They're Good, He's Great
"When you're good at something, you'll tell everyone. When you're great at something, they'll tell you." ~ Walter Payton
Mycroft was surprised, to say the least, when Sherlock arrived in his office bright and early on the day of the psychological interviews. Anthea, it seemed, was not surprised at all – she brought in a tea tray with two cups and a plate of small sandwiches as if it wasn't an irregular occurrence. He gave his secretary a chastising smirk, which she answered with an innocent smile.
Without a word of greeting, Sherlock swept up the files in one hand and arranged them in a pile in alphabetical order. Flipping open the top one, he delved straight into the stream of information. There was a brightness to his pale eyes as they scanned the written words before him with greedy speed, and a very slight flush on his sharp cheeks. Mycroft knew that look as intimately as he knew his own name – Sherlock was interested in the facts before him, as invested in what they would reveal to him about the people they represented as if they were suspects in a murder.
"My goodness, brother," Mycroft said after a sip of tannin-filled, Earl Grey fortification. "Could it be you have finally decided to invest a modicum of concern in your own safety?"
Sherlock couldn't stop himself from taking such a blatant opening, "Could it be you finally developed a minute amount of willpower in regards to your pastry consumption?"
Well, so much for Sherlock having matured overnight. Mycroft pursed his lips but refused to respond to his brother's childish insult. Sighing to keep his temper in check, Mycroft poured his brother a cup of tea and placed it at the younger man's elbow. "Dr Thompson has just finished sending me the last of the psychological profiles. Shall I wait until you've finished devouring the personnel files before I begin reviewing them?"
It took a few seconds for Sherlock to swim out of the stream of data and look at his brother. Trying to play nice, after so many years of fraternal feuding, it was hard to break himself of the old, knee-jerk habits. What Mycroft had just gifted him with was an olive branch of sorts. He gritted his teeth and offered, "Perhaps you could give me your original opinions before we tackle the inner workings of the candidates' minds?"
One of Mycroft's eyebrows rose halfway up his forehead at such a concession. It seemed that his brother was taking things seriously. "I've looked through all of their individual CVs, and they all seem to have very good backgrounds. Except for the gentlemen from Russia and Czechoslovakia, those with military backgrounds show no signs of disloyalty or insubordination. They all show ambition, integrity, and all seem of fairly average intellect."
Nodding, Sherlock turned back to the files. It was much easier to talk to his brother if he wasn't looking at him. "No causes for concern?"
Pursing his lips, Mycroft fiddled with his teacup and turned it around and around on its saucer. He didn't answer for a long enough time that Sherlock looked up again, brow furrowed in askance. Leaning back in his seat, Mycroft countered, "Are you looking for my personal judgements, or a general consensus?"
Sherlock peered down at the files before him, not really looking at the words. This could be either a turning, or a sticking point. If he asked for Mycroft's personal opinions, it could go one of two ways – his brother could continue to be a pompous, smug, know-it-all or they might finally reach some form of plateau. However, if he took the general consensus, he would lose the valuable data Mycroft had already personally garnered from each of the lives in written form he held in his hands.
He decided to take the former, in order not to lose the data, even if it might chip a bit off of his pride. He took a deep breath and looked his elder brother in the eye, stating, "Your personal opinions have more of a chance of being correct than than the conjecture of your countless minions."
Surprise was something Mycroft had been taught not to manifest. That did not stop his cup from rattling in its saucer as he placed it back on the table. His brother had just complimented him, in a way. He refused to smile as he gave a cordial nod of his head. "In that case," he leaned over and tapped out a command into his datalet screen. "I have just emailed you a copy of the psychological exams. I propose we go through each file, both the mental and written data, and work our way through them all at once."
"I find that proposal acceptable," Sherlock conceded. He moved back to the file of the African woman. "Ms Bruhari."
"Her intellect is above average, so she might be able to keep up with you mentally. She has a very well-rounded education, and skill set, but no specializations. My only concern is her diabetes. You can have quite an irregular schedule. I'm not sure that her health would not suffer."
Humming in agreement, Sherlock scanned the data from Dr Thompson. "According to Doctor Thompson, and I use that title loosely, Ms Bruhari has an almost desperate need to prove herself just as capable as anyone without diabetes."
"She also apparently didn't receive enough affection as a child." Mycroft sighed through his nose.
"I'm pretty sure all of these reports say that." Sherlock smirked. "Mr Burian?"
"He has a short history of non-compliance with certain weapon safety rules at his last command post." Mycroft pulled up his copies of the psychological profiles. "Dr Thompson seems to find him agreeable."
Sherlock propped his datalet up on its built-in stand, then leaned back in his seat and crossed his long legs. Balancing the next open file in his lap, he scoffed, "I wonder if Thompson bothered reading exactly which safety rules Mr Burian disregarded. Ms Laurino seems promising."
"Yes, very well-rounded skill set. She is of average intelligence, and I have it on good authority that she adapts quickly in unfamiliar situations." It took Mycroft a moment to scan the mental data. "Dr Thompson believes she exhibits sociopathic tendencies."
"So do I." Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock saw Mycroft take in a deep breath while closing his eyes – his brother's high-class version of an eye-roll. "Don't bother denying it. If you like, I could list all the symptoms I exhibit."
"I could also list the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome that you exhibit, but it does not follow that you truly have it." Mycroft poured himself a second cup of tea. "That being said, Ms Laurino's previous employers have also mentioned that she fails to realize when something is not considered socially acceptable. Considering your own history, I'm not sure she would be the best person for you to work with."
With a full, enthusiastic eye-roll, Sherlock grumbled, "Let me guess, you're afraid I shall pick up bad habits? Who are you? Mummy?"
Pursing his lips, Mycroft held back a scathing retort comparing Sherlock to their father. It would do nothing but set Sherlock off into an equally scathing tirade, and the momentary truce they found themselves in would vanish. Instead, he offered, "If you must have someone with high marks in all skills, then I suggest you choose Mr Levy. Unlike Ms Laurino, he seems quite socially respectable."
"He is also nearly fifty, has no specializations, and had declared himself retired about four years ago. He's an old gambler hurting for funds." Sherlock shook his head decidedly, "He is a 'no'."
Mycroft hummed softly, "He may be as you say. We shall see how he fares in the physical examinations before eliminating him out of hand. He may surprise you."
"I'm not eliminating him out of hand, I'm eliminating him because of exactly the reasons I just stated. The Frenchman I'm eliminating out of hand." With a scoff, Sherlock tossed the third-to-last file onto the floor.
"Mr Monteblanc is a perfectly acceptable choice," His elder brother lifted it back up with a sigh, but Sherlock cut off any further speech.
"He's a narcissistic psychopath with an obsession with blades that even I find unhealthy. Plus, he's French. I don't really think another reason is necessary."
"Sherlock," Mycroft leaned his head into his hand and massaged his forehead and temples, "nationality is never a valid reason to discount someone. Neither is race, gender, orientation, disability, or religious creed. I'm fairly sure we covered that in primary school."
Completely ignoring his brother, Sherlock stated, "Mr Volkov looks promising, or at least he would if he wasn't already a defector from his home country."
"Yes. I dislike defectors as much as I dislike spies, even though I may see the benefit of employing them." Finishing his cup of tea, Mycroft leaned back in his chair and poked ruefully at his datalet. "He does, however, possess a good-humoured and gregarious personality which might be to your benefit when dealing with the more unsavoury of London's underground."
"Doubtful. He's facetious, not gregarious, and will be about as mentally useful as I would be if you were to replace my mind with that of Lestrade's pet forensic, Anderson."
"He is charismatic," Mycroft sniffed, sounding offended. "Besides, considering how you seem to alienate every person you meet, such a personality might be helpful."
"Stop right there, Sherlock. We are doing very well; don't spoil it."
Grumbling, the younger Holmes dropped the file of Mr Volkov onto the table with a loud slap. He couldn't stop the slow spread of a smile as he lifted the seventh file into his hands. Sandwiched inside two halves of manilla material were the ink-and-paper answers he had been anticipating since he'd arrived.
Beside him, Mycroft let out a loud groan. "Please tell me that the American's file is not the only reason you are here at this moment?"
"Of course it isn't," Sherlock flapped a hand dismissively in his brother's direction. "But it is a welcome bonus."
Leaning back in his seat, Mycroft widened his eyes in mock disbelief. He was sure Sherlock noticed when his younger brother let out a loud huff of exasperation. Bringing up Dr Thompson's notes, Mycroft frowned as he read. "Trust issues, it says here. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder which manifests itself in the form of nightmares, a heightened sense of awareness of his surroundings that borders on paranoia, and psychosomatic pain in the leg and arm."
"Considering his medical history shows he was injured in the arm by a bullet, I highly doubt that pain is psychosomatic." A quiet silence fell between them for a moment, broken only by the susurrus of papers moving against each other. Suddenly, Sherlock looked over at his brother and asked, "Where are the scientific files? The ones that would detail the manipulations to which the American government subjected his DNA?"
Mycroft's upper lip curled slightly at the corner as his face contorted in an ugly, petulant frown. "The American Legion has been extremely uncooperative with our scientists at Baskerville. They have stone-walled our efforts to procure even a list of the supposed outcomes of their genetic research."
Whinging, Sherlock childishly impersonated a dead octopus; he flopped his arms and legs open in his seat and drooped. "Why are normal people so obstinate? You'd think that at some point they would understand such information is better off in the hands of someone more intelligent?"
"I've already pressed Dr Stamford into trying himself. I told him to stress the fact that he is Dr Watson's physician." There was a forlorn buzz as an incoming message filled Mycroft's screen. He pursed his lips unhappily as he read. "It seems the good doctor has more integrity than I expected."
A snort from the seat beside him called Mycroft's attention. Sherlock rolled his head against the back of the plush chair to look his brother in the eye. "Yes, Dr Stamford can have quite a backbone when it comes to some things."
"So it would seem." Flicking his stylus over his screen, Mycroft pulled up a spreadsheet and copy-pasted the names of each candidate into it, then added columns for personal observations, psychological pros and cons, physical deficiencies/disabilities, marksmanship ratings, and miscellaneous notations. "My assistant did notify you that tomorrow would be the physical examinations?"
"Yes, and the marksmanship test, and the ingenuity test. I don't know why you bothered to make them all on the same day. We probably won't even get through them all."
"That's why I have them arriving at eight o'clock and not ten," Mycroft stated as he filled in his chart. "It is my hope that some of them will eliminate themselves before the physical, and perhaps even during it."
Sherlock knew by Mycroft's smug expression that his elder brother had taken note of the sly grin that had overtaken his face. "Who knew you could be so devious, brother dear. All these years of Mummy telling everyone that I was the one to keep an eye on and here you are."
"I am calculating, thank you, not devious. You, however, definitely need looking after. Shall I remind you of the Blackberry Incident?"
The younger Holmes sat up ramrod straight in his chair, the nostrils of his aquiline nose flaring as his cheeks blotched red in rage. "That was ten years ago, you fat partridge, and we agreed never to mention it again!"
Outside the room, Anthea looked up at the door as two baritone voices rose in a shouting match. Sighing deeply, she glanced at the time displayed on her screen and then returned to her current crossword puzzle. Beside her, one of Sherlock's four government-issue nannies looked up over her head at the door.
After several long moments, he asked, "Suppose we should break them up?"
"Don't even think about it," she placed a hand on his knee as he shifted to get up. "This is the most exercise the two of them have had in about a month. They'll wear themselves out eventually."
The guard seemed to think about that, and then relaxed back into his seat with a conspiratorial smile. The secretary brought them both a cup of tea and a tray of biscuits, and handed off the morning paper to the guard. They sat that way in silence for another hour before the door flew open and Sherlock stormed out in a whirl of high-quality wool.
Doctor John H Watson, MD, was no stranger to physical examinations, medical or otherwise, but that didn't mean he enjoyed them. After living most of his life almost literally under a microscope, followed by years of rigorous physical tests of his endurance, stamina, and limitations, he was sick to death of doctors and machines and his own damn file. At least this time, in this nondescript government building in the middle of London, there was a friendly face among the medical personnel.
Mike Stamford beamed brightly as John entered the waiting room. As far as John could see, his was the only friendly face in the room. The other technicians and assistants looked too young or too jaded to even be wearing a lab coat. Even the other candidates looked unhappy to be awake at that hour of the morning.
He had thought that he was one of seven possibilities, but there were only three other non-personnel bodies in the room besides himself. One was a stockily built black woman, and the other two were large white men with the broad shouldered, slim-hipped physiques of soldiers. At least he and the woman were of a height – the other two men had to top six feet – so he didn't feel as ridiculous as he usually would when he was one of the shortest people in a room. It seemed he was the last person to have arrived, and the clock showed it was already a quarter to eight.
"Good morning, everyone," Mike stepped forward and rubbed his hands together before clasping them in front of his rotund stomach. "Just so we're all on the same page, I would like to inform you that we'll be starting the first round of tests in about fifteen minutes."
"How long is this going to take us in total?" The black woman asked. John could hear the cadence of a non-English language in her speech. She planted her hands on her wide hips, frowning. "Some of us have other things to do."
"That is true," said the dark-haired man. The glottal roll of his 'r' pronounced him a Frenchman. "I have a lunch engagement." He smirked. "And a dinner engagement."
"You can only jerk off so many times," the huge blond retorted. His smile was wide, even as his Russian mouth forced out the consonants of the English tongue. "You'll chafe yourself."
"Or I'll chafe your mother's throat," the Frenchman growled out.
The African woman let out an unladylike snort and rolled her chocolate eyes until they connected with John's snow-leopard-grey ones. While the Russian snapped a comment back at the Frenchman, John let his sandy brows rise halfway up his forehead as a smirk tugged the left corner of his mouth up. She answered his look with a silent chuckle, turning her face away to hide the her smile as her broad shoulders and ample chest shook with mirth.
Clapping loudly, Stamford called the attention in the room back to him. "How about instead of arguing, I tell you what you can look forward to in the next few hours?"
The Russian and the Frenchman grumbled and shot morose looks at one another, but they sat down again without a fuss. John leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees while lacing his fingers together before him. The African woman sat up straight, her posture perfect, with her hands folded in her lap.
"Right," Mike smiled at them all. "First we'll be taking biological fluid samples from each of you. After that, we will be taking you down to the shooting range in the basement for a marksmanship test. Following that, you will be lead back upstairs and there will then be an hour break for lunch. After that, you will be directed to the gymnasium for a fitness test and an obstacle course. Once finished, you have the option to shower and change here if you wish. On your way out, you'll be given a slip of paper with the date and time for your personal interview, and off you go." The doctor beamed again. "Are there any questions?"
A raised hand from the Frenchman was followed by the words, "Will you be taking a sample of all our biological fluids?"
Mike rolled his eyes in irritation while the Russian snickered and John hung his head between his shoulders and shook it. Stamford didn't even bother answering the question. John made the mistake of looking up again, right into Mike's face. There was an odd look on the doctor's features, and John realised that Stamford's frowning gaze was focused on his mouth. Self-conscious, John ran the tip of his tongue over his front teeth from canine to canine.
"If you'll all follow me, we can get started."
With Stamford leading the pack, they entered a long exam room with ten chairs built specifically for the purpose of drawing blood were lined up against one wall. Opposite them was a long table, with four neat piles of sample jars and vials in various sizes every three feet. John headed straight for a chair and dropped into the seat.
The laboratory technicians were a diverse lot. One woman, an Asian with chin-length hair and a small diamond piercing winking in her nose, pushed a urine sample jar into the hands of the Frenchman and pointed him to a bathroom door. She completely ignored his flirtatious request that she help him collect the sample. Beside her, the young man with flaming red hair and a spatter of freckles over his thin nose gathered up a wrapped q-tip and moved towards the Russian. He gave his colleague a sympathetic look as he moved past her.
John's tech was a very masculine looking Indian woman, whose deft hands were covered in dark lines of henna. She gave him a perfunctory smile as she strapped a tourniquet around his upper arm and swabbed his inner elbow with a piece of cotton. One seat over, the African was being ordered to open her mouth by a dark-haired man with skin the colour of a freshly baked pretzel.
It was very much like a dance, the way the technicians moved around each other, going from chair to table and back again. No one stumbled or slipped or bumped into each other. John wondered if they had been working together long, or if perhaps they were just used to working in a similar environment.
When the sample jars were all filled and the candidates were standing up to move along to the elevator that would take them down to the range, Mike Stamford reappeared looking a little out of breath. In his hand he held another sample jar with a thin, strong piece of rubber stretched over the mouth and secured with a rubber band. He walked straight up to John with an apologetic smile.
"Boss's orders," Mike shrugged. "I need you to bite this."
Pursing his lips, John took the jar in hand and glared at it. Somewhere nearby, the Frenchman chuckled and said, "Poor little man, mouth too dry to provide a proper sample?"
Irked by the other man's attitude, John glanced over at him and snarked, "I've got more than enough saliva to spit in your face, Pierre."
"Small men are like small dogs," the Frenchman shot back. "Their bark is always worse than their bite."
John locked a predatory stare into the other man's eyes, and he let a thin smile spread over his mobile features. His voice was cold and matter-of-fact, "My bite is venomous."
A short growl rose out of John's throat as he bit forcefully through the material. The silence afterword stretched out uncomfortably long as an amber liquid slowly dripped from his canine teeth into the jar. When it was one quarter full, John unlocked his jaw from the bite and handed the bottle over to Dr Stamford.
Even the technicians looked unnerved as John traced the edges of his straight, white teeth with his tongue before covering them with his lips and smiling amicably. Mike skirted around him with a furtive side-long glance, keeping a good half a metre of distance from him as he added the jar to John's samples. Only the African woman seemed to recover, giving him a smirk and a nod; one predator appreciating the skill of another.
Smirking to himself as Mike took the lead again, John followed the technicians and his fellow candidates to a wide, freight elevator. With the exception of the African woman and Stamford, they all kept as far away from him as the physical confines of the lift would allow. That was fine with John; technically he wasn't there to be liked.
"I'm Chaka, by the way," the African woman said. She held out a hand for him to shake.
John shook it firmly, "John."
"You should be careful," the Russian turned to them both. "Today's comrades could be tomorrow's enemy."
Before he even realized that he'd opened his mouth, John retorted, "Said the Ruski."
The much larger blond man looked surprised before letting out a booming laugh. "Political humour? High-brow, coming from an American pig."
"Fart and dick jokes can only get you so far," John answered back with a shrug. "Besides, I'd rather smell like honest bacon than like red herring."
A loud burst of laughter followed, from both the Frenchman and the Russian, which seemed to dissolve all the tension in the lift. The Russian held out a slab of a hand and thrust it at John. "I am Pietr."
"Pleasure to meet you," John gave the other man a hearty shake and a grin.
Chaka also took her turn to shake hands with the jovial giant, "I'd rather have to face an enemy with a friendly disposition than a friend with a grudge. We might as well treat each other as friends until we are forced to do otherwise."
"Unlike you," the Frenchman scoffed, "I am here to show that I am the best man for the job. I feel no need to make friends with any of you."
"In that case, Pierre, we will continue to think you are a waste of our time," Pietr winked at John, who answered the allusion to the earlier insult with a quiet chuckle.
When the door opened, Mike moved out into the dark hall and motioned for them to follow. The technicians stayed behind, probably heading back up to set up the floor where the fitness test would take place. About ten feet down the hall was a grey door, in front of which stood a barrel-chested man in urban camouflage. Mike stopped a few feet short of the man and waited until the candidates had all lined up behind him.
"Range Conducting Officer Bryson, these are the candidates for the Guardian position. I leave them in your care."
Bryson crossed his arms over his broad chest as Dr Stamford turned around and returned to the lift. He gave each of the people before him a piercing, measuring look before speaking. "Good morning. Welcome to the Homefront Indoor Range. This is an Airsoft-handgun-only range, and as such you will be supplied with a gas powered RedWolf Custom G17 3rd Gen CNC metal replica of a Glock 17. You will also be supplied with safety goggles and ear muffs, both of which will be worn at all times inside the range." He turned sideways and gestured for them all to follow.
Inside the first room, where normally there would be someone standing by to issue or sell equipment, there was just a long table with the equipment already set out. While they all tested the weapons, Bryson continued to speak. "You will be given four real-capacity magazines with seventeen shots each. The first three magazines will be fired at the distances of twenty-three metres, six and a half metres, and fourteen metres, in that order and without the activation of any additional sight-enhancing techniques. The last magazine will be used to test your accuracy with sight enhancement, and how many rounds you use compared to how many accurate kill shots you make at a range of forty-seven metres."
They lined up before the air lock door, and put on their safety goggles. Before they donned their ear muffs, Bryson held up a hand. "There will be no cowboy-style or combat shooting in this exercise. This is an accuracy test only. Any trick shooting or childish actions will be considered an immediate disqualification."
Duly warned, they pulled on their ear muffs. John sneered a bit, uncomfortable with the dulling of his sense of hearing. If it went on for too long, it would make him even more uncomfortable, as his other senses tended to compensate very quickly. It was a wonderful skill in a combat situation, but it could quickly become inconvenient in a normal place like a shooting range. Setting his irritation aside, he followed Pietr into the range.
It was a very large anechoic chamber, brightly lit, with about a hundred or so lanes separated by thick foam barriers. Each candidate was positioned an empty lane away from the others. A stack of paper targets were hung on the side of the shooting booth beneath a red light bulb, and one was already hanging at the prepared twenty-three metre distance. John chewed on his lower lip as he raised his weapon in the ready position.
When the red light turned on, John focused on his target and fired three shots at the torso of the silhouette. They pierced just left of the centre of the target's chest, which informed John the non-lethal weapon had the same pull to the left that a real Glock 17 always seemed to have. Rocking his head until he felt his spine crack, John adjusted his aim and stance, then emptied the magazine.
When he'd finished, he pressed the button on the wall opposite the stack of targets and brought the hole-riddled silhouette back to him. He was rather proud that each bullet had successfully pierced through both of the 'X' marks of the target. Not one bullet out of place.
He handed off the finished target to Bryson, who handed him another clip, but signalled for him to wait. Chaka was the next person to finish, followed by Pietr and the Frenchman at the same time. Bryson gave them each their clips, and then indicated they could all return for the next target distance.
The six and a half metre and the fourteen metre distance followed the same protocol, and John was glad and proud that he was still living up to his expert marksmanship rating. Shooting at a paper target in a controlled environment wasn't exactly hard; John was just glad not to feel his healed shoulder complain. He was more worried about how it would hold up during the fitness round of testing.
Before giving them their fourth magazine, Bryson waited until they were all gathered before him and then indicated with a finger for them to remove their hearing protection. They all removed them gingerly. John cringed at the return of his hearing, but gave the Range Officer his full attention.
"We will be using a rapid-fire testing set up for the next test. The silhouettes are made of metal with cut-outs at the usual scoring denominations. Micro-sensors will detect the passage of each round. Your score will be recorded and uploaded to my datalet, where I will add it to your other scores and send it directly to my employer."
They all nodded and replaced their earmuffs. Chaka gave John and Pietr a thumbs-up, which they both returned, and tapped her temples before they disappeared into their booths. John knew she, Pietr, and the Frenchman had to have the cybernetic implants most people with militaristic backgrounds were given. He almost pitied them – they might be able to magnify their vision by four or five times, but they would never see as well as John could. With the DNA coding for his vision copied from that of eagles, John could see a whopping eight times the normal magnification of a human; even in a helicopter hovering fifteen thousand feet in the air, John could spot a rabbit in a field.
Shooting at a target forty-seven metres away still presented a small problem. The guns they were using were only considered 'accurate' at about forty-five metres. It seemed to be more of a test of their ability to cope with the limitations of their equipment, rather than their marksmanship.
When the red light came on, John started firing. He focused on the head of the silhouette, figuring it was the quickest way to kill a person. It was a smaller target, but it was also very effective; a head-shot was ninety-nine point nine percent guaranteed to kill. He didn't waste any time emptying the magazine.
The Frenchman was the first one to finish, but John was not far behind him. Chaka and Pietr followed closely after, finishing at nearly the same moment. Officer Bryson nodded at them all in turn and indicated for them to exit the range.
Once outside the room, Officer Bryson gestured for them to remove their headgear, which they all returned to the table. As they disassembled their weapons, Bryson stated, "Thank you all for your time. You now have an hour for lunch and then you will meet Dr Stamford in the lab waiting room. He'll be taking you up to the gymnasium for the fitness testing."
They made their way back to the lift, and Pietr slung an arm around John's and Chaka's shoulders. "I know of a wonderful Indian restaurant about a ten minute walk from here."
"I was thinking Italian, but Indian will do," Chaka smirked at them both. "Provided of course it does not prove too spicy for you pale faces."
John snorted, "I spent the latter half of my life in the Afghan desert surrounded by soldiers who thought secretly putting ghost peppers in each other's food was a fun time. I'm surprised I even have taste buds left."
Pietr laughed jovially, "Then мы идем! We go, yes?"
John and Chaka nodded, both smiling amicably up at the large Russian. They all ignored the pointedly loud way the Frenchman began speaking rapidly in his native tongue into his Bluetooth headset, obviously chatting up his lunch date. Chaka turned to John, one brow raised and asked, "So, Afghanistan?"
The Department of Defence Fitness Centre was a huge marvel of engineering. There was the usual gymnasium equipment, like free weights and various muscle building machines and treadmills, but there was also a series of military-grade obstacle courses and a testing laboratory. It was kept borderline immaculate by a small army of custodians and robots, and a series of anti-bacterial and anti-viral 'baths' hooked into the overhead sprinkler systems.
Sherlock hated it. It was all fine and dandy for the purpose of measuring some of a person's limits, but it didn't have the real-world variables necessary to test other factors that could make or break a case or a person. There was no change in temperature, no weather patterns, there wasn't even dirt! Racing against a clock might increase a heart rate, but it didn't have the same rush from an adrenaline-fuelled chase over rooftops after an armed murderer. Without adding those variables, the brain chemicals or the terrain changes or the danger, to the measurement there was just no value to the tests.
"Stop sighing, Sherlock." Mycroft leaned a little closer into his brother's personal space. "You sound constipated, and you're making the scientists edgy."
"They should be edgy. This should really be only the first of many fitness examinations, and not the fitness exam. They know that and it should chafe at their metaphorical souls."
The smirk that appeared on Mycroft's face made Sherlock want to commit fratricide in a violent and inelegant fashion. His elder brother dryly quipped, "How very poetically put, brother dear. Perhaps you've missed your true calling."
"Shut up, Mycroft."
Through a series of monitors, they watched Dr Stamford, his small team of lab assistants, and two very burly looking Army Lieutenants put the four candidates through their paces. Mr Monteblanc was as lithe as he looked, but his balance wasn't as good as Ms Bruhari's. Mr Volkov was a mountain of muscle, and though he was at least two stone heavier than any of the others, he still kept up in speed. Dr Watson was a surprise – his sturdy, stocky frame kept up well with his longer-legged counterparts, and he didn't seem nearly as winded as they were at the end of the second run through.
Sherlock frowned as the four candidates caught their breath. The Frenchman stood aloof, but the other three seemed to have formed a tenuous sort of friendship. It appeared that they were taking the short break to chat as well as cool down. He watched as a wide grin spread over Watson's face at something the Russian had stated while gesturing wildly, and the African threw her head back in laughter.
"We're moving on to the endurance and stamina testing, Sherlock. Come along." Mycroft lead him down a few narrow hallways to the equipment room.
Four treadmills had been set up, the spaces between them filled with medical equipment for monitoring cardiopulmonary functions. They were all connected to single monitor and tower, which had been discretely set up in a corner of the room. It was already powered up and humming gently, the medical data programs all showing steady, flat lines to any observers. Sherlock ignored the room as a whole, focusing instead on the doorway through which the candidates were finally entering.
Monteblanc strutted in first, a careless smirk pasted across his face. His eyes were more shrewd than curious, and he took note of all the doors in the room warily. His mouth drooped into a rather impressive frown as one of the technicians ushered him onto a treadmill and otherwise completely ignored him. He removed his shirt and stated a lewd comment, which was also ignored, as the lab assistant connected the sensors to his lithe chest.
[Frenchman, obviously. Walks with a slight hitch in his gait – spinal curve is slightly misshapen – possibly due to injury in childhood, or perhaps a mild form of scoliosis that was never fully corrected. Nails manicured, uses expensive hair product that smells like sandalwood, patchouli, and myrrh, fake tan – cares about his appearance. Puffs his chest out to display the bullet and knife wounds on his torso and stomach – show-off, proud of his close calls with death. Exaggerated gesturing when speaking innuendo to women, aggressive gestures towards other men – Heterosexual, and unattached (not at all surprising – his language is chauvinistic and his tone is patronizing). Conclusion: NO.]
Volkov was placed to the Frenchman's right, and shrugged before asking if he should also remove his shirt. The assistant shrugged and gestured that it was his decision, and the Russian shrugged again before pulling off his shirt. His wide, friendly smile never wavered as he stepped up onto the machine. He leaned carelessly against the instrument panel at the front of the treadmill, causing it to creak alarmingly. He took note of all the entrances and exits with a glance, then took up a pose that looked more relaxed than it was.
[Russian, but his accent indicates Crimean upbringing. Heavy musculature, weighs probably half a stone more than he appears – trained to be an Olympic Weightlifter before being drafted into the military. Hated the workouts, but is proud of the results. Dyes his hair dark brown; slight orange tint at the hairline and around the eyebrows – he's turning grey but isn't ready to give up the appearance of youth. No hair product, subtle but strong cologne is noticeable but not overpowering, shirts are half a size too small to show off his physique, no manicure, tan is natural but kept up with the help of machines instead of natural sunlight – cares about how others see him enough to put effort into appearance but there is no personal vanity behind it. Not showing off old wounds, but posture suggests he is trying to actively deter anyone admiring or inquiring about them. Engaging and friendly gestures and expressions – the 'jolly giant' approach – more likely to try and diffuse tense situations with humour or gregariousness. Openly admiring of women, pays no attention to men except to note their placement in the room – heterosexual but not overbearing, unattached. Conclusion: No – too chatty, too friendly. Annoying. No.]
Watson was placed to the Volkov's right, and he didn't remove his shirt. He rocked his head from side to side a bit on his neck, then placed his right hand on his left shoulder and pushed as he stretched his neck again in the opposite direction. There was a quiet 'pop' from the joint and he rotated his shoulder once as if to check it was still working. Unlike the others, who were having sensors placed on them by the lab assistants, Watson placed his own sensors expertly on himself beneath his clothes, getting a big smile and a thumbs up from Stamford, who stood behind the desk in the corner of the room.
[American, accent is soft and carefully hidden by precise enunciations and possibly word choice; he speaks deliberately slower than his speech pattern indicates is his normal rate– has been on the wrong side of negative reactions to either his pronunciation or his speed. Good posture, probably from military training. Hair is blond and going prematurely grey (perhaps white, hard to tell from this distance) and styled with just enough product to hold it in place; no cologne, no manicure, tan is natural (previously noted) – minimalist, possibly does not favour products with scents due to his own heightened sense of smell. Bullet wound in the left shoulder mentioned in medical report. Without seeing it, cannot ascertain extent of damage. Scar tissue probably gets a troublesome ache in colder or damper weather. Calm demeanour leans towards friendliness; previous exposure shows he is fully capable of diffusing tense situations verbally – physical tests so far show he is fit enough to be useful in a fight. Keeps watchful eye on all entrances, exits, and people within the room. Keeps staring at Ms Bruhari – heterosexual and interested, unattached. Conclusion: Maybe – think of the possibilities for experimentation.]
Bruhari was lead to the final set up, and stripped her shirt off to reveal a sports bra with an exaggerated bounce of her eyebrows aimed at one of the female assistants. She rolled her eyes at the catcalls from Volkov and Monteblanc, gracing them with a swift two-finger salute. Watson grinned at her and let out a bark of laughter when she winked saucily at him. She stood patiently as a technician attached her set of sensors, rocking slightly on her heels. Watson cocked his head at her a bit, frowning slightly, but her wide smile seemed to allay whatever worry was troubling him. She placed her hands on either side of the instrument panel of the treadmill and put her weight against it, then rocked her hips side to side until her spine popped quietly.
[African – Accent is from Nigeria, but the cadence suggests she speaks Zulu with some degree of familiarity. Good posture – probably helps with any back problems that might be attributed to the weight of her breast tissue, and also helps her appear taller than she is. Hair is natural, braided into corn rows – probably the lowest maintenance style she can keep up with. No make-up, minimal perfume scented like orchids, clear nail polish on manicured nails – takes just enough pride in her appearance to appear professional but not vain. Keeps an eye on the entrances, exits, and people in the room but pays nothing any specific attention. Exchanges flirtatious glances and actions with men but reserves displays of actual interest for females – Lesbian, unattached. Conclusion: Maybe – intelligence is a plus but Diabetes may cause complications.]
Mycroft and Sherlock stalked their way around to where Mike Stamford stood sentry over the main computer. As they loomed behind him, Dr Stamford gave the signal to begin the testing, and a loud whirr rose up from the machines as they switched on at a steady walking pace. Sherlock turned his face in the direction of the monitor, but really his eyes were focused on the candidates.
Volkov, Watson, and Bruhari continued to banter back and forth, chatting about something to do with whether it was heat or flavour that actually made food spicy, probably a conversation they were continuing from lunch. Sherlock remembered that they had all arrived for the fitness tests at the same time, smelling faintly of curry and prattling together as if they were old friends. It gave him a bit of satisfaction, seeing that the Frenchman had ostracised himself from the others – he had known the man would not be a team player. He cast a smug grin over to his brother, and Mycroft's upper lip curled into a sneer.
"Try to keep your opinions to yourself at least until the interviews," Mycroft murmured, leaning closer to his brother in order not to be overheard.
Schooling his features back into its customary mask of aloof indifference, Sherlock let a glimmer of mischief fill his eyes as he turned his gaze back to the monitor. He heard Mycroft take a deep breath into, and let it out of, his nose, which was the closest his brother ever got to a sigh of exasperation while in public. It was a small victory.
One of the machines beeped loudly, and Watson's head turned quickly towards Bruhari, whose pace was slowing down significantly as her skin gained an ashen tint. Two of the lab technicians converged on her, and Watson barked out to Dr Stamford, "Get some Glucagon now, she's hypoglycaemic."
Mike flipped the switch to turn off the machines, and rushed to the well-stocked first aid kit set up over in the corner. It had everything in it from antihistamines to Naloxone, and he yanked out the orange coloured kit that Watson had demanded with impressive speed. Watson, who was already off his machine and helping the technicians lower Ms Bruhari to the floor, looked up just as Stamford whistled sharply. He caught the package tossed at him and had it open nearly as soon as it was in his hand.
Sherlock watched as Watson and the lab assistants worked in tandem. The assistants double checked Bruhari's pulse rate and blood sugar level, while Watson put together the medicine and injected it directly into her thigh. Stamford swept away the packaging and snatched the empty injector as soon as Watson held it up. On the monitor, Watson's read-outs showed barely a blip of change, as if he had known something was going to happen.
As an emergency crew arrived and started hooking Ms Bruhari up to more equipment, Watson moved out of the way and leaned back against a wall. He watched the crew with a critical eye, but said nothing except an affirmation that he was the one who had injected the drug. Sherlock took the opportunity to sidle up next to him.
"You knew this was going to happen," Holmes stated matter-of-factly. He followed it up with a hard stare and a deeply intoned, "How?"
Watson glanced over and up at him, pale brows contracting in puzzlement. "I don't know what you mean?"
"You've been watching her surreptitiously, with the exception of the moment she acknowledged your worried glance, since you entered the room. Your vitals showed no spikes in heart rate or lung function that would hint at an additional jump in your adrenaline levels that would have occurred if the incident had been unexpected. You knew that something was wrong with her, and you knew exactly which method was needed to alleviate her condition. Now I will ask you again, how?"
The stare-down that followed made Sherlock a bit nervous, if he was being honest with himself. He had faced down psychopaths that hunted other people for the sheer sport of it, but they had never given him a pause like staring into the multi-faceted blue-grey eyes of Doctor John Watson. People often allude to feeling like a mouse caught before the jaws of a lion, but Sherlock had never believed he would literally feel like the prey to a predator. He might have felt less as if he might potentially become a dinner course than if he'd been dumped weaponless into the crocodile exhibit at the zoo after no one had bothered to feed the reptiles for a week.
In his adult life Sherlock Holmes, up until then, had never been the first person to look away from a stare. Not that he would admit it; if asked he would just say he was making sure he was out of the way of the ambulance crew carrying Ms Bruhari out of the room. In fact, he made sure to deliberately follow the path of the ambulance crew with his eyes to put the truth behind that. He was so focused on making the action look as natural as possible that he almost didn't hear Watson speak.
Sherlock immediately turned back to look at Watson's face, "What?"
Sighing loudly, Watson rubbed the side of his nose with a finger as he turned to watch the door shut behind the emergency crew and their patient. "Ketones, are a chemical compound that appears in blood chemistry when glucose levels are low enough that the body starts to break down fats instead of sugar to make energy."
"I know what they are, what do they have to do with how you knew Ms Bruhari was suffering from hypoglycaemia?" Sherlock snapped.
Watson's reply was calm, "Ketones give off a fruity scent."
A realization dawned on Sherlock and a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth, "Which you could smell."
A nod was Watson's only reply. Sherlock turned away and sidled back up to his brother. Mycroft was just putting the finishing touches on an incident report, which he would eventually add into both Watson's and Bruhari's files. His elder brother didn't even bother to look away from the screen while blandly stating, "No."
"We're doing his individual interview now."
"Sherlock, I said no."
"Fine, tomorrow then. Afternoon tea time. We'll even have scones." Sherlock gave his brother what might have been a winning smile if they weren't brothers.
Mycroft dragged a deep breath into his nose, his eyes closing as he let it out slowly. When he opened them again, Sherlock still had that ridiculous sham of a smile on his face. The elder Holmes narrowed his eyes briefly, then relented, "If he shows even a hint of reluctance, or I find anything in his answers objectionable, I will disqualify him on the spot."
"Stamford!" Sherlock shouted across the room. The doctor looked over at him, shocked and a bit confused, from where he stood beside Watson near the wall. Everyone in the room was staring at the younger Holmes, who gave the room an oddly unsettling grin. "Tell Watson his interview is tomorrow, four o'clock sharp, at Mycroft's office. You know the address."