adventures. I just thought of something... Iris, you could name your little book collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, don’t you think? I’ll really try. Or not. I don’t know, you be the judge.

His Lordship van Zieks has received me in his castle and ordered a room to be readied just for me and I’m, naturally, going to stay here for as long as I’m on the case. Of course, he does not know I’m a detective and I can’t tell him because Mr. Benjamin told me the prince hated detectives. Mr. Benjamin is the royal scientist and counsellor – I was told those two professions always came together inside of this castle – and my confidant for now. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked the room I received is pretty big and, though it lacks character, is pretty much useable. I also got a random cactus and a notebook with a few pencils. And a few crates I’m not about to open just yet. Too many details, huh. There’s no bed though, and I sleep on the couch. Well, I’m supposed to sleep on it I guess. I was told I would get my breakfast delivered sometimes, but I guess that’s when I don’t anger the cook or maid. So, today I didn’t get to eat in bed. I tried investigating around the kitchen and shot my paint gun. I have also been given some other clothes I could wear, and I’m pretty much sure the collection is bigger than my own. No, Miss Susato, I am not ordering any dresses. I don’t think they’d look at me the same way after that.

My investigation so far is going fine. It’s not that I’ve made significant progress, since the papers decided not to state the location the murder happened and since no one here is allowed to talk about it (and I’m NOT asking the prince), so I’m left to find out on my own, but I’ll solve the mystery nonetheless. I refuse to back down now that I’ve managed to get such a position. Really, the royal counsellor supporting me? You don’t get such hospitality usually when you say you want to snoop around the house. I really don’t know how long everything will take, but... that’s what the letters are for.

The castle itself remains true to its noun - castle. (I’m too lazy to search for a dictionary to check.) It’s huge and you get lost in it pretty easily. Just this morning, I couldn’t get out of the giant bathroom because of the mirrors that are positioned so that you have no idea where you are and you can just see yourself paling every single time you fail to get out – and you walk into circles – and I’ve also spent more than two hours in the gardens of the castle, trying to find my way to anything.

The personnel are really nice. I didn’t expect that at all... there’s a man your age too, Mr. Naruhodou. He might even be from your home country. Anyway, this man had been glaring at me for quite some time, so I used to avoid him, but today he helped me through that God awful maze, so I suspect he isn’t that bad as well... Is it rude of me to suspect you’d like to meet him? And Barok van Zieks is... an interesting bloke, to say at least. Doesn’t say much most of the time, and really just minds his own business. He changed drastically.”

 

He stopped writing as he heard a light, nervous knock on his door, before looking at the clock in the corner of the room that displayed that it was almost time to head to the prince’s chambers before lazily raising from the soft sofa he had been lying on and passing through his locks to make himself look presentable and then finally made his way towards the closed door, albeit slowly, taking the doorhandle but not opening the door just yet. He furrowed his brows and looked back to the clock one more time, before running back to the letter he was writing and stuffing it behind the sofa cushion. Then he headed to open the door.

Outside stood Dr. Dobinbough, nervously walking about and stopping in his tracks once the sleepy-looking Sherlock decided to present himself.

“Mr. Holmes”, the man exclaimed with his high-pitched voice, “I just came to visit for a little while... may I sit down?”

“Uh... sure”, the man tiredly replied, opening the door to its full extent and the bespectacled man rushed into his room and sat onto the far end of the beige sofa as if he had received an order. He then proceeded to nervously scratch the back of his head, smiling widely and Holmes slowly closed the door and sat to the other end of the couch, watching the scientist for a little while before sitting straight like his visitor.

“I just came to ask how it went...” Benjamin silently said, as if others would have been able to hear them if he talked even a decibel louder, “The start of the investigation, I mean.”

The great detective pointed up proudly, before putting his finger down and spreading his arms, arching his back and answering: “Well. I now know where the murder didn’t take place.”

The counsellor nodded, waiting for further information.

“After 10 p.m., and after visiting your lab to talk to you about it, I immediately started my investigation. I started from the hallway up, spraying and pointing my paint gun at all the different locations I could possibly find and soon realized that there was not a single place the man could have been murdered. No signs as well”, he laughed before frowning, looking to the floor, “I fell asleep around four in the morning and woke up on the kitchen counter...” he shrugged his shoulders before suddenly angrily exclaiming, “Oh, I can’t believe I’ve spent so much time searching the place...” he spent a few seconds looking ahead of himself before putting his empty pipe back into his mouth and crossing one leg over the other, watching Mr. Dobinbough eat away at his thumb for a while before continuing, “And no reaction whatsoever...” his brows furrowed, “Except from that maid that got really angry when I pointed the gun in the kitchen... But maybe that’s just because I ate the whole dessert on my own”, he spread his arms, “Her fault for leaving it at the counter...” he silently added, chuckling.

“And the garden?” Benjamin enthusiastically exclaimed, arching his back forwards, “I mean, you told me there was a chance that the murder didn’t take place inside of the castle... How did that do?” Holmes remained calm, nibbling on his pipe for a few seconds before deciding to answer.

“My investigation... bore no relevant fruit”, Sherlock sighed and put the pipe back into his pocket, “No, in fact, not even irrelevant fruit. I learned that the previous king was really obsessed with pink roses, some wishful bloke threw coins into the fountain, that the locks of the castle are crafted in a special way...” he shrugged, pressing his index against his forehead, “and that I’m allergic to some weird plant I can’t identify.”

“Oh, boron... Well, how can we find out where he was murdered if everything was wiped?”

“I’m not coming too close to that plant ever again...”

“Mr. Holmes?”

“Hoh?”

“Have you-“

“Even if everything was wiped, there’s no way my detector wouldn’t pick up anything... You’d have to use oxygen based cleansers to do that, and I doubt the culprit could have found the time to wipe all the blood away...” he snapped his fingers, “No, dear Mr. Dobinbough, I’ve got a few places in mind.”

“Y-You do...?”

“Yes, of course!” the detective leaped up, standing up at the sofa and snapping his fingers, “There are numerous locations I couldn’t visit, and are thus locations I suspect the murder to have taken place at the most. You see, to kill a king – there’s no possible way for it not to have been premeditated murder.”

“Of course, guards were always by His Lordship van Zieks’ side... It couldn’t have been an accident.”

“And every premeditated murder is thoroughly thought out, right? Hence the name,” the detective wanted to grab onto his hat, but realized he had left it in his apartment, so he slowly put his hand to his hip, unable to hide the small sad frown that came to his face as he said the next words, “To kill a king... is no easy task. One cannot make the simplest mistake, or all would fall into the depths of hell. If that is so, the king must have been killed at a specific location, and not just anywhere.”

“I... guess you’re right.”

“I have a few in mind...” the man mumbled, biting on his finger and sitting back down, his eyes fixed on the cushion his letter had been hid under which happened to be the cushion on which the counsellor was now sitting, so the bespectacled man looked behind himself with a questioning look in his blue eyes, “First off”, he called attention back to himself, widely smiling and pointing into the air as the doctor swiftly turned around and almost leaped out of his sitting place, “First off, he could have been murdered in his own room, which is now off-limits.”

“Oh!” Benjamin exclaimed, a look of pure fascination in his eyes.

“Secondly, he could have been murdered in His Lordship’s room... the prince’s, I mean. I plan on looking into it sooner or later.”

“Oh...” Dr. Dobinbough didn’t look as fascinated anymore.

“Up next we have the shack in the garden, which is locked up at the moment and I can’t open it, because of the custom-made lock. I know the castle was investigated, not the gardens, but if it were left out, there’s a high possibility that that’s the real scene of the crime. The culprit could have snuck the body back inside.”

“I... I’m sorry...” the doctor said and put his legs on top of the sofa, hugging them close to his chest, “This would be so much easier if I had come out of my office at that time... Now everyone seems to know what had happened, and is ordered not to speak of it, and I’m left out...” he smiled, albeit in a sad way, “To think, the counsellor doesn’t know what transpired that day... But I wasn’t allowed outside once the police came, I swear!” the man excitedly exclaimed and stood to his thin legs, to which the detective took hold of his shoulder and slowly pressed him back into the cushion.

“It’s okay.”

“It is”, Benjamin felt the need to answer after sitting in silence for a few seconds, making the detective chuckle before he continued pointing out his conclusions.

“And, of course, there’s the possibility that he had really been murdered on an open location, where everyone could see, at an entirely different place. Though... with the castle being such a secluded place, I wouldn’t say those possibilities are big. But, you never know”, he said and shrugged, before pointing up again, “The mind of a murderer is a mystery to me, really. I once had a case in which a man was dropped from a building, onto a moving train...”

Benjamin’s brows furrowed at that moment, so Holmes stopped his loud musings and watched the doctor in interest. Once the younger man realized the private detective was looking at him though, he flinched and blushed a bit, scratching the back of his head again.

“Is something the matter, Mr. Dobinbough?”

“Ah... no, no... It’s just, I’m trying to think of what I’ve seen that day... Something about this statement just now was like... like a déjà vu, but I can’t quite...”

Sherlock tilted his head and furrowed his brows, crossing his arms before walking closer and discreetly looking to the clock that would soon strike the hour of his and the prince’s meeting. The scientist suddenly pouted and flailed his arms about before shrugging two times, and then he rose to his feet and stumbled towards the door, earning a confused glance from the blond detective.

“I’ll try to think of what I’ve seen on the day of the murder, but... Even if I’d remember now, I doubt we’d have the time to talk about that”, he said and awkwardly smiled, his cheeks flushing, “Time is really a big issue in such an environment... I should probably get back soon, otherwise we might... well. Go down the drain...” he stopped talking and suddenly raised his hands defensively, “I mean, not that I’m that bad of a counsellor, it’s just... Ah! Never mind...” he huffed and looked to the floor, “What I mean is, I’ve wanted to visit you much sooner, but couldn’t find the time to, and now that I have the time to, you don’t have the time to... His Lordship must be waiting already.”

Holmes spent a second looking at the fair-haired man, wondering where he had gotten so much oxygen to talk for so long, before shaking his head.

“But... I’ve still got ten minutes left.”

“He must have been ready for half an hour already, then”, he said and looked behind himself, as if afraid they would be watched, before awkwardly smiling and swiftly bowing – it wasn’t as much of a bow as it was a swift head bob – and staggering back towards his office.

Sherlock watched the man leave for a few seconds before closing the door again, his eyes worryingly passing over his entire room before finally getting stuck on the cushion the scientist had sat at. He swiftly searched for the poor piece of paper – now crumpled – and pressed it to the wooden table in the middle of the room, trying to straighten it before just loudly sighing and grabbing the pencil again.

 

“As I was writing this letter, I got a visit from the counsellor himself and had almost gotten some information out of him... Well, almost. He had to leave since I’m about to head to the prince’s chambers. I suspect a new lead to come into my life soon though. I am sorry for having to cut this short, my friends, but we both know I won’t be willing to finish this lettre if I leave and come back again. La lettre means letter in French.

Yours truly,

S.H."

 

He stared ahead of himself for a moment, before writing down.

 

"P.S.

I’m sorry that the letter looks like it’s been sat at. I’ll try to hide it on a different location next time."

Chapter Text

"My Lordship, they are just taking up space and resources”, Holmes heard a manly voice say upon ascending the stone stairs that shook upon being stepped at, “There’s no reason for them to stay...”

“As long as they don’t harm anybody, they are allowed to stay.”

“B-but, My Lordship...”

“My Lordship”, another voice chimed in, “What do we do about the mentioned costs – do we wait, do we pay immediately... Is My Lordship going to order us to pay?”

“Give them the sum as soon as possible.”

“And what about the resources acquired for tomorrow’s event?”

“I am neither interested in, nor part of that event”, the future king said from the wooden chair on the rose balcony, Holmes saw once he reached the small place, and watched van Zieks’ lips as he spoke whilst trying not to frown at the mass of personnel that had encircled him, “Discuss your issue with the one responsible for it.”

“But, My Lordship, it is meant for you, and you are the master of the castle, so all the notifications must, under any circumstance, come to you firsthand, whether in person or by post. You, directly or indirectly, are responsible and have paid for those resources, so My Lordship has to answer”, an old man with big ears said and, after receiving a glare from the prince, widely smiled, showing the inside of his mouth that lacked a few teeth, before starting to shiver.

“My Lordship”, a woman in a long dress called in a pompous voice, straightening proudly, “What is with the crafters?”

“The crafters?” van Zieks turned to the lady, swirling the dark contents of his glass with a swift, steady gloved hand.

“Oh, yes, the crafters, have you forgotten?” upon receiving a confused glance as an answer, she continued, “The chalice you are holding, My Lordship. Those chalices are made from experts, after all.”

“Yes, yes...” van Zieks huffed, pressing a finger above the bridge of his nose and gingerly shaking his head left and right, “I will see to it personally as soon as possible...”

Sherlock was just standing around at the entrance of the balcony, watching the poor man turning into various locations to see where he was being attacked from next. He would have entered and joined the crowd if it weren’t for two facts: first of all, he couldn’t get to the balcony at all, since the small place clearly wasn’t made for a lot of visitors, and second of all, he was scared the platform might become too heavy and they would all just plunge down from the tower. For a second, the thought of leaving occurred in his mind, but he knew that would be out of the question.

“My Lordship”, a young, calm maid suddenly said, louder than everyone else, so that the princes’ eyes shot towards her general direction, but stared into the distance instead of her – the distance where Holmes stood, “Your guest has arrived.”

Just like that, all voices stopped and all eyes darted from the prince to the violinist who lazily looked to every single one of them, before staring back into the prince’s direction with the same expression – van Zieks just blinked before reaching for his pocket watch. Then, as if on order, all the guests started leaving one by one, in a line up, completely silent – only a few individuals were still whispering amongst themselves – before everyone except Barok and Sherlock disappeared. Sherlock looked back once more, seeing the last of the people that screamed their lungs out on the balcony to be heard leave, before looking back to the future king that had already drawn himself up again and was now calmly taking a single sip of the wine in his chalice, closing his eyes for a moment of serenity. Since his eyes remained closed, Sherlock felt like he shouldn’t be disrupting, but as the thought of just leaving appeared in his mind again, he forced himself to move towards the table and sat at the chair across the man that was seemingly enjoying the peace.

Hearing the usual crickets again, Holmes relaxed as well, sinking into the back of chair and closing his eyes. A gust suddenly blew their way, making the violinist smile as his hair danced along with the current of air.

“A storm is coming”, Holmes chuckled without opening his eyes that suddenly felt the need to stay closed, “I don’t know whether a literal storm, or a metaphorical one.”

“Both”, the prince replied, surprisingly, and Holmes could hear his lean form lean against the small coffee table, hearing only silence for a few more seconds – he could imagine the prince’s attentive eyes questioning his drowsiness – before silently continuing, as if afraid the man was asleep and he didn’t want to wake him, “Meteorologists said big cumulonimbi were passing through the area...”

Holmes chortled.

“Cumulonimbi.”

The prince went silent again, so the violinist opened his eyes and smiled at the confused expression that adorned the other’s face.

“...And an event is coming up soon.”

“What kind of event?” Holmes asked, more out of politeness than curiosity.

“A... party.”

Holmes hummed.

“Not a fan of those”, he said, chuckling, “Crowds, shouting, accidents...” he stopped at accidents, his eyes widening all of a sudden, “Do you know how much crime takes place on parties?”

“No.”

“Me neither”, Holmes immediately answered, unable to hold back the fit of laughter that tickled him, “I was never invited to one of these, so I can’t really know. Though I imagine it could end up pretty bad”, he stopped once he saw van Zieks’ half worried, half angered expression, changing the subject, “I thought you didn’t wish to be disturbed by anyone inside of your chambers.”

“It is the end of the month”, van Zieks replied in a muffled voice, taking hold of his aching head again, “At such a time, the entire castle seeks me out. If you hadn’t come late yesterday, you would have seen the other half of the castle.”

“All on one balcony?”

“Unfortunately.”

“And it holds?”

“What does?”

“The balcony – it... withstands so many people standing here? Because I was too afraid to step onto the open. I didn’t want it to collapse.”

“The castle is made out of stones, Mr. Holmes”, the man deadpanned, his facial muscles moving so that his scar twisted in an unnatural way – Holmes couldn’t look away and was pretty much sure that was the reason why the prince suddenly looked to the right, “Stones should be able to handle excessive weight.”

“You’re probably right.”

Van Zieks suddenly frowned, glaring at the blond for a few seconds before leaning back into his chair again and facing him with his proud chin raised up. Instead of saying anything though, he looked into the glass chalice he was holding and swirled its contents yet again, watching it intently, as if seeing his entire future in it, before slowly bringing it to his lips – but never drinking anything. He sat motionless, then, his listless eyes looking ahead of him, into the dark nothingness that is to be seen from the balcony. Holmes noticed that the only thing one could see from this spot at night was a few light from a small town in the far distance, and that only over the roses that grew all around the safety fence. Sherlock suddenly opened his mouth, but didn’t say anything, realizing he shouldn’t ask the prince anything personal.

“The violin...” van Zieks slowly said, making Holmes look back at him, “Has the violin been fixed yet?”

“Is His Lordship keen on hearing me play again?” Holmes asked, innocently smiling when the other shot a glare at him. Almost immediately though, the prince crossed his arms – once again, he was in the same clothes as usual – looking into another direction before mustering the courage to answer, and even once he did answer, his voice sounded uncharacteristically weak.

“Your playing is quite amusive.”

Holmes couldn’t help the genuine smile that crept up to his face.

“I know”, he responded, and after realizing van Zieks was going to stay silent if nothing else happens, he burst into laughter.

“It would be a shame if you didn’t manage to play the instrument again before your departure,” the prince said after the violinist was done with laughing and pointed at him with his wine glass that reflected the candlelight, “considering it is almost the sole reason why you are here today, sitting with me.”

“I hope I’ll be able to, Your Lordship.”

“You will be paid for your services, naturally”, he added, as if he was obliged to sneak in that little detail that meant absolutely nothing to Holmes, before taking another sip of the red liquid in his chalice. He then sighed, first eyeing his chalice, then his interlocutor that was staring right into his eyes with some kind of expectation, and then the single rose petal that was lying on the cold ground. He cleared his throat before speaking, “I own the finest wine in the entire kingdom. Not drinking it would be a waste.”

Holmes shrugged, so the man bit on the inside of his cheek, nervously moving the chalice in his hand.

“You are not as talkative today”, he suddenly deadpanned, stopping every movement and just staring at the violinist with a serious look, “It leads me to believe something has happened.”

“Not really”, the man shrugged again, putting a foot back onto the chair and once again catching the disapproving look of the prince, bursting into muffled laughter, “I was just thinking about some important issues... nothing important to you though, Your Lordship. I had a busy day. But about the violin”, he leaned against the table, laughing again, “The counsellor hadn’t had the time to look at it. He was really apologetic about it”, he chuckled the last words out, expecting the prince to look at him in bemusement, but the man seemed to be getting used to it. Barok looked to the side.

“Sounds just like Mr. Dobinbough... Forgive my impudence of rushing you.”

“He told me you know him pretty well”, Holmes continued, “Is that the reason why he was appointed as a counsellor?”

“That is... one of the reasons, yes”, Barok said, looking to the side for a second before glaring back at the blond that was suggestively smiling at him from across the little table, “By knowing him personally, I also knew that he is a reliable, resourceful man. Those two qualities are the two most important standards one has to meet to get the position.”

“The previous counsellor had also been a scientist. Just like Mr. Dobinbough, right?”

He stopped the line of questioning upon receiving an odd look from van Zieks, laughing and trying to stir the conversation another way again: “If I had known you were searching for a scientist, well...”

“Forgive my impudence, Mr. Holmes”, the man said, shaking his head and showing the faintest of smirks on his thin, colourless face, “But I do not see you as reliable at all.”

“No?” the man laughed again, “You don’t know me at all, then.”

“I don’t”, the man immediately confirmed, and Sherlock didn’t know what, but something made his smile disappear in a heartbeat. He found himself numb all of a sudden, and stared ahead of himself as if lost. Then that familiar tingling feeling came back into his cold fingers, and he looked to the man again who was swirling wine around, looking into the fluid with a look of deep concentration. Holmes swallowed, putting another foot on top of the chair and hugging his legs, pulling them closer to his chest. He rested his chin on one of his knees and watched the man biting the inside of his cheek, his cold eyes moving about as if he was counting the droplets of his beverage that had remained on the glass. A warm feeling spread across his chest, something that was reserved for only the closest of friends, and Holmes suddenly felt scared.

“Let us get back to the question at hand”, the purple-haired man continued, putting his chalice in the middle of the table before putting both of his hands to the edges of the table, leaning a bit closer, “The violin, Mr. Holmes.”

“What with it?” Holmes mumbled.

“Speak of it.”

Sherlock didn’t know why, but the simple sentence sounded like an order, so it took him a while to reply.

“It’s a bowed, stringed instrument that is the highest member of the violin family”, he started laughing upon seeing the man’s brows furrow at him, “It has four strings, a hollow body and an unfretted fingerboard and is played with a bow.”

The prince watched him attentively, his brows furrowing.

“That sounds as if you’ve just recited a paragraph from the English dictionary.”

“Damn it”, Holmes whispered in feigned anger while his smile was still there, pressing his fist against the table, “His Lordship saw through it.”

“You have too much time on your hands, I’d say.”

“I assure you I’m a busy man”, Holmes chuckled, realigning the sleeves of his shirt as it was slightly too big for him, just like any other shirt, “What you’ve witnessed is a hobby of mine, not a product of time wasting.”

“You need new hobbies, then”, van Zieks retorted, taking notice of that one single lip twitch Holmes displayed upon hearing what the man had to say, “I’ve asked you to tell me something about your music, Mr. Holmes. Not about the instrument in general. I know what it looks like and sounds like.”

“You could have just said so”, the man mumbled, stretching in the chair and putting his legs back to the ground, “The thing is, though, I really don’t have anything to speak about.”

“What do you mean?” van Zieks silently asked, disbelief in his eyes.

“I don’t know what to speak of when suddenly asked”, the other explained, “It’s just that – ability. Once you’ve somehow learned to do something, you just do it. There’s no real story behind it, really.”

“Do you mean to tell me your playing had no thought behind it, no story to tell?”

Holmes would have answered affirmatively, but the intense look in Barok’s cold eyes stopped him from doing so. Instead of answering, he started second-guessing himself, and then just shrugged after a while. Barok van Zieks went silent after that, but kept glancing towards the blond from time to time, as if waiting for him to answer. Instead of answering though, Sherlock decided to question him instead: “Did it seem like it had a story behind it?”

“Doesn’t every piece have one?” van Zieks silently asked, shaking his head before Holmes could answer, “You yourself said a piece of your soul had been left behind that day.”

“I did?”

The prince nodded, crossing his arms again. Holmes chuckled.

“I don’t remember anything like that.”

“Your memory is lacking, then”, van Zieks deadpanned, looking up, “I have a vivid memory of that time.”

“His Lordship seems like he has a specific reason to question me about it.”

“I am only trying to get you to talk, so that I won’t have to”, van Zieks retorted, his eyes narrowing, “I repeat, once again, you are here to entertain me. If you fail to do so, I will not hesitate on cancelling your stay. It is a part of our little agreement, no?”

“Probably”, the violinist replied, smiling and yawning loudly, “To be honest, I wasn’t listening to all your words back then.”

“What were you listening to then?” he snarled, “The air current? The liquefaction of wax?”

“I wasn’t listening to anything at all”, Sherlock calmly explained, the lazy smile on his face never going away, “I was merely observing”, the man waited for van Zieks to retort again, but as the man chose to ignore him, Sherlock continued explaining, “Observation is a far better way of assessing a situation at hand then merely hearing someone speak. Yes, of course, hearing the tone and manner a person speaks in is important too, but studies suggest that not even that is the most important thing in a speech. I don’t recall the exact percentages at the moment, but I do know that body language is much more important than the words itself.”

“That’s interesting”, the man said, obviously not interested at all. Holmes chuckled.

“I digress.”

“You seem to do that a lot.”

“Your Lordship likes to point out flaws in other people”, he said, catching the furious shine in van Zieks’ eyes as he spoke, “Anyway”, he huffed, looking straight into the prince’s agitated eyes, remembering how beasts always took eye contact as a challenge and letting the thought sink into the back of his mind. He wanted to continue, but frankly, he couldn’t. He stopped before laughing again, hiding his face in the palm of his hand and showing a toothy smile as he leaned against the armrest, suddenly devoid of all of his energy to talk to the man across him, “We’re”, he laughed, “I just know we’re going to bite into each other’s throats like two hungry jackals.”

“We already have”, the prince responded after waiting a few seconds, steadily looking at the blond man that still refused to show his face behind his palm, “But even that is sufficient.”

Holmes remained silent.

“I never intended for our meetings to have a friendly basis”, the man kept talking, taking the chalice back into his hand, swirling its contents around for a while before slowly reaching for the wine with his ghostly lips, but just pressing them to the glass instead of drinking, closing his eyes, “I am content with anything you throw at me”, he shook his head and swirled the wine again, pointing the glass back to the blond whose smile had disappeared and had his brows slightly furrowed now, “As long as it is entertaining.”

“I swear I’m gonna flip this coffee table if I hear that word again”, the blond replied, laughing and making the man in front of him freeze. The prince then leaned back into the chair, sinking into it slowly whilst glaring into the other’s eyes, “If you have something to say about the violin, say it now. Because you’re clearly trying to pull something out of me.”

“I’m not doing such a thing”, van Zieks immediately retorted, putting the glass aside.

“Please”, he genuinely laughed, and van Zieks couldn’t part his eyes from the man anymore, his quivering lip trying to say something miserably before his mouth would just close again and he’d look back to the table – Holmes was still waiting patiently, resting in his place like a misbehaving child, “Be honest with yourself, for once”, they sat in silence for a moment, so Holmes quickly added, “Your Lordship.”

“I... didn’t know you played it”, the man whispered after a while, nervously taking a hold of his chalice again, “You’ve never mentioned it.”

The violinist went silent for a minute, looking straight into the agitated man’s cold, ashen eyes.

“It’s never too late to try something new. I told you, I’m self-taught. Two years was more than enough.”

“In two years, learning to play like that...”

“It wasn’t a composition, it’s not that hard if you don’t have to follow anything”, Holmes answered, his lazy smile slowly creeping back to his face whilst still challenging the man with his shining eyes, “I’ve always been good at improvising, dear van Zieks. I was just improvising, nothing else.”

“And you are still going to insist on your piece being nothing more than a fanciful, capricious idea?” he leaned forward, his eyes reflecting Sherlock’s contours. The man across him felt his throat dry.

“What happened to you?” Sherlock suddenly asked, and watched the man’s shine in his light eyes gradually fade away, until he slowly lowered his head, “It’s like... everyone in the castle is talking about you as if...”

“I have trouble feeling”, he admitted, locking their eyes again, shaking his head, “Anything”, he bit his lower lip and kept silent for a while, noticing how concentrated the man across him suddenly became, “I have trouble feeling what I need to feel. I’ve had troubles doing so ever since my dear brother died. But I... don’t even think I’m sad anymore. I don’t know if I ever was. I can’t remember. The feelings are still there, but, as if... distant.”

He leaned back, but kept eye-contact.

“When you played that instrument... I”, he swallowed, starting to talk a bit louder again, “I felt... something. I don’t know what it was – it doesn’t matter. But the fact that my soul opened up to the moment, that was enough to make me hold onto some kind of hope. And... What is a man, but an empty vas, if there is nothing to bind your heart to?”

Holmes couldn’t bear his stare, so he quickly looked to the ground, feeling something in his chest contort.

 “I don’t care if it was hatred, elevation, sadness, melancholy, happiness... It doesn’t matter. I felt something real, and that is what matters”, the man suddenly declared again, his lips trembling as he spoke in a wild passion that contradicted his frozen facial expression, until he looked down again and tightly closed his eyes, “I... forgive my musings. That does not usually happen.”

Holmes raised his head again and watched curiously for a few seconds, before deciding to try to say something. After a little while, he opened his mouth and chuckled – he didn’t know why, but he did, and genuinely smiled – before he mustered the courage to speak: “You know, a friend of Mr. Naruhodou,” he didn’t realize the man didn’t know whom he was talking about at the moment, “whom the man helped on multiple occasions, because Mr. Naruhodou’s, like, the nicest person alive”, he said and chuckled again, coyly meeting the man’s attentive, glassy eyes, “wrote a book I stumbled upon in the library, one day. There was but one sentence that stuck in my head and I ended up running back to the library to copy the quote (That isn’t illegal, right?) into a notebook... It goes somewhere the lines of... I believe that words uttered in passion contain a greater truth that those that are rationally conceived.

Van Zieks didn’t respond to that. He looked back to his boots and tiredly closed his eyes.

“I...” he sighed, “...hoped you would...” he strained himself to speak, but eventually just stopped talking and reached for the pocket watch, to which Holmes drew himself up in his chair, “Twenty seconds...” he mumbled, looking to the confused man whose eyes opened widely.

“You can’t be serious.”

Van Zieks shrugged, but Holmes shook his head.

“If you have something to say, by all means, say it!” he suddenly fervently exclaimed, earning a bored glance from the prince across him, “Hoped I would what?”

“We don’t have time for that”, the prince coldly replied, glaring into his eyes the way he always did, and then tightly closed them, shaking his head, “Tell me just one thing, Sherlock.”

The blond’s eyes opened widely, and he instinctively stood up.

“Do you really think I did it?” he silently asked and rose to his legs before even receiving an answer from the blond whose expression showed nothing but pure confusion. Watching his face for a while, he sneered, shaking his head. He then protected himself with his cloak, before calmly saying, “You are dismissed.”

Chapter Text

Musical instruments blasting music from all around the giant architecture, screaming and talking from all sides – from the outside, from below your feet, from the ceiling, sounds one couldn’t possibly imagine where they could come from and what creature could produce them, flickering sharp lights, the ground being jumped at by hundreds of people in one single second, then another second, then another time, then again – the loud feet thumping in the rhythm of the piano and contrabasses and drums and violins and trumpets – the scent of fresh baked goods, warm meals, chicken (the stable boy always walked a feet away from those before he was suddenly called to drive a carriage), lettuces, sea food, magicians in the corners of the room, releasing smoke from underneath their top hats and turning into actors as they all hid the lower parts of their faces in the same second, earning a round of applause as they ridiculed the future king and laughter filled up the entire hall – one wouldn’t have expected that kind of party in a king’s castle, but here it was – with all its splendour – The Village of Lights must have been twice as luminous as usual.

Guests of all classes made it their task to appear at least half-decent inside of the royal castle and were walking around restlessly, eating and drinking everything that appeared in front of their eyes – they had to seize the opportunity. A dog’s high-pitched barking could be heard from somewhere above if one would listen attentively. Woman in fancy white dresses walking in the middle of the checked pathway, followed by a couple of men dressed in black or blue suits and top hats, carrying small drinks after them. People fighting to find a better spot to look at the street performers. Someone screaming in the back – one wouldn’t know what emotion that scream had to display. Countless pairs dancing in circles in the very middle of the hall. A kid trying to touch the king’s throne, but his mother always pulling him away the second he would decide to touch it. A carriage running through the hall, picking up random people and throwing out ones that were inside upon doing so – towards the mattresses that had been put at the floor to catch poor victims. Two young ladies fighting in the back for putting on similar dresses. A man challenging another to a duel, but the other simply ignoring him by just realigning his big, white top hat and angrily looking towards two small men that happened to look like thieves, whispering something to them and receiving weird, apologetic glances from them. Those two then slowly, and suspiciously, started towards the throne, but were picked up by the running carriage as a small old man fell out of it and smiled to the ceiling while realigning his stethoscope he wore for some reason.

The counsellor was dancing around a machine in the back that puffed out bubbles, brightly smiling whenever a big one would appear and getting upset when the children around him (and there were a lot of children around the machine) would pop the biggest ones, but never telling them anything and just smiling awkwardly eventually, allowing it to happen again.

Asougi was driving the carriage with a wild smile on his face, controlling the horses with one hand and waving people into the carriage with his other; next to him sat another young man that was just drinking from a bottle, looking uninterested in anything around him.

And then there was Holmes, sitting.

He had eaten a pie upon being persuaded by the stable boy, but hadn’t participated in anything except that. The detective had tried to stay in his room, but since everything was so loud and he couldn’t think nor concentrate, he had to give in to the sounds and walked out of his room – the moment he found himself out of it, someone had taken him by the sleeve and pulled into a dancing circle, to which he gladly consented at the time, but didn’t know that would eventually lead to not being able to get into his room anymore; the crowds had blocked his room off. It was two p.m. he had decided to exit his chamber; it was six p.m. now. Ever since then, he was sitting and watching from afar, a few ladies coming to ask for a dance, but he never accepted. It was fine the first two hours, but then the nagging feeling of loss of time got him to reconsider his situation.

He was on an investigation.

All he could do in the huge crowd was asking for more rumours, and he didn’t think that would help at the moment. No one knew what had happened, so he couldn’t hope to get valuable facts out of these people that weren’t even present at that time.

At this point, he just pouted and waited for the clock to show the proper time – upon which he would fall into even deeper parts of suffering. He had spent the entire night up because of that man, and probably looked like he was high on something. He had tried to write to Mr. Naruhodou, and kept trying for three hours, until finally realizing it made no sense – he felt like a student all over again.

With his peripheral sight, he suddenly spotted the tall man himself, delicately touching the handhold with his gloved fingers and slowly descending a few stairs, before suddenly stopping and looking at something in the distance. Holmes didn’t bother looking at what he had seen, he just lazily observed the man that wasn’t wearing his usual royal attire, but instead wore a simple white shirt and a bluish vest on top of it in the hopes of not being recognized that easily – probably, Holmes couldn’t know. He suddenly rushed down the stairs in remarkable speed – something he rarely showed – and curiously glanced around, before looking towards his best friend – the man was wildly waving at him – but before he could reach him, he was swept into a dance with a lady whose whole getup resembled a swan and started dancing into a circle.

Holmes looked back down to his hands, frowning and furrowing his brows as he passed over a little hole in his skin – he had left his gloves in the room – a small scar he never got rid of, between his index and thumb. His heart clenched as he looked back up, looking back at the spinning prince that had already gotten closer to the man that had called for him before – he was busy with the bubble machine again – dancing with the very maid that had called attention to Holmes the day before.

Looking back to his scar, he stumbled to his legs and wished to go somewhere, but forgot where he was headed to the second after and just stood in the middle of the crowds, getting pushed around as he didn’t move, and no one was paying attention to him.

For the first time in his life, he felt as if it were better he didn’t receive any attention.

He didn’t know what it was about his hands, but it reminded him to send another letter to Mr. Naruhodou as swiftly as he could. He looked around for something to write with – finding absolutely nothing, of course – before his eyesight automatically flew towards Benjamin Dobinbough, whose glasses were somehow floating inside of one of the bubbles (it must have been an invention), and he was now jumping around to catch the bubble, but just caused the air current to go another way, leading the bubble another way.

Sherlock squeezed himself through a group of people, receiving one pat on the back and a weird glance, heading towards the doctor that was now holding a couple of children in the air to pop the bubble, but those obviously ignored him and went after the larger bubbles, whilst the doctor stumbled around not to fall. Someone blew into the trumpet right next to the detective, so he laughed and stepped away, pretty sure his hearing had already been ruined for his entire life. Unable to hear anything in his right ear, he walked towards the left side – he didn’t even realize it – searching for another passage that didn’t include random instruments popping up from your side and screeching into your poor ears.

Unfortunately for him though, the carriage with that one single black Shire horse suddenly appeared before him – he got a déjà vu – before it turned right next to him – Holmes was pretty much sure Mr.  Asougi would have made a better royal carriage driver than that other man – and was grabbed by his oversized sleeve again by none other than the stable boy – he really needed to do something with those clothes – and was pulled up by two strangers that had exactly the same-looking gloves like him and thrown into the mass of various people of all ages and sizes and thanked Lord he was taller than most of them, so he was still able to breath, before the carriage started drifting in a circle and he felt like throwing up, so he immediately started towards the other exit – he figured if people stood grasping other on one side, the other side would be the exit – and squeezed himself between the two thugs he had noticed before, who both looked up at him with wide, innocent eyes, but he noticed how the eyes of the one thug in the pink wear moved downwards to see whether he had anything in his pockets, before whispering something to his brother – Sherlock concluded it was his brother by his look and their ear shape, pressing his index finger against his forehead – and then both of them took the man by his forearms and Holmes flinched. Without being able to ask what was going on, he suddenly found himself flying in the air and fell onto the mattresses a real genius decided to put into the middle.

Holmes took a second to calm his racing heart, before slowly raising his head to look at the doctor that was now lying on the ground – the glasses weren’t in the bubble anymore, though.

The blond slowly got to his feet, rolled up his sleeves and started running through the crowd to get to his location, before suddenly being picked up by the same swan-like woman who was deviously smiling his way, before spinning with him and changing partners, upon which he ended up dancing with a huge burly man that looked as if he had just gotten out of a steamship. When the man noticed he was dancing with the wrong person, he widely opened his eyes and called for a name Holmes couldn’t understand in the crowd and spun him out of his way, and once again he found himself in the hands of a taller man – freezing for a second as his bare forearms seemingly recognized the person – it felt as if fire had licked them – and he completely blushed when he saw it was the prince that was now dancing with him. Once van Zieks realized it was Sherlock whom he was dancing with, he sighed and stopped, bowing in gratefulness that someone had stopped the charade. Holmes laughed and released his hands.

They both made their way towards the scientist who was now cleaning his spectacles, putting them back on top of his nose as he noticed Sherlock and the prince walking closer to him and headed towards them, squeezing through the crowd of grabby children.

“Ah, good evening. Barok, Mr. Holmes”, the bespectacled man said and bowed into each of their direction, widely smiling as he received two bows back, “I didn’t think you would be attending the party. Any of you, in fact.”

“I wasn’t about to,” the prince said, crossing his arms over his chest, “but I had to see what had become out of you, knowing you would be attending.”

“I survived”, Benjamin said, smiling, “For now.”

“Who invited all those citizens… it is like watching the entire town dance in front of me”, Barok said, turning to the crowds as he spoke in his usual tone, not adjusting his speaking to the loudness of the music coming from behind, “Have you invited the entire kingdom, Benjamin?”

“I don’t know”, the scientist spoke, scratching his head, “I wasn’t in charge of this happening.”

“I guess.”

“Uh, excuse me, Mr. Dobinbough?” Holmes suddenly asked from the side, raising an index finger, “Can I have that pencil that’s in your hair?”

“Ah!” the scientist exclaimed, pressing his palms against his freckled cheeks, “That thing is still in there?” he immediately got it out and gave it to Holmes, who tiredly bowed and walked towards a corner, where he sat down and began digging his pockets. The prince watched him curiously, making the counsellor look up at him in interest.

“Say, Barok, do you know him?” he suddenly asked, albeit so silently that the future king made him repeat himself a little louder, before scoffing and looking back towards the violinist that scribbled something unto a carefully folded piece of paper, on the floor, “I ask because... Well. There were a lot of talented musicians at the castle, in front of you, and they did get to stay for a while and were paid but... But none was like this.”

“Like this”, the prince silently repeated, narrowing his eyes at the blond before looking back to his friend who scratched his head again, getting rosy in his cheeks.

“Well... yes. Like this.”

“Care to elaborate?” the man patiently asked, turning away from the detective and focusing his attention to the scientist that was fumbling with his cravat.

“...I guess.”

Barok nodded for him to continue.

“How do I explain...?” he started, widely smiling, before fervently continuing, flailing his arms about, “No one was ever allowed to stay for as long as they want, no one ever received additional furniture and no guest was ever allowed to visit your chambers upstairs!”

The prince frowned, his brows furrowing. He then closed his eyes and shook his head as he said: “I... don’t know him”, he raised his chin, but furrowed his brows once he realized his best friend was biting his thumb nervously, raising a brow at his behaviour, “Is something the matter, Benjamin?”

“N... No, no”, the scientist bit on his thumb – he was the worst liar ever – and then raised his head to look up at the prince that was looking at him with mild irritation, “Bad blood?”

Barok’s lips twitched, but he didn’t say anything. Benjamin concluded his examination, thus, sighing and nodding, before suddenly starting to tremble. The prince kept looking at him questioningly, but since Benjamin smiled towards him, he didn’t think much of it.

“Thank you”, the cheerful voice of the detective suddenly burst into their conversation, and the scientist nervously took the pencil that was being held out to him – no, no, thank you, thank you – before slowly backing off towards his bubble machine in the back, leaving the two alone. Holmes looked up at the brooding prince, then back to the scientist, laughing, “Did I do something? Interrupt, or something? I’m...”

“Don’t think much of it”, Barok answered, looking back to the dancers that were swirling around the entire hall, moving in rhythm with the fast music, “You should know the eccentricity of a man.”

“I agree”, the detective smiled, whole-heartedly laughing once the prince shot him a questioning glare. Upon finishing his laughter session, he straightened again and put a hand to his hip, turning to face the tall man and gently smiled into his direction, before moving a strand of hair that had fallen close to his eye. The prince stared back until suddenly being hit by a couple that bounced around instead of dancing, so he stepped closer to the violinist that laughed again.

“Say”, Sherlock suddenly said, making the man stop glaring at the couple and look down at him, “Since we’re here already, why not dance a little, what do you think?”

“Dance? You?” the other asked, sneering, “You must be jesting.”

“Nope”, the man simply answered, elegantly bowing and holding out a hand to the other, who first looked to his open palm, then to his hair, then back to his open palm. Barok carefully put his hand into Holmes’ – the blond man’s hand was smaller, so he already felt awkward – before clicking his tongue. Holmes ushered him closer to the crowd of dancers, his smile getting bigger as he saw the tinge of pink on the pale face of his dance partner, “What is it, Your Lordship?”

“...I’m taller” he answered after a while.

“So, what if you’re taller?” Holmes laughed.

“I don’t think I could let anyone four feet smaller than me lead.”

“Why not?” the man pouted before chuckling again, already moving with the tempo of the music, swinging the prince’s hand left and right.

“Do I really have to explain myself”, the man deadpanned, showing a small smile as the detective in front of him was already tap dancing along to a song that wasn’t meant to be tap danced at.

“Yes”, the man said and put a hand up at the other’s shoulder – close to it, but he didn’t even try to be precise, “I want a twenty-page essay by tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow will be too late.”

“It’s never too late”, Holmes smiled and beamed. Barok rolled his eyes.

“It is.”

“We can always dance. You don’t need music to do it.”

“You need music to dance properly”, the man scoffed, “Without having to embarrass yourself, that is.”

“But still, I think that I should be leading, considering I asked first”, the violinist changed the flow of the dialogue as soon as he realized he couldn’t win and continued objecting whilst the other just kept leading, guiding Holmes back into the crowd of people dancing along the loud, terrible music the detective had forgotten to complain about, hiding them in the dressing gowns and top hats of the guests that kept spinning and spinning around the huge, luminous hall.

He hadn’t expected Sherlock to waltz properly, and was thus prepared when the man kept stepping away from him to change their position and soon started goofing around, laughing at the prince’s indifferent expression as he repeated Holmes’ sluggish movement. Since everyone else danced perfectly to the rhythm (the guests that knew how to dance properly stepped into the middle, and Holmes felt more and more as if those were hired as professional dancers), they soon got left behind, so the prince pulled the detective with himself as he rushed towards the others, squeezing them through a few couples that didn’t pay attention to anything but the music, and van Zieks had the feeling Holmes purposely started walking slower, pretending he couldn’t hurry any longer whilst he still had the energy to bounce around.

Until he suddenly lost all that energy once the music shifted into a slower melody, and stopped in the middle of the podium. Van Zieks raised a brow and looked back to the suddenly tired-looking man.

“What might the matter be, Mr. Holmes?” he drew his hand back from Holmes’ back, “Is it too much for your taste, or is it ten already...?”

He immediately reached for the watch into his pocket as the man’s arm that was now released just fell to his side.

“I have no idea what time it is”, he mumbled, stepping at his toes as to be able to see what the pocket watch had to say, “It’s not that.”

“Nine thirty-one”, the man chimed, his brows furrowing. As he looked back to the blonde violinist, Barok saw that he was looking into the other dancers’ direction with a focused expression. Once he realized he was being looked at, he immediately turned his head into the prince’s direction and showed a big, toothy smile.

“No, I just don’t like slow dances.”

“You don’t like them?” van Zieks silently asked, coyly looking at the detective before closing his eyes tightly and walking closer, standing in front of him for a few seconds, before opening his icy eyes again. They were filled with a faint, gentle shine as his lips slightly twitched upwards – Holmes had the feeling Barok wanted to say something, but his white lips remained sealed. He didn’t think much of it though, so he slowly slid his hand back into Barok’s as the other went to the man’s broad shoulder – as soon as he did that, van Zieks stepped forwards, forcing the man to comply, as they danced a simple, slow waltz, Holmes frowning disapprovingly.

“I despise them”, van Zieks suddenly whispered, glancing down for a mere second before looking back ahead of himself, “I have been dancing those since I was five.”

“Ages ago, huh?” Holmes joked, smirking up at the man that was steadily keeping up with the tiring pace.

“I am the younger one of us two.”

“I never said you weren’t”, the man chuckled, “Though, I do have to say, dear Lordship. Those years of dancing seemed to have paid off. I must be looking like a stump, compared to you.”

“A stump”, the man deadpanned, “Very specific.”

“The more details the better”, the detective said, feeling a sudden tinge of uninvited guilt in his heart – one of those thoughts that sometimes randomly come into your head. It didn’t take long for van Zieks to stop then, so he did the same – Barok looked serious and didn’t part his sight from his face, before he slowly came closer, diminishing the space between them. Sherlock Holmes felt small once again – just like that time he played the violin – but in another way. This time around, he was the one who was at fault.

“Is something the matter, really?” Barok asked silently, as if to assure no one would be able to hear them speak, “I know I’ve asked this before, but there is that odd expression on your visage from time to time, something I cannot quite place my finger at.”

Holmes widely smiled.

“Good observation skills.”

“Do not flatter me now, Mr. Holmes”, the man’s breath caressed Holmes’ forehead.

Sherlock was silent for a while before loudly laughing.

“I believe... I believe I’ve told you already that I don’t know how to flatter people? Yes?”

“You are avoiding the question”, Barok sighed, looking to the ground and to his perfectly polished boots, “I know I am not in the position to care, nor am I entitled to. But I would not wish for a guest of mine to feel anguished.”

“Anguished? It’s nothing like that”, Holmes chuckled, shaking his head and widely smiling, hoping the man wouldn’t notice the obvious redness in Holmes’ face he could feel under his skin. As van Zieks’ expression didn’t change, he collaborated, “Don’t bother, it’s nothing worth mentioning, especially to you...” the man widely smirked again, “Really. It’s just, kind of, stifling. And humid. Really, if you touch the walls, you feel how much sweat is rising into the air...” he laughed at the other’s disgusted expression, “And there’s so much carbon dioxide in here one’s immediately signing up to fainting”, he looked around himself, “That’s bad. Really, really bad”, he laughed as he looked back to the frowning man, “A brain can’t think straight when there’s no oxygen.”

“Would you like to go outside?” van Zieks offered, “This alcohol-infested air could make anyone nauseous.”

“Even me”, Holmes laughed, and the prince put a hand against Sherlock’s back, ushering him towards the stairs that led to the balcony next to his chambers.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing Sherlock felt as he stepped to the balcony was a chilling gust of wind blowing into his face so strongly that he had to close his eyes tightly and cover his abdomen by crossing his arms, holding his shirt in place, his hair dancing along the air current. He turned the other cheek for the wind to slap him at and looked to the side to see his companion, whose hair had been secured with hair gel so much that it didn’t even move with the wind. Holmes stopped and looked back inside, thinking he made the wrong choice – the wind was merciless – and wanting to say something, but Barok suddenly spoke up: “Forgive their rudeness of taking the chairs and table of the small balcony away... Who knows what they needed them for, but they took almost every single chair away.”

Holmes looked to the man, noticing his worried expression as he was looking towards a mass of heavy, dreary clouds that were swiftly coming towards them, and a string of lightning that hit the ground somewhere afar. The prince had been leaning against the small concrete fence that prevented Holmes from falling down the tower that day, focusing only at the low sound of the thunder that came alongside the lightning.

He hadn’t noticed the chairs and coffee table missing up until that moment; mostly because the balcony was so small it didn’t really look like anything else except a few people could actually fit on it.

“I... do not wish to know”, the prince continued and, upon receiving a silent chuckle from the violinist, his expression softened, and he shyly looked to the detective that was smiling at his boots.

“I’ve seen them stacking the chairs in the back”, Sherlock said, smirking and snapping his fingers, “You might want to check that out.”

“Not yet”, the prince immediately answered and looked back to the thunderclouds, leaving him in utter silence for a while before speaking up again, “I figured taking you up here would make you feel better, away from all the scents and noises. Though I did not expect the wind to blow as harshly”, he went silent for another few seconds, silently uttering the next few words, “I just hope the guests won’t start a ruckus if the storm arrives while they are visiting...”

“Why that?” Sherlock overheard and asked, coming next to the prince and propping himself against the fence as well, smiling up.

“The last time that happened a lady of high rank tried to force herself into the royal carriage”, he said, not parting his sight from the thunderclouds in the distance, “She fell into mud and all the guests were forced to listen to her whining. Then a fight broke out, but I had left the hall beforehand, so I can’t tell you the details. Additionally, a pair of gentlemen stole horses and fled the premises as well... it is baffling how much a man’s behaviour can change in times of frustration”, he said and looked back to the other, whose eyelids were desperately trying to stay open; Barok wasn’t sure whether the man was really tired or whether the wind bothered him so much, “It was a party specifically for the upper class. Seeing them act in such boorish mannerisms was quite unexpected.”

Holmes hummed in acknowledgement and finally closed his eyes, putting a finger to his forehead and suddenly straightening. Barok looked to him confusedly, watching the man feel his forehead with his entire hand before suddenly putting his right hand to the man’s exposed neck: “Is it just me or are my fingers freezing?”

The other had already stepped away, looking at the man with resentment, his lips quivering, but he decided not to say anything as the other waited for him to answer his question, leaning back against the fence.

“Huh?”

Barok was silent, frowning into the darkness ahead.

“Huh?” the man repeated, tapping his shoulder with his index finger.

Nothing.

“Huh?”

“They’re cold.”

“So, it’s not just me”, he sighed in relief and smiled lazily, leaning back to the fence, “Good. It’s really cold out here. My skin is covered in goose bumps. Not like the goose bumps you get from listening to beautiful music, but the ones when you’re suddenly really cold, but you were exposed to warm temperature a few seconds ago, and a chill runs over you... Remember how hot it was a few days ago? Now, this is autumn. Beautiful”, he shook his head and smiled in content.

“Wait until rain starts and it doesn’t stop for a week straight.”

“Oh, I like it when that happens. You can snuggle up inside and drink tea all day.”

“That’s when you have nothing to do”, Barok replied, looking back at the man who had a somewhat confused expression on his face.

“Eh?”

The man closed his eyes and shook his head, looking back into the distance.

“Nothing”, he said and parted from the fence, standing up fully and looking back to the inside with a small tilt of his head, “I will be leaving you, then. It’s almost time to part ways.”

“Already?” Holmes sounded genuinely surprised, so the man turned back to face him once again before he’d leave.

“You don’t want me here.”

Holmes remained silent, watching him intently.

“I can see it in your eyes, in your gestures”, he pointed to him with his gloved hand, before protectively crossing his arms over his chest, “In that dispirited head nod. There is no need to feign, Mr. Holmes. I’ve attended classes in communications and learnt to clearly see signs of frustration and acting. I just wanted to let you know.”

Holmes kept looking at the man with wide eyes for a while, before bursting into maniacal laughter and grabbing onto the fence for additional balance, before suddenly stopping and spreading his arms out, a slight frown on his face as he said: “Am I really that easy to read?”

“Please,” the man said, looking up into the distance, “I’m well informed.”

“Mr. Naruhodou could really use some tips from you.”

“You might not get it, Mr. Holmes”, Barok said, closing his eyes tightly and making his scar twist, “But I do not know of the man you speak of.”

“Oh”, the man let out and laughed, “Just a friend of mine.”

“You speak of him quite often.”

“Is His Lordship jealous, perhaps?” Holmes teased, beaming once he registered the slight tint of pink on the man’s usually pallid face. Barok didn’t answer, just slowly looked into the distance again. Holmes’ smile vanished completely. He then silently continued, his voice unusually weak, “Of course I wouldn’t want you to be here, when I’m trying to set my thoughts in the right way. There are a lot of things on my mind at the moment... and I believe it’s the same for you.”

“I do not particularly mind having you. I do not care when the time of your visit is over as well, though”, he quickly added, “You are allowed to leave whenever you wish to do so. Just... come tell me, before you leave this time.”

Holmes froze.

He kept watching the man’s nonchalant expression, something in his chest twisting and churning. He raised an index finger, but just heavily sighed instead of saying anything, before furiously turning around to face the thunderclouds and tapping his fingers against the fence to improvise a quick melody. He felt Barok’s questioning stare on his back, digging a hole into the spot where he chose to look at. The detective then suddenly looked back to him – the prince caught the way his eyes gleamed against the light as if wet – before the blond looked down to the ground.

“I need a smoke”, he said in a muffled, barely audible tone.

Barok watched him for a few seconds, unsure whether he was to say something, but considering the man didn’t seem to want to do anything until Barok would do something, he quickly nodded his head before looking to the ground as the man already started nervously digging through his pockets to find a pipe and some substance to put in it (questioning why he had a tiny plastic bag with him conveniently seemed pointless at that time), before leaping up and sitting up at the fence whilst still being turned towards the prince. A few rings of smoke soon crept into the air, dissipating and getting blown aside from the wind; the blonds eyes were shut close, his brows furrowed and his arms still crossed against his chest to provide himself some warmth. The prince felt odd just watching, so he approached the man and sat next to him, looking to the floor as the other kept blowing rings of smoke furiously. Thundering came from behind. Barok looked to his pocket watch and kept stroking it until he noticed the detective growing calm, and watched his closed eyes until they opened again – to which van Zieks looked back to his boots.

The other took the pipe out of his mouth and looked to the side with half-closed eyes, smoke flowing out of his mouth as he spoke: “I haven’t actually smoked that thing in a year or so.”

Van Zieks looked at him, but the man didn’t look back. He turned completely serious.

“Why must you torture me so...?” the detective melodically uttered, before inhaling again and closing his eyes.

As van Zieks opened his mouth to speak, Sherlock immediately removed the pipe from his lip and looked to him with furrowed brows: “Hush.”

The detective’s voice wasn’t angry. It was silent, weak and soft, adorned with guilt, but still authoritative. Van Zieks’ eyes met his, and he watched them attentively for a while, before they slowly looked to the man’s lips, and then his sight fell back to the floor. The detective then put a foot up at the fence, swiftly grabbing the other by the shoulder once he felt his body shake in fear of falling, before turning the other man’s way and letting go of him.

“There was incriminating evidence against you and me. I didn’t want to leave back then.”

Van Zieks considered whether to answer or not for a while. Then he looked back to him.

“You could have at least told me. I kept asking...” the man started, but upon receiving an angry glance from the man next to him, he stopped talking. The other removed his pipe from his lips, furrowing his brows as the smoke came out of his mouth and then handed the pipe to van Zieks, who looked into his eyes before looking back to the pipe and then putting it into his own mouth and smoking it himself.

“I thought by leaving without telling you, you’d start to hate me, and that might make you reconsider some... things we said”, he chuckled, “Considering the constant jabs you throw at my gut, I see that worked. But you never forgot, huh?” he looked into Barok’s cold eyes that watched the man with unrestrained curiosity. The prince’s sight then fell back to the floor beneath them, before his eyes fell shut.

“The king had always been protective of his family”, Sherlock continued, “That night, his mind wasn’t on the right track, he was perturbed, stood up at the wrong side of the bed, and he had made some rash decisions...” he said, took the pipe out of van Zieks’ mouth and put it back into his own, holding it so firmly one would think it would leave scratches, and closing his eyes as his hushed, soft voice continued, “He ordered most of the staff to be replaced. And since you protected me when the investigators questioned me, I was immediately chosen as a candidate... He told me everything, straightforward, gave me a few things I had to take with myself and I took the first train to the capital to leave my old life behind me. It was hard the first few weeks, not having a real shelter and barely affording to eat noodles in a restaurant... It took me a year to afford for my roommate to be able to ride on one of those carriages that drive around town”, he chuckled as a soft expression came to his face, “She had never ridden in one of those before.”

Van Zieks watched him bite his lower lip, the bobbing of his Adam’s apple as he strained himself to talk, the way the smoke rose into the air, the way his trembling fingers stroked the pipe he held and the way his eyelashes would sometimes flutter to divest his eyes from tears.

“It took me a year and a half to get settled properly. I found a cat in the street and probably stole it from some bloke who decided to let it wander around. Put an ad into the local newspaper: ‘In Search for Roommate. Cheap Rent, Haphazard Lifestyle.’ First, a professor took the bait. Then he left. Then a couple of exchange students found the ad and decided I was alright. I took up a new job, new interests, followed my instincts... I didn’t think it would affect me at all. I ended up developing hatred for horses. Or a phobia. I’m not sure, but it’s one of those. I... didn’t think I’d see you again. But I heard of what happened, and then that day your carriage almost ran me over and I had to know...” he clammed up.

The prince watched him for an entire minute as Holmes kept checking on him what he was going to do, before Barok silently uttered his name, to which the detective looked up again, watching the prince’s inexpressive eyes slowly take on a livid form before he closed them tightly, shamefully, his scar twisting to the point of a facial expression looking incredibly painful. Sherlock’s lips parted and he quickly removed the pipe, collecting the man’s freezing hands in his and pressing them together, before closing his own eyes and pressing his forehead against the prince’s intertwined fingers, his breath visible in the cold as he tried to warm the other’s freezing hands.

“Forgive me”, he silently uttered after a minute as the wind kept blowing petals around the balcony.

Chapter Text

The entire hallway Kazuma Asougi and Benjamin Dobinbough were now passing through was completely silent, their footsteps sounding to the back of the room before slowly returning towards them in the form of a dull echo. They were swinging from one side to another in their tired walk, exhausted from the party that had transpired a few hours prior. Asougi was still holding onto the cardboard box where he had gently placed a remaining bottle of wine and a small piece of cake and kept telling he was going to feed the royal dog with it, despite the objections of the future king that kept repeating chocolate was poison for animals.

“Pfft, yeah, chocolate’s poison, sure...” the young man kept repeating from time to time, the counsellor just eyeing him every time he would say it but would dismissively wave at him though he would silently disagree.

At the other end of the hallway, a worried face appeared and stopped in his tracks once he saw the two of them slowly approaching.

“Stable boy!” the man exclaimed and started hurrying towards them, to which Asougi stopped in his tracks and sighed heavily. Looking back to the counsellor who was nervously awaiting the servant’s arrival as if he was the one whose assistance was needed, the groom quickly shoved the box into the bespectacled man’s hands and shrugged his shoulders as Benjamin’s eyes widened.

“Please take that to his room, Mr. Dobinbough.”

“B-But he told you,” the scientist looked upset, “chocolate and animals don’t go together…”

“Never mind that”, Asougi looked back towards the man who promptly explained the situation to him – a carriage hadn’t returned from its trip yet, “At least he’ll take the wine. We know that for sure”, he said as he looked back to Dr. Dobinbough.

“It’s not really… in my job description to…” Benjamin mumbled as he fumbled with his big round glasses.

“Everyone else is already either asleep or working. You were complaining about not having anything to do before, remember? Also, you talked about meeting His Lordship yourself. And I can’t be at more than one location at a time.”

“I… I guess.”

“Thank you”, Asougi softly said, bowed his head and went after the servant, his steps wobbly. Benjamin stood still for a moment, confusedly looking at the small box that he was now holding, before realizing where he was at the moment – he’d get lost in his thoughts from time to time – and started stumbling towards his office, halfway realizing he now had a task to complete, and eventually deciding to go the other way, towards the big set of stairs that proudly stood in a corner, with all of its white marble flowers, baroque shells and diamonds. He then ran up those and soon found himself in front of the door of His Lordship’s chambers, already hearing the little dog’s paws jumping from place to place excitedly and its dull claws scratching the wood, before noticing a strange, soft set of noises coming from the balcony.

Questioning it, and thinking of possible hypothesises, he headed towards the open air and stopped walking a second after seeing what was happening on the balcony – his heart skipping a beat, eyes widening and his legs instinctively stumbling backwards.

Sherlock Holmes was pressing the prince’s hands together firmly and showering them in quick touches of his lips, his eyes closed tightly, the quivering red lips whispering soft tunes and releasing hot air before he’d press them back to the gloved hands of the purple-haired man, who didn’t do much else but look at him rather calmly.

Benjamin raced back inside and pressed himself against the wall, praying the other two didn’t see anything.

“Things have changed, Mr. Holmes”, the man calmly replied once he was done listening to the other’s heartfelt apologies, taking his hands out of Sherlock’s rather aggressively and standing up proudly, looking right into the man’s dismayed green eyes, “Events have changed drastically”, he paused for a moment, wondering if those trembling red lips of the detective’s would try to bite back as he collected his thoughts, “I did too.”

Holmes kept looking at him with wide eyes that wouldn’t part from Barok’s no matter what. Van Zieks didn’t seem to mind.

“This is me saying you should stop.”

The next few seconds before Holmes would speak up felt like a nightmare, even though there was nothing particularly scary on Holmes’ heartbroken expression he tried to hide with a smirk – his eyes remained creepily wide open, though. The violinist quickly picked himself up and realigned his clothes – even though there was nothing out of line. Even the best of actors can’t always hide everything.

“I was merely trying to express my paltriness. Sorry”, he chuckled, his smile looking more genuine this time and approaching the man that nervously moved from one spot to another whilst waiting for a response. His ruthlessly cold eyes pierced right through Sherlock’s once he looked back at him.

“It did not seem that way.”

“Perhaps His Lordship wanted it to feel differently, then a peasant kissing his king’s hands in hope of mercy.”

“My perpetual headache is growing”, Barok merely said, closing his eyes and looking back to the floor as Holmes watched him curiously, approaching him.

“Hey…” he called, but then suddenly realized he didn’t have anything to tell him. It had been a long time since he was standing that close to the man. Now he felt somewhat terrified to be this close to him, and felt his chest ache as he knew he couldn’t do anything to erase the man’s worries, but he still managed to laugh genuinely and forced himself to gently put a hand onto Barok’s broad shoulder, shaking it a bit to make his eyes fly open again and look back down at Holmes, “Hey…” he repeated, somewhat softer this time, “I know. I know a lot happened and I’m… really not trying anything. Trust me.”

Barok looked into the detective’s calming eyes but didn’t offer any comment. He then looked to the detective’s trembling lips and watched the way the violinist kept showing that wide smile that obviously just wanted to vanish – the twitching was by no means an attribute to normal smiles. It didn’t help his authenticity. If anything, the smile made this even worse. A knot appeared in his throat. Then anger. Then a sense of self-hatred for making Holmes go that low to try to empathise, and then shame that made him want to pull away of repulsion. That’s when he had to look away and instead looked to Holmes’ white long-fingered hand on his shoulder – only to notice a small scar between the blond’s index and thumb – just a tiny hole no one would notice if it wouldn’t be especially looked for or if one wasn’t familiar with the small speck - and he felt his heart tumble out of its supposed position. He couldn’t look anywhere without remembering something – and that was the last thing he needed at the moment, especially right before becoming a king.

In a second of panic, van Zieks pulled away, explaining to himself that he wanted more personal space, but quickly realizing the move wasn’t the best one to choose; if not the worst. Holmes’ expression changed immediately after. First, he was looking him dead in the eyes (and that was a lot when it came from that man), before his demeanour suddenly completely changed again. He assumed a stance that could be perceived as offensive and smirked, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his trousers and releasing something like a muffled laugh that just didn’t sound right.

“Your Lordship does not want my apologies, I guess”, Sherlock mumbled, shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head to one side for a mere second before smiling again, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Van Zieks looked to the side and refrained from watching the man who seemed to be at a loss for words afterwards. Sherlock didn’t have anything to bark at without the prince telling him a piece of his mind. So he frowned like a ten-year-old and walked into a small circle, after which he stopped and quickly turned his head into van Zieks’ direction.

“I told you I’m sorry”, he silently said, his voice sounding clear and remorseful, before he quickened the pace of his voice again and added an irritated tone to it, “I didn’t mean to leave, and didn’t want to. But I did.”

“You did.”

Sherlock looked right at him.

“Yeah. I did.”

The look was meant to be challenging – but for some reason, it felt like the opposite.

He then looked to the floor and hit an imaginary pebble, before finding something extremely interesting on his shoes and watching it for almost a minute, with his hands still in his pockets. He felt exposed as van Zieks just kept looking and waiting.

“But I had to address it”, Holmes suddenly snapped, throwing his hands out and shrugging again, shaking his head left and right multiple times, “You kept silent.”

“It is a trifling matter”, Barok said with a shrug.

“A trifling matter”, Sherlock silently repeated and nodded his head multiple times, calmly looking back into his eyes to add, “Trifling my foot.”

“It is not of any import now, no matter how you look at it. What has been done has been done. It will not come haunt me back. Not now”, he finally moved a bit, instead of just standing like a statue, “Not now that my life is finally being sorted out, and now that I’m about to rule a kingdom.”

“You kept poking”, Holmes retorted, “You kept poking and poking until I couldn’t bear it no more… It is like… It is like you’ve been trying to get me to apologize from the moment we set eyes on each other again!” he smiled, “I had a feeling like that, and I’m glad that it’s-”

“Your deductions are faulty, and your mind is on the wrong track.”

Sherlock didn’t reiterate.

“I could not care less about your apologies. If anything, I should thank you for making me doubt, and never trust blindly again.”

Holmes suddenly approached him, standing not an inch away from the tall man that copied the man’s position, puffing his chest out and looking right into the other’s eyes. Sherlock didn’t expect his lips to quiver so much when he spoke up, though.

“You don’t know anything.”

“Spare me.”

“You don’t know anything – you don’t know what you look like at the moment”, he grabbed the man by his collar and looked up, “How can you blindly trust the own coldness of your mind, while everything else you possess fights against those beliefs?” Holmes’ voice was clear, his eyes honest, “I would not mind any of your words, Your Lordship. If only they were truthful. How can such a pure heart… lie so much?”

“Pure heart”, the man sneered, “You don’t know anything.”

“I know you saw it”, Holmes quickly said, swiftly releasing the man and frantically pulling a sleeve of his up, even though the scar was visible without him having to move it, “I know everything”, he shoved his hand into his face, so that the other had to move his head a bit not to get hurt, “I knew you, once.”

Van Zieks couldn’t respond. He was busy breathing frantically whilst still trying to look as if he was breathing normally.

“You knew me, too”, the detective added and put his hand back down, “And you know what happened. All the… the rubbish that happened”, Holmes silently laughed, pressing his palm against his forehead.

“All the rubbish that happened…” van Zieks repeated, shaking his head, before clenching his teeth and narrowing his eyes at the detective, and then clenching his fist towards the other, “Why do you keep shoving that… mistake into my face?”

Holmes’ smile faded in an instant.

“That… mistake, as you call it, is the only thing you gave me, and I still have.”

“A scar can’t be erased. That’s why you kept it.”

“Would you stop looking at it from one perspective”, Holmes calmly stated, blinking a few times as the other approached him again, but just scoffed, and turned his shoulder towards him, facing away.

“If you truly cared, you would have told me you would leave”, he silently stated, “I’ve put my heart and soul into all tied to you, and all that is to you is but a hole”, his cold demeaner shifted into angriness as he repeated, “A hole!” he pressed his entire hand against his forehead, “A hole – is that all you have left from me?”

Sherlock stayed silent at the other’s outburst and kept watching the prince who tried to calm himself and wouldn’t remove his hand from his head.

“A hole… empty, deep, painful. I know how it is. That must be the same hole you punched into my heart.”

“Oh, please. Illusions… don’t make me punch your face.”

“You are. Talking. To the future king”, van Zieks squeezed through his teeth, “And those illusions, you speak of. They might be illusions to you. But I have not loved nor will I after you. And when you played that bloody instrument! I, fool that I am, hoped you would play it for me… I kept asking to see whether you thought of me still, with such a painful melody that corresponded with my depths, yet you didn’t, and didn’t, and I realized it all must have been a farce, a moment of weakness and usage…!”

You were the one pretending not to know me!”

“What does it matter, now?!” van Zieks exclaimed, raising a hand into the air and slamming his fist against the fence, effectively stopping their argument since the heavy dull sound it produced made Holmes flinch and step back. At his reaction, van Zieks calmed as well, his legs slowly weakening under him until he fell to a knee, his gloved hand protecting his entire face, afraid to show his expression to the man that stood a few feet away from him. Holmes’ tense shoulders relaxed only when he heard a single, weak sigh coming from the big, expensively clothed form that trembled in weakness.

 

***

 

“Are you pushing me down a cliff?”

A chuckle.

“What?”

“Are you pushing me down a cliff”, he stated, leaving out the question mark at the end.

“Why would you think that?”

“The secrecy kind of implies something sinister.”

He received a thoughtful hum as an answer, encouraging him to continue: “I mean. You just showed up and told me to bring you your horse with a dead-serious face. Then you mounted it, considered the distance, got back down and whispered to me I should get up as well, but not before closing my eyes. And keeping them closed. That’s kind of suspicious.”

“Is it really?” the man didn’t sound convinced.

“I said kind of”, Sherlock laughed.

“I agree with the secrecy, and nothing but the secrecy.”

“You’re implying…?”

“Us”, the man finished and gently pushed him forwards, smiling at the blond that kept pushing himself back until he was standing at a sixty-degree angle and had to be pushed forwards again not to fall, “Can you imagine what my brother would do if he found us now?”

“I don’t… really want to imagine that, thank you”, Sherlock laughed.

Barok hummed in response and suddenly stopped in his tracks, having to pull back Holmes as his feet kept moving on their own.

“What is?” he mumbled, looking left and right and calming when he felt the other’s chin on top of his head, in his hair, exhaling loudly and wrapping his arms around Sherlock, finally enabling him to see in front of himself. He froze, before gently smiling.

“I found the view simply stunning”, the prince explained, “And thought you might like it. 

The sun was just a small red ball of embers, slowly falling towards the teal-coloured horizon, painting the sky a purplish colour and goldening the fluffy clouds around. A tint of pink found itself in the light lake that stretched out in the distance, the one willow’s tree branch reaching into the water and making light ripples with the help of the soft spring breeze carrying the scent of fresh grass and first spring flowers. The sun shone directly into their faces now, so they both closed their eyes and waited for it to hide behind one of the clouds close by. Holmes couldn’t help the huge smile that spread across his face at that moment, snuggling closer into the man that shared the lake’s tint of pink.

 

***

 

“I’ve noticed it too, you know.”

The prince nodded his head.

“You’re worried.”

No response.

“I… am not inside the castle most of the times, so I can’t really tell. But when he’s outside, he never smiles the usual way. He’s been like that ever since the tragedy…”

“Exactly”, Barok said and met Sherlock’s eyes, catching a glint of curiosity in them. He kept watching the blond’s eyes until his pupils started to dilate, to which he pressed his chin to Holmes’ shoulder and frowned, “He hasn’t been the same ever since. He knows it’s not his fault. Accidents happen. But nothing quite bothered him like that – ever. And he was serving in the war, for God’s sake.”

“I… guess it’s odd”, Holmes shrugged, earning a silent protest from his companion as he had to shift into another position, “One would think some object of value burned down. But it’s a stable, no? Nothing quite valuable there…” Holmes mused, “And the three people? Those were…?”

“Two servants and an unidentified man”, Barok sighed, tiredly looking back at him, “I don’t think he would mourn them for an entire month, every day… He had lost servants before… You know people are talking about us being the culprits, don’t you…?”

“It’s kind of common knowledge at this point.”

“Please don’t joke around like that. It is a very serious matter we are talking about. Not only is the population speaking of it… The entire castle is too. Klimt is the only one protecting us right now. He knows it’s not us, he…”

“Are you sure he isn’t just protecting you?”

Barok didn’t deny it.

“Even the royal counsellor advised me to keep away from you, to avoid further conflict and suspicion. They are targeting you. Just you.”

Sherlock shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Barok’s worried eyes watched him for a while before he kept talking.

“I put in a word or two for you, but it did not work as planned. Klimt was ultimately the one that trusted us the most, but now… that he is like that… He told me the exact same thing. Sherlock, please…” Barok whispered, shaking the stable boy’s shoulders a bit and looking straight at his relaxed-looking expression, with his tired eyes and lazy smile, “The papers are writing of it. Someone inside of the castle is leaking further information to the press. This affair is considered a conspiracy by the masses already, and if it goes on like this, you could be sent to court… or worse… Please don’t take this lightly. I’m… If you leave… Please tell me, whatever happens, you’ll stay.”

“Huh?”

“Sherlock. Tell me you’ll stay, no matter what.”

“Geez, Barok. You’re like a child. It’s not like I’m going to disappear after all of this. Other than that, we did arrive at the location later, being alarmed by the scent and all. Any smart culprit would run off after burning down a stable and three people in it. Not come back, right?”

Van Zieks rolled his eyes.

“I’m not asking for an excuse we could use. I’ve given you a command.”

“A command?” Sherlock smirked and stepped away, holding his hands up in the air, “An order, you mean, My Lordship?” the blond slowly got to a knee and bowed his head, before looking back up again, meeting van Zieks’ unsure eyes, “I’ll stay. I promise.”

 

***

 

It was the tenth of September 1894, 2:31 a.m., and the entire nation was covered with a thick layer of fog. Darkness engulfed the surroundings. All one could see were the objects standing a few feet away. The streets were wet. The soil was wet. The air was filled with the scent of industrial smoke mixed with fog and was humid. Clouds covered the yellow moon. A few bottles were scattered about, ones whole, ones broken into small pieces. A collection of plugs stood in between the tracks. A dog whined from afar – a muffled screech in the dead of the night. A few shoeprints indicated that someone walked the path. A man’s, next to a little child’s. The lights in each and every house were already out and the only light source that one would have was a gas lamp standing in the middle of the road next to the tracks, miserably trying to keep the flickering light alive. The officers had forgotten to put it out.

The lamp was old, twisted on its middle, and oil seemed to be leaking out of it. It was the only lamp that stood in the area, with nothing else being able to provide light. A large clock was placed a few feet away from it, and even though it was delayed by a few minutes, it would still sound each half an hour correctly. A single bench that was pulled out of the ground. A small empty house with its windows protected with wood. It was a cold night – no one was waiting next to the worn railway tracks – no one was mad enough to wait for a train at such a freezing temperature in the middle of the pitiful night. No one except that one person, standing right beside the poor lamp in nothing but a mere short-sleeved shirt and trousers, waiting for who knows how long and staring ahead into the emptiness of the dreary night, his eyes focused on nothing at all, his arms crossed over his chest– one wouldn’t know whether he was afraid of the cold or hurt, with such pain in his eyes.

Every breath he took hurt. Whether it was from his aching chest, the inhaled smoke or the cold, he didn’t know. He just knew it hurt, and that it started hurting more once the people waiting for a train to arrive started asking him whether he would like to sit down, or whether he needed something to keep him warm. He didn’t answer. No one seemed to recognize him.

What was he waiting for?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

After seeing the first train’s passengers rush out of the small space, he realized no one would be coming back to him. But just to make sure, he kept waiting for another two trains to arrive. Then he had lost interest in getting back before midnight. He had lost count of how many passed right by him.

He coughed, kept coughing for half a minute. Then he crossed his arms over his chest again, looking up at the street lamp that kept flickering. Then he looked back ahead of himself, his sight getting stuck at that random tree that stood two feet away from all the other trees and shrubs.

“I promise.”

Somehow, it made him feel warm, even if for all the wrong reasons. He smiled, then chuckled, and then felt his eyes getting wet.

“I promise.”

 

***

 

“It means nothing, now”, the prince silently said as he fought back his memories, standing up straight again, looking back to the other shamelessly as his burning red eyes fought to stay open, “I had lost you, first. Someone I entrusted my innermost secrets to, someone I defied rules and thrown away my dignity for. Every memory we shared I hoped to shred to pieces and never to see you again”, he clenched his fist at him, before slowly calming, “But they just wouldn’t leave my condemned brain. They stayed, like the most persistent worms that crawl within old, foul wood you can hear being eaten away at night. I wished you the best, yet I wished for you to stay on the other side of the world at the same time, so I would never have to see your traitorous form again. That is how I feel towards you. Did you want to hear all of that? Did it satisfy your bloodthirst?”

The violinist didn’t show any emotion, which calmed the man considerably. He tried to make his voice steadier this time before speaking up again.

“After you have left, time flew by fast, and I don’t recall what had happened in that period. My brother, the only person I still had left, never shared any information about you, never mentioned you, and if I would accidentally blurt out something regarding your person, he would dismiss it. And now you tell me he, of all people, sent you away…” his voice quivered again, eyes narrowing, but he quickly looked away to exhale before returning his sight at the blond that didn’t move from his spot.

“And then he was gone. There were two people I loved above all, and both of you…” he sighed, crossing his arms, “It does not matter. Not anymore.”

“How… does it not matter?” Sherlock’s calming voice reached his ears, “You wouldn’t be so upset if it didn’t matter to you.”

Holmes slowly got closer, putting his long-fingered hand onto his shoulder. His overly-excited eyes still had a calming effect on people for some reason he himself couldn’t explain but he was always glad to see a person’s stiffness slowly dissipate.

“I don’t think you know what I have gone through”, he continued, showing a soft smile at van Zieks’ childishly hopeful expression, “Why I ever picked up my violin I cherish so dearly now.”

“You did not-“

“I lie a lot…” Holmes laughed, “I lie a lot, as a defence mechanism… I don’t think the truth is what is best to be said in some situations… those situations always regarding me. Sharing what you are and who you are deep inside, not only your humour, quirks and visible, unexplored emotions, but a complex melody only few could truly understand, is no easy. I could be a Bohemian soul, but I’ll still be afraid of judgement”, he waited for a few seconds, before bursting into laughter, “Except when I lie without even realizing it”, he raised his index finger, “But that’s not the point here.”

Barok opened his mouth but decided against talking and instead just hung his head with a sigh.

“But… I have to tell you”, Holmes’ smile disappeared, “How can one share his melody if the other pretends to be someone who he isn’t?”

“I… didn’t think…”

“I know”, Holmes cut him off and shook both his shoulders softly to make him look back at him, “I understand. I was no different.”

“Forgive…” he sighed, “Forgive my impudence of… of undermining your experiences.”

“You were upset. It’s understandable”, Holmes mumbled, slowly approaching the other whilst looking directly into his eyes to see what Barok was up to. He didn’t seem to want to complain, but he was still looking to the ground, “You… heh. Didn’t see me. Piercing your photograph with a knife”, he laughed so Barok wouldn’t really hear his statement, but the furrow of his brows indicated he did hear him say it. So Sherlock smiled widely and shrugged his shoulders, “It’s cathartic.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

Holmes smiled, but the smile soon vanished as he looked for the other’s eyes.

“My Lordship…?” he stepped closer, “May I just say one thing.”

“Mr. Holmes…” van Zieks whispered, looking around himself as to make sure no one was close. But everything around them was empty, and there was nothing but the small pink rose petals. When he returned his sight at the man, he could see him fighting a laugh, “Y-yes? What is it?”

“You could have just told me”, Holmes said, his smile getting bigger and toothier until he broke into loud laughter again, “You’re still just as theatrical as before, dear van Zieks.”

Van Zieks thought of complaining until Sherlock suddenly threw himself against the other without another word, enveloping Barok in a bone-crushing hug that would have sent them both down the tower if the prince weren’t prepared for all the violinist’s reactions. Van Zieks kept standing stiff as a statue as Holmes somehow hid himself behind the prince’s strong arms, looking at the blond emotionlessly with his brows slightly raised in surprise.

“Mr. Holmes…”

“I know. Just… Let me have this moment, please”, the man silently said, hidden somewhere inside of Barok’s chest, “I’ve… I think I’ve missed this.”

“I cannot… I’ll be a king, Mr. Holmes”, he said as he looked to the side, but his arms were slowly accepting the blond by snaking around his lean figure.

“Okay. You be a king.”

“All my pretending would go to waste.”

“Ah-huh.”

“No, you’ll…” he closed his eyes tightly and stopped talking. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything, and since Holmes felt the need to hear his complete sentence, he looked up to see the other who was watching him directly in the eyes with them being almost teary and screaming for attention he was too afraid to seek, and even more so to receive. The detective’s ears began to ring, then. His blood churned somewhere inside of his stomach, and against Sherlock’s will, his shaky fingers instinctively rose up, fighting against themselves to eventually touch the man’s cheek, to which the other responded by just nervously blinking multiple times. The tips of Sherlock’s fingers felt like they caught on fire the moment he passed the barrier that protected the prince’s face, but that didn’t stop him from cupping Barok’s cheeks lightly, as if afraid the structure under his hands would crumble. Something caught in his throat. A small stroke from his left thumb and the man in front of him cracked a tiny, tiny smile that just about made Sherlock feel weightless, and the detective smiled back, tired marks appearing under his vivid eyes, and a genuine smile cracking his worried expression. He silently laughed, removing a strand of Barok’s hair as the man’s tired light eyes filled with water again and looked to the ground in timidity.

Barok was the first to diminish the space between them, safely enveloping the other who latched onto him as if clutching for his dear life. After slowly moving apart, they both kept looking, connecting the dots and counting the colourful specks in each other’s eyes, before van Zieks moved to steal another kiss from the violinist, whose forehead he met instead. In a second of panic, van Zieks’ cheeks turned rosy and his eyes moved about nervously: “… Forgive me. I believed I was allowed to…” the prince muttered and tried to step away, but the blond still didn’t release him, effectively stopping the man’s speech.

“No. I’m sorry”, Sherlock whispered, meeting his eyes, “I… can’t keep all this up myself. While you pretended not to know me, well…I pretended not to know myself as well”, he bit his lower lip and after struggling against his inner self for a few seconds, gently kissed the top of van Zieks’ nose before sadly smiling, looking at the man’s bemused expression, “I’m… a detective.”

He watched Barok’s expression change.

Chapter Text

A pair of booted feet rushed upstairs, their toes hastily touching the ground before immediately meeting the air again. He had always thought of getting a better haircut but never got to it; now he knew he would be getting one soon since his hair kept getting stuck to his wet forehead. As he reached the prince’s chambers, his dark eyes looked around himself whilst he was breathing heavily, before heading towards his chambers’ door slowly, remembering how van Zieks never liked when someone would run to his door.

Well, the only person running around the castle was Asougi. So he didn’t like it when Asougi came running towards his door.

Upon reaching it, he reluctantly stood in front of it for a few seconds, before quickly knocking on the door, immediately putting his hands behind his back and straightening. As usual, the first reaction behind the door was something jumping up and scurrying around the room before hitting the door and then running off once the entity would hear its master’s voice. The next thing Asougi had to do was wait for a few seconds without any reaction – and then the massive door would slowly go open – somewhat slower than usual though – and in front of him appeared a messy-haired individual wrapped in a light-coloured mantle; not the individual he expected to show up at the door. In front of Asougi stood Sherlock Holmes, in a bathrobe, tiredly scratching his head in confusion. He looked as if he was asleep up until now.

Asougi glared.

“Hoh? Mr… Asougi, was it not?” the man asked, and the young raven-haired man had to take a moment to realize what the man had asked, before responding by nodding his head, to which Holmes widely smiled and stretched, “Mr. Asougi. Yes. Just had to make sure, you know”, he stood and waited, then, just blinking for a while, before continuing, “Hullo.”

“…Good evening.”

“Um… did you need something?” Holmes asked, leaning against the heavy door, but not before stumbling a bit and laughing to mask his incompetence, to which the other responded with a frown and crossed his arms.

“What are you doing in His Lordship’s chambers?” he demanded before stepping ahead to get to the door as to close them so that Holmes wouldn’t stand inside the prince’s chambers anymore, “You are not allowed to step into those chambers. No one is, without His Lordship’s permission.”

“Oh, I have permission”, the man said, matter-of-factly, “I know the importance of privacy.”

You have permission?” the other disbelievingly asked but was stopped from saying anything else (questioning Holmes’ knowledge of the importance of privacy) since the prince’s voice came into his ears a moment after. He couldn’t understand what was said, but Asougi concluded he must have been talking to Holmes, who charmingly smiled into his voice’s direction and told Asougi’s name right afterwards. The stable boy didn’t know what to think.

“Mr. Asougi”, the man at the door called, lazily smiling into his direction and slightly bowing. Asougi would have appreciated it more if the man wore anything else but the pinkish bathrobe, which he couldn’t just ignore.

“And how can you wear a bathrobe if you’re visiting?”

“Oh, we were just about to engage in a conversation. And he told me to get comfortable. So I did.”

He stepped into the chambers that could be described as the most expensive room in the castle, with all of its bookshelves, glass chandeliers, seats, tables, desks, baroque-looking wardrobes, wine bottles on display, paintings, and a model of the very castle he lived in he built himself. But instead of the room being completely lit as any other room in the castle, his would often be dim and a small cosy fireplace would be the only light source Barok van Zieks needed – so that most of the room remained invisible by the darkness that engulfed it.

Asougi always wondered why he had chosen that room to be his own, if he never used any space but the few feet around the fireplace anyway.

The Yorkshire terrier that greeted Asougi’s knock first had already gone back to sleep in its usual small pet bed close to the silent fireplace to keep itself warm. The prince sat a few feet away from the fireplace as well; he was working on his small desk, writing something rather fondly, his nose facing the paper steadily as his pen circled around the page; a glass of wine and its bottle standing right next to him, untouched. Wearing but a white flared shirt, grey trousers and the usual boots, his left arm instinctively rose to cover his other arm to protect it from the cold that crept in alongside Asougi as he entered, and he rose his head to look up at his guest, a warm glint in his eye.

“Mr. Asougi,” the man called and put his pen aside, turning into his direction, “What brings you to my chambers at such a late hour?” his eyes hadn’t remained on his as he was talking; they had followed something else in the distance before they returned to the stable boy.

“My Lordship”, the young man bowed his head, “I came to inform you of a misfortune that happened a few hours prior… nothing of large proportion”, he quickly added when van Zieks’ expression darkened, “Yet I believe it is my duty to tell.”

Van Zieks nodded.

“One royal carriage has gone missing.”

“A royal carriage?” a voice from behind called and Asougi turned to see Holmes sitting on one of the seats in the back, reading some kind of book. Upon realizing Asougi wasn’t too happy about his input, he quickly hid his face inside of the book again, which was most likely just a disguise to seem occupied since there was no way he could have seen the characters so far away from the fire.

“A royal carriage”, the prince repeated, albeit much less enthusiastically, “How did that come to happen?”

“I’m not sure, My Lordship”, he said with a quick bow, again, “I have asked the guards about details, but they did not seem to have noticed anything off. They did not leave their posts at all this night.”

Van Zieks seemed confused for a moment.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“And they didn’t let their guard down upon seeing the masses off?”

“No, My Lordship, it is… The carriage had been in use when the masses were sent home. All the other carriages seem to have returned safely. Just… one didn’t make it back.”

The prince kept looking at him for a while, before hanging his head and looking back to his papers.

“That is… troublesome.”

“It might not be much, though”, Asougi quickly explained, “The carriage could have arrived at its designated destination safely, together with the passengers, but was somehow stopped from arriving back. It could be a wheel problem or something. But I felt like I was to tell you the issue.”

“I appreciate your report. But do make sure to organize a search for the carriage if it does not return by the break of dawn.”

“Understood, My Lordship.”

“Oh, and Asougi.”

“Yes?”

“Chocolate does not do well with animals”, van Zieks uttered and showed a tiny smile before taking hold of the glass of wine, “But thank you nonetheless.”

Asougi bowed and quickly left. The prince kept staring at the closed door for a while, before picking up the wine glass by parting his fingers, making it slide right into his perfectly sized hand, after which he briskly stood up and paced a few steps in one direction, then the other, and then stopped and swirled the contents of his glass around, watching it from a safe distance.

“Troublesome indeed… For a carriage not to return”, he searched out Sherlock’s excited eyes that reflected in the glass, “I’ll have you know this is the first time such a thing happened, since all equipment goes through a daily inspection”, he brought the glass to his lips, but as usual, didn’t take even a sip. He looked to the detective instead without parting from the glass, “What are your thoughts, detective?”

“To say I’d like there to be a problem would seem like a sadistic thing to say”, the man answered, waiting for a few seconds before continuing, “But I would like there to be a problem.”

“Inconsiderate of you”, the prince said in a monotonic voice, taking a large sip of his drink.

“Living your profession is no easy task”, Holmes said, spreading his arms before pointing up, “One might think I don’t want anything else but for people to get into trouble, so I could snoop around. I do it for a living, though.”

The cold stare of the tall man met his eyes and held the blond in silence for a while, before he opened his lips, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he approached the seat where Holmes sat at and elegantly sat right next to him, urging the other to sit just as straight as the other did. Sherlock’s eyesight got stuck to the few small specks that stuck to the edge of the glass the man held.

“Yet what do you gain from investigating this affair…?” the prince’s voice was silent. Soft. Holmes licked his lower lip, as if it wasn’t chapped enough already, and looked down, clasping his hands.

“I told you”, the detective silently answered, looking back to the prince, “this case… It’s big. It’s huge… The affair is so complicated everyone knows of it, he turned to the other and spread his arms towards him, “It could be my breakthrough case! The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of The Fragile King – can’t you see it already?” he grabbed the man by his shoulders, “I could finally afford to live!” the man laughed afterwards, but something in his tone told Barok he wasn’t joking, “No, I could… finally get that one push that I need to succeed.”

The man looked at him, then back to his wine and nodded in understanding. Holmes watched him for a while, before smiling widely again.

“Not to mention I have a personal interest in the case.”

“Of course you do.”

“In my short career as a detective, I never once took a case I had no personal interest in. Half the times I wouldn’t get paid anyway. Your case… It lies heavy on my heart”, he laughed, “Who in their right mind would ever compare my life situations to Mrs. Moulton’s? But here I am, knowing the exact feeling I couldn’t bring myself to understand back then... Lord  van Zieks.”

“Who’s Mrs. Moulton?”

Holmes didn’t seem to notice his question.

“I would have never even thought of the idea of solving this case, because I thought it had no connection to me anymore. What changed my mind is that day, when that Mr. Kerr almost ran me over.”

“…Did your life pass before your eyes and you remembered you lived here once upon a time?”

Holmes chuckled.

“No, nothing like that. No”, he showed a wide smile, to which the other responded by looking to the side so he wouldn’t smile back, “No, it was you. Your eyes.”

Barok furrowed his brows and looked to his side in confusion.

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s just…” the detective started explaining, his right hand instinctively petting his soft fringe, “I kept watching the newspapers and kept track of the news most of the times. I collect those for information anyway, but I started once I stumbled upon an article about you… To be honest, I remember nothing about it”, he laughed, “But I still have the picture… Such a stack of papers nowadays, one would think I actually care about politics. That’s what my roommates must be thinking”, he looked to the ground and smiled again, “The thing is, I was really perturbed when… all that happened. Heck, I still am. And with your state steadily getting worse, well… I hoped not to cross ways with you again. Not that I was scared. I was… I thought it wouldn’t really be comfortable. You… can imagine what I felt like when I saw you again, after all of that?” he looked back at him, but his sight couldn’t remain on Barok for too long, so he looked back down.

“And with you pretending not to know who I am… I played along, but… I’ve performed better acts before. Mostly because I usually don’t care. Nothing in a long time stroke me so hard like the moment your eyes looked past me, not at me.”

Van Zieks turned towards him, watching the squirming man attentively. It looked as if he was physically beating his pride down.

“It’s weird. Really. With all of my emotional intelligence, I thought seeing pain in others’ eyes was an elaborate literature plot that happened to get popularized and was integrated in even the best of novels. But yours were… I’ve never seen pain in a human’s eyes before. Not like that.”

He looked up to see the same eyes, laughed at himself, but kept watching.

“The idea of you ever being remotely related to the incident… it faded that instant. From that moment on, I knew I had to do something. I had to at least try. I owe it to you.”

Van Zieks kept looking for a few more seconds, before shaking his head and looking down.

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“No, I should have known that case wasn’t to be ignored. I should have known it would come back sooner or later, especially when I read that the king started investing more into surveillance and would rarely let in visitors, as opposed to before; only when there was diplomacy in question. It was obvious, really. But I - “

“How could you have known a burned barn would cause all of these events to unfold?”

“And then I left you all alone. In the worst possible time…” Sherlock ignored his comment, “I… know how much he meant to you. And in the dead of the night, I was not there to stand next to you. I owe it to you.”

“You owe me”, van Zieks started and threw the glass he held away, so it hit an object in the back (that certain object happened to be made of glass, and thus slammed onto the floor and shattered into pieces), causing Holmes to furrow his brows and stare at the absolutely calm-looking man that soon reopened his eyes and looked into Holmes’ eyes, “nothing.”

The dog started barking and quickly scurried to the other side of the room, getting lost in the dark as high-pitched, growling barks kept coming from afar.

“I loathe to reiterate myself. But what is past is past. It does not matter what you thought back then and what you think now, for it’s easy to look into the past and pick out wrong choices.”

He looked to the side.

“You are here, now. And I am content with anything you throw at me.”

Holmes watched the man with wide eyes. A soft smile soon spread across his face before he looked down, clasping his hands. Then his smile vanished.

“But I’ll go back, you know. I… after this. Please don’t… think ill of it. I’ve got a six-year-old roommate, and I don’t think she’d… After this”, the man silently said, forcing a laugh, “I’m no free man, is what I’m trying to say. My life now is detecting crime and… honestly, it’s what gives my life meaning. Even though I… eh.”

“It’s fine”, the other whispered and realigned the other’s collar, his eyes emanating calmness and gentle warmth. Upon seeing the other’s expectant expression, he looked back to the floor, “I will offer you any information you might need to solve this mystery. And I will see to it that the guards let you access all locations and resources you need”, he looked back into the detective’s eyes,  and after a short while, he continued, “I place my trust in you.”

Holmes’ eyes shone with gratitude and he nodded, reaching for the other’s hands. Barok then stood up yet was still bent forward to be closer to the detective’s face. A hand of his gently passed through the detective’s hair as he continued: “Start the investigation tomorrow morning. The gates will have been closed until then to make sure no one unauthorized enters the premises.”

“Are you sure closing the gates is the best option? It would stop trades, diplomacy, contact with other people and… uh… things like that, no?”

“That is not your responsibility. I have been thinking of it for quite some time… Please, don’t worry about it.”

“You’re worried about it”, Holmes stated, matter-of-factly.

Barok huffed, but said nothing. He then slowly knelt down, making the other lean forward to realign their eyes, even though Barok decided to steadily keep watching the ground instead of him. Holmes pouted.

“You know what happened last time someone tried to do that”, he kept poking.

“That’s why I’m doing this”, van Zieks suddenly stated, rising his head to look into the other’s eyes. Sherlock was silent, watching the man’s eyes for some kind of waver, which wasn’t there. The man was absolutely certain what he would be doing next, and Sherlock could say it frightened him just a little, “If I lock the gates, and something happens to me, Mr. Dobinbough… and you, will know it to be no coincidence. If they do the same thing they did to Klimt, well… It means the culprit wants the castle to stay open to the public.”

“…That way we can think of possible motives… that’s what you’re thinking.”

“We didn’t expect a tragedy to happen last time… At least I didn’t”, he closed his eyes tightly, his scar twisting, “The gates never got to be closed, even. This means the culprit must have been part of the staff… We weren’t prepared, back then. But if you act quickly in case something happens to me, there is a greater chance you catch the murderer before they can get away again. If they are still here, of course…”

“I’ve been told there was a thorough investigation of the castle and all staff were questioned.”

“…So they were”, Barok said, watching the detective’s furrowing brows with great interest.

“There was no shortage of people during the investigation?”

“Not that I know of, no.”

“Are you sure…?” Holmes’ vivid eyes met Barok’s. Van Zieks didn’t know why, but the sight of the detective’s focused eyes made his heart skip a beat in fear. He only ever saw such eyes in greyhounds that set eyes on their prey.

 “I am”, he answered, his dry throat hindering him from speaking a longer sentence, “The staff has been informed previously that the castle’s doors would be shut soon. Anyone that wished to leave left beforehand. The murder occurred eight days later… on the tenth day, the gates would shut.”

Since the prince fell silent, Holmes continued: “We can’t rule the possibility out that the killer is inside the castle at the moment… If we expect them to act again, there’s no doubt he never left the castle because, frankly, returning to the staff would be too suspicious. Moreover, they could have been inside your castle this whole time.”

The colour in van Zieks’ eyes vanished, and his face paled. On that reaction, Holmes quickly cupped the man’s face and got closer, butting their foreheads together.

“Your plan could work, My Lordship. It could, but… But your life will be endangered. And I can try to promise you that you will be fine, but I can’t assure it. I can’t assure you’ll stay safe”, the blond silently said, his grip on Barok’s face tightening. The prince gently put his hands on top of the detective’s, who momentarily realized his reaction and felt a flush of red forming on his face, “I can’t promise you… anything anymore. I’m afraid to do that”, he silently continued, his brows furrowing painfully.

“The criminal needs to be found. Those were my orders.”

“You bastard,” the detective laughed, “your voice is shaking.”

“Promise me one thing only.”

“I just told you…” Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“Promise me you will step into those murky waters and find the one that took my dear brother’s life from me. That’s my only desire, detective.”

After the twenty-second deafening silence that appeared, Holmes suddenly burst into inaudible laughter, putting their foreheads together and shaking for a few more seconds before calming in van Zieks’ arms that had latched onto him out of some kind of fear.

“Is it really…?” the detective joked, out of breath and thus barely audible.

Since the prince didn’t answer him, Holmes’ smile slowly faded until the blond pressed his face into the white frilled shirt Barok had taken from his brother’s wardrobe. As he did that, the only question lingering on the prince’s mind was when Sherlock went as frail.

“What is there to desire…?” van Zieks silently asked.

“I don’t know, Barok”, Sherlock closed his eyes, “Sometimes, it feels enough just to exist.”

Van Zieks watched him for a few more seconds before abruptly standing up, making the other look up tiredly to see a frown forming on his pale visage. He realigned his cravat and looked to the fire, watching its flames lick the fireplace for a few seconds, before his eyes landed on Basker, who slept in his little pet bed once more. He closed his eyes.

“I have to inform Benja… Mr. Dobinbough of the details, now. Even if I wished to stay and converse, I have got more trifling matters at hand at the moment… He will be telling everyone who does not wish to stay locked in the castle to leave”, he turned around, paced a few steps towards the door and then stopped, turning his head just enough to see his detective still tiredly looking at him, with the exact same expression. Barok’s brows furrowed as he continued, “You may remain here until I get back, if that is what you wish for, detective. Once I delegate the tasks to the counsellor, I’ll get back”, he waited for a few seconds, unsure of whether to say something else, “You may stay. Or leave… Your choice, no matter how you look at it.”

As the detective just smiled at him, he nodded to himself and strode out of the room, taking his cloak that had been resting on a stand next to the exit and softly closing the door behind him. The moment he left, the Yorkshire jumped at its small paws and scurried towards the door, sat at the floor and stared up. Holmes had been busy looking at his intertwined fingers at the time, before he heard the dog’s necklace emit the by-now-familiar metallic sound of gold as he came closer and sat in front of the detective now, obviously seeking attention now that its owner was missing. Otherwise it wouldn’t approach anyone. Basker lowly whined, yawning as Holmes looked at him.

“Oh, doggo. I can’t tell him. I can’t bring myself to.”

The dog kept breathing noisily, its wet tongue sticking out of its mouth.

 “You think he knows already?”

The dog didn’t answer.

“He’s killing me. Not even Iris proved to be such a distraction – I mean! I can’t think about the investigation if he’s… like this. But he surely doesn’t think of me the same as before. Well. Of course, there’s the fact that I snuck into the castle and pretended to be a professional violinist”, he shrugged his shoulders, “But I wouldn’t act like that. I’d applaud that – you know, not a lot of people have such talents!”

The dog whined. Holmes whined in return.

“Why do I have to act in this… odd way?” after a few seconds in which he realized he was talking about his relationship problems to a dog, he added, “More importantly… why are we not investigating yet?” he raised a brow, “If I can’t have love, at least I’ll have evidence”, he loudly laughed and stood up, walking a few steps forward before turning around and walking backwards, looking back to the dog, “That’s even better. Right, Basker?”

The dog raised its right ear upon hearing its name. Sherlock snapped his fingers, before his smile suddenly started vanishing again and he pressed his index against his brow.

“Basker… What an interesting name.”

Chapter Text

“Benjamin”, he called as he reluctantly knocked on the counsellor’s door a few times, hearing the commotion inside his office stop all of a sudden, with just a heavy sound reverberating through the area as it fell from somewhere above ground. Van Zieks listened to the inside of the room, but once it became apparent that nothing else was going to happen since the room quieted down completely, he sighed and knocked once again, clenching his teeth as there was no response again.

Benjamin would never turn as quiet.

Expecting the worst, he grabbed onto the sword he kept on his side and readied himself to open the door, when his heart started racing all of a sudden. He didn’t let fear consume him though; instead, he shot open the door and stepped into the room, only to see a tall, lanky individual flinching upon being seen, hiding his face. Other than that, he raised a leg to protect his torso as well as a pile of books fell out of his golden mechanic arms, his gear-like monocle twisting upon focusing on the prince who had frozen for a moment as well, before standing up proudly and putting the sword back to its original place, approaching the old counsellor carefully.

“Mr… Drebber?” van Zieks said under his breath, crossing his arms and looking to the ground to let him know he had no bad intentions, but the other remained in his protective cocoon for a little while longer, “Mr. Drebber, what are you doing here…? I thought you had left once the king…”

“I-I-I have”, he mumbled, scratching his long pointy chin with his mechanical fingers, the look in his exhausted eye just as dreadful as Barok had remembered it to be, before he widely smiled, causing his thin face to increase in width as his bones began stretching, making van Zieks slowly step away, “I have, Your Lordship, My Majesty, greatest apologies to you”, his half-mechanical body slowly moved left and right before he managed to bow and raise his head up, “I have intended to stop by earlier, but under certain circumstances, I could not bring myself to show up…” he laughed, “So I decided to come by once the whole town was invited. So as to not raise suspicion.”

“Not to raise suspicion…” van Zieks repeated questioningly, all the while thinking how suspicious his statement sounded. There was a glint in Enoch’s one eye, one that immediately made Barok realize the former counsellor knew what he was thinking.

“Do not mind me, Your Majesty”, he reached the floor without moving his legs at all, quickly collecting the small manuals and books he had lost a moment ago, before raising up and pointing at the other with a book he held in his left hand, “Do not mind me at all. I am not worth the minding. What might you be here for, exactly?”

“What are you doing with Mr. Dobinbough’s books, if I may ask first?”

“These?” the man creepily smiled again, waiting for a reaction from the prince but receiving none this time, “Oh. These books are mine. Not his”, he opened the first page of the one he was holding in his left hand, dropping a few books to the floor again as he moved forwards for the prince to see the inscriptions a little better; the prince moved away to read it though – the entire first page was filled with formulas and drafts of various parts of machinery to small circuits, and then in the middle of it all, there was an inscription that, in an incredibly messy font, read “E. Drebber”. At least that’s what Barok made out it said.

“Mr. Do-bin-bough has been keeping those fresh and warm for me…” he said with fake sentimentality in his voice, slowly raising his metal finger and smiling widely again as a strand of white hair fell over his monocle, “I have no need in taking his scripts.”

Van Zieks’ brows furrowed.

“But I must say. I am quite impressed by his restraint. If I were a newcomer to science and saw such detailed scripts, well, I would grab them in a heartbeat… if I had one”, Drebber’s low laughter filled the room and sent a chill down van Zieks’ spine, even though the prince’s expression remained exactly the same, “If I had one… If I still…” Drebber turned serious, “had one.”

“Mr. Dobinbough’s research is far from yours. Both of you are focusing on entirely different aspects and he would have gained absolutely nothing from running through your books.”

Enoch Drebber stiffened and became serious again, his long face falling and eye almost closing. His ashen lips turned into a modest frown that he then directed towards the books that fell to the floor, which he then started picking up again slowly, with his thin form barely moving.

“How did you get in? I thought the office was locked to anyone but the current counsellor”, van Zieks kept questioning once he realized the previous counsellor was ignoring his presence completely.

“I designed all the keys you see with your two beautiful oculi, dear Majesty. I thought you knew that.”

“I… had forgotten.”

“I am of no importance. Bear me no mind. All I came for is to collect my materials.”

At the sudden change of subject, Barok crossed his arms and looked the man over, not seeing anything that could indicate that the man was lying. But he couldn’t be sure, considering he was still doubting the man in front of him still was a man. Looking around, van Zieks really couldn’t see anything else missing, but it bothered him to no end. What had fallen and caused such a heavy sound before, if everything was in place?

“Who was that interesting fellow you shared a dance with?” Drebber suddenly hummed, looking at the huge periodic table that Benjamin insisted on writing by himself onto a giant blackboard which took him a month to complete, pointing a perfectly still finger of his incredibly close to the chalk on the board but stopping since Barok decided to immediately answer.

“That was one of the violinists I called upon a few days prior. The only one, in fact.”

“…Yes… I remember seeing him…” the man mumbled, still circling his finger around Radium.

“I believe you two are acquainted…?”

“I am acquainted with him”, he finally pointed to the other end of the periodic table before removing his arm from it altogether, slowly turning his head so that he could see the man he was talking to, “Not so sure whether he knows me… You’re suspicious of me?” the man asked before Barok could say anything back, smiling again and turning his way, “Don’t bother. I didn’t burn the barn.”

“What – Did you…?”

“Your guest wouldn’t stick around if it was that simple. He needs his brain to work”, the man pointed the sharp end of his finger to the side of his head, tapping it lightly before looking back to his books and stuffing them into his long dusty coat smeared with oil, stacking as much books onto each other as he could, before lowering his brows and putting the rest into his other pocket, one after another, “I believe your friend wants you down in the infirmary right now.”

“Infirmary? Mr. Holmes is…”

“No, no. Your friend. Mr. Dobinbough.”

“Benjamin? What is with Benjamin?”

“I believe he’s had a little… accident.”

Upon seeing Drebber’s face part in a wide smile, van Zieks’ face paled as he immediately walked past the former counsellor, completely forgetting about everything else as he rushed towards the infirmary in the basement, leaving Enoch Drebber completely alone in Dr. Dobinbough’s office.

***

The poor nurse standing at the doorway didn’t expect the future king to rush downstairs all of a sudden, with all his presence and glory to him, so she, being completely frozen from the simple form of the king standing right in front of her, didn’t even muster the courage to bow as he stepped directly in front of her, demanding to see a ‘Benjamin’ she didn’t know of, and once the girl’s brain finally started working properly again, it was too late – the king had already entered the premises without her permission. Van Zieks, with all his fearful sweat running down his forehead and his ears ringing so much that he could only hear his breathing and heartbeat, still comported himself as elegantly and dignified as always. He didn’t notice the nurse running after him, timidly demanding his attention before stopping in the middle of the dark hallway.

His widely-opened sharp eyes glared daggers at the darkness that prevented him from seeing his friend. He stopped, taking a moment to calm down by taking deep breaths before turning the other way, striding into the direction of a patient’s bed and looking at them – an old, snoring man that was apparently a doctor, with his stethoscope resting around his neck, but he wouldn’t know for sure since he had no recollection of the man whatsoever. After glaring at him for a few seconds, he looked to his nightstand to see a lone, half-used candle sitting on the table. He scoffed before grabbing it and walking away, before suddenly feeling pain in his chest and thus stopped walking. He worriedly looked back to the snoring little man and took his sword from his side, pressing his thumb to the side of the candle to keep its balance as he used his sword to cut it in half, putting the lower half back to the little plate that had held the candle back to its original place.

He could almost imagine the man’s snore to be a snore of appreciation.

Upon digging his pockets, he found the box of matches Holmes had somehow slipped into his pocket without van Zieks realizing it, and once he questioned the detective about it, Sherlock just laughed, patted his knee and told him to keep it. Barok did not appreciate the warm feeling in his chest as he thought back at the moment. It distracted him.

As he lit the candle, a small portion of the room turned visible, but he was still very far from seeing everything around. He kept heading downwards, checking each and every patient (luckily, there weren’t many) as he walked by, until suddenly freezing and dropping his candle.

His friend’s left side of his head, the skin, was badly burnt and torn, and his glasses, that were still on for some reason, were broken – the left side missing all its glass while the right still had some parts left. Some shards seemed to have hit his cheek as dark red marks covered his freckled cheek. A pale burnt arm stuck out of the blanket. That’s all he took in the moment he saw him before his candle had fallen down, and something told him he didn’t want to see more. After the initial shock, Barok managed to calm down quickly and take the candle back into his hand, making its light face his best friend that breathed shakily and was most likely having nightmares, considering his brows were furrowing every now and then as weak sighs came from his mouth. The prince knelt next to him and used his candle to light the one on the doctor’s nightstand, blowing his out and setting it to the nightstand as well before leaning forwards to be closer to the bespectacled man.

“Benjamin…?” he softly called, putting a hand against his shoulder and lightly shaking him awake, “Benjamin…? Can you hear me?”

The young man suddenly sat up, slamming his hand against his forehead and shouting: “Loud and clear!” before feeling faint and slowly fainting back into van Zieks’ hands, who caught the light figure without breaking a sweat, “B-Barok…? That’s you, right…?” there was a pause for a moment, “I’m… blind as a mole without my glass.”

“Oh”, van Zieks breathed, pulling Benjamin’s pillow up and moving further from him to let himself be seen – but he didn’t really want to look at this side of Benjamin’s face because he might make Benjamin worry. His face was prone to show negative feelings at any given moment. The doctor nervously stared for a while, before brightly smiling and tilting his head to the side rather awkwardly.

“Where… were you?”

“In the wrong place, at the wrong time”, Benjamin sighed and suddenly bit on his thumb.

“I was told you had an accident”, van Zieks huffed and shook his head, “needless to say, I came rushing.”

Benjamin was silent. Then he chuckled. Then he lowly whined. Then he growled and punched his covers with those weak arms of his.

“I heard Asougi talk about a missing carriage… So I figured. Something must have gone wrong – and I’m the counsellor, so I’m supposed to do something, right? Well. Of course. Curiosity got the better end of me again. And I went around searching for that vehicle.”

“…Figured as much.”

“At about two in the morning, so, an hour and a half ago now, the carriage arrived at the gates – but without Mr. Kerr anywhere inside! I… literally checked every corner of the carriage, and there was no sign of him. So I demanded that he be found, but… the guards told me I wasn’t allowed to make choices. Can you believe them, me not being allowed to make choices?!” Benjamin got red in face from anger that faded once he realized van Zieks didn’t look so happy with his outburst, so he smiled again and scratched the back of his head, “What do you do when no one wants to listen to you? You do it yourself. That’s what you do. So I begged Mr. Asougi to drive the carriage out and… and leave it for me to analyse and… that happened”, he shrugged his shoulders, getting pale in the face once he realized what his arm looked like, and falling back into his pillow, staring at the black ceiling with his baby-blue eyes wide opened.

“You mean to tell me… The carriage exploded without forewarning?”

“N-No, no”, Benjamin uttered, trying to calm his breathing, “I… I think I fiddled around with the seats and such. And the carriage didn’t explode – no, I think there was something inside that… exploded upon being activated… I think. I must have activated it.”

Barok didn’t talk for a minute.

“That carriage… where is it now?”

“You don’t mean…?!”

“The carriage, Benjamin”, the prince snarled, closing his eyes tightly.

“I’m not sure whether it was an accident or not and whether it was premeditated! You could seriously get hurt – and you are the future king, after all!”

“Are you saying I am not allowed to investigate on my own?” he stood up and stepped aside, wrapping the cape he had taken with him around himself and hiding the lower part of his face, “Nonsense. You looked into the matter because I forbid any detective from ever entering the premises again”, he looked to the dazed doctor to see his expression as confirmation of his statement, “If I do not look into it, then who will?”

Benjamin’s lip quivered – he wanted to say something. Van Zieks closed his eyes tightly.

“I… wish to tell you all I know”, Barok said and turned to him, before shaking his head and crossing his arms, “But your sorry state forbids me from it.”

Benjamin blinked.

“What happened years ago… is not finished just yet, I believe. I wanted to tell you that I am closing the gates in a few days, once people who have families leave. But someone seems desperate to let them stay open, going as far as to assault the counsellor already”, he waited for doctor Dobinbough to say something, but the poor man just shook in his covers instead of saying anything out loud, “Which is why I am closing them today”, he pointed at the doctor whose head was spinning.

“Do you know what you’re doing to the kingdom, if you close them?”

“…” Barok looked to the side, “I am aware.”

“People already distrust you, what if you stop listening to their quests, giving them loans- “

“I am aware of all the risks.”

“And what happens to you, then? You know how your brother… I m-mean, you know how… things… go… in here… and…. It’s kind of cold in here, isn’t it?” he scratched the back of his head as he tolerated the man’s cold glare.

“Take care of yourself first, Benjamin.”

“But…” the blond uttered, but then just looked to his white sheets and pulled his legs closer to his chest, feeling stinging burns crawl through his delicate skin. Van Zieks kept watching him for a reaction until he made sure there was no and nodded his head.

“The carriage, Benjamin.”

“It’s been brought back to the gardens. It… stands close to the shack now.”

“Do you think Mr. Kerr is alive?”

Benjamin kept silent; an answer that made Barok close his eyes tightly. The tall prince kept pacing around Dr. Dobinbough’s bed for a minute, and all the doctor could do was watch his friend bite his lip in deep thought as his scar twisted in unnatural ways. In all these years, Benjamin never once stopped thinking how resolute and resolved his friend was, by accepting the position of an entire Empire’s king without ever preparing himself to be one right after seeing his brother to his early grave and by single-handedly ending an investigation in a matter of a heartbeat, never to look back – only to now realize that he must have borne it all by himself, in the dark, when no one else saw him. The hurting expression he saw told him as much. Who is he endangering if he closes the gate? Who is he endangering if he doesn’t? Is he ever going to serve justice to his brother if he closes it? All these people are worth just as much, am I risking their lives? Those had to be the questions that lingered on his mind. And the doctor knew Barok couldn’t understand anything just as much as he couldn’t. So he suddenly smiled and called for the prince, who abruptly stopped walking ad fixed his eyes upon his best friend who nervously smiled into his direction. Before he actually said anything, Benjamin started digging through his pockets until he happily exclaimed, taking a small notebook out from the sheets and handing it to the prince, who looked at him with scepticism before slowly taking the notebook out of Benjamin’s shaky hand with his gaze firmly fixed on it before looking back to his friend’s freckled, smiling face.

“Good luck.”

Barok’s eyes widened, and the doctor could have sworn there was a glimmer of hope somewhere in those lost eyes of his best friend’s as he nodded his head and left.

***

The carriage was at the exact location he thought it would be – right next to the old locked shack. A guard seemed to have been guarding the vehicle up until a certain point, until the old man fell asleep against the shack’s doors, holding onto his pink scarf rather fondly. Van Zieks’ already narrow eyes narrowed, and he sneaked closer to the carriage, looking at it from top to bottom to see not a single sign of violence from its front. In fact, from the outside, it looked as if nothing had happened to it whatsoever. Upon bringing the oil lamp he took with himself closer to its wheels though, he could see that they were extraordinarily muddied – nothing extraordinary for such a heavy storm, though. Just a sign that it was recently used.

The man looked towards the guard warily before stepping forward into the carriage, its floor beneath Barok’s boot screeching. Most of the seats were completely destroyed, with only minor parts of them still standing, and even those were coloured in black, just like the middle of the floor. The sides of the carriage were charred as well – the entrance not as much as the other side. Except from a few tools scattered around the corner (those went charred from the explosion as well), there was nothing of particular interest inside. Then where did the explosion come from?

Van Zieks looked to the centre of the char – it was close to the right corner, right next to a seat that had almost been blown off. As he remembered the look of Benjamin’s face, Barok realized that wouldn’t have occurred if the man sat naturally – the explosion would have hit him from the right – and if he sat at the opposite side, where the seats were still standing, more or less – he would have been hit closer to the front and, if he were away from the source, the burn wouldn’t be as severe; the explosion wasn’t as huge as to actually cause any damage to the carriage from the outside - he must have been looking at something from the side…

Approaching the corner and kneeling down, he took off his white gloves and stuffed them into his pocket as he reached for the floor, the small light source he held in his hand showing signs of clear wood beneath the rest of the remnants of the seat – upon moving it, he saw a clean rectangular part of the floor.

Something must have been standing there that was now moved. The explosion had expanded from that point. And that something must have attracted Benjamin’s attention.

Chapter Text

Upon entering into the warm, cosy chambers, van Zieks felt the icy cold wash away from his hands and cheeks immediately. He made sure to close the door silently behind him in hopes of not startling his dog, or Holmes, if he had decided to remain in his chambers. Barok realized he must have been away for quite some time now, considering that the fire inside the fireplace had already gone out, and he had almost started walking normally again if it weren’t for the fact that as he headed towards his small desk, his oil lamp illuminated a lump tucked in his bed that he did not remember forming there.

As he got closer to the perfectly white, soft silk sheets, his breath caught. The detective was silently sleeping in it, holding the royal terrier in his hands. The prince slowly continued his way towards the desk, removing the grass-scented cloak before tending to the fireplace to make a small flame reappear inside of it. The tips of his fingers started tingling. He visibly relaxed and slowly sank into the chair, closing his burning eyes.

One would expect he wouldn’t be able to sleep, with how much he had gone through in one single day. But that wasn’t the reason why he felt the need to stand up – something just felt… off.

Barok reopened his eyes, shivers running down his spine. He didn’t know whether it was his imagination or intuition, but there was a feeling in his gut that told him something was out of the ordinary – as a man that rearranges his wine and books by years, colour or name every (single) week, he trusted that feeling. Standing up, he looked towards his bookshelves, only to see that a few of them had fallen out of place and were now lying on the cold floor. His lip trembled as he approached them, feeling anxious to actually pick those up. So he didn’t, and just stood up to his full size and pretended nothing had happened.

Then he saw that his dog’s pawprints were headed towards the books. Until they suddenly vanished – being wiped by someone, considering the obvious smudge formed by the wet tissue someone that never even bothered to think of how to erase evidence had left on the floor. Kneeling down, he felt the substance of the pawprints – ash. He used the wet tissue to wipe it from his fingers, picking it up and quickly disposing of it. It’s not that he couldn’t stand the dirt – he just remembered his brother being meticulously neat.

As he looked back to the fireplace, he saw a small pile of ash around it – he wondered why he was still awake at this point now that he realized he had overseen such an obvious thing. The prints around it didn’t look like a dog’s, though. They were almost… human-like.

He sighed, pressing his finger against the bridge of his nose before quickly looking Holmes’ way, approaching the bed and plopping himself right next to the sleeping detective. Sherlock seemed to be sleeping tightly, though. Van Zieks’ eyes narrowed. The detective mumbled something, smiled and then hugged the dog, exposing his fingers – upon which van Zieks immediately knew who the culprit of the mess was. Crossing his long legs, he waited for a while before managing to muster the courage to actually wake the sleeping log.

He touched his shoulder lightly, first, but Holmes didn’t even budge. Upon realizing not even shaking him would work, he frowned and called his name. The detective was still fast asleep.

“…You’ve got to be kidding me”, the prince silently complained, scooting closer and looking at the man from above. His hair was still as messy as before, but he looked calm, for once. He thought of talking louder, but he couldn't bring himself to do so. Instead, he put a finger against his forehead, which the sleeping man slapped away and turned to the other side, leaving the dog alone.

“At least you’re free from this man’s tomfoolery, Basker”,  Barok claimed, feeling betrayed once the dog decided to ignore him as well.

“Mr. Holmes”, van Zieks called, silently because he still felt wrong about waking him, getting closer, “What were you doing inside my fireplace?”

The detective’s eyes shot open at that, and he nervously smiled upon seeing the cold eyes of His Lordship staring down at him.

“And… what are you doing in my face?” Holmes asked and noticed the faint colour that appeared on van Zieks’ thin face, making him sit up again. Sherlock followed, rubbing his left eye tiredly and softly smiling at the other, “That’s kind of the same question, of the same importance, wouldn’t you agree?”

“No. I wouldn’t.”

“I’m sorry for falling asleep”, Sherlock stated and silently laughed – Barok guessed he couldn’t be loud immediately upon waking up, “I was waiting for you to return… but… when I saw how soft the bed looked like, and I sleep on the couch in my room, I had to try it out… and I guess I fell asleep then…”

Barok grabbed the man’s wrist while he was still talking, which made Holmes stop and direct his attention towards the exhausted-looking prince.

“And what is with that ash you have on your fingers?”

“Ah”, Holmes quieted down for five seconds before explaining, “I’m not sure.”

“You’re… not sure.”

“But good observation skills, My Lordship! Why, I’m proud of you”, he petted the tall man’s hair and laughed at his exasperated expression.

“Mr. Holmes… I would appreciate it if you would just tell the truth”, he crossed his arms, “I’ve gone through enough hardships today, wouldn’t you say?” he shook his head left and right, “There were certain circumstances that prevented me from returning sooner and I do not wish to recall them tonight… Not tonight. All I want to do tonight is rest.”

Sherlock blinked a few times. Then he smiled.

“I saw you throwing a piece of paper into the fire earlier. Just before you left. You were hiding it in your pocket.”

Barok didn’t reiterate.

“As soon as you left, I picked out a wine bottle and splashed it all over the fire-“

“You did what?!” van Zieks clenched his teeth, pressing a hand against his face.

Sherlock shrugged, spread his arms and continued: “But the fire only got bigger. It started… how do I say this… leaking out.”

“Leaking… out.”

Barok was too tired for all of this.

“After throwing a gallon of water into the fire place, it finally stopped. But when I tried searching for the piece of paper – it was nowhere to be found!” Holmes seemed genuinely upset about it, looking at his empty hands longingly with an angry grimace on his face as he writhed forwards.

“Did you really expect anything else to happen…?”

“So after all of that”, Sherlock ignored his question, “I went ahead and started searching the books for a missing page. I was stopped, however, when I heard your slow, unusually light but still menacing footsteps from down the hallway. I jumped into your bed as fast as I could and fell asleep immediately after… Where did you get such a fine mattress?”

“So you mean to tell me… You would have searched every single book there is just to find out where that single page I burnt on purpose came from?”

Holmes watched him, tiredly blinking.

“Without even knowing whether it really was part of a book?”

“…Yes.”

“Instead of just asking.”

Holmes suddenly raised an index finger and said: “I haven’t thought of that.”

They sat in silence for a while. Holmes snuffled.

“Even if I did. You most probably wouldn’t want to talk about it.”

“As a matter of fact, I do not feel uncomfortable about speaking to you of it”, van Zieks crossed his arms and looked to the sheets to avoid eye contact, “I had written a letter to myself, a long time ago.”

“Eh?”

“I did not wish for you to see the letter and were afraid you might take a glimpse while you were here. So I burnt it. It was a letter of resignation.”

Holmes yawned.

“You’re a king.”

“…” as Barok remained silent, the detective’s eyes quickly ran over him before he scooted closer, supporting him by leaning his entire weight against the other’s body, “I’m no king.”

Holmes was, unexpectedly, silent. It got the prince off guard, so he spent a few seconds looking at the blonde man instead of talking. Holmes’ greenish eyes were set on the sheets that still covered his body and he seemed to be listening carefully, his lids steadily wanting to close and continue sleeping and his lips in a slight, thoughtful frown. And Barok lost track of mind once he realized he had forgotten to talk and instead just watched the other man. So he kept looking at him, until the other moved his head to the right and frowned a bit wider. The curly hair of his fringe was getting dangerously close to his eye. He looked nothing like a few minutes ago, with his enthusiasm nowhere in sight.

“It was no real letter, of course. I would have never even taken the position if it weren’t for the fact that I am the last royal of my family. I wrote that letter as a child, when I still had no idea of the responsibilities a ruler has, but since my brother kept complaining how harsh his training was, I imagined being a king one day and leaving it all behind – as futile all of that is; for example, what gets distributed to whom and to whom the kingdom would belong if I were to leave this life behind.”

Sherlock nodded his head as a sign for Barok to speak.

“Doctor Dobinbough.”

Holmes showed a tiny smile and looked back to the sheets.

“My… brother found it in my chambers one day and asked for my permission to keep it… Of course I granted his wish. It was… found inside my brother’s watch, on the day of the murder. He had folded it neatly inside the watch he rarely opened. Dr. Dobinbough went through hell and back to get it delivered to me. I had completely forgotten about it up until then… And have forgotten how foolish of a child I was.”

Holmes raised his head upon hearing that, looking at the calm prince who didn’t show a sign of emotion.

“My coronation is in three days. I had to get rid of it to set my mind straight.”

“Three days?!” Holmes exclaimed before bursting into laughter, and then shrugging and spreading his arms, “So I have only three days to solve this case.”

“You have as much time as you want, detective”, van Zieks muttered, “I thought we agreed on that.”

“Oh, I needn’t more than three days”, the detective said and parted from the other, sitting across him. It was then that van Zieks realized Holmes had changed into his usual clothes and put a brown vest on top of his violet shirt – which got him wondering when he had had the time to change, “Three days is more than enough to untie these rotten affairs.”

“Forgive my impudence, Sherlock,” the man said and closed his eyes tightly, “but you haven’t got the slightest clue.”

“That”, he pointed upwards, a smirk slowly appearing on his pale face, “is unnecessary cruel, dear Lordy. I thought you wanted me to solve the case as soon as possible. No, I’ve been collecting clues all over the place during my visit. All I have to say is, it’s naturally possible for the great detective Sherlock Holmes to solve a case in just three days. Ho, under that, even! Two – could it be one as well? One day to solve a mystery?”

“If it were like that, you would have solved it some time ago already, isn’t that right, detective?”

“You don’t understand what position I am in right now”, Holmes kept pointing up, his lazy smile steadily growing as his eyes locked with Barok’s, “I am a private detective appointed by the king himself, and have gained access to every single corner of this expansive castle. Hell, if I wanted to, I could rob you in a matter of a heartbeat…” he noticed van Zieks’ slight change of expression, “…technically speaking, of course”, he put a pipe into his mouth.

“Don’t let your huge ego consume you, detective. There were one hundred twenty seven investigators on duty last time and all of them failed. What makes you say you won’t fall into the same category?”

“Say my name.”

“…Excuse me?”

Holmes removed his pipe and smiled into the prince’s direction.

“Say my name.”

“Holmes.”

Holmes gesticulated with his hands: “Full name.”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

“Okay. And now – add the great detective to it. But with capitals. The Great Detective.”

“…I’m not doing that”, van Zieks huffed and turned away, setting his feet down. The detective behind him suddenly grabbed his arm to which the other looked back confusedly, and Sherlock’s eyes seemed to be filled with the exact kind of confusion the prince felt. After sitting in silence for a few seconds, Sherlock suddenly sighed and hung his head.

“I… have a confession to make”, the detective mumbled and raised his head slowly, looking right into the other man’s eyes. He inhaled, exhaled, and then looked back at the prince, spreading his arms, “You are a huge distraction.”

Barok’s clear eyes only searched Holmes’ for an explanation. And the detective clenched his teeth and lowered his brows, looking right back and hoping van Zieks would find the answer out himself. And the more he stared at him, the more he felt that wasn’t going to happen, until the prince’s brows suddenly furrowed and he turned his way the most he could from his position, his arms taking hold of the bed which Holmes remembered as a habit he would exhibit when realizing something. Once the prince’s eyes narrowed, Holmes took hold of his own hand again and stroked the small speck of a scar on it, hoping van Zieks would think of it as a habit and not him trying to drive attention to his scar. Van Zieks’ eyes fell to the scar and remained there. And after a minute of silence, van Zieks turned back to take his boots off, after which he turned into Holmes’ direction and crossed his legs and arms.

“Are you trying to direct my attention towards that scar of yours, or what?”

“…Dammit.”

A smile almost broke out on the prince’s face, but he managed to keep it down. Holmes smiled for both of them instead. Contrary to Sherlock’s belief, the man did start talking about the scar nevertheless.

“I would have never thought it would remain there. It… was a bad wound, but I didn’t think it was that bad.”

“Well… yeah. And I was afraid I’d get some kind of disease, or something”, he looked back to the wound, “It was your fault, though.”

“What? You watching me is my fault now?” van Zieks reiterated, shaking his head, “And commenting on the book I was reading while trying to get a nail into a horseshoe…? That was not my fault. That was your mistake.”

“It was – it was because I tried to get your attention for a few weeks before that too”, Holmes’ smile grew toothy, “But the only thing you were interested in were books.”

“I did not expect anyone citing Baudelaire’s poems out loud out of no reason… I have to give you that. But what ultimately got me to turn around was your blood-churning scream once you put your hand the wrong way”, van Zieks pressed his finger against the bridge of his nose, “When I turned around I couldn’t even see who it was because you were rolling in the grass. There was so much blood around I thought someone had been murdered”, the man showed a soft smile that would have made Holmes lose balance if he weren’t sitting at the moment, “And once I spotted you, with that purple cravat tied around your hand to stop the bleeding, you practically leaped into my arms and whined to go fetch a doctor…”

“I wouldn’t really call it leap…” Holmes’ cheeks turned red, no matter how much he tried to control himself.

“You kept telling me it was my fault that you’ll get infected now, and I, for some reason, believed you, so I sat by your side while Mrs. Sithe slowly searched for the correct injection to insert…”

“Okay, I didn’t think  you’d go into such detail…”

“I thought you wanted me to talk about it.”

“Yes, but…” Holmes tightly closed his eyes, “Not… that. I thought you’d remember the part tied to three days… At the end of the night. You remember what I told you…?” Holmes looked into the prince’s eyes, that held Holmes’ for once, reading everything out of them before Holmes could even speak, “We were still in the infirmary, in the dark with just one candle to keep us company, and even that was slowly going towards its end. We talked about… anything and everything, from your brother to the complex structure of hands, from books to music, and when you had to leave, we went back to your hands…”, Sherlock grabbed the other’s hands and looked up into the man’s knowing eyes, “and I told you one thing.”

The detective could tell by the man’s solemn expression that he knew exactly what he was about to say, but he remained silent, his expression unreadable.

“I have three days to make you like me.”

Sherlock stiffened completely after saying these words, trying to read the prince’s nonchalant expression and trying to find a sign of emotion somewhere in his clear blue eyes that lazily stared back, his lips curled in a slight frown that have been hurting Holmes’ soul ever since he first saw it. Nothing was like it was before, but he was still clinging to that that was, no matter the hurt and fear and anxiety of expectation.

After a stifling minute, the younger finally unfroze and slowly cupped the man’s right cheek, getting closer and placing a soft kiss on top of the detective’s forehead.

“Sherlock… If it were possible, you would need no time. But I have duties, responsibilities… I can’t let the entire kingdom down just to do as I please. What kind of a king would I be if I followed my wishes and neglected - “ the man’s words were stopped by Sherlock’s lips suddenly slamming against his, and as if taking his entire statement back, he returned the kiss and carefully put his shaky, timid hands onto his waist to steady the blond that was hanging from his neck, impatiently pulling him down which van Zieks refused to comply to. After one ended, both would, as if in sync, move forward to let their lips touch again, first politely, until they would just clash against each other and grasp each other’s clothes to hold onto something as their souls couldn’t.

Eventually, Holmes managed to pull the other down and neither of them reacted to it once it happened; the dog was the only one that complained as it had to move from its sleeping position. It growled and leaped down as Holmes burst into laughter once he couldn’t take the tickling warm touches of the other’s mouth against his neck anymore, hugging the man tightly again and forcing van Zieks to get pressed to the mattress, making him smile. Barok bit on the other’s ear – that was the only thing he could think of to somehow escape the other’s grip at that moment, to which Holmes laughed again and rolled to the side – getting assaulted by the other man’s light kisses against his entire face that urged a few tears to his eyes – Barok made sure to kiss them all off. Basker, in the meantime, walked around the bed before leaping up at the other side and curling up again.

Sherlock was now slowly pressing his lips against Barok’s whose hand slowly stroked the other’s soft hair, pressing his head to the pillow to return the kiss firmly once in a while. Holmes’ lips wouldn’t stop quivering no matter what. The prince pressed their foreheads together, returning the grip Holmes had on his hands, noticing the roughness of his fingertips on his left hand in contrast to his right. Upon inspecting them closer, he saw white parts caused by repeated touches of metal strings. Feeling Sherlock’s stare at him, he froze for a second before kissing his fingertips one by one, before his shining eyes passed across every part of the other’s face, till they stopped on Sherlock’s dilated, as if drugged pupils, locking their eyes until Sherlock finally realized he was being looked at – after which the man toothily smiled, bit on his lower lip and his hid face in Barok’s chest – so the other gently enveloped him in an embrace. The detective’s shaking soon stopped.

“…Seems like it has been some time already since you last practiced.”

Holmes didn’t take his face out into the light for a few more seconds. Once he did though, the same old lazy smile lay on his face as his brows furrowed.

“You’re just implying my loyalty here. Surely, you can do a better job of insulting me”, he said and half-closed his eyes, rolling over to cross his legs and put his pipe back into his mouth, facing the top of the bed and then looking at the red silk partitions that could easily isolate them from the rest of the world. Upon receiving only silence, he opened one of his eyes to look to his side and see van Zieks’ unsure face that was looking up as well. Sherlock could easily distinguish how nervous he was since he kept biting the inside of his cheeks. Just as Sherlock widely smiled and wanted to jump back at him, the prince violently sat up and the detective fell face first into the pillow.

Van Zieks only threw a small glance at the detective before focusing on his own problem, turning to the side of the bed to put his feet to the ground before biting his lip, his arms steadying him to stand up and – not moving at all. The thin man, in the meantime, managed to part from the pillow and crawled towards the prince and plopped next to him, tiredly looking up. As he received no response, he laughed and sat back next to him, feeling a kind of unapproachable air around van Zieks.

“I didn’t mean to comment on your limited sense of imagination.”

Van Zieks didn’t look at him. He steadily kept looking to the ground.

“We have three days”, Barok mumbled, looking at nothing in particular, “Three days before you leave this castle for good. It would be against the rules to keep an unoccupied peasant inside of the royal premises after that; especially if that peasant acts as a lover to the king… There are certain rules I have to obey, Sherlock. Not only are some factors perceived as incompetence here, I myself could never go against rules. You know me enough to be able to tell.”

“You’re trembling”, Sherlock said, before laughing and pulling on his shoulders to make the man lie back on the bed, which van Zieks, unexpectedly, complied to. Out of a feeling of necessity, Sherlock’s fingers started passing through van Zieks’ hair as the man kept staring ahead of himself, his left fingers getting entangled in the silky purplish locks, “I noticed I do that too sometimes, just before making extremely important decisions.”

Van Zieks looked to his lover, seeing him furrowing his brows in thought.

“Like whether you should try to shoo a fly out of the apartment by swinging your instrument around, or whether you should try eating the soap in front of you or not.”

As van Zieks furrowed his brows, Holmes frowned and put a hand against his forehead.

“Those are the worst decisions you can make.”

The prince’s mouth opened, but he decided not to say anything.

“I don’t really know what’s going on in that long head of yours, but if it’s that important, I’d suggest you take as much time with the decision as possible. A lot of people would disagree on the fact, but… well thought-out decisions are still the best decisions one could make. I speak out of experience.”

“You didn’t take long to eat the soap?” van Zieks asked as Sherlock’s expression softened.

“…No.”

He leaned down to kiss the prince slowly, looking back into Barok’s eyes once he opened his again, keeping their eyes locked until shivers ran down his spine. The detective smiled again, then, removing one of Barok’s wavy locks out of his face and lying at his back. Van Zieks watched him for a while before moving away from the edge of the bed,  finding himself in the same kind of position as before, looking up. There was a sour expression on his face for some time before van Zieks finally said: ”…Thank you.”

“Thank me?” Sherlock laughed, “You – really? I didn’t think you had it in you, the decency to thank someone when they try to cheer you up.”

“Not that”, van Zieks huffed before closing his eyes, “And your remark won’t be forgotten, dear detective. No, I wanted to thank you for… coming back. Even if it was against your will to actually stay here and keep me company.”

“I mean, you practically forced me to stay, so it’s really something you should be thanking yourself for”, Holmes said and loudly laughed, taking hold of his forehead before embracing the annoyed-looking prince, “But, yes, you should thank me for breaking the silence.”

“…I regret the decision of thanking you”, van Zieks said and turned the other way around, Holmes’ arms sliding off his back and him sitting up before getting to his other side to face him again. Sherlock’s smile made him stay in the same position this time, though.

“I should have just said ‘you’re welcome’, shouldn’t I? Would have made things easier.”

“…”

“You’re welcome.”

Van Zieks’ hand stroked the man’s hair as Holmes smiled widely, scooting closer to the prince. For a while, none of them said anything, and they just lay in the dimly lit room, listening to the crackling fire and the short soft melody of the sheets if one of them would move. Harsh wind was blowing outside, making the wine-red curtains in the back flutter around and Holmes scooted even closer to the prince as it brought a cold northern air with it, which seemingly didn’t bother the prince at all – even though his hands were now as cold as before all the things that went down that night.

Sherlock still couldn’t believe that it happened, in fact. For someone like him, a man different from any other, who people called out for being too odd, who people avoided, to find someone like him, a beautiful, misunderstood person with hands cold like ice and feet even colder, who, even though he doesn’t show it, deeply cared for people even though he never cared whether there was someone behind him when he’d throw those glass chalices around – Holmes lost his train of thought and just smiled widely, before leaning his head against Barok’s broad shoulder and relaxing. But then he noticed something.

Barok had already closed his eyes once the detective started talking again: “…You smell of wet grass.”

“You smell of expensive red wine”, van Zieks replied immediately. Sherlock loudly laughed, and then changed the subject before van Zieks could do something about that statement he made.

“What were you doing outside?” Sherlock asked, quickly eyeing the confused man over who just opened his red, bruised lips and stared up. The detective was curious, but as soon as van Zieks started looking perturbed, he just smiled and continued on another tangent, “You were searching for elephants inside of snakes, weren’t you…?”

“That’s… What are you…?” he chose to let the man’s odd response go though as he saw the tiny smile that was on the blond’s suddenly tired face, his long eyelashes trembling as if trying to fall asleep. Van Zieks carefully took the sheets on the side and covered them both in it, and then scooted closer to sleep next to his bohemian, just like all these years ago. With the man by his side, there was no way each and every day wouldn’t be entertaining.

He chose to ignore the questionable laughter coming from the blond a few seconds later.

Chapter Text

“Would you hold still, Silver Blaze?” the stable boy grumbled as he tried to adjust the sleek horse’s rug so that it wouldn’t be hanging from the side, but the horse just neighed at him and walked the other way, causing the young man to rush after it, “This won’t do at all, you know. The king…” the horse moved again and the stable boy huffed as he took the horse reigns with both of his hands and stepped in front of the magnificent creature, looking into its dark eyes as he shook his head to reflect the horse’s protests, “The king wants a test ride today and I’m not sure I have reached a certain level in my new carrier, if you know what I mean…? So, I really need you to cooperate.”

As the horse puffed through its nostrils, the young man sighed, watching the hot air that appeared out of his mouth and rose into the air, spending a few seconds looking into the completely white sky that clouds covered. Silver Blaze seemingly had the same idea and looked up, and the stable boy caught him just in time – he laughed and quickly leaped forward, adjusting the horse’s rug and cupping the horse’s head, shaking it a bit and walking backwards as he took a good look at the job he did – looked like rubbish, but with the horse’s stance and white markings, it looked quite fashionable.

The stable boy rubbed his red hands and stuffed them into his pockets, looking down to get reminded of the fact that his trousers were too short to cover his ankles.

Just as he decided to call it a day and retreat into the warm, heated, hot castle, he heard another pair of hooves slowly approaching – the slow way of walking reminded him of someone, so he turned around just to freeze for a single second before smiling and walking closer to the prince that was steadily looking ahead of himself as he rode on his well-trained horse. Instead of greeting him though, or at least looking into his direction, the prince passed by the stable boy and rode a few more feet before the horse completely stopped, and the man dismounted the strong creature and took it by its reins, holding those towards the stable boy that just looked at those first, then into the deep blue eyes of the young man – and just as he wanted to do his job, the prince’s brows furrowed as he pulled on the horse’s reins himself and started towards the barn where the rest of the horses was being kept.

“Uh-“ the stable boy uttered and followed the tall man, not sure whether to take the reins from the prince that was still holding his gloved hand half-opened, as if wanting the other to take them out of his hand, or not. So he just followed him, before finally mustering the courage to ask, “Would you like me to do it?”

Barok turned his head just enough to see the stable boy and looked to the straw-covered wooden floor before opening his lips – nothing came out of those, and he continued leading the horse on his own. After getting the huge dark horse to its place, and saying a few parting words before petting its wide, white snout, he swiftly turned around, his cloak flowing behind him as he paced towards the exit, without even looking at the groom who felt strangely out of place.

Something dully ached in his chest.

“Any foxes around today?” the horse handler asked as he approached the prince again, standing a reasonable two feet away from him – the prince seemed not to agree with that with him, as he steadily kept eyeing the man as if he was agitated by the stable boy by the fact that he was just following him. Van Zieks looked at him, then to the ground, and then to the side, away from the groom.

The ache grew stronger – and Sherlock stopped walking, so van Zieks soon turned back around to look at the blond that was nervously pulling his glove up.

“Aren’t you cold?” the prince asked once he realized the man was out in the cold, with nothing but a shirt, trousers, shoes – not boots, a flat cap that still exposed the man’s reddish ears and one of those fingerless gloves that he’d always wear, wherever and whenever, only that this time, he couldn’t wear his left one since his wound had recently been treated and he couldn’t risk putting a glove on top of that.

Once Sherlock realized he had been asked something, a few seconds afterwards, that is, he quickly looked into his interlocutor’s eyes and smiled before fiddling some more with his glove and then putting his hands into the pockets of his trousers.

“Kind of, yeah.”

Van Zieks kept glaring into his direction, so Holmes’ smile nervously extended as he approached the other again, standing three feet away from him this time and steadily looking at his shoes and then at the high brown check socks he was suddenly extremely embarrassed of. He knew if he kept looking at those, the prince would see them sooner or later as well, but he couldn’t help suddenly hating them with a burning passion.

“Are you implying you do not have clothes other than these?” van Zieks silently asked, and there was something so soft in his voice that Sherlock suddenly burst into a loud fit of laughter, causing the other to flinch for a second before looking back ahead of him, his arms slowly folding.

“Do you think of me to be that poor?” the blond asked and spread his arms, smiling up at the prince whose expression slowly shifted.

“It was just…”

“Because you’d be right. You’d be right”, Holmes quickly added, stuffing his hands back into his pockets and looking back to the ground, “Doesn’t really matter, though. I get to work a lot so I often times don’t even feel the cold biting my ass.”

Van Zieks just looked at him oddly. Sherlock suddenly straightened and looked back up.

“The king’s taking Silver Blaze out for a test today, he told me. I tried to warn him, really, but I don’t think he wants to listen.”

Van Zieks smiled.

“Is it really that fast?”

“Oh, that horse could, without any problem, compete in races, and I’m sure that with a little training, he’d be standing at the top of the top soon”, Holmes zealously said, “It’s all muscle. A waste of potential to use it for hunting, really.”

“The king feels great fondness for hunting. He wouldn’t want a horse for any other purpose”, van Zieks silently said, eyeing the blond whose feet were now avoiding cracks in the floor, and, taking sudden interest in it, decided to say something about it, “Avoiding cracks in the ground won’t bring you any luck, if you’re thinking of that. I’ve tried doing so as well – never worked.”

Holmes looked up and widely smiled, before looking back down.

“You’ve seen only one variant, you know? You never stepped on the cracks – you don’t know what would have had happened if you did step onto those.”

Van Zieks’ brows furrowed in thought.

“Then again. Luck doesn’t function that way. If there even is luck – how we call it –it’s just probability that goes in our favour, in which case, for different people luck will be a different thing, and all will just be based on a certain probability anyway…” after finishing his mumbling, he looked back up and smiled at van Zieks’ confused, yet somewhat intrigued-looking face, “I was just feeling playful.”

Van Zieks nodded his head before looking to his crossed arms, which he slowly untangled and moved to his sides to continue walking normally. The warm sun was shining right through the naked tree branches of the surrounding trees, hitting the side of van Zieks’ face, which is why he stepped closer to Sherlock who took this as an invite and decided to continue attacking the tall man with questions and low-level philosophy.

“Are you superstitious?” Holmes asked, watching the man’s unsure eyes quickly eyeing him before he looked back to the naked tree branches.

“No.”

“Detailed answer.”

“…”

“I mean, I just wanted to know. Considering I’m never really welcome into the upper parts of the castle. You know. The best parts. So I can’t know whether you keep salt in small containers that will unable you from spilling it.”

“…”

“…Did your brother ask anything, yesterday…?” Sherlock suddenly asked, noticing the way Barok’s lip twitched upon being questioned about it – which meant that, yes, the king did find it strange that his little brother returned after 4. a.m. in the morning, cold as ice and with lost-looking eyes.

“He did not ask much”, Barok said, his arms returning to their original position – being crossed over his chest, “But… to be honest, I do not remember what he asked… Nor what I answered him… Did you… really, mean that, yesterday?” his voice was no louder than a whisper as he spoke, his steps becoming slower, “Did you mean what you said?”

Holmes bit his lower lip.

“You haven’t known me for quite long, and yesterday was the day you first spoke to me. What… what in the world made you say what you said?” van Zieks’ voice quivered, his ashen face twisting in confusion, “I’m a prince, for heaven’s sake!” his head turned to Holmes, “What made you… I can’t comprehend it.”

The stable boy stopped walking, causing the other to stop as well. Sherlock quickly approached him, so that van Zieks wouldn’t complain too much – the prince just stepped closer to the leafless bushes that stretched out around them.

“I’ve told you. I’ve told you yesterday”, Holmes silently said, his eyes taking on a curious glint as he smiled, “We’re complementary contrasts. Even our hair is.”

“…Tells me absolutely nothing. You could have not given me a worse answer”, van Zieks grunted, looking away from the man’s greenish eyes that wouldn’t part from his. Holmes had that ability – to watch someone for as long as needed, until making people around him uncomfortable. The prince had completely forgotten he had been almost freezing up until that point – now he felt his palms sweating.

“I appreciate the honesty”, Holmes chuckled, “But. It’s not as if you wouldn’t want it that way – you were the one to look back at me when I was looking at you. Every time.”

“I did not know I wasn’t allowed to look back at someone that can’t keep their eyes away from you”, van Zieks grumbled and swiftly turned to the side, starting to walk again and being followed by the shorter man who walked twice as fast as him, and thus hurried in front of van Zieks and looked back, walking backwards towards the castle that none of them really wanted to enter just yet.

“Not like that, no. What you did was look at me a second too much.”

“…Who are you to decide what is too much.”

Holmes chuckled and spread his arms.

“No, no. I’m not the one to decide – nature is. It is natural to feel that stare that lasts just a second too long. And I felt that. I know you feel the same for me.”

“You’re unusually bold for a new employee”, van Zieks mumbled, narrowing his eyes at Sherlock, but not really fighting it any more. He stopped again, before furrowing his brows and suddenly losing his calm, irately putting a finger against the bridge of his nose and arching his back, “That boldness will bring nothing but trouble. You weren’t supposed to act on it!” he then crossed his arms and took a moment to cool, “…And I was not supposed to clam up, and say nothing at that time.”

“Oh. You did say something”, Holmes said, latching onto the prince’s arms and looking back up with a big smile, “Well, your demeanour did, anyway. Something the lines of: ‘Oh my God, he likes me back’.”

“Ridiculous”, van Zieks gritted through his teeth, but upon trying to get away from Holmes, the stable boy just pulled him back and he found himself to be even closer to the blond than before. So he narrowed his eyes at him.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t know any better”, Sherlock mumbled as he pulled his hands back, steadily having to clear his throat so that his voice would work properly, “I know it’s odd, dumb, unlawful, whatever it is. We both know each other’s names, strengths, weaknesses, fears, expectations… we told each other everything we could remember in that little time, while you waited for me to finally calm down…”  Sherlock laughed, “Really, I’ve never seen someone… care that much. For me. I’ve never had someone yell at people around you to hurry up so the doctor could patch me up, and then staying awake until 4.a.m. to assure me that I’ll be fine the next day, when I wake up… And truly, in those few hours I’ve talked to you, I got to know you better than I’ve ever known anyone else.”

Van Zieks didn’t know what to say, really. So he looked to the side and frowned at the ground, his wavy locks falling over his eyes, so that Sherlock not only had to work with a man who closed himself off from the rest of the world, but he also couldn’t see his eyes – at all.

“The winged voyager looks foolish now and weak – yesterday he was beautiful; today, ugly and ridiculous”, Sherlock hissed, turning around and glaring at the neatly-trimmed hedges in the back, before looking back at the prince, clasping his hands and looking back up again, “Did I calculate it wrong? Was I wrong from the beginning? Did I just commit a crime or some – “

“The Poet resembles this prince from the clouds:
Each hangs in the tempest and laughs at the archer,
and finds his exile in a circle of hooting humans
where his wide wings are impediments.”

Sherlock closed his mouth and just frowned at the other, who had closed his eyes and crossed his hands in the meantime.

“An interesting poem you decided to recite out of nowhere.”

“Ah. Yes, I haven’t even realized…” Holmes laughed and scratched his neck.

“A human being unable to fit into the crowds – because he is different. A poet, an artist, someone that watches closely with eyes filled with wonder… considered an outcast.”

Sherlock soon felt heat in his cheeks that he couldn’t control. Van Zieks, however, luckily wasn’t looking his way.

“Something I noticed on you is that you don’t seem to have a lot of people around you… No matter the fact that you talk a lot, and have a lot to say, and to give. I’ve… heard some things being said about you before, none of which were actually true, and that was mostly because you don’t think the same way the others do. You always did everything that you were told to, in your own way, and never returned the insults others would throw at you. You would just… walk away. And you seem to prefer the company of horses instead, now.”

“…You… actually…?” Sherlock silently asked, looking up at van Zieks who turned his nose the other way and refused to look at the blond whose wet eyes wouldn’t leave him alone.

Just as van Zieks opened his mouth to say something, there was a loud sound in the back, coupled by a man’s sorry yelp as he met the ground, the sound of loose hooves getting closer to them before slowly fading – both of them stepped out of the bushes that hid them and looked to the side – only to see king van Zieks lying in the cold mud – face first – holding a horse rug in his right hand. In front of him were fresh prints made by none other than Silver Blaze, and the small fence that kept the horse away from the rest of the world was widely opened.

Barok and Sherlock just stared for a while, the older trying to hold back a laugh that was urging to get out. Barok seemed to be genuinely concerned though, so he had to keep it down.

After a few seconds of not moving at all – the prince was already scared something might have happened – Klimt slowly rolled to the side and sat up, his hands shaking from all the mud that got onto his expensive clothing. He then called for the stable boy, desperation clearly audible in his voice.

Sherlock stepped forward almost immediately, but then looked back to van Zieks who was still watching him, looking into his eyes as to ask the prince what to do next. Van Zieks seemed to understand the question immediately.

“The king needs you more than I do right now – and you will probably have to find the horse afterwards”, he said, getting interrupted by the king who called for the stable boy once again, sitting on the cold ground. Barok turned around, but stopped in his tracks a moment after, the unfinished conversation bothering him to no end. He turned once again, making Holmes stop walking and look back at him, and pulled on his arm to get the blond closer so he could whisper, “Tomorrow at 5 a.m. Please come upstairs to my room. It is early, but, no one will be bothering us. I would advise you to come.”

Holmes looked into van Zieks’ eyes in disbelief, before their eyes locked. Then the blond just shook his head and slowly parted from the prince, heading towards the king who seemed to have noticed him and immediately got up – in fear, Sherlock looked back to see Barok, only to see that he had somehow vanished from his previous spot.

Instead of waiting for the groom to come over, Klimt van Zieks approached Holmes first, still wiping a stain from his cheek as he stopped in front of him and looking at the muddied white silk tissue he had used to get the stain off, and then looked at the blond who immediately ran around the king to take off the scarlet red coat laced with gold he wore, and the king moved his arms so that it made easier for Sherlock to do so – before turning around and taking off his white gloves as well, putting them on top of the coat Holmes held in both his hands.

“I should have waited for you to arrive”, the king said and gently smiled, dusting his white trousers and looking at the rest of his clothes, “That horse is as fast as lightning. The moment I opened the gate, it spun around and fled.”

“Putting the rug at him was a real bother”, Holmes silently laughed, taking the rug out of the king’s hands as the king turned around to try to spot whether the horse was still somewhere in the distance – seeing nothing of it, “I’ll go find it, Your Majesty”, Sherlock quickly said, trying to get away from the king, but was, of course, stopped when he heard him say his name. Turning around, he saw that the king had a serious expression on his face.

“I could have sworn I had seen my brother talk to you not a minute ago”, the king stated, elegantly turning his head to look down at the blond that flinched upon hearing that, “Yet he seems not to be close anymore. Tell me, was it my imagination?”

Sherlock quickly looked at the place they stood at before, searching it as if he would spot Barok somewhere so he could present him to the king, but he was really nowhere to be found. It took him a few seconds to respond to his king, and even when he did, the first few words he said were mumbled out and silent: “It was not your imagination, Your… Your Majesty”, he didn’t know whether telling him was the right thing to do, really, but he didn’t feel like lying – and something was telling him Klimt van Zieks already knew, and just asked out of politeness – the man was sharp as a knife; he couldn’t deny him that, “He was there just a moment ago. But he seems to have vanished.”

“That Barok. He has been avoiding me since yesterday”, the young king said, gently smiling again and looking back down at the horse handler who flinched again, “A meeting was supposed to take place at ten o’clock yesterday, but my brother was nowhere to be found and it had to be postponed. That man returned at 4 in the morning, believe it or not. He walked unusually heavily that night”, the older van Zieks looked into the distance again, his blue eyes steadily fixed on the clouds in the back, that slowly sailed through the skies and dragged the sun behind, revealing its soft glow to the earth, “You wouldn’t happen to know something about that, would you?”

“M-me? Me, I’m – I’m just a horse handler, Your Majesty! I wouldn’t know…” Sherlock stammered, his hurt hand finding its way to his hair.

“Really?” the king seemed genuinely surprised, “I could have sworn the prince used the word ‘Sherlock’ in his description of what he was doing, when I had caught him in the dead of the night… walking around with a dumbfounded expression on his visage”, he listened to the silence that already spoke the truth about the situation, “I do not know any other man with that kind of name.”

“…Damn it.”

The king softly laughed, looking back down at the stable boy – who had never seen such a pure smile before.

“I know that glint in one’s eye, and the guilty look to the floor – even the smile that creeps back to one’s visage at the single second one would think of the other person involved – I know my brother more than he knows himself, and such behaviour is very unusual for him”, Klimt’s smile diminished, “You are the one who caused this, I can tell.”

Holmes watched the man’s soft expression – his face at the moment was nothing like he had thought it would be if they were ever found out – and noticed a small smile reappear on his face again, as he thought more about the matter. After that, the king went completely silent, and it was clear to Holmes that he wasn’t going to speak more of the subject. That’s why Holmes slowly backed off afterwards, hung His Majesty’s clothes for the maid to wash, and then headed into the gardens again to find the horse that caused the stir – all the while thinking of king van Zieks’ smile.

Chapter Text

4:58 in the morning.

Sherlock Holmes was standing right before van Zieks’ chambers, with his hand raised in the air as if he would knock any second – he hadn’t slept a wink that night. All those thoughts about endless possibilities that could arise inside these chambers wouldn’t stop swirling around in his mind and he found himself staring at the ceiling half the night, until giving up and trying to clear his thoughts out at his small terrace – that was located right next to the stable, in case something would happen to the horses – the wet grass was tickling the stony walls from the outside as the wind carried it Holmes’ ways, the wind pulling the young man’s hair back and messing it all up – but Sherlock loved the feel of the strong wind trying to push him away, and he’d just smile and go against it. He had the feeling riding was like that as well, but he wouldn’t know – never in his life did he actually ride on a horse, no matter the fact that he was specialized in taking care of horses. But he saw the prince doing it – every day he worked there – and he seemed to be genuinely enjoying it, and always talking to his horse in that silent manner – even now he thought of him.

Sherlock frowned, then, realizing the thought of van Zieks’ face wouldn’t leave his mind – he really hated the feeling he’d get in his chest when remembering the soft, pure smiles he would sometimes show – he really did. An unnecessary feeling, that just complicates things even further. Something that stops your brain from working, makes your focus go away, and leaves you laughing or crying at night – as useless and counterproductive as it was, his heart seemed to like the idea of pounding really loudly when seeing him – he turned into some kind of inspiration, really. No, more like a motivation – to keep this occupation that most definitely wasn’t made for him.

Van Zieks had said something yesterday. He said that he had seen the man perform poorly and getting yelled at by one of the other employees that actually understood how work was supposed to be done. It left him wondering whether van Zieks watched him just as much as Holmes watched him… and whether the king saw his poor performance as well.

5:00 in the morning, the grandfather clock in the corner announced as its deep bell dully sounded through the area. Holmes took a deep breath and skipped a few times, fisting the air, before passing his hand through his fringe and realizing – he didn’t have the guts to knock on that door.

Van Zieks had said another eye-opening thing, yesterday. He was the prince, for God’s sake! What was someone like Sherlock doing, trying to squeeze himself between the man’s crossed arms and stay there with his head buried in van Zieks’ neck?

Sherlock knocked, because his body seemed to disagree with his brain.

And after a few seconds of silence and Sherlock’s knuckles slowly burning up as if the door he knocked at was made of fire, he heard a hoarse voice from the inside say: “A moment, please… You’re allowed to come in, though.”

And Sherlock opened the door, slowly, letting it creak worse than his own door, until hitting something that created a silent dull noise as it fell over – it turned out to be one of van Zieks’ boots. The room he entered was… tiny, in comparison to other rooms around the castle. It was even smaller than the little room next to the stables, where he had to sleep at night. Nevertheless, it looked cosy – three huge windows (huge in comparison to the walls) were placed right across him, and offered a magnificent view of the gardens outside. Next to the windows lay a small desk on which paper and pen loyally rested – alongside unfinished paperwork that the prince sometimes complained about. A little model of the outskirts was placed on a chess table in the corner, no pieces visible whatsoever, and van Zieks’ cloak was just thrown on top of one of the chairs that surrounded the chess table, reaching the wooden floor. The walls were filled with bookshelves that contained books of all kinds, sorted by colour. Sherlock couldn’t detect any dusty areas, no matter how hard he tried. A few sofas and armchairs stretched out in the middle, with a little black coffee table in the centre, and a small fuzzy carpet beneath. The fireplace in the back had been recently lit, Sherlock could tell by the fact that the room was still relatively cold, and a few candles on the walls had been lit as well to ensure that every corner would be visible, so that one wouldn’t stumble over the papers that were lying around the floor. The man he was visiting was collecting those papers that he hadn’t cared enough about – dressed in a plain grey shirt and black comfortable trousers that made his legs look like sticks with how wide those were.

The young prince quickly stood up to turn his way and then looked to the ground embarrassedly, smiling a bit when explaining: “I had forgotten you would be coming today… I am really sorry for the disorderliness.”

Sherlock didn’t consider his chambers to look like a mess at all, but he didn’t remember that he could speak, so he just shrugged and looked around to find a place where he could sit at. Or stand. He felt out of place.

“Oh, please…” van Zieks started, looking around for a bit before his sight finally settled on the sofas that were placed around the coffee table, “Make yourself comfortable.”

Holmes opened his mouth to thank him, thanked him a bit too loud for his own liking and laughed like a madman before calmly sitting onto one of the sofas, neatly folding his hands as if told to be polite. A few seconds after, however, he felt out of place again and began shifting around to see which position suited him the best, and, as it turned out, none did. So he tried to focus his attention on the prince that had finally managed to move the heap of papers and notebooks from the floor to the corner, where he just dumped it all, a wavy lock of his falling right over his eye. After that, the tall man turned around and looked Sherlock in the eye, before looking down again and slowly getting away from the corner.

“Again, forgive my impudence. The meeting that had been postponed – without my knowledge – was yesterday evening”, he complained and shook his head, “and I spent half of my night listening to diplomatic arguments and then had to finish the papers for the meeting.”

“Are those the papers that were on the floor?”

There it was again – Barok’s guilty smile.

“No.”

Sherlock laughed and then folded his hands, leaning forward and looking at the prince from a lower perspective. Barok’s hair was somewhat curlier in the morning, and he could swear the man looked as if he was going to fall down and rest for a while any minute as his eyes remained half-closed all the while. After a short pause, van Zieks offered: “Would you like anything to drink, maybe…?”

“Hoh? Uh, what do you have to offer?”

Van Zieks turned around and started searching with his eyes – as Sherlock waited for him to answer, his eyes instinctively started searching van Zieks – he was still walking as elegantly as usual and kept a straight stance at all times, but he seemed twice as frail without all the heavy clothing he usually had on.

“Uh… wine. And…” he turned his head to face Holmes, “…wine.”

Holmes laughed again, falling back into the sofa and looking at his interlocutor.

“Just wine? Out of all possible things?”

“I do not keep anything else here…”

“Why do you keep wine, exactly?”

“They are all wine bottles filled with the most expensive wine of the kingdom – the grapes were hand picked by my brother. Surely, you must have noticed there is not a single room that does not have at least a single bottle lying around somewhere”, he said as he picked one wine bottle and took it by its neck, checking the label on it before shrugging and heading to the waiting stable boy, before realizing he hadn’t taken glasses, so he turned around again to pick one of the thin glasses that weren’t opened just yet – all the others ones served a decorative purpose now that they’ve just stood around over the years. He mustn’t have had many people come to visit. Holmes immediately noticed how defensive the man got when asked about the wine, so he had to actually think before speaking now.

“I thought the bottles were just decorations.”

“No, no…” van Zieks mumbled as he started opening a box that contained the glasses of his choice, carefully opening the box and eyeing the small bin in the back at the same time.

“Good to know, then”, Sherlock stated and looked ahead of himself, staring at the wall for a few seconds, “Oh, but. I’m not sure I’d be able to drink wine at 5 o’clock. I’m not even used to drinking wine at all, actually.”

“Really, now”, van Zieks uttered, taking just one glass instead of two and heading closer to the groom that eyed the bottle carefully, “You might not get another chance to drink it, though. I’ve received the finest bottles because the king insisted on me having them.”

“No way you’re going to drink it.”

“Hm?” van Zieks uttered as he sat across him, filling the wine glass in front of him.

“Wine at 5 o’clock?”

“It is never too early for high quality.”

Sherlock was a bit jealous, really. Even with those baggy trousers on, Barok still looked elegant when crossing his legs and swirling the thin glass around in his hand before taking one single sip from it – and making a small grimace – Barok put the glass away from himself as far as possible.

Sherlock chuckled, and after staring down the glass of wine for almost half a minute, he reached for the glass himself and tried it, feeling sudden heat in his face as he gulped it down. He wondered what he looked like, considering van Zieks was eyeing him rather cautiously. It didn’t take long for van Zieks to panic a bit and walk out of the room, returning with a glass of water a few seconds later and putting it in front of the stable boy that eyed him rather curiously. Holmes grinned.

Instead of drinking it, he took out a wooden pipe he had hidden in his pockets and poured some water into it, raising a finger to van Zieks’ protesting face.

In a matter of seconds, Holmes put the pipe into his mouth and out came bubbles – much to van Zieks surprise.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh”, Holmes chuckled, “This place looks too serious. Bubbles can make everything fun”, he said, crossing his legs and sinking back into the sofa, closing his eyes and raising a finger, looking rather proud, “While you were gone, I put a small amount of soap from a package inside my pipe and with the water managed to create a thriving environment for bubbles to form. I put a small plastic ring into the inside of it, so bubbles could form.”

“…Is it safe, putting that into your mouth?”

“Ah?” Holmes mumbled, opening his eyes, “Well. You have to keep your pipe and head in a certain angle so that the solution doesn’t crawl into the back of your throat… You don’t want to get sick. It’s a terrible feeling when you drink soap, I tell you.”

“You have too much time on your hands”, van Zieks mumbled, softly smiling as he reached forward to take his pipe away, so Holmes moved away swiftly, recoiling once he felt the soap in his mouth and took the pipe away, spending a few seconds looking around before standing up and walking to the first potted plant he saw, spitting the soap out.

“…That plant’s gone by Monday.”

“I don’t want floating water in my room, Mr. Holmes. I am not a fan of wet floors and walls. Refrain from bringing anything related to that in”, van Zieks stated, staring the blond down with a mildly-annoyed, but also semi-intrigued glance. Holmes pouted a bit, but didn’t say anything back, “Do not try to tell me you tried to impress me with a toy like that.”

“No, no… I wouldn’t use this on an adult, per say…” he scratched his jaw, “I just thought you might want to know I’m a curious human being… which you know, by the looks of it. But – bet you didn’t know I found a purpose for this little thing”, he waited for the prince to respond, which he didn’t, “The little girl… what’s her name again… No matter. The little girl that lives here. She finds my bubbles quite amusing.”

“What little girl?” van Zieks asked, sounding a bit bewildered and finally leaning closer – Holmes’ spirits immediately rose upon seeing some kind of interest for him.

“The little girl that lives here – the one with pink hair, and bright teal eyes…” upon seeing that van Zieks was glaring at him in bemusement, Holmes started feeling uneasy as well, “Y-you know. The… The three-year-old girl that… always wear these expensive dresses and… and then crawls around the floor… Why are you looking at me like that?!” the man bent forward in frustration.

“There is no such ‘girl’ in this castle…” van Zieks silently stated, his voice quivering a bit.

“…No, no, there is! She passed by my room one day and knocked on the door, offering me foliage water… She tried to make tea, I guess, but that’s – Don’t play dumb with me, please. The little girl!”

Barok van Zieks suddenly stood to his full size, assuming a dominating stance and effectively shutting Holmes up – he could look quite intimidating when serious.

“There is no such girl around the premises, Sherlock!” he started walking down the room, before taking his cloak and putting it on, “I would know… I have access to every area, and I’ve never even heard of a child around here… Children aren’t even allowed to walk around freely – this isn’t a playground”, he covered the lower part of his face with his greenish cloak before he silently uttered, “…Stop scaring me.”

“Scaring you?” Holmes chuckled, straightening over the plant as well, “Is the possibility of a child walking around unsupervised really scaring you?”

“What would you think – if you had a house of your own, protected by guard dogs and always locked, and one night you’re woken up by a sound that’s not supposed to be there, and you search your safe house – only to find a girl sitting on your sofa, offering you some beverage? What would you think?” Barok was visibly getting more and more perturbed with the situation and Holmes didn’t know whether it was starting to make him laugh or be scared himself.

“Ghosts?”

Van Zieks mumbled something before covering in his cloak again, and then silently continuing, “Whatever you’d think at that moment, it all connects to one feeling – the feeling of something being really off, and the thought of danger”, he removed his cloak from his face, “Sherlock, what you saw that day couldn’t have been a child – I am not jesting. Are you sure you saw her? Really sure?”

“…Yes, no mistaking it…”, Sherlock mumbled, feeling dread in his chest as the fact was slowly creeping to him, “I was wide awake and all.”

“…” van Zieks was covering in his cloak again, eyeing the floor thoughtfully.

“But there’s got to be a logical explanation to this”, Holmes suddenly stated, getting back to the sofa and plopping into it, crossing his legs and stretching his arms across the back of the sofa, “The kid looked quite fine to me. Not ashen or anything – in fact, you’re much paler than her, dear Lordship.”

“Don’t compare me to an inexistent child, please. There is a list of people present in the premises every week and there is no way someone could be smuggled in – let alone a child.”

“Is a ghost really a more plausible explanation, Your Lordship?” Sherlock asked, glaring at the man that looked even paler in face than usual, “A ghost carrying leaves in water, to me?”

“You’re not believing your own theory yourself, Sherlock. I’ve noticed how much you’ve been paling ever since I told you about the inability for the child to exist-”

“This calls for a little investigation, does it not?” Sherlock suddenly stood up, walking up to the prince and grinning, “Then we’ll see who’s correct – me, the rational one here, or you – shaking in your boots.”

“Your boldness shan’t bring anything but trouble.”

“Oh, come on!” Holmes exclaimed, grabbing the man by his hand and pulling him behind as he started for the door, the young van Zieks stumbling after him; Sherlock turned around again whilst walking to look up at the man’s visage that was shaded with a slight tint of pink now, “You made me curious now! We both know none of us is going to sleep tonight if we don’t solve this mystery by the end of the day…”

“You – not being able to sleep? Sherlock. You slept through a thunderstorm once, and you slept outside.

“I assure you we won’t get caught snooping around… And. I know you possess all the Auguste Dupins.”

“Would you stop searching my private shelf, stable boy?” van Zieks gritted through his teeth, letting Holmes lead their way before stopping to put his boots on. Afterwards, Holmes stepped through the door and pulled van Zieks with him, slowly pushing the door closed and smiling at van Zieks as his eyes were kept on the ground at all times, his brows furrowing.

“You must be thinking of all the other books that you keep on that shelf, am I right?”

Receiving nothing but a grumble of approval from the prince, Sherlock decided to let it go and led the young man in the direction of the great hall, from where their path would lead to the coloured-glass-filled hallway and then outside, to reach Holmes’ room. Once Sherlock realized he was still holding the prince’s hand, he internally panicked, but after seeing the prince’s focused face and feeling that the tension in Barok’s hand had disappeared, he decided to keep it at that and applauded himself inside of his head; on the outside, this was shown as a mere grin.

“I am sorry to have cut our meeting in your chambers so short”, Holmes soon said, grinning widely once looking up at the man,  “But I find this little affair quite intriguing. Perhaps we get along working too.”

“Where are you even leading me?”

“Outside – to show you something that negates your theory of the little girl being a ghost.”

“You can’t be sure nonetheless.”

“We’ll see about that.”

The walk was, after that, completely silent, with just a few mumbles between them whilst passing the giant hallway filled with portraits that stared them down – apparently, even the royal family felt unnerved walking down it. The only portrait that wasn’t nearly as scary as the others was the one of Klimt van Zieks, proudly standing upwards with a sword in his hand, and a dark blue background that soothed the eye – no excessive flowers around like the others had. Van Zieks explained that the flowers would be painted after one’s departure; instead of putting real flowers in front of the portrait a professional painter would be hired to paint realistic flowers around the huge canvas – upon Holmes remarking that some of them didn’t look realistic at all, van Zieks just smiled. But after asking what became of the departed kings and queens, Barok suddenly paled in face and ushered Holmes to walk faster.

Going towards the stable and the little room Sherlock slept in, the groom suddenly stopped in his tracks and looked back towards the horizon once he noticed the dark sky getting purplish in colour – and turning around, he could see a vast amount of fluffy pink clouds scattered all over the huge canvas of the heavens, parting the light blue top from the orange bottom of the sky, a small yellow circle rising from the depths of valleys and fields in the distance. He felt warm, at that moment. And his hand’s fingers intertwined with Barok’s on their own.

“What time is it…?” Holmes silently asked, trying to break the deafening silence. All the birds that would sometimes provide some musical relief were now gone to a warmer place, since winter was slowly approaching, “The prettiest sunrises are just before winter, I’ve realized. But only a few of them can be as breath-taking as this”, he mumbled as van Zieks reached into his pocket to find the watch he had been given – only not to find it since he never took it out of his uniform. That was the time the man realized he had gone outside without it – and was walking around like a normal person. And he wasn’t a normal person.

Instead of saying or doing anything though, he sighed and felt the shame slowly devouring him. But the blond was so immersed into that sunrise that he was smiling from ear to ear – and Barok didn’t really want to ruin the picture.

“I’ve realized you watch the sunset every day. Is there a special reason to that?” Barok asked to feel less awkward as he just stood there, looking at the slow sun slowly climbing up the horizon.

“Nope”, the man answered, “I just feel compelled to watch them. Or, rather, those are kind of the only moments I stop thinking”, he uttered and looked up again, “It’s like I’m escaping myself once a day. A great feeling – you would know”, he said and burst into laughter, as Barok just frowned.

“I wouldn’t.”

“Oh. Perhaps you’d wish to know the feeling then?”

“Why would I want that?” he crossed his thin arms and glared down – to which Holmes furrowed his brows in thought before his cheeks went bright.

“You… seem not to get it. That’s okay too”, he turned back to the sun.

“Explain yourself.”

“Your Lordship is pretty bossy today”, Sherlock hummed, “Has he finally realized he is a member of the royal family?”

“I haven’t slept much”, Barok mumbled, “And… I’d much prefer it if you’d call me by my name.”

Sherlock burst into laughter at that, writhing as the comforting blush just wouldn’t go away. After a few seconds, he straightened again and pulled on van Zieks’ arm as he did so, standing to his full size and grinning like a madman, saying: “This is going really fast. Am I on stage four yet?”

“What is… stage four – I did not mean it that way. I do not wish to talk to people as if on a pedestal.”

“Oh”, he was silent for a few seconds, “For a man with such a rich vocabulary, you really don’t know how to express yourself”, the man grinned again, then shrugged, “Or maybe you’re just talented.”

“I purposefully picked such literature that would help me acquire a wide variety of words – ever since I have learnt to read I was encouraged to do so”, he stopped for a moment to think, “For members of a higher position, it is important to know a lot – not only do you sound convincing, but you also have a great advantage when you are in a debate. But it also makes others know you’re on a higher position, so they feel threatened to actually talk to you… Hence why I told you to address me by my name. I wouldn’t want my mannerism to distort the way you look at me – “

“You’re getting worse and worse”, Holmes stated, plopping down at the grass and waiting for the other to do so too – he first had to take off his cloak before sitting down on top of it, “Hm. Guess you’re not used to the outside.”

“What do you mean? Horse riding and exercises are regular hobbies of mine.”

“That odd… leg thing is what you call exercise?”

“I suppose you wouldn’t understand”, van Zieks tightly closed his eyes, as if offended.

“Well, I guess you’re just a dandy – it’s actually really weird seeing your hands for once”, Holmes laughed.

“Please don’t comment on that”, Barok sighed, “You wanted to show proof to me that the child is a real child, and not some sort of… paranormal activity.”

Holmes burst into laughter again.

“What’s up with you and ghosts… Barok? Are you afraid I’d find out you’re one of them too?”

“For the last time, Sherlock, I’m neither a ghost, nor a vampire… nor anything else that has to do with these sorts of things – none of those are real. Well… most of them aren’t, anyway.”

Sherlock threw himself into the grass.

“Traumatic childhood story?”

“I wouldn’t call it that, no. It was by no means traumatic – just, to a simple child with close to zero experience with the world, and without the proper understanding of physics, one’s mind can imagine the worst scenarios possible, and they all seem to be too real.”

“Traumatic childhood story”, he suddenly sat up again, “I wish we could have done that at night.”

“It is not a story – it is a fact, Mr. Holmes. It is a genuine fact that staff report hearing a child’s laughter coming from the hallway some nights, and by no means is this an illusion, as you would have it. The sources are reliable. Our maid which has been with the family for at least twenty years said so, and so did her daughter. The library boy who keeps my books said so as well, and he is by far the most genuine person I know.”

“Have you heard it?”

There was a deafening silence for a few seconds, before van Zieks finally spoke up again: “Truth be told, no. I have never heard laughter in the hallway… I can’t believe it myself, that someone could actually laugh when walking through that venerable passageway”, he sneered, before getting pale again, “Do you remember asking about the flowers earlier today?”

“Of course. It’s to honour the passed without having to put real flowers in front of the pictures… I really don’t know why you’d do that, though. Usually you’d still carry the flowers to their graves, right?”

“Well”, he went silent for a while, before whispering, “The passageway is their graves.”

Sherlock paled.

“What now?”

Van Zieks’ high nose pointed to the ground as he leaned closer.

“I am not supposed to tell you that. So make sure your blabbermouth never opens about that peculiar topic”, he leaned away again, languidly, yet still in a courtly manner, sitting up, his back perfectly straight, “Our family line has once been obsessed with our ‘worth’, as many had called it. I will not get into the details – I am not even sure I remember them, since I have only read about them in the old documents – but the van Zieks tree has always preferred to stay inside the premises. Previous generations were even forbidden from visiting the town, something that was abolished the moment when Klimt sat at the thrown ten years ago. War was the only exception to that rule.”

“A strange law”, Sherlock said and leaned forward, since he hadn’t heard about that.

“It was… mostly to prevent the sullying of our name. What would happen is that an heir to the throne could sometimes fall in love with a simple peasant – and my ancestry thought that had to be stopped by all means”, Sherlock looked to the ground for a single second, “They also thought that, once their lives were over, they had to be buried inside the castle to be respected as kings and queens in the next life… as ridiculous as it was, the belief made a tradition. For generations, the passed are buried ten feet under that hallway – all of royalty.”

“So… you’ll be walked on one day as well?”

“I’d… prefer not to think about that.”

“Sorry”, Holmes laughed, before scooting closer until their arms touched, “You must have experienced something as a child yourself, then? But nothing tied to the child’s laughter?” he silently continued, feeling how van Zieks tensed at the question, obviously still affected by it.

“I was about eight years old, and was never outside the premises just yet, since my father was still ruling, so my mind couldn’t have been tainted with oddities the folk thought up. What happened was that I was walking back into the castle on a quite normal foggy day, but I just remember this dreadful feeling that was in me for an inexplicable reason as I walked down it. I didn’t know about the tradition just yet. And as my eight-year-old self continued, I heard intertwining whispers coming down the hallway, one male and one female, talking gibberish and progressively getting louder, yet I couldn’t pinpoint the voices – it was as if it was coming from multiple locations at once. From the ceiling, from the ground, from the windows, from the corners… I was terrified, but still inspected everything – yet nothing came up. Then, out of nowhere, there was a loud sound, as if metal hit against metal, and I fled. Naturally, I looked into the matter multiple times, but I never discovered anything, and the voices ceased. So, a little child laughing in the hallway really reminded me of the incident. Whether it’s ghosts or not… it doesn’t matter. But every time it brings a chill down my spine.”

Once he was done talking, he looked back at Holmes, only to see his eyes sparkling in excitement and every other muscle of his face tense. Worried, he lowered his brows and opened his mouth to ask, but Holmes stood up at that moment and looked back into the direction of the castle, forcing van Zieks to do the same.

“We have our next location then, my friend”, Holmes smiled up at him, “Thanks for mentioning that. We would have wasted time otherwise.”

“Aren’t you going to show me the proof that the child isn’t a ghost?” van Zieks confusedly asked, following the blond that was already following the scent he received.

“Oh. Yeah, I don’t have anything – I just thought you’d tell me more about the whole ordeal if you were forced out of your comfort zone”, as he said that, he realized the prince had stopped walking and was now standing perfectly straight with his arms crossed over his chest. Holmes chuckled and scratched the back of his head, “Sorry.”

Van Zieks didn’t answer. He just knelt down all of a sudden, making Holmes get closer again and look down at the young man that touched the ground – there was a slight depression in it. Sherlock knelt down then as well, seeing that the depression resembled a tiny humanlike handprint. The prince then looked at him before pointing with his chin to another depression in the grass – this time, a footprint. And Sherlock could draw just one conclusion from the intertwining handprints and footprints. Then he loudly laughed.


 

The languid look of Klimt van Zieks in the oil portrait has always made Barok somewhat unnerved, and looking at it and the daunting empty picture frame next to it was something he could never avoid whilst passing through the passageway – one day, his own portrait could be resting inside of that frame as his brother’s would be covered in the most beautiful flowers – a thought that sometimes haunted him at lonely nights.

“Barok! The trail stops here!” his companion whisper-shouted from the back, snapping Barok out of thought as he looked to the blond that was lying on his side as he inspected the wall with his flexible fingers underneath an empty cupboard before knocking at it and rising slightly. He then jumped back up and stepped a few steps to the left, pressing his ear to the wall before knocking on it, a smile creeping up to his face. He then turned back to the prince who had approached the end of the weak muddy trail, looking at it with fear in his eyes as it just ended in a cupboard only filled with wine bottles on the upper part. Sherlock walked back to him, snapping his fingers, “It’s not a mystery at all, dear Barry. The child went through the cupboard.”

The frowning prince looked at him confusedly, so Sherlock grinned again.

“I’m not sure whether you’re aware of it, but this wall has a secret in it”, he turned away, “When you knock on that part of the wall”, he looked back at van Zieks, “and knock on this part, behind the cupboard, it produces a different sound. A… hollow one, how to explain? Well… basically, just, the vibrations are different”, he opened the cupboard, only to see an empty space and a metal installation inside that was half-opened already. Sherlock didn’t waste any time before opening it fully and squeezing himself inside of the small space, finding himself in a dark room that had only one light source – the small entrance.

Sherlock couldn’t see much, but the secret room was tiny – he could barely walk around without having to lower his head, and the walls didn’t seem to be painted or heat and freezeproof. It was really cold inside, but the floor was covered in thick sheets that hid a few toys Sherlock stepped on, before seeing two green eyes looking back at him – he shrieked and jumped away, covering his face.

“Are you alright in there?” Barok’s voice came from above, sounding somewhat worried – the room Sherlock was in grew darker as he moved closer to the entrance.

“Yes, it’s… It’s just a mirror”, Sherlock replied as the space got lighter again, walking closer to the mirror and looking at himself for a while, before looking down and seeing some sort of cloth, which he picked up before getting out of the dark room again, looking up to see van Zieks looking down at him as he proceeded to squeeze through the small metal part.

“Well”, he said before standing up, cleaning some inexistent dust off, “We know what scared you away at that time, and where the noise of the child is coming from”, he looked back at the small entrance and closed the cupboard while continuing, “The room’s empty now, but filled to the brim with toys and blankets. Those blankets are the only way sound waves could disperse though, and the walls are completely unprotected and empty, so the sound echoes around the hallway at night. Also,” Sherlock raised an index, before pulling the cloth he had found out of his pocket and looking at it, seeing it was actually a cravat with an emerald gem attached to it in the middle, “I found this in front of the mirror I mentioned. Do you happen to know whom it belongs to?”

Barok took the cloth and inspected it for a while, before frowning.

“I’m… sorry, but I don’t recognize it. Me and my brother have similar cravats, but ours don’t have gemstones, they have a golden brooch of our family crest on them. But the silk is made out of the same silk, no doubt about that.”

Sherlock was silent for a while, before grinning again.

“Well, no matter. You were wrong, it seems.”

Barok frowned at him first, but soon smiled at the blond and crossed his arms.

“Thank you.”

Holmes’ smile disappeared.

“What are you thanking me for? I did this for myself, more or less.”

Barok started back to the castle, so the blond loyally followed, steadily looking up at the younger.

“You got rid of the rumour that has been causing me nightmares lately. And you listened to my odd problems. I am really thankful for that.”

“But listening to someone’s problems really isn’t that special.”

Since Barok didn’t answer and his brows furrowed, Holmes’ smile disappeared for a second before speaking up again: “If… you’re ever really bored out of your mind and want to talk, I’ll be next to the stable, as usual. I… might even tell you of the time I got locked in the wardrobe?”

The diffident prince looked at him and shyly smiled.

Chapter Text

“You look worried”, Sherlock whispered between one of the kisses he was pressing at every single part of Barok’s face, stopping once the prince blinked a few times to adjust his sight to the low candle light in the abandoned cottage that he stumbled upon one day whilst riding his horse and that the two lovers spent the little time they had together in ever since. Van Zieks snaked his arms around the man who was sitting right in front of him, on the floor, slightly pressing him against the wall before suddenly pulling away, as if reminding himself of the fact that what they were doing was frowned upon, and then starting to caress his lover all over again – a mental blockade neither of them could actually get over. He placed a small kiss to his forehead.

“We’ve never stayed the entire night. What if someone realizes we’re gone?”

Holmes was silent for a while, taking the other man’s hands and intertwining their fingers before bursting into laughter, and then frowning.

“I’ve been thinking of the same problem”, he silently said, untangling their arms and legs and scooting next to him to lean against the wall and look in front of himself – since the cottage was located on a hill, the only thing one could see when looking out the doorless one-room building was the vast dark sky filled with hundreds upon hundreds of stars and a few naked tree branches that encircled the small wooden place, “Also, the fact that we don’t have a door is really making me nervous”, he chuckled.

Van Zieks leaned closer, kissing the other man’s lips and just breathing for a few seconds before burying his face in his own shirt – that was now loosely covering Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock widely smiled at his partner’s shyness that he learnt to see even though van Zieks really got better at hiding it.

A few strokes from the man’s warm hands and van Zieks’ face was back in the cold as his arms pulled the other closer again, making Sherlock laugh as his arms wrapped around the prince’s strong neck, holding himself steadily as van Zieks hesitated on his next move. And Sherlock knew van Zieks was hesitating because of overthinking the situation because the blond was overthinking every single move he himself made as well. Time was the problem. They never had so much time to actually hug one another more than twice – deciding to stay together the entire night because of a meeting that was postponed was the perfect opportunity – and now they didn’t know what to do with so much time in their hands.

Sherlock managed to lean into the man again and caressed his lips, feeling the prince lean in a few seconds after as well and return his affections, only for Holmes to pull away to laugh again, cheeks flushed and eyes tightly closed, making van Zieks’ supressed smile break free as he leaned back against the wall to watch his lover get over the unrestrained laughter that attacked him so suddenly. Once the blond calmed down, it took him a few seconds to be able to look back at his lover with that stupid, persistent grin still on his face. And they watched each other for the next minute, before finding themselves making out again a few moments after, Sherlock being the one pressed down to the ground this time as Barok lost himself somewhere in the middle of the fervent, silent conversation and the scent of human chemicals and Sherlock’s caramel-savoured lips a soft moan would sometimes escape from.

“Do you smell that?” Sherlock suddenly asked, sitting up and thus slamming their foreheads together, making the groaning prince sit back and feel the hurting place.

“Ugh… do you mean the caramel?” van Zieks uttered and shook his head, “It’s…”

“Not that”, Sherlock hissed, getting even more red in his face (if it were physically possible) and combing through his hair, “No, it’s coming from the outside, I think.”

The frowning prince took a moment to calm down before standing up and walking closer to the entrance, the cold slapping his face, only to step back into the cottage as he felt the scent of strong smoke coming from the distance. He quickly put a hand over his nose and looked back to the blond who was on his legs again and walked to the entrance as well.

“If even your dull nose picked it up, it has to be smoke”, Holmes mumbled whilst trying to somehow push the huge shirt into his trousers, ignoring van Zieks’ hurt expression, “Someone’s having trouble cooking dinner I guess. Eh”, Holmes shrugged and grabbed onto the man’s arm again, only to freeze in shame once realizing the prince had something else in mind. The clear blue eyes were focused on the distance and he seemed to be completely tense.

“I don’t believe people cook dinner at 3 a.m.”, he silently stated and walked out, leaving the stable boy watch his elegant walk under half-closed, tired lids, watching as the cold wind played with the tall man’s wavy hair he tried so hard to straighten. After a few seconds, Sherlock loudly yawned and got next to Barok whose brows were furrowed in dread and eyes wide open, to which the blond’s tiredness immediately disappeared and got replaced by some kind of fright as well.

“It’s coming from the direction of the castle”, Barok merely stated before walking through the broken branches buried in the soft dark soil to reach his horse that was just as agitated as its owner – he mounted it in a second and the other rushed to the horse as well, standing in front of it with his bare feet and taking it by the reins to look up at van Zieks’ livid face.

“There’s no way it’s the castle”, Holmes mumbled, knowing full well the only building in that direction was the mentioned place and smiled, “You’re paranoid again.”

Van Zieks’ worried eyes looked down at him and narrowed before they sadly looked to the ground again.

“Sherlock… Forgive my impudence, but I cannot ignore the smoke. Even if it is not home, the forest could be in danger. I know I’m responsible for our rare meetings. I… I will make it up to you.”

The blond watched his genuine eyes for a while before pouting and crossing his arms, and then walking to the side of the giant horse and grabbing onto the saddle, taking a few seconds before getting up and securing himself by wrapping his arms around the prince a little tighter than Barok would like, but he didn’t comment on it – the horse soon took off the fastest it could, rushing through the trees and bushes with all its might and the arms around Barok’s waist progressively tightening – Barok would always forget Holmes wasn’t used to riding horses.

The starry sky that had been a topic for their gentle conversation before getting to the cottage was now covered in black smoke rising into the air, engulfing the little lights that sat at the endless canvas and covering their shine. Holmes’ neck was fully stretched as his wondering eyes watched the sky fill with black particles, his hands slowly loosening before a fast blurry mass passed by him and he clung to the prince once again.

“The hell was that?!”

“It’s… horses”, Barok silently stated, watching another one pass by him in fear and almost hitting his horse in the process. As he turned back, he could see the terrified creatures take sharp turns to avoid the trees they rushed into and one horse he recognized as Klimt’s stopped in front of a tree it almost hit, standing on its back legs and crying out. Another one passed by them a few feet to the right.

The black mass that crawled on the sky was progressively getting larger – and the location where it was coming from was clear to both of the men – the horse stable containing fifty two horses. Both of them wanted to speak to make the situation more bearable; neither of them actually said anything. Their hearts were beating out of their chests though, and their ears were clogged and ringing.

Suddenly, Barok’s own horse stood to its back feet as it had taken in enough of the smoke itself and loudly cried as it shook off its two passengers, almost stepping on them – barely missing for an inch – and running off to escape the fiery demise in front of them. Holmes quickly got up and looked to van Zieks who knelt up as well, taking a moment to regain his breath before starting towards the burning building the fastest Sherlock had ever seen him. He soon caught up and was the first one to step onto the grass filled with ashes as a giant fire threatened to spread to the two towers of the castle, the monstrous smoke above it looking like a cloud that had descended the heavens. Holmes stopped. The only thing Holmes saw except from the fire and smoke was the king in his dressing gown, looking towards the burning building as well, shouting something at the guards around him in a shrill voice.

Realization suddenly hit the shaking blond – he was responsible for the stable.

It was his fault.

His body suddenly grew stiff, and it didn’t take long for his legs to suddenly give in – he found himself bathing in sweat and bending over as his stomach churned, his entire body shaking as he felt completely numb, with his ears loudly ringing – like he was going to faint any moment.

“Sherlock!”

His throat was blocked; he couldn’t respond.

A pair of hands grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him up so that he sat on his knees, heavily breathing before focusing on the prince’s perturbed face. Sir van Zieks shook his shoulders so that the man’s entire upper body moved forwards and backwards before stopping and Holmes focused on the man’s wide eyes again. Holmes suddenly tried to stand up, but the man’s now strong hands held him down.

Sherlock tried to yell, but it came out as a whisper: “Let me help…!”

There was certain desperation in his voice, one that made the prince freeze. But he didn’t let him move.

“There’s… nothing to save. The guards will take care of it.”

Sherlock’s eyes were filled with questions upon questions – and worry. The prince tightly hugged him, and the shaking man slowly returned the hug, his fingers tightly grasping Barok’s shirt. A couple of guards harshly grabbed the blond and tore him away from the prince who immediately stood up, looking down at the stable boy in shock as the guards glared up at the prince whilst holding the trembling man down.

“Make sure he stays conscious. Get him some water”, van Zieks said before turning and joining his completely silent brother who watched the ashes of the building and the trees that had caught on fire as a result writhe in the roars of flames, a couple of tears visible on his pale visage as guards fought to extinguish the flames that had already burnt the entire highly-secured stable to the ground. Barok stared in fright – he had never seen his brother cry.


 

It was about to rain – Sherlock could feel it.

Waiting in a mass of people he doesn’t know and never will, staring them down with empty eyes while noticing how nervous they were: bumbling about, walking in circles, complaining about the time, complaining about the weather, losing things from their luggage, fighting about how fast they should move, how they won’t arrive at work at the correct time, how they might board the wrong one – all these problems seemed so miniature to him. Insignificant.

He laughed.

The little girl that he had to take care of now – the one he was ordered to protect – was pulling his hat down, chewing on it like a hamster. He smiled at her.

The steam train arrived in all its steamy glory (making dozens of people cough as it passed by them), and once he’d enter it, he would never see his lover face to face again – and he never even told him he’d leave. He quickly erased the image of Barok suffering and boarded the train, hugging the little girl that was sitting on his shoulders tighter so she wouldn’t crawl off and making her squeal and hug him back.

And as he looked back outside the window, turning towards the valleys and roads that led to the van Zieks castle, he widely smiled, all the while thinking of four verses of hated poetry:

I am my own heart’s epicure
– One of those great abandoned
To eternal laughter condemned,
And who can smile no more!

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock has always known he had an odd fascination with details – so waking up in the middle of the night and watching the prince’s sleeping visage for just a few seconds in the first sunlight of day that pushed itself through the curtains was practically unavoidable – the high cheek bones of a thin face, the strong jaw, the wavy locks falling over his closed, relaxed eyes – Holmes nodded to himself, a smile cracking to his lips. The violinist leaned closer carefully not to move the prince’s arm that was still embracing him, his smile progressively getting bigger as his hand slowly reached his hip – and then vanished in van Zieks’ pocket to grab hold onto the object of his desire.

“I’m sorry, Barry. But you’re no good at hiding”, he whispered as he pulled the little notebook out, pressing a small peck to van Zieks’ nose before sliding out of his arms, “Why, each and every time Iris hid gifts from me I found them beforehand and ruined the surprise.”

As he slid out the bed, he looked back to the sleeping prince to make sure he wasn’t about to wake – he was still sleeping as soundly as before, embracing absolutely nothing but still holding his arm in the same position – and then paced towards the window to look into the notebook’s contents.

“Math, physics, scribbles…” he mumbled as he quickly skimmed through the notebook, visibly getting more and more frustrated with each page he’d pass as he saw nothing of interest, before discovering a small passage that was written in big letters across both pages – that didn’t strike him as exceptionally odd, but what was odd was that the entire notebook was written in English – except this little passage here that was in fluent, sharp German, “Barok zeigt große Interesse in die Musik die von einem Mann namens ‚Sherlock Holmes‘ gespielt wurde“ Holmes read out and showed a flattered smile, „Mach den Mann… den Safe hinter dem Rosenbild öffnen. Der Safe… hinter dem Rosenbild. The safe behind the rose picture? Hoh?“ he looked to the other side, only to discover that it was empty. He straightened and walked a few steps left, then one right, “Make me open a safe”, he nodded, “Interesting.”

“That must be Mr. Dobinbough’s notebook… I can’t think of anyone else with a slight affinity to German… and an accent”, Sherlock mumbled to himself whilst stroking the edges of the paper, relying on his self-assurance which made him smirk widely, “It must be tied to the mystery, considering he knows of my detective business… As to why you had it in your pocket, that’s a story for another day, I guess”, Holmes shrugged and quickly headed for the door.

“Now… where have I seen such a painting before…?” he hummed to himself as he quickly descended the stairs, taking a sharp turn as soon as he reached the bottom and passing down the throne room he avoided going through out of that familiar feeling of disgust that dwelled in him for one reason or another, with its checked sleek floor and burnished statues and frames he was now inspecting closer, watching for roses – but he couldn’t find any, and would just walk past before looking at the other. There was a painting of a big gallant greyhound with the castle’s gardens as background, a painting of the two brothers as children with a ten-year gap, a queen that seemed to like frilled clothes so much she didn’t have a single smooth cloth on her and was keeping a massive mastiff’s head and paw in her lap – Sherlock was slowly getting sick of the obsession with dogs – an incredibly oily painting of a fisherman – Holmes was afraid to look at the painting from the side to see just how much oil was on it – a pine forest and a graveyard in its front – this was getting out of hand – a dark figure of a man leaning against metal bars, a couple of owls in an old tree staring down at him with their beady yellow eyes and thick oil paint, a garden of daisies on a bright day with a young man of seemingly Japanese origin standing in the middle of it with crossed arms and a disproving look, a picture of a couple of books – Holmes suddenly stopped looking and turned his head to see the Japanese man stepping out of the painting and standing in front of him, “Mr. Asougi.”

“Mr. Holmes”,  Asougi greeted back, bowing slightly in his presence, “Since when is art an interest of yours…?” he asked, his brows furrowing as he became particularly interested in Holmes’ neck for some reason, so the blond passed over it to feel a dull pain at some parts but shrugged it off and turned in his direction, looking keenly at Asougi from under his half-closed lids.

“Art is one of the few things that makes a person human… I see no reason why one would dislike it…” he looked back to the lady with the mastiff and showed a slight frown, “Though these are… quite tasteless.”

After a long while of trying to think of something to disagree with the man, Asougi had to give in and just put a hand to his side, frowning slightly as he said: “I have to agree with you there”, he then cupped his chin and looked at the painting of the oily straw-hat man, “Hard to think some of these are worth 3 million…”

Holmes turned silent, so the young man immediately looked at him in wonder – the detective had been smiling just a second ago, and was now frowning and glaring into the distance, with an incredibly serious expression on his face. Upon realizing he was being watched, Holmes let his chin fall to his chest.

“I’m in the wrong profession.”

“Huh?”

It took Holmes a few seconds to calm down before he raised his head again.

“Never mind that!” he said and pointed his index up, a smile coming to his face again, “Mr. Asougi! You’re just the man I need!” he blinked a few times, watching Asougi’s questioning expression, “It’s like you always know what I’m up to.”

“Uh…”

“Take me to the rose painting”, Holmes said and put his empty pipe in his mouth, closing his eyes thoughtfully, “The one behind which a safe is hidden.”

“What is?!” Asougi exclaimed, losing his calm demeaner in a second, “Really? Are you for real?”

“We don’t have time to dawdle”, the man merely stated, putting his pipe back into his pocket and calmly looking to the confused shorter man, “I’ve been appointed as a private detective of the future king of this castle. I had just confirmed my position earlier, when you saw me in his chambers. What brought me here was by no means a cry for help, but the situation here will be getting out of hand if this case isn’t closed soon enough”, upon seeing Asougi’s assumed stance, he continued, “You must have heard what happened to poor Mr. Dobinbough just this night. That is – why this has to be solved soon.”

“…How…?”

“Van Zieks smelt of wet grass and explosives when he returned from his late-night trip. That’s when I figured it out”, he snapped his fingers and looked to the side to see Asougi flinch, “You had mentioned a missing carriage a few hours prior. Naturally, a carriage would be outside. But he didn’t seem to take too much interest in it at that time… That’s when I remembered this”, he said and took the doctor’s notebook out of his pocket, showing it to the stable boy, “This, dear Mr. Asougi, must be doctor Dobinbough’s notebook”, he handed it to Kazuma who warily looked at him before opening the first few pages, “It must be because the last few pages are in German, and as far as I know, the only person familiar with the language to the extent of writing it down instinctively is the good doctor. Instinctively, yes, because it was pretty much scribbled down as if written in a hurry.”

“Property of Benjamin Dobinbough…”

Holmes blinked a few times before taking the notebook out of Asougi’s hands and stuffing it back into his pocket, his half-closed eyes focused on Kazuma’s interested expression.

“That… too, yes”, once the notebook was safe in his vest, he pressed a finger to his forehead and paced up and down the small space he has given himself to pace around, “The important thing to note here is that the prince didn’t have the notebook prior to that. Elementary, he must have received it in the half hour that he was out – that’s a relatively short time. Other than that, he seemed to have been quite distressed upon coming back into the room and if there is one person His Lordship cares about and values their privacy, it would be the good doctor. The notebook has the same smell as the prince and seemed to have been made wet at some point – could very much be this very night. Let’s assume doctor Dobinbough gave it to him before the troubled van Zieks headed out… Why would he head out to look for a carriage – he, a prince? No, no, dear Mr. Asougi. Van Zieks was looking into the matter once it was finished. The carriage had already been back by then. The smell of explosives… the carriage…” Holmes snapped his fingers, “It must have exploded with Benjamin Dobinbough still being inside!”

The younger couldn’t refrain from staring at him for a while – he wasn’t sure what he had just witnessed. Holmes was once again biting on his cherrywood pipe in the meantime.

“You’re… correct… somehow.”

“Tell me one thing – is the carriage still standing?”

“…” it took some time before Asougi was ready to accept the detective’s questioning, “Yes, it is.”

“Good. That’s my next step then…” he started walking forwards but stopped in his tracks and turned Asougi’s way again, pointing up, “The painting. Could I be introduced to this painting of theirs?”

The Japanese man quickly nodded and started towards the hallway, Holmes rushing after him. And in a matter of seconds, the detective stopped in his tracks once he found himself in the long entrance hallway again, with all of its paintings, painted walls and ivies running down the high structure. All noise was immediately gone, and with the low sunlight that glared through the coloured windows of the van Zieks crest, Holmes felt the need to hold his mouth shut. The hallway would provoke feelings of dread and anguish, no matter how many times one passed through it. The warm light was tapping the floor lightly, dust visibly circulating in it, illuminating the perfectly polished marble. The entire van Zieks ancestry watched the men as they slowly paced down the hallway, their footsteps inaudible. With such surroundings, and with the thought of countless of kings and queens walking down the same lustrous path beneath Holmes, and knowing those were beneath him, he felt as if he were in a sacred place, judged for his actions. As he looked at Asougi’s suddenly solemn expression, he could conclude that he wasn’t the only one thinking such strange thoughts.

Without realizing it, they stopped in front of the portrait that Holmes now vividly remembered seeing once before, with Klimt van Zieks’ soft, warm eyes looking down at his watchers, only that the smile was a bit more crooked than Holmes remembered it to be.

Roses were flowing from each direction of the portrait, ranging from dark pink to rich scarlet. Holmes reached out to the pink rose on the deceased king’s feet, feeling the deep structure and glancing at Asougi who didn’t seem to mind it too much since he was looking up at the man’s face. He didn’t show any emotion. The detective stepped away and put a hand on his hip, smiling at Asougi who looked back at him after a while. He then laughed.

“How are we supposed to move it?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

Holmes approached the painting and tried to move it, quickly realizing it was stuck to the wall and frowning. He then began walking around restlessly, looking up and searching for something.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh. Searching for a hidden passage, of course”, Holmes smiled as he looked back at him.

“I don’t think that’s the case here…” Asougi said as his brows furrowed, “But… upon further inspection. Doesn’t that rose on the right strike suspicion?”

“Hoh?” Holmes asked and walked closer again, looking first at the man that then pointed towards the one scarlet rose that seemed to be burlier than any other rose, and was next to Klimt van Zieks’ feet. It was also stuffed in the corner and added no real value to the picture – the detective exclaimed and approached the large painting again, glaring at the structure once more, “You’re right. No rose is as square as that.”

“Could it be the safe, perhaps?”

“Cut it open.”

The detective expected a complaint or at least a negative reaction, but without any forewarn, Kazuma reached out for the sword that was hanging from his belt and approached the painting with a scary expression on his face that made Holmes stumble backwards and keep away at a safe distance. The man didn’t hesitate for a single second – his eyes narrowed and in the blink of an eye, the square rose was severed and fell to the ground, exposing a little safe that was hiding behind it. Asougi took the time to look at his work of art and then slowly put the sword back, closing his eyes for a mere second before looking back to the detective who stared in astonishment. The boy crossed his arms.

“It’s a technique my father taught me”, he silently explained, wishing to avoid further questioning and approaching the safe to inspect it.

“Your father was a swordsman?” Holmes asked as he came closer.

“…More or less.”

“I’d… really like to build a brick or two”, the man laughed, “But I can’t do that without any clay.”

Asougi pressed on the buttons of the safe until it erased all the digits he had entered – the combination was a four digit number.

“What could the combination be…?” Asougi mumbled, noticing the way Holmes frowned at him for getting ignored, “People usually use combinations that mean something to them, so they’d remember them easier.”

“Van Zieks’ birthday?”

“My Lordship didn’t like celebrations.”

“The other van Zieks’ birthday?”

Asougi looked at him with wide eyes, so Holmes quickly typed it in, only to receive the unsatisfying sound of silence.

“I could have sworn it was that one… Christmas?”

“Christmas?!” Asougi glared, “Why the hell would he put the 25th of December as his safe combination?!”

Holmes shrugged.

“Everyone loves Christmas.”

“…I’m not even trying that.”

“Fine, then. Mr. Asougi”, he snapped his fingers and smiled in his direction, “Figure out the combination!”

“Me?”

“Would there be a problem, of some sorts?”

“Not particularly, no… But you’re the authorized detective here.”

“Oh. No, I never work alone. In fact, I just happen to know a Japanese boy about your age who helps with most of my investigations nowadays. I highly doubt you’d know him, but I bet you’d get along… But what’s this conversation turned into? Mr. Asougi. The safe.”

The boy narrowed his eyes and cupped his chin, standing firmly and completely straight whilst thinking of a solution to the problem, while Holmes stood by and watched, his foot impatiently tapping the floor. Asougi didn’t look like he had figured out anything new once he moved closer to the safe again, but entered a combination anyway – 1706 – the safe emitting a dull noise and jumping open. A chuckle could be heard from the detective, but Asougi chose to ignore that and looked to him to proceed.

Sherlock took less than a second to leap forward and help open the safe as Asougi’s head moved to the left to see what had been hidden inside – stepping back all of a sudden and paling in the face.

“Hoh?” Sherlock noticed his expression, but looked inside the safe as well, his pupils growing in interest. Against the wall, a sleek silver sword was resting, drenched in an all-too-familiar red colour. Next to it, there was a rapier, completely clean. The weapons lay on a pile of red and white neatly folded clothes that made Holmes’ nose runny as his eyes started leaking.

“The train situation again”, Holmes mumbled to himself as he leaned his head closer to take in the curious, all-too-familiar scent, “History really does repeat itself.”

Asougi could have sworn he’d take the clothes and weapons out to analyse, but Holmes seemed content with what he had seen - what attracted Sherlock’s attention now was the odd-shaped, baroque-stylized key that lay in the middle of the safe. In a matter of a heartbeat, the detective grabbed the key and slammed the safe shut, earning a surprised glance from his companion who seemingly wanted to object, but seized questioning him once he saw Sherlock’s serious face that disappeared just as soon as it appeared – and a huge smile was back, “Let’s go, Mr. Asougi. The game is afoot!” he yelled and immediately made his way back down the hallway, his steps long and fast. Asougi rushed after him, copying the way he walked.

“Where to?”

“To His Lordship’s chambers, of course”, he said, matter-of-factly, “We wouldn’t want him to miss out on what’s about to happen.”

Chapter Text

„May I ask you something, Mr. Asougi? “

Asougi flinched as he heard the detective’s voice and noticed how he was starting to get slower whilst they were passing through one of the hallways that led to the future king’s chambers – not that he was walking slow – stepping to his side to look up at the semi-determined, semi-goofy-looking face he showed, his eyes only darting to Asougi’s for a split second before focusing back on his path again, as if he had already asked the question. Asougi remained silent.

“Have you had breakfast?” Holmes asked after creeping on him a few more seconds, self-satisfactory smiling as his lids half-closed. The stable boy merely blinked a few times, “I’m starting to get hungry with all this walking around…” Holmes mumbled, scratching his ear as he paced alongside the younger man now, “I had no time to eat at all…”

Asougi glared up. Holmes chuckled.

“I hoped you’d say yes. At least one of us could continue if the hunger causes me to pass out”, he widely smiled, “I… guess that would make you my partner for this case.”

“What are you trying to accomplish…?” Asougi growled, keeping his head low and his hands in his pockets.

Holmes’ smile slowly disappeared. Asougi could swear he went pale for a second before they rounded the corner, and he was back to biting on his empty pipe, before plucking the key out of his pocket again and bringing it closer to his face, his eyes narrowing as he turned it over and over… until he saw it, “Ah! Mr. Asougi!”

Asougi didn’t answer.

“It’s blood!” Holmes happily exclaimed, his pipe safely stored into his pocket again as he searched his person for something else, “I had almost forgotten… silly me. Thank goodness it got all the way to the key… Must have been on him somewhere, huh…”

The Japanese man looked to the ground then, feeling his sense of uneasiness slowly crawling up his back and ending in his shoulders as a shiver. Just then, the detective looked back at him, holding some kind of gun pointed at the rather peculiar key. Asougi focused back on the floor tiles. Brown and cream-coloured, perfectly polished. He couldn’t see his reflection, though. Only a shadow. He felt the man’s eyes on his again – but as he turned back to glare at him, he saw that the man was thoughtfully – no, nervously – biting on his lips, watching a tiny light blue, almost glowing stain. Feeling his stare, he looked back at the young stable boy. Something was very off about him today, even more so than usual, but he couldn’t really put a finger on it. There was no change of character – but there was a change in his bright eyes, that were now almost gray, and gloomy, with his pupils shrunk to the size of a needle. The thought of something really being inside that pipe occurred to the Japanese boy for a second – but disappeared soon after. There was no odd scent about him.

“Are you that fond of looking at me?” Sherlock suddenly mumbled, slightly smirking as he tilted his head to look at the younger man, stuffing the paint gun back in. Asougi felt his heart skip a beat. He looked straight ahead, hearing the detective chuckle – what was up with him? The man was really starting to grind his gears.

“The subtlest glance can tell a lot, Mr. Asougi. To the trained eye, that is.”

“I thought you wanted to deliver the information you found to the king.”

“Oh. I do. I do want to do that”, Sherlock mused, looking ahead of himself rather tiredly, “He deserves to know.”

Asougi’s footsteps suddenly seized. Holmes slowly turned to look at the pale man.

“How do you know him?”

Holmes blinked in surprise, taking hold of his pipe again.

Asougi glared.

“A violinist… detective, or whatever you are, isn’t supposed to be that close to the king. What’s your relation?”

Holmes watched the man’s serious glare and the determination behind his dark eyes.

“…In mathematical terms, I would describe our relation as one of equivalence. Reflecting on ourselves, equal to each other, and equal to others of the same misfortune”, he stood still and watched the unresponsive man for a moment, before turning to walk again, “We’re ourselves. A king that lacks flight and a pauper that lacks footing. We meet each other halfway”, he listened to hear Asougi’s careful feet following him, “You shouldn’t have to worry about it.”

“I… have no idea what you’ve just said.”

“Hoh?”

“…”

“…Hm?”

“…I didn’t think van Zieks had any allies.”

“…A strange thing to say for a staff member?” Holmes turned to face the silent man who didn’t seem to want to continue, chuckling, “I don’t know whether it’s noble or naïve of you to assume the man is innocent”, once again, he didn’t get a response from the silent man, his brows furrowing and smile growing, “There’s a strange connection between grooms and kings, I suppose”, he went silent for a while, “…These connections can shatter one’s life, though. Or two.”

“What are you talking about?” he hissed. Holmes stood watching. And as his eyes passed over every part of Asougi’s face, he could feel the repressed anger and anguish bubble inside of him and turn into a lousy fire of shame. Holmes’ long white fingers, cold like ice, suddenly found themselves on top of the young man’s shoulder, a reassuring squeeze opting him to look up – but just as Asougi wanted to speak up, he could hear rushed steps from the other side of the dark hallway, a dark figure suddenly appearing in front of the light in the far back and suddenly freezing mid-walk, before rushing down the passage.

The investigative partners looked at each other in a mix of panic and confusion, and the younger crossed both his hands to reach his swords – he only had one though, Holmes realized – but before he could even act on the figure approaching them, Holmes was already taken by his shoulders and pulled forwards with a shriek, his neck stretched out as the figure – revealed to be a young, scarred face – took a look at his visage in the light, the gloved fingers digging into the detective’s cheeks, both their eyes widely opened in shock. After a second none of them breathed, the figure heavily sighed and pressed his forehead against the other’s, the rugged shoulders slowly relaxing as a whisper escaped him: “Thank goodness.”

Asougi watched the tall man in horror, noticing how the gold-laced cloak protecting his upper body looked like drapes with how many tears it had, and how clear red liquid formed a small puddle underneath the man as it slowly dripped from his elbow; upon further inspection, he saw a stained piece of cloth tightly wrapped around his muscular arm that somehow looked… out of shape. The scar above his nose was whiter than his ghostly pale skin, paler than ever, and his usually cold eyes were now filled with terror that turned into teary relief as he looked at both of them multiple times, as if to reassure himself they were really there, lips shaking. After the initial shock, his body started quivering, and he kept sinking into Holmes’ arms that slithered around him like a mother’s would, loudly breathing through his large nose.

“What happened?” Sherlock asked, his index instinctively touching the bruise on his lower lip, causing the other to flinch, “Barok… Who did this to you?” his voice went from motherly to demanding in a split second, “Where are they?!”

“…No, Sherlock…”

“If they have any sense of self-worth, they’re about to lose it right now”, Holmes growled, walking up the hallway despite of Barok’s cry of protest, before turning around and looking at the bruised, bloody man with wide eyes, “Barok, I’m…”

“This isn’t the place to discuss things”, Asougi suddenly cut in, “It could prove to be dangerous.”

“Let’s get him up– “

“No”, van Zieks cut the mumbling detective off, “Down. Go back down.”

“Don’t be ridiculous – “ Holmes barked, his fiery eyes challenging van Zieks’, but Asougi spared the king by harshly pushing Holmes to walk the other side and helped van Zieks move forward, only for the other to shake him off and rush in front of both of them, leading the way. Asougi could see him squinting his eyes at every step.

 


 

 

“You still have those matches?” Holmes lowly asked, looking at the shaking hands of the prince as he repeatedly tried to light one of the matches, but it just wouldn’t ignite, and the man’s brows were slowly furrowing deeper and deeper with each failed attempt. To end the sad scene in front of him, Asougi silently requested to take the matches away from the proud prince who obliged without a complaint and took the matter into his own hands.

“They actually came in handy”, Barok silently said, so Holmes had to lean closer to actually understand what he muttered. Seeing him creep closer, the prince slid next to the detective, much to Sherlock’s surprise – Asougi was in the same room, after all. The young groom didn’t react much though; he only showed a small glare of understanding, “Asougi. The desk. You’ll see a small lamp there.”

“Yes, my Lordship.”

Holmes slowly leaned into the hurt man, carefully watching the blood-soaked cravat he had tied around his arm to stop the violent blood from forming further puddles so as to not touch it as he searched for a place to rest his head at. He was uncharacteristically still as van Zieks passed his fingers through the man’s hair.

“Who would have thought we’d end up here again, of all places…?” Sherlock mumbled as Asougi lit the lamp and silently closed the entrance as well as he could.

“It’s the only place I didn’t know of until you’ve pointed it out, all those years ago… I believe no one else knows of the location. Someone must have used it as a hiding spot of some sorts…”

And as Holmes looked around the small room, filled to the brim with toys and blankets, and looking at Asougi’s lowered head as he inspected the broken mirror that Holmes remembered to be functioning last time he was in this very room, imagining it must have been broken by a broken soul he could clearly picture, he suddenly realized how much time had actually passed ever since he had walked into the Village of Lights, and had never really taken the time to appreciate it once again, from a fresh start. He chuckled – what a weird thought at such an ungodly hour of fate – with his lover bleeding and trembling from weakness next to him, and with Asougi’s anxiety getting worse each second.

“Your Lordship, if I may…” Asougi’s voice came from afar as he squeezed himself back into the small circle of people, sitting down and looking up into the man’s light eyes. He watched him for a few seconds, as if asking for additional permission, before lowly speaking up again, “What happened out there?”

The prince didn’t respond at first, his eyesight falling to the ground. Then he nodded, a distant look on his face.

“You’ve been challenging a few chaps to a spar”, Holmes insinuated, moving his fists about as if punching some invisible force, before suddenly stopping and spreading his arms, “But that didn’t really go as planned, eh?”

“I… seem to have done just that… to an extent…” Barok mumbled, before suddenly clamming up. It didn’t seem like anything else would be coming out of him anytime soon again, so now Sherlock was the one to be passing his hand through the prince’s messy hair, trying to smoothen the unruly purplish locks. It took him a few strokes for Barok to speak up again, “I hoped to wake up to the sight of you…” he looked at Sherlock and earned a shocked look from Kazuma across him, which he, of course, didn’t even notice (or pretended not to, anyway), “…but instead of seeing you, I managed to see a… furball. Lying on the ground”, upon receiving an unwanted response, his interlocutors only staring confusedly, his brows furrowed, and he whispered, “Unmoving.”

Tense silence.

“Next to it was a puddle of some sorts… I feared someone might have broken in and… well. But upon closer inspection I saw that it was, in fact, wine that was on the floor. Basker must have tried some of it. And… as I picked up the chalice that had contained it before, I saw that the silver had been tarnished. It didn’t take a genius to realize it was – “

“Poisoned…?” Holmes cut in, “It must have contained a lot of sulphur, the poison, for that to work, but I guess that’s what you were trying to say, yes?”

“…Of course I panicked”, van Zieks continued without as much as batting an eye on Holmes’ words – it was hard enough to concentrate on himself, let alone on others – his sight falling to the toy-filled, colourful floor, “And called the servants. Upon their arrival, they all circled around poor Basker…” he stopped for a moment, took a breath of air, “…before finally grasping the situation. It must have drunk the wine. An expert was called to confirm the liquid was indeed poisoned, and I was rushed out of the room as fast as possible, barely being able to put on some decent clothing, and was then rushed into the arms of maids who tried to tend to my shocked face… It was a huge mess, and the questions and apologies made me even more miserable.”

“It was like a crime scene, really…” Holmes mumbled.

“It was a crime scene”, Asougi barked, “That dog had been here for two years and has gone through hell with his master. Other than that, I don’t believe anyone tried to poison the dog, detective”, he snarkily remarked, before cupping his chin in thought, “His Lordship is, more or less, drinking wine every morning. I don’t think it would be too farfetched to say that the poison was put there to get rid of him.”

“I… remembered you had smelt of wine as well…” van Zieks silently continued, slowly raising his head to look at the detective, who was watching him carefully now, his calm eyes hiding the rage building inside him, “For a second I thought you’d drunk of it… For I don’t remember putting that chalice at the table poor Basker happened to jump on.”

“Didn’t you lock the door?” Holmes cut in, and van Zieks took a second before responding.

“…Yes, I did. The locks are… special. So… the staff couldn’t have entered. That’s why… Well. During the time I was panicking, I must have… accidentally told them about you. As if my reputation couldn’t sink even lower into the pits of hell.”

Silence. Sherlock felt a lump in his throat.

“…They seemed to have… misunderstood a few things.”

“Ah”, Holmes sighed, pointing a finger up, “They must be jealous now, eh? Wouldn’t really blame them, you’re a catch and a half.”

Asougi hunched his back in exasperation in the back as van Zieks looked at him strangely.

“…Not really, no. They might be trying to arrest you at this time.”

“Eh?”

“Don’t act so surprised now, Mr Holmes. I would have immediately thought of you being the culprit as well, with you being the only one that was in His Lordship’s chambers at night, and the fact that you’ve been seen lurking around him quite a few times.”

“Lurking around? You make me sound like some sort of criminal…”

“By trying to defend you, I’ve only gained a few more enemies of my own, and staff trying to get you arrested, even going as far as demanding the police to be called… I managed to silence them with a steel heel to the table… they seemed to remember my inspector phobia. But it did not go as well as I had hoped it would in the long run…”

“…My Lordship. With all due respect, that never ends well.”

Van Zieks didn’t have the energy to respond. He just shook his head.

“A maid started panicking that a potential serial killer was on the loose and soon got backed up by other staff. The investigation of my dead pet and me reasoning with them proved to be useless as everything just descended into chaos, and I ended up trying to escape to warn you… They let me go after a few minutes because I probably looked like I was about to keel over at that point. So I went to the library, Mr. Asougi, but you weren’t there…” he breathed, “Forgive me… I still dread friends leaving… and that awakened bad memories.”

Holmes could see Asougi’s eyes opening widely, but couldn’t stop himself from asking: “The library?”

“Well, Asougi’s room is the library. It had been for quite some time now.”

That sparked obvious curiosity in the detective’s eyes. He grabbed for his pipe again and began nibbling at its end, excitedly glancing over to Asougi, then back to Barok van Zieks. The empathetic look of the detective slowly started to get replaced by nervous curiosity as the pipe suffered a few more deep bites.

“At this point, I began wondering what might have happened… I had a strange feeling of some sort and was starting to get sick. I had planned on visiting Benjamin at the hospital then, to see whether he knows something, but as I walked down the halls I suddenly felt… being watched.”

“Watched, you say?” Asougi’s brows furrowed.

“Of course, I stopped to take in my surroundings… only to feel a bullet lodging in my arm”, he placed his free hand over the bandage that kept the blood from flowing out, “…as… you might now, I’m used to assaults…”

“But you’ve never been alone during one… and you’re a scaredy-cat”, Holmes whispered the other part, gently stroking the prince’s hair and trying to get one lock to stay behind Barok’s small ears, wondering whether he imagined the red in Barok’s cheeks or whether it was really there, his lazy smile fading as his sight fell to his lover’s bandaged, bloody arm, “You’re still holding onto that sword. That must have come in handy.”

Barok nodded.

“As I’ve said before, assaults are always possible. So I carry it with me most of the times. And it proved to be important as I was soon ambushed by a group of people that looked strangely familiar… They didn’t bother to cover their faces with masks or hats, but I still didn’t manage to remember what they looked like… I guess I was too shocked to register what was happening around me. They were on me in a heartbeat. No matter my swordsmanship classes from my innocent youth, their mouldy figures quickly managed to surround me, and I was in a dire situation. At that time, all I could think of was my brother, and how I might see him again… With that bloody arm of mine muddying the floor and the fiends pushing me around, and my sorry sword clutched to my chest once they realized weapons weren’t necessary to take me down… And then… Then there was a man’s voice.”

“A man’s voice?” Asougi’s crossed his arms.

“Counsellor Drebber's. I know that voice fairly well.”

“Counsellor…” Asougi’s face went paler than Barok’s at the moment, and the lovers both stopped to see just how much the Japanese man’s face changed. After a while it became clear that the man wouldn’t speak any more, so van Zieks cleared his sore throat, a sound that made Holmes twitch.

“He told them to stop. And they did.”

“Counsellor Drebber, you say…?” the good detective mumbled, his hand finally falling back down – van Zieks seemed to immediately miss the feeling of Holmes’ hand in his hair, “My, why does that name ring far distant bells…? Counsellor Drebber… Drebber… Enoch? Enoch Drebber, yes? The previous counsellor, if memory serves right?”

“So, you do remember him… He seems to remember you too, somehow.”

“Hoh?”

Van Zieks kept glaring into the distance for a while before looking back to the detective, his voice raspy and silent as he spoke, “You were but a mere horse handler back then. Never entering the premises whatsoever. He wasn’t supposed to remember you… He never remembered people he didn’t need to remember. Or want to.”

The prince had never seen Asougi gape so much in one day. There was a question that wouldn’t leave his tongue, he just knew it.

“He’s seen us dancing, he had told me the other day. No, today, in fact… I’ve met him inside Dr Dobinbough’s office, collecting old studies. He was the one to tell me of Benjamin’s accident.”

“So it was Mr. Drebber, then… Curious he knows about the incident”, Holmes mumbled, stroking the pipe, "And curious he's managed to stop them using only a few words... Highly curious."

“You know of the accident?” van Zieks quickly turned to face him.

“I figured. With how distraught you looked that night. I’ve stolen your notebook”, he watched Barok’s hand falling to his hip to check for the doctor’s notes as Holmes rummaged through his satchel to proudly present the notebook, “Well, your friend’s, that is…” he opened the page he had seen before, proudly pointing at the German displayed on the paper, “It was in German, and who else could it be but Mr Dobinbough? It proved to come in handy, as it lead me right to the key of the mystery.”

“Don’t repair… the violin before…?” Barok silently read the text beneath, suddenly questioning his best friend’s intentions. Then he looked to the part Holmes was pointing at, “…The rose painting…?”

“Mr Asougi and I found a safe hidden behind your brother’s painting.”

“You – “ Barok fell silent for a while, tightly closing his bloodshot eyes, “You cut up… his painting…?”

Holmes showed a slight smile.

“Ah. So you knew of the safe.”

“The safe was installed prior to the painting being placed there… prior to his death”, he went silent again, “He had showed it to me, once. There was nothing inside of it except a key, of some sorts…”

“This one, perhaps?” the detective raised the key to van Zieks’ eyes, his brows rising slightly, “As I’ve said, I believe this is the last clue I need before finally closing this case once and for all. Now, I know you’re both confused, but let me just explain – Barok, you most certainly indicted someone of the crime already. Stopping diplomacy, trades, and the gates. History teaches us that it always repeats. Those petty crimes over and over again. Most likely... it would most likely be..." Holmes suddenly, stopped, his brows furrowing and hands clasping in deep thought.

"Smuggling", Asougi's voice came from afar, and both of them looked to the serious young man, "The kingdom had been losing significant amounts of money, especially around two years ago. It got to a point where the king experienced frequent panic attacks in the nights. My father told me about it."

Van Zieks stared. He didn't seem to know about that fact.

"...Smuggling... yes. Of course. The smuggling of wealth that was happening all these years ago, that caused your brother to get paranoid after a while… and the fact that what happened to him, happened to him just before the doors of the castle would shut, and stop carriages from entering and leaving… Hm. A rather primitive and uncreative way of getting money out of the castle, I’d say. But if it works, it works, I guess. Just... remind me to check. And tell me, Barok, you were at the scene of the crime last night, weren’t you?”

“The carriage, you mean…? How do you – “

“Please, Barok. I’m thinking.”

“…Yes. Yes, I was.”

“Was there anything that caught your interest back then? When you investigated?”

“Yes… so it was an explosive, most probably. Not my cup of tea, but to each their own, I guess”, the detective said with a finger pressed to his forehead, his eyes closed shut.

“That would explain the other missing carriages, too”, Asougi said from the back, his chin cupped in his hand. He seemed to have recomposed himself. Holmes lazily nodded.

“And it would explain the gentleman and the case”, Holmes added, pointing his index up happily, “Didn’t think he’d do his own dirty work though…”

“…Care to elaborate?” van Zieks huffed after realising the private detective wouldn’t be talking anytime soon.

“Oh. You weren’t there. Forgot”, Holmes chuckled, “You see, the day I decided to visit you, I boarded the… royal omnibus, as I would call it, to come over to the great Village of Lights… Where there’s light, there’s darkness I guess… and that darkness grows with the light. It’s no wonder the situation is only getting worse, dear Barry, it’s really no wonder, with how much light there is…”

“Sherlock!” there was that impatient cry he hadn’t heard since that dreadful night.

The man laughed wholeheartedly.

“Ah… but I digress. It was a dark and dreary night, my fellows. Cold as hell, too. There were five of us in the carriage that day, us violinists. But most of the people disappeared before reaching the place you call home.”

“D-Disappeared…?”

“Don’t be frightened. They disappeared willingly. Gone with the wind, so to speak… But one passenger that left before reaching the castle caught my eye especially. Ever since that day I’ve been thinking whether I had seen the man before or not, but… I didn’t think much of it. In fact, after a few days spent here, I’ve completely forgotten I don’t live here at all… considering my apartment at home is as big as the room you’ve given me, and there’s still company and all, and even though there were a few rough patches between us it did feel nice seeing you again, so I guess I kind of stopped thinking about home and… that made me think of the old stupid saying home is where the heart is – but really, who still says that? Home is where you want it to be, now that’s a better saying. Or no, home is where you feel at home. Eh? Sounds better, doesn’t it? Home is where –”

“Mr Holmes, if you’d please…!” Asougi’s patience was running out fast as well. Holmes didn’t have a lot of time – he used it to laugh loudly again and cause the other two to worry about their hearing for the next few minutes.

“That man, that day… he didn’t take a violin with him at all. Me and the others thought of it to be weird, but a gentleman sitting close to me remembered seeing him holding a case. Once we all entered the carriage though, there was no case. And when he left in the middle of nowhere, for no given reason whatsoever, he left without a case as well… which leads me to believe it’s not that hard to smuggle something in and out. If you’ve got someone on the other side to finish their part of the job flawlessly, that is.”

“You say he is not working alone?”

“That man is working in a group. One cannot do such work by himself for years on end. No, it must be a specialized group. Maybe one you’ve encountered already”, he raised his brows.

“All these years ago… my brother operated under the assumption the traitor was alone.”

“It wasn’t just the high scrutiny, then?”

“He called for a private detective.”

“Oh? You don’t say?”

“Asougi’s father.”

“That's why... Mr Asougi, you knew of it, didn't you...?”

Asougi remained silent, judging the situation by himself. Barok continued.

“The detective had to leave abruptly, and no conclusion was reached. Back then the carriages didn’t disappear, however… it must mean that the method of smuggling was different.”

“There’s no way that’s the only method. Would be too weak”, Asougi spoke up.

“And I guess the stable lighting up was the time the detective was fired. Must have been when all those investigators came to indict the two of us, eh…?”

Asougi abruptly looked at Holmes, who sheepishly smiled.

“I was told so by Klimt, yes”, van Zieks said.

“…You should know by now whom I’m pointing at. Don’t you?”

“Of course”, Barok crossed his arms and closed his eyes, lowering his head to his chest, “The only person still in the castle and never called out, for he’s not supposed to be there… Monitoring everything around him… Keeping hideouts inside other people’s laboratories… With access to everyone’s rooms since he made the keys and locks…”, he rose his head and opened his clear eyes, “That would be Enoch Drebber.”

Holmes proudly nodded, noting the few facts he didn’t know of before.

“Yet there is a flaw in your reasoning... This man looked rather proud when he told me he didn’t burn the stable. He told me it would be too easy for you to solve... He must have known you’re a detective… But that wouldn’t be such a stretch, if he really does operate in a highly specialized group.”

The private detective took a moment to take in the sight of the prince – he seemed to be desperate now that he heard of all of this. He had to know who did it. He had to know who destroyed his life and took all he loved away from him right this instant. And Sherlock knew. Barok wasn't a real king. Barok didn't care about the money being smuggled out of the castle. Barok cared for one thing and one thing only, and that was the case of his dead brother. But Sherlock being Sherlock couldn’t possibly go easy on the trembling man.

“…Why, a flaw…?” Holmes got up to his legs, “I’ve never said he burned the stable. Or killed anyone”, he put his arms behind his back and began pacing in circles around the tiny room, a focused expression on his face, and his irises as small as needle pricks, “No. Burning an entire stable to get rid of… whom, exactly? He wouldn’t have a motive for burning it down… A few servants? I highly doubt that. And killing the king in such a fashion that would attract the media’s attention, instead of just poisoning him and blaming it on me, as he tried to do with you this morning, most likely? My word, Barok, that would be suicide. He, just like the rest of the staff, was questioned, as far as I can remember. And he wasn’t the perpetrator. It couldn’t have been him… It’s not him, no.”

“Who, then?!” the young prince stood to his legs in frustration, almost hitting the ceiling – Holmes held his breath – he had missed seeing emotions as strong as the ones van Zieks exhibited right then; from all misfortunes that transpired that day, from all those years of being unable to show how he felt – no matter how painful it was to watch the man’s bloodshot eyes fill with clear tears that threatened to fall to the ground, but those were too proud to slide down his cheeks, and thus remained blinding the trembling, beaten man, and clouding his sight and judgement. The next words to escape his plump lips were but a whisper, “Who took my dear brother away…?”

Holmes stood at a safe distance from him, waving the key speckled with blue in his hand again. He couldn’t bring himself to move, for whatever reason. Maybe the emotions got to him, too.

“I have an idea. But my practice is not to speak before I have all the necessary facts.”

The prince was silent, his eyes demanding an answer.

“Mr Asougi. Grab a piece of paper and pen. You’re a fast chap, aren’t you? Would it be a problem to deliver a little letter for me? That is, to send it… Good, good. Yes, write down the following… Dear Mr Naruhodou… What? Yeah. Yeah, well, if you’d prefer to write in Japanese, sure… He’d be delighted to meet a friend, I guess. Dear Mr Naruhodou, The Great Detective… um, no. Capital letters. The Great Detective requires help with a case. Nothing too hard to handle, just keep practicing your objections. Beware of mechanical man. Yours truly, S.H.”, he turned to face the prince, “I’ll be heading for the shack now.”

“…You do know they think you are a threat, don’t you…?” Barok worriedly asked, his eyes coyly falling to the ground as the words came out of his mouth. Holmes involuntarily smiled; he was just so proud of him.

“Yeah. I know”, he silently said, approaching the hunched man and burrowing his cheek into his lover’s shirt, to which the taller wrapped his arms around him. There was that familiar tingle when he hugged him this time, those happy sparks that spread throughout your body, and he found his eyes closing on instinct as the other kept pressing him into his shirt the furthest he could. It wasn’t the most tender hug, but van Zieks and tender felt forced anyway. And it felt safe.

Just like home.

“Stay sound”, van Zieks muttered as he parted from him, his sight getting stuck on the blond’s genuine smile.

“…Why do you think I needed that letter to be written?” he loudly laughed, holding his stomach and forehead as he writhed forward, before his smile suddenly vanished as he looked up at his lover, "I don't want to end up ten feet below the floor tiles of the entrance hallway, being walked upon for the rest of my life."

The prince cocked his head and smiled, though worry was still visible all over his face.

"Imagine how all those people must feel like, really. Being walked on. No thank you, I'd rather walk over dead bodies. Being a detective, and all", he laughed again.

Barok didn’t say anything. To stop him from wasting further time, he just pressed his soft lips to Sherlock’s forehead as a blessing, or maybe as a curse, making the man grin from ear to ear.

Chapter Text

As soon as he disappeared out of the prince’s weakened hands, behind the tiny closet door, van Zieks’ smile faded, and his figure began trembling once again, to which the young Japanese boy immediately ran to his aid to help the tall man sit down again, watching his future king with great care as he stared at nothing for a while, and then closed his eyes tightly before burrowing his face in his hands.

The young boy slowly backed off, sitting down across him, looking at the floor, knowing full well looking at the other would cause van Zieks to feel threatened as he tried to fight the sudden rush of emotions that came about him. Asougi respected the man. He had gone through the same before, so he knew not to say anything. He then decided to focus on his own task, taking the letter he had written previously, and giving it a quick re-read before folding it neatly and scribbling addresses onto it. Thank goodness everyone already knew where Holmes lived, since he’d always shout details about him as he’d walk across the hallways.

“Mr Naruhodou, huh? I wonder why you’re being called. An acquittance of Holmes’, perhaps?”

His heart skipped a beat, but he ignored it.

“I will be taking this to the delivery man now, My Lordship.”

No response, even as he left.

He had never seen Lord van Zieks this low – the whole ordeal must have reminded him of the time his brother was found dead. Granted, Asougi did not know the man back then. Barok van Zieks was a man of culture, but he rarely visited the huge library himself and would never speak much when he did – much to Asougi’s delight, for he was still new to English and preferred to study it from books, a huge advantage that time had presented him. The king, however, had visited him quite a few times, and always had something to talk about.

Every day his hands would flip through hundreds upon hundreds of pages, at first from right to left, until his brain finally put two and two together and realized the words didn’t make any sense – and then the alignment of the words didn’t make any sense – and then the pages didn’t make any sense – he could only ever learn from mistakes.

His heart throbbed – but wrongly, he claimed.

His progress would be checked every night by his tired father, who would storm into the library, raise the sole papers into the air like cold autumn wind, sit down right in front of the young Kazuma and cross his muscular arms over his chest, waiting for the boy to start reading. And if he saw any kind of progress, his father would tell him a story or two about what he had investigated that day, and how he saw His Lordship Klimt van Zieks fall to his bottom trying to ride a horse properly. He had spoken of the prince’s piano playing and of the maid’s fast cooking, the coachman’s skills and the greyhound’s holes he dug in the backyard, much to the king’s dismay, and about Asougi’s fast learning and about his ongoing training, and about teaching the boy to fight like a samurai, and about that odd counsellor who would tamper around his office at night, about his odd mechanical arm, about his monocle that would send shivers even down his spine.

“Deliver this to the assigned address as fast as you can…”, he turned to leave, but suddenly stopped and walked back, “Actually, don’t just deliver it to him. Grab that man by the arm and deliver him back to us.”

“B-But, sir, I deliver packages.”

“King’s orders”, Asougi glared, watching the man nod in fear and waltz right away.

His father worked hard from day to day, even though he hadn’t been investigating for all that long. He had told him about the odd sounds coming from the hallway sometimes at night, coming from a small secluded room filled to the brim with children’s toys. He told him about the one maid whose smile would light up even the king’s grimace after falling down a horse. He told him about the young horse handler who rather chose to run after the prince than tend to the mistreated horses, smiling knowingly – how could Kazuma have known? He told him about the prince’s friend and how much zeal there was in him. He told him about a young man tampering with his weaponry, trying to play detective before showing off his improvised boxing skills.

Something in Asougi’s chest was constructing. He felt as if… that thing was choking him.

He told him about the huge sunsets one could see if you’d climb up the hill. He told him about the king’s strange fascination with roses, and told him stories about the cherry blossom trees back in Japan, and how they were most likely blooming now and filling the streets – at least he didn’t have to clean the petals if he wasn’t there. But he missed his homeland, Kazuma knew that more than any other man. He had always been professional, always completely honest and honourable. And Kazuma wanted to be just like him.

He didn’t plan on returning. But he felt the urge to do so, now. For the pain to go away. He rushed back through the hallway; not that the small hideout was far away since the delivery man stood right in front of the entrance, and quickly slipped in.

“If I had known this man was still here… I would have told His Lordship about this a long time ago”, Asougi’s voice suddenly came into van Zieks’ ears, his expression determined as he searched for the prince who looked as if he was fighting a huge headache, his bloodshot eyes wet, “But I had thought my father’s theories… and my own, to be false once the previous royal counsellor had been thrown out.”

Van Zieks looked to the side to see the young man’s fervent eyes. Asougi climbed back into the room, sitting down cross-legged next to the future king.

“The detective doesn’t have to check any carriages for hidden places. I had seen it myself… a few months ago. Just a few days prior to the king’s demise.”

The prince’s head rose, slowly turning to face the boy.

“I didn’t think much of it back then.”

“Are you telling me… you’ve witnessed the man prepare a smuggling trip without notifying anyone about it?” van Zieks’ voice sounded dangerous, but anyone who knew him could rest assured – the man was all bark, and no bite. In a way, that little dog of his fitted him like a glove.

“I wasn’t sure what I noticed back then. Drebber was restlessly walking around in one of the carriages and measured all sides of it, before somehow sticking a wire into the back and… I’m not sure how to describe the procedure from then on. Doesn’t really matter – the point is, he had been holding a weird case he didn’t want to explain why he was carrying once I asked him about it. I had just been walking the horses back to the stable when I met him. He didn’t look nervous or anything, but… I’m pretty sure he was preparing another round back then.”

“You… you’re sure about that?”

“I don’t have any proof”, he crossed his arms over his chest, “But I know a cheating bastard when I see one. I would have might said something if he didn’t take my mind on another tangent… But he did. So there’s that.”

The prince was silent for a while.

“…Am I correct in thinking you wouldn’t tell me what that tangent was about if I were to ask you?”

“You are correct, My Lordship.”

His Lordship van Zieks nodded his head solemnly.

“…Still. If we are to make this formal, we would do well to find some kind of proof before incriminating the man.”

“Didn’t the entire castle just turn against Mr Holmes without any proof, though?”

“…Not really”, the prince sighed, pressing his finger against his forehead and shaking his head, “They found the idiot’s prints on the chalice... they can’t be sure whether those are his, but considering that I had spoken of him being in my room, they believe those to be his. It is common knowledge that I never hold my chalices by the stem, but by the bowl”, van Zieks shook his head, to which Asougi’s brows furrowed, “He drank out of it that night when I had been away, I guess. The culprit still could have entered after he left with Benjamin’s notebook… wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t turn the lock too”, he went silent, “…Still, I have a feeling as if Benjamin knew the good detective would take it from me.”

“You really care about him, don’t you?” Asougi suddenly inquired, watching the man’s face slowly colourizing, “Not that it really bothers me, or that I care. It isn’t my business, but from what I’ve heard before, you’re in this pretty deep, and for quite some time too.”

Van Zieks only watched the man, his expression soft.

The pain was still there, choking him.

“...Well, then. That’s all I had to say to His Lordship”, he stood up to leave, but got grabbed by the other man’s hand. Asougi’s brows rose as he looked back to see the man standing up at his trembling legs.

“Where are you heading?”

“…You said we need evidence. I’m getting evidence.”

He turned to leave again, not looking behind him as he crawled back out of the hiding spot, soon realising the other had followed him; even though he had a few complaints, he guessed it was better for van Zieks to stay with him than be left alone in a room as creepy as this all alone. Barok snuffed the fire of the lamp out.

“Let me help you with that… I feel responsible for all of this. With his plan coming so far as to hurt innocent people because I had banned investigators from searching after they had failed to find any clues in a few days.”

“…Yeah”, Asougi said, nodding his head as he watched van Zieks’ tall form standing up straight again, “That was a rash decision.”

“And I regret it.”

The raven-haired man looked to the ground, “…No doubt about that.”

“This decision might turn regrettable fast enough, too.”

“…I would have to agree, My Lordship.”

“Asougi. Your sword.”

“It’s ready for use, My Lordship.”

“Van Zieks is just fine.”

“Yes, My Lordship.”

 


 

 

“Tell me, good sir”, Holmes suddenly straightened from his walk on all fours, practically jumping into the face of a thin, old servant whose trembling frame had to take a step back before being able to look at the blond whose smile was progressively getting larger, his nose and eyes runny and red, “Is the room up there what I think it is?”

“My Goodness, Mr Holmes!” he realigned his glasses, took them into his gloved hands, tried to clean them and put them back at his nose, “You’ve startled me.”

“Sorry, Barrymore”, Holmes mumbled, realigning the goggles he was wearing whilst snooping around and then pointing up at the tower above him, “Do you perhaps know what room this tower contains…?” he sniffed, tightly closing his eyes as if in pain.

“Do you need a paper tissue, perhaps, Mr Holmes?” he emptied his empty pockets to find absolutely nothing, a disappointed look on his face, “…Never mind that…”

“No, no, it’s fine… It’s just the odd trees here that cause my nose to run. For once I’m glad I have allergies… But! This tower, Barrymore!” Holmes snapped his fingers, looking at the other with a serious expression on his face, “This tower – what’s in it?”

“That would be the library, sir”, Barrymore stated, straightening his old back.

“Thank you”, Holmes quickly mumbled and stuffed a shilling into the man’s gloved hand, hunching down and strolling through the wet grass – he remembered the time he still hadn’t had enough money to buy trousers long enough to cover his legs entirely – how he pitied that old Sherlock Holmes.

The lenses weren’t reacting to anything suspicious; he raised them again and waited a few seconds for his eyes to readjust, and then pulled them up to his hair. As he reached the old white marble fountain, he leaped on top of it again – much to Barrymore’s dismay, who watched from afar but was too nice to do anything about the man’s behaviour – walking on its structure as one and the same images kept reappearing in his mind. The rapier. The clothes. The crossed arms to take two. The sword drenched in blood. Iris. The ballroom. Wine. Barok.

The thoughts stopped as he lost himself in the eight coins that were silently slumbering inside the water. He reached into his pocket and threw a coin into the baroque fountain as well, thinking of none other than his biggest distraction, watching the coin as it plunged into the clear. He spent a few seconds watching it. His smile disappeared as he put the goggles on again, stepping down from the fountain and following the cobbled path that led directly to his destination – the small, wooden shack, basking in the shadows of the two huge willow trees sleepily hanging their branches over it.

He really didn’t think he’d actually need to open that shack. But there he was.

A commotion in the back. His throat felt dry all of a sudden; he laughed.

Inserting the key into the lock, he heard a shot coming from afar, and his ears started ringing.

The lock clicked open. The door of the shack opened by itself, creaking in the process – the room was old.

The detective disappeared behind the door and looked around – everything was full of gardening supplies, to his surprise. He grabbed a rake from the front of the tools and put it over the handle, knowing full well the shack could very easily be torn apart by someone just slamming their body against it.

“But that someone has to be bulky.”

He proudly smiled at his accomplishment, lazily staring at the weak rake saving his life – he shook himself awake. Once he turned around, he began wondering why everything was filled to the brim with simple gardening tools and flower seeds and pots – before remembering this was the king’s private shack.

“He did tell me Klimt liked roses… Didn’t think he liked them to this extent, though…”

All the seeds were roses. Pink ones, at that. It was a sad sight to behold, really. All those seeds would never be planted now; the shack would have been closed forever if it weren’t for him and Asougi disturbing the peace. That’s when he noticed the small wooden coffee table in the back, with a single picture frame sitting on top of it. He approached it and carefully took the picture frame, slowly lifting it up and turning it to see what it displayed.

The commotion outside was getting louder. A man shouted.

The picture displayed a fair lady in maid’s clothes, sitting up straight and genuinely trying to hide a smile as the photograph was being taken – as told by the eyes. She seemed to be sitting in the wooden arbour in the back of the gardens, but Holmes couldn’t be sure. A greyhound was proudly sitting upright next to her, looking at the camera as if he was beckoned. Even though she wore maid’s clothes, her hair had been tied up perfectly and her delicate hands were hidden by white gloves. What caught Holmes’ attention was the cravat around her neck though – a maid and an expensive cravat with an emerald gemstone was a contradiction to say at the very least.

He had seen that neckwear before.

As his grip tightened to give the picture a closer look, the frail thing cracked, and the detective panicked for a second before his eyes widened and he loudly laughed.

He could have sworn he heard Asougi shout a few curse words outside.

He moved the upper picture out of the frame, sliding it out carefully not to tear the picture, almost choking on his breath as he saw what the photographed showed – a happy couple, holding hands whilst walking between roses – he couldn’t identify the location, really – as one of them stood close to the camera to take the picture. It wasn’t a good shot, but just good enough for Holmes to see why the king was smiling that day when he had caught him and Barok together. He could feel a little tug on his heart when he turned the picture around, only to read ‘I miss you, my Rose’.

The obsession suddenly made more sense.

“A lover’s message to a maid who’d never see it… What were the circumstances, van Zieks…?”

He carefully took both of the pictures, putting them into a safe place in his satchel to preserve them. He looked around the room again, paying attention to whether his goggles would pick something up, but there were no traces of left-over blood. Sherlock bit his lower lip and continued moving about the shack for a while, finding only more gardening tools and rose seeds, his heart beating faster at the thought of his clues not being here after all. It was the king’s private shack – there must be a clue somewhere! His nervousness caused a few tools to fall over, but Holmes wasn’t bothered by those. He started digging through the tools anyway, feeling like a dog that caught a peculiar scent, before he stopped moving altogether, a wide grin creeping to his face. In the corner of the room, there was a case that was hiding behind all those gardening tools.

The sounds were coming closer – Barrymore must have told the others where he was. Sherlock didn’t blame him.

The detective pulled on the case to get it on the open, the rest of the gardening tools falling down – not that he cared. With that huge, schoolgirl-in-love-like grin still plastered to his face, he removed some of the dust that was on top of the long case, a chuckle just aching to come out of his throat once he saw the familiar date written on top of the white case in crimson ink – a man’s neat handwriting, surely – the seventeenth of June.

“That date actually proved to be important... To hell with all of it!”

The grin of the detective only grew from that moment on, no matter how much he was struggling to open the case with his shaky fingers – finally realizing that it had been locked. Didn’t matter though, this wasn’t a special lock. Throwing his satchel aside, he rummaged through it to grab a tiny wrench, and then searched his collar to locate a paperclip that was there at all times, for safety measures. Straightening the clip, he proceeded to use the lock picking skills he had always bragged about, all the while hearing something from right outside the shack before something started banging against the door, and after damning the case a dozen of times he finally managed to break it open, his grabby, needy hands immediately falling upon the letter written in crimson ink that was placed on top of a peculiar object.

Sherlock sat up straight as he held the paper close to him. It felt like he was lifting a ton, instead of just a few grams. And as he was reading it, Holmes felt his chest tighten. He fell to his backside, his shaking hands slowly relaxing. This was it – this was the entire case. All laid out on paper.

“It couldn’t have been anyone else, could it…? I thought so. That has to be it. And this is the final puzzle piece”, he thought as he slowly reached for the weapon safely placed in the case, lifting it up from its resting place before carefully taking the heavy blade out of its sheath. A beautiful Japanese katana, expertly crafted and worn by countless of bearers, as suggested by the faded parts on the long golden grip, whilst the glistening blade itself remained sharp – and he bit the inside of his cheek.

His goggles reacted to the blade.

The rake was slowly giving in – Holmes realized – he leaped to his legs and searched his pockets and belts for the paint gun – at such a time, when a group of blood-thirsty beings was breaking into his hiding place, and when he came across the last clue – now his soul started fighting against his arms which were trying to aim at the blade? He felt his heart racing. The thrill reaching its culmination.

He fired.

The detective lifted his goggles to the top of his head again as the rake in the back broke in half and a burly man stormed in, removing the tools to grab the grinning, staring detective by his arm, pulling him back as he couldn’t look away from the clear light blue stains the katana’s blade got covered in.

 


 

 

“Asougi! Watch out!” the taller man exclaimed, shielding the younger with his sword as one almost hit Asougi from behind. As sparks flew right next to his right eye, the boy turned around and pushed a few men away from himself, breaking free from their grasps, clenching his teeth as he quickly turned to meet another blade and pressing his back to van Zieks’, who had somehow overpowered the other and was now leading in their spar.

Another bullet passed right above the prince’s head and he froze for a mere second before continuing, still too proud to admit just how much his legs were shaking.

“No wonder My Lordship got all messed up before”, Asougi said under his breath, kicking a man away with his swift movements and holding his rapier with two hands to block an incoming attack, “These are formidable opponents.”

Van Zieks nodded, unable to speak as angry shouts and insults flew towards him and he couldn’t help but listen.

“Those are just words, My Lordship”, Kazuma shouted, blocking another hit before he himself got distracted by the chuckle from above. He growled.

“What’s so funny about this?” the young man couldn’t take any more, abruptly looking up and pointing at the mad white-haired man that sat at the top a carriage that had been about to leave before the two came meddling with his back completely straight, his smile protracting his face into a creepy grimace that matched with his pale complexion, his monocle turning about as he stroked his chin with his mechanical fingers. Van Zieks pushed a few of their opponents away, covering the man while he spoke pointing his rapier into the madman’s direction, “You know laughing menacingly and watching as your minions completely destroy the guys trying to get evidence just incriminates you further, right?!”

“You don’t have any proof.”

“We’re trying to get proof!” Asougi growled, blocking another hit.

“You won’t get any proof.”

“What do you mean?! Why can’t anyone speak normally”, Asougi gritted through his teeth as he blocked another hit, pushed his rapier against the opponent’s for a few seconds, then tripped the man’s leg and spun to face his back,  “today? I don’t get you,” pushing him to hit the floor, a few others slowly backing off, “I really don’t!”

“For you to obtain proof, you would have to explode.”

“May we take that as a confession?” Barok chimed in, looking up to his side to see the man cross one leg over the other. His smile faded, being replaced by a bored-looking expression.

“Your words are untrustworthy. You may be the soon-to-be-king”, his head changed position every time he said another word, “But… You never had any say in this castle. No matter what you demanded, all would do as they please”, he cocked his head to the side, pursing his lips.

“…”

“And you never checked what happened after you’d make a decision”, he said, looking at his mechanical fingers.

Van Zieks stopped to look up, then at his clenching hand.

“…Did they order those cheap chalices again? Those break so easily!”

“My Lordship… this is hardly the time”, Asougi mumbled, looking at his partner exasperatedly.

Drebber laughed, his shoulders jumping up and down as he did, before assuming a calm demeanour again and nodding his head once, to which the group stepped away from the prince and the groom and pointed guns at them from all sides, the two of them covering each other’s backs again. Their weapons were removed.

“…It doesn’t matter, really. A vagabond prince and his horse-handling sidekick”, he froze, cupping his chin and furrowing his brows, “Now… where have I heard that one before…”

“…How do you know all of this”, van Zieks’ question was more of a demand than anything.

Enoch Drebber took a second to think of a response, looking straight into van Zieks’ empty eyes. He then shrugged, “I am the royal counsellor. A scientist. A genius. An influencer. I’m doing this for fun, you know?”

“For… fun”, Asougi grumbled, glaring daggers at Drebber, who chose to ignore him in favour of looking a few yards away and causing the other two to look in the same direction – two burly servants were dragging a stiff blond out of the little shack, before the young man suddenly laughed and wrestled himself out of the men’s strong arms, proudly raising his index finger in the air and opening his mouth to say something, only to be hit in the upper back by an elbow and crashing down into the grass face-first, a gun being pointed at his head. Upon regaining his consciousness, Holmes widely smiled and gently pushed the gun away from his face into another direction with his fingertips, crawling away to stand at his legs, his back bent.

“Gentlemen… Please. By all due respect, I do not believe a detective is to be treated this way… You see”, he stood up proudly, “I have just solved the case! The murder mystery which all of you had been dreaming of since day one of-“

His speech was abruptly stopped by a fist into his face, to which he spun around and fell right into the arms one of the ‘gentlemen’ that had dragged him out of the shack before.

“Tell that to the jury.”

The prince and the groom stood frozen as the man, with the detective peacefully smiling in his arms as his nose bled, slowly paced towards the counsellor on top of the coach, a few other gentleman and a bored-looking maid following him.

“What did he solve?” Drebber cocked his head as the man stopped.

“The murder mystery, he said.”

 “Oh…” Drebber sighed, “He wouldn’t be the first one.”

“You knew?” the prince spoke up, looking up at the madman who was watching the detective closely, before pointing at the gun that was secured on his belt. The man that held him up lifted the blond just enough for the counsellor to get his hands on the weapon before Holmes was in the safe haven of the man’s arms again, “…Excuse me…”

Drebber started turning the gun around, holding his monocle as it turned.

“I wasn’t the first one to know”, the counsellor silently answered, jumping from the coach and circling the band of attackers that encircled Barok and Kazuma, “I’m afraid”, he pouted his lips, unnaturally moving forwards to spread his arms and shake his head, “I’m afraid I really wasn’t the first one to know, this time.”

“Of course not. You weren’t the perpetrator”, van Zieks barked, glaring at the man as the man calmly stared right through the prince.

“…Exactly”, the man said. As he did, his face morphed into an unrecognizable twist of an expression, causing the man to suddenly feel scared of the half-human creature in front of him whose monocle moved up as he continued staring right through the tall purple-haired man, to let him see his own empty, listless eyes which just wouldn’t blink for the half a minute he stared at him. Van Zieks could have sworn he’d go insane, looking into the eyes of such a cold machine, if it weren’t for the young-sounding, unfamiliar voice that came from the back, causing the machine to pout his lips again, his eyes half-closing as he looked behind his back – a relatively short black-haired Asian with big dark eyes and a spiky hair cut, dressed in all black, was rushing their way.

“Holmes-san!” he cried, before suddenly freezing at the sight in front of him – his eyes first noticing the tired-looking prince that seemed to be extremely confused as he was being looked at, before noticing the Japanese boy his age, looking at him with fervent eyes, “Um…” the boy looked around before scratching the back of his neck shyly, his eyes darting about, “Uh, um… I’m… I’m Ryuunosuke Naruhodou, and I’m… I’m a defence attorney!” he shouted, rising his hand into the air, “Sir!”

 


 

 

I will have to excuse myself for stopping the adventure unfolding before you, but I do believe what I’m about to tell will be of some kind of use to the reader.

My friend Sherlock Holmes hadn’t planned on including the letter’s contents he had read in the shack that day into these very notes you are reading right now. He claimed it was out of respect for the victims of the 17th of June and everyone related to them and the crime, though anyone who had been reading carefully could see another glaring possibility that was far more likely – namely, the letter was addressed to none other than His Lordship Barok van Zieks.

I had stood up for the curious reader, for to completely understand what had transpired that day, one would have to know of additional facts my friend had found to make sense of the mess that was this affair.

Calling my work to be ‘too romantic’ and ‘distracting the reader from the important parts’, he finally obliged under one condition: the reader would have to be warned. The letter which I’m about to present you could very well ruin the ‘fun of reading’, as my friend had said, oblivious to the fact that readers wouldn’t  have come that far if there was no interest in his private image. It is the previous king’s honest explanation, and might help you put everything together.

With a final warning, I lay before you the hints to the event of the 17th of June.

 

“To my dearest brother,

 

I hope this letter gets into your hands once my story is finished, and once the book is closed. This letter is an apology, from me to you, for I do not have the heart to tell you what had transpired that faithful day, on 17th of June. I know it has been bothering you to see me in this sorry state, but I could not tell you in person, I just could not.

I hope you forgave me for telling Mr Sherlock to leave. I know he was very dear to you. It was cruel of me to ignore your pleads, but you must know that I had a very big reason to do so. What I had done, I did to protect someone… Or that was what I was telling myself. You see, Barok, your brother is just a human being, a jealous one at that. I had lost so much that night. Two of the most beautiful people I had ever met. A lover, and a dear friend. A maid, and a man from the Far East.

 

Now, brother, I know you might be shocked to find out like this, but was it not the same for you? Did you not love Mr Sherlock from the day you met him?

My Rose was too frail for our lifestyle. She had always seen herself as someone who did not deserve me, a king. A king and a maid wasn’t that unheard of. But my heart did not want any other than her. I had always known she hated herself for taking me from the world, but I had loved every second of it. It wasn’t enough. Soon, dark thoughts began surfacing in her mind. ‘What if someone finds out?’ I told her not to panic. She didn’t listen. ‘What if you won’t be accepted as a king anymore?’ I told her it did not matter. She wouldn’t listen.

I had told my friend. He suggested to let her think for herself.

‘I think I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if someone found out.’ I didn’t say anything. And this time, she listened. And, in what I believe to be nothing but a matter of misunderstanding, decided to end this secret once and for all.

 

I apologize. I couldn’t bear the sight of love at that time. I couldn’t see smiles around me while I had lost everything in a single night. I couldn’t bear hearing you talk about him from dawn till dusk. It was just so painful. I was just so alone. So I made it fade. I broke it.

I broke you.

It’s been a week since I last saw you, and I had never felt worse in my entire life. Your lost look when you had asked me where Mr Sherlock has gone to has been haunting me ever since that day.

You might hate me now, brother. What I did was terrible. But I hope you will understand, some day. And I hope you’ll forgive me, too. May your days be merry.

 

Yours faithfully,

Klimt van Zieks

 

P.S.

If you’ve found the letter, you must be wondering what the sheath contains. The simplest answer would be: all of my friend’s memories. Please keep it safe, and clean.”

Chapter Text

The throne room had been completely devoid of light. In such a dark environment, one would think Ryuunosuke Naruhodou wouldn’t be able to think straight because of his fear of the deep dark, but this time around, he had to stand firm, no matter how much he was shaking – and he wasn’t shaking from cold. The hall was filled to the brim with people, and there was no clean, cold air left, just the hot breaths from hundreds of strangers that all gathered to see the sight and truth that was to be unravelled that day.

Naruhodou felt sick to the stomach. He didn’t know how much time had passed since the servants had blinded them by covering all the huge glass windows with the deep reddish curtains that held back the light that was slowly disappearing behind the valleys. He took a deep breath to calm himself, feeling a reassuring hand grip his shoulder tightly. He appreciated it.

“All rise!” a deep baritone echoed through the huge throne room as hundreds of feet readjusted to stand up properly, chairs being moved in the process and the curtains slowly being lifted to reveal the last traces of the sun. It took some time for the giant hall to be completely devoid of any sound again, the tension engulfing everything around it, as Naruhodou began suffocating from the heaviness that fell upon his heart as his eyes began readjusting to the light. His eyes started darting about, but as they landed on the man next to him, he knew he wasn’t the one who was drowning in worries the most – it had to be the completely pale man that had grabbed his shoulder before.

As the light came back into his world, so did the memories – the young Japanese boy still couldn’t believe all the things that had transpired in the single hour prior to this. He still remembered the gun being pointed right to his face and the tall purple-haired man objecting to it, before a fair-haired young man with big glasses came running on crutches, waving ‘proof’ as he called it and running towards the madman, before a hoard of police officers came running and securing the poor attorney that kept glancing at Holmes’ limp body – Ryuunosuke never thought that would be a part of Holmes’ plan.

 

“Dear Mr Naruhodou,

I dislike parties with all my being. Have I ever told you that? Today, I’ll try sorting things out with the prince. After that’s done, I’ll most likely be either thrown out of the castle or given permission to investigate freely. If it’s the latter, I want you to be ready. If I tell you to come here, don’t just come – take the entire police force with you.

I have a small letter hidden in the shoe on the fireplace. Just some information that could persuade them to cooperate.”

 

Naruhodou was baffled – Holmes would sometimes display such a deep understanding of his surroundings that he felt chilled to the bones. Under that childish attitude and constant bragging and nagging, there was something inhumane, something that he couldn’t put into words, but it was definitely there – and he could see it through the detective’s sharp green eyes that were widely opened, and by the way he nibbled on his pipe, and by how his fingers tapped a melody against the bench. But, even a great detective such as him couldn’t have foreseen the entire castle’s staff turning against the detective, and Gregson arresting him alongside the maniac brandishing a gun, whose trial would be held separately, for a separate crime.

“Court is now in session for the trial of Mr Sherlock Holmes.”

The young man loudly proclaimed, his chin raised and eyes empty – a complete contrast to what Ryuunosuke had seen outside the throne room, whilst they were waiting for the trial to commence. Barok van Zieks was a tall, yet shy-looking man, his eyes nervously looking at the attorney ‘Sherlock had told him so much about’ as he tried to approach the detective. His unsure hands would then cup the detective’s pale face, and a soft kiss was placed against his forehead.

“Good luck”, a whisper so soft that Naruhodou didn’t need to ask what was going on between them.

The prince was now a completely different person, with his eyes boldly shooting daggers towards the detective that felt everything else except comfortable at the moment. In fact, his legs were trembling.

No smile was present on His Lordship van Zieks’ face. There was something grim about him, as if he had a distraught aura about him that calmed the masses yet frightened them, and Ryuunosuke Naruhodou was immediately reminded of the fallen angels he had read about in that day’s newspaper. Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. He felt himself trembling as well all of a sudden.

The scar was now perfectly visible – and for some reason, Naruhodou was scared it wouldn’t open up with how much he furrowed his brows at the world that was watching him with utmost dread – his plump lips half-opened for the moment the crowd would stop shuffling and whispering about, and as the huge lamps in the back were lit, his tall shadow fell straight to the floor.

“Master Naruhodou. Your eyes.”

“Huh?!”

“They are darting about”, Holmes mumbled, tightly closing his to stop his own trembling.

“I’m – I’m sorry…”

“All is fine”, Holmes claimed, putting a hand at his hip and pointing up, “I’ve got ties, you see? We have even managed to convince His Lordship to let me act as your legal defence, since Miss Susato isn’t here.”

“He also glared at me so hard I thought I’d just keel over…” Naruhodou confessed, arching his back. Holmes laughed.

“Well, that we’re in a bit of a pickle, I can’t deny that”, he said, turning to look at the police that was quietly watching and judging him, before looking at van Zieks who was staring ahead, “I might be in good terms with His Lordship, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to pull any punches…” he put a pipe into his mouth, “He is a professional. Him on the throne, judging, and him in private… those two are completely different people. The only things that remain the same are his brutal honesty and his resolve.”

“Sherlock Holmes is, as we all might now, a man of secrets”, he loudly stated, for all to hear, before crossing his arms, looking to the ground, “Got let into the Village of Lights to fiddle a violin, ended up fiddling with our lives. He is a detective that came here from far off to solve a mystery that caught his interest… yet ended up getting entangled in it himself. Yesterday, at around five in the morning, Basker, the royal guard dog, had been found dead in the royal chambers, poisoned by the sweet drops of blood-coloured wine, as the forensics found out later. Yet, there is no reason to poison a dog. Therefore, Mr Holmes will today be judged for the crime of attempted murder”, he gracefully pointed at the defence bench, his eyes cold as he watched the detective calmly standing next to the trembling attorney, “The attempted murder of the prince himself!”

The public broke into whispers.

Naruhodou felt sweat covering his entire body already.

“…And his taste for the dramatic”, Holmes added, still holding his pipe in his mouth.

“…Objection!” Naruhodou yelled, causing the man to cross his arms again and look at him from above, Naruhodou’s hand held up high into the air, “How could my client have been indicted of such a thing! Mr Holmes would never poison anyone, let alone his – “

“Objection!” the prince yelled back, visibly staying calm, though his lip twitched as he spoke, “I had heard things about you, attorney, “he raised his head, “But I haven’t heard of impatience.”

“I might have forgotten to mention that”, Holmes uttered as Naruhodou arched his back again. Barok looked back to the attorney and continued to glare.

“…You told me this trial is different from the ones I normally participate in”, the attorney whispered, causing Holmes to turn his way.

“Oh. Yes. But it’s not just baseless conjectures. Every court of law, no matter if led by the villagers, the government or the king himself, is based on logic and reasoning.”

“Mr Holmes was indicted for a simple reason. Mainly, he was the only person to have been invited into my room that night. And he stayed until an early hour – even as I had gone out of the room.”

The court started whispering about again, and all that could be made out were the words ‘Holmes’, ‘His Lordship’, ‘together’ and ‘affair’.

“…That’s another thing I didn’t know about”, Naruhodou mumbled.

“I might have forgotten to mention that.”

“Order!” the prince yelled, turned around for a second and then slammed his steel heel at the bench that was standing next to the throne for this special occasion. The hall went dead silent.

“I know this might lower your opinion of me. A king is not supposed to fool around with a violinist, instead of performing his duties…”

“Isn’t this the same man?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“The horse handler. From all those years ago!”

“What?”

“No way… no, it’s not him.”

“It is! It is!”

“So… it’s the same situation… The prince and the groom.”

“Why am I not surprised…”

“Have you heard the rumours, too? With them together again…”

“Mr Holmes?” Naruhodou looked up to see a look of guilt on the detective’s face, “They don’t seem to be on his side. Not at all.”

“I’ve told you all the facts you need to know, Master Naruhodou”, Holmes silently said, removing his hat from his eyes that were devoid of their usual excited shine, “That’s all there is to it.”

“I assure you, for as long as I have the throne promised to me, I will judge every man just, and may the Lord help me with that”, he said, deeply bowing as the crowds grew silent again, “This man…” he continued once he was standing upward again, “was the only person present at that time, and had enough time to rummage through a third of my books whilst I was visiting a hurt friend. The dog was poisoned as it presumably jumped to the table and knocked a chalice of mine down, which he was known to do… To further incriminate this foolish detective, smudges of one’s fingers were found on the chalice’s stem after further inspection… yet I have a habit of holding my chalices by the bowl, or the rim in some cases…”, he poured some wine from a bottle sitting on the bench into a glass chalice, rising it into the air to point at the defence, holding it by the bowl as told earlier, “never the stem!”

Naruhodou flinched as the crowds exploded into words again.

“…Okay, I’ve told you almost everything you need to know.”

“Mr Holmes…” Naruhodou sighed exasperatedly.

“Now, now, Your Lordship”, Holmes spoke up after a while, the prince’s glare being directed a him, “Just because someone’s prints were left on the chalice, it doesn’t mean that I was the one trying to poison you. Anyone could have entered the chambers beforehand and touched the glass.”

“That is correct”, van Zieks nodded before crossing his arms, “Yet I had drunk from the same wine bottle that very night, and nothing happened to me.”

(Perhaps it was dog poison?) Naruhodou sarcastically thought before looking up at the detective who was seemingly holding a staring contest with the judge. The judge was way ahead of him though since his small eyes were glaring right at the smiling violinist.

“The police believe Mr Holmes’ real intentions weren’t as straightforward as they might seem – a detective trying to uncover the mystery of the murder of our dear late king. The court, therefore, believes he had visited Castle van Zieks with a far more sinister plan in mind. Namely”, he slammed his fist against the desk, “to silence the last member of the van Zieks family.”

(L-Last member?) he looked back at Holmes who was nibbling on his pipe again, looking at the ground.

“But… before we continue” van Zieks’ hushed voice reverberated through the room, his shadow dancing against the red carpets that led to the throne, “I would like to clear up a rather… frightening scene that must have been plaguing the minds of the court.”

(Why wasn’t I informed of any of this?!)

The attorney nervously looked around the court, spotting detective Gregson in the midst of the huge number of police officers that were all huddled in the same corner. Next to the policemen were a few servants that had dragged Holmes out of the shack – he could recognize the one that held the good detective in his arms to deliver him to the madman pointing the gun at Ryuunosuke, now in shackles and under scrutiny. He then spotted the Japanese man he had seen next to van Zieks. The man seemed to have directed his entire attention to the floor, his muscular arms crossed over his chest. The red tie he had previously worn around his neck was now tied around his wrist. Then, as if feeling Naruhodou’s stare at him, he suddenly glared his way, Naruhodou flinching and scratching the back of his neck.

Asougi seemed to calm after that.

“As you all might know, there was a huge fire a few years ago. The fire had consumed the entire horse stable as the horses fled into the wild. The staff worked incredibly hard to put it out… yet it proved to be too much of a challenge. The entire stable had been reduced to a crisp, and we had lost three fellow humans in the process. It was a tragedy that shook the entire country… even more as the primary suspect was no other than myself.”

The detective, Naruhodou noted, suddenly became tense again.

“Therefore, I would like to clear my name”, van Zieks said and closed his eyes, Holmes’ brows twitching as if he had spotted something. The prince than rose his head up again, his empty eyes looking ahead, “The court calls Mr Holmes to the witness stand.”

“You can’t be serious…” Holmes silently grumbled, biting down on the pipe, before stuffing it back into his coat pocket – somewhere along the way to the stand, his lazy smile returned to his face.

“Witness… your name and occupation, please.”

“THE Great Detective Sherlock Holmes”, Holmes proudly stated, deeply bowing before putting a hand at his hip and lazily smiling again, “A great detective.”

“…”

(His Lordship doesn’t want to comment on that, I guess.)

“Your former occupation, if you wouldn’t mind?” van Zieks softly asked, receiving a few half-furious-half-confused blinks from the blond before he looked back to the audience that was curiously eyeing the tall man.

“Sherlock Holmes”, his smile disappeared as he snapped his fingers, “Horse handler.”

“So it IS him!”

“It’s the horse handler from all those years ago!”

“I don’t remember him at all.”

“So… those two are… lovers?”

“Partners in crime, you mean!”

“Now, now, folks, no need to panic”, he stood up straight again, “Yes, I might be the horse handler from all those years ago. But I assure you, I’ll lay out the facts just as they were. His Lordship and me, we would have never even managed to – “

“Testify about the events of that night, witness.”

“Eh?!” Holmes fell right down at the floor from the surprise before slowly crawling up to the stand again, just to ask the exact same question, “Eh?!”

“Testify about the night the horse stable burnt down”, van Zieks closed his eyes, “What were you doing at that time?”

Holmes stared a few more seconds. Then he sighed. Then he stood up straight again and smiled directly into the defence’s direction, pointing his index up, “A taste of Sherlock Holmes’ Great Testimony! Coming right up!”

He posed. Naruhodou could feel sweat slowly dripping down his forehead.

 

~Witness Testimony~

 

“As I had mentioned already, two years ago, I was nothing but a poor horse handler that couldn’t even afford trousers long enough to cover my entire legs.”

“That doesn’t mean I would resort to arson to warm myself!” he pointed his index finger up, “On the contrary, I was far off in the woods in an area no one knew about at the moment the stable was cooking up while everyone else was asleep.”

“I was just hanging out in the forest with my buddy His Lordship van Zieks. Doesn’t sound suspicious at all, does it?” he grinned and leaned forward, spreading his arms wide open.

“Once we got back, the fire was too huge to be stopped, and everyone was already outside. Seeing us arriving together… fama volat.

 

(…That testimony… Didn’t help his case at all!)

“Now if you’ll excuse me, the defence needs their legal assistant back”, the great detective mumbled and wanted to go off, but was stopped by the judge’s glare.

“If the defence would be ready to cross-examine the witness… That would be sincerely appreciated.”

(Cross-examine…)

“Cross-examine what, exactly?” Naruhodou scratched the back of his neck and smiled brightly. Van Zieks looked to the floor, “I don’t even have evidence for this…”

“As terrible of a testimony that was – “ Holmes whined a little in the back, “It did nothing more than incriminate him, and me, further. I would like you to shed light on this mouldy situation. If you would please.”

“…Sir!”

 

~Witness Testimony~

 

“As I have mentioned already, I was… nothing but a poor horse handler. Didn’t even have money to cover my legs. That doesn’t mean I would resort to arson to warm myself! On the contrary, I was far off in the woods, in a secluded area no one knew about whilst the stable was slowly cooking up!”

“Hold it!” Naruhodou loudly said, all eyes landing on the small man whose eyes were still darting about nervously, “You say you were in a secluded area… Care to explain what kind of area that was?”

“…Oh”, Holmes whispered, quickly eyeing something behind him, “Just an abandoned little cottage. Nothing out of the ordinary, this place seems to be full of them.”

“And you say that you were away from the fire… while everyone else was asleep.”

“…” Holmes was slowly realizing what the defence had in mind, “…Yes.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of… suspicious?”

“…Not really, no.”

“Mr Holmes!” Naruhodou slammed his hands against the bench, “Everyone else was asleep. You’re saying you were the only one that was missing from the castle at that moment. Alongside His Lordship.”

“The fact that I was away in the woods is not incriminating, dear Mr Naruhodou. In fact”, he looked behind himself again – Naruhodou couldn’t exactly see what he was looking at – before grabbing his pipe again, “It’s solidifying my alibi.”

“Your… alibi?”

“Yes. I was physically away from the moment the fire first started. So it couldn’t possibly be me who started it, could it now?” he burst into loud laughter, pressing his stomach.

Naruhodou cupped his chin.

“So… what you’re saying is… You’ve witnessed the start of the fire?”

“Hoh?” Holmes immediately grew serious again.

“You said… you were physically away from the moment the fire first started. Would that mean you’ve witnessed the start of it spreading?”

“…” Holmes covered his head with his hand, as if holding his hat down, “There was a scent in the air, that night. I had barely noticed it, but… It was coming from the direction of the castle. Later we realized the horse stable was burning… I was the horse handler, and couldn’t even save the stable”, he shrugged, “I really wasn’t fit for that role.”

“Did you try getting there?”

“Oh, yes. But, you see… I… didn’t… exactly… have a horse?” he spread his arms.

“…What?”

“You see”, the judge chimed in, holding his head up proudly and crossing his arms over his broad chest, “the good detective here never learned how to ride one.”

“But, you still got there, right?” Naruhodou slammed at his desk, fervently looking into the prince’s cold blue eyes, “How far is the cottage?”

“A mile and a half” van Zieks answered while looking at a scroll, holding it the furthest he could from himself before placing it back down at the desk, “Which means to get there in time, we had to use a horse. And the horse we used, together, was mine.”

“This… His Lordship can’t be serious!”

“So the rumours…”

“I don’t trust anyone anymore!”

Holmes turned around again, his lip visibly twitching.

(Mr Holmes looks really angry, but… His Lordship van Zieks… Even though he is utterly still, he somehow looks… smug.)

“Order!” van Zieks suddenly shouted, slamming his steel boot to the desk and then slowly taking a chalice of wine into his hand, swirling the contents around as he kept the courtroom waiting, before bringing it to his nose, taking a small whiff and parting from it again, opening his dull eyes and simply letting the glass chalice fall to the floor, shattering the expensive-looking glass into pieces, “Mr Holmes.”

“Y-Yes, Your Lordship?” Holmes’ mood immediately lifted, a lazy smile on his face.

“This testimony of yours is utterly useless.”

“Thanks”, Holmes interjected, earning a quick glare.

“If you would please stop spewing nonsense and just get to the bottom of this charade, it would be very much appreciated.”

“But Your Lordship…” Holmes pointed an index up whilst trying to explain, “Don’t you think they’ve heard enough at this point, eh?”

“I do not think so, in fact.”

“But I – “

“Excuse me?” Naruhodou called, averting their attention from each other, before widely smiling and scratching the back of his neck since both of them were now glaring into his direction, “Um… What does ‘famma whoah-lut mean?”

Holmes’ brows furrowed in confusion, but van Zieks seemed to understand the Japanese boy’s question, “Fama volat. Latin for ‘rumour flies’. An old saying of Virgil’s, a famous Roman Poet.”

“Oh!” Holmes proudly raised an index, a knowing smile on his face, “I was really confused there for a while. At least try to speak Latin, will you?”

“Not everyone knows how to speak Latin, you know…” he mumbled as beads of sweat rolled down his forehead, before he proudly straightened his back again and kept questioning, “What do you mean by – ?”

“Master Naruhodou”, Holmes quietly called, and with how uncharacteristic this was of the detective, the defence attorney immediately stopped speaking. The detective’s eyes were fixated at a spot on his shoes, greyish in colour. His presence was of a completely different character now, stiff and serious. He nervously put a hand to his hair, as if trying to pull down his hat but realizing he didn’t wear one, and just stood there for a while before Naruhodou had to strain his eyes to see the movement of his red lips that simply whispered, “Don’t.”

The courtroom grew silent. The air was so tense Naruhodou had to strain himself to breathe. As he looked to van Zieks though, he saw nothing but a cold-hearted man that stared the detective down – and the young man couldn’t help but to wonder what must have been going on in his head. This trial so far was nothing but a play about something both him and Holmes already knew about – what was he trying to do? Holmes’ motive for being silent was obvious from the moment Naruhodou realized at what – or rather whom – he was glancing at whilst speaking – he was trying to protect His Lordship van Zieks.

“There was a rumour”, van Zieks suddenly proclaimed, making Naruhodou flinch out of his thoughts, “No. There were countless of rumours about a prince and a groom, cooperating to overthrow the king.”

(This sounds… strangely familiar… a prince and a groom…)

“Ah!” Naruhodou exclaimed, earning a confused glance from the judge, “Mr Holmes told me about it before he left…”

“That is because he was the centre of that rumour. The very soul of it”, van Zieks clenched his hand before covering his gold-laced clothing with the teal cloak, closing his eyes, “For prince van Zieks and the groom were alleged lovers.”

“Lovers…?”

(Oh. That’s what Mr Holmes was trying to prevent…)

“Those rumours had started the day the prince started training his horse riding day after day, in contrast to his frequency of training before… Even though the groom had been too busy trying to learn poems by heart to realize that his… attention was required”, Holmes went red in the face, “Since the groom and the prince kept disappearing from time to time, the fire was fed. The rumours spiralled out of proportion once the horse stable was lit on fire. As we were both missing, that is.”

Whispers started coming from every direction once again.

“Since the stable was burnt, it was seen as a threat since the castle was heavily guarded. Not a soul that was not allowed inside of it could take a step into the grass. Trespassing is punishable by death”, he raised his head again and crossed his arms, “Our dear king was quick to silence the rumours… yet they never ceased, and kept existing in the depths of the country’s minds; articles were written, stories were made up… Soon I was unable to visit the town without having to hide myself in the masses”, he pointed at the defence, “They did not stop until the moment my dear brother resorted to disbanding the poor groom!”

The whispers grew louder, but His Lordship seemed to have been ignoring them completely.

(What is… going on here? His Lordship… he is making everything worse!)

“Objection!” Naruhodou yelled, slamming his palms against the desk, silencing a few bumbling gentlemen that were sitting close, “But those are just that – rumours, right? That’s… That’s terrible! To lose a living because of rumours… Mr Holmes!”

Holmes slowly looked at him – his lower lip stained with blood.

“Mr… Holmes…”

“Defence”, the prince called, frowning, “Those rumours… were they true?”

“H-Huh?!” Naruhodou recoiled.

“Were those rumours true, defence?” van Zieks slammed his fist against the desk, “What is your opinion of that?”

“I… uh…” the defence attorney took a step back and straightened again, deeply breathing in and out before looking at his current legal defence, standing completely still and solemn, “The… The defence believes this question cannot be answered by the defence, Your Honour.”

“A valid opinion”, van Zieks slowly bowed, before turning his empty gaze at the detective, “Witness. What is your take on the matter?”

The detective bit on his lower lip once again, closing his eyes tightly, before slowly looking back at the prince whose eyes softened for just a moment before returning to their hard, emotionless state. Sherlock Holmes’ face slowly started to shift, his features accentuating, before a huge grin suddenly appeared on his face, and the crowded throne room was soon filled with loud laughter that reverberated through the area as Holmes writhed in pain, before suddenly stopping and pressing a hand to his head tightly – a headache must have hit him. As soon as he straightened again though, that genuine huge smile was back at his face, his eyes as wondrous and lustrous as always.

“Whilst the trial was unfolding, I kept thinking… what the hell is this man doing?” he laughed again, his laugh accompanied by a few whispers from the back that Naruhodou had the urge to somehow shut up already, “You kept incriminating yourself and me, pulling completely irrelevant information out of me… All of this has no bearing to the case at hand, has it now?”

Van Zieks was silent.

“You sly, sly fox. This trial is not what the audience is here for at all, huh…?”

(That has to be it… This man… He is actually holding a completely different trial!)

Holmes kept looking at the man under heavy eyelids for a while, a sweeter smile creeping to his face every once in a while as he tried to remain serious for a while.

“Have I ever told you that I love you?”

“You haven’t, Mr Holmes”, van Zieks lowly replied, looking straight into the blond’s grinning eyes.

“Well”, Holmes looked to the floor, his eyes shining, “Time and time again you would say it, but I was too confused to ever reply. You only ever know once you realize you miss someone too much… So I can be confident with this one”, he snapped his fingers and looked up again, eyes creased from the soft smile on his face, “I love you.”

Even though the prince’s expression remained the same, his eyes regained the shine Naruhodou saw before they had entered the throne room – and the Japanese boy couldn’t lie – his heart skipped a soft beat at that. And as whispers and shouts continued floating around the room, Holmes continued, “The only part of the rumours you ask about, Mr Naruhodou, is this one. The other part, trying to overthrow the king, is not. We couldn’t have possibly made away in time before people awoke and the fire spread, don’t you think?”

“That’s exactly what I think”, Ryuunosuke said, smiling determinedly.

“I’m sure if you ask around a bit, there will be some individuals who will tell you we arrived once the thing was already gone. One of those tried to feed me a pill and got spit in the face, I should know”, the detective spread his arms wide open, leaning forward with his usual grin, “That shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

(We… didn’t need to know that.)

“His Lordship and my humble self, we had been in an affair for about a year since we had first realized there was something between us. It was hard keeping it secret, though. A member of the royal family was supposed to marry into another royal family, or at least someone with enough power to keep the country prosperous. It is a matter of interest after all, and a rational person knows not to avoid responsibilities…” Holmes put a hand at his hip, “Affairs were pretty common, of course, but we still wished to keep this our secret.”

“To avoid shame, I guess…” Naruhodou said, cupping his chin. He noticed that the whispers had ceased.

“His Lordship had always been pretty busy. Meetings, travels, riding lessons, judging… he was trying his best not to fall behind the king. But this is where the rumour stops – there wasn’t a person whom he cherished more dearly. In the few moments we managed to get together, he’d always speak very highly of him and I’d have to shut him up. Anyway, since he was so busy, we rarely got to meet.”

“That day though…” van Zieks chimed in, looking as emotionless as ever, “For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, I decided against rationale”, he raised his chin proudly, his voice getting louder, “I lied about a meeting being postponed so I could spend a day with Mr Holmes, because we had first held our hands exactly a year before.”

“You… lied?” Holmes asked in the back, but his question got ignored.

“I told my brother I would take my horse on a quick ride around the castle… and I planned on doing just that. Yet once I got to the stable, I overheard a few things. Mr Holmes had a habit of talking to the horses, and that night, his voice sounded especially low. He talked about how it had been a year since he earned a certain scar, and how he felt horrible for feeling enraged because I was never available. I didn’t wish to hear any more of it. I was scared he might say some words my mind would never have been able to forget… That’s when I decided I would not return that night.”

“That’s when you decided to stay in the cottage for the night?”

“That is when I decided to leave once and for all”, van Zieks said, standing up straight, ignoring the incriminating voices, “A decision I wouldn’t have regretted.”

“But there was a fire that night – even his dull nose picked it up”, Holmes interrupted, afraid he’d say yet another thing that would make everyone in the throne room resent him – van Zieks didn’t seem to care at all, “If it weren’t for that… I guess we would have never returned. I guess – I didn’t know about it.”

“I beg for your forgiveness”, van Zieks mumbled, and Sherlock took a few seconds to realize the apology was aimed at him, and not at the angry crowds, “I knew you wouldn’t have agreed to such an outrageous act. I did not even ask for your permission.”

Holmes silently watched him for a while, before putting his pipe back into his mouth and closing his eyes.

“That is all that had transpired that day. I was but a foolish boy dreaming of unrealistic tragedies, and it was a mistake of mine to run off at such a dire hour… If we had stayed, if I hadn’t had taken the groom with me that night, the stable could have been standing to this day, and no one would have to have been robbed of their life. Mr Holmes was not meant for the role of a guardian, I knew that, but he would have protected those people that made their merry way into the wooden stable with his very life, I am sure of that”, he paused, putting a hand against his chest, right over his heart, “I will forever bear the weight of three innocent souls in my heart. I cannot deny the past”, van Zieks looked up again, “Nor can I deny my humanity.”

The courtroom fell silent for a minute, before Holmes started speaking again, “But! Mr Naruhodou!” Holmes exclaimed, pointing his index finger up, “What does this mean, then?”

“Uh… Huh?” the attorney didn’t have time to recollect his thoughts.

“Since we were smooching it up in the back at that time”, he posed, “There must have been someone else to burn the horse stable, right?”

(S…Smooching it up. Thanks for the visual), Naruhodou arched his back as the crowds started arguing between themselves again.

“That is the only logical conclusion”, van Zieks spoke up again, not even giving Naruhodou a chance to say the exact same thing himself, “Yet, there is sufficient lack of evidence and witnesses. This part will prove to be very problematic.”

“I wouldn’t say so”, a voice came from the back, and Naruhodou caught Holmes biting into his pipe yet again before searching the crowd to find the person that had spoken up – and it was none other than the angry-looking Japanese boy who crossed his arms against his chest and proudly raised his head. He spent a few seconds looking at His Lordship, before stepping out of the crowd and bowing deeply, “I have an idea of who it might have been.”

“An idea, you say?” the prince mumbled, sounding unimpressed. Holmes kept nervously biting on his pipe though.

“Not only that”, he straightened again, crossing his arms tightly and narrowing his eyes determinedly, “I have proof.”