Sherlock examined the body in Barts morgue, matching the messages of the corpse with the messages of his possessions. Male, early thirties, wealthy. Grooming said high-level business executive, but hands suggested scientist. Wealthy, engaged to be married, German-speaking but likely resident of the Czech Republic. "Cause of death?"
"Myocardial infarction," Molly said.
Not necessarily a murder, then. But still, a puzzle.
John leaned over the corpse. "He seems young for that." Sympathy was in his voice; how did John find the energy to care about unknown people?
"Yes," Molly agreed, glancing vaguely at John, "but his blood vessels were badly obstructed; the plaque must have been building up for some time." She added thoughtfully, "I wonder who he'll come back as."
"Oh, you believe in reincarnation?" John, ever patient even with idiots.
Sherlock ignored Molly's response—reincarnation, while ludicrous, was no more so than any other belief in life after death—and checked the fingers again. An unidentified well-to-do man, dead at least three days, well before his body had been placed on the banks of the Serpentine; why hadn't there been an outcry about his disappearance by now? Why had he been holding an obviously falsified photograph of himself and a young woman?
His left side itched. He should have known not to wear a new shirt while on a case; perhaps lack of sleep was finally affecting his brain. Nine hours over four days was less than optimal, and the planned eight last night had become three when the dream woke him. John had not noticed, at least, because otherwise he would be insisting that Sherlock leave the corpse and take a nap.
A slight breeze brushed his neck as the door opened. "Molly? Oh, sorry, didn't know you had guests."
"Jim!" Molly's usual eagerness became breathlessness. Ah. New romantic interest, finally. "Jim, there's someone I want you to meet. Sherlock, this is Jim from IT. Jim, this is Sherlock Holmes and...and his friend."
John. It is not a hard name to remember. Sherlock looked at the corpse's feet. Poor circulation, but not advanced enough to cause neuropathy....
Jim walked into Sherlock's field of vision, brushing too closely en route. "Sherlock Holmes? Molly's told me so much about you. I'm a huge fan of your work. I read Dr. Watson's blog all the time."
"I'm sorry you aren't able to find more educational reading material."
"Thanks so much," John murmured. He extended a hand to Jim. "John Watson. I'm also his assistant."
Jim shook John's hand quickly. "Well. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson." His tone and the lift in his eyebrows showed that he knew the historical parallel, but he didn't pursue the topic, instead turning his attention back to Sherlock. "Everybody says you're so good at looking at someone and telling them all about themselves. Can you do that for me?"
It was always one of those two reactions—either "freak" or "party trick". Really, he preferred "freak". "This is not a good time."
"Please? I'd love to know what you can tell about me."
Sherlock set down the magnifier and glanced over him. Hair product, finger calluses, thumb angles, lack of dress sense, spots on t-shirt, visible contents of pockets, musculature, accent. Trivial. "Fine. You are, as Molly says, in IT, a programmer rather than an administrator. You prefer Macintosh to Windows. You've worked at Barts for less than a month. You have a second income source, either family money or an additional job; the available data can be interpreted either way. Your family is from Dublin, and though you travelled with your parents, you spent a great deal of time there in your youth. But you've lived in Britain for at least fifteen years, mostly in London. You dabble in guitar. Your preferred exercise is swimming. You're largely but not entirely vegetarian. You're dating Molly in spite of the fact that you're gay."
"What?" Molly said.
He had not actually intended to say that last. Damn itching shirt. "Good day."
John gave him the "so not good I can't begin to explain it" expression—ridiculous!—and said, "Did I mention that I'm his blogger? Have you read yesterday's post on what he said about the solar system?"
Jim smiled gamely, but any further comment was bypassed by Molly. "You said 'gay'."
Sherlock sighed. Couldn't she have let that go? "Voice, underwear, product in his hair."
"Blogger," John repeated, "assistant, and sometimes nanny."
"It's not true," Molly said. "Tell him, Jim."
"Also," Sherlock added, "the fact that he just slipped a card with his number into my coat pocket." The phone number was, admittedly, a guess, but a logical one.
Jim looked from Sherlock to Molly and back. "You're right; maybe this isn't such a good time. Molly, were you free for lunch?" At Molly's nod, he said, "Nice to meet you, Sherlock. John."
John shook his head after the door closed. "Was that absolutely necessary?"
"It was true." Sherlock turned back to the corpse.
"Not the same thing at all."
Bruise on the upper thigh, right height to be from a table or desk; stubbed toe could be from same incident. "Would it have been better to leave her in ignorance?"
"It would have been better to find a more tactful way to tell her."
"I don't do tact."
John sighed. "Yes, I'd noticed."
"Amazing. After three months of our sharing a flat, you have finally managed to make a correct deduction. In another fifteen years you might actually be useful." That was...bit not good. Sherlock considered blaming the shirt, or the lack of sleep, but finally decided once again that silence was the best choice.
"Right, then." John pulled on his coat.
"Why are you leaving?"
"Because otherwise I'm going to plan the perfect murder, and since it'll be yours, no one will solve it."
"You aren't capable of that." You're too good, he refused to add.
"Oh, really? If I pick the right day, Donovan and Lestrade will swear in court that the bullet hole in the wall containing your blood and brains was actually a badly botched attempt at hanging a picture, and Anderson will write up the entrance and exit wounds as unusually bad pimples. So don't push it. I'll see you back at the flat."
Trial of Holmes Murderer to Begin.... Had his namesake angered his friend to the point of murder? He shunted that thought aside. It was irrelevant to this case.
But he was not going to learn anything more from the corpse, at least not with his current shortage of sleep and not without stronger stimulants than he allowed himself to use anymore. Sherlock sighed and rezipped the body bag. He would give John a few more minutes head start, some extra time to calm down, and when he himself got home he would change out of this itchy shirt and perhaps be able to make John smile again.
John strode through the corridors, anger simmering.
Wanker. Prat. Sorry excuse for a human being.
Still the most interesting person I've ever met.
Damn it all.
Leaving Barts, he nearly bumped into DS Donovan coming in. "Afternoon," she said. "Freak still here? Has he found anything?"
He bristled internally at the nickname, as always. "This is Sherlock we're talking about. I'm sure he has. He just hasn't said yet."
Donovan looked at him with a knowing expression. "Drive you out, did he?" At John's noncommittal shrug, she said, "Great, one of those moods. I'll see if he'll deign to tell me what we're supposed to be looking for."
"Good luck. You might see if you can get him out of here before Molly Hooper comes back from lunch."
She rolled her eyes. "Times like these, I like to calm down by thinking of the Thames at night. Moonlight, streetlights, and the freak floating face down." She grinned. "If you decide to repeat history and put him there, try not to be too obvious about it; I'd hate to have to arrest you. See you later, I'm sure."
John would have complained, but as he'd just said about the same thing to Sherlock, he'd lost the moral high ground. "Later." And then, "Wait, what do you mean, repeating history?" But Donovan had already disappeared down the corridor.
When he got back to the flat, John lay down on the couch out of spite for a few minutes. Sherlock would be able to tell—God knew how; sometimes John could swear he'd borrowed a spy camera from Mycroft—and would complain that John had ruined the balance of the padding, but it was nice to stretch, and the git deserved the unsettlement. Fifteen minutes reading a book without Sherlock's commentary on its ending; that was what he needed right now.
Had Sherlock been rearranging the bookshelves again?
Christ, he had, which meant John's own books were forever lost. No, they were probably reshelved somewhere perfectly logical, if by logical you meant "numerically by final digit of Dewey number, then alphabetically by penultimate letter on page 15". Sighing, John stood and started to hunt for anything recognizably his.
Practical Beekeeping, a Nahuatl grammar, a manual for the gun currently hidden in John's wardrobe, an identification guide to jellyfish, huh, two books by someone surnamed Watson. John picked them up for closer examination. Now, that was a coincidence—another John H. Watson. He opened A Study in Scarlet and began to read. "Chapter One: Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
The paper, the binding, both looked genuine and old; it was, then, not a bizarre practical joke that Sherlock was waiting for him to discover. Probably. He read further.
"....I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, my orderly...."
John made it through the mention of Stamford the dresser, but at "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive," he slammed the book closed. Air. Definitely time for air.
He had not been walking for more than ten minutes when a car pulled up, not-Anthea in the back seat. "Oh, no," John said aloud.
She opened the door, eyes as always on her Blackberry. "Oh, yes."
When John was escorted into a vacant Underground station that he was fairly sure he'd never seen on a map, he was unsurprised to see Mycroft Holmes sitting on a bench. "Sherlock's expecting me at home soon," John said calmly. Given that he'd left the book lying on the chair, it was probably even true; Sherlock had undoubtedly calculated how long a walk John would need to come to terms with the information.
Mycroft was equally calm. "I have already let him know you will be delayed."
The first time John had been interviewed by Mycroft Holmes had been frightening. And, yes, exhilarating—thank you very much, second Holmes who knows me better than I know myself. This time? He'd been living with Sherlock for three months. He'd shot a man for him, hauled him out of the Thames once, been mistaken for him and kidnapped, and been accidentally poisoned by an experiment Sherlock had mislabeled. He had new standards for danger; he occasionally thought wistfully of the long stretches of boredom military life had provided.
He surreptitiously checked his left hand. Not a twitch.
Right, then. "Still not spying for you," John said.
"How suspicious you are. And what if I asked you questions out of friendly concern?"
"Depends on the questions." John's shoulderblades prickled. He should not feel like he was walking into a Taliban stronghold wearing a pork jacket.
Mycroft smiled. "Have the nightmares been a problem?"
God, he wanted his gun. Irrational, he told himself, most dangerous man in London or no. "No more than usual. Better than they were before I started helping your brother."
"As good as that is to know, it was not your nightmares I was concerned about. He has been having them again, hasn't he?"
"You do bug our flat, don't you?"
"It is hardly necessary. I knew when I saw that Sherlock was wearing a new shirt while on a case."
John was absolutely certain that Mycroft had a logical chain between the two facts; he was also not going to ask. "I can't say whether he has nightmares or not. I don't know his sleeping habits that well, if you can call anything that irregular a habit...." He closed his mouth belatedly. "No. Still not informing on him."
"You've told me nothing I hadn't long since known. But let me make this easier on your conscience. I have a story to tell you." Mycroft gestured to the other end of the bench. "Sit down, if you wish, or stand if you prefer to loom over me."
John sighed, considered the reach of the umbrella, and sat.
Mycroft said, "You have just been reading about Sherlock Holmes—the nineteenth century one, not the twenty-first. Had you heard of him before?"
How the hell had he known? There must be a camera in the elk's head. "Not that I recall."
"Hmm. True, you are more a reader of speculative fiction than of mysteries." Mycroft sat back. "It has always been a favourite story in our family; the original Sherlock was a distant cousin. My brother and I are named for him and his older brother. And Sherlock has always been obsessed by his namesake's story."
"Really?" Sherlock's obsessions were usually far more obvious. "Why hasn't he ever said anything about it?"
"Probably because your name is John Watson."
Dangerdangerdanger. John braced himself mentally. "So I have the same name as someone who lived with him and wrote about him. What does that have to do with anything?"
"John Hamish Watson. Doctor, military, wounded in Afghanistan, returned to London after his discharge. Met Sherlock Holmes through a friend at Barts; became his flatmate, his assistant, and ultimately, his closest friend."
That was strangely warming. "I'm not sure he'd say that last, but you ought to be the better judge than I."
"I do not think that is where your histories diverge; I would point rather to the earlier Dr. Watson's marriage with Mary Morstan."
What? "You were talking about him? Wait, his middle name was Hamish too?"
"Ask Sherlock to show you the obituary. I am certain he has a printout from the microfilm. Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson lived and worked together for several years. After his marriage, Dr. Watson removed to his own home but remained in contact with Holmes and still assisted him on some cases. He also published two books about Holmes, at least one of which you have clearly been looking at. I warn you that if you continue reading them, they are quite tedious in sections."
"And let me guess; I'm going to read on and find Lestrade, Donovan, Anderson...."
"Only Lestrade." Mycroft ignored John's quiet curse. "And a Mrs. Hudson, if I remember correctly. At any rate, in late April of 1891 Holmes and Watson left England suddenly, and several days later, on the fourth of May, Holmes died in the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, and Watson was arrested for Holmes' murder."
Unexpected, that sense of shock. "If that Sherlock Holmes was as bad about leaving experiments about the flat, I can't blame Watson; I'd have found him innocent due to extenuating circumstances."
Mycroft smiled slightly, but shook his head. "Watson maintained his innocence to his death, claiming that another man had pushed Holmes over the falls and had fallen in turn. But he could give no description of the man; there was no evidence of a third person at the scene, and there was only one body retrieved from Reichenbach, that of Sherlock Holmes. Watson was found guilty and was imprisoned in Switzerland. He was well treated and was even allowed to write further memoirs of Holmes' cases, though the manuscripts have been lost. In early 1894 he suddenly fell ill and died, swearing to the end that he had been poisoned by Holmes' true killers."
Now John understood what Donovan had been alluding to. "Christ. With that history, why is Sherlock willing to live in the same flat as me?"
"And 221B Baker Street at that? He would say he is too rational to let a coincidence interfere with his life. And as I said, he is obsessed with the story."
"What's so important about...oh, God, you're not telling me that they lived there too? You're taking the piss. Hell, you're taking the bladder and kidneys."
"Sherlock could not resist when he saw the advertisement for the flat; he almost asked me for assistance with the rent before he thought better of it."
This was beyond mad. This was all a bizarre hallucination, and he was going to section himself as soon as he got home. "But what does this have to do with nightmares?"
"The first time Sherlock heard the story of Holmes' death, he had nightmares about it, and he swore the next day that Watson had been innocent and he was going to prove it. That was when he was four. Thirty years later, he has not proven it, but he has never forgotten the story. And it would surprise me greatly if he has stopped having the nightmares, though likely he conceals them better than he did as a child."
"What am I supposed to do about it, then?"
"Simply watch. And help him if he asks."
John laughed at that. "You dragged me down here to tell me that? Do you really think, at this point, that you need to force me to help him when he asks for it?"
His mobile chimed before Mycroft could respond.
*WHERE ARE YOU? SH*
John glanced at Mycroft and, at his nod, texted back. *held by dangerous man.*
*Escape and come home. I am about to take a bath and am in danger of falling asleep in tub. SH*
*if not duffer, won't drown.*
*You and Mycroft just sent me the same text. Whatever you're plotting with him, stop it. SH*
John raised an eyebrow at Mycroft. "No," Mycroft said, "I am not tapping your phone. Good day, Dr. Watson. I'm sure we'll speak again soon."
Sherlock had, clearly, managed not to drown himself in the bath; when John finally returned to Baker Street, he found Sherlock changed into pyjamas and dressing gown, looking up something on John's laptop. "Why do we bother to have two computers?" John asked rhetorically.
"In case the battery dies in one. What did Mycroft want this time?"
"To give me a history lesson."
Sherlock stilled. Well, John thought, better have this out now. "So, we're Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, and his assistant Dr. John Watson, living in the same flat formerly inhabited by Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, and his assistant Dr. John Watson. Have I got all that?"
"I'm not planning to throw you off a cliff, if you're concerned about that. Unless I find frog hearts in my tea mug again; then we're making a special trip to Dover."
Sherlock chuckled at that, as John had hoped, then shook his head. "So he told you the whole story. It is incredibly annoying. I am certain—certain!—that Dr. Watson was innocent, but I have never been able to find substantiating evidence. It's ridiculous to be so convinced without proof."
The kettle was already full, and the water heated. John knew a Sherlock apology when he saw one. He picked up his mug, checking it for contaminants before pouring the water. "Would there be any evidence left after so many years?"
"Unlikely. I am forced to remain content with supposition."
Sherlock fell silent, typing on the laptop again. John sat down at the desk with his tea and the book, turning back to where he had left off. Christ, they really did live here. Consulting detective. Violinist who actually played real tunes rather than merely mindless scraping. And God, Mycroft had been right; there was a Lestrade in this book as well.
"He was DI Lestrade's great-grandfather." Sherlock had set aside John's laptop and was now folded in the chair in one of his Thinking poses. "Still a coincidence, but possibly one that will disturb you less than an unconnected person sharing his name. And no, I have never modeled my interests on those of my cousin; we merely share many traits. Though I did intentionally name my website after his book."
Someday John would figure out how Sherlock managed to read his mind. "Does this whole situation weird you out too?"
"Not particularly. Coincidences exist. It is no surprise that I was named after a notable relation, especially since I share his birthday, and your name is not particularly rare. What did you think of the corpse?"
He welcomed the subject change. "Far too young for a heart attack victim. Looked healthy otherwise." John moved to the other chair. "Come on, then; what obvious things did I miss?"
"Besides that he was a German-speaking Czech national, research scientist turned executive in a pharmaceutical company, and being framed for cheating on his fiancée? There was little for you to miss; the useful evidence was removed or destroyed." Sherlock stared over his fingertips. "He clearly was killed elsewhere and moved to the scene; the evidence was so obvious that even Anderson saw it. He has been dead at least three days, and yet no one has reported him missing. Not his firm, so he was not travelling on business; not his family or friends, so they don't expect him home. Conclusion: he was in the UK for an extended holiday. But surely his fiancée would be troubled by the lack of communication; yet she hasn't contacted the police. Therefore, either she is somehow involved or she was a second victim."
Amazing. Again. No matter how many times John listened to Sherlock's reasoning and conclusions, he never tired of it, never stopped feeling proud to be Sherlock's audience. "Have you told...."
"Yes, John, I did give a full report to Lestrade, and I'm sure he will arrange for all the tedious immigration checks and so forth." Sherlock suddenly unfolded himself and stood. "And since there is nothing to do at this time but wait, good night."
John blinked and looked at the time. "It's not even seven."
"What would be the sense in sitting up until an arbitrary hour? There is nothing to do on the case now. Try not to stay up too late reading Dr. Watson's books."
An unfulfilled wish, as it turned out; by midnight, John was smiling and shaking his head over the end of The Sign of Four. Compelling stories, in spite of the digressions and inconsistencies; he'd hate to depend on Watson's testimony as a witness to anything, if the man couldn't remember where his own war wounds were....
John was out of bed and halfway down the stairs before he consciously registered Sherlock's cry. He knocked on Sherlock's door. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine." Sherlock sounded disgusted. "Don't hover."
"You sure? You didn't sound fine."
No response, but a minute later, Sherlock opened the door, fully dressed. "I said, don't hover. I'll be back later."
"Where are you going?"
"To see people who prefer to remain anonymous." He threw on his suit jacket and left, the doors echoing behind him.
Well. I know when I'm not needed.
John finally fell asleep, blessedly uninterrupted by nightmares himself.