He became aware simultaneously of the searing pain in his side and the straps that restrained him, though it took every iota of concentration to interpret the signals. Four ribs cracked, one broken. So much for the soft landing. Alive, not in hospital, from the sound of it. A point on his arm burned. Recent injection? Brain coming around. Good. More data needed. Opening eyes.
Fluorescent lights. Cement. An underground car park. Exactly where he was supposed to be. He breathed a sigh of relief, despite the pain that knifed through his side.
A dark, impeccably dressed figure loomed over him.
"All right, Sherlock?"
Mycroft's aspirants lacked their usual crispness. Burned his tongue on too-hot tea, probably. Careless. No, distracted. Stressful business, this. Not that his brother ever bothered getting his hands dirty, or any other part of him.
"I've just leapt off a building into a lorry filled with not particularly soft rubbish. How do you think I'm feeling?"
"Your wounds are superficial," said Mycroft, clumsily releasing the restraints that bound Sherlock to the trolley. "You already knew that, I suppose."
Sherlock sat up, wincing. "Moriarty?"
"Dead. Or if he wasn't, he certainly is now, thanks to your little friend in the morgue. Charming girl."
Mycroft tutted. "Sloppy, dear brother. One was a lady."
"Mycroft." Sherlock's tone was warning.
"One dead. One in custody. One surrounded and unable to complete his mission, despite his rather dogged devotion to duty. Somewhat embarrassing, that. You may recall former agent Nielsen? Apparently Moriarty gave him, as they say in his native patois, an offer he couldn't refuse - revenge for his alleged defenestration from 221B."
Sherlock pushed himself to his feet. His head was still spinning, but his thoughts were nearly up to their usual speed. "Empty road-side flat at 224."
"Very good. You're not considering anything impetuous, are you?"
"I'm going to see if Nielsen's got any better at landing."
Mycroft tapped the end of his umbrella impatiently on the cement. "As delightful as my people would find it to have to clean up after a second broken body in the same day, you're in no state to throw anything out the window, much less an armed former-CIA agent. He won't be surprised by cleaning spray a second time."
Sherlock sighed, ignoring the pain in his ribs. "If I promise to shoot him, may I go?"
Mycroft gave him a thin smile. "If you must."
Sherlock seized his brother's upper arm. Mycroft tensed reflexively but met Sherlock's gaze. Sherlock's colourless eyes were blazing with something that Mycroft hadn't been allowed to see since Sherlock was a small boy.
Dead. All dead now. His eyes told him this, but his brain - the brain suspected, the brainknew, that there had to be more. Moriarty had been his syndicate's public face, mercurial, violent, terrifying. The name people uttered only under extreme duress. He was clever, no one doubted that. But Moriarty hadn't the discipline to run any sort of enterprise. He enjoyed the game for the game's sake, and where was the profit in that? The Woman had known. I think he just likes to cause trouble. Now that's my kind of man. She had tried to tell him that Moriarty was the luminescent lure that dazzled your eyes. Somewhere in the surrounding dark there lay an enormous, gaping maw, ready to devour him and everyone he loved. But without the lure, there was no telling where that danger lay.
There was nothing for it. He would have to become a lure himself to draw the hidden monster from its lair. It would be watching John and Mrs. Hudson, certainly, watching for any sign of deceit. It would be monitoring Lestrade. All communications would be watched, intercepted, analysed. He and Mycroft only communicated in person these days.
He needed more data. He had to see the monster. Observe its actions. Observe it observing.
Where else? Somewhere they all would be. A wide open space full of concealing architecture where the monster could watch from a distance. He opened his brother's wardrobe in search of a black suit. It wouldn't do to be improperly dressed at one's own funeral.
Their tears are genuine enough, though the Ice Man is as unreadable as ever. Not to worry. One can discern volumes in the unreadable. Just ask any Joyce scholar. The Matriarch is no more helpful. It's obvious she doesn't believe her younger son is truly dead, but that has nothing to do with her famous brain and everything to do with unconsciously re-enactingla Pietà. The Virgin himself won't be making an appearance just yet. There are too many of us present. He probably already knows who's here and who's not.
The priest says the usual words one says under the circumstances. Their gazes slide off me. I'm a family friend. Or one of the peon clients. The police don't care. They're too wound up in their own betrayals and petty intrigues. The Bachelor looks like someone's cut out his kidneys. The Virgin's a cold bastard, all right, but that's hardly news. Morgue Mouse's eyes are dry. They would be. That was the Joker's fatal mistake - underestimating the Mouse. I don't. I know how those sharp little teeth can gnaw through the walls of our maze. Her gaze falls on me, but her eyes slide off because I am obviously not competition.
The coffin hits the bottom of the grave, and I know he's watching. He doesn't know my face, of course. He's meant to take me for one of the Ice Man's colleagues. The Matriarch leans on Ice Man like a bilious walrus. I shake her hand and tell her how terribly sorry I am for her loss. She nods, unseeing. While they mill about awkwardly, I slip behind a nearby mausoleum and retrieve my case from the hedge surrounding it. I assemble my rifle in the lee of a nearby yew, taking care that the suppressor is firmly attached, and hoist myself to the gently sloping roof, which is protected from outside eyes by the spreading chestnut branches. The Matriarch, Mouse, and Ice Man have migrated toward the line of black cars. The Landlady speaks with the Bachelor for a moment before leaving him alone at the stone. Through my sight, I see the Bachelor looking reproachfully at the grave. His lips move. Is the Virgin watching?
I lift my face from the sight, sweeping the grounds for any flicker of movement.
There. Only fifty metres away. He's shielded from Bachelor's view by an oak. Can he read the Bachelor's lips, I wonder? He wouldn't need to.
Don't be dead.
Easier done than said. At least, until I have him in my sights.
Part of me wonders if the Virgin will show himself to his Bachelor, but no, he can't. Not until the Bachelor's gone home and not until he's found my hiding place.
Ah, so he has. Clever Virgin.
He smiles fiercely, and I fix the scope on him. The telltale laser gives me away, but at more than fifty meters, killing him is more important than surprising him, and I've lost the element of surprise. The Virgin leaps to safety, and my shot strikes an angel adorning a grave behind him. I daresay the marble figure has a real reason to weep now.
He's behind a long, low granite edifice with the surname Gregson etched into it. He will have to move one way or the other. I fix my sight to the right. I'm not too bothered- if he scurries out to the left, then I'll get him behind the next grave. I wish I could say that this revenge is sweet, but it's not. It's just business, like everything else. Though I can't say there isn't a bit of deliciousness in burying a man's corpse in what would have been his false grave. But I get ahead of myself. Surely the Virgin wouldn't reveal himself to me without a trick or two up his sleeve, especially when he's wearing one of Ice Man's suits.
And here it comes. He's standing with his hands raised. He wants to parley? He wants to see me face to face. That sort of thing worked with the Joker. Ate it right up. However, I'm not the Joker. I'm the Deuce.
I fix the Virgin's head in the crosshairs, and my eyes blur. It happens occasionally when I've been staring through the scope for too long. I screw my eyes shut for a moment and breathe in the moment of finally putting an end to this messy, costly spat, but when I open them again, he's gone.
He's just ducked behind another grave. I lower my rifle so I can watch for his next move. I have all the time in the world.
I wait for five minutes.
The line of black cars is gone. The grave is nearly filled in.
When the sun begins to set over the empty cemetery, I slip from the roof and land in front of the mausoleum, rifle at the ready. I never take my eyes from the place where the Virgin disappeared. A dove flaps noisily up from the row of graves, and I flinch.
My focus is gone, as is my confidence that the Virgin is still hiding somewhere and hasn't disappeared into thin air.
I don't know how he's defeated me, but I will find him, and this business will be concluded.
I stop in front of the weeping angel statue. Odd, there's no mark from my bullet.
And wasn't it behind the Gregson tombstone?
I turn towards the Virgin's former hiding place to see if there can actually be two of the ugly things in such close proximity.
A cold hand clamps down on my shoulder, and I
He heard voices. Indistinct at first, but eventually intelligible. Lord, but he was getting sick of this.
"Broken rib, certainly, but the lacerations and contusions on his face aren't new. Probably set upon by a gang of thugs. You say you found him at the East Finchley cemetery?"
"I was putting flowers on my husband's grave, and there he was, the poor thing." A woman's voice. Faint Scottish accent. Rather past middle age. "Will he recover?"
"I should think so, madam. He could awaken at any moment." Stuffy. Trying to sound older and posher than he really was. A bit of Cockney in his vowels.
"Good. I'll see to him."
Sherlock nearly smiled. That tone brooked no argument. Still, the man tried.
"I cannot recommend that course of action. You have no idea who this man is; he could be a dangerous criminal. Besides, he should be in hospital where he can be looked after."
"Nonsense. He looks a bit eccentric, I'll grant you, but he was dressed all in black at a graveyard. Clearly he's lost someone, the dear. Now, he looks to be just about the same size as my late husband. He'll look far more respectable in my dear Michael's clothes than those awful things they wear in hospitals. Now, won't you stay for a cup of tea?"
"I'm afraid not, madam, I'm due in the operating theatre in a half hour. Here is my card in case you would like me to take custody of the patient."
"Bless you, Dr. Stamford. I've no idea what I would have done if you hadn't come along."
"All in a day's work."
When the door closed behind them, Sherlock opened his eyes. He was in 221B. But it wasn't 221B. It was simultaneously darker and brighter and filled with old-fashioned furniture - reproductions from the look of them. He rose, grimacing, from the velvet sofa upon which they'd laid him and went to the window. But instead of cars and lorries speeding past on clean black asphalt, below was a mess of horse-drawn vehicles on filthy, rubbish-strewn streets.
Someone was playing an elaborate hoax on him. He glanced at the sky, hoping to see telephone lines or a jet overhead, or something to give lie to the apparent ruse, but there were only sooty clouds. He made a cursory circuit of the room, looking for anything out of place, but it was all impeccably, undeniably of the Victorian period, right down to the oil lamps.
The stair squeaked, and Sherlock hastily returned to the sofa and closed his eyes. The woman's delicate footfalls were somewhat heavier. He hoped it was tea. It was, from the fragrance that tantalised his nose.
When she had set the heavy tea tray down on the table nearest the sofa, he groaned and made a show of his eyes fluttering open. He allowed his eyes to come to focus on the woman, who was white-haired and softly wrinkled, but whose sharp eyes and movements spoke of shrewdness and quickness.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"221B Baker Street," she said gravely, pouring a cup of tea, "and you've taken a few knocks, I'm afraid. Were you attacked?"
Sherlock didn't need to feign a wince as he sat up. "I must have been, but I don't remember what happened."
"Oh dear. I suppose ringing for the police would serve no purpose."
Sherlock's heart gave another funny knifelike twist as he thought of Lestrade. "I suppose not," he said faintly.
She offered him a cup of tea, which he took, gratefully. "To whom do I owe my rescue?" he asked, sipping.
"My name is Martha Hudson," she said.
He nearly spat out his tea. "Hudson?" he repeated, feeling immediately stupid for having done so.
"Aye," she said, eyes narrowing. "Does the name mean something to you?"
Again the twist. His eyes stung, but he was able to blink back the absurd physiological response. Of course a Hudson had previously owned 221B. How else would a flighty thing like his Mrs. Hudson have come to own a building if not through inheritance? "A friend," he managed to choke out in a semblance of his normal voice. "I beg your pardon, Mrs. Hudson. I suppose I've not wholly recovered from my ordeal."
Her suspicious expression melted into motherly concern. "Of course you haven't, dear. Here, let me fetch you some clothes. You'll feel more like yourself once you've got on a proper tie," she said, giving him a warm smile.
He didn't need to be told twice.
The suit fitted well enough - fine brown wool with a tiny black check woven in - but the bowler hat made him feel a bit silly. However, Mrs. Hudson clapped her hands with pleasure and said he was the very image of her dear Michael when they were courting,
"Though what a pity you should have dark hair. You'd look well with red hair, I think. But no matter. I do hope you'll stay until you feel better. The flat's vacant at present, I'm afraid. You don't happen to know anyone who's in need of more permanent lodgings, do you?" she asked, giving him a meaningful look.
"You don't even know my name yet!" he exclaimed, surprised by her generosity and more than a bit flustered by it.
"You'll be correcting that soon enough, I'm sure," she said.
"Of course," he said. "I mean, my name is Sherlock Holmes."
"Very good, Mr. Holmes. Now, what do you think is a fair price for the rooms?"
"I - I haven't any income yet, Mrs. Hudson," he said, lowering his eyes. However his gaze fell on the card that Dr. Stamford left. St. Bart's. He worked at St. Bart's! His mind, benumbed somewhat by the experience of having inexplicably appeared well over a hundred years in the past, suddenly grasped the advantages that someone with twenty-first century scientific knowledge would have in a less sophisticated time. He found himself grinning at Mrs. Hudson. "If you would be so good as to lend me Dr. Stamford's card, I should have employment by the end of the dayl"
"That's the spirit, young man!" she exclaimed. "What would you like for your supper tonight, fish or chicken?"
Sherlock thought for a moment about what would be the least likely to be dangerously spoilt or polluted. "Chicken, I think. Mrs. Hudson, you are a marvel!"
She blushed prettily. "Some'd call me funny for my ways," she demurred, "but I've never been wrong about a man yet."
Such sights! Such sounds! So many new professions to learn and identify! For the first time, Sherlock was not bored as he strode down Baker Street. As he picked his way gingerly across the filthy cobbles, he spotted a glint of silver. A shilling! Not knowing what year it was, he wondered if it was a lot by the day's standards. Standards. Of course! The sight of a filthy boy with shoes far too big for him stopped him in his tracks.
"Standard!" called the urchin, waving a newspaper aloft. "Grisly murder in Whitechapel! Scandal in Parliament!"
"You, boy!" said Sherlock, handing the lad his shilling. The boy gave him a crafty look as he handed him the paper.
"Ain't got enough change," he said, handing Sherlock sixpence.
He was lying, but Sherlock didn't care. "Keep it," he said. "And if you want more like that, call on Mr. Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street a week from today at nine o'clock sharp, and bring both of your brothers and your little sister along. And, now that I think about it, your dog too. Got that?"
"'Ow did you know about-"
"Got that?" repeated Sherlock.
The lad's eyes widened. "Right, guv. 'Olmes on Baker Street. Nine sharp next Tuesday."
"Good lad," he said, unable to keep from smiling as he set off down Baker Street, eyes hungry for telling details and modes of dress.
First to St. Bart's to get a job in a chemistry lab by "inventing" something impressive. Then to Scotland Yard to introduce himself to the powers that be and see about the murder in Whitechapel. Perhaps he'd find someone to share the Baker Street flat with him, if the opportunity presented itself. He threw back his head and laughed. He was on fire!
A tall man stepped purposefully out of the blue police box that blinked into existence on a quiet street in Leadworth. He rapped briskly on the door of a nearby home and straightened his already impeccably straight lapels. The door opened to reveal a red-haired woman who looked rather cross. Her expression quickly turned to one of surprise.
"Doctor!" she exclaimed, pulling the visitor into a quick hug. "What're you doing here?"
"It's your birthday, Amelia Pond," he said, giving her a peck on the cheek. "I wouldn't forget your birthday, would I?"
"You've never been here for any of them."
"That doesn't mean I forgot," he said, grinning.
Amy tried to look disapproving, but failed. "You'd better come in, then," she said. "Rory's just popped 'round the shop for cake."
"What sort of cake?"
"Why, you're planning to leave if it's chocolate?"
A woman who was crowned with a riot of golden-brown curls joined Amy in the doorway, "He comes out in a rash if it's chocolate and he hasn't had his tablets, " she said, giving him a smile. "I thought I might find you here."
"River!" he exclaimed. "What a lovely surprise! Not that you aren't lovely as well, Pond, but it's less of a surprise to find you at your home in your usual timeline on your birthday."
Amy snorted. "All right, all right. Come in. Have a beer or something."
"I'll have something."
"Fine. More wine, River?"
"Always, love," said River, handing her an empty glass.
When Amy had shuffled off to the kitchen, the Doctor met River's eyes seriously.
"I'm almost afraid to ask, but why are you not surprised to see me here today?"
River gave him a coy smile. "It's Amy's birthday, of course."
"I've never been at any of her birthdays before."
"Her birthday's never been a critical timeline nexus before."
The Doctor frowned. "Has something happened?"
"You could say that." She opened a laptop computer that sat on Amy's kitchen table and pulled up an article on the Daily Mail's website.
"Disgraced Detective's Dupe Dead in Devon. Catchy writing, that."
River frowned at him. "That 'dupe' is Doctor John Watson."
The Doctor frowned and looked at the screen again, his eyes snapping rapidly between the date at the top of the page and the article. "But that's impossible!"
"It ought to be, yes. But there you see it."
"'Captain John H. Watson, MD, late of Her Majesty's army, died on Wednesday morning at an Armed Forces Centre in Plymouth. The cause of death has not yet been determined. Dr. Watson achieved fame and notoriety from his well-known blog about the cases of amateur sleuth Sherlock Holmes, who jumped to his own death several years ago after being exposed as a fraud. Dr. Watson is survived by his parents, John and Agatha Watson, his sibling, Harry' etc. etc. Again, I say this is impossible. Sherlock Holmes never would have let this happen."
"I know, sweetie, I know," said River, patting his cheek. "I had a chat with the brother."
"No, silly. Sherlock's."
"Oh, the important one. Just walked into his office, did you?"
"With a bit of help from a spare vortex manipulator I had lying around, yes. I thought that blinking into existence in front of his eyes might make him keener to answer my questions, and after he called off the men with guns, he did. It seems he helped Sherlock disappear, as you and I know from the stories that Watson was supposed to write in this timeline but never did. It turns out that on the day of his ersatz funeral, poof!"
"He's not the 'poof' type," said the Doctor. "More the toss-his-scarf-and-flounce-off type."
River's lips quirked. "No comment. In any event, they scoured the cemetery, but all they ever found was this." She held up her phone, which contained a photograph of a single bullet. "It was shot from a high-velocity sniper rifle, and their firearms identification team determined that the gun was probably a custom job. But look at the tip of the bullet."
"Looks rather flat."
"Exactly, but the forensics report came back negative."
"For blood, for traces of concrete, stone, anything. It's as though the bullet smashed itself against a wall of solid nothing."
"That is a puzzle," said the Doctor.
Amy chose this moment to reappear with a glass of wine that she handed to River and something fizzy and orange with an umbrella, which she handed to the Doctor.
"So what're we looking at? Ah, the case of the squashed bullet."
"That's the one," said the Doctor. "Flatter than a pancake. And I mean that statistically. A pancake has more surface variation than this."
"But the forensics evidence indicates that it didn't actually strike anything, or at least, nothing that left a trace or any sort of pattern in the metal."
"The intended target must've had one hell of a guardian angel," said Amy, taking a swig of her drink.
The Doctor opened his mouth to speak and abruptly closed it again.
"Oh my God," murmured River, peering over the Doctor's shoulder at the photograph.
"Blimey," whispered the Doctor in tones of awe. "You don't think-"
"But it can't be," said River. "Surely if the two were one and the same-"
"Sorry, who're we talking about?" asked Amy.
"Sherlock Holmes!" said the Doctor.
"The fake detective with the stupid hat?"
"He wasn't a fake," said River.
"And his hat was most definitely not stupid!" said the Doctor indignantly.
"All right, the real detective with the really cool hat. He died. Unless you think a Weeping Angel flew in and grabbed him when he jumped off St. Bart's."
"Short version," said River. "Sherlock Holmes's older brother is the Lord High Everything Else of the British government and helped Sherlock Holmes fake his death to draw out deadly assassins who were targeting his nearest and dearest. However, he disappeared before this could be revealed."
"How do you know all this?" asked Amy.
"Because this timeline is wrong. Sherlock and John are supposed to be having all sorts of new adventures - The Mazarin Scones, The Three Whatsits, The Devil's Bottom - but instead, Holmes never reappeared, and the chronicler of all these delightful tales is mysteriously and alliteratively dead," said the Doctor, gesturing at Amy's computer.
"I should have known you showing up on my birthday was a sign that the timeline's gone wonky," sighed Amy. "So are you lot staying for cake or not?"
The Doctor's expression softened. "I'll be back before you know it, Pond."
She gave him a wry look. "Where have I heard that promise before?"
He smiled and dropped a kiss on top of her head. "I couldn't avoid this point in time if I tried," he said. "And while I'm out, I'll see about getting a cake that won't make me come out in spots. Back in a tick!"
The door closed behind him, and Amy clinked her glass disconsolately against River's. "Always coming and going," she sighed.
River smirked. "And always too soon."
From the personal journal of Capt. John H. Watson, MD
Sherlock Holmes was playing a lively waltz on his violin the afternoon it all happened.
"Do you recognize the tune, Watson?"
"I can't say that I do, but I quite like it," I said, making a clumsy attempt to conduct.
"Perfectly understandable. It's from an operetta that won't be opening for several weeks yet. I trust you will be attending with me?"
"I daresay I shall, unless Mary objects. One must treat a lady nearing her confinement with great indulgence."
A frown flitted across his face. "That won't be for some time, will it?"
I laughed. "Any day now, old chap, John the Younger could make his appearance."
"I daresay you'll find the use of that epithet awkward if you are blessed with a daughter," said Holmes, squeaking his bow dissonantly over the strings to underscore his sudden discontent.
I put my hand on his shoulder. "Have you got a case at present?"
"All painfully elementary," he said, waving his bow dismissively before returning his violin to its case. "Atheleney Jones could solve them, but thanks to your case reports in The Strand, every cut-purse victim in London is convinced that his case is too complex for Scotland Yard, and comes to me first. I am inundated by tedium."
"You're a victim of your own success," I said, smiling. Holmes's black moods had been growing more frequent over the past months, but with their frequency came a blessed amelioration of intensity.
He lay down on the sofa with an air of tragedy. "I suppose I can't just expect to snap my fingers and summon a puzzle worthy of my skills." He snapped his fingers anyway, then lay back on the sofa and placed a cushion over his face.
To my surprise, the bell rang, and a few moments later Mrs. Hudson appeared in the doorway. "Pardon me, Mr. Holmes, but there's a strange man to see you. He doesn't have an appointment, but he's got a card that says he's with some peculiar branch of the police."
"Show him in, Mrs. Hudson," said Holmes, pulling the pillow from his face and sitting up. "Well, it's not every day that Mrs. Hudson uses the words 'strange' and 'peculiar' to describe a new client. This day may turn out to be of some interest after all."
The door opened to admit our visitor, and I could immediately see why Mrs. Hudson had found him odd. He was young, not yet thirty, tall, gaunt, and had an immensely broad forehead that was only partially concealed by an unkempt fringe. He had no hat or overcoat, and his trousers were cut so narrowly that it made him look even taller and thinner. The overall effect was that of a half-fledged crane, but there was something of the hunter in his lean posture, in the way he balanced his weight on his toes, as if ready to pounce.
I glanced at my friend to see what he made of this extraordinary person and was shocked to see that his face was ashen.
"Sherlock Holmes," said the man softly, with a smile that softened the intensity of his face. "It is very good to see you."
Holmes gripped the arm of the sofa and made an impressive show of staying upright, though it was clear to me that the poor man had experienced a shock. Rather than discomfit him by calling attention to his shock, I opened the spirit case, poured a measure of brandy, and handed it to him.
Holmes's hand was cold on mine as he took the glass, but I could see him summon his strength, and his expression returned to the cool, curious one I knew so well.
I turned my own gaze on our visitor once more, wondering what sort of person could bring about such a reaction in a man of such remarkable mental fortitude as my friend. Could this be the brother I had never met? Could Holmes have allowed me to be so mistaken in describing his brother as I had in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter? Mycroft and the Diogenes Club were two of my proudest extrapolations based on my friend's rare reminiscences of his past, and the lack of contradiction had led me, perhaps erroneously, to believe that I had guessed well.
Holmes gestured for both of us to sit and took a sip of brandy. "There have been times in the past few years that my life, prior to meeting Watson here, was so distant and ephemeral as to have been a fancy of mine. A dream. Yet before me stands a man whose zip trousers, elasticised socks, and post-New Romantic coiffure proclaim a not dissimilar origin to my own." His strange words and demeanour seemed so far away that I wondered if he were not under the effect of his particular vice. However, he caught my frown of disapproval, wordlessly deduced the cause, and let out a sharp bark of laughter.
"You know cocaine is legal here?" he asked our visitor, giving me a wry glance. "Watson doesn't approve, quite rightly, too. But boredom has found me here, as well."
The man gave my friend a penetrating look. "Is it only boredom?"
Holmes made a dismissive gesture and sat, crossing his legs insouciantly. "Irrelevant. Now, state your case."
Our visitor gave him a cockeyed grin. "What have you deduced so far?"
Holmes waved his hand in a gesture of feigned casualness. "Your clothes come from many different eras, which would suggest a chronologically peripatetic lifestyle, yet the entire effect is calculated to give an inoffensive, scholarly impression, as a doctor of philosophy. What's more, you have appeared in Victorian England, a period notable for its intricately codified social structure, without bothering to observe the most basic modes of dress, which indicates to me that you are not planning to stay for very long, presumably to meet with me and leave. While your manner is mild, I can see that you are a physically active man, also a clever one, possessed of technology far beyond our capability to understand, including that spanner-sized object in your left hand pocket. I conclude that you are a dangerous man, but one who intends us no immediate harm."
"Oh, is that all?" asked the man, whose grin had spread into an expression of absolute delight.
"No. The trace of lipstick on your cheek indicates that you have been with a woman recently. That you have failed to wipe it away completely suggests that you value her affection, suggesting some sort of long-term relationship, possibly romantic, possibly adversarial, probably something of both. Given the nature of your wanderings, one must conclude that she lives a similar lifestyle, though the bright colour suggests that she is, perhaps, a more quixotic creature than yourself."
"Very good, Mr Holmes!"
"Now, to the reason of your visit. You've just abruptly left a woman you adore to come here, so she sent you on an errand that you both consider to be of vital importance. She didn't come along with you, so clearly she's doing something else important. The relatively few traces of London on your shoes says that your first stop here was 221B Baker Street, which suggests that even given your distant origins, you've read my friend's work and knew where to find me. Your familiar manner leads me to conclude that you know my true origins, have deduced how I came from there, and now that you've found me, you wish to bring me back."
I confess that I found this somewhat bewildering, since Holmes had always intimated that his origins were in the country somewhere. Surely he could return at any time by any number of means. I was also having a great deal of difficulty parsing several of my friend's expressions, for he seemed to be describing impossible things, and my friend was nothing if not scientific.
"Spot on, Holmes," said our visitor. "Will you come?"
"That depends entirely on what I will find there," said Holmes.
"Ah," said the man, running his fingers through his messy hair. "Well, that depends on a number of factors. It's about John, you see."
Only someone who knew Holmes well would have recognized the shadow that passed over his face as powerful emotion. "Has something happened?"
"Possibly. Probably, in fact, if you don't return with me."
Fury bloomed in my breast, and I stood. "If you've come here to make threats-"
"Watson, sit and be quiet," said Holmes sharply, his hands at his temples.
Though the rebuke stung, I complied with Holmes's order. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again, he was looking at me with kindness. "Mrs. Hudson is too good to have mentioned it to you, but I arrived on her doorstep all those years ago under rather ignominious circumstances. I do not claim to understand how it happened, but I was transported from one time to another in the blink of an eye."
"Apt choice of words," murmured our visitor. When Holmes shot him a curious look, he continued. "You were attacked by a creature that feeds off a person's potential future, and in doing so, you were sent into the past. A person would have to have quite a future ahead of him in order to be sent this far back."
"How far?" I asked, feeling the unreality of the conversation wash over me.
"One hundred and thirty-one years," said Holmes.
My shock must have shown on my face. "My good man, you cannot be serious."
"Perfectly serious," said Holmes. "Your one fault, if it may be said to be a fault, my dear Watson, is that you were always reverential to the point of sycophancy regarding my methods. But I confess myself grateful for it, as your faith in my powers was the perfect cover for knowledge that I ought not to possess and for my occasional lapse. Yes, I too have made errors and misjudgements, no more so than the day we met, when I boasted that I had developed an assay for identifying bloodstains. If, in fact, I had made that particular secret of the future known, it would have changed the course of criminal history. Thankfully, the public that read of that foolish error believing it to be an exaggeration meant to demonstrate my expertise in chemistry, not evidence that I had brought knowledge from the distant future."
Holmes handed me his glass of brandy and I took a grateful swallow. My nerves were clanging like the inside of a bell as my mind went through my shared history with a man I thought I knew, searching for any evidence that these outlandish, impossible statements, spoken with the quiet simplicity of truth, could be fact. It explained the brother I'd never met and the secret club that I'd never been able to find in Pall Mall, his feeble gasp of politics and other contemporary subjects. The brandy warmed my insides, which had begun to feel rather cold. I turned to face our visitor.
"If Holmes has been away from his own time for so long, why is it that he must return now?"
"My own travels take me all over recorded time and beyond the stars," he said. "When I notice aberrations in history, they're often a sign that more sinister things are afoot. A single variation in history, no matter how innocuous-seeming, can spell disaster for an entire planet. I found myself in a timeline in which Holmes was meant to be solving crimes, but instead, a friend of his was dead. I knew I had to discover where, or rather, when Holmes had gone and bring him back in time to prevent the friend's death."
I felt a powerful wave of sympathy for that friend. "He thought you had disappeared without a trace?"
"He thought me dead," said Holmes. "In order to foil a criminal mastermind, I staged my own demise. In order to save my friend from his confederates, he had to believe it was so. However, I was taken from my time before I could reveal the ruse."
I confess that my storyteller's flame flickered in interest at his words. "I say, Holmes. How ever did you do it?"
He waved his hand dismissively. "It's a simple thing to make someone believe that one has fallen to one's death without having actually done so. But this is irrelevant. We are to leave immediately."
My heart gave a great twist in my breast. "Then you are to leave? Forever?" I looked beseechingly at our visitor. "Is he never to return?"
"Doctor Watson, you know Holmes's methods. You know his character. You have his index. You have the ingredients in this very flat for dozens of more stories."
"Confound the stories!" I shouted. "What good are they to me if I have lost my dearest friend?"
Our visitor's eyes softened, and was about to speak when Holmes raised his hand to forestall him. "My dear Watson," he said with great emotion, "you are about to embark on a great adventure of your own. You are hardly alone. You have a wife, and you're soon to have a child. You came to me at the time I most needed a friend, and I am indebted to you in so many ways, but I'm like a book from a library. I'm already overdue in my time, and I cannot remain on the shelf here."
"Are you never to return?"
Holmes looked inquiringly at the visitor, who shook his head. "It's not within my power to promise that," he said. "I'm so sorry."
"There we have it, Watson," said Holmes, whose pale eyes looked, to my shock, a bit damp. "I fear we must part as dear friends."
I took his extended hand, and drew him into an embrace. "I shall miss you, old fellow."
"And I you," he said. "My regards to Mary and your child, when it arrives."
"I shall name him for you."
"Nonsense. No child should be saddled with 'Sherlock.' Especially," he added, eyes smiling, "if she's a girl."
"Quite sensible," said our guest. "Now, do any of you know of a shop in the area that sells cakes?"
The Doctor rapped on the door of the Leadworth home, and an iron peephole flipped open.
"What's my daughter's name?"
"Melody Pond. I got your birthday cake!"
At this, a cacophony of clicks sounded from the door, as though dozens of locks were being turned.
"Get in, get in!" exclaimed Amy, looking quickly down the road in both directions. "I can't believe you went out in this just to get a stupid cake."
"Rory went out in this to get a stupid cake."
"Yeah, but we live here. We know the safe houses and bolt holes on the way. And besides, he's getting chocolate. You didn't see him at the rations office, did you?"
"No, this cake's from London."
She smiled. "Show off. Would you like some tea? I got extra for my birthday. Tastes all right if you add enough golden syrup."
"Tea would be lovely, thanks."
"Hello, sweetie." The familiar nickname dripped with acid. Time to face the music. Or the melody, anyway.
The Doctor looked sheepishly at River, who stood, arms crossed, in the doorway. Her expression was stormy, and her hair practically vibrated with fury.
"You've been busy," she said tightly.
"I brought Sherlock back to his original timeline," said the Doctor. "That's what we agreed was supposed to happen."
"Then we missed something. A large something."
"I might have noticed that something was amiss from the profusion of grenade craters and razor wire," snapped the Doctor. "What on earth could have happened?"
"Watson died. That's what happened."
"He looked fine when we left him. He was going to have a baby. Or his wife was, anyway."
River pulled out her mobile, opened a browser window, and handed the phone to the Doctor. "This Police Gazette from 1894 says that Watson was shot at close range in 221B Baker Street by an unknown assailant. Sherlock Holmes's violin was in his hand. There was no sign of a struggle or a break-in, and the case was never solved. It was speculated that it was some sort of revenge for killing of Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem, which was widely rumoured before the story was published. Posthumously, as it turns out. Since Watson's wife died in childbirth and he had no other family, his only child was sent to an orphanage where she died of typhoid. That means Sherlock's John Watson never existed."
"But if there was no John, blimey, there were no stories. Sherlock was never famous. He was never targeted. But that also means Sherlock's in this timeline somewhere. Is there any sign of him?"
"Anyone with half a brain's keeping their heads down until the gang war ends," said Amy, reappearing with several mugs of unpromising-smelling tea.
"I think I'm going to have to go back," said the Doctor.
"Are you mad? It's a red alert out there!" said Amy. "Besides, you've already got a non-chocolate cake. What else do we need?"
"I forgot your present," said the Doctor. "Won't be a moment, Pond. And don't worry. I can handle myself."
There was a large explosion from somewhere down the road that rattled the windows, followed by a frantic knocking at the door.
"That'll be Rory," said Amy, opening the peephole and looking through. She recoiled from whatever she saw. "What the hell do you want?"
"White male, about five eleven, left handed, played some football from the turn-out of his feet, favours stupid hats, and travels across space and time in a blue box," said a familiar voice.
Amy turned to the Doctor. "It's for you."
"Right," said the Doctor, snatching River's phone. "Back in a tick. Again."
I found the Virgin straight away. Seems he found himself an adoring doctor in this time as well who writes about him in magazines, and magazines are prized by those of us who spent time on the street for being slightly more impervious to rain than newspapers. I shouldn't have been shocked, though I was. I first laid eyes on him as they left for the opera or some other posh event. They looked beautiful, and their hair and clothes shone in the lamplight. The Joker always said the Virgin was on the side of the angels. Seems he had it backwards - the angels were on the Virgin's side. They sent him back to a time when he would be petted and praised as a miracle worker. I oughtn't to have been surprised to find the deck stacked against me. The angels and the Deuce had a falling out some time ago.
The first days were the hardest, but I made it through by clinging to the thought that if I could find some way to work through the hunger and the cold, I would rule this time. But I couldn't go about it rashly. I toyed with the idea of approaching the Virgin. After all, we were both of us in the same situation, but my pride held me back. I couldn't go to him in rags and demand to be treated as an equal. Besides, it wouldn't do to tip my hand so early on. If I wish to bring the city to its knees, sooner or later I must finish the job I started in the cemetery. Sooner, rather than later, I think, since it's only a matter of time until the Virgin hears about my work. I haven't been obvious. After the first few jobs, I didn't use my own rifle. Not that I could have- I didn't have a way to get more ammunition for it, at least, not until today.
I'll make my move tonight. He's been lying low these past few weeks, but I have the element of surprise. I have my rifle. And at long last, I have the new cartridges from Von Herder.
From the personal journal of Capt. (Ret.) John H. Watson, MD
After the passing of my beloved Mary, I engaged a nurse to care for my newborn daughter. I could not remain in the house for long periods. After I finished my rounds, I spent my afternoons and some evenings at my old rooms in Baker Street, which Mrs. Hudson had maintained exactly as they had been prior to my friend's abrupt departure. When given a choice of ghosts, I preferred the company of the one whose absence stirred hopes of his eventual return.
And so it was that I began to exorcise my grief with the creative exercise of writing down and editing my final adventures with Sherlock Holmes. They flowed out of me like water, until it came time to assemble Holmes's final adventure. Not finding enough compelling material in my own recollections, I consulted his index, and I came across the name of a man that I'd heard him describe as the most dangerous criminal of all time, though he was also marked as "deceased." Who better to dog Holmes's final steps than the most notorious criminal that ever was or will be? And so I began to consider the character of James Moriarty. I eventually decided to base him on an old professor of mine from medical college, and the story began to write itself.
The night I finished the manuscript for "The Final Problem," I toasted the successful conclusion of my writing career with a dram of whisky from the spirit case by the window. It was with a pang that I noticed Holmes's violin sitting on the window seat. I picked up the instrument from whose strings my friend had coaxed forth many an hour of sweet music, and tapped the bow against the strings. The musical jangle made me smile, and I lifted the violin to my chin and dragged the bow across the strings as I had so often seen him do. Such an unholy screech issued forth that I was immediately embarrassed by my fancy and would have returned the violin to its resting place, but the window shattered with an explosion of broken glass, tearing the shade to ribbons. I covered my head with my arms to protect myself from the shards.
I heard a howl of fury from outside the window, and I saw a strange green light from an upstairs window of Camden House, the empty property across the street. I instinctively pulled back from the broken window, and I heard the hurried footfalls of Mrs. Hudson running up the stairs.
"Doctor Watson! Are you hurt?"
"No," I said, brushing a thin line of blood from the back of my hand from a shallow laceration. "Just a few scratches from the glass."
I looked at the bookshelf across from the window and gasped when I saw something embedded in the wood. Upon closer look, I saw that it was a strange-looking bullet.
"I'll ring for the police," said Mrs. Hudson.
As she left the room, there came a great banging on the downstairs door.
"What on earth?" muttered the admirable lady, and she uttered a cry of alarm when she opened the door.
"Watson!" shouted a familiar voice. "I shall require your assistance forthwith!"
I ran to the landing and was astonished to see Sherlock Holmes dragging an unconscious body, ineffectually aided by Mrs. Hudson. A third person, the tall, crane-like stranger who had taken my friend away all those months ago, carried what I supposed was the gun that had shattered our window - a rifle of some sort, as black as night and far more terrifying. I have never seen its equal for malevolent appearance.
After sending Mrs. Hudson for tea, I helped Holmes carry the body up the stairs, and I laid it on the sofa while Holmes stood apart with my service revolver in his hand.
"Examine him," said Holmes. "But take every precaution for your safety."
Even unconscious he looked like a coarse fellow, despite the elegance of his evening dress. His dark, tangled hair hung over the upper half of his face, and a full beard obscured his lower features. "His pulse is strong and his breathing is regular," I said after a moment's examination. "Apart from the bump on his head, he's in perfect health. His heart - oh, I say!" I abruptly ceased speaking in utter shock at what I felt on the man's chest. I withdrew my hand as if it had touched fire.
"What is it?"
I gingerly pressed my fingers against my patient's abdomen, and my suspicions were confirmed. I untucked the shirt front and unfastened the shirt's lower buttons. I withdrew a sand-filled pad that had caused the body to appear and feel more massive than it truly was. I then reached up to the beard, which upon closer examination was revealed to be one of the finest false beards I have seen, with each hair tied painstakingly to a bit of translucent netting. Hoping my patient would remain unconscious, I gripped the edge of the beard nearest the hairline and pulled it free from my patient's face.
"This is no man," I said.
There was a stunned silence, in which a look of utter surprise appeared on my friend's face. His time-travelling associate was similarly moved.
"Blimey," he said, letting the rather wicked-looking firearm he carried fall to the floor. "Wasn't expecting that."
I brushed the hair back from the woman's face. "She's so young," I said, taken aback by the delicacy of the features that I had uncovered.
"Her age is irrelevant. Attempted murder is the least of her crimes," said Holmes coldly. "Bind her hands before she wakes."
I obeyed my friend, despite my own misgivings. Surely there must be some mistake. Perhaps the poor girl had been forced to disguise herself as the criminal in order to be caught. I had scarcely finished my knots when her eyes fluttered open, revealing them to be a rich brown. Her eyes focused almost immediately, and I began to feel uneasy. There was a quick, analytical intelligence in those eyes, and I saw in her glances that she knew her disguise was gone, she was surrounded, and that there was no use in struggling.
"I suppose I ought to thank you," she said to Holmes. Her voice was low and rich, with the melodic suggestion of an Irish accent. "I do despise mistakes."
"You would have shot a man in cold blood," said my friend.
"Naturally. As would any of you, under the proper circumstances," she said, not bothering to conceal her contempt. "As our dear departed Joker would have said, 'Boring.' But the crux of the matter is that I would have shot the wrong man, and for preventing that eventuality, I thank you." She gave a slight incline of her head, as though she were a great lady acknowledging someone beneath her standing. "Now, I know all of your faces, save one." Her eyes settled on the tall, slender stranger. "What are you?"
The man smiled. "I'm the Doctor."
She laughed, wincing when she remembered her head wound. "Dear me," she said to Holmes, "You do collect doctors, don't you?"
"Since we're doing introductions, mind telling us who you are?" asked the Doctor.
"No one of consequence," she said. "You can call me Viola, I suppose."
I could see Holmes's eyes lose focus as he searched his memory for the information he sought. "Moran," he said at last.
She smiled. "Very good, Mr. Holmes."
"Watson, if you would be so good as to look up the name in my index?"
I pulled out the "M" volume, which was quite prodigious, and flipped past Mathews, Merridew, and finally, Moran. There was only one name. "Colonel Sebastian Moran," I read. At Holmes's nod, I read aloud his list of accomplishments, which were many, and that he had disappeared from his tent on a wild game hunt in India, presumed dead. "He had a very distinguished military career," I commented. "How sad to see such a life end in its prime."
"Be so good as to read my notes on the following page," said Holmes.
I turned the page and read. "Probable link between Moran's disappearance and a rise in assassinations under curious circumstances, the most notable being the death of the Honourable Ronald Adair of 427 Park Lane. Unique weapon."
"He was cheating at cards," said Miss Moran. "He always said he'd prefer death to dishonour."
My disapproval must have shown on my face, because she smiled at me. "I was only doing what I was hired to do. It's no easy thing for a woman to make her own way here."
Holmes's eyes were fixed on her. "You knew of Sebastian Moran, did you not?"
"You took the name of one of the finest shots in London, no this didn't happen by chance. I warn you, attempting to deceive me will only make me cross."
"What makes you think I'm not simply trying to make you cross?"
I hastily turned a chuckle into a cough when Holmes scowled at me.
"What I don't understand is why you're trying to kill Holmes at all," I said.
"Of course you don't understand," said Holmes. "She's not of this time. She's a contemporary of mine and a colleague of the late unlamented Moriarty. It was she who organized the syndicate and profited from Moriarty's ostentation. ss. It was she who pursued me the day I was attacked, and she who pursues me still out of revenge."
"Revenge for what?" I asked.
"For killing the head of her organisation, for this Miss Viola Moran is no less than number two to the late James Moriarty!"
Clearly Holmes expected more of a reaction to this revelation than he received. Miss Moran looked bored, though I could tell she was watching my reaction closely.
I met her eyes. "There really is no need to kill my friend," I said.
"That's a dense statement, even for you Watson. Of course she must destroy me in order to build her criminal enterprise without interference," said Holmes.
"I thought you had returned to your own time."
"He did," said the Doctor, "but your death in this time threw a large and complicated instrument into the works."
I stared at my friend. "You travelled back through time to save me?"
"You, your descendants, the thousands of innocent people who will die in international gang wars if this woman is allowed to run loose," said Holmes, looking coldly at Miss Moran.
She looked distinctly unimpressed. "Very well. You've captured me. It was very well done. If only we all knew what the future would bring instead of having to rely of planning and deduction. Now, what are you going to do with me?"
The Doctor looked at her thoughtfully. "That's a bit of a poser. We could give her to Scotland Yard. Her weapon alone would secure a murder conviction. We could give her to MI6 in your time. She might be convinced to provide information on her terrorist clients. We might even summon the Teselecta to render judgement and punishment. We're old friends. I've got them on speed-dial."
"You could let me go," she suggested.
"Not bloody likely," snapped Holmes.
I winced at my friend's use of profanity in front of a lady, but she didn't seem to notice. "Your doctor friend is right. Had I known you'd left this time for good, I wouldn't have made an attempt on your life. I've no reason to wish your friend dead."
"We've all seen your real face," said Holmes. "I hope you'll pardon my scepticism of your motives."
Miss Moran laughed merrily. "What possible difference could that make? You and the Skinny Doctor will be leaving this time, and the Moustache Doctor has no reason to interfere with me. Unless, of course, I invite him to."
I self-consciously smoothed my moustache and cleared my throat.
"There is the matter of the Honourable Ronald Adair," said the Doctor.
"I can provide whatever information the police require in order to see that the man responsible for his killing is brought to justice," said Miss Moran.
"And you?" asked Holmes contemptuously.
"I was simply the murder weapon," she demurred. "But despite the growth market in contract killing, I'd rather find a more appropriate use for my talents."
"What talents are those?" I asked, ignoring the derisive noises my companion was making.
"Observation," she said. "Disguise. Developing useful contacts. Hiding in plain sight."
"Masterminding criminal enterprises," said Holmes.
"I had no other choice. I didn't have the money to stand for Parliament and I look really dreadful in a business suit," said Miss Moran.
This time, even my friend's lips twitched. Miss Moran may have lacked moral fibre, but she had charm in abundance. Her eyes sparkled attractively, and I confess I found her quite agreeable, despite my grave misgivings over her choice of profession.
"If we carry on listening to this woman, we'll have no scruples left," said the Doctor, smiling.
"Am I the only one here who objects to murder and attempted murder?" asked Holmes in a voice that in any other man might have been characterized as petulant.
"Not at all, Holmes," said the Doctor. "But I would like to point out that one of my best friends is a former assassin."
"Is that so?" said Holmes tightly.
"Oh yes, and serving time in at least one timeline for having murdered me, though in another we're married. Funny thing, time. It can make the best and worst of us."
At this juncture, Mrs. Hudson arrived with tea and poured it neatly into her best china. Miss Moran leaned forward, wafted the smell towards herself, and sighed appreciatively.
"I suppose it would be too much to ask for a cup," she said regretfully.
"It would," said Holmes tightly, handing the Doctor a cup and saucer with more vehemence than necessary.
"I say, Holmes -"
"No," he said in a quelling voice. "I have only just saved you and countless others from a violent death. I will not take tea with your would-be murderer."
I caught the Doctor's eye, and he shook his head, warning me not to press the issue, so I sat in the wing chair opposite Holmes's and waited for him to bring me my tea.
Holmes threw back his cup of tea savagely, gulping it down heedless of the temperature, glaring at Miss Moran all the while. The Doctor and I sipped ours as quickly as manners allowed.
"I have decided," announced Holmes, "precisely what should be done with Miss Moran. She is to be left in the streets without her weapon or her beard. I shall put my Irregulars on the case of whispering to all and sundry that Colonel Sebastian Moran failed to deliver on a contract and cite this accident as proof. She is to be left with nothing, with worse than nothing: with nothing. With bugger all."
I narrowed my eyes at Holmes. Either what he said made no sense, or it made no sense and was breathtakingly rude.
"No, Watson," he said, belatedly holding up a hand to forestall my comments, "I have quite made up my mind. And what's more, I have made up my mind. I will not be moved."
I assumed it was belated shock from my near-death experience that made the room swim, but then I realised that Holmes was swaying alarmingly. I nearly commented on this, but my own eyelids began to feel very heavy. I closed them for only a moment.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself face to face with a frantic Mrs. Hudson. "Doctor Watson, thank goodness!" she exclaimed. "What has happened?"
My mind was in a fog, but I found myself saying my friend's name.
"Mister Holmes is in a bad way," she said, pointing to where my friend lay on the floor, his elbows akimbo and sticking up at odd angles. I could see a pool of saliva forming on the carpet next to his mouth. "And his friend..." her voice trailed off, and in my hazy vision, I saw the Doctor lying on the floor, arms and legs spread as far as they could reach. I was alarmed to see that blue pustules had appeared on his face, which served to wake me far better than a dram of brandy would have.
I examined Holmes and the Doctor, and found, to my great relief, that both were fast asleep. They were breathing regularly, if not deeply, and Mrs. Hudson helped me drag Holmes to the sofa and the Doctor to the chair by the fire where they would be more comfortable.
I shook my head to clear it from the lingering effects of the mysterious sedative. "Where is Miss Moran?"
Mrs. Hudson frowned. "Who?"
"Miss Moran, the woman, dash it all, the person we brought up with us. Where is she?"
Mrs. Hudson looked around the flat, as did I, though at a slower pace. "She didn't leave by the front door," she said at last. "I'd have heard her."
I glanced at the shattered window and looked out. On the pavement below, there lay the pad that Miss Moran had used to disguise her figure, but it had been smashed, and the contents strewn over the pavement. I admired her nerve and her cunning - not just anyone would have thought to use sand to break a long fall.
A look at the tea tray also revealed the means for her escape. There were tiny grains of powder, presumably a powerful soporific, strewn over the tray, and presumably into our cups when she pretended to waft the scent towards her.
I glanced around, noting that her strange weapon was still on the floor where the Doctor had dropped it, but she had taken the false beard. There were also three pieces of Holmes's stationery on the table nearest the window.
Go home. You'll never find me, and I'll never surrender to you. It doesn't matter if you believe me, because you've no choice in the matter. If your timeline isn't all you wish it to be, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Mortified from the address and the letter's intended recipient, I placed the first paper exactly as it had been and picked up the second.
You'll be all right. Don't let the Virgin take it too hard. At least not until he's got back to the Bachelor.
Col. S. Moran
I hardly dared breathe as I examined the third paper.
I shall be dining at St. James at six o'clock on Saturday. Sarah Bernhardt is performing Gismonda at eight, and I have two tickets. Don't be boring and summon the police.
PS The man responsible for the murder of Ronald Adair is Sir John Hardy. Motive: Adair cheated at cards and Hardy was unable to determine how. Evidence, including letter from Sir John engaging the services of an unnamed assassin, will be delivered tomorrow to 221B by noon.
For the first time since Mary's passing, I felt like my old self again. I briefly wondered if I ought to bring Miss Moran flowers, but it would look distinctly awkward if she arrived at dinner as Sebastian Moran. The image of her with a pink rose in her beard was too much for me, and I threw back my head and laughed.
As Holmes and the Doctor slumbered on, I wondered what sort of detective someone who had bested Sherlock Holmes would make.
The front door in Leadworth opened with hardly a pause. "It's about time!" exclaimed Amy. "Rory's been back for ages, and I've had to resist the smell of chocolate this whole time, which I believe makes me a saint. Good Lord, what happened to you?"
The Doctor sheepishly rubbed his face where the blue spots had not entirely faded. "A slight allergy," he said. "Nothing for it, I'm afraid."
River appeared at Amy's elbow and held forth a plastic bottle. "Tablets," she said, giving the Doctor a crooked smile.
He swallowed two and sighed in relief. "Thank you."
Rory stuck his head out of the kitchen. "Time for cake!"
River dimmed the lights, and Rory walked toward the table with two cakes: one chocolate and the other with vanilla buttercream and elaborate sugar fancies. Both had a dozen candles. Amy frowned at the spread, but managed to blow them all out with one breath.
There was laughing and clapping, and Rory handed her a large package from the sideboard.
"That's from both of us," said River, sliding her arm around the Doctor's waist.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, but her barely suppressed smile kept his inquiries in check.
Amy ripped open the paper and broke into a broad grin. "The Return of Sherlock Holmes!. Brilliant! The adventures after The Final Problem are my favourites!"
"It looks really old," said Rory.
"First edition," said River.
The Doctor peered over Amy's shoulder, mesmerised by the table of contents. "You know what this means, River?"
"I owe you ten quid?"
"No. And by 'no' I mean 'yes,'" said the Doctor, holding out his hand.
River ignored him and began to read over Amy's shoulder. "You'll have to wait," said River. "I have a dozen new Holmes cases to read."'
From the estate of Capt. John H. Watson, MD, property of Baring Gould Klinger, LLP, to be delivered to 221B Baker Street, London on May 22nd, 2014
My Dear Holmes,
I write to thank you from the bottom of my heart for leaving things as they were when we last spoke, and I hope this letter finds you well.
I have several confessions to make. Firstly, I hope it will not annoy you greatly that I continued to scribble adventures with you as protagonist for a number of years now. I am fortunate to have been able to continue my close study of a brilliant mind, which leads me to my second confession. Viola Moran and I were married at Gretna Green, which would have caused a great scandal in London, had it been generally known. Fortunately, my beautiful, clever bride is as well-versed in the art of misdirection as she is with sleight of hand, which led to others drawing the most mundane conclusions about us. We have scarce left one another's sides since, together thwarting a notorious blackmailer, a conspiracy to poison Parliament with cyanide gas, and solved many other mysteries besides. You will be pleased to hear that I have had no complaints about your characterisation from editors or readers.
It is strange to think that when you read this, I will have lived out the rest of my life and, if I am very lucky, will have died peacefully in my sleep. You might think that eventuality unlikely, given my choice of wife, but at the time of writing this letter, we have sent our youngest son off to study medicine at Queen's College, London, and have taken a small home in Sussex where Viola keeps bees. As a drone fortunate enough to have caught the interest of the queen, I doubt I shall ever understand their ways, but I'm ever grateful for the sweetness they bring. I pray that you may be as happy as we are, dear friend, and I hope that you will find some diversion in the enclosed volumes of "your" adventures.
I remain yours faithfully,
John H. Watson, MD
John's powerful right jab isn't a surprise, though the strength of his left hook is. Fortunately, all the other blows diminish in intensity until Sherlock can wrap his arms around him and the sobs subside.
"I hate you," says John.
"You've every right to."
"Just so we're clear on that."
"Right," he says awkwardly. "So."
"Have you got a flat-mate?"
"Did. Moved out last week."
"Good. It never would have worked. She was too tall for you."
"How-? Never mind. Wait, what do you mean, 'too tall?" Oh my God, you're still a complete dick."
"You never changed the lock."
"It's expensive to change locks. It would have come out of my rent."
"You never changed the lock because you knew I'd be back."
"Maybe at first."
"Well, you never came back, did you? And nothing bad had happened in a year, so changing the locks then would have been stupid."
"I'm here now."
John sat on the sofa and looked at the floor for a moment before meeting Sherlock's gaze. "You look awful," he said. "And what did you do to your hair? Is that pomade?"
"You look exactly the same."
There was a moment of silence, and John sighed. "I'm getting take-away." He started toward the door and glanced back. 'Want to come?"
The knuckles of John's right hand are raw, but that doesn't stop Sherlock from rubbing his thumb over them.
The sky is grey, but it's a healthy grey and filled with electric lines and helicopters.