AU – Mycroft Holmes leads the grim war on terror and Sherlock is his best secret agent: cold, calculating and ruthless. He is obsessed with destroying the militant terrorists hiding deep in the disused London Underground – until one momentous day when he meets a child soldier named John.
Genre Adventure/Action, Kidfic, Espionage, Romance, Dark,
Characters Sherlock/Irene, Sherlock&John, Mycroft/Anthea, Lestrade, Sally Donovan, Anderson, Moriarty
Length 40,000+ 16 Chapters
Chapter 9 - Wicked
Sitting between her sister and Mycroft Holmes in the back of his black town car, Irene experienced what was probably the most uncomfortable moment in her life to date. In terms of discomfort, it certainly trumped the time she had been captured by the Somali National Army – when the soldiers had actually turned out to be a bunch of aspiring amateur comedians. This doubtless also trumped the time she ended up in a North Korean jail cell and found out first-hand just how extraordinary their idea of interrogation could be.
Sherlock sat directly opposite her, scowling furiously at Mycroft like a petulant toddler who has just been caught doing something naughty – like sticking his finger into a live socket.
"It's such a pity you couldn't make it to dinner," said Mycroft lightly, as if they actually were on an ordinary family outing.
"We thought hanging out with rebels would be more fun," snarled Sherlock.
"I'm sure you know how it upset Mummy."
"I upset her? Me? It wasn't me that upset her, Mycroft!"
"You can tell her that yourself when you see her."
"What?" For a moment, Sherlock looked completely confused and terribly put out.
"Take a look at where we are and make a deduction," said Mycroft calmly. "Do you really think we're taking you to MI6?"
Irene leant forwards to look out of the window and realised to her surprise that they were on the M25,* speeding out of London. Judging by the look of pure anger on Sherlock's face, their destination wasn't going to be any more pleasant than the interrogation cells at Vauxhall Cross.*
By the time the car was rolling down a long gravel path through the gentle English countryside, the sun had fully risen. The sky had turned a beautiful, deep shade of blue, interrupted only by faint wisps of white cloud high in the atmosphere, shaped like prancing horses. When their destination finally emerged from behind the luscious woodland, it took Irene's breath away.
A magnificent palace,* built in the Baroque style, towered before her. The centrepiece of the house was the glorious dome sitting proudly atop the four storey mansion, its decorations glinting in the sunlight. Two long wings extended out from the main house in a curved formation, making the building look as if it was embracing the visitors. The façade of white stone gave the house a fantastical quality, as if it belonged to the pages of a fairy tale rather than to grim reality. In the front court, a circle of brilliantly-manicured lawn surrounded a small but ornate fountain that was spraying forth an intricate pattern of water. The car came to a halt just in front of the steps up to the main entrance, and the driver gracefully opened the door for Anthea.
As Irene climbed out after her sister, she had the ridiculous feeling that she was completely underdressed. Anthea was wearing a gorgeous black and purple dress that accentuated her figure and would not look out of place at an official ball.
"Welcome to the country seat of the Marquess of Salisbury," said Mycroft with a certain irony that was lost on Irene, until she looked towards Sherlock.
"He means it's his house," drawled Sherlock with a mixture of apathy and resentment.
For a moment Irene wondered why she had never asked Sherlock more about his family, but then she realised he wouldn't have volunteered the information even if she had. Their relationship had started as one of intense passion and deep fascination. There was no room for questions or answers – their time together was far too precious. As the relationship mellowed through the years, Irene and Sherlock had talked about everything but their respective backgrounds. They loved each other as unique individuals: family, background, history were completely inconsequential.
"You married well," said Irene pragmatically to Anthea. Her sister gave her a sarcastic smile and walked up the steps as the huge oak doors swung open. Irene found herself following close behind, purely out of curiosity.
The sumptuous entrance hall was paved with white and black marble, producing a chessboard effect that was elegantly illuminated by the light entering the glass dome above them. The hall was completely empty, apart from the series of marble statues in the alcoves set into the wood-panelled walls. The grand, sweeping staircase dominated the vast space: a glorious construction of white marble, polished brass and sturdy oak.
A butler or footman – Irene couldn't tell which – stood to attendance at one side, waiting expectantly. He didn't have to wait long, for at that moment, a small figure came gliding down the steps like an angel descending from the heavens.
"Mummy!" cried Sherlock, sounding overjoyed to see her. Irene had to stifle her amusement at such a word coming from the lips of a grown man. The rather fixed smile plastered on Sherlock's face was enough to give her an indication that not all was well with their mother-son relationship.
The lady, Sherlock's mother, still retained a great deal of her earlier beauty despite the delicate web of wrinkles overlaying her features. Her dark grey curls were artfully arranged to frame her piercing grey eyes. There was no doubt to whom Sherlock owed his striking looks.
"Mummy," said Mycroft, striding past Irene and embracing his mother like a dutiful son. Sherlock, clearly jealous of the attention his brother was receiving, instantly nudged his way into the closed circle of two.
Anthea caught Irene's eye at that moment, and for a second Irene forgot her resentment towards her sister: for marrying Mycroft, for never standing up for her, for manipulating her as skilfully as Mycroft manipulated Sherlock.
They burst into laughter despite the seriousness of the situation, as if they were still children.
"Anthea, darling." Mrs Holmes gracefully extracted herself from Sherlock's embrace to acknowledge their presence. "And you must be Irene, how delightful to see you both together at last."
Anthea bent down to kiss her cheek while Irene hung back, wondering how she should approach Sherlock's mother.
"Irene, Mycroft tells me that you and Sherlock will be staying here for a few days as part of your annual leave."
Irene blinked in astonishment. What were Mycroft and Anthea playing at?
"If you say so," she said with forced cheerfulness, trying to sound completely causal. The little old lady walked up to her and gently took her hand.
"I'm so happy to meet you at last; Sherlock has told me so much about you. I want to thank you for all the joy you have brought him over the years. I am so terribly happy to hear that you are finally engaged!"
This time Irene didn't have time to stop her mouth from opening in shock. Without even realising what she was doing, she looked up at Sherlock, who met her eyes with an equally confused look, though he composed himself almost instantly.
"I suppose Mycroft let it slip," said Sherlock angrily. Irene was about to protest that she wasn't engaged to Sherlock and this was an entirely bizarre misunderstanding but Anthea gave her the look. It was an expression that Irene knew far too well: don't say a word.
"Well, I'm sorry he ruined your surprise, my dear, but there is so much we have to plan for the wedding," continued Mrs Holmes. Her grip on Irene's hands suddenly tightened, making Irene feel inexplicably uncomfortable. Her subconscious was telling her to back away as quickly as possible; perhaps it was the nails digging into her skin or the strange, obsessive look that had slowly crept into Mrs Holmes' grey eyes.
Anthea stepped forward and gently detached the old lady's fingers from Irene's. "I'm sure my sister will be very grateful for everything. Shall we have some tea in the drawing room?"
Mrs Holmes blinked slowly, as if waking from a trance, and then smiled up at Anthea. "Of course, dear, that would be lovely."
The butler or footman left silently, presumably to prepare the tea tray, and Anthea calmly led Mrs Holmes away through the back of the entrance hall.
Irene let out a breath that she hadn't realised she was even holding. A firm hand gripped her shoulder, and she turned to see Sherlock standing behind her, offering wordless comfort.
"Mummy…" he said cautiously, and then paused as if the words had become stuck in his throat. "Mummy has certain problems."
"Our mother is a schizophrenic," added Mycroft blandly, causing Irene to look uncertainly between the two brothers. "Don't worry, though," he continued with a humourless smile, "we apparently haven't inherited the right combination of genes to be affected."
"What are you playing at?" demanded Irene, unable to make sense of the bizarre situation she had been landed in. Being whisked away from her work and unceremoniously dumped in this opulent palace deserved at least some sort of explanation.
"Contrary to what my brother might have told you, I'm not arresting either of you. I merely would like the pair of you to have some rest and relaxation…now that everything has been wrapped up."
"Everything has not been wrapped up!" snapped Irene, even as she realised that from this point onwards, Mycroft would want sole control over the operation, in order to keep the actual plot secret. He didn't want the whole of Section D wondering just what the terrorists would gain by setting off an electromagnetic pulser. If intelligence about Mycroft's pacemaker were leaked, his life expectancy would be dramatically reduced – unless he spent the rest of his life in a lead-lined bunker underground.
"You must understand, Irene, that your involvement in this mission has come to an end. Please avail yourself of the respite; perhaps you can ask Mummy for some baby photos of Sherlock…."
Speaking of Sherlock, he had become suspiciously silent all of a sudden. Apparently he didn't want to upset his mother by telling the old lady that they had no intention of getting married, or of staying at this house for a moment longer. Irene realised only now how much Sherlock adored his mother…and simply couldn't bring himself to dispel her misguided notions. He was effectively imprisoned by his concern for her happiness – a beautifully devious move on Mycroft's part, worthy of Machiavelli.
"Listen, Mycroft, I know you want to end this thing without anyone finding out about the terrorists, but you can't proceed as things currently stand. We're still missing something!"
Irene had first noticed the nagging feeling at the back of her mind after briefing the special ops team about her suspicions. The cancellation of the mission had been met with a great deal of opposition, but Lestrade's booming voice had prevailed over the cacophony of protests. Irene and the rest of Section D were not about to become popular with the special ops any time soon, but at least they had gained their co-operation.
One particularly sharp young lieutenant had raised his hand towards the end of the session, frowning in puzzlement.
"From the chatter our analysts have picked up, there's a great deal of excitement about this bomb amongst the subversive elements. If that thing isn't a dirty bomb, the whole scenario doesn't fit."
Now as the adrenaline faded, that stinging sensation of having missed something important returned with a vengeance. Her mentor, Lestrade, had always praised her ability to see things that others overlooked. Her "sixth sense", he had called it: the instinctive feeling that all was not quite right. It was nothing like Sherlock's clear, calculated deductions, in which only his logical thoughts were engaged. Her instincts were much vaguer – a subconscious awareness that couldn't be put into words or analysed – but these instincts had saved her life far too many times to be discounted.
"I assure you, Irene," continued Mycroft politely, "everything will be taken care of."
His tone had a finality that only a man with his power and position could convey. It drained both resistance and hope from its listeners and crushed any thoughts of dissent. Irene wanted to argue, to shout in frustration, but Sherlock's hand returned to her shoulder, and she realised there was nothing she could do.
Deep underground, John was dreaming of grass: the smooth, silky strands matted into a beautiful carpet of green stretching as far as the eye could see. His paradise was interrupted by the sensation of being shaken roughly.
John awoke with a start and found himself staring blearily into the steely-grey eyes of his captain, Seb.
"Get up, John."
"Captain?" John's body told him it was still far too early to be awake, and he fought a sweeping urge to just lie back down.
"Your presence has been ordered in the command centre."
Still choked by the fog of sleep, it took several long moments for John to realise the seriousness of the request. When his mind eventually caught up with events, he scrambled hastily out of his sleeping bag and stood up on shaking legs.
"Come on," ordered Seb roughly. John ran after him, his heart pounding with excitement and fear.
By the time they'd reached the conference room of Company C, John's sleep-addled mind had finally cleared enough for him to realise that it was highly unusual for any of the commanders to be awake at such an early hour. Something very important must be about to happen.
As he stepped into the bunker, he was shocked to see all of the high commanders sitting silently around the table, looking far more awake than John felt. At the head of the round metal table, poring over what looked like a picture of the Underground power station, was a short, lithe man John had never seen before. Suddenly, the man looked up from the diagrams and stared straight into John's wide eyes.
"Hello," he said with a wicked smile that seemed to paralyse John, "nice to meet you. I'm Jim..."
*M25: For people who haven't visited London, the M25 is the motorway ring road around London that causes a great deal of grief for commuters.
*Vauxhall Cross: the new headquarters of MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Services) overlooking the river. If you've seen Skyfall, it's the building that gets blown up. MI5 (the Security Services) headquarters at Thames House are on the other side of river, whence they fondly refer to MI6 as TSAR (those sh*ts across the river).
*The Holmes estate is based on the real life Castle Howard, in North Yorkshire. Google it, it's magnificent.
Mummy and schizophrenia
With the character of Mummy, I decided that she would have schizophrenia because it was one condition which has a sort of "remitting-relapsing" course. Many people living perfectly normal lives with this disorder as long as they take their medication; but some have break through psychotic episodes and others do not comply with treatment. Giving Mummy a mental illness helps to build a picture of Sherlock/Mycroft's childhood and also explain why they are to all intent and purposes alone in the world. I think it is much more poignant that their mother is still alive but unable to offer consistent emotional support. In this universe it goes some way to explaining why Sherlock is reluctant to have a family and also why he is able to love passionately but fears emotional closeness. He adores his mother but she cannot consistently reciprocate that love during his formative years. Sherlock I believe had to distance himself emotionally from his mother in order to remain emotionally stable throughout his childhood.
As a medical student I spent far too much time on psychiatry. Understanding of psychiatric disease is to all intent and purposes still stuck in the Victorian era. We have very little idea of the pathology behind the syndromes that we witness. The diseases are not classified on the basis of pathology and aetiology (cause) as in most other branches of medicine but on the presenting symptoms. In effect all psychiatric diseases are really psychiatric syndromes. What psychiatrists can really do is support the patient and their families through what are commonly chronic conditions.
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