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The Study of the Four

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"C'mon! Give me a hand!"

With one last glance around the room for any obvious dangers he’d missed, Sam darted over to Dean's side. It was the small hours of the morning, before the humans in the flat would start waking up and well after the night owl had gone to bed.

For them, the best time.

Sam skidded to a halt next to Dean, staring down at the newspaper under their boots. One of the humans living in the flat-- the consulting detective, not the doctor-- had left it out for a case he was working on. Despite everything the two Winchesters had been through in their lives, they were driven to help solve the case, especially after they noticed a small detail that had gone overlooked.

Years ago, the two brothers had been the same size as any other human. They'd lived on the road with their dad, moving from town to town while John Winchester hunted. Unquestionably one of the best monster hunters around, his overconfidence had been their undoing.

A witch had caught the family off guard, cursing the two young children to live out their lives at nearly a twentieth of the size they should be. Dean could remember that night with painful clarity. A tall woman with long blonde hair staring him down as she threw him against the wall. Laughing at his pathetic attempts to escape. Holding up her hands and hitting Sam with a flash of light, making him vanish into thin air before turning the same attack on Dean.

There was no one there to save them from her. And then waking…

Finding their entire world out of reach. Waking up in the clutches of the witch, and despairing as they were shoved into a cloth hexbag.

Escape had been their first priority, but in trying to find their father and get back to where they belonged, they'd been caught yet again, this time by someone who assumed they were no better than animals, and sold them off as pets across the seas. That memory made Dean’s lip curl. Going to find help had instead resulted in being captured all over again, this time by normal, opportunistic humans, who had shipped them off to some British supplier of ‘exotic’ pets.

Anytime he recalled that traumatizing plane ride, Dean would shudder. They had been taken away from everything they knew, their father, the Impala, even their entire country, with events spiraling out of their control. The future was grim.

Of course, no humans expected for two ‘pets’ to be able to pick a lock, and so the brothers had once more escaped. Fully aware now of the danger other humans posed, they'd gone underground.

Literally.

The two tiny children were discovered by people their own size, shivering and curled together for warmth, in a dark corner of the wall they'd found. Everything was huge, nothing was safe. Food was out of reach and humans were dangerous. That night had become a turning point in their lives. With the help of their new family, they'd adapted as much as anyone could be expected to.

But they were afraid to admit to their former humanity after discovering what humans could do to people like them firsthand.

Their new home in this flat seemed ideal. Though a few rumors floated around about how odd the humans inside were, keeping others far away, Sam and Dean had discovered a nice layout inside its walls. So long as they never came close to the giant humans, and with Sam's strange knack that let him know when someone was looking for them, that didn't look like it'd be a problem.

Dean balanced the huge pen he was holding, pointing it at the words under their boots. Sam steadied him and helped him draw a circle. If the human glanced at this part of the paper, he'd see a clue he missed. Maybe, in their own way, they could help save some people. Just like their father had raised them to do.

After finishing off the circle, Dean let the pen drop. "Right," he muttered, glancing around the room with a keen eye. "Let's just see if there's any crumbs around then head back. We did what we could."



Sherlock Holmes frowned as he lay above the covers in his bed. He hadn't bothered to change out of the clothes he'd worn that day, only managing to kick his shoes off before assuming his usual posture of deep thought. With his hands steepled under his chin, he could close his eyes and concentrate on every little detail of the case that had baffled him and Scotland Yard for the last three days.

Four murders within the same hour, spread far and wide across London. The victims were seemingly unrelated, but the criminals, who were all arrested with minimal trouble, clearly were in league. They shared a Celtic tattoo on their left temples, some sort of symbol for their mysterious and elusive gang.

In addition, they all had ginger hair, which earned them the moniker 'The Red-Headed League' in the papers as well as Sherlock's partner John Watson's blog.

Despite the perpetrators being caught and jailed, something still felt off about the whole affair. Even Detective Inspector Lestrade could smell something fishy. They needed to know what connected the murders other than the killers. They needed to know what they had hoped to accomplish, if there were others involved, if civilians were still in danger.

Days later, Sherlock had driven himself half mad still trying to piece it all together, pinning clipping after clipping to the wall and connecting them with tape and string until he'd deduced himself into a corner and tore it all down again to start over.

Nothing was adding up. Even the killers had seemingly no reason to know one another, apart from their facial markings. Their families, professions, hometowns, all different with no clear thread connecting them.

It was on cases like this that Sherlock made use of every waking moment. In his mind palace, he could go back and scrutinize everything he knew, everything he learned that day, for anything he might have missed. This would continue deep into the wee hours of the morning until his body gave in and he slept for a few short hours.

He awoke scowling at the ceiling and, after reviewing the major points of the case once more in his head, stumbled out of bed in search of coffee. He had no sense of what time it was, only that he needed to get to work immediately. After coffee.

While he waited for the brew, he glanced at the kitchen table. It was covered in the discarded clippings, as well as yesterday's paper, left open to the newest story on the case. He rolled his eyes as he remembered reading that particular article: no new details, just a bundle of sentiment displayed for the victims. Sherlock understood that deaths were tragic, but he argued that if they were going to talk about it, they could at least bring up something useful. John had given him quite the disdainful look for that suggestion, and evidently kept the article around anyway.

He blinked when he noticed something was off. A pen lay across the paper, one he was certain hadn't been there the night before. He leaned in closer to find a small phrase circled within the article he'd so easily brushed off.

next of kin

His brow knit as he considered the inexplicably highlighted words. Had John done that? Sherlock had found lately that whenever he got stuck on a case, he'd eventually find some overlooked detail underlined or circled. If it was John, why didn't he just come forward and say it?

One conundrum at a time. He ignored the steady drip of coffee into the pot in favor of grabbing the nearest laptop and typing rapidly. He googled all of the victims, stalking their Facebook pages and scouring their family trees. After three minutes of inhaling the black coffee fumes, he hit a breakthrough. He immediately dashed back to his room, the article in hand, and dialed Lestrade's personal number. Ordinarily he’d prefer to text, but his thoughts were coming faster than he could type so he settled.

Sherlock? ” came the man's gravelly voice after three rings. “It's five in the sodding morning, you better have a damn good explanation for--!

"The Red-Headed League is a red herring," Sherlock interrupted.

W-what?

"It wasn't about the victims, it was about their next of kin," he emphasized as he paced back down the hallway with another glance at the paper. "They all have close relatives or lifelong friends who are dropping everything to mourn their deaths. And they all have one person in their snuffed-out lives who resides in a house. One with a basement, and happens to be right next door to a vaulted bank. Now that the house is empty, someone associated with the killers can attempt to break in from below."

A sluggish pause. “But there's all kinds of alarms and trip systems that could be activated if they tried to dig through. This isn't the Dark Ages, Sherlock.

"Not if they've got a man on the inside. Highly doubt they'd even attempt a burglary like this if they didn't. John!" He marched out of the flat and up the stairs to the spare bedroom his friend still insisted on sleeping in.

Bloody hell, Sherlock, wake up the whole damn parish, why don't ya! ” fussed Lestrade. Sherlock ignored him and knocked rapidly on John's door.

"I'm sending John over with the details. You've got to find the people I've listed and protect them. They could be next if they return before the endeavor's over. And when you find the house, don't be shocked if the landlord turns up dead. Loose ends." With that he hung up, cutting off Lestrade's protest right as John opened the door with a glare.

Sherlock displayed the paper, indicating the circled phrase. "Why didn't you tell me about this?"

John gave a world-weary sigh. "Sherlock…"

"This was vital information, I don't see what purpose withholding it serves for you--!"

"For God's sake, Sherlock, shut up!" snapped John. Sherlock fell silent. "I didn’t withhold anything, and I'm not going to Scotland Yard at this ungodly hour, now piss off."

As John was closing the door, Sherlock slammed a hand on the wood to stop it. "What about Lestrade? He needs this list--!"

"Christ, send the man a ruddy email and let me sleep! ” In a burst of frustration, John slammed the door in Sherlock's face.

The detective stood there a moment longer, now confused. He descended the stairs dully to do what John had told him, what he really should have thought of in the first place.

This is what I get for working without coffee, he silently grouched as he poured himself a cup and skulked back to the laptop.

Even as he typed, he kept looking at the newspaper. John had denied leaving the furtive clue. Sherlock had to wonder, then, who had.



Up in the walls, out of any sight or knowledge of the humans residing within the flat, Dean practically preened himself as he watched their strange human, Sherlock, finally solve the case and put the police onto the real threat. People would be saved, their humans would be thanked for making the connection, and no one would know there were people living in the walls, keeping track of all the goings on at 221B Baker Street.

Dean didn't mind that it was unlikely they'd ever be thanked for their help. It was enough to know that Sherlock and John knew nothing of their uninvited guests. The brothers, at the ages of 26 and 22, had already had hard lives. They'd learned to appreciate what little good they could find, and every moment of freedom was something to cherish after a brief glimpse of life in captivity. Saving people was more important than gratitude from people who'd see them as closer to animals instead of people themselves.

Though, as Dean inhaled the heavenly aroma of the coffee Sherlock had made, he had to admit he wouldn't mind a cup of the dark elixir. Just one.

"I still got it," Dean said, congratulating himself.

"You might want to keep it down," came a dry voice from behind. "Don't want them hearing us and figuring out who's been messing with their shit."

Dean turned quick to find Sam standing behind him. It shouldn't surprise him so much, especially since they were never far apart. Being the only two living in these walls, they didn't want to risk one getting in trouble while the other was out of range. Sam walked as softly as anyone Dean had ever met, though he was one of the tallest people their size.

" 'Scuse me for talkin,’ " Dean complained back. "I think even Bobby'd be proud of figuring that one out." He waved an arm at the bullethole in the wall he was using to survey the room beyond, made during one of Sherlock's unpredictable bouts of boredom. The brothers had learned early on in their stay at 221B to take cover if that happened because there was no telling what Sherlock would do.

From the opening in the wall the bullet holes gave them, they could hear the humans' voices from anywhere in the flat, though Dean was sure to keep back from the edge. He might be okay with climbing, but he didn't want to push his luck with any heights considering just how high up they were. Enough to put them out of easy reach if they were heard.

"In fact," Dean said, hitching up his leather duffel bag and starting to lead the way back to the home they shared, "I think we've earned a snack tonight. None of this 'crumbs' business. They won't miss one cookie."

"Biscuit," Sam corrected by habit. He'd learned the local slang faster than Dean after their abrupt relocation to England.

"Whatever."



Sherlock spent the rest of the day in a haze, despite it being uncommonly busy around the flat. Business usually sparked after the stranger, more publicized cases were solved. And it was always the boring clients that came in.

"I know my wife's having an affair."

"It's my keys, they've just vanished into thin air, I've turned the place over a thousand times--!"

"Honestly, I have no idea where it all came from, but someone must have broken in and stashed the smack in my flat--"

Dull. Very dull. Tell it to Scotland Yard.

One after another, they kept pouring in and Sherlock turned them all away.

By the evening, he was zoned out on the couch, staring numbly at the ceiling with a soft groan every now and then as his body absorbed nicotine from the trio of patches along his arm. John, ever helpful, was browsing their usual websites for potential cases. He called out the interesting ones to Sherlock, but the man remained unresponsive.

Finally, John had enough. Closing his laptop, he went to stand over Sherlock's prone form, trying and failing to make eye contact.

"What's going on with you today?" he asked, his concern as a friend mixing with his bedside manner. "You've had seven cups of coffee in the last hour alone. You haven't taken a single case, and yet here you are, moping on the couch apparently dealing with a three-patch problem." He gestured pointedly to the patches peeking out of his rolled-up sleeve.

Sherlock's eyes narrowed at whatever spot on the ceiling he was staring at, then he reached lazily for the box underneath the couch and ripped open another patch.

John's brow rose. "Seriously. Four patches?"

"You took my cigarettes," Sherlock reminded him, slapping the patch onto his other arm before relaxing into his prayer-like pose and closing his eyes. "Need to think."

John waited a moment, nodding when he was sure that was all he was going to get out of him. He stalked into the kitchen, reviewing the state Sherlock had left it in. The kitchen table was clear for once, but his instruments and beakers and test tubes still cluttered the kitchen counter. He sighed at the state of their poor coffee maker, resolving to not deal with that until Sherlock crawled his way out of this funk.

"Well, hope you're happy. We're out of milk," he piped up as he checked on the fridge. No response from the detective, just as John expected. Pickings were a bit thin in that department anyways, so he gathered his wallet and keys.

"Gonna make a grocery run. Back in twenty," he muttered for Sherlock's benefit on his way out.

"Nope," Sherlock called after him. It was the weekend, so their normal grocery stop would be closed early. John would have to go to the 24 hour mini-mart further down for anything worthwhile, which would take much longer. John, of course, wouldn't realize this until later, so he simply rolled his eyes at his eccentric friend and left.

Sherlock sighed and relaxed down into the couch. He sluggishly peeled off the three older patches, crumpled them together and tossed the ball in the kitchen's general direction without opening his eyes. He'd already gotten up once to put on his blue silk robe, no use expending more energy than he had to until something actually happened.

Something was going to happen, Sherlock was sure of it. He didn't often work reliant on a hunch, but this particular case felt unique. Personal, even.

Did that necessarily mean he knew what to expect? Absolutely not, but he needed to be ready for anything. So, with one last stroke to smooth down his remaining nicotine patch, Sherlock curled in toward the back of the couch, evening out his breaths. He often fell asleep here on days like this, only this time he was wide-awake and listening.