Sherlock was overcome with the desire to close his eyes as he clung helplessly to a moment that was skittering beyond his reach. His hand lifted, a sense memory, an impression of his inability to bridge a distance.
In front of him, John (John! He’s here. Good.) lifted his hand slightly too. But again, an unbridgeable distance.
Sherlock gritted his teeth. (Stupid. Observe. Where are you? How? What?)
Man. Suit: £700. Gun in shoulder holster and at ankle. Watch: 3 time zones. Notebook visible in pocket, initials “A.L.” in silver pen. Shaved yesterday. Tired. Career criminal likely. Holding a needle, clearly from Sherlock’s own arm. Friendly? Obviously. Anyone’s friendly for the right price.
Woman: mid-20’s. Plaster dust, right sleeve, ink stain, right temple, brush tucked behind ear. Design, but professional. Architect possibly. Unarmed.
John. Exhausted, not much sleep in several days. Stubble, shirtsleeves, cardigan to cover the wrinkles: at least four days, more likely six. Shaved, but haphazardly. Clothing uncharacteristically rumpled. Ring... Sherlock’s ring. Left hand, third finger.
Sherlock frowned and turned his attention to the man at the back. British, judging by his fashion sense. Ex-military, long discharged. Dishonorable likely. Dual shoulder holsters. Not hostile but protective, hovering at that rear of his two companions.
“Nearly a week,” Sherlock said.
“What?” said the needle man. American, then.
“I’ve been under nearly a week,” Sherlock said, noting the dulled edge of his disdain. Weak, living off I.V. A week since finding out Irene was alive, a week since he’d slid the cannula in, intending to simply take some private thinking time.“The timer was set for three hours.” He left the question unsaid, loath to highlight his loss of control: shades of the incident five years past, the one that prompted Mycroft’s infernal surveillance.
“As near as we can figure, you spent about an hour and half under before you dropped into limbo,” replied the needle man.
The man at the back folded his arms and spoke, voice soft but commanding. English, as suspected. “Your friend here,” he nodded towards John, “alerted your brother, who rang us. There was a problem with your somnacin mix. It would have produced in-dream hallucinations. It’s likely a reaction to that that dropped you.”
When Sherlock was obstinately silent, the woman piped up. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Why are you here?” Sherlock asked.
“We came because your brother asked us to,” she answered, confused.
“No, why are you here?” Sherlock repeated. “He’s here,” Sherlock indicated the man in the suit, “because he’s probably an extractor. It seems a bit overkill to send an criminal extractor to rescue me, but my brother always was a bit melodramatic. He’s here,” Sherlock pointed to the man at the back, “because he’s also likely an extractor, and I understand no one works solo in your business. But you.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes and peered at her. “You’re an architect. Why did you come along for a rescue mission?”
“How on earth did you know all that?” she asked, astonished.
“Ah, I was correct then, architect.” Sherlock closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the pillow, surprised at how exhausted he was. A whole extraction team. How far back did they enter his dream? How much dream time had he constructed? The jump. The jump woke him.
“Ariadne, I think we should let Mr. Holmes rest,” said the man at the back.
“No,” Sherlock said, eyes closed. “Introduce yourselves. Then tell me what happened.”
“Call me Eames,” said the man at the back. “This is Arthur, and you’ve met the lovely Ariadne.”
Sherlock glanced at John, who tucked his arms closer around himself and pursed his lips, deepening his worry lines.
“You’re a hard man to convince, Mr. Holmes,” said Arthur as he spooled away the IV line.
“More demanding than I expected a rescue mission to be,” Ariadne said wryly. “Your projections caught me building a few times. Your Dr. Watson was particularly vicious.”
Arthur shot her a quelling glare and a terse shake of his head. “We had to enter as seamlessly as possible. At first we thought if we could convince you Moriarty wasn’t real, you’d start to piece it together that nothing was real down there. But we couldn’t even convince you of that.”
Eames jumped in, “That Moriarty was fun to impersonate,” he said with a smirk. “He’s right, though. I wasn’t sure you’d jump when it came right down to it. You made me pull my trump card, had to shoot myself out.”
Sherlock frowned deeply. (Not his own version of Moriarty, then. Re-evaluate events. Too many people here, too much chatter.) He looked up a John again, who jumped a little as though realizing something.
“All right, he’s awake, he’s okay. Thank you for your assistance, but I think Sherlock could use some privacy. I’m sure Mycroft will be in touch,” John went to the door and held it open, leaving no room for argument.
Would have been nice to get more data but perhaps John was right. Sherlock’s head rapidly sorted the new information, but it was fuzzy, muted. He closed his eyes. Questions for John, but not yet. Clarity. (Are you staying John? Surely.) Thoughts ordered and reordered until the process overshadowed the content.
Real sleep took him.
Sherlock woke with a gasp but had only the vaguest sense of an argument slipping out from under him. He frowned at the darkened room and listened to his surroundings: just John’s even breathing and the distant, unhurried scuffle of a nurse’s footsteps in the hallway.
He then became aware of John’s hand on his own.
He looked down at it and at the top of John’s head, resting awkwardly on the side of the bed, leaning forward from his chair.
Sherlock’s shifted his hand experimentally and John came awake blearily. He licked his lips, then tugged his hand away self-consciously.
“You haven’t been sleeping well,” he said by way of explanation. “Through it all. This helps sometimes.”
Sherlock nodded thoughtfully. “It’s fine,” he said. (More than fine.) “Have you been sleeping here, then?”
John straightened and rubbed at the inner corners of his eyes. “Most nights.” He cleared his throat. “How long have you been awake?”
“You should go home, John. Get some real sleep.” (Let me think).
John ignored him for a moment, thinking. “Why did you do it?” he asked, blunt as always, but not unexpected. Never really unexpected. Uncomfortable but familiar.
“Was more than a three patch problem,” Sherlock said laconically, thinking back to the conversation he’d overheard, the argument between Irene and John at Battersea Power Station. Why had John been so furious to find Irene alive? It didn’t effect him at all. And Irene spoke as though she understood something which seemed to make John angrier. And then there was the puzzling fact of Irene’s presence, alive and well, which admittedly had been a possibility niggling at the back of Sherlock’s brain, but for which he had no evidence.
He hadn’t intended to make himself known. That unfortunate text message alert denied him the chance to process the available data. He’d slipped away, knowing full well they’d both heard. He figured John would look for him at Baker St. so he’d simply stationed himself within view of the entrance and watched as John went in, then came out again upon not finding Sherlock there. John was the determined sort; Sherlock figured he’d have a good few hours at least before John gave up his search and returned defeated to Baker St.; plenty enough time to go under and come back out.
Sherlock reflexively looked down at his own hands, the way he had that day, down to his phone at the sound of that damnable sigh. This time the sight of his hand sparked another memory: his ring. He looked over at John, whose hands were dangling between his knees.
“The woman,” Sherlock said simply, and John’s eyes clouded over darkly.
“She disappeared again,” John said. “Although I didn’t exactly go out of my way to find her after... well. After I found you.” His voice got curiously rough at the end.
“Thank you,” Sherlock said, and John snapped his eyes upwards. “Although I’d rather you not have contacted Mycroft. He’ll fret like a mother hen now.”
John chuckled at the image, which pulled a snort out of Sherlock, prompting John to full out laugh. It was good, nice. When was the last time they’d enjoyed such easy company?
“You took my ring,” Sherlock said, coming down a little from his laugh but still smirking.
John sobered slightly, smile dropping to something almost soft, complicated. “I did.” Instead of elaborating, he smiled again. When most people left things unsaid, Sherlock grew impatient and irritated. Something about the way John smiled reminded Sherlock of his mother, its lack of judgment or mockery.
“You might as well go back to the flat,” Sherlock said, resting his head back against the pillow.
“You’re sure?” John said, leaning forward as though to take Sherlock’s hand again, but simply rested his hands on the bed.
“Why on earth would you stay here?” Sherlock furrowed his brow and shook his head slightly.
“Right.” John hesitated a moment, then stood. “I’ve left your phone on the nightstand there. Call or text if you need me.”
Sherlock waved his hand dismissively, and John left, closing the door quietly behind him.
“I’m afraid he isn’t taking any cases at the moment,” John said to the man at the door.
Sherlock, robe billowing out behind him in his haste, placed a hand on John’s shoulder, halfway between a grip and a push.
“No, no. Do come in,” Sherlock hastened to interrupt.
John warily stepped aside, shooting Sherlock a disapproving glare.
The man darted his eyes between the two for a moment, then entered.
Once seated, and with Sherlock perched forward staring at him intently, the man began, “My name is Marcus Thornton. I’m an accountant.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, you’re an accountant who’s recently been hired fresh out of university, you’ve come here straight from work, haven’t had time for dinner but had a packet of crisps on the tube. Get to the problem.”
Marcus, astonished, gaped at Sherlock, then at John who simply shook his head pointedly in a silent “don’t ask”.
“Right. Well,” Marcus continued as he took the seat Sherlock indicated. “I received a job offer from Sotheby’s three weeks ago. I was to take a position at the main auction house here in London. It was quite a boon for me, being, as you said, fresh out of uni. Most people don’t get offered such choice placements, as I’m sure you can imagine.” He paused, then continued at Sherlock’s impatient gesture. “Well, it was all sorted. I’d done the phone interview, then an in-person meeting with the HR woman. I’d received the official offer, and was asked to come in for an orientation. The day before I was meant to go meet the on-site staff, I was approached by another gentleman, name of Basingstoke. Frederick Basingstoke. He said he represented an international trading firm just setting up shop in London, though they were well established in the Netherlands and Hong Kong. I’d never heard of them, but the offer was much more generous. Almost double the pay I was to receive at Sotheby’s. It would’ve been against my parents’ wishes, I’m sure, but being my own man, I took my own counsel, as it were, and took the job.”
“Did you ring your contact at Sotheby’s?” asked Sherlock.
“Of course I did,” Marcus replied, indignant.
“And you spoke to whom?” Sherlock asked slowly and deliberately, as though coaxing coherency from a child.
“Well, the HR manager wasn’t in, but I left a message with the man who answered the phone.”
Sherlock stared at Marcus for a moment before indicating for him to proceed, then steepled his fingers and closed his eyes.
“As I said that was nearly three weeks ago. MJN Holdings — that’s the company — wasted no time in getting me in. Mr. Basingstoke set me up in an office - a very spare office, but he did say they were just setting up their London branch. Then he put me to work setting up the filing and accounting systems and inputting the accounts into the database.”
“Dull,” Sherlock muttered. “Why are you here? So far all you’ve told me is that you stupidly accepted the most boring job in the world from a completely unknown entity. Where’s the problem?”
“Well, to be honest, Mr. Holmes, I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. There’s no one else in my office, Mr. Basingstoke himself only rarely makes an appearance, and I’ve yet to encounter another soul who works there. The customer accounts are all real enough; I’ve googled a number of them, but I can’t shake the feeling I’m doing it all for naught.”
Sherlock sighed and his eyes slid inexorably toward John, who looked pointedly at his watch, subtly reminding Sherlock of his follow-up doctor’s appointment. Sherlock snapped his eyes back to Marcus.
“Take me to your office,” he said, startling both Marcus and John.
John stood patiently as Sherlock ran a finger over the sign on the buzzer outside Marcus’s office. Marcus looked expectantly at them both, obviously waiting for Sherlock to explain his process; John simply shrugged minutely.
They entered the office to find it was, indeed, very spare. A single desk, a desktop computer, a few trays and a pen holder. Sherlock began to poke around, at first opening drawers, then widening his scope to check the floor, the baseboards, the walls.
Clearly not receiving any more information, Marcus idly moved his mouse, and tapped a few keys to check his email. He uttered a noise.
“Seems I won’t be here by myself much longer,” Marcus said, paging down with the keyboard.
Sherlock’s eyes snapped up.
“Basingstoke just emailed to say they’re bringing in a Receptionist to support me here. Starts Monday after next,” Marcus looked up, a bit sheepish. “P’rhaps it was nothing at all.”
Sherlock looked at him sharply. “Indeed,” he said. He stood, straight as a pin and cast a last eye over the room before turning to John. “I guess that’s it, then. Shall we?” He spoke over his shoulder to Marcus, “You’ll let us know, of course, if anything else raises your suspicion.” He paused until he heard a noise in the affirmative, then stalked out, trusting John to fall in behind.
The bell jangled as John entered the cafe. Arthur raised his eyes and John nodded acknowledgement, then held up a finger to indicate he’d be there in a moment while he ordered his tea.
Eames slouched, his coffee resting on one knee, the other leg splayed indolently. Arthur perched on his seat leaning forward, both hands wrapped around his mug.
“Where did he get it?” said Eames once John had sat down. “Did Mycroft get it for him?”
“No,” John replied thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think so. Mycroft does genuinely seem to worry about Sherlock’s habits. I don’t think he’d provide a new one.”
He fell silent while Eames idly scratched his jaw and looked to Arthur.
Arthur spoke up, “I heard a rumour that Nikolai’s team mislaid one in Prague.”
Alarm writ itself across John’s face as a thought struck him. “Will someone be coming for it? Is Sherlock in danger?”
Arthur shook his head thoughtfully. “If it was Nikolai’s, he won’t come for it. He’s one of the few blessed with the resources and his government’s support to have backups. Plus, he can’t come into the U.K. Sy’s people wouldn’t stand for it.”
John shook his head in bewilderment. Until he’d found Sherlock unconscious, he hadn’t even been aware dreamshare technology existed, much less an entire network of people with their own inbuilt politics.
“Look,” said John. “I just want to know what Sherlock’s into here. It’s obviously dangerous. You know, what with the falling into a coma. And he won’t give up the device. Believe me, I’ve tried to convince him otherwise.”
“It can be dangerous,” said Eames as he spun his coffee cup idly. “But it doesn’t have to be. We think he fell into limbo due to a complication with the Somnacin mixture he used — that’s the drug used to facilitate dreamshare. It’s not exactly a controlled substance, you understand. And not all chemists are created equal.”
John thought this over, chewing on his thumbnail. Finally, “Could you recommend a better chemist for him?”
“Of course,” Arthur replied. “You should also tell him that to begin with, he should only go under for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, then work his way up. And he should go under with someone who’s done it and who can show him the best, safest way to build for his purposes. Building dreams is easier for your own subconscious than for someone else’s, but it’s still advisable to go with someone who’s done it.”
John frowned. “Can you speak to him? It’s probably better coming from you.”
Arthur cocked an eyebrow. “We’re not exactly in the community services business, Dr. Watson. Perhaps you should speak to your partner and convince him to hire someone to show him the ropes.”
At John’s affronted glare, Eames chuckled, kicking Arthur lightly in the shin. “I don’t think they’re together, Arthur,” he said, deeply amused.
“But the living arrangements, and the dates, and the ring,” Arthur said, referring to his research and indicating with his hand as though John wasn’t even there.
John quickly touched it, apparently suddenly reminded of its existence. “Right,” he mumbled. “I just. He wasn’t allowed jewelry in the hospital and it didn’t fit on any other finger,” he added.
Eames still looked amused, and even Arthur’s lips were twitching.
“We’re not a couple,” John protested, prompting Arthur to stifle a laugh. “Just because we work together... do people just go around assuming you two are a couple?”
“Not often,” Eames said. “But we are.”
John barked out a laugh then, looked away on a sigh, then looked back. “You’re serious,” he said. At their nods, he laughed harder.
Finally, “Fine. Okay, I’ll talk to him, but can I hire you two? I can’t very well get him to find his own dreamshare instructor. He’d never do it. Hell, I don’t even know if he’ll do it if I have ones lined up for him, but I can try.”
Arthur let out a long, thin breath, then looked at Eames, who simply shrugged unhelpfully.
“Fine,” Arthur said. “We’ll come by in a few days. Thursday. That work for you?”
John nodded. “Thanks,” he said. As he stood he added, “You know you two could stand to blend in a little better. You look like criminals.”
Arthur frowned, Eames grinned, and John just smirked to himself and left Arthur and Eames with the bill.
On the way out he bumped into Ariadne. He smiled and stopped, placing a tentative hand on her shoulder for the barest of moments before dropping it.
“Hey,” she said, friendly and open. “I didn’t know you were meeting with them. Everything all right with Sherlock?”
“Hello! Ariadne, right?” John assured her everything was fine and told her about his intention to have Arthur and Eames give Sherlock some instruction in dreamshare.
“Listen,” Ariadne said in a tone that suggested camaraderie. “If Sherlock is already making dreams that are stable, it might not be the best idea bringing these two on to teach him how to use it. I know they seem like they’re veterans of the technology, but they don’t know everything.” She raised an eyebrow, an untold number of stories underneath the mild statement.
John looked at her, puzzled. “But they taught you, didn’t they?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing,” she said wryly. “It took me a few tries to get it right, but once I got the dream stable, that seemed to be the biggest hurtle over.”
“Stable or not, he fell into limbo,” John said.
Ariadne looked conciliatory. “If you’re that worried, why don’t you just have Arthur and Eames go under with him, see what he’s doing already, and make sure he’s okay?” John nodded reluctantly. “I’m just saying,” she continued, “having him change his dreaming technique now might be more work than just going with what works for him. I was able to push the boundaries of what they thought was possible because I didn’t have preconceived notions about it. These are dreams we’re talking about. In a lot of ways it’s better to go with your instincts.”
John sighed. “That does sound like an easier idea to pitch to Sherlock than lessons. Would you be able to talk to those two and I’ll talk to Sherlock?”
Ariadne smiled reassuringly and turned to enter the cafe.
“Wait,” John said, causing Ariadne to stay her hand on the door. “When you’re done with your... meeting. Would you like to meet me somewhere...”
Ariadne’s brow wrinkled deeply. “Aren’t you with Sherlock?” she asked earnestly.
John huffed in frustration and turned to go.
Ariadne simply shrugged, then entered the cafe.
“These are places you’ve been,” Arthur said, half a question.
“Some,” Sherlock responded. “Some are amalgams of places. Some are simply warehouses of categorized information. It depends what I need at the time.”
“So this room is...” Eames prompted.
“The office of Marcus Thornton,” Sherlock said, as though it was explanation enough.
“You know, you really shouldn’t recreate places you know from life,” Arthur warned. Then, after a beat, “Why this place?”
“Because something’s not right here, and I’m reviewing it,” Sherlock rolled his eyes, though his back was to the two men who were tourists in his mind.
“You actually remember these places in perfect detail?” Arthur asked.
Sherlock quirked a brow at Arthur, declining to answer such an obvious question.
Eames, who had been simply propped against a wall, arms crossed and observing quietly, made a barely noticeable move that caught Sherlock’s eye. When Sherlock looked, he saw, for one astonishing moment, himself standing abnormally straight, head cocked and peering back at him curiously.
The image shivered and Eames was there once more.
“Eames, for God’s sake,” Arthur said peevishly. “Can you not do that in front of people? At the very least, not do it in front of the person you’re forging? A little etiquette.”
“I do apologize,” Eames said to Sherlock. “I just wanted to do it once while it’s still fresh in my mind.”
Sherlock looked askance at Eames, but couldn’t actually find any serious objection to the act. “Quite all right,” he said, then let it drop to continue his gaze around to room. It’s what he did when he knew he’d missed no detail but had failed as yet to put two significant points together: he’d allow the facts to sit in his mind while he weighed this fact and that. Being in the room made it easier; at least it would if he could stop being interrupted.
Arthur wandered about the room, blithely ignoring Sherlock’s irritated glares when Arthur crossed Sherlock’s line of vision. “You’ve never gone into someone else’s head, only your own?” Arthur prodded further.
“Haven’t had the need,” Sherlock replied crisply. “I imagine they’re dull places. People lack imagination.”
For no apparent reason, Eames burst into hearty laughter while Arthur flushed angrily. Sherlock suspected he’d triggered some kind of inside joke, but couldn’t be bothered finding out more about it.
“Are you quite finished here? I need to think.” Sherlock said.
“Ever gone deeper? A dream within a dream?” Eames asked, shifting off the wall and taking a few steps towards Sherlock.
“Not deliberately,” Sherlock said dryly.
Eames nodded, and Arthur looked conciliatory — apologetic even — which was a look Sherlock was occasionally used to receiving, but always made him slightly uncomfortable.
“Arthur, I think we’ve taken up enough of Mr. Holmes’s time,” Eames said, hands in his pockets. “I don’t see any real danger here. In any case, that whole ‘don’t recreate from life thing’ was Cobb’s rule, and not even he listened to his own advice.”
Giving Eames a quick glance, Arthur shifted his attention back to Sherlock. “Do you have a totem?”
“No,” said Sherlock, drawing the syllable out. “I assume there’s no stopping you telling me what one is.” His patience was wearing thin.
“It’s to keep track of what’s real,” Arthur replied, impervious to Sherlock’s hints, subtle and otherwise, that they weren’t welcome in his head and had outstayed their welcome. “It should be something small, something you can carry with you. Your mind will naturally treat this object different in the dream than in reality, knowing what it’s for. How it works depends on what it is. My die rolls differently in dreams than reality.”
Sherlock said nothing, but mentally acknowledged it wasn’t a bad idea. His first thought was the ring, the one John took. But would that be appropriate, asking for it back? One never knew with John. He seemed privy to a set of codes that Sherlock didn’t have time for; he simply couldn’t spare the bandwidth to catalogue that mass of information. Besides, that’s what he had John for.
“A totem. Right. Fine.”
“Just don’t let anyone else touch it; that would defeat the purpose,” Arthur added.
“Naturally,” Sherlock said, sensing the end of the inspection, or whatever it was they hoped to achieve by coming under.
“I think that’s about all we have for advice, Mr. Holmes,” said Eames. “Arthur, I think we can leave this gentleman to his own devices.”
“Sure, if we’re on the 2:00 p.m. flight to Marbella we can begin the orientation of the new architect,” Arthur replied.
“New architect? I thought Ariadne was...” Eames began before Sherlock interrupted.
“Wait. Say that again.”
“New architect?” Eames asked, baffled.
“Not you, him,” Sherlock said impatiently. “What did you say?” he addressed Arthur.
“I said we could catch the earlier flight to Marbella to train the new architect.”
“No. You didn’t,” Sherlock said.
Appearing to understand that Sherlock was looking for a specific word or words, Arthur thought for a second, then repeated, “If we’re on the 2:00 p.m. flight to Marbella we can begin the orientation of the new architect”.
“Thank you,” Sherlock said, grinning. “Seems you’ve been of some use after all.”
As Arthur and Eames each tucked through a window to jump the four stories to reality, Sherlock took one last satisfied look around the office. Pleased, he swept from the room, dressing gown billowing behind him and made his way to his recreation of 221B Baker Street to quietly assemble this thoughts in peace before his timer ran out.
Two days later Sherlock awoke to a note from John:
Popped out for milk and bacon.
Back around 10:00.
Not that you’ll be up by then.
Sherlock looked at his phone: 9:20. Time for a quick 15 minutes.
Sherlock came out of his artificial dreamscape with a deep breath and a sigh, memories (replayed yet again) of Moriarty and Richard Brook, of John with a phone to his ear, his arm stretching out. Once again Sherlock experienced a sharp feeling of disconnect between the John in his dream (and when had he lost track of the fact that he was dreaming? Disconcerting.) and the John in reality...
The door opened early.
Sherlock eased the cannula from his vein and missed John’s wary gaze at the silver briefcase beside him.
“How long were you under?” he asked, his tone a practiced bedside neutral.
“Quarter of an hour,” Sherlock replied, spooling and packing away his equipment.
John relaxed his shoulders minutely. “Reviewing a case?”
“What date is it today?” Sherlock asked, ignoring John’s question.
John looked at Sherlock accusingly; Sherlock ignored that too. “23rd,” John said. Then, “of March,” he added, pre-empting a question which ought not to be necessary, but was always a possibility with Sherlock. Sherlock didn’t blame him; it wasn’t necessary this time, though.
“Damn,” Sherlock frowned and pursed his lips. “We’re running out of time. Pass me my phone.”
John looked around, then gave up hope in the clutter that covered every surface. “Little help?”
“On the desk,” Sherlock said, not having moved a muscle from where he’d been hooked up to the PASIV on the sofa. “No, no, don’t give it to me. Text Lestrade. Ask him for a list of people accused of theft of valuable antiquities in the past five years.”
“What, why?” John asked, but he was already scrolling through to find Lestrade’s number.
“There is a set of silver drinking vessels going up for auction soon. From the outer reaches of the empire of Alexander the Great.”
“And you have reason to believe they’re being targeted?” John asked, typing in the text.
“Just send it, thank you.” Sherlock said, then steepled his fingers and would say no more.
“Get your coat, John, we’re going to Sotheby’s,” Sherlock called to John from the sofa.
There was no answer for a moment, but he knew John must be there; he had been hovering about like a worried parent (Sherlock assumed — he’d only known his mother and she never ‘hovered’ a day in her life).
He heard John’s footsteps on the stairs. (Where had he gone? Not far, surely. Ah, Mrs. Hudson. Probably returned her platter from the chicken the night before).
“I said get your coat,” Sherlock insisted, as though John should have heard him the first time.
John did, and as he pulled it on, he asked, “Where are we going?”
“Sotheby’s,” Sherlock said simply, shedding his robe and shrugging into his overcoat.
John looked confused for a moment. “What? What for?” Then frowned, remembering. “Is this to do with that Marcus fellow? He was supposed to work at Sotheby’s, wasn’t he?”
“Nothing gets past you,” Sherlock said with a smile, and held the door open, gesturing John through.
Across the road a man sat with a newspaper in his car who watched as Sherlock strode almost happily, and John hurried along beside, barely a hitch in his step where there was a heavy limp when he had entered the building. The man straightened, waited for the men to turn the corner out of view, then folded the newspaper up and drove away.
“How do you know they’ll make a move tonight?” asked Lestrade, though the question was more curiosity than necessity, seeing as he’d already arranged for two of his men and himself to come to Sherlock’s aid, with several others close by blocking available exits. He blew on his hands to warm them and stomped his feet a little in the cold as they stood in the shadows within easy view of the rear door of the auction house.
“You mean aside from the fact that the items go up for auction tomorrow and will be taken by the winning bidder afterwards, making this the only time between delivery and purchase that they could be pilfered?” Sherlock asked.
“That’s the start of my questions, yeah,” Lestrade answered.
“The receptionist,” was Sherlock’s only reply.
Lestrade was about to question Sherlock further when Sherlock stayed him with a gesture. The door opened, and a man popped his head out, peering into the gloom. Looking frustrated, he pulled back inside and closed the door again.
“Who was that?” asked John.
“Ebbe Berg, I imagine,” Sherlock said. “Brother of Carl Berg, aka ‘Leshy’.” At the blank stares that met him, Sherlock said, “The Slavic creature known to take other forms?” Continued blank stares.
Irritated, Sherlock fell to silence, staring intently at the door, tense and alert like a stalking predator. Lestrade finished the part of the explanation apparently missing.
“Leshy has been behind a good portion of the antiquities thefts across the globe for years.” Lestrade kept his voice low, and his eyes on the door. “He’s the one what stole that Rodin piece from Paris few years back. At least, that was the name spoken in those sorts of circles. He’s got warrants out for his arrest from here to Melbourne. How on Earth Sherlock is so sure this is him is beyond me.”
There was a movement at the end of the alley, and the five men shrank back into the various shadows they had secreted themselves in. A man walked casually into the alley, as though out for a stroll, and as strode right up to the door, giving it a gentle knock as though it wasn’t a supposedly alarmed security door.
The door opened and the man inside handed off a bulky duffel bag.
Sherlock stepped forward out of the shadows followed closely by Lestrade and John, with the two uniformed officers flanking the sides in an attempt to cover both possible exits down the alley.
On catching a glimpse of the men coming towards him, Leshy dropped the bag and bolted for end of the alley. The uniformed officer and John both jumped to action, tackling Leshy to the ground where John pinned him with a knee at the small of his back.
Ebbe tried to run in the opposite direction, but before the uniformed officer could intervene, Sherlock stepped in between, clotheslining Ebbe so that he fell on his back with a sickening thud.
Lestrade was busy cuffing Leshy, while the uniformed officer, assisted by Sherlock, arrested Ebbe, already citing him his right to silence.
With both men quietly furious but unable to flee, Sherlock stood, straightened his coat, and picked up the duffel bag, a muffled clanging issuing from its contents.
“I believe you can handle the rest,” Sherlock said, setting the bag down in front of Lestrade and turning to leave.
“Wait, I need a statement from you,” Lestrade said.
“And you know exactly where to find me,” Sherlock replied and strode off, sparing a glance and expectantly raised eyebrows for John as he passed.
It was a chilly walk back to Baker Street. Sherlock turned his collar up against the night’s breeze.
“All right, you going to explain?” John asked after a time.
“It’ll seem obvious in retrospect,” Sherlock warned, but he was smiling.
“Don’t act like I should know all about it, just tell me,” John said irritably.
“You had access to the same information I did,” Sherlock pointed out mildly. Then he continued, “I would have solved it earlier, but I made the mistake of thinking the mystery lie in Marcus’s new job. I thought this mystery employer had some particular interest in Marcus himself, and therefore would find some surveillance equipment in his office. Finding nothing of the sort, I set about trying to find some other detail I might have missed. He was being monitored, that much was clear,” Sherlock kept a steady saunter, antithetical to his rapid recounting of his thought process.
“Wait, clear? How was that clear?” John asked.
“The receptionist,” Sherlock said simply. He waited a beat, but when John failed to realize himself the importance of that detail, Sherlock continued. “Marcus received an email about a new receptionist being hired. As the job was obviously a blind, a receptionist would hardly have been necessary. Perhaps they could have had an accomplice come to observe him, but that wouldn’t have been necessary if they had already been watching him. Why wait several weeks? You see?”
John nodded thoughtfully.
“And the timing was a little too perfect. Marcus gets suspicious, comes to me for help, we accompany him to examine the place further, outside of office hours, and suddenly he receives an email about a new receptionist. It was obviously a ruse to throw us off the scent. But why? Surely when the receptionist failed to show up on the date specified, Marcus would know the game was up. No, there was no receptionist, as Marcus would have served his purpose by the Monday.”
“Okay, I follow. But what purpose was Marcus serving?” John prompted.
“It wasn’t until I spent some time in his space again in the dream that it fell into place. I had just been thinking that the office was simply a place to keep Marcus out of the way when Arthur mentioned something about an orientation. You’ll recall when Marcus was telling us about the situation, he said he’d been about to go in for his orientation when he received this other offer. He hadn’t actually met anyone he’d be working with at that point. That’s when it all fell into place. You see now?”
John thought for a second. “It was the original job they were after. They sent someone in his place?”
“Precisely,” Sherlock said, satisfied. “They needed a way in, and Marcus was their key. After that all it took was a quick look at Sotheby’s upcoming auction items — the silver drinking vessels were getting some attention by then as a historical curiosity — and a quick text to Lestrade to find out who might be interested in such an item. The rest you know.”
Sherlock glanced up at the window of Baker street as they approached, placed a hand on John’s shoulder and stopped him.
“There’s someone in our flat,” he said.
“It’s probably Mrs. Hudson,” John said.
“Mrs. Hudson is visiting her sister in Dover,” Sherlock said, and gently tugged John in the direction of the building across the street.” At John’s alarmed look, Sherlock added, “I’ve been expecting this. We’ve been watched for the past four days.”
Once in the building, Sherlock led John up the stairs to the first floor, and picked the lock of a flat he knew to be empty. He went to the window, hanging back in the shadows as much as possible, and peered through. There were definitely at least two men in their flat looking for something.
A creak at the end of the hallways had Sherlock stiffening to attention, and the barely discernible sound of footsteps had him pushing John further into the shadows of the corner, one finger on his lips and body pushing John to the wall.
John said nothing, and breathed quietly through his open lips, his breath hot on Sherlock’s finger. The footsteps stopped a distance away, and the sound of a doorknob being tried, very quietly, drifted into the darkness surrounding Sherlock and John.
In the ensuing seconds (that felt like minutes), silence prevailed and Sherlock was hyper aware of both the potential threat of discovery and of John’s proximity. It had been perhaps rash to shove John into the corner like this, but Sherlock had only been thinking of secrecy. The darkness was thick but in the backsplash from the window Sherlock could see the outline of John’s features, the look on his face as he looked back at Sherlock: a look of both familiarity and wonder, of seeing something in Sherlock that Sherlock himself didn’t understand.
Sherlock dropped his hand, and John lifted his chin just a fraction when the footsteps began again, unmistakably approaching their door.
They froze, and the tension suddenly shifted outside of themselves as the doorknob turned.
A familiar silhouette stepped into the doorframe, followed closely by another familiar silhouette.
“What are you doing over here?” came Arthur’s voice.
Sherlock stepped into the light of the window. “I believe you ought to answer first,” Sherlock said dryly. “My brother holds the lease on this building, so I have every right to be here. You, on the other hand, are breaking and entering.”
“We saw you approach your building, then veer off here,” Eames said, making a move to flick on the light before thinking better of it. “We came to speak to you about your PASIV device. We know where it came from.”
“I purchased it from a minor government official,” Sherlock said, frowning.
Arthur answered, though Sherlock was addressing Eames. “But he got it during the confusion surrounding a failed extraction from one of his colleagues. It didn’t belong to him. It belongs to man named Sy. Sy, lucky for you, is a friend of ours, but definitely not a friend of yours at the moment.”
“Ah, he’s come to take it back, has he?” Sherlock peered out the window again at the men poking about his flat. “They’ll be looking for some time. When I’d sussed that we were being watched, I thought it might have something to do with the device. I’ve kept it with Mrs. Hudson for safekeeping.”
“That wasn’t wise,” Eames said mildly. “Sy isn’t simply going to let one of his devices sit in civilian hands when it was wrongly taken from him. You’d do better to return it to him.”
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at Eames.
“Look,” Arthur intervened. “We tried to talk to Sy on your behalf when we found out whose it was. We told him you were a civilian with some pretty high government connections, but someone who wasn’t likely to have stolen from him deliberately. He’s not an unreasonable man. I think if we go to him, he’ll pay you what you paid for it. But I don’t think there’s any version of this where you end up getting to keep the PASIV.”
“You should maybe listen to them, Sherlock,” John said. “This Sy might be a dangerous man to cross.”
“I’m not entirely unfamiliar with having dangerous enemies,” Sherlock pointed out archly. But he looked at John, at the concern writ on his face. There were other devices, after all. Surely it wouldn’t be an impossible task laying his hands on another. “Fine,” he turned back to the two men. “You ring Sy and tell him I’ll meet him tomorrow. There is a Caffe Nero on Queensway in Bayswater. Half eleven.”
“That’s a wise decision, Mr. Holmes,” Arthur said as he dialled his phone. He wandered off into a corner and spoke in a low voice for a few minutes. When he returned he said, “Sy’s men have been called off. They should be out of your apartment in a minute or so.”
Sherlock raised a challenging eyebrow for a moment, and from behind him John said, “Thank you,” a little awkwardly, as though he wasn’t entirely certain he ought to but lacked another response.
Arthur raised his chin, while Eames’s eyes lingered on Sherlock, curious.
“Perhaps our paths will cross again, Mr. Holmes,” Eames said.
“Should you have a problem interesting enough to hold my attention, you know where to find me,” Sherlock replied.
Eames smiled broadly, somehow pleased with Sherlock’s response. They turned and left.
Sherlock hesitated to turn back to John, instead gazing at the window in thought.
“So you’re returning it,” John said, relief carefully measured behind his light tone, but definitely there.
Sherlock waited a beat. (Tell him?) “This one belongs to someone determined to have it back.” Noncommittal. He dared a glance at John, who simply nodded and chewed his lip — biting back a comment.
John approached the window and gently held back the bit of curtain at the edge. “They’re out,” he said, then turned and smiled. He waited for Sherlock to lead the way, his footsteps falling predictably. Reliably.
Two in the morning, the patter of rain dripping off awnings and eaves, the wet whoosh of a lone car on Baker Street. John was fast asleep and Sherlock sat on his bed, hugging his knees, the silver PASIV next to him.
Chaffing at the back of his mind since waking in the hospital was this loose end. Untidy. Irritating. Almost by rote, he cycled through the questions, the singular events that led to his unease.
He’d gone under with the intention of examining the evidence. Why had Irene left her phone with him while faking her death? Surely she knew the risks if Sherlock had unlocked it. (That password: Sherlocked. He was disappointed with his subconscious for such hubris. The real password was likely random. No matter. He’d hand the phone to Mycroft; it’s all the client really wanted to begin with.)
What subtext was happening between Irene and John? A usually acceptable but in this case infuriating gap in Sherlock’s knowledge. Doubly frustrating because John was generally so direct, and yet he seemed to understand the oblique language Irene was speaking.
In the absence of resolution, Sherlock had turned to another case, let his imagination construct a puzzle. Exercise.
The airborne hallucinogenic at Dewar’s Hollow. That must have been when the PASIV’s chemical went wrong. Dropped him deeper into his fantasy. When had Moriarty reappeared? Was he generated by Sherlock’s own mind, then substituted, or had they placed him in Sherlock’s mind to lead him to the precipice? Likely the former. Would the extractors have known the significance of Moriarty, known that he was someone who promised to reappear in Sherlock’s life without Sherlock supplying him first? Unlikely.
The rooftop. The definitive win against Moriarty (never mind that Moriarty was dead before he could know his own defeat. He failed to make Sherlock doubt. He failed to break Sherlock. He failed.)
The phone call, John far below. And there it was. The cause of the chaffing. The loose end.
Sherlock snapped open the case, unspooled the line and inserted the cannula, reclining himself comfortably on his pillows.
The sun glared stark and unforgiving again. Moriarty lay in a mess of blood and shattered bone, staring glassily at the sky. Sherlock walked to the edge and looked down, phone to his ear.
The words were familiar, nothing new to be discovered in them. Sherlock went through the motions and gestures as he had several times since it first happened, both willingly in these dreams, and unwillingly in his own natural ones. Worrying it like a sore tooth.
John’s hand lifted again, involuntary, magnetic, drawing Sherlock’s up as well.
Funny how the fall distilled facts down to their essence. The sacrifices Sherlock made (the lying, the unavoidable disappearance) were done because Sherlock was compelled to admit how important certain people were to him, how loath he was to think of Mrs. Hudson being harmed on his account. Of John. (And hadn’t that been a surprise: Moriarty had been right. He had a heart after all. He’d said it in reality, and Sherlock thought he hadn’t believed him. Oh, how messy the subconscious was, how inexact, but unignorable.) The fall highlighted a lack Sherlock didn’t even know he felt: connection. That gap, unbridgeable.
But it was all a wisp of breath, a mere thought, a situation orchestrated to jolt him out of a limbo into which he’d fallen in a much more real sense. The effect was similar. Fire, danger, falling. They all revealed what was important.
A sense memory. John’s lapel in Sherlock’s fist, his lips under Sherlock’s finger, his breath on Sherlock’s hand. John’s hand brushing Sherlock’s thigh...
Sherlock dropped his hand in the dream. Whatever was here, whatever his mind had been constructing in this final moment before the leap, had since been leapfrogged in reality. He let it go.
He jumped. And woke.