Chapter 1: In which Subaru is invited to 221B Baker Street
Subaru got out of the cab he’d taken from the airport and surveyed the haunted mansion, a two-storey affair with caution tape and police cars in place. The peeling paint and murky windows made it look old and exotic, and he needed a smoke. More than eleven hours without cigarettes had been a trying situation.
An exorcism was an exorcism, even if Subaru found himself across the globe, a restless sense of displacement and first signs of jet lag already taking their toll.
(Grandmother’s insistence had taken him away from his search for the Sakurazukamori . He didn’t need a ‘change of scenery’ but to find him .)
“Excuse me,” Subaru addressed the first police officer he came across in a polite tone, foregoing a bow. “Might I speak to Mr. Lestrade?”
“And I might ask just what you want of him?” Sally Donovan asked before adding, “And it’s Inspector Lestrade.”
“My apologies,” Subaru reassured hastily, wishing he’d had more time to practice his English, but when did he ever? “I was hired by Duke Ellington and I need access to the mansion. I was told to speak to Inspector Lestrade about the matter.”
“Hired? You. Are you … a private detective?” And she looked like she going to say more before ...
Lestrade walked into the scene and glanced at Donovan, signalling it was all right. “Sumeragi! There you are. Finally. Follow me.”
Subaru blinked and hurried to match the Inspector’s pace. “Thank you, Inspector Lestrade.”
“Don’t mention it,” Lestrade muttered as he led Subaru to the grand wrought iron doors of the mansion. “So you’re the... exorcist ?”
Lestrade took a deep breath. “Okay. So. You have the mansion all to yourself, but only for an hour. Do try not make too much of a mess. I need my team to start working on our own jobs as soon as possible. Ghost aren't our division, you know?”
Inspector’s expression was suggesting he’d just made a joke, so Subaru smiled along in tight-lipped manner.
Inspector cleared his throat. “Is everything clear?”
“Yes, Inspector Lestrade,” Subaru said, stumbling a bit over the ‘r’s and ‘l’s.
“Good. I’ll leave you to it.” Lestrade seemed happy to escape his presence. Subaru didn’t give it a second thought.
He entered the premises and the presence tickling at his senses picked up intensity. There was definitely a spirit haunting the place, old and quite powerful -- whether in their spiritual ability or desire to cling to this plane of existence, Subaru couldn’t yet determine.
Loathe as he was to waste time, he stopped to take off his coat, revealing the shikifuku he’s put over his regular clothes and the ceremonial dagger tied to it. He drew out a sheaf of ofuda , fanning it out between the fingers of his right hand, and followed the breadcrumb trail of residual energy up a massive staircase that took him to the second floor. He didn’t pay attention to the paintings or other decorations, only barely registering the general layout of the rooms.
He came to halt in front of one of the doors in a long corridor and opened it cautiously, prepared for a surprise assault. Other practitioners must have failed for a reason.
The attack didn’t come.
“Duke Ellington? Sir?” Subaru called out.
The room appeared to be a private study with a desk and a small library. The heavy burgundy drapes shielding the only window had been drawn shut, but semi-darkness suited him just fine.
Subaru slapped several ofuda onto the walls to form a temporary ward. He’d have to draw the spirit out, since it wasn’t inclined to manifest itself, and he needed to prepare the ritual properly.
He rolled up the dusty carpet out of the way, uncovering the wooden floor, and removed his shoes before taking his mirror out of the bag and setting it on the floor. He kneeled in front of the mirror and cast more ofuda around himself.
Lastly, he cleared his mind and focused.
“On...batarei ya sowaka....” Subaru’s hands were clasped in front of his face, his index fingers raised and pressed together as he chanted, not relenting until a disgruntled specter materialized before him.
“Duke Ellington? My name is Sumeragi Subaru, I’m an exorcist--”
The Duke chuckled darkly, giving Subaru a start. “Fancy that.” He gave Subaru the once-over “Were there no exorcists closer to home, I wonder?”
“Sir,” Subaru said calmly, “your grandson sends you his most sincere gratitude for preventing his assassination and assures you that he would be more cautious in the future. Would that be enough to put your mind at ease?”
“Hardly.” Duke Ellington snorted. “If exorcising me is his way of saying ‘thank you, dearest ancestor.’”
“Sir, it’s natural for a soul to pass on to the afterlife.” Subaru’s voice was firm. “You can’t stay here forever.”
Duke Ellington’s lip curled in disgust. “I do not wish to have this kind of conversation with the likes of you. Do your job, whatever that entails. I don’t intend to make another scene.”
He looked worn out. Subaru realised he couldn’t move on on his own, even after he started wanting to. He must have been a strong-willed, forceful individual in life and remained so in death.
“Very well.” Subaru nodded, his face solemn. “Farewell, Duke Ellington.”
The duke waved it off.
“Rinpyou tousha kaichin retsu zan zen,” Subaru chanted until he was the only occupant of the study. Then he stood up and pushed the curtains to let the sunlight in.
Sherlock knew that something was off when Donovan, for once, didn’t start off their greeting by calling him a freak as she lifted the tape, letting them through. Nor did she say anything else, in fact -- when, usually, she never wasted a second on telling Sherlock (and John) how unwelcome they were at the crime scene.
Instead, she frowned and just sighed. Sherlock rolled his eyes, muttered ‘rude’ under his breath and turned his attention to John. Who looked just as confused as Sherlock, but also ...amused, if the grin was anything to go by (slightly lop-sided smile, hinting at light mockery, eyebrows furrowed showing scepticism but also amazement --).
“This isn’t funny,” Sherlock whispered as he and John walked past the hooting cars, towards the mansion -- a Victorian-styled affair, placed in one of the nobler areas of London, surrounded by trees and other Victorian-themed mansions ( dull ). “She didn’t even comment on how I was a psychopath.”
John shook his head, and whispered, “You don’t always have to be the centre of attention --,” and then he chuckled,”I didn’t know you liked being called a psychopath .”
As they approached the door, Sherlock just shrugged. “It’s what makes her tolerable. She’s at least more creative in her insults than Anderson.” He pushed the door open, immediately taking in the smell of dust that hovered over the place.
They walked up the creaking staircase, and Sherlock inspected the pictures on the wall when they reached the second floor. “ Fakes .”
John just rolled his eyes, and looked at the portraits as well, eyes especially fixated on the portrait of an old man in whiskers. “You’re doing that thing again.”
“What thing?” Sherlock just frowned.
“The we both know what’s going on thing,” John said, irritation seeping into his voice, and he started walking again, this time being the one in front.
But Sherlock caught up to him quickly, pushing up the collars of his coat. “We do, don’t we?”
John just sighed. “No, I don’t. Which is why this annoys me so much.” And he just continued walking, muttering something about Sherlock showing off again.
“The pictures are fake because, despite the sign of age, it’s all too -”
John was listening, but had also pushed the door open at that time when he stopped and tugged at Sherlock’s coat. “Sherlock. Look.”
And Sherlock did look, wondering if it was John’s superstitions kicking in again because, somehow, since the Baskerville case, he’d gained a strange habit of always looking around the corner for phantoms and what not. But that didn’t turn out to be the case: as Sherlock followed John’s gaze, his eyes fell upon a figure in white (male, judging from the height and lack of feminine attributes, and most likely Asian from the tint of black hair -- Europeans never having quite that black hair and … )
“Sherlock, what is it?” John asked, interrupting Sherlock’s thoughts.
“It’s a man, obviously,” Sherlock said, frustrated sigh escaping his lips. “And Japanese -- that attire and the footwear suggests so.” He turned to John, taking in his fear (panted breath, eyebrows knitted together, lips trembling --) and sighed. “You fought in Afghanistan. You really shouldn’t be afraid of men dressed in religious garb -- there’s a rational explanation for everything, after all.”
John coughed. “Right. Which … you’re right, you’re right,” he said, running a hand over his face, “but that still doesn’t explain what he’s doing here. Besides, as strange as London can be and no matter how famous the English are for their madness, you don’t get this --” he pointed to figure in the distance, “ this every day.”
“Madmen in Japanese outfits?” Sherlock asked, laughing lightly. “You mean, that’s stranger than men who see gigantic hounds and a dominatrix?” He shook his head, loving how John always rationalised things -- but that was John. Ordinary and yet extraordinary. Perfectly harmless in most cases, and yet capable of killing a man in cold blood.
John just frowned. “...Yes, right.” And then he sighed. “Perhaps, we should talk to that person and find out what he is doing here.” He sighed again, muttering something about ‘why do I always get into situations like this’.
And Sherlock would have told him because he loved danger, and got his thrills from that, but decided not to. John still hadn’t gotten over the jar full of eyeballs that Sherlock had placed into the fridge last Thursday.
“That’s a wise course of action, yes.” And Sherlock just waltzed over to the man, his coat flapping behind him, and John just sighed before jogging up to him, so that they soon were walking side by side. Sherlock smiled; he knew that John would follow him -- John always would, being loyal as he was.
But Sherlock didn’t focus on that for long, his thoughts soon settling on the figure again, seeing more and more how right he’d been about the man being Japanese -- his hair definitely blacker than any European’s and thicker too (not Indian then --).
To most people the sight of a lonely figure standing in the center of room littered with square pieces of paper with black ink pentagrams drawn on them would have been … a disconcerting sight. In fact, John did raise his eyebrows, and mutter something akin to ‘what the bloody hell’ under his breath, but Sherlock was used to that.
As much as he was used to strange sights, so all he did was just poke the man in the back as if he were nothing but one of the corpses he was so fond of whipping.
Subaru turned around sharply and looked at the newcomers. What his gaze latched on, against all rational thought, was the black trench coat.
“Oh,” he said awkwardly, “is my time up?”
Sherlock just raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know Lestrade dealt with amateurs .” John gave Sherlock a look, which he dismissed. Because it was the truth . “I’m not being rude, John.” John just rolled his eyes, and sighed, walking over to the man.
“Sorry he didn’t …” he shot a dirty glance at Sherlock, “mean it this way . What Sherlock meant to ask was what you’re doing here.” He said this all in as soothing and polite voice, even smiling a bit as he held out a hand. “By the way, John Watson. And the man over there is Sherlock Holmes. He’s a bit of a dick, but don’t mind him too much.”
“Sumeragi Subaru.” Subaru shook Watson’s hand cautiously; he was still slightly flushed from the embarrassment caused by Holmes’s scrutiny. “I was hired to perform an exorcism.”
Sherlock snorted. “Another one of those attention-seeking madmen.” He walked over the window, letting out a loud sigh. “Moriarty was, at least, original .”
“Shut up, Sherlock.” John shook his head. “Sorry. Right. That was a joke, right?” He knitted his eyebrows.
Subaru set his jaw and straightened his shoulders. “Don’t worry for my sake, Mr. Watson. It’s a common perception of my profession.”
For a second, John just stared at him before turning a helpless glance towards Sherlock who was still busy staring out of the window, not talking at all. Then, he coughed again, and put on a somewhat strained smile. “Right. That is very … funny, Mr Sumeragi. But even if I’m a doctor, I don’t go around telling people that I create Frankenstein-like monsters, so let’s please act like grown-ups?”
Sherlock just snorted again. “And you’re starting to sound like Mycroft . Lovely.”
“Excuse me, Dr. Watson, I didn’t mean to offend you.” Subaru smiled ruefully. “Perhaps you would like a demonstration of my abilities?” He took another ofuda out of his sleeve. He reasoned it would be acceptable to summon his shikigami in front of someone who was here on Inspector Lestrade’s call.
John’s eyes just widened. “Pardon me, but just what do you want to dem-” And then Sherlock cut in, turning around again, so that he could fully fix his eyes on Subaru.
“Don’t worry, John. This isn’t worth your time,” he said, his face expressionless as he took in Subaru’s appearance. He pushed his hands into his coat and then walked closer to Subaru. “No hint of a gun or badge on your body anywhere, so not a policeman. And your hands … no imprints of a scalpel on your palm, so not on the medical team either.” He tilted his head to the side. “Overly stilted English, ‘l’s pronounced like ‘r’, and your appearance -- Japanese , but no tan, and --” he sniffed, “smelling like cherry blossoms, so most likely someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, but shielded from the sun -- a wealthy, traditional Japanese upbringing. And incense, so you also spend lots of time close to a shrine or temple. Outdoors, shrine -- priest.”
He didn’t stop there, but walked closer to Subaru, his hands still stuffed into his pockets as his coat swished, “But you smell of cigarettes -- and your hands were shaking while you talked, so chronic smoker. And your clothes --” he smirked as he moved closer, “look new, but aren’t -- just well-kept, but you’ve washed them out often. So this either means that you’ve worked in this profession for long time or that you hold a particular attachment to this costume of yours.” He shrugged. “Which is all ...nice, but still doesn’t really explain why you’re here.” He bit his underlip. “It’s not for showing off. You didn’t show a trace of anger when I insulted you or John expressed doubt...so that the reason why you’re here is not personally important to you. And yet, you’re doing it, why? Lestrade wouldn’t have bothered consulting you.”
“I’m an onmyouji . The Sumeragi clan has served Japan and her emperors for generations. Helping lost souls to ascend to afterlife is a part of those duties. In that sense, I would be an equivalent of a Western exorcist.” There was a hint of pride to Subaru’s voice when he spoke of his clan. He met Holmes’s gaze and held it. “Duke Ellington invited me to London to put his grandfather’s spirit, which had been causing a disturbance in the manor, to peace. As to what I offered earlier, I was simply going to summon my shikigami - that would be a... familiar in the Western magic system.”
John let out a sound that sounded like a mixture between a choke and beginning of hysterical laughter. Meanwhile, Sherlock looked unimpressed, crossing his arms. “Right, and I suppose you’ll do a little demonstration for us.”
Subaru nodded at him and held the ofuda up on his palm as it swiftly transformed into a three-headed dove-like bird. It took flight, made a small circle around the room and finally settled on his shoulder. He shifted his attention back to Holmes, waiting for a reaction.
Silence fell upon the room, and then all Sherlock did was nod once, twice before he walked out of the room, leaving a frowning John behind. He opened his mouth a few times, and only managed to speak after the third or fifth attempt. “Yes, that was ...certainly different .” He took a deep breath, standing still and rigid like a well-trained soldier, nearly looking as if he was about to raise his hand against his forehead in a salute. “...Do you often perform tricks like this?”
“Tricks?” Subaru echoed numbly. “I-- Ah.” He paused and shook his head. “I’ve taken enough of your invaluable time already, Dr. Watson. I think it would be best if you allowed me to change my clothes and bid you farewell. I was finishing my job when you arrived.”
He started moving around the room and picking up his paraphernalia. His shikigami perched itself on the desk.
John sighed. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I -” he walked over to where ... whatever it was sat and patted one of its heads. “That’s a pretty ...pet.”
“It’s all right, Dr. Watson... and thank you.” Subaru smiled at him gently. “It’s just that I really should be going. I haven’t found accommodation yet. And. Well.” He was babbling a little.
John frowned. “But you know where you can stay, right?”
“At a hotel?” Subaru blinked at Watson, his expression a bit sheepish. “Is there anything specific I should know about London hotels? To be honest, I haven’t had much time to make inquiries about it.”
John shrugged. “Well, obviously a hotel, but there are many around here. And an inn ...would be cheaper. Do you have a netbook around or a phone with internet connection? I could help you find one.”
“Oh, I don’t have either.” Subaru smiled apologetically. “But it was very kind of you to offer.”
“...So you are telling me you came to London without bothering to book a hotel?” John asked, a confused expression flashing across his face before it gave way to... defeated acceptance, and he bowed his head, sighed and then chuckled. “Right, I shouldn’t judge,” he muttered,” Sherlock is hardly any better.”
“I... forgot about it,” Subaru confided. “This is my first time abroad and the job came up on short notice.”
John sighed, and walked over to Subaru, throwing another look at the three-headed ...thing. And sighed again. “Right. I will most likely regret this, but … you can sleep over the night until you found something. Don’t worry about Sherlock. I’ll … talk to him.”
Subaru forgot to close his mouth, utterly astonished, his voice shaking a little, “is this really all right for you, Dr. Watson? I-- I wouldn’t know how to repay for your kindness.” He stared at Watson as if he ’d grown a second head.
Something wistful passed over John’s features as he shook his head, and then smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not the first time we had someone sleep over, and you’re most certainly not ...a dominatrix out to eat dinner with Sherlock.”
Subaru stifled an urge to ask what the unfamiliar word meant and smiled at Watson - his first heartfelt smile in a long while, almost reaching his eyes. “It’s very kind of you, Dr. Watson. I’ll do my best not to cause you any trouble.”
At that John just laughed heartily, so heartily that he had trouble breathing for a while. “I really wouldn’t … worry about that. Considering that Sherlock keeps ...right, not important. Just don’t worry.” He smiled. “And John is fine. No need for formalities.”
“All right, Dr. Wa- err, John.” A part of him protested at the very idea of informality, but there was something... endearing about John’s manner. Besides, when in Rome... But it dawned on him how awkward it would be for someone to address him by his first name. “Would you mind if I asked you to continue calling me by last name? It’s... a cultural thing. I’m sorry.”
John’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second, but then he just shrugged. “Alright. ‘Sumeragi’, wasn’t it? It’s a bit strange on the tongue, but … I promise I won’t give you any strange nicknames. Nothing like Harry-short-for-Harriet.” He laughed again before that expression turned pained.
Subaru sensed his discomfort and hurried to say, “thank you. I appreciate that. So, shall we meet again outside? Your companion must be getting impatient by now.”
“My com-” John sighed deeply, and rubbed his temples. “Sherlock and I aren’t … we aren’t like that.”
Subaru frowned at him. “I’m sorry, I assumed you were colleagues. Or did I use the term incorrectly?”
John turned an interesting shade of … red, and then cleared his throat. “Ah, yes we are. In a way. We’re flatmates, and he solves his crimes while I blog about them. So, yes … we’re colleagues.” He smiled, and then turned around. “I’ll go talk to him.” With that being said, he marched out of the room -- in a way that most people would have described as ‘too eager to get out of a potentially awkward situation’.
Subaru pushed his momentary unease to the back of his mind and concentrated on cleaning up and preparing to leave. He carefully packed his shikifuku back into his bag, dispelled his bird helper and directed his steps towards the exit.
He immediately ran into Inspector Lestrade and his team and reassured them he’d done what he came here for, keeping the exchange as brief as possible. Then Subaru retreated to an unoccupied spot outside of the caution tape to finally lit up a cigarette. He’d needed his nicotine. Hopefully, Watson wouldn’t go back on his word -- he’d seemed like a genuinely nice person.
Holmes reemerged first, with Watson trailing behind, and shot a pointed look at Subaru’s cigarette -- like it’d offended him somehow. Subaru extinguished it, readjusted the strap of his bag and hid his hands in his pockets, avoiding confrontation.
The trip to Watson’s -- and Holmes’s -- apartment was a surreal affair. As none of them could be considered bulky, everyone fit on the back seat -- Subaru bumping his elbow against Watson’s.
Watson smiled encouragingly and repeated that it was no trouble, but his colleague shot another look over Watson’s shoulder, his face scrunching up as if he’d eaten something sour. Watson shuffled away to give Subaru more space, Watson’s and Holmes’ thighs touching. Friends. It gave Subaru a nostalgic feeling he quickly suppressed.
John let out a sigh as he looked at Sherlock -- silent, sulky Sherlock who stared out of the window, his lips drawn to a tight line. His facial expression was mostly devoid of any other emotion than boredom, but John had come to read Sherlock really well, and knew that the silence as well as the stiff posture spoke volumes. Namely, that Sherlock was pissed. not only because the case had yielded no proper data, but because Lestrade had texted him with the following message: Case solved, for once your assistance is no longer required. John heavily suspected that the text had come from Donovan.
Needless to say, Sherlock being mildly displeased was an understatement. John shuffled closer to Sherlock, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Sherlock. Don’t... mind it too much.” He sighed, throwing a look at their guest, hoping he wasn’t reading too much into this (friends, he and Sherlock were just friends ).
Sherlock turned around to look at John, eyes narrowed. “You owe me,” he said, “an experiment. And you’ll tell me where you hid the cigarettes.”
“Oh,” Subaru exhaled understandingly and fished out his pack, holding it out to Holmes. “Would you like one, Mr. Holmes?”
John interfered before Sherlock could talk. “No, he’s trying to quit.” He glanced at Sherlock. “Aren’t you, Sherlock?” He really didn’t want to remind Sherlock of what he and Mrs Hudson would be forced to do if Sherlock didn’t keep his promises. Oh, that reminded him; John grinned. “Or would you like me to tell Mycroft how you’ve been using his card for --”
“No,” Sherlock said immediately, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes. “Fine. You still owe me an experiment, in which you’ll act as the test subject. No complaints. You’ll go along with whatever I say.”
… There was no escaping that. John had promised Sherlock, and he would comply. He took a deep breath. “Fine, fine. I’ll do whatever you want.” Ah, he nearly clapped his mouth shut when he realised how that sounded ...but, right. He wouldn’t say anything else. That would have just made that more awkward .
Subaru eyes widened in mild alarm at their exchange, before remembering it was definitely none of his business and crushing a pang of sympathy for John. He averted his gaze, fixing it straight ahead of him and intending to make himself invisible.
“You don’t have to mind him,” John whispered to Subaru. “He’s just upset that he didn’t get to show off.” He knew Sherlock could hear him, but then John had never hesitated to hold his ground against him. He shook his head. “Just don’t mind him.”
Subaru swallowed and attempted a smile, his tone as noncommittal as possibly. “All right. Don’t worry about me, John.” He folded his hands on his lap to keep himself from touching up his cigarettes.
For a second, John wondered why Sherlock was never this polite, but then reminded himself that one of the things he liked about Sherlock so much was his… lack of anything that resembled normal human behaviour. He chuckled at himself. He really was mental too.
“Is something wrong?” Subaru cast a perplexed look at John. Had he just said something funny? He’d forgotten what it was like to have someone laugh with or at him.
Before John got say anything, Sherlock just snorted. “Nothing is wrong. Apart from your utterly dull presence.”
“Well, excuse me --” Subaru’s eyes flashed with old, misplaced anger. “--for not being entertaining enough .” He said no more, clenching his teeth and squeezing his hands until his knuckles whitened.
Sherlock just shrugged, running his black gloves over his coat, fishing out his mobile. “Believe me, there’s nothing remotely entertaining about you.” And then, he just started searching the phone for news. John sighed.
Subaru closed his eyes and calmed himself with a breathing technique. The scathing remark didn’t require any reply. Besides, he wasn’t really angry at Holmes , but at another man he’d been reminded of. Subaru shouldn’t make John regret his kindness. From now on, he would only speak up when addressed and hopefully everything would proceed without further incidents.
“Drowning yourself in the Thames is not only idiotic, but useless,” Sherlock said before John could say anything. He paused in his typing. “And how do I know? I know because you were casting a rather desirous look in the Thames direction as the cab passed it, and your hand trembled. So, suicidal.”
That gave Subaru a start and, after a moment of utter shock, he let out a strained, bitter chuckle. Holmes was good , no, brilliant, and he’d just hit the nail on the head. He indeed had a death wish, albeit a rather specific one.
“Mr. Holmes is incredible at his trade,” Subaru said to John, impressed.
John smiled briefly. “He is amazing, fantastic-”
“That’s enough John,” Sherlock said, cutting in, but sounding pleased. “What do you assume my trade is, Subaru?”
“I was told you solved crimes,” Subaru elaborated cautiously, turning his undivided attention to Holmes, “and seeing your deductive skills in action makes me think you must be incredible at it.”
Sherlock smiled for the first time at Subaru. “Not as stupid, after all. I do solve crimes, but I’m not a private detective.” John shook his head, an expression of both irritation and resignation crossing over his features -- as if he knew very well what was coming next.
“You collaborate with the police, but you don’t seem to be an out-of-office worker,” Subaru said thoughtfully, then smiled. “That’s it -- I have a better idea of what you aren’t, Mr. Holmes.”
And Sherlock’s smile widened -- not warm or kind, but John knew it wasn’t condescending either (a good start, he thought). “I’m a consulting detective. When the police doesn’t know what to do -- which is often -- they hire me to help. Of course, I invented the job -- I’m the world’s only consulting detective.” And John chuckled, thinking it was rather cute how proud Sherlock was that. Childish .
“We certainly don’t have anyone like that in Japan,” Subaru said diplomatically, since it appeared to be what Holmes would like to hear.
Something flitted across Sherlock’s face, and his expression turned nearly wistful. John frowned, remembering that he’d acted this way around her . And his next words didn’t soothe him either. “Right, no one like that. Yes, that’s quite right.”
The cab pulled to a stop, saving Subaru from ruining Holmes’s improved disposition. He glanced at the counter and reached for his wallet, thinking since he’d been offered accommodation he should at least do this.
“Would it be all right with you if I paid for the cab?” he asked John, holding the banknotes.
John coughed uncomfortably. On the one hand, he wasn’t exactly rich but … Sherlock spoke before he could. “That would be charming.”
Subaru blinked in surprise, nodded and handed the money over to the driver. Holmes wouldn’t stop taking him off-guard, it appeared. He got out of the car and came to a halt, expecting John to lead the way.
And John did, followed by Sherlock whose coat still swished -- and John wondered why it was that someone who visited Buckingham Palace dressed in bed sheets managed to look so ...effortlessly elegant at times. Oh well. “Just ...it’s here.” He pointed to the brick building, next to Speedy’s cafe. Then, he rang the doorbell, not because he had to, but because he was sure Mrs Hudson would appreciate getting to know their guest.
Subaru tailed the procession, paying more attention to Holmes’s coat than to the sights of London, but it was inevitable.
John’s action was unexpected, prompting him to ask, “do you have another houseguest or-- ?”
“No, just waiting for our hou-landlady to introduce her to you.” At that, the door did open and out rushed Mrs Hudson, a worried look on her face. “Did something happen to two? The police again --” Then she noticed Subaru, and her anxious look was replaced by a smile. “Oh, you have a guest?”
John nodded, adding. “He’ll stay for a day. I hope that’s fine.”
“Why, of course it is --” Mrs Hudson exclaimed, rushing over to Subaru to examine him closely, immediately murmuring how ‘thin you are, poor dear’ and dragging him off into the kitchen for biscuits.
John turned to Sherlock. “Well, that went well.”
Sherlock just shrugged, chuckling. “She might want to adopt him by the end of the day.”
Subaru had the biscuits all but force-fed to him. He endured it, smiling wistfully at the landlady. Somehow her presence made the flat seem more homelike.
“My name is Sumeragi Subaru.” He bowed jerkily. “Um. Just Su-- Sumeragi is fine. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Mrs Hudson laughed heartily. “My, my -- what a gentleman you are, dear. Still there’s no need to bow. I’m not a lady.” And she patted him on the head, and then smiled warmly again. “And you can call me Mrs Hudson.”
Subaru flushed a little. “All right, Mrs. Hudson. Thank you for your hospitality.”
He looked around sheepishly. “Mr. Watson -- John said it would be acceptable if I stayed the night. I hope it’s not too much of a trouble.”
“Of course not,” Mrs Hudson answered, moving around the kitchen as she placed more biscuits into the bowl. She stood still, and tilted her head to the side for a moment, saying -- her voice dropping to a whisper, “Sherlock, you know, is a lot of trouble. Puts heads where you place food, always has the police coming over …” She sighed. “And I never consider him trouble, so there’s really nothing to worry about, dear. Just have a nice cup of tea. But just this time. I’m not your housekeeper.”
Subaru’s eyes widened comically. “Mr. Holmes is an... extraordinary person.”
"Yes, Sherlock is very extraordinary,” Mrs. Hudson agreed in all seriousness.
“Thank you again, Mrs. Hudson,” he said, accepting the tea. “We usually drink green tea in Japan, but English tea also tastes very nice.”
They discussed this and that (mostly tea) and Mrs. Hudson showed Subaru around (“You have a very nice apartment” -- “Why, thank you, my dear”). He commented neither on the bullet holes on the wall nor on the skull resting on top of the fireplace, taking all the oddities for granted. She didn’t ask him too many questions either, which was a blessing.
Holmes and John must have rushed on to another case and that left Subaru to his own devices. He dropped his bag by the couch assigned as his sleeping place. Two irresistible urges battled in his head: to have a smoke and to sneak a peek at Holmes’s heads.
The heads won.
Chapter 2: In which Subaru is reunited with an old "friend"
“Believe me, there’s nothing remotely entertaining about you,” Seishirou said, taking a puff of his cigarette, his prosthetic eye blank and his other one glinting in cold amusement.
Seishirou’s black trench coat was swishing in a non-existent wind.
Subaru wanted to protest but his throat refused to obey.
“See, you don’t even have anything to say in your defense,” Seishirou commented matter-of-factly. “How pathetic.
“You’re pathetic, Subaru-kun.”
“Why,” Subaru croaked, throat parched, heart hammering in his chest. “Why, why won’t you kill me?”
“I have other plans for the rest of the week.” Seishirou winked at him and Subaru noticed in growing horror that the man’s right hand was bloody. “Might as well visit London Bridge.”
Seishirou’s kicked away one of the severed heads and skulls piled up at his feet and it started rolling and rolling--
Subaru jolted awake, the backs of his hands burning. Had he screamed?
Sherlock rolled his eyes as John rushed over to Subaru’s side, immediately playing the good Samaritan as he, voice soothing and gentle, asked, “Everything fine? Are you alright?”
John was never this kind to him. But then Sherlock, as John always told him, was an extremely difficult patient.
Whatever it was, Sherlock took off his coat and scarf with a mild frown, rather not liking how John’s hands rubbed soothing circles on Subaru’s shoulder. And then he frowned, wondering just why this was bothering him so much.
John’s touch helped Subaru to ground himself and remember where he was, but he immediately shuffled away, not meeting John’s eyes.
“Yes. Just another nightmare. I must have dozed off. It happens. Excuse me, I have to go out for a smoke,” he jabbered, springing up and wiping his brow on the sleeve of his turtleneck. He grabbed his cigarettes and rushed outside, forgoing his coat.
It was simply a nightmare induced by Holmes’s remark. There was no way he could be here, in London. Absolutely no way.
“Hmm, it’s horrible having nightmares,” John said, sitting down on his accustomed place, the pink shirt sticking out like a sore thumb in the midst of all the brown and beige. He thrummed his fingers against the table, eyebrows furrowed. “Had a lot of them right after getting discharged from service.”
Sherlock just put on his coat again. “When did they stop?”
“Right after I met you,” John said, not even raising his eyebrow as Sherlock put the scarf around his neck. He just chuckled. “You’re incorrigible.”
“I wear nicotine patches. I’m just going to have a talk with him,” Sherlock said as he pulled his gloves on, and pushed the door open. “Trust me.”
John smiled. “Of course, I do.”
Subaru was leaning against the wall of the building and smoking away his worries. It hasn’t grown dark yet and Baker Street was bustling with daytime activity. He looked ahead absent-mindedly, not really noticing the passers-by and lost in uneasy thoughts. The pain in his hands had been gradually receding and he’d almost convinced himself it was nothing. At this rate, the biggest inconvenience would be having to shop for more cigarettes.
It was endlessly embarrassing that Holmes and John had seen him in such shameful state. Another reason he’d chosen to run away: he wasn’t prepared for another cutting but accurate commentary yet.
Subaru shook his head in annoyance and scolded himself for being so idiotically sensitive. He didn’t know these people and wouldn’t see them again -- must it be so unnecessarily hard not to care what they made of him?
“You know, my brother always says that smoking is bad for you,” Sherlock said, voice still devoid of an emotion, but then he just laughed briefly. “Then again, he hates legwork, and insists that there’s nothing healthier than a shot of brandy before a meeting.”
Subaru hadn’t noticed Holmes approaching. One more reason to berate himself. “Alcohol would interfere with my concentration.” He dropped the cigarette butt and squashed it with his foot. “And smoking... helps.” He pushed himself off the wall, facing Holme and crossing his arms to ward off cold.
“So do drugs,” Sherlock said nonchalantly, pushing his collars up again. “But then dealing with the police is tedious, and Mycroft lectured me for hours after my first … ah, never mind.” He shrugged, and walked closer to Subaru as if desirous to catch some of the nicotine smoke. He sniffed a few times.
Subaru’s jaw dropped at the advice, but he quickly composed himself. Worst of all, it was a perfectly valid suggestion (and one he’d previously considered). But one just doesn’t say ‘do drugs’ to someone who he knows to be suicidal. “The nicotine patch is no good?” he guessed noncommittally.
As if on instinct, Sherlock rubbed his arms, sighing. “Not really. I use three .”
“I see.” Subaru sighed. “Speaking frankly, I could use more of Mrs. Hudson’s wonderful tea right now.” He didn’t dare directly suggest they returned inside, but their absence must be making John worry needlessly.
Sherlock just turned around, and walked back to the door. “I warn you that she’ll tell you that she’s not your housekeeper though.”
Subaru smiled at the comment. “I’ll have that in mind.” He seemed to have lost Holmes´s attention, so, despite the warning, he did make a detour -- only to find Mrs. Hudson absent. No tea, then.
Subaru sighed and returned to the couch with an apologetic, “I’m very sorry for making you worry, John.”
“You don’t have to apologise,” John said, smile playing on his face, “if everyone were as apologetic as you, most people would never stop because humankind -- being what it is -- never runs out of occasion to say sorry for something.” He shook his head. “Right, I’ll make tea. Don’t,” John added, getting up, “apologise and say it’s a bother because it isn’t.” His eyes wandered to Sherlock seated beside the microscope, already deeply engrossed in his newest ‘data’. He sighed. “Believe me, it really isn’t.” Not with a flatmate like this.
“Oh. All right.” Subaru smiled in return. He’d done it more often that day than the entire last year and it felt like a little more and his facial muscles would start hurting. “Thank you. I’d like to help -- n-not that I think making tea such a strenuous task, of course.” There was something calming -- soothing, almost -- about John’s company.
John laughed. “Let me down. I’m not that mad at making tea,” he said in mock anger as he put water into the boiling pot. “Military service in Afghanistan taught me a thing or two about making tea. And cooking.”
“So you were in the military! It does explain things,” Subaru said, watching John’s hands thoughtfully. “I mean, you certainly have a soldier’s bearing.”
He skipped a beat. “I don’t mean to pry, so you don’t have to answer... It’s just I’ve overheard you mentioning your nightmares. Was it difficult to... readjust?”
John fell silent for a moment, putting the pot onto the stove. He chewed on his underlip. “Very difficult. There were times when I thought I’d never be able to ...live normally.”
“I see. It’s fortunate that you don’t have to be alone... and that you’ve found an occupation that suits you,” Subaru said warmly, with a hint of wistfulness. John had an almost happy air about him, like someone who’d found a place he belonged.
Again, John just laughed. “Right. Sherlock solves crimes for a living, and I blog about it. That’s perfectly … ordinary .” He shook his head. “But I guess-” he sighed, and then turned around to smile at Subaru, “I like it. Just keep it a secret.”
“That’s good,” Subaru said contentedly. “I’ll do my best to, but I can’t possibly promise to withstand Mr. Holmes’s interrogation should he decide to ask me about it.” He pretended to be intimidated and his tone was only half-joking.
John chuckled. “You can call him ‘Sherlock’. He’s the last person to care about formality. Besides, he doesn’t even know what a date is, so there are some things you can withstand.” He shook his head.
“All right.” The tea-making didn’t appear to require another pair of hands, so Subaru finally found himself a seat.
“At least he doesn’t take you to an eating tour and then call it a ‘date”. Subaru sighed heavily and then it dawned on him he’d said it aloud. He let out a dismayed “Oh. I-I mean there are people like that.” His cheeks grew warmer.
John shrugged. “It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with having a boyfriend. My sister is a lesbian. It’s all fine.”
“I suppose,” Subaru mumbled out and fixed his gaze on the wallpaper in awkward silence.
“...I’m not on good terms with my sister. She drinks,” John said, trying to smile but failing. “Well, she says she’s trying to stop, but ...well, you know how it is with alcoholics.”
“It’s the same for every addiction. But John...” Subaru looked at him intensely, his voice trembling. “She is still there. I... I’m so angry with my sister, but I’ll never be able to tell her.”
“You’ll never be able to -- oh ,” John’s mouth fell shut, his eyes widening as realisation sunk in. “Oh. I’m …” He shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Subaru shrugged forlornly, his eyes downcast. “Everything reminds me of her anyway. It’s just the way it is.”
Before John could ask anything, Sherlock’s voice -- loud and clear-- rang through the room. “Suicide or murder?”
Subaru jumped up, startled from his thoughts. “...both. It was what she wanted, but the murderer was another person.”
“Assisted suicide then,” Sherlock replied, getting up from his chair and then plopping on the couch. “How disappointingly boring .”
John made an odd sound at the back of his throat, and looked at Subaru apologetically, mouthing ‘don’t mind him. He’s always like that.’
Subaru’s fingers retraced the pentangrams at the back of his hand. It was glowing softly and itching like an old burn. Looking at it helped him compose himself. “The pot is boiling over, John.”
“Oh it is, indeed.” John rushed over to it, leaving Subaru alone with Sherlock.
Subaru didn’t really have anything further to say to Sherlock, his combination of sharpness and indifference making Subaru jittery, anxious for something and a little lost. Subaru’s mouth tightened in self-reproach. He’d grown unaccustomed to other people’s company and the constant awkwardness was the sad result.
“Just sit down,” Sherlock muttered, and pushed his legs up, giving Subaru enough space. “I won’t have John complaining about me being a bad host.”
“Thank you,” Subaru murmured, cautiously lowering himself into the sofa. He froze up for a moment, then decisively leaned back and drew his legs up, hugging his knees. Sherlock’s feet weren’t bothering him. Not at all.
Sherlock’s phone made a sound.
"Hello Boys! I've made a new friend. You should see him work, he's really something else. Or wait, you're about to. Ciao! <333 Jim"
John picked up the phone, rushing out of the kitchen do so. He froze the moment he saw the display. He frowned, and walked over to Sherlock. “Sherlock, take a look at this--”
“Not now. I’m thinking.” He turned around, facing the wall.
“It’s him .” No trace of humour showed in John’s tone, and he set his jaw, eyes hardening.
The change in the two men was instantaneous. It appeared to be something serious and hardly concerning Subaru, so he made himself scarce, fading into the background.
But he couldn’t help watching in fascination. John composed himself, as though preparing for a battle. Sherlock put his palms together, as Subaru himself would do when chanting -- utterly concentrated, his air that of a bloodhound taking trail. His face’d never showed many emotions, but in that moment it was completely mask-like, unreadable and mystifying. The flat fell silent, but it must have been the calm before the storm.
John just waited for Greg’s call, counting down each painful minute after minute, wondering just when the proverbial would come crashing down on them. Moriarty .
He clenched his fist, remembering that time back at the pool, how he’d been terrified the bomb would go off, pulling Sherlock and him into death. Of course, there had been that thrill, that brief rush of delight running down his spine at the thought of danger, but it had subsided immediately when he thought of the trap Moriarty had set for Sherlock. And Sherlock, even if he was an annoying dick most of the time, was someone -- John had known even then -- he wanted to protect at all cost.
He looked at Sherlock intently, wondering what was going on in his head, wondering if he felt any worry at all or if it was still all about the game .
Sherlock’s face gave away nothing, as always a perfect mask of composure -- at first glance. John knew that, underneath that robot-like facade, lurked something intense: not passion, but not deadly acceptance of the world being dull either. No, even if Sherlock seemed calm now, John could see the slight trembling of hands, the sweat forming on his forehead, and the way he ground his teeth against his lips ever so slightly.
It bothered him. John felt relieved, but also scared. Because if Sherlock was like this, then it only showed just how dangerous an opponent Moriarty really was.
“Sherlock--” John started, not sure what he wanted to say because he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stop him from accepting Moriarty’s challenge. That wasn’t Sherlock; he’d never say ‘no’ to a good game. But still, the words ‘be careful’ were on his lips, and he wanted so badly …
Sherlock’s phone rang again.
“Lestrade,” Sherlock said, and took the phone from John, jumping off the sofa to read the message. Silence fell upon the apartment for a few minutes, stretching heavily between John, Subaru and the old-fashioned, dust-laden bookshelves in the sitting room, still Victorian-style, and John swore he could hear his heart hammering against his ribcage (nearly as fervently like that time in the pool, the bombs attached against his chest, Moriarty’s voice coming out of that receiver, and Sherlock’s wide, wide eyes --).
“Brilliant,” Sherlock then cut in, voice excited and jubilant-sounding. In fact, much to John’s horror, he was doing the jumping thing again, rushing to the other corner of the room to put his coat on.
John sighed, and reached for his own leather jacket. “What-what happened?”
“The duke is dead,” Sherlock said, putting the scarf around his head. “No traces on the body -- nothing. No fingerprints, no poison in the blood --” Sherlock spoke quickly, restlessly, “no sign of breaking in, just nothing. That is --”
John frowned. “Frightening?”
“Nonsense!” Sherlock shook his head, wringing his hands and pacing around the room. “It’s brilliant, amazing. Exciting!”
Oh god no, not that again was all John found himself thinking.
Sherlock was a terrifying man, who’d just skipped at the news of murder. But right now there was something that bothered Subaru much more.
He sprang to his feet, his gaze shifting back and forth restlessly between the two men. “May I come along? I swear I won’t interfere with your work.” He needed to get rid of the irrational but nagging suspicion he would see a familiar trace on the body. It was truly absurd.
Sherlock, in the midst of putting on his gloves, just shrugged his shoulders. “Of course. I have a feeling that you might just turn out useful.”
Subaru didn’t need to be told twice. Almost elated, he threw on his coat, ready to follow.
Seishirou had just killed another person. It had never been up to Subaru to interfere with the Sakurazukamori’s work -- but it didn’t mean Subaru didn’t mourn his victims. And this murder wasn’t committed for Japan. Subaru’d never thought Seishirou-san would lower himself to accept simple contract work like a mere hitman.
His magical signature was everywhere: on the body, around it, in the air, making it sickly sweet. The Duke’s heart hadn’t been torn out of his chest -- he must have been choked instead.
Sherlock was busy looking for physical clues, but all Subaru had needed to see was right there in front of him, dangling in front of him like a carrot. Catch me if you can.
Subaru folded his arms and stepped aside, mulling over how much his initial reaction to the crime scene had already betrayed and what on Earth he could say to a consulting detective who didn’t believe in spiritual powers. Subaru needed to warn him to stay away, already knowing he wouldn’t listen.
Oh, but wouldn’t the Sakurazukamori just love that, to outmatch Sherlock. It was no fair game and the stakes were as high as ever.
Maybe it would be best to speak to John first. “John? Might I speak to you for a moment?” he asked, lowering his voice so that Sherlock wouldn’t hear it. “There’s something I should tell you.”
“Certainly. “ John frowned, and followed Subaru.
“I know this going to sound improbable or even mad and it’s not like I can simply prove it to you, but,” Subaru’s voice halted. “The murder was committed by a practitioner of my craft. Sherlock wouldn’t be able to find anything on the body because nothing is there .
“It’s more than that. I know who did it: I’ve been looking for him to avenge my sister. It’s what he does, he’s a contract killer of sorts. The police will never catch someone like him, but neither will Sherlock and if he somehow gets too close because he’s just this good... it won’t end well.”
John opened his mouth to say something, but froze when Sherlock got there before him. “I wondered why there was nothing. There’s usually at least something,” Sherlock said, moving forward -- face expressionless, but his eyes glinting as he rubbed his hands, “so, I knew something was off. And I knew, I just knew you’d turn out useful.”
Subaru cast him a resigned look. “I don’t understand why he would work in London. But that’s not important. I have a way of knowing he’s close, but no way of locating him.”
“I would know,” Sherlock said, eyebrows drawn together, and he exchanged looks with John. “It’s Moriarty’s doing.”
“Moriarty?” Subaru asked. “... the one who messaged you. Who is he?”
John’s eyes hardened. “A person who consults for criminals. Sherlock’s fan . And his rival.” His features hardened even more. “Fond of bombs, amongst other things.”
“I wouldn’t have thought Seishirou-san required any consultation,” Subaru murmured. “Yes. You would need details, wouldn’t you? Sakurazuka Seishirou, Japanese, 35 years old, around 6’ tall, prosthetic right eye, favours dark suits, smoker.”
Sherlock just nodded, making a mental note, and his mind palace already conjuring an image of the person in question in order to store it away for future use. Finally, he walked back in the room, but not before saying, “Right, he’s that boyfriend of yours.”
Subaru clenched his fists in impotent anger and shame and lowered his head, unable to muster a word he wouldn’t regret.
“Don’t call him that,” he snapped. “He’s a murderer.”
Sherlock’s face just reappeared briefly. “The man who broke your heart then.” He rolled his eyes, and then disappeared again. And then he reappeared, deciding apparently to walk back to the room. “How do I know it? Your pupils dilate whenever you talk about him, so that implies lust. But that’s not all -- your voice turns just a bit gentler, a little quieter and sadder, but especially gentler. That implies affection. But more than that, your entire behaviour now -- just now, the passion behind it implies that he’s important to you. Lust, affection, importance,” Sherlock said, tilting his head at each word, “implies love or at least some sort of sentimental attachment.”
Each of Sherlock’s words shook Subaru like a blow. He hadn’t needed to hear this, to have this all dissected and laid out for him. He raised his head and forced himself to speak. “You... you’re right. About everything.”
Sherlock just pushed his collars up. “Right we’re done here. And, of course, I’m right. Consulting detective.”
“What are you planning to do now?” Subaru asked, checking on the ofudas hidden in his coat sleeves instinctively. Fortunately, he’d prepared enough of those. It wouldn’t be so bad to get himself killed in this city.
John sighed, and just felt for his gun, tucked away in his trousers, and exchanged looks with Sherlock again -- that private, effective wordless communication between them that routine but also common understanding rendered possible. Sherlock smiled briefly. “Of course, we’re going after him. The case is not solved yet.”
That said, he walked back to the room, John following him.
Subaru went after them, matching Sherlock’s energized pace. It was fine by him. He was really that selfish, in the end. Sherlock would find Seishirou for him and he would finally be able to make his wish a reality and the rest... simply didn’t matter. Subaru gave John a sidelong glance and immediately turned away, his heart clenching in regret.
Sherlock threw another look at the Duke’s body, leaning over it -- the first signs of rigor mortis already setting in (no visible marks on the neck, yet an expression of anguish, meaning the circumstances of death were tragic, limbs stiffening, so must have been dead for a few hours at least --).
He noticed how the body’s position (on his back, but legs bent to a degree of approximately seventy-five --), and noticed, as he inspected the man’s palm, imprints of fingernails (he’d died clenching his hand, so he died in pain).
Sherlock got up, brushing his gloved hands against his coat, and smiled widely. “Whatever you say, the causes of death were most definitely not natural. Clearly murder .” He rubbed his hands together, his smile widening. “But what kind of murder -- no traces, no --” his voice gained on speed as he started to pace around the room, “hint of a mistake. Whoever we’re dealing with here is an expert and a total professional.”
“Right, Sherlock -- a professional,” John said, his face pale, indicating that he rather didn’t share Sherlock’s enthusiasm. He sighed, and looked at Subaru. “What can you say about this?”
Subaru sighed. “He used a spell. He likes to... play around a little, let the victim know they’re dying, and then he uses one of his onmyoudo techniques. He didn’t want any evidence, so it simply stopped the Duke’s heart. I can see his signature but it’s nothing that can be detected via normal means.”
“I can see that he likes playing around,” Sherlock said, pushing his hands into his pockets now. “He could have killed him easily, without pain -- I’m sure of that, but he enjoyed watching the fear on the man’s face. But, please -- go on. Tell me,” Sherlock moved closer to Subaru, his eyes directly fixed on Subaru’s, “how that signature can be detected.”
Subaru met his gaze. “You have to be spiritually gifted to be able to see it -- it’s the same ability that makes one aware of the supernatural, such as ghosts and demons. People are born with it. I don’t know of any way of detecting it by other means.”
While John’s eyes simply widened, Sherlock just rolled his eyes. “ Dull . And not true. There’s an explanation for everything.” He snorted, and then quit the room, his coat flapping rather impressively as he did so.
John just shook his head. “Right. Don’t mind him. He’s just jealous that he can’t show off for once.”
Subaru’s shoulder sagged. “Sherlock has a point. My clan guards the knowledge too zealously and refuses to go forward with the progress. We pretend technical advances haven’t happened,. while Seishirou-san works alone and doesn’t adhere to any outdated norms. This is why--” his tone was... admiring. “--he is the more efficient one.”
Sherlock’s peeped in again. “So in love it’s not even pathetic anymore.” He narrowed his eyes. “Love really is a disadvantage. Come on, John. Let’s go to the apartment and do some reading.”
John merely groaned.
Subaru wanted to protest, but Sherlock already took off with the speed of the shinkasen. He wasn’t an impatient man, but even he had to wonder how John endured it on a daily basis.
John endured it because it was a small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things. Of course, he’d never tell Sherlock, but he’d never felt more alive than since meeting him. The drive to Baker Street passed by silently -- nearly the same way as it always did when he and Sherlock shared a cab. Though, this time, John couldn’t quite deny that he didn’t quite meet Sherlock’s eyes as often as he would have, had they been on their own.
Over time, he’d learnt that Sherlock’s eyes conveyed everything he needed to know -- excitement, happiness when they widened. Anger and disappointment when he narrowed them. For a man, who claimed to be unreadable, Sherlock did have very expressive eyes.
John leaned back against his chair, and looked down at his folded hands. He couldn’t observe Sherlock, not with Subaru here. Besides, he still remember what happened the last time when he’d tried to figure what went on in Sherlock’s head when he was confronted with something beyond common reason.
The last time Sherlock had lashed out on him, and he was going to risk a scene here.
“We’re having tea with scones with jam and clotted cream at the Ritz. If you finish your research soon, you can still join us <3 -Ji--” Moriarty paused in his typing and looked up at his companion across the table. “Should I send your regards to your pet?”
Seishirou took a thoughtful sip of tea. “I would think Subaru-kun sufficiently entertained. For now. The scones are excellent, by the way.”
“They make the best scones here in The Ritz.” Moriarty smiled widely and sent the message.
“Indeed. And food does taste better in the right company.” Seishirou held up his scone half and bit into it elegantly.
“Oooh flatterer. This is making me want to blow things up~” Moriarty’s foot slipped out of his shoe and travelled up Seishirou’s pant leg, Moriarty’s face a picture of innocence.
Seishirou’s good eye glinted. “Can’t be good for your blood pressure.”
“Any suggestions of healthier activities?” Moriarty’s foot rubbed another circle and stopped abruptly.
“I can think of a thing or two.”
Subaru was watching Sherlock (and John) hunting down obscure knowledge when the phone specially reserved for Moriarty rang again.
“We?” Subaru asked out aloud. He hadn’t meant to read the message, but it couldn’t be helped.
Sherlock just rolled his eyes. “The Ritz. How dull . Mycroft forced me to go there, sometimes.” And he grimaced when he observed the picture even longer, as if the combination of chandelier, white tables and gold were a insult against his very nature.
Subaru was overcome with the familiar trepidation: he knew where Seishirou was, he wouldn’t be any readier then he already was and all he had to do was just to get there. He couldn’t focus on anything else but on that feeling of inevitability, practically springing on his feet and throwing longing glances at the door.
“Please do us all a favour, and calm down. You’re lowering the IQ of the entire street by being this obvious,” Sherlock said, putting on his coat already. John mumbled an apology, handing Sherlock his scarf and gloves.
Subaru glared at him. A childish part of him wanted Seishirou and Sherlock to talk each other to a nervous breakdown, if such thing were possible. “Does the hotel observe a dress code?”
“Of course, it does.” Sherlock scanned Subaru’s outfit, and sighed -- waltzing off to his bedroom, and returning seconds later with suit, shirt, tie and trousers that looked similar to the outfit he wore daily underneath his coat. “Here, might be a bit too long for you. But our builds are more or less similar.” He tilted his head to the side. “I think you have broader shoulders though.”
“Thank you.” Subaru accepted the clothes and went to the bathroom to change. He wasn’t doing it in front of them.
The trousers were too long, the shirt -- too tight in the shoulders -- it was obvious it was all borrowed. He looked pale, starved and ridiculous, dark circles under his eyes the finishing stroke on the picture.
Another little detail. “John, would you be so kind as to--” he said, peeking out of the bathroom, his cheeks coloring, “--help me out with the tie?” Last time he wore it, it was Hokuto-chan who tied it and he had no idea how to do it on his own.
John walked to the bathroom with a smile on his face, and laughed lightly as he placed his hands around both sides, saying in a gentle voice, “It’s fine. My university girlfriend had to do this for me --” he smiled wistfully, “it should have been embarrassing, but I loved how gentle her hands were.”
“Um.” Subaru caught his reflection’s cheeks in a treacherous shade of red. John’s hands were steady and sure and tied the tie up in no time. Subaru cleared his throat. “All right, ready to go now. Thank you, you’re very kind.”
“It’s not a problem,” John said, pulling his hands away, and giving Sherlock a warning look not to say anything.
The Ritz turned out to be a posh, luxurious establishment, a British flag decorating the main entrance. Subaru wasn’t one to appreciate it, but it did look like somewhere Seishirou would stay.
They were let through, Subaru being the only one on the receiving end of sceptical glances.
He was there. He was... spreading strawberry jam on something that looked like a bun and chatting merrily with an average-looking British man in an expensive suit sitting across him like they had no cares in the world.
For once, he wasn’t wearing his sunglasses and Subaru studied his face hungrily -- his unchanging, opaque mask of a handsome face.
“Oh my!” Moriarty stood up, lifting his hands. ”Is that my Sherlock?”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “Hardly yours. And no, I’m not pleased to see you.”
“You wound me, honey. So cold-hearted,” Moriarty declared dramatically, hand to his chest. “I thought we had a thing going on.”
“For a few intense five minutes, but it was hardly a thing, and I’m not interested,” Sherlock said, face devoid of any emotion.
“Ah, just as I was saying earlier.” Moriarty turned to his companion. “All the interesting ones are so hard to woo.”
“But you’re enjoying the challenge.” Seishirou flashed a companionable smile at no one in particular. ”Why don’t we invite everyone to sit down?”
Sherlock didn’t wait for an invitation and sat down, motioning John to do the same. He folded his hands in front of his face. “Right, why don’t you just tell us what this whole thing is about? I’m getting bored.”
Subaru remained standing, ready to defend himself and his companions. He zeroed in on Seishirou, but the man refused to acknowledge his presence.
“Don’t worry, sweety pie, you won’t have to wait for looong~” Moriarty said in a sing-song voice.
“You see, my cynical friend here--” He gestured at Seishirou theatrically “--expressed a great deal of faith in your abilities . But I’ve always said even the best of us get too sentimental about their pets. Why don’t we find out who was right?”
As Moriarty was speaking, the eerie darkness of Seishirou’s illusion swiftly closed in on their table, cutting them off from the outside world.
Subaru experienced a momentary sense of vertigo but didn’t hesitate. “ Shuku! You! Dou! Hikuu!! ” he chanted, sending his ofuda flying -- not after Seishirou: the others would get caught in the range of his attack -- but to take apart the illusion itself.
The ofuda scattered left and right, sprouting wings and turning into white birds that swept across the maboroshi and melted back into bursts of raw power.
Every single one found a target.
Subaru’s eyes widened in horror as black, flat planes of Seishirou’s ofuda came into view, floating ominously in midair. His attacks reflected back from them, echoed once again from yet other cards, their power trails spinning a web of sorcery.
It was an elaborate and elegant... trap. The rapidly narrowing gap between the shimmering rays encasing him closed a heartbeat before Subaru reached it.
Seishirou smirked at him from the other side of the improvised cage.
“Don’t interfere,” Seishirou said sweetly, “I’ll let you watch if you behave yourself.”
Subaru pushed back his anger and cautiously probed the web with his spiritual senses. Just as he’d thought: any direct attack would be reflected back at him. He’d have to find another way and do it quickly.
“I will play with you later,” Seishirou promised, already turning away.
Subaru glared and punched at the barrier -- only to jerk away, struck by static power. Seishirou no longer could simply put him to sleep, so now he switched to locking him away.
It meant Subaru’d made a tiny progress, didn’t it?
And Sherlock was back at the pool, the intensely bright light nearly burning into his eyes, giving the entire whiteness of the tiles and simmering water in the pool a strange glow. Not that Sherlock minded, still waiting for him to appear -- the man he could truly call his arch nemesis, and not just use that world as a nickname he used to spite Mycroft (of course, if Mycroft had known about this , Sherlock would never have managed to arrange this meeting, without fooling the British secret service).
He slowly entered the room, not once turning his attention to the pool, in which some of the flickering lights lay reflected. Nor did his heart beat against his ribcage, though excitement pulsed through his veins. Still, Sherlock walked slowly, folding his hands behind his back, hearing only his own footsteps as he kept walking, only stopping when he was a few metres away from the pool.
Slowly, nearly languidly, he took a turn, taking in the white lockers, remembering pesky school days when he’d been forced to take on swimming classes, and the boys had called him names. Face hardening, he turned around again, pulling out the flash drive, and -- raising his hand -- held it out in the air, as if waiting for something or something to fetch it. “Want your little,” he said as he was face to face with the other side of the pool, “get-to-know-you present?”
No one had appeared yet, but Sherlock didn’t mind -- not at all. “That’s what all this was about,” he continued, still holding onto the flash drive, “all your little puzzles, making me dance, all --” his voice grew in volume, remembering the old woman dying just because of one psychopath's obsession to play, “to distract me from this.” Sherlock turned around again, knowing that his opponent wouldn’t appear that easily, knowing that the Big Bag wouldn’t crawl out of the dark without a little suspense, a little drama (because the greatest psychopath was always, in the end, nothing but a show-off).
A click somewhere, a latch coming off and metal creaking and Sherlock turned around, smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, expecting him, expecting --
His heart came to a standstill. The door hadn’t closed even when he came face to face with none other than John Watson.
His John -- ordinary, loyal John wearing those cheap jeans and a parka that cost less than one of Mycroft’s umbrellas. But then Sherlock, his eyes widening, realised that John looked different -- serious, his face lacking any expression.
He was about to say something when John -- voice uncharacteristically solemn -- uttered ‘evening’, his hands hidden in his pockets. His voice still sounded eerily quiet when he said, “This is a turn up, isn’t it, Sherlock?”
And Sherlock, even though he’d never even come close to feeling helpless in his life , had trouble breathing, lowering his hand slightly, eyes still wide. “John? What the hell--?”
John’s face remained expressionless, utterly composed, and his voice so, so … devoid of anything. “Bet you never saw this coming?”
No he hadn’t. But Sherlock wasn’t going to share that information -- not even to John, whom he needed to believe in him. Because no one had done so before John, and Sherlock knew that no one ever would again. Sherlock walked towards John, not close but he needed to see more, needed to know just what was going on here.
(And he should have hated this feeling of uncertainty, should have called out John, but -- at the same time, the need to ascertain that John was fine was stronger than his pride.)
John took out his hands from his pocket, revealing the bombs, and Sherlock’s heart -- for the first time in his life -- nearly stopped beating, and he realised, dimly, how he’d always admired John for his calm professionalism. The same professionalism that now enabled John to keep a straight face and calm tone, even though he ( and God, a voice in Sherlock’s head thought, he was utterly brilliant, fantastic --) was using him as yet another of his living puppets.
Sherlock could see the fear in John’s eyes though, the slight trembling note in his voice. “What would you like me to make him say next?” (And John’s eyes said, please, Sherlock, get me out of this .)
Sherlock walked closer, turning his head to all sides, ignoring the anger from rushing to his head as Moriarty made John repeat those silly words, ridiculing him, them . “Stop it,” Sherlock said, not wanting John to be made a fool of for any longer.
He was closer to John now, could hear how John’s voice broke even more as he continued, “Nice touch this. The pool. Where little Carl died. I stopped him --” Sherlock walked closer, still searching for the puppet master, wondering just where he hid while pulling the strings behind the scenes.
John closed his eyes, and made a slight movement with his head. “I can stop John Watson too --” John’s voice broke at the end, and he looked down at his chest, “stop his heart.”
It didn’t take a genius to figure out what that mean, but Sherlock didn’t even have time for the words to sink in as something , somewhere clicked, and then --
The world fell apart. Just a blast, just blinding white and a sound that might have been a scream -- didn’t know if it was John’s or his, or just the bomb going off, and then exploding, tearing through flesh, melting up bone and … destroying the only person Sherlock Holmes had ever trusted with his life.
It had happened so fast. Not even a minute had passed until John Watson was no more.
“This is cruel,” Subaru whispered, his voice laced with sadness.
Seishirou let out an amused chuckle.”Same old Subaru-kun, empathizing with ‘the victim’. World’s only consulting detective, left without his most trusted person. How tragic.”
“Do you think they’re shagging yet?” Moriarty cut in.”They’re just so bloody obvious .”
“Sherlock isn’t like you,” Subaru muttered angrily, ignoring Moriarty’s interjection. “It hurt him. You hurt him. Can you even understand such pain?”
“Of course not.” Seishirou smiled impassively. “But let me explain this to you: our circumstances might be different, but Sherlock Holmes has the same personality disorder -- the same lack of emotions and conscience. This is where Jim is wrong: Sherlock can’t really be hurt in this way.”
Subaru shook his head vigorously, his stomach coiling, bile rising in his throat.
“Yes, Subaru-kun. Sherlock is a professional. Your sympathy is misplaced, as usual.”
Subaru grasped for a comeback and drew blank.
“Anyway.” Seishirou’s gaze glided up and down Subaru’s borrowed suit. “What on Earth are you wearing? Hokuto-chan would have had a fit if she’d seen you like this. This shirt doesn’t suit you at all.”
“ You bastard, ” Subaru hissed, kicking at the barrier, another jolt of power shooting through him. His eyes watered from the pain.
“Boys, boys,” Moriarty called out, shaking his head. “Let’s not forget ourselves, we do have a show to run. By the way, I win this round~”
“How many rounds are there?” Subaru exclaimed in outrage.
Moriarty raised an eyebrow. “My, aren’t we feisty.”
Seishirou shot Moriarty a warning look. Moriarty grinned and raised his arms in mock surrender.
“Three,” Seishirou murmured to Subaru. “It’s a magic number. Now watch.”
“On to the next one!” Moriarty announced.
Slowly, Sherlock felt like he was stuck in a perpetual limbo -- somewhere, in the pit of his stomach, he had the inkling that he’d been here before, that all of this was eerily familiar. That he’d seen that bright glare of fluorescent light shining down on him, the blue tiles, the pool and the white lockers all somewhere before. Just as if all this were a magic trick performed upon the eyes, and that all you had to do to dispel it was to lift the blinds clouding your senses.
But Sherlock didn’t believe in superstitions. No, Sherlock Holmes was a man of pure logic, embracing the world according to the rules of reason, and believing that every oh-so-abnormal phenomenon, in the end, ascribed to some formula that was, all in itself, perfectly explanatory.
This pool was the place where Carl had died, and this was the place where he was finally going to face Moriarty.
Sherlock walked towards the pool, flash drive ready, waiting for the man to arrive. He could barely wait, eager to know who’d held the cards in his hand so well, anticipating meeting the worthiest opponent he’d ever faced.
He waited, and talked.
Ready to face Moriarty, but in the end only seeing John . John saying ‘evening, John pale-faced yet composed, his eyes saying so much, telling Sherlock to back away, to not come closer --
Yet, Sherlock wouldn’t listen, moving closer, but before he could do or say anything a bullet pierced through John’s flesh, blood flowed past his lip and, like a puppet whose strings had been cut loose, he fell down. Right into Sherlock’s arms.
Sherlock couldn’t think, couldn’t even speak as he held John, gripping him tighter than anything he’d ever held in his life. But he wouldn’t let go, not even when John asked him to, gasping that he was fine, more blood oozing out of his lips. Sherlock still held on, feeling John tremble underneath his hand, even though he still tried his best not to make it too noticeable.
Stupid. And yet so John .
And John was all that Sherlock had on in his mind as he heard those last few breaths, felt the body trembling and then stiffening before going completely still. Even then, Sherlock didn’t let go, having decided a long time ago that he’d never let go of John Watson because, even if he had no friends, John mattered.
More than anything else.
Subaru couldn’t take his cage down by brute force, but it didn’t mean he was out of options. While the web kept him it place, it did nothing to stop him from slipping his ofuda through the empty spaces between the threads of power -- at the risk of attracting Seishirou’s attention. But as long as he wasn’t looking...
“Another one for the team!” Moriarty cheered like a soccer fan and patted Seishirou’s arm, making Subaru frown at them. “You’re almost too good, Sei-chan! I hope you’re not a sore loser~”
“One round to go, Jim.” Seishirou’s voice was serene.
“And, Subaru-kun , I know what you’ve been up to.” Several flicks of Seishirou’s wrist and all Subaru’s ofuda were exterminated. “It’s not going to work.”
“Then why don’t you kindly leave me to it?” Subaru spat out.
“Why now?” Seishirou agreed, perversely, his eye glinting with an open challenge. “You have until the end of the last round to let yourself out.”
Seishirou smiled to himself. “You may even have a little reward if you succeed.”
Subaru set his jaw stubbornly. “I don’t want anything from you.”
An enigmatic smile crept across Seishirou’s face, the sudden intensity of his gaze making
Subaru’s skin tingle. “We’ll see. Ready, set, go!”
Sherlock knew he’d been here before. No, he didn’t have conclusive evidence, but the pool -- his familiarity with it -- was no coincidence. He didn’t know if it was a dream or a drug-induced hallucination. Whatever it was, he would only play along until the time to find out just what this was would present itself. Only a matter of careful calculation and deliberation. Whoever was behind this would make a mistake soon enough.
And playing was not difficult because Sherlock knew what he would do next -- as if it had all been scripted (not just foresight, but actions and thoughts, even words unravelling in his head --).
Had Sherlock been anyone else, the certainty of what his actions would entail next would have terrified him, but he just accepted it, sensing that there a solution to this riddle.
He knew that -- ten seconds from now -- he’d reach for his pockets, and pull out the flash drive. In another minute, he knew he’d take a turn before finally turning his attention to the other side, waiting for Moriarty.
Waiting for Moriarty who he knew wasn’t going to come.
When the door opened, revealing John, Sherlock didn’t gasp out. Didn’t even talk, but just calmly walked over to him. John’s eyes widened as Sherlock leaned closer, placing his hands on John’s shoulders, eyes roaming over John’s features.
He didn’t even react when John asked, “What are you doing?”
(And he knew it for sure now because, the other time he’d been this close, John’s voice had risen an entire octave, and his eyes had been oh so wide.)
Sherlock laughed, letting go. “You’re not John Watson.” He didn’t give the very convincing doppelganger a chance to speak as he continued, “John has a mole on his left cheek, and his hair is a shade greyer, especially around the edges. And you didn’t squint once. John always squints when he’s confused.” He let go entirely now. “No, whoever or whatever you are,” Sherlock smiled, shaking his head, “you are merely a good copy. But you’re not John .”
“Well, of course not,” Seishirou replied casually, looking almost animated. ”I’ve never created such an elaborate illusion before. You’re a marvelous guinea pig, Sherlock.”
Sherlock just rolled his eyes. “Seishirou, I assume. I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but that’s not really the case.”
“That was to be expected,” Seishirou replied indifferently. “I don’t have any further business with you anyway.” He turned to Moriarty. “Is it settled, then?”
“Fine, fine,” Sherlock replied, waving his hand, turning his full attention to Jim Moriarty. “Grew tired of bombs and snipers?” His eyes hardened. “Where is John?”
“This was too exciting to miss.” Moriarty beamed. “Back at the restaurant, sound asleep. I do so like it how you wouldn’t have problems with insomnia, Sei.”
“Actually, I’d still go for the pills, Jim. And you’re stalling,” Seishirou pointed out.
“Seishirou-san.” Subaru stepped forward, holding up a fresh sheaf of ofuda, the remains of Seishirou’s web dissolving around him. “Return Sherlock and Moriarty to the hotel.”
Seishirou raised an eyebrow, having the indecency to look surprised. “Congratulations on the swift escape, Subaru-kun. Would you like your prize?”
“Don’t make me repeat myself, Seishirou-san,” Subaru insisted, coming closer. “Or I will fight you.”
“A shame.” Seishirou pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m a bit exhausted at the moment. Wouldn’t very well be a fair fight, but if you insist...”
“ Then dispel your maboroshi, you fool! ” Subaru shouted in alarm, frowning -- overcome with worry, despite himself, belligerent intentions forgotten.
Weaving three intricate illusions within another illusion was impressive -- if reckless, borderline insane. ...it was something Seishirou would do, just to see if he could.
Seishirou was going to make another smart remark, no doubt -- but he staggered and Subaru had to throw an arm around him to keep him from falling over.
Subaru’s heart missed a beat: they hadn’t been this close in nine years. A wicked light danced in Seishirou’s eye.
The space around them cracked and shattered into dozens of shard-like pieces.
Chapter 3: In which certain tensions are resolved
Seishirou didn’t look good. Subaru had never seen him anything but unearthly chipper, let alone so unsettlingly pale. Sherlock, John, Moriarty -- Subaru simply couldn’t care less about any of them as long as Seishirou looked so unwell.
“You’re overreacting.” Seishirou had an amused twinkle in his eye, as though the outside world had taken a vacation. “It’s cute.”
Subaru wanted badly to tell him to go to hell. “You should lie down. Where are you staying, Seishirou-san?”
Seishirou arched an eyebrow. “So eager to get a room?”
Irrationally enough, Subaru’s hold on the man only tightened. “This isn’t funny.”
“I’m not laughing.” Seishirou stayed where he was, just looking at him.
Subaru didn’t give up. “Has your business with Moriarty been concluded yet?”
Seishirou shrugged one shoulder slightly. “I suppose it has been. By the way... I won.”
“How wonderful,” Subaru remarked sardonically.
“I always do.” Seishirou touched Subaru’s cheek tenderly. Subaru didn’t flinch away, frozen to the spot -- mesmerised.
“It has been a while,” Seishirou murmured, withdrawing his hand.
“So it has,” Subaru replied flatly. This was going nowhere, he thought. They wouldn’t fight, they had nothing to say to each other -- or rather, neither of them knew how to communicate.
“You haven’t changed,” was Seishirou’s next line.
It stung. “I didn’t know you had expectations of whether I would or would not.”
“It was merely an observation, Subaru-kun. You shouldn’t read too much into it,” Seishirou said dismissively.
“All you ever do is observe.” Subaru’s voice rose up in fruitless anger, his hand clenching at Seishirou’s trench coat. “Like a child playing with an ant line.”
“An apt comparison. Does this make you an ant, Subaru-kun?” Seishirou inquired with a hint of curiosity.
“I don’t know.” Subaru finally remembered himself and their distance and let go of Seishirou, stepping away.
“I do hate to let you down.” Seishirou’s eye glinted. “I suppose I should be a good boy and retire to my room now. Or do you think Sherlock would sic the police on me?”
“I’d be more worried about Moriarty. Are you or are you not staying here?”
“So intent to find out.” Seishirou clicked his tongue and turned away. He made for the elevators, his back straight and his steps as self-assured as ever.
Subaru tiredly watched him walk away. So there was that.
“Subaru-kun.” Seishirou stopped to cast a pointed look at Subaru over his shoulder. “I never did say you weren’t invited. It was your prize, after all. You did well breaking my spell, if not my illusion.”
Subaru’s mouth went dry, his heart beat speeding up and hands clenching into fists.
Seishirou chuckled. “Yes, it means what you think it means.”
Subaru willed his knees not to go weak and cheeks not to burn. “I never said I wanted to... accompany you.”
“Pardon me.” Seishirou turned to face Subaru, regarding him speculatively. “Whatever made me think otherwise?”
Subaru took a deep, calming breath. It did him little good. “I wouldn’t know.”
Seishirou let out a dark chuckle. “Stubborn. I won’t be making the offer twice.”
“And for the better,” Subaru replied acidly. “It was much too generous of you.”
Seishirou stepped back into Subaru’s personal space, his smile at the same time sardonic and warm.
Seishirou caught Subaru by his tie and pulled him closer, nearly choking him. Subaru should have done s omething, should have tried to fight it -- but he didn’t. Seishirou’s hand was at the back of Subaru’s head, holding him in place, and Seishirou tilted his head, his breath hot against Subaru’s mouth. Seishirou’s lips slid over Subaru’s, his kiss harsh and demanding. It struck Subaru with more force than the magical trap he’d been caught in.
Seishirou bit down on Subaru’s bottom lip before his tongue soothingly traced over the bite.
Subaru broke away, breathless and dazed. Seishirou’s eyes were laughing.
Subaru slapped him across the face, satisfaction rising at the sight of an angry red stamp forming on Seishirou’s cheek.
“I never said I wanted this,” Subaru repeated through his teeth.
Seishirou flashed him another gut-wrenchingly charming smile of his and continued his way, leaving Subaru no choice but to catch up with him, seized by trepidation/want/need for more.
Seishirou summoned the elevator and leaned against the mirrored wall as they ascended, his arms folded and his eye swirling with dark promises.
Subaru focused on watching the floor numbers tick past.
“I can hear your heartbeat, you know.” Seishirou rested his palm against Subaru’s chest. “What is it like, to be so nervous?” His tone was flippant.
Subaru shivered, tipping his head backwards a little and unconsciously leaning into the touch. “It’s awful.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Seishirou smirked and pulled Subaru closer by the lapels of his ( Sherlock’s ) jacket. “You should look at the bright side more often, Subaru-kun.”
“ Stop saying my name like that, ” Subaru demanded with desperation. He sometimes thought Seishirou could stop his heart by that alone.
“What is it like to be so hopeless, Subaru-kun ?” Seishirou murmured, his hands already under Subaru’s coat, travelling up and down his sides.
Hands that killed. The thought made him nauseous. He looked into one of the mirror panels and didn’t recognize the pair of strangers in them.
Hands that would kill me. Now this caused a thrill -- a promise of something in his life going right, for once.
The elevator made a ringing sound and its doors slid open.
“Let’s go, shall we.” Seishirou gave Subaru a slight push, practically walking him out.
Subaru closed his eyes, minding his breath, trying to get a grip on himself.
“There we are,” Seishirou whispered from behind him and kissed the nape of his neck, right between his hairline and the collar of his coat.
Subaru jerked away and stumbled right into the room.
John awoke with a start, squinting as his surroundings rolled back into the focus. Still the Ritz . Frowning, John sat up straight, and rubbed his eyes. Just when had he dozed off --?
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. Immediately, the suspicions that he’d felt building up inside of him dispelled. “Sherlock. What happened? Are you alright-?” He wanted to sit up, but found himself pushed back down on the seat.
“Stay put,” Sherlock said, voice oddly strained, even though his face remained impassive. “No need to be all up and about.”
John frowned even more. “I’m not the one who is usually up and about -- Are you sure everything is fine?” This wasn’t like Sherlock. Sherlock didn’t usually act like … well, an actual human-being who cared about others. Not openly, and definitely not when it didn’t involve blackmailing someone for cigarettes. John squinted. “You’re hiding something from me.”
Sherlock was about to answer when a clapping sound interrupted him. He rolled his eyes, mumbling ‘how tedious’ and remained beside John who just set his jaw, equally annoyed.
“Enough of that,” Moriarty said, stepping out of the shadows. “I get that you two are practically married , but --” he rolled his eyes, and let out a dramatic huff, “it’s boooooring, kids. Terribly mundane.”
“I’m sorry that we’re not as entertaining to you as the hallucinations,” Sherlock simply replied, his eyes darkening, scooting just a bit closer to John.
Moriarty smiled -- nearly sweetly. “I’m glad you liked it. It was fuuun, wasn’t it?” He shifted on his feet, an oddly expectant look in his eyes. “Don’t you agree, Sherlock Holmes?”
During all this, John simply found himself gaping for a second, mind trying to grasp with with the word ‘hallucination’ ( what? how? why? ). His attention shifted from Moriarty to Sherlock.
Sherlock mouthed ‘it’s fine, John -- I’ll explain later’, and went back to looking irritated and something else -- something that looked like weariness. “I especially appreciated the first part -- the man certainly had an astounding talent for small details.”
Moriarty didn’t come any closer, just pushed his hands into his pockets, and let out a loud, dramatic sigh. Then he tilted his head to the side, and smiled -- not warmly, but a touch wistfully. “This was just a taste of things to come, boys. Just a little appetiser for the grand finale.”
“More hallucinations? Bombs? --” Sherlock asked, his tone betraying no emotion, but John could hear the anger behind it, “I can’t wait.”
The smile that passed over Moriarty’s face struck John as both creepy and unnerving - in fact, it chilled him to the core, and he felt a shudder running down his spine. “You’ll be surprised enough. In fact, I owe you a huge one -- I owe you .” And with that, he dug his fingers deeper into his pockets, turned around and then walked away.
Neither John nor Sherlock stopped him.
Seishirou unceremoniously stepped on Subaru’s bedsheet, derailing his escape to the bathroom. It fell away, revealing slender legs and yesterday’s bite marks
Looking wild and scandalised, with hair still sleep-tousled and pointing in every direction Subaru made an indignant noise that was a tad too low to be a proper yelp, his hands flying to cover the most important parts.
“Good morning, Subaru-kun.” Seishirou leaned against the wall, blocking Subaru’s way.
Subaru had no choice but to edge back, his eyes narrowing. “My clothes are gone. What have you done with them?”
“I took the liberty of sending your clothes for cleaning. I believe you wouldn’t want to return them to Sherlock in that shameful state, would you?”
“What am I going to wear?”
“How about this bed sheet?” Seishirou bent to pick it up. “I heard it’s the latest fashion in London.” He smirked and wrapped it around Subaru’s hips, not missing the chance to tap him on the... small of his back.
Subaru clenched his teeth.
“Actually, I’ve been to 221B Baker Street,” Seishirou announced, setting off for the adjoining room and gesturing at Subaru’s bag. “A quaint apartment. I liked the head in the fridge best -- it’s like visiting a museum.”
“Excuse me?” Subaru followed suit. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“A lovely lady, Mrs. Hudson. Offered me biscuits and called you a sweetheart, can you imagine?”
“What did you do to her?” Subaru ground out, as menacing to Seishirou as a... newborn puppy.
“Drank tea with her and gossiped about her tenants, perhaps?” Seishirou replied innocently. “Anyway, let’s not waste any more time and go on an excursion already. You clothes are in the wardrobe.”
“An excursion,” Subaru repeated numbly.
“Indeed. After we feed you, of course. You’re entirely too thin.”
Subaru groaned in frustration and muttered peevishly under his breath.
“And don’t worry about your plane, I’ve changed your tickets,” Seishirou supplied generously.
“I...” Subaru blinked. He’d forgotten about that entirely. “...thank you. I suppose.”
“You’re welcome!” Seishirou exclaimed cheerfully. “Be ready in fifteen minutes.”
Sherlock didn’t know why John kept going on about it being his fault that the bathtub was flooded. Under usual circumstances, he would have just channelled out the rant, but he’d come close to tasting what it meant to lose John, so that he didn’t just lock himself away into his mind palace this time, instead keeping some of his attention focused on John as he analysed the leg of the spider underneath the microscope (poisonous, only found in Africa, but could be bred here, if certain requirements were met --).
John was still talking. “Sherlock, I really don’t mind the sodding heads in the fridge by now,” he sighed, “-but please, try to keep the bathtub free from your experiments?”
“I told you I didn’t conduct any recent experiments in the bathroom,” Sherlock replied, not tearing his eyes away from the microscope, but then decided to look at John, after all.
John was squinting, and a tight line drawn around his mouth. “Then tell me who else did it? A magician?” That “I dare you to come up with a good excuse” crossed over his face.
A smile tugged at the corners of Sherlock’s mouth. “That might just have been the case.”
“Excuse me?” John looked like he wanted to say more, but then the phone rang (probably Harry, always called at this time of the day --). And Sherlock just shook his head. Finally he could focus on his experiment.
Seishirou’s idea of ‘excursion’, as Subaru discovered, varied from slipping into Buckingham Palace unnoticed to feeding the ducks in St. James’ Park. Seishirou had been particularly excited about the latter, for some reason. His steps were springy and his face lively, giving an impression of a child in candy store. Except children’s arms didn’t wander, as if by magic, to their companion’s waists.
“Why did you accept your last job?” Subaru asked quietly, quite indifferent to the idea of ducks at his current age. He was no longer an innocent 16-year-old who dreamed of becoming a zookeeper.
“Don’t worry, I made sure the Duke paid your clan for exorcising his grandfather first,” Seishirou replied, tossing another chunk of bread into the pond. It sunk unnoticed and Seishirou made a stricken expression at it.
Subaru was unimpressed.
“It’s not exactly wise of you to make inquiries about my work, Subaru-kun,” Seishirou pointed out.
Subaru turned away with a sigh. There was a pair of nicely dressed children playing with their dog and laughing happily. It made him smile.
“I often take jobs abroad,” Seishirou supplied. “I rather enjoy travelling.”
“Oh.” Subaru was at a loss of what to say to that.
“It’s your first time outside Japan, isn’t it?” Seishirou mused, looking at him intently. “How do you like London?”
“It’s....nice.” Subaru said, fidgeting awkwardly under Seishirou’s scrutiny.
Seishirou smiled mysteriously and leaned closer. Subaru flinched away. “We’re in public. There are children here.”
“Would you have them grow up as clueless as you were?” Seishirou inquired wryly.
Seishirou’d finally run out of bread, so Subaru prodded, “what are you planning now?”
“World’s End, Subaru-kun,” Seishirou proclaimed, taking off towards the park’s exit.
It was a district of Chelsea, London, lying at the western end of the King’s Road.
“It took its name from a pub,” Seishirou explained. “It has most interesting history.“
They rode subway to get there, Seishirou elbowing his way through myriads of unsuspecting Londoners and Subaru apologizing to whomever the man had just pushed out of his way. The underground changed little from country to country. It made Subaru think of their second meeting.
“They call it ‘the tube’ here,” Seishirou flaunted more of his erudition. Subaru could still remember being the rapturous adolescent who devoured his every word like it was ultimate wisdom. In retrospect, it was laughable.
It was only when they paused in front of a clothing store than Subaru finally began to panic.
“Not so fast, Subaru-kun.” Seishirou placed a firm hand on the small of Subaru’s back, herding him towards the entrance. “It isn’t a proper trip to London without purchasing a Westwood suit.”
It was going to be a long day.
“I came to remove the curse,” Subaru stated right from the doorstep, his eyes downcast. “I sincerely apologise for all the inconveniences caused to you, even if it’s worthless coming from me.”
John smiled. “Why don’t you come in first?” He moved to the side, no longer blocking the entrance to the apartment.
“Ah, yes.” Subaru entered and looked around. His face fell. “Oh. It’s the bathroom, isn’t it?”
“Actually,” John frowned, and took a deep breath, “it is.”
“Seishirou-san’s been to your apartment,“ Subaru explained, desperately apologetic as he rushed towards the bathroom. “Under the pretence of gathering my things. I figured he would do something unseemly. I will remove it right away.”
John just nodded, a puzzled expression on his face as he followed Subaru. This whole magic business, he felt, would never stop pegging him as slightly … suspicious.
Subaru located the curse and chanted a purification spell, swiftly disposing of Seishirou’s magic. Seishirou hadn’t even tried for anything other than minor annoyance. Could this be a red herring?
“I need to check the rest of the house. This might not be the only surprise he’s left.”
“Feel free to -- Sherlock has gone to St Bart’s,” John said, chuckling. “Though it’s not like he’d object.”
“Thank you.” Subaru nodded at him and started circling around the apartment. Wallpapers were clean of any hidden symbols or paper charms; investigation of the couch revealed a mouldy something that must at some point have been bread.
Subaru braced himself and opened the fridge, greeted by several pairs of expectant eyes. Seishirou’d placed another hex on the jar of eyeballs.
“This one was supposed to cause migraine, temporary sight loss and possibly hallucinations,” he told John and started chanting.
John frowned. “That was why Sherlock was always rubbing his eyes as of late.”
“Right. Well. All done.” Subaru turned to face him, smiling thinly. “I’d say not all magic users are as troublesome, but that would be wishful thinking.”
John smiled tentatively as he leaned against the wall. “I … don’t really understand of this still, but I don’t find you troublesome.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You’re a decent bloke.”
Subaru froze for a moment, startled, and broke into a genuine smile.
“Thank you, John. I’m happy to have made acquaintance with you,” he said warmly. “And I really liked London. I’m returning to Tokyo tomorrow.”
John smiled warmly. “With your lover, right? Ah --” he ran a hand through his hair, “I don’t mean to make assumptions, but you look ...happier.”
Subaru coloured up to the roots of his hair, suddenly finding the floor fascinating and twitching all over. “About that...” He coughed, remembering the ducks and Victoria sponge cakes. “It’s complicated. I have no idea what he’s thinking.”
“Ah, that’s usually the case in relationships … you rarely know what the other person is really thinking,” John said, a slightly wistful smile playing on his face. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth finding out.”
Subaru sighed longingly, lost in conflicting thoughts. “That’s right.... Oh! About the suit that I borrowed from Sherlock: it’s in dry-cleaning. I won’t be able to pick it up and bring back personally, but they will have it delivered.”
At that moment, Sherlock stormed in, the door thrown open with such force that John jumped -- even more when he saw that Sherlock was covered from head to toe in blood. He rolled his eyes. “You harpooned a dead pig again ?”
Sherlock just gritted his teeth. “No, I slashed a cow open. And the cabs still wouldn’t take me.”
Subaru couldn’t hide a wince. He’d grown used to many things, but cruelty to animals was something that still hit him hard.
“The cow was dead,” Sherlock replied nonchalantly, throwing the bloodied harpoon into a corner, where some boxes and dust-laden books lay. “And coming to say goodbye?”
“Yes. And I’d like to leave a... parting gift.” Subaru opened his bag and took out a small amulet made of red cloth, enclosing paper with prayer. “It’s called omamori and brings good fortune. I made it for the flat instead of individuals, so you can just hang it anywhere.”
“But please don’t open it,” he added, knowing a little about Sherlock’s habits by now. “Or it would lose its powers. It’s not possible to make all-purpose protective amulets, but it’s at least something.”
John took the gift, too well aware of the fact that leaving anything in Sherlock’s hands would just end in an experiment. “Thank you -- I’ll give it Mrs Hudson.” It would be safe in her hands, at least. Sherlock didn’t say anything, and John gave him a glare, at which Sherlock mumbled ‘thanks and see you’ before dashing off into the bathroom.
John let out a sigh, and let his face fall. “I’m sorry -- he’ll never change. But --” he reached for Subaru’s hand, “it was nice to meet you.”
Subaru shook John’s hand without reservation, smiling at him gently. “I wish you all the best in your future endeavours, John. And please send my regards to Mrs. Hudson.”
“I wish you all the best too,” John said as he lead Subaru to the door, smiling as he wished him another goodbye before Subaru hailed a cab. John lingered at the doorstep for a while, watching Subaru get in and drive away -- he stayed until the cab grew smaller and smaller until it finally disappeared from his sight entirely.
John chuckled. “Well, that was that with magicians. Now back to blogging about crime cases.” He opened the door again, and returned to the apartment, knowing that Sherlock would need him.
But John was fine with that -- even if he was dull and ordinary, he knew that 221B Baker Street (and Sherlock) wouldn’t be the same without him.