Saturday, 30 Jan 2010
Sherlock Holmes paced through his new flat, trying to feel the space, moving his files for optimal accessibility. He crossed to the mantle and adjusted the position of the skull just slightly, turning it toward the kitchen. His laboratory was already set up on the table in there. He liked it here. The space felt right, the location was ideal, and Mrs. Hudson was far more clever than she let on. She’d be the perfect guardian for this space, her curiosity written off as a side-effect of her age and living single. And his flatmate...
He’d met Doctor John Watson for all of five minutes at Barts, and already he was fascinated. He wanted to know more. What had he done in the wars that he’d followed across the globe — Europe (Kosovo, Sherlock suspected) and Iraq and Afghanistan most recently? And why had he reacted so strongly when Sherlock had thrown out the line about the riding crop? He’d only meant it as a test — it wouldn’t do to have a flatmate with inappropriate sympathies regarding the use of corpses for forensic experimentation — but John had reacted in an almost hostile manner, as if he’d taken the words as a personal insult. His body language betrayed not only his sudden aggression but also the fact that his military service hadn’t been somewhere safely behind the lines: breathing elevated, pupils dilated, body subtly shifted away from the nearby worktable to give himself room to move. The doctor’s mask had slipped just enough to betray the soldier beneath.
But then John had compensated, speaking in a mildly soft voice and holding himself very still, all done so smoothly and easily that Stamford probably had never even noticed anything unusual. He was very, very good at it, from his unassuming dress to the way his shoulders relaxed as though emphasizing the fact that everything about him, on the surface at least, was average and harmless. He presented such an ordinary facade that it was only natural for Sherlock to want to know more about him.
So Sherlock had pressed, rattling off his observations with sharp precision, waiting for an offended, indignant reaction that never came. John simply regarded him without saying a word or batting an eye, until Sherlock turned and swept out. He’d even come back with one last parting shot, offering his name and their new flat’s address, only to be faced with the same controlled blankness.
Nothing about the encounter had gone predictably, from his decidedly not-hostile reaction to Sherlock’s analysis of the facts at hand to the very interesting way he’d challenged Sherlock’s conclusion that they would, of course, be ideal flatmates. Which Sherlock was coming to realize might very well be the problem.
He looked at his watch, betraying his irritation with that one quick motion because he knew what time it was already. Ten till eight. Damn.
“Sherlock, I’m so sorry, dear, but I can’t afford to drop the rent any more than I’ve already offered,” Mrs. Hudson said, wringing her hands as she followed him. One hand swept out, and the skull was buried under a yellowed, lace-edged handkerchief.
Back in the stairwell, he heard a soft, familiar thump. Not the thump of an unneeded cane, but of a man who walked heavy because he was used to carrying ponderous bulk, despite liposuction and dieting and whatever exercise allowed him to lose weight without sweating. Damn again.
The thumps ended with a creak of the flat’s front door. “That won’t be a problem... Mrs. Hudson, I presume?” said the one person whose voice Sherlock least wanted to hear.
Sherlock snatched the phone from his pocket and quickly unlocked it to check for any messages of interest, needing the distraction. Behind him, Mrs. Hudson spun around with a startled little gasp. “Oh! Sherlock, is this your doctor friend?”
“Doctor friend?” Mycroft asked, voice thick with skepticism.
Sighing deeply, Sherlock turned to the unwanted sight of his brother and Mrs. Hudson facing one another. He was tempted to sneak out the back exit. He’d lay money that Mrs. Hudson could hold her own, even against Mycroft.
“Unfortunately not. That, Mrs. Hudson, is Mycroft Holmes. He is my brother and otherwise entirely insignificant and unwelcome,” Sherlock said.
“Oh! Well, ah, do come in,” she offered a bit redundantly, since Mycroft was already well across the threshold, umbrella tip planted against the worn carpet like a battle standard he wouldn’t easily surrender.
“Or don’t, Mycroft,” Sherlock added, frowning down at the text on his phone. He’d set it to mute earlier and hadn’t bothered to check until now. He didn’t recognize the number, but still opened the text.
Thanks for the offer, but I’m no longer available to share a flat. Can I buy you a pint to apologize? -John W.
“Damn,” Sherlock whispered, closing his eyes. He’d gambled and lost, which happened only rarely. And it had been an expensive loss, costing him the cheap Montague Street garret he’d abandoned that morning and most likely his shot at this much more desirable flat.
Worst of all, it was going to cost him his freedom.
Right on cue, Mycroft said, “Well, this is a step up for you, isn’t it, Sherlock? Yes, this will do very nicely.”
“What exactly are you talking about, Mycroft?” Sherlock snapped, pushing between Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson.
He needed his violin. That would help him to concentrate, to think of a way to keep the flat, get rid of Mycroft, and, most importantly, determine where he’d gone wrong with John Watson. He was certain his deductions had been spot-on — financial straits leading to the need for a flatmate to stay in London, no family connections to help pay his way — and his response to Sherlock’s brilliance had been surprisingly mild, compared to the usual.
“Given the state of your former residence,” Mycroft said stiffly, “I am inclined to approve heartily of this place, despite the frankly appalling condition you’ve created with your... clutter. Thus, I am of a mind to increase your allowance — directly deposited to Mrs. Hudson, as your landlady, of course. You needn’t trouble yourself with the details, Sherlock.”
Glaring out the window, Sherlock scraped the bow harshly across the strings, letting his music speak for the state of his thoughts at the moment. “Keeping me on your leash, you mean,” he muttered too softly for Mrs. Hudson to hear.
“We’re on the same side, Sherlock. You’ll come to realize that, one day. For now, Mrs. Hudson, if you’d help me make the arrangements, we can leave Sherlock to organize all this, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Oh! Well, I’ll — Yes, of course,” Mrs. Hudson stammered, her iron spine folding under the full force of Mycroft’s charisma. It was a weapon he’d learned to wield early in life, one Sherlock had never bothered to master beyond a certain point. Now, as Mycroft led away Sherlock’s one and only real ally, he wondered if that hadn’t been a mistake.
“Mistakes,” he muttered over the sound of the closing door. How could he have been so wrong?
None of this was happening in accordance with Sherlock’s plan, which was unacceptable. Everything in his life was ordered precisely as he wished; there was even method to the state of his flat, though no one else would notice it. Except Mycroft, damn him. The only thing Sherlock could not control was the behavior of the local criminal class — with only one current exception, they were being predictably boring, much to his frustration. And now, he had to contend with his missing flatmate. Why had John Watson failed him so dramatically? This move was meant to free Sherlock from Mycroft, not to give Mycroft an even stronger hold on him.
Wagner suited his mood, and he lost himself in his playing, letting his thoughts roam free in hopes that his subconscious would see the links that his conscious mind missed. But he had no further answers when he heard the door open again, followed by the soft shuffle of Mrs. Hudson’s feet and the crinkle of a newspaper.
“What about these suicides, Sherlock?” Mrs. Hudson asked curiously. “Thought that’d be right up your street. Three, exactly the same.”
He was still watching the street, though Mycroft’s sleek black sedan had long since pulled away. Nothing so gauche as a limousine for him; it would ruin his falsely modest image. Besides, any form of honesty was anathema to him. He was far more addicted to deception than Sherlock ever had been to any chemical.
Then the windows across the street reflected strobing blue lights, and Sherlock permitted himself one quick, thin smile. He inhaled. Exhaled. Set down his violin.
“Four, Mrs. Hudson,” he said, forgetting all about John Watson and Mycroft’s damned leash and everything else in the surge of excitement. The game is on! he thought, and waited for Lestrade to come begging for his help, as he always did.
Chapter by Kryptaria
John's life takes a turn for the unexpected, with the career offer of a lifetime from Irene Adler.
Sorry it's been so long since I was able to update, but internet access on the road is sketchy. I should be able to set up a schedule once I'm back to civilization. This chapter's going up without a beta, so if you notice anything, please drop a line!
Saturday, 30 Jan 2010
John Watson was used to making quick decisions and living with the consequences. He refused to succumb to regret or to play the game of ‘what if’. But he couldn’t help a little bit of both as he quickly typed on his phone, thinking of pale skin and eyes that defied description and the challenging wit and brilliant mind of the man who was waiting for him.
Stamford had been particularly close-mouthed about this Sherlock Holmes, claiming that no one really knew the man, and that John would learn for himself. But John couldn’t afford to live with someone so sharp-eyed — not with the future he was building for himself. Privacy was essential, and that meant that he had to keep Sherlock Holmes at a distance, at least until John was ready to deal with that particular challenge.
Thanks for the offer, but I’m no longer available to share a flat. Can I buy you a pint to apologize? -John W.
The woman’s soft voice intruded on his quick typing. “Well? What do you think?”
John quickly sent the text and replaced the phone in his pocket, turning his attention back to the exquisitely appointed dungeon. He ran a hand over the waxed surface of the X-shaped St. Andrew’s cross near the center of the room. It was as exquisitely made as everything else in the dungeon, constructed with the type of solidity to hold a strong man but polished smoothly enough that it wouldn’t leave a single unintended mark on the most delicate skin. The anchoring rings were countersunk and concealed, leaving no exposed bolts. The cross wasn’t even hinged on its stand so it could be easily moved or stored; it was solidly, permanently constructed.
“It’s beautiful,” he said appreciatively.
“I’m glad you like it,” Irene Adler said, her smile matching John’s as she moved around the cross to the cupboard. “Of course, if there are any changes you’d like to make...”
“No, not at all,” he answered, both truthfully and because she expected him to appreciate the dungeon as it was, the product of her own artistry. He didn’t bother inspecting anything else as meticulously, knowing that there was no need. It would all be of the same quality, and besides, the St. Andrew’s cross had always been a favorite of his.
“I would ask that you keep your clothing tasteful,” she said delicately. She wasn’t so crass as to brush a hand over her dress, but John caught her meaning all the same. Nothing so common as leather or PVC for her. No, she wore something from a designer that John couldn’t recognize in fabrics he couldn’t identify, something that gave new meaning to the concept of a little black dress. The only concession to her lifestyle, in fact, was her shoes: black pumps with spike heels in gleaming metallic gold, with red soles that flashed like she’d walked through blood. Well, the shoes and the stockings with a seam drawing a thin line up the back of her calf and knee, disappearing beneath the hem of her skirt. John had always had a weakness for that sort of subtly provocative look.
“Miss Adler,” he said reassuringly, “for more than ten years, I’ve worn nothing but uniforms and blue jeans. Feel free to make suggestions.”
“Oh, my poor captain.” She wasn’t quite able to hide the laughter in her voice, making John smile. “Kate will help you with that, if you’d like.”
“I’d be grateful.” It wasn’t precisely a lie — he really did need a wardrobe that came in colors other than washed-out denim blue and desert camo.
“Please, call me John,” he interrupted.
She smiled prettily, moving around to the front of the cross, and gestured to the door. He fell in beside her as she said, “John, I realize this is very sudden. I hope you know how much I appreciate the opportunity to work with you.”
“I’d love to say the same, Miss Adler, but —”
“Ah, ah. Irene,” she said. “I insist.”
He met her smile with one of his own. “Irene,” he said, nodding as he opened the door for her, and then followed her out into the hallway. In contrast to the dungeon, with its floor of black marble and tiny halogen spotlights, the hallway was airy and light, with landscape paintings on the walls and a floral carpet warming the hardwood floor, muffling the sound of his cane.
“Thank you. You were saying?”
“Yes, well... I’d love to say the same, but I really have been out of touch with things. You wouldn’t make this offer based on Corporal Murray’s word alone.”
“Mmm, Bill is nice enough, if you like that type, but no. Not his word alone.” She glanced sidelong at him, red lips curved up in an impish smile. “But the word of Colonel Sebastian Moran...that’s a different story altogether.”
“I see,” John said, and fell silent, before he laughed softly and followed Irene back downstairs, to where Kate was waiting.
“Miss Adler. Doctor Watson,” she said, giving them both a nod that was too deep to be mistaken for anything but a slight, respectful bow. John couldn’t quite hide the wince at being called ‘doctor’ in this situation.
“No, not doctor,” Irene said, glancing John’s way thoughtfully. “Captain Watson sounds much better. Do you mind?”
The title settled into him in a way that felt right the way nothing quite had since he’d come back to London, even if it was incredibly inappropriate. “I don’t mind. Assuming you’ll back me up if anyone of higher rank comes calling,” he added with a laugh, thinking of Colonel Moran.
Irene’s smile turned hungry. “Just remember, you’re a professional now, Captain Watson. We charge extra for that sort of thing.”
Chapter by Kryptaria
When Kate goes missing, Irene turns to John for help.
Mild spoilers in this and upcoming chapters for A Study in Pink!
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
It seemed like this job was one shock after another, and not at all in the way John might’ve expected. For one thing, he’d never expected a job as a sex worker (because really, that’s what it came down to) to come with medical insurance to supplement his veteran’s benefits. Nor did he expect to have an office — as in, an actual office, complete with desk, chair, laptop, multi-line phone, sofa, and bookshelf. The shelves were empty, as he had no idea what to put there.
About the only thing that didn’t surprise him was the small safe tucked behind a painting beside his desk. If he was going to be taking off his street clothes, he appreciated the consideration of having somewhere to put his valuables, even if his only ‘valuables’ were his generally empty wallet and his SIG. He carried it because working nights meant he was getting back to the bedsit at a positively unholy hour, except for that one day he’d stayed to chat with Irene and Kate, and they’d ended up drinking Kate’s excellent cappuccinos and eating chocolate chip biscuits until well after dawn.
And now, the next shock. Apparently, Kate processed payroll on Thursdays, and his pay was... Well, he wouldn’t be staying at the bedsit for too much longer unless it was by choice.
Maybe Kate had made a mistake?
As soon as he thought it, there was a single knock, followed by the soft sound of his door opening. He wasn’t at all surprised; Kate had shown a disturbing, almost psychic ability to know when she was needed.
But it wasn’t Kate. It was Irene, frowning with worry, an expression that didn’t sit well on her, compared to her usual unshakable confidence.
“What’s wrong?” John asked at once, standing and pushing his chair back from the desk.
“Kate hasn’t returned yet. She’s not answering her phone.”
John looked at Irene across his desk, letting the usual, obvious excuses come to mind, dismissing each one as wrong. Kate would never turn off her phone — her ‘electronic leash’ she called it, with a dismissive laugh and a blush that told John she’d probably been ordered to have it close at hand all the time. And she was never late. She could put a computer to shame with her precision and organization, and John had seen her show up twenty minutes early for an appointment rather than risk being five minutes late.
“Right,” he said, focusing not on the nighttime dangers of London but on facts. “Where was she?”
“Valentine’s studio, picking up a new whip I’d ordered. Then she was stopping at a new Italian restaurant, Angelo’s, to get us a late dinner.”
“Have you called them?”
“Obviously I have,” she snapped, and then tossed her head restlessly and let out a harsh sigh. “I apologize. I’m —”
“Worried?” he interrupted gently.
“Kate’s an adult, fully capable of taking care of herself.”
“What did they say?”
“She arrived at Valentine’s and left as scheduled. Nothing suspicious or unusual. The line was busy at Angelo’s.”
“Try them again?” he suggested in his best reassuring-doctor-voice.
Irene frowned, worrying at her bottom lip with her teeth for a moment, before she nodded and walked out. Her worry was infectious, and though John told himself it was probably nothing, he thought about those serial suicides. Kate was happy — more than that, she was content. She was the last person in the world who’d even think of taking her own life, but that was exactly what they’d said about all the victims.
One more look at his apparent paycheck was enough to make the decision for him. He could afford to miss a couple of clients, if it came down to it, so he made his somewhat clumsy way through the contacts database and pulled up the night’s appointments, just in case he needed to call them to cancel.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Sometimes, you don't have to wait for someone to die so you can find the next clue.
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
Fear changed behavior.
Sherlock could taste it on the air and read it in the patterns of movement on the streets beyond his window. When he went out to meet with his contacts, they were tense and wary, apologizing with furtive head-shakes and harsh whispers: Sorry, sir, nothing new, not a word.
Four serial suicides. No pattern. The victims were utterly random, absolutely nothing in common, and that had to be the commonality, because nothing else was. “There’s always something,” he said to the empty air, looking at the skull on his mantle.
He’d thought he had a lead when he’d realized the dead woman had been writing Rachel, the password to her mobile phone account, but the GPS had led to the lost-and-found box at a pub. The phone had been scrubbed clean of fingerprints, and the pub had no internal CCTV to show who’d dropped it there, leaving Sherlock hoping that the killer would make a mistake with his next victim.
Sergeant Donovan hadn’t passed up the chance to point out that only a freak would want someone else to die just to give him something to do. Sherlock had drawn breath to answer, but it seemed that close proximity to Sherlock was finally paying off for DI Lestrade, who’d anticipated Sherlock’s next words — or at least his tone — and sent them both out of the building, by separate exits, to get rest. As he was leaving, Sherlock had pointed out that ‘rest’ would be easy for Sally, since Anderson’s wife was home for the weekend. That had earned him an escort out the building.
Sherlock stuck a fourth patch on his arm, flexing and clenching his hand into a fist, battling the frustration of his own physical limitations. Why couldn’t his brain simply produce the appropriate chemicals on command? It was absolutely absurd that he needed external stimulation to spark open those pathways that let him make the deductive leaps that most people were too limited — too stupid — to comprehend except when he explained it to them in words of one syllable or less. It was like he was hunting his enemy in the dark —
“Hunting,” he said, sitting bolt upright, looking over at the skull. He remembered something he’d said while walking briskly down the street, conscious of the stares of people who thought him insane for speaking to the only person intelligent enough to understand his conversation. (Himself, of course.)
“Who hunts in Central London? Who hunts at Heathrow — Oh,” he breathed as it fell into place.
He snatched up his phone as he jumped off the sofa, rushing for his bedroom, dressing gown billowing out behind him. “Lestrade!” he barked as soon as the phone was answered, not caring who was actually on the other end. “Get a GPS trace on every taxi that left Heathrow between thirty and ninety minutes after victim number five came through customs.”
“Every taxi? What?” Lestrade asked. In the background, a woman’s voice snapped out something about leaving work to work hours, and Sherlock recognized Lestrade’s wife from the time he’d stayed with them years ago. He knew he wasn’t helping the fragile state of Lestrade’s marriage with this after-hours call, but he couldn’t be bothered with that now.
“Do it! I’ll meet you at the Yard,” he said, hanging up. He threw the phone onto his bed, followed by the dressing gown, and stripped off his T-shirt as he went for the closet.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Maybe John won't have Sherlock at his side, but Irene is a good second choice, given what she carries hidden in her purse.
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
Irene was more than unusually pale when she came back into John’s office. “They haven’t seen her. I convinced the manager to let me speak to every employee. Kate isn’t forgettable.”
The viral worry that was buzzing at the back of John’s mind flared into real concern. “Damn,” he breathed, quickly sending the night’s appointment list to the little printer in the corner of his office, half-hidden behind his bookcase. Before retrieving it, he asked “Is Kate’s phone personal or through the business?”
“Then you have the account information.” When Irene nodded, John turned his laptop to face her and said, “Log into her mobile phone account.”
Irene’s eyes widened with surprise. “Her GPS... God, I’m not thinking,” she scolded herself, quickly typing at a speed that put John’s hunt-and-peck to shame.
Trying to hide his concern, John wheeled his desk chair over to the printer and snatched at the paper. On his first day, he’d sat with Kate for a few hours, listening to how she handled clients, and felt reasonably certain that he could do a professional job of last-minute rescheduling.
By the time he was done with the first call, Irene had turned the laptop back to him with a worried frown. “This makes no sense,” she said, watching his face.
He leaned in to check the map display showing the location of Kate’s mobile and frowned. “What’s there?”
“Nothing! It’s nowhere near Angelo’s or Valentine’s,” Irene admitted, baffled.
When Irene shook her head, John turned the laptop back to her. “Can you find out?” he asked. When she nodded, he picked up the phone to make his second cancellation call.
She was still typing after he hung up. He rose and limped over to the painting that concealed his safe. As always, he’d locked his SIG away as soon as he’d arrived. The last thing he needed was a client getting his hands on an illegal weapon with a crudely-filed serial number and John’s fingerprints all over it.
He unlocked the safe and fitted the SIG into his palm, feeling his pulse go calm and cool and steady, so like and yet so unlike the first moment of taking up a whip. He’d expected one feeling tonight, but he’d accept the other, if that was where things led. Unlike the whip, he just hoped he wouldn’t have to use the SIG.
“Got it,” Irene said, interrupting his thoughts, and he turned gratefully back to the desk before he could think about actually using the weapon.
“Well?” he prompted.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Her phone is at the Roland Kerr Further Education College.”
“What the bloody hell is there?”
“Right,” he said as he latched the holster’s clip over his belt and holstered the SIG, feeling the last few months fade away at the cool press against his abdomen. He tugged his button-down shirt out over the weapon, speaking softly to Irene: “If I tell you to stay here, you won’t, will you?”
“Certainly not.” She picked up her purse and opened it without dropping her eyes from John’s face. She tipped the purse so John could see a curved gleam of stainless steel — the barrel of a compact revolver in a quick-draw holster velcroed to the inside of the purse. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised.
“Unless Coach makes concealed carry purses, that’s custom made.”
“Valentine’s a genius,” she said, standing. “Shall we?”
John hesitated; he had no idea what was going on, but he was fully aware that it was human nature to overdramatize tense situations. It was most likely that Kate was late, caught in some traffic snarl, even meeting with some illicit lover, and having Irene along — having an armed Irene along — could escalate an already-tense situation out of control. But then he considered the revolver, compact and utilitarian, not at all flashy, and the fact that it was safely carried, rather than being tossed at the bottom of the purse. He had no doubt that she knew how to handle it, even if she’d never been in an actual conflict before.
“Let’s get a taxi,” he told her.
Chapter by Kryptaria
When Sherlock is bored, he finds his own entertainment, often at Lestrade's expense.
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
Five minutes later, Sherlock was buttoning his jacket, wrapping his scarf, and pulling on his overcoat. “Going out, Mrs. Hudson!” he yelled when he hit the bottom of the stairs, smiling coldly as he thought about hailing a taxi. He’d never be lucky enough to actually get the killer’s taxi by chance, but it was a pleasant thought all the same, and that kept him diverted for the ride to New Scotland Yard, considering how the encounter might go.
A civilized conversation, he finally decided. Serial killers were rarely rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth animals. No, often they were surprisingly well-spoken and very calm, except when triggered. Sherlock could relate to them far easier than to most people, because most of them were as devoid of emotion as he himself was. They had their passions, yes — passions that drove them to kill — but those passions were more akin to animal instincts or needs than anything of a higher emotional order.
Thoughts of what the serial murderer might say drifted through his mind, tangled up with consideration of how the encounter might end. Sometimes, he considered that the serial killers he hunted had something that he lacked — he and Mycroft both, actually. The act of killing and all the necessary rituals of a serial killer held no appeal to the brothers, though each of them had killed in his own time, for his own reasons. Generally, though, they found other ways to solve their problems — or at least other hands to get dirty, in Mycroft’s case. Neither of them wanted anything so powerfully, other than the mental challenge of deciphering someone else’s mind and motivation and desires.
Sherlock knew his way around the building better than many seasoned officers. He took the most efficient route to the briefing room where he presumed Lestrade would have assembled his team, if he’d followed Sherlock’s instructions. He allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction when he saw the crowd of detectives there, a half dozen of them going over CCTV footage, the images on their laptops mirrored on the monitors mounted to the wall.
At least they were obedient, if not competent. Throwing his coat and scarf onto someone’s desk by the door to the briefing room, Sherlock entered and demanded, “Have you identified the taxi?”
“The taxi, no,” Lestrade said unhappily. His hair was slicked back by repeated passes of his hand — things had gone badly with his wife — and the fresh odor of cigarette smoke clung to him, briefly igniting Sherlock’s own desire to light up. The four patches he still wore were doing nothing for him now, as if their chemical energy had been spent on his one moment of insight.
“Do you have any idea how many taxis go through Heathrow in an hour, freak?” Donovan challenged. “Or is that too normal, going to the airport to pick up your mum?”
“Assuming he has one,” an officer Sherlock barely recognized quipped.
“Shut it!” Lestrade barked, presumably for Sherlock’s benefit. A shocked silence fell, even the sounds of fingers on keyboards stilling for a moment. Into that silence, Lestrade asked, in a much more kind voice, “Care to take us through it then, Sherlock?”
Dull, Sherlock thought, but bowed to necessity. Unless he wanted to view this footage himself, he’d need the help of these cretins. So he gave them the minimum explanation — the job of taxi driver being the perfect job for a serial killer without a fixation on a particular target-type — and let them get on with it while he pickpocketed Lestrade more to have something to do.
Lestrade had jumped to Sherlock’s defense, so he left the warrant card alone and instead sorted through the rest of his pockets in three brush-passes that he concealed with his pacing. Other than the card, he identified his issued handcuffs (Lestrade had forgotten the pouch that would hold them on his belt), a wallet (thick with cash — he wasn’t going home tonight), a wristwatch (fiddly clasp, not yet taken to the jeweler’s to be fixed), a crayon (a young nephew's feel-better present to an upset uncle), the pack of cigarettes, and a lighter.
He took the handcuffs because he had to take something official. He took the lighter for practical reasons. Then he challenged himself by taking precisely half of the eighteen remaining cigarettes, all without a single one of Scotland Yard’s finest ever noticing.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Much as Sherlock likes an audience for his brilliance, sometimes it's better to verify things personally before calling in the masses.
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
“Too many possibilities,” Sherlock muttered, pacing away from the too-crowded table, wishing he could sneak out for one of his stolen cigarettes. If he did that, Lestrade would know, and Sherlock would have to give back everything he’d taken, and there would be a fuss that would be distracting.
He was surrounded by distractions, mired in them, all the typing and murmuring and breathing, and he finally snapped and barked, “Shut up, all of you!”
The protests came swift and hard, all the stupid bullshit that other people thought was important, and he shot Lestrade an icy glare. Lestrade met his eyes for a full five seconds — that was one of the reasons he tolerated Lestrade; he wasn’t afraid to actually look into Sherlock’s mental darkness. Then the DI turned and ordered, “Five minute break, everyone. Clear out.”
And then there was silence and peace in the glass-walled fishbowl of the briefing room, and Sherlock could think. He closed his eyes and breathed deep, pulling up his mental map of London, overlaying it with traffic patterns, current construction activities and road closures, Friday night habits of people crawling through their dull lives...
Slowly, like the dim glow of a lighthouse through thick fog, one idea began to coalesce, teasing him closer, luring him, whispering promises of brilliance and conclusion. Friday night habits. Residences with couples and families and parents and children getting fat in front of the telly. Nightclubs and bars where the desperate looked for the night’s shag.
And that dim glow flared into brilliance, the lighthouse’s beam turning to blind him with its clarity, turning into the headlamps of a taxi glowing over the white walls of a building that had no business being busy on a Friday night.
He was moving without thought, flinging open the fishbowl door hard enough to rattle the glass, snatching the coat and scarf from the desk where he’d thrown them; the officer who sat there hadn’t quite dared to move them beyond pushing them off to one side.
“Sherlock? Sherlock!” It was Lestrade.
“Thinking!” Sherlock answered, knowing he’d understand, and there came no further protest as Sherlock strode quickly through the bullpen toward the stairs, tugging his overcoat into place. In one pocket of his jacket, Lestrade’s stolen handcuffs rattled. From the other, he extracted a cigarette and the lighter. In violation of health and safety rules, the smoke alarms in this particular stairwell had long since been disabled by officers who didn’t feel like braving the rain.
In a cloud of smoke, nicotine singing through his lungs and into his blood and into his brain, Sherlock descended and went out into the night. He needed to find a taxi.
Chapter by Kryptaria
John does what he does best: takes one life, saves another.
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
The taxi wound along narrow streets that curved around dim-lit buildings and through deserted parking lots, and icy apprehension started to rise in John’s chest before he pushed it back down. Time enough for fear later, he told himself, staring intently out the window on his side, praying that he’d spot Kate making out with some other woman in the back of her car. But this campus wasn’t exactly romantic, for all that it was deserted. It felt less like a place for a tryst and more like a trap.
Irene’s shout startled him and the cabbie both. The taxi slammed to a halt as John slid across the seat, looking through the other window. Barely visible between two buildings was another anonymous black taxi.
“Good,” John murmured, putting a hand on her purse to keep her from opening it. “You stay here. If I’m not back in fifteen minutes, call the police.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she countered, tugging the purse out of his grasp. She was out the back door, leaving John to pay the driver, before he could protest.
Irene was already at the other cab, peering in through the windows. Light glowed from an upstairs window in the building to the right, illuminating her just enough for John to see her worried expression. She shook her head, and behind him, John heard their taxi drive off.
“Damn,” John muttered, gesturing left, toward the ominously dark building. Irene nodded, shifting her grasp on the purse slung over her arm. The purse was open just enough that she’d be able to draw in two, maybe two and a half seconds.
John started moving as quietly as he could, barely touching the ground with his cane, every instinct screaming for him to get under cover. He was painfully conscious of the empty spaces around him, spaces that should have been occupied by his fireteam and the rest of his squad, and the knowledge that he was alone hit him hard and cold, right in the chest.
He hit the side of the doorway and leaned the cane against the wall, tucked into the deep shadows cast by the sullen yellow light overhead. He drew the SIG left-handed, holding it gently and steadily, like a lover’s hand. With his right, he tried the door.
Unlocked. Thank God for lazy cleaning staff.
“Stay behind me, Irene,” he whispered in her ear. “I can’t have you in my line of fire. You have to trust me.”
She met his eyes and gave a very slight nod. “All right, Captain,” she said softly.
He slipped inside, eyes raking the hallway, keeping the SIG ready but unobtrusively resting beside his thigh so he could quickly tuck it into the small of his back, holding it there by the pressure of his belt, if a curious janitor or security guard confronted him. His button-down shirt was untucked, wrinkled fabric billowing around his waist and hips, adding the illusion of weight and harmlessness. Just another professional night student lost on a confusing campus, looking for an after-hours meeting with a professor to ask a question, nothing suspicious...
A search of the first floor proved frustratingly unhelpful but fortunately uneventful. He couldn’t hear the sound of floor waxing machines or the rattle of wheeled rubbish bins, nor could he smell cleaning chemicals. The janitors hadn’t made it here yet, which meant he could be discovered at any moment but probably wouldn’t end up locked in, which was fortunate.
Second floor. It was dark upstairs, and darkness was his ally. He cursed his white button-down shirt and darted from shadow to shadow as quick as he could. The world was still and crystal-clear around him, filling him with that blissful exhilaration that he never thought he’d feel again.
He moved faster, as fast as he dared, always conscious of minimizing the slap of his shoe soles against the linoleum floor, and he wished he’d had trainers or something quieter than dress shoes. Boots, he thought; he had three pairs of them back at his bedsit. That did him no good here, though.
He kept moving, checking the classrooms facing the other building on the first pass down the hall; he’d check the others on the way back, but then he knew he wouldn’t need to, because he spotted light across the way, in an upstairs classroom.
Light filling a lecture room set up for some sort of lab, with broad tables running the length of the room.
Kate sat at one of those tables, her chin raised defiantly.
And across from her, a man who was definitely not some secret lover — not dressed like that. He slouched and grinned in a way that sparked all of John’s internal alarms. He wasn’t leering at her; he looked hungry. Predatory. Anticipating.
As John watched, they both reached out toward two little glass or plastic vials. Something white inside each one. A capsule.
Behind him, he heard Irene say something, but he pushed it out of his thoughts. He shoved open a window and inhaled.
Raised the gun. Sighted.
Exhaled and stopped.
The world went dim, reduced only to his eyes and hands and sights and the target, no longer human, if he ever could have been considered that at all. Just a target now, a gunshot wound waiting to blossom bright red. Not an ideal shot, from the side, but John could work with it. He was good. He was damned good.
Gently, so gently, he caressed the trigger, pressure increasing against his fingertip, a ripple of tension beneath his tanned and weathered skin, the curl of a knuckle —
Headlights swept into sight, but it was too late to stop. He didn’t want to stop.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Sometimes, the answers only lead to more questions.
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
Taxi drivers were nearly as ubiquitous and invisible as the homeless who made up Sherlock’s network of allies and informants, and like the homeless, they had patterns that occasionally defied logic. They drove where their fares directed, yes, but also where whim took them, within certain bounds. It wasn’t unknown for a driver to park in a dark, deserted area for a quick nap, and that could very well be what this taxi was doing on a Friday night at a college deserted except for the cleaning staff.
Risk and reward. The risk of failure. The reward of adulation. Better to succeed in private and take his bow belatedly than to fail before the idiots from the Yard and hear ‘freak’ laced not with grudging admiration but with scorn.
“Here! Stop here!” he snapped as soon as he spotted the taxi parked in the shadows between two buildings. Obligingly, the cabbie slammed the brakes and put the taxi into park, letting the engine idle down to a low purr — low enough for them both to clearly hear the sharp report of a gunshot.
The cabbie let out a startled shout that Sherlock ignored. He threw open the door, scanned the narrow space between the two buildings, and saw light spilling out from the right-hand building. Second floor, four rooms down.
A gunshot was wrong. Wrong! He murdered by poison, not by something as crass and violent as gunfire. Where was the elegance — the game — in simply shooting a victim?
Sherlock broke into a run, open coat streaming out behind him, and yanked open the door, trying to think of how the building was most likely laid out. There would be stairs near the entrance to break up student traffic as soon as possible, rather than funneling everyone toward the center of the building. He entered the main hallway. Looked left, right. There!
Through the door and up the stairs in a rush, exulting in the confirmation that he’d been right, because it was incomprehensible that the reason behind that gunshot was something else, something unrelated. As he pushed through the door to the upstairs hallway, he heard a woman’s voice, speaking quickly, and the softer sound of a wet, groaning cough, the sound of imminent death.
“I don’t — I don’t know,” the woman gasped into her phone as she stumbled through the door, looking back over her shoulder, and slammed right into Sherlock. Her phone went flying and she let out an earsplitting scream, trying to pull back, high heels skidding on the linoleum floor.
Dyed auburn hair, Chanel suit, Louboutin peep-toe heels, expensive perfume — Vera Wang’s Princess. Irrelevant. Important only as a witness.
“The driver. The taxi driver,” Sherlock demanded, clutching the woman’s shoulders to keep her still. She was crying, though her makeup wasn’t running — waterproof, high-quality, expertly applied.
“In there — Someone — Oh, God,” she gasped, stuttering the words out as she lifted her hand enough to point into the classroom.
Sherlock pushed her aside, ignoring the rapping of her heels as she staggered to get her balance. She’d been calling the police, which meant he didn’t need to phone Lestrade right away. The wet, dying sounds meant he had little time to get his answers, time he didn’t want to waste in a tedious discussion with some police dispatcher or secretary.
He threw open the classroom door and rushed inside, looking around. Blood and stink filled the air and the burbling moans were twice as loud. At the far side of the room, there was a neat bullet hole through one window.
And then there he was, the taxi driver, twitching violently and mumbling, whites of his eyes gleaming death-bright in an old, wrinkled face capped with thinning gray hair over a liver-spotted scalp. His eyes rolled and found Sherlock, and he gave a gap-mouthed smile and croaked, “Mr. Holmes.”
Excitement burned through Sherlock. He looked down at the killer, this broken old man, and demanded, “How? How did you do it?”
He coughed up frothy blood as he tried to lift his head. His grin turned into a death’s head mask. “The... game.”
“Game? What game?” Sherlock demanded furiously, sensing his quarry slipping away not into the night but into death. “Tell me!”
“Your fan...” The old man’s laugh turned into a rattling cough. “His game.”
His game. Whose game?
“Tell me!” Sherlock repeated.
Bloody teeth bared in a defiant snarl. “Too late —”
“You’re dying, but it’s not too late for me to hurt you,” Sherlock said, lowering his gaze from the white-rimmed eyes to the bloodsoaked jumper buttoned over a cheap, once-neat shirt. Shifting his weight to one foot, Sherlock lifted the other and nudged the toe of his dress shoe against the small, bloody hole in the side of the dying man’s chest. Nine millimeter, he guessed, though he wouldn’t know with any certainty until he could examine it further, and that would only happen when he knew everything.
The scream wasn’t particularly rewarding; torture brought him no excitement, not like the promise of knowledge, of information, of those gems that he could string together into a stunning conclusion that explained everything. The Unified Theory of Behavior, replayed over and over again in Sherlock’s mind, with a new layer added each time an investigation yielded new data.
Then that piece of data came, carried on a dying man’s scream: “Moriarty!”
Carefully, Sherlock drew his foot back away from the dead man, his mind filled with an almost orgasmic sense of satisfaction. He turned away from the corpse, taking his phone from his pocket, thinking it was time to summon his audience to the stage for the final curtain call, when he spotted the two glass vials, each with a white capsule sitting at the bottom.
Two vials. How brilliant!
“A game of suicide.” Sherlock nodded in admiration for the audacity. An old man’s challenge — probably a dying old man’s challenge.
Then he corrected himself, briefly forgetting all about the phone, as he realized it hadn’t been the old man’s challenge at all. His game, the dead man had said. And now, Sherlock had a name.
“Moriarty,” he whispered for the first time, tasting the word, and he smiled.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Murder always requires an alibi, even when the victim is a serial killer. Who better to provide that alibi than Sherlock?
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
John hit the exit, barely remembering to snatch up his cane before he caught Irene, who’d managed to outrun him despite her heels. She turned sharply toward the other building where a man lay dying and Kate was hopefully unharmed.
“No!” he barked as softly as he could, adrenaline singing through him, skin prickling with alarm. He pulled Irene back into the shelter of the doorway.
“But Kate —”
“You can’t,” he protested, thinking of the sweep of lights he’d seen in the instant he pulled the trigger. “Someone’s here — someone else!”
Irene muttered two words that sounded like Russian, vicious and harsh, perfectly capturing how John felt. “Who was he?”
“Dunno.” John moved his arm from her waist to her shoulders and started walking away. He aimed for the far corner of the building, wanting to get something between them and the upstairs room where a man was now dead because of him. Every instinct was screaming for him to run, but he knew that would just draw attention. He forced himself to think of where he’d seen the security cameras — not nearly as many of them as there should have been, thankfully, which was probably why the cabbie had brought Kate here in the first place.
“We need to help her,” Irene insisted.
“The police are on the way. Someone’s called the gunshot in by now.”
Irene took a breath, calming herself down enough to start thinking rationally again. “Of course.” She slipped her arm around his waist and snuggled close, looking for all the world like a girlfriend seeking body warmth on this cold February night. Together, they walked off the campus and turned down the sidewalk.
John grinned tightly, feeling the rush that hit when you were alive and the enemy was dead and you realized you’d survived. The muzzle of his SIG was warm against his skin, and he realized he’d taken a life tonight but also saved one — or he hoped to hell that he had, because what he’d seen made no sense.
“What the hell was that?”
He didn’t realize he’d asked the question aloud until Irene answered, “That must be how he did it.”
“Those serial suicides. It’s obvious, in retrospect. He threatens to kill them if they don’t play his game. Two pills — one harmless, one deadly.”
John couldn’t hide his shudder. “What kind of sick bastard does that?”
“A dead one,” Irene said, voice full of satisfaction. “You saved Kate’s life, John. How can I ever thank you?”
He laughed despite the gravity — the insanity — of the whole situation. “If you weren’t a lesbian, I’d make a list.”
“I’ll let you know if I change my mind.” Irene let out a shaky breath and shifted the purse over her arm. It was now snapped closed, looking just as harmless as she herself did in her heels and warm cashmere overcoat.
Looking ahead to the intersection, John said, “We need to split up. Once news of this hits, the driver that brought us here might come forward with our descriptions. Let’s not make it worse than it already is.”
“That’s... very true,” Irene said, looking at him rather intently. “I’ll go back to the office.”
He met her gaze just as steadily before turning his attention back to the intersection. “I cancelled my remaining appointments.”
“Then we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
As if choreographed, they disengaged, letting their arms fall naturally, fingers brushing together like lovers saying goodbye. When they reached the corner, she turned right and he went left, walking more slowly, limping more heavily, shoulders hunched a bit — just a harmless man out for a walk in the cold night.
He didn’t know the neighborhood, and he needed some sort of an alibi. The only people he could think to call were Mike Stamford or Bill Murray, and he didn’t want to get either of them caught up in this, if things turned messy.
But thinking of Mike automatically made him think of someone else, and that made him smile as he looked around, thinking the area looked a bit familiar... There! A steakhouse, one of those commercial chains that wouldn’t have a real neighborhood crowd, where a stranger would go unrecognized.
Before he went in, he took out his phone and considered what little he knew of Sherlock Holmes. He had the feeling that a normal invitation for drinks would get him nowhere with someone like Sherlock, but at the moment, John wasn’t particularly interested in normal.
“Fuck it,” he muttered, and sent a quick text with the cross streets and a brusquely worded invitation:
Meet me here in half an hour. -John
Chapter by Kryptaria
Words Sherlock never thought he'd hear, especially from Lestrade: "Go on, get out of here. Go on your date."
How did he go from the delightful puzzle of serial suicides to this?
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
Sherlock stood by the window, examining the neat hole in the spiderwebbed glass. It tracked directly across the alley where the dead man’s taxi was parked, over to an open window in the opposite classroom.
“Sherlock! What the bloody — Who the hell is that?”
He smiled. Lestrade was so entertaining when he went from angry to baffled — much more so than when things went the other way. “That’s your serial killer,” Sherlock announced, twisting to look over his shoulder as his phone buzzed an alert. Incoming text.
Well, it wouldn’t be Mycroft — not unless someone had punched him in the face and he required emergency dental work. The thought was amusing enough that Sherlock ignored the babbling police officers to check the text.
To his surprise, it was from John Watson, his absentee should-be-flatmate. The message started with an intersection not too far away from the school, followed by a short note:
Meet me here in half an hour. -John
He stared at the text, reading it several times, trying to twist it into a shape that held some sort of meaning. Well, not meaning; the words were obvious enough. But why? Why now? Why here?
It was nothing more than an address, surprisingly close to the crime scene, and a blunt demand to meet.
It was nowhere near Baker Street. It was very near the school, though. Near the murder site.
Lestrade’s hand coming at Sherlock’s shoulder was enough to snap him out of his reverie. He recoiled back instinctively; Sherlock permitted touch on his terms, not someone else’s. “What?” he demanded.
“Are. You. Hurt?” Lestrade asked in that enunciated, impatient manner that people usually used with victims of head trauma and three-year-olds. Sherlock didn’t know if he should be pleased by Lestrade’s concern or irritated at his attitude, so he settled for both.
“Of course not! I missed the whole thing,” he complained, gesturing with his phone at the perfect bullet hole in the window.
Lestrade’s eyes were on the phone. He caught hold of it, and Sherlock had to relinquish it to avoid holding hands with the DI. Ignoring Sherlock’s glare, Lestrade blinked at the message and then laughed. “Got a date tonight?”
“Don’t be a child.” He reclaimed his phone and shoved it into his overcoat pocket. Beneath it, his jacket pocket rattled slightly, and Sherlock was momentarily puzzled before remembering he’d taken Lestrade’s handcuffs.
He smirked and wondered if the harried DI had noticed. Perhaps he had, and was now carrying a backup pair that Sherlock could lift as well, just to prove that he could.
He was eyeing the fall of Lestrade’s coat when Donovan burst on the scene, a whirlwind of anger aimed right at Sherlock. “Freak! Where’s the gun?” she demanded, rushing right up to them.
Sherlock glared down at her — as if he’d be so stupid? — and deliberately removed his gloves from his pockets, tossing them at her. She caught them instinctively and gave him a look best described as her help me out because I’m an idiot look. She was very good at it. Lots of practice.
“This is where you demand a test for gunpowder residue, isn’t it?” he asked dryly, holding out his hands.
Lestrade sighed, plucked the gloves out of Donovan’s hands, and shoved them at Sherlock. “Bad enough I’m going to catch hell from my wife if I ever get home again. I don’t need more stress from you two.”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to let this psychopath walk!” Donovan protested. “The witness said he’s the only other person she’s seen, other than the driver. It’s obvious the two of them were working together!”
Sherlock couldn’t refrain from rolling his eyes. “Working together? That’s remarkably idiotic, even for you, Sergeant.”
“Sherlock!” Lestrade scolded sharply.
“Please, if we were working together, explain why I shot him the moment he and your survivor were about to take their pills. And then explain how I got from there” — he pointed across the way, to the other building, the only place where the shooter could possibly have been standing — “to here as quickly as I did.”
“Criminals are usually good at running,” Donovan said acidly.
“And the police are supposed to be good at solving crimes, not criminally mishandling them,” Sherlock snapped back at her.
“Enough!” Lestrade barked, glaring at them both. He came back from examining the body and said, “Doesn’t look like a rifle.”
“Handgun, nine millimeter, judging by the sound,” Sherlock told him. “Possibly a forty-five, but more likely a nine.”
“You saw the shooter?” Lestrade asked more gently than Donovan would have.
“Heard the shooter,” Sherlock said, exasperated by having to state and restate all the little details.
“So it wasn’t you?” Donovan challenged. She tended to find a favorite theory — usually one in which Sherlock was the guilty party — and then stick to it with the tenacity of an abnormally stupid bulldog.
“Don’t be stupid. Obviously not. To make a shot with a handgun from that distance, so precisely, requires a steady hand, trained, capable of making an independent decision, probably military, someone who’s seen combat —”
He cut off.
Steady hand needed for the shot — a surgeon’s hands. Trained, capable of making an independent decision, because the shot, the kill site, and the shooting position all hadn’t been premeditated, or the shooter would have brought a rifle or shot from close-up, so the decision had been made at the last moment. Because Sherlock had arrived?
John Watson, doctor and ex-army officer, wounded in action in Afghanistan. Texting him from an address very nearby.
Was he Moriarty?
“Sherlock,” Lestrade prompted. “Look, just explain how you got here, all right?”
Sherlock would have protested, but Donovan looked so unhappy that he couldn’t resist showing off. “It should be obvious, even to you lot,” he scoffed, crossing to the table. The lab techs hadn’t yet swarmed — they were still setting up — so the stage was clear.
He launched into his explanation automatically, hardly bothering to touch on the thought processes that they’d never be able to comprehend in any case. He left out any mention of Moriarty — for now, that was his prize, a secret he shared only with a dead man. Let the police think that the cabbie had been clever enough to come up with the two-pill challenge.
“Any idiot could see that this was the suspect location — the one place where a taxi would have no business at this hour on a Friday night,” Sherlock said coldly, looking at Donovan. “Even you, Sergeant.”
“So you just ran off, did you? Didn’t say anything to us? Were you hoping to have some alone-time with the body or something, freak?”
Lestrade cut in, his tone finally crossing over from exasperated to genuinely angry. “Sergeant, enough! Since you’re so keen on this site, go take some uniforms and search the rest of the buildings. Thoroughly.”
She tossed her head and glared at Lestrade, but he just returned her gaze steadily until she muttered, “All right, sir,” and headed off. The sound of her yelling at the other officers could practically be heard back at the Yard as she took her anger out on them.
Lestrade let out a long-suffering sigh and looked up at Sherlock. “You have to do that, don’t you?”
“It’s not my fault you surround yourself with —”
“Don’t,” Lestrade interrupted. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, right hand twitching. He could tell Lestrade wanted a cigarette. Sherlock wondered if he knew he’d nicked half of them.
“Any other questions, Lestrade?”
“God, you’re insufferable.”
Sherlock arched a brow at his tone.
Lestrade smirked. “Go on, get out of here. Go on your date.”
Chapter by Kryptaria
It's not a date. It's an alibi. It's a post-murder cover-up. It's a case of mistaken identity. It's definitely not a date.
Apologies for the short chapters. Normally, I like to post 3000+ words at a time. Between my own unreliable, sporadic internet access and Ao3's dreaded errors, I've been posting quick bits, since I try to preview every post from beginning to end. Expect more normal postings from this point out, unless everything goes to hell again.
Thanks for sticking with me!
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
Ten minutes later, John was seated at a tiny booth in the middle of the restaurant, trying to act casual as he picked at a skewer of grilled chicken, every sense still on high alert. Now, in the aftermath of death, all of the what-ifs were coming to him. Had he been caught on CCTV? Did the serial killer have a partner? What if someone had seen him and Irene? Had the cabbie who’d driven John and Irene said anything to the police?
He’d washed his hands meticulously to remove any gunpowder residue, though it was pointless. Firing a gun left its mark not only on the hands but everywhere within a cloud that was larger than most people suspected. He’d have to shower and launder his clothes to have any hope of removing all trace evidence.
His instinct was to hide, to become a part of the shadows, to get as far away from the scene as possible, but rationally, he knew that wasn’t wise. He remembered an agonizingly casual walk through an open-air marketplace, swathed in loose native clothes, his sun-blond hair covered, back crawling at the absolute certainty that a sniper rifle was trained on him. He had escaped not through speed but obscurity, becoming one more member of the crowd, anonymous and invisible.
Warring with the stomach-clenching fear, though, was the excitement still singing through his veins. Tonight, he’d taken a life. Saved a life. It was as if the months of pain and surgery and physical therapy and nothing had all slipped away. It was like resurrection.
The sight of a tall, pale figure by the door snapped him out of his thoughts, and his smile was feral and powerful from the thought that the mad, strangely brilliant lab tech had taken the bait — had obeyed John. Without waiting to be shown to the table, Sherlock glanced around the restaurant. His light eyes locked to John, and then he was moving, tugging the slate scarf from around his long throat, unbuttoning his coat so it flowed out behind him like a cloak.
He came right up to the booth, and John knew he should stand to greet him, shake his hand, something, but he didn’t. He remained comfortably slouched as seconds ticked by, before he finally sat up and moved his legs enough to make room across the table. “Sit.” It wasn’t quite a command, but it certainly was more than just an invitation.
Sherlock Holmes’ eyes narrowed as his head tipped to the side, considering John like a puzzle taking an unexpected new shape. John’s grin grew a notch as he watched Sherlock trying to reconcile the crippled doctor with this John, the soldier who hadn’t been lost after all. The pieces didn’t line up.
Slowly, he took off his overcoat and hung it on the pillar by his seat. Then he sat, the booth crowding them so close that their legs bumped together under the table.
The sole purpose of this meeting was to give John the excuse of being in the neighborhood, a man out to meet with an acquaintance, perfectly normal for a Friday night. It had nothing at all to do with Sherlock himself — or it hadn’t, up until the man had walked in and captured John’s attention all over again.
And now, with their feet pressed close and knees touching under the table, it was too late for John to remember how it used to be in Afghanistan, in the hours after a heavy firefight when heady thrill of combat had passed, leaving behind the more primal realization that he’d survived. For him, there was no stronger aphrodisiac than combat, not even the power games he loved so much. Apparently, his mind, still high from the chase and hunt and kill, had latched onto Sherlock as its target.
Fuck, John thought, but still, he couldn’t look away.
But Sherlock wasn’t turning away, either, and although John’s senses hadn’t picked up any hints that the other man was gay or bisexual or pansexual or even just interested in him, he couldn’t stop his thoughts from going down that road.
John’s imagination was very, very good — more than up to the task of discarding the mundane surroundings of the steakhouse and showing him Sherlock’s unexpected beauty revealed in a far more appropriate environment. The rooms at Irene’s business were uniformly gorgeous, from the romantic bedroom with its canopied bed and silk-soft ropes to the dungeon where John did most of his work. Even the concrete-and-tile cell for clients who fancied playing at spycraft and interrogation and naughty prison guards had a certain elegance to it.
Fitting Sherlock into each and every one was the type of fantasy that John wouldn’t normally permit himself. The reality of his life was satisfying, even before the unexpected, fiery, guilty adrenaline-thrill of this night. And Sherlock Holmes would tear through his life like a perfect storm, ripping everything apart right down to the foundation.
Too intelligent. Too indiscreet. Too sharp-eyed. Too manic. Too bloody insane.
John knew he should look away, look down, ask Sherlock some mundane and boring question about his day or throw out some observation about sports or politics. He should make their night just boring and normal enough that Sherlock would remember it in only the most hazy way. John knew how to live safely.
He knew. He’d just never chosen the safe path.
It was the waitress who broke the silence, asking for their dinner order. “Two sirloins, mine medium rare, and chips,” John told her, looking across the table at Sherlock. It had been as natural as breathing for him to order for them both, but Sherlock just looked confused, as though wondering why John was ordering two dinners for himself. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
The waitress caught on before Sherlock, smiling and asking, “How did you want your steak done, then?”
“The same,” Sherlock answered absently, apparently distracted by whatever thoughts were tangling through his brain. John felt a little surge of something like possessiveness and something like jealousy. If Sherlock was going to be distracted by anything tonight, John wanted it to be him.
John caught Sherlock’s attention by pushing the starter plate across the table toward him. “You showed up quickly,” he said as Sherlock picked up his fork. “Baker Street isn’t close by. Did you not get that flat?”
“I did. I was nearby, on a case.”
“I consult for the police, when they’re out of their depth.” He grinned briefly and added, “Which is always.”
“Consult? Forensics? You work at the lab at Barts, right?”
Sherlock laughed, using his fork to work a piece of chicken off the skewer. “Hardly. I’m a consulting detective — the only consulting detective.”
John didn’t move consciously, but he did move, sitting a bit more upright as his body responded to the potential threat a moment before his mind caught up. His hands went to either side of his plate, resting casually, fingers relaxed. The right would come back, clutch the fabric of his shirt, lift. The left would dip lower, thumb between his belly and the SIG, forefinger straight next to the trigger to press the catch. Lift and twist with the left, and the barrel would be aimed at Sherlock under the table.
He knew the angles and visualized the target zone, thinking of the organs and blood and bones and nerves trapped behind skin and a too-tight button-down shirt, and something in him wanted to curl up and die at the thought of this coming down to only one of them leaving the restaurant alive.
John was a survivor.
Sherlock dropped his eyes, and the realization hit like a truck: he knew. John’s throat went tight and dry as he searched Sherlock’s beautiful, sculpted face and saw... curiosity. Interest. There wasn’t a hint of fear.
Nor was there any sign that Sherlock was about to call the authorities.
John exhaled, realizing that only a few seconds had passed. As casually as he could, he asked, “Oh? What were you working on?”
“Tonight, I caught them a serial killer.”
Ignoring the half-eaten skewer in his left hand, he leaned forward a bit, saying, “By observing, of course. Nothing is hidden, if you pay attention.”
John laughed sharply, though he relaxed enough to pick up his nearly empty glass and finish it off, as the answers fell into place — not about tonight, because he couldn’t for the life of him imagine how or why Sherlock had tracked Kate, but that day at Barts. “That’s how you did it, then? Knowing all that about me? I didn’t think Mike had time to tell you anything.”
In answer, Sherlock just smirked, leaning back to allow the waitress to set down their drinks and whisk away John’s empty glass.
“Everything all right? Need anything else?” the waitress asked.
“No.” It was brusque and rude, but John didn’t care. He cursed the fact that he’d ordered dinner at all, especially since it would be too suspicious if they both left now.
He needed more information.
“That can’t be all you do,” John said, relaxing back in his seat once more. “Otherwise, why not just go work for the police full-time?”
“Dull. I don’t do paperwork or reports or stupid people, and the Yard is infested with them.”
“Then what do you do?”
Sherlock shrugged, picking up his glass. “I take private cases, if they’re interesting enough.” He sipped from his glass, then blinked, as if he'd forgotten John had ordered him a pint.
John frowned at him. “If you don’t drink alcohol, you should have said something.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Any allergies? Medical conditions?” The questions slipped out before John could stop himself — the sort of questions that he had learned to ask before a scene.
Sherlock paused, probably wondering why John would be asking something so personal. But he finally answered, “No, none. I’m in perfect health.”
“Good,” John said, slouching back in the booth and getting comfortable. Under the table, his leg pressed against Sherlock’s, and he let himself enjoy the warm tension of his long, lean muscles. Sherlock seemed to relax as well, and John smiled, thinking that he should text Irene, see if Kate was all right, make sure Irene had made it back to the business in one piece.
Instead, he set about interrogating Sherlock as subtly as he could, determined to learn everything.
Despite all his years of studying human behavior, Sherlock was utterly at a loss to categorize John Watson, until he finally decided that he was like himself: different.
Instead of upsetting him, it captivated him, and he found himself allowing John to steer the conversation through the dinner that Sherlock barely tasted, though he ate every bite. Each time he stopped for more than a couple of minutes, John would frown and look significantly at Sherlock’s plate, and he’d reward Sherlock with a tiny smile when he finally resumed his meal. Engaged in their conversation, Sherlock hadn’t even caught on the first couple of times he’d done it, and then he’d gone from shock to delight that someone who wasn’t Mycroft was successfully manipulating his behavior.
John’s questions wandered through Sherlock’s history of cases without ever getting too personal. He did ask if Sherlock had moved into the flat on Baker Street and seemed pleased that he had — and even happier when he found out Sherlock hadn’t found another flatmate.
He blatantly refused to surrender any information about himself. When Sherlock asked outright about his military service, John said flatly, “We’re not talking about me,” and resumed his interrogation.
When the waitress finally came to clear the dishes away, John shifted to retrieve a wallet from his left front pocket. No cash, Sherlock noted, and only one credit card, which he gave to the waitress without asking to see the bill first. Sherlock would have guessed that he was in financial trouble but willing to spend extravagantly on this ‘date’, but that didn’t fit. Then he wondered if the modest contents of the wallet were part of his disguise, hiding the ample resources that he had to have, if he actually was Moriarty.
Both, he finally decided, which was a non-answer that he’d have to accept until he had more data.
“Come home with me tonight,” John said.
Sherlock smiled. “Yes,” he said at once, realizing that he’d been subconsciously dreading the end of the night, without nearly enough information. In private, perhaps his attempts at questioning John would meet with more success. The danger was insignificant compared to the opportunity to learn more.
“Is there someone you want to call, to let them know?”
The smile vanished, replaced by an expression of confusion that Sherlock couldn’t quite hide. “No.”
“Not very safe, is that?” John asked disapprovingly.
“Safe.” Sherlock snorted, fully expecting John to agree with his assessment as he said, “Safe is boring.”
“If you were mine, you’d have a very different attitude,” John said, and it sounded like a threat, but like no threat that Sherlock had ever heard before.
“Yours?” he asked, scrambling again to try and impose order on the confusion that seemed to be springing up at every turn.
In answer, John just smiled, dark and knowing, and looked for the waitress.
Two minutes later, they were both standing, and as John retrieved his jacket from the coat hook by his seat, Sherlock could just see the squared-off butt of a semi-automatic pistol shadowed against his shirt, above his waistband. Left-hand draw, concealed carry holster, not comfortable to carry or easy to access unless one was used to it. John showed no sign of discomfort at all.
Sherlock shrugged into his coat and folded his scarf, only to have it tugged out of his grasp by John, who was looking up at him from only a few inches away. “Too bloody tall,” John murmured, reaching up to set the scarf across the back of Sherlock’s neck, and he felt a sudden moment of excitement and panic, having John’s hands close to his throat.
Moriarty, he thought, and considered the dark, twisted brilliance that could convince an old man to risk his own life not once but multiple times in order to take the lives of strangers.
John threaded the fringed ends of the scarf through the bend and tugged sharply down, snugging the cashmere close against Sherlock’s skin. Then he looked down and drew the overcoat closed, pausing at the metallic, ratcheting sound that startled them both.
He glanced up at Sherlock’s face, eyes narrowed suspiciously, and pushed open the overcoat to feel over the pockets of his jacket. When he found the pocket containing the cuffs Sherlock had stolen from Lestrade, his eyes widened slightly. That was also interesting. How had John identified handcuffs so quickly, with just a touch through the fabric of his jacket?
John laughed and went back to closing and buttoning Sherlock’s overcoat. “Came prepared, did you?”
Prepared? Sherlock wondered, remaining silent. John didn’t continue to search his pockets, though it would have been the perfect time to determine if Sherlock was armed. In fact, it seemed like an afterthought when John touched the outside pockets of the overcoat and found the gloves, which he removed and offered back to Sherlock.
Bemused, he wondered if he should be offended that John apparently didn’t trust him to dress for the cold weather, especially given that John’s jacket hardly seemed up to the task of keeping him warm, and he lacked both scarf and gloves. Armani shirt, tailored wool trousers, new shoes... but his coat was battered and two years out of date, and the trousers should have had a matching jacket. With the coat on and zipped up, shirt showing just a bit at the hem, and metal cane in hand, he looked somehow diminished, more like the down-on-his-luck veteran he’d seemed to be that first day at Barts.
Still intrigued, Sherlock went after John, smoothing the leather gloves over his hands, and fell into step beside him, remembering to keep his pace slow out of consideration for his limp, though it didn’t seem as pronounced today as it had been a week earlier.
Perhaps it was fake. Sherlock dropped back to watch more closely, but John noticed almost immediately, looking back over his shoulder with an amused expression. “No need for that,” he said, reaching back to take hold of Sherlock’s arm.
Startled by the direct touch, Sherlock flinched back defensively.
Immediately, John relented, frowning up at him, and asked quietly, “What’s wrong? Or — oh, sorry. Not in public?”
He couldn’t think of how to explain without sounding... abnormal, perhaps, or weak, so he seized on the offered excuse and nodded.
With an apologetic smile, John stuck his free hand in his pocket and resumed walking, cane thumping down a little more heavily with each step of his right foot. Definitely either psychosomatic or an act meant to look that way, and Sherlock wondered which it was.
The bedsit wasn’t much: a first-floor room with a tiny kitchenette and a shared bath at the end of the hall. There were four small bedrooms and one bathroom on each floor, most of them occupied by men and women who were either in the military or recently retired, like John. Since enlisting, he’d spent his at-home leave either at bases or in bedsits like this one, and he’d long since stopped looking at the particulars.
Now, though, he couldn’t help but feel a bit embarrassed. Sherlock, all fashionable and graceful and enigmatic, didn’t belong here at all in the middle of all the impersonal and empty brown and beige and tan. John couldn’t actually decide where he did belong: in the dungeon, with its darkly polished wood and rich leather, or in the baroque-styled white bedroom full of soft down blankets and lace edged pillows.
So he threw the deadbolt and watched Sherlock look around the room, taking in the lack of personality in a few quick glances before he turned back and their eyes met. John took off his jacket, holding it by the collar, and looked down as Sherlock removed his gloves and tucked them into his pocket.
John couldn’t help but feel a touch of relief at that silent acknowledgement that Sherlock would stay, at least for a time.
“Take off the scarf and coat,” John instructed. “Hang them over the desk chair.”
Sherlock removed the scarf and folded it in half, then in half again, before he draped it over the chair. As he unbuttoned the coat, he asked, “All this, tonight. Why?”
Because I needed an alibi, and you were more disposable than Mike or Bill, John thought uncharitably. Perhaps that had been true an hour ago, but no longer.
He took a moment, watching as Sherlock folded the coat in half lengthwise and draped it over the chair. “For you,” he finally said. “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before.”
“Yet, you didn’t come to the flat last weekend.” It didn’t sound resentful — more like a simple statement of fact — but John felt guilty all the same.
“Bad timing. Very, very bad timing.” He held out his jacket, and when Sherlock hesitated, he instructed, “Take it. Put it with yours.”
Sherlock took the jacket and folded it in half the same way he had done his coat. He smoothed the jacket automatically and rested it over the back of the chair, asking, “What game is this?”
In answer, John moved away from the door with quick, sure steps, his cane barely touching the carpet, advancing so abruptly that Sherlock shifted his weight back in surprise before he caught himself. “John —”
“Shh,” John interrupted softly, looking directly into Sherlock’s eyes. He reached out more slowly now, as if wary of startling Sherlock, and took the handcuffs out of his jacket pocket. He pressed his thumbs against the shackle arms; they ratcheted smoothly and swiftly around and back. The sound was very loud in the quiet room.
“Give me the key,” he said, holding out his left hand.
Sherlock blinked as if confused by the request. Then he turned, moving his overcoat out from under John’s jacket, and searched through the interior pockets until he found a ring of keys. “Why are you doing all this?” he asked, working a small handcuff key around the split ring until it came free.
John said nothing, and finally Sherlock handed over the key. He smiled then and fitted the key into the lock at one cuff, testing the lock and double-lock functions. If the cuffs were broken and didn’t double-lock to prevent accidental tightening, he wouldn’t use them, whether Sherlock wanted to insist or not.
Only when he was satisfied that the cuffs worked perfectly did he say, “For you. For both of us. Isn’t this what you want?” He slipped the key into his pocket.
Sherlock seemed to consider that, falling into silence that was both tense and comfortable. John let it pass, just watching as Sherlock’s eyes moved and shifted too subtly to be anything but subconsciously as he chased thoughts down unseen pathways in his brain.
Then he blinked and focused back on John as though reaching some conclusion. “I can pick those locks with ease,” Sherlock said, watching John intently.
John laughed, delighted, maybe even a little bit in love, ridiculous as that was. He hadn’t particularly liked bratty subs since one disastrous night when he was twenty and too short on time and the scene had ended with no one satisfied. But this wasn’t so much bratty as it was challenging, and John Watson was never one to back down from a challenge.
Then it all came together as he realized exactly what he wanted to do, with such blinding clarity that the mental image stole his breath.
“Care to wager on that? I can keep you from succeeding.”
“Why would I do that?” Sherlock asked, but the words weren’t important. John read the reaction in the pulse that beat sharply in his perfect neck and the darkening of pale, frosty eyes overwhelmed by dilated pupils.
“Because if you can get out of them, you can do whatever you want with me.”
Chapter by Kryptaria
Things don't turn out as Sherlock had expected, but John has principles, and he's very good at sticking to them.
Don't hate me for where this went! It's not over, I promise.
Friday edit: This is what happens when I post without running things through a beta. I forgot an entire section, so if you've read this, I apologize! Go back and reread it - now with 100% more kissing.
Infinite thanks to chwiniol for noticing the omission!
Friday, 5 Feb 2010
In the back of his mind, Sherlock could hear his brother telling him to get out, to phone in the information he had, to leave the investigation and interrogation up to the Met. Because it was idiotic and illegal and stupid to be standing in a private room with someone who appeared to be the man behind a string of murders-by-suicide, who’d killed someone not two hours earlier, and who now was dangling the lure of more information before Sherlock, and the only price was for Sherlock to render himself helpless with DI Lestrade’s handcuffs.
But then, Mycroft was sedentary and successful and powerful and safe and so damned boring that Sherlock could hardly believe they were related by blood.
John’s smile was full of approval, and there was that affectionate expression again, so swift to appear and so genuine that Sherlock was beginning to doubt that it was a mask at all. Could he have feelings like a normal person and still be so delightfully interesting to someone like Sherlock?
Looking at the other man, Sherlock turned that question over in his mind. If John wasn’t Moriarty, well, he had still stood up to Sherlock the first day they’d met, proved at least some of his deductions spectacularly wrong, and shot a serial killer less than a half hour before texting Sherlock for a date. And there was nothing that wasn’t interesting about that.
“Take off the jacket. Put it with everything else,” John said, his voice slipping back into what Sherlock was coming to think of as his command-voice, most likely learned and practiced in the army.
“I’ll need a wire or paperclip,” Sherlock said as he slipped the jacket off, “unless you’d rather I dislocate my thumb.”
To his surprise, John looked horrified at the thought. “God, no,” he said immediately, crossing behind Sherlock to the other side of the desk. He set the handcuffs down on the desk and murmured an apology as he edged Sherlock out of the way. He opened the middle drawer, using his body to conceal the contents. Sherlock caught a glimpse of folders, but no text.
Then he heard a click, like snapping plastic. He looked back up to the shape of John’s shoulders and the fall of his shirt, and realized John had to be disarming. Was he confident that Sherlock would cooperate?
That was even more interesting. Brute threats were tedious; guns were tedious. But as Sherlock considered, he concluded that John wouldn’t threaten him — not with the gun, at any rate. He’d shown himself to be remarkably subtle.
Finally, John turned back around, closing the drawer firmly, and held up a paperclip. Sherlock reached for it, but John pressed his fingers tight around the metal, saying, “Shirt off, first.”
Surprise flickered through Sherlock again. The jacket, he understood, but the shirt would hardly get in the way of the cuffs or give Sherlock any advantage in slipping them. If nothing else, he could just roll up his sleeves.
John’s body language told Sherlock that he was confident and comfortable now, even without the gun, and he was smiling again in that way that seemed knowing but not cruel. There was more going on here than Sherlock understood, though, and ignorance was not something he had ever learned to accept. More than once, his need to know had led him into trouble — and as trouble went, this was relatively harmless.
Once the decision was made, it was simple for Sherlock to unbutton the front of his shirt, easing it free of his trousers. He unbuttoned the cuffs and slipped it over his shoulders, laying the shirt on top of the rest of his clothing, without being prompted.
He turned back to see that John’s expression had changed. His gaze was fixed on the nicotine patches still stuck to Sherlock’s arm. There was tension in him now, something like anger but not quite. Perhaps... disappointment.
Lips pressed tightly together, John stepped up to him and clasped his hand around Sherlock’s left wrist. With his other hand, he dug blunt fingernails under the edge of the uppermost patch and pulled it free, tossing it into the empty wastebasket by the desk. When he got halfway through the second patch, his hands froze, and Sherlock knew he was looking at one of the injection scars there. It was old and faded, nearly invisible to a casual glance, but to a doctor, it would be unmistakable.
For one moment, John’s face seemed to shut down, his expression becoming indecipherable. Fascinated, Sherlock watched closely, trying to puzzle out John’s thoughts. He’d seen a range of reactions — Lestrade’s fierce determination to save Sherlock from himself, his wife’s sympathy that bordered on pity, Mycroft’s cold understanding — but this was new.
The nothingness gave way to sadness. Then it disappeared as John continued stripping the patches off, and the only sign of whatever he was thinking or feeling was the way his other hand went tight around Sherlock’s wrist, tight enough to crush flesh to delicate bones and leave faint bruises against pale skin. Only when all four patches were gone did he release his hold.
“You seem moderately intelligent, so I’m not going to tell you what you already know,” John said, his words and harsh tone startling Sherlock into remaining silent.
He turned his back and pulled Sherlock’s suit jacket out of the growing pile of clothes on the back of the desk chair. The motion was so abrupt that he nearly overturned the chair. Sherlock’s shirt fell to the floor.
His back was still turned, but Sherlock saw how the fabric of his jacket twisted as John’s fists clenched. He shook his head and dug out the handful of cigarettes Sherlock had stolen from Lestrade earlier. Pointedly, John held them out over the wastebasket and crushed them into a fall of torn paper, tobacco leaves, and filters.
After a moment, John said, a little more gently, “And I’m not your doctor, so I have no right to say anything. But you will not do this here, with me. Do you understand?”
Sherlock stared at John’s back, noting the tense line of his shoulders and his jerky movements as he dug through the suit jacket. “It helps me think.”
John’s head came up and he drew a breath as though about to snap out a response.
Then he sighed, quietly. “I can’t do this tonight. I’m sorry,” he said, turning back to Sherlock, holding out his jacket.
Puzzled, Sherlock took the jacket and watched as John retrieved his gun from the desk, making no effort to hide his actions now as he tucked it back into the front of his trousers, clipping the holster around his belt. Automatically, Sherlock looked at the weapon, taking in all the relevant details: SIG-Sauer L106A1, 9mm, standard military issue, screw missing from the grip. That matched his estimation of the gunshot he’d heard at the college. The holster was minimal, little more than a plastic frame, trigger guard, and belt clip.
“Get dressed. I’ll go find you a cab. You’re not walking or taking the Tube home at this hour,” John said softly, meeting Sherlock’s eyes for a moment as though challenging him. Then, without waiting for confirmation, he took up his cane and let himself out of the room.
The only way Sherlock could get through his life was by predicting the behavior of those around him. He had no emotional frame of reference and no conscience to be his guide. His earliest memories were of Mycroft explaining that they were different — not just Sherlock but all of them, the whole Holmes family — and that if he didn’t want to be locked away and shredded by medication until nothing was left but the ordinary, he had to learn to pretend.
He wasn’t perfect, of course. He was often caught by surprise, which was, perhaps, why he’d chosen the work he did. Criminals were usually a cut above the average, boring human — at least, the ones who didn’t get caught were.
So what had gone wrong here? What had he missed?
With a growl of frustration, Sherlock snatched up his shirt and pulled it on, opening the middle desk drawer as he did. The room might be wired, but whether John was Moriarty or not, he would expect Sherlock to gather what information he could.
The file started with discharge papers, and Sherlock’s eyes went wide; he was no expert on the Royal Army, but John hadn’t been a back-line surgeon in some relatively safe hospital in a ‘friendly’ Afghan city. Next came medical records: John Hamish Watson, date of birth, national insurance number, no allergies. Gunshot wound to the left shoulder sustained in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Broken clavicle, three separate surgeries. Prescription record for painkillers filled by a doctor with the SVPA, unfilled prescription slips for tranquilizers and sleeping pills from a local psychiatrist, Dr. Ella Thompson. Sherlock memorized her contact information.
He’d wasted too much time already. He set everything back as it had been and finished dressing, catching himself as he reached for Lestrade’s handcuffs. They were hardly invested with emotional significance, but Sherlock had no other way to bridge the gap that had so suddenly opened between himself and John.
He left the handcuffs, carefully setting the straightened paperclip beside them, and walked out, twisting the scarf between his hands.
Once John was outside, the snap of cold air helped steady his thoughts. Cabs rarely made it down his street, so he walked to the corner and leaned heavily on his cane, shivering; he’d left his jacket upstairs. At least he’d taken his gun. That was just common sense: you don’t leave a firearm unattended around anyone you don’t trust, period.
How had he read Sherlock so incorrectly? He hadn’t seemed like an addict, though it wasn’t as if you could tell just by looking at someone. But God... what a waste. He seemed genuinely brilliant — not to mention absolutely fucking gorgeous. A little crazy, certainly, but John wasn’t one to talk. He’d learned in the army that ‘crazy’ was relative.
“You can’t save everyone,” he muttered, a mantra learned in blood and death and regret and pain, and one that had never really stuck with him. It was the curse of being a doctor, the need to work that little bit harder, to find that one elusive cure or fix, to save just one more life.
He still hadn’t spotted a cab by the time he heard a sound and looked back to see Sherlock emerge from the house, looking just a bit lost. John sighed when he saw Sherlock was carrying his scarf and not wearing his gloves, which just seemed to reinforce the self-destructive image.
Before John could stop himself, he was moving, walking back down the block to take the scarf out of Sherlock’s hands. He was too caught up in conflicting emotions to speak, because damn it all, he still wanted Sherlock. So he kept his mouth shut and left the cane leaned against his hip as he folded the scarf in half. He wrapped it around the back of Sherlock’s neck, looped the ends through, and then couldn’t not pull him down, even though they were out in public.
He captured Sherlock’s startled gasp with a press of lips and tongue and a sharp bite that made Sherlock’s hands, raised to John’s shoulders, clench. John lost himself for a few precious seconds in the heat of Sherlock’s mouth before he felt the curious, tentative touch of Sherlock’s tongue, brushing over his lower lip, and all he wanted at that moment was to drag the other man back upstairs until they both forgot everything but each other.
But that wasn’t who John was, and he finally released Sherlock and stepped back, looking down to fuss with the buttons of his overcoat until he could get his composure back. Sherlock’s hands still rested on John’s shoulders more gently, and he was looking down at John with a dazed expression that probably mirrored his own.
“If you —” John started, before he cut himself off, because there really was nothing he could say. Sherlock wasn’t going to change who he was based on a failed one-night stand, and John couldn’t. He had left behind too much of himself in Afghanistan, as if a part of him had died with every life he’d taken and every life he’d failed to save.
He shook his head and picked up the cane that had fallen at some time during the dizzying kiss. Then he turned away, heading slowly back toward the corner, as he said over his shoulder, “Put on your gloves. I’ll find you that taxi.”
Stupid, stupid, John scolded himself, disappointment and anger and defeat sitting hot and heavy in his chest. The one thing he couldn’t tolerate as a physician was self-destruction. Life was precious — and wasn’t that something to think tonight, after he’d killed a man.
He hurried back inside, leaning heavily on his cane and shivering. John’s hands were numb with cold, and he fumbled to get the door deadlocked. He crossed to his bed — his neat bed, still made up from this morning, sheets smooth, pillows stacked — and stared at it. In his mind’s eye, he could see those sheets twisted and damp, wrapped around Sherlock’s struggling legs, pillows thrown aside as John pinned his cuffed hands over his head and —
No, he told himself, clenching his teeth as he pushed those thoughts away. He couldn’t let himself go there.
Instead, he sat down on the edge of the bed and removed his boots, setting them aside. He pulled off his socks and dropped them by the side of the bed, followed by his shirt. He was still shivering from being outside, but his hands had warmed enough that they were steady when he took the SIG from the holster clipped inside his trousers. Or maybe it was simply that his hands didn’t shake when he held a weapon.
Carefully, he set the SIG down next to the pillow. He went about his usual routine, glad to find the shared bathroom unoccupied and moderately clean. When he returned to his room, he hung his robe and slipped naked under the covers, refusing to acknowledge the erection that was his body’s way of insisting that Sherlock Holmes was his, and that his mind had damned well better get onboard with that thought.
He tried to think about Kate instead, but only ended up feeling guilty that he hadn’t thought about her since Sherlock had first stepped into view at the steakhouse. He considered calling her, but it didn’t seem wise. Phone records could be traced, after all.
Then an idea struck. He’d told his clients that he had to cancel due to illness, so he picked up his phone and texted Irene:
Feeling better. I’ll be at work tomorrow. If you need me before then, call. -John
There. That was a perfect excuse for her to call and hopefully tell him if there was any news. And thankfully, the phone buzzed a text alert before he’d even put it down.
I’m glad to hear that. All is well here, though I’ve closed the office for tonight. We’ll discuss it tomorrow. Kate sends her love. -Irene
John let out a relieved sigh and rolled over to put the phone on the nightstand, but he couldn’t quite let it go. He wondered if he’d ever hear from Sherlock again. Would he be offended that John had sent him away, or would he understand? If he hadn’t been wearing those patches tonight, it was very likely that he’d still be there in John’s bed, probably still wearing those ridiculously unsafe handcuffs, his self-control absolutely shattered. Turning onto his back, John couldn’t help but wonder if Sherlock would be quiet and composed or if he was a screamer. No, not that, he decided, though that didn’t mean John wouldn’t need to gag him, just to keep that snarky mouth of his under control.
And thinking like that was not helping. There was no room in John’s life for a project like Sherlock Holmes, no matter how gorgeous and enticing and —
Cursing himself and his bad fortune, John tossed the phone onto the nightstand and rolled onto his other side. He had a soldier’s talent for falling asleep under any circumstances, but it still felt like hours before he could put thoughts of Sherlock out of his mind.
Some time in the night, he woke up in absolute silence, heart pounding, the trembling rush of adrenaline searing through his veins, his cock painfully hard.
Safe, he told himself, taking a deep breath of the cold, slightly musty London air, listening to the normal sounds of the sleepy city. He let his hand settle naturally on the edge of the pillow, one finger just brushing against the grip of the SIG, acknowledging its presence the way he had for so many years. Sleeping armed was one of those things that felt natural to him, more natural than sleeping with a pillow and blanket and soft mattress.
His last thought, as he slipped out of nightmare and back into sleep, was to wonder if Sherlock would be a typical civilian and mind if John kept a weapon by the bed.
When Sherlock let himself into the flat at 221-B Baker Street, his mind was still unacceptably fogged, as if the kiss — his first kiss — had switched off some essential part of his brain. He looked around the flat, taking in all the mechanisms he’d acquired and developed to help him process information. The violin would let him lose himself in the mathematical precision of music, building each individual note into something greater than the sum of its parts, requiring not just his mind but fine manual dexterity to coax perfection from the strings. The skull was a focus, something for him to address as he thought aloud, empty of meaningful response and that much more valuable for its lack of inane responses. In the kitchen, several experiments sat waiting for his attention.
And then, there was the false brick in the cold fireplace, tucked far back on the smoke shelf, which offered oblivion and lightning-fast speed of thought and more.
He thought of John, how the connection building between them had so abruptly snapped when he’d found the old injection scar. As a doctor, John had to know the scar was old. It was in his past, despite what lay inside that false brick; that was there for emergencies only. It was enough, for now, to just know it was there.
No, the reaction had started with the nicotine patches. He’d reinforced it with his destruction of Sherlock’s stolen cigarettes. But the nicotine patches were relatively harmless in comparison to what Sherlock had done to himself in the past. Yes, they were dangerous in quantity, especially if combined with the cigarettes — nicotine poisoning could easily be fatal — but Sherlock had never accidentally overdosed.
Intentionally was another story.
But John didn’t know that. Could he know that? Perhaps he did know that, if Mycroft hadn’t suppressed all copies those records with the NHS. Sherlock had never bothered to check; it was irrelevant.
If John was actually Moriarty, and Moriarty was the genius who’d arranged this little dance of suicide and death just to get Sherlock’s attention — and if Sherlock had disappointed him, as it seemed — then it might all end here. Now. Tonight. No more brilliant twists of motivation and action that only Sherlock could follow.
The Game would end after it had only just begun.
And that, Sherlock decided was unacceptable.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Irene proves to be a good friend to John, but it's Sherlock who could use a friend as he discovers a new concept: jealousy.
Saturday, 6 Feb 2010
The knock came at ten past seven, while Sherlock was staring blankly up at the near-perfect darkness of his bedroom ceiling. He’d actually slept for a few hours, on and off, but it had been constantly disrupted with dreams that wisped out of his consciousness before he could identify and analyze their elements.
Not that he needed to. Waking, his mind was filled with just two thoughts: John Watson and Moriarty. Or possibly just one thought, if they were the same person.
If, he thought, frowning, as he rolled over to retrieve the phone from the nightstand. He closed his eyes, thinking of a dead taxi driver and John’s hands tugging on Sherlock’s scarf, tightening the soft cashmere around his throat, pulling him down to a kiss that was like nothing Sherlock had ever imagined.
Another knock drew him out of his thoughts and out of the tangle of his sheets. The floor underfoot was warm; Mrs. Hudson was already awake, it seemed, and had turned the heat up. Recognizing the knock, Sherlock unlocked the door and let it swing open as he went for the kitchen. After having a full meal last night, he wasn’t hungry, but he wanted something warm to drink.
Lestrade let himself in, dressed casually, looking like another person entirely, separated from the cheap suits he wore on the job. “Next time you rescue a witness, could you please try harder not to scare the piss out of her?” he scolded, following Sherlock into the kitchen, where he sat down, careful not to touch the table. These days, he didn’t even look twice at the experiments that occupied most of the room.
Sherlock filled the kettle and plugged it in, and then found a mug that hadn’t contained anything particularly hazardous. “Did she tell you anything of interest or are you here for other information?”
Lestrade gave him a look that most people would have accepted as innocent, but Sherlock had been reading him for five years now. “Got her statement right here,” he said, digging a thumb drive out of the pocket of his blue jeans. “And we started the autopsy on the taxi driver — name of Jeff Hope, by the way.”
Sherlock took the drive and went right for his computer, listening as Lestrade rooted around in the kitchen for a mug. “And?”
“Cause of death, GSW, obviously. This one?”
A glance showed Lestrade holding up a red Christmas mug. Sherlock tried to think if he’d stored anything in it, then shook his head. “Try the top shelf. The dusty ones are generally safe.” Lestrade huffed, put the mug in the sink, and went to search higher in the cupboard.
For a few minutes, Sherlock lost himself reading the statement given by Katherine Bennett, last night’s victim. Caught a taxi on the way home from doing some shopping. Twenty minutes later, realized the driver wasn’t on the expected route. Twenty minutes? Sherlock wondered, shaking his head. Was she naturally stupid or had she just been temporarily oblivious? The driver stopped in an alley, pulled a gun on her, and made her hand over her cell phone and purse. She thought it was a robbery until he drove her around a bit more, finally stopping at the college.
From there, it played out exactly as Sherlock had deduced. The cabbie forced her to play his suicide game at gunpoint. They talked for some time — in her statement, she tried to make it clear that she’d been stalling for time, which was interesting. Was she just unusually optimistic or had she expected to be rescued?
Lestrade knew Sherlock well enough not to interrupt with stupid questions. Eventually, he brought Sherlock a mug of coffee and settled down in the opposite armchair, waiting for Sherlock to finish.
“In her statement, she says she handed over her cell phone.”
“Found it in the taxi, along with —”
“She was on the phone when I found her.”
Lestrade sat up, his eyes narrowing. “Oh?”
Sherlock nodded, thinking back, remembering how she’d stumbled out of the room, clearly in terror. She had a phone to her ear, but it had gone flying. “I don’t — I don’t know,” Katherine had said.
“Two phones? What was the model you found in the car?”
“She had an iPhone. Personal,” Sherlock decided, frowning. Something was still not quite right, but it wasn’t uncommon for someone to have two phones, one personal, the other for business.
“Huh.” Lestrade leaned back again and said, “Well, that’s not all we found in the taxi.”
Sherlock looked at him.
“Could belong to either Ms. Barrett or Hope.”
Tiresome, Sherlock thought, getting up. He brought his coffee into the kitchen to add more sugar; Lestrade knew he took two sugars (three on an early morning like this one) but was on his usual health food kick, and had barely added half a teaspoon. When the coffee was sufficiently sweet, he returned to the living room and said, “You missed the second phone.”
Lestrade conceded the point. “The package we found contained a whip. Looks expensive.”
For one moment, Sherlock just stared at him, trying to slot that information in with everything else that he knew of the case. “It wasn’t the taxi driver’s,” he finally said, hating the uncertainty in his voice.
“No. I don’t think it is. But a background check on Ms. Barrett led me to this.” Lestrade dug a scrap of note paper out of his pocket and offered it to Sherlock. “Site’s blocked at work. I had to visit it on my phone. I think you’ll find it... interesting.”
The Woman, Sherlock thought, staring out the window as he mentally reviewed each element of the website. Lestrade had taken over the laptop for his own ‘examination’, but Sherlock had his doubts as to the strict professionalism behind the DI’s focused attention. The site had been rich with photographs, not a single one truly revealing — a woman’s body in silhouette, the curve of a hip covered in lace, a hand holding a riding crop...
Sherlock closed his eyes, letting the thoughts flow faster, connections sparking in his brain.
Think I left my riding crop in the mortuary, he’d said that first day, when Mike Stamford had introduced him to John Watson.
John, identifying the police-issue handcuffs in Sherlock’s pocket, from touch alone. Because if you can get out of them, you can do whatever you want with me. The date. The challenge. Sherlock’s failure.
And now, these two women — one, the almost-victim of a serial killer; the other, a very expensive sex worker. Neither one obviously connected to John Watson. It could well be coincidence, what he thought John had been offering last night, and now this...
He dredged up old memories, things overheard at university, conversations full of innuendo and nuances that were lost on Sherlock, things he’d only partially deleted or picked up on one case or another. Even in the hormone-infested decade between fifteen and twenty-five, Sherlock had never been particularly interested in sex. It had been laughably easy to exert his will over his own body.
A dominatrix, Sherlock thought, wondering what the male term would be. ‘Dominator’ didn’t have the same linguistic elegance. He’d find out, once Lestrade was done and gone.
“So, your ‘date’ last night,” Lestrade said after a time.
Startled, Sherlock turned and looked back at Lestrade, who was leaning back in the armchair, grinning. The laptop, half-closed, was on the table between the chairs, balanced atop a stack of books.
He had no idea what Lestrade saw in his face. The smile vanished, though, replaced by a look of genuine concern, and Lestrade held up a hand. “Sorry, Sherlock. I’m just — well, I’m happy for you. It’s about damned time you find yourself something other than...” He waved a hand as if to indicate the flat.
“You know better,” Sherlock snapped thoughtlessly. “There’s nothing but the work for me. It’s all I require.”
“Or all you think you require,” he countered gently. “You may not think it, but I’m your friend, and I worry about you being alone all the time. And it’s not just me — my wife does, too.”
He was tempted. For the first time in his entire life, he was actually tempted to talk to someone. I’m your friend, Lestrade had said, and that was something Sherlock had never before allowed himself to have. Mycroft was his nemesis. His mother was a distant figure of authority, seen precisely twice each year. The rest of his family... they were best not thought of at all.
And that was it, until the day a detective sergeant had found Sherlock on the streets, when a chance observation from the back of the squad car had caught the detective’s attention, followed by a conclusion drawn from a glimpse of paperwork scattered on a desk that had resulted in a conviction, and Sherlock went from being one more arrested junkie on the verge of an overdose to the world’s only consulting detective.
But thinking of that inevitably led to thoughts of how Mycroft had barged back into his life — Sherlock’s name was flagged in every database in Europe, no doubt. It had been Mycroft, not Sherlock, who arranged for his younger brother’s release and entry into rehab, and Sherlock had barely managed to escape after eight weeks, taking Lestrade up on his offer of a spare room. That had led to Sherlock convincing Lestrade to relinquish some cold case files for him to review during his recuperation.
Perhaps Lestrade considered Sherlock a friend, but he was also in communication with Mycroft. If Sherlock said anything about John Watson, Mycroft would know about it within the hour. As it was, he probably knew that Sherlock had gone on a ‘date’ last night. Printouts of CCTV images were probably waiting on Mycroft’s desk.
If you were mine, John had said last night, but that went both ways. Whether he was Moriarty or not, even after last night’s baffling end, John Watson was his. Sherlock didn’t want Mycroft anywhere near him.
“It wasn’t a date, Lestrade.” Sherlock glared at him for a moment before sneering. “I was meeting an informant.”
Perhaps it was a statement about Sherlock’s personality that Lestrade had no trouble believing that at all. He seized on it, leaning forward and eagerly asking, “Learn anything —”
Shut down, Lestrade sighed and rose, carrying his now-empty mug into the kitchen. He rinsed it and left it in the drainboard next to the bag of silt Sherlock kept meaning to analyze for chemicals. Then he came back into the living room and asked, “So, this ‘woman’, Irene Adler —”
“I thought you better than this, Lestrade. The case is closed — you have your serial killer. Now stop boring me with scandal,” Sherlock said dismissively, stepping up onto the seat of his armchair so he could sit on the back. He pulled his dressing gown close, suddenly realizing that other people were usually immediately self-conscious about visitors who caught them in their pyjamas. And that thought led to last night’s experience, when John had systematically begun to strip Sherlock of his clothing.
If he hadn’t noticed the nicotine patches and the track marks, how far would things have gone? How far would Sherlock have allowed things to go? What would he be willing to do, if it meant continuing this wonderful, dark game that Moriarty had begun?
Finally, he pushed the speculation aside and looked around, noting that Lestrade was gone, along with his coat. Outside, the traffic had picked up and the sunlight had shifted. Almost ten already.
Jumping down from his perch on the back of the seat, Sherlock rushed into his bedroom, suddenly realizing what he needed to do next. He needed information: Irene Adler, John Watson, and a cheap bedsit in a bad part of town. Fortunately, his network had eyes almost everywhere, and was the one thing in London that remained outside Mycroft’s spiderweb of influence and power.
John managed to keep from calling Irene at dawn, but only barely. He held off until ten, but the call to her mobile had gone straight to voicemail, just like last night. Irrationally fearing a repeat disaster, he debated for only a few minutes before calling, only to get Irene’s voicemail. Hoping this meant that she and Kate were safe and soundly asleep, he left a brief message asking her to call back when she was available.
When he was out of the shower — a very cold shower, full of thoughts of Sherlock and self-accusatory regret — he found a text waiting for him. It was an invitation to meet with Irene or lunch, near the business. He sent back an acknowledgement and resisted the temptation to ask about Kate. There’d be time enough for that later, without phone records to get in the way.
After last night, there was no question of carrying his SIG. In a concession to fashion, he arranged it at the back of his trousers instead of the front, so he could tuck in his dress shirt and hide the grip under his suit jacket. He’d have to keep the jacket on and be conscious of it, but it was February in London. No one would look twice.
He was pocketing his wallet and phone when his eyes fell on the handcuffs, and his mouth went dry. Sherlock had left them there, with the straightened wire paperclip neatly set beside them. Guilt twisted inside him as it had all night, making him wonder again if he’d made a mistake in sending Sherlock away.
He had to focus on himself — to rebuild his life outside the army. He couldn’t help himself and Sherlock, but God help him, he wanted to. The needle mark he’d seen had been old, and John firmly believed in not judging a person based on his past. Hell, if he’d beaten some sort of addiction, it was a testament to his strength of will. Anyone could fall prey to addiction. With just a little more help —
No, he told himself, and resolved that maybe he would speak to his therapist about this after all. He couldn’t save everyone, and he couldn’t hope that a brilliant idiot like Sherlock would save himself.
Telling himself to stop thinking about Sherlock, he went to lunch, meeting with Irene at an Asian fusion restaurant he’d never heard of. Irene was already there, without Kate, and she rose to kiss his cheek in greeting. The rush of affection he felt for her was almost overwhelming, as if their shared experience last night at the college had bonded them in a way John hadn’t experienced since the military.
“After last night, I feel like I should be giving you a medal, not just lunch,” she teased as they sat back down.
“I didn’t do anything at all. Nothing happened,” John said firmly, as he leaned his cane against his seat, hoping she got the hint. Murder, even justified, was hardly something that should be discussed in private, much less in public.
Irene’s eyes sparkled. “Of course,” she agreed demurely, reaching across the table to cover his hand with hers for a moment before the waiter interrupted to take their orders. When he left, Irene asked, “So, what did you do last night, then?”
John hesitated, glancing away as he considered how best to explain what had happened — or if he wanted to discuss it at all.
“John?” She leaned across the table, frowning. “Did something else happen?”
He sighed, thinking it better to break the rule of never mixing work and personal life. Irene might understand; his therapist never would. “I called a... friend to meet for dinner. We went back to my place, but it didn’t...”
“Not like us, was she?” Irene asked, proving John right. She did understand.
John smiled and wryly corrected, “He, and... well, he was like us, or at least I think so.” Laughing, he shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “Call him more self-destructive than masochistic. God, he had four nicotine patches on, and still carried cigarettes.”
Irene’s brows shot up. “Self-destructive at the very least. One of those who should be in therapy, perhaps?”
“Maybe. He’s brilliant, though — really brilliant. I’ve never met anyone like him.”
“They say there’s a fine line between genius and madness.”
John sighed and nodded. “I’m not certain that line exists for him. I know I shouldn’t, but I kept thinking of him all night, even after I sent him home.”
“So he’s not just a ‘friend’, hm? How long have you known him?”
“That’s the funny part. Last night was the second time I’d ever even seen him — and the first was a week ago, for not more than five minutes. But he’s... I don’t know, Irene...” He set down the fork he was twisting between his fingers, wondering when he’d picked it up. He usually didn’t fidget like that. “What was it like for you when you met Kate?”
Irene’s smile turned wistful. “The moment I saw her, I knew she had to be mine.”
Enviously, John asked, “What if the timing hadn’t been right?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “She was absolutely hetero, darling — and happily married. It doesn’t get much more difficult than that. A little bit of extreme masochism is nothing by comparison.”
Leave it to Irene to describe Sherlock’s stupidity as ‘extreme masochism’. Smiling, he asked, “What’d you do, then?”
“Whatever I had to, to help her find the woman I knew was hiding inside.”
“I can’t afford a... a rehabilitation project like that.”
Irene looked across the table at him. “Then why are you still thinking about him?”
“Because I’m an idiot?” he ventured with a grin.
She laughed and said, “Trust your instincts, darling. Whatever problems you think exist, something inside you still wants him — and for people like us, that’s not a deterrent. It’s a challenge, and we both know how we respond to being challenged. You and I have far more in common than you probably realize.”
He wasn’t quite prepared to face the possibility of letting Sherlock Holmes back into his life — not yet, in any case — and gratefully changed the subject. “We do. I’m actually enjoying this challenge, you know. I didn’t think I would be. People always talk about when something fun becomes ‘work’ like it’s a bad thing.”
“They don’t understand us,” Irene said softly, meeting John’s eyes across the table.
Slowly, he nodded, seeing himself mirrored in her. “No. I suppose they don’t.”
Technology was a wonderful thing, in Sherlock’s opinion. A few inexpensive digital cameras spread through his network allowed him to gain not just information but actual intelligence that he could interpret without having the filter of someone else’s perceptions to cloud his conclusions.
Now, though, as he stared at a slightly blurred picture of John Watson and Irene Adler holding hands at an expensive downtown restaurant, he wondered if things hadn’t gone too far. He knew he should have been examining everything — their clothing, their body language, the diners around them — but his mind seemed to have stalled on the most blatantly obvious concept: John and Irene, holding hands.
He knew himself. Like it or not, he knew that something in his mind was demanding his attention, and he’d never get to what he should be doing until he forced himself through whatever it is he had to do. So he stared and let himself see nothing but John and Irene, letting the thoughts come to him freely. A romantic lunch. A relationship that was new and uncertain, which translated to exciting. An affair, possibly, though he needed more data on Irene Adler.
A romantic lunch with a dominatrix? Did John know? Did he approve? Or was that what this was about — a romantic cover for a more professional business transaction?
No. Last night, John had made it clear that he wanted to be in charge of everything, but... not in a bullying sort of way. It had been almost as if he were taking care of Sherlock, ensuring he dressed warmly and ate a good meal, even disapproving of the (yes, excessive) nicotine patches.
John wouldn’t engage the services of a professional dominatrix, so what was he doing with her? The pieces didn’t add up. But Sherlock’s attempts to slot Irene and John back into the friends-only category ended with something that rarely happened to him.
Frustrated, he threw the laptop into the opposite armchair, the one that should have been John’s. A burst of energy sent him across the flat and back again, pacing with loud steps that would have had Mrs. Hudson upstairs if it hadn’t been time for her favorite Saturday evening television programmes. The pacing seemed to help, burning off excess physical energy, so he kept pacing, crossing everything in a straight line, foot up on the seat of the second armchair, a step down to the floor and then up again onto the chest that served as a coffee table, another step onto the sofa, and then back again across the obstacle course and into the kitchen.
And in the end, he had one conclusion that was no conclusion at all, because it made no sense.
John might be Moriarty, or he might not be. And in some ways, the thought that he wasn’t Moriarty was even more delightful to Sherlock, because it meant there were two of them out there — two people interesting enough to have risen out of the mire of normal social behavior to become something more. Something incandescently brilliant, lighthouses shining out into the night to capture Sherlock’s mind and interest in a way that no one else ever had.
Sherlock Holmes was incapable of love. The lack was genetic, a condition that twisted each member of the Holmes family in his own unique way. For Sherlock, it was the aching, desperate need for mental stimulation, ever-escalating to more, faster, brighter thoughts, assembling puzzle pieces that were impossible for anyone else to even see, much less to connect. People had no place in Sherlock’s world — in other words, his mind — except as puzzle pieces.
John and Irene weren’t romantically involved. The nuances of their relationship currently escaped Sherlock, but he would tease them all out soon enough.
He smiled as the satisfaction of conclusion hit him almost like last night’s surprising, breathtaking kiss. Now, it was his move.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Unable to stop thinking about the abrupt ending to their 'date', Sherlock plots how to take back control of the relationship.
Sunday, 7 Feb 2010
Wrapped in his overcoat and scarf, Sherlock stood in the middle of his kitchen-turned-laboratory. Every window in the flat was open to dissipate the smoke, the result of his last failed attempt to focus his mind on anything but the text message he had sent three and a half hours earlier.
It had been designed specifically to provoke a reaction — what reaction, precisely, Sherlock wasn’t certain, which made it all the more delightful. The text simply read:
We have an outstanding wager. -SH
He had actually mixed up the slides for his study on methods of thawing frozen, stored blood, and the last time he’d mixed up slides, he’d been five years old. Maybe four. His attempt at analyzing the chemical composition of silt had resulted in a sludge of thick, soft mud clogging the sink beyond his ability to repair. An entire bag of hair had fallen onto his ring stand while the alcohol lamp underneath had been burning, resulting in a mix of toxic fumes from the melted plastic and the far more noxious stench of burning hair. And if he didn’t get hold of a cigarette soon, he was seriously likely to stab someone.
There was an idea. He could go out to buy a pack, and by the time he came back, the smell would be gone.
He was heading for the door when his phone chimed a text alert. The sound startled him into nearly tripping, he was so on edge, and he resolved on the spot that if the text was from Mycroft, he would kill him, brother or not.
Did you go out today? -J
Sherlock sat on the arm of the sofa, focused entirely on the text. It didn’t reference the content of his text, though it was a response.
He decided to treat it as the type of light-hearted exchange typical of the early stages of a relationship. Thoughts of John’s caring and concern over Sherlock’s wellbeing made his response easy to word.
I remembered my gloves and scarf. -SH
Then he sat there on the arm of the sofa, waiting, trying to visualize what John might be thinking and doing. Seconds ticked by into minutes — six full minutes, in fact, making Sherlock wonder what John was doing that was so important — before a response came.
That isn’t what I asked. I expect you to answer my questions. -J
He smiled to himself, wondering if John realized how easy he was making this for Sherlock. Or maybe that was his intention — to guide Sherlock through their conversation the way he wanted it to go. It was a useful technique, though not one Sherlock would be able to easily apply when questioning witnesses or suspects for information.
Yes, I went out. I was on my way out again now. -SH
He sent the text, and then immediately wondered if he should have added the second sentence. He pulled his feet up onto the seat of the couch and turned sideways, sitting more comfortably, and blew on his hands to drive off some of the chill.
That’s a better answer. Where? -J
Where? Where had he gone or where was he going? For someone who insisted on precise answers, he was very imprecise in his interrogation.
Or was that also intentional?
Sherlock grinned as he sent his thoughts twisting and racing after John’s, trying to catch up and slip ahead of him, anticipating, and it was fantastic that he couldn’t quite anticipate John accurately just yet. Perhaps he never would be able to fully predict his behavior.
He started to type his response and then froze, thinking back to how John had destroyed the cigarettes on Friday night. As a doctor, he naturally wouldn’t approve of smoking (though in Sherlock’s experience, a disproportionate number of doctors turned to smoking to deal with the stress of their chosen profession). So he censored his answer, wondering if John would catch him at it.
Scotland Yard and a walk. -SH
This time, the answer came with gratifying speed, telling Sherlock that he had John’s complete attention, and the unfamiliar tension within him eased to a warm glow of satisfaction.
It’s too late to be out walking at this hour. Where are you now? -J
221-B Baker Street. -SH
He wanted to add more, but John’s instructions seemed very absolute. It definitely had the feel of an interrogation or cross-examination, though Sherlock couldn’t quite determine John’s ultimate goal.
Are you alone? -J
Sherlock looked across the flat toward the open window, considering how to word his answer. Would a yes be met with a request to visit? Would there be a request at all, or would John just arrive unannounced, assuming his right to be there?
The spectre of Moriarty hung over him, though, and he decided it would be unwise to answer the question too literally. He was alone in his flat, yes, but not in the house, and he didn’t want anything to happen to Mrs. Hudson.
My landlady is downstairs. No one else is here. -SH
Last night, John had shown his skills as a soldier. If he planned anything, he would now be alert to the presence of an uninvolved civilian.
Have you been smoking today? Worn any nicotine patches? -J
The question wasn’t unexpected. Sherlock had considered using the last of his patches to try and help him puzzle through the question of John Watson before he’d sent the text. Afterwards, as the hours ticked by and his frustration at being ignored grew disruptive, his thoughts immediately went far beyond nicotine, though he hadn’t actually removed the false brick from the fireplace.
So circumstances had forced him into a position where he could give John an honest answer that would surely please him. That was very good.
No cigarettes, no patches. -SH
Why aren’t you in bed yet? Where were you going? -J
Frowning, but not quite surprised that John had come back to this, Sherlock pulled up his coat collar and hunched closer into the thick wool as he typed.
The flat smells of burnt hair. I was going out the store and to walk until the smell dissipates. -SH
Burnt hair? Did you hurt yourself?
This time, he forgot to sign his text, which made Sherlock’s lips twitch up in a smile. Concern, he thought, seeing the opportunity to take control of the situation — and to learn more about John’s motivations.
He sent the terse answer quickly and tossed the phone onto the couch as he crossed into the kitchen, stripping off his coat. He’d rolled up his sleeves when he’d started working earlier that night, leaving his forearms bare, and he looked down at himself, considering.
Burns were distracting, even with his ability to ignore considerable discomfort, not to mention being prone to infection if neglected. That was unfortunate; he would have to fake very little evidence to manufacture a burn, given the stench, ash, and scorch marks on the countertop where he’d set up the alcohol burner.
A secondary injury, then — one that could have logically occurred as an indirect effect of the fire. His gaze fell on the microscope in its place of honor at the center of the kitchen table, and the box of fine scalpel blades. He picked up his favorite molded plastic handle and fitted the disposable blade into place. It was a sturdy blade, meant for paring away thickened skin, and he held it in his right hand, closing his eyes to visualize the incident he wished to create.
His phone buzzed with an answer, catching him by surprise, and his hand moved, adding realism to the jerky downward slash of the scalpel. He twisted his left hand just in time to avoid a fingertip injury, thinking the pain would be too distracting, and instead the dagger-like tip of the straight blade cut cleanly into the second knuckle of his index finger, at the side.
Surprised at how much the cut bled, he found a tea towel and pressed it to the wound, returning quickly to read John’s text.
What did you do?
Another message with no signature. Sherlock laughed softly, triumphantly. It took him a moment to type his response.
I cut my finger. -SH
Is it still bleeding?
Sherlock looked at the tea towel, which was soaking through where he was applying pressure. He shifted to a clean bit of cloth and typed as quickly as he could, one-handed.
Send me a photo of it. -J
Wondering at the motivation behind the strange request, Sherlock did as he was asked, though his first couple of attempts yielded nothing but a close-up of pooling blood. He finally had to hold his finger under the tap and get a quick picture before the blood could really start flowing again.
It looks like it needs stitches. Go to A&E. -J
Sherlock stared at John’s response, wondering why this wasn’t going as he had planned. John was a doctor. This was his cue to offer to come stitch the wound himself, so they would be physically together — ideal for Sherlock’s continued analysis of his behavior.
I don’t want to. I can stitch it myself. -SH
There. That threat would surely be enough to spur him to action, given his reaction to Sherlock’s self-medicating with the nicotine patches.
But as the minutes ticked by and the tea towel continued to soak up his blood, no response came, and finally he realized he might well need to stitch it himself. Why wasn’t John answering?
Finally, Sherlock’s resolve broke.
John? Did you receive my last text? -SH
Are you on the way to A&E?
No. I can stitch it myself. -SH
He could, but he didn’t want to. He wanted John to come over and stitch it for him. He wanted John here, where Sherlock could observe him in person. He had to find a way to convince him.
Then this conversation is over. If you’re not going to listen to me, that’s your decision, just as it’s my decision not to watch you kill yourself by inches. Good night, Sherlock. -John
Most mornings, John woke with the dawn, but since becoming effectively nocturnal over the last week, he usually went right back to sleep. He rolled over and picked up his phone, automatically checking the time, and was surprised to see a message notification.
For one sleep-dazed moment, he had no idea what he was seeing. A wound, two neat stitches... Then he realized he was looking at a photo of Sherlock’s cut finger, repaired far too cleanly for him to have done it himself. There was also a text message:
Do I have to go back in two weeks to have the stitches removed, or can I do that myself? I hate waiting at A&E. -SH
Chapter by Kryptaria
Needing a distraction from John, Sherlock is grateful when Lestrade introduces him to someone almost as intriguing - a corpse, cause of death unknown. He'll be less grateful when he finds out that John has also met someone interesting - someone who's very much alive and very much to John's tastes.
Wednesday, 3 Mar 2010
March in London was proving just as cold and blustery as February had been. Some people saw it as a sign of global warming or as proof that there was no such thing. Sherlock’s interest in the weather began and ended with the effect it would have on evidence left out in the elements and whether or not he needed his scarf and gloves.
Back from Paris. Food was terrible. Case was boring. -SH
He sent the text when he got back to Baker Street, though in truth he’d been itching to send it as soon as the plane had touched down, when he could disregard the safety warnings along with everybody else in first class. John knew when his flight arrived, though, and Sherlock had learned that leaving John waiting an hour or two helped guarantee that Sherlock had his interest. The only times John would intentionally ignore Sherlock were when he was working or sleeping, and sometimes not even then.
John had surrendered very little personal information — at least, knowingly. Sherlock’s sources had uncovered quite a bit, perhaps because the scandalous nature of his job encouraged their diligence. Unlike most people, who would give half-answers or evasions, he flat-out ignored most of Sherlock’s direct inquiries, but wasn’t at all shy about asking questions of his own.
Only you would find French food boring. The French practically invented cooking. -J
Sherlock threw his coat and scarf on the couch without pausing on the way to the bedroom. He tossed his suitcase on the bed and typed out a response before unzipping it.
Food is an inconvenient necessity. -SH
He threw open the suitcase and started sorting his laundry into piles: dry clean, whites, darks. The toiletries bag went onto the nightstand next to the bog-mummy’s hand he’d picked up in Cardiff late last year. He’d nicked it from a museum storage vault because he’d never had the chance to experiment on the effects of acidic water and cold temperatures on human flesh. It was only a matter of time before he was called to investigate the use of a peat bog as a dumping ground for victims, and he thought it best to be prepared.
It took a surprisingly long time for John to respond, but when the text came, Sherlock read the text and smiled:
If you were mine, I’d show you just how wrong you are. -J
Sherlock had no idea why he’d learned to smile upon seeing those words, but somewhere along the line, it had become an automatic response. He could remember each time he’d read them, in one configuration or another.
If you were mine, I’d make you sleep.
If you were mine, you wouldn’t need more than one of those nicotine patches at a time.
If you were mine, we’d stay inside and watch the snow.
If you were mine, I wouldn’t let you go ON the lake, so you wouldn’t end up breaking through the ice.
If you were mine, you wouldn’t be bored.
His thoughts always went back to that one. It hadn’t been the first or the last text, but it was perhaps the most truthful of them all. He certainly wasn’t bored now, not with the intriguing puzzle of John Watson and Moriarty to engage his mind between cases.
Now, he just needed to figure out how to capture John’s interest even more than these text exchanges already had. Even at Sherlock’s lowest points, when his mind was clawing inside his skull and his thoughts fell into the darkness of need for stimulation and he knew it wouldn’t be hard to find a dealer, he could always send John a text, and the darkness would draw back to a deep grey haze, just enough for Sherlock to find his balance again until a client or Lestrade or even Mycroft showed up with some new diversion.
“You should smile more often,” a softly musical voice said.
Surprised, John looked up from his phone just in time to see the waiter to set down his coffee and sandwich. He was short and slender, with dark, short-cropped hair and sleepy eyes and an engaging, charismatic smile that turned embarrassed when their eyes met. He looked down, a little blush rising as though he were shocked to have spoken aloud.
John’s smile was automatic and natural, responding to the friendly overture. He glanced at the nametag clipped to the man’s tight black T-shirt. “I do, if I have reason, James.”
The blush intensified. “I prefer Jim,” he said a little tentatively, shoving his hands in the pockets of his black jeans. “They made the tag off my application.”
“I’m John,” he offered, trying not to get his hopes up. His spectacular breakup with Sarah had proved that he wasn’t built for a normal relationship, even if he could hide what he really wanted. And that was the thing — he didn’t want to hide it.
“I know.” Jim’s eyes went wide, then, and he quickly said, “Oh, God. I’m not stalking you or anything. I took your order last week, during the breakfast rush. Large breakfast blend, milk no sugar —” He cut himself off as John’s phone chimed, and quickly said, “I’m sorry. I’ll stop bothering you. Enjoy —”
“Jim,” he cut in gently, trying not to laugh. “You’re not bothering me. I just moved to the neighborhood, and I don’t know anyone. It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”
There was no way John could miss the hope that flared in Jim’s eyes. “Oh? Well, that’s great, then. I mean, welcome to the neighborhood and all. If you need — I mean, I’ve lived here for ages now. If you have any questions, just yell, okay?” he offered, glancing back in the direction of the counter.
Suddenly wanting Jim to stay, even for just another minute or two, John asked, “Any good steakhouses in the area?”
With an apologetic little wince, Jim shook his head. “Sorry, I’m vegan.”
“Oh. Well, ah,” John stammered, caught entirely on the wrong foot, with no idea what to say. Did he apologize or excuse himself? Asking why would probably come off as combative. God, maybe he was just cursed to forever be incompatible with anyone he found really attractive — Irene, a lesbian; Sherlock, a drug addict; and now, Jim. He should probably stick to work and one night stands.
“I’m sorry,” Jim said sincerely, interrupting John’s self-recrimination. “I shouldn’t — I mean, it’s fine that you’re not, really. I just, you know... We’ve gotten it wrong all through history, with other races and women and all. Who’s to say we’re not wrong about animals, too? I mean, dolphins — not that anyone eats dolphins — and God, I’m babbling. I’m sorry. I’ll —”
John couldn’t help but laugh and catch Jim’s arm as he started to shuffle away. “No, I’m sorry,” he said just as sincerely. “Let’s start over, shall we?” When Jim smiled gratefully, John said, “Now then... what restaurants would you recommend?”
Jim bit his lip, a bashful little smile appearing, and considered for a moment. “Oh! There’s a great Mediterranean place not too far from here that does a fantastic Greek salad big enough for two.”
As a doctor, John knew the benefits of healthy eating, but salads had never really been his thing. Still, Jim’s eyes were full of hope and his smile so endearing that John couldn’t help but say, “Sounds lovely. Maybe you can show me where it is, some night?” It sounded like a very good idea, in fact; too bad John was working every night until Sunday.
“I’d like that.” With one last shy smile, Jim hurried back to the counter, leaving John to wonder if maybe his luck had finally changed.
Sunday, 7 Mar 2010
Four days back from Paris, and Sherlock was already bored. He had yet to unlock the right combination of words to get John to meet him in person, though he remained acceptably available by text except in the evenings — his working hours. Without the distraction of a case, Sherlock occupied himself on Thursday and Friday by catching up on long-neglected experiments, but he ran out of things to do and ended up lurking outside the residence where Irene Adler, John Watson, and Katherine Barrett worked. He smoked, because he hadn’t planned on making contact with John, and made it through half his pack of cigarettes before John finally emerged.
Alone. Satisfyingly, gratifyingly alone. And he remained alone for the entire trip back to his flat — a far nicer one than the anonymous little bedsit where he’d first brought Sherlock. A few innocuous texts proved that John was going to stay home and be properly attentive to Sherlock, so he went home and spent the rest of the night trying to categorize precisely why John’s solitude was so satisfying.
He’d never before experienced jealousy, but he suspected that he could experience it now, if he thought about John taking someone home with him. John’s work with clients — three tonight, by Sherlock’s count — didn’t rouse any particular feeling in Sherlock at all, except for a very natural curiosity. But the thought of John bringing someone into his territory the way he had Sherlock... That thought evoked a new feeling, one Sherlock didn’t quite understand.
He was still in bed on Sunday morning, wondering how he could determine the difference between jealousy and possessiveness (or if there even was a difference) when he heard noises downstairs. Knock. Mrs. Hudson’s voice. A man answering her. Footsteps.
“In here, Lestrade!” he called, not getting out of bed, not reaching to turn on the bedside lamp, not even looking toward the door as it cracked open.
“How the bloody hell do you do that?” Lestrade asked. His voice was tired and a little rough. He’d been up early, but hadn’t slept at home. He’d been at a hotel and spent most of the night in the bar, smoking. Trouble at home again.
“Footsteps. Is someone dead?”
“Very. We need you.”
In the darkness, Sherlock smiled. “Where?” he asked, hoping for the morgue and not Lestrade’s office. Autopsy photos were never as detailed as seeing the actual body.
“The morgue at Barts. Will you —”
Grinning now, Sherlock cut in, “Yes, yes. Now get out so I can dress.”
“Thank you,” Lestrade said gratefully and stepped out, closing the door.
Enthusiasm bubbled through Sherlock’s veins as he threw off the covers and went for his closet, never tripping even in the near-perfect darkness of his bedroom. He dressed quickly — black suit, royal blue shirt, no tie — and waved off Lestrade’s offer to wait for him to have breakfast. Knowing better than to protest, Lestrade offered, “I brought my car. I’ll drive.”
As Sunday morning ticked over to noon, John was standing in line at the café, yawning and reminding himself that five hours of sleep was no justification for shooting the three people who were ahead of him in the queue. He’d gone out on patrol with less sleep and managed to survive; he’d get through this.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when a soft voice said, “John?” right at his ear, and a hand brushed his arm. Twisting, heart pounding in surprise, he looked into a pair of warm, sleepy brown eyes, and he caught the enticing smell of coffee and something rich with chocolate and berries.
“Jim,” he remembered, and smiled at the man with ‘James’ on his nametag. “Hello. Sorry. Half-asleep.”
Jim’s smile was like the sun coming up, lighting up his face, and he held up the mug of coffee and the plate of cheesecake. “Your order’s up. No need to stand in line again,” he said, his smile turning sly.
Because John’s mind hadn’t quite kicked into gear, it took him a moment to catch on. Then he laughed and accepted both gratefully. “God, I need this. I could kiss you.”
The words just slipped out, and their impact was magnificent to watch— the way a blush rose as Jim looked down, his breath hitching. “I’m off in an hour,” he said, his voice nearly a whisper, and hurried away.
He’d last seen Jim on Friday morning, but there’d been no time to talk beyond a quick greeting. John had come back for lunch on Saturday, but Jim hadn’t been there at all. He couldn’t let this opportunity pass. And neither of them were working tonight...
John stepped out of the queue and went to find a table, stomach growling loudly. He ended up demolishing the cheesecake — easily six hundred calories — in minutes. He finished the coffee almost as quickly, not caring how hot it was, and then scraped at the remains of chocolate and crumbs with his fork until the plate was nearly clean.
By then, Jim was making the rounds, topping off coffee mugs and gathering up plates. John watched him move and wondered if the sweetly submissive behavior was really there or if it was just wishful thinking on John’s part. God, he hoped it wasn’t wishful thinking, but John knew that it was too easy to imagine d/s tendencies where there really weren’t any. Jim might just be angling for a good tip.
Either way, Jim looked good — damned good, in fact. Black clothes suited him, and John was grateful that at some point in the last few years, while he’d been flirting with death in the desert half a world away, fashion trends for café workers had gone to basic black. The way Jim’s black jeans hugged his hips was almost obscene, and John had to look away before his much more casually worn blue jeans became distinctly uncomfortable.
And then Jim was at his table, exchanging the empty plate for a sandwich that John hadn’t ordered. It was his usual, he noticed, and he moved his hand just in time to brush his fingers over Jim’s bare skin.
“All my favorites today, hm?” John asked very quietly, and he didn’t mean the sandwich.
With another perfect blush and downcast eyes, Jim shrugged awkwardly. “I pay attention, when it matters. Besides, you looked like you needed dessert first,” he added with a quick little smile.
“It’s gorgeous out today. I was thinking of going for a walk after lunch,” John made himself say, when his thoughts were all firmly headed toward the idea of breaking in his new flat, even if he had to improvise. He’d worked with less in Afghanistan, after all. But he had to take things at least a little slow, and there was a nice enough park nearby. They could get the talk out of the way there, and then, maybe...
Jim met his eyes. Bit his lip.
“Come with me,” John said quietly, and there was no disguising the intent in his voice. It wasn’t an invitation.
“Okay. I’d like that.”
It was strange, John mused, considering his mixed feelings. Jim was attractive and sweet and everything John would have wanted two months ago, before meeting Sherlock. Now, though, he kept thinking of Sherlock, and that was dangerous.
Sherlock stared down at a body stretched face-down over the autopsy table. The victim was male, early twenties, physically fit, with extensive black tribal tattoos on both arms and across his back, though that tattoo, at least, was now almost indecipherable. From his shoulder blades down to his thighs, his skin was a mass of red wheals pin-pricked with bloody spots.
Dr. Molly Hooper, forensic pathologist, looked across the body at Sherlock, her eyes wide and hopeful. “Any ideas, Sherlock?” she asked shyly.
Fascinated, he leaned in close, snapping open his magnifying lens, and examined one of the wheals. It was thin and long and slightly twisted, as though made by something flexible or curved, and he thought at first of a whip, but there didn’t seem to be any bruising, though that could be attributed to the water damage.
“I — I thought perhaps you’d want to — well — do it with me,” Molly stammered.
Lestrade let out a choked sort of sound.
“Oh! Oh, God, no!” Molly babbled in sudden horror. “Not like —”
“Quiet!” Sherlock snapped, lifting his head long enough to glare at them both. “Out. Both of you, out!”
“Come along, Molly. I’ll buy you a coffee,” Lestrade offered, and then they were thankfully gone, leaving Sherlock alone with the only other interesting person in the morgue.
They were back in what felt like minutes. Lestrade came into the morgue, bringing with him the smell of Chinese food, which made Sherlock glance at the clock. It was already noon, which meant he’d been mucking with this damned dead man for... what? Three hours? Four? The lack of progress was infuriating.
“Molly, Sherlock, I brought lunch,” Lestrade called redundantly.
“Oh! Inspector, that’s sweet,” Molly said. “Isn’t that nice, Sherlock?”
He ignored them both.
“Yeah, I’ll just keep it in the other room for you,” Lestrade said into the silence that followed. Something about his tone told Sherlock that he found the silence awkward, though he should have known better than to interrupt with food during a case.
Then they were gone, and Sherlock was alone again with the dead man, except now the dead man was stubbornly refusing to cooperate. The answers — the secrets — were all there, he knew, but the dead man wasn’t yielding them.
He had his phone out, fingers moving, before he even thought consciously about what he was doing, just the way he did anything else in this state — talk to his skull, pace, even dissolve tiny white crystals and warm the solution and ease it into a syringe. He sent the text with that same need singing through his veins, scratching at the inside of his skull where neurons were firing off too slowly, too sluggishly, leaving him faltering and fumbling along in the dark when he knew the light was right there, just out of reach.
He needed a catalyst. He needed something to provide the spark of ignition.
I need you. Morgue at Barts. Come quickly. -SH
He shoved his phone back into his pocket and went for the instrument tray, finding a scalpel handle and sorting out the thinnest, most delicate blade. He remembered the feel of a blade cutting into his finger and the need to have John there with him.
Just thinking about him steadied Sherlock for reasons that he would have to scrutinize another time. For now, he had a dead man’s secrets to decipher, and it was time to start a more forceful interrogation. Non-intrusive methods simply were not yet working.
“Molly! Bloodwork!” he called as he leaned against a stool and pulled the overhead light down into place. There was a magnifying lens on the light, allowing the tiny scalpel blade to fill his field of vision.
“She’s not here,” Lestrade said.
“I need that blood work — damn,” he muttered, his hand twitching, scoring an ugly line through a layer of skin, as the phone in his pocket buzzed. “Check my phone.”
“Where is it?”
“Jacket, inside pocket.” Aware of the buzz, absently counting the seconds until the unread text alert went off again, Sherlock set the scalpel against another wheal on the dead man’s back and gently eased the edge into the skin.
“Oh, for God’s sake...” Sighing, Lestrade crossed the lab and felt around in Sherlock’s jacket until he found the phone. “I swear, Sherlock, you need a PA.”
Sherlock let that pass; he couldn’t imagine having anyone trailing around after him. He’d leave that sort of thing to Mycroft. “Read it to me.”
“Says ‘Where are you? What happened?’ It’s signed ‘J’,” Lestrade added, unable to keep the curiosity out of his voice. “Who’s ‘J’?”
Smirking, Sherlock answered, “My assistant. Tell him to come to the morgue.”
“You could do this yourself, you know. I’ve seen you text. You’re perfectly capable,” Lestrade complained redundantly. All that mattered, though, was that he was typing, so Sherlock went back to his examination. “And since when do you have an assistant?”
Sherlock ignored the question, moving the tissue sample onto a waiting slide before he hurried off to the microscope. Over the next twenty minutes, he moved back and forth between the microscope and the corpse, wishing John would hurry up already. He wanted to begin the more invasive autopsy procedures, but John needed to see the man’s back more than his viscera. Unless there was something interesting there, too.
“Did Molly take stomach samples?”
“Stomach — No, Sherlock, not yet.”
And then he heard the arrhythmic, soft-hard footsteps, and an odd sort of stillness came over him. He looked up just in time to see John enter the morgue, calling, “Sherlock?”
He’s worried, Sherlock thought, pleased to know John was so completely focused on him.
He looked John over quickly, noting the forest green jumper with dark crumbs from wheat bread; faded blue jeans, splashed at the cuffs from running through puddles; black boots, spotted with water but neatly polished; light jacket, butter-soft black leather that matched his belt and boots; no sign of his gun, but it could be at the small of his back.
It was Sunday at noon. He’d been at the café around the corner from his flat. He’d gone there alone, but he’d dressed to impress someone.
Someone who wasn’t Sherlock.
Ignoring the lift, John took the stairs down to the basement level as fast as he could, breaking into a halting run as soon as he hit the hallway that led to the morgue. For twenty minutes, he’d been telling himself that this was probably a case, that Sherlock was probably in perfect health (or as perfect as his health could be, given how he neglected himself). Reassurances did nothing without facts, though, and he finally barged into the morgue, calling, “Sherlock?”
Not one but three sets of eyes turned abruptly to look at him: a short, mousy young woman in a lab coat; a man with dark, silver-tipped hair in a rumpled suit, and —
Thank God, John thought, because Sherlock seemed unharmed. He grinned at John, eyes full of excitement and life, and it felt like a kick in the chest, stealing John’s breath.
After a moment of silence that crackled between them, Sherlock said, “You have a new cane.”
While factually true, since Irene had subtly suggested that his image makeover would be better served by a carved wooden cane rather than the functional metal one he’d been issued upon his release from hospital, it was entirely irrelevant.
Instead, John’s mind scrambled to find some sort of appropriate response to the situation, until his gaze fell on the corpse in front of Sherlock. “That’s... What happened?”
“You tell me,” Sherlock challenged.
“Hold on,” the other man interrupted. “I’m in enough trouble bringing you in, Sherlock. Who is he?”
“I told you. My assistant,” Sherlock answered with an imperious glare.
“Like that’s bloody likely,” John muttered, finally limping the rest of the way into the room, allowing the doors to swing closed. He went not to the autopsy table but to the man who seemed to be in charge, and introduced himself. “Dr. John Watson.”
The title seemed to ease some of the tension from the other man, who held out his hand. “Detective Inspector Lestrade. You work with Sherlock?”
Shaking Lestrade’s hand, John opened his mouth to protest, when he saw Sherlock turn to look at him. That connection sparked between them again, and John didn’t have to fake exasperation when he said, “In a manner of speaking, yes. Though I’d like some warning ahead of time.”
God, how was he going to explain this to Jim? The insane man I’ve been flirting with over text needed me to come see a corpse with him. That would end the relationship even faster than had happened with Sarah’s discovery of his kit.
Sherlock didn’t even have the grace to apologize. “John. Come here,” he ordered, looking back down at the body.
This was Sherlock’s business, not his, and John just knew that Sherlock’s ego would never permit him to be second-in-line — not in the context of his job, at least. He thought back to that very first time they’d met, when Sherlock had attempted to overrun him with his knife-sharp intellect. Then, John had stood up to him, but that had been in front of Mike Stamford, not someone from Scotland Yard and... whoever the unnamed woman was.
They weren’t in private. John bit down on his instinctive challenge and forced himself forward, trying to push his mind back into a more professional — medically professional — state.
He moved to the autopsy table opposite Sherlock, and braced himself before turning his full attention to the body before him. This corpse was relatively bloodless and damaged from prolonged exposure to water, like nothing he’d seen in Afghanistan, thank God. For one startling moment, he thought the wounds on the dead man’s back had been created by a whip — a cat o’nine tails was his first thought.
Raising his eyes, he looked up at Sherlock and very quietly asked, “What the hell am I doing here, Sherlock?”
Sherlock’s eyes seemed to glitter ferally. “I need your expert, professional opinion.”
He knows, John thought for one panicked instant, but that was impossible. He’d never said anything to Sherlock to even hint at what he did. He’d never mentioned Irene and Kate, his work schedule, not even the word ‘client’. He’d been very careful, to the point of ignoring most of Sherlock’s questions when they became too personal.
So, John was here as a professional doctor, not someone who’d have professional experience with the traces left by a whip.
He fell back on his military training and looked the body over. “Well, unless the mortal wound is both shallow and on his front side, he wasn’t killed by a gunshot or IED. Is that all?” John asked very mildly, a tone of voice that other soldiers had once learned to fear.
But for a genius, Sherlock was also an idiot, and the warning completely passed by him. “Gloves,” Sherlock answered, offering John a pair from the box labeled MOLLY’S (with a little heart replacing the apostrophe) on the instrument tray.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade protested as John took a pair of gloves, but it sounded more resigned than anything else.
It was Sherlock who finally broke eye contact with John, turning to Lestrade. “You need me, Lestrade, and I need him. He has experience with violent death from his time in the military.”
Looking a bit surprised, Lestrade turned to John. He made a helpless little gesture, saying, “In that case... any information that could help...”
Sighing to himself, John leaned the cane against the autopsy table as he worked his hands into the nitrile gloves. “Right, then. What have we got?” Sometimes, surrender really was the only option.
Chapter by Kryptaria
I'm going to summarize this one with a quote:
“You want me helpless and hurting and yours just as much as I want you to be mine, until there’s nothing left in the world but us. Whatever you want to do to me, I want, because you want it. And you won’t want anything that you shouldn’t, because you’re not the type of man to destroy what’s yours.”
Sunday, 7 Mar 2010
Cytotoxic venom, Sherlock thought, glaring into the chest cavity where the dead man’s heart and lungs had been. Molly had finally gotten on with her actual autopsy, and she and John were now elsewhere, throwing Sherlock vague snippets of whatever information they uncovered while he dealt with the bulk of the evidence.
The Portuguese man o’ war was not entirely unknown in the waters around the British Isles, but it certainly wasn’t common, which made it unlikely that this death was an accident, despite the effort to make it look like a sting that had led to shock and drowning. No, this was clever, but not clever enough to be a murder truly worthy of Sherlock’s attention. Unfortunately, he needed to figure out just one more step, and then he could hand it off to Lestrade and his half-trained team of performing animals.
However, the dead man was, again, being uncooperative, and John was infuriatingly not here with Sherlock. But that, at least, Sherlock could fix.
Come here. -SH
John answered the text in person, with gratifying speed, entering the morgue just as Sherlock wrestled the dead weight of the man back over. The corpse landed on its emptied torso with a wet thump, and all the bits that were no longer attached started to ooze and seep and drip out of place and onto the floor.
“Look, you can’t — God! Sherlock!” John gasped at the thump, freezing in the doorway.
“Come here, John,” Sherlock snapped, glaring accusingly not at John but at the dead man’s back. “Look at these stings.”
John approached like a skittish horse, circling wide around the puddle that was spreading out from the autopsy table. Sherlock looked at him, noting that he’d gone a peculiar shade of grey under the winter-fading tan, but let it pass, turning his attention back to the pattern. Surely he’d seen violent death before.
“If it’s not what we see, it must be what we don’t see,” Sherlock said thoughtfully, remembering that he’d said that once before, regarding evidence that had been cleaned away. “What don’t you see?”
“Other than a mop, a bucket, and you cleaning this mess?” John asked sharply.
His words hit Sherlock’s brain like a lightning strike, searing a connection straight through to the slightly curved marks on the dead man’s back.
“Oh, that’s it!” he breathed, and rushed out, nearly slipping on the wet, tacky mess beneath the autopsy table as he bolted for the doors, leaving John standing there next to the dead man in silence.
This was why he’d wanted John here. Not because he was a doctor, but because he was interesting. He thought in new and unique ways, and while none of his insights were particularly enlightening, something about him sparked Sherlock to see things differently.
Besides, this was where he belonged: with Sherlock. Not with Irene Adler or Kate or whoever he was trying to impress at the café by his flat.
Favoring John with a quick grin to show how pleased he was, Sherlock finished wringing out the string mop — now cut so the strings hung free instead of in loops, stained blue with ink. “It’s not as accurate as it could be,” he said, lifting it over the paper spread across the floor between two of the unused tables. “The tentacles of an average specimen are thirty feet, you said?” he asked John.
Surprised at being called out, John nodded. “Well, yes. Something like that.”
Sherlock looked to Lestrade and Molly to see if they were following along, but Lestrade just seemed expectant and Molly was her usual besotted self. So he turned back to John, who at least seemed an appreciative audience, and said, “The tentacles of the man o’war sting on contact. There are two potential moving elements: the tentacles and the victim. Each leaves a distinctive pattern, shown by the ink.”
Enlisting Molly’s help, he proceeded to demonstrate the ink patterns left by various combinations of moving and stationary elements. Between each demonstration, he quickly glanced up confirm that Lestrade was following. John was grinning, his eyes alight with interest despite the dark, tired circles under them. The demonstration would have been better with a live body instead of paper, but it was critical that Lestrade see — that he observe and analyze — and that left only John or Molly to strip down to bare skin. Molly would, if Sherlock asked, but he knew that John wouldn’t approve. And John...
There was no rational reason for it, except that John was his in a way that Sherlock couldn’t define, and that possession included the sight of his bare skin — a sight even Sherlock himself hadn’t yet experienced.
Molly was eager to impress, and immediately took up the papers to compare them to the marks on the dead man’s back, so happy that she didn’t even notice as she splashed through the congealing puddle beneath the autopsy table. Sherlock snapped off his ink-stained gloves, nodded to indicate to Lestrade that he had finished, and headed for the door. “Coming, John?” he tossed back over his shoulder, eagerly anticipating the praise that surely would follow.
John obligingly followed, and Sherlock remembered to keep his steps slow and short, though he felt a bit impatient, wondering when John would realize he didn’t need his cane. “Hungry? I could do with — oof.”
His back hit the wall, one of John’s hands locked around his arm, the other pressed into his chest as the cane fell with a loud, echoing clatter. Surprised by this behavior, Sherlock stared down into John’s face, and the cold, dangerous look in his eyes silenced his protest.
It was absolutely entrancing, how many facets this man had. The helpful doctor was gone, replaced entirely by the soldier, all hard edges and full of resolve. This was the man who had calmly and steadily shot the serial killer dead just over a month earlier.
“The only thing you’ll do is go back inside and clean up that mess you made. You’re not saddling poor Molly with all that.”
It actually took Sherlock a moment to realize what John meant; the body was now insignificant, as was the state of its entrails and vital organs. “I’m —”
John’s eyes narrowed. He released his grasp and stepped back, no longer touching Sherlock, and the absence of that touch silenced him. Dizziness swept through him, leaving him disoriented, as if John’s touch had somehow anchored him. He closed his eyes, trying to analyze what he was supposed to be thinking, what he actually was thinking, what he should do and say...
“I’ll stay here as long as it takes for you to clean up,” John told him when he opened his eyes a moment later, “but if that lab isn’t spotless when you say you’re finished, I’m leaving. Alone.”
Slowly, Sherlock nodded, adding this new exchange to his growing analysis of John Watson. “All right.”
One corner of John’s mouth turned up in a faint, humorless smile. “That’s ‘Yes, John’,” he corrected.
It felt right, like they’d come full-circle, pulling Sherlock’s memory back to John’s tiny, impersonal bedsit, to when John had so calmly and easily taken control. It felt oddly reassuring, though Sherlock had never been one to allow anyone else to tell him what to do.
This is what he wants, Sherlock thought, and felt a twinge of nervousness. The last time things had gone this way, John had sent him away. He couldn’t allow that to happen — not again — and no price was too great, if it meant he could keep John with him.
Suddenly glad that he hadn’t put on even a single nicotine patch, Sherlock nodded and spoke quietly: “Yes, John.”
John went out into the viewing hallway where he could watch Sherlock and be watched, reassuring Sherlock that he had kept his promise not to leave. Finally he’d taken control again, returning some measure of balance to the world, and he was content to wait, however distasteful it was to watch the clean-up.
For a while there, he’d lost himself entirely, pulled under the riptide of Sherlock’s brilliance, and it had been the sort of glorious sublimation that he’d heard subs discussing, though he himself had never experienced it. Sherlock had led and he had simply gone with it, against his very nature, and he’d loved the challenge of it, following Sherlock’s reasoning as it twisted and turned down unexpected paths, supporting and helping him with research or conversation, or even just being there for him.
Never in his life had he even imagined such an incredible mind. Just being with him in this state was like standing too close to the sun. The only comparison he had was the rush of battle, and there was no logical reason at all for this to feel like that, without bullets flying and the risk of death hanging over every breath, but he felt it all the same.
He lifted a hand to his forehead, pinching the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes, thinking that he was probably going insane. He should have been rushing back to the café to coax the manager into giving him Jim’s phone number so he could call and apologize. He should have been furious at Sherlock for interrupting his date. He shouldn’t have been fantasizing instead about taking Sherlock back to his new flat and systematically tearing down every defense he had, until that brilliant mind was laid open and focused entirely on nothing but John, and then sating every last, dark whim he had on that beautiful body.
John turned to see DI Lestrade coming down the hallway, carrying an overcoat folded over one arm. Thankfully, the sight distracted him from what was threatening to become a very embarrassing train of thought. “Just John, please.”
“Greg.” He offered a small, tired smile and glanced at Sherlock, who was currently working with Molly on closing the chest incision. “What’s he doing?”
Confused, John turned his attention back to the room below, but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, except that the two of them were standing in the now-gelled puddle. Note to self: Make him remove shoes outside the flat, he thought, and had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
“Sorry?” he managed to ask mildly, turning back to Lestrade.
“Sherlock. He’s done. So what’s he doing, putting it all back right?”
“Ah. I take it he usually doesn’t?”
Lestrade let out a huff and shook his head. “Never even thinks of it. It’s one of the reasons my team hates working with him.” Raising his eyebrows curiously, he added, “How do you stand it?”
Alarm prickled over John’s skin as he reminded himself that this man was a detective inspector. Sherlock didn’t seem the type to suffer fools lightly, so there had to be some reason he was willing to work for DI Greg Lestrade.
Cautiously, he shrugged, resisting the temptation to look away. “I’ve been in the military since I got out of med school. You learn not to take shit from anyone — not even him.”
Lestrade looked him over appraisingly. Then he burst out laughing and turned his attention back to the room below. “My wife said damn near the same thing when she first met him.”
John grinned, feeling better with the attention off him. “You’ve known him... five years, was it?”
That got him a sidelong glance, though he kept most of his focus on Sherlock, his expression casual. Lestrade finally said, “Yeah. So you know...?”
Know what? John thought in frustration. He didn’t know what answer would get him more information, so he shrugged and temporized. “Some.”
Lestrade sighed deeply, looking down at his own feet for a moment before he spoke more quietly. “Look, this might not be appropriate, but... I know what’s going on with you two.”
John couldn’t hide his surprise. Was this the ‘if you hurt my friend, I’ll kill you’ talk? He hadn’t gone through that in... well, it had to be at least ten years, maybe more. Besides, in his case, ‘hurt’ had a very different meaning, and that most certainly was his intent, so long as Sherlock was willing.
Apparently not expecting an answer, the detective continued after a moment, “Today was the best I’ve seen him in... well, I suppose ever. He was almost human — almost civilized. And that doesn’t happen with Sherlock.”
Startled by this new twist, John could only stammer, “This — this is good behavior?”
“Oh God, yeah.” Lestrade laughed, turning back to him, and rubbed a hand over his short-cropped hair. “On the bad days, even I want to punch him, and I might well be the only person on the planet who likes him, except for you.”
“He’s really that bad?” John asked without thinking, startled. It was true that Sherlock hadn’t exactly been a paragon of courteous behavior. Actually, he’d been flat-out insulting. And he certainly had proven utterly incapable of making wise decisions. Thinking back to that night he’d had to threaten Sherlock into going to A&E, John began to consider that Lestrade’s assessment might well be spot-on after all.
“It got a little better, after he’d been clean for a few years, but this...” He shook his head in admiration, looking back at Sherlock as though seeing a brand new side of the man. “This is a bloody miracle. So just tell me right now that what’s between you two is real, so I can stop fucking worrying about him already.”
John swallowed, his throat dry and tight, and watched as Sherlock continued making a line of neat stitches up the dead man’s chest. He was gesticulating between stitches, the thread tugging at dead flesh as he explained something to Molly, who was hanging rapt on his every word.
“I don’t even know what’s between us,” he said softly, without even realizing he’d spoken aloud. Shaking his head, he turned to Lestrade and asked, a little desperately, “If he’s really that bad, why do you put up with him?”
“Could ask you the same thing.”
With a sigh, John shook his head. “God only knows,” he admitted, wondering why in hell he was being so honest with himself, much less with this man — this detective, no less. “There’s just something about him...”
In the angled glass, he saw Lestrade’s hazy reflection nod. “Something, yeah,” he said quietly. “Sherlock Holmes is a great man. And someday, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”
John exhaled sharply, his hand tightening on his cane, and let out a little laugh edged with something like desperation. “No pressure there, hm?”
Lestrade laughed and put a companionable hand on John’s shoulder for a moment. “Here,” he said, dropping his hand away and digging through his pockets. He found a silver business card holder and slipped a card out, offering it to John. “You need help dealing with him, or if you just need to get away from his madness for a pint, you call me.”
Startled by the man’s loyalty and protectiveness toward a man who even the kind-hearted would describe as abrasive, John nodded, slipping the card into his pocket. “Thanks. I’ll do that.”
Molly insisted on helping, in an inefficient way. He sent her to find a mop (strings uncut) and buckets of hot water and bottles of chemicals to sterilize the whole mess. He had the feeling that a half-hearted swipe or two with the mop and some quick staples to close the incisions wouldn’t satisfy John.
Sherlock hadn’t missed the careful wording, either. If that lab isn’t spotless when you say you’re finished... That meant John wasn’t going to call a stop when he was satisfied. It was up to Sherlock to guess when he’d done enough, which meant that he’d naturally have to go far beyond in hopes of satisfying John.
It fit. It felt right, a puzzle piece shaped like one tiny facet of John’s personality slotting perfectly into place with all the others that Sherlock was using to build his picture of John as a whole. This wasn’t John’s way of forcing Sherlock to do anything at all, because Sherlock could walk out right now. No, this was John’s way of offering Sherlock the chance to submit to his will — to be with him, on his terms.
So Sherlock cleaned, though he was entirely unfamiliar with the task and couldn’t recall ever using a mop in his life, not even that one time he’d masqueraded as a janitor to gain access to an office building after hours. He splashed bleach over his shoes and wasted ten minutes meticulously rinsing them and then applying the beeswax lip balm stolen from Molly’s purse to the surface. He used the lab sink to empty, rinse, and refill the bucket a dozen times, appalled at the idea of using dirty water to clean the floor, even though Molly told him it was done that way all the time, and he managed not to get distracted by taking samples of the so-called clean floor on the other side of the room to show Molly exactly how contaminated the surface really was.
He watched, furious that he couldn’t overhear, as Lestrade confronted John in the viewing hallway. They shook hands and Lestrade stared at Sherlock as if he were some kind of fascinating zoo specimen while John kept throwing him startled looks. Sherlock started sewing up the corpse, thinking to attract John’s attention with the neatness of his stitches and the thorough effort he was putting into cleaning up the whole mess and not just the floor, but it didn’t quite work.
The two men laughed companionably, and then Lestrade touched John, putting a hand on his shoulder, and Sherlock nearly stormed out to warn Lestrade off. Only John’s words — when you say you’re finished — kept Sherlock in place, though he had to stop stitching so he wouldn’t tear the thread right through the dead, yielding flesh.
Lestrade handed John a business card from the silver case he kept in his inside jacket pocket. Why? Did he want John to call him? To text him? John didn’t return the favor, but Sherlock didn’t know if he had business cards at all.
And then, finally, Lestrade left, and John continued to wait as though he’d be content to wait for the rest of his life. Sherlock cleaned and helped Molly neatly label the evidence that she’d collected and that he’d analyzed, all the while conscious of the calm, steady presence standing at the observation window, and though it had to be boring just standing there with that unneeded cane and nothing to do but watch, John was still there every time Sherlock looked up.
And watch he did, with such a quiet intensity that it shattered Sherlock’s composure all over again, just as had happened in the hallway, and replaced it with confusion and uncertainty. He tried to suppress it with his usual iron will, only to discover that something inside of him had folded beneath the weight of John Watson’s scrutiny. Then he tried to ignore it and push it aside as inconsequential, only it was somehow threaded up with the presence behind that window, and the knowledge that John was still there kept bringing the confusion and uncertainty back to the front of his thoughts.
He asked himself, over and over, Is this clean enough? and kept going back to tend to more small details until finally, after what felt like hours, even his sharp eyes could see nothing out of place. There was nothing he could do at the moment about the splashes on his trouser cuffs, but that was all — that and his shoes, but they could wait. Only when he was certain he was finished, that John could find no fault with the state of the room, did he look toward the window, and their eyes locked, and somehow John read the unspoken question.
He nodded. Smiled a tiny smile that felt like approval.
The answering warmth that coiled through Sherlock’s body felt like satisfaction, but not the same satisfaction that came with solving a mystery. This was more personal, something Sherlock had never felt but was able to identify by the realization that if John was happy, he’d stay.
Snatching up his coat and scarf and gloves, he left without another word to Molly, half-hearing her farewell echo out into the hallway. Stopped outside the double doors to the morgue, he pulled on his overcoat and just watched John, reading the remnants of fatigue that had burned away under the intellectual challenge of the autopsy and the absolute lack of discomfort in his leg despite standing still for so long.
Exhilarated, Sherlock picked up the thread of conversation where it had been so abruptly cut before. “Hungry? I could do with a good Chinese. There’s a place not far from the flat.”
John reached out with his left hand and took hold of Sherlock’s scarf, sliding it through his fingers and out of his grasp. He leaned the cane against his hip and calmly, quietly folded the scarf in half. Then he reached up, draping the scarf behind Sherlock’s neck. The touch sent a shiver down his spine, and he closed his eyes to better concentrate on the sensation made unfamiliar and exotic and new because it was John causing it.
“How many patches?” John asked, holding onto both ends of the scarf, trapping Sherlock. There were inches between them, inches that felt like miles and like nothing all at once.
John nodded, and the approval seemed to ignite a bonfire in Sherlock’s chest, drawing his own lips up in a grin as he realized he’d made the right move after all. The game stretched between them, bridging those inches, twisting their thoughts and intentions together, and Sherlock knew then that even though he couldn’t recite the rules, he still could win.
“You can say no, if you’d like,” John said very quietly. “You can always say no and walk away. We’ll talk more about it later, but for now, I need to know you understand that much.”
Sherlock examined his words, both spoken and unspoken, and heard what John was really saying. He’d done his research, and while the internet was notoriously unreliable for accuracy, he at least had a general idea of what he was getting into. That would’ve been enough to catch his interest even without John, because it was new. It wasn’t a matter of kink or inclination or even sex. It was the experience — the unpredictability, the danger — that had him hooked.
Adding John to the mix made it that much better. Time and time again, Sherlock had failed to predict John’s actions and reactions. If they did this, he had no way to know what John would do. What Moriarty would do, if that’s who John really was.
“Stradivarius,” he answered, having made his decision some two days after they’d met. It was such a fragile convention, an agreement of words alone, and since he’d first considered it, Sherlock had wondered if John would honor it or not.
He still wondered if he’d want John to ignore it entirely.
But for now, John blinked up at Sherlock, brows drawing together in a frown that caused new lines to take shape on his forehead and the corners of his eyes. “Sorry?” he asked, automatically seeking refuge in politeness.
“Stradivarius. It’s my safeword.”
John’s eyes went wide with surprise, but Sherlock saw the way his pulse jumped in his throat. As they stared at one another, John’s pupils dilated and his lips parted just slightly before curling up at one corner. The tension left his body as he brought his hands together, fixing the scarf in place around Sherlock’s throat with gentle care. There was no sharp tug, no tightening of cashmere to press against his larynx or make the blood roar in his ears, and the softness of it froze Sherlock in place.
“Right,” John said, dropping his hands along the edges of Sherlock’s overcoat. He buttoned it with quick, neat movements. Then he glanced to the side, into the morgue where Molly was still busy at work, and lowered his voice even more as he turned back to Sherlock. “Limits?”
“None.” They seemed to be reduced to single-word concepts, but Sherlock took that as a sign that they were finally, completely in alignment with one another.
“None?” John’s expression shattered, flashing into disbelief and exasperation, but not before Sherlock saw a hint of something else, something darker. Something like elation.
“None.” Sherlock took a breath and considered the possibility that more than one word was needed after the repeat of this one. “The safeword is for your benefit — because I know you would insist. I won’t need it.”
“God,” John breathed, closing his eyes. “You insane, stupid man.”
Despite seeing Sherlock in action today, he was obviously missing the point — or, more accurately, thinking Sherlock had missed the point. At least it was easy enough to prove him wrong there.
“You want me helpless and hurting and yours just as much as I want you to be mine, until there’s nothing left in the world but us. Whatever you want to do to me, I want, because you want it. And you won’t want anything that you shouldn’t, because you’re not the type of man to destroy what’s yours.”
John’s exhale was ragged. His voice, when he spoke, was broken. “Fuck. Sherlock.”
That didn’t seem to need a response, and in any case, Sherlock was entranced by the emotions and thoughts and raw desire that seemed to play just under the surface of John’s skin, broadcast in the flush of blood and movement of breath and shift of muscles.
But finally, as the silence continued, Sherlock asked, “Am I wrong?”
“No.” John took a deep breath, steadier this time, and set his hand gently on Sherlock’s chest. Through the layers of overcoat and jacket and shirt, Sherlock could barely feel the pressure, but he imagined he felt warmth blazing from that single point of contact. “God help us both, no. You’re not wrong.”
Chapter by Kryptaria
Perhaps it's not normal for a date to start at the morgue, but Sherlock and John don't care, as long as it ends up with them at John's flat - even if it wasn't what Sherlock expected.
Sunday, 7 Mar 2010
Thanks to his network of informants, Sherlock had seen photographs of the exterior of John’s flat as well as estate agent pictures of two vacant apartments, so he had a general idea of the layout. Entry led directly into the living room, dining area off to the left, kitchen tucked behind. Large master bedroom and a bath with two doors, one from the living room, one from the bedroom. Laundry closet off the kitchen, no balcony, north-facing windows.
The flat had been leased unfurnished, with cool grey wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room and bedroom and off-white tile visible in the kitchen and dining area. The windows were hidden behind thick grey blackout curtains that didn’t quite match the carpet and still had the creases from where they’d been folded in the packaging. John had added almost nothing to the apartment, but what he had brought in was eloquent, at least to Sherlock’s eyes.
The new, expensive, overstuffed brown leather armchair with a little table beside it was where John preferred to spend his time, but didn’t. Off to the side, there was a loveseat, not too expensive, that looked even more neglected. It was a cream colored brocade, decorated with bright oriental print throw pillows with tassels on the corners. John spent most of his time at the much more modest desk, a kit-built piece from Ikea, with a generic grey armless secretary’s chair. The rust-colored Samsung laptop sat there, shoved off to the back right corner.
The dining area was entirely empty, without even a tray table and folding chair. In the kitchen, he could see a microwave mounted on the wall above the unused cooktop; a toaster, kettle, and gleaming new stainless steel coffee maker plugged in near the sink; and a single mug, plate, fork, and knife in the dish drainer. The mug had a crest on it, with a red banner beneath, and Sherlock suspected it was from the RAMC, but couldn’t be certain without a closer look.
He turned back to see John standing by the door, watching him intently. He liked being the subject of that focus.
“I left the handcuffs with you,” Sherlock said, wanting to bring John’s mind back to that other night so the present would be in contrast.
John grinned, his smile easy and seemingly genuine, without any tension. He tossed his keys down on the end table and then draped his jacket on the loveseat, saying, “I don’t need them. I have better — ones you won’t be escaping.”
It would have been ridiculous to think that John would go to all this effort, only to send him away, but the statement made Sherlock smile all the same.
John crossed to the kitchen, where he opened the drawer beside the sink. It was full of papers — menus, Sherlock realized as John took one out. He didn’t close the drawer right away, though; he continued looking into the drawer and a small frown creased his brow.
Sherlock walked to the desk, his steps quiet but not intentionally stealthy. The motion caught John’s eye and distracted him from whatever was in the drawer, which he closed, switching his focus back to Sherlock. Better.
“What do you see?”
The question surprised Sherlock, but pleased him. The only one who asked him that was Lestrade, at crime scenes, and it always felt grudging, like he was bracing himself for an attack. This time, the question seemed genuinely curious.
“You had a girlfriend — or boyfriend — who liked to cuddle, but you don’t. Privacy and security are more important to you than the condition of your possessions, though you’re thrifty and take good care of what’s yours.” He trailed his gloved fingertips over the surface of the desk to the right of the laptop and then lifted his hand to sniff. The smell was neutral — not cooking oil, not perfumed, but with a definite chemical overtone. Absently, he continued, “Left-handed, but we already knew that.”
“Wait — a girlfriend? How do you —”
“The loveseat. It’s not one you would have picked, but also not too expensive for you to have purchased at someone else’s insistence. The armchair cost more, and that’s where you sit, when you’re not at the desk.”
He went to the kitchen and examined the cabinet doors more closely. The only ones that showed any regular use were the ones under the sink and beside it. The upper cabinets would hold John’s sparse collection of mugs, glasses, plates, and bowls, which Sherlock confirmed with a quick look. “You don’t cook elaborate meals. In your time in the army, you grew accustomed to someone else cooking for you or to simple food. You’re too healthy to live on beans on toast, so you eat most of your meals out, such as the sandwich you had this morning, at the café down the street.”
He crouched and opened the cabinet under the sink, and he smiled. There was the mineral oil, along with an assortment of chemicals. Looking back at John, he said, “Your gun’s not legal.”
John couldn’t hide the startled jerk of his head.
“It’s not in here, either, and you’re not carrying it. Your bedroom? Yes. Nightstand, most likely, though you might have one of those holsters meant for a mattress. You’re a professional, after all,” Sherlock said, standing and turning. “Brake clean, ammonia-based window cleaner, Simple Green, toothbrushes, copper brush, all under the sink, none of which are suspect, except that together, they can all be used to clean a firearm without purchasing chemicals that might be suspicious.”
For a few long seconds, they stood there, Sherlock by the sink, John in the kitchen doorway.
Slowly, Sherlock followed the obvious path of John’s thoughts, and he had to suppress a laugh. Did the man really think he wanted to end this fascinating game so quickly?
“I have no intention of telling Lestrade or anyone else.”
The tension left John’s posture and he laughed, shifting his weight to lean on his cane. “That’s unbelievable. You, I mean.”
Surprised that John didn’t trust him yet, Sherlock insisted, “I won’t tell. Why would I —”
John interrupted with another laugh, saying, “I know you wouldn’t. It’s just... first, back at Barts when we met, and then watching you today, and now this... It’s amazing.”
Sherlock smiled, pleased that John did understand him, and even more pleased at the compliment. He was used to that sort of thing, but it was always grudging or wary, meant to separate Sherlock from the rest of humanity in a judgemental way.
Still smiling, John walked into the kitchen, barely limping, and switched the menu to his right hand, pinning it against the cane. He slid his left hand between the buttons on Sherlock’s overcoat and brushed his fingertips over Sherlock’s abdomen. “Planning to stay?”
There was no flinch, no skin-crawling sensation urging Sherlock to back away, even though he could feel the heat of John’s hand through the thin, fine fabric of his shirt. Apparently Sherlock’s mind seemed to have decided John was free to touch him any time he liked, in any way he chose. He’d have to examine that, after he had more information.
“You won’t be rid of me that easily,” Sherlock said, excited to think of John’s reaction when he didn’t find the nicotine patches that had so upset him last time, because he didn’t know how John would react. Sherlock guessed that he’d be pleased, but the uncertainty was what made this all so fascinating.
He allowed John to unbutton the overcoat and pull it off, draping it over one shoulder so he could remove Sherlock’s scarf. “Gloves,” he prompted, leaving the scarf hanging over his wrist.
This wasn’t following the normal pattern of a host making a guest comfortable, but Sherlock had never appreciated ‘normal’ the way Mycroft did. He removed his gloves and set them on John’s extended palm, letting his fingertips brush over calluses and skin made rough by sun and wind and abrasions.
“Go start the shower,” John said, closing his hand around the gloves. He stepped back and nodded in the direction of the door Sherlock had suspected led to the bathroom. “I’ll join you after I order dinner.”
Confused, Sherlock asked, “The shower? Why?”
John’s brows went up. “We just spent five hours doing an autopsy, Sherlock. Shower. Now.”
The bathroom was just as bare as the rest of the apartment, as if John had unpacked a travel kit of toiletries, plugged in his electric razor, and then lost interest. Two towels hanging on the wall; toothpaste, one toothbrush, and a hand soap pump by the sink; all-in-one shampoo and body soap in the combination bathtub/shower. Just like at the bedsit, it looked like John would require all of ten minutes to pack the essentials and leave, if he even bothered coming back at all.
Most people nested. Even Sherlock, who was nothing like ‘most’ people at all, collected the detritus of his everyday life: journals, experiment logs and supplies, reference materials, his violin, sheet music, random gifts that he’d kept to remind him of particularly engaging cases.
John had almost nothing. The picture of his life was as bare as a tree in winter. He came home in the late hours of the night and checked his email. He cleaned his gun at the computer desk. He read the newspaper.
Sherlock wanted to search the bedroom, suspecting that he’d learn far more about John from what he kept next to the bed and in his closet, hidden away from everyone but himself. Had the girlfriend made it that far, or had they stayed on the loveseat? Which of them had ended the relationship, and why? Who else was in John’s life?
He had turned the water up as hot as it would go, filling the bathroom with steam. Now, he turned it down a few degrees before he got in and exhaled, letting the heat burn through the tension in his body. Wet, his hair lost its curl and slicked back down over the nape of his neck. It was getting long enough that he’d need to cut it soon, but that was tedious.
The door opened and John walked in, catching him by surprise. Was this meant to be a shared experience? Sherlock looked through the fogged curtain, eyes straining to see the details of what John was doing.
“They’re busy, so it’s at least forty-five minutes,” John said. He seemed to have one foot up on the toilet and was bending over. Unlacing his boots, Sherlock guessed. “You said no food allergies, right?”
“None,” Sherlock said, pleased that John had remembered. He considered saying something else, but then John pulled his jumper up over his head and dropped it on the counter, scrambling Sherlock’s thoughts.
In a vague way, he’d had an idea of what was going to happen tonight, images that had taken shape in his mind with each text they exchanged and the knowledge that it was all leading up to this. He’d done his research, and decided he was fine with it — surprisingly interested, actually. But his imagination hadn’t included showering together, and he had no data to help him guess what John might expect.
So he just watched John’s blurry form change from clothed to bare, move across the bathroom, and then sharpen into vivid detail as he pulled the shower curtain aside and stepped into the tub, bracing one hand against the tiled wall to help keep his balance. Sherlock’s gaze immediately dropped to the scars high on his left shoulder, right over the collarbone. Gunshot, he categorized, lifting his hand unthinkingly to trace the lines scored through the wound, where surgeons had sliced open John’s flesh to repair the damage.
John let out a soft gasp and went still, muscles rippling tensely under skin that was shades more pale than his hands and face. Wondering if he’d done something wrong, Sherlock looked up at him, studying his face and eyes, and said, “It doesn’t hurt. Does it?”
“No.” John shook his head, droplets of water clinging to his hair, bringing out shades of gold and dark brown and everything in between. “Just... people are usually put off by scars like this. I should’ve known you wouldn’t be,” he added with a laugh that was too low and husky for Sherlock to know if he was happy or uncomfortable.
“Not at all,” Sherlock agreed, and went back to studying John’s body, his other hand lifting now, so he could trace the muscles on both sides of his chest. When his fingertips brushed over John's nipples, the skin furled tightly and John breathed out a soft curse, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall.
Taking that as an invitation to continue, Sherlock pressed his thumbs against John’s ribs, marking the pattern of his breathing. He smiled, realizing that John breathed from the belly, not high in his chest, and Sherlock remembered his earliest lessons in martial arts, when he’d learned to breathe in the same way.
He stood six inches taller than John, so he knelt to search John’s right hip for any sign of injury that would mean his limp had some physiological basis. He never thought of precisely what position he’d be in until John’s hands came up to Sherlock’s head, fingers buried in his wet hair, twisting into a possessive, controlling hold that stung and rekindled the fires under Sherlock’s skin.
He wants me, he thought as their eyes met.
“Fuck. Sherlock,” John whispered, his voice rough.
“You said that before, at the morgue,” Sherlock answered, blinking away the water running into his eyes, thumbs rubbing in little circles over John’s hips.
John laughed raggedly and let his head fall back again. His grip on Sherlock’s hair eased, but he didn’t let go completely. “You make it very difficult to think,” he accused, though he didn’t sound angry about that at all.
Not about to argue with that, Sherlock turned his attention back to John’s body, pressing his fingertips over John’s right hip a bit more firmly, feeling for any sign of scarring. John shifted his weight, spreading his legs a bit wider, and naturally Sherlock’s attention was drawn to the growing erection surrounded by short-trimmed hair turned almost black by the water.
He slid his hand under John’s balls, feeling the weight and soft skin and slightly sharp edges of hair just as easily and unselfconsciously as he’d touched anywhere else. John hissed in a breath and his fingers twitched hard in Sherlock’s hair.
Sherlock looked up, blinking to clear his eyes, examining the tense line of John’s chest and throat. His inability to read John in this circumstance with any precision was frustrating. He could observe the most minute detail, but the behaviors he’d taught himself to read — subtle shifts of body weight, the tilt of his head, the curl of his fingers — had no context here. This was new, just as so much with John had been new over the last few weeks, leaving the excitement and anticipation balanced on a knife’s edge.
He didn’t want to get sent away again. He needed to find the keys to unlock John’s psyche, to keep him.
So he fell back on deferring to John’s will, as John seemed to have been encouraging him to do all along. Quietly, he asked, “May I?”
John nearly pointed out that it was a bit late to be asking that question, with Sherlock on his knees and one hand cupped around John’s balls and the other resting on John's hip and his lips mere inches away from where John desperately wanted them, but he sensed that there was more to the question.
So he said, simply, “Yes,” and cut the word off with a groan as Sherlock’s hand slid up, long fingers curving around John's cock, comfortably firm.
Fuck, John thought, closing his eyes to try and distract himself from the sight of Sherlock’s intent fascination. He’d seen it just hours ago as Sherlock examined the murdered man at Barts, and that memory made it a lot easier for John to distance himself, because he didn’t want this to end too quickly.
And God, he couldn’t let it take the next natural step — not unless he wanted to get out of the shower and fetch the condoms in his bedroom. Stupid, stupid mistake, not leaving some in here. But he didn’t want to leave Sherlock that long, nor did he want to send Sherlock away to get them, so he tugged on Sherlock’s long, wet hair to get his attention and said, “Hands only.”
Sherlock looked up at him with an expression that might have been confusion or disappointment; at the moment John was having all sorts of difficulty sorting out his thoughts. John smiled, thinking ahead to the bedroom, after dinner, and stroked Sherlock’s hair back off his forehead. “For now, at least.”
There it was, the little indrawn breath, the slight darkening of his wide eyes as he seemed to catch up with John’s thoughts. Then his look shifted to something purely analytical as he turned his attention back to what he’d been doing, moving his hand up, fingertips skittering all the way up and over John's foreskin, then back down.
It was like nothing John had ever seen before, this intense regard — this innocence — and it had him absolutely paralyzed, a very willing subject of Sherlock’s study. Sherlock’s hand moved again, long fingers tightening a bit more, drawing another moan from someplace deep in John’s chest. The touch wasn’t confident, though; it was precise and mechanical. Experimental.
And John realized he’d read everything entirely wrong.
He hadn’t exactly been with many virgins — not with his tastes — but he realized that this fascination wasn’t simply because it was their first time together. It was more than that, as if this were new to Sherlock, something he’d never before experienced, except with himself.
“Sherlock...” He had to clear his throat and try again. “Sherlock, have you ever been with a man?”
Suspicion flared in Sherlock’s eyes. The hand on John’s hip tightened as his shoulders went tense, changing the spray of water bouncing off his back, making John shiver under the air currents skating over his damp skin. “Does that matter?”
Sherlock sat back on his heels, shook his head when the water sprayed over his hair and nearly blinded him, and then rose abruptly to his feet. “You’re lying,” he accused sullenly.
Even John hadn’t realized that he was lying, but the reason for that lie made him smile. “Well, yes, but not — not like you’re thinking,” he said, pushing off the wall to get his arms around Sherlock’s body. His skin was searing hot from the shower. John’s cold touch made Sherlock shiver, but he pressed closer as though offering to warm him, rather than drawing away.
Sherlock lifted his hands to curl over John’s shoulders. The left slid over and onto his back, but the right stalled over the scar that seemed to fascinate him. “Then, what is it?” he asked uncertainly, and that tone of voice inflamed John’s desires even more than the full-body touch. He wanted more of that, to see Sherlock’s brilliant, analytical mind stripped bare of its defenses, reduced to broken, raw need at John’s hands. He wanted to rebuild Sherlock with pain and pleasure and ecstasy in ways the other man couldn’t possibly imagine.
“No bad habits to break,” John said lightly, but that was as close to teasing as he could get. He turned his head just a bit so his lips brushed over the base of Sherlock’s throat, and he spoke his next words into that hot, wet skin. “I can teach you to be perfect for me.”
Sherlock shivered again, and only now did John feel the hard warmth of an erection pressing high on his hip. God, what kind of insane self-control did Sherlock have if he’d managed to get this far without any sign of physical arousal until just now? That was just one more provocation, one more incentive for John to learn exactly how to break his self-control.
“Is that what you want me to do?” John asked, letting his hands move down Sherlock’s back, pulling his hips close to press their bodies together.
Sherlock’s body went tense. He threw his head back with a gasp, answering, “Yes, John.”
“Tell me,” John ordered, bringing his left hand around to run his fingers very, very lightly over Sherlock’s hip. “Tell me what you want.”
That got him a baffled look, shattering the fragile mood that had been building between them. “Did you misunderstand my answer?”
Thrown into a sudden tailspin, John shook his head, scrambling. Then he realized he’d fallen into the natural speech patterns of his work, forcing repetition to reinforce his control. Perfectly normal, between a dom and his sub.
Absolute rubbish under any other circumstance. Or if you didn’t know those speech patterns.
“Oh, God,” he whispered, taking a step back, his shoulders hitting the cold tile wall as he stared at this inhumanly beautiful man, his pale skin and gorgeous dark hair slicked over his shoulders, staring at him with eyes that saw everything and yet missed the fact that apparently, they were having two very different conversations.
“John?” Sherlock asked sharply. His eyes narrowed, sweeping down John’s body and back up, not in appreciation but in a search for clues to the change in his demeanor. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
But John’s mind was caught up in the struggle to remember the details of their conversations, their interactions, searching for where he’d missed cues — if he’d missed cues — and how he must have interpreted Sherlock’s behavior through that lens of wishful thinking.
“Sherlock...” He took a deep breath, suddenly very self-aware and even embarrassed to be naked in the shower with this man, though John hadn’t been body-shy even before joining the army. He closed his eyes, but that made it no better, because now Sherlock could look at him without John even knowing it.
“Don’t,” Sherlock whispered, before John could speak. Their eyes met, and John could see something akin to desperation in Sherlock’s expression.
“Don’t?” he asked blankly. There were too many things he could hang onto the end of that word, and while he might have fucked up everything for the last — God, had it been six weeks? — he was done now, even if it killed him.
“Whatever you’re thinking — whatever’s changed — don’t,” Sherlock said, stepping close again and chilling John as he blocked the spray from the shower. He lifted his hands to touch John’s face, sliding his hot, wet fingers over John’s cheeks, just under his eyes. “You’re leaving me. I can see it.”
“No.” John caught his wrists, but didn’t pull his hands away. “You’re — You haven’t — Why, Sherlock?” he asked incoherently. “You’ve never done this before. Submitted, I mean. To anyone. So —”
“John,” he interrupted softly, tugging one hand against John’s strength just enough to lower his fingers, brushing them over John’s lips. “It’s what you want, and I want it, too. But only with you.”
Something tense and sharp unknotted inside John, and he took a deep breath, feeling some of the steadiness return to his mind. It was so obviously, incontrovertibly true, and it was terrifyingly wrong to think about acting on it. Wasn’t it?
Everyone has to start somewhere, whispered the devil on his shoulder. He tried very hard to think of his first time, at Gwen Parker’s house. Her dad had been a PCSO, and she’d nicked his handcuffs weeks earlier, at John’s suggestion. They’d played with them and enjoyed it, but he couldn’t help wondering if she regretted that her first time had involved being handcuffed to her bed. She’d broken up with him soon after.
“No,” he said flatly, hating himself for it. “Not like that — not for your first time.”
“It’s what you want,” Sherlock said, as if that mattered.
Sherlock didn’t seem the type to give up, once he’d made up his mind, and John wasn’t about to get into a war of words with him. So he cheated, releasing Sherlock’s wrists to take hold of his face, pulling him down for a kiss that he hoped showed his desire wasn’t entirely rooted in power games, because it wasn’t. Sherlock was brilliant and fascinating and inhumanly beautiful, maybe not in a conventional sense but in a way that had John entirely captivated.
Sherlock was tense for a moment, ready to pull back and argue, but where words would have failed, the kiss eroded his defensiveness until his hands slid up John’s chest to grip his shoulders uncertainly. “John,” he whispered into the kiss, drawing away to look down at John’s mouth before flicking a glance up, barely meeting his eyes before turning away again.
Gently, John turned him back, brushing the wet hair back away from his face. “We have time, Sherlock. We can do it all — anything you want. No need to rush your first time. Please, Sherlock.”
Their eyes met again, the silence punctuated by the sound of splashing water. Finally Sherlock nodded. “Yes, John.”
Relieved — and, yes, disappointed — John kissed him again, slow and gentle, and tried to think of how to make Sherlock’s first time not just memorable but perfect.
Chapter by Kryptaria
Instead of a summary, here's another quote:
Vanilla sex did little for John. It could be gratifying, of course, but he always felt like something was missing. He knew his kinks, having experimented in one way or another for what felt like most of his life. Apparently, though, this was a new favorite kink for him: being the subject of Sherlock Holmes’ mad intensity.
The best parts of this chapter are entirely the fault of The_Kinky_Pet, whose beta feedback was far better than I could have hoped!
The Green Ladder case: http://www.thescienceofdeduction.co.uk/casefiles/thegreenladder
Sunday, 7 Mar 2010
“Here, look,” Sherlock said, leaning down from the loveseat to set two mostly empty boxes side-by-side on the carpet. With no dining room table, they were eating in the living room, Sherlock on the truly awful loveseat, John in his armchair.
The apartment was pleasantly warm, so after the shower, he’d put on the tracksuit bottoms (absurdly short as they were) that John had left for him and nothing else. He would have felt self-conscious without a shirt, but John seemed very appreciative, judging by the way his eyes kept straying down away from Sherlock’s face. He was similarly dressed — pyjama bottoms, no shirt — and Sherlock had learned early in life that it was only courteous to match the formality one’s clothing to one’s host. Presumably the etiquette was the same for a lack of clothing. Even better, John’s lack left his intriguing scar completely visible.
“Here’s the house. This chopstick” — he set one down, parallel to the boxes — “is the border of the flower bed. There’s a path right next to it, and here” — more carefully, he put a plastic cup of dipping sauce a short distance from the chopstick. “That’s the pond where the body was found.”
John watched, picking the meat out of his kung pao beef. “I’d say the high blood alcohol content means accidental drowning, but then you’d say that’s obvious, stupid, and wrong.”
Sherlock laughed, glancing up to see John’s eyes narrowed with humor. “At least you got that correct,” he teased, turning to rifle through the plastic delivery bag. He found the packet of condiments at the bottom, torn open for the soy sauce and spicy mustard. Lingering at the bottom was a packet of salt, which he ripped open and deliberately spilled on the carpet, watching John.
The only reaction was one raised brown-gold eyebrow. John chewed his food, swallowed, and said, “You can clean that up later.”
“Superstition, John. What do superstitious imbeciles do when they spill salt?”
John’s brows lowered, drawing a crease down his forehead as he gave Sherlock a very familiar ‘you’re mad’ look. “Toss it over a shoulder, I suppose?” he finally ventured.
“Precisely. And the victim’s wife did just that, while I was questioning her. Which implies what?”
“That she’s a superstitious imbecile, I take it?” John asked wryly.
“That’s a given. No, John! That her husband was most likely also afflicted with that nonsense.”
He watched John’s dark blue eyes narrow, and a little stirring of excitement flickered through Sherlock. “Your text — you said something about a green ladder.”
“Think, John. They were superstitious —”
“Wait.” John stared down at the makeshift plan of the murder scene. “Even drunk, would he be stupid enough to... to what?”
Sherlock licked his chopsticks clean and twisted to lean them against the food boxes, the ends resting against the cup representing the pond. “A superstitious man wouldn’t walk under the ladder. He was drunk —”
“And you said it happened at night, so maybe he didn’t see the pond? Didn’t realize how close he was to it?”
Grinning, Sherlock reclaimed his chopsticks. “And when they find the body, the ladder’s gone, returned to the brother’s house.”
“The green ladder. God, how’d you manage to put that together?” John asked admiringly, putting his box down on the carpet, with a napkin underneath.
“I observed, of course.” Smirking, dug through the delivery bag to find the handful of fortune cookies at the bottom. He tossed one to John and claimed one for himself.
“So, did you observe what your fortune will be, then?” John asked, cracking open his cookie.
“There’s a finite set of common fortunes.” Shrugging, Sherlock bit his own open and crunched into the cookie, freeing the fortune slip and tossing it aside. “Love, money, friendship — never anything interesting or surprising.”
With a feral grin, John extracted his own fortune and glanced at it. “That your way of saying you can’t predict it?” he asked before eating half his cookie in a few quick bites.
“It’s random chance. You can’t predict random chance with any measurable degree of confidence or success.”
“Mmm, fair enough,” John agreed. He finished his cookie, the quality of his grin changing in a way that made Sherlock shiver.
Without looking away, John rose from his armchair, stepped carefully through the detritus of their meal, and leaned down toward Sherlock, resting one hand on the arm of the loveseat for balance. A moment later, Sherlock tasted sweet cookie crumbs and the sharper spice of kung pao beef and the rough warmth of John’s lips. Wanting more, he licked his way into John’s mouth. The contrast between the smooth hardness of teeth and the soft, yielding flesh inside John’s lips was fascinating, as were the faint, breathy sounds he was making.
Sherlock’s analysis shattered when John’s hand pressed against his chest, callused fingertips drawing a path down to his nipple. One swipe of John’s finger and the flesh furled tight as if to encourage the pinch that followed, just hard enough to make Sherlock break the kiss on a gasp.
“More?” he offered, his next pinch a bit stronger. Shifting his weight to his knee allowed John to free his other hand, which slipped down to curve over Sherlock’s thigh, teasingly close to the erection he hadn’t had just moments before.
All the willpower in the world couldn’t have forced him to refuse. “Yes,” he said, the word breaking. He caught John’s face between his hands, fingers combing through short hair that had dried in unruly spikes, and pulled him down for another kiss to show how sincere he was. Between kisses, he said, “John, yes,” with a pleading note in his voice.
John’s quick, hard kiss pressed Sherlock back against the loveseat. Then it ended, and John pushed away from the couch and held out his hands to help Sherlock to his feet. “Bedroom.”
The huge bed had been John’s first real indulgence, purchased a week after he’d moved in. The mattress was almost criminally thick and the carved wood four-poster frame was sturdy enough for anything John might want to do, without being an obvious piece of BDSM gear.
He barely gave Sherlock a chance to look around before stealing his attention with another kiss, taking advantage of the distraction to push him toward the bed, though not onto it — not yet. He got his knee between Sherlock’s legs and pressed his hip forward. Despite the six inch difference in height, their bodies fit perfectly, and the push made Sherlock groan and buck his hips forward, seeking more.
John moved his lips to Sherlock’s jaw, feeling a hint of sharpness from stubble that wouldn’t show until tomorrow morning. He wondered if Sherlock would still be there or if he’d be gone in a couple of hours. The thought made John’s gut clench with a hot spike of possessiveness that he didn’t want to explore — not now, when his time could be better spent learning Sherlock’s every desire and need.
Sherlock let out a breathy sigh when John’s lips found the soft skin under his left ear, a sigh that hitched into a gasp when lips gave way to the gentle bite of teeth. A second harder bite, not quite a nip, made Sherlock arch and writhe against John, turning his chin back and to the side, baring his throat. John’s resolve to keep this gentle — to keep it normal — began to break under the siren call of the other man’s masochistic side.
The light, tentative touch of fingertips on his sides made him pause in his exploration of Sherlock’s throat. “Go on, Sherlock. Touch me,” he invited, his voice rougher than he’d anticipated, given that they’d barely even started. “Any way you’d like.”
With a faint hum of satisfaction, Sherlock pressed his hands to the small of John’s back and pulled up, fingertips tracing to either side of his spine, palms mapping his ribs. “John... I know what you like. We can —”
“No,” John interrupted brusquely before catching himself. He brushed a kiss over Sherlock’s lips in silent apology for the sharp tone. “Any other night, but not tonight. Not our first time — your first time.”
Sherlock frowned, not immediately answering, and looked away from John’s face. His gaze tracked automatically to the scar beneath his left collarbone, and he lifted a hand to touch it with the same open interest he’d shown in the shower. With clients, John usually kept the scar covered, and Sarah had been careful to avoid even mentioning it, obviously fearing the chance that she’d trigger some post-traumatic reaction. This was a pleasant change.
“Why not?” Sherlock finally asked, raising his eyes to meet John’s once more. “It’s what you want.”
Good damned question, the wicked little voice in the back of John’s brain observed. But he stuck to his guns, determined not to let Sherlock do something he might regret afterward. “Are you safewording?”
Pale blue eyes blinked down at John in charming confusion. “No.”
For someone who’d never been with another man before, there was a fascinating lack of self-consciousness or sexual awkwardness, and the puzzle of Sherlock’s behavior was enough to keep John interested. He already knew that even vanilla sex with Sherlock would never be anything close to boring.
“Then let me do this,” he said, closing the distance again so that his words ended pressed into Sherlock’s throat.
Sherlock could read the signs of John’s intense focus in his face and body language. He still didn’t understand why John wouldn’t indulge himself in what he obviously liked, but this wasn’t exactly Sherlock’s area of expertise. First times had significance for most people, and though Sherlock had knowingly chosen John for his first, he would let the other man take the lead in this.
Not that he was in any shape to argue. He’d never been a sexual creature, but John apparently deserved the exorbitant fees he charged. Under his hands, Sherlock’s body had awakened to new life. He could feel every inch of his skin like it was too tight, as if something just under the surface were trying to burn its way free. He wanted to push John down onto the bed and crawl all over him and feel more.
And no one — not his sharp-eyed brother, not Lestrade with all his concern for Sherlock, no one — had ever examined him this closely, this intently. It was like staring into a mirror, this new experience of John’s full attention laser-focused on him, as his fingers and eyes and lips and tongue moved over Sherlock’s skin with excruciating slowness, and there was no reason for it to feel as good as it did, because most of the places where John was touching weren’t considered erogenous in the least.
His body thought otherwise, though, and struggling to regain control of his thoughts reminded him of darker times, drug experiments gone wrong. Being trapped in his body, trapped in his mind and unable to focus, was the one thing that terrified him more than anything else.
John, brilliant as he was, must have sensed Sherlock’s mood turn, reading it in his breath or pulse. He murmured soothing nonsense noises and stroked his hands over Sherlock’s skin in broad sweeps, holding Sherlock close as he backed up toward the bed. He sat on the edge and pulled Sherlock down beside him.
“Here, Sherlock,” John said, his voice low and husky. He moved further onto the bed and laid down, lower legs hanging down over the side of the bed. “Your turn. You weren’t going to make me do all the work, were you?” he asked in a teasing sort of tone.
Never one to resist the lure of new data, Sherlock turned and crawled up beside John, focusing on him once more, and that felt... better. He didn’t like touching most people, but he couldn’t resist touching John, as if some brilliant, epic deduction could be teased out from under his skin and read without words, without speech, in the way he reacted. It was complete, unfiltered, with no hint of embarrassment or self-consciousness. It was real and honest, given to Sherlock like a gift he’d never expected.
And it helped, bringing everything back into balance, letting Sherlock filter the world by controlling his own sensory input. He touched first with his eyes, mapping out the course of his touch, before he set fingertips or hands to John’s skin.
He’d done this in the shower, this same exploration, but that had started out as a search for the wounds that had ended John’s military career. Now, Sherlock looked for what made John’s breath hitch, what made his pulse speed up, what made him shift subtly atop the duvet. What made him want Sherlock.
Sherlock touched and kissed and licked and even nipped until he’d covered every inch of John’s chest, traced the muscles in his arms, followed the curves and lines of his shoulders and throat. He locked everything deep in his memory — taste and heat and smell, but most of all, the way John responded.
When Sherlock had touched everywhere he could, everywhere uncovered by clothing, John obligingly lifted his hips and shoved his pyjama bottoms down, kicking them off and dropping them over the edge of the bed. Immediately, Sherlock’s gaze returned to the erection that had first caught his attention in the shower. It was so different from his own, he couldn’t help but touch again, feeling skin like hot silk pulled taut over the contrast of hard tissue below.
He remembered how he’d touched John before, and he knew what he himself liked on those late nights when he couldn’t control his body without resorting to masturbation, and that was enough to start. John’s first softly muttered curse was a reward, encouraging him to further experiment, changing one variable at a time — speed, pressure, direction of motion — before he began to combine them. He shifted the way he was kneeling on the mattress, changing his balance, and freed his other hand to cup John’s testicles, comparing the feeling now to what little he’d learned in the shower.
John’s hand rose to touch his hair, fingers twisting gently in the strands. “That’s... that’s perfect, Sherlock,” he said raggedly. “How the hell do you know?”
The feeling that welled up inside Sherlock rivaled any moment of enlightenment he’d ever achieved. In some ways, it was better, in fact. Criminals were, for the most part, base and stupid creatures. Catching them usually required little in the way of skill; after all, the police had been doing it for years. But this, deciphering the subtle desires of John Watson’s body — this was new. It was a challenge.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he thought back to what John had said in the shower: Hands only, for now, at least. And he thought back to the articles he’d read and the videos he’d watched and the things he’d learned over the last month. It was supposed to be better — far more intense — and though surely he wouldn’t have the same fine control over the sensations John experienced, other factors would compensate.
Vanilla sex did little for John. It could be gratifying, of course, but he always felt like something was missing. He knew his kinks, having experimented in one way or another for what felt like most of his life. Apparently, though, this was a new favorite kink for him: being the subject of Sherlock Holmes’ mad intensity. He hadn’t been pushed this close to the edge so quickly since he and his first serious girlfriend had experimented with handcuffs more than half a lifetime ago.
And that was before Sherlock decided, out of nowhere, to get his mouth involved.
For one moment, John’s whole world came to an absolute standstill, everything disappearing under the hot, wet sensation of Sherlock’s mouth. Soft lips, the scrape of teeth, the flat press of a tongue against the underside of his cock, trapping his glans against the ridges of Sherlock’s palate — it stole John’s ability to even speak, for a moment, before he remembered that one of them had to be the responsible one, and that job always fell to him.
“Sherlock,” he interrupted reluctantly, tugging on his long, soft hair to pull his head away. John bit back a sound of protest as his body insisted his mind was being foolishly stubborn, because Sherlock was willing and fully capable of learning whatever he didn’t already know — and that thought reminded John that this was Sherlock’s first time with another man, which gave him the strength to break the contact between them by shifting his hips away.
Sherlock knelt back up beside John, his gaze utterly baffled, but only for a moment. A mask dropped over his face, hiding his expression, but not before John thought he’d seen a flicker of worry, as if he thought he’d done something wrong.
“You said ‘for now’,” Sherlock said.
Equally baffled, John propped up on his elbows, asking, “Sorry? I said what?”
“You said it in the shower. ‘Hands only, for now, at least.’”
John couldn’t help but laugh, saying, “I don’t know if I should be impressed or insulted that you can remember that so clearly, despite all this.”
Instead of laughing along, though, Sherlock frowned and shifted back, his gaze sliding away from John’s face to focus on a distant point on the far wall. “I remember everything — or I try to. It’s what I am.”
“You’re thinking.” The words came out before John realized just how ridiculous they sounded. “You’re thinking too much,” he corrected.
“It’s what I am,” Sherlock repeated sharply, like the crack of a whip.
John sat up and moved closer; he was grateful that Sherlock didn’t move away, though his body was tense under the hand John set against his chest. “I know. That’s probably why...” John trailed off and laughed, feeling the first traces of a blush warm his face. “That’s probably why I’ve wanted you since Mike introduced us. Not just because you’re so fucking gorgeous. Everything I...”
He trailed off. The mask had slipped. Sherlock was staring at him, baffled all over again, lips parted as though he wanted to speak but had forgotten how.
As gently as he could, John asked, “What? What’s that look for?”
John thought back to what he’d said, and now he was definitely blushing. “You are gorgeous. God, look at you. It’s a crime that you’re not a bloody model or something,” he said, lifting his hand to trace the line of Sherlock’s cheek, the gentler angle of his jaw, the curve of his lower lip. “If you’d just shut up and look pretty, you could make a fortune.”
To his surprise and delight, Sherlock let out a startled laugh that was clearly genuine. It lit up his eyes and brought new life to them, chasing away the tension — the wrong kind of tension — that had been building. “I’ve never —”
“Don’t even try it,” John interrupted, sitting up to silence Sherlock with a kiss. It was brief, a press of lips and swipe of tongue, but it cut off his words all the same. “Don’t tell me no one’s ever called you gorgeous before.”
He shrugged, shoulders tense. His lips pressed tight and he looked away again, defensive and closed-off.
What kind of life had he led if no one had ever complimented him like that? Had anyone even noticed him, or had everyone just been caught up in the overwhelming, intimidating force of his personality? Did anyone even look to see what was underneath? Not just beauty, but the caring and consideration he’d shown, always trying to put John’s desires before his own...
And that was when John realized that this wasn’t Sherlock’s first experience with a man, or his first almost-experience with BDSM, but his first experience with anyone. The exploration, the analysis, the imitation of John’s touches... All the subtle little clues slotted into place, and at that, even the devil on John’s shoulder shut its mouth and got onboard with the concept of giving Sherlock a memorable, normal first time.
“You think about everything you do, don’t you?” he asked softly.
Before Sherlock could elaborate, John said, “That’s the problem, then. With sex, your body has to go first.”
Sherlock let out a snort. “That’s not how I work.”
“No, but which of us is the expert here?”
That caught Sherlock by surprise, judging by the way he blinked, opened his mouth, and then closed it again without saying a word.
“If you want me to stop, just say so, okay? You don’t need a safeword — not for this.”
“I don’t —”
John felt a rush of affection at how hopeless Sherlock was. He silenced the argument with another kiss, easing Sherlock off his knees and onto his back. “And stop thinking.”
As if I could ever stop, Sherlock thought a bit derisively, disregarding the way John tugged at the waistband of his borrowed tracksuit bottoms, which may have been a tactical mistake. The first press of John’s palm rekindled the fires that had banked under the tide of apprehension. Sherlock’s instinct was to fight the growing haze in his mind, but that wasn’t what John wanted. And if this went badly, John might send him away again, this time for good.
It didn’t matter if John was Moriarty; it didn’t even matter if this turned from sex to something darker, more violent. To walk away now would mean he’d never know, and that was unacceptable. So he focused not on the turmoil in his mind but on his body, perhaps for the first time in his life experiencing physical sensations without attempting to analyze and predict what would come next.
He shivered, his skin tingling with new life under John’s touch. It was almost too much, but not quite; John was... was petting him, hands moving in long, gentle strokes over his skin, paying no particular attention to any one part of Sherlock’s body. It was soothing, relaxing, and while the building need was still there, it wasn’t overwhelming.
“That’s...” His mind hung up on an effort to find the right word, but he didn’t have the vocabulary for this. “That’s good,” he finally said, though ‘good’ was terribly inadequate. “Do that more.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” John answered at once, but with a poorly hidden smile. His voice was full of laughter, his dark blue eyes alight. “But I do want to know what you like. How about this?”
He shifted down just enough to brush a kiss over Sherlock’s shoulder, drawing a thoughtful, pleased sound from somewhere deep in Sherlock’s chest. With a soft laugh, John set a line of kisses into the hollow below his collarbone, warming Sherlock’s skin with his breath. Sherlock felt a tremor of apprehension — anticipation — as he remembered his body’s overwhelming response to the pinch on his nipple.
And there it was again, making him gasp and arch up as John’s tongue laved the tight flesh with slow swipes. His thoughts had no coherence — no words or analysis to give him a point of reference for what he was experiencing. John’s lips pressed into his nipple, followed by his teeth biting just sharply enough that Sherlock’s gasp turned into a moan, a sound he’d never imagined would come from his own lips.
John’s laugh seemed to shiver over his chest as he released the bite. “I could do this to you for hours,” he threatened, grinning up at Sherlock, who couldn’t help but stare. Hours? He’d never survive. Already he was addicted.
His hands found John’s hair, fingers trying to clench in the too-short strands. “John.”
“Another time. Today, I’ll be nice,” John said, and proved himself a liar by biting gently at Sherlock’s other nipple. Sherlock was still struggling to find his equilibrium when the bite ended. He finally opened his eyes to see John looking down at him. Smiling.
He almost asked what was next, but then John said, “Move up so you’re comfortable,” and got Sherlock to lie down properly on the bed instead of across it. The mattress was new and surprisingly firm; John’s shoulder wound probably didn’t hurt him anymore or he would’ve chosen a softer mattress or one with foam padding.
The sound of tearing plastic made him look over in time to see John discard a small, square wrapper on the nightstand. Sherlock’s pulse jumped; in his experience, condom wrappers were clues, signs that the police often missed, telling Sherlock what had been going on. He’d never — He hadn’t thought —
Sherlock bit his lip to keep from groaning aloud as John took firm hold of him and rolled the condom down. He lost himself in the new sensation. Not until the condom was in place did he remember his research, which left him confused all over again. Wasn’t John the dominant one here? Didn’t that mean he should be wearing the condom? Sherlock decided to ask, just as soon as he could catch his breath and remember how to speak.
Which wasn’t going to be any time soon, because oh fucking hell, that was John’s mouth, and ‘good’ was definitely not an adequate way to describe this. It was perfect. Beyond incredible. He stared down and watched as John moved to kneel between Sherlock’s legs, never ceasing the subtle motion of his head and lips and tongue.
Then he looked at Sherlock, his dark blue eyes nearly black from dilated pupils, and lowered his head more than was possible. It couldn’t be his mouth anymore, but his throat — and his breathing — How was he doing this?
And Sherlock would stop him, because it wasn’t right that John was doing this. It was supposed to be the other way around, though he had absolutely no idea how he could possibly do this for John. This felt too good, and he selfishly didn’t want John to stop, but he had to try. He meant to keep John for himself, and that meant he had to make John feel this good.
Before Sherlock could figure out how to stop him, though, John’s hands were on him, stroking up the insides of his thighs, dipping down with light touches over his balls before moving lower, soft and teasing. Then John did something, just a bit of pressure with his fingers, and his head moved more sharply, and Sherlock’s world went white.
Watching Sherlock come apart was a gift John had never expected, his reactions were so powerful and unguarded. God, he was so beautiful that John couldn’t keep from staring as he gently eased Sherlock through the aftershocks. It had seemed, in fact, as if the orgasm had caught him off-guard. What else had he been expecting? Or hadn’t he ever?
No. He must have. Even Sherlock Holmes had been a teenager once, and he certainly didn’t suffer from any condition stopping him now.
Feeling proud — maybe even a little smug — John removed the condom, tied it off, and tossed it in the direction of the stack of cardboard boxes that served as a temporary nightstand. Sherlock had his eyes closed and was lying still, but he was breathing too hard, too regularly, to have fallen asleep.
The bed was still neatly made, the duvet barely rumpled. John tugged at it, laying down beside Sherlock and folding the duvet over them both. He rolled onto his side to study Sherlock’s profile, wishing he knew what the other man was thinking.
As if aware of John’s scrutiny, Sherlock opened his eyes and turned to face him. “John, I should have... That wasn’t supposed to —”
He fell silent, uncertain, but only for a moment. Determination flickered across his face as he twisted onto his side. “I should at least do the same for you.”
“The only thing you should do is whatever you want to do, at least for tonight,” John corrected, though more than a little warily. The last thing he wanted to do was to give Sherlock carte blanche in everything. He still hadn’t forgotten that his day had started with too little sleep, a date that he still felt guilty for standing up, and the mystery of a dead man — a mystery solved with a mop and ink and a very messy corpse.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, and he turned the responsibility back on John, asking, “What do you want?”
Twelve hours’ rest, a good breakfast, and then you in my dungeon, John thought, and felt his lips curl up in a smile.
He drew breath to speak, but it hitched as Sherlock’s hand slid down to his cock. He was still hard — he’d been too caught in Sherlock’s pleasure to worry about himself, but that was nothing new, and John had learned early on that an orgasm was only a small part of what sex was about.
Not that he was going to argue now, so he answered, “I want you to touch me.”
Sherlock made a satisfied sound and shifted, sliding one leg over John’s, followed by the other, until he was crouched between John’s shins. The duvet was still draped over his back, enclosing them in a cloud of warmth. Sherlock was smirking now, and the image of a very satisfied cat about to pounce came to John’s mind.
“Where are they?” Sherlock asked, looking around.
“The condoms. Why don’t you have proper nightstands?”
John rolled his eyes and said, “First off, you’re not doing anything that requires a condom. Second, we can discuss furniture later. Tomorrow, in fact.”
Sherlock went still, looking up at John in surprise. “Tomorrow?”
Shit. He hadn’t asked if Sherlock wanted to stay over. John scrambled to cover, saying, “Or sometime —”
“You want me to stay.” He sounded relieved, as if he’d actually thought John would send him away.
“Of course I do.”
Sherlock smiled. “All right.”
Thank God, John thought, returning the smile as he replied, “You said it earlier: I won’t be rid of you that easily.”
If it was important, Sherlock remembered. He could perfectly recall everything he’d done earlier, and though retracing his steps was usually tedious and redundant, this time it was fascinating, because John’s reactions were more intense, perhaps through a combination of elapsed time and what he’d done for Sherlock.
What had happened earlier in the shower made sense now. Of course John would want to a condom if Sherlock used his mouth; John had given him the same courtesy. But he was suddenly glad that John wanted to keep this just to his hands. He could learn so much more by touching bare skin, feeling his pulse and every twitch of movement.
John let him experiment for just a minute before he moved, reaching to the nightstand. He knocked something over, making Sherlock look away from his task in time to see John toss a small, clear plastic bottle in his direction. “Use that. It’ll help.”
Lubricant. A little surprised, Sherlock picked up the bottle and poured some of the cool, slippery liquid into his palm. He’d expected this for penetrative sex — it was absolutely essential, according to all of his research — but not for this. At home, if matters got bad enough, he’d use hand lotion. He’d have to remember this.
The lubricant did more than just help. It changed the sensation, sending tingles up his hand, and apparently it did even more for John, judging by how he writhed before he settled down, legs spread slightly. His left hand was behind his head, his right down at his side, almost beckoning to Sherlock.
He accepted, sliding up the bed until John’s arm was around his shoulders. He found that everything was easier if he curled up against John’s right side, using his right hand at almost the same angle he would for himself. And it placed his head perfectly to allow him to taste John’s skin, running his tongue over his ribs, through faint hair, and over a nipple, making John moan. The sound was intoxicating, encouraging Sherlock to lick again, timing it with the motion of his hand — and then again and again, until John’s hand came up, fisting in his hair.
“God, you’re killing me,” John said roughly, tugging Sherlock up for a kiss, hips pushing against Sherlock’s hand, which had stopped moving.
Fascinated, Sherlock turned to watch, though John’s hand never left his hair. He hadn’t expected instruction, but he didn’t resent it; it was John’s body, and he knew best. Sherlock wanted this to be as close to perfect as possible for him. One day, he decided that he’d know everything, and wouldn’t need John’s instructions.
And that thought made him remember John’s words earlier, in the shower. He turned back to say, “Tell me, John. What should I do? I want to be perfect for you.”
“Faster. A little tighter,” John directed.
John’s answer was another incoherent moan. His hand relaxed, stroking down the back of Sherlock’s neck and over his spine. “Sherlock.”
The sound of his name spoken like that made him shiver for no logical reason at all. “Say it again. Say my name. Please,” he urged, all the while moving his hand.
“Sherlock,” John breathed. “Oh, fuck — harder, Sherlock. Tighter — there — fuck, Sherlock,” he gasped out.
Sherlock watched, transfixed by the sharp pulsing against his fist, watching the semen stripe across John’s belly and chest. Every muscle in John’s body went tight before he relaxed, exhaling long and slow. Sherlock turned back in time for John’s eyes to open, dark and somehow warm. Affection, Sherlock identified, pleased.
“You liked it,” John said, grinning now. He tugged Sherlock up against his side, apparently in no rush to clean up the mess. Not quite knowing what to do with his own hand, now somewhat sticky, Sherlock let his hand rest on John’s stomach. They were both a mess anyway, though he’d wait for John to make the suggestion to return to the shower.
“I like pleasing you.” It seemed appropriate to say, the type of thing John would expect. That it was also true caught Sherlock somewhat by surprise.
“I meant me saying your name.”
It took Sherlock a moment for his brain to process that. “I shouldn’t have asked. I’m sorry I—”
“Sherlock.” This time, the name didn’t make him shiver, but it felt good somewhere inside, as if there was some new place deep in his chest, warm and content, that had no physiological correspondence. “I liked it, too.”
“But I shouldn’t have asked. You’re the dominant —”
“God. Sherlock, leave it,” John scolded, though he was laughing, which made the scolding wholly ineffectual. “We can discuss that all you like, another time.”
Sherlock wanted to protest, but he let it drop. His mind had enough to process without pushing for even more information.
After a minute passed in silence, John kissed him and moved out from under the duvet. “Stay,” he said, and circled the foot of the bed, disappearing through the bathroom door. The sink ran for a short while before the light shining under the door went out, as did the light in the living room.
A moment later, John came back in from the living room, closing the door, and sat down on the side of the bed. He was carrying a towel, which proved to be damp and warm. He used it to clean Sherlock’s hand, pressing soft kisses to his fingers.
“You don’t want to shower?” Sherlock asked.
“It can wait till morning.” John tossed the towel into the laundry basket in the corner of the room, saying, “Up. Let’s get under the blanket. The heat’s programmed to turn down after eleven.”
Obediently, Sherlock moved, allowing John to arrange the sheets and blankets. With the rest of the apartment dark and the blackout shades drawn, the only illumination came from the small reading lamp balanced atop the boxes beside the bed. Sherlock stared at John, memorizing the way light cast shadows on his face and highlighted the touches of gold in his hair.
Considering John’s military career, Sherlock said, “You should be used to sleeping where it’s warm.”
After turning off the light, John got under the blankets and worked one arm under Sherlock’s pillow, pulling him over to press against his side. It was natural for Sherlock’s leg to cross John’s, and his hand rested on his collarbone, fingers tracing over the ridges of scar tissue.
“It can get bloody freezing at night in the desert, but that’s one thing I missed about England: cold winter nights when you could burrow under blankets to get warm. That’s why I like the cold.”
“That makes no sense. If you want to be warm, just turn the heat up.”
John laughed softly and hugged Sherlock close. “You’re a little mad, you know, but that’s all right. I think I like that about you.”
Through his whole life, ‘mad’ was one of the kinder things he’d been called. This time, though, he didn’t mind. Not in the least. Not from John. His John.
Chapter by Kryptaria
The first 'morning after' is awkward for anyone. But while Sherlock and John both separately come to certain happy conclusions about their relationship, someone else feels the need to get involved, having come to some very unhappy conclusions of his own.
This was a tough one to write! Special thanks for The_Kinky_Pet for endless patience, wording tweaks, and diligent attention to some very tough scenes.
There's stormy weather ahead, but it's all part of the ride. Enjoy!
Monday, 8 March 2010
Usually, a full night’s sleep left Sherlock feeling groggy and disoriented, but this morning, he was wide awake. He felt energized and alive in a way that he’d never experienced, outside a case. Was this how the rest of the world felt? He’d always disdained the obsession with relationships and sex as distracting trivia, but after last night — and this morning — such things might well be worth the effort.
The text had come after he and John had showered together — a long, lazy opportunity for Sherlock to study John’s body once more. John had offered to cook breakfast, but Lestrade’s team had found the kill site for yesterday’s victim, and Sherlock needed to see it before they mucked up all the evidence.
Based on what Sherlock knew about relationships, he’d expected an argument, as if because they’d spent the night together John had first claim to Sherlock’s time. But John hadn’t taken offense or protested. He’d just kissed Sherlock goodbye and said, “Text me when you’ve finished, so I know you haven’t done anything stupid, like chasing after the killers.”
In the taxi on the way home, he decided that John had to be Moriarty. Only the clever, brilliant mind behind the suicide puzzle could make him feel like this, always doing the unexpected. Everything about the previous night had been unexpected — especially the sex. Just thinking about it caused a very uncomfortable reaction. No matter how he tried to distract himself, his mind kept turning back to John, trying to imprint into his memory every last detail of the last twenty-four hours.
Was this feeling the reason Anderson cheated on his wife with Donovan? The thought was horrifying, but only because it was Anderson and Donovan. Thinking of them separate and clothed was enough to make him cringe; any more than that would be traumatic.
At home, he let himself in, calling a greeting to Mrs. Hudson as he passed her door, taking the stairs two at a time. He was so caught up in the memory of John that he nearly missed the signs, freezing only when he reached his door and heard the distinctive sound of footsteps.
Just like that, the elation was gone, replaced by irritation. Why was he here, now, ruining this otherwise perfect morning? Thankfully, the knowledge of what awaited him in his flat was more than enough to quell his body’s reaction to memories of John. The last thing he wanted was for Mycroft to know what he’d been doing.
He threw open the door and walked in, suddenly aware that he was wearing yesterday’s suit, stained with the results of the autopsy, and his hair was still damp from his shower.
“Mycroft.” He sneered at his brother and hung his coat on the rack by the door, draping his scarf over the top hook. “Come to thank me for taking care of your problem in Paris?”
“Yes, perfectly adequate, as I expected,” Mycroft drawled, not rising from where he was enthroned on Sherlock’s preferred armchair. His suit was perfect, the waistcoat fitted but not tight; he was down two pounds, which meant he was probably in a bad mood from dieting. Good.
“Then get out,” Sherlock said, considering leaving the room to make coffee. But no, if he did that, Mycroft would expect him to play host and make him some, and that would give him the excuse to chat through the interminable ten or fifteen minutes it would take to actually drink it.
Naturally, Mycroft didn’t move, except to fix his gaze on Sherlock, scanning over him from head to toe. “Out all night, were you?”
“Concerned for me?” Sherlock shot back, crossing to the mantle instead. He rested a hand fondly on the skull, thinking he should probably talk to it later and explain what had happened last night and that morning. Talking to the skull always helped him think things through.
“Always.” It was a lie, but a common one. Mycroft was better at faking emotions, but that was all. Sherlock was useful to him; he was an asset, a tool Mycroft could wield to help build his little empire. The moment he ceased to be useful, Mycroft would drop out of his life and leave Sherlock without access to the trust fund that he controlled. Sherlock would have to work. For money.
“What do you want, Mycroft?” Sherlock demanded. “You have no right to bother me this soon. I did what you wanted — now leave me alone.”
“Why?” Mycroft asked smoothly. “What could possibly be so urgent?”
Sherlock’s only thought was that a shower would give him an excuse to go where even Mycroft wouldn’t follow, though he was strangely reluctant. Scent was a powerful memory trigger. With every breath, it was as if he could feel John’s presence beside him.
The memory distracted him, something he couldn’t afford. He gave Mycroft a vicious, icy sneer, wondering what Mycroft had read in that unguarded moment. His breath quickened as he realized Mycroft could probably smell John’s soap on his skin. There might well be fine dark blond hairs on his jacket, lingering traces that to their eyes were like neon signs, hieroglyphic records of everything Sherlock didn’t want Mycroft to know.
Damn him. He probably did know, if he’d been mucking with the CCTV cameras that infested London like a plague.
Sherlock turned away, saying, “I have a meeting. I need to shower, and I refuse to be late on your account. Kindly show yourself out. Use the window, in fact. It’s faster.”
There was no answer except the creak of the chair as Mycroft rose. Victory, Sherlock thought as he went into the bedroom to lay out a clean suit. He toed off his shoes and set them aside to be polished later.
He had no desire to encourage a lingering farewell, so he went from the bedroom to the bathroom and closed the door with a firm slam, though not before he caught sight of Mycroft standing by his coat, examining it.
Less than an hour ago, John had wound the scarf around Sherlock’s throat before embracing him affectionately. The coat probably an abundance of trace evidence, which meant Sherlock could expect another lecture about distractions taking him away from the ‘real’ work, as Mycroft called his irritatingly mundane tasks for the government.
Damn him for ruining an otherwise perfect morning.
With other people, the first morning after was often awkward, full of excuses, the search for discarded clothing, offers of coffee that were almost always refused, and promises that might or might not be kept. Not with Sherlock, of course.
They’d awakened in a tangle of limbs, bound to one another by the sheets that had become completely disarrayed. John’s eyes had opened first, to the delightful sensation of Sherlock sleepily groping around, trying to orient himself in the darkness. The other man had gone still as his hands encountered John’s body, giving John a moment of concern that had quickly dissolved into bliss as Sherlock swarmed over him, whispering his name between hungry kisses that had neither of them caring about morning breath.
Even though Sherlock had left abruptly, John was confident that there would be another… well, ‘date’ wasn’t quite the correct word, given that it had begun with an autopsy, but it would suit for now. Perhaps he could arrange something a little more traditional for next time. Irene seemed to know every nice restaurant in London; he’d ask her advice.
John’s coffee and a solitary breakfast was punctuated with long pauses to fix everything about Sherlock in his memory. Then he took the time to straighten up the flat, until the salt granules in the carpet reminded him that he needed to buy a hoover. A couple of nightstands probably wouldn’t hurt, either; cardboard boxes wouldn’t impress anyone. He was making a comfortable living, and he wasn’t a university student anymore. Time to start living as a civilian adult.
He dressed in comfortable, worn jeans and a faded jumper left over from his days before designer boutiques. When he sat on the edge of the bed to put on his trainers, he couldn’t help but grin all over again at the sight of the rumpled sheets. It was silly, really, but he felt like a teenager —
A sound made him turn and freeze, stilling even his breathing for a moment. Had it been his front door? The sounds of the flat were still just unfamiliar enough that he couldn’t quite tell if noises were coming from his flat or his neighbors’. It could be Sherlock coming back for some reason, choosing to pick the lock rather than knocking; that seemed to be his style.
Or it could be something else entirely. It was late enough in the morning that most of the building’s residents would be at work, leaving their flats unprotected.
Then he heard the faint crinkle of plastic from the living room, as if someone had brushed up against the trash bag he’d set by the door to take downstairs.
He pushed his left foot into his other shoe, not bothering with the laces, and rose from the mattress as quietly as he could. The shift of the duvet nearly toppled the cane leaning against the bed. He caught it and set it on the duvet before he reached toward the mattress holster near the headboard.
He drew the SIG, rose, and crossed right toward the window, his steps silent and smooth. The bedroom was fairly dark, even with the living room door open. He kept his eyes fixed on the doorway as he parted the drapes. The bedroom window led to the fire escape. Whatever the intruders wanted, they could have. He’d proven his courage in war; he wasn’t about to die to stop a gang from tossing his flat.
The flat was new; he was the first resident. The window latch was stiff. When he’d moved in, he deliberately hadn’t oiled the latch, wanting it to act as a sort of alarm in case anyone tried to get in that way. It worked against him now; despite moving slowly and carefully, the click of the window latch was loud enough to be heard through the whole flat.
He gave up stealth for speed and shoved at the window one-handed, never looking away from the bedroom door. The moment he saw a silhouette, he raised the SIG, not flinching when the person in the doorway reached in and flipped the light switch as if he knew where it was.
The silhouette resolved itself into a man — white, tall, wearing a suit, carrying a silenced automatic — and John realized he wasn’t dealing with thugs at all. At least, not ones who wanted to sell his possessions for drugs.
For a moment, they both held perfectly, professionally still.
Then the bathroom door opened, off to John’s left, and a second man stepped in. “Put the weapon down, Captain Watson.”
John turned his head just enough to confirm that he, too, was armed. He could kill the first, but the second would be free to fire before John could get the SIG aimed anywhere near him.
Slowly, he lowered the SIG and set it on the carpet at his feet.
This was London, not the battlefield. He was a survivor. He’d wait and find his opportunity later.
A little voice in the back of John’s head whispered, This can’t be happening, but it all too obviously was. They’d cuffed his hands behind his back and led him from his flat at gunpoint. They brought him right to the service elevator and out to the back alley, where he’d been bundled into the boot of a car.
He had no idea who had kidnapped him or why. He wasn’t worth any sort of ransom. Irene might mourn him, but she wouldn’t pay for his return – at least not enough to make this worth the effort. A bleak corner of his mind wondered if Sherlock would be more interested in him once he was proclaimed missing or found dead; he’d be a mystery, then, something to be studied and solved.
Thinking like that wouldn’t help him survive, though. He concentrated on breathing, trying to calm himself so he could plan his escape. He’d been in worse situations before and paid the price in blood. This time would end differently. He’d find a way.
His hands were behind his back, palms facing out, trapped in solid cuffs that were ironically identical to Sherlock’s Hiatt police-issue cuffs. They were snug and not double-locked, which meant he had to be careful or he’d risk damage from over-tightening. Still, he could move a bit, enough to try pulling his wrists down below his feet to get his hands in front of himself. After a few awkward attempts, all he managed to do was tighten the left cuff dangerously.
Right, then. That wasn’t his way out.
The car went around a sharp turn, suspension bouncing, throwing him from side to side. The ache in his left shoulder turned into a hot burn, but he didn’t have room to twist onto his right side. How long had they been driving? Ten, twenty minutes? Where were they taking him?
He tried to get comfortable, but there was no chance of that. Finally he stopped struggling, thinking to conserve his strength, and instead took stock of his assets. Jeans, jumper, belt, boots, wallet.
It was in his back pocket, because he hadn’t bothered to get a belt holster for it yet. He scrabbled for it, feeling with his fingertips, and managed to push the phone up. He couldn’t let it fall — he’d never find it again in the dark confines of the boot. He barely managed to catch hold of it with his fingertips.
He’d had the phone for almost four months now and he’d texted Sherlock nearly every day for the last six weeks.
Closing his eyes, he concentrated, visualizing the screen. A sharp turn threatened to jar the phone loose of his one-handed grasp, but he couldn’t let that happen. The car bounced, suspension creaking, and slowed.
Hoping they weren’t stopping yet, he tapped the screen with his left thumb, struggling against the unnatural twist of his wrist. Quickly, he launched what he hoped was his text messaging program and slid open the keyboard, praying he had enough time to send for help.
John could hear muffled voices outside the car. He shoved the phone deep into his back pocket, hoping that Sherlock would know better than to call him back.
The boot creaked open. Two men — not the ones who’d been in the flat —hauled John out, dumping him onto the concrete floor of a warehouse. He didn’t have time to look around. The men pulled him to his feet and dragged him stumbling around a corner, into a hallway lit by ambient light coming through open doorways on the right. They turned him left into a windowless room, shoving him forward as they released his arms.
As he got his balance, one of the men moved up to his right. At the familiar, cold press of a gun against his cheek, John froze, heart pounding wildly. He was scared — anyone would be — but he actually knew how to defend against this. If he could do something about the bloody cuffs, he could fight.
But someone else — the other guard — was behind John, taking care of the cuffs for him. A hand wound around his left wrist. He felt gentle pressure against the cuff, heard the scratch of the a key being worked into the lock. He heard the metallic click of the mechanism being unlocked from his right. Not his strong hand, but he could work with it.
The swing arm fell free of the ratcheting teeth, and suddenly John was grateful to Sherlock for leaving his cuffs at John’s bedsit. He’d played with them more than once. He could predict the movement perfectly.
The instant the swing arm was clear of the last ratchet, before the cuff was visibly open, he moved, twisting into the gunman’s arm, bringing his right arm up to push the gun away. The man behind him clenched at John’s wrist, but with a sharp jerk, John managed to free his left hand. The momentum sent him into the gunman’s body, deflecting the muzzle to the side. He kept moving, his next step putting him to the gunman’s side, taking him out of reach of the other man.
Pushing the gunman’s arm down with his right hand, he brought his left up, ignoring the way his shoulders burned. The handcuff, still trapped around his left wrist, served as a weapon. He struck at the gunman’s head, knowing even a glancing blow would make him flinch, and grappled for his wrist. If he could get the gun, he could stop this.
The second man hadn’t engaged, which was bad. John glanced up and saw his gun was out now, though he couldn’t aim without risking his partner. A soldier wouldn’t take that chance; a mercenary might. He did, backing far enough away that John would be hard-pressed to close the distance between them.
He’d caught the gunman by surprise, but the man had been trained. He moved, letting John pull at his wrist, using the momentum to drive his elbow into John’s gut. Startled, John’s grip on the man’s arm slipped just enough that he pulled free.
The gunman swung his arm around. John ducked too late; the muzzle hit his cheekbone hard enough to bruise. Grunting at the impact, he punched right-handed, aiming low on the gunman’s ribs. He hoped to break a short rib or drive the breath from his lungs, but the man was still turning away, and the punch barely brushed his suit jacket.
The man was fast. The turn became a kick, aimed right at the side of John’s right knee, sending him staggering. That gave the gunman the time to back away, out of reach.
“Stop!” the other man barked. He was off to the side now, with a clear line-of-sight to John.
For a second, he debated fighting on, but his chances of getting at either gun had dropped dramatically.
Slowly, he raised his hands, grimacing at the pull of the tight cuff on his left wrist.
He’d lost. He hadn’t managed to free himself. All he had managed, in fact, was to spectacularly upset his captors and get hurt in the process.
Brilliant fucking plan, Watson.
“What a curious creature you are, Captain.”
Even if John hadn’t been handcuffed to a sturdy metal chair, aching from his injuries, he would have hated the man speaking behind him. He had the upper-crust accent learned from nannies, governesses, and public school. It was very similar to Sherlock’s, only this man’s voice had an oily sort of feel, reminding him of a salesman or politician. John would have distrusted him if they’d met at a pub, to say nothing of these circumstances.
He tried to look back over his shoulder, but someone hit the back of his head in warning. The speaker or one of the guards?
“Top of the class medical doctor with a bright future who then takes an unexpected turn to service. Promising military career cut short by an incident in Afghanistan. To think what an asset you could have been, only to fall so far. What a shame.”
The military had prepared John for capture and interrogation, but that had been by enemy combatants and hostile forces — not by some posh git trying to sound like a disappointed parent. He remained silent, hoping the man would reveal what was going on.
Seconds dripped by, glacially slow, before the bastard spoke again: “Tell me, Captain — That is what you have your clients call you, isn’t it?”
John couldn’t quite hide a twitch of surprise at that. So far, he’d tried not to fixate on the identity of his captors because that could lead to miscalculations; better to have an open mind. But he’d vaguely assumed it had something to do with his military service, because of the precision of the whole operation. What was this? A client’s jealous husband or boyfriend?
“Mmm.” The sound was full of distaste. John could practically hear the curled lip and disapproving scowl. “Doctor, then. I wouldn’t want you to be confused as to your role here, Dr. Watson.”
Fear could be paralyzing or galvanizing, and John had never been one to surrender easily to terror. “And what role is that?” he asked mildly, not out of deference but because that was how he expressed his anger — with tighter and tighter self-control.
“Nothing, Dr. Watson. Your role is precisely nothing, at least with regards to Sherlock Holmes.”
He jerked again, startled, and the handcuffs rattling against the chair. Sherlock’s ex-boyfriend? was his first thought, but he rejected it at once. While he hadn’t asked outright, he was fairly certain that Sherlock had never been in an adult relationship. Maybe this man had tried, only to have Sherlock reject him, and this was his revenge.
“Your sister,” the man continued smoothly. “Harriet Watson. Terrible, isn’t it, having an addict in the family? You’d do anything to save her, but you can’t save her from herself, so eventually, you need to look away, to save yourself the heartbreak of watching her decline. Very nasty email you sent her: ‘You’re my sister and I love you, Harry, but I won’t watch you kill yourself by inches.’ You do seem to like that turn of phrase, don’t you?”
John remained silent, willing the muscles of his shoulders to relax. He couldn’t afford to show any sign of fear to this madman behind him. Rabid animals were that much more dangerous once you showed fear, weren’t they?
God, who was he? How the hell did he know this much about John? He’d read John’s email. Texts. Was this about him? If only he could see the man’s face, he might be able to get an idea, to pick up on what he was thinking – what he wanted from John.
Someone like this — powerful, commanding of a force of mercenaries or soldiers — would have no qualms about ordering John killed without the need for this conversation. Without the need for implicit threats. It didn’t feel like he was trying to have a bit of sadistic fun before ending John’s life. It felt more as though he were trying to make a point.
That meant that John would probably get out of this. He’d survive. He just had to find the key to ending this quickly.
“You have a niece, don’t you, Dr. Watson? In vitro fertilization. Such a shame, that messy divorce. It must be reassuring that Clara’s already contacted you to promise that you won’t be locked out of that little girl’s life. But really, is that wise? Allowing a sexual deviant anywhere near a child?”
The insinuation — the accusation — made him forget his plan to stay silent. “You fucking bastard,” he hissed coldly. “You don’t —” This time, the blow to the back of his head was harder, sharper, spiking pain through his skull, starbursts exploding in his vision.
“Language, Dr. Watson,” the posh arsehole scolded as one of the guards moved forward into John’s peripheral vision, gun held in one hand, ready to strike again or shoot as ordered. “I realize this is a distasteful subject, but there’s no need to resort to such language. We’re all gentlemen here.” After a moment, he added, “Well, some of us are.”
Concussion, John thought, latching onto the pain to distract himself and help control the anger that was threatening to drag him under again. He shifted his weight and focused on the far wall until he could pick out the individual lines of concrete bricks. No impairment to his vision or nervous system, clear thoughts. The concussion was mild, nothing to worry about for the moment.
“This must be disorienting for you, Doctor. Customarily, I believe someone else would be wearing the handcuffs.” He must have moved closer, because when he spoke again, silky soft, his voice was right at John’s ear: “Not very pleasant, is it, being on this side of things?”
Surprised, John jerked away from the quiet voice and took a deep breath, telling his heart to stop pounding quite so fast.
“What do you want?” he finally asked, his voice commendably steady.
Clucking his tongue in disappointment, the man moved away and asked, “Not very clever, are you? How did you manage to lure him in?”
‘Him’. They were back to Sherlock. John racked his brain, but Sherlock hadn’t mentioned anyone — no friends, no exes. Well, there was that Detective Inspector, but he seemed the absolute opposite of this man. He’d been friendly, in fact, supportive of John’s relationship with Sherlock.
Apparently, John wasn’t meant to answer, because the bastard continued, his tone turning disappointed, “You still don’t understand. Really, Dr. Watson. I’m shocked that he even noticed someone like you.”
“Why don’t you fill me in, then?”
“Your sister’s already had a few run-ins with the police, hasn’t she? Alcohol is such a terrible influence, reducing one’s inhibitions... Is that how you did it, doctor?”
He heard a footstep behind him, and when the man spoke, he was leaning over John’s shoulder once more, speaking softly. Ominously. “I know what you like, Dr. Watson. I know what you do to your clients. Your partners.”
“That’s not your concern. Everything I do is consensual,” he insisted. He started to turn again, to see the man who was confronting him, but the gunman to the side stepped forward, a clear threat.
“Ah, yes,” he said, jumping on the word as if he’d been waiting for the opening. “What is it your type says? ‘Safe, sane, consensual’? In civilized society, that implies a level of awareness. Or have you not heard the term ‘informed consent’?”
“What of it?” John demanded, burying his growing fear in what he hoped came out as quiet confidence.
“For all that Sherlock Holmes is a genius, he is curiously naive about many things. He is not capable of giving his ‘informed consent’ to your” — he paused as though mulling over his choice of wording — “lifestyle.”
That made it seem less about jealousy and more about protectiveness.
“I’ve done nothing wrong — not with Sherlock or anyone else,” John insisted, trying to hide his growing apprehension.
“‘Wrong’ is a matter of perspective,” the man dismissed without hesitation. “The evidence speaks for itself, doctor.”
“What the hell are you saying?” John demanded, not quite as strongly as he would have liked. It was like dealing with Sherlock all over again, only this time, it was some twisted nightmare — as if they were having two very different conversations.
“I’ve known Sherlock Holmes far longer than you can imagine. It was obvious to me — the state of his clothes, the evasion, the refusal to meet my eyes, the rush to shower even though he’d clearly had one not an hour before. Did you really think no one would notice what you’d done to him?”
“I didn’t do anything to him!”
The sharp, derisive laugh cut through the room like a knife. “Oh, but you must have. You see, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t want sex, Dr. Watson. He never has. The only way he could want sex is if you managed to alter his brain chemistry to overcome his natural revulsion.”
“You’re mad.” It slipped out before John could stop himself, and the gunman stepped forward, though he eased back after a moment, presumably in response to some signal given by the other man.
“And I know what you do in your so-called profession. I know what you want from your partners, and the lengths to which you’ll go to ensure their compliance. You have regular clients, don’t you, doctor? You train them — condition them to obey you, to let you do whatever you’d like with them.”
Only then did John realize what he was implying, and his horror at the idea burned away all the fear that had been building. He’d done nothing against Sherlock’s will, except to refuse to do exactly what this man was implying. Hell, even if Sherlock hadn’t been a complete innocent, John would have wanted to take things slowly, to get to know him, to give him something special, because he was worth that effort and more.
“You have no idea —” He cut off when the gunman came at him again, and he ducked in time to avoid a direct hit, though the glancing blow cut a hot line through his scalp.
Angrily now, the man behind him demanded, “He isn’t one of your broken little submissives, Captain. So what was it? Alcohol? Rohypnol? Tell me. How exactly did you rape him?”
Chapter by Kryptaria
Sherlock and John each try to cope with the aftermath of what happened at the warehouse.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Monday, 8 Mar 2010
“But who does this? This is completely mad,” Lestrade was saying with his usual talent for stating the obvious.
Tanker truck full of salt water. Utility basement by Canary Wharf. A dead Portuguese man o’war.
A criminal enterprise gone wrong? Some petty conflict over money or drugs or power? Sherlock paced, circling around the puddle, coat swirling around his calves as he thought. He ignored the scurrying lab rats in their blue coveralls and the detectives in their cheap suits.
His gaze fell on the tire tracks, but they were wrong for the tanker. New tires — very new, very expensive, judging by the complex tread pattern. They were light, too. Low-profile tires, lightweight vehicle, probably a sports car. Expensive. Imported.
Money, then, or status. It wasn’t government, or Mycroft would be involved. Nothing so petty as drug dealing, unless it was on some vast scale, controlling millions of pounds in import profits. So, drugs. No other explanation quite fit. He turned to tell Lestrade when his gaze fixed on the detective’s profile, the light hitting his skin almost exactly as it had yesterday, seen through the morgue’s viewing window.
John. Sherlock’s thoughts scattered under a wash of memory, and he felt his lips start to twitch into a smile before he caught himself in sudden horror. He was surrounded by Lestrade’s trained monkeys. The last thing he wanted was for them to catch him grinning.
“Drugs,” he told Lestrade a few seconds later, once his thoughts had slotted back into their proper configuration.
Lestrade gave him a pleasingly blank look. “How do you figure that?” he asked.
This time, Sherlock allowed himself a grin, knowing Lestrade would assume it was smug. He launched into the explanation almost absently, putting most of his considerable intellect toward a greater mystery: Would John call him? Could he call, or was he supposed to text? Or should he wait?
Once again, he had no idea what to expect, and that was better than any simple crime Lestrade had ever offered him.
A phone call distracted Lestrade. Sherlock went back to looking at the crime scene without seeing it, losing himself in his thoughts of John, until Lestrade asked sharply, “What? Who is this?”
Sherlock wasn’t the only one who looked over at him. He was frowning, motioning for the technicians to get on with collecting the evidence Sherlock had marked for them. Curiosity roused, Sherlock walked over to him, trying to listen in on both sides of the conversation, but the caller’s voice was frustratingly soft.
“Right, when?” Lestrade asked, trapping the phone against his shoulder as he took a pen and notepad from his jacket. “What’s the address?”
Another lead, Sherlock thought, glad that he was already here. Maybe he could get to this next scene before the forensics morons contaminated it.
“Right. And your name? Hello?” With a curse, Lestrade took the phone down and looked at the screen. Sherlock peered at it but saw the caller’s number had been blocked.
“Informant?” Sherlock guessed.
“Maybe.” Lestrade frowned, showing Sherlock the notebook. “This address mean anything to you?”
Sherlock had spent years memorizing London, from its tourist traps to its back alleys. He placed it on his mental map and nodded. “Excellent place to dump a body. Abandoned warehouses and factories, mostly.”
“Shit. Come on,” Lestrade said, heading for his car as he shouted orders for the rest of his team to finish up here.
Lestrade had driven his personal car, so Sherlock went with him, correcting the satnav when the automatic directions added unnecessary minutes to the trip. Lestrade knew better than to argue and finally turned the computer off, to Sherlock’s satisfaction.
The warehouse was one of three in a line across the street from a closed-down factory. The whole neighborhood reeked of abandonment, walls covered with graffiti, weeds bursting through the carpet of broken glass and cracked pavement.
Sherlock unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door, but Lestrade caught him by the sleeve. “You don’t rush ahead of me, Sherlock. Stay behind me or I swear, I’ll lock you to the steering wheel.”
“Your cuffs can’t hold me,” Sherlock bragged, unable to hide his smile as he considered proving that very fact to John, perhaps even later that night. Then he had to turn away and get out of the car, cursing the way his body apparently had decided to compensate for all those years of sexual disinterest. No wonder normal people couldn’t think, if this was constantly cluttering up their minds.
“I don’t know what we’re gonna find in there,” Lestrade said insistently. “The caller said she –“
“Don’t!” Sherlock shot a glare Lestrade’s way. “Don’t say anything else! You’re just cluttering everything up. Don’t talk, don’t breathe, don’t even think. Just go. Go!” He waved Lestrade ahead and closed his eyes, clearing his mind.
After Lestrade’s presence had faded, Sherlock opened his eyes and looked at the weed-choked area outside the warehouse. Three sets of fresh tire tracks, one from a flashy sports car similar (but not identical) to the ones at the other kill site. Scuff marks through the debris, as if two people had been dragged. Or, no — one person, dragged in and then out.
Curious, Sherlock turned, debating following the trail, but Lestrade shouted, “Sherlock! Get in here!”
Frustrated, Sherlock turned back and ran inside, hoping Lestrade had found a body. This scene had to be connected to the other. Why else would Lestrade have received a tip on his mobile, rather than through the main switchboard?
It would be fascinating if the drugs connection was faked to throw them off the correct trail. Truly clever killers were so very rare. The other warehouse had quite a few clues that would help the police with their grunt work, but a body would tell Sherlock everything, if he could observe the scene undisturbed.
Lestrade was in a hallway, shining a torch into a side room, away from the abandoned street. Sherlock rushed to his side and looked in, disappointment hitting him a moment later. There was no body — just a sturdy chair made of bent metal bars and cracked vinyl padding, and a pair of handcuffs.
He stared at them, snatching the torch out of Lestrade’s hand. They were police-issue Hiatt speedcuffs identical to the ones he’d stolen from Lestrade six weeks earlier.
“Let me,” he said, holding a hand out to stop Lestrade from walking into the room. The floor was dirty, scuffed by multiple tracks, but he could clearly pick out at least one pair of men’s dress shoes, trainers, women’s dress flats, and heels.
He glanced around, momentarily struck with confusion. How many people had been here?
Carefully, he knelt and put the torch in his mouth, freeing his hands to wield his magnifying glass. The dress flats were stylish and new, crisp edges, no noticeable wear pattern. The heels — kitten heels, not stilettos, if he had to guess — weren’t quite as new, but were still in very good condition, a size larger than the flats. The women had run into the room but then had paced back and forth from the doorway to the chair.
The men, on the other hand... Not counting the one in trainers, there were three of them, not one. Gucci shoes, size nine; far cheaper square-toe loafers, possibly Autograph, size eleven; and an off-brand too damaged to quickly identify, size eleven and a half.
Gucci, size nine, Sherlock thought, momentarily rattled. Mycroft wore a size nine. But he’d been wearing Yves Saint Laurents earlier, not Guccis. He shook off the distraction and went back to his examination.
“Three men in dress shoes. Two entered, supporting between them someone in trainers — a man. There was a fight here. Look,” he said, sweeping his hand as his mind translated scuffed marks into three-dimensional movement. “They ended here, facing off, and the man in trainers went to the chair.”
“A fight? How do you know?”
“Look!” Sherlock at the marks on the floor, so clear to his eyes, amazed that Lestrade could be so blind. “One man stood here, off to the side of the one in trainers. The way he moved...” — Sherlock stepped carefully over the tracks, looking down, positioning himself to match. The scene seemed to draw itself in his imagination. “Ah. One man here, the other in front of him, facing to the side. Possibly held by a gun? The one in trainers stepped into the other, twisted — see the marks? — and they struggled. Yes, definitely a gun.”
On fire now, he stepped over the tracks toward the chair, looking at the back. “Ah, yes. As I expected,” he said, looking at the gleam of silver along the bars.
“‘Ah’ what?” Lestrade demanded. “Can I come in?”
“No!” Sherlock used the magnifier again, saying, “He struggled against the cuffs. His wrists were thrust through the bars, here and here. You can see the scoring from the cuffs on the bars between.”
“So we’ve got someone cuffed somewhere in here. Should I call in the dogs to find a body?”
“Be patient!” He moved around to the front of the chair and crouched carefully. “The women both came to this spot, crouching down — more weight on the toes.”
“Two — one in heels, one in flats.”
“Bloody hell, Sherlock. If you’re just taking the piss —”
“Would you rather your team spend a week trying to reconstruct this? It’s your overtime budget.”
Lestrade grimaced. “Get on with it, then.”
Smirking, Sherlock read the tracks, saying, “This happened after, at the end. They came in and helped the man in trainers to leave. So you’re not looking for a body.”
“Well, perhaps, but only if they killed him elsewhere. There’s minimal blood and no other biological release.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and used the torch to indicate the blood splatters. “You can see it more clearly with luminol, later,” he said dismissively, moving around behind the chair. “This, though... This man stayed here the whole time. He didn’t come in with the women, because he didn’t assist them with carrying the victim out. So, he was here before, not after — their tracks overlay his. He paced —”
There were three indentations in the debris, slight marks that were barely visible at an angle, where the shadow of dust changed, revealing perfect circles, bare the size of a fingertip. They were identical to the brolly-trail that Mycroft left in the carpet every time he came to visit.
The imprint of an umbrella.
“Who called you?” Sherlock asked suspiciously as he rose to his feet.
“Some woman.” Lestrade shrugged. “Didn’t give a name.”
“I dunno... educated. No real accent. Adult female, didn’t sound too old.” Lestrade frowned, leaning against the doorway, running a hand through his silvering hair. “Said she’d heard screams here, like someone was being tortured.”
Sherlock shook his head. “She was lying. It’s too deserted here. Our attackers chose this place well. No one in this neighborhood would report anything to the police.”
“Maybe she’s one of them?” he proposed, pointing at the footsteps.
“Perhaps, but why?” It was rhetorical, and by now, Lestrade knew him well enough to not bother trying to answer. Sherlock crouched down to look at the cuffs, and was immediately relieved to see that they weren’t the ones he’d stolen and then left with John. These were gleaming new, with no scratches around the keyhole. They were dirty, though, and Sherlock counted three distinct splatters of blood, drops fallen from a height of only two feet, give or take, judging by the deformation.
“All right. Call in your sniffer dogs. Photos of the footprints, run fingerprints, analyze this blood for drugs or —”
“Sherlock,” Lestrade interrupted, already on his phone. “I know how to do my job.”
“If you could do your job, you wouldn’t need me,” Sherlock snapped, though without any particular heat. He could trust Lestrade with this scene, now that he’d finished his preliminary investigation, and the forensic data would be useful to him later.
Was Mycroft slipping? He usually was thorough, good at covering all possible angles. This was a little too obvious. It would have been simple to obscure the most obvious traces with a broom.
So, no. Not slipping. The evidence had been deliberately left behind. Which meant that the phone call to Lestrade had also been intentional.
Why, then? Why call Lestrade here? Had Mycroft known Sherlock was with Lestrade? Had he assumed Sherlock would stay with Lestrade for this?
Was there something here that Sherlock was supposed to see?
He played the torchlight around the room, searching for some secret message only he could decipher, but by the time the techs arrived, he still had found nothing.
Perhaps he was wrong altogether. Perhaps this wasn’t Mycroft — the Gucci size nines might be a coincidence. It wasn’t as if the shoes were bespoke, but Mycroft reserved those for special occasions, not... whatever this was. The umbrella was Mycroft’s trademark, though he was hardly the only man who used an umbrella as a walking stick in London.
Frustrated by the uncertainty, Sherlock left the techs to their work, ordered Lestrade to send him the data as soon as possible, and went to find a taxi. He needed to have a long talk with the skull to clear his thoughts.
John had never visited Irene’s home, which proved to be a sleekly modern detached house not too far from the office. Though his concussion was mild, the headache it caused was absolutely blinding. Without his cane, his wrenched knee was especially troublesome, and it took an embarrassingly long time for him to get up the stairs to the guest room even with Irene’s help.
Finally he was able to lay down on his stomach, sinking into a high, thick mattress and close his eyes, trying not to think about what had just happened. He’d survived. He’d survived and his friends and family were safe. That was all that mattered for now.
“Mr. Murray’s on his way,” Kate said as she entered.
“Thank you, Kate,” Irene answered. More gently, she asked, “John? Kate’s brought the ice.”
“Thanks.” God, even speaking set off his headache. “Head and wrist,” he instructed as succinctly as he could.
He guessed it was Kate who went around the other side of the bed to gently hold an ice pack to the back of his head. Irene, who was sitting on the edge beside him, surrounded his left wrist with more ice, saying, “You should see a doctor, John. X-rays —”
Fear stabbed through him. “No,” he said as sternly as he could manage. If he went to the hospital, they’d want a report. They’d get suspicious when he refused, and that might drag in the police. Even if he said nothing, just being seen talking to the police might be enough to send that insane fucking bastard after John’s family.
He could picture Irene’s glare, but she remained mercifully silent until the doorbell chimed. “I’ll answer it,” she said, allowing Kate to keep hold of the ice pack against the back of John’s skull.
“Dear God. Can’t we just meet at the pub like normal mates, Captain?” Bill asked a minute later as he walked to the side of the bed.
“Normal’s not our style,” John said, feeling some of the tension drain from him. Bill Murray was the only reason John was alive. Some people dismissed nurses as half-trained amateurs, but John knew better, and there was no one he’d trust more to help patch him back up — and not ask questions.
“Whatever you need, Mr. Murray, just let me know,” Kate offered.
“Tell me what happened. Not you, Watson,” he added as John took a breath. “Kate?”
She hesitated until John nodded as carefully as he could, though even that motion was enough to make him dizzy. “I don’t entirely know, but he called Miss Adler for help. We found him in a warehouse, handcuffed to a chair. I don’t think it was... related to work,” she finished delicately.
“They were military,” John lied briefly. “Asked about an op in Afghanistan.” The last thing he needed was any of them thinking he’d been involved in some masochistic diversion gone horribly wrong.
“You weren’t in Military Intelligence,” Bill protested, digging around in the bag he set down at his feet. “What’s the summary?”
“Mild concussion; possible fracture and nerve damage, left wrist; possible torn right ACL,” John answered. “The rest is trivial.”
“You never did do things by half-measures. Let me see under there, love,” Bill said, carefully kneeling against the edge of the bed so he could lean over. Obligingly, Kate moved the ice pack aside, and Bill prodded gently through John’s hair. “You’re going to be stubborn about a CT scan, I take it?”
“GCS 15. I’m fine,” John insisted. “Just make sure it won’t start bleeding again.”
With a snort, Bill dug through his bag again, producing a small torch. He lifted each of John’s eyelids in turn, using the torch to check pupillary response. “You’d think you would’ve learned, after the last time we went through this. Can you take it easy for the next forty-eight hours?”
“I’ll make certain of that, Corporal Murray,” Irene said ominously from somewhere behind Bill.
Bill shot John a smirk, though the humor didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Finally met your match, did you?” he asked, tossing the torch back into his bag. “I need to undress you. Can you move?”
John took stock of his condition. The headache was still there, of course, and would be for several hours. His left shoulder wasn’t aching quite so badly, but his hand was tingling violently.
“I’d really rather not,” he finally said, much as he hated being an invalid all over again. Better that, though, than to end up vomiting all over Irene’s carpet.
“Right.” Bill set to work with shears, cutting through John’s jumper. “If this was about an op, you have to report it.”
John grunted assent, closing his eyes. He hoped like hell that Bill’s kit included something to take the edge off the pain, though he’d refuse anything too strong. He needed his wits; he hated being helpless. He hated being scared. And that fucking bastard had managed to scare ten years off of his life with his threats — not against John, but against everyone he loved. Harry and Clara and their baby girl. His second-in-command and the rest of his old squad. Even Irene and Kate.
Sherlock, he thought, because he couldn’t not think of him and the one night they’d spent together. Their first and last night together.
It hadn’t been what that bastard had accused him of doing. It hadn’t. John had resisted every temptation to bring power exchange into it, deliberately taking things more slowly than Sherlock had wanted. Still, he couldn’t quite forget that madman’s accusations.
God, he hadn’t taken advantage of Sherlock, had he? For all of Sherlock’s talk of safewords and no limits, he’d been an absolute innocent. Had he been so desperate for John’s attention — John’s approval — that he’d forced himself to do something he didn’t want, for John’s sake?
Bill checked his pulse and listened to his heart and lungs. “Can I get you on your back for a minute?”
“Watch the leg,” John cautioned, not trying to move until Bill was supporting his left leg, above and below the knee. Together, they managed to get John onto his back, though the pressure of the pillow against his head was torture all over again.
“Let me know if this hurts,” Bill said, cautiously pressing his fingertips into John’s abdomen, feeling for any damage to his internal organs. As he did, he looked at Kate and said, “If he starts vomiting, get him to hospital, no matter what he tells you.”
“Corporal,” John warned.
“You’re not so bloody terrifying when you’re on your back like this, Captain,” Bill countered. He’d said it the last time, too, hands covered to the elbows in John’s blood as he struggled to keep John conscious. “All right. Let’s turn you back over.”
Moving was easier this time, perhaps because of the incentive of getting his skull off the pillow. He let out a sigh of relief when Kate gently put the ice pack back in place.
Bill examined John’s left wrist quickly and quietly. “Elevate, ice, you know the drill,” he finally said, piling two pillows beside John and using them to somewhat awkwardly prop up his wrist. “You can get away with a splint for about a week, but —”
“I know,” John interrupted grimly. If his wrist was broken, he’d need a cast; if there was nerve damage, he might need surgery. Hell, it needed treatment now, and more than Bill could provide. His hands were his life — as a doctor and, well, everything else. He couldn’t afford permanent nerve damage or loss of movement.
Letting that pass, Bill asked, “Miss Adler, Kate, will you excuse us for a moment?”
“Of course. Come along, Kate,” Irene said, meeting John’s eyes and giving him a nervous, encouraging smile before turning away.
When they were gone, Bill asked quietly, “This wasn’t anything to do with the military. What’s this really about, Captain?”
John listened to the sound of shears cutting through the right leg of his blue jeans. “Bill... Did you ever do anything that you didn’t want to? I mean...” He trailed off uncomfortably, suddenly glad that his face was almost completely hidden by the arrangement of pillows. His hesitance was ridiculous, considering that they were both adults — considering what they’d done.
“This will hurt,” Bill warned, either avoiding the question or giving John time to settle his thoughts. Carefully, he supported John’s ankle and bent his leg back, one hand resting on the kneecap to check for buckling or locking.
“Did... anyone ever make you do anything you didn’t want? As a sub, I mean.”
Surprised, Bill stopped manipulating John’s knee for a moment. “Well, yeah,” he said, puzzled. “Kind of the point, though, isn’t it? Pushing boundaries and all?”
“Fucking hell,” John muttered into the pillow.
“Why do you ask? This… this wasn’t a scene, was it? You’re not a sub. And these injuries -—”
“God, no!” The outburst rekindled the fire in the back of his skull, making him flinch. He quickly lied, “It’s just... something I was reading. Trying to take my mind off this. Or don’t they teach nurses bedside manners anymore?”
Relieved, Bill said, “Not to deal with stroppy COs. Besides, you’re the last person who should be worrying about that. If anything, you were always too careful, except with your own bloody life.”
It wasn’t the first time Bill had said that, either. Some of the tension in his chest unknotted, letting him breathe easier, at least until Bill found just the right way to twist. He hissed and tried to jerk his leg free, only to freeze when the pain doubled.
“I think it’s just wrenched, not torn,” Bill said, carefully easing John’s leg back down. “Want me to get rid of the trousers?”
“May as well,” John grumbled into the pillow. “Tell me you have something for the pain.”
“Paracetamol or aspirin is all you’ll get, because I’d never tell you that I illegally possess morphine for emergencies,” Bill said primly as he cut through enough fabric to free him from the ruined jeans. Rather than moving John’s foot, he cut through his right sock as well, and then stripped the other one off. He tossed the shears aside and carefully covered John with the blankets Kate had turned down before helping him into bed.
The sting of the needle made John remember the track marks on Sherlock’s arm. Resolutely, he pushed the thought from his mind. Recovery first.
“I’m going to pop out for an hour,” Bill said after hiding the evidence back in his bag. “Pick up a couple of splints and a crutch, assuming you’re going to be stubborn and insist on getting out of bed.”
“Did you think otherwise?”
“Cura te ipsum,” Bill shot back with a snort, and John regretted laughing.
Sherlock was distracted by thoughts of Mycroft, which was far less pleasant than being distracted by thoughts of John. His mind had latched onto the puzzle at the warehouse, though, and he couldn’t get himself to re-focus.
So he didn’t go home. He didn’t even think twice about it until he was at John’s flat, buzzing for entry. Wasn’t this what people did when they were... whatever Sherlock and John now were? They spent time together. Exchanged keys. Shared territory.
He’d seen it before, even if he’d never experienced it himself. He was experiencing a lot of new things now, in fact. The thought made him smile, though the smile faded as the intercom remained dormant.
Had John gone out? It was Monday, his day off. He hadn’t mentioned going out.
The café, he thought, walking off without bothering to text or call. He wanted to surprise John the way John had surprised him so many times. He would be surprised, wouldn’t he? And happy?
Apprehension made Sherlock’s steps slow, before he pushed it aside. This morning, John had been pleasantly focused on Sherlock, and there hadn’t been a hint of upset or resentment when Sherlock had announced his intention to meet up with Lestrade. Sherlock had considered inviting John along, in fact — and why not, given that John had been in on the autopsy? — but he’d decided that time apart would help to
further cement their relationship. Through observation, he’d learned that there was a delicate balance between time spent together and apart. Too much of one and not enough of the other would start cracking the relationship.
But it wasn’t too soon now — not after a month of being apart, communicating solely through texts — so Sherlock’s steps were confident as he walked into the café. It was just after one in the afternoon, which meant John would probably be there. It wasn’t crowded, the lunch rush having ended, and Sherlock looked around, gaze flicking over the patrons, analyzing and dismissing each one in turn.
Loo, perhaps, he guessed, and wound through the tables, stopping at the counter. The girl there was in her late teens or early twenties, remnants of a henna tattoo on one hand, tan too dark for London in March and too real to have been artificial — just back from vacation, probably Spain. She smiled up at him, getting a look that Sherlock recognized as interest despite the difference in their ages.
“Hi! What can I do for you?”
Insufferably perky. He resisted the urge to snap at her and instead gave her his best artificial smile in return. “Hi! Um, I’m supposed to meet my boyfriend here, but I don’t see him... I’m a bit late, so I’m worried that he’s already come and gone. Maybe you saw him?”
The quality of the interest changed, but it didn’t diminish. Women tended to be just as attracted to gay men as straight ones — sometimes even more. It was a useful way to get them to divulge information.
“Ooh, what’s he look like, then?” she asked curiously.
“Broad shoulders, bit shorter than me, dark blonde hair. His name’s John. He’s a regular here, I think?” he added questioningly, prompting her for more information.
Her expression turned puzzled. “John? The doctor?” she asked, frowning.
“Yes, that’s him.” Sherlock gave her another false smile. Why was she frowning?
“Oh. He didn’t —” She cut off, bit her lip, and shrugged, gaze sliding away from Sherlock for the first time. “He hasn’t been in today.”
She was lying, but not about John. No, not quite lying. Concealing something.
“Are you certain? I could’ve sworn he said to meet here and he’s never late. Unlike me,” he added sheepishly, giving her another fake smile. “You sure? About this tall, pale skin, scar on his face?” he asked, holding his hand just at his own eye level, changing her mental image from John Watson to someone else.
It worked. Her smile came back, relieved. “Oh! Wrong John,” she said happily, with a little laugh.
“There are two? Well, lucky me,” he said, giving her a conspiratorial little laugh. “What’s yours like?”
“Not mine,” she teased, leaning on the counter. He did the same, encouraging the gossip that was a natural impulse for most people in a social line of work. “One of our new waiters just started seeing him. Jim. He’s a real sweetheart — well, both of them are, actually. They were made for each other.”
“How nice for them.” It came out a little sharp.
“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen anyone who looks like yours, though. Are you sure you have the right café?”
“Oh, bollocks. Maybe not.” He took out his phone and made a show of checking it. “This is Speedy’s, isn’t it?”
She gave a little shake of her head. “No, sorry. Never heard of it.”
“Damn!” Sighing, he dropped the phone back, saying, “Sorry — God, now I’ll be really late. So sorry.”
“Good luck,” she said with a little laugh, waving to him as he hurried out.
John’s boyfriend, Jim. No response to two texts. No sign of him at the café. No response to the buzzer at his flat.
Sherlock stared up at the ceiling, breathing deeply, turning things over in his mind, trying to fit the new pieces together. Words like cheating and avoiding floated through his thoughts, but he rejected them — a response that he knew was emotional and not logical, but relationships were based on emotion, not logic.
He heard a knock downstairs and ignored it. John would have texted. Only... perhaps they were beyond texting. Perhaps Sherlock should have called. That was more personal, wasn’t it?
He was on his feet and into the hallway in a second, but Mrs. Hudson beat him to the front door. “Oh! Hello, Mycroft.”
Disappointment twisted Sherlock’s stomach, making him regret the coffee he’d drunk upon returning to his flat. He went back into the living room and debated climbing out the roof exit. He had a perfectly good escape route planned, one that avoided all of Mycroft’s CCTV cameras, but he wanted to save that for a real emergency. This only qualified as a nuisance, so returned to the sofa and his contemplation of the ceiling.
Without bothering to knock, Mycroft let himself into the flat a moment later. He’d changed into one of his light grey suits from Gieves & Hawkes, though his shirt was solid light blue instead of the light blue pinstripe that would have matched it better, and the tie was a truly awful silver and blue jacquard — Drakes, if he wasn't mistaken.
Gucci dress shoes.
“Dressing in the dark now, Mycroft?” Sherlock asked, lifting his head to watch Mycroft circle around the couch to the brocade armchair.
“How are you, Sherlock?” The question was delivered mildly, with something almost like worry in Mycroft’s voice, instead of his usual snide, superior edge.
Something’s going on.
Sherlock didn’t answer. He looked Mycroft over, noting the dark charcoal silk socks that matched both suit and shoes. The shoes were polished, of course, but freshly polished, less than an hour ago. He could smell it. Had it been Mycroft at the warehouse?
If he had been, the blood there wasn’t his. Sherlock would see if he’d been injured. Mycroft couldn’t abide pain. One of Sherlock’s most amusing memories was of his so-superior, know-it-all older brother bursting into tears when he’d pinched his finger in the slide of his rifle during a hunt.
Curiosity gnawed at Sherlock, but to show curiosity around Mycroft was to fall into his trap. Deliberately, he dropped back onto the sofa and pressed his hands together under his chin, closing his eyes. Mrs. Hudson had suggested that was his ‘deep thinking’ pose, but in actuality, it was a defense mechanism that he’d learned early in life. Holding perfectly still like this was an excellent way to deny Mycroft the body language clues that might help him unlock whatever Sherlock was thinking at the time, and it had become habit even when Mycroft wasn’t around.
Mycroft was uncharacteristically silent for long enough that Sherlock considered breaking his pose to demand to know what the hell he wanted. Mycroft loved hearing the sound of his own voice.
Instead, Sherlock focused on examining the little information he’d gotten at the café earlier. He’d alerted his homeless network to see what they could learn about ‘Jim’ but had little hope that they’d discover anything quickly.
Finally, Mycroft said, “If you need to talk, Sherlock, you know I stand ready. No matter what you wish to say, you’ll always be my brother.”
Baffled, Sherlock finally turned and looked over at him. “Sentiment? Really, Mycroft, how unlike you.”
Mycroft pursed his lips in disappointment, tipping his head down to give Sherlock his usual superior, I-know-what’s-best-for-you look. Sherlock braced himself for a fight, wondering if Mycroft had decided that he needed another trip to rehab — which was absurd. Over texts, John had accomplished what the therapists never had. Sherlock was clean.
“Very well,” Mycroft finally said, levering himself up out of the armchair with the aid of his ever-present umbrella. “Should you decide otherwise, you know where to find me. Good day, brother.”
Without moving from the sofa, Sherlock watched him leave, letting his head fall back to the cushion when the door quietly closed.
What the hell was that all about?
He really does wear size nine (UK) shoes! http://the-sign-of-fun.livejournal.com/212312.html?thread=3110488#t3110488
Chapter by Kryptaria
"The bastard made only one mistake: He’d made John his enemy."
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Aspirin didn’t do much to help him sleep, especially not when the nightmares came in the darkness, old dragons reawakened by the recent trauma. No, not trauma. Trauma implied that he was a victim, and John Watson had survived far more than a brief interrogation.
It wasn’t the pain that caused the nightmares. They weren’t his mind’s way of expressing fear at what had happened to him. It was fear for the safety of everyone else in his life: his frustrating sister, her long-suffering wife, their precious baby; his employer-turned-best-friend and her lover; the soldiers whose lives he’d saved and who’d saved his life. Sherlock.
So he stayed in bed, focused entirely on dissecting every moment of the kidnapping and interrogation, reviewing his own assets, and planning his next move. Physically, he was recovering nicely. He was still icing his left wrist and it would be another month before he’d try walking without the crutch, but it could have been much worse.
Mentally, though... mentally, he was sharp in a way he hadn’t been since he’d been shot. The man who’d ordered him taken had covered his tracks brilliantly. John had never seen his face. The operation had been enviably professional. The bastard made only one mistake: He’d made John his enemy.
John was a soldier — an officer — and damn that bastard for thinking he could break John that easily, that thoroughly. He had his experience and training. Even if he was reluctant to involve others, he did have allies he could call upon in a pinch. But most of all, he had his determination.
So he stayed in Irene’s guest room, planning what he’d need to do next, never giving a hint of what was going through his mind. Outwardly, he seemed to be focused on recovery, lying in bed propped up by a dozen pillows, watching mindless telly and reading the mind-boggling array of trashy romance novels that populated the bookshelf by the window.
He couldn’t quite reconcile the fiercely independent, dominant Irene Adler with the type of woman he’d always imagined read bodice-rippers featuring bare-chested pirates and Vikings. Boredom got him through two of them, though, until he reached a scene of dubious consent — no, full-on sexual assault that magically turned into willing seduction, thanks to the idiot author’s imagination.
The thought of that one word — four innocent little letters chained together into something poisonous, like harmless molecules combined into a lethal toxin — brought his anger back all over again.
The thump of the book hitting the wall must have summoned Irene, though he hadn’t even realized she was home. “Shouldn’t you be at work?” he asked as soon as she entered, dressed just as casually as she had been earlier that day. She was still in jeans and an oversized rugby jersey, face scrubbed clean of makeup, hair up in a ponytail. She was absolutely adorable.
“Don’t be absurd. I’m not about to leave you alone anymore. You’ve had more than enough time to yourself.” As if to prove her determination, she sat on the edge of the bed, folding one leg up under the other so she could face John. She was wearing thick woolly socks, and John couldn’t help but smile.
“God, I’m sorry,” he said guiltily. He hadn’t even considered that Irene might not want him as a houseguest. Hell, John had been so caught up in planning that hadn’t even realized that he was avoiding going back to his flat, where he’d have to face the memories of Sherlock and the nightmare that followed.
He tried to get up, but Irene pressed a hand to his chest, holding him in place. She frowned worriedly, asking, “Sorry for what?”
“I’ll go. Then at least your life can get back to normal.”
“John, love...” Irene shook her head, high ponytail bouncing merrily, and reached out to take his right hand. With her other hand, she picked up the remote and turned off the television. For a moment, the only sounds were their breathing and the whisper of air through the central heating system. “This wasn’t military, John. Whatever it was, you can tell me. I promise I won’t go to the authorities.”
Inwardly, John flinched — he was very clear on the consequences of telling anyone what had happened — but he knew he needed to talk to someone, and he wasn’t about to tell Dr. Thompson about it.
“That’s the problem,” he said slowly. “I don’t exactly know what happened, except that it has to do with that man I mentioned – the one I was constantly texting.”
Irene’s hand tightened on his. “Tell me, love.”
He sighed and leaned back into his pillows, closing his eyes. “His name’s Sherlock Holmes. Whoever that bastard was, he wants me to stay away from him.”
Irene shifted until she was sitting next to him. She ducked under his arm, settling it around her shoulders, and found the bowl of crisps that Kate had left on the nightstand as a snack. “Try again, with a bit less in the way of pronouns,” she suggested teasingly before crunching on one of the crisps.
When she licked her fingers clean, John couldn’t help but stare.
She smirked and did it again.
Some of the tension knotting his gut finally eased, clearing away the dark determination that had encompassed his thoughts for two days, reminding him that despite everything that had happened, he still had things in life that made him smile. He laughed, hugging her close. “Evil woman. The men who broke into my flat were professionals — police, military, whatever. I didn’t even hear them unlock the door. They were armed and had me surrounded, so I — Oh, fucking hell!”
Irene’s brows went up. “What is it?”
He tried to sit up and get out of bed, but she pinned him again. He protested, “My bloody gun — if they didn’t take it, it’s just sitting on the bedroom floor, and I doubt they locked the damned door.”
She stared at him, bit her lip, and then shifted to take her mobile out of her pocket. She unlocked it quickly and hit speed dial two, putting the call on speaker.
“Yes, Miss Adler?” Kate asked a moment later.
“I need you to go to Captain Watson’s flat. John, is there a spare key in your office?” she asked him.
“In the wall-safe. The combination is three-five-oh-five-seven-seven.”
Irene arched a brow curiously but let it pass, telling Kate, “See if his gun is on his bed, and call me immediately to let me know. When you leave, make sure the door’s locked.”
“Yes, Miss Adler. I’ll call you as soon as I know more.”
“Thanks, love.” Irene disconnected and dropped the phone beside her on the bed.
John smiled tightly at her, knowing what she was wondering. “It’s the distance between London and where I was shot.”
She reached up and squeezed the hand resting on her shoulder. “Go on,” she prompted gently.
“They cuffed me and got me out the service exit. I assume no one saw — as I said, they were professionals. Threw me in the boot of a car and drove me to the warehouse.” He frowned slightly, glancing at her. “How did you come to find me? I thought I’d texted Sherlock.”
“You did?” Curious, she retrieved her phone, tapping it a few times before showing him two texts:
Sent Sunday, 7 March: Are you free for dinner? Found a new steakhouse. Looks lovely.
Received Monday, 8 March: SOS ow is I’d number
A chill passed through him as he realized that he’d simply answered the most recent text, assuming it had been from Sherlock. He might have died if the text had gone to someone else, like Harry or his therapist.
“That’s not what I typed,” he said, rereading the incoherent text. He wanted to check his phone, but Kate had taken it down to the store yesterday, where the phone had been reset and programmed with a new number — one Sherlock didn’t have.
“No, but it’s what autocorrect thought you typed. I managed to interpret it as ‘Password is ID number’,” she explained a bit smugly.
He let out a shaky breath and hugged her again, pressing a kiss to her hair. “Thank God.”
“It took me longer to figure out you meant your mobile password, and to activate the GPS. I didn’t dare text back. That SOS terrified me, you know,” she scolded.
“Terribly sorry, love. Next time I’m kidnapped, I’ll try to be less alarmist.”
“Do that.” She smiled briefly before asking more gently, “What happened next?”
“They brought me to the room where you found me. They freed one hand so they could cuff me to the chair. I fought back, but wasn’t exactly successful.” He couldn’t hide his shiver as he remembered the feel of the muzzle pressed to his head.
Reassuringly, Irene squeezed his hand again, allowing him to take his time and compose himself. She ate another crisp, and then held one up to his lips. He eyed her, feeling himself relax that much more, and took it between his teeth. When Irene lowered her hand, he crunched the crisp and swallowed.
Trying to keep the mood light-hearted, he asked, “What, no licking?”
She laughed and wiggled her salt-covered fingers at him. “Only if you behave and stop trying to avoid talking about it.”
“Me, behave? You’re the one who rushed into danger with your sub as backup! I should spank you both for that,” he threatened.
Smirking, she said, “We’ll discuss it when your hand’s better. Get on with it, Captain.”
She was tenacious, but it was for the right reasons. And talking about it — laughing while talking about it — did seem to be helping.
“Some public-school bastard showed up eventually — after I was cuffed to the chair — and he started implying... Well, showing off how much he knew about me, my sister and her family — their little girl, my niece, isn’t even old enough for school. He said something about not letting a ‘sexual deviant’ anywhere near her.”
Irene hissed in a breath, no longer smiling. “Who? Who is he?” she asked sharply.
Her indignation helped settle the anger burning in his chest at the memory. “I don’t know, love. He’s dangerous. Scary dangerous.”
Their eyes met, and he watched as her anger turned to worry. “You wouldn’t say that about just anyone,” she said softly.
“I know. But God, Irene, he knew everything — or damn near everything.”
“But what did he want?”
He considered glossing it over — he had no idea how she’d react — but he respected her too much to lie. She was his employer, but she was also his friend. Besides, he was innocent. He’d mentally reviewed everything that had happened between him and Sherlock — every conversation, every look, every touch — and Sherlock certainly hadn’t been unwilling in the least. If anything, John had held him back from taking things too far, too fast.
“Sherlock texted me Sunday morning with an emergency at the morgue at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.”
Irene’s brows arched up in surprise. “An emergency at the morgue?”
“He’s a consulting detective — at least, that’s how he put it. Anyway, I helped him out with an autopsy, and then... well, I invited him back to my flat.”
She made a choked sort of noise and hastily turned away. “Your second date with him was an autopsy? Good God, John, most people settle for dinner and the theatre.”
He laughed and threatened, “I can spank you just fine with my right hand.”
Deliberately, she ate another crisp, taking her time at licking her fingers.
He rolled his eyes and hugged her again. “We ended up in bed, but I’d realized he was a virgin in every way. So I kept it... tame, I suppose you could say.” He shrugged a bit uncomfortably. “It was his first time. I wanted to take it slowly. Keep things... normal.”
“‘Normal’ isn’t always better, John. You’ve never shown any hint of being uncomfortable with who you are — who we are,” she said gravely.
“I know.” He sighed. “And it’s not like he hadn’t figured out something about me. He had a safeword. And he made a point of telling me he had no limits.”
Her brows went up again. “No limits?”
John shook his head, closing his eyes as he thought back to the hallway outside the autopsy room. “How did he say it? He knew I wanted to hurt him, and he wanted it because it’s what I wanted. And he said I wasn’t the type to want anything I shouldn’t, because I wouldn’t destroy what was mine.”
“Well,” Irene breathed softly. “He certainly knows you.”
“Thank you,” he said, grateful that she knew him so well. “That’s what makes this all so damned unbelievable. That bastard — the one who had me kidnapped — he said I’d —” He cut off and shook his head, unable to voice it, as if saying the word would somehow make it real.
Irene waited, studying his expression, until finally, she ventured, “Taken advantage of Sherlock?”
“God, no. Worse.”
She went tense, giving him a shocked look. “Worse? Rape?”
John refused to flinch at the ugly word. He had done nothing wrong. He nodded tightly, saying, “That was his accusation. He didn’t want to hear the truth. But it was nothing like that. I’ve never ignored a safeword, not even for a moment.”
“John,” she interrupted gently. “Whoever this man was, he obviously was making assumptions. I trust you, love, and I know you’d never do anything like that.”
“I know.” He took a deep breath, looking up at the ceiling. He shouldn’t have been surprised that she knew him so well. If anything, he could sometimes be over-cautious with his subs. He refused to lose himself in a scene out of concern that he would miss a safeword or signal, or that he’d strike too hard and inflict actual injury. For him, dominance was more about giving his partner an experience than taking anything at his sub’s expense.
Irene snuggled against him once more, resting her free hand on his chest. “So all this happened just so he could throw false accusations at you?”
“No. He wants me to stay away from Sherlock.”
“Irene... I have to,” he said cautiously. That had been the first thing he’d decided. As much as he didn’t want that bastard to get what he wanted, John needed him to think he had won. That was the only way John would have the freedom to work on finding him.
“You don’t understand. He knew everything. He quoted emails I’d sent. Texts. He had me taken right out of my own flat, and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do to stop him, love. What if next time, he went after you? My sister? God, my niece?”
Irene rested her head against his shoulder, hand rubbing in little circles over his chest. “We’ll figure something out. I have friends — contacts. We’ll find who did this.”
Irene did know people — government, military, even (he suspected) criminals. He wouldn’t risk Irene by involving her directly, but he suddenly remembered the day she’d hired him, when she mentioned who had recommended him. That was a possibility, one he hadn’t even considered until that moment.
He shook his head, saying, “They were professionals, Irene. Scary fucking professionals. I won’t let you risk yourself for my one-night stand.”
“A one-night stand that’s lasted through six weeks of incessant texting,” she corrected, lifting her head to look at him. “I had to fight for Kate, love. It was hard and heartbreaking sometimes, but I never gave up. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. How do you know —”
“Irene.” He shook his head. She couldn’t know his plans or she’d want to be involved, just as she had that night when Kate had been taken by the cabbie John had killed. “I have to do this myself.”
She sighed and sat up enough to gently kiss him on the lips. “Very well. But if you change your mind... just know that I’m here for you. Kate and I both are.”
"He remembered waking up in John’s arms, the smell of his body, the taste of his skin. The beautiful puzzle of his mind, always surprising Sherlock."
The word game John and Irene are playing is a loving tribute to Cabin Pressure. http://cabin-pressure.livejournal.com/4729.html
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wednesday, 10 Mar 2010
Sixty hours after his last contact with John, with no text or phone call or word from his network of informants, Sherlock’s patience finally snapped. His calls to John went straight to voicemail and every one of his texts went unanswered. He didn’t know if someone else would call this feeling ‘worry’ or if it were simply frustration at his lack of information.
This wasn’t supposed to happen in a relationship unless it were nearing its end. It couldn’t possibly be ending, as it had only just begun. John had ensured Sherlock had his scarf and gloves, had kissed him goodbye and held him — clear signs that he wanted Sherlock. John wouldn’t disappear like this. Therefore, something else had interfered to keep John from contacting him.
Entering John’s supposedly secure building was laughably easy. A man burdened by groceries, struggling to hold the door open, provided the perfect opportunity. Sherlock caught the door for him and followed him into the foyer. A woman would likely have been suspicious, but the man just nodded, saying, “Ta, mate,” and went to the lift. Sherlock took the stairs.
He was very good with lockpicks, but so was someone else, judging by the faint scratches on the edges of both the doorknob lock and the deadbolt. Senses alert, he tried the knob and felt a stab of alarm when the door swung open. John was a soldier and a doctor — he was careful and methodical. He wouldn’t leave his flat unlocked.
Warily, Sherlock stepped inside. The light was on in the bedroom, shining out through the open doors into both the living room and the bathroom.
Images flashed in his head, vivid and detailed like all his memories: blood soaked into the carpet; brains splattered on the walls; bruises and postmortem lividity leaving pale, knife-sliced flesh gaping in the open air; bodies left to rot, undiscovered and forgotten.
Heart pounding, adrenaline surging through his veins, Sherlock found himself in the bedroom with no memory of crossing the living room. He looked around and collapsed back against the wall when he didn’t see John. Closing his eyes, he took firm hold of his mental reins and locked his imagination back where it belonged.
When he was ready for facts and logic again, he opened his eyes.
John’s gun was on the carpet at the foot of the window, right there in the open. His cane was on the bed. Gun out, cane left behind, locks picked, door unlocked.
Abduction, a little voice whispered in Sherlock’s head. And that meant John might well be dead, his body elsewhere.
There were so many motives for murder within criminal networks — profit, power, rivalry, status — all hideously dull, and in the end, not particularly different from the average person’s motives. For criminals, there were simply fewer preliminary obstacles. And the higher up the criminal ladder, the more likely the killers were to be adept at disposing of a body discreetly.
Sherlock stared at the gun. He thought about Moriarty and the cabbie killed by a bullet fired from this gun. He remembered waking up in John’s arms, the smell of his body, the taste of his skin. The beautiful puzzle of his mind, always surprising Sherlock.
He might have made some sort of sound as he dropped heavily to the floor. His pulse was racing and the air felt heavy in his lungs, as if he were trying to breathe underwater. Logic, reason, evidence — all suggested John was dead or would be soon. Yet despite all that, some part of Sherlock’s mind, usually silent, was now insisting that John couldn’t be dead.
Instead, when he thought he could stand without falling, Sherlock rose and crossed to the bed. When he picked up the gun and shoved it into his coat pocket, he found his hands were shaking. He knew it was a physiological manifestation of adrenaline and cortisol produced in the brain in response to stress and disorientation, but that didn’t help him make it stop.
He needed help. He couldn’t do this alone. He was shaking and scared and confused.
At one word from Sherlock, Lestrade would call in the dogs, but they might find something to incriminate John — bullets, his holster, another weapon. Or worse, they’d find evidence that he actually was Moriarty, and then Sherlock would have to contend with all of Scotland Yard to find John first.
Mycroft wasn’t even a possibility, especially considering his bizarre behavior two days earlier.
Mrs. Hudson would come, if he called, but she’d be more useful at tidying the flat than actually searching it for forensic evidence.
Thinking helped him focus and push past the effects of the adrenaline. (Strange; he’d never had trouble concentrating under stress before. He usually worked best under stress.) He took his phone out of his pocket and quickly typed out a text:
Molly, I need you. Please bring a full scene of crime kit, with extra luminol.
Sherlock finished with John’s address and sent the text. Then he sat back down on the carpet that he’d already contaminated with trace evidence, prepared to wait. Whichever of them arrived first — John or Molly — he knew he’d get some answers, hopefully soon.
The intercom didn’t go off before he heard the sound of a key in the door. Probably John, then, but he might not be alone. Cautiously, Sherlock leaned out just enough to peer around the doorjamb, staying low to the ground, where the motion was less likely to be noticed.
A woman entered, looking around warily but not fearfully. Auburn hair pulled into a French twist. Black and white dress — Versace, he thought — with Ferragamo shoes and matching purse. Her jacket was black leather with a fur collar, not from a familiar designer, possibly custom-made.
She was familiar. Katherine Bennett, his memory helpfully supplied. Why was she here? She worked for Irene Adler, who was John’s employer, but she’d also been the cabbie’s intended victim from six weeks earlier.
He was missing something. There was some connection he couldn’t see. He needed more data.
After taking a quick look around, wrinkling her nose distastefully when she saw the bag of rubbish by the front door, she crossed the living room in quick strides. She was familiar with the flat.
Quietly, Sherlock rose, staying pressed against the side wall of the bedroom as he drew the gun from his pocket. The woman stepped into the bedroom, looking right toward the window where Sherlock had found the gun. One more step and she passed him, frowning worriedly.
Sherlock moved forward. The motion caught her attention and she started to turn, just as he brought the weapon up. The muzzle pressed into her cheek and she let out a strangled gasp, her eyes going wide.
“Not a sound,” he warned, watching her body for any sign that she knew how to break free. It was, he realized distantly, precisely the same scenario he’d read in the dusty footprints at the warehouse.
She was perfectly still, her breathing rapid and shallow. When he took a step away from the wall, she flinched. Her knuckles had gone white from clutching her purse; he wondered if she’d try to use it as a weapon, but she didn’t strike him as a fighter.
Another step brought him around behind her, out of her direct line-of-sight. He switched the gun to his left hand, noting how his hand didn’t fit the subtle wear-pattern from John’s smaller left hand, and he felt a weight settle in his chest. He wanted John here, now.
Sherlock reached for her right hand, locked his fingers around her right wrist, and roughly pushed her body forward as he pulled her arm up behind her back. The purse dropped from her hand as she hit the wall with a startled cry. Reflexively, she kicked back at him, catching him a glancing blow on his shin before he shoved the muzzle of the gun hard into the back of her head.
“Don’t!” he warned sharply. And because the average person responded best to redundant commands, he repeated, “Don’t move. Don’t scream.”
Except for her trembling, she went still once more, not even nodding.
There were a hundred questions he could have asked her, but only one mattered: “Where’s John?”
She twitched as if surprised. “He’s safe.”
“That’s not what I asked. Answer the question,” he demanded, surprised at how tense his voice went, until he realized that was almost a direct quote of something John had texted him shortly after they’d met.
Still, she hesitated, and Sherlock continued, “This is a SIG Sauer P226. It has no manual safety and requires less than eleven foot-pounds of pressure to pull the trigger. Subsequent shots — assuming it is even possible to miss at such close range — only require four and a half foot-pounds.”
He didn’t want to shoot her and involve the police with all their tiresome questions and procedures, but if he had to, he would. In this neighborhood, the average response time was just over ten minutes, which meant he could probably wound her, interrogate her more directly, and escape. But all it would take was one nearby patrol car to reduce those ten minutes to under three, and that wasn’t enough time at all.
But she didn’t know that. He saw her shudder, turning her face just slightly, enough that she could see a tear seep out of the corner of one eye. “Miss Adler’s! Please —” Her breath hitched. “Please don’t. We’re helping him, I swear. Please —”
“Shut up!” he snapped, with another push of the gun for emphasis. John was at Irene Adler’s, which meant he might be genuinely safe, but then why wasn’t he answering Sherlock’s texts?
He considered the value of Molly and a proper forensic examination of the crime scene versus the answers he might get at Adler’s. It could be a trap, but if John was really there — if he needed help...
“What are you doing here? Did he send you?” She’d unlocked the door with a key, but she could have easily stolen it.
She answered with a minuscule nod. “He sent me to fetch the — his clothes.”
She was lying. Not entirely, but enough. The best lies were mostly truth, after all, but which part was true?
John had been abducted — that much was clear. How had he ended up at Irene Adler’s? Was she behind the abduction? Something to do with their business, perhaps. Sherlock’s inquiries had yielded almost no information about Adler’s business or the clients that she and John saw, which meant that they were either extremely unpopular or very well-connected, able to hide the details of their business from the world.
More information, he thought, turning his attention back to the woman. “You said you’re helping him. With what?” Sherlock demanded. “Tell me, Katherine.”
She twitched violently as if surprised by his use of the name. Perhaps she didn’t remember him from that night at the college; she’d only caught a glimpse of him, so that wouldn’t be surprising.
“Please. He — He was hurt. He’s resting —”
She cut off with another gasp as Sherlock jerked her back, away from the wall, never releasing her wrist. ‘He was hurt’ echoed through his head, drowning out his other thoughts. Twisting her around, he made her watch as he put the gun in his pocket, keeping it pointed at her.
“Don’t scream,” he warned. “Don’t call for help. Don’t do anything except what I tell you to do. Do you understand?”
Her nod was jerky, her eyes still wide with fear. He walked her out into the hallway and had her lock the door to the flat. Then he put his arm around her, keeping her close. At first glance, he would look the part of the comforting boyfriend. She didn’t try to struggle free as he led her to the lift.
He pressed the button to summon the lift. “Remember, don’t say anything,” he warned very softly. “Now, take me to him.”
“Hmm... Of Mice and Me,” Irene said thoughtfully, taking the last piece of black liquorice. She bit into the end, chewed, and swallowed before asking, “Isn’t this better than watching telly?”
“As a doctor, I’m fairly sure playing word games for sweets is even more unhealthy than watching a Big Brother marathon for twelve hours straight. If you really cared, we’d be playing the strip version of ‘books that sound more interesting with the final letter knocked off’.”
“You’re delaying,” she accused.
“Fine...” He racked his brain to try and remember any of the books he’d read back in school or while on duty. Paperbacks were good gambling currency, and most of them got passed around long after the spines cracked and the pages had to be held in with rubber bands. “Aha. The Da Vinci Cod,” he said smugly, snatching up the bag of M&Ms to pour out a handful. “I swear, these are addictive. They were the only chocolates that wouldn’t really melt in the desert, you know.”
“That’s what you get for socializing with Americans,” Irene said, nudging at his foot with hers. She adjusted the pillows propping her up against the footboard and looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling. “How’s Three Men in a Boa?” she proposed, grinning.
“Gruesome,” he said, watching her take half the remaining M&Ms. Thus far, she’d left them to him, but she was obviously increasing the pressure.
Before he could think of a response, though, the front door slammed, startling them both. Kate never slammed the door. John and Irene shared a worried look, their game forgotten. Irene got quietly to her feet, and John trailed behind her, leaning on his crutch.
“Kate?” Irene called down from the balcony overlooking the foyer.
“Miss Adler!” At the sound of Kate’s voice echoing up from downstairs, John let out a relieved sigh —
And then froze when he heard a familiar deep voice, tight with stress, demanding, “I want to see John. Now.”
His first thought was relief that Sherlock was alive and unharmed. But that relief quickly turned to horror as John realized that someone might have seen Sherlock’s arrival. If John was being watched — and he had no reason to doubt that he was — then someone in a car with tinted windows or hidden in a nearby building might even now be ringing that posh public-school bastard, informing him that John needed another lesson. And he’d promised that the next lesson wouldn’t involve John directly, except perhaps to identify a body.
He had to stop this. He had to take control of the situation. There were innocent lives at stake.
As he made it out of the guest room, Irene backed away from the balcony. She met John’s eyes and whispered, “He has a gun on her.”
It didn’t take Sherlock to figure out what had happened. Kate had gone to John’s apartment to find his gun, but must have found Sherlock there instead. And God, if that bastard who’d kidnapped him was watching...
“Sherlock!” John shouted, limping to the balcony.
Downstairs, he saw Sherlock tightly grasping Kate’s arm, his other hand holding John’s SIG. Their eyes locked, and it was like a kick to the chest, stealing away John’s breath and thoughts and everything but his growing affection for the mad, brilliant detective — and a crushing sense of loss.
“John!” Sherlock’s shout was full of relief and hope. He let go of Kate, as if she were no longer significant — as if she no longer even existed for him — and ran for the stairs.
“Stop!” John barked, and Sherlock nearly tripped, obediently freezing at the bottom of the stairs.
He looked up, saying, “John —”
“No.” John swallowed, his throat suddenly tight, as he forced his next words out: “Give Kate my gun, Sherlock.”
Slowly, Sherlock pointed the SIG in Kate’s direction — not to shoot her, John knew, but because the man either didn’t know or didn’t care how to safely handle a firearm. “Safely!” John snapped, and their eye-contact broke as Sherlock looked toward the SIG. Hastily, he switched his hand to the muzzle, offering Kate the grip.
“Go ahead, Kate,” Irene said reassuringly from beside John.
Warily, Kate moved forward just enough to reach for the SIG. When she had it, she backed a step away and looked up at Irene, who beckoned her upstairs. Kate moved to the far side of the staircase, sliding along the wall to stay as far from Sherlock as possible.
John exhaled a shaky breath, relieved that the immediate danger, at least, had passed. He turned back to Sherlock, who was looking up at him expectantly, calmly, as though simply seeing John had assured him that everything would be all right.
John had barely permitted himself to imagine what it would be like for Sherlock as the days passed with no contact, no response to his texts, followed by the impersonal message that John’s mobile number had been disconnected. He should have anticipated something like this, some attempt to make contact, but he’d been too damned focused on his enemy.
Kate reached the top of the stairs, where Irene was waiting to pull her close, protectively drawing her away from the railing. John glanced over long enough to see Irene take the SIG. Knowing she’d keep it safe, he turned his attention back to Sherlock.
He was moving up the stairs, and John knew that if he actually touched Sherlock, his resolve might break. John would tell him everything, and then Sherlock — brilliant, clever, madman that he was — would recklessly throw himself into danger, with no regard for his own safety.
Three days earlier, Sherlock had given himself to John, surrendering beautifully, trusting John to take care of him. Now, John steeled himself and ordered, “Sherlock! Stop!”
Sherlock turned his gaze from the stairs back up to John, quickly looking him over. “You’re hurt. You shouldn’t be —”
“Be silent.” John’s hand went tight around the padded handle of the crutch as he struggled to keep his voice steady and firm. “We’re done, Sherlock.”
“Done?” he repeated, frowning. “What do you —”
“Done, Sherlock. I don’t want to see you again.”
“But — I did everything you wanted,” Sherlock protested, his self-confidence starting to crack.
Every instinct, both as a doctor and a dominant, was urging John to go downstairs and reassure Sherlock. Over the weeks of texting, John had seen a marked change in Sherlock’s behavior. He’d stopped skirting the edges of a nicotine overdose, and though he still did the most ridiculous things in the pursuit of what he called ‘The Work’, he’d at least learned to take better care of himself afterward, and John knew it was because of him.
John would never forget crouching behind a low stone wall, chips flying from enemy fire, forced to wait, listening to his men screaming in anguish not twenty feet away. John was no use to anyone dead, but it had taken all his willpower not to move until the rest of the squad could provide cover fire.
Now, he summoned up that resolve again, met Sherlock’s eyes, and said, “And now it’s over, Sherlock. Leave.”
Sherlock stared in confusion for a moment, his eyes going wide. He seemed to gather himself. His lips parted to speak, but John cut him off, saying, “No. Don’t speak.” Sherlock’s mouth snapped shut; his brow furrowed. As firmly as he could, John said, “Shut up and leave. We’re through, Sherlock.”
Sherlock’s eyes darted across his face, up and down his body, with fierce concentration. John knew that look — he was trying to figure John out, to deduce what was going on.
In answer, John summoned up as much scorn and distaste as he could, an expression he’d perfected for subs wanted humiliation play.
“I don’t want you anymore, Sherlock,” he said slowly and deliberately, each syllable heavy and cold. “Now get out.”
Sherlock stared for a moment, and then suddenly his face went slack and blank.
He turned and crossed the foyer, leaving not with a shout or the slam of a door but in silence, a silhouette disappearing into the night.
And when Sherlock was gone, John dropped his crutch and turned, back sliding against the balcony railing, his own resolve finally breaking under the strain. Even if he managed to put this all right, to find and neutralize the bastard who’d caused them all such pain, Sherlock might never forgive him.
Kryptaria: This has been an incredible run, and it's nowhere near over! The_Kinky_Pet and I have three more stories planned for this series, along with countless outtakes.
Thank you all for the encouraging feedback! If you have any requests for outtakes or anything you want to discuss, you can find me as Kryptaria at gmail, tumblr, twitter, livejournal, dreamwidth, and fanfiction.net. See you all very soon!