Two witnesses had seen the American plummet from the roof of the Dolphin Square Hotel in central London; suicide. Greg Lestrade isn’t so sure, however, so now John Watson is standing on the bloodied pavement, avoiding looking at the shattered body next the taxi stand, and fighting down surges of adrenaline and panic.
“Interesting,” Sherlock proclaims after a short trot around the scene. He’s got his mobile out and is tapping away. John focuses on the swirls of black wool that follow him.
“He’s a bit of a name back in the States,” Greg says. “Plays…” He refers to a file in his hand. “...professional baseball. Here for an exhibition game.”
Sherlock kneels beside the body. John sees matted blood against the dead man’s dark skin and has to look away, into the glare of the lights from the police cars that surround them.
John can’t turn around. It’s been years, but he can’t.
John lets his eyes drift up to the edge of the roof. His body goes numb.
“I’ll be in the lobby,” he manages, and as he walks away, he doesn’t look back.
Sherlock is another half an hour with Lestrade. John is feeling better, calmed by the soft lights and soothing normality of the hotel lobby. He’s reading a discarded sports page from The Guardian when Sherlock barrels in, drawing all of the eyes in the room. John feels an overwhelming wave of relief when he sees him, wants to run to him and grab on. But he doesn’t, just promises himself to make an appointment with Ella as soon as possible.
Sherlock is mid-sentence by the time John can hear him properly. “...name of Reginald Alan Tompkins, aged 25. Rising star in the game of baseball, which is apparently some sort of fad amongst the riff-raff in the colonies.”
John looks up then. Sherlock’s eyes betray only the slightest hint of something besides annoyance that John has abandoned him at a crime scene. John’s heart thuds.
“Yes, I was just reading about the exhibition game being played tomorrow. They’ve fixed up the Olympic Stadium for it.”
“So…” John folds his newspaper. “The victim. What happened?”
“Ah. If only I had a doctor nearby to tell me that.”
John sighs, opens his mouth to respond. Two can play at this game, but Sherlock is already tapping at his phone again. John lets it drop.
“Lestrade thinks he was pushed?”
“Signs of a possible scuffle on the roof. Young, successful athlete on the verge of fame and fortune. Unlikely suicide.”
“In my experience,” John says, “there is not one type of person who kills themselves.”
Sherlock looks up from his phone. “True.”
“So what’s next?” John stands, pulls on his jacket. It’s a cool evening.
Sherlock jams his phone into his pocket and adjusts the collar of his coat. “Cancel your plans for tomorrow. We are going to a baseball game.”
John starts to respond (“You know I don’t have any pl…”), but Sherlock is already striding away. John closes his eyes for a moment to just breathe, then follows the (maddening) swirl of black wool back out the door.
They stop for a late dinner at a cafe. John doesn’t think he’s going to be able to eat after the crime scene; he still feels a bit shaky. But then his plate arrives and he’s ravenous. Sherlock sips at his coffee and checks his phone. It’s easy and normal and familiar (like before it all: the two years, and Mary, and everything that followed). Sherlock is not dead, a concept John thinks he definitely should have mastered by now.
“So, baseball,” John tries, between bites.
“Hmm.” Sherlock doesn’t look up.
“What are we looking for at a baseball game exactly?”
Sherlock sips his coffee. “Clues.”
“Yes, thank you, Poirot.”
Sherlock sets his mug down, and John finds himself unable to look away from his long fingers, gripping the handle. “Something or someone that would drive a beautiful, young, talented man off the edge of a roof.”
John can’t think of anything to say to that. The room goes a bit blurry again (blood pooled on concrete), so John takes another bite and keeps his attention on Sherlock’s fingers.
It’s late that night, after midnight, when John finally hears footsteps on the stairs. Without opening his eyes, he eases over to make room.
Sherlock is ice cold and wearing only a dressing gown when he slides in under the covers and presses up against John’s back. His hands roam down John’s chest, leaving icicle tracks on his skin. Sherlock’s breath ghosts across the back of John’s neck, followed by his mouth, kissing along John’s spine and into his hair.
John can’t breathe at the intimacy of it. He tries to stay still, just feeling.
(Two months of this, Sherlock stealing into John's bed, and they’ve never spoken a word about it. Christ, FINALLY, John remembers thinking, the first night.)
“Your hands are cold,” John whispers, but Sherlock is firmly spooned in behind him now, his long legs insinuating themselves into John’s warmth, hands soft, mouth continuing to trail along John’s vertebrae.
He whispers into John’s skin, “I can solve this case alone.” John shivers, because the great arse actually noticed, damn him.
“No. I’m all right,” John replies finally.
“Didn’t say you weren’t.”
John turns his head to look at Sherlock, then rolls himself over and manages to peel back Sherlock’s dressing gown in the process. “I’ve my heart set on catching a foul ball. And I hear that after seven innings, you have to stand up and sing…”
Sherlock silences him effectively with his hands and mouth, and all of the fear and panic of the evening melt away in the face of Sherlock’s lips on his own. John sinks into the feeling, the rightness of these confusing, perfect nights allows his mind to go still.
John has no idea what Sherlock wants from him, but for now he’s taking whatever he’s offered.
In the morning, Sherlock is gone.
He is always gone, has been on the countless mornings before (no, not countless, John’s counted: fifty-seven mornings before). John will go downstairs and Sherlock will be dressed and drinking tea and acting as if John’s lengthy sleeping habits are a personal affront to him.
John rolls himself out of bed and into the shower. He's exhausted and he can’t think about this anymore, and he needs to decide what to wear to be properly dressed for American baseball.
John actually knows quite a bit about baseball, after a year-long fascination with the game during primary school. He knows the number of players, the positions, innings, what makes a strike, a ball, or an out. He’s no expert, and he’s never actually been to a game, but he knows the basics.
When they get to the stadium, it becomes rapidly clear that Sherlock has no knowledge of the game at all (“Where are the goals?” “What is the mound of dirt in the center?”). John watches him take in the details of the field, the crowd, the teams, smiles to himself at the fierce concentration on Sherlock’s face (he’s been in love for so long, it seems impossible he might be more in love). They find their seats in the crowd.
The stadium is packed, London turning out in droves for the Americans. But the mood is somber; the players warming up on the field all have black armbands, regardless of team. Reggie Tompkins’ death hangs over the stadium. John feels it in his gut, an all-too-familiar ache that he had hoped never to feel again.
John buys a program for Sherlock, who looks at it with distaste and then casually starts to flip through the pages. John watches the players, stretching and chatting quietly, all around the field.
“I thought I could speak to some of Reggie’s teammates before the game?” John says.
“Mm.” Sherlock has become engrossed with the program, and doesn’t look up.
“So. I’ll be back.” John’s fingers press against Sherlock’s thigh as he rises from his seat, and images of the night previous (legs spread, fingers gripping) sneak in for a moment. He’s been diligent about keeping whatever is happening between them at night separate from their days, but it’s an exhausting mental effort.
Sherlock, if he’s noticed the touch, doesn’t react. John slides past their neighbors to the aisle, and heads down towards the field.
When he explains that he is helping with Lestrade’s police investigation, one of the coaches allows John down into the players’ area (dugout, he hears them call it). Everyone he speaks with says a variation on the same thing: great guy, great ball player, private, kept to himself. John hears, “I just can’t believe it,” from one tall, corn-fed man in uniform after another.
“Talk to Jordan. He knew Reggie best.” The man he’s talking to spits and then points to the far corner of the dugout, where another player is sitting, head in his hands. John approaches cautiously. He looks like a man who wants to be alone.
“Excuse me?” John says, clears his throat. “Mr. Jordan?”
The man blinks at him for a moment. Everyone else has looked sad, but this man looks hollow, like his eyes can’t even focus. John has the horrible feeling he’s seeing a reflection of what he’d looked like the day after, all of those years ago.
“No. I’m Cruz. Jordan Cruz. Who are you?”
“My name’s John Watson. I’m helping Scotland Yard with the investigation.”
“Investigation.” Jordan Cruz has a thin face, pointed features, brown skin rough with stubble. His dark eyes are large and moist and pain radiates off him like the sun. John can hardly speak to him.
“Mr. Tompkins was a friend of yours?”
Cruz snorts, and shakes his head. “Friend. Yeah. He was my...friend.”
John considers that pause before friend, remembers how many times he’s made that same hesitation over the years.
“I’m so sorry. Do you have any idea about what might have happened? Anything that could help?”
Jordan Cruz looks right through John, at something far in the distance. “He wouldn’t kill himself. And no, I can’t be any help.” Then his face crumples. He stands abruptly and pushes past John, muttering, “Maldito. Lo siento,” as he disappears through a door. No one follows him, and the game is about to begin, so John eases quietly back out of the dugout and into the crowd again.
John has been left behind by Sherlock so many times that he assumes that when he returns to his seat that he will be gone, off to ask questions or sneak in where he isn’t welcome.
But no, Sherlock is still right where John left him, with the program open on his lap. He has his phone in one hand and a pencil in the other.
“Hmm? Oh John. Yes.” Sherlock readjusts in his seat making room for John to settle into his. “Box scores.”
Sherlock holds up his phone, where a mess of tiny numbers fills the screen. “Box scores. Statistical data on every game ever played in American Major League Baseball.”
“We are currently in the...bottom of the first inning.” The new vocabulary comes awkwardly off his tongue. He’s adding numbers to a blank form in the program, eyes back and forth from the game to the page.
“And this will help...how?” John asks.
Sherlock is silent, jotting down numbers.
John sits back. He’d needed time to think, so he’d stopped to buy some popcorn on his way back to the seats. He munches on a handful now and considers Sherlock. “So, it won’t help?”
“I don’t need to give you a reason for everything I do, John.”
“But it won’t help us determine anything about Reggie Tompkins’ death.”
“One never knows.”
John has to stop himself from leaning in and kissing Sherlock on the mouth at this new madness. This is you, enjoying yourself. They watch the game for a few minutes, Sherlock scribbling in his program, John trying not to let him see his grin.
“Well,” John says eventually, “while you were discovering your new hobby, I think I’ve learned something useful.” John lowers his voice, mindful of the crowd around them. “Reggie Tompkins may have been in a relationship with one of his teammates.”
Sherlock looks hard at John, firm wrinkle between his brows, as if he finds the idea distasteful. “What makes you think that?”
John can’t say what he really thinks (”Because, you dickhead, I recognize a man who’s lost his partner, and I, of all people, know exactly what that looks like.”), so instead he says, “Just a hunch.”
“Interesting.” Then, eyes back on the game, “Who is that, ready to hit?”
“It’s called ‘at bat’. ‘Who is at bat?’”
John sighs and squints out at the field. “I spoke with him earlier. One of the older players. Number seven. Eliot Carrell. Left field.”
“That was Tompkins’ position as well.”
“Yes. Carrell’s taken over his starting position, I believe.”
Sherlock’s neat printing fills another empty box in the program. “So you think Tompkins’ death is a love affair gone wrong?”
Love affair. “Maybe. Cruz is devastated, though. Can’t be easy, being a professional athlete and gay.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock responds, eyes on the game.
Sherlock shakes his head, and marks another strikeout.
John can’t sleep. It's after three in the morning, and his bed has never felt so empty. He can hear Sherlock still shifting around downstairs. Light filters up and through the crack where John has left his door ajar. He’s been patient for two months, but tonight his patience has worn thin. Tompkins and Cruz and bodies falling to the pavement. He’s so tired of being alone.
John pulls on pajama bottoms and tiptoes his way down the stairs. He knows he won’t be able to sneak up on Sherlock, but he doesn’t want to risk waking Mrs. Hudson.
Sherlock is still dressed and sitting knees-up in his chair with his laptop and a notebook. His face is illuminated by the blue glow of the screen, all angles and smooth skin, and John lets himself just stand and look for a few moments before clearing his throat.
“It’s possible to have a slugging average above 1.0,” Sherlock says in reply, as if they’ve been chatting all evening.
“This...Babe Ruth. Look at his percentages in 1920 and 1921.”
John wanders over, unable to stop himself, and settles into his chair across from this infuriating man. “You’ve been reading baseball statistics all night.”
Sherlock looks at his phone. “It’s three a.m. John. Hardly all night.”
“You’ve been reading baseball statistics until three in the morning?”
Sherlock presses his wide lips together. “I have.”
“Don’t know the planets of the solar system, but brushing up on who won the World Series in 1967?” John teases.
Sherlock doesn’t pause. “St. Louis Cardinals.”
John can’t use words to ask for what he needs. They don’t talk about whatever this is between them, not even in bed together. So instead, John rises, takes the laptop out from under Sherlock’s fingers, sets it on the floor, leans in, and kisses him.
They’ve never kissed outside of John’s bed before, and never with this many clothes on. Sherlock’s mouth is stiff with protest for a moment, then softens and molds to John’s, opening and drawing John in. John’s painfully bent over, knees and hands braced against the leather of the chair, but he couldn’t care less, wants this kiss to go on and on, growing in significance with each passing second.
Sherlock’s hand drifts up and into the hair at the nape of John’s neck, fingers brushing shivers along his skin.
John whispers, “Stats will still be there in the morning, you know,” as close as he’s ever come to admitting how much he wants (needs) Sherlock in this way. Knows Sherlock is clever enough to hear him. John pulls Sherlock up, and then Sherlock’s lips are on him again, hands everywhere. They don’t know how to talk like this; no practice. John is tempted to ask him about earned run averages and home run percentages, just to feel that rich voice vibrate against his skin.
Another first. They clatter and bang their way into Sherlock’s room, to his large, untidy bed, dropping layers of clothing as they go.
“It’s difficult for you,” Sherlock says, as John traces trails with his lips down Sherlock’s smooth chest.
John isn’t sure what he means, but he hears himself say, “Yes.”
“Doesn’t have to be,” Sherlock murmurs, but John can hardly hear him, and then he’s lost to the feel of Sherlock’s skin against his own.
Sherlock is gone in the morning, as usual, but John doesn’t mind as much today (fifty-eight). Maybe it’s because he’s in Sherlock’s bed, or because there is a hot mug of coffee steaming on the bedside table for him. It all feels different, knowing he could, if he wanted, walk out and kiss Sherlock in the bright light of morning.
He doesn’t though. He hurries upstairs with his coffee, avoiding the sitting room where Sherlock is pacing, surrounded by scattered notes and box scores.
Some time later the buzzer sounds. John is washed and dressed and coming down just as Mrs. Hudson is leading Jordan Cruz up from the entryway.
“Mr. Watson,” Cruz says. John doesn’t correct him. He looks absolutely enormous in their corridor. “Inspector Lestrade told me where to find you.”
“Call me John, please,” John replies, and ushers him in to meet Sherlock.
Sherlock is surprisingly gentle with Jordan Cruz. John sits back to marvel at it. Gets him talking about baseball first, asks about his career RBIs, about his fielding percentages. Sherlock knows all of his numbers; it’s impressive. Cruz gains a little color in his grey, drawn cheeks.
John asks, “So what made you come to see us today, Jordan?”
“There’s something I know,” he starts. “But I don’t really know.”
“What is that?”
Cruz sighs, settles back on the client chair. “Someone was sending Reg these notes; started about two weeks ago. They really pissed him off, but he wouldn’t tell me what they said. He’d burn them, and then get mad if I asked him about it.”
“Do you have a guess about what they said?” John asks.
“Threats? I dunno.”
“Blackmail, do you think?”
“Maybe,” Cruz says.
“Do you think someone had discovered you were lovers?” Sherlock asks, and Jordan Cruz startles up from his chair.
“How do you know that?”
Sherlock eyes John for a moment and then says, “My partner deduced it.”
“Your partner?” Jordan Cruz looks from John to Sherlock and back, several times, as if trying to sort something out. John is not eager to know what conclusions he’s drawing. Whatever it is, though, it settles Cruz back down. He paces across the room once, then returns to his chair and buries his face in his hands. He doesn’t speak for a long moment.
“Shit. It should never had worked. Black boy from Georgia, Mexican kid from East L.A, everything stacked against us. Ball players, surrounded by macho dicks. No one to help us. But we were making it work. We been together three years. Then, the notes.”
“Reg was worried. I knew that. But he told me to forget all about it, that it was nothing. The last one came three days ago, slipped under the door to the hotel room while we were asleep. He found it when we were eating breakfast, didn’t even read it, just torched it and then came back to the table for his...” John sees the moment Cruz allows himself to think too much, sees the glaze come over his eyes. John remembers that sensation, the floating, unreal waves of grief that drowned every other thought.
“Jordan?” John touches his knee lightly, but he’s gone. Cruz shakes his head lightly, and can’t speak anymore. John’s mind fogs over, right alongside him, suddenly lost in memory. It’s too much.
Mrs. Hudson helps them put him in a taxi back to Dolphin Square.
When they are back inside, Sherlock picks up his violin, staring at the mess of papers he has tacked to the wallpaper. John knows when he’s in the way, so he takes himself out for a long walk through Regent’s Park. He feels wrecked. He knows the raw pain Jordan Cruz is in, remembers it in his bones. And he also knows that poor Reggie Tompkins is not going to miraculously return from the dead (like some other dead arseholes he knows). It’s so agonizingly unfair that John doesn’t even know how to think about it.
When he returns to Baker Street, John sticks his head in the door to the sitting room to see if he can be of help. He’s still edgy and tired from Jordan’s visit. Sherlock is reclined on the sofa, hands tented beneath his chin.
“Anything?” John asks.
“Bought you a paper. It has those...box scores from the game yesterday. Thought you might…”
Sherlock sits bolt upright and grabs the newspaper from John’s hand. He flips through and pulls out the sports pages, then sinks back onto the sofa.
John stands there for a few moments more, mutters, “You’re welcome,” then quietly retreats to his own room to distract himself with bad telly. Christ, he needs to rest.
“John!” from down the stairs. “John!” John opens his eyes. His text alert sounds. Then again. Jesus.
John takes the stairs two at a time. “Sherlock?”
“Phone Lestrade. Tell him to get here right away.” Sherlock is pacing around the room, grinning, still holding the folded newspaper in his hand. “Got him.”
“Our killer. That left fielder. Carrell.”
“Eliot Carrell?” John is baffled.
“Averages, John. Averages. Look.”
“So Tompkins was killed?”
“It’s all in the numbers. Where’s Lestrade?”
“Hang on.” John is texting Lestrade (who no longer responds to urgent messages from Sherlock, not since the best man incident). Greg responds to John immediately (Solved?) and John confirms (Seems so).
John wants to know, wants to go to the sitting room and stop Sherlock’s pacing with a touch, and hear every detail of his brilliant solution. But his mind won’t stop picturing the empty, hopeless expression on Jordan Cruz’s face, and can’t do it. He starts the kettle for tea. Tries to catch his breath.
“John?” Sherlock is in the doorway to the kitchen.
“Greg is on his way,” John says to the kettle. He can’t turn around.
“Ten minutes, he said.”
“John.” Sherlock’s arm wraps around him from behind (first time) and John’s pulse is racing. They stand like that, Sherlock’s chin resting on his shoulder, until Greg’s footsteps sound on the stairs, and Sherlock pulls away.
“Take me through it,” Greg says, sipping his tea.
They’ve settled into the sitting room. John feels almost present. Sherlock begins.
“Eliot Carrell. Veteran player, getting older. Contract up this year. Along comes this new young star, Tompkins. Plays left field, same as Carrell. In every statistic you can imagine, Tompkins is superior.” Sherlock hands Greg a page of numbers.
“Carrell’s job is threatened,” Greg observes.
“Indeed. He knows he’s off the team unless Tompkins is out of the picture.”
Greg looks skeptical. “So he throws him off a roof?”
“Not yet. But he wants him out of the way.”
John starts to see where Sherlock’s logic is leading him. “Carrell knew something about Reggie Tompkins that could hurt him.”
“What was that?” Greg asks.
“Tompkins was in a long-term relationship with another member of the team, Jordan Cruz,” John says.
Greg grunts in surprise, takes another gulp of tea.
“I can only assume it was an open secret amongst the players,” Sherlock continues. “John was able to deduce their affair after only a brief meeting. I assume neither Cruz or Tompkins was particularly clever in their deception.”
Nothing like an insult to help settle John into reality. “Sherlock.”
“Here’s where it gets interesting,” Sherlock says, ignoring John. He grabs a sheaf of papers, flipping through. “Look. Averages. Up until two weeks ago, Reggie Tompkins had one of the highest RBI percentages in the league.”
“Runs batted in.” Sherlock points to another chart he has displayed on the wall. “He was batting a .435 average the week before the notes started. The two weeks after? .075. And his errors skyrocket. This is a man who, by all accounts, has lived and breathed baseball since he was a child.”
“Statistically...improbable. These numbers are not accidental. They’re intentional.”
Sherlock is still for a moment. In the quiet, John sees it.
“Carrell blackmailed him to start throwing games.”
Sherlock nods again. “Destroy his own averages so completely that the team would be forced to offer Carrell another contract, or be publicly revealed to be a homosexual American man who excels at the game of baseball.” Sherlock looks at John for a long moment, then goes on. “I don't know why they met up on the roof. Mr. Carrell is the only one who might be able to fill in the rest of that story. But I’ve no doubt his hairs will match those you found on the body, and that his shoes will be identical to the prints on the roof. And you should search his hotel room for evidence of the handwritten notes. Pages left behind, impressions on a notepad, that sort of thing.”
“Got it,” Greg says, grabbing the pages of baseball stats and clapping Sherlock on the back. “I’ll call it in, have him picked up.” He grabs his mobile and moves to the kitchen to phone.
Sherlock looks at John, and John looks back.
“Averages,” John says.
“One never knows,” Sherlock replies.
When Greg Lestrade finally leaves the flat, after all of the proper notifications have been made, John closes the door behind him, and sags against it. He’s bone tired and deeply sad, realizes he has hardly slept since first seeing that broken, bloodied body on the pavement.
He’s had to watch himself mourn, watch himself try to go on alone. John had believed that fear was all behind him.
Sherlock is already absorbed in statistics again, sitting on the sofa, hidden behind his laptop screen. John is too tired to pretend. He settles in next to Sherlock, curls up for a nap, and lays his head down on Sherlock's lap.
Sherlock stiffens for a moment (John can feel his legs tense and then relax), but neither of them says anything. The clicking of laptop keys resumes shortly thereafter.
Just before John drifts off to sleep, he feels Sherlock’s hand drift casually into his hair, and stay.
John shifts and cracks open his eyes. The daylight is fading. He must have been asleep for a few hours.
Sherlock hasn’t moved, is still cushioning John’s head and running his fingers through his hair, as if he’s forgotten he’s doing it. John thinks that might mean something, and that he might like what it means.
“What’s perfect?” John asks, clearing the sleep from his throat.
A baseball game is playing on Sherlock’s laptop. From the hair, John guesses from the 1970’s. Sherlock’s marking up a tidy, hand-drawn grid as he watches.
“The box score,” Sherlock says. “Simple and direct, a complete summary of a complex event written entirely in numbers, codes, and symbols. Clear and direct.”
“In its way.”
John pictures Reg and Jordan, enjoying a quiet morning together over breakfast, thinks no box score can hold that story. He closes his eyes, and suddenly knows. Knows what Sherlock meant by, “Doesn’t have to be.” He rolls off the sofa, stands, and pulls Sherlock towards the stairs. “Come on.”
It’s dusk, and only a few people are out. John hasn’t even put on shoes.
He stops Sherlock just outside their door, the door between the world and their shared life together. Sherlock looks ruffled and perplexed to be outdoors in his shirtsleeves, but John soldiers on, walking right up into Sherlock’s personal space, grabbing him by the collar, and kissing him, where anyone can see.
Sherlock’s hands find John’s hips, and John stands up on tiptoe, making the kiss last, trying to say as much as possible. Numbers, and symbols, and codes. He hopes he’s made himself clear.
“Not all complex events can be so easily contained,” John says.
“No,” says Sherlock, and kisses John again while the sky and stars look on.