A week later, the android sits up, looks John up and down with its one good eye, and says, "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
"Pardon?" says John.
The android doesn't seem to care at all that it's naked, or that it shines with metal as well as skin, and simply springs to its feet. It moves with fluid grace, but with exaggerated mannerisms: it doesn't just gesture, but gesticulates; doesn't simply narrow its eyes but glares. It speaks quickly, but like it was educated at Eton. John is so occupied in noticing all this that he misses most of what it says next: "--obvious. So: Afghanistan or Iraq?"
"Afghanistan," John replies. "But how did you know that?"
The machine sighs. John stares. He has never seen a robot sigh before. Apparently this is why this one has lungs. "I loathe repeating myself," it says. John has also never seen a robot get stroppy. Whoever programmed this one was either a genius or an idiot, or possibly both. "I said," and John has also never heard a robot capable of such inflection, "you're a roboticist, one who specialises in emergency repair. That much is obvious, or I wouldn't be awake and talking to you right now. You're tanned on the face and the hands, but fair at the wrists. So abroad, but not sunbathing. There's also the little matter of the cybernetic leg. So where does a roboticist get a tan like that and also lose his leg? Must be an Army roboticist, a specialist in emergency repair. Obvious. Therefore, Afghanistan or Iraq?"
John sinks down into the desk chair. "That's...amazing."
"No immediate family, at least none that you'll consort with." The robot taps one finger to its chin. "Or perhaps none that will consort with you. Shame on one party or the other's part, probably related to that leg. Army issues a prosthetic to all those injured in the line of duty, to be swapped out later with a regrow, but judging from your haircut you haven't been in the Army a while. So you kept it. And you haven't upgraded it, even though you're obviously capable of better." It closes its right hand into a fist, then opens it and splays out the fingers, quickly touches each finger to its thumb. John notes with approval that none of the digits catch or lag. The robot looks quite pleased as well, or so John interprets the half-an-expression it is currently capable of. "What does your therapist say?"
John blinks. "How do you know I have a therapist?"
"You're an Army invalid who chose to keep your ugly Army-issue cybernetic leg instead of regrowing your old one, of course you have a therapist," the android answers, a bit peevishly. "Do you have any more stupid questions?"
"What's your serial number?" John asks desperately.
"I don't have one," the robot says with some pride. "I have a name."
"Of course," says the robot. "Don't you?"
"You're concerned," Sherlock Holmes observes.
"Of course I am!" John snaps. He's been pacing for at least twenty minutes now. He stops and massages his left quadriceps in the absent manner of a man whose mind is already in a jail cell. "Damn this leg!" He sits abruptly down, then realises that he's sat down next to Sherlock.
Sherlock studies John. It ought to be eerie, this half-ruined android staring at him, but instead John is captivated by the simple expression in its one eye. There is more life and art in Sherlock's gaze than John has seen in even the most state-of-the-art model in Japan. Something so natural, too, in the curve of its back as it rests its elbows atop its thighs, steeples its hands beneath its chin, so like the artlessness of human movement. John wonders what genius drew those fingerprints, grafted those toenails, placed each hair by tiny hair on Sherlock's arms and legs, and forgets what he was going to say.
"Why are you concerned?" Sherlock queries.
"Because you're fucking illegal!"
There's no way that he isn't. Even setting aside the fact that Sherlock is comprised entirely of technology that doesn't exist, that must be human skin, which is illegal for use on androids. Even human hair requires a permit. And that eye! John shakes his head. "Should never have taken the job. Now I'm bollocksed."
"If your concern is that you'll be found in possession of an illegal android, the logical course of action is to repair my face," Sherlock says. John stares, and Sherlock continues, "Well, once you've done that, I can surely pass for human."
That's true enough. "Or we can just stay inside," John says. "That woman, the one who brought you here, she said she'd be back in a few weeks."
"Mmm," says Sherlock. "You never go outdoors anyhow, none of the neighbours would notice." John doesn't ask how Sherlock knew; Sherlock has an android's powers of observation, processing power rivalling the human brain, and access to the infinite database of the cloud. It would be more startling if Sherlock did not know something. "But someone could look in the window. Or I might decide to simply...go for a walk." The eye glitters, and John is awed all over again, at this simple expression of mischief.
"You wouldn't," he breathes.
"I might," says Sherlock. "You couldn't stop me."
"You're asking me to do something even more illegal."
"You'll do it anyway," says Sherlock. "You want to. You want to see what I'm like when I'm whole."
"God, yes," John breathes.
Mike Stamford takes John to the Criterion, an old-fashioned teahouse where they still boil the water in kettles and pour the cups by hand. The tea takes four times as long, but Mike claims it tastes better that way. He was always old-fashioned, even in university. Oddly enough, he's a professor now, at St. Bart's, teaching "bright young things, like we were. God, I hate them," he chuckles. John's face hurts.
"I was wondering if you knew anything about this, actually." John fishes a fragment of metal out of his pocket, smaller than the nail of his pinkie finger.
Mike peers at it in the middle of his palm, probes it with a forefinger. He holds it up to the sunlight and squints at it. He adjusts his glasses to the end of his nose, and his eyes go glassy and unfocused. John can almost see the figures running behind his eyes. He doesn't have access to those databases anymore. Mike lets his chin drop to his chest and gives John a serious look. "Where did you get this?"
John shrugs. "Found it. Why? It's valuable?"
"It's priceless, mate. I almost don't want to give it back to you." He gives John a friendly grin, but John snatches the metal back and pockets it again. "It's lampyrite. There's hardly any of it on Earth, because the Chinese government controls almost all of it, but the Mars colonies are rotten with the stuff. There's some machinists who'd sell their own mothers for an ingot. It's supposed to be stronger and lighter than titanium." He tilts his head towards John and waggles his eyebrows in a manner that's probably supposed to be suggestive. "You'll let your old pal Mike know if you come across any more, won't you?"
"'Course." John sends him a quick, tight smile and clears his throat. "Something else I wanted to ask you about, too. An eye."
Mike's eyebrows hike up. "An eye? A real eye?" John nods. Mike sits back, hands on his thighs. "First lampyrite, now you're asking me about an eye? What're you up to, Johnny boy?"
John shows Mike his teeth. "Nothing so bad. You know me, Mike. Nothing ever happens to me."
John's door buzzes five days later. John opens it to a waist-high dingy yellow thing with six spidery legs and a pair of large pincers on its front, like a crab with a dumper truck mounted atop it. "Package for Mr. Hooper," it states in a flat, mechanical voice, and flips up its screen for a thumbprint. John presses a lump of wax--edged with a series of whorls and ridges on one side--to it. It beeps with satisfaction, and one of the pincers reaches into its flatbed to retrieve a long, narrow box. John takes it, thanks the unresponsive courier, and shuts the door.
"What is it?" calls Sherlock from the kitchen. The couriers aren't generally equipped with cameras, but one can never be too certain. "Is it for me?"
"It is." John slices it open. Inside the box is a sleek grey cylinder, with a clear window in it showing a single eyeball, suspended in a yellow-orange liquid. He inspects it from all angles: the blood vessels seem fresh, and so does the optic nerve. Best of all, the eye appears to be very nearly the right colour, though Sherlock's existing eye is such a pale blue as to be almost colourless.
"Fascinating." John looks up to find Sherlock's face suddenly very close to his. "How does it work?"
"You mean that's not in your database?" John says, wryly. "Here, come with me."
He seizes Sherlock by the wrist, in case it doesn't comply immediately--it can be quite deaf, for an android--and hauls it into the bathroom. Once there, he thrusts the container into Sherlock's hands so that he can fetch a brown bottle from the cabinet and pour its contents all over the interior of the sink; the reek of surgical spirit rises up to fill the room. John bins the bottle, mutters, "Not exactly a sterile environment, but it'll have to do; not as if you can catch an infection anyhow," and stops the drain. He snaps on a pair of blue nitrile gloves. He seizes the container from Sherlock, who's been watching with every evidence of interest, and pops off the top. The yellow-orange stuff turns out to be more gelatinous in nature than first appearance would suggest and slides out with a slick, filthy sound to heap in the bottom of the sink. The eye rolls out last to plop on the top like a macabre meatball.
John picks up the eye carefully in his forefinger and thumb. "Hold still," he says. "This might feel a bit strange." Sherlock stoops a little; John cradles Sherlock's jaw and the side of its face in one hand and threads the optic nerve into the empty socket first before pushing in the eye itself. It takes a bit of pushing, but then it's in, and John rolls the eye to be sure that the iris is showing. The other side of Sherlock's face grimaces slightly. "Now bow," he says. "You'll want to be as close to the buffer as possible. But hold your breath, and keep your mouth closed; you don't want this stuff inside you. Well," he adds, upon reflection, "maybe for you it doesn't much matter." He shifts his hand to behind Sherlock's head and bows it over the sink.
The gel moves slowly at first, then rises up all at once to send out probing tendrils across Sherlock's face. It brushes against the naked metal, then finds its way to the eye, still wobbling in its socket. John presses his other hand over Sherlock's nose and mouth; he can feel the android's harsh breath against his fingers. Amazing. The humour drips slowly upward from the sink to cling to Sherlock's face, gathering thickly around the eye and squeezing in around it.
"They're nanomachines," John explains, though Sherlock doubtless has that information stored somewhere in its vast database; the other eye, the one that has an eyelid, is closed. "Ordinarily, the amino acids would connect the optic nerve to the brain, but as you haven't got a brain--at least, I don't think so, but it's not as if I cut open your head to see--I'm not sure this'll work. But at the very least there'll be a cosmetic effect. And they'll probably do your face."
All the gel in the sink is now adhered to Sherlock's face in a thin layer, slowly changing colour and losing its slickness. John lets go of Sherlock only when most of it is gone, leaving behind only little patches of moisture. Sherlock straightens up. One side of its face doesn't quite match the other: the new skin is thinner and a slightly different colour, with the shiny quality of a recently healed burn. John strips off his glove and runs his fingers over it. The texture, too, is a little different. The eye isn't quite the right colour, more grey than blue. But he's certain that no one will be able to tell, from more than six inches away.
Sherlock blinks. It has two eyelids now; it even has eyelashes. When it lowers its eyelids just so, they leave little spiked shadows on its cheekbones. "I'm not actually an object, you know," it says, but not unkindly.
John snatches his hand way. "Sorry," he says, then feels stupid for apologising to a machine. "Can you see? Out of both eyes?"
Sherlock looks at itself in the mirror and covers first one eye, then the other. "Yes," it reports, and it smiles. The smile stretches its face in ways John had always thought impossible for a machine, rendering it joyful and imperfect and human. It takes his breath away.
"I'm going out."
John looks up. Sherlock is in the act of winding a scarf around its neck. The clothes showed up a while ago, by private courier. It all looks extremely fetching on Sherlock, as if it was tailored to fit, and complements its colouring. The long dark coat hasn't been in fashion since the 21st century at least, but it looks good on Sherlock and gives it the air of a well-to-do eccentric. He wonders how Sherlock knows it's cold enough outside to warrant a coat and scarf. He keeps the flat meticulously climate controlled. But Sherlock is more than capable of looking at a weather report.
"Well, I suppose that was the entire point of this endeavour," John says dryly.
"Yes," Sherlock agrees. It tugs on a pair of gloves. They're very in fashion and will hide the metal hand. It smiles thinly. "Coming, then?"
John sighs and pushes himself out of his chair. "Give me a moment to fetch my coat."
John wants to take a cab--he took a cab to see Mike Stamford--but he can't afford it such luxuries more than occasionally, and anyhow, Sherlock scoffs at the idea. "The Tube is five minutes' walk from here," it says. "I want to see what the Tube is like."
So John plods along, his left leg coming down heavier than the right, with a distinct metallic sound. Army-issue cybernetics aren't meant to be graceful. It's particularly obvious next to Sherlock, whose legs swing evenly and gracefully, and who hardly makes any sound against the pavement. No more sound than a human does, anyway.
Sherlock slows and dips its head close to John's to whisper, "That man's had a row with his wife. They have two children." It nods towards a man just passing on their left with a bouquet of red tulips. He has a Marks & Spencer bag in his other hand.
"Just because he's bringing flowers doesn't mean they've had a row," John objects. "And how do you know he has two children?"
"His collar was stained and his tie was crooked," says Sherlock. "His jacket was wrinkled, and his trousers were unpressed. Could be a bachelor, but he's got a ring. Married, then, but what wife would let her husband leave the house in such a state? They must have had a row; she's not speaking to him. He walked a little stiffly, so he might even be sleeping on the couch; bad for the back. He's bringing the flowers home in an appeal. I've no doubt there's jewellery or chocolates in that bag as well. There's also toys in that bag, for the children: a video game and a picture book. The picture book is obviously for a much younger child, one who's barely started reading, while the video game was for a more advanced age. So, two children, likely boys."
"Brilliant," John breathes.
Sherlock shoots John a pleased look. "Choose another one."
"That woman, over there." John jerks his chin towards a woman peering into the window of a bakery.
Sherlock glances at her. "Near-sighted, has been a professional waitress for...oh, some years now, I'd say at least four, more likely at least five. An avid cyclist."
"Explain," John demands, though he knows that Sherlock will.
"The way she squinted into that bakery window said a great deal about her eyesight," says Sherlock. "She wore a wrist brace on one arm, a sign of repetitive stress injury. Now, a great many professions result in an injury to the wrist, but not many that result in calluses to the palm, wrist, and sides of the hands in such a manner, and her shoes were really incredibly sensible. Her clothing was middle-class and her earrings were of quite good quality, so not a waitress at some mediocre chain restaurant. Waitress at an upscale establishment, which meant she could not be inexperienced, which meant at least four years' experience, but probably more, especially if she has a repetitive stress injury from it."
"And the cycling?"
"Tattoo of a bicycle gear on her lower right leg," Sherlock replies.
John shakes his head. "Amazing."
"I know." The corner of Sherlock's mouth twitches up into a smile, and then they've arrived at the Tube.
Sherlock has no preference as to their destination, so long as they're somewhere with a great number of people. John can see why. He wonders if Sherlock's never seen humans before; its provenance is still as mysterious to John as it was the day it arrived as parts in a box. So they take the Tube to Trafalgar Square. Sherlock walks around the Square, admiring the stone lions and Nelson's column and the fountain. It reads all the plaques. It stares at the pigeons. It identifies tourists from Australia, China, Estonia, and America by their clothing, backpacks, and hairstyles and advises one woman against going any farther with her date, who has a sexually transmitted infection. At that point, John suggests to Sherlock that they try visiting a grocery store.
By the time they arrive home, it's gone dark, and John is carrying a bag of shopping. He can't remember the last time he had such a good day.
"You're not limping any longer," Sherlock observes, as they approach the front door.
John looks down at his leg. "Oh."
"It's not as if this is the 20th century, you know," Sherlock says. "There was never any need for that, except that you wanted people to notice."
"I didn't," says John. He thinks of the averted eyes on the Tube, the small children pulled to their mothers' sides. Did any of that happen? He's not sure; all his attention was on Sherlock.
"You did," says Sherlock. "But it doesn't matter now."
The door buzzes. John jerks and all but clutches his chest. Sherlock, who is contemplating one of John's half-completed projects on the floor, doesn't move at all. John glares at him and stumps to the door to peer at the security screen, which shows a robot courier. Not one of the dumper truck things, but one of the sophisticated spider-shaped jobs. Private courier. Again.
"Package for Sherlock Holmes," it says in a pleasant female voice.
"Oh, goody," says Sherlock without looking up.
John whirls on Sherlock. "Who knows you're here?" he hisses. "Who keeps sending you things? Where did those clothes come from, anyway?"
"If you think about it, I'm sure you know the answer," Sherlock says calmly. "I can get it, if you like."
"No," John snaps, and opens the door. The courier hands John a long, rectangular parcel, somewhat longer than John's arm and nearly as thick again, and departs without waiting for confirmation. John watches it until it starts to go down the stairs, then closes the door.
Sherlock takes the parcel from John without so much as a by-your-leave and sets it on the kitchen table. It tears the paper off and scatters it all over the floor like a child on Christmas morning. Inside the paper is a box. Inside the box is a black case, shaped like a pear at one end, with a long stem. Sherlock sucks in a breath. "Oh," it says in a hushed, reverent voice. It lifts the case out with both hands and pushes the empty box aside.
The violin must be very old. Not only is it made of wood, which hasn't been done for centuries now (John thinks; he's not exactly up to date on the history of musical instrument manufacture), but the varnish is cracked and peeled off in several places, leaving patches of bare, pale wood behind. The velvet lining of the case is crushed and faded. Sherlock strokes it with its fingers, then picks it up. It plucks a single string, and the look on its face at the sound makes gooseflesh rise on John's arms. It picks up the bow and cradles the violin under its chin.
John has heard classical music before, in the background of films, in adverts on television. He played the clarinet, as a child, because his mother thought he ought to have a musical education. But he has never listened to classical music, not like this, an android with an ancient violin in the middle of his sitting room, playing with its eyes closed. It sways back and forth, as if to pull the notes out with its whole body, and the flat fills with sweet singing.
Sherlock eats bites of food off of John's plate. Sherlock pisses and loses eyelashes and stubs its toes against things and swears. Sherlock brushes its teeth and shaves its face daily; it demands tea from John; it listens to classical music. John thinks he might have to ask Sherlock to start paying rent.
One night, John goes to the kitchen for a drink of water and finds Sherlock asleep on the couch. He hadn't given any thought to where or how Sherlock has been sleeping; Sherlock doesn't bother him at night, and that's been all. He assumed that Sherlock was entertaining itself somehow. At least, nothing's on fire when he wakes up.
He squats down next to the sofa, which is not really long enough for Sherlock; his feet hang over the armrest. Sherlock is dressed in one of John's t-shirts and a pair of pyjama pants, all wrapped in an old-fashioned dressing gown, no doubt one from the mysterious appearing wardrobe. His chest rises and falls as he breathes. His eyelids shiver.
John watches for a long, long time. He's never seen an android dream before.
Sherlock rarely watches television, but when he does, it's tuned to one of the 24-hour news channels. Sherlock usually doesn't even look on the screen. He lies on his back and stares at the ceiling, sometimes cradling his new (old) violin on his chest and plucking at the strings. John notices, then, when Sherlock actually sits up and leans closer to the screen. He puts down his e-reader and pays attention.
"--fourth case in the bizarre serial suicides that have plagued London for the past several months," says the very pretty anchorwoman. "The authorities remain baffled, but say they have a promising lead."
"Stupid," Sherlock mutters. "First of all, they're obviously murders."
John starts. "What?"
Sherlock tucks his knees up against his chest. The television, in response to his flow of words, lowers its volume to a murmur and spits subtitles across the bottom. "Whoever heard of serial suicides? The victims have no connection to one another, and they were all found, poisoned, in remote locations. Murder is much more probable. And the perpetrator's obviously a cab driver."
"All of the victims disappeared from busy streets, crowded places, and nobody saw them go," Sherlock continues. "Who do we trust? Even though we don't know them? Who passes, unnoticed, no matter where they go?" Sherlock looks John, eyes glittering. "Who hunts in the middle of a crowd?"
It does seem very obvious, when Sherlock puts it that way.
Sherlock ticks off on his fingers: "First victim: on his way home, took the wrong train, took a cab the rest of the way and never turned up at his destination. Second victim: was raining when he disappeared, had a row with a friend, likely got into a cab due to the inclement weather and was never seen again. Third victim: woman drunk at a party, her friends took her keys to prevent her from trying to drive herself, and so she hailed a cab home and never made it." He lets his hand fall back to clasp his knee. "Obvious. It's amazing the police haven't figured it out already. All the cars these days are equipped with GPS; all they have to do is trace the car."
John gets up from his chair. "What's amazing is that you figured this out from watching the news."
Sherlock perks up. "Really? You think that's amazing?"
John doesn't answer. He's looking for his phone. He finds the earclip in the bottom of a drawer in the kitchen. It's gotten separated from the eyepiece somehow, but that doesn't matter; he's just making a call. After a few minutes of fumbling--it's been so long since he made a call that he almost doesn't remember how--it begins to ring, and he hears a pleasant female voice: "New Scotland Yard, anonymous tip line."
"Hello." John swallows. "It's about that serial suicide case."
Deafening silence. "Go on," the voice says, this time more cautiously.
"It's a cab driver," says John. Before the officer can question him, he ploughs on with, "It's obvious when you think about it, really." And he gives them Sherlock's spiel.
The officer is silent. John imagines her stunned expression.
"All the cars have GPS these days," John says. "You should be able to track them very easily." And he hangs up, before he has to answer any uncomfortable questions, while he's still got his nerves.
He turns back to find Sherlock watching him from the couch. "What did you do that for?" He sounds genuinely curious.
John detaches the earpiece and tosses it back into the drawer. "Why do you think? To prevent any more deaths."
"Is that very important to you?" Sherlock still sounds curious, as if he's querying why John prefers chocolate ice cream to vanilla.
"Yes." John sits back down in his chair. He picks back up his reader, but he can't remember what he was reading about. Maybe it was this article about artificial intelligence and cognitive dissonance.
"Why? The Earth is overpopulated. You didn't know those people. The chances that you'll be picked up by the killer cabbie are very slim," Sherlock points out. "I suppose you might be concerned for a friend or family member, but--"
"I care because every human being is someone's friend or family member," John bites out. "I care because they're people."
"That's a stupid reason to care about someone."
John throws up his hands. "Amazing." Sherlock starts, and John presses on. "No, seriously. How can you be so, so human sometimes, and so cold at other times? You're the limit. No, you really are."
Sherlock's shoulders hunch, and now the knees drawn up to his chest seem like a shield. "It's stupid to care about someone on the basis of their humanity. That serial killer's surely human; do you care about his well-being, too?"
John opens his mouth, then closes it with a snap of his teeth. He works his jaw for a moment, poking his tongue around the inside of his cheek. "Yes. Because he's human."
Sherlock is very, very quiet. When he speaks, it's to say in a very small voice, "Do you really think I'm amazing?"
"I do," John says. "God help me, but I do."
The doorbell buzzes. John opens the door for yet another spidery drone, which deposits a parcel in his arms--no doubt more luxury goods for Sherlock--along with an envelope, and rolls away without further ado. This parcel is about the size of a shoebox and unmarked; the envelope is flat, cream-coloured, and has Sherlock Holmes written on it in blue ink. There's nothing else, not even an address.
It gives John a funny feeling in his stomach. There's never been anything in writing before.
"What is it?" Sherlock calls.
"What, you can't deduce it from the way I'm breathing or something?" John brings them into the sitting room. He sets the parcel on the coffee table and hands the envelope to Sherlock. "Here. It's for you."
Sherlock inspects the envelope carefully from all sides, at one point holding it only an inch from his face. "Interesting," he murmurs. "Fetch me something to open this."
John fetches Sherlock a knife from the kitchen. Sherlock slices the envelope open carefully. Inside is a phone earpiece, no eyepiece. Sherlock fits it to his head. The light flashes, indicating an incoming call, and Sherlock starts.
"What?" John demands. "What?" Sherlock shakes his head and fumbles with the button on the side of the earpiece to turn the speaker on. John hears a woman's voice reverberate in his skull.
"H-hello," she sobs.
"Who are you?" Sherlock demands.
"Sh-Sherlock," she sniffles, "I've wuh-waited a l-long time fuh-fuh-for you. Have you o-opened my puh-present yet?"
Their eyes land on the parcel at the same time. Sherlock picks up the knife and uses it to slice off the paper. It is indeed a shoebox. Sherlock lifts the lid and breathes in sharply through his nose. Inside is a perfectly ordinary pair of trainers. John sees nothing remarkable about them--they're a bit battered, and the laces are missing their tips--but Sherlock stares at them as if they're worth their weight in Martian ice.
"I, I kept them for you," the woman weeps. "Y-you have a, a, eight hours to s-solve the muh-mystery."
"Or what?" Sherlock's gaze at the shoes is positively predatory. John's expecting him to lick his lips.
"Or else I, I kuh-kuh-kill her." At that, the woman breaks into incoherent braying. The connection cuts off, leaving John and Sherlock staring at one another over a pair of shoes.
They take a cab because it's faster, even though John doesn't trust cabs anymore after the serial killer cabbie. They go to Barts, where Mike doesn't ask too many questions (although he peers into Sherlock's eyes a little longer than necessary, perhaps) and lets them into one of the labs. Sherlock fits into the lab like he's used this equipment for half of his life, which perhaps he has. A few hours later, they have their answer: botulism. Mixed into the boy's eczema cream. Christ. A boy was killed by botulism.
As soon as Sherlock has the answer, the earpiece--which Sherlock still has on--rings again. It's the same sobbing woman. She gives them her location. They call the police, and it's on the news that evening: a woman rescued from a car park, all covered in explosives. Police are looking for the perpetrator now. They assure the citizens that they can go about their business.
"How does he know us?" John asks. "How does he know who we are? How did he know when you'd solved it?"
"It's a game," Sherlock replies. He's smiling. The light from the television washes over his face and makes him look alien and unworldly. Inhuman. But he's not human, anyway.
The phone rings again.
The body is long gone, of course, already carted away by the police and the coroner. There's nothing but a wet smear of blood on the rails. Sherlock squats down by the tracks but is careful not to touch it; the current might not kill him, but it could scramble him, a fate worse than death for a robot. He peers at the rust-coloured stain and looks up at John. "What's wrong with this picture?"
It's been over 24 hours since John last slept and the world has taken on that glassy, unreal quality, like he's a fish peering through the walls of an aquarium. So far, there's been a rental car with blood on the seat, a dead talk show celebrity, and a forged painting. "I don't know."
"Try," Sherlock urges.
John takes a deep breath. He closes his eyes--his temples throb with the ache of the sleep-deprived, and his eyeballs feel as if they're going to burst--counts to ten, and then opens them again. Sherlock is still squatting on his heels by the tracks, looking expectantly at John. John stares down at the dark patch in the gravel. "I don't know. They didn't do a very good job cleaning up the blood."
Sherlock nods. "It would have been hard to wash the blood out of the gravel. Easier to just let it stay and wear away with time."
Something pushes at John's brain, akin to that sensation when he's a word on the tip of his tongue. He frowns. He wishes his head weren't so muddy. He could do with a nap. He takes a deep breath, holds it, pushes it out. "How did you say the man died?"
John tips his head up at the sky, as if that'll shift his brain about a bit and help him think. Perhaps it does, because he says, "Those bleed a lot."
"But there isn't much blood here."
"Yes." Sherlock stands. He's grinning again, but it's different from that elated smile he's had the whole time during this chase. John feels his breath catch in his chest. "I knew you'd get there. So, then, where is the blood?"
"Somewhere else." It's the only possible answer. John blinks. "Then that means...he was killed somewhere else. He was killed somewhere else, and his body was dumped here. But why here?"
"Your answer lies there." Sherlock points up ahead, where the tracks twist before a set of tunnels. Even as they watch, one of the tracks separates itself from one to merge with another, the recipient of an automated electrical pulse.
"Oh." John looks at the tracks at their feet. This doesn't quite make sense.
"He fell off," says Sherlock. "He was on the train--not in the train, John, but on the train. On top. And when it turned--"
"He fell off." John shakes his head. "But who put him on the train, then? And how?"
"That's easy enough to find out."
It is actually absurdly easy to find out, if tedious. It requires studying residential neighbourhoods bordering the tracks, and then narrowing those down to the ones where West's friends and acquaintances and coworkers live. ("It must have been someone close to him, John. Someone who knew what important thing he was carrying.") The culprit turns out to be a coworker, who was planning to sell those state secrets to foreign powers. His resignation headlines the news that night. Sherlock and John sit on the couch side by side, John's head lolling. The phone hasn't rung.
"I think this makes us national heroes," John says. "Albeit the kind who don't get on the news."
"Mmm," says Sherlock.
John rolls his face up towards the ceiling, eyes closed. "Why is he doing this, Sherlock?" He yawns so widely his jaw cracks. "Why now?" he mumbles.
"Because he's clever," Sherlock replies. "And he knows I'm clever. He's been looking for someone who can really appreciate him."
Chills skitter up John's spine. He sits up and stretches, his back cracking and popping in several places. "God, I think I could sleep for a year. I'm going to bed."
"Goodnight." Sherlock doesn't move from his huddle on the couch, staring at the screen with an unnerving fixed intensity.
John just stands and looks at him for a few moments, at the shadows under Sherlock's cheekbones and the curve of his lips, the curl of his hair. "Everything all right?"
"Fine," says Sherlock. "Everything's fine. Go to bed."
John's startled awake by--he's not sure what. Another nightmare? He lies still, trying to calm the racing of his heart, when the earpiece rings again. John jumps. The earpiece sounds a third time, and John lurches from the bed, trailing sheets behind him.
He finds the earpiece on the coffee table--is that where he left it last?--blinking red. It's gone to voice mail by now, probably. John stands over it, scratching the back of his neck. It shrills again, and this time John snatches it up and fumbles it to his ear. "H'lo?"
"Hello," croons a strange, high voice. John freezes. "Is this Dr. Watson I'm speaking to? Of course it is. Do you know who I am?"
"No," John croaks.
"Of course you don't. Well, I've got someone here who'd love to see you. Can you guess who it is?"
John jerks his head up and stares wildly around the sitting room. No Sherlock on the couch. He runs into the kitchen. No Sherlock in there either, of course; why would he be? He tears down the hall to the bathroom. No Sherlock anywhere. His heart pounds; he can't quite get his breath. "Sherlock," he gasps.
"Got it in one! My, you are clever. Perhaps you've got the makings of a detective as well." The voice cackles. "Care to visit us? Listen carefully: I'll only say it once."
He gives John an address. John spends a few precious seconds fumbling for a pencil, and so only gets half of it down. He doesn't need it, though. He knows where he's going.
It's a swimming pool. The swimming pool, where Carl Powers drowned and Sherlock wasn't able to go. John's footsteps ring against the tile; water laps against the sides of the pool and casts eerie reflections against the walls and ceiling.
John spins around so fast he nearly unbalances; Sherlock emerges from one of the changing cubicles. He looks the same as he always does, not a hair out of place, dressed in that eccentric long coat, with that handsome blue scarf wrapped around his neck. He has his hands in his pockets. John almost runs towards him, but instead he draws his gun and stays where he is.
"Ooooo, Johnny brought his own toy! How nice," crows that strident voice, and from the changing cubicle behind Sherlock emerges...a young man. Younger than John, certainly; perhaps even younger than Sherlock, or at least the age that Sherlock was built to resemble. He's dressed just as well, in a three-piece suit. He grins, dazzlingly, at John. "What is that, a taser?"
"EMP gun," says Sherlock.
John levels the gun at Sherlock's captor, the little red laser sight dancing among the skulls on his tie. He had one when he was an Army roboticist, working on the front lines; one never knew when one might be in a tight corner with warbots bearing down.
"Oh, I'm shaking in my Oxfords." The man hunches his shoulders, shrinks back, his knees knocking together exaggeratedly. "At least, I would be, if I were a machine." He straightens and smiles, slipping his hands into his pockets. "I'm as human as you are. If you cut me, do I not bleed?" His grin widens. "I assure you, I do. Jim Moriarty, and I'm very pleased to meet you."
"Put the gun down, John," Sherlock says, calmly. "It's no use."
But John doesn't put the gun down.
"You're doubtless wondering why I called you here today," Moriarty sing-songs. He paces forward in slow, measured strides, until he's standing next to Sherlock. He puts his hand companionably on Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock doesn't so much as twitch. "You see, Sherlock and I are, how do you say it, friends. Now."
John glances at Sherlock, who nods, almost imperceptibly. His hand falters on the gun. "No."
"It took a little persuading." Moriarty beams up at Sherlock and draws one finger down Sherlock's cheek. John swallows hard. "But you see, someone like Sherlock is precisely what I need on my side. Brilliant, immortal, and uncaring of puny human ethics and morals. So I set up this little meeting, and Sherlock was kind enough to bring me the chip." He pats his pocket and radiates a sunny smile at John.
Sherlock's mouth tilts, just a little bit, a razorblade slash of a smirk. "He appreciates me, John."
John shakes his head and scrunches his eyes shut. When he opens them, Sherlock and Moriarty are still standing side by side.
"But you know, he had the strangest request," Moriarty drawls. "He insisted that you come along too, or the deal was off."
John gapes. "What?"
"I guess he's gotten attached. Still, it's a small price to pay for genius." Moriarty opens his arm. John takes a step back. "So, what to say? Want to join us? It'll be a wild ride."
"Jim's a consultant," says Sherlock. "He solves people's problems for them. You ought to like that."
John tightens his grip on the gun until it starts to shake. His arm has begun to hurt, but he needs...he needs...he can use it to stun Moriarty, grab Sherlock, and--what? What if Sherlock doesn't want to go? Does he think that he, of all people, can convince Sherlock not to join the criminal madman? "What happens if I don't?"
"Then I kill you," Moriarty says cheerfully.
Sherlock twitches; his head swivels to look at Moriarty. "You never said that."
"Sorry, I thought it went without saying." Moriarty doesn't sound very sorry at all. "It's not like I can just let him walk away."
Sherlock stares at Moriarty for long, long moments. He levels that stare at John, taking so long that John thinks he must be meant to do something. But then Sherlock bursts into motion, flinging his long arms around Moriarty's neck and shoulders and clinging to his back. "Run, John!" he cries. "Run! Now!"
John's jaw drops, but he fails to run. Sherlock's face crumples in dismay, and then goes slack with defeat. He lets go of Moriarty and stumbles backwards. John has no idea what's just happened until he follows Sherlock's gaze and looks down at his chest, where there is a single red laser dot. Oh.
"Surprise!" Moriarty mimes a shocked face. "I came with friends! What a shocker. What--"
The red dot wanders from John's chest to Moriarty's, then up to his forehead. Moriarty crumples with a single, clean hole in his forehead, just slightly left of the centre, red mist spraying out of the back of his skull. Sherlock winces and scrambles back another few feet. Moriarty lands, facedown, on the tile, in a whisper of fabric, like a sack of meat and bones.
John lowers his gun. He looks up at Sherlock. There are a few drops of blood on Sherlock's face, which he doesn't seem to have noticed. "What. What was--"
Sherlock closes his eyes and wrinkles his nose. "Mycroft. God, he'll never let me live this down."
Mycroft is fairer of hair and thicker around the waistline, but he has the same arrogance, the same tendency to look through whoever he's talking to, the same taste for fine clothes and finer accessories. It's obvious now who's been sending Sherlock those care packages in the mail. Though he's the same height as Sherlock--or perhaps even slightly shorter--he somehow gives the impression of being able to look down his nose at him.
"John," he says, giving John a cordial nod. "It's good to finally meet you in person."
John blinks. "I'm sorry...?"
"It was my assistant," Mycroft says smoothly, "who brought Sherlock to you that day."
"Ah," says John. "I see."
Mycroft crosses his hands over the umbrella he seems to carry the same way other people carry vanity canes and looks back at Sherlock. Around them, "Mycroft's men" swirl, carrying away Moriarty's body and cleaning the tiles. But Moriarty's blood remains on Sherlock's face. "Now, Sherlock, what have you learned?"
"Shut up," Sherlock mutters. Then, after an awkward pause, "Thank you."
"I'm sorry, but I'm extremely confused," John points out.
Mycroft heaves a put-upon sigh. "Sherlock is my brother."
"That's what I said." Oh God, they even talk alike. "Yes, yes, I'm human. So was Sherlock, at one time. But he was always incorrigible, and one day it went too far. Mummy was quite distraught, so I took steps to have the situation corrected."
John stares at Mycroft, then at Sherlock, then at Mycroft again.
"I died," Sherlock supplies.
"And then you resurrected him as an android," John says to Mycroft.
"If you want to put it that way, yes."
John opens his mouth, shuts it, swirls his tongue around in his mouth, and finally comes up with, "That's ten thousand kinds of illegal, not to mention, currently impossible."
"Nothing's impossible if you apply yourself," Mycroft says, wryly.
John shakes his head. "And me? Where do I come in?"
"Ah." Mycroft looks down at his hands and twirls his umbrella, once. If John didn't know any better, he'd say that Mycroft was suppressing a smile. The hair on his arms stands on end.
"It was so boring living with Mycroft," Sherlock snarls. "Like living with a mother hen. And Mummy was even worse, God, every time she looked at me it was tears and histrionics. I needed to get out."
"But he also needed a minder," Mycroft sighs. "Still does."
"Nonsense," says Sherlock. "I'm immortal."
"Which is precisely why." Mycroft lifts his eyebrows at Sherlock, who scowls at him in return. "I insisted that he find a flatmate, at the very least. Sherlock insisted on a flatmate that wasn't an idiot."
"A flatmate?" John parrots, like an idiot. Where has this conversation gone?
"Yes." Mycroft twirls his umbrella again. Sherlock looks mutinous. "You know, I'm sure we could find you a larger flat. And a more central location."
It's an antique building in the heart of Old Central London, dating back to the height of the monarchy, with all the original mouldings inside and out, and the most incredible old-fashioned wallpaper. There's no lift, the stairs creak ominously, and the finish on the banister is chipped and peeled. The proprietor is a spry old woman who introduces herself as "Mrs. Hudson, and don't go thinking I'm your housekeeper, because I'm not. I'm your landlady."
"Thank you, but I haven't--oh my."
Boxes have exploded all over the sitting room, strewing papers, books, and other assorted bric-a-brac all over the furniture and floor. John peers into the kitchen to find glassware all over the kitchen table and the counters. He looks around the sitting room again, steps over a switchblade on the floor, and takes a really good look. Aside from all this rubbish, the place is really quite nice. It'll be draughty in the winter and hot during the summer, and the stairs will be a right pain, but there's something familiar about the place. It's got character. And the location's excellent. And there's a real, working fireplace!
"There's another bedroom upstairs, if you'll be needing it," Mrs. Hudson chirps.
John frowns. "Of course we'll--" He stops. Well, they won't, really. Sherlock's an android. He doesn't really sleep. It'll be nice, to have a second room for storage.
Sherlock whirls past John into the sitting room, picks up the switchblade, and uses it to pin a mess of printouts to the mantel. "I'll clear out some of this rubbish," he supplies. "Most of it I haven't any use for anymore."
John stares. "This is all yours? What--is that a skull?"
"Hmm?" Sherlock pauses in the midst of his flurry to narrow his eyes at the skull, which is sitting on the mantel next to the papers that Sherlock just pinned there. He peers at it closely, then rears back. "Oh."
"Er," says John.
"Oh Sherlock, that's so morbid," says Mrs. Hudson.
"Indeed." Sherlock turns it so that its eye sockets face the wall. "You have Mycroft to thank for that one. Well!" He claps his hands together. "What do you say, John?" He leans forwards on his toes, so that he's nearly forehead-to-forehead with John. "Say yes."
"God, yes," John breathes, and the grin that lights up Sherlock's face makes everything pale in comparison.