Title: Miracle at No. 5, Garden Place, or the Further Adventures of Dr. Matsumoto Jun
Length: chaptered, this chapter is about 8000 words
Pairing: Junba, Ohmiya, Toma/Sho
Genre: Historical AU. Late Victorian London (full of historical errors). This sequel is more of a Victorian Christmas story than a Sherlock Holmes detective story.
Summary: Dr. Matsumoto Jun knows exactly what (former) amateur detective Aiba Masaki would like for Christmas. But acquiring it may mean committing grand larceny. Of the London Zoo.
Notes: This is a sequel to "From the Mixed-up Files of Aiba Masaki, (Amateur) Detective." That fic can be found here
This sequel is dedicated to the wonderful and brilliant darkdropout!
Reader, it was many months (and, in the case of some details, years) before we would learn how Umi had come to be in the greenhouse of the Zoological Gardens that night. She could not then explain to us how she had traversed the busy London streets to join us there, and later we would only hear the story in fragments and at different times. But, if I attempt to fit the pieces of her account together, it seems to have happened something like this:
Umi felt very alarmed as we left her in the theater that night; she was frightened by the expression on our faces as we conversed in the aisle. Feeling somehow certain that we should require our help (and vaguely afraid, she confessed some years later, that one of us was being taken to the hospital without saying goodbye to her—I think she was remembering the sudden death of her mother, who had been taken to the hospital and died there in the middle of the night while Umi slept), she seated herself near the end of Miss Maki’s row, ignoring the magic lantern show and watching us anxiously as we left the theater. Apparently Lady Riisa had come by to join the girls, seating herself further into the row and wrapping her shawl around Umi as she passed by.
Umi was not certain how much time passed after that, but soon she felt resolved that she must find us. She said the magic lantern show was still going on as she crept quietly from the theater—Miss Maki and Lady Riisa must have been distracted by the explosion of fireworks and clouds of smoke onstage that marked the climax of the show.
Umi remembered being frightened to see that it was snowing out, but she only wrapped the shawl about her more tightly and slipped out onto the street, hugging herself closely to the building. And here, a true miracle seems to have occurred, for just then she saw us emerge from the alley and step out onto the street to hail a cab—we must have been returning from our back-alley conference with Sho and Lord Toma.
Seeing how pale and drawn our faces were, Umi grew agitated—she became convinced that we were leaving for the hospital without telling her. Her plan, she later said, was to follow us to the hospital and try to stay with us there for a little while before returning to the GHL; seeing us enter the cab, she promptly stepped out in front of the horses and begged the driver to let her ride with him.
“You spoke to him?” Aiba interrupted her to ask, clearly astonished.
Umi shook her head, “I only looked up at him beseechingly, and he knew what I wanted. I had often used that way of traveling around London when I lived with mother. It worked well if you were careful and could spy a kind driver.”
I shuddered at the thought of Umi soliciting rides from drivers at the age of four or five, but apparently she was quite practiced at it, for when the driver gave her the nod she climbed up the wheel and onto his seat quite easily.
Shivering, she drew her shawl more tightly about her, her vision nearly blinded by the now thickly-falling snow. But she felt her heart ease as the cab proceeded not, as she had imagined, in the direction of the hospital, but towards what she eventually recognized as the gardens where she had played together with us. She watched us leave the cab; she hopped down and the driver went on without a word, naturally uninterested in the destination of one of the countless street urchins that accosted him everyday. He must have been either a particularly indifferent or a particularly kind man—he must have believed Umi to be on the run after stealing the fine shawl from a lady, and he either did not care, or he hoped to aid her in her escape.
Umi recognized a few places in the garden from our visit there, enough to avoid being completely disoriented; but it was our slowed pace (because of my leg) that allowed her to follow us. When Umi first told us this story, she simply said that she followed us through the woods and into the greenhouse. Many more months later, she confessed that something much more frightening had occurred; she had been trailing behind us at some distance, now thoroughly mystified as to our destination but still curious, when she spied a man with a bloodied face (Sho’s victim?) thrashing his way through the forest and in her direction; she jumped behind a tree to hide as he passed—she could still remember the terror she felt at hearing him cursing under his breath as he passed her.
When he disappeared from sight, she came out from her hiding place—but she had completely lost sight of us. Even now, I shudder to think of our girl so cold, alone, and frightened in those woods—it is incredible that she was not hurt or lost.
She was, she reported, very tempted to cry. But after having seen such a frightening man, she was now convinced that we were in some great trouble and required her assistance; she forced herself to look about calmly—and then she spied the lights of the greenhouse from a distance and followed them. She heard our voices when she entered the greenhouse and began to run to us, but—suddenly hearing what seemed to her to be the high, cruel voice of a monster—she, like a natural-born detective, dropped onto her hands and knees and began to crawl soundlessly through the foliage until she reached our clearing.
“Why did you think to hide yourself instead of coming to us directly?” I wondered in amazement.
Umi smiled, “Because it was an adventure, and I was father’s assistant detective. I knew from his stories that detectives never barge in on a scene—they approach quietly and gather what information they can.”
From spying on our conversation, Umi slowly understood the general outline of what was occuring—she was familiar with stories of Horatio and had even seen his photographs; she could not follow everything but realized that the “bad man” had captured Horatio in that box and was going to take him away; it was then that Umi realized why she had been compelled to follow us there—“I knew,” she told us very seriously some months later, “that I was there to save Horatio.”
Umi had given a startled squeak upon seeing the detective seize the sword in his bare hand, but her cry went un-noticed in the commotion of our struggle; it was during the fight that she had crawled round the edge of the clearing to reach Horatio’s crate and, using all her strength to slide the top nearly half open, had looked inside and reached out to pull him from his prison.
“He looked at me,” she told us later, “and I knew him immediately. He seemed strange and dazed but his eyes did open, and I think he helped me lift him from the crate because I do not think I would have been strong enough; he crawled while I pulled and then he fell on top of me—I remember I had to roll him off me before I could get up again to close the lid, and then I took off her ladyship’s shawl and spread it on the ground, rolling him onto it—he seemed like he was asleep again—and I dragged him by the edges of the shawl into the bushes—I was scared by the fighting but I knew you would win.”
Umi dragged Horatio as far away from the scene as she could manage, wrapping him up in the shawl (she was afraid he might be cold) and making sure the branches covered him from sight before returning to the scene of battle; when she arrived, she saw that we were hurt, and that Gackt was holding up a piece of glass to Nino’s throat.
A year later, Umi told us a new part of the story: she told us that she had already witnessed many fights and bloody injuries during her life—they had always terrified her, and she would curl up inside her arms and legs when they happened, or inside her mother’s arms if she was there, trying her best to shut out the sights and sounds of violence. The last fight she had witnessed had been the one in which her shin was cut almost its full length with a knife—it had been an accident, she said, the man hadn’t meant to do it but she had been in the wrong place. It was after that fight that she and her mother had left for the GHL and her mother grew sick and died—she had always, she said tearfully, believed herself to be somehow responsible for her mother’s illness, because it was only after they left home that she grew so sick, and she knew even then that they had left home because of what had happened to her leg.
So now, she was determined not to curl up and hide—as frightened as she was, she wanted to fight, “There was a burning in my chest, and my heart was throbbing with anger.” There was a large shard of glass nearby; she picked it up carefully, determined to attack the bad man who held Nino. “But my hands were shaking—I cut my finger on the glass, and I could not move my feet no matter how I wished to.”
It was then that she felt a light, gentle pressure on her shoulder; she whipped about to find Ohno crouched beside her in the bushes. She managed to stifle her cry of surprise as he raised a finger to his lips. She remembered that he was panting, and his eyes were dark and frightening; but his presence calmed her instantly. She was sure, then, that he would save us. He gently removed the glass from her hands, “Stay here and do not move while I rescue them,” he commanded softly. She released her weapon willingly, watching with satisfaction as Ohno saved us.
The rest of Umi’s actions that night are already known to the reader.
I think the reader will hardly be able to credit this account; it must appear unbelievable that such a small girl could cross London on a winter night, save a chimpanzee, and even resolve to cut down a man three times her size with a shard of glass, all on her own resolve (though we know that even smaller children in London perform equal acts of bravery in order to survive one more day on the streets). But I feel the truth of this account in every one of Umi’s hard-won words—it reveals to me as nothing else could why Umi cared for Aiba so immediately and so intensely, and why she felt herself compelled to follow and protect him. Umi is truly the detective’s daughter—if not in fact, then in spirit.
But then, we knew nothing of all this. We only knew that Umi had miraculously led us to Horatio’s sleeping form, and that there might still be some possibility of smuggling Horatio out of London that night.
Aiba caught Umi up in his arms, furiously kissing the top of her head as he thanked her, “President, you are the most excellent and fearless adventurer I have ever known.”
“Do not praise her for endangering herself,” I snapped as the detective passed her to me—but I must confess that I was smiling. I checked Umi over for any injury—discovering a small cut on her index finger—then wrapped her in my coat. Aiba had lifted Horatio into his arms, somehow managing to negotiate him in spite of his bandaged hand. He lifted the chimpanzee to press an ear to his chest; the detective raised his head and looked at us with glowing eyes, “He still seems well, Jun,” he smiled warmly. Umi and I could not help but return his brilliant smile; Umi clapped her hands together. “I know you are not going to like this, my dear fellow,” he continued, “but I will take him to the station alone.”
“But how can you manage…”
The detective’s eyes were determined. “I will take him in my coat. I’ll avoid notice—I’ll take the boat down and then walk to the rendezvous point. I’ll keep to the side streets.”
“But that’s insane!” I cried, so vehemently that I felt Umi stiffen in my arms and drop her hand away from my collar. I lowered my voice, “What if he wakes? What if he attacks someone? Or you? And if you’re discovered? You can’t carry an animal around London!”
“I know, Jun, but how else can we convey him to the station tonight?”
I cast my eyes about the greenhouse desperately, hoping some solution would present itself. We might just be able to manage the crate, but with Aiba’s injured hand it was unlikely—and, of course, it would be almost impossible to transfer it across London discreetly. I almost growled in frustration, “Then I will at least come with you…”
“And Umi?” the detective returned quietly. “The GHL will be half mad with fear by now—they’ll be searching the streets for her in a panic. There will be policeman out for her as well. Take her to the GHL, and I’ll meet you there once I’ve given Horatio to Professor Inoue’s assistant.”
Before I could protest, Aiba approached me and placed his injured hand gently on my arm, fixing me with his most earnest gaze, “Jun,” he pleaded quietly, “Have faith. I brought Horatio into London—it is only right that I should be the one to help him out. I know that I can accomplish this.”
I glared. It was not fair for the detective to appeal to me to trust him when I was only concerned for his safety. And concern for the general safety of the London public should Horatio awaken and escape did pass (at least briefly) through my mind.
But I knew that if I did not allow the detective to do this, that something between us would change—that he would always feel as though I had been faithless to him in some way. I swallowed, “If you are not at the GHL by two, I will send out a search party.” The detective smiled, “And you must promise me that this is the last time that you will carry a chimpanzee through the streets of London.”
The detective seized the back of my jacket and pulled us into a tight embrace, Horatio bumping up against Umi; she reached out to gently pat the slumbering chimpanzee’s head. “Jun, one never knows what the future may require,” Aiba replied quietly.
Aiba had been right; Umi and I were still far from the GHL when we encountered Lady Riisa roaming the streets with a deputy. I hopped down from the cab with Umi in my arms to meet her. Her ladyship burst into tears at the sight of us, snatching Umi from me and glaring at me through her sobs, as though I had intentionally kidnapped the girl—I suppose I did look suspicious with my shirt stained with blood and small cuts across my face and neck.
Umi looked aghast as her ladyship clung to her. Some months later, Umi told me that she had not thought that anyone would notice that she had gone missing; indeed, her greatest fear had been that it would be discovered that she had taken and lost her ladyship’s precious shawl.
But her ladyship clearly did not notice or care for the loss of her shawl as she continued to passionately embrace and kiss her. “You’re frightening her,” I protested, reaching out for Umi; her ladyship hissed at me, flinching back from my hand.
“Your ladyship, I will explain all,” I promised in a low voice, casting my eyes in the direction of the policeman; Lady Riisa caught my meaning quickly, her icy displeasure thawing slightly as she dismissed the policeman and allowed me to escort them back in the direction of the GHL. We encountered Madame Becky and Miss Maki along with several more officers along the way, as well as nearly half the residents of St. Giles (including some children smaller than Umi), all having spread out across London in search of her.
By this point Umi looked deathly pale, and her eyes were swimming; I could see that she was stunned and frightened by the commotion that she had caused. I wished the detective were with us—he would have said something to turn the proceedings into another adventure. But I could only squeeze Umi’s hand softly while she struggled to breathe in Madame Becky’s suffocating embrace.
Once back at the GHL, we were greeted at the door by at least thirty young ladies in their nightgowns, all of them pushing against one another for a look at Umi and giving small shrieks of terror as I entered the hall behind her; it was then that Umi finally gave in and began sobbing. “Ladies,” I shouted, “as her doctor, I demand that she be taken to bed immediately. She is overtired, and she must have absolute peace and quiet.”
Miss Maki had the GHL in remarkably good order within minutes, and it was as silent as a church as we brought Umi into her ladyship’s and Madame Becky’s room for the night. Madame Becky had collected the first aid supplies, and I carefully disinfected and bandaged Umi’s finger as I told the two ladies of Umi’s miraculous intervention; I noticed Umi smiling shyly as I recounted the moment when I felt her hand against my own and looked down in wonder to discover her in the rose bush.
The two ladies looked at her in amazement; Lady Riisa climbed into the bed beside her and pulled her into her arms. “Umi,” she said softly, “Please, if you want to leave the house on an adventure, tell me, and I can help you. You may not believe it, but I am very good at adventures and disguises—I can even dress up as a boy, and I look just like my brother Nino. But you must tell me, or Rebecca. She’s even better at adventures than I am, she used to run across rooftops and slide down drainpipes.” Eyes wide with surprise, Umi turned towards me, as if seeking confirmation; I nodded my head and winked at her. “Promise me, Umi?” her ladyship insisted. Umi nodded, her eyes beginning to drift shut as her ladyship stroked her hair. Within a few minutes, she was asleep.
Casting one final glare in my direction, her ladyship left to attend to a few of the girls who were still awake with colds; Madame Becky remained behind to help me clean my own injuries.
“Doctor, if she is already this wild now,” Madame Becky observed quietly as she smoothed a bandage (with perhaps more force than was strictly necessary) upon my cheek, “then I fear that the GHL will not be able to hold her.” She gave me a meaningful stare, “She might require people more used to these kind of shenanigans to keep account of her.”
I turned to examine Umi for a few moments; tucked into the large bed, her chest visibly rising and falling with each breath, she appeared so small and fragile that I could hardly believe that she was the same young lady that only a few hours before had been jumping up onto carriage wheels and running through a pitch-black forest. Not to mention pulling sleeping chimpanzees out of crates. Now, with her eyebrows furrowed as she slept and her face white, she looked as though a breeze might finish her off. I could only imagine what would happen if she were to end up on the wrong side of Holmes or Watson, or of one of Aiba’s experiments. Or of my temper.
I found it difficult to speak when I turned to face Madame Becky, but her eyes demanded an answer. “Rebecca,” I finally spoke, “Umi needs a mother. The two of you love her and care for her; you can make up for the mother she lost in a way that we cannot.”
Madame Becky shook her head, her green eyes flashing stubbornly, “She has a mother already, Jun,” she replied firmly. “What she’s never had is a father. And now she could have two.”
I gave a choked laughed, “Madame, as delightful as it is to converse with you, I am almost half-mad with fear for the detective, and I do not think I can seriously contemplate at the moment the tremendous overhaul of Garden Place that would be required to render it fit for a small girl to inhabit. So I beg of you to leave the subject. For tonight, at least.”
Madame Becky seemed to be fighting back a smile as she replied, “If you will consent to watch over her until Masaki returns, then I might find it possible to stop pestering you for a few hours.”
Madame Becky stood, then leaned over to kiss my cheek, “And thank you for bringing her back safely, Jun,” she whispered. When she raised her head, I saw that there were tears in her eyes.
I shook my head, “It was not my doing. And that she was able to follow us at all was due to my carelessness.”
“Still,” she persisted, “Dangerous as it was, would you honestly wish to change any part of tonight?”
“Truthfully, I would not,” I confessed.
“Then let your gratitude to her guide your future actions,” she commanded. Confident of her victory, she swept imperiously from the room; I did not protest—any man would be foolish to attempt to win a battle of words against Madame Becky.
I groaned softly, allowing my forehead to fall against the bedspread. Exhaustion overtook me—it felt as though it had been days since I had last slept. Yet as soon as I closed my eyes, visions of Aiba and Horatio, injured or arrested, flashed across the darkness. I opened my eyes with a sigh, then felt a small hand tugging at my hair, so tightly that it made my eyes water. I carefully disentangled Umi’s hand, taking it in my own to prevent her from ripping out my hair entirely. I turned my head so that I could watch her as she slept; she shifted restlessly, moving about until her cheek was pressed against our intertwined hands—slowly, drool began to pool between my fingers.
Intolerable as such an arrangement was, it proved strangely calming; within minutes, I had fallen into a dreamless sleep.
If my sleep had not been so singularly dreamless, I would have thought, upon waking, that I had entered into a dream—for I discovered myself lying upon the bed, facing Aiba and Umi, both slumbering quietly. Umi was curled up against Aiba’s chest, facing me, but she had thrown out a hand to rest it across my nose. I wondered that I had not suffocated in my sleep; one of her fingers was entering my nose. I carefully removed her hand, intertwining my fingers with hers as I moved to rest her hand upon the bed. Aiba, with his curious ability to sense the moment I had awoken, stirred and opened an eye.
“Horatio…” I began, still half-asleep as I attempted to raise myself; Aiba placed a hand upon my shoulder to press me back against the bed, “He is well,” he reassured me, his voice rough—I felt certain that he had been weeping at some point before falling asleep. But his eyes were warm and untroubled as they met mine. My heart eased. “I saw him off with the professor’s assistant at two this morning.” Aiba paused, casting his eyes down—he seemed to struggle with himself for a moment before continuing, “I am so glad. It is a miracle that he remained unconscious. I should be thankful—but I had hoped, somehow, that I would be able to say goodbye,” the detective concluded with a small smile of self-derision.
“You will see him again,” I replied firmly, surprised to find that I believed my own words, “We will visit him soon, and he will live to see the spring—think of all that he has already endured.”
Aiba’s smile grew genuine; he reached out a hand to cover mine and Umi’s.
“And Sho and his lordship? Have you heard anything of them?” I continued, grinning back at him stupidly in spite of my real concern for the two men.
Aiba laughed softly, the sound making my heart throb with an almost painful happiness; his mood seemed lighter than I had known it in months. “I stopped by the hospital on my way to the GHL this morning—Toma was well. Heavily bandaged about his head, but awake, and they were very happily feeding each other popcorn when I came upon them.”
I could not conceal my revulsion—Aiba laughed more loudly at my expression. I shushed him as Umi began stirring—her eyes did not open, but she shifted closer to me, pressing her cheek against our hands and sniffling. It was so adorable that I felt almost ill as I contemplated her. Illuminated by soft morning sunlight, the two of them appeared almost too beautiful to be real. Perhaps I was dreaming.
I closed my eyes, wishing for coffee—without it, I felt dangerously weak and likely to began speaking all manner of nonsense. “I have something to confess,” I whispered.
“What it is, Jun?” I knew the detective was alarmed by my pained voice and expression. I opened my eyes but avoided Aiba’s gaze.
“I think I love her,” I finally muttered, staring at our intertwined fingers.
Silence. I chanced a glance in the detective’s direction. He was biting his lower lip, and his eyes were full; I knew that there was much that he wished to say. But after a minute, he only squeezed our hands gently and inquired in suspiciously thick voice, “Than shall we have her over for Christmas, my dear fellow?”
After luncheon at the GHL, we asked Umi if she would like to spend the rest of Christmas day with us at Garden Place; her eyes grew so wide and she nodded so frantically (and why did I feel something like relief when she agreed?) that we promptly took one of her hands in each of our own and slowly made our way home, lifting her at intervals and allowing her to kick up as much snow and slush as she liked. We stopped for candy and crackers along the way; Umi appeared rather nervous at being asked to select a cracker and a bag of candy, but after much consideration she finally pointed to her selections, clutching the bag tightly to her chest when the shopkeeper presented it to her.
At Garden Place, I made certain to call out our arrival loudly, fearing that Nino and Ohno—if home---might be engaged in one of their usual activities. But, fortunately, they were only lying together on the sofa (both clothed, thankfully), and Nino looked absolutely delighted by our arrival. We discovered him pressed into the sofa with Ohno’s entire weight atop him and the valet’s arms wrapped with almost constricting tightness about his waist—apparently, Nino had been trying escape from Ohno's grasp for the past half hour, but the valet had remained stubbornly asleep; it was only when Aiba popped a cracker beside his ear that the Ohno started awake and Nino had a chance to extricate himself from his embrace.
Indeed, the behavior of the couple struck me as strange, as it was generally Nino who attempted to smother Ohno with his affections. However, my curiosity about the two was quickly replaced by anxiety at the slowly dawning realization that I was meant to entertain a small child at Garden Place for the next several hours. I was relieved to find, however, that Umi appeared very agreeable to any activity that we suggested, and that Holmes, though he hissed at her rather disdainfully, did not seem disposed to actually scratch her.
Umi helped us cut and fold ornaments for the (truthfully, rather bedraggled) Christmas tree that Aiba had rescued from the trash; we had not been able to afford one, but he had insisted that the holidays required decoration. I had strenuously protested the entrance of this tree into our home, but now I felt glad that Aiba had insisted, as Umi appeared delighted with it. She decorated the branches with great care, occasionally reaching out to restrain Aiba’s too liberal application of tinsel; I was pleased to discover that she was a young lady of taste.
I think Nino’s air of Christmas cheer startled me the most, as he sat very peacefully beside Umi at Aiba’s desk and helped her fold and cut the ornaments while Ohno hovered above the two offering instructions, holding onto Nino’s shoulder tightly all the while. I had somehow formed the impression that Nino disliked children—but then I recalled the many years he had spent striving to help the children of St. Giles and realized that he must, of course, have been a great favorite among them. While Umi at first eyed his former lordship rather warily, she soon grew comfortable in his presence, and she even began murmuring a few stray words under her breath as they worked together. Between Umi and Ohno there seemed to exist already a perfect understanding; upon seeing her, Ohno asked no questions but promptly took her up in his arms, and she kissed him on the cheek (a gesture that I found strangely infuriating, as I had believed that she was only that fond of myself and Aiba).
After some time, the tree was finished—with Ohno’s talent at our disposal, it looked dazzling if still rather rough and spiky—and the candles were lit. In our excitement at the festive air the room had suddenly acquired, we decided to exchange gifts early. Aiba and I presented Nino with a typewriter, and Ohno with a set of fishing gear (the fishing gear had been my father’s, and a gift prepared in desperation of being able to afford anything else, as Aiba and I had spent almost everything on the typewriter). But Ohno appeared so happy with Nino’s surprise and pleasure in the typewriter, that he hardly seemed to mind the strange gift; he examined the rod with a bemused expression for a few minutes and then declared that he would attempt to fish the next time we were at Hayworth.
From Ohno, Aiba and I received a beautiful painting of a loaf of bread; Aiba, naturally, was delighted with it, while I felt that I should never be able to look at the thing without blushing furiously-I was certain that Ohno had Nino in mind as he painted the bread. Nino presented Ohno with a new set of paints (they were so fine that I immediately realized why Nino had been wearing shirts with patches upon patches for the last several months); Ohno presented Nino with the most extraordinary work of embroidery I had ever seen—a large sweater with an embroidered dog upon the front. His lordship tried his best to look pleased.
For Aiba, I could afford little—only a deerstalker to replace the one he had lost last winter, but he embraced me warmly upon receiving it. From the detective, I received a new top hot from Italy, so elegant and well-chosen that I felt tears come to my eyes as I admired it. For Umi, I had prepared some weeks ago (with Ohno’s assistance) a floral pin for her hair; Aiba, unfortunately, had chosen a magnifying glass and a wooden box for collecting insects, promising to take her to the park to begin gathering specimens—Umi looked so astonished to be receiving gifts (and so distressed not to have presents of her own to offer) that I almost regretted getting her anything at all—I think she could hardly comprehend what the gifts even were; she only stared up at us whispering “Thank you” until Aiba finally suggested bringing out the crackers in order to put an end to her heartrending expressions of gratitude.
Then there was the excitement of the popping the Christmas crackers, and the explosions of candy, but then I had to convince Aiba not to set off actual fireworks inside the house, and after Umi hit her head against the ceiling as the detective was throwing her up into the air, I insisted that we pursue more quiet amusements. "Pass the slipper" was attempted, but Aiba’s face turned bright red as soon as the slipper was in his possession, clearly giving himself away, and (in spite of Nino's impassive countenance) Ohno was able to identify instantly when Nino was the culprit. "Blind man’s bluff" proved more successful; while the detective overturned a few side tables and trod on Holmes' tail, Umi proved very talented at the game; I was amazed by her ability to identify Aiba by (it seemed) the smell of his hair, and she cried “Doctor!” after running her fingers across my eyebrows (much to Nino's amusement). I knew the detective by the roughness of his fingers; he knew me after softly touching my ear (sending a shiver through me). I was secretly glad to see that Nino proved surprisingly clumsy at the game (he had been teasing me so unmercifully since Umi’s discovery of my brow), stumbling about the room and looking rather dizzy until Ohno finally stepped forward and enfolded him in his arms.
“Satoshi,” Nino whispered as soon as the arms encircled him, reaching up to yank at his blindfold, struggling to untie it as Ohno gripped him more tightly. When he had finally removed it, he shoved it in Ohno’s direction, but the valet shook his head. “It is your turn,” Nino insisted stubbornly, almost glaring at him.
The valet shook his head again, “I do not want to lose sight of you,” he murmured softly-his tone was not affection or teasing, but deadly serious; I started at the valet's almost despairing tone. An intense look passed between the two men; I began to fear that the two were about to kiss or, perhaps, engage in a violent quarrel—I stepped in to beg that Ohno would assist the detective with the Christmas pudding in the kitchen, as I feared that he would allow it to burn too soon. Ohno registered my interruption slowly, his gaze distant before finally focusing on me—after a moment, he reluctantly nodded and took Nino’s hand and began moving toward the kitchen, but Nino jerked his hand free. “Take Umi with you,” he commanded, “she can help you hide the ring and the coin.”
There was a pause during which the valet gave Nino a rather long stare; Umi looked almost scared out of her wits to be so situated in the quarrel, but after a moment Ohno turned towards her with his hand outstretched and an encouraging smile, and I urged her to join Aiba in the kitchen.
I moved as if to follow the two into the kitchen, but I was restrained by my collar—Nino was nearly dragging me to the sofa, his expression agitated as he ran his free hand through his hair and began muttering under his breath, “Jun, I think I will have to be committed, or he will, because he has not left me alone for an instant since last night.”
I could hear Aiba’s laughter; I glanced wistfully in the direction of the kitchen as I attempted to focus my attention on Nino’s complaint, “That seems to be nothing unusual,” I murmured, “It is rare that I see the two of you apart when you are both at Garden Place.”
Nino scowled, “This is different. I have hardly been able to breathe for the last sixteen hours, he is always pressed against my back or dragging me by the hand. Or falling asleep on top of me.”
I raised a brow, “Perhaps now you will have more sympathy for the embarrassing positions that you are constantly placing Ohno in?” I suggested.
“Jun, he tried to follow me into the lavoratory!” Nino hissed. “While I know that your prudish nature” (Nino evaded my hit easily) “makes you uncomfortable around natural displays of affection, it also causes you to exaggerate our intimacy—I really do not spend my life attached to him like a limpet, as you continually imply.”
I raised another brow; “Well, not every moment of my life,” he conceded. Nino's expression, formerly petulant, suddenly grew serious; he cast his eyes down, “It’s not that he has stayed so close to me,” he nearly whispered, “but the way I can feel his eyes following me. I do not know what to make of it.”
I wondered how Ohno and Nino, closer to one another than any two people I had ever known, could still remain, in so many cases, so massively ignorant of one another (then again, did I not constantly make blunders in regards to Aiba, with whom I daily slept, ate, conversed, and loved?)
I replied in a low voice, worried that Ohno might emerge from the kitchen, “Nino, it is obvious why Ohno is so concerned to remain near you today. You nearly died last night. You frightened him. You left the theater without a word and placed yourself in danger. If I had discovered Aiba in such a position, I would not wish to leave his side for some time. Indeed, it was several months after his illness before I stopped breaking into a cold sweat every time he left the house without me.”
Nino raised his head, looking suddenly very, very young—I was reminded of our first encounter, when I had mistaken his lordship for an impertinent street ruffian. “But Satoshi…” Nino seemed to make a concerted effort to compose his feature before continuing, “he…we…are not like you and Aiba. Satoshi…is different from other men. He is an artist. He can live without me, and I understand that, as long as he allows me to stay by his side. I am the one who requires his companionship to survive…he left me for a year…he was…he is…able to leave if he believes it to be the right course of action …” I was horrified as a tear leaked from the corner of Nino’s eye, sliding down the bridge of his nose before slipping silently onto the sofa—I desperately wished that Aiba were here to comfort him, as I could manage little more than an awkward pat on the shoulder, which Nino only shrugged off furiously.
But for once, his lordship was quiet, allowing me to collect my thoughts before speaking. “Nino, what do you remember of the night you came to Garden Place after you had been stabbed?”
Nino raised a hand to his eyes, “I remember being very shocked to discover that my doctor was the man whose top hat I had so recently stolen, and that you were horribly gruff while stitching me up.”
I rolled my eyes, “What do you remember of Ohno?”
“I came to find him. I wanted him. I remember him holding my hand, and he was there when I woke.”
“You were very weak and had lost so much blood—I am sure your memories of that night must be incomplete. But I had perfect use of my faculties that night, and I can say with confidence that I had-that I have-never seen a man who appeared so much in love—I remember thinking that I had never witnessed such a passionate scene in the course of my life.”
“Because I was calling out to him…”
I shook my head, “Nino, I saw him turn pale as death, and by the expression in his eyes you would have thought that the walls were collapsing in around him. I saw him watch you anxiously the entire night as you slept. And I have, unfortunately, seen his paintings of you. You do Ohno a disservice if you believe him to be indifferent or removed from you, or if you think he does not require your companionship as much as you require his.”
Nino appeared stunned, his mouth gaping open unattractively as mucus began threatening to drip from his nose; it was at that moment, naturally, that the party in the kitchen emerged with a flaming Christmas pudding, with Aiba singing “Good King Wenceslas” at the top of his voice, with Ohno harmonizing very pleasantly if at a more moderate volume. Seeing tears gushing from Nino’s eyes, the valet promptly ran to kneel before him, questioning him anxiously as to whether he was ill—with a sort of choking noise, Nino ran from the room. Ohno turned to me with understandable astonishment. “I know that it is not how you usually communicate, Ohno, but if you can, I think it might help to speak out directly to him—I think there is some misunderstanding.” Ohno answered my sudden advice with a sort of dumbfounded nod before hurrying from the room.
I turned my attention to Umi, who was clutching at my knee anxiously while repeating, “Kazu, Sato, Kazu, Sato,” with great concern. I gave Aiba a look; he quickly set the pudding on the table before picking up Umi, “Don’t worry, president, Kazu’s crying because he’s too happy. And Sato’s just going to join him because they want to be happy together.”
Umi and I sent matching dubious looks in Aiba’s direction, causing him to laugh aloud, “You both glare at me so suspiciously, but I can assure you that my hypothesis is a perfectly valid one,” he grinned. Aiba’s confidence seemed to mollify Umi, and her mood improved further as we decided to start on the pudding—the three of them had gone rather overboard on adding things to dish, as nearly every bite turned up another coin, ring, or trinket (Aiba confessed some months later that a pence that he had added to the mixture was never found, leaving him to wonder where it might have disappeared to—my guess was into Ohno’s cast-iron stomach). But the plethora of prizes was exciting for Umi, who blushed as we praised her for each new discovery, particularly when we teased Umi that finding the ring meant that she would soon be married.
Umi looked sleepy after our meal; it had grown dark outside, and we had decided against lighting the lamps, so that our candles glowed even more brightly and the tree seemed to shimmer. We moved to sit by the fire; I picked Umi up to sit in my lap while Aiba began to read from the Christmas edition of “Taka’s Tales of Terror.” I felt myself almost drifting off as Aiba’s pleasant voice surrounded me; Holmes was curled up tightly before the fire, and even Watson (for once) was quiet in his cage.
Reader, it was the happiest Christmas I had spent since before my parents fell ill. Last Christmas, Aiba had lain ill in bed, and Madame Becky had been cutting away his tangled, matted hair; the year before that, I had lain under a black desert night, hardly able to recall a realm of feeling in which something like Christmas existed. Now, I examined Aiba’s face in the flickering firelight, and for once I did not try to resist the overwhelming sense of well-being and security that the sight brought me.
Umi suddenly seemed twice as heavy; I peered down to discover that she had fallen asleep. She had picked a particularly fortunate moment to sleep, as I think I would have had to cover her ears for the remainder of "Taka’s Tale." Nino and Ohno had slipped back into the room, hand in hand, to make themselves comfortable on the sofa at some point during Aiba’s recitation (both looked suspiciously bright-eyed and ruffled, and the blindfold was hanging, loosely tied, around Ohno’s neck, but I tried to convince myself that the two had merely engaged in productive conversation for the past hour). When the tale ended, Aiba, Nino, and Ohno were all grinning broadly, but I frowned. “Was it really necessary for Taka’s chimpanzee to actually rip the evil count’s face from his skull?” I inquired dryly, “And since when did Taka even have a chimpanzee?”
Nino shrugged, swinging his legs happily while leaning his head against Ohno’s shoulder; Ohno raised a hand to scratch at Nino’s nape. “I’m simply giving the people what they want,” he smirked, “Mark my words, this installment will break records. Soon everyone will be putting a crime-solving chimpanzee into their serial.”
“I think it’s your best installment yet,” Ohno offered with a soft smile; Nino glowed at the praise, though he attempted to conceal it by covering his smile with the back of his hand.
The doorbell rang, and the two men nearly skipped off to answer it together. Too soon, Madame Becky and Lady Riisa entered the room, bringing a gust of cold air with them; both ladies were lightly covered in snow. I shook Umi awake as gently as I could, feeling somehow embarrassed as both ladies seemed to be watching me even more closely than usual, “Princess,” I spoke softly into her ear, “Rebecca and Riisa are here, it’s time to go to bed.”
Umi blinked and began to rub at her eyes sleepily; then, to my astonishment, she left my lap very promptly and went to stand beside the two ladies, entirely prepared to leave instantly.
In truth, I had been dreading this moment all night, as I had imagined a storm of tears and a terrible scene when the two ladies arrived to collect her and return her to the GHL; visions of Umi clutching onto Aiba as they attempted to pry her from his arms had passed before my eyes; or perhaps Umi would simply put her hand in mine and look up at me silently, tears streaming down her cheeks. I had rehearsed promises of visits and been prepared to walk back with her to the GHL and put her to bed again. But she stood there so calmly, and thanked both of us for spending Christmas with her so sincerely and promptly when urged to by Madame Becky, that I felt almost angry.
I think I hardly responded to her kiss on my cheek; it was Aiba who embraced her tightly, told her how happy she had made him by spending the day with us, and promised to visit soon before walking her to the door.
I sat dumbly in my chair before the fire, but when Aiba returned from their farewells, I stood and began pacing; after a time, I forced myself to halt and rest against the mantle. Aiba approached and took my hand; he looked thoughtful as he stared into the fire. “How could she leave so quietly?” I finally burst out, unable to restrain myself. I suppose I should have known that the detective would not be at all startled by my question; he only continued to stare into the fire.
“I think,” he finally offered quietly, “that Umi does not expect very much from anyone. As long as she knows that we are safe, she is not surprised or disappointed when we ask her to leave us." The detective sighed tiredly, his voice as weary as I had ever heard it, "Rebecca told me about last night-that Umi did not think that anyone at the GHL would even notice that she had gone.”
I leaned forward, so that our foreheads were touching; I need to feel Aiba’s presence—his breath, his warmth, the beat of his heart, the touch of his eyelashes—to reassure me that what I wished for was not selfish or foolish, but something possible and good. “We would have to get new curtains and bedding for the guest bedroom,” I spoke quietly; I felt Aiba start and then relax, leaning more heavily against me. “And we spent almost everything on the typewriter. We won’t be able to afford anything until you receive your salary at the end of January. Or until his lordship pays me.”
I felt Aiba’s breath hitch with excitement; I knew he was keeping his voice carefully calm when he spoke, “We could ask her on Valentine’s Day.”
I huffed out a laugh, “Why on Valentine’s Day?”
Aiba smiled, “So that in the future, regardless of whether she has a valentine or not, she will always remember that she’s loved on that day.”
I groaned, “Detective…you’re growing sentimental in your old age.” I brought our lips together.
When we separated, Aiba’s eyes were bright, and he seemed almost nervous. “Jun,” he began, and his voice was trembling, “I have something to speak to you about…that is to say, I have another…”
The doorbell rang. Aiba flinched, moving as if to break our hands; I tugged him back, “Ignore it,” I breathed.
And then it rang again. Then several more times. Then the knocking started. And I heard what sounded very much like Lord Nakai’s voice ordering us to "open the door to our betters instantly." Ohno and Nino must have finally reached the door, for there was a sudden explosion of noise in the entryway. Aiba and I stared at each other; with one accord, we crept to peer down at the entryway from the landing, spotting a crowd of revelers that included a very tipsy Lord Nakai, Lord Toma, Sho, several fellow MPs, Constable Hatori and Chinen, three beautiful young ladies that I recognized as part of Madame Becky’s act at the Circus, and a handsome woman that I felt fairly certain was the lady reporter that Sho had so ignobly struck down with his umbrella. They all seemed to be caroling, but could not quite agree on what song they were to sing; almost all carried a bottle, and they seemed intent on finding more (and was that a lizard riding on Lord Toma's shoulder?). Ohno and Nino looked quite content to invite them in (though curiously, several members of the party seemed to be restraining Lord Nakai from launching himself upon Ohno; the valet appeared unperturbed by the violence). Ohno began leading them up towards the great room.
Usually, Aiba and I would have been happy to join in the gathering; but tonight, the thought of leaving Aiba’s side for a moment, or of speaking to anyone else, struck me as unbearable; I turned to the detective, and my desperation must have been evident, for he drew me close and murmured rapidly in my ear, “We take our bedroom window out, double-back for coats, and then take the ten o’clock to Hayworth? What do you think, my dear fellow?” he inquired anxiously, his eyes wide. Aiba, how could you have believed that there was even a possibility of my refusing you?
I caught Aiba in a brief kiss at the same time that he began pulling me in the direction of the bedroom (I raised a hand to stifle his pleased moan as I bit his lip), “The great Holmes himself would congratulate you on your ingenuity, detective.”
Author’s note: Okay, the next chapter will have a little more of this story and then the additional epilogue—there is still a bit more to this but this chapter was getting really long!
And, I’m so sorry for not updating in a timely manner, still hoping to finished this Christmas story before the first day of spring xD Apologies for out-of-season-ness and for the length!
Thank you, my kind readers ^^