Wednesday, 16.39 hrs

'That's the one.'

'You're sure? You spent an awful long time with the emerald cut.'

'Until I saw this one. This is it, this is Mary.'

John tapped the glass with a finger, nervous, impatient, excited. He'd been thinking about this for weeks—months, if he was completely honest with himself—but he never let himself imagine that he would be standing in the jewellers saying something so self-assured as that's the one. No, he had instead assumed that something would come up, something bad would happen, break, explode, and he would be toppled from this peak of happiness. But this . . . this was real. It would last. Even though she had declared it eight months ago, the thought that Mary loved him still sent his heart racing, still made him question whether he was actually caught in some beautiful dream from which he would soon be awakened.

The clerk behind the counter at Grant & Chapman's nodded obligingly and extracted the simple round-cut solitaire for John to better examine. John made something of a show of it, holding it up to the light and turning it from side to side before his eyes, but his mind was already made up.

'I'll take it.' He licked his lips and grinned up at the man.

'Then it seems congratulations are in order, sir.'

John laughed a little nervously and let out the air he had apparently been holding in. 'Thanks.'

Adjustments to the ring still had to be made before he could pick it up on Friday: resizing, cleaning, and engraving. He wanted the inner band to bear the simple though delightful phrase John and Mary. Nothing flowery or overly sentimental—that was how Mary liked it, one of the thousand things he loved about her, one of the thousand ways she was just right for him. It amazed him, sometimes, most times, that she seemed to feel the same about him. Here she was, getting a beaten-down, torn-up ex-soldier, and he, a funny, compassionate, and uncomplicated woman.

Before leaving the shop, he made the first payment on the ring, hoping that Mary didn't go snooping through his credit card statements before Saturday.

He stepped outside and zipped up his coat against the chilly London air. His breath rose in little puffs as he laughed a little to himself, and he revelled in the warmth of being, well, happy. It had been so long since he had felt so content with how his life was going. True, she hadn't exactly said yesyet, but to his own surprise, he realised that he was confident she would. As much as he wanted to, however, he couldn't just stand there, basking in so pleasant a realisation. He was due at work. He checked his wristwatch and saw that his shift started soon. He saw a cab round the bend and stepped into the street to hail it.

'St Elizabeth's,' he told the cabbie, just as his phone dinged musically in his pocket.

Found your toothbrush.
It was in the egg caddy
in the fridge. You goon!

John laughed aloud, trying to remember what he must have been doing or thinking for it to have ended up there. And he thought fondly of Mary, who must have laughed when she found it. Her laughter was probably his favourite sound in the world—it was like music.

You know me. I like to
brush my eggs before
boiling. Shift ends at 6.

A few seconds later, she texted back:

Let's do breakfast.
Vivian's Cafe, 6.30.

His thumbs tapped about quickly.

See you then.
How many kisses
are we allowed?

John glanced up to see how close he was to the hospital when he saw that they were on an unfamiliar street. He craned his neck around, trying to get his bearings, but he was pretty sure they were in the wrong part of the city. He leaned forward in his seat.

'St E's Hospital, near Kennington Park,' he said.

The cabbie didn't respond.

'Excuse me. I said St Elizabeth's.' Yes, they were crossing the Thames on the Waterloo Bridge, heading into North London. Quite wrong. 'Are you listening to me? This is the wrong way.'

'I know the way, Dr Watson.'

John sat back, suddenly on edge. He glanced down at his chest to see if he happened to be wearing his hospital ID on the outside of his coat, but it was still in his pocket. 'You've a funny sense of direction,' he said drily. 'Pull the cab over up here. I'm getting out.'

The cabbie didn't even glance in the rearview mirror. Instead, he pressed down on the accelerator.

John shifted forward angrily. 'Look, I'm not fooling—'

'Just hang tight, Dr Watson. We're going to see an old friend.'

The implication took only a second to register: Mycroft. His stomach turned over unpleasantly. 'Not interested.'

'Not negotiable.'

'Of course it's not.'

Mycroft Holmes. John had always despised the man's preferred method of communiqué—abduction—but today he found it in particular bad taste. What could the man possibly want, now, after more than three years of zero contact? Their last encounter had ended badly, and John had no inclination to sort it out now. As much as he didn't want to think about it—he hadn'tthought about it for so long, and considered himself happier for it—he felt himself pulled inexorably back into the memory of that day.

For reasons that were still unclear to John, Mycroft had not gone to the funeral. The thought still rankled with him. Instead, the elder Holmes had shown up the day after on Baker Street, a place John didn't want to be himself, not now that . . . Well, he didn't like to finish those kinds of thoughts and always pushed them down, deep. John himself was in the old flat only to pack an overnight bag; he was stuffing toiletries into the pockets when Mycroft showed up.

'You didn't come,' John had said to him. Accusation coloured each word.

Mycroft shrugged, indifferent. 'What good would it have done? The dead can't see. They don't hear.'

John shook his head in exasperation. 'You're even less human than he is. Was.'

'Now John—'

'What are you doing here? Come to collect his things? What've you got your eyes on, eh? His collection of Edgar Allen Poe? His poster of the periodic table? Or maybe his riding crop?'

'You're angry with me.'

'No shit, Mycroft.'

'You don't seriously blame me for what Sherlock did to himself.'

John had dropped the bag to the floor and walked straight up to Mycroft so that they were toe to toe. He looked up into Mycroft's prominent nostrils. 'What's that?'

'I told you about the assassins, didn't I, John? Didn't I warn you? You knew he was in danger. And he was always a danger to himself, as you well knew. I trusted you wouldn't leave him, not at such a critical time. If you had only been with him, John.'

John was astounded. 'I wasn't the one who blabbed all about him to that maniac Moriarty!'

Mycroft's face flushed a violent shade of red. 'A misjudgement.'

'Is that all it was? Well then, all is forgiven.' He walked away, seething through his teeth and restraining his clenched fists. 'Get out of here, Mycroft.'

He never learnt why Mycroft had turned up. Since that day, he hadn't seen the elder Holmes, hadn't received so much as a text. It was just as well. His had been the first name he had deleted from his phone. Against the advice of his idiot therapist, John had decided to cut all ties to that life, and Mycroft's had proved the easiest string to snap.

Until today.

'You know, he usually sends a nice, black, town car,' said John from the backseat, sarcasm leaking from the crushed grapes of his irritation. 'I didn't realise he had London's black cabs at his beck and call as well.'

John saw the cabbie's small smirk in the rearview mirror.

'I hope you don't expect me to pay for this.'

'Not to worry, Dr Watson. It's all in hand.'

The cabbie pulled off the motorway at an unfamiliar exit. Less than a mile later, he turned from the street and into a wide alleyway where, at the end, a black town car with tinted windows idled. 'And there it is,' John murmured to himself.

His thumb bounced up and down on the screen of his mobile, debating whether he should phone St E's and tell them he'd be late. But no. No. Mycroft had no business interfering in his life anymore. He would tell him that, exactly that, and walk away. He put away the phone.

'There you go, Dr Watson,' said the cabbie, coming to a stop and shifting the car into park.

John sighed and stepped out of the car, and the cabbie with him. But he didn't advance toward the other car. Underneath the annoyance, the thought of seeing Mycroft again was . . . upsetting. He had been having such a lovely day, too, and he knew that speaking to Mycroft Holmes would only spoil that. So he looked over his shoulder, down the stretch of alleyway, and considered just walking away.

The cabbie came up behind him. 'That's not an option, John.'

'Like hell it isn't,' John said, and he began to step around him. The cabbie, taller by at least four inches and heavier by no less than two stones, sidestepped to block his path.

'You don't want to do that.'

'Get out of my way,' said John, struggling to keep calm.

He moved again, but this time the cabbie locked his upper arm in a meaty fist. Something inside him, hovering just near the surface, snapped. He cocked his fist, and before he could stop himself, he had decked the cabbie square in the nose. The man staggered backwards, but before John could break into a run, two pairs of strong hands grabbed his arms from behind. Where they had come from he had no idea, but they were powerful and determined. He shouted as they kicked the backs of his legs in and he crashed to his knees, but he continued to struggle, trying to wrest his arms from their solid grips. They drove his face into the asphalt, kicked him sharply in the side, and one of them put a knee in his back and rested his weight there, twisting his arms painfully behind him. Then he heard the click of cuffs, and his wrists were bound.

'Get him to the car,' said the cabbie, wiping blood from his nose. 'And bag him.'

He was lifted from the ground, and a bag was thrown over his head. He stumbled forward between two men, hearing another one behind him, and another in front. A scuffle of shoes, the opening of a car door, and he was shoved inside. The car instantly began to roll forward.

This time, he thought, infuriated, Mycroft had gone too far.