Actions

Work Header

Parallel

Chapter Text

There’s a dead body sprawled on the grass in front of the University of Westminster Cavendish campus.

John refrains from making that observation aloud, of course, because he doubts Sherlock will be impressed with it. But he writes it down in the notes he’s taking anyway. He eyes it consideringly for a moment, then scratches it out.

That’s a horrible way to begin a blog post. Far too morbid, and anyway, there are often dead bodies in the cases he and Sherlock work. It’s hardly a distinguishing feature.

John glances over at Sherlock inspecting the body of the young man. They’ve only just gotten there, so John figures he has a few more minutes before Sherlock asks him to take a look. While he’s waiting, John examines the crowd that’s formed outside the police tape. Most of them are students, and a fair number of them are gathered around a pretty redheaded girl whose eyes are filled with tears. Kayla Miller, the victim’s girlfriend, Lestrade had told them when they arrived, before leaving them to it while he spoke with the girl who’d found the body.

“John,” Sherlock says, standing and inclining his head towards the body. “Take a look.”

He does, examining the body carefully, trying not to miss anything (though inevitably, he will). “Hasn’t been dead long. No more than five or six hours, I’d say. He reeks of alcohol, probably intoxicated. Fairly obvious what killed him.” John nods at the four stab wounds in the young man’s chest. “No sign of defensive marks, probably because of the intoxication.”

“And?” Sherlock asks.

“And...” John glances over the body once more. “His shoes are missing.”

Sherlock smiles. “Exactly. Everything else the same as the other three murders: staff or student, killed on or near a Westminster campus, multiple stabbings, cryptic message spray painted nearby. But now something’s missing. That’s new. Or is it? We weren’t invited to the previous crime scenes; I’ve had no opportunity to discern if anything was taken from the other victims.” He raises his voice. “I need crime scene photos, case files, anything and everything you have on the other three victims. And I need to speak with the girl who found the body!”

Then he frowns, crouching down to examine something in the grass. “We need to talk to the girlfriend, too. Find out if he had red and yellow trainers.”

John frowns. “Why red and yellow?”

Sherlock points to a rock in the grass. “There’s footprints around this. Someone tripped over it, recently. Left traces of their shoe. Trainers, red and yellow, can’t tell more without analyzing the sample. It rained last night, stopped around one AM, this was left after. Not much traffic here at that time of the night, odds are that if it’s not the victim’s-”

“It’s the killer’s,” John says.

“Obviously,” Sherlock replies, but he gives John the pleased, excited smile he uses when he’s found something interesting and John’s followed his thought process. Then he turns back to the group of officers standing nearby. “The girl who found the body!”

But although Sherlock’s itching to get at her, the police are still talking to her, so they end up interviewing the girlfriend first.

Sherlock mutters about incompetence and the police being out of their depth while they walk over to where the girlfriend is standing, surrounded by friends.

“We need to speak to Ms. Miller alone,” Sherlock says.

One of the friends, a plain-looking brunette girl, glares at them. “You guys literally just left. Can’t she have five minutes to herself?”

John offers them an understanding smile. “I’m sorry. It won’t take long.”

“It’s okay, Anna,” Kayla says. “If it helps, I don’t mind. I’ll talk to them.”

The groups disperses, save for a tall, handsome brunette girl, who stays where she is with a defiant glare.

“It’s fine, Lacey, it is,” Kayla tells her. “Go check and see if they’re done with Sam yet, yeah?”

“All right,” Lacey says reluctantly, turning away.

“I don’t know what more help I can be,” Kayla says. “I already told the other detectives everything I know.”

“Not part of the police,” Sherlock says. “We help when they’re out of their depth, like now.”

“Oh.” Kayla blinks. “I, um.”

“We might ask you some questions you’ve already been asked,” John says gently. “But we’re sorry for your loss.”

Tears fill her eyes, and she wipes them away with her sleeve. “Yeah. Everyone’s sorry. Me too.”

“How long were you together?” Sherlock asks.

“Six months next week,” she replies.

“Before the murders, then,” Sherlock muses. “Were you happy?”

Kayla looks taken aback. “I – yes, of course. I like to think so.”

John shoots Sherlock a look. “We know he was on the rugby team with the first victim and had a class with the second, but can you think of any relationship he might have had with the third?”

“No,” she says. “They might’ve had a class together sometime, and I think Finn went to the pub he worked at a few times, but nothing else.”

“Did he own a pair of trainers? Size twelve, red and yellow markings, possibly other colours as well?” Sherlock asks.

“What? I – I don’t know. We don’t live together, and I didn’t pay that much attention to his shoes,” she says.

“Hmm,” Sherlock says, and John can tell he’s lost interest in talking to the girl.

“I don’t understand,” Kayla says, wiping away more tears. “Everyone loves Finn. Everyone except - her.”

“Who?” John asks.

“Freaky Fiona,” Kayla says. “That’s what everyone calls her, anyway. Well, not us, Sam and Lacey would be livid if they heard one of us talking about someone like that, and I never really had anything against her. Before.”

“She had a grudge against Finn?” John asks.

“She has a grudge against everyone. No one’s as smart as her, so no one’s worth her time. I didn’t care, she can be a freak all she wants in that lab of hers, but she had to go and start hurting people,” she says.

John frowns. “You believe she’s behind the murders?”

“Everyone does,” Kayla says. “Even some of the professors, they’re all whispering about it. She’s always been a freak, anyone who’s had a class with her knows that. She’s always talking about chemicals and equations and formulas if you’re lucky, bacteria and poison and dead bodies if you aren’t. There’s a bunch of people saying they knew it, they knew she’d go crazy and start killing people who she thought had ‘wronged’ her. What I want to know is, if they all knew it, why didn’t they stop her before she started?”

Sherlock has been growing progressively tenser as she spoke, and John hears “we all hated him” in Sebastian’s voice echoing in his head. John fights the urge to take Sherlock’s hand, because it’s the kind of gesture that can easily be misinterpreted, even if its intention was purely platonic comfort.

“So – all of the victims somehow ‘wronged’ her?” John asks.

“Yeah,” she says. “I mean, I didn’t really know much of her before the murders started, but people talk. Finn didn’t believe the rumours. He made some jokes about her, stupid, meaningless crap, I’ve heard him tease his friends worse, and she freaked out at him. She punched that guy who worked at the pub in the face because she said he insulted her, everyone there saw it. And everyone who was in Professor Andrews’ class with her knows how much they hated each other. And Austin? Austin was just like Finn. Meaningless teasing.”

John wants to say that it’s never meaningless, not to the ones getting teased, but he can’t bring himself to imply to this crying girl that her dead boyfriend was a bully. So instead he says, “Just because someone’s misunderstood doesn’t mean they’re a killer.”

“That’s what I thought. Then my boyfriend turned up dead a week after joking about her,” she says.

“What was her name again?” John asks, because they’re going to have to talk to her, whether John wants to or not.

“Fiona Masters,” Kayla says. “She’ll be in the chem lab, she always is.”

“We’ll talk to her,” John says.

“Good.” Kayla’s tone turns hard. “That’s what you should be doing instead of talking to me, arresting that freak.”

Sherlock turns and walks away.

“Thank you for your time,” John says hurriedly. “Once again, we’re very sorry for your loss.”

When he catches up to Sherlock, he thinks, ‘Fuck it,’ and he wraps his hand gently around Sherlock’s wrist, giving it a light squeeze. He keeps it there as they walk, and if his stomach flutters a little, well, it’s only because this case is upsetting, and the warmth in his chest when he sees Sherlock lose some of the tension in his shoulders at John’s touch is only because John dislikes it when his friend is upset.

John lets go before they reach the classroom the police are using to talk to the girl who found the body. They have to wait only a few moments before they’re let inside.

There’s a girl sitting on one side of a large desk. She’s pretty in an average, down-to-earth way, with dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. There’s a book-bag resting against her chair. Lestrade is sitting at the desk across from her, but he stands and walks over to meet them when he sees them enter.

“Couldn’t wait two minutes?” Lestrade asks.

“If you don’t have what you need by now, you’ll never get it,” Sherlock says.

Lestrade sighs. “Go easy on this one, Sherlock. She’s had a long morning, and I’ve already got her friends breathing down my neck.”

“Intimidated by university girls, Lestrade?” Sherlock asks.

Lestrade glances through the still open door, where John can see Lacey hovering protectively nearby. “I am a bit by that one, yeah,” Lestrade mutters as he leaves.

Sherlock and John approach the girl sitting at the desk.

“You’re the police?” she asks. “Detective Inspector Lestrade said two of his colleagues were coming.”

“Consulting detective,” Sherlock says.

“This is Sherlock Holmes,” John tells her. “I’m John Watson. We just have a few questions.”

She sags briefly, then her shoulders straighten. “Samantha Brown, but everyone calls me Sam. I’ll answer whatever I can.”

“You moved the body when you found it?” Sherlock asks.

“Him,” Sam corrects. “When I found him, and yes, I moved him. I know you’re not supposed to, but I couldn’t see the blood until I turned him over, just him on the ground, and I thought – there’d been a party, at a flat right around the corner, and Finn just lives on the other side of campus, he’d have come this way to get home. I just thought he’d had too much to drink.”

“So it wasn’t strange for him to be on campus late at night?” John asks.

“Not really. Didn’t happen a lot, but if he was going somewhere within walking distance, he’d always go this way,” she says.

“You knew him well, then,” John says.

“Yeah,” she says. “He’s one of my closest friends. And he was dating another.”

“How was the body positioned when you found – him?” Sherlock asks.

“He was face down,” she says. “Kind of sprawled out, like – like he’d just passed out.”

“Were his feet bare?” Sherlock says.

“He had socks on, but yeah, no shoes,” Sam says.

Sherlock smiles slightly. “Four hours between the time he was killed and the time she found him, not much time for someone to come along, and why would a random opportunist take only his shoes?”

“Take his-” Sam blinks. “You think the killer took his shoes.”

Sherlock, John knows, had probably disregarded her existence for the moment, but at the note of surprised comprehension in her voice, he glances back at her.

“It wasn’t exactly unusual, for Finn to lose his shoes or something else when he was pissed. He’d take ‘em off and leave them at the party, or somehow lose them on the way back to his flat.” She smiles slightly, sadly. “Can’t remember how many times a bunch of us went looking for the things drunk-Finn had lost last night.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow as he processes this new information. “Where is the flat he was at?”

“Not exactly sure, just know it was nearby,” she says. “Martin Morstan was hosting it.”

“You weren’t there?” Sherlock asks.

“No. Martin invited me, but I had a study session this morning.” She glances down at her book bag. “It’s why I was here so early.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says, then asks in an almost bored tone, “Did he own a pair of trainers with red and yellow markings?”

He’s obviously not expecting her to know, and neither is John, so when she replies with an immediate, “No,” both of them look at her more closely.

“You’re certain?” Sherlock asks.

“Like I said, I’ve gone on scavenger hunts for Finn’s crap a lot. Shoes were actually pretty common,” she says. “He’s only got two pairs of trainers, and neither of them have red or yellow on them.”

“Finn’s girlfriend wasn’t so familiar with his shoes,” Sherlock says.

Sam rolls her eyes a bit. “If you’d gotten extraordinarily pissed the night before and managed to lose crap while you stumbled home, would you call your girlfriend to help you look for it? No, he called his mates, and that’s what I am.” She pauses. “What I was.”

She’s still sitting up straight, shoulders squared, no tears, but her voice hitches slightly.

John puts a hand on her shoulder briefly before pulling away. “I know it’s hard to lose a friend like that.”

“We’re very sorry for your loss,” Sherlock adds stiffly. “And thank you for your time.”

“Just-” Sam says, then stands and slings her bag over her shoulder. “Find whoever did this.”

“We will,” Sherlock says, all confidence and eyes gleaming with excitement. “That’s what we do.”

After they leave, their final stop for the day is the chemistry lab. There’s only one person in it, a girl who looks about nineteen or twenty. She’s tall, closer to Sherlock’s height than John’s, with pale skin, dark hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, and light blue eyes. Beautiful, really. Not that John’s looking, of course. She’s in a lab coat and wearing safety goggles and gloves, carefully measuring out some sort of blue liquid.

“Fiona Masters?” John asks.

The girl sets down the beaker and removes her gloves and goggles, looking annoyed. “I’ve been expecting you to stop by, but I’d hoped it wouldn’t be until after I was finished.”

“I’m John Watson, and this is Sherlock Holmes. We’ll try not to take up too much of your time,” John says.

“Too late,” she replies snidely.

John stifles a grin. Her “you are wasting my time simply by existing in my presence” look is good, but Sherlock’s is better.

“You have a connection to all four victims,” Sherlock says.

Fiona glares at him. “If by ‘connection’ you mean all four were imbeciles who thought trying to torment other people, of whom I was only one of many, was a valuable way to spend their time, then yes. I had a ‘connection’ to them.”

John chuckles. Both Sherlock and Fiona stare at him.

“Sorry,” he says. “It’s just – you sound just like him.”

Sherlock looks affronted.

“Oh, come on, Sherlock, she does,” John protests. “I – oh, never mind.”

“Yes, that is what I meant by ‘connection.’ Which means your ‘connection’ serves the dual purpose of providing you with motive,” Sherlock says.

“Believe me, if I was to start killing all of the people who think it’s entertaining to try and torment me, there would be a lot more dead bodies,” she says.

Sherlock smirks slightly. “Interestingly enough, considering it’s a serial killer, more bodies is exactly what we will soon have.”

Fiona looks briefly troubled, making her look younger, less assured of herself. Then the stubborn, confident tilt to her chin is back. “Then if I were doing it, I’d hardly have just told you that, would I?”

John’s seen a look like that before. Not as long, and not as open, obvious, but he’s caught quick flashes of something much like it in Sherlock’s eyes, when Sherlock’s trying very hard to show just how much he doesn’t care what people are saying about him.

“We’re not here to accuse you of anything,” John says. “We just want to ask a few questions.”

Fiona narrows her eyes at him. “Really. That’s exactly what the police said, and all they wanted to ask was where was I last night, or on the nights of the other murders, and could they have a sample of my handwriting?”

“That’s because they’re idiots,” Sherlock mutters.

Fiona looks at him interestedly. “First true thing that’s been said all day.”

“We’re here to find out what you know about the victims,” John says.

“You’re still looking in the wrong place,” she replies. “I wasn’t friends with them. I barely knew them, except when they got bored or drunk and took it out on me.”

“That’s why we’re asking you,” John tells her.

She frowns at him, similar to an expression John’s seen Sherlock use when he doesn’t understand something but doesn’t want to admit it.

“Sometimes the people a bully torments know things about him that no one else does,” John says quietly. “Like the fact that he is a bully, for example. Or weaknesses, trigger points. At the very least, they have a very different view of him than others do.”

It sounds somewhat obvious that he’s speaking from personal experience. He knows Sherlock has picked up on it, and he suspects Fiona will as well.

Sure enough, she looks closely at him. “You don’t look like someone who has much experience with bullies.”

‘Should have seen me a year ago,’ John thinks, then says out loud, “I have a sister, five years older than me, who was openly gay from the minute she hit secondary school.”

Fiona looks surprised, then confused, then vaguely frustrated. “That’s a very cryptic answer. Does that mean your sister was bullied and you have vicarious experience, or you were bullied because of that and have first-hand experience?”

“Both,” John says. “Not for long-” No, people learned very quickly not to mess with John or Harry Watson, and by the time John entered secondary school it was all a faded memory. “-but enough to know.”

Fiona watches him for a long time. Then she says, “Not all of them were bullies. That professor, yes, but the two rugby players were just boys.” She says that last word with distaste. “I didn’t even know the guy who worked at the pub. Just poured a drink on him when he hit on me one too many times. First and only time I was in that pub.”

“And you told the police this?” John asks.

“Obviously. But I’m a ‘suspect,’ why should they believe me? And other people are so happy to contradict me,” Fiona says.

“Ah, yes, the opinions of the masses. Always so reliable,” Sherlock says.

She looks back and forth between them. “You’re not what I expected from detectives.”

“I’m a consulting detective,” Sherlock tells her. “You can’t have expected it; I’m the only one in the world.”

“And I’m not a detective at all, actually,” John adds. “I’m a doctor.”

Fiona pulls her hair out of its holder, runs her fingers through it, and ties it up again, neater and tighter. “There is something I know about the victims. I told the police, but they didn’t believe me. I don’t know about the pub worker, but the rugby players, that professor? All of them had a drug habit.”

“Why didn’t the police believe you?” John asks.

“Aside from the obvious? There’s probably no evidence. They were good, careful, or they would have been caught by now. And none of their friends, no one here knows,” Fiona tells them.

“How is it that you know, then?” Sherlock asks.

Fiona fixes him with a level stare.

“Ah,” Sherlock says. “Excellent. Do you know who sold it to them?”

“No,” she says. “I’ve just seen them in certain places, at times when there’s only one thing they could be doing there.”

“Pity,” Sherlock says. “No, wait, good. This gives us a starting point. Well, another starting point, we have several others, obviously, but oh, yes. Promising, very promising.”

He heads for the door, but John lingers.

“Sorry for him,” he says. “He meant to say ‘we appreciate the lead you’ve given us and we’re getting right on it.’”

“I don’t need appreciation,” Fiona tells him.

“Right, of course not,” John says cheerfully. “But you’re going to get it anyway. Thank you, Ms. Masters.”

She looks at him oddly. Then she says, “Fiona.”

He smiles at her. “Thank you, Fiona.”

“John!” Sherlock yells from the hall, where he’s likely just noticed John was missing. “Come on!”

“Duty calls,” John says, then hesitates and hands her one of his cards. “Look, if you think of anything else, or if you need anything, feel free to call. Or text.” He smiles at her again, then jogs after Sherlock.

 

---

 

When Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson finally leave, Fiona’s frustrated and confused. She’d expected them to treat her with barely concealed suspicion like everyone else. She hadn’t expected them to not only believe her, but actually take her suggestion into consideration. It always throws her when she’s wrong about things. Usually only momentarily, but this is different. This is someone listening to her. That’s new.

And Dr. Watson. He’d been - nice to her. Genuinely nice. Which doesn’t matter at all, of course. Not at all. They’ve still been irritatingly distracting. Intolerable.

But she slips his card into the pocket of her jeans, anyway.

Fiona’s too unfocused now to return to her work, but it doesn’t matter, because the two men have only been gone a few moments before there’s someone else standing in the door of the chem lab.

It’s a girl, roughly Fiona’s age, perhaps a few years older. Dirty blonde hair, hazel eyes, short in stature, well built. Pretty, if Fiona were the type to notice that kind of thing. She looks vaguely familiar, though Fiona doesn’t know her name. Fiona has seen her recently, and she narrows her eyes slightly as she attempts to place her. Ah. She’d been at the most recent crime scene.

Fiona sighs. These murders have been most inconvenient in a number of ways; keeping her from doing her work is just the most current. And therefore most irritating, at the moment. She looks down at her experiment.

“You were talking with those two detectives,” the girl says.

“Your observational skills are excellent,” Fiona replies. “I look forward to seeing more of them.”

The other girl chuckles slightly, and Fiona looks back up at her, surprised.

“Sorry,” the girl says. “It’s a horrible time to be laughing.” There’s a pause, then, when Fiona doesn’t answer, she says, “I’m Sam.”

“Do you generally laugh when someone insults you?” Fiona asks.

“Yup,” Sam replies. “Or I do when I state the obvious like that and have it coming. And when someone is obviously saying it to irritate me and expects me to be insulted.”

“Hmm,” Fiona says. “I wouldn’t have thought of you as someone who ever did the opposite of what was expected of them.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

Fiona waves a hand dismissively. “I know your type. In the Human and Medical Science course, likely planning on attending a graduate program in medicine because your parents wanted a doctor in the family, you go to every football and rugby match, or, more likely, you’re on the team, out at the pubs every night because it’s what your friends do, boring.”

“Can’t all be super geniuses living exciting lives in the chem lab,” Sam says.

There’s a hint of irritation in her otherwise calm voice, and Fiona smiles.

Sam sees it and sighs. “And now you’re doing it again. Look, I heard what you said to the detectives, about Finn doing drugs.”

“Ah. I assume you’re here to tell me I better not be spreading lies such as that about your deceased friend?” Fiona asks.

Sam shrugs. “Assume all you want, but that’s not why I’m here. Do you really think the drugs might have some connection to their deaths, or did you just tell them that to get them to go away?”

Fiona’s eyes narrow. “Why?”

“Because the murders need to stop. And if the police really aren’t going to explore the drug aspect like you said, when it’s the only thing they’ve got to go on, then maybe we could do it,” Sam says.

Fiona ignores the use of “we” for the moment in favour of eyeing her speculatively. “You want to investigate the murders, to solve them. Why do you care?”

“Why do I – are you serious?” Sam asks. “Until they know what connects the victims, there’s no way to tell who’s next. And Finn is – was my friend. I knew Austin. They deserve better. And whoever did that to them-”

She cuts off, but the sentiment is clear. Vengeance. Protecting future victims. Common, typical reasons to want a murder solved, and while noble, still slightly boring. Not reasons for Fiona herself to get involved, although there’s something about the fierceness in Sam’s expression that almost makes her want to.

“And it’s – strange,” Sam says. “Stranger than they’re letting on. There’s writing, and not just the bits that’re on display for all to see.”

Fiona frowns, intrigued. “Other writing?”

“I’m not just Finn’s friend; I was the one who found him,” Sam tells her. “I thought – I thought he might still be alive, so I went to try and help him. He wasn’t.” She swallows, glances away briefly, then looks back. “But I saw, on his chest, there were markings in purple ink. Some kind of pattern; I didn’t get a good enough look to tell what it was. But Finn doesn’t have a tattoo there.”

“How do you know that?” Fiona asks.

Sam just looks at her.

Ah. Dull again. But not enough to dampen Fiona’s interest.

“My information might be a little dated, but I doubt it’s changed,” Sam says.

“And if he didn’t put it there, then it must have been the killer,” Fiona says. “And as every other crime scene has the same elements, he must have written something on the other bodies as well. Something the police don’t want the general public to know.” But something Sam noticed. Fiona smiles, then nods. “All right. I’ve some things to attend to tonight. We’ll meet tomorrow morning for coffee to discuss it further. Seven o’clock all right?” she asks, gathering up her things.

“I, what? Hang on, seven o’clock where?” Sam asks. “Hell, what’s your name?”

Fiona pauses. It hadn’t actually occurred to her that Sam wouldn’t know who she was, though she supposes that explains why Sam hadn’t accused her of being responsible for the murders. Well. Hopefully Sam’s attitude won’t change. “Fiona Masters. As for where,” Fiona shrugs, “your usual place will do. See you at seven.”

 

---

 

When John comes downstairs the next morning, he finds Sherlock staring at the living room wall, which is covered with pinned up crime scene photos and case files. Almost exactly the way John had left him when he’d finally gone up to catch a few hours of sleep.

After finishing up at the crime scene yesterday, they’d spent a good while waiting for those photos and files to be delivered. Sherlock had disappeared for part of it, and spent the rest pacing and threatening to go and fetch the information himself.

But everything had come, and then they’d spent a while attempting to decipher the messages (“forever sticks in” for the first victim, Austin Collins, rugby player; “says we’re dumb” for the second victim, Martin Andrews, professor; “jerks have got” for the third victim, Kevin Mitchells, student and pub worker; and “move onwards and outwards” for the last victim, Finn Morgan, rugby player.)

Pieces of what seemed to be a larger message, and they’d tried reworking them (John painstakingly writing out various combinations) until Sherlock, who’d been doing it all in his head, said that each combination was just as likely as the last and, considering it was a serial killer, the perpetrator was likely planning on writing more messages. For the moment, it was useless to attempt to discover what the whole was without all the pieces.

Then Sherlock had gone silent, staring at the photos, and John had gone up to bed.

“Did you sleep at all?” John asks as he heads into the kitchen to make some tea.

Sherlock makes a noncommittal murmur.

“I’ll take that as a no,” John mutters.

He brings two mugs over when the tea’s done, handing one to Sherlock and looking over the photos. “Any luck in the last few hours?”

Sherlock takes an absent drink from the mug. “No obvious signs of missing items.”

John frowns, leaning in closer to examine a photo of Professor Andrews’ body, pinned up at John’s eye level. “This one – he’s got a tan line on his left ring finger.”

Sherlock doesn’t look away from the photos, but the corners of his lips twitch upwards in a brief smile. “Yes. His file says he’s recently separated, had been planning on getting a divorce, most likely removed it himself.” Sherlock waves a hand at the wall, irritated. “They’re all like that. No jewellery, no hats, no scarves or gloves, because they didn’t wear them, or because they were taken?” He frowns, taps his fingers against his knee, then nods. “We need more information.” He moves towards the door, setting his mug down on the coffee table as he goes.

John sighs, gulps down the rest of his tea in one go (and doesn’t that bring back memories of uni, as if this case wasn’t doing that already) and resigns himself to skipping breakfast. “Where are we going?”

“Flatmates, colleagues,” Sherlock says, putting on his coat. “The last people who saw those three alive might be able to tell us if they were wearing something that wasn’t found with them. Their effects are still evidence, of course, but we have pictures, that should suffice. I want you to speak with the rugby player’s flatmate and the pub worker’s colleague. Their addresses are in their case files.”

John reaches for his own coat. “What about the drugs thing, the one Fiona told us about?”

Sherlock raises an eyebrow. “Fiona, is it?” Before John can answer, he continues with, “Already taken care of. Well. In the process of being taken care of. Not all of us have been idle half the night.”

John closes his eyes, counts to four (the number of hours he’d slept last night, incidentally), until the urge to strangle Sherlock has moderately diminished. When he opens his eyes, Sherlock is staring at him intensely.

“What?” John asks.

“You don’t think she did it,” Sherlock says.

“So? Neither do you,” John replies. “Or you wouldn’t have acted on her suggestion.”

Sherlock waves his hand dismissively. “I explore every avenue of investigation, John, and in any case, it’s of no consequence. Your belief in her innocence is far more intriguing.”

“Why?” John says.

Sherlock smiles like John’s done something right. “Yes! Precisely. Why do you think she’s innocent?”

John frowns. “I dunno. Instinct, I guess.” He doesn’t say, ‘she reminded me of you, and I kind of wanted to give her a hug.’

Sherlock makes a derisive snort. “Instinct cannot reliably tell you if someone is a killer.”

John shrugs. “I can be a pretty good judge of character. I’ve learned to trust it. I’ve been mostly right about you, after all.”

Sherlock frowns at him. “You - judged my character?”

He makes it sound almost scandalous, and John fights a grin.

“What was the result, then?” Sherlock asks.

John fixes him with his best imitation of a Sherlock-style ‘you should be able to figure this out on your own’ look. “I killed a man for you on our first case. You think I’d do that for just anyone I’d known for a day?”

Sherlock’s making an expression that, were it anyone else, John would call gaping. But Sherlock Holmes doesn’t gape at people.

“John,” Sherlock murmurs, an odd quality to his voice that John’s never heard before. Then he clears his throat and shoves a pair of folders into John’s hands. “All the information you need is in here. Text me when you’ve finished, and do try to be efficient about it.”

He leaves before John can respond to that.

John rolls his eyes, but tucks the folders into the pocket on the inside of his jacket and heads out, determinedly not trying to figure out just what had been in Sherlock’s eyes then, or why it’d stirred an odd, fluttering feeling in John’s stomach.

 

---

 

Sam’s at the coffee shop at six forty-five the next morning, because she wants some caffeine in her if she’s going to deal with more like the chem lab yesterday. That, and she hadn’t slept much last night. The rugby team had held a sort of giant group comfort gathering (not an official memorial, that would be planned for and arranged later). But all of Finn’s friends had been there, all the rugby players, the cheerleaders, the men’s and women’s football players. Not too much different from the normal crowd, except it was all of them at once instead of only a third or so, and it was a lot quieter than their normal parties.

After that, she and Lacey had made a quick stop at their flat to grab some clothes before they’d gone over to stay the night at Kayla’s. The rest of Finn’s closest friends were there as well, Anna, Danny, and Sawyer, the people Sam thought of as the core group, the ones Finn called to go on his scavenger hunts or when he got it into his head that they should go on a road trip at four AM or when he needed somewhere safe to fall apart or –

Sam clutches her coffee cup tighter. As much as she loves her friends, and as much as she’d needed them last night, she’s almost grateful for the time alone. Things had been so crazy yesterday, and she and Lacey had spent all of their time comforting others, so that it’s sort of nice to be able to just breathe. But she can’t allow herself to just sit back and mourn, not yet. Not when the person who’d done this is still out there, can still hurt someone else.

“Sorry Finn,” she murmurs into her second cup of coffee. “I’ll grieve for you when this is done.”

Fiona chooses that moment to appear at her table, and Sam glances at her mobile. Seven on the dot. If Fiona’s heard her, though, she gives no sign. She shrugs out of her long, dark purple coat, drapes it over the back of the chair across from Sam, and sits down, setting her own coffee mug on the table in front of her.

“You didn’t sleep last night,” Fiona says by way of greeting. “Your eyes are bloodshot and the bags under them are darker than they were yesterday.”

“Thanks,” Sam replies, trying not to feel irritated. “You look gorgeous, too.”

Fiona frowns, and Sam wonders if that was her way of asking if Sam was all right, or if she was still up for investigating today.

“I’ll be fine for today. I’m used to doing things on little sleep,” Sam tells her. “Hazards of being a football player and hoping to get into a graduate program.”

Fiona smiles slightly. “So I was right.”

“Yes, on the facts, if not the motivations,” Sam says. “How did you know, anyway?”

“Your book bag was open; I could see your text books. I saw you at the crime scene when I passed it yesterday, saw who you were hanging out with, so you had to at least belong to that crowd, go to matches, but you have the build of an athlete, so I assumed player. And everyone in that crowd frequents pubs.” Fiona looks slightly disgruntled. “How was I wrong on the motivations?”

“My parents thought I’d do something with law, or maybe the military. But they were quite happy I chose doctor. And yes, sometimes I go to pubs because my friends drag me along, but sometimes they go because I drag them.” Sam doesn’t admit that it’s more often the first, or that Fiona had hit a nerve there, because sometimes Sam did do things just because everyone expected her to.

Fiona’s frowning at her. “Is that why you didn’t go directly into a medical program, then? Your parents thought you’d do something else?”

“It was expected that I’d go to university, and I wanted to go, so I did. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do my first term,” Sam says, before realizing she’s just admitted to another thing that she did at least partially because people expected her to. She grimaces and shrugs. “When I realized I was interested in medicine, I picked the course most suited.”

Sam takes another drink of her coffee, then frowns. “How’d you know to show up here, anyway? I didn’t tell you where I usually go for coffee.”

“You were carrying a travel mug from here. Those aren’t worth buying unless you come here often enough to get their discount,” Fiona says.

Sam looks down, pointedly, to the travel mug that’s in front of Fiona, the one with the logo of the coffee shop they’re sitting in.

Fiona smiles.

“That is pretty awesome,” Sam admits.

Fiona’s eyes narrow.

“I’m not being sarcastic,” Sam says hurriedly. “I mean it, there’s nothing wrong with being smart and using it.” Of course, there are politer ways to use it, but Sam has a feeling telling Fiona that won’t do any good.

Then again, Fiona’s now looking at her like Sam’s some sort of chemistry project that’s shown an unexpected result, one which Fiona isn’t sure she likes or not, so maybe Sam should have a go at telling her anyway.

But Sam doesn’t, because while it’s a bit creepy, it’s also slightly flattering. Fiona’s looking at her like she’s interesting.

‘And doesn’t that say something about me,’ Sam thinks, then leans back a bit in her chair and says, “I asked some people about you.”

“Oh?” Fiona asks, her tone full of politely faked interest.

“Most people seem to think you committed the murders,” Sam says. But then, she’d found that out before she even talked to Fiona, when she overheard Fiona’s conversation with the two consulting detectives. Sam mostly just wants to know what Fiona will say to that.

“So I’ve been told,” Fiona says. Polite disinterest now, and Sam can tell that Fiona’s trying to put on a carefully bored expression. It’s mostly successful, but Sam can still see the hurt in Fiona’s eyes before Fiona looks down at her coffee.

“Did you?” Sam asks, blunt and honest.

Fiona’s head snaps up, and she looks ready to say something sarcastic and cutting. But her gaze meets Sam’s, and whatever she sees there seems to change her mind.

“No,” Fiona says.

Sam nods. “Okay, then.”

Fiona frowns. “You believe me, just like that?”

Sam shrugs. “I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I don’t think you did it. I think together we might find who did. So. What’s the plan for today?”

Fiona stares at her for a long moment. Then she says, “I don’t know if the man who worked at the pub was involved with drugs. We should find out. And try to see what the connection might be. Same drug, same dealer, I don’t know. Search their rooms, maybe, see if there’s anything the police didn’t find because they weren’t looking for it.”

“I can get us into Finn and Austin’s flats,” Sam says. “But the other two will be trickier.”

Fiona stands, picking up her coffee. “We’ll start with the two rugby players, then.”

 

---

 

John takes a cab out to the first victim’s flat to start. The case file he’s got on Austin Collins says Collins’ flatmate, Chris Maxwell, was the last person to see him the night he’d died.

The door opens almost immediately after he’s knocked, to John’s surprise.

“Did you forget-” a young man’s voice says, then stops when the door’s open enough for him to see who’s behind it. “Oh, sorry, I thought you were someone else. Can I help you?”

“Are you Chris Maxwell?” John asks, then continues at the boy’s nod. “I’m John Watson. I’m investigating Austin Collins’ murder. Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Yeah, sure,” Chris says, letting him in. “Have you guys found anything yet?”

“We’re looking into several new pieces of information we’ve recovered,” John tells him. “That’s why I’m here, actually. Can you remember what Austin was wearing that night?”

Chris frowns. “Um, yeah, I think. Vaguely. Why?”

That doesn’t sound encouraging, but John pulls out the folder and his notepad anyway. He hands Chris a series of photos (carefully selected during the cab ride to be as least morbid as possible). “Can you think of anything he had on the last time you saw him that isn’t in these pictures?”

Chris flips through the pictures. After only a few moments, he frowns. “Yeah. His bracelet; it’s missing.” He points at Austin’s bare right wrist. “It’s black leather with silver beads.”

“You’re sure he was wearing it when you saw him?” John asks, writing the description down.

Chris nods. “He always wears it. Got it right before a match, and forgot to take it off. We did awesome during the first part. Then he remembered during a break, took it off, and we started losing. He sticks it back on, we come around and win. Aus said it was the bracelet, called it his good luck charm. He wouldn’t have taken it off.”

John scribbles this quickly into his notes. “Thank you. Just one more question. I realize this may be slightly uncomfortable, but, to your knowledge, did Austin ever take drugs?”

Chris scowls. “No. The other cops asked that, too, and my answer’s the same as it was then. I don’t care what that creep says, Aus didn’t do drugs.”

John resists the urge to wince. “You understand, once the subject is brought up, we have to ask,” he says, in his best understanding voice.

Chris’s scowl fades. “All right. I know. It’s just – it’s horrible, having to hear that shit about Aus.”

John nods. “Well, thank you very much for your time.”

Chris gives him back the pictures. “Glad to help. We’re all happy to do whatever we can; we just want this bastard caught.”

“So do we,” John says honestly. “We’ve got the best on the case. My partner, he-” John smiles slightly. “His success rate is astronomical.”

“Good,” Chris replies as John leaves. “Let’s hope he keeps it that way.”

John spends a bit finding another cab, then directs it to the other address in his information. One of Kevin Mitchell’s co-workers had been the last to see him alive. Hopefully she’ll be able to remember what he’d been wearing well enough to know if anything was missing when he was found. They were just co-workers, so John isn’t expecting her to, but then, Collins’ flatmate had surprised him.

He rings the bell to her flat when he arrives, belatedly hoping he isn’t waking her. It’s not exactly early, and Collins’ flatmate had been up, but she works at a pub, and for all he knows, she could have had a late shift last night.

But when she answers the door, she looks relatively alert. “Yes?” she asks.

“Jamie Kowalski?” he asks. “John Watson. I wanted to ask you a few questions about your colleague, Kevin Mitchell.”

“You with the police, then?” she asks, but doesn’t wait for a response before standing aside and holding the door open for him. “Figured you guys’d be coming round here now that there’s been another one.” She closes the door behind him and gestures him into the living room. “Can I get you anything, Detective Watson?”

“John, please,” he says, feeling slightly bad about deceiving her. “No, thank you, I’m fine. I won’t take up too much of your time.” He pulls out the photos, once again carefully selected to be as least grisly as possible, and sets them on the coffee table. “It might seem like a strange question, so don’t worry if you can’t remember. But can you think of anything that he might’ve been wearing when you last saw him that isn’t in these pictures?”

Jamie leans forward, examining the pictures. After a few minutes, she picks one up to look closer. “I – yes. He has this – handkerchief that he always wears poking out of his breast pocket. He likes to offer it to girls who’ve spilled their drinks – you know, be their hero. He definitely had it that night, I remember him using it. But it’s not in the photos.”

“Can you describe it to me?” John asks, trying not to sound too eager as he pulls out his notepad.

“It was red, with a black chequer pattern,” she says. “And it has his initials on it, in the bottom left corner.” She flushes lightly. “He’s given it to me a few times.”

“That’s excellent,” he tells her. “This is going to be very helpful, thank you.”

She looks pleased, then blinks. “Is that all?”

“Well.” John’s hesitant to ask, especially given how Chris reacted, but he goes for it anyway. “There is one more thing. Do you have any idea if Kevin happened to be involved with drugs?”

Jamie pauses, then smiles slightly. “Suppose he can’t get into any more trouble than he already is, can he? I never knew anything definite, but sometimes he’d come into work looking like he was on something. Not too obvious, but I – I noticed him a lot. He was – fit. And he had a nice smile.” She flushes again. “Anyway, I heard him mention it once or twice, but not to me, and it was only snippets of conversation.”

John writes that down as well, then gathers up the photos. He tucks them and his notepad back into his jacket pocket and stands, holding out his hand.

“Thank you very much,” he tells her as she shakes it. “You’ve been extremely helpful.”

He texts Sherlock after he leaves, but John’s already hailed a cab and is halfway back to Baker Street before he gets a reply.

Meet me at Paddie’s. Will be there soon. SH

Why Paddie’s? John texts back, even as he tells the driver to change his course.

You missed breakfast. SH

John smiles, absurdly pleased.

It’s nearly noon; you’ll be cranky without food. SH

The pleased feeling fades into exasperation. Affectionate exasperation, though, as Sherlock’s at least noticed John’s lack of eating and sought to remedy it.

And Paddie owes me a favour. We could use a free meal. SH

Since, as you so often remind me, we have limited funds. SH

What do you mean I often remind you?

You made me go to Minsk. SH

Minsk, John. SH

And I had to purchase aeroplane tickets. Resulting in a negative. SH

Wouldn’t have been a negative if you’d taken the case.

No amount of money was worth that. SH

Yes, and that’s why I have to remind you.

John’s arrived at Paddie’s now, and in the time it takes him to pay the cabbie, get a table, sit down, and say yes to the waitress’s offer of coffee, he’s received eleven texts. With a sigh, he scrolls up in his inbox to read them in their proper order.

As I originally said. SH

It’s particularly enjoyable when you do so on my own website. SH

Perhaps I should begin advertising things such as that on your blog. SH

I’m certain people will find those much more enlightening than your entries. SH

Be sure to check your blog at your earliest convenience. SH

Now would be preferable. SH

John. SH

Are you checking, John? SH

No witty reply, then? SH

John. SH

John? SH

I just got to Paddie’s. John texts as quickly as possible to avoid another dozen or so “John”s.

Ah. SH

Are you checking your blog? SH

John sighs, and resolutely does not open up his blog. No. Are you on your way here?

This is, unfortunately, taking much longer than I had anticipated. SH

What’s taking longer? What’re you doing that you can text so much?

Waiting. SH

If disdain was capable of being transported through a text message, John has a feeling he’d be faced with a whole lot right now.

Waiting for what?

To speak with one Professor Jake Berenson. Last person to see Martin Andrews alive. SH

I had the misfortune to arrive at a time when his regularly scheduled office hours have been turned into appointments to discuss term papers. SH

It is quite inconvenient. He should have posted the change on the faculty’s directory. SH

And you’re actually waiting instead of barging in on the professor and whatever poor student he’s in there with to demand to speak to him anyway? Good on you, Sherlock.

There’s a long pause, which John is grateful for, as his coffee arrives and it allows him to thank the waitress and tell her he’ll wait a bit longer before ordering food. Finally, his phone beeps again.

You really should check your blog. SH

John grins, and sends back, You barged in on them and got told off, didn’t you?

I was informed that, as I am not officially a member of the police, I would get no information until he was finished with his appointments. SH

John tries not to giggle, but isn’t successful. So now you have to wait.

Your amusement is unappreciated and inappropriate. The situation is not humorous in the least. SH

It is a bit.

How’s your blog? SH

I’m not checking it, Sherlock, no matter how many inane messages you leave in your boredom.

Come on, John. SH

Entertain me, John. SH

This is intolerable, John. SH

Too bad this can’t be solved with breaking and entering and burglary, as is your usual method.

You’ve hit it exactly, John, I do so love when you know what I’m thinking. SH

Better than explaining it to me?

Hmm. You do tend to make the most gratifying expressions of amazement. SH

I’m so glad you enjoy it when I grin like a fool.

Of course. I adore the way you smile. SH

John stares at that text message for a long time. Sherlock can’t have meant it the way it sounds. It likely doesn’t even sound that way, and John’s only reading things into it because –

He cuts off that train of thought. There was no reason he was seeing it that way, because he wasn’t seeing it that way. There was no way to see it. Other than the way it was. Yes.

John, I only mea SH

Please ignore previous message: hit send instead of delete. SH

Did I offend you? It wasn’t intended as an insult. SH

No, sorry, waitress came by to see if I was ready to order. It’s fine. I like it when you smile, too. He hits send before he can think better of it. Nothing wrong with returning the sentiment. It’s the truth, after all.

:) SH

Oh, God, please never do that again.

But you said you like it when I smile. SH

When *you* smile, Sherlock, not when you send me an emoticon.

Why are there asterisks around ‘you’? SH

For emphasis.

That’s just as bad as emoticons. SH

Is not.

Is so. SH

My sister uses emoticons.

Ah. I’d certainly never want to remind you of your sibling. SH

Yeah, that’d be awkward. Way more than Sherlock knew. Way more than John was willing to admit, even to himself.

Indeed. SH

Did you order? SH

No. Waiting for you.

I won’t be eating. SH

Yes you will.

We’re working. SH

Don’t care. You haven’t eaten since we found the body.

It disrupts my thinking process. SH

It does not. It’s all in your head.

Precisely. My focus needs to be all in my head. SH

You’re eating, Sherlock.

And do you intend to force-feed me? SH

If needs be, though I’m sure that’ll cause a scene. Might not get our free meal.

One of the most irritating things about you, John, is that there are times when I cannot tell if you are bluffing. SH

You like it.

Yes, I think I do. SH

John swallows, and has to debate his response to that for a moment. He settles for, If you’re really that bored, I’ll wait and speak with the professor.

Tempting, but impractical. I will be in before you can get here, and there is, sadly, nothing more I can be doing at the moment. I’m still waiting for word on both lines of investigation I set in motion last night. SH

What lines?

The sample of the trainer sent to the lab, though that one I may have to simply do myself to get any kind of result quickly, and an investigation of the tip given to us by Ms. Masters, of whose innocence you are so assured. SH

Not this again. You don’t think she did it, either, I know you don’t.

Yes, but my belief is based on logic. Not because I like her. SH

John sighs and ignores that last bit. What logic?

If she was the killer, it’d be far too obvious. SH

I know you don’t like an obvious solution, Sherlock, but generally, the most obvious answer is the right one.

No, too obvious for her. Everyone thinks she did it; she’s far too clever for that. If she did kill someone, no one would link it to her. Likely as not, the body would never be found. SH

John considers texting, ‘I told you she sounds like you,’ but decides against it. It’s probably not a very good idea to imply that that’s what would happen if Sherlock decided to kill someone. Instead he texts, That doesn’t sound like logic to me. Sounds like you have an instinct about her.

It doesn’t surprise me that you are unable to recognize my conclusions for the logical thought processes they are. SH

Nice comeback. Implying that I’m an idiot never gets old.

So nice to hear that your thoughts once again align with mine. SH

John laughs. They do when your brain lets you hear whatever you want to.

There’s no reply for a long time, long enough for the waitress to refill his coffee twice. John tries not to worry, because really, what could happen while Sherlock was waiting to speak to a professor (all right, that was a stupid question, and not the best line of thinking). Still, the most likely reason for Sherlock’s silence was that Sherlock had gone in to talk with the professor.

Finally, John gives in and texts, Are you here yet?

This time he only has to wait a few minutes before getting a response.

In cab now. Order me something, if you’re going to insist I eat. Doesn’t matter, whatever you’re having. SH

John smiles. Meeting must have gone well, then, if Sherlock’s going along with John’s insistence that he eat. Of course, John knows that Sherlock’s only telling him to order something to appease him, and likely isn’t actually planning on eating anything. John orders for them both anyway, figuring he can probably get at least a little bit of food into Sherlock.

Their food hasn’t arrived yet (though the coffee John ordered for Sherlock has) when Sherlock sweeps in through the front door, coat swirling around his legs. He looks – dramatic, eyes bright and intense, and John can’t help but stare.

When Sherlock stops at their table and raises an eyebrow, John grins at him.

“Like the entrance. Very dramatic,” John says. Yes, John, that’s why you were staring.

Sherlock makes a face at him and says, “Shut up.”

John laughs as Sherlock sits down.

“Well?” Sherlock asks, taking a gulp of the coffee.

John pulls out his notepad and recaps what he’d learned from Chris and Jamie. Their food comes while he’s talking, but John waits until he’s finished before digging in.

Interesting,” Sherlock says, steepling his fingers.

“So Professor Andrews was missing something too, then?” John asks between bites.

“Yes, of course,” Sherlock says absently. “That much is obvious; he’s taken something from each of his victims. Trophies, perhaps, or some other significance. But look at what he’s taken. Trainers. A handkerchief. A bracelet. A pocket watch. All seemingly random. But each has some sort of significance to their owners, some story behind them. How could the killer know this, unless-”

“Unless he knew the victims,” John says, when Sherlock pauses, waiting for John to catch on.

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees with a smile. “We know the killings weren’t random, with writing that large, there’s obviously some message he wants to get across, but the victims, they aren’t random, either. They’re people he knows, well enough to know what has the most significance to them, and then he takes it.”

“Couldn’t he stalk them?” John asks. “Maybe that’s how he knows about it, he learns about his victims before he kills them. These potatoes are amazing, by the way, have you tried them?”

“I had thought of that,” Sherlock says, stabbing a few potatoes with his fork and popping them into his mouth. “But even the best stalkers leave evidence. Generally they can’t help themselves, part of them wants the victim to know they’re there. With four victims, the level of knowledge required to know the stories behind these items, someone would have noticed something. Far more likely he’s a member of their social circle.”

John nods, then says, “You should try the omelette, it’s excellent.”

Sherlock absently cuts off a piece. “Not in the midst of it, of course, but somewhere on the periphery.”

“So he’s likely on the rugby or football team, then,” John says.

Sherlock frowns at him. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, two of them were rugby players, and a third worked in a pub. If you’re on one of the teams, you have an open invite to any event or party. You’re automatically part of that social circle, even if you’re not really close friends with anyone. You can find out all sorts of things about people at those parties. And when you spend a lot of your time in pubs, well-” John shrugs, then adds, “At least, that’s how it was in my day. Here, try this.”

He thrusts a forkful of omelette and potato at Sherlock, who eats it without taking the fork, chewing thoughtfully.

Sherlock’s looking at John like he’s done something interesting again, and John wants to ask if it’s because he alluded to his uni days, because he knew something that may help narrow down the suspect list, or because John has now successfully gotten Sherlock to eat several bites of omelette and potatoes. But he doesn’t, because drawing attention to the latter will probably mean he won’t get Sherlock to eat any more of it.

It turns out he needn’t have been concerned, though, as Sherlock stabs a few more potatoes and some omelette with his fork, eats it, downs the rest of his coffee, and stands. “Come on, John.”

“Mmf,” John says, shovelling the remainder of his omelette into his mouth. “Where are we going?”

“Home,” Sherlock replies. “There’s work to be done.”

 

---

 

Sam and Fiona go to Austin’s flat first. It’s further from the coffee shop than Finn’s is, but they’ll have to go out there, anyway, and Sam’s not sure she wants to start with Finn’s.

It’s been a little while since she was last there; Austin was the first person killed, and his flatmates haven’t hosted any parties since. She still remembers the way, though, and Fiona stands slightly behind her as she knocks on the door to the flat.

One of Austin’s (former) flatmates opens the door, and she smiles at him.

“Hi, Chris,” she greets.

“Sam,” he returns. “Hey. Come on in.”

He holds the door open for her and she heads inside, followed closely by Fiona.

“How’ve you been?” she asks.

He gives her a slight smile. “Okay. Be better if they caught the piece of shit doing this. How’s Kayla?”

“Not great,” Sam says. “About as okay as you can expect.”

“Yeah, saw her at the thing last night,” Chris says. “She didn’t go home alone, did she?”

“No, we stayed with her,” Sam says. “The others are still with her now.”

“Good,” Chris says with a nod.

Fiona nudges her, ever so lightly, and Sam says, “Listen, Chris, you think I could see Austin’s room?”

He looks confused. “Uh, sure. Why?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s dumb, I guess, but I thought maybe I could say good-bye.” She feels a small twinge of guilt, lying to him like that, but she can’t tell him the truth.

“Oh.” His expression turns sympathetic. “Sure, Sam. You remember the way?”

“Yeah,” she says. “Thanks, Chris.”

She leads Fiona to Austin’s room, and glances around it while Fiona shuts the door.

“Looks almost the same,” Sam says absently. “Except he moved the bed, it used to be under that window.”

“How do you know?” Fiona asks.

Sam winces internally. She hadn’t actually meant to say that, but she refuses to back down now, so she just looks at Fiona and raises an eyebrow.

Fiona gives her the same bored, slightly disdainful look she’d given her back in the lab when a similar subject came up with Finn.

“Sexual experience with two victims,” Fiona says, tone deliberately idle. “Perhaps the connection we’re looking for is you.”

Sam rolls her eyes. “Everyone has sexual experience with Austin, including Kayla. Hell, probably including Finn. If you’re looking for a connection there, you’ll have to check out half the campus.”

Fiona doesn’t respond, and instead begins poking around Austin’s room. Sam joins her, trying not to feel guilty for searching through his things. They’ve kept it the same as Austin had it before he died; Sam remembers Evan, Austin’s other flatmate, saying it’d stay that way until his killer was found.

‘They’ll probably do the same for Finn,’ Sam thinks, then pushes thoughts like that out of her mind and focuses on the task at hand.

But they don’t find anything in Austin’s flat. And when Sam calls Finn’s flatmates, she can hear numerous voices in the background. Eric tells her that of course, she’s welcome any time, and yeah, they do have quite a few people over at the moment.

“Probably gonna stay that way for awhile, luv, so if you’re looking for some quiet time here, might want to wait until they all clear out.” Eric sounds tired, and there’s a rawness to his voice.

“How are you doing, Eric?” she asks gently.

Eric huffs a soft, sad laugh. “Hiding in my room like a wanker. Bit too much for me, all this, you know I don’t like public displays.”

Sympathy stabs her. “I’ll be out most of the day, and Lacey’s at Kayla’s, so if you need someplace to escape the madness, you’re welcome to our flat.”

“Thanks, Sam,” he says, gratitude obvious. “Might take you up on that. In any case, this lot’s talking about hitting the pubs when Cameron gets off work, so they’ll be cleared out after four. I might go with them, so if there’s no one here, just use the spare key.”

“All right,” Sam says. “Take care, Eric.” She hangs up, then looks at Fiona. “If we’re looking to get any kind of searching done, it’ll have to be after four.”

Fiona looks briefly displeased, then shrugs. “Doesn’t matter what order we search them in. Shall we head off to the pub worker’s flat, then?”

Sam frowns. “Why do you keep doing that? Calling them by their occupation, or their sport. They’ve got names, you know. You could use them.”

Fiona looks at her as if she’s being strange. “Why would I do that? They’re dead. I hardly bother to remember the names of people who’re still alive. Much more important things to store in my memory than names I will never have occasion to use again. Do you remember all of their names?”

“Yes,” Sam says. “Austin Collins, rugby player. Kevin Mitchell, the pub worker. Martin Andrews, the professor. Finn Morgan, rugby player.”

“Hmm,” Fiona says. “And I suppose you’ll remember all your patients’ names, too, when you become an overworked doctor?”

“Absolutely,” Sam agrees. “And who their significant other is, what kind of dog they’ve got, what grade their kid’s in.”

“Oh, God,” Fiona mutters. “You would.”

“Is that supposed to be an insult?” Sam asks.

Fiona opens her mouth to answer automatically, then pauses and frowns. “No,” she says, like she’s slightly confused by the answer.

Sam is, as well, but doesn’t want to let on to that. So she says, “Good. On to Mitchell’s, then.”

Sam hasn’t a clue as to where Kevin Mitchell lives, but Fiona somehow knows. ‘Probably Googled him or looked him up in the phone book, duh, Sam,’ she thinks to herself as they knock on the door to the flat.

A plain young man answers the door, looks them up and down, and brightens a bit. “Yes?” he asks, most of his attention on Fiona.

‘And why not?’ Sam thinks, part admiration, the tiniest bit envy, but mostly simple observation of fact. ‘She’s bloody super-model gorgeous, isn’t she?’

“Hi, Alan. I’m Amber,” Fiona introduces sweetly. “This is Tiffani. We were here a few weeks ago, at the party you had for Kevin. I don’t know if you remember us, there were a lot of people there-”

“No, yeah, I definitely remember you,” Alan says. “Hullo again Amber. Tiffani.”

“Could we come in?” Fiona asks, and yes, that’s definitely a fluttering of eyelashes there. “It’s just, the party was lovely, but we really didn’t get any time alone. We were hoping maybe we could sit a bit in Kevin’s room, say good-bye, and then – talk with you a little.”

Alan nods. “Oh, yeah, definitely.”

He holds the door open for them, then leads them to Mitchell’s room. “Go right ahead. I’ll be in the living room, when you two are ready to – talk.”

“Thank you,” Fiona tells him, shutting the door as he leaves.

Sam eyes her. “Do that often?”

“Do what?” Fiona asks absently, already beginning her search of the room.

Sam decides it’s not worth pursuing, though she does tuck away Fiona’s apparent transformation ability as a topic of interest later, and looks around the room. Unlike at Austin’s, Mitchell’s room has been stripped of decorations and his things half-packed in boxes.

“No comments to make about the state of his bed, then?” Fiona asks, nodding towards the mattress and bed frame.

“Look, just because I-” Sam looks up from the box she was searching through to find Fiona smirking at her and cuts off. Then sighs. “You do this because you like getting me riled up, don’t you?”

“You make amusing irritated noises,” Fiona agrees.

Sam giggles quietly, then frowns at Fiona. “Quit that. Quit making me giggle; it’s inappropriate.” But then, Sam’s always had a dark sense of humour. Chuckling over cadavers, her professors said that’s what would help her get through medical school.

You’re the one giggling in the middle of an investigation,” Fiona informs her, fighting a smile. “I find it very immature.”

“Your face is immature,” Sam retorts, mostly because she thinks it’s the last response Fiona’s expecting, and Sam’s discovered she likes surprising Fiona.

Sure enough, Fiona stares at her. “My what? Do people actually make those jokes? Real people, who aren’t idiots, and expect others to find them amusing?”

“Dunno,” Sam replies. “You have the dubious honour of being the first person I’ve made a ‘your face’ joke to. Was it amusing, then?”

Fiona opens her mouth as if to reply, and instead giggles helplessly, and there’s nothing for Sam to do but giggle along with her.

“Now who’s making people giggle inappropriately?” Fiona asks.

“Not my fault,” Sam says. “I’m hoping to go into medicine. I have to have an inappropriate sense of humour.”

“Perhaps I should change my course again, then,” Fiona said. “I am growing bored with biochemistry.”

“Wish you would,” Sam replies. “Then I’d have someone to giggle with. We watched a film of a surgery last week, not even live, pre-recorded, and when it went into close-ups, we had two people scream and one faint. Knew the fainter, this big, tough bloke on the men’s football team, and I giggled so much they kicked me out until I could control myself.”

“You did not,” Fiona says.

“God’s honest truth,” Sam says, though she leaves out the bit where her professor talked to her after class and told her sternly to control her reactions, just like he did, taught her techniques, and then moved her up front so they could shoot each other knowing glances when someone else over-reacted.

Fiona looks at her for a long moment. “If I really did change my course and was in classes with you, you’d like that?”

“Only if it was what you wanted, but yeah, sure,” Sam says. “I’d rather giggle with you than – well, a lot of things, actually, but definitely more than standing in the hallway outside my classroom with the screamers glaring at me like they think I have no soul.”

Fiona tilts her head curiously.

“What?” Sam asks, slightly self-conscious.

“I’ve never-” Fiona starts, then glances away briefly before looking back and wrinkling her nose in distaste. “How can you tell that they were thinking you have no soul just by their glares?”

Sam rolls her eyes. “It was a metaphor.” She pauses. “And also, they told me. Several times.”

There’s another round of quiet giggling, then they return to searching.

After a while, Fiona makes a noise of triumph and turns around from the wardrobe she’d been investigating, holding a plastic baggie. “Cocaine,” she says, sounding somewhat eager. “Looks like he wasn’t as adept at hiding his habit as Collins was.”

“Let me see,” Sam says, taking the bag from her.

“We don’t know if it’s the same drug habit as the other three, but there’s definitely a connection,” Fiona says.

“So maybe the killer is targeting staff and students who also use drugs? Maybe that’s how he finds them, he sees them there?” Sam’s trying hard not to think about the fact that Finn is one of those people she’s talking about. She still can’t really believe he had a drug habit.

“Possible,” Fiona agrees. “He’d have to be someone of both worlds as well, then, in order to recognize university members.”

Sam starts to say that if that’s true, at least they’re safe from being targeted next, but then she remembers Fiona’s conversation with Detectives Holmes and Watson, and stops herself.

Fiona reaches to take the bag back, and Sam moves it away.

“I’ll hang onto it,” Sam tells her.

Fiona frowns in confusion, tilts her head, and then gives a small, knowing smirk. “Ah. Of course, you were listening in. Don’t be ridiculous, I’m hardly going to consume evidence.”

“All the same,” Sam says. “Just for now.”

Fiona grabs for it again, and Sam darts away and drops the plastic baggie under her v-neck shirt and into her bra.

“You want it, go and get it,” Sam tells her.

Fiona raises one eyebrow and eyes Sam’s chest speculatively. Then she blinks a few times and pouts. “That was incredibly childish.”

“Yup,” Sam agrees, settling the plastic baggie more comfortably and then buttoning her dark green jumper over it.

Fiona sulks while they search the rest of the room. They find nothing else, so they make their excuses to Alan (well, Sam makes them, Fiona breezes past him like she’s no longer aware of his existence now that she’s gotten what she needed) and head to Professor Andrews’ place.

Once again, Fiona knows exactly where it is.

“His address is on his website,” Fiona tells her on the Tube ride there. “He was one of those that likes to be friends with his students, there whenever you need him. Valued popularity more than intelligence. Idiot.”

“He’s dead, Fiona,” Sam says.

“Doesn’t mean he wasn’t an idiot,” Fiona replies. “In any case, he’d moved recently. No longer lived at the home he shared with his wife, he had a flat closer to the university.”

“Divorced?” Sam asks.

“Likely,” Fiona agrees. “Good news for us, he was living alone.”

Even better for them, they’re only standing outside the building debating how to get buzzed in for a few moments before a man exits and politely holds the door open for them. They thank him and take the lift up to the third floor, where Sam tries not to look suspicious and stands guard while Fiona picks the lock to Professor Andrews’ flat.

It doesn’t really surprise her that Fiona knows how to pick locks (and honestly, part of her thinks it’s pretty cool). She smiles when she hears what sounds like the lock clicking.

“Does that mean we’re in?” she asks quietly.

When she gets no response, she frowns. “Fiona?” She turns, just in time to see the door close. Sam reaches for the handle, but it won’t open.

“You have got to – Fiona!” Sam hisses at the door. “Will you let me in?” She waits, then sighs in irritation when it becomes obvious that Fiona’s not going to open the door. “Oh, lovely,” Sam says, voice a bit louder. “Suppose I’ll just wait out here, then, for the hours it’ll take you to completely search the flat all on your own.”

The door opens and Fiona stands there, one eyebrow raised.

“No need to be dramatic,” Fiona says.

Sam rolls her eyes. “Says the girl who left her partner out in the middle of the hallway and didn’t open the door until I all but shouted.”

Fiona smirks and stands aside so Sam can see into the flat. “You were incorrect. It took me only a few minutes to completely search the flat.”

The flat’s empty.

“What’s happened?” Sam asks, looking around.

“Cleaned out,” Fiona says. “The wife, maybe, or the landlord, it’s been long enough.”

“Not good news for us,” Sam says.

Fiona wrinkles her nose in distaste. “No. Quite inconvenient. But there’s still his office. They haven’t reassigned it to anyone else, perhaps some of his things remain.”

They do. Or at least, some of them do. There’s no pictures, minimal personal decoration, but then, Sam’s never been in there, so she doesn’t know if it was like that before. Still, they don’t find anything, and Sam can tell Fiona’s disappointed.

“You said they’d be good at hiding it,” Sam tells her. “He probably didn’t keep anything at his office.”

“Yes, yes,” Fiona says, waving a hand at her. “There’s still one more flat to check, at least.”

“Not for another hour or so, there isn’t,” Sam tells her. “Trust me, we won’t get any searching done with a bunch of rugby guys there.”

Fiona frowns in irritation, and Sam loops her arm around Fiona’s as they walk across campus.

“Let’s get some lunch,” Sam says.

“Lunch,” Fiona repeats.

“Yeah,” Sam says. “It’s that meal you eat around midday? We missed the standard time for it, but we don’t have to miss the eating itself.”

Fiona gives her a ‘you are an idiot’ look, then suddenly smiles. “Ah. I know just the place.”

Fiona’s “place” is a slightly seedy-looking pub that Sam’s never been to before. Sam eyes it speculatively as they walk up to it.

“You look surprised,” Fiona says.

“Just – didn’t figure you for the pub type, I suppose,” Sam replies.

Fiona scowls. “I don’t have to be a boisterous, drunken idiot to enjoy-”

Sam grins at her, and she cuts off.

“You’re right,” Sam says. “This is fun. And you make entertaining irritated noises, too.”

Fiona scowls, and stalks off into the pub, muttering about immaturity. Sam follows after her, and Fiona leads them to a booth in the back left corner of the pub.

They’re there only a few minutes before a grinning young man comes out of the back room and heads over to them.

“Fiona, luv, what can I-” he stops when he sees Sam sitting across from her and shoots Fiona a questioning look.

“It’s all right, Darryl, she’s with me,” Fiona comments easily.

The grin is back. “Ah, lovely. Your old usual, then, or-”

“No, I’m not here for me today.” Fiona nods at Sam. “We’re here to eat.”

“Oh?” Darryl asks, before his smile turns sly. “Oh.” He looks at Sam. “This girl’s a godsend, you know. Without her, I would’ve failed my chemistry exam.”

“You did fail it,” Fiona points out.

“Yeah, but I would’ve failed it worse,” Darryl says. “I got what I needed to pass the class, that’s good enough in my book.” He leans closer to Sam to whisper conspiratorially, “You ever have a chance to get her as a lab partner, jump on it. She’s amazing, and I’m not just saying that because she was one of my best cu-”

“Yes, all right, thank you,” Fiona interrupts. “Can we have some time to decide what we’ll be eating?”

“Right, of course. You two girls take as long as you need.” He winks suggestively at them. “Flag me down when you’re ready.”

Sam stares at Fiona after he leaves, trying to decide what, exactly, to say. She decides not to touch most of that conversation, and goes with, “I think he got the wrong idea about us.”

Fiona shrugs, unconcerned, and eyes the pub menu with something like distaste. “What do you want, since you’re the one who wanted to eat?”

Sam rolls her eyes. “You’re the one who picked the place. What do you recommend?”

Fiona shrugs again. “I picked it because I’m hoping to get some information out of Darryl. If we must stop for lunch, at least something will be accomplished.”

Sam blinks at her. “Did you even have breakfast, aside from that coffee? Do you just – never eat?”

“Sometimes there are more important things to do,” Fiona says. “Right now, those happen to be the murders you were so keen on solving.”

“No wonder you can stay so skinny,” Sam says, then grimaces at herself when she hears a note of jealousy. “That can’t be healthy. You’re going to have to wait for me to eat, anyway, won’t take any more time for you to eat, too.” She waves Darryl over. “Two burgers and a side of chips, please.”

“Ah, yes,” Fiona mutters. “Burgers and chips from a pub, very healthy.”

Sam rolls her eyes again and calls at Darryl’s retreating form, “Extra lettuce and tomato for Fiona’s, please!” Then she turns back to Fiona. “There. Now it’s healthier.”

Fiona frowns at her. “That is incredibly faulty logic.”

“So’s not eating until you starve ‘cause you’re too busy,” Sam tells her.

Fiona sulks. “I don’t like tomatoes.”

Sam grins. “I’ll eat yours, then. I love them.”

Fiona wrinkles her nose at her. Sam tries not to find it cute, fails, and gives up. It’s very cute.

After a bit of silence, Sam asks, “What kind of information are you hoping to get out of Darryl?”

“As you may or may not have noticed, Darryl may be able to provide us with some clue as to their ‘connection,’” Fiona says.

“Lovely,” Sam says. “You take me to the nicest places, Fiona.”

Fiona smiles. “I’m glad you like it.”

Sam considers explaining sarcasm to her, but as Fiona’s so far shown an excellent mastery of sarcasm, she figures Fiona’s being deliberately obtuse. “The chips better be good,” she grumbles.

“You’ll find out soon,” Fiona says, nodding towards somewhere behind Sam.

Sam turns to see Darryl coming up to them with their food. He sets it down in front of them with a grin.

“Anything else, ladies?” he asks.

“Actually, yes.” Fiona pulls her iPhone out and pulls up a photo. “Do you recognize any of these men?” she asks, showing it to Darryl and flipping slowly through photos of the four victims.

“Hold on,” Darryl says, taking the phone and going back a picture. “Yeah, that’s definitely them. I don’t know the middle two, but I recognize the first and the last. First guy used to be something of a regular, but the last time I saw him was a while ago. His friend there-” Darryl points at the picture of Finn. “Used to come get him sometimes, always gave him a real hard time about it.”

“But he never actually – participated?” Sam asks eagerly, leaning forward.

Darryl shrugs. “Not that I know of.” He frowns. “These are all those guys that got killed. What’s up, Fiona?”

“Nothing,” Fiona replies, taking her phone back. “Coincidence, don’t worry. Thanks for your help.”

She sounds sincere, convincing, and Darryl smiles.

“No problem,” he says. “Enjoy your food.”

“I knew Finn couldn’t have been doing that,” Sam says, feeling guilty for having even considered it.

“No, of course not,” Fiona mutters, and there’s a trace of something not quite bitter, but close, in her voice.

Sam – doesn’t really know how to respond to that. So she says hesitantly, “If Finn wasn’t doing anything, it’s probably not the specific drug that matters.”

“No,” Fiona agrees. “It’s only that they were seen.” She considers, then says, “Suppose there’s no need to search your friend’s room, then.”

Sam can’t help but feel relieved. Going through Finn’s things – she’s not quite sure she could handle that. “So what do we do next?”

“Eat,” Fiona says, snatching a few chips. “That is what you made us stop to do, isn’t it? And after that: the crime scene. I’ve never really seen it.”

“You haven’t?” Sam asks, surprised.

“No,” Fiona says, like it’s obvious. “I passed by, of course, I had to on my way to the lab, but I was hardly going to hang about. The entire school thinks I’m the one doing these; why should I give them more ammunition? Not to mention another chance to tell me about their opinions.”

The deliberately casual tone of Fiona’s voice, paired with her talking about how she’s trying to avoid the entire school because they think she’s capable of doing something like – like that and aren’t afraid to shove that in her face, makes Sam’s heart clench a bit. She reaches across the table until her fingertips are resting lightly against Fiona’s. “Not the entire school,” she says quietly.

Fiona blinks slowly, staring down at their hands. “No. Not the entire school.”

Sam smiles at her, then steals the tomatoes off Fiona’s burger and bites into one.

Fiona grimaces. “That is disgusting.”

Sam licks her lips. “Delicious.”

Fiona shakes her head. “Misguided. Do hurry up; we have a crime scene to see.”

 

---

 

There hadn’t been much at the crime scene. The body had been removed yesterday, and though the police tape was still up, there’d been no police presence. Which had been good for Fiona and Sam, but it also meant they had no idea who else had ducked under the tape to take a closer look.

But they’d found something, at least. A clump of mud that was visibly different from the type found at the crime scene – probably left by one of those other lookers, but Fiona’d taken a sample, anyway. She’d had a few geology classes at a time when she’d been looking to change her course again – she’d gone with microbiology, her geology professors had been dull, but then, microbiology hadn’t turned out much better – and with her own, supplemental research, she was reasonably sure of her ability to discern where the soil was from.

They’d also potentially hit on something with the spray paint. It had an odd consistency, colour, and, surprisingly, Sam had said she recognized it, though she couldn’t place where. Fiona’d taken some of that as well. Finding its chemical makeup would be relatively easy.

They’re at the lab now, and Fiona is once again reminded of just how tedious having to share it with other students and researchers is. Despite it being late – only a few hours before the lab would close, in fact – there had been several other students there when they first arrived. Fortunately, most of them had cleared out within half an hour.

All except one: a graduate student named Matt. Under normal circumstances, Fiona doesn’t mind Matt’s presence in the lab. He’s quiet, will assist her without being invasive or irritating, and even brings her coffee on occasion.

But now is not normal circumstances. Matt isn’t even working on whatever he’d been doing any more; he’s just hovering around the lab, every so often trying to engage her in conversation. There are only so many ways Fiona can politely tell him to let her work. (It’s one, actually, and it’d been: “If you insist on hanging about mindlessly, please remain at least three metres away from me at all times. Not you, Sam, you’re fine where you are.”)

That had been five minutes ago, and at least he’s listened to her.

“Did you finish what you were doing before, then, if you’re working on something new?” Matt asks.

Fiona spares a brief thought for her unfinished project, then disregards it. This – this is so much more interesting. “No.”

There’s silence for another few minutes, then Matt says, “I was thinking about running for some coffee, would you like some?”

“No. What I would like is to be able to work without interruptions,” Fiona says without looking up.

More silence.

“How did you meet Fiona?” Sam asks gently.

“What?” Matt asks, like he’s surprised she’s talking to him. “Oh. Well, I’m at the lab all the time, and so is she. We practically live together, seems like.” He gives a light, nervous laugh. “Two of a kind, we are, always working.”

“Like I am trying to do now,” Fiona snaps. “I see no evidence to support you always working, however, so either do something or get out. Either way, stop being a distraction.”

There’s wonderful silence after that, and, even more lovely, it’s not long before Matt packs up his things and leaves, muttering a “good night.”

After a few moments, Sam says, “That wasn’t very nice.”

“I did try to be polite,” Fiona replies. “He insisted on being intolerably irritating.”

“He just wanted you to notice him,” Sam says.

Fiona frowns. “Why should I notice him when there’s something much more important going on?” she asks as she looks up, turning to face Sam.

And then stops. Sam’s sitting on the empty table next to the one Fiona’s working on – has been for awhile, but Fiona hasn’t looked over at her since she moved there – leaning forward slightly, fingers curled around the lip of the table, legs dangling over the edge. The table’s close – Fiona’d known that, she spends enough time in here – but she hadn’t realized how close until faced with Sam’s proximity.

“I moved it,” Sam says.

Fiona blinks, thrown. “What?”

“You were staring at my chest,” Sam clarifies. “The bag’s not in there anymore.”

Fiona frowns. She hadn’t been staring. Not that there’s anything wrong with Sam’s chest – it’s very nice, actually, and Sam’s shirt does a lovely job of showcasing it without revealing too much – but Fiona absolutely hadn’t been staring.

“I wasn’t staring at anything,” Fiona replies. “I was thinking.” She had been thinking about how close Sam was, but that’s not the point. The point is that she hadn’t been staring.

“Oh.” Sam considers that. “All right, carry on, then.”

“So glad to have your permission,” Fiona mutters, returning to work. “At least without Matt around, things will progress quicker.”

“You do realize that he has a crush on you, right?” Sam asks.

Fiona stills. “He doesn’t.” Sam must be wrong, or Fiona would have noticed something. Then she shrugs, relaxing. It doesn’t matter either way; it changes nothing.

“He does,” Sam counters. “He’s cute. And he seems – sweet. You could go for it.”

Fiona turns back towards her, eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Sam shrugs. “Chem lab romance. Could be fun. Why not?”

“I meant ‘why do you care?’ I already know why not,” Fiona says.

“I dunno. Just – talk, I guess. Didn’t mean to upset you,” Sam replies.

“You didn’t ‘upset’ me,” Fiona says, possibly too quickly.

“Good,” Sam says, then looks at her speculatively. “Why not, then?”

“Because he is a him. I’ve no interest in a relationship in general, but if I did, it wouldn’t be with a man,” Fiona says.

Then she waits for it. She’s not expecting Sam to really hold that against her, of course, Fiona likes to think that she’s figured out enough about Sam to know that, but she is expecting a slight flinch of surprise, perhaps a subtle inching away.

Sam does neither. Instead she says, “Oh. Yeah, good reason.”

Fiona looks at her, vaguely disconcerted.

“What?” Sam asks.

“Your lack of reaction is surprising,” Fiona admits. “Most straight women, no matter how open-minded, have some form of reaction, even just a small one, when they find out the woman in such close proximity to them is attracted to them. Their gender,” she corrects, an almost seamless addition.

Sam smiles, equal parts shy and sly, which Fiona hasn’t seen before.

“Yeah,” Sam agrees. “Most straight women do.”

The implication is so unexpected, it takes a moment for it to sink in. “You’ve slept with men,” Fiona says without thinking, and somehow manages not to wince after she hears herself.

“There’s such a thing as bisexuality,” Sam says.

“Yes, I know,” Fiona snaps, then softens her tone. “I wasn’t expecting it of you.”

“It’s fine,” Sam says, apparently taking Fiona’s gentler tone for an apology.

Fiona lets her.

“I like it when I do something you don’t expect,” Sam says, like she isn’t quite sure she wants to admit that.

Fiona knows how she feels. But if Sam is admitting things, the least Fiona can do is return the favour. “I think I do as well.”

Sam smiles at her, and Fiona smiles back.

Then Fiona clears her throat. “Yes, well. We better get back to work if we want to make any kind of progress before the lab closes.”

Despite no further interruptions, Fiona doesn’t finish. But then, given how late she’d started, she hadn’t planned on finishing; she’d planned on getting to a good stopping point. And that, she makes.

“We can return tomorrow to finish,” Fiona tells Sam as they walk from the campus to the closest Underground station.

They’re walking arm in arm again. Sam has no problem with touching, Fiona’s noticed. She does it absently, like she’s almost not aware she’s doing it. Fiona thinks it’s likely instinctual, the way Sam is with her friends – and then stops thinking about that, because it reminds her that Sam lives in a different world than she does, one filled with friends and casual touches, and Fiona doesn’t know why that bothers her.

Fiona generally dislikes touching.

No, that’s not true. She dislikes touching unless she is the one initiating it, and then she can be quite fond of it. There just haven’t been many people she wanted to initiate it with.

But when she walks close enough to Sam that their shoulders almost touch, with both hands in her pockets, and Sam hooks her arm around Fiona’s before shoving her own hands into her pockets as well, Fiona finds she doesn’t mind. Sam is warm against her side, and it’s – nice.

Sam doesn’t let go, even when they board the train. They both stand, and Sam holds on to Fiona instead of a pole, so that Fiona’s the only thing keeping Sam from falling.

All right, admittedly, Sam seems to have excellent balance, and so far hasn’t been in danger of falling. But Fiona disregards that, because she likes the idea that she’s keeping Sam steady. The literal idea, of course, not any sort of metaphorical idea that may go along with it.

“Shall we meet at the same place as this morning?” Fiona asks.

A strange look crosses Sam’s face. “You could-” she cuts off.

Fiona waits a few seconds for Sam to continue, then says, “I could what?”

Sam bites her lip, then smiles. “We could just meet at my flat. I’ve got coffee, and it’ll save me from having to buy a few cups if we meet at the shop.”

There’d been something else, but Fiona can’t figure out what it is. She’s not going to let it go, of course, but then – “You want me to come over to your flat?”

Sam frowns. “Uh, sure? Why not?”

Because people don’t invite Fiona to their flats. Not even to work on group projects. A few fires and explosions, – most of which hadn’t been Fiona’s fault – a bathtub filled with cement, – all right, that one was – and a few dead animals on kitchen and living room tables, – really, they were working on a presentation where they’d have to point out and name the muscles and bones directly from the specimen, the others should have expected that Fiona would bring along the necessary items for practicing – and any group Fiona was assigned to met in a lab or classroom on campus.

Of course, Fiona’s quickly learning that Sam’s not like other people. And Fiona doesn’t mention any of that, because she doesn’t want to admit it to her. Which is ridiculous – Fiona doesn’t care what people think of her – but it’s true all the same.

“All right. Your flat, then. Seven again?” Fiona asks.

Sam nods, and digs around in her purse with her free hand. She pulls out a pen, tugs Fiona’s hand out of her pocket, and scribbles an address on the back of her hand, then adds a phone number as well. “There you go. Text me if you get lost, or something.”

“Thank you,” Fiona says absently, staring at the ink on her skin.

She doesn’t tell Sam that she’d already known both of them.

 

---

 

“We’ve been going about this the wrong way,” Fiona announces the next morning, the second Sam opens the door to her flat.

Sam blinks sleepily at her. “Have we?” She stands aside, holding the door open for her.

“Yes,” Fiona replies, stepping inside to pace. “I was focused on the things we had and could easily get. The drug connection, the crime scene, the tests, they’re all well and good, but we don’t have a complete picture. The message, it’s clearly important, but we’re missing something, what’s-” Fiona cuts off when her pacing brings her close to Sam, and she finally takes a good look at her.

Sam, who’s holding a University of Westminster Women’s Football Club mug and is wearing an oversized tee-shirt that reads “Med student by day, deadly ninja by night,” and nothing else.

“You’re not dressed,” Fiona says.

“You’re fifteen minutes early,” Sam tells her. “You’re lucky I’ve got the coffee on. Grab a cup, I’ll be right back.”

Fiona frowns. She doesn’t want coffee, she wants to continue explaining her conclusions without any interruptions from half-dressed investigation partners or the distracting thoughts they cause. This is clearly all Sam’s fault. Sam had been early to the coffee shop, it was perfectly logical to think that she’d be ready early this morning as well. Ready as in fully dressed and therefore not currently occupying Fiona’s mind with thoughts of toned, lightly tanned legs – and is Sam wearing anything at all under that shirt, it’d been too loose and long to tell, and –

And there are the distracting thoughts again. Inconvenient, though perhaps not entirely unwelcome.

No. They have to be unwelcome, because nothing will come of them. That’s why Fiona doesn’t allow herself to indulge in things like that. So, irritating, inconvenient, and entirely Sam’s fault.

“Are you finished yet?” Fiona calls through the door that Sam had disappeared through. Her bedroom, most likely, and Fiona has to admit that she’s curious to see what it looks like.

“Just about,” Sam replies.

Ah, Sam can hear her. Good enough. “As I was saying, we should have all of the information before we continue. We need to find out what the other writing is.”

“And how do you propose we do that?” Sam asks.

“They’ll have it down at Scotland Yard, won’t they?” Fiona says.

There’s a pause, then the door opens and Sam’s there – dressed much more sensibly in jeans and a button-up jumper – staring at her. “You want to break into a police station and steal evidence?”

“No, I thought we’d ask them nicely if we could go in and have a look. Honestly, you’re the one who told me about the writing, how did you think we’d figure out what it was?” Fiona asks.

Sam hesitates, worries at her bottom lip with her teeth for a moment – which doesn’t draw Fiona’s attention, not at all – and sighs. “Those two detectives who spoke to us, they said they’re not technically with the police, but they’re investigating. They probably have all of the evidence.”

Fiona smiles. “Yes, and since they’re not with the police, they’ll likely have it at their own flat. Are you suggesting a bit of house breaking?”

Sam flushes slightly. “It’s easier – better than breaking into the Met, isn’t it?” she asks defensively. “And it’s not like we haven’t done it already. Well, you have, technically I never entered, since someone left me in the hallway. But what’s one more?”

Fiona considers that, then offers, “I won’t leave you outside next time.”

“You better not,” Sam says. “Or I’ll have to break the door in and follow you anyway.”

Interesting. “You shouldn’t have said that,” Fiona tells her. “Now I might, to see if you’d actually do that.”

“Lovely,” Sam mutters. “Forget I said that, then. And anyway, I wasn’t thinking of house breaking. Wouldn’t that kind of stuff most likely be at their office?”

“They don’t have an office. They work out of their flat,” Fiona says.

“How do you know that?” Sam asks.

Fiona smiles, slowly, and not really consciously. “Watson gave me his card.”

Sam frowns. “I didn’t get a card.”

“Perhaps he liked me better,” Fiona says. Teases, really, and she should probably not be smiling this widely just because she’s teasing someone, someone who she knows won’t take it the wrong way and become upset. But it’s rare enough that she enjoys it.

“Of course he did,” Sam replies, her tone light as well. “And why wouldn’t he? Look at you, you’re bloody gorgeous.”

Fiona tries hard not to feel a bit pleased and slightly flustered. “There are more important things than looks,” she says haughtily.

Sam chuckles. “Oh, right. Brilliant, funny, exciting, I’m sure those helped a bit.”

This time Fiona fails at not feeling pleased, and she can feel the tips of her ears warming, knows they’re turning slightly red. She hopes Sam doesn’t notice. “Yes, well. I believe we have our plan of action, shall we get a move on?”

They take the Tube as close as they can get to Holmes and Watson’s flat, and walk the rest of the way. It only takes one walk by the place to tell that both of them are home. Luckily, there’s a sandwich shop close by, so they buy some food and settle in to watch.

It’s – nice. Sam is making content noises about the fact that she gets to eat breakfast today, they’re sitting so close together that their knees touch, and the conversation Sam insists they have – “The object is to not look suspicious, Fiona, and us sitting here in complete silence while you think isn’t going to help” – is somehow natural, and keeps making both of them grin at each other.

It doesn’t seem like very long before the door to the flat opens, and both Watson and Holmes come out. They lock the door behind them, then take off in the opposite direction of the sandwich shop. Fiona watches them walk away – Holmes in his dark great coat, strides long and quick, but not as much as they could have been; Watson with his back straight and shoulders squared, determination set in his stride as he keeps up with Holmes; both of them walking so close their shoulders almost touch. She thinks – she almost thinks – there’s something longing about that handful of centimetres, as if they wish they weren’t there – and then Holmes and Watson disappear from sight.

Fiona shakes her head. Centimetres can’t wish anything, they are merely a form of measurement. This is Sam’s fault, her and her use of metaphors is rubbing off.

“Come on, then,” Fiona says, heading towards the alley behind the flat.

“You’re not just going to pick the lock like last time?” Sam asks.

“On a busy street like this, in broad daylight?” Fiona says. “I thought you didn’t want to be suspicious. No, there’ll be a fire escape-” Ah, there it is, and Fiona points it out. “We can get in that way. Odds are the window won’t even be locked.”

It is. Fiona should have realized that these two would be unlike the many who don’t consider a window as high up a possible entrance. She mutters a few curse words as she works at the window. Fortunately, it’s old, and while she doesn’t manage to get the lock open, she does manage to break it.

“What was that?” Sam asks.

“Nothing,” Fiona replies. “We’re in.”

“Did you-” Sam cuts off and leans over to look at the window. “Fiona!” she hisses. “You broke their window.”

“I only broke it a little. And I got us in,” Fiona mutters, in a tone that is very much not sulky. She liked it much better yesterday, when Sam was clearly impressed that she’d gotten them in the flat.

She opens the window and climbs through, Sam following her.

“How much do you think that’ll cost to fix?” Sam whispers. “Do you have any cash?”

Fiona turns around. Sam’s got a handful of notes, and is counting them. Fiona stares at her. “I think you’re the only person on the planet who breaks into someone’s flat and leaves them money.”

Sam flushes. “We broke their window, and they’re detectives, we can’t just-”

But Fiona isn’t listening to her anymore, because even though it’s dark, she can see the array of excellent equipment in the kitchen, and she’s moving towards the table before she’s even aware of it.

Look at all of this,” Fiona breaths.

Fiona hears Sam sigh softly, but she doesn’t reply, and Fiona takes that to mean Sam won’t mind waiting a few minutes while she examines everything. Her fingers ghost reverently over the microscope and test tubes, exceedingly careful not to disturb what looks like an experiment in progress.

She’s lost in a world of science – stupid, stupid, she’ll scold herself later- and the voice, therefore, is completely unexpected.

“You picked the wrong flat,” it says, low and dangerous.

Fiona freezes, looks up, and feels a strange mix of excitement and fear when she realizes she’s staring into the barrel of a gun.

 

---

 

Sherlock hasn’t even gotten to Bart’s when he gets the text from John.

Come home.

Sherlock frowns, rolls his eyes, and texts back, Busy. If you need assistance locating the DVDs I asked you to bring, perhaps you shouldn’t have forgotten them in the first place. SH

Or better yet, don’t bother, I doubt they’ll be necessary to get what I need from Molly. SH

Sherlock waits after that, though he has one more text ready, because he’s expecting some sort of sarcastic reply alluding to the fact that, as John’s a normal human being, he requires more than a few hours of sleep a night to function at optimum levels, unlike some other people who will remain nameless – John would be wrong on both accounts, as Sherlock has gotten somewhat less than a few hours of sleep a night and, as much as he dislikes admitting it, Sherlock’s body does, in fact, need sleep to function.

It’s an emergency, Sherlock.

The reply takes Sherlock by surprise. He pauses, moving his thumb away from the ‘send’ button, and considers that logically. John doesn’t say things like that unless it really is urgent. John could be in danger – hurt – and if he is, it’s much more important than picking up supplies from Bart’s.

If you don’t come back, I’ll let her play with your experiments.

Sherlock’s eyes widen, and he tells the taxi driver to turn back towards Baker Street while he types out his return text. What? Let who play with them? SH

John doesn’t answer fast enough – i.e., in the time it takes Sherlock to type out the second text – so he sends, No one better touch my experiments. SH

And then, They’re highly sensitive. SH

They’re also important to this case, John, in case you’ve forgotten. SH

Not all of them.

Sherlock promises the driver ten pounds if he gets them to Baker Street in under two minutes.

You don’t know which ones are related to the case. SH

I can guess.

I’m coming back, John, as quickly as possible. SH

He arrives in just over a minute, gives over a handful of notes to the driver, and bolts through the front door. Sherlock’s not half-way up the stairs before he hears voices. Calm voices, having an ordinary conversation, and he slows down to hear them. He dislikes the idea of bursting in without knowing what’s going on.

“Just sugar, no milk, thank you,” a female voice says.

“Lots of sugar, if she takes her tea anything like her coffee,” a second female voice adds.

Sherlock’s eyes narrow. John’s emergency is that he has two women over and is serving them tea? Sherlock should think John would want him gone from the flat, considering John’s normal reactions to Sherlock interrupting his dates. The two women sound vaguely familiar, though Sherlock can’t place them quite yet.

“Oh, shut up,” the first woman says. There’s a pause, then, “A private lab, Sam. Private.”

“Are you still on about that?” the second woman – Sam – asks. “Come on, the facilities you work with are better.”

“Not that much,” the first woman replies sulkily. “And he doesn’t have to share it with any idiot student taking a science course. Can’t I just have one?”

No,” John and Sam say at the same time.

Two voices, the exact same tone. Intriguing.

“Tell you what, Fiona, I’ll buy you a test tube or something for your birthday and Christmas every year, and eventually you’ll have your own lab,” Sam says.

Fiona. Fiona Masters, the girl who John thinks didn’t do it – who didn’t do it, but that’s beside the point. And Sam must be Samantha Brown, the girl who’d found the last victim; that’s why they sounded so familiar.

John’s called them both over for tea, and demanded Sherlock come back for it? Why?

Well. The easiest way to find out is by going in. Sherlock straightens his coat, adjusts his scarf, and climbs the rest of the stairs, opening the door into the living room.

He’d been right – of course he’d been right – it is indeed Brown and Masters from the university sitting on the sofa in their living room. They’re sitting a reasonable distance away from each other, but they’ve angled themselves towards each other, knees all but touching.

John comes out of the kitchen with a pair of mugs, then. Sherlock waits until John’s handed them to the girls before saying, “You texted me to come home for a tea party?”

John turns to face him, looking vaguely confused, then irritated. “I texted you to come home because we had a break in.”

He looks back at the girls, and Sherlock follows his gaze. Brown looks vaguely guilty, but Masters just stares at him, unapologetic.

“I see,” Sherlock says, then raises an eyebrow at John. “And your response was to give them tea?”

“I’m English,” John replies matter-of-factly. “My response to everything is tea.”

That makes Sherlock smile, but it fades when he notices it’s made Brown giggle and Masters smile as well.

“It’s very good tea,” Brown offers.

“Thank you,” John says, smiling at her.

“Did you at least ask them why they decided to break into our flat?” Sherlock asks crossly.

“Of course,” John replies. “That’s why I texted you.” He looks at the girls.

“We needed to see the writing on the bodies,” Masters says bluntly.

“Fiona!” Brown hisses.

Masters blinks at her. “What? It’s the truth. Oh. Did you want me to lie?”

“No, I just-” Brown shrugs. “You could have given it context, you know, not made us sound like creeps breaking into someone’s flat to sneak looks at murder evidence.”

Masters raises one eyebrow. “We did break into their flat to look at murder evidence.”

“Yes, it’s the creep part I was protesting,” Brown says.

Masters scowls. “Fine, then. You explain it and make us not sound like creeps.”

“Right. Um. Well. After we looked around the crime scene –” Brown says.

“Yes, off to a marvellous start so far,” Masters mutters.

Brown glares at her. “Shut up.”

Sherlock makes a noise of frustration – that’s absolutely not a growl, no matter how John describes it later; humans lack the vocal cords necessary to produce a proper growl – and glares at the two of them. “One of you explain, quickly, or I will arrest you both.”

John clears his throat. “We can’t actually arrest them, Sherlock,” he mutters as an aside.

Sherlock sighs. “I know, John, that’s not the point. They don’t know that. Don’t undermine me in front of the children,” he hisses quietly.

But not quietly enough, because Masters sits up straighter and says indignantly, “I’m not a child.”

Brown giggles, then, when Masters looks at her, leans over to whisper something in her ear. Masters’ indignant frown turns into a smirk, which she levels on Sherlock.

He feels – strangely uncomfortable under the cool, knowing gaze of her blue eyes. Sherlock resists the urge to twitch his shoulders, and instead stares back at her, patently unimpressed.

“Do you two have any idea how unsettling that is?” John asks.

“How unsettling what is?” Sherlock asks irritably without moving his eyes, because he’s not going to be the one to look away first.

“Never mind,” John says, and he can practically hear the accompanying eye roll in John’s tone. “Will you explain please, Sam? From the beginning?”

Masters turns to look at Brown, and Sherlock allows himself a small smile of triumph before doing the same.

Brown bites her lower lip, then says, “I overheard your conversation with Fiona, about the drug connection. So I talked to her and we decided if the police weren’t going to do anything about it, we would. We started investigating.”

Sherlock raises his eyebrows. “You are ‘investigating’ the murders?” he asks, scorn obvious in his tone.

“Yes,” Masters replies, rising to the challenge. “And I’m quite certain we’ve made at least as much progress as anyone else.”

“Oh?” Sherlock asks. “Let’s hear this ‘progress’, then.”

Masters sits back, body language deliberately casual and unconcerned. She’s almost convincing, and Sherlock resists the impulse to offer her tips on her technique.

“You’re the detective,” Masters says. “Why don’t you detect it?”

Sherlock narrows his eyes at her.

“Fiona!” Brown says, not quite scolding, but close.

The tone is exceedingly familiar, and Sherlock looks over at her, frowning. The look of exasperated affection on her face is familiar as well, and he glances almost unconsciously at John, who seems vaguely amused. John glances at him, catches Sherlock looking at him, and the amusement in his eyes changes, becomes something deeper that Sherlock can’t figure out before it’s gone. Unsettled, Sherlock forces his eyes away and back to the girls sitting on their sofa.

“Try to remember that we’re the ones who broke into their flat?” Brown asks.

“Yes,” Sherlock says, glad to turn his attention back to something where he’s on more solid ground. “Let’s try to remember that. The whole story, please, with no more interruptions.”

“You’re the one who interrupted her in the first place,” Masters mutters.

“Anyway,” Brown says hurriedly. “We checked out their flats, offices, and we found cocaine in Mitchell’s room, but nothing else. So we talked to one of Fiona’s contacts, and found out that Austin had a drug habit, but Finn-” She falters slightly, and swallows.

Masters looks uncomfortable, like she wants to do something but doesn’t know what. She reaches out to Brown, but stops before her hand reaches the other woman, and drops it back onto the sofa. Brown doesn’t seem to notice.

“Finn used to come get him, but didn’t actually use,” Brown continues. “So we figured it wasn’t actually the drug use that matters, it was that the killer was picking victims that he saw in both places, so he’d have to be connected to both drugs and the university.”

John looks impressed, and Sherlock scowls. All right, it is a tiny bit impressive that they managed to work that out, but there’s no need to be admitting that. Sherlock had known that already, of course; his own contacts had told him about the two rugby players and the pub worker – though he’s still waiting for confirmation on the professor – but if he’s honest, Sherlock’s slightly surprised they know it.

“We went to look at the crime scene, but there wasn’t much; just took some soil samples and a bit of the paint for Fiona to run some tests,” Brown says. “And then this morning, we realized we still didn’t know what the writing on the bodies was, and Fiona said it was essential we have all the information. We weren’t going to steal anything, detectives, we just – we just want these solved.”

“We understand that,” John says gently. “But is this really the best way of ensuring that happens?”

“Maybe not the breaking and entering,” Brown admits. “But the rest of it?” And now there’s a determined set to her jaw. “Absolutely.”

“And why not?” Masters asks. “If we’re willing and able to contribute to the investigation, why shouldn’t we?”

John smiles, like he can’t help but agree with that, and looks at Sherlock.

Sherlock scowls. “Absolutely not. This investigation is far too important to risk it being hampered by two people who have no clue what they’re doing.”

John groans, making a face like Sherlock’s said exactly the wrong thing.

“I’d say we have more than a clue, considering what we’ve already found,” Masters snaps. “Who are you to tell us we can’t investigate?”

“Consulting detective,” Sherlock replies, calmly and coldly. “World’s only. Actually asked by the police to investigate. Oh, and also, the man whose flat you broke into and who can very easily have you arrested. I imagine being behind bars would impede your ‘investigation’.”

“Would it stop you?” John mutters.

Sherlock frowns at him. “What?”

John jerks his head towards the kitchen, and Sherlock follows him into it.

“When you were their age, if you’d gotten involved in an investigation, would you have stopped just because some adult told you to?” John asks quietly.

“Of course not,” Sherlock replies dismissively. “But I fail to see-” He cuts off as he realizes what John is implying. “Ah.”

“Exactly,” John says. “They’re not going to stop, no matter what we tell them. If we send them away, they’ll just be more determined.”

“They?” Sherlock asks, one eyebrow raised.

John looks at him for a moment, then says, “It was Sam’s friend lying there a few days ago. If I was in her place, and I had a chance to help, nothing would stop me.”

“Nothing?” Sherlock asks, because there’s a fierceness in John’s tone that makes him curious.

“Very little,” John amends, then shrugs and smiles self-depreciatingly. “Of course, it isn’t as though I have many friends aside from you these days.”

Sherlock frowns. He knows very well that’s not true. “What do you call those people you go to pubs with, then?”

“I said ‘many’ friends, not ‘no’ friends,” John points out. “All right, it isn’t as though I really have close friends aside from you, is that better?”

It is. Sherlock likes the idea that he’s John’s only close friend, even though he knows that’s not true, either, no matter what John may think. But Sherlock will take it, because when he’s reminded that John’s a man of many friends, who seems to belong in so many different environments when Sherlock’s never truly felt like he belonged anywhere – except, maybe, sometimes when John smiles at him – when Sherlock starts thinking of all that, it makes him uncomfortable, for reasons he doesn’t understand.

So he doesn’t think about it, just forces his eyes away from John’s – he’s been staring, and he doesn’t know what expression he’d had on his face. John must have noticed, but Sherlock doesn’t offer an explanation.

“Besides,” John says after a moment, giving a slight chuckle. “If Fiona’s half as good as you, Sam’ll be hooked for life.”

Sherlock frowns. He has no idea what that means. He wants to ask John – good at what, and what does he mean by hooked? – but he doesn’t, because John seems to think it’s obvious, and Sherlock doesn’t want to admit that it isn’t obvious to him.

Instead, he says, “I believe you may be right as to their convictions in investigating.”

“Oh, good,” John mutters. “Thanks for that.”

Sherlock turns and heads back into the living room, leaving John to whisper his name urgently before sighing and following after him.

“How did you know there was writing on the bodies?” Sherlock asks the two girls.

“I saw it,” Brown says. “When I found Finn, I saw markings on his chest. I knew he didn’t put it there himself, so I thought it must have been the killer. And Fiona figured that since everything else was the same at the crime scenes, the others must’ve had writing on them, too. But we still didn’t know what it was, so we came here.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says. “That’s three things you two have found out about this case, then.” He puts just the right amount of reluctant admiration in his tone – anymore, and he suspects Masters would be suspicious. It helps that, yes, he is the tiniest bit impressed.

“Three?” Brown asks.

“Yes,” Sherlock replies. “The markings, the drug connection, and the missing trainers.”

Masters frowns. “Missing trainers?” she asks, looking at Brown.

“Yeah,” Brown tells her. “When I found Finn, his trainers were gone. But I told them, that’s not unusual. He was coming back from a party, he always lost things when he’d been drinking. Including shoes.”

“The trainers haven’t been found,” John tells them. “And Sherlock-”

“The trainers-” Sherlock interrupts, as he suspects he knows what John’d been about to say, and it won’t be to their advantage. “-are essential. If they’ve merely been lost, then-” Sherlock waves a hand dismissively. “But as John said, they haven’t been found. If they weren’t lost, but taken-”

He waits, and is rewarded when Masters says, “If the killer’s taken them, then it tells us something about him that we didn’t know. I assume the trainers have been looked for?”

Sherlock scoffs. “Of course. But we have as of yet been unsuccessful.” He smiles. “However, we now have someone much more experienced in the hunt.”

“More experienced?” Masters asks.

“He means me,” Brown says. “And he’s right. The number of times I-” She cuts off, and looks at Sherlock. “We can look, but if we don’t find them, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

“How is your success rate?” Sherlock asks.

“At finding Finn’s lost crap?” Brown says. “Good. Very good.”

Sherlock nods. “If you don’t find them, there will be one more strong point in favour of the killer taking them. If you do, then we’ll know he didn’t. Equal importance.”

For a long moment, Brown just looks at him. She’s sitting up straighter now, shoulders squared and jaw set determinedly. There’s an odd expression on her face, something that Sherlock recognizes but can’t place. Her hand is resting on the sofa, almost against Masters’ leg, fingertips digging lightly into the fabric of Masters’ coat where it drapes over her thigh.

“If you don’t want to look, Sam,” John says softly. “It’s not necessary.”

John’s insistence on using first names with them is becoming irritating, as is the genuine concern in his eyes when he looks at Brown, flicks his eyes towards Masters, and then back to Brown again. Sherlock is sending them to hunt for shoes, there is nothing to be concerned over, just as there is no reason for John to be using the sympathetic, understanding voice he uses with friends – or dates, but Sherlock refuses to think about that – rather than the one he uses on patients or the various people they come into contact with on their cases.

“No,” Brown says. “He’s right; it is important. And if I can’t find them, there’s a high chance they’re not out there.” She stands, setting her mug of tea on the coffee table.

“Tea party over, then?” Masters asks, putting her mug down as well. “Suppose we better get on it, who knows how long this will take.”

She doesn’t sound thrilled at the prospect, though Sherlock suspects it’s less to do with the shoe hunting itself and more that it is, more or less, what Sherlock told them to do. But then Brown brushes her knuckles against the back of Masters’ hand – there’s writing there, faint ink, but at this angle Sherlock can’t see what it says. A number, perhaps. Interesting.

Brown smiles at Masters, almost gratefully, and some of Masters’ reluctance fades.

John stands as well. “I’ll walk you out. Contact us when you’re done. You can text me, or come by, if you like, just – use the door this time.” He grins at them.

Brown winces. “I have some money; we were going to leave it for you.”

John shakes his head. “Keep it.”

Brown frowns. “But-”

“I remember what it was like in university,” John tells her. “And you’re going to graduate school, right? You’ll need it more than we do. Sherlock and I will take care of it.”

Sherlock frowns. “What, exactly, will we be taking care of?”

“They came in through the window by the fire escape,” John says.

Sherlock scowls. “The only way in through that window is to break it.” He turns his scowl on Masters. “Really, I expected better. Next time, do a thorough investigation of the flat you’re planning on breaking into. The roof access would have been a much better point of entrance; it’s far easier to get open, provided you know what you’re doing, and it has the distinct advantage of being in the perfect location so that John would not hear your entrance.” He pauses, then figures, why not, while he’s at it, and adds, “For that matter, do keep an eye on the front door to ensure that the resident of the flat has not gone back inside while you were occupied obtaining your own entrance.”

Brown wrinkles her nose at him, and pinches the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “Oh, God, please don’t encourage her.” She turns to Masters. “We are not doing any more break-ins.”

“Fine,” Masters agrees easily.

Brown raises one eyebrow. “And you are definitely not doing any without me.”

Masters sulks.

“I think perhaps we should take their money, John, if only as a lesson in being better prepared and more observant,” Sherlock comments absently.

“We are not taking their money, Sherlock,” John says. “And you are going to stop giving house-breaking tips to university girls.”

Ah, there’s that almost-but-not-quite scolding tone. Sherlock prefers it in John’s voice.

“Thank you,” Brown tells John. Then, “Are you sure? I-” She cuts off when Masters nudges her lightly, and says again, “Thank you. We really are very sorry. Right?”

“Yes,” Masters agrees. “Very sorry.”

Perhaps she’s sincere, though Sherlock can detect an obvious hint of ‘I’m doing this because you asked me to and it will stop you bothering me’ in her tone. In any case, it’s convincing enough for Brown, and the two girls follow John downstairs.

Sherlock waits until they’ve left before darting over to his experiments. He hadn’t seen anything out of place when he’d looked after first entering, or when he and John were in the kitchen, but he checks again now that he can give it his full attention. No, nothing disturbed. John must have been merely bluffing when he threatened to allow Masters to use his equipment.

It takes John a little bit to come back upstairs, and Sherlock tries not to think about what’s taking him so long. Sherlock absolutely doesn’t care if John wants to have private conversations with two women downstairs. Finally, he hears John come in through the door.

“Aren’t you the one always scolding me for turning down money?” Sherlock asks without looking up.

“First thing we’re doing is getting that lock replaced,” John says, like Sherlock hasn’t said anything. “And the one on the roof access, too, and by the way, I do notice when you leave and come back through it to try and throw me off. You’re not as quiet as you like to think.”

Sherlock frowns. “Then you must not be sleeping the whole night through, even when we don’t have cases.”

“No. Sometimes I don’t,” John replies simply. “Why did you send them to look for the shoes?”

Sherlock resists the urge to sigh. He had hoped that John had caught on to the plan when he didn’t protest. He doesn’t answer, and instead asks, “What were you talking to them about downstairs?”

“What? Oh, nothing. Just – making sure they weren’t going to tell anyone about my gun,” John says.

Sherlock raises an eyebrow.

John shrugs. “Of course I grabbed it. Didn’t know it was the two of them when I heard people downstairs, did I? Had to be prepared for the worst. Luckily it was resolved before I did more than point it at them. Their explanations were a lot more forthcoming with the gun.”

“Perhaps you should do all our interrogating,” Sherlock comments idly, then adds, “I doubt they would confess to breaking and entering merely to attempt to turn you in for possessing an illegal firearm.”

“Still. Just double-checking,” John says. “Why, Sherlock? You know they won’t find anything. Didn’t you say Morgan couldn’t have walked anywhere, since there were no dirt or grass stains on the bottom of his socks?”

“So the trainers must have been removed after he died, yes,” Sherlock says impatiently. “But they don’t know that. And if they’re off looking for trainers, they won’t be interfering with our investigation.”

John shifts his weight. “They did a good job, Sherlock, finding all that stuff about the drug connection.”

“I already knew all of that,” Sherlock says. It doesn’t come out as dismissively as he’d like, because John’s right: they did do a reasonable job.

“What?” John asks. “Since when?”

“I told you,” Sherlock says. “I had a train of investigation. I’ve heard back from most of my contacts.”

John looks irritated, like he’s thinking about saying something, but changes his mind and sighs. “You still didn’t have to send them to do that. Did you see the look on Sam’s face? The last thing she wanted to do was something that reminded her of her friend, something that she’d always done with him but would now never do again, but she’s going to do it anyway, because she thinks it’s important. And you-”

“Better for her to feel a bit depressed than to charge into something dangerous, isn’t it?” Sherlock snaps. “You said it yourself, they weren’t going to stop investigating. If I didn’t send them off somewhere, they’d only end up in trouble and in our way.”

There’s a long silence, then John smiles. “You did that so they wouldn’t get hurt.”

Sherlock scowls. “I did that so they would be out of my way. That it also keeps them out of danger is merely a bonus.”

“Uh-huh,” John says, in a tone of voice that says he clearly doesn’t believe him.

Which is ridiculous. Sherlock was obviously aware that sending Brown and Masters to look for something that isn’t there would make them safer, and it did indeed contribute to his decision, but it was far from the most important factor. John is attempting to make him into a hero again, and Sherlock dislikes it.

But he doesn’t dislike the way John is smiling at him, so he doesn’t protest it further. Sherlock does love it when John smiles at him – any sort of smile, really, but especially the ones John gives him when he thinks Sherlock’s done something brilliant or wonderful. And the softer, more mysterious ones that speak of something deeper, in a way that Sherlock doesn’t entirely comprehend, but still make him feel somehow safe and almost terrified at the same time. But those ones confuse him, so he prefers the former.

“What are we going to be doing, then?” John asks.

“Today? Finishing my experiments, if I can ever manage to get what I need. Tonight?” Sherlock smiles. “A stakeout. Best remember your gun this time, John, I imagine you’ll like the part of town we’ll be going to as much as you enjoyed where we found the Golem.”

 

---

 

Sam has her phone out, and is staring indecisively at it while they walk. Fiona watches her out of the corner of her eye for awhile, waiting, but when Sam still hasn’t done anything by the time they reach the Tube station, Fiona stops them.

“If you need to make a call, we can stop for a few minutes,” Fiona says.

Sam bites her lip – she does that when she’s considering something that makes her uncomfortable or nervous, Fiona feels as though she has enough evidence to know that – then shakes her head and slips her phone into the pocket of her jeans. “No. It’s better if I don’t.”

Fiona manages to contain her curiosity until they’ve boarded. Then she asks, “Who were you going to call?”

Sam glances away. “I’ve never done this alone. Like I told the detectives, this was a common thing with Finn. He’d get drunk and lose something in his stumble home, and then he’d call us and we’d all go out and look for it. I thought – maybe I should call them; they have just as much practice at it as I do.”

Fiona doesn’t really like the uncomfortable way her stomach twists at the thought of Sam’s friends joining them in their investigation. But she’s still curious, so she asks, “Why didn’t you?”

“Because I don’t want them to have to do this,” Sam replies, and there’s a very slight tremble in her voice.

Fiona frowns. In all honesty, she doesn’t quite get why this is upsetting her. Sam hadn’t even seemed to be shaken much at the prospect of searching Morgan’s room, and surely that would be worse, having to look through your deceased friend’s belongings.

“And I don’t want them to know I’m doing it,” Sam adds. “I haven’t told them, you know. I hate hiding it, but they’d either want to help but not be able to, because they have to be there for Kayla, or tell me to let the police handle it.” She chuckles softly, sadly. “Some of them probably both. But I can’t. I can’t just let it go.”

Fiona knows what that feels like – and yet, no, she really doesn’t. Not being able to let something go, oh, yes, she’s quite accustomed to that. But having to choose between following what you’ve got your hooks into – or what’s got its hooks in you – and being there for friends, having people whose opinion actually mattered so much to you that you cared, that you hated hiding things from them, that Fiona has never had experience with.

She doesn’t know if she wants to, not if it’s what’s troubling Sam.

“I know what that feels like,” Fiona says finally, because it feels like she needs to say something and she doesn’t know what else to say. “To not be able to let something go.”

Sam smiles slightly. “Yeah, I guess you would, wouldn’t you?” She shrugs. “Like I said, it’ll be better if it’s just you and me.”

Fiona smiles brightly. She couldn’t agree more. Pleased that that’s settled, Fiona leans back, content to spend the rest of the ride in silence.

“Where are we starting?” Fiona asks after they’ve gotten off the Tube and are walking along the street.

“The flat the party was at. I know Martin’s sister, so I got her brother’s address from her,” Sam replies. “Sometimes he leaves things at the actual party, so we can check there and then work our way to-” She pauses briefly. “-to the crime scene.”

Sam knocks on the door when they reach the flat, and Fiona stands to the side, slightly behind her. This isn’t her area; it’s Sam’s, and Fiona’s smart enough to know to allow the expert to work.

A pretty young woman answers the door, and her face lights up a bit when she sees Sam.

“Hullo Maggie,” Sam greets with a smile.

“Hi, Sam,” Maggie returns, looking at Sam in a way that makes Fiona wonder if Maggie’s another person Sam’s had ‘experience’ with.

The thought is displeasing, much more so than it’d been when Fiona learned of two of Sam’s other partners. There’s something off about this woman, Fiona decides. She’s acting suspiciously, leaning in the doorway and angling her hips like that without even inviting them in; Fiona will have to keep an eye on her.

“Missed you at my brother’s party the other night,” Maggie says.

“I had an early study session, had to give it a pass,” Sam replies ruefully. “But that’s why I’m here, actually. Did you see Finn there?”

Maggie’s smile fades, and her shoulders droop a little. “Yeah. It’s terrible, thinking that when I saw him leave, it was the last time.” Her eyes glisten a bit, not quite unshed tears, but close, and she says quietly, “He looked so happy.”

Sam leans forward, resting her hand on Maggie’s shoulder. “How are you doing?”

Maggie shakes her head. “God, listen to me. I’m sorry, Sam, I should be the one asking you that. You knew him much better than I ever did.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to be sad,” Sam tells her.

Maggie smiles tentatively, and Sam smiles back. Her hand is still on Maggie’s shoulder.

Fiona clears her throat. “You said you saw Finn leave?”

Maggie looks over at Fiona, surprised, and Sam pulls her hand away.

“Um. Yes, a bunch of us did. You know Finn.” Maggie’s attention turns back to Sam. “Him leaving was always such a big production, never took less than fifteen minutes for him to actually go.”

Sam smiles. “He always found more people he had to say goodbye to.”

It’s only because Fiona’s standing so close to Sam that she hears the soft catch in Sam’s throat. Maggie shows no sign of having noticed. Fiona shifts, subtly, to rest her hand on the small of Sam’s back. Maggie doesn’t notice that, either, but Sam does, and some of the tension drains from her shoulders.

“Did he leave anything here?” Sam asks.

Maggie laughs. “God, I’m going to miss being asked that. What was it this time?”

“His trainers,” Sam says.

Maggie shakes her head. “No, he had those when he left. Hated the thought of him walking home barefoot, so whenever he came to one of Martin’s parties, and I was sober enough to remember, I tried to make sure he had his shoes with him. If they’re lost, they’re out there somewhere.” She smiles slightly at Sam. “At least you won’t have to look for his stuff anymore.”

Sam smiles back, but it’s stiff, fixed. “Yeah. Thanks, Maggie.”

“No problem,” Maggie says. “And, Sam, if you need anything, you know I’m always here.”

“I appreciate that, Mags,” Sam says, and she sounds sincere. “I’ll see you around.”

She turns away, and Fiona moves with her, keeping her hand where it is. Fiona glances back as they walk away, and Maggie’s watching them, eyes on Fiona’s hand. Fiona fights down an unexplainable surge of triumph and turns back to Sam.

“You were upset,” Fiona tells her quietly, because it seems ridiculous to ask if Sam’s all right when she clearly isn’t.

“I liked them,” Sam says, stopping when they’ve gone just far enough to be out of sight of the flat. “The stupid scavenger hunts. I whinged and complained just as much as the rest of them, but I liked them. Thought it was funny, just another thing about Finn that made him Finn.”

Fiona is – uncertain. It’s not a feeling she likes, not knowing what to do, or say, especially when she desperately wants to do something. “If you’re too upset to search effectively-” No, that hadn’t been right at all.

“No,” Sam says. “No, I’m fine. Let’s do this.”

But she doesn’t move, and after a few moments, Fiona says, mimicking Sam’s tone as best as she can, “You do realize that she has a crush on you, right?”

Sam catches the reference, and looks at her for a moment before smiling, just a bit. “Maggie? Maybe once, yeah, but we’re just friends, now.”

“She can’t be your ex,” Fiona insists. “She regarded you far too fondly.”

“That’s your evidence?” Sam asks. “She can’t be my ex because we’re still friends?”

“Yes,” Fiona says. “It’s statistically unlikely, especially as you were clearly good friends with two of your other exes.”

“I’m friends with most of my exes,” Sam says. “Probably because with most of them, the reason we are exes is because we realized we made much better friends.”

Fiona wants to tell her that that’s unlikely, that she’s strange. But Fiona’s out of her depth there; she has little personal experience with this, and none where she’s still on good terms with former lovers. “Yes. Well. The way she was looking at you was decidedly not friendly.”

Sam shakes her head. “She was just being nice.” Then she grins slightly. “Didn’t think you’d notice the way she was looking at me.”

Fiona scoffs. “This is an investigation, Sam. I make it a point to notice everything about the people we interview.” Then, because Sam is smiling again and Fiona assumes that means she’s ready to search with the enthusiasm she showed yesterday, Fiona asks, “Shall we continue what we came here to do, then?”

“By all means,” Sam says.

Unfortunately, it isn’t like yesterday. Well, all right, it is a bit; the excitement of the search is there, and the two of them searching the streets very thoroughly earns them no few numbers of odd looks, which are received with impish grins and occasional giggles, and once or twice when Sam crawls out from under some shrubs – Sam is always the one who looks under shrubs, as she couldn’t argue when Fiona pointed out quite logically that Sam’s shorter stature would make it far easier for her to fit – it’s to someone standing next to them, gaping at the sight of a woman suddenly emerging from shrubbery.

The third time this happens, Sam puts her hands on her hips, glares at the man, and says scathingly, “I don’t stand outside your flat and gawk at you every time you walk out of your front door, do I?”

The man mutters something incomprehensible and flees.

Fiona resists the urge to giggle. “Perhaps I should take you along next time I wish to get rid of someone. He looked terrified.”

Sam holds out her hand, and Fiona blinks at her for a second before Sam rolls her eyes and stands, brushing dirt off her jeans.

“Next time that happens, I’m going to tell them that I can’t find where I’ve hidden the evidence, and since they seem to be so interested in what I’m doing, would they like to help me locate it?” Sam mutters.

Fiona doesn’t even bother resisting this time, she just giggles, and Sam giggles right along with her.

The parts that are like that are quite lovely, amusement mixed in with the methodical search for something that may provide answers. But there are times when Fiona glances over to check on Sam’s progress and finds her just standing, staring at something with an expression tinged with longing. Or times when Sam straightens from where she’d been searching, grinning widely and seeking to share it with someone, but the person she’s looking for isn’t Fiona.

It’s those that are the worse, twisting something strange and painful in Fiona’s chest every time Sam’s smile fades when she sees Fiona and remembers that she’s not out searching with her friends.

When Fiona finally can’t take it anymore, she stops, looking uncertainly at Sam. “Sam,” she says hesitantly.

“I’m fine,” Sam replies immediately.

Fiona scowls. “You’re clearly not. This requires concentration, and it’s very distracting when you-”

“Is it?” Sam interrupts. “How terrible of me to distract you because I find it difficult to pretend that it isn’t getting to me every time I think of the last time I did this with Finn and remember that it was the last time. Sorry. I’ll try to be upset over my dead friend in a way that’s more convenient for you.”

There’s silence for a moment. Then Fiona says quietly, “I didn’t mean-”

Sam sighs. “I know you didn’t.” She wraps her arms loosely around her chest, absently rubbing at her upper arms.

Fiona has the ridiculous urge to replace Sam’s hand with her own. She shoves her hands into her pockets to avoid giving into it.

“I don’t even know if I want to find them,” Sam admits softly.

“I understand,” Fiona says.

“You do?” Sam asks.

“Yes,” Fiona replies. She manages to keep the slightly satisfied note out of her voice, though she is the tiniest bit pleased, because finally, she does understand. “If we find them, we have a definite answer, though it means the killer didn’t take them, and we therefore lose a potential piece of information about him. If we don’t find them, we may still have that information, but we don’t know for certain if they were taken by the killer or if we were merely unable to find them.”

Sam looks at her, then nods and leans back against the tree she’d been looking around. “That’s pretty much it, yeah. Well, that, and, we always found what we were looking for, somehow. I don’t know if it’ll be worse to break that and not find them, or keep it when everything else is so different.”

Fiona doesn’t want to be talking about this. She wants to go back to searching, so they can be done with it before nightfall – preferably with enough time left before the lab closes that they can get some work done on her tests. But she suspects that won’t be happening as long as Sam is upset. And – she’s finding she dislikes it, when Sam is upset. She wants to understand, and then she wants to make it stop.

“What was Finn like?” Fiona asks. “When he looked for his things with you?”

“He – he was like he always was, I suppose,” Sam says. “Loud, energetic. He’d spend the first five minutes or so apologizing, every time, and the rest of us would just roll our eyes and think that at least he’d stopped promising never to do it again even though we all knew he would. After that, he’d bound around like a puppy on caffeine. He’d run up to complete strangers to ask if they’d seen what he was looking for, but he was so damn friendly and eager that hardly anyone ever got freaked out or irritated.”

She smiles. “He even got some people to join in. Made a few friends that way, took them out to a pub afterwards. After the first few times, we made it a competition: Finn had to buy whoever found whatever it was a few rounds that night. He never found it himself; he got distracted way too easily. Think that’s why he needed us.” Then she looks away, her voice going soft and trembling slightly. “I’m already talking about him in past tense.” She sounds almost like she’s getting ready to cry.

Fiona freezes – much as she’d done earlier that day when facing Dr. Watson’s gun, though with no excitement, marginally less fear, and considerably more uncertainty. People very rarely cry around her – especially when she hasn’t been the cause of it – and when they do, she either leaves or gets rid of them as quickly as possible.

But this – this is different. Fiona doesn’t want Sam to leave, she just wants her not to cry. Fiona finds the thought displeasing.

“I don’t know what it’s like to lose a good friend,” Fiona says, because she doesn’t know what to do other than explain why she doesn’t know what to do.

“Good,” Sam says sincerely. “That’s good.”

Fiona frowns, suspecting that Sam has misunderstood. “I don’t know what it’s like because I’ve never had a friend like that before,” she clarifies.

There’s a pause. “Oh.” Sam hesitates for a bit, then looks up at her. “You do now.”

Once again, Fiona doesn’t quite understand. It’s starting to become a bit irritating, and reminds her why she normally avoids social situations that go any deeper than school projects or meetings with professors – though she can’t deny the slight warmth she feels at Sam implying they’re friends.

“With all of this-” Fiona gestures to indicate nothing that’s really there, but she assumes Sam will understand. “Are you so eager to add another person to the list, and risk it happening again?”

Sam blinks at her. “What? I – yes, of course. It hurts like hell, and I’d give almost anything for this not to be happening right now, but I’m not going to not make friends because one day, I might lose them. Even knowing what I do now, if I had to do it all over again, I’d still be Finn’s friend without hesitation. The time I had with him, the memories I’ve got, I wouldn’t give those up just because they’re causing me pain right now.”

Fiona considers that. “Will you feel that way about me? Would you look back to right now and wish we hadn’t become friends?”

Sam smiles slightly. “I think it’s a little too late for that. We already are friends. Besides, that’s not going to happen. Nothing bad’s going to happen to you, not while I’m around. Not while I can stop it.”

There’s something fierce and protective in her tone, expression, eyes, that Fiona’s never had directed at her before. It’s confusing, makes her feels safe, overwhelmed, and somehow antsy, all at the same time. “That’s not something you can promise,” she says finally.

“Sure it is,” Sam replies.

“No it’s not,” Fiona insists. “It’s quite illogical, actually. You won’t always be around. And even if you could be, there are things you can’t stop, things you can’t do anything about. It’s impossible for you to protect me from everything. Statistically speaking, something bad will happen to me. Likely soon.”

Sam stares at her. “Really not what I needed to hear right now, Fi.”

Fiona starts to reply, then stops as the nickname registers. She frowns, surprised, and then considers Sam’s tone – tired, defeated, and still upset – and changes what she’d been about to say. “I’m sorry.”

Sam blinks, slowly, for far too long, and continues staring at her. “What?”

“I was trying to make you less upset,” Fiona explains. “It didn’t work – it may have even had the opposite effect.” She pauses, debates, then says, “I do know when to admit that I’m out of my depth and defer to someone with more experience. What do you need to hear?”

Sam unwraps her arms from around herself and steps closer to her. “You could tell me that I can protect you from everything, and can make sure you’ll never get hurt.”

Fiona wrinkles her nose. “You want me to lie to you?”

Sam smiles. “Yeah. Be the Giles to my Buffy and lie to me.” Then she pauses. “Oh. Ick. I wish I hadn’t said that.”

“Buffy as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Fiona asks.

“You’ve seen it?” Sam says.

“No,” Fiona replies. She wishes she hadn’t heard of it, either, but there’s two girls who frequent the lab and like to have long, convoluted, grating discussions about it.

“Oh,” Sam says. “Good. Forget I said that, then.”

“What did you mean by ‘ick’?” Fiona asks.

Sam blushes, then frowns at her. “Aren’t you supposed to be lying to me?”

“Ah. Yes.” Fiona considers. “You’ll be my good luck charm. As long as I’m with you, nothing bad will happen to me.” She pauses. “Good?”

Sam smiles at her. “Perfect.” Then she takes another step closer, and hooks her thumbs into the pockets of Fiona’s coat. “Thank you,” she says quietly. “I know it’s dumb. It’s just – I wasn’t there. I keep thinking – if I’d gone to that party, we would’ve left together, I would’ve been sober, he probably would have crashed at my place, we would have gone a different way. But I didn’t. I couldn’t stop him from getting hurt, and I – need to believe I can still protect my other friends, can still protect you, even if it’s probably a lie.”

Sam’s eyes look more green right now, Fiona notes. Perhaps it’s the green jumper Sam’s wearing, bringing out the green in the hazel. She wants to lean in, take a closer look, but they’re already so close that it’s doing strange things to her heart rate. So she leans back slightly, though she doesn’t move away, and asks, “Why do you want to be my friend?”

“Why did you lie to me?” Sam asks.

Fiona frowns. “Because you said it was what you needed, and I didn’t want you to be upset.”

Sam nods. “Exactly.”

That’s not an answer, and it doesn’t clear anything up at all. This is why Fiona prefers math, science. There are answers, and even when they are confusing or less than definite, Fiona usually knows what to do to change that.

Sam tugs once on Fiona’s coat, then pulls away. “We better get back to work.”

Fiona hesitates for another moment, but she can’t bring herself to turn the conversation back towards things that make her feel confused and uncertain when Sam has so nicely steered it to something that Fiona feels much more confident in. “Yes, I suppose we had better.”

 

---

 

Sherlock finally gets the supplies he needs, and spends the remainder of the day working. Lestrade texts him four times for an update, until Sherlock finally tells him that he’s doing yet another one of their jobs for them, and Lestrade will have the results of the test when Sherlock does – or sometime after, when Sherlock’s figured it out enough that he decides it’s time to clue Lestrade in, but he doesn’t say that part. It’ll still be faster than the police lab will get anything.

John is being thankfully quiet, going about his own business, though Sherlock suspects he’s itching to ask him questions about what else Sherlock has figured out. Sherlock had been planning on rewarding him with a few explanations the next time Sherlock hit a point where there wasn’t much to do but wait, but then, not long after it began to get dark, John’s phone starts going off.

Whoever he’s having a conversation with – Sherlock suspects he knows, but is going to indulge in his desire to think otherwise until John unfortunately confirms it – is very eager, and John texts almost constantly for a good ten minutes.

Sherlock scowls. The clicking of the keys on John’s mobile is distracting, breaking his concentration.

“Fiona and Sam didn’t find the trainers,” John says after the clicking has stopped for a few minutes.

“That’s hardly unexpected news, is it?” Sherlock asks absently. Then he frowns, looking up in mild concern. “They’re not coming here are they?”

“Yes, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to have them over here while you’re in there working; figured that’d be a very pleasant evening,” John mutters. “No, they’re not. They’re working in the university lab right now, and it closes at eleven. By the time they’d get over here, it wouldn’t be long until we had to leave, and I didn’t want to have to come up with some kind of excuse.”

Excellent. Sherlock is willing to overlook John’s earlier disruption and the sarcastic nature of the first part of his reply, as John was smart enough to make the right decision and keep the girls away from his work.

“They’re coming over tomorrow afternoon, though,” John adds.

Sherlock reconsiders John’s intelligence. “Why?”

“Do we need to have the ‘they’ll just investigate on their own and get into trouble and in our way’ conversation again?” John asks.

“That’s no reason for them to come here,” Sherlock says. “We can accomplish keeping them out of our way via text.”

John looks at him for a long time, long enough for Sherlock to grow irritated – especially as he can’t decipher John’s expression.

“What?” Sherlock snaps.

“When y-” John starts, then seems to change his mind. “They did a decent job on their own, and they clearly want to help. I just think they need encouragement instead of someone just dismissing them. Look, if all goes really well, by tomorrow we’ll have our man and it won’t matter. Hopefully, we’ll at least have a suspect, and maybe there will be something they can actually do to help.”

Sherlock wants to say that’s doubtful, but it isn’t true. If it is indeed the drugs that the killer is using to choose victims, then John may be right; after tonight, they might have more information. Tonight, they will be looking for someone on the rugby or football teams, with red and yellow trainers and a drug connection. Sherlock’s studied pictures, of course, and John is supposed to be doing that now, but despite John’s optimism, it’s unlikely they’ll ‘get their man’ that night. However, it is likely that they’ll have several suspects to obtain more information on, which Brown and Masters – thanks to their sports and drug connections, respectively – may be able to provide.

If Sherlock’s being entirely honest with himself, he would prefer to have someone with them who will be able to recognize a rugby or football player on sight – as he suspects Brown would be able to do. But bringing along an inexperienced university girl would be far from ideal. And he suspects John would be strongly against the suggestion.

Sherlock would be tempted to consider it anyway, but the stakeout is only one aspect of his plan. He’ll have the identity of the trainers soon, and then he’ll get in touch with some of his contacts – he has a few people in the right area who owe him a favour – and get the sales records of the shoes, compare those to the members of the football and rugby clubs. In truth, this is more likely to produce results than the stakeout, but, well. A stakeout’s more fun, and Sherlock dislikes the idea of merely waiting when he could be doing something.

He doesn’t tell John any of that, of course. John’s comment is more deserving of a reply of, “We could still do either of those things via text.”

John sighs. “Well, I like them, and I think they could use the support, so they’re coming here.”

Sherlock sulks. It isn’t as though he dislikes the girls – Brown is intriguing, for all her seeming normalcy, and though Masters is arrogant and irritating, she’s clearly intelligent, and both of them are less annoying than most – but being around them makes him somehow uncomfortable. Watching them makes him – want something he’s not aware of, or perhaps it makes him more aware of something he doesn’t want to be. He can’t explain it. It’s confusing, which is absolutely not what he needs during a case.

“Fine,” Sherlock says crossly. “But they’re your responsibility.”

John rolls his eyes. “I didn’t expect otherwise. But you could give Fiona some-” He shrugs. “I don’t know, guidance or something.”

Sherlock frowns. “I tried to offer her tips. You were displeased.”

“I meant because you both-” John pauses, then shakes his head. “Never mind. You’re right, you definitely shouldn’t be giving her guidance.”

Sherlock scowls. “Why not? What’s wrong with my guidance?”

“Nothing,” John tells him. “Just don’t think it’s really appropriate.”

Sherlock sneers. “Your efforts at reverse psychology are very transparent, John. I learned to detect it from Mycroft’s attempts; you don’t stand a chance.”

John considers that. “I’m not actually sure I was using reverse psychology. I can’t decide if you being an influence on her would be just what she needs or go horribly, horribly wrong.”

Horribly wrong? All right, Sherlock will readily admit he’s not the best role model, but horribly, horribly wrong? Sherlock wonders why John brought it up at all, if he was only going to conclude it was a horrible idea – that other bit, the part about it being just what she needs, isn’t even worth dwelling on, and Sherlock is contributing it to a (hopefully) temporary lapse in John’s sanity.

This is nonsense. Distracting him from his work, and John from what he’s supposed to be doing.

“Less talking, more picture-studying,” Sherlock orders. “We need to be prepared for tonight.”

They don’t, actually, as they never make it to their stakeout.

They’re in a taxi, almost there, when Sherlock gets a text from Lestrade. It’s late, too late for Lestrade to be merely trying to get information out of him, and Sherlock knows before he’s even opened it that something’s happened.

“What is it?” John asks.

“There’s been another murder,” Sherlock says grimly, directing the cabbie to change course for the University of Westminster campus.

“Another one? Already?” John asks.

“Yes,” Sherlock replies, tapping his fingers against the side of the door. “He’s escalating, John. Rapidly. There were weeks between the other murders, over a month for one, and now a fifth barely three days after the forth? Why is he suddenly so eager, moving so quickly?”

“Maybe he found out you’re on the case,” John suggests.

Sherlock smiles, then schools his expression back to solemnity. “Your high opinion of me is always appreciated, John, but now is not the time for flattery.”

“I was being serious, actually,” John says. “Your reputation isn’t exactly a secret; maybe he’s heard of you. You’ve said he’s got a message that’s unfinished. Maybe he figures he’s not got much time left before you find him, so he’s got to get it done.”

Sherlock considers that. It’s possible, he supposes, but it’s a theory based entirely on speculation. He disregards it, for the moment, though he does file it away for a potential return after he’s gathered more data.

He doesn’t talk for the rest of the cab ride, mind whirling over the latest news. He has to stop himself from thinking too much, from wandering down paths he has no support for, to stick to going over what he already knows.

Sherlock drums his fingers against his leg in irritation. There is new information out there, more data, just waiting for him. He considers urging this cabbie along like he had the other, but he suspects he barely has enough to cover the fare as it is, and he doubts John will pay extra for what John will likely call “needless impatience.”

Finally, finally, they arrive at the main campus, and Sherlock bolts out, leaving John to catch up. John does, as always, and the two approach the crime scene together.

Lestrade is there, and Sherlock can see Donovan talking to a pair of uniformed officers next to the crime scene tape, but there’s no sign of Anderson. Sherlock doesn’t allow himself to be hopeful, though, as he doesn’t see any of the other forensic techs, either, and the man could be off somewhere being incompetent out of sight.

“What do you know so far?” Sherlock asks as he stops in front of Lestrade.

“Almost everything’s the same,” Lestrade says. “Student here, stab wounds, spray painted message.”

Sherlock narrows his eyes at him. “Almost everything?”

“The victim’s female,” Lestrade tells him.

Female. That’s new. “Where’s the body?”

“This way,” Lestrade says, leading them to the body. “She was found about an hour ago by another student, behind the Harrow residence hall. She-”

They’re at the body now, so Sherlock holds up a hand to silence him, then crouches down. He can hear Lestrade and John talking while he works, but he ignores them. Their conversation is irrelevant.

After a few minutes, he stands. “John.”

John obediently steps forward to examine the body. Sherlock takes out his phone as John works, pulling up Google.

“Hasn’t been dead long,” John says. “Two, three hours at most. Less than the last victim.”

“Hmm, yes, she was left near the residence hall, much more traffic even at this time of night,” Sherlock says absently. Ah, there’s the site he’s looking for.

“He’s escalating, Sherlock, and he’s changed the pattern of his victims,” Lestrade says.

“No,” Sherlock replies, flipping through a series of photos.

“No?” Lestrade asks.

“He’s not changing his pattern,” Sherlock says. “It’s just our understanding of it that’s changed. The victims’ gender has nothing to do with why they’re chosen.”

Lestrade frowns at him. “All right, then, why are they chosen?”

“Drugs,” John offers.

Sherlock grimaces internally. Clearly, he and John need to have a discussion about revealing things to the police before they have been thoroughly investigated. There’s still something about the drug connection that feels the tiniest bit off to him, especially as there’s another victim with uncertain drug history, and they haven’t gotten to do their stakeout.

“Drugs,” Lestrade repeats.

“It’s a working theory,” Sherlock snaps. “Three of the victims have confirmed connections, enough to pursue, not enough to be definite. The victim was a cheerleader.”

“How do you know that?” Lestrade asks.

“Athletic, lean, not bulky, built for flexibility. I’d have said gymnast, but a bit too much going for her up here-” he taps his chest, “-for a truly successful gymnast. And-” he pushes up the victim’s shirt, revealing a tiny tattoo on her hip, “-there’s this. Black and yellow pompoms, ‘Westminster Dragons’ written inside. She’s not just any cheerleader, she’s the captain.” He holds up his phone, open to the Westminster cheerleader’s webpage, shows them the picture of their victim, smiling in her uniform, then goes back to looking at her Facebook page. “Name’s Ashley Green.” Sherlock turns to John. “You said the members of the sports teams would be in the same social circle, would cheerleaders be in there?”

John blinks, then shrugs. “Yeah, probably. They’re all at the same matches, usually leads to them going to the same after-events.”

Sherlock nods; he’d thought as much. He flips through another few pictures, checks the body and the surrounding area, then smiles.

“Found something?” John asks.

“Didn’t find something,” Sherlock replies, handing his phone to John as he crouches back down to look at the earth. Footprints, from the same trainers as the other scene, though no traces of rubber left behind this time.

“What am I looking at?” John asks.

“Her necklace,” Sherlock says. “She’s wearing it in all of those pictures; where is it now?”

“Suppose she couldn’t have just left it in her room?” Lestrade asks.

“Highly unlikely. I’ll need to speak with her boyfriend,” Sherlock says. “Find out if there’s anything about that necklace that makes it unique.”

“Who says she’s got a boyfriend?” Lestrade says.

“Captain of the cheerleading team, of course she’s got a boyfriend,” Sherlock replies.

John raises an eyebrow. “Bit of stereotyping there, don’t you think?”

Sherlock scowls and snatches his phone back, using it to take pictures of the footprints. These are much more detailed than the ones a few days ago. Then he flips back to Green’s Facebook. “Her Facebook lists her as in a relationship with one Tristan Harris.” He clicks on Harris’ profile and smiles. “Ah, his mobile number is listed.” That makes it much simpler.

He starts composing a text, but the phone is taken from his hands before he can finish. Sherlock’s head snaps up, and he narrows his eyes when he sees John holding his phone.

“You are not going to inform some poor kid via text that his girlfriend’s been murdered,” John says. “Look, it says he lives at the residence hall, too. Room 241.”

“I’ll send someone up to talk to him, get him down here,” Lestrade says.

Sherlock grabs his phone back from John, deletes the text, absolutely does not sulk – John always stretches the truth in his blog entries – and says, “I was going to be tactful.”

John shakes his head. “Someone you love dying isn’t something you should find out from a text.”

There’s something far too serious, personal, in John’s tone. Sherlock tilts his head curiously. “Who sent you a text like that?”

John blinks. “What? No one.”

He’s telling the truth, but – there’s more to it than that. There’s a defensiveness about him that he only has when he’s trying to hide something from Sherlock.

“Not a text, then,” Sherlock says. “But something close.”

John sighs. “A voice mail.”

Ah. “Who?” Sherlock asks.

John’s back straightens, and he stares fixedly at a point just past Sherlock’s left ear, jaw clenched. Hmm. Not an answer that Sherlock’ll get out of him easily, then, and this isn’t the place to try. Sherlock files the conversation away for later, when he has more time to get through John’s defences, and leans back over the body, pulling a set of keys out of the pocket of the jeans.

“What are you doing?” John asks.

“We need to search her room,” Sherlock replies. See if she actually did leave the necklace behind, and look for drugs. “Send Harris up to the victim’s room when you’re done with him,” he says as he passes Lestrade on the way to the residence hall. “We’ll be up there.”

“Sherlock,” Lestrade protests. “You can’t-”

“I’m looking for the necklace,” Sherlock interrupts. “It was your idea, what if she’s merely left it in her room?”

“If not, it’ll give us a tie to her killer,” John says, and this time Sherlock approves of him chiming in.

Lestrade grimaces, then sighs. “All right, just – try not to disturb much.”

“We’ll be careful,” John promises, even as Sherlock is already continuing on.

They don’t find the necklace in Green’s room, and there’s no evidence of drugs, either. Fortunately, when Harris finally comes to talk to them, he does indeed know the necklace’s origin. The first year that Green had been captain, the Westminster Dragon cheerleaders had won a national competition. Harris had gotten her the necklace to commemorate it; that was why it was a dragon curled around a 2010. Another victim with something important to them taken.

The sun has started rising when Sherlock and John exit the residence hall, and the number of people gathered around the crime scene has grown; word has spread about the newest murder, it seems. Sherlock scans the crowd as he and John walk, searching for red and yellow trainers. It is possible that the killer would return to the scene of the crime, after all.

He’s looking mostly at feet, so he hears her before he sees her. Sherlock looks up for confirmation, and yes, that is indeed Brown standing a bit away from the police tape, talking to a group of students. Sherlock recognizes one of them as Morgan’s girlfriend, Kayla Miller, and the other girl looks vaguely familiar, but he doesn’t recognize any of the four male students, and Masters is nowhere in sight. Has Brown brought more people into the investigation, then?

Curious, Sherlock slows down, leaning casually against one of the police cars to listen.

John frowns, stopping next to him. “Sherlock? What’re we-”

“Shh,” Sherlock says, nodding towards Brown and the others.

John looks surprised, then raises an eyebrow. “You’re spying on her?”

“I’m observing,” Sherlock retorts. “Their investigation.”

John looks back at Brown. “I don’t think she’s investigating right now.”

Sherlock ignores him, and John rolls his eyes, but stays silent. With a closer look at the group, Sherlock can see there’s a bit of a divide. Brown seems to be at the head of the group, with Miller standing close to her right side, arm linked through hers, and one of the male students standing nearly as close to her left. The other girl is standing close to Miller, body angled towards Brown, and is leaning against another boy, who has his arms around her. The two remaining students are standing just a bit away from them, and from each other, part of the group but not as close as the other five.

“-in her room. Don’t think she’s planning on coming back out until they’re gone,” one of the slightly separate male students is saying.

“I’d hide, too, after sending out a mass text like that,” the vaguely familiar girl says.

“Everyone reacts differently to this kind of thing,” the boy next to Brown says.

“No, Anna’s right, Sawyer,” the boy with his arms around the girl – Anna – says.

“I know, it wasn’t a good move,” Sawyer admits. “Guess she just wasn’t thinking.”

“She never thinks,” Anna mutters. “At least Tristan didn’t find out like that, but it sucks for the rest of us.”

Miller tightens her grip on Brown’s arm.

“How is Tristan, Dom?” Brown asks.

The boy who’d spoken first – Dom – says, “In shock. He just finished talking to the police, and he hasn’t said a word to anyone, but he won’t go back inside. Just keeps standing over there staring.” He fiddles with a ring on his left index finger. “Guess Megan’s taking over as captain for you guys?”

“Yeah,” Anna says, then looks over at Miller. “At least for now.”

Miller looks away. “Probably permanently. She’s better at it than me, even in the best of times.”

“Don’t say that, Kay,” Anna says.

Miller smiles a bit. “It’s the truth.” Then she shakes her head. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”

“Makes you wonder who’s next,” Anna mutters darkly.

“Anna!” Brown says.

“Come on, Sam, we’re all thinking it,” Anna says. “Someone’s got it in for the university, wasn’t that what you were saying on the way here, Danny?”

Danny hugs Anna a bit closer to his chest. “I said it was screwed up. Some bored psychopath getting his jollies, and we have to suffer for it?”

“No one’s going to be next,” Brown tells them determinedly. “He’ll be stopped before that.”

“I hope you’re right,” Anna says, but she sounds a bit less upset.

“She usually is,” Sawyer comments.

Brown smiles gratefully at Sawyer, and Sawyer takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.

Dom sighs. “I think I’m going to try and get Tris to go inside again.”

Miller lets go of Brown’s arm. “Let me come with. He might-” She pauses, cutting off a choked sob. “I just know what he’s going through, is all.”

“Of course, Kayla,” Dom says.

Danny looks over at Brown, who nods, and Danny and Anna follow after Dom and Miller.

“How is Kayla doing?” the final male student asks.

Brown gives him a bit of a sad smile. “Not great. This is the first time she’s voluntarily gone anywhere but her flat or one of ours.”

“She actually wanted to come here?” he asks.

“Yeah. Said she didn’t want to pretend like nothing was happening, wanted to face it. I’m not sure it was a good idea.” She shrugs. “But talking to Tristan might help.”

The boy glances over at the others, looks at the crime scene, and then back to Brown. “What you said before, you really think the police will stop the guy before it happens again?”

“Of course I do, Eddie,” she tells him with a smile. “Besides, they’ve got a bit of – outside help.”

“The two detectives that talked to you and Kayla, right?” Sawyer asks.

Brown deflates a bit, very briefly, then smiles again and nods. “Right.”

Sherlock smirks. He has no doubt that the ‘outside help’ she’d been referring to wasn’t about John or himself at all.

“That’s – Detective Holmes, right?” Eddie asked. “He was here, just a bit ago. Talked to Tristan. Some of the guys looked him up, is he really as good as everyone’s saying?”

“Better,” Brown tells him. “He’s, well, he’s brilliant. He talked to me, too, got a lead just by looking about. He’s a bit fantastic.”

Her tone is sincere; she quite obviously means it, and Sherlock’s smirk turns pleased and slightly smug.

“Maybe you should hire her to do public relations for you,” John says, sounding amused.

“And his partner’s just as good,” Brown continues. “Rumour has it he’s ex-military, an excellent shot.”

“I told her not to say anything about that,” John grumbles.

The others – minus Dom – return to the group, and Brown turns her attention towards them.

“Any luck?” she asks.

“We got him to go inside with Dom,” Anna says.

“I’m going to meet up with him later, to talk,” Miller adds.

Brown smiles. “Good. That’s – good. Do you want us to come with?”

Miller shakes her head. “I think it’s something I need to do on my own.”

“Hey, look,” Danny nods towards the crime scene. “Freaky Fiona’s here.”

Sherlock glances over, and sees Masters walking along the edge of the police tape, examining the scene from a distance. He turns back, eyes on Brown, waiting for her reaction.

“Don’t call her that,” Brown says.

“You can’t be serious,” Anna says. “Look, Sam, you’re usually right about stuff like that, but protecting a killer’s a little bit too far, isn’t it?”

“You’ve got evidence then, have you?” Brown asks, tone cold.

Look at her,” Danny says, nodding towards the crime scene again, where Masters has now ducked under the tape. “Who does that? Why else would she be here?”

“She’s here because I texted her and asked her to come. Because she’s my friend,” Brown tells them.

There’s silence for a moment. Then Anna says, “If Lacey were here-”

“If Lacey were here, she’d smack you over the head for accusing someone with no evidence and tell you even her newest cadet could do better. Hell, you lot are lucky that I’m not smacking you over the head for breaking our ‘a good friend of one of us is a friend of all of us’ rule,” Brown says.

“She’s right,” Sawyer offers.

“Shut up, Sawyer,” Anna mutters.

“I don’t want to hear another word about it from any of you,” Brown tells them firmly, then waves Masters over.

Masters hesitates, then walks over, stopping next to Brown’s side. “Hello,” she greets, somewhat stiffly.

For a moment, no one does anything. Then Sawyer smiles and says, “Hi. I’m Sawyer.”

Sawyer’s still holding Brown’s hand, and Brown squeezes it slightly. Masters seems to catch the movement, as she looks Sawyer up and down with slightly narrowed eyes.

Brown doesn’t notice, and continues the introductions. “And this is Danny, Anna, Kayla, and Eddie. Guys, this is my friend, Fiona.”

“Charmed,” Fiona comments.

“Yeah, right, lovely,” Anna says.

Awkward silence reins for a bit, then Danny says, “Well, I think we’ve been here long enough. Let’s all go grab some breakfast, yeah?”

“You guys go on ahead,” Brown tells them. “Fiona and I have some things to do.” She lets go of Sawyer’s hand and smiles at them. “I’ll see you all later. Nice talking to you, Eddie.”

She and Masters head off, leaving the others looking after them.

“What is she thinking?” Anna mutters.

“You know Sam,” Sawyer says.

“Her and Lacey both,” Danny agrees. “Always finding the good in people.”

“Even in killers?” Eddie asks.

Anna looks at him like she hasn’t noticed he was there until now. “Apparently. Let’s hope she doesn’t end up her next victim.”

“Sam’s smarter than that,” Kayla protests.

“I know,” Anna says. “But she still likes the freak.”

“Won’t last long,” Danny says confidently. “Freaky Fiona will keep on being freaky, it’s not like she ever tries to hide it. She’s just a psycho or something; Sam’ll pick up on it.”

“Yeah, good point,” Anna agrees. “God, all we have to do is wait until Sam sees the freak’s flat. If she brings embalmed animals to other people’s flats, wonder what she’s got in her own?”

“Thanks for that mental image, Anna,” Danny mutters.

There’s a round of quiet laughter, the kind that would be louder if the place, situation, were different. The group walks away, with Eddie breaking off from them to head into the residence hall, but Sherlock isn’t really watching them. He’s still hearing laughter – not theirs, and it’s not relevant, not important, it’s deleted. But it isn’t, not really, and neither is the conversation that went along with the laughter – not the first, he suspects, but the first he’d heard –

‘Oh, Lord, he’s doing that trick of his again, it’s ridiculous.’

‘Can’t he learn a new one?’

‘Hell, it’s like he thinks he’s showing off all the time, doesn’t he get that everyone hates it?’ -

No. Wrong. Irrelevant in general, especially irrelevant now, to the case.

John’s fingers close around his wrist, squeezing gently, a warm, almost comforting presence. Something to ground him, to help support the memory’s irrelevance. He’s not at uni, surrounded by people who think that what he does is a trick, he’s solving a case, and he’s got someone who – someone who –

And yet. Sherlock narrows his eyes at John, unable to completely disregard the memory of his last meeting with Sebastian.

“You said colleague,” Sherlock says.

John frowns in confusion. “What?”

“When I introduced you to Sebastian,” Sherlock clarifies.

Guilt flashes in John’s eyes, and he glances around. “You’re asking that here?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says.

John sighs. “The way you two said ‘friend,’ I thought – it was some kind of code between you two. That he was making fun of me, that I was some kind of hanger on who had nothing better to do than follow you around while you worked.” He looks away. “It was true, of course, but I figured that if I said colleague, it’d be like I had some kind of right to be there. I didn’t realize until later, when I saw how much of a wanker he was, that –”

“That he was making fun of me, not you,” Sherlock finishes for him.

“I’m sorry,” John says. “I wasn’t trying to deny we were friends, and I – guess I didn’t think you’d noticed. I should have realized. I wanted to punch him so badly when we went back to get the cheque, you know. Had to settle for making snide comments about how brilliant you were, solving the case.” He pauses, then brightens a little. “I could still punch him, if you want,” he offers, almost hopefully.

“No,” Sherlock says, though the offer paired with the explanation fills him with a strange kind of warmth. “He’s not worth it.” He twists his hand slightly in John’s grasp so he can wrap his own fingers around John’s wrist and use it to tug him forward. “We’ve been here far too long. We have work to do.”

Sherlock texts his contacts on the way back to their flat, sending Green’s photo – he’d prefer to do it in person, but he doesn’t want to wait until that night. There’s enough waiting he has to do as it is. Waiting to hear back from his contacts about the professor – frustrating, all he’s gotten is ‘he kind of looks familiar, I don’t know, let me ask around’ – waiting to hear about Green, waiting for tomorrow night – tonight, really – to do their stakeout, and though he’s identified the trainers, he’s now waiting for the sales records. That he’ll likely have the latter, at least, by late morning or early afternoon, is of little comfort at the moment.

Especially as there’d been nothing new at the crime scene, nothing to spark off a new line of investigation. Just another message, just as incomplete and nonsensical as the others. Sherlock adds Green’s photos to the wall when they get back to the flat, tacks up a piece of paper next to hers like he’s done with the others, and scribbles the message left next to her body on it.

Then he leans back, eyes narrowed as he stares at all five of the messages. Some of them could actually be made sense of, when taken on their own.

Professor Martin Andrews: ‘says we’re dumb.’ Simple: although Andrews had been popular with his students, it was no secret that there’d be a student or two in every class that would get on his bad side and be subjected to subtle, snide ridicule. A disgruntled ex-student, then, taking revenge.

Kevin Mitchell: ‘jerks have got.’

And now Ashley Green: ‘cheat if you can’t.’

Both equally simple. Someone with a grudge, getting rid of Mitchell for being a jerk and Green for cheating at – something, cheerleading, perhaps.

Is that it, then? Are they complete messages within themselves, meant to be taken only in their own context? What of the other two, Austin Collins – ‘forever sticks in’ – and Finn Morgan – ‘move onwards and outwards’ – whose messages don’t seem to be connected to them at all? And why are they all fragmented, missing key parts that can be filled in to make a whole, but with no certainty that what’s filled in is what was intended?

“Are you that clever?” Sherlock muses. “Hiding the whole in a convoluted string of parts that can’t be deciphered until you’re finished? Or are you that stupid, that the message you’re trying to convey isn’t coming across at all?”

“Which is worse for us?” John asks.

Sherlock considers. He’d prefer the clever option, of course, because that would make it much more interesting, but neither are very good news for them. “Both options mean that the messages give us nothing.”

He pushes himself away from the wall and flops onto the couch. “The waiting is intolerable, John.”

John leans forward in his armchair. “I know a way to make the time fly by.”

Sherlock looks up, intrigued. “Oh?”

“Yeah,” John says. “It’s called sleep.”

Sherlock rests his head back again, disappointed. “Dull.”

John rolls his eyes. “It may be dull, Sherlock, but it’s also necessary. When was the last time you slept?”

“I’m fine,” Sherlock replies.

“I didn’t ask if you were fine, Sherlock, I ask you when you’d last slept,” John says,

“Not too long ago,” Sherlock says evasively.

“Right,” John says. “Well, you haven’t slept tonight, or rather, last night, and I doubt you’ve slept much since this started. Which means, since it’s been three days, I think you’re due for some sleep.”

“What you think,” Sherlock says boredly. “doesn’t matter. You can hardly force me to go to sleep, can you?”

“Don’t be too sure,” John says.

Sherlock scoffs. “What are you going to do, hold me here until I fall asleep?”

“Don’t tempt me,” John tells him.

Sherlock closes his eyes, bored with this conversation. It’s pointless, and he already knows John will give up; he doesn’t feel like waiting – waiting, far too much waiting – for John to figure that out for himself. “I can tempt you as much as I like, we both know you won’t.”

There’s silence, and Sherlock would feel triumph at being right, but he’s irritated and right now, correctly predicting John’s reactions is just dull.

Then there’s a weight on his legs, something pinning his wrists to the arm of the sofa, and Sherlock’s eyes fly open.

“Looks like you still can’t tell when I’m bluffing,” John says from above him.

Quite suddenly, Sherlock is far from bored. “Looks like.”

“Still like it?” John asks.

Yes, Sherlock wants to say. Yes, he very much does. But he doesn’t say it, because he’s finding it a bit difficult to breathe at the moment, to concentrate on something besides John’s hands pinning his wrists, John’s legs heavy over his, John’s face so very near his. He wants – he wants to rock his hips up, just to see John’s reaction, but he can’t - he can’t - he suspects his desire to do so might not entirely be just to see John’s reaction.

“You realize this can absolutely not work, right?” Sherlock asks. He hears himself as he says it, knows he’s not really talking to John. But John will think he is, will provide a reply that will enable him to focus on something other than – than –

John looks at him for a long moment, then sighs. “You need to sleep, Sherlock. You’re obviously exhausted, and you’re going to hit the hallucination stage soon. Unless you want to start dealing with oysters taking over the world, or me having to catch you to keep you from cracking your head when you pass out again?”

Sherlock grimaces. Not his proudest moment. “No,” he admits reluctantly. John is right, of course, though Sherlock will still be fine for a little while longer, he had been planning on sleeping for a half hour or so after the stakeout.

“I’ll sleep if you answer a question for me,” Sherlock says.

John frowns, like he suspects a trap, and asks cautiously, “What?”

“Who left you a voicemail about someone you care about dying?” Sherlock asks.

John flinches, clearly not expecting that. Sherlock watches him debate internally for a bit, then John narrows his eyes at him.

“How long will you sleep for?” John asks.

“An hour,” Sherlock says.

John snorts, like he thinks that’s ridiculous, then names a ridiculous number of his own. “Six.”

“Two,” Sherlock says.

“Five,” John replies.

Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “Two.”

John glares back at him. “Five.”

Two.”

“At least four, Sherlock, or no deal,” John says.

Sherlock shakes his head. He won’t budge on this. He can’t.

“Three and a half, then,” John says. “Please.”

He’s almost pleading at that, concern obvious. For a moment, Sherlock is detached from himself, and sees the situation as it is: John, holding on to a secret, potentially traumatic, that he absolutely doesn’t want to reveal, and now it’s on the line, and he’s begging Sherlock to take the deal, just so he’ll sleep.

He’ll explain why, Sherlock thinks. He’ll explain why it can’t be more than two, and then – then – John will agree to the two hours, and tell him anyway, and Sherlock will feel even guiltier than he does now, that his friend will go to such lengths to make sure he takes care of himself.

“Three and a half,” Sherlock agrees quietly.

Relief fills John’s eyes, and he clambers off Sherlock.

Sherlock feels the absence acutely, and balls his hands into fists to stop himself from reaching for John. It’s inconvenient, this thing he suspects he’s become aware of but is refusing to acknowledge. Not during a case, likely not ever. He rolls over onto his side, so he can look at John.

John settles back into his chair, then says, without looking at him, “It was Harry. Dad died when I was eighteen. Harry called me when it happened, but I was out. She left a voicemail on my dorm answering machine. She was drunk, I don’t think she realized she wasn’t talking to me at first.”

“John,” Sherlock says softly, though he doesn’t know how he’s going to finish that.

John shakes his head. “It was a long time ago. And he’d been sick for awhile, it wasn’t unexpected. Just wish I’d found out a different way than listening to my voicemail after the cinema.” He swallows, then looks over at Sherlock. “Curiosity satisfied?”

Sherlock frowns. “It wasn’t curiosity. I – like knowing things about you, John.”

John smiles. “You also like knowing things about poison and bees, but I’ll take that as a compliment. Now you agreed; go to sleep.”

“Three and a half hours?” Sherlock asks.

“Three and a half hours,” John agrees.

Sherlock hesitates. “John. I want you to wake me up after three and a half hours if I’m still asleep. Even if it’s a deep sleep.”

John blinks. “Yeah, all right.”

“Do you promise? Promise you’ll wake me up,” Sherlock insists.

“Okay, Sherlock, I promise I’ll wake you up,” John says, looking at him oddly.

Sherlock believes him. Almost. Enough, because he closes his eyes, exhales slowly, and allows himself to fall asleep.

 

---

 

John mentally adds ‘straddling (no, not straddling, he’d been very carefully not straddling, keeping his hips as far from Sherlock’s as possible) pinning his mad flatmate to the sofa in an exhausted, frustrated, half-desperate attempt to get him to get some bloody sleep’ to his list of things to never, ever do again. Or, well, to be more specific, his list of things he’s inconveniently discovered he’d really like to do again and therefore should never, ever do again.

He collapses back into his chair after Sherlock finally (finally) agrees to get a couple of hours of sleep, and watches his flatmate curled up on the sofa. Sherlock looks exhausted, paler than normal, dark smudges under his eyes, and John wishes he hadn’t promised to wake Sherlock up after only three and a half hours. But a small amount of sleep is better than no sleep at all; John will just have to make every second count, and not start the timer until he’s certain Sherlock’s asleep.

Of course, John’s never actually seen Sherlock sleep, so he has no idea what it looks like. Sherlock’s breathing has slowed, evened, his face has relaxed, and he looks almost innocent. But for all John knows, that could be an act.

“Sherlock?” John asks quietly.

No response.

“Sherlock,” John says, more loudly.

Still nothing.

John considers for a moment, then pulls out his phone and says, “Look, Sherlock, I didn’t mention this earlier because I knew you’d be mad, but I told Fiona that if you went out again tonight, she could come over and use your equipment. Just the stuff you don’t have ongoing experiments with, and she’ll put it all back. I figure, you being asleep is the same as you being out, right? So you won’t mind if I text her and tell her to head over?”

He waits, and when Sherlock doesn’t reply, he says, “I’m taking your silence to mean it’s all right,” and types up a message to Fiona.

When there’s still nothing, John nods and deletes the message. He stands, grabbing the throw off the back of his chair, and moves back over to the sofa, carefully draping it over Sherlock.

“I wish you’d take better care of yourself,” John tells him quietly. “If anything ever happened to you-” He cuts off, because some things he can’t admit to Sherlock, even when he’s asleep. Some things he can’t even admit to himself, really; he prefers to delude himself into thinking he could get along just fine without Sherlock.

John sighs, tucks the blanket up to Sherlock’s neck, stops himself from brushing Sherlock’s hair off of his forehead, and returns to his armchair.

He picks up his phone again, this time to set the alarm to go off, and settles back to get some sleep of his own.

John doesn’t expect to sleep well, in the chair like that, but he’s tired, and the next thing he knows, it’s three and a half hours later and his mobile is beeping loudly in his ear. John gropes for it, hits dismiss, and stretches, grimacing slightly at hearing his back crack.

A glance over at the sofa tells him that Sherlock’s still asleep.

“Sherlock,” John calls.

Sherlock doesn’t stir, so John pushes himself out of the chair and moves to the sofa.

“Sherlock,” John says again, much louder, and right in Sherlock’s ear. “Get up.”

When that still doesn’t produce a result, John leans over to shake Sherlock’s shoulder, gently at first, then rougher.

Sherlock shifts, mumbles something, and then his eyes fly open.

John smiles. “There you are.”

Sherlock blinks at him. “You woke me up.”

John groans. “You better not be complaining, Sherlock, you’re the one who made me agree to it.”

Sherlock ignores him, sitting up and reaching for his phone. He looks at it, then says, “Three and a half hours.”

“Yes,” John says irritably. “Just like we agreed.”

Sherlock just stares at him.

John rolls his eyes. “Fine. Go back to sleep, then, if you’re going to be such a child about it.” He turns away, fully intent on storming up to his room.

“John,” Sherlock says softly.

John hesitates, but there’s something vulnerable in Sherlock’s voice that he can’t resist. He turns back around.

Sherlock is still staring at him, eyes intense, but now he looks hesitant. “I never allow myself to sleep for more than two hours at a time while on a case, usually significantly less.”

“I’ve noticed,” John comments dryly.

“There’s a reason,” Sherlock protests. “I can snap myself out of it then. I can say, ‘I’ll sleep for forty minutes,’ and then wake myself up. After two hours, I’m in too deep, and I can’t control it anymore. I’ve done research on the stages of sleep; people sleep in cycles through the night, have multiple stages of REM, or dream, sleep, and the first one generally occurs after ninety minutes of sleep. I have a working theory that once I pass that first REM stage, I-”

“Sherlock,” John says, cutting him off because he’s not feeling up to following any Sherlock working theories at the moment. “Sleep is – sleep, it’s supposed to be something that recharges you, not something you can control.”

Sherlock scowls. “Why not? It’s served me perfectly well so far, at least up until two hours.”

John sighs. “You know, if you just got a decent amount of sleep on a somewhat regular basis-”

“I can’t, John,” Sherlock says, shaking his head. “Not on a case. There’s always work to be done, and I’ll miss something vital, will arrive at something too late, and I-” He looks away. “I dislike the dreams I have, when I sleep that long during an active case. I can’t make myself wake from them.”

John’s protests fade a bit. He knows what it’s like not to want to sleep because of the dreams you know you’ll have. He’d thought Sherlock had known about his nightmares (though he doesn’t really know why, except that Sherlock seems to know almost everything) but apparently he doesn’t, since he’d been surprised to find out that John didn’t always sleep through the night. “Why don’t you have someone wake you, then?”

Sherlock turns back to face him, a small smile on his lips. “Few have been in a position to do so,” he says. “And those that I did ask thought it best to let me continue sleeping while I was actually doing so, either for my own good or for their convenience.”

No wonder Sherlock had been so insistent on getting him to promise, then. “Did you have any dreams tonight?” John asks.

“Undoubtedly,” Sherlock replies. “But none that I remember, so to answer what I believe you meant by your question: no.”

Trust Sherlock not to just say no. John chuckles, shakes his head, and says, “I’ll always wake you up, okay? So from now on, just ask me.”

Sherlock looks at him oddly. “John. You are-” He hesitates.

“I’m what?” John prompts.

“You are a lot of firsts for me,” Sherlock admits quietly. “This is one of them. Thank you.”

John starts to tell him that it’s not a big deal, but stops, because it obviously is to Sherlock. “You’re welcome.”

Sherlock nods, then flings the blanket off and stands. He grabs his phone and paces over to the wall of photos, alternating between staring at it and checking things on his phone.

‘Right back into it,’ John thinks with a smile.

Sherlock lets out a triumphant, “hah!” and darts back over to the sofa, snatching up his laptop.

“What is it?” John asks.

“Sales records,” Sherlock replies as his fingers fly over the keyboard.

“Of the trainers?” John asks.

“Obviously,” Sherlock says. “Get your laptop, we have work to do.”

Sherlock’s ‘work’ turns out to be comparing names on the sales records (of which there are a lot, the trainers are apparently popular) with members of the rugby and football teams. They split up the records, each of them hunting through lists of names on their laptops (and, at least in John’s case, making liberal use of ctrl + f).

Sherlock mutters to himself, and gets up every so often to pace in front of the wall of photos, when his muttering turns from strings of thoughts to going over the messages and missing items.

John mostly ignores him, concentrating on not letting all of the names blur together, and hums quietly as he works.

It’s like that for a bit, but John still hasn’t found any matches when Sherlock suddenly freezes in mid pace and turns towards him.

“John,” he says, eyes bright in a way John knows means he’s caught on to something. “You’re singing.”

John grimaces. It’d been quiet; he hadn’t even thought Sherlock had noticed. “Sorry. I’ll stop.”

“Don’t you dare,” Sherlock says. “What is it?”

“Uh,” John says. “Some Clash song. Been stuck in my head for a bit. Mark did it for karaoke the other night and spent the rest of the night singing it; that’s probably why.”

“I believe I can propose an additional reason. Sing it again,” Sherlock orders.

“Why?” John asks.

“It’s important,” Sherlock insists.

John rolls his eyes. “Fine.” He clears his throat, and sings hesitantly, “When we got thrown out, left without a fuss, and weekends we’d go dancing. Got me in bad fights, play me pool all night.” He’d left out a few lines there, he knows, but he can’t quite remember all of the lyrics.

Sherlock shakes his head. “No, the part you were just singing.”

“Uh.” It’d been the beginning, he thinks, so he shrugs and goes for it, “Met when we were in school, never took shit from no one, we weren’t fools. The teacher says we’re dumb, but we’re only having fun.”

“Yes,” Sherlock says, typing furiously at his phone. “Oh, yes.”

“What?” John asks.

“Think, John,” Sherlock says, scribbling something on the wall. “Where else have you heard that recently? Seen it?”

John repeats the last of the lyrics in his head, watching Sherlock write. ‘The teacher says we’re-’ He stands up. “The message. Professor Andrews: says we’re dumb.”

“You’re scintillating this morning, John,” Sherlock says, flashing a quick smile at him.

“Couldn’t it be a coincidence?” John asks, trying to look around Sherlock’s mad darting about to see what he’s doing to the wall.

“Unlikely,” Sherlock replies, finishing up his writing and stepping back.

The messages tacked up next to each victim have been added to, with little lines drawn around the original message.

Austin Collins’ now reads:
Wave my arms around
Flag one of those taxis maybe
I saw a girl somewhere somehow
/Forever sticks in/ my mind somehow

Martin Andrews’ says:
We met when we were in school
Never took no shit from no one, we weren’t fools
The teacher /says we’re dumb/
We’re only having fun

Kevin Mitchell’s reads:
But some days we hide inside
All courage gone and paralyzed
Sniff that wind of ugly tension
Today the /jerks have got/ aggression

Finn Morgan’s says:
The thief of life
/Move[d] onwards and outwards/ to love

And finally, Ashley Green’s reads:
You better cheat cheat
No reason to play fair
Cheat cheat or don’t get anywhere
Cheat /cheat if you can’t/ win

“They’re lyrics, John,” Sherlock says. “All of them, lyrics from Clash songs.”

“So...we’re looking for a Clash fan?” John asks.

“More than one,” Sherlock says. “And more than just fans. The messages aren’t even whole lyrics; they’re fragments of a line from a song. The only people who would recognize the messages for what they are would be those who have these songs memorized, who have them on the mind often enough to connect them. The killer must be one of those, and whatever person or persons the message is for must be as well.”

John frowns. “You think the messages are for a specific person, or a group of people?”

Sherlock waves a hand. “Obviously. The main message is spray painted in large letters, public places, so, he wants the world to know he’s got something to say. But! The general public can’t understand the message, so he doesn’t want them to know what he’s saying. Then there’s these.” He points at the pictures of the symbols on the bodies, all drawn in purple ink. “The endless or mystic knot – six infinity symbols combined together to represent eternity. Unlike the words, this one is small, hidden, not meant for the general public, then. A calling card, perhaps, though those generally tend to be on display as well – those who leave calling cards are those who want attention, not likely to hide their signature. An indicator for whoever the message is meant for, then, perhaps a symbol of a group the killer belongs to, or something that means something to the person the killer is trying to reach.”

John looks more closely at the symbol. “That’s brilliant, Sherlock.”

Sherlock smiles at him, then frowns at the wall. “Likely he thought there’d be some media coverage of it, otherwise how would whoever it was for be able to recognize it?” His eyes narrow at the pictures of the symbol. “Unless – unless it’s meant for someone he thought would have occasion to see the bodies. Someone at the university, that’s why they’re always left on campus, but who?”

He falls silent, staring at the wall, and John can practically see him thinking.

“I’ll just go back to the sales records, then, shall I?” John asks.

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees absently. “Excellent.”

John returns to the records, glancing at Sherlock out of the corner of his eye every so often. Sherlock paces in front of the wall of photos, occasionally tearing things off and repositioning them, or dropping them on the floor and leaving them there until sometime later, when he mutters heatedly, scoops them back up, and sticks them somewhere new.

Finally, Sherlock rips down half of the photos and wanders off to his room with his arms full of paper. He remains in there for quite some time, then emerges empty handed, eyes unfocused, and sits back down at his laptop. He skims it for a bit, picks up his phone and types frantically at it, then goes back to his laptop.

When John notices that it’s gone far past noon, he decides a break is in order, and stands to stretch. “I’m going to pick up some Chinese for lunch, do you want anything?” he asks.

Sherlock stares at him like he hasn’t realized it’s now afternoon and they have yet to eat today. Actually, in all honesty, he probably hasn’t, though he at least seems to realize it now.

“Hmm, yes, the usual. Use my card,” Sherlock says, going back to the research.

At least it’s a response. John consoles himself with the fact that Sherlock will probably be willing to absently shovel food into his mouth while he works, and if he doesn’t eat it, and least it won’t be John paying for it. “Won’t be a minute,” John tells him as he shrugs into his jacket, for all that he doubts Sherlock is listening.

He’s not expecting a reply, so he isn’t disappointed when he doesn’t get one, and just heads out to the Chinese place nearby. He checks his phone as he walks, sees the messages from Sam and Fiona last night, and realizes they’ll be heading to Baker Street soon.

John smirks, both because he’d been right about having something for them to help with (really, it’ll be a relief to hand over some of the records) and because, well, as long as he’s got Sherlock’s card.

He texts both of them, telling them he’s getting Chinese and asking if they want anything, then adds their requests along with his and Sherlock’s usual order.

When he gets back to the flat with the food, Sherlock’s still hunched over his laptop. John eyes the kitchen, then sets the food on the coffee table instead and starts pulling out cartons. He finds Sherlock’s chow mien and goes to hand it to him, but Sherlock has noticed there’s more food than usual (of course he has, he’s Sherlock) and is poking through the cartons.

He grimaces at one. “I don’t like duck.”

“It’s not for you,” John tells him, grabbing the carton and closing it back up.

Sherlock frowns. “You don’t like duck, either.”

It’s not at all surprising that Sherlock knows that (see above re: Sherlock noticing things), so it shouldn’t make John want to smile, that Sherlock knows what foods he dislikes. “It’s not for either of us. Fiona and Sam are coming over, remember?”

“Still?” Sherlock demands.

John blinks. “Yes? Why not?”

“Because there’s been another murder, things are different, and we need to-” He cuts off, brows furrowed and eyes darting a bit like he does when he’s thinking, smiles briefly, and then frowns. “We have work to do.”

John wants to ask him what that’d been, but he doubts he’ll get a straight answer, so he just rolls his eyes and says, “Yes, we do. Work that involves us staring at lists of names, which they could very easily help us with. I’ve already asked them to bring laptops.”

Sherlock opens his carton of chow mien, and stabs petulantly at it with his chopsticks. “Fine.”

John shakes his head and digs into his own food. He hasn’t finished when he hears a knock on the door. He sets down the carton he was eating from and stands, saying “That’ll be them.”

Sherlock, who’d turned most of his attention back to his laptop and has so far eaten only a few bites, ignores him.

Not unexpected, so John ignores being ignored and heads down to answer the door.

Sam and Fiona are standing there, Sam with a book bag over her shoulder.

“Hi Fiona, Sam,” John greets as he stands aside to let them in.

“Hello Dr. Watson,” Fiona returns.

“John, please,” he says, closing the door behind him and leading them upstairs.

“He’s a doctor?” he hears Sam whisper as they walk up the stairs. “You didn’t tell me he was a doctor.”

“I thought you knew,” Fiona replies.

Sam grumbles something else, but too quiet for him to hear. Then they’ve reached the top, and John gestures them in to the sofa. Sherlock doesn’t look up from his laptop.

“The food’s on the table, it should still be warm,” John says. “Ignore Sherlock, he’s just sulking.”

“I am not sulking,” Sherlock mutters, then looks up briefly. “Hello.”

“I imagine you’ve heard there’s been another murder?” John says, though he feels a bit guilty hiding that they’ve seen them at the crime scene.

“Yeah,” Sam says. “I didn’t really know her well, but two of my friends did.”

“Did you know her?” John asks Fiona.

“As well as I did the others,” Fiona replies. “If you’re asking if I knew if she had a drug habit, then no.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says without looking up. “In theory, we’ll find out tonight.”

“Tonight?” Sam asks.

“Yes,” Sherlock replies boredly. “Tonight we’ll be looking for our killer where he’s theoretically finding his victims.”

Fiona’s eyes light up a bit.

“And by we,” John says hurriedly. “He means him and me.”

Fiona scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re going, too.”

“Absolutely not,” John says, then grimaces, because he’s made the same mistake as Sherlock had earlier. “You want to help, I get that, but there’s other things you can do. Where we’re going is dangerous.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, you only know about where you’re going because I told you about it. Meaning I’ve been there far more times than you have, and have a better idea of how dangerous it is than you do,” Fiona says.

“Yes, but have you been there actively looking for a killer?” John asks.

Fiona stays silent, looking sullen.

“Not actively, but apparently she’s been there with a killer without even realizing it, which is worse. At least now we know what we’re getting into,” Sam says.

“No, you really, really don’t,” John says quietly, looking over at Sherlock. “Any time you want to chime in here.”

“He wants us to go,” Fiona says. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have mentioned your plans right in front of us.”

John starts to protest that, but can’t, because she’s right. His eyes narrow. “Sherlock,” he says, tone low and dangerous.

Sherlock shrugs carelessly, still not looking up. “You were the one who wanted them involved in the investigation.”

John leans forward and closes Sherlock’s laptop with more force than strictly necessary. Sherlock finally looks at him, not quite startled, but almost.

“I thought we agreed we were going to keep them out of danger,” John says, voice low.

“I don’t see how,” Sherlock replies evenly. “I distinctly told you that my goal was to keep them out of our way.”

“Taking them along tonight is keeping them out of the way, then?” John asks.

“It’s not ideal. But you insisted they be involved; I’m going to use them to our best advantage,” Sherlock says.

Use them - they’re people, Sherlock, not tools for you to risk because it’s convenient for you,” John tells him.

Sherlock’s eyes flash a bit in his irritation. “This is far from convenient, John, surely even your limited observational skills can pick up on that. This is your own fault.”

“On what planet is you being an uncaring, insensitive jerk my fault?” John demands.

Sam stands up. “I – I’m going to get some tea. Come on, Fiona, give me a hand.”

“You’re perfectly capable of making tea yourself,” Fiona replies. “I want to-”

Sam kicks her ankle. “Kitchen. Now.”

The two retreat to the kitchen. John shakes his head, still angry, but now feeling guilty for arguing about them like they weren’t even there. He turns back to Sherlock, who’s looking at him oddly.

“No,” Sherlock says. “That can hardly be your fault, considering it predates my association with you by a large margin. I was referring to our current situation.”

Now John recognizes that look. It’s his ‘What people say about me is of absolutely no concern to me, look at how little I care,’ tinged with a little bit of ‘it may be true, but it still hurts when you say it’ in his eyes.

John sighs. “I didn’t mean it like that, Sherlock.”

“Oh?” Sherlock asks. “I was supposed to interpret uncaring and insensitive in another way, then?”

“No, I definitely meant those,” John says.

Sherlock looks confused.

“Right now, in this current situation, you are being an uncaring, insensitive jerk,” John tells him. “That doesn’t mean I think you’re one all of the time, or even most of the time. That’s part of why I’m angry with you, because you’re being one now when I know just how much not one you can be.”

Sherlock still looks vaguely confused, though perhaps confused in a slightly different way. After a moment, he says, “That last sentence made no grammatical sense.”

“Yeah, well, you understood it, that’s the important bit,” John says. “And we’re not done here. The girls are not coming with us tonight.”

“Are you going to stop them, then? They’re the ones who wanted to come,” Sherlock says.

“Yes, handy, that, the way you just dropped it into the conversation knowing they’d jump on it,” John mutters.

Sherlock waves a hand dismissively. “Irrelevant. The point is that they want to go.”

“People want a lot of things, doesn’t mean they should get them,” John says. “Especially not when it might get them killed.”

Sherlock smiles at him. “That hasn’t stopped us.”

“That’s because we’re a pair of nutters,” John says, though he can’t help but smile back. “And it’s also different. I can handle myself. And so can you, when you’re not being too much of an idiot to be concerned with your own self preservation, and then you’ve got me to take care of it.”

“So take care of it for them, too,” Sherlock says, as if it were just that simple. “You’re over-estimating the amount of danger, John. This is a place that Fiona has been to many times, by herself, and even if we are looking for the killer, it’s unlikely we’ll be engaging him. And-” he cuts off.

“And?” John prompts.

“When I was younger, things would have been much easier if fewer people were willing to hide things from me for ‘my own good,’” Sherlock says quietly. Then, as if he hadn’t said that first bit at all, continues with, “Now that they know about it, you know very well that they’re going to go, either with us or on their own.”

John sighs, because Sherlock is right, as much as John doesn’t want to admit it, and as much as he doesn’t like the thought of putting the girls in danger. “Fine. But no displays of idiocy from you tonight, please, not if I have to watch out for three people.”

“Four,” Sherlock corrects.

“Four?” John asks.

“You’ll be looking out for yourself as well,” Sherlock tells him. “If I’m not allowed to be unconcerned for my own welfare, then neither are you.”

Coming from Sherlock, that’s a bit touching. He might as well have said he wanted John to stay safe.

“Four, then,” John agrees, then steps back (and when had he gotten so close to Sherlock? Christ, he hadn’t even noticed, he really needs to be more careful) and calls into the kitchen, “All right, you can stop pretending to make tea now.”

He feels strangely like a parent, calling the kids back in after an argument, and suppresses a grimace. Between thoughts like that and things like Sherlock’s comment earlier about undermining him in front of the children, it’s no wonder people assume they’re a couple.

And John is so not going down that train of thought right now.

“Who says we’re pretending?” Sam replies, as the two walk out of the kitchen with steaming mugs, then adds, “And don’t worry, I didn’t let Fi touch anything.”

“I wasn’t going to disturb anything,” Fiona mutters.

“So!” Sam says. “Tonight?”

Sherlock glances at John, then says, “Purely observational. We’ll be looking for someone connected to the university, obviously, which is where you two come in. You’ll be able to recognize people far more reliably than John or I will. Also looking for red and yellow trainers, but their absence or presence isn’t definitive. Bring something to take notes with you if you won’t remember it all.” He pauses, looking at Sam. “Record anyone you recognize, even if it’s a friend.”

Sam scowls. “Yes, thanks, I’m not an idiot.”

“No, but you do seem to be loyal, which is the same thing.” Sherlock says.

“I’ll remember that,” John mutters to him.

“You’re the exception,” Sherlock says dismissively. Then, softer, “You’re always the exception.”

They share a smile, then John looks away. Back towards Sam and Fiona, who are grinning a bit at them.

John clears his throat. “We’re not looking to engage anyone, but if anything does happen, Sherlock or I will take care of it.” He pauses, considering, then says, “Most likely, I’ll take care of it.”

Fiona’s eyes are shining in a way that John recognizes, and he sighs and makes a mental note to keep an eye on her. Sam, at least, looks serious and determined, but there’s an air of excitement about her as well. Yeah, this is a bad idea.

“In the meantime,” John says. “We have other work to do.”

“Two lists,” Sherlock says. “One, sales records of the trainers the killer wears. Two, University of Westminster students. We’re looking for names that match.”

They divide up the remainder of the lists and turn their attention to matching, munching on the Chinese food as they work. After awhile, John decides a quick break is essential, and he gathers up the rest of the Chinese food to put away.

Fiona walks into the kitchen as he’s making room in the fridge, carrying the empty cartons he’d left behind.

“I thought I’d help you,” she says, after standing slightly uncertainly for a bit.

He raises one eyebrow. “I’m still not going to let you at Sherlock’s equipment.”

Her face falls a little.

John grins. “But you can look all you want.”

She leaves the cartons on the counter with a smile and comes to stand behind him, peering into the fridge.

“Sam went in here to get milk, but she wouldn’t let me look at any of the interesting things,” Fiona says.

John bends down to open the crisper, where he knows Sherlock’s got something involving mould (non-toxic, he’s been assured) growing on meat (flesh, Sherlock insists, but it’s not human, so John prefers to think of it as meat). He steps back as Fiona leans in closer to examine the thing, fingers locked together behind her back (probably to resist the temptation to touch).

“The bottom shelf and the drawers are Sherlock’s,” he tells her as he goes to throw the empty cartons away. “Oh, but don’t open the other drawer, apparently whatever he’s got in there is sensitive to movement.”

After a few moments, she says, almost wistfully, “You let him do things like this all the time?”

John chuckles. “It’s not so much me letting him do them as him doing them and me limiting the space in the fridge where non-edible things can go.”

“You don’t mind it, then?” she asks.

John has to think about that for a moment. “No,” he says at last. “I don’t. It makes things interesting, at least. Sometimes I mind when he does things like leave a head in the fridge without telling me, but I went to medical school, and I was in the army. I’m used to people bringing back weird things.” Even a head was better than the camel spider Ross had brought back to base and kept hidden under his bunk.

She looks up at him at that last bit, eyes narrowed slightly in contemplation. Then she asks, “May I see your gun?”

He blinks, surprised.

“I’ve never seen a real one before yours. I’m curious,” she says, then adds, “I only want to look.”

John shrugs. As far as requests go, it’s not really among the most random or strange he’s heard. (Most of those belong to Sherlock, but a few go to his army buddies and rugby mates.) “Sure. Come on, it’s up in my room.”

He leads Fiona through the living room (pausing briefly to do a double take when he sees Sherlock actually sitting next to Sam, having a conversation with her) and up to his room. Fiona stands hesitantly by the door while he pulls the gun out from the drawer of his bedside table. The safety’s on and it’s unloaded, but he still makes sure to keep it pointed at the ground as he shows it to her.

She steps closer, but not too close, eyes darting over it.

“Why do you want to see a real gun?” he asks.

“So I can tell the difference,” she replies.

John smiles. “Looking at one gun won’t do that.”

“No,” she agrees. “But it’ll help.”

When she tires of looking, her attention abandons the gun and returns to him. “You were in the army.”

“Yes,” he says cautiously, because he’s learned statements like that have a tendency to be followed by strange or uncomfortable questions.

“What was it like?” she asks.

He relaxes slightly. “It wasn’t really like just one thing. Parts of it were exciting, challenging, some parts were boring, some were just difficult, occasionally it was fun, and sometimes it was just – horrible.”

Fiona frowns. “Elaborate,” she requests, then adds, “Please.”

John chuckles. “Training was hard work, but it was a lot of fun, too. Bunch of us all together, we had some pretty good times. When we went over –” He shrugs. “Some people thought it was still a game. Lots of them thought they were invincible. Most learned otherwise pretty quickly. It was hot, and the work was hard, but worth it. I’m a doctor, I didn’t see much combat at first, though I was trained for it. Then I got assigned to a – special unit. Great bunch, you know. We all still managed to have some fun.”

“You liked it,” Fiona says.

“Yes,” John agrees. “Not all of it, but I felt like I was doing something good there. Something worthwhile.”

“Why did you leave, then?” she asks.

John shuts down, just a little. He can feel himself doing it, but he can’t stop it. “I got shot.”

The curious gleam is in Fiona’s eyes again. “Oh? Where?”

“Left shoulder,” John replies.

“Can I see?” she asks.

John stares at her. “I don’t think that’d be appropriate.”

She looks confused for a moment, then brightens. “Oh! No, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to take your shirt off. I’m not interested in men.”

“No, Fiona, it’s generally inappropriate to ask strangers to take off their shirts and show you their scars,” John says.

“You’re not a stranger,” Fiona says. “You said I could come over and have tea any time.”

John sighs. “Even someone you’re really close to may be uncomfortable with things like that. It’s a sensitive subject.”

“Traumatic injuries can be,” Fiona agrees. Then comprehension passes briefly over her face, before she looks troubled. “Oh. I – but you’ve been so forthcoming, I assumed it didn’t bother you. I –”

“It’s okay,” John says. “But I’m not going to show it to you. Sherlock hasn’t even seen it.” At least not for longer than the two seconds it takes for John to get from the bathroom to his room.

Fiona looks surprised. “But, Sam says – oh.” She cuts off, then asks hesitantly, “Will you tell me how you got it?”

John looks at her. That’s another thing he hasn’t told Sherlock, mostly because one, Sherlock hasn’t asked, and two, John assumes Sherlock already knows. After a long moment, he says, “I was out with my unit. We were ambushed. There were bullets flying everywhere, IEDs going off. Three of us were down, I saw to two. Got shot tending the third, didn’t have time to take out the bullet because he was in bad shape.”

“Did he make it?” Fiona asks, voice soft.

“He might have, if we hadn’t gotten captured.” He’s not ready to talk about this, he realizes. It’s why he hasn’t told Sherlock, even though he suspects Sherlock already knows. More than that, he especially doesn’t want to talk about it with anyone who isn’t Sherlock. What that says, John doesn’t really know. He shrugs. “We got out. I got sent home, and now here I am.”

She watches him for a moment. “Do you like it here? Do you think it’s worthwhile?”

“Absolutely,” John replies immediately, then offers her a smile. “And we have work to do. Besides, I don’t even want to know what Sherlock will tell Sam if we leave them alone much longer.”

 

---

 

Sherlock barely notices when John goes into the kitchen – he does notice, of course, he almost always notices John, even when John thinks he’s ignoring him; it’s just hardly worth reacting to – but when Fiona follows him a few moments later, more of his attention is diverted. He watches the kitchen briefly, eyes narrowed. When they don’t emerge, he attempts to return to name-matching, but he finds his concentration slipping. Sherlock stands, pacing over to the wall of pictures – partial wall of pictures, now – and then glances back towards the kitchen.

He trusts John not to allow Fiona to disturb any of his experiments. He does. But there’s something – they still haven’t left the kitchen, why, what are they doing there that they couldn’t do out here-

Frustrated, Sherlock stalks over to the sofa and sits next to Sam, looking over her shoulder at her laptop screen to see how much progress she’s made.

Sam continues working for a minute, then says, “Something you need?”

“Merely checking to ensure you’re performing adequately,” he tells her. “Continue.”

“Uh-huh,” she says. “You know that’s really distracting, right?”

“You should get used to working under pressure, or your information tonight won’t be valuable,” he says.

She sighs, then shifts slightly so she’s angled a bit more towards him. “You’re kind of bad at this.”

Sherlock is affronted. “Bad at ensuring everything is progressing smoothly on this case?”

She stares at him. “You’re really over here just to check up on me.”

Now he’s irritated. “I dislike having to repeat myself.”

“And Fiona being in the kitchen with John has absolutely nothing to do with your timing?” she asks.

Sherlock blinks at her, grudgingly impressed at her observational skills. It had been his distraction at – at Fiona being so close to his experiments and out of his sight that had lead to him being unable to focus, which in turn brought on his desire to see Sam’s progress. Not that he’ll admit to that. “How does that make me bad at this?”

“I think we’re talking about two different ‘this’es,” she says.

He scowls at her. “What ‘this’ are you talking about?”

“You’re over here because you’re trying to make John jealous,” she says.

Sherlock scoffs. Her observations may have been sound, but her conclusions were considerably less so. “Ridiculous.”

She raises her eyebrows at him. “You’re jealous that Fiona’s in there with him, so you’re over here with me to make him jealous.”

“Wrong,” he says with a sneer, ignoring the odd twist in his stomach. “On both accounts. I am not jealous, nor do I expect John would be jealous should he see us together.” That doesn’t come out as scathing as he’d intended. It’s not exactly rueful, either, but it’s some mix of both, and that makes him frown.

“Oh,” she says, like she understands, and that’s even worse. “Do you think it’ll work on Fiona?” she asks wistfully.

“You want to make Fiona jealous? With me?” Sherlock asks, surprised.

Sam flushes. “I – didn’t think before I said that. It’s dumb, I know.”

“No,” he says absently. “It’s not.” He isn’t sure he’s ever been used to make someone jealous before. “Novel.”

She grins a bit. “Glad you think so.”

In the periphery of his vision, Sherlock sees John and Fiona exit the kitchen. He doesn’t look up, but he watches them out of the corner of his eyes. “Why?”

“Why what?” Sam asks.

“Why do you want-” Sherlock starts, but stops when John and Fiona don’t remain in the living room, but instead go upstairs. Towards John’s bedroom.

 

Sam must see something in his expression, because she pats his knee and leaves her hand there.

“Don’t worry,” she tells him. “Fiona’s not interested in men like that. I don’t think she’s interested in really anyone like that, actually, at least not now.”

Sherlock scowls, shifting so that her hand slides off. “I’m not the least bit concerned about who she’s interested in. Why do you want to make her jealous?”

“I don’t,” Sam says. “Not really. I just – I like her. I’ll get over it.”

“Why?” he asks.

She looks at him. “Are you really asking me why I like her?”

Sherlock frowns. “Yes.” He is genuinely curious, as to what Sam sees in Fiona. And perhaps there is some selfish interest in there. He had been in a similar situation to Fiona’s at university, very much on the outside, and part of him wonders what attraction someone like that could hold for someone like Sam, who travels in a very different social circle and is friends with people like Anna and Danny.

Her eyes narrow at him, jaw set. “Why shouldn’t I like her? I like her because I do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I shouldn’t have to explain myself.”

Her vehemence is somewhat surprising. “I was only curious.”

“Yeah, well, we have work to do, don’t we?” she says, then frowns. “Speaking of which, these names. They’re not just students, they’re all members of the football and rugby teams.”

Ah. Sherlock had wondered if she’d notice that. “They are.”

“You believe it’s one of them, then?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says.

She nods, looking back at the laptop.

He raises an eyebrow. “No denials? These are your friends.”

“I know them, that doesn’t mean they’re all my friends,” Sam says. “I don’t want to think any of them are capable of murder, but I guess it must be possible.”

“I see,” Sherlock says. “Anyone you think might be more possible than others?”

Sam shakes her head. “No. I’ve seen some of them be cruel, but that doesn’t mean they kill people. And I’m not about to accuse someone of murder because of speculation. We stay out of the gossip chain.”

He scoffs. “Really.”

She smiles a bit. “It’s impossible to completely avoid, true, but I meant the cruel bits.”

“I sincerely doubt your friends are as committed to that notion as you are,” he says.

She looks ready to protest, then deflates a little. “No. You’re probably right. Lacey’s just as against it as I am, though occasionally she talks about listening to it so we at least know what’s being said. And not Sawyer, he likes the gossip, but he’d never be cruel. Finn –” There’s a slight hitch in her voice before she continues. “He never took any of it seriously, always treated it like a joke he could make go away by laughing at it. But Anna, Danny, even Kayla sometimes, I think the only reason they don’t participate is because they know how Lacey and I feel about it. They probably even do participate, sometimes.”

“Then why are you friends with them?” he asks.

“Because I know them, and they’re good people,” she says. “Everyone’s mean to people sometimes, and in their minds, they probably don’t say anything the other person doesn’t deserve. I’m not excusing it-” she adds hurriedly. “But you can be friends with someone and still dislike some things about them.”

Sherlock wonders if she’d say the same thing if she’d heard their conversation at the crime scene. But he’s lost interest in this conversation – he has no desire to discuss the characteristics of Sam’s friends – and his focus has turned toward the fact that if John and Fiona are upstairs, it means that they are no longer in the kitchen.

He stands, muttering something about continuing on with the work – he’s not entirely sure what, his focus is more on the need, now that he’s connected John and Fiona’s whereabouts with the kitchen being empty, to check on his experiments. Some of them are very sensitive, and even accidental contact could have disrupted them, which John may not have known or remembered and Sherlock knows he won’t be able to focus again until he’s made sure nothing has been disturbed. If he’s being honest, he likely won’t be able to completely focus again until John and Fiona have returned to the living room, but for once, he is disregarding his policy to always be as honest as possible with himself, and refusing to acknowledge that.

Sherlock heads into the kitchen, determinedly checking everything he’s currently working on – and the items he’s storing for future experiments – to ensure nothing’s been disturbed. He’s delicately sliding open one of the crisper drawers when he hears footsteps enter the kitchen.

“I didn’t touch anything,” Fiona says sulkily from behind him. “Why does everyone seem to think I can’t control myself?”

“Because you’re too eager,” Sherlock says absently as he carefully closes the drawer again and looks up at her. “It leads people to believe you won’t be able to show restraint.”

“I’m perfectly capable of showing restraint,” she says, but there’s something almost guilty about her expression.

Sherlock narrows his eyes at her. “You did touch something.”

She glares at him. “I did not. Not everything is about you.”

Sherlock pauses. If her guilt wasn’t about his experiments, then– “What were you doing in his room?”

The not-quite-guilt increases briefly, then fades as she smirks. “Can’t you figure it out?”

His eyes sweep over her for a split second – observing hair not mussed, clothes in the same state as they’d been when she went up – before he catches himself and scowls. Absolutely ridiculous. Sherlock knows logically that John would hardly be taking a nineteen year old girl up to his room for any sort of – physical relations during a case. Likely not at all, but especially not during a case. That it occurred to him at all means-

Sherlock hesitates. There is the distinct possibility that it means he is a bit jealous. He dislikes it, though he must admit that he knows why. Sherlock has accepted that he is very much fond of John, for many reasons, not the least of which is that John actually likes Sherlock, his lifestyle, the ideas Sherlock gets and the things he does that everyone else writes off as mad. Granted, John often says they’re mad as well, but he does it with a grin while he’s right alongside Sherlock doing whatever it is he’s saying is mad and enjoying it. And, of course, there’s the fact that John not only thinks he’s brilliant, but has no qualms about telling him that.

Objectively, Sherlock knows there must be other people John thinks are clever, but Sherlock has yet to be faced with one. He’s faced with one now, however, as Fiona is definitely clever. She’s also young, less skilled at portraying confidence and appearing to be self-assured than Sherlock is. It’s only natural that John, with his instinct to protect and care for others, would be drawn to her.

And Sherlock is jealous. John is his only friend; Sherlock selfishly wants all of that to himself. He doesn’t mind John’s other friends as much, because they give him a different kind of friendship. But – and even though he knows logically this isn’t true, Fiona isn’t as clever as he is, doesn’t do what he does, doesn’t have his accomplishments, skills, contacts, isn’t what he’s made himself to be, doesn’t know John like he does, he can’t help but think – Fiona could offer John everything Sherlock can. And more, as Sherlock has ample evidence that shows John prefers the company of women.

So, yes. Sherlock is jealous. At least he has a name for the odd feelings he’s been ignoring during this case. And now he can push it aside and focus on the case, on solving it, with the extra incentive that the quicker he does so, the quicker Fiona will be gone.

“Unnecessary,” Sherlock says, finally answering Fiona’s question. “As long as you didn’t upset him or do anything to impede his functioning at full capacity tonight, what you were doing is irrelevant.”

Fiona sulks, likely disappointed he didn’t take the bait. She watches him check on a few more things, then asks, quite suddenly, “Can I have him?”

Sherlock looks over at her. “What?”

“John,” she clarifies. “Can I have him?”

Sherlock is horrified. “Absolutely not.”

Fiona frowns at him. “I’ll give him back.”

Sherlock doesn’t find that any more comforting. “I don’t share.”

Fiona’s shoulders droop a bit. “It isn’t fair. He appreciates this, you, why can’t I have that as well?”

Sherlock relaxes the tiniest bit as he realizes that it’s not John, specifically, she wants, it’s a friend. “You already have that,” he tells her, in a tone that says that should be quite obvious.

It apparently is, because she knows exactly what he’s talking about. She looks away, and says quietly, “I don’t think I really do. She’s with me now, because of the investigation, but when it’s over.” Fiona shrugs. “She won’t need me anymore.”

Sherlock frowns. “You believe she’ll merely abandon you after the case is over?”

Fiona looks up to glare at him. “Of course not. She’ll likely try, but she has many friends. She only met me because of the investigation. After it’s over, there’s no need for her to continue to wish to be mine.”

Sherlock raises one eyebrow. “John has other friends, and only met you because of the case. Based on your evidence, he’s likely to do the same.”

Fiona shakes her head. “He’s already given me his number, and said I could text him if I needed anything. And said I could come over for tea whenever I wanted.”

Sherlock resists the urge to sigh, because of course John did. “I see. And Sam gave you no such assurances of continued association?”

She looks uncertain. “No. She did.”

“You believe John but not her?” he asks.

She looks away. “I can’t-” she cuts off, then stays silent.

“Ah,” he says. Her reluctance is obvious. She wants Sam’s friendship, more than she will admit, too much to allow herself to believe it will happen. “Setting yourself up for disappointment, then?”

“What?” she asks.

“If you never act on anything where the outcome is uncertain, you will never accomplish anything,” Sherlock tells her.

“You don’t-” she starts angrily, then stops and looks at him consideringly. “Sam says-”

He frowns at her. “She says what?”

“Nothing,” Fiona says. “You should follow your own advice.”

Sherlock has no idea what that means. And, even more frustratingly, she turns on her heels and heads back into the living room before he can formulate a response, leaving him staring after her with narrowed eyes. His only solutions now are to ask Fiona what she’d been talking about or to casually mention the conversation to John and see what he makes of it. In most circumstances, he’d have few qualms about the John option, but this – he’s strangely reluctant to tell John about it.

He’s becoming tired of this. There is a case, it is much more important than talking to these girls and attempting the impossible task of making them make sense.

Right. No more distractions, they are going to get through the sales records before leaving for the stakeout, and then Sherlock will be that much closer to solving the case. He’s already so close, so very close, just a few more points he’s not entirely sure on – all right, two major points, as he’s not quite certain of the exact identity of either the killer or the recipient of the message, but he’s narrowing in on them, and it won’t be very long now.

Not long at all, and then Sam and Fiona will be gone, and Sherlock can move right on to the next case, without having to stop and think about anything related to John.

 

---

 

Sam is alone in the living room when John and Fiona come down from his room.

“Where’s Sherlock?” John asks.

Sam nods towards the kitchen. “Think he’s checking on his things.”

Fiona scowls and stalks into the kitchen.

Sam grins. “Guess she’s tired of people implying she’s messed everything up.”

John smiles back. “Guess so.” He sits down in his armchair and picks up his laptop. “How are things going?”

“Good, except for when Detective Holmes insisted on hovering around me to check on my progress,” she replies.

John fights a grin. “Is that what he was doing?”

“That, and speculating on what you and Fi were doing upstairs, not that he admitted that part,” she says, then raises her eyebrows at him. “What were you doing?” she sounds mostly curious, though there’s a hint of something not quite jealous in her voice.

“She just wanted to see the gun,” he says. “And ask me a couple of questions about the army.”

“Oh,” Sam says. “Wait, hang on. So you must have been an army doctor, then.”

“Yeah,” he agrees.

“Do you have your own practice now?” she asks.

“No, just locum work,” he replies, then grins a bit. “Wouldn’t really have time for anything else with the cases.”

She considers that. “So now you and your partner solve crimes that are unsolvable, go on stakeouts and chases and take down killers while you still do doctoring on the side?”

He chuckles slightly. “Yes, I suppose so.”

“Hmm,” she says, then adds wistfully, “Can I just be you when I grow up?”

John is startled. He’d known some younger students, soldiers, who looked up to him, back in medical school and the army, but the idea of someone wanting to be him, especially now, is just – well, he doesn’t know what it is, because it hasn’t actually occurred to him before now. “Why?”

“Why would I want to be a good-looking doctor who has a brilliant, handsome partner and goes on mad adventures with him, saving people and stopping bad guys?” she asks. “Yeah, that’s a mystery.”

He doesn’t really know what to say to that. He finally settles for, “Sherlock’s not my partner.”

She frowns at him. “Isn’t that what you call two detectives who work together?”

Oh. John winces internally. He might have known his automatic denial would one day just make things worse. “I thought you meant – never mind.”

Sam grins. “Oh. Pretty quick to deny it, aren’t you? Do you always do that?”

“It actually happens a lot,” John admits.

She says something under her breath that John doesn’t quite catch.

“Sorry?” he says.

“Never mind,” Sam says. “If I actually find a match, should I be looking out for them specifically tonight in addition to just anyone I recognize?”

“Probably,” John replies, then adds, “I don’t suppose I can convince you not to go tonight?”

Sam looks at him. “Were you able to convince Fi not to go?”

“I didn’t even try, actually,” John says. He’d considered it, but it seemed like a waste of effort.

She smiles slightly, then says, “I’m not about to let her be out there alone. If she’s going, I’m going.”

John sighs. He’d thought as much, but he figured he should try with at least one of them.

Fiona emerges from the kitchen then, looking pleased with herself. Then she sees Sam, and the smugness fades to uncertainty. She stands there for a moment, then her chin lifts determinedly and she moves to sit next to Sam.

Sherlock comes out a few moments later, not quite scowling, and John hides a grimace, wondering what they could have been talking about that left Fiona smug (at least briefly) and Sherlock discontent. Sherlock doesn’t say anything, just sits down in his chair and focuses in on his laptop.

John takes that as a cue to go back to working. They have a handful of names by the time they’re finished, most on the football team, but a couple on the rugby team (all of them are men Sam knows, but none that she knows well, and Fiona can’t say anything about their drug habits).

Sherlock is less pleased with the outcome than John had expected.

John pulls him aside to ask why while they’re grabbing a quick bite to eat before getting ready to head to the stakeout, and Sherlock shakes his head.

“University students are infuriating, John,” he replies. “They come from everywhere, they’re equally likely to have purchased shoes in their hometowns as in London, and obtaining records for all of their hometowns would prove to be at best exceedingly difficult, at worst impossible. Perhaps –” He hesitates, then shakes his head again. “Useless to speculate at the moment. After tonight I’ll know better which direction to pursue.”

“You think we’ll see him tonight, then?” John asks.

“No,” Sherlock says. “But we’ll have more information. At the very least, my contacts should be able to provide definite answers on Andrews and Green.”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything more on the subject, and it isn’t long before they’re taking a cab across town. Sherlock leads them down a series of poorly lit, seedy-looking alleyways to an abandoned warehouse.

“This is what we’re staking out?” John asks.

“Yes,” Sherlock replies. “There’s a reason I told you not to wear your jumper tonight.” He opens the door to the sound of music, and the four of them walk in.

There’s a small crowd of people in the warehouse, some dancing, some gathered in small groups talking or – doing other things.

John and Sam exchange a look, and both decide not to ask how Sherlock or Fiona know about this place. John at least can pretend Sherlock had been investigating for a case, but there’s really only one reason for why Fiona would have been here enough to see three of the victims.

They set up in an empty corner that gives them a clear view of the door, and John tries really hard not to feel out of place. At least his black jacket isn’t too different from the things some people are wearing, especially the ones who come in, remain only for a short time to talk to someone, and then leave.

“Sam,” Sherlock says after awhile. “Come with me. We need to examine the people who’ve already been here. John, Fiona, watch the door. We’ll return shortly.”

Sam follows after Sherlock, leaving John alone with Fiona.

They watch in silence for a few moments, then Fiona says abruptly, “I’m not here that much.”

John blinks at her. “What?”

“I don’t spend all my time here, if that’s what you were thinking,” she says.

“Um,” he says intelligently. “I wasn’t.”

“Oh. Good.” She nods, looks like she’s going to ask something, then seems to change her mind and falls silent.

When Sherlock and Sam come back, there’s a cigarette between Sherlock’s lips.

John raises his eyebrows. “I thought you quit.”

“I did,” Sherlock replies. “Except for when the occasion calls for it.” He leans casually against the wall, taking a drag.

John rolls his eyes, and figures at least if he’s trying to blend in, it’s only a cigarette. “This better be only a temporary relapse.”

“I don’t know,” Sam comments. “I’m kind of enjoying the view.”

Sherlock smirks, and shifts so he’s just a bit closer to her. Fiona’s eyes narrow at him, and she steps even closer to Sam.

Huh. John looks at Sherlock, raising his eyebrows again, but Sherlock just shrugs.

“Flattering,” Sherlock comments. “But your view is better served on the door.”

They turn their attention towards the front of the warehouse, but though John’s very focused on the people coming in, he’s not exactly looking for the people he’s supposed to be. John had looked at the photographs, memorized them as best as he could, but they aren’t at the front of his mind right now. It’s not exactly a conscious decision, but he finds himself scanning people more for a sign of a threat than for any resemblance to the pictures he’d looked at yesterday. He’d feel more guilty about not contributing more to the reason they’re out there, but they’ve got two extra pairs of eyes to make up for it, and really, it’s Sherlock’s fault John’s got more reason to be concerned about danger. (He suspects Sherlock knows where most of his attention is, anyway, considering he’d all but told John to watch out for them all.)

A few hours into their watch, Sherlock tosses down his cigarette and pushes away from the wall.

“Continue watching, I’m stepping out. Be back momentarily,” he says.

John reaches out without even thinking about it, catching Sherlock’s wrist and stopping his movement.

“I said no acts of idiocy tonight, remember?” he says.

Sherlock scowls. “I’m meeting one of my contacts, John, that’s hardly an act of idiocy.”

“Alone?” John asks.

“Yes, alone, just as nearly every other time I’ve meet with one here, for this case and numerous others,” Sherlock replies. “Do stop being entirely so paranoid, John.”

John hesitates, then lets go of Sherlock’s wrist. He knows Sherlock does things like this by himself, but it’s one thing to know it’s happening and another to have to wait in a not-so-abandoned warehouse while Sherlock wanders through dark, seedy alleys alone.

“Ten minutes,” John says.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Paranoid, John,” he tells him, but adds, “Fifteen,” before leaving.

John shoves his hands into his pockets, leaning back against the wall. “He always gets himself into trouble when he goes off alone and leaves me behind,” John mutters, ignoring the fact that that’s not entirely true.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Sam says sympathetically.

“Doesn’t mean I don’t worry,” John replies.

Without Sherlock there, John feels even more out of place. Hanging out in an abandoned warehouse that’s currently a site for some kind of cross between a party and a business, lurking in a corner with two girls at least ten years younger than him; he might as well be holding a sign saying, ‘hi, I’m a creeper.’

Then again, perhaps that means he doesn’t look entirely out of place after all.

The door opens, and a couple of young men walk in. They look to be the right age, but when John looks over at Sam and Fiona, Sam shakes her head.

“Don’t recognize any of them,” she says.

“I do,” Fiona says. “They’re not students.”

John nods, and returns to keeping an eye on those who get within a certain distance of them, though he winds up glancing back at the door much more often than he had when Sherlock was there.

The next time it opens happens to be at a time when he isn’t looking, but he hears Sam gasp, which turns his attention back towards her.

“Recognize someone?” he asks, already moving his gaze to the door.

She doesn’t answer, and he realizes why when he sees who’s just walked into the warehouse.

It’s Martin Andrews.

John stares in absolute disbelief. It’s not possible, there’s no way a dead man could be – and then the man steps a bit further into the warehouse, into better lighting, and John relaxes a bit. He’s been staring at pictures of Martin Andrews on his living room wall for the past four days, and the resemblance is strong enough that he must be a close relative, but it’s not him.

He looks back over at Sam and Fiona. Sam looks like she’s in shock, but Fiona’s scowling, and must have realized what John has.

“That’s –” Sam starts.

“Not Martin Andrews,” Sherlock says from their right.

They all turn to look at him, and John resists the urge to roll his eyes. Sherlock’s timing is so perfect that John suspects he’s been there longer and was waiting for the opportune moment or something.

“Of course not,” Fiona says crossly, folding her arms over her chest in an almost defensive position.

John frowns, wondering what’s made her so irritable.

“Then who is he?” Sam asks.

“I’m assuming a relative?” John asks, looking at Sherlock. John’s figuring brother, but he doesn’t say that, as he doesn’t feel like hearing Sherlock scoff if it’s actually a cousin or something. (And, well, relative will likely get him the smile Sherlock gives him when he’s caught on, without taking away Sherlock’s chance to shine and making him pout.)

“Brother,” Sherlock says, giving John a quick smile. “Steven Andrews. A social worker, who looks just enough like his brother to be mistaken for him. Not in daylight, of course, but in this lighting, viewed by someone under the influence of-”

“Yes, we’d figured that out, thank you,” Fiona snaps. “Or at least I have, and if these two aren’t complete idiots they’ve done as well. There’s no need to waste our time explaining it just so everyone knows how clever you are.”

Sherlock laughs, cold and cutting, with a hint of insecurity that likely only John has noticed. “I’m wasting our time? I’m hardly the one that had us chasing a false connection between the victims, am I? Fortunately I had my reservations and pursued other avenues of investigation, though they weren’t given my full attention due to misleading information, sadly enough for Ashley Green.”

Fiona takes a step back as if he’d struck her. She glances at Sam briefly, looking vulnerable and almost desperate. Then her expression closes down completely, and she turns and strides away from them.

Sherlock sneers. “If she can’t-”

He’s cut off when Sam slaps him.

“Shut up,” she says, then takes off after Fiona.

Sherlock stares, wide-eyed, and looks at John.

“Yes, she hit you,” John tells him. “You’re lucky all she did was slap you. If someone had said something like that to you, I would have punched them. What the hell were you thinking?”

“It was the truth,” Sherlock replies stubbornly.

“It’s not and you know it,” John says. “What was it that made you do that? You only use that laugh when someone’s said something that hit too close to home and you want to draw attention to them and away from yourself.”

Sherlock looks at him sharply. “You know what laughs I use when?”

“Not all of them, but I’m getting there,” John says absently. “Don’t change the subject.”

Sherlock glances away, and says, quietly and reluctantly, “I – don’t do that just to make myself seem clever, not entirely. Or at least I don’t mean to. But I have been accused of it quite a few times before.”

And John bets he can guess who they were, too. Or some of them, at least, there’s likely more he doesn’t know about. He sighs. “I know, Sherlock. But that’s no excuse. And anyway, if Fiona made that mistake, couldn’t the killer have as well?”

“I’d thought of that. If I had been in Fiona’s place, it’s possible I would have reached the same conclusion,” Sherlock admits. “But Ashley Green has no connection to drugs. Which means-” he cuts off.

John makes a mental note to demand more on that later, but now isn’t the time. He grabs Sherlock’s hand and tugs him towards the door.

Sherlock frowns, though he falls into step with him. “Where are we going?”

“Should think it’d be obvious,” John says. “After the girls. And you are going to tell Fiona the last bit of what you’ve just told me. And apologize.”

Sherlock scowls, but doesn’t protest.

When they get outside, however, Fiona and Sam are nowhere in sight. John feels a slight stab of fear, and he looks at Sherlock.

Sherlock gently pulls his hand from John’s grasp (shit, had he really not let go while they’d been walking out?) and crouches down to examine the ground. “Text them.”

Right. Obviously. John pulls out his phone and sends, ‘Where are you?’ to them both.

Only Sam replies, that she hasn’t found Fiona yet and thinks she went the wrong way.

“They’re not together,” John says. “And Fiona isn’t replying.”

“They went different directions,” Sherlock says. “Fiona was moving quickly, she was likely out of sight before Sam left the building.” He stands and points to the left. “Fiona went that way.”

“Let’s go, then,” John says, texting Sam to head back to the warehouse, face away from it like she’s just leaving, and turn left.

He and Sherlock move quickly, following Fiona’s footprints in the mud. After only a few minutes, Sherlock slows.

“What?” John demands.

“There’ve been several other tracks alongside hers,” Sherlock says. “But now one of the footprints is over hers. She was followed.”

They exchange a glance, and then both start running, only for Sherlock to stop them again relatively quickly.

“Listen,” Sherlock says.

John does, and hears the sound of people talking. He can’t make out what they’re saying, but one of them is Fiona, and he can tell the rest are male.

“Surprise them,” John says.

Sherlock nods, and they move over to hug the brick wall of the building along the alley, creeping silently but quickly towards the end of it. John looks around the corner when they get there, assessing the situation before jumping into it. Fiona is standing a few yards away, surrounded by four young men and talking quickly. John recognizes them: the group that had entered the warehouse just before Andrews’ brother.

“Looks like we-” John starts, then cuts off.

One of the men punches Fiona in the face, hard enough that she staggers back and ends up on the ground. Another man raises a crowbar, clearly intent on hitting her with it. John’s out from behind the corner in an instant, pulling his gun from the inside pocket of his jacket and taking the safety off at the same time. He gets barely two steps before the man with the crowbar is rugby-tackled to the ground.

Sam sits on top of him, pinning him down long enough for her to lift his head and bring it down hard against the ground. Fiona lashes out, kicking up and forward, driving the ball of her foot right into the groin of the man who’d punched her. He drops to the ground, but another man kicks Fiona in the side, and the last pulls Sam off of crowbar-man (though not before she’s bashed his head into the mud again).

By this time, John’s less than a yard from them. “Oi!” he yells, drawing their attention to him, and to the gun he’s got pointed at them.

“I suggest you leave,” Sherlock says from beside him. “Quickly.”

The two uninjured men pull the one Sam had tackled up and help him away, while the one Fiona kicked manages to get to his feet and hobble off.

“I don’t like letting them leave,” John says, keeping his gun trained on them.

“I’ve already texted Lestrade their pictures,” Sherlock replies. “They’ll be arrested before long.”

John waits until the men have left his sight before turning to smile at Sherlock. “See?” he says quietly. “Not a jerk at all.”

“It’s my job,” Sherlock says, but there’s a bit of colour on his cheeks.

John shakes his head and turns back towards the girls to check if they’re all right, but he stops when he sees them. Sam’s kneeling by Fiona’s side, leaning over her and gingerly brushing her hair off her forehead. “Do you need the hospital?”

“No,” Fiona replies, though she sounds a bit dazed. “I’ll be fine. Sam, you – you could have been hurt. Were you hurt?”

“Nothing too bad,” Sam says. “And I don’t care. I told you, nothing bad’s going to happen to you while I’m around.”

“You meant it,” Fiona says quietly, wonderingly.

“Of course I meant it,” Sam tells her. “Fi, I-” She bites her lip. “I think I’m going to do something really dumb.”

“So you’ll be your normal self, then,” Fiona replies, but her voice is shaking slightly.

“Exactly,” Sam says, and kisses her.

John smiles, but the kiss goes on long enough that he has to look away. And then regrets it, because he winds up looking at Sherlock, who’s watching the girls with something not quite envy and not quite longing in his eyes, and John’s breath hitches. It hits him, hard, just how much he wishes he could kiss Sherlock after a scare like that. He hadn’t realized it until recently, maybe not even fully until right now, but if he’d thought it’d go away, he’s beginning to suspect he might be wrong.

He’s standing so close to Sherlock. Sherlock’s not looking at him, but he could say something, change that, and –

And then Sherlock’s eyes meet his, gaze intense.

It takes everything in John not to reach out for Sherlock. Not even to kiss him, not really, just to hold him, pull him close, because suddenly the distance between them is too much.

He gives in, and steps closer, so close that they’re almost touching.

“John,” Sherlock murmurs, soft and reverent and almost sad, like he’s just realized something and he suspects it might break the heart he says he doesn’t have.

John reaches for him with his free hand, because hearing Sherlock say his name in that tone of voice might just break his heart as well and he can’t not. John can’t be misreading this. He can’t, that’s longing in Sherlock’s eyes, John knows it. His hand grips Sherlock’s bicep, lightly, and he pulls him closer, leans in the tiniest bit.

Sherlock closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and pulls away.

John’s left closing his hand on air, missing the warmth under his fingers, and feeling empty and even more confused than he had before.

“Sherlock,” John says, and it comes out almost a question.

“You had better go see to them,” Sherlock says.

And that’s true enough, at least. John turns away from Sherlock, because he is a doctor, and tending to people who’d just been punched and kicked is, at the moment, much more important than John’s confusion.

Sam and Fiona have stopped kissing, though they’re still close enough that their lips nearly touch.

John clears his throat, and they look up at him. “Since you vetoed the hospital, mind if I take a look?”

“Isn’t that one of the bonuses about being friends with a doctor?” Sam asks, standing and then helping Fiona up.

John puts the safety back on his gun and slips it back into his pocket, then sees to Fiona first, checking her ribs (nothing broken, though she’ll have bruising) and her head (no broken cheekbones, but she likely has a minor concussion and she’ll have a black eye). He relays this to her, then says, “There likely isn’t any danger, but you shouldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time for at least the next twelve hours. Do you have someone who can wake you and check on you?”

“Me,” Sam says. “She’s got me.” She looks at Fiona. “Stay the night at my flat?”

Fiona reaches out almost shyly to take Sam’s hand. “All right.”

John nods. “Wake her up every two or three hours, and make sure she’s behaving normally – for her – and can answer simple questions like her name and where she is.”

He then checks over Sam quickly (no serious injuries, though she’ll probably have some bruises where the man grabbed her) and pronounces them both fit to leave. “Though I want to hear from both of you tomorrow to make sure nothing’s changed.”

“No,” Sherlock says abruptly.

John frowns at him. “No?”

“They can’t leave yet,” he clarifies, then looks at Fiona and says stiffly, “I apologize. What I said was uncalled for. Had I been in your shoes, my conclusion would most likely have been the same.”

And now John wants to kiss him again. He looks away, and uses the pretence of double checking that the safety’s on his gun to get himself under control.

“Thank you,” Fiona says quietly.

“Sorry I hit you,” Sam offers to Sherlock.

“You hit him?” Fiona asks, turning to look at Sam.

“It surprises you?” Sherlock asks. “She nearly bashed a man’s head in for you.”

Sam winces, then lifts her chin defiantly, like she’s expecting them to rebuke her for it, or maybe even worse, and is prepared to stand by it.

John won’t. He has no place to, really, not when he’s fully aware that he would have done far worse to anyone who dared raise a crowbar to Sherlock.

“Thank you,” Fiona says again, this time hesitantly and full of barely concealed affection.

Sam’s response is to kiss her.

John waits what he considers a reasonable time for them to finish, then clears his throat. “We should return to the main road, get a cab.”

“Okay,” Sam agrees without looking at him, because she’s still smiling at Fiona.

By now, John’s got the number for a cab company on speed dial (a relatively inexpensive one that has few qualms about going to odd places at all hours of the night) and he calls for one while they walk. Sam and Fiona walk a bit ahead of them (so John can keep an eye on them, he’s feeling guilty enough about not immediately going after them), their fingers laced together between them.

When they get to the main road, John looks Fiona over again, under the light of a street lamp while they wait for the cab, but finds nothing serious that he hadn’t seen before.

“We’ll drop you two off first,” John tells Sam and Fiona after the cab’s pulled up.

Sam gives her address to the cabbie as they all climb in. She and Fiona sit as close together as they can manage without being in each other’s laps, but when John glances over to share a smile with Sherlock, he finds Sherlock looking pointedly out the window, ignoring them.

They leave Fiona and Sam at Sam’s flat (after John reminds them once more to contact him tomorrow). Sherlock directs the cabbie to Baker Street, and then moves, hopping across to sit in the spot recently vacated by Fiona. Diagonal from John, and (John can’t help but notice) as far from him as possible.

John feels a surge of irritation, and is tempted to ask if he shouldn’t just get his own cab, then. But he doesn’t, because under the irritation is a slight hint of fear. He’d obviously misread Sherlock’s intentions back in the alley, and he’s apparently made Sherlock so uncomfortable that he doesn’t even want to sit next to him in the cab.

At this point, he’s just hoping Sherlock will forget about it in the excitement of the case. John suspects calling attention to it, even to assure Sherlock it’ll never happen again, will only make it worse. If for no other reason than that would require John to confirm that something had happened, or had been about to happen. If he ignores it, maybe Sherlock will assume his motivations were entirely innocent, and he’d held Sherlock’s arm and started pulling him in for – something, anything other than to kiss him. John can’t think of anything, really, but Sherlock’s cleverer than he is; he’ll think of something not kiss-related.

Right. John’s doomed. His only hope is the case’s distraction, which, well, is actually a pretty good hope. John never thought he’d be so grateful for Sherlock’s single-mindedness.

Sherlock says nothing the entire ride back, and his silence continues when they reach their flat.

John waits for as long as he can stand (which turns out to be only a few moments) before he has to say something, and if he’s not careful, it’s going to be about exactly what he’s avoiding bringing up. He’s got to steer it towards the case, then, get Sherlock talking about it and distracted. Should be easy enough, especially as there actually had been something John wanted to ask him about.

“Sherlock,” John says. “What you were saying earlier tonight-”

Sherlock holds up a hand. “Not now, John,” he says, and disappears into his room.

Yeah. That’d gone great. Before John can think too much into it, though, Sherlock emerges again, arms full of the photo he’d taken away earlier, and begins tacking them up on the wall.

“Do you have a theory on how the victims are connected, then?” John asks, hesitantly trying again.

Sherlock looks over at him, the case-excited gleam back in his eyes. “It’s personal, John, it has to be. The messages are clearly tailored to each victim – now that I know their source and why they were fragmented – merely tailored in a way that only two will understand. He’s killing them for a reason, either his own, or, more likely, the person the messages are intended for. Why choose specific victims, with specific messages attached to them, addressed to a specific person, unless the killings are for said person?”

John frowns. “So, he’s killing people for someone, people that person has a reason to want dead, like – a contract killer?”

Sherlock shakes his head. “I’d considered it, but this man is no professional. The manner of death, the decoration of the crime scene, the things taken, everything about these murders screams of a much more personal motivation than money. He has an emotional connection to the person he’s killing for – love, maybe, or possibly even a sense of guilt or a debt he owes this person.”

“It’s definitely one person, then, not a group?” John asks.

“It’s one person,” Sherlock agrees. “And it’s highly likely that person belongs to the same social circle. Someone who wants a cheerleader, two rugby players, a professor, and a pub worker dead.”

John considers that. “Doesn’t have to belong to their crowd, does it? If it’s someone with a reason to want them dead, it could be someone very much not in their social circle.”

“But the killer clearly is,” Sherlock says. “And who else would he form a strong enough emotional connection with to be willing to kill these people for them?”

John shrugs. “Things happen. Just look at Fiona and Sam.” For the briefest second, John wonders. Fiona could have a reason to want them dead, and Sam is not only knowledgeable enough about the victims to know their personal attachments to the things taken, she’s demonstrated she’s willing to hurt people for Fiona. Then he shakes his head, feeling guilty for entertaining the notion even for under a second. Neither of them are capable of something like this, both are obviously keen on solving the case, and Sam’s grief for her friend is clearly genuine and a little bit heartbreaking.

“Yes,” Sherlock says, and there’s an odd tightness about his voice. “That was certainly unexpected, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” John replies. “Maybe a little. If I’d been paying more attention, I probably would have seen it a lot sooner than I did.”

Sherlock looks a little uncomfortable. “I suspected. I should have told you.”

John blinks. “Why? We do have more important things going on. I wasn’t focused on it, but I still figured it out a bit. They were pretty obvious, actually.”

“Yes, well, things that seem obvious aren’t always correct,” Sherlock says. “People say that about us, and they’re very wrong.”

“Absolutely,” John says, relieved to have the chance to reassure Sherlock without having to bring up what happened earlier. “Way off the mark.”

“Yes,” Sherlock says again, still oddly stiff.

“But I’m glad about the girls,” John says, hurriedly shifting the subject back away from Sherlock and himself. “They could use some happiness.”

“Very fortunate for them,” Sherlock says, then throws himself on the couch. “Wake me in three hours, would you, John?”

John is – a bit shocked. He wants to protest, because they’re not done, there’s still this tension between them that John can’t stand, especially when he’s not quite sure of the cause, but what he suspects is it was his fault, and he needs to do something to fix it but doesn’t know what.

But he doesn’t protest, because Sherlock is voluntarily going to sleep, and John’s not going to try and stop that by forcing continued talk, when he’s not even sure that’ll help. He has a feeling Sherlock knows that, and is doing it on purpose, but that doesn’t actually change anything.

“All right,” John agrees, settling himself in his chair.

Hopefully a few hours of sleep will fix whatever this is.

 

---

 

Sam had texted Lacey during the taxi ride to see if she was at their flat, and promised to call as soon as possible when Lacey replied that she wasn’t.

“My flatmate’s not home,” Sam tells Fiona as she lets them into the flat. “So we don’t have to worry about waking her or anything.”

“Good,” Fiona replies absently, running her fingers through her hair and then grimacing when they catch on drying mud. “May I use your shower?”

“Of course,” Sam says. “I’ve probably got a few things that’ll fit you, if you want, and I can put your clothes in the wash.”

“Not the coat,” Fiona says, taking it off and looking regretfully at the patches of grime. “It’s dry clean only.”

Sam takes the coat from her and hangs it up, then reaches for her hand and laces their fingers together (because she can), leading her to her bedroom. They find one of Sam’s over-sized tee-shirts and a pair of pyjama bottoms, too long on Sam, but they should work for Fiona. Sam shows her the bathroom, then heads to the kitchen to call Lacey.

“You’re getting home late,” Lacey says, sounding tired.

“Did I wake you?” Sam asks, feeling guilty.

“Not really,” Lacey replies. “Danny’s got the late shift tonight, and Anna didn’t want to be alone. Kayla and I are over here waiting up for him with her.”

“Are you staying there, then?” Sam asks.

“Too late to be worth heading back, so yeah,” Lacey says, then asks tentatively, “You going to be okay alone tonight?”

It isn’t the kind of question Lacey would normally ask, but then, these aren’t normal circumstances. It’ll be the first night she’s spent without her friends since Finn’s death. None of them had really wanted to be alone, and those that could have been staying together. Sam had been at whoever’s flat they were at that night every time; if she couldn’t be there for her friends during the day, she’d be there at night.

“I’ll be fine,” Sam says.

There’s a pause, then Lacey asks, “Will you? I’ve barely seen you during the day, Sam, I just – are you doing okay?”

Sam swallows, and tries not to feel guilty. “Yeah. Yeah, Lace, I’m fine.”

“You don’t always have to be the strong one, you know,” Lacey tells her, in a tone of voice that says exactly how much Lacey believes that.

Sam raises her eyebrows, though she knows Lacey can’t see it. “I could say the same about you. Are you doing okay?”

“I’ll be honest if you are?” Lacey offers.

“Deal,” Sam agrees.

“I’m not okay,” Lacey says. “I miss him. I keep thinking of things I have to tell him, stuff that reminds me of him. I think it helps, that I’ve got Kayla and the others to look after. Kind of miss having you around to help me with that, though.”

And there’s the guilt again. “I’m sorry, Lace. You’re right, I haven’t been around much. I – I’m not dealing. I’m just not going to deal until the killer’s found and then – then I’ll let it be real.”

“So you’re just off by yourself, not dealing?” Lacey asks.

“No,” Sam replies, biting her lip and trying to figure out how to not tell her the truth without lying. “There’s this girl.” Ugh, no, Sam really doesn’t want to have to attempt to explain Fiona right then. “And I – I went looking for Finn’s trainers.”

“What? Why didn’t you call us, we could have done it together! And why now?” Lacey asks.

“I knew you’d have to be there for Kayla, and I didn’t think she was ready for it. I didn’t want to make you choose between helping me and taking care of Kayla. And – remember I told you the detectives asked me about Finn’s trainers, because they thought the killer might have taken them? I thought if I found them, it’d help.”

The slightly hurt note in Lacey’s voice changes to understanding. “I want to help just as much as you. But we’ve got to let the police handle this one. It’s their job, you know? And they’re good at it. They’ve already got some promising leads.”

Sam nods. That’d been exactly what she thought Lacey would say. Then she blinks. “How do you know that?”

“I asked Gregson about it, to see if there was anything I could do,” Lacey says, sounding vaguely sheepish. “He said they’ve already got an outside consultant looking into things, and he appreciated the thought but they didn’t need a volunteer getting mixed up into it.”

Sam smiles slightly. “You’re gonna make a great cop, Lacey.”

“Yeah, tell that to my parents,” Lacey grumbles. “They’re still hoping I’ll do something that’ll make me rich and prestigious after I graduate. S’what I get for having a best mate looking to go into a graduate program at a medical school.”

Sam’s smile grows a bit. “Sorry. Would you like me to tell them it’ll be nowhere near as rich and prestigious as they imagine?”

“Doubt it’ll do much good,” Lacey says with a sigh. “Hey, we’re probably gonna be up for a while longer, if you wanna head over?”

“Um,” Sam says. “Actually, I have a friend over.”

Oh,” Lacey says, and Sam can practically hear the grin. “So you were just calling to make sure I stayed out of the flat tonight, then?”

“Lacey!” Sam scolds. “It’s not a friend like that, it’s-” she pauses, then smiles a bit and says hesitantly, “Actually, I think Fiona might be a friend like that.”

“Fiona,” Lacey says. “Fiona Masters?”

“Yeah,” Sam replies, and for once she’s not at all defensive, because she knows Lacey won’t immediately jump to conclusions.

There’s silence for a moment, then Lacey says, “Be careful, Sam.”

“Oh, not you, too,” Sam says, unable to hide the hurt. “What, are you afraid she’s going to break my heart?”

“Yes,” Lacey says honestly. “But you might break hers, too.”

That isn’t what Sam was expecting. “What?”

“I knew her,” Lacey tells her. “First term of my second year, we had a class together and got assigned to be partners. She was weird, kind of a jerk, but it seemed like a defence mechanism to me. I think I figured she could use a friend.”

“You two were friends?” Sam asks.

“I like to think so,” Lacey says.

“How come I never met her?” Sam asks.

“Because it didn’t last long,” Lacey replies. “I found out she was involved with drugs, and I was dumb and handled it badly. Told her I couldn’t be friends with a junkie, and she said we weren’t friends, never had been, and she had no desire to be. I kept trying for a bit, but she didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore, so I let it go. Wasn’t the best decision ever, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was young.” She chuckles self-depreciatingly. “I say that like I’m not now. So, look, just be careful, okay? You could both hurt each other without meaning to, and I don’t want that to happen.”

Sam can’t decide if she wants to thank her for being concerned for both of them, or snap at her for making her think of all the ways this could go wrong when she’d just worked up the courage to act on it. “I know, Lace,” she says quietly. “But maybe it’ll be brilliant, and it’s worth it to me.”

“Then I’m happy for you,” Lacey replies. “You going to bring her round some time when I’m home?”

“’Course,” Sam says. “But probably not for a bit. This is all still new.”

“Understandable,” Lacey says. “I’ll be out most of the day tomorrow anyway. Anna’s decided the best way to deal with this is to work on that project she’s got due at the end of the term, and I’m gonna keep her company.”

“So you’ll be at the chem lab?” Sam asks.

“Yeah, when we finally get up,” Lacey replies. “Which, considering the time we’ll end up going to sleep, will probably be late.”

“Okay,” Sam says, then thinks of something. “Oh, hey. Do me a favour? If there’s a guy named Matt there, be nice to him?”

“Uh. Yeah, sure,” Lacey says.

“Thanks,” Sam says. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah? Don’t get to sleep too late.”

“The opposite to you,” Lacey says cheerfully. “Get to sleep really, really late. Don’t even sleep at all, actually.”

“Good night, Lacey,” Sam replies firmly, but she’s smiling slightly as she hangs up on her.

The shower’s stopped running by now, but Fiona hasn’t come out yet, so Sam gathers up some of her clothes. Might as well do some of her own laundry since she’s washing Fiona’s things.

Fiona emerges while Sam’s loading up the machine.

“Perfect timing,” Sam says. “Have you got your clothes?”

Fiona hands them over, and Sam starts up the wash.

“I’m going to go get changed,” Sam tells her. “If you’re hungry or thirsty, grab whatever you want, okay? I’ll just be a minute.”

Fiona nods, and Sam darts into her room, hurriedly pulling on her favourite jumper and a pair of shorts. She expects Fiona to be in the kitchen when she’s done, but she finds her standing in the hallway, looking at the framed photographs on the wall.

“You’re not hungry?” Sam asks.

“No,” Fiona replies absently.

“At least have some water,” Sam says.

“All right,” Fiona agrees, but she doesn’t move.

Sam heads into the kitchen to get some for her (without complaint, someone who’s recently got a head injury deserves a bit of being waited on). Fiona takes the glass when it’s offered without looking away from a picture of Sam, Lacey, Finn, Sawyer, Kayla, Danny, and Anna at the beach.

“She wasn’t at the crime scene yesterday,” Fiona says, nodding towards the picture.

Fiona doesn’t specify which ‘she’ she’s talking about, but Sam knows. “No, she volunteers for the Met. She used to be a cadet, now she helps run a unit. They had a meeting then,” Sam says.

“She’s your flatmate,” Fiona says.

“Yes,” Sam agrees. Then, “You knew her.”

“Briefly,” Fiona says, then finally looks at her. “Will you give me an ultimatum as well? Demand I change to be worthy of your association?”

Sam winces. “Lacey didn’t mean it that way. She was just worried about you.”

Fiona looks unconvinced. “I asked about you.”

“I don’t know,” Sam says honestly. “Right now? No. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t bother me, but I want to be with you. Am I going to ask you to stop? Yes, but not for me. Well, all right, partially for me, because I don’t want to sit by and watch you do that to yourself. In the future, though, I don’t know. I just don’t, Fi, I might not be able to handle it. But now, I’m not going to leave because of that.”

Fiona stares at her glass for a long time. Then she says, “I’m clean.”

Sam blinks. “What?”

“I have been for nearly a year. I let people assume whatever they wish, and I don’t correct them because it doesn’t matter. But – it does with you,” Fiona says.

That probably shouldn’t make her heart skip a beat, but it does. “Why did you quit?”

“Because I saw the way it controlled other people,” Fiona says. “I wasn’t at that point, and I couldn’t allow that to happen. I won’t allow anything to control me but myself.”

“So – that question was just you testing me?” Sam asks.

“Yes,” Fiona agrees.

Sam tries to be irritated, but it’s hard when Fiona’s standing in her hallway, wearing her clothes and telling her that her opinion is the only one that matters. “What would you have done if I said yes?”

“I don’t know,” Fiona admits. “It’s possible I might have considered changing.”

Sam reaches out, slipping her arms around Fiona’s waist and pulling her close. “Don’t,” she murmurs. “Don’t ever change.” She leans up to kiss her, and is gratified when Fiona kisses her back.

“You still want to do this, then?” Fiona asks when they break apart, sounding dazed.

“You’re the genius, you figure it out,” Sam says affectionately, then her brow furrows in concern. “Are you all right?”

“A bit dizzy,” Fiona says.

“Let’s sit down,” Sam says, leading her to the sofa.

She makes Fiona drink some of the water, then sets the glass aside and curls up next to her, lacing their fingers together.

“Why?” Fiona asks.

“Why what?” Sam says.

“Why do you want to be with me?” Fiona says.

“Oh, for – you, too?” It’s a bit frustrating, how many people have asked her that, or at least implied they were wondering it. That it’s Fiona herself asking now makes her chest tighten a bit. “Besides the obvious reasons – funny, smart, beautiful, adventurous – that I’ve already mentioned?” Sam shrugs. “You don’t think of me like most people do. You don’t expect me to fit what they think I should be, and even if I like most of what that is, it’s – nice. When I’m with you, it feels like we can do anything we set our minds to. Like I don’t have to be anyone but me, even if me is a bit weird and out of place.”

“No,” Fiona says.

Sam blinks. “Sorry?”

“That’s how you make me feel,” Fiona tells her.

Sam swallows, then smiles at her. “That’s a good thing, you know, when two people make each other feel the same way.”

“Is this how it’s supposed to be, then?” Fiona asks.

Sam laughs. “No. I am absolutely not supposed to be this gone over you in less than a week.” She also probably isn’t supposed to be thinking about the long run yet, but she can’t imagine a future without Fiona in it. She isn’t going to say that bit out loud, though. “But I am, and I don’t care.”

Fiona considers that. Then she smiles and says, “Then I don’t care that I am, either.”

“Best thing I’ve heard in awhile,” Sam tells her.

Fiona’s still smiling. It might be the longest time Sam’s ever seen Fiona smile without stopping, and she searches for something to say to keep it there. Before she can think of anything, though, Fiona’s tipping her chin up and leaning in to kiss her. It’s the first time Fiona’s initiated a kiss, but it isn’t at all hesitant (possibly because they’ve already had several; it must be old hat for Fiona now). Then again, judging by the way Fiona’s still smiling at her when they break apart, maybe not.

“We should get to sleep,” Sam murmurs. “It’s really late.”

“Shall I take the sofa, then?” Fiona asks.

“No,” Sam replies without thinking. “My bed’s big enough, we can share. Just – just to sleep. I just want to be close to you.”

“Did I worry you that badly?” Fiona asks.

Sam raises her eyebrows at her. “You mean when some bloke nearly bashed you with a crowbar? Yeah, I’d say that worried me.” She shakes her head. “John and Sherlock must deal with that all the time; I dunno how they do it.”

Fiona wrinkles her nose slightly. “They’re not together, you know. You said they were.”

“I said I thought they might be,” Sam corrects. “Or that they wanted to be. Seems like they are, though, doesn’t it?”

“There are some things that make it appear so, yes,” Fiona admits.

Sam still thinks they at least want to be, though she isn’t sure either of them know it. “To be honest,” Sam says, brushing the tip of her nose playfully against Fiona’s. “I’m not all that interested in them right now. Not when there’s so much more keeping my attention right here.”

“Fair point,” Fiona agrees. “And I believe you said something about bed?”

“I did,” Sam says. “But first-” She kisses Fiona again.

They eventually make it to Sam’s bed (it takes them longer than it should because it keeps being very important for one of them to kiss the other). Sam sets her alarm to go off in three hours, and then they curl up under the covers. Sam tangles her legs with Fiona’s, and Fiona rests her head on Sam’s pillow.

Sam runs her fingers gently through Fiona’s hair, kisses her, and says, “My alarm’ll go off in three hours.”

“Mmm,” Fiona agrees absently, her hand resting on Sam’s hip.

Sam kisses her one last time, then snuggles in, tucking her head under Fiona’s chin. She’d meant it, when she said just to sleep. As much as she’d like to keep kissing Fiona (and more), Sam’s exhausted, and Fiona must be feeling her concussion at least a little. And Fiona’s curled up against her, warm and safe in a way that makes Sam never really want to move. Which is enough.

For tonight, at least.

 

---

 

Sherlock’s mind is clearer when he wakes up.

No, that’s not entirely true. There’s still the same confusing mix of thoughts he’d had three hours ago. But now they’re organized, safely compartmentalized into things that are important, that need to be dealt with now - all related to the case – those to be dealt with later, or possibly never at all, and those that have been dealt with and he will not be wasting any more time dwelling on – all related to the girls, John, and any unfortunate discoveries he’s made regarding the latter.

It’s a necessity for that last one, as his discovery is not so much unfortunate as it is potentially damaging to his current way of life – which, until recently, he’d been perfectly content with, possibly even happy.

But now? Now Sherlock is in love with John. There’s no point in denying it, much as he may wish it wasn’t true. Honestly, he’s a bit irritated with himself, both in how long it’d taken him to work it out – he still hasn’t worked it out, not entirely, but he gives himself a minor pass on that one because he’s never felt anything like what he suspects he feels for John – and in where he’d worked it out. It’s inexcusable for him to have lost that much focus while out working on a case, even if they had been heading home. Sherlock had gone against the one thing he’s always followed – do not act on anything he may have worked out until he’s gathered sufficient evidence.

And he very nearly hadn’t been able to stop himself from acting on his discovery with John. Which would have been disastrous, as when Sherlock had broached the topic the night before in order to gather said evidence, John had made it abundantly clear that he was absolutely not interested in Sherlock. Absolutely had been one of John’s exactly words, actually, along with “way off the mark.”

It’s better this way. Love is messy and complicated and Sherlock is horrible at it. Well. All evidence points to him being horrible at it. Perhaps he shouldn’t generalize; he is horrible at relationships. He might be quite good at love.

He hopes he is, actually, because for the time being, he’s stuck with it. But he can handle it. As long as John never finds out, it will be fine.

“What is it?” John asks.

Sherlock looks at him, briefly, illogically paranoid that John has somehow read his thoughts. He disregards it quickly, of course, and merely blinks at John. “What?”

“You’ve gone all scowly,” John says. “Is it the case?”

No, it’s not the case. It’s that John pays enough attention to him to notice when he’s scowling and ask him about it, and that Sherlock is still thinking about what he’s already considered dealt with.

“Yes, it’s the case,” Sherlock says.

“That bad?” John asks.

Sherlock mutters something noncommittal, because John will be expecting a response, but Sherlock’s mind is elsewhere. On the case, for once where it should be, as John is possibly right; it may be that bad.

Sherlock’s best lead is still the trainers. The few names he has now are, sadly, barely worth thinking about. All are popular, central members of their respective teams, and everything about their suspect says he’s on the outside, just enough part of their circle to know things about them, but he has few, if any, real friends among them. Possibly only their other suspect, given the killer’s level of devotion.

He’s sent the names to Lestrade anyway, with orders to compare their trainers to the prints left at the crime scene. He knows nothing will come of it, but someone has to rule them out. And it won’t be him; his focus has already moved on to other members of the teams. He’s considered looking up their hometowns and attempting to track down sales records of the shoes in all of them, but they haven’t got time for that. At this point it’d be faster to simply search all of their homes for the trainers.

Which isn’t a bad idea, actually. Lestrade likely won’t agree to it, but that isn’t a problem at all. Sherlock’s already distracted him.

That still leaves the matter of the person the killing is being done for. Theoretically, once they’ve got the killer, they’ll be able to get the second person. But Sherlock dislikes the idea of waiting until they’ve caught the killer to make any sort of headway on finding the accomplice. Well, perhaps accomplice is the wrong word, as Sherlock can’t be sure exactly how much involvement this person has in the crimes.

All he’s got to go on is the symbol, the endless knot. It has to mean something, beyond all the research he’s done on it, it has to have a personal significance to someone in that crowd. But he can’t just go around asking people if they recognize it; the murderer’s not likely to give himself away, and it would just warn him that they suspected the significance of the symbol. It wouldn’t even do to ask only the people unlikely to be the murderer – the more popular players, or the girls, for example – as word would likely spread quickly.

What he needed was a few members of the group that could be reliably persuaded not to tell anyone else about the symbol, but –

Oh. Oh, stupid; he has one, a mere text message away.

“John,” he says. “Have you heard from Sam?”

“No, not yet,” John replies. “But I figured I probably wouldn’t hear from them until late afternoon. Why?”

“Tell her to come over,” Sherlock says, rifling through the stacks of papers related to the case that he hadn’t put up on the wall.

“Say that again?” John requests.

Sherlock looks up, scowling at John.

“Yes, I know, you hate repeating yourself, but I think this merits it,” John says. “You actually want the girls to come over?”

“I need to speak with Sam,” Sherlock says, returning to the paper. “True, she was less than discrete about your prowess with a gun, but that seems to have been more about reassurance that we will soon solve the case and less about gossip. She has so far kept all of the details she knows about the case to herself, and she may be able to provide the information I need.”

“Right. And what would this information be?” John asks, even as he pulls out his phone, presumably to text Sam.

Sherlock finds what he’s looking for – a printout of the endless knot along with a description of what it is – and holds it up. “This. It’s possible its significance to the note recipient isn’t generally known – which in itself will be informative, as it means our murderer knows this person much better than he knew his victims – but if it is, then Sam may know who it is.”

“And if we find whoever he’s killing for, we might find the killer,” John says.

“Possibly,” Sherlock agrees, though he isn’t counting on it. But having the recipient in custody will likely provoke the murderer, upset him, cause him to be careless.

John’s phone beeps, and he checks it, then smiles. “They’re on their way here.”

Sherlock frowns. “They?”

“Yes, Fiona stayed the night at Sam’s, remember?” John says.

Sherlock scowls. “I did, thank you. Apparently asking specifically for one of them will result in getting both of them. How fortunate for us.”

“So is it just Fiona you don’t like having around, then?” John grins, then says teasingly, “If I point out that she is very clever, but you’re far more brilliant, will that make it better?”

Yes, actually, it does. And it also very much doesn’t, because it shouldn’t make it better, and the fact that it does can most likely be attributed to Sherlock being in love with John.

Which is also to blame for his displeasure at having them over. John is wrong; it isn’t that he so much dislikes having either of them around, it’s that he doesn’t want to have both of them there, especially not after last night. Sherlock isn’t particularly looking forward to being constantly reminded that they both have what he never will: an investigation partner who is a partner in every sense of the word. How fortunate for them, that the person they have feelings for – who also happens to be the same person who accompanies them in carrying out ideas that might be considered mad – returns their feelings. He’d say he hopes they appreciate it in a snide tone, but he’s never actually understood the point of that expression. How does them appreciating what they have make it any better for him?

Ah. Lovely. They’re not even here yet, and he’s already thinking about it to the point that he hasn’t answered John’s question yet.

“Your flippancy is irritating,” Sherlock snaps.

“I hope you’re politer to Sam, if you want her to answer any questions,” John says, irritatingly calm.

Sherlock ignores him.

“You haven’t touched your breakfast, Sherlock, at least eat some of it,” John says. “It’s not as though we’ve got anything better to do while we wait for them.”

Sherlock can think of several better things to do, but John is looking at him earnestly – and that doesn’t help at all, as some of those things had already involved John and now a few more do. That, more than anything, quells any protests, because Sherlock doesn’t want to be thinking of these things.

He picks up a piece of toast and crunches on it discontentedly, refusing to look at John. He knows John will be smiling at him for eating some of the breakfast he’s made, and Sherlock wants to stay irritated, which will be harder to do when faced with John’s smile.

Sherlock doesn’t manage to avoid looking at John during the entire time they’re waiting, but fortunately, by the time he looks over, John is preoccupied with reading the paper, and it isn’t long after that Sam and Fiona arrive.

When the knock comes at the door, Sherlock’s up and heading downstairs before John can even move. He needs this information now; he doesn’t have time to wait while John chats with them.

Sam’s arm is looped around Fiona’s when Sherlock opens the door, and he barely manages to resist scowling at them.

“Upstairs,” he tells them, standing aside so they can enter the hallway.

“We remember,” Fiona replies, then starts up the stairs without releasing Sam’s arm.

Sherlock frowns, closes the door, and bounds up the stairs after them, staying close on their heels.

John’s holding two mugs of tea when they walk into the living room, and he hands them to Fiona and Sam with a smile.

“Good morning,” he greets, then looks at Fiona. “How’re you feeling?”

“Fine, thank you,” Fiona says, returning his smile.

“She was a little dizzy last night, but that seems to have passed,” Sam adds.

“Glad to hear it,” John says. “Please, sit down.”

 

They move to the sofa that they’ve been occupying with some frequency in the past few days and take their seats as before. Except now they’re sitting extremely close, fingers of the hands that aren’t holding mugs laced together – which, as both of them are right-handed, means Sam is holding her tea in her non-dominant hand, and Sherlock can’t help but note that it wouldn’t be a problem for John and himself; John’s right hand, his left, and both of their dominant hands would be free – and Sam’s tucked her calf under Fiona’s, foot hooked around Fiona’s ankle.

Sherlock looks away, then irritably snatches the paper with the symbol on it and thrusts it at Sam. “Does this look familiar?” he asks. “Can you think of anyone for whom this may have some sort of significance?”

Sam leans forward, setting her mug down and taking the paper. She stares at it for a long moment, then looks up at him and asks, “Why?”

“Because it’s important to the case,” Sherlock snaps, annoyed.

Her eyes narrow at him. “Why?”

Sherlock starts to snap at her again, then stills. Her attitude suggests that she does indeed know someone for whom this symbol has meaning, and she doesn’t want to reveal it unless she knows what she’s revealing. Which means it’s someone she considers a friend. Interesting. He hadn’t considered that a possibility.

“This is what was written on the bodies,” Sherlock says.

Sam doesn’t react visibly, but Fiona leans forward, looking at Sam in concern, and Sherlock suspects Sam has just tightened her grip on Fiona’s hand.

“It has to be a coincidence,” Sam says.

“It’s likely not,” Sherlock replies, then softens his tone. “It is, however, very important.”

Sam looks back down at the paper. “Kayla has a pendant of this. She wears it all the time; it has something to do with feng shui and Buddhism.”

The girlfriend. Of course, obvious, and slightly disappointing, really. And yet – “What reason could she have for wanting all of them dead?” he wonders.

Sam drops the paper. “What?”

Sherlock gestures impatiently to the paper. “It’s a message. The murderer is killing these people for someone, someone who has reason to want them dead, so-”

“You think Kayla’s getting some kind of - hitman to kill people?” Sam demands.

Sherlock glares at her, irritated. He’s already explained this once, further explanations are a waste of his time. “No. The question is, why would she want them dead?”

“She doesn’t! Kayla has no reason to want any of them dead!” Sam stands up from the sofa, paces towards the kitchen, then turns back to them. “You don’t know her. You haven’t seen what Finn’s death is doing to her. You haven’t seen her go from happy, fun, always trying to get people to laugh, to angry, cold, hiding inside, crying all the time and waking up reaching for him, how that’s the only time she’s ever happy, in the moment between being asleep and being awake when she forgets he’s gone.” Her voice breaks, and she angrily pushes her hand through her hair. “But I have. I’ve dealt with his death and her grief and I’m not going to stand here and let you say she has anything to do with this.”

There’s silence for a moment. Then Fiona stands and moves to her side, reaching out almost hesitantly. Sam wraps her arms around Fiona’s waist and pulls her close, and Fiona hugs her back gently.

Sherlock glances over at John, who’s carefully averting his eyes. John catches him looking and raises his eyebrows questioningly. Sherlock sighs, then nods. Better to let John continue for the moment; they’re unlikely to get anything further from Sam if she’s upset. And Sherlock regrets causing such a strongly negative reaction; it hadn’t been his attention.

“We don’t think it’s a contract killer scenario,” John says gently. “The murderer has a much more personal motivation, like love.”

That isn’t exactly what Sherlock had said, but it will do. “It’s impossible to tell how much involvement she has based on our current information, though it is clear she is involved,” Sherlock says.

“She might not even know about it,” John adds. “Someone might be doing this and using her necklace to get her attention, to let her know it’s for her.”

Sherlock stares at him.

John shifts. “No?” he asks quietly.

Yes. It’s one of the possibilities Sherlock had been considering, actually. Sherlock loves it when John reminds him that he is quite intelligent – not as intelligent as Sherlock, obviously, but Sherlock won’t hold that against him, few are – but right now he’s realized that it may be one of the things he loves about John, and that’s quite inconvenient.

“It’s very possible,” Sherlock says finally. “Someone killing people for her, people he believes she wants dead. So the question is still: why would she want any of them dead?”

Sam pulls a bit away from Fiona, though she doesn’t let go of her. “I don’t know. Maybe – I know Professor Andrews failed her, and he picked on her a lot in class. She hated him. But other than that.” Sam shakes her head. “Nothing.”

“If it’s someone who’s in love with her, that could explain why he killed her boyfriend. Though that would be for him, not her,” John says.

“Maybe he managed to convince himself that it was for her,” Fiona says. “That she was better off without him.”

“We’ll know more when we’ve spoken to her,” Sherlock says.

Sam looks at him. “You want to talk to her?”

“Obviously,” Sherlock says. “Even if she has no knowledge of this, it’s possible she may know something that will give us a clue as to his identity. If it’s someone obsessed enough to kill for her, they must have had some significant interaction.”

Sam frowns, looking troubled, then nods. “If I’m there. And if you promise not to suggest that this is in any way her fault.”

“We promise,” John says, with a meaningful look at Sherlock.

Sam nods. “Let me check and see if she’s back at her flat. This won’t end very well if she’s still with Lacey and Anna.” She pulls out her phone and quickly texts something, then waits. After a moment, she gets a text back, and starts typing again. “She’s home. I’ll tell her I’m bringing you over.”

“Excellent,” Sherlock says, grabbing his coat. He doesn’t like the idea of having the two of them there while he questions Miller, but having Sam there is likely to make her more co-operative, so he’ll tolerate it. “Let’s go.”

 

---

 

It doesn’t take them long to find a cab once they leave Baker Street, and Sam gives the cabbie the address of Miller’s flat.

“She’s on the third floor,” Sam tells them when they arrive, heading into the building and leading them up to Miller’s flat. She knocks only briefly on the door, then cracks it open and calls, “It’s me, Kay, you home?”

“Yeah, come on in,” Miller calls back.

Miller’s sitting in the living room, but she stands when she sees them, looking somewhat apprehensive. “Can I get you anything?”

“We’re fine, thanks,” John says.

She nods, and gestures for them to sit down. Sam and Miller sit on the sofa, close together, with Miller’s arm linked through Sam’s. Fiona sits on the other side of Sam, though not as close, and John takes the chair nearest to the sofa. Sherlock doesn’t want to sit down; he’s far too wound up and just wants to get on with this.

“Sherlock,” John says softly.

Sherlock scowls, but sits in one of the remaining chairs. He pulls out the paper with the endless knot on it and hands it over to Miller. “Do you recognize this?”

Miller frowns at the paper. “It’s – the mystic knot. It symbolizes eternity, I’ve got a pendant of it.” She tugs gently on a chain around her neck, pulling the pendant out from under her shirt.

“It has a special meaning for you, then?” John asks.

Miller’s eyes brighten the tiniest bit. “Yes. It symbolizes a long and happy life, full of good fortune. In Buddhism, it’s one of the eight magical auspicious objects-”

She goes on, but all Sherlock had needed was the first word, and he finds himself impatiently waiting for her to finish so he can ask the next question. He glances over at John, who’s listening with all the appearance of interest. Some of it is genuine, Sherlock notes, but it’s mostly the careful attention John always pays to people they’re questioning about a case. Yet another reason Sherlock appreciates having John there, as John’s attention means Sherlock isn’t required to pretend to pay attention to the parts of the conversation that have no relevance. And are also growing exceedingly longer.

Fortunately, Miller cuts herself short, nervously tucking her hair behind her ear. “Sorry,” she says. “People tell me I go on about it too much, but I never can help myself.”

“It’s fine,” John tells her reassuringly.

“It’s nice to hear someone passionate about something,” Sherlock adds smoothly, flashing her a smile. “It’s something you talk about often, then?”

“Probably too often, if you ask some of my friends,” Miller says, hesitantly returning his smile.

“None of them are interested?” Sherlock asks, leaning forward slightly as he smiles ruefully. “Shame, it’s a fascinating subject.”

“I’ve had a few classmates who were,” she says. “But none of my friends, no.”

“You haven’t kept in touch with any of them?” he asks.

She considers that. “Not really, no. One girl and I still talk, but otherwise I suppose it was mostly idle conversation.”

“She was the only one with a real interest, then?” he says.

“Oh, no, I’m sure there was genuine interest. She was just the only one I – I dunno, connected enough with for us to both want to continue talking after the term was over,” she says.

“Can you remember who seemed to show the most interest?” he asks.

She shakes her head. “I don’t even remember most of their names. To be honest, I doubt I’d even recognize most of them. We talked occasionally in class, but that was it.”

“So none of them were people you knew outside of class, on one of the teams, perhaps?” he says.

“No, they were generally in classes that I didn’t know anyone in,” she replies. “Just people to make small talk with before and after class, you know, hobbies and music and all that.”

“You talked about music as well?” Sherlock asks. “What kind do you like, then?”

“Oh, all sorts. I’ve been big on The Clash, though,” Miller says. “But all of that was secondary. Mostly I was just glad to find someone to chat with in class, especially when they were interested in what I was.”

“Is it an interest you’ve had for awhile?” he asks, nodding towards the pendant.

“Yes, a long time,” she replies. “I’ve had this since secondary school.”

“Ah.” Unfortunate. If it had only been a short while, they could have looked at the roster for the classes she’d taken recently and examined any rugby and football players in them. They still can, of course, but it will be much more time consuming.

Miller frowns slightly. “This is nice, but I can’t imagine you’re actually all that interested in it. I thought Sam said you needed to talk to me about the case?”

Sherlock leans back. “I’ve been told that my explanation as to how this is relevant is unsatisfactory.”

John rolls his eyes. There’s a moment of silence, then John leans forward and says softly, “This symbol was found drawn on all of the victims.”

Miller reaches for her pendant, fingers tightening around it. “It has to be some kind of coincidence.”

“We don’t think it is,” John tells her gently. “It was put there as a message, to signal someone.”

“Who?” Miller asks quietly.

“We think he was trying to get your attention,” John says.

Miller laughs bitterly, with a slightly hysterical edge. “Well, he has it.”

Sam takes her hands, squeezing it, and Miller turns to look at her.

Why?” Miller asks.

Sam glances briefly at John, who nods.

“They think it might be someone who thinks he’s in love with you,” Sam says. “He’s killing people he thinks might’ve hurt you.”

“It’s likely he either doesn’t realize that you haven’t seen the symbol and is escalating because your lack of response is troubling him, or he has only just found out you haven’t seen it and is attempting to give you more opportunities to do so,” Sherlock says.

There’s a long silence, during which Miller’s grip on Sam’s hand is so hard her knuckles have gone white.

“Someone is killing people because he thinks I’d want to be rid of them,” Miller says finally, sounding almost numb.

“Yes,” Sherlock replies, pleased she’s caught on with minimal explanation.

“So, this – all of this – is my fault,” Miller says.

“No,” Sam says, just as John says, “Absolutely not.”

“But he’s doing it for me,” Miller says.

“He’s doing it for himself,” John tells her. “He’s managed to twist things inside his head to give him an excuse, but that’s all it is, an excuse. If it wasn’t you, he’d be doing it for someone else. He’s trying to make you a victim just as he’s made the others victims. Don’t blame yourself for his actions.”

“John’s right,” Sherlock says.

John gives him a bright, grateful smile. It’s enough to distract Sherlock. Only momentarily, and he doubts anyone else noticed, but it shouldn’t have happened at all, let alone in the middle of Sherlock explaining something.

“That is how these things usually end,” Sherlock continues, refusing to let it affect him. “Sooner or later, the object of the killer’s obsession will become one of his victims.” Sherlock frowns a bit. “I’m surprised he hasn’t attempted to do so yet. The killing of the boyfriend should have marked attempts to come into contact with you.”

There’s more silence, though this time it’s accompanied by everyone save Fiona staring at him.

“He couldn’t,” Sam says finally. “Kayla hasn’t been alone since Finn’s murder.”

“Ah,” Sherlock says. “Yes, that would frustrate him even more. Has anyone tried to contact you who normally doesn’t, or tried to contact you more than usual?”

“Yes,” Miller says. “But I don’t know who. People kept calling and texting and I – stopped wanting to hear people tell me how sorry they are.”

“Lacey and I have been answering things,” Sam tells him. “I could tell you who’s been calling the most.”

“No,” Sherlock says dismissively. “He wouldn’t want to go through an intermediary. He’ll wait until he can get you alone, and he’ll do his best to achieve that.”

And then Sherlock smiles, because yes, that’s it.

“What is it?” John asks.

Sherlock turns his smile on John, pleased at the reminder that John knows him well enough to know when he’s figured something out – and too focused on his plan to remember that he shouldn’t be pleased with that. “That’s how we’ll get him, John. He’s going to come after her, likely sooner rather than later, given that he’s already taken the step of eliminating the boyfriend, and when he does, we’ll have him.”

Sam stares at him, aghast. “You want to use her as bait?”

“That’s putting it very crudely, but I suppose so, yes,” Sherlock says.

“Are you serious?” Sam demands. “Don’t you think she’s been-”

“Sam,” Miller interrupts. “I want to do it.”

Sam turns to her. “What?”

“I want him caught,” Miller says. “If there’s something I can do, I’m going to do it. And don’t tell me it’s too dangerous. You’ve obviously been way more involved in this than any of us knew.”

Sam flushes, looking briefly guilty. “That was helping with the investigation. This is just – letting a killer come after you, encouraging a killer to come after you, and I-”

“I know, Sam,” Miller says, cutting her off again, but gently. “But this is my decision. I know-” She looks away, though she doesn’t let go of Sam’s arm or hand. “I know Finn and I were never going to be forever, but I’d have taken him for as long as he’d have me. It shouldn’t have ended like this. I loved him, and there’s nothing I won’t do to make sure the person who did this is caught.”

“You won’t be alone,” John tells her. “Obviously, the police will be waiting to catch him. We’ll make sure you aren’t in any real danger.”

Sherlock scowls. All right, yes, they will probably have to call Lestrade and get the police involved if they’re planning on laying a trap for the murderer, but John needn’t say it as though it’s a reassurance. “Yes,” Sherlock says. “I suppose you had better call Lestrade.”

“Why me?” John asks.

Sherlock just looks at him. “You know I prefer to text.” Really, Sherlock doesn’t want to deal with explaining this yet again. And he wants to discuss the plan with Miller before Lestrade comes in and takes over.

John rolls his eyes. “Fine,” he says, standing and walking a bit away to call.

Sherlock smiles briefly, then leans slightly towards Miller. “I assume everyone within your social circle knew you haven’t been alone?”

Miller looks confused, but nods. “Yes. Or at least, everyone who asked, and everyone they told.”

“So everyone,” Sam says.

“Excellent,” Sherlock says. “You need to make sure everyone knows that tonight will be your first night alone.”

“Lacey won’t like that,” Miller says.

Sherlock frowns. “And? Whether or not she ‘likes’ it doesn’t matter.”

“It will when Lacey insists on checking in,” Sam says. “We could tell her the truth. She won’t go spreading it around.”

“Definitely not,” Sherlock says.

“If we do, you know she’ll want to be here,” Miller says. “And the more people who are here, the more the chance the killer will see someone and spook.”

Sam sighs. “I know. Just hate keeping her out of this.”

“Lestrade’s almost here,” John says, coming back over to them. “He wants us to meet him outside, Sherlock.”

“Very well,” Sherlock says with a sigh, standing and heading for the door.

It takes only a few minutes to Lestrade and a handful of officers to arrive, but it’s a few minutes too long and has Sherlock scowling by the time Lestrade comes over to talk to them.

“How obvious do I need to be this time?” Sherlock asks. “Shall I tell you why we were looking at specific trainers and what the symbol is or may I move on to the parts that were actually somewhat challenging?”

“You don’t have to lower yourself to explain anything to us mere mortals, John already told us the situation,” Lestrade replies. “The killer’s obsessed with this girl and is murdering people to get to her. Though how he thought those messages were going to do it is a mystery.”

“It’s simple, actually,” Sherlock says. “The endless knot is something close to her; he knew her passion for it and used that to show her that it was for her, a secret message between them, something they shared. The main messages are similar – they’re lyrics, by the way, from Clash songs – less of a secret and more of a code he assumes only she will be able to decipher, after seeing the endless knot. Perhaps a taunt to us as well, he’s telling us exactly why he killed them in a manner he doesn’t believe we will understand.”

“But you do,” Lestrade says.

Sherlock smirks. “Of course. Martin Andrews humiliated her in class, failed her. ‘Teacher says we’re dumb’ is an obvious reference to that. Ashley Green got ‘cheat if you can’t win.’ Both Green and Miller are cheerleaders, the killer obviously believes Green cheated in order to obtain something that should have been Miller’s, most likely the captaincy. That’s why they killer takes what he takes as well; the necklace Green wore to commemorate her first win during the captaincy that rightfully belonged to Miller, the pocket watch Andrews would take out whenever he wanted to remind students that they were wasting his valuable time, and so on.” Sherlock waves his hand dismissively. “The most telling message is the boyfriend. ‘Move onwards and outwards towards love.’ He’s gotten rid of what was keeping her from him, and now they can be together.”

“That’s the reason you think he’ll be coming after her, then?” Lestrade asks.

“One of them. Difficult for her to move onwards to love if he can’t get at her.” Sherlock frowns. “Do you disagree?”

“No, unfortunately,” Lestrade says. “When a serial killer’s got an obsession, he’ll go after it. Poor girl. Better go talk to her, then.” He sighs, then glares at Sherlock. “You stay here.”

Ah, yes. Sherlock had been absolutely correct about Lestrade taking over.

“It’s our plan,” Sherlock mutters after Lestrade and one of the officers have gone inside.

“I suppose you want to be the one to hang out with her all night until he shows up?” John asks.

Sherlock frowns at him. “Of course. I have waited for a suspect under worse conditions.”

John shakes his head, grinning. “I’m glad you consider some of the places we’ve gone worse than waiting with a girl in a comfortable flat.”

Sherlock starts to tell him that that’s exactly what he’s just said, only rephrased in a way that makes it sound as though Sherlock’s being ridiculous, but changes his mind when he sees Sam and Fiona come out of the building.

“We were kicked out,” Sam says, looking displeased.

“They wished to discuss the plans for tonight alone,” Fiona adds.

“They are the ones with the most experience,” John offers.

Sherlock scoffs, but refrains from making a comment about what he thinks of their experience. The police do have their uses, and they are exceptionally good at the actual catching of the criminals, once Sherlock’s put them on the trail. It’s only bothering Sherlock because he doesn’t know exactly who they will be catching, and he’s still uncertain as to a few things in the explanations for the other murders. Sherlock would prefer to be the one to catch him, to get the chance to talk to him before the police have been at him, but he must admit that all of his questions are those he can likely get out of the killer after the police have caught him.

They aren’t waiting for very long when Lestrade comes back outside, looking frustrated.

“Things not going to your liking?” Sherlock asks.

Lestrade scowls at him. “She’s being unreasonable. She doesn’t want a cop in the flat with her, which isn’t unexpected, some people are uncomfortable with that, but she doesn’t even want them outside her door. Something about a lot of cheerleaders living in the building and if they see people hanging around outside, word’ll spread and the killer’ll spook.”

Sherlock smirks slightly. “These cheerleaders do seem to be quite the gossips.”

Lestrade’s scowl deepens. “I don’t care. We’re not doing this unless I know she’ll be protected, and that means having someone in that bloody building, and not just on the ground floor.” He looks at Sam. “You’re her friend, can you talk some sense into her?”

“I’ll do my best,” Sam says, heading inside.

“John and I would blend in much better,” Sherlock comments after a bit. “We don’t scream cops.”

Lestrade snorts. “I doubt she’ll be any keener on you two hanging about in the hallways.”

“If that’s your idea of being discrete, no wonder she didn’t want you there,” Sherlock says with a sneer.

Lestrade rolls his eyes. “I’m not letting you bait me like that today, Sherlock, so give it up.”

They wait for Sam to come back down in silence. She’s smiling when she eventually rejoins them.

“Well?” Lestrade asks.

“She hasn’t changed her mind about the cops,” Sam says. “But she’s fine with the four of us hiding in the flat with her.”

Lestrade groans. “Of course she is. Don’t smirk like that, Sherlock, I’ve half a mind to tell her we’re doing it my way or not at all.”

“But you won’t,” Sherlock says, sounding bored. “You can’t force her to co-operate under your terms, and if you don’t do it at all, not only will you not catch him, but she’ll be unprotected.”

Lestrade looks briefly like he’s contemplating strangling Sherlock. Sherlock isn’t intimidated; it’s a look he gets a lot.

“Fine,” Lestrade says with a sigh. “But only you two,” he says to Sherlock and John. “We don’t need any more civilians in this.”

“Kayla won’t do it without me,” Sam says immediately. “And I won’t do it without Fi.”

“I’ll vouch for them,” Sherlock says. He is more than willing to have Fiona and Sam there if it means he’ll have first access to the murderer. “Shall I repeat the reasons you’ll go along with Miller’s demands?”

Lestrade makes a noise that actually does have a remarkable resemblance to a growl. “Christ,” he mutters, then turns on Sam and Fiona. “You two are not to do anything, do you understand me? Should he arrive, if at all possible, get out of there. Absolutely do not engage.” He turns to Sherlock and John. “And you two: subdue only. I’ll give you radios, contact us as soon as you even think he might be in there. I don’t care what you think you need to know about him, none of this chatting at him until you think it’s time for us to come in. Protecting the girls is our first priority, catching the killer is our second, and satisfying your curiosity isn’t a priority at all.”

Sherlock bristles at the implication, even if there’s some truth in it.

“Absolutely, sir,” Sam tells Lestrade before Sherlock can say anything, looking at him with respect in her eyes. “We’ll be there for moral support only.”

“You can be certain our priorities are in order,” John says.

Sherlock sulks, and consoles himself with the fact that at least John isn’t gazing at Lestrade the way Sam is.

Lestrade sets most of it up, with Sherlock making a few corrections that should have been obvious. Sam and Kayla will spend the day with friends, where Kayla will let people know she’s decided she needs some time to herself in her own flat that night. Later in the day, before Kayla heads home, the police will position themselves unobtrusively around the building, and Sherlock, John, and Fiona will sneak in through the terrace, letting themselves in through the door with the key Kayla’s given them. Then, Sam will drop Kayla off, leave, and come back in through the terrace as well.

Sherlock knows Lestrade is hoping the police will catch anyone attempting to get into the building without them ever entering Kayla’s flat, and doesn’t mention that his own hopes are far in the opposite direction.

The first bit goes off without a hitch: the three of them get into the flat with no one the wiser. And then comes the unfortunate part of waiting, for Kayla to get back, for night to fall. Sherlock pokes around her flat, but John won’t let him investigate too much. He gets only a small amount of time in her bedroom and adjoining bathroom before John notices he’s stopped looking for possible entrances into the flat and has moved on to an examination of her things, and kicks him out.

Finally, finally, not long after it’s gotten dark, Kayla gets back, and soon after that, Sam arrives through the terrace. There’s still waiting, then, but it’s an exciting, anticipatory waiting. Kayla makes a frozen pizza, puts on a film, and they settle in the living room. Sherlock notices that John’s seated himself closest to the door to the terrace, which is where the killer will most likely enter if he manages to make it past the police. It’s possible that the killer may simply come to the front door under the guise of a friend wanting to check in on her, but Sherlock thinks it’s more likely he’ll simply enter the flat under his own devices, as though he has every right to do so.

A few minutes into the second film – Sherlock only knows it’s the second because Kayla had announced she was putting on another one; Sherlock has no idea what’d happened in the first – Kayla excuses herself to take a quick shower. While she’s gone, John stops all pretence of paying attention to anything other than the terrace and the front door.

Sherlock keeps an eye on the front door as well, though his attention is split when Fiona goes into the kitchen and Sam follows her. They’re behind him, but there’s a mirror above the television and Sherlock can see their reflections.

“You’ve been quiet today,” Sam says.

Fiona shrugs. “Haven’t had much to contribute, have I? Sherlock’s got everything pretty well handled.”

Sam smiles, stepping closer and reaching around to slip her hands into the back pockets of Fiona’s jeans. “Good thing he does, since that’s his job. Besides, you’ve always got way more to contribute than he does, just by being you.”

The corners of Fiona’s mouth tug up a bit. “Is that so?”

“Definitely,” Sam tells her solemnly, then grins. “Sherlock’s not the one who let me get all close on the side of the road because I needed a bit of comforting, is he?”

“He better not be,” Fiona replies.

They kiss briefly, and Sherlock is about to disregard them and look away when Sam pulls back and says, “That’s not really what’s bothering you, though.”

“No, it’s not,” Fiona admits.

“What is it, then?” Sam asks.

Fiona hesitates.

“Come on,” Sam presses.

“I don’t like this,” Fiona says finally. “I know she’s your friend, Sam, but everyone’s completely disregarded the possibility of her being the least bit involved in this without even questioning her. She’s genuinely grieving for Finn, I can see it, but people can still grieve for someone they’ve had a hand in killing. Maybe she never meant for it to get this far, maybe she started with the others and now it’s gotten out of hand and she can’t control him. There’s a dozen different ways she could be involved with this, and no one’s even considering it, despite that there’s no facts to counter the theories.”

Sam doesn’t blow up at her like she had when Sherlock first broached the subject. Instead she sighs, and pulls one hand out of Fiona’s pocket to tuck a strand of Fiona’s hair behind her ear. “She’s not behind it, Fi. I know you don’t want to just trust that, but will you at least trust me when I say I know she can’t be?”

“That’s it?” Kayla asks from behind them.

Sam and Fiona start, clearly surprised, though Sherlock isn’t, because he’d seen Kayla come out of her room.

“She accuses me of orchestrating the deaths of five people, some of our friends, and all you do is sigh sympathetically and ask her to trust you?” Kayla demands. “You get more angry when people call her weird then you do when she calls me a murderer?”

Sam looks slightly guilty. “You don’t understand-”

“You’re right,” Kayla interrupts. “I don’t. The Sam I know would never let anyone say things half as bad as that about her friends without a hell of a fight. Suppose that’s changed now that you’re dating someone you’ve known a week; we’re all going to come second to her.”

“You shouldn’t make accusations when you haven’t got all the facts,” Fiona snaps. “The only reason no one’s considering your involvement a possibility is because Sam defended you so well she convinced two detectives you were innocent.”

That’s far from the only reason, but Sherlock isn’t going to interrupt them to say so.

“Besides, this entire argument smacks of hypocrisy, unless you want to deny you ever accused me of being behind these deaths. Not such a fan when the situation’s reversed?” Fiona adds.

“You’re wrong,” Kayla says. “It’d be hypocritical if this argument was about me being angry at you for accusing me when I’d accused you. But it’s not, it’s about Sam not defending me when she defended you. Which I suppose makes you right after all; it is hypocritical.”

“And I suppose it makes you deaf as well, since you didn’t seem to have heard me when I said she did defend you,” Fiona says.

“Not to you, did she?” Kayla asks. “She’ll-”

“Stop arguing about me like I’m not here!” Sam snaps.

“Fine,” Kayla says, turning to her. “You’ll defend your girlfriend to your friends, but not your friends to your girlfriend? That’s lovely.”

“Perhaps she would if she had friends who didn’t jump all over her for not defending them without letting her explain herself,” Fiona says with a sneer. “Or ones who were so quick to accuse other people of murder with no evidence. Especially not when there’s no evidence they weren’t involved themselves.”

Kayla’s eyes narrow. “Suppose I’m going along with this for kicks, then?”

“Yes,” Fiona says. “To keep us distracted waiting for someone who’ll never come because you’ve warned him off.”

“Stop it,” Kayla says. “I don’t have anything to do with this.” Her voice trembles slightly, then grows angry. “For that matter, since you keep bringing it up, what evidence do we have that you aren’t involved in this? Maybe you’re the one wasting our time while your accomplice gets away. Or maybe there is no accomplice, maybe you did all that to cover for yourself. It isn’t as though you aren’t smart enough.”

“I have been working to get this solved!” Fiona says. “I’m here to help protect you, though I can’t remember why.”

“I don’t want protection from anyone who thinks I had anything to do with Finn being gone!” Kayla says, sounding close to tears.

“And I don’t want to protect anyone who treats my girlfriend and me like this!” Fiona snaps back.

“Then get out!” Kayla tells her.

“Fine!” Fiona replies.

They storm off in opposite directions; Kayla to her room and Fiona out the front door. Sam immediately takes a few steps after Fiona, then stops, looking stricken, as if she’s just proved Kayla right by instinctively going for Fiona first. She looks uncertain for a moment, until John stands and brushes past her.

“I’ll bring Fiona back. Take care of your friend,” John tells her. “Sherlock, watch the terrace for a moment?”

“What else would I have been doing?” Sherlock asks.

Sam gives John a grateful look as he exits the flat, then goes quickly into Kayla’s room. The door’s open a crack, and Sherlock can just barely hear them.

“Aren’t you going after your girlfriend?” Kayla asks.

“She’s being taken care of. It’s just you and me now, okay? So let’s talk,” Sam says.

Sherlock stops listening to them, focusing most of his attention on the terrace. He still maintains an awareness of their voices, though, so he’ll be able to tell if anything goes wrong.

He’s a bit surprised when it takes less than a few minutes for Sam to come back out. He raises an eyebrow.

“She was upset,” Sam says quietly. “She didn’t mean most of that. It didn’t take long after I apologized and explained a few things for her to apologize as well. It’s not solved, or anything, but now’s not the time to go into it. She’s said she’ll apologize to Fiona if Fi apologizes as well, and that’s enough for now.” She sighs. “She’s going to try and get some sleep; I said I was probably going after Fiona.”

She eyes the door, but Sherlock shakes his head.

“John’ll bring her back,” he says confidently.

She looks unconvinced. “I know. I just-”

“You love her,” Sherlock supplies.

“Not yet,” she says honestly. “I’m in love with her. I know it’s stupid, being in love with her so soon, but I am. I smile when she smiles, she makes my heart beat faster just by looking at me, I’d happily spend just about every minute with her. And I like her for who she is. Maybe when I get to know her better, I’ll love her for it, for all the little things that are just her. Maybe not. Maybe when the newness of being in love fades we’ll realize we’re better as friends, but I won’t know until it happens. Until then, I’ll enjoy being in love.”

“That’s – surprisingly wise,” Sherlock admits.

She grins. “No it’s not. I say that, but I don’t think it’ll happen. I’m twenty-one and she’s nineteen, and all I can think of is forever. I’m just afraid one day she’ll wake up and realize that I’m ordinary, and she’s bored.”

“That won’t happen,” he says.

“It won’t?” she asks.

“If she’s as smart as she claims, she’ll realize you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her.” It still isn’t fair, Sherlock thinks, but he can’t dwell on that when he’s got a killer to catch.

“Thank you,” she says, an odd quality to her voice. “Sherlock-”

“Yes?” he prompts when she doesn’t finish.

“Nothing,” she replies. “I’m going to go back in with Kayla, I don’t like leaving her alone. Send Fi in when she gets back, will you?”

Sherlock frowns, watching her go. He gets up, pacing, keeping an eye on the front door and the terrace and mulling over their brief conversation, then freezes when he hears a muffled thud coming from the bedroom.

There’s been no sign of an intruder, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have gotten in somehow – from the ceiling, perhaps, though Sherlock had checked it – and Sherlock has to be prepared for the possibility. He doesn’t call any names for fear of alerting him, and instead cautiously creeps over to the bedroom door. Sherlock pauses at it, listening, but he can’t hear anything. He opens it quickly and quietly, going for the element of surprise, but there’s no one on either side of the door. Or in Sherlock’s view, though it’s not much of one, as the lights are off.

Sherlock steps just far enough into the room to reach for the light switch, listening hard for any sound of movement. He hears something before he can get the light on, but he doesn’t manage to locate the threat before it’s upon him and he’s tackled to the ground. A strong hand covers his mouth and nose, and Sherlock is extremely tired of criminals trying to suffocate him.

He struggles, but the man on top of him is strong, and by the time he gets a hand free to claw at the man’s arm, his movements are weak. His lungs are burning, and he tries to bite the man’s hand, but his teeth just skid across the skin of his palm.

Sherlock’s vision is sparking now, and he changes tactics, reaching for the radio to try and turn it on. But he doesn’t make it before even the sparks fade, and then everything goes black.

 

---

 

John already knows Fiona can move quickly when she wants to, so he isn’t surprised when she’s not in the hallway (though he does note that this is the second time he’s gone chasing after her in as many days). There’s no one around, but he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, just in case, so he heads quickly but casually down the stairs and outside. She’s still nowhere in sight, but he does recognize one of the officers Lestrade had placed around the building, out of her uniform and with a cigarette, looking for all the world like a resident who’d gone outside to smoke.

“Excuse me, miss,” John says politely as he approaches her. “You didn’t happen to see a young woman leave the building, did you? Tall, pretty brunette? My girlfriend and I had a bit of a row, I’m afraid.”

“I did, actually. Not a lot of people out here this late; she’s the only person I’ve seen since I came out here,” the officer tells him.

John nods, understanding the update for what it is, and says, “It’s been a quiet night so far, at least until now. But it wasn’t about anything; I’m sure we’ll get it patched up and be back inside in no time.”

The officer smiles at him. “She headed that way, sir. Good luck.”

“Thank you,” John tells her, then heads quickly down the street.

It doesn’t take him very long to find her (though longer than he would have liked, considering he’d been hoping to find her just outside the building). She’s standing on the side of the road, leaning against a tree.

“This is getting to be something of a habit with you,” John says as he stops in front of her.

She looks down, steps away from the tree, then looks back up. “I shouldn’t have left,” she admits.

“You shouldn’t have,” John agrees. “So let’s-”

“I shouldn’t have done any of that,” she continues as though he hadn’t spoken, sounding irritated. “I shouldn’t have risen to it, I should have just ignored it. I always do, I – I don’t stand up for myself that way. I don’t let them get to me; I ignore them, or if they’re particularly persistent, point out why they are very much not qualified to make any of the accusations they’ve just made and leave it be. I don’t argue with them, and I don’t know why I just did.”

“Because you weren’t just defending yourself?” John suggests quietly.

She stares at him for a long moment. “I – I suppose you’re right,” she replied, sounding a bit surprised. “I couldn’t let her make those accusations, not when she didn’t know all that Sam had said earlier. I was angry, and I acted without thinking. I shouldn’t have.”

“You were standing up for someone you care about,” John says. “Your timing may not have been great, but your intentions were good.”

Fiona chuckles, quiet and humourless. “My timing was abysmal. Getting into a fight and storming out on the very person I’m supposed to be protecting? It’s a good job I’m not in charge of this investigation.” She looks away again. “And worse than that, fighting with someone who’s recently lost the person she loves, is the target of an obsessed killer, and, as Sam keeps reminding me, is already on edge and doesn’t need someone else upsetting her.” She sighs. “Sam will never forgive me.”

“I doubt that,” John says.

She shakes her head. “Maybe this time, but what about the time after that? Her friends and I will never get along.”

“That’s not necessarily damning,” John tells her. “Sherlock doesn’t even really interact with my friends.”

She looks at him. “And how large of a role do your friends play in your life? How important are they?”

“My friends are very important,” he says honestly. “But they don’t have a very large role in my life right now.” More than they had when he’d just gotten back from Afghanistan, but nowhere near as much as they’d once had.

“Exactly,” Fiona says. “And I’d do that to her, too.”

“Do that to-” John repeats, then stops as he understands. “It was like that before I met Sherlock, actually, it had nothing to do with him.” If anything, meeting Sherlock had helped in that area.

She looks surprised, then smiles slightly. “Suppose Sherlock was luckier than I am.”

John frowns at her. “Luckier?”

“Yes,” Fiona replies. “I liked it, when Kayla accused Sam of putting me before her friends. I wanted it, I wanted to come first in her life. I shouldn’t, but I do. I’ll end up driving off all of her friends, and if I end up driving her away as well, she will be alone. I don’t want to do that to her.”

John doesn’t know what to say to that. Sherlock does come first to him, even before his relationships, that’s one of the reasons he hasn’t managed a successful one since meeting Sherlock (the other being, of course, that he’s rather hopelessly in love with his ridiculous flatmate, though he’s only recently discovered that one). But though John wouldn’t have it any other way, he will admit that it’s not exactly healthy, and while it mostly works for two people as damaged as Sherlock and himself, he doubts it would be successful for the girls, and he can’t recommend it.

“So don’t do it,” John tells her.

She glares at him. “You say that as though it’s simple.”

“It’s not,” John says. “It won’t be. Love is messy and complicated and completely worth it, but maintaining a relationships isn’t simple. She loves you and she loves her friends, and she’ll have to work on balancing everything. And you’ll have to work to accept that.” He shrugs. “Maybe if her friends are everything she thinks they are, you won’t be able to drive them away so easily. Just – don’t throw away what you have because of something you’re afraid of happening.”

Fiona stays silent for a moment. Then she says softly, “What I have.”

“Yes,” John says. “It’s something a lot of people wish for.”

She looks at him. “Sam says it’s something you want.”

“It’s something just about everyone wants,” John replies, hiding the brief thrill of fear he feels at the suspicion that she doesn’t just mean in general. “So yes, I do want it.”

“Why don’t you get it, then?” she asks.

John smiles a bit. “There has to be someone for me to get, first,” he tells her. It’s the truth, after all, there’s no one he can get that he wants, though he’s hoping she takes that to mean he doesn’t want anyone, and not that he can’t get who he wants.

She frowns. “There’s no one you want?”

“No one I can get,” he says, growing more and more uncomfortable with the conversation.

“Did you even try?” she demands.

“Yes,” he says, tone curt.

Actually try or-” Fiona starts.

“Fiona,” John interrupts. His tone is unintentionally commanding, a little bit of the solider in him creeping in. “Drop it.”

She stops talking, but she still frowns at him. “Fine.”

He’s somewhat surprised, really, but he’ll take it. “We’ve been gone longer than I planned already,” John tells her. “Come on. Let’s get back.”

 

---

 

Unless his assailant had left him to himself for some time, Sherlock can’t have been out for more than a few moments. He drifts back into consciousness to someone manhandling him, the sound of tape being pulled from a roll, and then being dragged a short distance and released. His mind is still fuzzy, but he’s aware enough to realize that alerting his assailant to the fact that he’s awake will not be the least bit helpful. So he doesn’t struggle, doesn’t so much as twitch, doesn’t open his eyes, doesn’t even change his breathing.

What he does do, as soon as he’s released, is feel and listen. His arms are bound tightly behind his back, one hand taped to each elbow – unfortunately clever of the criminal, to immobilize his hands – with more tape wound around his forearms, binding them to each other. Tape is also wrapped thickly around his knees and ankles, and he’s been gagged. He’s lying on his side on the floor, and the carpet he can feel against his cheek tells him that he’s in Kayla’s living room.

He can hear someone talking: male, he doesn’t immediately recognize the voice, but he knows he’s heard it before. Sherlock turns his head towards the voice – slowly, so it will appear to be only the shifting of one asleep – waits for a moment, then risks opening his eyes the tiniest bit. Fortunately, he’s quite practiced at obtaining as much information as possible through the slits of his eyelids while pretending to be unconscious. His field of vision is narrow, but he can see Kayla sitting in one of the chairs, hands bound at the wrist with more tape.

Standing next to her is a young man, who, like his voice, looks familiar, and a quick glance to his trainers reveals that they are red and yellow. He’s holding a knife, approximately the same size, shape, and weight of the blade used in the murders. Without a closer look, Sherlock can’t be certain, but it’s likely it is indeed the murder weapon. On the coffee table close to them is a roll of tape, the end ripped off messily, and a gun.

“-doesn’t matter,” the man is saying. “I waited this long, I would’ve waited in there even longer.”

Waited? He – oh. Yes, obvious, Sherlock should have realized. The terrace had been locked upon their arrival and there’d been no signs of a recent break in, but that meant nothing. It had been locked after their arrival as well, and someone skilled in lock-picking could do so without leaving obvious signs. Stupid, idiotic, it isn’t the first time that Sherlock hadn’t realized there was someone in a flat before it was too late. He should have looked, examined not only for possible entrances but for someone already being there.

Yes, his investigation into her room had been cut short, and had he continued he likely would have found the man – who must be very cool indeed, not to panic and reveal himself when someone had been poking about the room he’d been hiding in – and it had been John who’d stopped him, but Sherlock had listened, because he hadn’t actually been looking for anything. So assured of his own conclusions, that the murderer would come after night had fallen, – all of the murders had been committed at night, but this was breaking and entering, not murder, hardly the same need for security – and after Kayla was already there – she was his goal, he’d want to make sure she was present when he went for her, but of course, waiting for her in her own flat would accomplish that. Sherlock had assumed it would have taken him longer to find out about Kayla being alone that night, being on the outside of their social circle, but either word travelled quicker, or the killer was closer to them than Sherlock had thought.

“But why did you say you were going to be alone when you weren’t?” the man continues.

“I thought I was, but they came by anyway,” Kayla tells him, her voice shaking. “If I – I’d known you’d be coming, Eddie, I would have sent them away.”

Eddie. Now Sherlock remembers; they’d seen him at the crime scene – the very one at which Sherlock had been scanning the crowds, thinking that the killer often returned to the scene. Sam had talked to him, but the others had hardly interacted with him – Anna’d looked at him like she’d barely known who he was – he’d asked after Kayla, been interested in how she was viewing the crime scene - ‘she actually wanted to come here?’ - football player, red and yellow trainers, on the outside of their social circle, at least Sherlock had been right about those.

“It’s all right,” Eddie says. “It’s almost like we’re alone now. And we’ll really be alone soon.”

He looks somewhere over to Sherlock’s left, and Sherlock reminds himself forcibly that shifting to follow his gaze will only draw his attention.

“You didn’t hurt her, did you?” Kayla asks.

Eddie turns back to her, glaring. “If I did, it was justified! Self defence, she was trying to keep us apart.”

“I – I only meant-” Kayla starts, then swallows and lifts her chin. “I know. But there’s no need to worry. Sam just didn’t understand, she thought she was protecting me. You know how our friend gets. When she wakes up, I’ll explain, and then she’ll be happy for us.”

Eddie looks uncertain, then he smiles. “Yeah, Sam is like that, isn’t she? Always wanting what’s best for us.”

“Yes,” Kayla agrees, though Sherlock can still hear the tremble in her voice. “It’ll make her so happy to see that we’ve finally gotten together. All of our friends will be pleased, you know, to see us so happy.”

Clever. Clever girl, going along with him, playing on his obvious desire to belong. She just has to be careful, not oversell it, just keep him distracted long enough for John to return. John can’t have gone far; Sherlock just wishes he’d hurry up – John not returning doesn’t even occur to him, nor does he think to wonder at how quickly he’s come to rely on John’s presence. Sherlock is used to relying on all of his assets; that one of them is now another person means nothing.

“You don’t think they’ll be jealous?” Eddie asks.

Kayla looks briefly terrified, like she has no idea how to reply to that. Then she says hesitantly, “I’m sure they’ll be glad for us. But some of them may be, that they don’t have what we do.”

“We should help them,” he says. “That’s the friendly thing to do, isn’t it? Help them find someone?”

“Sam’s just got herself a girlfriend,” Kayla says. “We can – we can go on double dates.”

Eddie frowns, looking back over to Sherlock’s left and tilting his head consideringly.

“What is it?” Kayla asks.

“I don’t like it,” Eddie replies. “She knows what I did for you. Not all people understand that.”

“Sam will. You know she will, she sees the good in everyone,” she says.

Eddie seems unconvinced, and Sherlock remembers him asking ‘even serial killers?’ the last time he was told that.

“You remember Fiona?” Kayla asks, sounding almost pleading. “That’s her girlfriend. Sam’ll have no problem understanding why you did it.”

Eddie looks back at her, gaze piercing. “You understand why I did it, don’t you?”

“Because they all hurt me,” she says quietly, voice thick with unshed tears.

He notices, and leans closer to her, smoothing his free hand gently over her hair. “Shh, baby, it’s okay. That’s right, you’re right, I did it because they hurt you. And I’m here now, no one’s ever going to hurt you again.”

“Could you-” she swallows. “Could you tell me why? It’ll help, hearing it in your voice.”

“Of course, baby,” he agrees. “That boy who worked in the pub, he was an arrogant jerk, wasn’t he? Waving that handkerchief around in your face, ruining your clothes, all but forcing himself on you. I know his kind, he wouldn’t have stopped there, so I stopped him for you. And that bastard rugby player, using you like that, he didn’t even remember that that bracelet he treasured so much was something you’d given him. He should have felt so fucking grateful, that you’d given someone like him something so special. I forgive you for that, you know, because we hadn’t met then. Professor Andrews, I couldn’t stand by and let him treat you like that. And that bitch Ashley, the only way she could’ve been chosen captain over you is by cheating.” He pauses. “And Morgan. I’ll forgive you for him, too, because I know he forced you into it. I saw how he treated you, never even called you when the rest of the group got together. I know how miserable you were, so I saved you.”

Kayla’s crying now, silent tears rolling down her cheeks.

Eddie glares at her, the hand on her head grabbing her hair roughly. “Well?” he asks. “Aren’t you even going to thank me?”

“Sorry,” she stammers. “I just get so upset thinking about – about what they did.”

He releases her hair, and goes back to stroking it. “I know you do, baby,” he tells her soothingly. He brandishes the knife, balanced elegantly between his fingers. “But I told you. You don’t have to worry, you’ve got me. No one’s going to hurt you now. I’ll take care of you.”

The handle of the front door rattles slightly, and Sherlock freezes, hoping Eddie hasn’t heard.

But Eddie turns towards the hallway. “Suppose that’s the rest of them coming back, then?” He steps away from her, setting the knife on the coffee table and picking up the gun that’d been lying there instead. “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll take care of this, too.” He aims the gun at the hallway.

The front door swings open with a soft creak, and the previous bit of relief Sherlock had felt at the sign of John’s arrival turns into something like fear.

 

---

 

The flat is quiet when John opens the door, which is surprising. Also surprising is that John makes it two steps into the hallway without Sherlock appearing to chastise him for taking so long.

“We’re back.” John calls, closing the door behind him.

“You were successful, then?” Kayla asks from the living room. Her voice is bland, mildly pleasant, with an odd undertone. Not what he’d expect from someone who’d just shouted at the person he’s bringing back to leave.

John waits, but there’s nothing from Sherlock. He frowns, and holds out his arm to stop Fiona from moving forward. “Yes, I was. Everything’s all fixed here, then?”

“Oh, yes. Everything’s fine now, nothing to be concerned about,” she replies in that strange tone.

Now John recognizes what’s under it: fear. It’s a tone he’s heard before, with people forced to pretend as though they aren’t in any danger or currently being held captive.

And Sherlock still hasn’t said anything. John ignores any panic he may be inclined to feel at the implications of that (he’ll feel it later, after the danger’s passed and he’s out of the headspace that prevents him from panicking when it won’t do them any good). He pulls his gun out, keeping it at his side and pointed down. His right arm is still holding Fiona back, and he uses it to keep her behind him as he starts moving down the hall.

“That’s good to hear,” John says absently, hugging the wall as he moves.

The other gun is the first thing he sees when the living room comes into view, and he flattens himself immediately against the wall, shoving Fiona against it behind him. Using the corner of the wall as cover, he aims his own gun at the other man.

“Drop it!” John shouts.

“You drop yours!” the man replies.

“Unlikely,” Fiona says. “John is an excellent shot and can easily hit you from here, while I doubt you have ever used a gun before and probably couldn’t hit us even if we were in the open. Who’s more at risk?”

“I don’t have to hit you,” the man says. “Or do you only want to protect yourself?”

“You’d really hurt Kayla?” Fiona asks. “So much for love.”

John grimaces at that, but doesn’t move.

“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand!” the man shouts. “I wouldn’t hurt her, of course I’d never hurt her. I didn’t mean her.”

“Eddie, please,” Kayla says.

“Shut up!” he snaps, then his tone softens. “I’m handling this, baby, don’t worry.” His voice rises again. “I don’t want to hurt them, but I will!”

John steps out, just enough to get a view of the living room beyond the man with the gun. Kayla is sitting in a chair close to him, hands bound with tape. Sherlock and Sam are sprawled on the floor nearby. Sam seems to be unconscious, unbound and with a nasty looking wound on the side of her head, but Sherlock is awake, bound with tape and gagged. John locks eyes with him briefly, unable to resist silently checking to see he’s all right. Sherlock nods the tiniest bit at John’s unspoken question, and there’s mostly irritation in Sherlock’s eyes, with a minor hint of concern, but no pain.

Satisfied, John focuses all of his attention back on Eddie.

Eddie waits for a moment longer, then turns towards Sherlock and Sam.

Fiona curses and starts forward, but John stops her.

“Don’t,” he mutters.

“But Sam-” she says.

“I know,” he cuts her off curtly. He’s well aware of the fact that one of the girls he’s supposed to be protecting is unconscious on the ground. “But rushing at him will only push him into doing something we’ll regret.”

Eddie grabs Sherlock by the shoulders, fisting his hand in Sherlock’s shirt and hauling him to his knees. He presses the gun to Sherlock’s temple. John’s entire world narrows, to the barrel of the gun pressing hard enough to leave an indent in Sherlock’s skin, to Eddie’s finger over the trigger (squeezing down a bit, you never even touch the trigger unless you are absolutely certain that the person on the other end is someone you are going to kill), to Eddie’s hand shaking ever so slightly, all of this only serving to remind John that in a situation like this, there’s so very much more to fear from a man who isn’t used to using a gun and is panicking. With an expert, the only thing to worry about is being shot intentionally. Now, any sudden movement, any loud noise, anything at all that startles Eddie into so much as twitching his finger, and –

“I’ll do it,” John says. “I’ll put down my gun, if you’ll put down yours.”

“You first,” Eddie says.

“Okay,” John agrees, keeping his voice calm. “I’m going to step out now.” He lowers his gun, pointing it at the ground, and moves very slowly into the living room. “Where do you want me to put it?”

Eddie’s eyes dart briefly around, then he says, “The coffee table. Just put it down and step back.”

John doesn’t want to give up his gun (he really doesn’t want to give up his gun), but Eddie’s finger is still on the trigger of his own gun, and Sherlock is still on the other end of that gun, and as much as John likes and respects Fiona, he doesn’t trust her or Kayla not to do or say something that sets Eddie off (or himself, for that matter, despite how careful he’s being). At the moment, all he cares about is getting the gun away from Sherlock’s head. He obeys, slowly and cautiously going over to the coffee table. He gently sets down his gun next to a roll of tape and a knife, then backs away.

Three steps, enough for Eddie to consider him a safe distance away, but close enough that it’ll only take a second for him to get his gun back.

“Now put it down, please,” John says. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

“Neither do I!” Eddie replies, almost petulantly. “People keep saying that, like I’m the one causing people to get hurt.” He moves the gun a bit away from Sherlock’s head, though he doesn’t take his finger off the trigger. “I don’t like this thing. It makes me nervous. I only brought it because Sam said you had one. It’s not even mine, you know, I took it off one of the rugby players. The things you learn about people when they don’t notice you’re there.” He looks at the gun disdainfully. “There’s nothing to this. Point and click and people die, and it’s not always even the right people.” Eddie yanks Sherlock forward to the table, where he sets down the gun and picks up the knife instead. “But this – this is a weapon.”

Some of the tension and fear eases. It’s still bad, of course, really bad (‘especially as you were so foolish as to give up your gun,’ the voice in John’s head that sounds a bit like Sherlock says. John ignores it), but less bad than an insane, twitchy, untrained killer holding a gun to Sherlock’s head.

John had hoped that Eddie would let go of Sherlock as well, but then, it seems John can’t manage to avoid showing his hand when Sherlock’s involved. Eddie must have figured threatening Sherlock would be the way to get John to do what he wants.

He’s partially right, of course, but John doubts Eddie realizes that it’s also the way to make him really, really pissed off.

Eddie fists his hand roughly in Sherlock’s hair and yanks his head back a bit, tiling his chin up and resting the edge of the knife against Sherlock’s throat.

For a long moment, John can’t look away from the glint of metal against pale skin. When he does, it’s only to look into Sherlock’s eyes, which are mostly filled with defiance, but John knows Sherlock well enough to see the tiny underlying hint of fear.

Rage burns at the back of John’s mind, but he knows how to section it off when it won’t be of use in a fight. Instead he asks calmly, “What do you want, Eddie?” He needs to get him distracted, off into his own world, so John can make a move for his gun.

“I just want us to be left alone!” Eddie shouts. “Don’t you understand? She’s all I’ve got. Everyone else ignored me, all of them, didn’t matter what I did, none of them even remembered my name. But not her. Not my Kayla. She sat right next to me, smiled at me like I was the only one in the entire classroom worth talking to. We connected, and I’m not going to let anyone take her from me. We just want to be together, why can’t you all just leave us alone?”

Eddie hasn’t moved his gaze from John the whole time he’s been talking. This isn’t working; it’s only drawing Eddie’s attention to him more, what he needs is for someone else to make a distraction. And quickly, before Sherlock does something idiotic like attempt a distraction himself and gets his throat slit in the process (because John still can’t stop looking at Sherlock’s eyes, and the fear has been covered by a slight gleam that means Sherlock knows what John’s aim is and has got his own plan to make it happen).

“Sam remembered,” Fiona says.

Eddie’s eyes shift in her direction. “What?”

“Your name,” she tells him. “Sam remembered your name.”

Eddie looks uncertain. “Of course she does. She’s our friend, Kayla says we – what are you doing?”

Fiona’s started moving, stepping behind John and skirting the edge of the room towards Sam.

“Stop it,” Eddie says, jerking Sherlock’s head back enough that John can no longer see his eyes, and pressing the knife a little bit harder against his skin, though still not hard enough to pierce it.

“No,” Fiona tells him. “Unlike John, I don’t particularly care whether your hostage lives or dies.”

“You’re lying,” he says, though he doesn’t sound sure.

“Quite possibly,” Fiona agrees. “But I do care significantly more for one hostage than the other, and unfortunately for you, you’ve picked the wrong one. John may be paralyzed as long as you have Sherlock, but I’m not. You can’t stop me from checking to see Sam’s all right.”

Eddie’s entirely focused on Fiona now, completely disregarding John (and John’ll forgive her the paralyzed remark, as he’s assuming that was her plan).

John moves forward without taking his eyes off Eddie, snatching the gun, lifting it and aiming in one smooth motion. It’s not his; it takes him barely a second to notice that even without looking at it, but by that time the gun’s already pointed at Eddie, and Eddie’s noticed his motion.

“Put the knife down, Eddie,” John orders.

“I will kill him!” Eddie replies, sounding almost desperate.

“Not before I kill you,” John replies calmly.

And he means it. It’ll have to be a kill shot, an instantaneous one, like the shot he’s got lined up right now. Anything less and Eddie would have time to slit Sherlock’s throat, and even too much twitching would cause more injury. A quick death means minimal injury to Sherlock, likely nothing more than John himself can patch up. Eddie’s pressing the knife up against Sherlock’s throat hard enough to draw blood now, a thin trickle of red against that long expanse of pale skin, and John knows with absolute certainty that he is going to kill this man in –

The blade moves, no longer pressed right up against Sherlock’s skin, though it stays at his neck, and John shifts his shot at the last second.

The bullet hits Eddie in the shoulder, and Sherlock wrenches himself away as the shot sends Eddie stumbling back, his hand spasming and the knife dropping.

John lunges for Eddie, knocking him to the ground. He pins him down, legs trapping his, and, at the moment, not in the least bit concerned for the other man’s injured shoulder.

Eddie stares up at him, pain and fear in his eyes but surprise and something like comprehension in his expression. “You were going to kill me,” he says in a hushed tone. “I saw it in your eyes, you would’ve killed me without hesitation before you let me hurt him.”

“Yes,” John agrees. If Eddie knows that, it might deter him from trying anything.

“Do you love him that much?” Eddie asks.

“Yes,” John replies immediately, because it’s the truth, and at the moment, John doesn’t care if Sherlock hears. Sherlock already knows how John feels about him, after that night at the warehouse, and right now John isn’t up to pretending.

Eddie closes his eyes, smiling slightly. “Then you understand.”

“I what?” John asks.

“You understand,” Eddie repeats, opening his eyes to look intently at John. “I love her more than anything. More than life. I couldn’t let them hurt her any more, even if it meant killing them. Even if it meant killing you all. You’d have done the same, wouldn’t you? If he was in danger? We’re the same.”

John doesn’t actually know what to say to that. Arguing to prove that they are nothing alike seems pointless, especially as there’s an element of truth in Eddie’s words. Not in the way Eddie means, obviously, but John doubts he’d be able to explain the distinction to anyone right then, let alone an insane serial killer.

So John ignores him, and instead gestures behind himself without looking. “Someone hand me the tape, please?”

Kayla offers it to him a few seconds later, and John quickly binds and gags Eddie with it, taking a tiny bit of vicious pleasure in the act, though this time he does mind the bullet wound.

When he’s finished, he looks up to see Kayla standing next to him, holding a pair of scissors. He takes them immediately, cutting gently through the tape still binding her wrists.

“Are you all right?” he asks.

“Yes,” she says. “No. I don’t know, actually. It doesn’t seem real.”

“John,” Fiona says urgently.

John looks over to see Fiona kneeling at Sam’s side, hands hovering uncertainly.

“Help her,” Fiona says, looking at him with unhidden worry. “Please, just – make her wake up.”

“I’ll do what I can,” John says, then quickly cuts a chunk of fabric from Eddie’s shirt. “I hate to ask,” he says to Kayla. “But can you-”

She takes the fabric from him wordlessly and shoves it roughly against the bullet wound in Eddie’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” John tells her, standing and turning towards Sam and Fiona.

He stops when he sees Sherlock, still bound and gagged, and has to ignore the brief urge to go straight to his side.

“Two seconds,” John promises him.

Sherlock inclines his head in understanding, and John moves over to Sam.

“I don’t know what to do,” Fiona tells him as he attends to Sam, sounding thoroughly irritated at that. “Do I try to wake her? Should I leave her be? Can I even touch her? I don’t-” She cuts off. “She’s hurt. She’s not supposed to get hurt; she said she’d protect me, what use am I if I can’t even do the same?”

“Fiona,” John says, gently but firmly. “She’s going to be fine. She’s going to need some actual medical attention –”

Fiona scowls. “You’re actual medical attention. Why does anyone else need to touch her?”

John sighs, and hands his police issue radio over to Fiona. “Likely as not neighbours will be alerting them to the gunshot, but radio Lestrade and tell him we need an ambulance, please? And yes, you can touch her.”

He glances quickly over to Eddie and Kayla, who haven’t moved, and Kayla is still applying pressure to his wound without looking at him. Then he turns to Sherlock, who’s currently trying to work free of his bonds on his own.

“Stop that,” John says with a frown, kneeling next to him. “Couldn’t wait two seconds?” he asks, though he just sounds affectionate.

John helps Sherlock onto his knees again so he can take a closer look at the cut on Sherlock’s neck. It’s not deep, barely nicked the skin, really, and it’s hardly bleeding any more. It likely would’ve stopped entirely, if Sherlock’s struggles hadn’t disturbed the injury.

He lets out a shaky breath that he’s been holding since – well, it feels like since he first saw the gun pointed at Sherlock, but more likely since he started checking Sherlock over. John cups his hand around the back of Sherlock’s neck absently, his thumb resting against Sherlock’s pulse point and taking comfort from feeling both of their pulses beat together.

Sherlock sinks down a bit, resting on his heels so they’re at eye level. Probably trying to tell him something, but John takes advantage of the situation and rests his forehead against Sherlock’s, closing his eyes.

“Only you could get threatened with two different weapons in the same two minute span,” John says. “Maybe you think I like saving you, but really, I think you just like giving me heart attacks. Do you have any idea what I’d do if anything happened to you?” He’d meant to sound teasing, but it comes out quiet, serious, and maybe just a little bit dangerous, and he can’t help but continue with, “Probably not, since I don’t even know. Well. Maybe a little, but I doubt many would like the outcome.”

John cuts off before he incriminates himself further. He’s already said enough tonight; he doesn’t need Sherlock to start thinking he needs to figure out a way to turn him down once again. Or, even worse, start thinking that turning John down isn’t working, and perhaps they should see less of each other for a while. John pulls back a little, and quirks a half smile at Sherlock. “I think I like you like this, you know. Maybe I won’t cut you free yet.” He’s mostly not serious. It is much easier to talk to Sherlock without him interrupting, but given what John had been babbling about, that’s not exactly a good thing.

Sherlock shifts and makes a noise from beneath the gag, something like a whimper but sounding more frustrated.

John swallows, because that absolutely should not make his breath hitch and his pulse quicken a bit. “I know, I know, I was only joking,” he says hurriedly, standing and going to retrieve the scissors.

He’s almost finished cutting through the tape binding Sherlock’s arms when his gun is thrust at him.

“How do you put the safety on?” Fiona asks him.

John does it automatically and hands it back to her. It’s not until he’s finished freeing Sherlock’s hands and started on his ankles that he thinks ‘wait, what?’, and looks up. His gun is nowhere in sight.

“Fiona,” he says calmly. “Where’s my gun?”

Fiona looks at him blankly. “The only gun here is Eddie’s, which you took from him when he so foolishly set it down in favour of the knife. As far as anyone’s co-”

She cuts off, because Sam’s groaned softly and shifted, and Fiona’s focus is completely back on her in an instant.

“Sam,” she murmurs, stroking her cheek gently. “Can you hear me? Wake up, Sam, please.”

Sam’s eyes don’t open, but she grimaces slightly, and says, “Ugh. I really want to say something cliché like, did anyone get the plate number of that lorry, but I’ll resist.”

“You can say whatever you want if it means you’re awake,” Fiona replies.

Sam opens her eyes. “I’m awake, Fi,” she says, reaching up to cover Fiona’s hand with her own.

Fiona just stares at her for a moment, like she’s not quite sure how to respond. Then she says, almost reverently, “Sam.”

Sam smiles slightly. “Hi.”

John finishes cutting Sherlock free, and leaves him to peel the tape off his clothes himself, taking over minding Eddie so Kayla can join Sam and Fiona.

Lestrade and a few other officers arrive soon after, and from the scowl on Sherlock’s face, John knows he was hoping they wouldn’t come until he’d gotten all of the tape off.

Lestrade looks over the room and immediately barks an order over the radio to let him know the second the paramedics arrive. Then he looks at Sherlock and asks gruffly, “What happened?”

“Use your eyes,” Sherlock replies irritably. “The killer snuck in before us and waited until he thought we had left to make his move on the girl. Despite a minor setback, he was unsuccessful, and was incapacitated with his own weapon.”

“Do you at least have a name?” Lestrade asks.

“Eddie. Um, Edward Howe,” Sam supplies.

John doesn’t pay much attention to the next bits. With the adrenaline rush fading, the lack of sleep is starting to catch up on him. It’s a bit of a relief to be able to just sit there and apply pressure to Howe’s wound, while Lestrade first checks in on the girls and then tells all of them they’re not to leave after the paramedics have looked them over, as they need to be questioned individually, and will likely be called in later as well. John just nods at appropriate times, answers questions when they’re directly put to him, and helps bring Howe outside when the ambulance arrives, leaving him to the paramedics and the officers who’re formally arresting him.

He’s still the first to be questioned, though, as everyone but Fiona is being looked at by the paramedics, and Fiona refuses to leave Sam’s side.

“I don’t know much,” he says. “Fiona and Kayla had a row, and Fiona left. I went after her, and Howe must’ve attacked while we were gone. When we got back, Sam was unconscious, and he had Sherlock and Kayla restrained. Howe was waving a gun about, but he traded it for a knife. Fiona distracted him, and I grabbed the gun, but he wouldn’t lower his weapon, so I shot. Then we called you.”

“You managed to get him to put down the gun?” Lestrade asks.

“He didn’t know how to use it,” John replies. “I think he was scared of it.”

“Wonder why he had it, then,” Lestrade says idly.

John shrugs. “No idea.”

Lestrade eyes him, and John knows he isn’t really fooled. Lestrade isn’t an idiot; he must have figured out that it was John who shot the cabbie. Which means he knows John has a gun, and he probably suspects that John would’ve brought it tonight.

“All right,” Lestrade says eventually with a sigh. “Suppose I’m done with you for now, then.” He nods, and starts towards Sherlock.

“Lestrade,” John calls after him. Then, when Lestrade stops and turns slightly towards him, says, “Thank you.”

Lestrade grunts and says gruffly, “You should go sit with Ms. Miller until we come talk to her. Looks like the paramedics are done with her, but I doubt she wants to be alone right now.”

John glances over at Kayla, who’s sitting by herself, wrapped in an orange blanket. Lestrade’s already walking away when John looks back to him, so John just makes a mental note to buy Lestrade a drink the next time John’s invited to the pub with him and some of the other officers, and heads over to Kayla.

“Hey,” he greets as he sits next to her. “How’re you doing?”

“I still don’t know,” she replies. “People keep telling me I’m in shock. How long’s that supposed to last?”

“I’m not sure,” John says. “But I can ask Sherlock, if you like, he’s the one who’s got experience with the shock blanket.”

She smiles slightly. “Has he, then? I didn’t think anything would shock him.”

“I don’t think he was in shock, really,” John says. “They just kept putting it on him. He complained for hours after.”

That gets another smile, though she doesn’t reply. After a moment, she says, “Was it really true?”

John frowns in confusion. “Was what true?”

“He said you would’ve killed him before letting him hurt your partner. Would you have?” she says.

He considers that for a moment, then decides honesty’s the best way to go right then. “If there hadn’t been another option, then yes.” He doesn’t tell her how close it’d actually been.

She stares at him for a bit, then nods. “Good.”

John wasn’t expecting that. “Good?”

“He would have deserved it,” she says. “If I could have stopped him from killing Finn, I would have. I wish I had. I wish I had known.” She looks at him, upset. “How could I not have known? Those things he said back there, they’re not true. I didn’t even remember him. I do now, I remember talking to him in class, but he was just a classmate. He was nice, normal. Forgettable.” She pauses. “Well. He’s not anymore, is he?”

“No,” John says. “This isn’t the kind of thing you ever really forget. But you don’t have to let it consume you, either.”

She smiles at him, somewhat sadly. “Sounds easy. But it won’t be, will it?”

“I’m sorry,” he tells her.

“Don’t be,” she says. “You caught him before he could hurt anyone else, before he could hurt me or more of my friends. That’s all I wanted, really. Best I could hope for.”

John sort of hates this bit. In the end, when the case is solved and the criminal’s been stopped and everything should be happy, it’s the time when it’s easier to realize that someone is still gone, and the people who loved that person still have to go on without him.

“I don’t know how much help I’ll be,” he says. “But if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. Sam has my mobile number.”

“Thank you,” she replies. “I-” She cuts off as an officer beckons her over. “Guess it’s my turn,” she says, almost absently, smiling at him one more time before going over to the officer.

He watches Kayla talk to the officer for a moment, then glances around the building. Fiona’s talking to another officer, and Sherlock is still with Lestrade, but it takes him a minute to locate Sam.

Which is likely because she’s left the paramedics and is heading for him.

“Hey,” Sam greets, sitting down next to him.

John looks at her. “Shouldn’t you be with the paramedics?”

“I’m with a doctor,” she replies. “I’d think that should be good enough.”

“How are you feeling?” he asks.

“Horrible, actually. They say I’ll be fine, but they want me to stay overnight at the hospital once we’re done here, just to be safe,” she says, then smiles a bit. “Fiona’s already insisting on staying with me. She might actually manage to convince them.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” John agrees.

Sam’s silent for a few beats, then she turns more towards him. “I just wanted – I wanted to thank you. You saved one of my best friends’ life, not to mention my own. And you caught him.”

“We caught him,” John replies.

“I’ll take that, though I don’t really see that I had much to do with it,” she says. “Just – thank you. And Sherlock too, of course, but I’m really not interrupting whatever conversation they’re having over there to tell him that.”

John glances over at Sherlock and Lestrade, and has to admit that he sort of agrees.

“I just don’t know how she’s supposed to get over this,” Sam says, looking over at Kayla.

“What about you?” John asks.

“I didn’t lose someone I was in love with,” she replies. “I’ll be fine.”

There’s something unspoken there, that says she should be able to deal with it easier, and she will, because that’s what’s expected of her. John considers telling her that she has a right to just not deal, but that doesn’t seem to be what she wants right now.

So instead, he offers, “My therapist told me to write about it.”

She looks a bit surprised. “You have a therapist?”

“Had one,” he replies.

“Does that mean you’re better, then?” she asks.

“Yes,” John says, because that’s the answer she’s hoping for. And because it’s true, though not necessarily in the way she means. But he is better than he was when he first got back, which is good enough.

“Did you actually do the writing bit?” she says.

“I’ve got a blog,” he says, though he always dislikes saying that. Gives the wrong impression, he thinks. “I don’t think it’s actually what she had in mind, but it’s fun writing it.”

“That’s good to know,” she says with a slightly teasing smile. “Gives me something to look up and read later.”

He winces, regretting telling her that a bit. “Just – ignore the comments. They’re mostly Sherlock being irritating.” Or his sister being drunk and John ignoring her, but he doesn’t tell Sam that.

“Does Sherlock have a blog, too?” she asks.

“He has a website, with a forum,” he replies.

She smiles. “And I bet he’d say the comments are mostly you being irritating.”

John grins slightly. “Probably.”

Sam looks at him for a long moment, then says, “I think I know why you haven’t really done anything about it.”

John blinks. “About what?”

“I haven’t known Fiona very long,” she says instead of answering. “If she’d said no when I made an advance, we both could’ve moved on. It’s early enough, we could’ve still been friends. And even if not-” She smiles, a bit self-depreciatingly. “I’m pretty far down the path of needing her too much to lose her, but I’m not there yet. But you and Sherlock, you’re already past that, aren’t you? That’s why you haven’t pressed it; you don’t want to risk losing him.”

John sighs. He should have known that if Fiona brought this up, Sam would as well. He supposes he isn’t really surprised that Sam has assumed he’s in love with Sherlock, considering how many do. Of course, this is the first time someone’s been so obvious about it (or hit so close to part of the truth) since John realized it was true. “And you’re bringing this up now?”

She raises her eyebrows at him. “You’re talking to the girl who’s now dating someone because she kissed her after being attacked by a gang of thugs.”

“So I shouldn’t have expected any differently?” he asks. Despite his smile and mostly light tone, there’s a slight edge in his voice. He really doesn’t want to discuss this.

Sam must pick up on it, because she doesn’t push. Instead she smiles a bit and says, “Exactly.” Then she bites her lip. “Can you tell Sherlock thank you for me? I had this ridiculous idea to use him to make Fi jealous, and I think he actually helped. I’d return the favour, but.” She shrugs, then smiles again. “Well. I better get back to Fiona, before she abandons the officer questioning her to come over here.” She leans in to kiss him on the cheek, then stands, giving him a slightly sly grin. “Thank you again, John,” she tells him as she walks away.

John looks after her, vaguely confused. He’s not particularly up for trying to process any of that right now, and he rather wishes people would stop trying to have confusing conversations with him when he’s exhausted.

“She was certainly grateful,” Sherlock comments from his left.

John turns slightly towards him. “How long have you been there?”

“Too absorbed in your conversation to notice my arrival, then?” Sherlock asks.

John rolls his eyes. “Save the lecture about my observational skills for a time when I’ve got enough energy to pretend I’m listening, will you?” His gaze falls to the bandage around Sherlock’s neck, and he nearly has to sit on his hands to keep from reaching out and touching him. “What’d the paramedics say?”

“I’m perfectly fine,” Sherlock replies.

John raises his eyebrows.

“Nothing you didn’t already know,” Sherlock says crossly. “For that matter, they didn’t do anything you couldn’t have easily done at home. What good is living with my doctor when I still have to submit to the suppliers of shock blankets?”

John knows he should be irritated, or at the very least explain why it’s necessary to have him checked over by someone with the proper equipment, but really, all he feels is amusement, and all he does is smile in what he suspects is a slightly sappy manner at hearing Sherlock call him his doctor. Which is stupid, of course, since he knows how Sherlock meant it, but that doesn’t stop John from smiling.

“What?” Sherlock asks, narrowing his eyes at him suspiciously.

“Nothing,” John says. “Look, they’re done questioning Fiona now. I better get – that thing I let her borrow before we leave.” Then he pauses, and asks, “Are we free to go home?”

“If you like,” Sherlock replies. “Undoubtedly we’ll be accosted again soon, but we should be safe for the night. And you needn’t worry; I’ve already got what she borrowed from you.”

“She gave it to you?” John asks.

Sherlock smiles. “I didn’t say that. I just said I had it.”

John resists the urge to roll his eyes again, and stands up. “All right. Let’s say good-bye to the girls and get going, then.”

Sherlock makes a bit of a face, but he doesn’t protest as John heads over to the back of the ambulance where Sam, Fiona, and Kayla are.

Fiona’s arguing with one of the paramedics, though about what John doesn’t know, as she cuts off when John and Sherlock approach.

“Her doctor’s here,” Fiona says. “Will you listen to him, then?”

John raises an eyebrow. “I’m her doctor, now?”

Sam smiles apologetically at him. “She’s been told she likely won’t be able to stay overnight with me in the hospital.”

“It isn’t even necessary,” Fiona says. “John is more competent than any of them. He took care of me, why can’t he take care of you?”

“Fiona,” Sam says, affectionately exasperate, with a sidelong glance at John and Sherlock. “He has another patient to take care of tonight.”

“You’re more important,” Fiona says.

“They’ve never kept John or I out of each other’s rooms,” Sherlock informs her smugly.

“That’s because I’m a doctor, and you refuse to leave,” John mutters under his breath, but Fiona hears him.

“I will refuse to leave, then,” Fiona tells the paramedic.

John recognizes the paramedic, and offers her a sympathetic smile.

The paramedic rolls her eyes. “I’m not the one she’ll have to convince, I just told her what the hospital staff would likely say. She’s welcome to ride along and try.”

“Why didn’t you make that clear to begin with?” Fiona asks.

“Because you wouldn’t let her get a word in after that first statement,” Sam says, but there’s no sting in the words, and she tugs Fiona down for a kiss to silence any reply Fiona might’ve made.

“We just came over to say good-bye,” John tells them when they break apart. “I’ll check in with you tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Sam replies, smiling at both him and Sherlock.

John smiles back, and Sherlock waits until they’ve started to leave to call back over his shoulder, “I’m glad you’re all right.”

Lestrade offers to take them home, but Sherlock once again refuses to ride in a police car, so they hail a cab back to Baker Street.

“Do you want the shower?” John asks when they’re back at the flat.

Sherlock mutters something incomprehensible and waves his hand dismissively, which John takes as a no. He starts for the bathroom, then pauses and turns back.

“Sherlock,” John says. “I’ll take my gun back.”

Sherlock pouts a little, but hands it over without protest. John stops by his room first, taking the ammunition out of the gun and storing both safely away, then takes a quick shower. He would’ve preferred a longer one, but he’s not sure he won’t fall asleep standing. After getting dressed for bed, he heads into the living room to see if Sherlock needs anything, or wants to explain a few last things about the case before he goes to sleep.

John finds Sherlock in his pyjamas, sprawled out on the sofa and staring at the ceiling.

“Are you going to be sleeping tonight?” John asks.

“Uncertain,” Sherlock replies.

“Isn’t the case done?” John says.

“Yes, yes,” Sherlock says boredly. “The case solved, the culprit caught, the innocents saved, all is well.”

“Then why?” John says. “Thought you only disliked sleeping too long when you had an active case.”

“The case may be over, but that’s far from the only thing on my mind,” Sherlock tells him.

John smiles affectionately. “Yes, I know. That mad, brilliant brain of yours, always working. Tell it to give it a rest for the night so you can get some sleep, will you? Doctor’s orders.”

Sherlock’s silent for a moment. Then he says quietly, “John. What Howe said tonight – you mustn’t think you’re anything like him.”

That’s not entirely unexpected, though it makes John feel pleased in a way that it probably shouldn’t. Then again, pleased probably isn’t the right word for the warmth or the slight feeling of tightness in his chest. “Why not?” he asks, because he wants to hear how Sherlock will respond to that.

Sherlock frowns. “Because you’re not. You don’t kill unless someone is in immediate danger, a far cry from killing over any perceived insult. You kill to protect, to save. You’re a good man, John, you must see that.”

John smiles, humourlessly, because he isn’t sure he is a good man. He is, however, reasonably sure that he’s not quite bad enough to be compared to a serial killer. “I didn’t believe him. You’re right about that bit, at least. If the choice is between a criminal and the person he’s trying to kill, I’ll sleep easy with my choice. Besides, more often than not, that person is you, and that’s no choice at all.” John had known that long before he’d known he was in love with the man, though. He’d realized that two days after he’d met him.

Sherlock frowns slightly. “Why should I be an easier choice than others?”

John looks away. He should lie, he knows he should, or at least tell a not quite truth, but he can’t bring himself to right then. “You know why, Sherlock,” he says, quiet and serious, then shakes his head at himself. Being tired is no excuse to say things he’ll likely regret in the morning. “I’ve already told you this, remember? I told you I judged your character, you frowned scandalously at me? Besides, I’ve gotten used to having you around, you know. Who else would I be able to shout at when he forgets where human tissue samples go in the fridge and puts them right next to dinner?”

“Is that all you keep me around for, then?” Sherlock asks.

John sighs. “I’m tired, Sherlock. Stop asking me questions like that unless you want to hear things you already know and have twice tried to dissuade me from.” Then he smiles at him a bit. “And go to bed. That’s what I’ll be doing.” He turns to head up to his room, but stops and turns back when Sherlock calls his name.

Sherlock’s half-sitting up on the sofa, looking uncertain. “I – don’t wish to be alone right now,” he says, somewhat stiffly.

That’s a bit surprising. It’s also probably the closest Sherlock’s ever come to telling John (seriously, anyway) that he needs him, and there’s absolutely no way John can leave Sherlock when he’s admitted that he doesn’t want to be alone.

“If I stay with you, can we sleep?” John asks.

“If we must,” Sherlock says, sounding more like himself.

John eyes his armchair, and nearly groans at the thought of yet another night spent trying to sleep sitting up. It’s that prospect that tips him over into acting on what is likely a very bad idea, and he nods. “Right then. Come on.”

Sherlock frowns at him. “Where?”

“Upstairs,” John says. “I’m not sleeping in my chair again.”

“You want me to sleep in your bed?” Sherlock asks.

Absolutely. Which should serve to remind John that this is a dangerous idea, but he just shrugs. “You don’t want to be alone. I’d rather you weren’t alone as well. I’m exhausted, you need to sleep, and my bed’s big enough. Just stay on your side.”

Sherlock looks at him for a long time, then stands. “All right.”

It’s not until they’re actually in John’s bed that he fully realizes that, yes, this was a very bad idea; when the lights are out and they’re under the covers, and though they’re a good distance away from each other, John can still hear Sherlock breathing, still knows he’s right there. He tries to control his own breathing, to not let himself give anything away, but he still suspects Sherlock can hear his heart pounding. And, of course, there’s a traitorous part of his brain, a part that clearly wants him to be miserable, that keeps telling him it must mean something, if Sherlock knows about John’s feelings and yet is still willing to share the same bed, even platonically.

Of course it does. It means Sherlock trusts him enough to not do anything. Or maybe it’s some sort of test, brought on by all John’s not managed to stop himself from saying tonight, that if John can pass this, then Sherlock can continue to be his friend without being concerned John will once more try to act on his feelings. Or maybe John’s just paranoid as well as exhausted, and it doesn’t mean anything but that they’re both tired, but neither of them want to be alone.

“Sherlock,” John says, because it’s either that, demand Sherlock tell him what kind of test this is, or roll over and kiss him. “If it’s not case remnants, what did you think might keep you awake?”

“Something I’m trying to work out,” Sherlock replies absently. “I thought I’d had it dealt with, but I was unsatisfied with my conclusions, and now I have some new information that I need to examine.”

“You normally like being alone when you’re re-thinking something,” John says.

“Not tonight. Not for this. Your presence is of some use.” He hesitates. “It always is, John. I don’t think I tell you that often.”

“You do,” John says. “Just not in words.” John’d sort of thought Sherlock did it on purpose, to make him pay more attention. “But it’s still nice to hear.”

The silence that follows is much more comfortable, and John starts to feel his exhaustion take hold.

“Don’t let it trouble you too much,” John says sleepily. “You’ll figure it out, you always do.”

If Sherlock answers, though, John’s not awake to hear it.

 

---

 

There’s something heavy weighing down on him. It’s not part of his dream; John may not always be able to tell that his dreams aren’t reality, but he knows reality from dreams. Being aware of his surroundings despite sleeping isn’t quite something that’s left him yet, and he knows it’s an outside force. There’s – something strange about it; he doesn’t feel threatened (quite the opposite, actually, he feels almost a sense of security), but there’s still something pinning down his arm, so John claws his way out of sleep. And then he’s awake, lying quiet and tense and a bit confused. There’s no visible threat. He’s in his room, the dim light of dawn starting to filter through the blinds on his window. It can’t have been more than an hour or two since he went to bed with –

Sherlock. Sherlock, who has not stayed on his side of the bed, but has gravitated closer to him, lying on top of John’s arm and pressing it into the mattress. No threat, just Sherlock not doing what he’s asked even in his sleep. John leans back into his pillow, the tension bleeding out of him and exhaustion taking its place. He almost sinks back into the sleep right then, with the unknown gone but the sense of comfort remaining. But though his arm’s not numb yet, he knows it will be if it stays like that, so he sighs and forces his eyes open.

John slides his arm slowly towards himself, trying to extract it without waking Sherlock.

Sherlock makes a vague noise of protest and moves even closer, so that he’s now completely squished against John’s side, freeing John’s hand in the process. John wiggles his fingers experimentally, then gives a mental shrug and goes with it.

John nudges Sherlock towards him, and Sherlock shifts easily, moving even closer than John had planned. Sherlock slips one arm around John’s waist, and settles partially on top of him, sharing John’s pillow.

His arm’s free, now, and he stretches it across the bed briefly before pulling it back. John doesn’t even question when his arm rests naturally around Sherlock, and he’s asleep again before his hand settles at the small of Sherlock’s back.

The sun’s fully up the next time John wakes, filtering weakly in through the slits in the blinds. He blinks sleepily at it, trying to determine if the faint sunlight means it’s still early, or just cloudy out. He considers rolling over to check the time, but decides it’s not worth it.

Especially as Sherlock’s still sleeping on top of him, more so than the last time John woke up. Sherlock’s half on top of him now, one leg between John’s. John’s arm is still around Sherlock, and, after waking up a little bit more, he realizes that he’s smoothing his thumb in absent circles over Sherlock’s back.

John forces himself to stop, and gently lifts his arm from around Sherlock. Sherlock apparently doesn’t like that, though, as he grumbles something and shifts in his sleep. He tucks his head down, chin resting against the crook of John’s neck, mouth and nose so close that John can feel Sherlock’s breath against his skin.

That itself is enough to make John want to squirm a bit, but even worse is that Sherlock shifts his leg as well. Just a little, but enough that it’s now not only between John’s legs, it’s pressing firmly against John’s groin.

John’s breath hitches, and it’s only by sheer force of will that he manages not to rock his hips upward into the sudden contact. He’s already hard, but that’s not terribly surprising, considering he’d woken up half-there already.

“Shit,” John curses, then freezes.

Sherlock shows no sign of waking, though, breathing still slow and even.

“Shit,” John mutters again, because the situation warrants more cursing. “This is really not helping me stop being in love with you.”

Sherlock’s response is silence, but then, that’s what John was hoping for.

John sinks down into the mattress, trying to get away from Sherlock’s leg so he can think clearly enough to try and figure out how to get out of bed without waking Sherlock (though admittedly, that’s more out of self-preservation and absolutely not wanting Sherlock to be witness to this than not wanting to disturb Sherlock’s sleep).

Unfortunately, Sherlock’s leg stays pressed against him, and John’s movement prompts another shift from Sherlock, his nose brushing against John’s jaw and his thigh dragging slowly across John’s cock. This time, John can’t stop himself from rocking his hips a bit upwards, legs spreading just the tiniest bit.

And then realizes that just as Sherlock’s leg is pressed between his, John’s leg is between Sherlock’s, and Sherlock is just as hard as he is. John rocks experimentally upwards, pressing his thigh into Sherlock’s groin at the same time, and trying not to moan at the feel of Sherlock’s cock against him, or the warmth of Sherlock’s skin against his own cock, even through two layers of fabric.

John had half-expected Sherlock to stiffen at the contact, perhaps even pull away, but Sherlock gives a soft whimper of pleasure and chases the pressure, grinding against John’s leg and pushing his own more firmly against John. Emboldened, John rocks his hips, lifting them to meet Sherlock’s. His arm has found its way around Sherlock again, and he slides his hand under Sherlock’s shirt, smoothing his fingertips over Sherlock’s skin. John stretches his hand, palm splaying across the small of Sherlock’s back and thumb pushing under the waistband of Sherlock’s pyjama bottoms to stroke at the soft skin there.

Sherlock’s hips jerk against his, and he buries his face closer to John, lips pressed lightly against John’s neck and nose nudging at his jaw as Sherlock makes pleased, sleepy snuffling sounds.

Sleepy. Because Sherlock is still asleep, and John is far past the point where he can excuse his own behaviours for half-asleep reactions to what’s going on.

John pulls his arm from around Sherlock and rolls out from under him, this time not as concerned about waking Sherlock as he is about getting out of there.

Sherlock blinks blearily at him, looking at him from behind half-lidded eyes. “John?” he asks, voice thick and confused.

John glances away, not wanting to meet his eyes. “I’m going to take a shower,” he says hurriedly as he ducks out of the room, knowing he’s running away, but at the moment, not caring.

He locks the bathroom door behind him and rests his head against it, breathing slightly heavily and feeling a bit disgusted with himself.

Brilliantly handled, all of that. Molesting his best friend while he was sleeping had absolutely been the best way to get over said best friend, not to mention how much headway it made towards convincing Sherlock that John’s feelings towards him were entirely platonic. It certainly wasn’t at all wrong and definitely didn’t make John seem like a creep. Especially not since he’s still thinking about warm, soft skin, the feel of Sherlock against him, the way Sherlock sounded when –

John sighs and bangs his forehead against the door before pushing away. He turns the water in the shower as cold as it will go and steps in, grimacing at the shock as the spray hits him.

He doesn’t actually shower, just stands under the cold water for as long as he can stand, forcing his thoughts onto anything but Sherlock. Finally, he switches the shower off and climbs out, towelling himself dry. If John’s lucky, it’s been long enough that Sherlock’s left his room, and John can hide in there until he’s able to come up with some excuse. If John’s really lucky, Sherlock will just ignore what happened, and John won’t have to make any excuse. He ties the towel around his waist and opens the door.

Sherlock’s standing there, arms crossed and glaring at him.

So much for John being really lucky.

“It’s generally considered impolite to confiscate the only shower in the flat both before bed and in the morning,” Sherlock informs him irritably. “Especially as I now have to wait even longer should I want any hot water.”

John finds his own irritation rising at the tone, despite that Sherlock’s actually right, and John really has no place to be annoyed. “There should be plenty of hot water left, considering I didn’t use any.”

Sherlock raises one eyebrow. “Oh?”

John flushes at realizing what he’s just implied, but refuses to respond to Sherlock’s prodding and instead pushes past him, muttering, “Shower’s all yours.”

He feels Sherlock’s gaze on him for a moment, then it disappears and he hears the sound of the bathroom door closing. John retreats into his room, shutting his own door behind him. He crosses his room automatically, dropping the towel on the floor and pulling on a pair of pants.

But getting dressed doesn’t seem worth the effort, and one glance at the clock tells him why. It’s not even noon yet, which means John really didn’t get all that much sleep. John falls back on his bed, scrubbing his hand over his face and closing his eyes.

At least it gives him an excuse not to leave his room just yet. Maybe he can just hide up here all day, and by the time he comes out, Sherlock will have found a new case or something else to distract him. It’s – actually possible, with Sherlock.

John dozes, drifting in and out, and he’s not really certain how much time has passed when he hears a knock on the door. He mutters something that might have been come in, but doesn’t move from the bed.

The door opens and closes, and John turns his head to see Sherlock standing somewhat uncertainly in front of it.

“You didn’t come downstairs,” Sherlock says.

“Mmm,” John agrees. “Still tired. Apparently that wasn’t enough sleep.”

Sherlock frowns. “You did sleep, though? No nightmares?”

“No nightmares,” John confirms, unsurprised that Sherlock has figured out what sometimes keeps him from sleeping at night, though he hadn’t known a few days ago. “You would’ve noticed if I had.” Then again, considering what Sherlock slept through –

John cuts that thought off forcibly, turning his gaze away from Sherlock to stare at the ceiling. He waits for it, expecting Sherlock to bring up that morning.

“I’ve never noticed them before,” Sherlock says, sounding irritated.

Surprised, John turns to look at him again. “You wouldn’t have, unless you were in the same room as me. They’re quiet.” Not in his head, of course, in his head they’re louder than he’d ever thought possible, even the bits that are flashbacks louder than they’d been in real life, but he’s never woken up loud. Panting, sweating, crying, yes, and even on occasion with a first shoved into his mouth as if to silence a scream, but never loud.

Sherlock looks closely at him. “They’re quiet, or you’re quiet?”

John doesn’t look away, but he doesn’t answer, either.

Sherlock nods as if John had. He remains silent for a moment, then says quietly, “They’re of the war?”

“Yes,” John agrees. If it was anyone else, he would have left it there. But it’s Sherlock, and so he finds himself continuing with, “Mostly flashbacks of things I never even wanted to remember, let alone relive. Sometimes things twist, turn out differently. Worse, or better.” He’s never sure which is worse, really, seeing horrible things happen in his dreams that he knows didn’t actually happen, or not having something horrible happen in his dreams and then having to wake up to the reality that it actually did.

“How often are they?” Sherlock asks.

“Not very often, anymore,” John says. He considers adding, ‘since I met you,’ but he doesn’t. Instead, he gives up on hoping that Sherlock will leave and allow him to go back to sleep, and rolls out of bed. “Did you want something?”

Sherlock stares at him.

John frowns. “What?”

“You’re not wearing a shirt,” Sherlock says.

That – actually hadn’t occurred to him until now. He’s somewhat surprised; normally he’s very aware of that. “No,” John agrees. “I’m not.”

Sherlock takes a step forward, eyes on John’s shoulder. “Can I-”

“No,” John says, cutting him off, even though he isn’t sure exactly what Sherlock was going to ask. Something about his scar, and John doesn’t want to talk about it right then. Not even to Sherlock. Especially not to Sherlock. He doesn’t know where they are after this morning, after everything, and John doesn’t want to start a loaded conversation when they’re on shaky ground. That, and he knows there’s something Sherlock’s been wanting. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have come in here. “What do you want?”

“What makes you think I want something?” Sherlock asks.

“You came looking for me in my room, for one,” John says. "And you're hanging about, asking me if I've slept well."

"Isn't it customary, to ask that of someone who's spent the night sleeping beside you?" Sherlock asks. "I would have done earlier, but you were so eager to get in that second shower."

John's shoulders sag a bit. He wants to stay irritated, but really, he's got no ground to stand on. If Sherlock wants to drag this out, that's his prerogative. John is the one in the wrong here. "I'm sorry," he says softly.

Sherlock waves his hand dismissively. "Don't be. There was plenty of hot water left."

John reminds himself of what he's just thought about Sherlock's prerogative. "I didn't mean that."

There's silence for a moment, then Sherlock asks, "Will you explain it, then, if you'll apologize for it? Why you fled?"

John stares at him. "That's not - I didn't-"

Sherlock frowns. "Didn't what?"

"Nothing," John says, shaking his head at himself. "Just - I'm sorry. You were asleep, and I was stupid. Stupider than usual, even."

There's an even longer period of silence. Finally Sherlock says, "I wasn't asleep."

"What?" John asks, sure he's misheard.

"I was awake," Sherlock clarifies. "I just didn't want you to know that."

John's moving almost without realizing it, elbow tucked back and fist extended before he's consciously aware of it. He stops himself before he actually punches Sherlock, but it's close, and his arm shakes with the effort.

Sherlock stares at him, eyes wide and concerned.

"What are you doing to me?" John asks, quiet and angry. "What the hell kind of game is this, Sherlock? Are you trying to see how far you can push me before I break? Did you just want to see how much self control I had when faced with the chance to molest you in your sleep?" He's shouting now, but he can't stop himself. "Congratulations. You caught me. I have no self control when it comes to you, but I can't believe you didn't already know that."

"You have remarkable self control, actually. More than I expected. You left too soon," Sherlock tells him. "You were supposed to continue, and then I would 'wake up' and could become much more actively involved."

John blinks, a bit disbelieving. "Is that supposed to make it better? You were just manipulating me?"

"I was gathering data," Sherlock snaps. "Yes, that required a small amount of manipulation, but it was nothing serious."

"Nothing seri- Sherlock, you made me-" John cuts off, because, no, Sherlock didn't make him do anything. Not really. "I thought you were asleep, Sherlock, and I did it anyway. I took advantage of you. How are you not upset?"

"Possibly because you're being an idiot," Sherlock says, irritated. "I was obviously interested."

"Your body was interested, that doesn't mean your mind was," John says, too upset to catch on to the fact that Sherlock is more or less implying that all of him was interested. "You could have been thinking of someone else, or just reacting to what I was doing in your sleep, or just because it was morning. For a few moments, it didn't occur to me to wonder if you'd still be interested if you were awake." And then, because he can't seem to stop himself now that he’s being honest, "If it had, I'm not sure I would have cared."

"Clearly you cared, considering you stopped once it had occurred to you," Sherlock snaps, but it's absent, as though his full attention isn't in it. Then he says, quietly, "Oh."

"Oh?" John asks.

"I - you may have been right," Sherlock says, sounding miserable at that. "I should have - when you left, I considered the possibility that it was because you had only just then became aware enough to realize that I was the one in bed with you. I shouldn't have assumed that you would realize that wouldn't be the case with me."

John bristles the tiniest bit at Sherlock's tone, but ignores it. He's gotten used to the fact that Sherlock can say that he shouldn't have thought John was smart enough to figure something out and actually mean it as an apology. Instead, he asks, "It wouldn't be the case with you?"

Sherlock glances away, looking the slightest bit uncomfortable. "Desire - this - for me - it's happened before, but it's not particularly common. Certainly not for something as simple as it being morning. Rest assured, John, if I am aroused," And here Sherlock looks back at him, gray eyes intense. "It is because of you."

John sits down on the edge of his bed, hard. He really should say something, anything, but he can't seem to move his gaze from Sherlock's, and he's a little bit afraid that if he asks anything, he'll find out he's misunderstanding. Finally, he swallows and asks, "When did this happen?"

Sherlock looks briefly irritated. “I realized it a few days ago, but I suspect it’s been longer than that.”

That is definitely not what John had been expecting. “What?” John asks, surprise and a bit of frustration over-riding his previous fear of questioning it too much.

Sherlock scowls. “Yes, well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m generally pre-occupied with solving murders. It leaves me little time to devote to figuring out less important matters.”

John raises his eyebrows. “This isn’t important to you?” he asks, even though he knows that wasn’t how Sherlock had intended it.

Sherlock’s scowl fades into a look of concern. “Of course it is, John, I only-”

John’s considering letting him continue, but Sherlock’s looking at him almost earnestly, and John doesn’t have the heart to. “I know.”

“Do you?” Sherlock asks, eyes intense again. “This is possibly one of the most important things I’ve figured out.”

“Then why are you just telling me this now?” John asks, frustrated again.

“Because I’ve only just now gotten enough data to attempt to confirm my theory,” Sherlock replies.

John doesn’t bat an eye at finding out Sherlock’s collected data on his own feelings before reaching a conclusion (of course he has, he’s Sherlock), and Sherlock pretending to be asleep this morning makes a bit more sense now. Except – “I thought you said you’d figured it out a few days ago.”

“That I had feelings for you, yes. I was uncertain if you returned them. No, to be more accurate, until yesterday I was reasonably certain you didn’t. Either I-” Sherlock cuts off.

Most likely because John is staring at him.

Uncertainty flickers in Sherlock’s eyes. “I’m wrong. Or I’m saying this incorrectly. John, I’m trying to – I want-” He cuts off again, aggravated, and begins to pace. “Why are you – is this – so infuriating? I can learn everything important about anyone, even you, with one look, why can I not figure you out?”

Something about Sherlock’s uncertainty and frustration quells John’s own, and he suddenly feels quite calm. He finally understands, after so long of feeling like he’s the only person in the conversation who has no idea what’s going on. It’s almost intoxicating. “Because you can’t learn everything important about me in one look.”

Sherlock stills, watching him closely. “No. I can’t. I can see you’re an army doctor, that you missed the excitement, that you’re a good man, but not that you’d think I was brilliant, or would kill someone for me, or would make me want to be good, however impossible it may be.”

John wants to say that it’s not impossible, that Lestrade saw the potential for goodness in Sherlock even before John was there. That Sherlock is already heading there, that really, parts of him are already good, it just seems that no one but John can see it. Not even Sherlock.

What he says instead is, “I’m sorry.”

Sherlock deflates. Something in his eyes shatters, for the briefest moment, then it’s gone behind a mask of neutrality and his shoulders straighten. “Don’t be. It’s nothing. As I’ve said before, this isn’t-”

“No, Sherlock, I’m sorry because I assumed you knew,” John says. “When I tried to kiss you at the warehouse and you stopped me, I assumed you knew the way I felt about you and were telling me no.”

The mask is still there as Sherlock looks at him. “I didn’t stop you. I stopped myself from acting before I had enough data.”

“You shouldn’t have. Then all of this could’ve been avoided,” John says, smiling wryly. “But then, I should have asked, and I didn’t. I was too nervous to bring it up.”

Sherlock smiles, suddenly and smugly. “You aren’t any better at this than I am.”

“Sorry?” John asks.

“For all your dates, all the stories I hear about you, you weren’t any better in this than I was,” Sherlock says.

John frowns, and doesn’t even have to ask who he’s heard stories from. Mike, most likely, as he’s the only one who both knew John when he was at uni and talks to Sherlock. Unless Sherlock’s been hunting down John’s old friends. “Yeah, well, it’s a bit different with you, all right?” John says irritably. “I’ve never fallen in love with my best friend before. I had to be more cautious than usual, seeing as I’d rather have you as a friend than not have you at all.”

Sherlock stops smiling, and stares intently at him again. “Do you mean that?”

John mentally curses the things he blurts out when he’s annoyed. “Which bit?”

“All of it,” Sherlock says.

“Are you my best friend? Am I in love with you? Do I need you too much to lose you, so that I’ll take you whatever way I can get? Yes,” John says quietly. “To all of the above.”

“John,” Sherlock murmurs, taking a few steps towards him. “Thank you.”

“For what?” John asks.

“No one has ever – my friendship has never been so important to someone that they were afraid to lose it,” Sherlock admits, smiling humourlessly.

John is tempted to say that he never said he was afraid, but Sherlock is obviously trying to hide how much that means to him, and anyway, it’s true, whether or not he’d actually said it. “You don’t have to thank me for that. It’s not anything I did, it just is.”

“Perhaps for you,” Sherlock says softly. Then, “It seems this is another first you are for me, John. Both in not wanting to lose my friendship, and-” He looks away. “That’s why I pretended to be asleep this morning. I was afraid. If you didn’t respond, I could fall back on being unaware, and then I wouldn’t have made you leave.”

John’s silent for a long moment, processing that. He supposes it’s the closest Sherlock will come to saying that he doesn’t want to lose John, either. “We’re both awake now,” John says finally.

Sherlock looks back at him. “Yes.”

John stands, and kisses him.

Whenever John had imagined first kissing Sherlock, it'd always been after some life and death situation. Mostly because that was the only time he could imagine being worked up enough to forget why he kept himself from kissing Sherlock.

But this is so much better. This is private, just the two of them, like it should be. Like it always is, because they're the only two that really understand each other.

John feels like he should be a bit concerned, that the only person who understands him is a self-proclaimed sociopath and, despite that bit being absolutely not true, is definitely a bit crazy. But he can't bring himself to care, not with the pleased, encouraging noises Sherlock is making as John strokes his tongue across the roof of Sherlock's mouth. And anyway, John's a bit crazy, too, so it fits.

That thought makes John giggle when they break apart for a bit of air.

"What?" Sherlock asks.

"Nothing," John replies. "This is perfect. You're perfect."

"Aren't you the one who's always telling people not to say things like that to me, because my ego doesn't need to be any bigger?" Sherlock says.

John hooks his thumbs in the waistband of Sherlock's trousers. "You have said I'm always the exception."

"That seems to - ah-" Sherlock's breath hitches slightly as John pulls Sherlock’s hips forward to meet his own, sliding them together. "Remain the truth."

John's not surprised that both of them are nearly fully aroused already, given the way this morning had ended. Sherlock’s rocking against him of his own accord now, and John releases Sherlock’s trousers. He curls one hand around the back of Sherlock’s neck as he kisses him again, harder this time.

Sherlock runs his hands up John’s back, fingers digging in a bit, and John can feel short fingernails scraping lightly against his skin. Then Sherlock’s touch turns lighter as he strokes a hand over John’s left shoulder.

John jerks slightly, teeth scraping against Sherlock’s lower lip. He pulls back slightly to apologize, but Sherlock makes a familiar noise at the loss of contact. Almost a whimper, but more frustrated, and the last time John’d heard Sherlock sound like that, the circumstances had been entirely different, though it had made John’s breath hitch all the same.

Interesting, the voice in his head that sounds a lot like Sherlock notes. Normally John ignores it, but this time, he agrees. Definitely something to explore, though not right then.

"Are you certain this is what you want?" John asks quietly. He needs to ask, to have his moment of uncertainty while he's still able to function well enough to ask.

"Absolutely," Sherlock says. Then, "But-"

John tries to shove aside the sudden tightness in his chest. "But?"

"If we do, you can't - don't leave. I'm not certain I can handle it," Sherlock says, his voice even softer than John's question.

John'd been wrong. Apparently Sherlock will get a lot closer to saying he doesn't want to lose John. "The last thing I ever want to do is let you go. You're stuck with me forever."

He's barely finished speaking when Sherlock's kissing him again, pushing against him with enough force to send them both tumbling onto the bed. John breaks the kiss and flips them over, straddling Sherlock's hips.

"You have far too many clothes on," John informs him, sliding his hands under the hem of Sherlock's shirt and pushing the fabric up.

Sherlock apparently agrees, because after John’s divested him of his shirt, he makes quick work of his trousers and pants before tugging at John’s own. John shifts so he can get rid of them completely, shoving them somewhere to the side without noticing or caring where they end up.

It’s skin against skin now, the friction so much better than it’d been this morning, and John knows very well he’s not going to last long.

Sherlock tugs him down for another kiss, and this time John scrapes his teeth intentionally across Sherlock’s lower lip, wanting to see Sherlock’s reaction. Sherlock’s hips grind against his, and the fingers gripping John’s good shoulder dig in harder.

“John,” Sherlock murmurs without really breaking the kiss, and John can feel Sherlock’s lips forming his name against his own.

John’s intending to reply, really, he is, but then Sherlock works a hand in between them and wraps his fingers around John’s cock, stroking roughly. John comes with Sherlock’s name on his lips, though he isn’t certain he says it out loud. Sherlock thrusts against him a few more times before following, and John collapses half on top of him, panting heavily.

After a few moments, John cleans them up as best as he can with his discarded pants, because a trip to the bathroom just doesn’t seem worth it right then. He wraps one arm around Sherlock and pulls him close, and Sherlock sprawls easily half on top of him, as though John’s a much more comfortable place to rest than the mattress. John rests his head against the pillow, and Sherlock takes over the rest of it, fidgeting around until his face is buried in the crook of John’s neck. John closes his eyes, twining his fingers in Sherlock’s hair.

Sherlock has one arm tossed across John’s chest, and he traces along the scar lines on John’s shoulder. John tenses at the first touch, but relaxes as Sherlock continues to run his fingertips over the puckered skin.

“How did you get this?” Sherlock asks, his breath puffing against John’s neck.

“Fiona asked me that,” John says absently. “Asked me to show it to her, too.”

Sherlock’s hand stills, and he tenses a bit. “Did you?”

“No,” John says.

“Why not?” Sherlock asks.

“Because I hadn’t even shown it to you, yet,” John replies.

Sherlock’s tension fades. “Did you tell her, then?”

“Some,” John says. “But I didn’t really want to talk about it, not with someone who wasn’t you. Even though I suspected you might already know.”

“Yes, well,” Sherlock says. “Your track record of being correct on things you think I know isn’t exactly stunning.”

“Shut up,” John says, but there’s no heat in the comment.

“No,” Sherlock replies, smirking against John’s skin. “You’re partially right, however. I likely could have found out.”

“Why didn’t you?” John asks curiously, finally opening his eyes.

“Because I wanted you to tell me,” Sherlock says. “I like it better that way. Whether you tell me in words, or the way you walk, or the things you own, it isn’t the same if I don’t find things out from you.”

John cards his fingers through Sherlock’s hair again. “I’m going to take that as a compliment.”

“It was intended as one,” Sherlock replies. “Well?”

John tugs gently on Sherlock’s hair until he lifts his head, and John kisses him, slow and sweet. Then he says, “My unit was ambushed. I was tending to those who’d been hit when I was shot myself.”

“And you continued to work on your patient?” Sherlock asks.

John smiles. “You have a high opinion of my bravery.”

“Or your stupidity,” Sherlock counters. “I’m right, though. There are obvious signs of infection, and that’s less likely to have happened if you stopped to take care of yourself.”

“You’re right,” John agrees. “But that isn’t what caused the infection, or at least, not directly. We were captured, and I had to remove the bullet without much equipment. The infection set in while we were planning an escape. I kept it together until we were out, but I was pretty delusional by the time we were picked up. I don’t remember much of it after that.”

If Sherlock notices that there’s no emotion in John’s voice, or the way John’s grip on him has tightened, he doesn’t call attention to it.

“People see you as ordinary, and I think sometimes that’s the way you like it,” Sherlock says softly. “But you’re not, and I don’t think you ever will be.”

“Thanks,” John mutters sarcastically.

“You’re welcome,” Sherlock tells him, for all appearances completely sincere. “Ordinary is boring. You are never – well. Hardly ever boring. You’re a bit mad, just like me. Maybe that’s why you can put up with me. Why you kept trying – keep trying, long past when anyone else would have given up. When everyone else has given up.”

John rather feels like he wants to track down everyone who’s given up on Sherlock (and, for that matter, everyone who’s informed Sherlock he doesn’t have a heart) and bash their heads in for leaving when they could have had this. For not realizing that when Sherlock smiles at you – really smiles, true and genuine and happy – it’s worth almost anything. He doesn’t, because that would require moving, which is the last thing he wants to do right then.

“I love you,” John says.

“I don’t know why,” Sherlock says. “But thank you.” Then, when John looks expectantly at him, clearly waiting for a response, he adds, “And I you, obviously.”

“I don’t always see what’s obvious to you,” John says.

“Mmm. That much is painfully true,” Sherlock agrees. He spider-walks his fingers over John’s scar for a few minutes, then says, “You always cover this up, even around me.”

“I don’t like it,” John admits, open and honest, though Sherlock is the first person he’s ever said that to.

“I do,” Sherlock tells him.

John shifts to look at Sherlock’s face. “You do?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. “It assisted in bringing you here. And it’s part of you, part of what makes you John. Of course I like it.”

John swallows against the lump in his throat and tries to find an appropriate response to that. He can’t, so he kisses the top of Sherlock’s head instead.

“Are you still tired?” Sherlock asks.

“Yes,” John replies, closing his eyes. “More so, considering.”

“I’m not,” Sherlock says in what sounds suspiciously like a pout.

John opens one eye. “We did promise to visit Sam and Fiona today.”

Sherlock’s arm tightens around John’s chest. “Perhaps another hour.”

John smiles and closes his eye again. “Another hour it is, then.”

He nudges Sherlock closer with his arm, and Sherlock nuzzles against his neck. This time, when he finds himself rubbing absent circles against the small of Sherlock’s back, he doesn’t stop himself. And when he drifts off to the warmth of Sherlock’s skin under his palm and Sherlock’s breath against his neck, he has absolutely no concerns that this is a bad idea.