Things had not gone to plan at all. Sherlock’s heartbeat was hammering in his ears but he could still hear the men panting behind him, their footsteps echoing around the dark, narrow alleyway as they weaved through the scattered rubbish bins he was leaving in their path.
They had stopped shooting at him; that was unexpected, but perhaps not inexplicable. They were in a residential area now - windows bright with early evening lights, clothes hanging from fire-escapes, the faint sound of televisions turned up too loud, the smell of foods cooking, a party somewhere further away - and even with silencers on, despite what movies would have people believe, their guns were a noisy 120 dB which could easily attract unwanted attention from innocent bystanders.
As he ran, using his hastily memorised map of the area to plot a route to the nearest main road -- he had never been so grateful for the regular grid arrangement of American cities -- Sherlock reviewed the immediate circumstances that had led to this point. He had worked hard to arrange that meeting with Câmara, using every subterfuge and disguise he could muster, only to see the man whose information he sought gunned down in front of him, murdered by a single shot to the head as they crossed the car park to his offices. Câmara’s henchmen had immediately scattered, seeking the shooter in the buildings closest to them. But one look at the wound on the dead man’s forehead told Sherlock exactly where the sniper had been. Looking up, he just caught a glimpse of a man in a green anorak disappearing from view on the roof of one of the buildings.
Sherlock didn’t hang around to find out what happened next. He started running through the alleyway between two office blocks, leaving the industrial estate and heading back to the residential area nearby. It wasn’t long before Câmara’s men concluded that he was involved in the murder and started their pursuit. Sherlock deliberately wove through the silent back streets, hoping to confuse them. Only one more block now, and he would reach a busy road where he could vanish into the crowd. The two men behind him were slowing down. One of his pursuers was limping, his breath more laboured than his companion. Probably older, heavier, less used to this kind of exertion. The other man was more dangerous; healthier, and therefore likely to stay the course, but also more likely to be rash. The kind of man who might just pull a gun in a residential area out of sheer frustration. If that happened, he would have to hope the man wasn’t a good shot.
Sherlock passed between two low one-storey buildings -- a laundry and a restaurant judging by the smells -- and entered a wider street lined with apartment blocks. Cars were driving by and a few people were walking along the pavement. A little girl was skipping towards him, a helium balloon in one hand, her mother following close behind, eyes glued to her phone. Sherlock turned down the collar of his coat and started walking normally when he suddenly heard his name called from above.
Startled, he looked up, though he couldn’t have looked more astonished than the man who had called him. The man was standing on the roof, as out of breath as he was, his large eyes wide with surprise, his green anorak looking almost grey in the fading daylight. Bloody hell.
If this was the sniper, Sherlock was going to kill whoever was responsible when he got back to London.
But right then, the man suddenly crumpled in pain, apparently blacking out before tumbling head-first over the side of the roof. The little girl screamed.
House was in a good mood. He'd worked out the diagnosis for his current case the previous night. He was looking forward to belittling his team for ten minutes or so before telling them to go treat the patient. If he could only get himself a new case before Foreman assigned him to clinic duty, the next few minutes would almost be fun.
As he approached his office, he could see his team already assembled around the table with their notebooks and coffee cups. But there was a fifth person with them; a thin man in a heavy dark gray coat, leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the table. House's stomach clenched unpleasantly when he recognized the man’s narrow pale face, framed with tousled dark hair. The man looked at him through the glass of the office and smiled sardonically.
House stalked into the room, purposefully ignoring the new arrival.
"So. It turns out two hookers and a banana really is a great way to diagnose a middle-aged man in the throes of agony. Now, everybody, listen up.” He moved over to the board. “What do you--”
"It's CRPS," said the young man in a bored voice.
His deep voice was languid, but every consonant was enunciated clearly with an unmistakably British accent. Which was to be expected but still caught House by surprise; he hadn't heard that voice in years. It sounded incredibly out of place in the familiar surroundings of House's outer office.
"Complex regional pain syndrome. That’s incredibly rare!" exclaimed Chase.
“But it fits,” said Park, pushing her glasses up her nose and giving the Englishman a suspicious look. “How do you know it's CRPS?”
“It’s written on the board.”
All the members of House's team automatically looked at the whiteboard behind the Englishman. It had exactly the same information on it as the previous day when none of them, House included, had been able to find the correct diagnosis.
The young man rolled his eyes. He swept his legs off the table with a dramatic flourish and stood up to wipe the board clean.
“Right," he said. "Now that's out of the way, we can move on to something more important.”
"Uh, we weren't finished with that," said Taub. He looked at House. "Or were we?"
House observed the Englishman, leaning heavily on his cane. "I take it everyone else is seeing this pale imitation of me?" he asked. "For a minute there, I thought I was seeing dead people."
The young man pursed his lips and glared at him, but started to write on the board. The young man... Not so young anymore, House noticed; up close, he could see the crows' feet forming at the corners of his eyes. It made House feel incredibly old.
He had thought the man was dead. He'd even gotten used to the idea. But here the kid was, back like the proverbial bad penny.
"Charlie--" he started. The man turned his head away like a toddler refusing his dinner. "Okay, I forgot. Sherlock. There I was thinking I was shot of you. Guess I should have known you wouldn’t stay dead like normal people.”
House saw a fleeting expression of surprise cross Sherlock’s face, as if he hadn’t expected that reaction. He soon recovered.
“Believe me, coming here wasn’t my preferred option,” said Sherlock shortly.
"House, aren't you going to introduce us?" asked Adams, who looked far too curious for her own good.
"He was here when we got in but he didn't say a word," explained Chase. "We were going to call security, but we figured he was a friend of yours."
"Yes, I'm an old friend of his. Sherlock Holmes," said Sherlock, waving the issue away with a flick of his wrist. “Obviously, there is some history here. Feel free to use up whatever spare brain capacity you might have trying to work it all out. Just make sure your main focus stays on your new case.”
"Uh, sir. How did you really work out it was CRPS?" asked Park. Which would have been more of an intelligent question if she hadn't been looking at Sherlock like Christmas had come early. Or whatever she celebrated in her multicultural family. “House was looking at that board yesterday and he didn’t--“
"Oh I bet he did. Either that or he is as much of an idiot as some of his online case reports suggest," said Sherlock, rifling through the markers at the bottom of the whiteboard to change color. "As it happens, I had a patient with exactly the same symptoms a few years back.”
"You're not a doctor," said House coldly. “I don’t think even you could have qualified in three years. Especially while pretending to be dead.”
Sherlock wrote a few more words on the board and threw the marker back in the tray. He gave House a bright smile that creased his eyes.
"Did I say patient? I meant 'victim'. Performed the autopsy myself. She actually died of a stab wound. Boring case but I wondered why she’d suffered from acute leg pains before she was murdered, even though there was nothing to see in the autopsy. I later realised they had been triggered by a minor injury a couple of years earlier."
“So all the patient needs is specialist help,” said Taub. “That’s good news.”
House laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, and all we needed was the Messiah here to open our eyes.”
“Good. Now, here is your new case,” said Sherlock, ignoring House and speaking rapidly to the team as if it were his own. “Jamie Maddens. Forty-five-year-old white male - 'Caucasian' I suppose you'd call him here. Recently arrived from the UK, apparently on holiday in New York. He fell off a rooftop as he was running away from a gang of muggers. It wasn’t a high building, but he sustained the kind of injuries you'd expect under those circumstances; broken limbs, bruises, mild concussion. He initially appeared to be recovering well in hospital, but took a turn for the worst two days later and has been in a coma ever since. I don't have his NHS records but I've listed everything I know about his health on the board in black and some possible hypotheses in blue. I want you to find out why he’s unconscious, fix it, and wake him up so I can talk to him."
House quickly scanned the information on the board, automatically considering and discarding possibilities and concluding that there was no puzzle here. He approached Sherlock; he was pleased to find that Sherlock was still slightly shorter than him.
"I think you’re confusing our professions,” said House. “I don't take random patients off the street just because I have nothing better to do.”
"Well, actually--" started Chase.
"That isn’t a case for a team of diagnosticians. That’s a statistic,” said House as if Chase hadn't spoken, though he noticed that Sherlock's gaze lingered on the Australian as House continued. “There can be any number of reasons why a person ends up in a coma. Most of them boring. You would know that if you spent more time with living people. But being chased by muggers and then falling off a roof is kind of a giveaway in this case."
House picked up the eraser and started to wipe the board. Sherlock grabbed his arm.
“House, I wouldn’t have brought him here if it wasn’t important.” He turned towards the team again. "I’m a private detective. I’ve been employed to find the new head of a worldwide criminal organisation. In order to do that, I’ve had to fake my own death.” He gave House a dirty look, clearly unhappy at having to divulge that information. “Jamie Maddens has the information I need to dismantle the organisation."
"Who would employ a dead detective?” scoffed House. “Oh, I know. Your brother Mycroft.”
"I don’t work with Mycroft and I do have clients,” said Sherlock petulantly. “People always need the help of someone who can see things they can’t."
House circled Sherlock, observing him intently. "Not many people, I bet. Three years sure is a long time to be playing possum," he said thoughtfully. "I'm guessing Big Brother helped you out for a while. Daddy’s trust fund probably got all wiped out with the estate taxes when you 'died' and you've never really learned to earn a living. But you've had a falling out; you don't look like a guy who is still being bankrolled by one of the richest men in Britain. In which case, good for you. The fact that he knew you were alive and still called to tell me personally that you were dead shows just what a total dick he is."
“He actually called you to say I was dead, just so he could hear your reaction?” said Sherlock. “You have to hand it to him, Mycroft does know how to bear a grudge.”
"So here you are, breaking into a hospital--" House walked over to the window and ran his fingers over the jimmied lock on the balcony window. "-- and begging for a favor in your worn clothes." He noticed Sherlock glancing down at his coat. "I don't mean the coat. That is sentimental; you've had it at least ten years and it's part of this suave, mysterious detective look you've been trying to cultivate. At least until you became associated with that god-awful hat. But you're holding on to the rest of your clothes for practical reasons. Take your suit, for instance: expensive, well-tailored, but you’ve been wearing it just a little too long, gotten it cleaned a little too often. The color is losing its depth; the cuffs are starting to fray. You’re clean and well-groomed, so you’re not out on the street just yet. But your shoes are worn; you’re taking public transportation more than taxis these days. Must be quite a shock for a man like you."
"So you're deducing that I'm not working with Mycroft just after I told you I wasn’t working with Mycroft," said Sherlock sarcastically. "Well done. I can see why they're so impressed by you."
He looked at House’s team as if he hadn’t noticed them before. “Are they really the best you could find? A barely qualified student with a chip on her shoulder. A plastic surgeon with an unnecessarily complicated personal life. The poor little rich girl trying to make her life meaningful. And of course, the Australian who has worked for you for so long he's forgotten how to do anything else."
House followed his gaze sourly, torn between the desire to prove Sherlock wrong and his need to keep his team’s egos chronically below ‘discernible’.
Sherlock turned his attention back to House. "I didn't spot anything more exciting in the hospital admissions database. Let’s face it. It’s clinic duty for you and your underlings if you don’t take this case."
"Oh, don't worry, I can keep myself busy. I'm not going to help you," House indicated the door to the office. "It was great seeing you again, Sherlock. The exit is that way. Unless you'd prefer to go out the way you came in.” He nodded towards the window. “Don’t worry, I’ll get one of my 'underlings' to clean the board. The rest of the hospital staff will take good care of your witness.”
"No! You will take care of my witness."
Of course, House should have known that Sherlock would be stubborn as a mule. Somewhere in his old Deleted Items archive, he had a 200-email conversation thread to prove it.
Sherlock walked over to House, moving closer until his breath was tickling House’s cheek – which House had to admit was a very neat trick. Definitely intimidating. He might have to try it himself.
"Don't pretend you have anything better to do with your time," said Sherlock. "Things aren't exactly going well, are they? You're on parole, tagged like an animal because society can't trust you to behave like a human being. Ageing, addicted to--" Sherlock sniffed him. "--an opiate analgesic?-- you drink alone, ruminating on things that might have been. You blame whatever has happened to your right leg for your unhappy life. Old injury now, chronically painful but not as bad as you make out -- you were limping less heavily when you laid into me just now -- though I’ll grant you that it isn't psychosomatic. Of course, the addiction and the bitterness don't help but you always were an awkward sod. It's no wonder you're single again. And no, your sham marriage doesn’t count." He swept his hand at the room, the team, the whiteboard. "If you didn't have this, you would have nothing. You would be nothing."
"I'm a sad, bitter old man," exclaimed House, slapping his forehead. "My god, thanks for the revelation. You've saved me hundreds of dollars in therapy. And hookers. They charge a fortune to tell me the same thing. And here I can get all the abuse for free, straight from the world’s leading expert on interpersonal relationships." House shrugged and turned his back on Sherlock. "Time's up. The answer is still 'no'. Say hi to the Queen for me."
Instead of continuing the altercation, Sherlock went silent. House turned back to look at him.
“House, the idiots at the last hospital had no idea what was wrong with this man. You’re the best doctor in North America,” said Sherlock finally, his eyes lowered as if it pained him to admit this. “And you have a whole team at your disposal. I need your help.”
House glanced at the team at his disposal. Chase was rolling his eyes; Taub was not paying attention at all; Adams and Park were listening intently. Interesting.
“Why would I want to help you?” challenged House.
To his horror, Sherlock took a step back. He was blinking rapidly, his eyes darting away from House’s face to rest on his shirt, on the board, even on Park for a moment, as if he didn’t know what to do next. Sherlock pursed his lips, and when he raised his pale gaze to meet House’s again, his eyes were brighter than before.
“I need him awake, House,” he said softly. "This is my chance to come back from the dead. I’m on my own in a foreign country and when this happened, you were the first person I could think of who might be able to help. I-I don’t know what else to do."
House stared at him. This was going to be one hell of an awkward scene if Sherlock was going to get this upset about it. Not that House was uncomfortable with awkward scenes, and he really was pissed off with Sherlock right now. Even so, the haunted look on Sherlock’s angular features felt eerily familiar.
“I could do it!” interjected Park suddenly. “I mean, I’m on clinic duty anyway if House doesn’t have a case. And, you know, I was in the middle of my neurology residency when House employed me, so, like, I guess Mr. Maddens is kind of in my area. I might not be the best doctor in North America but at least I have some experience of difficult diagnoses. And, you know, I’ll ask my colleagues if there’s anything I need help with."
Chase looked puzzled and Taub just nodded vaguely. But Adams gave Sherlock a sympathetic smile.
“I’ll help out,” she said. “We’ll see what we can find.”
“Oh, thank you,” breathed Sherlock gratefully. “Thank you so much!”
House gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder. “Aw. Someone took pity on the poor widdle English guy.” He waved his cane at the girls. “Okay, the Swan and the Ugly Duckling are on Prince Charming’s so-called case until... let’s say eleven a.m. Plenty of time to confirm my diagnosis of ‘boring’ and ‘not a case’.”
Park and Adams both gave Sherlock reassuring smiles and left the room. House erased what Sherlock had written on the board; though House saw a flicker of irritation on his face, Sherlock didn’t try to stop him.
“Chase, go get our Mr. Reilly the address of some facilities for managing his CPRS,” ordered House, heading for his personal office. “Taub, go do your clinic duty until you find me an interesting case. If anyone needs me, I'll be in my office recovering from all that pathetic sorrow-drowning I did last night.”
House heard Taub groan and leave the room, but when he turned to look, Chase was still there, standing by the table.
“House, what’s going on?” asked Chase. He was observing Sherlock, his normally wide eyes narrowed in a manner that almost suggested deep thought. “Who is this guy really?”
Sherlock stepped closer until he was only a few inches away from Chase. He leaned in and tilted his head, almost creating the impression that he intended to kiss him.
“None of your business, mate,” said Sherlock, putting on an Australian accent.
Chase squared his jaw but leaned back. “Seriously, House, is this a friend of yours?”
“Yeah,” said House flatly. “The kind of friend who thinks it’s okay to let his friends think he’s dead for three years. So more like a jerk, really. Chase, go deal with our soon to be ex-patient.”
Chase gave them both a dubious look but complied with House’s request. It occurred to House that he really had been working with Chase for too long. Given how often he’d fired and belittled him, it was something of a miracle the guy had any self-respect left. Still, he didn’t need Chase for his self-respect; he needed his ability to think.
Looking pleased with himself, Sherlock moved towards the door. House spoke just as he reached the threshold.
“Tears were a nice touch,” he said. “You must really be desperate.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Half your team are women. It was bound to work on at least one of them. Both is a bonus.”
“I’m not gonna help them if that’s what you’re hoping,” said House in a sing-song voice.
"’Course not. I look forward to hearing their diagnosis," said Sherlock smugly. "And talking to Mr Maddens in the morning."
House watched him go. He had a feeling the next few days would be interesting if nothing else. He grinned. The patient might hold no interest but working out why Sherlock was so interested in him might be fun.