"People speak sometimes about the "bestial" cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts; no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel."― Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Yes, there's been a fourth one, and this one finally left a note." The silver-haired man sighed wearily, rubbing a hand over his chin. "S'just one word, but will you come? I know the whole Guardian thing is a problem, but we can sort it out later. Besides, the place is crawling with Provosts"
Sherlock tilted his head back so he could look down his strong nose. "Who is on forensics today?"
"Anderson," the man, who's name was 'Lestrade' John remembered, replied and held up a hand to stall the objection that would inevitably follow the groan that escaped Sherlock's throat. "I know, I know, but he's not going to be assisting you."
"The fact that he'll even be present is an affront to my intellectual process."
The groan that left the other man was the sort of sound a father might make when his child asked the question 'why' for the forty-eighth time in a row. "Sherlock, seriously, will you please come?"
"Of course." Holmes smiled when the other man sighed in obvious relief. "But I'll not be going in your police car. Text me the address and run along. My new Guardian and I will be right behind." He indicated John, who stood silently beside them watching the exchange, with a wave of his hand.
"Even better," the other man said, partly relieved but mostly surprised. He cast a quick glance over John's worn clothing, but his face was set in an almost pleased expression. Obviously he approved that of all people, John Watson, who had saved one of his own men, was now Sherlock's Guardian.
As the man turned about and moved back down the stairs, his footsteps heavy on the old wood, Sherlock cast his eyes over John's outfit. The shapeless grey sweatshirt with its faded, navy, fouled anchor and baggy light denim jeans in which he was clad did nothing to give any idea of his physical form. It was more the sort of thing a fraternity pledge might have worn in between classes.
"We need to change." Sherlock said matter-of-factly, smoothing his hand over the sleeve of his day-old shirt. "We're going to a crime scene. Try to look intimidating or professional. I'll meet you at the front door in ten minutes. I'll have Mrs Hudson call us a taxi."
John blocked his exit from the room, "Why?"
Groaning, Sherlock's shoulders slumped. Apparently the man was going to be difficult. "I'm a consulting detective. When the Provosts find themselves out of their depth, which is almost always, they come to me to lead their tiny little brains to the solutions of their crimes. If you wear something that looks less like a university student on laundry day they'll," he was cut off as John held up a fist.
Watson lifted a fist with a smile and opened his hand. Dangling from his forefinger was a blue and white spiral wristband with three keys, an electronic fob, and a charm shaped like a little blue telephone box attached to it. "I meant 'why get a cab'. My car's parked outside."
"You have a car?" Sherlock's eyes lit up. "How American. I'll drive."
"Not on your life," John grumbled as the detective flitted out the door and down the stairs.
It took Sherlock eight minutes exactly to strip out of his old shirt and trousers and switch into a new suit. He chose a white shirt and a black suit with very subtle white pinstripes. Buttoning the suit jacket, he slipped back into the hall and whipped his scarf and coat out of the closet. Checking in the pockets of his Belstaff coat, he found his lambskin gloves and slipped them on, stretching his fingers to feel the flex of the fabric. Smiling, he moved towards the stair landing and prepared to shout up to his Guardian to hurry up.
Instead, John was already leaning against the banister half way down the stairwell, speaking calmly to Mrs Hudson standing in her doorway. Gone was the comfortable clothing – the donkey jacket that hugged Watson's square shoulders was well-kept, almost new, and the black fatigue pants he wore were just loose not to inhibit any movement. A graphite grey shirt peaked through the V-neck of the coal-black, cable-knit jumper that showed through the open front of the coat. Sherlock noted the usually plastic or PVC panels of the coat had been made instead with butter-soft dark brown leather, and the subtle bulk and a peek of the strap of a shoulder holster could be seen through the open front of it.
John glanced briefly up at the door of the flat before flashing Mrs Hudson an apologetic smile. It was a boyish expression, and Sherlock had a feeling it had seen a lot of use diffusing tense situations. Mrs Hudson was obviously not immune. She had a look on her face that Sherlock saw often directed towards abandoned kittens and small children. Barely a few hours and she was already a lost cause – this would make the moment Watson outlived his usefulness much harder than the others. She hadn't been saddened at all when the previous Guardians had left.
Sherlock glided down the staircase, his Belstaff coat flaring out behind him. "Might be out late tonight, Mrs Hudson. Good evening!"
"No use sitting about, is there? Not with something fun to do!" He gave her a saucy wink and kissed her on the cheek. "The game is on, Mrs Hudson!"
She gave him a fond pat on the hip as he bounced out the door. "Look at him. Not decent, is it? Him being so happy?"
Very close behind him, Sherlock heard Watson speak in an amused voice, "No, Mrs Hudson. A bit not good, I'd say. Good evening."
Luckily the sound of the door shutting covered the odd sort of surprised sound Sherlock made in his throat when he realized John was half a step behind him. He hadn't even heard the other man descend the stairs. Glancing down, he noticed John was wearing black combat boots – he really should have made a lot more noise walking down the stairs.
Parked ten feet from the doorway of the flat, with its engine already running, was a Jeep Wrangler, its slate-blue paint shimmering faintly in the midday sun. It was immaculately kept, with matte accents in charcoal grey instead of gaudy chrome, and a hardtop the same colour as the paint of its body. Box-like and militaristic, it looked rugged and dependable – much like its owner. Sherlock planted himself firmly at the right side door and looked to John, holding his hand out for the key.
John gave him a flat stare and moved to the other side of the car. Raising one eyebrow, he held the key fob up at shoulder height and Sherlock could hear the locks disengage. Watson waited for a few moments, standing completely still, then raised an eyebrow before waiting some more. After a full five minutes, John just rolled his eyes and opened the door, getting into the seat. Sherlock smiled smugly and then looked into the window as he reached for the door handle.
Sighing in defeat, he opened the door and sank into the very comfortable cloth passenger seat. He wasn't on the driver's side. Bloody Americans drove on the left. Heathens.
While John checked the view of the mirrors and slotted his datalet into the vehicle's docking port, Sherlock surveyed the interior. The passenger seat was roomy enough that even had Sherlock perhaps possessed another dozen or so centimetres of height his knees still wouldn't have bumped the glove box. Dark grey cotton fabric wrapped every inch of the comfortable seats, and there was an icon on the instrument panel that indicated they were also heated.
Grey and black plastic covered every other inch, and there didn't seem to be a speck of dust anywhere. The windows were streak-free, the mirrors were spotless, and the vent clip began to fill the air with light orange scent when the engine began to purr almost instantaneously with John turning the key. There were only three personal pieces at all inside the front seat, and Sherlock wondered if it were simply a new vehicle, or if John really was that clean.
Clipped to the passenger side visor was a pair of guardian angels, one for a brother and the other for a son, both blessing safety on the driver. There had been no mention at all of any religious affiliations in Watson's file, so they must have remained there for personal reasons rather than faith. Dangling from the rear-view mirror was a plastic, egg-shaped object painted white and beige on the bottom with long brown spikes sticking up from it's back. Sherlock took hold of it and gave it a few tilts while John checked the roadway for traffic before pulling away from the curb.
It was supposed to resemble a hedgehog, the detective concluded. Grasping it carefully, Sherlock checked the bottom of it and found a small note painted on the bottom in careful handwriting: 'Good luck 3C - Semper Fi til we die – Bill' '. It was obviously a gift from one of John's brothers-in-arms, and Holmes wondered what sort of nickname '3C' must have been.
"Friend of mine made it while we were in the hospital together," John said softly as he smoothly joined the traffic flow. He seemed to have no problem driving on the opposite side of the road than he probably did normally. "Sort of a 'congratulations on not being dead and having to go to physical therapy' present."
Refusing to get bogged down with sentimental chitchat before a case, Sherlock changed the subject by poking at John's datalet screen. "You've been in England for a out a month, correct? You've acclimated very well to our traffic flow."
Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock could see John's mouth twist wryly. "You do realize that in every country I've been deployed to they drove on the left, right?"
Instead of answering, Sherlock flicked through John's message folder. Mostly, it was full of boring messages from Harry or Dr Stamford. There were a few more interesting ones down at the bottom of the queue from nine odd contact names: Spydre, Twitch, Bull, Divot, Vanish, Pushyou, Pullme, Flounder, and Zilch. These were written mostly in a combination of emojis, numbers, acronyms, and shorthand that Sherlock felt he was looking at a new foreign language.
John sighed, "If you're going to poke around my datalet, the least you could do is put the address for the crime thingy into the GPS."
"Scene," Sherlock huffed as he changed a few ringtone settings before complying, just to make his displeasure at being told what to do known. The mocking sort of smile on Watson's lips that the detective could see in the corner of his eye made him realize he was being deliberately baited. He continued to poke around in the programs, looking for something to mock and found a good target in the music folder, "Ah, and what is this? Labelled playlists? You really are quaint."
Tapping the list labelled 'Driving Music - City', Sherlock prepared to poke fun at John's musical tastes when Vivaldi began to pour out the speakers. Watson's smirk was a strange cross between wry and smug. "I find listening to Classical music while driving in the city helps keep me more focused."
Score one for the doctor – Sherlock had always enjoyed classical music, but none of the other men who had held the Guardian position had ever given it a second thought. It was almost fun to annoy them with impromptu, and sometimes butchered, concerts on his violin at odd hours of the day and night. For now though the information gave Sherlock the incentive to perhaps turn the tide of conversation back to making John uncomfortable.
"I play the violin when I'm thinking," Sherlock stated almost off-handedly, "especially during all hours of the night, and sometimes I don't talk for days on end. I perform scientific experiments all over the flat – kitchen, bathroom, occasionally the living room when I have space – would that bother you?"
"No?" Successfully navigating a traffic circle, John glanced over at the odd, slightly creepy smile that had taken up residence on Sherlock's face. "Thanks for the warning?"
"Well, we are going to be living together. I thought it best to get our worst traits out in the open."
Save the sound of cellos purring softly through the speakers just above the sound of the engine, the car fell silent. Watson's grip turned white-knuckled as his grip tightened on the charcoal felt cover on the steering wheel. Sherlock wasn't sure the doctor would even answer. Then, John took in a deep breath through his nose, "If I don't have at least one cup of Folgers within ten minutes of waking up I can become homicidal." The doctor's face settled in grim expression. "I have an American accent that tends to get worse the angrier I am, and I tend to swear a lot. Oh, and let's not forget the PTSD-induced night terrors. You don't mind if I scream bloody murder at oh-dark-thirty in the morning, right?"
Sherlock wasn't really sure how to answer that. He settled for fiddling with the buttons of his coat for a few moments and let the silence grow. A new note added itself into the noise of the car engine and the violins that began in a new song on the radio. At first, he thought a truck was idling nearby where they were waiting at a red traffic light. Then, it got louder as a tiny red Mini-Cooper skidded through a turn just as the light changed, and Sherlock realized the noise was coming from the man beside him.
"Are you growling?" The detective turned his full attention on the doctor, riveted. The sound stopped abruptly as soon as he finished speaking.
John swallowed and his jaw muscle tightened for a moment. He took in and released a long breath of air, then asked, "So are you going to tell me about the crime scene?"
Narrowing his eyes, Sherlock scrutinized the tenseness of the doctor's countenance before answering. "Have you been reading the papers at all?"
One of Watson's brows lifted, "The suicides?"
"This one left a note. The last three left nothing behind but their corpses. Lestrade must be getting desperate if he was willing to pull me in, Guardian or not."
Giving his Defender a sharkish smile, Sherlock took in a deep breath and spoke with deliberate speed, "Firstly he would have taken forever to realize the commonality between all the crimes, something I warned him about after the second death. No one expects a serial killer's weapon of choice to be suicide. Secondly, Anderson is an idiot. It would take him months to finish collecting all the forensic data I can see in five minutes and it would take him twice as long to correlate everything into an intelligent report. In the meantime he'd be so behind the killer would have a dozen victims or more and we'd never see the end of it. Finally, the other Provosts are always reluctant to call me in as it makes them look remarkably stupid when I solve a case they have been working on for months in a matter of hours."
When his rant was finally over, John snorted in disbelief and smirked at him. "Do me a favour and try to keep your ego contained in the back seat? There's no room for it up here."
Sherlock turned his head to look out the passenger side window, trying to hide his own grin. In truth, he had expected the man to ask him to repeat himself, not joke with him. It was a new experience, having someone keep up with him.
Wiggling his legs, Sherlock regained control of his face and turned back to say, "It's rare to find a car capable of not pushing my knees into my ears. I doubt my ego will be a problem."
"That's why I call her the TARDIS," John smiled and stroked the console in a friendly way. When Sherlock's only reaction to that was a puzzled lift of an eyebrow, John sighed, "She's bigger on the inside? Doctor Who?"
"Why are you questioning me about doctors? I thought we were talking about your car."
John raised his eyes to the sky, incredulous, and groaned, "This is going to be a long day, isn't it?"
Parking the car at the end of the street, John and Sherlock walked briskly to towards the run-down, two-story house belonging to the address Lestrade had texted over. Black and gold Provost-standard panda cars surrounded the building, which was a few dislodged bricks shy of being considered a derelict. Bright yellow 'do not cross' tape blocked off both sides of the house from the alleyways to the opposite side of the street. Uniformed officers milled about inside the enclosed area, mostly keeping the public and the media from bullying their way under the tape.
A reluctant looking officer lifted the tape at Sherlock's approach and had to scramble as a reporter tried to follow as John ducked under behind him. Turning slowly, Sherlock kept his eyes roving the area searching for CCTV cameras and checking the lines of sight from the neighbouring buildings. John glanced around also, checking the lines of sight and finding them very wanting. Most of the people of the block seemed to be gathered a respectful distance from the tape, and there were a few windows open, but otherwise no one seemed particularly inconvenienced by the scene.
They started towards the house when behind them a rough female voice hissed, "What the hell are you doing here, Freak?"
Turning around, Sherlock was unsurprised to come face to face with Lestrade's sharp-nosed sergeant Sally Donovan. She stomped her way over and planted her uniform booted feet directly in his path. He gave her a fake smile, "Ah, Sergeant Donovan, always a pleasure."
"We don't need you here, Freak," she practically snarled, "so clear off like a good little psychopath."
"Unfortunately for you, Sally," Sherlock kept the obviously faux smile on his face just to push her buttons, "I was invited here by Lestrade, your boss, so I am unable to comply with your wish."
Part amused and part curious, John watched the exchange, keeping his eyes on their body language more than the words. The woman's posture was aggressive, but Sherlock's wasn't the same, nor was it particularly defensive. He looked more like he was having fun winding her up. John worried briefly that she might just faint from oxygen deprivation; all the blood in her body seemed to be rushing to her face.
"Aren't you still on bloody house arrest?" A smirk of pure menace overtook her mouth. She waved the small radio in her hand at John. "Or maybe playing up to the reporters?"
Instead of speaking to her, Sherlock turned his attention to the shorter man at his side. John's dark eyes were glancing back and forth between them like a person watching a ping pong match. The doctor gave Sherlock the bulk of his attention though when he realized that the detective was about to speak directly to him, "Dr John Watson may I introduce Lestrade's go-to right hand, Sergeant Sally Donovan? I can't imagine why he bothers of course, she's got a hopeless case of single-mindedness." Sherlock flashed her another fake smile as he began walking towards the door of the building. "Sally, this is my new Guardian, Dr John Watson. Come along, Doctor."
"Sweet Lord above, not another one," Sally grumbled, her shoulders drooping in acceptance as she fell into step behind them. She poked John in the shoulder with the antennae of her radio, "Did he follow you home from the Tube?"
Just short of growling, John slid unobtrusively out of her reach. He narrowed his eyes at the radio in her hand, then at her face. She actually did look a bit worn out and concerned, as if John was some sort of victim. Glancing at Sherlock, he wondered if his charge was this much of an annoying dick to everyone or if it was certain people that brought it further to the forefront.
"No time for chit-chat, Sally," Sherlock hopped up the front steps of the house and took in the rickety state of the porch. "Work to be done."
Sally rolled her eyes and raised her radio to her lips before spitting out, "Freak's here, coming in now."
Once Sherlock stepped inside, John planted himself firmly in Donovan's path, blocking the doorway. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and fixed her with an uncompromising stare that brought her up short. Sherlock stopped as well, turning around when the sound of their footsteps ceased.
John set his back in rigid, military straightness, and the surprised look on Sally's face was priceless. There were certain things he could tolerate – dark humour, friendly ribbing, nicknames – but bullying for the sake of personal dislike was not one of those things. Regardless of whether or not Sherlock was or wasn't (alright was) a complete dick, that did not excuse unprofessional, childish behaviour.
Pointing at Sally's radio John stated, in a low voice that carried no further than Sally's and Sherlock's ears, "If I ever hear you refer to him in that way over any line of communication ever again, Sergeant, I will have you demoted, if not fired." There was an odd tone laced in with John's words, like the drone of far-off thunder. "As long as you wear that badge and hold a superior rank, I expect you to behave in a professional manner, regardless of personal belief. Are we clear?"
Sally's dark complexion paled considerably, making the saddle of freckles over her nose stand out prominently even in the dying daylight. Sherlock couldn't see John's face, so he couldn't be sure it whether it was John's expression, the words themselves, or the tone of voice the words were delivered in that caused her to blanch. The sergeant nodded and swallowed visibly before turning around and heading back to her station just a few steps from the building's entrance.
Rocking his head back and forth on his neck, John turned around and gave Sherlock one of those perfectly friendly smiles he was capable of making. Sherlock's lips twitched in reciprocation. As one they turned to head up towards the upper floor, only to be brought up short by a man with the name badge proclaiming him 'Head Forensic Analyst Mike Anderson' standing with his hands on his hips before the staircase.
"Step aside, Anderson," Sherlock huffed.
"No," The shrew-faced man stated mulishly. He puffed his chest out as if it would make his skinny frame widen enough to completely block the stairs. "It's my crime scene, not yours, and I refuse to let you contaminate it!"
Taking in a deep breath and quietly letting it out quietly, John let an amused smirk settle on his face. The thin, weasel-faced man had puffed himself up like an angry, territorial bird. John had seen kittens more intimidating.
"The only thing contaminating anything around here is you, Anderson." Sherlock stood to his full height and matched the analyst's pose before stepping into the shorter, thinner man's personal space. Taking in a deep breath, Sherlock smirked and asked, "How long is your wife away for this time?"
Anderson looked a bit taken aback, but he stood up a bit more on his toes to try and see eye to eye with Sherlock as his face scrunched up like he had eaten something very sour, "What are you talking about? Who told you that?"
"No one told me but your deodorant. Quite a masculine scent."
Sniffing, John's nose caught a familiar scent – Axe Instinct. In a corner of his mind, he heard a smoky female voice hiss, 'Eau de Douchebag'. One of the scientists had practically bathed in it, and to make him stop Spydre had enlisted himself and Twitch to help her catch a skunk and release it in the man's government-sanctioned apartment. Actually, he'd smelled it recently also, but where?
"Of course it's masculine! I'm a man!"
"Sergeant Donovan isn't."
Holding back a snort, John focused his gaze on Sherlock for a moment to keep himself from laughing. That was where he'd smelled it! Nothing like a nice scandal among co-workers.
The analyst turned red as a ripe tomato and sputtered before snatching at the lapel of Sherlock's coat and hissing, "I don't like what you're implying, Freak!"
At just the motion of Anderson's hand, John saw red. It was one thing to be offended, and rightly so, but there was never any reason for physical violence. Instead of adding to the tension, John used the easiest weapon in his arsenal to dispel it – sound.
Both Anderson and Sherlock startled and jumped away from each other as a very loud, bestial snarl erupted from somewhere very close to them. Expecting to see a large feline had gotten loose from the zoo and somehow managed to get into the building, both of the them cast a very frightened glance at the short, blond man that inserted himself in the space they had just leapt away from. The sound cut off as John lowered his lips back over his teeth and then ran his tongue along his bottom lip.
Pointing a rigid finger at Anderson, the doctor commanded, "You. Leave. Right now."
Anderson obeyed swiftly, skittering away as if afraid he might be chased down or otherwise attacked if he didn't comply. Sherlock watched the analyst rush off, part of him pleased and part of him thoroughly shocked. It was one thing to know scientifically that John wasn't really all human, and another thing entirely to experience it. He felt himself stand a little straighter as John nodded and then fixed him with a hard glare, his brows lowered belligerently.
In a clipped tone, John snapped, "Crime scene. Upstairs. Go."
Sherlock obeyed, though he tried to keep one eye on the doctor following him up the stairs as they trotted up to the second floor. John hid his amusement as he brought up the rear, catching the glances back at him. It was good to know the same trick he'd learned in the Navy – threading the low timbre of a bass growl into the breaths between his words - was equally useful for corralling recalcitrant forensic analysts, belligerent sergeants, and his fractious charge.
Lestrade was standing on the landing, staring in confusion at the two men coming towards him. As Sherlock darted around him, the bewildered silver-haired Marshal asked, "What the hell was that noise?"
"Suffice it to say," John brought his voice back to it's bedside-manner calm but he wasn't able to keep his tone from being a little short, "your forensic analyst needs to learn to keep his hands to himself and Sherlock needs to learn when to keep his massive trap shut."
"Wait," Lestrade stopped John from walking around him with a hand to the doctor's elbow, "are you telling me that was you?"
Looking down at the second thing to touch him that day, John raised a brow and waited until Lestrade let him go before answering. "Yes. It was me. Sorry about that."
Absolute astonishment took over Lestrade's face, and John took his shock as a chance to slip away towards the room into which his charge had disappeared. That was usually the way it started – being treated differently. At least Lestrade didn't know the whole story behind why John could make that sort of sound.
"You're American," Lestrade said as he caught up with the doctor in the doorway.
Glancing at the Marshal out of the corner of his eye, John answered, "That's what is says on my birth certificate."
"Man, they're really dredging the bottom of the barrel aren't they?" The silver-haired man's lips twitched as he attempted to keep a straight face. He leaned casually against the door frame, watching Sherlock flit around the body on the floor.
Keeping his voice low, John let his accent slip deliberately, "Ain't my fault you guys gotta bus in outside help to keep y'own people in line."
This time, Lestrade couldn't help breaking out into a grin and he indicated John could enter the room before him. Closing the door behind him, Lestrade said wearily, "You've got two minutes, Sherlock. I can't fob Anderson off for any longer than that or he's going to go to the Chief again."
"If you were as smart as I wish you were," Sherlock grumbled from his bent-over position above the body, "you would 'fob' Anderson off the London Bridge and we would all be the happier for it."
Laying in the middle of the room was the body of a woman dressed in a pantsuit of a shocking shade of magenta. There was no sign of violence anywhere, and John's sensitive nose couldn't detect a hint of the coppery tang of blood, or the sharp acrid scent of bleach. All he could smell was the flowery scent of what must have been her perfume – Chanel No.19, Harry's favourite. Her left hand was stretched out above her, and the perfectly manicured nails of it were torn from scratching the letters 'R-A-C-H-E' onto the wooden floor.
A sneer of frustration flashed over Sherlock's face as he straightened up. His mouth twisted in thought before he snapped waspishly, "John! You are a doctor, yes? How did she die?"
Tilting his head in askance at Lestrade, who waved a hand at the body in an affirmative gesture, John sidled over and crouched down on one knee just shy of the body's left shoulder. He checked her fingers, then bent closer to her face a gave a single sniff. Sherlock paced around him, circling the body like a vulture in a greatcoat. Raising his eyes and addressing both men, John stated firmly, "Asphyxiated on her own vomit. I don't smell any alcohol on her, so it was probably a seizure, or a drug maybe."
"Poison," Sherlock sighed, almost shoving John out of the way. "Just like all the others. I was hoping you would be able to pick up something else, perhaps from the killer."
"Sorry," John mumbled as he got his feet back under him.
"The real question," Sherlock glanced down at his datalet screen and pulled up the weather report as he spoke to himself, "is who 'Rachel' is."
"What?" Lestrade asked from the doorway. "What do you mean 'Rachel'?"
"That's what she was carving into the floor. It's not her killer's name, that's obvious, or he would have stopped her from doing it." Sherlock paused and looked over his shoulder at the Marshal. "Why? What did you think it meant?"
"Anderson said rache is German for revenge?"
Not many people could pull off sneering and groaning at the same time, but Sherlock managed it remarkably well. "Do us all a favor, Lestrade, and fire that imbecile?"
Lestrade rolled his eyes dramatically, "Yes, yes, Sherlock. We've got it, thanks. You don't get along with Anderson." He pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand. "Just tell me what you've got so we can move on, please?"
To further express his displeasure, Sherlock spoke as quickly as he could, "Your victim is a serial adulteress recently arrived from Cardiff. She was probably only staying one night judging by the size of her suitcase. Sometime after her arrival at the train station but before her check-in at her hotel she met with our killer and thus her demise."
"Hold on, serial what? Suitcase?"
"Serial adulteress," John answered, proving once again that he could follow Sherlock's rapid fire speech. "I'm just as confused as you are about the suitcase."
"It's written all over her!" Sherlock flailed his hands over the body in consternation. "Her jewellery is all perfectly clean except her wedding ring. Scuffed up on the outside but polished on the inside. The only cleaning it gets happens when she pulls it off her finger. Look at her nails and the skin of her hands; no manual labour for this woman. So who does she remove her ring for? Has to be a string of lovers otherwise she would never be able to keep up the fiction of her status as a single woman."
"Amazing," John said softly.
Sherlock paused to glance at him, taking note that the doctor was staring in wonder back and forth between the body and himself. Then the consultant continued, "In regards to the suitcase, it would have to be a small one. She colour-coordinates her entire being not just her clothes and shoes; her nails, her lipstick, the clip in her hair, it's all the same colour. Someone this conscious of their appearance? Definitely nothing bigger than an overnight bag. Also, there's the splashes of mud on the calf of her left leg. Small droplets, small spread, and therefore a small wheeled suitcase."
"Fantastic," murmured John.
Turning to his Guardian, Sherlock asked softly, "Did you you're saying that aloud?"
Watson blushed. "Sorry."
"No," Sherlock swallowed awkwardly. "It's fine."
"Didn't find a suitcase," Lestrade said confusedly, glancing between them both. "Also, how did you guess about Cardiff?"
"I didn't guess," Sherlock hissed. "I saw! Her coat is wet beneath the collar but the parasol in her pocket is bone dry and her hair is damp and messed from the wind. She's been in a place with rain and strong gusts, and the only place that has had both of those before her time of death was Cardiff." He shoved his datalet screen with the corresponding weather report nearly into Lestrade's face before a thought caught up to him, "What do you mean you didn't find a suitcase?"
"I mean there's no case. Just her." Lestrade looked genuinely confused.
"Did you find her datalet?" Sherlock barely let Lestrade shake his head once in the negative before snapping, "Then it's in her case!"
"There's no case," Lestrade spoke with the deliberate slowness of a father who had spent many nights trying to explain something to a child that refused to believe a fact put right in front of their face.
Incredulous, Sherlock wondered how it could be that even Anderson missed finding a bright pink suitcase. He went over the thought again, slowly, while looking down at the woman still splayed out on the floor. His mouth formed a round 'O' of comprehension as he realized that it was impossible to miss a bright pink suitcase, so it must still have been in the killer's vehicle. This thought led to another, being that if he found the suitcase and there was no datalet in it, then the word 'Rachel' would make more sense.
Without speaking again, Sherlock turned on his heel and sprinted out the door. Lestrade and John both shared a look of exasperation mixed with shock and ran out to the staircase landing. The consultant was already gliding determinedly down the steps.
Grumbling beneath his breath, John turned to Lestrade and asked, "How high up are we?"
Lestrade contemplated the distance from the landing to the floor with a glance and a shrug. "Twenty feet?"
"Broken ankles at the worst then." Without further ado, John hopped the banister and dropped straight down to the ground floor. Lestrade was so shocked, he didn't even reach out to stop him.
Sherlock stopped dead in the middle of the staircase as John's falling body landed feet-first on the floor. The Guardian squatted down from the impact, and his hands slapped loudly against the floor as his momentum ceased. Feral slate eyes bored into Sherlock's ever-changing green-blue ones as the doctor rose back to a standing position.
Warily the detective stepped down onto the main floor, watching as John tested each of his arm and leg joints for damage with tiny shaking movements. In the end, John nodded in satisfaction and rocked his head from side to side on his neck, the bones of his spine popping quietly. Watson's eyes never left those of his charge, even as he strode over to stand toe-to-toe with his charge.
John was livid; the strong muscle of his jaw twitched as he clenched and unclenched his teeth. He poked Sherlock in the chest and spoke in a low hiss, "Whether you take your safety seriously or not is up to you, but it's unfortunately in my job description to follow yo' skinny ass around." John's accent slipped further the more intently he spoke. "If that means I gotta fall twenty feet every time you take off afta a genius epiphany, then so be it. Howevah, my ankles'd appreciate it if you would at least have the courtesy of telling me to follow you 'stead of skipping awff."
Cocking his head to the side, Sherlock thought it would break some of the tension to smile down at the smaller man before him and ask, "Did you know your accent is showing?"
He realised it was very much the wrong move half a second later when John growled. This was not the noise of frustration that Lestrade often aimed in his direction or the the angry sound of Donovan forcing herself not to punch him in the face. If he hadn't been looking right into the cobalt-steel eyes of a man, Sherlock would have sworn an angry jaguar was staring him down. Watson had even bared his teeth. The sharp canines glistening in the light of the foyer reminded Sherlock once again that as human as the man looked, his Guardian was still part beast.
John reeled himself in at the same moment that Sherlock took a full step back from him and glanced around for an exit. There was a real flash of fear in Holmes' eyes. He took his own step back out of Sherlock's space and took a deep, steadying breath through his nose before letting it out slowly through his mouth.
When he locked eyes with Sherlock again, his voice was smooth and even, "Look, I get it. Having a tag-a-long is annoying. Well, tough shit. I'm not getting fired because you can't be bothered to share with the class. I'm assuming you read my file, so let me make something very clear." John stepped very close, and the feral sincerity in his eyes sank into Sherlock's bones. "If you ever disappear on me, I will hunt you down like a rabid dog, and when I find you, and that's when not if, I will break both your ankles. Bone. By. Bone."
Sherlock swallowed and, in a voice half-shock and half-awe, answered very seriously, "Understood."
With that one word, John stepped back and was again just a short blond man in a donkey jacket and fatigues. Sherlock blinked at the suddenness of the change. Licking his lips, John gestured to the house door and said benignly, "Lead on then."
Since the age of twelve, Sherlock Holmes had never smiled a smile as genuine as the one that blossomed on his face at that moment. How could such an ordinary seeming man be so contradictory? Was it just the oddness of his genetic make-up? It was going to be thrilling taking the man apart piece by piece.
Breezing passed his Guardian and out the door, he turned the opposite direction on the street from where John's car sat parked near the street corner. Finding further speech unnecessary, and with John trailing close behind he darted down a side street and delved into the pile of garbage beside a large, blue bin. Behind him, John asked, "What the hell are you doing?"
Lifting the lid of the bin, Sherlock grunted out, "Judging by her time of death, which was only a few hours ago, and considering the arrival time of the last train into London, our victim wouldn't have had time to stop at a hotel. Her case, which would be the same alarming shade of pink she was wearing, would have been left in the killer's possession. Our killer is a man, and even in these times of relative social complacency, he would have looked out of place toting around a bright pink suitcase." He grunted and slammed the lid shut. "Not here. Let's try another street."
Rolling his eyes, John kept pace with Sherlock as he lead them down another side street. Trotting along the line of bags and bins, John kept his nose focused on searching for the faint smell of the dead woman's perfume. Coming back to the end of the street where Sherlock was half hanging out of a bin he asked, "We're definitely sure he ditched it nearby?"
"Wouldn't you?" Sherlock wasn't looking at Watson, but he could hear the man huff a laugh at that remark. "When we find it, we can check inside and see if her datalet is still there. If it's isn't, it's quite possible our murderer has slipped up egregiously. It's not here either. Let's try the next."
It took them two more streets before the smell poked John in the nose, just as they turned around seeing the huge skiff parked at the end of the street. "Wait," he called out, cocking his head and darting deftly up the side of the huge red bin. Just below the lip of the skiff lay the suitcase, a bright spot of bubblegum pink among the dark plastic bags.
Sherlock raised a brow at him and John smirked. He fished around for a moment, just for dramatic effect really, then yanked out a bright pink suitcase. The detective actually clapped, as if he'd just been presented with the greatest birthday present he'd ever received.
"How did you know?" Sherlock asked, turning the slightly dirty case over in his hands.
"Chanel number nineteen."
"Her perfume," John clarified as he gave Sherlock a push in the arm to start him walking back in the direction of the car. "It's Harry's favourite. I could smell it in the room with the victim. It's also on her suitcase. You get to carry that back to the crime scene, by the way, since you wanted it so much."
"Don't be silly, John," Sherlock flashed him a toothy grin. "We're going back to the flat. Do keep up."
"I draw the line at running off with evidence, Sherlock. Seriously."
Snorting, Sherlock riposted, "We're not 'running off' with it, we're taking it to a secure location wherein I can study it and collect further evidence from it in a controlled environment."
"You know where else is a secure location?" John parried. "The crime scene. You know, that place where the Provosts and their crime scene technicians have the area roped off?"
"One thing you're forgetting, John, is that the head of those forensic technicians is one Mike Anderson, whose brain I am fairly sure shares several characteristics, including size, with a lizard?"
"Watch it you," John cuffed him on the shoulder. "I resemble that remark."
"Your brain is the same size as a lizard's?"
"Don't make me hurt you."