Guardian of the Peace

The Impossible Task

"...King tries impossible task - wishing to be scientific man who know all modern things... He will only tear himself in two, trying to be something he can never be!" - Kralahome, Roger's and Hammerstein's 'The King and I'

With World War 3 over with and the Persian Land Conflict in full swing, Mycroft Holmes, head of Defence for the Afro-European Coalition, had more things to worry about than keeping an eye on his wayward little brother. Hell, even without the miniature land war currently ravaging the New Persian Empire he should have had more than enough on his proverbial plate to occupy his days. Unfortunately, worry for his brother's safety seemed determined to present itself as the most pressing of matters this side of the twenty-first century.

He read his brother's most recent message for a fourth time and covered his eyes with a hand that shook slightly with fatigue. A normal day was a trial in and of itself; the energy necessary these days to keep the peace between friendly nations while still keeping an eye on his own nation's interests, so as not to be stabbed in the back, was as mentally fatiguing as running a decathlon would be physically exhausting. When adding his younger sibling's inability to endear himself to anyone - Sherlock's eccentric personality and habits, his weakness for dismissing other people as little more than irksome gnats on the flypaper of his life – long enough to establish some sort of respect to the mix was melting his brain to so much mush that some days it was all he could do not to drink himself to death.

The door of his office opened with the hushed sound of wood against carpet, and he moved his hand slowly from his face to see his visitor. Standing at the front of his desk, perfectly centred, was his personal assistant. She held her datalet underneath her arm and a silver tray in her perfectly manicured hands. Upon the tray sat a blue and white china teapot with a tiny bit of steam curling up from the spout, and a matching empty cup and saucer.

She was dressed in a black pant-suit and seemed shorter than usual, so she was probably wearing flats instead of her usual knee-spraining heels. Without speaking she placed the tray on the top, centre edge of his desk and then placed down her datalet beside it. The handle of the teapot she gripped in a hand with nails painted a matte burgundy, and poured out a stream of dark, shimmering tea until the cup was nearly full. No sugar was added, his diet would not allow it, but she did pull a small vial of golden-coloured brandy from somewhere within her jacket and added it to the liquid in the cup. He answered her understanding smirk with a small, weary smile of his own.

As she placed the cup on the blotter before him, she stated softly, "Good evening, Sir. I took the liberty of preparing a night report. Consider it my permission for you to have a late morning tomorrow."

"I'm afraid, my dear, that a late morning tomorrow will be impossible." He tapped his datalet with a finger, "It seems Bartholomew Randolph has finally gotten enough of his charge and has abandoned his post."

His assistant rolled her eyes and let a loud puff of air out through her plump, cherry-glossed lips. "That's the fourth Guardian this month!"

"Indeed." Mycroft took a grateful sip of tea. "Since my brother is bound and determined to be obstinate, I need you to send over a car and four of our most competent and least friendly agents to gather him up and watch over him. Notify the Provost General that they shall have to do without my brother's expertise for the foreseeable future. This time he's under house arrest, and if we cannot find a suitable replacement he can rot there."

"Shall I authorise the use of physical force if necessary, Sir?" His assistant asked timidly.

"God yes." He answered forcefully. As she tapped his orders into her inter-office messenger application, he could see her glancing at him up through her full eyelashes. He relented a bit beneath her worried scrutiny. "Tell them not to do any permanent damage?"

"Of course, Sir." She finished tapping out the message and gave her screen a quick swipe with the stylus. "Shall I begin my report?"

"Yes. You might as well, since you have it already prepared. We shall forego tomorrow's report and focus instead on gathering up applicants for the vacant, and highly undesirable, position of my brother's Guardian." Leaning back in his chair, Mycroft lifted his cup in one hand and rubbed his temple with the other.

She waited half a second before beginning, "A new possible treaty has been put forth by the Ru-Asian Alliance in regards to the Persian Conflict. I have taken the liberty of forwarding it to your business email account. The Austro-Pacific Collective has sent us a peace offering in the form of several documents explaining their new research into Cybernetic technology. The American Legion has also sent us several documents, though more in the spirit of scientific curiosity than the interest of peace. I took the liberty of forwarding one of them to your business account, as well as Research and Development, because it pertains to new breakthroughs in Genetic manipulation."

"Genetic manipulation," he repeated softly, brow furrowing in concentration. "There was a mentioning of just such a thing several months ago, was there not?"

"Yes, Sir. Doctor Stamford sent a redacted patient file to the Research and Development Department – it belonged to an unnamed American soldier that is now in his care. The American Legion boasts some new successes in their now in-progress 'Super Soldier' initiative." She wrinkled her nose at the unoriginal project title. "There are currently seven new ten-man units of 'Gen-A', or Genetically Anomalous, soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan to join in the conflict. Dr Stamford's patient was one of them. I have endeavoured to discover who this man is, but doctor-patient confidentiality forbids Dr Stamford to reveal his information. The American Legion is playing things very close to the vest."

"Of course they are. See if you can place some more pressure on them. I should like to know their reasoning behind playing God. Message our Ambassador in South America if you must."

She nodded and made a notation on her screen. "That is all I have in regards to new international progressions. As for the Homefront, before the unfortunate incident with the murder, Master Holmes had finally managed to solve our present spy problem. Provost Marshal Gregson has arrested twelve New Persian and Ru-Asian operatives in London, Sussex, and Cambridge. He does, however, assure us that the case is not so much 'solved' as it is 'curbed for the time being'."

"Make a note to send Sherlock a fruit basket, and remember to sign it 'Sincerely - The Commonwealth'."

Her smirk of understanding made the corner of his mouth twitch in amusement. A sharp, short beep from her datalet recalled her attention and she frowned down at the screen. As her brows drew down pensively, she stated, "Your brother has been collected from the hospital, Sir. He's apparently being extremely belligerent." One of her eyebrows rose, "It appears they have things well in hand though."


"They've tased him. Twice."

Mycroft groaned and slumped down in his seat, draining the rest of his tea in one depressed gulp. "I am not looking forward to having anything to do with Sherlock for the next month."

"Probably best to prepare not to have anything to do with him for at least a year at this point, Sir. He's the second most stubborn man I've ever met. He'll hold on to this anger for a long time."

Humming in agreement, Mycroft rose wearily from his chair and dragged his feet to his coat rack. He donned his coat and settled his umbrella over his arm before returning to lift up his own datalet. He paused as he rounded the corner of his desk and looked down into his assistant's eyes. "Just out of curiosity, who is the most stubborn man you've ever met?"

"You, of course, Sir." Her smile was equal parts teasing and sincere. "You would have to be, since you have yet to commit fratricide."

A smirk turned up the corner of his mouth a bare millimetre, "I'm still contemplating the ramifications. Please bring me a listing of potential Guardian candidates tomorrow afternoon? I think I will try to take a later morning tomorrow, if only to actually complete an eight hour night of sleep."

Her only answer was a graceful nod of the head as she looked down at her datalet when it beeped again.

The office of Dr Mike Stamford was clinical in its furnishings, but there was such a collection of personal detritus cluttering the walls and desk and shelves, that it was no wonder patients found it a comforting place. There were pictures of Stamford and his wife, his colleagues, and his students on every available surface in a myriad of different frames, or no frame at all. One wall was entirely taken up with various anatomical posters of every system in the body. Medical texts and journals mingled with psychological texts, hospital procedurals, fiction novels, and a few books on fishing. It projected a very intimate atmosphere, even though the space was broken up with a very clinically white, metal desk backed by a very broken-in leather office chair and the sort of firm waiting-room chairs patients were expected to occupy.

Instead of sitting in one of the chairs meant for consulting patients, she sat primly in the office chair behind the desk, a small stack of files in front of her. Dr Stamford himself was out of the room at the moment, presumably seeing to his appointments for the day. The toe of one of her patent leather shoes tapped rhythmically against the inside of the desk, making the loose handle of the bottom drawer rattle quietly as she read.

Seven possible candidates lay before her. The first in the pile was a Frenchman, a mercenary, and though his medical chart proclaimed him physically sound, there was something she didn't like about the possibility of 'anger issues' mentioned in his psychological profile. The second was a heavy-set African woman, whose psychological file was exemplary, and her intelligence was at a near genius level, but she was also diabetic, which might cause problems in the long run. She chewed her lip over the Czechoslovakian's and the Russian defector's charts – something about them both set her on edge, but considering their charts were fairly average with nothing particularly distressing mentioned anywhere, she wasn't sure how to explain her unease. As for the Israeli man and the Italian woman, both of whom were ex-military, her feelings were entirely neutral.

The seventh, literally the odd man out, was what really captured her attention. She had left it for last so that she could go over it with all the consideration it was due. After carefully going over each of the other files one by one, scanning them into her datalet and adding electronic highlights and notations for her employer to peruse at his own pace, she stacked all but the seventh into a pile and placed them on a corner of the desk. At last she placed the seventh file, unopened as of yet, in the centre of the oversized calendar Dr Stamford used in lieu of a blotter, and placed a hand on the cover. Pausing, she revisited her early morning conversation with Dr Stamford in her mind's eye.

Arriving nearly an hour early for Stamford's usual arrival time, she was surprised to find the man already seated at his desk, leaning his chin on his hand and staring tiredly down at the small stack of files he had withdrawn at her direction last night. She knocked politely, and Mike started with a sheepish smile. He beckoned her in with a friendly wave of the hand, and stood up as she entered.

"You're here early, Doctor," she observed.

"Well, considering what happened last night," he scratched the side of his neck, as his voice faded off, his cheeks reddening as if he were embarrassed. Trying another avenue, he stated, "I came in early to pull the files you requested. I whittled it down to six, all of whom have never been exposed to Sherlock before, at least not that I'm aware. You can feel free to use my office to read them over, if you like."

"Thank you, Doctor, that's very kind of you. I'd be happy to take up your offer. I'd rather get my notes down in a timely fashion than have to rush them in the car. I was going to wait for you to come in, since I already picked up the psychological exams, but your being here already makes my morning a bit easier."

"That's me," he chuckled, "always willing to help out a fellow government employee."

Turning the office chair out in invitation, he sat the files down in the middle of the desktop as she settled into the seat. "Would you like me to bring you in a cup of tea?"

"No, thank you. I've already had my morning cup. I should be alright for the next hour or so before I head to the office."

Stamford hesitated at the edge of the desk, and wrung his hands together as his brow furrowed in agitation. She squinted at him, tapping a long-nailed finger against the manilla folders as she waited for him to speak. When he seemed disinclined to be bold, she asked, "Is there something else?"

"Well," he swallowed audibly, "I do have another file for your consideration. If you're willing of course." It took him a few nervous, jerky movements to retrieve a file from his cabinet. He fiddled with the edge of the folder for a moment before he handed it over. She noticed his hand trembled very lightly. "It's not one of the ones you asked for and it isn't one of the ones you already dismissed."

Such a vague statement caught her attention, and she read the name on the tab out loud, "Watson, John MD."

"Do you remember a few months ago I sent an email of a file to the R&D department?"

Her eyes grew a little wide as she resisted tearing the file open in eagerness, "This is him? The American experimental?"

Mike's genial face twisted into an expression that seemed to try marrying grimacing in disgust with smiling fondly. It wasn't the best look. "I'm sure Sherlock didn't mention it, but last night John was the one that saved Provost Officer Morales' life. You can appeal to Marshal Lestrade if you want the details, but the gist of it is that Doctor Watson not only saved the life of an officer of the law, but he also faced down an irate Sherlock, and his Guardian at the time, without flinching. I saw it with my own eyes." He rubbed the back of his head in bewilderment, "I actually witnessed Sherlock walk away without a parting quip."

Both of her perfectly maintained eyebrows rose halfway up her forehead. After a quiet minute of contemplation, she simply stated, "Thank you, Doctor Stamford. I shall apply to Marshal Lestrade when I have a moment free."

He let out a breath as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. "Thank you. I asked John last night if it was alright to put him forward for the position. He seemed," Stamford sputtered for a minute as he searched for an appropriate expression. "Well he seemed flattered, eager even, if you can believe it."

"Perhaps he's finding London a bit boring after being at war."

"No," Mike was frowning again. "I think he's actually eager to be doing something he'd find purposeful. And, well, I don't know but," the doctor shrugged helplessly. "Just something about seeing John and Sherlock last night, even after Sherlock deduced he'd been in Afghanistan. Something just, clicked in my head." He pursed his lips, looked her in the eyes and then added, with a bit of conviction in his tone, "I think John might actually be just what Sherlock needs. And vice versa."

"I will be sure to take that into consideration," she stated with a nod of dismissal. "Also, I will be sure to pass on your recommendation to Mr Holmes."

With a decisive bob of his head, he thanked her softly and quit the room. She placed her elbows on the desk and laced her fingers together before her mouth, staring down at the seventh file. It took her less than a second to reach a decision to call on the Marshal, and she stood her datalet on the desk before tapping out his video call code. It took four rings for him to answer.

The grey-haired Provost Marshal had large bags under his eyes, and the creases of his shirt declared it to be the same one he had been wearing the previous day. He wore no tie, the top three buttons of his shirt were undone, and his uniform jacket hung haphazardly over one side of the back of his chair.

After blinking at her for a moment, he greeted, "Good morning, Ma'am. How can I help you?"

"Good morning, Marshal Lestrade. I'm sorry to disturb you, but Doctor Stamford directed me to appeal to you in regards to someone you met last night, a Doctor John Watson."

"Yes, Ma'am. He saved the life of Provost Morales by creating a water seal out of a water bottle and the tube from his car's windscreen wiper fluid. He even assisted in the surgery that removed the bullet from Morales' shoulder, and brought the intact bullet out to me and my team."

"Can you tell me your opinion of him?"

Lestrade frowned and leaned back in his rickety chair, rubbing his mouth and chin with his right hand as his brow furrowed in thought. He was silent for a very long time. She waited patiently for him to answer.

Finally, he offered, "Mind you, I didn't exactly observe him for very long. He's obviously good in a crisis, and he must be worth his salt as a doctor if they didn't kick him out of the operating room." The Marshal lifted a coffee mug from somewhere out of the camera frame and brought it to his lips, taking a deep sip before tapping the finger of his right hand where he held it steady at the rim. "I was a little impressed with the way he diffused the situation with Mr Holmes and his Guardian when they arrived."

"Please elaborate."

She watched the muscle in his jaw twitch as he drummed his fingers against the side of his mug. He placed the cup down with an assertive thump. "What exactly is this line of inquiry about, Ma'am? If you're looking for something to use to discredit him or something," he quietened when she raised a finger to silence him.

"Doctor Stamford has called Doctor Watson to my attention as a potential candidate for the position of Mr Sherlock Holmes' Guardian."

The Marshal sat back in his chair as if the breath had been knocked from his lungs. A look of shock had taken over his eyes, which quickly morphed into a look of intrigued consideration. Leaning forward again, he rested his jaw against his thumb and rubbed his bottom lip as he thought.

Defeat etched itself into Lestrade's features and he placed his forehead against his palm. When he looked up again, his head hanging a little between his shoulders, he looked as if he'd aged ten years. "I've known Sherlock for over five years. He's a good man, in my opinion, and he might even be a great one some day if he started solving crimes for the sake of justice, instead of as interesting puzzles." He sighed heavily as he leaned back in his chair again, staring down at the edge of his desk. "I've seen him high as a kite, and I've seen him go through Guardians like a runaway lorry."

Lestrade looked up into her image, a determined and hopeful spark lighting his dark eyes, "Last night I saw a man stand between two of the tallest blokes in my acquaintance and diffuse a very tense situation with words alone, and not even a threat of violence. I saw Sherlock deduce the fact that he had served in the military, and the man didn't even threaten to strangle him. I think his foresight in saving the bullet from Morales' shoulder actually impressed Holmes. He's got as good a chance as any to make an impression, and a better chance than anyone else to stay on for more than a damned week."

Nodding cordially, she stated, "Thank you, Provost Marshal. Your input is definitely valuable. Enjoy your day, if you can."

"Your welcome, Ma'am. Good day."

As she collected her thoughts and made a few notes of her own regarding the Marshal's testimony, she sent an email to the Surveillance department for the closed circuit television footage from the officer-involved shooting incident, and the confrontation at the hospital. By the time the footage arrived, she had already gone through all of Doctor Watson's biological information and physical statistics. She read through the psychological information before she turned her attention to the footage.

For someone who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, the stocky doctor rushed into the fray to Provost Morales' side with the kind of speed expected of a combat veteran. There was no hesitation in his movements, no second-guessing in his reactions. The people around him obeyed his orders as if by instinct, and there was never a moment in which they argued with him.

When he arrived in the hospital, he seemed to switch tactics and offered his services to the surgeon-on-call, who seemed to be almost grateful for an extra pair of experienced hands. They worked swiftly and efficiently, almost dancing around each other. The resident surgeon lifted the bullet from the wound with forceps, and dropped it into an open glove that Doctor Watson held out. As Watson tied it off, the surgeon gave him a perfectly friendly nod of gratitude, a very graceful dismissal, as he began to close up the wounded man.

The footage flowed seamlessly to the argument between Sherlock and Bartholomew Randolph. She could see the tension mounting in the room, from the shuffling of frightened civilians in the waiting room to the nurses milling behind the counter of their station. Watson's swift, decisive intervention brooked no argument from either the belligerent Bartholomew nor the always obstinate Holmes.

When the video reached the point of Sherlock walking off without a word, she was stumped. In all the time she had been Mr Holmes' personal assistant, and thus been exposed to his capricious younger sibling, there had never been a moment where Sherlock Holmes neglected to quit a room without a parting shot. It was anomalous enough that she wasn't even sure it actually had happened. She immediately forwarded the footage to her employer's inbox, along with her scans of the files and her electronic notes. With a double check of the desktop in front of her, she swept up the files and her datalet, and took her leave of the room.

In the car on her way into the office, she mocked up a schedule for her employer for the next month. The candidates would have to be brought in for a comprehensive medical and physical examination, and of course an interview with both Misters Holmes would have to be coordinated. That would take some preparation – a second driver would be needed to cart Mr Holmes the younger to the interviews and back to his current flat, and she would need to find an extra few agents to relieve the four men keeping Sherlock under house arrest. She would also need some men to ensure Mr Holmes the younger did not slip away during the interviews.

She spent most of the ride sliding meetings around her employer's schedule, and sending messages through voice contacts and emails to the other parties to confirm the changes. At least she could feel accomplished in that when she arrived at the office. Organization was a skill she took pride in, and inserting her will over the schedule of others in order to make her own employer's less taxing was a rather calming exercise.

With a morning greeting to the security officers of the building as they moved her through the checkpoints, she strode into the elevator, swiped her key card and watched the doors close before her. As was her normal routine, she admired her outfit for the day in the reflection of the silver doors. She had chosen a brand new camisole edged in red lace beneath a designer cardigan of black cashmere, and a knee-length pencil skirt of black cotton. Black pumps with a matte finish gave her the height and posture she needed to look some of the oiliest, smarmiest politicians and secretaries in the world in the eye.

Giving her reflection a smirk as the doors opened, she strode out into the office hallway. Ignoring the rest of the workers in their cubicles, always so focused they never seemed to notice her passing, she made her way through the twisting layout to the office break room. Once there, she filled and plugged in the electric kettle.

While the water boiled, she pulled out a plain, black tray made of patent leather with a crocodile skin print, and located the unembellished white tea set her employer preferred for days that would be spent working at arduous tasks. In her opinion, that tea set had seen far too much use since Mr Holmes the younger had begun assisting the Provosts of London at their work. She added a bag of Black Assam tea to the teapot and filled it with the boiling water from the kettle. It was allowed to steep for about five minutes while she filled the sugar bowl with white cubes, and a small pitcher with whole milk.

Placing her datalet and the files under her arm, she lifted the platter in her hands and made her way to the door. It predictably opened just before she reached it, as one of the desk agents blearily entered the room to start up the coffee machine. She moved out into the maze of cubicles and wound her way around to her boss's door.

The secretary just beyond his doorway, a petite blonde by the name of Maria, smiled at her before getting up to open the door. "He's running a bit late today, Ma'am. He sent me a message that he would be here ten minutes ago, but he still hasn't come through."

"Perhaps the car is stuck in traffic. I'll send him a message myself and wait inside."

"Of course, Ma'am," the pretty girl opened the door with a small bow at the waist.

When she placed the tray down on the desk, she glanced at the top of her datalet to see if it was indicating a new message. A little green light winked at her, and she sank down into the chair opposite the desk as she lifted the screen in her hand. She woke and unlocked it with a touch to find the same message on her screen as that which had been sent to the secretary.

Good Afternoon, Sir. Are you stuck in traffic? she replied.

Almost instantaneously she received an answer, Afternoon. I despise today's route. I have already sent a lecture to the other drivers. I may have to fire someone. - MH

Sighing, she stood up and walked around the desk to the old fashioned speaker box sitting on the left side. She depressed the button and said, "Maria, please fetch me either a plate of scones or finger sandwiches from the cafeteria?"

"Yes, Ma'am," the speaker crackled back. She could hear the girl's amusement, even through the slight hiss of feedback.

His follow-up message read, Shall be in shortly – perhaps five minutes. I trust you have everything in order? - MH

Of course, Sir. I have paper and electronic files for your perusal, the tea is ready, and Maria is fetching you a plate for lunch as we type.

After a minute, she received, You are getting a raise. - MH

She chuckled to herself, but did not bother replying back. Tea and food were the key to any man's heart, it seemed. Perhaps if she just told the men watching over Sherlock to ply him with tea and cakes, they could tame him into a proper, useful human being instead of a complete prat.

Occupying herself with a crossword, she waited a further three minutes for Maria to arrive with a plate of assorted scones, complete with bowls of clotted cream and jam. Her employer entered the room a scant minute afterwords, shooing the secretary out with a stern warning along the lines of 'we are not to be disturbed unless the world is ending'. If anything he looked even more tired than he had the previous night.

"You visited him, didn't you Sir?"

Sinking into his chair, Mycroft dragged a hand down his face and reached for a scone, "Not my finest decision this month. At least I got to see Sherlock get tackled to the ground." He smiled at her confused look, "He threw a shoe at me and one of the men took him down."

Instead of commenting further, she simply shook her head and tapped a red-nailed finger on the files. "These are the most promising candidates for the Guardian position. I require your approval, of course, before submitting them to the R&D department. Also, I have chosen the name 'Anthea' for the next month."

"Very well, Anthea." He lifted the first file in one hand as she began pouring him a cup. "Do you have any recommendations?"

She nudged a cup of tea towards him. "I reserve the right to make them until after you have read the files yourself."

He looked at her over the top of the file for a moment, then took a deep breath and returned to his reading. Silence took over the room, and she sipped quietly at her tea while focusing back on her crossword. It wasn't long until his face displayed a frown, though she wasn't sure whether it was in concentration or in disgust. When he reached the final file, which she knew to be that of one Doctor John H Watson, she left her stylus in her hand and watched him through her lashes to gauge his expression.

Confusion was the first to cross his face, followed quickly by intrigue, and perhaps even a bit of fear. Soon, he sat forward, holding the file in both hands as he read. He looked up at her as he laid the file down on the desk and laced his fingers together. "Is this what I think it is, Anthea?"

"If you think it is the medical and psychological reports, and CV of an American Navy Doctor by the name of John H Watson, who also happens to be a genetically altered human being, then yes."

Mycroft re-read the file two more times, bringing his hands up to his mouth and leaning against them as he did. Then, he went through the electronic files she had sent him for each of the other files with record speed, and lingered over Watson's files with the same intrigued scrutiny. He then re-read everything again before closing the files, piling them up, lacing his fingers together, and giving her a very direct stare.

It was a short, tense moment before he stated, "These are the best Doctor Stamford could find?"

"Yes Sir."

"You told me you had recommendations."

"Of course, Sir." Anthea picked up her datalet and tapped over to her prepared notes. "These are, of course, my personal opinions."

"Your personal opinions are often better than those of the professionals in our employ."

Anthea accepted the flattery with a wry smirk. "The anger issues and medical issues of the Frenchman and the African concern me. Considering the skill set of Monsieur Monteblanc, those anger issues could easily develop into physical aggression. As for Ms Buhari, I would worry more for her health than anything else. Sherlock's sense of timing and regard for proper nutrition leave something to be desired."

He hummed in agreement, sipping at his tea. "I agree on both points. What is your opinion of the Russian?"

She chewed at her lip, then answered, "I see nothing wrong with his file, but something about him just doesn't feel right to me. I had the same reaction to the Czechoslovakian's file." She shrugged. "I wish I could explain it."

Waving a hand in dismissal, he said, "Don't trouble yourself, my dear. May I assume you agree with me that the Israeli and the Italian are suitably average?"

"Yes, I concur." Lacing her fingers together, she rested her elbows on the edge of the desk. "I must ask you, Sir, what your opinion is of the American."

Mycroft mirrored her stance, frowning. "It is a surprise, to say the least."

"You read my notation about Doctor Stamford's and Provost Marshal Lestrade's comments?"

"I did. I also watched the surveillance footage." Mycroft smirked a bit. "I cannot remember the last time I saw Sherlock shut up that quickly."

Anthea smiled. "Yes, nor have I ever seen him quit a room without having the last word."

"Yes. As the man said, 'It is a puzzlement'." At her lifted eyebrow, he shook his head and grinned smugly. "My mother was always a fan of musicals. Why do you think Sherlock had to learn the violin, and I had to learn piano?"

"I doubt Sherlock would ever quote a movie, no matter how well known, Sir." Her shoulders shook a bit with silent laughter.

Mycroft's frown returned, "Such things have probably long been deleted from Sherlock's conscious mind." He looked thoughtful for a moment, his eyes gazing into the distance. "Though, I believe I heard him play 'Shall We Dance' one Christmas not too long ago."

"Perhaps he's not a total loss after all then?"

"Don't get my hopes up, Anthea."

A chuckle passed her lips and she snagged half a scone. After two bites, she asked, "Shall I take the liberty of bringing the candidates in for a physical?"

"You may alert the medical team right away. I would like Doctor Stamford to oversee it. We shall start the physical exams as soon as possible. Send a message to the psychological team to prepare for their, and then we shall start the face-to-face interviews the weekend after both have finished. I won't have to worry about the agents watching Sherlock being distracted by other people if there is no one in the office." Mycroft poured himself another cup of tea and gulped it down, rubbing his temples in frustration.

Anthea tapped quietly away onto her screen, sending messages out to the evaluation teams, and notifying Sherlock's guards. Mycroft checked his emails, and the news, and accepted a dinner invitation as she worked. They worked smoothly and quietly, the perfect soother for the migraine Mycroft seemed to be nursing.

After half an hour, Anthea looked up from her screen. She waited until her employer did the same before speaking. "Doctor Stamford has confirmed that he will be available to head the physical exam team next week, and Doctor Ella Thompson is free to sit as our psychologist starting right away. The gentlemen at Baker Street have informed Master Holmes of the itinerary."

"Yes, I see that." Mycroft grimaced and leaned his datalet up for her to see a message that had recently arrived.

She raised an eyebrow and commented, "That's certainly a number of expletives I had no idea your brother was even aware of."

Mycroft groaned and rose up out of his chair, stating decisively, "I am going to the Diogenes Club for a bloody drink. I am not to be disturbed for anything less than the second coming. You will, of course, attend me for dinner with the senior under-secretary tonight at five o'clock."

"Of course, Sir. I shall see you then. Gerald is pulling the car around now."

He paused just before opening the door, "My dear, if this new Guardian finally proves to be the one that stays, you are getting two raises."

"I look forward to hiking up your spending budget, Sir."

In his dark flat in the middle of Marylebone in central London, Sherlock Holmes threw his datalet against the wall of his bedroom in enraged frustration. Where did his bloody brother get off dictating his life, anyway? Overbearing, pompous, cake-consuming bastard!

At the age of thirty, and just two years out of rehabilitation for cocaine and opiate use, Sherlock Holmes was a genius with a mind racing itself to a bullet-quick end. It felt like ever since he'd been forced into a long stint at a spa-like facility, just on the outskirts of Miami in America, for people who wanted to get over their addictions, his brother had been crushing him under the weight of his past indiscretions.

A knock at the door was followed by the sound of the knob turning and a soft exclamation by an elderly woman's voice. His landlady, Mrs Hudson, let herself in and took up a seat on his desk chair as he wrapped his dressing gown closer around him and rolled over on his bed. She crossed her feet at the ankles and tucked them to one side beneath the chair and folded her hands in her lap.

"Good evening, Sherlock dear." She continued speaking when he didn't bother acknowledging her. "Have you eaten at all today? I've got a lovely stew cooking downstairs that I could bring you."

He still did not speak. He didn't even bother sighing. She would give up soon enough.

"You can't keep going on like this, dear. I know how much you hate being bored. If you keep on like this, your going to go mad."

Sherlock fidgeted with the edge of his sleeve, still pretending to ignore her. It wasn't like she was saying anything different than what everyone else and their mother enjoyed pointing out to him constantly. Say 'thank you', Sherlock. Don't make the family of the murder victim cry, Sherlock. The oven is not a proper storage area for rat corpses, Sherlock.

"Maybe if you take a more active role this time with hiring your Guardian! You could show up for all the examinations and things, instead of just the personal interviews like you normally do. This time you might actually have the chance to make your opinion heard instead of just considered."

She had a point, and Sherlock hated to admit it.

"If nothing else," her sly tone was enough to finally penetrate his ennui, "you could annoy your brother for three whole days."

He finally rolled over and propped himself up on one elbow, his chin resting in his hand. There was a sly smirk on his landlady's face, and he answered it with an equally sly one of his own. "You are entirely too sly to be wasted as a landlady, Mrs Hudson."

She flattened imaginary wrinkles from her skirt with her hands. "Don't be silly, dear. Perhaps if you actually take an interest in the process, let them get to see you in action, maybe. Your brother still sees you as a little brother, not as a man. If you take the time to show him otherwise, perhaps he'll back off a bit."

Silently he considered her words, then popped up off his bed and made a shooing motion at her with his hands. She took the hint with a roll of her eyes and a fond little smile. As she took her leave, closing the door gently behind her, Sherlock searched out his battered datalet and checked it over for cracks. It was still in fine working condition, and nothing seemed wrong with it as he woke it up. Score one for fine British craftsmanship.

His first message was sent directly to his brother's secretary. She was, in his estimation, about twenty-five percent more likely to comply with his request than Mycroft. Send me the schedule for the physical, psychological, and personal interviews. Also the candidate files. I will be joining my brother for all of the reviews. - SH

After three minutes he received the schedule, but not the files, and a short reply. Forgive me, Mr Holmes. I am unable to comply with your request for the candidate files without direct permission from my employer. Please apply to him.

"I'm not asking that smug prat for anything," Sherlock grumbled to himself. He sent back, Very well then. A list of the candidates' names, country or county of origin, and a summary of their skill set will suffice. - SH

It was a half an hour later, as he was booby-trapping the flat's bathroom with plastic wrap to annoy his captors, that he received the list in short messages.

1 – Richard Monteblanc – Rouen, France, Afro-Europe Coalition – Mercenary; specializes in knives. Cy-Ocu

2 – Chaka Bruhari – Enugu, Nigeria, Afro-Europe Coalition – Professional bodyguard; no specializations; high IQ. Cy-Ocu, -Aud

3 – Hugo Burian – Prague, Czechoslovakia, Ru-Asian Alliance – Ex-Military Police; specializes in threat assessment and exit strategy Cy-Aud, -Musc

4 – Pietr Volkov – Dedovsk, Russia, Ru-Asian Alliance – Ru-Asian Military defector; highly rated marksman. Cy-Ocu

5 – Matan Levy – Tel Aviv, Israel, New Persian Empire – Ex-Mossad, now Mercenary; no specializations. Cy-Ocu, -Aud, -Musc

6 – Giulia Laurino – Napoli, Italy, Afro-European Coalition – Ex-Esercito Italiano, rank Sergeant; no specializations. Cy-Ocu, -Aud, -Musc

He sighed as he read, shaking his head over the unimpressive spread. As he went to put down his screen when a seventh message popped in. He hoped it wasn't from his brother. Lifting the screen back up, his eyes widened in surprise at the message's contents.

7 – John H Watson, MD – Bohemia, New York, American Legion – Ex-Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class (equivalent of an Army Staff Sergeant); specializations in combat medicine, marksman with rifle and pistol - rated expert. Gen-A

That name rang a bell, and he traced the memory back to the last arrest before he'd been incarcerated in his own flat. He had a vague impression of an angry, short, military man in a white sweatshirt stained with blood snapping orders at himself and his ex-Guardian. He remembered being surprised at the man's foresight – he had recovered a bullet from the injured Provost Officer that would be very damning evidence once Mr Holten was caught.

It was the last part of the message that really caught his eye. 'Gen-A' was not an abbreviation he was familiar with. It obviously wasn't a mistype; it was placed where the others had cybernetic enhancement indicators. He entered it into several different search engines, but none of them seemed to have viable suggestions. It wasn't until he used his brother's password to search the Department of Defence system that he found an answer in a brief message from a spy in the combat zone outside of Kandahar.

'Informant in the American Legion camp stationed outside of Kandahar reports that first unit of Gen-A soldiers has arrived. Unit is made up of ten SEAL- and Marine-trained soldiers, all with various related genetic anomalies. Unit boasts three stealth experts, two engineering experts, three communications experts, and two hospitalmen. All have expert marksmanship ratings. Each bear badges for completion of Parachutist and Diving training. More as information becomes available.'

"Genetic anomalies," Sherlock murmured to himself. A slow smile spread across his face as he searched for more information. While he searched, a message indication popped up on the corner of his screen. He didn't bother reading it until his wireless access suddenly cut off.

Did you really think I wouldn't notice? - MH


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