My God, she's a beauty.
In the hazy half-light of dawn, Sherlock would watch in wonder as Molly slept. What had he done to deserve the love and loyalty of a woman such as this? The gray shadows bathed her in a quiet coolness that soothed his restless mind. Only in these moments did he allow himself to contemplate what he felt for her.
Often times just acknowledging he felt was enough. But he knew it was so much more.
What had John once said? "When are you going to just call this what it is? It's not an 'understanding'; it's love."
Love was a little like floating out to sea, Sherlock was learning, only he wasn't afraid. Each new emotion was a warm wave that lapped gently over him, and Molly was beckoning him further into the water. What he had kept at bay his entire life now surrounded him. Even as he analyzed and filed each sensation, he knew cataloging the data wasn't as important as she was. Her smile, the way she looked at him, her laughter—Sherlock knew this was what mattered most. She was so far into his heart and mind, he almost felt normal.
The cabbie slammed on the breaks to avoid a car swerving into his lane. "Sorry, sir."
Roused from his thoughts, Sherlock ran trembling fingers through his curls. He had to focus. Molly's disappearance had to relate to his next case. As long as the homeless network was chasing leads as to who had gone into Milvern's office in recent weeks, he could concentrate on who wouldn't want the security analysis to be done.
Slouching into his coat, Sherlock watched the black London night roll by. Caring was found on the losing side, or so he had been told his entire life. Molly Hooper personified caring. And he wouldn't let her lose.
"Hey, guv, Baker Street. We're here," the cabbie repeated, this time catching Sherlock's attention.
Tossing a few bills toward the man, Sherlock ran up the stairs.
John glanced at his watch. Nine a.m. Thirty minutes had passed since Anthea had admitted him to Mycroft's home. He didn't question her presence—he knew that wherever Mycroft was, Anthea would be. With a flick of her wrist and a Cheshire cat smile, the attractive brunette gestured toward a leather couch and silently left John in the sitting room.
He had waited the previous night at 221B Baker Street for the other Holmes boy. It was late, and just as he was nodding off at the kitchen table, the detective had bounded in and threw open his laptop without acknowledging the doctor's presence.
"Why did you sneak out? Why didn't you tell me you were leaving?"
"Telling you where I was going would have defeated the purpose of sneaking out."
Fighting his temper, John tried to take into account his friend's agitated state of mind. "So where have you been?"
Sherlock's fingers flew over the keyboard. "Mycroft's spy kept an eye on me. You didn't have to worry."
"Listen, Mycroft is—"
"I need to work now."
John had witnessed this countless times. Sherlock would focus his laser-like attention on his work and not notice if his friend stayed or not. John shrugged on his coat and gave Sherlock one last look. He would learn about his brother's investigation soon enough. John returned to his flat and slept in a bed that felt too large.
While waiting for Sherlock to come home, he had sent Sarah a long email detailing what had happened to Molly and what he and Mycroft planned to do. He knew when he sent it that she would be at work and unable to respond until what would be the next morning in London. As soon as he woke up, he quickly booted up his laptop and found her reply waiting in the inbox.
This is so horrible. Call day or night if there is any news about Molly. How is Sherlock today? I am beside myself with worry. For all of you. Should I come home? I know I won't be of any help and that you and Sherlock will have Molly home safe and sound before I can buy the ticket. But say the word and I am on the fastest plane home to you. I love love love you.
John didn't know it was possible to physically hurt due to missing someone, but it was true. Part of him even wanted to take her up on her offer. Instead he reread her words again. How was Sherlock? He wished he could say. He had seen the detective in many different situations, but nothing like this.
As the grandfather clock began to chime down the well-appointed hall, Mycroft finally emerged from his private office.
"Ah, John, good of you to come." He enunciated each word with the precision of a Shakespearian actor. "You were quite right—Lady Blackwell is a recluse. It took quite a bit of arm-twisting by the right person to convince her to see us. However, we do have an appointment with her at ten o'clock."
"You had to pull a few strings then?" John stood. "Call in a few favors?"
The older man sighed wearily. "Actually, I now owe a few favors. You have no idea what I had to promise to secure this interview."
"Who on earth did you have to call?" John chuckled. "The queen?"
"Worse." Mycroft shuddered. "Mummy."
If Lady Eva Blackwell had been wearing tweeds instead of a well-tailored suit, John could easily have imagined her minding a little shop in a sleepy country village. Weak of chin, large of nose, the octogenarian must have learned at an early age to smile with closed lips to hide her bad teeth. The effect was a permanently pained expression.
A rush of remorse filled the doctor. When had he become so cruel in his judgments? Probably after Sarah left and he started spending more time with Sherlock. Thinking of his best friend, he stole a glance at Mycroft as he graciously accepted the cup of tea offered him. Sherlock would never agree to quietly wait for tea to be served before demanding answers. But Mycroft understood that conventions had to be observed.
"Thank you," Mycroft said and took a sip. But from everything he had observed of the elder Holmes brother, John felt certain Mycroft could be much more ruthless than Sherlock.
The attendant set the teapot back on the tray and unobtrusively left the room, passing by a tall, balding man who entered silently and stood behind Lady Eva's chair. For a moment John thought the man was another hotel employee, but then he observed that the man wore a navy blue turtleneck and black slacks.
She cleared her throat. "Mycroft Holmes, Dr. Watson, this is Stevan Tojagic. He manages my estate in Cornwall."
Stevan locked eyes with the doctor, who smiled good-naturedly. His friendly gesture went unreturned.
"I was quite surprised to hear from your mother, Mycroft," Lady Eva said. "I don't have a mobile telephone, a computer, or the Internet. We only have a landline in Stevan's office for emergencies or business with my vacation rentals. And yet she reached me here at The Savoy."
Her question hung unasked in the air.
"I provided her with your suite number, Lady Eva," Mycroft said with a bright smile that reminded John of a character Sherlock might portray. "Your housekeeper was very kind to let me know you were staying in town this week."
She sniffed. "I understand you hold some sort of government position?"
He nodded. "A small one."
"And your brother? The time I visited when your Great Uncle Neville was still alive, Sherlock had worms and toads in jars."
"He was nine." Mycroft smiled indulgently. "The subject matter of his experiments has changed. He is a detective."
"Oh my," she said haughtily. "I am sorry, for your dear mother's sake."
"In fact, he was hired to conduct a security analysis of your art exhibit," Mycroft said.
Lady Eva cast a beady eye in John's direction. "I don't believe I had been informed of his involvement. Or that of his associate."
Feeling unexpectedly defensive, John shifted uncomfortably.
"We did receive notice from the Allied Insurance Company, Lady Eva." Stevan's soft voice still held a strong accent.
"I must have forgotten." She smoothed the creases in her slacks absently. "Stevan handles all of my affairs, you see. Well, I fail to see why Allied is so concerned. The private security firm I hired is quite reputable."
"Sherlock is the best there is to investigate anything that might be questionable," John piped up.
As Stevan stared directly at him, the doctor tried to apply the observation techniques he had learned from Sherlock. The man was clearly not athletic, still had most of his hair, and sported a neatly trimmed beard. He had a scholarly look to him that reminded John of his first chemistry teacher.
"Tell me, why isn't Sherlock here?" Lady Eva asked.
"A series of events has prevented him from completing that assignment, so I am stepping in," Mycroft said. "Can you tell me why you decided to allow your art to be part of this exhibit?"
"My nephew David insisted that the general public needed a chance to see these treasures," she replied disdainfully. "We didn't agree, but he can be very persuasive."
"Is David here?" John asked.
Flinching slightly, Lady Eva looked as if she had forgotten the doctor was present. "No," she replied. "Weather delays have prevented him from traveling from Croatia where he has a business."
"Croatia is a lovely country," Mycroft murmured.
"My late husband and I visited there," Lady Eva said warmly. "And it's where I met Stevan."
She looked over her shoulder at him. "He returned to England with me. I would be lost without him."
The stone-faced man softened slightly. "Your Ladyship is too kind."
"How else can we help you, Mycroft?" she asked.
"You have been of great service, Lady Eva. We will be going over to the museum to verify the security of the paintings. We want your exhibit to go off smoothly."
As they left the suite, John turned to Mycroft expectantly.
Raising his eyebrows, Mycroft looked at him blankly. "Yes?"
"Don't you want to discuss your theories or let me hear your deductions?"
Mycroft shook his head. "Not really."
John frowned. "Here is what I noticed. Lady Eva sometimes used the royal 'we' and sometimes said 'I.' That could mean she is suffering from a slight dementia. And why did she hire a man from Croatia to run all of her affairs?"
"I can see why Sherlock likes to have you on cases." Mycroft gave him a thin-lipped smile. "Lady Eva doesn't have dementia. She is a sharp, mean old woman who despises people. She obviously has come to depend on Stevan to the point of referring to him as part of 'we.' And he isn't a Croat. He's a Serb."
Noticing John's startled expression, Mycroft added, "My specialty is accents. Excuse me, I have to take this call."
"Anything?" John asked anxiously when Mycroft pocketed his mobile.
"Yes. My person has informed me that Sherlock has arrived at the museum. Let's join him, shall we?"