"Mary." John read the name spelled out by the beads in his hand. "Who's Mary?" He looked up enquiringly. "And where does she fit into all this?"
Sherlock slid across the seat of the taxi and picked out two of the beads, his other hand rising beneath John's to hold it steady. "Not Mary." He replaced the letters the other way around.
John stared down at his hand, the beads suddenly familiar as he pictured them strung together and wrapped around a slim wrist. "Myra's bracelet," he recognised. "They're from Myra's bracelet."
Fierce, prickly, abrasive Myra - so determined to hide any weakness that she drove most people away. She'd always reminded him of Sherlock in that respect. John closed his fist around the beads. "We have to go back."
"No point. She's gone."
John's head jerked up. "Gone?"
Sherlock shrugged. "The state of the office indicates a struggle and the smell of cleaning fluid suggests someone was injured. Hargreaves' disappearance is unlikely to be coincidental."
"The police, then - we should call Lestrade." John started to reach for his phone, but Sherlock snagged his wrist.
"And do what? Report a missing homeless person? Waste of time."
John twisted in his seat. "Sherlock…" He didn't know how to explain. "Myra is… Look, I know she was rude to you, but she's incredibly loyal and ridiculously brave for her size. If she's…"
"What?" John shook his head. "Never mind. If she's in trouble, we have to find her."
Sherlock was regarding him oddly… and still holding on to his wrist. "You're assuming Myra was the victim. For all you know, she could have broken her bracelet attacking Hargreaves with whatever left that dust-free square on the desk."
John gaped at him. "She's less than five feet tall!"
Sherlock arched a brow.
John scowled and tugged his wrist free. "I am not as short as all that! Five foot seven is only an inch…"
The other brow went up.
"…or two," John added begrudgingly, "below the national average. Myra is tiny!"
"Remind me again how you first met her."
"She'd sprained her ankle."
Sherlock gave him a look.
John pulled a face. "The man was a groper - a kick in the nuts was no more than he deserved." He had to acknowledge the point, though. It wasn't an enormous stretch to imagine Myra clunking someone over the head with an ashtray if she'd felt it warranted.
"OK, fine." He frowned. "So, what do we know?" He hesitated, aware that he could probably fit the entirety of his own knowledge into Sherlock's mind palace and still leave room for Wikipedia. "I mean, let's consider the facts."
"By all means." There was a small smile lurking around Sherlock's mouth, but it didn't quite escape.
"Like, what was Myra doing in Hargreaves' office in the first place?" John began. "And who is this Hargreaves person, anyway? He runs the Relief Aid Guild, which you suspected of being involved with the leak about your still being alive, right?"
John connected the two things. "No." He shook his head. "No - you can't think Myra had anything to do with that. No way."
"Absolutely." John was completely confident. "Not unless she heard something and let it slip by accident," he amended, just to be safe. "Although there's only half a dozen people she'll speak to at all, so I can't really imagine that happening. I mean, she's not the most sociable…"
He rambled to a halt as it became clear he'd lost his audience - pale eyes were flickering in a familiar 'deduction in progress' way.
"Hmm? Yes - brilliant, John. Wrong, of course, but undoubtedly useful." Sherlock hesitated, then patted John rather awkwardly on the knee. "Well done."
"Right." No point asking, obviously. John ploughed on. "I haven't actually seen Myra since… oh, nearly a month ago," he worked out. "But Mrs Hudson said she'd called round to Baker Street on Sunday, so she must have been all right then."
"But why did she call?" Sherlock interjected. "That's the interesting question."
John shrugged. "Can't have been important or she would have waited, I guess. Anyway, that was two days ago. Then yesterday her bracelet gets broken in Hargreaves' office; no secretary to witness anything, and today Hargreaves doesn't turn up to work."
He looked at Sherlock, who didn't add anything to his summary.
"So what do we do now?" John asked.
"Cherchez la femme," Sherlock replied. "Whichever way you look at it, Myra is involved. She must be somewhere - and someone must know where."
"What do you mean 'missing'?" Billy's thin face looked worried. They had found him, and several others who knew Myra, at Wiggins' shelter and were now standing in the middle of what John thought of as 'the beanbag room' facing a group of people who were mostly still young enough to get up from the blasted things without requiring hydraulic assistance.
Billy sprang to his feet. "She was fine when she left me yesterday morning."
"Aye-aye," murmured one of the girls, nudging her neighbour suggestively.
Billy flushed. "It's not like that. We're friends."
"Close friends," chipped in one of the others.
"Very close friends," added the first girl, her tattoos quivering as she chuckled. Millie, John remembered from their first visit.
"You don't seem concerned." Sherlock spoke factually rather than critically but Millie bridled anyway, sitting up straighter in her beanbag.
"Myra can look after herself. She doesn't need some lanky coat-swirler chasing after her." She glanced at John. "No offence, Doctor."
John decided to leave that one alone.
Billy ignored the diversion. "We were up all night talking, that's all."
"About?" Sherlock turned away from the aptly nicknamed 'Militant Millicent'.
"Did this extended conversation have a particular theme?"
Billy frowned. "That's not…" He shook his head. "She must be all right. She wouldn't…" He fell silent, his frown deepening.
"So no one's seen her since yesterday morning?" John checked, looking round at the room in general. Heads were shaken.
"Why are you here?" The question was addressed to Sherlock and came from a lad John hadn't met before.
"Don't be daft, Vikram - he's here to stick his nose into…"
"Give it a rest, Millie," interrupted a much older man, who John recognised as her table football opponent from their last visit. He had steered clear of the beanbags and was leaning in equal parts against the wall and on the stick in his hand. Millie subsided.
"I mean, what makes you think that Myra is missing rather than just elsewhere?" Vikram continued. "It's an odd assumption to make about a homeless person."
Everyone was watching Sherlock, who turned his head to look at John. The eyes of the room followed his gaze. Sherlock nodded and John reached into his pocket for the beads, then stretched out his palm, swivelling slowly so that everyone could see.
There were various mutterings, then each head turned in Billy's direction.
"She hasn't taken that bracelet off since you gave it to her," Millie pointed out.
His face was pale, but he didn't say anything.
"Where did you find the beads?" Vikram asked.
Sherlock answered obliquely. "Does Myra have any particular connection with the R.A.G., does anyone know?"
There was a variety of headshakes, shrugs and people looking at each other questioningly.
"Well, thank you for your time," Sherlock addressed the room at large. "Please let Mr Wiggins know if you hear anything regarding Myra."
He swept out, propelling John in front of him - out of the room, out of the building, and around the corner. There he stopped and leant back against the wall.
"Er… what are we doing?" John settled next to him.
"Waiting." He was focused on a window opposite, and John noticed that the reflection of the Shelter was clearly visible.
"For that." Sherlock darted back the way they'd come and John followed, seeing a figure moving away from the Shelter and heading down the street. He could only see the back view, clad in a generic jeans and hoodie combo, but the walk was familiar.
"Are we following Billy?"
Sherlock didn't answer, his collar turned up and head tucked down.
"Why are we following Billy?" John was having to trot to keep up with Sherlock's long strides since Billy kept breaking into a jog every few paces.
"Because Billy knows where he's going."
John saved his breath and focused on not being left behind, or spotted - not that Billy seemed concerned about that as he didn't look behind himself once.
Around forty minutes later they were in a residential area and Billy turned into the driveway of a detached red brick house and started banging on the door. Sherlock stepped into a convenient bus shelter and watched him.
"Where are we?" hissed John, trying to look like half of a queue, and hoping a Number 37 wouldn't roll up while they were standing there.
"Hargreaves' house, I would imagine," Sherlock replied. "There's no record of his home address on any of the charity documentation, but that seems the obvious conclusion."
"Well it's not obvious to me!" John snapped, feeling confused and disoriented. What was Billy, of all people, doing here? And how did he even know where 'here' was?
Sherlock glanced round at him. "What is the relationship between Billy and Myra?"
John frowned. "Well, they're not a 'couple'," he reported, putting air quotes around the word. "But they're very close."
Sherlock seemed to be waiting for more.
"Close friends, I mean - not close to being a couple," John expanded. "I'm pretty sure Myra's in love with Billy, actually, but she's far too proud to ever tell him."
Sherlock grunted, turning back to look at where Billy was now peering in through the front bay window. "What about him?"
"Billy's more difficult," John admitted. "He cares about everybody - he's something of a crusader. He's very fond of Myra but I think he's a bit intimidated by her, to be honest. I doubt he's got any idea how she feels about him."
He thought about what he'd said. "Oh! If anyone's going to be interested in a charity for the homeless, then Billy's your man. Is that why he knows Hargreaves, then?" He looked towards Sherlock hopefully.
Sherlock's back looked tense. "I… perhaps," he said, without turning around.
"Perhaps?" John queried doubtfully, as Billy disappeared round the back of the house.
Sherlock exhaled. "What's Billy's surname?"
"Um…" John thought back. Wiggins had given it when he produced the list of people who might have been behind the leak. "Morris," he recalled, rather surprised that he'd remembered. "Why?"
"And did you note the names on the accountancy certificates in Hargreaves' office?"
"I'll take that as a 'No'," Sherlock said. "One of them was 'Morris'. Not a particularly unusual name, but in the circumstances I think we can suspect a connection."
"Billy isn't an accountant," John said stupidly.
Sherlock shot him an exasperated glance. "His uncle would be my guess. Possibly father."
"So… what?" John was getting more confused by the minute. "Hargreaves is like a… I don't know… family friend, or something?" He frowned. "But Billy isn't in touch with his family at all - I mean, he's homeless. Would rather be homeless than live at home, in fact." This was making his head ache.
"Seems the house is empty," Sherlock announced and John looked up to see Billy backing towards the pavement. He stood there for a while alternately staring at the house and glancing up and down the street, then turned and walked off, moving at a fraction of his previous pace.
"Shouldn't we go and talk to him?" John prompted. "Find out what's going on?"
"No. We should go home." Sherlock took his arm and headed to the roadside, raising a hand to the taxi which had miraculously appeared. "Chase him now and he'll clam up." The taxi pulled over and they climbed inside.
"If he cares about this girl half as much as you say he does," Sherlock added, settling back into his seat, "he'll come to us."
Some half an hour later they were back at Baker Street and Sherlock was stretched out on the sofa, thinking hard. This was an unusually difficult situation, with factors he had never had to consider before - including keeping John's inevitable upset to a minimum.
"But what I still don't understand…" John walked out of the kitchen, waving a piece of toast in a crumb-scattering manner, "… is where Myra comes into all this." He held out the last bite of toast in offering, but Sherlock shook his head. John stuffed it into his own mouth. "I mean," he mumbled around what appeared to be raspberry jam, "I suppose if Billy knows Hargreaves, then Myra might too - but why would she fall out with him? And where have either of them got to, now?"
The inevitable outcome of this line of questioning was not going to make John happy - best to defer it until a time when a better solution might be possible. A distraction was required. Sherlock hesitated… but John had used this method so it must be all right. He raised an arm in a beckoning motion. "Come here."
"What for?" John looked doubtful but moved forward, although he stopped much too far away.
Sherlock twisted himself round until he was kneeling on the sofa and then let his gaze settle on John's mouth, which was almost level with his own in this position. "Surely that's obvious?" He stretched out a hand and gripped John's hip, pulling him forward a step. "Am I not permitted to instigate a kiss when I want one?"
"What?" John obeyed the tugging hand but was clearly still far from being on board with the idea. "No… I mean, yes - yes, of course you are, but…"
"Well that's not the impression you're giving."
John looked as if he wasn't sure whether to address this new issue or stick to his theme. "But what about…?"
Sherlock sighed in a pointed manner. "I really think you're taking this 'control' thing too far." He tugged again, and John put both hands restrainingly on his shoulders.
"That's not it at all! We were talking about…"
"Can I have a kiss or not?" Really, despite the fact that he was deliberately distracting John, it wasn't hard to inject some petulance into his tone. What was the benefit of being in a relationship if you couldn't get a kiss when you wanted one? And now he thought about it, he definitely wanted one. Well, perhaps not one…
"You can. Of course you can. You always can…"
That was more like it. Easier than expected, in fact.
"…but why right this minute?"
Too easy, clearly. John was wearing his 'You're up to something' face.
Sherlock gathered all the case-related details which he'd been keeping front and centre in his brain and pushed them down a level. Immediately the feelings which had been poking through gaps in his concentration all day swept in to fill the available space, the sudden rush making him briefly dizzy. He was going to have to find a balance between these new desires and his working life because suppressing them even temporarily was making them almost overwhelming. Still, the resultant physical effects certainly helped to support his case at the moment.
"Because I need it..." Sherlock knew he was a bloody good actor, but he could never have sold that line to John without the truth behind it. He could hear the hunger in his voice, sense the tension in his body, feel his heart picking up its pace. The hands on his shoulders wavered.
"...right…" He tightened his arms and John slowly allowed himself to be drawn in.
"...this…" Sherlock breathed the word against a strong jaw line, his hand sliding up into soft hair.
"...minute." Their lips were virtually touching by now and Sherlock didn't wait. He closed the distance, tilting his head so that he could press his mouth to John's and it was like a sudden high… like finding the answer… like opening your eyes after half a year away and realising that you're home. Completely illogical, of course, but there was no point worrying about that now.
He kissed John again… and again, at first still focused on distracting him but ultimately distracting himself in the process… and had it only been hours since the last time? He'd always been proud of his will power, but Sherlock felt that it was reaching new heights lately. Really, he was to be commended for managing to devote even a modicum of his time to any activity which wasn't this - or connected with this. Intimately connected with this.
He had both hands on John's face by this point and it was good - it was so very good - but still it wasn't quite enough. John was kissing him back, but there was hesitance in his response, uncertainty in the grip he had on Sherlock's waist - it was tentative, there was no urgency, no hunger, no… power.
"John…" Sherlock nipped his bottom lip. "John, come on." He touched his tongue to the tiny scrape he had made but then couldn't pull away. Kissing was so ridiculous - what was the point of it? Why did he feel this compulsion to attach himself to John in such a very specific way? Sherlock didn't know. There were many such questions in his head now but for once he was happy not to have the answers. It would clearly take him a long, long time to work out this particular puzzle and perhaps he might never manage it. The thought made him smile.
John took the opportunity to pull slightly away and Sherlock's smile vanished faster than Anderson could muck up a crime scene.
"This isn't like you." John's hands moved up to each side of his neck - no doubt to hold him in place, but there were fingers drifting over the skin at Sherlock's nape and you'd think they were down his trousers for the effect they were having.
Sherlock tipped his head back, mostly from an instinct to arch into the touch, but also aware that baring his throat to John could only help his objective. Objectives. There had definitely been a specific objective originally… or something. He tried to focus.
"How can you tell? I barely recognise myself."
He swallowed and felt John's lips brush his Adam's apple. His neck… John could never resist his neck. Thank God.
"What does that mean?" John's words were slightly blurry as he tracked a path to one side, still not fully committed, but getting more so. Teeth grazed over the fading bite from their first time together and Sherlock acquired a new goal.
"Mark me again."
John's motion ceased; hands, fingers, mouth all halting in place. He didn't press forward, he didn't pull away, there was just his breath hot over the skin in question and a new tension in the air as his uncertainty vanished and restraint took its place. He didn't move, he didn't speak, he didn't give any quantifiable reaction, but Sherlock could feel him make the transition from simply not pushing forward to actively holding himself back.
"Do it." He angled his head to the side, arching his neck further, pushing against John's mouth.
"I shouldn't." John's voice was low but he didn't move away.
"I want it."
"People will see." The words made patterns on Sherlock's skin.
"I want it." He waited a beat. "John!" Demand or plea, what did it matter? This was John - nothing would be used against him.
And… it seemed to be enough. A hand slid up into his hair and tightened and Sherlock swayed forwards, suddenly light-headed.
"Breathe," John instructed and yes… that would explain it. He inhaled as John stepped right up against the sofa and pulled him close, turning his head to the side and down, then holding it against his shoulder. Sherlock waited, trembling, the back of his neck feeling more naked and exposed than any part of him had ever been. It wasn't exactly what he had asked for, but right now he couldn't imagine wanting anything else. He closed his eyes, pressing his face into warmth and solidity and letting himself sink into it… and John's mouth at the base of his hairline was utterly right in a world where almost everything he touched was wrong.
He gasped, trying to track the words which started streaming from his mouth so that he could swallow the ones he didn't want to say, but it was impossible. He closed his teeth around a mouthful of John's shirt and silenced himself, his throat feeling clogged with the effort as the gentle sucking bites progressed down towards the barrier of his collar… and he was shaking, his hands not really embracing John, but rather just holding on - not that he really needed to, because John had him. The hand in his hair was firm; the arm wrapped around him, strong; the body he leant against, steady and grounded.
Sherlock spat out the shirt and drew a breath. "John, I…"
There was a discreet and unmistakable cough from the doorway.
John twisted immediately, turning his back towards Mycroft so that he was shielding Sherlock from view, but his action barely registered. Sherlock was having what he supposed might be described as an 'out of body experience'… seeing himself through his brother's eyes as he had been forced to do once before, after being so comprehensively played by Irene.
A year ago, standing in a plane that would never fly, looking back at the road he had walked and being shown that the rocks he had navigated were actually icebergs with the bulk of each hidden beneath the surface, the ground beneath his feet had been revealed to be water and it had felt like drowning.
Now, kneeling on his sofa, face hidden from the last person on earth he would have chosen to witness this scene, Sherlock let his arms fall to his sides, and everything which had happened between himself and John rewound in his memory, right back to that first kiss.
In his mind, he was standing in the middle of his own living room, regarding a frozen tableau of himself and John as they had been on that night - the night when John had got himself shot and Sherlock had been desperate not to lose him. The kiss was technically over by this point, he recognised. The other Sherlock's head was down and John was bent over him, mouth pressed to the back of his neck.
"Seems to be a thing with you."
Sherlock jumped and looked to his right. "Oh, bloody hell!" He half turned away, blowing out an exasperated breath. "My subconscious hates me."
The imaginary, but no less irritating, Mycroft sniffed. "No need to be vulgar. I don't want to be here, I'm sure." He nodded towards the figures in front of them. "Shall we?"
"If we must."
Mycroft waved his arm and the scene sprang to life.
"Now we're done," the John they were watching declared, pulling away and leaving the room.
Mycroft nodded to where the Sherlock of four weeks ago was sagging weakly against the furniture. "Odd that a man of John's experience could look at that and not realise what effect he had had."
"Shut up, Mycroft."
The scene jumped to the next day: Sherlock determined to reject a physical relationship… and John making it plain that he wasn't going to ask; Sherlock clearly piqued, his pride dented.
Mycroft quirked a brow. "Textbook," he murmured. Sherlock frowned and flicked ahead, fast forwarding through two weeks of increasing frustration and odd behaviour… with John apparently missing all of it.
"Was he really so oblivious?" whispered Mycroft's voice again. "Or just biding his time?"
The playback slowed, reaching a jeweller's shop - a crime scene. John ogling a girl in a short skirt and Sherlock not liking it - not liking it at all. Then back to Baker Street and another kiss - Sherlock having to ask for it… John calling a halt too soon.
Later that day, and Sherlock deciding for a second time not to take things further… and again John ruling out the possibility before he'd had the chance to decline.
"That's a military man for you," Mycroft observed. "Sticks to a successful strategy."
"No." Sherlock's frown had deepened, but he shook his head. "He didn't know we were compatible."
"Really?" Mycroft clicked his fingers, bringing up a freeze-frame from earlier in the first kiss… Sherlock sitting on the arm of his chair, head tipped right back, the tendons of his neck standing out as he strained up to John's mouth, fingers clutching at his waist.
A flick of Mycroft's wrist and they were in the kitchen two weeks later: John finally agreeing to another kiss and Sherlock admitting that it wasn't enough - telling him he had to lead. There were more snapshots but Sherlock looked away.
"And he still didn't recognise that you have a submissive streak as wide as he is tall?" Mycroft's tone was heavy with scepticism. "Even you had worked it out by that point."
Forward again… Saturday night… the night… John stripping off his dinner jacket and taking control, offering what Sherlock wanted - offering a seemingly ideal solution…
Sherlock skipped ahead. Even an imaginary brother had no place watching that.
Sunday morning: John behaving normally, reinforcing that they could keep things casual… and then going to meet Constable Ross. Sherlock forced to face what 'casual' would actually mean…
"Timing?" prompted Mycroft. "He's led you down this path."
Fast forward to now… moments ago, Sherlock leaning weakly against John, his concentration shot, oblivious even to someone standing in the doorway.
Cuddling on the sofa.
"Exactly where he wanted you..."