Chapter 1: Terms of Acceptance
The smell of flowers in the Master's office was overpowering. The source was only a single vase on a windowsill. John didn't have a clue what species they were, but he didn't like them. Too perfumey and showy. They suited the man who sat across the desk.
Doctor Holmes smiled in that way people do when they want to make concessions but aren't in fact pleased with the situation. Such a stark contrast from the army. John fought the urge to shift around in the hard wooden seat.
"What puzzles me, Mr. Watson," Doctor Holmes said, "is why someone so clearly set on the path to academic success would make the rather abrupt decision to toss it all aside and enlist instead in the military." His voice carried a note of distaste when he said the word military.
"Fi—" John started to say, but his voice failed him, so he cleared his throat and tried again. "Financial reasons."
"Of course. I don't suppose I need tell you again how committed St Benedict's is to the success of every student, regardless of their means."
"No." John cleared his throat again. It hadn't so much been an inability to access grants and loans as it had been the need for someone in the family besides Dad to be working for pay. And no one was going to rely on Harry to be that someone.
"I also needn't reassure you how delighted we are to accept you, again, into the program. A student with aptitude such as yours is a most welcome addition to our institution."
Had he prepared a script ahead of time, or did he spout cliches naturally? John wished he'd just get to the point. "I'm... glad to come, I mean, it really means the world to me, but." John knew he didn't sound excited, but it was Cambridge for Christ's sake, he shouldn't have to explain how much he wanted it. "I thought I'd have to start next year, on account of how late I requested entry."
"That is why I called you here today, Mr. Watson. We've had an... unexpected opening in your course. When considering who could fill it, yours was the first name that came to my mind."
John's breath caught and he tried not to show his surprise. It was a happy one, yes, but somehow he didn't like the idea of sharing emotions with Mycroft Holmes. What sort of name was Mycroft, anyhow? Not one that screamed trustworthy.
The Master continued. "The room we have available is in a double set with a second year student. I hope you don't have an aversion to sharing your study area and bathroom?"
But John's heart sank, or at least it would have if he'd been cheerful in the first place. A second year would have friends already, and more than likely all the other first years had grown acquainted through Freshers' Week events. He already felt like an outsider, and this was likely to make it worse. "Sounds great."
Another smile from Holmes. He looked too young to be a doctor, let alone Master. Thirtyish, John would have said if asked. Must have aged well. "Isn't it? The room was cleaned out almost immediately after the disappearance, so you're free to move in as soon as you'd like. Provided you're accepting the offer, of course."
"Sorry," John said, "did you say disappearance?"
Holmes made a noise which was not quite a chuckle, but an ah-ah-ah vocalisation. "What other word suits such an abrupt exit before the start of term? University life proved too strenuous for him, I imagine."
Not particularly reassuring, but John hadn't planned to do anything else with his life for the coming year. "Yes, then, I accept. Sir."
"Splendid. When you've returned with your things, check in with the Porters' lodge for your key. You must contact your Director of Studies for your schedule, but I of course will let them know to expect you. Congratulations, Mr. Watson, and good luck. Welcome to St Benedict's College."
John was back that same evening with a single suitcase of his belongings. Term started in two days and he wanted as much time as possible to acquaint himself with his new home (and flatmate, provided the latter wasn't already too busy).
The porter on duty smirked as he fetched John the room key. "Baker's Court. Victor Trevor's old room. Good luck, mate."
"Do I really need it?" John asked.
The porter gave a harsh laugh. "The lad you're sharing with. You'll see."
An irritating response. John resolved to like his neighbour.
He found room 221 without much trouble. Out of courtesy, he knocked rather than simply letting himself in. No answer. He knocked again and waited only a moment, since his good shoulder ached from carrying the suitcase and he was eager to set it down.
He turned the key in the lock and opened the door. The room that greeted him was cold and dark. "Hello?" John called. He fumbled for a light switch on the wall and flicked it on.
The shared study room was spacious and would be well-lit during the day, for it had three large windows along the wall. The center one contained a cushioned window seat. Two desks were positioned under the far windows, and—John was somewhat miffed to see—both were cluttered. One was covered in books and papers, the other in Petri dishes and what appeared to be a human skull, though a plaster model no doubt. Did that mean the other student was reading medicine, as well? That could be good.
In the center of the room were two armchairs separated by a low table, on which sat more books and papers, as well as a violin out of its case. Music, then? That could also be good, or very bad, depending.
Both bedroom doors were closed, and neither was marked in any way. Trial and error would have to do. John tried the door farthest from the skull, knocking first, then opening it when he got no response.
This was definitely not his room. "Complete disarray" was too mild a phrase. Books, more books, dirty clothing, empty mugs, crumpled crisp packets, ash trays (definitely not good). Curiously the bed was neatly made underneath the squalor. John shut off the light and closed the door.
The other room was empty, as promised. Hastily empty. The wardrobe doors and dresser drawers were all half open. John thought of Mycroft letting slip the word "disappearance" and a twinge of uneasiness crawled down the back of his neck.
He let out a groan when he saw the bare mattress. Of course. Why hadn't he thought to bring his own bed linen?
He dropped his suitcase to the floor and rolled his good shoulder around, then gave his bad shoulder a slight squeeze since it was stiffening up too. He could walk into town and buy some sheets; it wasn't too late and he'd probably find a shop open. But he wasn't up for it. What he needed was painkillers and sleep. Sleep in his clothes with a rolled up towel as a pillow, perhaps, but sleep all the same. He could hardly complain when a few months ago he'd literally slept in a frigid hole in the ground.
Then again, that was before he'd been shot and landed with a bad shoulder. He was obligated to care more about comfort now. John felt old. 21-year-olds weren't supposed to have aches and pains. They also weren't supposed to be starting their first year at university, with no friends, not even a single familiar face from secondary school at their college.
John lay on the bed and squeezed his eyes shut. They stung, though he couldn't say whether it was from fatigue or something else. He reconsidered going into town. A blanket would make him feel less alone, somehow.
There came the scratching sound of a key in the front door, and then it swung open and was slammed shut. John's heart leapt into his throat and his thoughts went straight to the gun packed between rolls of socks in his suitcase.
Don't be ridiculous; it's the other guy from the set. He heard noisy footsteps that stopped abruptly after their owner was a few paces in. Then silence for several seconds.
The floor was creaky enough that he could tell the other student—what was his name, John didn't even know his name—was stepping towards John's bedroom door. There was a creak just outside, then more silence. John's pulse pounded in his temples. He would pretend to be asleep. Or he would lunge for his gun. Why was this making him anxious?
But his door didn't open. The footsteps, fast and pounding once more, retreated. The other bedroom door opened and John heard what sounded like frantic rummaging around in the mess. The bedroom door slammed shut once more; then came more footsteps, then the front door opening and closing. John was alone again.
His eyes snapped open. His breath came a little easier now, and he was more alert. John could never deny he enjoyed an adrenaline rush, even one brought on by something so random as an enigmatic neighbour.
John climbed off the mattress, put his shoes back on, and put his wallet back in his pocket. He was bloody well going out to buy a blanket and pillow after all.
Chapter 2: The Strange Case of Victor Trevor
John makes some new friends, in a manner of speaking, and is introduced to his first mystery.
His name was Sherlock Holmes. Molly only knew because the police had questioned her about him. He claimed he'd been in the lab between 2 and 5 pm on the 30th September, could she verify? Yes, she could, that had been the first time she saw him, and she wasn't likely to forget it any time soon. She'd decided right away they could be friends, the only two people who spent free time before the start of term in a laboratory.
She didn't know what Sherlock's reasons for being there were. Molly herself went because it was what was familiar, a lab setting; she'd practically lived in one while doing her A-levels. Sherlock's arrival had caught her off guard and flustered her, but fortunately he wasn't interested in small talk so Molly didn't have to worry about making a fool of herself.
She saw him the next two days as well, but it wasn't until after the police questioning that he spoke to her. He said simply, "Thank you," with a tilt to his eyebrows that suggested he was surprised. Molly demurred, what was he thanking her for, all she'd done was tell the truth, and Sherlock didn't push the matter but instead went back to whatever experiment he was working on.
"I'm Molly," she blurted out in an effort to keep an actual conversation going.
Sherlock glanced up from his work and blinked at her. "Yes, I know." And he looked back down.
He must have overheard her telling it to the police. Now she felt silly. She stood where she was for a moment, trying to think of something more to say. She tucked her hair behind her ears.
"I hope they find him," she said. "The boy from your set."
"Oh. I'm so sorry. Did they find..."
Sherlock glanced at her again. "Hm?"
"Did they find a body?"
Molly flushed and considered asking how Sherlock knew his neighbour was dead if they hadn't found a body. It was a rude question, she decided. "At least you have an alibi." No, that was rude too, but it was too late to not say it. Molly could kick herself.
"Not really. I need one for the entire day and there are gaps."
Molly nodded, though Sherlock's eyes weren't on her, and tried to think of a polite response. There was none. He could at least say something to reassure her that he indeed wasn't responsible for his neighbour's disappearance. Molly packed up her notepad and pencil and left the lab. Maybe they wouldn't be friends after all.
Molly got all the way back to the door of her room and was digging through her pockets when she realised she'd locked herself out. Again. Again! Who locks themselves out of their own room twice in two days?
She put a hand over her mouth and let out a small whimper. She was struck by her first stab of dislike for this place, regardless of how hard she'd worked to get here and everything it meant and how excited she'd been at first. She wanted to go home. At home there was a spare key under the doormat so she'd always have a way inside even when she'd been forgetful. Usually Nan was there too to let her in.
Molly held her breath in hopes it would somehow hold in tears as well, and made her way to the Porters' lodge. This was humiliating. What if she just went straight out the gate and left on a train for London? There'd be no one to miss her. It wouldn't be so bad. She could work as a waitress maybe, or a florist; she'd always liked flowers.
The man sitting behind the desk in the Porters' lodge was the same one who'd helped her yesterday. He was eating a muffin and flipping through a newspaper when he spotted her. He set his muffin down and groped around the desk for a napkin, which he used to wipe off his mouth. He smiled. "Hello again, Molly!"
He remembered her name? Molly didn't know whether to be flattered or even more embarrassed. Her voice caught when she spoke. "I— I locked, erm, I locked myself out again. I forgot my key."
"Ah, no worries. Happens to the best of us." The porter jumped up from his chair and went to the back wall on which hung hundreds of keys with brightly colored tabs. He went straight for the one he needed, its location probably still fresh in his mind from yesterday.
Molly didn't remember his name, so she checked his name badge when he came to hand her the key. Gregory Lestrade, Deputy Head Porter. That's right, he'd introduced himself as Greg. "Thanks, Greg," she said, trying to relax enough to give him a real smile.
"Not a problem. How are things going for you so far, getting settled in?"
"Oh, you know." Molly shrugged and continued to smile. "It's, it's a lot to get used to."
"I know it is. You feel free to drop by any time you need something, alright? Even if it's just a cup of tea and someone to talk to. Any time, day or night."
Molly didn't know who worked the night shift, or if they were as nice as Greg, so privately she thought she'd take up the offer only during the day. The thought made her blush again. What was with her today? It wasn't as though she'd never interacted with handsome men before. Cambridge was making her empty headed somehow.
John was carrying two maps, one of the whole of Cambridge and one of St Benedict's, in hopes of finding the locations of all his lectures beforehand. So far he'd successfully hunted down all of them except for Histology, which was fine as that one didn't start until Wednesday, anyway.
At the moment he was somewhere on a street outside College and not entirely sure how to find his way back in.
"Are you lost?" came a voice from right behind him. John jumped and was nearly ready to take a swing at its owner before he came to his senses. Perhaps he ought to wear a sign on his back that read RECENTLY DISCHARGED SOLDIER: STARTLE AT OWN RISK.
Then he turned around, got a look at her face, and promptly forgot all his worldly concerns.
"Ye-nope, erm." John's jaw bobbed another time or two but no sound came out.
The woman—oh, she was probably the same age as John, or younger even, but there was no way he could call her a girl—had pale white skin and enormous blue eyes and wavy black hair that fell past her shoulders, and she looked as though she were about to take a bite out of him. A smile curled only the corners of her red, red mouth. She was dressed entirely in black. What's black and white and red all over? The murder section of the newspaper, his sister had said to him once when they were kids, and he didn't know why he was remembering it now.
"Funny," the woman said, "people don't usually stand around in open areas frowning at maps unless they're lost. I haven't seen your face before; are you a fresher, or a tourist?"
"A fresher, but well. Yeah." John wanted to explain that he was at least as old as her, not that there was any good reason to.
The woman held out her hand, and when John did the same she shook with just the tips of her fingers. "I'm Irene. Pleasure to meet you."
"Thanks. John Watson."
"Welcome to St Benedict's, John Watson."
Irene smiled enough to show off some of the teeth she was surely planning to bite him with. "Do you have plans for Friday night yet, John Watson?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
She was carrying a stack of brown cards, and she held one out to him. "My housemates and I are having a party and I'm hunting for some new faces for it. Don't worry, it's the good kind of party. Interesting people. Will you come?"
John blinked away the image of six or eight Irenes tying him up and consuming him bite by bite. "I suppose I could." He glanced down at the card, which turned out to be an invitation. MICHAELMAS TERM INAUGURAL PARTY. ASHFORD HOUSE, FRIDAY @ 8 PM. SAFE IS SEXY. There was a small plastic package taped to it which read Mint-Flavored Dental Dam.
"Fantastic. We're in Ashford House. It's on your map. Would you like me to point it out for you?"
John poked at the dental dam. Good god, when had he last had sex? "No, that's alright. I can find it."
Irene's smile widened. "Are you sure?"
"Well, then. We'll see you on Friday. Drop by any time."
The two of them had already walked several metres apart when Irene called after him, "Feel free to bring your friends!"
John didn't bother correcting her.
By his second morning at Cambridge, John still had yet to glimpse the other student in his set, though he had been woken up around 4 am to the sound of violin playing. He didn't mind it.
Lectures began, and John was relieved to have the first half of his day filled up. When lectures were over he retreated to his room to go over his notes and do his reading. By 4 pm he was quite sure he'd memorised every piece of material covered that day, but he didn't have anything else to do, so he got started on the next chapters in all his books.
At 6 he went to the buttery for dinner. Noisy groups of students were clustered at nearly every table, and John wasn't sure he had the energy to insert himself into any of them. He'd have to explain himself. Why none of them recognised him, why he'd shown up late. No one might care, or they might; this was an academic setting, after all, and some of the students might take the same dim view of military service that Mycroft Holmes did. Why had he left the army, they'd want to know? Invalided home. But he didn't look like an invalid, they'd say.
Simply imagining the possible conversations was tiring him. The number of choices for what to eat was tiring him. In the army it was grab your tray, stand in line, wait for your portion to be slapped on your plate. John picked a sandwich and wrapped it in napkins to take back to his room.
On his way out he saw one girl sitting alone, with a half-finished sandwich (same choice as John's?) and a book and notebook open on the table in front of her. She was engrossed in her reading and note-taking. Perhaps if John caught her unoccupied sometime he could start up a conversation. But for now, she would have questions, and he didn't want to answer.
Wednesday, third morning at Cambridge, no neighbour sightings, no violin playing. No new friends. Not that he was trying.
Thursday, fourth morning at Cambridge. No neighbour sightings and, John realised with some not altogether surprising disappointment, no calls from home. If he were to go missing like Victor Trevor, would anyone even notice?
In the afternoon, he had his first anatomy supervision, and was assigned worksheets to complete. He was relieved to have more work to do, another excuse for why he still hadn't managed to talk to anyone (except Irene).
John's histology supervisor sent him a parcel of assignments, which he had to go to the Porter's lodge to retrieve. The bloke on duty was different from the one who'd checked him in a few nights ago. His badge identified him as the deputy head porter.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Greg," he said, giving John a nod.
"John Watson." That was redundant, as he'd just handed over his student ID, but there wasn't much else to say.
Greg's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, you're in Victor Trevor's old room, aren't you? How's that going?"
"Quite well," John said, for the living accommodations themselves were fine, and the crushing loneliness wasn't exactly relevant.
"You're kidding," said Greg. "That's great to hear. Give me just a second to grab your parcel. Hopefully it's not too heavy for one man to carry."
"Erm," John said nervously.
Greg grinned and handed John his ID. "I'm only messing with you. I've seen them already, the ones for your course; they're not too big. Nothing to panic about."
John waited at the counter as Greg disappeared into a door at the back of the office. Another student showed up, stopping at the counter right next to John. He rang the bell four times, ding-ding-ding-ding. He bounced on the balls of his feet and drummed his hands on the counter. John thought about telling him off, but restrained himself.
As soon as Greg reappeared holding John's parcel, the other student spoke. His voice was a baritone that reverberated in John's head. "I need a new key. Mine was melted."
"Christ, Sherlock," Greg said. "Melted?"
"It was for an experiment."
"I'll bet it was. Hang on, John." Greg set the parcel down on his desk, which was much too far over the counter for John to reach. John sighed. Not that they were in primary school or anything, but he'd got here first.
Greg scanned the back wall for the right key and plucked it off. "That'll be thirty quid." He shot a vaguely amused grin over his shoulder.
The student apparently known as Sherlock let out an exasperated huff of air. "Yes, of course, I know it will. I considered the expense before I melted the last one."
Greg returned to the counter, key in hand, parcel tucked under one arm. "You two are getting on, then?"
"What?" John and Sherlock said in unison.
"With your set share. Is it a good match?"
Both John and Sherlock turned their heads to look at each other. Sherlock was reminiscent of Irene, with his ghostly skin and curly black hair. His eyes were penetrating. "Oh. You're Victor's replacement."
"I suppose I am," said John, his voice quavering. Him and his knack for running into people that made him feel like food. Perhaps that's where Victor had disappeared to; Sherlock had eaten him.
"Just a minute," said Greg. "Are you telling me the two of you haven't even met yet?"
"Oh, please, Greg, I've hardly had the time what with everything that's been going on. John, would you care to help me solve the mystery of my former neighbour's disappearance?"
"What," said John.
"Alright, get out of here," Greg said, passing the parcel to John and the key to Sherlock, who gave him a few ten pound notes in return. "I've other work to be doing today."
"Finishing your lunch, you mean? You'll also want to know there was a small fire on the third floor, directly above our set from the smell of it, and it's been extinguished but the occupant doesn't wish to cause the trouble of having the whole building evacuated." Sherlock started to walk away, and when he realised John wasn't coming with, he stopped and beckoned irritably. "Well, come on then."
John trotted after, because why not, they were going to the same place after all. Sherlock was much taller than John and he walked fast, so it was an exercise to keep up.
They'd been walking for only a moment when Sherlock spoke again. "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
"Right," Sherlock said once they were back in their sitting room. He was pacing. "Here's a riddle for you, John. A student leaves his hall of residence at ten o'clock in the morning the day after moving in. Claims he's headed to the library. Though the porter on duty sees him leaving, the librarian reports she never saw him enter. No one has seen him since. He simply vanished somewhere between Baker's Court and library. Nothing caught on CCTV, no suspicious activity witnessed, and no signs of struggle found anywhere in the vicinity of these two buildings or the pathways between them. Tell me, what happened to Victor Trevor?"
John glanced guiltily at the abandoned stack of assignments on his desk. It would be fine, he told himself; he was already so far ahead in reading. "I have no idea."
"No, no one does. The police have no suspects, save for myself, which I'm still attempting to talk them out of. They assumed runaway first thing, and when I told them there wasn't a chance, that Victor was surely dead either by his own hand or someone else's, they grew suspicious. Idiots."
"Wait," John said, "how do you know he's dead? I thought you said there was no sign of him."
"Because he left his injection kit behind."
"Victor was a type 1 diabetic."
John frowned. "And it killed him?"
"Not necessarily. Think, John. You're reading medicine, aren't you? How long can a diabetic dependent on insulin injections survive without them?"
"I've hardly been studying long enough to say. But I'd guess not more than a few days."
"And Victor has not been taking his insulin. Therefore, he's either dead from the lack of it or he died before he needed it."
John was about to be impressed, but then he shook his head. "That's quite a big leap to make, though, isn't it? How do you know he didn't run away and got a new supply of insulin somewhere?"
"Possible, but unlikely. What sort of man voluntarily leaves his home but doesn't bother bringing the kit that keeps him alive? He left behind everything else as well; his toothbrush, the novel he was nearly finished with. There's been no activity on his credit cards. What has he been eating, John? He can no more starve himself for a week than he can go without insulin. No, no. Victor didn't run away. He either was taken against his will, in which case he's been murdered or he died from health complications, or he left with the intention of killing himself. The latter scenario seems unlikely given the fact that Victor was successful, well-liked, and happy."
"People can surprise you," John said.
John shrugged. "Fine. That all sounds reasonable to me. Did you explain this to the police?"
"Yes, and now I'm their prime suspect! Ridiculous."
"Who would want to kill Victor, then?"
"Second problem," Sherlock said. "Everyone liked Victor. Victor liked everyone. He was unconditionally kind and accepting. What motives does that leave us with, then? Jealousy?"
Sherlock stopped pacing and pointed a finger at John. "Ah. But what sort of accident would leave no body, no trace?"
"Maybe he fell in the river."
"Hardly deep enough to drown in."
"He could have been drunk."
"Victor Trevor didn't drink."
"Is it possible he did, just that once?"
"Unlikely. I spoke with him in the morning before he left and he was sober."
John put his hands up in defeat. "Alright then. Jealousy, you were saying? Was he involved with anyone?"
"Romantically, you mean? Not that I know of." Sherlock steepled his fingers together in front of his mouth. "No, it would have been a different kind of jealousy. Over his success, perhaps. In life, academics, could be anything really."
"On good terms with his father; deceased mother; no siblings, ergo no sibling rivalry."
"I see," said John. The emotionless way in which Sherlock spoke of Victor Trevor belied the amount of information he knew about him. Had they been friends, or not? "So you've narrowed the pool of possible suspects down... not at all."
"And now you see why I've made no progress whatsoever on the case."
"What have you been off doing, anyway?" John asked. "Do you even sleep here at night?"
"I've been searching for evidence, obviously." Sherlock began to pace again. "Preferably the body, but I'll settle for less. And I've been analyzing samples of mud I took from each of his shoes and the hems of his trousers, but so far I've found nothing illuminating. Would you like to come with me tonight, help me continue the search?"
"Why tonight? Why not now?"
"Too many people around to ask questions." Sherlock flicked a hand dismissively. "I can work better at night with no one bothering me."
"I have a 9 am lecture tomorrow."
"No, but useful if one intends to pass first year, which I do."
Sherlock scoffed. "They're dull, at least the majority of them. I rarely bother to attend my own."
"Alright, but you're also clearly..." John faltered when Sherlock stopped pacing to frown at him. "Extraordinary."
Sherlock said nothing, but cocked his head to the side and appeared to consider this descriptor. After a moment he said, "If your shoulder's bothering you, you ought to go see Mrs. Hudson. She can give you something stronger than paracetamol."
John hadn't even realised he'd been rubbing his shoulder, and probably scrunching his face up about it too. "No, that's alright, I already have something stronger."
"What's the problem, then? Shoulder will be fine, no need to attend lecture. You can come tonight."
Technically John had never agreed that lecture wasn't necessary, but he didn't see the point in arguing. Was that it, then? Would he be abandoning a normal sleeping schedule during his first week of university so he could go out hunting for the dead body of the student he'd taken the place of?
"Yes," John said. "Yes I can."
Chapter 3: The Women of Ashford House
In which Irene Adler pines for girls whose names end in -lly.
Irene worried she might be falling in love. She couldn't even concentrate on her reading anymore. She'd come to the college library to study in hopes "out of sight, out of mind" might apply in this situation, but it didn't work. Sally's face kept popping up in her mind, or parts of it; Sally's nose, Sally's eyelashes, Sally's lips, Sally's hairline.
Irene reached a hand up to massage the back of her neck. She could feel a headache coming on and that sometimes helped to stave it off. What a nuisance. What was she supposed to do, proposition her? No, that was what she normally did when she was interested in someone, and Sally was too special to waste normal behaviors on. Sally needed flowers, and dates to the cinema, the sort of things Irene called "cute" when she saw other couples doing them. The things she assumed she'd never have any need for. But then Sally.
She'd never been in love before, but the symptoms were well-known. First thing you think about when you wake up and last thing before falling asleep. Habits you'd find annoying or disgusting in other people become endearing. Someone who'd been merely pleasant to look at initially becomes the only person you ever want to lay eyes on.
Irene's eyes had been fixating on the same paragraph for the better part of ten minutes. Some nuance of the difference between the experience of art and art as an experience. Sally was art, and Irene would like to experience her.
Oh, Christ, had Irene actually formed that thought? How pathetically smitten could she get? It had all come on so suddenly, too; they'd known each other since their first year, but it wasn't until last weekend, their first weekend living together, when they'd weathered such catastrophes as shopping for wine and trying to fix a broken telly, that Irene hadn't been able to stop thinking about her. Sally was sharp-tongued, observant, and confident, and she possessed an unnatural intuition for Irene's sense of humor. Their conversations were punctuated with giggling every other sentence. Irene was not a giggler. She was doomed, really. She was at Sally's mercy.
Sally didn't even know.
Irene inserted a marker between the pages, closed the book, and slipped it into her bag. No hope. Perhaps she'd be able to talk Sally into reading it aloud to her, and then she'd be able to pay attention.
She was on her way out when she spotted a familiar face at one of the other study tables. John Watson had come to the library to study too, and he was also not concentrating on his book, though in his case it was because he was asleep. Dead asleep, not even nodding off respectably, but slouched forward with his head resting on the pages and a bit of saliva threatening to drip from the corner of his open mouth. Irene's heart swelled in the way it did when she saw puppies and kittens and the like. Poor boy.
Irene took the seat next to him and the screeching of chair legs made him jump awake. "Easy, John Watson. First week of lectures got you on edge already?"
John rubbed at his eyes then shot her a disparaging look. "You startled me."
"I noticed. Are you resting up for my party tonight?"
"Party?" He rubbed his eyes again and shook his head like a wet dog. "Oh, that. No, it's just, the other student in my set had me up all night."
"Ooh." Irene rested an elbow on the table and grinned. "That can be fun."
John's brow furrowed and he thought on that for a second or two. "No, not, not like that."
"Well, it must have been something interesting. You are still planning on coming, aren't you? You can bring your boy."
"He's not my boy, I'm sharing a set with him. I only met him yesterday, and I'm not gay."
John flipped his book shut with an air of finality. "Sure, I'll come. Can you tell me where the nearest place to get coffee is, please?"
Irene kicked her shoes off as soon as she stepped inside the house, watching with satisfaction as they arced through the hallway and thumped against the wall. She didn't like those shoes; they gave her blisters. She wouldn't wear them anymore.
She dropped her bag, checked her phone for texts, and wandered into the kitchen to find something to eat. Sally sat at a stool at the counter, in the middle of chewing. "Bacon sandwich?" she asked with her mouth full, somehow managing to make it sound sexy.
"Please," said Irene.
Sally slid the plate over the counter. There were one and a half sandwiches remaining. "You made two?" Irene asked.
Sally shrugged. "I was hungry. And I wanted to use up the rest of the bacon before Stephanie got to it."
Irene took a bite. Sally made perfect bacon. Did Sally do everything perfectly?
"You and I should go see a movie tonight," Irene said.
"I thought we were having a party."
"We don't all have to be here. Stephanie and Laura can take care of everyone."
Sally laughed. "Just the two of us, really? What is this, a date?"
"Maybe it is."
Sally laughed again, and Irene pursed her lips. Expressing her feelings with sincerity was proving problematic. Was Sally even interested in women? "Have you ever dated a woman before?"
"Not really, but to be fair I haven't dated anyone since I was 16. Well, I went out with Victor those couple times—Victor Trevor, you remember him? But there's been nothing serious."
Irene was truly surprised. "How is that possible?"
Sally shrugged and reached for another sandwich half. "Haven't met anyone who interested me. It's hard, you know, place like St Ben's? You see the same people day in and day out, get locked into patterns early on."
Irene leaned her elbows on the counter and slowly peeled the crusts off her sandwich. "That hasn't stopped me, has it? Sally, you poor darling. You must be desperately in need of a shag."
"Oh, shut up," Sally said, giggling, mouth full once more. "Got someone in mind you're going to hook me up with?"
"Stop being weird!" She meant it playfully, Irene knew. Didn't stop it from hurting. Irene took a large bite of sandwich to avoid having to respond or pretend to smile.
At around 8 Irene uncorked all the wine bottles so they had time to breathe before guests started to arrive. She poured herself a glass of Merlot and drank deeply, hoping tonight would loosen her up. That headache had come on full force and she suspected it was tension-related.
Irene had invited a total of six freshers and told them to bring guests, so she was looking forward to seeing who turned up. Ashford House's reputation had a way of weeding out all but the most interesting sorts, even among students who had only been living in college for a week. Maybe Irene would even meet someone who could take her mind off certain other persons she'd best not be dwelling on.
The first person to turn up was little Molly Hooper, in an astounding curve-hugging black dress. Molly brought a bottle of port and no human beings. Irene put an arm around her waist and steered her into the kitchen, where they both had a glass and Irene assured her repeatedly that no, she had not shown up too early.
"Thanks again for inviting me," Molly said with a giggle. Could she really grow tipsy on one glass of port? Adorable. Maybe she would do as a distraction from Sally.
Irene wasn't able to hold Molly's attention for long. The party grew, and Molly was an unexpected delight in a setting like this, a poster child for the phrase "fresh meat." That dress alone! Everyone else was wearing clothing with holes in it. Some of Irene's dearest friends were clustered around Molly, feeding her compliments and watching her cheeks get redder and redder from drinking. Traitors, Irene thought, as if they should know intuitively that Irene wanted Molly all to herself.
Sally sidled up to her and the tops of their arms brushed together. "Something's bothering you," she said, raising her voice just enough to be heard over the combined clamor of the conversations around them, someone playing a mandolin on the couch, and the Cocteau Twins on the speakers.
"No," Irene said. She tried to think of a catchy excuse to follow it up with, but her mind was blank when faced with Sally Sally Sally Sally Sally.
"I don't know about you," Sally said, "but for some reason it's sinking in for me tonight that this is our last year here. This is our last inaugural party at Ashford House."
"That is sad," Irene said, picturing her life a year from now and how it should be her and Sally sharing a flat and hosting parties that were similar enough but with Londoners instead of Cambridge students; they'd kick everyone out before it got too late, of course, then go to bed and stay there until noon the next day, then go out for coffee and a show.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Sally said, staring at what must have been the enraptured expression on Irene's face.
"I'm fine. I promise." To make it true (she didn't want to lie to Sally) she added in her head, because I know this infatuation is bound to pass, and I'll move on with my life as usual.
Irene's eyes had settled on the front door in an effort to look at things that weren't Sally, and she saw as it opened and John Watson came through it. He had the look like he'd just seen something that disturbed him.
"Oh, no," Sally said. She pointed to the man who'd come through the door behind John. "He's not coming in here."
"That's John Watson," Irene said, "the short one. I told him he could bring his friends."
"He must have misheard you, then, because the Freak doesn't have friends."
John's companion overheard them. His head popped up and his focus settled on Sally. "Miss Donovan. I wouldn't have expected to see you at this sort of place."
"I live here," Sally said, crossing her arms and adopting her don't-fuck-with-me stance. Irene enjoyed it.
John Watson, meanwhile, had made his way to Irene. He said to her in a low voice, "Just what sort of party is this? There was a man sitting on the front step with his hands and feet tied together."
"Oh, don't worry, John," Irene said, brushing a hand across his chest. "I'm sure he asked to be put there."
"Sherlock!" It took Irene a second to recognise that voice as Molly's. She was extricating herself from a cluster of admirers, waving a hand in the air, and heading towards Irene's group. She lost her balance on one of her high-heeled shoes and her ankle twisted, but it didn't seem to bother her. "It's me, Molly Hooper, from the lab."
"Oh, right," said John's companion. Irene snapped her head back to look at him. She'd seen him around, for sure; his face was unforgettable. But she hadn't known his name before now and was bemused as to how Sally and Molly both were acquainted with him.
"Molly, is it?" Sally said. "Stay away, Molly. Stay far away."
"What's that?" Molly was grinning at Sherlock and didn't seem to have taken in a word Sally said.
Not only were they both acquainted with him, then, they both seemed to have strong feelings about him. Irene bristled with annoyance.
"Sorry, I didn't catch your name," she said. She put on her best seductive smile. "Sherlock, was it?"
"Irene Adler, I presume," Sherlock said.
Irene did her best not to let her surprise show. "My reputation precedes me, does it?"
"You could say that," Sherlock said. He was unintimidated by her. Oh, Irene could change that. She would have to change that.
"Sorry, I think there's been a mistake," Sally said. "Irene may have accidentally invited you to our home, but this is me uninviting you. Good night."
"Oh, no, you should stay!" Molly said. "There's all sorts of interesting people here. There was a man over there who said I look like a Botticelli painting." She grinned and ducked her head and was adorable, and Irene bit back more annoyance. "You know, Sherlock, the woman in the clam shell?"
"Don't!" Sally said, pointing into Sherlock's face when he opened his mouth. "You stay the hell away from her, alright? Molly, just how much have you had to drink? You're going to need someone to walk you home."
"I can do it," John said. "I'm in Baker's Court so she probably lives on the way."
Sally raised her eyebrows. "Well, that sounds like a terrible idea."
"Call the student welfare officer; it's their job," said Sherlock.
"No one asked for your advice," Sally said.
"I'll walk you home, Molly," Irene said, grabbing her by the arm and pushing through Sherlock and John. She made sure to bump Sherlock good and hard to throw him off balance.
"Are you sure, Irene?" Sally said. "I can get one of the girls to do it."
Irene pretended not to hear her. She guided Molly to the front door and down the steps outside. It was cold, and she needed a coat, but she wasn't about to go back inside to get one.
"Sherlock Holmes." Molly giggled as they walked up the street. "He's wanted for a murder, did you know that? Well, not wanted, but they think..."
"Is that so," Irene said, imagining what he'd look like in handcuffs, and how much fun the police could have interrogating him.
Chapter 4: A Study in Insulin
In which John learns some new secrets of Sherlock's, and the body count rises.
To anyone who's been reading this from the beginning (I LOVE YOU BTW :D) I'm still making edits as I go so you might notice little inconsistencies. (For example, Mycroft's title change.) Feel free to point anything out if you find it!
This chapter contains some talk of drug use.
When John and Sherlock returned to their rooms, Sherlock paused outside their front door and put an arm across John's chest to keep him from going ahead. He pointed at the floor. A strip of light was visible along the crack of the door. "We've a visitor," said Sherlock.
John tried the door handle and found it unlocked. Inside sat the last person he would have expected to see: Doctor Mycroft Holmes.
Doctor Holmes was lounged in one of their armchairs. He held Sherlock's violin bow and was twirling it with the tips of his fingers. John tensed; he would no sooner lay his hands on a musician's instrument than he would another soldier's gun.
"They found the body," Sherlock said.
"So they did," agreed Doctor Holmes. Holmes. It hadn't occurred to John until now that the two of them shared a last name. Were they related? Would explain why Sherlock, a second year, had landed a double set.
"Do they need someone to identify it?" Sherlock asked.
"Not anymore. They ran a DNA test on a tissue sample. It's him."
Sherlock rubbed a hand over his mouth and began to pace. "Where'd they find him?"
"Approximately four miles up on the backs. A jogger discovered him. According to forensics he'd been there for several days."
"I was right. I was right! If they'd listened to me..." Sherlock raked his hands through his hair. He stomped up to Mycroft and reached out for the violin bow. "Give it to me."
"Sherlock," Holmes said, tilting his head to one side.
Doctor Holmes relented, and Sherlock scooped the violin up from the table. He walked to the windows and began to play, staring out at the blackness. He produced terrible, screeching notes. John cringed. Stormy was the word for it. At some point during the last two days he'd started privately comparing Sherlock to weather, for they were equally temperamental. Sherlock had been placid, gloomy, and blustery before, but this was the first John had seen of stormy.
Just as abruptly as he'd started, Sherlock stopped playing, and he swooped around the room making loud huffing breaths. John's shoulders relaxed, and it took him a second to realise why. He was relieved. Sorry though he was for Victor Trevor, he couldn't help appreciate Sherlock finally showing some upset. Like there was a human in there after all.
"I could have stopped it," Sherlock said. "If I'd been a bit quicker about things, I could have stopped it and he'd still be alive."
"Perhaps, but you didn't, and he's not. No point in dwelling on the irreversible, wouldn't you say?"
"Shut up, Mycroft!" Sherlock snapped.
"Sherlock," John said under his breath, not because he didn't agree that Mycroft needed to shut up, but because, "you're talking to the master of the college."
Mycroft Holmes smiled. "Not to worry, John. I suppose no one's told you. Sherlock is my little brother."
John frowned and crossed his arms, letting that sink in. Little.
Sherlock pulled another screeching note on his violin. "What was the cause of death?"
Mycroft glanced at a piece of paper resting on his lap. "The coroner is having trouble determining a cause, but speculates it was due to a hypoglycemic event. Always difficult to measure blood glucose levels after death, you know."
Sherlock paused in his playing. He lowered his violin and bow onto John's desk and spun around. "Hypoglycemic?"
Mycroft said nothing. John frowned at Sherlock, whose eyes were flicking back and forth as though he were reading words written on the air in front of him. "Hypoglycemic?"
John considered a moment as to why Sherlock was so fixated on that word. Then he caught up. "He did have insulin."
"Too much insulin." Sherlock glared down at Mycroft. "How?"
"Insulin overdoses aren't uncommon," Mycroft said.
"Victor didn't have his kit!" Sherlock shook both his hands at Mycroft as though he were imagining choking him. "And he's been administering his own injections since age 10. He wouldn't make a mistake like that; he did maths, for heaven's sake!"
"I don't purport to have the answers, Sherlock," Mycroft said, pushing himself out of the armchair. "I merely thought I'd tell you the latest news."
"I need to examine the body," Sherlock said.
"I'm sorry, I can't arrange that."
Sherlock scoffed. "Yes you can."
"I won't arrange it, then. I'm having a hard enough time as it is convincing the police to stop investigating you. Why must you make my job so difficult?"
"Why must you make mine so difficult?"
John cleared his throat loudly. He got enough sibling bickering at home and wasn't keen on listening to more of it.
Mycroft smiled indulgently at him. "Yes, of course, I'm sorry, John. I'll be off now. I trust Week 1 is going well?" He didn't wait for an answer before exiting the room.
Sherlock was playing again, but had moved from screechy to low and distorted. "I'm sorry about Victor," John said.
Sherlock said nothing. John waited a few moments more to see if that would change, but Sherlock remained absorbed in his music. John went to his room. He didn't latch the door all the way shut, in case Sherlock needed anything.
He was still knackered from the night before, so he fell asleep quickly. But it was a restless sleep. He awoke periodically to the sound of the violin, which seemed to go on nonstop until dawn.
Molly had planned to wake up at a reasonable hour on Saturday. But she shut her alarm off and rolled over to go back to sleep once she realised she'd learned the meaning of the word "hangover."
When she next awoke, her clock read 11:51. Her head was pounding, her throat was burning, and her mouth tasted sour. She crawled out of bed and went to her wash basin to rinse her face off.
Molly had always heard of people blacking out after a lot of heavy drinking, but she remembered last night painfully well. She'd made an idiot of herself. Irene, who'd been so nice to her at the start of the evening, had actually walked her home early. She'd either been desperate to get Molly out, or she'd felt sorry for her. Molly doubted she'd receive another invitation to one of their parties.
Molly put on her dressing gown—right over her dress, which she hadn't even changed out of before going to bed last night, now it was wrinkled and ruined, what an idiot she was—and picked up her basket of shower things and a change of clothes. She absolutely remembered to get her key; this may have been a bad morning but she bloody well wasn't going to make it any worse.
Molly showered until she felt like a person again and her headache had dulled some. She brushed her teeth and combed out her hair, and looked critically at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She was pretty. Those people at the party had told her so. She looked especially nice now, she thought, all fresh from washing and her cheeks pink. She looked presentable. She was emboldened.
She was going to the Porters' lodge.
She had no excuse to, but Greg had said it was alright to come by for just tea and a chat. Molly could ask him if he had any paracetamol. Of course, that would require explaining that she was hung over. Well, not necessarily. And anyway this was all dependent on whether or not Greg worked on Saturdays, which she didn't know. By the time she reached the plodge Molly had nearly talked herself out of going entirely.
It was Greg behind the desk after all, and Molly's heart fluttered when she saw him. "Alright, Molly?" he said, grinning and waving at her. "You didn't forget your key again?"
"Oh, no," Molly said, giggling and trying her hardest not to drop dead of embarrassment right there. "Actually, I was wondering, I've got this headache, and I didn't want to go to the college nurse for something so small, but..."
"I can get you something." Greg got up from his desk and beckoned for Molly to come around the counter. "Why don't you come in, I'll fix you some tea while you're here."
Molly sat in the chair he pointed her to and chewed her lip while he made the tea. She studied him while he did it, noting with some discomfort the fine lines at the corners of his eyes. He was probably ten years older than her, and here she was thinking maybe he could be interested in her?
She may have looked nice from her shower, but she was also wearing a jumper with kittens on it. Her cheeks burned. He probably thought of her as just a kid.
"Milk, two sugars." No! She should have just asked for one. What was she even doing here?
"How's Week 1 been?" Greg asked once he was seated across from her.
"Good," she said too eagerly. She sipped the tea, which tasted odd and metallic so soon after brushing her teeth.
"Any favorite subjects yet?"
"Er, biology, maybe. Or physiology, it's hard to say."
Greg's mouth made a little o. "You're reading natural sciences! I would've had you pegged for English or Modern Languages, maybe. Shame on me for assuming, I guess. Though usually I make pretty good guesses."
"Oh, no, I'm rubbish at languages." Molly grinned and shrugged. "Did, erm, did you study..." She trailed off when she decided it was a rude question. He was a townie, or whatever it was they were called. It's alright, she wanted to tell him, neither of my parents have their A-levels.
"Did I study at Cambridge? Believe it or not, yeah. I was a PPS student. Had my eye on becoming a detective, and I did volunteer with the Special Constabulary for a while, but it just never went anywhere. This job, though, it's nice work. I like it."
"Well," Molly said, "it's not too different from working for the police, I guess."
"You'd be surprised how true that is. Students come to me with little mysteries all the time, like, 'Someone took all my clothes out of the machine and nicked my washing powder,' or, 'We don't know who burned the bacon and set off the fire alarm, really.'" Greg chuckled harshly. "Sounds quite pathetic when I put it that way, doesn't it."
"No, it doesn't, not at all," Molly said, and she was sincere, but she knew she didn't sound like it.
"Nah, it's alright," Greg said. "I may not stay here forever but I like helping students. Miss my own uni days, I suppose. I can't believe it's been what, seven, eight years?" Molly's guess had been spot on, then.
They were interrupted by a student coming up to the counter. "Colin!" Greg said, setting down his tea cup. "What can I do for you?"
Colin caught Molly's attention on account of how distraught he looked. "Robert Davies. Something's wrong. He didn't show up for our supervision yesterday, and we were supposed to get drinks after and he didn't show for that either. He's not answering anyone's calls or texts—"
"Alright, we'll fish him out." Greg jumped up from his chair. "Sorry to rush off, Molly. Feel free to stay behind and finish your tea."
"That's alright," Molly said. She felt a little excited for Greg as she watched him leave the lodge with Colin. Here was a real mystery for him to solve.
John roused early on Saturday morning thanks his shoulder trying its best to kill him. He blindly slapped one hand around on his night stand until he found his pills, and swallowed one dry.
He dozed on and off for an hour, rousing himself with the thought that he needed to check on Sherlock. He rolled out of bed and went into the study room, rubbing his shoulder all the way—Jesus, what was it, a change in the weather? It had been raining yesterday and it looked like it would rain today, so probably not.
He knocked on Sherlock's door, quietly the first time, then louder when he got no answer. "Sherlock?" he called. Probably he was out again. John didn't know why he'd expected otherwise.
He remembered from his early morning stupor that he needed more codeine. He was down to his last dose. Really he should have taken care of it before now, but his strange new life was already taking its toll on his brain's ability to think through routine concerns.
He figured he'd make a trip to see the college nurse, introduce himself, ask for directions to the closest pharmacy. John got dressed and brushed his teeth, checked his map for the location of the nurse's station, and set off.
The waiting room felt more like a cozy living room than a surgery. John called out "Hello?" and stood awkwardly for a moment, not sure if he should take a seat yet or not.
"Just a moment!" called a voice from the adjacent room. An older woman came bustling into the waiting room, smiling at John. "Hello there, dear. I've not seen you around before. Are you a first year?"
John cleared his throat. "Yes. John Watson."
"Oh! You're Sherlock's new friend." She was the first one not to sound troubled or amused by the fact. In fact, she beamed. "I'm Mrs. Hudson; it's a pleasure to meet you. You have a seat and I'll fix you a nice cuppa. Tell me what it is you're here for?" She walked around one of the couches to a tea making station set up against the wall.
John sat. "Just thought I'd drop by, find out where the pharmacy is. Not sure how much you'll be seeing of me, but erm, I got shot back in the spring, and I'm still in recovery, so." He'd meant to share the information in a professional sense, but Mrs. Hudson was so grandmotherly he felt more like he was dumping his life story on her for no reason.
"Shot! Good heavens, John, what sorts of business have you been up to? No, that's right, how silly of me. You're a military man, isn't that right? Sherlock's told me all about you. Wounded in action. Would you like some biscuits?"
"Erm, biscuits would be lovely, thanks." John rubbed his shoulder self-consciously.
"Milk or sugar in your tea?"
"Milk, no sugar."
Mrs. Hudson brought him his tea and a plate of biscuits, then headed back to her office door. "I'll be right back with a little map that shows where you can get your medicine, and I'll get you a first aid kit, as well. Goodness knows you'll have need of one if you're living with Sherlock."
"Er," John said as Mrs. Hudson disappeared.
He sipped his tea. The door to the surgery burst open so suddenly he spilled a little down the front of his shirt.
It was Sherlock Holmes, naturally. He didn't spare John a second glance but dropped down into the chair across from him. He was using his left hand to grip his right, which was bleeding from a couple of puncture wounds.
"Sheesh," John said. "What happened?"
"Dog bit me," Sherlock said. "Mrs. Hudson!"
"She's getting me a... a first aid kit, apparently."
"Mm." Sherlock examined his hand boredly. John tried not to be bothered by the fact that Sherlock didn't inquire as to what he was here for; after all, he probably already knew.
Mrs. Hudson returned and handed a small box and a piece of paper to John. As soon as she turned and laid eyes on Sherlock, she exclaimed, "Oh, heavens, Sherlock, not again!"
"It wasn't her fault," Sherlock said. "We were engaging in rough play."
"That's what you said last time, and I'm not having any of it. A well-behaved dog won't ever bite someone she trusts."
"What makes you think she trusts me?" Sherlock asked. "She hardly knew me before Victor left."
"What dog are we talking about, exactly?" John asked. He was ignored.
"All the same," Mrs. Hudson said, turning Sherlock's hand around in both her own to examine it, "I think you ought to turn her in and be done with it."
"I can't; she'll be put down."
Mrs. Hudson made indistinct, disapproving murmurs before saying, "Come on then, we'll have to clean this up." Sherlock stood and allowed Mrs. Hudson to lead him by the hand into her office. John hesitated only a moment before following, intrigued both by the fact that there was a dog and that Sherlock was fond of it.
This back room looked more how John would expect a surgery to look: examination table, counter and sink, laminated diagrams on the wall of various bodily systems.
"What dog?" he tried again.
"Victor Trevor's," said Sherlock. Mrs. Hudson donned gloves and began to wash the bite mark off in the sink.
"Ah. And where's it being kept, exactly?"
Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson exchanged a glance. "A safe place," Sherlock said.
"Oh, really," Mrs. Hudson said. "Safe for what, exactly, your reputation? It's not right keeping her penned up like that, Sherlock." She dried Sherlock's hand and covered the wound using gauze. She applied tape to the edges and patted it gently. "There, now, it'll be fine."
"No injections?" Sherlock asked.
"No, the booster from last time should last a good few years, unless she’s been attacked by wild animals recently." Mrs. Hudson gave Sherlock a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Was she related to him too, John wondered? Just how much of St Benedict's was a family operation?
"I hardly think a wild animal could manage—"
"Oh, hush, you, I was only teasing. Off you go now. I don't want to see you back here for at least another week, you understand? Good luck with your shoulder, John."
"You be kind to my Sherlock, now. I won't have him getting his heart broken."
"We're not—" John stammered. "We're only sharing a set."
"Oh, don't worry, dear, you two aren't the first." And Mrs. Hudson clucked and cooed over them and ushered them out, and John didn't have another chance to object.
As soon as the two of them left the surgery, John grabbed Sherlock by the arm. "Hold on a second. Tell me about this dog."
Sherlock stopped walking and looked down at John. "She was Victor's dog. Her name is Emma. She's a Welsh Corgi. She's one year old."
"That's nice. Sherlock, is there a dog hidden somewhere in our rooms?"
"What? No, don't be stupid."
"Then where is she?"
Sherlock sighed and looked over the top of John's head. "You mustn't tell anyone."
"Who would I tell?"
The right corner of Sherlock's mouth crawled up in a smile. He started walking again, but not in the direction of their building.
At first John thought Sherlock was leading him to the squash courts, and he was thoroughly confused, but then Sherlock opened a side door and led them down into a basement corridor lit by fluorescent lights. They walked without speaking and John glanced at a series of portraits which hung on the wall, showcasing students receiving trophies for something to do with rugby, or rowing.
Sherlock stopped abruptly and John almost rammed into him from behind. He had a key in his pocket which he used to unlock a door, and John heard the clattering of dog claws on a tile floor.
John couldn't discern the original purpose of the room, which was too large to be a closet. At the moment it served as storage for a number of long brown tables. Along one wall was a dog bed and dishes for food and water; in the corner was a spread of newspaper.
Sherlock knelt down to greet Emma, who hopped excitedly and wagged her tail. Sherlock fished something out of his pocket and offered it to her, and she gulped it down whole. Funny how he'd neglected to mention this activity when John asked him where he spent all his time away from their rooms.
"How long has she been here?" John asked. He liked dogs; ordinarily he'd be on his knees petting her as well, but this situation needed dealing with.
"Since Victor moved in. He planned to find a more suitable housing arrangement for her but never got the chance."
"Sherlock," John said carefully. Emma had rolled onto her back and Sherlock was rubbing her belly. He may not have been making cooing noises like a normal person but it was obvious enough the two of them had bonded. "She can't stay here. Mrs. Hudson's right; you can't keep her cooped up like this."
"What do you propose I do with her instead?" Sherlock asked without looking up at John.
"Why not give her back to Victor's father?"
John sighed. "Maybe Greg knows a place you can keep her."
"This was Greg's idea. How do you think we got the key and got her past CCTV?"
"Oh. Really, Greg did that?" John reached up to run a hand through his hair, and considered. "Why couldn't we just bring her up to our rooms, then? If Greg's alright with it."
"Because he doesn't want to get sacked, I imagine. It's against policy to keep pets in student rooms."
"But it's fine to keep one in a basement storage room?"
Sherlock stood up and frowned at John. "You're alright with it, then? Moving her to our room?"
"Erm, I didn't say that, necessarily."
"But you are alright with it."
John regarded the dog. She was gazing up at the two of them, literal puppy dog eyes, wagging her tail. So far she'd yet to make a peep. If John had any resolve to begin with, it was gone now. "Will she get us in serious trouble if we're caught?"
Sherlock waved a hand. "Nothing Mycroft couldn't make disappear."
Sherlock walked Emma on a lead and carried her food bowls tucked inside his coat. John carried her bed. "Try not to look as though you're carrying a dog bed," Sherlock said.
"Right, of course, how silly of me," said John.
"Do you want to make it obvious we're moving her in?"
"Nope. Not complaining. Don't mind me."
It was hard to avoid attention when they had a dog with them, though Sherlock himself seemed to act as a deterrent. The sorts of people John imagined would normally rush forward to pet the dog and ask her name simply stared uneasily as they walked by. John had known right away Sherlock had a reputation, but it continued to surprise him just how strong it was.
They put Emma's bed and bowls in Sherlock's room and watched her as she sniffed around the perimeter. "She'll be good," Sherlock said. "She's a good dog."
"Let's hope so." John crossed his arms. A sudden banging noise outside their front door made him start.
"Robert!" shouted a familiar voice. "Robert, open up!"
Sherlock frowned, and John knew what was coming. Seconds later they were on the stair, along with Greg Lestrade, who was knocking on the door of the room opposite theirs.
"What's going on?" Sherlock asked.
A dark-haired bloke John had seen a time or two before spoke up. "Robert's not shown up for anything. He's missing."
Greg gave up knocking and went for the ring of keys on his belt. Sherlock and the other student gathered in close behind him, and John followed suit. "Easy, give me some space," Greg said crankily.
He unlocked the door and pushed it open, and the four of them peered inside. The room was a mirror image of John and Sherlock's, only it had just one bedroom door. "Robert?" Greg tried again. He stepped inside, holding up a hand to keep the others behind him. "Just wait here a second."
Sherlock craned his head around to see without going in. He pointed with his bandaged hand. "The couch."
John swallowed. There was someone lying across it, but they were so still he hadn't even noticed before Sherlock said something. Only the person's legs were visible from where John stood.
Greg approached the couch. He groaned. "Colin, go back to your room, mate. I'll come by for you later."
"Why? What is it?" Colin shoved Sherlock out of the way and barged into the room. "Oh, god."
Sherlock entered the room next, followed by John. The young man lying across the couch could have been sleeping, were it not for the pasty white of his skin and lips and the fact his chest wasn't moving. "I'll call an ambulance," John said.
"Try coroner," said Sherlock.
"Sherlock," Greg warned.
"Oh, god. Oh god." Colin sank slowly onto his knees, rubbing one hand down across his face. "What happened? Greg? What happened?"
"Overdose," Sherlock said.
"How can you possibly know that?" John asked.
"I want both of you to shut up," Greg said.
"Because the drugs are right there on the table. Use your eyes, John." Sherlock pointed to the table set up at the end of the couch, on which sat magazines, a glass vial, rubber strip, and syringe.
"Sherlock," Greg said, rounding on him. "I need you to leave right now."
"Robert doesn't do drugs," Colin said from his spot on the floor. His eyes were glassy from shock.
"You too, Colin. All of you, out!"
"Why would you maintain that illusion in the face of such obvious evidence?" Sherlock asked, stepping towards the end table. "The question isn't if, but which."
"Sherlock, stop right there. I'm warning you."
"We smoke sometimes," Colin whimpered. "That's it! That's all!"
Sherlock snatched the glass vial off the table.
"Sherlock!" Greg leaned forward and for a second John thought he meant to tackle him.
At first Sherlock looked as though he would uncap the vial, but then he changed his mind and tossed it to John, whose reflexes were just fast enough to catch it before it sailed past him. A small amount of clear liquid remained in the bottom of the vial. Greg was staring absolute murder at Sherlock. John sensed something was off, besides the obvious.
"You taste it, John," Sherlock said. "If it's bitter, probably heroin. If it numbs your—"
"Excuse me," John said. "I'm not putting some unknown and potentially deadly substance in my mouth. What the hell's going on?"
Sherlock held both his hands up at Greg. "I handed it off."
"If you don't leave this instant," Greg said, "I'm bringing Mycroft into this."
Sherlock scoffed loudly, put his hands on his hips, spun in a circle, then rubbed vigorously at the back of his head. "Ridiculous." He strode towards the door. "Come on, John. Give Greg back his toys."
John handed the vial back to Greg. Their eyes met briefly, and Greg gave a quick shake of his head. He seemed about to boil over with fury.
John followed Sherlock back into their rooms. He'd completely forgotten about Emma and his nerves eased a bit when she trotted up to him, tail wagging. He bent down to rub her ears. Sherlock dropped onto the window seat and stretched out, sighing.
"What," John said slowly, "the hell was that about?"
"Nothing important. Greg being overdramatic. Fancy going out for dinner tonight?"
They saw Greg again at 11 that night. He knocked on their door and was leaning against the frame when Sherlock opened it.
"Have you come to apologise for treating me like a petulant child?"
Greg's face screwed up. "What? You are a petulant child. No. I've come to tell you, because the police told me, and I'm completely confused about it, and I thought you'd like to know..."
"Yes?" Sherlock said, and John heard an edge of excitement in his voice.
"It wasn't drugs in that bottle," Greg said. "It was insulin."
Sherlock spun around towards John, and the two of them gaped at one another. Sherlock's eyes were on fire. "Insulin."
"That," John said, "that's strange. Very strange."
"Tell me straight," Greg said. "Did you give it to him?"
"What? No!" Sherlock snapped. "Why, how would I have given it to him?"
"Because I know you kept Victor's. Are you sure it's all still there? What if Robert stole it?"
"I would know if someone was going through my things."
"Are we saying he injected himself with insulin, thinking it was a drug?" John asked.
"That's what it looks like, yeah," said Greg.
"Insulin," Sherlock said. "Someone sold him insulin, and passed it off as cocaine or heroin. Who?"
"Bloody hell if I know," Greg said.
An obscene smile stretched across Sherlock's face. "A murderer."
Chapter 5: From the Reminiscences of John H Watson
In which Mycroft shows his love in scary ways, John has occasional bloodlust, Sebastian Wilkes really deserves to be punched in the face, and creepy Irishmen hide in bushes. It's actually a pretty happy chapter, though!
If my beta @eccecorinna keeps up being this amazing I'll just have to list her as co-author eventually.
"Do you ever actually sleep?" John asked when he came into the study room the next morning, rubbing his eyes.
"Only when it's necessary," Sherlock said. His violin was balanced on his shoulder but he wasn't playing. Emma was lying quietly at his feet, and her tail thumped the ground when she saw John.
"Nightly, then? No, clearly not." John gave Emma a quick ear rub, then sat at his desk and tapped his fingers on the assignments he'd abandoned Thursday night. It seemed like ages ago. "Must be nice being able to get by on so little. I'm already falling behind."
"Robert Davies had much the same thought."
John shifted around in his chair so he was facing Sherlock. "Did he?"
Sherlock was using his violin bow to trace some imaginary shape in the air. "That's why he attempted to buy cocaine."
"How do you know he was after cocaine?" John asked.
"I went back to his room last night. I saw everything I needed to."
"You went back? How'd you get in?"
"No one bothered to lock the door in all the hustle of removing the body. Fortunately. The police would have missed it, if they'd bothered to look. Robert was in his third year and taking known difficult papers. So we know he had too much on his plate. Not even a week into term and his room is littered with stimulants; empty coffee tins, ashtrays on the window sills, empty cigarette packs on the floor. Clearly he needed something stronger. He smokes cannabis when he's with his friends and wants to relax, but this, this drug he was taking alone in his room when he needed to be productive. Cocaine, then. It was his first time taking it, or at least he thought it was, otherwise he would've known something was off within minutes when he failed to feel the effects. Instead he assumed he hadn't taken enough, so he injected more, and felt sleepier, and took more, and felt sleepier. Idiot."
"Oh, yes. How dare he not be paying attention in school on the day they covered 'What to Expect on Your First Cocaine High.'"
Sherlock sat up straight in his chair. "No, John, it was the method of administration! Why would he choose injection over insufflation unless he knew it would produce the high more quickly? He must have known, and he made the illogical assumption that the drug wasn't working properly rather than it not being the right drug."
"Alright, then. Robert Davies was an illogical drug user. Dreadful, that. How does this help us in figuring out who sold him the insulin?"
"It doesn't. You objected to my calling him an idiot, so I explained my reasoning."
John sighed. "And I learned my lesson. No more talking now; I'm going to try and get some work done."
"First, breakfast." Sherlock left his violin on the table and stood up, grabbing his coat from the other chair and sweeping it on with one fluid motion.
"Is that an invitation for me to come along?" John said. "Come to think of it, I think this will be the first time I've seen you eat. Don't want to miss that."
When they got to the kitchens, however, Sherlock only got coffee for himself. He waited for John to fill up a plate before they went into the hall. Sherlock chose seats across from a girl who was familiar to John, though it took him a moment to recognise her when she was sober and not in formalwear. "I know you," John said. "You were at Irene Adler's party."
"Molly Hooper," Sherlock said, though his eyes were scanning across the rest of the room. "Molly, John Watson."
"Hi," Molly said, smiling and fiddling with the collar of her shirt. John couldn't help but take a liking to her; she seemed harmless, and was one of the vanishingly few people who didn't pity him for sharing rooms with Sherlock. She may have been jealous, even, though that was unfounded.
"You're a fresher too, right?" John asked, picking a piece of bacon up off his plate. "What are you reading?"
"Natural sciences—erm, bionatsci," Molly said.
"Ah, I'm a medic."
"Oh, that's neat!" Molly prodded at her own food with a fork. "I've thought about becoming a doctor, but I just know I'd never have the right bedside manner."
Sherlock pointed to a group of students at the far end of the room. "Robert's friends." Then he got up and strode over to them. John ate his bacon and watched from afar.
"What's that about?" Molly asked.
"The bloke across the stair from us died," John said. "Murdered. Sherlock's... investigating."
Molly blanched. "Murdered?"
John explained the situation so far, and by the time he finished Sherlock had returned to their table. He slumped down into the seat next to John. "Useless. I was trying to find out who Robert buys his drugs from, and first they all denied he did drugs at all, then they told me off because they thought I was going after some myself."
"You do seem to have a talent for making yourself look suspicious," John said.
"It wouldn't be a problem if people were as invested as I am in solving these mysteries."
"Can I help at all?" Molly asked.
"Only if you've purchased cocaine from someone in Cambridge during the past two weeks," Sherlock said. Molly's face fell.
They were interrupted rather rudely by someone coming up behind them and clapping both his hands on Sherlock's shoulders. Sherlock went rigid from the surprise, and John swore he felt it like an electric shock traveling up his arm. Alright, so he was highly sensitive to Sherlock's reactions after spending nearly 72 straight hours in his company. That wasn't too strange.
"Sherlock Holmes," said the intruder. He was surrounded by three friends and all four of them were grinning down at Sherlock.
"Sebastian Wilkes," Sherlock said, bored or pretending to be.
"This is Nathan, he's at Trinity," Sebastian said, indicating one of his friends. "We've been telling him some stories he's having a hard time believing. So help us prove a point. Which one of us got shagged last night?"
Sherlock's eyes flicked across the four of them, then he said while turning back to face the table, "James."
Three of the boys began to hoot and laugh and clap each other on the back, and the one called Nathan stared at Sherlock, his eyes wide. "You told him before."
"We didn't, swear to God!" said one of the others.
Sherlock was studying Robert Davies's friends across the room again, oblivious to the racket behind him.
"What is he, a voyeur or something?" Nathan asked.
"No, no," Sebastian said, "he just figures it out by looking at shit, like, oh, you've got a fiber of blue carpet on the back of your head, that's the carpet they only have on floor three in Chestnut Court, and it's all women who live on floor three in Chestnut Court. He pulls shit like that."
"Wow, seriously?" said a girl sitting a few seats down from them. She was leaning forward to look at Sherlock over the trays. "Can you tell me if my boyfriend's been cheating on me?"
Sherlock shot a glance at her and said, "No."
"I mean he's not cheating on you."
The girl's eyebrows rose. She was so pretty, John thought, a guy would have to be mad to cheat on her.
"He's bullshitting that," said Nathan. "Alright, whatever your name was, if you're so smart, when's the last time I did get laid?"
Sherlock's head swiveled up towards him, and he gave him a fake polite smile. "I can hardly deduce something that's never happened."
Nathan did not find that amusing. "You know what? Fuck off. Fucking arsehole."
John snorted. "Oh, come off it. You asked. You walked right into it."
"I don't recall asking you anything." Nathan adopted an unmistakable ready to fight posture, and John couldn't help but laugh. He looked like he could be toppled over by a heavy breath.
"Who are you, anyway?" Sebastian said to John. "Fresher?"
"Er," said John, reluctant to concede to Sebastian's condescending tone.
"You wouldn't recognise him, as he's recently returned from Afghanistan." Sherlock took a sip of coffee. "Better be careful. He keeps a gun in our rooms."
John froze, staring at Sherlock. So did everyone else involved in the conversation. Finally John forced a laugh. "What? Quit making shit up." What he really wanted to say was, How the hell did you know about my gun?
"Oh, don't be so modest, John. I think these gentlemen have a right to know you could beat any of them to the ground with one hand tied behind your back."
John was about to argue, or tell Sherlock off or something, but then he saw the looks on those four stupid faces. Their sudden worry was satisfying, their silence even more so. "Yeah," John said. "I guess that's fair."
Sherlock gave that same fake polite smile to the four of them. "Now go away. I have some very important thinking to do and you're making it difficult."
Molly, who'd not uttered a word since Sebastian and his friends came over, grinned and gave a little pretend applause. "That was cool." Her smile dropped away as she glanced uneasily at the retreating group. "I hate guys like that."
The extremely pretty girl from before scooted down into the empty seat on the other side of Sherlock. "I've a question for you. If my boyfriend's not cheating on me, can you tell me what he is doing between 2 and 4 every afternoon?"
John leaned so far forward to look at her he accidentally got some egg on the front of his shirt. "What do you mean?"
"He says it's for a psychology experiment," she said. "But he's got to be lying. They pay him fifty quid a day, for two hours' work mind you, and all they have him doing is editing Wikipedia articles."
"And the experiment's not about... Wikipedia?" John asked.
The girl shook her head. "The researchers are working out of some guy's room here at college. I followed him once without him knowing, and he went into Baker's Court."
Sherlock was frowning. John said, "You sure he's not cheating, Sherlock? Because, well." And he resisted the urge to add something about how she should probably break it off with him immediately, and perhaps she'd like to get some coffee sometime with John.
"He's the ginger-haired boy you were sitting with until the last ten minutes, yes?" Sherlock said.
"That's him," the girl said. "Stephen."
"And he does in fact bring home fifty pounds each day? You've seen the money?"
"Yes. It's been quite nice, actually. He spends it all on me."
"How did he find out about the experiment?"
"His next-door neighbor told him about it, I think."
Sherlock smiled just a little bit. "Of course he did. I'll take your case."
"Hold up," John said. "Case? Are you a detective now?"
"I need something to keep me occupied while I run up against walls trying to find out who killed Victor and Robert."
John wanted to shush him but the girl seemed unperturbed by that statement. "I'm Maggie, by the way."
Sherlock said nothing. "Erm, how do you do," John said quickly. "I'm John, he's Sherlock."
When Maggie had left the table and Sherlock was plugging her contact information into his phone, he said, "Give it up, John. They're newly in love and perfectly loyal to one another."
John sighed. "Right. Thanks."
When they returned to their rooms, they found Mycroft Holmes waiting for them for the second time. He was sitting in Sherlock's armchair again, reaching one hand down to pet the top of Emma's head.
"Sherlock," he said once the door was shut behind them, "this ends now."
"I won't let you take her," Sherlock said.
"I'm not talking about the dog. I'm talking about Robert Davies, and you researching his death."
Sherlock set his jaw even more stubbornly than before. "Why not?"
Mycroft's voice was low and dangerous. "You. Know. Why. Not."
"Greg told you, didn't he?"
"Greg didn't need to tell me anything, though he'd have been right to. Sherlock, what in God's name makes you think I'm going to let you waltz around St Benedict's trying to find the best place to buy cocaine?" He spat the last two words like they were something filthy on his lips.
"That's your fault. If you hadn't removed the existing source, I wouldn't need to be hunting down new ones."
John wished very much to disappear into the wall behind him, and failing that, he took a few sideways steps towards his room. "Don't leave, John," Sherlock said. "We won't let him cow us this way."
"Cow you? Sherlock Holmes, if you do not stop with your investigation this instant, I will have you sent down."
"No you won't."
"Would you like to try me? I'll send John down, too."
"What!" John yelped. "I haven't had anything to do with this!"
"All the same, it ought to send a message to Sherlock just how serious I am." Mycroft tilted his head to one side and smiled at his brother. "How would you like to go back home to Mummy and tell her all about the adventures you once had in Cambridge before they kicked you out?"
Sherlock had his arms crossed and was tapping all eight of his fingers, a tell against the calm expression on his face. "You're overreacting. This is about Robert's death, which—"
"Was an accident," Mycroft said.
"Was murder! And related to Victor's, as well! How do you expect me to figure out what happened to them?"
"I believe I've made it quite clear that I don't." Mycroft gave Emma one last scratch between the ears and stood up. "Keep the dog, but don't let any of the other students know, or I'll have a dozen requests to keep pets come through." He was all the way to the door when he added, "Keep Wednesday night free, as the college is holding a memorial service for Victor and Robert."
When Mycroft left the room, John's fingertips were buzzing with anger. "He can't," John said. "He wouldn't."
"He would," said Sherlock, staring out the window.
"He knows what kicking me out of Cambridge would do to me, and, and..." John waved a hand in the air. "My career. He has to know."
"Of course he does. That's why he made the threat."
"Then." John's head swam with the injustice of all this and curiosity about Robert and Victor and a vague sick feeling over what the relationship was between Sherlock and cocaine. "Stop."
"Don't worry, John. Leave it to me." Sherlock spun around to face him, his fingers steepled in front of his chin. "Now. Onto why Maggie's boyfriend Stephen is disappearing into Baker's Court for two hours every day. His neighbor wants him out of the way for some reason, yes?"
In the next few weeks of term, John's days seemed several hours shorter than they had been the first week. It was all Sherlock's fault, but John wasn't complaining. At least not until Sherlock started showing up to John's lectures and trying literally to pull him out of them.
Word got out that Sherlock had uncovered the essay-selling business operating out of Stephen Wickham's stair. Suddenly Sherlock had a business of his own, so to speak. Students were dropping by their rooms daily with requests as small as "my essay disappeared off a table in the library" and as big as "my brother back in London's gone missing." Sherlock always insisted on dragging John along when he worked on his "cases," though John rarely did anything to help besides damage control when Sherlock offended people.
John got weary of people asking him what he and Sherlock were up to, and how Sherlock did what he did, so he started a blog to record everything. He printed a flyer that included little tabs with the URL that people could tear off, and he pinned it up on a notice board outside the great hall. Within a day all the tabs were gone, and he had to put up a new one.
Sherlock left a bulleted list on John's keyboard of all the things that were terrible about his blog posts, ranging from "Your attempts to romanticise the work I do at the expense of an accurate record of my analytical reasoning" to "Exclamation! Marks!"
Sherlock showed up to John's first dissection and stuck his head over John's shoulder to critique his work. He was summarily kicked out.
Sherlock stole clothing from John's laundry bin and attempted to teach Emma how to trace a person from their scent. "No, John! Go to John!" Sherlock ordered her, pointing. Emma chewed on John's black checkered shirt and tried to entice Sherlock into playing tug-of-war instead.
"Watch it," John said, looking up from his studying. "That's my favorite shirt."
"Yes, I know, as evidenced by the fact it's always the first one you wear after doing your laundry, and based on the number of times you've worn it ought to have your smell on it rather strongly. Bad dog! Bad dog!"
"Don't tell her off," John said, retrieving the shirt himself. "She's just playing. It's you who ought to be behaving better."
One day John came home to find Sherlock had taken over his desk again with petri dishes.
One evening John went to take his medication only to find Sherlock had seized it all, ground it into a powder, and mixed it with various reactive substances "for an experiment."
One morning John woke to find Sherlock sitting in a chair next to his bed, staring at him.
"What the hell," John grumbled.
"You're fascinating when you sleep," Sherlock said. "You were having a nightmare."
"How could you tell?"
"I observed rapid eye movement, indicating you were having a dream. However, you display no signs of genital arousal, which occurs in all dreams except for frightening ones."
John scrambled underneath his blankets and pointed at the door. "Please get out of my room."
John's life was frantic, ludicrous, and occasionally dangerous. One night he and Sherlock were following a man whom one of their fellow students suspected was stalking her. The man got wise to them, hid in some bushes, and waited until they passed by before attacking. He lunged on Sherlock and wrestled him to the ground with a knife at his throat. Luckily he was no stronger than John, who pulled him off, disabled him with a blow to the solar plexus, and disarmed him.
Sherlock gave John odd looks for the rest of the night until he finally said, "You ought to start carrying your gun when we go out on cases."
"How do you even know about my gun?" John asked.
"You don't exactly keep it well-hidden."
John didn't argue, and he did start carrying his gun. Because when he'd lain down to sleep a short while later, every time he closed his eyes he was greeted with the image of a knife blade cutting into Sherlock's throat, and Sherlock's blood spilling out everywhere, and John being able to do nothing, and that thought was more than enough to make him want to shoot someone.
But all in all, this life wasn't a bad one. John's shoulder hadn't been bothering him as much lately, and he wasn't sure if that was a sign that it was improving, or that he was having too much fun to notice it.
John checked his phone after lecture one morning and read two texts.
The first was from Harry, and the only communication he'd received so far from his family: Hows university life??? Hope youre coming home for christmas, someone i want u to meet xx
John couldn't believe it was time to start thinking about Christmas holidays already. It wasn't a pleasant thought so he pushed it out.
The next text was an unknown number: Haven't seen you around in forever. Come to our party this saturday? You barely got to experience the last one. -Irene
John texted back. How'd you get my number?
I know people, john watson.
John was not reassured, but he saved her as a contact anyway.
When he got back to their rooms, he found Sherlock talking with Greg and two other people it took him a second to recognise. John thought he saw a flicker of relief pass over Sherlock's face when their eyes met, but he was probably imagining it.
"Ah, John, good," Sherlock said. "We have a new case. Sebastian was just filling me in on the details. Be so good as to start at the beginning for John."
It was Sebastian Wilkes and one of his obnoxious friends—not Nathan, but John didn't know his name otherwise. They didn't look the least bit smug now. "The head of our department got a bunch of stuff nicked off her computer," Sebastian said. "Student reports, exam drafts, bad shit. She says she's got three suspects, and it's me, Sid, and this other bloke. Whoever did it's getting handed over to the university disciplinary committee, maybe even the police."
Good, John thought, and he almost asked why Sherlock was bothering with their case. But he already knew the answer. Solving the puzzle was more important to Sherlock than whatever its outcome might be.
"It wasn't us," Sebastian said, like he'd been reading John's mind. "We know Sherlock can prove it."
"I'll need access to Doctor Dhavan's office," Sherlock said to Greg.
Greg gave a resigned sigh and nodded. "But just so you lot know, my being here doesn't mean I'm on your side. We've got all three of you on tape going to her office, so as far as I'm concerned, you're all guilty until proven innocent."
Sebastian held his hands up. "Fine by me. Whatever Sherlock finds will speak for itself."
He sounded almost respectful. John mused on the possibility that Sherlock's business might just help turn his reputation around.
Irene's Saturday night party was more crowded than the last one had been. She seemed to have invited half of St Ben's. But just as before, she was perched near the front door when John and Sherlock came in. She gave them a close-lipped smile and waved.
"Ugh," Sally Donovan said loudly.
Irene swatted her arm. "I'm not putting up with that again. It's my party too; I can invite whoever I like."
"And I should have a say over who's allowed to come into my own house, shouldn't I?" Sally asked. But she wasn't giving a disgusted look to Sherlock or anything. She was smiling at Irene.
"Well, I guess you'll just have to fight me over it," Irene said, smiling back and walking two fingers up Sally's chest.
"Are you two involved?" John said, trying to sound politely interested, adopting a that's nice tone. Ever since Harry had come out, he'd been trying to develop a habit of not assuming people were straight.
Sally laughed in response, and Irene's smile turned wicked. "No. Are you?"
John was standing shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock. Blood rushed to his face. People kept asking them that. "No. I told you, we, we're just..."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Irene said.
"I," John said hopelessly.
"This party is tedious," said Sherlock.
"You've only just arrived, boys!" Irene pranced around behind them and pushed gently on both their backs, easing them towards the small crowd in the living room. "Go on, then, mingle! Sherlock Holmes, you're something of a celebrity now. I'm sure swarms of people will be eager to talk to you."
She was right. Within moments people were descending on Sherlock, sprinkling him with comments like, "How'd you wind up figuring out who stole David Parker's laptop?" and "I heard you hunted down Alisha's stalker single-handed."
"Not single-handed," John muttered, but no one heard him. He drank wine and half listened to Sherlock critique and correct people in a voice so deep it carried under the racket of music and people chattering.
At some point Molly Hooper stood next to John and linked her arm into his. "Thank God, a familiar face," she said. She was holding a plastic cup of water. "I'm not allowed to drink anymore alcohol at these things, not after what happened last time."
"You shouldn't worry about that," John said. "Everyone gets drunk at parties in university."
Molly shook her head. "But I embarrassed myself."
John smiled. "Everyone does that, too."
Molly laughed weakly, but then her eyes went to Sherlock a few feet away from them, and her smile died away.
There was a crush that was never going to come to anything, John knew, so he tried to redirect her attention. "Sherlock told me you're interested in Greg. Greg Lestrade, the porter?"
Molly's eyes went wide. "How did he know that?"
"Oh. I thought you'd told him."
Molly shook her head and reached a hand up to cover her mouth. "Oh, no. Is it that obvious?"
"Not to me," John said. "Like I said, I thought you'd told him, or—"
"Is what that obvious?" Irene asked, appearing from nowhere to rest her chin on Molly's shoulder. "Did I hear that right? You and Greg Lestrade, Molly? Oh, you'd make an adorable couple. You absolutely have to go for it."
"No, no. No one's supposed to know," Molly said. Her cheeks were as red as they'd been when she was drunk. "It's silly. It's completely silly."
John was distracted by Sebastian Wilkes's irritating laugh, and when he looked over he saw that Seb was at the front of Sherlock's current audience. "Pencil shavings," he was saying, presumably in reference to the evidence Sherlock had found that cleared his name. "Can you believe that? You have to. You can't make this shit up. You've got a problem, any of you? Take it to Sherlock Holmes, he'll find pencil shavings or something like it to clear everything up."
"Technically," Sherlock said, "it was rubber from the eraser, not pencil."
Sebastian leaned forward and slapped his leg, laughing. At the sight of it John felt something inside him, some dormant soldier part maybe, uncoil. He pulled his arm free from Molly's.
"Good god, you're mad," Sebastian said. "That's the only thing. Everyone listen up, it can be a terrifying experience going to him for help. He keeps a human skull in his rooms, for Christ's sake. You never know if he's looking at you like you could be a replacement."
"You know what, Sebastian?" John said, taking a step forward. "Piss off. If it weren't for Sherlock you might be having your arse dragged off to the proctors right now. So show a little respect."
No one spoke for a moment, and the music pressed in on John's ears. Some synthesised noise with voices wailing in the background. It really made him want to punch Sebastian in the face.
"Sorry," Sebastian said. "I was just having a bit of fun." He clapped Sherlock on the arm. "No hard feelings, right buddy? You know I appreciate what you did for me."
Sherlock's eyes were scanning the room over Sebastian's shoulder. "Right." When Sebastian left, disappearing into the rest of the party, Sherlock squinted his eyes shut and swiped at them with one hand.
"Are you alright?" John asked. He looked like he had a migraine or something setting in.
"Fine," Sherlock said.
"I heard you can tell someone's whole life story just by looking at them," said a girl who approached him.
"Yeah!" said another. "Do me, what can you tell about me?"
Soon Sherlock had a whole lineup of people waiting to be deduced, and his eyes were flicking back and forth over all of them so rapidly John worried they might fall out of his head. He was talking fast enough to break his own record. "You're reading music though deeply regretting that decision especially as now it's your third year. Too late to change courses. You—recently dumped by your fiancé and now you're trying to drown your sorrows in wine. What is that, third or fourth glass? Teeth stained already. Sloppy. You, in the hideous skirt, you've been here scarcely thirty minutes. Already been upstairs to steal jewelry, expensive pieces, uncoordinated with the rest of your outfit—could you be more obvious? And you, can't stop looking at the boring paintings on the wall, can you, you have secret dreams of becoming an artist. Parents won't have it as they're the ones paying for your education and they get the final say in what course you take. And your shoulder was bothering you again last night so much you tossed and turned for two hours before falling asleep—"
That last one was John. He gulped down the last of his wine and set the empty glass on a long table where some others had been left.
Sherlock finished his spiel with his usual climactic rise and fall in volume, then he took two staggering steps to his left and planted his face on John's shoulder (the good one).
"Erm." John could feel himself starting to blush again as everyone around them stared. "Sherlock?" He grabbed Sherlock's own shoulder and gave it a little shake. "You alright?"
Sherlock seemed fine, entirely conscious and in control of his balance and everything. But his face remained firmly pressed against John, his eyes resting against John's clavicle through his jumper.
"Sherlock," John tried again, a little more forcefully, as he flicked a finger against Sherlock's temple. Sherlock used his fingers to plug his ears. "Right. I guess we'll be leaving then."
John walked sideways, awkwardly, putting a hand on Sherlock's shoulder to help guide him. He wished he could turn away every head that was staring at them. Several gave dirty looks, probably since they hadn't liked what Sherlock said about them. Sherlock matched John's steps, still seeming fully aware of the situation, just not bothering with use of his own eyes.
They made their way outside, and down the front steps, and finally Sherlock lifted his face. He inhaled sharply, eyes rolled towards the sky, then he pointed towards the corner of the house. "That will do." He took John by the elbow and led him there.
They sat in the grass, damp from the late night chill, and Sherlock hid his face in John's shoulder again. The noise of the party was reduced to a distant roar out here, and Sherlock's breathing grew slower and deeper.
"So, er," John took a stab, "too overwhelming?"
They sat in silence for a few minutes. John had left his coat inside, and he was freezing, save for the parts of him touching Sherlock. His shoulder was going to make him pay for this with another restless night, he imagined. And yet he made no move to hurry Sherlock along, since this felt like an important task.
The bushes behind them along the side of the house rustled, and John nearly jumped out of his skin. Someone was there. Bloody hell, Irene's parties. John twisted around to see a guy crawling out onto the grass, hair all messed up with twigs sticking out of it.
"Evening, boys," he said. He smiled at John and Sherlock, then turned his attention to brushing dirt and leaves off himself. Then he looked back to John and Sherlock, and he studied them for a beat longer than was comfortable. The smile that crossed his face this time bordered on lewd. John figured he thought they were a couple—of course—though whether he was giving that nasty grin because he thought it was sexy or disgusting, John couldn't say. It seemed to be a mixture of both.
"Don't stay out too long," he said. "Wouldn't want you to freeze to death."
It wasn't that cold out, but John didn't say anything. He watched warily as the stranger walked around them and the corner of the house, headed for the front door, and disappeared inside.
"Gay," Sherlock said.
"Don't stereotype," John said, because they could hardly talk.
Chapter 6: A Direct Challenge
In which the body count very nearly rises, and Sherlock and John have a little domestic.
Opening scene of this chapter blatantly stolen from a certain gifset on tumblr. :D
Extra special thanks to my Britpicker/Campicker, interjection, because she really does an amazing job and I boldly ignore her advice when it suits the story. What I'm trying to say is, there are some Cambridge inaccuracies within. ;) ("Mycroft did it" is the "A wizard did it" of Sherlock fandom. shh just come)
LASTLY, please note: tw for kidnapping and hostage situations, both in this chapter AND in later chapters. From here on out it's a plot point.
When Irene padded down the stairs in the morning, she narrowly avoided stepping on a spot of what she suspected was dried vomit. She sneered. She preferred to think of Ashford House parties as not being that type. She'd make Laura clean it up; no doubt it was from one of Laura's friends.
Irene yawned as she went into the kitchen. She stopped with her mouth half open, not having expected to see anyone. There was a guy at the counter, sitting on one of her stools, eating her cereal.
"Hi," he said, waving sheepishly.
"Good morning," Irene said.
"Hope you don't mind. I slept over on the couch and I was hungry when I woke up."
Irene cleared her throat. "Not a problem. Can I get you anything else while you're here? Tea? Coffee?"
"Coffee would be great, thanks."
Irene flared her nostrils when she was faced away from him. She set to work making two cups of coffee. "I don't think we've met. Are you at St Ben's?"
"Homerton, actually. So you can see why I didn't want to walk back last night."
"Yeah." Irene crossed her arms and leaned against the counter. "Friend of Laura's?"
The stranger looked over his shoulder. "Who's Laura?"
He grinned and shrugged. "I don't know anyone here. Followed another one of my friends in."
Irene considered asking his name, but decided she didn't really want to know. She waited for the coffee to brew, tapping her fingers against her arm.
"Do you know Sherlock Holmes?" he asked around a mouthful of cereal.
Christ, did everyone want to talk about Sherlock? Irene tilted her head back to glare at the ceiling, then composed herself and straightened up, smiling again. "I do."
"Who's that new friend of his?"
"Is that his name?"
"Who are you talking about exactly?" Irene asked. "The little one in the jumper?"
The stranger smiled. "That's the one."
"John Watson," Irene said.
"John Watson," he repeated. "John Watson." He grinned again. "Makes a nice sound, doesn't it?" Another bite of cereal, chew, swallow. Another bite, talking with mouth full: "He's cute."
"Don't get your hopes up," Irene said. "He told me he's not gay, though in any case he seems to be in a monogamous relationship with Sherlock."
"Oh, that's never stopped me before."
It wasn't so much what he said as how he said it that put Irene on edge. She felt suddenly protective of John. That was silly; John was a soldier and he could look after himself. But something about this man was troubling her. Irene prided herself on her ability to read people, and this one didn't read right. "I really don't think he'd be interested. Sorry."
"Oh well," he said airily. "Next time, maybe."
Next time what? Irene spun around and took two mugs out of the dish drainer. She poured the coffee, adding milk to one and leaving the other black.
"I take sugar in mine," said the stranger.
"Oh, sorry," Irene said, lifting both mugs and carrying them past him. "Did you think this was for you?"
The satisfaction of telling him off was dulled by the discomfort of him still being in her house. She really should just tell him to leave, but she didn't want him to know he was having an effect on her. Did he try to make people uneasy, or was it unintentional and block-headed like it was with Sherlock?
Since neither of her hands were free, she called through Sally's door instead of knocking. "Coffee."
Sally opened the door for her. She was still in her pyjamas but looked like she'd been awake for a while. "Thanks," she said, giving Irene a peck on the cheek when she took her mug. Irene's head spun.
"Are you working on an essay?" Irene asked, looking at the papers and books open on Sally's desk.
Sally shook her head and sipped her coffee. "I'm doing some... research, I guess. About Victor Trevor. The police are considering it a closed case, accidental insulin overdose. But I'm agreeing with Sherlock Holmes for once. I think it was murder."
Irene ran her fingers over the pages of handwritten notes Sally had taken so far. There were daily schedules, lists of different insulin delivery methods. Irene was impressed that Sally could make sense of this, since it looked utterly meaningless to her. "Didn't they suspect Sherlock as having something to do with it, at first?"
"Yes, back before they ruled it accidental. But, and I say this very tentatively, I don't think Sherlock was involved. Not because I don't think he's capable, but because I don't think he would. Victor was useful to Sherlock. He elevated his social status."
"They were friends," Irene said. Sally laughed. She didn't believe he had friends; she'd said something to that effect, Irene remembered. Him being joined at the hip with John Watson seemed to disprove it, but Irene didn't want to argue.
Sally continued. "Anyway, I'm trying to compose a profile. It wasn't anyone at St Ben's, but it was probably someone at Cambridge. A white male, highly intelligent. Possibly another maths student. Possibly a fellow. Killing someone with insulin, that's a mathematical murder. Or, I suppose it could be medicine, since Victor was changing courses."
Irene smiled, forgetting how inappropriate it was. "A mathematical murder. You're amazing, Sally."
Sally sighed. "I wish it was enough to help Victor."
Irene couldn't think of anything comforting to say to that, so she asked questions. "Why would a fellow want to kill a student?"
Sally made a little growl of frustration and set her mug down on the desk. "That's what's driving me mad. I can't come up with a motive for why anyone would want to kill him. Victor was a good student, but he wasn't fantastic, he wasn't getting firsts or anything. He wasn't a rower or a rugby player. He didn't have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend for that matter. He didn't have enemies or anything. He was just normal, and people liked him."
"Crime of passion? He pissed someone off?" Irene suggested. "No, wait. That goes against what you were saying before, about a mathematical murder."
Sally gave her a sad half-smile. "Right."
"What about a really pissed off mathematician?"
Sally covered her mouth to suppress a giggle. "Irene, stop. I'm trying to investigate my friend's murder and you're making me laugh."
"That's all I can do!" Irene said, frustration spilling out unexpectedly.
Sally quieted. She turned so she and Irene were facing each other directly, and she looked her in the eye, opening her mouth, then closing it again. She pressed her lips together.
Irene had to grip her coffee tightly to keep it from slipping out of her fingers. Don't do it. Don't. Absolute worst possible time. She'd never forgive me. If Sally thought Sherlock was a sociopath, what would she say about Irene, if she could read her thoughts now? Wanting to kiss her when she was caught up thinking about her dead friend. Her dead boyfriend. No, that was unfair. They'd only gone on two dates.
Sally's eyes were darting back and forth across Irene's face, and they flicked down to her mouth a time or two. "I appreciate you trying to help. I really do. I know I'm chasing a ghost."
Irene shook her head feebly. "You could figure this out. You could get his killer caught."
"Stop," Sally said. "Because I know what you're going to say next. Bring him to justice, right? See him put behind bars? Cute clichés, Irene, but it doesn't make any difference."
"Actually, I was thinking more like tie him up and administer justice yourself."
Sally's eyes widened and her mouth opened a little, then she started laughing. She laughed so hard she had to lean forward and put a hand on Irene's shoulder. "I love you. I love you! How can you make me laugh about this?"
Irene reached out the arm that was holding her mug so she could set it down on the desk, then she wrapped both her arms around Sally and twirled her around like they were dancing. "I may only be good at a few things, darling, but I make sure I'm damn good at them."
John had a dream he tried to go into his room, but found all his things stacked in boxes outside the door. "Victor's back," Sherlock said, indicating the faceless figure beside him. "You'll have to find somewhere else to stay."
He woke feeling strange.
Sherlock had taken Emma out and was just returning when John emerged into their sitting room. "There's something I've been wondering," John said.
"Only one thing?" Sherlock asked, bending over to unclip Emma's lead.
"About Victor Trevor," John said. "And you. The two of you, were you close? Were you friends?"
Sherlock hung Emma's lead from its place on the back of the door. "I don't have friends."
John bit his tongue to keep from asking what Sherlock called people who dragged him out of parties so he could bury his face in their shoulder. "Right. I just wondered, you know, since you seemed to know him pretty well, but you never seemed all that broken up over his death."
"What was I supposed to do, lie in my bed weeping all day?"
"No," John said. He sensed from Sherlock's tense voice that he was growing upset, and he felt bad for causing it, but at the same time he was confused as ever. "I'm just trying to understand what he meant to you, if anything."
Sherlock still wasn't looking at him, now because he was pouring new food for Emma. "Are you asking me if I wish Victor hadn't died? Because yes, of course I wish that. I liked Victor. Everyone liked Victor."
"So I've heard," John said, and a pang of resentment struck his chest. Come off it, he told himself. Was he really going to be jealous of some dead guy? People like me, too, he reminded himself. "Would you regret it if I died, or would you just find a replacement for me, like you did for him?"
Sherlock stopped what he was doing and turned around, frowning at John. He looked genuinely confused. "What? What are you talking about?"
"Nothing. Never mind. I'm sorry I brought it up."
Sherlock's frown eased, but it left him looking like a lost child, which made John feel worse for some reason.
"Really, forget about it," John said. "Anyway, I left my coat at Irene's last night. You want to come with me to get it?" He meant it as a kind of peace offering. I like doing things with you, even when they're not special or exciting. I enjoy your company. You make everything better even when I can't bloody understand you.
"Why would I want to come with you to get it?"
No point in beating around the bush. "Because you like spending time with me?"
Sherlock considered that a moment. Then he nodded. "Yes. I'll come. I really shouldn't pass up the chance to annoy Sally Donovan."
When they got to Ashford House, they found Irene sitting in the living room with Molly Hooper, drinking tea and starting a game of Cluedo. "You boys should stay and play with us," Irene said. "The more the merrier."
John agreed because Molly looked a little scared to be here on her own, and he still hadn't forgotten that peculiar hungry look Irene had given him the first few times they met.
Within five minutes Greg Lestrade knocked on the front door, and Irene invited him in. "Someone called in a noise complaint?" Greg said.
"Oh, that," Irene said. "It's been resolved. You should stay and play Cluedo with us. It's nearly time for the shift change at the lodge anyway, right?"
Aha. It was a setup. Poor Molly looked like her jaw might fall apart from the shock.
Greg grinned and shook his head. "Nice try. You want to make me lose my job?"
Irene pouted. "For playing a bit of Cluedo?"
"For fraternizing with students. I ought to go home now."
"Oh, spare me," Sherlock said. "If Mycroft had any intention of firing you he'd have done it by now."
"Right, there, you see?" Irene said. She grabbed Greg by the arm and dragged him through the door. "Now come spend some time with us. You absolutely have to ask Molly what she's been up to lately."
Irene was awfully pushy in her matchmaking. What exactly made her so certain Greg and Molly would hit it off when the two of them barely knew each other?
But apparently she had a sense John didn't. She sat Greg and Molly next to each other, and within three turns they'd formed an alliance and were showing each other their cards, giggling.
"I'm ready to make an accusation," Sherlock said.
"You can't possibly," John said. "We haven't been playing long enough."
"I've deduced the only logical explanation based on the facts as presented."
"I really don't think that's mathematically possible at this point," John said.
At that moment Sally walked through the room, presumably on her way to the kitchen, but Irene reached out and grabbed her hand to stop her. "You can be our objective observer," Irene said. "You can check the envelope when someone makes an accusation, say if it's right or not, then no one has to stop playing."
"Fat chance," Sally said. "Last time you played this with a big group there was shouting and dice throwing by the end. Leave me out of it."
Sherlock leaned to one side to examine Sally better. "You've been researching the insulin murders."
Sally frowned and took half a step backwards, probably unconsciously. "How'd you know that?"
Sherlock pointed to the hand Irene was still clinging to. "The impression of ink on your palm where you rested it on the paper reads backwards iu RA. International units of rapid-acting insulin. Or does it stand for something else?"
Sally pulled her hand free of Irene and rubbed at her palm. "That's right. Why'd you say murders, anyhow? Was there another?"
"Robert Davies," Sherlock said.
"Robert?" Irene said. "I thought he died of something drug related."
"Yes, that is what Mycroft would like everyone to believe," Sherlock muttered, then took a sip of his tea.
"Wait a minute," Sally said. "You're telling me Robert Davies was actually killed by an insulin overdose? Did you just make that up?"
"It's the truth," Greg piped up. "He thought he was taking drugs, but whoever sold it to him gave him insulin instead."
"Oh my god." Sally pressed two fingers to her mouth, her eyes unfocused. "Oh. This could change things." And with that she rushed around the couches, back towards the stairs.
No one spoke at first, until finally Molly said, "Erm, Sherlock, you were about to make an accusation?"
Another pot of tea and only a few thrown dice later, Sally was sitting across from Sherlock, passing her notes back and forth with him and swapping ideas.
"I think it's likely the murderer knew both victims," Sally said.
"But you said he didn't go to St Benedict's," said Sherlock, squinting at a page of Sally's handwriting and turning it on its side.
"They knew each other through academic channels, then," Sally said. "Victor was a mathmo, and Robert?"
"Linguistics," said Sherlock.
Sally frowned. "Oh. That doesn't help. No crossover at all, really."
"Profiling," Sherlock said, curling his lip a little. "An inexact science at best."
"How's what you do any better?" Sally snapped back.
Irene, who was sitting next to John on the loveseat, leaned close to his ear. "She's taking papers in criminology, if you didn't know. Her favorite subject. I guess their methods are in opposition to one another."
John had to shake himself out of a reverie, as he'd been fixated on Sherlock for some time. "Or complimentary," he said, "if they'd bother trying to get along."
"The death of a mutual friend just might make them," Irene said.
Sherlock doesn't have friends, John thought, somewhat resentfully.
Irene sighed, a distinctly happy sound. "Look at them. Our two little detectives. Aren't they adorable?"
John hoped Irene wasn't implying what he thought she was implying. He glanced over at Molly and Greg to see if they were listening in, but they weren't. They were in the window seat, still showing each other cards from Cluedo, but this time it was to make fun of the images printed on them. Greg made what must have been an obscene joke, because Molly shrieked and covered her mouth, then started laughing.
Sherlock and Sally continued to bicker. "Victor didn't play sports," Sherlock said.
"He followed the rowing, and Robert was a half blue."
"That means nothing; half the college watches the boat race and the bumps."
"Alright, alright," Sally said, flipping through her papers. "Let's start again. Let's make a list. What do they have in common? It's got to be everything, down to eye color, lecture schedules."
"Is it possible the murderer chose victims at random?" John couldn't help but ask.
"No," Sherlock and Sally replied in unison.
"Sorry I asked," John said. Irene grinned and gave him a playful nudge with her elbow.
"White, male," Sally said as she wrote. "English?"
"Robert was Welsh," Sherlock said.
"Both lived on the same stair," Sally said.
Sherlock's brows knitted together. "Both on my floor. Oh."
"You want to confess to something?" Sally said without looking up from her writing.
"No, I mean, what if I'm the common factor?" Sherlock said. "The fact that they know me."
"You really sure you don't want to confess something?"
"What if it's a message? Or a warning?" Sherlock's eyes scanned the room, and when they fixed on John his frown vanished, and he stared a second long enough for John to wonder why he looked so taken aback.
And then... oh. Of course. If that were true, John would be next. Made sense.
"Well, you certainly don't lack enemies," Sally said. "I'd believe it. Want to give me a list of people who hate you?"
John swallowed, with some effort. Nothing to worry about, since he had no intentions of injecting himself with anything any time soon. Insulin couldn't be put in pill form, could it? Nope, that was stupid to even wonder. Plus John had a gun, and he wasn't naturally trusting. He knew how to take care of himself. He'd be fine.
Oh, god, he hoped Sherlock wasn't planning on injecting himself with anything, either.
Sherlock's phone vibrated from his coat pocket. Since Irene was closest to the coat rack, she fished it out and tossed it to him. He checked the text, and his head jerked backwards in surprise.
"What is it?" John asked.
The frown had returned to Sherlock's brow. He read aloud. "'It's that pesky insulin again. Can you find me before I die?'"
"What? Let me see." Sally snatched the phone out of his hands before he could object, and she read over the text. "Do you know this number?"
"Never seen it before," Sherlock said.
"Irene, look this up, see if you get any results," Sally said, and she read off the number, which Irene searched for using her own phone.
"It belongs to someone named Deepa Sharma," Irene said, and all heads turned towards Sherlock.
"Never heard of her," he said.
His phone buzzed again from Sally's hands, and she checked it. "Picture text. Hang on." Her eyes went wide. "Oh. Oh my god."
With that, all five of the rest of them were crowded in behind her, looking at the picture over her shoulder. Irene pushed in front of John so she could see, but not before he got a good look. The picture was of a girl lying on the floor, hands bound behind her back, a strip of duct tape over her mouth. A syringe was stuck into her arm, balanced there by its needle.
"That would be Deepa Sharma," Sherlock said.
"Jesus," John said. Molly grabbed onto his arm.
"So much for white, male, and living by Sherlock being the common factors," Irene said.
"Bloody hell," Greg said, backing away from the bunch. "I'm calling the police."
"Wait." Sherlock held up a hand. "Give me a moment. I can figure out where she is and then you can tell the police exactly where to go."
"You can't figure that out just from looking at a picture," Sally said. She jumped out of her chair and began to pace in little circles, eyes still on the phone screen. "We'll take the phone to the police and they can trace it."
"Don't be stupid," Sherlock said, snatching his phone back. "Every second we waste is costing her. Let me see. Ah, alright, this is a lecture hall. It was taken near the front of the room and you can see the edge of the podium. Sunday afternoon, they'd all be completely deserted. No windows, fluorescent lighting, the spread of which suggests a smaller room. That will narrow it down once we know what building. State of the carpet says it's either new or recently renovated. The floor's spotless; it's a building that gets cleaned on Sunday mornings." Now he was hurriedly typing something into his phone, flipping pages on the touch screen. "Deepa Sharma is reading mathematics. Ah! Sally, it's just like you said. She's a mathematics student, and so's the murderer. She's in the maths department. This lecture hall." He turned his phone around to show them all a photograph of a lecture in progress. "Now, Greg, you can call the police. And tell them to move quickly, for God's sake, we don't know how much insulin he gave her."
While Greg spoke on the phone, Sally crossed her arms and looked at Sherlock. "Guess you were right. It is all about you."
"What kind of message is that?" Molly asked. She was sitting on the couch, hugging her knees. "Tying up some poor girl and sending you her picture?"
"I don't know," Sherlock said. He stared at the wall, lost in thought.
"He's escalating," Sally said.
"It's because I didn't figure out the last two quickly enough," Sherlock said. "He got bored waiting for me."
"He sent you a direct challenge," Sally agreed.
"There, now," Irene said, smiling. "I knew the two of you could come up with something if you put your heads together."
"We still don't know anything about him," Sally said. "Except he's a maths student."
"And a he, apparently," John said. "You two sure about that?"
"Yes," Sherlock and Sally said.
In the evening, it was John's turn to take Emma out. He returned to find Sherlock in the middle of composing something on his violin.
"I talked to Greg," John said, shrugging out of his coat. "Deepa's going to be fine."
"Deepa Sharma. The girl you helped save earlier?" When Sherlock didn't respond, only jotted down more notes on his staff paper, John put his hands on his hips. "Hello? Sherlock?"
"Send her my congratulations on having enough glucose in her bloodstream to survive the attempted murder. Did she happen to get a good look at the man who attacked her?"
"She said he was wearing a fancy dress mask and he didn't speak to her at all," John said. "All she could give was an estimated height and weight. Close to average."
Sherlock sniffed. "Useless."
At first John could do nothing but gape at him incredulously. "Useless? Sherlock, do you even care? About her, the person? The one who almost died?"
Sherlock gave him an exasperated look. "Oh, please. Let's not start this again."
"Call me crazy, but I don't believe we've done this before."
"Not you personally, no, but I've had to hear it from enough people throughout my life."
"What, people giving you shit for not caring about anything?" John's voice was raised, and on some level he knew he was taking this more personally than he needed to, but he didn't stop. "Didn't care about Victor after all, then? Or Robert Davies, well, you barely knew him, why should his death bother you? No, no, someone's killing people to try and send you a message, and you only care because it's a puzzle to solve. Right, I get it."
Sherlock had lowered his violin and bow to his sides, and he watched, his face unreadable, as John stormed to his bedroom door. Before John turned the handle, he couldn't resist a parting shot. "Hopefully, if I'm next, I'll make an extra tantalizing piece. To the puzzle, I mean. I'd love to be of some help."
He disappeared into his room quickly so Sherlock wouldn't have a chance to object, but Sherlock didn't bother trying. He just went back to his violin playing. For the first time since they'd been living together, John found it incredibly annoying.
Chapter 7: An Interested Party
In which Mycroft displays a hint of feelings, and Sherlock doesn't quite understand how compliments work.
In the morning, Sherlock's bedroom door was closed and Emma was curled up on the floor in front of it, despondent. "He have a row with you too?" John whispered, rubbing her ears. Technically it was Sherlock's turn to take her out, but he wasn't about to go knocking on Sherlock's door, and someone had to do it before John left for the day.
At lunchtime, when he was leaving his lecture, he was stopped by a very pretty young woman who told him Mycroft Holmes needed to speak with him. John didn't relish the thought, but he followed her without complaint anyway. He hadn't forgotten Mycroft's initial threat of being sent down, and though that particular issue hadn't come up again, it was clear John's position at St Benedict's was subject to the Master's whims. John felt like he was being pulled along on a lead like Emma.
"John," Mycroft said, smiling when John entered his office. "How were your lectures this morning? Shall I have some tea brought in?"
"No thanks," John said, sitting in the hard wooden chair at Mycroft's desk. He flashed back to the first day he'd been here, when Mycroft had extended the college's invitation. John got a funny feeling in his chest when he thought of how unlikely it had been, how close he'd come to not meeting Sherlock. The feeling turned sour when he thought of their most recent interaction.
Mycroft had different flowers on the window sill this time, ones that didn't put off such a strong smell.
"I trust you know why you're here," Mycroft said.
"I have no idea, actually."
"I'm concerned about your well-being, and my brother's. As you are in frequent close contact with him, it puts you in a unique position to report back to me on how he's doing."
"Report," John said. "Do you want it typed and double-spaced?"
Mycroft gave him a peeved, oh-that's-so-funny-aren't-you-clever-and-we-both-know-it smile. "That won't be necessary. I only wanted to talk. I observe the two of you haven't been getting along during the past day or so."
John gripped the arms of the chair. "How'd you know that?" Mycroft didn't answer immediately, so he added, "We haven't. We argued in our rooms. Are you spying on us?"
"Easy now, John. I don't have cameras in your rooms. I saw you walking your dog this morning, and noticed you looked rather unhappy. From there I was able to, shall we say, deduce what had transpired."
"Hm. Right." John licked his lips and decided the sooner they could get this over with, the better. "We weren't getting along. I was mad at him for not caring what happened to Deepa Sharma—you know, the girl who was kidnapped yesterday. For not caring about Victor or Robert either." Or me.
Mycroft smiled politely and nodded. Like some therapist pretending to be interested in his patient's life but privately racking up notes on how insane he was. He folded his hands on the desk. "It's true my brother's ability to empathise has often been called into question. Though doesn't it follow that someone who truly didn't care for the feelings and opinions of others wouldn't get defensive when called on it?"
"Hold on," John said. "Were you lying when you said you didn't have cameras in our rooms?"
"I know Sherlock well enough to imagine how the conversation went."
Nicely done, avoiding the question, John thought, but he stared towards the floor and stayed quiet.
Mycroft spoke again. "Unbelievable though it may be to some, from what I've observed, Sherlock does seem to care about your opinion. The reason I'm telling you this is because I want you to know the positive influence you've had on him. Without your presence, John, I don't like to think of how the situation with Robert Davies's murder investigation would have ended up."
"You mean the... the cocaine." Mycroft didn't respond, so John added, "Right?"
"That is what I'm referring to, yes."
"What happened with that, anyway?" John asked. "Sherlock, and cocaine."
"What is there to tell, really?" Mycroft said. He had an empty teacup sitting by his hand, and he spun it around in its saucer. "It happened. It ended. It may happen again."
John chuckled dryly. "In which case you'll have me kicked out."
"It's not my intention to punish you for my brother's transgressions. As I said, you have some influence over him, and I will wield it forcibly when I need to." John stared at Mycroft's fingers turning the teacup round and round again. "John. Look at me, please."
The area around Mycroft's eyes tightened. Like he was sad, and trying not to show it. "Don't give up on him."
"Give up on him?" What would that even consist of? Moving out? Not speaking to him? The idea seemed as alien to John as cutting off one of his own limbs. "I can't. I mean, I wouldn't."
Mycroft's eyes relaxed again, and he plastered on his polite smile. "Good. So glad we've reached common ground on this matter. Now then, any plans for the Christmas holidays? Will you be spending them at your father's home in London?"
"Erm, yeah." If the serious part of the conversation was over, John wasn't keen on sharing more personal information than was necessary. "I think I'd better be on my way, if that's alright." He stood up without waiting for a confirmation.
"Certainly. But one more thing before you go."
"Listen to me carefully."
Mycroft leaned forward a little. No trace of his smile remained. "Watch your back, John. Never leave your rooms without a means of defending yourself."
Did he mean John's gun? Was that just public knowledge now, or had it shown up on camera? "I don't."
And there was the smile again. Mycroft leaned back in his chair. "Very well, then. Thank you for coming in to speak with me. Good afternoon."
When John returned to their rooms, Sherlock was in the sitting room and looked to have just woken up. His hair was sticking up in the back and he was wearing his dressing gown. He and Emma were playing tug of war with what looked suspiciously like one of John's socks.
"How'd it go with Mycroft?" Sherlock asked, jerking forward with a sudden hard tug from Emma. When he pulled back, the sock tore in half.
"Fine," John said. He knelt down beside Emma and petted her, and watched Sherlock's bare toes wiggling on the ground. He was fidgety. He had something he wanted to tell John.
Sherlock tossed his half of the sock aside. "I was reading your blog again. Your latest entry."
"That would be... the case of Martin Hughes's brother, right?" John had not yet updated with a post about Deepa Sharma's abduction. In fact he probably wouldn't write about that one at all, at least not while her kidnapper was at large.
"Right," Sherlock said. John looked up at him expectantly. "It was good."
Sherlock looked inexplicably irritated. "Your blog post. It was well-written."
John rose slowly to his feet. "Say that again?"
Sherlock sighed loudly. "Your writing is good. What's not to understand?"
"You're lying," John said, unable to stop a grin, because what on earth was Sherlock getting at?
"I'm not lying!" Sherlock crossed his arms. "I'm trying to give you a compliment; just accept it!"
"Ahh," John said, nodding. "I see what happened here. You were trying to come up with some way to be nice to me, right? Did you look up a list of sample compliments on the Internet?"
Sherlock's expression was somewhere between shocked and scandalised. Caught red-handed. "Don't be ridiculous. I thought it up on my own."
"So you admit to inventing compliments in a calculated manner. You didn't actually enjoy my blog post."
"Well." Sherlock half shrugged. "Now that you mention it I thought the whole thing was rather overdramatised and focused entirely on the wrong details."
"There we go," John said, patting him on the shoulder. "That's my Sherlock."
"But I think you're improving as a writer."
"No you don't."
"Alright, I don't. It was all rubbish."
John started to laugh. "That was amazing. How long did it take you to think that up? I know, I'll talk about his blog. You know, generally Sherlock, the way compliments work is they're things that are actually true. You have to tell me something you really do like about me."
His laughter was contagious. Sherlock was grinning. "Should I write you a list?"
"Oh, shut up, you dick." John put his face in his hand and made one last wheezing giggle. Then, without thinking about it too much but because the urge came on suddenly, he gave Sherlock a hug.
He pulled back quickly once he realised how awkward it was. Sherlock looked like John had just slapped him.
"Sorry," John said, thinking of how he himself didn't much like to be touched unexpectedly.
"What? No, no, it's just." Sherlock looked down at Emma and scratched his head. "No, that was fine."
John's ears were growing hot. Why? It was only a hug. What the bloody hell was going on in his brain? Even more troublingly, he wanted to do it again.
Emma yipped. As she was ordinarily a quiet dog, it made a perfect distraction, and both John and Sherlock bent down to fawn over her and ask her what it was she had to say and would she like to go out for a walk and maybe have a treat and oh, wasn't she such a good dog?
Chapter 8: How Christmas Exposes Our Priorities
Featuring awkward and slightly forbidden flirting, the first death throes of John Watson's heterosexuality, and the effects of mistletoe on two lonely women.
Sorry for the longer-than-usual wait! In case anyone's wondering, I have the entire first draft finished, so posting is a matter of how quickly I can revise. And I hate revising. *sob* Anyways, hope you enjoy the ever increasing slashiness. ;D
Molly did all her Christmas shopping in one go the weekend before term ended. She could hardly wipe the smile off her face the whole time. Christmas shopping was always something she'd loved the idea of, but her experience never lived up to it. She wanted to rush through the snow between lots of cheerily-lit shops, have an armful of parcels, and get a cup of hot chocolate after. That exact scenario seemed to only exist in films, but this year's shopping came the closest to what she'd always hoped for. In Cambridge it was drizzling, not snowing, but everything else matched perfectly.
What really made it good was the number of people she had to shop for this year. It made her heart feel big and warm in her chest to think of her new friends as she picked out their gifts.
For John, a cozy wool jumper she had no trouble picturing him in. She worried for a moment because she didn't know his size, until she realised Sherlock would probably know, and she texted him for it. He replied with the answer within half a minute.
For Sherlock himself, she'd gone online and got two tickets to a London Philharmonic concert. She splurged a little to get him the seats that were slightly more than the cheapest seats. She'd also worried for a moment about this gift, because what if Sherlock thought she was expecting him to invite her? Then she decided that no, Sherlock's thought process would probably not extend that far. He'd take John, of course.
For Irene, an electric wine bottle opener, because she always felt a little sorry when she went to a party and Irene was stuck twisting corkscrews on a half dozen bottles. She also got a bottle of wine to go with it—Merlot, which she knew was Irene's favorite.
For Mrs. Hudson, who'd been so sweet to Molly when Molly went to see her about a twisted ankle, she bought a tin of Belgian chocolates.
That left one more person. Molly must have looked in ten different shops to try and find the perfect gift for Greg, but she was starting to think it was hopeless. What could she possibly get him that would seem personal, but not too forward? She almost got him a novelty police hat, since he'd said he wanted to be a detective, but changed her mind because she didn't want it to seem as though she was mocking him.
Teacups, she settled on. The ones in the Porters' lodge were all chipped and Greg had complained a couple of times about how their numbers were dwindling, since students kept running off with them. She bought a set that were sturdily made and glazed red, much more interesting than the plain white ones he'd been using before.
She delivered the wrapped gift to him in the plodge, and though she tried to make a quick escape, he made her stay and wait while he opened it.
"Brilliant!" he said, grinning and holding one of the cups up to admire it. "I love them, Molly!"
"Oh." Molly laughed nervously and grinned and tried to shrink a little bit. "Good, I'm glad, I just thought, well I mean, I tried to find something that would be special."
"They are!" And he stepped forward, reached one arm out towards her, and... stopped. The smiles dropped off both their faces for a moment, then Greg cleared his throat, stepped backwards, and unloaded the rest of the cups and saucers from the box. No one else was in the room, but a steady stream of students passed by the windows. Someone might see. Greg shouldn't be hugging students (or whatever it was he'd been planning to do), and Molly knew that, and she didn't take it personally.
"Wish I had something to give you in return," Greg said. "But, I shouldn't, you know." He gestured towards the people outside. Molly knew. She nodded.
Greg scratched the back of his head. "So, you er, excited to see your family?"
"Yeah," Molly said. "I'm going to miss St Ben's, though."
"Yeah, me too. I mean, I'll miss seeing you around here. I mean..." Greg scratched the back of his head. "Well, it's always a bit dull around here during holidays. Too many tourists coming through, too."
"Right," Molly said eagerly, like she knew. "Erm, are you going to have a chance to go back to Somerset?" She felt a twinge of pride for getting to show off that she remembered something about him.
His face lit up. "Yeah, for a couple days. Get to have all my brothers and sisters in one place again."
"Great! That's great."
A student approached the front desk and Greg's attention turned on him. "Oi, Mark, what can I do for you?" And Molly was able to slip out of the plodge, with no more words from Greg, only a wave and a smile that seemed somehow regretful.
Molly's head cleared once she was outside, and she promptly set about chiding herself. Even if Greg were interested in her that way, which was still wishful thinking at this point, who was she to be so forward with him? She was putting his job at risk by trying to be friends with him. Shame on you, Molly Hooper. She would keep her distance from now on.
Then, the day before she left Cambridge, she found a small white box in her pigeonhole. On it was a tag that read, Merry Christmas, Molly. -G Molly's heart raced and she stuffed the box into her bag, not daring to open it just yet.
She didn't work up the courage until her train ride to London. It was a bracelet. Very understated, slender, with small green jewels between silver links. Molly didn't even realise she was smiling until she had it on and was admiring it in the light from the window.
She dropped her hand into her lap and glanced at the other passengers around her, worried there might be someone she knew from St Ben's. There wasn't, of course. She could wear the bracelet proudly, for now.
She sent Greg a text. Thank you. I love it!
He texted back a few minutes later. Is it alright? You know blokes cant shop for jewelry so i asked the shopkeeper for advice.
Molly replied: It's absolutely fantastic. Merry Christmas Greg :)
At dinner Nan noticed she was wearing it. "He's a keeper, whoever gave you that," Nan said.
"Oh, erm," Molly said to her plate. She shook her head a little, and couldn't seem to wipe the grin off her face.
John was able to stay in college several days after the end of term thanks to Mycroft having covered the cost of his and Sherlock's rooms over the break. All the same, he waited until the very last night to pack his bags. Then he and Sherlock watched Doctor Who on his laptop, and Sherlock argued with the show. Normally John would have been amused, but instead all he got was a peculiar sick feeling, like they'd never be able to do this again. Calm down, it's only for a few weeks, he kept having to remind himself.
It was preeminent homesickness. Somehow, in only two months, St Benedict's College had become his home. He knew his way around better than any place he'd ever lived. He knew what times there'd be no wait for the washing machines. He knew how hard he needed to turn the hot water knob in the bathroom to make sure it wouldn't drip. Emma's white and ginger hairs decorated all his trouser legs.
And Sherlock. That was the strangest part—this man he'd thought unknowable when he first moved in. Now they could have entire conversations with only shared glances.
"Not looking forward to staying with my family again," John said when neither of them were really paying attention to the show anymore. Sherlock might have been thinking about a case, or maybe not, since he replied immediately.
"Worried about inevitable fights with Harry?"
"Some, yeah," John said. "And my dad. The whole thing, really, it'll be hopelessly difficult." He left out the strange half-formed thought that it would be easier to handle if Sherlock were there with him.
"Be grateful you don't have to put up with endless Mycroft."
"Good point. That actually makes me feel better."
"So glad my suffering is of use to someone."
John laughed. They were sitting on his bed with their backs against the wall, the computer positioned on a chair in front of them. "We ought to get a couch for the sitting room," John said.
"Why? This suffices."
"It's not easy on the back," John said. He reached up to rub his neck, and his elbow bumped Sherlock. It bumped him again when he put his arms down. Sherlock didn't flinch or anything, but John did. He'd been doing it a lot lately. Sherlock and John touched only occasionally, in very normal flatmate ways, such as when they reached for the toothpaste at the same time. But during the past few days it kept grabbing John's attention. Even though it was normal. Very normal. Anyone could see how normal their occasional touching was. (That thing at the party had only happened once.)
John had never touched Sherlock's face (not with his hands, anyway). He thought about it, and decided Sherlock's expressions were so familiar to him now, the feel of any given one of them wouldn't come as a surprise.
What the hell? John thought. Where had that come from? It was late, and he was sleep-deprived, as usual. "I think I should go to bed," John said.
"Alright," Sherlock said, making no move to get up.
"That means you leave now."
Sherlock scoffed and climbed off the bed, muttering something about "demanding." He left the bedroom door open a crack when he left. John closed his laptop and turned off the bedside lamp. He lay back on the pillows, and stared up at the ceiling, not sleeping.
The first thing John's father said to him when he arrived wasn't "hello" or "how is university going," but "help me hide these beer bottles." Apparently Harry had been going to meetings over the past month and was now teetotal. She'd called and ordered Dad to pour out any alcohol he had, but as he said to John, "That's like pouring money down the toilet."
Most of the bottles ended up in John's cupboard. His bedroom was alien to him; he hadn't lived in it for any lengthy period of time since he was 18. He'd gone from Afghanistan to an army rehabilitation centre to St Benedict's with only a few weeks at home in between.
"How's university going?" Dad asked once the alcohol was safely hidden. "You studying hard?"
"Yeah," John said.
"You going to be a doctor, then?"
"That's the plan."
Dad smiled and nodded but obviously couldn't think of a way to keep the conversation going. "That's great. That's really great, John. Your mum would be proud."
John started to form some snarky response in his mind, you're kidding, mothers aren't ever proud when their sons become doctors, but instead of saying it he nodded and tried to look touched.
His text tone sounded from his pocket, and he took his phone out to read it. Emma is enjoying the countryside. Running faster than I've ever seen her. -SH
When John looked up again, his dad had left the room.
It was a relief when Harry showed up a few days before Christmas, not because John really enjoyed her company, but because anything was better than pained half conversations with Dad. And, even better, she brought her new girlfriend.
"John, this is Clara. Clara, John," Harry said, never tearing her happy eyes off Clara. John couldn't blame her. Clara was gorgeous. He'd have to try not to stare; that would be rude on multiple levels.
"Harry's told me so much about you," Clara said, and that made John feel a little guilty, since his sister was barely a part of his life. Then again, he supposed, over time he'd probably told Sherlock tons about Harry.
Wait. That was not comparable.
"I showed her your blog," Harry said.
"Yes," Clara said, "it's fantastic! I didn't believe a word at first but Harry says you're nothing if not honest. You've a gift for storytelling, though, really."
John liked Clara.
Things took a plunge downhill at dinner. They ordered Chinese takeaway, since none of them were particularly inclined to cook. Dad waved his fork between Harry and Clara. "How'd the two of you meet?"
"Through a mutual friend," Clara said, smiling at Harry. If Sherlock were here, he'd deduce that they were in love. "She didn't set us up or anything, we just happened to cross paths through her. But it worked out so well."
"How long have you known each other?" Dad asked.
"One month as of yesterday," Harry said. If Sherlock were here, he'd deduce that it was Clara who got Harry to stop drinking.
"Well, John," Dad said, grinning and holding up his glass of juice as if he were making a toast, "what do you think?"
"Er, what do I think of what?"
"Oh." John laughed nervously. "She seems like a, er, fine young woman." He nodded at Clara, who laughed and nodded back. There wasn't much else they could do.
"He comes off a bit shy at first," Dad said, addressing Clara this time, "but don't worry. I think the two of you will hit it off."
"I'm sure we will," Clara said, not realizing what he was getting at. John cleared his throat and dragged his chow mein in circles, his appetite vanishing. If Sherlock were here, he would deduce that... well, this was about to become the most awkward Watson family dinner in recent history. Or maybe he wouldn't notice.
"Dad," Harry said sharply, "what exactly do you mean by that?"
"Just what it sounded like," Dad said. "I think you made a good choice."
"Dad," Harry said again, "you do realise I didn't bring Clara home to set her up with John?"
A long silence. Clara stared at her plate. John forced down a drink of water to keep his throat from closing up entirely. "Oh," Dad said. "Sorry about that."
"That's alright," Clara said. She gave Harry a small, tense smile. "You said you'd..."
"I did," Harry said. "Dad, I told you I was bringing my girlfriend home. Clara is my girlfriend."
Dad sighed. He tapped his fork on his plate. He picked up an eggroll and ate half of it in one bite. "This again."
"Again?" Harry said.
John's temper began to simmer. "It's not an event, Dad."
"Harry, you're 25 years old," Dad said. "You have to start thinking about a family, about children."
"Oh, for Christ's sake." John threw his fork onto the table.
"What if we want to have a family?" Harry said, flicking her finger back and forth between her and Clara.
"How's that even going to be possible?" Dad asked.
"It's the twenty-first century!" Harry shouted, her face reddening like it always did when she got angry. Poor Clara had one elbow on the table and was hiding her face in her hand. Even the obvious humiliation aside, John thought, one month seemed really early to be discussing family planning.
"Frankly, I don't want to be having this conversation while we eat," Dad said.
"You started it," John said.
"I was making friendly chatter."
"Actually," John said, "that was about the rudest shit excuse for a conversation I've heard in months. And I live in a university town, Dad. Well done."
"You watch your mouth at the table, young man."
"Actually, I think I'll excuse myself."
"Me too," said Clara, and they stood up at the same time. Harry gave Dad one slow shake of her head, then she joined them.
John retreated to his room, intending to stay there for the rest of the night, if possible. Part of him wanted to apologise a hundred times to Clara, but she and Harry had gone into Harry's old room, and John figured they'd probably rather be alone. He climbed into bed with a book and tried to read, but failed at concentrating on the words.
He texted Sherlock. How's things at the holmes residence?
The reply was almost immediate. Miserable. -SH
John texted back: Well, you don't suffer alone.
Sherlock's next text came about five minutes later. I finally bought your Christmas present.
You're a last minute shopper, John said.
I won't be able to ship it to you; you'll have to wait until returning to St Ben's to see it.
Why, what is it, a couch?
You can't buy me a couch for christmas you git!
Because i spent about ten pounds on your present.
Not to worry; I billed it to Mycroft. A minute later, the follow-up: You'll like it. Very comfortable. Eliminates back and shoulder pain.
John fell asleep with his hand wrapped around his phone.
The next few days weren't too awful, mainly because Dad seemed either put out or remorseful and he was avoiding all of them. John spent some of his time with Harry and Clara, and some of it alone, getting reading done for his course and making tweaks on old blog posts. At one point he went down the street to visit his old secondary school girlfriend, Sarah, maybe see if she'd like to get a drink. But it turned out her family had moved.
On Christmas, Dad cooked a turkey. He didn't speak to any of them but stayed holed up in the kitchen, the sounds of banging pots and a radio blaring 70s rock music drifting through the rest of the house.
It must have been remorse, because when they all sat down to dinner he was perfectly gracious. He poured non-alcoholic cider for them all, carved the turkey (which turned out marvelously, by some miracle), and made actual polite conversation about things like John's studies and what Clara did for a living (she was a nurse).
John got a text, and he read it under the table. Mycroft's diet never survives Christmas dinner. Will text updates as they become available. -SH
"What are you grinning at?" Harry asked John.
"Nothing, just thought of a funny joke."
"You've been doing that a lot lately," Harry said, nudging him under the table with her foot.
"He's off living this exciting life now; he's probably got loads of jokes he likes to think about," Dad said. "Tell us about one of your cases, John."
Harry and Clara eagerly agreed, and John gave in.
A half hour later, he was still trying to finish off his peas, and he got another text. God help him, they've brought out the cake. -SH
John tried to stifle his laughter, but some of it still got out. "Alright, that's it!" Harry said playfully, grabbing for his phone. "Let me see who this special someone is."
"What?" John held the phone out of her reach. "It's nobody!"
"Come on, John," Clara said, and now she nudged him under the table. "There's someone you've been texting nonstop for days. And you always have the stupidest grin on your face when you do it."
"We know you're in love," Harry said, drawing out the last word.
"Shut up, I'm not!"
"Look, Harry, his ears are turning red."
"Don't think we don't know what that means, John!"
"Is it a girl?" Dad said hopefully.
"It's not anyone. Leave me alone. I am not in love."
"Methinks the boy doth—"
"Don't," John said, holding up a hand, "do not finish that."
"Oh, I don't need to," Harry said. "That's alright, Johnny. You wait 'til you're ready, and we'll all be very excited to hear about your new paramour."
"Right, thanks, 'preciate your understanding." John made a big show of rolling his eyes and he took a long gulp of cider, until the conversation had moved on.
His next text from Sherlock came after dinner. John read it when he was alone. Casualties everywhere, John. The dirtied plates, the crumpled napkins, all a bittersweet reminder of the battle that was fought. -SH
John grinned at his phone until he cheeks were sore. Alright, fuck Harry and Clara, they could think what they wanted. He texted: You open my present yet? It was a poster of the periodic table of the elements.
The reply: Yes. Thank you. I'll go frame shopping for it tomorrow.
John couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not. The next message, his thumbs hammered out and pushed send before he could really question whether it was a good idea. I miss you.
No reply. Now John regretted it. A lot. What kind of sentiment was that to send to your flatmate? John tried to think of something to follow it up with, a statement that would make it clear he'd been joking, or maybe he could make the excuse that he'd meant to send it to someone else. Sherlock would probably know that was a lie, though. He'd deduce it through the phone.
John pulled a bottle of Dad's whiskey out of the cupboard, uncapped it, and sipped while he read his anatomy text. What a merry Christmas.
His phone buzzed around an hour later. Sherlock. I miss you too.
John's heart jumped into his throat. Had to think about it for a while, did you?
Now John was grinning at his phone again. He had a buzz on from the whiskey; that was his excuse.
Sherlock again: I've been rearranging my mind palace. Had to move you to a larger suite of rooms.
Did you? Im flattered. Dont think i have that much information about myself in my own brain.
Don't be ridiculous; you likely have enough to fill at least a small house. There are many things you know about yourself that I don't yet know.
Before John could respond, Sherlock sent another message, so long it was split into two parts: (1/2) Granted, there are things I know about you that you likely do not know about yourself by virtue of your inability to be an objective observer; for example, that (2/2) your left eye squints more than your right when you force a smile, but they squint evenly when the smile is genuine.
John read the last part over, and over again. His heartbeat sped up. He didn't know exactly what he was feeling, but it was something.
If that message had come from a girl, John would have thought it was romantic.
He set the phone aside and went back to his book. He was reading about the heart, as it happened. Reviewing the four chambers and what they did. Left and right ventricles, atriums. The ventricles were for pushing blood out like vents; that was how he'd originally memorised their purpose, with that play on words. Ventricular tachycardia, a rapid heart rate, made a galloping sound. John listened to his own. Ladumbadumladumbadumladumbadum. Ventricular tachycardia is what killed most people who died from using cocaine; he'd read that online, not in his assigned reading.
Usually people who died from cocaine didn't overdose, per se; the tachycardia just happened to get out of control. They were unlucky. The ventricles couldn't keep up and they stopped pushing the blood out. They quivered pathetically or stopped moving entirely.
John grabbed his phone and mashed the keys. Don't do drugs.
Sherlock's reply: Yes Mummy.
Sherlock, I love you, John thought, but he didn't type it. He kept it to himself. Was it true?
God. What if they were right?
John wanted to ask someone about it. This was a really abnormal situation and he needed someone with a clear head to give advice. But who? He'd rather eat his shoe than ask Harry; Clara would probably be more helpful, but no doubt anything he said to her would get back to Harry.
He imagined himself writing a letter to a lad mag. Dear FHM, I think I might be in love with my flatmate. My family members have started to notice. I can't stop thinking about the person in question and can't stand to be away from them for more than 24 hours. Did I mention this person is male?
He picked up his phone again, making a point to not reread Sherlock's last text, and he opened up a new message to Irene. Help, might be falling in love with sherlock, despite not being gay???
She replied swiftly. It happens, darling. Have you considered bisexuality?
Well, that was a thing. John had never felt attracted to another man before, though. Fuck, he wasn't even attracted to Sherlock, he wasn't. It was only his emotions that were acting crazy.
Not sexual, he texted back. As far as he could tell. He hadn't entertained the thought. Maybe he could test it out. No, no, that sounded like a bad idea.
All Irene said in response was, You two are precious. Can i come to your wedding? Xx
Not helpful. Not helpful at all. John put his phone on silent and shoved it into the deep recesses of his cupboard.
Irene spent Christmas Eve wearing a Santa hat, sitting on the couch with Sally, and watching EastEnders. Irene pretended to be tired and rested her head on Sally's shoulder.
Irene had been expecting to be alone for Christmas, what with her parents on holiday as usual. As soon as Sally had found that out, she'd volunteered to stay with Irene rather than go home to her own family. They had the house to themselves, sans Laura and Stephanie. They'd decorated and had a few people over, but the party had been, as a certain male friend of Irene's would say, tedious.
"You know who I hate?" Irene said, eyes on the telly.
"Janine?" Sally said.
"I mean in real life. Lisa Robinson."
"Oh." Sally laughed, and Irene's head shook on her shoulder. "Oh, god, why wouldn't she shut up?"
"I think we need to put her on a blacklist," Irene said. "People not allowed in Ashford House. We can hang a sign on the door."
"Sounds fantastic. We could have a lot of fun making that list."
They both giggled over that, and Irene grabbed Sally's hand to steady herself. "We're terrible."
"No, we're fabulous," Sally said. "It's everyone else who's terrible."
Irene imagined Sally's list of People I Think are Fabulous, and pictured her name at the top of it. She smiled.
"You're doing your evil grin again," Sally said, bending her head at a funny angle to look at Irene.
"Mm. Plotting something."
"Is that right?"
Sally had turned Irene's hand palm-up and was running her fingertips across it. Mistletoe popped into Irene's head. Oh, that was trite. Trite and meaningless and silly. Like dinner and flowers.
That settled it. Irene would try mistletoe.
Sally laced her fingers between Irene's. Irene's heart pounded. The nice thing about mistletoe was that it provided an excuse but it would only work if the person really wanted it. If Sally didn't, they could laugh it off as another joke. She wouldn't be angry. Their friendship would remain.
Irene waited until the morning. She took down the mistletoe that was hung over the threshold of the front door, and she attached it to one of her hair pins. She secured it to the crown of her head.
She made coffee and breakfast and waited for Sally to come downstairs on her own. "Merry Christmas!" Sally said when she appeared in the kitchen. "What on earth have you got in your hair?"
Irene spun in a circle and framed her face with her hands. "Mistletoe. I'm making a statement. What do you think?"
Sally gave a little snorting laugh. "What sort of statement?"
"That I'd like to be kissed."
"Oh, well. Far be it from me to deny the power of the mistletoe." And she walked straight up to Irene, took both Irene's hands in hers, and gave her a quick kiss on the lips.
Irene was stunned into silence. She hadn't really been expecting results that quickly. It had been a chaste kiss, though. The mistletoe would stay for a while longer.
She and Sally ate breakfast on the floor of the living room, opening presents they'd received from family members and friends. They saved each other's for last, and opened them at the same time since they couldn't agree who should go first otherwise.
Irene had gotten Sally some stupid necklace she'd found in an antique shop and couldn't stop imagining hooking around her neck. Sally had gotten Irene an edition of Tipping the Velvet autographed by Sarah Waters. Irene had never mentioned her favorite book to Sally; Sally must have just notice how she kept a dog-eared copy by her bed, read a few pages every night, restarted at the beginning whenever she finished.
"Oh my god, Irene, it's lovely. It's beautiful. Where'd you get it?"
Irene was running her fingers over Sarah Waters' black ink signature, feeling overcome with affection for Sally, like all of it that had come in the months before was culminating. She looked up and saw Sally starting to put the necklace on herself. "No, wait!" She set the book down and lunged forward. "I'm supposed to do that part."
Irene put the necklace on while she was facing Sally, meaning it wasn't really any easier for her than it would have been for Sally to do herself, but neither of them pointed that out. Instead they stared into each other's eyes while Irene fumbled with the clasp for several seconds.
"An antique shop," Irene said.
Sally's eyes flicked to the top of Irene's head, probably to the mistletoe, then back down to her face. "You're still wearing that."
"Do you not like it?"
"It just must not have worked the first time." Sally hesitated. "Was there someone else you had in mind?"
Irene pressed her lips together to keep from laughing. To get a question like that after all these weeks of obsessing. "You're the only person I was planning on seeing today."
Sally smiled. A little smile, just one side of her mouth. Shy. She was one of the most confident, powerful people Irene knew, and yet here she was smiling shyly. Irene's heart fluttered. Sally leaned forward and kissed her.
This one wasn't a chaste kiss. Even before they opened their mouths, it was hard, and urgent. Sally put her hands in Irene's hair, and Irene wrapped her arms around Sally's waist, pulling her onto her lap. She's shy, Irene reminded herself, and so she introduced her tongue first, sliding it along Sally's lip.
That was the magic key. Sally didn't hold back after that, and oh God, she was an amazing kisser. And Irene had known a lot of kissers. Bloody hell, how had this woman been single for so long? Didn't matter. For the best. All Irene's for the moment.
Irene fell backwards, pulling Sally with her, and they lay there snogging in the remains of wrapping paper for a good long time. Irene ran her hand along Sally's lower back, and slowly, slow enough to have plausible deniability (if somehow Sally still imagined this kiss as platonic), slow enough for Sally to stop her and walk away before any progress was made (if for some reason Sally changed her mind, which Irene was really half expecting her to do), slowly, slipped her fingers under the hem of Sally's t-shirt. The skin on her lower back was warm and silky soft, and Irene was content to stay there stroking it, delaying her original plan to creep up towards the bra strap.
But apparently Sally was growing impatient. She reached one arm around to unhook her bra herself, then brought it back forward and slid it underneath the front of Irene's shirt—the front, the front, not so shy now. She inched her fingers upward and came to a stop right under the curve of Irene's breast.
Irene broke their mouths apart and sighed. "Very rude."
"I hear you discipline people for this sort of thing," Sally said, her shy smile having turned distinctly wicked.
"Oh, Sally." Irene pinched her side, where she knew she was ticklish, and elicited a little shriek. "It's not about what I like."
In the evening, when they were lying in Irene's bed, Sally dozing, Irene decided this was the best Christmas of her life.
She was messing around on her phone, feeling too thrilled to sleep but not daring to leave Sally's side. She received a text from John Watson, who was experiencing a crisis Irene tried to tell him about a long time ago.
"What was that about?" Sally murmured sleepily once the sounds of Irene clicking the phone keyboard stopped.
"Just coaxing another couple towards practicing bisexuality," Irene said.
"Irene Adler," Sally said, eyes still shut, "Consulting Lesbian."
"I think I'll make that my email signature." Irene set her phone aside, rolled over, and cuddled up to Sally.
Chapter 9: A Chemical Defect
In which Irene tries to spread the joy of mistletoe, Sebastian Wilkes really deserves a punch to the face, and John makes a confession.
Sorry for the wait! Also, this chapter has not been Britpicked. I will update it as soon as it is but in the meantime feel free to point out anything you catch.
As John climbed the stairs back to 221 Baker's Court, his feet felt like they weighed a hundred kilos each. He honestly couldn't tell whether it was anticipation making the walk seem longer, or dread just making it painful. It didn't help, of course, that his suitcase probably weighed 20 kilos literally. Both his shoulders were bothering him.
He stopped outside the door and made no move to open it. Sherlock. The first time John would be seeing his face since he'd begun to have... doubts. This could either go awkwardly, or more awkwardly. Or perhaps embarrassingly.
"How long are you going to stand out there?" Sherlock called from the other side of the door. "I need you to send a text for me."
John dropped his face into his free hand and wheezed laughter. No part of his life made sense anymore.
"Happy Lent Term!" Irene exclaimed when she opened the door to Ashford House. She was wearing an incredibly short black skirt. John's eyes traveled all the way down her bare legs and back up again before he came to his senses.
"Not for another three days," Sherlock said from beside him.
"Thank you for that, I haven't had a chance to look at a calendar lately," Irene said. When they tried to move forward, she held up her hands. "Stop. Look!"
She was pointing to the door frame above their heads. John and Sherlock both looked, and there was a cluster of dark green leaves taped straight above them.
"Mistletoe!" Irene clarified, and very unnecessarily added, "You have to kiss!"
"Oh, er," Sherlock said.
John wondered what would be listed as cause of death for someone who died of embarrassment. There had to be a scientific name for it.
"The use of mistletoe as a Christmas decoration, as well as the superstitions and significance that humans attach to it, are baffling," Sherlock said, staring at John. "It's a parasite, and is poisonous if eaten. In what way do people find this suggestive of kissing?"
"Erm, right," John said, stepping forward and pushing past Irene. "Bad idea, Irene."
"Everyone else has been enjoying it," Irene said, pouting. "You're just a poor sport."
It had been a mistake sending her that text. He'd been vulnerable and a little tipsy and should have followed it up the next morning with a message saying it was all a joke. "Ha, ha," John said, then to Sherlock, who was still standing in the doorway, "Are you coming?"
The mood at this party was noticeably giddier than the last few. Either people were a lot drunker, or they felt energised from holiday, or they were genuinely excited for the new term.
There were also an awful lot of couple snogging in corners and on chairs, John noted with some embarrassment. Damn Irene and her mistletoe.
Sherlock went straight for a free spot on a couch and dropped onto it, limbs sprawling out dramatically like he was in a swoon. "Why do you always insist on dragging me to these things?"
"I don't," John said. "I said, 'Irene's having another party tonight, do you want to come?' and you said yes."
Sherlock gave his little half head shake and eye roll that showed he thought John was obviously beyond reasoning with. John went to pour them both glasses of wine, but when he tried handing Sherlock's over, Sherlock swatted it away and made John spill a little over the side.
"Easy," John snapped. "You could have just said you didn't want any."
"Indeed," Sherlock muttered. "And of course it's unlikely I really did want some and I was just too embarrassed to be seen drinking it in public."
"You don't make any sense," John said.
Sherlock twisted his face and flapped his mouth and said something like "nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh" with the same intonation John had spoken.
"Alright, then, I'll leave you to your sulk." John shook his head and walked away, trying to find someone else to hand the extra wine glass off onto.
He wound up chatting with Alisha, the girl whose stalker John had fought off from stabbing Sherlock. Alisha let it slip that she'd been single since Christmas, and John perked up a little.
"Oh, I love this song!" Alisha said, setting her cup down on a table. "Want to dance?"
John hated this song, but he wasn't about to turn down the offer. A distraction from everything Sherlock-related was exactly what he needed. He and Alisha were the first to start dancing, which John found a little awkward, but soon a small crowd had joined them, and it made for a great time. John was enjoying himself the way he imagined normal people often did.
At one point he glanced over Alisha's shoulder towards Sherlock, and that was a mood dampener. Sherlock was watching them, not even trying to hide the contempt written all over his face. John held back a sigh and focused on Alisha again, which wasn't difficult, seeing as she was quite pretty and her breasts were jiggling with the beat of the music.
When John stopped to get a refill on his drink, he was startled by a hand landing hard on his shoulder.
"Alright, Mike?" said Sebastian Wilkes.
"It's John," said John.
"John, oh, right! Sorry, mate!" Sebastian laughed. "Stupid of me. I always get the freshers' names mixed up. Is Sherlock around?"
John pointed his thumb in the direction of the couch. "He's over there... sitting." He'd been about to say sulking, but decided he didn't want to say anything remotely negative about Sherlock to Sebastian.
"Oh, yeah. Oh, he looks grouchy. Not much of a dancer, I take it?"
"Well, who'd want to with him, anyway?" Sebastian laughed again and topped off his wine glass. "Well, see you around, John."
The fingernails of John's free hand were digging into his palm, and he forced himself to unclench his hand when Sebastian walked away. He took a long drink and avoided looking at Sherlock.
He found Alisha again, and they went back to dancing. John tried to stay facing away from Sherlock so he wouldn't be distracted. After all, shit, Sebastian was right: Sherlock wouldn't want to dance with anyone, even if John wanted to. Alisha was willing, and charming, and pretty.
A while later, John was standing by the open front door, taking a break from dancing to cool off. Greg appeared on the front step. "Someone reported a fire?" he said when he managed to flag down Irene.
"What fire? There wasn't a fire," Irene said. She checked her watch. "Oh, but look!"
"Yeah, yeah, shift change time. I'm sensing a pattern with you, Irene." Greg shook his head, glanced around the party reluctantly, and stepped inside anyway. Irene didn't seem interested in overseeing the matchmaking this time, however. She'd been dancing with Sally Donovan, and she went immediately back to it. Seeing how close the two of them got to each other, John wondered yet again if they were together.
Greg and John wound up standing at the wine table, chatting about their Christmas holidays. Molly was nowhere in sight, though John knew he'd seen her earlier in the evening.
She appeared only a couple of minutes after John had that thought, and sat on the couch next to Sherlock. The two of them exchanged some unenthusiastic words John couldn't overhear from this far away.
"So, er," John said, "you and Molly Hooper, anything going on there?"
Greg was caught off-guard. "Oh, what, Molly? No, I mean, she's a student John, I'm not..."
John held up a hand and shook his head. "No, you're right, sorry. Didn't mean to... suggest anything. Just thought I'd..."
They both paused to take a drink from their glasses. Greg said, "Is she at this party, do you know?"
"Yeah, she's right over there with Sherlock." John pointed.
"Oh. Oh," Greg said, probably taking note of Molly's dress.
While they were watching, Sherlock took his phone out of his pocket and checked something on the screen. He frowned. John's first thought was a bad one: another text from the insulin murderer. But after studying it for a few seconds, Sherlock smirked and put his phone away.
The music changed from the usual obscure Ashford House fare John never recognised, to one of those cheesy old American songs people always danced to on the telly. Sherlock stood up, held out a hand to Molly, and said something to her. Molly put a hand to her throat, her mouth open in surprise, but within a moment she took Sherlock's hand and rose.
They started to dance.
John and Greg stared.
"What the bloody hell," Greg said slowly, "is that."
"I," John said. He shook his head.
They weren't the only ones bemused. Sherlock and Molly were drawing stares from all around the room, people who knew one or both of them and not believing what they were seeing.
Sherlock did know how to dance. He'd obviously been trained. That wasn't too surprising, John decided, given his background. What was strange was that he hadn't deleted the knowledge, or whatever it was he did with facts he considered useless.
"What the bloody hell is that," Greg said again.
"I'm as lost as you, mate," John said. His eyes were on Sherlock, whose attention was focused solely on Molly. He said something that made her laugh, and he smiled at her.
John was feeling a bit light-headed, if truth be told. The situation was strange in more ways than he cared to ponder.
He and Greg stared until the song ended. The couple drew some polite applause from people who'd been watching. "Thank you for the dance, Molly Hooper," Sherlock said. He gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Both John and Greg walked towards them. Greg put a hand on Molly's arm, and when she saw him, her face lit up.
Sebastian had come forward too, with his stupid dumb grin on. "Did he pay you to do that?" he asked Molly.
John blinked. He clenched his fist again. He stepped forward, and punched Sebastian Wilkes in the face.
Sebastian's head snapped back, and he staggered backwards, both his hands flying to his nose. Someone nearby them screamed, and several others made exclamations of surprise.
John sensed Sherlock standing right behind him, and it didn't make him jump when Sherlock put a hand on his shoulder. "I warned you, didn't I?" Sherlock said to Sebastian, who was too busy staunching the flow of blood from his nose to listen. "About John."
John looked at Sherlock, who was grinning down at him. John laughed weakly and rubbed at his knuckles.
"You write him up for that!" Sebastian shouted nasally at Greg, pointing at John.
"Yeah, yeah, I will," Greg said, then he mouthed at John, I won't.
Sherlock made an abrupt exit then, striding to the coat rack and putting his on, then heading out the front door. The place on John's shoulder where he'd been resting his hand felt cold. John hurried after him.
John stood on the strip of grass in front of the house for a moment, looking around, until he spotted the dark shape sitting by the corner, where they'd retreated to last time. John made his way over and plopped down into the grass next to Sherlock.
They exchanged a look, then burst into giggles. "Frankly," John said breathlessly, "I don't understand how he doesn't get punched more often."
"Veneer of politeness," Sherlock said.
"I have no patience for it anymore."
"Can't punch him, I'd get sent down."
Another spat of giggles, and they both leaned their heads forward at the right time and bumped each other. John straightened up and looked away, sighing and wiping a tear from the corner of his eye.
"I did something... I mean I..." John stopped and sucked in a breath. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sherlock turn to look at him curiously. "I have this thing."
"To tell you." John's pulse was thudding in his neck, and his throat felt so thick he could hardly breathe through it. He swallowed, and it was like gulping down a golf ball. "Never mind, maybe bad idea."
"That's never stopped you before."
John tried to laugh, and it came out as a gasp. "Like when?"
"Like when you shared with me your textbook summary on histological classification of tissues," Sherlock said. "It was dreadful."
John managed a real laugh this time. He drew his knees up to his chest and knocked his forehead on them a couple times, then rested it there. "I love you." A beat later he added, "That was the thing."
Sherlock was silent. Utterly, painfully silent. For the second time that night John wondered if he might just die.
This time when Sherlock touched him, it did startle him, though not unpleasantly. Sherlock took John's wrist and moved it towards himself. John turned his head to see, confused. Sherlock was concentrating intently on John's hand. He took John's index and middle finger and rested them on the side of his own wrist, just under his thumb.
"What are you..." John muttered. "Are you making me take your pulse?" He could feel it perfectly, thrumming fast and strong under the skin.
No answer. He tried again, "Sherlock?"
Sherlock shook their hands apart and rose to his feet, and started on the path that would take them to Baker's Court. It took John a moment longer to recover and he had to sprint after Sherlock to catch up.
"Then again," Sherlock said, "it wasn't half as terrible as that first summary you wrote on the nervous system."
"Right. Thanks," John said, his breath coming a little easier now. But his mind was buzzing, more confused than ever.
Chapter 10: Sherlock Gives a Demonstration
Specifically, on the true nature of John's priorities.
This chapter, too, has not been Britpicked yet. Feel free to let me know if you spot anything.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Alisha texted John to ask him out on a date. John had a strange moment of hesitation where he thought of Sherlock, then he kicked himself mentally, because it's not like they were boyfriends now or anything. John loved him, yes. Friends loved each other; that was normal.
He accepted Alisha's invitation. They went to dinner at a restaurant in town, then to the cinema. John left his phone on silent and had a great time. When he checked it after walking Alisha back to her hall, he found 21 texts from Sherlock, detailing everything from case notes to criticisms of dining hall coffee.
Lectures resumed, and so did their cases. Life as usual, plus some new company. He went on two more dates with Alisha, and things were going really well. Alisha played rugby, and John had too before he'd been injured, so that gave them plenty to talk about. Sherlock, by contrast, probably didn't even know how rugby was played. It was a breath of fresh air, having someone to talk about normal things with.
At the end of their third date John gave Alisha a kiss goodnight, which she returned with enthusiasm. John walked home with a bounce in his step.
Sherlock took one look at him when he walked through the door and said, "The last man she was involved with is currently serving an ASBO for attempted arson."
"Not relevant, don't care," John said, smiling and waving him off.
For their fourth date, Alisha suggested they stay in John's set and watch a movie.
"My set?" John said into the phone, eyeing Sherlock's bedroom door warily. Sherlock had been asleep for an hour, and usually when he went into his room to sleep, he could be assured of staying in there for at least three or four hours. "I guess that'd be alright."
"If you think it'll bother Sherlock, we don't have to," Alisha said. "But I really want to meet your dog."
John hoped that was code for see your bed. He did a rush cleaning of his room while he waited for Alisha to arrive. Out in the sitting room he used a throw blanket to cover up Sherlock's skull and a few of the more questionable-looking experiments he had percolating on his desk.
Alisha didn't seem all that interested in Emma, it turned out, which John thought was a good sign. They sat together on the couch and watched a romantic comedy. John put his arm around Alisha and she rested her head on his shoulder. It was all very good.
The latch to Sherlock's door clicked open, and John's stomach dropped. Barely two hours.
Sherlock came sweeping into the sitting room wearing... a sheet. The bloody top sheet from his bed, and nothing else. John would kill him.
"Hi," Alisha said.
Sherlock frowned. "Who are you?"
"I'm Alisha. You solved a case for me back in November?"
"Oh, right," Sherlock said, affecting a confused look to suggest he still didn't remember. John knew he was lying. Sherlock definitely knew Alisha's full name, because he'd left John detailed transcripts from her GCSEs and A-levels on his desk, with less than ideal portions highlighted.
"Nice sheet," Alisha said. "It for a poetry reading or something? I didn't know you were reading Classics too."
"Natural sciences," Sherlock corrected.
"Oh," Alisha said. "So you're just... wearing that."
"We can head over to your room if you want," John said.
"No, that's alright," Alisha said. "The movie's almost over, anyway."
Strangulation would be the way to go, John thought, either with his hands or with that sheet.
After Alisha had left—without a kiss, John couldn't help but note—he turned to Sherlock and crossed his arms. "Well played."
"Hm?" Sherlock looked up from the biscuits he was eating, his face the picture of innocence.
"Would you put on some clothes, please?"
John didn't want to think let alone articulate the real reason, so he shrugged. "You know, Sherlock, good point. I can't think of a reason why. Carry on."
Sherlock smiled and ate another biscuit.
Some part of John gave up on having an outside relationship while he was living with Sherlock.
"Sherlock," John said the following Saturday night.
"Hm?" Sherlock was sitting at his desk, eyes trained on his microscope.
"Why is there a hole in my mattress?"
Sherlock twisted a knob on the microscope. "Accidental."
"Well, yes, I would assume so. Would you care to tell me how the accident happened?"
"Was testing the effect of drafts on a propane lantern in various rooms. Dropped the lantern on your bed, fire started; spread of the propane prevented me from putting out the flames before a hole had been burned. Don't ask why the fire alarm didn't go off; I disabled the sensors, obviously."
"Ah." John nodded slowly, even though Sherlock still wasn't looking at him. "Sherlock."
"There is a bloody hole in my mattress."
"Yes. I imagine you'll want to report it to maintenance, put in an order for a new one." Sherlock changed out the slide on the microscope for something different. He cocked his head to one side briefly. "You'll be fined, but as I suppose the accident could be considered my fault, I'll take care of the expense. Or I suppose we could skip all the trouble and ask Mycroft directly."
"Right. Brilliant plan. It's eleven o'clock at night."
"Where am I supposed to sleep?"
"Well, if you really can't wait, I suppose in the sitting room."
John pressed his lips together and tightened his jaw. Patience. Use reason. "You know I can't sleep on the couch. It doesn't give enough support. For my shoulder."
Finally, Sherlock lifted his head. He frowned. "Oh."
Sherlock thought for a moment. "You can use my bed. I won't be needing it for a while." He went back to his microscope.
"Your bed?" It was a rare occasion John dared to even go into Sherlock's bedroom. "Are there things growing in it?"
"Dust mites, I imagine. Though that's likely true of your bed, as well. Or at least it would have been before the fire. In a way, I suppose I actually did you a favor."
"Right. Appreciate it."
John brushed his teeth and changed into his pyjamas. He took his own pillow off his bed, but tossed it back after he gave it a whiff and discovered it smelled of propane and smoke.
Sherlock's room actually was a lot cleaner than the last time John had seen it. The dirty clothes were all in a bin, and there was no trash lying out. Sherlock was in one of his bouts of not smoking, so there wasn't even an ashtray in sight.
John climbed into Sherlock's bed. The mattress felt mostly like his own; was maybe a bit firmer even, probably from not being used as much. Sherlock's blanket was much warmer than John's, filled with down from the feel of it. He wondered if he could talk Sherlock into swapping blankets with him permanently, since it probably wasn't the sort of thing Sherlock had a preference for.
Sherlock's pillow smelled like Sherlock. John was surprised to learn he knew what Sherlock smelled like, since it wasn't as though he'd ever stuck his nose into Sherlock's hair. It was just one of those things you picked up from living with someone, he supposed. In any case, it was a comforting smell, though not exactly reassuring that he found it comforting.
Sherlock, who burned holes in his bed, who periodically dragged him into life-threatening situations, who casually insulted him on a daily basis, was comforting. That didn't make a whole lot of sense, did it.
Love was funny like that.
John woke in darkness, and he blinked at the letters on the clock. 03:28. He wondered what had stirred him, until he noticed someone sitting on the edge of the bed. He jumped.
"I changed my mind," Sherlock said. "I need to sleep."
"Sleep in your chair."
"Yes you can, you do it all the time."
"It's not that kind of sleep. That's working sleep; I need deep sleep."
John groaned and rubbed his eyes. "Well, where do you expect me to sleep then?"
"Here is fine." Sherlock moved closer and made to lie down next to him. "Scoot over."
"What? Oh, no." John shook his head and pushed on Sherlock's back. "No, we're not doing this."
"Not doing what?"
"Sleeping together. Get out."
Sherlock pushed back against John's hand, fighting to stay in place. "Don't be absurd, John. It's the most logical solution."
John grunted as he warred with Sherlock for space on the bed. "Logic ended when you burned a hole in my mattress."
"Actually, that was a perfectly logical chain of events," Sherlock said, his voice coming through gritted teeth.
John started laughing, and he gave up. Sherlock laughed too, rolling onto his back victoriously, and the two of them lay there shoulder to shoulder, giggling at the ceiling. When their laughter died off, Sherlock grabbed for John's wrist, and put two fingers on the side of it. That pulse-taking thing again. John didn't bother to ask.
"Don't you want under the blankets?" he said. Sherlock was lying on top of them. He didn't answer, but did shift his weight and get underneath the covers. He brought a whoosh of cold air with him. A minute later they were both warm.
The bed was really too small for two people. This was going to be a long night.
Bonus points to anyone who spotted the Misfits reference. :D This chapter ends kinda suddenly but I promise the next one makes up for it. OH YES.
Chapter 11: Something New
In which John's morning starts out amazing and ends painfully. Poor John.
You know the drill, not yet Britpicked, sorry for any irritation-making. :)
tw for violence (description of an assault)
As John woke, awareness returned to him gradually, and he knew something was off.
Not bad off, just... different.
The room was backwards. Right, it wasn't his bedroom. He'd slept in Sherlock's bed.
So had Sherlock.
They were in the same bed. And not just next to each other, but... curled up together. Intertwined. Full-on embrace. They were...
don't think that word
John felt a thin layer of perspiration break on his forehead.
Sherlock was lying on his back, and had both his arms around John, who was lying on his side. John had one arm wedged between their bodies, and the other was resting on Sherlock's chest. And of course, of course, John had an erection, pressed into Sherlock's hip.
No, no, it was alright. It's like Sherlock had said that one time. Genital arousal always occurs during REM sleep, unless the dreamer is having a nightmare. And John hadn't been having a nightmare. Of course Sherlock knew; probably experienced it himself on a regular basis. That is, if he dreamed. John raised his head a little to see if Sherlock was in a similar state, but the blanket covering them was too thick to be certain. He put his head back down.
Well, this was something.
John was on the outside half of the bed, whereas when they'd gone to sleep he'd been on the inside, suggesting that at some point he'd either been under or on top of Sherlock. Interesting?
Something else was different, and it took John longer to put his finger on it. That's because it was the absence of something: pain. His shoulder didn't hurt at all. It always hurt when he woke up in the mornings, even if just a little bit. But there was nothing now. He was just warm and comfortable.
Endorphins, that was why. The consensual touch of another human being. The molecular structure of endorphins resembled opiates, and had the added benefit of being free and non-addictive.
John had talked about pain with his therapist at the recovery centre, about how chronic pain could put people into a depression. John had decided the best thing was not to entertain thoughts like Am I going to wake up in pain for the rest of my life? But the question still popped up frequently enough, no matter how quickly he squelched it.
Today, he answered it. No. If only just this once, this one morning, he got a break.
John curled tighter against Sherlock, and Sherlock responded by tightening his hold on John. He was awake. How long had he been awake?
Will you let me stay here forever, Sherlock? John wanted to ask. No, Sherlock would say, eventually we will have to leave to eat food and solve crimes.
Alright, but they could come back here tonight. And the night after that, and after that. John was digging his fingers into Sherlock's chest, squeezing a fistful of his shirt. He forced himself to relax and let it go. It was fine.
Cuddling didn't make you a couple, did it? Cuddling was just like hugging, only longer-lasting, and in a lying down position. That was normal. Friends cuddled.
Oh, give it up, John thought. He was getting sick of his own confusion and excuses. Fuck it. I'm in love with Sherlock Holmes! He'd go to the window and shout that out of it sometime today. He'd change his relationship status on Facebook. Why the bloody fuck not.
Well, everyone giggling and telling him they'd known all along. That would be annoying. Maybe he'd keep it to himself for now.
Sherlock was flexing and extending his toes. Not in a frantic way, but more like he was stretching out his feet. John shifted his head so he was looking at Sherlock's face. Eyes closed, completely still, completely quiet. If he hadn't been moving his body John would have assumed he was sleeping.
His face. It was amazing. Not a thought John usually assigned to men's faces, but—no, shut up with that. This was Sherlock, and his face was amazing, and John liked it. It had been so jarring at first, alien, but now it was the most familiar face John knew, and the one he'd prefer to look at over all others.
He'd never touched Sherlock's face, not with his hands. Just contact on his shoulder that one time at the party. John took one long, shaky breath, and reached up with the hand he'd been resting on Sherlock's chest.
He placed his fingers on Sherlock's forehead and brushed away a dark curl that had fallen there. Sherlock flinched, such a tiny flinch John might not have noticed if he hadn't been so close, but he relaxed again immediately. John ran the tip of his finger over each of Sherlock's eyebrows, then his eyelids. His eyelids quivered and his eyelashes fluttered against John's finger. Next John moved out to his cheekbones, first the left then the right, tracing along the top of them, then the hollow underneath. Not as pronounced as it once was. Sherlock had gained probably close to a stone since John had been living with him and encouraging him to eat regularly.
Next he went to Sherlock's nose, and ran his finger down the bridge of it, out over the tip, and paused for a moment between his—remember the word—philtral columns. His fingertip fit perfectly there, right above Sherlock's unusually angular cupid's bow—no scientific term for that, as it wasn't a real anatomical feature, only the way people described the shape of the philtrum meeting the lips.
Next he touched both Sherlock's lips, noted the bottom one was slightly chapped. He'd have to make sure Sherlock drank enough water, too, along with eating. He used his whole hand to cup his jaw, run his thumb along Sherlock's chin. Felt the scrape of facial hair. Sherlock was meticulous about shaving, and his facial hair was lighter than the hair on his head, so John barely ever saw evidence of it.
He slid two fingers down over Sherlock's throat, over his chest, and ended over his heart, where he spread his hand out to rest. Sherlock's heart was pounding, rapid. Ladumbadumladumbadumladumbadum.
John's own heart seemed to swell in his chest. Too big, it hurt. Too much feeling. Sometimes Sherlock seemed more like a computer than a human, but that was such a stupid assessment, John realised. Sherlock was so human, and so vulnerable, just like John. Both of them lying here with their hearts racing.
Had that been what Sherlock was trying to tell him the night at the party? When he made John take his pulse? Look. Me too. My heart is out of control too. I love you too.
John had to scoot up a little for this next part. He dislodged himself from Sherlock's arms, and poised himself over Sherlock's face. He listened to Sherlock's breathing, short and erratic. So was his own. He dropped his head down and kissed him. Soft first, then harder. Sherlock came to life. He put one arm around John's shoulders and the other on the back of his head, pressed their mouths harder together, gripped so tightly John couldn't move, now I've got you I won't let you go. Their mouths opened, and their tongues collided. This was the most frantic kiss John had ever experienced; desperate, like they needed to be closer and had pushed as far as they could go.
Sherlock released the arm he'd been gripping John's shoulders with, and slid his hand up the back of John's shirt. His hand was cold from being out in the air, and it left a trail of goose bumps on John's skin.
This was not helping his erection. His own fault. If he'd gotten out of bed as soon as he woke up, it would be gone by now. Now it throbbed worse than ever. God, what was he doing? No, shut up, it didn't matter. It was fine. It was good. It was fantastic.
It lasted for a few minutes longer. Then Sherlock spat John's mouth off and sat up so suddenly John rolled off him, off the bed, and landed on his backside on the floor. "Oh!" Sherlock exclaimed.
"What the fuck," John said, rubbing the back of his head, which had bumped the nightstand.
"The red armchair! It was the father, not the brother!" Sherlock threw off the blankets and jumped out of bed, then rummaged through his wardrobe, taking out a fresh set of clothes.
"You," John said, holding out a hand towards Sherlock, "were thinking about a case while we were doing that?"
Sherlock stripped out of his pyjamas, prompting John to shout and turn away. Sherlock said, "It was excellent for simulating thought. We must do it more often."
"Good lord," John said, and since it was cold and uncomfortable on the floor, he climbed back into Sherlock's bed and pulled the blankets up to cover his face.
"Aren't you coming?" Sherlock said.
"No, Sherlock, I'm not coming," John said into the blanket. "In more ways than one."
When Sherlock was in the sitting room, John remembered to call after him, "At least take the dog out if you're leaving." He heard the jingle of Emma's lead in response, and the front door opening and closing.
Dear FHM: You remember that flatmate I mentioned I was in love with? Well, we ended up snogging. Then he ended it abruptly to go solve crimes and now I really don't know what to do.
John stayed in Sherlock's bed for a long time, bundled up to stay warm, face pressed into the pillow. Breathing in Sherlock's scent. It relaxed him, and he may or may not have dozed back off to sleep.
When he finally rolled out from under the covers, it was after noon. He sat on the edge of the bed and stretched. His eyes scanned Sherlock's walls, where he noticed for the first time that Sherlock really had bought a frame for that poster of the periodic table. John smiled.
Sherlock had a second desk in his room, but no chair for it; it looked like it was mostly a place to stack papers rather than a workspace. On the wall above it, John saw a row of three photographs. He climbed off the bed and stepped over to the desk to get a better look.
It was three portraits of three different people he recognised; two because he'd seen other pictures of them, one because he'd met him a few times in passing. Victor Trevor, Robert Davies, Deepa Sharma. On the desk, John saw pages of notes on things like insulin dosages, and lists of names. Sherlock hadn't spoken about the whole thing since Deepa's abduction, but obviously it was still on his mind.
Then something else caught John's eye—his own name. It was on a yellow post-it note on one edge of the desk, one of a whole slew of them. They were stuck together in a strange pattern, some of them in long trains that went over the edge of the desk, others solitary or in groups of two.
John peeled off the set of post-its closest to the wall, a chain of six. He read.
Jumpers—aesthetic appeal? No—sentiment.
Retain scent—olfactory sense closely tied to memory. Test over Christmas holidays.
Metaphor—warm, dependable, practical—representative of John.
Inappropriate for list, maudlin.
Disregard. Like jumpers because John wears them, not like John because he wears jumpers.
John frowned and turned the train of post-its over. What on earth? He stuck them back onto the desk and picked up the next set.
Always makes sure I eat.
Extremely annoying. Not actually thing I like about John.
Indicative of other trait?
John: expresses concern for my well-being. Sincere.
The words "thing I like about John" triggered something in John's memory. That silly conversation they'd had about compliments. "Do you want me to write you a list," Sherlock had said. John picked up the next set.
Frowns when writing blog posts. Appeal?
Disregard. Like frown because it is John's frown, not like John because he frowns when writing blog posts.
John's heart was beating fast again, just like when they'd been lying in bed. The next was a group of two.
States my name in public when exasperated. Consider why appealing.
Public recognition. Has never pretended not to know me.
That one made him sad. John put it down in a hurry, suddenly guilty. He probably wasn't meant to see this, at least not yet. Then again, it wasn't like Sherlock had a pronounced sense of privacy anyway. But still, this was too much. John took a step backwards from the desk, but he accidentally read another note anyway, a single one. Possibly the newest one given its position stuck to the front corner of the desk.
John took another step backwards and bumped into the bed. He sat down on it and covered the lower half of his face with his hands. Then he sprung to his feet, went out into the sitting room, and snatched his phone off his desk. He called Sherlock.
"What is it?" Sherlock answered.
"Will you come home now?" John said.
"Er, to be perfectly honest?" John traced the lines of wood grain on his desk idly. "I want to kiss you again." When Sherlock didn't say anything, he added, "Though it'd be nice if you could bring some brunch, too. I'm starving."
"Can't at the moment. I'm in London."
"London? Christ." John shook his head at the desk. He was smiling. "Well, come back when you can, alright? I miss you."
"Yes, yes, of course I will," Sherlock said irritably. "Where else would I go?"
"I'm sure you could think of something." John paused. "I love you."
"Yes, I know."
John sputtered with laughter. "Did you just Han Solo me?"
"Did I what?"
"Sherlock, the proper response when someone says I love you is I love you too. I mean, if it's true. That you love them too."
"Oh," Sherlock said. "Why?"
"Because it's nice to hear. Don't you think?" No answer. John shook his head again. "While you mull that over, I'm going to go see about getting something to eat. Talk to you later."
John went into his own bedroom and picked out something to wear. He chose the jumper Molly had given him for Christmas. Hell, if Sherlock liked them.
He'd just finished shaving and combing his hair when a knock came at the front door. He went to open it and found a man standing outside with a fire extinguisher.
The man tapped at the badge pinned to his chest. "Maintenance. Time to replace your fire extinguisher."
"Oh, sure," John said. He turned around and stared blankly at the sitting room. "Er. Fire extinguisher. I guess we would have one, wouldn't we?"
He went to the wall where their desks were, poking around them and checking the cabinet under the window seat. "You know, if we had one, my flatmate's probably gone and done something with it. Maybe he used it all up." John rose to his feet again and was starting to turn around—
Stars. Ringing. Blow to the head. John made to duck and roll and found he was already on the floor. He held his arms over his head and squinted up. The maintenance man—the maintenance man? Standing over him, fire extinguisher in hand, swinging it up to hit him a second time.
John rolled out of the way just before it slammed into his head again. "What are you doing?" Blurred vision. Concussion. Not good. Had to get his gun.
"Hold still," the man said, and John was trying to crawl out of the way but he was too disoriented. A sharp stinging in his neck, and something cold injected into him.
"Oh, please tell me that wasn't insulin," John groaned, crawling faster now, some of his senses back. Gun, get the gun. Shoot to kill, or else might pass out, and then... what? Why? John stumbled to his feet; he'd made it as far as his desk, and he leaned on his chair for support.
"Dunno," said the man. Not from maintenance? John didn't recognise him. Why had he let him in? "Not my job to kill you, if that's what you mean. Just hold still now, let me get this taken care of, it'll be easier on you in the long run." He held up a roll of... duct tape? There were two, four, eight of them. John's vision swam. This wasn't just a concussion anymore. What had he injected him with?
John picked up his chair and swung it at the man, and one of the legs made contact with his head. But John was weak already, and it wasn't hard enough. The man shouted and cursed and grabbed at the spot where the chair had hit him, but he didn't stagger.
Gun. Get the gun. Shoot to kill. Or else might pass out, then gun in the hands of attacker.
John took one step and fell over. No, no time. Not safe. Don't give away location of gun. Create signs of a struggle.
John grabbed the edge of his desk and dragged himself up. He swept one arm across the top, dislodging books and papers, watched them go floating down to the ground. Leave evidence. How?
Black spots. Loud ringing. Crawl to... where? Something important to do. Leave evidence.
Feet in front of him, strange shoes. Mud, mud was evidence. No, no mud, not raining.
Get good look at his face? Too late. Can't see.
Chapter 12: Life-Threatening Conditions
In which... Moriarty.
New chapter to celebrate Andrew Scott's BAFTA win!!!! And soothe the pain of Benedict being robbed goddamnit.
Molly went to the laundry centre first thing on Sunday to get hers done before a queue formed. Once she got the wash loads set up in the machines, she was walking back across the lawn to her hall of residence, and she ran into Sherlock.
"Morning, Molly!" he said, smiling in an oddly carefree way. He had Emma on a lead, and she was doing her business in the grass.
Molly stopped walking. "Erm, why are you happy?"
"Why wouldn't I be happy? It's a beautiful day out; I'm going to catch a thief..."
It was beautiful in the sense that the sun was shining, but it was also freezing cold. The grass was crunching with frost under their feet. "Oh," Molly said. "Well, congratulations. You need any help with it or anything?"
"Actually," Sherlock said, "if you've got the time, I could use you."
Molly perked up a little. "You could?"
He'd meant as a dog minder. Molly was put in charge of Emma's lead, and she kept Emma contained behind her legs while they rode on the train.
"How long are we going to be in London?" Molly asked, thinking uneasily of all the laundry she'd left unattended.
"Shouldn't be more than a few hours," Sherlock said. He was smiling again.
"Something's different with you," Molly said. "You're all... cheerful." Not a word she had ever imagined she'd be applying to Sherlock Holmes.
"Not really, just..." Molly scratched Emma between the ears. "A bit odd."
True to his estimation, Sherlock dragged Molly and Emma around in the city for the better part of four hours. She had no clue what was going on, only that it involved someone's missing heirloom jewelry, and the family affected was enormous, so Sherlock had to talk to loads of different people.
Molly was tired herself by the time she finished, so she felt extra sorry for Emma, who'd had to trot around on such short legs. "We really should take her home now, Sherlock."
"She's doing fine. She loves getting to see new places." Sherlock knelt down to give Emma some attention, and Emma's tail wagged her whole back end. There were no hard feelings on the dog's part.
Fortunately they did finish shortly after that. Emma slept on the ride back to Cambridge. "After we drop her off we should go get something to eat," Molly said. "I'm starving. John could come with, and erm... maybe Greg, as well."
"Greg's on duty tonight; he can't come," Sherlock said.
"Oh, well." Molly tried not to let her disappointment show. "Maybe I'll bring him some takeaway."
They made it back to Baker's Court and climbed the stairs to Sherlock and John's rooms. Emma was wiggling with excitement at arriving home, and Molly had to hold tightly onto her lead while Sherlock opened the front door.
When it was open, Emma rushed through, and she was dragging Molly with her until Molly bumped into Sherlock's back. She had to drop Emma's lead. Sherlock was standing still as a rock, blocking the doorway.
"Sherlock?" Molly said, tapping him on the shoulder.
"John!" Sherlock shouted. He stormed through the door, disappeared briefly into one of their bedrooms, then out, then into the other bedroom.
"Is something wrong?" Molly asked. Sherlock came out of the second bedroom and was texting something furiously on his phone. No trace of his cheery disposition remained. He'd gone even whiter than usual.
Molly glanced around the room and saw that something was off. There was a great mess around John's desk, and John was normally so neat. Books and papers were scattered on the floor, and his chair was lying on its side, a few feet away from where it should have been. "What happened here?"
Sherlock was pacing, and staring at his phone. He sent another text. Then he pressed a button and held the phone to his ear. After a few more paces he huffed and hung up, then sent another text.
He was panicking. Sherlock Holmes was panicking. Molly's hands trembled and she clasped them together.
"Sherlock," she said, "what happened?"
Sherlock gave his head a little shake like he was trying to clear it. "Someone took him."
Emma was sniffing at a fire extinguisher that was lying on the floor. Molly pointed. "What's that about, was there a fire?"
Sherlock shook his head and walked over to it. "No, no. Someone came into the room—John let him in, there's no signs of a struggle until they get over here. Whoever it was had a fire extinguisher, but there's no indication of fire. Why, why did he bring it?" Sherlock lifted the fire extinguisher and turned it around in his hands, examining it. Then he picked something off one of the ends and held it up to the light.
"What is that?" Molly asked.
Sherlock didn't answer. He dropped whatever it was, then gripped the fire extinguisher with both hands, swung it up in the air, and smashed it onto the ground. Molly backed up against the wall.
Sherlock swept over to the chair that had been knocked over and lifted it up in the air, examining the feet of it. Molly braced herself for him to throw that, but he didn't. He said, "He tried to fight back, but he wasn't strong enough for some reason. He was going for..." Sherlock dropped the chair and disappeared into one of the bedrooms again. When he came back out, he was holding a gun, which he opened to see if it was loaded. Molly put a hand over her mouth and fought the urge to scream.
"He didn't get his gun. Why? He didn't have time. He knew he didn't have time, and he didn't want to give away its location. He was incapacitated. Possibly drugged. Possibly..." Sherlock's chest heaved with the heavy breaths he was taking. He cocked the gun, aimed it at the wall between the windows, and fired. Molly screamed. "Good. Ready to use."
Sherlock pulled his phone back out of his pocket with the hand not holding the gun. He tapped at the screen with his thumb, agitated. "He'll send a picture. That's what he does. Just have to wait. He'll send a picture."
Like magic, the screen lit up and Sherlock's text alert sounded. Molly rushed over and stood next to Sherlock to see. It wasn't a picture, though, only words.
You ought to see the size of the syringe this time! No one could survive that. Oh dear!
Molly swallowed hard, and wondered if she should step back away from Sherlock, who was jiggling the gun. Another text.
I'd say twenty minutes before the needle goes in. Do please come yourself this time. No police or I'll end the fun much sooner.
"Oh, John," Molly whimpered. Tears sprang to her eyes. "Sherlock, what do we do?"
"He'll send a picture," Sherlock said.
Another text tone. No words this time except Downloading image...
Molly held her breath.
"You're a fighter, John Watson."
Someone had said those words to him when he was waking up from surgery. He'd never found out who it was.
Wait, was he back there now? What had happened to him since then?
"Are you actually awake now?"
John opened his eyes and willed the world to stop spinning. He was nauseated. That's right, concussion. And drugs, some kind of drug to put him out.
At least he was alive. He was in a seated position, and his chin was against his chest. His neck hurt from the weight of his head. He tried lifting it up and it lolled to one side. Muscle control still poor. He blinked and tried to focus. He wanted to lift his hands to rub his eyes, but he couldn't. They were bound together behind his back. Every inch of him was uncomfortable, and some parts just plain hurt. His shoulder, his neck, his head. God, his head. It felt like someone was tapping it with a sledgehammer.
"Take your time," said the person sitting in front of him. "Ordinarily I'd expect a couple more hours for someone to come out of it, but you're strong."
John blinked a few more times and watched the swirling heads coalesce into a single face: friendly, smiling. Unfamiliar. No, actually, John had seen him before. Where?
"Would you like some water?" The friendly person held up a glass of it. "Dry mouth, I'm sure."
God, yes, he did. The person pressed the glass to his lips and he took two long gulps before he decided it was a bad idea. The water tasted fine, though. And really, what more harm could be done?
The person sat back in his own chair and set the glass down on the floor. He had a phone in his hand, and he checked the screen. "Nearly 4:30. No word yet. Is Sherlock out for the day?"
And right about now John was desperately wishing he'd gone out on the case with Sherlock. He squinted, still trying to remember where he knew this person from.
"Sorry, how rude of me. Jim Moriarty." He held a hand out for John to shake. Then he laughed and smacked himself in the head. "Duh, how silly of me. You're all tied up."
John wiggled his hands. His wrists felt sticky. Duct tape. He remembered someone having a roll of it. The maintenance man. Only probably not actually a maintenance man. Not the man sitting in front of him now, Moriarty. It had been someone else. John was so confused, and his head throbbed.
"Before we get really into things," Moriarty said, "I have to ask. Do you have any life-threatening conditions I should know about? Anything requiring medication?"
The concussion was probably not life-threatening, but John still really wanted his medication.
"The reason I ask is because Victor Trevor." Moriarty bit his lip and looked sheepish. "I didn't actually mean for him to die. Well, I did, but not that soon. Blah blah blah, he needed his insulin, I gave him some, he said it was too much, said he had to go to the hospital. To be honest I wasn't listening that closely. So, John, do you? Have any medication you need?"
John didn't say anything. Moriarty set the phone down and lifted a small box off the floor, opened it, and took out a syringe. He held it up for John to see and smiled. "Need any insulin?"
"No," John said. His voice came out weak and dry.
"This is probably too much, anyway," Moriarty said. "I think little Victor's dose was supposed to be something like 30 IUs and I gave him a lot more than that. Oops."
John's head was clear enough now that he could take in his surroundings. They were in a library, in a reading area near the stacks. The only windows were next to the ceiling, so probably they were in a basement level. Most likely a county library; as far as John knew all the college libraries would be open and busy on a Sunday afternoon. It was nearing evening, judging by the slant of light filtering through the windows.
They sat in chairs facing each other. John's feet were bound with tape, too. It was utterly silent save for the sound of Moriarty tapping his foot. Moriarty himself was about John's age, maybe a bit younger. Dressed like any other uni student, some bloke on the street, jeans and a t-shirt. He would fly under anyone's radar were it not for how creepy he was.
"You were at the party," John said. "Irene Adler's house."
Moriarty's jaw dropped. His face moved weird, like it was a mask designed for mockery of human emotions. "You remember me! Oh, John, I'm flattered. Did I leave an impression?"
"Erm," John said, "yeah."
"Not on Sherlock, though. He wouldn't even look at me." Moriarty slouched forward and pouted. "Oh, Sherlock, Sherlock. I do so many things for you, and you never even notice me. Do you think this will do it, John? Do you think this will get his attention?" He sounded like a teenage girl pining over some boy.
"What, killing me?" John said. "Yeah, I imagine he'll be pretty angry about that."
"Mm." Moriarty was chewing his lip again, looking out of the corner of his eye at nothing. He scrunched his shoulders up to his ears and grinned. "I'm so excited to see the look on his face."
John closed his eyes. He wanted to go back to sleep. "What do you even want from him? Why are you doing this?"
"Well, he's awfully neat, don't you think? Yes, I know you do. I like to watch him dance. It's like one of those little dolls, what are they called, marionettes? Tug, tug. See him bounce. It ended up being okay in the long run, accidentally killing Victor. I learned two really important things from that whole incident."
John opened his eyes.
"One." Moriarty held up the syringe, his eyes alight with excitement. "You can murder people with insulin! And two, Victor had a really interesting flatmate. Definitely worth all the trouble."
"Wait," John said. "You didn't kill Victor to get to Sherlock?"
"What? Oh, no, I killed Victor because I was bored. Well, let me rephrase, I kidnapped him because I was bored. As we've established, the killing was accidental. Sort of. Oh, Victor was annoying. You wouldn't know, you never got to meet him. You know the sort, though. He was so perfect. Oh, Victor, everyone likes Victor!" Moriarty waved his hands in the air. "Victor's so funny! Victor's so nice! Nothing's wrong with Victor! I love Victor! Bleh. What a Mary Sue."
Moriarty tapped the syringe on the palm of his hand. "Turns out he wasn't perfect, though, was he? Faulty organ. What is it that makes insulin, again, the spleen?"
John cleared his throat. "Pancreas."
"Pancreas! Right. One of those organs you don't even realise you need until you cut it out of someone for an experiment and they die. Hypothetically speaking, I mean." He giggled. "Bad pancreas. What sort of disease is that? It's not even a really poetically tragic one, like a weak heart. Bad pancreas."
John was thinking of Victor Trevor, and how he'd known he was going to die. At least Robert had gone thinking he was experiencing a bad drug high. Victor had known, and tried to ask for help. John felt sick.
Moriarty kept talking. "That's the thing with modern medicine, it keeps alive all sorts of annoying people who would've died in childhood otherwise. Then again, you're reading medicine, aren't you? You probably think it's endearing. All those people out there who need your help to stay alive. Who can't even manage to grow organs that squeeze out all the right fluids. Lucky for me, though, really. Insulin! So easy to get copious amounts of with a little forged paperwork."
John used his little finger to feel the seam of the duct tape, where the end of it was overlapping the rest. What an odd choice for a hostage situation. Duct tape was tearable.
"Not as good as I originally thought, though," Moriarty said. "Worked fine on Victor, sure, but as we've established his body wasn't working right. Turns out most healthy people can survive an overdose. So I've been experimenting with different amounts. Deepa got 50 IUs, and obviously she got medical attention, so that didn't go well. Robert took around 100, but he probably didn't want to go to the hospital if he realised something was wrong. Oh, I don't even remember how much is in here, I stopped paying attention while I was filling it."
Moriarty reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife, blade sheathed in a leather case. "I brought backup, though. I figure if Sherlock gets here and you're still alive I can always..." He gulped. "Slit your throat. I don't like getting my hands dirty, but if it comes to that." He tilted his head back and forth and smiled. "I can't wait to see the look on his face, can you? Oh, John, your shoulder's bothering you again, isn't it?"
John had been rubbing the tape on his wrists against the back of the chair, trying to find a snag that would catch. It probably looked like he was rolling his shoulder slightly. He grimaced, playing into it.
"Right, well, it would, since you didn't take your codeine this morning." Moriarty clucked his tongue. "Would you like me to cuddle the pain away?"
John froze. He tried his hardest to keep a straight face. Concentrate, he told himself. He'd found a snag, and now he had to scratch the tape against it. Slowly.
The phone on the floor by Moriarty's chair lit up and buzzed. Now that John could see it clearly, he realised it was his own phone. Moriarty set the syringe and knife down and lifted up the phone. "Oh, finally!" He dragged his finger across the screen to unlock it and read, "'Where are you? -S.' Oh, Sherlock, that's dull. I really thought he'd be here by now. Must've been out all day. Or maybe he just didn't notice you were gone; he does get so wrapped up in those cases."
Concentrate. A little rip, a tear in the tape. John bit his lip and sighed, trying to make it look like his shoulder was causing him a lot of pain. Slowly.
The phone buzzed again. Moriarty read. "'What happened? Are you alright?' Oh, now we're getting somewhere. He—" The phone rang, and Moriarty jumped, or at least pretended to. "Oh! Oh, now we know it's serious. Should I answer it, do you think?"
He held up the phone so John could see the screen. The little jiggling phone icon and the name Sherlock. It rang a second, third time. It would ring four times before going to voicemail.
"No, you're right, I won't," Moriarty said, tossing the phone into the air and catching it. The ringing stopped. A second later there was another text. "'Please answer.' Oh." Moriarty made an exaggerated pout. "Oh, that's sad, John. That's heartwarming."
John breathed noisily. Tear.
"I'm trying to decide how long I should give him," Moriarty said. He tapped a finger on his lips while he thought. "Too short and you'll be dead before he gets here, too long and he'll get here before I can kill you. Wait." He frowned. "I haven't thought this out very well, have I?"
Long enough for me to get the tape off, John hoped. Tear.
"Hmm. St Benny's is about a thirty minute walk from here, so let's say, fifteen minutes? Or twenty? Twenty. Or ten! How fast can he run, do you know? Will he run? Will he get a cab? You tell me, John, you know him better than I do."
Moriarty balanced the phone on his knee and picked up the syringe and knife again. He held both of them out towards John and lifted his hands up and down one at a time, like they were a scale. "It's up to you, really. Which way did you want to die? One's faster, the other hurts less."
John cleared his throat. Tear.
Moriarty set down his weapons again and picked up the phone. "I'm going with twenty minutes. It's a wildcard. We'll see what happens." He spent the next several seconds texting, then he leaned forward and pointed the back of the phone at John. "Smile!"
After he'd taken the picture, he leaned back in his chair and pressed a button with a flourish. "And send. Now we wait. Ah. What should we talk about? Have you seen that newest Steven Spielberg film? I heard it was awful."
Chapter 13: Backup is Key
In which Moriarty gets kicked in the gut.
Blah blah blah, not yet britpicked, let me know if you spot anything... you know the drill by now. ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Molly clutched Sherlock's phone in both her hands. He'd pushed it off on her and now was looking things up on the computer. Molly couldn't stop staring at the picture of John. It was taking all the strength she had not to cry, just because she didn't want Sherlock getting more upset or yelling at her.
"He's wearing the jumper I gave him for Christmas," Molly whispered. One tear slipped out and she wiped it away in a hurry. She shouldn't be this upset, not yet. They still had a chance to save him.
But oh, John. He was so kind, such a good person; he didn't deserve this. Not that the others had, but... oh, this was just too upsetting. John looked angry in the picture, his jaw set and defiant.
Sherlock was muttering a constant stream of words as he tried to figure out where the picture had been taken. Molly hadn't been paying very close attention but she'd caught that Sherlock believed they were in a library, one of the county libraries. Suddenly he slammed his hands on the desk and shouted, "There's not enough time!"
"What?" Molly asked, her voice coming out in a gasp.
Sherlock was storming around the room now, tugging his hair, wiping his face. "There's not enough time; it's a half hour away at least, and I've already wasted five minutes."
"If we ran..." Molly said, but she'd never been a fast runner. Not that Sherlock needed her help, but what were they even going to do once they got there?
Sherlock stopped, his hands in the air on either side of his head. "Greg. The Porters' lodge has a vehicle. Greg will drive us; it'll get us there in ten minutes if we hurry."
He grabbed the gun off the desk where he'd left it and swooped out of the room, Molly on his heels, taking care to keep Emma safely shut in. Sherlock ran to the Porters' lodge, and Molly struggled to keep up with him. The sun had set while they'd been inside, and the air was biting on her face.
She was panting by the time they reached the lodge. Sherlock barked at Greg, "Car keys, now, will explain on the drive."
"What?" Greg rose from his seat, looking between Molly and Sherlock, clearly sensing something was wrong.
"It's John," Molly said between gulps of air. "The man's got him, the insulin murderer."
Moments later they had all piled into the Porters' car, Molly in the front next to Greg and Sherlock in the back seat, though leaning into the front. "First left, then second right, drive, hurry."
Molly still had the phone in her hands. She looked at the picture again. It had been taken in daylight, and it was full dark now. She shoved the phone into her coat pocket and put her face in her hands.
"What are you doing? Drive!"
"Sherlock, it's a red light!"
"Then run it, you idiot!"
Greg shook his head but slammed on the accelerator, throwing them all back into their seats.
"How much time do we have now?" Molly asked.
Sherlock checked his watch. "Six minutes."
"Drive fast, Greg," Molly said.
"I am, Jesus, do you think I want..."
Sherlock continued ordering Greg where to turn, and when they were in sight of the library he practically lunged into the front seat. "There, there! Turn!"
Greg was pulling into the car park when Sherlock opened his door and jumped out. He stumbled for only an instant before regaining his footing and running for the front doors. Molly watched him try to open them. When they wouldn't budge, he used the butt of the gun to shatter the glass so he could reach in to unlock them. Molly feared he might cut himself, but Sherlock didn't even flinch.
When the car was stopped, Molly climbed out, ready to run in after him. "Molly, wait!" Greg called, running around the front of the car. He grabbed her by the arm before she could go inside.
"It's not safe," Greg said.
"We can't let him go in there alone!"
"He's got a gun, we don't." Greg pulled out his phone and started to dial. "I'm calling the police."
"No!" Molly grabbed at his hands to keep him from pressing more buttons. "He said no police. The murderer did, he said no police or he'd end things a lot sooner."
Greg looked at the doors of the library, then threw his hands up in defeat. "Right, then. We're just supposed to wait?"
There was a drinks machine situated just outside the doors. Molly fished in her pockets for money, then went to the machine and bought a fizzy drink. Greg was looking at her like she was mad as she walked back to him.
"Well, I guess that's one way to pass the time," he said.
"It's for John," Molly explained. "If he did get injected with insulin, this is the fastest way to get his blood sugar back up while we get him to the hospital."
"Oh. Oh, Molly." Greg laughed breathlessly, sadly. "You've got a clear head."
"I guess so," she said, and for some reason that was the moment she chose to lose control of herself. She burst into tears.
Greg opened his arms to her right away, and she fell against him, burying her face in the front of his coat. He held her and patted her on the back. "There, now, it's alright."
"Not really," she said through her sobs. "What if he's dead?"
"Yeah, I..." Greg sighed. "Sorry."
A moment later, they heard a gun firing. Molly clung onto Greg, and he tightened his arms around her.
The last tear. One clean incision along the length of the duct tape. He could pull his hands apart whenever he wanted.
Moriarty had grown tired of trying to talk to John about films, and now he was whistling and do-do-doing to himself. He tapped his fingers impatiently on his knee. "This is boring!" he announced loudly to the empty library.
John stayed quiet, trying to figure out how best to make use of his new freedom. His ankles were still taped together, and in the time it would take him to rip the tape off, Moriarty could well stab him with the needle or the knife.
Moriarty checked John's phone. "Seventeen minutes." He sighed dramatically. "This is the longest twenty minutes of my life, John. Maybe I should have said ten or fifteen." He rolled his eyes. "Oh, whatever. Seventeen minutes is close enough, isn't it?" He set the phone down and picked up the syringe. "Let's go with the insulin to start. For all I know it could take hours to kill you. Or minutes; I'm really not clear yet on how it works."
John tensed, readied himself. He needed just the right moment. Moriarty stood up from his chair and took two steps towards John. John lifted his feet, and with one fast and brutal motion, kicked Moriarty in the abdomen.
Moriarty let out a hoo sound and staggered backwards, and John ripped his hands apart, tipped back in the chair, and rolled a few feet away. He set to work tearing the tape off his ankles.
"Rude," Moriarty said, and he coughed. "Well played, though, John. Don't try that again or I just might stick the needle in your foot. Ugh, what have you done to my tape?"
He grabbed his knife and was coming at John, who gave up on the tape while half of it was still stuck to his left leg. At least he could move now. He jumped to his feet and ran, heading for the relative safety of the stacks.
He didn't know how to get out of here, and he couldn't see stairs or an obvious door from where he was. The aisles were long and the shelves too high to see over. He turned in a quick circle, trying to see how close Moriarty was to him, but didn't see him at all.
The hair stood up on the back of John's neck. Where had he gone?
"Careful," Moriarty said between bookshelves. He was in the next aisle. He was sliding the syringe towards John. "Wouldn't want to poke yourself."
John ran, and Moriarty ran alongside him. When John got to the end of the aisle he skidded into the next one, away from Moriarty. Bafflingly, Moriarty mirrored him, and went into the next aisle further away. A moment later the fluorescent lights above flickered off, leaving only the glow of street lights from the windows.
From somewhere in the building came the tinkling sound of glass breaking. "Oh, good!" Moriarty said. His voice echoed and John couldn't pinpoint where he'd gone. John spun in a circle again, constantly moving, constantly checking over his shoulder, moving along the aisle. He had to find a way out, preferably before Sherlock made his way in here and met the end of Moriarty's knife.
When he reached the end of the aisle he jumped out and pressed his back to the end of the shelf, then looked both ways to see if he could spot a door or stairway. Nothing. He started to turn back into the aisle and jumped out of his skin, because Moriarty was standing right there.
"Boo!" Moriarty stabbed both the knife and the needle towards John, who skittered backwards, then ran down the next aisle. Moriarty didn't come after him, but vanished again.
John kept turning in circles. He was nearing one edge of the room; there was only one more shelf after this. Hopefully he was on the right side, and not backing himself into a corner. He reached the other end of the aisle, and when he stepped out of it, he had a gun pointing in his face.
"John!" Sherlock lowered the gun and threw both his arms around John, squeezing him so tight it pushed all the breath out of him.
"Sherlock," John wheezed. "We need to stand back to back."
Rather than try and explain why, he pushed Sherlock off, spun him around, and did it manually. Sherlock understood, and they stepped clumsily out into the open, turning so Sherlock could point John's gun towards the rest of the room where Moriarty had to be hiding.
"What is that?" Moriarty said from somewhere. "I didn't say you could bring a gun!"
Sherlock fired roughly in the direction the voice had come from. "Sherlock," John hissed, "don't shoot if you can't even see him."
"Oh, no no no," Moriarty said, his voice much closer than before. "This is wildly inappropriate. If I'd known you had access to weaponry I would've specified."
"Where are you?" Sherlock said. "Who are you?"
"Well, you've spoiled the surprise now. John too. Naughty, naughty boys. I had it all planned out, and you've gone and ruined it. I'm very disappointed."
"Did he give you the insulin?" Sherlock said under his breath.
"No," John said. "Just chased me with it for a while."
"Well when you put it that way, John," Moriarty said, "it makes me sound rather inept. Next time I'll be sure to bring guns of my own. Backup, that's the key. I'll put that in my notes. You have to understand, I'm still relatively new to this whole criminal mastermind thing."
"Show yourself," Sherlock said.
"No, too late for that. Not to worry, though, I'm sure we'll be seeing each other again soon. But you have to promise not to bring a gun."
There was the sound of loud, echoing footsteps from the far end of the room, then a door opening. "See you, boys!" It slammed. Sherlock and John broke apart and broke into a run, heading towards the door Moriarty had gone through. It wasn't, John could see now, the main set of stairs down which Sherlock had come. Probably a back way.
They reached the door, and Sherlock tried the handle. Locked. He gave a shout of frustration and kicked it.
"Sherlock," John said, "let's get out of here."
"I want to see him," Sherlock said, still fighting with the handle. "I'm going to kill him."
"I just spent the better part of an hour awake with him, and I don't want to see him. Sherlock, give it up. He won't appear again unless he wants to."
Sherlock sighed and stepped back from the door. He eyed John for a second, then jumped on him, throwing his arms around him again and kissing him.
John kissed back until the felt the gun carelessly pressing into his back. "Give me that," he said against Sherlock's mouth, and he reached back and yanked it out of Sherlock's grip. He held it away from their bodies, pointed at the floor, and resumed the kissing.
Sherlock pulled away suddenly and started to examine John, touching his head, his neck, his arms. "Are you alright? Are you hurt? The fire extinguisher."
"I have a concussion, I think," John said. He winced when Sherlock, albeit gently, touched the side of his head where he'd been hit. "It's probably not serious, but I should see Mrs. Hudson as soon as we get back."
In the dim light, John could see Sherlock clench his jaw, his nostrils flaring. "I will kill him."
"Not now. And anyway, it wasn't him who hit me with the fire extinguisher. Was some other bloke. I'm going to have to tell you all about it. But later. I want out of here."
"I know, I'm sorry, I just..." Sherlock cupped his hands around John's face, and pressed his lips together, looking so worried. His eyes zoomed back and forth like he was trying to read John. "I love you."
"I know," John said, and then he laughed. He hadn't meant to do that. He'd meant it in a reassuring way: I know you love me, you don't have to say it. Though it really was nice to hear it.
When they emerged out of the doors of the library, Molly hugged John and said "Oh, thank God" three times in a row. When she pulled away she was wiping tears off her cheeks. Greg clapped him on the back, pointed a finger at him, and said, "Do not, do not do that again."
On the car ride back to St Benedict's, John noticed that Greg and Molly were holding hands across the front seat. John's whole forearm was being gripped by Sherlock, who was also petting his hand over and over, though he was looking out the window and not at John.
They might see, John thought of Greg and Molly. Then he remembered that he didn't care. He leaned over and gave Sherlock a kiss on the ear.
My bff and personal Moriarty, lightningwaltz, wrote a song for this chapter:
When he walks into the library
this is what I see
sherlock fucking brought a gun to this party
lack of clarification made me blow it, blow it
i'm a proto-villain and I know it
I keep encouraging her to write a companion fic to this one from Moriarty's POV. Cross your fingers. XD
Chapter 14: A Retrospection
In which John decides it was all worth it.
I am so sorry it took me this long! Since this chapter is short and just wraps everything up, I think a part of my brain was just like, "Welp, the main story's over, nothing more for me to do." Anyways, for those of you who've stuck around, enjoy the last bit. ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
On Wednesday night, John attended the St Benedict's formal dinner, something he rarely had time for. There'd been no cases this week, but even if there had been he probably would have stayed home on orders from Mrs. Hudson. "No running, no sudden movements, and not too much excitement," she'd said, giving the instructions directly to Sherlock like it was entirely his fault whatever John got up to.
At the dining table, Sherlock sat to John's right, Molly to his left. Across from John sat Irene and Sally. John was giving Sally details to help her fill in her profile of Moriarty.
"Dark hair, dark eyes, Irish," John said. All his friends were leaning in close so he wouldn't have to talk too loud, but also because they were fascinated. Half-empty plates of roast beef and potatoes had been pushed aside, forgotten once the talk turned to John's kidnapping. "Really normal-looking guy, about our age. Handsome even." A few days ago he might have avoided using that descriptor.
"What was his demeanor like, his mannerisms?" Sally asked, jotting down what John said in her notebook.
"Complete nutter," John said. "His expressions, his tone of voice, all really exaggerated. But he was putting it on. It wasn't genuine in any way, at least it didn't strike me like that. He was trying to be creepy."
"Wow." Sally shook her head while she wrote. "It's amazing you got all this."
"He must really have been planning to kill you," Irene said. "He didn't even talk to that one girl he kidnapped, right? He actually interacted with you."
"Yeah, I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd done me in," John said. "Er. Well, you know what I mean."
Sherlock, who was holding John's hand under the table, squeezed it tighter. If John felt like looking on the bright side of things, he thought it was worth getting kidnapped and having his life threatened just so he could know how much Sherlock cared about him. Or more specifically, loved him.
"You should have known anyway," Sherlock had said when John shared this thought with him the night before.
"What, with the pulse thing? Sorry if I find your panic a little more convincing."
"I did not panic."
"Yes you did."
"No, I did not."
"Not only did you panic in the library, you panicked again after that nightmare you had on Sunday night. Oh, yes, don't think I didn't notice."
Sherlock had looked so affronted at that, John had laughed and the conversation was over. John smiled now, thinking of it, and he squeezed Sherlock's hand back.
"He's going to come after you again," Sally said. "You know that, right?"
"All too well," John said.
"He's satiated for the moment," Sherlock said. "He'll wait until the fuss has died down. Which, if Mycroft's doing his job properly, ought to be soon."
"That seems likely, yeah," Sally said. "All the more reason to keep your guard up."
"How is he still running free?" Irene said, resting her chin on Sally's shoulder and looking over the notes. "I don't understand."
"To start, there are no Jim or James Moriartys currently attending Cambridge," Sally said. "Assuming that's even his real name. Based on what Greg and I have been able to pull from the police, the fingerprints on John's phone matched a set in the database, but they were from an unsolved murder six years back, with no name attached."
"Only one murder?" Irene said. "I guess he got careful."
Molly looked horrified. "How many would you expect he's killed?"
"Don't know," Sally said, "but I doubt he was just minding his manners for six years."
John had just about reached the limit of his tolerance for this conversation. His mind was clouding and he was starting to feel anxious. "I need to, erm. Need to go..." He fumbled for an appropriate excuse.
"Tend to Emma," Sherlock said. "She ate a bad bit of table scraps earlier and she's been out of sorts ever since."
John could have kissed him right then out of gratitude, but it would have looked a little weird given the context. Their friends made the appropriate sympathetic cooing noises for the dog. John said goodnight to everyone and he and Sherlock stood and left the table, their hands never breaking apart.
As they were passing the last table in the dining hall, John made eye contact with Sebastian Wilkes, who was sitting at the end nearest to the exit. John watched as Sebastian's eyes dropped from his face to his hand, clasped with Sherlock's. Sebastian blinked rapidly.
"Wait," John said to Sherlock, and he turned to face him, grabbed the back of his head and pulled it down, and kissed him. Sherlock didn't hesitate or try to pull back, and they stood there snogging until John felt they'd made a good impression.
He turned back towards Sebastian and pretended he'd just now seen him. "Oh, hey, Seb! How's your nose clearing up, by the way?"
Sebastian looked absolutely dumbstruck, and instead of replying he just stared at John and Sherlock, his mouth open slightly.
John took Sherlock's hand again and they left the dining hall, pausing outside the doors to lean into each other and laugh. John urged them forward again, in case any of their friends came out and thought they really had forgotten about their poor sick dog.
They got back to their rooms and settled in, fed and watered Emma, closed the curtains (John would never neglect to do that again), locked the door. Sherlock checked his email and John studied his face while he did it, watching the wrinkle he got between his eyebrows, the way he bit the inside of his bottom lip and made his chin pucker.
"New case?" John asked.
Sherlock closed the lid to his laptop. "All boring."
Good, John thought. Another night of having Sherlock all to himself.
They curled up on the couch together to watch telly, and before long John caught himself drifting off to sleep, his head resting on Sherlock's chest, vibrating each time Sherlock spoke to correct or insult something. He tried to fight it, wanted to be awake to enjoy this, awake for whenever they moved to the bedroom. But it was hard. John was tired, and so very warm and comfortable and safe. Let me stay here forever, he thought, and he might have said it out loud in his half asleep state. Sherlock didn't try and correct him, just kissed him softly on the side of his head.
The end! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to all my readers, commenters, and kudos-givers! Being as I'm new to fandom and this is my first fic, I've been overwhelmed at the positive reception. I LOVE EVERYONE IN THIS BAR <3
OH and my friend and beta-reader is almost finished writing a one-shot sequel based on this fic. Currently she's too shy to post it for the masses but I'll continue trying to talk her into it. So keep an eye out for "The Weekend After"!