It was an all-around dark, wet, unpleasant day in Dublin, Ireland; the sort of day that made a man want to recline in an overstuffed armchair with the radio playing softly and a crime novel to fall asleep to, while the dog curled up on his special rug beside the fireplace. The rain was not so much rain as simply a resilient mist that settled on the skin like a fine sheen of sweat. The sky was an oppressive shade of gray, heavy with yet more of the hideous mist prepared to come down on the city's already ill-tempered citizens.
The cobbled streets were nearly empty on a day such as this - the Dubliners all huddling together with their families and keeping warm - with the exception of two men and, farther down the road, a woman.
"Still don't see why Mycroft needed us for this," grumbled Sherlock moodily as he pulled his collar up higher to cover the dark curls at the base of his neck.
His companion, one Doctor John Watson, merely sighed and shook his damp blond head before continuing to trudge onward. "He seemed rather upset," shrugged John, "and you know how unflappable that man is. It's important to him - hey!" He dodged the splash of water from the puddle Sherlock tramped indignantly through and sighed again. It seemed that it was going to be one of those days, then.
"He wouldn't have asked if it wasn't important," John continued. "She's his daughter, Sherlock, which means she's also your niece."
"Thank you for the biology lesson, Doctor."
John scoffed and rolled his eyes, but decided that trying to appeal to Sherlock's humanity by pointing out his bond with the missing girl for the umpteenth time was not worth it, and continued onwards.
"Are we nearly there?" growled the consulting detective, kicking a puddle. John couldn't help but think of a child in the backseat of a car whining 'are we there yet?' and considered replying that he would turn this car around, young man, but didn't want to push his luck.
He consulted the crude map that he'd drawn that morning after the printer in their flat broke down. "Nearly. Just a few more - oh, pardon me!" He had very nearly collided with a young woman, who had been kneeling to tie her shoelace beside a low brick wall but had just stood up as they passed. The girl pressed herself against the wall and laughed apologetically, saying "Excuse me!" at the same time as John's apology.
John looked at her face and felt a shock run through his system. It was her, the girl they'd been walking all day through the rain to find, Mycroft's long-lost daughter, complete with gray eyes, dark blonde hair, and slightly protuberant nose. She smiled, unaware of his shock and Sherlock's annoyance.
The pair had been called into Mycroft's office at an ungodly hour of the morning, for "reasons of convenience," as the older brother had claimed. He'd apparently had a breakfast meeting somewhere on Downing Street, and wanted to clear up his business for the day before noon.
They had been in the middle of a case, a thirtysomething Irishwoman killed in a flat near Chiswick and her musician ex-boyfriend the only even slightly-tangible suspect, and Sherlock practically had to be carried to the meeting by John, who had been the one to answer the phone and hear Mycroft's unsteady voice. Behind the politician's desk when they entered sat a man so carefully composed that, as a doctor, John knew he was on the verge of breaking.
He regaled to them then what could only be described as a story of woe. He was thirteen years older than Sherlock, something the doctor hadn't been aware of, had graduated from university at the tender age of 17, and had procured an even more minor position as an intern for the British government a mere month after graduation. And yet he rose rapidly through the ranks, doing and earning favors, until at the age of 23 he was sent on a private matter, Doctor Watson, to Czechoslovakia under the guise of a violinist named Martín Kolík.
Within the first week he had met and fallen madly in love with a girl named Aliette, and within two months he'd married her. However, just after she became pregnant Mycroft's assignment ended. He claimed that his orchestra was going on tour, that he had to leave, and was able to return just under a year later to his wife and new daughter, Máren. Driven by guilt and protectiveness for his new family, Mycroft told Aliette his true identity and occupation.
"I still have a scar from where her fingernails got me on the neck," smiled Mycroft fondly.
The couple had, however, agreed never to tell Máren about her father's occupation, in the fear that in a moment of childish trust she might let slip to someone how integral he was to the British government.
"Not to mention the fact that Sherrinford's people were following me very closely at the time," Mycroft added significantly, and Sherlock nodded at John's side, ignoring the doctor's inquiring looks.
Years went by, and Mycroft continued to take breaks from his "tours" to visit his family, teaching Máren how to play the piano, buying her gifts, generally doting on her in the way that any father doted on his only precious daughter. It was obvious from the shine of his eyes that Mycroft loved them very, very much. It was odd for John to think about: someone in the Holmes family having something even loosely resembling a normal family life.
As he spoke, Mycroft supplied photographs of his wife and daughter from a sealed folder stamped with the word CLASSIFIED in bold red letters. Aliette was pretty in a conventional way, with big brown eyes and golden hair, but Máren was beautiful in her innocence and obvious joy in all things. There were many photographs of Mycroft and Máren together at a piano, the girl ranging from a tot of only two to a lovely young girl of her early teen years.
When Máren was twelve years old, the man named Sherrinford discovered Mycroft's family, and hinted very heavily that he would soon be blackmailed for information on the British government's inner-workings. There was only one course of action that could be taken to protect Aliette and Máren.
Interrupting with surprise evident, John asked: "You staged your own death?" but frowned when Sherlock thoughtfully shook his head.
"An unexpected death would make them want to stay in the house, for the memories; people are nostalgic like that," explained the detective. "Suicide leaves hard feelings, regret, and guilt. Would you want to live in the house where someone you held in such high esteem had killed themselves, for apparently no reason?"
John had to admit that he would not.
"It wasn't for no reason at all," said the elder Holmes with regret heavy in his voice. "Aliette and I were very careful in planning my suicide, to give Máren whatever warning we might be able to give, soften the blow. I developed arthritis in my hands. I made a show of trying and failing to play the violin Máren had never seen me touch before in her life. In the last six weeks I had with my family I didn't get a chance to hold them the way I wished to, to assuage their fears for the future or make any plans. I instead threw fits of rage and despair, isolating myself from the women I loved, and finally staging my suicide by prescription drugs. Máren was meant to have been at a friend's house, but her friend had fallen ill and she came home early to find me on the bathroom floor. I will never forget her scream. The poor girl was only thirteen.
"If ever there was one thing I would have changed about my daughter, it was her unspeakable innocence. She was so naive, so sweet, delicate, and unassuming. It was partly my own fault; I wanted to protect her from the horrors of the world, and then was the one to subject her to those horrors."
And now the mysterious Sherrinford was dead, at long last (he sounded a bit like Mycroft's personal Moriarty in John's opinion), and the elder Holmes wanted his family back, to start a new, honest life with him in London. However, realizing that there might be hard feelings (Sherlock scoffed) if Máren had been kept in the dark for twenty-three years and was suddenly expected to live with or near the man who had lied to and abandoned her, Mycroft thought it better not to approach her out of the blue. Hence, Sherlock and John's involvement with the situation to prepare her emotionally for the shock. Sherlock would introduce himself as her uncle (obviously), and John would do all of the talking from then until they took her and Aliette to see Mycroft in London, where he would then explain everything and beg forgiveness.
Huffing at his brother's blatantly human weakness, Sherlock had accepted "the case," but only on the condition that he finished their current case first, and that his brother pay all expenses for them while they track the women down. Mycroft instantly agreed to all conditions set before him, supplying a photograph of Máren at fourteen for them to use as reference, and that alone seemed to make Sherlock realize just how desperate the elder was to have his family back. They left the office in silence, stopped for a late breakfast per John's demands, and commenced to the flat of the murdered woman's ex-boyfriend, "the hateful musician" as Sherlock called him.
The Irishman's flat was tiny and messy, littered with papers and boxes and one battered soft-shell guitar case. Sherlock sneered at it all and even gave a stray music stand a nudge with his foot while they waited for Connor O'Neal to finish whatever he was occupied with in the other room. "I hate musicians," he said for probably the fiftieth time since the case began with one lip curled. "Fame and notoriety are both of the things that are wrong with the world and should be immediately eliminated."
"Why do you say that?" asked John dully, as he already knew Sherlock's answer.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "When someone becomes famous, they seem to come under the impression that the world revolves around them. They're selfish, demanding, and shamelessly narcissistic. Hand me my phone."
"Hand. Me. My phone."
"But Sherlock, you just -"
"John, if I wanted a monologue from you I would have asked. Phone."
John very valiantly suppressed the urge to hand Sherlock his fist instead, and reached into the man's coat pocket for his phone, handing it over with a scowl. Seeming to sense his friend's irritation, the detective shot him a flash of a smile before turning full attention to the device in his hands.
After a few moments of silence between the pair, O'Neal entered the sitting room. "Sorry, it's a bit of a mess," he apologized, stooping quickly to scoop up stray papers and stack them in a nearby box. "I'm in the middle of moving out, actually. Goin' back to Dublin to...you know...be with me dad." He shifted from foot to foot and glanced out the window, curly red hair and beard looking as though they were on fire in the light pouring in.
Sherlock put his phone away and set his iron stare on the man before him. "Really? To be with your father? And then whose ashes are those on the mantlepiece? Not to mention a letter to this Mar person on the desk, going on about how much you can't wait to see them again."
O'Neal flushed a deep red and shifted again, whipping the knit cap from his head and twisting it between his hands. "Okay, I shouldn't have lied. Me dad's been dead for two years. It's just...I didn't kill Katherine, okay? It's been six months since we broke up; I've dated other people, I'm over her."
Either he was a very good actor, or John believed that O'Neal was telling the truth. The doctor watched Sherlock as he leafed through more papers on the desk, possibly trying to find evidence of an arranged hit, and suddenly the detective froze. "John," he said in a low voice, nodding him over and holding out a letter with a photograph attached: a photograph of a pretty young woman in her early twenties, with dark blonde hair, gray eyes, and a slightly protuberant nose.
"I - but - Sherlock, that's her!" gasped John, "it's Máren!"
John's exclamation seemed to capture O'Neal's attention. "What about her?" he asked warily. "She didn't have anything to do with this either, if that's what you're thinking! She lives in Dublin; how could she have done it?"
"She couldn't," replied Sherlock tersely, "and neither could you, because you spend an hour on the phone with one Máren Kolíková every night between the hours of six and seven, after she gets home from work, without allowing anything interrupt you, and Katherine Lacey was murdered at precisely 6.15 in the evening. Phone records would back you up. Not to mention neither of you have the funds available to hire a hit man, even if the two of you were in on it together."
John was suddenly suppressing the urge to point out that Connor O'Neal had experienced a brief flare of fame three years ago, in which his song "Falling Slowly" made him quite well-known through Britain and the United States, and he went on two successful tours through Europe and America's smaller venues. John didn't much feel like pointing it out, however, because he was actually a bit of a fan of the Irishman's at the time of his success, but like everyone else he faded into obscurity in John's mind. Plus, he seemed to be honest enough.
"Her name isn't Kolíková, though," said Connor, puzzled. "It's, er, Sz-Szczy-Szczyová?"
He obviously had no idea how to say the name. Neither did John, or, apparently, Sherlock, judging by the pissed-off expression on his usually composed face.
"Right," said the irate detective, a bit waspishly. "We're going to need to know where she lives."
O'Neal went white as a sheet and started shaking his head rapidly. "No, you don't need to! Mar didn't do anything, I swear!" he said, clearly upset. Sherlock rolled his eyes.
"Yes, we do. Now give us the address or we'll arrest you for obstruction of justice."
John sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. It was going to be one of those days, then.