Too agitated to sit, John continued pacing the rug while Sherlock regarded him calmly from his chair – far too calmly, in John’s opinion.
“Sherlock, the one thing I know is that whatever she is, whoever she is, she’s a murderer. She killed my therapist – my actual therapist, the one I thought I was seeing, poor woman. I went looking for her right after I woke up. The smell...” John shook his head. He'd stayed at the house just long enough to alert Lestrade, promising him a statement in the morning, and then headed straight to Baker Street. “Which means that this woman – this, this Eurus – was giving me therapy sessions while there was a decomposing corpse in the basement. She’s been playing cat-and-mouse with both of us for weeks, and now she’s claiming to be your sister. The East Wind. God, why can’t I ever just meet someone normal?”
He glared at Sherlock, who for once had the grace to leave the question unanswered.
“Be that as it may, she’s clearly a very disturbed individual. Especially since I’ve just told you I don’t have a sister.”
“She seemed very sure of herself,” John protested. “And did I mention the way she treated me to an extended lecture on how clever she was before shooting me? It all felt very familiar – you know, the frailty of genius and all that. Is it at all possible you might have just… I don’t know, deleted her? Like the solar system?”
“Deleted a member of my own family? That’s ridiculous.” Sherlock took a precise sip of his tea, and then set the cup down. John’s cup still sat untouched and cooling on the table.
“Yeah, but that’s what I thought about the solar system, too.” John waved a hand, frustrated. “Look, normally I’d agree with you, but there’s one more thing. Mycroft.”
Sherlock’s lips curved into a smirk. “Now you see, if I were going to delete a sibling, that’s where I’d start…”
“Shut up and listen. Last time when I was here, with Mycroft…” John stopped, swallowing hard. You know, while you were in hospital because I’d just beaten you half to death. Because that was what he’d done, wasn’t it? Sherlock looked fine now, no obvious scars except for a faded red thread above his left eye, but the memory still left John feeling sick and ashamed. Because it hadn’t felt terrible while he was doing it, had it? It had felt fantastic, an adrenalin rush of pure, righteous fury. Maybe John was hardly someone who should be talking about normal, after all. He turned his face away and took a deep breath, pushing past the memory “…he as good as confirmed there was another one of you. Another Holmes, that is. He didn’t mean to – kept doing his best to deny it – but it was obvious he was lying. It was an accident. He let it slip.”
“John, as much as I hate to say it, Mycroft does hold a fairly responsible position in the British government. He practically runs the secret services, both foreign and domestic. He doesn’t let things slip.”
John forced himself to meet Sherlock’s gaze. “Well, he did this time. Not to mention the very first time I met him, when I thought he really was your arch-enemy, he did the same thing. He said he worried about you constantly.”
That drew a frown of genuine confusion from Sherlock. “Did he really?”
“Yeah. He did. That’s just a little bit revealing, don’t you think? Saying something like that to a complete stranger. I might expect it from some distraught patient, but not from him. Maybe he’s good with government business, just not with… you know. Family.”
“But still, John. A secret sister. That’s absurd.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” John’s tone came out harsher than he’d intended. “Like someone faking his own death and disappearing for two years, maybe? Or marrying a sweet blonde nurse who turns out to have been a former assassin?”
“I really am sorry, John…” Sherlock half-rose to his feet, but John waved him back down. It wasn’t time for this, not now, not for either of them.
“I’m just saying. It’s not impossible. The worst part is that Mycroft seems to think she’s tucked up safely somewhere in an institution. If it really is her, and she’s out and about, we could all be in serious trouble.”
“She didn’t kill you, though, when she had the chance.” Sherlock had turned thoughtful again. “Even though she did kill your would-be therapist, a stranger, just so she could take her place. But not you, when she had every opportunity. Why not?”
“How should I know?” John had started pacing again. He remembered a time when he used to be the one sitting calmly in a chair while Sherlock wore holes in the rug. “Maybe she knew I’d come straight to you. Maybe I’m not her primary target. Although she spent a whole night with you and didn’t kill you, either. Those must have been some bloody good chips.”
“Maybe…” Sherlock began, but for once in his life John had already reached the same conclusion. They stared at each other for a long moment.
“Maybe she’s after Mycroft? Yeah, it sounds like at one point he took care of her, whatever that means. Whatever it is, I bet it didn’t involve offering her tea and biscuits and a shoulder to cry on when she needed one. And if she holds grudges…”
Sherlock looked troubled, but shook his head. “There’s no real need to worry. Mycroft has the best security there is.”
“But not beyond your abilities to crack.”
“Well, no, obviously.”
“Then possibly not beyond her abilities, either? Remembering that she was clever enough to fool you into thinking you’d hallucinated her.”
“Right. So shouldn’t we warn Mycroft? Although I don’t know how that would work. ‘Oh, by the way, that sister Sherlock can’t remember and that you won’t even admit exists might be coming after you'? He’d probably just brush it off.”
Sherlock grimaced. “He does have a habit of thinking he’s smarter than everyone else. The problem is, most of the time, he’s right. “
“We’re going to have to scare him into admitting it,” John said.
“You know, give him a good fright. Make him realise how dangerous she is.”
“Scare... Mycroft.” Sherlock frowned as though contemplating a particularly complex cipher.
“Yes! If we go to him together, tell him everything we know she’s capable of – he won’t be able to ignore it coming from you. Sister or not, we have to make him admit she exists, and that she might be planning to pay him a visit in the very near future. Put the fear of god into him.”
“You realise Mycroft doesn’t exactly have an excitable temperament. People refer to him as the Ice Man.”
John smiled grimly. “Then it might just mean we need to apply a little more heat.”
“Oh, I know! Clowns.” Sherlock’s eye held a decidedly malicious glint.
“Mycroft hates clowns. I know, it’s such a depressingly commonplace phobia – he’s very embarrassed about having it. But it did teach Mummy never to take him near a circus again. I wasn’t yet born at the time, of course, but she still recalls the experience quite vividly.”
“Um, Sherlock, that wasn’t quite the kind of scare I had in mind.”
“Yes, but you did say ‘put the fear of god into him’. Mycroft doesn’t fear god, but he does fear clowns. I suppose we could just confront him with the evidence as you suggest, but you have to admit this sounds like much more fun.”
John finally stopped pacing, and slumped into the chair he still distantly thought of as ‘his’. He eyed Sherlock warily from across the table, instinctively peering at his pupils. Sherlock sighed, but opened his eyes wide and let him do it. If Sherlock wasn’t high, it meant that his brain was going off on these random tangents all on its own. John wasn’t sure which prospect was more worrying. “You’re saying you’re going to dress up as a clown to… frighten him? Because just so you know, I’m not doing it.”
“No, not me. Or you, either, although that would be highly entertaining. One of my homeless network would do. Some of them do so enjoy a bit of pantomime.”
“But I still don’t understand. How are clowns even relevant to this situation? We’re trying to warn him about a potentially psychotic sister here, not an escapee from Ringling Brothers.”
“Oh, all right, then, we’ll throw in a little girl as well. To match your theme.”
“A little girl. Right.” John summoned every ounce of sarcasm he could muster, in the hopes that some of it would penetrate the gigantic force field of Sherlock’s ego. “So, we’re going to barge into Mycroft’s office, threaten him with a clown and a child, and say ‘admit it, your little sister exists and she’s on the loose. What are you going to do about it?’”
“No, of course not.”
“Thank god.” John heaved a sigh of relief, settling back into his chair. “Now, I think what we should probably do is…”
“Barging into his house would be far more effective. It’s where he feels most secure, after all. Where he can let his hair down, such as he has of it. And I happen to know its exact layout, which will come in very handy when it comes to setting up. Locking the doors, messing about with the lights. Proper scary stuff.”
John blinked, then straightened up again. “Um, Sherlock, I don’t think you quite understand. I’m talking about scaring him into helping us deal with Eurus, while you’ve started staging… Nightmare at Mycroft’s.”
“I mean, what’s the point of doing all of… that?”
“It’ll put him in the right frame of mind to listen. Also, it’ll demonstrate his security isn’t quite as good as he thinks it is. And, as I said earlier, it’ll be fun.”
“Sherlock, I’m sorry to have to ask this, but I know how good you are at hiding things. You haven’t been… I mean…” John leaned forward, and half-reached out a hand to Sherlock before drawing it back. “Because you know we can talk about it. If you still need… help.” He cleared his throat, not wanting to give outright voice to his fears.
“Your concern is understandable, John, but I am perfectly clean and sober, I assure you.” Sherlock looked at him steadily. “I promised you, didn’t I?”
John regarded him for a long, uneasy moment, and then nodded. “All right. So let me get this straight, you think we should break into Mycroft’s house, and spook him with a clown. And a little girl. Um, even if you’re serious, I don’t think it’s a good idea to get a child involved.”
“We could use a dummy instead. Or a statue.”
“Right, you think we should drag a model of a little girl all the way to Mycroft’s house and… what? Stick it in his hallway when he’s not looking?”
“Actually, yes.” Sherlock sounded disturbingly sincere. “Excellent idea. We should have both – a dummy and a little girl. Bait and switch.”
“Not only is that preposterous, it’s also dangerous. No sane parent would let their child do this. She could get hurt.”
“Not a little girl, then, a little person.”
“Little person? You mean... an adult who can fit into a child’s dress?" Actually, maybe John was high. Or at least still having hallucinations as a side-effect of the sedative Eurus had shot him with. At this point, that would make far more sense. "Do you actually know someone like that? And you think she’d do it?”
“Oh, you needn’t worry about Robert, he does it all the time. Finds it relaxing.”
“Not going to ask. All right, anything else we need, do you think?” John folded his arms, as though bracing himself. “A ringmaster? Jugglers? Elephants?”
“Blood,” Sherlock said, with a relish John would have found worrying in anyone else.
“Not real blood, I hope.”
“Of course not.”
“Mycroft has an entire line of family portraits on the upper landing, rescued from the ancestral pile, apparently. Hideous things, I’ve always hated them. Who cares who your ancestors were? They’re dead. And while Mycroft may well have blood on his hands, he’s not over fond of the literal stuff. I’d like to make those paintings bleed.”
“Mmm-hmm, and how’s that going to work?”
“Fake blood bags hooked up behind the frames, remote control devices set to make pinpricks into the canvas. At the eyes and mouth would be most effective, I think.” Sherlock gestured at his own features to illustrate. “When activated, liquid seeps slowly through the holes under pressure, and there you have it. Bleeding portraits.”
“It’ll ruin them.”
“Yes. It’s perfect.”
“Not to mention it would need a lot of setting up. You’d have to break in twice to get it all done.” The edge in John’s voice was intended to convey that perhaps Sherlock should stop and rethink the entire thing, but he held out little hope his suggestion would be received. Sherlock’s ability to ignore things he didn’t want to hear was unparalleled.
“I suppose so… oh, in that case, I’ll do the movie then, as well.”
“Mycroft’s schedule tends to be fairly irregular, but I know that he likes to spend Sunday nights in his home cinema watching old films. Thrillers, romances, film noir. So that’s when we’ll break in and get everyone into position, while he’s distracted by the so-called silver screen. Don’t know why he bothers, really – he knows all of them off by heart.”
“Mycroft watches... romances?”
“We all have our little vices, John. Anyway, he does have his little favourites, he’s very predictable in that regard.” Sherlock trailed off, looking thoughtful. “Film noir this week, I think, given the rain. Which means Devil in a Red Dress again.”
“How can you be so sure that… no, never mind. If you’re right…”
“…what exactly are you going to do? Swap it out for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Or something with clowns in?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Nothing so trite. There’s a home movie I’ve just remembered – I’ve a few tucked away somewhere. Daddy took most of them, growing up, but there’s one at the beach that has all four of us in it. When I asked who took that one, Mummy said it was Uncle Rudy. But it’s always bothered me – the angles are all wrong. Uncle Rudy was five foot ten, and the movie appears to be shot from an eye level of around three foot nine.”
The revelation intrigued John in spite of himself. “You mean, as though it were taken by a child. Maybe, even… Eurus?”
“Exactly. Mycroft said it was because Uncle Rudy was walking around holding the camera at waist height, but that always sounded like a terribly odd thing to do. Although he was a terribly odd man, in many respects…”
“All right,” John said hastily, before Sherlock could launch into a recount of the numerous eccentricities of his late uncle. “So you’re going to swap out Mycroft’s film for a home movie that might or might not indicate Eurus really existed.”
“Oh, better than that. I’ll get it transferred onto 35mm film and splice everything together to create something with a suitable… air of menace. Ought to kick off proceedings nicely. I know an ex-film technician, used to work at the Odeon in the old days. Owes me a favour.”
“Uh-huh. Well, this all sounds… insanely complicated.” Or, John thought, simply insane. “You really think Mycroft will fall for something like this…”
“I don’t see why not,” Sherlock said.
John could think of multiple reasons, but at the same time he had to admit it was good to see Sherlock this energised over something, even if it involved playing an overly complicated prank on his brother. “But don’t forget that everything you’re planning depends on getting past Mycroft’s security. Twice, if I’m not mistaken. What does he have, anyway? Dogs? Guards? Land mines?”
“Nothing that can be killed, sedated, or bribed – just cold, hard, reliable machinery. Cameras, infra-red beams, motion detectors, alarms, deadlocks, passcodes. Much of which, as it happens, can be remotely activated or disabled given enough experience. I may have… fallen into the habit of regularly testing its parameters and limitations over the years.”
“I bet you were a horrid little brother. Nothing would have been safe from you.”
The edges of Sherlock’s mouth curved into a half-smile. “I used to nick sweets from his room all the time when I was little. He knew full well I was the culprit, but he never managed to catch me. Anyway, we’ll sneak in Sunday night while he’s watching his movie, and when he realises something's up he’ll come looking for the intruder, only to find the door to the hallway locked tight. When everyone’s in place, I’ll unlock it remotely, and the fun can begin. Oh, and I’ll have to remember to disarm his umbrella as well. I don’t think anyone would appreciate getting shot.”
“Mycroft has a firearm built into his umbrella?” John’s surprise survived only a fleeting moment before being sucked into the ever-growing vortex of unreality. “I suppose that would explain why he carries it everywhere.”
“Well, that and to keep the rain off. It also conceals a blade, obviously.”
“Hmm, I think I’ll hire Fat Tony to wear the costume, then, he’s had a bit of fencing experience – both kinds, in fact. If Mycroft tries anything, he ought to be able to nick a sword from one of the suits of armour to defend himself. Place is full of them just standing around, a lot of useless metal shells. Yes, a sword-wielding clown.” Sherlock rubbed his hands together with satisfaction. “If that doesn’t scare the hell out of Mycroft, I don’t know what will.”
It was the final straw. By now John had spent the better part of an hour humouring Sherlock, and while he undoubtedly owed Sherlock a little patience and understanding to make up for everything John had done to him out of misguided rage, there were limits. He rose to his feet, keeping his voice low and steady, although his irritation seeped out unavoidably around the edges.
“All right, Sherlock. I’ve let you have your fun, but I think it’s time to give it a rest, okay? It all sounds very… imaginative, but as a plan for winning Mycroft’s cooperation it’s too complicated, too impractical and maybe just a little bit… stupid. What are we really going to do about Eurus?”
Sherlock stared up at him. “Exactly what I’ve explained to you. That’s what we’re going to do.”
“Look, Sherlock, I know that things have been… difficult for both of us lately, and it’s just possible you might need a bit of recovery time.” John gestured towards him imploringly. “Your brain, I mean, as well as the rest of you. Because, this, this plan of yours... it’s ridiculous.”
Sherlock looked troubled. “Do you really think so?”
John hesitated. The rekindled friendship between them still felt strained and fragile, and he didn’t want to push it too far. He continued as gently and calmly as he was able. “Yeah, I’m sorry, but I really do. Breaking into Mycroft’s house, the clown, the little girl, the bleeding portraits, the lights, the swords, splicing in the home movie. I know you’re always trying to get one over on Mycroft, show off how clever you are, but it’s just… you’re just indulging in some kind of insane wish fulfilment now.”
“Not at all, John. Perhaps you doubt my ability to do all that I say, but it’s a perfectly sound and reasonable plan.” Sherlock paused, as though weighing his words. “Now, if I were to indulge in some kind of ‘insane wish fulfilment’, as you put it… it would probably look more like this.”
Sherlock rose swiftly to his feet, taking the two steps between them, and John’s eyes widened as Sherlock’s hand reached up to brush the side of his face. Then Sherlock was kissing him, lightly but firmly, on the mouth. It was something John might have thought possible, once, before Irene and Mary and Janine, before all the terrible things they’d said and done to each other. But through all of it, John now realised, there was a part of him that had never truly given up hope. For several long, incredible moments, all the guilt and shame and anger faded into nothingness, and the only thing in the world was the press of Sherlock’s lips against his own.
“Now,” Sherlock said, sounding slightly breathless. “Be honest. Which would you say was more implausible: my proposed scenario to scare Mycroft into admitting the existence of Eurus, or that kiss?”
“Um,” John said, licking his lips nervously. “I, uh… let me get back to you on that one, okay?”
“All right, John,” Sherlock said, and then smiled, the mischievous light back in his eyes. “But in the meantime… we really need to start organising that clown suit.”