Characters: Q, Mycroft, Mrs Hudson, John
Warnings/Triggers: a bit of angst, but only if you squint
Spoilers: The Reichenbach Fall
Word Count 2,522
Summary: Q does some field work, on a very personal mission.
Hey, look, it's another thing I wrote while trying to write a different thing and failing. Ta da!
Set post-Reichenbach, and pre-Skyfall.
Q's mobile rang, the first four notes of 'Rule Britannia' playing. He transferred the call to his earpiece.
“I'm incredibly busy and important,” he said. “I don't have time to chat.”
“You're alone in Q-branch playing a computer game,” Mycroft replied.
“It's not a computer game, it's a simulation,” Q said. He turned in his seat to glare briefly at the security camera Mycroft must be watching him through.
“There are Spartan soldiers and Celts running around the streets of London,” Mycroft said. “What precisely are you simulating?”
“It's a test for evacuation in event of technological attack,” Q said. “I simply grew tired of watching men in suits running around screaming on the screen, so I switched the models up for a bit of a change. The Spartans are the infiltrators, the Celts are the politicians. I've also had a frankly alarming amount of caffeine and may have been a bit over-creative. Ask your favour, or I'm disconnecting you.”
“I'm sending you a link,” Mycroft said.
Q's mobile beeped, and he typed in the address given. It led to a classifieds website.
“Third down, left column,” Mycroft said.
Q scanned over it. “Oh. Yes, I see,” he said. “And I suppose you think this is my responsibility?”
“I'm not exactly on the right terms to deal with it myself,” Mycroft said.
“Couldn't you send one of your people?” Q asked.
“I think it's best if someone outside of the situation handles it,” Mycroft said.
Q sighed and tapped his stylus on his desk several times, debating on whether he really wanted to get involved. Not that he had much of a choice when it came to Mycroft. He tended to get results no matter what. “What's the tab like?” he asked. “Am I owing or owed?”
“Owed,” Mycroft said. “However, if you do this, I won't report to your superiors about your making David Cameron run through Westminster Palace in woad paint and a kilt.”
Q winced. “Very well. Deal.”
“How do I look?”
The Q-branch minion froze in place, clearly not sure what the appropriate answer to the question was. For some reason, without having made any conscious decision to do so, Q had managed to put the fear of God into almost everyone who worked for him. He considered himself to be demanding and exacting and expectant of perfection, but he didn't consider himself to be a monster. Most monsters didn't, he supposed.
“Er... nice?” the minion guessed, nervously.
Q turned to R. “I'm aiming for wholesome.”
“You look like a boy scout about to help a pensioner across the street like you always do,” R replied. She at least could form sentences around him, which is why he promoted her to Head Minion. “So, I think you've succeeded.”
“Excellent,” Q said. “I'm taking the afternoon off. You're in charge. Don't ring me unless the world is in very serious danger of ending.”
“Right-o,” R said. “Have fun.”
Q left MI6 and headed down to the Tube. He followed the Victoria Line and then transferred to the Bakerloo Line, his head bowed over his tablet the entire journey.
Twenty-four minutes later, he arrived above ground and headed for 221 Baker Street.
He put his tablet into his messenger bag and pressed the buzzer for 221A, plastering what he hoped was a trustworthy smile on his face. Mrs Hudson arrived a few moments later.
“Hello!” Q said. He decided he sounded far too cheerful and toned it down slightly. “Ahem. I'm Harry Boothroyd. I rang yesterday in response to your classified ad.”
Mrs Hudson beamed. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Please, come in. Would you like a cup of tea? I've got the kettle on already.”
“N—” Q began.
“I'll go and get you one, you head right upstairs,” Mrs Hudson said.
She disappeared into her flat. It suddenly occurred to Q how very simple it must have been for Moriarty to plant cameras in 221B. Pose as an inquirer or workman, get invited in and immediately left on his own, cameras planted before the tea was brewed. It was a good thing Q's intentions were relatively altruistic.
He took the stairs to the first floor. He'd never been in 221B before. He'd never been near 221B before. As far as he knew, Sherlock hadn't ever mentioned him to either resident of Baker Street. John had only asked Mycroft about Mummy when it came time for the funeral. He hadn't asked how to get hold of Q. He didn't know if it was absent-mindedness on Sherlock's part or some attempt to protect him. If it was the latter, it had worked. Moriarty hadn't involved him at all in his plot. Q hadn't yet been promoted to Quartermaster at the time, but he still would have been valuable to someone like Moriarty. He assumed he hadn't been overlooked because Moriarty didn't care. He must not have known.
The flat had a homey, well-loved appearance. Sherlock was everywhere, even three months after his death. There was very little of John, as far as Q could see. He looked to have taken the majority of his things with him when he moved. Sherlock had a tendency to spread out like a mould wherever he dwelt, however, so perhaps John's things had simply been overrun.
Q poked around, examining. This place was different from Sherlock's other flats. He'd always been a pack rat, but this was the first time Q had seen his things spread out and placed carefully, as though they belonged where they were. Sherlock had always given the impression of passing through. Here, he looked permanent. It was too bad he hadn't been. At least, for now.
Mrs Hudson came up, tea tray in hand. “Please, sit down,” she said, making an inviting gesture toward one of the armchairs.
Q had hoped to get through this quickly but found himself unable to refuse her after the effort she'd gone through. He took a seat and told her how he took his tea. He ate a biscuit. Once he had his cup in his hand, she went over to the corner and returned with Sherlock's violin case.
“This is it, here,” she said. He set his cup down to take it from her. “I don't know much about it. John says Sherlock—that's who it belongs—belonged to—had it appraised, but we haven't found the paperwork, I'm afraid.”
Q opened up the case and made a show of looking over, even though he'd seen it--and even duetted with it--on a number of occasions. “It's in excellent condition.”
“He was very fond of it,” Mrs Hudson said. “I'm sure he took good care of it. He was my tenant. He's passed now.”
Q put a sympathetic look on his face. “I'm sorry to hear that.”
“He drove me mad with his playing at all hours,” she said, fondly. “But I miss it now. His will asked that anything we didn't want should be sold. I suppose I could pawn it, but I'd rather it go to someone who'll appreciate it. You said you work with a youth programme?”
Q nodded while he examined the bow in what he hoped was a professional manner. It was an excuse not to make eye contact. He really was not the best liar in the world. “Yes, we teach music to underprivileged children,” he said. He'd thought that was a good angle to approach it from. People liked to be charitable.
“Oh, that's nice,” she said. “You hear so much about arts programmes being cut. I think it's wonderful to give children a gift like that.”
Q smiled, attempting to appear enthusiastic. “Music has been proven to be a deterrent against crime and drugs,” he said. He thought that sounded like something Harry Boothroyd would say. “It's too bad it's so hard to access for a lot of people. Has anyone else enquired about the instrument?”
“No, you're the first person to respond,” Mrs Hudson said. “My neighbours helped me place the ad. I didn't think I'd get an answer so quickly.”
“I keep my eye out for used instruments,” Q said. “Most of our equipment comes through that way. New ones are expensive.”
“There's sheet music as well,” Mrs Hudson said, pointing to the corner. “If you'd like to look through it.”
Q got up to do so, in hopes of cutting off conversation. The longer he had to speak, the more likely it would all go horribly wrong. He wasn't trained to be a field agent.
He flipped through books and binders and folios, grinning a little at some of the notes Sherlock had made in the margins. Only his brother would cross out Mozart's preferred tempo and put in his own.
Downstairs, a door opened and closed, and someone came up to the first floor.
“Sorry, Mrs H, I'm running a bit—” a man began. He stopped and there was a sharp intake of breath.
Q turned to find John Watson staring at him in shock. For a moment, Q thought his cover was completely blown. John shook his head as though he were clearing it.
“Sorry, you looked like someone else from behind,” he said.
Q inwardly sighed in relief.
“John, this is Harry Boothroyd,” Mrs Hudson introduced them. “Mr Boothroyd, this is John Watson, a former tenant of mine.”
“How do you do?” Q said, politely.
John nodded a hello and turned to Mrs Hudson. “I told you to wait for me.”
“You said all his information was valid,” Mrs Hudson said. “And I knew you'd be along shortly. Come and have some tea, and don't fuss.”
John did not seem inclined to not fuss. “Do you have some ID?”
“John!” Mrs Hudson scolded.
“No, it's fine,” Q said. “I understand. It's best to be careful.” He retrieved his wallet and pulled out the driving license he'd had made up. John came over to take it from him and looked it over with thoroughness Sherlock would be proud of. “Here's my card, too. If you ring the number you can verify—”
“I already have,” John cut him off.
Q was thankful he'd gone the full mile and set Harry Boothroyd up as thoroughly as he would an agent's cover story. He'd even created a website for his organization, a poorly written Wikipedia page, and enough references scattered around the internet to fill up five pages of Google results. He'd also called in a favour and asked the people whose job it was to verify alibis and cover stories to play along if someone rang the number.
John handed the license back. “Sorry,” he said. “We've had some reporters do some pretty appalling things to get access to us, lately.”
“I think I've heard about that—him, your tenant,” Q said. “I didn't make the connection until now, though. I can assure you I'm only here for the instrument. Whom it comes from or how it gets to us is not important.”
John looked him in the eyes for a long moment. Q held steady. There was some truth in there—he just wanted the bloody instrument. John nodded and sat down to take the cup Mrs Hudson was pointedly holding out for him.
Q returned to his seat. John wasn't quite finished with him yet and asked several questions about him and his organization. Q answered the simple ones correctly and purposely flubbed the more obscure ones that a person really shouldn't know unless they were trying too hard to appear legitimate. He hadn't inherited the Holmes talent for theatrics, but he did his best, and it seemed to be enough. John grew more relaxed as time went on.
“You see, dear?” Mrs Hudson said, when John seemed to run out of questions. “Don't you think it sounds like a nice programme? The violin will be very helpful to someone. Sherlock would like that.”
“No, he wouldn't,” John mumbled, so precisely in time with Q's thinking the same thing that he wondered for a moment if he'd said it out loud.
“I would like that,” Mrs Hudson said.
John wasn't going to argue with that it seemed. He just nodded.
“We should discuss price,” Q said.
“Oh, I don't want anything,” Mrs Hudson said. “I'd rather it go to a good home.”
“This is a very fine instrument, I can't just take it from you,” Q objected. “Please, let me give you something.”
“Mrs H, Sherlock would be furious if you just gave it away,” John added.
Mrs Hudson sighed. “I suppose so,” she said. “But I don't want you stretch your budget.”
They haggled; a sort of reverse haggling where she kept going lower while he went higher. Finally, everyone agreed on a price that wasn't a quarter of what it was worth, and even then Mrs Hudson only agreed so long as he took all the sheet music with him.
Q wrote out a receipt for her so everyone would have official proof the transaction and then wrote a cheque. She went to get him a bag for all the sheet music.
“There's some of his original stuff in there, too,” John said, as he helped to sort through it.
“Would you prefer to keep it?” Q asked.
“No,” John said. “Maybe...I don't know. I like the idea of little kids learning to play his songs. You take it. It's fine.” He removed a piece entitled 'The Woman'. “Not that one, though. That's private.”
Q added the rest to the pile. “It seems like you were close.”
“He was my best friend,” John said.
Oh. That was quite sincere. “I'm sorry for your loss,” Q said, feeling even more awkward.
John nodded. “You will use it, right? All this stuff? It'll be used?”
“I can promise the person who receives it will be very grateful to have it,” Q said, truthfully.
Mrs Hudson returned, and they packed up everything. She walked him down to the door and kissed him warmly on the cheek. Q said goodbye and left feeling like he'd been punched repeatedly in the stomach. He found it very hard to maintain his patented Holmes Disdain for the Masses. They were so...nice. He actually felt bad for lying.
He'd never really understood before, why Sherlock was so attached. Sherlock didn't get attached. But it was obvious how much they cared, how much they wanted to protect him—even after his death. Sherlock had made a little unit for himself. Q almost understood why he'd done what he did to keep them safe. Loyalty like that was very rare.
He waited until he was a few streets away before he brought out his mobile and selected 'BG' from the contacts list.
“How did it go?” Mycroft asked.
“Operation Stradivarius was a resounding success,” Q replied. “The swallow is in the nest.”
“Don't be facetious,” Mycroft said. “Thank you for your help.”
“You now owe me rather a large favour, do keep it in mind,” Q said. “By the way, do you know of any music programmes for underprivileged youth?”
“Not off-hand,” Mycroft said. “Why?”
“Because, if one doesn't exist, I believe I may have to found one.”
The following day the Harmony Youth Music Network (HYMN) received an anonymous donation of ten student violins and a set of workbooks, as well as some original compositions by an unknown composer. Harry's Boothroyd's organization quietly folded a month later, with an e-mail sent out to 'all' their donors explaining that assets had been sent along to another group.
The recipient of the violin was indeed rather grateful to have it. But not, in Q's opinion, bloody grateful enough.