The day stretched before John in a seemingly endless gray expanse of ennui and heavy uncertainty. He contemplated working on a blog post detailing Sherlock's miraculous return. His blog readership had tripled in the last week, even though John's last update was almost three years ago. But like the darkened bruise on the cheek where John had landed a blow, Sherlock's dark mood hung over the flat like a thick miasma.
The blank draft sat untouched in the same browser tab since he first opened it several days ago. The ability to coherently articulate his feelings escaped him entirely. There were probably words in the English language or some other that could encapsulate the tumultuous mix of anger, disbelief, relief, betrayal, and suspicion that John felt. But he didn't know them.
Sherlock might though.
John chanced a glance at the man lying comatose-like over the sofa. Except for the slow, gentle rise and fall of his shoulders, Sherlock hadn't so much as twitched in the last hour. John checked his watch. No, make that the last two hours. Was he asleep?
The silence closed in around John— until it crawled down his throat, catching words in its net before they could be given voice. It made the situation seem even more wrong (for with Sherlock, bad moods and loud discord went hand-in-hand like jam and toast).
It was not the first time that John regretted letting Sherlock back into 221B.
The doorbell buzzed. John nearly flung the laptop from his lap in his haste to stand. At the intrusion, Sherlock flopped over— his gaze burning a hole in John's back as he started to descend the stairs.
He threw open the door and found himself looking straight into a pair of bright blue eyes and a pert nose dotted with freckles. Carl, one of the few remaining reporters still camping out by their stoop, waved cheerfully and snapped a photo of John and the newcomer. They both ignored the reporter in favor of studying each other. She was young— no older than eighteen. Still, she wouldn't be their youngest client ever.
"Does Sherlock Holmes live here?" She asked with one foot already in the door. She wasn't the first American to come to them either.
John was forced to step back when she pressed forward for entrance. "Are you a client, Miss? I should warn you that he's been in a foul mood for awhile."
"When is his grumpiness not? He's almost as bad as Kaiba."
"I'm sorry, who?"
The feeling of being left far, far behind was alarmingly familiar. Especially when she swept past him to clamor up the stairs instead of acknowledging him any further.
John swore. Maybe not a client then? A fan with no sense of boundaries then?
He took the steps two at a time to catch her barging straight into their living room. Crazed fan was looking more and more likely— given the way she was staring at Sherlock's back with lips twitching between a smile and a frown. John quickly intercepted and tried to guide her over to one of the armchairs.
She dodged around him and moved closer to Sherlock until she stood right in front of the couch. Then she placed a hand on each hip and boldly announced, "Sherlock Holmes, you are an enormous gaping cunt."
Sherlock went unnaturally still and John gaped.
Even if what she said was true, John couldn't deny the protective streak raising within him. "Miss—"
She cut him off with a "Rebecca, Rebecca Hopkins" and the flash of a pearly white-lined grin. Her mercurial shifts were startlingly familiar, but were starting to give John whiplash.
The tense lines of Sherlock's body relaxed as he shifted to face them. Even from below, Sherlock still managed to look down his nose at her. "What is that atrocious accent?"
"Hello, I've only lived in America for the last ten years. How the hell do you suppose I should talk then?"
Sherlock wrinkled his nose as if she had offended his delicate, upper-class sensibilities. It turned out that she had. "You sound like an uneducated mallrat."
"Oh, you're one to talk, Mister I-faked-my-death-to-get-the-upper-hand-on-my-archnemesis. Did you even think about us, your family, before you pulled that stunt?"
"Because you made such a great effort to keep in touch?" Sherlock arched one infuriating eyebrow upwards.
"I tried. You didn't exactly make it easy and the last thing I was going to do was ask Mycroft to pass messages for me!"
The argument volleyed back and forth between Sherlock and this Rebecca without a missed beat. Family, she had said, but what sort?
For one horrifying moment, John wondered if she might somehow be Sherlock's daughter. She was young enough. He was old enough. "Sherlock, who is she?"
Without looking in his direction, Sherlock snapped irritably, "John, I'd urge you not to strain your brain trying to make deductions you have no hope of making. Much less correctly."
She threw her hands in the air. "You are such a fucking ass!"
"So she's not your estranged daugh—"
"No!" They shouted in unison and similarly recoiled from one another.
Rebecca rolled her eyes. "I'm his cousin."
"Second cousin." Sherlock then added, "Once removed. My parents took her in, while her grandfather was busy inventing crackpot theories and being shunned by the academic community."
Her expression darkened and she growled, "Grandpa was not a crackpot."
John startled at the sudden ferocity in her voice.
That Sherlock even had the decency to look remotely ashamed spoke volumes about their relationship. "When did Arthur pass?"
"A few months ago."
Sherlock's alert eyes scanned over the planes of her young face. "He passed away peacefully then. In his sleep?"
She nodded mutely. When she quieted, she appeared smaller and younger.
"But that can't be why you're here." Now he edged on coaxing, which he never did.
She straightened and tossed back her long blond hair. "No, I need your help finding someone. My Darling has gone missing."
Rebecca's so-called "darling" turned out to be a Japanese man by the name of Yuugi Mutou, still short and impossibly baby-faced at the age of twenty-nine. Going by the number of fansites and news articles that popped up when his name was plugged into a search engine, he was some kind of minor celebrity.
The number of results doubled when Sherlock ran the same search with the name in kanji. He soon wandered into looking up Rebecca instead, both surprised and unsurprised by some of the accolades she'd earned since they last saw each other. Right now, he was busy reading through her senior thesis on a novel way to incorporate individual cognitive models of decision making within larger multi-agent models of cyber security.
The smell of Indian takeout registered before movement in the kitchen did. John was home again. His stomach began rumbling without his permission. Stupid traitorous body.
The laptop (John's laptop) was now opened to Rebecca's page on something called the Duel Monsters' Pro League Network. As it turned out, what Sherlock had hoped would be a passing childhood fancy had evolved into an enduring passion. But if Rebecca was going to waste her time and youth on card stock, she at least excelled at it. Since first winning the title at the age of ten, she remained reigning champion of the United States Pro League, beating out adults more than twice her age year after year. According to the website, her worldwide ranking remained solidly within top ten. And last year, she broke into the top five for the first time.
John drifted into the living room, hovering behind Sherlock with a plate of vindaloo as he scanned over the webpage. He gave a low, impressed whistle as he got to the bottom of the page. "Huh, so your cousin's that Rebecca Hopkins."
Sherlock craned his head to glance up at his flatmate. He only hoped his expression properly conveyed the amount of disdain that he was currently feeling. "Don't tell me you play as well."
The obvious disapproval rolled off John like water, and the lack of reaction left Sherlock feeling oddly cold. (John was so much harder to read nowadays— much more closed off from before.)
"I tried when I was a younger," the blond man replied before handing the plate to Sherlock. "But I was never very good at Duel Monsters myself. It was more of Harry's thing, and Mike played all through uni. When Yuugi Moto came onto the scene, that was the heyday of the game. But I hear it's still pretty popular nowadays."
Sherlock cringed internally at John's questionable pronunciation of Mutou's name. "Perfect, another reason not to take the case."
John went still above him. When he spoke again, it was in that deceptively even tone that really meant he was anything but okay. "You're not going to help her then."
Sherlock sighed. Predictable. Of course, John was of the opinion that Sherlock would (should) take the case. The reasons were laid before him like a well-rehearsed script. One, Sherlock presently had no other cases— Lestrade still refused to return his calls out of a mix of concern about scrutiny from above and out of anger at Sherlock himself. Both would eventually pass. Two, Rebecca was family. She was young, vulnerable, and had directly come to him for help. It would be heartless to turn her away.
And there had been warm familial feelings between them back in the day, back before she made the choice to abandon him and Mummy for a failed academic and a deck of cards.
But these cases were always rife with popular culture that Sherlock had long deleted and mired in a network of human connections informed by rivalry, jealousy, and other petty emotions. So messy and almost never worth the effort needed to sift through all the necessary data.
"I loathe these sorts of cases, John,” he whined. “People of minor renown like Mutou are always looking to capitalize on their minuscule fame. He'll probably turn up in another few days alive and none the worse for wear. If not, I hope he at least has the decency of being murdered in an interesting manner."
John gave no immediate reaction to his words.
Sherlock turned his attention to the food he had been handed, sniffed, and scrunched his nose in displeasure. The mixture of spices were off. "This isn't a ten, it's a seven at best."
John pulled away with a rigid military cadence and started toward the kitchen. "You can order your own damn food next time."
"It's not that hard to order in Hindi. All you had to say—"
Sherlock was cut off by a crash from the kitchen. The plate jostled in his grip, spattering specks of curry all over the monitor. His heartbeat hammered away in his ear even after he had deciphered the source of the noise (aluminum pan banging against the lino floor: thrown, not fallen). John's harsh staccato breathing cut through the stillness of the flat.
"No, Sherlock," came the biting response from the other room. "Just. Be. Quiet."
Knowing that it would only set John off again, Sherlock clamped down on the protest sitting right at the tip of his tongue. He balanced the vindaloo precariously on top of a book pile at his feet, followed by the laptop on another neighboring stack. Another few quick sidesteps around the various derelict littering the floor and he was standing at the threshold of the kitchen, watching John's hunched back as he wiped up the fallen box of carryout. John was angry, that much was evident. Best to tackle the source, rather than to dilly-dally with the details.
"You think I should take her case."
The repetitive, circular cleaning motions stalled briefly as John sucked in a large lungful of air and snapped, "Yes, I tend to think that if your sixteen-year-old cousin comes to you for help, you help her. Fancy that."
“Rebecca’s more than twenty.”
“Not the point!”
Sherlock sighed heavily. "Mutou has been missing for less than two days and there’s no proof of foul play. Being an unfamiliar city, he could have very well just gotten lost. Maybe he doesn’t want to be found. Rebecca is simply overreacting." He had nearly forgotten how tedious it was to walk John through every stage of his reasoning. "Mutou also has a history of wandering off and reappearing some time later. How much trouble can a man who plays children's card games for a living get into?"
After John mopped up the last of the mess, he angrily flung the wad of paper towel into the bin. "That's not the point, Sherlock. And I think you know that, but feel free be stubborn about it. I'm going to bed." Without looking back, John exited through the kitchen door.
Sherlock couldn’t erase the image of how his friend's shoulders slumped as he mounted the stairs. Buried underneath John’s anger was a resignation that made Sherlock's heart clench uncomfortably. John used to fight him on matters like this. He used to lobby for the cases he saw as necessary.
But that was then (three long years of separation and deceit and solitude ago), and this was now.
He sank back into his armchair, listening to the soft tread of John's footsteps pacing his bedroom, the squeak of a mattress as weight settled on top of it, and finally silence. He drew a rumpled photograph from his housecoat pocket. Rebecca had slipped it to him on her way out. Recently taken within the last year— the subjects depicted included Rebecca and Mutou front and center in a crowd of other young adults.
Sherlock pinned the photo to the center of the wall with a piece of tape. He momentarily considered using something sharp, but Rebecca wouldn't appreciate it. It wasn't a candid shot, but the body language displayed was comfortable and intimate. (Then again, Rebecca had always been a photogenic child, equally happy on and off-camera.) It also wasn't the cleanest of shots— there were far more professional photos of Mutou floating around the internet. But its sentimental value, in the crinkled edges and the corners worn by constant handling, was beyond measure.
After resettling the computer on his lap, he clicked away from Rebecca's page to Yuugi Mutou's.
His skin crawled and itched under the weight of an unseen gaze. John pulled the comforter tighter around his body and waited for the vestiges of his not so peaceful dreams and almost nightmares to fade away. But the feeling didn't go away as he wiped the crumbs of sleep from his eyes. Sneaking out one hand from under the covers, he groped around for his mobile. A flash of the screen awash in early morning light informed him that it was only half past six.
John threw off the sheets, sat up, and then yelped in surprise. Sherlock, fully dressed in a suit for the first time all week, sat perched on the edge of the open window with John's laptop balanced on his knees. But he wasn't paying attention to whatever was on the screen— his pale eyes transfixed on John himself.
"Ah, good, you're finally awake." Sherlock declared as he shut the laptop and stood.
He swallowed around the lump and croaked, "What the hell are you doing, Sherlock?"
Sherlock threw him a look that said to keep up, before he marched over to the wardrobe. "I thought that was fairly obvious. It's not like I've never done so in the past."
It was true. In the past, Sherlock had waited for him to wake up like so on multiple occasions. John always counted himself as lucky that his flatmate waited, given the alternative of unpleasant wake-up calls. But that seemed like forever ago, and it wasn't the sort of thing John anticipated anymore.
"How long have you been in my room?"
"Since half past five." Sherlock threw open the bureau doors and began rifling through its contents. "Now tell me what you know about Seto Kaiba?"
John sighed. "And you couldn't have just Googled it?"
"John, indulge me."
He flopped back down onto his bed and stared up at his ceiling. "Fine, he's the CEO of the Kaiba Corporation, which is a licensed manufacturer of third-party Duel Monsters accessories, namely the Duel Disk. He's supposed to be some kid genius that's been heading up the company since he was fifteen and is the inventor of the Solid Vision technology that makes holographic projections possible. He's a duelist himself, and used to be ranked number one many years ago before Yuugi defeated him. He also owns the only three copies of the Blue Eyes White Dragon card in existence. Rumors are that's he's equally ruthless on and off the playing field."
"You forgot to mention that he considered Yuugi Mutou as his chief rival for many years. He's still regarded as one of the top three in the world, but I doubt that's good enough for someone as competitive as Seto Kaiba. Given their rather public and contentious rivalry, don't you find it curious that he signed Yuugi as his company spokesman? And as luck or coincidence would have it, he's also currently in London for business." Sherlock made a small triumphant noise as he pulled something out of the closet.
"Wait, you think Seto Kaiba had something to do with Yuugi's disappearance?" John grew more and more curious about what Sherlock was doing. When he finally tried to sit up, a plastic-wrapped load flew into his chest.
It was John's best suit.
"What's this for?"
Purposely averting his gaze, Sherlock rocked back and forth on his heels as he scanned the walls of the room. "I have reached the limit of what data I can gather through the internet. Thus, I've made us an appointment to meet with Seto Kaiba at precisely 9:30 this morning."
"Wait, wait! This means you're helping Rebecca then?"
Sherlock continued to avoid his gaze as he often did when uncertain. "Of course. She may be insufferable now— a common enough teenage affliction— but she's still a thousand times better than Mycroft. Now hurry up and get dressed."
John beamed— the pit of his stomach warm with a rush of old affections resurfacing. Sherlock made no move to leave the room though, and John quirked his eyebrow at his flatmate while pulling off the plastic covering. The detective only seemed to get the message after he rustled the bag some more. "I'll be waiting downstairs."
Knowing that Sherlock's patience would only last so long, John got clean and dressed in record time. The thought of Sherlock leaving him behind and ultimately forgetting about him left a sick feeling in his gut. He entered the living room and was immediately greeted by the one wall blanketed with internet printouts like a second layer of wallpapering— tangible proof that Sherlock had stayed up all night working Rebecca's case.
Sherlock circled him, eyeing up and down the length of his body. His sigh, one of reluctant acceptance, informed John that he had met only the bare minimal criteria for approval. "It'll have to do. Let's hope he doesn't mistaken you for a grammar school geography teacher. When was the last time you wore this suit?"
"At your funeral," he replied without thinking.
Sherlock snapped his back straight and turned away. "We should get going then."
They left the building through Mrs. Hudson's backdoor to avoid any lingering paparazzi haunting Speedy's and their front stoop. The cab dropped them off in front of a tall but otherwise unremarkable building in Canary Wharf. The sterile lobby was a far-cry from Kaiba Corporation's headquarters in Japan with its giant Blue Eyes White Dragon fountain in the lobby and high glass ceilings. KaibaCorp was merely one of the many companies listed on the building directory.
Something occurred to John on their way up to fortieth floor. "Mister Kaiba must be a very busy man. How'd you get an appointment on such short notice anyway?"
"It was a simple matter of deducing his secretary's password and granting myself one."
John hid his snicker behind one hand. "That easy to guess, was it?"
"Extremely." The corners of Sherlock's lips quirked upwards.
When they arrived at Kaiba's executive suite, the harried secretary, a local man whose accent still bore some trace of the Midlands, led them in, announced them as Misters Mycroft Holmes and John Watson from the mayor's office, and immediately turned his heels and fled. It left them all in an awkward spot with Seto Kaiba seated behind his enormous desk and half-hidden behind a computer monitor, while John and Sherlock lingered inside the doorway. There were no chairs on the other side of Kaiba's desk like in a typical office. Instead, a large L-shaped couch faced away from the desk. And other than a few promotional posters of Kaiba Corp sponsored events, the walls were bare of decoration.
"You have exactly fifteen minutes." Seto Kaiba declared as he stood and crossed his arms over his chest. His English, with the lightest accent, sounded far closer to America Midwestern broadcast standard than to anything British. But he made no attempts to extend to them the courtesy of a Japanese bow or an enthused American handshake.
John was somewhat dismayed to see that at twenty-nine, Kaiba still looked much like he did at the age of sixteen— which really wasn't fair considering how much John had aged in that same span. In lieu of his more flamboyant outfits from adolescence, he wore an impeccable white suit accented by an ice-blue dress shirt and a darker necktie. Proper looking, yet still unique enough to easily stand out in a crowd.
Sherlock straightened his posture (as if it should have been even physically possible) and approached the desk with a gait that screamed Mycroft. John cringed softly to himself and followed a few steps behind. "The mayor wishes to thank you for hosting your annual Battle City tournament in our fine city this year. Hanover's loss is certainly London's gain."
Kaiba said nothing further as he openly scrutinized Sherlock, who remained unperturbed as usual.
Sherlock continued, "I trust that all your preparations are in order. Do not hesitate to let us know if you need anything, our office is here to help."
Kaiba sighed, leaned forward, and planted both hands on his desk. The motion did nothing to diminish his larger-than-life presence. "Enough bullshit, you're here to investigate Yuugi's disappearance."
It was always amazing to watch Sherlock shed his disguises like it was last season's fashion. John let out a rush of air when Sherlock's shoulders rolled back and the creepy facsimile of his older brother evaporated. "What gave it away? Was it John? He's not a very good liar."
"I lie just fine!" He snapped without thinking. "And I didn't even say anything yet!"
"You didn't have to, just your body language alone—"
Kaiba muttered something disparaging sounding in Japanese and cleared his throat to cut Sherlock off. "My brother was a big fan of your blog, Mr. Watson," he reached over and swiveled his computer monitor around to show them a picture of them on the Guardian's website. "You were also in the papers this morning. Otherwise, it might have taken me longer to realize it. But no, I had nothing to do with Yuugi's disappearance."
"How did you know Mister Mutou's missing?" John asked.
"I tend to notice when one of the top competitors falls off the map a day or two before a major tournament." Kaiba smiled humorlessly, like John was an idiot for even asking in the first place.
John would be damned if he let himself be intimidated by someone almost a decade his junior. "Did you report him missing to the police then?"
"No, he didn't," Sherlock said as he folded his arms over his chest. "But he did contact Rebecca after he failed to locate Mutou."
"Wait, your cousin Rebecca?"
"I'm told that all of the top Duel Monster players run in the same circles. You'd hope she might have better luck locating him when your resources failed you, but then she turned to me."
"And now here you are wasting my time," Kaiba sighed heavily. "Adrian can give you my calendar from last week, but I have the feeling you've already seen it. I arrived in London last night. I can provide you with the necessary alibis if you need. I'd advise you to pursue other avenues of investigation, Mister Holmes."
Sherlock quirked an arrogant eyebrow and asked, "And I'm supposed to take your word for it? You are a man of impressive means. You could have easily hired someone to take care of your rival."
"Yuugi was never my rival, and I wish him no ill." Kaiba fell back into his plush, leather chair and crossed his legs as he leaned back. He certainly didn't seem the least bit worried about the accusations. And if his current expression was to be believed— he found them downright boring.
Sherlock didn't relent though, "I've done my research, Mister Kaiba. On multiple occasions, you attempted to hire Mister Mutou as a spokesman for your company and he's turned your offer down each time until two months ago. Since then, you've made a last minute change by moving your company's most highly anticipated event of the year from Hanover to London, where he proceeds to vanish into thin air. Even you must admit these circumstances are not in favor of your innocence."
"It's none of your business, but I can see you won't leave me alone to work until you find the answers you want. Yes, I have been trying for many years to hire Yuugi. Bottom line is he's good for my business."
Sherlock quirked his head . "It's because he's well-received by almost every demographic of your consumer base. Compared to you, he's more approachable."
"So my marketing department keeps telling me." Kaiba smiled sharply.
"They also claim that you're seen as too intimidating, so that goes to show how little they really understand. But we both know that's not the real reason, some of your employees might be scared of you but not your consumer base. The arrogance and flamboyance that once endeared you to your fellow duelists in your teens are no longer an asset now in your twenties. Instead, you’re seen as self-aggrandizing."
Kaiba quirked his head to the side. "So why would I want to hurt my own business by hurting Yuugi?"
Sherlock countered with, "Why move the tournament at all? You burned a lot of bridges in Hanover by doing so."
Kaiba waved a hand dismissively. "Germany has been firmly in von Schroeder hands for the last decade. I stood to gain much more by moving the tournament. Since you're the genius detective, you can figure it out on your own. Now if you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I have an extremely busy day." He reached over to the phone to summon his secretary, "Adrian, please show Misters Holmes and Watson out, and move back my ten AM meeting."
Sherlock continued to scrutinize the young CEO, but John couldn't say what he was seeing or what he was looking for. When the ever-nervous Adrian appeared, Sherlock turned and started to walk away, leaving John fumbling to retrieve an ancient business card yellowed with age.
John swallowed before he said his bit. This was why he was here— to fill in the gaps of Sherlock's knowledge. "Yuugi Mutou always seemed to have the utmost respect for you, and I'm sure you don't want anything bad to happen to him either. So if you think of anything that can help, please don't hesitate to contact us."
Kaiba's expression remained unchanged, haughty and cold. John sighed and gingerly placed the card on the tabletop. It was still worth a try.
But as Kaiba redirected his attention back to his computer screen, he said, "Adrian, set them up in one of the conference rooms and give them whatever they need— within reason."
Adrian nodded frantically and started herding them out of the office.
Sherlock paused in the doorway and said, "Mutou asked you for a favor, he asked you to move the tournament to London. In return, he signed a contract with your company. Do you know why that was?"
"I didn't ask. Yuugi and I have an understanding now," A sardonic grin flashed across his lips. "A mutual respect even, but we are not friends. What he chose not to share, I choose not to pry into. My life is far less complicated that way."
"Do you believe him?" John asked in the cab after they finally left the building more than an hour later. They dug through all of Mutou's travel expenses and the details of his work since he became a spokesperson for the company. There was nothing out of the ordinary there. Mutou was diligent in completing his job duties, made every appearance with grace and generated few complaints, and was well compensated (but not too well compensated) for his work. There was no evidence he was in any financial trouble, nor was he trying to cheat or embezzle Kaiba's company.
Except something about Mutou's travel itinerary from Japan to London bothered him.
Sherlock blinked and looked up from his phone. John's mouth was moving. Noise was coming out of it.
John sighed with aggravation. So he must have been talking for a while before Sherlock noticed. "Seto Kaiba— do you believe him when he said he had nothing to do with Yuugi Mutou's disappearance?"
His entire body was swiveled toward Sherlock, tense with curiosity and attention. He was eager to hear Sherlock's thoughts for once. Sherlock took a second to relish the moment— cocooning him like a well-loved blanket. Yes, this case was exactly what he needed to earn John's regard again. The only question was would it still be there once the case was over. Ultimately, the answer might depend on whether they found Mutou dead or alive.
"Kaiba wasn't lying. It's unlikely that he was directly involved in Mutou's disappearance. I had suspected that was the case, but the meeting was the best way to confirm my hypothesis and gather more data. Mutou has no shortage of enemies though, and almost all of them are in London this week." Sherlock loosened the necktie he had put on earlier, yanked it off, and stuffed it into a pocket.
“I don’t understand why they didn’t go to the police. Why come to you first?”
Sherlock turned to contemplate the pedestrians outside the window. After several moments, he concluded, "I was not their first choice. They’re desperate with this tournament starting tomorrow. But they won't go to the police because either they've been told not to or because they don't trust the police. They could have also appealed to the public for help, Mutou is still a person of some note. For Kaiba, it’s motivated in part by financial concerns, and he doesn’t want news of Mutou’s disappearance adversely affecting his company. Many people will jump to the conclusion that he is somehow at fault. Rebecca has never been very trusting of authority figures, but it’s more than that. No, they're not nearly as clueless as they pretend to be."
"What do you mean?"
"According to online reports from his fans, Mutou has been sighted in and around London for the last week. Now Mutou is noted for traveling with a specific entourage; none of whom are in the city yet. And he didn't come early for work purposes; there have been no Kaiba Corporation functions that required his appearance until the tournament itself."
"He could have taken a holiday by himself," John suggested.
"Perhaps, but it leaves a large gap of time that needs to be accounted for. We need to find out if and how his week here relates to his disappearance."
"Guess we're going to his hotel then."
A large smile split across Sherlock's face. "Yes, but first we have to stop off at Barts."
John eyed him suspiciously. "We don't have any dead bodies to examine," he paused and then asked, "Do we?"
"No, we’re picking up something."
The lunchtime crowds around Trafalgar Square were always worse during the summer season. The lobby of the Trafalgar Hotel was no different, swarming with tourists both checking out and those waiting to check in. As they entered, John spotted no less than a dozen people hanging around with Duel Disks on their arms. He thought he might even recognize a few familiar faces in the crowd, but it had been many years since he last paid much attention to the Duel Monsters scene.
Sherlock strode purposely through the throng of people deeper into the hotel building. Several people stared after him with perplexed looks before shaking their heads and turning away again. They headed straight to the second floor, past a bunch of smaller meeting room before coming to an abrupt stop in front of double doors— one open and the other still closed with a brass label saying "stateroom." A table was set up next to the doors with a bored-looking woman and her laptop.
Her expression never changed as she glanced up and asked, "Name?"
Sherlock pointed at him before answering in a snappish tone, "John Watson."
Her fingernails clanged loudly against her keyboard as she typed. Then she spun the screen around and gestured at John, "Read the disclaimer, then sign at the bottom."
The electronic document appeared to be several pages of legalese. John's eyes started to cross mid-way through the first sentence. He looked over at Sherlock, whose gaze was sweeping over the people gathered beyond the door and feet tapping impatiently. Hoping he was not wrong to just trust his friend, John quickly scrolled to the bottom of the page and signed his name with his finger. Before he could even lift his fingertip off the screen, the woman snatched the machine back.
"Come along, John. They're about to start." Sherlock took him by the elbow and quickly steered him inside before he could ask any questions.
The registration lady shut the door after them as soon as they crossed over the threshold. Inside the door, mostly teenagers and university-age students milled about in the space between two rows of heavy-looking glasstop tables.
"Sherlock, what are we doing here?"
Sherlock shushed him and pointed to the front of the room where a woman with a microphone in hand approached the small stage.
"Good afternoon everyone, and welcome!" she beamed at the crowd and received a few whoops in return. "Some of you already know me, but I'm Mimi, your local Pro League judge for central London. Today's tournament will be your last chance to collect enough points to qualify for tomorrow's Battle City, sponsored by none other than the Kaiba Corporation."
More cheers erupted from the audience.
"That's right, so the competition will be fierce today. Due to space restrictions here, we will not be able to accommodate Duel Disk play. Instead, we will be playing on a fleet of Battle Surfaces generously provided by the von Schroeder company." The lights dimmed and all at once, the tables lit up with a hologram of a rotating pink rose. "The format is a modified elimination bracket. Duelists must win two out of three duels at each of the lower two tiers before they proceed to the next bracket. These are your first round match-ups." Mimi waved a hand at the bracket now projected behind her. "Duelists, please report to your assigned tables. The first match will begin in two minutes. Good luck!"
John started skimming down the list of names, wondering who they were there to watch. He froze half-way down at the sight of his name. "Sherlock," he hissed. "Please tell me you didn’t enter me into the tournament."
In response, Sherlock grabbed his hands and deposited two items onto his open palm. One was a deck box containing Duel Monster cards, and the other was a thick plastic card with only a string of numbers etched across its translucent surface.
"You did not do this to me. When did you even have time to do this?" John moaned.
"This morning. I had to ask Kaiba's secretary to grandfather in your entry. The deadline was earlier this week." Sherlock stated a-matter-a-factly.
"You said you used to play."
"Did you forget the part where I also said I wasn't very good? I don't even know what cards are in here!"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "I don't expect you to win, John. Come on, your opponent is waiting at table four. We shouldn't keep them waiting."
According to the bracket, John's opponent was someone called "Bomber Joe," who turned out to be a university-aged man wearing an over-sized surplus military jacket. They shook hands before taking a seat across from each other. John looked to Sherlock for guidance, but his partner was already busy deducing the rest of the duelists. Sighing, John focused on Joe instead, copying his opponent as they went through the steps of setting up the duel: inserting their clear plastic cards into a slot under the lip of the table, shuffling their decks, cutting each other's deck, and drawing an opening hand of six cards. They flipped a virtual coin to determine who would go first.
He breathed a sigh of relief when his opponent called heads and won the first move.
As Joe studied the cards he had drawn, it gave John a few moments to try and recall the basics of the game. There were three basic types of cards: monsters, spells, and traps. For monsters, it was further divided between normal monsters with a more yellow background and effect monsters, indicated by a more orange backdrop and far more tiny text to read. John was sure there were also different types of spells, but he could not remember what the different kinds were off the top of his head. But he was fairly confident that he had to set trap cards before he could use them. On the bright side, at least they were kind enough to label the monster and magic/trap zones on the holographic playing field.
Who was he kidding? John was in way over his head.
"A little help," he hissed at his friend. Sherlock must have already memorized everything there was to know about the game.
"I can't, John. That would be cheating." Sherlock replied smugly before waltzing away and abandoning John to his plight.
Across the table, Joe drew a card from his deck and asked with trepidation, "You do know how to play, right?"
John smiled weakly. "Yes, yes, of course, just needed a mo."
"Uh huh." His opponent replied skeptically and proceeded to trounce John in just five turns. From across the dueling field, Joe's Mecha Phantom Beast Sabre Hawk revved, taking flight over the space separating the two players' card zones, and attacked the last remaining monster on John's side. The little hologram of John's Minerva, Lightsworn Maiden shattered into shards of prismatic light that evaporated along with the last of his lifepoints. The card zones and remaining holograms blinked out of existence, replaced with a marquee pronouncing "Bomber Joe" as the winner of the duel.
In the little stats window next to his deck, John winced as his already barely existent ranking fell even further.
His only comfort was that someone else lost in three turns just two tables away. Still he wasn't eliminated yet— not until his next opponent wiped the floor with him.
Once John realized he was playing with Mike Stamford's old Lightsworn deck, he started playing marginally better. Every now and then, he would look up from his hand to find his partner shamming through a conversation with someone— sometimes another duelist and one time with Mimi the judge. John won his second match on account of drawing nearly all the cards he needed to set up his combo in his opening hand, while his opponent floundered and spent most of the game searching her deck for the cards she needed.
He didn't win his third match though. He held out for eight turns before his fourteen-year-old opponent finished him off with a high-pitched squeal. She flushed red with excitement as she shook his hand after the match, and John couldn't find it within himself to hold anything against her for beating him. She deserved it far more than he would have, and he had been two turns away from decking himself out. A quick glance at the match-up screen, where a red line ran straight through the middle of his name, confirmed he was no longer in the running.
He pocketed Mike's deck and searched around the room for Sherlock. But the taller man was nowhere to be seen. John's pulse raced as he did a circuit around the room, trying to pinpoint exactly when he had lost track of Sherlock. It had been somewhere between him drawing Judgement Dragon and her activating Mirror Force, which was probably about fifteen minutes ago.
Another brief moment of panic passed before it occurred to him to check his mobile. On it, he found a text message waiting.
It took two passes before the card reader beeped and granted Sherlock access to room 235. Finding out which room Mutou was staying in required almost no detective work on his part: the Kaiba Corporation had done the booking on Mutou's behalf. The key card he had lifted off one of the oblivious duelists playing spectator at the tournament downstairs, and the hotel employee at the front desk had been all too happy to reprogram the card with a bit of flirtation.
Upon entering, Sherlock closed the door gently and took a deep breath. The room, a suite with a foldout couch and another television in the other room, was lit by afternoon sunlight filtered through the gauzy curtains. Housekeeping had come through at some point (bed neatly made, emptied rubbish bins, fresh towels on the bathroom rack, and restocked toiletries on the sink).
He fired off a text to John before beginning his search. Sherlock hauled out the two rolling suitcases half-hidden under the bed and rifled through the contents. Most of Mutou's clothing was still stowed inside, with one suitcase apparently partitioned for the dirty laundry. Under a pair of impossibly skinny jeans was a small computer bag and two hand-held gaming systems. He put the computer bag aside for later. In a cloth pouch, Sherlock found a small trove of jewelry in the form of thick leather bracelets and heavy chain necklaces.
Mutou's fashion sense was certainly unique.
Sherlock abandoned the suitcases and turned his attention to turning out every available drawer in the suite. Most in the bedroom were empty. Not surprising as Mutou didn't seem the sort of person to completely unpack and inhabit a hotel room. There was a pad of hotel stationery near the phone and when Sherlock peered closely, he could make out indentations left over from writing. Lightly shading the area with the provided pencil revealed a partial address written in shaky English lettering.
He pocketed the paper and moved onto the connected room, which was completely untouched. He found none of Mutou's personal belongings here. Other than the locked safe in the cupboard, there was no other indication that Mutou even set foot in the room. He crouched down to examine the digital keypad, noting the many fingerprint smudges dusting the touchscreen. Deducing the passcode shouldn't be too hard, and he had an unlimited number of guesses.
Harsh and angry beeping reprimanded him on his first three attempts. On the fourth try, his finger hovered just over the last digit when he heard a quiet click. It wasn't the safe, he realized, but the room door. Sherlock stood swiftly and angled himself behind the adjoining suite door. Someone had used a key to unlock the door. It wasn't John, who would have knocked or called for Sherlock or rang the bell, and it wasn't hotel staff as they also needed to announce themselves ahead of time. But he couldn’t get a good look at the new arrival from this angle. Just in case, Sherlock grabbed the flower vase off the end table.
The floor creaked as the new arrival crossed the other room— his footsteps too heavy to be Mutou. He stopped abruptly in the center of the room, no doubt taking in the scene of Sherlock's investigation. Sherlock steeled himself. John should be arriving any minute now to provide backup (he really wasn't that good at the game). Sherlock just needed to make sure their potential lead didn't get away in the meanwhile.
Brandishing the vase, he flew out from behind the door with a cry. His opponent reacted immediately (trained), bringing both arms up to brace against Sherlock's weapon. The vase shattered on contact with a crunch. The man growled, but the sound was muffled by the latex mask of a jackal he wore over his head. That was not a detail Sherlock had expected, and his momentary surprise gave his opponent the upper hand.
Sherlock grunted, the wind knocked out of his chest, as jackal-head barreled forward and grappled him to the ground. They fell to the carpet in a tangle of flailing limbs. Even before factoring the five stones his opponent had on him, Sherlock'd already lost— close-contact combat was not his forte. He'd rather engage from a distance, preferably with John and his gun at his back.
Jackal-head's arms closed around Sherlock's neck, an elbow pressed up against his windpipe and threatened to cut off his air supply. Sherlock thrust his head back in an aborted head butt, but the hold around his throat tightened.
"Tell whoever sent you that if we don't see Osiris at tomorrow's tournament, we can't guarantee Yuugi Mutou's safety. Now nod if you understand."
Sherlock's bangs flopped over his eyes as he tried to nod.
Three raps against the front door interrupted jackal-head before he could finish.
"Sherlock?" John called from the hallway.
The pressure around Sherlock's throat increased, and the edges of his vision started to darken.
"Don't forget what I said." Jackal-head grunted and released him. Sherlock barely sucked in a gasp when a fist slugged him across the cheeks. Vision now swimming, he crashed to the floor with a mighty bang. The blow staggered him, but it wasn't enough to knock him out cold.
"SHERLOCK?" John's cry had increased in volume and urgency.
The blurry shape that was jackal-head bolted to the door. Sherlock caught only a glimpse of his partner through the crack in the door before it closed again. He coughed and pushed himself up on his knees, straining to hear the fight now taking place in the hallway.
"John!" His hoarse voice gave out from shouting. "No!"
Sherlock shook his head furiously in an attempt to clear it. He staggered out of the room and his heart nearly stopped at the sight of John writhing on the floor. Out of the corner of his eyes, the last flutters of jackal-head were fleeing down the hall. He wanted to give chase, but—
The blond man groaned before looking up. "I'm fine."
Frozen, Sherlock continued to stare at the fresh bruise starting to bloom over his friend's right eye.
"Go!" John's order finally snapped him out of his daze.
Halfway down the hall, Sherlock risked one last glance back— relieved to see John picking himself off the floor— and took off in pursuit of their attacker. The door to the emergency stairwell fell close as he rounded the next corner. He threw his entire body through the heavy door and down three flights of steps to the ground floor. He exited right off the hotel lobby, still swarming with duelists and tourists. Sherlock pushed through a group of teenagers, earning the ire of the doorman as he burst out onto Trafalgar Square.
There were people everywhere. He paced back and forth in front of the hotel, scanning the crowd for burly 6’1” men and jackal-headed masks. He didn't find the man. But he did fish out the mask out of a rubbish bin just a few meters away from the entrance.