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Other People's Sleeves

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They're at a cafe because she forces him to stop and eat. "The rumbling in your stomach is bothering me," she says, but it's without much malice at all. 

He doesn't argue, which is strange for him, but he hasn't eaten in about two days, and he is starting to feel tired (especially without the drugs - under the floorboards, behind the tea taped under an unused coffee tin, between the cushions of the couch, inside a fold of John's least favorite jumper). His flight leaves in four hours -- time difference meaning he'll be back just in time to meet Lestrade about a case that has a blindingly obvious solution. He wants to be there when he solves it, though, because the look on Lestrade's face will entertain him for at least the time it takes to get a cab home. He wants a new case. This one has been finished to more than satisfaction. He feels especially proud of the fact that Mycroft will never learn of it.

The woman orders tea and bread, cheeses and nuts, goat and fruit. She sets into the food as if she has been starved, which, of course, she had been. Sherlock is more interested in watching her eat than he is in his own food, which is quickly calculated for nutritional value and consumed absently. She shouldn't be here. This is not the right place to disappear, not for her. Somewhere discreet, somewhere unexpected, somewhere that she will have value but anonymity. China is out-- Moriarty is too well connected there. Europe in general is not a great idea (Mycroft is too well connected there), but she shouldn't be in the Americas. They know her too well. It needs to be somewhere with a slightly dark reputation for her to begin building her own reputation again, but nothing too backward, nothing like the place he found her. And then it comes-- "Russia," he says. 

"Pardon?" She looks up from her food, delicately wiping her mouth with a handkerchief. 

"You should go to Russia. I won't be saving you again." And that's a lie, but closer to the truth than saying he will always protect her.

"I was considering Rio." 

"Too many Americans in Rio." 

She sits back, a fat pear in hand. A bite and the juice of it dribbles down the side of her lip. She licks this slowly, looking at him from under lashes coated with mascara that had been running just a bit. She hasn't reapplied her makeup, which says something, but he's not sure what that is. "If I didn't know better, Mr. Holmes, I would say that you were looking out for me." 

The sun is peeping over the tops of the buildings, and he thinks of the way the sun appears different from the windows of 221B Baker Street. He might not care about celestial bodies, but light is science. Evidence can be had or broken with light. He thinks of angles, mathematics in their pure (and ridiculously useless) form. "Rescuing you from circumstances you could easily avoid is an inconvenience," he says. But this is not bad. Winning is always better with someone to share it. He wouldn't share this with John -- no, John tells things to Mycroft, and Mycroft meddles

"...are you listening?" she asks, with a hint of amusement. 

"Yes," he says, without looking at her. He sees several Americans in the streets (or possibly Canadians from their mannerisms), most of whom appear to be tourists. He would have to look closer, but he believes one or two are military. Not CIA. "You were talking about the benefits of the sun in Rio. You should be thinking about the benefits of staying alive."

The woman laughs. "I don't do very well in the cold, Mr. Holmes." 

Half a thought. "Indonesia." 

"Hmmm..." she says, but it sounds like a no. "I'm beginning to think that I shouldn't tell you. Perhaps I will just disappear." 

"That might be best," he turns to fully look at her. He supposes he should feel betrayed, considering all that has happened with her. She should look betrayed as well, but she doesn't. She calmly sips some steaming tea (cardamom) and watches him over the rim of the glass cup. She is flushed, lips red, pupils wide. He supposes if he was another man, he would ask her to share a bed. John doesn't know how much Sherlock knows about this. He does know the process, the mechanisms, and even the supposed feelings connected to love. But he is not another man. He is himself, and the process of sex is less interesting than figuring out where she will be next (and who the hell she is-- he still doesn't know, delightful puzzle that she is). She is exciting-- an equal of sorts on different footing. She betrayed him to Moriarty, and he suspects she will do so again, if need be. She is a survivor, and he is oddly proud of that. 

"I'm surprised he isn't with you." The slight stress on this word leaves him in no doubt of who she means. 

"He doesn't mind." Sherlock looks out in the street again, watches for anyone who might have seen her, or might know her. He sees happy people, unhappy people, children and women and men. But he sees fights and love, sibling rivalry and desperation for approval, passion and ignorance. Sometimes his capabilities feel like an extra limb that he must stretch out, a disobedient arm that cramps up when he doesn't. Constant analysis staves off boredom.

"And by that you mean he doesn't know." The woman's lips tilt up. "I expect you have a good excuse planned for your little... jaunt out here." 

"The best," Sherlock says, though he hasn't really. He'll distract John, and then that will be it. It's usually quite unnecessary to lie to his partner; With that thought, he is suddenly approaching boredom at rapid speeds. With luck, he can force (or con) his way onto an earlier flight. "Well, Miss Adler, it has been quite a trip, but I require something more interesting. I'll be off now." Not that he has a good murder waiting for him at home (though he does have a few back projects he's been working on), but at least he'll be there in case one happens.

"You won't be turning me in, then?" Her smile is soft and confident, but her pupils have contracted again. 

"I don't expect I will." Sherlock shrugs into his coat, which is miserably hot here, but delightfully familiar. He thinks of being home, of Mrs. Hudson with a pot of tea and a soft reprimand. He thinks of the flat as they'd decorated for Christmas. Thinks of John looking put out with him. Thinks of Lestrade's grudging respect. Thinks with distant and uneasy guilt of Molly (shameless woman, but not a bad one; he really shouldn't have done that to her). Thinks of Moriarty... 

He's well aware of his own increase in pulse as he remembers the dim light, the chlorine smell. "You shouldn't keep company with him, you know." 

"Oh? And which him are you referring to?" Her lips are red, perfect, eyes shining like shields. 

"Jim Moriarty." The name is a song on his lips. He's repeated it over and over in his mind since the day he heard it. Moriarty. Irish, by his accent, too. Jim, short for James, he expects. He conjures a tired picture of a man with dead eyes laughing and then shouting but only with his mouth. He's thought of those few moments over and over like a fetish. As always, when he thinks of Jim Moriarty-- the man without a soul who fought a man without a heart-- he thinks of John who has both these things. "You should also never again attempt to contact John."

He will hunt her down if John is damaged. After the initial death, acid bath. Bones will be easy to hide, mostly because he can hide them in plain sight. Mrs. Hudson doesn't approve of his skull, but a full human skeleton disguised as a plastic one... or better yet, he thinks of grinding them up into meal and scattering them. Burning is also an option, given he has the space and time. Any leftover body parts are his to experiment with. It doesn't excite him, doesn't encourage him, but John is something important, someone important. Not a friend, no... he doesn't have those. John is less of a friend and more of an extension.

The expression on her face is considerably less surprised than he had hoped. Instead, she is unbearably smug. "I hadn't intended to." 

"If he is hurt because of you, either directly or indirectly, I need not tell you what will happen to you." He is dead serious. John's life is not a piece to be bartered for Sherlock's attention or obedience. His well being is not up for negotiation. A man with a heart and a soul (a good disposition, fantastic aim, somewhat wobbly morals, annoyingly human habits, ability to keep up with him however distantly) is rare, and Sherlock intends to keep his. 

"Sherlock Holmes, you are a master of deduction," she says coyly, "but you are an idiot. I would never do that to you."

Curious, he narrows his eyes. "Why not?" Of course she could use John, anyone could use John. Sherlock's weakness is out there to see because it's inside another person. He doesn't regret the partnership, no, but he regrets letting it be known that he cares about what happens to John. The memory of the moment is brought home, Moriarty's face twisting, his eyes black pools. I will burn you. If she is truly playing the game, she will recognize the value of the pieces. Which is why he is puzzled now. Yet another intricate part of a woman built on them. He narrows his eyes. "You know you can get to me through him. Why would you avoid using this information?" 

"Because I am the world's best consulting lover," she says, a glint in her eye. "Not the only one, of course, but the best." 

Sherlock frowns. "I wasn't under the impression that you were servicing John." 

"No, my dear." She is openly amused. "You still don't get it? Poor thing."

"I don't-"

"I don't wish to hurt someone who loves you so dearly as to become a part of you." 

An annoyed expression crosses Sherlock's face. "You know that John isn't gay, and that I am not anything." That was only partially true. He'd felt fleeting attractions before, but as with food, sleep, and other human comforts, his true attentions are otherwise directed. He wants nothing but the chase, and minor distracting hungers are a waste of time. He has more self control than that. "You have heard me expound before on what, exactly, I think of... sentiment." He puts as much disdain as possible into the word.

"I do remember. Better than you, I should think." She smiles, wide and red. "This has nothing to do with sentiment, dear. Love does not make your John weak. Whatever kind of love he thinks it to be, it is love that makes him your strongest ally. If you knew a bit more about people, you would know this is true."

This bothers him, a rash under his skin, dosed with the insufferable insult about him having imperfect knowledge. If people weren't so interested in sex they'd realize what a perfect relationship he has with John. Trust. Strength not rooted in sentiment, but in fact. He doesn't think, in fact, that anyone but John truly understands the depth and breadth of what they mean to each other, what they do for each other.There's been enough of this-- the speculation, the innuendo, the petty interests of people who prefer to involve themselves in things that are not their business (Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, Angelo, the woman, Moriarty). They're the perfect pair: Sherlock leading, John following. Functionality like organs in concert.

He leaves, feeling angry and misunderstood.





But much much later, in a white laboratory, nose and eyes red with tears, dark hair matted with blood that he turns to Molly. Her eyes are red, too, but she's a strong woman. Stronger than he thought. Capable, too, he knows that, has known that (stupid, stupid of him to overlook the extent of her usefulness for so long). That's why he chose her to watch over him like this. John may have heard his tears, but she might be the first person outside his own family to see evidence that they ever existed. He sees it in her eyes, the understanding without him saying a word. She doesn't try to touch him, which he appreciates.

"I think...." he says slowly, nose swollen and throat hoarse, "I think I broke it, Molly Hooper." 

I'll burn the heart out of you. He knows now what Moriarty meant. Knows what the woman meant. 

"Fix it," Molly says in her soft, timorous voice. "Just... just... make sure you fix it." Her lips are drawn into a line (resolution, sorrow, trepidation). "I like him, too. I mean, I like... he's good to you. Good for you." Before he has to correct her probably inadequate assumptions, "You're more like John than you are like... um... like ...." And he knows she understands.

The separation and the lies hurt more than he expected it too, even after seeing the hints of what was to come. Even after that Baker Street where he'd thought, just for the barest moment, that John believed the lies. He'd planned for this, but he didn't plan on John's strained voice over his mobile affecting him so much. It would hurt, wouldn't it? The removal of a limb, the loss of a function, the extraction of an organ.

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves, Sherlock Holmes wears his in another person.