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
The mid-morning sun transformed the day from cool and brisk to warm and humid in a matter of hours. Despite the still-early hour, heat had already imbued the gardens with a hazy, lethargic atmosphere. The bees buzzed sedately between the rose bushes, and crickets chirped languidly amidst the undergrowth.
“Do you like it?” asked Sherlock quietly as they walked through the garden. Irene’s mind was still wrapped up with thoughts of the mission, but Sherlock seemed to have moved on from that preoccupation, and he appeared to be taking his role as host very seriously.
“Does it matter?”
“It’s still my home as much as Mycroft’s,” muttered Sherlock, and Irene realised that her abrupt answer must have hurt him deeply. He was attached to this place, as much as man of Sherlock’s detached disposition could be.
“I do like it. There are just more important things to worry about.”
Sherlock didn’t reply; instead, he led her into the shade of an old, gnarled oak tree. It stood like a solitary survivor in the middle of the lush, manicured lawn outside the formal gardens, at the point where complicated topiary and geometric flower beds gave way to something a little more natural. It took Irene several moments to realise that the rock underneath the tree was not ornamental, but a tombstone. It was small, rectangular and devoid of any superfluous decoration: perhaps it was a pet cemetery for Sherlock’s or Mycroft’s beloved animals. As she came closer, Irene could decipher the words carved into the grey stone.
Enola* Holmes – loved and was loved
It was a simple, elegant epithet that told Irene absolutely nothing about the pet that was buried beneath the slab. She wondered for a moment whether it had been a dog, cat or even a canary – certainly it had been cherished during its life, but then seemingly forgotten. There were no flowers adorning the grave, and the grass around it was so sparse, there was no need to trim away the vegetation.
Sherlock knelt down and brushed some of the lichen from the stone front with his fingers. He seemed contemplative and melancholy.
“Do you know why there’s such a big age gap between Mycroft and me?” he asked. Irene shook her head; her mind was still going over the details of the mission: Mycroft’s anonymous source, the lack of weapons-grade uranium, the little black box, the young special ops lieutenant who was so sure the whole thing didn’t fit.
“It’s because of her.” He pointed at the small grave.
Irene stared at the stone in confusion, trying to work out why the presence of an animal would make Sherlock’s mother reluctant to have another child. It was only after several seconds of bizarre imagination that Irene finally realised what Sherlock had been trying to tell her.
“She’s your sister!”
The plain, unattractive grave suddenly looked a lot more neglected than before, and it filled Irene with a strange sense of sadness. Why had the family buried their only daughter alone in the middle of the garden like some inconsequential pet, and not in the churchyard with the rest of the family – with her father, Robert Cecil-Holmes?
“I brought you here because…” Sherlock hesitated and stood up, looking highly uncomfortable. “I know about the baby,” he blurted out.
Irene stared at him as she felt the unmistakable sensation of her stomach freefalling through her abdomen. The pounding of her heart drowned out the lazy buzz of insects and suddenly the world seemed to shrink until there was nothing but Sherlock, looking at her with indescribably sad eyes. No past, no future, just this one moment burning itself into her memory forever. She must have started hyperventilating, because the tips of her fingers were tingling. Her vision blurred, faded, and then came back in much sharper focus, so that she could see every imperfection on Sherlock’s pale skin.
It was too late to hide her reaction, and even if she had been able to, Sherlock would still know.
“The baby,” she murmured.
“I know why you won’t marry me, why you’ve held me at arm’s length for all this time,” he said, so quickly that the words seemed to run into each other.
“I thought,” she whispered, “you wanted it that way.”
He looked a little surprised, but then regained whatever was left of his composure.
“I’ve seen what it is to lose a child, Irene; I know it can destroy a person, a family – completely. I…I want to tell you…that you are brave, incredibly brave, but you don’t have to live with it alone. I –” he stopped and looked away from her, up at the thick branches of the oak tree above them, as if he couldn’t find the strength to carry on. “We – we can move on from it, if you will just talk to me….”
“How – how did you find out? It was ten years ago.”
“My quest for Moriarty led me to reopen all the old files – going back to the first time I ever heard the name and the first time I ever met you. I went over everything with a fine-tooth comb. I found…three months when your movements were unaccounted for after you defected from Moriarty.”
Irene wanted to say something, anything, but the words wouldn’t come out.
“I used every resource available to find out what you had been doing those three months before you reappeared and joined MI5. I found the certificate of stillbirth for the baby – you listed my alias as…as the father.”
His eyes were swimming with emotion, a sight that Irene had not seen since that fateful night when he had coordinated the prisoner exchange with the North Korean facilities where she had been held. I’m so glad you’re safe, he had admitted when they were finally alone. She was so dazed and sore she couldn’t bring herself to actually touch him, and he had accepted that – spending the night sitting next to her on the floor, ever watchful and loyal.
“Yes, I did,” she admitted.
“Because – I had hoped he would be your son.”
At first his expression didn’t change, she was afraid that he would suddenly lose his composure or walk away – as he was apt to do – from a difficult emotional situation, and leave her alone to drown in memories she had suppressed for nearly a decade. However, to her astonishment, he stepped towards her – his eyes shining with an emotion that looked at once familiar and foreign, an emotion that she could not name, though she felt her heart seize in sympathy nonetheless.
“Thank you,” he whispered, and he wrapped his thin arms gently around her trembling figure. “I…appreciate it.”*
Five hours and a restless sleep later, Irene found herself staring numbly at the empty fireplace in the drawing room while the dowager marchioness happily talked about her upcoming wedding to Sherlock. Playing along with the outlandish charade were Anthea and Sherlock. Mycroft had since excused himself on account of government business and returned to London, leaving Irene effectively imprisoned in his country home.
The paintings of long-deceased Holmeses seemed to stare intently down at her from the walls. Their pedigree was like a Mendelian experiment into human genetics. The majority were adorned with dark curls and noble Roman features, but about a quarter were gifted with the recessive traits of blonde hair and blue eyes. A particularly bonny little boy with rosy cheeks and straight, golden hair smiled at Irene from a portrait abundant with beautiful blue flowers. She looked away; the sight of this happy, healthy child caused her more pain than she would ever want to admit.
Across the room, Sherlock looked relaxed and comfortable. Now that Irene had managed to regain her mental faculties, she realised he must have known about their stillborn child for a long time – enough time for Sherlock to overcome the trauma of the discovery in his own way. Only when he had reached an emotional equilibrium had he confronted her. The place, time, and setting had all been carefully chosen.
And people think Sherlock understands nothing of human emotion….
In the years after the birth, she had tried so hard not to think about the tiny, pink infant in her arms. He hadn’t looked conventionally beautiful or even pleasant, but he was perfect, just perfect. Then she’d had to leave him, and the world, which had lit up for one brief moment, went completely dark.
Her baby would be ten years old now. Perhaps he would be as thin as his father, and just as much of an irascible genius; or perhaps he would be the calm counterbalance to Sherlock’s flares of brilliance, and the glue that held their little family together.
But it was not meant to be, and, as she had told herself countless times over the years, thinking about the past would not change the present. Her child was gone, and she had no right to call herself his mother anymore.
Irene had found a way to occupy her mind – work. It was as potent and addictive as any of the anti-depressants or sedatives the doctors had prescribed for her. Work gave her purpose, focus, and sometimes the fleeting sense of humanity that she craved.
Sherlock had no idea of the floodgates he had opened with his questions…or perhaps he did, and he genuinely thought it was the right thing to do. Either way, now more than ever, she needed to concentrate on the mission, or else she would be completely lost.
The whole scenario doesn’t fit. The young lieutenant’s voice kept playing itself over and over again inside her head like a stuck record. She didn’t even know his name, but his pale face haunted her thoughts as much his words did. Driven by that spectre, Irene diligently worked through all the pieces of information she had managed to gather about the supposed plot.
Firstly, Mycroft’s anonymous source had provided intelligence that the LRA had a nuclear bomb. That intelligence had to be discounted, now that Irene knew that all the sources of the world’s enriched uranium were accounted for…but Mycroft was not a man to blindly trust his sources, no matter who they were. He must have analysed the data in minute detail and been convinced it was true. That alone made Irene cautious about labelling the intelligence wrong.
Secondly, there was the issue of the electromagnetic pulser. It was not entirely true that the box had to contain an EMP generator; that was merely the most probable answer, and one that Sherlock had arrived at as well. However, the existence of an EMP device didn’t automatically mean Mycroft’s source was incorrect.
Perhaps they were both completely wrong, or perhaps they were both completely right.
The third issue was the style of the assassination. It was brilliant, subtle, and so very unlike anything the LRA had done before. They were terrorists, not assassins – their primary motive was to spread fear amongst the populace. This quiet, deadly, and remote method of killing simply didn’t produce the fear factor that blowing out someone’s brains all over the pavement or reducing a public building to dust with hundreds of people inside would. The terrorists were focused on destroying the government, but they had always had that goal. What was the rush right now? They had waited patiently underneath the surface for decades; surely they would want Mycroft’s death to be more spectacular and public than a heart attack, which could be attributed to natural causes.
Finally, Irene’s mind returned, illogically, to the night she had met John Watson. The image of the young boy rolling around on the grass like an excited puppy almost caused her to smile. Why had she thought of this now, of all times?
Because her child would be the same age…. Irene ruthlessly suppressed that thought: the whole point of this exercise was to stop thinking about the baby.
It must have been something John had said, something that, now that time had passed, Irene’s subconscious had finally managed to understand the importance of.
“Oh, there’s an entire power plant down in the Underground. Seb told me that the LRA built it a long time ago from what was left over after the Second World War.”
The realisation that this was what had been festering at the back of her mind came as a relief – like an itch that had finally been scratched. However a myriad of different questions blossomed from the simple statement.
An underground power plant – but what kind of fuel could it run on?
Gas was out of the question: if someone was siphoning off enough gas to run a power station, the government would know about it. Coal was far too bulky for tonnes of it to disappear underground without anyone noticing, and without generating a huge trail of evidence.
What else could there be?
The answer struck like an epiphany from the heavens, leaving Irene breathless with adrenaline. It was obvious, so incredibly obvious. Sherlock, MI5, the JIC had all been on the right path, but looking in entirely the wrong direction. No current nuclear material was unaccounted for, but that didn’t mean older sources of uranium didn’t exist.
A nuclear power station built by Churchill during the Second World War could still be fully functional, if properly maintained, and that was what the LRA were about to blow up under London. The electromagnetic pulser was just the distraction.
*Remember when Sherlock got a phone call from Q in Chapter 4 – Q was the man who hacked the hospital records for Sherlock and pieced together the stillbirth certificate.
*Enola is not an original character (or at least the name isn’t my invention). Nancy Springer invented her for the Enola Holmes series. She is the youngest Holmes, a sister who escapes boarding school to become a detective in London like Sherlock. I’ve decided to borrow the name, but that’s about all that will remain the same about Enola.
Enola Holmes will be central to the plot of the sequel (yes there is a sequel). But she’s dead! I hear readers exclaim. Well, so is Moriarty, and he casts a massive shadow.
Irene and the Baby
Writing the scene for Irene and Sherlock under the oak tree was incredibly difficult particularly has neither of these character ever come close to this level of emotional exposure in the series. As for Irene’s backstory, I had envisaged her joining Moriarty at the beginning of his terror campaign – seduced by his brilliance and danger, blinded by her own idealism and urge to rebel. Then Sherlock appears out of the blue – equally amazing and intense but in a different way. He managed through their courtship to convince Irene of what Moriarty’s true plans which have nothing to do with liberation. Disillusioned, she gave Sherlock the key to bringing down that particular terror cell and forced Moriarty to escape with his plans in shreds but Irene is still a wanted terrorist. Mycroft Holmes attempts to capture her but Sherlock fakes her death (a la ASIB) and Irene goes into hiding for several months where no one can track her. Sherlock manages to negotiate a deal with Mycroft over Irene and she is eventually allowed back in the country to work for MI5.