The Hundred Year Wait by Amelia Price

The rain pattered on the windows as Mycroft was driven through the dreary streets of London. He frowned at the typical English weather. He'd been in his house, working, for ten straight days and it annoyed him to find it raining the minute he needed to leave and see his brother. On top of splotching his tailored suit it made the traffic worse.
The Hundred Year Wait
The Hundred Year Wait by Amelia Price
As the car pulled up outside Sherlock's flat he turned his nose up at the familiar sight. The number on the door was loose. It was almost never straight. No matter how many times he neatened it, by his next visit it was crooked again. Today was no different. His driver rushed around to the side of the door with a large black umbrella and Mycroft stepped out into the cold, narrowly missing the puddle at the side of the road. An almost identical umbrella with a silver plated handle dangled from Mycroft's left hand and he realised he'd never used it to keep the rain off. After raising and lowering his eyebrow he strode through the flat door, knowing it wouldn't be locked. He paused for the briefest second to shuffle his feet on the doormat while his chauffeur shut the door behind him and went back to the shining black vehicle to wait. Sherlock's housekeeper and landlady, the widowed Mrs Wintern, peered around the edge of the living room door. When she noticed it was him she retreated back inside. Knowing she'd be scurrying off to make tea, whether he would be there long enough to drink it or not, he climbed the wooden steps up to the familiar flat. None of them creaked but he'd had plenty of years practice at putting his feet in the right places to ensure his arrival was unnoticed. Three steps from the top Mycroft paused. Mixed in with the usual scent of dust, damp and body odour was the faint traces of perfume. He knew it could only mean Sherlock had a visitor, probably a client. It only took a few seconds for Mycroft to weigh up his options in light of this discovery. He needed Sherlock to begin investigating at once and couldn't let a client stop him. As he took the last few steps he searched his memory for the name his brother used now. By the time he rapped his knuckles on the door, Sebastian was floating across the back of his mind. Whoever was with his brother would know him as Sebastian Holmes. Without waiting for an answer he twisted the door knob and strode into the room. Both occupants turned to face him and he scanned the extra person for information. She wore a black corset, styled to look like a waistcoat from the front but laced down the back, over the top of a deep red blouse. The red skirt almost touched the floor, but a slit up one side revealed size seven black boots with a small chain running behind the two inch heels. The corset took her waist in from what would have been twenty-seven inches to twenty-five and her mid-brown hair was up in a netted bun on the back of her head. As she turned he also noticed she deftly held a fountain pen in her right hand. Both hands had fingerless gloves that were made of the same material as a jacket over the arm of a nearby chair. She smiled and the corners of her eyes wrinkled to match the upturn of her lips. Whoever she was she spent a lot of time writing; there were no ink marks on her despite the style of pen, and she was comfortable and relaxed in the odd mix of old fashioned and modern clothing. “Myron! To what do I owe this pleasure?” Sherlock said in his usual sarcastic manner, although he knew the woman wouldn't have picked up on the disdain laced in every word. It took him a fraction of a second longer to respond as he took in the pictures of people and places on the board beside them. She had to be a client with all the information presented, although not directly involved, an observer with a vested interest. “Let me introduce my guest, Amelia Jones.” Sherlock motioned to her. “She's a writer. Amelia, this is my brother, Myron Holmes.” She swapped the pen over to her other hand and took a few steps towards him, her right outstretched to shake his. He glanced at her offering but kept his right hand in his trouser pocket and his left gripping the umbrella. Whoever she was, Sherlock had used her first name, something he'd not done since his days with John Watson. Mycroft frowned and the woman returned to her position by the board, giving no indication that she was bothered by the snub. “I need to talk to you, brother of mine,” Mycroft said when he realised the case on the board still held both their attention. “In a moment. You'll be interested in this. This man is an undercover agent, working a case to find a stolen diamond.” Sherlock pointed to the man's picture and then to the woman's, “She's unmarried, no children, parents are dead and no one else in her life, and we're trying to figure out how she was blackmailed into stealing the diamond, and how he finds out before he has her arrested.” Mycroft rolled his eyes but took a look at the information anyway. He wanted to know how this Mrs Jones was involved. If the diamond had been hers it wasn't something she was attached to. Perhaps a family heirloom she didn't care for. “How was the diamond taken?” he asked. “I don't know, I've not written that part yet,” she said, fixing her blue eyes on him. “I was thinking she might seduce the security guard or get him drunk. She's an amateur under pressure so it can't be too difficult.” Mycroft raised his eyebrows before he noticed Sherlock grinning at him. He sneered in response. When Mrs Jones went to continue talking he put his hand up, cutting her off. “This is a fictional scenario?” he asked, his voice dripping with disdain at the very concept. “Yes. It's what I do for a living. Sebastian helps me get all the facts straight.” “He does, does he?” She nodded and waited for him to continue but he had no desire to make her feel more comfortable. She glanced at his brother. “So... Why are you here, brother. You don't visit unless you need something,” Sherlock said, taking the focus back off his guest. “I think we ought to discuss that in private.” Mycroft looked pointedly at Sherlock's client, hoping she'd get the hint and hurry from the building, but she didn't move. “Nonsense. If it's a case, Amelia can help. She's been proving most useful in my own work, and besides, she helped with the last case you gave me.” “She did?” Mycroft's annoyance grew. Somehow he'd missed Mrs Jones being a regular in Sherlock's life and he shouldn't have done. “I did?” She raised an eyebrow and her own surprise made him feel a little better. Sherlock laughed and nodded. “Come on, out with it brother. What do we need to investigate?” While Sherlock spoke Mrs Jones lifted the board from the two hooks it hung on, revealing a second blank white board underneath. Mycroft coughed then pulled the printout of the intercepted email from his inside jacket pocket. “I received this coded message from a suspected terrorist email account.” Before Mycroft could begin reading it Sherlock took the paper out of his hands and wandered off with it, leaving both him and Mrs Jones standing and waiting as Sherlock read it. “It's not a skip code...” “It's nothing logical, I assure you,” Mycroft said before Sherlock could list everything he already knew it wasn't. “Read it aloud,” Mrs Jones said. Mycroft frowned as Sherlock did just that. He would have requested one anyway but now he was sure a background check on her would be needed. Hiya, Totally failed today – My ringtone went off at the funeral – I've got it set to Staying Alive. :AwkwardFace: I suppose I'd already made it hard on myself, the deceased had bought me one of those ugly Christmas jumpers and I wore it to the funeral. My mother told me to take it off and I don't think she was very impressed when I told her I'd rather cry in a BMW. Then to top my day off I got rick rolled. Thankfully my kids were cute when I got home – when I asked the eldest what she wanted for dinner she said, 'I can has cheeseburger?' and grinned. Later when I was playing a board game with the twins and I lost they came out with, 'All your counters are belong to us', their English is getting better each day. When I was a kid my dad used to swear and say 'pardon my French – I still remember when my school teacher asked if anyone spoke a foreign language and I put my hand up. :SmileyFace: It might be a while before I communicate again, I'm staying with relatives and they don't know their own wi-fi password. FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU. The kids are excited, they said they can get their pink unicorn back, I didn't even know they had one. Geoff By the time Sherlock had finished, Mrs Jones was curled up on the chair, clutching her sides and crying as she tried to stop her almost silent laughter. “What's so amusing?” Mycroft demanded when she didn't stop as soon as the letter was over. She wiped her eyes and sat up straight again. “It's internet memes. For example, all your counters are belong to us, is a miss-quote of all your base are belong to us from a badly translated game. I can has cheeseburger is a phrase on a lolcat, and I think there was a confession kid in there, as well as the mention of being rick rolled.” She picked up the pen and wrote out the entire letter. Once she'd finished she circled phrases in the text and linked them to the names of the internet memes. Mycroft watched and waited, wanting to see where she was going with it. If it solved the email he could get back to his house and away from her. She stood back and put both her hands on her hips, staring at the letter, now in her neat but ornamented hand-writing. “The punctuation is strange, and not right in the slightest,” she said a moment later, when no one else did anything. “Each full stop marks the end of a coded section, that much is easy to work out,” Mycroft said. His brother nodded and stole the pen from Mrs Jones, their fingers brushing past each other as he did. Mycroft sneered again, although both had their backs to him and wouldn't have noticed. He almost wished they had. Sherlock put a line in where each sentence ended to break the message up and then she pulled the pen from his hand and wrote in another meme at the end of the letter. After a minute of browsing something on her phone she wrote in two more, completing the final paragraph with: First World Problems Rage comic Invisible Pink Unicorn Mycroft saw the message and smiled. It pleasantly surprised him that she was on the right track. “The first letters form the first part of Friday,” Mycroft said, knowing his brother wasn't paying attention and should be. He stepped closer so the whole thing was easier for him to read. “It looks like each paragraph is a word,” she replied and smiled at him. He ignored her. She was right, but that didn't mean he had to like her or praise her for it. “The second word has an A and C in the middle and has four letters,” Sherlock said. “Four?” She turned to him, a puzzled look on her face. “Yes, there's a fourth sentence.” Mycroft pointed to the smiley face reference in between two colons. She shrugged. “That's an emoticon gone wrong, but I suppose it might be part of the message.” She put the word in brackets in the list in the two places the references appeared and then turned to his brother. “Search for, I'd rather cry in a BMW, online and see what comes up.” Immediately Sherlock obeyed and grabbed his laptop. Mycroft found himself sneering yet again. This woman was telling them what to do when she was evidently of inferior intelligence and even worse, his brother wasn't even slightly put out. He'd thought Sherlock over this sort of sentimentality after losing Watson, but it appeared he was even softer than ever. Twenty minutes later they had one more letter and Mycroft continued to stand and do nothing but stare at the message. The entire time he'd been running through five letter words that fit with the E and N they'd already found for the first word. With the I Mrs Jones now wrote in he knew what it said. Begin Lace Fri was the full message, but he wasn't about to say so and be pressed to explain further. Even if Mrs Jones expressed no further interest, his brother would and with his deductive reasoning might work out more than Mycroft wanted either of them to know. As he was trying to think of some way to get rid of Mrs Jones she pulled a pocket watch out, checked the time and gasped. “I've got to go. I'm meant to be signing books in less than half an hour.” She grabbed her jacket and shrugged into it. “Sorry to run before we're done, but I hate being late for anything.” “I'm sure we can solve this without you,” Mycroft said and gave her a smile which didn't reach his eyes. “See you tomorrow, Sebastian, and it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr Holmes.” She gave him a half smile, meaning it far more than he would have, and hurried from the room. As the sound of her rapid footsteps receded down the stairs Mycroft relaxed. “So, you've found a new John Watson.” He looked intently at his brother but Sherlock remained impassive. “She's brighter than John ever was, but she won't be around for long. She'll go write her next book in a few days. Mostly she's a recluse, like you, especially when in the middle of a book.” “You're trying to intrigue me by making me think we're similar, but it won't work. She's not as intelligent as you even, so I have no interest in her.” Mycroft walked towards the door, not wanting to continue this conversation. “She would have been as clever as me had she grown up with you as an elder brother. She's keen to learn from us and pleasant enough.” “Mrs Jones won't live long enough to ever get close.” “Miss Jones,” Sherlock said, looking smug. Mycroft shook his head at what his younger brother had overlooked. “There was a wedding ring.” “Yes, but she's not married, not anymore anyway. She uses her maiden name on her books and uses Miss in all her dealings.” “Widow.” Mycroft nodded. He should have seen it in her manner with Sherlock. No woman in a solid relationship would spend time coming to London for book signings and spend so much time alone with another man. At least they wouldn't have when Mycroft had been younger. Society had changed since then. He walked out, and called back, “Don't get involved, brother of mine.” “I'll let you know when I've solved this,” Sherlock yelled after him. “No need!” Mycroft pulled the door shut. Miss Jones' perfume lingered in the stairwell even stronger than before and Mycroft found himself thinking that as far as perfumes went it could have been a lot worse. At the least it smelt better than Sherlock's flat usually did. As he walked back to his car he messaged his assistant. Project lace will begin on Friday. Deploy operation clean-up. Also find all information on the author Amelia Jones and forward it to me. As soon as the message was delivered he put his phone back in the inside pocket of his jacket and stepped outside. The rain had stopped and Mycroft smiled as he was driven back to his home, his mind already focused on other matters. Chapter 2 A shiver ran down Amelia's spine as she sat back in the taxi and allowed it to take her to Sebastian's. She'd barely slept since the day before when she met Myron. She'd known he was meant to be both the more intelligent, and the more arrogant of the two brothers, but she hadn't expected to be quite so intrigued by him. Ever since being a young teenager she'd found clever men the most attractive and she'd married the brightest man she could find the first time around. Fate had robbed her of a happy lengthy marriage, however, and left her to find someone else bright enough to gain her respect. A grin spread, uncontained, across her face as she realised, she'd just found him. Myron Holmes evidently didn't think much of her. He'd sneered at her on more than one occasion but that only made the challenge of getting him to like her more appealing. Sebastian spent time with her and appeared to enjoy helping her despite his initial coldness. Myron would be another difficulty level above, but not impossible. As she travelled through London she thought through everything she knew about Myron. If she wanted to win him over before he shut her off completely she needed to figure him, and his dislikes, out quickly. He'd been impeccably dressed in a grey suit and waistcoat with the shiniest shoes she'd ever seen, so being well kept would be a priority. Her best clothes would be needed just to get close to his level. Thankfully she'd been smart and sophisticated in her choice of attire while in London, and, just in case she bumped into him again, she was equally groomed today. Intelligence would also be a key factor. His level of brilliance would feel so much higher than hers so she would need to be careful not to say anything that he'd find annoyingly stupid. She suspected being silent and learning would be a safer way to handle him than speaking when unsure. With his arrogance and commanding presence she imagined some flattery would help her case as well as a slight subservient attitude. Both would need to be subtle or she might come across as desperate or perhaps even manipulative, but she could think on her feet. On top of that she would need to show some sense of humour or wit, or she would blend into the background like a secretary or doorman at a hotel. Someone who was only meant to be ignored or talked at. She'd spent hours already, replaying their first meeting through her head and analysing every word and gesture. So far she thought she'd probably been too keen to help and forward with what she thought the answers were, which may have annoyed him, although, Sebastian hadn't seemed to care. Before she could satisfy the obsessive desire in her to go through it all again, the taxi pulled up outside Sebastian's flat. As usual, Mrs Wintern answered her knock on the door and ushered her inside. “He's up and about. I've heard the floorboards creaking as he paces back and forth.” She waved Amelia up the stairs, making her grin. Sebastian had only been in bed once when Amelia had arrived and only because he'd had no clients for a few weeks and hadn't been expecting her. “You're early,” he said as soon as she opened the door. He stood in front of the case board. The overlay with her characters was back in place over the one she'd written the strange email on, giving her no indication of whether he'd finished solving it or not. “I'm always early,” she pointed out and took her jacket off. “You're even earlier than normal,” He switched his attention to her, running his eyes over her, as he did every time they met, “and you barely slept. What's wrong?” “Nothing's wrong.” She went to stand beside him and stare at her characters, hoping he wouldn't pick up on anything else. “You've done your hair differently. The French braid is very elegant, and the choker, that's new. You're making an effort, but the perfume is less obvious and you're still wearing your wedding ring so you don't want it to be too noticeable.” He grinned and waited for her to react to him, as he always did when he'd figured out something she didn't want him to. “Evidently it was not subtle enough.” She shook her head in mock annoyance, all the while smiling. “Well, he's a lucky fellow, either way.” “Hmmmphhh, you're assuming he'll appreciate it.” “Ah, so it is brother of mine.” She bit her lip and stamped her foot, annoyed at being so easy to read. “It is not an obvious deduction. You mentioned you liked intelligent men and I doubt you met anyone at the book signing yesterday who you expect to see today.” She nodded at his assumptions. The book signing had gone well but no one had stood out of the crowds wanting to be photographed with her. “My effort is likely to be entirely wasted,” she replied, knowing the chances of bumping into him again were slim. “He is rather reclusive.” Sebastian nodded once and fixed his gaze back on her plot notes. For now the conversation on Myron was over. With a deep breath she tried to join him in working out the best combination of motives, character traits and circumstances to make the plot gripping and unpredictable. Despite her best efforts, it only held half her attention, while Myron's personality and traits held the other half. The two hours before her next signing slipped by in a barely registered haze. With the little they had left to work out they should have been done before time ran out but the need to move on to the bookshop came before all the details were finalised. “You really are distracted by Myron, aren't you?” Sebastian put down the pen. She nodded. “I don't expect that it matters much. I'm unlikely to even meet him again, let alone get him to like me, and like is only the first of many stages.” She pulled her jacket on and neatened her hair. “Of all the women I've met, you're the first to show an interest in my brother that I can believe in. You're also the first I've thought might interest him.” He handed her the notebook she'd been jotting ideas down in. “There is still an element of chance that may never go in my favour.” Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “I may never meet him again,” she explained and gave him a wry smile. “Ah...” He scanned her face as he trailed off, making her wonder if she'd said something stupid. “What?” “His car has been outside for the last ten minutes.” “He's probably waiting for me to leave.” Despite her brush off, every muscle in her torso tensed at the thought of him being so close to her. “No. He would ask you to go if he wanted to talk to me. The only other possibility is that he's here for you.” Her eyes went wide and she froze to the spot while her brain tried to fathom a why. “Stay calm and go on. Don't keep him waiting.” “Thank you, Sebastian.” She stood on her tiptoes to give his over six foot frame a kiss on the cheek. With that, she rushed from the flat and down the stairs, only checking her pace by the front door. Rain pattered down outside but she'd not thought to bring an umbrella. When she strode outside Myron's driver leapt up and opened the car door for her. After exhaling in an attempt to calm herself, she stooped and got into the car. Somehow she found herself sitting beside Myron Holmes while managing the potentially undignified entrance with enough grace that it boosted her confidence. A second later the car pulled off and she could only assume they were on the way to the bookstore she was scheduled to sign at. “Good afternoon, Mr Holmes,” she said, giving him her attention. Today he wore a deep blue suit and, if possible, looked even better than yesterday. “Increased heart rate, flushed cheeks and dilated pupils. Are you nervous, Miss Jones?” Myron replied instead of greeting her. “I always get nervous before a book signing. I'm put on show for everyone to see and fans are notorious for putting their celebrities on a pedestal that's impossible to stay on.” “Yet you chose your profession.” “For the most part my profession allows me to stay in the comfort of a familiar place and be paid to invent and solve whatever predicaments I want my characters to face. Every job has a downside.” Mycroft blinked but made no response. She waited for him to explain why he'd picked her up as she definitely wasn't saying anything more about why she was nervous. “My sources inform me that your next novel involves some, characters, of a North Korean nationality, as well as a particular incident with them that closely resembles a case my brother recently aided with.” “The storyline was his suggestion,” she said before she realised Myron wasn't the sort of man to appreciate interruptions. He pursed his lips together and waited for her to stay quiet. “I cannot allow you to publish it. Will you promise to never attempt to show it to anyone.” She looked away, thinking about her response. Writing a novel took a lot of effort and scrapping one entirely was a lot to ask of her. At the least it could damage her reputation with her fans. On the other hand, cooperating with Myron would be more likely to get her in his good graces and maybe lead to a friendship opportunity. “If I publish it what would happen?” she asked, wanting more time to think but not wanting Myron waiting in silence. “I will be forced to stop you. I'm sure I can find some reason to have you incarcerated, even if I have to plant the evidence.” “I don't mean to me. What are you trying to prevent by stopping me?” Her words were met with silence and she had to wait for him to process the request. She guessed he wasn't expecting it. “At least two of our agents would be endangered as well as months of planning at best. And at worst, we would find ourselves at war with North-Korea.” “Then of course I won't publish it.” She smiled at him and he nodded his gratitude. “I would never deliberately put lives in danger, especially British lives.” “Thank you.” “I do have a request, however.” “Go on,” Myron replied, although the severity of his tone made her wonder if he meant it. She carried on anyway. “Can I re-write the novel with guidance on what needs changing? It's a lot of work to discard completely, not to mention the financial implications...” “I'm sure you can be helped with sales to make up for the loss,” he assured her, interrupting. “Thank you, but I'd rather know I've truly earnt my sales. I'd prefer to re-write the story. It would also give me an excuse to talk to you again.” She closed her mouth around the last words, shocked she'd said them. “My assistant will liaise with you, not me.” He gave her the same fake smile as he'd given her on parting the day before. She shrugged. She'd taken one plunge but it appeared to have gone unnoticed. Something had to happen before she got to her destination or she'd always feel like she wasted an opportunity. “Shame. Although, you can't blame a girl for trying.” “Trying what?” Myron raised both eyebrows again. “I've decided that I like you, Mr Holmes.” “That will soon change. Most people find me unpleasant,” he replied and gave her yet another fake smile. It was meant to put her off but it just made her more keen to get him to genuinely smile. “It's too late for that. I'm a very loyal person and I've already made my mind up. I like you.” Myron turned away from her and shook his head. She bit her lip knowing she'd gone too far too soon. Now she needed to try and pull it back. Thoughts of conversation starters ran through her head but none of them came out of her mouth. “You appear to no longer be nervous,” Myron pointed out, giving her another way in. “I have company and...” she tapped her knuckles on the window. “tinted glass. I can't be seen until I get out. I find it hard to know what to say to my fans. Most of them are smart and socially adept enough that I find them easy to talk to, but a few I struggle with...” “Are you trying to relate to me, Miss Jones?” he interrupted. “I was simply trying to explain my nerves. I have a responsibility to them when I do these events. When I fail to make a connection with them I run the risk of making them feel invisible, and if they already feel low... I suppose I appreciate them in their own way.” She shook her head, struggling to explain and already aware she'd said far more than she'd intended to in trying to cover up the real reason for her increased pulse. “Or your nerves were unrelated to your upcoming public appearance. You've made more of an effort about your attire than yesterday as well.” He looked smug but didn't give her full eye contact for her to tell if he minded. She found herself chuckling. Both him and his brother were more observant than she stood any chance of getting around, so she decided to stop trying to fool him then and there. “What I said is true, mostly, but you're also right,” she paused to take a deep breath. “I have another request to make if I may?” “I think you've already said enough, Miss Jones.” “Just hear me out. I think I've cooperated enough to earn that.” “All your cooperation earnt you was your continued freedom. I've already made a concession in allowing you to try and rescue your novel. I will not be making any more.” His every word bit into her but she ignored it anyway. “I want to learn from you. I know your brother isn't as clever as you and I'm not even at his level, but I'd like a chance to be, entertaining.” “No. You may like me, Miss Jones, but the feeling isn't mutual. I've never met a woman I've liked.” “I'm not asking you to have me as a friend, but you're the best. I'd really like to learn from you... Think of it like having a pet.” As soon as she finished speaking she wished she'd thought of a better word. A pet implied more than she wanted it to. “A pet?” He sneered. “Yes, like a cat or dog. You can teach me some simple things for your amusement.” “So you get access to my mind, and all I get is amusement?” The knuckles on his left hand whitened as he tightened his grip on the umbrella handle. “You get a loyal pet and you can teach me what you choose. If you find I'm not quick enough at picking things up you can stop.” She bit her lip, hoping she'd explained herself well enough. “A pet, also implies ownership.” “Yes, that's where the analogy falls down. I admit, it's not a perfect example of what I mean.” Her words were greeted with silence and his disdain was evident on his face. “No, Miss Jones, as entertaining as it might be for a few minutes, I am not interested in the idea.” Myron's words were said so crisply she knew it was pointless to continue. She'd done all she could and saying more wouldn't win her any more favours. She'd have to hope Sebastian put in a good word for her and tipped Myron over from a no to a maybe. While the car wove through the last few streets, she ran their conversation through her head, hoping to glean some information from it. During this, it dawned on her that not even his brother had a copy of the newest novel. Myron or his people had hacked into her computer. He could have deleted it himself and told her she couldn't publish it. Instead he'd told her himself and given her options. Something had made him choose to see her again. The realisation made her suck in her breath and her heart raced in her ears. The car pulled up outside the bookshop and ended any opportunity she might have to explore her most recent thought. A line of fans stood in the rain, waiting for her. She knew she couldn't keep them out there any longer. It was time to say goodbye. She turned back to Myron to find him staring at her, but not with an expression she could read. “Thank you for not just deleting my novel, Mr Holmes, and thank you for the company.” She considered putting her hand out to shake his but knew he wouldn't accept it. “Enjoy your signing,” he replied and looked away. “I'll try to,” she replied as the door nearest her opened. After taking a second to fix a smile to her face she got out. Instantly she was met with a blast of cheering, clapping and people calling her name. The nerves dropped from her with each step towards the foyer and each splatter of rain that landed on her. By the time she was inside she had pushed Myron from her mind and focused on her fans. Before she could want assistance a middle aged, blonde woman in a knee length black skirt, plain shoes and jumper came gliding towards her. Amelia glanced at the name badge pinned to her chest. Sue was the manager. “Amelia, you're early. Why don't you come to the staff room for a few minutes and have a hot drink before we start?” Sue didn't wait for her to reply but took several steps towards the side of the shop. She stopped when she realised Amelia wasn't following. Instead Ameila gazed across the open foyer, taking in all the details. A table was set up to one side with a soft chair, pens and a poster of her latest book announcing the start time of the signing. “No. It's raining and there are people outside without umbrellas. I'll get started right away.” Amelia smiled to take the edge off her words, but the manager still frowned at being overruled. This wasn't according to Sue's plan and Amelia knew she would have to re-adjust the plan herself. She shook hands with the two clerks who came up to her, both realising this was their cue. “Let's get as many people out of the rain as we can. Have them form a queue from the table and around the edge,” she said to a young man barely old enough to be out of school. He hurried off so she turned to the girl who stood beside Sue, eagerly awaiting further instruction. “And...” She trailed off as Myron walked past her. She blinked and stood with her mouth open, unsure why she would see him inside the shop. Sue coughed. “Sorry, ummm... Why don't you find the people in the queue who need to buy their books here. Get them to buy them while they wait and form a second queue I can prioritise.” The girl nodded and hurried off to join her companion, leaving her with Sue who still looked like she could murder someone. “Why don't you get back to your normal work. I have everything I need and can handle the crowds. I'm sure you'd rather be looking after your shop than having to keep an eye on me,” Amelia said, giving her the warmest smile she could manage. They shook hands and Amelia found she had a few moments to survey the area while people rushed around her, enacting her suggested changes. Almost immediately her eyes found Myron, who sat at a table in the cafe area, staring at her. She gave him a smirk and turned her back on him to switch her attention to her fans. He could watch her if he wanted. Chapter 3 The waitress disturbed Mycroft as she brought him the tea he'd ordered. As soon as she was gone he looked back at Miss Jones. When he'd warned her not to publish her novel he'd expected far more resistance. Creative types didn't tend to respond well to being censored in any way. Yet she'd acquiesced, and she'd been clever enough to realise he could have deleted it and bypassed obtaining her cooperation altogether. It didn't mean she was of an exceptional level of intelligence but at least somewhat observant and rational. Her proposal had also been unexpected. When she'd first told him she liked him, he'd thought it would lead to being asked out on a date. A request to be his student in a sort of pet like way showed more understanding of his attitude and temperament than most people grasped. Although he'd refused without hesitation, he found himself considering her suggestion. He could find out how clever she was, while keeping himself amused, and discard her when he was no longer entertained. Her pet analogy was flawed but it did hold some sensible ideas. A pet was more loyal than a normal student. Watching her handle the booksellers and then her fans also proved interesting. She picked up on their characters with speed, using the information they subconsciously gave away to relate to them and make them feel special. He'd only ever watched his brother do it better, although both missed signs he'd picked up on. After an hour of tirelessly greeting, signing and having her picture taken, she asked for a break. For the fifth time since he'd sat down she glanced his way and he expected her to come over and berate him for distracting her, but she didn't. Instead she walked out of the shop and into the rain. He got to his feet, wanting to see over the tables and work out what she was up to. Outside, his car still sat, and his chauffeur stood under the large black umbrella, waiting for him to return. Amelia went right up to him, sheltering herself under the same black dome and started up a conversation. Again she'd managed to surprise him. A few minutes later she came back inside and Daniels followed, keeping her dry all the way. Mycroft sat again so they wouldn't notice his interest in them. He assumed the gesture was just his driver being a gentleman but he came with her all the way to her table, got her to sign one of her books and then took it to the sales desk to pay for it. It didn't take Daniels long but Miss Jones was back to her carousel of greet, sign, and pose, before his chauffeur was back by the car, the book in a small carrier bag tucked under his arm. He waited for Miss Jones to get back into her flow and decided it was time to leave. Picking a moment when she would be so absorbed with signing a book that she wouldn't notice, he got up and left. His chauffeur had the good graces to look sheepish about leaving the car unattended for a few minutes. “Don't make a habit of it,” Mycroft said. The greying man nodded. “Also, I'd like to borrow that book. I want to check something.” “Of course, sir.” Daniels passed the carrier bag to him as Mycroft was getting into the car. Once they were on their way back to his house Mycroft pulled the book from its wrappings. “Naive,” he whispered, reading the title, “This should be interesting.” Curious, he flicked to the first page and read. Mycroft next looked up when the car halted outside his home. Forty-five pages of the novel had absorbed his attention and stopped him from noticing what was normally a chore to endure. “I'll keep hold of this for a few hours,” Mycroft said before entering the front door of his stately home. He placed his umbrella in the usual stand by the door and sat on the small stool to swap his shoes for slippers. By the time he entered his study, a tray with fresh, hot, tea and biscuits was waiting on one side of his desk, slightly covering the green leather inlaid on the top of the oak. Once sitting at his desk he could easily survey the whole room from the light of the large bay window to the left. It had a box seat for sitting and reading the many shelves of books that lined every other possible wall space, and dated back as far as the mid eighteen hundreds. Floor to ceiling proudly displayed the leather-bound volumes in stark contrast to the brightly covered paper book in his hands. It didn't fit in. For the next few hours he read, only interrupting his past time to move to the dining room at the usual time of six and back again half an hour later. Once he'd reached the end of the story he sat back and stared at the front cover. The plot had been predictable and the happy ending was a little unrealistic, but Amelia Jones had been quite clever with her character's reactions. It was a murder mystery but the detective had noticed all the right details. Plenty of them had been hidden in the text to make it easy for him to pick up on the clues and solve the crime. He found he had enjoyed reading the story. It was refreshing to read a book where the criminal was caught in a clever way, and even more refreshing for the main character to be intelligent. Mycroft wondered how much Sherlock had contributed to the plot. Despite liking the novel it didn't help him with his decision concerning her strange request. A hundred years had passed since John Watson had been part of Sherlock's life. He'd seen the effect the relationship had on his younger brother, but he'd always been a little bit curious. Perhaps Mycroft could see what fascination Miss Jones held for Sherlock. As long as no one else knew about it, Mycroft wouldn't need to have a solid reason why, and Amelia Jones herself didn't appear to care about his reasoning as long as she got to learn. Mycroft pulled a blank notebook from a desk drawer and wrote down this requirement, along with several others on the first page. If he was to use his time to teach her, he expected her to work through things in a sensible manner, and she definitely wouldn't be allowed to get any help. For the rest of the evening Mycroft put together a list of basic tasks he could make her work through, starting with coded messages since she'd already shown some flair in that area. As the minutes ticked by his ideas grew more elaborate until he realised he had a six phase plan that could take years to complete. He doubted she could hold his interest for that long and knew she would struggle to solve the last few phases anyway. With more than enough challenges thought out, he pulled a blank sheet of stationery paper towards him and wrote out the first coded message to her. 39 3 3 36 1 3 6 2 41 2 39 1 41 7 7 42 3 2 37 7 26 41 40 33 10 37 36 37 35 41 36 37 36 8 40 33 8 7 37 8 8 41 2 39 13 3 9 35 40 33 44 44 37 2 39 37 7 1 33 13 4 6 3 10 41 36 37 37 2 3 9 39 40 33 1 9 7 37 1 37 2 8 8 3 34 37 11 3 6 8 40 1 13 37 38 38 3 6 8 26 34 9 8 8 40 37 6 37 33 6 37 7 37 10 37 6 33 44 6 9 44 37 7 41 11 41 44 44 41 2 7 41 7 8 9 4 3 2 25 34 6 37 33 43 33 2 13 3 38 8 40 37 1 26 33 8 33 2 13 4 3 41 2 8 26 33 2 36 3 9 6 44 41 8 8 44 37 39 33 1 37 11 41 44 44 35 37 33 7 37 33 44 3 2 39 11 41 8 40 33 44 44 35 3 1 1 9 2 41 35 33 8 41 3 2 25 15 28 13 3 9 27 6 37 2 3 8 8 3 8 37 44 44 33 2 13 3 2 37 33 2 13 8 40 41 2 39 33 34 3 9 8 3 9 6 33 6 6 33 2 39 37 1 37 2 8 25 8 40 41 7 41 2 35 44 9 36 37 7 13 3 9 8 33 43 41 2 39 33 44 44 4 6 37 35 33 9 8 41 3 2 7 2 37 35 37 7 7 33 6 13 8 3 37 2 7 9 6 37 2 3 3 2 37 37 44 7 37 38 41 2 36 7 33 2 13 35 3 1 1 9 2 41 35 33 8 41 3 2 25 16 28 13 3 9 27 6 37 2 3 8 8 3 6 37 35 37 41 10 37 40 37 44 4 7 3 44 10 41 2 39 33 2 13 8 33 7 43 25 8 40 41 7 41 7 33 8 37 7 8 3 38 13 3 9 6 35 44 37 10 37 6 2 37 7 7 33 44 3 2 37 25 17 28 13 3 9 7 40 3 9 44 36 3 34 37 13 33 2 13 41 2 7 8 6 9 35 8 41 3 2 7 33 7 7 3 3 2 33 7 4 3 7 7 41 34 44 37 11 40 37 6 37 8 40 41 7 36 3 37 7 2 27 8 35 3 2 38 44 41 35 8 11 41 8 40 6 9 44 37 15 25 18 28 38 33 41 44 33 8 33 7 43 33 2 36 3 9 6 33 6 6 33 2 39 37 1 37 2 8 11 41 44 44 35 37 33 7 37 33 44 3 2 39 11 41 8 40 33 44 44 35 3 1 1 9 2 41 35 33 8 41 3 2 25 19 28 6 37 38 9 7 33 44 8 3 36 3 33 7 41 2 7 8 6 9 35 8 37 36 11 41 44 44 34 37 7 37 37 2 33 7 33 8 37 6 1 41 2 33 8 41 3 2 3 38 3 9 6 33 39 6 37 37 1 37 2 8 25 20 28 41 6 37 7 37 6 10 37 8 40 37 6 41 39 40 8 8 3 35 37 33 7 37 8 40 41 7 33 8 33 2 13 4 3 41 2 8 11 41 8 40 3 9 8 37 12 4 44 33 2 33 8 41 3 2 25 21 28 33 44 44 1 37 7 7 33 39 37 7 11 41 44 44 34 37 4 44 33 35 37 36 41 2 37 2 10 37 44 3 4 37 7 33 2 36 7 37 33 44 37 36 11 41 8 40 11 33 12 25 13 3 9 27 6 37 6 37 7 4 3 2 7 41 34 44 37 38 3 6 33 35 5 9 41 6 41 2 39 8 40 37 2 37 35 37 7 7 33 6 13 7 8 33 8 41 3 2 37 6 13 25 22 28 1 13 2 33 1 37 26 3 6 33 2 13 3 8 40 37 6 41 2 38 3 6 1 33 8 41 3 2 8 40 33 8 35 3 9 44 36 44 37 33 36 8 3 1 37 34 37 41 2 39 41 36 37 2 8 41 38 41 37 36 26 41 7 2 3 8 8 3 34 37 9 7 37 36 41 2 33 2 13 35 3 6 6 37 7 4 3 2 36 37 2 35 37 25 41 38 13 3 9 7 8 41 44 44 11 41 7 40 8 3 4 6 3 35 37 37 36 26 6 37 4 44 13 9 7 41 2 39 8 40 37 7 33 1 37 35 3 36 37 34 13 44 37 33 10 41 2 39 13 3 9 6 1 37 7 7 33 39 37 41 2 13 3 9 6 40 3 8 37 44 6 3 3 1 3 6 41 2 13 3 9 6 4 3 35 43 37 8 11 40 41 44 37 8 6 33 10 37 44 44 41 2 39 26 1 33 6 43 37 36 11 41 8 40 15 6 3 2 8 40 37 37 2 10 37 44 3 4 37 26 33 2 36 33 36 37 5 9 33 8 37 44 13 7 37 33 44 37 36 25 6 37 39 33 6 36 7 26 13 3 9 6 8 9 8 3 6 25 The letter took half an hour, although Mycroft sped up as his brain got used to writing it in a different sort of alphabet. As soon as he'd finished he placed it in an envelope and melted some wax over the flap. With this done he pressed his ring into the liquid and waited for it to cool down enough that it would keep its new shape. The moment to think almost resulted in him ripping the letter up and chucking it into the fire, but after staring at her name on the front of it for a moment he got up and called for his car. “Going out again, sir?” Daniels asked when Mycroft met him at the front door. He gave his chauffeur back the signed book and nodded. “I have business I need to see to. Take me to my brother's.” Mycroft had no intention of explaining his real intentions to his driver or anyone else. Once outside Sherlock's, he dismissed Daniels and told him not to worry about picking him up. If his driver thought this was odd he made no comment but drove the vehicle back the way they'd come. Knowing Sherlock liked to keep a watch by the window, Mycroft hurried inside and up to the flat. He found his brother playing the violin in his dressing gown and flannel pyjamas, with a lit pipe nearby. “This is a late visit, brother of mine,” Sherlock said as he put the instrument down and tended to his pipe. “Is it concerning this lace operation that's happening tomorrow?” “You solved it then?” Sherlock nodded and offered Mycroft his spare pipe. Mycroft curled his lip up and kept his hands in his pockets. “Don't look so disdainful. It's not like it will kill either of us.” “I need some extra eyes tomorrow at the Millennium Wheel a little before noon. I've got a full team but I want to be careful. Watchfullness from some of your discreet friends would be appreciated.” Mycroft changed the subject before Sherlock could wonder why he was there. “It will cost you.” “It always does,” Mycroft said as he pulled several twenty pound notes from his pocket and placed them on the side table. “There's one for each person I need.” “Consider it done.” “Good.” Mycroft nodded his thanks but his brother got up before he could continue with his plans. “Anything else I can help with?” “No, that's all I needed,” Mycroft replied, knowing his brother was fishing for something. “You sent your chauffeur away.” “I have other business to deal with.” “Oh, brother of mine, always so secretive... How did everything go with Amelia? I assume she took your decision to prevent her publishing well enough?” Sherlock's direction of enquiry resulted in Mycroft raising his eyebrows. He hoped Miss Jones hadn't been stupid enough to say anything. “She posted a message to her fans apologising for delays with her next book because of some necessary and complicated re-writes. No mention of why, but right after seeing you is evidently not a coincidence.” “She was remarkably cooperative.” “She's a clever woman.” “Next time I'd appreciate it if you didn't encourage her to use real events, especially when neither of you should know about them.” Mycroft walked out of the flat before Sherlock could say anymore. He had no desire to hear Sherlock talk about Miss Jones and didn't want to give his brother any opportunity to notice the game they'd already begun to play. For the second time Mycroft considered destroying the letter and going home, but his feet led him onwards to the end of the road and he hailed a taxi cab before he could act on the alternative desire. Mycroft didn't tell the taxi driver to take him to the hotel Miss Jones was staying at, but gave him the name of a road a few hundred metres away instead. Walking the final distance would help ensure his activities went undetected by anyone. It had been a while since he'd had to use transport other than his own chauffeured car but the driver noticed his desire to be left to his thoughts and concentrated on his task. So close to midnight the traffic was light and only ten minutes later Mycroft stood on the pavement, alone in the dark. He walked the few streets to his destination in no great hurry. The early September night air was still warm from the summer and the later it was, the more likely Miss Jones would be fast asleep. He wanted her to be undisturbed by him dropping the letter off. As he got closer he reached into his jacket pocket and turned on the device he always carried with him. It gave off a small electric distortion which scrambled the feed from any camera that might be looking his way. When Mycroft strode into the lobby the female receptionist looked up from her book. She was chewing gum, resulting in an irritating lip smacking noise, and the perm in her hair didn't suit the shape of her face. He took a deep breath and decided this wasn't the sort of place where he should use his natural accent. “Evenin'” he said as he approached the woman. “I know it's late but have you got a room goin' spare? I need a place to kip for the night.” He leant against the counter and smiled. “Let me just check,” she replied, talking around her gum. “I stayed in room three six eight recently. If it's free, I'd find it easier to sleep somewhere more familiar.” She sighed at the extra information and continued tapping at the keyboard. Eventually she nodded. “It's not taken. One night's ninety-five pounds.” Mycroft handed the cash over along with telling her a fake name, before taking the key-card she offered him. He hurried away to find the right floor. As he got into the lift and heard it clank into life, the stench of cheap perfume and stale sweat hit him. Miss Jones needed to stay in a better hotel in the future and he made a note to have more internet traffic directed to her books. An increase in sales would hopefully lead to an increase in her budget. The ting that let him know he was on the sixth floor couldn't have sounded soon enough, but instead of heading towards his own room he wandered down the hall looking for the maintenance cupboard. It only took him a few minutes to find it and another couple to pick the lock. Inside was a little cart full of bleaches, clean sheets and the small bottles of shampoo and conditioner that they stocked the bathrooms with. Hanging up on a hook beside it was an apron. He reached into the front pocket and pulled out the master key-card for the floor. With it in hand he made his way to Miss Jones' room, number three six seven, opposite the room he'd just booked. After checking no one was about he put his head against the door and listened. No noises came through, not even running water or the TV. Without hesitating any longer he used the master key-card in the door and stepped through. It closed behind him with a soft-click. The room was dark with a strip of pale light at the bottom of the curtains from the street lamp outside. It was enough illumination for him to tell Miss Jones was in bed and breathing softly. He didn't move for a minute as he concentrated on the sound of her inhales and exhales. Once he was sure she wasn't going to wake up he moved over to the dresser and placed the letter where she couldn't fail to notice it. After taking another look at her sleeping form, curled up under the hotel duvet, he made his way over to his own room. With his work done he found a wave of satisfaction roll over him and paused to grin. Mycroft set to work making the room look used, messing up the bed a little and pouring quantities down the sink from the shampoo and shower gel bottles. Just before leaving he grabbed the complimentary chocolate. Once back outside he made his way back down to the ground floor, choosing to use the stairs this time. Instead of going back through the lobby he turned down a side corridor and found a fire-exit, out of the way of prying eyes. After going through it he put a small stone in against the door jam so the bar couldn't fully click back into place and it could be opened from the outside when he returned in the morning. He walked back towards the busy roads where he would be able to get transport home, but less than a minute later his phone vibrated. He tucked himself back from the road's edge and answered the call. “Myron Holmes,” he said, in his usual business voice. “Sir, all the preparations for monitoring the target tomorrow are in place,” his assistant informed him in her well-spoken English. “Good work. Keep me updated with any further developments.” He hung up before any cars could pass him by and make it obvious he wasn't at home. Having a reputation as a recluse, he didn't want to spark her curiosity. If he kept his arrangement up with Amelia Jones he would have to come up with an alternative way of getting the letters between them. He could post his own in several layers of envelopes and bounce them around the post offices in the country before reaching her, to make them difficult to trace back to himself, but her responses would be another matter. He would have to plan something before he sent her anything further. Chapter 4 The light woke Amelia from her slumber as it streamed through the thin curtains. She yawned and stretched, trying to decide if it was worth getting up yet. The clock on the bedside table still begun with a six, although it wouldn't for much longer. Breakfast was still an hour off and she felt cosy under the duvet. On top of that her dreams had been pleasant, but now she'd opened her eyes her mind kicked in and reminded her that her short stay in London had been a mixed event. Both her book signings had gone well and her sales were reasonable. Her time with Sebastian also meant she'd almost finished plotting her next novel, but in contrast she would need to change a large amount of her previous story and was still waiting on the exact instructions from Myron or his assistant. And it was him that had her unsatisfied with her brief excursion into the capital. Despite all the other positives, having him think so little of her, for whatever reason, bothered her. The inability to do anything about it only made it worse. All she could do was keep writing, keep visiting his brother, and hope he appeared again. She supposed if a lot of time passed and she never got any further with Myron she could always reconsider Sebastian, but she knew that was unlikely to happen. Now that she'd decided she preferred Myron, seeing the younger brother would be a reminder that she hadn't captured the attention of the better sibling. Amelia knew sleep wasn't going to return and gave up trying to doze off again. With a sigh she sat up. Instantly her eyes were drawn to the dressing table on the opposite wall. Propped up against the mirror's corner was a letter with her name on it. She blinked a few times, puzzled. The last thing she'd done before getting into bed was sit on the stool and undo her braided hair. Her tired expression had attracted her attention in the mirror and if the letter had been there she'd have noticed. A shiver ran down her spine as she realised someone had been in her room while she slept and it galvanised her to get up and go over to it. After inspecting the white envelope she picked it up and turned it over. As soon as her eyes took in the shape embedded in the wax seal a grin spread across her face and her previous concern melted from her. She'd seen the same design on a ring Sebastian always wore and a coat of arms was usually tied to the family name. One of the brothers had sent her a letter and she knew Sebastian would have no reason to. She almost ripped the envelope off in her excitement before she stopped herself to think first. If Myron had decided to teach her, she needed to be careful not to miss important details. She sniffed the envelope but no particular scent leapt out at her. Wherever Myron kept his stationery it didn't smell of anything strong. Her name was written in a reasonable sized cursive script and looked far more elegant than anything she could manage, but it could have been illegible and she'd have still been pleased with it. It was a letter and it was from the right person, or at least it was logical to assume Myron wrote it. Unable to contain herself any longer, she broke the wax seal and pulled the flap open. Inside was a sheet of letter paper entirely covered in numbers. There was nothing in the normal alphabet to let her know who it was from for sure and no hints on translating it. She ran her eyes over the sets of single and paired numbers, her brain too overwhelmed by her emotions to begin thinking about anything beyond the thrill of getting her way. Five minutes passed her by and still she sat in her overly large t-shirt staring at the numbers cradled in her hands like the paper might fall apart if she moved even a fraction of an amount. Eventually she put it down and tore herself away long enough to get dressed and pack up the few scattered belongings into her small suitcase. Cracking the letter's code would require thought and time and she would find neither easy whilst sitting half naked and hungry in the hotel room she needed to check out of before ten. As soon as she was decent and ready to leave she grabbed the letter, her notebook and pencil, and made her way down to the dining hall. She could solve it while eating breakfast, surrounded by the noisy mass of other guests. Thinking always came easier when there wasn't silence to make her feel uneasy. With a cooked breakfast to sooth her rumbling stomach she sat down and pulled the letter back out. She needed a starting point. Somewhere to begin trying to work out what the numbers meant. It wasn't the standard 1-26 of a basic numerical substitution as 44 appeared to be the highest number but that didn't mean it wasn't substitution. It looked like it was ordered into sets of numbers and long enough to be a full message, so she decided it was a good assumption to make. With no starting letter to substitute for a number, she chose to make a tally of the frequency each number popped up. She remembered from school that E was the most common letter followed closely by A and S. With such a long letter the tally should be clear enough that trying those three would help. Half an hour later she'd eaten as much as she could without bursting and had a completed tally of the numbers. 37 appeared one hundred and twenty six times throughout the letter. This was considerably more than any other so she decided to begin her translation assuming it was the letter E. She had also noticed that every paragraph ended with a 25 and wondered if this might be the dot at the end of a sentence. Until she'd worked out a few words she couldn't be sure, however. Putting in the letter she already thought she'd sussed out was delayed by her need to check out of the hotel. She noticed it was already almost nine and an hour wasn't likely to be long enough to figure out the rest. After stuffing the letter back in her pocket she took her belongings to her room, grabbed the already packed suitcase and transferred the letter and notebook to her handbag. With that done she made her way back to the lobby to give her key-card back and pay her final bill. Once outside she considered getting a taxi to see Sebastian and getting his help to solve the letter but her own sense of pride stopped her. Instead she made her way to a café she wrote in when in London, and not otherwise engaged. She was early enough that she had her pick of tables so she sat at one, tucked up in a corner where no one would bother her, and ordered a hot chocolate. Before her drink could arrive she pulled the letter and her tally of the numbers back out. Using pencil and pressing lightly, she marked in all the letters she suspected so far and then looked at the letter as a whole again. None of them looked out of place and it gave her a couple of two letter words that ended in E. Most begun with a 34, but alone it wasn't enough to help her put in another letter. As her drink arrived she decided to go back to her tally and work out some more letters from the more frequent numbers. 2, 3, 8, 33, and 41 all occurred a similar number of times and significantly more than most others. She also noticed that 33 and 41 were both vowels if she put the numbers in order from A to I, with 37 matching up with the E. Fairly pleased with her logic, but unsure enough to check all the same, she glanced through the letter, trying to find a word or two where putting in A or I would give her a word so obviously right it couldn't be wrong. She soon found that the only single letter words that appeared were these numbers and therefore could only be those letters. Not noticing it sooner made her angry at herself but it gave her the confidence she needed to write them into her translation along with all the letters in between. It took her quite some time, but once she was done she had several whole words and many partial ones. It also seemed logical to her to continue going through the numbers until the highest, moving along the alphabet, considering so far they'd been in order. 44 was the highest number that appeared so when she reached it she stopped and read what she had so far. g 3 3 d 1 3 6 2 i 2 g 1 i 7 7 j 3 2 e 7 26 i h a 10 e d e c i d e d 8 h a 8 7 e 8 8 i 2 g 13 3 9 c h a l l e 2 g e 7 1 a 13 4 6 3 10 i d e e 2 3 9 g h a 1 9 7 e 1 e 2 8 8 3 b e... The first line was obviously the start of a letter, and she was pretty sure that it included punctuation and her name. If she continued down through the alphabet then the first word was good and the 10 became a V. Excitement built up within her as she realised she'd almost translated the entire thing and she got to work, filling in the rest of the alphabet from 1-14. With those done the letter was almost complete and she could fill in the punctuation as well, guessing that 28 became a '–' the few times it occurred. It also made sense that the rest of the numbers were substituting other numbers, giving her a numbered list of instructions to follow. After filling in the final few parts, she sat back and admired her handiwork. A letter that could only be from Myron. Good morning Miss Jones, I have decided that setting you challenges may provide enough amusement to be worth my effort, but there are several rules I will insist upon. Break any of them, at any point, and our little game will cease along with all communication. 1 – You're not to tell anyone anything about our arrangement. This includes taking all precautions necessary to ensure no one else finds any communication. 2 – You're not to receive help solving any task. This is a test of your cleverness alone. 3 – You should obey any instructions as soon as possible where this doesn't conflict with rule 1. 4 – Fail a task and our arrangement will cease along with all communication. 5 – Refusal to do as instructed will be seen as a termination of our agreement. 6 – I reserve the right to cease this at any point without explanation. 7 – All messages will be placed in envelopes and sealed with wax. You're responsible for acquiring the necessary stationery. 8 – My name, or any other information that could lead to me being identified, is not to be used in any correspondence. If you still wish to proceed, reply using the same code by leaving your message in your hotel room or in your pocket while travelling, marked with 1r on the envelope and adequately sealed. Regards, your tutor. A grin spread across her face despite the strictness of Myron's rules. She'd translated the first message, although she suspected later ones would be significantly harder. Holding the letter in her hands, she sat back and read through it several times, deciding to commit the rules to memory. She also felt pleased she'd not gone running to Sebastian for help. If she had, all her chances of learning from Myron would have been dashed before she'd begun. The smile never left her face as she turned to her notebook and wrote out the uncoded reply she wanted to make. Good Morning Mr Tutor, I very much wish to proceed and am happy to abide by your rules, although 6 bothers me slightly. Could I ask for a slight amendment? I'd appreciate a final message of some kind, letting me know that our arrangement is over. It would stop me from worrying that a letter had gone astray which I should have found, and, if a letter did go missing, I would know for sure to keep looking for it or inform you that someone else might have it. Of course I'd also appreciate knowing any reasons for stopping as well, but I understand you may not wish to give me those details. I look forward to my next task. Regards, your student. She bit her lip as she pondered over what she'd written before tweaking a few words here and there and adding in the punctuation she thought would be correct. With that done she wrote the coded version on a new sheet, taking care to get it exactly right. After ordering another drink, she checked it through, tore the page out and folded it. “Hmmm,” she said as she realised she needed an envelope and wax to obey her instructions. She glanced at her pocket watch and frowned as she realised she only had a few minutes to spare before she ought to make her way across the London underground and get her train to Bath. Her instructions were to leave the letter in her hotel room or pocket while travelling so Amelia didn't feel comfortable waiting until she got home to find an envelope and wax. While she was trying to think of a place she could get the required stationery on the way she noticed an unlit candle sat on her table. She looked for the nearest waitress and caught the young woman's eye. “I don't suppose you could light the candle for me? I need some liquid wax for something I'm making,” she said and gave her best hopeful expression. If the waitress thought the request odd she didn't say so but hurried off and came back with a lighter. A few seconds later the candle was burning merrily on her table and she was alone again. Using a ripped out sheet of blank paper from her unlined, ideas book, Amelia folded it around her letter so the corners all met in the middle at the back. By this point there was a pool of melted wax in the candle, so she tipped it up sideways and let it drip over the edges, sealing the paper shut. She had no idea if normal wax would be easy to get off for Myron but it was the best she could do given the circumstances. Before the wax could dry she used a pencil to mark an A and then gathered the rest of her stuff in her bag. With all but her pen stowed away she blew on the wax and tested it with her finger. It remained solid and unyielding so she turned over the makeshift envelope, marked it with '1r' as she'd been instructed and stuffed it in her jacket pocket. She had no idea how he would find it but she wasn't going to do anything but follow his instructions. With that done she shouldered her bag and hurried to the nearest underground station. As she got to the platform the rounded carriage pulled up and she hopped through the open door. Very few people shared the immediate area with her, which was just the way she liked the underground. After reaching into her pocket to check her letter was still there she sat in the middle of a row of empty seats and waited. It struck her as odd that Myron would want her to keep it on her, but she hoped that meant he would be fetching the letter himself. Any opportunity to see him again would be welcome, but no one else entered her carriage at any of the three stops before her destination. Although there were no delays, she only arrived at Paddington with ten minutes to find the platform for her train and get on it. This station was significantly busier and she rushed through the crowds, her eyes scanning all the signs to help her find her way. She heaved a sigh of relief as she found her allocated seat and settled into it. As soon as she had arranged her bags and leant back, her mind returned to thoughts of Myron and his challenge. She hoped he'd come collect the reply himself, but it seemed unlikely now she was on the train to Bath. Amelia slipped her hand into her pocket again, intending to pull the letter out and look at it one last time, but found nothing. She frowned and wiggled her fingers, wanting to make sure it wasn't there. Still nothing. Unconvinced, she pulled the edge of her jacket in front of her and looked down into the pocket. The inside lining stared back at her. The letter was gone. The next breath caught in her throat as she tried to remember back and figure out if it could have fallen along the way, but she knew it had been nestled deep in the material and nothing could have dislodged it. Someone had taken it from her as she moved between the underground and the main Paddington station, but whoever had done it had been an expert pickpocket. She hadn't felt a thing. She hoped it had been Myron or someone he knew who had taken it from her, but just in case she checked her phone and purse were still in place. A pickpocket was unlikely to take a letter and not something valuable. Once she'd assured herself that all her other belongings were safe she sat back in the seat again. As the train pulled out of the station she suppressed a shiver. Not only had the first letter appeared in her hotel room while she slept but now her reply had been taken from her own pocket as she walked. The power Myron wielded and the lengths he was prepared to go to were greater than she'd expected. She could only assume Myron himself had performed both acts and that her lessons were about to begin. But for the first time she wondered if she'd found a man too intelligent for her. Chapter 5 A sigh of relief escaped Mycroft's lips as he settled back into the familiar seat in his car, Amelia's reply nestled in his breast pocket. As soon as his alarm had woken him that morning he'd headed back to the hotel and snuck back inside. He'd kept out of the way and watched Amelia as she ate her breakfast and began her translation of the letter. He'd even sat in the same cafe as her and gone unnoticed while she tried to crack his code. Although he'd not enjoyed the interaction with people to get to that point, the look of glee on her face when she'd worked out what the letter said had been enjoyable. And her improvisation with the stationery had even made him smile. At the very least, he could be confident she would follow his orders as precisely as possible. If her intelligence matched up with her desire to cooperate, their arrangement might last longer than his initial expectations. He'd followed her from the cafe into the underground station, changing his appearance as he went: adding a fake moustache, a hat and pulling on a jacket he slipped off a luggage bag while someone was buying tickets. By the time he was on the same tube train as her he looked different enough he could approach her, but the carriages weren't busy enough for him to make his move. Instead he'd had to wait until they were at Paddington and pass her by while she was reading the arrivals board. She never even noticed as he plucked the reply from her jacket pocket. His skills were undiminished. Of everything he'd done to pull off his game with her it was his favourite part so far. Despite that, he was glad to be back in his own car and heading for home. Not only was he tired and wishing to be alone but he needed to be able to monitor the events of the day. If the information in the coded message was right, something was meant to happen today. As soon as he was back at his house, Mycroft thanked his driver and headed for his study. Once there, he pulled out the reply and ripped open the improvised envelope. He didn't even need to write in the letters to know what it said. The code was in his memory well enough that he could read it, if a little slower than normal. His first reaction to her request was to say no but he sat back and thought for a few seconds. It wasn't an unreasonable request and she had provided a sound reason. The only real objection was her expectation of an explanation. No matter what happened he wouldn't give her any more than the basic information. Mycroft checked his computer for information on the day but his assistant hadn't sent him anything yet, so he let his mind wander back to Amelia and how he wished to proceed. He couldn't follow her and steal the letters from her pocket each time he expected a reply. Neither could he journey to her home in Bath. After a few more seconds of thought he realised he needed to make a bigger commitment than just a few letters. To ensure privacy he needed to give her a way to communicate with him that didn't involve paper or anyone else. Before he could stop himself he tapped the button that summoned his staff. “Have Daniels take some cash and get me two phones with those pay as you go things and bring them through. And make sure he gets them from somewhere busy, that's unlikely to remember him,” he said as his housekeeper came through. She nodded and shuffled out again, shutting the door behind her. Over the years he'd given her stranger requests than this and she knew better than to ask questions. Daniels could also be trusted to do as asked and not query or theorise why. This was exactly why Mycroft had hired them for their positions. With his involvement in the government, and the sort of work he did, he couldn't have staff who talked or questioned. The less they knew the safer they were, and thankfully, they were aware of this. When it passed lunch time and he still hadn't heard anything from his assistant he pulled his phone from his jacket pocket and sent her a text. Update on situation. Has lace happened? He hated talking to people on the phone if it could be avoided. Within seconds he had a reply. Nothing yet, all eyes are on target and waiting. Mycroft frowned. The message he'd intercepted had given no indication of time but he'd hoped some developments would have occurred by now. With nothing else to do but wait, he realised he might as well amuse himself with setting Amelia a second coded message to crack. It would need to be harder than the previous one but something along the same vein to build on what she'd already learnt. He decided to stick with a substitution cipher for now and remain with the classic ones. He could work up to other types of ciphers once he'd run her through a few of these. While he had known all types of possible cypher by the time he was eight, he didn't expect Amelia would find it so easy to figure out which cypher had been used and he wasn't bored of her yet. So far her request was turning a dull day of waiting into something at least vaguely interesting. After a moment's deliberation Mycroft decided to use a Vigenere square cypher with Amelia as the keyword. He'd have preferred to use his own name but his identity could not be so easily linked to their correspondence. With all the important decisions made, it only remained to write out her next message and put her reply safe. After unlocking the desk drawer he pulled out the notebook he'd already begun using to detail his plans for her and, after slotting her reply in the first blank page, he pulled out his pen to write out the next message. The Vigenere cypher wasn't something he could write out instantly as he had the first message, and since then he'd mulled over the merits of keeping a log of everything, so he wrote the reply into the notebook, leaving two lines empty for every one he wrote. After writing everything he needed to say he paused. The message wasn't particularly long and although it conveyed everything he wished it to, he hesitated to add his name and consider it finished. Amelia herself had offered her learning up as a source of amusement for him. If he merely wrote the briefest of messages with no other sentences in them he wouldn't be getting the full entertainment value this could provide. With a slight smile he added another sentence. Teasing her was easy given her slip up with her analogy the day before. It took him very few minutes to write out the keyword repeatedly underneath and then on the final empty lines he wrote out the coded message. Muwd Ronqw, Ltthayrp I waywln't zscualxc loreq xz I chmrrm in dywms I dinwgnuwp goud tzqnt mw mmins e dmnsufwm onq. Ed auct m dpalx kcint ksfz recypat. I imwt nofmqg yog mq q chasdm to exzx oud eczansixmnt. Pspa thuw omal yevm yog qj jitol? Cmgadhd, goud xfbor. Once he was satisfied with the message and the translation, he copied it out onto his notepaper and folded it, so it would fit into the smallest envelope he had. Along with it he placed a small piece of card with Amelia written on it. It would confuse her at first but hopefully she'd realise it was the keyword soon enough. He wrote her address on the envelope and stuck a first class stamp on it before sealing it with the wax as he had done with the first message. Rather than posting the letter as it was, he took two more envelopes from his stationery drawer, each of a slightly larger size, and wrote the address of two different sorting offices on them, being careful not to have anything else underneath them for the writing to mark through. As soon as they were all stamped and layered up appropriately he put it to one side to post when he next left the house. The letter would take longer to get to Amelia and go on a journey from London to Norwich, followed by Birmingham, before it reached the Bristol sorting office and then Bath to be sent out on the normal rounds. If no problems occurred it would take three working days, but four would be a reasonable estimate. Before the weekend was over he would need to get the extra phone to her, but he wanted to take that personally and ensure she understood what it was for. He also didn't want anyone else to know she was the recipient. Satisfied with both his precautions and the nature of his communications with Amelia Jones, he returned his thoughts to the expected terrorist attack. Several times during the last hour his assistant had sent him text messages with the same two words. Still nothing. He decided to look through the intercepted message again, as well as Amelia's translation of it, so he sat back, shut his eyes and allowed his brain to draw up the memory of Sherlock's case board, covered in the feminine writing of his guest that day. Assuming her concept of internet memes and his knowledge gained from two of his under cover operatives was correct, it could only indicate what he'd already guessed. One operative had managed to find out four possible codewords to describe the operation: lace, gem, ring, and rose. The second operative had discovered another two, clip and pin, as well as finding out that the intended target was the millennium eye, so all those details could be trusted and he knew it appeared to be lace as the operation's codename. Realising he could do nothing to gain more information and would have to wait for the terrorist cell to make a move, just like the team he'd convinced the government to deploy, he stopped using his mind to review the facts and opened his eyes. Daniels stood in the doorway, silently waiting for Mycroft to finish his task. The driver had seen him performing this feat of memory on many occasions and knew he didn't like to be interrupted while in the middle of it. “The purchases you wanted,” Daniels said as he removed two smallish boxes from a plain carrier bag and placed them on the desk. “Thank you, Daniels, you can go.” Mycroft gave his usual brief smile and took the top box in his hands. A reasonably new smart phone was pictured on the box and the one underneath matched apart from the colour. One had a silver case, the other black. Without hesitating he put the silver one back and pulled the other box towards himself. Silver wasn't a colour he liked and he imagined it would suit Amelia better than him anyway. It took him another half an hour to prepare both phones and get them registered with the pre-paid cards. Before he put Amelia's back in the box he added the number of his own under tutor and then put her number into his under student. He hoped no one would find her phone, but if they did it wouldn't be enough to link him to her. If it was found, it would be her fault if they thought she was in a relationship with a wealthy elder man. He knew, given the nature of their communication and the messages he intended to send her that it would be the most likely assumption others would leap to, but any reputation loss would be her own making. She asked him to teach her. With nothing else to do but wait for his assistant and team to report in, he loaded the files he had on Amelia. The basic details had come in the evening he'd requested them, like her age, her parents and all her exam results, as well as her finances, spending habits and political leanings. Since then several more files had arrived, including a description of each of her novels. They'd been checked for code words already, which is how he'd known about her upcoming release and its similarity to real world events, but he now had a full synopsis for each. On top of that he had every photo of her ever taken and put on a computer or developed, every comment she'd ever posted in a forum or social network, and every email, text or instant message she'd ever sent. Someone had already been through the raw data files and copied relevant conversation chunks and messages into sub categories, which ranged from her political opinions to her relationships and sexual interests and even her fears and dreams in life. By the end of the evening Mycroft had scanned through it all. He had raised his eyebrows when he came across the photos of her modelling underwear, taken on an old phone, when she was still a teenager. The phone had been registered to her boyfriend at the time and the originals no longer existed. As soon as he saw them he instructed the informant to delete all copies and records of the photos from everywhere but Mycroft's own files. He knew this was doing Amelia a service in helping her hide a skeleton in her closet but he also knew it gave him more power over her. He now had the only copies. Since her first few weeks at university she'd been significantly more careful, probably due to the sexual assault she'd suffered on her fifth day. She hadn't ever reported the incident but she'd mentioned it to an internet friend on facebook. Given her reclusive personality, and how she'd gone from almost constantly dating to being single until she met her husband several years later, he was inclined to believe the account. For a twenty-nine year old she'd lived through a varied amount of good and bad. She'd grown up poor to begin with before her father's fortunes had improved, so she wasn't spoilt. She had a younger brother but didn't talk to him much and she'd travelled to a few countries but nothing out of the ordinary. She'd always known she wanted to be a writer, and pursued her career relentlessly, despite doing well in the more academic subjects in school, especially maths. Mycroft found her lack of friends interesting. She'd already mentioned she didn't enjoy the social side of her profession but she handled people well and had been an extroverted individual until her husband had died. Ever since then she'd withdrawn and kept to herself in the apartment they'd bought together, although signs of her socialising less had started to show in her years at Uni. He knew both would come down to her own feelings of hurt. It would make her guarded with her heart towards him and gave him more confidence to proceed teaching her. It also made her request to learn more genuine and increased it as the main motivation behind her pleasantness and willingness to cooperate. Now he had the entire picture of her life, he was impressed with her. She'd reacted well to bad situations and shown she could handle emotionally stressful events without falling apart. And, despite being an artistic person with a fairly typical creative personality, she knew how to keep her emotions under control. Something he thought very important. All the information he'd learnt would help him teach her as well as keep their game on his terms. He probably knew her better now than she did herself and he could be confident she wouldn't make a fuss when he was done playing with her. With a smile of smug satisfaction Mycroft sat back and stared at the photos of her playing in a looped slide-show in front of him. He stayed that way for several minutes until he realised his team had still not reported in concerning the terrorist attack. He glanced at the clock on the wall. There was less than an hour of Friday left. Something had gone wrong. Chapter 6 Saturday morning flew past in a haze as Mycroft attended meeting after meeting with official cabinet members and other government officials. All of them wanted to know why the information was wrong and what was going to be done about it. Ironically he'd have been more likely to give them answers if they'd stopped their pointless discussions and let him get back to work. Instead he had to text his brother and get Sherlock to re-examine the intercepted message for him. During what he hoped would be his final meeting of the day, he received a message from his informant on Amelia. Brother sent text to Miss Jones. She's just bought a train ticket to London and booked a hotel room. I've emailed you all the details. He frowned and put his phone back in his pocket. The last thing he wanted was Amelia Jones getting involved. It already looked as if she'd taken them down the wrong direction and kept him from keeping the country safe. He should never have trusted her suggestions. As soon as the meeting ended he opened the email from his informant and studied it. To make matters worse she was staying in the same hotel. At least he hadn't posted her letter and could get it to her while she was in London, although he wasn't going to sneak it into her hotel room again. If his brother had summoned Amelia then he could show up while she was there and slip it into her bag. He could also pass on the phone he wanted her to use to reply to him, assuming he still wished to. At the moment, he considered cutting all ties with her. He'd trusted her judgement and it remained to be proved wise or foolish. “Home, sir?” Daniels asked. “No. Baker Street.” Mycroft sat back and tried to think of how he was going to sort out the mess Amelia had created. At least he would be able to point out she'd got it wrong. If he hadn't already written out the next letter he'd have told her it was over. He'd never been so furious, not even when Sherlock had been duped by that woman and lost a file of government secrets. All the hours wasted listening to people drone on had only made him angrier. Mycroft wasn't surprised when he noticed the now familiar perfume lingering in the hallway. Both his brother and Amelia stared at him as he walked into the flat's living area. The pair stood in almost the exact same positions as they had the first time he'd discovered them working together. She gave him a brief smile, but it vanished when he gave her his often used sneer. “I thought we'd be seeing you soon, brother of mine,” Sherlock said, taking Mycroft's focus away from Amelia and the corseted waistcoat she wore with trousers and boots. “People want answers.” Mycroft moved his gaze back to Amelia and tried not to think about the compromising pictures he'd got of her. “Nothing happened on Friday and they want to know why my information was wrong.” We've looked at the message several times,” she replied, motioning to the whiteboard behind her. “We can't see any other sort of pattern.” “Which is why I am here. We shall have to look again.” Mycroft walked past her and stood in front of the letter. In truth he hadn't been able to think of an alternative code yet but he wanted her to squirm for a while. He knew his agents would have provided solid information so something had gone wrong with this message and Amelia had put them on this track. “Run me through each sentence.” Mycroft directed his comment at his brother but she stepped up beside him and used the pen to point as she explained each meme, one by one. His mind reeled at the amount of time she must have spent online to know what the possibilities were, and he didn't even feel slightly bothered that he recognised none of them. There was little point remembering such random nonsense, especially so out of context. Once she'd finished he felt satisfied that the key to translating the message must be entirely different. If it was the wrong day then it must be something other than internet memes. “What do you think it might be instead?” She asked when he voiced this. “I don't know yet, but I'm sure between us we can find it.” He gave her another one of his fake smiles and backed away motioning for Sherlock to follow him. “I don't appreciate you involving her in this, brother of mine,” Mycroft whispered. “Nonsense, she's proved useful and I'm sure you'll like her when you get to know her.” Mycroft raised his eyebrows as his brother went back to staring at the letter. After an hour of trying to find another possible key, Amelia put down her pen and shook her head. “Is there anything else you can tell us, Myron? Something more about the kind of message we should be expecting. Sebastian mentioned you knew the target was the Millennium Eye. Where did you get that information from?” Mycroft frowned and kept silent but even Sherlock looked like he agreed with her. “Two of my agents gave me several facts.” She handed him the pen, brushing her fingers against the back of his hand. If she hadn't done a similar gesture to Sherlock the first time he'd seen them together he'd have thought she was trying to show interest in him. He wrote down the names of all the different planned projects and the location. “Are you sure you've got the right location?” “Yes.” Mycroft used the same tone of voice that he warned his brother not to argue with. “Could each codename have a different location? So clip or pin would be the name for the attack on the Millennium Eye, but lace is somewhere different.” Amelia said, ignoring him. Mycroft shook his head, too angry to gather his thoughts into words. She'd misled them, not his own agents. “Amelia has a point,” Sherlock said just as he opened his mouth to begin his tirade at her. “Could it be worth looking at other locations?” He saw her eyes flick between the two of them. She'd picked up on the anger and he'd noticed her own heart rate increase in response. Now she bit her lip and waited for him to speak. At first he didn't respond, choosing to study her instead. Until now she'd given no indication that she was affected by his presence in the room. If for no other reason than to keep his communications with her from being picked up by Sherlock, he knew he needed to move the conversation along. “I have no more information. If there are other locations I don't know where they would be.” “That can be sorted out. If we assume the message is right and something happened yesterday we can find out what and where. Whatever happened it wasn't a big explosion.” Sherlock smiled and grabbed his maps of London from a nearby shelf. Amelia moved to his side to pore over them with him, leaving Mycroft to stand awkwardly off to one side. After watching the two of them point out likely targets for a minute he grabbed his phone and scrolled to the email with all his agent's statements and read through everything again. This time in the reading he noticed that the female agent who'd gained information on clip being a codeword had heard them mention the Millennium Eye at the same time. Amelia's theory could well be sound. He could have kicked himself for making such a bad assumption and not sending both agents back into the field to find out more. Instead of telling his brother and new student this, he wrote an email to his assistant. Potential evidence that each codeword related to a different location. Have the agents bought in and questioned and tap the usual informants for any suspicious activity yesterday at other major locations. Have any extra information forwarded to me immediately. M With that done he joined his brother, still looking over a map with the underground tunnels marked on it. “We need to know if anything suspicious happened yesterday somewhere else,” Mycroft said in his brothers ear. “It will cost you.” Mycroft rolled his eyes. His brothers homeless network did well for money some days and it was usually Mycroft's finances that took the hit. Regardless of his own annoyance he handed a stack of notes to his brother while Amelia only raised an eyebrow. Her lack of understanding made him feel a little better. She can't have been to his brother's many times if she'd not witnessed his crew of young homeless teenagers who gathered him info. “Where are you going?” She asked as Sherlock headed towards the door. “He has a network of people who know how to blend in. If any of them has seen anything we'll know soon,” Mycroft explained. She nodded and went back to the maps, giving him the opportunity to slip her next letter into her bag while his brother wouldn't notice. Unless there was more information from somewhere soon there was little point going through the maps trying to guess at locations. But it was all they could do at the moment, so he let them come up with a list of likely targets and write them on the whiteboard. He was just deciding to leave his brother and Amelia to their task when she yawned and checked the time. “I ought to check into my hotel room,” she said and gathered up her stuff, “I'm not helping much here at the moment.” “Brother of mine, why don't you take Amelia over there and save her having to find a taxi. There's no point either of you staying while there's so little to go on and there's little left of today.” Sherlock smiled at him while he glared back. “I'm sure Mr Holmes doesn't have the time to do that.” Amelia glanced at him and went to leave. Before his brain could stop him he stepped forward into her path. “My car is just outside.” Giving his brother another glare, he motioned for Amelia to lead the way. She swayed down the stairs in front of him and shook hands with Daniels as soon as she reached him. “I'm enjoying the book, Miss Jones. Could barely put it down,” Daniels said as he opened the door for her and helped her inside. She broke into a broad smile that was still there when Mycroft got in beside her. He couldn't quite believe that he had her in the car with him for a second time. When he'd agreed to her request he'd expected to keep her at a distance but his brother just couldn't keep out of his affairs. “Thank you for this,” she said before he could speak. “Blame my brother.” As soon as he'd finished the sentence he wished he hadn't. To move the conversation on he took her phone package out of the briefcase he kept in the car. “Use this to communicate with me, and only me, and don't let anyone else know you have it. Is that clear?” She nodded and took the offered object. “You can use it to reply instead of having to write messages and leave them in prearranged locations.” “I take it you had my response removed from my own pocket? And put the first letter in my hotel room?” She asked the questions in an offhand manner but he saw the tension in her hands, clasped over the phone box, and the rigidness of her jaw. He'd frightened her with his actions and the discovery pleased him. A little fear would keep her obedient in her tasks. “Yes, both were me, and easy enough.” He watched her reactions with delight as she took several deep breaths to try and keep herself calm. He considered mentioning the photos and impressing the reach of his control even further but given the implications of his other actions he decided against it. He already appeared more interested in her than he was, and he didn't want her to think there was any romantic attachment, especially with the encouragement his own brother was displaying. “Are you enjoying it?” she asked once she had her emotions under control again. It surprised him and he had to think about his answer. “Yes, I am so far. I enjoyed watching you try and work out the first letter.” Before he'd finished speaking she'd stopped watching them pass the London streets by and fixed her gaze on him. Her mouth dropped open and he chuckled. “You were there?” “In the cafe and the hotel canteen.” He nodded as he spoke. “I didn't even notice you.” “I'm aware.” “So is my every move going to be watched from now on?” The sparkle in her eyes and lopsided smile showed him that she wasn't entirely bothered by the idea. He wondered what had conquered the fear she'd felt earlier. “Of course, but you don't seem particularly bothered.” “I've had a stalker or two before. Although I've never had one sneak into my hotel room while I slept just to leave me a letter. Most of them would have other ideas if they found me in bed.” “I can assure you I'm not intending anything of that nature.” She mock pouted and he rolled his eyes in response. A second later she laughed. “Thank you, whatever the reason. I didn't think you'd say yes to my suggestion but I'm very glad you did. I look forward to my next lesson,” she said as the car came to a stop outside the hotel. He nodded but kept his thoughts to himself. Her next lesson was already in her bag waiting for her to notice it. As he watched her walk inside he realised he should have told her to stay somewhere better and it reminded him to have her book sales stimulated. With all the information he'd been given on her he knew even affording to come to London and stay as often as she did was difficult. Mycroft checked his email as Daniels took him home but there was still no extra information from the agents. All he could do was wait and try to focus on other issues. A young teenager in the royal family was on holiday in Portugal and had upset the hotel owner with his late night partying. Many of the guests had complained and Mycroft was directing the process to smooth it all over. The last thing they needed right now was bad press in Europe. As far as problems went it wasn't particularly difficult, but it kept him busy while he was waiting on Amelia to solve his most recent code, and for his brother to get him solid information to act upon. Chapter 7 On the way to her room Amelia couldn't help but bounce with excitement. The day had been a rollercoaster of emotions but it was ending well. Mycroft and his games were already dictating most of her mood swings. She'd been nervous about finding the letter in her room and being pickpocketed, but he'd made her feel more at ease when he'd told her that both actions were his. At least he had been the one to see her sleeping and vulnerable. Her long term plan was to seduce him so it would be silly of her to be bothered by his actions, especially as she'd been untouched and unharmed. During the day her biggest fear had been her reaction when he first saw her. She knew she'd directed the translation of his terrorist message and Sebastian had already told her that it hadn't delivered the right result. She'd wondered if she would be reprimanded and dismissed but he'd allowed her to continue helping. Then the conversation in the car had made her excited about their future once more. She fell backwards onto the bed with a sigh of satisfaction. Even knowing there was an undetected terrorist attack happening somewhere in the city couldn't stop her feeling pleased with her day. If anything, knowing danger could be close made her feel exhilarated. A few minutes later her stomach rumbled to let her know she hadn't eaten anything but a few snacks since breakfast and it was now past her usual time for an evening meal. She grabbed her handbag off the floor and headed for the canteen. Hopefully they served dinner as well as breakfast. Relief flooded through her when she found the room open and several other hotel guests sitting in there eating. It wouldn't have been good to miss out on another meal in so short a space of time when it was likely she wouldn't eat much the following day either. Her meal passed in peace, although she scanned the canteen several times for signs of Myron. As she pulled her purse from her handbag to pay, her fingers brushed up against something she wasn't expecting. When she glanced at it she realised she had an envelope with her name and address on. She gasped as she pulled it out, momentarily forgetting about the cashier waiting for her to pay. He coughed, dragging her eyes from the unexpected communication. As soon as she could get away she rushed back to her own room and tore the envelope open. A piece of card with her name on fell out with a much shorter message than the previous time written on it. She stared at it for several minutes, knowing it was going to be significantly harder to work out than the first letter. Realising she needed to learn more about ciphers and how to use them, Amelia fetched her laptop from her small suitcase and curled up on the bed with it to do research. An hour later she stopped trawling through the search information on classic cyphers and re-focused on the letter. Based on the previous letter she was sure it began and ended in a similar manner with 'Miss Jones' being before the comma and 'Regards, Your Tutor' finishing the letter off. As she wrote these in underneath she realised not all of the letters had been changed. The M in 'Miss' and the ON in her surname were still part of the coded message. Also the GA in 'regards', OU in 'your', and the last OR were all the same and each pair of identical letters had exactly four in between. In pencil she wrote these pairs underneath to help form the basis of her translation so far. Miss Jones, --th---- I w----n't ----al-- --re- -- - ch---- in ----s I ----gn--- -ou- ---nt -- --in- - --ns---- on-. -- -uc- - --al- ---nt ---- re----t. I ---- no---- yo- -- - ch---- to ---- ou- ---an----nt. ---- th-- --al ---- yo- -- -it--? Regards, Your Tutor Based on the information she'd just learnt on cyphers that were encrypted differently for each letter, she knew there needed to be a codeword that would match the pattern she'd already noticed. Given the pattern she also knew it must begin and end with the same letter or number and be six figures long. She'd worked out the affect the first and last had on the coded message, so she just needed to work out the others. After scanning through what she had a couple more times she noticed the third word was likely to be 'wouldn't' and that the A needed to become an O. The process to get between these letters also needed to match up with the I in 'Miss' coming from the U and getting from a Q to an E six letters later. As soon as she wrote them out she realised they were all 14 letters apart if the alphabet started again when it finished. She then repeated the same logic on the next three letters. When she'd finished she realised she had a sort of reverse keyword to get from the encrypted letter to what it originally said using the numbers 0,14,4,11,8, & 0 and then repeating them throughout the message. She quickly worked her way through the rest of the letter filling in all the blanks. Miss Jones, Although I wouldn't normally agree to a change in rules I recognise your point as being a sensible one. As such I shall grant your request. I will notify you if I choose to stop our arrangement. Does this deal make you my bitch? Regards, Your Tutor. Amelia almost dropped the paper in shock at Myron's closing sentence. He'd been so prim and proper with her, often making a point that there was nothing more going on between them than a teacher student relationship that was very much on his terms. Yet here was a sentence that might imply a bit more, and he'd also now given her a phone to talk to him directly. If she hadn't been told nothing would happen, she'd be under the impression he was interested in more, and she knew anyone who found these letters might read more into them. A few seconds later it occurred to her this might be his plan. He was so secretive about his involvement and helping her, he might be trying to make it look like they had a relationship contract and he was some sort of sugar-daddy she'd got herself involved with. She supposed it could also relate to her suggestion of being his pet. Ever since she'd used those words to describe what she wanted she'd wondered if it had been a big mistake, but they might have had the impact she desired. After all, a female dog was a bitch and Myron was unlikely to use it as a slang term alone. She decided there was only one way to find out and got up to fetch the phone from her handbag. As she moved she saw something flutter to the floor and stopped to pick it up. It was the small piece of card with Amelia written on it. She stared at it for a moment puzzled before she realised it began and ended in the same letter and was six letters long. Counting on her fingers, she worked out that every letter was 1 more than the numbers she'd used in her reverse keyword. She laughed aloud. Myron had given her the keyword after all, she'd just forgotten about it. If she hadn't noticed the pattern she'd have been stuck for hours trying to figure out what to do. Despite wanting to kick herself she sat back down on the bed with the phone she'd been given and turned it on. The battery was almost fully charged but nothing was on the phone except a single number in the contacts list. She pulled up the messaging service to send Myron a text. This deal is on your terms, so I suppose it's up to you. Am I your pet? As soon as she'd sent it she wondered if she ought to have worded it differently, and then she noticed the time. It was already the following day and she wasn't sure whether she could expect a reply. She decided to brush her teeth and change into her nightwear while she waited but she'd barely taken two steps to the small ensuite bathroom when she heard the chime of a reply. Instantly she rushed back and picked the phone up. It was your suggestion. If you're my bitch it's entirely because you want to be. And do I not get any gratitude for the alteration to our little game's rules? Despite the coldness of the reply she couldn't help but grin. It was a reply with a question that invited a response and she knew she was right about his implications. If anyone found either of the phones they would assume she had herself a controlling elder boyfriend and little more. You do have my gratitude. Thank you. And I enjoyed my first lesson. Will there be more soon? She sent another question hoping to keep things going and get more information from him. This time she did scurry to brush her teeth and get ready for bed, excitement flooding through her. When she came back, ready to sleep, she had yet another reply and she couldn't help but feel delighted that her tactic was working. She curled up under the covers and read it. There will be more when I wish there to be. It's late and you should be sleeping. She grinned at his air of authority and thought about her reply. Being cheeky was her first temptation but she wasn't sure how he would respond to that. After biting her lip a moment she went with her initial thoughts anyway. I'm in bed, so I'm almost there, but I'm not ready to sleep yet. And you're awake as well. Do you need my help with anything? After snuggling down so she could lay her head on her pillow, she waited, staring at the phone. Amelia knew it was a little obsessive of her to wait for a reply like this but she couldn't help it. Now she had him talking she didn't want him to stop. It took several minutes longer for is response to come through and it made her sigh with disappointment. It's late and you agreed to obey me. Don't make me tell you again. Go to sleep. You'll get your next lesson when I'm ready to teach it to you and not before. She put the phone on the bed side table, before picking it up again. As you command, I shall obey. She hit send and turned the light out with a grin on her face. A moment later the phone chime made her sit up and grab it. As you should. Her finger hovered over the reply button. He'd messaged her again when she'd expected their conversation to be over and it puzzled her slightly. Either he really was going all out on making it appear they were in a relationship or he had enjoyed their conversation as well, but she didn't know if it was wise to continue. He'd already warned her once to go to sleep and not disobey him. If she replied again he could see it as a deliberate act to break the rules and she knew that might end badly. With reluctance she put the phone back on the bedside cabinet and placed her head on the pillow. Hopefully the following day would give her another opportunity to see Myron and might result in a further challenging message to translate. An hour later she flicked the light back on. Tossing and turning in the dark was making her frustrated. Too many thoughts, possibilities and what-ifs ran through her head, and not just about Myron. There was a group of terrorists trying to destroy some or all of London and Myron and Sebastian were struggling to find out what their target was to stop them. Somehow she'd managed to get tied up in all this. Normally she was a story writer who left the adventures to her characters but now she found herself on adventures of her own. One learning from a genius who, according to his younger brother, ran the entire government, and the second, helping them both keep her country safe. The adrenaline that buzzed through her was enough to keep any normal person awake, long after they would normally be sleeping. All she could do to try and quiet her mind was write for a little while. She hoped Myron would understand she'd tried to sleep if he noticed her tiredness the following day. She knew Sebastian would. She worked on her previous novel for a few hours, taking a look at where she could change it if she needed to. Myron's assistant had emailed her some guidelines to work with for the re-writes late on Friday but this was the first time she'd looked over them. By the time she'd distracted herself she felt like she might be able to get some sleep but her alarm was set for less than five hours later. When it went off she felt like only seconds had passed. She hurried to make herself presentable and wolf down some breakfast before gathering all her belongings up and getting a taxi to Sebastian's. Just in case she wasn't needed much longer she checked out of the hotel. There was almost always space if she arrived before it got too late and she didn't want to pay for another night if she didn't need it. Mrs Wintern let her in and smiled at her, patting her shoulder on the way past. The elderly woman seemed to have a soft spot for Amelia and welcomed her into the building with a warmer greeting than she probably deserved. She wasn't there for Sebastian as Mrs Wintern wanted. Both Myron and Sebastian were in the living room when she walked in. They turned to her. “Have I missed something?” she asked. “Nothing in particular yet.” Myron glanced over her and frowned. “You look very tired, Miss Jones. You can't have slept much.” “Not for lack of trying. I spent plenty of time in bed, but my mind didn't want to stop.” She hoped her explanation would satisfy him but couldn't be sure it would. As she'd expected, he'd noticed her tiredness right away. “My network are only now reporting in and so far nothing,” Sebastian said as he got up from the armchair and passed her a cup of tea. She took it grateful for the drink. “Has anywhere been ruled out at least?” “A few places.” He pointed at several areas of London on the map. “Nothing that gives us much to go on.” She sighed. With both of them working on finding answers she'd have expected more information by now. It took them a few minutes to pass on the few findings they already had and then the three sat and tried to suggest what was the most likely target. Thankfully, Mrs Wintern came into the room with several pieces of paper, stopping them from wasting more time. “They said, these were the last,” she explained before she handed them over and hurried away again. Sebastian read through them before passing each one to Myron. All Amelia could do was wait, but none of them came her way. She wondered if he was punishing her for not getting enough sleep before putting the thought out of her mind. She knew it was unlikely. “This isn't that helpful, brother of mine,” Myron said a few minutes later “There do seem to be several locations.” Sherlock shook his head in frustration. “Which ones?” Amelia asked, fed up of not being included. “Silvertown, Teddington Lock, Dartford and near the Thames in Greenwich.” Myron threw the pieces of paper down on the coffee table and stood up. “This is a waste of time.” Amelia grabbed each one and read the the information. “No it's not,” she said as her eyes fixed on the same details. “These are all the locations of the Thames barriers. The main one is in Silvertown, then there's...” “We know where they all are, thank you.” Myron rolled his eyes and pulled out his phone. A second later his call was connected to someone. He repeated the information to them and then listened for a few seconds. “Understood.” He hung up and looked at his brother. “I've got teams going out to two of the major barriers at Dartford and Greenwich. We should go to the other two.” “I'll head to Teddington. You should go to the main barrier at Silvertown, you know its construction better than I do and it's the most important.” Sebastian grabbed his coat and put it on before Amelia could move. By the time she was suitably attired he was already rushing down the stairs and Myron wasn't far behind, leaving her to trail after. She walked outside in time to see the taxi Sebastian had hailed pull off, giving her no choice but to hurry after Myron. “I guess that means I'm coming with you,” she said loud enough that his chauffeur would hear. Within seconds Daniels was holding the door open for her whether Myron wanted her company or not. Chapter 8 Mycroft almost swore as Amelia got into the car with him. He knew his brother had left her behind because she would slow him down and that just meant Mycroft now had the same problem. While they travelled she had the sense to keep quiet, however. Just as they got out at the other end he received a phone call from his assistant. “The first team have found evidence of tampering at the King George Lock.” “What kind of tampering?” he asked as he waited by the car. He noticed Amelia lingering nearby. “Alone it wouldn't cause any problems and the next inspection would have picked up on it, but the gates wouldn't have held against an abnormal tide or flood waters from upstream.” “All right, it looks like a multilevel attack. Do what you can to get it repaired.” He hung up and put his phone back inside his jacket pocket. “Stay here with the car, Daniels.” Mycroft surveyed the area, trying to remember where he needed to go to check the mechanism. He hadn't been here since they'd built it. “We should be careful,” he said and led her off towards the river. He heard her footsteps on the ground behind him and wished she'd stayed behind at the flat. “Do try to keep up.” The pattering pace increased and grew louder until she was beside him. They continued to the Thames Barrier information centre but rather than going inside he went off to the left and along a narrow walkway. The bottom was made of a metal mesh in square grids and as soon as Amelia stepped out her skirts were whipped around by the strong winds. It took her by surprise and Mycroft had to reach out to grab her arm and steady her. “Careful.” He sneered, growing even angrier at her. “Sorry,” she replied and took a step closer to shield herself from the wind behind him. His fierceness instantly softened and he let her hang onto his arm as they walked across to the nearest barrier house. The recent rains had made the metal slippery and even he wondered if he could keep his footing as they walked across. Thankfully he kept upright and protected Amelia from any further mishap. At the other end he expected to find a locked door but he noticed the metal that normally housed the lock mechanism was cut right out of the door. He pointed at it so Amelia would notice and then put his fingers to his lips so she wouldn't make a sound. She nodded and took a couple of breaths to steady herself. Given the time that had passed since the attack was meant to happen he didn't really expect anyone to be inside, but with Amelia at his side he needed to take more care. The door creaked softly as he pushed it open, but the wind howled enough inside the building that no one would have heard it. He stepped inside and Amelia followed close behind. One of the barrier's weighted mechanisms towered up in front of them. He glanced around the small room but didn't see anyone lingering, so he took another few steps forward. The wind howled around the structure so loudly he couldn't hear the sound of Amelia's booted feet coming up behind him. Wanting to make sure she still followed, he turned to her just in time to see an arm snake around her waist and a gun appear by her head. “Don't move,” a male voice said in Korean. Mycroft gritted his teeth. “What did they say?” Amelia asked, barely above a whisper. “Just stay calm, and don't fight them, Amelia. They won't want to hurt you.” He put both hands out palms upwards and glanced between Amelia and the Korean behind her. Along the side of her neck he could see the rapid drumbeat of her pulse and knew she was afraid, but she allowed the Korean to pull her backwards out of the building. “Come,” the terrorist said. As Mycroft emerged in the light of day he saw another two burly men behind. Neither had guns out, but he wouldn't be surprised if they had them somewhere. They walked Amelia backwards along the whole length of walkway and then waited for him to catch up. As soon as he reached them his arms were grabbed and a gun nozzle was pressed into his back. A few seconds later both he and Amelia were marched off to one side and down a path to a small jetty floating on the higher tide. A boat waited, tied to the edge. Mycroft could only comply as Amelia, and then himself, were handed over to the men aboard. He listened as they talked to each other, catching a few words in Russian but nothing more. He frowned at the idea of this being a joint operation and furrowed his brow as both his and Amelia's hands were bound. They were then escorted below decks and shoved into one of the cabins. Hope filled him as it looked like they would be left alone, but one of the men came in as well and locked the door from the inside. He sat down so he could see them both and Mycroft knew they were going to be there until they were identified. Whether Amelia fared the worse after or he did would depend. The brute in the room with them didn't look to want any sort of violence but that didn't mean the others wouldn't. Being much calmer than Mycroft had expected of her, Amelia also sat down and gave him a small smile. He nodded at her and went to sit beside. The Russian lifted his hand and pointed at the other end of the bench to her. He huffed his annoyance at the arrangement but did as the guy asked, sitting as far from her as the wooden platform would allow. A minute later the boat started to move and he and his charge found themselves heading down river to the English Channel. Even though Sherlock and Daniels had known where he was they wouldn't much longer and the boat was unremarkable. It would blend in amongst the other vessels on the water and soon be just another in the mass. Time went past and all Mycroft could do was wait and plan. A few times he tried to engage the Russian in conversation and establish where they were and what the men wanted, but he was glared at or threatened until he became silent. Through the small window he kept an eye on the horizon and how much of the river passed them, but hours ticked by and he could do little to help rescue them. While they were kept there and simply stared at, there was little he could do. Several hours into their journey, as it was getting dark, they were brought water. He took the offered cup to drink, while Amelia fumbled over it, spilling a lot over herself. The Russian growled his annoyance and held the cup up so she could drink. Before Mycroft could blink she'd lifted the palms of her hands, the ropes falling off them and shoved them up into the Russian's face. It looked like a half hearted attempt to break the man's nose but it sent him flying backwards. Instead of continuing her assault, she rushed to Mycroft, grabbed his bonds and pried one of the knots apart with already bloodied fingernails. At the same time he noticed the painful mess around her wrists. She'd hurt herself to get her bonds undone and managed to do so without letting the Russian realise. Both he and their guard had been watching each other so much neither of them had noticed her. The Russian recovered before she could fully undo the rope binding his hands. She let out a cut-off grunt as he grabbed her around the stomach and lifted her entire body to one side. As soon as her feet were on the ground again she spun herself and brought her knee up into his family jewels. He hunched over as she brought her knee up again into his face. She then drove her elbow into the side of his back, near his neck. While this was happening, Mycroft worked the remaining knots free with his teeth. Instead of finishing the Russian off at this point Amelia backed off, uncertainty playing over her features. She'd known some basic self defence but had evidently hoped Mycroft would have done the rest, and now the Russian got to his feet in between them. Mycroft worked as speedily as he could as he noticed the Russian reach for a weapon concealed amongst his clothing somewhere. Although guns had been pointed at them earlier, the Russian appeared to be retrieving a bladed weapon of some sort. Amelia looked around frantically, and Mycroft realised she thought the terrorist had a gun. Just as the Russian raised a knife, Mycroft freed his hands and leapt up. Amelia ducked as he grabbed the weapon, and the pair grappled back and forth, obviously expecting a gunshot to ring out. The knife sliced into his side, making Mycroft flinch, but he rallied himself against the pain and grabbed the hilt to shove it back at the Russian. The burly man grunted as it cut his arm open from shoulder to elbow, spurting blood out on both of them. A second later a plumbing pipe came out of nowhere and knocked the terrorist out. As he slid to the floor Amelia came into view. The other end of the metal object responsible for relieving him was clutched in both her hands. A determined, wide-eyed look remained on her face, but she shook with the adrenaline. Mycroft took the makeshift weapon from her hands before she dropped it and then got to work tying the unconscious man with the rope that had bound them. He then gagged him and hauled him into the corner. It wouldn't buy them much time but it would be better than nothing. The whole time Amelia just watched. When she recovered a little, she pointed at his side, her eyes fixed on all the blood. Already he could feel his skin healing and sealing the cut shut but he couldn't show her that. “It's not my blood,” he said in a low voice to try and explain. With that he grabbed her arm and unlocked the door with the key he'd lifted seconds earlier. He worried she'd inquire further but she followed behind without making any fuss. “Stay quiet and close to me,” he said and led her along the corridor to the back of the boat. All the lights outside were dowsed and he could just see a pair of legs further up the deck. He leant out a little more and realised the two remaining kidnappers were drinking beer and chatting while the vessel was held on course. He turned to Amelia and grabbed hold of her hand before leading them both to the stern of the boat and helping her down the short ladder to the small platform used for diving. He joined her only seconds later and scanned their surroundings. Given how long they were on the boat he knew they were no longer in the Thames river but were at sea. Thankfully his watchfulness of the horizon let him know the English shore was off to their right and the boat had been hugging the coast. It wasn't a small distance to swim but he knew he could manage it, especially as the tide was coming in and would help sweep them closer to their destination. He unlaced his shoes, disgruntled to need to leave them behind and motioned for her to do the same. She reluctantly copied his actions until they'd both removed everything they didn't need to be decent. He crouched with only his trousers and socks left on and she kneeled in only her petticoat, corset and tights. As soon as they were done he put all their discarded items into the water and let them sink. It would help hide their tracks, but it also reduced the chances of Amelia noticing the slit in his shirt and the injury he'd sustained. It wasn't fully healed yet but it would be by the time they reached solid ground and he couldn't risk her realising he could heal much faster than the average human. His brother and him hadn't guarded the secret for over a hundred years for it to come out now. “Follow me,” he whispered and slipped his body into the water so it wouldn't splash. The salt water stung his side but he ignored it. The pain would pass soon enough. Amelia's reaction to the pain and the coldness of the water as she joined him concerned him far more. Only then did he see her face in enough light to make out the fear. Instantly, he knew she didn't think she could manage the swim. He motioned to her for her to follow anyway, already realising he would need to leave her if she didn't get in the water soon. Going for help would have to be weighed up against taking her with him. After looking back up to the deck and then at the water again, he knew she was thinking similar thoughts. A second later she took a deep breath, fixed her eyes on him and slid into the water, even more gracefully than he had. His hand immediately rose to stifle her gasp at the cold and pain, and then he put it to his lips again before motioning for her to follow. She trod water well, which comforted him but, when he went to take the first stroke towards shore and away from the boat, she didn't copy his front crawl motion. Instead she did a sort of awkward combination of a doggy paddle and breast stroke. Swimming really wasn't her strong point. Without thinking, he put her hands together and then slid them over his head so she was behind him. “Hang on to me and kick your legs with mine,” he whispered near her ear. She nodded, her eyes full of gratitude. A large part of him wanted to leave her and get himself to shore, knowing helping her would drain him more than was wise, but she'd got them out of the locked room and he found he couldn't abandon her now. After swimming for several minutes Mycroft stopped and trod water to give his tired arms a rest. If the tide hadn't been coming in he'd not have bothered but he knew this way he would find it easier to get them to shore. Amelia instantly let go and copied his motions beside him. Relief flooded through him that she had enough sense and focus to help him where she could. While he was able to turn around he scanned the waters for the boat, but it was gone from view, lost in the darkness of the night. A second later he focused back on Amelia's face. The wideness had gone from her eyes but her teeth chattered as she bobbed with the waves. “We're almost there,” he said. She nodded and waited for him to encourage her to continue. When he reached for her hands again she shook her head. “I can swim for a bit. You're tired.” He took her hands anyway and put them back around his neck. “You'll need your strength for after.” Mycroft readied himself and carried on through the water. She didn't object any further but allowed him to keep her going. After stopping once more to rest, he managed to get them both to shore. The tide had almost fully come in so there was little mud to wade through and a pond the other side allowed both him and Amelia to wash off what little clung to their feet. He panted for breath and she fared little better, but he didn't allow them to rest more than a few minutes. Already her whole body shook and shivered in the wind. Stripped of so many layers and sodden from head to toe, he knew she would risk hypothermia. While he could withstand the cold and already knew he was safe, she was in as much danger as ever. “We need to get away from here. Come,” he said and took her arm to pull her to her feet again. She didn't complain but allowed him to lead her to the edge of a field and then right through it. She stumbled a few times, getting her skirts and feet caught up in the long stalks around her, but she kept walking and he kept up the pace. It was cruel to keep her moving so fast but he knew it would help keep her warm. In the far corner of the field Mycroft spotted a farm track and knew it was Amelia's best chance of survival. “Hurry,” he called back to her and sped up yet again. He expected her to finally complain but she didn't. Instead, the sound of her stumbling footfalls and chattering teeth followed in his wake. He didn't turn around and knew he'd appear uncaring towards her, but he had to do it. Along the dirt track was the occasional unavoidable embedded stone and he winced every now and then as one jabbed into the soles of his feet, but none were sharp enough to penetrate the socks. The minutes dragged by but the wind didn't let up over the flat fields and even he found his body shaking from the cold. Just as he considered stopping and giving Amelia a break he saw the lights of a house up ahead. He didn't say anything but kept going at the same pace. They would be warm and safe soon enough. Chapter 9 By the time Mycroft had banged on the farmhouse door enough to be heard, Amelia had caught up with him. Her shaking had only got worse but he had nothing to offer her to take the chill off. He stopped slamming his fists into the front door as a light flicked on in the hallway. “What time do you call this?” a man yelled as he wrenched the door open. Seeing the two bedraggled figures stopped him in his tracks. “I need to use your phone.” Mycroft put his hand out to push the door further open but it didn't move, held shut by the house occupant. Amelia stepped up beside him, doing nothing to hide her shivering. “We were kidnapped and we had to swim to escape. Please, we need to call the police,” she looked at the man with big hope filled eyes. Within seconds the door was pulled open revealing a middle-aged man in a dressing gown. Both he and Mycroft motioned for her to enter first. She just switched her gaze to Mycroft, her chin quivering. “I can't. My feet...” He looked down and saw the bloody footprints leading up the pathway to where she stood now. As pity washed over him he reached out for her. She swayed towards him and before she could fall he swept her up into his arms. The coldness of her skin against his almost made him gasp. The guy led the way to his kitchen and pulled out a dining chair. Mycroft placed her down in it as gently as he could and before he'd got up the owner had a cordless home phone outstretched towards him. “She needs a blanket or a towel,” he said as he took the offered device and entered the number of the Commissioner. He answered after the second ring. “This is Myron Holmes...” Before he could continue the man in charge of the nation's police force interrupted him. “Good God, we've been looking all over for you.” “We were taken from the Thames Barrier.” He nodded his gratitude as their host returned to the kitchen with two extra large bath towels. He helped Amelia wrap herself in one before holding the other out to him. Not wanting to appear rude he took it and nodded his thanks. “We?” the Commissioner asked. “Yes, I've got an Amelia Jones with me. We're...” Mycroft put his hand over the mouth piece of the phone and looked at the owner. “Where are we?” “E End Road. CM0 7PN,” The guy said. Mycroft repeated the address. “Send your nearest officers, a doctor, and... “Are you hurt?” “I'm fine, but Miss Jones isn't. Also have my chauffeur bring my car up here as well as my emergency kit. He'll know what that means.” Mycroft tried not to get angry at the constant interruptions. The commissioner had never been a particularly patient man. “Yes, sir.” “Finally, get someone out looking for an unlit yacht off the coast north of here. I'd assume with their speed and direction of travel that they are heading to Harwich, but they may stop and try to find us. Also there's some North Koreans in London somewhere. I recognised them from the suspected terrorists list. I'll have my brother look for them.” “Understood, sir. Anything else?” “No, thank you. Just get those done as soon as you can.” Mycroft hung up and then put the towel around his own shoulders. At the very least it covered his chest from view, something he'd never particularly liked showing off. He glanced at Amelia and saw her look away hastily. A tear tracked slowly down her right cheek and her chin quivered with the emotions she was fighting to restrain. By now he'd expected more fuss from her so the solitary tear came as a relief, assuming she could continue to hold herself together. He wouldn't have thought the restraint she currently showed possible if he wasn't already witnessing it. “She's going into shock. Can you make her a cup of tea with plenty of sugar. Not too hot.” The man nodded. He evidently had no idea what else to do for the pair of them. As soon as he scurried off to obey Mycroft's request, Mycroft called Sherlock to let his brother know where he was. It took several more rings for his brother to answer. “Sherlock,” he said before he thought about it and almost swore. “Mycroft, where have you been? I've had to command your little team of agents for the last few hours, and your chauffeur has been phoning me every five minutes to see if I've heard from you.” “We're all right. Thank you for your concern. It's going to be a few hours until I'm back in London. Can you leave my team to ensure the barriers are in working order and find some people for me?” “Of course. I assume you and Amelia ran into some difficulty with the North Koreans?” “Yes. There's three of them. They jumped us at the Thames Barrier. They're on the database and armed, so be careful. Let me know when they've been apprehended.” “As you wish, brother of mine.” Mycroft hung up again and this time he put the phone down on the side and went over to Amelia. She still kept her mouth clamped down over her emotions but no more tears had shown themselves and her eyes were less wide and watery. He was also relieved to see she no longer shivered. The farm kitchen was warm and dry. “Are you in pain?” he asked. She shook her head but didn't open her mouth to speak until the farmer came over with a large mug of tea for her. She took it in both hands and cradled it to her. “Thank you,” she said, barely above a whisper. Mycroft noticed the slight shake in her voice but doubted the guy had. He accepted the second cup the farmer had made and sat down at the table beside her. “I'll go make myself decent, if you'll both be all right for a few minutes?” Mycroft nodded at the man's sense. Very soon his house would be inundated with police and hopefully a doctor to check Amelia over. While they were alone together Mycroft did just that, although he remained seated and she didn't notice. He started with her hands, noticing the blood had been washed off her fingernails and none of them looked to be worse off than a few chips here and there. All of them were firmly attached. His gaze then moved to Amelia's wrists. The sea water had washed them as well, but rather than cleaning them off, they were now swollen and red, especially where the ropes had rubbed her skin so badly she'd bled. He suspected she'd lied when she said she was in no pain. From his seat beside her he couldn't see the soles of her feet, but noticed no drops of blood on the floor. Her thin tights were ripped and he could see the smears of blood on the tattered heals. They would need cleaning and she would struggle to walk for a day or two, but he doubted it would be any worse. “What now?” she said as she put her empty mug down on the table. When he didn't respond she finally looked at him. Every feature was as calm as usual. “The police will be here soon and then you need medical attention,” he explained, assuming she hadn't heard the phone calls he'd made. Considering the blunder he'd made with his brother's name, he was pleased to find she'd not been paying attention. “After that, are we going back to London to try to stop them again?” “My driver will take us back, yes, unless you want to go home to Bath?” “No,” she replied before he'd even finished saying her home city's name. “I'd rather come to London. I can still help.” “You can barely walk.” Although he admired her determination he knew she couldn't be allowed to risk her life any more. He'd already exposed her too much. “I know, but I'd still like to do what I can to help, even if I have to do so from a chair.” “Let's start with getting back to London, shall we? By the time we get there, my brother may have already found the culprits and solved everything.” He gave her his usual smile. A part of him hoped his brother wasn't quite so efficient, while the rest of him hoped Sherlock was. Amelia had been through enough. Until he could be sure she wasn't going to break down, he had to ensure she was unexposed to more danger. He didn't have a chance to find out whether Amelia understood his reasons or not. The farmer came back downstairs with jeans and a short sleeved shirt on and less than a minute later the police showed up. Behind them came two paramedics. They homed in on Amelia right away, allowing Mycroft to talk in a low voice with the police and tell them the events they needed to know. The Commissioner had already passed on a small amount of information and with the other details Mycroft added, he convinced the police to give him and Amelia some space and just keep an eye on the area in case the Russians did manage to track them to the farmhouse. With that done, he could go back to Amelia. Already the paramedics had cleaned and assessed the damage to her feet. The younger, female paramedic was bandaging them while her older colleague washed and checked over the rope burns on Amelia's wrists. Amelia gave Mycroft a brief smile when he sat back down beside her. “There, all patched up. You shouldn't walk too much for a day or two and keep everything clean and dry. If anything starts to look infected go to your GP and get it checked out,” the woman said and gave Amelia a grin. “Thank you.” As soon as the paramedics were out the door, she flicked her gaze onto Mycroft. “How long will your car be?” “Half an hour, at most.” “Good, I'm a little tired now.” “You should have slept more last night. I do believe I ordered you to,” he said, teasing her a little. She looked down, as her cheeks flushed. “I tried, I really did.” “I'm not cross.” Now that the police and paramedics had left, the farmer hovered by the kitchen sink. Mycroft left his charge where she was to go over to him. “It's a long journey to get her home. Do you have a blanket you wouldn't mind parting with for a few days?” The farmer nodded and rushed off yet again. When he returned he had a patchwork woollen blanket in his hands. “Thank you. I'll see this is returned to you and you're suitably reimbursed for your help. I appreciate your cooperation with this... predicament.” Dismissing the man with a nod, Mycroft took the blanket over to Amelia and insisted on wrapping her in it. She tried to tell him she didn't need it but he ignored her anyway. “Do as you're told, Amelia,” he said, and looked her in the eyes. “As you command.” He sat down again, pleased to notice the sparkle in her eyes that accompanied her words. Emotionally she appeared to be recovering already. Satisfied that he'd done all he could and wouldn't be needed until his car arrived, Mycroft sat back and closed his eyes. He knew it would appear as if he was napping, but he wanted to go back in his memories and look again at the Thames Barrier area as well as the North Koreans who had ambushed them. Any extra information he could drag up from his memory could be useful. Chapter 10 Amelia fought against the waves of sleep that threatened to roll over her. She felt very warm and snug, wrapped from head to bandaged feet in a blanket and towel. It was a stark contrast from the earlier cold. Beside her Myron sat and waited for his car to come fetch them both, and, still fidgeting in his own kitchen, the farmer tried to make himself busy, cleaning a speck here and there, and rearranging the counter-top utensils. This day had been the most eventful of her life but she tried not to think too much about it. While Myron was with her she felt safe and it made it easier to be calm. Throughout the whole abduction, and then in their escape, he had remained stable and constant. It had helped her keep herself going when she'd wanted to just curl up and pretend none of it was happening. She couldn't decide if the swim had been the worst part or the walk afterwards. While on the boat, she'd known as she was working herself free that no one appeared particularly interested in her and afterwards she'd been buzzed with enough adrenaline she'd functioned without thinking. It wasn't until she'd had to face the cold sea and the threat of nature that fear had found her. To keep herself going she'd told herself it would impress Myron. Every moment since she'd first been grabbed she'd kept her mind dwelling on what she could gain by being strong. The positive focus had made it easier to keep her emotions from overwhelming her. Although, shock had caught up with her when she'd realised it was over and she was safe again. The desire to cry and wail had welled up inside her so fiercely she'd struggled to contain it. Crying had its place, and she knew she would need to do so at some point soon, but now wasn't the time. She needed to keep quiet and keep focused until the terrorists were stopped. If she moved too suddenly pain shot through her feet and wrists, so she tried to stay still, but she'd never been much good at it. Sleep would be the best healer but her desire to know what was happening, and help where she could, kept her from succumbing to that idea. To while away the time she allowed herself to study Myron. So far he'd been very tolerant of her curiosity and interference but she knew his patience would have worn out had she not been the one to free them while on the boat. When he'd thought they'd missed something he'd assumed the information she'd provided had been wrong above everything else and she'd noticed his anger about having her with him that morning, so she knew he didn't trust her abilities yet. It helped that she'd studied his brother for almost a year but he hadn't really shown her any compassion until she was in the water and struggling to do as he asked. She could only put it down to her self-control and the help she'd rendered several minutes before. Amelia had expected the bond to be set right back at the beginning when he'd seen the few tears she'd not contained but he'd ignored them and acted like he hadn't noticed. Her only fear now was that he would consider his life and work too dangerous for her. Sebastian had given her those sorts of excuses once, but she'd been persistent enough with him he'd eventually understood she would rather lead a more exciting life. It was about time she led a life as interesting as the ones she wrote about in her books, even if it meant she had to occasionally swim in the cold sea and walk what felt like miles with bare feet and little on. With any luck the events would help a relationship grow between her and Myron. She couldn't think of much in her conduct in the last twelve hours that could disappoint him. In the last few days she'd also decided it was time she moved on from her late husband. As much as she'd been devoted to him at the time she didn't want to be alone, and finally felt like she could stride out and face the world again. With this thought, her eyes were drawn to the wedding ring on her finger. If she'd had a pocket to put it in she'd have removed it right then, but she didn't want to lose it. Good memories were attached to it if nothing else. A knock on the farmhouse door startled her from her thoughts and instantly Myron stood up. Feeling a little like a spare cog she didn't move, but waited for one of the two men to find out who was there. Relief flooded through her when Daniels came into the kitchen and she could tell the feeling was echoed in the chauffeur. He evidently had a fondness for his employer. A fondness she knew she already shared. In his hands was a small case. Myron took it and disappeared into the downstairs toilet room. While they waited for him to come back the farmer offered Daniels a drink but the chauffeur declined. Amelia suspected he might have wanted to say yes but she knew Myron. He wouldn't appreciate being held up at all once he reappeared. Daniels came and checked on her instead, asking her a few simple questions. She gave him answers using as few words as she could and felt grateful when he took the hint and stopped asking her. “Right, time we went. Thank you for the hospitality and you have my apologies for being kept from your bed. We'll leave you now, and as I said earlier, you will be reimbursed,” Myron said as soon as he was back in the kitchen. Already he looked back to his normal self, dressed in a smart suit, with his polished shoes and perfectly knotted tie. After handing the case back to his driver he came towards her and lifted her bundled up body into his arms in such a way that she couldn't even remove her arms to hold onto him. In this state he bore her outside and to his car with Daniels hurrying to beat him to the door. As soon as she was shut up inside with him she felt the comfort of the familiar wash over her and knew she could allow her body the sleep it craved. While Myron used the extra phone his chauffeur had also thought to bring, Amelia closed her eyes. For a few seconds the gentle drone of his deep voice lingered in her mind but even that couldn't stop her from drifting asleep. *** As Mycroft finished speaking to the police commissioner he glanced over at Amelia. Still wrapped in the blanket, she'd fallen asleep and now rested with her face turned towards him. Although this wasn't the first time he'd seen her asleep it struck him how peaceful she was. If it wasn't for the bandages there would have been no indication of her ordeal at all. While staring at her face he phoned his brother, but the call went straight to his answer phone service. He hung up without leaving a message. Sherlock only turned his phone off in the rare circumstances of being out on a case where being disturbed would endanger the success of his solution and that meant he had located the North Koreans and was already hunting them down. By the time Mycroft got back it would likely be over. Even the police commissioner was confident about catching the Russians on the boat. During the journey, Mycroft ran through the events once more in his head but noticed nothing he hadn't the first time around. He knew it was pointless to try again. The memory became less accurate with each pass through. Greater London flashed by in a blur while he thought, until the streets in Central London came into focus. About ten minutes away from Baker Street Mycroft received a text from his brother. North Koreans all taken care of. You'll find them waiting for you at office tomorrow morning. I'll be awake if you want to come discuss it. S Just as he'd expected, his brother had managed to follow the men and find them. London was safe again, at least for a few more weeks and, if he was lucky, maybe even months. A small amount of guilt plagued him at how caught up in the cross-fire Amelia had been, but Sherlock was the most to blame on that front. He'd summoned her back to London to join in again and she'd not known what she was getting herself into. It occurred to him that she might wish to stop their game herself, now she had some more experience of their lives. When the car pulled up on Baker Street and Amelia still slept peacefully he decided to leave her there, under the watchful eye of Daniels, while he talked to his brother. He whispered these intentions to his chauffeur and strode inside, omitting to knock as he always did. Sherlock reposed in his usual armchair with his violin perched nearby. Mycroft could only hope his younger brother didn't play until Mycroft had left. “Ah, brother of mine, welcome back. I see you are no worse for wear.” “Of course not. I was stabbed, but the wound disappeared long ago.” Mycroft sat down opposite. Sherlock opened his mouth to speak but he anticipated the question. “No one saw.” “Good... Where's Amelia?” “Amelia's in my car, sleeping. How did you catch the Koreans?” “It was easy really. If you'd had the opportunity you'd have managed it as well. The lock they removed in the door was done with a very specific cutting device, which had a manufacturing kink. Between that and the footprints I'd found at the lock, it wasn't hard to trace them to a particular road and a quick look at utility bills provided the house number.” “You checked the address before informing the police?” “Naturally. One can't be too careful with these sorts of criminals.” “It sounds like we're done then. Thank you, brother of mine.” Mycroft got up again. “You're not going to forbid me from seeing Amelia again?” Sherlock stood as well. “No. Why would I?” “Because she got hurt. You usually object to us getting civilians hurt, remember. Or is it all right when it's you leading someone into danger?” “I didn't lead her into danger, Sherlock, don't be ridiculous.” Mycroft felt his temperature rise at his brother's line of enquiry. “And it was you, who invited her to join us on Saturday.” “Yes, but it's you who is taking her home with you.” Sherlock grinned in the usual smug way when he'd worked out something Mycroft didn't want him to. “She has nowhere else to go. I'm not leaving her in this filthy flat with you and at this time of night she won't be able to get a room at her usual hotel, even if she could walk well enough to be left by herself. It's the only solution, so I will bear it.” He frowned at his brother but Sherlock laughed and sat back down. “You could send her home to Bath. You have a driver who would take her there and see she got inside. Or you could take her to a hospital. Admit it, you like her. You've had to wait a hundred years to find someone, but you like her.” “Only in the way a child likes a toy and plays with it until something bigger and better comes along or he grows bored with it. She's less dull than most.” “If you say so, Mycroft. Do ensure our secret remains that way, won't you?” Sherlock picked up his pipe and the nearby pouch of tobacco, while Mycroft frowned. His younger brother was enjoying quoting his own warnings back at him. With a roll of his eyes, Mycroft decided they'd talked enough. “Good evening, brother of mine,” he said and went back to the car, taking Amelia's small suitcase with him. He got back to the car to find she still slept. As Daniels drove them both back to Mycroft's home he thought about the next code he would set her. After all her emotional restraint and cooperation he decided she deserved one last code to unravel, even if he did decide to heed his own words of advice afterwards and cut her off to keep her from being harmed. Amelia mumbled in her sleep as he carried her into his house and up the stairs to the guest bedroom. Less than a minute later his housekeeper was at his side, fussing over the injured, yet sleeping, woman. The guest room had never been used before, in that regard Sherlock was right, and even his housekeeper knew this was an unexpected change. With a great deal of patience and a good measure of frowns, Mycroft managed to calm his excited staff and get Amelia curled up under the covers so she'd be warm enough until morning. He then placed her suitcase and handbag somewhere where she'd notice it and ushered everyone back downstairs. On the way to his study he noticed the day's paper on the small table in the hall. Right in full view was a Sudoku puzzle. Within seconds Mycroft knew what he wanted his next message to be contained in and went to his laptop to design Amelia a sudoku with the numbers one to twenty-five in it. He printed out a grid of twenty five squares by twenty five so he could write in the starting numbers for her and an extra one for him to work backwards from. An hour later he had a sudoku for her to complete and he highlighted the boxes of numbers that would make up her message. It consisted of just two words but he didn't think she'd find it too difficult to work out with a little trial and error. As soon as it was complete he tucked it into an envelope and put it to one side. In the morning, once Amelia was awake and ready to be taken back to her own home, he could sneak it into her belongings so she found it when she unpacked. Mycroft knew it would be kind to let her stay a little longer but everyone's reactions to his accommodation of her had put him off that idea. It wouldn't be good to have other people think she was more to him than the student she'd requested to be. When it no longer amused him to create challenges for her he wouldn't hesitate to cut her out of his life, if he even continued past this final test. At the moment he was seriously considering letting this be her last challenge as a reward for her conduct in the last twenty-four hours. As he made his way to his own bedroom to sleep he passed the door to her guest room and stopped. Unable to resist the temptation, he checked she was still sleeping soundly before carrying on to the master bedroom, the only room in the house that had kept the entire original style and decoration he'd put into it just over a hundred years earlier. While he removed his suit he realised he'd been a key part of the government on and off for over a hundred years and, just like today, had guided the British government and its agents to keep the country and its interests safe. He glanced in the mirror on his dresser. He didn't look a day older, and he never would.

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