By all accounts, it had been another boring Sunday morning. It was a cloudy day – the dreary kind that always threatened rain but never actually let a drop hit the ground. Sherlock was drawn into another one of his experiments, so John knew he would have to entertain himself for the day. Opening his laptop, John pulled up his blog and paused for a second. He had yet to write about their last case, but he still was not motivated enough to do so. Frowning, John rubbed his eyes and sighed. Suddenly, the sound of a door opening caught his attention. He turned around sharply to find the one and only Mycroft Holmes standing in their doorway.
Nodding at the older man, John managed to say, “Morning.” He bit back any snaps about knowing what a buzzer does or how to knock. There was no need to get riled up about something so trivial.
“It’s two in the afternoon. Where’s Sherlock?” Mycroft inquired, getting directly to the point.
John motioned towards the kitchen. “He’s working on one of his experiments,” he responded.
Without another word, Mycroft headed into the kitchen. “Sherlock,” he called out in an attempt to get his brother’s attention.
“Not now,” Sherlock snapped, gazing into his microscope. “Make an appointment with John if you really need to speak with me. I’m busy.” John pressed his lips together as he heard this; he had gone from flatmate to secretary in the matter of seconds.
Mycroft scowled. “This is not a trivial matter that can be ignored until your earliest convenience, Sherlock. Your assistance is required immediately at the Hyde Park Barracks, and I am here to escort you there.”
“Not interested,” Sherlock said monotonously as he picked up a new slide and slid it into place. “Besides, didn’t I already tell you that I was busy?”
Leaning down, Mycroft murmured darkly, “I don’t want to have to force you, but I will if you do not cooperate.”
Blue eyes flashing icily, Sherlock looked up defiantly at his elder brother. “I’d like to see you try,” he hissed back.
“I didn’t want to do this, Sherlock, but you forced my hand,” Mycroft said, louder this time. He glanced at John and said, “If you do not voluntarily leave with me, Dr Watson will be reinstated and sent overseas.”
John felt the blood drain from his face as he processed this new bit of information. When he first arrived in London, part of him missed the war; it had made him feel alive. However, as he continued to live with Sherlock, John felt more alive than he ever had before. Life with Sherlock was far from perfect, but by no means did he want to return to that Hell-hole. “You can’t do that. I was honourably discharged!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, you were. But you were discharged because of your limp and your posttraumatic stress disorder. Miraculously, your limp has healed itself, and you no longer see your assigned psychiatrist, which means you’re over your PTSD,” Mycroft responded. John bit his tongue to keep from snapping. Mycroft had no idea just how far from the truth his last statement was. “You’ve got a clean bill of health, so there’s no reason you cannot head out tomorrow back to Afghanistan.” John swallowed as he tried to remain stoic. He was not going to let Mycroft push him around so easily. In the army, he had been trained on how to hide his emotions. Maybe he could bluff enough to get out of the situation. If he seemed indifferent enough, Mycroft would not believe he had something to hold over John’s head. Slowly, Mycroft reached into his jacket and pulled out some folded papers. “In my hand is your reinstatement and orders. So either you help me, Sherlock, or Dr Watson will return to duty.”
Sherlock rose to his feet and sized his brother up. “Is it really so serious that you must threaten John to get me to help you?” he pressed, observing Mycroft carefully.
“Unfortunately,” Mycroft answered.
Pausing a moment, Sherlock deduced, “And this case is of such importance to you personally that you yourself had to come down here in order to ensure that we would investigate. You didn’t want to leave it to your employees, which means you either don’t trust them or you can’t trust them. This case is very sensitive. Interesting.” He grabbed his jacket and threw it on. “What are the details?” he inquired as he reached for his scarf.
Relaxing, Mycroft put the papers back into his inner jacket pocket. “Three weeks ago, four people were murdered,” Mycroft began to explain, heading towards the door.
Following, John frowned as he heard this. “There was nothing in the paper about serial killings,” he noted.
“Of course there wasn’t. The public would have panicked if they heard about it, and the elections are coming up,” Mycroft chided as they headed down the stairs.
Sherlock groaned and rolled his eyes. “Another one of your ‘national security’ cases, Mycroft? You have so many of them nowadays, I’m surprised that there’s any sense of security at all in this country.”
Glaring at his younger brother, Mycroft continued as if nothing had been said, “The murders appeared random. Although we knew the same man killed all four people, we couldn’t figure out how they were connected.”
“Then how do you know that the same man killed all of them?” John pressed.
Sherlock clicked his tongue. “Obvious, John, it’s so obvious. The killer left something behind to identify himself with. And since nothing was leaked to the press, it had to be the same man every time,” he explained, slightly exasperated. “When does this case get interesting?”
“These murders happened three weeks ago, and then nothing,” Mycroft continued as he opened the car door. John slid inside first, knowing Sherlock would not get in until he did. After him, Sherlock slid into the seat, forcing Mycroft to awkwardly shift around them in order to sit in the seat across from them. John looked at Sherlock to find the other a bit amused at his elder brother’s situation. Finally, Mycroft was sitting comfortably, the door was closed, and they had begun moving. “Today, there has been a fifth murder.”
Sherlock blinked and then smirked. “An officer was murdered in the barracks, and you need to know how the killer got in and out without being seen,” he deduced. Mycroft pressed his lips together, looked directly at Sherlock, and shifted just a tad. Tilting his head slightly, Sherlock examined his brother carefully. “Oh. That is interesting,” he murmured.
“What is?” John inquired, not following.
Sherlock did not acknowledge John’s question. “You believe that there’s someone on the inside who did this, and you can’t trust your usual investigators because it could be one of them as well. That’s why you need me to investigate this,” he continued.
Shocked, John looked between the two brothers. “Are you serious? You think that an officer – a soldier sworn to his country – would murder his comrades?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes,” Mycroft conceded. “Let me assure you that I by no means wanted to turn to you for help, but I am afraid that I have no other choice.”
Sherlock smirked. “And therein lies your reason for blackmailing. Boring! I had actually thought you were going to be interesting for once, Mycroft.”
“You will not only be investigating this case, but the other four murders as well. There must be some connection between the five murders that we’re missing,” Mycroft declared.
Eyes flashing, Sherlock asked, “And what do I get out of this?”
“You get to keep your flatmate, for one,” Mycroft responded, motioning towards John.
John honestly hated how he was always used as a pawn against Sherlock. If someone threatened Sherlock, they had a tendency to use him as leverage. On the other hand, he felt honoured that people believed Sherlock actually cared about him. He suspected it was not true to some extent – or, at least, that Sherlock was not as attached to John as much as John was to him. Deep down, he worried that one day Sherlock would deem him an annoyance in his life and leave John to be alone once more. What a dark day that would be.
Mycroft’s voice drifted into John’s consciousness. “So what do you say?” he asked. John realised he must have missed a good portion of the conversation while lost in his thoughts.
“I’ll agree to investigate on two conditions,” Sherlock responded.
Mycroft kept a guarded expression on his face. “What might those be?” he inquired.
“The first would be that you kept nothing from me. No matter where this leads me – and I don’t care if it’s directly to the Queen herself – you must give me any and all information that I might need to solve this case. Everything in your disposal,” Sherlock began.
Nodding, Mycroft agreed, “Consider it done. And the second?”
“When this investigation is over, you are going to ensure that John can never again be pulled into active duty and shipped overseas,” Sherlock stated, his voice dangerously low. Mycroft hesitated as he heard this. “I will not negotiate this term, Mycroft. I don’t care how you do it, but make sure that John Watson always remains honourably discharged. I cannot have you threatening to send John off every time your own investigators are incapable of working properly. We’d be getting threats every week.”
Mycroft grit his teeth together before running his tongue over the front of his teeth. “Very well, Sherlock,” he finally replied. “I will ensure that Dr Watson remains here in London for as long as he wishes if you solve this case.”
The car rolled to a stop outside a large, multi-storied building. It by no means stood out - just another skyscraper – but only few knew what happened inside of it every day. Sherlock was the first to emerge from the car, followed by John and then Mycroft. An officer was standing at attention, waiting for them. “This is Lieutenant Thompson. He’ll be escorting you to the crime scene. Inform me the moment you discover anything, would you, Sherlock? I don’t want to have to place you under surveillance again.”
Sherlock refused to address his brother. Instead, he said to the lieutenant, “Take me to it then.” Both John and Sherlock followed the lieutenant to the crime scene: an office several key card swipes and number combinations in and isolated from the rest. Finally, the lieutenant stopped outside a door, opened it, and stepped to the side. Stepping into the room, Sherlock said, “That will be all.”
“You’re dismissed,” John translated, nodding in acknowledgement to the lieutenant. “Thank you for escorting us.”
Nodding, Lieutenant Thompson responded, “I’ll be waiting outside the door if you need me.”
John turned as the door closed to find Sherlock already hovering over the body. Knowing there was nothing he could do to help Sherlock investigate, John looked around the office. The body was in the middle of the floor, just in front of the desk. Next to the body was what had to be the killer’s calling card: the words “Warning Number 5” were carved into the ground next to the body. The office itself was completely trashed, meaning someone had been searching for something. Maybe the victim had walked in on the killer going through his things, a fight ensued, and then the murder. Or perhaps the victim was murdered first and then the killer started searching. John figured that it was an answer only Sherlock could figure out. However, the real question was if the killer found whatever it was he was looking for. After a few moments, Sherlock straightened out and called out, “John.”
Sherlock did not need to say another word; John knew exactly what he wanted. Kneeling down next to the body, John began his examination. The body was cold – stiff – in full rigor mortis. There were abrasions on the hands and bruising around the wrists. Although his uniform kept John from seeing anymore, he guessed that there would also be bruising on his arms, chest, and legs. His knuckles were also bloody. Moving on, John noticed something wrong with the head and neck. It took him a couple seconds to realise the awkward position of the head was due to the neck being broken.
“Cause of death appears to be due to a broken neck. He’s been dead since about five to seven this morning. Defensive wounds on his knuckles signal he fought back, and the bruises started forming before he died,” John informed Sherlock.
Looking around the room, Sherlock answered, “So someone from this building killed him.”
“How could you possibly know something like that?” John snapped, immediately defensive.
Sherlock responded, “His neck is broken.”
“Anyone who takes a self-defence class can learn how to break a neck,” John pointed out.
Still looking around the room, Sherlock responded, “Yes, but not everyone who has taken a self-defence class can get into a building like this. The only way into this office is via a key card and code. Anyone else would have been escorted in like we were, and they would have been noticed.” Sherlock headed towards a bookshelf and began rummaging around the books still left on it. “Mycroft wouldn’t have needed me if it was that easy. So this person either works here or comes here often enough that he draws no attention to himself by entering the building.” Shaking his head, Sherlock turned around and began searching the desk. “He’s probably familiar with the security system here then, and he was familiar enough with this man’s schedule to know he came in early in the morning before anyone else. Even so, he wouldn’t have had much time to find what he wanted. He needed to be out of the building before someone found the body.”
“What about the security system?” John inquired. “In a place like this, everyone is bound to have their own security code. And their surveillance tapes should show us who came in during those times.”
Clicking his tongue, Sherlock sighed. “They don’t have any surveillance tapes,” he informed John.
“What do you mean? I saw the surveillance cameras myself!” John exclaimed.
Sherlock slammed a drawer shut and actually took the time to look at John, which meant he must have said something Sherlock considered spectularly stupid. “Do you know what happens inside this building every day?” he inquired.
“No,” John responded.
“Precisely. They are not going to keep video records of it either. The cameras are fake in order to keep up the appearance of constant surveillance,” Sherlock told him as he began feeling around the desk. “Truth is that they rely only on their codes and key cards and believe undoubtedly that there is no other way to get in and out without it being registered.”
John suggested, “If that’s true, shouldn’t we check to see who came in between five and seven?”
“It would be pointless,” Sherlock informed him, still critically examining the desk.
Pressing his lips together, John inquired, “Why?”
“Because Mycroft would have already done that. Had it yielded anything, I wouldn’t be here. Besides, the killer would have been too smart for that. He’s familiar with the security system here, and he would make sure that there’s no electronic fingerprint of his presence. Ah-ha!” he exclaimed, banging on the desk. John headed over to see a secret slot pop out of the desk. Sherlock pulled out a notebook and smiled as he saw it. Opening it, he looked inside, and his eyes widened. John knew that look; it was his interested look. Peeking over, John saw nonsensical letters with a few numbers thrown in here and there. “This is brilliant. An encoded message from our murder victim. This must be what the killer was looking for, only he either didn’t have the time or intellect to find it. If we can decode this, we should know at least what our killer wanted if not who the killer is. Come, John!”
Staggering after him, John followed Sherlock out of the room. Lieutenant Thompson was waiting for them as he said. They both followed him and were almost to the exit when John heard his name being called out. “Captain Watson!” Turning, he saw someone running towards them. The man was average height, a bit heavy-set yet built; his brown hair had a buzz cut and his green eyes were sharp. After a few moments, John finally recognised this man as someone he served with in Afghanistan. An army buddy of sorts. Major Andrew Clayworth.
“Major!” John responded, smiling friendly at his former brother.
“It’s Lieutenant-Colonel now,” he said proudly, motioning towards his insignia.
Surprised, John said, “Congratulations, Lieutenant-Colonel.”
“John!” Sherlock yelled, clearly exasperated.
Glancing over, John wanted to hit Sherlock for not giving him five seconds with someone he clearly knew. Instead, he thought of something better. “Lieutenant-Colonel, this is my colleague, Sherlock Holmes,” he said, introducing the two. Turning towards Sherlock, John went on, “I served with Lieutenant-Colonel Clayworth in Afghanistan.”
“Back then, though, I was just a major,” Clayworth pointed out.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and examined Clayworth up and down. Immediately, John knew he was going to regret not just walking away with Sherlock. “Just a major?” he echoed.
In an attempt to stop Sherlock’s train of thought, John cut in, “We really must be going. It was nice seeing you again, and I’m glad you made it back safe.” He shot Sherlock a look that told him to be quiet or else. He could see Sherlock’s observations were about to emerge from his mouth at any given second.
“We should catch up some time,” Clayworth stated in a chipper voice. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, and I haven’t really had a good visit to a pub since I returned.”
Nodding, John concurred, “We should.”
Clayworth reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a card. “Ever heard of the Globe?”
“I have,” John responded, nodding.
Clayworth suggested, “Then why don’t we meet there tomorrow night? Say around 10?”
“Sure. I’ll see you there,” John quickly answered before heading towards the door. He called back, “It was good seeing you again!”
“You, too!” Clayworth yelled back.
As soon as they exited the building, John snapped, “Could you not be civil for just two minutes of your life, Sherlock?”
“Would being civil benefit the case?” Sherlock inquired.
Rubbing his temples, John said, “Not everything is about being beneficial to a case or to you, Sherlock. Sometimes, you just need to be civil to people and get nothing in return.”
“Why? That’s just so,” Sherlock paused for a moment, clearly trying to find the proper word, “inane, don’t you think?”
John retorted, “Actually, I find it rather nice. It’s good to know that there are some good people in this world who don’t only act with selfish intentions!”
“Everyone is selfish, John. People only act on selfish intentions! Everything anyone does results in making themselves feel better. It’s just no one says it outright. Everyone’s in so much denial that they don’t realise exactly what they’re doing,” Sherlock responded, clearly annoyed. At hearing this, John felt anger rush through his veins. He had yet to truly get angry at Sherlock, but he was hitting a sensitive button for John. Unknowingly, Sherlock was bringing up some of John Watson’s deepest fears. He looked over to see John’s hard expression as he tried to keep Sherlock from seeing through him. After a moment of examination, he said, “You’re disappointed in me again.”
Looking away, John slightly nodded his head. “Very good,” he encouraged mockingly.
“But why?” Sherlock queried, clearly baffled by John’s reaction. “Why do you care what I think of the world? You’ve never let it bother you before.” Even if Sherlock would understand, John could not express himself. Instead, he turned on his heels and began heading down the street. “Where are you going?”
“On a walk!” John yelled back, stalking off.
He was seething on the inside, his emotions boiling over. Sherlock always managed to do that to him. Although he could keep a generally cool exterior, Sherlock always saw through it. He could call John out, and John hated feeling vulnerable. Besides, it frustrated him how Sherlock never understood. He could never place himself in John’s shoes. How could he even comprehend John’s emotion-related insecurities? Of course, he had made the mistake of trusting Sherlock of all people, although he was still not sure why he trusted Sherlock so wholeheartedly. Since childhood, John had had issues with trust; his sister had not made it any easier for him over the years either. The reason he joined the army was because he felt that there would be a bond of trust there. After all, they would be trying to survive and would have to rely on one another to make it through the day. And to an extent, John had been right. But in his moment of need, John discovered just how alone he was. That was why when he returned to London, he did not keep in contact with anyone from the army. He just wanted to leave that behind him. And then he had met Sherlock, and his world had been flipped upside-down. Sherlock saw through John, no matter how much he tried to hide everything. Sometimes, John was grateful for it. He did not have to pretend in front of Sherlock. Other times, he hated it. Generally, this happened when Sherlock found being “human” dull, boring, mundane, pointless, senseless, idiotic, or flawed.
Suddenly, John mobile phone gave a pip. He looked down to find a text from Sherlock. It read, “I need you to figure out if there was any connection between the five victims. Focus on army ties. –SH.” John sighed and shook his head before signalling for a taxi to stop. Just as he slid into the seat, his mobile phone gave another pip. He quickly opened the text and read, “And I’m sorry. –SH.” Smiling to himself, John appreciated that Sherlock at least tried.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked.
John looked up and responded, “221B Baker Street.”