“I'm not saying that we're all going to die alone, I'm saying that statistically, we'd be better off turning to lesbianism.”
That set off a round of howls and laughter. Samantha Carter held up a hand, ignoring the disdain on her friends' faces. “No. Really. Listen to me. Look, you-” She ignored the balled up napkin that bounced off of her forehead. “That was uncalled for.”
Caroline made a face at her. “Sit down, shut up, and drink your fruity girly drink.” She lounged back in her chair, her long, slim body shown off to the best effect by a short skirt and a tall pair of boots. Her hair was short and spiky, bright pink this week.
“You're drinking a goddamn Pearl Harbor, don't you insult my margarita.”
“Ladies, ladies. Let's all agree you both have horrid taste in drinks.” Emma giggled. She tipped her bottle of hard cider in their direction. She was short and sweet and soft, her brown hair falling in waves around her face, her cleavage an impressive display above a pink camisole top.
“And bars,” Margaret said, barely looking up from her smartphone. She was chewing idly on a swizzle stick, black hair cut in a bob around her smartly made-up face. She flicked a perfectly manicured nail against the tiny screen, and settled back, glints of gold jewelry at her throat and ears setting off her stylish, simple suit.
Samantha gave them all a look. “I am just saying, when is the last time any of us found a date that was actually worth mentioning? We live in goddamn London. Bloody best city in the world. So why are we still sitting here, on a Saturday night, hanging out with our girlfriends?”
“Because we are bored and stupid?” Caroline asked.
“Thanks, Caro, thanks.”
“Because it was better than the other suggestion of sitting in your flat watching Wolverine for the fifth time,” Margaret said, her ruby red lips tipping up, just a bit. “This month.”
“I have other movies.”
“And yet, we continue to watch Hugh Jackman run naked through fields.”
Emma raised her hand. “I, for one, have no problem with this.”
“Thank you,” Sam said to her, dignified. “And it would probably be better than spending money on watered down drinks surrounded by creepy blokes without a brain cell to their names.”
“I like drinking,” Caroline said. “It makes you tolerable.”
“Sod off, brat.” Sam collapsed back into her seat with a groan. “I want a date.”
“Honey, really,” Emma said, with a faint smile. “You have the worst taste in men. The worst. I am not kidding you, your choices are...” Her voice trailed off as she tried to find something to say that wasn't a flat out insult. “Well, they're interesting, okay? Not always in a good way, but they're interesting.”
“They're horrible.” Margaret stabbed a cherry from her drink on the swizzle stick and popped it in her mouth. “Mouth breathers. Really, Sam, you can find the weirdest men.”
“They're right,” Caroline said. She leaned forward. “Look, next time some perfectly ordinary bloke asks you out, do yourself a favor and say yes.”
“Oh, you do not. Which is how you ended up dating the crazy environmental activist, what was his name? Dart? Something stupid like that?”
“Arrow,” Emma said with a groan.
“He wasn't as bad as the barrista who was secretly doing gay porn,” Margaret said. She flicked a glance up. “It wasn't even good gay porn.”
“How the hell would you know good gay porn?” Sam shot back.
“I may not know good gay porn, but I sure as hell know bad gay porn when I see it.”
“I never saw the porn,” Emma said. “Why did I never see the porn?”
“Because it was bad,” Caroline told her.
“Wait, you saw it too?” Emma's voice rose to a squeak. “That's not fair!”
“Life isn't fair,” Caroline said. “And it was bad gay porn.”
“He wasn't that bad.” The other three looked at Sam with varying degrees of pity, disdain and concern, and she threw her hands up. “I do not have bad taste in men.”
“You have the worst taste in men of any woman I've ever met,” Caroline said. “And that includes me.”
“Fine. Whatever.” Sam threw back the rest of her drink. “The next one will be normal.”
“Fifty quid says the next one is the worst yet,” Caroline said.
“I'll take that bet,” Margaret held a hand out to shake.
“I hate you all,” Sam said, standing. “I'm going to go watch bad movies that involve men taking their shirts off. Who's coming?” Every hand around the table went up with varying degrees of enthusiasm. “Right, then.” She waited for everyone to finish their drinks before she lead the way to the door.
So she might've had a slight hangover. These things happened, after all, she was a normal woman in her early thirties, and sometimes she had a bit too much to drink when her friends were involved. She was aware that having a bit too much to drink on a Tuesday was really pushing it, but that didn't happen very often.
Still, she might've had the tiniest hangover thanks to Caroline and her bloody insistence on making mojitos once they got back to Sam's flat. At the very least, her aching head wasn't improved when she got to work and found out three tellers had called out sick. With a small bank like the one she worked for, that was a catastrophic labor shortage. While the manager Laurie was on the phone with the home office, seeing if they could borrow some tellers from another branch, Sam had balanced a drawer and headed to a teller station.
She'd been a loan officer now for years, but she could still remember how to do this. She hoped.
It was calming, really, making change and making small talk, printing receipts and settling out accounts, taking payments and deposits. Less stressful than her usual day, even though she knew that her work was piling up by the minute, and there was no one coming to relieve her of it. As soon as the front counters were manned, she'd be up to her neck in loan applications.
Still, Sam'd take the brief reprieve while she had it.
“Next, please!” she called to the line, ducking her head back over the computer keyboard. She heard the customer stop in front of her and finished up, as fast as she could. “Sorry for the wait, how can I help you this morning?”
The man in front of her gave her a smile and a deposit slip. “Morning,” he said, and he had a nice voice, steady and calm. His eyes were warm, hazel with just a touch of crinkle around the edges, and a wide, mobile mouth. “Just depositing, please.”
“Hello, Mister-” Sam glanced down at the deposit slip and ID he'd passed over. “Mr. Watson.” She gave him a grin. “Cash back today?” He hadn't indicated anything on the deposit slip, but a lot of customers, eager to get in line and away from the station where they filled out the carbon copy slips, neglected that.
“No, thank you.”
She glanced at the paycheck, noting the name of the surgery with a flick of a raised eyebrow. “You know, you can skip making the trip if you set up direct deposit with your employer,” she said. “Not that we don't enjoy seeing you, but it does make things easier, when you're in a rush.”
His lips twitched, and his eyes only got warmer. “Yeah, I'm in the process of switching banks, so... They haven't managed that, yet. Thought it would be this week, but I got in yesterday to find that resting on my desk, so I'm still waiting in limbo, I guess. Half of my deposits and bills are still going to the other accounts, it's a mess. I think it'll be months before everything's settled.” He didn't seem angry or frustrated by that, just amused, as if he'd seen worse.
Sam glanced at her screen. “So I see. You've only been with us for a couple of weeks. Thank you for bringing your business to us, Mr-” She glanced at the cheque and corrected herself. “I'm sorry, Dr. Watson. We'll do our best to deserve it.” It was nice that he hadn't immediately jumped down her throat when she'd called him Mister as opposed to Doctor. That happened often enough that some of the regulars had a note on their accounts now with a reminder. John Watson didn't even seem to notice.
He gave her a slight smile. “My last bank kind of mixed up my deposits with my withdrawals and started paying my employer. Which I prefer not to do, the job's not that good.”
Sam laughed out loud, something about the warmth in his eyes, as well as the utterly calm way he said it, like it as no big deal, even though she was sure it had been a very big deal indeed. “I understand fully. Don't worry, we have a very strict 'we like money' policy here. No letting it out of the accounts unless we're forced to do so.” With a grin, she handed him the receipt.
“I appreciate your assistance in keeping my money with, well, you, and in retrospect, this is not going to work out well for me, is it?” John asked, picking it up with a nod and a smile. “Nice meeting you, miss.”
She wasn't sure why she did it, she was usually firm in her 'don't hit on the customers' rule, because if she screwed that up, well, it was pretty awkward when she had to turn them down for an auto loan. But he seemed so grounded, so ordinary, so, well, nice, and she could hear Caro and Margaret in her head, mocking her taste in men and what the hell, she could try, couldn't she, no, she probably shouldn't.
“Nice meeting you, too.” And Sam gave him her card. “Samantha Carter. I'm usually the loan officer, but we're short handed today.”
He took it, only a flicker of his eyes giving away any surprise. “So, you're not usually out here?”
“Sadly, no.” She checked, but by some miracle, there was no line, so she could flirt a little bit longer without ending up on the death end of Laurie's glare.
He paused, considering. “All right, good, because then I can ask you if you'd like to get a cup of coffee sometime, because if you say no, I can just avoid your office.”
“What if I say yes?” Sam asked with a grin.
“Well, if things go well, I'll hit you up for a loan, and if it goes badly? I'll just keep an eye on my checking balance,” he said, after a moment of thought. “So you'll be instilling good financial habits, either way.”
Sam couldn't hold back a laugh. “No coffee,” she said, with a grin. “Dinner?”
“Dinner,” John Watson said, giving her a salute with her card. “I've gotta run, I've got patients. Can I give you a call to set up the time?”
“And the place,” Sam agreed.
“It does help if we both know where to be and when,” he agreed. With a grin, he headed out the door, looking back with a wave just before he left. Sam leaned her arms on the counter. Yeah. This could work.
“So, I met a guy,” Sam said, and no one cared.
Caroline was arguing with the waiter as to what, exactly, constituted a Singapore Sling. She was not winning. Margaret was playing Angry Birds on her phone. She was winning. And Emma was flirting shamelessly with the college boys at the next table over, the ten year age difference be damned. Her boobs were winning everything, and it was a well-deserved victory.
Sam leaned over and planted a little victory flag in Emma's cleavage. “I claim these boobs in the name of Queen and country,” she said, and Emma stuck her tongue out.
“They are quite mountainous,” Margaret said, grinning down at her phone.
“Enormous tracts of land,” Caroline agreed.
“Thank you,” Emma said, plucking the flag free. “Did you get this out of your drink?” she asked Sam.
“No, I carry around a bunch of Union Jacks in my bag, of course it was in my drink. I don't know why. Out of tiny paper umbrellas?” Sam pounded the flat of her hand on the table. “I met a man.”
“Congratulations, I guess.” Caroline poked at her side. “The city's full of them.”
“I have a date with this one.”
“That's going to go poorly,” Margaret said, as pigs died on her phone.
“It is not, why are you all so mean?”
“Less mean and more pragmatic,” Margaret explained.
“He's nice, he's good looking, he has a job. He's funny,” Sam said, with a grin.
The other three exchanged a look, and she groaned. “Oh, c'mon, it's not going to be bad.”
“Look,” Caroline said, leaning over the table. “The men you date are like, well, like old school D&D characters.”
“Nerd,” Sam said.
“True. Anyway, there's a balance. For each good attribute, they have a corresponding bad one. When you seem to have found a man who could actually pass as a grown-up human being, that is terrifying. Because it means he is an ax murderer.”
“Or gay,” Emma said, cheerful.
“He's not gay. Or married. Or an ax murderer. He's a doctor.” They exchanged a speaking glance, and Sam gritted her teeth. “What.”
“Married gay ax murderer,” Caroline said.
“You are all unbelievably stupid. He is not a married gay ax murderer.”
“That's true,” Caroline mused. “That would be a bit much. Even for you. All we're saying is, take it slow, play it safe and do not get into any cars that hold bladed weaponry or tools. Just don't tempt fate.”
“For once in your life, Sam, can you not end up calling us in hysterics after a date?” Emma asked.
“Never going to happen,” Margaret said.
“Why do I continue to talk to you people?” Sam asked.
“Because we buy you booze. It's the same reason you date.”
The pleasant little restaurant was lovely, the food was great, and John was a nice dining companion. The only downside of the night was that the waiter just kept glaring at her, and Sam wasn't quite sure why. She checked, trying to be subtle about it, but she looked presentable, her hair in order and her dress lacking any visible stains or rips.
When he came to collect the plates and looked down his nose at Sam, she resisted the urge to get up and check and see if her dress was tucked into her hose. What the hell had she done?
John seemed oblivious. “Thanks, Angelo, it was great as usual.”
“Any time, John, any time.” With John, the man was hearty and laughing, clearly affectionate. He stacked the plates on his arm. “Any dessert or coffee tonight? On the house.”
John glanced out the front window, where the rain was still coming down in torrents. “I'm not really eager to go out there,” he said to Sam with an arched eyebrow. “Dessert?”
“Dessert,” she agreed, with a grin.
“Do you like Tiramasu? Angelo makes the best in the city.”
“Flatterer,” Angelo said, with a slashing grin.
“Yes, please,” Sam said, giving him a hopeful look. “How's your espresso?”
“It'll take a couple of layers off your teeth and a few years off your life,” John said, his voice sardonic. “And it's still worth it.”
“Two tiramasus, two espressos,” John said to Angelo, who gave him a smile and a nod. “Maybe things'll-”
There was the sound of screeching tires, and someone screaming, then a crash from outside, and everyone in the restaurant stilled. Sam's head jerked towards the window, her heart stilling as she saw the car impaled on the light post, and the foggy impression of a body in the street, almost hidden by the rain.
John was already up and moving. “Angelo, first aid kit!” he yelled, grabbing his jacket and throwing it on. Angelo all but dropped the plates at the bus boy station, plates and silverware and glasses making a racket as he dove for the bar. As John ran past, Angelo came up, throwing a medium sized white box in his direction. John caught it with one hand.
“Take the Mac, too!” Angelo yelled, and John snagged the coat from the stand beside the door, throwing it around his shoulders but not bothering with the sleeves as he shot off into the rain.
Sam was on her feet, jerking her jacket into place around her shoulders and fastening it as she moved after him. Angelo glanced at her, a phone to his ear. “You a doc Or a nurse?” he asked, and when she shook her head, he made a face. “Best stay here, then. Let him work.”
“Can he? I mean, out there? In that?”
Angelo snorted. “Oh, he's seen far worse. Far, far worse.”
Something about that made her shiver, and her eyes jerked towards him. “Isn't there-”
“You'll just be in the way,” Angelo said, shutting her down without even looking. He leaned a palm against the door frame, squinting out into the pounding rain. “Not a doctor?” he asked, as if trying to clarify something that didn't make sense to him.
“No. Banker,” Sam said, with a shrug.
Another snort, this one just a little disdainful. “Ah, I see.”
“You see?” Sam didn't know why she was taking part in this conversation, but here she was, feeling defensive because the waiter at what was clearly one of John's favorite restaurants didn't think she was up to snuff. She wondered what kind of Amazon princess surgeons he usually brought here.
“Never mind,” Angelo said, and it was so dismissive that she wanted to kick him.
“What does that mean?”
“It means you won't last long.” Angelo gave her a polite smile. “Trust me. Unless you're from his world... You do not want to get involved with John Watson, he'll put your nice normal little life in a tailspin.”
“What?” Sam choked out, but Angelo was already moving away, going to deal with a customer on the other side of the room. For an instant, Sam stood by the door, her hands making hard fists at her side. “What the hell do you mean, 'his world?'” But he was gone, and Sam's head jerked around, at the rain, at the restaurant, at the water shrouded forms lit by broken headlights. She grabbed the biggest umbrella from the stand, and pushed the door open.
Her legs were soaked by the time she made it to John's side. He glanced up, a flick of his head, and his eyes seemed surprised for an instant as she held the huge umbrella over him. “Thanks, Sam,” he said, and she realized he was braced forward, applying pressure with both hands, the raincoat laying over the girl's legs. His coat was over her torso, and he was using his jumper, folded into a dense square of fabric, to staunch the flow of blood. The girl was sobbing, and John bent over her, his voice reassuring.
“It's okay,” he said, calm and gentle. “You have a broken leg and a lot of lacerations, but you're going to be fine. Melissa, I need you to look at me. Melissa.” The girl blinked up at him, her breath still coming in raw sobs, and John nodded. “Okay, good girl.”
“It hurts,” she whispered.
“I know. But the ambulance will be here soon, and then we'll be fine.” He glanced at Sam. “Sam, can you put the umbrella down so it covers her and check on the car? Driver hasn't come out yet.” His eyes flicked down to his hands, and Sam looked at the bloodstained fabric, the bright red stains on his gloves, and felt a little sick. He was trying to keep Melissa calm, but it was clear that she was hurt worse than he was letting on.
Sam jerked a nod, and crouched down, setting the umbrella down with the handle parallel to Melissa's body, so the arch of the umbrella covered the girl's face and upper body, and John shifted to brace it with his knee. The rain was cold, and as soon as it started hitting Sam, she shivered. Running over to the car, she peered through the window, cupping her hands against the window so she could look in.
The driver was slumped over the wheel, not moving, and she bit her lip. She tried the door and was surprised when it opened. Reaching in, trying her best not to touch anything, she found the man's neck and pressed her fingers there, looking for a pulse. Finding one, she let out a sigh of relief. “He's alive! I think he's unconscious, but he's not dead,” she called to John, who glanced up with a nod and a smile. Sam reached around the man, doing her best not to jostle him, and turned the key in the ignition, turning the auto off. “Sir? Sir, can you hear me?” she asked, looking for any response.
“How's his breathing?” John called back. “Don't touch him, Sam, but can you hear him breathing? Does it sound normal?”
Sam leaned in, ignoring the way her ruined hair dripped all over everything. “Yes,” she called back. “A little labored, but it sounds okay. He's bleeding from the head.” She could see the lacerations in his scalp, and blood was flowing freely down his face.
“Can you see bone? Anything else that looks foreign? Anything impaled into him?”
“No, just cuts. I don't think it's bad. He was wearing his seatbelt.” Sam crouched down, checking the legs, but the car had held together, and it looked like they'd be able to get him out without any problems.
“Good.” John was leaning over Melissa again, and his white dress shirt was a sodden mess, plastered against his skin like a layer of paint. His hair was hanging down, dripping across his face, and when he looked up to meet Sam's eyes, his face was white already. Despite that, his gaze was steady. “Do you smell petrol, Sam?”
She shook her head. “No. I don't think the auto's all that damaged.”
“Good. Stay there, okay?” There were audible sirens now, moving closer, and Sam wrapped her arms around herself, tugging her coat in close and crouching down to get some protection from the wind by hovering behind the car door. “Tell me if he stops breathing, or starts waking up.” Sam nodded, leaning against the car.
It seemed to take forever, but was really only a minute or two before the ambulance was pulling up, paramedics jumping out. “Were you in the accident, miss?” one said as Sam scrambled up on shaking legs to get out of the way. She shook her head.
“I'm with him,” she said, nodding at John, who was deep in discussion with the other paramedic. There were other cars now, emergency response kicking in and officers arriving on the scene.
“Oh, Watson? Good on that, he's a good bloke.”
She blinked at him. “You know him?”
“John Watson? Only once or twice, but my partner knows him better, he's got all sorts of stories. Mostly that he's heard from the coppers. I mean, Watson's like an urban legend at this point.” And with that, the paramedic got to work, and Sam stood there, her mouth kind of hanging open like an idiot.
“Miss?” The cop in a bright reflective slicker grabbed her elbow, pulling her away. “Miss, are you injured?”
“No. Not part of the accident,” she said, blinking at him through the rain. “I was in the restaurant-”
“Thank you for your help,” he said, a firm hand moving her away from the scene. “But it's best if you go back inside now. For your own safety.”
“What? Oh, yes.” She looked towards John, but he was working now, in tandem with the paramedic, properly supplied at last. Knowing that she was just in the way, she headed back to the restaurant on shaking legs.
Behind her, she heard the cop speaking to his partner. “Watson's on the scene, anyone called it in yet?”
“Yeah, right off. I don't need that kind of trouble.”
Sam froze, and shook her head. Must be hearing things...
“Yeah, after the bombing, I prefer not to have anything to do with that little corner of the city.”
“Yeah, what's it Lestrade says? Not our division? And I have no desire to have anything to do with Watson's division.”
Sam staggered away, blaming her clearly faulty hearing on the rain. Angelo met her at the door with a tea towel. “Sorry, luv, it's all I've got.”
“Thanks,” she said, and she meant it, patting her face and hair, trying to get as much of the water out as she could. Her jacket had done its job, thankfully, beneath it, she was reasonably warm and dry, but her legs were freezing. She stumbled back to their table, and tried to pat the worst of the moisture off of her nylon clad legs. A cup came down in front of her, and she blinked at the steaming tea. “Thank you,” she said, wrapping cold hands around the cup with a wince.
Angelo set the teapot down, and another cup. “John'll be in soon. I'll call you a cab, he's going to be half-frozen, but see if you can get him to drink a bit before you go, all right? I'm gonna see if anyone's got some clothes he can borrow.”
Sam saw him coming, and poured a cup of tea. But when he made it through the door, dripping wet, his lips a pale blue-white, he was stopped by a round of applause from the patrons. His eyebrows shot up, and he managed a lopsided smile and a little wave of acknowledgment, and Sam was pretty sure he was embarrassed. She smiled as she handed over the cup of tea, and he latched onto it with a sort of desperation.
“Thanks,” he said, and there was a faint slur to his words.
“C'mon, back here,” Angelo said, taking his arm. Now clad only in his dress shirt and trousers, John was soaked to the skin, and shed water as he allowed Angelo to drag him back towards the employee area. Sam trailed behind them, carrying the teapot like a demented parlor maid.
There was a small space, just before the kitchens, with a couple of lockers and a little bench. Angelo cleared off the mess of debris, and John sank down. They were close enough to the kitchen for the nook to be overly warm, which Sam liked and John probably loved. He finished his tea and Sam took the cup. “Here,” Angelo said, setting a faded tracksuit next to John. “Too big, I'm sure, but they're clean.”
“Thank you,” John said, and he was shivering now. Sam took the cup from him, and leaned over to pat the water out of his hair with the tea towel. He glanced up, giving her a surprised look, but smiled when she paused. “Thanks, Sam. Sorry, my first dates usually aren't so... Chaotic.”
Angelo snorted, and John stabbed a finger in his direction. “Don't you start. This is an aberration, and you know it.”
“Don't seem that way to me. How many coppers tried to get you in their cars?” Angelo said, as Sam rubbed John's hair dry.
“All of them. I am faster than them, thank you.”
“Keep telling yourself that, they'll get you eventually. C'mon, off with the wet clothes.”
“Not on a first date, for God's sake,” John said, but he was laughing, his shaking fingers going to the buttons on his shirt.
“I got it,” Sam said, her cheeks pink as she batted his hands away and started working the buttons free of the sodden fabric. “Angelo, can you grab some more towels?”
“Yeah, good idea.” With a nod, he headed for the door. “Be right back.”
“Sorry,” John said, and Sam glanced up at him. He looked, of all things, embarrassed, and she grinned at him.
“Most interesting first date I've ever been on,” she said, laughing. Finally, she managed to get the last of the buttons free. “Lean forward, this is like peeling a layer of ice off of you.”
“Feels like it, too.” He shifted forward, and Sam yanked it off of his chest, blushing a little herself. She hadn't expected the muscle she found there, he wasn't a large man by any means, but he was built solid, with defined muscle tone to his shoulders, chest and arms. Sam wasn't complaining about the view, that was for sure, and he tilted to help her work it loose. She pried his right arm free and reached for the left, but he was already doing it, half turned away from her.
Which didn't do much to hide the scar on his left shoulder. Sam was pretty sure, from the brief glance that she got of it, before he fumbled his way into the sweatshirt, that it was a bullet scar. She didn't know much about scars, and even less about bullet scars, but that one was angry and ugly and it looked like it had been traumatic. Emotionally and physically.
“He home tonight?” Angelo said, walking back in with the towels.
“What? Oh, no. Family thing, he's at his brother's place,” John said, wincing as he forced the sweat shirt down. Sam, jerked out of her stillness, leaned over to help. “I've a flatmate,” he explained to Sam.
“Ah, so no chance of calling him to come get you and bring you home?” Angelo said, crouching down to pull John's shoes off.
“Not unless I want to rain death down upon my head. He'd take any excuse to leave, but no. I do my best not to annoy his brother, he-who-shall-not-be-named.”
“Tough family?” Sam said with a grin.
“You have no idea, the guy terrifies me.” John winced as Angelo peeled his socks off. “This is the weirdest date I've had in the longest time.”
Angelo was grinning at him. “Including the-”
“That was not a date!” John laughed. “Christ, you are never going to let me forget that.” He grinned at Sam, and she was relieved to see that he looked a little warmer, his lips and cheeks recovering some pink.
“Why, just because our waiter is stripping you, along with your date?” Sam asked, unable to resist, and John laughed, and he had a very nice laugh, warm and real and not at all displeased that she was kind of teasing him. Still, she was just as shocked as them by the words that came out of her mouth next, “If your flatmate's not going to be home, you can come, and, you know, stay at my place. Just to be safe.”
John blinked at her, and her cheeks heated. “I mean, just-” She squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to sink into the floor.
“Do you have a couch?” John asked, and she risked a peek.
“I'll take you up on it,” he said, with a smile, and Sam smiled back.
“I'll, um, I'll get us a cab, then.”
“So, that happened,” Sam said to her friends, who were staring at her with varying degrees of shock and horror. She took a sip of her drink. “What.”
“Are you out of your MIND?” Caroline asked, eyes huge. “You brought him home with you? After one date?”
“It was a really good date,” Sam said, slumping lower in her chair.
“No, it was a date that ended with his shirt being thrown away because it was covered in blood,” Margaret corrected. “That is, by any definition of the word, not a good date.”
“Unless you're a vampire,” Emma said.
“He's not a vampire,” Sam said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, what is he, then?” Caroline asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “Seriously, Sam, that was weird. That whole story was weird. Cops, paramedics, bystanders warning you away, bullet wounds, what the hell? I thought he was some mild-mannered milquetoast doctor.”
“He is! I mean, not milquetoast, he's really nice, but he's not-” Sam tossed back her drink. “I may have been a little worried about thebombingthing,” she said in a rush, and they stared at her.
“What... Bombing... Thing...” Caroline said, her voice very carefully modulated.
Sam buried her face in her hands. “One of the officers may have said something about avoiding Watson since the bombing, that he didn't want to be in Watson's division.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Caroline looked ready to strangle her. “What division? I thought he was a doctor!”
“He is a doctor! He works at a small surgery, I've seen his pay cheques,” Sam moaned. “I don't know! It's fine, it's totally fine, he's fine, he slept on the couch, he made coffee before he left, everything is fine.”
“Maybe he's military,” Margaret said, poking her phone.
“He's a DOCTOR,” Sam said, her teeth gritted around the words.
“A doctor who has a division dealing with bombings?” Emma asked, as if she thought Sam was particularly slow. “That's not normal, hon.”
“He's completely normal,” Sam said.
“Check the listing,” Caroline whispered to Margaret.
“What listing?” Sam asked.
“After the barrista incident, we found a great listing of gay porno actors. Like IMDB.”
“Except with gay porno,” Margaret said, her expression not changing.
“He's not making gay porn!” Sam said, and that was probably a little too loud, because now half the bar was looking at her, and she tried to get very low in her seat. “I hate you all,” she hissed. “He is a normal man. Who is not making gay porn, he is not some weird military bomber, and he is not, I repeat not, a bad date!”
“No one said anything about a bad date. Sounded pretty heroic,” Emma said. “Plus, no reason to dissuade a good looking man from getting wet.”
“Well, there's a little thing called hypothermia, it's goddamn November,” Caroline said. “She likes 'em warm and wet, not cold and wet.”
“You are disgusting,” Sam said.
“Thank you,” Caroline smirked.
Margaret held up a hand. “All right, all right, children, settle down. Look, Sam, I'll do a quick search through some of the databases at the law office. Just the legal ones, you understand, I'm not getting fired or arrested for this, but I'll see how long it's been since his last gay porn.”
She ducked and the pretzel Sam threw went halfway across the bar to peg some guy playing darts in the back of the head. The four of them decided to leave soon after.
“So that's your flat.” Sam looked up from the sidewalk, grinning. “Nice part of town.”
“It's a good neighborhood,” John agreed. “And the landlady's a gem.” He grinned. “I'd ask you up, but I never know what state my flatemate's left the place, so I'm going to plead 'I don't want you to think I live like a pig' this time, all right?”
“Sure. Your 'flatmate,'” Sam said, making finger quotes. She nodded at the coffee shop. “I'll just duck in here and grab something warm. You want anything?”
“Tea would be brilliant,” he said, fishing in his pocket, and she waved him off.
“My treat. Go, get your mobile before we're late for the movie!”
Laughing, he headed for the front door. “Going, going, stop being so bossy!”
“No!' she called after him, her cheeks pink with the night air. Laughing to herself, she headed for the coffee shop. It didn't take more than a few minutes to buy the drinks, and instead of sitting inside, she returned to the street, where she could watch the swirls of snow in the streetlight. She sipped her coffee, head tipped back and breath forming soft clouds around her face.
“Good evening, Ms. Carter.”
She jumped, spinning on her heel. Her foot slipped on the icy pavement and she would've gone down in a heap if not for a strong hand latching onto her arm. She blinked up, confused, at the man who'd appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
He was tall and lean, looming over her without even trying. His dark, well-cut coat was set on clean lines, and a blue scarf was knotted at his throat. His features were austere, almost regal, his skin pale and his hair a mass of dark curls, with heavy dark eyebrows to match. It was his eyes that arrested her, pale and clear blue-grey, lighter than any eyes she'd ever seen, and focused on her with such intensity that she took a step back without realizing that she was doing it.
And she knew that was a mistake when his mouth curled up in a predatory smile.
Sam straightened her shoulders and stood her ground. “I'm sorry, have we met?” she asked, and wow, was that a rhetorical question because there is no way that she'd have forgotten this guy, even if he'd just passed by her office once, there was something about him that commanded attention. Charisma, or maybe it was just that that primitive little knot of brain cells at the base of her spine realized that this was something that could, and would, eat her.
Sam really liked her primitive little lizard brain. It was a trustworthy spasm of life-saving impulses.
And as she was having her little freakout, arguing with her own brain, his smile was just getting wider, and scarier.
“We have not, Ms. Carter,” he said, and his voice was soft and almost gentle, almost mocking. “But we have something in common, something... Important.”
“I cannot imagine what that might be,” Sam said, her fingers tightening on the cardboard cups. Maybe she could throw one at his face and run. Maybe the tea, that was the cheaper one.
“We're both quite fond of John Watson,” the dark haired man said, and Sam froze.
“Fond?” she croaked out, and his smile died.
“Are you not?” he said, and the snow had nothing on the evolving temperature of his voice. “I do hope you're not just amusing yourself at his expense, that would be unfortunate.”
“No, I do- I mean, I think- We've just met! This is like our second date!” Sam managed at last, and then realized she was not going to be having a goddamn discussion of her love life with some creeper on a street corner. “Who the hell are you?”
“It depends on the day,” the man mused. “I consider myself the greatest friend he has, but I doubt that opinion is one he'd share.”
“What would he consider you, then?”
“A burden he must carry, I fear,” the man said, and Sam shivered. “Occasionally, I am a threat to all he holds dear.”
“I don't understand,” Sam said, and she couldn't help but look up at the windows above her, watching for any sign that John would be reappearing to deal with creepy McCrazypants here. Because her head was turned, she never saw him move, and when he lifted the cup of tea from her hand, she gasped, jerking back.
He took the lid off and sniffed, eyes rolling. “A good try, Ms. Carter, but he doesn't take sugar.”
“That one's mine,” she lied, and he let out a little chuckle, a mocking sound.
“I can see what he sees in you, but no. Don't play these games, not with me, Ms. Carter. You've no hope of winning.” He took a sip of the tea, and her mouth dropped open in shock. “Don't worry, there's a replacement cup.” He nodded towards the coffee shop, and Sam saw the counterman waving at them through the glass, an easy smile on his face, holding up a cup.
The man was behind her all of a sudden, his breath against her ear, his body heat a physical thing, and she heard him whisper, “I'm so pleased to finally meet you, Ms. Carter. John has been so looking forward to seeing you again, which makes me quite curious about you. I despise being curious, it's such a tedious state. I must dash, but don't worry. We'll see each other again. Soon.”
A cold shiver went up her back, and when she spun on her heel, she was alone on the empty street. Sam took a deep breath, then another, and stumbled back towards the coffee shop.
The counterman looked up with a grin. “Shoulda told me it was for Watson,” he said, warm and easy, and there was some comfort in that, wasn't there? If she'd just come close to being murdered on the street, this guy wouldn't be wiping down the counter top, would he?
Sam swallowed. “Ah, yes. Is he here often, then?” she said, not sure if she meant John or his dark-haired stalker.
“Sure, all the time, in fact-” The man grinned over her shoulder as the door opened. “Evening, John.”
“Evening, Charlie,” John said, grinning as he slipped inside. “All set, Sam?”
She stared at him, and at the street, and his smile died. “You okay, Sam? You look a little spooked.”
“Just cold,” she said, before she could think of anything else to say, anything that would like her sound psychotic, like 'do handsome crazy men follow you around?' She held out the cup with his tea, and he took it with a smile, transferred it to his other hand, and took her hand in his. She felt the strain leech out of her, and nodded, her smile wider now. “Let's go. We've still got a movie to catch.”
Everyone was staring at her again.
Sam lay upside down on her couch, arms thrown wide, head back, staring blankly at a stack of bad action movies on her carpet. “Shut up,” she said.
“No one was saying anything, hon,” Emma said, and damn, that sounded pitying.
“You were thinking. All of you were thinking. Very loudly, I could hear the thinking, and it is annoying to me, so stop doing it, you bitches.”
“Well someone here has to do some thinking, and it's sure to hell not you,” Margaret pointed out. “You didn't TELL John?”
“And WHY didn't you tell John?”
“Tell him what, precisely? That a creepy guy on the street corner spoke to me for like five minutes and corrected his drink order? Because hey, that's a reason to panic.”
“If he was creepy-”
“Yes. Yes, he was creepy, but he wasn't-” Sam grabbed hold of her hair with both hands and made a strangled sound. “I don't know how to explain it. He didn't seem, well, malicious, just dangerous. Like a well fed lion. He wasn't going to chase me down and eat my head, because he wasn't hungry right then. No promises about tomorrow, but for now, happy to lounge around and show off horrible, horrible teeth.”
“Is... Is that a metaphor, or did he actually need, like a dentist?”
“It is a-” Sam looked up at Emma. “What is wrong with you?”
“Look, I'm not lying with my head on the ground whining about lions, so I'm doing better than you.” Emma gave her a shake of the head. “Look, that is creepy, I agree it's creepy.” She paused, biting her lower lip. “I think he's a mobster.”
Everyone looked at her with varying degrees of WTF, and her chin came up. “It makes sense,” she said. “It does!”
“Explain your crazy, crazy logic, please,” Margaret said.
Emma sat down with a huff. “Okay, maybe not mobster. But criminal. The cops know him.”
“And didn't arrest him.”
“Because they don't have any proof,” Emma said. “But that happens a lot with underworld types. The cops have no choice but to watch him. Wait for him to make a mistake. That would explain the cops and the bullet wound.”
“You are an idiot,” Margaret told her. “You think he's, what, a doctor for his day job and a gangster hit man at night? That's a little schitzo, isn't it?”
“There is something weird going on here, and none of us believe he's a simple country doctor except Sam, and she is notoriously stupid!” She winced, glanced at Sam. “No offense, Sam, I love you like a sister, but damn. You are not smart about men.”
“I hate you all,” Sam said without any heat.
“I'm really more concerned about the street corner stalker,” Caroline said. “Who does, I hate to say, fit into the mob vein.” She pointed a finger in Emma's direction when the woman started to smirk. “Do not take that as encouragement. It is not. Your idea is stupid.”
“Sam's dating a mafioso, and you know it.”
Sam groaned. “It is not that big a deal. It was probably someone playing a joke.”
“All the more reason to ask John about it.”
“And, can I say? That is someone with a sick, twisted sense of humor,” Emma said.
“It's fine,” Sam said, ignoring them. “The next date will be normal.”
Everyone gave her a pitying smile. She ignored them and went looking for alcohol.
They looked up from their meals as one. Sam blinked at the stunning woman who was hovering next to their table, her eyes on her mobile. John straightened up, putting his silverware down. “Yes?” he asked, eyebrows arching.
The woman's lips twitched, but she didn't look up. “He'd like to see you.”
“All right, I'll give him a call after dinner.” John turned back to Sam, and the woman's smile only got bigger.
“I'm afraid that won't work. I need you to come along with me, please.”
Sam's eyes darted between them, not sure what was going on. John half turned in his chair, looking up at her with narrowed eyes, and for the first time, the gorgeous creature looked up from her phone. She arched an eyebrow in John's direction. “Now, Dr. Watson. I'm afraid it's rather urgent.”
His eyes fell shut, and he gave a faint sigh. “I'm very sorry, Sam, will you excuse me for just a moment?” Wadding up his napkin, he tossed it to the table, and stood. Sam, caught off guard, nodded.
“Of course,” she said, and that won her a smile before John headed for the lobby of the restaurant, leaving Sam staring at the lovely brunette, a little uneasy.
“I am sorry to interrupt, Ms. Carter,” the woman said, her manicured fingernails playing across the mobile screen.
“I'm sorry, have we met?” Sam asked, and yeah, she'd like to be able to stop saying that to people, how does everyone know her when she doesn't know anyone?
That earned her a pitying glance. “No,” the woman said, with a faint smirk. She paused, and put her phone away in her jacket pocket. “Look, you seem like a nice girl. I don't usually get involved, but...” She bit her lower lip. “If I were you, I'd stop dating John Watson before I got hurt.”
Sam blinked. “Excuse me, what?”
“He may seem a pleasant fellow, but the people around him are anything but pleasant. They are very-” Her lips curled up, just a bit, just enough. “Intense is a good word, don't you think? You're just not prepared for what this sort of a relationship would entail, and you're much safer breaking things off now, before you got in too deep. Before someone else ends up ending it for you. Because he will end it for you, he always does.”
“Who the hell are you?” Sam asked, her fingers clutching her fork. It took all the willpower she had not to stab the self-righteous bitch with it.
“I'm just the pick-up service.” She pulled her mobile back out and seemed to lose herself in it in an instant.
As Sam stared at her, her mouth hanging open, John returned to the table, his hand white knuckled on his phone. “Sam, I am sorry, really I am, but I need to go.” He managed a tense looking smile. “I've taken care of the bill, and I'll give you a call tonight, okay?”
“Oh, sure. Emergency?” she asked, as the woman floated away from the table with a click of high heels and a soft sway of her hips. Sam couldn't help watching her go.
“I'm afraid so.” John leaned over and kissed Sam lightly on the lips. “I'll call you tonight,” he repeated.
“Okay. Thanks for dinner,” she said, giving him a smile. It died as soon as he turned around, and as he disappeared into the lobby, Sam jumped up and hurried to the front window. From there she could see the brunette open the door to a large, expensive looking black car, letting John slip into the back seat. She shut the door and looked directly at Sam, her eyebrows arching up in a 'well, what did you think we were doing?' expression before she walked around the back of the car and slid into the other rear door.
After a moment's pause, the car pulled away from the curb, and Sam turned around, intending to return to her meal, and had to bite back a shriek when she realized that John's chair was now occupied by his dark haired nemesis.
He looked up at her, the movement laconic. His hands were folded in front of him, elbows on the table, and the woven fingers supporting his chin on bent wrists. He arched one dark eyebrow, his mad-colored eyes glittering beneath curls of dark hair. “Good evening, Ms. Carter.”
She took her seat, reaching for her wine glass. “Go away, or I'll scream for help.”
“You could, but you'd feel quite foolish if you did.” He reached out with one hand and ran a long, graceful finger along the rim of John's wine glass. “How's the wine?”
She paused, the glass almost at her lips, and her eyes flicked down to stare at the dark red dregs. Her throat closing up, she lowered it back to the table with extreme care. “Did you do something to it?”
His eyebrows arched, his lips turned up in an amused, mocking smile. “If I did, why would I call attention to the fact?” he asked, picking up John's glass and finishing the contents. He set it down again, his movements natural and easy. “You're entirely too easy to lead about, it's a habit you must set yourself to breaking, otherwise you'll be little more than a liability.”
Sam glared at him, her hands forming fists on her lap. “John-”
“Doesn't see me as a threat.” The man rolled to his feet. “As well he shouldn't. He is, after all, my absolute favorite puzzle, and I'm very, very protective of him.” He leaned over her as he swept around the table, his mouth almost brushing her ear, his tone languid and placid. “If anything were to happen to him, I would be very, very upset. Wouldn't you?”
She was still staring at John's empty glass as he strode away.
“Okay, that's weird,” Caroline said, an hour later. “Ex-girlfriend?”
“Ex-boyfriend?” Emma asked, enthusiastic about this idea.
“If that's his ex, I don't stand a chance, and he's never, ever seeing me naked,” Sam groused.
“Which one?” Margaret grinned.
“Either,” Sam said, her voice flat. Her head bounced off the table. “I have never come closer to peeing myself in a public restaurant.”
“Wait, he hasn't seen you naked yet?” Emma said, choking on her tea. “Sam, really?”
“Shut up! You think he's a mobster! Why do you want me to sleep with him?”
“Doesn't mean he's bad in bed,” Emma said, shrugging before she picked up her drink. “The constant danger of waiting to be arrested by the police or being gunned down in the street might put a real edge on things, you know?”
Everyone ignored Emma through force of long habit. “Are you sure you're not exaggerating?” Caroline said, looking concerned. “I mean, really, Sam, it doesn't sound that bad. Like, maybe a corporate thing, or I don't know.”
“It's not what he says!” Sam said, frustrated. “It's how he says it. While staring at me. Like he's about to crack my head open on the table and scoop out my brains. And then he will find my brains lacking. He thinks my brains are lacking!”
“Can't argue with that concept right now,” Emma pointed out. “You are having a nervous breakdown about the fact that a creepy guy sat down at your table without an invitation.”
“That is genuinely creepy!”
“That's being female and remotely attractive!” Emma shot back. “At least he didn't hump you on the dance floor and pretend it was because he stumbled!”
“Classy,” Caroline agreed. “Maybe you and John should avoid dance clubs.”
Margaret took a deep breath. “Look, maybe they're right.” Everyone looked at her, and she seemed unusually serious. Her mobile was in her hands, but she wasn't looking at it.
“Who?” Sam asked, confused.
“Everyone who's telling you to break up.” Margaret fiddled with her mobile, and took a deep breath. “I can't find anything on him.”
“Wait, what?” Caroline asked.
“I could if I had more info, I'm sure of it,” Margaret said, defensive. “But with just a name, and a location, a general age, and an occupation... There's nothing.”
“What do you mean, nothing?”
“What I said. Nothing. I'm not pulling up anything on the regular databases, or the legal searches, or anything. There are John Watsons, of course, lots of them, it's not exactly an uncommon name, but for John Watson, MD, living in London, I can't find any matches.”
Everyone stared at her, and she stared back, frustration evident on her face. “It's like he doesn't exist. And that doesn't happen. Sure, there are people who don't pop up on Google, but the databases I'm using, the ones we pay to have access to? No. I need more information, because right now, I cannot find any proof that the man you're dating exists.”
“He exists,” Sam insisted. “I mean, I've seen his pay cheques. His flat. People know him!”
“You didn't see his flat, you saw a building that he said he lived in,” Emma pointed out. “Which is not the same thing.”
“I need more info. He's got an account at your bank,” Margaret wheedled.
“No. No, no, no, that is a breach of trust, as well as borderline illegal.” Sam rubbed her forehead. “I can ask him where he went to school, or when his birthday is, but it's not that weird that people have a low online profile, Margaret.”
“This isn't a low profile, it's no profile. And there's two ways you get that. Number one, you don't exist, which means he's married and made up some fake identity for screwing around with adorably naïve bank tellers-”
“Or two, there's been government intervention to remove all mention of him.”
“Can they do that?” Emma asked, curious.
“Yeah. They can,” Margaret said, and it sounded like the fact annoyed her.
Caroline leaned back in her chair. “That's it.”
Sam gaped at her. “Are you out of your mind? He's not- I'm not dating James Bond!”
“No, you're not, that's the point,” Caroline said, gesturing with her drink. Emma had to duck out of her way when the glass passed just a little too close to her face. “The whole James Bond thing is a crock. That is the last thing they want or need. There is no way Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnon would get hired by MI-6, they're too noticeable. They're too good looking, they stand out too much.
“What MI-6 wants is average. Good looking enough to smooth their way, but not enough to be memorable. Not too tall, not too broad, not too anything. They want average. Just like your John Watson.”
“He's not average,” Sam said, because Caroline, for all of her wild conspiracy theories, was actually making sense, and she did not like when Caroline made sense, because Caroline was unhinged. “He's-”
“He's a ghost online, mysterious women come to collect him in big black cars with drivers, he has some dark haired crazypants following him around, the cops seem to be aware but wary of him, he has a gunshot wound, he's remarkably self-assured in a crisis-”
“He is not a spy!”
“Better than gay porn, right?” Emma paused in the act of taking a sip of her drink. “Do you suppose there's any gay porn of James Bond?”
Everyone looked at her with varying degrees of pity or amusement. “Yes,” Caroline said. “Yes, I do think that a movie series with a villain whose name, in CANON, is Blofeld, kind of lends itself to gay porn parodies.”
“That's a little too easy. What would Watson's be?” Margaret asked.
“Shut up, Sam,” Caro said, “you're the one dating the undercover secret agent.”
“I am not dating-”
“John Whacks-off,” Emma said, and everyone looked at her. “What? It's a good porn parody name.”
“I hate you all.”