John sighed, looking over the invitation Sherlock had just handed him. “Geoffrey Jones? Really?”
“Going as Sherlock Holmes would defeat the purpose of under cover work. Don’t worry, you’re ‘Plus One,’” he said playfully. “Black tie.”
“Well, we’ll need to get me something. My last bit of formal wear lost a knife fight, if you remember. And if were going to be engaged or something, absolutely no hickeys above my collar line. I’m too old to be explaining that shit at work the next day.”
Sherlock gave him an evil half-smile. “So below the collar--”
“Not if you can help it? You know the rules—just enough heavy petting to keep up the cover. Now who the hell are we watching at this thing? The client’s husband knows us both already.”
Sherlock waved a hand. “Oh no. The husband wont even be there. We’re watching the husband’s lover’s other lover.”
John rolled his eyes. “If this case gets any more complicated I am going to need you to draw me a diagram. So. Watching the husband’s lover’s other lover—did I say that right? Is going to lead us to the murderer.”
“Right. There’s nothing complicated about it. Crabtree is sleeping with Emily Varton who is sleeping with Colleen West. See? Very simple. Now we need to get you fitted--”
“Colleen West?” John asked tentatively. “Colleen Clair West, visual artist who paints with blood, Colleen West?”
“You two know her work?”
“You could say that. We lived together for two years. I may have been the subject of her ‘Decimation of the Human Soul’ series. I can’t go to this thing with you, Sherlock.”
“Oh come on. She’s got to be over it by now.”
“She didn’t start painting in blood until after we broke up.”
“Well, then I have a problem. I can’t go to this thing alone. I will look unsociable.”
John handed the invitation back to Sherlock. “So, basically you’ll be being yourself?”
Sherlock flung himself into his chair dramatically. “Well, the list of people I have not irritated lately is incredibly short. I suppose I could take Mrs. Hudson. She can be a wealthy widow I am trying to seduce. That could be fun.”
“I put my foot down somewhere, Sherlock. You are not dragging Mrs. Hudson into danger. You at least need someone who can run fast in a pinch.”
“Well, John. Since you’re the one who mucked this up by being rubbish with women who paint with biohazardous materials, YOU get to find me a date. I’m sure your address book is just full of names to choose from.”
John took out his phone. “No, Sherlock. The list of people in my address book that you’ve not pissed off numbers in the ones. I think your choices are Lestrade or Molly.”
“Molly!” Sherlock shouted before the name was even fully out of John’s mouth. “Lestrade will enjoy tormenting me the entire night.”
John pulled up her number on his phone. “Seriously. If I do this, you’d better be nice to Molly. She is a genuinely nice human being who, for god knows what reason, puts up with all of your shenanigans.”
“YOU put up with my ‘shenanigans,’ as you call them.”
“I’m not a nice human being.”
“Point noted and accepted. Tell her I will provide the dress. Her sense of style is… lacking.”
“That’s exactly what I mean, Sherlock. Don’t say things like that to her. SHOCKINGLY Women don’t find it flattering when you tell them they dress like dowdy school marms.”
“Your words, not mine. I just said her taste was lacking.”
John hit ‘call’ so he wouldn’t have to continue having this discussion with Sherlock. He suspected, even if he read his flatmate the riot act, things still had a full 87% chance of going horribly awry, with Molly’s feelings being hurt. And she was nice. And she didn’t deserve that.
Sometimes, John thought on the second ring, he felt like he was Sherlock’s Jimney Cricket. It was tedious and tiring, not to mention thankless work.
“Hi, Molly, this is John. No, no, everything’s fine. Sherlock and I were just wondering if you’d be able to do us a little favor…”
He explained to her the strange details of their murder investigation and how everyone involved seemed to have a string of lovers a mile long, one of which happened to be John’s ex, and so Sherlock needed a date for the charity event he’d be investigating tonight so no one would know he was an antisocial arsehole. She didn’t need to feel obligated, and if she did want to go and have a bit of fun, he’d pay for her dress, since he was dragging her out last minute, and if she didn’t want to, he’d completely understand, but they were a bit hard up…
“John, it’s fine,” Molly told him. “It’ll be fun. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?”
John drew breath to respond with the litany of things that could possibly go wrong when you did ANYTHING with Sherlock Holmes. Even just going down to the corner bakery could end in near-drowning if conditions were right. “Probably nothing at all. He’s just people watching tonight. So, a little dinner, a little dancing. Nothing too terrible. But watch out, he likes to mark his territory with love bites. I suggest just beating him over the head with a rolled up newspaper if he gets too fresh with the public displays of affection.”
Molly laughed. “I think I can handle Sherlock.”
This was not going to end well, John thought. Especially if Molly still harbored a crush on Sherlock. “Just… don’t take it seriously. It’s all part of the act.”
“Oh I won’t. Just a bit of fun, right?” She asked the question not like she was confirming with John that it was all for fun, but like she was asking John if he knew what fun was.
“Beats a Craigslist hookup, right?” She chuckled. “I’d better go get ready. Just tell Sherlock to text me with whatever time he’ll be here. I’ll make sure the cats are put away before he arrives.”
Sherlock let himself into Molly’s flat. He always did. He did a quick look around to make sure her horrid beasts were put away. Cats, in and of themselves were not the problem. But they kept wanting to rub against him. If cats kept their distance, he quite liked them. They were aloof and sneaky little bastards. Which he could appreciate. Except when they were smearing their fur all over his trousers.
“Molly?” He called out.
“Bedroom! Just a minute!”
He knew where she was, but apparently it was polite to announce one’s presence. For some reason, he cared what John thought of him, so he’d been learning to accept John’s rather forceful “advice” on how to behave in a manner acceptable to others. He found it tedious and energy-draining, but it did make things run smoother with clients and with the police now and again.
“I have the dress,” he called out, slowly approaching the bedroom.
“Oh just bring it in, I’m mostly decent.”
Mostly decent. He wasn’t even sure what that meant.
Slowly, he opened her bedroom door. She was in her undergarments—black strapless bra, underpants so tiny he questioned their ability to perform whatever task it was the duty of underpants to perform, and black thigh-high stockings. She stood at the dresser mirror, pinning her hair up in some elaborate up-do that Sherlock could little understand the point of.
“Black stockings ok?” she asked, pushing another pin into her hair. “Oh why am I asking you?”
“A fair question. And I suppose they’re fine. One can’t go wrong with black, can they? Well, I suppose they can. But we’ll assume for the sake of getting out of here on-time that black is best for the occasion.” He pulled the dress out of the box he’d been holding and laid it flat on the bed. Low cut, off the shoulder, intricate black lace with a delicate gold silk behind it. The cut ought to be just above her knee if his estimate was right—and it always was. “I hope this will work.”
“Sherlock, I--” she stopped, touching the fabric. “I don’t even want to know how much this cost, do I?”
Sherlock shrugged. “I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t look at the receipt.”
She looked at him suspiciously. “You took your brother’s credit card again, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I can’t wait until he sees the bill from the boutique. I’ll just tell him I’ve taken up cross-dressing. Again.” He shrugged as if it were of no consequence. “Though, for the record, I look quite fetching in magenta stilettos. So I have been told.”
Molly laughed as she picked up the dress. “You should stop antagonizing him.”
“I would sooner stop breathing,” Sherlock admonished. “I would have no reason to live if it weren’t to make his day more difficult.”
She blushed and looked away as she unzipped the back of the dress.
“What?” Molly obviously knew something he didn’t.
“Nothing.” She stepped into the dress and pulled it up. “Can you help me with this?”
He stood there for a moment, processing exactly what she was asking, then zipped the dress up, slowing toward the neckline so he didn’t catch any errant hairs in it. He lowered his head to her neck, almost touching it with his lips. “What do you know about Mycroft?” he asked seductively.
She shivered. “Play nice,” she told him. “I have permission to beat you with a rolled up newspaper if you get out of line.”
“Mycroft doesn’t make it a habit of frequenting the morgue, so exactly what do you know, and how to do you know it?”
She turned around, smoothing out the dress. “Fine, I will tell you. But no more cheap seduction tactics. That won’t work on me any more.” She looked him dead in the eye to make sure he understood her, and it was a full thirty seconds before he realized she wanted his attention, and he met her eyes. “Lestrade was down in the morgue the other day. And he got a call. Your brother’s name came up on the display. Not his whole name—just his first name.”
Sherlock’s eyes grew wide. They both knew what that meant—the two were a bit more acquainted than they let on. “Tell me more.”
“His eyes lit up like it was Christmas, and he stepped out to take the call. But from what I overheard, the plans involved dinner.”
He grinned with sudden manic energy, gripping her by the shoulders and kissing her hard on the lips. “Molly, you are magic. This particular piece of gossip is worth it’s weight in gold. GOLD, Molly.” Letting go of her, he spun around in an energetic circle. “I am not sure today could get much better.”
She laughed uncertainty at his enthusiasm. “Well, we could catch a murderer?”
He waved a hand dismissively. “Murderer… yes yes. We’ll certainly do that. But my brother is having dinner with Lestrade. I wonder if he has a secret kink for people outside his social class. I wonder if they use Lestrade’s handcuffs. I’m going to text him right now…”
Molly left him to his spiteful texting while she found an appropriate pair of shoes in the bottom of the cupboard. She had to clear out a bit of cat hair, but she slid into them, and did her best to not wobble. She didn’t wear heels this high very often and the first few minutes she always felt like a baby giraffe taking its first steps.
Smoothing out the dress one more time, she did a careful spin. “How’s this?”
Sherlock slid the phone into his pocket and looked her over, taking both of her hands. “Perfect. There’s just one problem.”
Molly frowned. Her own inadequacy issues aside, she had no idea what was about to come out of Sherlock’s unfiltered mouth. “What is it?”
“No one’s going to believe I pulled you.”
Sherlock was probably fifty percent of the reason she saw a therapist.
“There’s only one solution.”
“Oh god,” she muttered, sliding out of her heels and standing next to them. She wasn’t going. It wasn’t so much that he was going that hurt her, it was that she wasn’t good enough for Sherlock’s little scheme.
“No, no, put the heels back on. No one’s going to believe I pulled you because you look too put together. You look hired.”
She blushed furiously. “I look like a prostitute?”
“A high value one, if that makes you feel any better. No, no. That won’t do. The problem is, if you just come with me, and hang on my arm like arm candy, that’s what everyone will think. I need you to do some serious acting tonight.”
She took a step back from him. “Such as?”
“I need you to pursue me. Hard. Like you want to tear my clothes off on the dance floor. I need to finish the evening with at least three visible love bites. A man in my alleged position would not let a prostitute do that to him. I need to play the part of a man who desperately wants to be caught.”
Molly slid back into her heels. “Oh my god. John wasn’t kidding. You do need beaten with a newspaper.”
“It’s for the case,” he pleaded.
Grabbing her little black purse off the dresser, she looked herself over one more time. It was all a bit of fun, right? A bit of a lark.
And it sure as hell beat another night at home with old movies and ice cream, or another one of those Craigslist hookups.
“Alright. I will do this. If you want to be chased, I will chase you.”
He held out an arm to her and smiled. “Wonderful. Now if you will follow me, there is a car waiting downstairs for us.”
Dinner and the requisite speeches were dull, but telling. Sherlock had found two more people in the strange chain of lovers that he hadn’t known about before. John’s ex apparently kept a few of them on the back burner, and they were all at tonight’s event.
About half way through dinner, they started with the reqisite flirting. He stole a bite off of her plate, and she leaned in close, like he was the only person in the room. The man next to Molly at the round table, tried to strike up a casual conversation, but neither she nor Sherlock let him get a word in edgewise.
When he tried again during the annual recount of all the good the charity had done in the last year, Molly bit her lips together, and he felt a stocking covered foot glide up his trouser leg and to his calf. He reacted visibly, and the man with the adequate toupee beside Molly left them alone for the rest of the speeches and dessert.
The plates were cleared, but Sherlock held onto his cup of coffee as the dancing started. It gave him an excuse to watch the crowd as he slowly finished the rest of the cup. Finally he put it back on the saucer and looked to Molly who did seem to be genuinely enjoying the spectacle of the dim lights and the band on stage. “I think a turn around the dance floor wouldn’t be out of order,” he said, holding a hand out to her.
“Are you sure?” she asked hesitantly. “I’m not the lightest on my feet.”
Sherlock grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ll be leading. And trust me, this is one time having two left feet will be to our advantage.” He nodded with his head toward an older, rotund man with an overly blonde obviously second wife near the stage. “We’re going to clumsily bump into him and make our introductions. I need to get a look at his watch.”
Without the usual fuss that John put up over such things, Molly simply accepted that it needed to be done. They danced casually at first, with the required amount of flirting to make it look like they were destined for someone’s hotel room at the end of the night. He ran his fingers up her spine and she cupped his neck with the hand that ought to have been on his shoulder while they danced, and between numbers, he leaned in for a long, lingering and hungry kiss. The kiss of someone who was absolutely certain he was going to have sex that night.
When they pulled away, Molly’s cheeks were red. He’d overdone it, hadn’t he? “We’re playing a part,” he reminded her. “And remember, you want me. Badly. No blushing aloud.”
She paused for a moment, then grabbed his tie at the idiotically posh triple Windsor knot, and dragged his face down to hers. And she kissed him. Not hard, not lustfully. Dangerously. Like someone who knew she was having sex that night. With this man. That possibly she had rented.
When Sherlock pulled away, he felt strangely… used. “We, uh… need to have a discussion later. I need to know what you did with, um. Your tongue. Later.”
The music had started up again, but they were still standing there, in the middle of the dance floor, having their absurd exchange.
One that only managed to get more absurd when Molly pulled him down by the tie again, and forced her tongue past his teeth again, then pushed him away. “That thing with my tongue?”
“Uhh huh?” His voice was suddenly too high-pitched.
She got closer, so that only he could hear her. “I went to an all-girls school,” she said quietly.
He readjusted his tie. Twice.
“You learned that at…”
“An all-girls school.”
Oh god. He wasn’t that base, was he? To find such an obviously bating statement attractive? Didn’t he usually leave those things to John?
He coughed, then put his hand back on her hip, sliding his other into hers. “Right. Let’s get back to work. We need to bump into them toward the end of this song. Your heels, my height, any excuse will do. See if you can separate the woman from him.”
They danced in ever widening circles until they came upon their target. He slid his arm around to her backside, and tried to give her a little dip, but it ended in Molly staggering between then heavyset man and his date. “Oh my god. I am so sorry,” she apologized instinctively.”
The very blonde woman frowned as if scandalized and stepped back.
“No, no, I’m sorry,” Sherlock promised. “I have two left feet sometimes… Charles Krueger?” Sherlock asked, as if he’d just noticed who he was talking to. “I think you knew my father. “Patrick Jones?”
Of course the man didn’t. But it was such a common name, he didn’t dare say no. “Yes, yes. Probably.”
Sherlock shot his hand out and shook the other man’s hand. “It’s good to meet you. Sorry it’s under such… clumsy circumstances.” He glanced down at the watch. The pins. Replacements. All of them. Just as he thought. “Sorry… I will leave you and your date to it.”
He grabbed Molly by the waist and pulled her toward the center of the dance floor. He slid his arms around Molly, and leaned in toward her neck. “We need to get upstairs into his office,” he whispered seductively in her ear, then began swaying with her just a bit to the slow song.
“John said we were just watching people.”
“I watched. Now I’m sure I know who killed my client’s son. And if my suspicions are right, the murder weapon is in his office on the fifth floor.”
Molly sighed. “If I get arrested, I’m not giving you body parts ever again.”
“Yes you will.”
“I probably will. But don’t push it.”
They kissed in the lift. The ceiling was reflective glass, not a mirror, and was concealing a camera, he was sure of it. He slid his arms up her back with the appropriate amount of possessive interest, while she continued to do the thing with the tongue.
He would have to practice this later. Perhaps John would be interested in assisting him. For the sake of science. John would protest, no doubt. Except for when it was required for a case, John was annoyingly straight.
Oh well. Perhaps he could practice with Molly. She was, after all, the expert.
The doors slid open, and he forgot for a moment that there’d been a purpose to all of this, besides the truly enjoyable feel of lace under his fingers, and the strange, welcome sensation of her tongue doing… that thing. That thing that he couldn’t quite decipher or ignore.
She stood up straight just as the door was about to slide closed, and Sherlock took the hint, reaching out to stop it with a laugh. It swung open, and they both dashed through the doors before they could close again.
He glanced up and down the hall, nodding discretely to two cameras, one on either end. “We’ll have to keep up the pretense of lovers looking for a place for a quick shag.”
She grabbed both of his hands, and started dragging him toward the office they were looking for, anticipation spread across her face. “Can you pick the lock with your back to the door?”
“Of course, what kind of--”
At the door in question, she stopped, and pushed him up against it. “Get to work,” she whispered against his cheek. “I have an early shift tomorrow.”
He swallowed as she bit his lower lip, then his neck, sucking and leaving a purple mark. Her hands trailed down his sides, then she pressed her body against the right side of his body, to block what his hand was doing from the camera. She moved her hips against his leg, her hand loosening his tie then trailing downward, obscenely. She never came in contact with his groin, but she sure as hell made a good show of it.
It was all he could do to focus his attention on the lock. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply, fighting against the most intense distraction he’d ever faced. “Did you, uh…learn about that in an all-girls school too?” he asked, something in his tone begging for mercy.
“Sometimes,” she answered breathily. “You need to blow off a little steam. Thank medical school.”
Sherlock wasn’t sure if he should thank it, or curse it.
Finally he felt the lock give way and the door opened, both of them falling through the doorway.
That was easily the most intense lock-picking session of his life.
John got up at his usual time—approximately five minutes before the alarm was set to go off. Old habits from the military died hard, and he tended to get up just before six every morning whether he was working or not. It was technically late for him—he was used to having to be at his station by seven, so waking at 5:55 on the dot usually felt like a bit of a lie-in, truth be told.
Normally, he wouldn’t think about it. He’d get up and get that first cup of tea in before Hurricane Sherlock woke and went tearing through the flat either out of boredom or excitement over some new experiment or case.
He usually didn’t make breakfast until Sherlock was up. It was the surest way to actually get him to eat it. After the first cup was gone, he started the kettle going again, then tidied up the sitting area. He liked these Sherlock-free moments to himself. It made him feel like himself—a bit of a homebody with a penchant for danger.
Kicking away a pile of papers that were encroaching on the ‘none of Sherlock’s shit in John’s area’ that extended three feet around his chair, John noticed Sherlock’s door was cracked open.
That was different. Sherlock always shut it.
But he’d left it cracked open in his rush to get out the door last night.
In a slight panic, he walked to Sherlock’s door and poked his head inside. The bed was made, the room was strangely tidy for a man who left milk jugs in random locations throughout the flat at regular intervals, and the six ties Sherlock had been debating over last night were still strewn across the bed.
He ran upstairs for his phone, to see if there were any messages. He would never forgive himself if he’d slept through Sherlock pleading for help and something terrible had happened. But there was nothing. Not even a bragging text to say he’d solved it.
Coming back downstairs, he forced himself to take steady, even breaths. There was probably a reasonable explanation. Still, he pulled up Lestrade’s number on his mobile and was about to dial when he heard the door to their flat creek open quietly.
He took one look at Sherlock, and the phone nearly fell out of his hand. “Oh. My. God.”
“Not a word, John,” Sherlock warned in an exhausted, quiet voice.
So John Watson did the only sensible thing one could do. He raised his phone and quickly took a picture of the disheveled detective. Hair sticking up every which way, one button missing from the chest of his shirt, greatcoat tucked under his arm, and suit jacket wrinkled beyond salvage. There was lipstick on the collar of his shirt, and the side of his neck, and ugly red scratches where his shirt was unbuttoned at the top. He held his black silk tie scrunched in his hand like he was trying to hide it…as if it had been used for something other than neck adornment the night before.
And the last condemning piece of evidence—the one John was far too familiar with himself—Sherlock smelled rather explicitly like sweat mixed with sex and latex.
John’s flatmate shook his head and slowly moved toward his room, like a man who’d had a night of it.
Sherlock Holmes was doing the walk of shame.
Sherlock hadn’t closed the door, he’d simply collapsed face first onto the bed, his half-tied shoes hanging over the edge.
John saw this as an open opportunity for scrutiny. “Please tell me it wasn’t for the case. Just… please tell me it was mutual, and you did not have sex with Molly just for the case.”
“What does it matter?” Sherlock moaned into the duvet.
“Because the first one makes you a twat. A twat I refuse to speak to any more. I let you use me like that because we’re… friends or flatmates or whatever. But you can’t just go doing that to other people.”
Sherlock turned his head to the side. “Well, it wasn’t just for the case.”
“But. I am sensing a but.” He folded his arms over his chest.
“It’s completely her fault.” He pressed his face back into the bed. “She damned near killed me.”
John leaned against the doorway. “Molly. MOLLY almost killed you. Sweet, innocent Molly from the morgue Molly? Ok. This I need to hear.”
“I thought she’d be rubbish at maintaining a cover. Apparently I needn’t have worried because a) she went to an all girls school and b) she spent her time in medical school releasing stress through…interesting sexual intercourse. I was the victim… or perhaps proud recipient of the most erotic lock picking session of my entire existence. And no, that is not an euphemism. The uncle’s the killer by the way.”
John rubbed his forehead. “Oh no… you are NOT going to distract me from this conversation with details about the ca—wait, I thought the uncle had an alibi? No wait. You can explain it to me how erotic lock picking lands you in bed with Molly Hooper.”
Sherlock rolled over onto his back, arms splayed out in front of her. “I just explained it to you! It was the most challenging lock I have ever picked and the most rewarding and I suddenly understand what tiny underpants are for. This isn’t complicated, John.”
John stared at him, wondering what part of this WASN’T complicated. “Ok. Right. Whatever.”
“I think all of your relationships are unnecessarily complicated. Sometimes sex is just sex.”
“That’s rich. You think things aren’t going to be complicated now? You just wait until the next time we need a favor from her down in the morgue. This is going to go from complicated to just plain weird in zero point two seconds. Never pull from where you work, Sherlock.”
Sherlock picked his head up off the mattress to glare at John. “Sarah. Leslie. That one with the hair.”
“That WAS Leslie,” John replied irritably. “That’s different. They both ended amiably.”
Sherlock’s cheek twitched. “None of them wanted to paint their masterpieces with your blood?” he asked sarcastically.
“Piss off, Sherlock. God, you’re irritating right now.”
“You’re just mad that I was the one who ‘got lucky,’ as it were, this time?”
“No, I’m not mad that—just go to sleep, alright? I’ll play damage control with Molly later.”
Sherlock pulled the duvet around him, not bothering to take off his clothes. “Or…” he said with a yawn. “You’re mad it wasn’t you.”
John rolled his eyes, his hand on the doorknob. “Good night, Sherlock,” he said forcefully.
“I have a short refractory period,” he called out as John slammed the door shut. “I can sort you out too, if need-be!”
“Go to SLEEP, Sherlock,” John commanded.
“You ARE jealous, aren’t you?”
“I’m not dignifying that with an answer,” John calle as he poured himself more hot water and dug around for another tea bag.
“No response can be construed in certain circles as a yes!”
“Don’t make me kill you today, Sherlock!”
“She taught me a new kissing thing we can try out lat--” Sherlock fell silent when his door flung open.
John was glaring at him with his evil death-ray eyes. “I swear to god, I will shoot you if you don’t just shut up and go to sleep. I do not need to be ‘sorted.’ Least of all by you.”
“But that’s not a no.”
“I’m going to get my gun.”
“You kill because you care. It’s sweet, really.”
“Yeah. That’s exactly it.”
Sherlock rolled onto his side, curled up and closed his eyes. “It really was some excellent lock picking.”