I have been putting off writing this story for nearly four years, ever since TFP aired, in fact. But I've been inspired to finally tackle it by senkihazi so I dedicate it to her. Thank you for giving me the push I needed!
A helicopter flew high above the London skyline, passing familiar landmarks with an air of detached indifference, as it had many times before. Approaching its destination, it changed tack, circling to the right to make its landing approach into the wind. Slowly, carefully, with a touch as light as a butterfly, it came to rest on one of the pads of the London City heliport.
As the engine powered down and the rotor blades began to slow, its lone passenger alighted, carrying a long, narrow case, and strode towards the lift that would take him down to ground level, from where he made his way through the terminal and out into the open air once more. Raising an arm, he hailed a waiting cab which inched forward then paused to allow him to climb aboard. He sank back into the rear seat, closed his eyes and exhaled, slowly.
'Where to, governor?' asked the cabbie, eyeballing him via the rear-view mirror.
He gave the address automatically, without thinking, but then thought…
'Oh…' he said.
The driver waited for his passenger to revise his instruction but instead the man just nodded so the cabbie set course for the requested destination, leaving his taciturn fare to his own thoughts.
Six months had passed since Sherlock Holmes' world view had been shaken to its very foundations by the revelation that he had a sister, one year younger than himself, and that she had, apparently, murdered his best friend in a fit of jealous rage when they were all very small children. And, as a consequence, had been declared criminally insane and incarcerated for her entire life in a nightmarish, subterranean panopticon, on a rocky island off the west coast of Scotland. Those were the plain and simple facts. The truth, as ever, was never plain and anything but simple.
The events that led up to the discovery of the remains of his childhood best friend, Victor Trevor, at the bottom of a well in the grounds of the Holmes family's derelict former residence, had left his sister in a catatonic state, locked inside her own head, unable to communicate with the world around her except through music. Which was why he had undertaken to make these weekly trips to Sherrinford, to play violin duets with his sister in an effort to break through the mental blockade and release her from her self-imposed isolation.
But these weekly sessions were exhausting – physically, mentally and, above all, emotionally. Yes, there was the rub. Since he'd allowed himself to acknowledge his emotions, there was no escaping them. They were, in deed, a double-edged sword which, at the moment, was running him through, repeatedly, most viciously. He tried to close his mind, to block the over-whelming tide of negativity but the current was too strong, even for him. There was one option available – to create a counter-flow and flood his mind with only positive thoughts. But the only one he could muster was a single word. A woman's name. It began with 'M'.
And that was fraught with danger, too. At this point in time, with his emotions running wild, he couldn't trust his own judgment. He could be making a terrible mistake – the worst mistake of the many he already had to his credit where that particular person was concerned. He pushed the notion back into its box and closed the door firmly then squeezed himself into the corner between the window and the backrest of the cab seat and let the guilt wash over him.
When the cab drew up at its destination, Sherlock took a moment to compose himself before stepping out onto the pavement and making his way up the path to the front door. He was relieved to note that the house was not in darkness. A faint glow seeped around the edges of the thick, Winter curtains drawn across the front window. He had neglected to check the occupant's work schedule so they might have been on shift or even be in bed. He'd especially hoped it wouldn't be the latter because he had no desire to disturb the occupant even more than he no doubt would by just being there. He had a key in his pocket, furnished to him by the resident, but still he gave the bell a brief and courteous ring. To his surprise, the light in the hallway came on almost immediately, as though he was actually expected.
Footsteps approached the other side of the door and it opened.
'Hi! Did you forget your key?' Molly asked, stepping aside to allow him to enter.
'No, no,' he mumbled, 'I just…well, since I don't actually live here…'
Since the explosion, six months earlier, that thoroughly wrecked the inside of his flat at 221B Baker Street, Mrs Hudson had made good use of the insurance money and brought in builders to completely refurbish the whole house. Up until the previous week, his apartment had been entirely uninhabitable – it was still a building site, but at least had the basic services installed and working - so Sherlock had been sharing out his time amongst his many boltholes in and around London but this one, in particular, had enjoyed rather more of his company than all the others combined.
'Oh, Sherlock, you know you're always welcome to crash here,' Molly smiled, shepherding him through the hall and into the open plan kitchen.
He shed his coat and scarf along the way, dumping them over the back of the sofa as he passed, and placed his violin case under the side table, out of harm's way. Molly was already in the process of making coffee. He looked around the room, clocking each one of the intruder alarm sensors, the web cams of which his sister had been able to access by the simple expediency that Molly had failed to change the factory-set password after having them installed. Sherlock had quickly rectified that oversight but he wondered whether his brother had been able to thwart his efforts, deduce his password and resume spying on him and, by default, Molly, too. Just in case, he casually raised a middle finger in the direction of each of the cameras then pulled out a bar stool and climbed aboard.
'Any change, today?' Molly asked, as she took two mugs from the mug tree and placed them side by side on the worktop.
'No, not really,' Sherlock frowned. That wasn't strictly true. Eurus was extremely erratic in her demeanour from one visit to the next. Sometimes, she would be standing by the glass, violin in hand, waiting for his arrival and begin playing before he'd even removed his coat, let alone taken his violin from its case, leaving him to catch up. On other occasions, she would sit hunched upon the plain white box that served as a seat, her back turned to the window – the only means of 'privacy' available to her – and not even acknowledge his presence. Today had been of the latter variety.
'I wondered if she might be aware that the verdict will be returned tomorrow,' Sherlock added, thinking aloud.
Once all the human remains had been removed from the well at Musgrave Hall, the local coroner had scheduled an inquest into the death of six-year-old Victor Trevor. The hearing itself had taken place over several days and concluded a month earlier. Many individuals were called to give evidence, including Sherlock's parents and his brother, Mycroft. Sherlock was not called, since he still had no clear memory of the actual events surrounding Victor's untimely demise. And Eurus was not called either, for obvious reasons. Sherlock was - uniquely, it would appear – greatly troubled by the fact that the voice of the one person whose testimony was crucial to uncovering the true facts pertaining to the tragic death of an innocent child would not be heard. He had so hoped that Eurus would recover her voice in time.
As for himself, his memories – rather like his emotions – seemed to have a mind of their own. They would pop up suddenly, without warning, triggered by a word, a smell, a piece of music or they would break into his dreams, often fragmented and jumbled, as viewed through a kaleidoscope. On one such occasion, he found himself standing on the shore line of a large body of water where three children played, nearby. Two of them wore pirates' hats and carried wooden swords. The third seemed completely absorbed with a toy aeroplane but, as an observer, Sherlock could see that she was paying close attention to the conversation between the two boys.
'We must find the treasure!'
'Yes, but where's the treasure map?'
'Oh, maps are boring! There isn't a map. There're only clues. Clues are fun! We have to follow the clues to find the treasure.'
Sherlock had woken in a cold sweat, with a sense of deep foreboding.
'Would you like me to come with you?' Molly asked, jolting him out of his reverie.
'Would you like me to come with you, to the court, to hear the verdict? I have the day off tomorrow, so I could come, if you'd like me to.'
The thought of having Molly Hooper's warm comforting presence beside him in the austere setting of the coroner's court was so appealing, he actually experienced a physical sensation like a warm glow, inside his chest.
'That's most considerate of you but, really, I'd prefer to go alone,' he replied. 'My parents will be there, of course, and my brother. They'll need me to be with them. My mother, especially, still hasn't come to terms with the fact that Eurus was alive for all those years but Mycroft kept it from her. She says she's forgiven him but I'm not so sure. But thank you for the offer. Most kind.'
He gave a weak smile in her direction but avoided eye contact for fear that he might give away his true feelings on the matter.
Molly gave a nod of understanding and handed him a mug of black coffee, three sugars, saying,
'Well, the offer still stands. If you change your mind, you know where I am.'
As she rather expected, when Molly awoke the next morning and crossed the landing to the bathroom on the first floor, the door to the spare room was open and Sherlock was long gone.
The Coroner's Court was very different to a criminal court, since there was no jury, no defendant and no advocates. The coroner asked the questions, considered the evidence and gave the verdict. So, in a sense, he – or, in this case, she – was judge, jury and advocate, all rolled into one.
Sherlock had attended a coroner's court once before, as a thirteen-year-old, following the mysterious death by drowning of Carl Powers. Unfortunately, no one but Sherlock found it mysterious and it was returned as Death by Misadventure. It was only years later that Sherlock discovered that the unfortunate Carl Powers had fallen foul of and been murdered by none other than James Moriarty, his own arch nemesis. So, he had little faith in the efficacy of a coroner's hearing.
He had sat through every session of Victor Trevor's inquest, listened intently to all the witness testimonies, heard Victor's mother sobbing, quietly, a few rows away in the public gallery and watched her be comforted by Victor's older brother, whom he vaguely recognised. His own mother did a fair amount of sobbing when the details of Victor's probable cause of death – hypothermia and exposure – were given by the pathologist assigned to the case.
Sitting between his parents and his older brother, Sherlock felt awkward and isolated. They had waited four weeks while the coroner considered her conclusions. He was very clear in his own mind what he wanted from the verdict and had a fair idea of what Mycroft's hopes might be but he wondered what motivated his parents. Did they even know themselves? Who could say?
Sherlock sat in silence, staring straight ahead, waiting for proceedings to begin.
At the appointed time, the door leading to Judges' Chambers opened and the Coroner appeared. There were none of the more common trappings of the English court system here – no wigs or gowns – just a smartly dressed lady, carrying a ring binder. She took her seat, behind the desk on the rostrum and called the session to order.
'Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your patience. This has been a complex case, requiring careful scrutiny, so I make no apology for the time I have taken to consider my conclusions. However, before I deliver my verdict, I feel some general points need to be made.
An inquest, I remind you, is purely a fact-finding hearing; nobody is on trial, here. As a Coroner, I cannot make any decisions as to civil or criminal liability but, at the end of this inquest hearing, a decision must be made on where, when, and how the person in question, little Victor Trevor, died.'
Here, she paused, perhaps because the sound of Mrs Trevor, Victor's elderly mother, sobbing could not be ignored. A court usher approached the Trevor family group and, after a whispered conversation, brought Mrs Trevor a glass of water and a box of tissues.
With a sympathetic smile to the unfortunate lady, the Coroner went on.
'Attending an inquest can be a difficult and distressing experience. Understanding the final outcome of an inquest and what it really means can also be very difficult so I will do my best to explain my findings in the context of inquest law.'
She paused again and took a sip of water before continuing.
'In reaching my conclusions on 'how' this person died, I had a number of options available to me and, as is often the case, no single option entirely accounts for all the circumstances pertaining to this case. So, I hope you will bear with me as I explain how each of the options I have included in the verdict is relevant.'
She paused again, glancing around the room, her eyes lingering momentarily on certain individuals. Sherlock wondered about the significance of these glances.
'My first conclusion is that Victor Trevor's death was accidental, Death by Misadventure.'
There were audible gasps from several members of the public gallery and Sherlock felt Mycroft, sitting beside him, stiffen.
'I reach this conclusion because I do not believe that this child's death was an intended result of the actions that led up to it, even though those actions were themselves deliberate. A five-year-old child, regardless of how intellectually gifted he or she might be, lacks the social and emotional maturity to comprehend the permanence of death and, consequently, could not under any circumstances be held responsible for the death of another living thing, be that an animal or another human even if, as in this case, that was the eventual outcome. So, despite the assertion given in testimony to this court that the child in question deliberately planned the unlawful killing of Victor Trevor, I dismiss this claim entirely.'
Mycroft clenched his fists. This was not the outcome he had been hoping for. Sherlock, on the other hand, was struggling to maintain his composure. A great pressure in his chest, as though his lungs were about to burst, threatened to push its way up his throat, via his vocal chords, and escape through his mouth. Reflexively, he covered his mouth with his hand, which was visibly trembling.
'Now I come to the second part of my verdict and this pertains to the part played by Neglect. This is not so much a conclusion in itself, but I find it to be a contributory factor to this Death by Misadventure, in so much as the fatal incident might have been avoided were it not for Neglect.'
This time, when the coroner looked around the room, it was perfectly obvious that Sherlock's parents were the primary targets of her gaze.
'Having considered most carefully all the evidence available to me and, in particular, the timeline of events leading up to and following on from the disappearance of the child, Victor Trevor, I am particularly struck in the first instance by the apparent absence of adult supervision of these very young children, left to play in what proved to be a very dangerous environment. I have examined the Land Registry deeds of Musgrave Hall and its grounds and it is clear to me that there were several hazards within that environment that could have been potentially fatal, not just the well itself, where the child actually lost his life. The fact that these two young children – one five, one six years old – were allowed to wander, unsupervised, in such a place is deeply disquieting and does, in my professional opinion, constitute Neglect.'
There was a small disturbance in the pubic gallery, in the vicinity of the Trevor family group, but Sherlock was too busy dealing with his own inner turmoil to pay it much heed.
The coroner waited, politely, for order to be restored, then,
'However, I must also consider the events which occurred after the child was discovered to be missing, the means and methods employed to find the missing child and the notable absence of any involvement of the emergency services in the search for this child.'
Again, a disturbance in the form of a low, rumbling hum seemed to emanate from the entire public gallery but the coroner pressed on.
'Now, I have been made aware that certain aspects of this case are subject to a D-notice so, it may be, that any police involvement in the search is covered by this cloak of secrecy. Unfortunately, I was not able to gain access to the contents of the D-notice file, despite issuing a Freedom of Information request to the relevant government department. Sadly, we may never know the contents of that file but I am nevertheless convinced that, had the emergency services been involved promptly and been able to conduct a thorough search of the area, the child may have been found alive. So, my verdict in this case is…'
There was a slight pause here, whilst the Coroner took a deep preparatory breath before announcing,
'...Death by Misadventure, with the contributory factor of Neglect.'
With that final, definitive pronouncement, the entire room seemed to erupt as nearly everyone in the public gallery rose to their feet, some shouting, some wailing, some pointing and gesticulating. Mrs Trevor, who had struggled throughout to maintain her composure, turned towards the Holmes family group, her face resembling a banshee Halloween mask and her voice not far removed from the same, screeched across the room,
'You did this, Mrs Holmes! You killed my boy! You and that useless husband of yours! I never should have let my poor Victor near you and your evil children!'
The distraught woman was quickly bundled out of the court by the other members of her group of family and friends, who had come along to support her at the hearing, while the court officials bravely attempted to restore order but it was some time before those remaining resumed their seats and, by then, Sherlock's brother and parents had also vacated the room leaving Sherlock alone, still processing the implications of the Coroner's verdict and battling to control the emotions that the verdict inspired.
Eurus was not a murderer. She was just a lonely child, trying to deal with her own emotions but cursed with an intelligence far beyond her ability to rationalise, taking a very misguided path that led to tragedy. Not just the tragedy of Victor's terrifying end but also Eurus's life of incarceration and exploitation at the hands of her own relatives. The role played by Uncle Rudi could not be over-played. There was no doubt in Sherlock's mind that it had been his intention all along to exploit Eurus's prodigious intellect. Neither had he any doubts that Mycroft had been subsequently groomed by their uncle to inherit his role within the British Government and, as a consequence, conspire to keep his own sister a prisoner of the state.
An officer of the court approached Sherlock and touched his arm.
'I'm sorry, sir. I must ask you to leave now. We have to prepare the area for the next case.'
Sherlock looked around the now deserted room, momentarily confused, then jumped to his feet, mumbling apologies, and hurried from the premises.
The result announced today could set in motion a chain of events that would change his relationship with the rest of his family – already strained, at best – for ever. And he had never had a greater need to see a pair of soft, brown eyes, hear a gentle voice and inhale the scent of peach and almond shampoo that lingered in the air long after the owner of those long, russet tresses had left the room. Stepping from the court building, he hailed the first cab he saw and gave the driver Molly Hooper's address.