Title: Courting is Over – part 2
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 4357 (this section)
Warnings: None in this part. Mild bad language, major character deaths (offscreen) (allegedly) in a later part, threat of violence in a later part
Light-touch beta by verityburns. Any glaring errors are all mine.
Back to Part 1
Apologies to all the people who I shocked in the previous part. To my unending embarrassment, I had completely forgotten the cardinal rule of the Sherlock!verse: My fandom warns for het. *hangs head in shame* I hope it didn’t ruin the entire story for you.
When Sarah asked her colleagues on the reception desk, nobody could tell her how the invitation had got there. John happened to be working at the surgery that day and when she went to his consulting room and presented him with the expensive card with the beautifully handwritten request to meet that lunchtime, he groaned, lowered his head and banged it on the desk several times before Sarah, laughing at his despair, put her hand under his chin and pulled his head up.
“I’m going to go,” she told him. “I actually want to meet him and see what he’s going to try and offer me.”
John looked alarmed and she scowled at him. “I’m not going to accept anything, idiot,” she told him. “But I’m curious about him now, and who knows – maybe he’ll give me a better understanding of Sherlock ... and maybe of you as well.” She grinned at his indignant look. “He’s not going to harm me or make me disappear, is he? And maybe I can get us more of an insight into why he’s so protective of his brother.”
Her shift was due to end at midday but the invitation said that a car would collect her at 1.30. Clearly Mycroft understood that the timetable of a G.P. was never set in stone and even with that additional time she had only just finished her paperwork for the day when the receptionist popped her head in and told her that Mr. Holmes’ car was awaiting her. As Sarah put her coat on she realised that her hands were trembling; apparently she was less confident about this meeting than she had thought, and Sherlock’s ominous comments about how powerful and dangerous Mycroft could be were now suddenly coming back to haunt her. She opened the door of her room and walked out into the reception, smiling a little as she saw John waiting for her at the entrance to the surgery with a stern look on his face.
“You’re not coming with me,” she told him.
“No, I thought you wouldn’t let me,” he sighed, “but I’m going to have a few words with Mycroft if he’s in the car, or with not-Anthea if it’s her.”
Sarah grinned again at the name he had given to Mycroft’s assistant. He had told her about the woman who was frequently in the car which pulled up alongside him in the street when he was least expecting it, and her refusal to tell him her real name. John opened the surgery door and put a protective arm around her shoulders as they approached the large black car parked nearby. As they got closer, the rear door opened and an attractive elegantly-dressed woman got out and smiled at them. John jolted with surprise.
“Oh!” he said quietly. “That’s not not-Anthea.”
Sarah began to giggle as she began to realise how ludicrous her situation was. She was about to get into a car with a woman who even her not-quite-boyfriend hadn’t seen before, and the car would take her god-knows-where to meet with a man who apparently pretty much ran the country single-handedly but couldn’t even manage to keep track of his own brother’s activities. The woman looked at her quizzically as Sarah’s laughter got louder and she shook her head apologetically as she tried to get herself under control.
While she was fumbling in her handbag for a tissue to wipe her eyes, John stepped closer to the car and said quietly to not-not-Anthea, “Tell me you’re not taking her to some abandoned warehouse this time.”
The woman raised her eyebrows. “As I understand it, Doctor Watson, we don’t always take you to an abandoned warehouse.”
“Not always,” John said ruefully, “but I’ve already been to enough empty buildings in the middle of nowhere to last a lifetime, and I don’t think Sarah deserves that kind of treatment.”
“Don’t worry,” the woman reassured him. “I’m sure Mr. Holmes has arranged a far more pleasant venue for this meeting and has no intention of intimidating Doctor Sawyer.”
“He never intimidated me ...” John started to protest indignantly, then turned to Sarah as she put her hand on his arm.
“At ease, macho man,” she told him soothingly. “Get back to work. I’ve got a lunch date.” Kissing his cheek, she turned towards the car and smiled at the woman. “Shall we go?”
As John mumbled quiet threats behind them, the two women got into the back seat. The car pulled away from the kerb immediately and Sarah looked across to her travelling companion. “I’m Sarah,” she told her.
“Chloe,” the woman replied.
“Really?” Sarah asked.
“No, not really,” the woman said with a smile. “But ‘Anthea’ ...” she made air quotes around the name, “... started the trend and now we’re all doing it.” Her smile widened. “Whenever we’re accompanying foreign dignitaries we have an ongoing competition to come up with the most ridiculous names that we can get away with.” She grimaced. “‘Anthea’ is so inventive that she’s winning that one as well.”
Sarah grinned. “Do you know what John calls her?” she asked.
“Of course we do,” not-Chloe answered serenely.
Sarah began to relax.
It was a little over twenty minutes later when the car pulled up in what looked to be a very exclusive part of London. Sarah, who – like many Londoners – had never got around to investigating her own city, had been hopelessly lost after the first few minutes of the journey and had quickly given up trying to work out where they were going. Despite Sherlock’s dark mutterings about his brother, and John’s complaints about Mycroft’s arrogant treatment of him, she wanted to believe that she wasn’t about to disappear and never be seen again, or abandoned somewhere dangerous with no way of getting back to safety, and anyway this looked like much too posh an area to be far from the centre of the city.
Chloe escorted her into an elegant apartment building, showed a pass to the security desk and then led Sarah to the lifts. Calling one of them, she stepped inside and inserted a key into the panel before turning back to Sarah.
“Turn this to the left,” she instructed, “and when you leave the lift you need to turn right, right again and then walk straight on as far as you can go.” She walked out of the lift and turned to face Sarah again, smiling encouragingly. “Have a lovely time,” she told her as the doors began to close, adding quickly, “He’s not so bad.”
Sarah grimaced nervously as she was left alone but then steeled herself, reached out and turned the key. As she had already guessed that it would, the lift rose straight to the top floor and the doors opened inside what could only be the penthouse apartment. She stepped out and looked around nervously. She had never been inside a luxury flat and it was everything she would have expected: the huge floor-to-ceiling windows on the opposite wall opened onto a large balcony revealing spectacular views over London while inside the open plan apartment the walls were beautifully decorated and all around was furniture that she could have spent the next several hours examining and admiring – and coveting – if she only had the opportunity. She was just wondering whether she dared take her sandals off and walk across the deep carpet barefoot when the lift doors slid closed behind her and reminded her why she was there.
‘Turn right and right again,’ Chloe had told her and so she turned and walked around the lift shaft, then stared in amazement as she realised that a second balcony on the other side of the apartment had been glassed over and turned into a hothouse. She shook her head in disbelief as she walked slowly into what was probably the world’s smallest jungle. She hadn’t thought that her world could get any more odd today, but to see so many lush green plants towering above her head was mind-boggling. She took a deep breath of the warm moist air, suppressing a giggle as she found herself thinking, ‘Am I going to get to the other side and find myself in Narnia?’ but then, remembering all the scary things that John and Sherlock had told her about Mycroft, she looked around the dark vegetation again and mentally added, ‘Actually, I’m more likely to meet the Predator in here.’ Trying not to let herself get even more anxious, she continued along the walkway which divided the garden in two and after a few yards the hothouse ended and opened out onto the edge of the balcony where a wrought iron table and two chairs stood. A large silver tray on the table contained a teapot, creamy white crockery and a three tiered stand displaying an assortment of delicate sandwiches and cakes.
“Welcome to the winter garden, Doctor Sawyer,” said a man’s voice and Sarah turned and had her first sight of Mycroft Holmes. Tall and immaculately dressed, he radiated the same aura of superiority as his brother although she couldn’t immediately see much of a family likeness. His smile as he approached her didn’t quite reach his eyes. “How do you like the venue for our lunch?” he asked.
“It’s not every day I get to walk through a jungle at the top of a block of flats in the middle of London,” she remarked as she shook his offered hand while resisting a ludicrous temptation to curtsey. “And call me Sarah, because I’m not going to call you Mr. Holmes.”
Mycroft’s smile became a little warmer. “Please, sit,” he said, indicating the nearby table.
She took one of the seats while Mycroft lifted the teapot and began to pour two cups of tea. Sarah noted a little sourly that she wasn’t being given any choice on what to drink. No doubt the intention was to keep her off-balance and anxious, but all that this behaviour was doing was encouraging her stubborn streak and so she deliberately settled more comfortably onto her chair and gestured back towards the apartment.
“Is this yours?” she asked.
“Regrettably, no, but I have use of it when the owner is away,” Mycroft told her.
“If I owned this, I’m not sure I would be able to tear myself away,” she said. “I could spend hours just admiring the furniture, let alone the views.” She gazed out over the panorama and sighed wistfully. “London is beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. “I never get a chance to appreciate it on the ground.”
“Why do you think Sherlock spends so much of his time on rooftops?” Mycroft asked with a smile as he handed her one of the cups. She looked at it a little suspiciously as she took it and Mycroft’s smile widened.
“It really isn’t drugged,” he assured her as he sat down with his own cup. “Would you like me to take a sip first?”
She shrugged, then added a spoonful of sugar to her tea. “You’re probably immune to iocaine powder anyway,” she told him.
Mycroft laughed. “Ah, The Princess Bride,” he said. “Such a delightful film. But iocaine powder would kill you, and I can’t think of any reason why I should want to do that when we’ve only just met. And you haven’t even tried the food yet.”
He offered her a tea plate and gestured towards the stand. She didn’t really feel like eating but politely took a couple of sandwiches and a cupcake, then watched as Mycroft filled his own plate with half a dozen sandwiches and three cakes. He glanced across to her and grimaced apologetically.
“Breaking the diet again, I’m afraid,” he said. “No doubt Sherlock will be delighted if you tell him.”
“What you eat is none of Sherlock’s business,” Sarah told him, “and it’s not as if you’re overweight, so the occasional lapse isn’t going to hurt.” She smirked at him. “Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
Mycroft’s delighted laugh sounded much more relaxed this time, and the conversation moved on easily as Sarah nibbled cautiously at her lunch and Mycroft tucked in more heartily. They talked about neutral topics such as some of the locations which could be seen from the balconies, and when she asked about the apartment he told her how the entire floor of the flat had been raised twenty inches and then the balcony reinforced to take the depth and weight of the soil for the plants. As they continued to chat, Sarah felt confident enough to take charge of the teapot and top up both of their teacups as they were emptied. It was a surprisingly relaxed and comfortable lunch considering the circumstances but eventually, as Mycroft finished off his last cupcake with a contented look on his face, Sarah put down her plate and leaned forward.
“All right,” she said firmly. “The courting’s over. Let’s get down to business.”
Mycroft raised an eyebrow at her.
“Don’t give me that ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ look,” she said with a scowl. “What do you want from me, and why do you think I’m going to give you what you want?”
“My dear Doc... Sarah,” Mycroft corrected himself. “It seems that you’ve been spending far too much time with Sherlock, and now you think that everything is a conspiracy.”
His bemused expression didn’t fool her for a moment. “You don’t fool me for a moment,” she told him. “Everything you’ve done today has been deliberately designed to keep throwing me off balance. The invitation was scary, then you sent Chloe to be friendly on the journey here so that I wouldn’t feel so intimidated.” She gestured towards the apartment. “You knew that such a beautiful place, and especially such an unexpected thing as the garden, would distract and confuse me again; then you lull me into another false sense of security with a nice lunch and pleasant conversation. So it can only be time for the attack again, and I’d like to get it over with, please. What do you want, Mycroft?”
She didn’t yet know the man well enough to be certain of his facial expressions but when she thought about it later Sarah liked to believe that Mycroft looked at her with just a hint of admiration as he quirked another smile at her.
“You’ve had far too much advance warning for me to be able to intimidate you, cajole or even flatter you into acting as my Baker Street spy,” he said, “so I was rather hoping that I might use old-fashioned explanation instead.”
Sarah leaned forward again. “I don’t really know what Sherlock gets up to, you know,” she said. “I’ve not known him all that long, and even John doesn’t tell me much about his and Sherlock’s activities when they’re on a case.”
“I’m not asking you to be my spy, Sarah,” Mycroft told her. “If you gave any indication that you would be willing to come to me and tell me what my brother is doing, my next action would be to tell John that you can’t be trusted and that he should keep you away from Sherlock in future.” He shook his head. “I don’t believe that you would do that, and neither am I asking you to. But I worry about Sherlock, and you must know by now that our relationship is rather complicated.”
His gaze became distant and reflective, and Sarah tried hard to work out whether he was putting on a performance for her or was genuinely as concerned as he looked. After a moment he focussed again and looked at her seriously.
“Sherlock would never ask me for help even if his life, or John’s, depended on it but I’m concerned that one day he’ll step into a situation that I could have saved him from, and I would never forgive myself if I could have been warned in time to protect him. All I’m asking is that if you should ever see such a situation arising, you think about whether ‘telling tales out of school’, as it were, might just save their lives.”
Sarah sat back and looked at him for a few seconds before speaking. “I will consider it,” she said, “but you must know that I will never tell you anything that would be a breach of confidentiality, even if it is something that might help Sherlock in the long run.” She sighed. “I don’t even want to think of a time when I would need to come to you behind his back in order to save his life; but I will consider what you’ve asked.”
Mycroft smiled gratefully and she leaned forward again before he could speak. “You’re wrong about one thing,” she told him. “He would ask for your help if John’s life depended on it.”
Mycroft nodded. “You’re absolutely right, of course,” he said, “and it’s why I trust John so implicitly with my brother’s well-being. They make a good team. I was surprised when they became friends so quickly and easily but I was pleased that Sherlock had finally found someone who would tolerate his ... unusual lifestyle.”
Sarah looked at him shrewdly. “But Sherlock’s friendship with John has taken him even further away from you, hasn’t it?” she said. “Now that he’s got John to dig him out of trouble, he doesn’t have to turn to you for help any more, am I right?”
Mycroft pursed his lips ruefully. “John’s presence has made it even less likely that Sherlock would need to ask for my assistance,” he admitted, “but his safety is my first priority; and I am genuinely pleased that he’s more content and settled since John moved in with him.”
He hesitated before continuing. “In some ways, keeping John happy is as much of a concern to me as monitoring Sherlock’s state of mind. John made it clear as soon as we met that he would never betray any confidences to me, but I meet with him every now and then ...” He tilted his head as Sarah widened her eyes indignantly. “Very well: I bring him in every now and then to check his mood and to ascertain if there’s anything I need to do, or to say to Sherlock, to keep John content.”
“And that’s why I’m here!” Sarah declared triumphantly. “This ‘Will you keep an eye on Sherlock for me?’ routine is nonsense – you knew I would never spy on him, and you wouldn’t waste time asking for something you know you’re never going to get. You’re not trying to recruit me at all; you’re checking me out to see whether I’m going to take John away from Sherlock.”
Mycroft flinched slightly, then he bowed his head to her in acknowledgement. “Doctor Sawyer, I applaud you,” he said respectfully. “Sherlock’s deductive skills really are beginning to rub off on you.”
“Sherlock couldn’t have taught me how to work this out if he’d tried,” Sarah snorted. “You’ve got one thing in common with your brother – you don’t spend enough time with real, normal people and so you don’t understand us properly.”
Strangely, a wave of sympathy for the two brothers suddenly manifested itself and she found herself wondering just what kind of odd childhood they must have had in order to make them so very distanced from the rest of the world.
“Mycroft,” she told him gently, “you can’t force John to stay with Sherlock. If you ever tried, you’d be more likely to drive him away. Right now, John’s not going anywhere but if he did decide that he had to leave – for whatever reason – neither Sherlock nor you and all your assistants and the entire British government could stop him. And if you think that preventing him from getting close to anyone else is the way to keep him at Sherlock’s side, you really need to think again. You said yourself that Sherlock’s lifestyle is unusual – John has adapted really well to it and even thrives on it most of the time but he needs to be ‘ordinary’ sometimes. He needs to go for a pint with old Army friends, or with his mates from school or from Bart’s; he needs to go and watch the football with Greg Lestrade and Toby Gregson on a Saturday afternoon, or visit his sister and argue with her for hours and then come home furious and complaining that it was a waste of a day. It’s his way of recharging so that he’s ready to handle all the complications of living with someone like your brother.”
She lowered her chin and looked over the top of an imaginary pair of glasses at Mycroft. “And he needs to be allowed to date if he wants to,” she told him severely. In response to his startled gaze, she added, “Especially when it’s someone like me who – for God knows what reason – seems to have also managed to accept the craziness that surrounds your brother without too much fuss. I nearly got killed the first night I met him but I’m still here, aren’t I?”
This time she had no doubt that the smile which Mycroft gave her was genuine. “Indeed you are,” he told her warmly, “and I believe that both John and Sherlock are very lucky to have you in their lives.”
“Don’t overdo it,” she threatened. “I’m not sure I’m ready to cope with you being nice to me.” She grinned at his indignant look and held up a placatory hand before he could protest. “Yes, you’ve been lovely,” she said with a deliberately insincere expression. “And the gorgeous location and the amazing view and the nice lunch almost made up for the kidnapping and the interrogation, but I’m going to be absolutely honest with you, Mycroft: I really have just about reached the limits of my courage for today and I’m either going to burst into tears or have a ridiculous and inappropriate fit of the giggles very shortly, so may I please go now?”
She took a shaky breath as Mycroft looked at her with concern, then he stood and extended his hand to her. She took it and leaned on it slightly as she stood up, then he drew back and gestured towards the winter garden.
“You were free to leave at any time, Sarah,” he said as they walked into the hothouse. “You never needed my permission, but I’m very glad that you stayed for as long as you did. It has been an interesting conversation and I’m grateful to you for your insight.”
He escorted her across the apartment to the lift and pushed the button, then turned to face her and offered his hand again for her to shake. As she took it, he gently placed his other hand over hers. “I would very much like to invite you to lunch again,” he told her. “Not to interrogate you or demand information about my brother’s latest misdemeanours, but if you would be willing to give me more of your insights into what you described as ‘real, normal’ people, that would be delightful.”
Sarah grimaced. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to imply anything by that.” As Mycroft waved dismissively, she frowned as a thought struck her. “You’re not just chatting me up in an attempt to make John jealous, are you? Because he probably knows as many ways to kill a man as you do and I don’t really want to have to patch up either one of you, or help to hide the body.”
Mycroft put on a pompous expression. “I can assure you, Doctor Sawyer, that my intentions are strictly kidnapping, conversation and lunch – and nothing more,” he told her.
Sarah had caught her breath again by now and she smiled at him affectionately. “You can kidnap me any time, Mycroft,” she told him, but then quickly added, “and when I say ‘any time’, I actually mean that it would be nice if you gave me twenty-four hours’ notice in future. And next time phone and ask me properly instead of sending one of your ninjas to sneak an invitation onto my desk.”
Mycroft laughed delightedly. “I shall most definitely ‘ask properly’ next time,” he promised, then reached into his jacket pocket and produced a business card which he handed to her. “And this is my number just in case you ever do need to report to me behind Sherlock’s back.”
Sarah suppressed a shiver as she realised the seriousness of any reason why she would ever need to do such a thing. The lift arrived and Mycroft gestured her in, remaining outside as she turned to face him.
“Thank you for a lovely lunch,” she told him. “It’s been ... totally surreal, but I think I enjoyed it anyway.”
“I look forward to meeting you again, Sarah,” he replied with a smile. “And good luck with the interrogation that you’ll get from Sherlock and John when they see you.”
“Oh, God,” she groaned, and reached out to turn the key in the lift panel. Mycroft’s smile turned utterly wicked just as the doors began to close and she giggled a little as the lift descended to the ground floor where Chloe was waiting. Sarah raised her eyebrows as she walked out to join her. “You were right – he’s not so bad,” she said.
Chloe smiled and led her towards the entrance. “Where would you like me to take you?” she asked.
Sarah considered going straight home to mull over her strange afternoon but realised that Mycroft was right – John and Sherlock were going to insist on knowing everything that had happened and it would probably be better to get it over with, then she could go back to her flat and have a long leisurely bath and a very large glass of red wine. “Can we go to Baker Street?” she asked as they approached the car.
“Of course,” Chloe replied.
The shakes finally hit Sarah as the car began its journey back across town. Chloe diplomatically pretended not to notice.