"Sherlock, your taxi is here."
"I didn't order a taxi!" his flatmate snaps. Is he his flatmate? John hasn't decided. At the very least, he hasn't said anything, regardless of what Sherlock's told Mrs. Hudson. He hasn't run like that in years, though, never thought he'd run again, but now John has his potential landlady looking to him in distress.
"Dr. Watson, I-" she begins.
"I'll handle it," he says. He's good at handling things, less good about standing around in the middle of a drugs bust. Sherlock, a junkie, really? It makes as much sense as everything about him, but it's a not something he saw coming.
He goes downstairs, leaving Sherlock to yell at Scotland Yard's finest (and less-than-finest, according to him). There's the cab, there's the cabbie, and John thinks, oh.
The cabbie's clothes are old, much like the cabbie. Neat in a limited way. His gaze is steady and calm, the sort of confidence John recognizes immediately. This older man believes himself capable, very capable.
More importantly than all that, he has a pink phone in his hands.
John’s mobile pings in his pocket. He takes it out and looks at it. After an empty warehouse and a man with an umbrella, he’ll check his phone in front of anyone he pleases. Come with me, it reads, confirming what he already knows.
"Sorry," John says, "but showing yourself was a very stupid move."
"I just want to talk," the cabbie says.
"The police are upstairs," John replies, nodding to the vehicles parked across the street. "We can all have a nice chat."
"I'll never tell how I did it," the cabbie answers. "That's what you want to know, isn't it, Mr. Holmes?"
The man wants Sherlock. Of course the man wants Sherlock. If he doesn't think he has him, he'll jump in the car and be off.
John tries to read the man's licence, the tag hanging around his neck, but he can't quite make out the number in the dark. He could catch the licence plate as the cabbie drove away, but that would still involve the man getting away.
John plays along.
"How did you kill those people?"
"I didn't kill them," the cabbie says. "I talked to them, and then they killed themselves."
"That's still murder."
"Don't you want to know what I said?" There's an eager edge to his tone. It reminds him, fleetingly, bizarrely, of Harry, back when they were kids. Urging him on, encouraging an idea sure to end in scraped knees or worse.
"If you want my approval, I approve of you turning yourself in to the police," John tells him. The man must fancy himself a genius. And after only a day and a half of knowing him, John can see how Sherlock's approval would mean the world.
"Tell you what," the cabbie says. "Let's go for a ride. I'll tell you what I told them, and then, if you ask me, I'll hand myself in." He walks around to the driver's side and climbs in. Shuts the door. If John walks away, the man drives away, and that's their murderer gone, maybe for good.
Standing firm and unaided, John touches his sister's mobile in his pocket. He looks up at the windows of 221b Baker Street and thinks, Oh, what the hell.
He climbs into the cab.
The ride is winding and quiet. John sits and waits, feeling the press of his gun between his back and the seat.
"This is the cab we chased," he finally says, when they get to a red light. Which means he’d seen the cab number before, but had forgotten it in the rush of running. He can practically hear Sherlock calling him an idiot.
"It is, isn't it?" the cabbie says. "Shame you focused on my passenger."
John keeps his mouth shut at that. He can't remember the specifics of that exchange, not much more than "Welcome to London," but it's possible the cabbie does and he doesn't want the cabbie realizing he's got the wrong man. Then he realizes he's meant to be Sherlock and Sherlock wouldn't be quiet at anything like that.
"I did get the cab right. Chased you down by foot, too. You nearly ran over my flatmate, but I did catch you."
"Is that who that was?"
"John? Yes," says John.
"Why me?" John asks. The cabbie, the police, the umbrella man, even that woman at Bart’s: everyone obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. "Not that I don't appreciate the interest."
"I've been warned about you, Mr. Holmes."
"So you sought me out? Not very clever. Or maybe I'm just irresistible." He realizes he's grinning and doesn't try to stop. Playing at being Sherlock for a serial killer shouldn't be this much fun, but, oh, it is.
The cabbie laughs. "Full of yourself, aren't you?"
"You have no idea."
He laughs again. "I don't suppose it would surprise you to find I learned about you from a fan."
"A fan of me? Good of him. Tell me more."
"That's all you're going to know. In this lifetime."
John doesn't reply, too busy trying not to giggle at the blatant melodrama.
The car pulls up to a stop in front of two buildings that look oddly familiar. It takes John a moment, but yes, he had an ex who taught here. He's not sure he remembers the name of it correctly; ought to check if he's going to call the police later.
The cabbie gets out, comes around, and opens his door.
"Where are we?" John asks.
"You know every street in London," the cabbie tells him, blunt with belief. "You tell me."
John does. Then: "Are you telling me you lectured those people to death? Exam or poison?"
The cabbie smiles. "You're not too far off, Mr. Holmes."
"And they followed you in... why?"
The cabbie points a gun at him in the dark, holding it the way people do when their firearm training comes from watching action films. Bad angle with the grip; the recoil would force it up. There's enough light that John gets a good look at it. It is pointed at his face, after all.
"That's very uncreative," John says. He pulls on a lifetime of telly and finds some good lines. "I was even willing to be impressed, until I saw that."
"This is only the start," the cabbie promises. "It gets better."
"I'm an inch away from walking home in disgust," he adds, face straight.
"Oh, come on," the cabbie urges, gesturing with his gun. It's more invitation than threat now. "Come see the rest."
John sighs, very put upon, and climbs out of the cab. There's a second where he's worried he won’t be able to stand, but the adrenaline is pumping. Following the cabbie into the building on the right, he looks down at his left hand. Absolutely steady. They go up the stairs and John's leg doesn't so much as twinge. Remarkable. Fantastic.
God, he feels better than he has in months.
That's probably a bad sign of something, but he can't quite care.
The cabbie shows him into an empty classroom. The tables are long, the chairs on one side. The sort of room two men could have quite a chase in, but there's only one set of doors. They open inwards, which means John will have to trap himself inside the room with him to hold the doors shut. He’ll try for the willing confession, then.
"What do you think?" the cabbie asks, indicating the room. "It's up to you. You're the one who's going to die here."
"I'm really not," John says, fighting down a laugh.
"That's what they all say."
"So you give this speech every time, do you?" John asks. They stand with a table between them now. If they sit, the cabbie will have his legs trapped under the table. John won't.
The cabbie smiles. "Sit down, won't you?"
John smiles back.
The cabbie smiles on, a pull of the mouth, a waiting game. He creates a silence, expecting John to be unnerved, expecting John to speak.
John tilts his head the way Sherlock tilted his head at the crime scene, investigating the dead woman's clothing. He lets his eyes perform that quick scan. Sherlock could probably tell him everything about this man, every last inch, but John already has the information he needs.
"Go on," the cabbie urges. "You've got to be curious."
"You've a very bad lecturer," John says. Bored, he thinks. Bored, dismissive Sherlock. "If you want to give your little test, give it. I won't indulge you by asking."
The cabbie narrows his eyes. "Then what do you make of this?"
And he sets out the bottle on the table. It's small, a single pill inside.
"I love this part," the cabbie says. "Because you don't get it yet, do you?"
"As I said, you're a very poor lecturer." After the umbrella man earlier tonight, all of this posturing is a bit sub-par.
"But I give a good demonstration," the cabbie counters. "You've seen four already."
"And I'm waiting for my closer look," John agrees.
"Then look at this." He sets out a second bottle. The pill inside looks exactly the same, even to an eye trained to tell them apart. "You didn't see that coming, did you?"
It's a pill in a bottle, John wants to say. We knew they took it in capsule form, I knew you had to have extras, why am I supposed to be surprised?
"Oh you're going to love this," the cabbie goes on.
"I doubt it," John says.
"The great Sherlock Holmes," the cabbie says, revelling over the words, "here in the flesh." He's clearly thought out his dialogue in advance, just as clearly as he loves to say Sherlock’s name. "That website of yours, your fan told me about it."
"Oh? What'd you think?" Not the best mimicry of Sherlock from this evening, but it would do.
"You're a genius," the cabbie says and John maintains strict control over his facial expression. "You are, you're brilliant. The Science of Deduction, now that is proper thinking. Between you and me, sitting here, why can't people think? Don't it make you mad? Why can't people just think?" And he looks at John, as if expecting an answer.
"I didn't come here for you to complain at me. Talk, or I leave."
"You're not walking out of here, Mr. Holmes, sad to say."
"And why's that?"
"Because I'm not just a funny little man driving a cab," says the cabbie. "I'm clever, Mr. Holmes. Even more than you. You may not know it now, but you're going to. Chances are, it'll be the last thing you ever know."
"All right," John says. "Give me the test, then."
"There's a good bottle and a bad bottle. Pick the good bottle, you live. Pick the bad bottle, you die."
"Why should I pick either?"
"I haven't told you the best bit yet," the cabbie says. "Whatever bottle you don't take the pill from, I will. And then, together-" he pauses, a practiced line "-we take our medicine."
John makes an incredulous noise. It's a bit much, especially for a doctor with a taste for action films.
"I won't cheat," the cabbie assures him. "It's your choice. I'll take whatever pill you don't. Didn't expect that, did you, Mr. Holmes?"
"Did you do this to all those people?" John asked. "This exact scenario?"
"I did," the cabbie agrees. "No rush, take your time, get yourself together. I want your best game."
"No," John says, because he knows what this is and, frankly, it's all a bit insane. "You want my simple maths. You not dying once, that's a fifty percent chance. Twice is four to one, three times is eight to one, four times is sixteen to one. Whatever you're playing, it's not a fair game."
"You're not playing the numbers, you're playing me," the cabbie says. "Like this. One move." With that, with the utmost seriousness, he slides one of the bottles across the table. "Which bottle did I just give you? The good bottle or the bad bottle?"
"They're both the bad bottle," John says. "I've seen this film before."
"Wrong," the cabbie says.
"No," John replies, ever so mild. "No, I'm pretty sure I've seen that film. You have an immunity or an antidote, I die gasping, no thank you."
"They're different," the cabbie says.
"And I should believe you, why? Having two capsules of poison is the most intelligent option and you've been sitting here praising your own genius. I'm not doing it."
Slowly but surely, the fury is building behind the cabbie's eyes. John grins. This man is lucky he only got John, not Sherlock.
The cabbie takes out his gun. Points it straight at John's head. "Yes you are."
"Um," John says, giving the gun a sceptical look. "No I'm not."
"It's your choice," the cabbie says.
"If I disarmed you, it'd break your finger," John answers. That's optional, actually, but the cabbie doesn't have to know that. "Lucky for you, I don't have to do that, do I?"
"I'm not bluffing."
John laughs, unable to help it. Like the stretching tension of a horror film, it's all dispelled by his show of amusement. He feels like he's laughing at a boggart. It's just so ridiculous. "You're all bluff. Which is it, toy or lighter?"
After a long moment, the cabbie puts the fake gun down.
John leans back in his chair, feels the press of a true weapon against his back. He fishes his mobile out of his pocket, saying, "You were holding it wrong, by the way." He skims through his contacts and dials. And, because he's going to have to stop being Sherlock in a moment and being Sherlock is just too much fun, he adds, "I love this bit. You don't get it yet, but you're about to."
The cabbie stares at him, Sherlock picks up, and John says, "Hi, Sherlock, it's John. Are the police still with you? Oh, good. I've caught the serial killer."
The wide-eyed cabbie pulls a runner, John's ready for it, and by the time the police arrive, John's had the cabbie in a joint lock against the wall for twenty minutes.
It might just be the best night he's ever had.
They put a blanket on him.
As the blanket helps to further disguise the gun beneath his jacket, he keeps it on. It's the questions he'd rather do without. "He never so much as touched me," John says for the fifth time. "I'm fine. If you're treating me for shock, there should be some hot, sweetened tea around now, but I'm pretty sure I'm fine."
"Dr. Watson," Lestrade says slowly, "you knowingly climbed into a car with a serial killer."
"Who'd shown me his fake gun," John replies. He may have fudged the order of events, just a little.
"You knew straight off it was fake?" As if Lestrade is asking this for the first time.
"Yes," John says. "I was in the army, I know what guns look like. I wasn't in danger."
Lestrade gives him a long look.
"Also, I have piss awful PTSD," John adds.
Lestrade gives him a longer look, then sighs. "Dr. Watson, if this is a cry for help-"
"You're moving in with Sherlock Holmes, of course it is." It's a quick brush-off, fully meant, yet not in the least condescending. "But once you get that help, have you ever considered law enforcement?"
John hasn't, though he knows they do appreciate a military background. "Right now," he says honestly, "I'm considering that cup of tea."
Lestrade makes a "fair enough" gesture, and that's when Sherlock finally gets around a very frustrated Sally Donovan. John hears this happen before he sees it and when he sees it, he's immediately helpless with laughter.
Sherlock is just so angry.
Lestrade stares at him, clearly taking back his previous suggestion, and Sherlock huffs right on up to him, all indignant floppy curls and dramatic flapping coat.
"What do you think you were-"
"He thought I was you!"
Sherlock's expression holds for roughly two seconds.
Then they're a pair of giggling messes.
Somehow, this winds up with Sherlock sitting on the back of the ambulance with him, Lestrade walking away out of self-preservation, and John physically hurting from the amount of laughing he's done today. He recovers, gasping for breath, only for Sherlock to lean over and whisper "Welcome to London" right into his ear. That sets him off again and by the time it passes, he's loose and twitchy.
"Okay," he lets out in a shuddering, satisfied sigh. "Maybe I'm in shock."
"No," Sherlock says. "You're just having fun. I told you this was better."
"God yes. Still want me to help pay rent?"
Sherlock shrugs, not looking at him, but he's grinning. There's a slight pause before the man asks, "Dinner?"
They slip away from the police, giggling like schoolboys. The food is excellent, the company bizarre, and when they get back in at 221b Baker, John remembers he has no sheets for his bed. Much to Sherlock's displeasure, he takes the sofa and, to Sherlock's even greater displeasure, he curls up under the shock blanket. He sleeps and dreams and wakes, at last, to sunlight rather than fear.