Chapter 1: I O U
Come and play.
Bart's Hospital rooftop.
A bouncing ball.
A tapped-out Partita.
A signed text to a supervillain.
Sherlock often had a penchant for the dramatic, but Moriarty's own affinity for it allowed him to slip so seamlessly into the title.
He begged for the recognition.
“Alone is what I have, Alone protects me.”
Alone was what he was, for his entire life- these past eighteen months have been a dream, a gift he did nothing to deserve, nothing more. Alone as a child, setting up chemistry sets in the attic of a house too big for two children. Alone at university, the last place where he’d allowed himself to try and make friends and fail miserably. Alone was what he had been before a discharged army doctor met up with an old friend on accident.
And Alone was what he will be- he had worked on this plan for months, longer than anyone would have been able to guess, and reveled in the idea that it was going to work so well. So many facets of the situation brought together, so many ways for it to go wrong addressed and made into secondary, tertiary plans. So many huge parts left until the very end for him to figure out with a tiny ohh...
He felt like he should be overjoyed. This was the best game he'd ever played, the strongest player he'd ever played against, and he knew that he'd never get a chance like this again. He should be riding the high of a lifetime.
And after he’d beaten Moriarty, he’d have three to seven years to play his own game, traveling the world to funravel his web. Three to seven years in which boredom will be the faintest notion. Three years if his act was convincing enough to get Jim to kill himself on the roof- closer to seven if he had to find another way, another time to kill the man. Seven years was a long time away from home. From boredom. The idea should excite him.
Alone had always been what he had. It had always protected him. It had always made it easier for him to keep other people- ordinary people, messy and stupid, stumbling from day to day with no single clue as to which way was up and which was down- out of the picture. When all he had to worry about was himself, he had less variables to clutter his head with. He should have done well to remember that.
“Nope. Friends protect people.”
And he had been right. It didn't hurt to hear John say it because he was agreeing with Sherlock- even if he wasn’t yet aware of it. It didn’t hurt to hear him say it.
Sherlock allowed himself three seconds to close his eyes and take a singlular inhale as the door closed behind John, a three-second moment that was intercepted roughly forty percent of the way through by the soft beep of his phone.
He’d always tucked his scarf underneath his coat when he draped it over a chair or left it on a counter, but it was necessary to snake the deep blue fabric around his neck first- he should have decided on a more efficient way to place his things, considering the staggering amount of times he’s had to jump up on less than a moment’s notice and leave. He should have figured out a way to put his scarf and jacket on at the same time while he was running out the door. He could even have figured out a way to make it look graceful.
The last wishes of a man standing at the steps of the gallows.
He took the stairs instead of the elevator- less chance he would come into contact with someone, he was technically still a fugitive- and felt the roughness of the handrail as he grasped it loosely, taking his time up each flight of stairs. It would give him more time-
More time to think through the plan once more.
Check for any holes.
Scheduling was running a little early, he would have to account for that.
Why did Molly have to catch John’s attention so early? And with something so dire? He’d thought he’d told her a time six minutes after the one that John had stormed out of the hospital in search of a fictional emergency. It would have to do, though. He would have to readjust his plan by six minutes.
He was pretty sure he could do that.
He just wished he had a little more time.
He wasn’t scared.
He had planned this for months.
He longed for the look of defeat on Moriarty’s face, but he knew that wasn’t in the plan- play against him, he knew. Bore him to death, he knew- Literally. It was the only way.
The only way to beat this game was to make the other player know they’d won.
It was boring.
It was cheating.
There was just too much at stake to play by the rules anymore.
He didn’t take a moment to himself before he opened the door to the top of the roof- that would be fear, that would be regret, that would be weakness- but he stopped in the doorway as he allowed his eyes to adjust to the light, the familiar sound of Jim’s ringtone from the edge of the roof.
“All my life, I’ve been searching for distractions.”
He knew how that felt- he knew the static feeling of hopping from one case to another, the lows between each high, the knowledge that even the highest high, the greatest game, at some point has to end. It gives him no sympathy for Moriarty, the man who has played his life like a game of checkers. It does, however, give him a loose feeling of kinship.
“You were the best distraction and now I don’t even have you. Because I’ve beaten you.”
That’s right, Sherlock. Look surprised. Play into his hand. This is the hard part- he’s had to play a lot of things in his career, but wrong was never one of them. Out of his wits is not a mode that Sherlock can run on comfortably.
But he’ll learn. In a split second he’ll decide on just the right muscles to pull in his face to give him a look that spells confusion.
It’s not a good look for him. It doesn’t sit right on his shoulders.
It’s painful to talk about the key code without bountiful amounts of sarcasm, but he’ll play.
“… I can kill Rich Brook and I can bring back Jim Moriarty.”
That seemed to catch his attention. Good, good, Jim. Take the bait. Take a look at how easy the game was. How useless.
The fake code.
The simple break-ins.
“Sherlock, Sherlock… You’re making it too easy. You were supposed to be fun! You were supposed to distract me.”
His eyes jumped up for a quick second, somewhere on the skyline before the settled back on Sherlock. Before he could follow, Moriarty continued.
“No, I’m not done playing with you yet, I don’t think. Now shall we continue with the game? Glad you picked a tall building, nice way to do it,”
He stepped closer to the edge of the roof, just as Moriarty stepped back- looked over the edge. Everything was in place- the bus, the people; Sherlock could even see the cyclist in the distance, waiting for John. The only thing they were waiting on now was his big jump.
Any fear in his eyes was purely for effect.
The trick had been set up- he just needed to perform it. He had twelve minutes- no, six minutes. Six minutes. Six minutes to try and kill Moriarty with his own hand or consign himself to seven years of the most interesting game he’s ever played.
Jim Moriarty looked disappointed.
“Oh, come on… Not everything is about you, Sherlock. I know you’re not quite used to hearing that, but it’s true…”
Sing-song and lilting. Jim took three more steps backward, Sherlock turning away from the edge to follow him.
A phone rang.
The ringtone was unfamiliar to him- hardly anyone called him, as they became fast aware that he wouldn’t respond unless texted- but it buzzed in his coat pocket, insistent.
Carefully, he pulled the phone out of his pocket, glanced at the screen.
He wasn’t supposed to call. He wasn’t supposed to take any time out of getting here as fast as he could, paying close attention to the taxi driver lest he take a detour to up the fare.
“Go on, Sherlock, Answer.”
Sherlock’s gaze snapped back up to Moriarty, who was leaning against the brick wall behind him now, smiling.
“Take the call. It’s only fair- I owe you one.”
Sherlock pressed his thumb to the touch screen, then the phone to his ear.
“John, are- “
“Turn around, Sherlock.”
Slowly, he pivoted on his heels. His eyes searched for a speck of John on the sidewalk, on the asphalt, by the parked cars- nothing.
“Look up. I’m on the rooftop.”
To his left, two stories higher- Sherlock allowed himself a single exhale, emptying his lungs as he caught up with the scenario he hadn’t even thought of.
Sherlock stepped up on to the ledge of his own rooftop, half of his brain trained on John, the other whirring up secondary plans, tertiary plans- none of them applied anymore. He had been so certain.
“This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.”
From the other side of the road, through the phone, John gave a soft laugh.
“When does it ever go the way it’s supposed to go?”
“John, stay where you are, whatever you do, just don’t-”
He stopped. He had three plans as of right now, but all of them required taking his eyes off of John, which wasn’t something he was willing to do.
The voice on the other line was hard and determined as ever, sure as if he was the one holding the gun to the back of the man about to jump to his death for a friend.
“-Don’t do what they you do to, just- just wait there, I'll think of something-”
“Sherlock, listen to me-.”
“-I've got about four plans right now that could possibly work depending on the make of the gun behind your back and the history of the man holding it, I'm too far away, I can't see much more than the obvious military training-”
Sherlock stopped, mouth slightly open but silent. There was a soft insistence in John's voice, both comforting and authoritative.
“It's going to be okay.”
He heard a deeper man's voice in the background- counting down from three.
“Listen- I- I have to go-”
“-It's going to be okay. Okay?”
The line was dead, he didn't know why he was still talking into the speaker-
His hand dropped from his ear slowly, an arm reaching out almost instinctively as the shorter man stepped up onto the ledge of the building across from him-
The people on the street stopped, looked up to him in alarm; some were people he'd hired, others, visitors of the hospital that bustled beneath his feet-
John had an arm out as well, his left arm, but with his palm raised; stay right where you are-
And he fell-
There was a ringing in Sherlock's ears as he watched the body tilt off the edge of the building, allowing gravity to pull it with a regular force of 9.807 metres per second squared to crash right down to the-
His eyes shut themselves, and it took all of his willpower to keep from turning away visibly to Moriarty-
He took a breath.
In three seconds, he'd open his eyes.
Two seconds, and he'd flood his mind with data and information on what his next step should be.
One second, and he'd force himself to-
Two seconds more, and then maybe he'd start thinking about what to do next.
He pulled his eyes open, stepped off of the ledge- people were pointing up at him, maybe expecting him to jump, too. Moriarty was long gone from the rooftop- off to exact the next stage of the plan.
Sherlock could hear sirens in the distance. The road below was bustling with people around-
He took two steps back. The scene was just in veiw from over the edge, barely visible from behind a car- he could see one leg. A right leg and- and blood.
The sirens were getting closer, two police cars speeding down Hosier Lane. He became vaguely aware that they were for him, either because someone on the street had recognised him or that they thought he was another jumper. He was gripping his phone with enough force to turn his knuckles marble white. There was a ball tied to the inside of his right arm to make his pulse stop and it was making him uncomfortable.
Every time he exhaled, he could hear his heartbeat.
Somewhere in the depths of the Hospital below him, Molly Hooper was running through the hallways, trying to find John Watson so she could tell him there had been an accident, he needed to get to Baker Street as fast as he could.
At the foot of St. Bart’s, four policemen got out of their cars, yelling at Sherlock to step farther away from the edge. Another car pulled up and two more policemen entered the Hospital, coming to collect Sherlock Holmes, the fake genius, the culprit to all of the crimes.
And on the opposite sidewalk, the body of Dr. John H. Watson was already being hoisted onto a geurney.
Chapter 2: The Sleep of John Watson
In the sleep of the dead, one does not dream, nor think of things that have passed or have yet to come. But one has a hazy awareness of what happens at present.
The sharp taktaktaktaktaktaktaktak of gunfire in the distance.
It was hot and dry, and flourescent light above him filtered in through his eyelids and made it hard to keep them either open or closed comfortably.
No, that wasn’t it.
He was back in the war- it turned out that the doctors and nurses and psychologists were just mistaken, the bullet missed his shoulder by mere inches, whized by and became inbedded in the sand thousands of feet behind him, we’re sorry for the inconvenience, you’re welcome back if you’ll have us.
In some short moments he would have to leap up from where he was propped up with his eyes closed and his gun cradled firmly in his arms- he would have to exit the safety he’d found and run across the way to the next barrier- but for now he could close his eyes and breathe as if he was sleeping. He didn’t know the next time he’d be able even feign rest, and so he figured it was better than nothing.
John squeezed his eyelids shut, as if that would make the man’s voice go away. Instead, the creeping feeling of eyes on his face made such notions as ‘a few moments of goddamned shut-eye’ impossible.
He opened his own eyes and turned to meet face to face with the face of a dark-skinned private, young and promising, peering at John with a determined lack of fear in his eyes. He’d been with this man for seven weeks now but didn’t really know a hell of a lot about the kid- he was twenty three, a fiancée and six month old son back home that he’d never yet held. He felt like he belonged when he served in the military but didn’t want to make a career of it.
No, wait, he knew this story. The story of the Captain and his Last Remaining Private.
“Ready when you are.”
This was the part of the story when the kid can’t keep his head down and gets shot, right in the sensitive part behind the ear, with enough force to send bits of his brain at the Captain, to be discovered under his collar when the helicopter finds him alone in the middle of the desert two days later, limping fiercely and putting pressure on the wound in his shoulder that he’d managed to clean and sew up himself.
He knew this one all too well.
John pulled on his shoulder straps, strengthened the grip on his gun, and looked back over to the private to give him the go-ahead.
Icy blue eyes stared back at him.
Sherlock’s curls spilled out from under the private’s helmet. He’d forgotten his pack somewhere; they’d have to share rations. He felt a small pang of annoyance, but he knew he had himself to blame- what was he thinking, taking Sherlock back to war with him? They’d told him it was a bad idea. He doesn’t belong in Afganistan, he’s a civillian. If anything happened to him, it’d be on John, did he know that?
Sherlock didn’t know where to put his hands on the gun, and his jacket was done up all wrong- John sighed, fighting the urge to both yell at him for indecency and reach over and fix it for him. John thought that Sherlock looked scared, but suddenly very far away. It was hard to focus on his face.
“It’s okay, Sherlock. It’s going to be okay.”
He took a last, deep breath, shifting his position to better jump up- he kept looking back at Sherlock, who kept forgetting that he needed to stay down- curiousity was constantly getting the better of him and soon someone had to take notice of the head that kept poking out from where they were hiding. They needed higher ground.
“Okay, Sherlock. On three, okay?”
“John, I have a plan-”
“John, stay where you are-”
“I’ve got four plans right now that could possibly work depending-”
A sharp pain in his shoulder.
He couldn’t open his eyes- hard as he tried, he was too drowsy, lids too heavy. He couldn’t move his arms, whether for fatigue or paralysis he couldn’t tell. There was a thin blanket cast over him and the soft murmur of machines near his head.
He caught up with the situation just long enough to wonder where he was and what had happened before he was out again.
He woke up in his bedroom at 221B. The walls were different- they were the same wallpaper pattern as the living room wall downstairs, but, wait, hadn’t that always been like that? Or had Mrs. Hudson done that recently? She must have fixed it up a bit while he was out.
It was the middle of the day. Why was he sleeping in the middle of the day?
Oh, yes. He’d had quite the fall yesterday- he must have been rather tired. Well, sleep was best for that, right? A nice sleep through the day, but four o’clock was really rather unacceptable.
Four o’clock? His watch said eight thirty right now.
He rubbed his face, putting on his shoes and socks before making his way down the stairs.
He turned into the kitchen, pulling things down from the cabinets- bread and jam, butter and eggs from the fridge. He put the kettle on and called for Sherlock- he could hear the violin from the bedroom.
There was no bedroom down here. Just the upstairs, just his.
He was not worried, but he was confused- the violin was coming from somewhere. He wheeled out and checked the hallway, the stairwell- the bathroom, even- but the only conclusion he could come up with was the bedroom, which was rediculous because there was no other bedroom at all.
And then, the sound of music stopped, leaving the ringing din of silence and the boil of the kettle. Somehow, this was more disconcerting than a noise with no source.
From somewhere far above him, an unfamiliar voice cooed him back to sleep as he felt something new and heavy enter his bloodstream:
“Shh, Dr. Watson. Just relax.”
In the sleep of the dead, one does not dream. You are not entirely unaware of the passing of time, however- there is always some part of you that sits awake and in waiting, tapping one’s feet, checking the clock on the wall, maybe flipping through a magazine or two.
It is as such for John Watson, who does not feel or know what it is that is happening to him, exactly, but knows somewhere that something is indeed happening, that he did not just take a small nap and will wake up with that disorienting feeling that occasionally assrises. He knew, somewhere in that brain of his, that while there was very little cranial activity (very little activity at all, one might say; his body was working at less than fourteen percent its average) he was still home, just had all of the blinds pulled down and the lights turned off and was accepting no visitors, thank you very much.
In the sleep of the dead, one does not dream, nor think of things that have passed or have yet to come. But one has a hazy awareness of what happens at present. Small words and images would flit in John’s consciousness as time wore on (and time, indefinitely, wore on, but far too slowly for him to make much sense out of it, like staring at a picture right up to your eyes) and stick to his brain for the moments that it could afford to exert itself for things like thinking.
The telephoned sound of a nurse’s voice: professionally concerned;
The sting of a new IV needle pressed into the skin of the inside of his elbow;
Something being tied around his neck just under the collar of his shirt, a little too tight for his liking;
The hum of a car motor under him.
There are some times, even, that he resurfaced from the blackness and became quite aware of his surroundings for a few moments before fatigue brought him back down- a light room with the buzz of isolation, a car ride with a person breathing beside him, cold fingers on his wrist.
And just now, a dark, small space.
If he’d had the energy to do so, he’d probably feel it a good time to be alarmed.
Instead, he let himself settle into the white silk pillow.
Chapter 3: Pleading Genius
Sherlock closed his eyes. He held them closed, and for four point nine seconds he was back on the rooftop.
The room was too bright and smelt overwhemlingly of dust. Sherlock sat with his hands in his lap, feet directly under his knees and his back straight.
His eyes were two small, ever-observing slits in his skull, and an unforgivable headache was pounding in between them.
There was a man in a white wig talking to a tall woman in a green suit about him. He was busy dating the minute crack running up the podium. They weren’t going to talk to him, anyways. Not today.
He was just supposed to look interested in his own hearing.
Let’s start at the beginning, they’d decided. Boring.
“Mr. Sherlock Holmes is convicted of possession of an illegal handgun, burglary, forgery, resisting arrest, trespassing, pickpocketing, the abduction of two minors, coercion of Richard Brook, Theft of the Riechenbach paintings, fabrication of false evidence for at least… fifty criminal cases…”
His lawyer sat silent next to Sherlock, patient enough only to pull the cell phone out of the Holmes’ hand when she’d caught him using it about half an hour ago. Her last nerve had been dangerously close to breaking by the time her client started tapping out Tchaikovsky on the table.
At the Podium, a woman who had solicited Sherlock’s help sat fiddling with her nails. She had called him looking for the father of her children- upon a few misleading details, Sherlock took the case only to find that he had simply retired to his other family in Spain. Dull.
“There was no way he could have… caused the whole thing, but… it did seem rather… Peculiar, how he knew everything.”
“How likely would you say it was that Mr. Holmes faked his… Guesses?”
“Oh, they weren’t guesses, he was rather adamant about that-”
“Very likely? Somewhat Likely?”
“It’s okay, Mrs. Charles, he can’t do anything to you if you tell the truth.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes- an exercise he’d been participating in almost religiously since the trial had commenced- taking a quick look behind him. Just for a change of scenery. Just to assess the data he was missing by sitting in the front of the room.
From the balcony, he met eyes with a familiar silver-haired man.
Dressed in Black.
Detective Lestrade looked slightly bored before their eyes met- his face immediately fell, however, when they did. Now he was checking his phone- he should be leaving soon, since it’s a bit of a drive to the cemetary from here and it’s nearing the end of the work day, traffic is going to be terrible if he waits any longer. He’s sitting with a few other people, and through they’re all strangers to Sherlock even from the quick glance he took he knows that they are all members of the force- and ones that he’d worked with, too.
He must have- they were all wearing funeral black. Probably dragged here after they agreed to carpool with Lestrade.
Why would they bother going to John’s-
What business did they have going to the funeral?
I’d worked with them for longer than he has. He didn’t even really work with them, not really. They worked with me. They have no reason to mourn him.
He pressed the thoughts from his mind easily- unnecessary- and continued to feign attention to the trial.
Now they were presenting more evidence against him- a woman he didn’t know was standing on the podium, saying that she’d been there for the drugs bust, after Sherlock had stolen evidence.
“It seems a little… coincidential, to me, that he just knew that there’d be a pink case. And how to find it. It was just too much.”
Sherlock closed his eyes.
He held them closed, and for four point nine seconds he was back on the rooftop.
Four point nine… one six, seconds, if he was correct.
Of course he was correct.
He was closing his eyes and he was unwilling to open them again because John was on the other side of them, somewhere on the pavement, broken-
Dr. John Watson was dead.
His funeral was going to be held today.
Sherlock would be held in court.
He pressed his eyes closed ever more tightly, wishing the headache would disappear from the centre of his brain.
It’s only a funeral.
They’re stupid, anyways. Funerals.
I mean, why would you bother? They’re already dead.
You didn’t see him fall, there is no reason to believe that he is actually-
“The Court calls Mr. Sains to the podium.”
Mr. Sains is a man who apparently knew Sherlock very well for the course of a few minutes at a Tesco. He protects Sherlock’s name, but with the sort of vehemency that brings to mind the practice of staring into windows with a set of binoculars and Sherlock is left to wonder how he’d even found his way into the courtroom in the first place.
Sherlock rolled his eyes.
Somewhere in the crowd was James Moriarty- Richard Brook- who was most likely dressed in an unassuming manner, a white button up, black trousers and a cheap tie tied by a woman to make it looks as if he was loved, would be missed. James Moriarty had been on trial once, and he had done well to make it very obvious to the casual viewer that Richard Brook would have to be an astounding actor to cover the leaps and bounds between the two characters.
A cameraman pointed his lens at Sherlock. He could only imagine what tale the news crew would tell over his face on the six o’clock news this afternoon-
”Sherlock Holmes, convicted of at least thirty separate crimes including the kidnapping of the US Ambassador’s children earlier this month, appeared in his first hearing this morning in the Central Criminal Court. Today is also the funeral of Dr. John Watson, Military hero and Mr. Holmes’ infamous sidekick and chronologist, who commited suicide last Friday at St. Bart’s Hospital. No word yet as to how that will affect the trials of Mr. Holmes-”
No, best not imagine it.
No, it was just useless to imagine it. It didn’t even quell his boredom.
Several long minutes drag by- twelve- in which the lawyer gets through an interrogation and a half. There is an old woman who’d contacted Sherlock seeking help and was indeed helped, and a school teacher who’d contacted Sherlock seeking help and was indeed not helped before a slam of a door in the back attracted the attention of the room.
Sherlock’s eyes shot directly to Moriarty- he didn’t trust him, not even with a slamming door. It seemed that Jim was in accord, as his eyes had been trained on Sherlock even before he had reciprocated- Moriarty gave him a quick smile, eyebrows shooting up and into his hair.
Sherlock cast a quick glance at the offending door, which was now shut and silent. After the very short pause, the court recommenced- a glance further behind him revealed that the group in black had disappeared.
The funeral had started without him.
Harry Watson had always imagined her brother’s funeral swaddled in the prideful colours of Queen and Country. She’d always imagined herself drunk on Clara’s arm, expertly dabbing black tears out of her mascara so it would never run. She wouldn’t have to speak because she was Captain John Watson’s drunk older sister, there were people much more important than her to say words much more meaningful about him. Sometimes, there was even a Mrs. Watson with a dainty veil pressed over the top half of her face, chest heaving and (if she was feeling really creative) stomach swollen with the promise of a family. Sometimes Clara wasn’t there, and Mrs. Watson and Harry would marry four years later so the woman could take care of her deceased husband’s son and sister.
The reality was not so much more bleak- no uniform, no crying wife, but scores of mourners and a closed black coffin. Much too nice for John to have bought- the entire funeral was too nice for John’s paycheck or pension to cover. The priest gave a few words about the hardships the virtues of bravery- no one offered to speak.
It seemed as if everyone knew that the only one with the right was currently on trial.
There were a staggering amount of people that flitted in and out during the wake- school friends that she recognized well, rugby friends she could hold a conversation with, soldiers that she could only guess the name of, and many more that she had no idea about. Some felt the need to come up to her and introduce themselves, offer condolences. A silver man with kind brown eyes and the curly-haired Sergeant who looked uncomfortable being here. A red-haired Tory with an umbrella and his attractive- wow, very attractive- assistant. Neither of them seemed to be particularily upset, but the man was sympathetic to her, even if he refused to shake her hand.
She’d been sober three weeks when she’d gotten the call on Monday morning.
She’d taken the train down to London for the Funeral- why her brother loved living in this damn city, she’d never know. Slept most of the way there with the help of the scotch in her aluminium water bottle, and by the time she’d checked into her hotel she’d allowed herself to pass out on the bed, spilling precious last drops down the front of her blouse;
She’d went out later that night with a bit of a bedhead but a swing in her hips, hit all of the bars that she’d thought that John would have liked and avoided the one that they’d met at the last time she visited him when he was still in medical school, when she made fun of him and he flirted blatantly with her girlfriend;
She’d walked around the city’s better-lit areas, jamming her hands in her pockets and cursing her brother for, if he had to move somewhere out of their native town, not choosing somewhere tropical, vacation-like; a funeral in the south of France couldn’t possibly be too bad, even if it was your baby brother you were burying;
She’d found herself in front of a black door telling her 221B, a peculiar address that John had given her sixteen months ago skeptically over an email- I know you’re not going to visit, but just in case, and staring in wonder as she imagined her brother fuddling with the keys under this very light, or triping on the crack she was standing over, arms full of groceries, or storming out with his flatmate at odd hours in the day doing- whatever it was they did. Harry never really did ask.
She’d never seen the flat that John had come to call home. She’d never seen the inside, not even in pictures- the lights were off, the drapes were pulled, she couldn’t see in now, either. Had he stayed in the first or second floor? Where was the kitchen? Did he prefer to sit on the couch, feet propped up on the coffee table, or were there sets of chairs around a fireplace, one per each?
She’d never even met his flatmate, the illustrious and infuriating Sherlock Holmes. She’d never seen him in person, but it’d be quite impossible not to have seen the papers- even before this fraud business, they’d pop up in the papers, Hatman and Robin, after a particularily high-profile case. He was a head full of curls and designer suits; exactly the type of person that John usually avoided, even took to bullying when they were kids.
She’d teased John when she’d read how he spoke about Sherlock in his blogs- he did, he sounded positively smitten with him. She was mostly just poking fun in a way that an older sibling was obligated to, point out and embarrass the younger even when he’s just back from almost half a life of military training, but in the little comment-banters they’d have sometimes on John’s website (or Sherlock’s- Harry had spent a nosy afternoon browsing disinterestedly through it) there was an obvious…
An attraction. There was no other way to say it.
John had never really lived with anyone for that long before. Usually it was her place for a few months and then back to the war.
Well, judging by the entries on the blog Harry had bookmarked, he’d found a new way to get his kicks. Their family had never been completely sane, anyways. There was always something with a Watson- Her drinking, John’s addiction to violence. Their mother and father had their own things, as did their aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins. It was a peculiar funeral indeed if it was a natural death. Boring. What gossip would there have been to talk about?
Out of all of the Watson family funerals Harry had been to, she had to say- John had them all beat by miles.
There was his death- jumped off of a building? Was pushed? Why did he jump? And then his friend- was he even a friend? Was he guilty, was he innocent? You could tell a member of the family from a friend or collegue by the way they clumped together and shared each other’s theories:
“I heard he was pushed, god rest his soul…”
“It was just after he found out that his boyfriend was a criminal, I still think it was suicide, it’s trying on a person to be lied to by someone you love…”
“Boyfriend? Did you know John?”
“Oh, they had to be more than flatmates, why else would he die for him?”
“Susan, he was a soldier.”
“I still think he was pushed, he probably made a lot of enemies, catching criminals and the like…”
They chattered amongst themselves, startling and offending the other funeralgoers.
Harry had always imagined burying her brother young; it wasn’t a surprise, there were no tears.
Chapter 4: Wake Up
He was, if Anthea was to be trusted, in Holmes Manor.
He didn't trust her- she worked for Mycroft.
That was what got him here in the first place.
There’s a pounding in his head and a dizziness about him that makes him sure that he’s spinning around, but the bed he’s in is the most comfortable he’s ever slept in and so he pulls the covers over his eyes and shuts the world out.
The next time he wakes up, it’s dark outside and the headache is gone.
John felt no need to pull himself from the bed as of yet- the mattress was just the right firmness, the pillows neither too flat nor puffy, the sheets and blankets soft and cool on his skin. He was still feeling rather dizzy, as if he was at sea, and his brain was fuzzy enough for him to have very few qualms about not giving more thought about his surroundings.
Instead, he settled further into the pillows and wondered if he was actually on a boat or if he had just been drugged.
Wait a second, he had been drugged.
Where the hell was he?
His eyes drifted drearily open as he tried to pull himself out of bed, running his hands through air like syrup, using most of his willpower to keep his head up straight.
He poked his head out from the blankets, propping it up on the headboard in an attempt to ground himself.
The movement sends a sharp needle of pain through his left shoulder.
Had he been shot again? Or was that from the first time?
What was going on?
It was dark, and he was disoriented, but he could tell that he was in a very impersonal but luxurious bedroom- the colours were either green or blue, the wallpaper fine and detailed. There was a desk to one side with a lamp on it and a metal cup of nice pens. To his right, a wooden wardrobe- his left, a floor mirror and the door. The window was behind him, casting light on the blanket in four quadrants. Green, then. The room had that distinct smell of not being opened or even thought about for a very long time.
Baby steps; with his right arm he hoisted himself up, pushing himself against the headboard (solid wood) until his back rested solidly against it; he was wearing cotton pyjamas, a button up shirt and bottoms that were just too big for him and therefore had become twisted with sleep. With his right hand he pressed gingerly on his left shoulder- travelling further inward revealed a lump-like mass near his neck and a world of pain.
Broken collarbone. Maybe a week old.
Okay. He could deal with that.
Step two: secure the perimitre.
He could feel his head lilting from one side to the other as he slowly pulled his legs out from under the blankets- damn, they were a lot heavier than when he was under them- and, one foot at a time, found the floor. Carpet, plush.
He made to stand up and, without really know what took place in between the two points, found himself on the floor, comfortable save for the fact that his head was a dreidel. Even the carpet was more comfortable than he was used to- his body had started sinking, settling into it even after he’d fallen- but it wasn’t where he’d wanted to be right now. On the floor was not exactly the best battle strategy.
He heard footsteps in the hall.
He tried to prop himself up on his arms, which proceeded to flail wildly whenever he tried to move them precisely, until he finally got himself propped up, leaning against the bed.
There was a knock at the door. A woman’s voice, slightly familiar, asking very quietly,
“Dr. Watson? Are you up?”
He grapsed the side of the end table very tightly, preparing to use it to ease himself onto his feet.
“… Dr. Watson? Are you okay?”
He was halfway standing when the table flipped under his hand, sending him crashing down under a lamp, a glass of water and a few newspapers.
“I’m opening the door, Dr. Watson.”
John tried to form the words in his mouth to let her know that he was okay, it was all okay, but instead ended up sounding more like a dial up connection in slow motion- he let his head drop onto the (now wet) carpet as the key turned in the lock and the legs of a young woman came into view.
“Come on. Let me get you back on the bed.”
She pulled him up by wrapping her arms under his armpits and hoisting him half onto the bed, then quickly swinging his legs after him; if he was a little more conscious he would have felt the need to help her, she was small and he was chivalrous, but he felt comfortable letting her do the work and she was stronger than she seemed.
It was then when he’d finally been able to see her face, place the voice- Anthea. Or, not Anthea.
“Well, hi there,”
She smiled, but only on one side of her face. Her eyebrows got lost under the fringe that now hanged in front of her forehead. She’s mocking me, the voice in the back of his head informed him.
“How do you feel, Doctor?”
“I’m fine, really.”
That was what John had imagined he’d said- from the look on her face, he’d obviously said something much different. She continued to speak as she bent over, uprighting the table and lamp. She picked up the glass (unbroken) and newspapers (now soggy) and held them in her hands as she stared down ad John;
“I’m going to ask you not to try and get out of bed, Dr. Watson. Just get some rest.”
“Good night, John.”
“Where- Where am I?”
She stopped to look at him, eyebrowed furrowed in an attempt to understand what it was he was trying to say.
“Holmes manor, Dr. Watson. You’re safe.”
She gave him one more smile- this one on both sides of her face, almost friendly save for that thin, sheer film of condescension.
“Toilet’s on your right.”
And she shut the door behind her.
When he next woke up, it was daytime. The sun shone dimmly through the drapes but stronger rays had found cracks on the sides and in the centre, one dragging itself straight across John’s face and through the thin skin of his eyelids.
He still had one hell of a headache, but when he went to sit up he found that he was actually in control of his body now.
He also had an urgent need to take a piss.
He rubbed his face as he pulled the covers off of him, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and stepping right into a wet spot on the carpet-
The night before came back into memory.
It really didn’t surprise him that the Holmes family had a manor. At the moment, however, he was a little more interested in the fact that the restroom was, indeed, on his right.
Even the damn toilet was lavish.
He swayed a bit as he stood, still a little dizzy, but he didn’t feel as if he was about so fall over- almost as if he was a little drunk, and a little drunk was a state of mind that he could deal with expertly. He finished up and washed his hands and face, staring at the mirror for a long while at the sallowed face that stared him back. He hadn’t eaten much in the past week, that much was certain- he had a hunger that only reached his stomach in a way that suggested that he’d been fed through an IV for a while. His collarbone was broken- still healing, he should really have his arm in a sling.
And he was, if Anthea was to be trusted, in Holmes Manor.
He didn't trust her- she worked for Mycroft.
That was what got him here in the first place.
From just outside, John heard a soft rapping on the door, a silky voice-
“Dr. Watson, when you’re available to speak I would like to have a few words with you.”
Speak of the fucking devil.
“Yeah… yeah, I’ll be right out.”
John scowled into the towel he was using to dry his face before pulling off his (wet) socks and throwing them in the hamper by the shower, opening the door to stand face to face with Mycroft Holmes.
Even with a three piece suit and almost a foot against John, the soldier stood tall against the other man, looking as dignified as he could in pajamas.
They stared at each other for a long moment because Mycroft took in a sharp breath, turning on a heel to walk farther down the hall.
“This way, Dr. Watson,”
And John could do little else but follow.
They were sitting in almost the same office that John had sat in when he visited Mycroft at the Diogenes. There were very subtle differences- The uninspired (but probably original) romantic landscape hanged on the opposite wall, the bookshelf holding different books.
“Do sit down, Dr. Watson, when you’re finished,”
The eldest Holmes had already sat himself behind his desk, reclining only as he sat- his back was straight, his suit pristine; it took a look down at his own self for John to remember that he was barefoot in pyjamas he had been wearing for god knows how long.
He stood for a long moment, mostly out of a need to contradict anything Mycroft told him to do, before he finally took his seat. It was plush and leather, but not entirely comfortable- he'd figured that was, like everything else, on purpose.
Mycroft sat with his hands clasped on the desk, lips pursed and waiting. After an impatient moment, he quirked one eyebrow.
John opened his mouth, closed it, looked around as if the books or landscape would help him, and then turned back to the taller man- Well? He asked with a gesture of his arms. Well what? Mycroft replied with a roll of his eyes.
“Are you going to explain- anything? I mean, it’s you, I can’t expect anything coherent but you could at least-”
“Where would you like me to start, Dr. Watson? I am on a rather… Occupied schedule today, I can’t be here all day as you fumble to express your dissatisfaction.”
Holmeses. They were intolerable.
“I jumped off of a building.”
For a second only, Mycroft allowed himself to scowl, roll his eyes. It occurred to John that he might be one of the few people around whom the man allowed himself to break- he certainly had not scowled and rolled his eyes at John when he'd first abducted him. It did not make him feel special, or better-liked than the other people Mycroft may deal with; mostly just comfortably less significant.
“Yes, you did.”
“We talked about this in the car, I thought.”
“No, you told me that if I didn’t jump from a building Sherlock would die. That was all.”
“And that remains to be the case.”
“All right, you’re not going to explain. I just- I just jumped from a bloody building on your word.”
“I told you that you were in safe hands-“
"No, you told me to trust the people who were about to abduct me. You could have at least explained a little."
"I didn't have enough time to explain. If I had wasted but a minute, Moriarty would have known something was wrong. We were on a very tight schedule and your questions were not conducive to it. You risked the lives of many involved with your persistence, Dr. Watson. My brother's included."
"So if I hadn't jumped from a building on your orders, Moriarty would have killed Sherlock."
"No, no, Moriarty was going to kill you anyways. It was originally his people that were to abduct you from 221B. I simply ensured that it was a more… pleasurable party. It had to seem to Moriarty that it was what happened, though. And to Sherlock."
"So he's okay, then, He didn't-"
John stopped, tilted his head slightly to the right in revelation.
"He thinks I'm dead."
Finally, Mycroft's face read.
"Your funeral was two days ago."
"He went to my funeral."
“No, he was arrested after the police were called when you jumped from the building. He remains in the hands of the law.”
“You’re not going to let him go? Don’t try to tell me you don’t have the power to throw a court hearing.”
“I have the power to throw a court hearing, but not the opinion of every resident of London. Everyone believes in Richard Brook’s story.”
“Hm, I wonder why that’s the case.”
“Dr. Watson, I would much appreciate if you were to stick to one question, implied or otherwise.”
John took a deep breath, trying to keep himself from becoming angry- well, too angry. A simple look at this man's face was enough for him to teeter over the edge, now.
But, as it happens, it was this man who had saved his life. He forced himself to feel an ounce of gratefulness for that.
"I thought Moriarty was after Sherlock."
"He is. His original plan was for Sherlock to commit suicide after sufficiently dragging his name into ruin."
"You helped him."
"I made it easy."
He was dangerously close to shouting now. Mycroft was so calm, almost proud; a small half-smile on the right side of his lips as he spoke callously of his betrayal to his younger brother. Oh, he'd made it easy, all right- gave Moriarty all of the tools he needed to ruin Sherlock, bring him as low as a person could possibly go. He'd made it easy, well, that was an understatement-
Something snapped together in John's brain. Mycroft gave him a minute look, pinpointing the exact moment John caught on.
"You made it too easy."
“I could count on Sherlock to continue challenging James Moriarty, but with a perfect hand even Sherlock was no match against him. He felt cheated from his big finish.”
“So you knew that he was going to go after me instead.”
“I didn’t know. But it was the only plausible outcome.”
“You- you ruined your brother’s life to keep him from dying.”
“Is there anything else you would like to ask me, Dr. Watson?”
He was pressed for time. John was suddenly filled with questions.
“Where is Moriarty?”
“In London, still working under the guise of Richard Brook. He’s planted a substantial amount of evidence for this new character- he has help in very high places.”
“What’s his next plan? Do you know?”
“Judging by his past actions we are of the assumption that he will continue to play the role of Richard Brook until Sherlock is either found guilty of his crimes or someone comes up with evidence of his fraud.”
“When do I get to leave?”
Mycroft sighed, though even that was half-hearted; of course he’d expected John to want to help. It was quite obvious that it wasn’t what he’d wanted, however.
“Dr. Watson, I’m sure you understand the normal state of a man two days after his funeral-”
“I’m supposed to be dead. That doesn’t mean I can’t help.”
“We’ll see if there’s something you can do. With your military experience and medical education you are not without merit, even with your… Physical and psychological injuries.”
John opened his mouth just as Mycroft stood up, brushing his hands against his already-smooth vest.
“I’m afraid that’s all of the time I have, Dr. Watson. I will be in touch with you soon.”
“What am I supposed to do until then? Stay here?”
“I’m sure you’ll find yourself perfectly comfortable here. We’ve taken good care to provide you with anything you may need during your stay. I will have to ask you not to leave the house, however- even to go outside.”
He looked at John once more before picking up his overcoat and umbrella from near the door, a peculiar look in his eyes that John couldn’t quite place but would label something very close to malice were he hard pressed.
“I’ve taken every step to ensure the success of this operation so far, Doctor. I would much appreciate if you followed instructions to the best of your ability with minimal hesitation. Good day.”
Chapter 5: The Web
"Based on your knowledge of Mr. Holmes, don't you think it’s just as possible that James Moriarty was another of Mr. Holmes’ games?"
“… And then he found the case. Just like that.”
“… For the third time, Yes. He knew what to look for.”
“And you don’t find that suspicious at all? You and eight other members of the London Criminal Investigative Department didn’t even know there was a suitcase to be found, and he knows exactly where it is, five minutes away in some dumpster behind a building.”
Greg Lestrade had seen better days.
His days weren’t usually sunshine and rainbows either.
“Listen, you don’t know Sherlock Holmes. He’s not like anyone else- he really is just that smart.”
“And did he give reason for his frankly alarming amout of information on the case?”
And after the month he’d had, it was difficult to give this man a straight face. The grey-haired man bit his lip and continued in what he’d hoped was only a semi-sarcastic tone:
“Dr. Watson has a blog. It’s all on the blog.”
“Had a blog. Did he not commit suicide last Friday in response to the arrest of Mr. Holmes?”
Lestrade’s eyes shot to Sherlock. He had forsaken his public-school posture for a bored slouch, long legs stretched far, out past the table in front of him holding papers, files and a disgruntled lawyer. He felt an amount of pity for the woman on the basis that he felt pity for anyone who was forced into working with Sherlock, but at the present was overpowered by the concern for the man himself.
“… The information is still on the blog. He knew she had a suitcase because… Mud spatters on her leg, I think.”
“And the whereabouts?”
“I- you’d probably get a more complete tale of this if you asked Mr. Holmes himself.”
Concern for Sherlock Holmes. God knows he needed it right now. He looked…
He looked very close to normal. He just looked bored- he was staring straight ahead of himself, unblinking. When Lestrade said his name, he looked up for a moment, met his eyes- there was nothing different about them, nothing anyone could possibly pinpoint to confirm that yes, this man’s closest friend had just commited suicide in front of him.
Most people would agree- Sherlock Holmes just wasn’t affected by John Watson’s death.
But Greg had known Sherlock in the days of his addiction, the days of the much-younger man; a cycle of irritably kicking his habit, disappearing for a month, and then stumbling into Scotland Yard high as a kite dangerously close to the ionosphere.
He’d seen that look before- the look of nothing, of very close to normal- and it worried him. Once this was all over and Sherlock was back home- he refused to believe anything else would happen- he would have to make sure Sherlock stayed clean.
Not that he had much jurisdiction in that field anymore.
“I’m sorry. Pardon?”
“How long had you been using Mr. Holmes on your cases?”
“He’d been coming to the Yard with information on cases before I was even DI. I wasn’t the first to use him on a case.”
“What was the year, do you think, that you met Sherlock Holmes?”
“It must have been about eight or nine years ago. 2003.”
“And in that entire time, you never wondered how he got his information?”
“Well, no, he usually explained himself when everything was all done and over with-”
Greg shot a short glare at Sherlock. He was looking another way, but it was still rather satisfying- look at the mess you’ve got me into. Through practically gritted teeth, he continued.
“When asked for an explanation, Mr. Holmes would be able to provide one.”
“So there were some times you felt best not to ask.”
“I used Sherlock Holmes on my cases because without his help, we wouldn’t have been able to solve them.”
He wasn’t supposde to say that- that was one of those things that didn’t just affect him, but people who still had their jobs.
The man opened his mouth, but Lestrade cut him off, continuing;
“That’s not to say that the Yard is incompetent. They’re not- they’re trained professionals with years of experience. But Sherlock sees the details- little details no one would even think to notice and connects them to the bigger picture. He’s put murderers behind bars. More than I could care to count. It was against regulation to bring him in to the cases, yes, but his insight brought criminals to justice.”
“That’s assuming that Sherlock Holmes’ insight is trustworthy.”
“I find it much easier to believe that he solved all of those crimes than orchestrated them. He just- He couldn’t have done it. There is no possible way.”
“And Richard Brook? Why would he make up something like this?”
“Moriarty blew up a block of flats last year just to catch Sherlock’s attention-”
“And you find that easier to believe than the guilt of a cocaine addict? Tell me, Constable, how many cases did Mr. Holmes oversee while incapacitated? One? Ten? Forty? I, myself, find it very difficult to believe that a Detective Inspector with almost thirty years on the force put justice in the hands of a drug fiend.”
And just like that, anything Greg Lestrade could possibly say was considered moot. He fought the urge to rub his face in exasperation, hyper-aware of the cameras staring pointedly at him, thirsty for some sort of reaction. This wasn’t the first time he’d been on television. It wasn’t usually like this, though- calming the public was no easy feat, but he’d take an eternity of it over standing in front of a lawyer.
Lestrade had ruined whatever chance he had of saving himself by way of his reputation at the Met. There were several different ways he could have answered that would have given his title back, preserved the integrity of the Yard, or at the very least kept his dignity intact- all in the way of testifying against Sherlock.
And yet, he’d fought to keep his name.
Sherlock knew that this was nothing personal, no lasting sentiment. Lestrade (now Constable- it was a wonder he didn’t face criminal charges, let alone lose his job entirely) sought justice over propriety or integrity. It was the reason why he continued to allow Sherlock into crime scenes even after all of the other Detective Inspectors had put up with enough of him, even after all of his instincts must have been telling him to put the young, addicted Sherlock into a pair of handcuffs and then, into a rehabilitation centre.
All the same, he’d positively fought for Sherlock’s innocence. Even as Moriarty’s lawyer easily turned every testimony the older man gave against him, he felt a semblance of…
Gratitude. That’s what it was.
He could expect no such thing after the next witness was finished.
She sat at the front of the room with her back straight, hands folded in her lap and her legs crossed at the ankles. She faced the cameras and audience with her chin up, eyes flitting through the room with no discrection save for a pointed avoidance of where he was sitting.
“Detective Inspector Donovan.”
She did not smile, even at the title. She doesn’t like the way this happened. She’d wanted this spot, but not in this way. She’d respected Lestrade. She wanted to earn her new title at a retirement party, not a court hearing.
“How long have you known Mr. Holmes?”
“He was already working with the former Detective Inspector Lestrade then?”
She pursed her lips. It was obvious to even her that his language was intentional.
“Detective Lestrade was still a Sergeant when I joined the force. But yes, Sherlock was working with… With us by the time I joined.”
“Were you surprised?”
“When you started working with Sherlock Holmes. How did you feel about his presence?”
She looked to Lestrade for a second before continuing- permission? Forgiveness? Sherlock couldn’t tell, her face was expressionless.
“I was wary. He treated us all as if we were idio- as if we were incompetent. He just- he went around solving these crimes and then he’d leave and have us all do the actual work. The way he treats people- he doesn’t care about them. It’s the puzzle that he cares about. That’s all.”
“Do you believe Sherlock Holmes was all that he said he was?”
It took her a long moment to answer, filling the time with a lick of her lips.
“He’s a genius. He’s unfairly smart. I know that much without a doubt. In the beginning, at least, he was solving crimes that weren’t his. But… He gets so easily bored. Sometimes we’d call him in for help, if there were people dead and people in danger, and he would completely deny us because it wasn’t ‘interesting’ enough for him. He doesn’t care if people live or die. Not even-“
She caught herself. Took a furtive glance at Sherlock- his eyes steeled over, peered at her, unwavering.
“I think one day solving crimes just wasn’t enough for him. He needed something more. I- I don’t know if he’s behind any of the crimes that he’s solved, but I think it’s worth an investigation.”
“Judging by the evidence at hand, do you think he kidnapped the U.S. ambassador’s children, Detective Inspector?”
Donavon narrowed her eyes, pursing her lips- she inversed her ankles, tightening the grip of one hand on the other. The longer she spent time on her answer, the more pleased the lawyer in front of her seemed- uncertaintly was exactly what she needed.
“The evidence is still inconclusive.”
“But what do you think? You’re an expert in the field-“
“-And I trust only the evidence in front of me. Which, at this point in time, is not severe enough to ensure his guilt.”
“And Richard Brook? Do you believe he was the invention of Sherlock Holmes?”
“I’ve worked against Moriarty. I’d have to say that Richard Brook is a fabrication.”
“But based on your knowledge of Mr. Holmes, do you think it’s just as possible that James Moriarty was another of Mr. Holmes’ games?”
They met eyes- Sherlock had been watching her for minutes now, and she must have felt his eyes on her a while ago, only deciding to act on it now-
“… Yes, I’d have to say it is.”
Her face revealed no spite, no enjoyment in these words- she wasn’t pained to admit it, but it wasn’t a pleasure for her.
Why wasn’t it a pleasure for her?
Chapter 6: Thurs. 21st May 1992
It was an empty date- There had been a triple murder the day before and arson later that week, it seemed, but twenty years ago this day had, to Sherlock at least, not been noteworthy.
He’d been dead for two weeks. Give or take. He didn’t mind the ‘being dead’ part as much as he hated being cut off from the rest of the world- He had no access to a computer, television, even just a newspaper. He had no idea what was going on with Moriarty, where he was, what he was up to.
Well, at least your collarbone’s healed.
It really didn’t make these last two weeks any less useless.
John had taken to sleeping in- very, very much in. It was nearing noon by the time he’d finally woken up, dragged himself out of bed, showered and dressed. Years in the army had instilled in him a preference to rise with the sun, but as the days wore on he realised that the less time he had to be awake, the less bored he would be.
They weren’t even letting him outside.
They would be the ‘cleaners-’ people hired by Mycroft to keep his childhood home in a state of immaculate cleanliness. They came in at eight to start dusting- dusting, vacuuming, polishing. There were no plastic covers on the sofas- Holmes Manor rested in an eternal state of potentially, maybe, one say soon being lived in.
The room that he’d been given was comfortable- extremely so- but there was only so much enjoyment John could get out of sitting around an old manor and reading leather-bound medical texts. The food was delicious, the cleaners friendly, but the house looked almost unchanged in one hundred years and that set John on edge a little. He felt like he was living in a museum. He couldn’t imagine how a child could grow up here.
Well, he guessed he could imagine how a child could grow up here and end up like Sherlock.
He’d spent the first few days in a respectful sort of daze, wandering tentatively through the halls and showing up in the wide, empty dining room when he was called. He ate with the rest of the cleaners who, like him, seemed a little wary about his presence at first but slowly warmed up to the situation.
By the end of the first week, however, he’d gotten a little more daring- he’d fixed himself a snack in the kitchens, took the stairs down to the ground floor and spent some time in the huge sitting room, flirted with a maid or two.
There was just so much room in here. You could get lost in this house- no, John had gotten lost in this house. He’d found himself in a wing of unused bedrooms that, while dusted and clean, had that lonely feeling of a home with no soul. The entire house felt that way- he wondered if anyone actually lived here, or if Mycroft just kept the cleaners in a job and with a place to stay because you never knew when you’d need to hide your younger brother’s best friend at a moment’s notice.
It was jarring, how well the place was preserved- there were no nicks on the wall, and if there had been, they were quickly filled in and painted over. No spots on the tablecloths, no coffee rings on the night stands- It was the easiest thing to forget that this wasn’t a hotel, or a business room, or just a place with no people in it. John had become itchy with a very Sherlockian desire to break a vase, scratch the table- anything to make this place feel less like a museum.
It wasn’t until the second week that he’d found any sign life from the place.
There was a stain in the library. On one of the chairs- someone had spilled tea (or coffee, he couldn’t tell) on the plush arm. He wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t sat in it, trying to milk as much enjoyment out of he could out of eighteenth century surgery techniques all while killing an hour or two. It took his attention- he’d closed the book and set it on the side table, peering closer to inspect the stain. So, someone had lived here. A house this old and it had taken him ten days to affirm that- Someone had sat in this chair, reading these books in this library.
After that, his days had been filled with the hunt for old life.
There were books with pen marks in them- yellowing pages published in the nineteenth century rendered valueless by a toddler, tracing over words and scratching over whole passages.
Deep under many coats of paint, a faint etching of TH 1943 on the windowsill of an unused bedroom on the fourth floor.
And there were stickers on the dining room table- not on the face of it, but underneath, stickers that appeared on fruit and old, old postcards and even a cluster of seventies-styled Superman stickers near the centre. Sherlock would have been about- five? Four? John didn’t even know how old he was. Younger than himself, definitely. But not by much.
It was hard to imagine a toddler Sherlock, hiding under the tablecloth and sticking superheroes up next to his fathers’ father’s stamps.
And until today, that was all John had to go off of. Four little accidents that had not been polished over throughout the years that gave evidence to the fact that this was a place that many people loved and lived in throughout the years. How was that even possible?
Though, if the rest of the Holmes’ were anything like the ones he’d already known, their manor was most likely chock full of nostalgia induced by wobbly chairs and discrepancies in the wallpaper.
They probably spent their Christmas dinners correcting each other about the nature of the hairline cracks in the picture frames.
He had started becoming bored of exploring, longing for action, information, a little contact with the outside world- anything- when he’d wandered into a wing he hadn’t seen yet. That wasn’t out of the ordinary, the manor was huge and there were many wings John hadn’t come across yet, and he’d set about poking into rooms and opening drawers as if there’d be a folder titled MORIARTY for him just as long as he kept looking.
He realised something was different when he opened a door to find a room coated in a visible layer of dust. The servants here cleaned every day- the other rooms in the wing were clean, even the outer door handle had been polished- and yet, it looked as if this room had often been skipped.
A feeling of secrecy swept over John, and he would have felt the need to back out of the room and keep on in a less intimate place if it wasn’t for the familiarly-sized rectangle sun-stained onto the wallpaper.
There were old paperbacks on the bookshelves- three of them, floor to ceiling and orderly, overstuffed with books on the legal system, the digestive system, the Huston, Texas Public Transportation System.
He didn’t open the closet, but he was sure to find immaculately-tailored suits a few sizes smaller than he was used to, maybe a spectacular coat and a few pair of expensive shoes.
John found himself sitting on the edge of the full-sized bed, hearing springs groan under him from disuse.
He’d been dead for three weeks. Give or take. He didn’t mind the ‘being dead’ part as much as he hated being cut off from the rest of the world- He had no access to a computer, television, even just a newspaper. He had no idea what was going on with Moriarty, where he was, what he was up to.
Moreover, he had no idea what was going on with Sherlock.
Was that Mycroft’s way of telling John that prospects were bleak? That he didn’t want John to see just how close Sherlock was to being charged with kidnapping, fraud, murder, whatever else they were pinning on him, because if he did Mycroft thought (knew) that John would do something brash? Was it the opposite, that there was really nothing of importance to tell him and therefore nothing to tell him at all?
He couldn’t predict Mycroft like he could predict Sherlock. He had absolutely no idea what the older Holmes would do.
John found himself pulling open the night table drawer, curious even after he’d promised himself he wouldn’t snoop, not after he’d realised that this room was different from the others, dustier and dirtier and a hell of a lot more personal than the spotless, odourless shells held between the other walls.
An old, dead flashlight.
A wooden yo-yo (really?).
A tiny brown notebook, encased in old, cracked leather.
No. I am not going to read Sherlock’s teenage diary.
Of course he was going to read Sherlock’s teenage diary.
John rustled through the pages, rigid and yellowing with age, surprised to see more or less exactly what he’d expected. It was a calendar for the year 1992, though most of the dates were unused. There were, however, newspaper clippings shoved next to each full date- notes on cases that this young Sherlock probably never got the chance to work on. Criminals that he never got to catch. Innocent people that he never got to vindicate.
He’d spent his entire life (literally so- how old was he when Carl Powers died?) helping people and yet acted like a machine.
Sherlock thought that John was dead.
He watched him jump- probably saw him fall.
Even Sherlock wouldn’t be able to see through the trick- how could he? John jumped from a seven story building. There were no lines to hold him up, no trampoline on the sidewalk. John himself wasn’t entirely certain how it was pulled off, seeing as he was in the process of being drugged even as he spoke to Sherlock. There was no way Sherlock saw through it, he was sure of it. He knew he shouldn’t underestimate Sherlock’s intelligence, but John knew how to pit it against Mycroft’s. Comparable to the point of challenge, but not equality. As much as Sherlock would have griped to hear it.
John thumbed through the pages written by his friend, probably twenty years prior to their meeting. He wondered idly when the last time Sherlock had even set foot into this room- years, probably. Well before he’d met John. Probably before he’d met Lestrade. The room felt uniquely different from the others in the house- there were obvious efforts to pull the anachronistic manor back into the twentieth century, knick knacks and paperbacks where there could have been more velvet drapes or outdated maps. Things seemed forced, unnecessarily utilitarian even for Sherlock’s standards; the single pillow and thin blanket, the metal wire cup with one single pen, one single pencil, and a pair of scissors keeping each other company. When had he decided to compromise between as his parents did and living how his parents didn’t to find ‘living comfortably’?
Probably sometime after the legendary era of addiction.
He didn’t know what gave him the idea, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to justify himself were you to ask him about it afterward, but in that moment John pulled himself off of the bed and crossed the room to the desk, grabbed a pen and turned to today’s date.
Thurs. 21st May, 1992
It was an empty date- There had been a triple murder the day before and arson later that week, it seemed, but nineteen years ago this day had, to Sherlock at least, not been noteworthy.
He turned the pen a few times in his hand before biting his lip, pressing the tip onto the paper and writing, just under the date, in his boxed, uppercase handwriting:
He frowned at the name, wondering if he should have written something a little more… Showy, or maybe less; he didn’t know how many people looked through this room, but if Mycroft popped in here even for a bit he was sure that the man would know exactly what he did. The chances of Sherlock even getting his message were- well, they were abysmal.
He still felt as if he had to try.
Chapter 7: Many Masks
Thin metallic object Sound emanating from lowermost portion of door Two raps perfectly spaced steady hand practiced in music Quiet but not particularly hesitant confident and authoritative-
That was the only word that Sherlock would allow describe his situation at present.
There were several hundred other words he could add to better describe the situation he was in at present, but it just seemed useless to waste the time to complain-
He was in jail because he was too intelligent for some people (most people) to follow, let alone believe.
There was a consulting criminal trying to ruin every aspect of his life, apparently just to say that he could.
John Watson may or may not be dead, and Sherlock didn’t have nearly enough data to prove it one way or another.
Not to mention the fact that, unsurprisingly, prison life did not suit Sherlock. There were many privileges to not being in actual prison- he could keep his clothing, he did not have to deal with inmates- but the singular room, the lack of service, the uncomfortable accommodations.
The crisp, overbearing sense of stupid that seemed to leak in through the cinderblock walls.
It was an intolerable inconvenience, to be locked up here when so much was happening outside.
Mostly he disliked the simple feeling of being caged in a time of urgency. With Moriarty in such a high position, he was positively aching to get him- but he couldn’t do it in here, as much as he’d like to try.
If Moriarty was allowed to get away with this, who knows what was next?
Well, that was easy. Sherlock was, after all, nothing more than a game to play. A thought experiment. Once Sherlock is good and defamed it’s only long before Moriarty finds a fitting way for him to die, leaving all that he even half-cared about in pain; Lestrade, Molly, Mrs. Hudson. He couldn’t think of anyone else that he’d particularly worry about, should he die.
There was a rap on the door.
Thin metallic object Sound emanating from lowermost portion of door Two raps perfectly spaced steady hand practiced in music Quiet but not particularly hesitant confident and authoritative-
Sherlock scowled, turning his back to the door.
“Oh, just go away, Mycroft!”
The door opened in answer, and the man in question stepped in, umbrella trailing behind him. He gave Sherlock no pretence of a smile- there were no cameras here, no one watching him that needed to be impressed. He could be completely himself, whoever that was.
He could be cruel. He’d taken away any satisfaction Sherlock could glean from the deduction by making it obvious that all data had been fed to him.
He sat at the edge of the bed, next to Sherlock’s feet. The springs groaned under him, the thin mattress sagging impossibly with the extra added weight. Sherlock chuckled softly, which did nothing to improve the mood of his brother.
He mmm’d in answer, uninterested as ever.
Neither wanted this to be a particularly long exchange- being in the same room with no other person to act through had always been rather uncomfortable.
“Are you ready for tomorrow?”
Sherlock ‘s face twisted in answer, but he did not move to face his brother as he spoke.
“You shouldn’t pretend to worry, Mycroft. It doesn’t work on me.”
“I am serious, Sherlock. You have to be ready for this. They will easily use yourself against you in order to turn the jury against you. God knows they don’t need any help…”
He scoffed in reply, twisting completely to sit facing the elder Holmes. Just to better roll his eyes, of course.
“I know that any advice I do try to give you will be enacted inversely, but for God’s sake, Sherlock-“
“Don’t be a showoff. I know.”
“-Exercise some restraint. You’re being called up tomorrow, this may be your only chance to-“
“To prove my innocence? I think Lestrade did that well enough, don’t you think? How much did you offer to pay him to sell himself like that? He’s a man of honour, it’d take five- no, six- figures to sway him, how much did you buy him for?”
Sherlock’s eyes were closed, and Mycroft facing away from him, but the long moment that sat between question and response was about enough for a man (or a government, even) to close his eyes, take a deep breath, and keep himself from saying what it was that he really wanted to say.
“You’ve been aiding Detective Constable-”
“-Detective Constable Lestrade for almost ten years. In those ten years you’ve come a long way. I would hazard a guess that he feels protective of you. I am more willing to assume, however, that as a man of honour he will drive himself to ruin protecting the truth.”
“… It wasn’t over six figures, was it? You could have found anyone to take his place, probably for cheaper-”
The hushed, raspy tones of someone wanting nothing more than to raise their voice.
“He testified for you because he is loyal to you, Sherlock. I would have thought that you would have gotten used to shows of loyalty by now.”
Sherlock tried very hard not to breathe too deeply, too lightly, or worse- not at all.
In response, Mycroft scowled, but ultimately twisted to face Sherlock.
“This will all be over soon. I would simply rather it be on Britain’s terms than just mine. Then-”
He stopped speaking, sitting in silence until Sherlock opened his eyes.
The younger raised an eyebrow at him, careful in not being too careful in maintaining order against his facial expressions.
Whatever Mycroft was looking for, he must have found- he scowled again, one that crossed much more into the sigh territory than Sherlock was entirely comfortable with.
“Then I will give you the resources needed to continue your consulting business in London. Safe from Moriarty.”
That got his attention- Sherlock’s scowl rivalled his brother’s, sitting up finally to rest his arms on his knees, glaring at Mycroft.
“Safe? Why would I want to be safe? I’m safe here! This is miserable!”
He threw himself back onto the mattress, causing the springs to creak furiously, digging into his back painfully.
“It’s safe or dead, you know that. We’re tracking him; we’ve pried open multiple facets of his syndicate, but that just makes it much more precarious. He will be after you until he’s dead, you know that.”
“This isn’t your game to play, Mycroft.”
“It was never a game, Sherlock. Civilians have died.”
He looked at his younger brother carefully, then continued, a pressing look in his eyes-
Sherlock’s eyes spat venom at Mycroft- when he spoke, he hissed;
“- Stay out of this. This is the case of my lifetime, you cannot just take it from me at a moment’s notice because you think you could do it better.”
Mycroft looked at him, silent, meeting Sherlock’s hard gaze, squinting slightly.
He broke first- he closed his eyes, pressing the lids closed as the muscles around his mouth stretched a deep frown onto his face. For four long seconds, he remained in this position, changing only by the degree in which his eyebrows had furrowed into each other. Sometime just before the fifth, he regained his composure, watching Sherlock with an all-too-familiar expression.
Before he could let him speak, the younger rolled his eyes.
And before he could retort, Mycroft eased himself to his feet, smoothing his trouser legs and hooking his umbrella around his wrist.
“Be careful, Sherlock.”
Chapter 8: Vanishing Act
“Mr. Holmes, do you always insult people who are trying to help you?”
MAJORITY OF EVIDENCE IN HOLMES CASE FABRICATED, SOURCES SAY
“Investigators were perplexed this morning to discover that much of their evidence against Sherlock Holmes in what many are calling the most complicated case of the decade has been deemed fraudulent, or is just plain missing.
“ ‘We’d double and triple-checked those files,’ said Investigator Gregson to our reporters this afternoon. ‘We have our copies saved and printed out in files, they existed not two days ago. We validated the evidence when the trials first started. And now they’re gone.’
“The files in question are pieces of evidence crucial to the case against amateur detective and online sensation Sherlock Holmes, who was convicted early last month of kidnapping the children of the US Ambassador. Examples of fraudulent evidence include video footage of a bus station two blocks from the children’s’ private school the night of the kidnapping which clearly portray a tall man in a long black coat, text message correspondence between Sherlock Holmes and Richard Brook, and several hotel bills.
“Evidence of fraudulent evidence include any personal documents or professional information on Richard Brook, who accused Holmes of paying him to portray the character of James Moriarty, who broke into three of England’s most secure buildings earlier this year. His birth certificate, medical record, and filmography appear to have no verity.
“A few police men came into my hospital not too long ago,” says a receptionist in an unidentified hospital. “Saying they need to see the original copy of this Richard Brook’s birth certificate again. And I said, ‘Again?’ because no one had come to see me about any birth certificates for about six months now. I asked them who gave them access into the records room, and the name they gave has never worked here.”
While for some this is strong evidence against Richard Brook, others are quick to point out the convenience in the timing.
“It’s all a little suspect, if you ask me,” says a junior officer of the Metropolitan Police, who asked to remain unnamed but is taking part in the investigation. “All of Brook’s evidence is suddenly fake? His birth certificate doesn’t exist? It just seems like someone did too good of a job.”
Both Brook and Holmes are set to testify this afternoon at the last trial Holmes will face before sentencing. The whole trial will be filmed and the highlights and verdict announced at 10pm.
A gavel sounding, echoing thrice into the courtroom.
The man in the white wig walks in.
Sherlock was bored of every single face here- he’d seen them for what felt like every day for a year, but was really every week for a month, for twenty eight hours total.
He was sick and tired of trials. The stupid questions, the even more stupid answers- no one knew where to look. No one asked questions that actually led anywhere. Justice was just a grand, dressed-up argument and everyone knew it.
He was angry, right and proper livid, at the fact that Mycroft had gotten involved in this case and exposed the fraudulent evidence (because it had to be Mycroft, it wasn’t his style and he wasn’t that sloppy but it must have been him, the alternative was too unreal, too impossible, too- scary)
He wanted to go home. But he wasn’t about to tell you that.
The room was worse than usual- it was crammed with people he knew, people that knew him, international television crews, interested parties. It was hot and stuffy; there was a thin line of sweat forming at the base of his hairline and while he felt uncomfortable in his suit jacket, he wouldn’t take it off. He was too busy to pay attention to things like body temperature.
Moriarty’s Lawyer is supposed to stand up to the court to open the trial- she’s supposed to be wearing a tight skirt and higher heels than her arches are used to- she’s supposed to wobble just once as she stands, regaining her posture before anyone else notices that she’s not actually a lawyer. Sherlock, however, has known since twenty three minutes into the first trial after he observed the way she tied her pony tail.
She is supposed to, but she won’t.
Because she’s not there.
The judge calls out to her formally three times before he beckons for a police officer, who then leaves the room in search of the woman in question, a telephone, anything that will bring forth the lawyer.
Twenty minutes later, he comes back, whispers something to the judge. Sherlock knows what’s happened before it’s even announced, but he’s not the only one. It’s written all over the man’s face, so it’s a surprise to no one when he clears his throat and leans towards the microphone-
“Richard Brook and his lawyer seem to be missing from the-“
Even the speakers were drowned out by the murmurs of the packed room. It took several hits of the gavel to return peace to the courtroom, however tense.
“As we hold Mr. Brook and his representative in contempt, we will continue with Mr. Holmes’ testimony. A representative of the State will question in lieu of Mr. Brook’s lawyer.”
Sherlock stood easily, taking measured steps from where he sat to where he would be seated, facing the judge and jury. He tried-and failed- not to remember the last time he’d done this, how he’d gone against John’s request to ‘be not himself,’ how he watched the other man fix his tie in the mirror at Baker Street instead of feeling nervous. He closed his eyes for a few long moments to block out any stimuli, and decided there were few better ways to honour John’s memory than to blatantly disregard his wishes once more.
Mr Petersburg was a small, balding man in his late fifties with marriage trouble that were most likely caused by his hugely overconfident opinion of himself-
“Mr. Holmes, would you like to explain to us why you hired Mr. Brook?”
- He had read John’s blog and became personally offended at the idea that anyone could become that good at observation without any real training, and therefore when he heard that Sherlock Holmes was a fraud it was more out of personal victory than a clear-minded observation of the facts that he’d believed it.
“I can assure you, I did not hire a Mr. Brook, because Richard Brook does not exist. James Moriarty’s clever alias- an anglicised version of Reichenbach, the paintings that launched me into fame not six months ago.”
“Clever, is it?”
“Don’t you think it’s clever? He didn’t think you’d catch it. Any of you, I mean. The public. I guess he was right.”
“Mr. Holmes, do you always insult people who are trying to help you?”
“With all due respect, sir, your Windsor Knot says otherwise.”
Sherlock took a deep breath. Those that knew him in the audience prepared for the worst. Molly, in a beautiful floral dress she’d been saving for a date, swore just loudly enough for those around to look at her in surprise. Mrs. Hudson, wearing her old engagement ring (that she only brings out for games of bridge and when she buys Lotto tickets), bit her lip, shaking her head worriedly. Lestrade scowled, knowing that it had only been a matter of time. Sitting alone, Sally Donovan closed her eyes, hoping that maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.
“Your tie is tied in a full Windsor, but messily so. You’re an older man, a man of habit and refusal to change- conservative voter, always has been except for once in… ’87? No, of course not, ’92. You’ve been tying your tie in this manner for a long time but you still can’t get it right- there are still wrinkles in the fabric where you’ve tried and failed. Why would you dare wear your tie like that-in front of national television, no less? Must be illusions of grandeur. You think you deserve a better style of tie than you can actually achieve- you think you’re superior. But you’ve earned it- there’s not a day in your life that you haven’t worked for it. Low grades all throughout school, almost failed your exams- oh, you did fail, didn’t you? But you studied, you kept on, and you passed them the second time around. And God knows you’ve paid your dues to the machine, haven’t you? Working your way to the top from the dregs. You’ve never taken a bribe, and you’re proud of that- you throw it around at parties a lot when you’ve had too much to drink- but the truth is you’ve never been offered one, no one wants anything from you. It took you over thirty years to pay off your schooling debts. And so someone like me must really irk you- I’ve never had to work for a thing in my life, it comes so easy for me, doesn’t it? It’s not a bias that any questionnaire could unearth, but it’s still a bias. You want to see me fail. Nothing would make you happier than for me to be found out a fraud. Is that true?”
The room stood still while the two men stared at each other for a long moment, willing the other to blink first. In the end, Petersburg folded.
“You looked me up.”
“A normal reaction, but no, Mr. Petersburg, I did not. Almost everything I said was from an observation of your tie, though I did help myself to a bit of extra data from the polish of your shoes and your obvious heart condition. I could continue, if you like- maybe with the state of your wedding ring or the cuffs of your dress shirt-”
The judge intervened.
“Mr. Holmes, this case is about your involvement in over thirty separate criminal cases, not Mr. Petersburg’s… dress shirt. Please, stay on topic.”
“This is on topic. This is the only piece of evidence that you should be looking at.”
“And what is that, Mr. Holmes?”
“I had no previous knowledge of Mr. Petersburg. I didn’t know that Jim Moriarty and his lawyer-“
“Otherwise known as Richard Brook-“
“-Would be missing from the case. And even if I did, I would have no idea that it would be Mr. Petersburg that would fill in her spot, or that it would even be your decision to continue the trial. What I deduced I observed in mere seconds from the evidence at hand, as I did in all of the cases multiple Detective Inspectors have asked me to assist in. That is all that I do. I am not a fraud, no matter what Jim Moriarty would have you believe.”
The judge gave him a stern look, asking Mr. Petersburg to continue.
With pleasure, the man said.
“When did you first meet Richard Brook?”
“I first met Richard Brook when I was running from the police over four weeks ago. He was in Kitty Riley’s house, after he had given her a story just scandalous enough for her to shoot to the headlines of her newspaper.”
“You never saw him before that?”
“Before that I knew him as James Moriarty. Afterward, as well.”
“When did you last see James Moriarty?”
“The day I was arrested, exactly one month ago. He was on the rooftop of St. Bart’s with me.”
“No one saw another person on the rooftop with you.”
“Well, they wouldn’t, would they. He wouldn’t make that mistake.”
“What was he on the rooftop for?”
“He was making sure his plan was exacted sufficiently.”
“And what plan was that?”
“The murder of Dr. John Watson.”
He blinked once. Breathed at exactly the average rate.
“Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson jumped from a building. It was suicide. Every eyewitness accounted for only one body on that rooftop.”
“I don’t think you understand what I am trying to explain to you.”
“Why did Dr. Watson kill himself, Mr. Holmes? You were very close to him-”
“- He wouldn’t have without an external force-“
“- You know what I think? I think it’s heartbreaking. He gave so much to you and your life, that when he found out that you were a fraud he couldn’t take it. He was horrified at what you’d taken from him. He was a decorated war hero before he met you, and you took that title from him so he could be better known as your blogger. And this is what he had to show for it. And you know what, Mr. Holmes? I didn’t have to look that up, either. That was my own little deduction.”
He stared Sherlock hard in the face, taking a step backwards.
“I have no further questions.”
Chapter 9: Breaking Out
Of course he wasn’t going to tell him anything. That would just be too easy.
If a Holmes gives you too easy, John’s learned, they’re probably trying to kill you.
It was the beginning of June before John heard anything from Mycroft.
It wouldn’t have bothered him much at all in regular circumstances- not hearing from Mycroft was, on the whole, a good thing- except for the fact that he’d had nothing to do but explore an empty house and converse with the same twelve people for what was nearing a month.
It was over a month since he’d jumped- a month and two days. It had been a month since he had seen anything other than the walls of this manor and it was starting to wear him thin. Every time he looked out a window for too long, got too close to a door, woke up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, someone seemed to be there, checking on him, making sure he wasn’t ready to make a break for it.
And god, he’d thought about it, too. He didn’t know where he’d go- he had no money, all of his accounts had most likely been shut down, everyone he knew thought that he was dead and in order to keep them safe it had to stay that way. He knew he could find a way out of the manor, but to keep from Mycroft finding him within the hour? Or to stay under Moriarty’s field of vision? He didn’t like his situation any more than he had that first night, but he wasn’t stupid, either.
John hadn’t thought at all about the anniversary of the event, but instead had it brought to his attention by one of the younger women with whom he’d forged a fragile sort of acquaintanceship.
Her name was Cecil- she wasn’t his type, but just young enough for it not to matter- he’d sit with her as she dusted, or polished silverware, listening to her as she talked about her dog back at home and her family and friends and flirting with her never too subtly the entire time. She seemed to enjoy it- play back, but never to the point of reciprocating.
You’ve been here for over a month, she said. He made the most of a rather non-committal noise, helping her tie the sheets on a bed that hadn’t been slept in for probably twenty years. The cleaners (for he’d learned from Cecil that they were cleaners, not servants- they didn’t live here, there was no one to serve, they just cleaned and re-cleaned and went home for the day) had tried to keep a good distance from John when he’d first got here but eventually time and persistence on John’s part got them to let him talk to him, and they’re glad to have him around now, she said.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that.”
“Still wish you were outside, though?”
“Of course I do. I don’t like sitting here while there are things I could be doing to help out there.”
She understood. She didn’t really know why John was here (he’d tried to fill her in on as much as he knew, but neither of them could stick any more pieces together than the other) but she agreed- if she had to be in this house for a month straight, she’d lose her mind.
“You’d think they’d let you loose every once and a while. Even just in the courtyard. I mean, you’re a grown man, not a dog- I thought they’d have let you go completely by now, you know, after Monday-“
She had a half of the sheet in her hands- John had the other half, and was fitting it tightly on to the bed when she had stopped talking. Her face was expressionless, her hands or body making no motion to continue that train of thought.
It was John’s part to react, then- he straightened up, arching an eyebrow to her, his mouth separating slightly.
“Yeah. I- I don’t really know what I was talking about there.”
“Yes, you do.”
She stared at him, a conflict obvious behind her eyes- it seemed that whatever party John was up against had lost.
She spoke in low, breathy tones- less than a whisper.
“Sherlock won the trial. He’s innocent. It’s all over the news.”
Oh, well that’s-
“You didn’t- of course you didn’t know. I should never have told you.”
She picked herself up to leave the room, but John stood in the way of the door-
“No, no, what do you mean, trial? What was he on trial for?”
“I can’t- I really shouldn’t have- Mr. Holmes will have my head, he’ll know you know, you know he will-”
She made to leave, and he shifted his weight to his other foot to stop her.
“I know he will, so you might as well tell me everything you know.”
She looked at him in the eyes, sidestepping him and ducking under his arm.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
He hadn’t seen Cecil since then.
Not that he’d been entirely surprised, but he had hoped that there were some things that Mycroft was deaf to.
Apparently not. Hopefully she’d just been fired. He was not certain of Mycroft’s morality, but he was certain that it would hardly be efficient to dispose of an entire person. He was nothing if not an efficient person.
He was also very good at keeping to himself until he’d wanted to be seen.
John had been told that Mycroft (perpetually referenced to as ‘Mr. Holmes’) visited the manor once a week, every Wednesday, since John had arrived. Usually it was very sparse that he came home, once or twice every six months, to stay a single night in one of the countless rooms, always alone. He’d never actually seen him, however- and he knew all too well that this wasn’t incidental.
He also knew that it wasn’t an accident when he crossed paths with the man himself, two days later.
“Dr Watson, how lovely to see you.”
The man in question stopped, tilted his head as if deciding on the best course of action, and pushed forward.
“Don’t pretend. What’s going on?”
Instead of answering him, Mycroft turned on his heel, beckoning him with one finger to follow.
Because just asking him to step into his office wasn’t dramatic enough, he supposed.
“No, don’t just lead me to your office. What’s going on? Where is Sherlock?”
He followed him down the corridors, filling up space with his ever-increasing volume.
“Why was he arrested? What the hell happened, Mycroft?”
They were back in the office, a room that John had found constantly locked in his explorations- they were back to sitting where they had almost a full month ago.
“You’re not going to tell me a single thing, are you.”
Mycroft looked the same as ever- nothing to betray any hardships he might have in erasing the existence of a man.
Then again, it’s probably not exactly a novel thing for him.
Of course he wasn’t going to tell him anything. That would just be too easy.
If a Holmes gives you too easy, John’s learned, they’re probably trying to kill you.
“How has my family’s house been treating you, Dr. Watson?”
John stood for a long moment, his characteristic unwillingness to sit down overpowered by the fact that he always sits down, in the end. Eventually, he eased himself into the chair provided for him as he spoke-
“You know the problem isn’t with the house, Mycroft. I’m bored out of my skull and I’m completely cut off from the world. You can’t just drop me here without any information and expect me to sit quietly until- Until when? Until the whole thing blows over?”
“You’re sounding more and more like my brother in his absence, Dr. Watson.”
John pursed his lips, enunciating every word that followed with a clearly directed anger.
“What. Is. Going. On.”
He stared at Mycroft for what felt like a long time, locking eyes with him and willing him into action. Mycroft returned the stare, looking at him with narrowed, judging eyes.
They rested like this- John waiting, Mycroft searching.
Finally, Mycroft unlocked a filing cabinet by his shins- he pulled out an unassuming folder and set it on the table, pushing it to John.
It was a standard folder, one that John was familiar with at the medical office- something that he would find a hundred others alike it, locked behind the receptionists’ desk.
As John slid the folder closer to himself, the older man continued.
“This is your assignment. You will read every file, learn every fact, perfect every skill listed in this file. In one month’s time, you will be tested on your performance. If your performance is satisfactory, you will be granted permission to complete the assignment. If not, you will stay here until ‘the whole thing blows over.’ “
He didn’t need a change in tone, much less air quotations, to signify his distaste in the wording.
“Now, Do you require any more assistance?”
John tentatively pulled open the folder- inside was an American Passport, various documents with his picture on it, and a USB key.
“No. This- This doesn’t answer any of my questions. Sherlock-”
Mycroft had already moved on to other things- he was thumbing through his cell phone, preoccupied with- well, John really didn’t want to know.
“I think you will find that it does.”
“… I don’t even have a laptop.”
A small, unkind smile.
“Oh, I think you’ll find that you do.”
He collected the documents back into the folder, standing up and taking a few steps backward to the door.
“Is Sherlock okay?”
By then, Mycroft had already receded into his other work, scribbling something furiously on a notepad with a heavy-looking pen. Absentmindedly, he answered as he shooed John away with his left hand.
“One can only hope…”
Chapter 10: Accent Lessons
And somehow, this all tied back to Moriarty.
William Scott Sigerson.
No, no, more of a ‘Sigerson’ than a ‘Sigerson.’
No, not that much.
He had made a point of practicing as he got ready in the morning- it’s not like it would come overnight, and so far he’d need all the practice he could get.
Well, Hi there.
Oh, and coffee from here on out.
Becoming William E. Sigerson was going to be difficult.
Four weeks ago, after he’d gotten his folder, he went back up to his room to find a new laptop waiting for him, plugged in and charging.
Funny how things like that work out.
He’d turned it on and plugged in the USB key, thumbing through the documents as he waited for the laptop to turn on- That was when he first met William Sigerson.
William Sigerson is five years older than him but has the same haircut.
His mother had a different maiden named and died four years prior to his own, but they shared a blood type.
William Sigerson was American.
The computer made a noise to let John know that it was ready for him, presenting a login screen with William Sigerson’s name on it.
It asked for John’s fingerprint and William’s password. After a bit of flipping through papers (And there were quite a few of them- birth certificate, social security card, driver’s licenses, rent for an apartment that had apparently been in his new name two years ago) he’d found a small leaf sporting a few letters- ie7Hnek221.
Well, if that’s not a password, I don’t know what is.
A few laborious keystrokes later, he was staring at a clean blue desktop with three icons waiting for him- Computer, Recycle Bin, and WILLIAM SIGERSON.
He opened the folder. Inside, other folders with concise labels like ‘Accent Lessons’ and ‘Notes on American Schooling’.
There was some information on Moriarty, but nothing that John couldn’t have already guessed- he had a huge corporation in America, which produced about the same results as that of his in Europe.
The name Moran littered the debriefing documents as Moriarty’s man in charge in North America.
Where had John heard that name before?
He kept reading:
Chapters in every major city, at least one in every state;
Deaths scattered across the country and spreading into Canada, starting in New Orleans in 2005;
Revenue for drug cartels steadily rising for the past five years;
A student at the University of Michigan turns in a thesis in 2010 stating in great, unpalatable detail, the mathematical dynamics of an asteroid at the end of the universe but never graduates and, upon further inspection, never attended in the first place;
And somehow this all tied back to Moriarty.
It was after John’s shower that he sat down and looked at his files for the first time today- not much had changed, which was in and of itself a little startling. Every time he’d gone back on to the laptop since he’d gotten it one month ago a new folder was waiting for him on the desktop; there was no internet connection (god only knows that he’d checked) but somehow they kept mysteriously popping up.
Well, apparently Mycroft Holmes was better at computers than John.
What a surprise.
He’d read all of these folders- multiple times, usually. Information on Moriarty had been extensive but very pointed- it stuck to the topic of his interests in the United States that, along with his new identity and accent, worried John. He knew that Mycroft wanted him out of the way, and he really did want to be involved, but America was too far for him to be from-
From his work?
From his family, who thought he was dead.
Oh, and from Sherlock, who had apparently been on trial and is now ‘okay,’ whatever okay could possibly mean for him.
Probably just leaving acid burns in Mrs. Hudson’s tables again.
He crossed his legs and adjusted his bathrobe, scrolling despondently through folders that he’d looked through many times before. He was appreciative of this new assignment, as it gave him something other than mindless exploring to fill up his time- but all the same, his already waning patience was starting to reach critical lows.
One month’s time.
The clock was ticking. Ever so slowly.
The second week in, even the cleaners had taken to calling John Mr. Sigerson. At first it was unnerving, confusing, but now it was just second nature to slip between identities like one would tabs on an internet browser.
A little more easily than that, in John’s case.
So when a curt rap on the door startled John, he had no problem answering as Will when his name was called. A familiar voice, with an unfamiliar tone-
“Mr. Sigerson, there’s someone here to see you.”
John looked down at himself, naked and comfortable under his bathrobe and slippers.
“I- I’ll be right down, thank you,”
That cuts things a little bit short, then.
He hurried to get dressed before he lumbered down the stairwell, buttoning the last of the buttons on his shirt before he came face to face with the person who requested him-
“Oh, yes. Mr. Sigerson. How are you doing?”
Almost a month of confidently speaking in his new accent had been completely forgotten- He opened his mouth, tilted his head very slightly, gripping the hand rail.
God dammit. Mycroft would send someone like her.
To this, the woman raised an eyebrow.
“Were you not expecting me?”
Do not lose this chance, soldier. It’s either talk to this woman or be stuck in this godforsaken house until you rot.
“Oh- I- No, I was expecting you, I just didn’t know it was today. Sorry about that.”
He finished his travel down the stairwell, standing in front of the woman who was quite obviously looking him up and down with a poorly-hidden air of disappointment. At John’s height, you get used to it- when he was younger and less skilled he hated that look, but now he took a special type of enjoyment out of proving people horribly, horribly wrong.
“I’m going to be asking you a few questions about your experience and other useful skills you may contribute to the cause. Is there somewhere we can sit down?”
“Living room’s good. Over here.”
It was a little daunting, speaking to an American in an American accent- almost as if he was taunting her, but she didn’t seem to catch it, which must have meant something good.
As they arranged their seats, one of the cleaners came up and offered them tea or coffee. The woman asked for coffee, and John (begrudgingly) followed suit. When they were both adequately settled in, they started with the interview.
First was William Sigerson’s military training- none at all, which had been difficult for John to say after years of proud service for his country. He’d also been a bit worried about the effect that would have on his prospects in this assignment- if he had no military training, why would this group take him in to help fight against Moriarty, when it was obvious that it was an important aspect? The woman seemed very unphased about it, however.
Soon enough it became very clear to John that it didn’t quite matter what he said, as long as it abided by Will Sigerson’s preordained history. Mycroft had already said he was in, he was in.
“Married once, but got divorced not long after- mutually. We don’t talk much anymore, but then again, there’s no reason to- we live clear on the other side of the world. It was kind of a rushed thing, anyways; we were young, thought that marriage was some important milestone that just needed to be passed and then you were suddenly an adult. No kids, never wanted any. Went to school for business management; I worked for a long time in advertis- advertisement. That’s how I got to be in England. Britain? I don’t really know. Still don’t.”
Okay, he was having a bit of fun with it.
Words of Mycroft’s floated into his head- You are sounding more and more like my brother in his absence, Dr. Watson.
It didn’t keep him from giving the woman a bit of a hard time. She looked bored, John was trying to keep her entertained.
While he tried to supress any instinct his had (all of them) telling him to flirt with her.
The interview went on for another twenty or so minutes in which he was subtly tested on many things- the status of his knowledge of Moriarty (clueless), American geography (a healthy dose), cultural Americanisms (Hadn’t he already passed it when he gave up tea?!), and personal questions to ensure that he was devoted to his new identity.
When it concluded, they stood up opposite each other and shook hands, the woman pulling a new folder and an airline ticket out of her bag and handing it to John.
“Mr. Sigerson. Glad to have you on our team.”
Chapter 11: I Believe in Richard Brook
The rest of the world hated him. Even the person they were going to assign to him to keep him safe and take him home were going to hate him.
Rain was something of a comfort to Sherlock- the sound and feel of it quieted him in a way that he often despised. However, he preferred rain to sun, as it was less likely to give him a headache even if it made the world smell earthy and dirty.
Right now, the pitterpatter on the glass door just to his left made him impatient and a little angry.
Normal people didn’t have to wait for a police escort out of jail.
Sherlock had been deemed innocent, why was he waiting for whatever idiot the Met could scrounge up to pick him up?
Though, to be honest, he’d made so many enemies there he wouldn’t be surprised if there were volunteers. Pick up Sherlock Holmes from prison and drive him back home- full of possibilities. It was twenty minutes from here to there in the best of conditions, which it most certainly was not given the season, time of day and aforementioned weather conditions. He was looking at something more like forty five.
Forty five minutes in which they would doubtlessly tell him how much he’d cost the yard.
How they’d always thought he was a fraud.
How he might have gotten away on some weak charge of insufficient evidence, but the world still knew he was the one that committed those crimes.
I believe in Richard Brook.
Those were the words that were spraypainted on the outer walls of a London pharmacy, shown to the rest of the London on the news just last night;
Inexpert strokes, starting with a shaky, sketchy R and ending with quick, hurried letters near the end.
Poor choice of colour, if one wanted the message to really stand out. Dark Green, on a dark grey brick.
Foolish choice of geography. Irrelevant. Baker street would have been a much more populated (and efficient) choice.
This person was working alone, separate of Moriarty.
It wasn’t a job, it was an opinion.
The rest of the world hated him. Even the person they were going to assign to him to keep him safe and take him home were going to hate him.
Unless it was Mycroft.
Oh, God, I hope not.
He’d been waiting for forty minutes, watching the soles of his shoes boredly instead of paying attention to the scores of reporters waiting for something to happen, waiting for him to come out so they could ask him questions that he obviously wasn’t going to answer.
He couldn’t help but notice, however, when the cameramen and interrogators perked up, turned on their recorders, umbrellas rustling-
He didn’t have to see or hear it to know that the car had pulled up.
Who would it be? There would be minimal (if any) response if it was a lower officer. A little more for a more heavily-televised member of the yard- more still for one who testified against Sherlock. If the officer in chief himself came to pick him up, there’d be thousands of little camera clicks and questions.
A car door opened and slammed with a familiar amount of time and pressure separating the two moments in time.
An uproar of activity.
The door buzzed, given the approval to open.
Sherlock’s head popped up, surprised-
Greg Lestrade pushed himself in through the door, looking wet, angry and rather dishevelled.
He took in a few breaths to collect himself, finally addressing Sherlock-
“Get your damn coat on. I can’t hold them back much longer.”
He took one look at the chaos separated from them by a single glass door.
“Fuck, I never could. Just- Get in the car before anyone asks you anything.”
Which proved to be impossible. The moment the door was forced open, questions flew across the way, microphones shoved in his face, camera flashes blasting lights in his eyes-
“Mr. Holmes, how did you do it?”
“Mr. Holmes, would you care to make a comment on the suspicious disappearance of Richard Brook?”
“There were crimes you pled guilty to- how did you get off with no jail time?”
“What happened on the Forth of May?”
In response, Greg pulled him into the car by the arm and shut the door behind them, beckoning the driver to pull away as fast as the crowd would let them.
“Keep your head down, then they won’t get pictures. They can’t run a story in the headlines without pictures.”
“If I remember correctly, I was the one who pointed that out to you, Lestrade,”
But for once, he did what he was told.
They drove in silence, Lestrade drumming his fingers in uneven intervals against the knees of his trousers. Sherlock tolerated it for just under one minute before speaking up-
“For a guitarist, you have terrible rhythm.”
He wasn’t surprised when Lestrade didn’t seem to be startled by the deduction. Instead, he laughed-
“I haven’t played since I was twenty four. What, do I still have the remnants of a callous on my left hand?”
“No, your abhorrent taste in music, range of T-Shirts and your ability to assume a leadership role in the Met even as a late hire give you away.”
“That I played the guitar?”
“That you fronted a rock band in your early twenties.”
“It’s quite simple, really. You have cassettes- really, cassettes, in this day and age- on the shelves of your office. All lined up, clean, barely a speck of dust. Save for the untouched CDs of much newer artists that your colleagues, friends, family gave to you because they thought you’d like it, it’s sort of a similar genre, but it’s not the same as the real stuff, is it? You-”
Lestrade held up a hand.
Sherlock took the new information in stride, slipping past his previous hypotheses as if he’d never made them.
“Well, then, that would explain the hearing loss.”
“You were wrong.”
For a second, Sherlock’s lips quipped up-
“Won’t happen again.”
And then, his face fell. He grew silent.
Lestrade continued tapping his fingers on his knees, breaking the emptiness only to direct the taxi driver.
“You’re not taking me back home.”
“No, I’m not, am I.”
Taking the lack of given information as a challenge, Sherlock slouched in his seat, staring out the window.
“No, I suppose you’re not.”
They drove in near silence, broken only by the ambience of the car, the driving-noises and the bustle outside. Then,
“How did you get out of those charges you plead guilty for? Resisting arrest isn’t exactly a misdemeanour-”
Sherlock scowled deep from his throat, rolling his eyes hard enough for it to actually hurt.
“Mycroft. Must have been.”
“Well, that was very-”
“- Nice of him.”
They stared at each other for a long time, one pair of eyes glaring, the other amused but wary, looking away to point the driver down another street.
It took almost five seconds before Sherlock groaned, resting his forehead on the cold, rainy window.
“You’re taking me for a drink.”
“What, you couldn’t tell by the colour of my shoes?”
“Take me home.”
Sherlock leaned towards the front of the car, trying to shout a new set of coordinates to the driver as Lestrade neutralised him.
He grabbed the taller man by the wrists as they stopped for a light, keeping him from slipping out of the car.
“For God’s sake, Sherlock-”
Practically pushed him out of the cab when they’d found their destination, tipped the driver an extra pound for the trouble (what, he wasn’t made out of money, especially now)-
“You’re thirty six years old, Sherlock Holmes-”
Corralled him into the pub and down at a table in the corner, put a pint in his hands.
They sat in silence, one pair of hands spinning his glass in the ring of condensation, the other sitting clasped on the table.
One man waiting to speak, the other waiting to leave.
In the background, the radio was playing some American rock song from the nineties.
Sherlock looked up at the offending syllable, and the man who emitted it.
Lestrade held up his drink, offering something that Sherlock neither wanted nor was quite comfortable in giving.
He waited, but not passively- Greg’s waiting for Sherlock entailed a post-clause of or else.
Sherlock lifted his own drink, stopping short of the traditional clink of glass.
“What are we toasting to?”
Greg chose his words carefully.
“Your innocence- well deserved.”
Sherlock nodded, went to bring their glasses together- Greg retreated only slightly, enough to make it known that he was far from finished.
Sherlock knew what was coming.
The and was in his eyes, in his glass, on the tip of his tongue.
There must have been something as well in Sherlock’s eyes, glass, tongue, because Lestrade chose instead to bring their glasses back together, the sounding of glass standing in for the name unsaid.
One man gave the toast a delicate, chaste sip, nearly enough to coat his top lip, before setting the pint glass back on its coaster.
One man offered half of the beer to it, in memory of an absent friend and how he would have wanted it.
They sat in silence once more. A Beatles song followed, tinny and too-soft for the din of the pub, even in the afternoon.
“There is- There is one more thing.”
Of course there was. Sherlock clasped his hands on the table again, leaving his drink untouched.
Greg, beer almost finished, fiddled with the water droplets on his glass.
After a long, uneasy silence, Sherlock continued, impatient.
After a beat, Lestrade got himself back on track.
“I can’t- I have no say- I had no say-”
Lestrade stopped. He sighed.
“You’re not allowed on crime scenes anymore. You’re barred, completely, from them. In any way, shape or form. I mean-”
“-It was completely expected, I don’t know why you bother appearing surprised by the decision-”
“Because it was the wrong one! You’ve been gone for one month and we’re already up to our-”
He’d said too much already. He was on such thin ice.
“I just wanted to be the one to tell you. I think the original plan was a phone call. That seemed a little-”
Cruel. A heartless action towards the heartless man.
Not so. Greg knew better.
“Impersonal. After all you’ve done for-.”
For the city.
For the force.
“- For me, god dammit. I never would have made it to DI.”
“Yes, you would have.”
“Then I never would have made it that quickly.”
He couldn’t argue with that.
“I just- I wanted- I needed to make sure they didn’t just send you a formal letter or something. I think it’s shit, but I guess it makes sense. I wouldn’t want you on my crime scenes, either, if I didn’t already know what you do with that… Mind of yours.”
An image swam up in Greg’s mind, of a young, thin man in his twenties; gaunt and sallow, wrapped in an expensive coat that had seen many distant better days. The observations that spilled out of his mouth even as he leaned on Greg’s squad car, half for support, half as a pair of hand cuffs were snapped onto his skeletal wrists.
“They’ve seen what I do just as well as you have. They are acting not out of observation but a negative emotional response.”
“Well, you don’t make it very difficult, now, do you?”
Sherlock stayed silent. It was the sort of silent that worried Greg. He himself was a very vocal person- if something needed to be said, he’d say it, even if it wasn’t eloquent or particularly kind- but Sherlock had so many flavours of silence to keep track of. He’d gotten rather okay at it since he’d gotten to know the other man- when the silence meant content, when it meant perturbed, when it meant I’m about four minutes away from dropping everything and finding a fix.
He wasn’t as good as John was. How he’d come to crack the code Sherlock left in the lack of his words, in a little over a year.
He wasn’t as good as John ad been.
It wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have- Greg wasn’t any better at loss than Sherlock was, or seemed to be. Their mourning processes were different, but the struggle was the same.
“I- Listen. There’s something else.”
He didn’t want to have this talk. Least of all with Sherlock, the machine.
It didn’t seem as if the machine wanted to have the talk, either. He reached behind himself for his coat.
“No- Sherlock, stay.”
And he did stay, for a fraction of a moment- less than a handful of seconds in which their eyes met, and Sherlock learned what he needed of the future of the conversation they were never going to have.
“I have very little interest in what you’re about to say, Detective Inspector, if what I think you are going to say is correct. I dare say it is, and so-”
“- Sherlock, you just-”
“- I’m tired and I haven’t been home in a month, I will accept social calls in my own time-”
“- You’ve just been through-”
“- A very traumatising experience, yes, I have, wrongful imprisonment is no laughing matter-”
“- I’m talking about-”
Greg scowled into his hand- he wasn’t going to make this easy. Why the hell would he make this easy?
And he instantly regretted it. The entire room iced over at the mention of the name.
The name in the eyes, in the glasses, on the tips of the tongues of both of the men, spilled out and made profane.
Arctic eyes stared wide at him for a long moment before standing gracefully, coat coming with him as he wound that scarf around his neck.
“Good afternoon, Constable.”
Greg waited until Sherlock was well out of the pub before burying his face properly in the coarse palms of his hands, reaching over to finish the beer he’d bought for the other man.
Chapter 12: The New Inspector
Nothing with a Holmes is fair.
"Give me a moment, please."
"In a second."
"-There are news reporters downstairs. They want to ask you a few questions."
"For God's sake, give me a moment."
The Sergeant skirted away, ducking under the police tape secured on the open door of the hotel room to try and speak to the press himself.
And good riddance, thought Donovan. She needed him out of her hair, if only for five minutes.
People bustled in and out of the room, much too small for the amount of officers it currently contained. The body was on the balcony, which made it even worse- only two people could work on it at a time. The rest of them were standing around like idiots, taking pictures of things that had already been deemed inconsequential.
Detective Inspector Donovan tried to keep herself from pulling her hair out. She palmed her eyes, dragging her hands down her face as if the touch would make anything better.
When she opened her eyes, a tired, greying man stood in front of her with two paper cups of cheap coffee.
She gratefully took one, holding it loosely in her right hand as she took a testing sip. Lukewarm.
"Thanks a lot, Greg."
He nodded in welcome, taking a sip of his own.
"Wait until you get to the bottom. That's where all the sugar is."
"I look forward to it."
He laughed at her sarcasm, in the way one does when one is used to the point of immunity at another person's humour. He looked over to the balcony.
"Same thing as last time, I assume?"
"Almost exactly. Any sign that may have been left by the killer has been cleaned by the maid- she didn't find the body until she had finished in the room. I don't think it would have made any difference, anyways. It didn't in the last two."
"Do we have any sort of connection yet? Other than how they died?"
Sally exhaled deeply.
"They're all men?"
"Well, that narrows us down to less than half of the population, then."
She gave him an unkind chuckle.
"Always the Optimist."
He turned to look at her, a subtle quirk of his lips offering her a half smile.
"Someone's got to be. You look too gaunt for television in your current state."
"Who says I'm going on television?"
She bit her lip- it just wasn't fair. She told him so.
Detective Constable Lestrade scoffed.
"It's not, you're right. I shouldn't even have a job right now. It's due to some… Holmes magic that I even do. Nothing with a Holmes is fair."
His tone was different as he uttered the word- it had a different connotation now. Usually he spat it out, something bitter on the tip of his tongue. Now, he set it in front of Sally softly, aware of the charged particles swarming around the syllable. It had been a rough few months for everyone caught in Sherlock's web.
The other Holmes, however, had never been known to Donovan- not that she'd wanted to. She'd heard about him, though- Mycroft Holmes, the kidnapper; Mycroft Holmes, the protective older brother; Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's credit card; Mycroft Holmes, more powerful than the prime minister. If anyone would have granted Lestrade pardon, it would have been him. One had been enough. Now she wouldn't have to deal with him, ever again.
She did, however, need to deal with the television crews now. Speaking at the press, instead of standing behind the silver man spinning a truth to calm the public.
She took another drink of her coffee, screwing her face up as she finally hit the sugar. Gave him a small smile to excuse herself- this conversation had gone a little too personal for her liking. People moved for her as she made her way to the body, in a way that they'd never moved for Lestrade- they respected her, after just over a month of receiving the position. She didn't earn it through hard work, like he did. She won it on formality. And yet she was already supremely better-liked than he had ever been as DI.
That was what Sherlock Holmes did to a man, she assumed. Well, she would never make that same mistake.
She peered into the eyes of the two men standing on the balcony. One, a red-headed portly man who had been hired recently- the other, Anderson.
They all should have lost their jobs. Letting an amateur detective in any of their cases- that was a terrible idea. What were they thinking?
Even in her head, she couldn't quite call Holmes amateur with much verity.
She had been speaking to Anderson, and the other man could tell- Sally had to move clear to the other side of the balcony as he excused himself, pushed messily through the door. She waited until he left to listen, just as Anderson waited to speak.
"We've found prints and hairs from several different people but-"
She could finish the sentence for him.
"- But they're all old, they're all previous guests. Or maids."
"So this one's just like the others."
"There's no way it could just be- a sniper or anything."
"We'll have to wait for the ballistics on this one, but I don't see how. The other two were shot from a pistol- there's no way someone could have that sort of accuracy without- Without an extreme amount of training, or something."
"So it's possible."
Anderson opened his mouth, but whatever he was about to say, he decided against it and opted to ignore her.
"Either way, the victims are completely unconnected. A business student, a college professor, and a Frenchman. Even if they did… go to the same barber shop or something, there's no need to assassinate them."
"We can't be sure of that. We've only just seen this case. We haven't looked into the connections of the other two enough."
Whatever it was that Anderson had decided not to say had obviously been deemed too important to withheld.
"Sally, we just got rid of Holmes. That doesn't mean you need to take his place in the outlandish theory front."
She shot him an icy glare- he'd become more and more insufferable now that she'd been placed above him. Now that their only common ground- dislike of Holmes- had been removed. She straightened up, smoothing her trouser legs out.
He stood up after her, quirking an eyebrow.
"You will call me Detective Inspector while we are working. You are free to question my theories, but not to dismiss them as something Holmes would do just because it means you might need to do your job."
He merely gaped at her as she stepped over the dead Frenchman and back into the plush carpet of the hotel room.
"Gregory DuPont was murdered on the balcony of his hotel room the night of June sixth, at approximately midnight,"
She opened with. That was how Greg usually opened, right? Just like telling a colleague about the case. That's what she'd do. Just less speculation. All facts. No flouncy guesses. Hard, believable fact.
"There were no clear signs of a break in, a struggle, or any force at all. He was shot in the head with a short-range weapon, however."
A bustle of activity from the press room- maybe she'd said too much. From the back of the room, Greg shook his head just slightly enough for Sally to see if she was looking.
Of course she was looking.
From the second row, a reporter loosely raised her hand-
"Does this murder have anything to do with the similar murders of William Stevenson or George Khaldun? Is there enough connection between these three cases to suspect that these murders are serial?"
"Yes, there are some similarities to the murders of Stevenson or Khaldun. All of the murders were enacted at around midnight eight days from each other, but we are not viewing them as connected."
"And if another person dies?"
She pursed her lips. She was becoming frustrated- the news didn't want facts, they wanted serial killers. It was difficult to persuade them otherwise, even it had been the case that she wasn't in accordance with them.
"If someone dies in a similar manner to these cases, we will be sure to take them in close consideration while examining the fourth."
She had prepared a small amount of responses for this conference to the questions she was sure they'd be asking, and she was fast running out of them with fifteen minutes left. She hoped they wouldn't surprise her with anything she'd pointedly refused thinking abou-
"Will you be using Sherlock Holmes on this case?"
"Sherlock Holmes is no longer affiliated with the Metropolitan Police, in any way."
"And if these cases cannot be solved?"
"We will find the killers of these men, serial or not, without Mr. Holmes' help."
And just as she'd hoped that the conference would turn from the topic of the amateur detective-
"What is the possibility that the murders have anything to do with Sherlock Holmes?"
She gaped. The noise of other newspeople writing, typing, adjusting the volume on their recorders.
"None. None at all."
"We cannot even entertain the notion?"
"Mr. Holmes is being released today. He's been in prison for all three of the murders."
"And what about James Moriarty- or Richard Brook?"
"He had been under surveillance for both- No. Neither James Moriarty nor Richard Brook nor Sherlock Holmes have anything to do with these murders."
Tomorrow morning, newspapers would describe her answers to these questions as 'pressed' or 'unwilling.' Not entirely too far from the truth.
"Are there any more questions on the crime itself?"
A rustle through the crowd- papers, not questions. Sally straightened her back, hoping that she looked resolute at the very least for the cameras trained on her face.
"Well, then, I guess we're done here."
Chapter 13: Running
He was talking too quickly for John to get anything out. He was really just very tired.
There was a child sleeping behind him.
There were no movies playing at the front- no odourous neighbours, no chatty women.
He’d gotten a window seat.
Never in his long and detailed history of flying had he ever gotten a window seat. So this was what it felt like to have the British Government, personified, planning your itinerary. Take away the gross invasions of privacy that was included with dealing with Mycroft and, yes, John really could get used to this.
The steward was Australian, imagine that, with short brown hair and a professional sort of kindness.
When she asks him what he wants to drink, he decides for an orange juice and- what the hell- a self-serve bottle of vodka.
He smiles at her, and she smiles back at him before pushing the cart onward, leaving him more or less alone again.
John can pretty much sleep anywhere, but this is the first time he’s actually been lulled to sleep by suggestion of the jet engines. He’s not in first class, but he’s still in a comfortable seat, alone in the aisle, his forehead pressed against the cool window. He falls asleep and he actually dreams.
He dreams he’s going shopping, but every time he picks up the milk it falls through a hole he can’t find in the basket;
He dreams he’s swimming on a beautiful day towards land;
He dreams he has a daughter but he never actually sees her;
He dreams he’s on the phone with a familiar voice, standing on a rooftop, someone counting down from three, he’s hung up the phone but from the other side of the road, he hears his voice being yelled out to him-
John shook himself awake.
No one’s looking at him- it wasn’t a nightmare, he hadn’t hollered or shook or called attention to himself in any way. It had been a bad dream, though- it left him with a deep feeling in the pit of his stomach, gnawing at him.
Changing his name, going to America- it felt a lot like running.
John’s had to do a lot of things for Sherlock, but hiding had never been one of them. It just wasn’t a mode that he could run on comfortably.
Though, compared to what he’d done for him in the past, it probably wasn’t the worst thing.
Killing a man after knowing him for less than twenty four hours.
Lying and stealing for information.
Offering to give his own life up for him.
He didn’t think much of it, either. Both times. It was a split second, instinctual decision- it was the soldier in him. It must have been. Protect the greater good at all costs. Sherlock was, of course, the greater good- he helped so many people with that arrogant intellect of his.
He’d felt an overwhelming need to protect it. Lord knew that hardly anyone else was doing it. Mycroft did the best he could from afar, and John was sure that had he not been there for his younger brother during those unseen but hinted-at years of addiction, John would never have had the opportunity to meet him.
But John wasn’t entirely sold on the idea that he was fully trustworthy, even with his little brother’s life. Even if he was, there was only so much he could do from his office.
Which was why Sherlock needed John.
John, to make sure Sherlock eats. John, to make sure Sherlock plays nice with others. John, to make sure Sherlock keeps away from his bad habits.
John, to take the fall for Sherlock when a maniac wanted him dead.
It had started well before that, however- Mycroft had taken an even greater interest in him since… Well, since the Irene Adler case, it seemed.
He called, once, at three in the morning just to ask if Sherlock had brought back Chinese food that night. He’d sounded disappointed when the answer was yes.
Kept picking John up, more and more, just to drive him to a secluded area to ask him absurd questions about Sherlock- how was he sleeping? How long did it take him to solve the case about the action figures?
By the time the stewardess comes back around, the feeling still hadn’t dissolved.
“Enjoying your drink?”
“That wasn’t a very strong reaction,”
He smiled back at her- flirting. He could do flirting.
“Well, it wasn’t a very strong drink.”
She laughed, slipping him two more self-serve bottles and a wink before pushing the cart farther back.
He poured both of them into the juice at the same time, taking generous sips until he felt drowsy. With the drinks, however, came more memories.
Sherlock’s apparently broken heart at the death of Irene Adler;
He’d forced Henry Knight to look at the body of the dog, not the hound, the dead, ordinary dog;
He would have killed that American if he’d so much as hurt Mrs. Hudson…
John had been sleeping in the hospital when he’d gotten the call.
Sherlock had been doing- something, he didn’t know- and was barely paying attention.
An unfamiliar voice had told him that Mrs. Hudson had been shot- oh my god, right, yes I’m coming- he had to go right away.
Jesus, Jesus… She’s dying, Sherlock, Let’s go.
But he didn’t go.
Alone is what I have, alone protects me.
No, Friends protect people.
That was the last thing he’d said to him before-
The car ride.
The phone call.
He’d been running, trying to catch a cab, when a familiar black vehicle pulled up beside him, door swinging open. Not in the mood for this… He stuck his head into the car with the purpose of expressly telling the driver and whatever attractive woman Mycroft sent to collect him just that.
You knew it was serious when the man is willing to represent himself.
“Do get in the car, Dr. Watson, time is of the essence.”
“Get in the car, Dr. Watson.”
Spat with such venom that John did what he was told. He spoke up only when the vehicle pulled away-
“Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson is-”
“Fine. She’s fine. That was my people. We needed to get you away from St. Bart’s at least six minutes sooner than expected.”
“There is hardly any time to explain to you what I need to, Dr. Watson, if you could refrain from superfluous questions. At the moment, Sherlock is walking freely into the throes of James Moriarty-”
“Then why are we here? You have an entire army, a secret service, the universe at your disposal, shoot the bastard down!”
“It is not as easy as you suggest-”
“Of course it is, you got him into this mess, you get him out-”
“If you will let me continue, Dr. Watson, I am trying. I, however, require your aid. And your attention.”
John had stared at him unsympathetically, silent just long enough for him to continue.
“We will drop you off at 221B when this is done- you are to remain there for six minutes before exiting to hail a cab. When a car pulls up with three men inside, find it in yourself to trust them.”
“Do not interrupt. Do not fight them. Allow them to blindfold you and hook you up to an intravenous drip feed-”
“- Do not interrupt me. Allow them to connect any apparatus to your person. If you fight, they are permitted to use force against you. They will take you to a rooftop highly visible to Sherlock and James Moriarty where you will-”
“- Call Sherlock, say goodbye, and jump from the building.”
“If you do not, Moriarty will surely kill Sherlock.”
“Because of you.”
Mycroft rolled his eyes.
“Yes, because of me. When you return to 221B, do not bring anything with you. You need to make it seem as if you had been unwittingly abducted. Especially not your gun.”
John didn’t know how Mycroft knew about the gun. He hardly cared- he was used to it. Very, very used to it.
“And if I don’t-”
“Moriarty will win. Sherlock will die. You will be just as much at fault as I.”
“Why aren’t you the one jumping from the building, then? If you’re the one at fault.”
The car rolled to a stop in the middle of the street, in front of his doorway.
“Because this is not my part to play.”
Mycroft opened the door for John, nodding his head for him to exit.
“Now Goodbye, Dr. Watson.”
John had made his way out of the car and into the flat, confused and a little disoriented. Mrs. Hudson was there, she was okay, she was with one of the assassins who were helping her fix something up- he scaled the staircase to stand awkwardly in the living room, touching nothing-
Six minutes and then, what? Someone would be there to kidnap him? And then he would jump to his death?
Bring nothing. There was no way that John was going to go anywhere without his gun.
It was in a shoebox on the top shelf of his closet- the exact place a normal person would hide their gun, because he’d given up on trying to hide it from Sherlock.
He’d had to stand on his toes to pull it from the shelf, the box tumbling down on him. He picked up the gun, loaded it expertly, and stuck it in the back of his jeans, where it sat concealed under his jacket.
He stood in his room, looked at the plain walls, Mrs. Hudson’s linens.
Was this the last time he’d see this room?
Don’t get sentimental now, Captain. You’re needed.
Well, that inner monologue hadn’t shown himself in a while.
He didn’t know exactly what he was needed for, but since when did he beg for answers?
He’d left the house, and no later had he done that than he had been swept into another car.
Don’t fight them.
As soon as the car rolled on, one of them started preparing a syringe.
Like hell he wouldn’t fight them.
He didn’t get very far, however- two (much larger) men procured a bloody nose and two black eyes between them, but John hadn’t much of a chance at all- the drive from Baker Street to the hospital was a blur, the trip from the ground to the seventh floor forgotten.
And suddenly, he was on the top floor-
Someone had taken his phone, dialled Sherlock’s number; put the phone in his hand.
“He’s not going to answer, he doesn’t… He doesn’t call…”
He was talking too quickly for John to get anything out. He was really just very tired.
One of the men behind him suggested to have him turn around, which John did. He’d wished he hadn’t, though- now he was talking even faster, with that panicked tone that was usually reserved for a puzzle with seconds left to unravel.
“-I've got about four plans right now that could possibly work depending on the make of the gun behind your back and the history of the man holding it, I'm too far away, I can't see much more than the obvious military training-”
And for once, he’d actually shut up.
John wasn’t entirely sure what to say next- what was there to say? What could he possibly do to explain something he wasn’t completely sure of? Probably would never be completely sure of?
“It’s going to be okay.”
Said at the same time the man behind him started counting down- just close enough for the receiver to pick it up, just enough for John to remember that his life was on a sixty-second timer.
It’s going to be okay.
He hadn’t meant it, when he’d said it. But it had, in its own way- turned out okay. They were both alive, even if John had to flee to America, of all places.
And what would have happened, had John not jumped? Would they both be dead? Did Sherlock have his own escape route, had he been forced to jump? Would he have been the one left stranded at 221B, forced to recollect himself after his flatmate’s funeral?
It made him feel guilty, but mostly it just filled him with a strange pang of feeling that, he guessed, would be called alone. He’d gone a month without having to deal with fingers in the fridge, gunshots in the morning and that unmistakable tone when he flopped himself onto the couch, shouting BORED! At whatever would listen.
The man was intolerable.
He missed Sherlock, as unlikely as it seemed.
Chapter 14: Steepled Fingers
Welcome home, Mr. Sigerson.
Eight hours of chill, of peace, of introspections.
Eight hours later, and John was in America.
The JFK airport was, as expected, packed- John could see nothing of the city from the windows, feel nothing of the heat that had supposedly washed over the continent during the summer. Close as he was, he wasn’t yet in the real world- he was suspended in a nationless network of airports, waiting in line with a fake passport to (hopefully) grant him passage to his next flight.
Slinging his carry on over his shoulder, he followed the throng of people through the arrows marked US CITIZENS carefully- he avoided eye contact and played over the conversation he’d have to have with the officer in the accent that he’d have to give.
The queues- no, lines- to get in this country were absurd. It was half an hour before he met face to face with a smartly-dressed young man (really young- how did he get such an official job?) who took his passport and ran it into the machine.
John gave him an attempt of a smile, hoping that he looked just as uneasy as anyone else who was being questioned.
“How long were you out of the country, Mr. Sigerson?”
Thirty eight years?
“About two weeks.”
“What was the nature of your trip?”
“I attended a wedding in London. I spent the rest of the time traveling.”
His accent had slipped.
Just once- a single vowel a little longer, a little lower than he’d meant. It was terribly obvious to his ear.
The man looked at him, then down to his passport. Shit. Shit shit shit.
“Do you have anything to declare? Fruits or vegetables?”
It was obvious, wasn’t it? John was not American. You could tell by the side the zipper was on his coat.
“Welcome home, Mr. Sigerson.”
Well, not everyone was Sherlock, he supposed.
And with that, John found himself in the country, with one more plane to catch and a duffle bag full of things that were now his. He looted through it while he waited to board- all of the normal things someone would bring in a carry on, should the rest of their things be in a checked bag.
One change of clothes: socks, trousers- pants, that was going to be weird to have to say. Actual pants. A short-sleeved shirt, a zip-up hooded sweater. All in his size but not his style. Even the clothes he was wearing at the moment- they felt like a costume, it made him feel insecure, always pulling at the strings on his sweater.
There sat his laptop and charger at the bottom- the one that he’d used for the past month and a half to study up on his new life and objective.
And an old, overstuffed brown leather wallet with two hundred American dollars, a leftover twenty pound note, two orange credit cards, about a dozen gift cards to various stores and fast food chains, a Wisconsin driver’s license with his picture on it.
Necessary toiletries in American brands- all mostly empty for the sake of accuracy.
An unread paperback mystery novel.
And under that- a touch screen cell phone. It was a newer version than his old phone (unfortunately) but the same model, he assumed; it looked about the same, with the same buttons, just with fewer scratches. He flipped it in his hands, staring at the clean, inscriptionless back. Turned it upside down to observe the charging port- scratchless.
You never see those marks on a sober man’s phone, never see a drunk’s without them.
He tried to turn the phone on, holding down each button, one at a time, for multiple seconds until the loading screen of an unfamiliar service provider showed up. And in the upper left hand corner, a little message symbol- he scrolled around until he could find the messages button, and opened the single text he had waiting for him- an unknown number.
As if he couldn’t guess.
Welcome to America, Mr. Sigerson.
He assumed- rightly- that he wasn’t expected to reply, and so tucked the phone into his pocket and bought a cola and a newspaper for the next flight.
Compared to the flight from London to New York, the one from New York to Atlanta was trifling in its duration- but restlessness made it feel much longer. John felt in himself an uncharacteristic sort of impatience when they landed- he wanted, needed, had to get out of his seat right this second and get working. It may have something to do with the two months he had spent in a nineteenth century vacuum, and the blacked out windows of the limo that took him from the Manor to the airport. The glass building that housed him for his three hour layover from New York to Atlanta.
It didn’t really matter what it was- John could hardly keep himself in his seat.
It took hours, days, forever for the plane to drive from the landing strip to the terminal, and for it to allow its passengers to spill out. But they finally did, John mixed in and nodding to the pilot as he was wished safe travels.
The airport was huge, crowded but spacious. People from his flight flocked to the same conveyor, picking up and lugging over suitcases- John had absolutely no idea if he’d even have one.
Of course they did- If they provided him with half-used toothpaste for accuracy, they sure as hell would have got him a suitcase. John turned his mobile back on, waiting for the screen to load to be greeted by the little message icon that he knew would be there-
Blue suitcase. There is a white shoestring tied to the handle.
Not long later, John was out of customs and wheeling himself past newspaper stands and McDonalds to the front doors-
To fresh air-
To freedom, finally.
It felt oddly exhilarating, to step out from the sliding doors, wedged in between twenty or so other fliers, and to finally step out onto the sidewalk. A score of taxis were waiting for clients- the fact that John had no idea where he was going hardly bothered him. As he slipped into the first taxi that would have him, he felt a small vibration in his pocket-
89 Luckie St. Reservations for Sigerson through the week.
He reiterated the address to the driver, who took his time getting to the hotel, looping around main roads and taking circular paths until he stopped at the entrance. Paid him for his services and directed himself to the check in desk.
The woman who sat behind the desk looked, at the very best, informal- she looked as though she’d been running just moments before.
“I- I have a reservation. For Sigerson.”
He pursed his lips.
“That is my last name. William Sigerson. I believe I have a reservation.”
“William Sigerson, William Sigerson… Ah, yeah, right here. 352.”
She handed him a keycard, tapping once more away at the computer in front of her.
The elevator was out of order, so he took the stairs, heaving his suitcase up one more step after him with his good arm. He walked down the rest of the
The actual room was nothing special, either- an off-white square with a door on one side, some dark drapes on the other, and a bathroom somewhere in between there.
A flat double bed, a nightstand with lamp, a desk in the corner, a dresser.
There wasn’t even a television.
John flopped onto the bed, staring at the crack in the wall where the TV should have been. Out of a whim, he pulled out his laptop.
The breath of an internet connection- shaky, at best.
Now what? Wait for instructions?
When were these instructions supposed to come? Today? Tomorrow? At all?
Not for the first time, John felt positive that this entire thing was Mycroft’s scheme to get John out of the country for good. He felt stupid- as if there was anything I could do. Let alone in America, under a new name stripped of all of the things that would actually make me useful.
How long was he supposed to wait?
The man swore, easing himself off of his bed and grabbing his wallet. Damned if he was going to sit in this room all day.
It may have been a nice area to walk around had it not been blisteringly hot outside- it wasn’t downtown, but there was still a distinctive big-city feel to the neighbourhood. As it was, he found the nearest place with free wifi- a small, grungy-looking twenty-four hour café and bought himself a coffee and newspaper.
Coffee was of the watery, international-chain variety, but the atmosphere was exactly what he had been lacking for the past two months- lively.
There were people everywhere. Ordering coffee and leaving, sitting down for a few minutes, keying away at some project on their laptops. And a few old folks like him, sticking to the static paper route. Music played loudly over the speakers and signs promised live bands every Friday.
He, by luck or fate, found an empty table in a comfortable corner- most of the action was happening near the front, and from this vantage point John could watch without immediate risk of being involved. A woman with dark red hair sat at the table closest to him- He smiled to her as he passed, hoping for at least something of an invitation, but she rolled her eyes and looked back down to her book.
There really wasn’t much in the newspaper. A bit of global news, baseball matches and Fourth of July events. Fireworks, picnics, apple pie- whatever it was that Americans really did for their great holiday.
He realised, all too late, that he had no real reason to be searching in the newspaper- he knew what he’d been looking for, and it was news that would not be in an Atlanta newspaper a month after the event. He supposed he was reading to pass the time, at least become aquainted with the area- he was supposed to be waiting for instructions that he felt were more than likely never coming.
He turned to back pages, a mass of black text in columns about the minor details of the week passed.
Drunken encounters with a lamp post.
A mugging on Trinity Avenue, circa 2am on Wednesday.
Well, it certainly wasn’t London, but at least Mycroft hadn’t dropped him off in a one-stoplight town in the middle of the country to rot. He had at least that to be thankful for.
A case of domestic violence.
A terminal patient at the local hospital, missing for the past week, found dead on the other side of the city at a strip joint.
- Wait, what?
John read the article out of a humoured interest- but absurd as it was, there was something off about it. The man was suffering from lung cancer, could not breathe unless he was hooked up to the extensive machines at the hospital. He couldn’t get anywhere unless he was in a wheelchair, and he couldn’t have gotten into the wheelchair without help, let alone in a taxi.
It just didn’t make sense.
That’s not the point of the story- he’s dead. No traces of suspicious behaviour. Guy probably just took the back door.
He frowned, turning the pages as he tried to read the other stories. Took a sip of his coffee, focusing on an article detailing changes to the secondary school- scowled and flipped back to the page.
Carefully tore the article out of the paper.
He didn’t know what he was going to do with it- what could a single suspicious newspaper article, an old man at a strip club in Atlanta, have to do with Moriarty?
A trend is nothing but a collection of incidents.
Well, he had to do something with his time.
He scoured the newspaper once more but found nothing out of the ordinary- he kept it anyways, and picked up a map of the immediate city and some tacks on the way back to the hotel. He pinned the map where the television should have been, slightly crooked and corners curling over at the ends, and, after a short moment of thought, tacked the article on the location of the strip club, ten miles from the hospital the man had been living in for the past eighteen months.
What was John doing? What was he going for? It was something Sherlock did, pin all of the evidence up during a difficult crime so it was easier to visualise. But John didn’t have a crime, much less evidence. He had a map of Atlanta and an inch-long article. There was nothing he could do with this.
This was less something Sherlock did and more something straight from the movies. Throwing news at the wall to see what stuck.
But hadn’t everything Sherlock done been rather fantastical? John remembered his first date with Sarah, the Chinese circus and the kidnapping shortly afterward. How Sherlock had come to save the day at the last possible second, just in time to make the punch line.
How miraculous it was, really. How everything fell into place. How everything always did around Sherlock. For someone so supposedly uninterested in narrative and romance, he thrived on last-second saves and starlit chases through the underbelly of London.
John sat himself on the edge of his bed, propped his elbows on his knees and found himself steepling his fingers under his nose.
He scowled at himself at the gesture and rubbed his hands over his face.
Chapter 15: Restart
He stood in the entrance of the café, peering around for- what? A group of camouflage-clad men with their sleeves cut off and oversized guns in their lap?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The next day, John took a haggard route back to the coffee shop he’d visited the night prior, purposely getting lost so he could set his bearings- he had thought that he was good at directions, but it turned out that London, his hometown, and the roads in between them were all that he knew.
He did the same thing the day after that.
And the day after that.
John had set a daily ritual- he’d wake up at eight o’clock. He’d go for a short run, just enough to keep himself in shape without straining himself. He’d take a shower, get dressed, and sit in the coffee house with a cup of coffee and a newspaper, scouring and cutting out things that seemed suspicious. He’d, at least for the moment, become one of the regulars- along with an older couple, three or four university students and the red-haired woman. The baristas knew his order and would pour him a cup of coffee (milk, no sugar) before he’d even walked up to the counter.
After the fourth day, he had a hell of a lot of things that seemed suspicious, that seemed wrong, or were just a little fishy, pinned up around the map of Atlanta. He’d moved the articles to the outskirts of town because they were obscuring his view of the actual map- something that he wanted to learn rather well, if he was going to be here for an indeterminate amount of time.
As of yet, he’d received no word as to his ‘assignment’. Not from Mycroft, nor from the woman who met him at Holmes Manor, nor from the group that was supposed to contact him.
By the fifth day, he’d accepted that he had successfully been stranded in America.
Well, he figured, there were worse places he could have been stranded- hell, he’d been stranded in worse places in the army. He was getting a daily allowance that, so far, he’d not found a bottom for- paid for either by the Holmes’ family estate or the government itself, he didn’t know. He spent his days running and drinking coffee and looking for Moriarty in newspaper articles and memorising road names and alleyways. Really couldn’t be compared to his youth.
But it was just so damned boring.
The end of the week found him looking at apartments online, something a little more permanent than a dingy hotel room.
That was when the phone call came.
His mobile was clear on the other side of the room- when it started ringing, John threw his laptop off of where it had been perched on his knees and tumbled after the noise- after a few seconds of jumbling with the touch screen he answered the call and held the phone to his face.
It had to be them, the group of people that were supposed to call him days ago, ages ago, they had just gotten a little tied up but that’s fine now we’ve got John or Will and we’re ready to plough on-
“Is that really your best impression of an American accent, Doctor Watson?”
Or it could just be Mycroft.
John cleared his throat, about to tell the Holmes brother off-
He never got the chance.
“Spend the night practicing, it is insufficient. They should be calling you soon.”
And that was that.
He’d been given a twelve hour warning- the next morning, he received another phone call.
He stared at the odd ringtone for a whole second, unmoving, before reacting- he’d been ready for this one, and not so excited to get to the phone.
The woman on the other end replied before he could answer. They shared a short, vague conversation that told him to meet her at the café he’d been frequenting in an hour. That gave him very little time- he showered and dressed, speeding out the door. It was ‘another hot one,’ as the news had called every day so far, and in shorts John felt rather unprofessional; but in trousers he would have felt disgusting.
He stood in the entrance of the café, peering around for- what? A group of camouflage-clad men with their sleeves cut off and oversized guns in their lap? He looked around the room, spotting a larger group to the corner, where he’d been sitting for the past week.
As he approached, the red-haired woman that he’d sat behind almost every day (smiled at, tried to flirt with) waved him forward, impatient.
Well, no harm done, right?
He anxiously sat himself in between the people grouped around her- two other women and two other men, all looking equally displeased with his presence.
“Will Sigerson,” John greeted, holding a hand out to anyone that would take it. “Hi.”
One by one, they took turns stealing glances at his hand, then at his face, offering no greeting.
“I- I wasn’t told a code word or anything, if that’s what you’re waiting for-“
He stopped talking as the stares intensified.
And continue, they did- They made no effort to bring John up to speed or fill him in on what they were talking about, nor any small pretense to the fact that he was there at all other than the occasional glare at the fact that he was given permission to sit in on their conversation.
Which was either so heavily drenched in code that it was useless for John to try and understand, or he had flown across the sea to join a book club.
“The alienation of the protagonist, especially in the last half as his sanity crumbles-”
A young man started- younger than John, with long dark hair and a dark complexion. He sat leisurely, grin on his face. College educated, set up by his parents for an extended period of time- unworried face.
The older man replied:
“I’d have to argue that he had very little to begin with. Care to explain away his whole Superman complex, then-”
Balding. This one was easier- an obvious career man, he’d been in the army a long, long time. He was large, with a dusting of facial hair roughing his otherwise weathered face- he had something of an accent lying underneath the Standard American English he was using, and John wondered if that was what he sounded like to the rest of the group, if any of them were actually American at all.
“We’ve already covered his superman complex.”
“We’ve covered it?”
“Yes, Craig. We’ve covered it. Rather successfully, too.”
They stopped and looked at John- as if they had shared a secret, accidental, potentially dangerous-
Craig. So he’d gotten one name- or, probably, alias. The young one with the longish hair was Craig.
They were more careful after that- they didn’t want him to know even their aliases, that was certain. For the next half hour that they sat talking about literature/strategy and John studied them with as Holmesian of an eye as he could, listening as names filtered in.
Jennifer, the youngest- really she couldn’t have been more than twenty- had dark hair and more freckles than exposed skin, and a nervous tic of playing with the cross hanging from her neck whenever they mentioned the hard-working foil to the protagonist.
Tony, the aging career man, who cracked his knuckles often and must have been a native speaker of Spanish, who continues to bring up the pawn broker’s house no matter how many times they had spoken of it.
Angela, the red-haired woman with a familiar face who obviously held the position of power over the rest of them, sat with her back straight and her knees pressed together, had died her hair and retouched it either very often or very recently so her natural colour was impossible to guess, wore glasses even though they obstructed her reading-
And the woman who sat in between Jennifer and Tony, elbows propped up on the table as she jumped from topic to topic, dark eyes shining brightly behind dark lids, a familiarly violent smirk slipping onto her face every time they spoke of the axe, the murders, the gold under the bed. The woman named Mary who, contrary to the others, met John in the eye and, if not welcomed his presence, questioned him.
If you're curious as to how John would even sound with an American accent, take a gander.
Chapter 16: Circles
"You don't even care about the victims, you said it yourself- it's just the puzzle for you."
“Get me a pen.”
Mrs. Hudson stood in the doorway with a tray of food, taken aback by the barked order. Sherlock had his hand stretched out behind him, waiting for the pen for which he’d just requested.
He shook it once more, as if to display the need for this pen right now.
She set the tray down next to him, smoothing the lines on her shirt as she stood up. She peered down at the newspaper in front of him- dated one month ago- but she was far past bothering to wonder what he was up to.
“I’ve got you some supper, Sherlock…”
In response, another shake of his hand behind him.
With a soft scowl, she grabbed one of the pens from the table in front of him and put it hastily in his hand- he spun it two or three times in his fingers before bringing it to the paper, circling whole articles and underlining phrases with such a ferocity that she was sure the display was at least partly put-on.
She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
His head snapped towards her in attention- he stared at her, startled.
As if he had been expecting someone else.
And he turned back to his work. She tilted her head to her last remaining tenant, eyes filling with a look that, though she was sure that Sherlock could feel (or deduce, as he’d say), was glad that he couldn’t see.
“I brought you some supper. I’m sure you need a nice hearty meal, after…”
After a month of prison food.
After barely winning his innocence.
She tossed her free hand up in front of her, abandoning the sentence.
She would have hoped that he would have given more than a fleeting glance at the homemade soup and bread, but she knew too well than to expect anything different.
She squeezed the hand still on his shoulder, trying to comfort him before eventually giving up, wringing her own hands.
She watched over him for a long moment, receiving no response- There was no graceful way for her to start the conversation that she needed to have with him if he welcomed no conversation in the first place. This wasn’t the first time Mrs. Hudson had realised that it was impossible to actually talk to Sherlock Holmes- definitely not the first, but the most desperate.
If something had been wrong, she’d usually became privy to it through John. John was an inviting conversation partner- he spent the first few months of his residence at 221 getting to know her, watching morning television in her kitchen. He knew when to smile and when to laugh and when it was his turn to gripe- apparently, she’d taken that for granted.
Sherlock was not poor company- he wasn’t company at all.
The older woman sighed before turning to the door, letting him continue with his work.
“Just- let me know if you need anything.”
It was a few long moments after the woman had left that Sherlock had properly gotten back to work- pulling the newspaper away and opening his laptop.
Three deaths in the past month.
He’d heard it on the news first- the television set had, at first, been a nuisance to him, deterring his attention from his work. Now, the talkative machine only served to help him think.
It was last night while he sat, laptop perched on his knees, back to the screen when a familiar voice intruded on his thoughts-
“…on the balcony of his hotel room the night of June sixth, at approximately midnight…”
He spun around to face the television and the woman framed in the picture, looking uncomfortable in her position and extremely defensive.
“There were no clear signs of a break in, a struggle, or any force at all. He was shot in the head with a short-range weapon, however.”
Detective Inspector Sally Donovan, on his television screen, feeding half-truths to the public.
“He had been under surveillance for both- No. Neither James Moriarty nor Richard Brook have anything to do with these murders.”
Well, he knew better.
The number was still on speed-dial.
It took three rings for him to answer- he sounded exhausted, and not in the self-fulfilled way he always had when he was DI himself.
“Sherlock, what do you want?”
“I need information on the serial murder cases. Donovan gave a lot more information to the public than you did while you were Detective Inspector but I really would like to see the-”
“Whatever you’re going to ask for, the answer is no. Definitely, no.”
“Give me three minutes on the next crime scene-”
“… fine, just send me a copy of the files, that will have to do-”
“Does Molly have the body?”
“Well, no matter, I’m sure I could-”
He mustered a sigh.
“…Sherlock. You’re not getting anywhere near the evidence. For this case, for any case afterwards. You’re not even allowed inside Scotland Yard. Your face is everywhere; you’re not going to be able to fake it. You’re not going to be able to help.”
“You know I could solve this case in minutes.”
“No I don’t. You don’t know that.”
“But wouldn’t you rather make sure?”
A familiar sigh on the other line- a long inhale, short pause, and then a gust of wind through the receiver.
“I’m not in control of that anymore.”
“That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t-”
“But I won’t. Because if I do, I will most likely go to jail for a very long time.”
“It’s a crime to try and catch a killer?”
“When it involves you, yes. Yes it is.”
His attention was split- there was someone talking to him on the other side. Sherlock couldn’t hear the conversation, but when he returned to the telephone, his voice was hushed.
“Listen. I just- I just lied to my superior, told him I was speaking to a witness. I-”
He seemed unsure as to how to continue.
“I can’t give you any information on the case. I won’t. I’m not even supposed to be talking to you- That’s not to say I don’t want you to keep in touch. I just- I just won’t.”
“You would rather people die than break the law.”
“Because that’s what this is.”
“You don’t even care about the victims, you said it yourself- it’s just the puzzle for you.”
Another sigh- different this time, one single release of air, calming down. He continued.
“Well, I’m sure there’s tons of clients on your blog just waiting for you. Maybe you should look at that.”
Sherlock didn’t correct him. He coolly bade the detective a good day, setting down his phone next to his laptop, taking good care to line up the corners.
Stretched his fingers.
Ignored the hot plate of food.
Checked his blog.
3 500 submissions.
Now he had to look through all of these emails.
Dear Mr. Holmes,
I have herd of you on the telley and though my mum says that you did the crime you were-
Mr. Sherlock Holmes,
It is of the utmost importance that you contact my firm as soon as possible for a case of fraud-
Dear Mr. Holmes,
My husband has disappeared last night, I don’t know where he went-
Dear Mr. Holmes-
Sherlock slammed the lid of the computer down on itself, leaning back and tugging on his hair. He didn’t need a case, he needed information on Moriarty. He had spent one month thinking and now was the time for action.
Why was everyone making it so bloody difficult?
His computer had restarted underneath his hand- it whirred back to life cautiously after the abuse laid on it. Eventually he returned to it, paging through emails disinterestedly. Those that were not written by bumbling idiots and fools were written by journalists to wile him into an interview. Some seemed legitimate, but he could not trust them through the idea that it was simply Moriarty, continually playing with him.
He didn’t know what the man would not do to ruin him anymore, and he had the feeling that the answer was absolutely nothing.
Sherlock was still alive.
Moriarty’s work was not yet done.
He never did trust what Donovan said.
He pulled up a few news sources on the internet, interviews, articles on each individual murder- all male, all killed in London. Not all residents- Dupont was French- and so very little connection.
Each killed with the same weapon- a pistol- from an unknown intruder that neither entered nor left the building; or else was invisible and could melt through walls.
They really were helpless without him.
Sherlock printed a few of the less annoying articles out and set them aside from the rest of his research- he was in no hurry. He was sure there would be more to come in the next week.
Chapter 17: Anomolly
No one stayed for more than they had to.
And now, a mouse-haired woman was gnawing on her lip as she sat on the couch, empty handed.
Sherlock had to wait much longer than expected for the next death- it was well into August by the time he received a text message from Lestrade stating, simply, to keep his eyes open.
He’d been quite busy in that time.
He’d covered the wall with a visual map of everything he couldn’t fit into his head- a rather Hollywood approach to information organization, Sherlock thought, but it was also a concession: he didn’t know what to make of these murders, and so he’d bring all of the evidence out in a space where others could look, too. If not to piece things together than to illuminate him on something he may have been missing.
Clumps of personal information.
Pictures of the fronts of houses screenshot from Google Maps.
Subtly suspicious Facebook condolences.
He didn’t know where to stop, so he didn’t- nothing was relevant to each other, and so everything was relevant.
Every once and a while, he’d pick at the plate that always found its way up to his room- once it was three home-cooked meals a day. Now Mrs. Hudson new better than to exert the energy; he’d be left a sandwich when the previous was eaten or spoilt.
Rarely, he’d take to the streets in search of some sort of evidence that didn’t lie on the other side of a luminous screen; always in disguise, always spotted.
He couldn’t remember the last time he slept. Closing his eyes for longer than four seconds was unpalatable.
He’d had few visitors- a daily Mrs. Hudson that had had forgone trying to speak to him, but often gave him a distracting squeeze on the shoulder. Lestrade once- no, twice- who stopped by to awkwardly stand in the doorway and look up at the wall warily before asking how Sherlock was doing, grumbling and leaving as he was heartily ignored. His brother, once, who participated in a silent glaring match before cocking an eyebrow, spinning on his heel and walking out the door.
No one stayed for more than they had to.
And now, a mouse-haired woman was gnawing on her lip as she sat on the couch, empty handed.
“It’s been lonely at the morgue,” she starts.
“Well, I mean, there’s always someone to talk to, but, you know, they’re…”
She plays with the ring on her index finger. Molly has a fear of being judged and so she usually surrounds herself with people that she knows are on a lower intellectual level than herself so she can if not inflate her ego than at least uphold some self-reassurance that she’s useful, She takes a liking to me because
She flipped her hands over, expressing her doubt at the joke she was trying to make.
“… Well, dead.”
“Do you have the files for me?”
Sherlock looked up at her expectantly. Molly sighed.
“You know, it- it hasn’t been easy for me.”
“You don’t have the files.”
“To get a job, I mean. To keep my job. Being your-”
She moved onto the palm of her hand, rubbing it roughly.
“Being affiliated with you. I was a part of the investigation. They wouldn’t let me work for two weeks. I didn’t make rent, I-”
Her voice sounded strange. Tinned.
“I don’t have the files, no. I came to, er. To see you.”
Sherlock was in his blue bathrobe and the same ratty pajamas he’d worn the entire week. He swirled the fabric around his lanky self, turning his back to her.
“Well, now you’ve seen me. Are you satisfied?”
“No. I’m really not.”
And she stayed.
Even after Sherlock didn’t answer her dull attempts at conversation, even after his back remained pointed firmly in the direction of her face. She didn’t seem to mind, even after hours had passed- the sun was setting by the time he had finished waiting for Lestrade’s sign.
He had been keeping his eyes open- for what? He’d had the television turned on, his phone at his side, several tabs open to local newspages- there was no sign of the murder. Would it not be released to the public?
Sherlock was just about to reply to Lestrade when the afternoon news began.
He leaned his elbows against his knees, resting his mouth on his clasped hands as the news anchor detailed the latest murder.
Mark Cook. Lived in London his entire life. Forty years old, worked as a Dentist in Oxford all of his life.
He was shot in his home late at night- he was a divorced man who lived alone.
A picture showed a man tall and fat, with an obvious drinking problem that he would have died from in five years had he not been-
He threw his pen at the television, standing up to pace across the living room, pulling his hair.
“Ohhh, even you cannot be that stupid!”
He jabbed the remote control in the face of the screen, turning to several channels before flinging it at the wall.
He pulled open his phone, text Lestrade once, twice- the man was ignoring him.
He had too much pride to call him and knew better than to try and contact Donovan. He’d just have to wait, like everyone else.
He didn’t want to wait like everyone else. He spun around, thinking- he didn’t have to be the one to get the information. He could send a third party, collect the information, take pictures of the body, copy a file or four. He knew she would.
But she’d already gone.
But the next day, she was back; with two coffees and a sack of donuts.
“Morning, Sherlock,” She spouted, setting a coffee in front of him. In his surprised state his first instinct was to take a sip of it- black, two sugars.
She set a donut in front of him as well, on top of a napkin on a relatively clean portion of the table.
She smiled. It was not a happy smile- he narrowed his eyes.
He said nothing, instead opting to bring the Styrofoam cup to his mouth, drinking the coffee in one sitting instead of trying to find a place on the table to put it.
She resumed her spot on the couch. She looked tired.
Sleepless night one of many she usually tries to cover the bags under her eyes but has stopped this procedure she feels as if she deserves this she feels guilty for something-
She kept watching him. She said nothing.
He kept forming half-completed thoughts about her. For the first time, she had defied him.
She wasn’t even trying. It was infuriating.
She crossed her legs, settling into the couch as she fit an over-large bite of donut into her mouth, moving quick to try and catch the falling flakes of sugar as she bit down. She had given up on waiting for whatever Sherlock was about to say- must have known it was hopeless.
Saying anything to her would open conversation that, he assumed, he wanted nothing to do with- instead, he turned back to his work.
Four days had passed since Molly’s first appearance, and every day thereafter she would pop in once in the morning to bring him some breakfast, and then once in the afternoon after she had gotten off of work. She said nothing to him most days, which was just as well for Sherlock- she had nothing useful for him and he preferred not to be disturbed. She was surprisingly good at that- she’d stay four, five hours reading or finishing paperwork, idly watching whatever television channel Sherlock had turned on for noise.
She watched as an outsider as 221B began to fill with paper- fragile newsprint, fading printed articles, glossy pictures in full colour. By the end of the week, she was forced to occupy the kitchen, with its slight, sour smell of some experiment forgotten and disposed of in the month of Sherlock’s absence.
Sherlock had not given up on figuring out why it was that she came to his flat every night to be wholly ignored- he could never just let something be- but frankly he had more important things to tend to. Moriarty had disappeared, obviously leaving no trace. These murders had not become clearer as time and more evidence built up around him- they were unprovoked, connected only by the murder weapon and lack of any real intruder.
But Molly had not left his thoughts.
Sherlock didn’t have to wait as long for the next murder- three days later, the day that Molly had come over to make breakfast for herself in the kitchen before leaving for work. He received another text from Lestrade telling him to stay in waiting, and a few hours later on the news- more of the same thing.
The Met and the news were too afraid to tell the public that they were out of their depths without the help of Sherlock Holmes… Once again.
Michael Faulkner, thirty six. Divorced for over three years, lives alone in his apartment whenever his ten year old son was with his wife. He was alone when he was shot- earlier than usual, at dusk, in the head in the same manner as the other four.
They’d detained a woman that witnesses report seeing rushing out of the building around that time. She was a resident of the building and told investigators that she had been rushing because she had left her cell phone at the restaurant she had just visited.
Obvious dead end, and yet the Met were keeping on to her.
It infuriated Sherlock, their need to fabricate anything just for something to show to the public. Their need to try and make it seem like they were competent, just as competent without Sherlock Holmes as they were with him.
More of the wall had been taken up by the time Molly got back to 221B, a full corner on this new victim and the frustration he brought Sherlock.
“Heard about the new murder,” she brought up an hour into a television show she didn’t pick. He gave a non-committal grunt from his desk.
She was eating the pasta that Mrs. Hudson had brought up for the two of them, twirling it around her fork and trying her hardest not to slurp up the noodles that dangled from her overfilled fork.
He didn’t find it difficult to ignore her- it came unsurprisingly easy, actually.
“Do you think that you’ve found anything that the police have missed yet?”
That- now, that earned her a glare. She gave him a spaghetti sauce half-smile; it hadn’t been unintentional.
“I’ve found a lot of information on all of the victims.”
“But nothing that the cops don’t have.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t deny it.”
She gave him a smile, and returned to whatever was on her lap-
She became guarded- she’d lied before she’d opened her mouth.
He stood up, stepping closer to her, circling her as she curled the papers closer to herself-
“Nice try, but no. You haven’t written any notations. You’ve been writing in standard, linear, left-to-right format, but you’ve been skipping around. Look- see, I can see the printed field boxes, Molly, you’re not hiding it. It’s the paper work.”
“It’s not the paperwork you want-”
“Oh, nonsense. You work in the morgue, you’re the youngest one who works there, you’re the one they give the paperwork to so they don’t have to do it at home because they know all you have to do each night is sit with your cat and watch musical television shows…”
He snatched the papers from her hands, tossing the irrelevant ones as he searched for what had to be Michael Faulkner’s file. His autopsy would not have been completed yet, but she would still have the papers, filling out the preliminary information so a senior employee would not have to-
It wasn’t there. There was nothing of any interest in here. Car accidents and drug overdoses.
Molly jumped up, scurrying around the room to try and pick the discarded papers up in some sort of order. Sherlock stood as she orbited him, perplexed.
“These aren’t your usual specimens.”
Molly stood to face him, a disorganized stack of papers clutched in her hands.
When she remained silent, he continued.
“They still don’t trust me. They’re not sure what crimes may be affiliated with me and so they treat all of them as if they are. And they don’t trust you, and so they don’t give you any autopsy that may have-”
“They don’t let me do autopsies at all.”
He looked at her. At a moment when he expected her to turn away, her eyes stayed fixed on his.
“I’m not allowed to. For the time being, at least.”
He looked down to the papers in her hands, trying to shuffle them into a pile. She gave a hollow laugh.
“Well. Hopefully for the time being.”
“You feel badly about this.”
“Well- I very much almost lost my job because a friend was accused of murders he helped solve-”
“It’s not enough.”
He swooped across the living room, performing one set of pacing before finally sitting down on the couch, staring up at her as intently as a biologist might at a skin sample.
Papers in a half- organized pile, she set them back in the folder she was using to store them in, waiting for his response. When he gave her nothing, she pressed onward-
“What’s not enough?”
He closed his mouth. He didn’t want to ask- he didn’t want to know the answer to the riddle before he could solve it. Because he could solve it. Molly was just as simple as anything else he’d ever studied, as easy as every code he’d ever cracked- there was nothing particularly remarkable about her.
Chapter 18: A Clue
Sherlock waited- not for an answer, but for some clue, some unravelling to let him know why she was here. He furrowed his eyebrows- she knew what was coming.
A super-long chapter for the end of the world! Happy Apocalypse, everyone. Just a quick thank you to everyone that's been reading, and Happy Winter Celebration of Your Choosing or Not Choosing at All!
He was yelling through the phone at a person who, it seemed, could not care any less.
“… You know I could solve this case faster than any of your men at The Yard, It’s selfish on your part not to let me in…”
He didn’t bother with the woman sitting on the floor of his living room, who had made a nest of cleanliness for herself in that spot weeks ago while the mess grew around her.
Plates, dust, discarded layers of clothing.
They weren’t just taped to the walls anymore- they littered the desks and floors, hanged crammed under every magnet on the fridge, stuffed in pockets and found under seat cushions.
The web that Sherlock Holmes had begun to spin in order to catch Moriarty was threatening to suffocate the entire flat.
“… Yes, I mean it. Selfish. You and your team keep your jobs, and citizens lose their lives-”
He was interrupted again, spinning on his heels as he scowled, pulling at the hair on his scalp.
“You’re inadequate as a detective and you’re doing a terrible job in Lestrade’s stead as a leader, Donovan, so why do you insist on refusing help from someone who actually knows what he’s doing? You know my methods. You know they produce results faster than your team of-”
He looked at the phone, then to Molly.
“She hung up on me.”
Molly shrugged and repositioned her legs, which were starting to fall asleep.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have called her inadequate.”
He waved her off, wrapping the ratty dressing gown more closely around him before hopping onto the square chair that he’d dragged away from its previous spot centring the fireplace and more towards the couch, facing the mess he’d made of the rest of the flat. Molly had noticed that Sherlock had taken extra care in not leaving the other chair, the rounded quaint armchair that once mirrored his own, out of the chaos that had encompassed the rest of the residence. The effort with which he made sure that it did not collect too much nor too little clutter was on the brink of becoming a defining artform.
Molly had noticed it, but she knew better than to mention it.
“-The sixth death of this sort since May and they’re still sticking to this same story of an armed intruder when it’s so obvious that it’s got to be something different, a sniper most likely-”
He was waving his arms in mid-sentence, grimacing at the mere mention of the Met and their theories. She wasn’t listening anymore, but it wasn’t as if he noticed. She wasn’t there to comment, just to make his speaking to himself acceptable.
Which was fine with her- she preferred company in isolation. She appreciated the silence that allowed her to both get her work done and let the questions she’d let grow over the past few months continue to simmer just out of mind.
She’d been close, a few times- fighting out a word or two before a glare silenced her, or her motivation to actually speak crumbled the moment she’d put the words in order. She was past letting it bother her- she had always been silent, fuller of things she wanted to say than things she had found the courage to.
The first day that she’d found herself back in the flat, she’d meant to bring it all to the foreground- she didn’t expect that, a month after the fact, she’d still be sitting on the floor, waiting. It just never happened- she invited herself in, sat herself on the couch, and, mouth perpetually half-open, deigned that she would have to just apologise with her presence. She was sorry.
She had one job, one simple job, and she’d failed and just look at the consequences.
She’d called him at the exact minute Sherlock had told her to. He didn’t pick up.
She couldn’t find him.
What if she’d found him? Would she be here? Would he be there?
If she’d only gotten to John Watson first, would he have been here instead of her?
You look sad, she had told him.
When you think he’s not looking.
No, I just mean… I mean if there’s anything you need…
What right did she have to fit herself into the game?
It didn’t stop her from doing it again, so it seemed- here she was, squeezing herself in between reams of paper and pictures, forcing herself in on the situation to-
To ask for forgiveness for what she’d done.
“… Can’t even go outside without a crowd following me, it’s just not conducive to my work, Can’t even walk into a dentist’s office without someone recognising me…”
To keep watch.
There were more things being printed- the poor machine sat atop one of the arms of the couch, wobbling to and fro each time another forty page document was ordered for; tirelessly, day and night, it seemed. The papers ran under the ink and shot out, still warm, all over the floor. There was no order to it- Sherlock didn’t seem to need to look at the papers after they’d been printed. The merely collected.
She was chastised every time she tried to pick them up. He, on the other hand, was allowed to pick them up and throw them around at will. As he was doing now: sifting through them all, picking them up and tossing them, paying more attention to his ranting than what he was actually looking at.
And my, did Sherlock Holmes rant.
“… There’s nothing I can do but sit here and do research. You cannot simply substitute hard evidence and primary sources with- With-”
He shook the few papers clutched in his hands, as if the act itself was the noun he was looking for.
He threw them over his head, scowling as he continued to pull at his hair.
Molly was actually playing Sudoku this time.
“You’re going to go bald if you keep doing that,” She offered, gnawing at the eraser at the tip of her pencil.
He grimaced at the joke- unfunny.
Trudged into the kitchen to open the fridge, slammed it shut, and scowled whole-heartedly.
“Why can no one just leave me alone?” He stepped over Molly on the floor to slump onto the couch, pushing papers and string out of the way to maximise the sulky effect.
“Well, you’re- you’re rather famous,” Molly replied simply, running a hand through her hair to push it from her face, and then another to ruffle it back into her eyes. “People want to see you. Take your picture and get your autograph.”
“Why would anyone want my autograph?”
“Because they hate you, probably.”
“Everyone hates me, they’ve never asked for my autograph.”
Molly smirked. “Good point.” She quieted, filling in the nines at the bottom. Sherlock allowed himself to stretch onto the couch- arms pinned across his chest, as one might imagine a vampire falling into his coffin at the end of each night. When he became bored of this pose, he threw an arm over his eyes to shield himself from the light.
There was a common silence that settled through 221B, broken only by Mrs. Hudson’s television downstairs at its deeper pitches.
Molly had thought that he was asleep- that was her first mistake, thinking that Sherlock Holmes slept. His chest rose and fell, his breathing deep enough for her to lean back against the arm of the couch.
“I’m sorry, you know.”
“Molly, please do shut up. I’m trying to think.”
The flat quieted. The traffic of Baker Street in the afternoon filtered in through the double windows, but it was still quiet enough for Molly’s ears to ring.
And then, mere minutes later-
“- It still doesn’t make sense. It’s just not enough.”
She’d been getting used to the time-travel method of holding a conversation with Sherlock Holmes. One had to remember the untied threads of every conversation, lest they be brought up days, weeks later. She was getting used to him.
“I still don’t know what enough is, Sherlock. Care to elaborate?”
He rolled on his side away from her, and she assumed that he was not going to explain- but he eventually spoke up, speaking to the sofa cushions.
“Your… Showing up here every day. Not sleeping very much- you stay late and come early. Eating very little, but you’ve taken to making food here so you make sure that I eat. You’ve stopped watching those television shows you loved keeping track of so much, and I cringe to think of the state of your cat, who is probably very unused to seeing so little of you…”
Sherlock waited- not for an answer, but for some clue, some unravelling to let him know why she was here. He furrowed his eyebrows- she knew what was coming.
“You were never the type of student to raise your hand. It scared you, even when you knew you were right you were so afraid of being chastised. See- look here-”
He pulled her hand from the pencil she was holding loosely, puzzle abandoned at the onset of a new one.
“Your hand is shaking. Is it from the attention? Am I chastising you?”
But he wasn’t done. He sat down next to her, continued.
“You surrounded yourself with people who were much less intelligent than yourself because you thought that it would make you feel better, but it didn’t- those girls had different values than you did, and you were made to be self-conscious about your appearance, your weight, your intelligence. They mocked the things you were interested in, the books you read. The fact that you read at all. You were interested in the things they liked, but they thought the things you liked were stupid- and so you had to make up for them. You tried to keep up with them- watched the shows they watched, bought more makeup than you knew what to do with, went on diets- but you couldn’t do it all. Not while keeping your grades up, a rule that your parents obviously held in high value.”
She stared at him, mouth slightly open, as if waiting for a natural pause in his thought process to say what she needed to say. But he wouldn’t allow it.
“You were miserable all through your adolescence. And so when you finally went to university you made a promise to yourself that you weren’t going to focus on people like them- you weren’t going to go out of your way to make friends if they were only going to make you miserable. So you made very few, if at all- acquaintances. You didn’t mean to work in the same hospital you studied in, but your professors were the only friends you had- the old ones probably started teasing you for your career pathway. But your parents weren’t happy about it either, weren’t they? They were fairly normal, never expected their oldest daughter to work in a morgue. They probably still tease you. Or, they would, if your father hadn’t died before you graduated.”
By this time, her jaw had set tensely, lips pressed thin. She could wait, so it seemed.
“You took a liking to me the instant you met me- you make your attraction very obvious, and the fact that your little crush continued after I constantly shot down your requests for friendship or coffee tells that you are very used to men with something of my temperament- Freud would guess daddy and though I would have to say it was more likely a first love you’ve told me yourself that I remind you of your father, so maybe a combination of the two. Which gives hard, psychoanalytical evidence as to why you find yourself drawn to me, but not at the moment and not to this extreme- it is no little effort on your part to wake up an hour early every morning for over a month to come to Baker Street before work, come here after work, then to go home usually in the early hours of the morning- only to repeat that process the next day. It- It’s senseless.”
He seemed to have asked a question- there was a punctuation mark curled around the entire soliloquy, as if he couldn’t possibly have just stood up and asked her what she had been doing in his living room for five weeks.
She had pulled her hand from his by this point, but not much earlier- her palm still tingled with the foreign touch, unfamiliar to the heat of another pressed up against her flesh for longer than a short cordial handshake for long, long months. She rubbed the sensation out of her nerves as she spoke, voice shaking but eyes strong as she held his gaze.
He narrowed his eyes- this was not what he had expected.
“You keep saying that. It doesn’t make sense.”
“I- I just needed to-”
Her voice dropped off, along with her eyes- looking off to the right, to the set of chairs by the fireplace. Instead of asking what she was talking about, Sherlock remained silent, which to Molly was just as telling.
She breathed. Allowed herself to close her eyes for a few long moments- more than a few long moments.
“I don’t know if it was because of… But I can’t stop from thinking that it was… I just-”
“-If you’re not going to say it, stop talking, please-”
“If it’s my fault that he died, I want you to tell me.”
She could feel him staring at her. She, instead, kept her eyes on the rounded chair, still facing the fireplace.
When he said nothing, she continued. She couldn’t trust herself to look at his expression.
“You trusted me. I know that there was a lot more to the plan that you hadn’t told me, but you still trusted me. And you gave me one job. It wasn’t difficult- I just had to call him.”
She wasn’t crying, but her voice was shaking.
“I did it exactly when you told me to, and he just- he didn’t pick up… I should have gone looking for him sooner, I suppose that would have helped. I just-”
She finally looked up to him, meeting his eyes just as he looked away.
“I didn’t know that that was what was going to happen-”
She didn’t get to finish-
“That wasn’t you?”
He went to meet her eyes, and try as she might she had no idea what he was thinking. A glimmer of surprise was planted on his face, and as the moments passed it grew into a wild weed.
It seemed like he was trying to calm himself.
He said nothing for a long moment.
“You… Didn’t call him six minutes earlier than I told you to?”
“No, I made sure of it, I knew it was important-”
“You didn’t call him and tell him that Mrs. Hudson had been shot and gravely wounded?”
“What? God no- I was going to tell him that there was something I needed to give you, just as we’d planned-”
But he’d already been distracted, sprang from the couch and bounded up the stairs in one fluid motion.
Molly heard a crash from upstairs- that was John’s, right?- And reserved herself to the spot on the couch until several more, louder crashes followed.
Carefully up the stairs she went, peering gently into the room before she stepped in-
Sherlock was on all fours, looking under the bed. He’d made a proper mess of the room, even in the small amount of time he’d spent in it- drawers opened and clothing spilled out, linens pulled from the mattress, a lamp on its side on the floor, its shade somewhere farther across the floor.
He slithered himself out from under the bed, pausing just long enough a beat to look her in the eye before continuing his quest to destroy any semblance of order in his sight.
There was something wild in his expression- a variation on his ‘fresh-body-to-experiment-on’ theme, and one ultimately more terrifying out of laboratory setting. He was breathing heavily and grinning with only his top lip.
“His gun is missing.”
Molly leaned slightly against the doorframe, watching uncomfortably as Sherlock began pulling boxes from the top shelf of the closet.
“He used to hide it in a shoebox when he first moved in, but started keeping it in his bedside drawer after repeated use was deemed probable- and that there wasn’t a place in this flat that he could hide it that I wouldn’t find. It’s not there. It’s not in this room. It’s missing.”
“I don’t understand.”
“How could you not? Someone else calls him and tells him that Mrs. Hudson is gravely injured at Baker Street and that he needed to get to her as soon as possible. He takes a taxi to Baker Street and tells them that it’s an emergency, to get there as soon as possible- He runs into the flat to find her perfectly fine. Previously I thought that he must not have even taken the time to properly enter 221B- got back into the taxi that he’d told to wait for him, gone back to St. Bart’s after he assumed that he’d been tricked by Moriarty and his men… But he spent enough time to grab his gun.”
He stopped, thought for a second, disappeared into the closet.
“And that means…”
He was rooting through the closet now; standing on his toes in the midst of the chaos he’d enacted on a room he hadn’t set foot in in five months. He let the sentence hang unfinished- she was left to guess.
“… What does it mean?”
He ignored her- nothing new in that.
“Sherlock? What does it mean?”
Satisfied with the way he’d wrecked John’s room, he pushed around her to the toilet- musty towels in a half-filled hamper strewn across the tile floor, medication and toothpaste soon joining them as he looked for some clue that he apparently couldn’t receive with his usual methods of standing still and staring for long enough.
And he’d pushed her out of the way to scamper down the stairs, stopping every few to inspect a tiny scratch, clump of dust- he was very forcibly ignoring her, his eyebrows furrowed together in a sort of concentration that defied all other senses. She stood in front of him as close as she could, staring at whatever it was on the wallpaper that he was messing with.
“What are you doing?”
She was effortlessly evaded- he held her in one place while he walked around her, taking the flight of stairs down two at a time to look for the dust patterns under the sofa.
She stood behind him for a long moment, eyes narrowing at the behaviour- frantic. She hadn’t seen him act like this since- she’d probably never seen him act like this. She’d never been with him on a chase, though. Was this what he was like when he was trailing the coattails of a criminal? Like he himself was going to die if he didn’t have all of the answers? It was exciting. It was- confusing. There was no criminal here.
She put a hand on his shoulder.
He whipped around, slapping her hand away from him.
She jumped back- he struggled to his feet in less than a second, looming over her with his face twisted.
He stood like that for three long seconds.
His breathing was heavy, his face slightly flushed- he’d worked himself up. When Molly took a step back, he followed her.
“When did you call him.”
It wasn’t a question.
“We- Around- When you told me to-”
“Don’t lie to me!”
She’d been backed into the wall by now- she couldn’t answer him. He didn’t give her enough time, her throat was closed.
“I’m- I’m not!”
When he slammed his fist to the wall very close to her head, she tried her best not to cry out.
“THEN WHO DID?!”
“I do- I don’t know…”
He spun around, pulling his hair viciously from the roots.
Moriarty must have gotten to him before her but how did he know to call Why didn’t he just kidnap him once he got into the taxi that was, undoubtedly, his He must have gotten him on the taxi ride back but Why did he let him go all the way to the apartment to find out that nothing was wrong with Mrs. Hudson it doesn’t make sense it doesn’t make sense
“IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!”
The sound of glass breaking, heard just over the beating of his own heart, the buzzing in his brain.
Molly was curled in on herself on the floor in between the sofa and the doorway, covering her head and crying.
The broken glass of what was just thirty seconds ago a plate of cold food lay scattered on the floor around her.
Sherlock took a deep breath. He heaved up the energy to contain his displaced anger.
From behind the sofa, just out of view, Molly made no attempt to move.
“Get out of my flat, this instant. Right now.”
He hadn’t remembered throwing the plate, but he knew he still had the strength to throw the mug of moulding tea if she tested him.
Slowly, she stood up, staring him straight in the eye as she went to collect her things, stuffing them haphazardly into her bag so as to not lose track of him. Even through the streaks in her makeup she did not look afraid, and for some reason this infuriated him.
Long after she’d hurried out the door, Sherlock stood in the middle of the living room, arms limp at his sides.
His eyes travelled from the space Molly had once occupied, to the mess on the floor- but ultimately wandered up the stairs.
He took a single, shaky breath.
Chapter 19: Rendez-Vous
Try not to get him into too much trouble.
We’ve got another one for you. He’ll be over within the week.
He might seem like an idiot at first but try to behave- we need him alive. Try not to get him into too much trouble.
Thinking of you,
Angela comes downstairs one morning- odd enough as an isolated incident.
She pours herself a cup of coffee and adds milk and sugar to her liking, realising too late that it’s the same unheated coffee that’s been sitting in the pot since yesterday- she spits it out in the sink and shoves a glare at the chortle at the kitchen table.
Jennifer peeks out from underneath her laptop- well, it is funny.
“Here- sit down. I’ll make you some more.”
Angela is- still not happy, but appeased. After sharing an apartment with her for over three months, that’s usually all that Jennifer could get out of her. The younger woman was used to it, though- that’s how her parents were. It was a welcome challenge to try and do something that pleased her, on and off the job.
Presently, they exchanged places- Angela at the table, Jen at the counter. Even as she tended to the coffee pot, washing out the old coffee and filling the machine with water, Jennifer kept an eye on Angela. There was no reason to ask her if anything was wrong- Any question of that sort would be greeted with a dangerous glare- but she knew that if she pointedly avoided asking for long enough, Angela would eventually let her in.
“I got an email from England.”
This was ten minutes later, when both of them were adding milk and sugar to their coffees in varying amounts (Angela’s was taken black, Jen’s so milky it could hardly be called coffee anymore). Angela went on with the business of adding half a spoonful of sugar to her coffee, stirring messily.
This email business was hard to translate- Jen was sure that Angela had family there, but it was also where their orders came from.
“…. What did it say?”
“It was from the boss.”
No one spoke for a long moment.
“We’re getting another stray.”
Jennifer bit her lip- dangerous ground to tread onto.
She decided to do it anyways.
“Well, look how well Craig turned out, y’know? Maybe they’ll be a good addition-”
“I’m not running a hotel here, Jennifer. Nor an orphanage. This is a serious operation and we’re being treated as a dumping bin for anyone he doesn’t know what to do with.”
There was no argument there. There could not be one.
Instead, the twenty two year old gave a smile behind her mug that was weaker than her coffee.
“Well, we’ll make the best of it.”
He’s sitting with four of the funniest murderers he’s known when he gets the call.
“Awh, shit, it’s my girlfriend. I gotta take this one, aiight?”
“Give ‘er hell for me, I was just about to get to the punchline!”
Tony answers his phone but waits until he’s outside to actually respond. He can hear the four muscular men roaring with laughter, even with the door closed.
“What the fuck are you doing, Angela?”
“No emergency. But I need you to come to the café tonight.”
“What- No. I’m not sure what you sons of bitches are up to, but I’m doing important work over here that can’t just be stopped at the drop of a dime.”
“When I started this conversation off with no emergency, it was because I thought that it would be kinder to let you know that no one has died. I was hoping you would not create an illusion of choice. Was I too hopeful, Anthony?”
He cringed. He fucking hated it when she used his full name.
“No- It’s just- It’s risky, is all. You know it’s risky.”
“I’m glad you know that you know, it means that you also know that I wouldn’t be asking you if it weren’t important.”
“What is it?”
“They’ve sent another guy over for us.”
He swore loudly.
“Fuck, I don’t have to be there to know that he’s going to be a waste of our time-”
“- We thought the same of Craig.”
“And he still is a waste of our time.”
“You can’t deny that he’s been useful.”
“Not useful enough, to account for the rest of him. What’s up with this new guy? You seen him yet?”
“He’s living in a hotel not far from the café, he’s been going there quite frequently. I’ve taken to watching him. I- From what I’ve been told of him he is useless, but- he’s different. I need your opinion on him.”
He scowled- there was no saying no to Angela. You simply did what she said, no matter the consequences.
“All right, but you’re buying me dinner.”
“Does this mean I’m not the new guy anymore?”
“Craig, this is serious.”
They sat together, keeping as much space between them on the couch as possible- wearing different coloured jerseys, eyes glued to the baseball game on the screen. They were tied, but they both rooted for terrible teams, so anything was possible.
In response to Jen’s bawling, Craig took a nonchalant sip of beer.
“How serious could it be? We’re getting new guy. A new new guy. I’ll be one of the team now.”
“You are one of the team. We never would have made it out of Saint Louis without you.”
Craig was pleased to hear that. He was always pleased to hear any mention of Saint Louis.
They were both quiet for a long while, intent on following the game.
“Do we know what he’s like?”
Just out of Craig’s periphery, Jen shrugged.
“Ang got emailed a bunch of files about him when she was told he was coming. He’s some… office guy, I guess. He works in advertising. Something like that. From Wisconsin, but he’s coming over from England.”
“So he… Has no real reason to be with us?”
Jennifer thought for a long moment.
“I’m sure we’re missing something. Maybe he’s just that good, that he’s off the record. Anything. They wouldn’t just… strand some poor, normal guy with us and expect him to keep up. He’s got to have some sort of use.”
Craig sucked on his teeth. He wasn’t so sure about that- they’d sent him over to them, right? Craig would be the first to admit that he wasn’t exactly capable of holding his own in this operation of theirs.
Okay, the second- Tony hated him.
“He sounds pretty useless to me.”
“Yeah… I know. I- I still think we should give him a chance.”
The café they met in was comfortable in its familiarity, but not much else- it was crammed and plain, the night barista grumpy.
The five were sitting in the corner by the toilets, away from the rest of the tables and patrons.
“I dunno, Mar’, apparently he’s some doofus from Wisconsin.”
Mary was silent- she had to be, to let Craig get all of his thoughts in. She smiled good-naturedly at him over her coffee, listening bemused-like as he kept on. He leaned in closer to her, surreptitiously glancing over at the couple two tables away to make sure he was not being eavesdropped upon.
“I mean, he’s some advertising dweeb with no real experiences or skills- I mean, what’s’e gonna do, anyways? Design a billboard calling Ras out? Put something in the classifieds for us? I don’t fuckin’ know, man. Maybe he’s a spy.”
“We’ve already got ourselves a spy,” Mary reminded him. Tony, with his head leaning back against the wall behind him with his eyes closed, gruffed but otherwise made no motion to respond.
“Nah, I mean a spy for the other guys. Maybe he’s one of Ras’s.”
Mary found it doubtful. She told him so.
“Well, why not? We have no idea where our orders come from, maybe this one’s been intercepted. Or maybe all of’em have been intercepted-”
“You don’t trust Angela?”
“I do, but- She’s getting this stuff from her sister or something, right?”
“So that would mean she would know when someone else was sending her emails.”
“Or, it means that she lets her guard down.”
At that, Mary raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t let Angela hear you say that. She doesn’t like you as it is.”
“Which means I’m the perfect one to spread sultry rumours of her.”
The eyebrow lifted even higher on her face.
“It’s a tough job, you know, but someone’s gotta do it. No one could truly be such a cold hearted b-”
Angela hit him in the arm from behind, effectively quieting him. Once Craig stopped talking, Tony peered open an eye-
“Shut it. He’s here.”
Chapter 20: Bored.
For the past few months he'd been refusing to use that word because it was Sherlock's, it was childish.
But he'd never been bored in 221B.
hey hi guys! I've been looking around for a beta reader/britpicker/anything of that sort- if any of you are interested in any form in looking over even just single chapters of the story, A) revel in your position as the best person in the universe and B) drop me an ask or something at my tumblr or something. THANKS FOR READING, otherwise!
It was hot as fuck.
And not in a way that John was used to, either- dry and sandy, sun inescapably in your eyes, matching the enemy in the level of both danger and annoyance it brings.
No, Atlanta in July was not something that John was ready for. It had been oddly cool and rainy for the time of year in England- here, it was freakishly hot. People were dying, it was so hot. The entire city reeked of heat in the way that only a city could reek. On a Saturday such as this one, everyone must have been inside, in their pools, doing anything they could to escape nature.
And John was spending it standing guard outside of a department store.
He didn’t know where the others had gone- inside, yes, but they could have just left from another exit and went on about their day.
He wouldn’t put it past them, either.
He didn’t have to- they’d done it before. Lie to him and leave him behind.
And as much as he was angry about his position, John had to say that he couldn’t blame them at all- the five of them make a good team. Angela received word from up high (John’s guess was Mycroft, or someone under him) as to what they were supposed to be doing, and she set it in motion. Jenny performed marvels with a computer- she knew exactly what to do to hack or crack or whatever it was she did to glean information or assume an identity. Craig lied their way around security and other roadbumps, Tony collected information underground, Mary seemed to have a way with weapons- there wasn’t much room for William Sigerson.
William Sigerson, who really didn’t have any sort of redeeming quality, other than being charming and maybe devilishly good looking.
And really good, apparently, at keeping a door open.
After that first meeting, Angela had said goodbye to him with a copy of Crime and Punishment and a threatening glare- I don’t trust you, it said, but I don’t have a choice. Watch your back.
And he took note. Back in his hotel room (Real room? It was a motel with a weekly rate, he doubted that he would be anywhere other than here for a long while) he stayed up for a while studying the map- he’d slowly been learning the streets, imagining the turns he would have to take to get from one to the other. It was a valuable waste of time, and time was something that he had plenty of.
The copy of Crime and Punishment was more annotations than book- which, in the three days before the meeting in the coffee shop and the present meeting at the department store, kept him busy.
Moriarty had a chapter of his organisation in Atlanta that, among other things, served as a way to dispose of the elderly in whatever way they deemed appropriate for themselves- the article that John had pulled from the newspaper the first days he’d been here came to mind, died in a strip club on the other side of town. If one only looked deeper, there were more of them- comical accounts of old men dying at the feet of a hooker aside.
It wasn’t that bad of a deal, really. You pay someone a sum to drive you out to wherever you would like to go, hand you a pill of some untraceable poison (customised to whatever medications you were already taking, it seemed) and leave you to your wits. It was almost kind, really.
The group, however, was less interested in the organisation itself than it was its connection to the others- it was a small, inconsequential operation, but it had to have connections and information on the other slightly larger, slightly less inconsequential operations in the country that would eventually lead them closer to taking down Moriarty’s American regime.
But he didn’t know about that. He wasn’t allowed to. He was only supposed to know as much as they told him.
So he’d started reading, he’d gone to the meetings, he’d tried to talk to them- and he was still the outsider. It had been less than a week, he understood.
It was still annoying to be kept at a doorstop.
He had his phone with him, and kept checking for text messages. We’ll contact you if we need you. But really, just make sure no one comes in that looks like they’re up to something.
John didn’t want to sit- that would be lazy. He’d been standing for so long, though, he was starting to get restless.
He’d been waiting for two months. He’d done absolutely nothing in that time period. His knee was starting to bother him. His hands were starting to shake.
He missed being home. He missed Sherlock, as much as it pained him to say it. At least he knew there’d be something to do every once and a while. As much as it felt otherwise sometimes, he’d been generally wanted back home- here, he was barely tolerated.
No, he was lied to and left outside.
This hadn’t been the first time, either. Yesterday John trudged himself to the coffee shop for the meeting to find himself alone- it wasn’t until twenty minutes later that the other five showed up together, grinning and covered in dirt and bruises. John had never been the last kid picked on the team, never been the one left out- it frustrated him to the point of rage, anger bubbling under his skin as he gritted his teeth and listened to them cheerfully conduct the meeting over him.
The day before that, he was sure he’d seen something on the news that must have, must have been connected to them. They never even bothered to call him.
It made sense, He reminded himself. I would do the same thing, if I was in their shoes. I’m an outsider, they know nothing about me. Even with the things they’ve been told about me, I’m useless. Worse than useless. I would do the same thing.
He was still pissed.
Twenty more minutes in the sweltering heat. John was sweaty and sticky and growing angrier by the second and his knee hurt and his hands were shaking and he wasn’t being included and he was fucking bored, all right? For the past few months he’d been refusing to use that word because that was Sherlock’s, it was childish.
He’d never been bored in 221B.
But he was bored to tears. He’d been crammed in a stuffy old manor for two months only to be released and disregarded.
John had given up by the time he’d seen any sign of the others- he’d found himself a bench and started playing a game he’d downloaded onto his new phone. He was stabbing furiously at the touch screen, trying to shoot each intruder before they reached the castle walls when he looked up by chance to see the five strutting (positively strutting) out of the department store. They were wearing new clothing, some covered in a smattering of new bruises and each had large grins as they fell in step with each other.
They made very little effort to wave John over as they swung themselves and their bags into the van- Angela had looked towards him, but that was about it. He heaved himself up and willed himself not to limp- that was the last thing they needed to see of him. There was a short moment when Mary and Tony in tandem gave him a look, but he dealt with it in stride by striking a conversation with the much more approachable Jennifer instead.
“Everything go all right in there, then?”
He helped her hoist a rather heavy, clinking duffle bag to the other side of the back of the van so they could fit the new box they’d acquired. Her general disposition towards John was to be suspicious of him for a few moments but ultimately speak to him after she could not come up with a valid enough reason not to.
“Yeah, we got what we needed. Ran into a bit of trouble, but it was nothing we couldn’t…Get out of.”
She pushed her long hair out of her face, holding out a hand to help him up into the van before closing the door- just in time for the van to whip out of the spot and out of the parking lot.
John had gotten very little time to get to know the rest of the group, and he was no Sherlock Holmes but he found that he could piece together things better than he’d thought- Jennifer was Christian (crucifix necklace) but very superstitious (black cats). John had only met one person who texted more than Angela- even while she was driving, which was a feat of its own considering the ferocity with which she manoeuvred the crowded van. Tony and Mary were closer to each other than they were to anyone else- presently they bowed their heads together and spoke in what sounded to John like a hushed, rapid Spanish. Craig was easiest to talk to, but made John the most uneasy- the ease with which he lied and assumed personalities, accents, roles and not to mention the general flippancy with which he conducted himself reminded him quite a bit of Moriarty.
They spoke to him with varying degrees of frequency- Craig the most, Mary the least- but all held an air of general distrust towards him that kept him from really being a part of the group.
I mean, you missed almost everything of importance, but, you know...
It was unfair how, even an ocean away, Sherlock could taunt him for his attempts at deduction.
“So… What were you doing in there, anyways?”
He was sitting next to Jennifer, in the back seat that sat backwards in the van, looking out the rear window. She looked unwilling to answer- really, really unwilling- but John wasn’t past a little manipulation to get what he’d needed.
Not when he was this put out.
“We were- well, you know. We had to go in and check some things.”
“And what’s in the boxes?”
“Documents. Stuff like that. Lots of personal hospital files on the victims. Some files on the actual hospitals themselves- exit strategies, telephone numbers, the like. That’s-”
She looked back to the people behind her. Craig had turned the radio to a top forty station and was singing loudly along with the female singer. Tony was in the middle of giving Mary a small set of stitches on her upper arm- John cringed more at the crudeness of the stitch than the look of the wound, though it looked deep and probably painful.
She looked back to him, and decided she could continue.
“We thought it would be the end of it, but it was mostly cleared out. We think they’re in the midst of moving. There’s something going on. We don’t really know.”
He bit his lip. He didn’t really know how to take that, either. He was glad that she felt like she could tell him these things- okay, glad that he could weasel it out of her- but that uncertainty even from the knowing felt a lot too much like mystery to him. He wasn’t very good at mystery- he was good at point and shoot, catching criminals, building plans. Emergency medicine.
Mystery was, well, Sherlock’s area. John just wrote it down later.
“You don’t know? How do you know they’re- moving?”
She flushed. He knew it had to do with her before she even started talking- she pushed her hair out of the way and began to play with her necklace.
“The emails. I’ve been looking through a few of them and though they’re obviously under some sort of code- there’s been some sort of change since May. Things are being switched. Something’s being moved.”
“When, in May?”
He’d asked before he thought. He shouldn’t have said anything. That was the only thing he needed- looking like he knew more than he did.
She caught it, too. It took her a long time before she started speaking again.
“The beginning of May… Why?”
The last word was drawn out, cautious.
“Just wanted to know how long they may have had to plan whatever it is they’re planning. Two months is longer than one, sort of thing.”
She didn’t quite believe him, and it showed in the bite of her lip, the way she twisted the golden chain around her index finger until the skin turned purple. He should have stopped then.
“So there’s more to this operation than just- just this thing going on, isn’t there? Wherever they’re moving things, whatever they’re moving and where it comes from… How big is this?”
She shook her head.
“You really don’t know much about what you’re into, do you?”
“I do, about this. Not- not the rest.”
Jen bit her lip. Decided where to start.
“You see, the problem is- we don’t really know all that much either. Orders come from Angela’s sister, I guess- from England. But all of the names and places are changed if they don’t directly deal with us. Everything’s fit into the plot of Crime and Punishment so there’s less chance of being overheard- we don’t get any outside information so we’re not a liability. We don’t even know who we’re up against.”
Orders come from Angela’s sister-
There was only one person he knew that was on their phones more than Angela.
“Do you know her sister?”
Jennifer shook her head.
“Never spoke to her, never seen her. But I trust Angela, and Angela trusts her sister. She’s always in contact with her- email or text, however it’s easiest to get to her. Come to think of it, I think the orders come from her sister’s superior. ”
Yeah, John thought so, too.
When he did not continue, Jennifer assumed that she could continue.
“Anyways, we know the general parts of the global situation. He runs an international company that, basically, outsources crime. People can go to him instead of getting their hands dirty. And he, in turn, goes to a localised branch instead of getting his hands dirty. He’s got chapters set up- well, everywhere. There are links, even indirect ones, to almost every major disaster since the late nineties.”
Feeling a little less nervous either around him or with the subject, she began to talk with her hands, loud gestures and stress points. She didn’t know much about the
“There’s a bunch of different types of groups working to take him down, though. Usually they’re kind of homozygous- we’re a little eclectic. We’ve got Mary and Tony, who are guns people, Angela and Craig, who’re people people- and I’m the computers guy.”
She seemed to like filling in exposition the more she trusted him. Which was fine with him- at least someone was telling him things.
“They’re already on to us, I think- I mean, chapters are toppling left and right in the United States, we’re not the only ones working right now- so we have to be really careful about this… Movement. We’re not dealing with some standard criminal; none of the previous tactics apply. We’re dealing with… Something no one’s ever seen.”
He shuddered to think of the familiar way her eyes sparkled at that idea.
Chapter 21: Will from Wisconsin
There were two men- one huge, both armed. One of them held a pizza- the other had drawn a pistol from the back of his jeans. With a decent gun, John could probably take them.
Without the gun, not so sure.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Craig’s truck lurched over yet another pot hole, jittering uncomfortably. John was clutching his sides- he hadn’t laughed this much in a long, long time.
“… And that was the best goddamned meal I’ve ever had.”
They didn’t trust John with much other than getting food and holding doors, but with a little pressing, he could get anyone to crack a joke or two.
Well, not that it took long to crack Craig open. Jokes were all that he was made of.
“And you know, the worst part of all of that is that it’s true,” He chortled, pulling his hair out from his eyes as he swerved into another lane on the freeway- Angela always drove like she was being chased, but at least she knew what she was doing. John didn’t know how thoroughly they did these things in America, but he doubted Craig had ever passed a driving test.
“Say, uh, Will, where did you come from?”
He thought for a moment.
Craig seemed to know the place.
“Awh, yeah- man, this one time when me and some buddies were in Wisconsin…”
They were driving to the border of Georgia, just he and John, to- John wasn’t entirely sure, but it had something to do with some delivery of technology to a distant outpost of- again, he wasn’t sure. John’s assignment, as he understood it, was to stay the fuck in the car and wait for Craig to finish business.
Which would have been intolerable if the ride hadn’t been so refreshingly hilarious. Craig had that sort of way about him- he filled the silence comfortably with raunchy jokes and a constant stream of- of talking. John hadn’t heard anyone talk this much since his days in the army. It made him feel both alienated and at home- these people, these sorts were more his type, people he knew how to deal with, but they weren’t what he’d gotten used to for a year and a half. They weren’t murder cases and heads in the fridge and detectives, consulting or otherwise.
He had to remember how he fit.
And he’d told a few jokes of his own- war shenanigans, practical jokes that he’d had to filter under a friend of mine… They tossed stories at one another, embellishing them where they needed, outright lying whenever the story called for it. Craig, John assumed, more than himself.
Craig turned the radio to a bluegrass station the moment they crossed the border into Alabama- He didn’t seem to truly enjoy the music, but found it funny.
It was one of the longer drives he’s had in a while- the last long ride he’d taken was to Baskerville. It’s awkward, driving with Sherlock, because it’s exactly the same as living with him, just in a smaller space- of course no one spoke to each other and Sherlock refused to drive with the radio on, so the claustrophobic silence drove John up the wall. Rest Area stops were scheduled according to the Fibonacci sequence, which must have been orchestrated for the sole purpose of pissing John off.
“-And this bitch gets out of the car in the middle of the freeway-”
They’re in the middle of nowhere- the middle of nowhere in America is different from the middle of nowhere in England. It’s somehow just more American- everything is preceded by the feeling of being in a foreign place, with foreign trees and hills and power lines. He supposed that he was allowed this feeling, even as Will Sigerson- Wisconsin was nothing like Georgia, he was fairly certain of that. Still, John has a sense that they’re not out here for much of a reason at all- he feels a bit put on. He can’t refuse good conversation, though, so he’ll have to deal with it when they get to- wherever it is they’re going.
It’s dusk by the time they get there- it’s not dark, per se, just dim under the shadows of the tall trees around them. The road stopped in the middle of an oblong clearing- a clump of four houses were about twenty metres from where the car sat, idling.
“All right, well,” Craig started, turning off the car and pocketing the keys. “I won’t be long.”
John laughed- it was harsher than the ones they’d shared in the car.
He stepped out of the car along with Craig, who scowled expressly.
“Will- You really don’t need to go, I’m just picking something up.”
“You said before that you had to deliver something.”
Craig dragged a hand over his face.
“Look, Will- Just stay in the car. Don’t make this awkward. Okay?”
John could feel his anger bubbling up- he controlled himself, setting his jaw as he opened the car door and stepped out.
Craig threw up his hands in defeat.
“Jesus Christ. Whatever- fine.”
John followed him as the younger man hopped up the patio two steps at a time, jiggling the entire door until the lock popped open and let them in. Craig let him in, sweeping the area with an extravagant wave of his arm.
“See? There’s nothing in here. I was supposed to drive you somewhere and back for a few hours to get you out of their hair for a bit while they do something important. Just- get back in the car. Let’s go.”
He kept the door open, expecting John to take the hint- they were done here, they were getting in the car and going home.
Instead, John wandered into the kitchen, following... something disconcerting.
“We found this place a few months back- cleared out, but with lots of documents left behind. It’s nothing. An old, abandoned shack.”
Nothing on the counters, in the cabinets… Trying to keep as alert as possible, John looked around the kitchen and its bare appliances.
He opened the fridge.
Checked the stove.
Opened the microwave…
A single Hot Pocket leaking cheese on a paper plate.
He took the plate out of the microwave, letting the smell out at the same time.
Craig has peered into the kitchen, but now his eyes were wide.
John set the plate back on the table, following Craig as he bolted out the door and towards the car-
A low, deep rumble from behind them.
The glare of headlights in the near-dark, lighting up the road about half a mile off.
John glanced at Craig, who suddenly seemed very scared.
John ran to the nearest enclosure large enough for the two men to crouch behind relatively undetected- behind a rank-smelling garbage hut- thankfully, Craig had enough sense to follow.
“You weren’t expecting them?”
Craig was still trying to catch his breath.
“No! I was supposed to bring you somewhere to get you out of the way, not right into the thick of it.”
“Do you have a gun?”
Craig sucked on his teeth, unwilling to answer. Finally-
“Maybe it’s just the police?”
John looked around at the miles of forest that separated them from any sort of civilisation.
“Oh, yeah, a neighbour must have tipped them off.”
“I don’t know! We’re trespassing, they could have-”
“Shh. They’re getting out of the car. Do you have a gun or not?”
“It’s in the truck. Under the seat.”
It was John’s turn to rub his face in exasperation.
“Well that doesn’t help us, at all. What made you think this was a good idea at all? ‘Oh, Craig, take Will somewhere to keep him out of the way.’ ‘Oh, I know, I’ll drive him three fucking hours to Moriarty’s doorstep!’ ”
He realised his mistake as soon as he’d said it. So did Craig- his eyes narrowed, visible even in the dark.
“Eyy! Who’s truck is this?”
They quieted- John listened to the footsteps crunching in the gravel.
“Euhh, maybe Murray’s here.”
“That ain’t his truck.”
“Well, I dunno, whose is it then?”
There were two men- one huge, both armed. One of them held a pizza- the other had drawn a pistol from the back of his jeans. With a decent gun, John could probably take them.
Without the gun, not so sure.
These two men walked around the truck, peering into windows, trying to open the doors- Still suspicious, the smaller of the two suggested that they check inside, just in case. No need to be hasty, he said.
He unlocked the door and turned the front room lights on- Craig and John were in the unfortunate position of right in view from this position, just moments away from the line of light that the front picture window cast on the ground.
John held his breath. The larger of the two- the one with the gun- lingered at the doorway, scanning the yard for something out of place before opting instead to keep watch on the truck, leaning against the house.
John bit his lip.
“Okay, so- our options.”
He spoke quieter than a whisper, right into Craig’s ear. Thankfully, Craig followed suit.
Craig made a face in thought.
“We could make a run for it.”
“No. Doors are locked- it’d take too long. They’d be on top of us in seconds. They know to shoot at the tires.”
“How can you tell?”
John gave him a glare in response.
“No, we’ll have to…”
He looked around, from the empty window to the man on the patio-
“Sammy, they’re in here!”
The large guy re-drew his gun, jumping into the house.
John led the way, crouching as he ran before he dove behind the truck- Craig unlocked the door farthest from the house, and John slid in, Craig following.
John reached under the seat as Craig fumbled with his keys- he was trying to be too quick, he was scared and turning inarticulate.
“Slow down, Craig. Just- turn the truck on and go.”
“Slow down- There’s no rush-”
The engine sputtered, and a sense of dread hung over them for three precious moments-
It roared to life and Craig threw it in reverse, turning it around one hundred and eighty degrees before slamming it into drive and down the gravel path as fast as the car would allow, scraping across the side of the other car as he passed it.
John had found the gun- a dusty but fully-loaded .22 calibre revolver. It was a beginner’s gun- John would be able to use it to protect himself and Craig, but not at a distance, and not for very long.
Next to him, Craig was filling the silence.
“- They weren’t supposed to be there, There’s never been anyone any time we ever go there- Dammit, Will, Dammit, dammit-”
“Craig, calm down. Just focus on getting to the interstate as fast as you damn well can.”
“- Calm down?! We were getting shot at! They had guns, they could have shot us-”
“You’re supposed to be used to this sort of thing! You do this all the time-”
“I don’t! I’m the personable guy! I distract people while everyone else gets into the fights! I don’t do combat! That’s why I’m here and not over in Atlanta- they wanted me gone as much as you!”
He took a few struggled breaths, swerving onto the onramp. John looked behind him- they might have gotten lucky.
“What about you? Why the hell are you suddenly Mr. Calm? You work in advertising.”
“Craig, stay on the road. I think we’ve lost them.”
“See! This is what I’m talking about!”
Speeding around a herd of semis, Craig weaselled his phone out of his back pocket, tapping blindly but expertly at it as he paid attention to passing the car in front of him.
From where John was sitting, he could hear a lot of noise on her end.
“What? I can’t hear you.”
Static yelling, followed by what sounded like- gunshots.
More yelling- he grunted in affirmation, told her they’d be there, and hung up.
John had waited four minutes before he bothered to ask- Craig didn’t really look up to conversation right now.
“They’re in trouble, they need us. They’ve even got Jen in there.”
“The other three usually do the fighting?”
“Yeah. I distract, Jen hacks. They shoot. I’m in your boat- I got dropped here for them to look after, I just turned out to be useful. We all thought you were good for nothing.”
“Well, I’m sorry I proved you wrong.”
“Hell, I don’t mind. Now I know who to hide behind when we go and cover their asses.”
Craig slowed down when they crossed the border of Georgia, but he was still chattering nervously.
“- They were both huge, too- well, you saw them, those hunkering pieces of meat and metal that were so close to killing us with their bare hands-”
John drifted in and out of focusing on him- he was breaking down the gun in his lap that had probably been unused under that seat for months, checking to make sure it even worked while he had a bit of downtime.
“- And now we gotta go right into the belly of the god-damned beast and pull the professionals out? What the actual fuck? I suppose they’ll be pretty damn glad that you turned out to be Vin Diesel, man, ‘cause Jen n’ I are pretty damn hopeless with shit like this…”
He flipped on the radio, turned the channel a few times, then turned it back off.
“Craig. Calm down. Just focus on driving.”
John had seemed to gain, if not Craig’s respect, than his suspicion that he may be something more- he stopped talking, paying close attention to the road.
This lasted all of two minutes.
“Who are you?!”
Lying came pretty easily to John- more than usual. Maybe he’d gotten used to trying to fool Sherlock.
“Someone who plays a lot of videogames. Told my ex-wife that’d come in handy.”
Craig laughed- John knew that he didn’t buy it but he stopped asking about it, which was just as well.
John turned the radio back on to an alternative rock station and they drove back to Atlanta in relative silence.
Craig wanted to park right in front of the warehouse, but John ordered against it.
“You don’t want to let what might be the only getaway vehicle we have sit right outside their front door for sabotage. Here- right here. That’s good.”
Here was a block from the abandoned box of a building- away from residential areas, and easy to run to from a rather main-looking entrance.
There weren’t many lights on outside- just a grid of lampposts that had long since fallen into disuse, so getting into the building shouldn’t be too difficult unless there were sentries. Which John doubted, but could not exactly prove nor disprove given his dearth of information on the entire situation.
He ran through a comfortably familiar mental checklist- he’d slipped back into an older version of himself, and while he didn’t have a group of soldiers to command or any real objectives to accomplish in the present moment the feeling was closer than he’d been in a long while to exhilaration.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Craig seemed reluctant- John looked at him for a long moment.
“Do you want to stay in the car?”
Craig shrugged the question off-
“Fuck, well, no...”
John wasn’t too convinced, but he’d take it.
“Well that’s good to hear. Our friends- no, your friends need help. Friends help people, they don’t- hole up in the bunker when they’re needed most.”
He hadn’t been Captain Doctor John Watson for a long time now- really Captain, not just pulling rank- and it felt great to be the one in the position of power again.
“We only have one gun.”
“Right now, we do. Later on, who knows. Just follow me. Alright?”
Craig nodded, stepping out of the car.
“Okay. Just stay right behind me. Keep a look out if you want, but be as quiet as you can. Do you know the layout of this building at all? Where they could be?”
“They’ll be in the eastern half, where the offices were. The second floor.”
“Well, Craig, you picked a lucky place to park- that’s our entrance.”
Tony was behind a desk, reloading his handgun- Mary was in favour of something a little showier. She was visibly angry- She shot better when she was angry, she explained once, and so she kept her mind on things that pissed her off.
He’d never seen her miss a shot, so he supposed he didn’t have the right to argue.
“She did call them, didn’t they?” Tony waited until she was looking at him to start talking in a muted Spanish. Barely a whisper- they could read each other’s lips and expressions well enough by this point.
They had hid themselves in an office in the corner, seeking protection and time to breathe and reload. Eight men were in the hallway, being anything but inconspicuous. They could hear them speaking on the radio to each other- plan was to either kill them or collect the valuables and meet at the airport.
Mary quirked a smile at their confidence in killing them.
“She said she did.”
“It’s been a fuck of a long time- where the hell could Craig have gone to take them this long?”
“Maybe they’re not coming.”
“Craig wouldn’t do that. He’d waffle around for three hours but he wouldn’t not show up if Ang called him. He’s coming, Mary.”
One could only hope.
Tony quirked an eyebrow, gesturing to the open door. Ladies first.
Mary gave a single quick nod, swung the semi-automatic rifle over her shoulder, and preceded him into the hallway with a few ear splitting bursts.
Jen was having a hell of a time trying to hold the gun Angela had shoved into her hands- it had terrible weight for something so small and was not at all comfortable to keep in her hands, but she supposed it protected her when she needed it to.
If she needed it to.
“Shoot their legs if you don’t want to kill them,” Angela instructed when she reloaded the pistol for her. “But they’re shooting for your head.”
So she shot at their legs- and if they kept shooting, Angela would finish the job.
Jennifer’s job was to make her way over to the selection of offices in the east hallway, find the database, download it onto her own hard drive and destroy the original. It seemed pretty silly, really over-theatric, with the scores of henchmen and guns and new cars covered with plastic on the main floor. She just needed to transfer some files and break a computer.
Angela’s job was to make sure she got there.
Tony got them in here- Mary was going to get them out.
Which was proving to be a little harder than they’d first expected.
And where was Craig? And Will?
“ ‘S not clear yet in the east hallway,” the gruff voice on the other end of Angela’s phone told them. They heard the gunshots in real life just before they heard them again on the phone. “Where the fuck are those two?”
Angela scowled into her headset, opting (as she had for the past hour) to ignore the question.
“Well clear a pathway for us to get up there, at least,” she ordered, pushing Jennifer behind a corner as three men filed out of the room down the hall.
“God damn it, Craig!”
Craig was in a worse and worse state the closer they’d gotten to the entrance, but John supposed that was to be expected.
John himself was feeling uneasy about the whole thing- he didn’t know anything about the operation, the building, the enemy- he didn’t know where he was going and where the others could possibly be. The cylinder was full, but that didn’t give him much faith at all in protecting the both of them with the gun fate had given him- not with the amount of gunfire that was sounding in there.
Well, he’d done with far worse.
He could only hope that at least one of the the big, semi-automatic sounding firearm was on their side. He could imagine Angela ploughing through a few thugs with something like that, the same smile on her face that she gets when she runs over the curb throwing the van in reverse.
Under the cover of darkness, John crept behind parked cars and bins to the Eastern doorway, glancing back every so often to make sure that Craig was still behind him. The poor kid looked white as a sheet, and within reason- gunshots echoed sporadically through boarded windows.
It came to John that maybe it was a bit too much to ask of the kid to have a bit of bravery in the face of certain danger.
“Look, Craig- you don’t have to go in. We only have one gun and six bullets, not exactly prime conditions. You can go back and keep the car running for an easy getaway, that’s just as good.”
As pale as he was, as wide as his eyes, the determination Craig set in his jaw in response was enough. Respectful.
“No, I’m going in.”
“All right, well- good. That’s good to hear.”
Under the black shadows of the awning, right at the front door. John tried the handle- unlocked.
“All right, Rambo, let’s go.”
Tony’s bleeding through his muted green shirt, but he doesn’t seem to be in pain. He’s not shot, then- else, he’s just not paying attention to it.
Both are equally likely.
“How many left?”
“By my counts, five. But I don’t know where the fifth is.”
“We can disable as many as possible, then, and just cover each other to get to the room.”
There’s the sound of Angela’s gun, not too far off. Tony scowled, musing aloud-
“- The fuck are they thinking?”
Mary had no answer for him.
“They’re probably trying to get in quickly, before they catch on.”
“There’s nothing else on this floor, I’m sure they know where we’re going by now, Mar’.”
“All the more reason to act now. I’ll take the three on the left, you take the one in the room opposite and look out for the fifth. Okay?”
He obeyed her with less than a nod, following Angela’s gunshots with his own, shooting the forth occupant in the kneecap and disarming him before running to cover Mary- she’d shot to kill, three bodies in a musty kitchenette.
“Here you go,” she offered, tossing a handgun his way. He caught it, inspected it-
“Seemed like something you’d like,” she smiled. She’d been right- he stored it in the spot in his jeans on the small of his back, pressing comfortably against his skin.
“Still on the lookout for that mythical fifth,” he reminded her- she nodded. As if she needed reminding.
That was Jennifer- Angela was heard moments after, shutting the younger woman up.
Tony and Mary rounded the corner to find the other two- Jennifer looked frenzied, Angela dangerously calm.
Angela only spoke in one-word sentences when she could.
“There’s a fifth.”
Angela bit her lip.
“Forget them for now. Let’s finish this get out of this damn place.”
There was a noise- by the stairwell. It was opposite the way they were supposed to go, but the soft-spoken murmurs were nothing to ignore- not with a fifth person with unknown whereabouts in the area.
A quick nod by Angela and the three armed ones readied their weapons.
Chapter 22: Captain John Watson
“You don’t work in advertising, do you.”
Now brit-picked by awesome madame_mary! Thanks a bunch.
It’s quiet on the ground floor- the action from above echoes from the stairwell to John’s left. The centre of the place is completely hollowed out to the ceiling- there are offices that line the edges of the warehouse up to the second and final floor, but everything else is open space. There are about a dozen cars parked in this spot with plastic dust covers over them for protection. One of the cars has a completely shattered windshield regardless.
They can’t cross this open space without risking being seen through the office windows above. Most of them- windows- are in some way obscured; whether they’re boarded up or covered with ancient, browning blinds- instead, John secures the area and checks to see if there’s anyone guarding the stairwell before he ushers Craig into it. He takes the stairs first, one flight at a time, constantly reminding Craig to tread lightly because quiet in any sense of the word is just not a mode that the younger male can work on. He can’t hear any more gunfire, and he can’t tell if that’s good or bad. His only instinct is to keep Craig closer. Luckily, Craig’s not having a hard time keeping up- he follows John’s footsteps exactly, trying not to alert any attention and, thankfully, succeeding.
But he can’t help from jumping when he hears another round of gunshots starting up.
John whipped around to make sure that Craig stayed quiet, but decided after a split second to use the noise as a decent cover for Craig’s concrete footfalls; he finds them both on the top floor with no problem bigger than a squeaky door.
There’s no one in the stairwell- the bottom floors are cleaned, and the door is closed. They’re in relative safety for now- for now.
John turns to Craig, who looks very afraid of the door itself.
“Stay close to you. Believe me, I’m stayin’ close to you, no doubt about that. We-”
More gunshots. When Craig didn’t continue, John took up the conversation.
“Do you know where they’d be? What’re they doing?”
“They need- a computer. Jen’s going to use it to get information. I don’t know the specifics, I was just told to get you out of the w-”
John shut him up- Craig obliged.
A collection of footfalls- John knew better than to assume that they were friendly. He readied the revolver, preparing his mind not straight to kill, but to protect himself and Craig. If that meant killing, he felt no pang of guilt at that.
After giving Craig a telltale stay here face- with a superiority that felt extremely gratifying given how their night was supposed to go- he swept around the door and into the hallway.
He was greeted with three guns to the face and Jennifer’s half-choked squeal.
Three trained soldiers standing down at the sight of an ally- even an unlikely one. John had earned himself suspicion just with the way he held his gun, he could tell- he’d be answering questions, he knew that.
There was little time for that, however.
Before the six had settled as a single group came the clatter of a door opening behind them- a slight frame came running out of a room down the hall and sprinted into the northern stairwell, carrying easily in his arms a desktop tower.
Mary and Tony shot off down the hall to follow them while Angela and John set on racing down the Western Hallway to cut him off from the multiple cars on the ground floor. Judging by the extra footfalls John assumed that Craig and Jen had decided to follow them, but he was too busy leaping down staircases to take a look back- he could hear Angela breathing behind him, reloading her gun.
“You got anything on you a little more useful than this?”
John used this time to raise the revolver in his hand to see.
“And why would I give you anything more useful than that?”
Angela fit her words between heavy breaths- before John could answer, Craig’s voice came from the top of the staircase to defend him.
“He’s got some secret double life, Ang; he saved us up at the cabin-”
“You took him to the cabin?”
They sprinted out to the main floor- a deep red Jeep was speeding circles around the rest of the cars about fifty metres away. Mary and Tony were closest- they shot at the tires, but ultimately had to duck out of the way when the vehicle lurched towards the North garage exit.
Without planning, the six met up and sprinted out the North entrance- the van was parked in an alcove in the building, hidden from view. Angela had thrown it into drive before the doors were all closed- she was still screaming at Craig.
“- And you took him three hours away to an enemy outpost? I don’t care if it was disestablished, it was three-hours-away!”
Craig was trying to yell over her.
“- And there were these two big, beefy guys and a hot pocket in the microwave and we would’ve been dead if Will hadn’t fucking turned into the chosen one or something-”
With the air of someone who’s seen one too many arguments between the same two people, Mary cleared her throat.
“Does the objective still stand, Angela?”
Angela didn’t need to look back to glare at the other woman.
“Of course it does.”
“We’ve lost sight the Jeep. Best bet’s to go to the airport. Overheard some others getting instructions to meet there.”
“Fuck, I just passed the on-ramp.”
Angela made to spin the van around, but pieces of a paper map pinned up over a crack in his motel were connecting themselves in John’s brain.
“No, take Roosevelt.”
“Are you crazy? They’re already on 14, if we don’t get moving-”
“Trust me. We’ll be able to cut them off if you don’t hesitate.”
With a few choice words, Angela swerved the van back into its lane, cutting off cars and running any red light that dared try to stop her-
“You better be some sort of fucking shortcut savant, Will, else I swear to God, I’ll have your-”
“- Right here, turn right here!”
They sped the wrong way down a deserted boulevard before John shouted again- “Turn Left! Now!” – and he swore that they turned on two wheels before the van jolted back to the ground.
Even as she turned, Angela voiced her discontent with the plan.
“You do know the airport is the other way, Will?”
This road was more populated than John would have liked- all the same, Angela was good at avoiding cars and the police. Unless the police had been informed to ignore a large red van going ninety three miles per hour on a road marked thirty- which, considering the group was an arm of Mycroft’s extended operative, not too much of a stretch.
They could outrun the police, but John didn’t want Angela to hit some unassuming pedestrian walking around at two in the morning.
Riverdale Road passed over the clump of highways at one point, and then another- a red jeep could be seen below them, having a much harder time weaving in and around the cars in the much denser traffic. Even with the shorter distance, with a little luck they’d meet up with the other car in time to recover the data.
Angela sounded impressed, but most of all motivated- the engine revved just a little bit more and they picked up speed. The van pulled onto the Terminal Parkway, merging with I-85 at an alarming speed-
“There! Right there!”
Jennifer was jabbing her index finger at the tinted glass, pointing obviously at the Jeep could be seen two lanes over- mere cars ahead of them.
Angela sped forward, cutting off a light blue Prius to bring the hulking van side to side with the jeep- she’d rolled her window down and, driving with her knees, started shooting at the tires.
The jeep swerved, and in reaction Angela swerved- her right hand snapped back onto the wheel, and in trying to right the van swerved left into the side of the other car. The Jeep drove onto the shoulder but refused to s low- sparks alit between the two grinding metals, and eventually Angela pulled away from the Jeep, allowing a good distance between the two cars.
Only to ram the van back into the side of the Jeep.
Hardly anyone had been wearing seatbelts- Mary and Tony were leaning over Angela shooting the car out the only window that opened, John was reaching over to take hold of the steering wheel whenever it lay forgotten, but Jen and Craig had buckled safely and thus were the only ones that did not tumble painfully when the two vehicles re-collided.
From inside the Jeep, the man at the wheel was rolling down the window, reading a pistol-
John got to him first. His right hand was steadying the van, his left on the revolver; as soon as the window had rolled down enough and not a second later, he fired a shot.
Sherlock Holmes is not the only man who can think on his proverbial feet. To shoot a man in a moving vehicle from another moving vehicle is just as difficult as shooting a man from long range through a pane of glass without shooting your new flatmate- lots of calculations that printed through his head and had to align themselves before they became outdated.
The bullet connected with the man’s skull, just hitting the temple- he had turned his head slightly to glance at the road. The driver’s side window was red, and so was some of the windshield. He’d slumped in between the seat and the window- his last act had been to drive the Jeep into the barricade.
“Shit! We still need that computer! Unharmed!”
“He was going to destroy it sooner or later anyways- if it isn’t already destroyed!”
Angela was silent as Mary and Tony’s arguments delved into an out of Spanish- to shut them up, she rammed the van into the side of the Jeep, breaking slowly to bring both of the vehicles to a screeching stop on the side of the sparsely-populated freeway.
In the darkness between two circles of lamp-post light sat the destroyed jeep and the battered van- in the window, they could see the blood splatters, the entrance wound on the near side of the man’s head. John knew from experience that the other side would not be so clean.
Jennifer was the first person to jump out of the car- she ran around the van to the other car and, after a moment’s hesitation, opened the passenger door to collect the computer tower.
It was big and bulky in her arms, so Angela scooped it out from them- she was not much larger than Jennifer, but she held herself in a way that suggested mountains moved with her force. The plastic rectangle looked much smaller, much lighter. Safer.
She set it in the van, and Jennifer was eager to follow it- proximity to the body had made her pale and wan. While she fiddled with the casing, Angela wheeled around on John.
“You’re from Wisconsin.”
“How did you know the back route was better?”
John bit his lip. The truth, for once, would actually suffice.
“I needed to occupy my time with something useful. Seeing as you lot have been ignoring me left and right. So I memorized a few maps.”
Silence. Angela was giving him probably the strongest non-Holmsian gaze he’d ever felt.
“You shot him.”
“He was going to shoot at us.”
“Yes, but you actually made contact. You-”
From her inside coat pocket, her phone began to ring.
“Hello- Yes. Well, Craig brought Will to that cabin and there were people there, we’re thinking they tipped them off- yes, I know. I know. I- What?”
Whatever was being said on the phone apparently warranted a glare John’s way- she swerved around and snarled at him.
“We’re not finished with our objective. This was-”
And hung up.
“We’re to stay here. A car will come to pick us up and take us the rest of the three steps to the airport. Then we’re to-”
“But we’re not finished, I thought?” Craig offered- redundantly, but with his own incredulity.
“Well, now we are. They’ve already got all of our stuff, I guess. We’re to board a plane to New York. We’re to hand over whatever it was we were doing here to whoever they decide to bring in. Any questions?”
She asked this in same way a professor would shout no questions! To the class.
No one spoke until the plane was well into the air. Which was awkward- they were the only ones on the plane, their general affects scattered in the front seats.
Everyone picked a different section of the plane to sit. Not even Tony and Mary were sitting together.
John had the feeling that this was partly Angela’s doing- she was fuming, and it was making everyone else on edge. Leaving like that had been- well, not what she had expected, nor wanted, and John was pretty damn sure that she blamed him for it. There was no one else to blame.
His fault or no, John couldn’t just sit here in silence. Not with these people. It made him uncomfortable.
Jennifer was sleeping under a faded green duvet. Craig was playing- some sort of gameboy. Tony was staring out the window- Angela was refusing to be approached.
Mary was trying to pull a bullet out of her own arm.
“Here- let me help.”
He practically whispered that, but it sounded loud- he flinched, and she looked up from her arm quickly.
He sat down next to her, holding his hands out- he wasn’t going to touch her until she gave him the go-ahead.
She gave him an untrustworthy look, but ultimately decided that he could be trusted- she let down her arms and pulled up the sleeve of her tee-shirt a little more so that he could more easily see.
“Do you have any- instruments, of any sort? Anaesthetic?”
She sounded offended.
“I’ve dealt with far worse without anaesthetic.”
“Well, sure, but it’s not a competition. If you’ve got something that might help then you might as well use it.”
“You got something for me, then, Doc?”
He thought back to his suitcase.
“Probably. One second.”
He let himself out from the aisle and took a few large steps to the mess of suitcases that sat in the back of the plane. A few minutes later and he was back with the clear plastic bag Mycroft had his men put in John’s suitcase- a doctor’s first aid kid, something John was all too used to using.
Mary wasn’t entirely impressed with the syringe.
“You know what you’re doing with that?”
“Of course I do. Do you want it or not? You’re going to need to get that bullet out of there, and you’re not going to want to do it alone.”
“I’ve done it before.”
“And it was a pleasant experience, was it?”
She quirked a smile at that- small, only using the tiniest portion of the left side of her mouth, but it was genuine. It completely changed the way her face looked- John had always found her attractive, but in this light, with that sardonic smile, she was positively beautiful.
“It’ll sting a bit, but after that you’ll be numb. Ok?”
She didn’t say no- he gave her the local anaesthetic and went to work opening the hole very slightly, pulling the bullet out gently with tweezers. He worked but at a pace comfortable to him- forceful and accurate, but quick enough to account for a battlefield.
“You’re lucky it’s pretty shallow. Else we’d need an X-ray... Didn’t even knick anything too drastic. Not too much blood- well. For a bullet wound.”
Mary was about to laugh at that- one of her short, hollow laughs, one single chuckle that meant just as much as any other laugh- but instead her eyes lifted up to greet the person behind him.
Tony, by the looks in her eyes.
“And what the fuck do you know about bullet wounds, Mr. Advertising?”
John heard the understandable suspicion in Tony’s voice, but also an underlying jealousy- was this Tony’s job, to patch up Mary? As it was Mary’s job to patch him up? He was bleeding too, he could form a queue if he wanted. He looked as if he liked that idea just as much as Mary had. Self-sufficient, then? Or Co-Dependant?
The last thing John wanted was to get in the way of a romance between two ex-military assassins.
Instead of making things awkward, John feigned ignorance- he twisted his head behind him and smiled to the other man.
“Oh, the usual, I suppose. I was in the- er. The Peace Corps. After college.”
Smooth thinking, Watson. The Peace Corps.
He looked from Tony’s face- blank, unassuming- to his shoulder, where his shirt had been stained a dull red.
“You wanna get in line? I got plenty of time, I can stitch you up too if you need.”
He nodded to the other man’s bloodstained shoulder, then twisted back to finish his work- he didn’t want to be distracted for too long. He didn’t give the air of ending the conversation, however- just that of someone who was a little preoccupied.
Tony got the hint- he sat himself in the row in front of himself and Mary, leaning over the seats to watch John’s work. Suspicious still- of course. Were they dating? Was Tony afraid that he would hit a nerve, cause an infection? Hurt his girlfriend? His wife?
Mary smiled up at him. Tony, that is. It was a different smile than the one she’d given John- it held a multitude of layers, the foremost being one exuding a general feeling of hey, it’s okay, I’m okay.
It wasn’t even in the smile, really- it was the same one as a few moments ago. It was her eyes- she just looked at Tony differently. He looked at her quite the same way.
Well- there goes that idea.
Tony didn’t need to be stitched up, it turned out- a bit of antiseptic cream and an oversized bandage and he was fine. He didn’t much like the idea of taking either of them- he and Mary shared the notion that accepting medical attention somehow made them weaker- but seemed more comfortable after he’d been patched up.
While he had the opportunity, he might as well go and check on- or apologise to- Angela. He left the two (Friends? Love birds?) to the back left corner.
“Any injuries here?”
He was standing near her row, leaving quite enough space not to disturb her while still making it clear that it was her that he was talking to.
She looked up at him, then to his first aid kid, and then back to him.
“You don’t work in advertising, do you.”
He narrowed his eyes at her- he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with such a blatant statement. How closely was he supposed to protect his alter ego? It was better, he decided, for him to be trusted by the people around him than to be protected by one of Mycroft’s lies.
But he didn’t have to tell her everything- she didn’t ask him a question, he didn’t have to answer. But he did have to respond.
“That seems to be the general consensus, yes.”
Chapter 23: DELETE.
There is no room in 221B for Sherlock Holmes.
brit-picked by awesome madame_mary! Thanks for reading!
He wakes up.
There is a loose string hanging low from the ceiling- it tickles his nose, it makes him sneeze. That must have been what woke him up.
What made him fall asleep?
He sits up.
He has to untangle himself from the strings first- with one came another, the weight of one setting a reaction to the next, the weight of the both pulling four more from their tacks, the weight of the four pulling sixteen.
Sixteen. Two hundred fifty-six. Sixty-five thousand five hundred thirty six.
Four billion, two hundred ninety-four million, nine hundred sixty-seven thousand, two hundred ninety-six.
Oh, how the time flies.
He stands up, fighting his way through the dizziness in the flat and the dizziness in his head. When did he last eat? Does he care? He might have another day before he can think of that. He'll drink a glass of water and take some paracetamol to cure himself from this insufferable headache.
If he can get to the kitchen- there are papers and pictures and stolen evidence and what must be four billion strings in the way.
There is no room in 221B for Sherlock Holmes.
He has to pull his bathrobe closer to himself as he steps on, over and around the obstacles that barricade him from getting his glass of water- when did it get this cold? Is the heating on?
It's snowing out the window. Judging by the daylight it's around mid day.
There was nothing in the fridge but a few condiments and a clear plastic bag of what could have been skin samples, maybe, but was now mostly mould. There were no glasses in the cupboards- none in the sink, on the tables. Mrs. Hudson must have come in while he was sleeping and rescued her dinnerware before anything else could happen to it.
Or maybe it was some time before.
He could have gone downstairs to ask Mrs. Hudson for a glass- he could have asked her where she had hid all of his drinking cups. Instead, he ends up filling a plastic bowl up with lukewarm water and drinking it like he remembered drinking milk when he'd finished a bowl of cereal. The water was not cold enough to mask the irony tap-taste- it made him feel slightly sick to his stomach, so he poured the rest of it down the drain.
Maybe he'd make tea instead.
A sensory ghost inhabited the kitchen at the thought- the warmth of a year old ray of sun pressing onto the right side of his face, himself peering into the microscope constantly set up at the kitchen table. His attention had been broken only by the whine of the kettle- soft at first, but insistent. John was standing right next to it, preparing lunch- or dinner. He had the infuriating habit of refusing to take the kettle off until it began to scream, as if the water needed to suffer itself before it was ready for tea.
Maybe he wouldn't.
For half a second, maybe less, Sherlock had gone back in time- infuriating things they were, memories. There was no reason to remember them- Sherlock would not have lost any important data on his own life and development if he had simply deleted this one time out of the many times that John had made himself tea and, off-handedly, instinctually, poured enough water in the kettle for two. Placed a steaming mug in front of Sherlock that would sit until it was cold- not even forgotten, not even ignored. Not remarked upon. How easy it would be to delete it, how inconsequential.
Of course, the brain doesn't actually work that way. He knew that. As much as he wished otherwise.
Black spots swarmed Sherlock's vision- he felt nauseous. He'd been standing for too long, he'd gone too long without eating- he would have to find something here, enough to tide him over so he could drag himself to the Chinese place down the road. The one he'd found on accident the day he'd first looked at the flat alone, the one he'd gone with John the day he-
He takes a quick shower, slowly pulls himself together piece by piece to preserve energy. He wears a new jacket- it's a dark blue, and its sleeves are too short and the zipper sometimes gets stuck but it is easier to be mistaken for someone else when he's not wearing his iconic Belstaff.
He slips out of the residence quickly, quietly- Mrs. Hudson is watching television in her quarters and will not notice he has left if he returns by nine at night, when she peeks in to check on him every night before she goes to bed.
He's just going to grab a bite to eat. Maybe while he's out, he'll pick up the day's newspapers. Not that they ever hold anything of intentional value- even now, the public enjoys scant mentions of Sherlock Holmes, the great fraud. But no mention of a James Moriarty or even Richard Brook.
No, not a trace of him anywhere.
It made Sherlock- enticed. All mention of Richard Brook had been purged from the internet- as easily as Moriarty had forged himself a new life, he had erased it from history.
And now James Moriarty himself has slid off the map. All trails run cold- he can't be in London. He probably isn't in England at all.
It's colder than he expected it to be- it's winter, isn't it? The coat he's wearing has no significant collar, and even through his longer hair the back of his neck is cold, the skin raising its surface area and reddening against the wind and chill.
It's dead in the restaurant- he orders anything but dim sum and a cola and it's gone before the waitress can come back to ask how he's doing. He pays and he leaves.
The food warms him- he feels less like a dead leaf, less like collapse. He turns right instead of left outside the restaurant, and he buys the stack of newspapers this newsstand has been saving for him. One every day, until he deigns to pick it up. The stack is thick, heavy- he must have forgotten for at least twenty two days.
He took the shortest route to a cramped café and sat himself in the corner with the newspapers and a cooling cup of coffee- he asked the waitress for a pen and, with a deep glare, peace.
He opened the oldest newspaper- he'll work his way up to the present.
Wednesday, 21 November 2012.
Twenty one days, then.
It took him just under five hours to read the news to his liking, ripping out the articles that he was sure dealt with Moriarty and his men- there had been three murders in between then and now, the oldest being on the 22nd, the most recent merely two days ago on the 10th of December.
That's thirteen murders total, Sherlock.
Well, thank you, nice to know that you can count.
At least the Yard has started treating the murders as connected- at least the past few, as the victims all have similarities. Middle-aged white men with doctorates- usually living alone, always single.
There were a few other crimes in the paper, but nothing higher than a four, maybe a low five- crimes of passion, robberies and accidents. Normal, people-crimes. Not the crimes of a higher power- not thin webs tugging on each other, bringing father spider to the scene.
Or maybe it was the other way around.
Someone was killing these men- a good enough killer to act time and time again without being caught, but stupid enough to use the same weapon for each murder? Of course not, they wanted the murders to be connected. This was another one of Moriarty's tricks, Sherlock was certain of it.
Well, if he couldn't have the man for himself, he could play his game with him.
He just didn't have the resources. Moriarty had covered himself well- that was no one's fault, that was just an extra parameter of the game.
He had nothing from the actual crimes- well, much less than he'd actual like. He could blame that on Greg, or Molly, or the justice system in general- more accurate, but overall much less satisfying.
He had very little data about the day this new game started- that was his own fault.
Four point nine two... Four point nine one four...No, Four point nine one six seconds.
He'd held his eyes closed.
He could have watched.
He should have watched.
You owed it to him.
No, he needed that data for research.
To prove to himself that-
Delete delete delete delete delete delete delete-
He'd been spending some time breaking into flats and hotel rooms- now that every corner he turned didn't bring a camera flash, he could sport a new disguise and find his way into a locked space rather easily. Not to say that it was as easy as it used to be- before, there was very little chance that he'd be recognised. Now, he had to do without the manipulation of willing individuals- the risk was too high.
The first few scenes were useless- flats had been painted over and re-moved into in the past four months, hotel rooms sprayed down, families erasing the footprint of their reluctant fathers or distant uncles.
But as time went on, he'd noticed a pattern.
His hypothesis had so far been proven correct- of course. Either the windows in every room that the victim was killed had been broken in the event, or they had been opened. The shooter had been outside.
And now, these three new murders for him to plug in to the muddle of infuriatingly slim details on this case.
He left the papers on the café table along with a few loose pounds from his coat pocket- the newspapers cold only be helpful in that they gave Sherlock the names of the victims. For anything substantial, he'd have to figure things out on his own- it was a lot easier when he was allowed to do his job.
Or at least not watched, his movements documented by tabloids and the Met and worse, his brother- all for different reasons. The popularity of these events had died down heavily as the months wore on, as Sherlock did little else other than sit in his flat in his bathrobe- until it was only when he braved the main roads that a camera flashed, or someone stopped him for a question or an autograph.
The graffiti hadn't stopped- murals of SHERLOCK IS A LIE accompanied the I BELIEVE IN RICHARD BROOK that had taken over the walls of London since May.
He didn't know who was doing them- that wasn't his concern.
His concern were these murders- thirteen of them, using the same gun, all from the outside.
Another acrobat? Possible.
The Met didn't seem to think so. Their only contribution to this case seemed to be a warning to all middle-aged white males with Doctorates to lock their doors and let no one in. The news suggested the killer was a female.
There was absolutely no evidence to prove that.
The Tigress, they've started calling this mystery woman. A solitary predator who sneaks into the houses of innocent old men and shoots them in the skull, taking nothing, leaving no prints. She chooses her victims semi-randomly; lonely men with good careers and terrible personal lives. She thinks she's liberating them- or something.
Sherlock didn't bother with the rumours- they were wrong, or at the very least, unfounded- but it didn't mean he tried to delete it in the same way he might have tried to astrology or a warm sunbeam on his face.
Tried, and obviously- failed.
He made a sour face at the word, but attributed it to the way the cold felt in his nose when he breathed. He needed a thicker coat- it was cold. He missed the way his Belstaff had even kept his legs warm- the way it tended to swish around his knees when he pivoted the other way.
You being all mysterious with your- cheekbones. And turning your coat collar up so you-
Maybe he'd just wear a scarf next time. Besides, this coat had an inside pocket that was the perfect size for his lockpicking tools- something that he'd need in twenty minutes when he arrived at the doorstep of the residence of Dr. Elijah A. Campbell, 39, medical professor at St. Bart's, in South Tottenham.
He folded himself into a taxi, asking to be dropped off in a commercial area two blocks from the house- the silence that the back seat offered him brought him back to a time when it used to be preferable.
Chapter 24: Improbable.
Was it clever? Why would it be clever?
Suburban area- newer houses. Minimal cover. The garden was fenced in but the area was much too in-the-open to risk jumping it. Would be seen. Friendly neighbours on the watch after a trusted member of their community was suddenly murdered for no reason. Scared.
There was no one in the streets at the moment. Four of the houses with a decent view of Campbell’s previous residence had their blinds open— there were very few ways to tell if these unobserved windows were modes of spying, and Sherlock didn’t trust the inconclusive data enough to trust it.
Instead of stopping, he continued walking around the street— he checked his phone, scratched his head, turned around. People will always find it hard to suspect you when you are clueless, when you are inferior.
He walked around for four hours— maybe. He returned when he was dark.
There were lights on, but they were easily avoided— no one minded when you walked in the shadows of their front gardens as long as they didn’t see you. With a glance behind his shoulder, he hopped himself over the fence— the back door was easy to pick.
The house was still cluttered— it had been three weeks since the murder, but the family had made a minimal effort as to cleaning and selling and erasing the crime that had happened here. Were they indifferent? No, if they didn't care they would have used some of his money to hire people to do it for them. Painful past, then. Memories.
Things they needed to say, but couldn’t anymore.
The body was gone— obvious, but unfortunate. Someone had even tried to clean the blood from the beige carpet upstairs.
It was still there, though— Sherlock sat himself at the computer desk that Dr. Elijah A. Campbell, 39, sat at, sitting slightly hunched over in the way this man must have in order to sit comfortably in this chair given his height (easily deducible by the angle of the shower head).
The heat turned on— it was loud and sudden, and made Sherlock jump to his feet.
Just the furnace.
He sat again, ordering his heart to stand down.
He’d have his hands here and— yes, here, to type on the laptop that sat here before it was taken as evidence. He was left handed— so was the last victim, and the victim before. A new pattern? He’d have to take a closer look at the two other murders that had happened in December.
What if each new murder had something a little more in common with the last than the last had with the one before it?
Well, that would be neat, wouldn’t it?
For someone who was so disappointed in him, Moriarty was certainly giving him exactly what he wanted— something new. Something very new.
An inkling of a voice in the back of his head tsked at him—Watch out. Nothing can be that easy.
Nothing is clever just for the sake of being clever. Not even you are.
From his vantage point at the desk, he had a poor view of the room— it was very possible that there could have been a killer in this room, had both the front and back doors and all of the windows been reported locked.
Campbell was in the habit of keeping his bedroom door shut, all the same— the house was new but the stairs well used, and the door was creaky. No one would have been able to enter this room or even the top floor without his knowing.
He’d need to keep the window open, though.
The heat was astounding, now that the heat was on— the vent was high on the wall, right above the desk. It made the entire room stuffy and hot— it was cool downstairs, though. He would have to keep his window open, then—
Yep. The window itself looked unnatural closed and locked; the locking mechanism sat oddly over the bits of chipped paint that had sat and eventually become one with the window frame. There were watermarks on the sill— on the carpet and the curtains, even.
No, this window had almost never been closed.
He rushed back down to the desk, sitting on the chair in the same way, leaning his head and shoulders a little bit farther to emulate how a professor would linger over his laptop— exhausted, for hours. Then he craned his head to look out the window— not the house exactly across the street, but the one to the left of it.
The attic had one dormer window and that was where the shooter must have been.
With a handgun?
No. He’d seen someone make a shot like that with a handgun— through a pane of glass, too.
That house was empty— it was for sale, and the sign was new and freshly placed there.
It had run its course then— filled its purpose, probably three weeks ago.
By the looks of the house (old siding leaky roof untrimmed lawn) it had been for sale a long time before that- Moriarty bought a house solely to shoot a man through an open window.
For what reason?
Why did Elijah A. Campbell have to die?
He waited before he let himself out through the back door— until it was well past one in the morning. All the same, he double-checked the road and the neighbours’ houses before vaulting himself over the fence and across the street, keeping himself away from the ovals of yellow light that stained the pavement and portions of the dead grass and brown flowers.
Winter was such an ugly season. There was absolutely nothing good about it.
The back garden was dead, disgusting— it was cluttered with rusted lawn furniture and an ancient barbecue topped with a dusting of grimy snow. A stray cat scurried under the patio— No, no one had live here for a long time.
The back door was open. He proceeded with caution— there was no one in the house, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t any traps.
A man had exploded in front of him once before— just once. His body was torn apart so quickly Sherlock doubted that he even got to feel pain.
It wasn’t even interesting.
Slowly, with one leather-gloved hand, he eased open the door— it was silent, and there was no tension in the motion that would suggest a trip wire.
He stepped into the house— it was dark, and it was empty.
This was too easy.
Bootprints led him upstairs— approximately two sizes larger than the man’s actual shoe size, and with a longer gait than his usual; he’d meant to try and confuse Sherlock. Or had his employer? It was impossible to tell whether these prints were just following orders.
Three weeks old. Sherlock was quite confident that he was very much alone in this empty house.
The electricity was off, the water wasn’t running— this wasn’t a safehouse, or any sort of place Moriarty would visit regularly. He really had spent thousands of pounds renting a house for months just to use it for thirty seconds to shoot someone.
What made Elijah A. Campbell so important? Or the other twelve murders, for that matter? Moriarty could send anyone out to kill anyone else, but this took forethought, planning, and more than a small amount of money. It made—
Was it clever? Why would it be clever?
It had to be something. Moriarty wouldn’t do this just to kill thirteen unrelated men.
In a fit of what Sherlock could have called confusion, he had to accept that he had no idea whether or not he would.
Up the stairs— eighteen creaky wooden steps. Sherlock scanned up the stairwell, taking the time to check for fingerprints and footfalls in the dust. He stumbled on the last one— one more stair than expected.
This person— the gunman, the killer— made no attempt to cover his tracks. But there were no fingerprints— he wore leather gloves. Worn, old- they were his shooting gloves.
A trained military assassin, shooting old men with handguns through dormer windows in the suburbs. What made him fall so far?
God, he had a headache. When did he get this headache? Had it been with him all today? He supposed it made sense— he hadn’t eaten in a while. He’d forget about it, then. Irrelevant.
There was nothing upstairs. Correction— there was very little. It was a single room, with sloped ceilings and peeling wall paper, dull wooden floors covered with dust and plaster.
One wooden dining chair sat angled by the window— a streetlight pushed itself through the foggy glass of the window that had been opened for the first time weeks ago.
Judging by the angle and the distance pulled away in addition to the obviously faked gait of this man he is most likely slightly under average height well-built and confident obviously military—
On the chair, an envelope.
Thick paper, written in a swirling green calligraphy—
Mr. Sherlock Holmes
On the opposite side, a familiar sight— this time in green wax, but the magpie seal still held the envelope together.
It pulled from the paper quite easily— it had been sitting in the cold for quite some time— and its contents slid out with a gentle pull.
It was a card— white, strong cardstock, Hallmark brand. On the front, in bright coloured-letters, just the phrase ‘bye bye!’
Colourful stars littered the front. Slowly, he opened the card—
He jumped when the music started playing, slamming the card shut and whipping around, sure there was someone behind him.
The music stopped.
He peaked open the card once more, very slowly—
An 8-bit version of an early-millennial American pop song.
Written in bold sharpie across both sides of the inside of the card—
SMELL YOU LATER!
The music hit its last note— silence hanged in the lamplight.
It didn’t make any sense— he was feeling lightheaded again, the black dots were clouding his vision. Did he already need to eat again? That wasn’t fair, he just ate this morning. It had to have something to do with this headache...
Smell you later. A sickeningly familiar Irish accent lilted into his memory—
No you won’t!
He felt sick.
That was probably just the carbon monoxide, though.
Sherlock stuffed the paper in one of his pockets, stumbling down the stairs two at a time, ruining his precious dust record.
Smell you later.
He pulled his jacket over his mouth and nose, as if that would help any—
He burst out of the house noisily, collapsing in the dirty snow. He alternated between throwing up and gasping for air—
Chapter 25: Culpable
“Thirteen men have died at his hands, from this exercise alone. Wouldn’t it be kinder to just—”
“You don’t get to use that word, Holmes.”
“Nor do you, Donovan.”
He stared at the phone for a long moment— it was unthinkable that the screen really said what he’d thought it did.
Eventually, though, he had to bring it up to his ear— he answered.
“You fucking know who this is, you twat.”
The voice scowled over the phone— he could practically hear her pacing.
“Listen— I don’t have the time for our normal freak-adulterer-psychopath-idiot banter. How far are you from Hackney?”
“Approximately twelve minutes. Eleven minutes and twenty seconds, if I don’t get stopped by any red lights.”
Sally Donovan laughed over the phone. It was not a kind laugh.
“Of course you are. I can give you half an hour on this scene before anyone who will disagree will see you, but the half hour starts now. Can you do that for me?”
“Of course I can.”
She did not sound relieved when she thanked him.
“And for God’s sake, don’t wear that coat of yours. Try to be inconspicuous.”
She gave him an address, and he flagged down a taxi.
There were four people in the flat by the time Sherlock had arrived— eleven minutes, faster than he’d said possible.
He didn’t have his coat to twirl around his knees but he made do without, sauntering down the pavement to the three-storey complex. He didn’t have a collar to pop, but his eyes preserved any intensity that he may have feared that he’d lost— he ducked under the police tape with an exercised ease, hoping that he earned the look of regret on Sally’s face when she’d seen him.
Lestrade wasn’t there— probably with the rest of the team, stalling them and giving Sherlock some time. But Anderson was present, and was pointedly ignoring Sherlock.
Just as well.
“Where’s the body? I have nineteen minutes to solve this crime for the yard, don’t I?”
Donovan swept her hand through the air, inviting Sherlock into the bedroom—
“Fourteen. I need you well out of here and unseen before the rest of the team even have the chance to turn onto Lansdowne Drive.”
The body was crumpled on the ground, the balcony glass door half open— the room was cold because of it. It was a rather cramped flat— the man clearly did not like the idea of throwing anything away. Christian in at least a minor degree— there was a cross hanging from the wall and a small Christmas tree sitting on the end table. No presents— no holiday plans.
“Would you like me to start?”
Sally rolled her eyes.
“Whenever you’re ready, Holmes.”
He took a deep breath. Fought the smile from his face.
“Surgeon— ER. Works very well under pressure. Asthmatic— but don’t you smell cigarettes? He has a lover who smokes. She wasn’t over last night— no, of course she wasn’t— but the scent was on his clothing and he needed some fresh air. I think you’ll find a recently rented flat across the street that, even if it’s been paid for every month without problem, is completely empty. There may even be a note for me. There was in the house across the street from Elijah Campbell’s.”
Two seconds to gawk at him, one wasted on opening her mouth— she drew in a breath instead, composed herself with a well-placed eyeroll.
“I’ve decided not to comment on the fact that you’re apparently confessing to breaking and entering on at least two accounts. How did the killer get in? Doors were still locked, there’s no way he could have scaled the wall.”
“Isn’t it obvious? There’s quite a hole in his head. But if you’d allow me to—”
He moved towards the body, making to move his head—
“For Christ’s sake, step away from the body, Holmes. No, there’s no exit wound.”
He straightened himself up, coy grin.
“I’ll hazard a guess that it, like all of the others, he was shot from the same handgun from a considerable distance. The flat I just mentioned, quite possibly. Would you like me to write all of this down for you to remember?”
“Well then, you better pay attention—”
“I meant, no. There’s no way it could have been shot from across the street. There’s just no way, Sherlock.”
“Oh, just because your department won’t believe it doesn’t mean that you can’t, either. Look at the evidence, Donovan!”
“There is an infinitely small percentage of making that target with that weapon, from that distance. I ran a ballistics report.”
“You ran it?’
He raised an eyebrow. Sally, as a rule, never distanced herself from her work. She was the Yard. It would have been we ran a ballistics report unless—
“None of the other inspectors would even humour the notion. They said it was all too Holmesian.”
Sherlock scoffed— if he was pleased by the fact that he’d been turned into an adjective, it looked quite a bit like scorn.
“An infinitely small percentage.”
“Yes- there’s practically no chance that anyone would make it.”
“What about a trained sniper? Best in his field? Would anyone be able to make that shot?”
Donovan didn’t roll her eyes at the idea— that’s what she thought, too, then.
“Yes. A trained sniper— a very good trained sniper would be able to make that shot. But why? Why would anyone hire an assassin to kill these men?”
“Well, if you’re quite finished with the allegations you’ve made against me, and considering I am standing here on your request I’m confident in saying that that you have, we can entertain the notion that it’s James Moriarty, because he’s the only person with the will and the resources for something of this level.”
“I can’t go putting in the report that Moriarty is killing these men. He hasn’t been seen in six months- and that’s assuming that most of Britain even believes in him. Which they don’t. There’ve been no leads in looking for him mostly because the majority of the Yard likes to think Rich Brook ran to get away from you.”
“Thirteen men have died at his hands, from this exercise alone. Wouldn’t it be kinder to just—”
“You don’t get to use that word, Holmes.”
“Nor do you, Donovan.”
They locked eyes- no one could glare at Sherlock quite like Sally could. Even Mycroft’s glares were tainted by the fact that he, at some efficient, base level, cared about Sherlock— Sally’s eyes held nothing but contempt at Sherlock, and contempt at the idea that she needed him.
He preferred her looks. They were simple, easy to understand and respond to. When she spoke, she spat out her words, aiming to hurt with them.
“What would you have had me do? Not even John could account for your whereabouts the time of the kidnapping. The way that girl screamed— wouldn’t talk to any of us. I was lenient for you- way, way too lenient. But I couldn’t just let that one go. All of the evidence was stacked against you; it really looked like you had kidnapped those kids.”
“So you’re admitting you were wrong, then?”
“I’m admitting that it was a perfectly reasonable thing for me to do. It doesn’t matter if it was wrong- it was what I was supposed to do. It was what I should have done years ago.”
“I’ve saved more people in the few years that I worked with the Yard that you ever will, and you know that.”
He’d struck a nerve. She’d thought so, too, then.
“But that’s not what you’re into, now, is it? No, it’s the puzzle for you. You’re a psychopath- even if you didn’t, how am I supposed to believe that you wouldn’t kidnap those kids? Set up all those crimes? How am I supposed to know that you really didn’t just create Moriarty?”
He laughed at her— his cold eyes chilled the deep tone. His anger served to fuel her own—
“You don’t care. You just run around solving whatever we give you with no regard to the lives you affect.”
He narrowed his eyes—
“You don’t have the best record yourself. You destroyed my reputation and set Moriarty’s path in motion that ultimately led to— our present situation.”
She misunderstood what situation he’d meant. She thought he was blaming her for something that should not be given blame to.
It frightened her— because it wasn’t the first time she’d heard it.
She jabbed a finger to his chest, snarling up at him.
“You were the one that put him in danger in the first place! He would have been alive right now if you hadn’t snatched him up like a collectible to be dangled in front of that madman—”
Sherlock’s eyes, for a very quick second, widened— first in surprise, then in rage.
An instant flash of regret— she looked away, but she was too prideful to apologise. When she looked back to him, her face was blank.
“You have three minutes to tell me what else you know about this murder. Else, get out of my sight.”
He set his jaw, straightened up— at their close range, their height differences were drastic. Their glares deathly.
“I’ve told you everything there is to know. Moriarty is hiring a military— trained killer to murder innocent men in the greater London area. He’s using a handgun to assassinate men with very little reason other than— well, why not?”
He pulled his blue gloves off at the middle finger, balling them up and tossing them on the ground as he turned from her.
“Put that in your precious report.”
Chapter 26: Terror
It was fourteen minutes into Christmas Day, and a man had been murdered before he could see it.
brit-picked by madame_mary, who helped me out tons and tons and tons for this chapter.
There was Christmas music playing in some distant office- something with a lot of jingle bells and children singing. The sound was small and tinny, coming from a small desk radio that someone had left on when the shots were fired through the seventh-storey window of the hospital. Elliot Hilton’s office lay open, cordoned off only with a few strings of white-and-blue police tape down the hall.
“Window was open. Again.”
Sherlock was standing as close to Donovan as he could without making his intentions obvious to anyone else. It was making her uncomfortable. She wouldn’t look at him in the eye- her apology was almost more despicable than what she was apologising for.
She could almost be forgiven simply because she wasn’t the type to feel the need to pull him aside and voice it in words- he liked that about her.
It was the only thing he liked about her.
“The building next door is only six storeys high. They’d have to have an impeccable shot.”
“Well it’s a good thing we’ve already established that they do, then, isn’t it?”
She glared at him.
“You and Lestrade go over on the rooftop, see what you can find. If it’s another envelope with your name on it, I swear to god— just don’t open it this time.”
“He wouldn’t put anthrax in two envelopes, that’s boring.”
“Well, then it’s dirty needles in this one, Jesus. Put your hood up- I don’t need this on the news.”
It was different- the atmosphere of the crime scenes. Something had happened with the way that Sherlock could just waltz in and have the entire force at his command- he had to run every single thing by Donovan first, which was no small annoyance. Lestrade would, at least, let him do whatever he wanted.
Though that was probably why the former Inspector was seen as little more than the coffee boy to the other officers these days.
Which was where he was now- after a few near-fights in the past Donovan had been forced to order Lestrade out for coffee, just to appease the rest of the team. The rest of the team sat rather smugly in their knowledge that they could boss around the person who implied they were incompetent by bringing in someone who would blatantly tell them that they were.
Instead of acknowledging the fact that all of his actions affect everyone around him, even the smallest insult, Sherlock decided to make it clear that he would blatantly tell all of them that they were incompetent, no matter who was Detective Inspector.
“Who performed these ballistics reports? Do you bring these worthless pieces of paper to court to defend innocent lives? Or are you asking for a retrial? Not enough courtroom drama on the television?”
Donovan had allowed him the confidential files on the first two cases to compare with the more previous three— secretly, temporarily. He could not take them home, he could not take pictures. . He wasn’t happy that she didn’t give them all of them.
She was even less happy that she’d offered to bring him here in the first place.
The woman snatched the files from his hands-
“Listen, if you’re just here to insult us-”
“Of course I’m not just here to insult you, I’m here to gather the data that I’ve been withheld from for months- data you’re still withholding from me-”
“- We’re withholding it from you because you don’t need it! You’re not qualified, you’re not even supposed to have these-”
Their arguments never carried louder than a harsh whisper.
“- If I’m not qualified-”
“- Yes, then you can just leave! Please, do!”
He straightened up. Pushed the papers into her chest.
He spun on his heel, getting as far as the door before Lestrade stopped him.
Instead of trying to push away from the man— shorter, but bigger, more physically present, and altogether friendly— Sherlock gave a sigh to indicate his disapproval. All the same, he stopped, turned to face him.
“Lestrade, if you want to apologise for Donovan’s actions, the motion is appreciated but worthless.”
The older man shook his head, almost in disbelief.
“No, you— No.”
He ran a hand through his hair— it had looked silver before, shone in contrast to his tanned skin, but in the past few months and especially in the winter it was an unmistakable grey.
“Donovan hasn’t done anything to you, except do you a huge favour. Sherlock, you need to be careful. She’s taking a big risk, having you back here.”
“Really? Because it seems the bigger risk would lie in your entire police force dancing around the obvious fact that Moriarty is behind all of the murders, and that the murderer is a very talented sniper. Seeing as all anyone around here wants to do is deny these facts, I seem to be the best choice.”
He looked down at Lestrade, glaring at him. It was extremely difficult when the man was giving him that familiar look— the one he’d seen countless times when the drugs busts had actually been needed. Greg cared, and unlike any of the other people who had cared about him before, he didn’t mind letting it be known.
Sherlock would not back down, though, and someone had to give.
“That’s why you’re here, because you are the best choice. Even after everything that’s happened, she still has to admit that you’re the only way we’re going to be able to prove any of this. But you have to make this easy on her— well, easier. It’s not easy at all, hiding you from the rest of the Met.”
Sherlock opened his mouth— whatever it was he was about to say, he decided against it. He took a step back. Lestrade looked thankful for it. He continued—
“Listen— I’ll see if I could get some of the old cases out for you. I’m not promising anything, but I’ll try.”
Sherlock tried to smile. It came out lopsided and too small, more like the one he used when he wanted to seem pleasantly surprised. It was useless, he supposed, to put any sort of smile on in front of Lestrade— the other man just quirked an eyebrow, opened his mouth as if to ask if he was all right.
And Sherlock couldn’t have that.
“I’m going home now. Text me the details.”
He was crouching under a porch, shining his light into the dark when his phone started ringing.
He scowled- it was Donovan, of course. He didn’t need to check to know that- she was the only one that called him.
Another ring in his pocket.
“If I didn’t know your damn name, I wouldn’t call you, now, would I?”
Donovan’s phone- but it was Lestrade. She was driving. Probably quickly.
“Are you busy?”
“Of course I’m busy, you sent me to Fulham. I suppose you don’t remember?”
“Stop being a smart arse and get to Kensington.”
He stopped- stood quickly enough to feel dizzy. That didn’t stop him from whirling on the balls of his feet and taking long steps across the pavement to get to the main road.
“There’s been another murder.”
He didn’t ask. It was obvious.
“Yeah- bloke died within the hour. When can you get there?”
“Eight minutes. I’ll be there at twelve sixteen at the latest.”
Lestrade didn’t bother with surprise— of course he could get there in eight minutes. London bowed to Sherlock Holmes.
The saddest, most boring building Sherlock had ever seen- the walls were all concrete, the curtains all pulled. One bare lightbulb positioned itself slightly off-centre above the front door (4.9 centimetres to the right, but if he got on a ladder and looked more closely he would like to think that he could determine it to the thousandth decimal point).
Only two windows in the entire block were lit- one, a bedroom with the glass shattered off the window; the other, the dull, comforting glow of Christmas lights.
It was fourteen minutes into Christmas Day, and a man had been murdered before he could see it.
His body lay mere flights of stairs away from Sherlock, but he had to wait for the police to get there to get into the door- that was the agreement. No trespassing, and he could join them to help. He needed their permission as much as they needed his insights, as much as he hated to say so.
Where could they be?
He was about to call them when he heard the sirens from the distance- they took a strange way, coming from the east. Had they been out of town?
They certainly took their time getting out of the car. Donovan and Lestrade had driven together, but the rest of the team followed shortly from some other direction- they had been somewhere else. Maybe relevant. Possibly not.
Finding out wouldn’t get Sherlock in the crime scene any faster.
He must have looked impatient, because Lestrade came to stand next to him, scrunching his shoulders into his ears as he tried to warm himself up-
“There’s no rush, Sherlock. It’s all still going to be there.”
Sherlock frowned. Instead of continuing his whinge, however, he pointed to the front door—
“Signs of forced entry.”
“Something’s wrong here. This murder- it’s different than the others ones.”
“But the window’s shattered-”
“And there’s glass everywhere outside.”
Lestrade positively tilted his head.
“That’s... Sherlock, that’s what happens when glass breaks.”
“Yes it is.”
His pauses were systematic; he remained silent just long enough for Lestrade to figure out that he wasn’t going to keep going, then continued just before the older man felt obliged to ask the question implied in the melodramatic pause.
“The force was from the inside. Someone broke the window from inside to recreate the scenes of the other crimes. Whoever’s in there, Inspector... He’s not the one who lived here. They brought the body from elsewhere.”
Both men looked up at the window- yellow light pooled out from the room, the curtains blowing out softly into the night. They were a light purple- the heavy material of a person with a drafty window and the sense to know how to fix it.
Sherlock glanced at the other man, then at the other group of police officers. The landlady had kept them waiting so she could get dressed- she exited now, wrapped in her only coat. She kept it unbuttoned, even with the cold, so her nice blouse and skirt were visible— dhe looked disappointed when she noted the lack of cameras. She fidgeted with the key in her hand, chattering gravely to Donovan as she relayed the scene, inviting the group into the building.
“Oh, I just— I heard a commotion— I wouldn’t ‘of if her flat wasn’t right underneath mine, eh? Loud noises. A man yellin’. I didn’t call the police right away- things like that happen all the time here, no reason to get uppity about an argument— but I knew Amy, I didn’t think she had many loud friends so after it had died down I went and knocked on the door. But I noticed the blood on the floor— I just took a peek in, and, well, there he is, lyin’ in the bedroom— blood all over the carpet, bloke’s been shot in the head—”
No one saw how it happened but Sherlock had found himself in front of the group— he bounded up the stairs, easily taking three at a time with his long legs and newfound energy. He shouted down information as he deduced it to the officers below—
“Three men, average build, carried a body up using— probably an old blanket, maybe a plastic bag to keep the blood from getting everywhere. Note where they failed on the second storey,”
Currently on the second storey, most of the officers stopped and played a half-second game of spot the bloodstains— by the time they’d found the slight smear on the wall of the stairwell, the ever-distancing bass bellow had spoken up again.
“Victim was still alive at this point, but well-subdued. Note— oh, never mind.”
Donovan scowled at the voice—
“Holmes, you have to wait for us. You can’t just go waltzing around like it’s your scene just because we invited you to come and observe.”
He pointedly ignored her— she doubled her pace, handing the case she’d been carrying to Lestrade to catch up with the eternal pain she’d affectionately named Holmes.
“They had the key to her flat- but not the building proper. No signs of forced entry.”
The door was already open by the time Donovan had finally caught up to Sherlock— on his coattails, it seemed, as he was just ducking into the sitting room.
“Someone definitely lived here— woman, late thirties, alone. Of course she lived alone— everyone in this damn building lives alone, this is a place for anyone who can’t actually afford London nor are they charismatic enough for a flatmate—”
Donovan was half-listening to Sherlock as she tried to tune out the landlady— she noted his silence, though, and went searching for him.
“Holmes? Have you found something?”
She left the Landlady in the sitting room, winding through the tiny hallway to get to the bedroom— this was hardly a flat, merely two rooms separated by a thin wall and a bead curtain. There was a tiny kitchen in the corner— one armchair and a small television. A fishbowl with a small red fish with impressive fins on the side table.
She pulled the beads out of her way, stepping into the tiny bedroom. Room enough for one bed, a desk, and—
“Oh, for the love of—”
—And laying on the carpet in a pool of his own blood, a very familiar man— a short man with greying blond hair, a soft face lined pre-emptively with wrinkles...
It took her just under five seconds— one to mentally label the body, two to feel nauseous, one and a half to come to her senses.
This man could not be John Watson. John Watson died in May. It was December. It was Christmas, For Christ’s sake.
Good God. Sherlock.
He was staring at the body, wide-eyed— he was staring at the body the way a body was meant to be stared at. Confusion and—
They’d dressed the body up in a soft beige jumper, for God’s sake.
“— Someone get him out! Now!”
It was Lestrade who peered his head in from the curtain- Lestrade who, taking half a second to look at the body, understood.
The taller man didn’t turn from the body— his eyes never left the floor.
Greg put an arm on his shoulder- Greg had been bracing for Sherlock to lash out, resist movement, but he followed the gentle touch passively. He alternated between many expressions— as if he couldn’t decide how he should be feeling. Eventually, he settled on something in between a dull blank and a grimace. His mouth kept twitching into a half-smile.
Lestrade sat him down on the sofa. Some of the officers were watching curiously— he glared at them until they left them some peace. He may have cursed at them.
“I completely disregarded their appearances. They were all becoming more and more physically alike. Each victim. I should have known that this wasn’t just for his game.”
“This isn’t a game, Sherlock.”
A long moment. Sherlock took a deep breath— in, out. When he spoke again, his tone was more quiet and harsher than a whisper—
“I know it’s not.”
Lestrade said nothing more. The two men sat on the sofa, waiting for anything as the rest of the team bustled about taking pictures, eventually bringing the gurney up to take the body away.
Sherlock got a long look at his face as he passed. He stared— he did not blink.
“He’s not a doctor— so he’s military, obviously. Lives alone, probably from the other side of the Thames. He—”
The room had been taken by surprise, held captive by his surface deductions. When Sherlock stood, Sally stepped forward.
“Sherlock, you don’t have to do that.”
And for a moment, Sherlock felt his eyes close— he felt shaky, buzzing with adrenaline. At the same time, he was exhausted. Terror, he called it. I am terrified. When he felt himself faltering, he pulled himself back up— perfect posture, hands behind his back. Curious eyes never meeting hers.
The silence of the statement caught him off guard— it seemed to work for Donovan, though. In her eyes shone a— a comprehension. Not Pity.
He was grateful for that.
“He owns dogs, has a child. Was never married— no, had his first child when he was very young, and while he wasn’t around to raise him— no, her, of course— while he wasn’t around to raise her he’s tried to be a bigger part of her life in the past few years. Has a girlfriend, but he’s not very interested in her. Not interested in the mother, either. Ex-military- didn’t make it very far, I don’t think.”
He looked around the house, around the police and the tracks they’d made and the beating of his heart—
“Now, the murders... Calloused hands. One of them is American— the other is left-handed. Two men were in here— the third must not have entered the flat. One of them smokes a sort of cigarette sold predominately in India— the left-handed one. Leather gloves, of course— no fingerprints, and you’ll find that any footprints will not be an accurate show of their height or past locations.”
He stopped, looked around, then nodded to Donovan. That’s that.
“That should be enough.”
Slowly the room found its motion; the gurney brought the body away, more photographs were taken.
He sat back down, receding into the sofa, feeling the weight of Greg sitting next to him. His eyes swept the space directly in front of him— something caught his attention, distracted him for a moment.
Sherlock leaned forward, reaching an arm to the coffee table— he grabbed an envelope positioned in between two candles, familiar in the weight of the paper and colour of the ink that held his name. The S was large, extravagant- the H miniscule so as to keep from detracting attention from it.
He opened it slowly- he could imagine Jim licking the adhesive himself. Kissing it before handing it to whatever lackey he sent to deliver it.
Whatever lackey he send to kill some poor soul whose only crime was to look like John.
Inside was a Christmas Card.
Plain- it was red, with a green cartoon tree with blue cartoon ornaments and a yellow cartoon star.
He opened it slowly- no music, this time. The entire inside of the care was empty, save for one small line written in black pen, neatly, precisely—
Loosely, heavily, he passed the card to Greg, open so he could read the inscription.
HE’S HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS <3
Greg gently laid a hand on his shoulder, grounding him- Sherlock’s breathing hitched just once, a tremor in his chest, before composed himself.
Chapter 27: Blame and Card Games
She stared at him for a long time- her eyes were a dark blue and held no mercy for him. He took another stab at quirking an eyebrow up- he’d wait for whatever it was she had to say or do. She buried her eyebrows into the aisle her nose made onto her pre-emptively- lined forehead.
“You shot that man. Without hesitation.”
Super-special thank you to madame_mary, who looked over this chapter mere hours ago.
It took two hours to get from Georgia to New York. John dozed most of the way there, pulling his jacket closer to him to keep from the chill. The other five had settled down themselves— Angela was looking at some files; Jennifer had curled into two chairs and what looked like all of the blankets on the plane and fallen asleep; Tony and Mary occasionally turned to each other to say something. The only constant was the rumble of the engines and the drum seeping out of Craig’s oversized headphones. Every once and a while, he’d try and sing— but the silence was even too strong for Craig, and eventually he’d falter back into quiet.
It was nice.
The drive to the hotel was nice— a large van and chauffeur— and the hotel itself was nice. Free mints. Large towels. An upgrade, no doubt, from his Atlanta residence— no one spoke as they received their keycards and carried their bags up to their rooms and shut their doors.
John thought that, maybe that would be the entirety of the night. He wasn’t entirely sure how to mix himself into the group now that they saw him as more than a nuisance, but he wasn’t entirely worried about it. Breaking people’s expectations of him was sort of something he was used to by now.
He would kind of prefer a quiet night in, however. It had been a long day.
First time in a while that he’d shot someone— fatally, at that. He didn’t even have to think about it— he was pointing going to shoot them. He didn’t feel guilty. He probably wouldn’t sleep as soundly as the night he ended that serial killer, but he didn’t feel remorse for ending his life.
Kill or be killed, he always said.
Instead of sleep right away, he took off his shoes, settled onto his bed, and started flipping through television channels. He should have known better than to start getting comfortable.
It was Angela who came first; she burst in without ceremony, standing in front of the television.
“Who are you? Really, who the hell are you?”
“Oh, Angela. By all means, come in.”
“Don’t pull that shit. Who the hell are you? Why are you here? Why did they pull us out?”
“I don’t know why they pulled us out. Maybe you should talk to your sister about that.”
She narrowed her eyes— she was much better at it, her expression far more effective than his. He’d treaded on hallowed ground.
“Is that a threat, Will?”
He laughed. The last thing he wanted to do was threaten Mycroft’s favourite assistant and her murderous sister.
“Oh, god no. God no. Just figuring out where we both stand.”
“Well, you’re not putting yourself in a very good position. You haven’t been in a very good position all night.”
He quirked an eyebrow.
“I thought I’d helped.”
“Yeah? And now where are we?”
“Not dead. And we got the information, didn’t we? We did everything we were supposed to.”
She studied him closely. He wasn’t affected, and this seemed to dissatisfy her- she had a strong gaze, to give her credit, but he’d endured much more intense stares. When she finally spoke up, she spoke truths in a whisper-
“I don’t know who you are, but you’re important. They trust you to take care of yourself but they still don’t want to take any chances.”
“I wouldn’t say I was important.”
“We’ve never been pulled out of anything before. This was bad, but not the worst we’ve seen. And now, this—”
She waved her hands— this was to mean New York, the new operation, whatever was in that file she was reading on the plane.
“They’re not telling me shit. I don’t know what we’re doing here, just that we’re to wait for further instructions. I’ve never had to wait for instructions. I’m told what I need to do and how long I need to do it, and that’s it. You’re the only thing that’s different. They want to keep you alive.”
He took a second to think about that. The softness of his new expression seemed to have softened her mood- it was a while before she spoke. When she did, she was cautious, if not apologetic—
“You- you did end up being... A lot more useful than I’d expected.”
He allowed himself to grin- accepting the implied apology.
“Why, thank you.”
“And you’re giving free stitches out to people.”
“There’s plenty to go around if you’ve an urge for a set of your own.”
Was John the only one who didn’t have deductive superpowers?
“Er. No. I work in advertising.”
“No one who knows my sister works in advertising.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
She stared at him for a long time- her eyes were a dark blue and held no mercy for him. He took another stab at quirking an eyebrow up- he’d wait for whatever it was she had to say or do. She buried her eyebrows into the aisle her nose made onto her pre-emptively- lined forehead.
“You shot that man. Without hesitation.”
Oh, they were going to talk about this.
“He was going to shoot us. You were driving; no one else had a decent angle. I took the chance.”
“We were going ninety miles per hour. That window was hardly open, yet there wasn’t a chip on it. You had three inches of leeway. You shot that man with a .22 revolver from a moving vehicle.”
“With all due respect, I did ask for something a little better.”
She laughed at that- it was hollow and dark, but it was genuine. She reached into her bag and pulled out a pistol- handed it to him. It was nothing special, but it didn’t need to be. The sentiment was still there.
And she turned to leave him with his nature documentary.
Well, he could have, if Craig hadn’t taken Angela’s exit as a queue to slip into his door before he could get up to lock it, flopping himself on the bed at John’s feet.
He looked tired— John supposed they all did, but Craig had an extra sort of haunted to him that the others didn’t.
“You doing all right, Craig?”
He received a glare in response.
“What do you think? I got shot at, like twelve times today. We all almost died. You turned into James Bond. I’m doing pretty fuckin’ awesome, Will. You?”
John laughed— he turned his attention back to the programme on TV, moving over when Craig decided that the foot of the bed wasn’t comfortable enough.
Which would have been a nice end to the day until—
“Will— Oh, hi, Craig. I need to talk to Will.”
Mary poked her head in, soon trailed by Tony— the hotel room was getting to be a bit cramped if they all decided to visit him.
Instead of fight the notion, thought, John merely sat up— he let Tony sit down at the edge of his bed, Mary leaning against the dresser. When she gave Craig a look that suggested privacy, John cleared his throat.
“I think he could probably stay, Mary. I doubt that you have any questions that he hasn’t asked already.”
She glared at him for suggesting it, then at Craig for the grin on his face.
Then she turned back to John.
“Did Angela already come and talk to you?”
“About the new job? Or about the fact that she doesn’t know what we’re doing here?”
This was news to Craig, it seemed.
“Wait, what? What do you mean?”
Mary nodded back. She leaned her arms back on the dresser and pulled herself up to sit on it— she was in grey jogging bottoms and a black tank top, ready for bed. Or strategy conversation.
“Someone up top’s stopped trusting us. Gotta be because of Will. Angela’s pissed, of course.”
“Hey, now, wait a second—”
Craig had spoken up. This seemed to surprise the other two— that he was defending John.
“Will didn’t do anything wrong, we can’t blame him for this. Hell, he saved all of our lives.”
“He hardly did anything that me, Mary or Angela couldn’t have, Craig, just because—”
“Then why didn’t you? You can’t lay all that blame on him, he just got here, he’s helped us—”
“Craig, we’re not blaming him at all, but you have to accept the facts that it just works, if this whole thing isn’t about him then—”
It was John who interrupted.
“Is this all you guys do? Argue?”
That silenced them pretty quickly— John shifted, uncomfortable for a moment.
Then he remembered how it was to be Captain, in control—
“All right, listen. I don’t know why we’re not getting any orders. I don’t know why they pulled us out of Atlanta. All I know— no. I don’t know anything. I didn’t save anyone. I was just doing what had to be done, all right? I dislike being out of the loop just as much as you do. Believe me, I know how it feels. It’s what you’ve been doing to me since I got here.”
Mary’s mouth had opened, probably with some debate, so he cut to the chase before she could.
“No— don’t respond to that. That’s not the point at all. What is the point, is... Is that we just do the job. It’s all still the same thing— we’re taking down your, your Crime and Punishment thing. We’re still on that, right? We’re still— Oh, for the love of god, is this a lounge?”
Jennifer had found her way in his room, holding a deck of cards and a case of American beer. She looked timid, as if she herself was surprised there were this many people in the room.
“Oh, uh— Craig wanted me to teach him how to play Euchre, I was just looking for him, but—”
She was already backing out of the room, trying to slip back into the hall before Mary reached out for her.
“No, no, stay, Jenn. I’d love to learn how to play Euchre, and I’m sure Tony would, too.”
Tony shook his head— he yawned as he stretched his arms over his head, getting to his feet.
“Hell no— I hate that game. Will, it’s up to you.”
The larger man straightened his tee shirt, rubbing a hand across his bald head.
“When we say it’s your fault, we don’t blame you, Will. Even Angela. You know that, right?”
He sounded generally concerned. Which was surprising— Tony hadn’t spoken more than a few words to him before he’d shot a man in the head. Now he was worried that he’d hurt John’s feelings.
“No, no. I understand completely. I’m trying to figure it out myself, just as much as you guys are. No hard feelings.”
Tony smiled at him— his face changed completely when he did, chiselling an unmistakable kindness into his hard features.
“All right, well. Have fun learning to play the most boring game on the planet, I’m going to bed.”
He shut the door before Jennifer could throw a pillow at him.
Chapter 28: July 6th, 2013: New York City
Since August, John had been living in a real-life cross between a James Bond and an Ocean's Eleven.
Not that he was complaining.
Brit-Picked by madame_mary! What a champ. Any mistakes that remain are my fault for not realising that I'd missed them or made them in the first place.
“Twenty-third floor. Elevator to the seventeenth and—”
A chorus of voices from five people followed, all tired of hearing about the plan.
“— stairs the rest of the way.”
Right now, they were crammed in an electrical closet on the first floor of the car park- one of Angela’s ‘friends’ had stashed their guns and goods there, out of the way of witnesses and cameras. Of course. They had left the van with Craig and Jenn— Angela felt uneasy leaving the thing alone for more than a second and a half in a big city such as this one.
Well, John supposed he’d have a hard time leaving his possessions unguarded in New York, too. Noisy, terrible, stinking city it was— John had always imagined himself a city person, but after this month and a half in this city, the quiet life didn’t seem so bad anymore.
“Okay, okay, whatever. Will, do you have the bomb?”
On second thought.
He’d never leave the city, or the excitement of a life where—yeah, where a woman wearing a short-cropped blonde wig could use his alias to ask him if he had the bomb and the answer would be yes, yes it’s here in my briefcase.
“Yes— yes, it’s here in my briefcase. Of course it is.”
He was past being uneasy about the plan. There was nothing ultimately murderous about it— he’d had his reservations when he’d first heard about the bomb. It was mostly about taking some data and destroying the evidence and (apparently) three and a half years of work from Moriarty’s point of view.
Or, Raskolnikov’s. John had been much more diligent in keeping what he knew to himself, after the incident in Atlanta. Much harder to refer to a tiny, terrifying Irishman by a name from classic Russian literature, but John did what he had to do. Neither were bigger than the other.
One may be a lot more guilty.
“Tony, your damn wig’s crooked again. Bend over.”
Tony bent over, and John had to lean away from them as Angela tried to fix the black wig on Tony’s
“No, no, Angela, now it’s too far down on his forehead, he looks like a caveman.”
“Well, he looks like a fucking caveman already, Mary! There’s nothing I can do about that— oh, don’t give me that look, Tony.”
John smirked to himself at the conflict behind him, pulling at his tie- he felt like a shaggy dog with the brown wig he was wearing, foreign hairs prickling at his forehead and the back of his neck.
Everyone looked like perfectly respectable office lackeys. This was the first time John had ever seen Mary in anything other than her standard utilitarian outfits- she looked remarkable, if uncomfortable, in a pencil skirt and high heels, with her coarse black hair pulled back into a sleek bun.
He would have told her that she looked nice, were it not for the I’ll kill you if you dare look she gave him the moment he opened his mouth.
Well, maybe next time.
Angela was looking everyone over, looking herself over. Repeating the plan again. Cursing at them when they scowled or made a sarcastic comment.
“Okay, come on. Let’s get this over with.”
John and Tony walked side by side, briefcases in hand- in the main hallways, no one bothered to look at them. John felt stupid with his wig and his tie, especially compared to Tony— even with the dark wig and the office dress, he was intimidating.
And then he’d flash a smile, and he was just a big guy with a briefcase.
Not that anyone would guess what was in his briefcase- guns and ammo, obviously enough. They were told not to expect to need them— Angela said that this would be a simple job— but they both knew better than to rely on expectations.
Tony was talking meaninglessly to give them place in the long hallway—
“There isn’t a goalie on earth who could have saved that shot—”
“Oh, I beg to differ— ”
— Which had quickly turned into a real, passionate argument about football.
Tony had started the conversation, John assumed, just as an empty way to get them to talk while they walked down to the middle of the hallway, to the empty office where they’d be doing little other than making a lot of noise and smoke to clear the floor.
However, they both turned out to be very not-American and therefore quite a bit more invested in the sport than first thought— Tony rooted for a Spanish team, which John supposed didn’t surprise him.
Ironically, their conversation made them fit in well in the American office— no one paid the two men any attention as they talked sports comfortably; confidently making their way down to whatever office they were probably looking for.
They’d gotten so comfortable with the conversation that they’d almost missed the damn room.
John nudged Tony slightly at the elbow, and the taller man— shaken out of his football reverie— took a quick turn to the left, knocking into a smaller woman, dark hair pinned up in a messy bun.
“O— Oh, I’m sorry—”
It didn’t take her long to realise that she didn’t recognise either of them.
“Are you looking for something?”
Tony spoke for them— which was all well, John wasn’t the best at lying on the spot.
“Hm? Oh, no, sweetheart. I think I’ve found it.”
— Lying on the spot, or making himself look like a creep for the sake of hiding in plain sight. Tony, on the other hand, was doing a great job— he looked at the woman greedily. It didn’t take long for her to avert her eyes—
“Well— uh, all right then. I— gonna leave you two to it.”
“Well, come on back if you need us, honey. We’ll be right here.”
She rolled her eyes— she spun around and left as quickly as possible, and the two men ducked into the office as she clicked away on anxious heels. Tony didn’t bother to lock the door behind them, instead turning to the desk behind him— where John had carefully sat down his briefcase, opening each latch one by one.
There was nothing in this room that they needed— just the location. Easy to see and hear from most of the main hallway, and in proximity to the office they were interested in— the office of the man that Angela was in an interview with. The man would be preparing for Angela to pull something in the room, try to steal whatever it was that he thought she was trying to steal.
Of course, whatever it was that this old, wealthy man had thought she was trying to steal was actually the thing that Jennifer had (distantly) helped Mary retrieve from the electronic safes on the twenty-third floor. John and Tony were just there for a diversion for Angela’s escape.
Since August, John had been living in a real-life cross between a James Bond and an Ocean’s Eleven.
Not that he was complaining. This was exactly the sort of thing he’d wanted to do as a boy, as a result of too many spy movies with his father. All he needed now as a perfectly tailored suit.
When he expressed this to Tony, the taller man chuckled, passing a second pair of earplugs to John—
“Well then, you’re in for a treat tonight,”
He barely waited for John to jam the plugs into his ears before detonating the smoke bomb.
“Well, I mean, your resume is impressive, Ms. Foster—”
Angela had to keep herself from playing with her wig- it felt askew. The shortness bothered her- the tips tickled her jawline. She didn’t look good blond at all- her skin was too tanned for it, her jaw too angular. She kept looking in the long mirror positioned to her right- a good place for it to be, it allowed her to see the open door, and it made her look vain instead of expectant.
“Ah. I’m sorry. I just- I don’t think that you’re quite suitable for this line of work, it seems as if you’re more comfortable working in journalism—”
Here comes the hard part.
“My resume is impressive?”
“Well yes, you have a lot of experience for someone your age, but—”
“Then why aren’t I suitable?”
“Ma’am, your field of experience just doesn’t coincide with what we need right now—”
“That doesn’t make any sense, If I’m overqualified that must mean you’re hiring me on a premium—”
She glanced at the mirror, waiting for the signal— she’d hear it before she’d see it, smoke billowing through the hallway, but it was still making her nervous. Where were they?
“Mrs. Foster, I don’t think we are looking for anyone with your experience nor your attitude to work at our company—”
“Well maybe you should have made your terms a little more—”
The walls rumbled, and the old, fleshy man yelped and dove under his desk at the noise of the explosion.
It was a lot louder than Angela was expecting- her ears rang and the surprise from it found her on the ground with the old man. She brought herself to her senses, however— she grabbed the handgun from the small purse she’d been carrying and got to her feet.
“What the hell was—”
With one hand the old man pulled himself up- with the other he clutched his heart.
She had a gun, and pointed it at where his head will be when he’s done standing up.
“I want you to stand completely still, Mr. McClelland. And on the count of three, I’m going to ask you to—”
His hand darted to somewhere under the desk— she shot a cautionary bullet in the self-portrait just behind him.
“Don’t make this harder than it has to be, Mr. McClelland. I don’t give a shit what you were reaching for, it’s a gun in my mind, so if you would please— slowly— put your hands up.”
Slowly, he raised his hands, putting them on top of his head.
Angela was almost disappointed. This man was in control of a major facet of Moriarty’s regime— there was no way he was this... Bumbling.
“I know where it is, McClelland, I already have it. What I’m interested in is that watch on your wrist. Why don’t you give it to me.”
“My— My watch? It was— It was a gift from my wife—”
“Well, she’ll have to buy you a new one. When I count to three, I want you to take the watch and— hold on there, wait until I count, now.”
She counted— slowly, methodically. She needed to give Mary and Jenn some more time.
He fumbled to the watch, keeping his hands on his head all the while— eventually he got the latch and stretched his arm out, timepiece in hand.
“Do you want me to throw it?”
“I want you to drop it on the desk. And then you want you to go and stand in that corner, facing the wall.”
He looked like he was entertaining the motion of defying her— she took a half-step forward, which set him going.
As soon as he was safely in the corner, she snatched the watch- the name on the back and the various age-telling scratches allowed her to confidently determine that it was the right one.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. McClelland.”
She smiled to no one in particular, backing out of the room before he could answer.
Chapter 29: Love, M
A favour? From Mycroft Holmes?
Well, this ought to be great.
Thanks to madame_mary for looking this chapter over!
Maybe John had spoken a little too soon about the Bond thing.
He didn’t think he had ever worn a tuxedo in his entire life— it had always been suits or his uniform for him, for formal occasions. He’d never been given a reason to tie a bowtie.
Now that he had, he wished he could have gone back to his oddly-patterned ties.
A google search elicited thousands of youtube videos on the subject— he picked the first one, glad that he wasn’t alone in his ignorance.
Well, he was— alone, in his utilitarian hotel toilet with his laptop propped up against the faucet and a knotted, wrinkled, and thoroughly un-tied bowtie around his neck.
“Fucking— what are you doing with that bloody thing? Just stop, just—”
Alone, and very much yelling at the collarbone shot of the man on his screen.
“And... Turn it, and push...”
“I am turning! It’s turning out all wrong!”
John was having a hell of a time getting the tie to do what he’d wanted. Why couldn’t he just wear a tie? Or one of those clip-on bowties? There was no need for the real thing, only he would know.
He was spending so much of his attention yelling at the bowtie and the man trying to teach him how to tie it, that he did not notice Mary when she entered. She made note of her presence with a small cough— it startled John.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake—”
“Having fun there, Will?”
He scowled— she was laughing at the rumpled tie, the youtube video, his yelling.
“Yeah— yeah, ‘course I am.”
John grumbled, turning from her only half-angrily.
Then, with a mind full of Hollywood movies—
“Do you want to help me with this?”
She laughed— short and mocking, but pleasantly so.
“Why the fuck would I know how to tie a bowtie, Will?”
He looked back to her— noticed that she was still wearing her pyjamas, her dark hair pulled out of her dark eyes in a messy bun that made her look like a uni girl. Ten years younger. Beautiful.
“Aren’t you going? Don’t you have to get ready?”
“It doesn’t take long to zip up a dress and put some mascara on.”
A beautiful, funny woman who knows how to handle a gun, and just so happened to take less time than he did to get ready?
Tony must be a lucky man.
Mary leaned against the doorframe, making it clear that she was planning on staying. John restarted the video.
He’d gotten about four minutes in when she spoke again—
“Jenn and Tony aren’t coming.”
“They’re flying out to California as we speak.”
He frowned. Restarted his bowtie.
“Just them? Why?”
“Jennifer has to deliver the watch, and crack some... code in it. Tony has to make sure that whoever it is they’re sending her to doesn’t kill her.”
“So it’s just us four going, then? Craig, Angela, you, me?”
“That’s it. Jenn was a little put out, ‘course she wanted to get all dressed up for this charity thing, but we’ll be missing Tony’s help.”
“Hm. You sure you don’t want to help me with his bowtie?”
“No, I’m having way too much fun watching you get angry over a piece of fabric.”
He smiled at her through the mirror— he was trying really hard not to be flirtatious, and he was failing rather miserably.
“Well, I’m glad someone’s enjoying it.”
Music filled the ballroom from the front— there was a jazz band just off the main stage, playing something soft and gently syncopated. John sat near the back of the room with Mary— Angela and Craig were somewhere in the centre. They all had guns, miniscule speakers glued into their ears, and high-quality microphones.
So far, no one had spoken to either of them through the speakers. No one knew who would— Some off-shore lackey, probably. Doling out orders last minute.
Angela was angry about that part of the plan— she hated the idea that they had no idea what they were going in for. She’d called— actually called— to voice her disappointment. Loudly.
In the end, it didn’t really matter.
There was much too much gold in this room for John— gold and red and champagne. At least he got to sit with Mary. She didn’t make as funny conversation as Craig, but she was a much more comfortable companion without Craig’s need to forever talk or be the centre of things.
She didn’t like to start conversation, though.
“So... Where’re you from, then?”
It was like pulling teeth.
“Oh, you know. Philadelphia.”
No— it was like pulling teeth that had been trained to withstand torture.
Eventually John gave up, started making conversation with the other two couples that were sitting at their table, letting Mary be ignored as she’d apparently wanted. He wasn’t upset about it— he understood that some people needed different spaces to feel comfortable.
God knew he knew that some people just weren’t good at talking to others. He could pull the weight.
The one couple was old but chatty— the other were a little more reserved, preferring to speak to themselves about absent friends and in-jokes.
They were just supposed to keep themselves entertained until the speeches started. Then they were to shut up, in order for their microphones to catch as much as possible.
Then— wait for instructions.
When the band stopped, the noise in the room dulled considerably, waiting. An older man, well trimmed and wealthy, stood up to the microphone in the middle of the platform in the front of the room and straightened the front of his tuxedo.
“Well, hello, everyone!”
A ringing in John’s ear. He went to lean away from it when a familiar voice spoke to him—
“Hello, Dr. Watson. Make sure to keep it secret that I am speaking to you. Do not answer or attempt to make any communication with me. I can neither see nor hear you until we’ve set up the feed, so your efforts will be for naught at the present moment.”
— Mycroft Holmes’ voice, intimately soft as a whisper in his ear. It sent an unpleasant shiver down his spine.
He turned himself away from the speakers set up at the sides of the room, but only slightly— just to be able to hear Mycroft better. For once.
“It’s good to see that you have taken well to your new life here in America. You’re doing good work here— but I think you know that. You’re back in your element, more so than you’ve been since your military days. Is that not so?”
John knew that Mycroft couldn’t see him (or at least, that was what he’d been told) but he still felt the need to narrow his eyes at the insinuation.
“I’m not contacting you to see how you’re doing, of course. I need you to do me a favour.”
A favour? From Mycroft Holmes?
Well, this ought to be great.
“The name of the man that is speaking right now is Charles Augustus Milverton, and he is one of the only people on this planet that Moriarty goes to when he is in need of something. He is not dangerous in the strictest of senses, but he is cunning, and well-connected.”
Mary didn’t look as if she was being spoken to— but John didn’t know if he would be able to tell if she was. Probably not.
“Milverton is a master blackmailer— he has access to highly classified information, in both personal and political spheres. Not only does he use this access for his blackmailing business, but he also sells this information to willing and solvent buyers— such as Moriarty.”
John heard a soft sigh through the earpiece, a ruffle of papers. It must be nearing three o’clock in the morning in London— Mycroft didn’t sound tired, but he did seem a little pressed.
“I’m afraid I don’t have the time to indulge in the pleasure of explaining all of my reasoning to you as you so doubtlessly would prefer, Dr. Watson, but I’m going to need you to break into his private quarters and set fire to his blackmailing material. Quite obviously.”
“It will be the task of Angela and Craig to ensure the safety of the guests and servers, and in a moment I will speak to Mary. On my word you two will excuse yourselves.”
John obeyed. He didn’t have much of a choice— he was sure that this one-sided communication was not accidental on Mycroft’s part, the man hated questions more than anything.
The static subdued, which John was sure meant that he was talking to Mary, but she gave no sign of it. Instructions to destroy property and possibly endanger the lives of hundreds of aristocrats had to be something she was used to, then.
It took less than a minute (had she already known about Milverton, or had Mycroft not felt the need to explain to her?) before she finally turned to John, her lips close to his other ear.
“Will, I don’t feel very well. Can we go?”
She leaned back just far enough to look him in the eye— she had a sense of urgency in her own dark eyes, and she gripped his hand in hers on the table, just for effect.
Just for effect.
“Yeah, yeah. Sure.”
They easily collected themselves and slipped out of the room with little problem— John was worried about being noticed, but sitting at the edge of the room meant that few people were disturbed.
They waited until they were in a secluded area to speak again.
“So, what did he tell you?”
John was interested in what she was told, but mostly in what she already knew.
“He told me what you knew, and what I was allowed to tell you. Now come on, we’ll miss our window if we hang back.”
“What you were allowed to— now, wait a second—”
He couldn’t wait, though— she was already making her way towards a staircase behind a heavy wooden door.
“What do you mean, what you’re allowed to tell me?”
“He said you’d have a hard time with that. Just— come on. Let’s go start your fire.”
She’d taken off her heels, leaving them at the foot of the steps— in her tiny bag she’d crammed in a pair of flat shoes that she’d pulled over her feet before ascending. There was a man at the top of the steps, behind another set of doors— he was large, Tony-sized, with a walkie talkie in one holster and a gun in another. Mary had a small gun in her hand, suddenly— it shot out a small dart and, before the man could react, had tranquilised him. She held him on his way down to the floor, and when she straightened up had his walkie talkie and a set of keys on her hands.
“My- my fire? What are you up to?”
John followed her blindly as they made their way to the right— John broke a man’s hand before he could shoot, Mary hitting him with her tranquiliser.
“That’s one of the things I can’t tell you.”
And before he could set the sleeping guard down, Mary sped off without him, into one of the many doors that lined the lush hallway.
“Of course it is.”
John didn’t have a tranquiliser gun on him like Mary did— he had Angela’s handgun, which made him feel safer than if he’d not had anything but wasn’t sure how he was supposed to use it without making too much distracting noise.
He kept out of sight, then.
“Here— try the microphone now.”
In full alert mode, the last thing John expected was the tiny speaker in his ear— Mycroft hadn’t so much as coughed softly to let him know he was going to speak up.
“Jesus. You startled me.”
“Do try not to slip out of your American accent, Dr. Watson. There’s a room to your right— no, not that one, next to it. There should be linens and a can of petrol waiting for you.”
“And what am I supposed to do with these? I don’t have a lighter.”
“Dr. Watson, I am sure you can figure something out. Quite possibly, you could even notice the lighter that has been provided for you, sitting on the second shelf.”
It was on the third, but John didn’t tell him that. Mycroft had probably fired for less.
“Ok, ok. Now what? Just lay them in the middle of the hallway?”
He could hear the eyeroll across the ocean.
“Follow Miss Morstan, if you would. You haven’t lost track of her, have you?”
“You bloody well know that I have, Mycroft. Where am I going?”
Instead of standing in the hallway wasting time, John had decided to grab the linens and petrol, skirting down the hallway a little less quietly than before.
“Turn left here.”
“The door to your right should be open.”
“No, it’s locked.”
“Hm. Continue down the hall then, if you will.”
The sound of a door opening, just around the corner— John swore under his breath, trying the handle to the door next to him before whipping around, trying the door on the other side of the hall—
“Do not open that door, Dr Watson—”
It was open— it led into a study of some sort, with a wall of bookshelves and a heavy-looking desk to anchor the room to that point.
The window looked out onto the courtyard in the back, which was, at the present, empty. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this room— nothing that looked like it was the office of a man who stole information and blackmailed dignified members of society.
“There’s a secret room behind that vase, isn’t there.”
Except for the dust.
When Mycroft didn’t answer, he continued—
“No, there’s definitely some sort of... Hiding place behind here, you can just barely feel the creases in the wallpaper... Is there a code to get in? Mycroft?”
Not only was he not hearing Mycroft, he wasn’t hearing the static silence. Mycroft had turned off his microphone.
He didn’t know how he’d recognised it— there was a decorative piece lining a barren wall, there was nothing to draw attention to it save for the fact that it and the floor around it had been notably clean. The vase was sitting atop a thin stand and was rather large, and held a few fake plants and thing, decorative sticks— near the back, behind those things, there was a keypad.
Irene Adler’s phone and its hidden explosives came to mind first— he didn’t bother even trying to guess a passcode. He waited for Mary.
He didn’t have to wait long.
He looked behind him, as glad to see her as she was confused to see him. A bit upset, too.
“What are you doing here?”
She looked to the can of petrol still in his hands. It was then that he realised that she had a can of her own.
He narrowed his eyes, only slightly.
“I’m being put on again, aren’t I?”
She sighed. It confirmed his suspicions.
“Well, I don’t see any harm in you actually taking part, really. Man in the earpiece told me to let you do your thing. Code’s 48108.”
He didn’t waste time being angry at the man in the earpiece, the one that he already disliked— instead, he used the light of his cell phone to punch in the code inside the vase.
The reaction was instant— a door-sized portion of the wall pushed back, and it slid silently on tracks to reveal the secret passageway, or lair, or laboratory...
A storage room.
Just a room with florescent lighting and a lot of filing cabinets.
A small desk at the far wall, a rolling chair—
There was absolutely nothing special about this place.
“This is where most of the damage must occur. But doubtlessly Milverton does not keep everything in one place, so the entire house must be burnt down. Let Miss Morstan complete her portion of the task, Dr. Watson. Continue down the hall.”
Mycroft was in his head again, telling him things he already knew. He didn’t bother responding— he looked to Mary, who was already peeking through filing cabinets.
“Let’s start pulling all of the files out of the cabinets, easier to burn.”
He didn’t answer her— something had caught his eye on the desk.
There were pictures of Tony, pushing a stroller in some generic commercial centre.
Angela, in her blonde wig just this morning, documenting the handover of the watch.
Craig playing basketball with a considerably younger version of himself.
Jennifer and her parents, taken through their kitchen window.
Mary, on the balcony of the hotel they were staying in.
Himself, pecking away at the latest blog post through the lens the camera that had hid in the bookcase of 221B for god knows how long. Sherlock stood almost off camera, holding his priceless violin without care, a scowl on his face—
— And, thinner, gaunter than he’d ever seen him, sitting alone in a café in a jacket that did not become him, Sherlock Holmes.
He pulled the picture of Sherlock from the others, keeping it from her view before she turned to look at the remaining six. She swore under her breath.
“Well, they know we’re here. Better get moving.”
Sherlock’s eyes were sunken in, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in— well, in more than a Sherlock-amount of time. He looked—
— He looked sad.
“Yeah. Yeah, sorry.”
They pulled all of the papers from their metal cabinets and onto the floor in a flurry of notorious names and notable pictures accompanying them— John barely registered the scent of petrol as he poured half of the can onto the floor, standing back into the previous room to light the first paper.
The photo was marked June. It had been taken barely a month ago.
He had it in his hand, then he’d stuffed it in the inside pocket of his jacket, where it sad crumpling, waiting for him to take it back out, look again at that gaunt face.
“C’mon, Will, we have to finish this before the fire alarms are set off.”
John tossed some of the linens on the hard wood floor, dousing them in the rest of his petrol before setting them alight, stepping back with Mary into the hallway—
“Mr. Sigerson and Ms. Mosran, you both are going to have to return to the first floor as quickly as possible before the fire alarms are set off. Please do so now.”
John and Mary looked at each other, confirming that they’d both heard what had been said through the tiny ear pieces, before making their way to the stairwell. John had already used all of the petrol in his can and so had left it in the office, but as Mary ran she left a trail of the stuff behind her.
They ran into no trouble as they skirted through the hallway and down the stairs— The guests had already started leaving the ballroom in the least orderly way possible, and so it had been easy to slip in unnoticed. They looked scared— some of them were screaming about murder.
The fire alarm had not yet been turned on. Why were they running?
“What’s going on?”
John asked Mary— It was possible that, like everything else, she’d been alerted before him.
By the look on her face, she had not.
“Better find Craig and Angela.”
The house was in considerable disarray, visible even from the outside— the group of six stood far from the commotion in the parking lot, removing high heels and loosening bowties as they kept as far as they could from the news crews.
Craig, predictably, was still recounting the scene.
“— And he’s not even halfway through his speech, right, he’s just going on and on about some sort of charity and helping animals or something, I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention at that point, I was hungry as fuck— hell, I’m still hungry as fuck— and then—”
“He was shot, Craig. We get it.”
Angela hadn’t spat it. She didn’t sound angry. That was the first hint.
Mary was the first to spot it—
“Were either of you contacted?”
Simultaneously, Craig answered no and Angela, yes.
“Not over the earpiece. A waiter gave me this after Miltverton was shot.”
She handed it to John, not Mary, who had reached for it. It took him a long moment before he finally took the envelope from her hand.
There was a folded letter, and a Polaroid that spilt easily into his hand.
Two young girls, posing in front of the water on a beach. The photograph was old— twenty years at least. They had to be sisters— one was older, more defined, but they had the same smiles.
Someone had ripped the label off of the photograph, but John knew what he was looking at.
He handed the photo back to Angela, who, with a nod of thanks, stuffed it back into secrecy in her handbag.
“Read the letter out loud.”
The paper was thick, and a little harder to pull out of the envelope. He unfolded it with care, staring at the thick uppercased letters, written angrily in permanent marker before reading them to the other five:
“I think you’ve misplaced some important pieces. I’ve taken the liberty of bring them back to you. Meet us all at 20 East 76th Street, room 1603 tomorrow night to retrieve them. Hope to see you soon...”
John took a sharp breath.
There was a crudely-drawn picture in blue ballpoint pen underneath the short note— two stick figures tied to a spit over a small fire, with another stick figure turning it.
“BALD,” the man was labelled.
“NERD,” the girl.
“KING,” the enemy.
Angela waited for it to click, and a little longer yet—
Finally, it clicked.
“He’s got Jenn and Tony.”
Chapter 30: Photographs
“You miss him, don’t you? Your genius detective. You’re fond of him.”
Thanks to madame_mary for the oversight!
The drive back to the hotel was sombre— even Craig couldn’t find it in himself to complain about hunger, or fiddle with the radio. It was a forty minute drive back to the hotel from the manor, in which a strangled sort of silence reigned.
Angela had received a call. She let it ring twice before extending a hand to Craig, who, in the passenger’s seat, had access to her bag.
She didn’t argue. She didn’t make any faces, or voice her discontent. She said yes and she ended the call.
“We’re to wait until tomorrow, when the note says. There will be someone waiting for us outside, but we can’t expect them to actually interfere. We’re to capture M, and allow him to be escorted. Nothing more.”
Craig was of the opinion that the four of them should leave right now— get it all over with.
With the resignation of someone who know who it was they were going up against, Angela sighed, shook her head, and told the three to at least try and get some sleep.
They pulled up to the hotel and, wordlessly, made their way to their separate rooms.
John washed the smoke out of his skin and hair, slowly and thoroughly— by the time he was ready for bed it was late enough for infomercials on the television that he’d kept on for the company. His hair was still wet when he finally pulled the covers over himself, willing his brain to stop buzzing so he could get a few hours’ sleep before regrouping.
He closed his eyes and he kept them closed until he felt tired, then he allowed himself to drift off. It took less than fifteen minutes.
Five minutes later, a soft rap at his door.
John grumbled, something rude about Angela never sleeping. He made quite a show about unlocking the door, loudly removing the latch and swinging the door open to snarl at—
She smiled at him. That coy smile with the one upturned eyebrow.
He pulled the door open even farther, letting her into the dark room. She took the invitation- she was holding a few papers in her hand, but did not make the motion to give them to him. When he reached for the light, she stopped him.
Instead, she climbed into his bed, pulling the cold side of the blankets from their tight make to pull around her legs.
“It’s so cold in your room. Why do you need the air conditioning on so high?”
John shrugged— hoping that she could see him in the moonlight. He locked the door, and, after a moment of hesitation, got back into bed, sitting next to her with their legs under the blankets.
“I sleep better in the cold.”
She scoffed— he didn’t think she was really listening, just playing with the papers in her hands. He didn’t mind.
He was sure there were some sort of email Angela had asked her to give to him— more battle plans.
She waited for a long moment; she looked unsure.
His face was cast in shadows, so hopefully she didn’t see the look of alarm that fell on it for a split second before he set himself straight. He’d forgotten which day it was. He’d completely forgotten.
“ ‘S not my birthday. My birthday is-”
“July Seventh. 1973. I didn’t really care enough to look for a copy of your birth certificate, but you were probably born on that island of yours.”
She glared at him.
“Dr. John Watson. Captain. I can show you the papers, if you like.”
She smiled, holding up the few printed pages- it looked like a news article. She offered them to him— he made no motion to take them.
She wasn’t threatening— Or, it wouldn’t have been, had she not just revealed his secret identity. So what was she getting at?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re a terrible liar when you want to be, Will. Can I call you John, actually? You never did look like a Will.”
He was calm— he realised that he didn’t really mind her knowing. It made no difference either way. He was too tired for all of this. He was a terrible liar when he wanted to be.
“I don’t know what—”
“The pictures on the desk? They were all labelled. Yours was labelled John.”
He slipped rather effortlessly into his own accent— he could see her grin in the dim light.
“Well— yes, I suppose you can call me John.”
She nudged the papers at him once more— he took them, angling them up against the moonlight to read them.
The first thing that struck him was the picture— Sherlock Holmes, with his good coat and his short friend, offering at least the semblance of a smile to the camera.
A headline from an American news outlet—
HOLMES FOUND INNOCENT.
John sat up straighter, clicking the lamp on to speed hungrily through the printed article.
Judges ruled today that Mr. Sherlock Holmes.... Richard Brook was a fraudulent identity of James Moriarty, who broke into several of London’s most secure institutions by exposing corruption at their foundations... several documents were emailed to all of the major British and American news outlets this morning documenting beyond a reasonable doubt... Holmes formally cleared of all charges...
“Someone tried to make it real hard for us to read anything on this when it first happened— there was no news of this in the States. The story was just shut down, you know? Someone tried to make this a safe place for you, I think. Or maybe—”
... Dr. John Watson jumped to his death May 6th, 2012, widowing Sherlock Holmes to the throes of the justice system...
“— But they wouldn’t want to give this Moriarty too much attention, either. I’m assuming that’s who we’re against, is it? Moriarty? Love, M? Well, of course you know, you were over there, living it. Dying it, too, it seems—”
... Not much is known about Holmes’ current plans, as he is reluctant to speak to the media and is rarely seen outside his residence at Baker Street....
He looked up at her, surprised. Then back down to the article— he’d finished reading it a while ago, but he was clutching at the papers protectively, letting his eyes fall on snippets of text.
She offered him a good-natured chuckle, falling back down on the pillow, shielding her eyes from the light.
“You can keep it if you want. If you want to, you know, memorise it or something.”
He gave the picture one last look, ignoring the pang it brought him to look at his old friend and his old self, so close together- no oceans separating them, no secrets keeping the other from knowing one is even alive.
He remembered that case, the one in the picture— it was a particularly gruesome one, one of the ones that Moriarty had apparently set up to bolster Sherlock’s reputation. It was hard, too— there were times when John had no idea how they were going to put everything together. That wasn’t his job, though— that was Sherlock’s. And Sherlock invariably pulled through, five days in without food or sleep and the media had stopped them outside their own door, pushing forward, trying to get a good picture while John was just trying to get his flatmate up the stairs before he collapsed.
His arm was around Sherlock’s back, right there— no wonder why the press loved this picture. John supports Sherlock, and Sherlock allows himself to be supported— he slept for sixteen hours that night. John didn’t have the heart to wake him up, even sent Lestrade out the door when he’d bounded up with a murder case he’d been waiting to give to the detective.
He’d bounded up the stairs in his normal way— Lestrade had. Mrs. Hudson didn’t even let them know he was coming in anymore, it was too regular of an occurrence for the Detective Inspector to show up slightly winded at their doorstep.
John, in his chair, was reading the paper, a warm cup of tea perched in his left hand. He didn’t have to look back or let the man speak— he knew who it was.
“No. Give him another day, he’s exhausted from the last one.”
He set down his cup, then folded the paper up, to look back at Lestrade, whose mouth was held slightly agape.
“You’re getting just as bad as he is, you are. It’s not in my job description to have to handle two Sherlock Holmses.”
John had laughed.
“It’s not in the job description to handle one, either. It’s just the lot you were handed, I s’pose.”
Greg, too had laughed. He asked once more— he said there were no lives hanging in the balance, but it’d be helpful to have Sherlock take another look. Didn’t want to incarcerate the wrong man. John had told him that he would have Sherlock phone him once he’d woken up and gotten something in his stomach, which probably wouldn’t happen until tomorrow.
When he finally removed himself from his memory, he was greeted firsthand with the feeling of being watched. Mary’s black eyes peered at him softly- she was smiling.
“You miss him, don’t you? Your genius detective. You’re fond of him.”
John sighed— no, it was more of a scowl. He turned the light off and dropped his face onto his pillow, letting the scowl develop.
When he resurfaced to look at her, she was grinning— laughing at him.
“It was never like that. We’re not a couple. Why does everyone thing we’re a couple?”
“Probably the same reason why you think that Tony and I are.”
“He has a wife. And kids. Two really, really cute kids.”
John’s expression must have changed, because she interjected before he could respond.
“And no, I’m not jealous. I don’t wish I was her. I don’t want any more from him than what I’m already getting.”
And it must have changed again, because she laughed and punched him hard in the arm with her dominant hand.
“And I’m not getting any of that, you nasty boy.”
She pulled herself down onto the mattress to lie on her side, burying half of her face into the pillow. Her long black hair had fallen in front of her face, and in the dark, just under the beam of moonlight that had previously illuminated her, John could hardly make out her features.
Quietly, she continued.
“I didn’t tell you that just to fill the space. I wanted to give you collateral for my knowing your life. And I have no secrets to tell. No— really. I don’t, I’m exactly as I am. I’m Captain Mary Morstan, or... whatever sham title the American Army decides to give me to mask what I really do. And I do this a lot— covert operations with governments, things that happen right here on our soil— well, my soil, now that I’m the only Yank in the room.”
She laughed, softly. Just a breath of air, blowing her hair partly out of her face, if only for a moment.
“Every secret I know, I’m going to take to my grave, and the road to that grave— well, it’s not likely to be a very pleasant one. But none of my secrets are my own— I have no husband waiting for me in some rural part of Midwestern American. I’ve got— I’ve got this, and this is all I really need.”
John could appreciate that— he understood, maybe better than Tony could. That was why she’d told him.
They remained quiet for some time- the unsynchronised patterns of their breathing kept the silence at bay. Then—
He’d spoken before he’d really thought about it— he didn’t think he’d actually meant to.
She lifted her head, propped it on her left palm.
“I do. I miss him.”
Mary smiled— and even though it went to her eyes, creasing the wrinkles that had already started to form around the young woman’s lids, John could tell that it was meant to be sad.
“I can tell.”
“He still thinks I’m dead, I think. No— I’m sure of it.”
“But that’s necessary, isn’t it? He has to think that you’re dead. Or else—”
“Or else he’d come after me. And that’s what Moriarty wants— He wants Sherlock to come to America, he wants him to be there in that Hotel tomorrow. He doesn’t want us, or that watch back or anything other than getting more revenge on the Holmses. It’s necessary, I know. It has to be this way.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t miss him.”
“I know. I—”
I yelled at him before I ran off. Should have stayed with him. Should have tried harder to contact him, let him know.
She must have sensed his guilt.
“Well, we’ll get Moriarty bring him in, and there’s not much left after that. You’ll be back to him in no time. John.”
His name sounded strange on her lips— she found it just as strange to say it as he did to hear it, he could tell by the way she said it. Hesitant.
John did not accept nor deny the weak promise— he knew bringing Moriarty in would do nothing at all.
He let the conversation fade to silence.
Her breathing slowed.
“You’re not going back to your room?”
He mumbled to her through his pillow— his eyes, too, grew heavy. The warmth of the blankets and the extra body had made him drowsy.
She shifted— neither towards nor away from him, just in comfort. Propped the pillow up with her slim hand.
“No, I don’t think so.”
Chapter 31: James Moriarty
“No, no, that’s not how this story goes, John. You don’t get to take me to big, mean Mycroft. Not tonight. No, I’ll tell you how it’s going to go.”
Okay, so... I don't want to go on haitus, I really don't. I know it's always devastating to me when there's a fic I really love that hasn't been updated in months, and I'm not sure how many people follow this fic week to week but I don't want to do that to you. The thing is, it's the last month of semester for me and I have a collective 37 pages worth of papers due and presentations and work and, you know, the general living-like-a-human-being thing is something that I'm going to need to work on-- but I am not going to leave you guys hanging. In fact, I know exactly when I'll be posting for you: MONDAY, 29 APRIL. 2013, of course, don't worry. If I don't, you can come to my house and throw paper balls at me until I do, I'd appreciate it.
If you guys are interested, I'll still be around on my tumblr if you wanted to talk or anything, but I really can't afford to be writing 2000+ words every week when I have a thousand other things I need to write. I really hope you guys understand!
See you in a month!
(And as always, thanks to madame_mary for looking the chapter over for me. Don't know what I'd do without you.)
It was early when the sun woke John up— it crept in through the blinds and settled on the bridge of his nose, over-warm and bright.
He turned away from the window, pressing his eyelids together— it was far too early for him to get up, what with the amount of sleep he’d not had. The bed was warm, but empty— he and Mary had kept each other in company most of the night, awake and silent. But he hadn’t been up to see her leave.
But she had stayed. She’d stayed in his bed all night, then— but she wasn’t in the shower. She’d gone back to her room sometime in the past few minutes, to get ready for Angela’s newest speech.
John sat up, pulling the blankets from in an attempt to make it easier to get out of them— he was getting indolent, all these days of uselessness with jarring days of activity in between. He stretched his arms over his head, one then the other, feeling the tenseness at his bad shoulder.
On the nightside table sat a thin pile of papers that served to jog his memory about last night.
Well, it was nice to know that he could be himself again.
He showered and got dressed, taking as little time as he could. He got a text from Angela while he was brushing his teeth— whenever you’re ready, please meet in my room.
He was the last of the four to make it. Craig had bought everyone bagels and coffee— the women were sipping at theirs distastefully, and Craig was the only one eating.
He was in the middle of speaking, his mouth half-full:
“— And we don’t even know what this— this M is doing to them, we shouldn’t be sitting here, after a full night’s rest, eating breakfast when we should be—”
Angela cut him off.
“We’re going to do exactly what they tell us to do. Go when they tell us to go, play the part, let M play his games, and if— oh god, hopefully when— the reinforcements are in place, there should be no one left in the premises that will follow M’s orders. We take him downstairs, hand him over to the others, and our job is done, we all go home. Now, anything goes wrong and it’s on us to clean up. Do you feel like going against a multi-national crime organisation, Craig? Because I know I’d like to go home sometime in the next eighteen years.”
She looked tired, but none more so than usual— she leaned against the dresser with her coffee in both hands, blinking the exhaustion out of her eyes. She looked at John as he fully entered the room—
“Oh, John. Finally. We’ve been waiting ages.”
“You texted me two minutes ago, Angela. Not exactly ages.”
Mary was giving John a peculiar look— he had her papers in his hands. He wasn’t speaking in his American accent.
“Will. Are you sure?”
He bit his lip— technically, he wasn’t. He didn’t know how much Mycroft depended on his keeping his alias up, how it would affect plans if he’d changed them. He’d come to accept that sometimes when a Holmes tells you to do something, there are a thousand reasons behind it— but he didn’t have to believe them.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m pretty certain. I— Mary knows, and I figured— If we’re going to finally go against Moriarty, if we’re going through with this, I guess we should be honest with each other.”
He stretched his arm out, pressing the article to Angela. She took it, flipping through the papers.
“If we’re going to trust each other with our lives— And that is what we’re doing, no matter what it looks like in there— the least I can do is trust you with a bit of my history. None of you really believed the Will Sigerson story, anyways.”
Angela, satisfied, passed the papers to Mary, who handed them to Craig. Who read the article quickly, skipping the parts that didn’t include the name—
“Dr. John Watson.”
“It’s not M we’re going up against, not...Rasputin, or... Whatever it is they’ve had you call him for the sake of you all not being a liability. His name is James Moriarty, and I know exactly what Tony and Jennifer are in right now. Because I’ve been in their place.”
He could smell the chlorine.
“They’ll be okay as long as we do what he says— if we leave a moment too early for him, like you want, Craig, he’d have taken it out on them. He runs a very tight schedule. He doesn’t like to be surprised. We’ll have to at least appear to fall in his trap.”
He looked to Angela— she wasn’t surprised, which was fairly understandable. The attention was making him uncomfortable, however— this wasn’t about him.
“So. Er. Have you heard any news? Battle plans? Reinforcements?”
She nodded. They slipped back into a familiar existence.
“I’ve been in contact with them all night. They’re already in place— they just need us. We’ll leave when they tell us to.”
“And what about the watch? Are we still responsible for that?”
It was Craig who asked; Angela shook her head.
“It was full of information from... Moriarty, to Milverton. Now that Milverton’s dead, the watch is apparently useless. We’re just to get Moriarty, and secure Jenn and Tony.”
Craig made his displeasure at the plan obvious with a small grunt— Angela glared at him, daring him to say anything else. He decided it was best to stay silent.
Satisfied, she continued.
“Good. We leave at eight. Everything should be in the van well before then.”
Mycroft Holmes gets a call shortly after he leaves Watson and Morstan. He answers cordially, listens to the information, and gives a terse thank you.
He holds his head in his hands, and pours himself three fingers of scotch.
Milverton’s death means only one thing— inside job. Moriarty.
He tries to get them all out of harm’s way before it is too late, but it is always too late.
It is not long after he sits down to start thinking when he receives another phone call.
He listens intently to the lilting voice on the other side of the line, politely denies all negotiations, and bids the man on the other line a good night, as it is still night in New York.
He drinks what’s left of the scotch, and gives his chin something to lean on by steepling his fingers.
A murder, a kidnapping. Moriarty is leading them straight to him— and Mycroft thinks he knows why.
Watson wasn’t careful, then. Mycroft didn’t know why he expected anything different.
“Angela is requesting orders, sir.”
Anthea is seated on the other side of the long, fourteen-foot table; she has her shoes and jacket off in a rare moment of vulnerability. Mycroft knows better— she has a gun and taser on her at all times.
“Tell her to wait for instructions. We may or may not provide reinforcements.”
She nods, and begins to tap away at her blackberry. He stops her— an amendment.
“Tell her that she is not to, under any circumstances, leave for this hotel before the listed time. To wait for more instructions.”
Anthea nods once more— she has faith in her sister, but more than that she has faith in him, and his ability to bring to safety the only thing she cares about.
The only thing his brother cares about.
Of course there will be reinforcements.
Of course there will be a happy ending.
He is making calls to an American acquaintance when he receives an email from a predictably disposable address: a url to seven online news articles.
All of them use the same photograph.
All of them spell disaster.
He calls them in alphabetical order—
“You will remove your article on Sherlock Holmes.”
“Your television programme will be thanked greatly if you do so.”
“You will find that in some cases, the solvency of your multinational cooperation is of greater significance than— what did you call it? Ah, yes. Journalistic Integrity? You will not air this segment. Yes, thank you. My apologies for waking you up at such an hour, I know how hard it is to catch sleep in times like these.”
It is not tonight that he learns the current state of his brother. He’s known for quite some time— he’s had no time for a visit, however. He makes a note for the cleaners: air out Sherlock’s old room, fit it with clean sheets and remove the dust he insisted they let accumulate. Retain any evidence Dr. Watson has undoubtedly planted. The man is nothing if not loyal.
He pours himself another two fingers of scotch. It helps him think more loosely, keeps him from circling trains of thought— it does not make him sleepy. Not anymore.
No one has brought this information to him— new information on Richard Brook, solidifying Moriarty’s identity and guilt, and freeing Sherlock’s name. Someone had found the information, deemed it significant, and sent it to all western news corporations without his knowledge?
Moriarty was planning something bigger than murder and kidnapping.
Mycroft played with the ring on his finger, ignoring the sun that crept ever slowly into his study as he thought, and drank, and worried.
The van rumbled down the highway, merging and swerving around smaller cars and pot holes. This van was silver, and quite a bit older than the one they had used in Atlanta— it was about to fall apart, and everyone felt it in the way it jolted, the way it breaked, the way it turned.
No one had spoke as they loaded up the van. No one spoke as they drove in it.
Earpieces and microphones had been re-applied, but they were not planning on being separated for any time longer than it took to secure the area— that was not Moriarty’s plan. Nor was it Mycroft’s.
Mary was cleaning her gun. Angela’s knuckles were white, gripping onto the steering wheel like she was trying to suffocate it. Craig’s face was just as bleached.
John could have said a thousand things to comfort him, but he knew that Craig had heard them all.
He stayed silent.
The city passed by them in blocks— bridges and buildings and overpasses zoomed around them. For all of the hype, New York City was not an attractive place. It had little history— its skyscrapers were blocky and concrete and grey, like the sky, like the pavement, like the mood.
Grey and unattractive and overpriced.
They parked in a parking garage not too far from the hotel, and Angela gave them all two guns: one to hide and one to be found.
No one spoke as they walked to the hotel.
He’d decided to dress up for this.
Not dress up, how he’d been dressing up lately— as a ruthless but ultimately low-ladder businessman, with a strong southern accent and a birthmark like a thumbprint on his forehead— but in a crisp suit and his favourite tie.
The bathroom was just as lavish, with gold and red accents keeping the eye from wandering to the indisputable fact that the walls has been painted with nothing but a base coat of beige. He supposed he could forgive, if only because of the marble counter and the bathtub with the little feet.
He liked this place. It was comfortable— the bed certainly was. He slept so soundly, even with his two damsels tied to chairs trying to mumble to themselves off to the side.
They were polite, at least— after he’d told them to stop talking, they’d stopped. He was such a light sleeper.
He heard a rap on the door; then a large head interrupted his time alone.
Jim Moriarty scowled.
“What did I tell you about interrupting me when I’m getting ready?”
He fixed his tie, adjusted his cuff links- tiny skulls, to match his tie, to match his socks.
“Sorry Sir. You told us to let you know when they were ready.”
“And I also told you not to interrupt me when I’m getting ready. Didn’t I?”
He smiled at the hulkish man behind him through the mirror. Ran a wet comb through his wet hair, slicking back any loose strands.
It was not a friendly smile. The man got the hint, and excused himself— Jim continued his routine. There was nothing that wouldn’t stop him.
One of Mycroft’s runners had given them the keys of a family who had been staying in the hotel for access— they had entered the hotel without a problem. Angela had wanted to take the stairs, but her sister’s email had made it explicit that the lift was the only option— She was the one who ultimately pressed the up button, waiting in front of the other three for the lift to arrive.
Craig is fidgeting with the back of his shirt, afraid that the gun is showing.
Mary swats at his hand, silently telling him to stop.
The door gives them a single ding in warning of the doors opening. The lift is empty.
If Mycroft was successful, the entire hotel should be empty, save for the sixteenth floor.
The lift itself is small, and the mirrors installed on the walls give the four no impression of space. They are shoulder to shoulder, silent and stressed. They each have a gun to be disarmed and a gun to be used.
They all know the plan, and they each have their own ideas about it.
Angela knows what she’s supposed to do, but she’s on her second night without sleep, and while it doesn’t show she’s hoping it won’t affect her reaction time.
Craig knows what he’s supposed to do— cause a distraction, stay out of the way— but knows what he’s going to do instead.
Mary knows what she’s supposed to do, but she also knows what Craig is planning on doing and is trying to fit both situations together.
John knows what he’s supposed to do, but he also knows what he must do.
The moment the elevator doors open to the sixteenth floor, the power goes out. No one knows whether that’s Moriarty’s or Mycroft’s doing, but they realise that this doesn’t matter.
There is no one in sight. They split up— Angela and Craig together take the left, Mary takes the right.
John knows better.
He takes the stairs to the rooftop.
It’s a short walk to the stairwell, and starting at the foot of it is a trail of rose petals— John crushes them beneath his feet, hearing nothing but feeling the slight slickness under his shoes.
He gives himself a moment at the door to the rooftop— to rush out of the door would be foolish, headstrong— but he cut this time short, allowing himself an inhale of slightly tobacco-tinged air, and half of a slow, silent exhale before he presses the door open. The gun is in the room before he is— he checks the corners.
He hears him before he sees him.
“Well, hey there, Johnny boy...”
The fairy lights strung from the fences and tables and gazebos are off— all the light comes from the moonlight and the city, dim and yellow. There is an aristocratic garden up here- tall grass and leather sofas and entire trees. There are mirrors on every surface that will hold them, and in them there are dozens of wary John Watsons.
There is the voice of James Moriarty.
“Looks like you’ve wandered from the pack, John... Are you looking for Princess and the Brute? You’re not gonna find them up here.”
He’s speaking with a strong southern accent. He could be anywhere. He could be nowhere. He could be behind the tree or under the sofa or speaking through a microphone in England...
John held his breath, checking all the corners, keeping away from the centre of the rooftop. He trusted Mycroft’s men to have secured the premises, but he knew how this game was played.
“My, you’re feeling social today, aren’t you? You were never the one to do the talking, though, were you. Where’s your mouth? Didn’t you invite him?”
Sudden, hot breath on his neck. The scent of sugary bubblegum filled the air.
“I would have loved to see you and him together again...”
John whipped around, aiming the butt of his pistol where Moriarty’s head would be— should have been.
The other man had, predictably, predicted the blow. Ducked and ran.
James Moriarty stood in front of him, in the flesh, giggling. Not an arms-length away.
“No, no, that’s not how this story goes, John. You don’t get to take me to big, mean Mycroft. Not tonight. No, I’ll tell you how it’s going to go.”
He straightened his jacket.
“How it’s going to go, of course, is—”
He stopped talking. Or maybe he hadn’t— John wasn’t sure how many words he had actually gotten in.
He couldn’t hear him over the bang of the gunshot.
John’s hands were hot under the metal, his arms still buzzed with the motion they’d endured— he could have sworn he felt James Moriarty’s blood spattered on his face. He didn’t give himself much time to feel anything other than that— he ducked, putting himself between the sofa and the tall grass and out of the way of the snipers undoubtedly hiding in some taller neighbouring building.
And, as another shot lodged itself in the leather of the sofa above his head, John thinks to call for help.
He thinks, he’s going to be in a lot of trouble for this.
He doesn’t give a shit.
Chapter 32: Morocco
He keeps falling into these pits.
AND WE'RE BACK! This chapter is short because I wrote it all today- this semester was too long and too taxing and working of course didn't help but I needed to get something to you! I'm working on ch 33 tomorrow, though, and as an apology for this chapter being so lacking, I'm going to post it as soon as it's done/looked over. Speaking of that, as of right now this edition of chapter 32 has NOT been looked over by my normal britpicker/beta reader/cheerleader Mary, so any and all errors are obviously my fault, ahhhh
I reworked the structure for the chapters a little bit: as it was this section and the section before were supposed to be the very middle sections of five, with equal chapters before and after them, but I realised that it would simply not work. I've cut a few chapters and merged them into something that still resembles the previous structure but will work better as a narrative that isn't tedious; As it is we're looking at 47 chapters total instead of the previous 58. Which works better because if I keep posting things every friday, it means we'll be finished by 2 August, 2013, which is odd as hell because that's almost exactly a year to the day that I started work on this fic (3 August, 2012)
But anyways, that's that, I'm glad we're back! I'm glad you're back! Let's get moving!
In four seconds, he will open his eyes. For now, though, he’s comfortable. He’s on the sofa, his head cradled on the lap of a union jack pillow, his two hands steeples under his chin. He is thinking. He is solving. There is nothing better than that.
In three seconds, he will open his eyes. For now, though, he’s feeling all right, definitely all right enough to keep lying down. He thinks, maybe, he’s actually in bed; yes, he feels the soft fabric of his sheets pulled across his body. He’s decided to sleep in his suit, he thinks- he’d been up for so long, he didn’t have the time to change or even take his shoes off. Strange.
In two seconds, he will open his eyes. For now, though, he’s feeling a bit peculiar. He thinks, perhaps, there might be something crawling on his arm; a spider, or a small fly. He wills himself to keep from swatting it off— he thinks, maybe, he is not at home at all, and it would seem rude to swat at someone else’s spiders. He forgets why he thinks that.
In one second, he will open his eyes. He’s looking forward to that moment, but he must exercise his restraint— he feels someone’s eyes looking at him, and he’s pretty sure he can hear them laughing. He doesn’t feel safe here. He realises for the first time that he has no idea where he is.
It’s almost one second past, but he does not open his eyes. He feels hairy legs crawling on his face, insects in his jacket, a snake slithering past his arm, but he does not move an inch to swat them off. He does not scream as he places a face to the laughter— soft, slightly crumpled, tanned from years of service. He deserves this.
Before the fifth second is up, his eyes burst wide.
Sherlock gasps, then proceeds to breathe deeply for several long, legato moments. He hears his heart beat. He sees stars. He jumps to his feet to swat the bugs and snakes and spiders off of him, even though he knows that nothing will be there.
He surveys his surroundings.
He had been home— thankfully. Not on the bed, nor on the sofa— it seems that in his sleep he had fallen onto the floor, wedged in between the coffee table.
All of the furniture had been pushed to the sides, all the walls covered with tape and information— and nothing led him anywhere. Months of leads and it led him to more dead ends than in all of Crete, more thread than Ariadne. Moriarty was good, and Sherlock was better, he knew he was better, but he just needed time. He needed more resources.
He needed to stop falling asleep.
He had fallen asleep again and had had a nightmare.
No, he hadn’t.
When he stands up, he kicks something under the sofa, where it had been collecting dust for some months beforehand. Let it collect dust. He’d always come back to brush it off in the end.
He finds nothing in the cupboards. Nothing in the fridge. Someone’s taken the table and the chairs that go with it— maybe Mrs. Hudson has been rescuing her furniture.
Maybe’s he’s sold them.
He tries to remember.
John Watson died today.
It’s all over the news— it always is. Every week, another John Watson dies. They’ve— Moriarty’s lackeys— stopped looking for people who look like John. Now they’re just killing any bloke unfortunate enough to be named John Watson. It’s a sniper who’s killing them; they’re shooting them through windows from other buildings.
That’s seven Watsons, dead. And they still think that Sherlock has something to do with it.
Well, it’s not Sherlock’s fault that everyone’s an idiot who doesn’t want the truth, only the most interesting climax. No one can distinguish the 10 o’clock news from the movies anymore. No one wants to. If Sherlock lives or dies, who cares? He’s just another character.
He never quite liked fiction. Couldn’t bring himself to care.
Anyways, he already had a method of escapism that worked just well enough for him, thank you.
Later. Always later. There was no fun in indulgence.
He grabbed his laptop from the floor and sat on the kitchen floor, feeling the coolness of the tile seep through the fabric of his trousers. He had been wearing his suit. It felt odd, ill-fitting.
He stretched his fingers before typing in the search bar; flexing lithe digits stiff from disuse. Where was his violin? When was the last time he played it?
He didn’t feel like looking for it. He didn’t feel like playing it.
He felt like something, though.
No. No, not that again. You were doing so well. Cold Turkey, remember?
Cold Turkey. Uncertain etymology, surfacing around 1910-1920s. American Origin, possibly from the phrase ‘to talk turkey,’ meaning to discuss something seriously. Possibly because of the little preparation that goes into meals involving cold turkey after holiday dinners.
This is useless.
He checks the news online, which mostly includes opening a new tab, browsing through it for four seconds, and closing it in tedium. He changes his sitting position— sitting up, laying down, on his side, crossed-legged— but can’t seem to get comfortable.
He thinks he might be hungry. He can’t figure it out. Instead, he decides to forget about that and the cold on his skin, the way his hair knotted at the ends.
He keeps falling into these pits.
He keeps letting himself.
His one weakness is himself, he knows this— he prided himself upon it, once upon a time when it was still true. His only weakness was his selfishness. He would do exactly what he needed to do for himself. Nothing more, nothing less. Why would he?
He used to like to think of John Watson as a sort of extension of himself, so as to not break his well-tried model above— caring, defined here as a desire to ensure wellbeing, is only necessary when one speaks of one’s self. He cared for Sherlock, who cared only for Sherlock, and who was the only person who cared for Sherlock— that made him Sherlock, for the purposes of this exercise.
He doesn’t think of John Watson anymore.
Not without the blood seeping through all of his jumpers, his blog turned red and dried brown. Not without seeing him, not very far away and about a storey higher. Not without hearing his voice, just within earshot.
Not without wanting to tear his hair from his roots.
Chapter 33: Tread Lightly
The other man was silent. He had steepled his fingers— he was thinking. His eyes were closed, but Greg knew better than to assume that it meant that he could stare at him with impunity.
He stared all the same.
“There needs to be a better way.”
“I don’t see why you’re suddenly so against the idea of using him, Lestrade. You were perfectly fine with him barging in on all of our cases for all those years.”
Dimmock had backed Greg into his office, crowding what little space he had been assigned as Detective Constable. He had been late getting into work and was already saddled with a slew of paperwork to fill out; another one of Dimmock’s power trips was the last thing he that he needed.
Instead of telling him off (as he so, so wanted to), Greg waved him away (like he knew he had to; Dimmock was a superior now, even though he was a friend, eight years his junior, and sort of a prat).
“No— definitely not. I can’t even get involved anymore, remember? This is your case now. I’m too close to it. Sherlock’s definitely too close to it. You really don’t want to bring him day by day to a new scene of the death of John Watson, do you?”
The younger man shrugged, as Greg knew he would.
“Do you really think he cares that much? It’ll get his mind off of things. It’ll help us, at any rate— killer’s not leaving anything at the scenes.”
“You’re not still looking for evidence in the victim’s flats, are you? They’re snipers, they won’t be there. You should look for—”
“Ah— I think I know what I’m doing here, Lestrade. I’ve got people looking at both. I’ve got a few quite sound theories myself, but it would be nice to have Holmes here to... string them together, if you will.”
Greg kept himself from rolling his eyes.
“Well, I won’t. He shouldn’t be included. Leave him be.”
In response, Dimmock laughed.
“Oh, I’ll give you a week.”
“Sherlock, just— get out of the flat. Come with me. For a few hours.”
The grey-haired detective stood a living room that was much too small for him— the ceiling and walls were, undoubtedly, up there, but exactly where they were hiding under the paper chaos was above him. It smelt strongly of sweat and cigarette smoke, and while both reminded him gently that Sherlock was human, human as the rest of them (as if he needed reminding), only one concerned him.
He was losing patience— at the strings that tangled in his hair, at the information that they tied together, at the man lying on the floor by his feet in his pyjamas.
Especially the man lying on the floor by his feet in his pyjamas.
“No, no, I don’t think so. Much too busy.”
“Busy? Doing what? Sherlock, it doesn’t look like you’ve left the flat in months.”
Sherlock sat up, glaring at Greg in disdain; as if sitting up made Greg’s observation more wrong. He waved his arm around him, at the newspaper clippings and twine.
“Do you not see the state of this room? Busy, Lestrade. Very much so.”
And he flopped back down onto the rug.
Greg scowled, stepping over the overgrown child to sit on the sofa— he had to push several newspapers off of it to make a space for himself.
“Sherlock. You can’t just sit in here. You’re needed.”
“On what? The murders that Moriarty’s had you running around over? Boring. There’s nothing interesting in that case. Give me something difficult.”
“We don’t know the killer yet. We thought you might like to come and look at the newest crime scene? Not where the victim was killed, the place where the killer was.”
The other man was silent. He had steepled his fingers— he was thinking. His eyes were closed, but Greg knew better than to assume that it meant that he could stare at him with impunity.
He stared all the same.
He looked more gaunt, more pale than normal; and that was, of course, saying something. The silk dressing gown obscured most of his gaze from the jagged angles and possible (probable? Unlikely? Inevitable?) track marks. He worried in a way that he felt unique to Sherlock: knowing that the younger man would deserve it fully if something finally got the better of him and killed him, but hoping that it wouldn’t.
He didn’t know if it was his imagination, but there was something minutely off about Sherlock’s expression: the creases in his eyes were perhaps deeper, the furrow in his brow more scared. It could be a residue of the memory of sitting next to him on a woman’s couch, not five months ago, watching him keep himself from emotion after Moriarty had got the best of him again.
It was about this time, wasn’t it, that John Watson jumped? Lestrade couldn’t remember the exact date, but he knew it was in the beginning of May. The weather was the same.
Now Sherlock was looking at him.
“Will you? Come with me, I mean. It won’t take more than a few hours. A bit of time outside might be exactly what you need.”
He rolled his eyes in response.
“Just tell me what you know. I’ll tell you what’s important.”
It was Greg’s turn to roll his eyes.
“That’s the thing; everything we think is important isn’t leading us anywhere. We know it has something to do with Moriarty, and with his... game, with you. But he’s not— there aren’t any postcards to you anymore. Really, other than the fact that he’s obviously gearing the kills towards you But we can’t find anything on the actual sniper.”
“Have you tried looking through military files? British, American, or otherwise?”
“British and American. We’ve been looking through every file for a record of as impressive a shot as your sniper is.”
Greg was hesitant; Sherlock’s breathing had hitched, he’d sensed it, so he had to continue. Best not make a big deal out of everything.
“John was on the list. He was a pretty good shot, for a doctor.”
An eyeroll. He should have known better than to try and incite Sherlock with the usual methods.
“Well then, that’s one less person you have to monitor, isn’t it?”
“That’s the problem. There aren’t enough people on the list without an alibi. Most of them are on duty. We have to factor in the chance that if he’s working for Moriarty, his records have been destroyed.”
“You seem to have thought of everything, Lestrade. Why did you come to me for?”
Such disdain in his voice. It was quite obvious that he wanted Greg to leave.
“Because I know that you’re interested in this case. And we’re not going to talk about why you’re not taking it, but...”
He ran a hand through his hair. He wanted a cigarette: He had tried to keep himself from indulging too much, but he had started up again.
It was hard to keep one’s self from the things that comfort you. He knew that.
“I think that you should at least try to leave the flat. It’s not— It’s not good. Not at all.”
In response, Sherlock rolled onto his stomach, then leapt to his feet, head caught in the twine against the ceiling. He knocked a few printed news clippings from their hold as he untangled himself from his own web, careless to what it was that had fallen.
“I will applaud you on your improvement in tactic, Lestrade; you were infinitely more likely to engage me in one of your paternal nurturing sessions with a case than your previous attempts to ‘take me out for a pint.’ “
He looked even worse now that gravity had taken hold of him: hungry features, hungry eyes. He looked scarily familiar.
“I could still take you out for that pint. Or a bite to eat; you look like you could use one. Or twelve.”
He earned himself the predicted Holmes Glare— he eased himself up from the couch as Sherlock disappeared into the kitchen, hearing the bones in his knees creak.
“Where’s the furniture, Sherlock?”
The kitchen was bare: the table and chairs, the plates, the experiments and canned food were gone.
“Irrelevant. Please, do go on wasting my time asking me to do your job for you, it was such a decent way to spend my time.”
“Sherlock, I’m only trying to help.”
The younger man wheeled around to face him, the tattered silk material billowing around him in ways that reminded Greg of a coat he hadn’t seen in exactly a year.
When Sherlock spoke again, he was predictably sarcastic, and a little angry.
“You. Well, the case, too— it needs to be solved and Dimmock’s being ridiculous as usual, doing one thing because you suggested the opposite, but even he wants your opinion. It’s...”
He met Sherlock’s eyes for a second: Sherlock was not the type to break eye contact, and today was no different. It was Greg that found the iced hue of Sherlock’s eyes uncomfortable.
He was interrupted before he could say anything embarrassing.
“If you plan to say anything about the date, or checking on me, or visiting anything, I recommend that you reconsider, Lestrade. Quickly. My patience is tiring.”
And again, before Lestrade could properly open his mouth to speak: a dangerous dawn on Sherlock’s face. His eyes widened, his mouth made that ‘O’ that it formed when he was about to go running off without explanation.
“Of— of course. Of course!”
And he spun around, exiting the kitchen into his room with a slam of the door.
He yelled to Lestrade through the glass, though:
“I didn’t think it necessary to engage in such traditional trifles such as visiting a gravesite on the day of death, but of course that’s obvious— that’s obvious of me. Moriarty would assume that I wouldn’t go, and so that must be where we have to go! Do you have a gun on you? Could be dangerous...”
“What? Of course I don't, Sherlock. What are you on about now?”
“Oh, Don’t be slow, Lestrade! Keep up! Weather’s not too cold, is it? We’ll have to do some walking.”
“Sherlock— It’s May, it’s not cold—”
“Good, Good. I’ll take that bite to eat, Lestrade, if you’re still offering, and then we’ll head out to the graveyard.”
When he re-entered the kitchen, he was dressed in one of his standard tight-fitting suits (a little less tight-fitting than normal: his hair, not as perfectly styled, cheekbones more prominent), tucking a gun into the back of his trousers.
Greg knew better than to wonder where he’d gotten himself a handgun, and why he was planning to take it out to dinner with them. It would be a waste of breath to ask.
They went to a diner not far from Sherlock’s flat— Lestrade ordered a coffee for himself and a full breakfast for Sherlock. He ate faster than some of the homeless would, whenever he brought them food; he was sopping up the egg yolks with bits of toast before Greg’s coffee had even cooled.
He kept his worrying to himself; nothing good could come from treating Sherlock Holmes like a child. One only had to look at his relationship with his bother to confirm that.
Greg tried to enjoy the pleasure in a cooling cup of coffee in a diner in the morning, at Sherlock sitting in one place: the younger man seemed determined to ruin whatever pleasure that held, drumming his fingers at the table, his right leg bouncing rapidly up and down in— anticipation? Boredom? He hoped.
It didn’t take long for Sherlock to convince him to just leave the damn coffee and leave (one could never be entirely sure how long one could get away without Sherlock making a scene; Greg decided not to chance it); they took a cab to the graveyard.
It was silent for a long time; it was Greg’s turn to drum his fingers on the plastic interior.
“Why was John buried in London? Doesn’t he come from— North, somewhere?”
He asked the question to the open air, really— it was only too late that he realised that Sherlock was there.
He received a shallow grunt in reply. That was all he expected to get.
“Alcoholism runs in the family.”
As if it explained everything.
He supposed it had.
It took about twenty minutes before Greg found himself remembering the place: almost one year ago he and a few co-workers took this street to the funeral, he remembered that street name, or that house. It had been a nice day: warm for the month, cloudy. It hadn’t rained while they stood around the empty hole that would soon house Dr. Watson, but it had about an hour beforehand and so the group of around twenty people stood on soft mud around the hole, the coffin, and the machine that slowly lowered the coffin into the hole.
It was a tiny cemetery, its face covered by a tall brick wall and a black gate, just wide enough for a car to fit through. The taxi did not enter: Sherlock had the cabbie drop them off on the streets.
Sherlock entered first, opening the pedestrian gate with the air he held when passing under police tape. He didn’t know where to go, though— he waited until Greg was comfortably in front of him to continue walking.
Greg had vaguely remembered where the plot was: there was... a Left here, and it should be down the road some... Hm, maybe it was a right.
No, he was sure that tree was farther away than that.
Maybe they needn’t have turned at all.
“For a detective, Lestrade, you are frighteningly inobservant.”
“Oh, shut it, Sherlock. I haven’t been here in a year, and then it was only the once.”
It was starting to rain; that thin drizzle that barely even tried to make anything wet.
“You honestly have never been here? Not even once?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes before he shrugged.
He would have answered, it seemed, had it not been for something across Lestrade’s shoulder that caught his attention:
“Come on. This way. Careful.”
He sped past Greg, who spun around to follow him to what, as they neared, looked like a freshly-dug hole.
Directly in front of the stone that read John Watson’s name.
“Christ— I need to call this in. Sherlock—”
He could sense what the other man was about to do.
It was more of a warning than a comfort: one that he already knew would not be heeded. Greg wasn’t surprised when the tall figure jumped into the fresh pit.
“Coffin’s been broken open.”
“Oh. Well, that’s great. By all means, Sherlock, make sure your DNA is on everything in there.”
“Body’s still here, too. Well. The bones. But they’re consistent with his height and stature.”
“Why did someone want to— do this? Dig up the bones?”
“Obvious. DNA. They’re sceptical that it’s actually Watson. The real question is: why now? At one year even hair has decomposed off of a body. Something must have tipped them off.”
“But it’s not—”
Greg pointed into the hole, at the bones. Before he could restart the sentence, Sherlock spoke up.
“Ah, no, here. There’s still some hair near the collar.”
Sherlock had pulled a small plastic baggie out of one of his pockets, using that to store the single hair he pulled from the dead, decomposing skin of his former friend.
Greg helped him out of the hole. It was raining properly now: tiny drops of water fell on their shoulders and in their hair, greening the grass that stood all around the brown circle of dirt they stood in. Sherlock was breathing heavily; he hadn’t done much physical activity in a while, it seemed.
He held the baggie up, squinting at the tiny line that was held in it.
“If someone else has doubts on the identity of the body buried here, it’d be optimal for ourselves to be sure also. I hope I still have my microscope—”
“Sherlock, I confirmed the body. I was there, with him, in the mortuary. It’s John.”
Sherlock frowned at the mention of the first name.
“Were you there the entire time? In the funeral home? At the service? There are several points in time where someone would have switched the body. It was open-casket, of course, so it must have been after the service; it would be so easy to swap the body...”
Greg frowned, but decided against stating the obvious.
“Come on, then. Let’s get you back to your lab.”
Chapter 34: Bootprints
Sherlock frowned. He plucked one last chord, finding the two only notes in the world that could explain his thoughts and letting them feel for him.
The tiny hair had made it safely home in 221B, where Sherlock found his microscope under the sink and set up on the floor where the table once was, plucking a short blonde hair from the round armchair he had refused to let anyone sit on for comparison.
The analysis took less than forty eight hours: it was a match. Both the hairs were John’s.
How, Sherlock didn’t quite understand.
He’d torn the strings and pictures and pages from the walls where they had nested: he threw them all on the ground, destructed everything and reorganised them. Data and news clippings and interviews, cut up and rearranged: they all pointed to something, and all of them were that John Watson wasn’t buried in that suit, in that hole, in London. He’d worked on this for months. A year.
John Watson didn’t die when he fell off that building across the street from St. Barts, a little over one year ago. There should have been blood: brains. They should have taken days to sew the remains together. How did he get the money for a plot in London? And why would he, when he had a hometown to be buried in?
He probably died sometime after that, still in Moriarty’s hands, long after Jim had thought that I would have had the sense to break out of jail and keep playing the game.
It was good to remember that part.
But, apparently, it was John Watson down there, suit and hair rotting off his bones, casket broken apart. The break in and subsequent digging up of the body solicited little response from the press— Mycroft’s doing, no doubt. The news just didn’t touch it. The grave was covered in a too-green sod by the dawn of the next week, after the police had had their fill.
Shame. He could have stood to study the curvature of that skull a little more finely. See if the cheekbones matched up from those photos he took at Christmastime in the optimal lighting.
It would balance the mantle, at any rate. Friends of mine, he’d smile to the next person a colleague sends to him in search of a roommate.
Sherlock smiled to himself, to spite the pit that formed in his stomach at the thought.
Lestrade came to the flat a few days later: He stood in the doorway, surprised at the sudden cleanliness of the place (relative to the past: the papers that had stuck themselves to the wall with threads and bits of tape were presently lying in dampening molehills by the open window). Sherlock, dressed and cradling his violin, stood just behind the curtains, looking out onto the bright day with distaste. In greeting, Sherlock nodded once to Lestrade, continuing his practice of very deliberately moving his fingers up and down the neck of the instrument only to stop and play a single chord of discontent and melancholy, letting it ring out to the flat and the street below him before playing another.
“Official results are in. It’s Watson’s body.”
“Well, that was an obvious conclusion. I ran my own tests on samples that I trust; I came to the same conclusion.”
“That’s not all. There were fingerprints all over the place.”
“No, yours showed up, of course, but we were expecting that. There was another set, along with some bootprints.”
Sherlock frowned. He plucked one last chord, finding the two only notes in the world that could explain his thoughts and letting them feel for him. He turned, finally, to face the detective:
“I didn’t see any bootprints.”
“Neither did I. They must have been put there after. It rained for about an hour after we left, it must have been done after that.”
“But probably not much longer, I’d assume. We were being watched. Did the prints match anyone?”
“A... Sean McCormick. Runs some online shop specialising in selling cooking products. His store is active, as is his bank account, facebook page, and cell phone. He’s apparently a weekly regular at The Diamond Column, a pub in Leeds where his parents live: There’re pictures of him up on the wall, and tabs on his debit card every Saturday. But here’s the thing: No one has any recollection of him. His parents don’t exist. Everyone who has any meaningful relationship to him over facebook doesn’t exist. Sean McCormick seems to be just another dead end.”
In response, Sherlock steepled his fingers.
“The website. Have you tracked the IP address? If the shop is running, they must be shipping form somewhere. Have you—”
“Of course we have. Shipping out of some old factory in Leeds. Completely empty when we were there. No hints, no clues.”
“Of course there wasn’t. Sean McCormick isn’t the killer. He’s the clue.”
“Clue? I thought he was done giving you clues.”
“Oh, no. I’ve disappointed him. I didn’t play by his rules, I missed a step. He thinks I need them now. This, the Watson deaths, everything that he’s doing that makes it to the public eye... There will be more clues that will undoubtedly lead to your killer, and through him, Moriarty. He’s making things easy for me.”
He smiled. Lestrade didn’t get it.
“Why? Why would he make it easier for you to catch him?”
“Because he wants to kill me.”
His smile grew. Then faltered.
“Oh, don’t you see? I had beaten him. Last May. I had beaten him by playing dumb but I misjudged the weakness he would play to and he won because of it. But now he wants to make things easy for me, he wants to make me angry. He wants to drag me closer to him in a fury so when he comes to finally kill me, I won’t expect it. My reputation was first, but he doesn’t understand loyalty. And he doesn’t understand me, either.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Of course it wouldn’t. Not to you. Now let’s check out this Sean McCormick, shall we?”
He’d sat down next to Lestrade, laptop in hand; barely hidden under the hundred-dollar cologne he smelt thickly of cigarettes and stale sweat. He pulled up an internet browser and rapidly typed in the subject’s name: his online shop was the first to come up. It was a garish display of the worst kind of web design; Sherlock scowled.
“The Marinate Snob. How... Trite.”
“Hey, we’re not here to critique names of made up web sites. Can you tell anything by the website?”
Lestrade sounded hopeful. Not in the way that he was used to (with John, he would ask because he was excited to know the answer— could you really?) but with a familiar sort of desperation, a please, tell me you can in between the end of the sentence and the full stop.
It ushered less challenge than, say, any Adler or Moriarty could, but it did the trick. He fired up his brain.
“This website isn’t hosted by some free provider that gives you templates and helps you along the way: Someone wrote this code. Someone who knows what they’re doing, but was told to act as if they didn’t. This is a farce. It checks every box on the do not do list of web design. The cursor is a tiny steak, it’s all in... some terrible font. It’s a mess. But the code is impeccable— someone who does all of Moriarty’s computer work. Maybe it was Moriarty himself.”
“And what does that tell us?”
“That this is where we start looking.”
The weeks passed slowly.
(Slowly? How could time move slowly? How could time move any faster or slower than it does normally, if fast and slow are adjectives to describe spatial comparisons of time A and time B? How does a day drag? How does an hour tick?)
The mess had reappeared in 221B: this time it littered the floor, clothes and papers and a tall man lying in the middle of them, sweating and sleeping.
A young woman stood in the doorway: she had been called for by the same man that lie sleeping on the hard wood floor beneath her.
Mrs. Hudson behind her. Her stern look was unfamiliar but well-practiced; she would have made an excellent mother, had she gotten the chance. Loving, laughing, with good food and warm blankets and a tone like that to pull out in circumstances like these.
“Sherlock, get up. Sherlock!”
He stirred. His eyes rolled in their lids, opened, closed.
He eased himself up. Rolled his shirt sleeve down.
“Oh. Oh, yes. Hello, Dorian.”
Dorian was a small girl of about twenty, twenty one. She had mousy brown hair and a definitely homeless air about her.
She also had a notebook in her hands, which was all that mattered to Sherlock at the moment.
“Oh, oh, yes. Good. Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.”
He stretched his back, pulling his arms back behind him and leaning forward. A minute nod towards the couch invited Dorian in. A tiny smile saw Mrs. Hudson out.
“Did you talk to all of them?”
Oh, dear. She was actually sitting on the couch. There’d be fleas all over it.
“Yessir. Was Jus’ chattin’ with the last’un before I realised the time. Came back here hastily.”
“Good. Give me that notebook.”
She stretched her arm out, gently. She had been a ballerina in a past life, before she’d found herself on the streets.
She was afraid of him. He could tell by the way she wouldn’t look him in the eye: by the way she avoided the spots where he would look for her unless it was winter or she was hungry.
He snatched the book out of her hand and she jumped.
He leafed through the book greedily, glad that she had decent handwriting. Not like the last one.
“You could have stood to have been a bit more thorough with your research, Dorian. But this will do, yes.”
She took that as a queue to leave; she eased herself from the couch.
“It’s fine, it’s— it was no problem, Mr. Holmes...”
“No, If you could say, please. I would like to hear you speak about your interviews as I read them. It helps to alleviate discrepancies.”
Upset as she was, she stayed. He turned to page one.
“All right. Lieutenant Harold Fitz..”
Undocumented Ex-Military. Probably English. Mostly likely male. Unbelievably good shot.
He paid the most trustworthy of his network to clean up and go to all of the houses on a list of twenty veterans, posing as a journalist scraping for war stories. Of the twenty, four of them had stories of an unruly Colonel. In Service during the Iraq War, he was the protagonist of many a violent story, laughing with a cigarette dangling from his lips and blood on his hands (sometimes literally). He could shoot a man in the left eye at 1000 meters. No one knew where he was now. Each of them called him by a different name.
It took him two days to throw away the useless information, stumbling back on Moriarty’s clue:
The Diamond Column. The Marinate Snob.
Colonel Sebastian Moran.
Anagrams and Allusions. That was what he’d been reduced to.