The next time I woke up, it was to the smell of coffee. I hoped that someone had made enough for me to have a cup. The desperation must have been rolling off me in waves, because no sooner had I sat up than a deep voice rumbled from the next room, "There's coffee, if you want it."
"Yes, please," I said fervently. "Milk, no sugar."
I dug clothing and toiletries out of my suitcase and shambled into the kitchen. Sherlock was sitting at the table exactly as he had been the night before, except that now, he was impeccably turned out in a pale grey shirt and black trousers. He slid a mug toward the edge of the table; I clutched it with my free hand and said, "You're gorgeous and you make coffee. Marry me."
"John made it," Sherlock said without looking up.
"Great, he's adorable, he can marry me, too."
"I'll ask the British government to make legalizing group marriage a priority." He smirked, amused at himself for some reason, and waved a hand toward the bathroom. "Go shower. John's out until this afternoon and I'm going to need an assistant."
A navy towel, a small tube of Vaseline, and a box of "medium chestnut" semipermanent hair dye were sitting on the side of the bathtub. I knew a hint when I saw one.
Twenty minutes later, I stood under the shower considering my shampoo choices. The drugstore brand had to be John's. I reached for the other bottle, sniffed it, and sighed with pleasure. Lavender, orange, rosemary, and was that mint? Whatever it was, it was delicious and frothy and I used it twice, then topped it with a lavish dollop of matching conditioner.
Once dried and dressed, I finger-combed my damp hair and swiped the towel across the mirror so I could examine the results. I wasn't sure what I thought. My hair had turned milk chocolate brown with just a hint of its natural copper color glinting where the light hit it directly. My skin was disturbingly pale by contrast, and I could tell I'd have to rethink some of my wardrobe. At least the dye would fade out after a few dozen washings.
When I emerged, Sherlock looked me over and declared, "It'll do."
"It's not bad, but I barely recognize myself."
"That's rather the point," he said with an exasperated eyeroll. "Now, please tell me you know how to use a spreadsheet."
I nodded and settled into the chair next to him. He slid his laptop toward me and began to flip through a sheaf of papers, rattling off information and showing me where it fit in the columns and rows. Before long, he stood up as he read off data and began to pace a loop from kitchen to sitting room and back. I gradually realized we were cross-referencing information from the papers we'd taken from the embassy the previous day against information from what I presumed were police reports.
Some time later, he hurled himself into the chrome and leather armchair in front of the fireplace. "Come in here and bring the laptop," he ordered, pointing at the chair across from him and holding out his hand for the computer. "What we need to do is map these individuals by location and frequency. There should be a way to…" His voice faded as his fingers flew over the keyboard. After a long silence, he pumped his fist victoriously. "Yes! God, I love the Internet. John — "
He started, looked up, and shook his head. "Of course. Shasta, look at this and tell me the first thing that comes to mind." He handed the laptop back to me; it showed a map of the city with multicolored clusters of markers, most of them falling in central London with a few scattered outliers farther afield.
"Is each marker a different person?"
"Each color is a different person."
"So when I see several markers in the same color — "
" — one person, multiple locations."
"All right, each marker appears in at least two spots around London, but a small number of them show up in more locations than that. So you have a group of people moving around in clusters, but it looks like some of them move around more than others."
"Good. What else?"
I chewed on the inside of my lip and added, "I don't know what you're looking for, but is it possible to correlate how their movements relate to each other?"
Sherlock gave me a long, speculative gaze before reclaiming the laptop from my knees. "If we add any available time stamps, then animate the map…" His voice trailed off again as he typed. Eventually, I excused myself to see if any coffee was left. I was just about to put the dregs in the microwave when Sherlock exclaimed, "Oh!" so suddenly that I dropped the mug in the sink.
"John! We have to — "
I stepped back into the sitting room and leaned on the back of the empty chair. "Nope, still just me," I said when he looked up. He looked so disappointed that I began to smile, then stopped as his eyes narrowed and his lower lip stuck out in a hint of a pout. "Are you all right?"
You're not a complete idiot," he said, sounding vaguely surprised.
"Thanks, I think?"
"Don't look at me like that, you have no idea how unusual that makes you. But you're still not John." His apologetic expression looked like he was trying it on and finding it unflattering. "I'm sorry. No offense."
"None taken," I said. "If you really need him, should we wait until he gets back?"
"He's filling in for someone at the clinic," he said, stressing the last word petulantly. That's right, I recalled — John was a doctor. "I asked him to come home but he can't leave yet."
"Well, how about taking a lunch break? I haven't eaten anything yet today. I can run downstairs to the sandwich shop if you want."
"Not hungry. You go ahead."
I came back with a large coronation chicken sandwich plus two bags of cheese and onion crisps. Remembering yesterday's chocolate croissant, I left half the sandwich and one bag on the kitchen table while I took the rest over to the couch. I shoved my pillow and blankets to one end and was pulling out my phone to check email when I received a text:
How are you and Himself getting on?
"Sherlock," I called to the silent figure across the room, "John wants to know how we're getting on."
"Why is he asking you?"
Apparently I'm not completely hopeless, but I'm not you.
John's reply was a screenshot of what I assumed was John's phone. It showed half a dozen texts signed "SH," all variations on "come home now." These all arrived in the last 15 minutes, said the accompanying message.
I grinned, imagining Sherlock texting frantically while I was waiting in line for my lunch, and said loud enough for him to hear, "Have you given him any reason to think we're not?"
Sherlock unfolded himself from his chair with an annoyed huff and stalked into the kitchen. After a few moments of silence, I heard a telltale crinkle.
He's eating my crisps. That's good, right?
You'll live another day. I'll be home in 2 hours.
Stop talking about me. SH
"Why are you texting me when I'm right here, you ridiculous man?" I said as I walked to the kitchen. When I rounded the corner, he was standing, swaying from foot to foot, with his phone in one hand and the other half of the chicken sandwich in the other. "Ah. Never mind then."
"Ridiculous?" he said around a mouthful of sandwich.
"In a good way. Bring that out here and explain things some more while we eat."
He joined me on the couch, wiped a bit of chicken off his lip, and said, "I hate repeating myself; let's save it until John gets back. Tell me about Michael."
I tried to ignore the quick pulse of adrenaline that shot through me at the name. "My ex? Why?"
I stared into space, gathering my thoughts. Facts, I told myself. Just the facts. "Fine. Michael. We were together for two years. We lived together. I was coming back from a business trip and managed to get bumped to an earlier flight. When I got home, I walked in on him with someone else in our bed."
He leaned toward me, face alight with interest. "What did you do?"
"I moved out, what else?"
"No, I mean, what did you do right then?"
I supposed I should have been irritated, but the idea that my experience might help him solve a crime someday made his question surprisingly bearable. "I threw up," I said, letting myself smile a bit.
"That seems fairly unambiguous."
"I threw up on him," I clarified, smiling a bit wider. It was pretty funny, come to think of it.
"Definitive." His eyes crinkled up at the corners as he bit into his sandwich.
"It's been three months and this is the first time I've been able to mention it without feeling sick all over again."
"Would you forgive him, if he asked?"
I shook my head emphatically. "I can forgive a lot, but hurting me because you want what you want when you want it and to hell with me? That's not forgivable."
Sherlock chewed thoughtfully, swallowed, and said, "As opposed to hurting you incidentally, or to prevent something worse?"
"Exactly." I licked mayonnaise from my fingers. "Anyway, that's Michael. If you'd been there you'd probably be able to point out all the clues that should have warned me it was coming."
"Maybe now that I know you, I'll have you vet all future dates. Not that I'm going to be dating much any time soon. Not until I stop the bleeding from this one."
"If you need emergency assistance, I know a good doctor who seems to specialize in treating women." He winked broadly, a gesture that screamed "don't take me seriously."
"Shut up. John was right. You are impossible." I grinned at him. "Which reminds me, he said he'd be home in two hours, if you want me to do anything else before he arrives."
"I need the couch." I shrugged and stood up. He swung his legs up, lay back, and pressed his palms together beneath his chin. "Don't talk," he demanded, and closed his eyes. I stared down at him, shrugged again, and curled up with my phone in the chrome and leather armchair. I had email to catch up on anyhow.