Hi - So sorry its taken so long to finish this - have had loads of stuff - and a holiday in Edinburgh to go to (and have come back with a very Scottish accent…) But now am ready to finish this, and will be working on 'Unsolved' in a few days.

Disclaimer - I do not own any of ACD's characters

Chapter 16

Our journey back to London was fairly uneventful, especially in comparison to our journey to Lionsmere earlier. Holmes was quiet for the entirety of the journey, and I could not help feeling a little concerned for him. This case had, after all, affected him far worse than it had affected me. His strength of character, and the control that he had over his own will and emotions had been tested sorely by this case, and I would be glad to get him back into the safety and security of Baker Street.

His silence was beginning to worry me. I had expected him to discuss the case on the train. Instead, he was silent, and he sat staring out of the window. We disembarked the train, walked through the station and caught a cab. I decided to chance my arm and break the oppressive silence. "Holmes?" I said quietly.

He jumped, and looked at me as if only realising that I was sitting there next to him. "Watson. I…sorry, I am afraid that I must have proved a rather tedious companion…"

"You know that I hold no store in that. Your head is hurting you, and you are worried about the threat of that woman…"

Holmes looked at me in surprise, "What?"

I smiled, "It does not take the foremost mind of the generation to work those two pieces of information out. The whole journey, you have been subconsciously rubbing the back of your head, hence my reasoning that you are in some pain. The fact that you have also been staring rather blankly at the countryside for the whole of this trip back to London suggests that you are worried about the ending of this case and what she said to you."

Holmes nodded and looked away "I suppose you are right. You are too often critical of your abilities, Watson. Your deductive reasoning is coming on in leaps and bounds."

I smiled, and we sat in rather more companionable silence until we reached Baker Street. Once we had been greeted by Mrs Hudson, and told that dinner would be ready in an hour or so, we entered the lounge to find Mycroft Holmes sitting in my chair. Holmes, I had to say, looked rather surprised at the appearance of his normally rather sedentary older brother, and considered him for a long moment before saying "Mycroft? What are you doing here?"

"My dear Sherlock, you are meant to be the greatest mind in the Western World. What do you think I am doing here?"

Holmes stared at him for a moment, before taking off his jacket, and pulling on the dressing gown which lay strewn over the back of the sofa. He then moved over to his armchair, sighed deeply, and sank down into it. "My dear brother, I bow to your greater powers."

Mycroft turned to me "I suppose, Doctor, he has been like this since the culmination of your case?"

I nodded, then turned my attention to Holmes. "If you have a headache, Holmes, please allow me to see to that wound and give you something for the pain…"

I was surprised to see Holmes nod, and realised that he really must be in some pain. Retrieving my medical bag, I made my way over to him, and gently tended the wound on the back of his head. It was not too bad, he had no concussion, and the skin was not broken, but there was a few bruises. I gave him something for the pain, and stepped back, to stand next to Mycroft. He had watched the events of the last few moments with a small smile on his face. "So, Sherlock" he said, "I take it your wounds were inflicted by your quarry?"

Holmes looked up and exchanged a glance with me. I sighed and said "No, actually, Mycroft…it was…"

"Yes, that is right, Mycroft. Our 'Queen of the Underworld' had a couple of rather violent thugs."

Mycroft gazed firstly at Holmes and then at me before nodding. I too, stared at Holmes, whilst, at the same time feeling thankful that he had shielded us from having to talk of the case, even to his brother. It would do neither myself or Holmes any good.

"Her body has been removed by the police. Your friend Lestrade dealt with it. He also had to deal with the escape of a rather large and venomous snake in the local police station. It seems it was left there in an old carpet bag, and the duty officer got a little curious…I do not suppose either of you know anything of that…"

Holmes looked at me, and my heart was lightened by the appearance of a small smile on his face. I schooled my features into as innocent a look as possible, and said "A snake? Goodness me, Mr Holmes…what would we be doing with a snake?"

Mycroft nodded, his eyes twinkling humorously, but his face serious. "Well, the animal was captured before too much harm was done. Of course, the policeman…Cartwright or something I believe…did not expect to find said snake in his helmet…but luckily he was not bitten…"

Holmes had started to snigger, and Mycroft winked at me. It seemed that big brother was just as worried about little brother's mental state as best friend was. The lighter we could make the mood, the better. "Do you have any more news for us, Mr Holmes?"

"No, not really…I dropped Lady Meredith off to her sister's house after the events of earlier, and she seemed rather better…still a little shaken, but she had just been shot at. She sends her regards, and says that she hopes that you are well. I think it may be a good idea to telegraph her, Sherlock. She was a little concerned…" Mycroft looked at his watch. "I believe that it is time for me to be going. Goodnight, Sherlock."

Holmes looked up into his brother's face. He suddenly seemed a great deal younger, and murmured "Goodnight, brother mine."

Mycroft stiffened, then walked over to Holmes' chair, placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. "Get some sleep, little brother" Mycroft whispered, his tone kind and gentle "You look like you could do with some."

"Thank you, Mycroft."

"Always a pleasure, Sherlock."

I followed Mycroft down the stairs to show him out. As he was leaving, he turned to me. "I sense that Sherlock was not telling me the whole truth as to his injuries…"

"No…" I muttered. "I am afraid it was me."

Mycroft nodded, and turned a pair of penetrating grey eyes on me. "Doctor Watson…I know that nothing but the most pressing need would induce you to cause harm to my brother…"

I smiled ruefully "Yes. I am afraid that it was necessary. Although I feel nothing but grief for it now."

"Of course you do. But if it was necessary…Doctor…"

"Yes?"

"We did not catch the sniper."

I sighed "Ah…"

"You would be performing a great service to me if you kept him safe, Doctor. But something tells me that keeping him safe is always your first concern."

"Always."

"Thank you Doctor. It was a pleasure to see you again. Look after him. And look after yourself. There is something coming…"

"Moriarty."

"Indeed. He will want revenge. But there are others. Take a care."

"I will. Thank you."

Mycroft smiled, then made his way out to a cab. I meanwhile walked up the stairs. Holmes was still in his place on his armchair. He was staring into the fire, the red-orange reflection of the flames flickering in his eyes. I moved over to the mantle, picked up his pipe from the sideboard, stuffed it with tobacco, then lit it. I then knelt to one side of him, and handed him the pipe. Holmes looked down at it for a moment, and then took it from my outstretched hand. "Thank you, my dear fellow." I nodded, patted his arm, and took my place in my armchair. "I take it," continued Holmes "That my older brother was asking you to ensure my safety…"

I nodded "Very perceptive Holmes…now, did you deduce that, or were you, in fact, eavesdropping?"

Holmes smiled slightly "I must confess to the latter, Watson."

"How are you feeling, old man?"

Holmes met my eyes, and I was gratified to see that he looked a little better. His eyes were somewhat brighter and his face had lost some of that deathly pallor. "Better, pleased not to have to tell the world that the souls of the dead do haunt the world."

"No one would believe you anyway."

"Indeed. A tarnished reputation and no mistake." He sighed "It is a shame that other such ghosts cannot be vanquished so easily."

I smiled "It is always worth a try."

"Oh, my dear friend…thank you for your presence on this case. You do not know how much I appreciated it."

I grinned "I have told you before…I am your biographer, bodyguard, doctor and friend. I would never have allowed you to face such a case alone. And whatever is coming, we will face it together…"

Holmes' eyes glinted, and he nodded, before saying "Very eloquently put, Watson. Rather like the happy ending of one of your lurid and florid romantic narratives."

I laughed "One day I shall have you write up one of your cases yourself…then we shall see how popular interest in each of our methods of writing compares."

"You will have silly young women and old housewives reading yours…"

"And you would have crusty old professors and criminals who want to pick up tips reading yours…"

"Touché."

"Thank you." I paused. "You eating tonight, Holmes?"

Holmes glanced at me "Tonight, I shall be the picture of health, Doctor. I will eat and I will sleep, as per my doctor's instructions."

"Good. Thank you. And I hope that you will telegraph Meredith as well…"

Holmes smiled. "Very well." His voice became quieter "It is good she is safe."

"Indeed it is. Heaven knows where you would find another so understanding opera partner, for I will not go with you. The one time I did go, you kept making rather inappropriate observations about the people in the boxes next to us…"

"I should inform you that I am always on my best behaviour with Lady Meredith…"

"You had better be. She may be 'thick-skinned' but I have an idea that she would not countenance such behaviour."

Holmes laughed and I joined in. We were served dinner by Mrs Hudson and ate heartily before taking our places before the fire again - myself reading a book, Holmes gradually drifting off to sleep.

"Holmes?"

"Yes?"

"Do you wish me to write and publish this case?"

"Later."

I looked up "Why, Holmes?"

"Because Watson, I think that the publication of this case would bring unnecessary attention to certain people and organisations. You for one. Please wait…until there is safety."

"Until we have beaten Moriarty?"

Holmes nodded, "Yes."

"Very well."

"I must say…this case came at a very opportune and appropriate time…"

"All Hallows. Indeed. A real ghost story…"

Holmes winced "Please Watson. There is no such thing as ghosts."

I grinned. "So, it comes down to only one thing then, Holmes…"

"What is that?"

"Which would you prefer I to read to you…Dracula or Frankenstein?"

Holmes groaned, shot up off his chair and said "I am going to bed. And if you try reading that rot through my door, I shall spend the next few evenings quoting Euclid at you."

I smiled "A fate worse than death…goodnight Holmes."

"Goodnight, my dear Watson."