The next week was a nightmare—quite literally, because John couldn't sleep through the night without being woken by the terrors of his subconscious.
This surprised him because, after war and death and having been shot, you would think that his sister being circumstantially involved in a crime wouldn't affect him so strongly, but it did. Maybe it was because she was so obviously incapable of making a responsible decision about anything at all. He didn't doubt her role had been innocent (mostly)—publicity hound though she was, she wouldn't kill for a spot in the limelight. He was sure. Really.
In fact, her opinion of the press had changed drastically since this mess exploded over the front page. Harry had learned very quickly that the kind of attention one gets as a socialite is entirely different than that of a person involved in a messy, media-frenzy-generating murder. The fact that the victim was one of the worst kind of reporters himself just added to the flames, and Harry very quickly was regretting ever getting involved.
Too little, too late, as always, thought John, though he supposed he should be grateful. Even Harry's hind-sight had always been near-sighted. At least this time she was learning something. Theoretically. He hoped.
John and David, in the meantime, were busy doing damage control. John had made a statement about Harry's shock at witnessing a murder. As agreed, he'd done it from the steps of his father's house, not 221B. He had worn one of his good, expertly-tailored suits—as different from his usual jeans-and-jumper look as possible. While he had not denied that he went by John Watson or that he worked with Sherlock Holmes, he had resolutely refused to answer any questions on the subject. He had stayed focused on Harry and Robinson's death, stating he had full confidence that the police would get to the bottom of any questions.
Not that the reporters didn't try to get more information out of him. It was a new experience for him, being shouted at by the press, but he'd been shouted at and pressed for information by many smarter, more intimidating people (even if not all at the same time) and stayed calm. "I'm here to talk about my sister," he said, voice firm and posture straight. "I know all of you are finding me very interesting, God knows why. However, it is the unfortunate death of your colleague Mr Robinson and the fact that my sister was lunching with him at the time which I am here to discuss."
"Was your sister selling her story to him, as well?" one of the reporters asked. "After the so-called exclusive she gave the Daily Mail?"
"Selling is too strong a word," John said, stifling a sigh. "While I'm sure our recent publicity explains why Mr Robinson invited her to lunch, other than the meal itself, there was no money involved. Come to think of it, he never had a chance to pay for the meal, either. I should probably check with the restaurant to settle up the bill. I honestly don't know the protocol, there."
There was a round of chuckles. "Is it true your sister knew the killer, Lord Brandon?"
"The Blackwells and the Brandons have known each other for years. I wouldn't say my sister and Ian are close friends, but yes, they are at least nodding acquaintances."
"Isn't that suspicious? That she was having lunch with the victim and knew the killer?"
John kept his voice level. "The lunch took place in a well-known restaurant, one I understand Mr Robinson frequented often. He could have been lunching with anyone. It's just unfortunate it was my sister."
"But then why was Sherlock Holmes called in?"
They had to bring it around to Sherlock, didn't they, he thought. "He was not," John said aloud. "I was the one called. My sister asked for me."
"But, it was a crime scene…"
"The fact that it was a crime scene was coincidental to his being there," John said. "I was out with Sherlock when I received the call, so he came along. It had nothing to do with the investigation."
"Do you know Ian Blackwell?"
"I knew him slightly when I was a child, but haven't seen him in about twenty-five years."
"Is that before or after you left home?"
John shook his head. "I told you, this isn't about me. I'm here to make a statement about the unfortunate Mr Robinson and how my sister happened to witness his murder the other day. I'm not here to speculate or to speak of my own past—frankly, that seems inappropriate, considering a man was killed. So, to recap, my sister was having lunch with Mr Robinson at one of his regular restaurants. Yes, she had a nodding acquaintance with the alleged killer, Ian Blackwell, but considering the circles about which Mr Robinson wrote, I would imagine many of the people in the restaurant did. After the attack, my sister asked for me because I'm her brother and she was distraught. So, no, Sherlock Holmes was not called in to investigate. He came along because he was being a good friend."
He looked over the gathered press, weary of the whole charade and anxious to sum up. "If that's everything? It is? Thank you for your time."
He gave a polite nod before turning on his heel and walking back inside, meeting Sherlock's amused gaze. "Very commanding, John," he said as John shut the door behind him. "Of course, I could have done better…"
"Right," John said with a snort. "Because you talking to the press is such a good idea."
"John!" He winced as Harry's shrill voice greeted them as they walked into the sitting room. "Was that the best you could do? I thought we wanted them to know about your past."
"We wanted them to know enough that they weren't assuming I've been on the run and living in shelters for twenty years," John said as calmly as he could, giving Clara a smile. "We never wanted to encourage gossip."
"They don't need encouragement," put in Sherlock.
"Exactly. They're going to gossip no matter what. We just wanted them gossiping as accurately as possible. What we didn't want was to give them something as juicy as a tabloid murder."
"Oh, don't tell me you're blaming me for that!" Harry protested. "I told you I didn't expect Ian to kill Mr Robinson. You know I would never have sat by and let him if I'd known."
"I don't believe you knew what Ian had planned," said John agreeably as he took her elbow and led her to a chair. "But you still told him Robinson would be there."
"Wait … what?" Harry looked hurt, but John recognized the I'm-Lying-To-You quaver in her voice.
"You arranged the meeting between Mr Blackwell and Mr Robinson," Sherlock told her. "Though I believe you were unaware of your friend's real intentions."
She was shaking her head. "No, I … why would I do that?"
"Because you like the attention," John said. "Besides, you already admitted it yesterday, remember? To us? Of course you were a bit drunk by then, so you might not remember. But it does underscore the point, Harry. There are reasons to stay away from reporters—especially tabloid reporters."
"Oh, please. You're just upset because I'm the centre of attention for a change." She started to get up but John crossed his arms and shook his head until she subsided back into the cushions.
"I know our father let you get away with a lot, Harry, but even he wouldn't have let you get away with murder," John said. "Or if he did, I don't want to know about it. What I do want to do, is lay down some ground rules."
"Ground rules!" She looked disgusted. "As if I were sixteen years old again?"
"I wish. Then Mum would still be here to ground you." He ignored the indignant noise she made. "The point is that for better or worse, I'm head of the family now—yes, I know, God help us all. You keep saying. I know you've had a hard time of it the last twenty years. I know that our father was a terrible human being, and I'm sorry you were left to put up with him—but don't think I don't know how often he's dug you out of trouble, either, for the sake of the family name."
"Now, John, you're exaggerating…"
"Am I? Because there's a very interesting file in his desk, Harry, with all kinds of intriguing details about just what you've been up to." John held up his hand to forestall her protest, ignoring Sherlock's clear enjoyment. "But I don't care about that. I don't believe you planned on getting Robinson killed, either. I even choose to believe that you thought you were helping a friend after the hatchet job Robinson did last month. But, Harry … this has to stop. You've got to start thinking."
"I was! You said you needed help with your publicity…"
"No, I said I needed your knowledge of current society. I never asked to become tabloid fodder. You just decided you wanted your name in the papers as much as possible and ignored all the rest." John glared at his sister. "And don't tell me you didn't. I know you too well, Harry. It might have gotten out of your control, but you knew what you were getting into—not counting Robinson's death."
His point was starting to sink in. "John, you know this has all been hard on me. Father may not have been ideal, but he was still the closest family I've had since you left. It's been difficult dealing with his loss"
"Dealing? How, exactly? By throwing a very visible temper tantrum in the tabloid press?"
"What do you call it, Harry? Even though I specifically told you not to, you talked to just about every reporter who would give you the time of day, whinging about how mistreated you were after I'd abandoned you."
"I never said that," she protested. "I put all the blame on Father's shoulders."
"Yes," John said. "But you still made it sound like something out of Dickens—and that you were the injured party."
"You said it yourself, brother. I was the one left to deal with Father. You were free of him. Don't I deserve a little recompense for that?"
"Like what? Having all your problems taken care for you? You already live a life of leisure, Harry. No responsibility, no job, nothing to worry about … but maybe that's the problem. Maybe it's better for you to take responsibility for your own actions for a change." He looked at her, softening a bit. "I'm not saying I'm not going to help you out at all, anymore. But there's a difference between trouble finding you and your going out looking for it. You're a grown woman, Harry. You need to start acting like it before you chase Clara away again. As you like to keep reminding me, I'm your little brother. What kind of example are you setting when you act more like a child than I do?"
She was speechless for a long moment, and then burst out, "It's not fair!
Sherlock gave a smirk and said, "It makes a better impression if you stamp your foot as well. If you're trying to look like a spoiled little girl, that is."
Harry rounded on him. "You think this is funny? I don't think you can talk, Mr Holmes. I've read John's blog. You're not exactly a paragon of maturity, either."
"Nor did I ever claim to be," Sherlock said. "And, I confess, my big brother has butted into my business far more often than I like, but I like to think I've given him less cause."
"Other than a drugs addiction, you mean?" Harry asked harshly. "Or isn't that your fault?"
Sherlock was the picture of calm as he met her eyes and said, "Of course it was. I played with fire in a bottle and thought I could control it, but I couldn't. That's what addiction is. I would think you'd know that."
"Is that what this is all about?" She was looking back and forth between John and Sherlock now. "Some kind of intervention? Because I know I got drunk yesterday, all right? But I think I had some excuse. I'd just seen a man murdered."
John nodded. "I know. I'm sorry it happened, but I can understand that one. But it's not the drinking I'm worried about, Harry. It's just a symptom of the greater disease—your lack of self-respect."
She surged to her feet, holding herself erect, every inch of centuries of high-handed nobility in her bearing. "I beg your pardon?"
John didn't flinch. "And so you should. Don't think I don't know that you drink out of a sense of insecurity. Father was forever telling you that you weren't bright enough or pretty enough. He was wrong, mind you, because you are. Why else would someone like Clara have fallen for you in the first place? But none of that makes a difference if you don't believe it yourself—and act on that belief."
Clara stepped forward, speaking for the first time. "Harry, I've told you for years that you are special and that your father treated you horribly, but you never believed me. But—you're better than this."
"You had better believe I am," Harry said, indignant along every inch. "I don't need to listen to this."
"Yes, you do." John's voice was firm. "You don't get away with this one scot-free, Harry. You may not have planned on Robinson's death, but you helped lead him to it because you wanted attention. Well, you're getting it now. And I'm telling you, I agree with Clara. You're better than this—and you're either going to start acting that way, or I'll take steps."
"Take steps?" her voice was straining the upper limits of pitch now. "Just what exactly do you mean by that?"
"I mean that, for better or worse, I'm head of this family now, and I'm going to act like it. I want you to be happy, Harry, but you have to admit you've made a mess of things, yeah? Selling your story to the tabloids? How would Mum have felt about that? Or Grandfather? I know you've been alone for a long time, I know I haven't been there, but now you've got me, you've got Clara … and it's time you grew up."
John nodded. "Yes. It's something that comes to all of us in time, Harry. It's about time, don't you think? Now," he continued on, not giving her a chance to say anything, "That said, I do know how horrible this was for you, so I think you and Clara deserve a holiday. Go someplace warm and sunny and relax. Forget all about the family troubles and just enjoy being together. No Press. No scandal. No murder … and no drinking. Got it?"
"No buts, Harry. You're going. You're going to get away so that you can bake all this petty childishness out of your system in the sun and come back with a fresh view on things. Because, I'm serious. I want you to be happy, but it's time you took some responsibility. I'm giving you a break so you can get a handle on things, but … it's going to be different, from now on. We survived our childhoods, Harry. It's time to move on. I just … I want to do it together."
She blinked, tears suddenly welling in her eyes. "You mean that?"
"Of course I do. You're my sister, even if you are an idiot," John told her as he gave her a hug. "Go get your life together and then come back because I really am going to need your help, you know. For real, this time."
Some sniffles and hugs later, Harry and Clara had left and Sherlock looked at John. "Do you think it will make a difference?"
"I don't know," John said with a shrug. "I hope so. Because she's right about one thing—she was left behind with Father, and even though she was older than me and was no longer living with him … well, he bordered on abusive, and Harry was never the strongest person. I figure … I hope that now he's gone, she can start figuring out how to be happy. Or something."
Sherlock sniffed. "Hardly what she deserves. After all, a man is dead. I thought you cared about that sort of thing."
"I do, even if he wasn't a very nice man," John said, turning to his flatmate. "But at least this way she's out of my hair for a while. Which means we can focus on more important things. Like, I never asked … Do you think you'd like an Earl for a flatmate?"
Sherlock looked down at him, eyes suddenly warm. "I think that I would, yes. Provided he knows how to shoot a gun when necessary. Some skills at first aid would be handy, as well."
John smiled. "Assuming he can work it in around his paperwork, I think I know just the Earl."