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Bullpup Press
A Creative-Writing House

The Ice Breaker


Carole Manny & Lynn Walker

Mycroft looked down at the phone in his hand, but there was no mistake about it: John Watson had just hung up on him, after a more impassioned telling-off than he’d given Mycroft in a very long time.

Your brother was about forty-five minutes from respiratory arrest,” John had snapped, and in his voice all the worry and strain of that emergency were still plain for Mycroft to hear.

Such a simple case on the face of it, Mycroft thought, and yet, if not for John Watson, it would have been Sherlock’s last. How many times had he said that over the years? More often than he could count. And surely without the Doctor’s steadying influence on him Sherlock would have self-destructed long before this. Without John, Mycroft was convinced, the man he couldn’t stop thinking of as his little brother would not be there today. Thank you, John, he thought, even as he despised himself for the approach to sentimentalism.

Mycroft valued no one more than his wild, intractable brother. Sherlock valued no one more than John Watson. John didn’t always trust that Mycroft kept Sherlock’s best interests in mind, but Mycroft harbored no such doubts about John, although initially the Doctor had been a real puzzle to him. A man who not only trusted Sherlock—Sherlock Holmes, for God’s sake—almost at once, but had proven time and again that he would do anything for him. Forgive him anything. Sherlock had never inspired that kind of loyalty in his life until he met John Watson, and now he had a whole cadre of ardent friends and defenders, most of whom he took no notice of. In his first thirty-four years on earth Sherlock met exactly one person not an immediate relative with the quality required to appreciate him, and over the next six he had attracted a small army of others. Or rather, John attracted them to Sherlock. John was the common denominator. No one other than his parents and brother had ever loved Sherlock, and yet there was John, Mr. Normal Average, drawn to him immediately, openly delighted by his brilliance, eager to share his adventures, and on balance tolerant of his drama.

What was it in John that responded to Sherlock? John was no different than anyone else when it came to matching Sherlock’s mind, but in his own quiet, subtle way he was an exceptional man, far above the common run in intelligence, more adventuresome, tougher, and braver. Certainly he was entirely unafraid of Mycroft, a fact Mycroft found by turns annoying, inconvenient, and very nearly admirable. If Sherlock augmented his every human trait to a higher key, John was only a half-tone behind. Mediocrity understands nothing better than itself, but talent knows genius at once, Mycroft thought: It was John’s own exceptionalism which drew him to Sherlock.

Sherlock, in turn, was drawn to John. Mycroft admitted to an ignoble and entirely non-utilitarian envy of Sherlock’s attachment to him, because their friendship was in most ways closer than the bond between the brothers. John, in contrast, often appeared dismayed by the ongoing fraternal strife. Years ago, before Mycroft had fully taken John’s measure, he had made the tactical mistake of appealing to John’s influence with Sherlock by trying to persuade them to abandon a case whose pursuit risked becoming awkward to some of Mycroft’s associates. John, in his understated English way, had declined to help Mycroft on the grounds that Sherlock didn’t listen to him any more than he did to Mycroft, although they both knew that to be untrue. What he really meant was that he simply wouldn’t work against his friend. “You have more power over him than anyone on this earth,” Mycroft had told him, because he couldn’t conceive of a man having the power to influence the intransigent Sherlock and refusing to use it. John’s answer had surprised him: “Has it ever occurred to you,” he said, “that you might have a better relationship with your brother if you stopped thinking in terms of having power over him?” And then John Watson had turned and walked away.

It was neither the first nor the last time that John defied Mycroft, but whereas Sherlock fought his brother out of resentment, competition, and sheer bloody-mindedness, when John opposed him he did so on principle, and that made him a much bigger problem for Mycroft. Far more troublesome, and a much tougher opponent. In his circles Mycroft encountered very, very few men of real principle. Nearly everyone he met operated, tacitly or not, on the principle that there were no principles: They were men who worshipped the triumvirate of pragmatism, expediency, and the path of least resistance. The kind of men Mycroft could manage. The kind of men John Watson despised.

Sherlock had changed in a very subtle way since John came along, Mycroft reflected. It was difficult for him to identify, but he believed that it was less something his brother had gained than something he’d…resurrected. Mycroft remembered—and it astonished him still, after all these years—the first time he saw Sherlock glance at John with affection. The expression came and went in a fraction of a second and John never noticed—and Sherlock certainly hadn’t realized he was doing it—but affection, for God’s sake. Mycroft successfully hid his astonishment then, but the impact of that intercepted glance hadn’t faded. Mycroft had seen that gleam of affection in his brother’s eye since, as well. Affection and pride, of all things.

He’d done his best to warn Sherlock against the attachment, with no more success on that subject than on any other. Considerably less, in fact. “Remember Redbeard,” he’d warned at one point. Sherlock had either not recognized or had dismissed as invalid Mycroft’s parallel between John and the beloved pet of Sherlock’s childhood, and on reflection Mycroft wondered whether, in the context of this most recent demonstration of John’s worth, he might, just possibly, not have been quite fair to John when he made the association.

Whether the parallel was sound or not, Sherlock rose to John’s defense as resolutely as John to his, most recently during today’s truncated phone call. “You know how much John hates anything to do with Delaram,” he had snapped. Mycroft did know that, but how? The information had not come from John. He and Mycroft shared the common aim of keeping Sherlock whole, but they had never established much above civility between themselves. Cordiality would be overstating things. Even if Mycroft had permitted more, John was not a man to maintain dual loyalties. Mycroft did know that Delaram was a sore point, but he had so many details of which to keep track, and John was generally not one of his priorities.

He unlocked a drawer, withdrew a very thick file, and opened it on the desk. He turned to the section containing John’s service record first. Delaram. The second-biggest firefight in Afghanistan in 2009. Twelve British and coalition troops died in the ambush, along with an accounted-for 124 Taliban fighters. John Watson had personally rescued four badly injured soldiers by dragging them, under heavy small arms and RPG fire, from their ruined armored vehicles to the relative safety of the coalition’s defensive line. He’d been returning for the fourth soldier when he received the injury that ended his military career and very nearly his life, yet he still managed to retrieve the man and had nearly reached shelter before being overcome by his injury. Doctor Watson received an honorable medical discharge, spent the next six months in hospital and physical therapy, and was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross by Her Majesty in a palace ceremony on January 16, 2010.

Mycroft looked up from the file. Except for the trauma of being nearly killed, which Mycroft conceded, he didn’t see anything in John’s service record that would account for his aversion to discussing Delaram. He turned over a few more pages of the file. Ah: three of the four soldiers John rescued later committed suicide, and the fourth was permanently disabled by a brain injury suffered during the battle. That brought things into a little clearer focus. John Watson cared. He would naturally be troubled by the fact that his efforts later came to naught—not for himself, but for his wounded comrades. Then, too, it was at Delaram that John received his career-ending injury, and Mycroft firmly believed that part of Sherlock’s initial appeal to John was that he supplied something like the danger and excitement that John had enjoyed about the war.

John’s military record ended there, of course, so Mycroft turned to the session notes of John’s therapist. He smiled: confirmation. The suicides had upset John extremely. He’d spoken of them to the therapist on no fewer than…four occasions. Mycroft skimmed through a great deal of vaporing about the point of it all—why save those men if they were just going to die anyway—bitterness about the loss of his military career, and the stubborn insistence that given half a chance he’d do the same thing again. Intellectually John knew that he was blameless for the suicides. Emotionally he was on shakier ground, but the therapist noted that her advice was that if John was already intellectually certain, only time would cement that certainty into an emotional conviction, as well. Mycroft sniffed.

It also appeared from the therapist’s notes that John’s other, still greater regret about Delaram was his utter helplessness to save his good friend, one “Danny.” Mycroft frowned. Danny who? He leafed forward and back through the notes without finding a reference to a surname. Well, he’d come back to that.

What caught his attention next was the therapist’s professionally dispassionate account suddenly giving way to a candid expression of surprise: “Threw his CGC medal into the Thames.” Underlined. Three exclamation points. Boxed. The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. Britain’s second-highest military honor behind only the Victoria Cross. Mycroft was not nearly as surprised as the therapist had been. He could perfectly well imagine John Watson, patriot though he was, pitching that medal into the river, because more than a patriot John was a man of principle and integrity. He’d proved it the first time Mycroft met him and innumerable times since. If John believed that he didn’t deserve that medal, or if he believed that accepting it was a betrayal of his values, there was nothing else he could have done. He would never publicly dishonor the service he loved by refusing the medal, but he would uphold his own sense of honor by privately discarding something that he felt he didn’t deserve, a symbol of what he believed was his failure as a doctor, and, knowing John, his failure as a friend.

Mycroft read on. John reported experiencing recurring nightmares about the soldier’s death at the time of the sessions in early 2010, but since that was when the sessions stopped—when John met Sherlock—Mycroft had no way of knowing whether the death still troubled John to the same extent. According to Sherlock, however, Delaram in general troubled him, so Mycroft thought it likely.

It occurred to Mycroft then that restoring John’s medal to him might be a satisfactory way to thank the Doctor for his care of Sherlock. And yet there was no question of Mycroft personally approaching him, even if the thing could be found, which he very much doubted, it having been pitched into the water from Blackfriar’s Bridge. The mere fact of Mycroft having that knowledge was a grievous breach of John’s privacy, Mycroft supposed; certainly John would see it that way. If, on the other hand, the original medal was said to have been serendipitously found, and if it came from someone with whom John shared a better connection, it was just possible that he might be persuaded to keep it this time, and to…what? What did Mycroft want him to do? Forgive himself? Find ‘inner peace’? It didn’t really matter, Mycroft decided, what John did, nor whether he kept the medal. He would make sure that the medal was returned to John because he was grateful for the life of his little brother. If John kept the trinket and cheered up a bit in consequence, well, there was nothing Mycroft could do about that.

Now the question became, who would he designate to deliver the medal? Sherlock he dismissed at once as a candidate. In fact, he would have to take pains to ensure that the medal would survive Sherlock’s very close scrutiny. Mycroft returned to the friend John had lost during the battle. Danny. A quick search of the military records produced the names of the twelve men who had died that day, only one of which was named Daniel. Daniel Kelly Mornington.

Mycroft scribbled a note and summoned Anthea. “Get me everything you can find on this man and his family, if he had one. Have it in five.”

Four and a half minutes later she returned and passed him a manila cover. “Lord Foxcroft is here for his three o’clock,” she noted.

Mycroft didn’t look up from the folder. “Busy,” he said with a dismissive flick of his hand.

She didn’t move.

Mycroft sighed. “Tell him I’m on an important call. Pick someone he’s afraid of. Tell him it’s the Earl, or something.” She glided out and he looked over the file, skipping Mornington’s service record and focusing on his widow, Jane. Living in South Croydon, never remarried, no children. Mycroft scribbled another note and recalled Anthea.

“I want to see this woman at her home tomorrow afternoon. Preferably at five p.m. And get David at the Palace on the phone immediately.”


The black Jaguar eased to a stop at the curb, but Mycroft didn’t emerge at once. He was fully aware that the persona he had worked so hard to cultivate and which after a lifetime of practice felt so natural did him no favors outside his usual haunts. “You look like a supercilious prig,” Sherlock told him once. “Like you just bit into a turd sandwich,” John had added. The recollection was so annoying that he almost told the driver to move along, but it was true that here in one of South Croydon’s lower-middle-class streets his usual mien was just the sort of thing to guarantee the stillbirth of his errand. He already regretted the excess of sentimentalism that had prompted it; if he left now he might as well throw the medal in the river himself.

He sighed, composed his features into a semblance of amiability, and stepped out of the car.

The door of number 1976 Grange Road was answered by a slim, petite woman in her late thirties, with glossy, dark brown, shoulder-length hair and large brown eyes. She was neatly dressed in dark jeans and a crisp, short-sleeved, feminine blouse. Pretty, if Mycroft was any judge of such things, which he was not, but he recognized symmetrical facial features when he saw them.

“Mrs. Mornington?” he said, extending his card. “Mycroft Holmes. You spoke with my assistant yesterday.”

“Yes. Mr. Holmes,” she said with a polite smile. “Come in. Can I get you anything? Something to drink?”

“Very kind, thank you, but no.”

She gestured to an armchair in the front room and went to the sofa, where she put his card on the coffee table in front of her. It was a clean room, airy and light, modestly furnished with a combination of Ikea and hand-me-down pieces.

“It’s good of you to see me on such short notice,” Mycroft said, by way of a warm-up.

“Your assistant said you’re with the Home Office?” she asked.

“That’s right.”

“How can I help you?”

“I’m here about John Watson.”

“John,” she said, quite surprised. “Doctor John Watson?”

“Yes. You do know him, I collect?”

“Yes. Yes, very well. My husband and John were mates since university. They played rugby together. They were very good friends. John was very dear to him, and to me.”

Mycroft set his attaché case on his lap. From it he took a small black jeweler’s case. He placed it on the coffee table and slid it toward her. “Would you open that, please?” he said.

She glanced at the box, then at him, and appeared puzzled, but not suspicious. She did as he asked, but then looked up at him again, mystified.

“Do you recognize it?” he asked.

“Of course,” she said. “It’s a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.”

“That medal was found in the Thames last week during a routine dredging operation. A worker found it and turned it in. Please remove it from the case, Mrs. Mornington. There’s an inscription on the reverse. Would you mind reading it?”

“‘Captain John H. Watson, Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers.’” She frowned. “I don’t understand. This is…Is this John’s medal for Delaram? Why did you bring it here?” Her expression changed abruptly to one of concern. “Is he all right? Has something happened to him?”

“No,” Mycroft assured her. “No. Nothing at all like that. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to alarm you. As far as I know Doctor Watson is in perfectly good health.”

“Then I don’t understand,” she said. “Why did you bring his medal here? How did it get into the river?”

“John Watson threw that medal into the Thames shortly after it was presented to him.”

“What?” she gasped. “Why?”

“You’re familiar, of course, with the actions for which the government awarded Doctor Watson that medal?”

“Of course,” she said. “Yes. He saved four soldiers that day, even though he was very badly hurt in the battle. I went to see him when he got back to England,” she added, clasping her hands and looking down at them, “but he seemed so unhappy, and I…I think it hurt him to see me, so I stopped going.” She looked up at Mycroft. “My husband was killed in that battle, Mr. Holmes. John tried so hard to save him, but…” She stopped, made a visible effort to control herself, and went on in a more natural tone. “I’m so sorry,” she said. She brushed a strand of hair away from her face, hooked it behind her ear. “I don’t mean to embarrass you. Please. Go on.”

“Three of the four men Doctor Watson saved that day later took their own lives, in part because of the physical and emotional injuries they suffered that day.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “I know that, too. We’re a close community in the service, Mr. Holmes. Like a big family. I know the wives of two of those men who…who died.”

“Mrs. Mornington,” Mycroft said. “I apologize for resurrecting such painful memories, but I asked you to see me today because John Watson…” He stopped, annoyed with himself. It really shouldn’t be so awkward to tell the truth. “I asked you to see me today because I am in John Watson’s debt and have been for some time.” He could see that he had her attention now. “For several years now Doctor Watson—John—has kept someone very dear to me alive and safe. Relatively safe,” he added. He was trying to be honest. “I owe him a very great debt of gratitude, and it’s past time that I did something about it.”

“I won’t be telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that John is an honorable, conscientious, and principled man. He cares very much, and what happened at Delaram to your husband and afterward to the soldiers he rescued still disturbs him. He accepted that medal because he felt that refusing it would embarrass and dishonor his country, but he discarded it because his own sense of honor wouldn’t allow him to keep it.”

“But it wasn’t his fault!” she protested. “He did everything humanly possible to save Danny and those other men.” Tears slid down her cheeks in spite of herself. “If there had been any way to save Danny, John would have done it. I know he would. And those others…he did save them. He gave them a second chance at life, and he almost died to do it. He can’t hold himself responsible for what they did afterward.”

“He shouldn’t, certainly,” Mycroft agreed. “And yet, there it is.”

Jane Mornington brushed at her eyes. “I’m sorry to make such a fuss,” she said. “Sometimes I feel as though I’m done with the crying part, and then something happens and it’s…” She tossed her head. “It’s like it happened three days ago.”

“I’m sorry.” It seemed the safest thing to say, and in fact he could think of nothing else.

“Thank you. Well…I’m still not sure I understand. Are you looking for John? To return the medal to him? I know I have his address because we exchange cards at Christmas—”

Mycroft smiled. “No, I know his address,” he said.

He had the measure of her now, and she reminded him of another reason why he found John Watson so often problematic: John attracted people very much like himself. People who wouldn’t play Mycroft’s games of power and control. People who expected honesty from others because they expected it from themselves. Jane Mornington was just an ordinary woman—a goldfish goggling out at him from its bowl—but he knew that she was reading him as trenchantly as he read others, and more intuitively. It made him feel exposed, and he decided that if this was what honesty felt like he was glad he didn’t attempt it more often. He could not afford to be false with this woman.

“John and I are not friends,” he said. “As I said, he’s been almost solely responsible for the preservation of someone very dear to me. Still, while we share a common concern for this person’s welfare, John doesn’t fully trust me, I’m afraid.” She regarded him doubtfully, and he smiled in a way he knew to be reassuring. “You’re wondering why you should trust me if he does not.”

“Yes, I am,” she admitted. “In all the time I’ve known John—since university, when Danny and I were dating—I’ve never known his judgement about a person to be very far wrong. He’s the kind of person who, if he’s friends with someone, you know you’ll get on with them, too, just by the kinds of people he attracts. So yes, I’m sorry, but I am wondering why I should trust you if he doesn’t.”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t,” Mycroft admitted. “But I do trust him, and I do owe him a great debt. And I will say this: If you agree to what I’m going to ask you, you should agree to it not because it will help me, but because it will help John.”


“By returning the medal he threw away.”

Jane didn’t reply immediately. She looked into Mycroft’s face, then glanced down at his business card. “‘Mycroft Holmes,’” she said, and he could see her making the connection. Of course she’d read John’s ridiculous blog.

“John’s detective friend,” she said. “Isn’t…His name is Holmes. Sherlock? Yes: Sherlock Holmes. Is that who you mean? The person you and John have in common?”

“Yes,” Mycroft said. “John’s friend. My brother. Mrs. Mornington: When I say that I trust John Watson, I mean that I trust him with my brother’s life. I trust that he will do anything to keep him safe. I trust him because I’ve seen him do it. He has in fact saved my brother’s life more times and in more ways than I can easily count, and for that I cannot begin to repay him.”

“But you want to try. By returning his medal.”

“Yes. But he would never accept it coming from me. As I say, although we share a common…project…our relationship is not quite cordial. That medal has a particular meaning for me, just as, I expect, it has a particular but different meaning for you. Unfortunately, its meaning for John is still painful. I would like to change that, if I can, but the nature of our relationship is such that I’m afraid it would end up back in the river, if he knew that it came from me.”

“But if I return it to him he’ll never know that you’re thanking him for protecting your brother.”

“No. No, most likely not. But I will have satisfied my own conscience, and if as a result he gets some peace of mind, then I won’t quibble about who gets the credit.”


“Mail call,” John announced as he reached the landing. He expected no answer and received none. Sherlock lay on the sofa scraping in the most desultory fashion at his violin, which itself lay across his chest. John had retrieved the mail in the faint hope that it would contain something interesting enough to draw Sherlock from his ennui, because the few legitimate tones that he’d produced in the last hour weren’t enough to offset the more frequent random squeaks and screeches, and it was all wearing very much on John’s patience.

He carried the mail to his armchair, where he sorted it into three stacks: his, Sherlock’s, and the shredder’s. “Hey,” he said, “your forensic journal’s here.” The violin plinked in reply. “Weren’t they publishing your paper this quarter?”

“Hmm? Oh. Right.” Sherlock gave a great sigh, and still maintaining an affectation of nearly incapacitating boredom he laid the violin aside and took his regular route over the coffee table to accept the magazine from John’s outstretched hand.

John returned to his own mail, but a moment later Sherlock startled him badly by suddenly pitching the magazine furiously at the wall with an inarticulate shout.

“Jesus!” John cried. “What the hell was that?”

“Incompetents!” Sherlock hissed between clenched teeth. He turned and paced the length of the room, his dressing gown billowing like a cape. “Pearls before swine,” he muttered irately. “The holy before dogs.”

John recovered his composure and the magazine. “What happened?” he asked. “Did they not publish it?” No, there it was listed in the table of contents. He turned to the article. “‘Remarks on The Use of Gas Chromatograph and Mass Spectrometry Analysis In Determining the Composition of Fingerprints and Their Evolution Over Time,’” he said.

Sherlock raged on without pause. “You know, I do something reasonably complicated like, oh, I don’t know, performing hour after hour of painstaking, groundbreaking forensic research and experimentation, distill it all into a format even a PhD could understand, and all these rocket scientists have to do is—”

“‘By Shelrock Holmes,’” John read.

“—spell my name right!” Sherlock finished in an outraged shout.

“Shelrock,” John repeated. His shoulders were shaking. His face had gone scarlet.

Sherlock glared at him. “It’s not funny,” he growled with an imperious lift of his head. His expression of offended dignity was too much for John, who had to sit down before he fell down.

“For God’s sake, John,” Sherlock said disgustedly, but John just laughed harder.

“It’s not funny.”

“Shelly,” John gasped, setting off another paroxysm.

“Stop that.”

John wiped at his eyes. “I can’t breathe,” he managed.

“Good.” Sherlock tried to maintain his scowl, but John’s honest mirth was contagious, and he felt himself starting to smile in spite of his irritation. He watched John have his laugh out with something approaching tolerant affection.

“Sorry,” John said finally, sitting up straighter and wiping his eyes. “Sorry.”


John shook his head, and, still grinning, picked up the letter opener again.

“I’m cancelling my subscription,” Sherlock announced, his face clouding over again, and fished in his pocket for his mobile. “They’re going to refund the unused part and this issue.”

John reached for the next envelope in the stack. “They won’t be open this time of day,” he pointed out reasonably.

“What?” Sherlock said absently, scrolling the phone’s contacts list.

“Your journal’s offices. They’re not—” John stopped.

“Not what?” Sherlock looked up. John had gone very still, staring at the letter he’d just drawn from its envelope. “John?” No answer. “What’s wrong? John.”

“Yeah, nothing. It’s fine,” John said absently. “Good. Everything’s good. I, um…” He tried to think of a plausible reason for leaving the room but gave it up almost at once. “Yeah. Excuse me,” he said, still in that same distracted tone, and climbed the stairs to his room.

Sherlock stared after him. He hadn’t been able to see much of the thick, padded envelope that had so rattled John, except that it was addressed by a woman, it was postmarked from South Croydon a day ago, and that besides the single page letter handwritten on what looked like Ladurée stationery it contained an approximatel cm jeweler’s case. Interesting.

Not knowing what exactly was in the envelope, who exactly the sender was, and why exactly its contents had so distressed John ensured the relief of Sherlock’s ennui for the evening. In his agitation he paced a few strides before he realized that it was a good way to miss hearing something, so he instead edged silently out onto the landing and stood listening at the foot of the steps. Nothing. Not a sound came from upstairs. No footfalls, no movement. He crept carefully to the next landing with the same result, but after ten minutes gave the project up as pointless. John would descend eventually, and when he did Sherlock would have more answers. John would leave the flat eventually, too, and then Sherlock would have still more.

Two hours after his abrupt departure John returned. From the sofa Sherlock eyed him surreptitiously, but John gave him very little. He looked tired and determined but not unhappy, and Sherlock wasn’t able to make much of that. Clearly answers would not be forthcoming until John was out of the flat.

John settled at the living room table, opened his laptop, and logged on to his blog. Sherlock tolerated that for about three minutes, then strode into the kitchen and looked about.

“John,” he called, “we’re out of Ginger Nuts. Go get some.”

“I just bought a box two days ago,” John said calmly.

“I don’t see it.”

“Because you haven’t opened a bloody cupboard door,” John muttered in an undertone, and then louder, “They’re in the usual place.”

“Oh.” A pause, then, “There’s no milk. Get some.”

“In the door of the fridge.”

Another pause. “We’re out of…” Sherlock tried to think of something John wouldn’t normally buy. “…treacle,” he decided.

John had played the game long enough. “So put it on the list and I’ll get it in the morning.”

“I need it now.”

“Great. Well, you know where the market is.”

Indistinct muttering: opprobrious, judging from the tone.

“I can’t hear you.” John knew perfectly well what Sherlock was after. He really was busy with the blog post, but finally threw his friend a lifeline. “I’m going to the market in the morning.” He thought for a moment, then added, just in case, “And then the bank.”

“It won’t take anything like that long,” Sherlock only just stopped himself from saying aloud. He settled for a disgruntled “Hm,” and there the matter rested for the night.


Sherlock watched John’s cab disappear around the corner, then went straight up to his room and paused in the doorway. As usual, John’s sparsely furnished room would have passed a drill sergeant’s inspection. Sherlock’s eyes flicked over the bed, the dresser, and the wardrobe. Wardrobe, he decided, and found the letter and jewelry case on the bottom shelf, in the back corner, under a stack of neatly folded jumpers, along with a note from John telling him that some day they really were going to work on Sherlock’s boundary issues.

Sherlock carried the letter to the window, where he tilted it to the light and identified the ink (common biro; cheap disposable pen with a medium nib, most likely Bic) and the paper (Ladurée: expensive, relative to the pen, therefore likely a gift). He sniffed it, then closed his eyes and repeated the test: the faintest traces of inexpensive scent. Revlon. Reflections, possibly? Not deliberately introduced into the letter, in any case, which made it unlikely that the letter came from a romantic prospect. He set the paper aside and turned to the small black case.

The box appeared to be very new, and a minute examination with his glass confirmed that opinion. He didn’t recognize a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross on sight, but a few seconds’ search with his mobile confirmed the medal’s identity. He removed it from the case and turned it over. Captain John H. Watson, Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. His glass revealed a series of minute scratches on both sides of the medal, but they did not match the wear patterns he would expect to see on soft metal exposed to six years of gentle scouring by the Thames’ ebb and flow, so he very much doubted that the medal was the same as that which John had discarded. Someone was evidently attempting to make it pass for the same medal, however. Interesting.

He moved on to the ribbon, which should have told him next to nothing, but this one had been dampened. The ribbon, while new, had been muddied, cleaned, and dried. Anyone finding a medal submerged for years in the Thames and intending to return it to its original war hero recipient would have had the ribbon replaced, not cleaned. He checked under the fold, in the crease where the metal met the fabric. Of course. He smiled and slipped the medal into his pocket.

Only then did he read the letter: To have done so earlier might have prejudiced his examination of the physical evidence.

Dear John [he read],

I hope this letter finds you well, but I then suspect that if that were the case I wouldn’t be writing to you now. A man came to the house today. A man from the government. He said that workers dredging the Thames found your service medal, and that it wasn’t an accident that it got into the river. I believed him, because I know you, John Watson. I know why Danny was proud to call you his friend, and why I am. If the army gave you a medal that you thought you didn’t deserve, throwing it in the river is exactly the kind of thing that you would do.

John, all I know of the war is what Danny told me, but I can imagine how it felt to have been proud to do your duty that day, and to believe later that no good came of it. I can imagine how betrayed you must have felt. When you looked at the medal they gave you, when you remembered those boys you saved, and when you thought of what that battle did to them it broke your heart. You still think of them, and it still hurts. I know that you still think of Danny, too, and I know that those memories hurt you as well. There’s one more thing that I’d like you to think of, though, when you look at this little bit of ribbon: I’d like you to think of me.

I never realized until I met him that it was possible to love a human being as completely as I loved Danny. There is literally nothing I wouldn’t do or give to have him back. But what I felt when I held this medal in my hands today wasn’t loss or pain or grief. It was comfort. The army gave you that medal because to them it represented your courage and honor and skill. I’m giving it back to you because to me it represents the care you took of Danny. That little bit of metal and ribbon means that in the middle of that horrible battle, in his last minutes on earth, Danny knew one thing, and that was that his friend was with him. He wasn’t alone. You will never know how grateful I am for that.

Please keep your medal this time, John. Please be fair to yourself. Forgive yourself. Remember that it’s not the army giving a medal to you now, but Danny’s wife, who is so grateful to you, and who hopes that it will help you heal, just as knowing that you were there with Danny has helped her. If you give yourself time, that medal may come to mean to you what it means to me: the love of a good man for his friends, the integrity with which he did his duty, and the forgiveness he finally allowed himself.

All my love,


“‘Man from the government,’” Sherlock muttered scornfully. “Probably told her he was from the Home Office.”

He put the letter and case back in the envelope and replaced them in the wardrobe exactly as he’d found them.


Sherlock leant back from the Barts lab microscope with a scowl. He’d guessed where the medal had come from and his examination of the ribbon had confirmed his theory, but not his brother’s motive for supplying it.

Mycroft was not pleased to receive his call. “What is it now, Sherlock? I’m busy.”

“What the hell are you playing at with John?”

A pause. Then an icy, “Sorry. What?”

“I just told you last week how much that Afghanistan stuff bothers him, and now you’re dredging it all up again,” Sherlock said hotly. “So to speak.”

“What are you talking about?”

“John’s CGC medal. It’s got your fingerprints all over it. Not literally, of course, because it’s been dipped in the river. In the wrong place, by the way. You should pick your minions more carefully. That part of the river hasn’t been dredged since 2007. Any moderately successful criminal or politician could tell you how important detail is when constructing a lie.”

“At any point during this call do you intend to tell me what you’re talking about?”

“I’m not playing, Mycroft,” Sherlock growled, getting up to pace. “Do you think I don’t know Thames silt? John’s medal is in the river at Blackfriar’s. This silt is from Battersea. If you want something devious done right—”

“I should leave it to you,” Mycroft said. “You obviously wasted no time dissecting it. Does John even know that you have it?”


“I thought not. Listen to me, Sherlock: This is nothing to do with you.”

“If it’s to do with John it’s to do with me,” Sherlock snapped.

Mycroft laughed. “My, aren’t we feeling proprietary today. Stay out of it.”

“He’s not stupid, Mycroft. He’ll know it’s not the original medal.”

“Not unless you run home and tell him. He’ll be none the wiser and much better off if you’ll just leave him alone.”

You leave him alone.”

“Why do you insist on making a malevolent conspiracy out of everything? It’s simply a way to say ‘thank you,’” Mycroft said.

“‘Thank you’?” Sherlock said incredulously.

“Yes, Sherlock. It’s a common human convention in which one party expresses the concept of gratitude to a second party. I understand they even make stationery now for the express purpose. I believe it’s called a ‘thank you note.’”

“Why would you say ‘thank you’ to John?”

“Her Majesty gave Doctor Watson that medal for saving the lives of a lot of people,” Mycroft said.

“I know why she gave it to him. Why are you?”

“For saving one life. A lot.”

Sherlock gave a short, angry laugh. “Oh, you are getting soft. Is this what aging does to you?”

Mycroft sighed. “Will there be anything else?”

“He’ll realize it was you,” Sherlock said again.

“In time, perhaps. However, by then—” Mycroft stopped.

“What?” Sherlock demanded.

“It may have done him some good.”

“How can it do him any good?” Sherlock cried. “I told you the whole subject upsets him. For some reason,” he added. “How is reminding him of it supposed to help?”

“Sherlock, your impulse to protect John is admirable. Really. It is. But in this case I don’t think you’ve thought things through sufficiently.”

“Haven’t I.”

“No. You haven’t. Nor do you have all the facts. Do you know why John threw his medal away? Do you know why Delaram still bothers him?”

“Of course. Three of the men he saved that day killed themselves later. Saving them was a complete waste of his time. It nearly got him killed and forced him out of the service.”

“I doubt he sees it quite like that,” Mycroft said, “but yes, they died later. But his friend Daniel Mornington also died during the battle. John tried very hard to save him, and failed. He didn’t mention that to you, did he?”

Sherlock stopped his pacing. John had not mentioned that to him. He dismissed it with an impatient wave of his hand. “People die in battles all the time and there’s nothing the doctors can do about it. John knows that. He’s not irrational.”

“People they don’t know die in battles all the time, Sherlock. Their friends die in their arms somewhat less often, I believe. Their friends don’t jump off buildings in front of them, either, and you know how he felt about that.”


“A kind word from the friend’s widow, the return of his medal, and the plea that he reconsider what it means to him. How can that do any harm?” Mycroft asked. “He might not change his mind. He might throw this one into the river as well. But at least this way he has a chance to reconsider and…what’s the colloquial term? ‘Put it behind him’? Why does that upset you?”

“What upsets me, Mycroft, is why you suddenly care what John thinks about anything, much less about what happened in Afghanistan.”

“I don’t care, particularly.”


“But I do like to repay my debts. I’d pin the medal on him myself, but we both know that would be the best way to see it end up in the water. If getting it to him in this oblique fashion is the route I have to take to thank him, then so be it. If he ultimately feels better about what after all must have been a very trying day, so much the better. Everybody wins. Meanwhile, any sort of desirable outcome is much less likely if you go home and blab about my involvement. Now, if there’s nothing else, I really am very busy, so as delighted as I am to sit here listening to your groping attempts to puzzle out the coarser points of human psychology, I’ll say goodbye.”


Sherlock was half-way through the morning paper when John joined him at the table.

“Well?” John said conversationally. “What did you find out?”

Sherlock peered over the top of the paper at him. “Sorry?”

“The medal. You had it under a scanning electron microscope or something for two hours yesterday.”



Sherlock tried to look chastened.

“Give it to me,” John said. “I’ll put it away for you.”

Sherlock reached into the pocket of his dressing gown. He dropped the medal into John’s hand, watching his face closely. John’s expression as he contemplated the medal was difficult for Sherlock to interpret, but he didn’t see pain there. He knew what that looked like.

John’s fingers closed around the medal and he slipped it into his pocket. “It’s not the original, is it,” he said. It was a statement, not a question.

“What makes you think so?”

“Come on. They haven’t dredged that part of the river for years. I looked it up.”

Sherlock put down the newspaper and tried not to look triumphant: He knew John would figure it out. “Blackfriars, you said.”


“Then no. Not unless it swam two kilometers upstream to Battersea. The quartz content of the riverbed silt is four percent higher there than at Blackfriar’s. Balance of probability: It’s a copy. There are other signs, but the quartz content of the silt is definitive.”

John thought about that, but all he said was, “Huh,” in his quiet, understated way, and reached for the pepper.

Sherlock watched him anxiously: John, as he’d told Mycroft often enough, wasn’t stupid. Finally he said, a little uneasily, “I didn’t tell him.”

John glanced up. “I know,” he said simply. There was obviously no question in his mind about it.


John smiled at his expression, and at the typically Sherlock question. “I’ve told exactly two people where that medal ended up,” he said. “My therapist, and you.”

Sherlock didn’t follow that logic. “That doesn’t eliminate me as—”

“Mycroft has had my therapist’s notes in his damned files since he background-checked your new flatmate in the year ten,” John explained.

Sherlock blinked. He hadn’t known that. John should have been outraged, probably, but he seemed remarkably blasé about it. He must have grown used to the idea. “But I could have told him,” Sherlock persisted.

“Don’t worry. You didn’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yeah, I do. You go through my things and use my stuff without asking and you only respect boundaries when they’re not in the way of something you want. You violate my privacy, Sherlock, but you don’t share it about.” John gave him a warm smile and moved on to the toast.

“Will you keep this one?” Sherlock asked.

John thought for a moment before answering. “For now,” he decided.

“Hm,” Sherlock said, which could have meant anything, and then he appeared to lose all interest in the topic. He put up his newspaper like a barrier and shook it out with a noisy rustle. Then he said, apparently to himself and in an undertone, “Good.”


On a Friday afternoon six weeks after Mycroft’s best-forgotten visit to South Croydon, Anthea brought in his mail. He almost overlooked the small white envelope among all the more consequential documents, so it was the last thing he opened. The notecard inside said:

You’re welcome. And thank you. JW.

Mycroft’s expression never changed. He put the note and its envelope on the pile of other discards and dropped it all into the bin. Rising, he draped his overcoat over one arm and picked up his umbrella. His hand was on the doorknob when he stopped.

In his life and work Mycroft Holmes had developed hundreds of contacts, allies, enemies, associates, and collaborators, some clever and some less so, but all of them, even those who regarded him genially, were, at the end of the day, mere goldfish finning through a bowl of his creation. But then there was John Watson. Whatever else he was, John was no goldfish. Not to Mycroft’s brother. And perhaps he needn’t be to Mycroft, either. Mycroft stepped back to the bin, withdrew the notecard, and slipped it into his pocket.

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