There were voices floating in the air around my head, obscured by the pounding sound that dinned in my ears. Both of them were annoying me no end and I wondered why these strange sounds were disturbing my slumber. Had we left the window open before we went to bed? Was there an altercation in the alley? I tried to roll over to stumble from the bed and go to the window but I seemed to be immobile.
When I tried to move, the events of the evening came rushing back to me and sent a flood of adrenaline into my veins. My eyes popped open and took in the dingy surroundings about me. The identity of one of the voices became clear at once when John's worried face appeared over me.
"David?" I managed to whisper.
"Back at the Embassy. But Holmes is with him." John's voice was grim and wavered slightly as his eyes clouded briefly. "The tea was drugged and we both took in enough to put us right out."
"Josiah, can you move yet?" Wenton's face appeared next to John's. "We need to get back to the Embassy. It's been almost two hours since I left Holmes."
I made an effort and managed to sit up with the help of Wenton's strong arm. The room swam around me and I clamped my mouth shut on the sudden nausea. I seemed to be caught in an earthquake of gigantic proportions and I swayed with the moving room.
"Breathe deeply, Josiah. The antidote I just injected you with is fighting with the tranquilizer with which they doped us. Relax and breathe for a moment." John's voice was soothing and I took his advice before I realized it. The deep breaths did help and I settled back into my body, cataloging the various aches and pains like I would catalog the damage to one of my first editions.
My wounded shoulder was on fire while I seemed to have picked up some bruises to my ribs and my left leg. But it was bearable. What was not bearable was the knowledge that my beloved was in the clutches of our enemy. Opening my eyes, I nodded at them both and began the struggle to my feet. Wenton was stronger than he looked and he picked me up as if I weighed nothing. I felt John instantly steady me with an arm about my waist and I draped my right arm across his shoulders, holding on to my balance with difficulty.
"Let us be off. I trust Holmes completely, but I expect he could use some help." I spoke through gritted teeth while we slowly made our way out of what I could see was a run down warehouse. Out of the corner of one eye, I spotted a prone body with his head at an unnatural angle.
"One of the Baron's bully boys who will not be reporting for duty again." Wenton's dry tones reminded me to whom we were indebted.
"Thank you, Wenton. I expect you would have rather remained behind and searched for your missing map."
"Nonsense." Wenton's white teeth gleamed in the gloomy light just before we exited into the cold night. "Rescuing you is just the first act. Now, we're on our way to the second act and the finale." He called up to the driver. "Wilson, all speed back to the Embassy. I hope you've reloaded."
"Always ready, Sir." The grinning driver flicked his whip in the air in emphasis.
John and I were loaded unceremoniously onto the comfortable bench seats of the brougham while Wenton swung up across from us. After banging his fist on the wall separating us from the driver, the carriage sprang into motion. John and I were jostled together unmercifully before the wheels found better purchase on a street away from the docks. The scent of fish and filthy water was strong here but quickly the odors changed to coal fires and cooked meats.
Had I been Holmes, I could no doubt have traced our route by the smells alone but the great speed of our travels meant they came and went too rapidly for me to focus on any one scent. John braced me as well as he could and I tried to keep from bumping my bad shoulder against the carriage wall. The swaying was doing nothing for my stomach and the nausea that threatened to overwhelm me but one thought kept me from calling a halt.
David needed me. My beautiful David of the tender eyes, shy smiles and sweet temper was depending on me to come for him. I had no doubt that Holmes was doing his normally superb job of detecting but my heart ached with the need to hold my lover safe from all harm. I shuddered at the thought of his fear and loathing of the Baron. What he might be enduring at his hands didn't bear thinking of and I gritted my teeth, trying to keep the pictures from my mind.
Thankfully, John broke into my tortured thoughts with a question for our rescuer. "Stephen, is Holmes still in his Mrs. McGill persona?"
Wenton crowed with laughter while I shook my head with wonder. "How did you know, John? It took me almost a year to figure out his disguise. And yes, he is still wearing his skirts. He said he had an inkling of where the map was. By now, he's probably rescued David, found the map and trussed up the Baron in the pantry."
"How I knew is my secret, Stephen. And as for what he's doing, it is devoutly to be hoped that he has wrapped up this wretched case without any more bloodshed." John had the same yearning note in his voice that I could feel lodged in my own throat. I just needed to see them safe and sound before I gave into this all encompassing weariness.
We rounded yet another corner on nothing but two wheels, I swear. The driver was a master and I wondered if he trained professionally. I hoped so or else we'd never reach the Embassy alive. A clock rang twice in the distance and my prayers grew more fervent while I wondered what was happening in the quiet square where the German Embassy sat so primly.
According to the God of my fathers, David and I were outcast because of the love we bore each other. But not even such a stern Father would forever banish the bright light that was my David to the outer darkness and degradation of a life with the Baron. I could only hope that he had the small derringer, which no longer rested in my sling and pray that Holmes would keep him safe until we could get there.
"How much farther?" John's voice was as strained as I felt.
"Almost there, John. We've got reinforcements if we need them. They're already watching the Embassy. And if I know my Mr. Holmes, he's already on his way to back up his brother's endeavors." Wenton had checked the last street sign under the lamppost and he sat forward as if to be ready to leap forth should we come to a halt.
And it did seem as if we were slowing. John's hold on my arm grew even tighter if that was possible, but I gave no thought to the bruises that were no doubt forming. All of my thoughts were focused on one thing and one thing only. David.
"We're here." Wenton wrenched open the door and jumped out before the carriage stopped moving. John was also moving and I found myself outside without really knowing how I got there.
Another carriage stood unattended with luggage stacked near the boot. A man leaned half in and half out of the side and Wenton strode up to him and brought his hand down in a flash over where the hidden head would be. His victim didn't make a sound and before John could do more than utter a soft moan, our driver was helping Wenton carry the unconscious man to our carriage for stowage on the floor.
"One less for them. Check him if you must, John but it was just a tap. Life preservers are wonderful things." He slipped what looked like a lead pipe wrapped in a muffler back into his pocket.
A commotion inside the front door brought us all around and Wenton motioned us to the right while he went left. I noticed that even though John protested the violence, he'd pulled out his Smith-Webley and had it ready. The sight that met my eyes brought me up short. David was enfolded in blankets but his fair hair shone like a beacon in the front hall lamp as the Baron carried him down the front steps to the carriage.
Our driver dropped his head and opened the door with an ubiquitous bow. The Baron hardly acknowledged him, so intent was he on maneuvering the figure in his arms through the door and safely onto the cushions. Only when he'd backed out did my paralysis end. Moving swiftly, I opened the street side door in time to find David fling aside the blankets and impel himself towards me. He flinched away until he saw me clearly and then he was in my arms and I lost track of the rest of the operation.
He was sobbing silently, his whole body trembling against mine while my own tears dampened the curly hair under my cheek. His arms were tight around me and I felt no pain at all even though he was pressed against a rather large bruise. The warm sweet weight of him was balm to my battered body. Alive and in one piece and I thanked God for it.
"Are you all right, beloved?" I whispered in his ear and felt his nod against my throat. The tear stained face raised to mine and he looked his own question, still too shaken to speak. "I'm bruised but fine. John had less of the drug and came to first. He had something that would counter it in his bag so now we're both awake. Wenton rescued us from our warehouse prison and brought us back here."
"I love you, Josiah. I was afraid I'd never be able to tell you that again." He smiled shakily up at me and I could feel my heart melting at the sentiment that never grew old, no matter how many times he said it.
"I love you too, my Imp. And as soon as I get you home, I shall prove it." I ghosted a kiss across the trembling lips, savoring the rich taste of my love but at the last moment remembering where we were and pulling back before I got lost in the taste and texture of his kiss.
Loud voices from the other side of the carriage brought us back to where we were and what was going on. Keeping my good arm around David, I walked with him around the back of the carriage and into a standoff. The Baron stood proudly with an air of hauteur bracketed by Wenton to his left, Watson to his right and Holmes in his persona of Cockney charwoman in front of him. Not even the petticoats and glasses could disguise his powerful presence.
For some reason, Holmes had the Baron's walking cane in his hands. "I always wondered why this old sword cane was your favorite. The blade is too thin for you since I know you prefer the saber. So I considered the appeal of the simple oak with the carved silver knob. Much too plain for a man with such ornate furniture and paintings not to mention the gaudy puzzle boxes with which you filled the Embassy."
"And your conclusion?" The Baron might have been in his drawing room speaking to a rather boring guest.
"A puzzle within a puzzle. A hidden compartment within ..." and with a twist of his hands, the sword slid out and was handed to Wenton while the long fingered hands poked and prodded the slender stick left. Until a click sounded loudly in the still early morning air and a section of oak slid back to reveal just enough space for a tightly rolled onion skin to fall from it's hiding place into a waiting hand. "A hidden compartment."
"Very clever, Herr Holmes. I should have known that where Dr. Watson was, you were sure to follow." The piercing eyes turned to the doctor and saw us standing just behind. "Ah, David. Was it all a sham then? The amnesia?"
David raised his chin and spoke up proudly. "Yes. I came to while Holmes was with me and we planned the whole thing."
The anger in those dark eyes swelled until I thought he would burst with it, but we were interrupted by yet another carriage driving up. The tall figure that stepped forth looked enough like our Holmes that I knew it could only be his brother. He was something in the government I knew but even the Baron looked a little shaken at his arrival.
"Good evening, gentlemen. Is that my missing map, Sherlock? How kind of you to retrieve it for me." The courtly glance took in our positions with lightning speed and I felt that he already knew everything that had transpired in the last few hours from just that one glance. He was a most formidable gentleman.
Sherlock smiled and handed the tightly rolled paper over to him. "Really, Mycroft. You must be more careful of these little things. I won't always be here to gather them back in for you. Not to mention the wear and tear on all our nerves this evening. This one is going to cost you dearly."
The elder Holmes frowned at Sherlock's jocular tones but I could see one corner of his mouth quirk up ever so slightly. "Indeed. I had to come by to give the Baron a piece of news." He turned towards the man who'd caused us all so much grief. "Baron von Hauptmann, by the power invested in me by Her Most Gracious Majesty, the Queen, you are hereby considered persona non grata. You will leave the country within the hour and you will not return. On pain of death."
"You don't have the authority." The Baron looked as if he'd been stabbed. "My government would never allow it."
"Kaiser Wilhelm was informed earlier this evening of your conduct and sent his concurrence by telegraph. I believe you will find your estates entailed. The Queen's grandson finds such things as espionage distasteful." Mycroft Holmes spoke calmly as if he didn't know that he'd just handed the Baron a death sentence.
He stood there, his hands opening and shutting in unconscious denial. His eyes glittered in the reflected light from the front hall of the Embassy. "So, it looks as if I have lost right down the line. I would give quite a lot to know just how you got to the Kaiser but no matter. It's over."
His shoulders slumped and I saw the gun in John's hand drop a little while the driver appeared behind the Baron and Wenton closed in from the left. It made his next move all the more shocking when with a roar, he hit out at the two men bracketing him and smoothly drew a gun, pointing it in our general direction.
David stepped quickly in front of me and drew the small derringer from his pocket, pointing it at our enemy, his finger tightening on the trigger. "Drop it, Baron von Hauptmann. It will do you no good."
But the Baron was past reasoning and he fired blindly at our group at the foot of the steps. Both Holmes' dropped like stones and the sound of bullets roared in the still air. John had fired at the same time David did but Wenton had moved even more quickly yet to cover the body of the elder Holmes and I watched him flinch once before going still.
The forgotten driver hit the Baron from behind with something at the same moment several bullets found their mark. The big man crumbled into a heap, the gun still clutched in his hand. Sherlock leapt over the prone bodies of his brother and the brave man who'd taken a bullet for him, wrenching the gun from the Baron's, hopefully, dead hand.
"John, check him for me. Be sure he's dead." Turning quickly, he found his brother already sitting up and feeling for a pulse in the throat of the man covering his legs. "Mycroft, are you hurt?"
"No. If this young idiot has gotten himself killed, I will never forgive him. Ah, I feel a pulse. Can you tell where he's hit?" His tones were testy but I noticed the gentle way he held his bodyguard and the almost tender touches he gave to various limbs, checking for bullet wounds.
"The Baron's quite dead. Let me see what we have here. Let's get him turned over. Oh dear, I see it now. Entrance wound and ..." John felt around under the coat, "exit wound. Excellent, I hate having to dig around for a bullet. It saves so much trouble to simply have to bandage things up. My bag's in the carriage, could you please get it for me, young man?" He addressed the driver who was standing attentively by.
David was back in my arms, his back to my chest and my hands locked around his where they still clutched the derringer. "Josiah, do you think I ..."
Even though his voice was only a whisper, Sherlock must have heard him for his kind eyes looked over at us and he shook his head. "Your derringer hasn't the range, David. I'm afraid, Dr. Watson will have to take the credit tonight for ridding London of an evil man."
"Nonsense, Sherlock. There is no credit or blame for tonight's work." Mycroft spoke briskly. "Smithers and Wilson will take the Baron and his carriage back to the warehouse where Dr. Watson and Mr. Harbottle were briefly incarcerated. From there on it's probably best you don't know anymore. Agreed, gentlemen?"
I rested my forehead against the back of David's head and sighed wearily. My voice was muffled but plain. "Agreed, Mr. Holmes. So long as we get a ride home, I'm willing to forget the Baron ever existed."
"Yes." David said simply.
"Of course, Mycroft. Are you also going to tidy up the two drugged men in the cellar and the dead body of the secretary in the study?" Holmes might have been asking about the weather for all the concern he showed.
His brother sighed in exasperation. "Of course, Sherlock. Ah, I see you're back with us, Stephen. You'll go to any lengths to avoid cleaning up after one of these messes, won't you?"
The grin was faint but unmistakable. "You know me, Sir. Anything to avoid working. Are you all right?"
"Of course. I know when to duck." He emphasized the pronoun just a trifle and received a slightly broader grin.
"Yes, Sir. Sorry." He finished on a grimace as John splashed alcohol over the wound before bandaging it with a thick gauze pad from his bag.
"Proper bandaging can wait until you get home. Soon."
"Yes, of course. Ah, Peters, I wondered where you were." He greeted the wiry man who'd appeared out of the dark. "We'll need you to secure the house until the rest of the men arrive. There's two men locked in the cellar and a dead body in the study. Don't let anyone in or out until Smithers returns from his errand. Did the Baron kill his secretary?" He asked his brother.
"Yes. Perhaps, whatever is going to happen to the Baron could also happen to Schultze?" Sherlock suggested quietly.
Mycroft pursed his lips and thought for a moment. "Why not? Smithers and Wilson, please remove the other dead body to this carriage."
I watched in amazement at the deft handling of the potentially explosive situation. Mycroft gave quiet orders, Sherlock made low voiced suggestions and John kept on working on his patient. Wenton had grimaced again while John was tightening the bandage around his ribs and I wondered if one of them had broken the bullet's path. I'd long since gone quite numb, content to stand in the cold night air with David blanketing me in front with his heat.
Whatever John had injected me with was wearing off and if I hadn't been holding on to David, I would have fallen flat on my face. Even John seemed to falter and I watched him shake his head as if to clear it. Sherlock noticed it immediately and his hand touched his lover's shoulder gently as if to steady him and lend him strength.
I smiled at the thought that both of us had resilient lovers and how very lucky we were to still have them. The shrouded body of the secretary left the house and joined his master's body in the German carriage. Smithers came back to help Mycroft get Wenton into their carriage and I gazed blearily as Sherlock and John spoke quietly together. I'd lost my voice completely and I wondered if David had gone into shock.
John nodded and turned toward us. "Wilson, is going to drive us home. Holmes will follow later." He smiled wryly. "He has to go 'home' as Mrs. McGill before he can come home as himself."
"And the sooner I get out of this straight jacket, the better I'll like it. I'll let Mycroft take it from here." Holmes' acerbic tones brought a smile to my lips. "And tomorrow, we shall meet and winnow out all the events of this evening so Watson can write it all up as one of his little fantasies."
"One for my private files, perhaps." John smiled tenderly at his lover. "I wouldn't share the picture you present right now with just anyone." His gentle teasing brought an echoing smile to his lover's lips. "I'll see you shortly, shall I?"
"As soon as I am able. I promise." Holmes contented himself with a brief clasp of John's shoulder then stepped away to have a word with his brother.
Swaying by now with drugged induced fatigue, John and David both had to help me into the carriage. My mind was threatening to shut down completely and so long as I had David's hand in mine, I was tempted to let it. A clock struck three and I couldn't help but think that we all looked like cats that'd been left out in the rain after a night of tomcatting around.
"Uncle John, is there anything I need to do for Josiah? Any side effects of the drugs he's ingested?" David's voice was tired but he was still taking care of me.
"No stimulants. Water only." John was hanging onto the strap with the look of a man who was at the end of his own rope. "When we get there, I will be looking at your head, young man. Holmes said that you don't have a concussion but I want to see if you need any stitches."
"Thank you, Uncle John. But if it's all the same to you, I think I'd rather you got some sleep before I let you anywhere near my skin with a needle and thread." David sounded so matter of fact that it took a moment for what he'd said to sink in.
John chuckled while I shook with silent laughter. David just smiled and rested his head below my chin. We were all dozing when the carriage stopped in the alley outside our back door. The cheerful driver took David's place in helping me out of the carriage while my lover got the door open and John carried in his bag. David lit a lamp and started up the stairs after re-locking the back door. John followed with Wilson helping me up the long flight towards our private rooms.
Putting one foot in front of the other was all I was capable of doing and John directed the driver to take me straight into the bedroom. The next thing I remember was slipping between the cool sheets with a groan of pure relief. I managed to stay awake long enough to hear John give David the approval to sleep. They disappeared for a moment and although sleep called me, I could not rest until David returned. Listening to the rustle of clothing being removed, I lay there and waited.
David slid in beside me, nestling close and gently kissing my nipple. "Go to sleep, Josiah. We're both safe now."
I aroused enough to pull him even closer. "I'm proud of you, my love. You found yourself in an horrible situation and you saved yourself when I couldn't help you."
He shuddered. "I was terribly afraid."
"I know you were, my love. But it didn't stop you from helping Holmes to find the map and get you both out alive. Even though I never want you to ever be in danger, I will always remember how very brave you were when you stepped in front of me, prepared to shoot the Baron to protect us." I had to make him see how much I respected his actions.
"I would do anything to keep you safe, Josiah." He raised up on one elbow and looked down at me, his blue eyes glittering. "You are my life."
"And you are my heart and soul, beloved." I found enough strength to brush his cheek gently with my hand. "Sleep now. We're safe within this home we've created out of our love."
"Safe, indeed." He murmured, laying down again as close as he could get to me. His gentle breath evened out and lulled me into a dreamless sleep.
End chapter twelve