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“What am I missing?” Sherlock shouts, as he pulls on his hair. He flings his arms wide as he starts pacing. John grunts as Sherlock almost knocks the tea out of his hand.

“Let’s review it again,” Lestrade says from the safety of his desk chair his voice gruff from fatigue.

“If you’d called me to the scene, this would have been a closed case by now.”

Neither of the other men offers a counter to that.

They go over the scenario yet again. The murder victim and prime suspect had no commonality. Without commonality, it was proving impossible to find a motive. Based on the crime scene—a public park—fingerprints would not be helpful: even if they could lift prints from the rough tree bark or hedge leafs, there would be no way to prove concurrence. Edward Tilson’s body had been found leaning up against a tree at the edge of Green Park, as if the victim was just one of the many office workers enjoying the sunny day at lunch time.

Four days after the murder, and having exhausted all paths, databases, friends, co-workers, neighbours, and phone records, they had their prime suspect: Roger Shepley. He'd been identified by traces of fresh blood found on the brick wall of a passageway that runs from St. James' Place to the park, about four meters from where the body was found. But apart from that circumstantial evidence, there was nothing else to link them.

Sherlock, John and Lestrade watch the video of the Detective Inspector’s questioning of the suspect. Shepley had explained away the blood on his hand by saying that he'd tripped and grazed his knuckles when he'd walked to lunch at La Caprice. The smug man had even taken out a cigar and a bejewelled, antique lighter and started to light up, but Lestrade very quickly put the kibosh on that idea, stopping just short of yanking the cigar out of the man’s mouth.

Shepley had been confrontational during the interview, telling Lestrade that if he persisted with this line of questioning, he'd file a suit for police harassment.

Tilson and Shepley weren’t lovers, or rivals, or business colleagues. Not even Sherlock had been able to link the two as being in the same place at the same time in that passageway. The investigative team have to prove it to get a warrant or to justify bringing the man in for further questioning.

It’s only when the three men are going over the crime scene photos that they get a break. John is reciting what they do know.

“Tilson, killed by a single blow to the head, which caused a cerebral haemorrhage. Well dressed, bespoke suit, expensive shoes, the kind with those little holes in the toes—

“Those perforations  are called medallions,” Sherlock clarifies.    

“They have a name?” Lestrade says.

“Of course they have a name! Everything has a name!”

“Okay. Right. Yeah,” John continues. “Breitling still on his wrist, wallet intact—so no motive of robbery. All we've got from forensics are scuff marks on his shoes, smudges around some of those medallions, body presumably moved and sat up against an Ash tree, some leaves on the grass, and—.”

Ash!  Thank you, John! You are luminous!

Sherlock’s excitement soon deflates, and he sighs at the blank looks on their faces.

“The smudges! How did I miss it? It’s always something. I’ll need to examine the shoes, but give me a photo for now.”

John is too slow, so Sherlock grabs the lot of photographs, riffling through until he has one where the shoes are prominent.

“Ash, but not just any ash. It is cigar  ash. Cigars! Still think knowing two hundred forty types of ash is useless?”

Lestrade chortles and trades glances with John that say buckle up!  Because Sherlock is off and running.    

“Oh, this is special! Shepley and Tilson, both cigar smokers. Who is Shepley? Everyone interviewed has told the same story: He is petty, venal, with a short fuse. Corporate raider, a man who likes to get what he wants, but also a good poker player—he knows when to fold. Likely has a slew of lovers, male and female. Nouveau riche, no taste, just imitating, so there’s only one cigar shop he’d go to, when he’s not getting contraband from Cuba—Davidoff of London. But there has to be more. One more missing piece....”

“What missing piece? Sherlock, I’m not following—”

“Missing piece, John! Missing piece! Oh! Of course! Stupid! The victim’s personal effects, Lestrade. Was there a cigar lighter?”

Lestrade flips through the case file. “Nope. No lighter. Why would that matter?”

“Why would that matter? Were you born with your tiny brain or do you prune it? Freshly fallen ash on his shoes, therefore he was smoking. How did he light his cigar? He could only have lit his cigar once he met with someone.”

“Oh, the murderer’s lighter,” John says.

“The murderer’s lighter!” Sherlock says, grinning.

______

Davidoff is able to confirm that Shepley and Tilson are both customers, but they’re back to square one when sales records show that they were never there together, and the passageway and that corner of the park are blind spots for the CCTV cameras.

Given the man's threat to sue if the police try to question him again, Sherlock knows Lestrade won’t let Sherlock question him, but needs must: Sherlock has to at least observe the man face-to-face. 

At Baker Street, safely out of range of Lestrade, John searches the newspapers and Google, discovering that Shepley will be at a posh City fundraiser in three days. Sherlock calls in a favour with Sebastian Wilkes and gets John and himself on the invitee list as guests of Shad Sanderson Bank.

oOoOoOoOoOo

That Friday evening, they enter the ostentatiously boring ballroom under the relative anonymity of the crowd, which must be 200-strong. As with the other men in attendance, they are in black tie, carrying drinks from the cocktail bar—a prop, at least in Sherlock’s case. Sherlock practically glides along the carpeted area, easily dodging the flood of obsequious servers all wearing coldly neutral expressions. John tugs yet again at his bow tie, barely comfortable in the hired ‘monkey suit’. They are searching the crowd for their man while nodding politely as others walk by, looking for their tables. Sherlock hears John’s stomach growl, despite the half-dozen hors d’oeuvres he tucked into in the cocktail area; he’s going to be disappointed. Sherlock is there for one purpose and one purpose only—to get what he needs, then cut and run.

John catches sight of Shepley first, about four tables away. He nudges Sherlock and indicates where he is. 

“His photos don’t do him justice,” John says, with his face twisted in distaste. It makes one side of Sherlock’s mouth quirk in amusement. “Much worse in person.”

Shepley is a tall, forty-something, burly man gone slightly to seed. His ruddy cheeks and broken nose capillaries hint at too much alcohol, while his pudgy fingers seem out of place on his large frame. His grizzled, faded ginger comb over is laughable.

“He uses his obvious physical strength to intimidate. Imposing, quite literally used to throwing his weight around. He may have money but he’s careless about his grooming—rough cuticles and broken nails,” Sherlock comments in a low voice.

“Look at him, just bulldozing his way through the crowd. Jesus, did you see that? He just shouldered that old woman out of his way.” John shakes his head.

The detective can't resist a hint of a smile; he’s always had great appreciation for an outraged John.

“Hold this.” Sherlock thrusts his drink at John as he flicks open a button on his jacket and smoothly withdraws a cigar from an inside breast pocket and unwraps it.

“What’s that?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “A cigar.”

“Of course it’s a cigar, but—“

“A very expensive cigar.” John furrows his brow at the vague response. “Over a hundred quid.”

Sherlock should have waited until John had finished taking a sip of his scotch. The man ends up coughing half of it towards a potted fern.

“Let’s throw out some bait, shall we? I think it’s time I had a conversation with Mr. Shepley. Circulate. See what you can overhear from that group of sycophants he just left.”

John holds out Sherlock’s drink, but he’s shaken off. John puts the glass on a table then, having recovered from the economic shock, dutifully goes on patrol.

Sherlock makes a show of holding the unlit cigar just so in his left hand, occasionally bringing it to his mouth as if he can’t wait to light it. Shepley’s radar picks it up the sight immediately. Sherlock doesn’t make eye contact but deliberately jostles Shipley as he walks by.

“Hey! Watch it!”

“Oh! I am so sorry! Awfully crowded.”

Shepley’s eyes linger on Sherlock’s face before giving him an appreciative once-over. The scrutiny feels invasive. The man is practically leering at the cigar.

“Ah, a fellow aficionado.” Shepley’s voice is surprisingly pleasant. Next, he sniffs the air. “Gurkha Royal Challenge Tor? No, wait, Robusto.”

“Robusto. Impressive!” Sherlock confirms, fawning just a bit.

“Excellent taste… I haven’t had one in ages.” He smiles, seems affable enough. “I haven’t seen you at one of these events before. New here?”

“You might say that.”

“Roger Shepley,” he says by way of introduction, not bothering to ask Sherlock’s name. “Well, then, can’t have a fellow friend of a good cigar go without a smoking buddy,” he says, pumping Sherlock’s hand in a too-strong shake that almost pulls him off-balance. It makes Sherlock’s skin crawl, but he plasters on a false smile. Seconds after he feels the relief of the hand releasing his, Sherlock is caught off guard when Shepley’s left hand suddenly pushes against the right side of his chest, fingers gripping his shoulder, while his right hand cups the back of Sherlock’s neck in a tight hold and pulls him closer. Sherlock sucks in a breath at the unexpected contact and the strength behind it.

This is not a threat; it is a show of muscle, of dominance. Shepley wouldn’t dare risk more in front of this audience.

“Surely you’ve got another one of those Robustos with you? Let’s be bad boys and sneak out to the garden for a smoke.” The man’s aftershave is cloying, his breath reeking of artificial mint. Shepley’s lips are entirely too close to Sherlock's face for comfort.

The Consulting Detective can’t tell if he’s inferring anything beyond a cigar.

Despite the man’s ruddy complexion, his hands are cold and clammy, and Sherlock tries to pull away. It only serves to have Shepley tighten his grip. The texture of his rough, sausage fingers repulses him and the hairs on his neck stand up. He takes refuge in saturating his thoughts with facts: erector pili, simple biological reaction to a stimulus, message received, now ignore—.

But he can’t ignore. He stiffens, his eyes narrowing as he wills himself to not panic. His mouth is dry within his tight jaw. Memories of childhood bullies and the unwanted attention of a certain aggressive university roommate threaten to breach the walls he’d built around them. Grit your teeth. You can get through this. Remember what you came here for. His Adam’s apple bobs nervously—laryngeal prominence, protecting his larynx and deepening his vocal cords. Why am I thinking about that now? Focus! Oh! Useful! Use it! Now!

His drops his voice an octave until it becomes threateningly low and rumbles like distant thunder. “You will remove your hands…” through clenched teeth, “right...this... second. Or you will find that your testicles have displaced your tonsils from their usual location.”

Sherlock feels the pressure of the man’s hands lessen, but they are not removed.

Nausea threatens, but somehow a memory surfaces and he wills his right hand to move. He mirrors what the other man is doing and cups his hand over Shepley’s neck—the memory of the move John had taught him plays out in his mind in high-def clarity—and he pushes his thumb into the Dokko  pressure point just behind and slightly under the man’s earlobe.

Shepley flinches but his hold only loosens fractionally.

The air stirs around them and, as if summoned, John is standing beside them, radiating concern and, something else. Danger? Sherlock can sense the rising, already volcanic anger simmering beneath his partner’s surface. It is…thrilling. Why is it thrilling?

John doesn’t speak; their eyes don’t meet—they don’t have to. Sherlock lets that thought drive his next words.

“…and if I were to do that, Mr. Shepley, my husband  here is a doctor…”

He sees John’s weight shift, a look of surprise not fully repressed.

“…and I am certain he has the requisite skills to relocate your testicles, or surgically remove them, leaving barely a scar. His choice.”

To most any onlooker, it would appear to be a friendly tug on the neck between chums, but John is hardly just any onlooker. He is watching the interaction with narrowed eyes and Sherlock sees that he knows precisely what is happening.

Sherlock increases the pressure of his thumb and finally, the man gasps and his arms snap back. He raises his hands in a placating gesture.

“Misunderstanding, no offence,” Shepley says, clearly not meaning a word of it. He takes a few steps back, finally turning away. As he retreats, John calls after him, “He’s wrong, you know. I’d leave a scar. Large one. Gross. Terrible thing.”

The man appears to shrink in size as he is swallowed up into the throng of people.

A near hysterical giggle rises in Sherlock’s throat as the tension bleeds away.

“Fresh air?” John suggests, tilting his head to the patio. It sounds like an order.

Sherlock falls into step beside him, astounded by how well John understands his need to regroup away from the lights, din, and overwhelming smells of the room. Just as they’re going out the French doors, John grabs a glass of water and a napkin from the tray of a passing waiter and thrusts the glass at the Consulting Detective.

The scent of crisp, night air almost overwhelms Sherlock with relief.

“Did he threaten you?” John asks, as he dips the napkin in the water; Sherlock doesn’t question why.

“Not overtly. Just…”

“...handsy.” John concludes. His jaw is clenched and he’s almost quivering with rage.

Sherlock nods as a shiver runs down his spine—from the cool air? the cold glass? or John? He doesn’t know. John takes Sherlock’s hand in his—the hand that Shepley had clasped—and wipes it off with the wet napkin. He then moves it to the back of Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock can feel the stench of the man’s sweat being swept away.

John steps back, satisfied, but frowns when he sees a minuscule bit of blood on the napkin.

“Fingernail,” Sherlock says as he flicks the unwanted ice from the water into the bushes of the venue’s lush garden and downs half of the too-cold water. He takes in the first easy breath he’s had in minutes.

“Bloody swine.”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle. But it was…good…that you… Good.”

“That’s what we do. Look out for each other. Brothers-in-arms and all that.”

“Quite.” Sherlock recalls the translation of the Dokko  pressure point—to travel alone. He is amazed and almost overwhelmed as he realises that he no longer has to do that. John's arrival has dislodged something in him, helped him break the ice that had set in his nerves.

He leans back against the grounding, solid marble of the balustrade. After a moment, John does the same. Not quite shoulder-to-shoulder now, Sherlock notes, aware yet again that John does not like to have his back to a room. He isn’t even sure John is aware that he’s doing it; it is second nature. He watches as John’s eyes scan the room. Still on sentry duty, Sherlock marvels, as he finishes the rest of the water.

They stand in silence until John clears his throat before saying, “Husband?”

“What?” Sherlock feigns ignorance. But he’s aware that he’s blinking rapidly. Damn.  He'd hoped that John wouldn't notice.

“You called me your husband.”

“Did I?”

“Yeah, you did. You know you did.”

“Ah. Right. Yes. Seemed an appropriate measure at the time. Designed to up the ante. Fitting.”

“Fitting?” An exasperated sigh. “Sherlock, I’m not—”

“Gay, yes, yes, so you’ve said.”

Sherlock pushes off the balustrade and stands before his Army doctor, effectively blocking out the rest of the room. His face softens and he gives a nod toward the ballroom to indicate what had happened in there mere minutes ago.

“Thank you.”

“You didn’t need me.”

“You dismiss yourself too easily. I always need you.”

John smiles, a soft glow rushing over his face like a wave. Sherlock’s eyes drift slowly across his partner’s features, lingering perhaps a bit too long on his lips. John leans fractionally forward. Sherlock is certain it isn’t conscious.

“You’re blushing,” Sherlock whispers. The sight is novel and fascinating; he had not expected John to be prone to such things, especially not over praise from him.

“What? No, I’m not. Not blushing,” John says, dissembling.

“Hmm.”

“Well, you are quite”… his hand flails in the air “…in that tuxedo.”

Now Sherlock is the one scrambling to regain composure. Perhaps he could conceal his surprise with some humour.

“Fetching?”

“Shut up.”

“Hmm. ‘Not gay’. Clearly. But judging from your reaction to my tuxedo...that is, me  in my tuxedo and other... instances... I have noted, I hypothesize that you are not an 0 on the Kinsey Scale—outdated, by the way—meaning you are partially attracted to men, that is, me, hello. As a man of science, surely you would be remiss in leaving that hypothesis untested.”

John’s eyebrows lift, his head cocks to the side, clearly flustered. “Remiss? I…um… Wait. Do you mean…?”

Sherlock purses his lips and nods. “Eloquently put, as always.” He lowers the timbre of his voice again. “John, let’s go home.”

John’s attention seems to be laser-beam focused on Sherlock’s mouth. 

“Wha—?  Sorry. I didn’t—.”

“I said, let’s go home. There is science to be done.”

“Oh. You mean… Oh!

“You’re blushing again.”

“Shut up.”

oOoOoOoOoOo

Lestrade paces in his office, scratching his head in exasperation. “You pick-pocketed Shepley?”

Feeling quite smug, Sherlock waves Shepley’s cigar lighter, now safely ensconced in an evidence bag he’d pilfered from Anderson when he wasn't looking. “He encroached on my personal space, I encroached on his. Problem?”

“Yeah, you might say so!” he shouts. “Legally—”

“Oh, dear me, I misspoke, didn’t I, John? It must have been the shock. Clearly, what I meant to say was that I observed that he’d dropped his unique, highly identifying antique cigarette lighter, and I did my due diligence in trying to return it to him, but alas,” he sighs and pouts, “Mr. Shepley had already left the area.”

“That’s right. That’s how I remember it,” echoes the doctor.

Lestrade grumbles, “That’s how you’re choosing to remember it.”

Sherlock suppresses a grin when John shrugs.

The Detective Inspector pinches the bridge of his nose and shakes his head. “So, you’re saying his actions toward you, then, were simply good luck? Not entrapment in any way?" His tone drips scepticism.

Before Sherlock can jump to his own defence, John charges in. “If you’re insinuating that Sherlock did anything to encourage that assault by that ass wipe—”

Lestrade cringes. “Oh, Christ, no! I didn’t mean—. Bad choice of words. Sherlock, you turned an awful situation to your advantage. It was very quick thinking.”

Sherlock mentally scoffs. Truthfully, he could barely think at all during the incident. He catches John’s eye; John must have seen some micro-expression that revealed what’s on his mind.

John gives him that half tilt of his head that Sherlock reads as ‘you’re amazing’.

Lestrade, as usual, misses the exchange and proceeds to reiterate what they all already know.

“The lighter links Shepley with the victim. Without that, we wouldn’t have both his and the victim’s prints on something of Shepley’s, the only proof that they were together at the same time and place. On the day of the murder, a Davidoff employee recounted how furious Shepley was when he found out someone had just bought the last of their supply of his favourite cigar.”

Ah, the satisfying feeling of a case getting solved.

Sherlock picks up where Lestrade left off. “He stormed out of the shop, saw a man carrying distinctive Davidoff packaging. Tilson’s office is on Piccadilly, so he took the short cut to the park through the passageway after a late lunch at The Stafford. They spoke. Shepley lent Tilson his lighter so that he could indulge in one of the newly purchased cigars, leaving both Tilson’s fingerprints on the antique and ash at the scene. No doubt, Shepley bargained to try to purchase the coveted goods. When Tilson refused, an argument ensued, ending in Shepley’s temper getting the best of him. And he took the cigars with him,” he says triumphantly.

“He murdered someone over cigars!” John says, shaking his head in disbelief. “But, wait. Sherlock, if he just lit up... There wasn’t was a cigar at the scene. Not even Anderson could have missed it.”

Sherlock smiles encouragingly. “So...?”

“So, Shepley took a partially smoked cigar from a corpse?” John shudders.

“Well, he may not have been quite dead yet, but yes, I see your point. Essentially accurate.”

Lestrade is repulsed. “And I thought this guy was disgusting before! This evidence is enough to get a warrant, and I'll bet we will find those stolen goods, too. Once we confront him with what we’ve got, he’ll crumble faster than blue cheese. And we can then proceed with the murder charges.”

"And Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, section 20..." Sherlock mumbles. "I was wounded, after all."

Lestrade rolls his eyes. “A speck of blood and a small bruise on your neck? How ‘bout we concentrate on the murder charge?”

Sherlock must look relaxed enough that Lestrade thinks it okay to tease him a bit.

“Sherlock, you should have at least had a snog before you told him to piss off.”

“I prefer to drink my alcohol on the rare occasion, not inhale it. Besides, I did have my...”—Sherlock’s face screws up in distaste at the slang—“...snog, as you call it, once we got home.

Lestrade’s eyebrows rise and he almost chokes as his eyes shift between the two men. “What? Are you telling me...? 

John tries to look invisible but fails miserably.

“John? You’re blushing.”

“Shut up.”