Sherlock turns dramatically on the step before dropping his bombshell.
"And I assume she scrubbed your floors, judging by the state of her knees."
John Watson realizes, when he glances up to her face, that Sergeant Donovan thought he was looking at her knees, too. Really, though, he'd glanced at her left pinkie, the one that bears the Entanglement that ties every soul to its mate, found or unfound, no matter how far away they might be.
Every soul, that is, except his own.
He hasn't looked in years, hasn't wanted to see, grown weary of his own lack, but he had to know if Sherlock was as right as he'd been about John in the cab.
Flustered by Donovan's tight-lipped anger, he follows Sherlock up into the battered house.
Of course Sherlock was right about her and Anderson; John has known him less than twenty-four hours and he's already sure that even if there is "always something" Sherlock gets wrong, it isn't usually as large as mistaking a sister for a brother.
No, he's right about the connection, but wrong about the wife. Rather than the ratty snarl John would expect, Sally has two strands tied around her finger, redder than — well, there is no earthly comparison. Red and flawless and bound up in one of the tidiest knots John has ever seen...rare, to see the sign of a perfect triad. Sherlock is right about the sex. Wrong about it being a clandestine affair.
It's always something.
Inside, John distantly listens to Sherlock brush off the DI's questions about who his companion is — and even if John hadn't seen his photograph in the paper he'd be sure Lestrade is the DI; he has a quiet air of command John recognizes and responds to. The only problem with looking was he'd never learned how to easily shut it down again; Lestrade's Entanglement flashes bright and strong through his wedding ring as he reaches for crime scene gloves.
The whole time they are at Lauriston Gardens the incandescent flashes of red tease him no matter how hard he tried to focus on the dead woman in front of him, then Sherlock spinning out his observations.
Sherlock is right: Jennifer Wilson had a string of lovers that had left her fallen Entanglement frayed nearly to the point of breaking. But John's not about to mention what he sees to anyone, and Sherlock abruptly tears off down the stairs shouting about the woman's hair, lipstick, shoes, and...pink. Leaving John to make his slow way out of the building, trying to stay out of the way of the police.
It's only when he walks past yet another ringing phone, eyes on the road for a taxi, that it occurs to him he saw no glare of red near Sherlock's hands. A moment of dull curiosity — but he pushes it aside in the face of knowing the Entanglement was probably there, just faint, and he hadn't seen it because he wasn't looking.
The phone box and the black car are almost a welcome distraction.
"...but I can see by your left hand that's not going to happen."
Don't engage, don't turn around, don't give him a clue, just don't, Watson, you know better, you know —
"Show me." And of course this mysterious, irritating man with his touching and unconvincing concern for Sherlock wants to see John's left hand, the hand that has been on his mind all evening.
John holds it up flat, near his face, palm inward and the gesture feels, somehow, like a threat.
No strand of red bleeds into his peripheral vision.
The all-too-knowing stranger reaches for his hand; John pulls it back, trying to keep the threat from collapsing into a fist, warns "Don't."
But then John caves, inexplicably, to a disapproving tilt of the head. Or to some sense that this person, whoever he is — MI5, MI6, criminal mastermind, archenemy — wants John to see him as a threat he isn't. Or isn't to John, anyway. Might be to Sherlock, there was something there; something John couldn't figure.
He prefers to touch only on his own terms, offers his hand sharply, horizontal and tense; watches the man's long, elegant fingers wrap around his own for less than a second, measuring something known only to him. Can't help noticing he possesses a healthy Entanglement, wrapping in an easy curl around his finger and stretching out to someone not present, as clear in the dimly lit warehouse as it would be in the daylight.
John takes his hand back as sharply as he'd given it.
"What's wrong with my hand?" Angry. Mystified. Because it is not the absence of Entanglement that fascinates this man, can't be: no one else can see them.
"You have an intermittent tremor in your left hand," the mystery man says, and John can't stop his swallow, uncertain whether he's relieved that his neglected secret is still his alone. But he is appalled listening to the man quote, verbatim, from John's therapist's notes. Far worse than being effectively kidnapped, to have his private diagnoses violated — in anticipation of this meeting — by a man becoming more dangerous by the second.
The phone in John's pocket chimes, and the toff walks off, insultingly unconcerned about turning his back on the soldier he's just finished disparaging. He twirls his umbrella and fires off a final comment over his shoulder, one John barely hears through the noise of his mental landscape turning upside down.
Because his hand isn't shaking. Because there is a war to be fought, here in London. Because he's already chosen his side.
He'd followed Mike into the laboratory at Barts and been greeted out of the blue with "Afghanistan or Iraq?" and by the time the bizarre conversation had ended, and Sherlock Holmes finally introduced himself, John knew that this was a man who was going to have an impact on the world, one who wouldn't wait for "nothing" to happen to him.
And now that he knows how Sherlock uses those talents, the battle he is fighting against the serial killers and whoever this gentleman turns out to be, John wants in. He might not be part of the tangled interdependent web he can perceive in crimson bits and pieces, but he will damn well do his small part — whatever that might be — to protect it for everybody else.
For the first time in a very long while, he's eager to know what the rest of the night might bring.
Could be dangerous. — SH
He just needs to make one stop first.
When Sherlock whips out of the chair to snap at Mrs Hudson, still caught up in his own personal whirlwind, John sits down heavily at the desk. Nominally, he's watching for the website to finish locating the dead woman's phone, but really he needs to turn his back on the sitting room and kitchen, too many people, too many red strands stretching across each other in a chaotic tangle. Lestrade pulls back as well, and for a brief moment John's world goes back to an approximation of normal — his leg even aches a little, after their lunatic chase through the streets of London.
But... Sherlock looms close over his shoulder, left hand gripping the back of the chair, near-touch tingling against John's spine, and the computer's answer, when it comes, only throws Sherlock into puzzlement.
John tries to help him focus again, but feels less useful than the skull when Sherlock ignores him, quarreling with Lestrade until the soft chirp of Sherlock's phone pulls him off into some absent reverie, barely answering John's questions.
"Fresh air, just popping outside for a moment, won't be long," his voice floats back from the doorway.
"You sure you're all right?" John calls after, with a frown that aggravates his nascent headache.
"I'm fine," Sherlock answers tartly, already gone down the stairs.
John sighs, wondering why he's even trying to keep up with the man, and dials the dead woman's number again.
Something's wrong, he keeps thinking, listening distantly to the phone ringing in his ear and the police arguing in the kitchen — his kitchen now, he supposes. Outside, Sherlock gets into the cab, disappearing without a word, and John starts a new GPS search on the website and then the Met are gone too and there is still something wrong.
John pauses at the door to the kitchen, where most of the activity had taken place, staring at beakers and test tubes gone foreign in the absence of stretching red lines.
He's tired — it's been a long day; with everyone gone he should find his cane, turn the lights out, head upstairs and find out if that second room has a bed in it. He flexes his hand — frowning over how steady it is, what that might mean.
You know him better than I do, he'd said, and Lestrade had replied No, I don't.
So what does John know about his new flatmate? Tall. Arrogant and beautiful as the devil himself. Brilliant and obtuse at the same time. A great man, whatever that might turn out to mean. And quite possibly barking mad.
Ah, there's the rub. When Sherlock's in the middle of solving things, he acts like a madman: manic, hyperactive; aggressive when frustrated or misunderstood. Not vague and abstracted, not drifting out the door in a daze.
John turns around; spots the cane atop some of Sherlock's boxes behind the laptop, and steps over. Still not ready to think about that disconcerting feeling somewhere around his sternum — more than surprise — he'd felt looking back at Sherlock's impish smile, when an amused Angelo had delivered the cane to their doorstep.
He picks up the cane as if it can help him find his way through the fog of weariness and confusion, but the computer beeps and John pulls to a halt, sole scraping across the floor.
Wrong. Not distracted. Hiding something.
The fog is gone, the battle is now and, even before he picks up the laptop, John is keenly aware of the heavy weight of his gun at the small of his back.
Close to two in the morning, and they need to head home soon. The dim sum was exceptional, though Sherlock hasn't explained what it is about the bottom third of the door handle that distinguishes a good place from a mediocre one; for John, it's enough that the food was hot and the service low-key, the staff staying out of their way and letting them chatter and laugh in the empty restaurant unless signalled for more tea, or another visit from the steam cart.
To John's surprise, after watching Sherlock avoid food all evening long, he eats heartily now that the battle is done — to the point of stealing one of John's shrimp dumplings with his chopsticks.
John scolds him with a smile, reaches out too late to rap Sherlock's knuckles with his fork, but his eyes catch on Sherlock's pinkie. His utterly unadorned pinkie, not the faintest hint of red Entanglement anywhere near it. John had been sure he'd just missed it before, in the day's chaos, but in this quiet room, with Sherlock's hand within touching distance, ungloved and unhurried — there can be no doubt.
Sherlock has no soul mate, has been passed over by destiny just as John has.
He doesn't know what, if anything, the deficiency means; given the conversation at Angelo's, Sherlock isn't much interested in anyone, not with the kind of passion and devotion John's used to seeing reflected in twining red. But before he had stopped looking, John had encountered enough eternal bachelors and maiden aunts who still had bright Entanglements dangling from their fingers that he doesn't know how a lack of romantic inclination might figure into what he sees.
Perhaps the crisp bit of self-damnation Sherlock had snapped at Anderson has something more to do with it — John won't yet hazard a guess at where that "diagnosis" had come from, but the man is definitely...unique.
Logically, though, the reason for their missing links ought to be something he and Sherlock have in common and, well, John's fairly certain he isn't a sociopath, high functioning or otherwise.
But he mightn't be the best judge of that.
You have just killed a man.
John looks back up at Sherlock, and the urge to start giggling again probably isn't the best sign, as far as that goes.
The detective's eyes are fixed on him, probably reading every nuance of John's expression, weighing the weary tilt of his head, analyzing the angles at which his stubble is growing in at the end of this long, very long day... but John's fairly certain deciphering the reasons for this little reverie is going to be beyond even Sherlock Holmes.
Still, he responds to John's smothered smile with crinkles at the corner of his eyes, amused but approving, perplexed but patient, even as he holds up his credit card in two fingers and waits.
John lifts his teacup for a last, savoring sip, then pushes the saucer away with a sigh.
Yes...but, he wasn't a very nice man, John had said aloud, and the words were true; but less true than the things they hadn't said to each other, weren't saying now. Yes, I killed him for you, you great daft git. Yes, I can live with that. Yes, you matter to me. Already. And yes, I can and will do what needs to be done. Always.
Does that make him a sociopath? Or simply a loyal soldier?
When the owner himself returns with the slip to sign, Sherlock curls his fingers against the tablecloth in a peculiar gesture of thanks, and accepts a folded-paper box full of fresh-baked almond biscuits in return. The man's earned such unusual bits of loyalty, from so many unusual places, John thinks, barely realizing that Sherlock is helping him into his jacket. He doesn't really remember the walk to his new home, later, just the unaccustomed taste of almonds and friendship.
John lopes up the staircase, still shaken by the destruction on the street outside: his second sight can't tell him a damn thing about Sherlock's presence or absence or state of health, and worry and guilt nip at the heels of borderline panic. There's someone in the flat: the trailing Entanglement hangs slack, so unbound — probably Mycroft.
Calling out, John clears the last of the stairs and yes, it's Mycroft sitting across from Sherlock, right hand relaxed on his umbrella despite the subtle tension in his shoulders. Sherlock plucks a dissonance from his violin and lies to his brother; John exhales hard in relief but can't shake the feeling he'd abandoned his post when he stormed off last night after Sherlock's peevish spate of insults. Reassured his flatmate is uninjured, John occupies himself checking the damage to the windows while Sherlock and Mycroft shift from national security to picking apart John's lack of love life.
Not that he needs their help to know that things are almost over between he and Sarah. Her tightening Entanglement shows her soulmate is getting closer, and though her kindness and humour have eased his loneliness, he's not about to stand in their way.
John sees Entanglements everywhere now. His curse is back in full force, in the short months since he moved in at 221B, and he hasn't been able to shut it down again the way he did after the fiasco with Harry, before Afghanistan; doesn't know how he managed the first time. He's been getting used to it, though, no more headaches, and he's getting better at reading what the subtle details of the Entanglements can tell him.
"Sofa, Sherlock," Mycroft corrects, checking his pocket watch, "it was the sofa."
Sherlock gives John a side-eyed once-over, and says, "ah, yes."
John starts to ask how, decides not only does he not care but he's much more interested in the show in front of him.
He settles on the couch, which is a mistake; Mycroft switches his attention from his "intransigent" brother to John. Soon enough, John has a handful of eyes-only file and an earful of tortured violin.
"Why'd you lie?" he asks, when the last trace of Mycroft's Entanglement vanishes and the slam of the car door outside confirms they're definitely alone. "You've got nothing on, not a single case."
Sherlock strokes his bow along the side of his head.
"That's why the wall took a pounding..." John and Sherlock are equally bad about missing the excitement of the war, in between cases. They've only just finished wrapping up the thing with the Black Lotus, but for all the physical danger they'd faced John's not sure the case was much of an intellectual challenge for Sherlock; he ought to be pouncing on the chance to look at something new.
Sherlock finally returns his question with a question: "Why shouldn't I?"
At which point, the situation clicks for John.
"Oh. I see. Sibling rivalry. Now we're getting somewhere." He wonders what the Entanglement between the two of them would look like, if he could see sibling ties like he does soulmates — better or worse than he and Harry? Better than Soo Lin and her brother, anyway; however childish the Holmes spats are, or however mulish his own, they won't end in murder. He looks down at his hands.
Sherlock glances at him, but his narrowed eyes are intrigued, not deducing — and whatever sharp remark he's about to make is swept away by the ring of his phone.
Between the row the night before, and the one shaping up to start, John's not quite sure he'll be welcome, but Sherlock, apparently, would be lost without his blogger.
John trots down the stairs after him, trying to smother a grin: letting on when he's amused by Sherlock acting the arrogant dick only encourages worse behaviour. But with his blood up and the bastard at his side, there's nowhere on earth he'd rather be.
Taut with nerves, John watches the dark head bent over the microscope; there's something he recognises in the way Sherlock shuts out the world and the ticking clock to focus on the task in front of him, but John can't stop himself pacing and wondering aloud, imagination all too good at filling in the unknowns around the terrified voice at the other end of the phone. He hates waiting for intel, wants the order to go — to bring the poor woman aid, bring her home safe.
But they've no idea where she is, nor how to find her, and Sherlock is barely listening to him.
A text alert chirps. Sherlock doesn't budge from his fixed gaze through the microscope.
"Pass me my phone."
"Where is it?"
The jacket he's wearing? John feels his spine draw up straight; doesn't know if Sherlock is testing his patience or just trying to shut him up, but there are too many ways the message could be important so he comes around the counter to dig roughly in Sherlock's pocket. His frustration only increases when he sees not only who has texted but how many times.
Nowhere he'd rather be than at Sherlock's side — most of the time.
Usually, the difficulty of balancing the man's unique approach to the world and his callous abrasiveness is worth the effort. Today, it's a near thing. In spite of the high-stakes commotion of the last few hours — the bomb, the phone, Lestrade, the crying woman, the shoes — the row that's been simmering between them since last night still bubbles just beneath the surface.
Or, more to the point, Sherlock seems just as inclined to pick a fight with John while someone else is being so delightfully interesting as he had been when he was bored.
And why? Because John acknowledged Sherlock's human frailty on his blog? Because he has an opinion about Sherlock lying to his brother? Because being amazed by his brilliance doesn't stop John calling Sherlock on his insensitive behaviour?
"Try to remember there's a woman here who might die," he says; Sherlock finally looks away from the data in front of him and directly at John, frost-coloured eyes edged with hard antagonism.
"What for? This hospital is full of people dying, doctor." Cutting condescension clips his words, and John bristles. "Why don't you go cry by their bedside and see what good it does them."
No, he doesn't like being called out at all. And anything else John might say will have to wait because Sherlock's back at his germs and pollens and whatnot and the work he's doing is more important than how he's doing it.
Which is...exactly what Sherlock is saying.
John turns his face aside, blinking at the sudden change in perspective. This isn't indifference, it's...triage. Sherlock focusing his energies to best allow him to stop disaster before it can happen.
The computer makes a delighted beeping noise echoed by Sherlock's "Ah!" of excitement — and the arrival of Sherlock's overenthusiastic pathologist, the one John heard so many comments about during the Black Lotus case. She hurries around to look at Sherlock's results on the computer and John steps behind Sherlock, out of her way, blinking.
He turns back and tries to conceal a frown. Molly's Entanglement is like nothing he has ever seen — an uncomfortable blur of red, strange enough that John has trouble looking at her. The nebulous strand splits up her arm to the elbow, unknotted, but not hanging loose from her pinkie to trail behind her, as he'd expect if she'd not met her mate.
A shadow joins them, lingering by the door to apologize for interrupting. Molly greets him by the name "Jim," invites him in, and John doesn't track the conversation at first, distracted by even stranger distortions in his second sight.
Molly's split Entanglement rolls around Jim — but no signs of knotting near the brilliant red strand on his hand any more than there is on hers; it's more like Molly's has been caught and tangled simply by proximity. Jim joins them behind the table, shaping an irregular quadrangle, and both Entanglements snarl around Sherlock in the same way, as though there were a third strand for them to interact with.
For just a moment John sees something — a flare of gold-tinged red near Sherlock's hand, brighter, clearer than Molly's, cleaner than Jim's — realises he's drawn two steps closer to Sherlock and folded his hands behind his own back. Protective. On alert.
Molly looks at John expectantly; Jim barely glances at him before returning his full attention to Sherlock. John blinks, plays back through the conversation. Molly was trying to introduce him, but doesn't know his name because Sherlock has probably never had reason to mention John to her.
"John...Watson, hi," he says, and he can't stand more than a quick glance at Jim-from-IT, wreathed with shadows, and blurs, and momentary flashes of red and gilt when his hand comes out from behind Molly's back...
What the hell? What is he seeing?
Fidgeting, Jim moves around Sherlock, passing between them as though John wasn't there. The small hairs on the back of his neck, already half-raised, prickle as if tugged and twisted by an unseen hand.
A part of John wants to hold his ground, bar Jim's passage, but he doesn't know why — the flirtatious fawning is only discomfiting, not threatening, and he has no idea what the shadows might mean. Stepping back, John gives Molly a bewildered look — the lines of the Entanglements in his peripheral vision hurt in a way that's exacerbated by Jim's embarrassingly put-on clumsiness, the clang of an emesis basin on the floor.
Might have need of the basin himself, John realises, lifting a hand to the bridge of his nose. The nauseous ache he used to get from using his curse has returned, beating in time with his pulse in the back of his head and his stomach. By the time John looks back, Sherlock has shut Jim out with stony determination, ignoring the sickly-sweet tone aimed at Molly, but John can't do the same, not with Jim's left hand stroking possessively up her spine, his sharp-edged Entanglement pushing through the center of her chest, stretching towards Sherlock before bending into a serpentine roil of red twisted around the three of them.
John pinches his lower lip, using the pain to focus his mind, searching tensely for more glimpses of that disconcerting flash he'd seen near Sherlock's hand.
Sherlock, for his part, remains aloof from everyone's scrutiny, and refuses to respond to Jim's "Nice to meet you" — intended for Sherlock, and Sherlock alone. The awkward silence stretches until, for Molly's sake, John manages a simple "you, too."
And he is lying through his teeth, even before Jim looks back at him, tired eyes glinting hard and dark as beer-bottle glass above his lingering half-smile, and the cliché of a chill crawls down John's spine.
Obviously lost in his memories of the Carl Powers case, gripping the pink phone and the trainers in their evidence bag, Sherlock hurries lightly up the stairs without looking back. John, relieved to be out of his line-of-sight for just a moment, to not have to worry about Sherlock's relentless awareness, grips the stair railing hard to steady his pounding head.
Not that it matters. When he reaches the landing, Sherlock is already bent over the laptop at the kitchen table and sending his first search results to the printer. He doesn't even glance at John.
"Go and take a Solpadeine."
John takes a breath but — no, never mind, at the moment he really doesn't care how Sherlock knows. He stops in the kitchen long enough to pour himself a glass of water, then heads upstairs. Removes the pill bottle from his sock drawer and stares at the label — seeing only flashbacks of inexplicable red. John has been so sure, since the evening with the dim sum, that Sherlock is like him, isn't bound to anybody; he's been selfishly reassured every time he watches that bare left hand pointing at evidence, gesticulating in explanation...
He shakes himself, opens the bottle, shakes a pill into his hand and downs it before he can get any farther lost in thought. He'd tried to keep Sherlock from knowing about the codeine-laced painkiller because his history suggested having an opiate in the house was a risk factor — but also because John had hated to reveal how bad the headaches were before he adapted to having his curse active again. And despite his precautions, he shouldn't be shocked that Sherlock knows about the hidden pill bottle.
Sherlock keeps surprising him, for good and ill.
John finishes off the glass of water and heads back downstairs. The landing door into the kitchen is closed and, when he enters the sitting room, he sees that the sliding doors with their coloured panels have been pulled shut too.
He sighs harshly, settling into a low slump in his chair, rubbing fingers across his forehead. At least the room is mercifully dim; the curtains have been pulled closed over the chipboard in the blown-out windows.
John has never seen an Entanglement in any shade other than unearthly red. Just red — wrapped, knotted, smooth, frayed, torn, broken, but always incandescent red. So what had he seen, in the lab? The brilliance of that flash, the gilded edges —
There's a tight ache in his throat; he swallows it back. He's never seen a knot forming, either, wasn't there when his nudges finally got Mike and Lauren in the same room, or the first time Harry met Clara. He's never thought to be curious what the meeting of bondmates might look like. Never was curious about any of it before Sherlock, damn him, but over the last several weeks he's found himself looking at the strands more closely — cataloguing differences, analysing commonalities.
He's sure he's never seen anything like Molly's, though; like a rope, slowly falling back to its constituent fibers. Even his sister's reckless self-sabotage, so hurtful to Clara and Harry both, hadn't done so much damage to the Entanglement between them.
He closes his eyes, trying to remember, to guess whether the darkness around Jim or that strange golden-red flare could have had anything to do with the blurring and splitting he'd seen. Such a contrast to Jim's bright Entanglement, piercing right through Molly's chest like a spear...Not bound to her. Clearly bound to someone.
John gets up from the chair, lightheaded; rests one hand on the wall at a momentary wave of nausea that gets caught behind the blockage in his throat.
Enough, he tells himself. You don't know what any of this means, or how to heal it. Remember how you cocked up fixing things for Harry.
The headache is not yet gone, but is fading beneath the dullness of the medication; he paces briskly back and forth in front of the sliding doors, focusing himself on the real world, on those things he knows how to attack. He opens the door.
"How can I help? I want to help."