It was midnight in London. Somewhere in the darkened streets someone was whistling to the tune of the Bee Gees while someone else was thawing out blood. In another place a woman with excellent texting skills carried a cup of tea (skim, no sugar, one half ginger biscuit on the side) into a man who was spinning a hurricane of numbers into a fine string of nothing, nothing, nothing. Somewhere else a woman smiling like power and wanting but never getting reached for a riding crop. In an impressively fortified block of flats sat a man with a bandage at his hip absently measuring the flighty bird-pulse at his brother’s wrist while pouring over piles of paperwork, gangs and streets and petty crimes jagging along the curve of his brain. He brother dreamed of teeth and bones and whispering white blood cells.
There was also a flat where someone stalked and muttered in front of a wall of photographs and scrawled notes bound together with red string. Just above him, on the roof, a doctor who had been turned into a child narrowed his eyes at a policeman who had lost his entire family. Their bond was like that of the survivors of an atom blast, their whole lives between one second and the next. The two of them met like this often, usually in the very early morning. Two or three times a week, enough so it was familiar, so that it worried them faintly that it was too familiar. They had conversations with the cold in their teeth and the drowsy fog of London night turning into day like a pillow fort hanging above their heads. They spoke about Afghanistan where the stars burn like magnesium. About the future where cops still drank bad coffee. About the one year at St Bart’s, the summer after which John’s mother died, his sister started drinking and he switched schools. John, the little soldier, the little doctor is able to speak more freely of his losses. Dimmock, the doe eyed policeman and his set boyish jaw will not tell how Grendel killed his wife, will not pull out the newspaper clipping from inside his jacket pocket, not in front of anyone. Sometimes they spoke of Moriarty, which made Dimmock bite his lip and wonder if he should tell John, and other times Dimmock would quote criminals of his own.
They were like refugees from their own better times finally returning home a regime change and half a lifetime later. They were desperate to tie themselves tight together with a thousand little words to hook into each other. And their eyes fell over the slight alterations of the streets and the billboards and the music floating up from the corners of people’s windows. But underneath all of that was London, their London, their home. The neat twist of streets and the sloped back of black taxi cabs and the tucked up doorways just a skip up off the pavement to houses and flats and shops. It was home again and familiar and peaceable in their bones if they let it be and they could wander the streets and catch familiar names and known faces the way a wayward son back again would be able to say I knew your grandfather, your aunt was the prettiest girl in school. And all that had changed; all that had slipped through their fingers might not be gone. Might not be lost. Might only be a little different if they were brave enough to put their feet back in where they had been before. London would always be their home place, their belonging place. Even in their melancholy they fit into the giant city like cogs in a great clock.
When Dimmock was in a good mood he would speak of pleasant things, speak about his family and of his marriage to his own love, his Lizzie. About how he was stupid and stubborn before she broke him in to a comfortable sort of shape. He was the sort of man for whom life was better with an intimate feminine hand gently guiding it. On this night they were both in good moods, both in good places, and Dimmock was telling John about himself. Sharing mate sorts of things. The things that mates should know.
“You didn’t,” John laughed, rubbing his mittened hands together. The mittens were a gift from Mrs. Hudson, his landlady – not his housekeeper, with a line through the back of his jacket to keep them connected. It was useful to have his mittens tied together. He would have benefited from connected mittens before when he was an adult and regularly would lose gloves while climbing around alleyways and warehouses.
Dimmock laughed back, a sound like a gate fighting rust, and passed over his thermos of exceptionally rich hot cocoa. It took the cold out of their bones since the doctor couldn’t have alcohol and the policeman had an on again off again relationships with the twelve step program. Although it was mostly on again these days. “I swear- don’t look at me that way John – I swear. I didn’t want to tell Lizzie I’d been shot two days before, she’d been off with her mum and her ridiculous little brother doing girly spa stuff, and I was so high on pain medication I just said ‘pardon me’ and collapsed right over in the middle of the vows. I think into her ridiculous brother actually.”
John took a small, savouring sip of the cocoa. It was like someone had found the dark secret heart of the cocoa bean and squeezed it for all it was worth. It was like down duvets and the dependability of warm skin, being under the covers in a pocket of heat on a cold morning or some sort of slow, gripping Latin dance. John temporarily forgot what they were talking about. “I’m sure he wasn’t that ridiculous.”
“Ho, ho ho, ho ho ho.”
“Oh come off it,” John grumbled good naturedly. It was hard not to be. Sitting on the roof of 221B, wedged comfortably in the midst of Victorian roofing, with a sudden expected ally who knew and understood. Two men ripped from their lives by a madman, wiped from existence and shoved back in wily-nily in younger bodies. There was a comfort in being the only ones to know each other’s’ terrible loss.
“There are so few times an ironic laugh is fitting, I try to use it on every such occasion. He was very ridiculous. He lived off of apple juice, rice cakes and artistic ennui. A small thinnish sort of man, he wore all black,” Dimmock leaned back and closed his eyes, remembering, “Even a black cardigan and all sorts of different colour neck scarves. He took the photos for our wedding so we wouldn’t have to spend for a professional. Half the pictures were of peoples’ shoulders or ankles, or handbags; the other half was split between close shots of babies and Lizzie dancing.”
“I was mad, of course, but Lizzie always indulged her brother. She kept sending him money when he was trying to get his studio started. Sometime in the twenties he met this massive amazon of a Russian woman. The kind that would be exceptionally hot if she wasn’t so terrifying. He followed her around like an adoring puppy, thought the sun rose and set with her. She was good for him though, whipped him into shape so he actually started making real profits and stopped begging his sister for money. She was pretty nice, made pancakes the size of umbrellas. Ottomans. Table cloths.”
“What size table?” John asked.
“Hmm? Small table, end or hallway.” Dimmock’s smile slowly slid into a sigh. He liked to talk about the good things in his life that had been, but the melancholy that it would never be again followed sharp on its heels. The realization of his loss.
He didn’t like to talk about that though. John didn’t know if it was years of police experience that taught him not to cry in front of the civilians, or something English that required Dimmock to keep calm and carry on. In Afghanistan John had seen people lose limbs, lose sight, lose hearing, gain constellations of shrapnel they could look forward to picking out of their skin for decades as it was slowly pushed to the surface. Some of those men and women had kept their lips like closed doors, had steeled their faces, had refused to talk about it. John had sat silently for an hour in a physiatrist’s office contemplating the flooring. Maybe he wasn’t terribly different.
“Back to sleep,” Dimmock nudged John’s shoulder, face pale and dusky from the cold and sitting on the roof, his little ears pink.
“I’m not-” John started to say and then yawned so the squared pearls of his baby teeth showed shadowy in the back.
Dimmock looked up at the crushed velvet of the London night until John was done. Dimmock didn’t remember John in the way that John remembered him. He tried to think about John as an adult, and not as this slightly rolly poly child scrubbing messily at his face with one mittened hand.
“I’m off to Austria for a couple days,” he said.
“Hmm,” sighed John.
“I’m chasing ghosts.” He shifted his head like an overly serious teddy bear. “I have reason to believe there are still members of Dr. Grendel’s original team floating around. If I find them maybe they’ll be able to help us do something about his ray gun.”
They didn’t say reverse its effects; it was too much of a hope. They could pretend they just wanted a way to destroy it for now.
“Hm,” John said. “You need a kit? Anything?”
“Nah,” Dimmock breathed out. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at the Yard. I’ll let you know if its longer than a week.”
John nodded, self-sufficient as always and held himself from the edge of the roof with the grace of a natural born climber. Dimmock leaned over to watch John hook his hands around an old laundry line and the edge of the window frame of his second floor room and lower himself onto the floor as soundlessly as a kitten. Satisfied Dimmock jumped across to 220 Baker Street and then down their fire escape. There was the sound of Sherlock moving the sofa downstairs and then apparently deciding to move it back. John changed into his pajamas and lifted himself up onto his mattress. Sherlock hadn’t thought to get him a child’s bed and John hadn’t asked for one, it seemed too much like accepting failure. Finally the sound of something quick and soft started playing downstairs, a fervent sort of song from Sherlock violin. John curled into a bundle and went to sleep to the sound of it.
In the morning John woke up at half past ten to a knock on his door. He was awake, if not alert, instantly, scrubbing at his face and trying to get to the edge of his mattress. His bed was the perfect size for a grown man, but for an eight year old sized body it was an expanse at times. “What?” he said in the direction of the door.
“You’ve overslept this morning,” came Sherlock’s voice from the other side of the door. “You’re usually up foisting toast on me by now.”
John flicked the bits of sleep out of the corners of his eyes curling his toes at the pleasing warmth and weight of his duvet. He hadn’t liked to sleep beneath a heavy duvet before, but there was something in the weight now that helped him rest. He shook his comfort off and swung his legs over the side, “Sorry. Must have just been tired.”
There was a short silence from the other side of the door, the shadow curl of Sherlock’s robe, then feet padding away. John accepted that as part and parcel of Sherlock with a shrug, reaching for his toiletries in their little sack and slid off the bed, padding to the bathroom. Sherlock appeared before John could shut the door in his slacks and probably-is-silk shirt and silky blue dressing gown. It made perfect sense to Sherlock of course to wear a designer suit and a dressing gown over the top of it. He walked past John to sit on the lid of the toilet.
“Yes?” John asked.
“I just want to watch.” He didn’t have anything further to add so John, after some serious thoughts on the eccentricities of flat mates, shrugged again.
“Fine I guess. It won’t be very exciting.”
Sherlock just folded his hands together and placed his fingertips with great care under his chin.
With a final look to his flatmate he pulled the step stool out from under the sink and stepped up so he could see himself in the mirror. He retrieved his flannel from his kit and put on the water; cool because it was only for a second anyway so why bother standing there for five minutes getting the water the perfect degree of warmth? He scrubbed his face, feeling his eyebrows go every which way and then around to the back of his neck.
“Hmm,” Sherlock said just under his breath.
“What?” John said, smoothing down his eyebrows self-consciously.
“Nothing, please continue.”
John was suddenly suspicious. “Did you do something to my things?”
Sherlock’s head tilted, “Why would you ask that?”
“Because all of the sudden you’re watching me wash my face and going hmm. Usually when someone starts watching you doing something inane and then starts going hmm it means they expect something to happen.”
“You’re very paranoid.”
“You’re watching me wash my face.” This, John felt, was a valid reason for paranoia. Especially considering some of the things Sherlock had pulled in the past.
“Is it not good?” Sherlock asked carefully and John couldn’t shake the feeling of being analyzed.
“I’m a person. Don’t treat me like an experiment. Don’t do that,” he hadn’t realized his hands were fisting until he squeezed the water down on his feet. He shifted uncomfortably before looking away, refusing to look down, not again. He dried his feet on the back of his pajama legs. Something shifted in Sherlock’s posture; at least it looked like something shifted in Sherlock’s posture from what John could see of him.
There was a Sherlock silence; like a Mycroft silence it held volumes. Unlike the twisting turning, Baroque machinations of a truly Mycroftian silence, Sherlock held the hundred possible answers his impossible brain had churned out curled up against the roof of his mouth, but like an isolated child he was unsure which one would be best received. “It is not my intention to incite a fit of paranoia. One can learn a lot about a person based on their morning routine. Did someone experiment on you to test your reactions before?”
“No,” John said, which wasn’t true. Sherlock had experimented on him all the time. 221B was more of a comfortable lab than a place of living, and since John was in said flat he was fair game.
“Considering your background you are really horrible at lying,” Sherlock said, he had backed off his examining face and was back to his normal face. It also helped that like this John was as tall as Sherlock. “I told you I wasn’t going to experiment on you again. I won’t. Please continue.”
John looked at him, feeling how small he was really, he felt the weight of Sherlock’s hair cream, face cream, tweezers, drops, brush comb hiding behind the door of the mirror. Ballast, all ballast and proof of his existence. So many things to maintain his transport and because Sherlock was secretly vain, and Sherlock’s skin was so deceptively dry (he had probably never had to struggle through acne like a normal person) but because of it, even in London, sometimes Sherlock’s skin would crack and he would bleed without the advanced cream that was obscenely expensive and purchased by Mycroft for his little brother. John knew this about Sherlock, that if he wasn’t mindful his heels would crack and he would bleed onto the heel of his socks even though he was much more careful with his hands. Because of experiments and because he didn’t want to show a weakness.
Sherlock had weight to his existence where John was like a puff of fluff in the wind, but John knew so much about Sherlock it suddenly didn’t seem fair not to share this. Not to allow Sherlock to see him carefully smooth his hair down flat, or getting out his cream handled shelter supplied toothbrush and brush his teeth carefully. Not to stand on his stool and carefully wash his hands, between his fingers, his wrists and then wash the soap away with hot water.
“What are you looking for?” he asked as he turned off the water, put everything up in his case. Hung his flannel up to dry on the towel rack.
“You,” Sherlock said. “W.”
“What did you see?”
He looked at John, not just at him, “You really want to know?”
“I don’t get mad when you observe things about me.”
Sherlock blinked at him, “I am an action hero. A brave detective. You’re overwhelmed with childish admiration.”
“I know you well enough.”
“John, the lifestyle I lead can lead to over simplification and romanticizing. There’s nothing wrong with you trying to establish your identity by trying to establish role models.”
“I’ve already established my identity. I’m a doctor. And you’ve not the only person who observes,” John held Sherlock’s gaze.
“What did you observe then John?”
“You resent Mycroft for protecting you as a child so you reject any obvert gestures, the offers of cases, the offers of money, the offers of employment. But you admire him a great deal; you call him your greatest enemy, the greatest honour you can offer. You accept the expensive lotion, the protective measures, the food in your cupboards. If you both weren’t so determined to avoid sentiment, and were an eighth as competitive, you’d probably be best friends.”
John watched Sherlock storm out of the bathroom and listened to the fast heavy steps down the stairs, heard the violin. Screech, screech, screech. After that silence.
John changed from pajamas to jeans and jumper. When he was back downstairs there was milk in a glass and an egg, slightly burnt, over easy. He pushed over a chair to toast a slice of bread to go with. Sherlock was curled up with his violin balanced on his raised knees. “I’m better at people than things,” John called to the living room.
“Do you like toast with your egg?”
“Yeah,” John watched the toaster with his fingers tapping on the counter. “For sopping up.”
“Did W tell you some of that?” John was silent. “Yes then. Tedious. That’s cheating John.”
“Maybe it’s just using my resources.” John jumped as his toast popped and plucked it up between his fingers. “What did you deduce about me?”
“That you’re defensive and try to carry out personal attacks when someone threatens your credibility or identity.”
John didn’t apologize.
“You know I dislike Mycroft, that we have a sibling rivalry, so you attempted to spring doubt on a relationship by which you believe I define myself. I also know that you and W had family dinners. W is surprisingly conventional, which I had started to suspect from the way you treat women, your phrasing. He has placed a great deal on emphasis on eating together, which you in turn have learned. You wash your hands the same way before you treat your patients and prepare food. Someone has emphasized the importance of cleanliness and food, and you have learned to equate practicing medicine and eating with the same importance. You couldn’t have learned that from your previous masters, you would have had no part in preparing food, although you would have begun to establish eating as a communal activity.
Sherlock sliced his bow, establishing his dominance again after his upset. “You’ve spent time in a dirty environment, high winds, sand, dirt, something similar. When you wash your face you pay especial attention to your eyes, your ears, your nose and mouth and the skin of your neck around your collar. Why? Habit. There are no such issues in London,” Sherlock’s eyes were sharp. Hunting eyes, looking to worry the truth with his teeth like a fox. “Most of your grooming habits are military. Quick, nondescript, neat. Your first guardians if they could be called that, wanted you to be efficient and appear ordinary. Even your time with W hasn’t shaken that from you, although efficiency is an admirable trait. You’ve also revealed something rather important. Well two things that are the same thing. You have an obsession with fairness, deeply ingrained. When you feel you have me at a disadvantage you open up to me. The idea is of course a fallacy, but when you think you know more about me than I do about you it makes you uncomfortable. You naturally accept I have exceptional powers of observation. You trust me explicitly. Welcome my observation.
“But who has taught you sharing information is a sign of affection? Surely not the military.” Swip went his violin bow. “No, you learned that from W. W who sent you to me, who showed me vital clues, who revealed himself, the great secret his existence, to me. That tells me some very important things. You are far more important than you think you are John Watson, and W has been watching me, has been observing me. And something he observed is worth you. It won’t take long before discover why.”
John blinked at him; it was all built around a false assumption, but other than that rather, “Brilliant.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and put his violin under his chin. “Hurry up and eat, we’re going to the Science Museum, there’s a very educational exhibit on venomous insects.”
John, about to leave for A. Out of contact next three days, tricky terrain. Be safe.
Sorry folks, I meant to get this up yesterday, but I'm currently on a job and I got caught up in the hunt. Once again a nice big thanks to Caroline who helped me plump this chapter up. I hope you enjoy. Enjoy some museum fluff, because science museums are some of the fluffiest places on earth.
Even though it was obvious that Sherlock’s real concern was the creepy glass cases with the dark hourglasses of spiders, like very small modern art and their gauzy swirls of webs, he made an effort to let John see what he wanted. John was extremely self-sufficient and prickly when babied, which might be for the best considering. Sherlock had never had the test of having to raise a real child. In the month and a half since The Adventure of the Iron Crate there had been a spattering of cases, the theft of an antique lamp, a murder where John wasn’t allowed to see the body (and hadn’t argued this time because he wasn’t stupid, people could only be pushed so far before they start calling people) but Sherlock had John on speakerphone describing everything. Then there was a smattering of educational experiences like this trip to the museum. But it may not have been fair for John not to give Sherlock the benefit of a doubt. Perhaps if the safety net of John not dying from neglect had been removed Sherlock would have been a little more responsible. He was after all rather obsessive about making sure John ate every five hours.
But then perhaps it was for the best John was who and what he was. He didn’t want to be tucked into bed or woken up in the morning, didn’t need to be discreetly watched in the bath to be sure he didn’t drown or have his hand held crossing the street. If Sherlock, Sherlock, tried any of that John might literally come unglued and hit him with something. He’d much rather have this, Sherlock hunched over next to him saying, “The Brown Recluse, hard to acquire in England, and leaves a very distinct pit marking when it bites, but very effective otherwise.”
He had seemed fine to John after things had been settled that morning, and positively gleeful while staring at scorpions, but as time went on Sherlock seemed to be more and more on edge. It was a subtle shift of his shoulders, a narrowing of his eyes. The way he focused, really focused on one thing at a time. Something was bubbling right under his skin, dark and manifold. He smiled thinly, with obvious strain, at John when they reached the third floor. John as he lifted up on his toes to look at some old bits of electrical equipment in the Making Modern Science exhibit tried to think of something to deflect Sherlock’s pre-sulk mood.
Sherlock had declared himself initially bored, but he stuck with John. Following behind, observing the white walls and what John was fairly certain was called an astrolabe, and of course, John. He wanted to do something to try and pay that back.
John opened his mouth to do what he normally did when Sherlock was looking like that. What he had done the year and some months he was Sherlock’s assistant, and the few months now that he’d been Sherlock’s responsibility, was ask Sherlock to deduce. He thought though, as Sherlock stared off into the distance that perhaps he should try to list observations. He looked at the woman, hair just going grey at the edges, with a very large purse exploring the exhibit hall. She was the only person about, and was far enough away not to hear them. He looked up at Sherlock, “That woman Sherlock.”
“What about her?” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. He was suddenly alert with a fight or flight fervency, eyes tripping over her.
“Does she work on her feet? She has very sensible shoes, and she’s wearing nice clothes, so she probably works at an office, maybe by the museum.” He checked his watch, calculating. “It could be her lunch break?”
“Nice try, but wrong in all the ways that matter,” Sherlock snapped, fast, contemptuous and razor edge bored the way he got sometimes. “I know you usually like to pull off a fairly good approximation of spectacularly average idiocy, but I hoped something that I’ve taught you would have stuck. Or you could even try to use some of your genius. She’s a nanny. Half day off, or waiting for school to let out, doing research. It’s obvious John.”
That were a lot of ways John could respond to that. He held eye contact with Sherlock and let the silence pull on a bit. Sherlock just looked back, eyes full of lightening and blindingly superior self-assurance, but no realization. That was alright, he wasn’t really expecting it. John licked his bottom lip and nodded, moving on. He was a grown man, on the inside at least. He wasn’t going to get offended, he’d heard worse from Sherlock going off the cases.
The pause got heavy, and weighty, and judgmental. The kind of judgmental long pauses that had Harry throwing empty wine bottles at him in half a minute, he didn’t mean for them to be quite that long, or judgmental. It was one of those things that happened. John could hear the breath of Sherlock’s silent tread and the back of the head buzz of the museum’s white noise generator. “Bit not good,” Sherlock asked, but it wasn’t a question.
“Yes, bit not good Sherlock,” John nodded, looking at some sort of small scale.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Sherlock said quickly. Throwing out a line to John to see if it would be picked up.
“You meant spectacularly average idiocy in a patient and caring sort of way did you?”
“You know I’m not patient.” Sherlock’s voice had dropped low, hands hovering where they’d be if he still had his great dark coat on.
“That was a little more than impatience.” John stared at the weight and scale in front of him, only looking at Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. His affected nonchalance was probably ruined by the glass case in front of the scale, or rather his faint reflection in it and Sherlock’s ability to apparently observe the faintest reflection in so much of a water droplet. If he did notice though, Sherlock didn’t call him on it.
“It’s just-” Sherlock loomed large beside him. “It’s frustrating, you’re frustrating. I haven’t had a proper case in too long, far too long. All I have to work on is you and W. And there’s nothing. W is a ghost! A shadow! It’s like he’s waved a big flag saying come find me! but there’s nothing to find. And you… I know you’re brilliant, you have to be. You’re a rather good doctor. Good enough for me at least. You don’t act like them. Children. And you’re far past the developmental stages in the book Lestrade gave me.”
“Lestrade gave you a parenting book?” John said, momentarily diverted. He looked for the nanny, and thankfully she had drifted away before she could think to call the authorities on them. Someday someone would, John was sure, it would probably take a colossal favour from Davey to clear up too.
Sherlock flustered past that revelation, his frustration showing plain on his face. “And then you act like you don’t understand. Like you can’t see the obvious.”
“I just haven’t learned it yet,” John sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Suddenly he understood how to get Sherlock to understand.
“How can you not-?”
John interrupted him quickly, “Sherlock, what did JK Rowling write?”
“Who?” Sherlock blinked at him.
“An author, obviously, what did she write?” John pressed.
“One of your absurd action novels?”
“Wrong, here’s another obvious one Sherlock. Who’s the current prime minister?”
“What does that have to do with-?”
“This is common knowledge, obvious stuff. Things anyone should know, never mind a genius.”
“Those are things that don’t help on cases, they aren’t important. What’s important is the Work,” Sherlock said with the supplicating fervency of someone well used to repeating something vitally important far more times than they like.
“My Work, Sherlock,” John said, side of his hand against his heart, the knit of his jumper soft against his skin, “is medicine. Being a doctor. My mind is like… a library and I have limited shelf space. So far my shelves have been filled with medical texts and Grey’s and medical journals. With how to mend a perforated bowel, or how to carry out a laparoscopic procedure, and a lot of the extra space is used for Bond films, firearms and proper care and feeding of stroppy detectives. So I’m sorry I’m not soaking things up like a sponge, but before now, the difference between a nanny and an office worker haven’t been all that important to me.” He would admit, if only to himself, it might be cheating to quote Sherlock back at himself. But as Sherlock in this universe had yet to say the lines he thought it was okay.
Sherlock leaned back on his heels in revelation.
“I haven’t been the best caregiver,” Sherlock said, and this was as close as John was going to get to an apology. “But that’s not because I don’t find you intriguing or peculiar. Your company is also quite enjoyable. You’re patient, and you are… soothing, you always think at the right volume. You will grow up to be great, John Watson, as few minds are great. As few minds will ever be great. It is in your nature to be self-deprecating. But you are able to take the noise and deflect it somehow. When I was your age-” Sherlock was quiet for a time. “I will do better. I know I’m supposed to create a safe environment where you can develop mentally. ”
A better apology than John had expected. Although that last part sounded like an excerpt from some book. Probably the book Lestrade gave him. John shifted uncomfortably. “I-”
“John,” Sherlock said once, dark and deep. “We have talked about that. You are not my offspring, nor a family member. I feel no subconscious desire to preserve your happiness as part of the ingrained desire to preserve my genetic material. I am not concerned with the pleasing aesthetics of cuddly jumpers, button noses or your absurd expressions. You know I don’t do sentiment. You can be assured when I tell you; you could grow to be something great I have no reason to exaggerate. You are to ignore anything I say to the contrary in the future.”
John wasn’t really sure what to say to that. He cast about for a response and finding none just nodded.
“About the woman,” Sherlock said.
Sherlock’s eyes were moving in the way that he was trying to say one thing without having to say another, John stared at him. “The shoes, a comfort style obviously, designed to look nice, so a job where appearance would be important. They’re shined, she is concerned about continuing to look sharp, but the rubber is scuffed and damaged. Does a lot of running, unusual that she would wear her shoes in an environment where they would get such rough treatment if she was so concerned about them looking nice. Same with her trousers, nice, comfortable, but not high end, loose to allow for bending and flexing. Same thing with the rest of her clothing, very sensible hair. She’s presenting herself as professional and dignified. Large bag, good idea for a nanny to have a carry all.”
“But how did you?” John started and Sherlock leapt onto the end of his sentence as if he couldn’t bear to let a second of silence pass.
“On her purse she has a key ring with one of those fuzzy puppet things with the big eyes. The yellow bird one, that was obvious, you should have caught that, doesn’t matter.”
“She could have kids,” John supplied.
“Possible, but her shoes would be nicer. This is the woman’s job, so she has job shoes, where as if a mother took that much care on a pair of shoes she would try to protect them from that much damage. Or if even her nice things received that much wear and tear her clothes would be in much worse shape. She had a brochure and a pen in her hand, why? Selecting exhibits she thinks the children she watches might enjoy. If she was a mother, she might do that, but it’s less likely in combination with the other evidence. Then there is of course the attention she gave us as we passed and a bead bracelet on her wrist that said Nanny. Obviously made by a child, but with high quality beads. She works for a posh sort of family, explains her clothes.”
“Amazing,” John smiled despite himself. He could feel his mouth quirk up around the corners of the word like brackets.
Sherlock’s mouth quirked up at the corner, he took half a step forward to hover in John’s space. “Your deductions had a suitable foundation, but you need to go deeper. Qualify your deductions.”
“At least I noticed her sensible shoes,” John said, smiling. Trying to smile.
The corner of Sherlock’s mouth lifted, “Yes, you did observe well superficially.”
John shifted slightly, coming closer to Sherlock without realizing it. “Maybe next time you feel frustrated you could just… tell me instead of snapping like that.”
Sherlock was quiet for a little while, their steps in synch; one large Sherlock step to two quick John steps. “What do you do when you’re frustrated?”
“I take a moment to think about why I’m really frustrated, or why I’m getting angry and try to solve the problem. If I can’t talk it out without getting angry I just go for a walk and think about why I care about the person frustrating me and try to think of a solution.”
“That’s ridiculously adult, I hope you realize,” Sherlock said.
John shrugged, “We’re having an adult discussion. It’s just sensible. Getting angry and yelling usually doesn’t make me feel better. It just hurts the people I care about.”
Sherlock just made a noise at that, they wandered into the medical exhibit and John couldn’t help lighting up. “Here’s your work then,” Sherlock said, the side of his mouth just quirking up. “Why don’t you tell me about the exhibit?”
“I’ve actually never been before. Don’t know why, just haven’t had time for it I suppose.”
Sherlock’s face quirked to the side, there was really no other word for it, as if there had been a sudden snapping snag in the assembly line that was his brain. “Time?”
“What?” John looked up at him, eyebrows lifting. “I was a bit busy running all over London. I had to work to pay for medical supplies and food.”
“Isn’t that something that W would provide for you? That an adult should provide for you?”
John narrowed his eyes; he was unwilling to ruin the illusion of W, not while Dimmock was hiding behind the name, but Sherlock should know John better. He shrugged sideways, “I can take care of myself. I can work and feed myself and come in out of the rain all on my own.”
Sherlock tilted his head, watching, too many things shuffling and shifting behind his narrowed eyes until he finally shrugged, the edges gone out of his face. As much as someone with such bitingly academically sloped cheekbones as he did could have the edges go out of his face. “This is your Work isn’t it? Tell me about it.”
John was explaining how a pacemaker worked, Sherlock kept asking questions and his mouth kept tilting up in that small cat’s grin when Sherlock’s phone went off.
“Text,” Sherlock said unnecessarily. His fished his phone out of his pocket absently, twiddling it around so it glinted at the edges in the museum lighting.
“Who is it?” John asked, he had been interrupted enough times; it didn’t matter terribly to him.
Sherlock’s eyebrows tilted together, “Lestrade, not a case, he’s invited us to dinner.”
“What? Us?” he blinked.
Sherlock gave his that’s what I just said look.
“Probably to see that you’re still alive. He’s children may also be over, he may want to provide you with socialization your own age.”
“If you keep quoting lines from books it’s going to start getting creepy real fast.”
“Until W stops playing impossible to get there’s not much else to do to drive off boredom.”
“Are you going to say yes?”
Sherlock looked down at John, eyebrows going again. “Do you want me to?”
“If it’s too awful for you just signal me somehow and we can say its past my bed time or something,” John shrugged. The last thing Lestrade would want, John was sure, was a bored and irritated Sherlock Holmes wreaking havoc in his house.
Sherlock typed something quickly and hit send with a flourish. “There. Now you were saying something about hearts?”
Yes. You aren’t to harass John. And we can leave whenever we want. – SH
That sounds perfectly fine. Tell John hi.
They went straight from the museum to the Lestrade residence, Sherlock leaning close to John in the cab, the pocket of cold air they brought in with them melting against their skin and their coats and the faint leather and cleaner scent of the cabs. John shifted in his little coat and Sherlock’s hand dropped down to dance a couple finger tips across the patch on his shoulder. “You need a warmer coat, you’re too cold.”
“I’m alright,” John lifted his mittened hands. “Look, I’ve mittens.”
One of his fingers brushed impartially over the knit. “Mrs. Hudson of course?”
“I think she was on her herbal soothers on my left thumb,” John said, holding up the digit in question and wiggling it.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, “Hmm, I believe you’re right. Best not mention it though.”
John smiled, easy, bright and big. “I would never.”
“She never made me mittens,” Sherlock mentioned, his eyes slanting sideways at John, joking as if he was stepping out onto thin ice.
John huffed, “You’re far too posh. Although she might make some with skulls on them.”
He made a faint sound. “Imagine what Donovan and Anderson would say.”
Rolling his eyes at that, John slid his mittens off to flex his fingers. “They say a lot, but there’s never much too it. Besides, I don’t think they have much of a leg to stand on concerning what is and it’s acceptable.”
“Hmm?” Sherlock’s phone had buzzed but he motioned John on, even as his brow came together tensely and he sent a quick message back.
“Well, they’re having an affair. That hardly makes them the moral authority on appropriate social behavior. There’s a bit of a difference from being a little socially awkward and breaking a marriage vow. A promise is a promise.” John’s face pulled, “That was a bit of an understatement but you know what I mean.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock said, tilting his head, hiding a smile very poorly.
They were quiet the rest of the way, Sherlock thinking steadily and John looking for snipers across the tops of London’s stone carved face before they turned into a more modest residential area. Sherlock was still contemplating the spaces in his head when the cab stopped, so John reached into his pocket to pay for the fare. Dusk was already coming discreetly on the edges of the sky, turning down the daylight for the night. Humming to himself, Sherlock brushed his fingers over the line of John’s shoulder and curled absently over the side of his head. When John wiggled questioningly under his hand, Sherlock silently shifted, but didn’t move his hand. If Sherlock needed that comfort, as much as he might pretend like he didn’t, John could give it to him.
Lestrade buzzed them in with a laugh, speaking to someone on the other side of the intercom. There was a testy, tight faced pull about him, his hand flexing above John’s shoulder. “Do you not what to go after all?” he asked.
Sherlock’s face shifted, “I’m fine. It will convince him that I’m taking proper care of you. Will you?” His long fingers hovered over the button to call the lift.
John blinked up at him.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Sherlock scoffed, as arrogant as ever. “I’m not completely ignorant about necessary skills for taking care of children.” He rolled his eyes, “Not a child, I know. No one is more readily reminded of that fact than myself.”
This satisfied John enough so he nodded, then smiled, then bumped his shoulder against Sherlock’s leg, “Ta.”
Sherlock pressed the button with a quick jab. His phone went off again and John watched him read the message make a face and ignore it. It was probably Mycroft, Sherlock only made faces like that when it came to Mycroft, but he was too cautious to say so. It occurred to John that Sherlock made his work off of being completely sure he was right all the time as much as actually being right all the time.
John licked his bottom lip thoughtfully before saying, “Mycroft?”
That got him a small pleased smile. “How?”
“Your face was your Mycroft-is-bothering-me-again face. Shouldn’t you answer him?”
“No, he’ll come round in a couple days anyway. He’s just lazy.”
“You were just complaining about how you don’t have anything on,” John pointed out.
Sherlock made a growly sort of sound and strolled out of the elevator door when itbinged open on the third floor. “A real case. Mycroft could solve it easily enough if he could budge himself away from his desk.” Sherlock was quiet then, thinking. They were quiet together the short walk to Lestrade’s door and Sherlock’s decisive knocks.
A person of about John’s height excitedly threw open the door, hanging off the doorknob. When he… she… they saw John their face lit with manic energy and they squealed leaping toward John.
John lurched back at the sudden attack of energy at his direct height. He could feel his body tighten, his breath quicken. He processed a mass of dark hair, a pink dress and very large hazel eyes before Sherlock loomed close, hand curling protectively over John’s head. “Stop,” Sherlock said like a lightening crack. When he wanted it to, his voice went very deep. Looming like a storm front, Sherlock tucked John up against his side, his coat a warm line curling up John’s back.
The little Lestrade recoiled, eyes huge.
“What’s this?” Lestrade himself said, appearing at the doorway. The little girl ducked behind Lestrade’s leg, suddenly wary. “Come on, none of that Rosey.”
“He’s scary,” Rosey said.
“She grabbed John. John doesn’t like to be grabbed,” Sherlock said shortly, drawing John close to himself as if the little curly haired girl were going to try to do John violence. His hand curled protectively over John’s head, rifling through his fine hair. “We should leave.”
“It’s okay Sherlock,” John said, patting the long fingers curled around his ear. His heart wasn’t sure if it should be preparing him for a fight or not, so just jogged forward, fast and slower, until it settled at a sedate pace. “I was just startled.”
Sherlock set his mouth into a harsh line. His body curled around John in a black and white cliff of protective ferocity.
“It’s fine,” he said again. “I’m not upset, I’m perfectly fine.” Sherlock didn’t seem to want John to get too far away again, but John slid loose enough to hold a hand out for Lestrade to shake. “Thank you for inviting us Lestrade. That was very kind of you.”
“Not at all,” he grinned back and shook John’s hand firmly. “This doll,” he nodded to the shocked looking girl still clinging to him, “is my good Rosey. She didn’t mean anything. Lisa’s the one over on the sofa.” They peered around Rosey to where a dark head was riding low over the edge of the sofa.
“Hey,” Lisa said and waved absently at them.
“Don’t mind Rosey,” Lestrade grinned. “She was really looking forward to meeting you, I don’t know the parents of a lot of kids her age. I guess she got a little too excited.”
John swiped his tongue across his lip quickly, “It’s fine. It’s all fine.” He stuck his hand out to her, “I’m John.”
She made a face at his hand, as if he had done something truly peculiar and then seized it in hers. “Nice to meet you, will you play with me?”
“Um,” John said, visions of tea parties dancing in his head.
“We can play wizards!” she said in a fit of excitement, pulling on his arm.
“Rosey,” Lestrade said gently. “Remember what I said.”
She managed to turn Dad into a five syllable word.
Sherlock loomed closer behind John, he didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, and ended up just sort of hovering them over John’s shoulders.
“I’m supposed to ask you what you want to play but wizards is the best. We can play go fish if you want,” no John didn’t want, he didn’t know if he could bear it, not even ironically, “or I have some board games.”
“I- Um-” John said.
“Come on, come on, come on. Let’s go play something!”
John was too old to ask ‘do I have to?’ He settled for looking up at Sherlock in alarm. “Maybe something quiet?”
“Boring!” she declared, looking thoroughly petulant and put out.
“I don’t really play pretend.”
“It’ll be fun.”
John’s face twisted as his British need to be polite battled with his total lack of desire to play wizard’s with an eight year old child, especially not an eight year old child who thought that he was an eight year old child.
“Rosey,” Lestrade said in perfect paternal posture. “Why don’t we let John choose?”
She made a sound that was very hard to describe, but was definitely disgruntled.
“Would you like to ask John if he’d like to help with dinner?”
John instantly bristled at having someone talk around him, but before he could so much as open his mouth Rosey was on him again. “Oh, that’ll be fun! Dad puts the light on the oven so we can watch stuff cook.”
Considering the range of activities offered cooking seemed the safest. “Sure.” He sighed the sigh of the longsuffering. “Let’s cook.”
“Don’t sound too enthusiastic John,” Sherlock drawled. When John stepped on his foot he only snorted. Cheeky git.
“Right then,” Lestrade said and reached down to heft Rosey up and throw her over his shoulder. “Come on then John, the opportunities for assistance are endless.”
Rosey was boosted up onto a kitchen chair with The Photographic Encyclopedia of British Birds and A Road Atlas of Lancashire. John clamoured quickly for a chair, kneeling for height before any giant books could be offered. Lestrade blinked at him, but recovered by going for a couple of bowls, one of peas to be deshelled and the other with a few peas rolling around in the bottom and putting it between them. Sherlock swooned gracefully into a seat at John’s side, legs sprawled out in front of him and back curled bonelessly down the back of the chair.
“I thought the two of you might enjoy a bit of a home cooked meal,” Lestrade said from the counter where he was manhandling a roast.
“John is a fairly decent cook,” Sherlock said from where he was posed languorously. He snorted at the concerned tilt of Lestrade’s mouth. “Oh, don’t be dull. If I let him sew me back together I’m going to let him fry an egg. It’s perfectly safe. Go ahead though, please do discreetly question John about his safety.”
“Sherlock,” John said softly.
“Why else would he ask us here?” Sherlock groused.
John’s eyes darted up toward Lestrade’s exasperated face and away. “Certainly not because of your winning charm.”
Lestrade snorted discreetly, “So John, the question of the hour, how’s living with Sherlock?”
John blinked at him, halfway through splitting a peapod “He’s brilliant of course. Bit mad, but we suit as flatmates.”
“How’s he do as your guardian then?” Lestrade shifted to put the roast back in the oven.
“I’m low maintenance. And whatever you can say for the sense of chemistry majors when there are things to be dissolved, they’re very good at putting out fires.”
“I’m not sure if I should be alarmed or not,” Lestrade huffed.
“That’s fine. I think that’s most people’s response to him,” he said nonchalantly. He was the epitome of nonchalant. Nonchalant and deshelling peas. This declaration also seemed to please Sherlock almost, nearly as much as calling him clever. “It’s educational, living at 221B, if nothing else, and that I do mean in the best way.”
He snuck Sherlock, who had been curiously silent on the proceedings, a careful look. “You can’t blame me for wanting to make sure you’re well looked after. When you’ve seen a man jump into the Thames to see how easy it is to catch pneumonia you do worry about how responsible he’d be with a small person.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes at that, “That was only once, and it was for a case.” He said in a tone of voice that implied that was a coverall excuse for any mad behavior, even better than, ’It’s for an experiment.’ He’d jump off a building shouting all the way down, ‘It’s okay! It’s for a case!’
John gave him a look right back that made Lestrade start. “I can take care of myself alright even without Sherlock regulating my meal times. I have for a long time. Not that anyone believes me.”
“Halfway done!” Rosey shouted out arms lifted.
“Great job love,” Lestrade smiled at her, “I’ll have to move you to chief pea-sheller.”
She puffed her chest out and tilted her head to the side, teasing her father, “I am the best. Although the competition is a little sparse.”
John looked down at the shredded peapod in his hands and let out an embarrassed huff, “Sorry.”
Lestrade wiped his hands on his apron and stepped around his island to lean his elbows on the table. He looked different like this, less like a beleaguered sort of civil servant of the most literal sort canonized in a sprawl of crime dramas and more like a tired sort of father who was really trying rather hard to relate to his strange and changing children. “As soon as those are done I can put those on.”
“I thought we’d agreed on the importance of adhering to John’s eating schedule.”
“Everything will be done in time,” Lestrade waved him off. “It’s nice that you’re keeping track.”
“Nice has nothing to do with it,” Sherlock sniffed. “It’s a matter of creating structure necessary for the growing advanced mind. I have done research since I established a five hour schedule is valid according to research done on the juvenile digestive process.”
“Well,” Lestrade grinned. “As long as it’s simply a matter of creating structure.”
“Done!” Rosey declared with flourish and Lestrade stood to carry her and the bowl of peas safely cradled in her arms. He looked at John, nodding over toward the stove top, but John shook his head preferring to stay out of the way. Rosey and the great adventure of cooking the peas overtook Lestrade’s interest and then hastily trying to decide whether to turn off the oven timer or pull out the roast first.
“Lisa!” Lestrade called out in that voice that most policemen seemed to have, so they could speak over crowds without getting shouty. “Supper.”
Lisa indulged in some subhuman vocalizations from the living room before finding a way to simultaneously slouch and stomp into the kitchen. She threw herself into her chair with gusto, staring at the room at large as if it had personally offended. Lestrade seemed unperturbed by the whole thing in a way that suggested this teenage grumpiness was Lisa’s current setting and that he was prepared to pretend everything was fine. John had always had a low tolerance for teenage whinging, resilience in dealing with Sherlock mid-case being remarkable considering, but he trusted Lestrade’s parenting example. Although he was initially concerned, the very last thing John wanted was His Highness of the Victorian Sulk and Swoon to start competing with Lestrade’s own Princess of Vague Teenage Angst and Agitation, but Lisa seemed content to just sit and be politely miserable.
“Dinner’s ready then,” Lestrade said, hefting over a roast that smelled like something out of heaven. It was surrounded by craggy cliffs of potatoes, carrots and rounds of onion gone quartzy clear. The peas sat bright and cheerfully green in front of Lisa as if in optimistic protest and John and Sherlock got a really beautiful little loaf of bread all sliced up and a shallow dish with a creamy yellow round of butter. To John’s eyes shaded by bachelor life and street living it looked like something that should be painted and hung in the National Gallery. Even Sherlock looked intrigued. “We pass from left to right so, just go for something.”
When Sherlock leaned back in his seat, studying the food laid out like a set of petri dishes John judiciously buttered a piece of bread for Sherlock before taking a slice for himself.
“I’m not hungry,” Sherlock whinged.
“You’re not on a case,” John reminded him. Sherlock made a faint sound and acquiesced, both of them pretending Lestrade wasn’t surreptitiously watching them. If he didn’t Sherlock would only eat off his plate. It was neater this way.
They continued that way, John putting food onto Sherlock’s plate before putting on his own. When the roast came around Sherlock lifted his fork and started spearing potatoes onto his plate. Well three. That was a lot for Sherlock to claim on his own.
For a while the conversation centered on Rosey and her new friend at school, Carol who was the best Harry Potter, John ignored the pointed look in his direction. Eventually the conversation went to where John was going to school. John took the better part of valour and stuffed a large piece of roast in his mouth.
“John doesn’t go to school, it’s not necessary,” Sherlock said. It was true, it was very true, and John was so grateful to Sherlock for saying it. But the look on Lestrade’s face, the DI coming out around the edges, made John’s skin goes tight and anxious, like he could come untied at any second. The white noise of can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t started burning at his brain. He knew it was just a question, just an answer and all perfectly correct and great and good, but he strummed anxious under his skin.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade said.
“He doesn’t need schooling. It was taken care of … before,” Sherlock’s eyes cut to John as if he were watching for something. “Any gaps in his education I’m taking care of personally.”
“Of course he needs schooling. Children need schooling.”
“I could do without schooling,” came an unlikely shot of support in the form of Lisa.
“Not the time to make a political point love,” Lestrade sighed.
“He’s had it. He doesn’t need any more. It’s true his English skills are occasionally subpar, but that’s likely a result of such a heavy pressure on the sciences.”
“Sherlock,” Lestrade said in the voice of someone who had suffered very long in the name of explaining a great many things to people who did not want to listen. “I know you said he was a doctor. But he can’t be, hopefully you can understand that.”
“I am a doctor,” John was rubbing absently at his leg trying to work out the cramp.
“John,” Lestrade scrubbed at his face, “things like that don’t happen in real life. There aren’t-”
If John could find the right words for this, the right was to explain it would be okay. A way to get Lestrade to understand it wasn’t as impossible, not in the Holmes’ world at least. “Killer cabbies? Chinese smuggling rings using acrobatic assassins? Genius detectives? Men who mysteriously kidnap you to an abandoned warehouse for quick chats?”
Lestrade nearly dropped his fork at that last mention and Sherlock gave him a reading look. “How did you know about-?” His eyes flicked first to Sherlock who was still staring at John to his kids who were watching the proceedings with interest.
“I think that’s the only way he knows how to introduce himself to people,” John said and Lestrade snorted cautiously in response.
“So, okay,” Lestrade said. “I’m not quite sure believe you. But I’ll buy that at least. Life is a bit mad.”
“My life is at least,” John sighed playing with his peas. “But Sherlock is a bit mad too. Sometimes we even speak each other’s language.”
“I see why you’d not want to part with him,” Lestrade sighed, he had softened toward John and Sherlock’s small family. Sherlock was starting himself off on a think, floating off behind his eyes, but even still he looked a mix of confused and disdainful of the sudden wellspring of sentiment in the room. “So for the sake of argument, you’re a genius child, how did that even happen? Wouldn’t a… small child at medical make the papers.”
“Not if it was aliens,” Rosey said. John blinked at her, he had almost forgotten about the presence of the Lestrade children. “Was it aliens?”
“No, um,” John stumbled.
“It’s not something that can be discussed,” Sherlock said quickly. “And not information I would encourage spreading around.”
Several things ran through Lestrade’s mind at once, talking several different faces, “Sure why not, as long as it’s not aliens. Fine then. And since life is apparently much madder than I previous thought and your life in particular. And I know my opinion probably won’t mean too much since you’re both determined to go on-”
“If your opinion didn’t matter we wouldn’t have come. Although that might be coloured a bit by Sherlock’s reliance on you for cases,” John interposed.
“Is interrupting me going to be your new thing, I get enough of that from Sherlock.” Lestrade gave John a look of full paternal amused disapproval. He had so many shades of beleaguered it was really a marvel.
“Sorry,” John bowed his head. “Please do go on.”
“Since you’re at my kitchen table talking about impossible you are I thought I might offer my assistance, as far as parenting, or guardianship, or whatever you’d like might go. If nothing else the sight of Sherlock Holmes agreeing to eat is a bit of a miracle.”
“Is that your blessing Lestrade?” Sherlock asked suddenly.
“My what?” Lestrade blinked.
Rolling his eyes at him Sherlock said, “Your blessing, your approval, whatever you’d like to call it.”
“Yes I suppose so.”
“Good.” Sherlock stood abruptly at the table. “Come along John. Time to go home.”
“Sherlock, John’s not even done yet.”
“Fine,” Sherlock said and lifted John’s plate. “I’ll return your plate when you bring me a case.” That said he left the kitchen in search of his coat. Lisa and Rosey appeared to be holding off giggles.
John smiled apologetically and scooted back from the table. “Thank you for the lovely dinner. Sorry about…” he shrugged.
Shaking his head, Lestrade waved for him to go.
“Come along John,” Sherlock said from the other room. “Bed time and such, off we go.”
John gave Lestrade a grin and waved goodbye to the Lestrade children giggling behind their hands, “Right behind you.”
Stop being childish Sherlock. We can to work together on this. – MH
Piss off Mycroft. I can solve the puzzle without your help. – SH
If you must ignore well-meant offers, I have a case for you. – MH
Piss off. –SH
Sorry, I've been super sick this week. This is the first day I've been really up and about. You might get a bonus chapter later to make up for it later this week.
John smiled as he stepped lightly down the steps of Lestrade’s block of flats to stand next to Sherlock, solemnly holding John’s plate in one bare hand.
“Hand that over,” John grinned up at him, “so you can get your gloves on.”
Lowering the plate without looking away from the road, Sherlock seemed to calculate the chance of getting a cab here against his magic ability to fetch a cab out of nowhere. The odds didn’t appear to be terribly in his favour. “If you’re not too cold we could probably walk home.”
“I just came out of a warm flat, and I’ve a warm supper in my hands. I can make it to somewhere with a cab at the very least. You didn’t happen to lift a-”
Sherlock held out a fork. They giggled most of the way to a main road. They decided once they got there it was really too cold to push on and called a cab, pink nosed and half hiding their grins. Sneaking looks at each other out of the corners of their eyes. John’s heart was like a bell ringing in delight. Looking back he couldn’t remember what they were talking about, only that he was happy. He would wish later that he had paid attention. That he had solidified those fine, ringing, crystal moments, stored them somehow.
Their cab was pulling toward Baker Street when the explosion hit. The cab tipped in the blast, a solid punch to the ears and eyes and bones. John dropped the plate and fork to the floor mat and braced himself as Sherlock loomed over him like a surging wave. Landing around him, dark coat puddling around them as Sherlock twisted around him, knees and elbows and a sharp edged exhale. In the morning there would be bruises, John’s doctor mind noted, but his soldier mind had snapped away to car bombs and that he didn’t have his gun with him. The taxi went up on two wheels and something squealed as the cabbie desperately tried to fling the car in reverse. Everything was tight and fervently blasted ready in bursts of adrenaline, glass forgetting its safety covering fell in at them. The inside of the cab filled with shouts, human angles, black broadcloth, silk shirts and quick incessant breath.
The ringing crept and crested between John’s brain and skull, his body shaking, pulling, his hands trying to rip free of the crush against his chest, hard edged, holding him. For a moment he was still in Afghanistan from mental habit as much as anything. Like muscle memory. His gear wasn’t on his back, which was bad, his vest (why was it so cold?) was gone which was bad but even worse he was missing his medical kit and his gun, even his emergency handgun was missing from his thigh. He tried to remember what he had been doing, where he had been. The desert was a habit a year and more gone, should have been too far away to flash back like this, and his mind fought itself for equilibrium leaving a double image that left him half-panicked and jumbled. “Bill,” John panted panicked around the ringing in his ears, searching, struggling. “Bill, just stay still. Where’s my kit!”
“Stop,” said a deep voice, familiar and safely dangerous. “John, stop. You’re safe. Stop. It’s alright. I’m here.” When John had finished unclenching and opened his eyes he tried to move, his face pressed against Sherlock’s collarbone, the starched line of his shirt collar. Sherlock’s long hand was curled protectively around the dip of John’s neck, tucking him up under his chin. His lean weight spilled over John, covering him, hip taking the brunt of John’s panicked feet.
John took one shaky little breath and then a second, longer.
“John, can you tell me where you are?” Sherlock said, breathing rapidly into the top of John’s head.
“England, Baker Street. London. Taxi cab.”
“Very good John,” Sherlock said shakily and tried to raise himself up onto his elbows before retching.
“Stay still,” John barked, suddenly in doctor mode. One of his hands lifted to protect Sherlock’s eyes from any bits of glass (because that’s right they were in a cab, not in Afghanistan) and with the other gently traced his small fingers through the masses of black hair, looking for any abrasions.
Sherlock stayed still, breathing awkwardly, trying to keep himself from vomiting. Concussion then, Sherlock always had nausea after a concussion but no slurring, so minor. “Careful,” he said between his teeth. “Glass.”
“Don’t worry about it,” John said simply. “Just concentrate on not throwing up on me.” He’d be able to deal of course; being RAMC meant he could face all number of bodily fluids with a stiff upper lip. But really, he’d rather not.
“You’re the one who insisted I eat so much.” Sherlock shifted slightly and John smiled tracing his fingers up around the soft skin behind his ears and around the seam of his hair and forehead. His upturned collar, which John long suspected was turned up for the purpose of looking cool, had kept most of the glass from out of his hair. John was very careful to brush away any bits that might fall down later and do Sherlock damage.
“You’re clear, mildly concussed, be careful sitting up.”
“It’s nothing, I’ve had a concussion before,” he rolled to the side, hands flexing from where they had clenched around John. Pulling up, John peered up at the cabbie, kicking himself for having forgotten until now there was someone in the front seat. After being confused like he hadn’t been for a long time, waking up and wondering why it was so cold. Why there weren’t the faint far away sounds of the FOB like vital signs. Although more recently his bad dreams had to do with Grendel and the deep, deep burning of being erased. And Sherlock had seen John forget himself. He couldn’t have missed it. John suddenly and desperately needed to be useful, to be helpful, to do what he was meant to do. And the cabbie needed attention, he and Sherlock had been protected somewhat by the corner of the building they were coming around, but the driver had taken a great deal of the brunt. “What are you doing?” Sherlock snapped as John reached for the door. He needed to shake the panic out of him with the Latin names for the portions of the human frame and the steady medical practice that settled and organized his mind.
“I’ll be fine, I need to move now where there’s debris for cover,” it was a testament to Sherlock’s concussion that he didn’t catch the meaning behind that, didn’t hear the unsaid, in case there are snipers, until John was out the door and climbing into the front seat. “Call this in,” he called through the glass reaching for the cabbie’s pulse.
John got on with triage while Sherlock repeated abrasions on the face consistent with airbag deployment, lacerations face neck and hand on left side to possible fracture of the left wrist, and a catalogue of minor wounds to the operator. Once a flurry of lights and sirens surrounded the blast zone and the bomb squad appeared like space men, and Sherlock pulled John out of the car. He dragged John close careful not to cross the line between manhandling and carrying pressing the side of John’s face to his leg. Sherlock was snapping at anyone that got too close, face strung up on upper class superiority and general scornful rage. John was thinking about pips and pink phones thinking No, no it had been too long, the time wasn’t right, this can’t be the Game. But John doesn’t know, he realized suddenly he didn’t even know what month it was anymore. It just wasn’t that important. He had got out of the practice of watching telly living on the street and even now he would only watch bare snippets caught on the way to somewhere else. He took careful breaths, his hands were steady and his leg felt strong but his heart pacing in his chest. Too close, too close, and how could he protect Sherlock?
The Emergency Services must have been used to Sherlock; they took his snarls in strike and were able to harass him into something still enough to be checked out. He complained about their intelligence when they diagnosed his concussion mild as it was and the mild scrapes that would heal up in a day. He let them shine a quick light into John’s eyes to check for concussion and then wanted nothing more to do with them. Closing his eyes, John let his arm loop around Sherlock’s leg to steady himself from where he was tucked under Sherlock’s coat, resting to the sound to Sherlock’s scorn and the paramedics beleaguered longsuffering.
Once Sherlock was able to shake himself free he harassed his way back into 221. “That was downright stupid John,” he said coldly. “I would expect better from you than flinging yourself into danger for some stranger who wasn’t even particularly interesting.” He ripped off his scarf but seemed at a loss as to where to throw it. “I know you are a little overwhelmed by my lifestyle, but do learn to overcome your romanticizing heroics. Sentiment will make you weak.”
He didn’t look at John, just took off shouting for Mrs. Hudson. The little speech would have meant more had John not heard it before. And if Sherlock hadn’t had that white edged pull of concern as he headed toward Mrs. Hudson’s. Letting out a stiff breath, John watched Sherlock stalk down the hall; just because Sherlock was worried about Mrs. Hudson didn’t mean he had to take it out on John.
John was still hyperaware, hyperstill and Sherlock picked the lock into Mrs. Hudson’s apartment leaving John in the hallway. John wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, there had been no motion to follow. He felt sick, his belly felt like wormwood and his hands wore the cabbie’s blood, speckled and smeared.
“I should have worn gloves,” he said to himself and went upstairs to wash his hands.
He felt extraordinarily calm picking his way through glass and bits of paper, he walked over to where Sherlock’s violin case had fallen on the floor and very gently lifted and placed it on Sherlock’s chair. He looked around and seeing nothing else he could immediately do wandered into the kitchen to drag a chair over to the sink. He would be very grateful when he gained another six inches. The farther he could get from a meter the better. There was the sound of someone rushing up the stairs and throwing open the door before a pause and a scornful scoff as if the multitude of ephemera should know better than to be blown every which way by semtex. “John, what are you doing up here?” Sherlock peered past their lovely green glass doors that had thankfully survived the blast.
“Where else would I be?” he smiled indulgently at Sherlock’s expression. He tried to smile, he had a feeling it was a little tight around the edges.
“Flitting about like an idiot helping the wounded,” Sherlock rolled his eyes and John tensed, smile fading.
“Helping people isn’t idiotic.”
“It is when it’s an unnecessary risk,” Sherlock snapped back. “Mrs. Hudson is fine, settled again. And my insufferable brother has sent his insufferable cleanup crew to mess up my very complex filing system important for my very vital case work,” he projected, titling his head back as if speaking to someone in the other room. There was a sudden flash of what Sherlock may have been like about age fourteen. “It’s-”
“Insufferable?” John asked when Sherlock couldn’t think of an adjective scalding enough.
That got him an impressive look that wasn’t quite disgust. John ha a sudden vision of an annoyed Sherlock might run through the midst of Mycroft’s staff like a dog through the pigeons. He had worried over next to John, watching him inspect himself for any leftover reddish smears.
“Come John,” Sherlock declared turning off the water and bracing the chair for John to climb down. His coat swirling dust and debris in his wake as he deliberately ignored the bland faced cleanup crew in their living room. They were so nondescript John wasn’t sure if he should apologize to them for Sherlock rudeness or let them work in silence. “Are you having any other traumatic stress reactions?” Sherlock asked, startling him out of his cleaner reverie.
“I’m fine,” John assured him, back military straight.
“Hmm,” was all Sherlock said, leading John away to the edge of everything, verbally gutting a police officer that dared to comment about their not being ‘behind the safety line.’
“Sorry,” John said rather ineffectually after him. He was pulled into Sherlock’s orbit out of the way of everything where the detective could glare at everything in silence.
John huffed out an annoyed breath beside him, but didn’t bother trying to make conversation, his mind whirring as it was to try to think of a way to try and defuse the Moriarty mess. It was immediately clear he couldn’t tell Mycroft about the pool without being dissected, and he couldn’t contact Dimmock with Sherlock staring on. The secret phone was a tool he wanted to keep yet.
His eyes caught, as he was getting himself wound into a rather tight ball of anxiety, on a tall thin kid in a comfortably worn hoodie leaning against the wall of an alley, staring at the edge of things. He shook loose a cigarette and lit it, his hands trembled. Staccato zigzags of smoke rose around his head, his shoulders tight and clenched against his tremors. The kid braced the arm holding the cigarette with fingers tap, tap, tapping in a familiar rhythm. John didn’t recognize him until then, he had felt that rhythm enough time against his collarbone, his sternum, his forehead. John bumped against Sherlock gently to get his attention. After a moment Sherlock’s fingertips ghosted over John’s shoulder, keeping him close as he headed over, his free hand dropping into pocket. The kid twitched, eye dodging back and away, feet dancing, dragging the wrist of his hoodie distractedly across his nose.
Sherlock flicked a pound note at him with two fingers, “What did you see?”
The kid plucked it out of his fingers, eyes bright and quick in a shadowed face pulled hunted and anxious, slightly dull and pulled every which way. “Nuffin’ mate. I don’t want no trouble, just tryna find a place to sleep.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes and the kid jittered the note right back at him, “Maybe for a little more, yeah?”
“Stop it Davey,” John snapped. The kid’s addict electrified expression sharpened for a split second into a grinning street king before splintering away again into that of one of the city’s unfortunates tapping his brother’s madness against his wrist.
“How then?” he nodded to John with a grinning little twist to his face as if the two of them were playing some neat prank together. “You spotted me ‘fore posh and mighty here.”
“Don’t be a prat Davey.”
“No, go on mate, tell me,” Davey grinned back.
John took a moment to give him as sarcastic a look as he could manage covered in dust and debris. “You’re like Rooster when he’s trying to go to sleep. He thinks he’s lying still but he taps on things, over and over.”
Davey made a soft sound, “I’d whistle if I could. The detective here is rubbing off. Clev, super clev.”
“Are you going to get around to what you want or not?” Sherlock snapped.
“Fine, whatev, didn’t need another note anyway. Not like you’re wasting my precious time or nuffin. Not like I got work in Whitechapel, not that it’s your business.” Davey, or rather the strung out kid shaking apart of the edge of manhood Davey was playing, said. He looked away, his bravado betrayed by his anxiety.
“I could call one of those handy police officers over,” Sherlock said, his intimidating the suspect face on.
“And I could cut off your face, but let’s not borrow trouble?” Bad Davey snapped, suddenly dropping his accent. Sherlock jerked, a minute twitch and narrowed his eyes. For all his crime solving Sherlock was ultimately unfamiliar with malice, at least so far. Real malice from real people always startled him. “No one I have anything to do with. No one saw anything. I’d wait to see what bomb squad says to know what we’re dealing with.”
“What are you here for then?” Sherlock scowled, face shifted into something hard and aggressive he usually reserved for Mycroft.
“I came for the precious little love, didn’ I?” he smiled at John all cheeky affection over the top of uncompromising single-mindedness. It was hard to know which parts of Davey were playing and which parts were full of teeth.
“He’s staying with me,” Sherlock said solidly.
Davey whistled low and shook his head. “Letting your little gentleman stride right in over all that broken glass, all those chemicals? His flat shaken all to bits? Bad form, even for flatmates. You’ll get him back in the morning safe as houses.”
John almost said no, but he remembered walking back from Sarah’s house and seeing the spill of space where there wasn’t meant to be, like a great gaping wound. “It’s alright Sherlock,” he said. “Davey will just harass you anyway. I’ll be safe with him; his flats could withstand a nuclear blast. And this way you won’t have to worry about me.”
That last part seemed to convince Sherlock, “I don’t like it.”
“And I don’t like hobnobs, doesn’t mean I won’t have some if I’m all out of jammy dodgers. And you my friend are jammy dodger free.”
Sherlock hissed at him in frustration, “He needs to be back by eight, that’s his breakfast time.”
“I’ll take care a’that mate,” Davey shrugged at him. “I’ve got a girl, makes a mean English breakfast, and some rather brilliant fake IDs. You ever need any let me know. I just got a ton of those fancy chips, I could get you in anywhere you wanted.”
“Okay, that’s enough of that,” John said, crossing his arms. “Contrary to popular belief, I do occasionally need some sleep.” And he needed to text Dimmock, call him back to England. He should probably talk to Davey about Moriarty’s little game. For all Davey’s bravado and faults, he had the secret shade of subtlety about him; it made him thoughtful and cautious away from the eyes of an audience.
“Meet you at the back fire escape,” Davey said with a mouth full of teeth.
“Fine. Good. Finished,” Sherlock snapped, caught two fingers under the collar of John’s coat and half dragged him off. Sherlock lost his momentum when they reached 221B in favour of yelling at Mycroft’s cleaning crew. John had so many things to do, needed to be on his game tomorrow, so he only stopped to grasp quickly at Sherlock’s wrist.
“Before eight,” he said.
Sherlock seemed about to say something else before nodding at him and getting shouty with the member of the crew handling his bat and beetle display.
John’s mind was whirring, picking up and sorting what he remembered as he ran up the steps, tread quietly to the window, slid out and swung over into the illustrious presence of Bad Davey. He took a deep breath and looked up at Davey, still and sharp, smoking.
“It wasn’t a gas leak. I mean, that’s what they’ll decide, it was a gas leak. But it wasn’t.”
“Good evening to you too,” Davey said with raised eyebrows.
“I’m going to need your help,” John said. “I can’t, I need your help.”
“It’ll cost you, cost you something dear,” Davey looked up, baring his throat in a sarcastic parody of vulnerability.
“Do you know the name Moriarty?” John said.
Davey cursed quietly viciously, kicking the railing of the fire escape once, twice, three times. “This is him then?”
“Yes. He’s going to play a game with Sherlock. He’s going to pressgang people in to being suicide bombers, all over London.”
Davey squatted down, hands in his hair, obscuring his face, but he suddenly looked very young, the arch of his back, the way he was only just growing out of his gangly teenaged years. He tried to hide it, how close to whatever jagged childhood that could spawn a creature like him he was. “I’m not ready to go against Moriarty, maybe if it was just me. But I got Roost, Elsie.” He dropped his arms to brace himself on his fingertips. “I don’t want to be the sort of person that doesn’t have anyone to care about. If you say I’d still have you I’ll slit your throat no matter how it’d break Roost’s heart.”
“I’m not Roost,” John said simply watching Davey. “I don’t expect to be above your brother.”
Davey stood quickly and snarled at John until he presumably felt better. “I do like you Johnny.”
“No one else gets to call me Johnny,” he twisted his nose in disgust. “Or call me a precious little love.”
“I won’t really slit your throat.”
“Never said you would,” John said slipping his hands in his pockets.
Davey grinned, sharp toothed and half mad again, “Mean that don’t you?”
“I reserve the right to change my mind,” John shrugged.
“There’s my precious little love,” Davey said and yipped his laughter when John pulled a face. “Tell me then, who are you hoping I’ll kill.”
“No one, I haven’t changed my mind about being against you handing out assassinations as favours to me. In fact I’d like you to stay out of the way as much as possible. But there are a few worst case scenarios you should probably be aware of.”
“Come on then, Roost will have fits of joy when he sees you.”
D – The Game has started. Contact me. – W
Hello lovelies, I'm so sorry. I've had computer problems. My electrical cord had some sort of death keel and my computer's battery slowly puttered down to nothing. I borrowed access to someone else's computer for bit and pieces things, but my writing was on the one that didn't work. :c But I've got a new cord now! Hurrah!
I'm on tumblr here: http://thursdayplaid.tumblr.com/
John woke to half twilight as the light was flicked on; he blinked a couple times surrounded as he was by puffy white bedding and the pile up of pillows. When he tried to shift he discovered he was not only surrounded by a fluffy white cloud scape, but there was something on his back holding his down. “Roost,” came Davey’s voice from the doorway, exasperated.
The weight on John’s back snuffled and twitched against John’s back and an arm went around his middle like an iron band. John sighed heavily as Roost breathed heavy sleep breaths against his back. He hadn’t slept like this in a while, it was comforting strangely; that Roost was able to find comfort in him. That he could make Roost go still in his sleep. But it was also heavy.
“Sorry,” Davey said, meaning something else entirely. “I usually watch him.”
John scrubbed at his eyes, “That’s fine; you’ve had a lot to think over.”
Davey crouched down at the side of the bed and reached over to run a gentle hand over the coxcomb of Rooster’s hair. “He was never able to sleep like this before,” he said softly. “For a while I was enough for him. When he was very little maybe. He was the little monkey on my back. And then there was business.”
A bit of snark flared to the tip of John’s tongue but he bit it back.
Bad Davey’s eyes cut to his, sharp as anything, arm still stretched over him, “I don’t suppose you can tell me who your source is, that has such an intimate in on Moriarty’s organization?”
John blinked at him, “You never asked before.”
“Didn’t seem important.”
“Now it does,” John licked his lip cautiously.
“Did you know that Moriarty did extreme violence to the children of a member of the American mafia?” he tilted his head in a way that was strangely familiar. “I would tell you what but I don’t think I need to. It was something extremely unsettling that must never happen to Rooster. I am capable of violence, but not like he is.”
He would tell Davey, but it wasn’t just his secret anymore, it was something he shared with Dimmock. “I can’t.”
Davey narrowed his eyes, but accepted that in the end. “Come on then Roost, up.”
Roost made a sound like he was either being murdered or seriously contemplating it. Catching Roost’s flailing arm he looped Roost’s arms around his neck, giving John to crawl away on the cloudscape of Davey’s bed. Standing with a groan and a sleepy Rooster latched around him Davey waited patiently, shushing into Roost’s hair, for John to pull on his clothes.
He led John down his weirdly all white hall to a door that had been shut the night before. There were racks of clothes three deep along the walls, an impressive shelf of wigs and an enormous lit vanity where Elsie was timing herself re- and disassembling a gun. “Costume room, not safe to keep this stuff anywhere else, unless I’m planting it for evidence.”
Fuzzy from shotgunning from sleep to walking on his own two feet without any stimulants, John still realized this was a Davey that no one got to see. Carrying his fourteen year old brother around so he wouldn’t be lonely, bumping his hip into Elsie’s shoulder affectionately. Perhaps it was because on the other edge of this happy little fraternity were the protective rings of slipping, snicking razor wire Davey kept around everything he cared about. Impossibly sharp wit slipping between rival’s ribs before they were aware of it, the way he crashed the other gangs against each other from somewhere in the far background. If he wasn’t already, Bad Davey was close to secretly being the London Underworld. John had somehow managed not to come all the way within the inner circle, but to have a place in its general vicinity.
He took a second while Davey was distracted with Elsie to check his phone. Dimmock hadn’t replied yet. He sent off a quick, D – London. Text me. Important. – W
“What sort of a name is Cubitt?” Davey scowled suddenly, hand flicking out to pluck a business card off the vanity table. He flipped it back and forth in his fingers, bracing Rooster up with his free arm. His eyes narrowed as he sniffed at it. “This smells like your perfume. Why were you keeping this in your bra?”
“No one,” Elsie snapped, snatching it out from between his finger. “Just a bloke. He’s nobody.”
“Elsie,” Davey growled. “You know how I feel about strange blokes. I’ve told you I don’t want you to let anyone try it on. I worry…”
She flustered and grabbed John’s hand, “You’re so- I’ve got to take John home.” She seized John’s hand in hers before he could put his foot in his mouth and dragged him out of the room; face tinted pink, Davey shouting obscenities after them.
She moved quick, slamming her finger into the elevator button and throwing herself and John into the elevator with an unusual act of discretion. John stood very quiet, very still, the same way he did when Sherlock had been up a little too long on too little sleep. “He’s just a bloke,” he told John, or more accurately, told at him.
John said nothing.
“I’m allowed to know blokes. He sends me to harass the idiot gangs but if I meet some bloke whose nice, and sweet and shows any real interest in me it’s time to call in the cavalry.”
John thought for a very long time. “I can see how that would be frustrating?”
She made a soft sound at him and kissed his forehead, “You’re a good boy Johnny.”
One short ride in a fake taxi later John was deposited at the edge of police tape and left with wave goodbye and a blown kiss. He snuck past the attention of the police until he was already at the door and slipping inside. When he closed the door there was a sudden sort of silence bearing a preternatural heaviness. Mycroft was here then. He climbed the stairs girding himself for whatever might be waiting. The door to 221B was open, light shining through the plastic stapled in place where their windows had been, lighting Sherlock into sharp petulant angles and Mycroft into softer tones. He stepped into their silence, carefully, hoping he was prepared for this. He had prepped enough. Listing the five pips last night over and over, precise enough to be helpful (he hoped) and vague enough to make them sound like estimates.
Mycroft’s gaze flicked up and away, hiding his insight in presumptiveness and mild faced superiority while Sherlock ruthlessly scanned him before plucking at his violin. “When I let you go with him it was with the assumption you would get some rest.”
“I rested,” John said from the doorway.
“Whatever hours you may have been trained to endure, a few hours isn’t rest. A full night’s is vital for maintaining and focus positive learning, especially in the mental development of gifted children,” Sherlock quoted.
Mycroft looked at him as if he had suddenly admitted to being a pigeon. “What are you quoting?”
Sherlock stiffened, “I’m not quoting anything.”
The twenty act play that was Mycroft raising his eyebrows made any actual reply unnecessary. He added, “Four hours,” anyway.
Pwing went Sherlock’s finger on the string.
“Comfortable bed,” Mycroft looked at his pocket watch with extreme care. “No wonder he slept poorly.”
“Easy,” Sherlock sniffed. “Sofa’s too small for two people. Few people he trusts enough to sleep so close. That peculiar boy. Roost.”
“Wh- How?” He shook off the peculiar feeling of having himself so thoroughly read. “Never mind.”
Mycroft’s eyebrows lifted, ignoring John’s question, “You don’t seem the sort of child that would sleep well with others John.”
“Rooster and I have known each other a while,” John didn’t particularly feel there was a reason to talk about his sleeping habits. Or that now he was small there was a subconscious puppy pleasure in cuddling that made something warm, safe and trusting unfurl in his chest like some great plump-winged fuzzy moth. “We stayed with Bailey’s Crew together,” he added to get Mycroft’s steady stare off him.
“Polite of… Mr. Davey to offer a place for John to stay the night,” Mycroft said, the pause said much of what Mycroft thought of Bad Davey.
“The brothers are very proprietary,” Sherlock pouted darkly.
John couldn’t help his snort. When he was pinned by two sets of Holmes stares he had to press his face as close as he could to something that looked like butter would never even dream of melting in his mouth. Then his eyes caught on the sudden reappearance of a great smiley face. The giant smiley face on their wall with the bullet holes in it. “Where did you get a gun?”
“Interesting that’s his first question,” Mycroft told his watch.
“How’s the diet Mycroft?”
“Fine. Perhaps you’d do better at convincing him John,” Mycroft looked at John who was trying his hardest not to appear that he had done this all before.
“Hm, what?” it looked like Sherlock had moved his knapsack to safety, probably where he had found John’s gun. At least he hoped it was John’s gun. Thoughts of Sherlock and a free-ranging firearm were a bit terrifying.
“I’ve a bit of a delicate case that I need someone I can trust to work on. Sherlock is being a bit intractable, as always. I’m sure you’re used to that though. I’d work on it myself but, well, I’m a bit occupied at the moment. And well, this are the sort of learning experiences he’s encouraging isn’t it?”
“I suppose,” John conceded eyes shifting to Sherlock.
“To be honest, I never really imagined Sherlock wanting to have anything to do with children.”
John smiled, “Well, I’m only a little like a child.”
“Yes well,” Mycroft said, shaming. He was better at it than Sherlock who always slightly appeared to be in some sort of children’s program, but it pulled unrealistically around the corners of his face. “Andrew West,” he said, standing to first offer Sherlock the folder as he had the time before. Sherlock’s look was a study in contempt. Turning toward John Mycroft held up his folder to John. “Westie to his friends.”
The on again off again niggling in his chest relaxed a little as Mycroft stayed generally close to script, the familiar cadence of men on the tracks. He was so relieved that he almost missed his cue to say, “Murdered?” he slipped up. As soon as the word was out of his mouth he realized he had misspoke, mind leaping ahead to what was coming.
There was a burst of silence.
“Why would you say that?” Mycroft tilted his head at him.
John froze in place, “Well, you’d hardly be here if it were an accident.”
“Good, John,” Sherlock said, nearly dismissively and John bolstered under Mycroft’s gaze.
Mycroft went on about the secret plans (top secret, very) and this time John got his cue right, “That wasn’t very clever.”
And there went the face better known as the Superior Devourer of Persimmons.
John’s eyes flicked over and grinned in unison with Sherlock’s closed mouth laugh. The one he made when he was too happy to share more than a broad line surrounding by cheery brackets.
“Don’t encourage him Sherlock,” Mycroft said without looking over his shoulder. Mycroft would be an absolutely terrifying mother. “Cheekiness is unattractive in a child.”
“I rather like it,” Sherlock grinned.
“It’s not the only copy,” he continued as though uninterrupted. “But we would like this one back if the two of you are done with your usual trivia. This is of national importance Sherlock,” he said turning back to his brother. “Do try and set a good example for the child Sherlock, adventure is well and good but character is rather important as well.”
“We’re very busy, maybe next week,” Sherlock said and began to gently coax his violin into making the sounds of a tortured cat.
Once Mycroft was safely out of range, although John was starting to believe Mycroft was never truly out of range Sherlock leapt out of his chair and paced back and forth three or four times. He wasn’t as steady as he usually was, John felt horrible for forgetting about Sherlock’s concussion as mild as it was.
“Do you need something for your nausea?” he asked, hopping up.
“Hmm?” Sherlock said. “No, no. It’s almost eight, that’s breakfast for you.” Closing the distance between them, Sherlock curled his fingers absently in a single motion from the top of his head to cover the dip of the back of his neck before flitting off. “Scones and milk!” he called from the kitchen.
Smiling, John followed after, leaving the folder unopened on the coffee table. He just crossed the threshold when Sherlock’s phone went off. Anxiety made his spine snap straight, his shoulder fall back, his hands go still. By the time Sherlock turned back around he was composed. He thought he was composed. “We’ve a case.”
“I’ll eat quick,” John said, perching at the kitchen table while Sherlock paced back and forth, disappearing and then back again wearing his coat. Gone and then back with his scarf on. “Done,” he said around a mouthful of scone, washing it down with half his milk.
Sherlock caught him with that strange motion again, covering the back curve of his neck and then hooking two fingers against inside his coat collar. “Let’s go then.”
They were both quiet on the way to the Yard, with John becoming increasingly tense, mouth hard, eyes scraping across rooftops restlessly. Sherlock on the other seemed to be getting in higher and higher spirits hiding a grin behind his fingers.
When they finally reached the Yard Sherlock leapt out of the taxi like an extraordinarily pleased crane. John made a frustrated sound but the cabbie waved them on, “Don’t worry about it kid, you deserve a free ride for what you put up.”
John paused, “It’s not-”
The cabbie waved that off, “It’s obvious he cares about you. Just not used to having a child around the house, yeah?”
Sherlock suddenly appeared, braced in the doorway of the backseat. He looked half mad, “Why did you come back here? Don’t run off John, you need to stay with me.” He grabbed John’s hand in his and pulled him from the cab, jogging toward the Yard before John could say anything about it one way or the other. Above John’s head (and wasn’t that the same as always) Sherlock murmured to himself, unwilling to let go of John’s hand. That wasn’t unusual either. But any man who couldn’t admit he hadn’t held a male friend’s hand for a little while in private at least once in their adult life was either tragically touched starved or needed friends they trusted more. And there hadn’t been anything to make John set Sherlock down and say, like I said, all fine. And I like you as a friend, just not that way. Sherlock was simply proprietary in a way that was simply Sherlock. It was the real person thing, if someone was real they were an extension of Sherlock and it was no stranger to handle them than himself.
It was the hand holding and the pushiness and all the rest in public that had John gritting his teeth a little, mostly because it led to the loss of girlfriends and the accompanying frustrations. But now there was every reason to encourage Sherlock to stay close.
He shook off the line of tension knotting down his spine.
Sherlock paused for a moment, hovering in place like a hummingbird, “Are you certain you’re not having any more… reactions?”
“I’m fine,” John said quickly, but Sherlock was looking away again. Rushing to Lestrade and the case, the strange case, the kind Sherlock likes. Sherlock’s long pale fingers lip out of his small hand and John watches his back. The box, the very strong box with the envelope on Bohemian stationary and written by a woman. Irene, John is suddenly sure, even though that is very far away yet but John is certain now that Irene’s part in this had been planned from the beginning. That it was an option. That Irene had heard the whispers, she knew what whispers liked, and she loved knowledge and she loved power and she thought she understood what Moriarty was. How Moriarty operated. She glittered and held the whip and loved to stand and look into the faces of the people underneath the point of her high heel and think, you will never trust anyone like you do me. I will always own this.
She owned Sherlock for a little while, but not the way she expected to. And maybe she owned Mycroft a little. But she never stood a chance with Moriarty. She thought because Moriarty liked to hurt people that he liked to inflict things on people. But he didn’t, he liked, he likes, to weaponise, make them desperate, scrape them open, and see what they’ll do.
John realized belatedly that he was spiraling into a panic attack, standing at parade rest. He closed his eyes for a moment. He thought of Sherlock giggling with him, a year and a half of moments overlaid into a stream of laughter. Bad Davey scowling, miserable and vicious and gentle to his brother, and he thought of Timothy Dimmock who sat on rooftops with him, practiced his Russian and stared at a picture of a spotted chicken while he held off the next drink.
When he was done he was standing unobserved at parade rest.
“Pink phone,” John said from the wall, thoroughly disheartened. He had hoped a little desperately at the last moment and inside might be something innocuous. But it was a ridiculous thing to hope for.
“Like from The Study in Pink?” Lestrade said, trying to peer over Sherlock shoulder.
“Yes, it-” Sherlock froze and turned to stare at Lestrade. “You read his journal?”
“Yeah, after that dog case a few weeks ago. Clever bit of writing that. Do you really not know the earth goes round the sun?”
“What? Really?” Sally raised her eyebrows. “No way.”
It was obvious from Sherlock’s face what the answer was, “You don’t hire me for advice in astronomy. My knowledge of the heliocentric system is not a matter of concern.”
“This however, this is something lovely.”
“It can’t be lovely,” John said in a steady voice, “if it blows up things for no reason.”
“There’s a reason for everything John.”
There were the five pips. John would be the last. It’s too dangerous for anyone else. Who else did Sherlock really care about? Mrs. Hudson? Molly? Lestrade? Just no. Besides John knew how it was supposed to go. He knew all the lines, knew what to do. And with him in the equation instead the few choices of people who had found a place in Sherlock’s heart. But there was nothing he could say. He’d just have to trust Davey to come through. Trust Dimmock to get back in time.
“Why are you grinning like that?” Lestrade finally asked. Which was also something John wanted to know.
“Because I’ve been waiting for this for some time, they’ve finally decided to play with me.”
“Who?” Lestrade said.
John couldn’t see Sherlock’s face, but his tone frightened him.
I won’t put up with insubordination. Call me. Also more cigarettes. –BD
Forget the cigarettes. Smoked too much last night. Headache today. – BD
And tell Daniels I’m buying out a client of hers named Joe Harrison in two weeks. Get a packet of clients together so it’s not obvious. –BD
You do it or it really will be obvious. –BD
And I changed my mind. Bring me a couple packs. - BD
I’m serious about the cigarettes. –BD
Tell her I know someone else told her to rack up his debts and I don’t want the sell mentioned. – BD
If she tells I’m going to kill another one of her stupid prize dogs. And also I’ll never take her to dinner ever again. - BD
She really does love trying to kill me. –BD
I might kill one of her dogs anyway. They’re really creepy. –BD
That was a joke. – BD
I love all animals and children. – BD
And the cigarettes you haven’t brought me yet. –BD
Now you’re just being immature. – BD
The meeting’s in half an hour. – Elsie
I got you some low tar for the way. – Elsie
Oh how you spoil me. – BD
Sorry this was late, but my computer programs have pushed things later than I'd like. Next week I should be on schedule again.
“I know that place,” Sherlock grinned, holding his hand out with a quick double snap.
“What?” John said.
“Hand, now, no arguments.”
Sherlock looked like he wasn’t going to deal well with an argument right now so John sighed, set his fingers in Sherlock’s and let himself be pulled along.
“Wait a minute,” Lestrade said after them. “This is official police business now. I’m coming with you.”
Sherlock nodded, leading John away by the hand, leaving Lestrade to catch up if he could, “Fine.”
John resisted pulling away, drawing his gun, lifting it like the natural, stunning extension of his arm. Stunning and forcible as thunder. One arm straight in front of him braced to fire, the other bent bracing himself, knees bent slightly and moving quickly. He fought the urge to bring out his phone, his secret ace in the hole and text Dimmock again and again. He didn’t need to, he really didn’t need to, he was an adult. A real grown-up type adult who could pay his own bills and get his own job and take care of things all by himself.
He fought the urge to take Sherlock’s huge, broad, long fingered hand up in his two small nimble hands with their little scrapes and nicks and press it close to his heart.
If he did he would look up at Sherlock, to distant above him now and say he wants to burn the heart out of you. You think he’s like you, but he’s not. He’s not at all.
They all shoved into Lestrade’s car. There was plenty of room; Sherlock just seems to like to leap forward into places when he’s excited. His hands were warm and large on John’s, comforting. But then there was a twist of pale wrist and a shift of long fingers and John’s hand is empty while Sherlock started fiddling around on the phone to see if there were any other messages snuck in somewhere or any secret apps, or who knows what else.
John curled his empty hand in on itself, he looked away out the window ignoring the way Sherlock had said perfect, the way he held the phone in his hands as if it were something precious. John made a fist and pressed it to his belly under his little coat. He could do this; he could keep himself and Sherlock alive. He wished Dimmock with his contacts and his support would come back. With Dimmock he’d be able to kill Moriarty, he was sure of it. Finish him off once and for all. This would be alright as long as he absolutely did not give into panic.
Calm, he needed to be calm.
He knew how this was going to end. It was going to be alright. Seriously heart stopping at moments, but ultimately alright. Then they were at Baker Street, Sherlock grabbed John’s hand again and flung them both out of the car grinning; John dragged behind him like a thought bubble. As soon as Sherlock got the door open he shouted down the hall, “Mrs. Hudson! Quickly! There’s a case!”
Lestrade came in behind them cursing under his breath about patience and consulting detectives while Sherlock demanded the key to 221C. “You alright John?”
Quirking a smile John shook his head, “I’m fine. I’m used to him pulling me all over the place.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Lestrade’s eyebrows had come together in a steady line, his face troubled. “You look…”
“If you’re done chatting we have a mystery to solve,” Sherlock said over his shoulder while Mrs. Hudson talked about the impossibility of opening the door that had in fact been opened, and recently. Recent developments had made John hyperaware of being ignored and pushed to the side, so he took a moment, standing in the doorway of something that was moving far too fast, to smile at her. To tell her he’s sorry, but they’re on a tight schedule and he’ll be down to chat if she wants later.
“Oh John,” she said, patting his cheek gently. She did that sometimes when John was an adult, she still did it to Sherlock. He wasn’t bothered. “You’re always such a little gentleman. You’ll grow up to be such a ladies’ man. A woman does like a man who knows well enough to be respectful. Not to say anything about Sherlock, I just don’t think he-”
“John!” Sherlock shouted. Impatient and almost manic.
“Off you go dear,” she smiled, ducking back into 221A.
He tried to smile for her, but had a feeling he didn’t quite pull it off. Sherlock paced forward in the musty little hallway to reach again for John’s hand. “Don’t wander off. You’re not meant to do that.”
“Sorry,” John said, feeling a little better.
Once they got to the living room with its sad little fireplace and peeling wallpaper Sherlock stopped in the doorway, making a soft sort of manic sound in his throat.
“What is it?” Lestrade barked from behind them, finally shifting so he could peer over John’s head. “Shoes?”
“Excellent observation Lestrade,” he held John’s hand out to him. “If you don’t have anything useful to add you can hold this while I work.”
“It’s fine,” John said softly, letting Lestrade’s cold, calloused hands curl gently around his while Sherlock slipped away. Right now he had some power, he knew what was coming. Had Davey to help him. Davey who had told John before, when he was living with Bailey, that if one hair on Rooster’s head was hurt he would gut John; smiling and calm and brutally honest. But then John had held Roost through electric madness to the careful reading of the skeletal system through people’s skin and Davey would still gut him, John was sure. But he didn’t think Davey would let anyone else hurt him. Not with those hard pressed kisses to the corners of his eyes and the top of his head. Not with those slow solemn rolls of his shoulders and the touchy raising of his eyebrows. The teas and the bullets.
Sherlock began to circle the room, looking at the walls, the fireplace, the carpet, the mirror, humming faintly to himself.
“Remember, he’s a bomber,” John said tensely. He needed to stay close to script; he knew what was meant to happen at the end of the story. A pool, the smell of chlorine and a call that led Moriarty (Jim. Hi.) off stage right.
Sherlock paused, “They-”
Whatever he was going to say was interrupted by the ring of a phone. John felt strong here, strong against the tactics of a hissing ghost. Davey said he’d have a member of his living surveillance network, street people too mad or too discreet to be a security concern, there. Someone to watch and be sure everything was working according to plan. The call was exactly the same on the part of that poor woman, Moriarty’s words in her mouth.
But Sherlock was different.
Halfway through the call Sherlock’s face went still and injured as a child’s, then it shifted into something high and untouchable. Cool. Something that was not quite anger, had more coldness, more haughty superior control than that, but it seemed to vibrate as high and unnerving as rage.
There was a silence then, after Sherlock had rung off. Draping and impatient for fervent movement, Sherlock tense with who knew what, Lestrade anxious for Sherlock to get out of his headspace so he could get on with some real policing, John trying to tread each step as close to what had gone one before as he could manage.
“We’re going to Bart’s. Lestrade take the shoes, John give me your hand again.”
“Oi, I’m not actually your dogsboy Sherlock,” Lestrade said with a huff.
Turning to gift him with another one of his classic you idiot faces, Sherlock slipped the faux-phone into his inside jacket pocket. “John must not be seen carrying the shoes, I cannot carry the shoes and hold John’s hand without potentially damaging the evidence. That conveniently leaves you with two free hands. On you go detective inspector, your assistance is appreciated.”
John gave him a little sideways kick.
“If you would be so kind that is,” he amended smoothly.
Rolling his eyes, but complying Lestrade followed them out, watching a bemused and slightly annoyed John, shifted between himself and Sherlock and tucked in like a teddy bear. Sherlock then reached out for the shoes, set them in his lap and proceeded to act as if nothing in this arrangement was the least bit unusual. When John started to tell him it wasn’t necessary, Sherlock only made a faint sound, looking out the window, already thinking. Huffing out a sound that was either a laugh or a sigh, John relaxed back, his hands curling in his lap.
“Thank you Lestrade,” John said from where he was shoved close to Sherlock’s shoulder, eyes drifting lazy and tired from the warmth of Sherlock bracketing him. “For helping us. We really do appreciate it.”
“Maybe you do,” Lestrade huffed back.
A smile ticked up the corners of John’s mouth, “I’m sure Sherlock has some appreciation hiding in his brain somewhere between his map of London and man eating fungus.”
“John, try not to romanticize,” Sherlock said absently, as though he were very far away, one hand curled around one of the trainers in his lap.
“Too late, I’m already living in an action-packed gothic novel.”
This got him an affronted look. Oh forbid that he should try to not have panic attack by being cheerful. Cheerful-ish. It wasn’t John’s natural state. That was a mix between shooting things neatly and snuggling into his chair sipping tea. And keeping Sherlock alive. But he could try.
“You have to admit,” John said sleepily, leaning back against Sherlock’s arm, “You do look like you’ve stepped out of some tragic windswept manor in Dartmoor. You’ve already got the dramatic cloak all you need is a mad wife and a hound.”
“I’m trying to stay in genre here,” his smile was small; there was too much weight in the car, trailed in by those shoes, around the pink phone hovering over Sherlock’s heart. In the front seat Lestrade’s shoulders were already loosening.
Sherlock tensed for a moment, it was a small movement, but it was held long enough John jerked to attention. He wasn’t sure what that expression was staring down at him, “Will you take a look at the shoes John?”
“Right now?” John said. This wasn’t meant to be happening here; he tried his observational skills at the hospital. (You missed almost everything of importance.) But then he had to make sure he wasn’t in the room when Molly and Moriarty showed up. “Are you sure?”
“John, let me see what you can deduce,” he held out one of the shoes, staring steadily.
“Are you sure?” he looked up at the back of Lestrade’s head, but it was uninformative. “This puzzle is meant for you, the bomber said so. Wouldn’t my helping be cheating?”
“No,” Sherlock said, voice still strangely cool. “You’re simply a tool at my disposal-”
”Sherlock,” Lestrade said sharply, half looking over his shoulder.
“It’s fine,” John said in his captain voice. “I know what he means. He wouldn’t be penalized for using his phone; or your resources too I imagine. If he thinks it’ll be alright I’ll do my best.”
“It will be good for you too Lestrade,” Sherlock said, although this probably wasn’t the best place to have this sort of conversation. “You still think of John as a child like you would think of your own children. Not as a deductive genius,” Sherlock was speaking to Lestrade, but he kept looking at John.
“I’m not a circus animal,” John sighed at him. “I don’t do handstands or jump through hoops.”
Sherlock gave him a look.
“Just because I can does mean I do in a performance venue. Besides my handstands are extraordinarily unimpressive.”
“I’m not a circus animal either, I’m a consulting detective and this will prove a point. You know what I do, on you go.”
John sighed pointedly at him and took the proffered trainer. “What do you want then?”
“Well,” John said, “in the beginning…” He didn’t know if Sherlock would get the reference, but he would recognize the tone of voice.
Lestrade snorted even as Sherlock rumbled, “If this has to do with astrology again.”
“Just trying to break the tension before one of us has an aneurism,” he sighed. He looked up at Sherlock and the strange cool burning that had replaced his racing excitement. John was going to have to do this, really do this. Sherlock wouldn’t let him cut any corners. “He’s skilled at picking locks and being quiet if he got in with the door to 221A right there. Based on the phone call he would consider this a basic skill. He practices, he enjoys it. No footprints or disturbed carpeting. At least not that I remember.”
“Correct,” Sherlock supplied.
“Trainers,” he said, lifting the shoe, large in his small hands. “Good nick so the owner cared about them or they were new. But the sole is well worn so the owner must have had them for a while. Big, could be a man, but there’s traces of a name in the inside, so they must be a kid’s, for a kid this big they were probably in sports. Something where they were worried about shoes coming off and getting mixed up with a bunch of others away from people who knew them. Shoes like this would have been distinctive, especially with how well they’re cared for. And the owner wouldn’t have taken them off any other place where they could have been lost.” John said, letting lose the spare hint, something to feed what Sherlock thought of him, keep the buffer of W alive without giving too much away.
“Well, most schools don’t allow older kids to take their shoes off. And the only other places would have been mates’ houses or home. Either way, a parent would have noticed the missing shoes.”
John answered absently, squinting at the shoe, “They tend to.”
“It’s retro; you’d have to look up the style of shoe to find out the year.” He pulled the shoe close, sniffing delicately. Looking at it this close he could just see the “Probably has been kept a while, no smell. And there’s dried skin. Someone’s been keeping them safe and untouched. And that’s all. That’s it.”
“Acceptable,” Sherlock smiled with the twitch up of the corner of his mouth.
The rest of the ride was quiet; Sherlock was away again in his own head until Lestrade pulled up to St Bart’s and then there was a shuffle and Sherlock’s fingers hooked onto john’s shoulder and an evidence bag that appeared from somewhere to hold the trainers. They stood in the doorway, past the cold glass line of the automatic doors and in front of the powerhouse of hospital climate control, that little pocket where the outside air isn’t sure what it’s meant to be doing.
And John had to get out and away from Sherlock, upstairs where Davey would hopefully have sent a contact so he can find out what he’s supposed to do later about the plans Joe Harrison killed his sister’s fiancé for. It would also help to find out what Davey was doing to make sure there would be no exploding pools in the near future. Not to mention he did not want to explain the whole living with Sherlock thing to Molly. He wanted to avoid explaining things to molly for as long as possible.
“Sherlock,” John said. “One of my patients is upstairs. I’m just going to run up and see them.”
“No,” Sherlock said shortly. Sherlock loomed beside him, like some blue, pale and black crane, saved from looking like some stormy, winged bruise by the Victorian sweep of him. Some Classical marble draped in Imperial privilege and high quality wool. “I can’t spare the time to go up. Never mind the waste of going to cry by someone’s beside.”
John stiffened. “I didn’t ask you to go with me.”
“Well, you’re not going by yourself,” Sherlock didn’t look up.
“I can manage.”
“I’m sure you believe you can.”
He took a very deep breath and then released it again.
“Oh don’t be like that,” Sherlock said all superior, and, yeah, it still rankled the second time around that Sherlock didn’t care much about the victim. It wasn’t that John didn’t understand. That he hadn’t looked at the person on his operating table and thought about them as simply a body. Couldn’t think about the impact of taking someone’s legs off, what that meant to a soldier, to a person. But there was a little difference between thinking of a body like a machine that needed repair and a body like a pawn to be won or lost on a board of play.
“Lestrade can take me if you’re so worried,” John nodded his head to where Lestrade was talking, shoulders up, on his mobile.
“John,” Sherlock said, voice softening slightly. “I’m not your parent. Nor do I protest to be. But I did notice that you’re frightened.” John looked up at him quickly. “I am capable of noticing discomfort in others from time to time. If you’re afraid, the way to solve it is not to go and hide, but to stay with me where you will be safe.”
“I need to do this. Think of it as keeping my schedule up. I’ll be fine Sherlock.”
Sherlock hissed between his teeth, but he wanted to get to those trainers and John was not moving. “Fine,” he barked. “I’ll get Lestrade.”
W – It would be beneficial to talk. – MH
Hope you enjoy! I've tried to send little shout outs to Sherlock canon (ACD and the series). But no one has recognized the characters. I’d offer to do some sort of contest for people to guess three of the characters I’ve snuck in maybe I could do something? I’m not sure what people would want though. I'm worried this chapter might make it a little obvious though. There's another canon shout out coming up, so maybe I can plug that in as well. Let me know if there's even anything y'all would want to win in a contest.
Check me out at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com I'm not particularly awe inspiring, but I do update on my writing process.
It was less difficult than he expected, given John’s apparent age and Lestrade’s exposure to Sherlock, to get Lestrade to leave him on the pediatric floor. He couldn’t imagine he was getting terribly slyer. All he had to do was mention he knew Lestrade was terribly busy with this new case. That he was going to meet someone and after the door opened he had to find a familiar face to greet. He salved his conscious somewhat with the knowledge he wasn’t actually lying about it and it was for Lestrade’s safety. He knew saying, I need to get an update from my crime lord associate via one of my homeless friends to find out what’s being done to stop this Moriarty situation. And I really don’t want you or Sherlock there, because you can’t know that I know, wasn’t going to go well. So a few misleading lines were really quite innocent in comparison. As soon as the doors opened he called out, “Nurse Odi!” Trying to look for all the world like she was the one he was planning on meeting. Lestrade sighed, checking his watch and John’s face before John was called over for a hug.
Lestrade finally seemed to come to a discussion, sticking his arm through the doorway of the elevator before it could slide shut. “Be safe!” he called out as the doors closed, leaving John with his arms around the soft shoulders of Nurse Odi, the cluster of her small dark braids against the side of his face.
“Isn’t he going to walk you where you need to go?” she asked, releasing him from the hug.
“No,” he smiled. “I know where I’m going.”
The break room at the back of the staff area was small and isolated, the nurses and doctors preferring either the little dark room where they could catch a few hours of sleep or down one floor, just a scrabble down the stairs to the break room with the good vending machines. It also didn’t have a camera. The hospital was discreetly surveyed for all sorts of reasons, but the institution had neither the desire nor inclination to watch residents and nurses with hardly any sleep slowly drink coffee and eat sandwiches while staring absently at a newspaper page they were too tired to read.
John gently plucked a doctor’s badge off a resident with his arms full of clipboards and badged his way into the break room. He had told Bad Davey where he’d be, that this was the last thing Davey’d have to do before he could sit back on the sidelines and not worry anymore. There were a couple of nurses in the corner whispering at each other when he came in who looked willing to ignore him just as must as he wanted to be ignored. According to his watch he still had ten minutes or so before whoever Davey sent would arrive.
He slipped out his phone, proceeded to have a minor panic attack, debated what he should do about the message, had another panic attack and checked the time again. It was time now, there was time enough to hide in the future, he couldn’t do this without a little help from wherever he could get it.
Now is not the best time. – W he typed while snagging one of the newspapers sprawled like inky butterfly wings, and about as manageable, trying to get it to lie straight. International news was mostly along the line of the economy and Afghanistan, he scanned loosely until the headline, Russian Power Plant at Critical State Several Dead After Avoided Meltdown jumped out from its discreet corner. ‘Authorities say it isn’t thought to be a terrorist attack.’ And, ‘meltdown barely prevented, lockdown measures result in the death of several employees.’ John wasn’t stupid enough to shake his head and say, that couldn’t be what he went to Russia to fix. He had been sent back through time and looked to be a small, sturdy sort of eight year old. That in mind it wasn’t as hard to imagine as John might had believed once in his life for Dimmock to head to Russia and prevent a power plant from exploding. Sad and stern faced Dimmock. John debated whether or not he should send Dimmock a text about avoiding vodka, he was fairly sure they drank it like tea there.
The pages fluttered out in front of him as the phone went off with a faint vibration.
What has you so busy at this particular time? –MH
I’m busy at almost every particular time. You’re lucky your text arrived at a break. – W he replied. It carried enough voice of authority (he hoped) and plenty of Go away I’m busy.
Less elegant than your usual responses, but you’ve made your point. But I do have some questions. – MH
I prefer talking to texting. But I keep getting interference when I call. Can’t we talk? – MH
Shouldn’t you be managing on the Korean elections? – W
There was pause twice as long as normal. Acres of silence as far as Mycroft was concerned, considering his usual response time, or perhaps a carefully constructed illusion of silence. John ignored it.
Once again you have me at a disadvantage. And quite overestimated me. I am curious about how you get your information. – MH
Mycroft was willing to let the Korean elections drop in front of John and Sherlock as a means to impress his baby brother, tease his baby brother, do whatever to his baby brother, so it couldn’t have been a great and terrible secret.
I don’t think anyone could overestimate you. - W (And wasn’t that the truth.) However, I’m afraid I’m not really able to chat. – W
There was an intensity vibrating through his phone that was either John’s paranoia or Mycroft Holmes thinking very hard at him. He went back to the paper and flipped toward international news, looking for anything Russian. It might be too soon for anything useful. But Dimmock had implied that whatever it was that he was running after in the frozen north.
You are aware that Sherlock first thought you were the bomber? – MH Mycroft dropped on him while he was trying to get the pages to lay straight using his short little arms. The couple were giving him absent looks over their shoulders as if they were curious, but not enough to actually pay him much attention.
He’s been waiting for you to try some gambit for him to prove his genius. – MH
No, John hadn’t been aware. But suddenly that explained so much. How excited Sherlock had been. The way he had suddenly seemed so cold and angry. Had Sherlock seriously thought he was the sort of person that blew flats up and strapped people with bombs? Well, not John obviously, but the John that was W. Had he really come across that… mad? In a way it made a strange sort of Holmesian sense. Sherlock had said several times that John was a test. That Sherlock had to prove things. From that direction it made sense. That W the great and terrible wanted Sherlock to show he’s was super clever so he could come and play. John shivered.
The first time Sherlock had played this particular game he had played it like it was the opening volley of play, even after he realised how serious it really was. How alright the bomber was with actually blowing up his pressganged victims. It was almost a game, I’m breaking every rule of decency, look at how those normal people squirm? Aren’t we alike? That he assumed the W attached to John was the same person as someone who attached bombs to people was a little troubling.
But it made sense, it really made sense.
You were either unaware or are an exceptionally slow typist. – MH
I have bigger things to worry about right now. he typed absently, still numb from the combination of the revelation on Sherlock and a hint of what Dimmock might have been about. The game is currently manageable. – W
Game? – MH
The door slowly snuck open and the pale and shaken face of Mike peeked around the edge. He smiled at John, first something pale and narrow and then something more like him. Crooked at the corner and curling. John shut off his phone and snugged it in the back of his jeans. Mycroft could just deal with that bit of information.
Waving to him with the twitch of a couple of fingers, John watched him with narrowed eyes to make sure this wasn’t so much shock. It had only been a few weeks since Mike had his chest ripped open by debris. The experience of it could cause him as much trouble as the wound.
“John,” Mike chirped suddenly sprawling into the chair in front of John, shaking off his previous gloom. He pushed the newspaper inelegantly to the side with one hand and gave John a look.
“What?” John blinked at him.
“Man,” Mike said simply and made a faint noise before setting his elbows on the table.
“Yes?” he raised his eyebrows.
With a quick shake, Mike stood a slung an arm around John’s shoulders for a quick flash of a side hug.
“I hope he wasn’t that bad.”
The slightly hysterical laughter in response made John frown and let Mike pull gently on his ear, “I’ll survive. Hey, how’ve you been?”
“Oh, you know, solving crimes. Making tea. Stitching people up.”
“Good, good, brilliant,” Mike said, falling back into his chair, tapping his fingers back and forth one after the other. “I’m totally in with Nurse Adair. She’s gorgeous, I’m gonna wait til I’m eighteen and woo her,” Mike said with absolute confidence, all swagger and faith miles from where he was when he popped his head in the door.
The door swung open while they were talking and one of the residents peeked at the bland white room, spotted the back of Mike’s head and grinned. “Hey Wiggins, I thought I was going to miss you,” he held out a single serve packet of biscuits between his thumb and finger like bait. “What’s the news on Angie?”
“Single,” Mike said, plucking the packet with a practiced ease, “Likes strawberries, John Locke, Harry Potter books, allergic to shellfish, doesn’t want kids, does want hedgehogs. She loves hedgehogs. It’s a hoggy addiction.”
“You’re a star,” the resident grinned so wide it looked like the top of his head was about to fall off. “A star.”
“Pleasure doing business,” Mike grinned back before tapping his fingers against the table again. John watched the man, kid really, do a little skip and head for the door, the nurses, checking their watches and heading out to start their shift. One benefit of being a bit prodigious with his female classmates was he knew which rooms would be clear when.
“What was that?”
“I sell information now, it’s mad profitable to be a gossip now. Also I support romance; I’m just a good person like that. It keeps me out of trouble. ”
“Trouble like imprinting on your health care provider?”
“Gloria Adair, she’s a goddess. We’ll get married, or live together. Whatever she prefers. I’m trying to be optimistic.”
John raised his eyebrows, “You’re making plans to marry your nurse? Gloria Adair?”
“Not my nurse anymore. And I’m good with whatever she wants; I can work with platonic life partners with a side of one-sided earnest yearning until I die. I’ve been reading, bettering myself, it’s opened a whole vista of living situations for pairs of people. Also vocabulary.” He nodded once, face set in resolution. “It’s been decided. I will never love anyone else again.”
John opened and then closed his mouth. “As long as you’re not making rush decisions.”
“Nah,” Mike waved that off.
“So, other than your epically destined love with Nurse Gloria Adair how are you doing?”
“Pretty good,” Mike shrugged. “My sister’s living with Gloria. She’s fostering her or some such. It’s not permanent, so that good. It’s convenient. And I got picked up by Bad Davey’s death taxi.”
“I never asked him to do that-”
“He abducted me to a clothing store and threw furniture at me.”
John frowned, “Did he hit you?”
“No, clipped pretty close though.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much then; he’s just sulky right now.”
“You have serious perception issues John. Bad Davey doesn’t sulk; he flies into murderous rages and bludgeons people with ottomans. Or skins them or something else.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell him to-”
Mike held up one hand, “Don’t worry about it. I’m not bothered. I just don’t want to be murdered before I can swoon into Gloria’s arms. Davey tried to sell me an excessive amount of the pain medication, but I knew Gloria-”
“Queen of my Everlasting Heart, wouldn’t like that, her being a nurse and all. And you’d peel my ears right off my head like that one time I got dead drunk and almost puked on your chair. But he wasn’t really serious. He said that he grabbed the drive and altered the contents-”
“Wait, he said he’d just put a blank copy back,” John’s hands tensed.
“He said too messy too much risk. If the plan failed and the plans got into the hands of someone it’s not supposed to than they’ll know right away someone’s been tampering. This way is safer. He said more, made me memorize it. He’s keeping the original as insurance and having someone reverse pickpocket the altered one back into Harrison’s pocket. See, no problems. This is a quote, ‘Harrison is an idiot, he shouldn’t sell drugs if he can’t tell when his pocket is being picked.’ He also cursed me out and threw a chair at me, but that’s about normal for him, so not really bothered.” Mike looked incredibly bothered; his pleased little smirk cracking around the edges. There was a tension in his shoulders like a tripwire, “Everything is according to plan; national secrets all safe. Please don’t make me go back and tell him anything contrary.”
John touched Mike’s fingertips, “I won’t ask you to do that again. He’s really keeping the original?”
“I’m not really sure what it is; don’t want to know,” he held up his hands to forbear, “but he was serious about the threat. Haven’t seen him this worked up since he went against Elsie’s old pimp.”
John’s eyes went wide, “What happened with Elsie’s old pimp?”
Mike looked around like he was double checking for surveillance, “He knocked her up a couple times and then tried to kill her cause she didn’t want to work for him no more. Only she hid in the tunnels where we were staying, she looked a right mess and a half. All stiff and swole up everywhere. I saw her come in because it wasn’t as safe as our new tunnel and I had to watch her at night. And then the pimp showed up and her baby started screaming and Davey showed up with a couple of his boys and started making a mess of the pimp. Not a lot of people know this story,” he pointed a finger at John. “So don’t you share, but there are only two people Davey cares about and everyone else he feels perfectly free to murder at his leisure. I saw him start in on that bloke when he had his back up before Bailey dragged us off to safety. Don’t make me deal with him again when he’s gone bad like this.”
John felt a knot of righteous vindication when he thought of lovely Elsie with her soft hair and her quick little smile like she and the universe had the same sense of humour. How she didn’t take anything from anybody, stepping in with solid impenetrable reason and a sidearm just in case. How her nail polish was a different colour every day. She was a real lady and the thought of someone beating her like that made his gut burn violet and midnight blue. John could have shot the man for it. “I won’t,” he said stiffly, uncomfortably tight in his own skin now at the thought of Elsie’s bravery and Davey’s brutal, furious chivalry. “Just, be careful, things are going to get a little rough the next few days.”
Hysteria creeping back petal delicate, Mike laughed, “John, mate, where have you been? Life’s always been rough.”
John arrived, alone and trying to shake off a bit of homicidal rage for someone who had already received Davey’s own brutal pseudo-justice. A sharp toothed ripping in expression of his constant worrying, it worried John how his love could only be articulated in the ripped out bellies of his enemies. Worried him because a frustration at a language barrier could only lead to escalation. He could only hope Davey didn’t suddenly start loving anyone else.
“You’ve been gone long enough,” Sherlock growled.
“What’s wrong?” John asked, suddenly concerned.
“Nothing’s wrong, why does everyone assume something is-”
Molly and Jim must have been through. “Language barrier,” John smiled. “Most people can’t manage to be fluent in Sherlock.”
That seemed to cut through Sherlock’s mood a little. Experience had forged in him a healthy avoidance of the phrase ‘don’t take it out on me.’ It was one of the surefire ways to get Sherlock to do just that. He tried a subtler approach, “How goes the case?”
Sighing a sigh of legendarily superior proportions, he fiddled with the microscope in front of him, “Don’t try to distract me from my foul mood John; it’s so pedestrian.”
“Only if it doesn’t work. I’d think this case would get you cheerful enough. They usually do.”
“You’re not happy with it, are you John?” Sherlock suddenly gave him a solid sort of stare John didn’t know what to do with.
“Well there’s a woman with a bomb on her, waiting all alone. Not knowing if she could bring about the death of a bunch of people.”
“It wouldn’t really be her fault though, would it?” Sherlock tilted his head at John.
He scrubbed his face, “Normal people don’t think like that Sherlock.”
“And you know so much about people?” Sherlock said snidely even as the computer beeped.
“I’m better with people than a lot of things. I’ve already told you that.”
“Tell me about our bomber then,” Sherlock said, clicking briefly at his keyboard and then starting his meticulous process of cleaning up. He might leave a trail of halfway finished experiments behind him. But once he was done he cleaned up as neatly as anyone who read chemistry.
“He wants you to almost trust him, to think you’re alike… Friends almost, or, I don’t know-” John struggled with a way to say what he wanted to without giving away more than he should.
“So like W, but braver,” Sherlock said in that absent way of his that John hadn’t heard for ages, like he didn’t know what he said was meant to upset.
He felt his worry for Sherlock, for Dimmock, Mycroft’s texting, Elsie’s past and then this. The rage shot up the line of his back like a pillar of fire. “No,” he said sharply.
Sherlock jerked and then recovered, “I see the hero worship doesn’t just extend to-”
“No,” he said again, each small centimeter of his frame bursting with full Captain authority. His voice came out a little pinched, but loud and strong and absolutely fiercely sure. “The world does not actually revolve around you Sherlock Holmes. You don’t actually get to make valid character observations based on whether or not someone is giving you all the attention you feel like you deserve.”
Sherlock stared at him.
“You just… you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m going back home,” he scrubbed his face again; he needed to run, or fight or do something to shake this off.
“No!” Sherlock suddenly stood scooting his stool back with a squeal. “No, not by yourself. It’s too dangerous. I’ll just... I have everything I need. I needed to do some private analysis anyway.”
He looked like he was going to reach for some part of him to hold onto, but in the end, he just stood intensely grim faced and escorted John out.
2 New Messages
I would appreciate any information you could provide on the ‘game’ my brother is involved in. – MH
Just got your message, may have found someone to help. I’ll get back soon. Nice to be out of Russia. Be safe.
This chapter is a bit angsty, my angst meter is a little off, so I don't know how much it is or isn't. Just that it is in this chapter. Next week we shall have the appearance of Hilton Cubit, Mrs. Hudson solving crime, John worrying about everyone, Dimmock trying to sneak out of Russia. It won't all be talking. You'll like Hilton. If all goes well.
I worry that I've been a little too subtle with this story, I'm sorry if I have. I've been putting feelers out to see what people are catching. Also thanks to all my followers on tumblr. (I'm looking at you followers, and I'm sending you my love.) For those of you interested my tumblr address is thursdayplaid.tumblr.com.
“You’re angry,” Sherlock said, once their safely ensconced in one of their natural habitats. The London taxi cab. Home away from home. Or the home away from home without the dead bodies and crime scenes in.
John made an angry little motion that meant yes genius.
Sherlock seemed to puff up a little with all the things he wanted to say but wasn’t sure which was best. “Don’t be like-”
“Like what?” John snapped. This was why he always walked it out, otherwise he ended up ripping into people, saying things he shouldn’t. Blundering headfirst with both fists flying, it was one of the reasons he and Harry weren’t as close as they used to be. Why they hadn’t really been that close once Harry was old enough to wander around by herself.
“Stubborn,” Sherlock said flatly. “Stupidly determined to take care of yourself. To be brave.”
Well that took the wind right out of his righteous indignation. John looked up at him.
“Would you prefer I become a sniveling wreck?” John said, but there wasn’t much sting to it. All the lives that weren’t much changed for the worse with John neatly clipped out of the picture. His sister sober, married, neat and well put together. Bill Murray not in a wheel chair, if the pictures on his blog were anything to go by (John had looked him up, he couldn’t help it). A thousand lives unchanged without John moving around and breathing and being alive. This was the only thing he still had, still being the soldier, the doctor, the assistant, brother in arms to Dimmock and trailing assistant to Sherlock.
He was going to fight to keep Sherlock safe and to keep them going together, friends as long as he could. He deserved a slice of existence, even if he hadn’t apparently done anything else of note.
“I’d prefer it if you’d allow yourself to be a child for a while,” Sherlock rolled his eyes at John’s face. “You know what I mean. Trust someone to take care of you sometimes. You’re so self-sufficient with all your adorable little habits, keeping me in tea. Getting me to sleep, getting the Yarders to give be the evidence boxes that sometimes it’s impossible to tell how you feel about anything. You’re nice to everyone.”
John face melted from grim little lines into something soft, something infinitely gentle. If the care he had for Sherlock couldn’t be seen readily apparent in his expression then nothing could convince anyone of it. “But I wouldn’t want to live with anybody. Even if you are an idiot sometimes.”
“It was perfectly sound logic!” Sherlock said with extreme prejudice.
“You’re the one who deduced W’s noble streak just the other day-”
“Don’t make this a moral issue,” Sherlock’s face pulled.
John lowered his eyebrows in tiny twin lines of incredulity, “You’re the one who made this a moral issue when you wanted to be best friends with the bomber.”
“I don’t want to be best friends with the bomber!” Sherlock threw his arms in the air in a manner clearly designed to show he was above being besties with anyone. Except perhaps the skull. High quality as it was. “You’re acting strangely.”
It feels as though John and Sherlock are in some children’s programme or panto production. They’re very far from being anything like angry at each other, but they’re louder than they normally are, performing and flopping their arms at each other.
“Someone is sending you murder shoes,” John told him very seriously. “That is always a cause of alarm.”
“We’re not calling them murder shoes,” Sherlock said back. He also spoke very seriously, but somehow thinking that Sherlock said back very seriously felt too ironic. Or at least the purposeful sort of irony. The kind that was meant to make a point, coolly with raised eyebrows and tight pretentious mouths. Not the irony that usually left John standing somewhere in the rain. Or trying to keep his hand warm with the MRE cooker that was just a bag with a bit of water in, but oh how it heated up (and smelled) while he was considering how he ended up in the middle of nowhere for literally no good reason. So John left out, from the narration that occasionally floated through his head for the purpose of possible lines for journal entries, that Sherlock was treating the fact that the murder shoes weren’t to be called murder shoes extremely seriously.
“That does actually sound like it would cause a bit of alarm,” the cabbie said suddenly. “I can understand why he would be upset about murder shoes.”
“We’re not calling them murder shoes,” he repeated with enough menace to scare away the threat of sounding like the sharing a peculiar sort of slapstick comedy. He turned suddenly toward the cabbie, “Is every cabbie in London an eavesdropper?”
“Nah,” the cabbie said, “You two are just famous.”
“What really?” John lifted himself up in his seat to peer at the back of the cabbie’s head. Enough of the sliver of his face showing so that John could see the smile lines in the softening skin at the corner of his eyes. John had smile lines once and hopefully again if he could get them out of this mess.
“Not like internet famous, just cabbie famous.”
“Cabbie famous?” John asked.
“Yeah, we talk, about who not to pick up. Like there’s this quiet bloke out in-”
“Hmm,” Sherlock interrupted, ruffling himself up and settling down again in the cocoon of his coat after a quick peek out of the back window. “That’s enough.”
Sherlock for all his egotism wasn’t really designed to be famous. Too plastic, replicated at an unnecessary number of angles that meant nothing to him, too much outside opinion. John hadn’t trusted it much either for all that he was grateful that Sherlock actually got some recognition for how brilliant he actually was. Besides the press probably would have turned and made a bit of a mess before the two of them went to go solve some cases in Scotland or Italy or however far it took for the press to get over the fact Sherlock could be mean or whatever ridiculousness they came up with. And then everything would be normal again, John and Sherlock and London. No one could ever say that Sherlock wasn’t brilliant, and that was the only thing he really cared about. Whether or not people thought he was wrong. And he certainly wasn’t interested in any other famous people, even if they were cabbie famous people.
“Sherlock,” John watching him turn, mobile even with his shoulders up and his coat tight around him. He scrubbed his face with a quick swipe of his hand; the scrape of his callouses was always surprisingly soothing. Settling when things were a bit at edge. Things of course being a twitchy Sherlock. “Ignore the cabbie. Just tell me what you’ve found.”
He got a nice long look from Sherlock.
“Go on, he won’t tell,” he nodded toward the cabbie. “You seemed pretty excited back at Bart’s. Tell me why they’re so special to you.”
“The shoes,” Sherlock said after looking at John out of the corner of his eye a couple times. “They were original, not retro, about twenty years old. About right for a boy named Carl Powers. He was a championship swimmer. Came up from Brighton on a school trip in 1989, you were right about the sport very good by the way, he drowned in the pool. Had some kind of… fit in the water and by the time they had got him out it was too late. I wasn’t terribly older than you when it happened.”
“You were there?” John asked, relaxing with the rhythm of the conversation, the flow of Sherlock explaining. Dialogue off as it was, John needed keep things as close as he could remember.
“No, read it in the papers.”
“And you remember it? Something fishy about it?” He kept his voice light, questioning, hopefully it would keep Sherlock talking. This time through he could appreciate the little things, the way Sherlock’s face looked suddenly so young in profile, as if he were young himself again. The way he pulled his lower lip into his mouth, the way he did when there was something going on that upset him. The way he kept moving, looking out the windows, turning to snap his eyes behind them before resting one hand on John’s shoulder.
“I thought so; no one would listen to me. I contacted the police but not one would listen to me. His shoes.”
“What about them?” John asked, leaning into the subtle curl of Sherlock’s hand without realizing it. The warmth of it calming down the small cub part of his brain so he could think; could breathe loose and even.
“Everything was in his locker, all the rest of his clothes, his bag, everything but the shoes. I knew it was something wrong, it just didn’t sit right. Children don’t know anything important of course,” Sherlock said as a straight faced, sarcastic show of solidarity, “I think they were even less interested in that line of inquiry if it had even occurred to them in the first place.”
John smiled, a faint gentle line that was so calmly world weary it was hard to be anything but amiable toward it. “Sometimes even the cleverest people miss steps of simple logic.”
“You continue to be far too charitable,” Sherlock said drily, working his fingers gently against John’s shoulder. He turned his head again, staring out the window for the last few minutes before they were home. John fished Sherlock’s wallet out of his coat to pay the driver, this time with Sherlock hovering irritably over John’s shoulders with Carl Power’s shoes dangling in their evidence bag. Then the Feed John alarm went off and Sherlock was looking up how to make a grilled cheese sandwich with narrowed eyes.
“While I’m doing this, take my laptop, go on my email and print out the attachments I sent to myself,” Sherlock commanded, looking at the block of cheese that either came from Mrs. Hudson or Mycroft with extreme suspicion.
When John blithely picked up the laptop with both hands, he didn’t quite have the wrist strength to heft it single handedly anymore; Sherlock startled him into staring with wide panicked eyes. “I know you know my password. You forgot to erase the browser history, amateur mistake, but you’ll improve. Cat videos John, really?” He sliced into the cheese with a look of extreme prejudice that was unwarranted, even if it did come from Mrs. Hudson.
John found himself trying to shrink into himself and tried to stop it. He was an adult, not a child, and even if he wasn’t, Sherlock wouldn’t suddenly swing his belt at him with a hiss and a bite.
“Oh stop that,” Sherlock said, dropping the first sandwich onto the pan. “I don’t mind. Besides it makes sense that cracking passwords would be part of your education.”
“I don’t,” John swallowed, relaxing before he cracked the casing on Sherlock’s laptop. “Cracking passwords wasn’t really, that was more along the lines of mending bones and neat stitch work. I just saw you typing in your password. And then I used it.”
Sherlock stopped cutting cheese slices to stare at John.
“Sorry I used your laptop,” he tried.
Shaking his head, Sherlock dropped a few more sandwiches on the pan, “If you had a laptop I would have done the same. You were very quiet. If you couldn’t sleep you could have come and woke me. It’s better than rotting your brain with cats falling off of things.”
“But you sleep so seldom. And cats falling off of things is funny. Is your password the same?”
“Yes, but the numbers in the middle are 762 now.” There was a clatter as Sherlock looked for a pan to heat up the can of tomato soup. That one was from Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft wouldn’t even send one of his lackeys to shop at Tesco’s. “It seems my understanding of your… previous education is somewhat lacking. What all did they teach you other than personal identity is grounds for punishment, everyone is more important than you and how to shoot people and then stitch them back together again?”
“I can diagnose various contagious illnesses. And depending on the situation I can strip and remake a bed in under two minutes. And clean my own OR table if I have to.”
“A valuable life skill,” Sherlock deadpanned.
“It is if you’re running out of beds,” John got into Sherlock’s email, there must have been close to twenty messages which turned out to be attachments about the Carl Powers case as well as a few pages from what looked like scientific journals he didn’t quite get.
“I’m fairly sure that those children in the tunnel were the first life and death surgeries you had to perform on the fly. I don’t think your previous experience would put in contact with that many wounded- John, what’s wrong?”
Sherlock didn’t mean-
All the creeping hobbled up memories of his non-existence crept back under his skin. At the sound of Sherlock saying his name in that startled off center voice John’s eyes fluttered open, two large hands spun him in the chair so he was facing Sherlock. The ebb of images red, jagged white and slimy grey-pink (and chased behind it burning, burning, burning, burning scrubbing him up and throwing him away like an extra piece in a jigsaw puzzle accidentally thrown in) slipped away in the half panic of Sherlock’s face looming over him. His breath eased away from his panic zone, which was stupid, it was idiotic and there was nothing to trigger him. Nothing to set him off. He didn’t even have proper PTSD the same way he didn’t have a proper limp.
“What just happened?” Sherlock said. The printer running smoothly behind the low rumble of Sherlock’s strangely twisted voice.
“Nothing, just a sneeze,” he said, trying to turn back to the computer screen. When Sherlock reached for
(everything, all the blood and staying awake, and Bill, and all the help he thought he gave was burning away with the years of medical school and the hospital corners and the proper care and maintenance of a -)
his face to turn his head back
(burning, it was all burning and better him then Sherlock, but no, but yes, but could anything be worth this horrific)
John only avoided punching him right in his perfect architectural cheekbone by Sherlock jerking away to fall back huge eyed and John pulling at the last second.
“I’m sorry,” John said looking for a moment so lost and so frightened. So like a child while Sherlock sat back in shock on his hipbones, his hand splayed out behind his to brace him. “I didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t mean to do that.”
“But why? You would have been far too valuable- Why let so many of you become so injured you’d- ”
“The sandwiches are burning,” John said. “It’s not how you think. The sandwiches are burning.”
Sherlock’s face went blank. He stood as smooth as only a few hundred years of English aristocracy could and he went to put the least burnt sandwich on a plate and threw the other two away. One after the other so they bumped quickly and apologetically against the bin liner. Whish, whish.
Sherlock threw the knife he had been cutting the sandwich in half with so it twanged against the long glassy tiles of the kitchen wall. He was lucky it hadn’t hit the wall paper, that would have come out of the rent most certainly. “Just… Just be quiet for a little while. I’m trying to solve this case; I don’t need distractions right now.”
“Oh, shove off. You’re the one with all the questions,” John scowled at his back, and the tight lines relaxed into something cool and composed and very far away. His phone buzzed in the jacket pocket above John’s head. “Your phone’s vibrating.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock said and grabbed up the sheaf of papers he had printed out.
“You don’t ignore your texts unless you know who they’re from, generally Mycroft. He’s not going to stop, you should at least check to make sure it’s not Lestrade with some hint or some-”
John’s mouth went into a firm line, he still had the fissions of the almost panic attack in his fingers, but he was rapidly going steady and calmly dependable. Nothing at all out of the ordinary. “At least let me check.” When Sherlock sighed and unbuttoned his jacket, John caught the edge of his jacket, ignoring the way Sherlock went stiff as a board and stood in his seat to fetch it out. “Thirty-two texts from Mycroft. Is this about the case this morning that he wanted you work on?”
“He’s obviously not terribly concerned or he would have canceled his dental appointment.”
“Mycroft prefers to call, you prefer to text,” John agreed, but Sherlock didn’t seem pleased at what he knew. “He says it’s national security, that’s important.”
“What do you care about patriotism?”
“Queen and country. It’s important.”
Sherlock looked at him as if he were mad.
“It’s important to me. Just because someone’s not a very nice person doesn’t mean the country is awful.”
“I should let you take care of it then,” Sherlock said.
John looked at Sherlock as if he were mad.
“Text Mycroft and tell him you’re taking the case and then run go get Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock said, turning again, spreading out the papers thick in front of him.
“Mrs. Hudson?” John asked with wide eyes.
“Lestrade’s the only person I can trust with you right now. I’d send Lestrade, and has a gun, so. But Mrs. Hudson’s sensible enough take the warnings seriously. Eat your sandwich.”
John took an obedient bite, Sherlock would need to move the soup off the burner before it was, well, burned. But John didn’t want to bring it up. 221B had rolled in itself so it seemed less of a cozy little nest and more of a haunted forest, the air was thick with animal adrenaline the survival parts of their brains had been forewarned and was ready to take over their plodding domesticated minds. “Don’t send me away angry with me,” John said. He felt small. He wanted to curl up in Sherlock’s lap, which was strange and would have been awkward if he wasn’t so unsettled. Or press the side of his head against Lestrade’s ribs, or hold tight to the sweet mother smell of Mrs. Hudson. Or curl against the whisky sad chocolate recovery warmth of Dimmock all mixed all together with the scent of cleaning products. Dimmock who laughed softly and knew every second of John’s pain, who fought with the stripes of loss delineating him.
“I’m not,” Sherlock said. “I need to think, you’re too loud right now. But it’ll be sorted before tea and then we’ll be settled.” He paused, pulling his lips straight. “It’s going to be alright. You don’t need to be frightened. I’m brilliant, and I have you at my side in case the next case has something to do with cat videos. Eat your sandwich. I’ll put your soup in the thermos I didn’t need for the cannibalism case.”
Mycroft, John texted on his way down the stairs, careful to keep the text different from the ones he sent a W, the identity that might be keeping Dimmock safe in Russia. This is John. Sherlock said I’m to take the Andrew West case and to tell you. He tried to think of something else to add, but nothing else seemed necessary so he just sent it. By the time he knocked on Mrs. Hudson’s door Sherlock had followed down the stairs with his arms half full.
“Hello dear,” she cooed at John, and he had to try more than he liked to resist his body’s urge to lean into her and let her ruffle his hair.
“I have matters to attend to,” Sherlock said from where he suddenly appeared behind John. “And I need John to help me with something. Would it be a terrible trouble for you to assist him on a case.”
“Oh!” Mrs. Hudson flustered. “I don’t know dear.”
“It’ll be an adventure Mrs. Hudson,” John smiled up at her. “Only if you feel like you can, we don’t want to trouble you.”
“Oh,” she said, “oh. Well, let me put on my walking shoes and get me coat.”
“Excellent,” Sherlock said, getting down on his knees to dress John in his mittens, his coat, his little knit hat, throwing a satchel that had been knotted to make the strap shorter over his shoulder. “I’m sure the two of you will be perfectly fine. Just a few things Mrs. Hudson before I run back upstairs.”
“Yes?” she sighed, standing in the doorway.
“No one is to touch John. No one is to take him out of your sight. These two things are vitally important; I can trust no one else to ensure this. John is armed in case of emergency. And he has some tomato soup; it was starting to get a strange film, so I assume it’s done.”
John looked suspiciously at the thermos he held in his mittened hands.
“John is very sensible and is certainly capable of taking care of himself, but he needs you so that he doesn’t stick out. In his satchel is a notebook with the important data. He’s already had a sandwich, but in case he gets hungry again I put some money in as well.”
Sherlock seemed lost for a minute so John gingerly gave him a sideways hug and said, “Thank you for letting me help.”
Sherlock wrapped his long arms around him and squeezed him hard and quick, covering the back curve of his neck with one large hand and pressing his cheek to the curve of John’s head. He was finished hugging John almost as quickly as he had started and was up the stairs yelling after, “Call me if anything happens, and you have permission shoot anyone you feel the need to.”
“Well,” Mrs. Hudson said. “That’s not what most fathers say at parting, but Sherlock being as he is I suppose that’s as safe as he feels he can get to ‘I love you.’”
John blinked up at her, holding his thermos of questionable tomato soup.
“Let me get my coat then dear, adventures indeed. Won’t Mrs. Turner be jealous?”
While Mrs. Hudson yoohooed for a taxi with John standing earnestly and still a little worried at her side, Sherlock called his brother.
“What exactly are you thinking brother, if I might be so-” a pause, probably back molars then, Sherlock hoped the root canal was awful, “bold as to ask?”
“Did you know what may have happened to the other children like John?” he asked with falling into the net of Mycroft’s pleasantries. That was a trap only the very skilled could untangle themselves from.
“Do you mean did it occur to me that the reason I didn’t know about the existence of children like John was that the evidence had been destroyed?” oh, euphemism, excellent, just what he wanted. What wondrous things it was doing for his mood too. “Yes, of course. I take it has just occurring to you. Did something happen?”
Sherlock felt every part of his mind go made in a way that made him long for cocaine, or heroin if he was really in a pinch. Nicotine was like trying to take paracetamol for a gut wound. Everything was too loud, buzzing creeping, data shifting and moving so quickly he couldn’t get more than the shape of it. He wanted to delete the whole conversation he stumbled into earlier. Delete the way he had turned to look and saw John’s breath stuttering in his little chest, the twist of his small hands (not fretful, John is too sensible to fret about anything, but certainly showing precise flinches of distress), the soft sound John seemed unaware he made. John can be so (sentiment, sentiment, sentiment, redirect) fine, but he was also like a pipe bomb, inside another pipe bomb, with possible other pipe bombs hidden like a deadly stacking doll. It was destroying his focus, his thought process, his ability to do The Work. And The Work was the Most Important Thing. (But John was also something [redirect, sentiment, sentiment, sentiment] fine.)
He realized he had taken too long to answer.
“Ah,” Mycroft said and Sherlock hated him. “I see. Traumatic for you was it? I assume you sent John away? As deceptively puppyish as he appears you wouldn’t allow him to overhear this discussion.”
“He was being too loud, I’m trying to work.”
A sigh. Sherlock could identify Mycroft by that sigh in the middle of a warzone. “You once said my pet goldfish was too loud.”
“He was too loud,” Sherlock said defensively as he begun to dissect Carl Power’s shoes, taking careful pictures at each juncture in case it was needed for evidence later. Lestrade was always going on about evidence like he still needed help preparing for a case. At least Lestrade had given up trying to put him in a tie or comb his hair down on those rare occasions he couldn’t get Sherlock out of witnessing.
Mycroft sighed again, “As much as you like to imagine the megalomaniacal plots I am hatching to extract John from your care I do believe your care may actually be the best for him at the moment. But I would like to remind you that I have names of the best child psychiatrists specializing in trauma ready at any-”
“There’s nothing wrong with John,” Sherlock interrupted like the crack of a whip. “There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s perfectly fine.”
There was a long silence that Sherlock didn’t know what to do with, he didn’t know if he should say something, or do something, or… His skin crawled and ached and his scalp felt too tight. He wanted to look away like a child that wanted to pretend something wasn’t there, and he wasn’t a child. He wasn’t, no matter what Mycroft wanted to pretend. “I need to get back to work,” he said shortly and hung up. As soon as he was done he could start testing the shoe laces. There was something there he thought.
From: David Watson
To: Hilton Cubit
Subject: Sponsorship for The Cubit Crop Directive
We at the Rogerson Foundation are interested in sponsoring groups that work in the medicines, sciences and social services to improve life for people in the United Kingdom and around the world. An associate has brought your organization to my attention. We may be interested in donating to your cause, but before we take that step I would like to talk to you about what your group hopes to accomplish and what a feasible donation may be for your organization.
I am currently in London and would like to talk to you as soon as possible.
Rogerson Foundation, Sponsorship
+44 (0)45 9823
So here's the deal, the whole point of Hilton Cubitt is that he's adorable to too adorable for words depending on the day. Mostly due to his giant puppy/teddy bear and doing gooding and helping poor babies. The problem with this is that I have had a bit of a busy few days and so I'm not sure that I've played him up as such. If that's the case I will pull the Rude Mechanical Clause.
I tried. If any of you have questions you can ask them (there's your daily pun, albeit a weak on) at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com or ask in a comment. Fair warning, I take forever to answer comments. I am nice however and answer nicely. Enjoy!
When they reached the door of number 5, the Harrison home, they were arranged with John, his hands clasped in front of him, to the right of Mrs. Hudson who wore a look of kind professionalism as she rang the bell. “Here we go then,” he said at the sound of feet inside.
“Miss. Harrison?” Mrs. Hudson said to the pale face that appeared. “We’d like to speak to you about your fiance Andrew West.”
“Um,” she said, wiping her sleeve across her face. “No press please.”
“We’re not with the press dear, we’re here as part of an investigation into his death.”
Miss. Harrison, Liz, looked doubtful so John straightened his spine and said, “We think it has something to do with his work at MI6.”
“How old are you?” she asked.
“Don’t worry about John dear,” Mrs. Hudson smiled. “He’s small for his age. But he is a very capable assistant.”
“Are you like Ms. Marple?” Liz asked.
“Something like that,” Mrs. Hudson smiled. She seemed so very gentle, her skills were incredibly manifold for all that she flustered at Sherlock’s shouting and banging around she was still able to put up with Sherlock.
“Come in,” she stepped aside, scrubbing at her face again. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
She moved pale and worn, like a ghost in her little flat with its cheery curtains and a thousand cautious steps that meant someone had begun to make a home here. John had learned since becoming so very small that some people weren’t as fond of children, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by much of anything.
She set two mugs on the coffee table, nicer than she had set at the table the last time John had come. But then he supposed that was Mrs. Hudson and the way she had people thinking of their mums. John moved like a cloud through the living room, like Sherlock’s long distance thought bubble while Mrs. Hudson started asking the important questions.
“He wouldn’t,” Liz said, hands clasped together. “He just wouldn’t.”
Mrs. Hudson made a soft sound, consoling, “Other men have done worse.”
“He’s not a traitor. It’s such a horrible thing to say about him. That’s what they think, his bosses? That he stole those things?”
“He was a young man, about to get married,” John said. “He would have had debts.”
“Everyone has debts,” Liz said, Mrs. Hudson and grief having her believing in the complete improbability of a child investigating. “He wouldn’t want to clear them by putting his country in danger.”
“Why don’t you tell me about that night?” Mrs. Hudson said. “What happened?”
“We were having a night in. Watching a DVD, he always fell asleep; it was all that looking at a computer all day long. Made him drowsy sometimes. But he stayed up through almost the whole thing. Then he just got up and said he had to go see someone. He had been quiet, wasn’t usually that-” she had to stop and take a deep breath. John went to stand by Mrs. Hudson’s shoulder. Looking at the neat lines of shorthand in John’s little notebook.
“You don’t know who?”
“No, didn’t say, there were some things I just didn’t ask about. So Westie wouldn’t have to lie, or worry about telling me no. I know… knew his work was important; every little cog has its place, you know? I respected that and so I just let him go. I thought he’d be back again.”
Mrs. Hudson reached out and rested one soft hand on top of Liz’s where she was worrying at her jumper. “I just need to ask, just to know. Sometimes there are things about the people we love that we ignore so that everything will run smoothly. Little things or big things. But when something is really wrong, we can see it in his eyes, hiding in the corners. Be smart and sensible about this, really think, is there any chance he might have stolen anything?”
It wasn’t a question that John would have been able to ask, it was too gently knowing and feathered feminine practicality. But from Mrs. Hudson it was just a question from one woman to the other. Taking one deep breath and then another she shook her head. “Westie was very tight lipped about work. Not about other things, he was so friendly, silly sometimes in the way that always made me smile. I could always tell though, when something important had happened at work. He was so proud of what he did, so happy to be trusted. Not like some men,” she seemed to stumble over her words a little, “not like how some men are happy to always be in charge, to have a secret and be important. He was proud to serve his country.”
Gently Mrs. Hudson squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry, I know how terribly hard it is to move around a house that’s too quiet. Do you have someone who can come stay with you?”
“My brother Joe, he’s staying with me. He’s over a lot anyway; he and Westie were really getting along.”
“That’s very good,” Mrs. Hudson smiled. She reached into her big purse and brought out a small loaf tin. “It just seemed proper, since you were in mourning. We should go now, and give you some time alone.”
Liz nodded absently and tucked the tin up close in the crook of her arm like a lovey. Walking slowly after them on the stairs, holding the door for them, Mrs. Hudson reached out and gave Liz’s hand a quick squeeze, “Take care dear.”
Liz was nodding a soft thank you when Joe Harrison came out of the down stairs pulling on his black beanie. “Liz, who is this? I didn’t hear anyone knocking.”
“Just someone come about Westie’s death, they brought sweet bread.”
“Lemon,” Mrs. Hudson said helpfully.
“What, like investigating? You like Mrs. Marple?”
“Something like that,” she inclined her head at him.
“Well you tell whoever they need to get their a- um, selves in gear,” he ducked his head awkwardly. “It’s disgraceful, leaving things as they are.”
“We’ll do our best,” Mrs. Hudson assured him, reached out for John’s hand, something John was finally submitting to, if only grudgingly and the two of them headed for street where they could catch a cab. Behind them was Liz Harrison and her betrayer brother. John was a little said that Liz, who reminded him of so many Army wives, didn’t get to say that Westie was her good man. Maybe it didn’t matter terribly; he still was in her lover’s heart, even if she didn’t get to say it. It was something she had due. Talking about the man she loved, especially after he had died like that, even he knew that. While the two makeshift detectives made their way to a main road, leaving behind one loving heart there was another that was just discovering itself.
If the great city of London had been shifted, like a crooked tablecloth underneath the full dinner set weight of its citizens so that one could move from one loving heart to another, one would end up at the desk of one Hilton Cubit.
Hilton Cubit was in love. Just a bit.
Alright, a lot.
Doodling tumbling piles of morning glories in meetings in love. Almost missing calls in his daydreaming haze in love. And he had been to more parties, delaying his return home to his greenhouse and that nice clean air, in the last three months than he had in the whole history of Cubit Crops. The tragic struggle of his life’s work had been one excuse. People liked to sit and have a gorgeous dinner and pay a few ten thousand pounds for something bright and shiny and attractive. They didn’t want to deal with a giant country boy who was less interested in buying girl’s attention with his millions and more in teaching lower income families how to creatively garden in order to help with good nutrition and self-reliance. That was where he had met Elsie the infinitely perfect.
They had talked for ages and ages, he didn’t know much about her past, but he knew all about her. What her views were on politics, history, traffic, literature, philosophy, she never drank around strangers, she had no patience for disrespectful language and she had such a bright unexpected sense of humour. He told her about dark sweet earth and the smell of rain, how he loved to work with kids, working in his greenhouse.
It had happened when they had sat one night with their bare feet against the cool paving stones and the stars hung in her dark hair in a back corner of a London garden. He had too much champagne and was balancing a plate of tiny chocolate tarts on his knees. She kept reaching for them, eating them in tiny kittenish bites that made him shift and blush and stare at the garden wall babbling, “It’s ridiculous to think because someone has made poor choices or has had a violent past that somehow aren’t able to make better choices or benefit from-”
“Hilton-” she said, fingertips more calloused then most of the moneyed lot here, one of the many things he liked about her and then they were kissing and his face was burning and he was floating in a cloud of champagne, cool air and roses. And when he wriggled away a little way to blink at her when he realized her hands were definitely headed below the tiny chocolate tart tray, he had stammered out that, “Well, um, that is, I’ve not, hmm…” It was embarrassing and awful because people looked at him like he was crazy, like it was defective somehow because he just wanted to wait.
But she hadn’t made fun, she of the golden laugh and wide bright smile and fingers twitching good humouredly against the inside of his elbow. She backed off immediately, giving him space to settle himself, asking him if he was alright, if she had pushed too far.
“No,” he had said awkwardly. “I just want to wait for someone I’m sure about. Not that I don’t-”
Elsie looked at him, a world in her eyes and just said, “No, it’s, okay, I can see why someone might do it that way.” She kissed the corners of his mouth, pressing, “We’re not doing anything you’re not comfortable with,” against his lips like a kiss. And he had been gone, lost, in love. That was it kaput.
She said she kind of liked it and it made him kind of breathless, and awkward and put his arms around her kissing her with how much he appreciated that she stopped and didn’t ask what was wrong with him. Throw excuses at him to try and discover how he was defective. It was his choice. The crush he had been nurturing like a stumbly little puppy in the secret place of his heart grew full and strong and ran away with him.
He was, fully, truly, inescapably in love with Elsie Hargraves.
He was fully aware his secretary, Mr. Downs, was making fun of him because of it in that way he had with only his eyes and nose. Like an evil Jeeves. Part of it was that, honestly, he did not really belong in London, he didn’t like London. It was foggy and noisy and at the risk of sounding like a child, which meant The Secretary must never hear of it, rather mean. He rather wished he was back home, running around, working in his green house or not shoved into an office where every stray move barked his knees against his desk or knocking stainless steel whatever they were over like some overexcited puppy. It was like he was a teenager again, just a great tall beanpole with giant hands and feet attached with no sense of aesthetics.
He banged his forehead against his desk.
He was pathetic.
“Sir, you’ll want to leave now if you want to make your meeting with Mr. Watson,” Downs snooted.
Scrambling up from his desk he snagged his briefcase, got tangled in the coat rack.
“The car is already downstairs,” Downs said so drily Hilton worried he was going to start peeling. “Try not to low too much like a lovelorn cow.”
“Ta!” Hilton said just because he could. “You’re a dear!” Valiant try to skin Hilton with his eyes aside, Downs was the best secretary he could afford for his little nonprofit, at least if Hilton wanted it to last. And he trusted Downs. As much of an idiot Downs might think of him, he was as loyal to the organization as Hilton was.
He stumbled into the car and barreled across London to a small upper midrange restaurant. It was a nice place, but about what you would expect from someone who worked at a foundation, for a lot of people who played the charitable organization game this would be considered a pleasingly humble establishment. The maître d' was waiting for him and motioned with one elegant twitch of her hand for one of the waiters hovering around the late lunch crowd to lead him back.
There was a very blond man in a shiny new suit talking loudly on the phone, making the wait staff look mildly constipated. If this had been a nicer restaurant he would have been thrown out by the new money seat of his pants. He suddenly broke off saying rather loudly, “Hello, hello? Are you there? Hello?”
Hilton winced as he followed the waiter.
“Oh there you are,” the man said again with that aggressive sort of smiley-ness that made Hilton want to hit people with bricks. “The connection cut off. As I was saying- Yes, yes.”
The waiter motioned to the table where there was a tall thinnish sort of man with a shock of hair a colour of orange burgundy that Hilton would swear wasn’t a part of the natural world outside of foxes and trees in autumn. He had a tightly curled little smirk, like he was holding his humour behind his narrow lips as the loud man started braying again, “Hello? Hello? Are you there? Hello?”
“Mr. Watson?” Hilton asked. Watson’s head snapped up, the little shining off his glasses so that his eyes disappeared behind neat gold framed lenses reflecting silvery white. He palmed something he had been fiddling with at the table and slid it into his coat pocket as he stood. The loud man’s phone had thankfully seemed to have given up the ghost and he resolved himself to muttering about his own importance while others were left to enjoy their meals.
“Yes, Mr. Cubit I presume?” there was something about the way he stood, the way he held out his hand that made Hilton feel like Watson already knew who he was, knew everything about him in the flick of an eye.
“Um, yeah,” he said, shifting his briefcase around to shake the proffered hand. “That’s me. You wanted to talk about the Cubit Crop Directive?” he said awkwardly sitting down. The waiter was oddly deferential to Mr. Watson, never quite looking him in the eye.
“I’ve become aware of your work through a friend of mine,” his fingers were long and quick against the table cloth.
“I’ll have to be honest,” Hilton said, taking a deep breath and a big chance. “The directive has a lot of potential to do good and be relatively self-sustaining because of simplicity and low overhead, but it’s not glamourous. We’re having a hard time getting donations; people want to give to causes that have the money to throw big parties or make them feel progressive. A lot of good can come from teaching lower income families, especially children about how to take simple steps to grow small gardens and helping to establish and maintain community gardens.” He spoke with all the fervency of a father arguing for their child. His large hands clasping and unclasping in front of him, soft eyes earnest as he quoted studies, fact and figures, nutritional studies and personal experience. Watson just watched him narrowly behind his glasses, pressing one finger to the corner of his mouth, nicotine patch peeking out from where it was pressed to the pale flat of his inner wrist.
There was nothing overtly aggressive about Watson, but Hilton felt on his back foot about the whole thing. Underlining predatory movements chased each twitch of his fingertips, something vaguely dangerous hiding behind neat little glasses, a smoothed back flash of ginger hair and a soft oatmeal coloured jumper as if a soft jumper ever really hid anything dangerous. But he was also the first real chance, so Hilton poured his heart out in a stout English way about tomatoes and hope and having something of your own and being able to profit from it a little.
“If you’ll excuse the question,” Watson said, shifting again so the light turned his glasses into a mirror again. “But what do you care about ‘lower income’ children?”
“Well, I’ve never lived a hard life, I’ve never had to. I don’t have a dramatic rags to riches story. But I believe that I can do some good in the world with the things I have. And I believe the best thing I can do for anyone is to give them the opportunity to learn how to be self-sufficient and have something to take care of, be responsible for.”
Watson stared at him, “I don’t know if you’re the most optimistically naive man in England or something else entirely. I’m not quite sure.”
“I don’t think it’s naïve at all to recognize that all people need to bring the best out of them is purpose and something to take care of. I know it’s very in vogue to be cynical right now, but when it comes down to it, cynicism just isn’t realistic. I’ve never been taken advantage of when I’ve offered someone my good faith.”
“Possibly because you’re a teddy bear,” Watson blinked at him. “Or you’re too good to be true.”
Hilton frowned, “I’m not a teddy bear. Or too good to be true. I’m a gardener who wants to improve people’s lives.”
A very serious look leveled on Hilton, as Watson begun to tick off on his fingers, “You can’t tell me that you want to come in here and expect me to believe an attractive, appropriately child loving, country squire wants to travel far and wide spreading good cheer and acorn squash to all the little poor kids so they can grow up to be kind and strong and be responsible citizens. And that you want the sponsorship solely from the programme which you have no chance of personal profit other than it just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. For poor kids. That is not a thing that happens outside of books. Your face is like a teddy bear. Normal people don’t have teddy bear faces.”
“I don’t have a teddy bear face,” Hilton frowned again, he had rather lost track of the meeting.
“Stop it,” Watson said. “You’re only making yourself more adorable, I didn’t think it was possible, but there you go, you’ve just done it. I literally cannot find anything wrong with you or your children’s book charity and your kumquats.”
“Pardon me,” Hilton said, narrowing his eyes.
Watson smiled slow and vulpine waving one hand negligently. “Don’t take it personally. I’m very peculiar about where the things I have responsibility for end up. I don’t let anything go if I don’t have to. But you’ve made it annoyingly impossible for me to say no.”
“I’m not particularly sure how to take that,” Hilton said. “I’ve worked hard to create an organization that helps people and in the places it’s allowed to work it has done good things. I don’t need money so much that I’m willing to sit and be made fun of.”
“I’m not,” Watson frowned a little, a slight twitching at the corners of his mouth that suddenly made him look terribly young, not much more than twenty. “You’re getting the sponsorship for the next five years at least. I have the paperwork in the briefcase. I was expecting to give you a spectacular denial, but you’re too sickeningly undeniable for words. It’s simply that when one has seen enough tax shelters it’s remarkable to see someone trying so hard for something all on their own. Good men are a magnificent but endangered species; it’s always remarkable to run into one.” Watson pushed the menu at him with his fingertips, “May I suggest the chicken salad? It’s surprisingly sweet. And please, call me David.”
Watson, David, smiled at him like he knew how disconcerted Hilton was, and was used to people being disconcerted about him. The way he spoke, hop, skipping and jumping from word to word. It was nearly impossible to be insulted by anything he said it was so nonchalantly factual, David raised his eyebrows at Hilton slowly so that he startled out of staring and looked down at the menu.
Not that far away from where the two men were placing their lunch orders a small boy was holding out his hand to help his landlady from their cab. The boy’s face was pulled in a study of miniature worry until the door to their flat flew open and there emerged a madman in plum. “Excellent! You’re back!” Then discovering it was too cold he fled back inside.
“Sherlock! Don’t let the warm air out!” Mrs. Hudson called out, but Sherlock was already up the stairs.
“Thank you for your help Mrs. Hudson we’ll discuss you’re findings later there are more important things right now!”
“What sorts up thing?” she called up, unwinding her scarf.
“Thank you Mrs. Hudson,” John said, hugging her sideways. “Do you mind if I run up?”
“Go ahead, I’ve had my excitement for the day I think. I’m going to make myself a nice cup of tea and see if Connie Price isn’t on yet.”
John ran up the stairs after Sherlock, “Have you found out what killed Carl Powers then?” Sherlock caught him as soon as he was through the door, catching him at the shoulders and zipping his eyes back and forth across him lightning fast. “Poison then?”
“Clostridium botulinum. Remember the shoelaces?” Sherlock said, pulling him toward the kitchen where the table had suddenly acquired a table cloth and a great deal less clutter. “And don’t eat the apples on the table, they’re for an experiment.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Skin flakes?” he said. “Eczema?”
“It would have been the easiest thing in the world to put poison in his medication. Two hours later he’s in London. Poison takes effect.”
“Paralysis and drowning,” John said sadly when Sherlock grinned expectantly at him.
“It’s virtually undetectable,” Sherlock circled the table to start typing. “No one would have thought to look for it, but there were still traces of it in the trainers so they had to go. We’ll have to let the bomber know. He’ll have been waiting my website, but you’ve already figured that out. He did say he was a fan.”
John was shot through with sudden panic, “What? When?”
“Well, Jefferson Hope said he was a fan, a little before you shot him,” he said absently looking from the computer screen to the dangling bits of shoe with something sharp and fervent about the eyes.
“You know who it is?”
“I’m fairly sure now. Not too many people are this clever. Or this bored.”
The caution bubbling up in John’s mouth was covered by the sound of the pink phone ringing. That was it then, John thought with an absent relief. One pip down and no one had died.
Contacted American smuggler. He knows what people want. Made trade to get me +1 out of Russia. About time, hate cabbage.
Be home soon. Be safe.
Greetings and salutations bbs! Thanks again to beta Caroline. And once again, in case someone has just arrived. I hang out at http://thursdayplaid.tumblr.com/ Please enjoy a chapter of awkward men.
I'm off to play the blue fairy! Happy Halloween!
They descended upon Scotland Yard with Sherlock in the sort of spirits that left him resting the tips of his pressed together fingers against the intrigued curl of his mouth. John sat nestled into the imprint of a thousand passengers, his face pressed against the back of the seat. He could lean however he liked now, Sherlock was far from him. Chasing glittering possibilities through the corridors of his beautiful impossible mind, the secrets of John’s body language were on the periphery now.
When they stopped he tugged on Sherlock’s sleeve to wake him back up again. He waited long enough to snap his fingers impatiently for John’s hand, not bothering to look down once John let him tangle his large hand around his small fingers. Didn’t bother to comment on the cubbish twist of irritation on John’s face either, if he even noticed it. It left John with the creaky achy feeling of a growth spurt to suddenly have so much space from Sherlock’s laser point regard. Soon enough Sherlock would be going through his socks and micro-analyzing the way he ate his peas.
Once they were in Lestrade’s office Sherlock tapped his fingers restlessly against John’s shoulder again, catching in his coat collar. There was a restless absence about it that annoyed and comforted; Sherlock had gone back to regarding John to an extension of his body. It was too absent to be alarming, even for someone like Lestrade who had always been a protector of children and watcher for the good of Sherlock.
Lestrade’s face pulled in empathy and shock as Sherlock talked about the phone, the case. Sherlock asked the questions that Sherlock should be asking. It was frustrating. There was always the small chance that this time around Sherlock wouldn’t set up a midnight rendezvous. But Sherlock’s answer drawled again, “I can’t be the only person in the world who gets bored.”
And then, “Elegant.”
John shivered, a knot like a boulder filling his belly from hip to hip; Sherlock could make John a thousand burnt grilled cheese sandwiches, and rest his fingers a million times against the top of his head, John could be the strangest little mystery. But Moriarty would always gambol and play along the lifelines of other, smaller, normal people smiling just off cue with his bright little teeth. And Sherlock would always think it was elegant.
It wasn’t though. It was ragged, a starburst of madness painted in semtex and obsession. Exceptionally clever and incredibly complex did not actually make something elegant.
And then the sound of pips shook him out of his scowling white knuckled reverie. Maybe John would be less angry, less… aggrieved if he didn’t already know that Sherlock would promise to get beans and end up going to the pool with John’s gun in his pocket. While looking like a child filled John with a quiet fury he knew it made Sherlock softer toward him in strange ways. He hoped this time Sherlock wouldn’t play at a playing with Moriarty, that he wouldn’t forget Moriarty would already have Sherlock dead months ago on a cold tile floor if not for John choosing his life over a cabbie’s. Sherlock who was always right, who never considered why John worried so, that he sometimes believed in himself a little too much.
There was an irritated sound at the door as Donovan appeared with her mobile in hand. The pinch-pout of her face telling a story about how often something like this had happened before, the misappropriation of a phone in her vicinity. John himself remembered the imperious smirking when Lestrade didn’t let him on a case which was Sherlock’s version of evil cackling, as he sent out a mass text. He was grateful again that whatever interference Harry’s duplicate phone was running. Letting go of John’s coat collar to answer Moriarty call, Sherlock drifted away, eyes quick and far away. Lestrade made a soft sound at John while he was on hold, “John, are you okay? You look…”
“I’m fine,” he shook his head. “Just worried.”
He could hear the faint echo of a high Irish lilt in the back of his mind, sliding up and down like a bead on a wire. And everything cold and drenched in the smell if chlorine, sweat. His hands clenched in Westwood. Sleek, smooth, strong. John felt the cold on his skin now, the smell of chlorine, and he was so small. He felt very small. He wanted Sherlock to be closer, to look less intrigued.
“He has a right to be worried,” Donovan said, looming up like some self-appointed goddess of vengeance. “The Freak isn’t fit to take care of a fichus, he’s going to scar that child for life.”
The little rabbit part of his brain, the part that actually was eight, flinched back at her words, his worst fear, separation, the last of his old life taken away. Shrinking away, he shifted restlessly and ended up circling behind Lestrade’s desk. He was trapped there, but at least he was trapped there with Lestrade. He wasn’t Sherlock or Dimmock, but he was safe enough. “I’ve got it,” Lestrade shouted while giving a look to Donovan that clearly said leave it.
Then there was Sherlock, rigid in the doorway, shoving Sally’s phone at her, “What did you do Donovan?”
“What?” her mouth was open in a mix of real and exaggerated shock. “What do you mean what did I do?”
“John had attached himself to someone he trusts, he only does that when he feels threatened. And since you kindly blocked the door so he couldn’t get to me, he had to make do with Lestrade. So what did you do?”
“It’s fine Sherlock,” John said quickly, embarrassed, shuffling form Lestrade’s side while a quick litany of feeling raced across Sally’s face.
Sherlock gave him a hard, steady stare over Lestrade’s desk before setting his face, “Pardon me, won’t you Donovan? John and I have business to attend to.”
Muzzy heat drifted up from John’s neck, he submitted himself to Sherlock holding his coat out to him, but he refused to let Sherlock put it on him again. It was a bad habit to let him get into anyway. He did let him smooth his woolen cap on his head and tuck in the stray tufts of hair with careful brushes of his fingertips. There was something furious in his face quickly fading away, “Don’t be embarrassed John,” Sherlock said quietly, hesitantly; “it’s boring. Sticking with someone safe is a good instinct. Lestrade is one of the less incompetent people here.”
Lestrade smiled his funny, sad copper’s smile as he passed, knowing better than to reach out and touch John. “I’ll give you a ride to the crime scene,” he said, watching them carefully. Sherlock was fostering that enormously loud sense of allowing someone to be near John, which John would never like. He punched him in the hip, just hard enough to get the point across, and a huff of air that’s as close to an apology as he can manage.
On the way over he listened to the volley match that was Lestrade trying to get Sherlock to talk with him in much the way he probably did with his teenage daughter. John leaned into the hand curled over his shoulder and watched for snipers.
“Cold,” John said simply once they reached the decidedly grey and puddly crime scene.
Nodding absently, the you’ll tell me if there’s an issue floating between them, Sherlock moved to stare steadily at the puddles of blood. Wet, razor sharp fingers of cold nipped around the edges of his shoes and the hems of his clothes. Shivery lines sprinted up his limbs and back until he could settle in a knot that held an acceptable level of body heat. Sherlock was right; he did need a new coat. When the Game was over he’d have to get a new one. Donovan stood restlessly to the side watching John and trying not to in turns.
“Don’t worry about it,” John said quickly, trying to be fair to Donovan. She was a police officer, and a professional, and Lestrade trusted her. Half a dozen you should have known betters would do precisely nothing to help with the situation, or make Donovan stop lurking around him semi-apologetically. “I’m sure you’ve had sensitivity training, for all you keep calling someone with borderline Aspergers names. I’m fine with Sherlock, we understand each other. Kind of. As much as anyone can understand Sherlock. I get where you’re coming from. On top of his charming personality he’s privileged as royalty and has an allergy to staying out of trouble. But just leave it. I’m fine.”
“I suppose you have someone to talk to,” she said, looking at him with a canniness that made him like her despite himself. The way she took what he said straight forward and let anything she didn’t like roll off her back. “Someone who can deal with what you need to say. No offense but I’ve seen a lot of kids and-”
She let that hang in the air, sensible and business like.
“I don’t really talk about stuff,” he said crinkling up his nose. “Trust issues.”
“You trust Sherlock,” she was watching him very seriously. The normal person version of the Sherlock Stare.
“Well,” John shrugged, “he’s my… Sherlock. I know him.”
The man himself acted like he hadn’t heard a thing, just stood abruptly, hand out for John to slip his mittened hand into. He let Sherlock lead him over to Ian Monkford’s widow, fake-widow, to fake cry. Mrs. Monkford looked down at John who tried to frown in a suitably sad manner.
“Should a child really be here?” she asked, looked muddled by the onslaught of a crying consulting detective with a child in hand.
“Here?” Sherlock asked, sniffing.
“Where someone was murdered.”
“Don’t worry about him, he’s acclimatized to violence. It’s so strange to think Ian’s dead, I saw him just a few days ago. Happy, smiling, that was Ian; not a care in the world.”
“My husband has been in a deep depression for months. I-”
And on it went on with Mrs. Monkford blinking rapidly then angrily tightening her jaw until Sherlock grinned suddenly, dropping the softness in his face, his voice gone deep. “Wasn’t it? Interesting.” He drew John close to him, fingers tight shifting over his hand until he had John in a funny scrabble of a grip that felt unbreakable.
“What was that ?” John asked, trying to stay on script as Sherlock braced him as he leapt a puddle with one large hand against his back.
“People won’t answer your questions, but they love to correct you,” he looked down at John and then quickly away. “Usually.”
John looked up at him with narrowed eyes, “I can’t tell if that was an actual physical manifestation of your train of thought or if you were trying to pull a Mycroft version of saying things and having people correct you by having me ask what that look was for.”
Sherlock stopped to look down at him, face unreadable. “I thought you were good at reading people.”
John shrugged, “Some things about you are obvious. You just don’t mention things you don’t want me to know, put on a blank face. And some things I’d rather ask you then just guess.”
“People lie,” Sherlock said again.
John just shrugged then grinned at Sherlock’s frustrated sound, “If we’re going somewhere we should go, Lestrade looks like he wants to have another parent talk.”
“Quickly,” Sherlock said pulling John after him, “Hurry.”
Giggling, John trotted next to him, watching Sherlock out of the corner of his eye as his perturbed face pulled up at the corners until he was giggling too.
“Janus Cars,” Sherlock said once they were at a kerb, John still giggling off and on into the side his coat. One flick of Sherlock’s fingers and a cab pulled up. “That’s where we’re headed next.”
John scrambled in the car after him; he wished he was as good at leaping about when he had been older. It would have saved him a lot of trouble.
“Now tell me what strategy I used to get Mrs. Monkford and what I learned,” Sherlock said half a mile away already in his mind. “I already have a couple of theories, but I’d like to know what you got from it.”
“No body,” John said. “If someone showed me a car with a bunch of your blood in it and no body I’d be climbing everyone’s back to find you and get you medical care. I wouldn’t want to believe you were dead unless I had to, and we’re just good friends. And Mrs. Monkford is his wife, obviously, and she said, ‘where someone was murdered.’” And she didn’t look like someone who had lost their spouse. Not like Dimmock who’s life and purpose and everything was his wife and family and tried anything to try and patch the dissolving ground at his feet.
“Of course,” Sherlock tilted a smile at him, “So she’s involved, but involved in what? That wasn’t a mistake a murderer would make.”
“Depressed banker who was studious with the details,” John said. “Or perhaps, banker, studious with the details suddenly becomes depressed. How long does it take to be sure you can get yourself out of the financial hole you’ve fallen into?” John looked at Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t say too much, but this was more fun anyway, teasing back and forth. Sherlock never played with him like this when he was older.
“A few months I would guess,” Sherlock said slyly back. He tilted his head, making an annoyed sound. “This is much more impressive when I reveal all at once. But I suppose there’s no way for you to learn that way. Be quiet now, I need to think.” He flapped a hand at John who bit on the curl of his grin curling his mittened hands.
Janus Cars was different this time around, instead of the secretary leading them into the well heated office in a few quick brushes of efficiency, grinned when she saw him. Her mouth curled in an elegantly Cheshire grin and she pulled open a bottom door slowly like she was about to bestow a great secret. “Can he have sweets?”
“What kind?” Sherlock asked looking curiously at the cut glass bowl with its loop handled lid.
She lifted the lid so a faint sugary smell wafted out delicately, “Fruit wedges, they don’t have any milk or chocolate, usually I have them out, but the mechanics are doing one of those weight loss programs and otherwise they’d be back and forth across my desk all day.”
They were beautiful, delicately shaped and powdered with a dust of sugar so fine it could have been window frost. “Are you sure, they look expensive?” John asked politely.
“Don’t worry dear. I’m kept in them,” she smiled at him as he pulled off a mitten to carefully pick a green lime wedge. She leaned down to encourage him to take more and he smelled the soft scent of her shampoo and her perfume, the silk of her blouse and the curve of her. He found himself blinking sleepily at her, like he was in a trance while she placed little sugary fruit wedges in the curve of his palm. Sherlock took advantage of the distracting power of John’s cute to question the secretary in that mildly curious way of his.
When she reached out to tweak his cheek, Sherlock’s hovering hand shot out to pull John back against his leg, “Don’t touch the child.” He might as well have dropped down some strobing lights and let loose a few alarm klaxons, pinned back as he was. It was like that time in the Yard with Elsie only this time instead of broadcasting an alibi Sherlock was blasting full force that Touching The Child was Prohibited.
He let out a startled huff.
The secretary blinked at the sudden coldness in him, drawing back into a shell of cool efficiency. “This way then.”
By the time they were ushered into the office Sherlock’s face shifted again to his overly cheery interrogation face, he had a sham for every season.
“What is this like a take your son to work day?” the manager was someone who leaned back through life, sharply dressed but in a way that was undeniably casual that rich people had.
“Sort of,” Sherlock said at the same time John said “He’s not my-” John cut off when he saw Sherlock went funny about the eyes for a slip of a moment, holding his words behind his teeth.
“Know how it is,” the manager nodded sagely. “Did something like that with my niece. This is about what’s his name, Monkford. Terrible that, terrible. I heard something happened, anyone know what yet.”
“No,” John said, drawing attention to himself while Sherlock circled. They came at the manager from both sides Sherlock with his wide eyed manic smile and John’s small face serious until Sherlock grinned at the manager face full of shine and flash, “Can I get change? It’s awful close to tea and I’d like to get him something from the machine.”
“No sorry mate, I’ve nothing smaller myself, but if you ever need a family car I’ll make sure you get a discount.”
“Thank you for your time,” Sherlock smiled, hand reaching for John’s. “We’ll let you know if we have any other questions.”
“I never said I was your father,” Sherlock said as they walked together.
“I never said you did,” he said sharp as a report.
They were silent for a moment both trying to be as tall and unconcerned as possible.
“I wouldn’t have said anything if I knew it would bother you. We don’t even look related.”
That was met with more stony silence with a bonus sniff of disinterest.
“I just want you to be you, Sherlock, that’s all,” John said shortly, awkwardly.
Sherlock just made a motion for the cab, but the tightness was gone from his hand around John’s, out of the line of his shoulders. “I’ve told you to get rid of sentiment. It will only slow you down.”
Heroically resisting rolling his eyes at that John readied himself to leap into the cab after Sherlock; it was always easier when they were holding hands. And he wasn’t going to think about how it was strangely comforting, because he wasn’t really a child. He was just glad to be able to keep closer track of Sherlock.
“You know the answer,” John said as their cab pulled away. The cabbie had tried to start a conversation, not very often people need a taxi from a car company, ha ha ha. Sherlock ignored her, didn’t even ask John, what did I learn, how did I learn it? John had been left to offer a mild burst of disinterested conversation.
“Hmm?” Sherlock said; eyes out the window again.
“You’ve solved the case,” John said again.
“You’re upset,” Sherlock seemed curious, but not precisely like he cared.
“It’s a bad idea,” John turned to look out the window, “but I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”
Sherlock made an irritated sound, “You sound like Lestrade.”
He turned back to look at Sherlock for the pleasure of rolling his eyes hard enough to nearly sprain something in his head. “I sound sensible. I trust you, I just thought I’d mention, don’t wait too long.”
Leave Hilton alone Davey, I'm serious.
Settle down Elsie, he may look perfect now, but I'm not done with him yet. -BD
You are very done with him yet. He's mine, no stealing.
Besides I was thinking of making you an advantageous marriage anyway. -BD
No you weren't.
Just the other day I was thinking about getting you a charming heir to something. -BD
Granted I was thinking about carats, not carrots. - BD
No you weren't.
Where can I get a get a rosy cheeked gentleman as chaste as a lily I said to someone. -BD
No you didn't. No one talks to you.
You are a liar.
Don't be mean Elsie, I can still car bomb him. -BD
You really like him then?
I don't like anybody. -BD
I like you too.
The clever beta Caroline has solved the problem of a late night semicolon deficiency and thus Chapter 11 is presented for your viewing pleasure. Feel free to come and hang out with me at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com where I don't make a lot of sense and I can a lot of things that are vaguely embarrassing, but updates on my fic are given. I also randomly offer to write people stories, but I usually don't get many responses. Don't be afraid of commenting and questions. I'm nice. Hope you enjoy!
John was preparing the petri dish while Sherlock leaned back, staring off into space. He ignored Sherlock’s detachment, the way he pulled out the pink phone and laid it carefully on the table, out of John’s immediate sight, but close enough a careful flick of the eyes could revel it in full view. Once the tech had come in with the blood sample and Sherlock had placed his portable chemistry kit, looking like something out of a Victorian special, on the table. He tapped one nail absently against the vial he wanted John to use as all the instruction he seemed to be willing to give and began to stare into space. John’s mind, having spun the Moriarty wheel loose and momentarily harmless jumped to the second source of his worry. Dimmock had said he would be back soon, but the nips of humour he usually pinned into his texts, like bits of grass breaking through the tumbling weight of snowy despair, were missing. Dimmock wasn’t like what Sherlock was to him. Or Lestrade or Molly or the others.
Dimmock treated him his own age, shoulder to shoulder, dirty jokes, comparing stories, assumptions of maturity.
Well, he needed Sherlock to be safe, needed… But he wanted Dimmock to be safe too, back and sitting on the roof of 221 plotting the demise of Grendel.
“John,” Sherlock said once and John’s attention snapped back sharply just as Sherlock’s phone rang. He tilted his head to the side, a quick little move like that of a little hawk. That wasn’t the sound of Sherlock’s phone. Sherlock picked up the pink phone ignoring the military line of John’s spine, the perfect triangular flare of his shoulder blades. The under skin fervency like something out of a children’s story, all just held back lightning and thunder and power still and steady with anguish and control.
John never knew Sherlock had this conversation, another bit of information he hadn’t felt the need to share with John. “Hello.”
John placed his palms flat on the table like he was waiting for his knuckles to be rapped.
Sherlock curled John’s little fingers sideways, loosely so they lay like brackets, almost relaxed while he said, “Why would you give me a clue?” His face curled soft, pleased, intrigued off into the distance while John watched. A softer tone of voice than he even used with John, or rather Mrs. Hudson; it wasn’t like John expected, or needed any gentleness from Sherlock. After a pause, during which Sherlock’s fingers tapped absently over John’s, he said, “Then talk to me in your own voice.”
He then made a face like someone had told him to be polite.
Manners were, in John’s understanding, something that Sherlock believed were something designed solely to pad the way for idiots instead of forcing them to accept the reality of the world. And Sherlock was very much into forcing people to see realities.
“I don’t think that really any of your concern,” Sherlock said absently, but his hand tightened around John’s, long fingers spidering down and around so John had to hold back a hiss behind his curled in lips. “Oh,” Sherlock oozed charm and public school blasé, “if you insist.” Breathing slowly in and out of his nose, John, rolling his lips out from between his teeth, watched Sherlock’s face drop its charm and fade again to china doll blankness.
“He’s playing with you,” John said mildly. The hand that had knotted itself inescapably around his skittered away like a frightened animal.
“Hmm,” Sherlock smirked, not believing John, or not believing he could be played with. That tightness flexed once around the corners of his mouth, like an overworked muscle before relaxing again as smooth as a summer’s morning. Long fingers picking up the petri dish as his mouth curled in victory so that all the happy brackets normally kept hidden showed themselves crisply. He drew his mobile out of his inside pocket and handed it to John. “Call Lestrade and tell him to meet us at the evidence garage. He’ll want to hear your voice, he does worry,” he said in the same way some might say, he does lick shoes found in bins.
“Not worrying. How can he stand himself? Caring about people, awful stuff,” John said drily so that Sherlock gave him a look that was as perfectly defined as a question mark. “That was sarcasm,” he elucidated primly.
“Thank you,” Sherlock snipped. “I got that.”
Lestrade was very happy to hear from John, wanted to ask how he was doing, which Sherlock must have deduced from his answers if the way he was rolling his eyes as if pained was an indication. The gentle rumble of Lestrade’s voice familiar (and strangely reminding him of late night Dimmock; he wondered if it was a Yard thing). “Sherlock wants to meet at the garage,” he said before Sherlock could fracture something in his head making irritated faces. “He’s solved it.”
Sherlock tapped a pair of fingertips against the back of Sherlock’s hand to guide John’s hand away from his ear. “And bring curry. John missed tea.”
“Ooh, no,” John said quickly, grinning. “Dim sum! Please!”
Lestrade sighed, “Anything else Your Majesties?”
“That should do it,” Sherlock’s voice clearly carried the weight of his precious time wasted on inane questions over where they were sharing the phone.
“Ta!” John grinned. “If you drop Sherlock’s name at the Chinese by the Yard you’ll get it for free.”
Lestrade’s rumbling laugh bloomed in spite of itself, “Fine, lazy, but this is the last time.”
Sherlock grinned, as he rung off, and slid his phone back in his inside pocket, “It won’t be. Off we go, the tech needs practice cleaning up anyway, he can’t get in the habit of leaving everything to Molly.”
The floor of the evidence garage, once they got to it, was wet and shiny as a marble folder. There were rows of blocked in square tents made from hanging plastic sheets that gave the place the look of being either a particularly neat construction site maze, or a strangely conceived fairy camp site. Everything washed blue and grey and black, even the standup police lights which John knows is really one of the lemoniest yellows in existence. When John saw Lestrade step out from the farthest fairy tent (although a decidedly macabre lot), looking vaguely stressed but smiling lopsidedly with a brown paper sack that had takeout written all over it John grinned at him, moving forward to take the dim sum when Sherlock let go of his hand.
“To the car Lestrade,” he said, watching Lestrade absently ruffle John’s hair. “This won’t take long.”
“Can be given later,” he tilted his head elegantly at Lestrade. “You don’t want John’s rumbly tummy on your conscience, do you?”
Both Lestrade and John made a face at the phrase rumbly tummy, John, because he didn’t look anything like a stuffed bear and Lestrade at Sherlock saying rumbly tummy. Sherlock swung the door open. “How much blood was on that seat would you say?”
“How much? About a pint.”
“Not about a pint, a pint exactly, their first mistake. The next was delivery; John what’s strange about the blood?”
“Um,” John said, holding onto his dim sum with both arms, eight year old bodies made that a necessity. “No splatter or bullet holes conclusive to gunshots, no splatter conclusive to a slit throat either, that tends to-” he made a vague bursting gesture around the area of his neck that made Lestrade look vaguely uneasy. “It could be a side or gut wound, but those take time to bleed that much and there aren’t any bloody handprints that would be there if Mr. Monkford had tried to flee.”
Lestrade looked vaguely ill from where he was looking down through the car windows at John, “What do you mean? How do you know?”
When John stumbled at a believable explanation, Sherlock stepped in with, “Unimportant. John, continue.”
“It’s the natural human instinct to cup a gut wound, he could get away with driving with one hand, but he’d need to shift eventually. And there was no phone call, also means that Monkford wasn’t running with a bleeding wound.”
“Thank you John,” Sherlock nodded and moved on, “We know the blood’s Ian Monkford but it’s been frozen.”
“Frozen?” Lestrade looked up suddenly.
“There are clear signs. I think Ian Monkford gave a pint of his blood some time ago and that’s what they spread on the seats. Obviously someone who’s seen more crime scene dramas than crime scenes or there would have been more effort at realism. Although they may have been relying on the idiocy of the Yard.”
“Who’s they?” Lestrade said longsuffering.
“Janus Cars. The clue’s in the name.”
“The god with two faces,” John explained helpfully, and then when that got a blank look. “Roman mythology.”
“They provide a special service. If you have any kind of a trouble, bad marriage, issues with the law, financial difficulties, Janus Car will get you out. I’m guessing Ian Monkford’s trouble was financial, he’s a banker, couldn’t see a way out but if the car he hired was found with his blood all over it, well, it’s a moot point then isn’t it?”
“So where is he now?” John asked over the top of his dim sum bag. Not that he didn’t know, it was just a good idea to draw Sherlock forward so he didn’t wander off muttering about thumbs.
“Haven’t you guessed already?”
He just gave Sherlock a steady look.
Letting out a put off sigh, Sherlock closed the car door heavily, “We still need to work on your fine deduction skills. Columbia.” Fingers hovering expectantly in the air until they came in contact with John’s shoulder, Sherlock began to lead him out, pulling him close to his warm wool side.
“Columbia?” Lestrade said in his you’ve gone too far voice.
“Mr. Hewett, of Janus Cars, had a twenty thousand Columbian peso note in his pocket, quite a bit of change too. He also said he hadn’t been abroad recently, but when I asked him about the cars I could see his tan line. You don’t wear a shirt on a sunbed. That plus his arm.”
“He kept scratching it, it was irritated and obviously bleeding, and this John should have caught although I can understand the others,” he said with a gentle little squeeze that was more about a nod to tell John to make a mental note than a way of cushioning the blow. “Because he had just had a booster jab before traveling abroad. Difficult to tell what at that distance, although if John had been paying attention he probably could have told you. Conclusion: he had just come back from settling Ian Monkford in, in his new life in Columbia. Mrs. Monkford gets the life insurance and splits it with Janus Cars. It’s not the first time they’ve done this by half, Hewett’s secretary has German sweets in her candy dish, remarkable if only because he seems the only man in England with the exclusion of my brother who gives personalized gifts to his secretarial staff without having an affair with them first. The two of them probably bonded over their ridiculous devotion to their respective spouses.”
At John’s faint questioning noise Sherlock smiled, “Did you see the size and state of his wedding band? He tends it like a baby.”
Lestrade made a face; partially John was sure at the steady stream of data Sherlock was pouring forth, not to mention the mention of the rather sore topic of adultery, “Great, lovely, that’s good for the case. It’s always lovely when the wife is involved.”
“Go and arrest them Inspector, that’s what you do best, we need let our friendly bomber know the case is solved.” They started to walk away, Sherlock strumming with energy, “I am on FIRE!” He said, lifting his hand briefly from John’s shoulder to check his watch.
“Sherlock!” Lestrade said quickly. “Sherlock wait a second.”
“What?” Sherlock said before his face abruptly shifted. “No. We don’t have a moment to spare. We really must dash.”
The sigh, when Lestrade let it out, was slow and longsuffering and as grey as Lestrade, soft sweet silver on the outside, iron within. “Fine, but you’re not escaping this discussion.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll keep with it,” Sherlock said with false cheer that made John head-butt Sherlock in the hip. “John really must eat dinner, after you were so kind to pick it up for him.”
“Fine,” Lestrade said again. “You’re on fire. You’re amazing off you go.”
Sherlock swept John out of there before John could ask Lestrade what he was about and once they got into the taxi Sherlock ordered him to eat before he got any smaller.
“I can’t actually shrink,” he said with a dumpling halfway to his mouth. “That’s not actually a thing.”
“Isn’t it?” Sherlock said, studiously texting someone.
After giving Sherlock a long stare, he said cautiously, “Are you being sentimental?”
Ruffling up like an offended bird, Sherlock managed a small quirk of his lips, “Sentiment is for the weak; that is what was called positive socialization.”
He knew it.
He smiled around his dumpling. Really it was a blessing and a curse. Before he neither needed, wanted or received squeezes on his shoulders, studious reminders to eat or his teasing tinged with something almost tender instead of the tips of a cat’s batting claws. Playful, yes, and hardly mean-spirited, but with a sharpness that could catch if one wasn’t careful. It wasn’t that he was treasuring the cool and caustic way Sherlock could be that always cut him to the quick. But he couldn’t let himself get into the habit of letting people treat him as a child.
Then they were inside 221B and Sherlock was up the stairs without bothering to take off his coat and was clicking and open things on his laptop while John came slower behind him. It was about this time that some switch flipped and his body, like a stoked train engine which had suddenly found itself sans coal. But it was different tonight; something under his skin was still vibrating, even as he felt his body try to ease down to rest. He watched the cool blankness of Sherlock’s face change into the well-bracketed smile of victory.
He leaned his shoulder against the table while the voice of a young man biting back tears begged to be saved, his face pulled serious, his mouth pressed into a small pout. “See John,” Sherlock said, grinning his victory grin. “It all worked out. Go sit down, I’ll be right over.”
They situated themselves on the sofa. Or rather Sherlock situated himself there and John’s legs were achy so wanted to stretch them out. Once he’d had all the dumplings he could dumple he let himself drift sideways to the dulcet tones of The X Factor which had Sherlock hissing and rumbling to himself in offense. They sat for a while, the smell of old books, chemicals and the feel of the cold sneaking through the plastic on their windows and the dark line of Sherlock to his side as he let himself slide sideways drowsily. There was a ring of the doorbell downstairs and John sat up straight, again, they looked at each other a moment before John nodded his head toward the door. “Quick before they wake up Mrs. Hudson.”
There was the sound of the door opening, and an irritated fluster followed by the low rumble of Lestrade’s voice, and his soft sure tread following Sherlock up the stairs.
“Don’t you have your own children to harass?” Sherlock hissed as sharp as a razor in their doorway.
“Bit not good,” John said by reflex where he was almost writhing to get to sleep on the sofa.
Sherlock’s feet stuttered on nothing before snapping his eyes nearly apologetically, as close as he could manage, and then away.
“My eldest is watching them; you didn’t meet him. I just had something I wanted to talk to you, before this got any farther.”
“John’s trying to sleep,” Sherlock said in the tone of a man willing to get mean to protect his right to denial.
John waved him off, “I’m fine.” With a curl of his limbs he set about thoroughly ignoring the two men standing in the middle of the living room. He was starting to doze, would almost be asleep and as soon as he would decide to get up and go to his room he would be wide awake again. The seventh time he went through the cycle he made an annoyed cubbish whine, felt like kicking something if his joints weren’t so heavy.
“John,” Lestrade said with the voice of experience, interrupting the conversation he was having with Sherlock. “Do your bones hurt?”
John shook his head, face twisted on the edge of a right temper. Sherlock loomed above him, just as much on the edge of a strop from not knowing what to do. “I’m just achy.”
Nodding sagely, Lestrade motioned toward the sofa while picking of the union jack pillow from John’s chair. “Sit down Sherlock; he’s too tired to sleep.”
Sherlock sat, awkwardly and Lestrade propped the pillow against Sherlock’s leg, helped John wiggle to get his head on it. Showed Sherlock how to rub to ache out of his bones. “It happens sometimes with kids; they’re caught right on the edge of their second wind.”
“I can take care of him,” Sherlock said with short quick twitches of his fingers down into the muscles of john’s back, trying to bunch and pull.
“I never said otherwise,” Lestrade said gently.
The three of them fell into silence; Sherlock was so warm, his hand warm and knocking away at the knotting, aching muscle trying to clump under John’s skin. Breath evening out, John pressed his weary face to the pillow, curling up tightly.
“Don’t you think this is a little dangerous?” Lestrade asked, cutting a line through the silence as Sherlock rested one large hand on John’s head warm and so very calming. John snuffled from where he curled around Sherlock’s knee. “Running around with him? He’s so… small.”
“I am exceptionally careful of him,” Sherlock said.
Lestrade sighed, “Being a father…”
“Oh, not now,” John could hear Sherlock roll his eyes from where he was drowsing. He tried to move his arm, but all he could manage was a twitching finger.
“No, listen. I love my kids; I want them to be safe, to be happy. You don’t know how much it kills me that they’re with her, growing up with her because I can’t give them all the time they need. I know you adore John, you want to spend time with him, he’s brilliant, I get that. But sometimes being a father means having your kids away for you for a little while until things are safer. Settled.”
Sherlock flexed his fingers tensely, moving his hand to rest on John’s shoulder, and then back up again. “Don’t go calling Social Services yet Detective Inspector. I’m not… alone in this as I appear. John’s father is a person of some… influence and power and he keeps an eye on John and I.”
“He’s not Mycroft’s is he?” Lestrade sounded appalled and Sherlock shuddered in sympathy.
“No, no as of yet Mycroft has not perpetuated his genetic material. Probably for the best all things told.”
“I don’t know; he’s rather smart isn’t he? That’s good right?”
“Depends on who you ask,” Sherlock replied and both men lapsed into silence.
“So John’s dad watches the two of you all the time? Why doesn’t he visit or something?”
“If you can’t figure that out you don’t deserve to have it explained,” Sherlock said with snark full on. “And John’s also a test, to see how clever I am.” His thumb moved gently over John’s ear. John wanted to tell him that was wrong, that wasn’t what this was at all, but he was too close to sleep.
“What sort of Dad would do something like that?” he heard Lestrade say before turning fully into sleep to the feel Sherlock go stiff with surprise. Fading away to Sherlock’s haughty tones.
“One much more intelligent than-” Sherlock paused, feeling John’s last breath before he tipped into deeper, surer breath underneath the breadth of his hand.
“You’ll get used to it,” Lestrade said, something decidedly sentimental in his eyes.
“Really?” Sherlock asked, not really caring.
“No,” Lestrade said. “They’ll find new ways to remind you, you can’t keep them safe every day.”
Norton – need help Denmark 2 London by tomorrow, will take boat & paddle. Grendel trouble. – Dimmock
Timmy, I think I know what a guy in France wants, possible chopper. Call u by 6. <3 GN
There is angst in this chapter, this is your warning, if you read it, and you're like 'oh no angst!' I will be like 'angst disclaimer right in the head note.' Be strong bbs. Also, feel free to check me out at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com.
John was trying to tell Sherlock, he was yelling but no sound was coming out. “Elegant,” Sherlock said. “Elegant,” his long fingers were gentle around John’s, his voice echoing strangely in the pool, the slosh of water against the tiles. The pool stunk of sand and blood and chlorine. He could feel the fluttery slide of it like a parasite up his nose, filling his lung, high noted and sharp in a way that only chemicals could be. That signal in the back of his head wavering that he could be taking in poison. That he could start hacking up blood, his lungs rending like wet tissue paper, any moment now. But he had more important things to worry about, Sherlock was standing there stupidly, after throwing the bomb away and John was shrinking, shrinking in his clothes. They hung loose around the edges like he was playing dress up in his father’s clothes. He scrambled to his feet, stumbling in his oversized trousers, reaching for Sherlock, holding tightly to him.
Sherlock he tried to shout. We have to go! The vest was there at the other end of the pool curled and lurking. So very, very dangerous.
Scrabbling on the tiles John tried to pull Sherlock toward the exit, but Sherlock was as immovable as a pillar, muttering a stream of conversational deductions that make no sense. “Don’t worry John; Irene must come to break my heart before we can die.”
“She won’t,” John said, clinging, pulling, trying. “You know better.”
“Do I? I thought Moriarty was my friend.”
“I’ll protect you then. That’s what friends do, they protect each other.”
“You can’t even protect yourself,” he said in that absent, cruel, cutting way of his.
The vest exploded on the pool floor a roar in his bones, and a patchwork onion of stored sense memories so that he smelled gas from an old car and billowing layer of heat fizzing away at the small hairs on his arms and face. The colour brighter and less forgiving than anything Hollywood thought up. And Sherlock, Sherlock peeled away like so many layers of rice paper, down to the quick of him and shimmered away, slipping through John’s fingers in soft black flecks of ash while Moriarty laughed and laughed and then his face was peeling away too and there was Grendel underneath with his mad, quick voice, “You’re going away. You’re going away, somewhere safe. It’ll be like you were never born-”
He was yanked forward with the force of a bullet to the back the smell of wool and leather, chemicals. There was a hand curled around the back of his head holding him tucked in close drowning out the gasping almost-screams with, “John, John, John, John.”
He slid back and forth between dream and reality, like an over exposed film, gasping open mouth sobs into the subtle warmth of the side of Sherlock’s neck. His hands grasped and slid over Sherlock’s silk shirt. Dark, soft curls pressed against the side of his head. “Wake up John,” said Sherlock, sounding strangely scared, dark and fluttering as raven wings. “You must wake up now.”
He made a sound like a wounded man.
A sob swallowed down.
He pressed his face and trembled into the side of Sherlock’s neck. Into the dark curls behind Sherlock’s ear. His small gasps rhythmic like the jolt of a knife hitting home.
He couldn’t breathe, everything was fuzzy and sharply tilted so the panic had room to slid into his chest cavity and compress his lungs. There was fire at the pool and burning away and at the same time lying on the sofa.
“I don’t-” Sherlock stuttered out, voice gone high in panic and scrambling over itself. “I don’t know how to-”
Clenching and sobbing and muttering barely audible syllables to himself, John was left to grasp, half awake at anything that wasn’t terror.
“Stop,” Sherlock trembled around John, the fear in his voice stuttering, once, twice like a scratched record before coalescing into his normal deep tones of command. “You must stop.” His hand curled around the back of John’s head, stroking rhythmically, holding him close, tucking him down under his chin. “Stop it. You’re not to cry. You’re not allowed to cry.”
That shocked John out of his gasping enough to punch out between great breaths, “I’m not crying.” Even as he left great smears of wetness across Sherlock’s silk shirt.
There was silence above him.
Twisting, Sherlock hooked one arm around John’s back to pull him close into the landscape of his seated body. Knees up and braced around John’s curled back, an arm cradling him close, his other large hand tucking John’s small face into the sleepy semi-warmth of his neck. He rolled his large shoulder, pinning John to the back of the sofa.
“I’m fine,” John muttered, only half awake and mind blitzed by the image of Sherlock burning away. “I’m fine.” The burst of adrenaline that had charged him awake fizzled out along his spine and out through the fingers tucked loosely against Sherlock’s chest.
“Of course you are,” Sherlock drawled in that self-important, irritated way of his that demanded efficiency or death and felt no mercy for the slow. It shunted off John’s embarrassment in a sheet and made the snapping of his spine go soft and relaxed. “But you won’t shut up and I want to sleep.”
“You never sleep,” John said between the back of the sofa and the tucked around shape of Sherlock’s body. It was warm and smelled of expensive hair product and silk, chemicals and Chinese food.
“Transport does occasionally need recharging.”
It was quiet, and John had been very frightened. The child part of his brain wanted to burrow and nest and let the adult taken the brunt of his fear. Let go of the anxious crawl of his responsibility. He had been so responsible for so long, for everybody. Don’t let Dad get to Harry and don’t let Harry get to the booze and don’t let Mike oversleep and don’t let his men die and don’t let strangers punch Sherlock and don’t let Bailey’s heart break or Rooster go mad or Dimmock give into despair.
It was a lot.
It was a lot, but Sherlock was warm, and curled around him and the little, instinctive, simple part of him just wanted him to curl up and let himself be protected. He felt a fine tremble in Sherlock’s hands, in his arms, in his shoulders.
“You’re okay. You’re fine,” Sherlock whispered into his hair. “You’re safe.”
When he woke hours later 221B smelled like sausage and something that was vaguely like pancakes and vague like pastry. There was a blanket, soft and plaid around him, and he tucked it close around him to chase out the chill as he moved swiftly on sock feet through the kitchen to the bathroom. “Don’t take a shower yet John!” Sherlock called down the hall. “The crepes are still hot. I’m not heating them up again for you.”
By the time he was done, and back in the kitchen, clutching the blanket around him there was a plate on the table and the scent of pastry and cream was in the air. “We’re almost out of bread safe for human ingestion, are totally out of beans and I still had flour and sugar from that arsenic case. It’s not the average English breakfast,” he shrugged in a manner that clearly said, I don’t really care about proper English breakfasts unless someone else makes them for me. I’m Sherlock Holmes. I do what I want. So pretty much it was how he always looked, only now he was holding a spatula.
“Crepes are good,” John grinned at him, absently plucking at the edge of the blanket. He dropped the blanket and went to stuff it in a chair quickly.
“Don’t stuff things into corners John, I’m not your nursemaid; I will not be cleaning up after you. And when you catch chill because you lack the self-preservation instinct I’m certainly not taking care of you,” he was staring off into space again, fingers gently tapping.
Letting the softness of the blanket curl around him he tucked into his pile of crepes, “These are really good. I didn’t know you cooked. Or baked. I’m not sure which one it is with crepes.”
“It’s chemistry. Basic recipe,” Sherlock waved his praise away. “And you need more energy rich foods; even though you have superior muscle development for a child your age, your body fat index is on the low side.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my body fat index,” John narrowed his eyes.
“Of course not John,” Sherlock said.
John stuffed an exceptionally large fork of crepe and cream into his mouth.
“That was sarcasm,” Sherlock clarified primly.
“Oh really,” John widened his eyes.
Just as Sherlock’s mouth tipped up at the corner the pink phone rang again, he stood from the table by the end of the pips. “That could be anybody!” he complained as he wandered into the living room.
Hopping from the table, John running after him, “Sherlock let me see.”
“Finish your breakfast,” Sherlock waved faintly at him in a move that was very much like Mycroft.
“My breakfast isn’t going anywhere,” John crossed his arms.
“John,” he said, low and warning.
“Sherlock,” John threw his soldier voice right back.
“It’s just some random woman,” he grumbled, hand tight around the pink phone.
“Keep in mind Moriarty knows that your knowledge of pop culture is somewhere in the negative numbers,” John couldn’t come out and say that’s Connie Prince when he hadn’t even seen the picture yet, that would raise some very definite eyebrows.
“I can do pop culture,” there was a slight offended sniff at the end of that.
“You know how to learn about pop culture, you know techniques to find out more about it, but once you learn it and are finished with the information you delete it along with the solar system and how to stay out of trouble.
“Moriarty knew you’d take the pill and that you had interest in his first crime, so it’s not a stretch to make the deduction, as he enjoys playing with you and knows you don’t know a lot about popular culture, that it’s likely someone involved in popular culture.”
With a sniff, Sherlock held the phone out for John to see.
“Oh,” John said. “You’re lucky I watch so much telly with Mrs. Hudson.”
Just then the phone rang, Sherlock’s finger hovered over the accept button, “John, go back into the kitchen.”
“NOW,” Sherlock’s voice was loud and low and John was tempted to stick around just to make a point if not for Sherlock’s face, right on the edge of anger. John went, climbing back in his chair, and eating his crepes as begrudgingly as possible while Sherlock swept the partition door closed. This was all wrong. They were meant to go out to breakfast, Sherlock taping his fingers and staring off into the distance while John tried to keep him tied a little bit to the Earth. Just the barest tie that would keep him real, keep him connected without weighing him down. John was meant to be shown the phone immediately and switch the telly over to that news programme about Connie Price’s death. He wouldn’t miss that strange hairless cat that seemed determined to sink its claws into as much of him as it could manage (an unfortunate determination considering its place on his lap.) But he didn’t mind a thousand similar if the pool would just work out right. If he could work it so the both of them could get away.
One ear listened to Sherlock’s long strides, the vague shape of him twisting up tight like a spring, the way he had when a bit of information proved too much for his body. Finally there was a long silence and the door slid open, framing in Sherlock with all of the fury, rip and torque of a hurricane laid under a cool skin of scientific detachment and careful control. It was no wonder the Yard thought he was legitimately mad. He circled the kitchen table with curious little half turns of body until he stood behind John, the heel of his hand braced against the side of John’s neck so he couldn’t look up at him. “Who is she then, since you’re so keen to help.”
“Connie Prince, she does a makeover show, Mrs. Hudson likes her,” John licked nervously at his lip and tried to look up at Sherlock again, but the pressure of his thumb against his atlas vertebrae kept John’s head facing forward. At the jagged confusion of John’s inhalation Sherlock stopped immediately, rubbing short soothing circles with his thumb over John’s T1.
“Shh,” Sherlock said, tall and warm against the back of the kitchen chair. “You’re fine.”
“She’s good with colours and things, wears a lot of makeup, very conscious about appearance, definite signs her show was growing in popularity,” John said, confused at the sudden strangeness in Sherlock.
“You have plenty of things to amuse yourself with here, I changed my password again, but it shouldn’t be too much trouble for you. You’re free to use my laptop, but no more than an hour playing games or anything not educational. At ten go down to stay with Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock said, all business.
“What?” John exclaimed, nearly shouted and spun in his chair, the move left Sherlock’s hand circling a good half of John’s throat. There was the barest hesitation, as wide as a hair’s breadth where something like horrified fascination flashed across Sherlock’s face before he jumped back a foot, drawing his hand close as if burnt. John who had been more focused on Sherlock’s face than the feeling of a thumb resting harmlessly on his windpipe watched this in confusion, small brows furrowed together.
“You trust me completely, don’t you?” Sherlock sounded somewhat gutted.
“Of course I do, what’s wrong? Did you think I didn’t? Did Moriarty say something?” confusion melted away under the force of a steely urge to protect.
“I hoped you didn’t,” Sherlock said, whatever that meant. “I need you to stay here.”
“I can help.”
“What, exactly, do you think you’ll do that will be so terribly helpful in this case?” Sherlock’s face went sharp.
The face he made was truly fantastic. “You’re supposed to teach me stuff, aren’t you?”
“This is not a game John, since you seem to take personal responsibility for every tragedy you vaguely become aware of, I would have thought you would have understood that.”
That got Sherlock a steady look, hurt bubbling under annoyance and sensibility.
Fingers, quick and firm, flitted across the top of John’s head and down to his shoulder. There was a strange pinched frown on Sherlock’s face. “Will you trust me and stay with Mrs. Hudson? I’m the one Moriarty is focused on, I’m the one he wants to watch, no point in having you where he can see you.”
“Is this just a vanity thing?” John narrowed his eyes.
“You’re a genius!” Sherlock snapped impatiently. “Consider. Deduce for five seconds!”
“I don’t care-”
“Can’t you just comprehend-”
“You don’t know what I comprehend about Moriarty. About his obsession, what he’s capable of. How he wants to show you how he thinks you’re alike,” John’s face twisted all the childish fear melting away beneath the moral strength and experience of the soldier. “I’m not an idiot; this isn’t the first experience I’ve had with dangerous madmen.” He was about to make a joke about yourself excluded but somehow the moment seemed off for that sort of joke. They looked at each other for a while, and then John made the deliberate decision to let his eyes go large; he had a debate about sticking out his lower lip, but decided against it as too much.
“You just want to leave me here? All day?” John fretted.
“Lestrade is working; the only other choice is Mycroft. Who is also working. He might make an exception for you, but I wouldn’t want to chance it.”
“Can’t I go to the morgue with you?” he looked at Sherlock with his best Mrs. Hudson melting smile. “It won’t even be that long; I’ll just help with the medical stuff.”
“I don’t think you would ever be content with just the medical stuff,” Sherlock sighed. “But I’ll put up with it for now. Otherwise you’ll just escape out a window to try and help.”
John’s shoulders slump, “I’m not that obvious, am I?”
Sherlock gave him a long and piercing look.
“I mean, what do you mean? Haha. I’m going to go change, I’ll be right back!” He clattered out of the kitchen and up the stairs. When he got the door open it took him a moment to realize who was in his room he was so busy wincing off his slip of the tongue. He turned, still wincing and froze the door. His face broke into a grin and he was almost across the room before a husky voice said, “Shut the door John.”
“Dimmock. Tim,” John grinned before the doctor in him suddenly took his friend in. There was a messily done bandage on his forehead, a truly impressive swollen eye in shades of purple, green, blue and a braced wrist, he also was sitting like someone who had wrapped ribs. He sat against the back of the headboard of John’s bed, his shoes neatly tucked under his bed. “You look worse for the wear.”
“I feel worse for the wear. I was going to text you, but I know you’ve got The Game on and I didn’t want to disrupt your concentration. I was half afraid your detective would be up and discover me.”
John fished under his bed for his kit, kneeling so the side of his leg rested against Dimmock’s stained jeans. “That would have been a trick to explain away.” He wasn’t really much of a hugger, Rooster and Davey aside, but he felt the moment allowed for a quick squeeze of an arm around Dimmock’s shoulders. The smell of blood, exhaustion and familiarity. Something like family.
Dimmock laughed and wrapped his arms around John’s shoulders for a quick embrace, “Don’t take too long, he’ll get impatient and come up here. I told you I’d be back in time.” He sighed and leaned back against the headboard. “Grendel is supremely pissed, but there’s not much he can do now that he doesn’t’ know where I’ve gone. He’s caught wind of W like we thought he would, he tried to get a location out of me before I got away. He’s panicking.”
“You said he tried to get a location out of you. Did he catch you?”
“John,” Dimmock sighed.
“I’m fine, I’ll tell you about it later,” Tim gave him a look. “If he hadn’t thought there was some mastermind floating around somewhere he would have just killed me straight off.”
That time John didn’t resist throwing his arms around Tim’s shoulders to give him a fierce hug.
“I’m fine John, physical things don’t bother like they used to. I’m tough, you know that. I wouldn’t leave you alone.”
Nodding, John let him go, “Let me just fix the bandage on your forehead,”
“John!” Sherlock shouted from down below. “I’m not waiting!”
“Hurry up then,” Tim grinned at him. “I won’t go anywhere; I have jet lag to sleep off.”
Davey, are you in position for the old woman? -W
Don’t worry, I’m listening in. I can cut off her headset whenever I need to. –BD
I’ve been struggling with what this chapter needs and apparently what it needs is suicide ideation. Don’t worry folks, like the rest of my writing it is delicately put and euphemised. I felt it was necessary though for Dimmock’s character, and it would be out of character if John didn’t try to do or say anything about it. This story is in part about people who can’t see their importance to other people or blame themselves for other people’s problems. (Hello universal theme.) Dimmock is a man who desperately misses his family and feels their loss so deeply it almost borders (depending on the day) on blaming himself. His loss resulted in his high functioning alcoholism and revenge quest against Grendel. His willingness to die is in character, or rather his willingness to allow death in the very dangerous lifestyle he chose chasing after a man that wants to kill him. In this light considering John I thought it was appropriate for him to at least bring up his concern about it. I tried to make it somewhat kind to Dimmock’s motivations and still maintaining neutrality while also bringing up the resulting reaction in John. I’m sorry if it makes anyone uncomfortable, if anyone is afraid of being triggered send me a note and I’ll send you the sparknotes version.
In other news this is going to be a trilogy. After Small Families is done I’m taking a bit of a break, but I’ve been setting up things which will impact the third and final story so don’t be worried about me leaving things unfinished. During that break though I’m going to post a list of all the connections and little details you may have missed, so, yay I hope. Thank you for reading and I hope you don’t mind an unbetaed chapter! So, really long author's note. Happy American Thanksgiving!
“Hand,” Sherlock demanded before they crossed the threshold of 221. “No arguments,” he said sharply in a tone that brooked none. He kept John’s hand in his all the way to the morgue, eyes narrow and quick to every corner and every direction, until they met Lestrade who was catching with a slough eyed tech with the build of a rugby player and a careful way of moving, almost like he was underwater, or everyone else was made of thin glass.
“Where’s Molly?” Sherlock snapped; thumb making soft careful brushes over the back of John’s mittened hand like he was keeping time.
The tech made an expression like a smile, pushing the mass of his sleek darkly patterned braids over his shoulder, “Minor family emergency, she switched her off day with me.”
“How inconvenient,” Sherlock muttered, thumb finally going still.
“I’m sure that’s what she was thinking of,” the tech said blandly motioning them in the work room.
Sherlock gave him a look, escorting John in with careful fingers on his shoulder. Safe inside the morgue, John ran forward to circle the body of Connie Prince. Sighing like he always did when John talked about dead bodies or shooting things or any type of violence really, Lestrade reminded Sherlock, “You do realize there are some child safety concerns with this?”
“John?” Sherlock’s voice had put on all its regal tones.
“Yeah?” John peeked over Prince’s body.
“Do you plan on licking the corpse, ingesting any of the present medical substance or playing with any of the autopsy equipment?”
“…No?” John tried cautiously.
“There Lestrade, forestall your worries. All is in hand.”
That got another face scrub, “Fine. Connie Prince, 54. Had one of those make over shows on the telly, you ever see it?”
“Nope,” Sherlock said, circling around contraposition to John.
“Well apparently it was popular, especially with the younger set.”
“Your daughter?” Sherlock had that mildly questioning look about him again.
“My eldest only watches French movies about nihilist angst,” Lestrade sighed the sigh of a parent who didn’t get their child’s life choices.
“Quel ennui,” the great showoff drawled.
“Vous n’avez aucune idee,” Lestrade replied and got a pleased half smile in return.
“So,” shifting, Sherlock began to scan over the body, “according to a member of her staff, Raoul DeSantos she cut her hand on a rusty nail in the garden, nasty wound. Tetanus bacteria enters the blood stream, goodnight Vienna.”
“I suppose,” John said mildly, forehead crinkling.
“What?” there was a set of eyes, fierce and hungry on him. “What do you see? There’s more to this picture, there must be”
Blinking at the sudden attention he ruffled, “Not so much what I see, just- When did she get the wound?” John asked.
Sherlock tilted his head, “Two days.”
“It takes eight to ten days for tetanus to fully incubate,” John said.
A faraway look and a pulled little smirk came over Sherlock’s face and the small foldaway magnifying glass came out. “John,” he said absently, voice soft, about halfway up Prince’s arm.
“Come here, look.” John was tucked between the arch of Sherlock’s arm, almost his height with Sherlock crouched like this, and the slab, magnifier held so John could see. Three injection points, blood allowed to drip, as spare as it was, and not cleaned up afterward, John was certain Sherlock recognized those.
“I very much doubt those were done at the hospital, well done injections, but they’re not clean enough.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock said in his you’re proving me right, keep going hum. “The wound on her hand, it’s deep, would have bleed a lot?”
John would have made more mild sounds of affirmation, but more was expected now, he needed to be on top of things. Sherlock shifted back as John tilted his head, peering for a clear view over table top. Large hands touched John’s sides guiding him in the space the protective line of Sherlock’s body provided and he thought for a moment he was going to be lifted for a better view, his back torqued up like steel cables.
“I’m not going to lift you.” Sherlock spoke rapidly, hands falling away, falling back. “I’m not going to pick you up. You’re feet are on the floor. You’re safe.”
John’s face went beet red, embarrassed at his overreaction to nothing more than a leading touch.
“Stop, stop, it was my fault, your embarrassment is idiotic, Lestrade already likes you. You don’t have to prove anything to him.”
Hovering in the awkward space between being mentioned in a conversation and being part of it, Lestrade hovered awkwardly.
“Ms. Prince doesn’t seem the sort of person to risk her hand and nails with gardening, at least not without gloves, but there’s no dirt, no fiber in the wound,” John said quickly, having remembered this and made up the deduction on the way over with Sherlock keeping time with his thumb against John’s mitten. “That would be understood with a good cleaning, but there’s no old blood consistent with a bandaged wound, and no signs of coagulation. It was likely made post mortem. It’s too fresh to be otherwise.”
“Good John very good,” Sherlock smiled, standing and looking over Prince’s forehead, “the only question is how the tetanus entered her blood stream. “I’ll need contacts, family history, data. And you need to get home.”
“I can help,” John tried.
“Not right now, come along, let’s not waste time.”
Moving to forebear them
“Later, fret at me later,” Sherlock’s voice was as dismissive as it was layered with meaning, asking Lestrade to read the underlying intent. “I would like a few minutes with John before I have to send him home.”
“We need to talk,” Lestrade tried.
“All you want to do is talk,” he hissed back, thumb keeping time again.
“Probably because you historically act like a bit of an idiot on an interesting case,” John said sharply, small mittened hand curling gently around Sherlock’s, when he saw the tight lines of Lestrade class. “Considering everything Lestrade’s kindness has afforded you, you don’t have to act like it’s a nuisance.”
There was a short pause. “Afforded? Lestrade asked.
John rolled his eyes; hand still curled in Sherlock’s, “Mycroft keeps sending me speeches and politic science essays. It’s subtly affecting my vocabulary.”
Apparently Sherlock had discovered something on the far wall to stare at.
“Look,” Lestrade said looking off and away and at the floor and at his file folder and then away again. “I’m not saying you don’t suffer from a permanent state of madness. “But you’re good with John. You’ve got an instinct with him; it takes a long time for most people to get that. And I, uh, can tell you love him. So I’m not worried about you taking care of him, or him taking care of you or whatever. Just. If you have any sudden revelations about whom this bomber could be, or what they want or why they’re doing this just, let me know.” Lestrade nodded awkwardly and pushed past them, presumably to find an examiner or a tech, someone to hand let know they were done. Sherlock was very quiet in the wake of Lestrade speech, looking something between wounded and coldly furious.
Halfway through a silent cab ride, he tipped his head up against where it was resting against Sherlock’s wool coat, “You were starting to tread into bit not good territory. What else was I supposed to do?”
Large hand flexing where it lay on John’s shoulder, Sherlock snapped his face back and away, cold as stone. “Nothing.”
John rolled his eyes, “I know you overcompensate when you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable. So arguing you don’t care kind of proves the opposite point you’re hoping for. You’re my friend and I want you to know I won’t talk about something that makes you uncomfortable and will understand any resulting rudeness isn’t anything personal, but an expression of vulnerability.”
Sherlock gave him a sudden, almost proud look, “You are a devious child. You’ll take any pleasure out of being contrary.”
His response was a wide grin.
“A lesser man might be cornered into being polite to prove you wrong,” Sherlock sniffed. “Luckily I am hardly a lesser man, I grew up in a house full of Holmes. I’ve played against the experts,” he made a sudden face, the expression of a question mark again, “Although no one has ever tried to manipulate me into being polite and happy before. It is terribly in line with your character.”
“It’s not manipulation, I don’t think you can manipulate someone into being happy. I’m fairly sure that’s just called cheering someone up.”
Waving John’s knit browed words away imperiously, Sherlock tilted his chin up, “Whatever you’d like to call it. You’re starting to employ my methods in a real world setting. It’s an important step in your development. And you’ve obviously been reading too many essays from Mycroft. You’ll start having secret urges to take over the world if you’re not careful.”
John smiled, leaning his head against Sherlock’s side again.
Baker Street, with Dimmock hiding upstairs, arrived quicker than John expected, it always did. He opened the door, not waiting for Sherlock to get out and open the door for him. Sherlock kept hold of his hand, watching him.
“You’ll call, if anything goes wrong?” John said, plucking at the edge of his jacket before he remembered his phone was a secret weapon. “I’ll still hear Mrs. Hudson’s phone from upstairs.”
Something strange flashed over Sherlock’s face, “Yes, of course John. Lock the door behind you. I’ll be back as soon as the case is closed; I’ll call Mrs. Hudson if I end up taking more time.”
“I’d say have fun, but that doesn’t quite seem the right spirit for it.”
The side of Sherlock’s mouth quirked up and again and he finally let go of John’s hand, keeping the door open until John was in the flat in case he needed to spring free. John turned immediately after turning the lock to run up the stairs to his bedroom. Tim jerked awake in an instant, gun, too black, too geometric, a snug and natural extension of his hand. Army training buzzing under his skin. Tim bite out a curse, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes before he remembered the swollen Technicolor mess on one side. He sucked in a deep breath clunking his gun down on the bedside table.
“Just stop moving,” John spoke with a practical sort of kindness. “Are you really fine?”
“Yeah, there’s just a lot of things that have been going on, it’s hard to remember I was put through the ringer just a few days ago. I’m fine,” his boyish face twisted up as John hopped up on the bed as gently as he could and started examining his swollen face.
“Tell me what happened then,” John’s face was stern. “And your jumper off when your done. You’re getting checked out.”
Tim sighed, but relented the long suffering way an older brother would, “I had access to several international law enforcement and terrorism watch list networks before, some that don’t exist yet. And I’ve been looking for specific triggers, piggybacking into CCTV networks and civil requisitions. There are things like power drains, midlevel and higher members of intelligence agencies hired and then scientists are reassigned. I noticed a corrupt officer in Russia- Careful Watson, that’s tender- make notes of sudden inhabitants of a closed military facility.”
John carefully helped him pulled of his layers that smelled of cabbage, human sweat and strangely enough, the sea.
“Myself and one of the people I have helping me arrived. We discovered the machine Dr. Grendel is using-”
“The gun?” John asked for clarification.
“Yeah, has been protecting him from whatever time messing up thing that erases us and makes everyone else forget. But repeated exposure is making him go mad,” John gave Tim a look so he amended, “madder. He has the original machine. Really John, stop making that face, I told you it wasn’t that bad. But he can’t remember how he made it, and there’s something wrong with it. So he’s trying to fix it, discover how he made it. He had extensive notes, but I have a brilliant contact named Adair who does amazing things with maths and computers who was able to scramble everything irreparably.”
“Was he the person you brought back with you?” John asked, trying not to look at a bruise against Tim’s clavicle that looked curiously like a boot heel lest he lose his head.
“Hmm?” Tim breathed. “No, that’s an Austrian physicist Grendel was holding hostage. I’ve set him up in the tax section of the British Library where he can have his panic attack without anyone bothering him. Some of Grendel’s thugs caught me, did a really horrible interrogation-”
“I’m so sorry it was a disappointment for you,” John snapped. “And who stitched your arm? I shocked it’s held.”
“I did, but I was on morphine at the time. It was the only thing my ride out hand to dull the pain other than whisky.”
John leaned his forehead against Tim’s shoulder. There was a burn of pride that Tim hadn’t picked the whisky out of the two, “No wonder it’s so crooked. I assume your ride out couldn’t take the time to sew you up themselves?”
There was a pause, “No, he was driving the tank.”
John snorted, “Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” Tim said meekly. “That’s just sort of how he does things. Insanely, but efficiently. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m fine, really. I promise.”
Sighing John sat up straight again and turned a discerning eye on the mess of a stitch job. “You’re still an idiot. You are completely mad.”
Tim blinked slow and sad at him. “That’s how we do things isn’t it?”
Pointing at Tim, John used his very best command voice, “Stop acting like you can be spared, you may be an idiot, but you don’t get to leave me, understand. I thought that I did real good in the world, that I had a good part in it. But my sister’s sober and never got divorced from her wife, and Stamford is the head of his department and Lestrade has two extra kids and everything just seems better- Sherlock is the only thing I didn’t make worse just by being alive apparently and there’s still a bit of a chance he’ll leave to go play with Moriarty again. I just want someone who actually knows who I am, doesn’t think I’m a stranger. Knows what I am. We’re-”
“Family,” Tim said softly. “A weird circumstantial family.” He balanced on the edge of uncertain. “You didn’t wreck things.”
John gave him a look.
“No,” Tim rested his forearm on John’s shoulder, letting him hold his exhausted weight. “You didn’t wreck anything. And what would I do without you?”
“Be a drunk. Lose my will to fight. Jump off something tall for a few seconds of not feeling the world drag me down. You knew my name first John. And since we don’t exist I say we can pick our family to be whoever we want.”
“No one but family could make me this angry,” John agreed scrubbing his face. “Did you get some sleep at least?”
“Your bed is hard,” Dimmock sighed.
“You’ve just gone soft,” John smiled back at him, trying for cheer.
“Tell me everything that’s gone on with Moriarty then,” Tim leaned back, his posture of a man who still expected to be moving around in a fifty year old body, but then that could have just been the messy interrogation. John went over the plan he had put in place with Bad Davey, what he had said, all the minute changes, not able to help the sharp little bursts of snark tempered throughout. How John had made sure to cover the most important things, the memory stick with the missile plans, the death of the old woman, the death of the security guard, the semtex at the pool.
The memory stick was easy; Davey had ties to the drug world and was able to get info and access to Joe Harrison, the man who had murdered his future brother in law. He picked Joe Harrison’s pocket, and changed the plan a little to better suit. Copied and altered the data in case it was checked before he replaced it on Harrison’s person. Davey was also reliable for helping with the old woman. There still needed to be a conversation, it was important for the timeline, but John had the idea of somehow cutting the signal in and out of her head seat. And Davey threatened to gut a guy who knew a guy who smuggled tech.
“I have to go back and get the physicist out of the tax section,” Dimmock said in his commissioner voice.
“Are you sure?” John paused taping down gauze over the cleaned off, awkwardly stitched wound.
“I’m limber enough to climb the roof, and you can’t stay up here all day. Sherlock will get suspicious, I’ll get caught. Bad news all around.”
There wasn’t much John could say to that but a sighed sound of agreement, resting his forehead against Tim’s arm. There was a frightening willingness to die in the name of stopping Grendel, that subtle semi-suicidal willingness to let fate rend him in pieces. He didn’t know how to help Dimmock, the martyr’s noble passivity in the face of death; being uttering willing to die. John had gone through his own washed out, shades of drowning in the desperation of sleepy mediocrity. But even under the boring nothingness of his dark days it had either been his gun in his one hand or pushing on to the next day.
“Hey,” Tim’s voice was gentle. “I’ll get better. It won’t hurt so much. And I said I wouldn’t leave you.”
“What is our life?” John asked the air, loving it and hating it and loving it.
John sat up, shook himself off and straightened his spine. He wasn’t really the sort of person who showed tonnes of physical affection with his mates other than a friendly side bump or an arm around the shoulder after a game of rugby. His fright at Tim’s mad story aside, and the need to reassure himself Tim wouldn’t run off to do something that would get him beat to death, that was really all the closeness he could take right now.
“I’ll be back during the painting case to pick up your phone,” Tim breathed deep, swinging his legs up and past where John was absently straightening his med kit.
“Try not to fight any bears or fly any fighter jets into a volcano,” John snarked.
Tim made a faintly amused sound, “And you try not to arouse the suspicion of the British Government. Go downstairs,” he nudged John’s shoulder, occupy yourself, I’ll think of something to do with the security guard.’
“Report back, I want to know if you can’t think of anything.”
“Yes Captain,” Tim smiled, “Off you go before the tearful goodbye.”
That got a spectacular face from John, but he understood the tendency to linger with a throat full of separation anxiety. He closed the door just as Tim moved to boost himself out the window making himself not stay and watch, or follow behind. They both had things they needed to worry about. He paused for a moment before sending a quick text, Leaving John at home then? –W
He didn’t get down half the flight when there was a reply; Mrs. Hudson is trustworthy. – SH
John needed a way to stay close to Sherlock; to keep him safe, and hopefully prevent abductionMrs. Hudson is not the problem. Keep John with you. – W
Moriarty is just bored; he just wants someone to play against. If John gets involved Moriarty will become interested in him too. –SH
Surely that’s not what you want? – SH
Only Sherlock would use semicolons, and be able to carry off so much condensation, in a text. So much for Sherlock caring about W’s opinion. I’m sure you know best. –W John sent, it was far more snide and sarcastic than the usual ‘W’ tone he tried to carry across, but he wasn’t going to put up with Sherlock’s pretension.
Don’t condescend to me like I’ve abandoned him. You’re the one who dropped him off on the streets. -SH
He wakes up crying at least once a week and a half. He’s afraid of being touched. Of being picked up. -SH
You left him with me for a nursemaid. I’m not emotionally equipped for a child like John. -SH
John hadn’t know he had been having so many nightmares again, he must have been falling right back to sleep again. This opened a bit of a light into Sherlock as well, such as why he hadn’t checked to see if John was alright after said nightmares. John couldn’t begrudge him the allowance of privacy though.
It’s obvious you care about John. - W
Then the least you can do is trust my judgment. –SH
He really, really didn’t want to argue, and really, really didn’t know what to say in reply, so he left the conversation as was, feet slow and clunky down the stairs.
Mycroft, I need your help. -SH
I know you're not in a meeting. -SH
Sorry, I was just getting over the shock of you asking for help. - MH
W's contacted you, hasn't he? - MH
I need you to do something for me. - SH
Here's Bad Davey! And some tension!
By betas were the charming Caroline and the terrific tentacle_love.
When Mrs. Hudson’s phone rang, John stopped trying to read the same paragraph of the old battered book Sherlock had left in his chair and flew down the stairs in a flash of small sure feet. He could hear Mrs. Hudson’s soft, sure voice at the phone, his hand hovering to knock. She opened the door before he had a chance to make a decision, biting off a shout, “Joh-! Oh there you are dear, Sherlock’s on the phone for you.”
“Thank you Mrs. Hudson,” he said quickly, trying to politely race past her to pick up her phone. “Sherlock?” he said as soon as he had the phone to his ear. “Are you coming to get me?”
There was a pause and a ragged, swallowed down little breath. “Not quite yet,” he said coolly. “I’m almost done with the case. I’ll be tying this up very quickly now, then I’ll come home.”
A needle footed susurration of panic crawled and curled up his spine. “But what about your plan to take longer to learn about-”
“I know everything about his nature I need to know,” he spoke absently, the Sherlock version of biting his nails. “We’re too much alike, he and I. Too fascinated by the same things. I’ll be home soon, John, only a few more hours.”
Lists of possibilities rapidly reshuffled in John’s head. This was going to affect the whole timeline; he was going to have to call Davey. “Alright,” John said faintly. “I’ll see you in two hours.”
“John,” Sherlock said suddenly. “I- You are important.”
Suddenly it was harder for John to breathe. “Really?” he asked in a small voice. Sherlock wouldn’t send him away if he were important to him. All the things important in his life, his violin, the Work, London, he kept them close. John didn’t think Sherlock would leave those three things for anything or anyone. And if John was important to him too then he could stop worrying about being shipped off to some boarding school or safe house.
“You know I hate repetition John,” he replied crisply. John fluttered absently through his goodbyes. He said something to Mrs. Hudson before he was upstairs again, in his room. Davey answered the phone on the first ring, voice soft and subdued.
“Davey,” John’s voice was taut with worry. “What’s wrong?”
“There’s a mess. An awful mess.” His voice had shifted from its usual too knowing slip of razor wire and swinging hammers to a soft shuddery drift, twisting, Baroque and anguished. “What can I do for you?”
“You can’t just, is everything fine? Is Roost okay?”
“Yeah, Roost’s safe in Scotland with Elsie’s babies. What’s going on?”
John scrubbed at his face, “Sherlock is not acting on schedule. We need to hurry up and get to the flats with the old woman.”
“No,” Davey snapped. “I need to get to the flats with the old woman, you don’t get to come.”
“So it’s better if you accidentally die? If you’re not sure of it we should try something else.”
“Oh,” Davey muttered, “death would almost be a relief. I watch people’s faces sometimes, what they look like right before. They’re eyes are so wide and searching. Sometimes they seem so relieved. I think I might like that, a little relief.”
“You wouldn’t like being dead for very long,” John said quietly clutching his mobile to his ear. “You’d get bored of it. And miss Roost. What’s wrong Davey?”
“Elsie’s getting married,” Davey said very softly. There were file folders of meaning attached to that, and there were sharp things shoved in there, John wasn’t certain he wanted to examine it. The phrasing sat wrong.
“You and Elsie are getting married. But you don’t like-” John cut himself off. Davey’s aversion to sex had nothing to do with his love for Elsie, the tenderness with which he curled his fingers around her shoulders. The bleeding cutting edge of his mouth curling tender and relaxed. The way he paced and tilted the soft sway of her chin with his pale fingers against her dark skin, not clutching but trying to maintain control while he hissed, Who was troubling you? Did they touch you? No one could argue he didn’t love Elsie, the way he loved Roost and had affection for John.
“No,” Davey muttered petulantly.
That got a sigh and an absent rubbing out of his crinkled forehead. “Ah, you’re not going to kill the groom are you?”
“That’s what the problem is, I can’t just disappear him before the wedding. I- He’s-”
“I’ll be right over,” John’s voice was steady and strong.
“I don’t care,” Davey muttered airily. “You’re probably getting married too.”
“I’m eight Davey,” John spoke calmly.
“That’s what they all say,” Davey muttered again. John gave a confused look at his phone. Had Davey been drinking? Drunk Davey would probably be able to outsmart the majority of people, but that didn’t mean it was a good idea. He was out the window in a flash, texting Elsie for one of Davey’s Death Cabs to pick him up a few streets away from Baker Street.
Is there something wrong with Davey? Elsie texted.
Nothing to worry about. -JW John sent back hastily.
Something is wrong. Is he hurt?
No. Stay where you are. –JW
This is about the wedding, isn’t it? He said he didn’t care.
He said he really liked Hilton.
I can tell he really likes Hilton
Ah, that could be a problem with the groom. Davey didn’t do well with liking people. He lined them up like chess pieces in his game of running the London Underworld. He bartered and traded and tricked gangs into doing what he wanted. But actually liking someone was a strange soft, fragile thing for him to hold in his dangerous hands. The Death Cab pulled up the windows strangely fuzzy and shimmery so he couldn’t quite get a look inside. He looked up from crawling in the cab to see the driver watching him with startlingly blue shark eyes. The man looked like a character in an American action movie. All chiseled lines, muscled shoulders and plain dark clothing he stared steadily at John. The only thing disturbing the sharp edges of his face was a faint swelling around the left side of his face.
“Um, hi. Thanks for the ride,” John tried cautiously. The driver just soundlessly shifted into drive.
Everything is under control. –JW John sent, not entirely sure that was true.
Text me if he starts talking about carbombing again. He’s been on a kick.
Well that was mildly worrisome.
John tried a few other lines of conversation with Shark Eyes, but they were rebuffed the way a mountain might ignore him. When they pulled up the kerb Davey was there already, much to the driver’s surprise, pulling open the door and seizing his face, kissing his eyebrows.
“You have been drinking,” John groused.
“You knew I was drinking and you didn’t bring me any more whisky?”
“I’m not sure that’s wise,” John’s words tripped soft and careful.
Shark Eyes seemed to be having a coronary at Bad Davey’s sudden flurry of affection. “Come in then,” Davey snarked. When the driver didn’t pull away fast enough Bad Davey scowled, “What? If you want to hang around and stare you might as well come and keep company.”
“No sir,” the driver whispered, there were a dark spaces on his upper jaw where several teeth weren’t. He dipped his head and disappeared back in traffic.
“What was that Davey?” John rubbed at his forehead even as Davey ushered him in smoothly. He trembled with the horror and the sensibility and the care he had for the two troubled brothers just a step out of pace with the rest of the world.
“I could have killed him,” Davey’s voice was soft and distant. “You would have liked that even less wouldn’t you? I’ve been reading Rooster’s dentistry books. It was clean. And now instead of working for a boss that didn’t care about him he’s got me. I’m much more careful with my things. I could have broken his bones or water boarded him or had someone rip him up. I just made him cry a little and pulled out a few of his teeth. Once he’s over the shock of my hand keeping his mouth open he’ll love me for my leniency. Snipers are sensible like that.”
And John could understand it. On some level he understood that there were worse ways to break a man and Davey knew most of them. Could probably figure out new ways. He still growled and trembled angrily at it. He was on the edge of pulling his shoulder out from under Davey’s hand as he led him into the elevator.
“We need to get to the flats,” John said sharply.
“Oh, your righteous anger now. Will you burn me up in your righteous indignation?” he sighed, hissed, bit out a bark like a fox. “Do you understand why I can’t have Elsie? Why she can’t stay with me?”
“You do love her,” John growled, still sharp and angry with Davey.
“I also love being right, doesn’t mean I get to be right all the time,” Davey wavered, hitting the emergency stop button with one slender finger, and then on second thought sitting against the elevator wall. “Giving things order, being sensible and responsible. It means I have to not have a lot of the things I want.”
John stared at him from his corner. “We need to get to the flat.”
“I’ve sent someone to take care of it,” he waved negligently.
“You couldn’t have mentioned that before?” John’s shoulders made an exasperated shrug.
“I have bigger problems,” he pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and started fiddling with them.
Not once had John seen Davey so out of sorts; even his fury at injustices done to Roost were primarily matters of low predatory rage. Emotions that stalked back and forth across his body, sudden flurries of furious movement pouncing out from the grass of his seemingly contained temper, everything tightly wound and controlled. This was something different, something vulnerable and nearly confused.
“I like him,” Davey said quietly, the precision of his expression moving as delicately as a scalpel. He plucked along the edges of the plastic on his pack of cigarettes. “Elsie’s dearest beloved. He’s a good man; he’s a really good man. He’s got a good face. I didn’t know people could be so…” he sighed, his head against the emergency phone.
They were quiet for a while.
“So perfect,” Davey shivered, pressing his eyes closed. “People that lovely shouldn’t exist. It’s not right.”
Finally John stepped forward, watching Davey’s eyes flush with anguish, his teeth white, sharp and glittering like impending death, hands pressed bone white against the elevator floor. “So you like both of them. We should still probably hurry up.”
Reaching out, Bad Davey traced a line around John’s face. They listened to the sounds of their breath, the rustling of Davey’s fine clothes. With a twitch he caught John’s ear between the knuckles of his index and middle finger; it stung and John scowled at him. “I like both of them. Hilton thinks I’m his friend. He’s nice to me. He invited me to lunch with just him.”
John watched him. Let out a breath when Davey released his ear.
“There’s something in the air,” Davey said with wide eyes. “It feels like things were meant to happen and not happen. Like people are meant to be dead and alive. Like everything is meant to be different. I can feel London scream and stretch, trying to fit into its place. It feels like burning,” he closed his eyes; the red sweeps of his eyelashes make him look like he’s holding back bloody tears. “But then we already knew I’m mad.”
“Are you okay Davey?” John said carefully.
Davey’s sprang open, he leaned forward sharply, a kiss that was more teeth than tenderness, “I’m always okay, I’m always fine, always functioning. I just need to smoke. It hurts to love. Hearts break, lives end. People you like marry each other and leave you. What’s the advantage of caring about people anyway?”
“I don’t know,” John said honestly as Davey loomed over him.
“If you don’t know,” Bad Davey sighed, standing and sharp again, “then I don’t stand a chance. Stop fretting. I don’t want to trouble you. I have to show you something.”
“It better be quick,” John narrowed his eyes.
“Don’t worry,” Davey’s long fingers plucked a mobile out of his inside jacket pocket as if he were performing a magic trick. “I have his website on subscription. If he updates anything I’ll know immediately. He’s still looking up the order forms for Connie Prince’s injections,” he shook his head in a parody of disappointment. “Beauty kills alright. Oh don’t be cross,” he rolled his eyes at the angry pinch in John’s face. “Humans are lovely and special; I know, I know, no need to lecture little man. You know how I feel about people.”
His fingers wisped and pulled at John’s hair, fluffing it up like a dandelion. John shivered at the soft prickling like static collecting under his skin. Davey laughed, a honestly pleased sound, it was ragged and rusty, but honest. “I’m living in an empty nest. Roost’s gone off to school, Elsie’s off to get to married, you’re the only one left now. And I figure since your bestie has decided to play around with our favourite madman I thought I’d solve a little problem for you.”
John blinked up at him.
Davey swung the door open and ushered John inside, grinning widely, steering him toward the sleek kitchen table, a pale wood with scrawls of Roost’s writing in the corners and what John recognized as burns from chemistry equipment. At one side rolled up sheet of paper sat with a business like ominousness, “Oh,” Davey said quickly, pulling out his phone, and showing John. “He must have rushed things. He’s made his post.”
There was a second sound and Davey twisted the phone to thumb open a text before showing John the phone again.
In position call just started will report when done
A soft thankful sound escaped with his exhale.
“I said I’d take care of things dear,” Davey said, “and I did, now come look at what I’ve done.”
He rolled out the sheet of paper, the soft precision of it wisping across his palms as he spread it open. He loomed over it, a tiger over its prey, his mouth curled in a perfect pleased grin. It almost looked like a blueprint, but it covered multiple buildings. John’s eyes widened when he saw which buildings they were. Precisely typed over the shower stalls was JW HID HERE, there were careful blue dotted lines mapping out MORIARTY SECOND, and then MOR ENTER from the far end of the pool, SH ENTER. And then in the surrounding buildings there was a series of yellow, green and red dots and a colour code POSSIBLE SNIPER SPOTS 1, 2, 3.
“I got my sniper friend to look over the area and mark all the best spots for shooting. There are only a couple folks better than he is. I actually found out about him by accident, he had faked his death to get out for under some army conspiracy to do with stolen jewelry. Unfortunately for him I track every decent pawnbroker in the London area. I’d been saving him up for something fun. The rest is taking what you told me about what you figured out about Moriarty and how he works,” Davey gave him a look.
Eyes darting up and away, John made a faint affirmative sound that Davey seemed to store away for later analysis. “Things are going quite how I expected them to,” John muttered.
“Is this going to be accurate then?” Davey’s voice was as smooth and flawless as the slide of a knife.
“I’m not helping you if you’re going to run off and get murdered.”
“No,” John looked steadily up at him. “It’ll happen like I said.”
Davey’s phone went off again, the low vibration loud over his heart. He gave John a steady look, before drawing out his phone. “Call’s just ended. The old lady was cut off before she said anything she shouldn’t have.”
“Thank you,” John said solemnly, seriously.
“This is however as far as I go, as fascinating as it might be to have a man like Moriarty to go at me I am a bit too young to die. And too pretty by half,” he slipping a flash drive on the table. “I made the plans up for you. You don’t tell anybody who made them up for you and I forget I ever saw them. Do with them whatever you want.”
John curled his hand around the flash drive, squeezing at Davey’s fingers with his own. “Thank you.”
“I’m not going to care about anybody but you four,” Davey said. “I don’t mind good folks terribly, but they’re about one in a million and I’m not really fond to them. Most people though. I’m. Well. Not ever going to care about the low hum of a bunch of filthy animals, clogging up the world with their stupid bleating and their stupid, mean faces. But I love you, and I want you to think kindly of me from time to time for keeping things in order. And you can’t do that if you’re dead.”
There wasn’t a single thing John could think to say in response. Grinning sizably, Davey tweaked at his ears.
“Right clever, aren’t I?”
“You’re brilliant,” John blinked into a wide smile.
“Oh,” Davey shammed at bashfulness like a panto. “Don’t go on like that. I can tell you mean it, and I’ll end up keeping you. I’ll get you home before I lock you up.”
Smiling or not John knew Davey didn’t really joke about things like that. “Let’s get home then.”
The trip home was a flurry of John thinking, tongue creeping across his lip and eyes flipping back and forth, and then texting Dimmock about the information, telling him to watch, and send it to Mycroft if things got dire, telling him where he would hide it while Davey peeled off and reapplied nicotine patches baring his teeth at the rip and pull of it. It was obvious he had left his patches on too long, pulled them off too late.
“Do you really need four?” John asked absently.
“There’s my Doctor dearest. I need four just for my head to run quiet. I need to take up something compulsive like bird watching or stamp collecting.”
Images of Davey holding spouses ransom for rare stamps danced in his head, “If you’re sure.”
“Don’t be so suspicious,” he proclaimed loftily, swanning out of his death cab. John was climbing out after him just as Sherlock pulled up behind them in a cab of his own, launching himself out, face a vision of something terrible before it slipped into a mask of detached disapproval.
“John,” he snapped, a deep crack of a chastisement hurtling across the space between them.
Even knowing better, as he did, than to make some unnecessarily patronizing move of protection, John could feel the slight shift in Davey’s body as he shifted closer to him. “What is it?
Long fingers catch him and tugged him away from Davey’s side, and into the flat. The door was opened in record time by Sherlock, who crouched in front of John, Davey slipping inside after them. Down closer to John’s eye level, one would expect Sherlock to appear less threatening, instead of the darkly looming presence hanging over him.
“What are you-?” John started.
“I told you to stay in the flat. Where did you go?” Sherlock snarled, hands tight on John’s shoulders.
“Hey,” Davey hissed, a knife in a silk glove. He crouched down between the two of them smile large, gleaming white, pale hand like a talon around Sherlock’s wrist. “You don’t get rough with the little man.”
“It’s fine Davey,” John lay both hands on the closest shoulder, making quick little comforting movements. “He didn’t bother me, I’m fine. He was just worried.”
The two men stood slowly, long legs unfolding, faces inches apart, Sherlock’s wrist in Davey’s hand. He made a slow dip and drag of his thumb across Sherlock’s pulse point in even little motions. “And I’m just going to hurt him if he gets rough with you again.”
“Don’t be ridiculous Davey; you know that wasn’t really rough,” John blurted anxiously.
“No John, do let the dangerous psychopath who stinks of alcohol preach to me how I should treat you,” Sherlock snarled. “It’s edifying.”
“I would never,” Davey hissed at him almost bumping noses. “Never hurt Johnny.”
“Try not to drown in your delusions of competence,” Sherlock bared his teeth. “You’re awfully ambitious for a street thug who’s occasionally lucky.”
“And you’re awful proud for an infant who needs big brother to tidy up his fits of boredom induced intemperance.”
“Stop,” John used his captain voice. “Stop this instant or I will start knee capping you here in the entryway.”
Davey flinched and stepped back first. “Sorry little man,” he knelt in front of John in and elegant movement, kissing high up on his hairline twice and then once on the softness of his cheek. “Be careful, be smart little man.”
“I will,” John tugged on a lock of his absurdly orange hair. “You too, don’t trouble Sherlock. I’m with him.”
Davey threw his hands up, standing in a quick athletic movement, “Forbid I should worry about you constantly when you’re in such competent hands.”
Sherlock made a darkly furious sound. “John, hand. NOW.”
“No,” John snapped back. “You do not get to bully me unless I let you. Why are you acting like this?”
“I told you to stay in the flat,” Sherlock repeated.
“This was my idea,” Davey said quickly. “I was worried about Johnny and wanted him to visit. I had one of my cars pick him up and I escorted him out of said car and into my flat. He was with me the whole time in my flat and I escorted him back into one of my cars to take him back here again. If I can kidnap people without a trace I am capable of watching someone who isn’t trying to escape. I didn’t think you’d mind since you were off playing with your bestie, leaving the dear doctor here like an old pair of shoes.”
“It wasn’t like that,” John quickly defended.
“What was it like then?” Davey asked, tilting his head in venomous compassion. He snapped his head quickly toward Sherlock. “You see, Johnny has the ability to distance himself from those parts of the people that he loves, which aren’t so complimentary. He’s able to ignore the things I have to do to keep business running and he’s able to ignore the fact you treat him like a toy you can put down and pick up at you leisure.”
“Stop playing with him Davey,” John stopped short of stomping his foot. “He’s my friend. We don’t have to be together all the time. We don’t have to live in each other’s pockets. It’s fine.”
“Hmm,” Davey waggled his head back and forth. An almost friendly, startlingly honestly feral smile, kilometers away from the fake gleeful creeping that went on under Moriarty’s skin. “Be safe Johnny. Back to work then. A thug must do as a thug must.” He winked at John and slipped silkily out the door.
“I do not like him,” Sherlock said darkly. “The flat is safe. Mycroft has it watched, and there’s Mrs. Hudson here. And you have places you can hide.”
“It’s fine,” John took a step closer, shaking off the at each other’s throats tension that Davey dragged blissfully around behind him. Slowly, as not to cause alarm, John curled his hand in Sherlock’s. “Tell me about the case.”
“I’m still not happy with you John,” Sherlock made a sound just short of a sigh.
“That’s fine,” John squeezed his hand again. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Davey wanted to see me, and I know I’m safe with him. I didn’t think it would matter.”
Staring steadily at John, Sherlock seemed to hover on the soft edge of saying something.
The phone suddenly rang.
Hand tightening on Sherlock’s John watched the slow draw of the phone and Sherlock precise thumbing of the answer button. “Uh- uh –uh -oh, that was awful quick,” said a woman’s voice. Sounded London, not too posh, she sounded relatively calm, a lot better than the other, only the smallest underlying tremor. There was something about this. It was too soon, something was wrong. “Someone finished that last one awful quick. I hope things have just been going in your favour. I hope that you haven’t been,” there was an almost comically clunky dramatic pause. “Cheating.”
“How exactly am I meant to have been cheating?” Sherlock drawled. “I’m a genius. What do you expect? But then I can imagine it must be the same for you. Everything moving so quickly, beautifully. These are beautiful puzzles.”
“Oh,” the woman sucked down a juttering breath. “You do flatter me. You’ll love this next one. Even though you’re so very clever, I’ll give you eight hours. I do so like to watch you dance, the waltz as well as the q-q-quick step.”
The woman rang off leaving Sherlock smiling vaguely at the phone, thumb keeping time over the back of John’s hand.
“Open it,” John said faintly. “Let me see.”
Sherlock thumb shifted over the screen, he looked, scrunched his face in concentration and showed John.
“The Thames,” John said, relieved that this was at least the same.
“Yes,” Sherlock grinned. “To the late edition.”
Attached: In Case of Emergency [Locked]
Attached: ASSISTANCE [Locked]
Something that might be helpful in case Sherlock disappears tonight.
Please assist Sherlock as much as you are able with this latest case. Do not allow him to become distracted. This is of upmost importance.
Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.
Please remain safe.
Who is this? What do you want with Sherlock? Why did you send me an attachment I can't open?
It's just a few calculations I ran. If it becomes necessary, it will open.
Sherlock's safety is a concern. Please help him focus on the case, if you feel the need to share this email with him please wait until after he has solved this finally 'puzzle.'
Please continue about your day.
Thank you to Caroline and tentacle_love for the betaing! Things are picking up folks! Danger ahoy. As always feel free to check me out at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com. I can't really think of anything else to say... so, enjoy~
Lestrade was frowning when they reached the shore, John half begrudgingly using Sherlock hand to balance him as he clamoured over the rocks. They had never seemed so big before. It took a second, blinking to notice the magnificent bruise he was sporting.
“Are you alright?” John asked, brow folded up in concern. His hands were clenching in his pockets, muscles clenching tightly around his rib cage. He wanted to text Dimmock and ask what had happened. He couldn’t blame Dimmock for things going wrong. An exhausted man, who’d been in an interrogation situation, he may not have had the time. There was a low fury burning in his fingertips, in his spine, in the soles of his feel and somewhere where it threatened to turn into a headache. The location was a little different this time, not out on the rocks directly, but half behind pylons tinted mossy green and wet.
“Yeah,” he said irritably. “I had a run in with a bike messenger. How about you, you seem off.”
“Something was wrong with this last call,” Sherlock said absently. “It’s something different.”
“What do you mean something different?” Lestrade barked, suddenly alarmed.
“Nothing,” Sherlock snapped before he descended on the body leaving all questions behind as always, leaving John to loiter next to Lestrade.
“John!” Sherlock shouted over the sound of ships whispering their quick, relentless love songs in passing in all their quick sensible tongues. Small feet trip stepping across the craggy mountain range of the grey shore rocks, John moved to his side. Witha small hand mittened with such tender care in yarn long saved for children that never were, John braced himself on Sherlock, on the dark woolen night of Sherlock’s shoulder. Lestrade, squinting and irritated, watched them. Considering the two of them, heads bent together black and golden, like something out of a fairy story. Lion and the Mouse or something like it. Or some child in the woods making friends with some terrible dragon by sharing biscuits.
John moved business like to start his medical examination while Sherlock scraped the mud off the guard’s shoes and dropped it into small evidence bags he must have lifted off Lestrade. He switched his mittens for his small medical gloves. John paused, narrowing his eyes. Something wasn’t quite right. He was all medical proficiency, face unsettlingly set as any medical examiner with decades of experience. Suddenly he froze, hands covering the man’s ears. John could feel the cold and damp through his glove, but the skin felt too malleable to be post mortem. He yanked off his glove and clamped his fingers over the cold, limp wrist.
Panic and relief spun in his chest. “Medic!” he called out to Lestrade, startling Sherlock from where he was analyzing the guard’s trouser pockets.
Lestrade blinked dumbly as John tore off his jacket to wrap around, what was his name?, the guard’s shoulders.
“We need a medic!”
“What?” Sherlock blinked, clamouring closer to him.
“He’s not dead,” John said quickly.
John reached into Sherlock’s pocket, fished his pocket knife out and cut into the meat of the man’s thumb. Blood pooled sluggish but red from the deep cut instead of the clear that signified post-mortem separation. “It can take up to three hours for Livor mortis to start in earnest-” John said quickly.
“But if his strangulation was successful he would have had time to achieve brain death,” he turned toward Lestrade who was almost stammering wide eyed on his radio. “Lestrade! Stop standing around like an idiot! Get blankets before John comes down with hypothermia too!”
There was a rush as Lestrade shouted at a constable back in his element again and soon, John’s triaging was interrupting by Sherlock dragging him close to share body heat now that his small coat was covering his patient. Then there was a pool of orange blankets as John built a protective nest around the guard.
“It’s not unusual Lestrade’s team misses the obvious, but this is something spectacular,” Sherlock muttered, helping John back into his coat. “A better question might be how a professional assassin missed it. You’d think a professional would know the difference.”
Shivering as his body rewarmed, letting Sherlock pull him back and out of the way as the paramedic arrived. “You saw his trouser waist.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock agreed. “Someone was in a hurry.” He paused, looking down at John serious, mouth quirking up a little. “You did good work.”
“It wasn’t anything.”
“You beat the Yard. Not hard to do, granted, but worthy of praise.”
“It was good,” Lestrade said, returning from the deliberate focus of the paramedics and their patient. He looked flustered and almost angry, but if at anyone, not at John. “Forensics can expect to hear the full weight of this.”
“It was fantastic,” Sherlock smirked chest swelling in pride at John’s cleverness leading to a potential dressing down for Anderson.
“Meretricious,” John waved him off, playing at false humility to cover the tight worried lines on his face.
“And a happy new year,” Lestrade rolled his eyes. “Are we going to talk about who at least attempted to kill this man?”
Just as Sherlock’s mouth opened there was a sudden ring. It caused a strange moment of disorientation, especially in the light of murder victims that weren’t murder victims. It rang a second time and Sherlock was suddenly scrambling for his phone. “Hello?” he said with the same smirky face he always used on the pink phone. There was a moment where he almost froze, eyes widening, and then his mouth twisted again. Lestrade took a step forward in concern, eyes wide, but Sherlock made a motion as if to push him away.
“Why are you changing the game?”
There was a pause where someone was talking and Sherlock let out a quick huff of laughter.
“I don’t need to cheat,” then another pause, “oh, well if you just want to flirt…”
Going ramrod straight where he was held at Sherlock’s side, John tried to pull away, but was met with the gentle resistance of a thumb rubbing circles across his shoulders. Lestrade may have looked confused and worried, but John looked on the knife edge of fury. He shook himself out from under Sherlock’s hand to pace unevenly on the rocks listening to Sherlock start listing off deductions, the ripped off badge, the sensible trousers of rough material, the veins showing in the calves and the distribution of weight, the ticket stub all while he gestured in the air over where the guard had lain. “Conclusion, assassin hired to kill a security guard. Why? He must have known something. What’s a guard going to know that’s worth killing over? That Vermeer, thirty pounds, wasn’t it?”
John stood watching with his arms folded.
“I expect your next call soon then,” as soon as Sherlock rung off his smirky little grin fell off his face.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade said very slowly. “What was that?”
“This last game is five pips again,” he proclaimed, like any prince. “The bomber’s going to call five times during the case to make sure I’m not… cheating.” His face was a perfect moue of distaste, “As if I feel the need.”
“Is he spiraling then?” Lestrade asked quickly.
That was quickly waved off, “Don’t think of this as your usual serial killer Lestrade. He isn’t compelled to strap these people up. This is a puzzle with a set of rules. I doubt he actually wants to kill anyone. It’s just incentive, like in hide and seek. If you’re found, you’re ‘out.’”
“Those are real bombs he has strapped to people,” Lestrade pointed his finger straight at Sherlock’s heart.
“You’re assuming he can beat me,” Sherlock grinned and strolled off, holding out his hand for John. There was nothing to be gained from staying behind. It gave him strategic disadvantage and it made it harder to keep Sherlock safe. His hand hovered out to John longer than he thought it would, but finally Sherlock made a faint, vaguely judgmental sound.
“There are human lives at stake, Sherlock. Actual-” the sense of déjà vu was so strong John had to stop and hold his tongue between his teeth for a few seconds. “Don’t you think it might have helped Lestrade to get that new piece of information, that there are additional hostages?”
“I told him everything he needs to know,” Sherlock tilted his head imperiously as they climbed the stairs to the street level. “Everything that might help him with the case.”
“How can you just-?” he didn’t even know how to finish that sentence.
“What?” Sherlock drawled, almost teasing, with that cruel aristocratic arrogance.
“Do you care about them at all?” Something that stuck like a splinter in his skin, hiding in the back of his mind, shifted against all that soft matter. Because… Because they were puzzles, like John was. John knew it wasn’t the same. But Sherlock had called him a fascinating puzzle enough times he remembered.
“Would caring about them help me save them John?” Sherlock stopped and looked down at him, but this time around John didn’t know what to say, so he just watched. Small and solemn.
Irritated, Sherlock fluffed himself up, sticking the hand that had been held out imperiously toward John in his coat. “Use your head John; I know you’ve got one on your shoulders. Would knowing their names help save them? If I knew their favourite colour? Or what they mindlessly did with their mindless lives. This is probably the most exciting thing that will ever happen to them. You’re a doctor, I shouldn’t have to be telling you this,” he pronounced airily.
It chilled John down to his heart how cold Sherlock sounded. “Being able to put the personal details aside to concentrate is not the same as not caring at all.” It had not escaped John’s notice that Sherlock’s decision to walk instead of immediately call for a cab was probably a concession to John’s post argument strolls.
“Oh, I’ve disappointed you now,” his voice with all its imperial distain rolled off his tongue like a deeply golden honey.
“That’s not-” John started, just desperate to stop this tumble into a conversation that seemed to be chasing him like a skip in a record. Like a dog that wouldn’t let go of a bone and just let things lie.
Sherlock stopped, the thin chill hovering like a moth in the winter air, turning him into even more of a china doll than John could ever hope to be, even as small as he was. There was something suddenly about him, something like Mr. Rochester with his mad wife who raged and raged and would not die locked up in his attic. Something too fierce and ferocious to be sadness, even weighed against the coolness that was inherently Holmesian. He looked down at John, suddenly serious and firm, no longer the twisting insistent will o’ the wisp he was used to chasing. “Don’t turn me into your hero John. Heroes don’t exist. And if they did, I’d hardly be one of them.”
“You’re my friend,” John told him seriously. “The rest is incidental.”
Sherlock pulled his hand out of his pocket and John curled his own around it.
“Where to next then?” John asked, hiding from the wind against Sherlock.
“Home,” Sherlock said simply hand lifting, beckoning a cab. Bundling John in before him and staying silent, looking out the window all the way to 221B and then pulling him out after him just as quietly.
“How about a bit of cake?” Sherlock said lifting his nose at the baking spice smell curling pleased as a cat inside Baker Street.
“Is this about my body fat index again?” John asked suspiciously closing the door after them.
“No, this is about Mrs. Hudson most certainly sticking a cake that I have no chance of finishing on my own in the middle of my experiments.” John chased Sherlock up the seventeen steps where the smell of cake was indeed stronger, rich and warm and lovely.
“Shouldn’t you be working on the case?” John handed his coat up to Sherlock when it was snapped for.
“There’s something I’m waiting on,” Sherlock let the words trail behind him on his way to the kitchen. “Not all detective work gets to be chasing bad guys and examining crime scenes.” There was a clink and the soft domestic sounds of things being shifted around in the kitchen. The sort of sounds that usually came from John; it was nice for Sherlock to do something for John.
Snagging the blanket off the back of the chair, he curled up against the arm, facing Sherlock’s black and silver seat. When Sherlock emerged he made a thoughtful sound to himself, half- pleased and nodded John over to the sofa, “Don’t get too settled, it’s only going to be a short stop.”
“You’re really going to let me have cake before lunch?” John raised an eyebrow.
Sherlock raised his own right back. “I’d threaten to eat it in front of you, but with your care mongering that might have the opposite effect. I suggest you enjoy the treat and not second guess me. Now quiet, I need to think.” He promptly curled up on the other side of the sofa, steepling his fingers against his mouth. John didn’t mind letting him think, enjoying a bit of the domesticity of it, even if it seemed unnatural to the expediency of the case.
Mycroft arrived just as John was finishing a bit of cake compliments of Mrs. Hudson; the handle of his elegant umbrella over the sleeve of his elegant suit. Something softer than his usual moneyed and powered armour, his whole demeanor was more passive than usual as well. Sherlock was curled up on the other end of the sofa, taping his thumb against the back of the pink phone, something John was valiantly ignoring. Mycroft made some sort of faint noise, bringing a vapourous attention to the fact that he was there. He tended to fill a room with his presence, like incense, a subtle inescapable presence. Confused, John turned to Sherlock, prodding his foot with his toes to get his attention. Usually Sherlock was up in arms as soon as Mycroft showed himself, not this soft nervousness. “Finish your cake,” Sherlock smiled at him and leaned gently over him in a way that was as close as kissing the crown of John’s head as he ever got. “I’ll be right back.”
“Oh Sherlock,” Mycroft suddenly sighed.
“Don’t preach to me,” Sherlock growled, but without the usual malice. It was more like something lowly wounded and only wanting rest.
John narrowed his eyes. “Are you here about the missile plans?”
“If my brother is too cowardly to say it, then I’m not going to do it for him.”
Sherlock emerged, scowling at his brother, carrying John’s pack. Every muscle in John’s body suddenly went tense. He was suddenly aware of a sudden sharpness, a flush of details, sorted and catalogued. He almost had whiplash from the suddenness of it all. His breath spending up the trembling rabbit brained inconsistency of fear clouding his brain. John took a moment to remind himself that he was a soldier, and a grown man not a child with separation anxiety. He pushed his mind to that cool, calm place where his hands didn’t shake, where he could reach the counter without a stool and pay taxes. Not that he enjoyed paying taxes. But there was something about paying your taxes for the first time, like buying your parents a meal for the first time. Something terribly adult.
Was he getting hysterical in his own head?
“Up,” Sherlock waved at him like he was a lazy dog. “You’re going with Mycroft.”
“What do you mean I’m going with Mycroft?” John set down his plate and fork. He couldn’t go with Mycroft; he still hadn’t handed off his phone to Tim. Whether it was Mycroft or Moriarty that found his phone, it wouldn’t end well. “I’m staying with you.”
“No,” Sherlock spoke sharply reaching out to pull him up, “You’re going with Mycroft. You’ll endure his tedious presence and then you’ll go to a safe house.”
“No!” John nearly shouted, jerking away from Sherlock’s hand. He scrambled up to stand on the sofa.
“You are going with my brother John. This is not a matter of argument or discussion. I don’t have any more time to waste.” It was so business like, so flat and unfeeling, John flinched.
“Is this because of what I said this morning?” John didn’t like how small his voice was, as fragile and breakable as a mouse. His feet shifted on the sofa cushion, his body as unstable as he suddenly felt.
Sherlock looked at him for a moment, almost stunned, before snapping at him, “Don’t be dull.”
John flinched back, wide eyed with a look that more perfectly defined being wounded than a thousand books devoted to the subject. Even Mycroft, who ordered his emotions like distant orbiting satellites, winced a little at that look.
“I didn’t-” John started, each word landing like birds made from spun glass. “I won’t get in your way. I didn’t mean anything.”
The scent of Sherlock, of home, suddenly surrounded him as Sherlock circled him in long arms. John was tucked into the concave line of Sherlock’s long body. Sherlock’s chin resting on the crown of his head, his arms bracing him, still him. His shirt was silky against John’s heated face. He tried to grab hold of Sherlock around his waist, but his arms were too short. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” Sherlock whispered, shifting his head so his cheek rested on John’s head, facing away from Mycroft’s ever watchful eye. “You are good. Don’t censor yourself for me. This is only temporary, do you understand? This is only until the game is over and then everything will be back the way it was.”
He peeled himself away from John, with John as a very resistant part of that separation.
“I said I won’t send you away,” Sherlock had that voice he used when he was getting bored of explaining. “This is only for a little while. Lunch with Mycroft; some heads of state don’t dine so well. And suffering through his idea of lunch conversation will prepare you to resist advanced torture techniques.”
“Well when you put it that way,” John tried to smile.
Sherlock scanned over his face, large hands framing his head, thumbs rubbing gentle circles at his temples. “I need to concentrate on the case, and you’re a distraction. I’ll be watching you to see your reactions instead of paying attention. You wanted me to care about the hostages. Well this is the way I can care about them, by only focusing on those things that need my focus.”
“You’re a terrible liar,” John was able to come back to himself a little, seeing Sherlock shamming so obviously, his eyes always went funny when he was shamming.
The earnest face fell like snow off a roof, “I’m a fabulous liar. You’re the one who can’t sham to save his life. Something we need to work on.”
“If you’re done encouraging children to take up lives of dishonesty, I really am a busy man,”
Mycroft interjected from the doorway.
“Off the furniture then,” Sherlock drawled, holding out his hand for John brace his jump down with. While John headed over to the coat rack to fetch down his coat and mittens Sherlock carefully folded up the plaid blanket and tenderly tucked it into his bag.
“I’m still not happy about this,” John reminded him.
“I’m not particularly pleased at inflicting my brother on you.”
Mycroft made a faint sound.
“But needs must,” Sherlock sighed, picking up John’s little woolen hat and gently snugging it over his head, then presented him before his brother.
“Hmm,” Mycroft started as an opening to what would prove to be a compressed discourse. “His body fat index.”
“I know. I can’t get him to gain him any weight.”
“Just as long as you’re not letting him keep your own eating schedule.”
The Holmes brothers stared at each other intensely until John had to clear his throat for fear that the combined force of their gazes would cause some sort of gravity well.
“He is not to be carried under any circumstances. He likes milky tea in the morning. Sometimes he screams in his sleep,” John’s shoulders tensed under Sherlock’s hands, turning pink from below his collar all the way up to his hair line. “Don’t bother him, just call his name until he wakes up and then leave him alone.”
“Very good,” Mycroft returned, as calm as if they were discussing the weather. “Come along John.”
He baulked back against Sherlock’s legs for a moment before reminding himself again that he was an adult and above hiding against people. At Mycroft’s nod, John went brave faced into the fray and followed him down the stairs, watching the solid straight lines of his tall back. When Mycroft reached the bottom of the stairs he turned, a pivot as elegant as the planets’ and made a genteel sort of leading expression. “It really won’t be so bad. No need to look like you’re marching to your execution.”
John lifted his chin, pulling every ounce of the adult that kept trying hide just behind every little corner in his brain and bringing it to the surface.
“I thought as much,” Mycroft replied, face shifting sinuous and serious the layers he carefully created and composed to minute perfection fitting him as well as his fine suits. Standing in front of Mycroft gave John the delicate sensation of being precisely plucked apart.
“If we’re going to go, we should go. Otherwise he’ll hide up there until the whole of London blows.”
Mycroft’s mouth tilted up ever so slightly. Whether that actually meant he was amused or not was anyone’s guess. “Very well,” he held the door open for John, a gesture that clearly indicated he controlled the door, not that he was subservient to anyone. “You do realize the way you conduct yourself differs between my brother and myself.”
“If you think I’m trying to manipulate you, why do you ask?”
“Maybe not manipulate,” Mycroft made minute shifts in his posture, so it almost looked like he did something that may have been a shrug.
John gave one look back to 221, before crawling through the door held open by the driver. “Is this going to turn into an interrogation?”
Mycroft let out an even cascade of refined chuckles, “Of course not John. We’re only going to lunch.”
Tell Grendel we’ve found Watson’s son. Coordinates incoming. E4
D- following messages intercepted, coordinates in London. CCTV show JW with MH both priority 1. – A
Copy. Don’t let message get through. Don’t try track G, 2 dangerous. –D
Send false reply. –D
Good. Observe, no other actions at this time.
Command, please repeat orders. E4
Do not act at this time.
I can do it, please I can. Tell him I can do it. E4
I can. I can catch him. Tell Grendel I can. E4
D – We might have a problem. – A
Check me out at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com. It has me blathering on about self-doubt, beautiful fanart and information on my progress. Enjoy some interrogation!
The place Mycroft took John was very much the restaurant equivalent of one of those little damask coffee cups; beautiful, hand gilt and small to prove a point. The entire place had been rented out and then neatly arranged to seem less empty. It might have been considered to look a bit like a very rich and real life version of a children’s story inside. John was going to have to be very clever about this. He thought back to the first meeting he’d had with Mycroft, the first first meeting and tried to draw that sense of awareness, of rules of decency, of a hard immoveable jaw. He would fall face first if he tried to be sophisticated about this. He was just going to have to be the coolest cucumber to ever be interviewed in a cleared out restaurant.
As implausible as it might sound at first, John almost wished he could just tell Mycroft everything, just make a clean breast of things. It was a real temptation hovering against the back of his teeth, but then he looked up and saw that cool arch of a smile, false as a face on a puppet. Of many things politic John was ignorant, but he knew danger when he saw it. Sherlock could be distracted with shiny dead things and chemicals but Mycroft had planetary systems in his head. If Mycroft discovered anything about Grendel’s little life ruiner it was going to disappear before John or Tim could get their hands on it and get it to someone who could try and reset the effects. With his extra brain power, Mycroft would no doubt convince himself it would be a good idea to play with the gun and explode the space time continuum and cause mass chaos.
Like with Irene, only with less riding crops.
The second reason the W illusion had to stay firmly in place was one Timothy Dimmock, widower, who occasionally forgot he was meant to avoid death. The only thing protecting him from all the ears pressed to the ground was W. The man that wasn’t and didn’t, maybe, couldn’t perhaps outfox and cut deep into the efforts of Dr. Grendel; if Grendel could master time, W could stand above it. Bloated to importance past the exaggeration kernelled in the mind of a madman and the impossibility observed by masterminds. A big enough mythology for anyone to hide behind, never mind Tim’s little army.
John attempted his innocent look, neck craning back to meet Mycroft’s eyes. It didn’t appear to go over terrible well, but at least the eldest Holmes stopped looming in the doorway and allowed the maître d’ to escort them to a table before the poor man went from unflappable to flapped.
The maître d’ moved, circling like a bland faced member of a ballet troop, a sort of regal piece of scenery, not flinching as John leaned away from his hands on the back of the chair, scooting him in under the table. There was Mycroft, watching each discrete shift of John’s face, waiting to be tucked in at the table himself. Then the waiter orbited them, laying the menus down precisely. John couldn’t have been more out of place in this restaurant, this world where everything had its orbit, its set dimensions, its fixed revolution. John knew rounds and rotations, swing shifts at a Green Zone hospital, waking up with the rest of the base, Sherlock’s feeding schedule. He wasn’t a part of menus on linen paper, fine china luncheons, waiters in tailored waistcoats.
When the waiter had retreated with their orders, both men anxious not to involve anyone else in their conversation, Mycroft leaned back slightly in his chair. His hands arranged elegantly as he unfolded his serviette and slid it into his lap. This was the sort of restaurant where they probably put the serviette on their patron’s laps for them, but Mycroft wasn’t the sort to miss playing with a prop and John was liable to panic and stab someone with his salad fork. John’s hand snuck out to gently grab his own and hide it in his lap to shake out and tuck it around his legs.
“Doctor Watson,” Mycroft began rather innocuously.
“Mister Holmes,” John replied just as seriously, he might as well have a sign over his head reading liable to sass.
“Very well, if that’s the attitude you wish to take we won’t waste time with pleasantries. You do realize that you potentially constitute a serious threat to national security.” Mycroft spoke with the practiced absence of a man who regularly enjoyed having people by their necks without them realizing.
“You really do get to the point,” he smiled mildly.
“It’s likely that I won’t have the chance to conduct a similar interview with you under such friendly circumstances in the future. I’d rather be direct if I need to be direct,” he was giving John a look as if he were planning to attack parliament instead of trying to avoid Mycroft’s impossible posturing.
“I’m not a threat to anybody.”
“You’ve killed at least two men,” Mycroft’s face was as arranged as always but somehow it was more honest. An open analytical curiosity. “You showed no distress moral or otherwise. The only things that crack that mulish expression on your face are a threat to Sherlock or your position with him.”
“Those are the important things.”
“Why?” Mycroft asked. The sleek, spinning razor wire of that question brushed against John’s heart, the all that I have left of it that couldn’t be allowed to pass his lips pressed narrow and thin against each other.
The waiter brought the rolls and soup as one might tread into the middle a minefield. Wide eyed and watching every inch.
Once she had slipped away John set the line of his lips into something firm, his eyes resting on the edge of danger rolling over in ocean before a storm. “Does it matter?”
“It does to me.”
“Can’t it be enough that I say I’m not a threat. That I don’t plan on ever being a threat to national security?” John settled back in his chair, watching.
“Plans change,” Mycroft’s words lay heavy like stones.
“If I’m a threat so are you. So is Sherlock,” John spoke carefully.
“I have no interest in harming this government because of duty and Sherlock has no interest because I dare say he would find it boring.”
John looked at Mycroft, staring. “You didn’t plan ahead at all did you?”
He tilted his head slightly to the side.
“For when Sherlock does something stupid and trips up something important and governmental,” John honestly thought he had. But maybe he should have known better with the tense pained silence, the low vibrating anger under Mycroft’s skin after the Irene fiasco.
“Sherlock won’t. You underestimate the control I’m able to maintain on situations.”
“He has the emotional awareness of a paving brick,” John said worriedly.
“You see that as a weakness. That is something that surprises me,” he lifted his spoon, taking a neat swallow of his soup while John was left fiddling with his own. “Sherlock is seeing to your education? For all his interest in a variety of subjects, I’m sure,” Mycroft asked courteously over his soup. John was left blinking over the sudden change of topics.
Deliberately John set his face into a stubbornly idiotic innocence that brothers everywhere perfect to annoy their siblings, “He has a good strategy. If he doesn’t know something he pretends like he’s an expert or proclaims it dull and then makes me write a paper on it.”
“The two of you have dangerous expectations of what an education should be,” Mycroft set down his spoon. “It’s not just cramming everything into your head about the things that interest you and ignoring everything else. You need to learn about politics, philosophy, English – Sherlock having you read the latest edition of The Handbook for Scholarly Submissions does not count.”
“Why?” John set down his spoon, throwing that dangerous word back in Mycroft’s face.
Mycroft gave him a slanted annoyed look.
“I mean it. Why should I? Because you think so?”
“So you have options,” he snapped tersely. “When you’re young you think you’ll live forever. All that time in the world.”
That was unexpected. John pulled back, watching him.
“That’s what’s so strange about this whole arrangement. Out of all the things Sherlock can offer the environment in which you might grow to your… full potential is not one of them.”
Making a face, John fiddled with the serviette in his lap, “What is it with you and Sherlock? I don’t need training. I need Sherlock.”
“But why Sherlock?”
“Why not?” John rolled his eyes. “Because he hasn’t joined in the family hobby of world domination?”
“It doesn’t fit in with any plan. There’s nothing to be gained from him you couldn’t get from someone else.”
“I know it’s a bit of a shock, so do prepare yourself, but has it occurred to you that what I get from my relationship with Sherlock is my relationship with Sherlock? That I don’t want to be trained up, I just want I flatmate I like. I know he’s a supreme prat, but he has his moments. And he doesn’t maneuver to interrogate me.”
No, any interrogations were strictly honest. Even the sneaky ones.
John tried the soup halfheartedly, gripping the spoon shaped for smaller hands. The soup rolled across his tongue like a novel, full of character, theme and the well textured highs and lows of depth. It was some of the best soup he had ever had. Mycroft appeared so used to exceptional soup that he could ignore it in favour of piercing stares.
“Don’t embellish my part in this little luncheon Dr. Watson,” he tilted his head in that way he had, sinuous and considering.
“Of course not,” John sassed straight faced.
That earned him a second face that had more to do with John’s cheek than what he actually said. Mycroft never did like him.
“You’ve been after in an interview with me for months,” John lifted in eyebrow.
“However Sherlock might have… exaggerated about me,” he tucked his index and middle finger into his linen napkin and dapped first the left and then right corners of his mouth, eyes down and away. What a wonderful, artful mimic. How his brain must ache all the time. “I’m not interested in playing his little games, I actually have responsibilities. Something he may finally be learning for himself. He asked for my help in an effort of keep you safe. Strangely he doesn’t prefer your absence.”
“Ta,” John snarked, crinkled nose and all.
“Don’t be such a child. Sherlock does not touch. He does not feel the need for it. And yet he often asks you to hold his hand instead of the other way around. I find this most peculiar. It tastes of maneuvering, but in what direction is Sherlock being maneuvered. You can understand how this would upset me. I don’t like other people manipulating my brother.”
John watched him. The low frowning dips at the corners of his mouth. The overtly groomed civilized threat of desolation behind doors and bureaucracy, finely tailor silk lined suits and art deco styled haircuts.
“I like to be aware of the motivations of all players. As such, I need information about the individual who calls himself ‘W.’ Short for Watson I assume?”
“That assumption certainly makes logical sense,” John answered calmly.
The lift of his brow, like a bird’s wing. The subtle shift of his right shoulder, lifting with more helpless power than most people could imagine imitating in their lifetimes. He was very much like a crane, for all Sherlock cawed crow like at him. He seemed all bird’s bone and long neck, discreet tuck of wing and foot and that long probing beak that snatched at every silverfish. Or perhaps a swan was a better metaphor, there had been a fair share of young smashed blokes who had discovered the joy of being assaulted and battered by a swan.
“Dr. Watson, I would appreciate if you would look at me and answer my question.”
John looked at him.
“Does the individual known to myself and others as W exist in the context I and others are led to believe?”
John’s face twisted.
“You’ll need to be more specific,” Mycroft narrowed his eyes. He was terrifying like this.
“He’s lots of things to lots of people,” John diverted; it was an obvious diversion so he didn’t bother trying to hide it too much.
“You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” John protested.
Mycroft leveled a look at him that could have been used to carve steel.
John picked up his spoon and kept his mouth full of soup. He had a few years’ experience living with the nosiest consulting detective in existence. He simply ate his soup as slowly as possible, setting his small jaw mulishly. The stare held for a while before it was shifted, sorted in Mycroft’s impossible expression catalogue. John wasn’t sure that all of them weren’t true in their own way, there was so much going on in Mycroft’s head all the time, an arrangement of layers of thought that maybe it was a matter of truest and not falsest.
Finally Mycroft settled on rolling his eyes in a way that took his whole upper body, something that John had thought was reserved just for Sherlock. “You do realize I grew up with Sherlock.”
“We’re similar?” John cocked his head to the side, surprised curiosity breaking him out of his obstinacy, in a move strangely concordant with a sparrow.
“You both don’t like to be touched by people you don’t know, both are irritatingly stubborn and both borderline sociopathic.”
Eyebrows scrunching together, John started his automatic, “Sherlock’s not a-” before he stopped and blinked at Mycroft staring calmly at him.
“You were meant to be a sociopath, weren’t you? Or as close to it as they could make you,” It slipped out from between Mycroft’s lips, sleekly as a shard of ice.
John watched, caught in the lazy sway of Mycroft’s blank, blank, blank, face; the swaying tilt of his neck and shoulders, the degree of his head.
“Don’t look so surprised. You clearly see nothing wrong with killing for what you consider acceptable purposes. You were more upset that you had almost let Sherlock be injured than the fact you shot a man in the head. And it’s not like you don’t calmly and regularly show affection for a drug dealer who regularly performs violent acts to sustain sis limping, petty little empire. And you are fairly ruthless. And certainly smart enough to pass. All it takes is memorizing expectations. Normal people do it all the time.”
John swallowed, wide eyed. Everything he had done, trying to survive, trying to keep Sherlock alive. He hadn’t thought how an outsider might categorize them, hadn’t considered they could be catalogued so coldly.
“But you don’t quite fit the classification, do you Dr. Watson? Clever? Very. Capable of killing. Obviously. But you are not what I think anyone would consider amoral. I imagine you a bit of a sleeper cell in their little handcrafted military unit. You’re something much more dangerous than a sociopath aren’t you? That’s why W wanted you. Why he wanted you here I’m not sure yet, but I’m slowly getting some idea. Because you’re the most dangerous when you have someone to protect, aren’t you? And Sherlock does need so much protection, from his own thoughtlessness mostly,” he made an absent chiding sound as if Sherlock was a thoughtless child being indulgently scolded.
John watched him.
“I have a theory. That something happened to make you fear for your brothers and sisters in your little military unit. Because I think you would have considered them your brothers and sisters. Because that’s your nature. You like to take care of things, tend them. They, your designers, tried to make you a sociopath and you became the opposite. You’re too moral, too set, too dissuadable about right and wrong. And a doctor as well,” Mycroft clicked his tongue again, shaking his head. “I imagined you revolted. A good man doesn’t need to hesitate with his finger on the trigger.” Mycroft eyes seemed so large, so dark, like tunnels going back and back into the cavern of some terrible beast. “He already knows right and wrong. He wastes no time with debate or remorse, not in such matters.”
John’s face could have belonged to a stranger, still and steady. Watchful and cautious as a cub hiding in a thicket. It was the face of a man who had killed without pause and would kill again. Who’s absolute moral compass allowed him perfect peace for the soldier in him and in turn ripped ragged along the edge of his soul as in incessant reminder to protect those he held in his responsibility. In the secret pressed line of his mouth, the perfect tension of someone completely at peace in the flex and furl of their body. So human, so small and fallible, a tiny tucked in piece of origami that was dashed again and again against circumstance and maintained each precise crease.
Such was John Watson, erstwhile member of the Northumberland Fusiliers, that Mycroft, seated across from him, with his calm impassive face, saw in him something that might be W. If it were the case, Mycroft thought, while John tried to stay steady and unaffected, then that was truly it. The sort of man John Watson would be, bloomed into maturity, was not a man affected by threats or bribery. One could not ever win with a man like that. Even broken he was always maddeningly incomprehensible and set apart.
“Who is Bill?” Mycroft asked. Pulling on the thread of a muttered word cried in terrified dreams.
John’s face shattered for a moment, more startled at the potential of his mind betrayed by his dreams and his privacy invaded by Mycroft’s infinite sets of eyes and ears across London. Where John shook out his troubled dreams. There were many things John Watson was good at; shuttering his face was not one of them.
“Ah,” Mycroft murmured knowingly. “Part of you unit then? I suspected as much.”
“I’m not talking about Bill.”
“He features often in your nightmares,” Mycroft moved in his refined little gestures, like a clockwork figure going through its motions.
“Stop shamming,” John snapped arms wrapping around his middle. Too much, too much, too deep into his heart, muscling and bullying into the tidy chambers, shouldering everything out of its careful order. “Don’t sham with me.”
Something slipped when it usually would have caught in that great machination that was in Mycroft’s head and he blinked at John before leaning back, steepling his fingers against his lips. “What do you mean ‘shamming’?”
John scowled at him, “That…” John made a vague motion at him. “Your face, the prop stuff, the presentation.”
“Why does it make you uncomfortable?” Mycroft was just watching now.
Giving his lip a pass with his tongue, looking off to the side, John thought for the right answer. “It feels strange. It’s distracting. And confusing, but that may have been what you were trying for. It’s too-” The lack of a word chugged against itself like a choking engine, huge foggy clumsiness filling up any free space in his head, making it impossible to think.
“Loud,” Mycroft murmured softly, his head tilting back in thoughtful recognition. “I didn’t mean entirely to distress you,” his voice was incredibly gentle, so strange and tender while twisting there on the edge of considering. Even kind he was plotting. “I wasn’t aware being called a sociopath would be so upsetting to you. Sherlock usually takes comfort in hiding behind it.”
He closed his eyes, small face solemn and tensed, “I just want to be left alone. I just want to solve crimes with Sherlock and be left alone.”
“You must know Sherlock is not equipped to give you the comfort and affection you obviously crave.”
John’s eyes flicked to his face.
“When you’re distressed you hug yourself. It’s a consistent if usually brief behavior,” he explained. “Sherlock’s noticed by now, but he usually ignores it. When he doesn’t he scolds you.”
Reaching back into his memory for something powerful and true John spoke carefully, looking away again. “Sherlock likes to play at being a sociopath, but he has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher. Yet he chooses to be a detective.”
“What am I meant to deduce from that?” Mycroft asked quietly, considering John as somehow more than he had before.
John looked at Mycroft slowly, as if somehow his exhaustion made the touching of their gazes move slower than dictated by physics. There was so much anguish there Mycroft had to try very hard not to inhale sharply. “That he has a heart.”
“You think you know my brother very well.”
“No,” John spoke quietly, the ease of every line spoke of honesty. “I’m just better with people.”
That seemed to convince Mycroft of whatever he needed convincing, “Very well. I don’t suppose you would tell me what you r people skills tell you about me?” he tilted the words up at the ends half-sarcastic.
“I’m pleading silence on that one. It’s beautiful what you’ve made of yourself but you’re too big inside. I might as well write on the orbits of the planets.”
Mycroft gave him something that might have been a blank look. John rolled his eyes at it.
“Your life is a series of well executed deux ex machinas and the political version of opera where you are consistently the prima donna. I don’t think I’d be able to sift past your first fifty layers without going cross eyed and giving up. You’ve designed yourself to be incomprehensible. It’s very beautiful, but it’s too much for me.”
Mycroft stared at him for a moment.
“What? Only Sherlock can be the beautiful one? You practically raised him. It only makes sense what makes him beautiful is a variation of what makes you beautiful too,” John realized being overwrought may have caused him to run his mouth a little too long in a little too sharp absolutes. John didn’t need to be attracted to the Holmes brothers to know that with their impossible spinning brains and their flitting brilliant language, not to mention their flitting brilliant brilliance, that they were beautiful the way carved marble was beautiful and Buckingham Palace was beautiful and a finely shaped suit was beautiful.
Mycroft, wearing a maddeningly composed face, raised a few fingers at the waitress who was shifting back and forth by the kitchen door as if she wasn’t sure she wanted to approach the table. “We’re canceling the rest of lunch,” Mycroft pronounced imperiously. It was like Sherlock, but better. “One coffee, one milky tea and your chocolate creme cake for the child.”
Order placed Mycroft pulled out his impressively fortified mobile and started to do something to it, a silence dropping between the two of them as if he had dropped a steel safety door between the two of them. John was grateful for the opportunity to compose himself, tucking his fingers around his serviette, consciously trying not to hug himself like Mycroft had said. He wondered where his bag was. Mycroft surely had it secreted somewhere.
The waitress’s hand trembled slightly when Mycroft deigned to drift his eyes up in her direction when she returned with the desert. John didn’t know if he could hold down the thick slice of chocolate cake artfully arranged in a mountain range of creme and fancy arabesques of chocolate decorating it. But he wasn’t entirely sure what would happen tonight so he took his fork to it with every bit of military training he had. The milky tea calmed him, nearly against his will, a long ingrained signal for end of case, end of shift, end of wrestling Harry into something similar to bed, working its magic.
Mycroft somehow arranged it so that he took his last sip of coffee to coincide with John’s last bite of cake. “I need to get back to the office immediately. I have a secure car that will take you to a safe house. This will be over soon and you and Sherlock can go back to playing your lovely little games.” John nodded, stiff and determined. The maître de’ appeared randomly out of nowhere and spoke from a respectful distance about something soft voiced. Mycroft nodded and made a vague motion at him, the perfect image of a lazy emperor. With a gentle swoosh Mycroft stood and made a faint motion at John to do the same and come with him. They went out a side entrance, walked through a small shoe and hat shop of the sort where it was just assumed nothing was under triple digits and then out into an alley where there were two cars waiting.
John was handed his bag, which he wrapped his arms around tightly, holding it to his chest while Mycroft ignored him in favour of speaking something that sounded vaguely Chinese into his mobile. A tall guard made a wide nonthreatening gesture toward the second car and John, sighing, climbed in the car without complaint.
Is this Bad Davey? - D
That depends on entirely on who’s asking.
I’m Dimmock. A close friend of John Watson’s –D
How did you get my private number?
What other Johns are there? What’s up with the suit at 221B?
Did he just kidnap my boy.
He’s not your boy. – D
And the man is dangerous, it’s better to stay out of his way – D
Probably taking John 2 safe house. How much do u know about the plan 4 2nite –D
Ugh. Don’t do that. Just spell things out. Not that hard.
I know enough of the plan to be helpful.
You’re that drunk who hangs out on John’s roof.
I’m not a drunk. – D
And how do you know? –D
I own the eyes of London. I’m just amazing like that.
We have a few things to discuss. John may be in danger. –D
I’m ringing you now.
Betaed by Caroline and tentacle_love. Many, many thanks. This chapter has descriptions of violent acts. I've tried to skim over the worst, but they are there. This is your trigger warning. There's also Moriarty in this chapter. He is his usual creepy self. Enjoy!
John sat for a long time with his back a miniature curl of battle readiness, shoulders tense and ready, face arranged into a mild stern pinch. The two men Mycroft had arranged to be in the car with him didn’t try to talk to him. One just leaned back and looked out the window while the other pulled out some sort of tablet and started making notes. This was the sort of job where one had to get used to amusing oneself John assumed. It was an extended car large enough to fit two benches facing each other, but squashed a little so the two men had to twist a little and tuck their legs so they wouldn’t bump each other with their expensive leather shoes. They rode that way for a while, everyone ignoring everyone else completely unmoving until the second bodyguard shifted to rest the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other making all of them need to shift and slid around each other.
Closing his eyes, John rested his head back against the seat and tried to do something like snoozing. It couldn’t last long; he would breathe slowly, calmly resting in the black behind his eyelids. That resting dark would become loud with streaks of half remembered colours and snippets of words, things that weren’t promises, and his belly would seize darkly, his breath would rip roughshod out of his chest; his head would ache. He’d open his eyes and chase away the panic with studied disinterest and the cycle would start again. Later he’d wish he’d paid better attention to where they had been going. As it was, he opened his eyes to see they crossed into an isolated road just in time to brace himself for a BANG; the black town car twisting and an exploding arch of red and white bursting from the second guard’s leg.
There was a split second for the second guard to inhale a deep horrified breath before John was on him, hands on his belt, ripping it loose and kneeling. It only took one look at what was essentially one great exit wound for John to find the right place to use the belt as a tourniquet. The guard’s lower leg was a mess of worried flesh and pale glistening bits of fatty tissue and bone fragments with nothing left to hold things together. The man had essentially lost everything past the lower half of his calf. It was only crossing his legs that had left him with a whole leg on one side. Someone had wanted to cut off the man’s ability to run away. The guard’s face was white and glistening, pupils huge and pained. There was another bang and the car swerved sharply, the first guard gritting his teeth and chanting a litany of curses, sinuous and sharp edged. The second screamed, short and high without seeming to be able to help himself.
“Medical kit!” John barked at the first who didn’t bother to stop and hesitate (and how amazingly good that felt.)
“Under the seats,” he barked back, pulling out a phone from one inside pocket and a neatly shaped gun from the other. John scrambled for it, prying at the latch, small fingers slipping into the opening mechanism and clicking it open while the first tried several times to ring someone, anyone.
It didn’t take a genius to see that wasn’t working.
There was a knocking against the window pane, Tap –Tapa-Taptap.
“Come out, come out, come out,” came a singsong voice shouting merrily, the thread of utter madness ringing through it. “Don’t be naughty Johnny; Dr. Grendel wants to see you.”
The breath in John’s lungs turned against him, growing claws and ripping out of his throat in a strange stuttering sound. The guard looked at him solemnly, face tight. Fiddling with his phone, he threw it aside to reach out and squeeze John’s shoulder once.
“Now don’t be silly,” the figure at the window crouched down, cupping his free hand around his eyes to try and peer through the glass. He look to be about Roost’s age, young boyish face, round and bright, dark hair straggling around his face. “I have a gun that can shoot through your fancy windows and you don’t. That means if you shoot it’s going to ricochet.” He half sang the last word, humming to himself and muttering what almost sounded like an equation, “…over x squared I suppose, but I’d have to hurry. Dr. Grendel is very cross that you’re running around free. Don’t you want him to take care of you? He can fix you. Make you all better. Help you see the error of your ways.”
That jolted John out of his low keening stupor. Yanking out the first aid kit he peered into the cubby hole, there was a small cooler to the side which he pulled out after it and thankfully held blood bags neatly packed inside.
The young madman slammed the butt of his impressive looking gun against the window, “I JUST WANT TO GO HOME! I JUST NEED YOU SO I CAN GO HOME!”
John knew that feeling, that aching crawling pulling feeling. Sherlock was as close as he could get to home. His imperious figure, long limbed and becoming, made a perfect framework of belonging, of being needed, even with John sent away, Sherlock was still a kind of home. What was John Watson without someone to run into the dark with him and then ask to be taken care of afterward? It’s so familiar that John can’t help but wonder if this screaming madman is like him, like himself and Dimmock. But why would one of Grendel’s victims try and help the man who ripped him from his time?
“Well,” the young man said on the other side of the car door of John and the guards. “I’ve given you some time. So now, here are the options, you come out Johnny dear, or I just start blowing holes in the car and hope I don’t blow off anything important. You are wanted, but your body could get W to come running just as quick.”
The first guard scooted closer to the door, while John moved the second onto his back to elevate his leg. “What are you doing?” John hissed at him.
“We were directed to keep you safe no matter the cost. We’ve already established he has no problem opening fire without discretion.”
“He will kill you,” John told him fiercely. The mad young man was counting slowly peeling his face off the window glass, leaving the wet ghost of a faceprint behind.
“Just stay here and be safe,” he assured John.
“This is mad,” John told him. “This has to be against all kinds of-”
The first guard suddenly opened the door with a crack against the young man’s face, slipping out of the car and slamming everything behind him. John darted forward and locked the door after him.
John’s hands were as still as death.
The second guard, hovering on the edge of a breathy, hissing consciousness and clammy preparatory fainting had to take all of John’s attention now. The first might consider a direct attack necessary, but the second had to demand all of John’s attention if any of his guards were going to survive. There was a switch, in John head, that allowed him to wrap his losses in soft cotton and save them for later. Set aside the dying man for the one he could save. Besides, there was always hope.
He ignored the sound of gunfire, of shouting. The guard had done his own weighing of options, measuring of possibilities, and had judged a fight to be the best out of all available options. John had to do his own measuring and found that where he needed to be was with his patient. Quickly John pulled out his phone, dialing with one hand while prepping the blood for transfusion with the other. He was interrupted by first a scrabble at his door, locked. Then a pause, eerie and thoughtful. After that a scramble at the door of the driver and the lock popped up again.
Not one to wait to be killed, John drew the gun of the second guard, silently rolled down the window on the far side of the car from the madman and sprang out of the car. Each second was counted neatly in John’s head, every second incredibly important. John scrabbled in the dirt, quietly as possible and crept around the back of the car, freezing for a moment when he heard the back door open. Rolling slowly around the last protective corner, gun held close, John snapped a doctor’s discerning eye over the young man, trying not to be distracted by the rolled sprawl of the first guard. There would be time to mourn him later.
The young man’s head was clouded in a mob of dark curls, all jagged, half-starved angles as if he had been run ragged by his metabolism. His nose was obviously broken, slanting at a strange angle from the rest of his face, blood streaked and smeared around his mouth where he licked absently at it. John raised his borrowed gun, took a bracing breath, watching the young mad man, bleeding and drabbled in blood, staring in confusion at the unconscious guard, the open window.
He wasn’t a child, John told himself.
He wasn’t a child.
He was just like John or Dimmock.
Just a grownup in a child’s body.
The recoil spun darkly up his arms.
There was an explosion amidst the dark curls, like a pale flock of birds startled into taking flight.
John took one deep breath.
There was the smell of death.
Of a burst skull.
He crouched, murmured to himself, “Not a child, not a child. Just like me.”
He didn’t look as he leapt over the body and checked his patient.
He took a deep breath. “Not a child, he’s just like me. Shake it off John.”
His fingers were still even as his brain trembled between his ears. Not thinking, not wasting time worrying, he started the line for the blood transfusion, covered the guard to keep out the shock, dialed Tim’s number. Didn’t look at the crumpled figures outside the car door. He thought for a moment about closing the door, but the smell of blood and ruptured flesh was already strong enough without trapping in the air.
“Tim,” John barked into the phone pinned against his shoulder while he worked.
“John,” Tim’s voice stood on its own seriousness. “What’s wrong?”
“One of Grendel’s men attacked. He was a kid.”
“Are you all right Johnny?” Bad Davey’s voice suddenly broke in.
Pausing, hands stammering where they were elevating the second guard’s leg, John quietly considered he was hallucinating, “Davey?”
“Yeah,” Davey replied over the sound of rustling. “You alright?”
John took a very deep breath, “Fine, but one of my guards is dead and the other is down. I need an ambulance.”
Davey let out a violent litany of cursing, barbed and ripping. “You don’t sound fine,” he hissed between his teeth. “Who shook you?”
“Where are you?” Tim broke in.
“I- I don’t know,” the second man’s pulse was still coming up from thready, his face pale and hair swirling darkly with sweat. He suddenly felt a burst of vertigo.
“Idiot,” Davey snapped. “You know better.”
“I can’t track your phone,” Tim spoke quickly. “Do either of the guards have a mobile?”
John looked around the car and spotted the tablet, slid to the corner of the seat; it hadn’t gone to sleep yet. He quickly touched it to keep it from drowsing off on him. “Wait, there’s a tablet.”
“Is it password protected?” Tim asked, there was the sound of Davey cursing in the background.
“Not an issue,” John spoke army quick, smears of blood streaking across the screen, crisscrossing each other. “A think I can make a call with it.”
“Ring Lestrade, all I need is five seconds of connection,” Tim’s voice was his Calm-in-the-Face-of-Emergency-Commissioner Voice.
Hands gone still and even, John’s fingers flew over number pad that appeared on the screen, he let out an anxious breath and counted to eight in his head just to be safe before ringing off on the opening L of Lestrade answering his phone. “I’ve got you,” Dimmock snapped over the line. “I’ll call the local hospital.”
“I’m coming straight to you Johnny,” came Davey’s phrenic voice, wrenched with that grinning fury he kept hidden at the back of his teeth and behind his eyes. “You get your gun and you hunker down and wait for me.”
“Yes Davey,” John said, throwing away the tablet to focus back on his patient. He thought it best he didn’t mention he left his gun with Sherlock. The one he borrowed from his guard would do well enough.
“Be safe,” Tim told him solemnly.
“And don’t be any more of an idiot,” Davey added.
“Love you too,” John snarked and rung off to finish checking his patient, tucking him up on the seat, tucking the emergency blanket up tighter around his chin.
It seemed like no time and there was the sound of a large car pulling up beside the car, the sound of running feet. Davey had arrived before the ambulance then, faster than he was expecting, but then Davey was a man with means. John opened the door just enough to call out when it was wrenched open and he was caught by his jacket, spun and planted, hard front first against the side of the car.
Not Davey then.
He tried reaching, wiggling loose, but there was a sharp prick at his neck and everything spun fuzzy, distant, so very distant.
When John woke he was in a room laying in the recovery position, hands zip tied in front of him, coming out of the edges of a drugged sleep. He blinked, tired, exhausted. There were two men, close on either side of him. “Are you-?” he started to ask, swallowed. “You work for Moriarty?” he asked. His voice rolled and cracked; it sounded so old.
There was no answer, but one of the men looked down at him silently.
There was answer enough in that silence.
It was very quiet in the room. John lay for a while until he was settled enough to sit, bookended by the two men (pseudo-military, cold faced, a strange mixture of melancholy and sternness). The zip ties were very dark against his wrists, the pulls bobbing like antennas iwithn the gentle movement of his breathing. The man to the right of him smelled like baby wash, gun oil and spearmint, the man to the left like gunpowder and antacid tablets. He wasn’t like Sherlock; he couldn’t put together what it meant. Sighing, he leaned his head back against the wall. His body jittered and shook in minute jumbles of subcutaneous anxiety. He felt like he held back the rustle of the coroner’s sheet by only the ticking of seconds. The anxiety of it felt like a mix of a full body rug burn and being dipped in ice.
“Are you going into shock?” asked the man who smelled like gunpowder and antacids.
“I don’t think so,” John replied shakily. “I haven’t for a long time. I usually like danger.”
The two stone faced men looked at each other over the top of John’s head, resting lax on his neck and shifted closer to him. “You won’t want to meet with the Boss with terror in your teeth.”
“I don’t mind your boss,” John murmured, strangely plaint and honest despite his jitters. “I’m more concerned about what I was running from.” But he saw what they meant. He looked out the window for a short while. “I really appreciate you helping me out especially considering the circumstances,” he told them. “But I have an aversion to touch. A little space might just be the thing.”
They obligingly gave him a little room again, both tense, ready and not particularly focusing on anything but the contents of the room. John muttered the bones of the human body to himself, just loud enough to feel the movement of his lips against each other, and no more.
They eased him out of the room and led him to a little concrete washing station. He had only just realized there was blood drying and peeling unevenly across his hands. Watching it absently, he waited for one of Moriarty’s men to cut the tie keeping his wrists together. He stripped off his top layers, leaving his trousers, washed with the soap provided. It felt expensive with the luxury of its barely there scent. He almost left it, not wanting anything Moriarty bought to touch his skin. But the blood wasn’t coming off on its own. The men offered him a neat little check print button up and a cashmere sweater to go over top. Rich and fine and a statement of attempted ownership as much as if Moriarty had tried to sink his fingers into John’s flesh.
His hands were still; so still.
(He wasn’t a child, he was like John, not a child at all.)
When that was done he was marched down a hall to sit in a little chair in a little office. The walls had been carefully stripped bare, everything shifted out of the way to make room for their little chat. There, leaning against the desk was Moriarty himself, resplendent in Westwood, every hair in place, and face split with madness. Unsubtly John was directed to the little seat in the middle of the room and allowed to settle before Moriarty’s men withdrew a short distance.
“Well, hello there,” Moriarty grinned at him, curling his lips over the sharp edges of his teeth. He raised his eyebrows making his eyes large and round. “I hope they treated you nice.”
Taking in the relaxed curve of Moriarty’s body, the way he braced his palms against the desk behind him, the jaunty angle he held his head, John tried hard to observe and not react.
He giggled at John, kneading the edge of his desk with a delicate furl of his finger, “You’re probably wondering who. I. Am.” He jogged his head back and forth with each word.
“Not really,” John bit out.
He placed his fingertips against his breastbone, opening his eyes wide, his mouth gaping open, open, open. Wide and deep and mad.
It was horrifying.
John fought not to flinch back instead of risking falling into that deep, wide open mouth and be crushed at the back of those pearly little teeth.
“Aren’t you a clever little pug? Who am I then, clever little pug?”
“Moriarty,” John had to pause to swallow back in his throat. “You’re Moriarty.”
“Oh,” Moriarty sighed. John sat perfectly straight, didn’t look right or left. “What a perfect little boy. What a perfect little malleable mind. We could have such fun together. Sherlock, he thinks he knows what you want, what you need. Petulant little puppy,” his face twisted as he toggled his head back and forth. “Smart but wellllllll, I bet what you really want is a Daddy. Don’t you want a Daddy Johnny?”
Moriarty’s body vibrated with a low hungry excitement.
“We’ll have such great fun! None of this playing at being grown-up Sherlock does. Swooning around like a girl, scared of violence. I can teach you all sorts of ways to make people listen to what you want to say.
“Won’t that be lovely? I can make such a little monster out of you.”
John kept his face still and unmoved.
“You’re very, very clever,” Moriarty grinned at him, crouched down in front of John on the balls of his feet. Bouncing lightly. “I can do such splendid things with your mind.”
“No,” John said firmly. “No you can’t.”
“Oh John,” he looked a little sad, or amused. He was rather changeable. “You’re awfully smart, but you’re still a child. Well trained, but you’ve still got fears, still got needs, still so small. You need a Daddy Johnny.”
“Don’t touch me,” John said.
“Oh, don’t pout baby,” Jim bent, his hand braced on his thighs. He made an exaggerated frowny face that appeared to have some sort of dark, spidery, alien parasite trying to crawl out from behind it. “I just want to be your friend. Can’t I be your Daddy Johnny?”
Small, furious, tired John clenched his hands in fists above his knees, “I’d much rather shoot you in the head.”
(Not a child.)
“Ooooh! Fiesty! I guess you’ve got a Daddy already, don’t ya?” he swung back on his heels, hands in his pockets, grinning. “I bet he’s a great Daddy. A super, duper Daddy. I’d really like to be your Daddy’s friend.”
“Can’t we get on with this?” John said flatly.
“You’re really making this harder than it needs to be.”
John kicked out with his trainers when Moriarty reached for him. “I have a Dad.” John was his own Dad, thank you very much. He was a grown man, he took care of himself. “And he won’t like it if you take me.”
“Oh really,” Moriarty rolled his eyes, amused. “What’s he going to do, pay me attention? That’ll be horrible.”
“No,” John said. “He’ll shoot you once through the head. And then he’ll dismantle your organization and sweep it all neatly into a box and put the lot into storage.”
Moriarty laughed gleefully. John was afraid, he was so small and there was Moriarty all straight lines and white, white vicious little teeth. He wanted to kick back, make Moriarty afraid. Make him get out of his personal space.
“You think I just ran into Sherlock? That he was just the first one to home base? I picked him. I wasn’t desperate for any friend; I just wanted the one. You think if you get Dad’s attention he’ll deign to let you waste his time? He owns you. He has you already. You just haven’t done anything important yet. Nothing of interest,” if he can get Moriarty mad enough, he might strap him up after all. If John can just get away from him, if he can just get to Sherlock it’ll be okay. Even if he’s wounded it’ll be okay; John’s been wounded before. That’s why there are hospitals.
Moriarty’s face twisted and John wondered if he’d miscalculated. He focused on maintaining that perfect bubble of balance somewhere in the vicinity of his diaphragm. Loose shouldered and stern faced.
Moriarty snarled, lips lifting back, eyes so wide.
“Look at your little baby cheek. Like a peach,” he snarled the word, whispering so the edges of his exaggerated breath wisped against John’s face. Made it sound poisonous, twisting and rotten. “I bet I could bite it right off.”
His face came very close, his mouth opening impossibly and then pressed open against the side of John’s face, the top line of his teeth resting against the round of John’s cheek. Close to his eye. Far too close to his eye. The pressure was a blunt line, blunt and harmless until pressure could be levered against the high round curve of his jaw.
John kept his breathing very slow in and out through his nose.
It pinched next and then it actually began to hurt. Just as he could feel a pull at the soft skin under his eye that might mean a tear; just as he could feel the skin of his face distressed and on the edge of bruising, Moriarty pulled away. He pressed a soft, strangely dry kiss to the skin in the middle of the ring of faint pain on the side of his face. John couldn’t help the panicky double breath that came through his nose. He was teetering right on the edge of a panic attack; he could feel the grey curl of it around the corners of his vision making everything fish-eyed and dream-drenched. Moriarty was crouched watching him gleefully. Grinning, all his little baby teeth showing.
John wanted Sherlock.
It wasn’t nice; it wasn’t nice. He wanted Sherlock.
John straightened his spine, like a compass suddenly finding north. He was an adult. Whatever everyone else thought. Whatever Sherlock thought. Whatever his body thought.
He was an adult person; he had decades under his belt. He was going to be fine.
“Let’s not pretend,” John said, voice sounding slow and resigned.
Those large black eyes blinked at him. “What do you mean?”
“This is the pool. Where little Carl died.”
Moriarty’s eyes went hard. “You can play all you want at being normal John, just like how pretty little Sherlock plays at being a freak. But I’ve seen the pictures. You shoot people in the head and your hands don’t shake. You’re a little horror, just like me. No matter how tightly you hold to Sherlock, he’ll never be brave enough.”
He stroked a heavy hand over John’s hair, pulling at the fine strands.
“Sherlock is a little sissy boy. He’s not brave enough to solve the final problem. Not like I am. You’d like me better. Once you stopped playing at being just like them,” Moriarty’s mouth drooped almost comically in the corners, his nails scraping and stinging against the back of John’s head.
John kept his face still.
“Get the vest,” he barked, motioning at his men, standing to loom over John. “Johnny’ll look just precious in semtex.”
I want to know the second Sherlock steps through the door. –JM
Of course Boss. What do you want me to do about the kid?
Plans change. He’s staying. Don’t bother with the old lady. –JM
Sure thing Boss.
It’s the pool scene, it’s going to be a bit scary. Okay, it’s going to be rather scary. Moriarty is Moriarty. I'm going to drop a couple trigger warnings for emotional manipulation, violence toward a child and verbal intimidation toward a child.
In case you're unclear, there’s some violence and verbal intimidation toward John.
If that bothers you, comment or go to thursdayplaid.tumblr.com and ask me and I’ll give you the cleaned up summary.
There was a stubborn line of hope that Sherlock wouldn’t come. That the encounter at the pool wouldn’t happen. That all he had to do was hold tight and wait out Moriarty’s excited breathing in his ear; wait for Tim to get him. But then there was that awful creaking noise of the door opening.
Poor Sherlock, who had no idea what any of this was about.
At Moriarty’s command John stepped out of the shower stall, there were snipers he had been told, reminded, informed. Very good snipers. If John felt the need to misbehave, well, Moriarty was planning on killing Sherlock anyway eventually. Moriarty had set his fingertips along the side of John’s skull, so close, trembling not to touch, had whispered that it would be a shame to have someone clean out Sherlock’s skull with a bullet. But there was still a Holmes to bear bait. He wouldn’t mind it terribly. Firm as a soldier ever was, John only nodded stiffly, looking straight ahead.
Now. Now John stood with his hands in the pockets of a small parka while Moriarty whispered in his ear, ”Just stand there for a moment. Just let him see you.”
“Evening,” John said, hating how almost steady his voice was. He tried blinking SOS for old time’s sake, but wasn’t sure if Sherlock got the hint. Confusion and something almost afraid twisted desolately behind his eyes and John could do nothing but parrot at him. “Not quite who you were expecting, am I, Sherlock?”
“John,” Sherlock breathed. His face was bruised, five dark points against his pale skin, the ghost of the grip across Sherlock’s face wrenching against the hard edged grimness of his expression. A part of Sherlock few people got to see, the firm set of his face, the undaunted will. Something behind that glimmering, self-pleased will stuttered and was brought stumblingly by John stepping carefully out in into the open.
Sherlock went helplessly desperate right there in his eyes for anyone to see. Any hopes for the clever little game he had fluttered despairingly to the tiled floor between the two of them.
“John,” he tried again, firmer than before, but somehow not the better for it. “What are you…?”
John’s words, dried up in his throat. He couldn’t push past the sick, oily repetition of the words, the excited little breaths pouring relentlessly from the earpiece Moriarty stuck in his ear,. Moriarty repeated himself, pleased, voice curling in John’s ear. Swallowing, John tried again, “Bet you never could have guessed.”
”At this next part,” Moriarty’s glee bubbled over, like he had found the perfect gift and was only waiting with baited breath for it to be opened. “Open your coat while you recite after me.”
“What,” John said stiffly, pulling open the little coat evenly, as though he were drawing the drapes, “would you like me to make him say next?”
Sherlock’s face went impossibly paler.
“Ring around the rosies,” John repeated, his stilted voice trying to keep up with Moriarty’s glee. “Pocket full of posies.”
“STOP!” Sherlock roared, hands clamping white as bone around the flash drive. If he wasn’t careful he was going to crack it. “Stop it,” he repeated, quieter eyes flicking up around, scanning for anything. He turned a few slow steps, scanning the balcony, eyes snapping back to John.
“Nice touch, the pool,” John straightened his shoulders. “Where little Carl died.”
Sherlock’s face was wearing its cool mask again, pulling down at the corners slightly.
“I stopped him,” John recited evenly, chin up, shoulders straight, even with his arms held away from the scanty semtex that had been fit on his small body. “I can stop little Johnny too. Stop his heart.”
Coming to a stop a meter away from John, Sherlock stared down at him, fists clenching. “That is enough. Who are you?”
There was the soft sound of laughter as a door at the back of the pool slowly swept open and closed. John closed his mind for a moment, bringing up the map Davey had made him. The neat lines and colours and times. “I gave you my number,” Moriarty’s voice rocked on that edge of fluctuating madness. He couldn’t see anything, back to Moriarty as he was, and it frightened him. More than the first time. “I thought you might call.”
John’s cheek ached.
“Is that a British Army Browning L9-A1? Johnny’s gun isn’t that? Tsk-tsk-tsk,” he snapped at the two of them. “Who is taking care of whom in this relationship? You’re certainly not doing much for Johnny. Just look! He’s slipped his gun in your pocket for you! Guess he must have known what you were up to.
“Jim Moriarty,” he droned, low and creaking followed by that musical: “Hi!”
There was a strange dance there in the cool and the tile; Sherlock moved forward toward John and back again, drawing his gun. Watching, watching everything.
“Jim? Jim from the hospital? Did I really make such a fleeting impression? But then people aren’t your thing are they? Now John. Clever, such a sweet clever little creature. He’s so good with people, can read them in a second. Knew you were going to come and play tonight. Knew all about Molly too! You should have heard all the nice things she had to say about John. You really should keep him away from pretty girls. He just spills his guts to them.”
Eyes snapping to John’s in surprise at the mention of Molly, Sherlock tilted his head. The game had twisted and changed and ripped into something completely different now. Something actually dangerous. Something that could burn down to the heart. John could only flick his eyes painfully, guiltily away. The pressure of Sherlock’s gaze raked over the vest, the floating red dot and the blast cap hovering over his heart.
“Don’t be silly,” Moriarty intoned. “I’m not holding the rifle.”
“You wouldn’t kill him. He’s too valuable.”
“Well, I wouldn’t. I don’t like getting my hands dirty,” Jim sounded the most sane he had, no singsong, no rasping dips of his voice. “I’ve given you a glimpse Sherlock. Just a teensy glimpse of what I’ve got going on in the big bad world. I’m a specialist, just like you”
“Dear Jim, won’t you fix it for me to get rid of my lover’s nasty sister. Dear Jim, please will you fix it for me to help me disappear to South America.”
“Just so,” Moriarty giggled, and the difference of how it had been before put John on edge. Made his hands tingle and his back clench. “Keeping that in mind, do you really think one child would give me pause?”
At first it appeared that Sherlock would say something in response, but he changed his mind, choosing instead to glare narrowed eyed.
Moriarty laughed at his indecision.
“This one would,” Sherlock needed to stop resettling his feet. It told too much of his inexperience with guns. Although if he could manage to shoot a smiley face into the plaster, he probably wasn’t too bad of a shot. “And it certainly wouldn’t look good on your list of charges.”
“Oh. Oh! Did you hear that Johnny?” Moriarty laughed, coming ever closer. “He thinks he can catch me! Sherly, Sherly, Sherly. Just because you’ve come the closest to me, doesn’t actually mean you’ve come close. And now you’re in my way.”
John could feel Moriarty looming over him.
“Flirting’s over Sherlock. Daddy’s had enough now,” Moriarty stood close enough now to catch John under the chin with two fingers, running his thumb over what must have been the bruise left on John face by his teeth. His thumbnail pressed and skirted against the soft skin under his eye. The soft half torn skin there. John set his jaw and didn’t flinch from the grip, but he couldn’t help the rapid blink of his eyes at the strange almost affectionate twist of Moriarty’s face.
“I cut off all those people, all those little problems, even thirty million quid… They’re small league. Small league like you Sherlock, scurrying around the damp and the dark like a rat in a maze. You’re cute and you’re amusing, and you can sure run fast, but I’m ready for the big leagues now. Johnny’s daddy and I are going to have fun.”
“You assume W will want anything to do with you,” Sherlock voice was mocking and curious, and that little bit of faith in W’s nature straightened John’s back and tipped his eyes toward his friend.
“Well, you did. It’s alright John,” Moriarty purred, fingers sliding off John’s face. “You can talk now. Although he sounds so pretty with my words in his mouth, doesn’t he Sherlock?”
Sherlock eyes, eyes that always told him too much, tripped and scanned over the bruise Moriarty was tilting toward the light. Taking in everything.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. I’m fine,” John’s voice didn’t stagger until the end, slanting and stumbling. Tilting his head as far as he could from Moriarty’s fingertips, John kept his eyes fixed on Sherlock. Nothing else was important right now, nothing else to be scared by, “Are you?”
Sherlock’s face twisted into something furious for a moment and John was afraid he’d try shooting Moriarty, snipers or not, before his features smoothed back down. “Oh, just splendid.”
“That’s sweet,” Moriarty sighed. “Such brave faces. You’ll certainly need them, because this is the warning. Do you know what’s going to happen to you Sherlock? If you don’t leave me alone.”
“Oh,” Sherlock drawled. “I’m sure you can think up some horrific way of killing me.”
“Kill you? Tch. What does Johnny see in you? That’s not to say I won’t kill you eventually, but I’m saving you for something special. Something sweet. No.” He made a faint almost out of breath giggling sound, rising up on his toes. His voice went hard, “No. I’m going to burn the heart out of you.”
“I don’t do sentiment,” Sherlock bit out, teeth crisp at the end of each word.
“Oh,” he made a nearly apologetic shrug. “We both know that’s not true.”
Sherlock was silent, mouth pressed narrow.
John used the extra time while Moriarty was hate-flirting his way into a monologue with Sherlock to gently examine the wires around the blasting cap hovering over his heart. He had discussed just throwing the vest into the pool with Tim, but twenty some odd year so of police experience had helped him to dissuade John of that. They didn’t know if it would sink, and if it did sink how large the shockwave would be. He couldn’t make heads or tails of the wires, and didn’t have the training to decide what could be pulled and what should stay exactly as such. He could take it off and throw it into a stall, but then Moriarty would still have his flock of snipers.
The last option, at least out of the options he could think up, was try to enact what had happened before. He hauled back his leg and discharged his foot as hard as he could into the back of Moriarty’s knee. There was a thick, cracking sound, something formed of meat and gristle as he went down on one knee. The remnants of words, twisted and bit into, roiled half formed in Moriarty’s mouth, even as John leapt on his back. “Call off the snipers Mr. Moriarty,” John growled, arms tight around the flexing tendons pinned in the bend of his elbow. Size a consideration as it was, Moriarty still felt unnaturally warm, unnaturally strong. “They can’t hit me without getting you as well.”
“John,” Sherlock breathed, keeping John’s gun leveled right between Moriarty’s eyes.
“Run!” John shouted at him. “Go Sherlock!”
Sherlock’s face had gone impossibly paler. He faltered back, first one half step and then another before staring at John with huge wounded eyes.
“Oops,” Moriarty snarled, shoulders flexing under John’s grip. “Well, Dr. Watson, you’ve certainly shown your hand. Self-sacrifice is so messy too. I’m nearly disappointed.”
John let out a pained little sigh at the red dot dancing over Sherlock’s forehead. Sherlock closed his eyes to steady himself, finally recognizing that Moriarty was more than a funny little playmate finally as clever as he was. Leaping awkwardly off Moriarty’s back, John stumbled to stay on his feet even as he surged up to loom over John, resettling his suit.
Pivoting neatly to the side (so Sherlock could watch, an awful little voice in John’s mind offered) Moriarty swung his fist, one, two, and took John down to the ground with a bang, his fluffy little parka swooshing around him. He let out a yelp but swallowed it down to a whimper when he landed on his elbow. Not another sound, he told himself. The skin around his lips felt a little wet, he was sure it was blood, but didn’t make a move to wipe his face.
“Now that was upsetting. Wasn’t it,” Moriarty purred. It wasn’t as much as question as a gloating little threat. “Restrain your dear little pet next time.” He pointed to his coat; John watched the movement with narrowed eyes, “Westwood.”
From where he was laid nearly flat on the floor, John looked at Sherlock with big eyes, hugely aware of how small he was really and hugely aware of how little his brave face would hide anything from someone like Sherlock. Sherlock’s teeth are bared and gleaming strangely in the pool light. His eyes burn every inch of him is tension pulled taut like a violin string until it threatened to take an eye out. He eyes snapped over John’s face in question and John nodded in response. “I am going to kill you,” Sherlock said absently as if commenting on the weather.
“Are you? Are you really? I’d certainly be surprised. And well, if I’m being honest, a little disappointed.”
“THIS IS DETECTIVE INSPECTOR LESTRADE OF SCOTLAND YARD!” a voice suddenly boomed from somewhere outside. His voice twerked and echoing from the police issue blow horn. Davey and Tim must have informed Lestrade when John was missing.
“What?” Moriarty hissed.
“What,” Sherlock blinked.
John yanked off the parka and the vest and threw the both of them into a stall.
“YOUR SNIPERS HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED. COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP.”
“Well,” Moriarty clapped his hands together, shifting his weight with a well hidden wince. “I better be off.” Shuffling with a jaunty little step and pushed his way out the pool door letting it swing closed and echoing behind him, empty and dreadful.
Sherlock fell to his knees in front of John in a pile of limbs and murmurs and long fingertips checking John for injury. “Alright? Are you alright?” he spoke quick and high. “Where else did he touch you? This isn’t your jumper, get it off.” He ripped the jumper off over John’s head and threw it, so it fluttered away and collapsed down on itself. “Are you alright?” he asked a second time.
“Sherlock,” John said, flustered. “Sherlock stop! I’m fine. It’s nothing.”
“He hit you. You’ve blood- What the hell were you thinking?”
“What was I thinking?” John shouted at him. “Why didn’t you run?”
Sherlock’s hands tightened almost painfully around John’s shoulders, “John, get this through your thick skull. I am the adult. It’s my job to keep you safe. You don’t get decide to just-”
“He wouldn’t have killed me. He’s convinced he could persuade me to be his little apprentice. After you ran I would have been able to escape, or you could have called Mycroft or Lestrade or-” it got harder and harder for John to breathe. “Why did you have to be sosentimental!”
Sherlock looked as if he had been stabbed, deep, and knew no one would be able to come before he bled out. His hands were trembling on John’s shoulders his eyes unfocused and terrible. He took one deep breath, and then another before impossibly long arms reached out, tucking John’s head beneath Sherlock’s chin and gathering him in against his front, knees bracketing him in. Sherlock wrapped around him in a knot and even though John knew it was silly and childish and not at all necessary he clutched at Sherlock’s jacket like he’d sink down into the depths of the sea, so cold they burned. His breaths were huge, almost whooping in his throat and Sherlock clung tighter him while both of them ignored the shouting and banging around somewhere outside the pool.
“That, uh, thing you, uh, did,” Sherlock spoke quickly, stumbling, out of breath. “That you offered to do. You didn’t have to do that. It’s not required. I- I know that I didn’t protect you like I’m supposed to- But you, just-” His narrow hands dug into John’s back, which hurt, but John has been through worse, he’s tough. Even though he doesn’t look it.
Everyone burst in at the same moment, guns out, and he can hear them yelling and running over the sound of his own breathless sobbing and clinging. Someone reached for John, for Sherlock, their fingers brushing against shoulders. But John knew, he knew that if he let go even an inch, everything would fall apart horribly and nothing would ever be alright again. Sherlock wasn’t letting go either, gripping John tight fisted and desperate. There were words, words and Sherlock’s trembling limbs were pulled back so they fractured apart like cracking a walnut in half.
He had a glimpse of Mycroft’s face, pale and disheveled as he tried to nurse his brother back to practicality. There was a soft brogue and John looked up to catch the eye Tim’s eyes, there kneeling, the dark blue of his eyes turned stormy and ominous. His voice roiled, hand bracing John, spanning the miniature flex of his shoulder. “Come on then little man,” he spoke quietly leading John away to a small stretcher.
John realized how easily Tim could sweep him away. Could whisk him away and hide him in a bolt hole. Everyone was running and shouting, and Sherlock was snarling and shouting at Mycroft. “I-” John gasped out, clinging to the front of Tim’s scrubs. “I want to-”
“Yeah sure,” Tim murmured voice strange, pulling John close. “You want to stay with Sherlock. Why not? He only has secret assignations with psychopaths.” Tim smelled of familiarity, of dark chocolate, gunpowder and cleaning solution. Of wooly caps and understanding. John made a soft animal sound to himself as everything went gray and fuzzy. John wrapped his arms around Tim as his lifted up, tucked close. He rested a calming hand John’s back, didn’t flinch when John buried his face and clenched his hands in Tim’s scrubs. John let himself pass out, tucked close as Tim climbed into an ambulance.
It would be fine; everything would go back to normal. Tim would get him safe to the hospital and then Sherlock would come and get him and they’d go back home again and solve cases.
And it would be fine.
Dimmock - How is the little man? – BD
I’m not happy, but he’s lived through worse. He’ll be alright. –D
You two drive me crazy. You treat him like too much of an adult. – BD
I treat John like I trust him. – D
When should I arrange for you to visit him? – D
Just about done faking your death, then I’ll bring brekkie. – BD
Morning then. Bring dim sum. It’s his favourite. –D
Different. I like it. – BD
Dibs on crazy pants. –BD
You can’t call dibs on Moriarty. –D
I’m about to call dibs on you. Don’t push me. - BD
Thank you to Caroline (who is fighting off the flu) and tentacle_love who both gave me such beautiful comments and wonderful betaing. If you would like to know more about my creative process or watch me randomly throw things across the internet please join me at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com! There is angst here. This is, as I mentioned, the chapter Mycroft is late to everything.
John woke with a start, gathering himself together to roll out of the way, at the brush of something against his cheek. He blinked up, startled, as Sherlock stared down wide eyed. Sherlock curled his outstretched hand in on itself, holding it tight over his body, “John.” He paused, pivoting, on edge while John scrubbed puppyish at his eyes. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” John said. “Are you okay? You look a little-”
Sherlock flinched and turned back to look at him, “What?”
“Manic…” John finished slowly; Sherlock seemed to be vibrating subsonically. Eyes wide and wild as they darted over John, the very picture of a man under the influence of something powerful. But Sherlock wouldn’t try to get a high. Not here at a hospital. John needed to see if he could take Sherlock’s pulse.
Sherlock took three even breaths, one after the other. He snagged the visitor’s chair, lifting it carefully and placing it exactly next to John’s bed. His breathing, it was so painfully precise as if Sherlock believed his lungs were glass and he couldn’t take the chance of breaking them. John’s eyes narrowed. He had never seen Sherlock like this, so careful with the way he moved. “What happened? Are you alright? Did Moriarty do something?” John shook himself loose from the sheet to try and get his knees under him.
“John sit down, we need to talk.”
“I am sitting,” John spoke very carefully.
“My research is very specific concerning the correct sort of dialogue necessary for these sorts of discussions.”
“What sort of discussions?”
And then it all came tumbling out, Sherlock’s voice rising in intensity until it crashed on John like some terrible wave. The you’re a distraction, the interfering with the work, the need to socialize with children your age. The painful twist and flutter of Sherlock’s hands, moving, shifting, as if mapping out some edict by touch. And all the useless, fluffy filler meaning nothing more than you’re useless, you’re small.
I don’t want you anymore.
But that wasn’t true. That wasn’t completely true. After Moriarty was gone, John was sure that Sherlock had held just as tightly to him as he had to Sherlock.
“I’ll,” John started, struggling to categorize all, any, of Sherlock’s reasons. He couldn’t think of anything. “I’ll be quieter. I won’t bother you as much.”
“That’s not-” Sherlock snapped, face twisting in frustration. “You’re not listening to anything I’m saying not that I’m terribly-”
Panicking John reached out, one small hand resting on Sherlock’s. Wide eyed, Sherlock jerked his hand back startled into taking quick choppy breaths. John flinched when Sherlock pulled away from him. There was wetness high in his sinuses; he could feel himself start to rapidly blink. It took him a moment to realize he was about to cry. He wasn’t going to cry.
He wasn’t going to cry.
He rolled quickly in the bed, turning his back to Sherlock. He refused to cry. Refused to even wipe at his face. There would be no tears.
John curled up on himself. This was wrong.
This was so wrong.
There was a horrible grey sponginess in his chest, making him want to weep.
“Don’t be an idiot John. My lifestyle is not one with room for a child in it. There are dangerous things, dangerous people who-” he took a short aborted breath that was close to a whine before snarling. “I will not have you manipulating me with sentiment. I have no time for feelings. They are only weaknesses and I am not weak.”
John dug his fingers into his aching leg, digging, digging deep for a knot he could never reach.
“Fine,” Sherlock snapped. “Fine. I’ll have you sent for once I’m finished.”
John winced, tightening into a smaller ball under the weight of the hospital blanket, as the chair screeeeeched across the tile; the door slamming closed behind him.
It wasn’t very long after Sherlock fled violently from the room before soft steps came in, sliding in with the food tray. John kept his face turned into the pillow. The scent of chocolate and the chemical hint of cleaner that hovered around any janitor’s cart drifted in with him. There were the soft metal and plastic sounds of the side of the bed being lowered and a weight settling on the side of the mattress.
“Hi Tim,” John spoke quietly. Words so small and careful fluttered down to only drift as far as his pillow. He wasn’t up for being cheery. Tim was something complicated; a friend, a brother in arms, but he couldn’t turn to look at him, not when he was so… so… John took a wet straggling little breath and there was Tim’s warm leg against his back.
“Hey there,” Tim spoke quietly, smoothing back John’s hair from his hot miserable little face. Not flinching when John’s breath went choppy.
Sherlock was talking nonsense.
It was such nonsense.
They were quiet for a while, Tim happy enough to gently comb his fingers through John’s hair, smoothing it back and forth against the grain.
“Sherlock’s going to send me away,” John said, softly and solemnly.
There was a long pause, Tim’s hand moving to rest gentle on his shoulder, “I’ll have you out of here then. No more of this nonsense. Have breakfast and then we’re going.”
“Who are you staying with?” Tim voice cracked with frustration. “Sherlock?”
“Stop it!” John snapped, turning violently to face Tim. He wanted to hit him, hit someone, hit anything!
“No, listen.” Tim’s face twisted, one finger pointing at John even as one hand gently caught a flailing fist. “You are all I have left of my life before. W’s great for drawing Grendel off, but I need you just as much. Don’t you dare say it’s not true. You have Sherlock and Roost and Bad Davey, for all the good he does you, but you are all I have of anything like family. So you are going to shut up and let me keep you safe.” His voice was a low dangerous rumble, face creased angrily.
John stared at him, wide eyed. “One month,” he said quietly, swallowing. “Give me one month for Sherlock to change his mind and come get me. He’s going through a hard time right now. He’ll come back.”
His mouth twisted furiously, he turned, scrubbing at his face. “You are pushing me Watson.”
“Just one month, and then I’ll go.”
Swinging one arm angrily through the air Dimmock leapt from the bed, “He just gutted you because he has the emotional intelligence of a turnip and you just want me to… Fine. Fine. But don’t mention this to Davey. He’ll blow up the hospital. Or just stab Sherlock to death.”
“He’s coming here?”
“He wanted to, in fact,” Tim’s face flattened into something vaguely constipated. “This is from him.” He pressed the lightest breath of a kiss high on the center of John’s forehead.
It surprised a laugh from John that was almost a sob.
“That friend of yours is mad; I wouldn’t want to disappoint him.” He made a face, “And now I’m going to have to tell him you’re being sent off.”
“Bring a taser, or a tank,” John tried to joke. It fell flat and wounded between them.
“Your face has crumbled John,” Tim’s voice had that gentle brusqueness to it unique to the police force. “This isn’t necessary. You don’t need to punish yourself.”
“It’s not settled yet. He could change his mind. Sherlock-” he took a series of deep breaths as if he were preparing to scream. Tim leaned forward on the bed resting his hand on John’s shoulder, leaning forward so he was a barrier, real and smelling of chocolate cake. His blue eyes went dark with a lifetime full of heaviness and that particular taste of letting something go, coarse on the tongue as an almond.
“I was going to have Davey get you something from Angelo’s,” Tim spoke gently. As if John were a frightened creature. Some wounded animal that had curled itself tight into a corner. “But I thought that would be too obvious,” his thumb absently grazed over John’s shoulder. John thought of Tim, sitting on the edge of his children’s beds, leaning over them to bid them sweet dreams. A motion so often practiced it was a habit any time he sat on the edge of a bed.
“Did you know that Mycroft had your hospital room bugged?”
He shook his head against the pillow.
“I put it on a loop but it will only last for a few minutes. Do take the time to eat after I leave. You need your strength John.”
“That wasn’t meant to have happened,” John half-whispered to himself, “I remember. Moriarty got the call. The one at the pool. We worked cases, a lot of cases together. We laughed. There was that picture with the funny hat. Then Irene Adler and the mess with the plane, then she died. And then the case with Dr. Grendel right afterward. I don’t understand.”
“We must have changed things, we have changed things- are you going to look at me?” Tim asked softly, he squeezed once gently before leaning up to rub at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “It’s alright. It’ll be alright, he’ll see reason. Enjoy your lunch. Text me when you’re ready.”
“Tim,” John called, catching fleetingly at the sleeve of Tim’s scrubs. “Don’t drink anything today.”
“I’ll be too busy,” Tim voice flickered strangely, pulled in all directions.
“Don’t. Grendel will be after you.”
There was a pause, heavy and demanding, in the air before, Tim nodded his head awkwardly. “I know it’s usually your line. But. It’s going to be alright John.”
This was the day Mycroft Holmes was late for everything.
First there had been a call in meeting with an already irate assistant to a Korean minister. He was unfortunately unable to give his full focus on matters, distracted as he was by the biological weapon that was Doctor John Watson. The way he cut down to the heart of things without mercy and then stared so sullenly at the barest hint of a question. Mycroft wasn’t even going to touch the potential warzone that was Sherlock discreetly trying to ascertain how neatly Mycroft could use his influence to help some hypothetical single person achieve legal guardianship over some hypothetical child.
For a case of course. Mycroft was sure it was for a case. He just wasn’t sure how many hours his brother had spent trying to find a case that would allow him to ask the question. Mycroft didn’t know if Sherlock had even realized that was he had been doing.
His distraction had run the combination negotiation-cum-shouting match over, and since he couldn’t be disturbed he had been be met at the door of the meeting room by his assistant who had lost all colour in her face and was holding out his emergency phone. “Security’s been breached sir. Dr. Watson is missing.”
That had hit him like a fist to the gut. Security was never breached. It wasn’t done. Not to Mycroft Holmes. He started to calculate. She was familiar with him when he needed to run the numbers. What he needed most right now was data. They walked quickly down the hall speaking quietly to each other. She had changed her shoes. There was some cause for concern then.
“Caruthers is dead and Nadir is in critical condition. He’s lost his leg below the knee. The weapon was military grade armour piercing rounds.”
Probably not W then.
“An ambulance was called to the area and Nadir was assigned to a private room. No actual call, the call came by way of written orders on display screen. The room assignment is equally anonymous as well.”
W was involved then, he and Sherlock would likely get a couple strongly worded texts and then John would reappear at Baker Street none the worse for it. John was no longer a concern, “Do we know if it was Moriarty?”
“We aren’t sure. There was an extra casualty. Male, between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, Caucasian. Gunshot wound to the head. Blowback on his hands.” They crossed the underground parking lot where Mycroft’s driver was waiting to take him to the secure holding facility where the body was waiting while Anthea continued to recite each detail.
It took an irritating thirty minutes to get through all the scans necessary to enter the building, and then another five to change into the irritatingly baby blue scrubs everyone was required to wear in the analysis bay and five more to enter the examination room where the mysterious young man was resting along with the additional evidence.
It had been oddly chilling to see that young body there, dark curls so similar to Sherlock’s that at first Mycroft had thought it was a message. Scanning the tenseness in the boy’s arms even after death, the equations scratched so hard into the skin of his own arm there was faint scabbing around the numbers. It was theoretical physics according to the notes, obviously, half-nonsensical bits and pieces of things written so desperately then abandoned halfway through unfinished.
Like the boy had tried to force his brain to figure something out but could quite reach it.
Mycroft had done something similar as a child, without carving mathematics into his skin of course.
Most chilling of all was the boy’s DNA and his brain.
Mycroft looked down at the autopsy report, and the brain scans, the quick blocky print, Signs of dementia. At fourteen. Despite himself, Mycroft felt sick at the thought of a small bright-eyed John Watson, whose brain ripped full force ahead until it fell apart.
And the boy had no direct genetic match in the database. That had been no surprise when he saw the advanced mathematics nearly tattooed into the boy’s arms and the scar in the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. Many of Mycroft’s security team had them on their gun hand. He believed they were called in the common vernacular bites. What had surprised him was the genetic similarity the mystery boy had with a German mathematician who had died ten years previous at the age of ninety-six. This child could have been the brother of a man nearly a hundred years his senior.
Several things begun to become clear about John Watson. Mycroft’s hands clenched, he had considered John W’s heir for quite some time. But this genetic relation was starting to open horrible possibilities. Because John was hiding, which meant someone was looking for him. Someone who, it had already been established from the data gathered from John, genetically engineered super intelligent soldier. And here was a super-intelligent child who had obviously been shot by John. (Exit wound:obvious)
That meant John shared genetic information with…
“Sir,” his assistant rushed into the examination room as Mycroft was just about to pick up Caruthers’ mobile. “Sherlock and Dr. Watson are in a level four situation with Moriarty.”
“No,” Mycroft said then flinched at the immediate response. “Call my car. Now.”
By the time Mycroft got to the pool DI Lestrade was already there with a full retune of emergency response team. It was too quick. Far too quick. There were so many things someone like Moriarty could hold over a man like Lestrade.
But it wasn’t, was it? No. Someone had got to Lestrade first as well, he looked deeply shaken, concerned. Someone with long narrow fingers had very recently left softly blooming bruises around the detective inspector’s wrist. There was nothing for Mycroft left to do but try and comfort his brother.
Sherlock had never been good at loving things.
By the time John Watson (doctor) had been in hour at the hospital Mycroft had made he had had blood drawn, X-rays, and a CT done. Mycroft would have much preferred to have an MRI done, but he was assured they were sufficient for the purpose at hand. It had been all arranged by his assistant on the way to hospital by Mycroft’s assistant as Mycroft himself called back fifteen different people to do everything from explaining why two members of MI6 had been compromised in a Government Issue car (he had four theories, but was willing at this point to expand it to seven unless further data presented itself) to verbally vivisecting the head of his personal surveillance crew.
By the time Mycroft arrived at the hospital Sherlock had to be tranquillized by the EMTs in the ambulance unfortunate enough to transport him. There was a brief discussion of what had been given him and calculations on probability of relapse. It wasn’t likely, but calculations had always calmed Mycroft. Everything had been going so well, so neatly. As Sherlock was busy drooling onto the pillowcase of his private room Mycroft left his assistant to guard his little brother’s sleep and went to discuss matters with the pediatrician internist he had had pulled out of bed.
He eased a hand gently over Sherlock’s curls, easing his curls back from around his face. It had been a while since they had been close without Sherlock digging into him, trying desperately to stand independent of the human race. He was honoured Sherlock cared enough about him to miss so much. It was important to remember that. Poor, caustic Sherlock. Mycroft had considered a John a weapon before, his soft cubbish form, tender little features, the force of his focus like a knife going softly between the ribs. But he wasn’t sure this was going backward or forward. The wound John had snuck to Sherlock’s heart was making itself known. Whether it would improve his baby brother or make him worse than ever Mycroft wasn’t sure.
This was a very dangerous time.
He unfortunately couldn’t afford to stay much longer. There was the major issue of discovering how Moriarty had found his security team and made away with John. If Moriarty was working with the people hunting John (it didn’t seem quite right to say created, as if that implied that had some ownership of the child.)
The pediatric internist knocked gingerly at the door frame looking a mixture between intrigued and exhausted. She had a dark smudge at the corner of her eye where she hadn’t cleaned all of her makeup off. Her relationship with her husband must have been on the mend then. She directed him to one of the examination rooms with a large display screen, blathering on.
“I’m sure you can just tell me the results,” he snapped, resettling himself when she flinched at his tone. He relaxed his body language, but didn’t apologize.
“Um, yes,” she said. “At first I didn’t believe it. I called in the neurologist to double check-”
Mycroft shifted his weight a quarter inch to the left and tilted his head six degrees in the same direction.
She coughed and scrambled with the computer. “This is a normal child’s brain.” She brought up a white and blue cross section of a brain. He was familiar with it, he had seen enough of the pictures from Sherlock’s tests. “And here is a normal adult’s brain. They’re fairly similar.” Orbiting the two halves of the brain with her mouse irritatingly she looked over her shoulder at him. “The only real difference is the wrinkling, in an adult it’s deeper, more complicated. Higher learning. And this,” she said with a flourish that was unnecessary, “is the boy’s brain.”
John’s brain was nice and plump, thickly wrinkled and developed as an adult’s. That much was immediately clear.
“It will take a while to get the blood work back, but-”
“Is there any procedure, any experimental technique that could have caused this?” he was already creating a neat ledger of research topics with corresponding notes and rankings.
“Only time, it takes time and experience to achieve mental development, no matter the intrinsic intelligence involved. If you are hinting at a technique that could achieve something like this it would have to be applied young, when a child’s mind is still malleable.”
Mycroft thought of the young man with fragments of physics carved into his skin. “Assuming there was a theoretical process wherein a child’s mental development was sped up at about what age would you be able to tell if the desired result had been achieved.”
The doctor paused from vibrating with excitement to look back at him; she was already planning a research paper. Disappointing. “There’s usually a major developmental touchstone somewhere between seven and nine. I’d say there or puberty.”
Seven years was about right between the doctor and the young man. An earlier generation then? Hopefully John wouldn’t share the young man’s misfortunate decline. He begun to compose a text to W asking for information on John’s medical history. Sherlock, who curled around his pain, would never think to ask anything of the sort anyway. He returned to wait for Sherlock to wake again when he realized he was once again tragically late. Sherlock had succeeded in reducing half the nursing staff to tears and inducing the other half to murder. Mycroft shoved his brother back into his room and used his considerable flexibility of eyebrow to discourage any further incident.
“What exactly was that?”
“I went to talk to John,” Sherlock spoke with exaggerated calmness, every line of his body looking on the edge of snapping. “You’re going to send him to one of those schools. One of the nice ones with good teachers, where they won’t take his things.”
Mycroft could not have been more speechless. It took him a while to scramble back to reason enough to give a proper response.
“I don’t think this is wise,” Mycroft spoke gently. Sherlock hadn’t been this disordered since university disappointed him.
“Like trusting you to keep him safe,” Sherlock shouted, grasping his hair in both hands and ripping at it. “He could have died. He was covered in explosives.”
“All the more reason to keep him close.”
His poor little brother’s face was stark and horrified; he was devouring himself alive with his mania.
“I’m not good for him Mycroft. I’m all wrong. He was willing to die for me.”
That set a racing chill down Mycroft’s spine. He very carefully, very gently, set a hand against his brother trembling shoulder and stood close.
“W was supposed to help me. He was supposed to keep John safe,” Sherlock whispered, sounding young enough to slip among Mycroft’s very dearest, very tender memories of his brother. Mycroft didn’t think it would be wise to point out that if W was able to keep John safe he never would have sent him away.
Godfrey – Will you be using your cottage in the next few months? – Tim
Nope, pups born soon then adventures in France
Key’s in the bird nest.
You’re a love. – Tim
Don’t forget it! ;)
Thank you to Caroline and tentacle_love who both gave me such beautiful comments and wonderful betaing. If you would like to know more about my creative process or watch me randomly throw things across the internet please join me at thursdayplaid.tumblr.com! There is angst here.
One of my betas dissolved into capslock and questioning what good was. This is your warning dears.
Mycroft Holmes escorted John there himself, texting someone periodically. He didn’t try to say anything to John, letting him curl in the corner with his arms tight around his pack. When they arrived he spoke softly, little bits of comforting words that John half remembered, and left John to the care of the headmaster who handed him off to a bored looking prefect.
John hated the school. Well, he didn’t hate it. But it was a close thing.
It was like being a prisoner of war. He could bear it with the understanding these wouldn’t be permanent accommodations. It wasn’t long after he arrived that he was taken to a small beige room and relieved of his things. They took his Grey’s, his plaid blanket, his jumper and jeans and trainers that smelled like chemicals and fog and rooftop chases. They gave him new clothes that were all in variations of stiff and scratchy and bright shiny textbooks all in a stack and notebooks with page after blank white pages staring vacantly at him. It was just like static rolling, rolling through his head. He lay on his back in his bed and stared at the ceiling. The children spoke a language he could hardly understand and he doesn’t know how to dumb himself down enough. Not without sounding like an adult in a child’s body. His clothes are too crisp and smell only of laundry detergent and rootlessness.
He walked slowly down the halls, looking for a place to hide. Looking for a place he could be alone. While he walked he tapped out his serial number in Morse code on his thigh.
It was only going to be for a month.
On his second day there Tim had come dressed as a postman with a bag full of letters. The lady who ran the little allsorts office kept trying to flirt with him, and Tim continued to look incredibly uncomfortable. He had stripped the black out of his hair so it was now closer to a dark sandy sort of blond peeking out around the edges of his cap. John tried not to laugh watching Tim slowly try and pull himself away while the office lady flashed her white teeth and her dark lashes and her fake nails at him.
“Come with me,” Tim said when he had finally crept away. He stood close to John, just close enough so he could feel the warmth of him. Sighing, John leaned his shoulder against Tim’s leg, reaching up as he handed John his phone. When John’s face had tightened and he stared at his phone sitting awkwardly in his small hands Tim had sat down beside him with his legs crossed and his face tight and over concerned with everything.
He didn’t tell Tim how he hated everything here, how they took his jumper, his books, his blanket from Sherlock. Didn’t talk about being so bored or holding back his tongue from correcting his biology teacher. How the course work was so easy and boring he had to push himself to bother with half of it. Tim was warm in his borrowed postman’s outfit, and quiet. He handed John an envelope with Davey’s writing neat across the front of it. It felt like there was a small novel worth of pages folded up inside of it.
“Read every page please; he made me watch him write the whole thing, complaining the whole time.”
“Hmm,” John said with his face against Tim’s shoulder. Keeping Tim sober then, John felt a stab of gratefulness. “Staying busy then.”
“Planning something more like it. He’s on edge. He’s been pulling people in, doubling security. I’d rather not have anything to do with him; I’m a Yarder, in my heart. And I’m fairly sure he’s been murdering people in his back rooms.”
“I’m sure they weren’t very nice men,” John spoke softly.
“I don’t want to talk about it; I’ve spent about as much time with him as I’d like. In fact, I’m sure he’d like to see you, there’s enough room in the back of the post van for someone your size. It would make him stop hunting me down in the middle of the night to interrogate me.”
“Sherlock will come for me,” John shook his head. Tim pressed his forehead to the crown of John’s head, squeezing his shoulder before disappearing again like a ghost in the fog.
Bad Davey’s letter was mostly nonsense, stream of consciousness complaints about everything, a recipe for some kind of chocolate biscuit. A couple recipes for homemade bombs. Whinging about ‘John’s uppity lush friend with his judging eyes. Worse than a cop.’ A newspaper clipping for the death of one Timothy Westmorland at an address John didn’t recognize due to carbon monoxide poisoning. A few medical questions that Davey probably already knew the answer to but asked anyway, it gave him an excuse to talk about Rooster anyway. Davey was going to be the best man in Elsie’s wedding. John wasn’t sure how that last one happened. He kept the letter with him at all times, hidden under his clothes. The letter was unsigned but John didn’t want to risk it. He knew well enough the way Moriarty could crawl through the cracks of something.
When they settled John in he was bumped up to classes with the older kids who mostly treated him like some sort of super intelligent teddy bear. One of the young ladies who informed everyone she was going to take over Parliament when she was older had taken to having him sit next to her in study period so she could converse with someone who hadn’t dissolved into pubescent derangement and occasionally absently stroke his hair when he started grumbling about things. He wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or not. At least she didn’t treat him like an oversized puppy; the hair smoothing was mostly to get him to shut up.
During lunch he snuck away to the library where there was a crisp copy of Grey’s anatomy. There were other books with better pictures, but John preferred the weight of it in his hands. They had taken his Grey’s, his own, they had taken it for no reason, stolen it like they stole everything else and he wasn’t going to be shamed for sneaking into the library. Besides, Mrs. Davis the librarian had a soft spot for him. For the way he would press his small hands against the arch and curl of the books. The way he turned pages, traced his fingers down spinal columns and across ribs, tapped his fingers against the chambers of the heart. It was also an excellent place to covertly read his texts. It was a good thing Harry had an unlimited plan.
He kept his phone in the ceiling tiles. It was just a climb up the bookcase and then a matter of easing up the ceiling tile and easing his phone up into the crawlspace, then wiping off where he had stepped just in case.
Dimmock kept him updated, kept him encouraged (tonight a fetid cesspool in India, tomorrow the world and bit by a dog the size of a horse, wish you were here), bounced ideas off of him. Asked him if he had learned anything. Asked him not to text Davey, he had a lot of business to take care of at the moment. He’d send John another letter when he was ready to talk again.
It was trying, but it was survivable getting to send a spare text back and forth almost every day. He knew almost everything, but he supposed it was a good refresher.
Like a medical conference where he had to write essays.
The worst part was the counselor with his elbow-patched jacket. Every second in his presence was painful. And John had to have a morning and an afternoon session with him. The counselor’s name was Dan. He was John’s friend. He wanted John to practice using his feeling words. John looked out the window, looked out at the stretch of yard heading toward the tree line. Dan only wanted to help John. Would John like to draw a picture? He could take all the time he wants. Would John like to look at feeling word flash cards? Would John like to talk about his favourite something? Would John at least try?
It was a hard thing to sit in Dan the Counselor’s glorious presence with his incessant questions about everything John didn’t want to talk about like John was five.
John finally had enough of four days of two one hour sessions of Dan pursing his lips at John and adjusting his glasses. He snuck out of Dan’s office while the counselor was looking for a folder he left in the other room. John contemplated a hunger strike in honour of Sherlock. But he was worried about what would happen if Dan became ‘really concerned.’
There was a low side of the building at the back where John had gone to sit with Tim. There were no windows and no cover for snipers. He tucked his hands into his jacket pockets and pressed his palm over the letter resting against his stomach. After a while there was a man who approached. He took slow deliberate steps, moving quietly over the grass. There was something very watchful about him, very still, patient. He eased back his dark floppy hair with one hand, looking out over the field and the wall and John before a soft, pensive look creased his face. John watched him light a cigarette behind his cupped hands, there was something familiar about that motion, but John couldn’t think what it was. The smoke smelled strange and foreign; Sherlock would know which tobacco.
“You’re the new one,” the man said in a voice that was surprisingly posh. There was something honest about the way he said it, the new one, not like John was some special feeling bunny.
“Yeah,” John replied.
The man sat down on the wall near John, pulling his coat closer to himself. “Everyone’s looking for you, you know. You’ve made such a daring little escape.”
John wasn’t sure if he was supposed to thank him. “I don’t think you’re supposed to smoke in front of me.”
He cracked a small smile, “Are you going to smoke when you grow up?”
“No,” John said.
The man shrugged. “So you’re not a fan of Dr. Dan.” He suddenly made a face, “That wasn’t meant to rhyme by the way.”
“I’ll forgive you this once,” John laughed before he remembered himself.
“Don’t worry about it,” the man shrugged. “Dr. Dan is an ar-ahem, I mean-”
John smirked, still tightly bundled into himself.
“Everyone’s worried you know. Afraid you’ll be eaten by wild bears.”
“Well, I’m won’t be.”
“Yeah,” the man agreed. “That’s certainly true, but you’ll be late for tea, and that’s even worse.”
John looked up at him still faced.
“Come on then,” the man dropped his cigarette, grinding it with his heel against the wall.
After a bit of consideration John decided he was in fact cold and would in fact like some tea. “No introductions?”
“Professor Moran,” the man smiled his quiet thoughtful grin, and held out his hand.
“Doctor John Watson,” he said holding out his own. Professor Moran gave a steady handshake, firm and measuring like he knew John was a man, just like him. “And I’m holding you to the offer of tea.”
Dan the Counselor was having a coronary about John’s obvious disciplinary problems when Moran led John into the headmaster’s office. Moran moved silently, an intense watchfulness couched in a deliberate casualness that was immediately calming. The matter of fact way he moved, the way his face creased with annoyance at the sound of Dan the Counselor’s raised voice.
Moran opened the door for John standing back and letting him walk through without any of those little directing nudges at his shoulders that people loved to give him. “Found him Sir,” he nodded neatly to the headmaster as he took the chair closest to Dan. John almost sighed in relief.
“John,” Dan the Counselor snapped. “What you did today was completely inappropriate. You’re continued disrespect both for the staff and this establishment need to stop.”
“I wouldn’t call getting tired of your primary school condensing disrespect for this establishment,” Moran snapped right back, just on the narrow edge of slightly dangerous.
“I’m not going to touch the mess that is your military repression,” Dan snapped at Moran going red in the face.
Moran didn’t even flinch, his voice measured in perfect control, “My service has nothing to do with this situation.”
“This boy’s behavior problems have nothing to do with me.” Dan flustered.
“He’s not acting like he has behavior problems,” Moran spoke over Dan’s scoffing. “He’s acting like he’s not comfortable discussing personal matters with a perfect stranger. Watson is very intelligent, do you honestly think he wants to play with flash cards?”
“Because you have a degree in physiology. You just charged in and took over everything,” he turned to the headmaster. “He has a temporary position why has he been allowed so much control-”
“Just because my personal life is none of your business doesn’t mean I’m attempting to establish despotism.”
“Everyone is supposed to go through an evaluation before they teach,” Dan whinged.
The headmaster sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. He looked incredibly tired. John tilted his head slightly to the left. He looked a little anxious too, jumpy. Holding up a hand at Dan’s blustering, his eyes snapped to Moran for a moment before dropping to a file folder on his desk. “Dr. Thomas that is quite enough, Professor Moran is being very kind to assist us during Professor Garnier’s leave of absence. His evaluation was quite sufficient. Let’s not fall prey to exaggeration.”
Dan sank back in his chair sullenly.
“That’s enough Dr. Thomas,” the headmaster repeated sternly. “This won’t happen again? Isn’t that correct Mr. Watson?”
“I, um,” John faltered slightly. Moran moved his arm around to squeeze that back of John’s chair. The comfort meant was clearly there, as was the obvious respect for John’s personal space. Sitting straighter in his chair, chin up; he subconsciously mimicked Moran’s military posture. “Yes. Sorry. Won’t happen again.”
“Don’t feel like we’re ganging up on you Mr. Watson. I understand that you’ve had a very trying time. We’ll see if we can give you some space.”
There was more posturing after that, Moran quiet, no nonsense, and Dan the Counselor irritating and defensive before it was settled that Moran would act as a mentor for John in case of any issues. It was better than Dan. He didn’t know what they expected of him. He was made to leave his home and stuck around children, treated like a child. What else did they expect? He nodded politely when the headmaster said he was to have the rest of the day to himself. Quietly letting himself out when he was excused, faintly aware Moran was following him.
“You’re alright Watson?”
John turned to look up at him, a faint sleepy curiosity on his face.
Moran crouched down, bringing himself down to eyelevel. “I said, are you alright?”
“Fine sir,” John answered quietly.
His face clouded, eyebrows coming together, “Where’s your fighting spirit?”
John suddenly didn’t want to look at Professor Moran anymore; he didn’t want Moran to be so close to him. Why was he looking at John like that?
“None of that,” Moran said. His voice shifted in a soft cadence, gently persuasive. Calming Probably a great voice to have working with genius children. “I know you’re having a hard time relating to the kids here. They’re not really your style. If you want I can see if I can’t get you a pass to call your dad. Or mum. Whomever. I know how it is shoved off at boarding school like a bit of luggage, but I’m sure your parents didn’t mean it like that.”
The breath shattered in John’s chest, his face cracking. He wanted to tell Moran everything. He wanted to tell Moran that Sherlock had shrugged him off at the first opportunity. That Sherlock had snarled at sentiment, at the smallness of John. That he was worried about Davey and Tim and Roost.
He realized that he was willing to tell Moran everything and shut his mouth so tight his teeth clicked inside his head.
He blinked at Moran, looking at him from beneath his eyelashes. It made him look shy he knew, used that plenty at uni, but it also hid how much and where his eyes were moving. What would Sherlock look for? What would Sherlock use to tell what sort of man Moran was? Slowly Moran stood up, looking away for a moment. The lines in his face pulled into a sympathetic study.
He hadn’t questioned it when John said he was a doctor.
Everyone questioned it when John said he was a doctor.
Even Bad Davey questioned him the first time.
“Look,” Moran said, hands slunk low in his jacket. It looked very new, very sharp, and a better fit than most men bought for themselves, a good colour for his skin tone. He wore it loosely, pushing at pockets, pulling at sleeves. He probably just had a sister or girlfriend with good taste in clothes. Not smart to assume but it was a starting place. He wore it well enough, used to good clothes. Just not used to dressing himself as well as he was used to. “You don’t need to be coddled.”
John’s chin lifted slightly at that.
He could hear the cadence under the quiet. The tiger stalking of it. It lacked all peaceableness behind its carefulness. Pressing his tongue against the back of his teeth, he felt the strength in them, the sharpness. He smiled absently, fleetingly in Moran’s direction, looking away to hide the sudden awareness in his eyes.
“But since no one else seems to be paying attention, if there’s something that you really need let me know,” Moran sighed and looked away. Oh, how kind and concerned he looked. And maybe he was. Just not concerned enough not to whisper in John’s ear about being dumped like a piece of luggage.
“Thanks,” John breathed and nodded down the hall. “I will.”
Shoulders squared, John flicked his eyes up, there was a camera pressed into the moulding where it could watch the door of the library. It was small and discreet, nothing he would have seen before living with Sherlock and by connection the constant stream of in and out surveillance. Now that he was paying attention it was obvious. What else had he missed? He was going to have to text Sherlock, and he was going to have to text him now. A sudden knot formed in his stomach. If there was a camera in the library where he had been hiding out during lunch, he was going to be in serious trouble. He moved quickly to the back, scanning the shelves, looking for disturbed dust, the faint shine of a lens in the shadows. Letting out a sigh of relief when he couldn’t find anything he eased himself down off the shelves, counting his breath.
No more waiting.
Sherlock, I need you to come get me now. John
Serious, serious warning for this one. I don't want to spoil the next story in the series, but suffice to say certain things are necessary for the third part in the trilogy. As a result this gets TRIGGER WARNING for mild discussion of psychological torture, violence towards a child, and mental unbalance.
After John texted Sherlock, he waited, tightly coiled for an answer. When it finally became clear a response wasn’t forthcoming, he debated texting Tim. On one hand John had a feeling he needed to get out of the school as soon as possible, on the other hand there was a chance Tim might overreact. John might not be terribly useful, but he wasn’t so hopeless that he couldn’t take care of himself when he had to. He considered his options, wished he had his gun and leaned back with the Grey’s propped up to hide his phone. Three more messages were sent in differing degrees of intent while John worked absently at the ache in his leg.
Finally, practicality won out, his thumbs tripping over his contact list to bring up Tim.
There’s a man here named Moran. I think he works for Moriarty. - JW
Stay away from him. I’m coming to get you. – D
I texted Sherlock too. – JW
Good for Sherlock. I’m picking you up tomorrow. Text me when you’re ready. – D
Taking a deep irritated breath, John ground the heels of his trainers against the floor.
I’m worried about Moriarty breaking into the school’s surveillance network. –JW
Too late for that now. Keep your phone on you, try to act normal. – D
Don’t sass me Watson. – D
Tim’s kind, tired, police commissioner voice rumbling with low, safe irritation to John’s thoughts, the sarcasm fluttering through his mind made all the tension suddenly go out of his shoulders. He took a deep breath filled with gratitude, squeezing his phone with both small hands. If Tim could catch John’s frustration, he could certainly manage his affection too.
But the question still stood. How exactly was he supposed to act normal? He tried his best, pretending to read medical journals on the library computers until Natasha, the future prime minister, came sloping down into the chair next to him. “You weren’t in history.”
“I got a pass out of class.”
She sighed long suffering and elegant, “You better not have a pass tomorrow. If I have to listen to Professor Fletcher stagger drunkenly through calculus without someone to pass notes to I’m going to hack into the headmaster’s email again. He gets into the weirdest stuff.”
John almost smiled, “How did you get stuck at this awful school again?”
Natasha grinned, “Apparently borrowing a car and practicing defensive driving in the Sudanese countryside means that I’m too much bother.”
“You can drive?”
She clacked her neat heels together, “I’ve got long legs, early puberty.”
“Why do you want to waste yourself on being prime minister?” John tilted his head at her.
“Intelligence workers have to do a little too much shooting for my taste,” she made a face and pulled out her phone. “And I have no interest in falling into the interoffice sinkhole that is working as a technical analyst.”
John bit his lip, “Can I talk to you back in the reference section?”
She raised an eyebrow at him.
“I haven’t hit puberty. My admiration for you is purely due to your brilliance.”
“I bet you say that to all the prime ministers,” she grinned at him.
Once he had talked to Natasha he had to think about what his next steps could be. He couldn’t be sure the school’s security system hadn’t been compromised, but the real concern was whether or not his room had been wired up. It was a fifty-fifty between Mycroft and Moriarty. If it was Mycroft, John would be annoyed, but not terribly bothered. If it was Moriarty, then just checking his room could put him in danger.
He also needed to accept that going with Tim tomorrow meant that he probably wouldn’t return to London for quite some time. That he might not see Sherlock again for years. It boggled him a little, but throwing in with Tim meant throwing in against Grendel. That Tim’s warzone was to become John’s too.
A knot sat in John’s chest.
He needed to make a decision.
After a moment, he closed everything down at the computer station and headed to the back of the library to sit in viewing distance of the Grey’s. It took a while to consider what he should do next. What exactly he should say in his text.
Do you have a moment? – W
There was a five minute pause. If anyone would have asked, John would have sworn he could tell the exact moment that great intelligence turned in his direction. When he had felt the weight of it for a few moments he paused to think and sent another text.
I’m sure you appreciate a busy schedule. Here he debated using Mycroft or Mr. Holmes but in the end decided to use nether. I’m afraid I only have a brief window of time. – W
My time is yours. – MH
Now John had to go off of several assumptions at this point which were in their own ways a bit of a bet. But John felt he knew a little of Mycroft, of his brilliance, and of the way he liked to organize and manage things. He was the man who had been friendly in a tertiary sort of way before John had been ripped away from his life, unless it served him to be otherwise. And he was intrigued enough by the mystery that was W to remain suitably helpful. John was in no mood to reveal anything concerning his occasional alter ego W; anyway, his strangely double life served him perfectly here.
John has sent Sherlock several texts that have not received a response. – W
There was another pause.
Sherlock has been difficult lately. He is not responding to anyone’s texts. –MH
Likely not even yours, which you obviously deduced. He assumed you would assist in John’s safety. – MH
John is extremely capable. – W
John has not benefited from your distance or my brother’s inability to deal with emotional upheaval. – MH
You obviously have the ability to get into contact with John, why have you waited until now? - MH
That was something unexpected. John wasn’t sure if it was a result of indignity on behalf of John, at Sherlock’s radio silence or a delaying tactic. Mycroft was answering with more honesty that John was used to from him. Which either meant that Mycroft was attempting some sort of trick, or things really were not well at all with Sherlock.
Why do you assume I haven’t been in contact with John? – W
There was a long pause.
It was a question that needed to be asked. The Holmes brothers had turned him into some sort of super genius world arranger, but they didn’t think he would be capable of sending a text or two in someone’s direction without them knowing? Tim, for example, regularly spent time on the roof of 221 Baker Street with John with no one the wiser. Except Davey, who seemed to know almost everything anyway. The Holmes Brothers were starting to get outrageous.
It’s my desire that John should remain with Sherlock. But events are in motion. – W
Have Sherlock reply to John’s texts. - W
What do you want with my brother? What events?
Nothing for you to be concerned about. – W
That’s all? I think we can have some form of honesty with each other. - MH
John needed a way to throw Mycroft off the scent. Redirect the sudden intensity that was Mycroft’s focus. He may lack the ability to put a camera on a roof, but he could still split apart someone’s syntax at fifty paces.
I’ve known the terrible weight of being constantly concerned. The way it wears. - MH
There is such a maddening weight to great intelligence. How alone you always are.
Talk to me.
John pressed his eyes closed. That was really close enough to it. How like Mycroft to make a sudden right angle right in between his ribs.
Thank you, but I’m afraid not. – W
Mycroft had cut close enough to the quick of him to be a threat even with a false set of data. Danger lay in trading too many more texts with Mycroft. A listening ear laid out like a trap, those open arms a simple artifice. Mycroft seemed open, seemed accessible, but it was as much a mask as anything else. A rhetorical question, a sly sidestep would be useless against Mycroft. Prevarication would fall down. But he couldn’t leave it. Couldn’t leave something tying back home.
There is a woman named Irene Adler. – W
She will be sent by Moriarty; do not let her near Sherlock. – W
Goodbye, Mycroft. –W
He tapped a finger against the side of his phone. There was a long, loaded silence.
Do contact me again. – MH
He made his way through tea, the strange outsider status he had at dinner crammed between rejection from the children his physical age and the awkward emotional overflow from the older children who wanted to turn him into some sort of pet. The awkward pre-bedtime shuffle in the bathroom and he’d retreated to the room they had assigned him.
It wasn’t until he climbed into bed, totally aware there was no way he was going to sleep soon, that his leg had stopped aching.
He must have fallen asleep sometime in the night because he woke up, startled in the fuzzy dawn of the morning. It was soft, peachy gold, curling sleepily around him. It only took a moment to see that Sherlock hadn’t responded. Carefully, aware he could be watched at any moment, he dressed, eyes moving over the blank emptiness of his little cell. The empty bookshelf, the neat stack of books pristine and looking ready to be returned at any moment, the absent military corners of his bed; it was blindingly transitory, looked ready to be swept clean at any moment.
It wouldn’t be missed.
Halfway through math class, late in the afternoon, one of the office aides came knocking at the door, smiling narrowly at the professor. “John Watson please,” she said, mouth twisted in a way that said she had made much better things to be doing, flapping a yellow square of paper between two fingers, a study in lazy authority.
The kids at this school.
“He’s to go to Professor Moran’s office.”
A shot of ice went down to John’s belly chased quickly afterward with a churning, bare toothed aggression. One tightly control pull at the reins away from anger and his face arranged itself smoothly. He dropped his phone neatly into Natasha’s purse, hung conveniently on her chair. She flipped her hair over her hair over her shoulder carefully letting her eyes drift over him. John was suddenly grateful she had insisted they be constantly ready.
Moran wasn’t in his office when John arrived. Back straight, chin up, hands in lap, John waited. The room smelled a strange mixture of leather chairs and the soft lingering scent of lavender. The room felt like it was hesitantly rolling toward new occupancy, only bits and pieces of it with any kind real ownership. There were sturdy boxes stacked against each other, the bookshelf behind Moran was half full with books, and there was hardly any decoration other than piles of essays and a thick book in the process of being annotated. John only had until Moran arrived to arrange himself.
He was supposed to be happy someone was finally paying attention to him. Comforted by the military background, by the no nonsense attitude, by the gentle sympathy; lulled by the perfect artifice that was Professor Moran. But John couldn’t help feel like he was getting ready to be interrogated.
Steps nearly soundless, Moran tread a careful path to his desk past the moving boxes, smiling his neat polite smile. “Doing better today?”
Eyes open, John let his face relax into something genial and trusting, “Yeah, it helps not to have to meet with Dan the Counselor.” His lips felt curled light and delicate; there was a strange buzzing under his skin, like expectation. He felt powerful and poised on the dangerous edge of being caught out. It took him longer than it should have to realize he was shamming Sherlock.
“I can imagine,” Moran’s mouth quirked up at the corner, “How are your classes? Hard enough?”
“They’re fine, I’m still getting settled,” John dodged.
“Hmm,” he replied, looking at John past his eyebrows. “There’s just something quick. Due to your little disagreement with Dan yesterday,” Moran said, voice still enfolded in that gentleness. That horrible sympathy. “The headmaster was required to call your guardian and inform them. I don’t want you to think you’re in trouble, nothing like that. But your guardian has scheduled a time to meet with you today.”
“Sherlock?” John grinned. He couldn’t help it; it was like there was a small sun glowing in his belly. Mycroft must have somehow pushed Sherlock into action; he must have arranged everything soon after John texted.
“Hmm,” Moran hummed, lifting a piece of paper to scan his eyes over it. “It just says ‘John’s guardian’ on the form. Whoever it is who takes care of you. I didn’t talk with them.”
Feeling unsettled, John scanned Moran’s body language. He acted far too calm for it to be Sherlock, far too assured. “When?”
“Whenever would work for you; I told the office you have study period next. So you can finish math or meet with them now.”
“Now’s great,” John smiled. If it wasn’t Sherlock there was really only one other option. He smiled his way into one of the discreet little meeting rooms. It had more of the wood paneling that infested the whole of the school. A single table with a chair on each side. No windows, no visible vents. Carefully waiting until Moran left, John absently bumped against the table, finding it screwed down to the ground. No help that way.
He had two choices, facing the door with the table and the second chair in between him and the door, or back to the door, but nothing between it and him. Moriarty - because this was almost certainly Moriarty - would likely expect him to take the chair that would protect his back. But the real question was whether or not he thought he could overpower a full grown psychopath. Whether he could outrun Moriarty’s reach.
John chose the chair that left him with his back to the door.
He acted out several scenarios in his mind.
There wasn’t a terribly long wait.
The sound of the door was soft; the sound of the expensive shoes of the tile expensive and light.
“Oh Johnny,” Moriarty said, one pale hand crossing too close in his personal space to alight on the table. John noted absently the strength in the hand, in the arm too close to his face, then made himself ignore it. “He threw you away.”
John took steadying breaths and stayed still. Disappointment boiled over, acrid and aching, in his belly; followed closely by a burning rage, the almost consuming compulsion to do violence. He hadn’t quite realized that he had been holding out hope. But then with Moran working for Moriarty John imagined there would be quite the interference. There was no way Moran would let John’s little disappearance slip to the Holmeses. Suddenly several other things said in the meeting with the headmaster slotted neatly into place. The professor leaving abruptly, the nervousness of the headmaster, the sudden authority Dan charged Moran with using.
“Look at you. How could he have done it? I never would have, you know that, surely.” Moriarty didn’t so much sashay as overflow with so much glee his feet were just too light for the ground. “Even after your outburst at the pool. How proud you were of Sherlock before!”
There was nothing to say to that.
“Oh, don’t be a grump Johnny. Whoever made you? Whoever hurt you? I can make them pay. I want to, for what they did; for what they tried to make you. Taking all your tender edges, and grinding away at you. Your sweet, sweet ruthlessness and trying to make you faceless, formless. Into some cog in a machine. You are beautiful Johnny, you’re not a foot soldier.”
John kept his face turned away in an angry little knot, fists clenched over his knees. To have himself oversimplified. He was proud of his service, of his time as a soldier. To have it reduced, even if no one else could remember, to a slack insult. To have the humanity so neatly stripped off of it was unbearable.
“I want you to come live with me,” Moriarty took a slow breath. “I can teach you so much. I won’t spoil you, let’s be honest, I don’t want a pet to coddle, but you like a little discipline. You can be happy, you can belong somewhere, you can belong with me.”
John wanted Moriarty to leave. To go away.
Pale fingertips reached out and rested against John’s turned chin, nudging gently at it, trying to turn him.
“Alright Johnny, it’s alright. You don’t have to look at me if you don’t want,” Moriarty’s voice fluctuated. It was raw and mad and put a chill up John’s back, but it was also oddly gentle, almost sad. This was, John thought, Moriarty’s real voice. “I know what it’s like to be so alone when you know you deserve so much. I understand wanting and reaching and believing in so much good in the world, in so much… And then have everything crushed and destroyed.” The fingers left his face, “You know what you want, you can reason, I’ll let you think this over.”
Out of the corner of his eye he watched Moriarty stand, button his suit jacket and head toward the door. The seconds stretched on and on and the door didn’t open. The potential of it, the brush of the door in its frame, weighed heavy as a stone in the air, like a smuggling towel against John’s face. John waited and waited, not moving a muscle. Here was what John was expecting. The Moriarty who returned with snipers to sing about how changeable he was, the grinning trickster in Moriarty who had gotten bored of waiting for other people to get his brilliant jokes. When Moriarty finally spoke again John was so tightly wound he jumped a little in surprise.
“If you had done for me what you did for Sherlock… Well, he’s ungrateful. Brilliant and sharp, but so spoiled. I could fix him. Wouldn’t you like that?” Moriarty’s voice went bright and curious. “I could pull Sherlock in and then we could be a family, just the three of us, our own little flat, or maybe a little house. I wouldn’t let him leave you ever again. I’d make him love you.”
“You can’t,” John said. “You can’t make people love someone. No one can.”
There was a whisper of air against his ear, “Don’t be ridiculous, you know that isn’t true. After he played with me all day, after I had put my teeth into him and made him scream and struggle. After he and I had occupied ourselves and I dropped him into your gentle little hands and let you at him with your tender ministrations, do you honestly think he could do anything but love you? Love you? He would worship you. You would be his god of light. You know it. You know it. He would beg for your good favor and wouldn’t you like that, you, always fetching him tea and stitching him up and covering him when he sleeps on the sofa, finally having him need? You’d love him all the more for it.”
John drew back his hand and slapped Moriarty across the face. It left a satisfying ache in his palm. He just needed Moriarty to stand straight. “That’s wrong, Sherlock’s a person.”
Moriarty back handed him right back, making his teeth click together. “Did your Daddy teach you people are special? Your Daddy is funny,” his face went cold and flat, “And he doesn’t seem to be here at the moment. I don’t like to hit you Johnny, you know that. But if you’re going to grow you need to be treated like an equal and I’d hit any man that hit me. Harder, and with a bullet. Did I hurt you?”
“I’ve had worse,” John said and tested his jaw with his fingertips. Shifting a little more to face Moriarty.
He got a Cheshire grin for that, “That a boy Johnny. I’ll let you think this over then. Unfortunately I really can’t give you a lot of time. So I’ll be watching, and I’ll be seeeeeeeing you soon,” Moriarty sang himself out the door, shutting it slowly behind him.
John waited and waited, crouched and ready.
“Come on short stack,” Natasha swung open the door. “We’re busting out of here.”
Team Alpha to retrieve John Watson immediately. Pick up my brother on the way. - M. Holmes
Here it is, the last chapter of Small Families. For those of you not checking out my tumblr (that's thursdayplaid.tumblr.com) I'm taken a break. The third and final story in the series will be appearing at a site near you in March. I will also be setting up a master post of fan goodness at my livejournal americanjedi.livejournal.com. Enjoy! And thanks once again to Caroline and tentacle_love who are always the best.
Nat knew that half of getting their plan to work was a matter of dancing on the line between believability and outrageous bravery. That second part of that was commandeering the ground keeper’s small sized all-terrain; the first of course was making sure it had enough petrol. She had pulled it up to the predetermined side door and come to fetch John. He was pale and anxious looking when she opened the door, knuckles standing up like a little snowcapped mountain range. “Hurry up,” she told him, holding out her hand. His face arranged itself like a hand smoothing over table linen; she could see something that twisted strangely like fear in her stomach, but he smiled faintly. There was something in his smile that brought her to her senses. His hand curled gently in hers.
There was something innately comforting about John, small and golden. The tight reins he had over his anger. Nat had been angry for so long, the stretch of townhouse, consulates and embassies stretches of fine wood and stonework covered by stretches of brocade and patterned carpeting as if that made them any softer. She had been so angry for so long she had grown tired of it; it left her feeling tired and vaguely aggressive. But John, small and sweet kept his anger tightly closed up, carefully controlling how much he felt. It made Nat want to control herself better, find that point of perfect equilibrium inside herself. He didn’t have a father living off a military legacy that wasn’t his own, shuffling off interpersonal relationships in favour of diplomatic parties. But he did have something. She saw how he snuck off at lunch, the urge to share news vibrating under his skin, and how he returned looking content and calm.
John hated it here with the same fervour she hated her father’s assigned postings, she tried to get him to look at it like she did, but a step to use on her way up in the world, to a place where no one could ignore her any more. But he was so excited, so happy when he explained that someone was coming to get him, that he needed her help that she couldn’t help but let him go, wish him the best.
They started down the hall, her hand squeezing gently in time. John wasn’t a normal kid (of course she noticed within about half a second of meeting him, smart kids usually weren’t that well socially adjusted – they were either manipulative or didn’t get it), but it was still nerve wracking to consider him running for his life. Or thinking too much about that bright red spot forming on his cheek. There was a sudden voice, the question in it curling like a hook. “John, where are you heading?”
John froze, the gentle squeeze of his hand going stiff and taut. His face shifted somehow, everything packed up and hid away behind the folds of his new expression. It was frightening, almost as frightening as the expression on the professor’s face when she turned around too. Not that he was scowling or gnashing his teeth, he was just a bit too watchful, a little too aware of them. It made Nat’s stomach twist in knots. She had seen him around, Professor Moran, young enough to steal some of the other girl’s attention in that bookish nonthreatening way that teachers usually had, but he didn’t look nonthreatening now, even smiling almost pleasantly in the hallway with his hands loose behind his back.
“Hello Professor Moran.”
As quickly as his expression flitted darkly it evaporated, leaving only a pleasant, mildly concerned look on his face. “How did it go? I wanted to talk with you.”
Nat flipped her hair over her shoulder and tried to look as uninterested in the proceedings as possible. Not at all like she was about to facilitate a daring escape, and definitely not like she had caught a glimpse of something dangerous behind the professor’s pleasant tweed exterior.
“Natasha’s catching me up everything,” John told him, face in a strained, pinched little smile. “Since I missed math class.”
“That’s nice of you Miss. Sholto.”
She shrugged absently in that way girls have when they’d much rather be off playing with sines.
“Go on ahead,” John looked up at her steadily with that shuttered smile stiffly in place. “I’ll catch up with you.”
“Fine, but I have German study group at six,” she tried to speak coolly, not at all like she was seriously freaked out, and very calmly went around the corner, to the prearranged side door and got the all-terrain running, the back passenger door open.
She was starting to lose a bit of her nerve, her fingers tapping a tattoo against the leather, worn by the grounds keeper’s hands. The pale worn stretches along the wheel where he had grasped it while he patrolled the stretch of woods, minding the low stone fences and patrolling the back garden. The side door suddenly flew open, John managing two steps, lit from above in a rapture of golden light before he went airbourne. Small body going streamline as he dove fluidly into the back. She didn’t wait for him to fumble the door closed before her foot was on the accelerator, nursing it brutishly toward the floor. It made her think suddenly of a chemistry joke, and she let out a surprised little laugh, more like a hysterical hiccup then as the side door slammed open again and Professor Moran flew out in a rage.
So Nat peeled out toward the woods behind school like she was staring in an American movie. It only would have been better if she could have worn her sunglasses; because really, she was only going to do this once in her life, she might as well look cool doing it. The day was disappearing like it had somewhere to be, she looked anxiously between the sky and the rearview mirror debating the wisdom of headlights. If they were really lucky their unorthodox escaping options would gain them a few valuable seconds, avoiding the main gate and cutting across to that unfortunate hole in the fence that led to Lord what’s his name’s land. But they also didn’t want to get too far ahead. What she and John needed was attention, and lots of it, as quickly as they could get it.
Turning onto one of the narrow wood roads she squinted forward and back, spare branches leaving long squeaking kisses along the sides of the car. It tumbled darker by the second, but she didn’t think it was smart to turn on the headlights yet.
“You were perfect,” John said, leaning forward between the front seats to fish through her purse for his phone.
She let a small hissing breath between her teeth.
“No, really,” he looked up at her, pressing a quick press of forehead against her temple. It was an almost sort of kiss, quick and gentle. “You’ve got nerves of steel.”
Rolling her eyes a little and huffing softly she bumped him with her shoulder. “Get back there before I have to break for a buck and you take a trip through the window.”
“Fine, fine,” he disappeared again, the sounds of his phone coming faintly from the back seat. “Give me a second. Go dark for about ten more minutes and then use the lights. Are you really okay with this? The chase might get a bit messy. Your dad won’t get…?” the end of his sentence hovered out in space, the only humane thing to do was put it out of its misery.
“He’ll send a barrister, and if I’m lucky my uncle will show up briefly to bribe everyone and then disappear again. How about you?” Anxiety shivered right under her skin, making her feel like she was about to fall over a cliff.
She caught his small face turned to the side in the mirror. He looked like he was trying to decide something. “I’ll stay with family. It’ll be fine.” That seemed to be all he was willing to say on the subject.
Nodding at him she kept her eyes ahead, ignoring the squeak and squeal of branches against the doors. It didn’t take long for ten minutes to pass. It was like a revelation to have her lights on; it chased away a huge amount of the fear under her shoulder blades.
Luckily she didn’t acquire an ominous looking tail until she merrily cut through the middle of Lord what’s his face’s back garden, trying to avoid the heritage roses. There really was no need to destroy priceless fauna, even for the sake of getting police attention. After that it was mostly her trying to flex loose the faint stick of her cami against her back from nervous sweat and checking her mirrors while black SVUs shot at her. She was, if she did say so, an excellent driver, and she had quite a lead. Defensive driving wasn’t the most traditional hobby for young women, but it helped channel her constant fury in puberty and a skill that she thought might benefit her future career in politics.
Then there was a police helicopter, which was beautiful, and police cars, which was beautiful and an impressively swerved SUV alongside her. She finally stopped, taking deep calming breaths and trying to get her arms to stop shaking.
Her door was thrown open by a skinny, angry looking man, face pale and desperate in the overhead light, the dark circles under his eyes standing out starkly purple against the paper whiteness of his skin. After a quick look he yanked open the back passenger door and half climbed inside before popping up between the seats like a demented ferret. “Where’s John?”
“Who’re you?” she snapped back.
“Where’s John? He’s not here.”
“Of course not,” she said slowly easing her way out of the car. “That would have been stupid.”
The man’s eyes went round, the sudden flash of realization hitting him between the eyes. “Mycroft!” he shouted in a flare of black coat. “It’s a diversion! W is here.”
“Pardon me,” came a voice from behind her. Nat took a deep breath, didn’t jump and pivoted neatly in place, flipping her hair neatly over her shoulder.
“Good evening,” she said politely, noting the umbrella. “You must be Mycroft.”
He gave her a bit of a withering look, but she was used to that from her parents.
“John said you’d come,” she told him hands on her hips again.
“I don’t suppose he told you where he was going.”
“Of course not,” she said again. “That would be stupid.”
“I find it surprising he could allow a young lady the risk of capture,” Mycroft leaned back on one heel.
“There was never any risk of capture. It’s just that you have a mole,” that sounded like she was making some sort of strange remark about his skin so she winced and specified. “In your organization. That’s how Moriarty was able to plant one of his men at the school. And how he was able to get in and out without causing any alarm.”
Mycroft’s eyebrows lifted.
“There’s more of course, but I’m only meant to tell you. John said that was safest.”
“Mycroft,” the pale man hissed, looking halfway to panic. “W. He’s going to take John, we’ll never track him down again.”
“Take the car,” Mycroft said staring steadily at Nat. “This young lady and I are going to have a brief discussion about what John told her.”
Far from the road, at the edge of the woods, John stepped carefully along the deer path, wishing absently for tea, and a jumper, and a quiet chair to curl up in. The dark was soft and tender as fingertips against his skin, secret and solitary. A strange power in it. He felt a little powerful anyway, the way being alone was powerful if it wasn’t for very long. It made him feel a strange angry sympathy for Sherlock.
John was tired, a little sore from jumping out of the land rover, but that was the distant sort of ache he was expert at ignoring. Leaning against a tree to catch his breath he scanned through his apps to find the one that would turn his phone to a torch. He thought he was near where Tim was waiting, but he couldn’t be sure. It was too dark to see more than just a few feet in front of him. The light came on suddenly, bright and blinding for a moment. Leaving him to stupidly blink out into the night, wrist turned down to protect his night vision. He stumbled a bit, irritated at himself, putting himself back on the narrow path. It shouldn’t be too far now.
There was a soft rustle, like a breath through the grass and a sudden prickle snuck up to nip at the back of John’s neck. He turned just as Moran loomed up behind him. Before John could get his wits organized to do more than crouch at the ready a shot rang out catching Moran in the shoulder. Letting out a little ha of surprise John scuttled back, turning to look behind him. Headlights flooded the path, everything cut into sharp blinding shapes. Dark slices of trees, the curling shapes of branches and there was Tim, lit into a dark silhouette, like some action hero cut out of black paper. John was up and running toward him, his hand rested briefly on John’s neck, propelling him toward the passenger’s side. Moran wasn’t moving.
It was hard to tell how much of it was real or faked. It was so sudden, so unsympathetic. Tim’s face, when John crossed the line to the midrange of the lights, was starkly lit. Hard in a way that was almost unfamiliar, as if he had turned adamant in their short time apart. His eyes looked dark, unyielding, something more than human in his fierceness, as if the gun were unnecessary.
As if he could strike Moran down with his will alone.
John hovered at the car door while Tim stepped forward, “This is Moran?”
“Yeah,” he said softly.
He looked at Tim’s back, all straight hard lines in his coat, cut into geometric planes by the bright lights. Watched him straighten his arm, saw him look and consider, too far away to hear if Tim said anything. John couldn’t hear much beyond the strange surging silence in his head. Moran may have shifted where he lay spread on the ground. It didn’t matter much. John heard the sound of the second shot. It burst past the static in John’s head, blowing his awareness wide open, the night suddenly seemed full of eyes. There was a moment of tension, John watching, Tim looking down at Moran. The woods gone wary and startled, the buzzing brush of insects stumbling unevenly the vacuum left. Tim finally lowered his weapon, he let out a heavy chuff of breath but said nothing else.
“Moriarty must really want you; Moran was his second in command.”
John didn’t say anything. He shivered.
Tim turned to look at him, the immutable sternness in his face suddenly cracked by the gentle compassion of his face lit by the headlights.
He might not have anyone else, but he had Tim.
He had always had Tim.
They could do this.
It would be fine.
He closed the car door behind him and then after a moment of thought locked the door.
The moon was faint and soft through the trees. Birds shifted faintly in the tree, their rounded bodies shifting darkly against the purple blue black of the sky.
When Tim rejoined him in the car (he had turned off the overhead light so it was dark when John crawled in) he took a moment to grab a wooly blanket from the back and press it to John’s chest. “Shoes off, this is someone else’s car.”
The giggle was startled out of him. Followed by a sharp huff of breath.
“I don’t know how he was as a teacher, but he wasn’t a very nice man.” Tim shifted the car into reverse, not looking at John.
John shook his head. “I don’t doubt it.”
“And I’m not taking the risk of him surviving. Not when he got that close to you.”
“I didn’t say anything,” John fished with his sock feet until his toes caught on the plastic shopping bag in front of his seat. It rustled softly as he dripped his shoes in and tied a slip knot.
Tim reached over, hand squeezing gently on his shoulder.
He laughed softly to himself, looking out the window as Tim pulled away. He couldn’t quite seem to stop, as soft as his laughter was. It might have been a little delight. Delight to have escaped, escaped rejection and escaped Moriarty. John slipped his shoes into the plastic bag at his feet.
“All your clothes in fact, throw what you want to keep into the back seat and we’ll see about cleaning them later.”
“Yessir!” John smiled softly before his face dripped down to something quiet and sad. “I missed you. Everyone else treats me like a child.”
“Well,” Tim smiled. It looked like something tired and wearing in him had been peeled away leaving him looking tired but lighter. He reached out with one hand and squeezed John’s shoulder. “No more of that.”
You get dibs on Moriarty. –D
What’s happened with John? – BD
He’s fine. I’m picking him up now. – D
I’ve got business to take of, then I’ll get down to it. – BD
Let me know what support you need. – D