Sherlock woke up the next morning feeling as if new life had come to the house. For the rest of the previous day, Lacey had chattered away to her brother and she could be heard all over the house and grounds. She chattered about her school, her friends, the things they did at school, and the things she was studying. Lacey's school wasn't just a boarding school; it was a school for gifted children. Lacey was gifted in languages, chemistry and biology, and the arts. The classes and activities she described made Sherlock envious that the school hadn't existed when he'd been Lacey's age. The students at Lacey's school studied all manner of things that sounded fascinating, and more than once Sherlock found himself pricking up his ears whenever he heard Lacey's voice, hoping to catch some interesting tidbit.
Lacey seemed glued to Halmsley's—Jamie's—side. The way she woke Jamie every morning woke Sherlock as well since she would catapult out of her room at full blast around six or seven, run down the hall to her brother's room at mach speed with her feet pattering loudly on the carpets and parquet floor, fly through her brother's door, and take a running leap in the center of the floor to land on her brother's bed, usually saying brightly and at the top of her lungs, "It's morning! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"
Every. Single. Morning.
After the first three days, Sherlock accepted being woken up at the crack of dawn as now a part of his life and got up whenever Lacey's morning salute would wake him. That didn't mean he would be in a good mood, but he was awake. Since he'd attempted to strangle Rowlesden, Dr. Black had suggested that Sherlock have his breakfast, lunch, and tea by himself and only join Rowlesden and the rest of the household at dinner, but when Lacey arrived, Sherlock had been told to re-join Rowlesden and the rest of the house for all meals. It would look too odd, he was told, not to come to the table at meal times. He was, of course, expected to behave himself at meals, and if he did not, then he would be consigned again to the infirmary until Lacey left. Sherlock would be woken up each morning by Lacey pattering down the hallway, and he would get up, wash, dress, and distract himself for a while until the gong rang for breakfast. He would join Rowlesden, Jamie, Lacey, Dr. Black, Welling, Meyers, and Ms. Lewis for breakfast and listen to the talk around the table. Welling and Meyers had been introduced to Lacey as the heads of Rowlesden's security (the other six of Rowlesden's security force/kidnapping team were only at the house occasionally or as required, Sherlock still wasn't sure which) and Ms. Lewis had been introduced as Rowlesden's financial advisor. Dr. Black was Rowlesden's friend and housemate, and he, Sherlock, had been introduced as Mr. Shawn Hayes, a consultant.
"What are you a consultant for?" Lacey had wanted to know after she'd shaken his hand.
"A sociological and demographic consultant," Sherlock said quickly before Rowlesden could say anything. In essence, that was what he was. A lot of his work depended a great deal on sociology and demography. "I'm working with Rowlesden on a project of his for one of his businesses." That was strictly true, too, if one counted his captivity as a project and the secret society as a business.
She looked at him, from his feet up to the top of his head, her eyes travelling slowly. After she'd finished looking him over, she'd grinned, giggled, and said she was pleased to meet him before scooting off to her brother. All in all, she was a strange child.
Lacey talked a great deal. Her chatter was never-ending, but it was not annoying. She did a great deal of talking at each mealtime, which saved Jamie from having to speak too much. Rowlesden would often try to get Jamie/Halmsley to speak with him, but Jamie was rarely willing to chat. Lacey chattered all the time, talking about the archaeological expedition her school had taken her on, their trip to Paris and Barcelona the previous fall, the international students at her school, the special topics in chemistry class she was taking, her dance lessons, her biology teacher that let her use the science labs as much as she liked, the library at her school that badly needed restocking since she'd already read everything on the shelves, her two roommates, Delphine and Laura, and where they'd come from and so on and so on.
The one thing she loved to talk about (aside from books and everything else in the world) was clothing. She loved clothing. She loved looking at it, trying it on, wearing it, designing it, cutting and sewing it, and assembling wardrobes according to season and outfits according to time of day. She changed clothes several times a day simply because she loved putting together outfits and changing how she looked. She had tons of books on fashion and she had fashion design software on her laptop. It was a pity she never left her computer lying about. If he'd been able to get his hands on it for only a moment...A bigger pity was the fact that Rowlesden had warned him not to go into her room and to never, ever try to tell her about his kidnapping. Also, if he attempted to somehow use her to get a message to someone, then the results would be extremely unpleasant not for him, but for Halmsley.
"What do you mean?" Sherlock asked, not understanding. Rowlesden loved Halmsley, or at least, was obsessed with him. Why would he do something to him?
"If you do anything to tip the child off about just who you are or how you came to be here, or if you manipulate her into sending a message for you, then I will send her away. Halmsley's time with his sister is limited so much already. Do you really want to draw this visit to an early close?"
Oh, that unconscionable bastard.
He wanted, oh, how he wanted to just break the wretched rules and bring an end to Rowlesden's games, but...no. He couldn't do that to Halmsley. By the time any message got through and he was rescued, Rowlesden would have already done his worst.
Sherlock shrugged the memory away and focused on what Lacey and Jamie were saying.
"By the way, thank you so much for all the books you sent me, and the dress and outfit, Jamie," Lacey said politely when she came to a pause in her talk. "Everyone was jealous of me in that dress and Delphine asked if you'd like another little sister!"
Halmsley laughed. "After you, how could I consider anyone else as my little sister? I'm glad you liked what I sent, though. You didn't happen to get any pictures of you in that dress, did you?"
She grinned, her whole face lighting up. "Of course! Everyone wanted to take a picture with me! Raoul, Etienne, Rupert, Marc, Jean, Ben, Georg, Henry, Satoshi…"
Jamie looked increasingly worried. "All boys?"
She nodded, peeling a banana. "Yep! They all wanted to dance with me, too! It got annoying after a while."
Jamie let out a sigh of relief. Lacey might be old enough to consider herself a young lady, but that didn't mean she embraced it totally yet.
During the mornings, Lacey and her brother would spend time together, often going out for rides or rowing on the lake, or just walking in the gardens. More than once Sherlock found Halmsley sneaking about, on the lookout for his sister, who was busy trying to track him.
"If she can't find me, then I've won," Halmsley explained when Sherlock asked him why he was crawling stealthily behind some bushes. "If she finds me, then she's won. We've played this game ever since she was little."
Sherlock looked down at Halmsley and then across the garden where Lacey was examining a flowerbed. "Who wins the most?"
"She does, but it's not for a lack of effort on my part, let me tell you!" Halmsley grinned up at him. "She's very good at this game."
Lunch would be a chatty affair, with Lacey once again chattering away, and after lunch Sherlock would head up to his room for a rest and massage, both ordered by Dr. Black. There was one day when he skipped both and the next day after lunch Welling and Meyers had cornered him in the hallway and then escorted him upstairs, both of them pinioning his arms behind his back and reminding him that he had to follow doctor's orders.
For a second he'd thought he'd seen Lacey behind a large plant in the hallway, but he put it down to his mind playing tricks on him.
During the afternoons, James and his sister would be outside or up in the attics of the house, still playing games and talking, but there were some days when Rowlesden arranged for them to go into town. They would come back laden with boxes and bags and other what-not, and Jamie usually looked exhausted. One afternoon after such a shopping trip, Sherlock was on his way to the library when Lacey pelted around a corner and banged into him. Both of them toppled to the floor, the wind knocked out of their lungs.
Lacey recovered first. "Ow." She still sounded a bit breathless and her voice was little more than a squeak.
Sherlock willed his diaphragm to start working so his lungs would be able to take in air. "Lacey, are you all right?"
She was still on the floor. "I think so. You?"
Sherlock sat up cautiously, his midsection still aching. "Yep. Why on earth were you running like that inside the house? For a second, it looked as if you were running for your life."
She sat up and looked at him, a red spot on each of her cheeks. She got to her feet, smoothed down her skirt and blouse, apologized for running into him, and walked away, cool and dignified.
I wonder if I somehow insulted her, Sherlock thought. John would have made him apologize. It was another mark of how John Watson had changed his life because before he'd met John, he wouldn't have cared if he'd insulted someone or not.
Dinner that evening was interesting. Lacey was chattering as usual, but it was almost manic. She talked very fast and jumped from topic to topic without warning. Jamie, though, was very quiet, and Rowlesden looked a bit angry about something.
"I hope you'll be this talkative this Saturday," Rowlesden said pleasantly when Lacey paused for breath.
"This Saturday?" Sherlock said after he swallowed a bit of Mrs. Burton's excellent roast pork. "Why would she need to be talkative?"
"I'm having all of my friends to the house for my annual garden party this Saturday," Rowlesden said. "I'll need help entertaining my guests, and I was hoping that I could count on our young lady to help me."
Jamie's hand tightened on his fork as if he wished to stab Rowlesden with it. Then he paled. "The garden party?"
"Yes, the garden party," Rowlesden confirmed. "I'm sure you remember last year's."
Sherlock saw Jamie's hand tighten on his fork again and Sherlock found himself wondering just what had happened the year before. Whatever it had been, it was clear that Halmsley had not enjoyed it. Then Jamie groaned, and in that moment, he was all Halmsley. "The one that took two months to plan and this one's this Saturday and you're only telling me about it now?"
Rowlesden chuckled. "Not to worry, not to worry. You did an admirable job helping me plan for the one we had last year, but this year was my turn to plan and prepare. Everything's ready, you just have to show up, handsomely dressed."
Jamie's hand clenched on his fork for a third time.
"Is it an afternoon or evening party?" Lacey asked after glancing at her brother's hands.
"Afternoon," Rowlesden said.
Lacey nodded. "I see." She smiled and Sherlock could tell that she was thinking. "I have to choose just the right outfit...Jamie, should I help you choose yours?"
Sherlock almost started laughing at the disappointed look on Rowlesden's face. He could well imagine that Rowlesden had wanted to choose what "his" Jamie would wear, and there he was, outmaneuvered by a teenage girl! Oh, it was wonderful!
"That would be fine, Lacey," Jamie said, his expression softening when he looked at his sister. "Could you help me choose after we're finished with dinner?"
"I could think of nothing I'd like better, big brother," Lacey said sweetly, batting her eyes at him.
"I'm for the high jump, aren't I?" Jamie asked, smiling back at her.
"Oh, yes," she answered. "I've been waiting to choose an outfit for you for ages!"
Jamie grinned and glanced at Sherlock. "Lacey, why don't you help Mr. Hayes choose his outfit? I'm sure he would be grateful."
Lacey brightened at the thought of playing in yet another closet. "Really?" She leapt from her seat and hugged her brother hard.
Traitor, Sherlock mouthed at Jamie. Jamie, blast the man, just smirked at him.
That night, Sherlock was settled in bed, reading. It was close to midnight, but he just didn't want to go to sleep yet. He was deep in a chapter about early forensics when he heard the slightest of tapping on his door. He almost didn't hear it. He listened, and there it was again. "Yes?"
His door opened, and there stood Lacey in her robe and nightdress. "May I come in?"
He stared. Of all people he'd expected, she had not been one of them. "Of course. What can I do for you?"
"I need to talk to you," said, stepping into his room and closing the door. "It's important. If I ask you some questions, will you tell me the truth?"
Foreboding gathered around like fog. "If I can."
"Is there a reason why you can't?" She curled up on the chair next to his bed and looked at him pointedly.
"So the great Sherlock Holmes can't tell me why he can't tell me?"
He dropped his book and stared at her. "Sorry?" It was the safest thing to say in this instance.
"You're Sherlock Holmes," she said matter-of-factly. "You're his height, his build, his eye color, his facial bone structure, and he's been missing. You know, dyed hair does not a disguise make. Have you been here the whole time?"
Could he trust her?
"I want to know what's really going on here," she said seriously. "I know that it's more than it seems. Mr. Rowlesden thinks that I'm just a kid, but a kid can still notice things and think. Mr. Welling and Mr. Meyers aren't just his security, they're guards to make sure you behave. I saw them take you upstairs the other day and they didn't give you a choice about it. I've seen one of them talking to my brother and Jamie looked scared of him. If you're a prisoner here, then is my brother a prisoner here, too?"
Sherlock swallowed hard. "I'm not sure how much it would be safe to tell you."
"So Jamie's mixed up in something bad." It wasn't a question. "I had a feeling. It was weird, that I suddenly got a scholarship to that school. I didn't notice it when I was little, but as I got older...I must have been blind and deaf my whole life. It's never Jamie who comes to the school to see me; it's usually Ms. Lewis. Whenever I see Jamie, we arrive at wherever at different times, and Mr. Rowlesden is always with him. I kept telling myself that things were okay, but now..."
"Now you feel that things aren't okay?"
She shook her head. "No. There's something going on here, and I have a feeling that I can talk to you about it."
Sherlock imagined what Rowlesden's reaction would be if he found out that he'd told Lacey what was really going on. It would not be…good. How could he handle this? He thought for a moment. "What if you tell me what you're thinking and I can just nod or shake my head?"
He could see her thinking about it. "You're caught up in something bad, too, aren't you?"
"And you can't tell anyone about it, so that's why you're not saying anything."
She smiled. "Clever. If anyone asks if you told me, you can say that you haven't said a word."
Sherlock felt himself smile. This girl was smart! No wonder she went to a gifted school! Here was someone who could think!
How very refreshing.
She thought for a moment, her brow furrowed in concentration. "Rowlesden has a…thing…for my brother, doesn't he?"
Sherlock reflected on what Halmsley might do to him if he admitted to his sister that Rowlesden had the hots for him. It would probably be nothing good.
"You don't have to answer; I can tell from your reaction," she said, saving him. "I went up to see how Jamie was feeling this afternoon after our shopping trip, and Rowlesden was in his room. He tried to kiss Jamie, but Jamie pushed him away. Let me ask you something else: Does Jamie want to be here?"
Once again, he wasn't sure how to answer. He nodded and shook his head.
"Yes and no?" Lacey said, sounding perplexed. "He doesn't want to be here, but there's a reason why he stays?"
Lacey got up and started pacing. She was on her second pace across the room when she froze in her steps, a look of intense concentration mixed with horror masking her face. "That bastard…" she growled. "I'll kill him!"
A few seconds before, she'd been a girl. Now, she looked like an avenging angel about to unleash divine wrath on the unwary wicked. "You'll kill…who?"
"Rowlesden!" she hissed, her hands clenched into fists. "Scholarship my ass! I know what happened: Rowlesden wanted Jamie with him, but Jamie refused, so Rowlesden paid for me to go to that school, and he pays my fees and expenses as long as Jamie stays! Isn't that what happened?"
Sherlock nodded. "You have it."
She started pacing again, her slippers shushing against the floor, her eyes alight with fury. "I can remember when Rowlesden came to our flat to talk to Jamie about buying some of his work, and I can remember Ms. Lewis and those men coming to tell me that I had a scholarship to the school we'd read about…Oh, I'll kill him! I'll murder Jamie, too! Why didn't he tell me?"
"He's the elder brother," Sherlock told her in an effort to calm her. "He sees it as his job to take care of you."
"Not at this price! All the time I've been in school, he's been forced to live here with that…that…oh, there isn't a word in any human language for that man!"
"I agree with you," Sherlock said.
Lacey looked at him thoughtfully. "How did you end up here?" She stopped and shook her head. "Wait, I know. You were kidnapped. Rowlesden?"
"I've been here since then," Sherlock admitted.
"I won't insult you by swearing you to secrecy; I know that what I tell you now will be kept secret. Rowlesden heads a secret society. I've been unable to learn its name, but Rowlesden's in charge of it. He ordered me brought in, saying that I was putting myself in danger and that I needed a rest. I think he views me as a potential asset to his group."
Lacey rolled her eyes and dropped back into her chair. "That's ridiculous," she huffed. "Dr. Watson would have stepped in if he felt you were putting yourself in danger. He's done so before."
That floored him. "What?"
She grinned. "You didn't realize?"
He fixed her with a steely glance. "Explain, young lady."
She giggled; her good humor back. "I read his blog. He wrote one post where he answered readers' questions. One reader asked since you never ate and never slept, didn't you pass out or something? Dr. Watson wrote back that he always reins you in before you can fall on your nose."
Oooh, this was interesting! "And how does he manage that?"
"He just says he's hungry or tired, and you'll eat a little something with him, and you'll at least sit down while he sleeps. He's written that sometimes he'll find you asleep after he's pretended to be asleep an hour or so. You see?"
"Dr. John Watson, Sneak Master," Sherlock groaned.
Lacey giggled again. "He doesn't look sneaky. It's completely a matter of someone's appearance being a perfect disguise."
"I think you're right," Sherlock said.
Lacey nodded and then looked thoughtful again. "Jamie can't stay here, but I have a feeling that even if we leave, Rowlesden will come to find us."
Sherlock remembered what he'd learned about Rowlesden's former guests and wondered just how much he should tell her. He didn't want to frighten the child, but he had a feeling that she had a right to know. "Rowlesden does not take rejection well. He refuses to accept that he's been rejected, and he lashes out." He could tell her that much, couldn't he?
She sighed and stared down at her lap. "So we have to be very, very careful."
"Yes, we do." The germ of an idea had been forming in his mind and he wondered if they could pull it off. "Lacey, I've a question for you."
She looked up at him, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "What is it?"
"How good are you at acting?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Why do I need to act?"
"In order for you and Jamie to be safe from Rowlesden, we need to bring Rowlesden down," Sherlock said. "Most of his power comes from money and information. My access to information here is very inadequate since everyone who comes to the house guards their tongues when I'm around. None of the society's secrets can be shared with me. I can't find out who these people really are, what their connections to Rowlesden are, and I can't find out just what businesses he has and what they're involved in. In order to bring Rowlesden to his knees, I have to know all of that."
"So, what does that have to do with my needing to act?"
Sherlock tsked at her. "I'd thought you would have worked it out for yourself by now. You said yourself that just because you're a kid, people don't notice you or think you're important. Do you think they would watch what they say about anything around you?"
Sherlock watched her face as understanding soaked in. "Oh, that's brilliant!" she said, punching a fist in the air. "Absolutely brilliant! I'd be the perfect spy!"
Sherlock let himself chuckle while she punched her fists in the air some more and bounced up and down in her chair, celebrating. "Yes, you would."
"I think I should be clever but completely ignorant about the dark side of things," she said, jumping from her chair and starting to pace again. "I need to seem innocent but not feather-headed, right? After all, I'm sure Rowlesden's not the only one who knows I go to a school for gifted kids."
"I think you're right," Sherlock said. "Now, would you like to hear my plan? Once I've told you, please give me your opinion, and between the two of us, I think we'll work something out. How does that sound?" He held out his hand to shake.
She smiled and took his hand. "It's a bargain, Mr. Holmes."