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December 1, 2015 5:00 am  #1

Secret Santa Fics 2015

Hey all,

from today on, the Secret Santa fics will be posted under this thread.

Please don't comment  here, the thread is for the fics and the pics alone. Please use our other thread for comments:

Season's Greetings


I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."

December 1, 2015 5:04 am  #2

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

This story is for silverblaze.

God Rest You, Dr. Watson

On the day after Christmas, John sprains his ankle on his way home with the groceries.  How does he deal with an impatient Sherlock who wants him to accompany the detective on a case?  Set on the day after the Christmas party in the second-season episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia.”  One-shot.
Author’s Note: This story was written for the secret Santa fanfiction exchange on the BBC Sherlock fan forum.  My prompts are as follows: Mycroft, Violin, Husky, [/u]Christmas tree[/u], and London.  And/or this object: Christmas tree on Times Square.  Merry Christmas, silverblaze!  This story is for you.  And thanks to ukaunz on the forum, for beta-reading my story!


John carried two bulging grocery bags as he walked down the sidewalk toward Baker Street, one bag in each hand by its handle.  It was the day after Christmas, and he had just bought the next week’s groceries at Tesco.  The sun blazed overhead in the cloudless sky, and yet he shivered as the chill wind seemed to blow through his black jacket.
Suddenly, John stepped into a hollow in the ground.  Pain surged through his right outer ankle as he fell.  “Humph!” he grunted, upon landing face-first on the dead grass.  The grocery bags landed on the ground beside him.  Fortunately, none of their contents rolled out.
Cursing, John managed to hobble to his feet.  Bending over, he picked up the grocery bags, checked to make sure that their contents were intact, and then slowly limped down the street, gritting his teeth.  His ankle throbbed with every step.  ]I’m going to have to tend it when I get home, he thought.  I could sure use a cab now!
As John came to an intersection two blocks down, a sleek black car pulled up next to him.  Mycroft was in the front passenger seat next to the chauffeur, immaculately dressed as always.  “It looks as if you need a ride, John,” Mycroft said.  “Come in and I’ll take you to the A&E, to have your ankle examined.”
Nodding, John transferred one of the bags to his right hand; with his left, he opened the back door and climbed inside.  The cushioned black passenger seat sank underneath his weight as he sat down.  Wincing, the retired army doctor set his injured foot on the car floor and the grocery bags on the seat next to him.
“How did you know I sprained my ankle?” he asked.  “And how did you arrive so quickly?”
Mycroft chuckled.  “It wasn’t difficult,” he said.  “I just happened to be out on an errand not far from here when Anthea called me.  She was watching you on a security camera, and she saw you fall when you stepped in that hollow in the ground.”
John nodded.  “Of course,” he said.  “I should have realized.”  With a sigh, he leaned against the soft, leather-covered seat.  The warm air coming from the heater felt good on his skin.  It’s a good thing I didn’t buy any perishables this time, he thought, glancing down at his grocery bags.  I would hate to have bought anything that’s going to spoil while I’m having my ankle examined.
They stopped at a nearby hospital, where Mycroft helped John into the A&E.  There, following a short wait, a doctor ordered John’s ankle X-rayed, after which he diagnosed the injury as a mild sprain and wrapped it in an Ace bandage.  “Stay off of it as much as possible, Dr. Watson,” he ordered.  “And keep an ice pack on it for an hour when you get home.”  John nodded.
Mycroft took the retired army doctor home.  On the way, John’s mobile phone beeped.  Realizing that he had a text, he pulled it out of his jeans pocket, and pushed the button.  Got a case, read the message.  Come home at once.  SH
Shaking his head, John slipped the phone back into his pocket.  “Message from Sherlock?” Mycroft asked.
“Yes,” John said.  “He’s got a new case, and he wants me to come home immediately.”  He grimaced.  “Only thing is, I can’t go out to help him investigate it.  He’s going to be put out when he learns of this.”
The driver parked the car in front of 221B Baker St., and John and Mycroft climbed out.  John inserted the key into the lock and opened the door.  Mycroft extended his right arm and wrapped it around John, who wrapped his left arm around Mycroft’s chest and clutched the grocery bags’ handles with his other hand.  Mycroft helped the injured man up the stairs, and then he dropped his arm to his side when they reached the landing where John and Sherlock’s flat was.
As they entered the flat, Sherlock frowned at Mycroft.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.
With an amused smile, Mycroft shook his head.  “Offering John a lift, of course,” he said.  “He hurt himself on the way back from the shop.”  He turned to the doctor.  “I’ll take these to the kitchen so you can sit down.”
With a grateful smile, John handed Mycroft the grocery bags, and the unofficial British government carried them into the kitchen and left them on the wooden table.  As he removed his jacket and draped it over his armchair, John glanced at the Christmas decorations, which had been set up a few days before for the previous evening’s Christmas party.  They sparkled in the sunlight pouring in through the living room windows.
Sherlock glared at John.  “What do you mean, you hurt yourself?” he demanded.
“Just what he said,” John said.  “I stepped in a hollow and twisted my ankle.  Fortunately, it’s only a mild sprain, but I’m afraid I won’t be much help to you for a few days.  Right now, I’m under doctor’s orders to put some ice on it.”  He gazed at Sherlock quizzically.  “Why, is it an important case?”
“It certainly is,” Sherlock snapped.  “A Siberian husky has been stolen, and I have been asked to go find it.  I was hoping that you could help me.”
John shrugged.  “Well, Sherlock, any help I can give you, I’ll have to give you here.  I cannot go out with you to search for clues until my ankle is well.”
Sherlock huffed.  “Did you have to get yourself hurt today, of all days?  I need you to go with me!”
“Well, I can’t!” John snapped.  “I’ve got to rest my ankle, so you’ll just have to go by yourself this time.  But if there’s any way I can help you from here in the flat, I will.”
He paused.  “Why don’t you take me to see the dog when you’ve solved the case and my ankle is well?  I should like to see it, even though I can’t go help you find it.”
With a sigh, Sherlock nodded his reluctant agreement.  “All right.  I’ll take you to see the dog when it’s found, and your ankle is well.  I may need your help when I return, so be ready.”
John inclined his head.  “All right.  Just let me know when.”
Mycroft pulled out his pocket watch and glanced at it.  “Well, I’ve got to get back to work, so I must leave now.  Good-bye, John, Sherlock.”
“Good-bye, Mycroft, and thanks for the lift,” John said.
“You’re welcome, John.”  Mycroft left the flat.
Sherlock sighed again.  “I’ll be back later, John.”  Grabbing his coal-black Belstaff coat, Sherlock put it on, wrapped his blue woollen scarf around his neck, and hurried out the entrance door.
After John had put away his purchases, he pulled a dish towel out of one of the kitchen drawers and wrapped some ice in it.  He got a metal pan out of the cabinet and a frigid can of fizzy drink from the refrigerator.  With the pan, ice, and fizzy drink in hand, the doctor limped back into the living room, where he sank down onto the sofa’s soft cushion, set the pan on the floor, stuck his injured foot within it, and then wrapped the ice halfway around his foot.  The dish towel packed around the ice felt numbing against his injured ankle.
When I take off the ice, I’ll make myself some tea, John thought, as he leaned back and laid his hands in his lap.  I’ll have to get a cushion for my foot when I do, so I can rest it on the coffee table.  If Sherlock needs me to conduct any research regarding the missing Siberian husky when he comes back, I’ll have to do it from this couch.
For a long moment, John sat admiring the Christmas decorations, taking sips from his ice-cold fizzy drink, and thinking about the night before.  He remembered the guests who had come to the Christmas party: Detective-Inspector Gregory Lestrade, Molly Hooper, Mrs. Hudson, and John’s current girlfriend, Jeanette.  He sobered as he remembered Sherlock finding Irene Adler’s camera phone on the fireplace mantel, wrapped in bright-red paper and tied with a black cord, during the party, and how John had searched the flat for drugs soon afterward, while Sherlock and Mycroft had gone to Barts to identify Irene’s body, since the previous night had been one of Sherlock’s possible danger nights.
Reaching for the television remote, John switched on the telly.  The news was on, and the anchor-man was talking about the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Centre, across the ocean in New York City.  The video camera showed a group of warmly-clad people skating in the ice rink below the tree.  Well, New York City has a lovely Christmas tree, but there’s nothing like a Christmas celebration here in London, he thought.  Smiling, John gazed at that Christmas scene and listened to the news commentary until he fell asleep.
A slamming of the entrance door startled him awake.  He shot up to see Sherlock striding into the living room.  “Sherlock!  What is it?  Do you need me to help you do some research to find that dog?”  As John spoke, he noticed that it had turned dark outside.  Grabbing the remote, he switched the telly off.
“No, no need for research; I’ve solved the case.  The husky has been found.”  Sherlock smiled broadly.  “As soon as your ankle is well, I’ll take you to see it.”
“Great!”  Beaming, John leaned back against the sofa.  “I’ll look forward to seeing it.”
Grinning at him, Sherlock removed his coat and hung it on a nail.  “Uh, Sherlock, if you’re going to the kitchen, would you return these for me?”  John handed him the chilly metal pan, which was now partly filled with cold water and a soaked hand towel, as well as the empty fizzy-drink can.
Nodding, Sherlock took the pan and the can.  “I’ll get you a cushion for your foot in a minute.”  He then pranced to the kitchen to get drinks for both of them; en-route, he paused to rub his fingers over his violin.  John smiled as he reclined against the back of the sofa.  It wasn’t at all difficult to surmise that Sherlock was going to play some music when he had gotten their drinks and John’s cushion.

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 2, 2015 4:47 am  #3

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

So, how do you feel about some Tunalock just for fun?

John could not believe his luck. When he had returned from the Seaweed Wars he had been a cripple, one pectoral fin paralysed after having been wounded by a poisonous stingray. The doctor fish had told him that the wound had healed, that there was no logical explanation for the paralysis and that it was probably all just “in the mind“.

He tried to make himself useful, taking on simple cases instead of difficult operations, but he still felt like an outcast in the coral reef community.

That is until the day he met Sherlock Holmes, a beautiful slender tuna with a blue scarf who managed to solve the suspicious death of a damselfish.

“Of course he was murdered,“ said the beautiful slender tuna in an arrogant voice. “Can’t you see the marks on his body? Do keep up … what’s your name by the way?"

“John. John Watson."

“Seaweed or Ocean Abyss?"

“Sorry, what?"

“You’ve been to war. You’re a doctor but your posture says soldier. There have been only two wars recently. So which one was it?"


“Any good as a doctor?"

“Very good."

“I could use an assistant from time to time. And a flatmate. I have a nice cave just around the reef. I am not very talkative at times and I do scientific experiments on dead fish and crustaceans. What do you say?"

John was speechless.

“Fine. So let’s meet there tomorrow."

“Where? And who are you?“ stammered John.

“The name’s Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221 Blue Cave."

“How often do I have to tell you that caring is not an advantage?“ Mycroft waved four of his eight tentacles in a forbidding manner.

Sherlock pressed his fins to his sides, looking defiantly at his brother, his blue scarf gently streaming in the water.

Small fish kept swimming around the octopus and looking anxiously towards him, always at his command.

“Who is this dolphin anyway?“ demanded Mycroft arrogantly. “I thought goldfish were bad enough but now you are swimming around with a dolphin? Even worse, sharing a cave? They are not even fish!"

“He's a very brave and well-educated dolphin,“ countered Sherlock. “He has fought in the Seaweed Wars and is now working as a healer to other creatures of the sea."

“But you are a consulting detective, the only one in the ocean,“ said Mycroft with an arrogant nod of his head. “You can’t afford an attachment. It will make you vulnerable."

“Who’s talking about attachments?" scoffed Sherlock. “We’re friends, he helps me occasionally to solve a case. He even wrote about the Jellyfish Conspiracy for the Pacific News."

“Well. Think about it“, said Mycroft in his usual haughty manner and disappeared into the coral reef, followed by his little minions.

Moriarty had his teeth sunk into the dolphin’s neck without killing him but Sherlock could see red clouds billowing in the water around John and his adversary.

He tried to repress thoughts of Mycroft and his warnings, desperately searching for an answer. What was Moriarty’s plan? To rule the community. To become the dictator oppressing all other fish and casting his net of terror over the reef. To make them all dance to his cruel tune.

“Now, Sherlock,“ Moriarty said in his singsong voice. “It’s all very simple. I really wonder why you don’t realise what it is I want from you."

Think, he told himself.

“Now, just look at poor John. So afraid. Not a soldier anymore, huh? Not even a doctor, just a weak little dolphin quaking with fear.“ Moriarty stretched the fin he did not use to hold John. “Now look around you. What is it you see, Sherlock?"

The water had turned opaque. Black clouds seemed to be billowing in the sea, and Sherlock’s heart turned cold. A black smoker, he thought, a sort of chimney in the ground of the ocean from which erupted hot water, filled with minerals and bacteria. He had experimented on samples once. But what good did it do him now?

“I want you to swim down, deeper and deeper into the black void until nothing remains of you,“ said Moriarty casually as if he was talking about sunlight dappling the surface of the ocean.

"What if I say no?"

“Then I will kill your little dolphin and send him into the deep. While you are watching."

“And why should that affect me?"

“Because he’s your friend."

“I don’t have friends."

Moriarty laughed his high-pitched laugh. “We both know that’s not quite true, Sherlock."

Sherlock looked at John who kept his face adverted. He could not see his friend’s reaction, how badly he was hurt, how afraid.

“So you promise to let John live if I go down there?“ He pointed a fin towards the black smoker.

“Cross my heart and hope to die."

“Good to know you have one after all, Moriarty!“

Whose voice was that?

Then everything seemed to happen all at once. Clouds of red churning water, slapping fins creating a turmoil.

“John? Where are you, John?“ cried Sherlock desperately.

So much blood - was it John’s? It had to be, he had been hurt already and now … no, this could not be, he would not allow it …

And then, suddenly, a body drifted heavily towards the black smoker, twitching weakly, revolving around itself, being pulled deeper and deeper and then it was gone.


Before he could move towards the black abyss, someone gripped his left fin and jerked him back.

“Are you mad, Sherlock? I’m here. Everything’s fine."

Incredulously he turned around and there was John. The dolphin’s neck was bleeding but his face was radiant. In his other fin he triumphantly held a sharp splinter of a seashell.

“I use them at work every day,“ he shrugged. „He didn’t expect me to be armed. Which, strictly, I am not."

Sherlock could not speak but he felt the dolphin’s fin closing around his own. A touch to his face, very gentle. And then a soft voice. “Let’s go home."


I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 3, 2015 5:07 am  #4

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

This fic is for Whisky.

The prompt was as follows :
"Outdoor experience (mountains, backpacks and sleeping in tents optional^^), Christmas in a snowstorm, cold feet and snuggling"

And those were the desired features : humour, deductions, cases, Johnlock, Mrs. Hudson, Molly/Lestrade, romance, friendship, teenlock, fluffy stuff, AU

It was tough to come up with ideas but I do hope that you will like the fic. It was definitely interesting to explore! I certainly hope I was able to deliver well enough to meet with the request and that you will find it satisfactory!

Your author

A Singular Gentleman

“Mr. Holmes, it’s time to get social,” said Mrs. Hudson behind the ajar bedroom door.


She crossed her arms.

“I don’t think that your classmate, whatever his name may be, would find it as boring as you seem to do.”

A shuffling of sheets, noises of fumbling with clothes and he appeared in front of Mrs. Hudson.

“Oh, you’re up! And decent. That’s nice, I’m sure your friend will appreciate it.”

“I don’t have friends

“As you say. Still, you’d better have a nice, hearty breakfast before going out and meeting your non-friend.”

He shot her a glare then walked back to his bedroom where he looked through the window.

“I will need energy,” he said after a fashion.

“That’s what a hearty breakfast is for” she replied in a soft voice before leaving him to his thoughts for a few moments more.

“Mr. Holmes!” she called him out again. “Come down!”

Sometimes, his behaviour was such that Mrs. Hudson could feel like a parent dealing with a teenager.

However, as a distant family relation had informed her, she was nothing more than the Holmes’ housekeeper, although this insensitive rebuke did not prevent her from feeling as close to Sherlock as a doting aunt.

What prevented her from showing it was propriety as well as her awareness of how he felt on the matter.

Mrs. Hudson was about to walk back upstairs and insist he went down and took his breakfast when she heard Lady Siger Holmes greet her son. Soon after that, he appeared in the dining room, a frown on his face.

“The play has been cancelled” he said before drifting off back to his thoughts.

Mrs. Hudson immediately put a stop to her agitated work and came to him, a cup of hot, steaming tea in her hands. He took it absent-mindedly. Mrs. Hudson, who knew the young man since he was a child, didn’t wait for him to thank her and went back to preparing him a plate for his breakfast.

Either that piece of news would throw him into a gloomy and lethargic mood, or it would affect him for a few moments before he found an alternative.

Mere moments later, his body became a mirror of his racing thoughts, agitated. He began to pace around the room, twisting his wrists and intertwining his fingers before steepling them under his chin.

“I know!” he exclaimed. “Mrs. Hudson, Mr. Watson will indeed come to the house this afternoon, we will go horse-riding instead of going to the theatre, since the play has been cancelled ”, he added under his breath, with no small amount of exasperation.

“Mr. Holmes, that's a nice idea...but why not simply go see another play...?” she asked unaware of his imminent bout of anger.

“Mrs. Hudson, have you any idea how many good plays are being performed at the moment?” he exclaimed with derision, the implied answer being similar to “ludicrously few.”

“What about going somewhere else?” she asked, unwilling to let the matter go.

“Inasmuch as I would not be averse to going to less pleasant parts of town, I do not think Mr. Watson would be of the same inclination. Mycroft would never let the matter rest” he added resentfully.

Mrs. Hudson could not deny the veracity of the point raised by Sherlock -Mycroft Holmes did take decorum extremely seriously, and venturing into "the other world" as he called it was unarguably against it. Unlike so many other servants, she was aware that, although the landed gentry had more privileges than the commoners, the rules they had to follow could be considered as constraints.

“It's a shame. You should ask Mr. Watson if he would consider it. Where will you be going, then?" she asked, making conversation despite it being inappropriate.

“I have no idea. I thought that we could ride through the estate, nothing too exerting." Holmes replied, with no concern for the rules of propriety.


Sherlock was engrossed in his violin playing so much that he did not hear Mrs. Hudson announcing Mr. Watson, nor did he notice her presence before he had finished playing.

“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t play for hours, this time.”

“Mrs. Hudson?”

“As I was saying, Mr. John Watson is calling.”


He blinked.

“Do let him in, Mrs. Hudson.”

She retreated from the room. A moment later, she came back, guiding Mr. Watson in.

“Mr. John Watson.” She said before retiring.

“Mr. Holmes, how do you do?”

Sherlock, please.” He dismissed Watson’s salutation, uncaring that he had broken yet another rule and if, by doing so, disturbed his guest who let out a small sigh.

When Watson didn’t make any move towards a seat, he remembered that his disposition was not the same as his as regards propriety. Had the situation been reversed, he would not have thought much of it, nor would he have cared standing up. However, he was very well aware that John Watson would.

“Mr. Watson, thank you for calling. Pray, take a seat.”

Watson’s eyes kindled as he registered that Holmes would make an effort as to observe decorum, albeit slightly and in an awkward manner. He smiled discreetly in order to encourage his host in cultivating this behaviour.

“Thank you,” he added for good measure as he settled onto the sofa, tensing as he anticipated the silence that would undoubtedly come while Holmes registered that it was not the guest’s role to engage conversation.

“The play we were to go to has been cancelled,” Holmes said without preamble.

“Oh.” In any other situation, John Watson would consider this a dismissal. However, as he had been acquainted with Sherlock Holmes for a few months, he was aware that this sentence was not to be understood as something other than the facts. He waited for Holmes to continue.

“I thought we could go riding on the estate, if you are not opposed to it.”

“Not at all. I would say it is a splendid idea, especially if today’s nice, warm weather is to be taken into account.”

“It is settled, then.”

“Indeed, it is.”

Holmes rang for Billy, his own personal valet, to have Watson’s and his horse prepared for a ride.


Although Billy had both horses ready within fifteen minutes of receiving the order, Holmes did not see fit to change clothes. However, he slightly amended his position when Watson remarked that riding should be done wearing boots, unless he wanted to ruin the fine new shoes his mother had bought him in London.

The two young men were riding at a leisurely pace. Watson was enjoying the silent companionship of his host who appeared to be deep in thought, as he was wont to.

“Why should you be ashamed of your family?” said Holmes.

Watson was befuddled at his comrade’s impertinence. He was about to turn his horse around when Holmes continued.

“You are exceedingly gentleman-like, very observant of the rules of conduct society has imposed on you, so much so that you have taken upon yourself to educate me as regards these matters –regardless that they have already been taught to me.”

“Mr. Hol… - “

“Your general conduct indicates that you come from a well-bred circle. However, your attitude towards me betokens…”

“Mr. Holmes, please.”

“…that your family lacks in manners and that…”


“…you are attempting to compensate for their flaws in making me, a proven example of disregard for decorum and propriety, closer to what others would call a ‘proper gentleman.’”

“Sherlock! This is the precise reason why I do not want us to ride on my family’s estate. Should we cross their path…I have grown to tolerate your ill-fitted behaviour and uncouth remarks provided you make efforts to diminish them. But I cannot continue being acquainted with such a boorish character. I demand immediate and sincere apologies.”

Holmes looked at Watson as if he just realised he were next to him and that, furthermore, his whole thought process had not been as internal as he had thought.

“I…” Holmes tried to answer with a witty remark, but all his words were lost when he saw the profound hurt written across Watson’s crumpled face. He was aware that his every move, the very construction of his apology down to his every word would not only have an impact on how this instant would unfold, but also weight in John’s decision to continue their comradeship and register in his memory as a crucial moment in his life.

“I…profoundly apologise…The words I have uttered have escaped my thoughts…”

“I rather think these were your thoughts,” mumbled Watson.

“Nothing could have been further from my intentions to…offend you, as you are the most…caring, considerate, sensitive gentleman, and the only person patient enough to go through the exertion of making me a better individual.”

Watson did not reply.

“I sincerely hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me…”

“I will keep you informed of the result of my deliberations as to that particular topic.” He replied, still obviously distressed and furious, but evidently attempting to conceal his inner feelings, which his companion would have taken note of under any other circumstance.

However, he was in such a state that everything but guilt and terror were at the forefront of his mind, and that the most evident signs escaped his notice.

“I will take my leave, now, Mr. Holmes.” he continued in the most collected manner he was capable of. “Good day.”

Thunderstruck by his companion’s abrupt departure, he stayed ahorse, unable to make even the slightest movement, apart from following the sight of Watson’s retreating figure.


“Dear Lord! Mr. Holmes, what happened, you look positively downhearted?” Mrs. Hudson exclaimed as Holmes came back inside a few hours later, retreating into his rooms without uttering a single word.

He was yet again lost in his own brain, but she glimpsed the appearance of a defeated soul. If she were asked, she would say that he had lived through a hurtful emotional moment earlier in the day.

Holmes would obviously deny any thing of the kind and, although she felt closer to him than was her place, she denied herself to intrude upon his evident distress.

No sound came from the upper floor, not even the cries of his violin on which he used to play whenever he was thinking.

She couldn’t help but wonder what had transpired during the afternoon for him to be in such a sombre, melancholic mood.

It was fortunate that his mother had not decided to entertain in the evening, for Sherlock Holmes, never one for the company of others, would be even less so in such circumstances –whatever they may be.

When night fell she decided that it was time for him to have some company and went up to visit him, with a cup of tea as was her habit under troubled times. Softly she knocked on his bedroom door before letting herself in to meet with the sight of the young man deep in sleep, ink tainting his fingers and surrounded by numerous crumpled papers. It could not be sheet music for the paper was plain and Sherlock’s violin was still resting in its case. Her curiosity was stronger than any sense of reason and after setting the cup of tea on a bedside table, she took one.

“[del]Mr. John Watson[/del] [del] John[/del] Mr. Watson,” it read, “I am writing to express my most sincere apologies in regard to my insensitive words…” The rest of the letter was illegible, most of it crossed out and covered with ink stains. She took another which was similar in both tone and meaning but lacking in authenticity. One did not need to be a genius to understand the general situation in which Holmes was.

As evidenced by the papers on the floor, he did not have the slightest idea of how to write a proper and heartfelt letter of apology. She resolved that she would assist him in giving him the elementary basis he obviously lacked.


Lady Siger Holmes was renowned for the quality of her entertaining parties which were filled with interesting conversation on topics as varied as politics, philosophy and arts.

Her two sons were regularly obliged to partake in them whether it suited their inclination or not, which was not appreciated by the younger of them, Sherlock, for he abhorred being in the company of the people his mother invited and, as a teenager, made it very clear to both the hostess and her guests.

The elder Holmes son, Mycroft, seven years older than his sibling, Sherlock, had learnt to take it upon himself and would often remind his younger brother that it was mandatory for him to both attend and be civil during such parties.

“Come, brother dear, we have to attend tonight’s party.”

“And meet other people whose opinions are as inane as their lives are vacuous.” Sherlock completed. “I will have to decline,” he said in a mock disappointed manner.

“It is our duty to suffer through it.”

He made no indication he was about to follow suit and retained the sullen air he had adopted since his mother informed both his brother and him of the party.

“Mama will not tolerate your excusing yourself out of it by claiming to be unwell as you did last time,” said Mycroft sternly. Although he had grown out of his emotions dictating his behaviour early, he still felt a sense of jealousy towards his brother at having been able to accomplish such a feat –their mother having the rather unnerving habit of knowing when something was amiss and someone acting.

“I was sick. I still am,” he retorted. “She may very well come and check whether it is true, but she will find me unchanged.”

To his credit, Sherlock had seemingly been going through a difficult time, exhibiting a constantly gloomy mood as opposed to the rapidly changing ones he usually showed, as any other adolescent young man would.

“However admiring I am of your acting skills, Sherlock, I have to insist you stop this to resume your role as a member of our prominent family and assume your societal duties,” Mycroft countered, emphasising on “prominent”.

“Duties.” Sherlock all but snarled. “Why should I care about [/i]duties[/i]!” he griped and then proceeded to drape himself in his dressing-gown. Mycroft rolled his eyes and let out a sigh, pretending to be defeated.

“You would do well to remember that a behaviour which was tolerable in a six year-old child is not as well accepted in a fourteen year-old gentleman, brother dear. I will inform Mama of your unwillingness to comply this once as well. Do not be surprised, however, if she unleashes the guardians of Hell upon you.”

“Threat is not befitting of a gentleman, my Lord,” Mrs. Hudson observed.

“Mrs. Hudson. Why did you not knock? It is most impolite and improper to enter unannounced in a member of the family’s room. Not to mention correcting them on what is ‘befitting of a gentleman’ and what is not.”

“Apologies, my Lord. I did knock, although it was perhaps too discreet.”

“Assuredly. Well. Why have you come?”

“Oh, yes. Of course,” she said, producing what seemed to be a letter from behind her back, “I have a note for Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock’s head made a swift movement, reading her as openly as he had not done before. He leapt out at her and all but tore the note in his eagerness to read it.

Mycroft arched his eyebrow. This development was interesting. Perhaps his brother had been sick after all.

“I will leave you to read it, Mr. Holmes, my Lord” said Mrs. Hudson, taking her leave, an undisguised smile on her face.

“After that effusive display of emotion, which contradicts your state of illness, I imagine you will reconsider your opinion on attending Mama’s entertaining party, brother dear. I will leave you to your…correspondence.” Mycroft excused himself out of his brother’s company while the latter ignored him superbly, as intent as he was on getting the note out of its envelope.

Not ten minutes had passed when the younger of the Holmes brother appeared in the drawing room, cheeks red and eyes shining bright as if life had been breathed back into him. However much he would try to conceal or deny it, he was happy and his upturned lips were the most obvious evidence of it.

“Ah, brother dear, it is so good of you to come down. I gather that you are feeling better.”

“Obviously,” he replied.

“I am delighted to see that you are faring better, Sherlock,” said Lady Siger Holmes. “I should nonetheless remind you that you will need to change into proper clothing before our guests arrive.”

“I will, Mama. I had just come down to take a book from the library.”

“Are you thinking on entertaining our guests with something else than your customary pleasing mood?” asked his brother, a mocking tone in his voice.

“If you must know, I was thinking of preserving them from your dreary conversation,” retorted Sherlock.

“Settle down, the two of you. You know very well it is not a way to behave,” she reprimanded her sons who did not appear in the least contrite.

“Apologies, Mama, Sherlock” said Mycroft.

“Apologies, Mama, Mycroft” answered Sherlock begrudgingly. “I will go into the library, then back to my rooms to change. I will see you at dinner.”


Contrary to his usage, Holmes was in the drawing room, waiting for the guests to arrive, a mask of feigned nonchalance upon his face.

He was seated on a lone, comfortable armchair with its back on the fireplace, surveying the room as the visitors filled it.

The night’s party was not exceedingly large and he did manage to recognise most of them. However, as he did not concern himself with trivialities, he was not inclined for idle conversation and, however hard he would try, did not understand its value.

His opinion on idle conversation suddenly changed as he saw Mr. John Watson in an animated conversation with Miss Hooper.

“Miss Hooper, how do you do? It is very good of you to pay us a visit.” Holmes intruded on the conversation in an airy manner. He chanced a glance to Watson but could see no evidence of an interest in the lady – which was very convenient, because he was certain that Watson would object loudly to his voicing his displeasure in taking interest in another human being than himself. As the relations between the two young men were fragile at best, Holmes had no intention of angering Watson more than he already had. Nor had he any intention of trying to assert by mere observation the state of their relationship –or lack of relationship thereof.

“Oh. Mr. Holmes, it is my pleasure, really!” exclaimed Miss Hooper, who seemed pleased beyond measure at being addressed to by Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who had a reputation for being extremely unsociable and whose manners in polite society were not commendable. “What a fine house you live in!”

“Thank you. My mother does have excellent taste, does she not, Mr. Watson?” The young Mr. Watson locked eyes with him and in doing so acknowledged the silent salutation he had given him.

“Yes, indeed, Mr. Holmes. Has she made any new purchase since I saw you last?”

“Oh, you know each other!”

“Yes, we do.”

“Yes, quite obviously.” The two young men could not have answered in two more different ways, Holmes in a bored tone in which he could not conceal a note of pride, Watson with something akin to regret. Miss Hooper sensed that she had had hit a sore subject –although she could fathom no reason which could justify such different reactions- and turned the discussion to another matter.

“As I was telling Mr. Watson here, Mr. Holmes, there is an ulterior motive as to my visit to your family estate this evening.”

“Is there?”

“I shall leave you to discuss it,” said Watson in obvious awkwardness.

“No, wait, Mr. Watson!” exclaimed Miss Hooper. “It is very likely that you could help me as well,” she added with such vivacity that Watson had barely had time to retreat a step backwards.

“I really cannot imagine how I could ever be of assistance.” He protested, faint anguish at the edge of his voice.

“Pray, remain, Mr. Watson. Surely you would not refuse your help,” Holmes said matter-of-factly. However, he was deeply aware of the fact that Watson would understand the double meaning to his words. Whether he would act on it remained to be seen.

“Indeed, Mr. Holmes, it is a trait I shall endeavour to maintain.” He said in agreeable manner, visibly enjoying Holmes’ attention to him.

“Miss Hooper, you were, I believe, speaking of an ulterior motive to your visit?”

“Yes, I was,” she answered in a soft voice, her eyes darting around the room as if she expected someone to listen on her.

“Miss Hooper,” Holmes interrupted, maybe you would wish to withdraw to have this conversation?”

“Quite right, Holmes.” Watson murmured at the same instant Miss Hooper replied “Oh, yes. That would be most convenient,” she confirmed, smiling in appreciation to his consideration.

“This way, Miss Hooper,” said he as he indicated the way to the library.

“I’ve recently received a note,” she said in a low voice when they were in the library, “and it said that I should be attentive to my jewels.”

“Presumably you want to be reassured, then,” declared Holmes. “May I see the note?”


Holmes stared intently at her with an air of foreknowledge. Watson simply stood by his host, waiting and, if his stance was of any indication, still wondering why he had joined Holmes and what use he could be of until realisation dawned on him.

“It is most natural, Miss Hooper, to want to conceal this paper. However, you must rest assured that Mr. Holmes, as well as I, will keep its secrecy from any other party.”

“Thank you, gentlemen,” she replied, beaming. “You must excuse the foolishness of a young woman, a sudden fear –“

“There is nothing uncommon –“ Holmes started, before Watson abruptly cut him short.

“As I’ve previously told you, your behaviour is quite natural. You could not have asked advice to more discreet a person than Mr. Holmes if you wished to keep the note from anyone,” he said pleasantly, daring to approach her more closely.

“May I see the note?” Holmes enquired, extending his hand.

After a few moments of hesitation, Miss Hooper delicately put the paper into his care.

He examined it closely, after having quickly inhaled the scents which covered it.

“This note should not give you any cause for worry,” he said as he gave her the letter back.

“I’m relieved you think so...Nonetheless, may I ask what you could use to support your conclusion, Mr. Holmes?”

“Observe, Miss Hooper, the paper on which the note has been written. It is not of the best quality –in fact, it is a very common type of paper. Yet, there is neatness in the way it is written, which indicates that the person who wrote this wanted to make an agreeable impression upon you. This has obviously been written by a man.”

“I am sorry, I don’t understand.”

“A man would be more inclined to try to please a member of the gentler sex, Miss Hooper,” explained Watson.

“There is no trace of any fragrance or perfume a woman would wear, as it undoubtedly would have transferred from the writer to the paper. I understand that the wording of the note itself could alarm you – and yet, the intention is commendable, as it is evident that they meant to warn you –”

“Warn me, Mr. Holmes?”

Holmes sighed inwardly, looking for strength in himself for he did not appreciate explaining his reasoning while he was delivering it.

“There is talk of a thief on the loose among the informed,” answered Holmes. “Presumably he thinks you would make an appealing victim –”

He glanced at Watson in order to verify that he had not inadvertently said something which could be received badly. As he saw Watson give him the slightest of nods, he continued, “ –and wanted to assert his good intentions in having this delivered to you, neatly folded, in an envelope, which I assume bore the same traces of respect as this.”

Miss Hooper was beaming with joy. “Mr. Holmes, I don’t know how I could thank you enough.”

“He was not finished, Miss Hooper,” indicated Watson who had noticed Holmes’ intake of breath.

“Were you not?”

“Indeed, I was not. I have yet to tell you the identity of the person behind that note.”

“Oh, Mr. Holmes! Surely you could...”

“He is certainly capable of telling you” Watson quickly said, so as to prevent Miss Hooper to provoke Holmes into his bad character, which he was trying to tame with apparent easiness, “and I don’t doubt that he is also capable of discovering the identity of your secret admirer,” added Watson, a small smile starting to show on his face.

“Assuredly,” he answered in a warm tone to show his gratitude at the compliment Watson had just paid him. “This man has access to an extremely common type of paper which indicates that he does not belong to the class of the peerage. To this we may add that he did not sign the paper, suggesting a class difference too important to be ignored – another member of the refined society would have given his name. However, this person is educated enough to write a note in neat handwriting. It is not a ludicrous assumption to say his profession involves writing. This is all indicating of a learned working-man with a sense of duty and respect for the softer sex. He tells you to be “attentive to your jewels” which suggests that he is aware of the criminal activity in the city. We can in all probability deduce that this man is a member of the police force.”

“Incredible!” remarked Watson with pride and awe.

“It would be helpful to know his exact position in the hierarchy so as to precisely determine his identity and his character, but the mere fact that he knows about the criminal situation – which is not common knowledge unless a particularly nefarious event happens– implies that he holds a position of at least some responsibility in his workplace.”

“Mr. Holmes, that is most enlightening. Would you –“

“Yes, I would, Miss Hooper.”

“This is assuredly the best news of the evening. How can I thank you?”

“He will let you know when he has determined the gentleman’s name, Miss Hooper,” Watson replied, lending her his arm. “Shall we return to the drawing room?”

“Yes. Someone should be playing some music by now, and it would be indelicate to miss it,” she replied as she accepted Watson’s arm.

“Your chaperone must be wondering where you are, as well.”

“I still wonder how it was possible to escape her vigilance…”

“It may have escaped your notice, Miss Hooper – “

“Mr. Holmes, are you coming with us?” asked Watson with a pointed look, and loud enough to cover Holmes’ prideful and snide explanation.

“Naturally, Mr. Watson. Lead the way.” He answered with a beckoning gesture. And I am more than happy to do so, he added in the privacy of his thoughts.


It seemed no one had noticed the three young people had vanished into another room as not one person remarked on their return – Mycroft Holmes excluded, who greeted the reappearance of his brother with a slight rise of the eyebrow, signalling him with the impropriety of his, Mr. Watson and Miss Hooper’s conduct. However, as he appeared to be the only one to have noticed their absence, he did not observe on it and merely continued conversing with a high ranking member of the peerage whose importance was evident to anyone who cared to observe. The younger Holmes deduced the man to hold a paramount position in politics –otherwise the probability of his brother to be so sycophantic would be nil – and did not seem to consider obsequiousness to be a flaw –if he had even noticed Lord Mycroft Holmes’ behaviour – for he did not appear to want the conversation to end, so engrossed he was in it. A fast survey of the peers and their field of expertise brought him to deduce that he was talking with Lord Carew Adonis, whose name was murmured to be that of the next Home Secretary.

Mycroft Holmes was an ambitious man, blessed with innate understanding of politics and human relations: it would be a crime not to make the most of it. However, Sherlock Holmes considered politics not only to be inane and manipulative but also vile lies, and as a result associated those qualities with his elder brother to the chagrin of their mother who was, despite her best efforts, unable to conceal it from them.

She was in the room, entertaining some of her guests at a cards table, playing a game of Pope Joan. Strangely enough, she was not winning, which was in all probability a way to make the other players feel at ease in her society. Were they more gifted, and were Sherlock Holmes playing, it would be a technique to lull them into complacency so that he would win.

She saw her younger son in the room, and asked him to provide them with a piece of his composition.

“Mama,” he replied “it would be my pleasure to help your party have a memorable evening, but...”

“None of that, Sherlock Holmes. You will play the violin,” she said in a tone that bore no argument.

Although a prideful man who was sure of his abilities and talents, Holmes could be burdened by a crippling shyness at times. Aware though he may be of Watson’s benevolence towards him in light of the evening’s events, he still felt terror creeping inside him when he thought of their quarrel and of permanently losing Watson’s companionship.

He knew that this type of reasoning was guided by emotions rather than reason and despised it all the more: nothing could, even if he played his violin in the most dreadful fashion, sever relations between two people. He realised that he only was afraid to disappoint Watson and that he would perceive how unworthy of his attention he was.

Lady Siger Holmes had been straightforward. She would tolerate no evasion from Sherlock who would have to meet with her expectations. He could not ponder and abstain from complying with her demand.

“I will collect my violin from my chamber, Mama,” he answered, maintaining as dignified an appearance as he could.

Defeated, Holmes walked back to his rooms to retrieve his violin. Refusing to meet Watson’s eyes, he was aware that his behaviour of secrecy would make it seem as if he were retreating to his rooms for the remainder of the evening. He had an acute awareness of Watson’s look of dismayed perplexity and utter abandonment. He did not dare meet his eyes. As he walked out of the drawing room, he could feel Watson’s eyes following him.

As soon as he was out of the fire lines and into his rooms where no one could see him, he closed his eyes and exhaled a breath full of tension. He took his violin out of its case with the utmost care, already thinking of the music he could play. For an instant his mind became devoid of any knowledge before it was flooded with information.

Into battle, he thought to himself as he stepped back into the drawing room, subjecting himself to Watson’s judgement.

Very few people paid him any attention as he returned to the party, and he made a point not to make eye contact with Watson as a wave of nervousness had swept over him and he had to exert himself so as to remain calm. Were he to perceive any negative sign displayed either on Watson’s demeanour or on his face, his feeble hold upon his nerves would shatter.

He stood in a corner of the room, which was not too lit so he could pretend he was not visible before starting. Inhaling sharply, he set his violin under his chin, closed his eyes and began playing.

The mood of the piece he was playing was light and playful, but one could also discern hope in it. He played in a precise manner, with care, as if enjoining his audience to dance in a carefully controlled way. The rhythm of the piece slowed and hesitation transpired in its mood, hidden behind the appearance of even more precision. The tone turned mournful and longing. Holmes was so invested in the emotions which stirred inside him that they obviously transpired into his music, moving the audience into the same feelings.

So transported was he by the music and the emotions he conveyed through it that he couldn’t see how people reacted to it. He heard discreet and distant exhales of breath, but their interpretations were lost to him, until he apprehended stronger, resounding vibrations which he could only associate to John Watson. His eyelids opened forthwith and his gaze immediately settled on Watson who was harbouring a painful poise, his chest heavily constricted, making his breathing laboured and consequently his body weaker.

Unable to draw his gaze from Watson, he noticed more and more details about him, but was unable to observe that his playing produced an intense effect on every member of the audience. Witnessing so deep a distress in someone so dear to him, he resolutely changed the tone of the piece, turning it into a joyful one. Gradually, he accelerated the rhythm, reached higher notes, setting aside the minor tone to explore the major one, transforming his work into less of a sorrowful experience and more into an indecent display of positive emotions. Watson met his eyes for an instant before abruptly averting his gaze.

Although the look they had shared had been extremely brief, he knew anger had never truly taken hold on Watson’s regard for him.

This revelation uplifted his tense and gloomy mood. It resulted in more fluid movements, which in turn produced a sweeter, even more emotional music, less based on technique. He was transported by what he was expressing through the music, completely free of any chains.

The walls he had erected to protect himself against feelings had crumbled and turned to dust.

Holmes set down his bow in the deafening silence which resounded in the room. The members of the audience were thunderstruck, unable of any thought or reaction.

The younger ladies, who had not quite mastered their emotions yet, discreetly wiped their eyes. The oldest tried to maintain a neutral face, to no avail for the passion they had just witnessed still possessed them, as was evidenced by their flushed cheeks. Men shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot, as if trying to tame a fiery beast, wreaking havoc inside them.

Holmes had no comprehension on what could have brought such reactions forth, for it was not the first time his mother had entreated him to entertain her guests with his violin playing. He debated whether to bow like virtuosi did after they had held their audience spellbound –but promptly decided against it. Despite what suggested the evidence, he judged the intensity of his music, played to such a reduced audience, could be considered as improper, if not immoral. Electing it was the safest course to abstain from any more social faux-pas, he went back into the small crowd as smoothly as he could, looking for an escape.

“Holmes!” said Watson’s all too familiar voice. “Mr. Holmes, a moment, please,” he added as the musician continued walking. As Holmes had beckoned him to follow, he did so in a purposeful stride. He quickened his pace so they’d be side by side.

“Holmes,” he said quietly before coming to a halt, “can we talk? Here?”

“You don’t want any impropriety to be rumoured, do you, Mr. Watson,” he answered in a surprisingly gentle voice.

“I…” Watson looked everywhere in the room, his gaze moving from one person to the next without settling on anyone. “No,” he answered finally, fixing his eyes on Holmes. “No, Mr. Holmes, indeed I do not. I do not want impropriety being rumoured.”

Holmes’ breath briefly caught in his throat.


“You are in the most eloquent state today, my good sir,” replied Watson, chuckling.

“Mr. Holmes, I wanted to congratulate you for such a wonderful musical rendition,” said a voice, which he recognised to be Miss Hooper’s, from behind him.

“Thank you, Miss Hooper,” replied Holmes in a tone in which awkwardness pierced for those who knew him the best. Miss Hooper neither knew him nor heard the awkwardness Watson’s words had brought forth.

“The piece you played was very deep and emotional. It really was impressive. One rarely has the privilege of witnessing music as well as hearing it. What was it?” Miss Hooper asked, showing her under developed classical music knowledge. Watson stayed by his side, to maintain the idea of polite conversation, but in reality he was supporting him through Miss Hooper’s intervention. His friend’s mere presence helped alleviate the torment of observing politeness.

“I must admit that it was made of various pieces,” he replied evasively. “After all, I had very little time to prepare, and did not want to force on such a rich party a piece that was not perfectly mastered,” he added after a pause.

“How very considerate, Mr. Holmes.”

“I must say I agree with Miss Hooper,” said Watson “the piece was fantastic and it was indeed an amiable and thoughtful gesture.”

“You flatter me, Mr. Watson, Miss Hooper” Holmes replied. “I am pleased that you enjoyed the entertainment of the evening. However, I am afraid I must retire to a quieter place. Playing with such intensity has a draining effect.” he said before stepping away.

“Mr. Holmes,” cried Miss Hooper, “pray forgive me for delaying you having some well-deserved rest. I had to tell you how much I enjoyed the music you played tonight –and to convey the ladies’ appreciation. I will not detain you any longer for I can see that you need to rest,” she concluded, letting the two young men resume their conversation.

After he was certain that nobody else would come insert themselves in their conversation, Watson declared that he was hungry.

“Oh. I am quite sure Mrs. Hudson could…” He abruptly stopped in the middle of his sentence, realisation dawning on him. Watson only smiled at him.

“Erm, we could, erm, go to, that is, if you would be, erm amenable…” Watson looked at him as if he were the fairest dim-witted genius he had ever encountered.

“Lead the way, my good sir.”

“Very well, erm…this way, if you wouldn’t mind.”


He breathed in deeply, trying to gather courage, turned his eyes downcast and bravely took Watson’s hand who looked at him in wonder, appreciating the amount of struggle there was in this enterprise.

Watson returned the pressure he had exerted on his hand. The gesture was one of reassurance, but it also held a deeper meaning.

“Did you, er...” he started hesitantly.

“Write a lot?” Watson suggested. “No, I fear I have not written a single word.”

Holmes kept silent, sullenness looming over him. “You should not feel afflicted by this, Holmes. My mind was assaulted by thoughts... which is something that you must be accustomed to, I should think,” he finished warmly.

“Yes, quite. I must be honest and admit my reactions were very similar to yours.”

“Ah. This must explain why the violin rendition you gave tonight was so...”

“I assume it does, indeed,” he replied in a self-conscious manner.

Talking of feelings was decidedly troublesome, he surmised, even more so than expressing them through music, which in itself was strenuous. They continued walking in silence for a time.

“What you did for Miss Hooper was not only well-mannered and becoming of a gentleman, but also helpful. If it did only one thing, it helped assuage her fear.”

“Anyone of average intelligence could...”

“Ah, but you are not simply anyone, nor is your intelligence merely average, is it? Let me reiterate my former statement,” he said as he placed himself in front of him and his hands on his shoulders, “you were extraordinary.” he finished, firmly planting his eyes into his and locking their gazes together.

He had become very still, lest the moment shatter. Positioning himself thus, Watson had reduced the distance between their bodies. Yet they were still at arm’s length from each other in case one of them suddenly changed his mind and retreated behind the safety comradeship bonds offered. Although someone with poor observation skills would see Watson being still, he exuded eagerness and was exerting himself in holding his enthusiasm under control. His general character of a respectable, well-mannered gentleman as well as his determination to await a signal from him made it apparent that Watson was waiting for him to be the one initiating their dance. He stepped forward. The two young men were progressively separated by a smaller and smaller distance until it was reduced to mere inches. They kept their eyes locked together, pupils dilating simultaneously and it was only when they became close enough to feel each other’s breath on their faces that he dared drop his gaze to Watson’s flushed cheeks and humid lips. A short moment afterwards, he glanced up, giving him a faint yet unequivocal warning on his impending kiss.

One hand on Watson’s side and the other cupping his cheek, he lowered his head, feeling his hands falling to his side. His lips were dry and warm, the perfect combination with his soft, tender ones. He could feel his own body heat rise along with Watson’s who had placed a hand behind his neck, taking the leading part, guiding him through the discovery of this new territory.

His over active brain did not quite stop noting and analysing, but the feeling of safety and trust brought upon by such a simple act, reinforced by Watson’s other hand on his lower back, was enough to quieten it. Emboldened by the freedom he felt in having his attraction returned, he reduced the distance between the two of them even more by allowing his body close to Watson’s. He felt a smile around his lips and an obvious interest mirrored in his companion.

“Watson, I…”

“Yes, Sherlock, I agree,” he replied, breathless, “we should not.”

Bitter, despondent and a little irate, he disentangled himself from Watson’s embrace, straightened his hair, displaced tie and rather crumpled clothing.

“Let us return inside. The air is becoming more and more wintery.”

For a fleeting instant, Watson’s face was a picture of dejection. He recovered swiftly, and delicately placed a hand on his forearm. “Sherlock. I am absolutely not saying it is an action I do not want to repeat,” he quickly amended his statement. “I want to explore this with you, despite society’s view on such affairs” he added with a smile.

“Oh,” he replied, stunned by Watson’s willingness to pursue the exploration of their unnatural attraction and feelings, which were severely reproved and punished by society.

As they were on their way to return inside to the guests and entertainment, pleased with the outcome of the evening, they were met with the sight of a silhouette against the windows of the mansion’s upper floor.

They exchanged a look and quickened their pace to find themselves within the walls of the estate.

“Watson, my good sir, would you please be so kind as to call on my brother for me?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you,” he replied with an intensity to his gaze and a light touch on Watson’s hand. “I need to go downstairs,” he added.

As soon as Watson had passed through the doors to the festivities, he hurried to the servants’ quarters. There, he found Billy and Mrs. Hudson in an animated conversation.

“Before the year is out,” she said, “they will realise it before the year is out.”

“Are you certain you and I speak of the same people? They’re as alike as chalk and cheese!”

“Ah, but that’s what makes it more interesting!”

“I have no wish to intrude on your conversation,” he said calmly, “but were my dear brother to learn that you are entertaining rumours and hearsay amongst yourselves, the continuation of your employment would be in a fragile state.”

“Mr. Holmes!” both of them exclaimed, startled.

“I have much graver news for you to discuss, but time is of the essence,” he continued as if he had not threatened the two servants. “Billy, take the fastest horse and make haste to the nearest police station,” he ordered, quickly writing a note. “Give this note to the first high-ranking constable you see there. An Inspector will do.”

“Yes, Mr. Holmes,” Billy said, taking the note his master was handing him. “But how…-“

“They wear two stars on their epaulettes,” replied Holmes in an irritated tone. “Now go!”

Mr. Holmes,” said Mrs. Hudson in a firm, scolding voice “what is happening?” Despite his status of master and her position of servant, she would not hesitate to inform him of any issue that could be found in either his behaviour or speech.

“I have every reason to believe a theft is being committed on the upper floor,” he said in the same nervous voice, casting his eyes downwards in a castigated manner.

“A police intervention appears to be warranted,” Lord Mycroft Holmes’ velvety yet commanding voice declared.

“My valet, Billy, is to inform the nearest police station,” he replied.

“Billy needs to already be on his way,” Mycroft Holmes retorted, “and delay no more,” he added in a menacing voice.

“I am leaving, my Lord,” replied Billy, terrorised and scuttling away.

A deafening silence settled in the room. Were all three of them alone, Mycroft would undoubtedly comment on Watson and his earlier occupation, for the Holmes brothers were known for their talents of observation and Mycroft Holmes even more so than him.

Mrs. Hudson’s presence was a shield behind which he hid without any trace of shame. He reasoned that Watson, who was opposed to any kind of slander tarnishing either of their names, was happy not to have their recent activity mentioned for it was undeniable that Mrs. Hudson, though an extremely faithful and kind-hearted person, would not hesitate to inform every living soul of Watson and his involvement.

No amount of deductive skill helped Holmes decipher his brother’s face. He remained a mystery to him.

“Mrs. Hudson, please have some wine brought up to our guests,” Mycroft ordered. “Do not give the best one,” he added. “This one shall be kept for events of the highest importance,” he said, watching Watson and him intently.

“Yes, my Lord,” replied Mrs. Hudson before leaving in the direction of the cellar.

“Although you might expect me to lecture and chase you from this house, Mr. Watson, and strongly admonish and discipline you, brother dear, for indecent behaviour, I shall fail to notice any gross misconduct on either of your part.”

Taken aback, the two young men had been rendered speechless by such a direct, straightforward address of their earlier indecorous encounter.

“You should bear in mind that such an act as I have stated equates to condoning actions which are reprehensible and should be amerced. You will realise that, should anything that transpired tonight ever be made public, you will either be at the very least disowned or hanged, and that I would face both the shame attached to you and the end of any important career I might have.”

Faced with the crude statement of their actions’ consequences, and despite the flaming ardour borne in their hearts and minds, neither Watson nor he dared speak. The distant look in Mycroft’s gaze, as well as the strength of the impending rejection society would impose on them sent cold shivers down their spines.

“Therefore I shall demand you be the epitome of discretion, that no one can ever suspect any unbecoming acts on your part. If either of your families orders you to marry and fulfil your duty in continuing the family name, you shall comply. I trust that your situation is clear to you,” he finished in a severe voice, laced with echoes of tenderness and regret.

Mycroft promptly returned upstairs after this, leaving them both on their own, confused, distressed and devastated.

“It will not come to this, Watson, I swear,” he declared solemnly.

“Indeed it will not, my dear Holmes. You and I will continue, as we have until now, in all respectability, as companions or friends –“

“-and nothing more,” finished Holmes, wrecked.

“-‘in the eyes of the world’ is how my sentence was supposed to end,” Watson snapped. “But if you reject adventures because there might be danger having them, then by all means, let it be ‘nothing more’,” he remarked in an acerbic, cutting tone.

Unsure whether to be delighted by Watson’s apparent desire to pursue their budding relationship or to be crushed by his outburst, Holmes decided that the best solution was to resort to silence until Watson’s anger and his anguish abated, even if it proved particularly difficult to hold back his own scathing comments.

“I need to go outside for a moment,” Watson declared. “On my own,” he added, interrupting Holmes as he offered to accompany him.

Left alone with the distraction of the turmoil of his emotions which he tried to keep a hold of, Holmes did not hear Mrs. Hudson’s footsteps as she was coming back in his direction.

“Shall I prepare you some tea, Mr. Holmes?” she asked softly, as if afraid he might lash out.

“Tea does not cure everything, Mrs. Hudson,” he replied sharply, crossing his arms.

Mrs. Hudson looked at him with an air of authority. “It is no use adopting an evasive behaviour and saying empty words, Mr. Holmes,” she retorted. “You appear to be in need of comforting, and such a common act as having a cup of tea will distract you enough to –“

“Fine. Agreed. Prepare me one.”

“It shall be done according to His Majesty’s wishes,” she whispered sarcastically. “You don’t need to act like a child, Mr. Holmes, you’re a man grown now,” she added as she placed the water onto the boiler.

He made no answer and remained motionless.


“Due to Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ being otherwise occupied, Lady Siger Holmes has proposed to gift her guests with her musical proficiency on the piano,” declared Mycroft Holmes. “We shall rejoice to it in the ball room,” he added, beckoning their company to relocate to the adjacent room.

“Heavens! Such an event was not planned!”

“Indeed! I’m afraid my attire is not fitting to dancing!”

“I am confident this will be ignored and that you will enthral us with your dancing skills.”

The ladies and the gentlemen dithered for a minute before gathering in the ball room where Lady Siger Holmes was already sat behind the piano forte.

“I hope you shall find as much satisfaction in this new entertainment as you did in my younger son’s violin rendition,” she declared once all the guests had assembled inside. Despite the dance being impromptu, they conformed to it gladly and without protest.

As the hostess had a wide repertoire to present to her guests, there never was any silent interlude between two musical pieces.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I profoundly apologise for disrupting your evening,” said a man, dressed in a blue uniform. The assembled party recognised his station as a police officer, but Mycroft Holmes and a few others noted that his rank was that of an Inspector. He walked to him, whilst his mother continued playing so her guests’ amusement would not cease.

“Let us retreat from the room so as not to cause further disturbance, Inspector,” said Mycroft Holmes without preamble.

“Lead the way, my Lord,” he replied, immediately deducing the hierarchical superiority of his interlocutor. “A young man rode to the station, anxious to find a “high ranking constable” to deliver his message to.”

“That would have been Billy, my younger brother’s personal valet. I trust you have read the note he has written you?”

“Indeed, I have. Such words, such alarm…! I mean no offense, my Lord, however I must verify there is no deception in your brother’s words.”

“I shall personally assure you that Mr. Sherlock Holmes is not prone to deceit, nor to any other moral inadequacy, Inspector,” he replied coldly.

“Naturally, my Lord. It was not my intention to imply –“

“Please proceed to your investigation, Inspector,” Mycroft Holmes abruptly interrupted. “It is doubtful you would need help in apprehending the suspect. Nevertheless, I suggest you call in the men who have come along with you, for his resistance is to be expected,” he finished, returning to the ball room.

The police officer’s interruption had not disturbed the party who continued on dancing.

“My Lord,” said a small voice from behind him, “I hope there is no trouble about, the police…”

“Calm yourself, Miss Hooper,” he replied soothingly, “everything is quite all right. The minor disturbance that required police intervention is being dealt with.”

“I am relieved to hear it, my Lord,” brightened Miss Hooper. “It would have caused such disappointment to depart from so successfully entertaining a reception!”

“Such compliments must be paid to the hostess, Miss Hooper.”

“Indeed, my Lord. I shall tell her immediately,” she said quickly. “Mr. Watson!” she exclaimed as he walked through the door. “Where have you been all evening, I dare say I have not seen much of your company,” she told him. “If I did not know better, I would think Mr. Sherlock Holmes has spoilt any appreciation you had in the society of your peers,” she taunted him.

“That is most impertinent, Miss Hooper,” intervened Mycroft Holmes, who had perceived an incident might occur. “And unbecoming of a lady. You –“

“-will be kind enough to drink water for the remainder of the evening, Miss Hooper,” interrupted Watson with a pointed look at the half empty glass. “A wine of such quality is bound to entice anyone into drinking to excess, which I assure you is not an experience you want to have,” he added, leading Miss Hooper away to a comfortable armchair.

“Thank you, Mr. Watson, for being such a gentleman. I am certain – “

“I do not think it is proper to make assumptions, Miss Hooper. It is undeniable that you should concentrate on matters of importance at the moment” he said gently as he noticed that her fresh and rosy skin had become sickly pale. “Would you bring a fresh glass of water, please?” he asked an attending servant. “And do ask for Mrs. Hudson to come upstairs, as well.”

“Very well, sir.”

Sherlock Holmes entered the room and, with his violin, joined the piece his mother was playing, in the hope that the sound they produced would be loud enough to cover any disturbance happening on the upper floor.

Watson remained sat next to Miss Hooper who was not in the best of states. He indeed looked the most comfortable when taking care of others. This could prove detrimental to their relationship, as Holmes had no spontaneous consideration for his peers. His thoughts on the subject were pessimistic despite what the evidence suggested, and Watson would indubitably not accept such a gloomy state of mind for long.

His musings were interrupted by the entrance of a police officer in the ball room. Albeit discreet, he did not escape his notice. Miss Hooper, who seemed to be faring slightly better, took note of him as well. Watson looked reasonably disconcerted when she tried to move to him. He gathered that Watson was opposed to her moving at all, and reasoned that he must have stated the impropriety of it, for she appeared to revise her opinion and abandon her decision altogether.

His gaze followed the Inspector as he walked to his brother, taut as a military man who would deliver a report to a feared commanding officer. Their conversation appeared to become more relaxed as it progressed. It was evident that Mycroft Holmes, who had offered wine to the Inspector, had invited him to enjoy the festivities. Accepting the wine, with a slight inclination of his head, he turned around to explore and mix with the other guests.

He returned his attention to his brother, whose mask had dropped and showed for the briefest of times a tired, sombre look, before promptly resuming his duty as host.

His attention was drawn to movements outside. Still playing, he walked to the windows and observed two events unfold. As he witnessed the first snow of the winter, he realised that this darker season would in fact prove to be the brightest he had lived through. Ideas to spend time with Watson immediately flourished in his mind, each wilder than the last, and he was met with an intense eagerness to put them in motion if only to see him smile.

A man was being taken by the police force, manacled and put into a closed vehicle. They stared at each other, and he saw madness glow in the man’s eyes. As he was retreating from the window, he saw the man bow deeply and, as he straightened up, sweep his tongue across his smiling lips as quickly as would a snake, fixing its prey.

He felt a shiver run down his spine.


“Snow has come early, this year,” declared Watson in a calm voice.

“Indeed, it has. Let us hope the season will be festive in more ways than its name suggests.”

“I have every confidence to believe you are competent enough to make it stimulating, my good sir.”

“I will be endeavouring to, yes. But I shall require your assistance.”

“With pleasure, Holmes,” replied Watson warmly, a sincere smile on his face.

“Tonight’s social gathering was a success,” a third person commented.

“Indeed it was, brother dear. Despite the bleak experience of a criminal offender roaming in the mansion, all our guests seem to have appreciated it,” he retorted.

“You would do well to respect your elders, brother dear.”

“Agreed. You would admit however, that threats are effective as long as they do not prove to be empty. Good night, brother dear,” he said, taking his leave and retreating from his brother’s presence. “Watson, would you accompany me? I need to observe the physics of falling snow and start an observation chart on its influence over people’s disposition.”

“Mr. Watson, if my brother cannot be reasonable – “

“Observation! Physics! Science!” he shouted. “These are fields ruled by reason! It is not possible for me not to see reason, brother dear,” he countered.

“So be it. I trust you to have enough sense for two persons, Mr. Watson. Do not give me even the slightest cause to withdraw this trust,” he added in a sinister tone of voice as the two young men walked away.

“What is not impossible, however, is for me to choose not to see it and abide by it,” he whispered as they passed through the side entrance to enter the garden. Smiling broadly, he took Watson’s hand before kissing it.

“Shall I consider this as evidence?”

“You shall not discard it,” he said. He watched the starry sky before adding, as he sat down, “This is the ideal situation to observe the skies, my dear fellow.”

“I cannot raise any objection. You are the scientist, it is only logical you would know what to look for,” he declared, settling comfortably next to Holmes. “Do you not experience the slightest fear that such ghastly cold temperatures could potentially bring sickness upon us?”

“No, I do not. I am confident that body heat will provide us with everything we might need and prevent any misfortune befalling us,” he said, mischief written all over his features.

“You, my good sir, bring forth the most sinful thoughts and are not underserving of your own den of iniquity.”

“Watson, any location I am in corresponds to that very definition,” he breathed in his ear.

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 4, 2015 5:19 am  #5

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

No fic today but something funny for you anyway.


Last edited by Schmiezi (December 26, 2015 6:35 am)

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 4, 2015 5:22 am  #6

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015


Last edited by Schmiezi (December 26, 2015 6:37 am)

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 4, 2015 5:23 am  #7

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015


Last edited by Schmiezi (December 26, 2015 6:38 am)

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 5, 2015 6:56 am  #8

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

This story is for Dorothy83.

Author’s Note: I hope you enjoy this and that it is enough of what you wanted. I combined your prompt with something else you said in your questionnaire that you liked reading. I have never written anything quite like this, so I hope everyone is not too out of character. Thanks for the interesting prompt that got me stretching my writing muscles! Also, don’t ask me when this is supposed to have taken place, because I don’t know other than it takes place before the end of series 2.

Letter from the Past

It began simply enough.

Sherlock had “borrowed” some kitchen utensils for an experiment or something else that he had decided was a reasonable way to pass the time. Of course, he had not bothered to return these things to their proper place once he was finished with them. Since he was not home that afternoon – he had gone out alone to get the details on a new case and had said specifically that he wouldn’t need John, but would come back if he did – it meant John had to mount an expedition to find these things.

He started in the kitchen in case Sherlock had left them somewhere in the wrong place even if he was in the right room. No luck. John then proceeded to look around the living room. Still no luck. With a sigh, John realized he would have to go into Sherlock’s bedroom. Whatever the experiment was, he hoped that there was nothing messy in the bedroom that he would regret seeing. He hadn’t smelled anything strange in the flat recently, but perhaps that was just a sign of how deadly whatever it was might be.

John opened the door and looked around. Lo and behold, there they were: the whisk, spatula, and spaghetti scoop rested innocently on top of Sherlock’s dresser. John noted that they had some residue of an unknown substance on them – he would ask Sherlock what it was later – but were otherwise clean. He would just give them a good wash and they would be fine. John moved to pick them up, but then he was distracted by what lay next to them.

An envelope sat on top of the dresser. The return address was now unreadable, the ink having run some day in the past, but John could still make out the name above it: Victor Trevor.

Sticking out of the envelope was a folded sheet of paper and the edge of a photograph. While still covered, John could make out from the part that was showing that it was a photo of Sherlock.

John didn’t mean to be nosy, but since Sherlock had never mentioned any old friends, he thought that he’d just take a quick look in the envelope and then put it back. He picked up the envelope and slid out its contents.

John had been right; the photograph was of Sherlock. He looked like he was about ten years younger, give or take – his face was in profile so it was hard to tell for sure. His hair was a little shorter but still the mass of dark curls that John knew.

These details only meant anything to John for a few moments, because the rest of what the photo depicted quickly overtook his mind. It was a candid photo of Sherlock kissing another man. This man was a bit taller than Sherlock, not as skinny, and had close cropped brown hair. His eyes were closed, as were Sherlock’s, and his hands passionately gripped Sherlock’s shoulders. It was an embrace that exuded intimacy, so the relationship must have been important to Sherlock at the time. John again wondered why Sherlock had never mentioned this person to him.

John’s eyes were drawn to the photograph, but he still had not looked at the letter. He unfolded the slightly rumpled paper and began to read the sloping hand.

January 6th, 2010

Dearest Sherlock,

I hope this letter finds you well and that the New Year went well, too. I know you were never much for festivities, but I also know that your colleagues happen to enjoy them very much and would no doubt have invited you to join them.

I thought I’d include this picture with my letter. Look how young we were then! I still remember those days. I’m sure you do, too. You
do remember everything, after all.

You haven’t been sending letters as often as you used to. I hope you’re not cheating on me! I am joking, of course. You wrote me last about how much you missed me, how you yearned for my touch at night when you were alone with your thoughts. I know how my presence used to comfort you on those nights when you didn’t have a fix. Or even on the other nights.

It’s been two years since our last date, as I’m sure you know. You’ve been so busy, as you’ve told me repeatedly, and I haven’t been in London. That’s what I’m really writing you about today.

I will be coming to London at the end of February. Let me know when you can see me. I can’t wait to see how much more handsome you’ve surely become since the last time we were together. Just like you said, we can go out to eat and then head home to your flat and catch up on everything else that can’t be seen or discussed in public. You were always very adept at putting your hands in all the right places. The memory of your warmth soothes me in my moments of solitude as well, my love, more than perhaps even you can imagine.

Please write to me soon. It doesn’t have to be much.


By the end of the letter, John could feel his blood pulsing and his face becoming hot. It was even clearer to him now how close Sherlock and this man had been. Well, the past tense was unclear. The recent date of the letter suggested that the two of them were still close. At least, they were in January 2010, which wasn’t that long ago.

The text of the letter certainly was quite incriminating. John couldn’t imagine feelings like those disappearing so quickly, and John had met Sherlock only a few weeks after he would have received the letter that John now held in his hands.

John then saw something else on the dresser that must have been sitting beneath the letter. It was another, more recent, photo. Sherlock still looked younger, but not nearly as much as in the other photograph.

In this one, Sherlock was with the same man as in the other one, but this time the couple was facing the camera. They sat next to each other on the banquette in a restaurant somewhere. The taller man – Victor – had his arm around Sherlock’s shoulder, squeezing them close together. The corner of Sherlock’s mouth was turned up in a smile.

As John looked at what he had found, he thought back to when he and Sherlock were at Angelo’s during their first case together. Sherlock had to have been lying that night.

John’s thoughts were interrupted when he heard the front door open.

“John?” he heard Sherlock call. He huffed and then left the bedroom.

“The case is solved, John,” Sherlock said when John appeared. “Much less interesting than I had anticipated. Much too simple. Shall we –” Sherlock stopped abruptly when he noticed what John was holding. His eyes moved from the letter and back to John’s stern face. An expression of guilt appeared on his.

“John…” he said in a much less confident tone than he had assumed a moment ago. His mouth worked, trying to find the correct choice of words.

“Tell me, Sherlock,” John began, his syllables crisp. “Who is Victor Trevor?”

Sherlock tried to speak, but only let out a sigh of resignation, his shoulders slumping.

“Talk, Sherlock!” John snapped. “Who. Is. Victor. Trevor.” It came out more like a command than a real question.

“Why does it matter?” Sherlock asked defensively but sounding as if he had nearly given up before he had even spoke.

“Why does it matter?” John parroted. “Why does it matter? Because you lied to me, Sherlock. You were corresponding with this Victor practically up until the day we met. When we met you told me you didn’t have a boyfriend. And yet you were writing letters to this Victor. You told me you didn’t have a boyfriend, but that was a lie. You already had one. Someone who, by the looks of this letter and these rather telling photographs, you were madly in love with!”

“John, it’s not –”

“You want me to believe it’s nothing? You really think I’m going to believe that? You can’t just forget someone like that, Sherlock, and I doubt you were going to do so because of some bloke you’d just met. And yet even now, you still never told me about him. If you weren’t with him anymore, then you could’ve mentioned him at some point, but you didn’t. So that must mean you’re still in contact with him. What am I to you, Sherlock? What am I supposed to think of these past couple of years, hm? What did they really mean to you? How could you have –”

“John, STOP IT!” Sherlock shouted suddenly. He was glaring at John now, his eyes red and glassy with impending tears. John had not noticed the tears forming. “Just listen to me. Victor means nothing to me anymore. I told you I didn’t have a boyfriend that night because after meeting you I was willing to put him behind me. I knew that, whatever happened, I was going to end up with you. Victor did want to see me, but I broke it off with him once the first case you and I worked on together was finished. I knew it was what I wanted.”

“So it’s all meaningless to you? And you never thought to bring it up? Not once? Why keep it secret unless you have something to hide?”

“Why should you care who my past boyfriend was? I met Victor in university. I’m not the same man anymore.”

“Are you, really? You still lied to me, after all that we’ve been through. If it’s because you don’t trust me, say it now instead of prolonging this as much as you already have.”

“I do trust you, John! Why do you keep insinuating that I don’t? I’ve already told you why I didn’t tell you about him; it’s because he doesn’t matter to me anymore. You matter to me, John. You. Why don’t you understand? You mean more to me than anyone else ever has, John. Why would you ever think that isn’t true? Why do you accuse me of not caring after all this time? Maybe it’s you who doesn’t really care because you’d be willing to cast me off because of something as stupid as this!”

John’s mouth gaped open as he watched Sherlock turn on his heel and exit the flat, leaving John in the haze of their argument. John did not hear Sherlock’s sniffles as he went down the stairs. But he heard his own.

John remembered days gone by when he had left the flat in a huff. This was a strange reversal. But then again, he thought, he deserved it.

He was not sure how long Sherlock was gone for. It was all a blur. He tried to watch the telly for a while, but after ten minutes he realised that he was not processing what he was seeing. Instead, his mind kept racing, thinking about what had just happened. At first, he was simply angry that Sherlock had kept a secret from him. In his anger, he had suggested that Sherlock didn’t really want him. John became scared as he thought about that. With the words that were exchanged, it was likely that he and Sherlock were over. He could no longer imagine living without Sherlock and he knew then that if this was the end that it would be his fault.

It was dark outside when Sherlock finally returned and entered the flat without a word. John looked at him and murmured his name, but that was all that he could say. What words could he even hope would heal the rift that had now surely formed between them?

Sherlock quietly hung up his coat and scarf. He then reached into his pocket, fiddled with his phone a moment and then held it out to John. His face offered no clues to his intention.

“What?” John asked.

“Just read it,” Sherlock said blankly.

Quizzically, John took the phone in his hand. The top of the screen read “Victor.” It was Sherlock’s entire text message conversation with the man.

You never replied to my letter.

I think by now you should know why. SH.

Sorry for being dim, but I don’t.

I don’t want to see you anymore, Victor. SH.

Why not? Only a few months ago you were dying to see me.

Frankly, Victor, I no longer feel that way. I’ve met someone and I like him much more than you. SH.

How can you say that, Sherlock? It’s out of nowhere! You can’t have forgotten me that easily.

Oh, I haven’t forgotten you, Victor. Not yet, anyway. SH.

Please, just give me one more chance.

My answer is the same, Victor. No. SH

Come on!

No. Goodbye. SH

The conversation ended there. John reread it in disbelief. This was the cold Sherlock Holmes that John had met in the beginning. It was hard to believe that any warmth had existed between Sherlock and Victor before this exchange had taken place, even with what he had found to prove otherwise. The difference was too stark.

John put the phone on the table next to him and then ran his hands over his face and sighed.

“Well?” Sherlock asked from where he was sitting across from John. “You’ve seen the evidence. What is your verdict?”

John tried taking a deep breath, but it caught in his throat.


John looked up to see Sherlock scanning him, his face painted with concern.

“I’m sorry.” He got up from his seat and took a step towards Sherlock. As if he were reading a cue, Sherlock got up as well. One more pace by each of them and they were touching. John pressed Sherlock against him as tightly as he could, letting out a sob. “I love you, Sherlock. Please don’t make me leave.”

As he said the words, he felt Sherlock’s body shudder against him and then heard a rasping breath.

“Never, John Watson,” Sherlock’s choked voice said.

When they finally pulled away slightly, John looked up at those sparkling eyes that looked back at him. They were red-rimmed, as his no doubt were as well, but they were no longer sad. Sherlock’s lips curled up slightly and soon John found himself mirroring the expression. Somehow they had made it through this. John wasn’t sure how, but even Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have all the answers.


I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 6, 2015 1:50 pm  #9

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

This story is for Yitzock

Hello Yitzock, this story is for you. You liked to read non-romantic John and Sherlock and a case fic.

Your prompt was: Some humour and Christmas festivities, s strange case that involves travelling outside London, Will they solve the case by Christmas? Mary and Mrs Hudson help with the case in some way.

Thank you for that great prompt. I think there are enough Christmas traditions in there and the case is very strange indeed. The places in the story really exist, including the castle and the forest, although I’ve taken the occasional liberty with the geography. Do google Gloucester Cathedral, it’s gorgeous.

Also, many thanks to my beta readers Dioscureantwins and Besleybeans, who went through my lengthy story twice with their magnifying glasses and combs and harvested a heap of typos, awkward sentences, editing glitches and general language abuse. Thank you so much!


The Advent Calendar

Sherlock could recognise the footsteps that were coming up the stairs of 221B out of a million. It was John. Sherlock smiled. He had a fair idea how John would react to the elements of his new case that were spread out on the table. He took an old slide, put it under his microscope and pretended to be busy when John entered.

He greeted Sherlock who made a show of being startled before looking up.

‘What are you up to?’ John asked.

‘I’m analysing the properties of river sand.’

‘Sounds interesting,’ John lied. He looked from Sherlock to the table. On it, there was an advent calendar. Even though it was only the sixth of December, all windows were opened and the chocolates removed.

Sherlock did his best pretending to be occupied with his microscope, wondering what John would make of it.

‘That’s not how advent calendars work.’

He put on his most disinterested voice. ‘Isn’t that up to the owner to decide?’

‘What was in it?’

‘Homemade chocolates.’

‘Any good?’

Sherlock grinned and gestured to the sealed plastic bags on the table. They were numbered from one to twenty-four, all containing one chocolate.

John looked at the chocolates and grinned back. ‘Did you actually delete the concept of chocolate from your memory?’

‘It was an anonymous gift. You can’t trust it.’

‘You must have had a hard time at Christmas.’

Sherlock chuckled. No gift in the Holmes household had ever been anonymous for long.

‘You do know who Santa, is, right?’ John added.

‘The guy with the beard and the red suit, yes, I’m aware. So far unimpressed. Apparently parents give children gifts and for some inexplicable reason they feel the need to pretend that the gifts come from Santa, instead of taking the credit themselves. Why this occurs is beyond me; if you want to give gifts, it’s not particularly efficient to wait and put them under a random fir tree and pretend they fell from the chimney that most people don’t have.’

‘A pine tree.’

‘Most definitely a fir.’

John shook his head. ‘So I gather you never celebrated Christmas in that way.’

‘Have you met me? Have you met Mycroft?’

‘Fair point.’

Sherlock picked up the first bag and his magnifying glass. Beneath it the pictured reindeer that was stamped onto the chocolate swelled to a gigantic size, but there was nothing else on the chocolate that drew his attention. ‘I never quite understood how parents make children believe the Santa story anyway.’

‘Well, they tell their children that every year, Santa comes from the North Pole, to bring children gifts—‘

Sherlock gave him a sceptical look. ‘Sounds very plausible already.’

‘Let me finish. He travels in a sleigh that is pulled by six reindeer, in some stories it’s seven.’

‘Which was a perfectly acceptable way to get around when it actually snowed in the winter—


‘... in the nineteenth century. I mean if you’re trying to lie you should at least update it so that it would roughly fall in the same century we’re living in. I’m an expert when it comes to lying and this is not even remotely plausible—’

‘The reindeer can fly.’

Sherlock choked. ‘Flying reindeer? What child would believe something that stupid?’

‘Yoo-hoo.’ Mrs Hudson walked in with a bucket of warm water and a cloth. ‘Can I do the kitchen now?’ she asked.

‘Sure, just stay out of my fridge if you know what’s good for you.’

‘I learned that lesson a long time ago,’ she said but she smiled. She turned to John. ‘So often he doesn’t like me to clean anything at all. He likes dust a bit too much if you ask me.’

Her eye fell on the advent calendar. ‘Did no one ever teach you how to use an advent calendar?’

Sherlock noticed John glance at the bagged chocolates.

Mrs Hudson picked up the calendar, cleaned the table underneath, and put it down again. She rubbed her thumb against her index finger. A white residue had stuck to her fingers. ‘And you even put fake snow on it?’

‘Fingerprint powder.’

She smiled fondly. ‘Oh Sherlock, you’re hopeless at these kinds of things, aren’t you?’

‘You think they’re poisoned?’ John said.

Sherlock picked up bag number six and gave it to John. On the chocolate, there was a picture of a skull and crossbones.

‘That’s a clue,’ John said dryly.

‘An interesting murderer maybe?’ Mrs Hudson said cheerfully.

Sherlock sighed. ‘One can dream. Christmas is so boring with all the hardened criminals having tea with their mummies.’

It was silent as both John and Mrs Hudson tried and failed to imagine how a Christmas without crime would be a bad thing.

‘I’m trying to explain to Sherlock the concept of Santa,’ John eventually said.

Mrs Hudson looked from John to Sherlock and back to John. ‘Well, good luck with that.’

John chuckled. ‘I was getting to the point where Santa throws the gifts down the chimneys—‘

‘The non-existent chimneys,’ Sherlock interrupted.

‘And the gifts fly into the stockings that children have put out.’

Sherlock shook his head theatrically. ‘I never quite understood how that could be compelling to anyone. And apparently for some random reason, he gives toys to the good children and lumps of coal to the bad ones.’

‘It symbolises forgiveness,’ Mrs Hudson said firmly.

Sherlock frowned. ‘How does that symbolise forgiveness?’

‘Because no child ever receives a coal in their stocking.’

‘Might also signify forgetfulness.’

He was interrupted by the sound of his phone. It was Lestrade.

‘Ever heard of Santa Claus?’ Lestrade asked.

Sherlock rolled his eyes to John. ‘No, please tell me who he is? A murderer I should know of?’ he asked sarcastically.

Lestrade sighed. ‘Yes, it appears so. It seems he visited Winchcombe, a small village in the Cotswolds. And it looks like he has just flown away.’

They travelled to Cheltenham by train where they were picked up by Lestrade who brought them to the picturesque village of Winchcombe, a village that looked like it had just popped up out of a children’s picture book.

They stopped at a semi-detached house right at the edge of the village. The house and the big front garden were sealed with police tape and several police cars were parked along the road, the team seemingly scattered in the garden, and undoubtedly also inside the house.

Unlike its limestone neighbour, it was a half-timbered house, with dark brown, almost black framing and white plaster infill. The window panes were freshly painted and trimmed rhododendrons and a large patch of neatly mowed though rather soggy grass made up the front garden. Overall it looked like a place well cared for.

However, after his initial look, Sherlock didn’t care much for its architecture or maintenance. Once out of the car he didn’t say a word, but stood still, his eyes moving rapidly from the gravel of the footpath towards the front door, to the intact windows, up to the thatched roof, down to the lawn where on its left side, there was another area on the grass sealed with police tape. His eyes stopped there for one moment. Then he abruptly moved towards the door, pulling two blue nitrile gloves from his coat pocket. He heard John and Lestrade follow him.

Before Sherlock could push at the door, it was opened by a policeman.

‘Good afternoon,’ the man said.

Without so much as a look, Sherlock brushed past him, into the house.

Behind him, he heard Lestrade take care of the introductions. ‘John, this is Officer Tom Walker, head of the local police. He was the one who called me. Officer Walker, John Watson. ‘And that was Sherlock Holmes.’

The living room was old-fashioned with dark wooden furniture, a cosy enough place if it wasn’t for the dead man lying in the centre. Sherlock kneeled beside the body. The man was in his late forties, with dark blond, greying hair, wearing a brown jumper and jeans stained with paint, obviously not planning to go out that day. Next to him laid a bell that was connected to a leather strap. On the mantelpiece, there was a stocking with a carrot in it.

John, Lestrade and Walker entered the room and waited in silence.

‘He’s a middle manager of a shop,’ Sherlock said, pointing at the man’s hands. ‘He collects and paints miniature trains, if I recognise the paint under his nails correctly. Not liked much by his staff.’ Sherlock pointed to the smudges of gel in the man’s hair.

‘Cause of death seems to be suffocation, but this will need to be confirmed by a more thorough analysis. Probably strangled from behind.’ Sherlock inspected the victim’s face.

‘Have a look at the murder weapon,’ Officer Walker said. John saw that Walker’s eyes were brimming with excitement.

Carefully, Sherlock opened the victim’s mouth and pulled out what looked like a red-and-white lump of wool. With his gloved fingers, he straightened it, revealing its shape. It was a woollen sock, the counterpart of the one on the mantelpiece.

Lestrade pulled a face. ‘That’s one vicious Santa Claus.’

Sherlock carefully inspected the stocking, squishing and feeling it with its fingers. There was a hard lump at the bottom. He reached inside and pulled something out. It was a piece of coal.

‘But this is the strangest bit.’ He picked up the bell. It was attached to a leather strap with a clasp, improvised from a belt, obviously hand made by someone who didn’t have any skills in that area. It had just the right size to be a wristband.

‘For some reason, the killer wore this around his wrist,’ he said to no one in particular. ‘And it was very intentional.’

‘To announce his coming?’ Lestrade said. ‘That’s a rather original move for a murderer.’

‘The victim was strangled from behind.’ Sherlock turned the bell in his hands. It made a soft and high pitched sound. ‘The last thing he heard was a sleigh bell.’

Once Sherlock was done investigating, he beckoned John into the garden. He took John straight to the piece of grass that was sealed off, Lestrade and Walker behind them. Sherlock kneeled, took one look at the tracks, looked up again with a quick glance around the garden and grinned.

There were about eight police officers, six men and two women, mostly waiting, as these operations involved a lot of waiting, but conspicuously ignoring them. They were all relatively young. Although no one was looking at them directly, they were all positioned in a way so that they could see them very clearly.

He looked at Officer Walker who could barely conceal a grin, and Lestrade, who smiled broadly.

‘What d’ya make of that?’ Lestrade said.

Sherlock looked at John and grinned again. ‘John, why don’t you solve the case of the mysteriously giddy police force.’ He pointed at the tracks.

They were two, deep and longitudinal, about five feet apart, with no imprint, as if something had been dragged there. In between, there stood footprints that looked like boots, and hoof prints of an even toed animal. John pointed to the hoof prints.

‘I suppose these are not cows?’

Sherlock shook his head impatiently. ‘Of course not. And those...’ he pointed at the longitudinal tracks, ‘aren’t wheels either’.

He got up and carefully walked along the tracks, respecting the police seal. He felt how his shoes were sinking into the mud. On the other side of the tape, the tracks were easily recognisable in the muddy ground. He pointed to what he’d been looking for. In the middle of the muddy ground, the track suddenly seemed to disappear. Santa’s reindeer sleigh had gone up in the air.

John looked from the tracks to Sherlock with an expression of delight. ‘Well, Sherlock, you must admit that this is a bit weird. It’s probably not plausible that our killer believes we would blame Santa Claus, is it?’

Sherlock squatted and looked at the ground where the tracks disappeared. ‘Someone smart enough to create this trick is probably not delusional enough to believe that, though one also cannot entirely reject that hypothesis either. However, I suspect there is another reason.’

Lestrade and Walker joined them.

‘Interesting, don’t you think?’ said Walker.

Sherlock got up and pulled a pen from Lestrade’s pocket, Lestrade didn’t complain, and poked in the mud where the tracks had disappeared. The pen sunk deeply. He then looked and poked carefully at the mud.

‘The tracks look like a sleigh, although,’ he pointed at a small line within the tracks, ‘there appear to be small wheels within the runners. The boots are size seven and a half, the man weights approximately twelve stone nine. The animals are reindeer, Ragifer Tarandus, and looking at the size and depth of the imprints it’s a European subspecies: fennicus, platyrhynchus or tarandus but I have never immersed myself enough in deer prints to know the difference on sight. By the looks of it there were two, and they were at walk, which makes sense as they were obviously loaded into a truck or onto a ramp of some sorts.’

‘Yeah, obviously,’ said Lestrade sarcastically, gesturing at the disappearing tracks. ‘And for your information, the deer are mountain reindeer.’

Sherlock and John stared at him in astonishment.

‘That would make them tarandus. The deer in question are most likely to be from Scandinavia, but how do you know the subspecies?’ Sherlock asked.

‘They’re from Cairngorms, Scotland,’ said Lestrade.

Sherlock just stared.

‘What,’ Lestrade said. ‘I just googled reindeer and the herd in Cairngorms is the only herd in the UK and they’re missing a team of six, a sleigh and a truck. I’m not as stupid as you sometimes seem to think.’

Sherlock got up and walked back to the beginning of the path, to see if there would be any other traces. He looked at one of the police vans and the four people next to them. A woman with blonde hair and a green coat was crying. Two other women were trying to comfort her. A female constable was asking her questions.

Sherlock looked at the woman and the policewoman caught his glance. She walked up to him and held out her hand, which Sherlock ignored. She put her hand down again. ‘You’re Sherlock Holmes, I presume? I’m Officer Lara Owen; can I help you with anything?’

‘What do you know about the victim?’ Sherlock asked.

‘Just let me explain,’ said Officer Walker. As he approached Sherlock, the officers gave way to him; Owen shrugged and went back to the crying woman.

‘The victim is called Rupert Luton.’ Walker pointed at the woman. ‘This was his fiancée, Miranda Shepherd.’

Miranda gave Walker an angry look, then the woman next to her pulled her into an embrace. Miranda instantly started sobbing again. ‘Those two women are her friends: Gladys Fuller and Jane Tiler.’

Sherlock looked at the women. Miranda was a churchgoer who liked singing, knitting and World of Warcraft. Gladys was a slightly more dramatic woman, housewife, mother, choir singer, volunteer on a primary school and harbouring a sex obsession. Jane was the most religious of the three, also a singer and by the looks of her classy red coat a rather self-confident person.

‘Did Luton have any enemies?’

‘Not that we know of. He was a manager in the supermarket, and as you rightly concluded, he wasn’t always loved by his staff, but that’s hardly a motive for this.’

‘Anything can be a motive. Ex-girlfriends?’

‘None with a criminal record, but what might bee of interest is the lady’s ex-boyfriend: Charlie Brownrigge. He was a deejay in Cheltenham, and was once arrested for possession of cocaine.’

‘Not a very convincing motive either. However, the murderer was a man and by the looks of it, he’s done this alone so Brownrigge is definitely an option. Her boyfriend before this Charlie?’

Walker smiled a painful smile. ‘That’d be me.’

Sherlock looked him over from top to bottom. Although the length seemed to match, his shoe size was smaller and he was over ten pounds lighter than the imprints suggested.

‘Okay, Lestrade needs a list of all his associates, male, female, employees, friends, enemies, anything. Don’t forget to include yourself.’

He turned his back on the inspector. There were no traces to investigate further. He waved at John and Lestrade who came in his direction.

‘We’re done here,’ he announced. ‘Let’s find a pub before we go home.’

Two incredulous faces gaped back at him.

‘You?’ said Lestrade. ‘In a pub? Are you ill?’

Sherlock smiled. ‘Never better. The pieces of the puzzle are already falling into place’

Lestrade found them the nearest pub. While he and John devoted themselves to the local bitter, Sherlock limited himself to tea. Unlike average people, he wasn’t willing to give up his brainpower right at the beginning of a case.

‘It wasn’t so soggy everywhere. Quite possibly, the truck was on a slightly drier spot. You’ll probably find planks of wood inside it,’ he explained to Lestrade

‘You mean he parked the truck onto the wood and then loaded the reindeer sleigh into it. Why would anyone do that?’

Sherlock folded his hands together and thought for a moment. ‘For the audience,’ he finally said. ‘The only reason that makes sense is that he wanted to create those specific tracks. He wanted people to think of Christmas.’

He pulled out his phone. ‘Much like the sender of this advent calendar.’

Lestrade scrolled through the pictures, and he and John looked at them. Sherlock had taken pictures of all the chocolates with his phone. Sherlock knew what they saw. There was a picture of the advent calendar and then there were pictures of all the chocolates. The first one was a reindeer, then a bell, a sleigh, a carrot and a stocking.

‘Wait a second,’ said Lestrade. ‘We saw all those things. So are you suggesting that the guy who created this scene yesterday is the guy who sent you the calendar?’

‘Or multiple people, who knows, fact is that the murder was committed the sixth of December.’

Lestrade scrolled back; the sixth chocolate was a skull and crossbones.

John smirked. ‘Pirate themed.’

‘I don’t think they represent pirates in this case,’ Sherlock said.

Lestrade then scrolled forward and they looked at the pictures: carol singers, a tree, a candle, a tricycle, a pine cone, skull and crossbones, a ghost, Christmas decorations, a present, a candy cane, a slinky, skull and crossbones, a nativity scene, a Christmas cracker, a yule log, a church, a bell...

Sherlock took the phone and scrolled back. ‘Today is the seventh,’ he stopped at the picture with the carol singers, ‘the day of the singers.’ He scrolled one further, ‘tomorrow it’s Christmas tree day. The pattern is obvious: five chocolates with objects, the sixth one a skull and crossbones, then it repeats itself.’

Lestrade nodded. ‘And those skulls and crossbones must represent murders. One hell of an advent.’

‘There’s one exception...’ he took the phone and swiped to the last picture, December twenty fourth. It had not one but two skulls and crossbones.

‘That doesn’t look too good,’ said John.

‘I estimate that for that day, he’s not planning a murder, he’s planning a massacre.’

After their drinks, Lestrade took care of the rest of the murder case and John and Sherlock returned to London to work out the clues from the advent calendar.

In practice, this came down to Sherlock lying on his back on the sofa, not seeing anything but his mind palace. Sherlock had loaded all the pictures from the chocolates and attached to them the numbers of the days.

A mind palace worked best if one made it as visual as possible. He had taken the hilly countryside just outside Winchcombe as a backdrop and imagined three small hills in the foreground. On the first hill, there were the carol singers, now a small choir, the number seven attached with sticky notes to their foreheads, and annoyingly singing Jingle Bells over and over again, a giant fir tree with a toy, a candle and a pine cone underneath.

The second one had the ghost flying over it in circles, a nicely wrapped present with a giant candy cane, all decorated with Christmas lights and a slinky moving around on its own.

The third one had a large church on top with a bell in the tower, a live nativity scene inside, except for baby Jesus; there was a Yule log, and a Christmas cracker as a mobile

‘Decorating your mind palace for Christmas, are you?’

Sherlock looked into the direction of the voice. Next to him on the hill stood his brother.

Adding characters to a mind palace was his own invention. A large part of the characters was driven by subconscious processes, a much faster part of his brain, leaving room in his working memory for other tasks. Through the characters, which he had based on people around him, he could access information a lot quicker. It was a hack that was so effective that it had sped up the otherwise tedious process of looking through objects in imaginary space by at least a fivefold. The only drawback of this approach was that the characters sometimes seemed to have lives of their own.

‘You have to make a decision,’ said Mycroft. He pulled a smug face. ‘I think you’ve already made it, but apparently you feel the need to work it out in its entirety.’

Sherlock frowned at him. His mind palace imitation of his brother was the smartest character he had, but he could be incredibly annoying at times. ‘What are you talking about?’

Mycroft looked into the valley. ‘The trolley problem.’

From the hill, Sherlock followed his brother’s gaze into the valley. Train tracks had appeared. Two tracks from either side of hill three were were joined with a railroad switch in the middle of the hills. On the single track on the other side of the switch stood a modern train trolley.

‘Now imagine that on the right track, there are three people. On the left, there is only one.’

The people, four men in jeans and winter coats, appeared on the tracks.

‘The train trolley has gone loose and it can’t be stopped. The switch is set to the right. If you don’t do anything, they will be run over by the train.’

The trolley now moved, went to the right and ran over the men.

‘However, you have the opportunity to change the switch to the left.’

Mycroft looked at him. ‘The question to you is: will you change the switch? It will make you a murderer but on balance, you’ll save two lives.’

Sherlock looked at the tracks. ‘It’s the most sensible thing to do.’

‘Indeed.’ Mycroft looked at him intensely. ‘What is stopping you?’

The characters were in position again. The trolley moved, now turning left and running over the one man. The three men on the right track walked away.

‘There is a second part to this problem.’ Sherlock said.

‘You’re a professional,’ said Mycroft. ‘At least that’s what you call yourself. You cannot get involved in the second part.’ He pointed to the hill between the two tracks. On top of it was the church.

‘Did you make any connections?’ asked John.

Sherlock looked up; he was back on his sofa in Baker Street, feeling stiff all over from lying in the same position for hours.

‘I didn’t hear you come in,’ he said.

John chuckled. ‘I noticed that.’ He turned to the wall. Sherlock had printed all the photographs of the chocolates and stuck them on it in four rows of six. John looked at the second row. ‘So we’re connecting carol singers, a pine tree, a candle, a tricycle and a pine cone.

‘No, we’re connecting a church, a nativity scene, a Christmas cracker, a Yule log and a bell.’

‘You’re ignoring two murders in order to avoid a massacre?’ John looked tense with that realisation, even though he did seem to grasp the logic of it.

‘Yep.’ Sherlock folded his hands in front of his face and closed his eyes again. Instantly he was back on the first hill, looking at the church on hill number three. Time for a brainstorm. He mentally lifted the five objects and let them float in mid-air. He changed the church into a synagogue, then a mosque, a faculty building, a group of people performing a ritual, football supporters...

‘How can you do this?’

Next to him on the hill stood his mental representation of John, but it was the real John who had spoken.

‘Well, it takes a lot of practice to create a mind palace as elaborate...’

‘Letting someone be murdered.’

Sherlock opened his eyes, which instantly transferred him back home. He didn’t like being distracted like that. ‘I need a list of all churches in the Cotswolds and whether they’re doing a Christmas service the twenty-fourth.’

‘It’s the ninth today, in three days, someone will be killed. Since there is a tricycle involved, I doubt that this will be an adult.’

‘The killer would want us to go at this problem one by one which would put us at a disadvantage to solve the most important problem.’

‘Yes, I understand that. But you could devote at least some of your time to the other ones? Maybe they provide clues we would otherwise overlook.’

‘Seems like a considerable risk.’

‘But if you catch him earlier, you’re also preventing a massacre.’

‘Focusing on the last problem gives us more time and puts us in a better situation.’

‘In three days a child will die.’

‘You’re confusing importance with urgency...’

In his mind palace, the Christmas tree burned, a child underneath screamed.

‘...but you may have a point.’

His mind palace brother shook his head but he ignored it. He jumped up as he loaded the pictures into his working memory: carol singers, a Christmas tree, a candle, a tricycle and a pine cone. He repeated the words aloud. ‘What would bring those things together?’

‘Christmas would do.’

Sherlock looked at John who shrugged. ‘Those things can be found all over December.’

‘Yes, but specifically the twelfth...’ he rushed to his laptop and opened it. John followed and looked over his shoulder. He opened Google.

‘It has to be some kind of festival of sorts.’ He typed in Christmas Market Cotswolds and got his answer in the second result. There was an evening market in Winchcombe with candles on the twelfth of December.

And so it happened that on the twelfth, John and Sherlock made the trip to the Cotswolds again, hiring a car in Cheltenham. Sherlock had rung Lestrade and told him everything he knew, and although Lestrade agreed that Sherlock’s theory was indeed plausible, he was unable to cancel the market with a theory based on five chocolates.

Winchcombe looked even more saccharine in the evening, with warm light illuminating the old yellow limestone houses and Christmas decorations and flickering candles lighting up the village square.

As they got out of the car, Sherlock stood still and swept the area with his all his senses. The first thing he noticed was that it was busy; not only had people come from the entire area, given by the dialects and accents he heard, the market was also a tourist attraction. The second thing he noticed, much to his irritation, was that the market was not limited to the four rows of stalls on the village square. As far as he could see, the narrow streets were full of people and shop windows were lit and decorated and Christmas lights hung from side to side, arching over the streets.

He turned back and saw that John was observing him.

‘So where do we start?’’ asked John.

The truth was that he didn’t really know either. ‘There are candles everywhere. That leaves us looking for trees, pine cones, carol singers and a tricycle.’ He pulled a face. John grinned in return.

They looked around and then joined the masses on the village square. Sherlock realised that this was going to be hard. Because there were so many people around, they couldn’t see very far ahead. They looked into the stalls, just like regular shoppers. The tricycle would be the most unusual thing, so if they found one they’d probably be on the right track. However, the stalls were mostly about Christmas trinkets: miniature houses, candles, the random things people seemed to be compelled to buy this time of year. At another stall, people bought Glühwein in plastic cups. Then he heard it.

‘Sherlock?’ John pointed in the same direction. Singing voices. Manoeuvring through the crowd, they followed the direction of the sound. On the other side of the square, an all middle aged women’s choir was singing Dreaming of a White Christmas.

‘They’ve probably never heard of climate change,’ John joked but Sherlock wasn’t listening. He looked around. There were people standing around the choir, listening, a man dressed as Santa Claus was ringing his bell but as he walked by, he stopped the noise so that he wouldn’t disturb the listeners. There were no Christmas trees, no pine cones and certainly no tricycle.

Then he heard other singing, higher pitched, sounding like Silent Night. He nudged John and pointed in the direction of the sound.

John understood immediately. ‘Another choir? How many choirs would there be?’

He didn’t answer but swiftly made his way towards the sound, John grabbed his arm so he wouldn’t lose him as they walked through the crowd.

The other choir was made out of children, mostly about nine or ten years of age. There was a blonde woman dressed in red and white, Sherlock immediately identified her as a schoolteacher, and most of the spectators as parents.

‘Excuse me,’ he shouted at a woman who wore a Santa hat, one of the mothers watching. ‘Do you know a place where they sell toys? We’re looking for a tricycle.’

She looked at him, slightly disturbed, but then pointed in the direction of one of the small streets. Sherlock was off, hearing John thanking the woman, and feeling how his forearm was grabbed again. ‘We’d be better off finding the tricycle,’ he yelled as they ran.

They ran past the church, where there was another choir singing and past another Christmas tree, but this time they paid no attention.

The street was even more crowded than the market square and they were slowed down by families with children, people with wine or hot chocolate or sausages and they pushed through with difficulty.

John saw it before Sherlock: a small local toy store, entirely illuminated with Christmas lights. Even though there were plenty of children on the market, the shop was doing good business as the would-be Santas who had cleverly left their children at home now took the opportunity to buy the somewhat overpriced present their children wanted. Sherlock and John entered the shop.

They located the area for toddlers and ran towards it. In large boxes on the ground, they found tricycles. Sherlock looked around the hustle and bustle of the place; there was a Christmas tree, lots of lights but no candles or carol singers or pine cones.

He saw John looking at him and looked at his watch. It was almost nine o’ clock. Time was running out. They had not made a single connection. He looked back at John.

‘We’re doing this wrong.’

‘Maybe we’re in the wrong place. Maybe the whole idea of the Christmas market was wrong.’

‘It’s the same village and it’s the right date. It’s unlikely to be a coincidence.’

He closed his eyes and ignored the voices and movement around him. It was possible that this wasn’t what the killer had in mind but a market like this was too good an opportunity for someone local to let go. He had learned one thing, the guy loved to have an audience and he would have one here. If they were correct, then he also must be a local. And then it hit him.

‘John, imagine you’re on a Christmas fair in a village where everyone knows you and you don’t want to be recognised. What would you do?’

‘You mean he’s put on a disguise?’

‘Exactly!’ Two children ran past them and John and Sherlock both looked. The children were both dressed up as Santa Claus.

‘But there are even more people out there dressed as Santa than there are choirs,’ John protested.

‘That’s why it’s such a good disguise, come on.’ Sherlock sprinted out of the shop, John in pursuit.

Outside, they stopped for a moment until Sherlock saw the red of a Santa’s costume. They sprinted towards it. The man was standing on the side of the road, ringing a bell and singing. Sherlock stopped abruptly and felt how John bumped into him. Murderers wouldn’t stand still drawing attention to themselves.

‘That’s not him,’ he said and without further explanation, he ran on, back in the direction of the square.

He saw another Santa; this one was walking along with the people. They made their way towards him but when they were close enough, they saw that this man was walking with friends, relaxed and laughing together. Sherlock turned away, in the direction of St Peter’s Church again.

‘So this is what we’re doing? Running after everyone who’s dressed up as Santa?’ he heard John behind him.

He looked back. ‘Do you have a better idea?’

John clenched his teeth and shook his head.

The people were gathering on the street nearby the church, listening to the choir, women in white dresses, holding candles, singing Carol of the Bells. Sherlock looked from the women to the Christmas tree with the fake presents in front of the tree.

‘Sherlock!’ the alarm in John’s voice made Sherlock startle.

‘I saw a Santa talking to a child on a tricycle.’ John pointed to the crowd in the direction of the church.

Sherlock looked but saw neither child nor Santa.

John was already running and Sherlock followed him bursting right through the crowd, not even trying to be polite anymore, ignoring disapproving voices.

He bumped into John, who was standing still in the crowd and looking around.

‘It’s here, it’s happening,’ Sherlock shouted, pointing at the choir and the tree.

He now smelled smoke and looked around, trying to see something other than people. They could see the church and a bit of the choir. Then he turned to the Christmas tree with the fake presents in a pile underneath. On top of the presents were pine cones. He looked at the pile and suddenly saw what that could become.

‘He’s going to burn it,’ he said.

‘You can’t burn a live pine tree so easily, it’s just way too wet.’

Sherlock shook his head. ‘It’s a fir tree and this one will burn. No real tree is ever so symmetrical and underneath real trees there are always some needles that have fallen out. This one has none. It’s a fake and some fake trees burn really well. And those presents are cardboard boxes and we don’t know what’s inside them.’

Sherlock looked at the crowd; everyone was looking at the choir, and then he pushed towards the tree. With a clearer view, he saw the familiar bright yellow and red of flames, coming out of the presents.

A high pitched scream came out of the direction of the tree, the voice of a child.

As one, Sherlock and John ran towards the tree. The boxes were on fire, flames reaching out to the lower branches. Sherlock kicked them apart but there were many. He saw John following the direction of the sound, and kicked boxes away from him. John found the child and while he was untying him, Sherlock saw that the lower branches had caught fire.

From the sound of the crowd behind him, he gathered that they too had worked out what was going on. Two men were now joining them, kicking boxes apart but it was a lost case. He saw John running away from the tree, carrying a little boy.

‘Stand back!’ he screamed to the men and they too ran away from the tree.

With a loud ‘woof’ the fire suddenly reached the top of the tree. The crowd scattered, singers and spectators alike.

Sherlock looked around, saw John with the child now at a safe distance and ran towards them. The boy was conscious and Sherlock didn’t see any obvious burn marks on his skin or clothes. He coughed. Sherlock looked at John.

‘Smoke,’ John said, ‘but otherwise he looks fine.’

‘Oliver!’ One of the men who were helping earlier, the man in the leather jacket, ran towards them and picked up the boy who embraced him and started crying.

‘He’s my boy!’ the man yelled to a surprised John.

They heard a woman scream. Out of the crowd, a woman in a white dress ran towards them and hugged the child.

They looked from the family to the burning tree, now illuminating the entire area. A smouldering pine cone burst with a crack.

It was almost two o clock when they finally got to their hotel in Cheltenham. They had spent hours at the local police station. In order to avoid trouble, Sherlock had told them that they’d just been there for the fair, something officer Owen didn’t entirely seem to believe, but she was tired too, so she probably just let it slide, knowing she could always contact them again. She smiled and was much kinder than Sherlock had remembered her.

Sherlock was glad that he’d had the foresight to find a hotel in Cheltenham and not Winchcombe, away from the drama of the Christmas market. It had turned out better than he’d expected but admittedly, that was mostly due to luck. They were sharing a large twin room in an old-fashioned style. He sat down on his bed, tired but not ready to go to sleep.

He felt tired but very satisfied. Not only had they seen a glimpse of the murderer, he now also had a clearer idea of what kind of person they were dealing with and how this person’s communication through the advent calendar worked.

‘Tea?’ John asked. .

‘Yes please.’

John boiled the kettle and made two mugs of tea.

Sherlock put his pillow up against the wall and leaned against it. ‘He’s a local and there’s something very particular about him: he wants to be seen and he wants certain people to be his audience. Find those people and we find our killer.’

John gave him a mug and sat down on the other bed with his own. ‘So you’re happy then?’ he asked.

‘Of course. We learned a few things about him and even the kid is alive.’

‘Right.’ John sipped his tea in silence. He looked exhausted.

Sherlock drank his tea and waited for John to speak his mind.

John put his tea mug on the nightstand and sighed. ‘I had to persuade you to come here.’

Sherlock rolled his eyes. ‘Getting involved emotionally with a case clouds my judgement; we’ve been over this before.’

‘Yes and it’s rubbish. You’ve manipulated me over and over again and then you’re surprised that I’m not laughing. It’s not exactly professional distance we’re talking about here.’

Sherlock felt how his frustration built. ‘When will you ever stop nagging about that? I’m not like anybody else. I thought that would be obvious by now.’

‘Because you just want people to see how clever you are. You even lie in order for people to find you clever. That’s not normal, Sherlock.’ John buried his face in his hands for a moment. Then he switched off his light and rolled onto his side.

Sherlock stared back, into the darkness. ‘Nobody ever claimed that I was normal.’

‘There’s something about you that is so cold, it’s unnerving.’ John said. ‘Be aware of that. Disrupting emotional processing severely impairs decision making. That’s a medical fact.’

While John went to sleep, Sherlock stayed awake and went back into his mind palace. One hill in the mind palace was now cleared of its objects.

‘You’ve worked yourself into quite a bit of trouble. Though you must admit that your friend has a point. You do like a bit of drama, don’t you?’

Sherlock looked at his brother who had appeared next to him. ‘Since when do you care about relationships?’

‘I’m not your brother. I’m part of your unconscious mind, and apparently it’s occupied with other things than the subject at hand.’ Mycroft gestured to the objects on the hills. ‘You could still do some good, instead of being consumed by sentiments. You’ve been behind every step on the way because you don’t plan ahead and let your emotions run your actions. Control yourself. ’

‘Only you could be berating me for saving a child.’

‘You saved a child, yes, well done Sherlock. But at whose expense?’ Mycroft pointed at the church. ‘Christmas eve. Lots of people attend a service at that time, even people who normally don’t go to church. Any chance you could connect any of the other objects?’

‘Cracker and log; murder weapons, most likely, some kind of bomb, nativity scene probably the topic of the sermon. Church and bell refer to location.’

‘So we need a church with a bell.’ Mycroft chuckled. ‘That’d narrow it down.’

Sherlock looked at the train tracks again.

‘No, Sherlock, you’re not paying attention.’ It was Molly, now standing on his other side. ‘There is a second part to this problem. With the train switch, most people would choose to flip the switch, saving two lives. In the second part of the problem, you’re standing on a bridge.’

Between hill one and hill three a bridge appeared. Then, he and Molly were on it.

‘It’s the same problem as with the switch, only now the trolley goes on a single track underneath a bridge. Three people are on the tracks and they will be killed if you don’t stop them. However, there’s one man on the bridge. If you push him off, that man will be killed, but the three men on the tracks will be saved.’

She looked at him. ‘The question is: would you push him off?’

He looked from her to the characters and back. ‘It would be logical.’

She shook her head. ‘You’re avoiding my question and I know why. With the switch, over sixty percent of people said they would change the switch, with the bridge, almost no one would push someone off the bridge, even though the gains and losses are exactly the same.’

‘You’re lying.’ Mycroft said. ‘You’d never push him off.’

‘But you’d think about it.’ John said. He now stood on his other side. ‘That’s what makes you different. It’s so cold that it’s not even cruel.’

‘Yes, that’s what you’re like, get over it, focus on the problem,’ Mycroft said, rolling his eyes. ‘Not everyone can fake their deaths to their own best friends. You are a calculating person.’

John nodded. ‘Yes, that’s right, you don’t care. You really don’t care.’

‘So get yourself together then,’ Mycroft said. ‘You’re always so emotional. People will die if you don’t get over your weaknesses. You have a responsibility. Focus!’

Sherlock opened his eyes, and was back into the hotel room, still shaken about what had happened. He’d just broken his mind palace.

The next day they drove back to London and met with Lestrade and Donovan in their office. Collaborating with the local police, they had interviewed almost half the village, found a few small village intrigues and ruled out Luton’s employees who all had alibies. They were not a step closer to the murderer. They decided to focus on the Christmas market case.

‘The child’s name is Oliver Fuller, child of Gladys Fuller and Edwin Fuller. He owns a garage,’ Lestrade said.

‘Miranda’s friend,’ John helpfully supplied. Sherlock gave him a look as if he were offended, but indeed he’d forgotten the name.

‘So we can rule out Gladys Fuller as a suspect. Enemies?’ Sherlock asked.

‘We could ask his peers at primary school,’ Donovan said sarcastically. ‘Maybe he’s a bully.’

‘Enemies of the parents of course.’

‘Edwin Fuller had a bad relationship with someone named Gary Hall,’ Lestrade said. ‘Something about insurance fraud.’

Sherlock looked out of the window. Somehow it seemed really absurd. ‘Those women are friends, that’s the key to this case. So they did something that got them hated. But what?’

Donovan scrolled through the file. ‘Miranda Shepherd was once Miranda Walker. She divorced Tom Walker two years ago. She said that Gladys Fuller supported her but that Jane Tiler was very upset about the divorce. It was against her worldview.’

‘Still hardly a reason for murder,’ John said. ‘And it was a man.’

‘Religion can be very motivational and she could have got help. We can’t rule out Jane Tiler just yet.

‘What about Tom Walker?’ John asked ‘He could be angry about the divorce, maybe he wanted revenge.’

‘She divorced him because he cheated on her, not the other way around,’ Donovan said.

Sherlock grinned to John. ‘Rather weak motive for revenge, don’t you think? However, we cannot rule him out completely. It’s also possible that someone targets him; policemen make a lot of enemies. It could be a criminal. This is obviously the work of a very manipulative person.’

‘So are you sure it isn’t you?’ Donovan joked.

Lestrade sighed. ‘The only plausible suspect so far has been Charlie Brownsrigge. He’s the only one with a criminal record and his separation with Shepherd wasn’t exactly smooth. He also fits the weight and height requirements from the tracks and he really hates Gladys Fuller.’

‘If it was him he would probably have worked alone. Arrest him.’

‘We don’t nearly have enough evidence.’

‘But it’s enough reason to hold him for a few days. In three days, there’s a murder planned in the Cotswolds on the eighteenth of December. If he’s in custody, we’ll know very soon whether he’s our man.’ Sherlock smiled a broad smile. ‘It’s an experiment.’

‘Oh, wonderful, an experiment,’ John said.

Sherlock took out the prints of the remaining chocolates and put them in two rows of five:

Ghost, decorations, present, candy cane, slinky, skull and crossbones;

Nativity scene, Christmas cracker, yule log, church, bell, double skull and crossbones.

‘Chocolates? Your base your theory on chocolates?’ Donovan asked with a shocked expression on her face.

‘It’s complicated,’ Sherlock said.

The four of them looked at the pictures.

‘Those things are everywhere,’ Lestrade finally said. ‘Any idea about the church?’

‘The murder and the attack on the boy were both in Winchcombe; therefore it’s likely that the murderer is local. Quite possibly it’s the church in the same village.’

John nodded. ‘Saint Peter’s.’

‘That makes sense,’ Lestrade said. ‘Let’s call off the Christmas service, better safe than sorry.’

Sherlock looked at the pictures again. ‘We’re looking for things that are rare. He wants to give us the idea that we can work it out so he can gloat if we won’t.’ He closed his eyes and scrolled through the pictures in his mind. ‘There’s one rare thing here.’

‘The ghost,’ John said.

‘Indeed.’ Sherlock looked at Donovan. ‘Is there anything ghost related in the area? Haunted houses, horror films, Halloween-themed parties?’

She went to her computer and started searching. It only took a couple of minutes. In Winchcombe, there was a castle, Sudeley Castle, with a ghost story. They even did ghost tours. Now, there was a Christmas-themed ghost tour. Its date was the eighteenth of December.

Sudeley Castle was dark when they drove up to it in their rental car. It was located in the countryside not far from a forest. Sherlock didn’t like the lack of visibility on the meandering road through the hills and the fields. Much could be hidden there. They had contacted the local police and decided to create a trap. Because the killer was so focused on Sherlock’s presence, they decided that Sherlock and John would join the tour, submitting themselves to the killer’s need for a truly appreciative audience, while the police would be scattered throughout the castle and around the surrounding countryside, waiting for any sign of him. The castle’s owners had been informed of their presence.

When they arrived, they saw that eight other people had gathered five women and three men. Their guide was a woman in her late forties with long blonde hair and a green dress.

‘Welcome,’ she said in a low, eerie voice and Sherlock knew at once that she didn’t know about them or the police team. All the better, the fewer people knew, the less likely the knowledge would fall into the wrong hands.

The woman lit a candle and they all looked at her as she held it. The flickering light illuminated only their faces as it cast moving shadows on the walls behind them. ‘There are many places that attract spirits,’ she said. ‘And in this castle, many people have seen and heard strange things. They call her the Lady in Green.’

The group went inside and followed her to what looked like a dining room, all in old-fashioned style, though Sherlock didn’t know which century. The woman started to tell a story about the Lady in Green, and about the people who had seen her. Sherlock saw that John listened intensely, but he hardly gave the story any attention. He looked around the room, looking for anything that might be out of place, little traces of human tampering. To his irritation, the room had been cleaned recently.

Then he noticed something odd. With his foot, he could move the wooden floorboards a little bit. He squatted; the people were still listening to the story, gasping with excitement. A closer look at the plinths confirmed his suspicion. Normally, plinths would be entirely visible but in this case, they were obscured by the floorboards. The whole floor wasn’t the original but it just lay over the actual floor. He got up again, wondering what it could mean.

Then a woman screamed.

He looked at the group, they all gasped except John who stood firm but tense. Then he heard it too, the floor was creaking, as if there were footsteps but there was no one there. He sighed with disappointment. Pressure pads, he should have known.

The next room was a kitchen. It had a small window into the garden and Sherlock knew at once which special effect they would be seeing a little later.

He nudged John and pointed through the window. ‘Keep your eye on the garden, there’ll be a ghost there soon.’

Indeed, after a harrowing, and rather annoying story, the transparent statue of a woman suddenly appeared in the garden and then, after all the women had screamed, disappeared.

John looked at Sherlock. ‘How did you know?’

‘It’s an illusion called Pepper’s Ghost,’ Sherlock said. ‘It’s made with a semi-transparent mirror, and a concealed place where the actress can stand in the light. The window is very small, forcing our vision into one direction. An excellent opportunity for this trick.’

For the rest of the tour, Sherlock amused John by discovering a speaker in a chandelier, mimicking the guide’s cold reading techniques and explaining the movements of a dancing table by the ideomotor effect.

They were almost at the end of the tour as they walked past the stairs leading up to a tower when Sherlock stopped abruptly. There had been a faint tapping noise. He looked up the stairs.

‘What is it?’ John said but Sherlock put his finger against his lips.

The first things they saw were shadows, creeping over the stairs but then they saw them. Slinkys, ten, maybe twenty of them, making their way down the stairs in silence.

Lightning fast, Sherlock ran up the stairs, followed by John who was already phoning Lestrade. The staircase was long and narrow and they were both panting by the time they reached the top and the wooden door looming over it.

Sherlock opened the door and burst into the room. One glance told him they were too late. On the bed in the middle of the room laid a woman with brown hair, white and stiff, probably dead for hours. Around her and on top of her, there were candy canes and she was decorated with Christmas lights.

Sherlock looked at John, who’d just told Lestrade that the victim was dead and had hung up. ‘He’s cheating,’ Sherlock said. ‘It’s not fair.’

‘He just murdered a woman and you’re upset because he cheated?’

Sherlock looked at the woman. He expected that they would find that she’d been suffocated by one of the pillows. ‘We never had any chance; she’d been murdered before the tour even started.’

He looked back at John. ‘I think this time he didn’t want to take any risk. It’s not a game, it’s a show.’

John nodded. ‘To show us how clever he is.’

Footsteps came racing up the stairs soon followed by a Lestrade who was struggling for breath. -

Sherlock looked from him to the body and back. ‘I think we can rule out Charlie Brownsrigge,’ he said with a wry smile.

Lestrade rolled his eyes. ‘We’re combing over the whole castle,’ he panted. ‘If you’re finished here, please come downstairs and help us search.’

They searched for hours; the police had called in extra people, but they couldn’t find anyone suspicious in or around the castle. Eventually, they decided to end the large scale search and most of the people went home. Lestrade and his team stayed behind to do forensic research, some of which were undoubtedly hampered by all the search activities. Finally, Sherlock and John decided to call it a day and go to their hotel. They went to the parking lot to get into their rental car and then Sherlock suddenly froze.

On the road, just outside the parking lot, was a white car that was blinking its headlights. Sherlock looked and the headlights blinked again. He looked at John, then they walked towards the car. Immediately, it raced off.

‘It’s him!’ Sherlock shouted and they raced back to their rental car. Sherlock got in the driver’s seat and they spurted off, tyres screeching, after the white car, whose lights had just disappeared behind a bend.

They followed the car through the hills. Every now and then, they could see the red backlights appearing and disappearing again. Then the car slid into the forest and the trees almost immediately obscured their vision. Sherlock revved the engine. Soon, they were surrounded by trees.


I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 6, 2015 1:50 pm  #10

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

The forest was pitch-black, only their headlights illuminating the road in front of them. Sherlock resisted the temptation to drive faster in order to catch up with the other car and slowed down. The local area map had showed that this forest wasn’t very large and there was only one road going through it. On the other side, it was countryside again, open landscape, difficult to hide in. If the guy was going to hide somewhere, it’d be here.

From the corner of his eye, he saw that John threw him a questioning look.

‘Look into the forest, left and right. Look for those little side roads that are so perfect to hide a car in,’ he said.

John didn’t ask any further questions and scanned the environment. Sherlock did the same.

The wood was so dark that it was almost impossible to make out any shapes. The headlights illuminated the trees, producing long shadows that turned around as they drove past. The trees, branches and leaves gave the illusion of movement all around them, even though Sherlock knew it was just the shadows and the wind.

‘Over there!’ John shouted and looked intensely up the road.

Sherlock followed his glance. There was a shape, car-like, ahead on the side of the road. He drove towards it. It wasn’t until the shape was caught in their headlights that they saw that it wasn’t a car.

It was a sleigh.

‘Why would someone put that over here?’ John asked.

‘Someone who wants to send a message,’ Sherlock said.

Sherlock pulled over and stopped in front of it. They got out and walked around it. Although they had torches with them, Sherlock left the headlights on. It was a large sleigh, wood, painted red, with a tiller, meaning that it was meant to be pulled by two animals. Sherlock looked at the runners and knew that this was the one that had made the tracks at the murder scene.

‘It’s the same one, isn’t it?’ John whispered.

Sherlock nodded. They looked around into the dark forest with their torches. It was almost impossible to see anything. Sherlock suddenly realised that for the killer, they were a giant beacon of light. They couldn’t see a thing but anyone could see them while hiding in the shadows. Then a shape drew his attention.

‘John,’ he whispered urgently and pointed.

John looked. ‘Looks like his car.’

‘He’s here,’ Sherlock said.

He opened the car door and switched off the lights. Now they stood in pitch-black while their eyes adjusted. Then they heard it. A ringing sound, irregular as if it was something that breathed and moved.

A sleigh bell.

Sherlock grabbed Johns arm and ran for the bushes. They listened. The sleigh bell now moved away from them. John and Sherlock gave each other a short look and then got up and ran after the sound. It seemed to speed up. Sherlock used his torch to watch his footing as he stumbled over branches and roots. With the tiny beam of light now down, the darkness in front of them was drawn towards them.

The sound disappeared and he suddenly halted, making John bump into him. They listened. Now the sound came from a sharp angle to their left. They ran towards it. The sound immediately became stronger and lost its irregularity. Sherlock heard it move away from them.

He stopped again and listened. It was silent. Then he heard a faint bell sound to their right. He looked at his friend, John had heard it too.

Then he heard it on the left again.

They turned to the left and shone with their torches. There was nothing but the blackness and the trees.

There was another sound of bells from behind them. They startled and looked back. Nothing but darkness and forest.

Bells from behind them startled them again. Sherlock heard it moving closer. They were surrounded.

Without words, they moved back to back, shining their lights around the trees. There was nothing to be seen. Sherlock heard the bells now accompanied by cracking of branches and leaves, movements of something big. He shone in its direction. The branches of the shrubs parted and then he saw antlers.

He nudged John and pointed. The antlers were now followed by the rest of the animal. A reindeer, about four feet high, with red bell tack around its shoulders and chest. It looked at Sherlock and carefully stretched its neck towards him as if it wanted to smell.

John sighed with relief. ‘We’re in a herd of reindeer.’

‘Your ability to notice the obvious amazes me,’ Sherlock answered.

He now saw another reindeer on their right hand side, eating mosses from a tree trunk, bells ringing softly.

‘There’s another one over here,’ John said, pointing behind them. He walked towards it.

Sherlock focused on the one that was close. The mud on its feet told him that the animal had been in the forest for more than a day, damage of the fur around the tack suggested that it had worn that tack for several days, longer than it was designed for.

A scream. John’s voice.

Sherlock startled, turned around shone his light and saw nothing.

‘Ho, ho, ho,’ said an unfamiliar voice.

Out of the darkness came John, but he was held by someone in red, with a big knife at his throat. They moved closer. The costume was a Santa Claus costume, complete with big belly and moustache and beard.

‘Ho, ho, fucking ho,’ Santa said.

‘What do you want?’ Sherlock yelled. ‘Why did you bring us here?’

Santa laughed. ‘I just wanted to give you a little gift. Thought it was better given in private.’

‘Oh is it that kind of a gift,’ John said.

‘Don’t you move, dear Watson,’ Santa said and with his left hand, he reached into his pocket and threw something at Sherlock who jumped back.

Santa laughed again. ‘Don’t worry; it’s not going to bite you.’

Sherlock picked up the object, it was about half a foot long, soft and wrapped in wrapping paper.

‘Come on, open it,’ Santa said.

Holding the package as far away from him as possible, Sherlock unwrapped it, to reveal a cylindrical shape: a Christmas cracker.

Sherlock looked at Santa. ‘You’re too early.’

‘Oh, it’s just a laugh.’ Santa grinned and gestured Sherlock to open it.

‘Sherlock, it could be a bomb,’ John said tensely.

‘It’s not, it’s not,’ said Santa. ‘Here,’ he held out his hand, ‘let’s pull it together.’

Sherlock took the one end and gave the other one to Santa. They pulled.

With a loud crack, the cracker opened. Sherlock was holding the longer part. He looked inside with his torch, it looked almost exactly like an ordinary Christmas cracker but he knew it’d been tampered with. He took out the joke.

‘You keep that with you.’ Santa said. ‘And if you would excuse me, I’m going to take your friend on a little walk and you’re staying here. If you move, I’ll kill him. And would you please tell him not to follow me after I let him go? It’d make it so hard for him to survive.’

Sherlock looked at John. It was indeed quite plausible that John would try something like that. ‘Stab wounds are more lethal than bullets and you’re not armed. Let him go,’ he said to John.

They moved into the darkness. Sherlock didn’t move while the reindeer was now licking his hand.

It wasn’t too long until he heard the sound of bushes again and John returned, out of breath.

‘He only took me about ten yards,’ John said. ‘He probably found it very annoying to walk with me and I kept asking him to let me go.’

‘I knew he wouldn’t kill you,’ Sherlock said.


‘Because so far his murders have been rather specific people from the village. People who all knew each other. He’s not a mass murderer who’s doing it for the thrill, there’s something very deliberate about this. You fall out of the pattern. Besides, he wants us to see how he’s outsmarted us. He wants an audience.’

‘Well, you could’ve told me that before he put a knife to my throat.’

Sherlock didn’t answer but pulled out his phone. He didn’t have any reception. He put it back. The reindeer was still next to him. He took it by the head collar.

‘John, could you take another one?’ He sighed. ‘At least we found something this night.’

John took another reindeer and they slowly made their way back to the car, using their torches to walk. The other reindeer followed them, driven by their herding instinct, and also, Sherlock suspected, because they associated humans with food.

‘So do you have any theories at all?’ John asked while he beat bushes apart.

‘Three murders in and around Winchcombe. The pattern has been consistent with our hypothesis. He’s from this village and there’s one church in the middle.’

‘That’s not a great deal of new information,’ John said under his breath.

When they were on the road, John had a little bit of reception so he called Lestrade who managed to arrange a local farmer to pick up the reindeer in a truck. Sherlock and John helped untacking them, once they were in the truck and the farmer took them home to give them food and water until they’d be picked up the next day by their owner.

It was three o’ clock at night when they finally got back to their hotel and met a very grumpy Lestrade who could tell them that the victim was Vicky Williams, Officer Walker’s girlfriend.

The Christmas cracker joke was a standard joke:

What do you get if Santa goes down the chimney when a fire is lit?

Krisp Kringle!

The week after that nothing really happened. Lestrade had made sure that the church service was cancelled and that there would be extra police in the village at the twenty fourth. After they going over the case in every way, Lestrade had just filed it and moved on to other things. Sherlock had disagreed. He didn’t like the idea of still knowing so little about this man but he was fairly certain that cancelling a church service wouldn’t stop him carrying out his plan.

In practice, that meant that while Lestrade and John got on with their lives, Sherlock spent his days on his sofa in his mind palace. It didn’t work terribly well; his characters were still shouting at him, distracting him from the problem. John came by several times, but Sherlock either hardly saw him at all or he was so frustrated that John just left in annoyance.

Now it was December the twenty fourth and still he hadn’t come any closer to a solution. Hill number three was now also cleared of its objects; he had put the suspects there instead, with name tags and tags explaining who related to whom and in what way. He’d connected them with lint: red for romantic relationships and blood bonds, yellow for friendships, blue for professional relationships, black for adversaries. The train tracks, the switch and bridge were still in place as were the characters and the clues on hill number four. He was standing on the first hill, looking out on it.

‘So you’ve allowed yourself to be led by emotion, wasted a lot of time and didn’t even save the victim.’ It was Mycroft, of course, standing on his left side. ‘Can you finally please get over yourself?’

Mycroft just couldn’t behave anymore. Sherlock ignored the character and focused on the objects.

‘Oh, a church with a bell with a bomb on it, we’ve been there before, haven’t we? Very enlightening.’

Sherlock looked at his brother. ‘You’re annoying.’

Because the brother tended to be right, he moved his attention to the hill with victims and suspects. He put top hats on Gladys, Oliver and Charlie to indicate that he ruled them out. He couldn’t just delete them because they were still needed to form a pattern.

‘You just manipulate everyone. Doesn’t that bother you?’ John was now standing on his right side. ‘You’re hardly human, are you?’

‘That’s probably a good thing,’ Mycroft said. ‘So far I’ve been rather unimpressed by humans.’ Mycroft turned to Sherlock. ‘I’m sorry that you have trouble with your friend but you need to get on with the problem.’

Sherlock focused on the people again. He now saw that most of the lint was connected to Miranda except Vicky and Oliver.

‘You know what this is?’ Mycroft asked. ‘It’s weakness. You’re weak, Sherlock, you were always so weak.’

‘No wonder you don’t have any friends. I don’t know what I was thinking,’ John said.

‘That’s the way you are,’ Mycroft said.

Sherlock buried his face in his hands. ‘Enough!’ he shouted.

And he was back on his sofa in Baker Street. On the table, a cup of tea seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. He looked up; Mrs Hudson sat in John’s chair. She smiled.

‘You look a bit off, dear,’ she said, ‘is everything okay in that mind palace of yours?’

Sherlock pulled a face. Then he sat up and took the tea. The hot beverage somehow seemed to relax him. ‘Have I told you that I create characters in my mind palace as shortcuts?’

‘No, I daresay you never tell me anything of that sort.’

‘Well, I create characters from people in my life and they perform certain functions on autopilot, thus freeing myself for other things. For example, Mycroft tends to spot patterns and keeps me focused; Molly knows everything about forensic pathology, John talks about the intricacies of human interactions and Mary knows an awful lot about bullets.’

Mrs Hudson giggled. ‘Oh really, how peculiar. And what do I do?’

‘You have the best recipe for blackcurrant cake.’

‘No I don’t.’ She sighed. ‘Well, I understand you can’t find much use for me when you’re doing criminal investigations but could you perhaps tell me your problem?’

‘The characters are now only shouting at me.’

‘Oh, dear. What do they say?’

‘You don’t want to know.’

She smiled kindly. ‘You probably feel guilt then.’

He stared back. He didn’t feel anything.

‘I don’t think so,’ he finally said.

‘Oh, you poor man. Of course you feel guilt.’ Suddenly, she had a sly smile around her lips. ‘To which character do they shout all those nasty things?’

‘To me.’

‘But not a separate character.’

‘No, that wouldn’t make any sense.’

‘You want to look at the problem objectively, right? So take another character, or create a new one, you never use me apparently. Then have them shout it at her and see how she reacts.’

‘Sounds strange.’

‘Try it.’

He folded his hands in front of his face and closed his eyes.

And he was back in the mind palace, on the hill, John and Mycroft standing next to him. ‘Okay, here we go then,’ he said and snapped his fingers. Mrs Hudson appeared, just standing there, smiling, slightly out of place on the hill.

‘Go shout,’ he said to John and Mycroft.

Mycroft just raised an eyebrow.

John frowned. ‘Why would I shout at her?’

‘Come, on, it’s an experiment, you’re my characters.’

Mycroft reluctantly turned to Mrs Hudson. ‘What do I say?’ he asked Sherlock.

‘Whatever you say to me.’

‘You’re weak,’ Mycroft said to Mrs Hudson. ‘There’ll be nothing left of you if you don’t pull yourself together now. You’re so weak it’s disgusting.’

‘Ooh!’ Mrs Hudson brought her hands to her mouth in surprise and shock.

‘You’re the coldest person I ever met,’ John said.

‘You’re just horrible,’ Mrs Hudson gasped with broken voice. She turned around and briskly walked away, tears in her eyes.

Sherlock opened his eyes. ‘It doesn’t bloody work!’

Mrs Hudson giggled. ‘So you figured it out then?’

‘What the hell could I have figured out if it doesn’t work?!’

She got up and her voice sounded strict as she spoke. ‘You still have a lot to learn, young man.’

‘Don’t we all?’ Sherlock sighed, rolled onto his back on the sofa and looked at the ceiling. The doorbell rang, but he didn’t move.

Mrs Hudson walked out of the door but then suddenly stepped back in again.

‘You mustn’t beat yourself up so much.’ She sighed. Then she smiled. ‘You know, people don’t actually connect with other people through their strengths.’

She went downstairs. He listened to her opening the door, greeting the people who came in. He recognised John and Mary’s voices and then their footsteps coming upstairs. He turned onto his back again, dreading the conversation that was about to start.

Instead, Mary walked up to him with big steps and handed him his coat. ‘Let’s go Sherlock, we’re going on a little trip to the Cotswolds,’ she said with a firm look in her eyes.

Sherlock looked from her to John, who shrugged apologetically.

‘Don’t you have a little human to look after?’ Sherlock said as he followed them to their car.

‘With Cath,’ Mary said and got into the driver’s seat. ‘We’ve done that before.’

John went next to her and Sherlock behind them. They drove off. Traffic in London was insane on a good day, but the day before Christmas it had become completely mad. Carefully, Mary weaved her way out of the city.

‘Why are we going to the Cotswolds?’ Sherlock asked.

‘My Christmas present.’ Mary giggled. ‘I’ve been told they’re blowing up a church and it’s going to be spectacular.’

Sherlock rolled his eyes. ‘Very funny.’

‘John is worried about you,’ Mary said.

‘I’m not.’ John protested and Mary gave him a look.

‘Maybe a bit.’ John looked at Sherlock and grinned. ‘Your mood seemed to have deteriorated even more than usual.’

Sherlock shook his head. ‘I just can’t work it out. The guy is clever and just shutting down the church is too obvious a move. Something is going to happen tonight.’

‘That’s what I thought,’ Mary said, while overtaking a bus. ‘I just hoped that maybe going there might help.’ Mary looked him intensely in the eyes and then focused on the road again. ‘What kind of person do you think the killer is?’

‘He’s cruel, someone who feels wronged, someone who wants a lot of attention.’

‘Back when I did infiltration work for the CIA, I met a lot of these characters. I think you’re dealing with a narcissist.’

Sherlock nodded. ‘I agree. This is someone who wants an audience to show how clever he is.’

‘I learned a little bit about this in medical school,’ John said. ‘They are people who create a grandiose self-image. Very annoying to be around, I think.’ He looked at Sherlock.

‘We all have a little narcissism in us.’ Mary said.

‘Some more than others,’ John said.

‘But for a proper narcissist,’ Mary continued, ‘it’s much more extreme. He or she, though most of them are men, cannot handle even the smallest injury to the ego.’

Sherlock remembered his mind palace Mrs Hudson running away crying. ‘He doesn’t want to feel that pain.’

‘No one likes that pain, Sherlock, but a narcissist goes to extraordinary lengths to get out of it. He creates an entire image of himself, like a character in a film. This is where he can be the smartest, the strongest, the most powerful. He needs to believe it. Everyone needs to believe it.’

Sherlock imagined the scene. ‘He’ll lie and lie,’ he said, ‘to others and to himself, everything to protect his self-image. The web of lies becomes more and more complex until the inevitable conclusion,’

Mary nodded, looking at Sherlock in the rear view mirror. ‘It crashes down.’

‘Then what will happen?’

‘Narcissistic rage,’ said John. ‘The person sinks into a state of anger and depression. Though very rarely would it turn someone into murderer.’

‘Not as rarely as you might imagine,’ Mary said.

‘Many inexplicable crimes have this process at their roots.’ Sherlock said. ‘His self-image has cracked and now we see the rage and desperation. There’s no way back, so he creates a new self-image: the serial killer who is too smart for Sherlock Holmes.’

Mary nodded. ‘That explains the advent calendar, the reindeer and the dressing up.’

Sherlock smiled. ‘It’s like a piece of art. And now he wants to go out with a bang so that everyone will remember him.’

‘Suicide by cop,’ Mary said. She shrugged. ‘Or by bomb, possibly.’

‘So all we need to do now is to work out who would fit that pattern and whose pride was broken.’

She got onto the motorway and finally, the car could get up to speed. Sherlock closed his eyes and in his mind palace, went over all the suspects: Miranda Shepherd, Jane Tiler, the Fullers, Gary Hall, Tom Walker, and basically all the criminals from the local area. He pulled out their histories, vast lists of random events that happened in their lives. The trick was to get the right combination of events and character traits, not in the least complicated by the fact that quite a lot of the criminals ranked pretty high on the narcissism scale already.

He opened his eyes again and saw that it was already dark. He looked at his watch, it was quarter past ten. Time had gone by without him even noticing it. ‘Walker’s wife divorced him,’ he said.

John looked around. ‘Yes, but that was because he cheated, not the other way around.’

‘For a narcissist, that doesn’t matter.’ Mary said. ‘They believe they’re entitled to everything, therefore, when they are wronged, however justified, they will feel rage,’

Sherlock nodded. That was his conclusion too. He closed his eyes and remembered their first meeting. Walker had dismissed a colleague, Owens, who had seemed to be afraid of him. She’d been much nicer and opener when they were at the police office. The staff all gave way to him as soon as he appeared and they were all so inexplicably young.

‘Young staff, meaning a high turnover rate,’ he said.

‘So they’re running away,’ Mary said. ‘He’s obviously not a very good boss.’ She chuckled.

‘Walker wasn’t on duty when the market was held,’ John said. ‘He’d have the opportunity. But in the castle, he stood guard with his team.’

‘But the woman had been murdered hours ago.’ Sherlock said. ‘And since he’s the boss, he could easily have asked his colleagues to go elsewhere while he set up the Slinkys. He’d just have to put the Slinkys on the stairs, run down and join the police force in their search.’

Mary nodded. ‘So that would explain why you couldn’t find him in the castle, despite having over twenty police officers searching for him.’

Sherlock took his phone and rang Lestrade, who picked up with a short and grumpy ‘hello?’ Sherlock understood that Lestrade was relaxing at home and had no intention to get to work at this hour.

‘The tree on the Christmas market,’ Sherlock asked. ‘Where did it come from?’

He heard how Lestrade opened his laptop and clicked his way to the information.

‘It was a gift from the local police force,’ Lestrade finally said. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘Tom Walker, where does he go to church?’

Lestrade clicked some more. ‘He and his ex-wife Miranda Shepherd always went to Gloucester Cathedral. She sings in a choir there, he was part of a charity group called Friends of the Cathedral. After the divorce he stopped going so frequently.’ His voice suddenly sounded alarmed. ‘You mean we’ve closed the wrong church?’

Sherlock sighed. ‘I told you this guy is clever. Find out whether the service has already begun. If it hasn’t, cancel it, if it has, call me back. Then we might have a bit of a problem on our hands.’

‘Evacuation would trigger Walker to set off the bomb.’ Lestrade swore and hung up.

Two minutes later he called back. ‘The service started at ten,’ he said shortly.

Mary headed to Gloucester. When they arrived, the church bell tolled. They drove around, looking for anything conspicuous; a person hiding in a car, a camera or microphone somewhere. When they were assured that no one was monitoring the cathedral’s surroundings, Mary parked the car on the parking lot near the entrance which was on the side of the nave. The cathedral was a huge and majestic building with a large tower.

They crossed the square between the parking lot and the entrance. The doors were closed. They looked at each other and Sherlock knocked. It was a loud and obnoxious knock.

The door opened and they saw an usher in black uniform. He put a finger against his lips. ‘I’m sorry but you’re quite late,’ he whispered. ‘I’m afraid the service has already started.’

‘I’m so sorry,’ Mary said with tears in her eyes. ‘We came all the way from London for this service but there was an accident on the A40.’

The usher still looked stern. Sherlock put his foot between the doors and grabbed the usher by the collar, pushing him backwards into the church. The usher immediately fought back.

‘Shhh!’ Sherlock said in his ear. ‘There’s a bomb in this church and if we evacuate, we’ll probably set it off. Now help us.’

The usher relaxed his grip and stepped back. He’d turned completely white. They were in a hallway that was separate from the actual church. John and Mary entered behind them. Mary had immediately stopped her performance.

‘What can we do?’ the usher asked with a trembling voice.

‘He can probably see us,’ Sherlock whispered. ‘Is Tom Walker attending the service?’

‘We don’t keep track of the people who attend Midnight Mass,’ the usher said.

‘He probably isn’t, if there’s really a bomb,’ John said.

Mary shook her head. ‘You never know with these kinds of people.’

‘Does he work for the church?’ Sherlock asked the usher.

‘No, I think he works for a charity that collects money for the church,’ the usher said.

Sherlock looked at Mary. ‘You’re the only one he’s never seen, go into the church and check whether he’s there, or whether there’s a camera or something like a bomb.’

‘Let me bring you,’ the usher said but Sherlock shook his head. ‘You need to stay here so we can ask a few questions.’

Mary took her phone out of her handbag, googled Tom Walker and showed the picture to John who nodded. Then she went inside.

The church inside was even more beautiful with gigantic archways and pillars. The organ played and the people were singing a hymn. The choir were dressed in red and the clergy were dressed in white and gold. The bishop was dressed in purple. There were two large candles on either side of the altar and a large Advent Crown in front of it with the four advent candles lit. The large middle one would probably be lit at twelve, Mary suspected. She smelled incense. The majestic looks, the sounds and the smells were truly awe inspiring.

Normally it would have been the polite way to quietly move to the back pew but that’s not what Mary did. Phone in hand, she walked through the walkway between the pews, in the middle of the nave. The light of the phone illuminated her face as she honoured all the people in the pews with a long look. The looks she received back weren’t exactly kind, but she didn’t see Walker.

She finally went to the front pew, sat down at an empty spot and immediately turned around, looking at the people again. Her second check gave the same result; Walker wasn’t attending.

He’s not here, she texted to Sherlock.

Her phone bleeped with the incoming message. Camera?

The woman next to her gave her a disapproving look.

The usher had seen what Sherlock had texted. ‘They’re filming the service, is that what you mean?’

‘Was that Walker’s idea?’ Sherlock asked.

The usher shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Shall I ask the guy to stop filming?’

‘No!’ Sherlock said sharply.

‘Wait,’ John said. ‘The guy? There isn’t a film crew?’

‘No, just a guy with a camera and a tripod.’

John looked surprised. ‘That’s not very professional.’

‘Is he a member of the charity?’ Sherlock asked.

‘I could ask.’

‘Don’t let the camera hear you, in fact, just get the guy over here. The camera can be alone for a bit if it’s on a tripod.’

The usher went inside.

Sherlock’s phone bleeped. Camera guy at the back of the church.

‘What do we do? John asked. If we stop the recording, surely the bomb will go off.’

‘So the answer is obvious. We don’t stop it.’

The usher came back with a man in his sixties wearing black clothes. ‘He’s from the charity,’ the usher said.

‘Did Tom Walker come up with the idea?’ Sherlock asked.

‘Yes, it’s his camera, actually,’ the man said and gave him a questioning look. ‘He said he had to work.’ The usher smiled reassuringly.

‘Did your organisation do something for Christmas?’

‘Uh, yes, they were collecting money for a gift,’ he slowly shook his head. ‘I don’t remember what gift they eventually settled on. It’s usually just money for the church, you see, but this time they wanted to also give something physical. I can’t quite remember what. I wasn’t too involved in the whole planning of it, you see.’

Sherlock grinded his teeth as he controlled his frustration. At least they’d found the camera. They couldn’t switch it off but they could move it.

He called Mary.

The church was just engaged in a moment of silent prayer when Mary’s happy ringtone disturbed the peace.

‘Please,’ said the bishop, ‘switch off your phone.’ He sounded rather irritated.

Mary smiled apologetically, and then picked up her phone. ‘What?!’ she whispered loudly.

The bishop gestured to one of the clergy members who tapped Mary on the shoulder. ‘One moment,’ Mary said.

‘Do you see any place where they could place a bomb?’ Sherlock asked.

Mary got up, looked up and down the church and then moved to the side, so that no one would hear her whispering voice. She gestured the clergy member to follow her, which he did.

She made sure he understood her as she answered. ‘As you probably know, the church is built in a cross shape, with one short end where the altar is and one long end, which is the nave where the visitors are. In the middle of the cross is the choir, who are standing on either side of the middle walkway. For maximum impact, the bomb should be placed in the middle of the cross, which is right in the middle of the choir.’

The clergy member looked at her in horror. With her free hand, she put her finger over her lips and then grabbed his sleeve.

‘Listen, Sherlock,’ she continued, ‘there’s nothing there in the middle so either he didn’t get a chance to put it there or it’s under the floor. I’ve got a clergy member here who might help us.’

She looked at him. ‘Has there been any building done?’

He shook his head.

‘Okay, no building, she said, it must be somewhere else.’

Sherlock looked at the usher and the cameraman. He wanted to get inside the church and now he could. The camera probably sent a signal to Walker’s laptop or phone or something. He’d just have to make sure the camera didn’t catch anything visual or audible that could tip Walker of his presence.

‘You,’ he pointed at the cameraman. ‘That camera must change position. It may not see or hear anything unusual. Move the camera forward, through the church, as if it were part of the recording and place it in the middle of the choir, towards the altar.’ He looked the man straight into the eyes. ‘Do not let it see me or we’re all dead, do you understand?’

The man nodded, his hands were trembling now.

‘Mary?’ Sherlock asked. ‘Give me that clergy person.’

‘Hello?’ said a whispering male voice.

‘You heard about the bomb, right? There will be a camera moving into the choir. That choir needs to make a lot of noise. When they’re singing, we can evacuate the church. Speak to whoever is running the service.’


Sherlock turned to the usher. ‘When the choir is singing, start evacuating, last pews first.’

The usher nodded. Sherlock looked at John. ‘Let’s go inside.’

They followed the cameraman into the church, taking care to stay behind the camera. The cameraman took up the camera and tripod and slowly walked towards the front, filming the people left and right. Sherlock thought that must be a rather shaky image. The bishop was now preaching about doubting Thomas, a story Sherlock thought to be rather idiotic. They followed the cameraman at a safe distance.

The bishop looked up at the cameraman and Sherlock and John, gave them a frown and continued the sermon. Sherlock saw a clergy member scribbling something on a piece of paper. The cameraman put the camera in the middle of the choir, facing the altar, just as the bishop said: ‘Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.’ Sherlock looked at John and pulled a face. With that attitude no crime would ever be solved.

The clergy member went over to the bishop and gave him the piece of paper. The bishop interrupted the sermon to read it. When he finished, he looked up at Sherlock and John. Sherlock gestured him to continue. He continued the sermon but brought it to an end as quickly as possible.

‘And now,’ he said. ‘Choir and congregation, please turn your pages to Oh come, All Ye Faithful. It’s on the second last page.’

There was some mumbling, the sound of turning pages and several confused looks, because this was not what it said in the liturgy. Then, after a few awkward moments of silence, the organ played the first note and the choir started the song.

Sherlock looked at the back and saw the usher and several clergy members evacuating the last pews. His heart raced; as soon as Walker would hear anything, the whole thing would be over. He focused, now seeing every detail, every wrinkle in the people’s clothing, every stain on the floor, every piece of damage to the wooden pews, every needle of the Advent Crown, every drop of wax from the candles.

He remembered the chocolates: church and bell they had found, they referred to the location, the nativity scene for the subject of the sermon, yule log and Christmas cracker for the bomb. A Christmas cracker was always pulled by two people. A clenched feeling in his chest, he opened his eyes and looked at the Advent Crown.

‘A Christmas cracker is always pulled by two people,’ he mumbled to John. ‘They really shouldn’t light that fifth candle.’

John looked and Sherlock knew that he saw the same thing that he saw. It was a giant candle, big enough to hide several pounds of C4.

Sherlock caught the bishop’s eye and nodded towards the candle. He saw the man’s face whiten but otherwise, the bishop stayed in his role. The choir was now also looking at him, confused looks as they saw the people leaving. The church was now half empty, people were mumbling, some of them didn’t understand it although the clergy made it appear as if it were part of the service. Sherlock gestured to the choir to sing more loudly. Then he saw Miranda Shepherd. She had recognised him. Her face looked tense, she knew something bad was about to happen. Then she sang louder than everyone else, the people surrounding her doing their best to match her volume.

Mary walked up, carefully staying behind the camera, and stood next to John. Sherlock gestured for the cameraman to leave and grabbed the camera. He pointed it to the altar and slowly zoomed in. Now the altar filled the whole picture. He pointed at the clergy and gestured them to leave quietly. They looked at the bishop who nodded. They left, now it was just Sherlock, John, Mary, the bishop and the choir.

Sherlock went to the first candle he saw and blew it out, John and Mary followed his example until all candles were out. The choir got to the end of the song and looked at them.

The bishop took over. ‘Now, there will be five minutes of silent prayer, please sit down,’ he said, while gesturing for the choir to leave. While the choir ran to the exit, Sherlock’s phone rang. The caller ID said Lestrade.

‘And please turn off your mobile phones,’ the bishop said completely in character, ‘this must be obvious by now.’

Sherlock took a picture of the fifth candle and sent it to Lestrade. Then the four of them also ran to the exit.

The square was empty and many cars had left. Two strange cars were parked on the side of the road, as far away from the church as possible. A man came towards them. He wore jeans, but Sherlock instantly recognised him as a policeman. Mary nodded and went to get their car. The bishop did the same with his.

‘The bomb is in the centre candle of the Advent Crown,’ Sherlock said to the policeman. The policeman took his radio and told his colleagues. He then turned to Sherlock, John and the bishop. ‘You must all go.’

The organist and two sound technicians left the church and confirmed that they were the last ones to leave. Something that looked like a remotely controlled model tank went into the cathedral. Sherlock knew that it was a bomb disposal tool.

Mary and the bishop drove up to them. The bishop took the organist and the technicians and drove into the direction the policeman pointed him. John got in the car but Sherlock hesitated and looked back onto the square. Something wasn’t right.

‘On the floor!’ he screamed. They ducked behind the car. A gunshot sounded. Then there was silence.

Sherlock looked under the car onto the square.

A figure walked to the middle. It was Walker. He was wearing a black suit.

‘It’s you!’ he screamed at the car. ‘How dare you.’

Sherlock suppressed the impulse to get up and answer, helped by the fact that John was holding him down by his sleeve.

‘Any idea who I am?!’ he screamed at them.

The policeman’s radio cracked. ‘It’s detonated,’ said the voice.

Another gunshot. Sherlock saw that Walker was aiming in the air. Looking the other way, he saw the policemen in the two civilian cars. They were armed and already aiming at Walker.

‘How dare you take away my revenge?’ Walker screamed. ‘After all I’ve done for the community. The ungrateful pigs.’

‘Wasn’t it his idea to play this game?’ John whispered to Sherlock. Sherlock grinned.

‘I am the authority here. That monster of a woman just left me as if I were nothing. She doesn’t know what she’s dealing with. She and her friends were just gossiping about me. They even got Vicky to doubt me. The stupid bitch said she would leave me. Well, she got what she deserved.’ Walker looked at the place where he imagined Sherlock to be. ‘And so will you,’ he said and aimed.

Five gunshots, almost at the same time.

Sherlock didn’t feel pain. He looked at John, checking, John looked fine as well.

More gunshots.

The two policemen were firing out of their windows.

He looked at Walker, he fired back, but then he fell over. Without even seeing it, Sherlock knew what had happened. Walker had been hit in the head.

The following morning, Sherlock woke up late. Golden light was shining through the window of his hotel room into his face. He listened but no sound emerged from John and Mary’s room. He closed his eyes again and was back on the bridge in his mind palace. He cleared all the hills of objects and people. Now there was just grass, blown around by a cold wind. The train, the tracks and the nameless characters were still there.

He looked from the character on the bridge to the ones on the tracks, to the train, back to the bridge, eventually just the hills. The only thing he heard was the wind. Two situations, identical as far as costs and benefits were concerned, but with inverse solutions.

‘Oh, Sherlock, why do you never pay attention when I talk about forensic pathology?’ Molly was standing on his right side now, looking amused. ‘Or if John talks about it for that matter, just a few weeks ago.’

John had appeared next to her. ‘Disrupting emotional processing severely impairs decision making,’ he said.

‘Did you not remember what he was talking about?’ she asked. ‘There are people with brain injuries that somehow make them incapable of emotional processing.’ She looked him in the eyes. ‘They literally can’t feel emotions, except for the most basic ones, while their ability to reason stays fully intact.’

‘And that impairs their decision making?’

‘To a disastrous extent. Those people end up needing constant care. You can give them a problem and they can weigh all pros and cons but then they’re unable to decide which solution would be the correct one.’

‘This is all very charming,’ said Mycroft, who now stood on his left side, ‘but we can weigh pros and cons and we can decide that we want more of the former and fewer of the latter. The problem is still a paradox.’

‘Don’t you see?’ Molly asked. ‘It’s the emotional processing that decides whether a thing is good or bad, not the logical processing. This is the tool we use for our decisions. It’s older than logic and not strictly logical in itself, therefore you cannot reason yourself out of this problem. The paradox is merely a feature of our deepest instincts about right and wrong. It’s what connects us to all humans.’

‘It’s a tell.’ John said. ‘Struggling with this decision means that we actually have the capability to make it in the first place.’

Sherlock stared at the character on the bridge, then over the railing to the train. ‘Imperfection is the only possibility.’ He smirked. ‘Tom would hate that.’

‘Do you know why?’ Mary asked.

‘Because he needs to be perfect. For some reason, being imperfect is too painful.’

‘Then what does he do?’ Mary asked.

‘He shuts himself down. He shies away from that pain and creates a grandiose fantasy. Therefore, paradoxically, self-criticism causes the fantasy of grandiosity.’

Sherlock gave Mycroft a look. Mycroft shook his head. ‘Without self-criticism we’d be out of control completely.’

‘Are you sure about that?’ John asked.

‘You’re saying there’s another way?’

‘Do you understand?’ Molly asked. ‘He shuts down his own emotional processing and thus the most important part of being human itself. He turns himself into a monster.’

‘It’s not through our strengths that we connect to people.’ Mrs Hudson smiled. ‘Everyone suffers in some way, it’s not what isolates us, it’s what connects us.’

Sherlock looked at Mycroft who just gave him a confused look.

John pointed at Mycroft. ‘He’s not going anywhere. You won’t be out of control.’

‘He wants to be admired so desperately.’ Mrs Hudson said. ‘And what is this other than our deep desire to connect? Isn’t it odd that he craves connection more than anything else, while in the process destroying the very part of himself that makes that possible?’

It was late in the afternoon when they finally reached London again. The weather had turned for the worse.

‘What are you doing for Christmas anyway?’ John asked when they pulled over at Sherlock’s door.

‘Where did you get the idea that I cared about Christmas?’

‘Sherlock, you’re not going to celebrate Christmas alone.’

‘I’ll be with Mrs Hudson, she’s not going anywhere either.’

‘Would you like to have dinner together?’ Mary asked from the driver’s seat. ‘We’re not doing much either.’ She looked at John. ‘We don’t even have groceries because we were obsessing about the church.’

‘I thought you’d take care of that,’ John said.

Mary just shrugged. ‘I was going to, but then we decided to go to the Cotswolds instead.’ She smiled at Sherlock. ‘Would you like to have takeaway with us?’

‘But then Mrs Hudson would be alone,’ John said. He looked at Sherlock, seemingly expecting something.

For a moment, Sherlock just stared; then he worked it out. ‘Why don’t you three come to my place and we have Chinese or something? Then we’ll be with five people.’

Mary went to pick up the baby and Sherlock and John went inside. Mrs Hudson was happy to have them over, even if that meant that this year’s Christmas dinner would be takeaway. She decided that with a few candles and decorations, even Chinese food could be festive enough.

John went upstairs but Sherlock lingered. ‘Yesterday, I think you may have had a point.’

‘I know, I had, dear.’

Sherlock looked at the stairs where John had just disappeared. ‘I didn’t really expect them… I mean, John and I had a bit of a fight earlier.’

She laughed. ‘Oh, Sherlock, don’t you remember? No one receives a coal in their stocking.’

She smiled and he smiled back, feeling slightly confused.

When he got into his apartment, John had boiled water, like he’d done so many times before. Sherlock took his violin and started tuning. He heard how John came to stand next to him and turned around.

John looked at Sherlock as if he wanted to say something. Sherlock looked at him expectantly.

John cleared his throat. ‘Quite a case, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes, quite.’ Sherlock stared out of the window. It was dark and drizzly.

‘Not really how I envisioned Santa Claus as a kid.’

They both chuckled.

‘John, I...’ he stopped as he realised that he didn’t have a clue how to end that sentence.

‘Sometimes I make decisions that affect other people’s lives. Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.’

John nodded quickly. ‘I’m a doctor; I know like no one else that you can’t save everyone and that you have to make choices sometimes.’

Sherlock looked outside. Three women in raincoats were walking briskly on the pavement, hurrying to get out of the rain.

‘I just hate the fact that it’s so difficult.’

Sherlock saw in the reflection that John smiled.

‘Welcome to the human race.’

He suddenly felt uncomfortable. ‘Right, eh, I just wanted you to know that.’

He turned around to see if there was anything he could do in the kitchen and was quite startled when he felt Johns hand slapping his shoulder.

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 7, 2015 5:05 am  #11

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015


I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 7, 2015 5:06 am  #12

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 7, 2015 5:07 am  #13

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 8, 2015 5:13 am  #14

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

This story is for Schmiezi.
Her prompt was “Christmas should play an important part as well as Sherlock’s or John’s childhood stuffed animal”
Schmiezi’s reading wishes are “Johnlock!! a sick fic or retirement fic would be great, but as long as it is Johnlock with a happy ending all is fine, historical AU would be interesting as well”
Dear Schmiezi,
Writing for you was a bit intimidating as I am a great fan of your works and the best retirement fic I ever read was written by you.
I am not sure how satisfied you’ll be with the fulfilment of your prompt as neither Christmas nor the plush toy play such an important part but both will be in the story of course. Besides that, I hope I mostly met your wishes for the story (aside from the historical AU) and you’ll have a bit of fun reading it anyway. It was fun writing it :-)
Oh, and many many thanks to Liberty for beta-reading, the story would have been littered with mistakes without her help.
(All) Good Things
Chapter 1 – The strong one
They were sitting in a small restaurant enjoying their lunch together when the call came. Father and daughter tried to meet at least once a week for a chat and something to eat to catch up with each other’s life, as they were a very close family. But due to Anna’s irregular working hours it could happen that they couldn’t find an opportunity to meet. Today was the first time within three weeks that they had seen each other face to face and Anna was just about to tell her father about the latest developments at work when his mobile rang. He frowned due to the unknown number on the display.
“John Watson,” he answered with a smile on his face which instantly disappeared, as he heard the other person on the line. “Yes, that’s me. What happened?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper now.
Within seconds, Anna saw her father's features develop a ghostly pallor and his expression change drastically from friendliness to worry and fear. “Dad? Dad? What is it? What’s wrong?”
No reaction. John seemed to be in a kind of shock, as he didn’t answer her, nor did he say anything to the person on the line.
Anna moved to her father’s side, gently pulling the phone from his hand. “I’ll take it, ok?” she was relieved to see him nodding slightly. “Hello? Annabelle Watson speaking.”
“Yes, he is my father. Who is this and what happened?” she asked, already dreading the answer. Her suspicion was confirmed moments later. “How is he?” she asked knowing that she wouldn’t be able to get any information over the phone but unable to stop herself. Her heart was racing and she knew that her hand was trembling as much her father’s, which she had grabbed intuitively while taking over the call.
“I see, I understand. We are on our way.” Anna gently squeezed her father’s hand and crouched down beside him to be on his eye level. “Dad?” they looked into each other’s eyes sharing their fear and worry. “We must go. Pa needs us.”
They didn’t talk much on the way to hospital. John didn’t say anything at all while Anna mumbled reassuring phrases every now and then.
“It will be alright.” It must be, please.
“He is strong. He will make it.” He is barely 70, it’s much too early.
“Everything will be ok.” Please, I am not prepared yet.
She knew that it was more to calm her own nerves than her father’s. John was a doctor after all, he knew all possibilities – the good as well as the bad ones. Calm down, she told herself, there is no use panicking now. Dad needs you, they both do.
A nurse led them into a small waiting room saying a doctor would come as soon as possible. The room was drearily furnished with just a few uncomfortable plastic chairs and a small worn out sofa. There was no decoration that could lighten the mood a bit, no pictures or plants and the few magazines that were laying around were long out of date.
John and Anna sat down holding hands again, seeking strength from each other’s presence. They kept quiet, each buried in their own thoughts. Once in a while John would stroke his thumb over his daughter’s hand sensing her growing agitation. When a doctor finally entered the room their roles had reversed. While Anna was close to a nervous breakdown, John had regained his composure. He rose from his chair and took the other man’s outstretched hand with a firm grip.
“Family of Sherlock Holmes? I am Doctor Williams.”
“Yes. I’m his husband, Dr. John Watson. This is our daughter Annabelle.”
“How is he?” Anna asked while taking the offered hand as well.
“Overall he has been lucky,” Doctor Williams said with a reassuring smile. “He suffered a moderate stroke but help arrived fairly quickly so that treatment could start almost immediately. The left side of his body was affected with interference to his speech and movement. We need to wait a few days though to see how much the medication helped to reduce the impact of the stroke. Then we can decide which kind of therapy and rehabilitation is necessary. I don’t want to make too many predictions right now, but I am cautiously optimistic about his recovery.”
Anna felt her eyes getting teary with relief as she was pulled into a gentle hug by her father.
“Can we see him now?”
Despite their age (John had turned 74 this year), Anna’s parents had never seemed like old men to her.  But seeing Sherlock in a hospital bed, she suddenly realized how fragile her Papa had grown. She became aware of every wrinkle of his face and it had never really been apparent to her before how grey his hair had become over the last years.
Sherlock was in a small room at the ICU, hooked up on several machines which thankfully didn’t made annoying noises. A drip was attached on his arm and oxygen prongs were put into his nostrils to help him breathe more easily. Anna paused at the door, needing a moment to process the reality of the situation while John sat down beside Sherlock’s bed taking his sleeping husband’s hand and caressing his head carefully. Anna finally went to the other side of Sherlock’s bed, pressing a kiss on her Papa’s forehead and sitting down as well.
“I should have stayed at home,” John said after a moment. “I think he didn’t felt well this morning. He was very quiet at breakfast. Maybe he already had a headache. I should have known, I should have stayed.”
“Dad, stop blaming yourself.” Anna said. “Pa had been in a public place when it happened. You heard the doctor, he got help immediately.” She shuddered at the pure thought of what would have happened if Sherlock had collapsed at home alone where her father might have found him hours later. “How did you make him go to the supermarket anyway?” she asked to distract herself from this train of thoughts.
John grinned feebly. “I have my methods.”
“I really don’t want to know.” Anna said, shaking her head and flashing a mocking grin to her father.
John smiled but became earnest once more. “We should have gone together. He wouldn’t have been alone and I could have reacted even more quickly. Maybe I could have…”
“Dad, please.” Anna interrupted.
“He has alays een a dama qeen,” came a raspy voice from the bed.
Anna and John were up from their chairs in an instant bending over the bed. Sherlock looked tired and exhausted but he also had that vivid sparkle in eyes. He looked from one to the other, grinning, though his smile was a bit misshapen due to the reduced muscle function.
“You are one to talk!” Anna said, laughing while simultaneously a few tears were streaming down her face. She bent over to kiss her Papa several times on his forehead.
John on the other side of the bed also had tears in his eyes while he stroked through Sherlock’s hair and over his hand. “Welcome back, love.” he said, voice raw.
“sop it,” Sherlock mumbled. “bos of you. ‘m ot dead yet.”
Anna and John looked at each other, laughing. “No you’re not. It’s fine, you will be fine.”
Sherlock had been moved from the ICU to a normal room the next day. Dr. Williams was very satisfied with the healing process as the medication seemed to work properly. Sherlock’s speech had improved considerably within a few days and though his motor skills were still constrained, small progress was noticeable as well. John had stayed by his side almost the whole time, spending just the nights at home at Baker Street. Anna had wanted to take a few days off as well but Sherlock didn’t want to hear any of it. The Yard was incapable enough already, he couldn’t possibly be responsible for taking away their best inspector! Anna had rolled her eyes at Sherlock’s overdramatisings but was also relieved that he still seemed to be his old self. So she visited in the evening together with her husband telling her fathers of the cases she was occupied with. To Sherlock’s dismay it was a lot of desk work lately.
About a week after the stroke the initial treatment at hospital was almost done. John had already looked up possible rehabilitation facilities and was currently discussing the further proceeding with Dr. Williams. Logotherapy, physiotherapy, ergotherapy, … - soon the words begun to swirl in Sherlock’s head. He truly did try to follow the conversation but his concentration faded rather quickly these days. It was so hard to keep his attention up while talking with more than one person. The words would blend into another so he wasn’t able to concentrate any more. His brilliant brain seemed more affected by the stroke than Sherlock had initially thought. It was frustrating and it also terrified him immensely.
“Sherlock?” John had sensed the distress of his partner, his slightly elevated breathing and the panic in his eyes. “Hey,” John took Sherlock’s face in his hand, locking his gaze with his. “I know, it’s much to handle at the moment, but it will be alright. We’ll take it step by step. OK?”
Sherlock nodded. Of course it would be ok. John was with him. He would make it better. He would make it right. But what if not? What if his brain stayed slow? Would he be able to have a decent conversation ever again? What if his fine motor skills never returned? He would never be able to play the violin anymore. Soon tears were streaming down Sherlock’s face and he let out a faint sob. John pulled his husband in a gentle hug, stroking through his grey curls while the other man cried silently letting out all the stress that had built up in the last days.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Dr. Williams said softly and Sherlock could feel John nod while he held his partner close making soothing noises reassuring Sherlock, that it will be ok eventually.
After Sherlock had calmed down finally John carefully positioned him back on the bed, rearranging the pillow, so he would be comfortable. He placed a kiss on his forehead “Try to get some rest, love. I’ll be here.”
Sherlock was not sure how much time had passed when he woke up from his light slumber but there was still bright daylight coming from the window so he couldn’t have slept very long. He turned his head a little to see John sitting in the chair beneath the bed his forehead frowned in concentration while typing on his laptop. It was an old-fashioned model with actual keys to press on it. There were almost no brands like that anymore and Anna had tried several times to persuade her father to get a new one but John wasn’t having any of it. Sherlock smiled and listened to the light clapping of the keyboard. It reminded him of old days where John sat in the living room of Baker Street typing up their latest case on his blog. The sound was very soothing and in this moment Sherlock was thankful for John’s stubbornness.
Sherlock thought about the events of the last days, about his breakdown earlier and he almost felt a bit embarrassed that he had lost it. There was nothing to change the current situation. John was right, of course, they had to face it and take every step one after the other. They would manage whatever outcome would occur. Still, a decision had to be made. And Sherlock suddenly knew that he would be the only one who could do it. John wouldn’t have had the heart. His brave John, who somehow had always been the strong one in this relationship, navigating their lives with ease through every storm they had to face. Just like he would do this time. But he also loved Sherlock so much that he wouldn’t have the heart to do what as to be done. So Sherlock has to be the strong one now.
“John?” Sherlock said.
John looked up from his laptop taking Sherlock’s outstretched hand in his, sensing that his partner had something important to say.
“I think, it’s time.” Sherlock said with determination in his voice.
John gave him a sad smile and nodded. “Yes, Sherlock, it’s time.”
Chapter 2 - Promises
December 4th
John leaned his head against the cold window gazing outside into the beginning dusk as the train rattled through the English countryside, slowly approaching the suburbs of London. His thoughts travelled to a conversation he had had with Sherlock several years ago. As it turned out, he had been right back then.
The cottage is gorgeous.” John said.
Mmmmhhh,” Sherlock mumbled, his nose already in a book he had taken form the house, something about beekeeping.
Sherlock had occasionally spoken of the summers of his childhood when the whole family would spent the holiday at their grandparents’ house in Sussex. But as this house was never mentioned in the present tense, John had assumed that it was long since sold. That was until Mycroft, who had recently retired from his ‘minor position in the British Government’, came around for a visit some weeks ago. Maybe it was because of their growing age but the brothers did get along much better these days, so that Mycroft’s visits not only happened more frequently but were also welcome. Especially since Annabelle had moved out of Baker Street, the flat was sometimes very quiet. On that particular evening Mycroft had announced that he planned to spent his retirement in his townhouse in London and he wouldn’t claim his heritage on the estate. So he had asked Sherlock and John to either take the full ownership or sell the property.
John had wished to see the house and Sherlock had surprisingly agreed to spend a few days there. The cottage was a cozy two-storey building in a small village near Hastings. Downstairs was the large living room with an open kitchen and a further room, which served as a library. There was also a small bathroom. On the first floor there were two bedrooms and another larger bathroom. Everything in the house, from the furniture, to the curtains on to the wooden floorboards was old but very well maintained. John had feared that Sherlock would be bored out of his mind within 24 hours but to his surprise, his husband actually seemed to enjoy their little holiday. They had walked around a lot through the village and explored the area. Sherlock had told John stories from his childhood, he even showed him the exact space in the woods were he and Mycroft had tried to build a treehouse once. The cottage was surrounded by a relatively large garden, where Sherlock's grandfather had kept bees back then. His grandparents had used to create their own honey and make jam with the various fruits from the trees and bushes that grew in the entire garden. John took a big bag of apples with them back to London.
So, what are we going to do with the house?” John asked after putting away their luggage and getting comfortable on his seat opposite his husband. They were on a train back to London, having a compartment for themselves.
Keeping it.” Sherlock said, barely looking up from is novel. “For retirement.”
John almost choked on his take-away tea he had brought at the station. Sherlock looked up into the dumbfounded face of his husband and rolled his eyes. “Not now! John, seriously we are not old yet.”
John raised one eyebrow. He was in his mid-sixties and their daughter had long left home. Last summer they had celebrated her promotion to the rank of sergeant.
Well, at least we are not that old yet.” Sherlock added. He looked out of the window observing the landscape passing by. The visit had triggered a thought process Sherlock had always avoided. “But someday we might want to retire and then it could be our home.”
They had never before talked about retirement and John was actually quite surprised to hear these thoughts uttered by his husband. They still had their work as private detectives though the cases they were working on nowadays didn’t involve chasing criminals through dark alleys anymore. They were both healthy and fit for their age. John had no desire to leave London yet and he had also never imagined that Sherlock would want that. But after this visit the idea of living in the countryside one day was appealing. John smiled at the images he had in mind of Sherlock reviving the old beehives in the garden. They would go for long walks through the woods, maybe they even would get a dog and John would finally have the time to write the book of their shared adventures their friends had always wanted him to. Yes, the thought of retirement in Sussex wasn’t bad at all.
Alright,” John said. “But when…”
When it’s time.” Sherlock replied before John could finished his question. The looked at each other and John could see sincere confidence in his partners eyes. “We will know when it’s time.”
It had become dark outside and John looked at his own reflection in the window. Like long ago he was now sitting on a train back to London, this time without bags of apples but with sorrow and a heavy heart. After his release from hospital Sherlock had spent a few days at home until today John had accompanied his husband to the rehabilitation facility where he would be treated the next three weeks.
Sherlock was very adamant that John shouldn’t stay with him during this time. He would be busy with therapy the whole day anyway and John would be bored with nothing to do. John knew, it was only part of the truth. Sherlock hated being dependent on others. The days in hospital and at home where he had barely been able to go to the toilet alone were exhausting. He hated John seeing him in this state in which the stroke had left him, weakened physical and emotionally. Besides John needed to take care of their move. The house in Sussex must get prepared and a whole household had to be packed. Even with the help of Anna and her husband it was a lot to do in a short amount of time.
When they had left Baker Street this morning, Sherlock knew he wouldn’t return. They had discussed the time of their move and John had suggested they should wait a bit, seeing how Sherlock’s health would improve. But Sherlock had argued they shouldn’t stall the inevitable unnecessarily. Despite him usually being the reasonable one, John had much more difficulty with the decision than Sherlock. On the other hand, it was a logical thing to do considering their age and what had happened and Sherlock had always been a logical man.
“Here we are.” John mumbled as he finally entered the flat. He kept standing in the doorway letting his gaze roam over the place that had been their home for so many years and which they would be giving up now.
Suddenly John became aware that he stood at the exact same spot as 30 years ago – on the day after Moriarty’s apparent return, the day after Sherlock’s almost departure to exile, the day of their first kiss…
It was all chaos after the broadcasting of the Moriarty video. John had never seen Mycroft Holmes in such a state of shock, anger and disbelief before. On the other hand there was also an immense relief when he got the official permission to call back the airplane.
Sherlock’s exile had lasted exactly 8 minutes and 46 seconds when the plane landed again. John was about to go to him when Sherlock got of the machine but was kept at bay by Mycroft and one of the security guards. The two brothers instantly felt into a heated discussion and Sherlock was led to Mycroft’s car and drove away while John and Mary were escorted home in another one.
John went to Baker Street the next day and was relieved to find Sherlock there. The detective had turned one of the flat’s walls into a giant memo-board again with pictures of the video footage, notes and a big map of England with various marks and crosses on it. When John entered the flat Sherlock was standing in front of the window, gazing outside, the familiar blue dressing gown draped loosely around his frame. He seemed to be deep in his thoughts as he hadn’t noticed John’s arrival yet.
Sherlock?” John said and his throat becoming very dry all of a sudden. He stopped in the doorway, not able to step inside any further.
John!” Sherlock had turned around looking at his former flat mate, obvious pleased he had come.
John was still frozen on the spot, looking at the other man. All the emotions he had tried to suppress at the tarmac boiled inside him and he knew he wouldn’t be able to control them any longer. It had been so close. He had been so close to losing his friend again. John’s stomach tied into knots and there was a lump in his throat that he was barely able to swallow down.
John’s inner turmoil must have been clearly visible on his face as Sherlock’s expression changed into a worried frown. “John? What…” uff
John hurried over to his friend and had pulled him into a strong, almost desperate hug.
Shut up,” John said in a raspy voice. “Just shut up.”
The embrace lasted for a long moment and after his initial surprise Sherlock began to relax in John’s arms, feeling relieved to have his friend nearby. John finally pulled away but held Sherlock firmly by his upper arms locking his gaze and beginning to speak in his dangerously calm commanding voice. “Now listen to me, listen very carefully. Don’t do something like that ever again!”
Sherlock was about to say something but John would have none of it. “No! You will be quiet, I am talking. I lost you once, Sherlock. Do you understand? I lost you. I was… It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I never…”
John paused in his rant and took a deep breath to regain some composure. Sherlock who had become pale kept quiet and showed no resistance against John’s grip.
Promise me, Sherlock! Promise me, you won’t do anything that stupid again, nothing that will force them to send you away on a suicide mission – oh don’t look like that – I am not stupid, I know what would have happened!
John…” Sherlock tried once again, but found himself out of words at the sight of the strong reaction of his friend, especially as he realized that he had underestimated the emotional impact of his doings on John once again.
Promise me Sherlock! I know, you think your actions were necessary to fulfill the vow you gave to Mary and me. But not like that Sherlock! Not like that. Promise me!” John almost desperately begged.
Sherlock swallowed and finally nodded.
I promise, John.” he said, feeling his own carefully stored and restrained emotions breaking free.
I promise.” he whispered and pulled John into a hug once more, burring his nose in the other man’s neck swallowing down the tears, which threatened to overwhelm him.
And then all of a sudden John kissed him. It wasn’t soft and gentle as one would expect a first kiss between two people to be. It was hard, with anger and desperation. John’s tongue demanded access to Sherlock’s mouth which he granted willingly. John grabbed Sherlock’s hair so tight that it hurt, but he didn’t mind. After some time, Sherlock had no idea how long the kiss had lasted - could be seconds, minutes, hours - they broke apart. They looked at each other for a moment, breathing heavily, minds for once blank of any coherent thought.
After a moment, John straightened himself and gave Sherlock a curt nod. Then he turned away and left the flat.
John came back the next day and they began the investigation regarding the Moriarty video. Neither of the two men uttered a word about the events of the previous day as if an unspoken agreement had been made.
The next three weeks passed in a rush of following hints through various parts of England, as the video had been broadcast from over a dozen different locations. Scotland Yard and MI5 were involved as well, but they all stumbled from one dead end to the other. After frustrating days with too little sleep and the unspoken threat over their head that Sherlock would be send away again soon, they finally came to the breakthrough clue which included once again the prevention of a bombing endangering hundreds of people. The true culprit, as Moriarty himself was of course truly dead, was a Jason O’Connor (birth name Moriarty) an unknown half-brother of the dead criminal mastermind, not as linked-up to the rest of the criminal world as his brother but equally mad, dangerous and with a profound knowledge of computer technology and cyber-crime.
How could MI5 have missed that, Mycroft?” John had furiously exclaimed while stitching up the knife wound on Sherlock’s upper arm he had gained after the two men had battled to get hold of the bombing device.
After the successful and very public wrap of the case - England’s newspapers once again proclaimed Sherlock a national hero - a secret hearing took place and Sherlock finally got pardoned for the Magnussen-incident. Lady Smallwood made it unmistakably clear, however, that there would be no chance of indulgence if Sherlock ever took justice into his own hands again.
So, they resumed their old life. Despite being much occupied with his pregnant wife and their preparations for the baby John visited Baker Street once or twice a week. The prospect of losing Sherlock a second time was still too vivid and he didn’t want their contact to fade away again. Mary thankfully didn’t mind, she even encouraged him to go. Sometimes they would work on Sherlock’s current case, sometimes they would just spent the evening together in comfortable silence, Sherlock doing one of his experiments and John reading the paper or typing on his blog until it was time for him to go home. The kiss was never mentioned.
Two weeks later, Annabelle Sherly Watson was born. Sherlock had congratulated but was otherwise quite curt when John had called him. All the more pleased he was that Sherlock came to visit them at the hospital the next day. John sat on a chair holding his daughter who was tightly wrapped into a yellow hand-knitted blanket (Mrs. Hudson, clearly) as Sherlock entered the room. Mary was nowhere to be seen but the shower of the ensuite bathroom was running. With a wide smile on his face John shoved the baby into Sherlock’s arms ignoring the other man’s protest. “It’s not rocket science, just support her head a bit. Here you go.”
Sherlock looked at the pink bundle in his arms and couldn’t help but smile. The little girl had so much resemblance with her father and he hoped that she would develop into such a fine and strong person like his best friend. “She is small.”
John grinned. Sherlock might have tried to look indifferent but John saw the tenderness in his friend’s eyes. The bathroom door opened and Mary came into the room dressed in a bathrobe and a towel around her head. For a moment she looked surprised and almost frightened to see Sherlock with her daughter in his arms but quickly put on a bright smile. “Hello Sherlock, so nice you’re visiting.”
Congratulations to you as well, Mary,” Sherlock said handing the baby over to her. “I have to go.”
Already?” John asked surprised. “You’ve been barely here 10 minutes.”
Sorry, have some things to attend to. I’ll get in touch soon.” Sherlock replied and without further explanation left the room.
John didn’t heard anything from his friend the next days until the day before Mary and their daughter should be released from hospital. Mary had been very tense and quiet since the birth. John hoped that it was just the nerves of being responsible for a little baby now but intended to keep an eye on her in case of postnatal depression. He had texted Sherlock inviting him for dinner the next day but received no answer. After finishing all the welcoming-preparations John went to bed early determined to catch as much sleep as possible before his little girl would turn his nights upside down.
Just past midnight John was suddenly startled awake by footsteps in the corridor and the squeaking of the bedroom door being opened. John jumped out of bed just as the light was switched on.
Good, you’re up.” Sherlock said standing in the doorway with an earnest expression on his face.
Jesus Sherlock! You have startled me to death! What were you thinking, I could have shot you!” John shouted, his heart still racing.
Hardly, your gun is locked away in your desk downstairs.” Sherlock said while he opened the drawer, pulled out some clothes and threw them on the bed. “Hurry, we need to go. It’s important.”
What? Are you kidding me? It’s in the middle of the night! Mary and Anna come home tomorrow, I have no time for your case now!” John said unnerved though he absentmindedly began putting on his socks.
It’s no case,” Sherlock said. “It’s a personal matter, we need to attend to tonight.” He shoved some trousers and a t-shirt into John’s hands then heading back to the door. “And it’s really urgent.”
Sherlock, stop! The last time you showed up unannounced and all mysterious, telling me we need to go somewhere because of a personal matter, I found out that my pregnant wife is an assassin. So for God’s sake, give me some explanation!”
Sherlock stopped and slowly turned around facing John, his expression was unreadable and he kept quiet. John’s heart sank. “Sherlock, I trust you and I’ll come along. But whatever you are up to, please promise me, that it won’t shatter my whole life again.”
Sherlock hesitated. He looked to the door then back to John. Finally he took a few steps so he would directly facing his friend who looked at him with a mixture of desperation, curiosity, fear but also trust. Sherlock opened his mouth but then decided that words wouldn’t be enough this time, so he pulled his friend in a gentle hug.
I am afraid, this promise I cannot fulfill, John. I am sorry.”
Chapter 3 – (Not) Leaving
December 10th
 “That sounds great Arthur, Thank you.”
“Oh no, that’s enough, far more actually. You know, Sherlock was furious when Anna told him you would cancel a few of your lectures. Said how your students’ brains will probably rot now without the missing stimulation.” John laughed together with his son-in-law on the other end of the line.
“Yes, I know. Well, thank you for your help, Arthur. Take care. I’ll hand you back to your wife.” John handed the mobile to his daughter.
John led out a deep breath of relief. The renovation of the house in Sussex was all set now. He had engaged a local craftsman to do some repairs and the renovation of the small room on the ground floor that should be their bedroom for now so that Sherlock would not need to take the stairs every day. Anna’s husband Arthur had taken a few days off his job at university – he had been appointed as professor last year – to help with the preparation of their new home.
“Yes, of course. I’ll be careful. Bye Sweetie.” he heard Anna whisper into the phone and smiled due to the loving voice of his daughter.
He couldn’t have wished for a better son-in-law. Arthur was a thoroughly good man, always cheerful, very helpful and supportive and he had a great sense of humour. Anna had had a few relationships before she met Arthur but those never lasted very long, sometimes because Sherlock scared away the guys he didn’t find suitable for his daughter (which were most… well, strictly speaking all of them), sometimes they split of for other reasons. Anna had never been the type who mourned their losses very long. But when she first told John about Arthur he instantly knew that it was something different with him, that he would maybe really be ‘the right’ one. John smiled at the memory of how nervous Anna had been the day she planned to introduce Arthur to her parents.
Pa, please, don’t be too rude, ok. He is really nice and I don’t want you to put him off in an instant.” Anna begged while nervously pushing back a strand of hair behind her ear.
Sherlock grunted and gave his daughter a did-I-ever-do-that-look. Anna and John answered with her long practiced yes-you-do-look which Sherlock just shrugged off.
What does your… What was his name? Arthur?” Sherlock asked ignoring Anna’s request for the moment. Anne rolled her eyes but nodded. “So, what does he do for a living?”
Anna took a deep breath and exchanged looks with John. “He is a teacher.”
A teacher?” Sherlock scoffed. “There’s hardly anything more boring than that!”
For the sixth formers,” Anna added in a defending tone. ”And he works at university as well for some science projects.” After a pause she added. “His main subject is chemistry.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow but said nothing. He took the newspaper and sat down in his armchair.
Pa, please. He is really important to me.” Anna said, almost desperate now.
You always say that.” Sherlock grunted.
No, I don’t.”
No, she doesn’t.” John said shooting an unmistakable glare to his husband. If you don’t behave you will have a big problem.
Fine,” Sherlock said with an exasperated sign. “I will put on my best behavior.”
That’s all I can hope for.” Anna said relieved.
After a moment, when Sherlock had resumed reading the newspaper he mumbled a bit too casually. “So, chemistry you said?”
“Dad?” Anna frowning at the absent look on her father’s face who then snapped back into reality.
“Sorry, lost in thought.” John said blushing. He must have been staring into the air for a few minutes. Oh dear, now you’re becoming one of those, he thought.
Anna put her hand on John’s arm. “Don’t worry so much, Dad. It will be fine.”
“Yeah.” John sighed, his momentarily content mood instantly replaced by the sorrows of the present. “I’m glad, that I’m going to visit Sherlock tomorrow. He was very snappy at the phone today.”
“Of course he was snappy. There are stupid people who are ordering him around, making him do strenuous things. And you know, how impatient Pa is. He probably thought he would be running around the hospital solving cases of stolen medicines and smuggled beer or something like that within the first week.”
John giggled and then engulfed his daughter in a tight hug. “I know, but I need a bit assurance from time to time. Thank you.”
“Papa will be fine. Besides, I told him that if he don’t behave, I will make Arthur paint the bedroom pink.”
John laughed. “Arthur would never do that.”
“I would have make him.” Anna replied with a sheepish grin on her face.
“Oh don’t be too sure about that. You know how much Arthur and Sherlock secretly adore each other.”
“So, when will the movers come?” Anna asked a while later when John accompanied her to the front door.
“On the 18th. The moving boxes will be delivered on Tuesday. I’ll then start to sort out the stuff we don’t need.”
“Good. I took Friday off, so we’ll have enough time to pack up the rest.” Anna said and held up his hand to silence the protest John was about to utter. “No back talk. I have far too much overtime to take off anyway. And Arthur can join us at the weekend as well.”
John smiled warmly at his daughter and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He was once again glad they were such a close family. “Ok, Bell, off you go. We’ll see us on Friday.”
When Anna walked down the street towards the tube station John kept standing at the door and looked at his daughter as he had done so often in the past when she was still a child on the way to school. Sometimes she would turn around smiling at her dad and waving goodbye.
“Jesus, I am really becoming an old geezer wailing after the past.” John mumbled to himself shaking his head. He closed the door and slowly made his way up to the flat again. He still wondered where the years had gone so fast. Sometimes it seems only yesterday that he brought his little girl home to Baker Street.
Shhhh, dear, it’s alright,” the woman said as the little newborn girl began fussing, clearly unhappy that she had been woken from her nap and lifted out of her cozy bed.
It’s alright,” the woman said once again. “We’ll be gone quickly.”
Suddenly the light in the room was switched on. The short blonde women turned around with a gasp pressing the baby against her chest.
I am afraid, I cannot allow you to leave with her, Mary.” Sherlock said. He and John were standing in the doorway blocking the way out.
Mary stopped dead in her tracks gaping at them, momentarily paralyzed and shocked by the unexpected intrusion. John stared at his wife, poorly trying to conceal the maelstrom of emotions inside him. He had never been good at disguising his feelings.
Sherlock had kept quiet at first when they left the house but as soon as John noticed they were going to the hospital he demanded answers once again. So Sherlock explained. He had always respected Mary’s wish for a new beginning and therefore never tried to find out anything about her former life. But when he left the airplane those weeks ago after the Moriarty-video and saw the pure horror on her face he instantly knew that something was wrong. So aside from the other investigation Sherlock began research into Mary’s true identity and the reasons for her apparent shock. What he found out not only scared him, as he feared for John’s safety and the life of his unborn daughter, it was also much worse than he had initially expected. Mary had been an important part of Moriarty’s network! But since she had left her criminal career behind five years ago, Sherlock hadn’t been able to detect her. After Moriarty’s apparent return a lot of other criminals who were just part of the second row and out of the focus of Sherlock’s hunt back then crawled out of their holes. And despite news that the criminal mastermind was truly dead traveling quickly some stayed on the surface reviving contacts, demanding the redemption of old depths. Sherlock and John might have been able to take O’Connor out of the game but others were still out there having found out who Mary was and her skills were very valuable. Sherlock had deduced on that day he had visited them at the hospital that Mary planned to disappear, probably to take another false identity.
Now John looked at the woman he married with a mixture of anger, disgust but mostly a deep sadness. As the moment stretched on he felt more and more numb as if his conscious mind tried to shut down, tried to block out the fact that he was betrayed once again by the woman he thought he loved. Mary’s face was unreadable as she cradled the little girl who quietly began to whimper. When she turned her gaze towards Sherlock her indifferent mask slipped for a split second and a pure emotion crossed her features: hate. John flinched inwardly and his stomach churned at the thought of the last time Sherlock had confronted her.
What was your plan, Mary?” Sherlock asked with a calm and almost friendly voice though John knew how much anger and disappointment his friend felt as well. “Going into hiding? With a newborn? How should that work out?”
Mary didn’t answer. She just kept staring at them though she didn’t looked as indifferent anymore. She balanced slightly from one foot to the other showing impatience and insecurity. Sherlock kept his gaze fixated on her. A kind of conversation seemed to be happening between them that John couldn’t follow. Finally Mary cast down her eyes looking on the floor in defeat.
You want to keep her safe, don’t you?” Sherlock said. His gentleness had disappeared from his voice.
Mary nodded. “Yes.” her answer was barely audible. “More than anything in the world.”
Then leave her with John.”
Mary silently began to cry. She caressed the head of the baby putting various kisses on her forehead, nose and cheeks. The girl had stopped wailing and was now cooing contently. But that only increased Mary’s distress and she let out a few quiet sobs. John couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Despite what she was, what she had done and what she had planned to do, taking his daughter away from him, she was still Annabelle’s mother and she loved her child. That much was clear.
Leave the infant with Doctor Watson. And you can leave the country undetected and with a new passport.” said Mycroft Holmes who had suddenly appeared behind them. John looked up startled, he hadn’t heard the other man coming but Sherlock didn’t seemed to be surprised at his brother’s attendance. Both Holmes brothers looked at Mary with an earnest and determined expression. John felt out of place like someone who was watching this scene from afar. It was like a bad plot of one of those ridiculous soap operas he had used to watch with Mrs. Hudson back in those time he lived in Baker Street. But this was real life. His real life.
Mary.” Sherlock said in a demanding tone.
Mary regained her composure. She tucked the bonnet on the baby’s head in place then went over to John handing him Annabelle. He took hold of the baby with a firm grip that made her squeak a little and unconsciously took a step back.
Take care of her.” Mary whispered. She looked one last time at her daughter then followed Mycroft out of the room.
John was on autopilot. There had been frantic activities suddenly. Mary was led away by one of Mycroft’s agents. Then a doctor and a nurse hurried in with shocked faces demanding to take a look at the baby. They had obviously been on hold in case the situation got out of control. John didn’t want to think what that could have meant.
As he himself wasn’t able to make a sensible decision at the moment, he agreed to leave Annabelle in the care of the midwives for the rest of the night and to pick her up the next day. Mycroft provided a car for their ride home. Home. John stood in the hallway of his house, Sherlock close behind him. He had barely registered that his friend had accompanied him. They hadn’t spoken a word during the drive, John still felt too numb to say anything.
John?” Sherlock asked in a calm and gentle voice. John had stopped in the doorway to the living room, standing stock-still. He didn’t speak and didn’t move.
John let his gaze wander over the room, the cozy sofa where he and Mary had watched movies together, sometimes cuddled against each other, he thought about the bedroom upstairs where they… where Annabelle had been…, he thought about the small room beneath the bedroom, the nursery were Mary had painted one wall in a bright pink. They had laughed together so much when John had clumsily put the furniture together. A lie. She was a lie, everything in here was a lie, his whole life seems to be a lie at the moment. John felt nausea rising at the pure thought of taking his daughter here where everything would remind him of the lie his marriage had become.
John?” Sherlock said again, carefully putting one hand on his friends shoulder.
I can’t stay here, Sherlock,” John whispered.
You don’t have to.”
Just for a couple of days, John had told himself. He would stay at Baker Street for a couple of days to gain his composure and his confidence back. Then he would take Annabelle home. The problem was, the house he had lived in with Mary didn’t feel like home anymore and at moments where he was really honest with himself he had to admit that it never really did. John didn’t asked where all his stuff suddenly come from. The little cot that he had build up in Anna’s nursery had magically appeared in his room at Baker Street the next day together with most of her baby-clothes. The cupboard was suddenly filled with John’s jumpers, shirts, trousers, his toiletries neatly placed in the bathroom.
The weeks stretched on and despite some feeble attempts he never really could muster the strength to move back into his house and Sherlock never asked him to. John was surprised how well his friend adjusted to living with a newborn. As the detective wasn’t an extended sleeper anyway he didn’t care for the frequent interruptions during the night when Anna needed feeding or a fresh nappy. Sherlock was supportive in his own way. He would play the violin, gentle soothing melodies that helped to calm Anna or lull her to sleep. Despite his first reaction at the hospital Sherlock quickly became accustomed to holding a baby so he sometimes would cradle the little girl in his arms, talking about his latest experiment or the cases he worked on. At Mrs. Hudson’s scowling he had made it clear that he would absolutely not engulf John’s daughter in nonsense baby talk. John didn’t mind, Anna was too young to understand the words anyway and she was always very calm when hearing Sherlock’s voice.
One afternoon, almost four month after his temporary return to Baker Street, John dozed on the sofa. It had been a rough night with Annabelle waking him several times and he was desperate for a bit of rest. He wasn’t deep asleep though and when he heard his daughter wailing again, he was about to rise. But before he even opened his eyes he heard Sherlock hurrying over to the cot they had put in the living room for Annabelle.
Ssshh, little one.” Sherlock whispered, and the loving gentleness in his voice made John’s heart skip a beat. “We shouldn’t wake John, he needs his rest. And we two can manage together, can’t we?”
John heard rummaging and the noise of a bag, presumably the nearby nappy bag, being opened.
So, how hard can that be?” Sherlock said though there was a hint of insecurity in his voice that he tried to cover with his usual arrogant tone.
After a moment John slowly opened his eyes peering around. Of everything he had experienced in his life so far, during his days in the army or the crazy adventures and gruesome crime scenes, watching Sherlock Holmes changing a baby’s nappy was probably the strangest but also most adorable. He smiled and a warm feeling spread in his chest.
The evening of the same day, John came down the stairs from his room where he had put his daughter to bed, when he heard a heated discussion in the living room. He recognized Mycroft’s voice and Sherlock’s typical snappy tone he had when dealing with his brother.
Lower your voices please,” John said annoyed as he entered the living room. “I just put her down.”
He received no answer. Both men kept quiet for a moment looking at John with an expression, he couldn’t construe. “What’s wrong?”
Finally Mycroft spoke. “Mary is dead.”
He received the documents a few days later. John Watson was officially a widower now, his poor wife had died in a car accident. Only she hadn’t. She had been shot. Mycroft had asked if he wanted to know any details but John didn’t. The elder Holmes had assured him that the people who were responsible for Mary’s death would have to face justice and that was all he needed to know. He did asked to see the body though. He needed to, the reassurance that she was truly gone. And when he stood at the morgue looking at her calm and peaceful face, he broke down and cried - for the women he once loved, for the mother and her child who would never get to know each other and for the lost life he had thought he had wanted. It was the moment when Sherlock pulled him into his arms, comforting him with just being there, being the one he could rely on anytime, that John finally knew that he would never return to his house.
Anna grew and developed splendidly. She was eight months old now and had started crawling several weeks ago. Being very excited about the new found mobility she perfected it rather quickly giving the adults around her a heart attack on a regular basis while approaching the staircase, tugging on cables or nearly bruising her fingers on drawers or cabinet doors. Making a flat like 221B Baker Street child safe was a challenge of its own.
Their domestic life in Baker Street carried on. Anna was a cheerful and uncomplicated child and on the one hand John felt content and happy as he probably never did before. But with each passing day his worries grew. He still shared a room with his daughter, the cot already replaced by a bigger baby bed. It was fine for now but it was no permanent solution. His room was just not big enough for his and Anna’s increasing stuff like clothes and toys. Besides the girl would need her own room sooner or later. So they eventually would have to move out. John had already start to look around at opportunities near Baker Street but the truth was, he couldn’t afford it. The sale of his and Mary’s house had just gained enough money to repay the mortgage they had taken out to buy it. His salary at the hospital was not bad, but it was only a part-time job and he wouldn’t be able to work fulltime for a while at least not until Anna would go to school. No, there was no way he would be able to afford a flat in central London. John had pondered over this miserable dilemma for weeks now.
It was a calm evening, John prepared dinner and Sherlock had volunteered to put Anna to bed which he did more and more frequently by now including change of clothes, nappy and reading her a bedtime story (surprisingly he had no objections to classics like Winnie the Pooh). Observing Sherlock and Anna interacting with each other made John’s heart hurt. They had such a strong bond already and they would both hurt miserably when ripped apart.
The two men didn’t talk much as they were eating their meal. That wasn’t unusual per se but this time the silence felt heavy. Sherlock shot a few glances into John’s direction but the other man was too lost in his thoughts to notice. When they cleared the table together after they had finished their hands brushed against each other several times. It was one of the casual touches they shared more and more often these days and which made John’s stomach flutter every time he felt the brief contact of Sherlock’s skin on his own. He once again realized how much the thought of leaving Sherlock on his own and only be able to seeing him once or twice a week pained him and he let out an unhappy sigh.
Stop it, stop it, now!” Sherlock exclaimed suddenly slamming down his plate back on the table. “Something is wrong. You have been fretting over something on your mind for weeks now. It’s annoying and it’s distracting. Just spill it out.”
John looked up but was hardly able to meet Sherlock’s gaze. He shouldn’t have been surprised about Sherlock’s reaction, of course his friend had sensed John’s growing agitation.
I… we… have to move out.” John finally stuttered.
Sherlock’s face fell. “What have I done?” he asked. “It was the experiment the other day, wasn’t it? I told you, there was nothing toxic involved, but yes it was a bit messy. I am sorry.”
I didn’t do the shopping.” Sherlock began pacing through the room now his speech as well as his breathing speeding up. “I can do the shopping from now on. Every time! I will do it every time!”
And the washing up,” Sherlock rumbled on pointing towards the kitchen. “I know you always complain that I never do the washing up. I will do the washing up from now own. And care for the laundry, at least my own laundry.”
Sherlock stop!” John said grabbing Sherlock by his arm to stop his mad running. Seeing how Sherlock blamed himself for John’s decision was almost unbearable to watch. “It has nothing to do with you. You are fine, more than fine. You were a great support over the last month and the best friend I could ever imagine having.” Speaking this words almost drove tears in John’s eyes.
Then why…”
We don’t have enough space.” John replied weakly. He had let go of Sherlock’s arm, his shoulders slumped in defeat. “Anna is growing, she’ll need a bigger bed eventually and sooner or later her own room. We cannot live this cramped forever.”
Oh.” Sherlock said, obviously very relieved that John didn’t really want to leave him and his face lit up again. “Yes, I see. Well, no problem. You can have my room. You can use it as your bedroom. And your old room will be Anna’s nursery.”
John let out a humourless laugh. Of course Sherlock would come up with something silly like that. “And where do you want to sleep?”
I don’t need much sleep anyway, I’ll take the couch.”
John took a deep breath, mildly annoyed by Sherlock’s stubbornness to understand the situation. “Sherlock that’s ridiculous, you cannot sleep on the couch, it’s old and worn and you don’t even fit on it. You’ll ruin your back within weeks.”
Then I’ll buy a better one! JUST. DON’T. LEAVE.”
Sherlock had screamed the last words and John was shocked at the sudden outburst. He knew that Sherlock wouldn’t be happy about the idea of him and Anna leaving but he hadn’t anticipated how distraught his friend would be. His face showed pure desperation as if somebody had pulled the rug out from under his feet.
I would come around as often as possible,“ John whispered. “You will still be a part of Anna’s life.”
And what about yours?” Sherlock mumbled, his words barely audible.
John gulped. Yes, what about him? He had been fixated on Annabelle’s wellbeing, driving his own wishes and desires in the back of his mind. But everything was bubbling up now, the deep looks they had shared more and more often these days and every conscious and casual touch seemed to burn on his skin. The memories of shared laughter, happy moments and closeness of the last month making his eyes tear up. He felt cold sweat on his skin and his left hand was shaking violently until another warm one grabbed it. John looked up slowly letting his gaze wander around the room and suddenly there was a clarity in his mind as if he had woken up from a deep trance. His heart raced at the sight of Sherlock’s face which mirrored all the emotions John felt himself. They stood only centimeters apart from each other now, at exactly the same spot they were standing months ago on that strange day they never had talked about.
John moved slowly towards Sherlock and their lips met. Their second kiss was much more gentle than the first one although not less emotional. Sherlock’s mouth felt warm and soft as John nibbled on his bottom lip then tasted tentatively with his tongue and Sherlock opened his mouth with a low moan. After a long moment they parted. Sherlock leant his forehead against John’s wrapping his arms around the other man’s back, holding him close.
Don’t leave.” Sherlock whispered.
I won’t.” John said and pulled him down into another kiss.

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 8, 2015 5:14 am  #15

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

Chapter 4 – A lifetime in boxes
December 15th to December 17th
Father and daughter stood side by side in the living room of 221B Baker Street. Beneath them was a huge stack of moving boxes, a few already unfolded and packed.
“Where should we begin?” Anna asked a bit intimidated wondering whether she had underestimated the task that lay before them.
John let out a little groan as well. The living room would be the biggest challenge so much was clear. Decades of family life and detective work were stored here and though he had already started to sort out some stuff there was still the majority of their belongings left to pack.
“I’ll start in the bedroom. You take the kitchen?”
Anna nodded then put her hand gently on her father’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
John sighed. The next days wouldn’t be easy. They would be days with emotions and a lot of memories to face, he spent almost half his lifetime in these rooms. He had built friendships, a relationship, a marriage, a family here. Baker Street was his home. Never in his entire life had he ever felt as secure, grounded and right as in this flat. Giving it up now certainly took its toll on him. Anna squeezed John’s shoulder a little giving him the reassurance that he wasn’t alone.
“Come on. Let’s get started.” he said smiling mildly putting his hand on hers. “I want to spend Christmas in our new home and not surrounded by packing cases.”
Anna turned towards the kitchen whereas John went into the bedroom. There were already some suitcases on the floor full with their clothes and some bags with older stuff that he wanted to take to charity. John began to take off the pictures from the wall carefully wrapping them up into paper before putting them into a box. There were photos of their daughter at various ages, pictures of friends and family and of course their wedding photograph.
She’s asleep?” John asked looking up from his novel. Sherlock had just came down from Anna’s bedroom as it was his turn today to put her to bed.
Yes, didn’t even make it to page 3,” Sherlock said smiling. Anna loved Sherlock reading to her, his deep warm voice always lulled her to sleep in an instant.
Sherlock was about to flop on his armchair when he notice the envelope lying on the seat. “What’s that?”
It’s for you.” John replied looking at his partner expectantly.
It isn’t my birthday.”
No, really?” John rolled his eyes. “Sherlock, I know, it’s not your birthday.”
Did I forgot some sort of anniversary? Some of these ridiculous romantic first-somethings that you should remember in a relationship?”
No, none of that, and I honestly don’t expect you to do so.” John giggled. “Come on, just open it, it’s nothing spectacular and not even a real present anyway.”
Sherlock took the envelope and sat down in his armchair while opening it. Inside were several official looking papers, he carefully studied. He flipped through the sheets once then a second time. His facial expression changing from curious to surprise to complete bewilderment.
Adoption papers?” Sherlock said in disbelief. “You want…, I mean, I should be…, Anna would be…” Sherlock stumbled momentarily overwhelmed by these unexpected gift in his hands.
He and John had been together for almost two years now and Sherlock had relished every moment of it. He loved Anna to pieces, as if she was his own child and he could never imagine a life without them ever again. But somehow in the back of his mind he had always feared that it wouldn’t work out, that John might have enough of him eventually and that he would just leave his life together with his daughter. But now Sherlock had the proof in his hand, that John did want a lifetime with him, with him and their daughter.
I should have settled that ages ago. I mean, you are as much Anna’s parent as I am, anyway. It’s just the official part. You know, just in case…”
Marry me!” Sherlock blurted out suddenly.
What?” John said, not sure whether he had heard him correctly.
Sherlock put the papers aside and took John’s face in his hand. Very soft and gently he kissed him, stroking tenderly over his cheeks. Then he locked his gaze with John’s and spoke with the deepest sincerity John had ever heard from him.
John Hamish Watson. Will you marry me?”
John smiled. “Yes.”
Anna was preparing a pot of tea for a short break. She had just finished packing up the stuff in the kitchen which had fitted into a few boxes, as the house in Sussex already had most things they would need. John had still been occupied in the bedroom when his mobile rang. Anna could hear her father talking to someone in a cheerful tone so thank god no bad news again.
“Who was it?” Anna asked as John came into the room a few minutes later.
“Greg,” he replied taking the offered cup with a grateful smile. “He said, he found a good connection from Sydney and that he could be back in London on Sunday morning.”
Anna sighed with a warm smile. “How many times has he offered to come back earlier now?”
“I lost count, four or five times. At least to me but he has also talked to Sherlock a couple of times.”
“Does he really believe we would let him carry around heavy boxes at his age? He is 82.” Anna said with mild reproach in her voice. “How much help does he think he can be?”
“He feels guilty for not being with us. And I think he’s still shocked about what happened, with Sherlock being the youngest of us. Besides I would probably react the same if the situation were reversed.” John shrugged and rinsed his empty cup under the tap. “Oh, and don’t underestimate Greg Lestrade. How many 80-year-olds are doing backpacker trips through Australia?”
“Must be the positive influence of a much younger wife,” Anna grinned. “You talked him out of coming back, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, of course. They’ll fly back on Christmas Eve just like originally planned so they can be with us on Boxing Day.”
“Great, I am really looking forward seeing our globetrotters again.”
When John had resumed his packing he smiled and thought about the many adventures he, Sherlock and Greg had shared together.
What a case!“ Greg Lestrade said, taking the offered bottle and flopping down on the sofa of 221B Baker Street.
Solved double-homicide, successful ended kidnapping and the finding of several stolen antiquities worth a fortune, not bad.” John grinned. “Not bad indeed.”
Barely an eight,” Sherlock stated trying to sound indifferent but he was as well vibrating with energy from his post-case-high and even took a bottle of beer himself.
Ah, ignore him,” John said mockingly. “The case was perfect. Though I don’t have a good idea for a title yet. Cheers!” The three men clinked their bottles together.
The perfect case for a perfect ending.” Greg said after taking a few sips. He was still smiling but also had a kind of sadness in his voice.
John expected a mocking remark from his partner but Sherlock kept quiet just looking at the inspector with a thoughtful expression. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence between the men, all three very aware of the elephant in the room but neither wanting to rise the topic.
So.” Greg finally spoke, clearing his throat and turning towards Sherlock. “Don’t give Sally a too hard time. She is good at her job, you know that.” Sherlock let out a quiet huff which Greg choose to ignore. “And she respects you. Sometimes she cannot show it, but she does.”
Sherlock gave a slight nod but kept quiet otherwise. John knew him well enough to see the traces of suppressed emotions on his husband’s features.
Oh and don’t think you can have it all your way with Dimmock. He is not as naïve as you think he might be.” Greg continued, his voice a bit hoarse by now. He took another deep sip from the bottle then turned towards John. “You’ll keep an eye on him, won’t you?”
Sure, Greg. Don’t worry.”
A heavy silence fell again upon the three friends until John pushed his bottle down on the table with a bang. “Gentlemen, we are stopping this nonsense right now. This…” - he gestured around the room - “This funeral mood. Jesus Greg, you are not dying, you’re just retiring!”
John stood up and took two more bottles out of the fridge knowing that Sherlock wouldn’t want another one. He was handing one over to Greg relieved to find him smiling again. “So, tell us, what are your plans?”
“Can you lift that up for me, it’s quite heavy,” Anna said pointing to one of the already packed boxes.
“Since when are you so fragile?” John laughed while putting the box on a pile with other full ones.
“Hey, I am a girl after all,” Anna replied then lifting the lid to look inside. “What’s inside there anyway?”
“Mostly chinaware. We are hardly using it but it’s from Mrs. Hudson. I don’t want to throw it away.” John said with a bit of melancholy in his voice.
Good night, Nan!” Anna pressed a big kiss on Mrs. Hudson’s cheek then the eleven year old waved her dads goodnight one more time before disappearing up to her room.
Awww, she is such a sweetie.” Mrs. Hudson said in a loving voice.
She is now. Puberty is slowly approaching.” John mumbled remembering the stroppy 14 year old girl he had to treat today instantly hoping it would be easier with Annabelle.
Nonsense. She will be good.” Mrs. Hudson replied with a dismissing gesture. With a bit of an effort she stood up from the sofa, her hip was acting up again lately, and walked to the door “I think I’ll retire as well.”
You need a hand getting downstairs?” John asked already at her site.
Oh no, don’t worry. I’m fine.” she replied putting her hand on John’s arm smiling happily about the care and worry in his voice. At the door she turned around and gave John and Sherlock a loving smile. “Good night, boys.”
Good night, Mrs. Hudson.”
The next day John had a morning shift at the hospital. Sherlock was rummaging in the flat preparing another (non-toxic!) experiment and Anna was still asleep as she had school holidays. When John approached the front door he saw the newspaper still stuck in the letter slot which was odd. Usually Mrs. Hudson took it in to read at breakfast every morning before passing it to her tenants. John took the paper and carefully knocked at their landlady’s door. “Mrs. Hudson?”
There was no response. John tried again listening carefully for any noises from the flat but it kept quiet. After a moment John opened the door, he and Sherlock long had a spare key to Mrs. Hudson’s flat. The old lady had felt a bit under the weather lately. Maybe she needed help to get up especially with her bad hip.
Mrs. Hudson?” John asked while entering the flat. “Martha?”
He walked through the kitchen to get into the living room and stopped in his tracks as he saw the body. Mrs. Hudson was sitting on the edge of her sofa, slumped against the armrest with eyes closed. On the first sight one could assume she was sleeping but regarding her greyish complexion John knew she wasn’t. He hurried over, took her hand and though he knew it was pointless he still looked for a pulse. There was none and her skin felt already cool. She must have died several hours ago already, probably shortly after she returned to her flat the previous evening.
Oh Martha.” John said while stroking her white hair, tears welling up his eyes. He had known this day would come eventually, but he had hoped they would have had a couple of years left.
John?” came a shaky voice from behind him. John turned around to find Sherlock standing in the doorway, pale with wide eyes giving John a pleading look.
But John shook his head while walking over to his husband and taking him in a tight embrace. “She’s gone.”
It was late afternoon when they had finished kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.
“Let’s stop for today,” Anna said with a wide yawn. “Arthur will be with us tomorrow. Then we can conquer the rest.”
“Yeah, it’s probably for the best.” John replied feeling tired and exhausted as well.
Anna would have preferred if her father had stayed with them instead of being on his own alone at Baker Street but John was adamant about that. He didn’t sleep well that night. His mood lightened up a bit when he heard the cheerful voice of his son-in-law the next morning. Arthur had returned with good news from Sussex the previous evening. The works at the house were finished, everything was prepared and ready for John and Sherlock to move in. After nearly an hour of talking, Anna finally shooed everyone up to start working.
“Careful with that one!” John said as he saw his daughter picking up the skull from the mantelpiece.
“I know!” Anna replied, putting the skull on her eye level grinning sheepishly. “Hello, Sir William. We haven’t talked for a while.”
John giggled when he saw Arthur’s dumbfounded expression. Anna had used to talk to the skull a lot when she was a child. She imagined he had once been a brave knight and member of King Arthur’s Round Table. There were evenings she talked for hours about all the adventures she imagined Sir William had experienced while hunting dragons and witches. Anna loved adventure stories about knights, magic and dragons. No wonder she fell for a man with a name from a fairytale.
Arthur had started to put the contents of one of the many shelves into boxes when a small carton of photographs slipped out of his hand scattering all the pictures over the floor.
“Oh dammit.” Arthur groaned unnerved about his clumsiness.
Anna hurried over to her husband helping him to gather the photos back up.
“These are old,” he said. “I never saw them.”
“Yeah, me neither for a long time now. They are from the time before I was born.” Anna was flipping through the photographs she had just picked up. “Look, Mrs. Hudson and here is one of Greg.”
“Wow, he hardly aged, didn’t he?” Arthur said admiringly while looking at the pictures Anna showed him. “I hope I’ll look as good when I am at this age.”
“Well yeah, you should try your best.” Anna grinned giving him a little pinch in the stomach.
“Who’s that?” Arthur asked pointing to a photograph of a short woman with ash blond hair. Her facial features looked familiar but he was sure he had never seen her before.
The smile on Anna’s face disappeared and the conflicted emotions on his wife’s features gave him a good idea who the woman on the picture was.
“That’s Mary.” Anna said.
STOP LYING TO ME!” the very furious 16 year old Annabelle screamed.
John was a bit perplexed about the strong reaction of his daughter. They had brushed the topic of Annabelle’s mother once again and John had, as always, replied vaguely to one of Anna’s questions. In the past that had usually been fine. Anna had always been content with growing up with two dads. Until her death she had Mrs. Hudson as a motherly figure and there was also Molly as a close female friend. But with increasing age Anna’s wish to know more about her mother did grew as well. He had told her that she died shortly after Anna’s birth and that they were already separated by that time. Besides that John tried to avoid the topic as best as he could though he and Sherlock had agreed a long time ago that they would tell their daughter the truth someday.
Nobody ever tells me anything! You don’t answer me, Pa doesn’t answer me. Greg, Molly, I even asked uncle Mycroft. Everyone keep saying I should speak with you. I’ve had enough! I am not a child anymore!” Anna was still shouting, tears of rage now streaming down her face.
Anna,…” John tried to interrupt his daughter’s rant, helplessly throwing a glance to his husband who seemed to be taken aback as well.
You keep saying, you will tell me when I am older. I am old enough now,” Anna exclaimed but finally starting to calm down a little. “I have a right to know. Tell me, what’s the matter about my mother?”
She is right John.” Sherlock said, confidence in his voice though John knew that he was dreading this conversation as well.
John had wanted to protest but he kept quiet. He hadn’t been aware how much Anna was affected by the uncertainty of the situation and it hurt him seeing his little girl suffer. He always knew he would have to tell Anna about her mother eventually. He had delayed this conversion for far too long now and there was no way to avoiding it now. “OK,” he said taking a deep breath. “Sit down.”
Sherlock gently guided their daughter to the sofa where they all three sat down together, Anna between her parents, John holding her hand whereas Sherlock had put his on her shoulder both men trying to providing a shelter for Anna to rely on. John locked his gaze with his daughter’s and began talking.
By the time John had finished, Annabelle had become pale and very quiet. “Thank you for telling me.” she whispered, tears welling up again “I needed to know.”
Yes, I know.” John said pressing a kiss on his daughter’s forehead then squeezing her cold hands rubbing them gently. “Anna, whatever she was and whatever she had done, I know for sure that she loved you.”
John had always been afraid about the consequences his revelation might have for his daughter but to his immense relief, Anna wasn’t as affected by the knowledge of her mother as he had feared. Within a couple of days Anna not only seemed to be at ease with finally knowing about her heritage, she was also almost back to her old self - except for one thing. She stopped calling Mary her mother from that day on.
Anna was rummaging through various books and magazines when a slim booklet caught her eye. “Oh look, that’s mine.” she exclaimed holding it up so that John and Arthur could see it. It was the programme of a theater play she had once attended, the signature of a then famous actor was scribbled on it.
“Yes, you’re right, you must have forgotten to take it with you when you moved out.” John replied.
“Took us almost two hours in the cold to get that autograph,” Anna mumbled grinning at the memory of that evening.
What are you doing here, Mycroft?“
Hello to you too, brother dear.” Mycroft Holmes said with a sigh. “Hello, John.”
Mycroft”, John said taking the outstretched hand of the other men. “Nice to see you.”
No it’s not.” Sherlock snapped. “You know, I hate to repeat myself. Why are you here?”
John sight and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sherlock…”
I am here to pick up my niece,” Mycroft replied.
What for?”
Sherlock.” John grumbled. “You know why Mycroft is here.”
Yes. But I don’t have to like it.”
We are going to the Barbican theatre to visit a Shakespearian play.” Mycroft stoically answered his brother’s question. “It was Annabelle’s birthday present. And as I recall correctly, she was very happy about it.”
Before Sherlock could make another stroppy remark, Anna came into the room, dressed in a knee lenght black dress and a dark red bolero jacket that was draped over her shoulder. She had tied her long hair into a simple but elegant plait and wore decent make up.
Look at that beautiful lady,” John said beaming with pride.
Sherlock and Mycroft kept quiet for a moment admiring the beautiful young woman Anna had become. She turned around a little enjoying the attention from her parents and uncle. The peaceful moment didn’t last long though. Soon Sherlock and Mycroft were engulfed in one of their usual quarrels once more, Sherlock making snarky remarks about Mycroft’s diet whereas the older brother rebuked Sherlock for the mess on the kitchen table.
I wish, they would stop doing this,” Anna whispered to her father.
Me too.” John said, clearing his throat very audibly and giving the two men an angry glare.
Yes, I think, it’s time for us to leave. Miss Annabelle,” Mycroft said offering his arm which Anna took with a smile, both ignoring Sherlock rolling his eyes. “We should have enough time to get something to drink at the lobby before the play.”
Great, can I have a beer?”
NO.” all three adults simultaneously said.
Fine,” Anna grumbled as they were leaving the flat. “I am just almost eighteen.”
“You want to keep these?” Arthur asked a bit puzzled when he saw John taking a pile of CDs out of the shelves.
“Yep.” he said and smiled as he put the CD with the handwritten label ‘dancing practices’ in one of the boxes, ignoring the mumbling of his daughter.
“Nobody uses CDs anymore, nowadays. Are there even devices for that left?”
John grinned. He knew that the old stereo in the cottage still worked. Absentmindedly he began humming the melody of the waltz he and Sherlock had once danced here in the living room over and over again.
Come on John!“ Sherlock said looking at his husband with an eager expression.
With a frown John looked up. He had just sat down in his armchair with a hot and well prepared cup of tea beside him and a good book on his lap. He felt cozy and relaxed and whatever Sherlock was up to, he had absolutely no intention to follow.
Sherlock. Whatever you want, it can wait until tomorrow.” he said, pointedly looking back down on his book trying to find the passage he had stopped reading. Sherlock snatched it away seconds later.
No time, we need to practice. Now.”
John sighed, rubbing is temples. “Practice? What?”
Dancing, of course!” Sherlock exclaimed. “Don’t be daft.”
John just looked at him with a puzzled expression.
Dancing, for the wedding.” Sherlock said. “John, our daughter is going to get married in a fortnight. Sure you want to have a dance with her.”
Of course, but why do we have…”
And I would really like to have a dance with my husband as well.” Sherlock said in is childish pouting tone. “At Molly’s wedding I didn’t get one.”
Yeah, because I had sprained my ankle two days prior because a certain someone had to chase this mugger gang through a teardown with all sorts of scattered debris.”
Hardly my fault.” Sherlock pouted. He strode over to the stereo and John could hear a CD being put in. Soon violin music, most likely Sherlock’s own recording, flooded the room.
Sherlock came back and reached out his hand towards John. “Dance with me, John.”
John gulped. The deep and raspy tone of Sherlock’s voice compared with the seductive smile on his face and the sparkles of excitement in his eyes send shivers down John’s spine and made his heart race. He took the hand of his partner and was instantly pulled up into his arms.
I am leading.” Sherlock said with a mocking smile.
Of course you are.”
After three days of packing they were almost done. The rooms downstairs were ready aside from the few things John would need for the next day. While Arthur arranged the various boxes into a sensible order that would make the unpacking later more easy, John and Anna went upstairs to clear the upper bedroom, Anna’s old room which Sherlock had transformed into his laboratory after she had moved out.
“I can’t believe you left it like that.” Anna said pointing towards the wall on the right side which was painted in a bright orange with big wide splashes of green, blue and yellow paint on it. Anna had redecorated her room together with some school friends when she was fourteen (and without the knowledge or approval of her parents).
“I never had the heart to overpaint such a tasteful piece of art.” John said mockingly. “Besides Sherlock hardly ever worked here anyway. He still preferred the kitchen table. Said it was too quiet up here without me fussing around.”
“So this was mostly his storage room? Anna asked eyeing the fridge in the corner suspiciously.
“Don’t worry, it’s unplugged, I already checked for anything that could rot.” John laughed at the sudden squeamishness of his daughter.
“Thank god for that. I’m not sure my stomach can handle a decayed head at the moment.”
“Well,” John said unfolding one of the boxes he had taken with them “I suppose we’ll be finished here quickly.”
Indeed it didn’t take long to pack up the rest of Sherlock’s science equipment that he had stored here. Soon the only space left to clear was the wall cabinet, which Sherlock hadn’t used much as he preferred open shelves to have everything at hand quickly. Inside were the empty box of the microscope he had brought last year and a big carton with empty test tubes, flasks and microscope slides. On the top shelf sat a box, a little bigger than a hatbox. It was very dusty and obviously hadn’t been touched for a while. The lid was stuck with tape all around it and in a neat and slightly squiggled handwriting someone had written ‘Sherlock’s stuff’ on it.
“What’s that?” Anna asked.
“I don’t know, never saw it.” John replied wondering where it might have come from.
Anna shook it a bit, the box seemed to contain several things. “Let’s look inside.”
“No.” John said and snatched it away from his daughter’s hands. “It’s Sherlock’s. We’ll pack it in and asked him about it.” He put the carton into one of the boxes and closed the lid.
Chapter 5 – New adventures
December 18th
With routine and efficiency the workers of the moving company had loaded boxes, bags and pieces of furniture into the van. It took less than four hours and when the doors of the lorry were slammed shut it was almost like a physical pain for John. He felt drained and exhausted as he stood at the window of the living room watching the vehicle driving down the street. Arthur accompanied the movers to coordinate the unloading whereas John and Anna would follow in Anna’s car a short while later.
His daughter stepped at his side putting her arms around him for comfort. After a while she carefully guided him around to the direction of the door. “Let’s go.”
John stopped. “I… I still need a moment.”
“Dad, you have to let go.”
“I know, I know, it’s just…” he sighed swallowing down the tears that threaten to overwhelm him. “So many good things happened here. Well, a few sad ones as well, but it was mostly good. Yes, we… we had a good life here.”
“And you will have a good life in your new home as well.” Anna said patiently. “Because it will still be the two of you, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. What can possibly go wrong with that?”
Despite his sadness, John grinned and they both began to chuckle as they slowly went to the door with the last bag of stuff that would move with him to Sussex.
At the door John looked back a finally time, letting his gaze wander over the now mostly empty flat. It was barely recognizable as their former home anymore. Anna was right, their home could be anywhere as long as they were together. With a sharp nod John bit his farewell to 221B Baker Street and together with his daughter left the flat.
“Time to move on.”
December, 22th
John sighed in relief as he finally drove into the car park of the clinic. The drive was hell, too much traffic for his liking especially as he was a bit out of practice. They rarely needed a car in London but now that they would be living in the countryside, John seriously considered buying one. He had borrowed Annabelle’s car to pick up Sherlock from the rehabilitation facility. His daughter was clearly unhappy to let her father drive all alone and they had a heated debate about it, the famous Watson-stubbornness clashing against each other. But finally Anna had yielded to her father’s wish to spend the drive home alone with his husband.
Sherlock was already waiting in the lobby of the hospital, his suitcases beside him, looking at John with happiness but also a bit of annoyance. Impatient git, John thought but with lot of endearment, he was so glad to get him back today.
Sherlock stood up and limped over to his husband supporting himself on a cane, the impacts of the stroke on his mobility hadn’t vanished completely yet.
“It’s not psychosomatic I’m afraid.” Sherlock said after he had shared a long kiss and embrace with his husband.
“Doesn’t matter,” John replied. “We’ll get rid of it anyway.”
The drive to their new home in Sussex passed mostly in silence. Sherlock was grateful that John didn’t try to force a conversation on him. He had briefly told him that Anna would be waiting for them at the cottage, Arthur had to attend to a conference at university he couldn’t miss. Otherwise he kept quiet. That was one of the many things Sherlock loved so much about John. He intuitively knew what his partner felt and needed and at the moment Sherlock didn’t feel like talking. He knew he was unreasonable. His doctors had declared his rehabilitation a success as his motor skills had improved a great deal. He needed the cane but besides that he was able to move around and take care for himself without help. Still, he couldn’t help but feel disappointed and defeated. At least his mind was back in his old tracks. With a grim smile he remembered the fire of deductions he had forced on the chief nurse of the ward he was in, starting with her affair with one of the (married) therapists over to her kleptomaniac tendencies towards the jewellery of her patients to her increasing abuse of stimulants. She got fired on the same day. She had it coming. Her behaviour and general bedside manner towards her patients was more than questionable.
Sherlock observed the road signs passing by, exits in the direction of London they didn’t take. He had never doubted the decision to leave but he also knew that he would miss London, Baker Street and their old life. The future ahead of them was undefined and that scared him more than he liked to admit to himself. John reached over taking Sherlock’s right hand in his and interlacing their fingers, once again sensing his husband’s mood. He shot him a short glance smiling before turning his attention back to the street. Thank god, Anna’s car is an automatic, Sherlock thought, stroking John’s hand with his thumb.
“Mycroft came along yesterday.” Sherlock said after a while.
“Oh really? I hope he didn’t overdo it. His arthritis must be very bad in this weather.”
Sherlock huffed. “He has enough minions around to be carried in a palanquin all the way from London.”
John chuckled imagining Mycroft Holmes in a palanquin. Despite age and retirement the man still held an aura of power and authority.
“I invited him for Christmas, I hope that’s all right.”
“Of course.” John replied. “Will he come?”
“In a palanquin?”
Both men bursted into laughter simultaneously. It was probably the first time they had really laughed with each other since Sherlock’s stroke. John had to stop the car at the kerb as it took them several minutes to stop laughing. Once one of them had calmed down a bit the other one would start anew and a new round of guffawing began.
The rest of the drive passed by uneventfully and in comfortable silence though every now and then one of them would still chuckle a bit. When they arrived at the cottage it was already dark. The lights in the ground floor were lit and Anna hurried out of the door as soon as she heard the car driving up the driveway. She helped Sherlock out of the car who struggled with coordinating the cane and his not fully cooperating limbs cursing at the effort and clearly annoyed that he needed to rely on Anna’s help.
“You’re moving so much better already.” Anna said pulling her Papa into a happy and reassuring embrace.
Sherlock huffed in annoyance.
“Pa, these things take time.”
“People keep saying that.”
“Yes and sometimes people are right.” Anna said giving him a stern look. Then she linked her arm with his smiling. ”Come on let’s get you inside.”
“You’ve done a tremendous job.” Sherlock said looking around the living room. Stuff that had been here for decades like his grandmothers collection of old potteries blended in perfectly with their own belongings. The skull rested once again on the mantelpiece, beneath it a cozy fire had been lit. Sherlock saw his favorite books and science magazines being placed in one of the shelves right beneath his grandfather’s books about beekeeping. They had settled on the sofa near the fireplace enjoying each other’s company and their fresh cups of tea.
“There are still a dozen boxes upstairs which need to be unpacked.” John said smirking. “Oh, by the way. We found these.”
John put the carton they had found in the wall cabinet on the coffee table giving his husband a questioning glance. Sherlock looked surprise at first but then seemed to recognize it
“Where did you get it?” John asked.
“It’s from my parent’s house. This is Mummy’s handwriting.” Sherlock said pointing towards his scribbled name. “Mycroft gave it to me, after our parents passed. After their household had been cleared and the house had been sold.”
“What’s inside?” Anna asked fidgeting on her seat, barely able to restrain her curiosity John and Sherlock grinned at each other, some things will never change.
Sherlock bent forward taking the box onto his lap. “I don’t know. I had stored it away in the cupboard back then. It was… you know… when our parents died... so soon after one another… ,” Sherlock struggled with his words. John and Anna knew it hadn’t anything to do with the stroke. The loss of his parents was still a painful memory.
“I know.” John said, pressing a kiss on his partner’s temples.
Carefully Sherlock loosened the tape around the lid of the box and opened it. “Oh.” He put the box on the table and the three began to examine its contents.
The first items they pulled out were two small notebooks, the covers quite battered with kinks, rifts and spots of dirt on them. In a childlike writing there were notes, numbers and little drawings of all kinds of animals and plants scribbled on each page. But there were also observations about people noted like ‘the neighbour’s lodger has an affair with Mrs. Colloney down the street’. John grinned imagining how clever Sherlock had been already as a small boy. An additional evidence for that were the pair of binoculars and the small magnifier Sherlock had just took out of the box, with sparkling eyes. His interest in science had bloomed very early in his life.
The next thing John discovered made Sherlock blush and John almost burst into a fit of laughter again. It was a little pirate hat with a bright red fluffy feather and a painted skull on it. The feather was a bit torn and the seams of the hat had been patched in some places several times. With a pointed harrumph Sherlock tried to interrupt the giggling of John and their daughter although he couldn’t help but grin himself. His smile became a little feeble though when he spotted the dog’s collar. It was made of dark leather and there was a name engraved into the material ‘Redbeard’.
”Oh look at that!“ Anna exclaimed as she took out the last item, a plush dog specifically a Fox Terrier with bright fur and dark brown markings on it. It must have been a high quality toy as its appearance was very accurate and close to nature. On its left ear was a small metal button with a yellow brand sign.
”I think, my grandmother gave it to me when I was about three years old.“ Sherlock said, gulping down the lump in his throat that had occurred while he was looking at the mementoes of his childhood. The little dog was a bit battered and it was quite obvious that it had been loved a great deal by the child who had owned it. But the fabric was still soft, the glass eyes clear and otherwise intact.
“It’s gorgeous.” Anna said smiling at the image of her Papa as a small boy running around with the pirate hat on his head, binoculars around his neck and both his real dog and the plush one as his faithful companions.
“When I was getting older and lost interest in stuffed animals, my mother once told me, I should pass it to my own child one day.” Sherlock said looking at Anna apologizing. “I’m afraid I forgot.”
Absentmindedly he stroke over some of the worn parts of the plush dog letting the memories of his childhood flood his mind.
“Well, you can pass it to your grandchild then.” Anna mumbled.
Sherlock grinned but then suddenly the meaning of Anna’s words sank in. He looked at John who had an equally puzzled expression on his face. Both men simultaneously turned their heads towards their daughter “What??”
“Oh dear.” Anna said, realizing what she had just spilled out.
“Anna, did you mean… are you…”
“Jesus, Arthur will be mad at me”, Anna said with a contrite expression. “We meant to tell you together.”
John and Sherlock were still in shock at the surprising news.
“Are you ok?”
“How? Pa seriously, it don’t need to explain that, don’t I?” Anna said mockingly then took a deep breath. “I’m fine, everything is going smoothly, textbook pregnancy my doc said. The baby is due in June. We have been trying for a while now. But, well, I think, he just needed the right time and occasion to come to our family.”
“I don’t know, yet.” Anna had to admit. “It’s too early to tell. It’s just a feeling. Motherly instinct maybe.”
John and Sherlock looked at each other, tears of joy in their eyes and it was the second time that day that they were laughing with all their hearts.
The news that he would become a grandfather soon had fueled Sherlock with a boost of energy. He was already making plans, which adventures he would experience with his grandson and what experiments they could do, especially here in the country. His old binoculars were still in good shape, they could go to the woods, observing animals, looking for plants and mushrooms. Maybe he would even resume the idea of the treehouse.
Sherlock decided that he would start straight away tomorrow with the exercises the therapist at the rehabilitation had recommended him. He must get rid of the cane as soon as possible. He hadn’t stopped grinning since Anna had left them, taking the little plush dog with her, as a guardian and talisman for the rest of the pregnancy.
John entered the living room with a pot of freshly brewed tea. Equally excited and grinning from one ear to the other he sat down beneath his husband.
“I still can’t believe it! We’re going to be granddads! Jesus!” John took Sherlock’s face in both hands and kissed him affectionately. Despite the grey hair and the wrinkles in his face, John glowed with happiness and appeared at least ten years younger. All the worry and sadness about Sherlock’s stroke and their moving from London were gone.
Sherlock bent forward, laying his forehead against John’s, stroking through his hair.
“Merry Christmas, John,” he said. I love you.
“Merry Christmas, Sherlock.” I love you too.
- The End -

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 9, 2015 5:00 am  #16

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

This story is for gently69

Dear gently69,

you have given me this interesting request for a story with your questionnaire:

What would you like to read?
Johnlock, case, Victorian timeline, maybe concerning Christmas
What is your deal breaker when you read?
Any other pairings than Johnlock concerning Sherlock or John
What is your prompt?
Christmas in London, Santa Claus, children

This request was quite a challenge for me but I think I managed to create a treat for you and to fulfill all the conditions named in your prompt. I also cheated a bit but only in a beningn manner, as you will see.

So please, enjoy this story which is as long as the Epic of Gilgamesh and kindly overlook the mountain of typos that – I´m sure – found their way into the text. I hope that my Johnlocky goodness would brighten your cold, wintry day. Sorry for the lenght. I blame it on Sherlock and John. I wanted to finish the tale quickly, but those two kept doing most outrageous things, not caring one bit about my distress.

The Adventure of the Mechanical Turk

During my long acquaintance with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, it rarely came to pass that we lead the investigation of the same case separately. Although my friend had a certain reputation of being a misanthrope, we usualy got along magnificently and indulged with goodwill the shortcomings and flaws that Nature so lavishly bestows on every man. Still, in those gloomy days before Chrismas of the year 1894, a singular occurence caused a discord among us, the false note in the harmonious symphony of our friendship – and the situation lead to the dramatic results, which I will now relate to my dear and discreet readers.

You may wonder over the fact that I should remember those dark December days, the beacons of our temporary parting, with such acrimony. Such feelings might appear unseemly for the loyal companion of the greatest detective of our age. But at the time of which I speak, I was in the most peculiar stage of my life and a sympathetic reader will soon discover that I had a serious reason to be perturbed.

Five months had passed since I sold my Kensington practice to doctor Verner, a young and spirited relation of Holmes and returned to share the old quarters of Baker Street with my friend again. We were just back from the sea where we investigated the wretched affair of the Duch steamship Friesland, an affair, from which we barely emerged with our lives. While the sinister ship was sinking, we managed to take hold of a shallop and to save our existence through it, but in the fight preceding the seizure of a boat Holmes managed to forfeit most of his clothes and his booths either. In order to keep him from freezing to death, I shared my own garments with him which resulted in two severe cases of hypothermia and in my case, a bad cold.

Holmes, a wildcat that he was, recovered surprisingly quickly. My affliction, on the other hand, was long and tiring and had to be cured at home under the careful care of our landlady, Mrs. Hudson.

While I was bound to my lounge and to my bed, Holmes absorbed himself in another case. The thing required an intensive study of books scribed in dead languages, carrying out of putrid chemical experiments and the heated consultations taking place both at St. Bart´s and The Scotland Yard. I rarely glimpsed the sight of my friend during that period. Energetic steps echoing in the hall, the flicker of movement on the other side of the room, the inaudibly mumbled greeting in passing – that was the entirety of the presence he bestowed upon me at that time.

On 21st of December, it was no different. I was sitting in my chair by the fireplace, carefully mending the narrow brim of my bowler hat, when the long rapid feet clattered up the stairs and in the next moment, Holmes hurried over the threshold, impatiently thew his tophat on top of the table, acknowledged my presence with a nod and disappeared behind the door of his bedroom.

A slight sting of bitterness speared my chest. Dazzling deductions that once adorned every coming and going of Holmes and which were often created for a particular purpose of amusing me, were no longer produced since Holmes re-appeared in London after his long absence. Come to think of it, Holmes didn´t seem to pay much attention to me at all. I did not imagine that I would be treated like a piece of furniture the day I agreed to move back to my old lodgings. Although I was especially asked by Holmes to move back here, I seemed to serve no better purpose as a lackey around him.

Fighting sudden wave or irritation, I stood up, disposed of my hat and removed the ash that amassed in the fire-place energetically with a shovel. I then took a bucket and carried it off outside to blow off some steam.

Dumping the ash out to the dust-heap in the courtyard, I remained there for a few minutes, pacing here-and-there across the hardpacked soil, inhaling the sharp, wintry air.

Upon my return, I glimpsed the lamp flickering in the entrance-hall of the house. I would not pay much attention to it normally since I knew that Mrs. Hudson had a habit of checking whether the door are properly bolted before retiring to rest. Still, one oddity stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a distinct sound of Mrs. Hudson giggling.

Curiosity got the better of me. No voice of the Sybil was present to warn me from the act which would cause me such distress in the future. Unaware of the fact that I was approaching my doom, I entered the lobby.

It was Mrs. Hudson indeed. She hovered round the coat-rack on which Holmes´ heavy dark cloak was hanging and grinned from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat.

„What on earth, Mrs. Hudson?“ I wondered loudly. „What are you doing here?“

She silenced me with a shushing sound, seized me by the elbow and pulled me deeper into the entrance-hall.

„It´s a love affair!“ She announced to me happily.

Her assertion was so sudden, so wild, so utterly incomprehensible that it simply refused to register right away. I stupidly stared at her for a moment while she cackled anew.

„What?“ I stammered when I found my voice again.

„I saw them right there, by the hansom cab. She was all the lady, she certainly was – frail, pretty thing, very elegant and noble, dressed entirely in white... and when they parted, she handed him some token of appreciation, which he reciprociated by kissing her hand... it was very romantic! And his coat! Can you smell it, Doctor?“

She practically thrust the sleeve of Holmes´ coat into my face. Still astounded, I inhaled automatically.

There could be no doubt about it. The traces of lady´s perfume were quite faint by now but they were definitely there.

Cold stiffness seized my lips and locked them into something resembling a spasm. The feeling of strange rawness overwhelmed me and clawed at my insides as sharply as a rake. I can´t recall how I parted from our landlady and ascended the stairs with shaking knees that had turned to water or how long did I stand in a dark room illuminated only by a few ambers glowing in the fire-place. I only know that I found myself dawdling in front of Holmes´ bedroom, gloomily, obstinately gazing at the closed door and gnawing at my lips with my teeth.

It was then that I saw it. Little white paper card imprinted with Christmas decorations lay on the carpet. It probably slipped out of Holmes´ pocket unnoticed when he swept across the room in his haste. I picked the little thing up and turned it over.

Columns of outlandish, spidery signs crawled across the page like rows of ants, endowed with small round black heads and hair-thin bodies, written in an unusual angle. I believe the inscriptions would be puzzling to any other common inhabitant of London. But not to me. I was sure I saw plenty of similar letterings in Afghanistan.

Moreover, the hand of my friend made some notes under the singular text. The words, scribbed in pencil on the card, read as follows:

Shab gasht o lik pesh-i aghyar

Ruz-ast shab-i man az rukh-i yar

Gar alam-i jumla khar gir-ad

May-em ze dost gharq-i gul-zar

Gar gasht jahan kharab o mamur

Mast-ast del o kharab-i del-dar

Persian. I did not speak the language but some particular features of the sentences implied to me that I was gazing at the tongue of the Shahs.

If the object of these papers was something else than an absolute honesty with my readers, maybe I would claim now that I put that rather peculiar note aside and casually brought the subject of its existence up while we were seated at breakfast next morning. But I am not a man cut out for pretence. I loath to admit it, but I brought that slip of paper closer to the fire, opened my notebook and carefully copied every sign and every letter to an available blank page. Mindful of the fact that any wrong slip of the pen may bring a change in meaning, I replicated the slightest curve and line of a strange lettering with utmost precision. Only after that did I return the card to its place near the Holmes´ threshold and retired to my bed.

Holmes didn´t emerge out of his room at dawn. Not that I minded much.

I donned the heavy tweed overcoat, turned two warm shawls around my throat and, covering my head with a woolen cap, drifted across the passage into the entrance-hall and into the street outside, despite the many protestations of Mrs. Hudson who was already up and busy sweeping the stairs.

Fresh wind, coming from the direction of the distant sea, managed to slightly lift up the cover of smoke-filled yellow mist hovering over London during the night, filling my chest with energy and determination. My pace was brusque as I strolled through Baker Street and so it took only a few minutes till I reached Manchester Square and entered Hollis Club, placed in the corner of the area.

Lieutenant Edmund Strickland, my old army buddy, sat in his favourite chair by the window, with The Daily Telegraph leisurely spread on the cofee-table in front of him.

He raised his eyebrows in surprise when I approached him and smiled in delight.

„By Jove, it´s John Watson!“ he exclaimed, raising from his place and stretching the hand out to me. „I´ll be damned, if I didn´t think of you just yesterday! I came around the last issue of The Strand Magazine and read your wonderful Adventure of the Empty House. What a happy occurence to see a renowned author in front of me in person!“

„What a high praise, Strickland.“ I chuckled, while shaking hands with him. „I´m not entirely sure I deserve it.“

„Nonsense, Watson! People are mad about your stories, they are the talk of all London right now! Sit down, my old chap, sit down!“

He rang at the servant and in a minute we were both served a cup of strong tea with a few drops of brandy in it.

Strickland then reclined against the back of his chair and looked at me in expectation.

„So what brings you here, Watson?“ he asked enthusiastically. „Is there some thing in which I can be of assistance to you... or to your celebrated friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes?“

„Uhm, yes, I....“ I hesitated and licked my lips in agitation, twisting my fingers around my kneecaps convulsively. „Currently, I am helping Holmes with one of his investigations and... we encountered some difficulties concerning a written document which can prove critical to the solution of the case. I... we believe, the note is written in Persian.“

„Persian? Now, that´s curious!“

„Yes, I agree, it certainly is... it is. My friend obtained a rough transcription of the sign, but we were at the end of our wits speculating about the meaning of the text. That´s where I remembered, Strickland, how you served our regiment as a Tarjuman, an interpreter, before assuming your other duties as an officer. So I hoped... if you could...?“

„Attempt to translate it?“ Strickland leaned forward in excitement. „But with pleasure, old chap! I never deemed it possible to assist the great Sherlock Holmes with a case one day! It would be the greatest honour for me.“

„Well, if that´s so, then...“ I fumbled with the inner pocket of my coat for a moment, producing my notebook from it. „Please, will you look at this?“

Strickland carefully took the open notebook from me, lifted a pince-nez hanging from his waistcoat on a thin silver chain and put it on. He read the short note for a while with the eyebrows drawn together.

He then looked at me somewhat confusedly.

„Did you gather something from it?“ I asked, an uneasy feeling taking a grip of my stomach.

Strickland scratched his ear absentmindedly: „You were right in your assumption, the language is definitely Persian. The elegant calligraphic hand used in the original text is called Nastaleeq and it´s the most popular style used for the recording of Persian couplets. The verses are of quite transparent meaning too... I doubt it would be very useful to your friend, though. The thing seems a bit... trivial.“

„I don´t mind. Holmes often conjures up some sense from the strangest of clues, it may well happen that he would see a significance of the text right away, despite the confusion the same thing raised in our own minds... so pray, tell me, what does the wretched note say?“

Strickland shrugged his shoulders: „From what I gather, the thing is some kind of a love poem. I won´t attempt to reproduce the rhyme in which the verses are composed. But in the roughest sense possible, the Ghazal goes something like this:

It was night, but only for the others.

Like the day is my night, illumined by the face of my Love.

Even if the whole world by thorns should be seized,

I would drown, because of Beloved, in the flood of roses.

Even if the world turns to ruins, to be built again,

Drunk is my heart and ruined by The Ravisher of Hearts.“

Strickland lifted his eyes from the page again: „So, what do you think, Watson?“

I didn´t get as far as the answer to that question. The moment I came to learn the full meaning of the sign I discovered in Holmes´ possession last night, I reached for my cup authomatically and took a hefty gulp from the lava-hot tea. In the next second I was seized by a fit of violent coughs and managed to soil my moustache and my jaw with a thrown-up liquid reeking of brandy and of milk.

„Heavens!“ cried Strickland and the small notebook slipped from his fingers, landing on the floor with a gentle thud.

Understandably, what followed was a certain outcry from the other members of the club and a bedlam between servants who accompanied me to a washroom at last and left me there to tend to myself. I splashed cold water from the basin over my face, scrubbing it thoroughly. After that I lifted my head and took a good look into the mirror adorning the wall.

Sadly drooping wet moustache. Hair more silver than golden, tousled and shaggy like a wind-weathered straw. Rugged face still showing the mark of illness and of the night fevers. Bags under the eyes and the eyes themselves weary and reddened. Lips thin and pressed tightly together as in pain.

The ghastly image. I turned away from it in disgust.

Rationally, I was always aware that my interest in Holmes is not appropriate and that it verges on something criminal. I knew that I could not afford feeling cheated or disappointed, being married for several years myself. I had just seen the proof that I could not be described as particularily desirable by the long shot. I was conscious of the fact that I would never dare to utter a word of this to Holmes. And yet I so foolishly believed.... I had such hope that...

I have no idea how I endured the subsequent conversation with Strickland or what exactly I babbled to him. My mouth moved on its own without my mind actually participating in it. Thankfully, it didn´t last too long. I apologised myself from it as soon as I could, claiming that I feel tired and unwell and that I must return to my sick-bed to rest.

The day didn´t turn bright after all. The fresh wind from the morning evolved into a stale, damp cold, the mist descended on the streets again and enveloped the city in its suffocating shroud smelling of coal and of smoke. The cobblestones, covered in light frost, were slippery and uncomfortable to walk upon. I barely waded through puddles of half-thawed dark snow. It took me mere minutes to reach Hollis Club this morning, but my return into the lodgings I shared with Holmes seemed to take forever.

Our door at 221B Baker Street emerged in a distance at last. A small figure was outlined against the background of brick-walls. Coming nearer, I recognised Mrs. Hudson. She stood somewhat impatiently by the wooden crate filled with various green stuff.

„Here you are, Doctor!“ she exclaimed when I reached her and looked upon my haggard countenance with a slight frown. Still, she wisely restrained from any comment and pointed a hand at her strange load.

„A delivery boy unloaded holly and other evergreens from his cart in front of my door just now,“ she explained. „Holly, however, must be carried into the house by a male, it brings bad luck otherwise. If you´d be so kind, Doctor...“

I lifted the crate mechanically and carried it in, leaving it by the door of the pantry on Mrs. Hudson´s orders in an apathetic manner. I then languidly ascended the seventeen steps leading to our flat and entered the sitting room.

Holmes, standing by the fire-place, slowly straightened out, his back rigid and proud.

„So you are finally back, Watson,“ his deep barytone rumbled in the air.

We exchanged glances via the mirror hanging over the mantelpiece. My friend was fully dressed in his dark black frock coat, vest and striped trousers, with a starched „patricide“ collar of the white shirt already attached and adorned with a bow tie. He was nicely groomed and freshly shaved. Only his hair were still wavy, almost curly, as was their natural form.

He looked magnificent. The sight of him stopped me in my tracks for awhile.

He stared at me via the looking glass for a few seconds more, his noble, aquiline features cast into a sharp and striking contrast by the weak light coming into the room through the pair of windows and by the twilight residing within. After that he turned away from the fire-place and entered the adjacent room, currently serving as his laboratory and leading to his bedroom. It surprised me. Originally I thought that he would continue to spread the pomade onto his hair there by the mirror. But now it looked to me that he didn´t loiter about that place for this particular purpose. I flicked my eyes through the mantelpiece again and then I froze.

Right under the mirror, a new object materialised. A jack-knife stuck into the pile of unanswered correspondence, positioned in the very centre of the wooden chimney-piece, had a fellow now. It was one piece of footwear, made of fine saffian, yellow in colour, decorated in a delicate embroidery executed in bright red thread. Its toe-end was bent up in a sharp angle. It was a slipper. A Persian slipper.

A token of appreciation he received last night. A gift some woman handed to him which suddenly became the central point of our room by its careful localisation above the hearth.

Glaring at the offensive item, I took a few steps into the room and heavily deposited myself into my chair.

Holmes re-emerged from the bedroom with a telegram in his hand.

„Observation shows me that you had been drinking brandy in the club early this morning,“ he remarked in his sultry voice. „May I presume you are well enough to accompany me on a case? I finished the bogus laundry affair last night and promptly obtained new summons from Lestrade at dawn. He must be at the end of his wits with this one. He would not send for me if this was a mere matter of simple theft.“

He handed me the Inspector´s notice. I growled something under my nose and skimmed through the text with disinterest.

„Who is she?“ I asked, feigning nonchalance.

„Huh?“ My friend inclined towards our coal-scuttle in between, taking one of his pipes out of the smelly thing. „Who is who?“

„The woman who gave you the slipper.“

He paused for a moment, his back and the whole figure perfectly still and motionless. He then turned his head towards me and his sly, bright eyes narrowed a bit, a cute little crease outlined at the base of his nose. He regarded me stridently like that for a minute and I obstinately returned the stare with a frown shrouding my forehead like a cloud. A flicker of irony flashed through his face afterwards, a hint of his usual sardonic smile apparent on his lips.

„Mrs. Hudson was a bit indiscreet, I gather,“ he said with amusement, perched on the armrest of his chair and lit the short pipe with a dramatic flare of the match. He then disposed of the match by throwing it into the hearth and depositing one long leg over the other, he stretched them closer to the fire, taking a strong puff out of his Briar. „As to your question, the young female seen in my presence last night was Inspector Lestrade´s new employee, Lady Molly Robertson-Kirk, currently active under an alias „Lady Molly of Scotland Yard“.“

„A female police-constable?“ I sneered. „Don´t make a fool of me, Holmes!“

„The lady herself prefers to be regarded as a professional consultant, in a manner similar to mine and currently holds an office of the head of Female Department there at the Yard. She is a very educated and well-oriented woman and she was invaluable to me yesterday. But I cease to see the reason why we engage ourselves in conversation about her at this very moment. Aside from our operative connection, she is quite irrelevant to me.“

I huffed silently. Irrelevant indeed! But only in speech, since she was „The Ravisher of Hearts“ on paper last night.

„Therefore excuse me, I have no further interest to occupy myself with triffles,“ continued my friend meanwhile and tossed back his head, covered in those Apollonian curls, in a grand gesture of carelessness. He then shrugged his shoulders: „But of course, if you have an intention to dwell on it and if you aren´t the least interested in the new business offered to me by Lestrade, well, so be it...“

„All right, all right, fine!“ I raised my hands in defeat, baring my teeth in frustration. „Enough of that! I´ll accompany you, just give me a few minutes!“

He smirked, clearly enjoying his triumph. Content with his victory, he gracefully dismissed me: „Good. Go and change now. We´ll take a cab to Kensington when you are finished.“

I nodded irritably and managed to save the last shreds of my dignity by hastily retreating into my own little chamber.

Approximately a quarter of an hour passed till I joined Holmes again, changed into a more formal attire, well-groomed, with the stubble removed and the moustache waxed and curled at both ends. Holmes was not standing idle either during that time and met me with slicked down, straight hair, anointed with the camelia oil he obtained at Harrods. This subtle adjustment changed my friend in an incredible manner, transforming him into a stern, austere figure of a clinical reasoner whose sharp features were instantly recognisable everywhere in our entire contry. He donned an elegant tophat, pulled on the dark leather gloves and with a walking-stick in his hand headed out energetically, while I followed suit.

Once seated next to him in the cab, I inquired of Holmes: „Where exactly are we going?“

„I see you didn´t actually pay any attention to the document I displayed to you back in the flat, huh?“ he replied impatiently. „It´s Holland House. The series of thefts occured there under suspicious and remarkable circumstances.“

„So the victim of this felony was The Fifth Earl of Ilchester?“ I shook my head in disbelief. „The ruffian who perpetrated the act has to be a nerveless fellow, that´s for sure.“

Holmes fixed his eyes at some point far in a distance and frowned slightly: „Watson, I frequently warned you not to form any opinions on the matter before you have all the data available, it heavily distorts any impression you will form about the case later. Therefore, please, restrain from such remarks untill we examine the scene of a crime.“

This effectively ended any attempts at conversation from my side. Red-faced and affronted by his condescending, high-brow behaviour, I held my tongue during the rest of the ride, fuming in a badly concealed rage.

In the meantime, our hansom cab turned west, into the direction of Hyde Park and it embarked on a ride through the wide bridle-path separating the lush flora of the park from the dun-coloured build-up area of Paddington and Bayswater. We mingled into a clangorous cluster of cabs, omnibuses, broughams and carts and hurried along the road flanked by stands of sellers and stalls of shoeshines who preyed on unsuspecting passers-by there. It was almost noon and the place was indescribably busy, the constant clang of wheels, neighing of horses and the cries of people as loud as if a battle of Maiwand was being re-enacted on the spot. So I am not even sure if Holmes noticed my ire. Due to a deafening din, it would have been difficult to lead any sort of conversation anyway.

Thankfully, once we entered the streets of Kensington, our surroundings became quieter and much more serene. Well-built storeyed houses exuded an air of respectability and the inhabitants of the district walked their roads leisurely, manifesting their high status and prominence. Since I sold my Kensington practice, I did not find myself often in that part of the town, therefore I was gazing at the assembled gentlemen and ladies with keen interest, which mollified my bad mood somehow. I collected myself a bit, assuming the guise of a decent, composed man again and concealed the wrath that could make me throttle my great detective friend sometimes.

And it was about time. The large enclosure planted with closely set trees and ornamental bushes arised next to us suddenly and after a short while, our hansom cab took a sharp turn to the left and our wheels rattled on the cobblestones of Abbotsbury Road. We were nearing our destination. It took only a few minutes after that and we were invited by the sight of the magnificent palace with the facade in Jacobean style. Its centre block was accompanied by the tower on its right and left side, two porticos bordered the eastern and the western wing of the house, majestic piers supported the terraces and the neat, decorative arches on the edge of every roof gave the look of a fancy cake to the whole building.

It was truly one of the most remarkable houses in the land.

The only mundane thing around was Inspector Lestrade himself. He waited by the bottom end of the large marble steps leading to the porch and smoked a cigar, his whiskers bristly and his ferret-like dark eyes worriedly darting around an exquisite garden surrounding us. He was accompanied by a gentleman of a smallish statue and dark moustache, dressed in a very expensive evening wear and was talking to him in reassuring, courteous tones. When we came nearer, he politely excused himself, uttered a strangely anxious greeting and introduced us to his illustrious companion: „Lord Henry Fox-Strangways, The Fifth Earl of Ilchester. And this is Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his loyal associate, Doctor John Watson.“

Just as I suspected – the man was indeed a distinguished British peer and the owner of Holland House. His beaky nose, compact figure and the proud bearing matched the caricatures of him that appeared in illustrated magazines from time to time. Still, he looked very nervous and althrough it was a misty day of winter, marked by the unpleasant chill, our client was holding a white handkerchief in his hand and was wiping out his sweaty forehead very frequently. His lids fluttered like the wings of a frightened bird.

We exchanged greetings and at his invitation, followed the Earl to the eastern wing of the house where an entrance-hall was placed.

As we entered, we were at once surrounded by the orgy of burgundy carpets, rich inlaid work and marble statues. Heavy chandelier hung above our heads as we ascended the grand staircase supported by the forest of lean columns which resembled something a Venetian Doge might enjoy in his days. My curiosity awakened in its full power and I devoured every sight with a great satisfaction. Holmes, on the other hand, passed the stairs with genuine disinterest. His ascetic mind, better suited for some ancient Greek philosopher, abhored senseless displays of luxury and considered them a bad taste, if not downright disgusting.

We found ourselves in Gilt Room, a salle whose windows, embeded under a large Byzantine archs, overlooked the central court of the building and whose four walls were entirely covered with friezes.

A pair of commodious sofas was placed at both ends of the room. The Earl offered us the seat on one of them and mentioned tea. Holmes briskly seated himself, disposed of his hat and gloves, leaned against the backrest and raising his elegant violinist´s hands, steepled his fingers together. He then pierced the Earl with his keen, slanted bright eyes and interrupting his small-talk, appealed to him in a magisterial voice: „Please, Lord Henry, describe to us the circumstances of the case.“

I cringed at the daring rudeness of my friend. By the corner of my eye, I saw Lestrade choking on his own saliva and twisting his face into a sour expression.

But the aristocrat didn´t seem to notice the insult at all. He saged down on the chair obediently, his legs curled under him as if he was trying to make himself even smaller and he started to profess the scope of his injuries in a strained, subdued manner.

At first it happened to The Lady Mary´s neclace and earrings. The valuable objects disappeared without the trace from the Lady´s Dressing Room in the eastern wing of the house and were not seen since. After that it was a precious cigar-case, heavily inlaid with diamonds. Lord Henry left the neat little thing at the coffee table in the Crimson Drawing Room, here in the central block, righ next to Gilt Room. He returned after it half-an-hour later and found it missing.

The premises, especially the servant´s quarters, were searched thoroughly. Nothing was discovered. The owners of the house started to lock their rooms at night and ordered the butler to check every window and door in the house at night-time. Despite that, another disturbing and ghastly theft occured yesterday, under the circumstances that were absolutely beyond Earl´s conception.

„I was sitting in the Principal Library, which takes almost an entire western wing of the house,“ he recounted. „I had a considerable sum of money on the table in front of me. The Boxing Day is soon upon us, so I was sorting out the gratuities I intended to mete out to my servants during Christmas. I was packing the respective sums into small paper boxes and sealing them up. It was two o´clock after midnight and the entire household had already gone to sleep, the house was dark and silent.

All of a sudden, I started to percieve that a strange, scratching sound is knelling somewhere behind my back. Indistinct at first, it grew louder and more urgent little by little and it intruded upon my consciousness in such a manner, that it could not be ignored anymore.

Initially, I have thought that a rodent managed to slip into the library somehow. I stood up, lifted up a candle from the table and examined the floor next to the bookshelves. I checked out the small Inner Library adjacent to the Principal Library and the cabinet leading to the Dining Room after that. But nothing seemed to be amiss, the light of the candle revealed only an undisturbed parquetry to me. The sound that mystified me so became muted during my search and gradually faded into a complete silence. I remained standing for a few minutes in the middle of the room when I couldn´t hear it anymore and waited for anything that would reveal to me the origin of this mysterious noise. Yet the library was once again tranquil and dormant like the inside of a monastery. Only the shadows cast by the flickering flame danced at the backs of the rows of books.

I returned to my table and resumed my work, trying to surpress a feeling of puzzlement and disconcertedness from my mind. I took up my boxes and filled up two more.

Then unexpectedly, the awful scraping sound resounded behind me anew. It was sharp and pronounced this time and mingled with something that sounded suspiciously like a wheeze.

I jumped up from my chair and whirled around. I would swear that the noise came from the back of the room but in the twilight covering that part of a library, I could discern no move. I grabbed the candle from the table and rushed forth.

This time it was obvious that the sound was being emitted from the Inner Library which was adjected as an appendix to the western part of the principal room. With a hand holding a candle outstretched in front of me, I drew closer to it. The noise died away as I reached the little cell, still, I gave no heed to the fact and crossed the threshold.

That´s when my candle was extinguished abruptly and I found myself in total darkness, blinking in confusion, blinded by the sudden loss of light. Before I could recover my wits, an unearthly susurrus echoed in my ears and in the next moment, I had a sensation of an unpleasant coldness coming into contact with my chest. In an instant, I recognised a chilly touch of a strange hand in it. It was a grotesque, tiny, shaky limb that traveled up my torso. Moreover, once it found my throat, it seized it into a fierce grip.

Now, I consider myself a valiant man, Mr. Holmes. Nevertheless, that ghastly incident shook me to the very core. Frightened out of my skin, I shrieked to high heavens and recoiled, breaking into a frantic dash and blindly throwing myself into the direction of the Dining Room. By a stroke of luck, I managed to find a doorknob in the black gloom surrounding me and burst into the Dining Room, calling for help.

I suffered something akin to nervous breakdown right after. Trembling like a leaf, I sank onto the carpet and breathed heavily, feeling faint. Still, I´m sure I did not loose consciousness, not even for a moment. The members of the household, roused from their sleep by my desperate cries, rushed into a room one by one and lifting me up, carefully led me to my chair, loosening my cravatte and collar and offering me brandy.

Swipe of a liquor heartened me again and I was able to relate to my servants what befell me in the library. My men lit the lamps and stormed into the place, overturning it completely and raking over every inch of the floor and walls. However, they reported to me that they had found the place to be completely empty.

It was then I remembered about my boxes. I rushed back into the room and looked at my working table with apprehension. It was as I feared. All the boxes and the money I didn´t yet manage to divide into the individual sums were missing.

Mr. Holmes, the Principal Library is a long hall and it´s full of windows and doors as a result. Still, I can swear to you that I checked every single one of them myself before I commenced with my work and with the exception of the Dining Room door, they were all properly bolted. Disabused by the previous thefts, I did the same in the Inner Library and since the cell is but a small one, with only a single window at the back of the room and with a single side door leading to a western terrace, I can say with confidence that they were bolted too. They are rarely opened anyway. These possible outlets from the room were all checked anew after I discovered that I had been robbed and they were pronounced safely locked.

Since the furnishing of both rooms consists mainly of book-racks and various chairs and tables, there´s no place where a thief could hide with his loot if he was still inside. And he couldn´t leave through the Dining Room door either. Although faint, I remained conscious all along and since I lay not a full yard from a threshold, I would notice if anyone attempted to leave the premises.

No one could actually take the money from where they lay during my absence and depart with them. And yet it´s an indisputable fact, that a theft occured. It´s a mystery, Mr. Holmes, a sinister mystery! The incident left me thoroughly perplexed and I´m still unsure what exactly had happened last night. Therefore I turned to you, so that you can throw some light on the matter due to your superior knowledge and abilities.“

The Earl´s narration left a deep impression in me. My fantasy painted the dramatic scenes of the lurking horror in my mind and my eyes conjured the vague shapes of a phantasm in every corner of the chamber in which we were currently seated. I almost flinched when a pale, ginger-haired young girl placed a tea cup on the table next to me. To my over-active imagination, she looked as a brooding apparition for a while. Thankfully, the young maid didn´t notice a thing. She was weirly distracted and after she distributed the tea to every person present, she dawdled on the spot, twisting her hands nervously. Only after being admonished by her master who repeated twice: „You are dismissed, Bertha,“ did she leave.

Holmes processed the Earl´s story in silence, with his head bowed, his chin resting on his chest, fingers steepled under his nose and a frown creasing his high, prominent forehead.

„Lord Henry,“ he adressed our client at last. „I see that you are a keen supporter of a spiritualist movement. May I ask you what do you think about your adventure from the spiritualist´s point of view?“

His question surprised me as much as it surprised the Earl himself. I knew for sure that Holmes held spiritualist teaching for a naive form of charlatanism. His many scathing remarks on the matter during the years of our mutual acquaintance left no doubt about it. Why would he inquire after an opinion of the man whose head was muddled by this pseudo-religion?

The Earl, meanwhile, went through the process that all of our clients experienced at some point.

„What?“ he stammered. „How...?“

„That round wooden table in the corner is not on par with the rest of the furniture and it´s obviously being used during séances, by the summoning of spirits. Moreover, I see a spirit trumpet placed on it. Both objects are worn out by the long usage. Now, it would be a very big coincidence if such paraphernalia should be found in possesion of someone else than a zealous adherent of Spiritualism. Don´t you agree with me, Lord Henry?“

„Oh!“ Our host wiped his brow once again and blinked, traces of redness staining his cheeks. „I didn´t realise.... but you are right, of course. I often find myself in communication with the spirit realm.“

„So, what is your opinion on the matter? Was it a natural occurence or an interference of the paranormal?“ Holmes rumbled in his „I-am-toying-with-you“ voice.

The Earl straightened and fastened a firm gaze on my friend. His words held a deep-seated conviction when he replied: „The beings coming from the realm of the spirits have no use of our worldly fortunes, Mr. Holmes. It was a hand of a living human that took the money off my table and robbed my staff of their hard-earned gratuities.“

The detective boldly returned the stare and narrowed his eyes in a gesture so familiar to me. He was going for the kill. He gently turned his face sideways and all but accused The Earl: „You sound sincere. And yet you are not telling me everything. There´s something you are witholding from me, something that was the real source of your scare there in the library. Still, you hesitate to mention it. Although it makes you uneasy because you are aware that you can´t hold it secret forever. But nothing will force you to disclose it publicly... huh?“

He hit the nerve like a surgeon testing the reflexes of a patient. The aristocrat stiffened, his skin blanched into an ashen hue and his lips trembled. Never before did I see a man so put out of countenance.

Nevertheless, my friend didn´t progress in torturing the Earl any further because in that moment Lestrade hummed in disaproval and suggested: „Mr. Holmes, what is the use of this inquiry? It only adds further distress to His Lordship who was shaken badly enough by yesterday´s events already. Shouldn´t we rather examine the crime-scene by now?“

He threw a meaningful glance at Holmes, his dark eyes serious and weary. Holmes waved a hand at him irritably, clearly intending to put him off with some of his sarcastic witticisms or arrogant comments. Yet before he could get to that, they exchanged glances and a miraculous change came over Holmes. He stopped in the middle of his imperious gesture and a reflection of understanding flicked through his sharp features. The next instant he was up from a sofa, bristling with energy and eager like a bloodhound chasing a game through the field.

„Can we take a look at the library then, Lord Henry?“

Our client nodded pensively and raised from his seat to serve as our guide to the scene of the crime: „If you be so kind then and follow me, gentlemen...“

He led us to the door in the western corner of Gilt Room and along a charming small lounge known as Yellow Drawing Room, distinguished by the bright ochre-coloured paint on the walls. We crossed the lounge and found ourselves in a very short passage illuminated by the narrow window after that. It opened to a turret staircase at the right side and its window overlooked the lead flat roof of the terrace in the central courtyard. I registered that in a hurry, because there was no time for me to relish the view. There was a loud click of a latch bolt being unlocked and in the following moment, we entered the mysterious place where an audacious theft had occured last night.

The library was as splendid as I imagined. It was a handsome hall, upwards of ninety feet long and about seventeen feet wide, with massive vaults providing an impressive style to the ceiling. Shiny parquetry covered its floor. Bookshelves full of precious volumes took up its entire lenght on both sides, but it was relatively well lit, because two big panelled windows were placed at both ends and one large oriel window was stretching itself right in the middle of the western wall, exactly opposite the passage we just emerged from. I noticed at least two more outlets from the room just to my left – a discreet door to the lead roof of the central terrace and one more oriel window, partly covered by the brickwork and changed into an alcove that way. I remembered two little windows flanking it on the facade, but these were probably blind. A glass door was leading also to the western terrace. The far side of the western wall sported a wonderfully ornate fire-place. To my right, on the other end of the room, I noticed the door leading to the Inner Library and opposite it a wicket leading into a small cabinet adjacent to the Dining Room. Along the full lenght of the library, the most exquisite writing and drawing tables, chairs and comfortable fauteuils were deployed.

The Earl was right – the place was full of windows and doors. Despite the dramatic story he told us earlier and despite his reassurances that he had this room checked over and over during the time of robbery, once I glimpsed the premises myself, I started to doubt that the hall was as air-tight as the man was trying to persuade us.

Holmes seemed to sport the same idea. He stopped our little group with a restraining hand, took a quick look at the room and pointed a finger into the south-western corner of the library.

„A staircase,“ he said. „Where does it lead to, Lord Henry?

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 9, 2015 5:01 am  #17

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

„Oh, that!“ The Earl sent an awkward glance into that direction. „One small library is also at the level of the ground floor, Mr. Holmes and this little staircase connects it with the principal one. Still, the room below us is being refurbished currently and it´s permanently locked, because it´s still waiting for the new furnishing being delivered from our supplier. There´s nothing there, Mr. Holmes, except bare walls and some cans of paint. When the theft was discovered, it was checked just as every other part of this library, but the door was not being tampered with and it was coated with a thick layer of dust, undisturbed from the moment the painters left the room. The thief could not come from there nor hide there, Mr. Holmes.“

My friend acknowledged these facts with a short nod and turned his attention to the allusive Inner Library. He walked slowly to it and I automatically resumed my place by his side, leaving our two companions behind my back. That´s why we reached that bizzare cell at the same time and crossed the threshold together.

The Earl was a devious man after all. If he had at least warned us what we would find in that secluded recess of his... but he decided to put us through a shock therapy. Maybe it was his subtle vengeance for the rude, overtly familiar way in which Holmes was treating him. Still, instead of punishing my more phlegmatic friend he managed to almost drive me out of my mind instead.

Because when we got inside, the room, despite my expectations, was not empty. A heavy drawing table was placed in the centre. And from behind it a hideously distorted face leered at us, swarthy, dark face of an Oriental begirt with high turban, his teeth bared in a wild grimace and his fanatical eyes reflecting a blaze of devilish fire.

I spared one glimpse at that ominous apparition and nearly jumped out of my skin.

„Holmes!“ I bellowed and seizing Holmes by the shoulder, I literally threw him back outside, assuming a fighting stance and grappling for my revolver. Then I recalled with a chilly certainty that I had left the blasted thing at our flat. Looking around frantically I noticed the diminutive fire-place built unusually in the corner next to the door and grabbed the poker from within, lifting it over my head and all but jumping at my Ghazi adversary.

A hand landed on my forearm. With a cry of alarm, I whirled and just barely refrained from striking the person who interrupted me. But Holmes, fortunately, had good reflexes and he firmly caught the poker into his steely palm, causing me to stand still at last.

„Whoa, whoa!“ He exclaimed. „Spare us the bloodshed, Watson, will you? Besides,“ he continued, dry amusement evident in his voice, „it´s not really necessary. Look closer. The adversary you just charged like a cavalry is but a figurine.“

Still breathing heavily, I gasped and turned my eyes back to the sinister figure visible behind the table.

The light streaming from the big oriel window behind its back and from the glass door to its right bathed the entire place with illumination sufficient to see the taciturn form in detail. And now that I stopped panicking and looked at it more closely, it was very obvious to me that the thing was indeed a mannequin, a doll dressed in Turkish robes to evoke the atmosphere of an Oriental mystery in an audience scrutinising it.

On its wooden head, it wore a square felt hat begirt from all sides with luxurious white turban scarf and the body was hidden behind a white linen shirt, stripped blue-grey khalat and a luxurious fur-trimmed red kaftan. The face was a skillfully sculpted and quite life-like portrayal of a middle-aged Pasha with hatchet features and the prominent moustache. What I held for a devilish grimace and distortion previously was merely a certain deterioration of a very old wood, because, as a matter of fact, the figure had quite a benign facial expression. Its slim right arm rested calmly on top of the table and the left arm was slightly bent at the elbow, firmly clenching the long, very thin pipe in its hand. Both hands served as borders for an exquisite glass chess-board, eighteen inches square, permanently affixed to the top of the table – or maybe I should say „the box“, for it was rather clear now that the desk is of no usual type manufactured in our country and that it resembles a compact box instead.

It was the eyes which were so lively. They were inlaid glass eyes, similar to those which ancient Greeks introduced to the world with their bronze statues in some time immemorial. The resulting gleam gave them that fanatical flare which so scared me a minute ago – and the raised black eyebrows, concaved into high archs, only added to the effect.

Recognising my error, I flushed dark red with embarassment. Lestrade passed me on his way into the room, muffling a badly-masked snigger in his gloved hand, while our host, walking right in his heels, gave me a wide berth. My stomach started to shake in anger at the sight of this. The man couldn´t know what chagrin had all this Oriental stuff currently brought into my life but still – it was so irresponsible of him to unleash this spook upon us without any warning.

Holmes, meanwhile, took a poker from me, returned it to its stand next to a fire-place, approached the figurine and chuckled in satisfaction. He was enjoying himself immensely. The Earl´s dastardly tactic didn´t faze him at all because unlike me, he anticipated that a „surprise“ would await us in this part of the library.

„So this is what you concealed from us, Lord Henry,“ he observed and pierced the aristocrat with all-knowing eyes. „It´s an impressive feat to leave out the object of this size and singularity out of your testimony. I´m sure my friend, Doctor Watson, will immortalise your tour-de-force in one of his stories, since even among our clients, your case is exceptional.“

The Earl mutely lifted his gaze up to Holmes and then cast it down again guiltily. Lips under his prominent nose grew pale and thin.

Although I was wroth with him, I understood at once and almost felt pity for him. The proud man was absolutely perplexed and aghast at his yesterday´s eerie experience and he especially feared this nightmarish figurine that somehow found its way into his possession. He couldn´t be sure if the macabre touch of a chilly hand he percieved last night was not the doll´s doing. However, he couldn´t admit that fact out loud and suffered his private Hell in silence. If an act of theft didn´t occure together with the scare, he would possibly never ever mention it to any living soul, I had no doubt of that. That´s why he could not force himself to tell us about the peculiar „inhabitant“ of this library. Yet Holmes, with his notorious dismissal of sentiment and his cold intellect, could not comprehend this and had certainly regarded it as twaddle.

Fortunately for the Earl, Holmes was currently not in the mood to further mock him. He was fully engaged with the new source of his entertainment. He crouched before a figurine, carefully touched the maple wood of the table which served as its seat and then clasped his hands together, intently staring at the brass plate he discovered at the front of the desk-box. It was rectangular in shape and endowed with an engraving which read as follows:






A.D. 1771

Holmes tilted his head slightly to the side.

„The Chess-Turk,“ he interpreted the sign for us, „constructed by Johann Wolfgang of Paola, Johannes Almoner Von Kempelen, in the year of our Lord 1771.“

He remained mute for a while, emotion akin to awe pulsing in his firm jaw. Then he lightly caressed the surface of the table and remarked: „It´s true then. This is the original. The famous automaton, The Mechanical Turk. Fascinating. Can I ask you how you managed to get hold of it, Lord Henry?“

„Mr. Whiters of Philadelphia, my acquaintance from the club, offered it to me as a payoff – he owed me a considerable amount of money I won from him during a card-game. I liked the machine a lot when I first glimpsed it and I decided to properly buy it from Mr. Whiters. We had its price estimated by an expert, substracted the sum of a debt from it and I paid the rest of the price to that gentleman. It was nothing but a regular procedure, Mr. Holmes.“

„Most remarkable. And this Mr. Whiters... what profession does he excercise back at home?“

„To my knowledge, Mr. Whiters is a railway magnate and a shipbuilder and his family is renowned in the business circles in Pennsylvania for three generations now.“

„I see. Well, I can´t denounce you for your wish to obtain the automaton, for it is indeed an exquisite and world-renowned antique. The giants dwelled where we are standing at present, Lord Henry, for people like Napoleon, Empress Catherine The Great and many other anointed heads tried their luck in a match against this machine... but I digress. It´s compelling, yet not really relevant to our case. What I wanted to find out is whether the interior of this table was inspected as thoroughly as the rest of the furniture last night. Its construction rather cleverly prevents us to see inside from any angle, doesn´t it?“

That was true. As I mentioned previously, the table resembled confined compact box. Its front part was divided into five compartments - three cupboards of equal dimensions, and two drawers occupying portion of the chest lying beneath the cupboards. All were firmly locked. A green drapery concealed the back of the Turk, and fell partially over the front of both shoulders, which made even the rear part of the automaton all but invisible to our eyes. The chair, on which the figurine sat cross-legged, seemed to be firmly affixed to the main body of the table, but since this part of the machine was entirely covered by drapery, I could only guess the fact from the close position of the Turk to the desk and from its erect, fixed posture.

The Earl nodded in agreement: „Mr. Joshua Johnson, who tended to the automaton also for Mr. Whiters, is currently in my service together with his niece, Bertha. He was called here after the theft and promptly unlocked and checked the interior of the machine. It was entirely empty and the automaton itself did not look tampered with.“

Holmes raised a long, elegant finger to his full plush lips and rubbed them absentmindedly. I nervously shuffled my feet, for the gesture drew my mind into the most inappropriate direction. Thankfully, my friend didn´t indulge in tempting me for too long. He lifted himself from the floor and suggested to our client: „Can we peek inside now?“

The Earl was willing to demonstrate the inner part of the mechanism to us and rang at the aforenamed servant. In a few minutes, Johnson made an appearance in the library and deferentially bowed to his master. He was a robust, fairly young man with a wide placid face, bristly dark hair cut short and a hefty pot-belly.

On his master´s orders, he removed the bunch of keys from his striped vest and dully opened the first cupboard to the inspection of all present. Its whole interior was filled with wheels, pinions, levers, and other machinery, crowded very closely together, so that the eye could penetrate but a little distance into the mass. Leaving the cupboard-door open to its full extent, Johnson went round to the back of the table after that, and raising the drapery off the figure, opened another door situated precisely in the rear of the one first opened. This act threw some light through the cupboard and we could be confident that the thing is full of machinery. Johnson sluggishly closed and locked the back door then and letting the drapery fall off the figure, he came round to the front.

Leaving the first door wide open, he pulled out the drawer which lay beneath the cupboards at the bottom of the box instead. For although there were apparently two drawers, there was only one in fact — the two handles and two key holes being intended merely for ornament. The drawer was revealed to be void of any content, save the small cushion and a set of chessmen, fixed in a frame work made to support them perpendicularly.

Johnson didn´t bother to put it right back and deftly unlocked two remaining doors next, revealing them to be the folding doors, opening into one and the same compartment. To the right of this compartment, a small division, six inches wide and filled with machinery, was partitioned off. The main compartment itself was lined with dark cloth and contained no gadgets whatever beyond two pieces of steel, quadrant-shaped, and situated one in each of the rear top corners of the compartment. A small protuberance about eight inches square, and also covered with dark cloth, lay on the floor of the compartment near the rear corner on our left side. Johnson let us ponder over it, shuffled back to the rear-end of the table and, unlocking another door there, displayed clearly all the interior of the main compartment, disclosing it to the scrutiny of our company. Exposing the back of the Turk by lifting up the drapery, he then waved at my friend and when Holmes stepped nearer, he showed him some mechanism built into the back of the automaton to prove that the doll was full of gadgetry too and that it was an unsuitable hiding-place for any stolen goods whatsoever.

„All right,“ said my friend finally, a hint of disappointment evident in his voice. Johnson smirked and without any hurry locked all the doors anew, lifting a drapery and placing it to its original position at the back of the Turk.

While he was engaged in this activity, Holmes produced a magnifying glass out of his pocket and commenced to examine the windowsill, the frame of the glass door leading to the western terrace, the mantelpiece of the small fire-place and the floor, being sharply observed by Lestrade the whole time.

Johnson put the Turk back in order, but didn´t close the drawer at the base of its table-box. Standing by the machine, he leered at Holmes for a long while, until my friend turned to him again with question in his eyes. Johnson grinned then, his smile wide and full of teeth, stretching from ear to ear. He indicated the chess-board with his chubby hand and adressed Holmes in a surprisingly abrasive voice: „Care for a match, gov´nor?“

„No, thank you,“ responded Holmes in a typical dry manner and continued to survey the room. But Johnson was not willing to be brushed off so easily. He extracted a knight from among chessmen visible in an open drawer and accompanied it with a cushion taken from the same spot. He removed a pipe from the left hand of the Turk next and put a cushion under the slim arm as a support. After that, he placed the knight on D4 and winded up the machine, by applying the key to an aperture visible in the left end of the table-box.

Suddenly, a distinct whirr filled up the small cell, the machinery being put into motion.

This time, I was prepared for something extraordinary to take place before my eyes. Nonetheless, I still flinched when the Turk turned his head to the side unexpectedly, rolled his big fanatical eyes at me and rapped his fingers briskly on the trestleboard. I must confess I inadvertently took a step back in shock.

The Turk lifted his hand in the following moment, moving his arm in right angle and brought the gloved hand above the solitary knight, descending on it and receiving it with startling ease. Firmly clutching the chess-figure in his fingers, he then placed the knight at F5, correctly performing the L moved prescribed for the knight with it and rested his hand on a cushion for a while. He repeated the move over and over, seizing the chess-figure without difficulty and letting it to dance through a chess-board, touching the squares on the side of the board and in the inner part of the board in turn. I realised that he was performing a famous knight´s tour and that in due time, he will touch every single square on the chess-board with it. I licked my lips and shook my head in disbelief. I have never seen a thing so fascinating and yet so unsettling before.

Holmes didn´t seem to be very much impressed by Turk´s feat though. He threw an annoyed side-glance at the chess-board and left the room, going ahead with his investigation in the principal part of the library. Lestrade promptly slipped out after him, guarding him like a jealous mistress.

The Earl did not intend to abide with the spectacle any longer either. He wiped his sweaty forehead nervously and tucking the handkerchief into his back pocket, he growled at the servant with a touch of anger in his voice: „Stop this devilry at once!“

Johnson, looking at the scene with badly concealed satisfaction, petulantly grunted something inaudible, but obeyed, reached out for a key still sticking from the aperture and brought the mechanical moves of the automaton to a halt. An abrupt silence flooded the cell like a warm wave.

The Earl was breathing heavily, his eyes glistening and the dark moustache bristling. He requested of me without really looking at my face: „Doctor Watson, I apologise if this display was of any inconvenience to you, I did not realise what unfortunate effect my silence would lead to. But could you leave me alone for a moment right now, please... I will be at the disposal of you and Mr. Holmes in a minute.“

He was polite, however, his words awoke unpleasant feelings of me being a nuisance immediately. My chest tightened and the mood quickly turned black. I bowed curtly and perfunctorily, turned on my wheel and marched away, not aknowledging the stuck-up aristocrat with an additional word.

The hall of the Principal Library was already empty. Both Holmes and Lestrade probably just flew through it in a hurry and disappeared somewhere. My steps resonated loudly on the parquetry, evoking the atmosphere of the place long abandoned and forgotten in my heart. Unwilling to dwell on this spot I too hastened out. I had found the door through which we originally entered among columns of bookshelves and grasping a mahogany doorknob, I stepped into a short passage whose narrow window persistently squinted into a central courtyard.

Cold draft coming from the direction of a turret staircase to my right caressed my brow and cooled the hot outrage that threatened to completely overwhelm me today somewhat. The lead flat roof of a central terrace, dimly visible through the steamy glass, was besprinkled with fresh rain whose drops glistened like tiny pearls in the upcoming wintry evening, the last light of the day making them even more shiny and white. Trying to calm myself by admiring them, I pressed my forehead to the soothingly gelid window-pane.

That´s when I first saw him. His silhouette flashed past the trees down there in the garden, black among black as if it was one of the trunks, bare of leaves and dormant under the light frost. It was a sheer chance that I glimpsed him. Second later and I would have missed him completely. Because he was definitely hiding there. One of Lestrade´s constables was standing in a courtyard and the man was doing everything in his power to avoid being seen by him. He crouched behind some bush for a moment and then sneaked off behind the eastern wing of a building.

It was just as I thought. The area was not as tightly sealed off against external influences as the Earl believed. Some strange element was wandering around the place freely, unseen by the owners of the house... and it was quite possible that he had a hand in the crime that occured here yesterday also.

Loosing sight of him, I tore away from the window and energetically passed along the charming Yellow Drawing Room shrouded in the shadows, majestic Gilt Room where we conversed with our client an hour ago and the hall behind it, reaching the grand staircase and descending it swiftly.

I found myself in the entrance-hall and regarded with a mild surprise that the front door stood wide open. As I was approaching it, my ears caught the sound of two voices and from behind the door-frame, I beheld the tall sinewy form of my friend towering over Lestrade on a gravel path leading to the house. Initially, I wanted to inform him about the mysterious vagrant hanging around the garden and moved towards him. But something in his countenance and behaviour brought me to a standstill before I could cross the threshold. I froze in the middle of my step and shielded by the entrance-hall wall, I observed the scene taking place in front of me, hidden and invisible too at that moment.

Holmes reached out and gave Lestrade a little slip of paper, instructing him: „Deliver it quickly, I will wait for an answer till tomorrow morning.“

Lestrade took the little parcel away from him and nodded in a startling bout of obedience. He turned to leave, but was restrained by my friend´s gloved hand descending on his shoulder. Inspector threw the questioning glance at my friend and Holmes shuffled his feet a bit, growling low in his throat: „Lady Molly... tell her she is permanently on my mind since last night.“

Lestrade raised his bushy eyebrows, smiled smugly after that and finally grinned: „Oh, don´t you worry, I will assure her of that, Holmes.“

He touched the brim of his bowler hat in mock salute and darted off, his muffled laughter echoing among the trees. Holmes inaudibly mumbled something that sounded like „idiot“ under his breath and kicked some gravel from under his feet in slight annoyance. He then reached into his vest, pulled out a short clay pipe out of his pocket, lit it and leaning against a guard-stone raised at the edge of the wilted-up flower bed, he took a few hearty puffs off it. He shifted round thereafter and in that instant found himself face-to-face with me.

I was still crouching behind the threshold, silent and stiff, lurking in the shadowed doorway as if it was a den of a wild animal and I was playing a role of its beastly inhabitant. I did not see my own face, but it had to be pallid in the twilight of the entrance-hall, twitching with tension, ghastly and grotesque, because it managed to put even the cold-blooded Holmes out of countenance. His almond-shaped silver eyes widened in alarm and he faltered, lowering the hand holding the pipe to his waist and blinking in uncertainty.

„Watson? By Jove, you look like a ghost! What happened? Did some woe betide you?“

Amazingly, this was the straw that broke the camel´s back. I could stand anything, anything really... just not this uncomprehending stare aimed at me after the conversation I just witnessed.

Holmes had no time to even flinch. I was by him in seconds, pouncing from my bolt hole as a madman and had him by the lapels of his frock-coat immediately, fingers biting into his flesh like claws.

„Keeping things from me again???“ I hissed, giving him a hard shake. The pipe slipped out of his fingers and shattered on the gravel under our feet, but I payed no heed to the fact and unwittingly stomped on it, lashing into him: „Playing me for a fool anew? Is this why you persuaded me to give up my Kensington practice? So that you can laugh behind my back and ridicule me in front of our clients to make yourself look good?“

He opened his mouth in surprise. Only after I rattled him again did he seize my hands into an iron grip and tore them away from his coat, stuttering: „W-What? What the hell are you speaking about?“

Hysterical laugh escaped my lips as I spit venom at him: „Don´t act dumb! That´s all you do for weeks now! You are treating me like a lackey! Dense, brutish... and easily replaceable, as you aptly demostrated to me a moment ago!“

Holmes didn´t respond, he just gaped at me, sheer confusion waging the battle with puzzlement on his sharp features. I was not able to endure the sight of this inapprehensive, cruel innocence any longer. I drew my head low in between my shoulders, inclined a bit and dashed forward as if all the devils of hell were on my tail. Holmes called after me, but I didn´t take notice of it, tearing through the bushes and whipping over the garden in a mad flight.

Dark trees danced around me in a whirlwind. Small barks flogged my face and chest as I ran through them with unseeing eyes, salty wetness dripping from them and streaming down the sides of my nose, slowly seeping into my moustache.

The white walls flashed up among the naked oaks and green cedars at last. I emerged from the park to a meadow encircling the Belvedere, a picturesque summer ballroom which awaited its season here in tranquility and solitude. The wind-beaten bench was placed where the lawn met the bridle-path. I staggered closer and fell down on it, curling to a ball where I sat and pressing my forehead to my knees in abject misery. Never in my life have I felt so washed up and broken.

I messed everything up. In a way I sensed that I would one day. When Holmes reappeared in my life, miraculously raising from his cold grave at Reichenbach Falls, sudden flood of joy, amazement and incredulity which utterly submerged my mind lead me to believe that I bore absolutely no ill feeling towards Holmes for his foul trick which made me mourn him for three long years. But an open wound, born out of resentment and hurt, lay behind that facade of merryment, not dead, merely sleeping. As long as I held myself for my friend´s valuable companion and chronicler, maybe even something more, the wound was safely forgotten, covered by the gauze of amnesia. And it was that gauze which was brutally torn from the wound of my memory the moment I realised I was being replaced by some woman. The illusion of my importance to Holmes shattered and the wound bled, bled profoundly...

I don´t know how long I dwelt on that spot, sheltered by the gray mass of the ballroom, drowning in grief. I was shivering with cold when I came to myself, the frigid atmosphere of the garden trapped deep in the folds of my clothes. Raising from the bench, my limbs stiff from inaction, I headed back to Holland House, stumbling on my way.

My tracks were still visible in the light frost covering the grass. Forming a distinct line in the thickening darkness under the heavy tree-tops, they led me toward the residence as safely as an Ariadne´s thread.

Then unexpectedly, another set of footprints crossed mine, giving the building a wide berth, disappearing in the bushes.

Despite the miserable state I was currently in, I sprang to attention, my mind alert and wary at once. The vagrant, momentarily forgotten under the onslaught of my troubles, was brought back to my memory with great force. Could it be...?

I decided abruptly and diverted from my path, pursuing this new trace along the park in hope that it would lead me to its source. It cost me almost no time. After a short stroll through the foliage, the tracks ended by the western wall of the house. A very tall beech tree grew there, striking large roots to the side of the hedge and towered high over the baluster railing of the terrace. Imprints of worker´s boots were visible right next to it. Although the bark of the tree seemed undisturbed, the intent to climb the beech was discernible from the position of the imprints. The man was here indeed. He approached the house long after the Yard has searched the place and thus escaped their attention, but was probably disturbed before he could infiltrate the Earl´s home this way. He retreated for now, this was certainly not the last we heard of him though.

Examining the footprints for a few minutes more, I finally pursed my lips and coming all the way round the central courtyard, returned to the entrance of the residence where I left Holmes after our disagreement.

Unpleasant drizzle sprinkled the gravel with damp film as I went round the corner of an eastern wing. Nearing the door of the house, I spotted the black figure standing with the arms crossed at the side-walk forking off to the rear side of the building. My heart skipped in my chest at the sight, wishful thinking conjuring the form of my friend before my eyes... however, it was only an elderly butler awaiting me there.

He greeted me politely and explained that he apprehended me at the order of his Lord. To my astonishment, I came to learn that the Earl has asked me and Holmes to spend the night in Holland House and assigned each of us the room for the night in hope that our presence would deter the allusive thief from repeating his felonious assault on this household tonight. Holmes allegedly told him that the case looks good and that there is a possibility of retrieving the stolen objects very soon, maybe as soon as tomorrow evening. The detective retired to the guest room shortly after, expecting me to join him there upon my return.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I followed the butler to the second floor, where our temporary lodgings were located. The old man brought me to the door of my room and bowing his head in a benign gesture, he left me in the hall, shuffling after the additional duties his Lord entrusted him with. I flung off the remains of a drizzle from my hair and nimbly strode into my chamber.

Holmes regarded me intently from his squatting position by the fire-place. He got up slowly and dusting off the ash smeared at the knees of his striped trousers, he remarked in a reconciliatory manner: „There you are at last, Watson.“

I stood frozen in the middle of a felt carpet covering the floor.

„What are you doing here?“ I rasped, my throat tight and sore all of a sudden.

He shrugged his elegant shoulders: „I invited myself in because I have to speak with you. I was not aware that this should be a nuisance to you. You never expressed any objections against me discussing the details of the case in your room before.“

Clever, all-knowing eyes, glittering like a cat´s, got me feeling pinned down: „Why should it be a problem that I am here now?“

Despite telling myself not to, I laughed bitterly, my chest full of bile: „Oh, so Sherlock Holmes, the only consultant-detective of the world, finds my presence tolerable now! To what do I owe the pleasure?“

Holmes frowned slightly and pressed his lips together: „I don´t understand why you are so angry. What have I done to earn such wrath? And here I thought that you would enjoy a brief respite from Baker Street and that you wouldn´t mind to accompany me, since you assured me so many times before that you are actually pleased to observe me during work.“

I was, I swear by all the angels and saints of Heaven that I was. I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis, with which he unravelled the problems submitted to him. Yet I would not admit it, not now, when his honest bafflement pushed me closer and closer toward madness. I determinedly clung to my stubbornness. Making a sour face, I bit into my moustache and spit out: „Actually, I would rather sleep back home than observe the mess you´ve made of this case! You and that pompous prick of a Lord! What other thing did you achieve here than some cheap jokes at my expense?!“

Holmes straightened out abruptly, tension turning the sharp angles of his face and his high cheekbones into stone. He couldn´t stand it when his expertise of crime was questioned. His attitude cooled considerably and he remarked dryly: „I´m quite confident that I collected all the data relevant to this case already, thank you.“

„For sure?“ I gibed at him derisively: „You know also about the tracks of the vagrant who was traipising around Holland House this afternoon then? Do you?“

He glared at me: „What about them?“

„They are an important clue, aren´t they? The clue you have missed completely, Mister Genius-Detective!“

Holmes gave me a supercilious glance and curled his lips in something resembling pity: „Watson, I value your presence at my side for many reasons, both professional and personal. Still, detecting isn´t one of them, so leave the deductions to me. The tracks you discovered... I believe they might look suspicious to you, but rest assured, they are irelevant to the issue we have at hand. I wouldn´t call them important, I´m sorry.“

His words floored me.

„What?“ I stammered and a red mist of rage clouded my sight right after: „How can you dismiss them so casually? How?“

„You know my methods. Just think about it in peace for a while and you too will realise it´s very unlikely they have something in common with our case.“

A surge of emotion almost struck me off my feet. I have entirely forgotten myself exactly like a few hours earlier. I was breathing heavily, my eyes were glazed with mist and my voice shook, dangerously at the verge of tears, when I burst out: „Of course... that evidence is absolutely worthless! Because the lowly doctor discovered it, not the sleuth similar to your female flame down at Scotland Yard!!“

He seemed taken aback at my outburst. He gasped and raised his hand in confusion, protesting fervently: „That.... that´s not true, I...“

But I have turned my back on him in an instant, cutting him cold. I leaned on the sink standing in a corner heavily, my face hot to the touch. A second, a second more, one more glance at my countenance... and he would know for sure, able to deduce it with ease, for I was as transparent as glass at that moment.

„Leave,“ I requested hoarsely. „Please, leave me alone, before I say something we both regret later. I beg of you.“


I shook my head angrily: „Go! Don´t say anything, just go!“

Waves of confusion coming from his direction were almost palpable, but he obeyed without the further attempt at conversation. Silent steps resonated through the chamber and a light click of the door being closed reached my ears hereupon, revealing to me that the detective departed from the room.

I gnashed my teeth in endless frustration. I mangled up our relationship in an incredible manner. During the course of one day our friendly relations deteriorated badly and apparently, I couldn´t face Holmes anymore without lashing out into him. Every word he uttered made my feelings violently raise close to the surface, threatening to boil over and bury everything in their wake like a landslide. The moment in which I realised that I am competing for his attention with another person turned me into an insufferable fiend. I did not even try to recall all the bitter, jealous nonsense I hurled at him since we took charge of the Earl´s case. It was too much and it left me wide open for his scrutiny. Exposing myself like that, I could not imagine how I would face him come the morning.

Little did I know that I am worrying for naught and that the fate had a disastrous event in store for me, an accident which would turn all that happened until now into pale ashes.

I wearily lay down on my bed, still fully-clothed and stared at the ceiling, lost in thoughts. Wallowing in distress, I didn´t bother to light a fire although I saw the firewool stacked high in the hearth when I first entered the room. In my state of mind, it was impossible to pay heed to the slight discomfort of a cold chamber anyway and so I suffered it in silence, oblivious to it, apathetic like a shard of rock. Light rain was softly beating against the window panes. The lamp I left on the table flickered in the twilight, casting the warm coloured reflections on the white plaster.

And gradually, the peaceful atmosphere started to soothe me. My breaths grew deeper and more even and my eyelids became unbearably heavy. Fatigue got to me at last and I slowly slipped towards sleep...

Then unexpectedly – and it will always ring in my memory, to my very last breath – the cavalcade of noise thundered through the building. The racket of glass being shattered mingled with an unearthly yell so laden with terror that it made every single hair on my head bristle in fright. I was up and sitting straight in an instant, with the heart in my throat. The flood-tide of cacophony greeted me once more, the crash of smashed up chinaware so loud as if the house was being torn apart. And suddenly there was silence. It cut all sound off the place abruptly and ominously, with striking finality, leaving it as mute and still as a grave.

Shaken to the core, I leapt out of the bed and ran out into the hall. Somewhere in the passage, doors were being open in the wake of the hammering clamour and the uproar of startled voices filled up the air. But there was only one person that really interested me. I arrived at his door and beat upon it energetically.

„Holmes!“ I cried. „Holmes!“

No response came from behind the heavy oaken wood on which I was knocking. Led by the pure instinct, I grasped the door-handle and forced it down.

The door flew open, revealing the contents of the room behind it and laying it bare before me. I stood stupefied, popping my eyes at the disaster.

The bottom margin of the heavy leaden window-panes was brutally smashed. Black-laquered walking stick belonging to my friend got stuck among the sharp edges of the broken glass which gaped at me like the teeth of a primeval animal. In the corner, a decoratively carved cupboard lay on its side, partly destroyed and a mountain of china shards piled up high around it. Some of the fragments shot off into the room and peppered the burgundy carpet as a spray – they were literally everywhere and malignantly glistened in the light emitted from the fire-place.

Holmes lay prostrate amid the shambles. He was without his frock-coat, his vest gaping wide and he spasmodically plucked at the white shirt covering his chest, convulsing on the floor. His head was swept back violently, the face as red as the brick-wall.

One look at that unnatural colour and I realised the gravity of the situation, of that monstrous betrayal, at once.

„Sherlock!“ I screamed uproariously and holding my breath, burst into the premises, seized Holmes by the arms and pulled him out to the hall, stomping all over the shards and not caring one bit about it. As soon as Holmes was out, I slammed the door closed and took his thin, shivering form into my arms, carrying him throught the passage to the staircase lobby which stood at the end of the narrow corridor. Some servants already gathered there, frightened and agitated, but I shooed them to the side and settled Holmes down, so that he could remain sitting there and was able to lean against the wall.

„You!“ I pointed at the red-haired, green-eyed maid Bertha who observed the proceedings as in a trance, with her arms raised to her throat and her hands clenched around her delicate neck. „Bring me the smelling salts! Hurry!“

And when the girl hurried away, I crouched next to Holmes, quickly removed his bow tie and collar and checked him out.

His breaths were very shallow still, the brick-red colour of his face pronounced. He retched wildly, but because he ate nothing during the course of this day, nothing was produced. Trying to help him out the best as I could, I opened his shirt and bared his chest which even at that moment shone white like alabaster. I put one of my palms to his bosom covered with fine chest-hair and the second one to his sweat-streaked back and assisted him in craning forward, instructing him in a firm, gentle voice: „Calm down and try to draw deep breaths. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Just like that, you do it well... proceed and try not to loose consciousness.“

Sound of a running bare feet pattered through the stairs and Bertha emerged among us again, holding the smelling salts in a crampy grip. I took the little bottle from her and handed it to the bewildered butler, pointing at Holmes: „Observe him keenly. If he was about to loose consciousness at any time, administer the smelling salts. Force him to breath in a regular manner. I´ll be back in a minute.“

The old man nodded and kneeled on the floor to my friend´s side.

I hastened to my own chamber and seized the jug full of water from the sink. I then marched back to the door of the room assigned to Holmes and kicked it open, rushing in and emptying the jug into the fire-place. The flames hissed virulently when they perished under the stream of the cold liquid. Extinguishing them, I threw the jug to the side and reaching the window in two long steps, I blew it open, letting in the fresh night air. After that, I left the room rapidly, unwilling to follow the example of Holmes and to let myself be poisoned by the toxic atmosphere inside.

Closing the door behind me, I came face-to-face with the owner of the house who just got there. The Earl was sporting silken pajamas and a grey dressing-gown, but he was dishevelled, pale and quite disconcerted.

„Doctor Watson!“ He gasped, recognising me. „What the deuce transpired here? I have heard the clamour... did something happen to Mr. Holmes?“

I pierced him with a suspicious glance and instinctively stood to attention.


I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 9, 2015 5:02 am  #18

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

„It´s carbon monoxide poisoning.“ I informed him reservedly, with barely masked enmity.

He blanched even further, his dark eyes wild and he gnawed at his mahogany moustache with his teeth: „An accident?“

„I don´t think so.“ I responded with vitriol in my voice. „I believe it was a vile murder attempt. Don´t go in. I´ll tend to that place when it would be safe again.“

I turned my back on him and ran down the corridor, anxious about being separated from Holmes for too long.

I found the detective half-sitting, half-collapsed against the cushion which some good soul has fetched out for him from one of the rooms. His white chest was rising and falling under the erratic, yet fairly regular breath, slender, sensual hands lay peacefully joined above his abdomen, pupils lined by silver fluttered under the heavy lids. High cheekbones were still fairly ruddy, but a familiar paleness started to creep back into his features already.

The tight, miserable feeling which anchored itself in my own breast loosened slightly at the sight. I crouched back to Holmes and touched his carotid artery, taking his pulse. The palpitations were more-or-less regular now, scattering my worst fears to the wind. Yet I remained wary. Looking around me, I beckoned to a young valet to make him come closer and when he approached, I gave him a shilling, requesting of him: „I reckon that the broughams are stationed here at Ilchester Place. Could you fetch one for me, as soon as possible?“

The boy nodded and shifted away to run errand for me. I ordered Bertha and an elderly cook to stand guard over Holmes and taking command over the servants, I lead them back to the poisoned chamber where the Earl still stood, petrified.

Thanks to the draft I caused earlier, the murderous vapours already dispersed when I opened the door to that wretched place. Nevertheless, I left half of my men in the hall as a precaution and only entered the premises with the other half, including Lord Henry. The Earl moaned when he noticed the ruin of his precious chinaware, but he stopped to emit those sounds momentarily when I pierced him with a fiery look.

„They are only things.“ I reminded him sternly. „Something far more valuable, a human life, would be lost if these were not sacrificed. So rejoice at their destruction – for this is the only thing that saved you from having a dead body at your hands now, for which you would be held accountable as the head of this household.“

The Earl swallowed and protested feebly: „But what exactly occured here, Doctor Watson? I don´t understand!“

I smiled thinly. I would never have dreamt that my person would substitute Holmes as a detective one day. Using my friend´s methods, I showed the Earl the distinct footprints left by Holmes´ shoes on the carpet under the window and explained: „Holmes was standing here for a long while, immersed deep in his mind pal... in his thoughts and he probably fidgeted with his walking stick, as is his habit when he has no smokes near at hand. Uhm, uhm... his pipe broke in an accident earlier this evening. Being submerged in the problem you introduced us into during dinner, he didn´t notice that something is amiss and only realised the danger when he started to feel faint and was on the verge of loosing consciousness. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide has no smell that would warn its victim of its foul presence. In an effort to preserve his life, Holmes used the last of his power to break the window and to cause the ruckus by yelling loudly, to raise the alarm. Right after, he collapsed and struck the cupboard down in the process, apparently while he was trying to grab onto something to cushion his fall.“

„That´s... awful! Inconcievable! How was this tragedy even possible? All of the chimneys here are swept on a regular basis, the chimney-sweep attended to them only a week ago!“

I frowned darkly: „You are asking how? Wait but a second, Lord Henry, I´ll show you!“

The black iron stand placed near the fire-place contained the full set of fire-tools in its small enclosure. I removed the fire-hook from it and bowing closer to the hearth, I stuck the long tool inside the flue, scraping against its walls furiously. The hook caught on its prise almost immediately. I pulled on it, once, very strongly and the freed object fell on the grate with a soft thud, sending a cloud of fine ash into the room.

It was a cloak, worn and patchy, as if it belonged to a beggar. Somebody stuck it into the flue, right about the damper situated at the throat of a fire-place, in such a manner that it let some smoke through, but caused the murderous carbon monoxide to cumulate in the room otherwise, changing it into a ghastly chamber of death. It was the work of a professional. Faced with the ruthless brutality of this deed, I had to contain the bout of helpless rage before I could show my find to the servants and the Earl. The thought of the price this foul act almost cost me was unbearable.

The men hummed in agitation when I exhibited the results of my search to them. I adressed the Earl who was staring at the rag incredulously: „The murder attempt had definitely taken place here tonight. I will gather the items belonging to my friend and take them with me. Lock the room after that and keep it under guard until dawn. You must notify Inspector Lestrade of these events the first thing in the morning.“

I quickly collected Holmes´ frock-coat, his hat, gloves and walking stick and hurried away, impatient to leave that awful place behind me. Intending to join Holmes straight away, I made only a short detour into my own room to fetch my bowler hat back from it. I was halfway through the chamber, grasping for the hat already, when suddenly, I became conscious of the fire-place located there, still untouched, with the firewool stacked high in the hearth.

I remembered how Holmes attempted to set the wood on fire the moment I interrupted him and had a row with him. He was thrown out by me before he could finish the job and I had not bothered to light the fire afterwards. It remained exactly as it was prepared for me, inviolate.

I could not resist it. Taking the fire-hook from the ground, I stuck it inside the flue as before and pulled, sharply.

Two dusty bundles fell off. One looked like a white cotton shirt, the other like the pair of seaman´s or worker´s trousers. Nervous tremor seized me when I glimpsed them and the heavy hook fell from my hand, landing on the floor with a clang. Blood froze in my veins.

The trap was laid here for me too. Had I not acted like a jealous Italian lover tonight, had I been in a better mood and kindled the fire... we would both be dead by now, Holmes and me. My foolish possesiveness saved us from the worst fate possible.

I couldn´t stand this place any longer. I flew out and didn´t even stop to issue the orders concerning my room similar to the ones I issued for Holmes´, I merely ran along the corridor, possessed by the fierce wish to get the detective out from this hell and to transport him as far from it as I could. Breathless, I jumped into the staircase lobby.

Holmes was somehow restless when I was in his presence again, squirming, only half-conscious, his face ashen and drawn. I squated down to him and put my arms round his waist.

„Help me,“ I beseeched the old butler and he promptly aided me in lifting Holmes up and in leading him down the stairs to the entrance of the house, or maybe I shoud say „carrying him“, for his legs were too weak to bear his own weight.

The brougham has already been waiting for us, its window-glass wet with raindrops and the light of its small lamps strangely inviting in the indigo-coloured velvet of the night. The air surrounding it was boreal, leaving the trace of ice in our lungs. The drizzle was transformed into a snowfall by it, tiny snowflakes danced through the space and thawed immediately on landing. Damp vapours were rising from the bodies of horses and from our nostrils as we inhaled the winter itself in that chilly atmosphere. But the sight of the vehicle warmed up my heart immensely and when the coachman jumped down from his coach-box and opened the door for us, so that I could settle Holmes down on the cushioned seat, I felt my self-confidence returning and I believed that I could have the reins of the situation in my hands again soon.

I thanked the butler and the boy who acted as my deputy in procuring the brougham for me and called to the coachman: „To the Hyde Park, please!“ In the next moment, I got in and slammed shut the door to our wooden cabin.

The brougham dashed out of the place, yanked out into movement. Trying to shield Holmes from the cold, I enwraped him into my own coat, fondly recalling similarily sweet scene that took place ages ago, during the sinking of Friesland. I nestled tightly to him and lay his head on my shoulder, his wavy hair soft under my jaw.

„Holmes,“ I murmured, pressing my lips to his prominent forehead, which at that moment was as hot as a coal. „Holmes, pray tell me, where does Lady Molly of Scotland Yard have her residence? Do you know her adress?“

He blinked in the darkness, thick eyelashes fluttering and slurred: „She lives near the crossing of St. James´s Street and Piccadilly. Next to the Bath Hotel.“

„Thank you.“ I nuzzled at him anew, placing the kisses on his temple and on his lids. I couldn´t get enough of him and for once, I didn´t care at all that he would know. I waited until we covered the safe distance from Holland House gardens and when I was confident that no person from the Earl´s household could overhear my conversation with the coachman to guess the direction at which we were heading, I knocked on the roof of the brougham with my walking stick. The vehicle slowed down at once and stopped.

I cracked the door open and gave additional instructions to the man: „Pass through the Hyde park and continue in the direction of Piccadilly. Our destination is the Bath Hotel near St. James´s.“

„Yes, sir.“ The man cracked the whip and we carried on with our ride, adjusting our route so that it was directed towards the Rotten Row. I returned to my warm nest by the detective´s side.

Touched by the winter-scented air from the outside and startled by my voice, Holmes seemed to be more aware of his surroundings now. He stared at me in the darkness, the whites of his eyes reddened, the pupils wide. His fingers weakly clawed at my vest and caught on it.

„We are going to Lady Molly?“ He rasped. „Why? You didn´t like it when she was being mentioned earlier. It made you angry...“

„Shush,“ I put my index fingers to his full, tempting lips and smiled thinly: „I was not angry, I was merely dramatic. You know me – always a romantic at heart. The reality simply overwhelmed me. But don´t worry. I´ll get over it.“

And I meant it. I swore to myself that I wouldn´t be upset, no matter if Holmes would end up in the arms of another or not. I will take it all in stride, cherishing every little moment spent in his presence, every second he would bestow on me. I almost lost him. My hands still shook when I thought about what could have happened tonight.

„John,“ Holmes raised his voice in an effort to oppose me.

I put my palm on the crown of his head, ruffling his unruly hair and gently lowered his face onto my chest. I petted him soothingly, my fingernails scraping against his scalp to calm him down: „Shhh, don´t speak. Try to rest now. We will sort it out tomorrow.“

He tensed for a moment, then nodded hesitantly and grew slack against me.

We traveled through the sandy road in silence, the streetlamps oulined by the rows of the black trees flitting behind the windows of the vehicle. Holmes dozed off after a while and reclined upon me, snoring softly. The bump in our path rattled our cabin a bit, shifting him closer to me and I noted with a mild amusement that the monotonous shaky movements of the brougham had some influence on him and awakened a manly physical reaction in his nether regions. I felt the enlarged, hardened tissue being clearly defined where it pressed against my thigh. Smiling sadly, I ruffled the wavy hair anointed with fragrant oil once more. Another person would enjoy this touch, this reaction, very soon but no one would deter me from taking this stolen moment away with me.

The trees behind the lamps were finally replaced by stately houses. We reached Piccadilly at last and after a few minutes our brougham pulled over to the curb in front of the three storeyed residential building in the neighbourhood of the Bath Hotel.

I jumped out, ordered the coachman to stay put and ascended the steps leading to the porch quickly. Somewhere in the distance, the clock of St. Stephen´s Tower chimed thrice, clear, silvery sound spreading wide in the nocturnal stillness. It was three o´clock in the morning.

The servants, roused by my persistent knocking, were fairly shocked when I asked for an interview with their mistress in that ungodly hour. But their lady was an exceptional young woman indeed, for in no time she appeared on the porch in person, dressed in the white nightrobe and wrapped in a light cloak. I looked her over from head to toe when I first set eyes on her. She was nothing what I expected, thin, brown-haired and somewhat unasuming, yet I immediately took a liking to her. Her features were noble, she wore a dauntless expression on her face and her serious but gentle look assured me that Holmes would be in good hands here.

I briefly informed her about the situation, imploring for her help and she didn´t disappoint me, agreeing to shelter Holmes through the night and to offer him an aid from her personal physician. Making sure that I have her full support in this, I returned to the brougham and woke up Holmes to get him out of the vehicle. Leaning on me, he let himself be escorted up the stairs after that.

We exchanged glances when I entrusted him to the care of Lady Molly and he stretched out his hand to me feebly. But I held myself back and only waved at him, bidding him goodbye with the gesture and observing dispassionately how the door of Lady Molly´s residence closed after him.

Forbidding myself to be overcome by the emotions, I marched back to the brougham energetically and commanded curtly: „221B Baker Street, come on!“

There was a time early in our mutual acquaintanceship when I frequently accompanied Holmes to the concerts. We attended an opera written by that flamboyant German prodigy, Mr. Richard Wagner, once and one tune called „The Ride of Valkyries“, which was very powerful and majestic, firmly entrenched itself in my memory. Mostly because Holmes tried to reproduce the piece on his violin and persisted in it for a full week after the performance, driving me to distraction.

It was this dark melody that pulsated in my head when I stormed in our dwelling like a pack of Furies and stirred up an entire household into wakefulness, declaring the house uninhabitable for the night and forcing Mrs. Hudson, our errand boy and our cook to seek shelter next door, in Mrs. Turner´s house. Mrs. Hudson protested fervently against this untimely imposition, but I was relentless. Our adress came to be known around all London recently and I could not risk the possibility of the fiend who tried to poison us coming veiled by night to repeat his trick here, by clogging the chimneys. I had seen our people off to Mrs. Turner´s and when they were safely tucked away, I ran upstairs into my room to fetch my revolver. Locking the building after that, I used the service of the coachman for the last time and let myself be transported to Hollis Club, where I slept on a pallet placed in Strickland´s suite through the rest of the night.

I was up around eleven o´clock again. I applied water and razor to my face to feel fresh and adjusted my slightly creased clothes, then ate a meaty lunch in the dining-hall of the club to restore my energy. Feeling as good as new, with a loaded revolver in my back pocket, I got myself a dog-cart then and promptly set out on a journey back to Holland House.

The Earl was very surprised to see me, mere hours after we parted under such dramatic circumstances. However, his good manners prevented him from displaying dismay or relief openly and so he politely offered me a seat, starting some meaningless small-talk. He was not so collected as he pretended, though. Our conversation was taking place in his drawing-room, under big windows which threw pale wintry light over the piles of books, stationery and documents stacked on the large writing desk and thanks to that sun-reflection I spotted a glass full of sparkly amber liquid, half-hidden behind the papers. It was shortly after noon yet the Earl was already drinking brandy. The events of the night got him rattled, badly.

He admitted that Inspector Lestrade and the constables from Scotland Yard had just left the building, investigating yesterday´s attack on my friend from the early morning. They weren´t very successful in discovering anything of substance, but that was to be expected since the whole thing was incomprehensible, almost unreal. The Earl could still not understand how did such terror find its way into his home, under his roof.

„I apologise that these things took such an untoward turn, Doctor Watson.“ He said at last. „It is my greatest wish that Mr. Holmes would recover from his affliction soon and I hope that no permanent harm was caused by the criminal act which befell him. Of course, I would not insist that he should continue with the case after last night´s incident. That would be impossible now.“

„Not at all,“ I interrupted him smoothly. „In fact, that´s why I am here, Lord Henry. We don´t want to give up the case, under any circumstances. It´s true that Mr. Holmes will be unavailable temporarily, but I can act as his substitute seeing that I am knowledgeable about his methods and enjoy his trust fully. I have every reason to believe that the fiend who is behind this devilry will try to break into your house again and that he will attempt to do it tonight, after dark. I intend to foil his plans. However, I will need your cooperation in the matter, for it´s crucial that I have a private access to some parts of this building without the fact of my presence being disclosed to your servants or a family.“

The Earl raised his eyebrows in amazement, but he seemed rather relieved and pleased at my suggestion.

„It will be my pleasure to assist you in any way necessary.“ He assured me courtly. „Please, tell me what you need me to do.“

I have listed my terms and in no time I was descending the central staircase into the entrance-hall again, heading back out and acting dismissively. The old butler who opened the door for me glanced at my face and murmured: „I´m so sorry about Mr. Holmes, sir. I was hoping to witness some of his famous deductions, but that´s it now, isn´t it?“

„Well, it can´t be helped.“ I shrugged my shoulders. „He won´t be able to work for a very long time, being incapaciated by his injury. No Doctor worth his salt would allow it, witnessing his state. I´m awfully sorry. Have a nice day.“

„Nice day to you too, sir.“

I took a pompous stride through the estate outside, making a big show of leaving through the entrance gate and walked along Abbotsbury Road for a while. I settled in the pub nestled in the row of houses opposite the Holland House garden next and ordered a pint of ale, took out my notebook and started to write down the story which I already named „The Adventure of the Mechanical Turk“ in my mind.

The evening twilight came early, as was common in this part of the year. I paid for the drink and returned to the street, crossing the bridle path in a hurry and reaching the wall of the garden. The gas lamps were not yet lit in this section of the town and the wall was drowning in the dark, more discernible by the sense of touch than by the sense of sight. It took me but a second to climb over it and to jump to the other side, softly landing on a sand-covered footpath lining the enclosure there.

I nestled against the nearest tree and held my breath, laying in wait till my eyes adjusted to the murky darkness around me. I then slowly moved forward, creeping through the foliage of the park and approached the house shrouded by the night, stopping frequently to carefully check for any signs of life inside the garden. If my enemy lurked for me there, I wanted to be prepared and to possibly intercept his attack. But only the soft wind rustled in the tree-tops above my head.

When I arrived to the outskirts of the arboreous part of the garden, I paused for a minute, staring hard at the red walls of the building that materialized in front of me. Western wing of Holland House towered above me, sinister under the wan, indigo sky and to the right of it, the arc of the central courtyard opened wide, enclosed by the short fence, the barren flower-beds covering the ground of the terrace like a sombre brown blots. The left side of the building sported a marble stairs leading into the most dense part of the park. Two gate piers carved out of white Portland stone in Doric style served as an official entrance to that place.

Nothing seemed to move under the porticos that embraced both wings of the house like a pair of huge arms. Confident that I can approach them unseen, I ran across the gravel strewn area at the front side of the residence, leapt forward, passed the marble stairs and slipped under the beautiful decorative arcade of the western wing with ease. Avoiding the light that some windows at the facade threw in my direction under the arcade, I quickly tip-toed to the metal door embedded in the wall of the central block, at the place where the gallery turned to the right and slipped the key into its lock. The key turned with almost no sound being emitted. The Earl kept his promise and carefully oiled both the lock and the hinges for me.

I noiselessly dived into the dark small hall that opened before me like the cave of some malignant being and locked the door behind me. Warm darkness encompassed me and with it the musty odour of the old plaster so oftenly associated with the aged dwellings. The base of the turret staircase that I only saw from the level of first-floor thus far stared me right into the face. It was illuminated by the dim glow radiating from above, from the direction of the Yellow Drawing Room. Soft susurrus of voices and an occasional clink of the dinner plates spoke clearly about an inhabited house. I could be seen or caught at any moment. My heart hammered in my chest loudly, excited about the idea of danger.

I retreated to the left, emerging in a spacious saloon with glass-covered decorative maps glistening on the walls and from there, I entered the other, smaller room, which seemed to be adorned with lots of glass-covered pictures instead. My destination, the abandoned spare library room which was currently being reconstructed, lay behind the door situated in the southern part of that chamber. I promptly approached it, the key offered to me by the Earl already prepared in my hand and slipped into the little cell inaudibly, bolting the heavy door at once. I managed to carry out the first part of my mission flawlessly.

The chamber in which I found myself was entirely empty, the smell of fresh paint hanging dense in the air. The big oriel window placed at the end of the room, which served as the only souce of light for that place, was unusually cut in half by the staircase located in front of it in the 45° angle. If I remembered correctly, this staircase connected the spare room with the principal library, opening into a south-western corner of it, which was slightly hidden by the fire-place and thus not entirely visible from the long, book-lined hall. That´s where I intended to establish my post for the night, keeping sentinel over that area for as long as necessary.

I ascended the stairs and when I reached the niche stashed behind the fire-place in the upper library, I sat on the last steps there, a bit under the level of the floor. I laid off the coat and put it on the banister, put my bow-hat on the ground and pulled out my revolver, leaning against the cold wall.

I waited there for a long while. The clock ticking somewhere in the room struck the quarter, half and three-quarters of an hour numerous times, reminding me of the unending duration of my lone vigil, but I was obstinate and tried to remain alert, so that I could spring into an action swiftly at any moment. Soft buzz, scarcely audible in a distance, which bespoke of human activity taking place in the other parts of the house, gradually died away and was replaced by an absolute quietude, deep and fathomless. And the quieter it was, the more my nerves were being thrilled, until they were as tight as the violin strings. The tense atmosphere of the occasion was the same as when we were laying in ambush in the empty Camden House with Holmes, setting up the trap for that infamous ruffian, Colonel Moran.

And just like in the Camden House, a low, stealthy sound came to my ears suddenly, from the direction of the western terrace.

I was wide-awake and up on my feet in an instant. I crept to the center of the room, so as to avoid crashing into some table or a chair accidentally and to signalize my presence to the enemy that way. Then, I moved forward along the book-lined hall, until I reached the glass-door leading to the western terrace, from which the scratching sounds were being emitted. The vague outline of the man was visible behind the glass, sinister and black, working with purpose and handling a diamond glass-cutter with a surprising skill. Just as I approached, the fiend managed to cut off a large piece of glass. He stuck the hand into the hole right after, to grasp the slide-bolt latch and to open the door for himself. I ducked next to the door-frame hastily.

The man fumbled with the latch for a while and upon its removal, stood stiffly behind the threshold for a second, his breath loud and agitated in the stillness. He leapt inside after that, strenght and determination in his every move.

I was upon him in an instant, seizing him by the throat and proping the barrel of the gun against the small of his back.

He screamed inaudibly and whirled around, the coincidental movement of his arm striking the gun out of my hand. The revolver clattered across the floor and vanished in the shadowed corner under one of the tables. That was unpleasant, but in result, I didn´t mind at all. I deflected the hook man sent in my direction by my forearm and repaid him by launching a good blow to his solar plexus. He hurtled on his back, right over the threshold of the cell containing the Turk, with his torso wallowing inside and the legs still fluttering in the library. He turned over, raising on his knees and tried to get up, but I descended on him in a flash and pinned him down to the floor. We grappled there furiously. He was very strong, but he didn´t count with my fierceness. Thinking about an injury he inflicted to Holmes, I would knock down ten of such men, not just this fiend alone. I succeeded to twist his arms behind his back and hold him in a tight grip, sitting astride his waist.

However, in that moment, when I was already sure of my easy victory, the sharp light flooded my face. Blinded by that unexpected illumination, I instinctively averted my face from its source and raised a hand to shield my eyes. Still, I froze when I heard the muffled, angry voice echo in the wake of the light, ordering me curtly: „Hands up, you swine! And don´t move!“

I blinked and slowly dropped my hand again. The eyes wide, I stared with disbelief at the person in front of me.

It was Father Christmas.

He held a lamp at the level of his shoulder, enabling me to take in his entire appearance. He wore a dark red, hooded knee-long coat and the high boots lined with fur. Wreath made of holy stuck as a crown on his large head, the mop of white hair thick and unruly and under his strong nose, an enourmous white beard covered almost his entire face, as effectively as any mask. There was a wild glow in the dark eyes hidden under the bushy eyebrows and the whole stance of his compact body was incredibly menacing. The hand holding the revolver did not shake. Despite the jolly disguise, I sensed we have a cold-blooded and ruthless fellow in our presence and my stomach sunk when I realised that this has to be the true villain I was chasing after.

I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 9, 2015 5:03 am  #19

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

With something akin to a grimace outlined under his beard, he hissed malignantly: „Stand up, both of you! Go, stand by the wall there, with your hands raised high! The first man who moves gets a bullet into his forehead!“

We obeyed and raising ourselves from the floor, shuffled to the side wall where we remained standing under the brute´s supervision. I glanced at the face of the mysterious man I caught, but I saw nothing there, except the sheer desperation.

Fake Father Christmas eyed us carefully and bruskly approached the Mechanical Turk, placing the lamp on top of the table-box. Then, he drummed his fingers at the side of the table impatiently, calling out: „Patrick! Come out, Patrick and hand me the money! We are leaving this place!“

Nothing happened. The silence descended upon us and we stared quizzicaly at our captor, mute and curious. Did he just call the figurine „Patrick“? What was the meaning of all this? Meanwhile, the villain seemed to be quite taken aback by the complete inaction from the Turk and fidgeted nervously. He energetically knocked at the side of the table-box again.

„Patrick! Have you fallen asleep, you wretch? Move your ass, we have no time for your shenanigans! I want the money, now!“

In the flicker of the lamp, the Turk´s fanatical glare had a touch of malice in its depths, his leer pronounced and strangely derisive. At first it didn´t look like he would be willing to obey the plea of his master, obstinate in his contempt towards the world of humans. But all of a sudden, the unthinkable happened indeed. With an almost inaudible creak, the Turk turned his head and stared at the Father Christmas pointedly. The wailing sounds, slightly resembling human speech, vibrated in the air, muffled as if they came from the deepest abyss. It was an eerie spectacle. I shuddered.

In that moment, our captor lost patience with the automaton completely.

„Oh, for God´s sake!“ he sneered and leapt behind the Turk, angrily tearing down the green drapery covering the rear side of the table-box. He inclined after that and threw open the rear door which shielded the machinery of the automaton.

And then he stiffened.

„I would frankly advise you not to move, Mr. Johnson.“ A new, yet oh-so-familiar voice, a tad arrogant, sultry barytone, rang triumphantly in the air. „The trigger of this revolver is very slippery, one false move from you and an unpleasant accident could occur... take a slow step back. Yes, just like that. Now another. That would do, thank you.“

Thin and slippery as an eel, my friend had swiftly forsaken the close-quarters of his hiding place and straightened sensuously. The barrel of his gun was unflinchingly aimed at the forehead of the fake Father Christmas the entire time, almost pressed between the villain´s eyes.

„Holmes!“ I breathed out, joy and excitement waging a battle in my chest. „Holmes!“

The detective, majestic and powerful, acknowledged my presence with an imperious gesture. In the following moment, he put a whistle into his mouth. Shrill, high sound permeated the air when he clamped his full, red lips around the small object.

The little room filled up with people immediately. Inspector Lestrade and his men appeared from somewhere, the Earl, dressed in the formal evening suit, peeked through the door restlessly, servants roused from their beds chattered animatedly in the library. The policemen seized the fake Father Christmas firmly and ripped off his disguise, revealing the petulant face of Joshua Johnson to us. The Earl gasped at the sight of him.

Holmes, who put the revolver back into his pocket, noticed our client´s confusion and nodded his head: „Yes, Lord Henry, the spooky thefts were the work of your servant. With the unvoluntary cooperation of this valuable antique, he managed to wreak havoc both on your household and the household of your predecessor, Mr. Whiters. He obtained the possession of the Turk in Philadelphia, where the chess-automaton was allegedly destroyed in the fire fourty years ago and when he came to know the secret of the Turk´s functioning, he devised a plan which enabled him to get rich at the expence of distinguished people of his country and, later on, of ours. He hid his accomplice inside the automaton and ordered him to retreat there after each successful theft. Any subsequent search of the premises where the theft had occured would prove fruitless then. And all the while, the stolen goods would be safely deposited inside this machine.“

The Earl stared at the machine in question in stark disbelief: „But... but how could that be? We looked inside the automaton after we discovered the theft. It was empty!“

Holmes chuckled and rubbed his hands together: „No, my lord, it wasn´t. Pray, come here and let me show you something.“

He held the door placed at the rear side of the table open for the aristocrat and exhibited the hiding-place, from which he emerged earlier, to him.

„When we first saw this table, or should I say „a box“, being opened for our inspection, we perceived it from the front.“ He explained. „We automatically presumed that the machinery placed at the left side and the drawer under it extend to the back of the table, as it should be if the table was of an ordinary kind. That´s where we were wrong. Both the machinery and the drawer only went down to the middle of the box, leaving the space, where a person sitting with outstretched legs could comfortably hide, free for the usage of Johnson´s accomplice. The desk serving as the bottom part of the empty compartment placed next to the machinery is in fact a tilting device which enables the hidden person to move inside when operating the limbs of the Turk during a chess-game or when attempting to stay concealed from the prying eyes. It´s all very simple, really.

Moreover, the order in which the doors of the automaton were opened during an inspection aided to the illusion of the machine being totaly empty. The door covering the machinery was opened at first, both from the front and from the rear side, so that we could see that nothing aside some mechanical components was located there. Meanwhile, the accomplice sat crouched in the next part of the automaton, behind the raised up tilting device. He moved back behind the machinery as soon as the rear door were locked again and returned the desk to its original position. On the outside, the drawer was being presented to us, catching our attention and preventing us from paying notice to the things taking place behind the machinery. The accomplice shifted the decorative metalic block in front of himself, separating the machinery compartment from the empty space next to it and remained there, motionless. Thus, the front door of all three compartments could be opened consequently and we wouldn´t notice a thing. It was a magician´s trick, Lord Henry, a clever, cunning trick.

A similar situation occured when the machine was winded up, prepared to play a game with the person bold enough to challenge it. The whirr of the machinery masked up the movements of Johnson´s accomplice hidden inside the automaton – for it was him who lead the hand of the Turk during a match, it was not a machine itself who stood against the challenging party. The accomplice had a small chess-board with him, which gave him an overview of the progress of the game taking place above him. He could also check the progress of the game visually. As you can see, the chess-board afixed to the table is made from a frosted and black glass. The chess-board is not original, for the original wooden piece is still being exhibited by the museum in Philadelphia. It was added to the automaton later, to help the operator move inside and keep track of the match. The glass is opaque from the outside but transparent from the inside, so that you can observe which figures were moved and where they were placed, if you are trapped inside the automaton.“

Holmes smiled ironically, why humour evident on his lips: „These tricks helped Mr. Joshua Johnson to relieve his employers of many a valuable object and to remove it into his own purse. Inspector Lestrade questioned Mr. Whiters on the subject already and the American admitted that more than ten thefts had occured in his house during the time in which he possessed the Turk. Mr. Whiters, who is no less avid practitioner of Spiritualism than Lord Henry, believed in the paranormal cause of those events and never reported them to the police. He rather donated the Turk to the Lord Henry to get rid of its bad influence and to shift the malignant aura from his own person to another.“

„Huf!“ muttered the Earl, miffed that he had his leg pulled like that.

„So the scraping sounds I heard in the library before the theft was commited... the candle that somebody has extinguished... the chilly hand that touched my chest and seized me by the throat... it was all the doing of Johnson´s accomplice?“ He asked next.

„Yes, definitely,“ agreed Holmes.

The Earl looked at the mysterious man standing mutely by my side, his features stiff with contempt: „That means this individual here...“

„No, no, Lord Henry!“ Holmes laughed, merry twinkle dancing in his bright blue eyes. „You are making the same mistake as my dear friend, Doctor Watson. You think that this man is somehow connected with this case because he was in the vicinity after the theft occured and because he forcibly trespassed on your house tonight. But nothing can be farther from the truth.

The mere fact that he needed to break into your property is the proof that he couldn´t move around the house freely and that he is a stranger to it. While all the thefts were commited by the person who had a free access to any room, could wander around the house unseen, knew where the valuable objects are usually placed and recognised a chance to burgle you when it occured. It is highly unlikely that an outsider like this man would meet all the criteria at once. It has a clear characteristic of an inside job.“

„Who is it, Holmes?“ I growled impatiently, interrupting the detective. „Tell me who the hell is that wretched villain, so that I can repay him an attempt on your life!“

„Oh, as to that attempt... we already have a culprit among us. Isn´t that so, Mr. Johnson?“

All the eyes turned to the treacherous servant who spit on the floor defiantly. Unimpressed, Holmes sat at the edge of the Turk´s table and crossed his arms, clearing up the matter for us: „Mr. Johnson knew the jig was up the moment he saw me in this room, examining the Turk. He feared my famed reputation of a detective and in addition to that, he discovered that I am knowledgeable about the Turk´s origin. To be honest, I wasn´t really. I had to sent a request to the British Chess Society via Lestrade to be informed about the particulars. But despite that, I vaguely remembered that the Turk was considered to be the greatest hoax of the century – and that a man hidden inside was supposed to operate it.“

My friend smirked: „Whatever Johnson was thinking, he decided to get rid of me at once. He knew I was suspicious about him and so he flaunted the Turk´s abilities in front of me, acting recklessly, to show me he doesn´t care. Nevertheless, as soon as he received the news about me spending the night in Holland House, he entered my room and clogged up the flue with a piece of his old clothes to let me suffocate in my sleep. I´m sure he has done the same thing to the fire-place in the Watson´s room, yet by a lucky chance, the fire was never lit in it. That was one more act which could only be performed by an insider. It was also a very professional work. I´m sure this was not the first job of a kind that Johnson has brought to effect.“

Johnson had opened his mouth and in the next moment, spilled an avalanche of expletives out of it, shrieking to high heavens. But Lestrade´s constables made a short process with him. They bound his hands behind his back and swiftly escorted him out of the library.

The Earl wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.

„You still didn´t tell us, who was Johnson´s accomplice, Mr. Holmes.“ He complained. „If he wasn´t responsible for the murder attempt, what was his role in this? Where is he? And where are the money he has stolen from me?“

Holmes bit into one of his long, elegant fingers: „When Johnson left Philadelphia together with Mr. Whiters to sail to our shores, the Turk wasn´t the only thing he took with him. Inspector Lestrade inquired after him and found out that he also kidnapped two children at the time. They were Patrick and Martha, the children of a local fireman, Mr. Robert Kelly. Martha was fifteen years old and Patrick was ten. Of the two of them, Patrick was known as the chess-genius.“

The man who stood numbly by my side, raised his head abruptly and looked at Holmes. Trembling with tension, he whispered quietly: „Do you know where they are now, Mr. Holmes?“

Holmes didn´t respond, he merely turned around and left the cell. We were all puzzled by this behaviour, but forgot it in a minute, because he returned immediately and led two small figures with him, walking hand-in-hand with them.

And that was an end for all the clever speeches. Only the happy cries resounded in the air for a long time after that and the tears of joy flowed in buckets, the melody of the family reunion sweeter than any Christmas Carol.

Not much remains to be told of this story. The man I caught in the library was indeed Mr. Robert Kelly, the father of the children. He crossed the ocean in search of that rascal Johnson and after a long time spent tracking various red herrings, he finally discovered that the villain took shelter in Holland House. It was a mere coincidence that he lurked in the garden the day after the theft and that he chose to break into the Earl´s residence the night Holmes laid a trap for Johnson there. Holmes and Lestrade didn´t know about him and they didn´t speak with the Earl to learn that I had planned my own course of action on the same night, so we complicated their objective a bit with our unexpected grapple in the library. Fortunately, it all ended well. Witnessing the ineffable delight of the father who was reunited with his small ones, I was not even dismayed that my judgement about the case proved to be faulty.

The money intended for the Boxing Day were retrieved from Bertha´s room and promptly returned to the rightful owner. Holmes contacted the young maid, who was the kidnapped Martha in reality, during the same day I have chosen for my interview with the Earl. He assured her that the help was near and persuaded her to take her brother into her chamber for the night, so that Holmes could resume his place inside the Turk. Both children, who were abused and bullied by their kidnapper in an indescribable manner, complied gladly and thus contributed to the villain´s fall. They are spending the impromptu Christmas holiday in London´s most luxurious hotel now, their expences covered by the generous Earl of Ilchester. When Johnson´s trial will be over, they will be free to travel back home together with their father.

As for Holmes and me, we returned to our flat in Baker Street after we successfully closed the case. It was the morning of December 24th, the Christmas Eve, when we reached our safe haven again, worn to a shadow and we spent that day unusually, sleeping soundly after the exertion of the previous two days. Mrs. Hudson roused us in the evening to force a dinner on us, but the Christmas Eve flew by quietly afterwards, undisturbed by any unheralded event.

At last, the morning of the Christmas Day had come.

I entered our living room around nine o´clock and was surprised to find Holmes still there. He sat in his chair comfortably, wallowing around in his blue dressing gown and browsed through the Daily Telegraph.

I raised my eyebrows questioningly, but the detective didn´t pay any attention to me. He was fixedly staring at one page in the newspapers and frowned in dissatisfaction. I crossed the room to find a kettle full of fresh tea on the table and poured myself a cuppa, delighting in the scent of lovely exotic infusion.

„You are not with Lady Molly today?“ I risked a question afterwards.

Holmes grunted and growled in reply. I managed to discern the words „will not be available for a while“ from among his mumbling and so I let it at that, settling into my chair.

My gaze fell upon the fire-place in the next moment and I flinched.

„Holmes!“ I cried irritably. „What have you done to Mrs. Hudson´s mantel-piece?! Just you wait, she will have your scalp when she sees this!“

An ugly black nail was hammered to the middle of the mantelpiece, sticking out hideously and to make things even more unappetising, an old sock was hanging from it. Not only did this sock look worn out, a rag more than a piece of clothing, but it also sported a big hole where the nail had pierced it. Even if it was still usable when Holmes started to mess with it, it was utterly destroyed now, not worth a damn.

I pointed at the awful spectacle with my finger. However, Holmes only rustled the papers and buried his face deeper into them.

Shaking my head over his dirty habits, I got up and snatched the sock off.

The weight of the thing confounded me. Something hard and heavy was stuck in the sock and the object gently whacked me across my knees when I put the rag down from its place. Scowling at the unaesthetic foot-wear I was holding in my grip, I put my hand inside the makeshift „pocket“ and fished for the alusive object, grousing at Holmes: „What the hell have you put in there, a stone? I don´t understand what´s got into you all at once...“

I pulled the thing out. And then I just exhaled, startled.

Beautiful pocket-watch glittered in my palm brilliantly, coupled with a decorative golden chain. It was an unusual, quality piece, evidently custom-made, with the word „John“ printed out on a dial in an ornate cursive script. The golden chain was adorned with little pendant in a shape of a Persian slipper. On the periphery of the dial, tiny diamonds supplied the dots indicating the hours, with the Roman numerals being placed right under them. The back of the watch was inlaid with gold and felt ragged to the touch. Curious, I turned it around and blinked when I recognised the ingraved ornament in an instant.

Six lines were etched on the auric surface, rendered in an elegant calligraphic hand called Nastaleeq. I recognised them instantly, because I replicated the slightest curve and line of their lettering not that long ago. Rubbing my thumb lightly over them, I whispered the verses which were inscribed indelibly in my heart:

It was night, but only for the others.

Like the day is my night, illumined by the face of my Love.

Even if the whole world by thorns should be seized,

I would drown, because of Beloved, in the flood of roses.

Even if the world turns to ruins, to be built again,

Drunk is my heart and ruined by The Ravisher of Hearts.

I gasped and peered at Holmes in shock, my eyes glistening.

He was standing by the window all of a sudden, transfering there from his chair as silently as a bat. He towered near that rectangle of light with his back turned to me and with his hands behind his back too, his solemn, dark silhouette grave and inaccessible like a rock on a wind-beaten shore.

„I know that you had seen this calligraphy before.“ His voice was subdued and somewhat sad. „I intended to give you the poem together with the watch during Christmas to gauge your reaction based on that, because I was sure that the curiosity will get the better of you eventually and that you will discern the meaning of the verses in no time. I hoped that even if you would find the idea insinuated by the poem off-putting, you wouldn´t give up your Christmas present because of that and would not return the watch to me.

But by chance, your action had forestalled mine. The card where the draft of the verses was written slipped out of my pocket accidentaly. And your behaviour had changed drastically next morning. You were angry, so very angry with me... despite my expertise in all the things criminal, I am an amateur in the affairs of the heart and I feared that I have made a muck of things after all. I managed to disgust you and to chase you away from my side.

Yet that night in the brougham, when I was poisoned... it wasn´t just my imagination, was it? The emotion apparent behind every single one of your actions was real...

So – will you accept it?“

„Yes!“ I rasped, clutching the watch with a hand pressed tightly to my chest. „I would never give it away. It is my most precious possession already.“

The tense shoulders of my dear detective seemed to loosen a bit. He turned around, his pale bright eyes shining in hopeful anticipation.

„And the sentiment expressed in the poem? Will you accept it too?“

„Absolutely!“ I breathed out. „Absolutely, I swear!“

Holmes smiled widely. His sharp features softened and the expression gave him a look of a much younger, almost cherubic man.

„Good,“ he nodded with an awkward shyness and assumed the place in his chair anew, sprawling over it and observing me inquisitively. His fingers drummed on the armrest lightly, as if he was improvising the tune currently flowing through his mind palace.

Still trembling with nervous exertion and joy, I sank to my own chair. Hysterical laught seized me after that and I bent forward, pressing my forehead to my knees.

„Oh, my God!“ I guffawed. „To think that I believed you to have an affair with Lady Molly all the time! Poor little thing! I was so madly jealous towards her!“

Holmes smirked maliciously: „That´s what you get when you attach more importance to the words of Mrs. Hudson than to mine. I have told you before that Lady Molly is merely a colleague. I could never love her because my heart was bound to another for a long time now. That man is my true love, loyal, brave, fearless and clever... although lacking in a detective reasoning a bit.“

The detective winked at me and continued: „I have helped Lady Molly to uncover the clues which would get her unjustly indicted fiancé out of prison and in turn, she has helped me to select and to prepare this poem together with a calligraphy for you. Lady Molly´s father, Lord Robertson-Kirk, was the professor in Persian studies and she inherited this particular penchant for all things Oriental from him.

By the way, when she saw you on her porch two days ago, she took quite a liking to you. She have sent you a little Christmas greeting too. Here, take this.“

He handed me a nice Christmas card emblazoned with new Persian calligraphy. The poem was a quatrain this time, painted with a delicate brush on a colourful background ranging from the velvet blue to the coal black and the calligraphic signs the poem consisted of were iridescent either, blazing with golden and fiery red colour. The transliteration was listed right under the verses, presented in a fine cursive and it read like this:

Ba yar ba gul-zar shud-am rah-gozari

Bar gul nazare fakand-am az be-khabari

Del-dar ba man guft ke sharm-at bada

Rukhsar-i man in-ja o to dar gul negari

„Do you know what it means?“ I asked, intrigued.

Holmes grinned at me and recited:

„I went strolling with my beloved in a rose garden,

And from lack of awareness, I cast a glance upon a rose.

The Ravisher of Hearts said to me: May you be ashamed!

My cheeks are here and you are looking at roses!“

I groaned and buried my head in my palms, my face beet-red.

„Christ!“ I laughed in embarassment. „That´s awkward! I was entirely transparent to her, wasn´t I?“

„Don´t worry, she is very discreet and absolutely trustworthy,“ assured me Holmes and rolled his eyes heavenward. „But to be honest, I don´t like it how we switched over to the subject of Lady Molly once again. My cheeks are here too, if you haven´t noticed. Would you like to kiss them, oh, Ravisher of Hearts?“

He was getting the hang of it really quickly. Sprawled on the chair with his thights wide open, he looked at me from head to toe, estimating my measures mentally and cheekily invited me to sit in his lap that way. He probably wished for me to sunk on his knees like some heroine of the dime-novel. I was very glad to disappoint him. I marched to his chair determinedly, seized him by the laps of his dressing gown and raised him to his feet. Then I kissed him in a really ravishing manner indeed, robbing him of his breath entirely.

„Sherlock,“ I said to him after that incredible snog, with my head reclining against his chest. „Unfortunately, due to excitement of the previous days, I forgot to buy you a present. But I have one prepared for you, there, in my bedroom. Would you care to join me, so that I can hand you that?“

His pupils became even narrower, like a cat´s. He kissed me gently, murmuring into my ear: „It would be my pleasure, John. Please, take me there.“

I took him by the hand and led him upstairs, grinning like a madman. And when I lay on my duvet in the following moment, with Sherlock enveloping me like a warm wave, my heart was dancing a triumphant waltz in my chest, making me dazed with bliss.

It was the best Christmas Day in my life.



I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
     Thread Starter

December 10, 2015 5:10 am  #20

Re: Secret Santa Fics 2015

Dear mrshouse, this is your Secret Santa fic and I really hope you will like it.

Your prompt was:

What would you like to read?

Johnlock, case fics, maybe stories abroad like France or Italy

(Now this is a bit short on the cases but instead you will get a little quiz at the end. And both your

other wishes will be hopefully fulfilled)

What is your deal breaker when you read? (= What are you absolutely unwilling to read about?)

Gang stories (don’t worry, no gangs in here)

What is your prompt?

Venice (there is lots of Venice in here)

Of ships, horses, and trains or How idioms can go wrong

It started on a Monday.

“What is this film even about?“ scoffed Sherlock and threw a balled sock at the television. “People behaving ridiculously and sleeping in the streets of a half-sunken Godforsaken city because they got lost after being invited by some creepy guy I would not have followed two metres in broad daylight, much less into his shady bar. And his father was obviously a sadist. I would not have expected ever to utter these words but can we please continue the Doctor Who marathon?"

The next evening Sherlock got even more exasperated.

“Come on, an old guy ogling a beautiful boy on a beach? And no police around to get him arrested? What kind of world is this? You mean then it was fine to ogle beautiful boys as long as you died afterwards? What a load of rubbish. Granted, the music is acceptable, but as for the rest … John, did we really give the Doctor Who set back to Molly?“

On Wednesday Sherlock exploded.

“No, John, this is not thrilling or exciting or scary or whatever you want to call this silly story. They are both clearly wrecked with guilt because they did not save the little girl from drowning. So they go on holiday to a seemingly romantic place that is full of old blind women and disgusting dwarfs dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood wielding knives? Really, John??"

On Thursday, just when Sherlock thought it could not get any worse, he was proven wrong.

“John, so now you are offering me an unmarried middle-aged woman who is obviously still a virgin ogling an attractive but clearly married Italian at least a decade younger than herself? Come on, one cigarette to get me through this ordeal. I put on three patches already and I am still getting depressed. I can tell you what will happen without watching the film plodding along to its inevitable, exhausting end. She will sleep with him and then leave him because she knows he is married and she is proud and does not want to be his woman on the side. Fine. And now let’s watch the Great British Bake Off so I can annoy Mycroft."

“Is this an experiment, or what?“ Sherlock demanded over breakfast on Friday morning. “How long does it take to drive a consulting detective round the bend and let his mind palace crumble to dust? Is this a new form of the Chinese water torture? Dripping crappy films about a crumbling city, people for some reason seem to find romantic, on the head on your long-suffering flatmate?"

John silently ate his beans on toast, mopped up the tomato sauce with the rest of the bread, drank his tea, and put the dishes into the sink. He felt Sherlock’s inquiring look on his back but refused to turn around. If necessary, he could be as stubborn as Sherlock.

“Well.“ Sherlock cleared his throat, sounding strangely shy. “I see. I am sorry, John, I truly am.“

Now John was baffled. Apologies were quite a rare thing with Sherlock, and after John had repeatedly assured him that it was not necessary to beg forgiveness for faking his death and disappearing for two years over and over again, his friend had returned to his more familiar manner of making excuses by brewing tea or buying nice food instead of expressing his regret in words.

But then Sherlock had been quite gruff this morning, and John would not look a gift horse in the mouth.

So he just said: “Thank you, but it’s fine, it really is.“

Which earned him a slightly confused look he chose to ignore.


“George, do you have a moment?“

Lestrade sighed heavily, and looked Sherlock up and down. “How long? Seven years? Eight? Longer? And you still don’t know my name?“

“Does it really matter? This is a case of national urgency!“

Suddenly Lestrade remembered that day one and a half years ago when he had left in a hurry the run-up to one of his biggest professional scoops, and had moved heaven and hell to get the joint police forces including a helicopter to Baker Street only to find Sherlock desperately worrying over his best man speech.

“Fine. So tell me what you are up to.“

Sherlock vehemently shook his head, sending his curls flying. “Not me, G … Greg, not me. This is about John. It’s him I’m worried about.“

“Oh.“ He knew John meant a lot to Sherlock but this was the first time he was so open about it. Usually these two would have bitten off their tongues before uttering something emotional. “What’s the matter with John? Is he ill?“

“No, he’s fine. This is he would be fine if he did not keep watching those films.“

This is where Lestrade became really, really curious. “What … films, Sherlock?“ God, the poor guy, he thought, having to cope with Sherlock’s death and return, then with Sherlock getting shot and John moving back to look after him while he was on the mend, then with Mary’s sudden disappearance some months after Christmas. He had always suspected more than a failed marriage but neither Sherlock nor John had ever spoken about it. And now John, the poor sex-starved bastard, was watching … films.

“Well, stuff.“ Sherlock emphasised his words with a fluttering gesture of his hand. “And he forces me to watch them together with him.“

Lestrade faked a violent cough which had Sherlock thumping on his back and asking if he had taken up smoking again and needed patches or a glass of water.

“No“, he gasped, “thank you. I’m fine. Just a bit dusty in here. So you were talking about the films …“

“Yes. He forces me to watch them with him and this morning I got a bit fed up with it. Four evenings in a row, this is getting slightly obsessive. I was a bit not nice about it and then I suddenly realised he did the same with Mary.“

“Stop it, Sherlock, stop it.“ Lestrade opened the door of an empty office and shoved Sherlock inside before closing the door behind him. “I’m an open-minded man, I really am, but still I do not want to hear anything of what Mary and John or you and John are doing in front of the television. This is getting a bit too kinky for me.“

John put the box of cupcakes on the counter.

“Not my birthday, but thank you anyway.“ Molly opened the lid and chose a toffee-vanilla flavoured cake with a chocolate coffee bean on top. She took a bite, chewed, said „delicious“ and then looked at him inquiringly.

“You are bringing me cupcakes just like that? Come on, John, spit it out."

He told Molly what had happened and her eyes grew wider with every word she heard.

“No, John, please tell me you did not show him all these films! Poor Sherlock, he must have been weirded out."

“But you don’t understand, Molly …"

“Oh, yes, I do. First you got him into crap telly, next it was Doctor Who. And now you force him to watch morbid films about a decaying city, full of dying composers, murdered children, and unhappy spinsters. Come on, give the poor man a break."

“Nonono, stop and listen. True, he shouted at the television and told me how unbearably stupid these films were. But the strangest thing of all happened on the morning after we watched the last film."

“What?“ she asked breathlessly, wiping some crumbs from her mouth.

“He apologised."

“He did what?"

“He said he was truly sorry. Out of the blue. After ranting about the films which he compared to a new form of torture. He suddenly got very still and then he apologised."

Molly bit her lip and then her face lit up. “I know what happened, John! It was just a misunderstanding. Look, if I’m not mistaken all these films have one thing in common. They are all set in Venice."

“Yes, so what?"

“Venice, the city you visited on your honeymoon with Mary.“ Now it was Molly’s turn to blush.

“Oh, feck.“ It came out as a moan. John slapped his hand against his forehead.

She smiled wistfully. “John, you remember the Christmas party when Sherlock got so angry because you wanted to visit your sister instead of spending the holidays with him and he deduced my present and said all those bad things? And only then he grasped that the present was for him and he apologised with a kiss? I guess this is exactly the same thing. Just without the kiss.“

Molly stopped talking because she realised she was alone in the lab. That is, she and a box full of cupcakes.

Sherlock hated this. He hated being indebted to Mycroft which is why he had postponed the request for two days. But it was no use, he had to bring himself to write the words even if it killed him.

Want to call in a favour. SH

I cannot remember owing you one.

I am desperate. SH

Tell me something new.

Please. SH

That bad?

Yes. SH

Let me hear and I will consider it very carefully.

I need to go to Venice. SH

There are these things called aeroplanes. Or boats.

I need a case in Venice. SH

A case? And you think I could conjure one up for you?

Yes. SH

And what do I get in return?

A cake of your choice. SH

Mycroft? SH

Are you still there? Fine, I will take one of your cases afterwards. SH

Let me think.

John had not slept well for some days. Since the day Sherlock had apologised if he was honest with himself. He felt like an idiot for trying. Showing him films about Venice, what a stupid idea, what a sorry excuse for a brain did he have in his head! Subtle approach, my ass!

Although, to be fair, Sherlock had not been his usual brilliant self to misunderstand him so completely. Did he really think John was showing him those films because all of a sudden he had gotten soppy about his honeymoon with a woman he should not have married in the first place? John remembered Sherlock ranting about the films, and then - unexpectedly - his quiet apology. He realised he preferred a scoffing, sarcastic Sherlock over an apologetic one anytime and he did not care a bit what this might reveal about himself.

What now? He had chosen those films with care, all of them very different, to draw Sherlock out, to make him curious. John was not good with words, especially not where emotions were concerned. If he had, maybe his life would have been different, most of all the last five years.

He remembered sitting in Ella’s consulting room, unable to express how he felt about losing Sherlock. Even alone at the grave he had struggled to find the right words. And in the tube carriage, expecting to die with Sherlock, he had only managed to gasp out some completely insufficient words. And then there was that intense moment in the hallway before meeting the press. All he had wanted to say was “I'm glad you’re back. I missed you.“ And again his mouth had refused to form the words.

So much had happened since then and not once had John found the courage to tell Sherlock how he truly felt. The funny thing was that Sherlock who had always been so distant, who thought caring was a weakness, who treasured his intellect above all other things, had been the one to strip himself naked in front of a whole wedding party, laying bare his emotions as he had never done before.

And John had been sitting there thinking “Oh, shit, Sherlock, why the feck now?“

As in:

- now that this ship has sailed.

- now that the train has left the station.

- now that the horse has bolted.

He could not think of any more idioms and the basic message was clear: You had your chances and did not grab them.

And now Sherlock thought he was mourning after Mary and that he wanted to relive the good old honeymoon times on cloud nine - not that there had been a cloud nine honeymoon, the dreams had started after two days in Venice and there had not been a single day at their home in the suburbs that had been half as funny or exciting as the most boring Sunday in Baker Street … anyway.

How could two people love each other so much (well, John did, and by now he thought Sherlock might feel something akin to love for him as well) and yet so fundamentally misunderstand each other? Constantly? About the things that mattered most?

John let his head sink on the desk and buried his fingers in his hair. That is, until the new receptionist - tall, skinny, ginger, not an assassin - told him that Mr Birdwhistle had arrived for his flu jab.

The word “bird“ amused him against his will since he remembered himself pulling the beard of a poor old man who had just wanted to sell him some honest porn.

“Oh, it’s Christmas“, cried Sherlock.

“Not really, darling“, said Mrs Hudson. “Your irregular diet seems to mess up your brain. I read an article at the hairdresser’s about the connection between the intake of certain vitamins and the human memory …“

Sherlock ran into his bedroom and pulled the suitcase from behind the wardrobe. He opened the doors and started throwing in things.

“What in God’s name are you doing, dear?“ Mrs Hudson had finished her medical lecture and looked from him to the suitcase and back. “Holiday or a case?“

“Both, Mrs Hudson, that’s the beauty of it. By the way, how is the weather in Venice at this time of year?“

Her face became radiant. “Oh, my dear boy, it finally has happened.“

“What are you talking about?“

“Come on, Sherlock, you are going to Venice, the most romantic city in the world. This is where couples go, people who are in love, people on their … oh.“

“Oh indeed, Mrs Hudson. And now please pull up the weather forecast and tell me if I have to pack a T-shirt.“ He pronounced the word as if it was a growth of mould on his toast. “Not that I have one.“

“Nice and warm, darling, twenty-five degrees Celsius and sunny“, she called from the living-room.

And then, after a flash of inspiration, he started digging in the back of his wardrobe until he found a T-shirt that had sneaked its way into the tumble-dryer and had never been the same. He had only kept it on the off chance that one day he might be required to pose as a … anyway. He held it up. Nice colour, the same as one of his favourite shirts. And the material was elastic, no problem there. And so it went into the suitcase.

“A case? In Italy?“ John raised his arms and turned around in the living-room where Sherlock was waiting impatiently, suitcase at his side.

“Yes, do keep up, John. Our plane is leaving in two hours time so you should start packing.“ He clapped his hands in a gesture of encouragement. “It just popped up out of the blue. The man we are looking for is an author of travel books and is suspected of having married six women in different countries, using them as a source for first-hand insider’s tips and then cheating them out of their money before disappearing from the face of the Earth. He is English and based in Birmingham. Fluent in six languages, elementary knowledge in further nine. This is what we know.“

“But if he writes books people know his name. Why should it be so difficult to find him if you know the name and the town in which he is living?“

“Come on, John, up you go. Shall I help you packing?“

“Not really. But you can update me on the case.“

Sherlock relented and followed John upstairs to his room. “Have you ever heard of Travelonymous?“

John started to fill his suitcase methodically with rolled-up socks, folded T-shirts, a pair of jeans, pathetically self-ironed shirts and a baseball cap.

“No cap!“

“But the sun …?“

“You have been to Afghanistan, John. I suppose you will survive Venice in May without wearing a basecall cap.“ He sounded deeply offended. “I can’t be seen running around with a tourist.“

John threw the cap back into the wardrobe, stuffed a pair of trainers into the suitcase, raising his hand to Sherlock. “Not another word, I will take them, full stop.“

“Fine. As long as you don’t wear the cap. So, have you heard about Travelonymous?“

“Hm, those travel guides. I had one about Greece once … ah, now I see. An anonymous travel author. Clever.“ He closed the suitcase. “So let’s get a cab.“

Only when they went to the check-in desk and Sherlock produced the tickets and the lady behind the desk said “Two passengers to Venice, 1st class, two pieces of luggage“, John realised where they were going.

Sherlock had chosen the hotel with care: housed in a 16th century palazzo, only twelve rooms, with a lovely view of the canals and the church of Santa Maria della Salute. Only some minutes by boat to the San Marco pier. The interior cosy but without kitsch. And, even more important, it was as far as possible from the hotel in which John and Mary had spent their honeymoon.

It had been obvious that John wanted to re-visit the city but it would have felt awkward for them to stay in the same place where he and Mary had had their … sex holiday.

Sherlock did not like to think of those two weeks. God, he had been jealous! He had crouched in his chair and snapped at Mycroft when he dared bring up the subject of the “newly-weds“ so when Lady Smallwood turned to him he had grabbed the opportunity with both hands. A case to make him forget what the Watsons were doing and if he was able to spend some time in a drug den, all the better.

Well, this was over now. The receptionist watched them entering their names in the hotel register. “We are sorry, signor, double rooms are nicest, but you said …"

“Yes, I said we wish to book two single rooms."

The receptionist spread his hands apologetically. “There is very pretty room with balcony, overlooking the canal, and bed is really wide … so if you want, we can give you special price …"

Sherlock stared icily down at the man who was about a head smaller than himself. “We are here on a business trip. This is my assistant. We do not require a romantic view of the canal."

“Fine. Single rooms are nice as well. Not as nice as double but nice enough."

“Thank you."

Sherlock grabbed the keys and dragged John after him toward the stairs.

“Did you just call me your assistant?"

Sherlock sighed. “John, would you have preferred to stand there even longer and listen to his insinuations about double beds? You have always made it very clear that you are not gay and don’t want to share a bed with me."

After that John remained strangely silent.

“So, this Travelonymous. How are we going to look for him?"

They were sitting in front of the magnificent Caffè Florian on Piazza San Marco drinking coffee that judging from the price was made of roasted gold nuggets.

“John, please. Can’t we just enjoy the atmosphere for a moment? I’ve never been to Venice before and it’s quite nice. That is apart from the tourists and the pigeons and the singing gondolieri."

“You have never been here before?“ John asked incredulously.

“No, I haven’t. Why should I? I never had a case in Venice.“

John put his cup down on the saucer and signalled the waiter for two more coffees. “I hope this is okay with you. Expenses and all that."

“Of course, it’s fine.“

But John was not finished yet. “You never had a case here. But there are other reasons for going to Venice."

“I know“, Sherlock said. “Romance."


“You are the living proof, aren’t you?“

It crumpled. There was no better word to describe what happened to John’s face.

Oh, shit. Foot in the mouth, once again. Sherlock cursed himself.

“I … I just wanted to say …"

“I know what you wanted to say."

“So …"

“Please, Sherlock, just one thing: no word about my honeymoon. Not ever. Are we clear on that?"

Sherlock gulped and nodded. “Yes."

They continued to drink coffee, and Sherlock amused John with stories about famous murders committed in the city, and John answered with some interesting anecdotes about Casanova and his time in the infamous piombi in the Doge’s Palace.

And not once did Sherlock mention the case.

The next day they set out to have a look at the house of Mrs Laura Bianchi, the rich ex-wife of a Roman property mogul who had bought a beautiful palazzo near the Rialto bridge. The house in the calle del Paradiso seemed a bit understated but Sherlock told John that behind the inconspicuous exterior the rooms were exquisitely furnished with antiques and the finest tapestries in Venice.

“Do you think he’s in there?“ John asked when they had casually passed by the house.

“I have no idea but we will find out. Tonight, to be exact.“

“Not another break-in. The last time you got carted off in an ambulance and nearly died on me.“ He must have spoken with more passion than intended because Sherlock shot him a surprised glance.

“You don’t forget anything, do you?“ said Sherlock quietly.

John realised they were completely alone in the narrow street which was quite unusual in a city crammed with tourists.

“How could I forget that? Sorry, but I do not have a hard drive on which I can store and delete things at pleasure.“

Sherlock looked away. “Neither have I.“

John stopped in his tracks. “But you told me you delete things you do not need and …“

“Exactly.“ Sherlock turned towards him, a strange look in his eyes. “I delete things I do not need.“

John stood rooted in the spot while Sherlock was walking away. Something was off since they had got here. He remembered when in the Caffè Florian Sherlock had mentioned romance, being his old distant and cool self. Romance, but not for me, was the implication. And John had felt rejected, which was ridiculous, but he could not shake off the feeling.

But this - not wanting to delete things he needed. It was not the words, those were quite typical of Sherlock, it was the way he had spoken them. As if he was not talking about accumulated random knowledge that might come in handy one day but about something else.

“John, are you coming! We need to rent dinner suits and get dressed for tonight.“

“Did I miss something on the way, Sherlock?“ John asked when they walked through the hallway.

Sherlock opened the door to his room with a flourish and pointed to the bed on which two black dinner suits complete with white dress shirts and black ties had been carefully deposited. On the floor two pairs of shiny black shoes were waiting.

Before John could say anything, Sherlock produced two gilt-edged invitation cards for Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H Watson - Sinful swing nights in Venice - RSVP. Host: Mrs Laura Bianchi, Palazzo Minuti, Calle del Paradiso, Venezia.

“Where on earth did you get this?"

“With a little help from the British government."

“Oh, no, Sherlock! You are not going to solve another dominatrix case for him or one which lands us in a mouldy swimming-pool with a criminal megalomaniac who wants to get into your pants!"

Sherlock observed how John’s face suddenly turned red. He looked at the floor, hand flexing awkwardly. His adam’s apple moved when he gulped.

“As you know, I usually don’t wear any pants when attending palaces."

John’s grateful laugh, full of relief, was the best thing that had happened so far in this city which he still could not find romantic.

It was more than impressive. Sconces in the walls holding flickering torches, the smell of oriental perfumes filling the air, swing music with a classical touch in the background, loud enough to dance but not too loud to prevent intimate conversations.

The room seemed like a meadow of black dinner suits dotted with flowers in the form of shimmering evening gowns in all colours of the rainbow. The waiters were wearing powdered wigs, brocade coats and knee breeches and served champagne in glasses that alone must have cost a fortune.

Sherlock, glass in hand, kept looking around, probably searching for the elusive Travelonymous. John, glass in hand, kept looking at Sherlock.

Apart from that fateful dinner at the Landmark restaurant which he preferred to bury in the deepest recesses of his mind and the occasion of his own wedding (well, put that on the best-forgotten-list as well) John had never seen Sherlock in evening dress.

And this was definitely the first time he could appreciate the view, not being angry as feck and trying to throttle Sherlock or being nervous as hell and fighting against a subliminal feeling of “Shit, that door has closed now“.

God, did he look good! The suit looked tailor-made on him, cool, understated, just on the right side of tight-fitting.

“John! What the hell are you staring at! Run!“ And then he was dragged away, through a door, along a hallway full of flickering shadows, their feet sounding hollowly on the marble tiles, over a balcony to the neighbouring roof, “Jump, John, your legs are long enough!“, down another flight of stares. No torches here, the house seemed cold and empty.

Then a shuffle before him in the dark, panting, Sherlock’s deep voice saying something like „Got you“, then a cry of pain. John dashed past him, hopefully not trampling Sherlock in the attempt, and threw himself blindly at the man before him. He could not see anything, playing by ear, jumping on his back and wrestling him to the floor.

Then suddenly he heard a click, and light flooded the hallway. Sherlock was standing there, a gash on his temple, blood running over his right cheek, but his face proud and triumphant. “Brilliant job, John. And you, Mr Blaine aka Travelonymous, have made the oldest mistake in the world."

The man could not answer since John was sitting on his back, pushing his face into the floor.

“Giving yourself away by running.“

Mr Blaine’s face was very red by now, a fact that both Sherlock and John completely ignored.

“You did not even wait until we were introduced to Mrs Bianchi. You could have used the opportunity to leave the house undetected. Not for long, though, since the authorities would have caught you soon as all the bridges and ports are under observation …"

“Sherlock, you are hurt.“ John got off Mr Blaine’s back who desperately struggled to force some air into his lungs.

John took a tissue out of his pocket and pressed it against Sherlock’s temple. Then he put his lips to Sherlock’s ear and hissed: “Why the feck did we have to come here for that?“ He nodded towards Mr Blaine. “You could have solved this case lying in your bathtub. Or in your sleep. This is ridiculous. No more than a 0.5 on your scale."

Sherlock looked down, clearly embarrassed. “Because it was Venice."

A sticking plaster was enough, no stitches required. Mr Blaine had been taken away by the police and Sherlock had explained to Mrs Bianchi the danger she had been in. After some furious shouting, accompanied by some highly imaginative Italian swearwords, she was reduced to tears and issued an impressive cheque.

“To think that I nearly gave him the address of Luigi Betti’s secret dining place. Best food in Venice, four tables in a private apartment where Casanova once lived. Mr Holmes, Dr Watson, you saved both my money and my reputation. How can I express my gratitude?"

“Apart from the cheque? Well, if you could pull a few strings with Maldini’s evening wear rental …“ said John looking from himself to Sherlock. Their dinner suits definitely were worse for wear.

“No problem, signori, I will take care of that. You will not hear a word from Maldini.“

And then they suddenly stood in the street that was dark and deserted, Sherlock with blood on his white dress shirt, John in a dirty dinner suit.

“What now? Bit of an anti-climax, if you ask me.“

“Well, it was far better than a candlelight cruise in a gondola“, said John.

Sherlock stopped abruptly. “Are you serious?“

“Of course I’m serious.“

“But … I thought you were a romantic. I said so at your wedding and you did not disagree.“

John laughed. “How could I disagree with my best man during his speech?“ He dug his hands into his pockets and walked on, slowly, head thoughtfully bent. “I never told you but it was beautiful. The speech, you know. The beginning was … um … very much you, but then … all the things you said. I never really thanked you for that and I’d like to do that now.“

Suddenly they were facing each other and John squeezed Sherlock’s upper arm. It was a sort of manly gesture, something mates did, but then it was not. Because John never touched him like that.

“It’s fine. It’s what best men do.“

John raised his free hand. “No, Sherlock, listen, this is not what best men do. It never was. It was so much more and especially from you. Thank you.“

Sherlock felt something snap in him and looked away. “Happy to be of service.“ And with that he turned around and walked away.

John looked after him, completely taken aback. And then it struck him. feck, not again. He was such an idiot where Sherlock was concerned. Before he could make up his mind, Sherlock’s steps had died away amongst the old, damp walls that had seen centuries of heartbreak.

Oh, yes, he was a romantic in theory but as soon as it came to Sherlock, he behaved like a bull in a China shop. Sure, Sherlock had brought up the subject of the wedding but why go on about it? Why make Sherlock believe that the wedding was something John liked to remember? And why the whole silly, unforgiveable go-back-to-Venice-to-cast-out-the-demons-stuff?

By know he knew that Sherlock indeed felt things even if he did not put them into words. And that was the pot calling the kettle black because he himself was not any better at it. Thinking of the speech again, he had to admit that he actually was much worse than Sherlock.

He started walking, not sure where he had to go but soon the streets got livelier and he looked for signs that could lead him back to the hotel. He found his way to the Piazza San Marco with the brightly-lit Caffè Florian and from there to the Ponte Accademia and their hotel.

Sherlock was nowhere to be seen. John went to the reception, got his key and asked casually if Mr Holmes had returned.

“Yes, signor, he came back some minutes ago and went up to his room.“

“Thank you.“

John took his time, not sure about what to do next. He could not bear the thought of going to sleep with this - whatever it was - standing between them. The whole Venice thing had been a mistake, John’s clumsy attempt at showing Sherlock what he felt and what he was unable to express with words.

He stood in the dimly lit hallway in front of his room, key in hand. He looked to the right. Made some steps in that direction. Sherlock was behind that door, doing whatever he did when he was - sad? pissed off? hurt?

And then, before he could start hesitating and pondering and retreating, John knocked on the door.

Yes, it had been wrong to come Venice, to try and give John what he wanted. He had thought he could bear it after he had born the wedding and all that came afterwards but now he realised that there were things even a high-functioning sociopath could not bear.

Sherlock realised he was still wearing the bloody shirt. He took it off, balled it and threw it into a corner. He might have taken it as a souvenir, no need for that now.

Looking into his suitcase he found that there was no clean shirt left. Just the purple t-shirt that had taken too many rounds in the tumble-dryer. He pulled it over his head. Bit tight around the chest, bit too short further down, but it would be sufficient to sleep in. Maybe the hotel could send someone to buy him a shirt before they went to the airport in the morning.

He heard steps in the hallway. Someone slowly approaching, stopping in front of the door to his right. John.

The steps moved over to his door. Paused.

He remembered his own words. Oscillation on the pavement always means there’s a love affair. How dismissive he had been then, how superior. By now he knew he was not infallible, not where John was concerned.

Then there was a knock at the door.

John gasped when Sherlock opened the door, wearing his black dinner suit trousers and a very tight-fitting purple t-shirt John had never seen on him before. It made him look ten years younger and John suddenly felt very awkward.

“John, good to see you. Glad you found your way back. I was just packing but there was no shirt left, so we will have to do some shopping tomorrow before going to the airport …“

“Sherlock, you are babbling.“

John gently shoved him into the room and closed the door behind them.

Sherlock blinked and raked a hand through his hair. “Yes.“ That was all he said.

John cleared his throat. “I have to tell you something. I know you love interrupting me but please let me finish this one time because I’ll never find the courage to start again.“

Sherlock nodded.

“I wanted to come to Venice, this much is true. And I wanted to come to Venice because I came here on my honeymoon. No, Sherlock, stop it, you promised. But it was not to walk down memory lane, it was to - and this may sound silly to you - to exchange my memories for something better. I wanted to be able to think of Venice without being reminded of a marriage that never really was and you nearly dying and leaving forever and … all that.“ He pressed his lips together, gathering courage for the last difficult hurdle. “I wanted to come here with you.“

Sherlock stared at him incredulously and John felt himself reminded of that day in the kitchen in 221B when he had told Sherlock he was his best friend.

“So what do you say?“

Sherlock bit his lip. “Am I allowed to speak now?“

John rolled his eyes. “For Heaven’s sake, yes. Don’t put me on the rack.“

“So this is what you want? Be in Venice with me?“

“Yes, Sherlock. But I want more.“

“What do you want?“ Sherlock’s voice had dropped to a whisper.

“You. In whatever way I can have you.“

“Including …?“


And then there were no words anymore.

Bonus 1: A little quiz. Guess the films the boys are watching.

Bonus 2: This is the hotel in which they are staying:


I still believe that love conquers all!


"Quick, man, if you love me."
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