Epilogue: The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
Six weeks later...
It was early evening on a Sunday in the middle of December. John Watson sat at the desk, huddled over his laptop, shivering from the draft through the sash window. He placed his hands around his mug of tea, and raised it to his mouth. Suddenly, his mug was jolted in his hand, as his excitable flatmate bounded to the window and bellowed in a voice too loud for John's liking:
"Yes," John commented simply, as Sherlock left the window as quickly as he'd reached it, and fled into the next room. John attempted another sip, but was disturbed by his phone, beeping noisily for his attention.
1 New Message: Mycroft Holmes
John laughed loudly. He was fortunate enough to know the two most brilliant minds in Britain, but clearly when it came to the simple things like weather, the Holmes brothers had lived a very sheltered life.
He sent a single-worded response: Yes.
Sherlock suddenly appeared at his shoulder, and stared curiously at the laptop screen.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm reading the news."
"John, how many times have I told you, the MSN homepage is not news!" Though his tone was derogatory, his eyes remained fixed to the screen. "Wait, what's that?"
John clicked on the headline: Footballer and girlfriend to marry at Christmas.
"Hmm?" John echoed in confusion. "I didn't think you'd be interested in footballers and WAGS."
"I wouldn't be normally, but it just so happens that this so-called 'WAG', is a client of mine."
John looked up at him in surprise. He hadn't even realised Sherlock was on a case. Sure, he'd been more energetic than usual, but John thought that Sherlock was just...happy.
"So...?" John prompted, and Sherlock looked puzzled, before realising that that was his cue to start talking.
"Twenty-seven year old Eva Brackwell, fiancée to footballer Carl Dovercourt, rather foolishly sent some risqué texts to a man that was not her fiancé. She's now being blackmailed for several thousands of pounds and could ruin her marriage before it's even begun. She's asked me to find the mobile phone and destroy it before it all goes public."
John nodded as he followed Sherlock's spiel. Once the man had finished, John chewed on his lip in thought.
"So, where are you going to start looking for this phone?"
Sherlock gave a scoff.
"I already know where the phone is."
"Of course you do... silly me," John muttered under his breath.
"Have you ever heard the name Charles Milverton?" John shook his head. "Charles Milverton is head of a large media corporation in the city. I've only met him briefly a couple of times and...how can I say this eloquently...?"
"He's a dick head?" John supplied, and Sherlock nodded his approval.
"Oh good, you follow."
"So you think he has the phone?"
"Oh I know he does. And I think a bit of housebreaking is in order." Sherlock turned suddenly and grabbed his coat and scarf. "It's a shame it's snowing; snow is possibly the worst weather when committing a crime. Footsteps galore. Never mind, it'll thaw out before...What do you think you're doing?"
Sherlock stared at John who had paused, his hand grasping his own coat on the door-hook.
"I'm coming with you."
"Um...No, you're not."
Both men stared at each other stubbornly. John's jaw dropped in indignation.
"I think you'll find that I am!"
"You're not coming, John." Sherlock snatched the jacket from John's hands.
"Then you're not going, Sherlock!" The jacket was snatched back into its owner's hands. "Sherlock, I kid you not, if you go on your little robbery escapade without me, I'm going straight down to the Yard and grassing you up myself...And I won't be sorry."
Sherlock looked taken aback.
"Why would you say that, John? That's just mean."
John pulled on his jacket and then crossed his arms defiantly. Sherlock smirked at the determination on his friend's face.
"Well, I suppose it's good to have a cell-mate I know I can live with."
"Um...I was thinking more of keeping you out of prison, not joining you in there," John protested as he was shepherded towards the stairs.
Sherlock and John arrived at the offices of Milverton Media Centre and crouched low behind the wall which bordered the property. All was eerily quiet, and the street lamps glowed dimly in the falling snow.
"Right, I've managed to discover, after several lengthy chats from the charming girl on the security desk, that there are two weak security points into this building. One is through the fire escape on the roof at the far side; access of which is via a rusting metal staircase. The other is also through a fire escape, in the waste disposal area."
"Waste disposal," John voted promptly and Sherlock scoffed.
"Really? Says the man who retches when he cleans the bathroom."
"Says the man who has never cleaned the bathroom. Oh yes, I said that! Don't think I haven't noticed."
Sherlock rolled his eyes and dismissed the jibe. The pair headed around the high wall silently, where they struggled in the snow to make it over the wall to the other side. Eventually they landed in the malodorous dustbin area and, as John held his breath with watery eyes, Sherlock took out the thin glass pane with a jab of his elbow.
Once into the dark corridor, Sherlock ushered John silently in the direction of Charles Milverton's office. He picked the lock with surprising speed and the door swung open heavily.
"Keep watch," Sherlock instructed.
John hovered by the door as Sherlock made his way quickly to the safe which was located in the bottom of a dark wooden bureau.
Every second that passed felt stretched, as John stood silently in the door way, straining his eyes and ears in the darkness. Behind him he heard Sherlock inhale in satisfaction as the safe was opened, and the noise of rustling papers sounded strangely loud in the otherwise quiet room.
Suddenly, John's stomach lurched as he heard the sound of heavy footsteps on carpet. He wafted an arm madly in Sherlock's direction. Sherlock surveyed the room and indicated for John to follow him as he hid behind a long, heavy curtain by the cold window. Both men stood silently beside each other, holding their breath as Charles Milverton entered his office slowly. He switched on the desk lamp and sat for some time, looking intently at a letter on his desk.
Behind the curtain, John had the extreme desire to laugh as he caught Sherlock's eye. Sherlock glared at him. There was a sudden rumble and John frowned before mouthing:
Was that your stomach?
I told you to eat something!
Perspective! Sherlock mouthed back in irritation, and John covered his mouth with his hand to fight the laugh which threatened to erupt. Sherlock elbowed him in the ribs.
Milverton was talking quietly but heatedly on his mobile phone. He suddenly rose from his desk and made his way back out of the office. Sherlock leaned closer to John and squeezed his hand tightly as a signal that he was confident in what he was doing. John flinched in uncertainty as Sherlock stepped out from behind the curtain and headed back to the safe. He halted abruptly in the middle of the room, his eyes fixed on the doorway.
"What?" John hissed from behind the curtain. Sherlock frowned.
"It's nothing," he murmured. He was sure he'd seen a petite silhouette in the doorway, and a pair of dark feminine eyes which had disappeared as quickly as they'd appeared. Sherlock shook the thought from his head and crossed to the safe which he had left ever so slightly ajar. John crept out from behind the curtain and headed back to the door. Moments later, Sherlock heard John hiss his name and he looked up to see Milverton's surprised face in the doorway, scowling down at John angrily. John barged passed Milverton and made a run for it. To anyone other than Sherlock, it would have seemed like an act of desertion, but Sherlock knew that his friend was buying him time, as Milverton chased after John furiously.
Sherlock grabbed what he'd come for and scrambled up off the floor. He knew the building layout; John didn't. Sherlock cursed silently, as he ran out of the room and down the corridor. He took a brief moment to study the carpet, and saw the damp traces of their footsteps from on the way into the building. Turning on the spot he attempted to make out the footsteps made in haste moments before. It was dark but Sherlock was fairly confident in the direction John and his assailant had fled. Sherlock moved quickly after them. He grabbed his phone instinctively and connected the call as he moved. It rang only once before a hushed, frantic voice responded.
"Not a good time!"
"Where are you?" Sherlock pressed, not sure why he was whispering back.
"Um...I'm on the ground floor still. There's some men's toilets."
"Listen carefully. Go down the hall, back towards the entrance, take a right, then the first left, and you'll come to a back door...John?" Sherlock could hear John's breath down the phone.
"Or I could just break this window?"
"Yes...you could do that."
"I'll meet you outside."
Sherlock felt suddenly alone as the call was disconnected. Swallowing down the feeling, he began to move along the corridor, listening carefully for any movement in the shadows of the darkened rooms which sat on either side of the long hallway. He came skidding to a halt on the carpet as he heard the ringing sound of a shot through the air. A wave of dread rushed through him as he recognised the noise as a shotgun, not a handgun. He took a deep, calming breath and kicked at the metal bar which released a set of fire doors into a dark courtyard at the back of the big building. Sherlock ran out into the cold.
Over the sound of his own breathing, Sherlock heard the heavy footsteps in the distance as he made his way across the courtyard. Being surrounded on all sides by tall brick walls, Sherlock knew the only way out was to climb the metal staircase, which led upwards to the roof. The ground was icy, and he slid to a halt at the bottom of the staircase to catch his breath. The frozen air made his throat sore. Sherlock looked back the way he had come. He'd dropped his scarf in his haste; it was a shame.
"Sherlock!" A familiar voice echoed around the courtyard. Sherlock's large smile ached his cold face. He caught sight of John across the courtyard. The man came to a slippery halt beside him.
"We have to get out of here," John panted.
"An excellent plan."
An angry pattering of footsteps could be heard making their way out into the yard, followed by an irate male voice. Sherlock ascended the stairs briefly before halting and turning suddenly. John bumped into the back of him.
"Did you pick up my scarf?"
"What? No!" John replied in disbelief. Sherlock blinked at him. "No, Sherlock! I'm not going back for it." He pushed Sherlock, who continued to climb the staircase, their clanging footsteps echoing noisily.
From below, both men heard a gunshot.
"You're full of great ideas tonight!"
Sherlock reached the top of the staircase and heaved himself onto the roof of the building. The cold wind bit at them as they looked down into the dim night.
"Did you get it?" John huffed.
"Yes, of course," Sherlock replied, producing the mobile phone from his pocket and then placing it back for safekeeping. He made his way to the other edge of the roof, his toes peeping down below to the roof of an outbuilding. Footsteps could be heard clanging against the metal stairs, and he had to think fast.
"Do you think we can take him?"
"He has a shot gun."
"My answer is no."
Sherlock nodded thoughtfully. He frowned at his next idea. John had only just begun to start trusting him again. If he played the next step wrong he could undo all that they'd worked so hard to fix.
"We're going to jump," he decided firmly. John gawped at him. "On to the outbuilding, then on to the floor," he added with certainty. John's mouth still hung open. "Or, I could just leave you up here," Sherlock mused. He recognised John's stance immediately; stubbornly holding his ground, his arms crossed defensively across his chest.
What happened next surprised them both...
Sherlock grabbed John's hand and flung the both of them from the roof. It didn't go to plan. The pair fell with a crash, through the sheet roofing, and onto the cold hard floor below. They were lucky the sheet roofing had slowed their fall.
The silence felt loud after the crash. Sherlock sat up suddenly.
He hadn't predicted that. No matter; he'd remember for next time. He turned to his friend who was lying motionless beside him.
"John? Are you alright?"
John's shoulders began to shake and Sherlock began to panic that he'd seriously hurt him. As John pushed himself up, he let out a howl of laughter.
Sherlock laughed with him.
"Are you ok?" he asked John again. John had grazed both of his hands and knees. But there was something strangely therapeutic about being pushed from a building by your best friend. John just nodded.
"How's your shoulder?" John asked, scrambling up from the floor.
"Hmm? Fine. Fine. I rolled the other way."
Of course, catapulting oneself off a building was becoming Sherlock's speciality. They grinned at each other, and a sudden gunshot broke them apart.
They continued to run at a pace, and made their way to the bordering wall of the property. Sherlock jumped up with ease and scrambled himself on to the wall.
"Come on, John!"
John looked apprehensive, but jumped for it, and Sherlock caught John's hand in his as he hauled him up.
"If you weren't such a short arse, this wouldn't be a problem," Sherlock groaned under the effort. "It's like living with a Hobbit!"
"Oi! Less of that! Mind your bad shoulder," John said through gritted teeth.
"Yes, thank you Doctor," Sherlock said impatiently, before jumping down the other side. As John went to swing his legs over the wall, he was suddenly caught at the ankle by a set of strong fingertips. He swore quietly, and kicked his legs as his captor held on tight, shouting aggressively up at John. John kicked with his free leg and felt the grip loosen on his ankle. He wriggled free and tumbled to the snow covered ground at Sherlock's feet. Sherlock blinked down at him in exasperation.
"Idiot!" he mumbled with a sigh as he offered his hand to John. "Home?"
The pair began to walk off quickly into the night.
"I might even make you a cup of tea."
"Bloody hell. What have I done to deserve that?"
"Well, I have just pushed you off a building."
"True. Very true."
Sherlock stopped and looked at John. The man was tired, cold and sore. But he looked like John. His John. The one who he'd hoped so much to come back to him. Sherlock smiled at John.
"Well, I could hardly leave you behind, could I?"
The words hung significantly between the two of them. He had left him behind. But never again. Sherlock had come to realise that he couldn't quite function without John Watson. He didn't want to either.
"My scarf, on the other hand..."
"Oh shut up moaning, we'll get you a new one."
It was later that evening, as the clock neared midnight, when the doorbell rang at 221 Baker Street. Both men had thawed out and dried off from their earlier adventure, and were sat comfortably in their armchairs when Lestrade made his way wearily up the stairs to Flat B.
"Good evening Detective Inspector," Sherlock greeted amiably. Lestrade sat himself down heavily on the sofa.
"No it's not. I bloody hate snow. Look, something's come up. I know it's late and it's rotten out, but I'd appreciate your help with this."
Sherlock looked over at John, who was deliberately avoiding eye contact.
"There's been a break-in at Milverton Media Centre. The safe has been forced, but everything of value appears to have been left. The staff can't be certain what was in there, as it belonged to the CEO..." Lestrade paused.
"Go on," Sherlock prompted.
Sherlock and John's jaws dropped. They looked to each other, and back to Lestrade.
"Oh," they said in unison. Lestrade laughed.
"You seem surprised. I wouldn't be foolish enough to bother you with a simple 'breaking and entering'."
"Quite," replied Sherlock, smiling tightly.
"So, will you come and take a look?"
Half an hour later, John and Sherlock found themselves back at the scene of their crime, staring down at the lifeless body of Charles Milverton which had fallen awkwardly on the large wooden desk. Sherlock inhaled deeply, noting the faint smell of expensive perfume. He could almost taste it on his tongue. He gave a small smile.
"Yes, you're quite right Lestrade. He does appear to be very much dead. Wouldn't you agree, John?"
John was finding it very hard to make eye contact with anybody in the room without having the immense urge to giggle.
Sergeant Donavon entered, looking disgruntled. She approached Sherlock and thrust a ball of sodden fabric towards him.
"This is yours, isn't it? You must have dropped it." She turned immediately and marched away. John came to Sherlock's side, as the consulting detective eyed his snow-covered scarf.
"Was that an act of kindness from Sergeant Donovan?" he asked John.
"Stranger things have happened," John mused.
"I think she likes me more, since I've been dead."
"I think she liked you best when you were dead."
Sherlock laughed loudly, and felt the eyes of several police officers fall on the pair of them. He beckoned for Lestrade to join them.
"What do you know, Lestrade?"
"Well...there are several pairs of footsteps fleeing the scene. A witness spotted two men, but only got a glance at one of them." He checked his note book. "White male, late 30s, approximately 5ft 8, light brown hair and size 10 feet."
Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Well, that could be anyone. That description fits most of London. In fact, you've pretty much described John."
John glared at Sherlock as Lestrade stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"You're right. That's why I need your help."
Sherlock stood quietly for a moment, deep in thought. He suddenly looked up and clapped Lestrade on the arm apologetically.
"I can't help you," he admitted. "These men will be out of the country by now. They were clearly after something which belonged to them. We'll probably never find them, not unless they strike again. Sorry about that. John, a quick word..."
Lestrade watched as the pair crossed the room and spoke intensely for a brief moment. John was shaking his head at Sherlock's insistence, and then retorted firmly. Sherlock's shoulders lowered in defeat and he marched to the door when he stood impatiently.
"John," Lestrade spoke up and John crossed over to him. "What was all that about?"
"Oh, it's nothing."
Lestrade felt frustration building up inside. Since when did Sherlock Holmes ever admit that a murderer couldn't be traced? And so easily too. What was he hiding?
"Really? It didn't look like nothing."
John swallowed hard and then laughed awkwardly.
"Oh, he just fancies Chinese, that's all. But we had Chinese last night. I was thinking maybe Indian, but we've agreed on Italian."
Lestrade blinked in astonishment.
"Oh, sorry...Would you like to come?"
"No, no. I have work to do."
"Oh, of course. Sorry. Well... see you." John smiled apologetically and wandered off towards his flatmate. Lestrade ran his hand over his tired eyes and watched the pair go bickering out of the door.
"Same old Sherlock Holmes," Sally muttered beside Lestrade. He looked to her and smiled tiredly.
"Do you think so?"
"Why? Don't you?"
Lestrade just shrugged.
"So, what happens now?" Sally asked with a sigh.
"We get back to work," the D.I told her.
Lestrade raised his eyebrows in her direction. She huffed and marched away.
Lestrade watched the two friends from the window, huddled together as they made their way through the cold night. This case had clearly not grabbed Sherlock's attention, but Lestrade knew it was only a matter of time before Sherlock would be getting under his feet again. In all honesty, Lestrade couldn't wait. Sherlock Holmes was back in business...and he wouldn't be doing it alone.
A/N: Well, that's that!
Obviously The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton belongs to Arthur Conan Doyle, not me. I've just modernised it and had fun playing with it :-)
A big thank you to LittlePippin76 who checked this over before I posted, and for laughing in all the right places! I think this is the most anxious I've been about posting a chapter, purely because it's the end of what has been months of hard work, and I wanted to do it justice! Let me know what you thought.
Thank you to those who have followed this story, and stuck with it to the end, especially those who have left such encouraging reviews. It's meant so much to me :-) Thanks to those readers have not only read this story, but started at the beginning of the trilogy with The Broken Man and Harder To Breathe. I hope this journey has meant as much to you as it has to me. I'm getting soppy now. I should stop.
So what's next? I've got a couple of ideas in the pipe-line. I'd like to have a go at taking on 'Baskerville' before Moffat and Gatiss get their hands on it next autumn (I've heard rumours). There may well be some one-shots along the way, but for now real life is calling. I'll be back though. Watch this space.
With love and thanks,