Still a bit hard to answer reviews right now, sorry… but please keep that love coming! =)
Kind of a lot of Irene in this chapter, but at last the pace picks up, so… Yeah, it's all good. ^_^ In fact, we're actually getting close to the end. Two or three more installments to go (four at the very most, I think), and then on to the sequel!
…Oh, sorry! Did I neglect to mention there'd be a sequel? Yeah, well, I'd debated about it a lot, finally decided that I probably should. Updates will be slow, but there will be a sequel. (And sometime soon, that fic with texts between Anthea and Irene on a normal day with the Brothers Holmes. ;D)
"Okay, I'm trying to figure out whether you really are as much of a genius as you claim or whether you've finally flipped. Maybe both. It's insane and brilliant."
"And I wished I'd thought of it first."
Sherlock gave that characteristic sardonic little smile. "Now, I want to see John."
Irene sighed, exapserated. "Sherlock, both of you are in intensive care—neither of you are in any condition to be moved."
"Then set up a video feed, but I want. To see. John."
Irene threw her hands up, placating. "Okay, okay, I'll fix something up…"
Five minutes later, Sherlock and John were on borrowed laptops—with the help of Irene and Sarah—and using a secure video feed that Irene had set up.
"John, are you all right?" Sherlock said as soon as the image of his flatmate appeared.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'll be all right—ah… how are you?" The doctor's bewildered look was rather endearing, Irene thought.
"Oh, fine." With two words in a certain tone, Sherlock had just dismissed the biggest mother-load of injuries Irene had ever seen. "You're sure you're all right?"
"Yes, Sherlock, I will be okay." Not too hurt to get irritated with Sherlock—yep, Irene loved this guy.
"All right, good. Stay sharp—we'll be having a visitor soon. Confederate of Moriarty's. Right-hand." Irene was left in amazement at how the man could continue to speak without stopping for breath.
"Not so terrible—we have Irene and Lestrade to do the dirty work."
"Thanks," Irene muttered.
"Irene? I'm sorry—who's Irene?"
Irene bent down into view of the webcam. "Hi, Dr. Watson," she said in her Molly voice.
John blinked. "Wha…"
"I didn't have the go-ahead to tell you before," Irene continued in her real voice, "but I might as well tell you now, and to heck with my superiors." She grinned fleetingly. "I'm CIA. I was assigned to Sherlock as his bodyguard a few years ago, back when he started working with Scotland Yard."
"And Molly Hooper was your cover," John said wonderingly.
"Yes. My real name is Irene Adler, I was born in New Jersey, and this really isn't how I look." Her hand strayed up to brush a strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm actually even prettier." She winked good-naturedly, and John chuckled.
"Got it in one."
Sherlock cleared his throat. "Yes, well, if we may continue?" He shot a pointed look at Irene, who gestured obligingly toward the laptop. "Thank you. Anyway, John, we're going to get Lestrade's people in here to net this man; he's coming after me. Don't worry, Irene will be looking out for me."
Irene bent back down into the camera and nodded. "Trust me, John—if I have to knock this guy out, tie him up, and throw him in the closet, I will."
John snickered. "I… can almost see that…"
John cleared his throat rather exaggeratedly and gave Sherlock a contrite look. "Sorry. I'm sorry."
Sherlock shook his head. "So that's what's going on right now. Oh, and Mycroft's down for the count—apparently, he bit off more than he could swallow."
If Irene didn't know her charge as well as she did, she would have labeled Sherlock as being completely apathetic to his brother's wellbeing. But she knew better. That off-note in the voice, that tightening around the eyes? He was bothered, and, more than that, he was worried.
John frowned. "Mycroft? What's he been—"
"He had it out with Moriarty," Irene explained before Sherlock could speak. "Moriarty's dead now—" John's eyes widened incredulously—"but he made sure to leave a parting gift. Mycroft's been stabilized, but he's lost a lot of blood."
"John, he's MI5, okay?" Sherlock sighed. "He did fieldwork before he was promoted all the way up to the physical manifestation of the British government. Hard to believe, I know, but it's true."
John shook his head minutely. "The things you learn…"
"Well, while you two catch up, I'm gonna go find Lestrade," Irene murmured to Sherlock. "I'll see you later, John."
"Uh, right. See you."
She couldn't resist blowing a kiss to Sherlock before she left—he merely rolled his eyes in response. She could just hear the sarcasm: Romance is dull; kissing is boring. She laughed to herself as she strode down the hall.
Lestrade rubbed at his temples and thought a few things not lawful to be uttered. "You've got to be kidding me."
"C'mon, Geoff—this is Sherlock we're talking about."
"Right. Silly me—how could I have forgotten that?"
Molly—Irene—looked unimpressed. I'll bet she's a terror to behold in her own sphere, was his irreverent thought. "Are you going to call in your people or not?" she demanded.
"Yes, okay? And you'll get that thing from 221B?"
"You bet. Also going to have a quick chat with Mrs. Hudson, give the poor woman an update. She's probably half-frantic with worry."
"Yeah," Lestrade nodded sympathetically. "Those boys are like the kids she never had, from what I can tell."
"Definitely." Irene sighed and slung her purse back around her shoulder. "Well, I'll be seeing you in a few."
"Right. Be careful."
She smiled—it was a brilliant, gorgeous smile that transformed her whole face. "I will, thanks. You be careful, too."
As he watched her go, he wondered how often she was told to take care with genuine concern behind the words. He didn't even know if she had any family, let alone if she was close to them. Or if she was close to anyone, aside from Anthea. She seemed to work rather as a lone wolf, but by necessity rather than by choice or preference.
He made a mental note to get to know Sherlock Holmes's official bodyguard better—maybe see if she'd have dinner with the family sometime. She struck him as the type who'd get along well with kids, given the chance.
"Annie," he pushed out in a croak. Good lord, when was the last time I've felt this terrible?
He watched his PA pull herself back together, piece by piece, watched the mask of professionalism slip into place. He realized that he didn't want to see the real woman beneath that mask go. "Oh, sir, you had us so scared," she said, a little breathlessly. So, not quite fully professional yet.
"Sorry about that," he said hoarsely. "Mm, might I have some water, my dear? I'm afraid my throat feels like the Sahara."
Something indefinable flitted across her lovely features. "Sure. Just a minute." She walked out a bit slowly, and Mycroft could see in his mind's eye her slumping against the wall beyond in relief and venting a bit more emotion before she returned and had to be his subordinate again.
It was the work of five seconds for Mycroft's supercomputer brain to catalogue his emotions, the work of half a minute to compile relevant memories, and the work of a full minute to make sense of it all. It took that long because he was working with matters of the heart—that was trickier than the most complicated bill he had ever seen pass in Parliament. He fully understood why Sherlock disliked and distrusted emotions—they were messy things, to be sure. Mycroft, on the other hand, didn't try to live without them—he had simply learned from an early age to harness them. Ironically, Sherlock was more openly emotional than his older brother.
Thus, it took Mycroft less than two minutes to work out that he had a romantic attachment to Anthea, and she to him. (And where is she with that water?) It wasn't just emotions, either—it was an actual bond existing between them. Somewhere along the line, a definite platonic friendship had grown into something deeper.
Mycroft had considered marriage before. Mummy wanted badly (she never put it in that light, but he saw it, nonetheless) for at least one of her boys to give her the daughter she'd never had, as well as a grandchild or two. It wasn't that Mycroft was adverse to marriage (another point upon which he and Sherlock differed), but that he'd simply never found a woman with whom he'd really care to spend the rest of his life. Or that would spend the rest of her life with him—he knew that his job would make family life difficult.
Mummy liked Anthea. Actually, Mummy adored Anthea. And Mycroft could read between the lines with his mother regarding his PA. Had Mummy perhaps seen something that he had just never considered?
Anthea returned with the water, handed it to him with a demure "Here you are, sir."
Mycroft reflected for a moment, then spoke with all his characteristic deliberation. "Anthea, it has not escaped my attention that you've been working under a lot of stress lately."
"Haven't we all?"
"Indeed. Nor has it escaped my attention that I myself have not had a decent time-off in quite a long time."
Anthea gave him a look that was equal parts sympathy and sarcasm: Mycroft almost never took time-off. "And?" she prompted gently.
Mycroft drummed his fingers on the side railing of his bed—he missed his umbrella. "I propose a short holiday, no more than a weekend, once I'm certain I can get away safely."
"A short holiday… for both of us?"
"Well, of course, we can go our separate ways if you want, but we spend so little time together outside of a professional capacity…"
She shook her head in bewilderment. "W-where would we be going?"
He shrugged. "Anywhere you like. We could go to China, if it suited your fancy."
She gave him a definite sarcastic look. "After that smuggling ring run-in with your brother? No thank you."
He chuckled, sincerely. "Brittany, then. When was the last time you were in Brittany?"
She blinked. "Not since secondary school… That would be lovely." She nodded, then smiled in confusion. "You'd really go to Brittany?"
He nodded back. "Of course. It's a lovely place, rich with history…" And your history is there, as well. …Then current events at last caught up with his mind, and he couldn't believe how slow-witted he'd been. "The operation! Sherlock! Annie, what—"
"I was waiting for that," she smirked, this time without a hint of sarcasm. "Mission accomplished, and Sherlock and John are awake." He exhaled in relief. "They'll recover. It'll be months before they're back to full capacity, but they'll get there."
Mycroft melted back into the bed with the profoundest sense of relief and gratitude he'd ever known. "Thank God," he murmured.
Anthea nodded. "I think we'll all live, miraculously enough."
Mycroft gave a genuine laugh, and Anthea smiled brilliantly. Hmm. To borrow John's words, this could be very nice. Very nice, indeed.
The woman Irene met in the doorway of 221 Baker Street… was older. Tired. Her bloodshot eyes lit with anxiety as she recognized the "secret agent" she had met only a handful of times in the past. "My boys," she whispered. "How are my boys?"
Irene felt a swift and deep pang of guilt for not thinking to phone Mrs. Hudson once Sherlock and John woke. "They're all right," Irene said gently, watching the tears reform in the older woman's eyes. "They'll be all right."
"Ohhh, thank heavens," Mrs. Hudson said thickly. "Come in, dear. Come in and let me fix you a cuppa." She gestured inside.
"Thank you," Irene murmured as she entered the building. "Mrs. Hudson, I am so sorry I didn't call. I should have remembered—"
"Oh, don't worry about it, love," the landlady tearfully assured her. "You must have been too relieved to… don't mind me. I'll be all right. Thank you for coming."
The pang became a knife that twisted viciously in Irene's heart. "I'm afraid that wasn't the only reason for my coming," she said slowly as she took a seat in Mrs. Hudson's kitchen, watching the other woman bustle around her. "You see, I need to pick up something of Sherlock's, upstairs."
Mrs. Hudson chuckled slightly. "Good luck finding anything in that mess, dearie. The world's only private consulting detective Sherlock Edward Holmes may be, but that man cannot keep his rooms in any sort of order."
Irene snorted in amusement. "Believe me, ma'am, I know."
"Here you go." Mrs. Hudson set down a cup and saucer, and Irene smiled her thanks. Tea. She could count with one hand the number of occasions she'd drunk tea in her lifetime. She was American, and a typical American coffee enthusiast.
Here goes nothing. She took a tentative sip. Hot and loaded with caffeine without the coffee taste—yeeeah, she'd stick to coffee. Or if she ever took up tea, it'd be that decaffeinated fruit-flavor stuff. She'd had that once; it was good.
Between sips, she filled Mrs. Hudson in on the boys' conditions, taking care to downplay the severity. No sense in paining her further. Then the teacup was empty, Irene stood, said "thank you," and hurried upstairs to find Sherlock's… interesting possession. It was one of the few things he and Mycroft had ever agreed upon.
As she suspected, she found it fairly quickly. It was just too big to hide effectively unless you had a secret panel closet or something… she briefly wondered if Mycroft had ever installed something of the sort in 221B.
Her odd prize secured in a bundle slung over her shoulder, she hurried back downstairs and out. Here we go.
It was late, but, of course, hospitals never slept. That was okay. He just needed his target to be asleep.
The curtain was up around the bed, which was good. He slipped into the bathroom, opened up his suitcase, and started piecing the rifle together. It was an old thing, an air-gun made in the nineteenth century by a blind German mechanic, but it did the job. Finished, he slipped back out and approached the bed.
The heart monitor beeped a steady rate—the monitors were the only source of light in the room. He stared at the curtain and swallowed. "Well, Sherlock, I guess this is it," he murmured. "I sure didn't want to have to do this—never thought I'd have to. We weren't friends, but I did like you, quirks and all. But… you got in the way, you know? So… I'm sorry."
He pulled back the curtain and looked down at the bed's occupant. Wow. The man had really done a number on himself…
He hefted up the rifle and aimed for the head. Messy, but instant. Sherlock Holmes would never even feel it.
Red flew everywhere, and yet…
…the heart monitor continued.
"Sebastian," said an all-too-familiar voice from behind, "I never knew you cared so much." And he heard the unmistakable sounds of two guns' safeties clicking off.
Evil cliffie! =D Okay, so has anybody figured the whole thing out, with Sherlock's visitor? I bet at least one of you has! C'mon, c'mon, tell me! The clues are there—come to think of it, I piled them on. Lemme hear what you've got!
Oh, and cookies of your choice to anyone who can tell me what it was that Irene got from 221B!
I was glad to finally address the matter of Mrs. Hudson. Poor woman—but she never seemed to fit well into any of the previous chapters.
Anyway, next chapter, we get a little bit of action, and we get things clearly defined. Stay tuned!