Guardian of the Peace

Cleverness or Wisdom

"I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow." - Woodrow Wilson

Snatching up the bottle in front of Hope, Sherlock stood up and leaned closer to the fire. He studied the way the light shimmered off the dull coating around the powder-like substance in the pill. His challenger chuckled and picked up the other bottle and shook the pill out into a calloused hand.

"You know what I always wondered," Jefferson Hope said in an almost dreamy tone. "Why don't people think? Eh? Isn't it maddening? All those stupid sods out there in the big world. They get up, they sleep, they work. For what? A couple of pounds a month? A flat?"

There was something about Hope's voice. Something dangerous, something that sat on the borderline between persuasive and grating. His tone teased, the words poisonously pervasive to the part of Sherlock's overworked, often under-stimulated, genius mind. The red/white pill resting at the bottom of it's orange bottle mocked him, whispering a promise of stimulation. Sherlock was barely aware of tipping it into his open palm.

"When your fan showed me your website I thought, blimey, there's a bloke who understands. I hoped I could meet you someday. When your fan offered me that deal, well, I couldn't pass it up! I knew we'd cross paths. Lo an' behold, here we are."

"You keep mentioning a 'fan'," Sherlock said quietly, his eyes trained on the pill delicately held in his fingertips. "Who is your murder sponsor?"

Hope shrugged. "I never actually met 'im in person. The people he introduced me to, they never mentioned him by name either. I only heard it much later, after my second win. They whisper it in the shadows."

Sherlock waited for more, but Hope did not speak again. Both of them held their respective pills half a foot from their mouths. The cabbie's eye twitched as someone outside on the street below honked their horn. Hope did not break eye contact.

"He said he thought you were bored." Hope smirked. "Not bored now are you?" He lowered his voice. "Moment of truth. Let's take our med'cine and see who's really the cleverest man in London."

Sherlock's hand shook as he brought the capsule closer to his lips.

'That complete fucktard,' John mentally snarled, watching through the window across the street where Sherlock was sitting across from a murderer as if they were old friends having tea. 'The minute I get him alone, I'm gonna kill him myself.'

From his position in the dark window of the empty apartment across the street from 221B Baker Street, John could see his idiot charge examining something in one hand in the firelight. The shorter man, who John assumed was a cabbie, sat in Sherlock's usual chair with his back to the window. With a shake of his head, John pried open the window he was looking out of and reached into the back of his waistband.

It had been almost a year since he had held his Desert Eagle in his palm, but time had not stopped the grip from feeling at home there. A gift from his old unit, given partially in jest, he had never expected to fire it again. There had been a time long ago, filled with pain and blood and ruin, that had made him sure his arm would never be able to handle the weight of the weapon again. That was all in the past now, and the heavy metal was no more than an extension of his arm once again.

After the war, after the injury and the hospitals and the therapies, John had struggled to find a purpose. Now, standing in a darkened room staring across the darkening street at his new mission, John Watson knew what was expected of him. Raising the gun in a hand as steady as a mountain, he felt his irises dilate as all the predators in his genes focused on his target.

The moment Sherlock brought a hand to his lips, the trigger was pressed. John stayed long enough to make sure his prey was dead before melting into the darkness.

A thunderous sound cracked a hole in the window of the flat as Sherlock opened his mouth, and through the ringing in his ears he heard Hope scream in agony as something embedded itself in the floor at Sherlock's feet. The cabbie fell to his knees, and then onto his back as a scarlet stain poured dark and thick through a hole in his chest. Wide-eyed, Sherlock stared at the cracks in the window, then down at the faint glimmer of copper in the hole at his feet.

Dropping the pill, Sherlock darted over to examine what is obviously a bullet hole in what remains of the glass window pane. In a flurry of movement, he dropped back to the hole in the floor to examine the dull brass end of a .357 bullet barely visible in the floorboard. Hope wheezed wetly beside him.

"Was I right?" Sherlock asked briskly. He could hear the Provosts outside shouting about taking down the door. "The pill? Was I right?"

Hope smirked, then coughed as blood welled from his lips. He moaned as Sherlock snagged the wrist of his injured arm and twisted. His eyes were dimming fast, but the satisfied look on his face told Sherlock that the answer to that question might never be known.

"Fine then, tell me about my 'fan'. You said you heard his name whispered somewhere. Give me the name."

Stubbornly, Hope shook his head. He cried out as Sherlock stood up and jammed his foot against the edge of the bleeding wound. Varying the pressure, Sherlock pressed down again and again until Hope was nearly screaming.

"The name!"

A single word burst forth from Hope's lips, accompanied by his dying breath, "Moriarty!"

The front door of the building slammed open, yielding to the ramrod of the Provosts. Sherlock had just enough time to move away from the body before the officers powered up the stairs. They dragged the consultant bodily from the room and out of the front door, roughly handing him over to an ambulance crew. When the technician determined he was unharmed after a cursory examination, she gently placed a blanket the same shade of orange as a road cone over his shoulders. Sherlock shrugged it off with a roll of his eyes, only to have her replace it was a sad, pitying smile that made the consultant want to box her ears.

Lestrade sidled up a half a second later, his face showing the same exhausted exasperation it often projected after what Sherlock would have called a 'well-solved case'. The Marshal rubbed a finger along the side of his nose and said mildly, "You know, I hear skydiving is a nice, safe way to get an adrenaline rush."

"Why am I wearing this blanket?"

"EMT thinks you're in shock." Lestrade shrugged. "Plus the lads want to take pictures."

"I'm not shocked!"

"In shock."

"Semantics!" The consultant flapped his hands dramatically. Deciding a change of tactics was in order, as the Provost Marshal's only reaction was a particularly annoying smirk, Sherlock asked, "Who was your sniper?"

"Didn't have one." Lestrade scratched the back of his head in thought. "Your brother refused to authorise deadly force. Some rubbish about our snipers not being good enough to fire over a public street. Whoever it was, they cleared off after the shot so we've nothing to go on."

The look Sherlock graced the Marshal with managed to marry scorn with exasperation. "The bullet your incompetent forensics are digging out of my floor is from a handgun. A kill shot, over that distance? Your shooter is a marksman, a crack shot, or I would also be dead. With only a handgun to make a shot like that his hands couldn't have shaken in the least, which means he must be acclimatised to violence. He didn't fire until I was in immediate danger though, so he must have strong moral principles." Sherlock's eyes scanned the onlookers flooding the street almost lazily. It was highly unlikely the shooter had stuck around for him to pick him out of the crowd. "You're looking for someone with a military background, or at least training, with nerves of steel," his voice trailed off as his eyes stalled on a certain visage.

In the sulphur yellow of the lamp light, in parade rest stance, John Watson had his gaze level. There eyes met and everything clicked into place in Sherlock's mind. A veteran soldier, built around the compassionate heart of a doctor, ranked as a grade-A marksman.

"Ignore everything I just said," Sherlock stated quietly. "Maybe I am in a bit of shock."

Lestrade grunted sympathetically before telling the ambulance crew to get a move on. "I expect a full statement tomorrow," the Marshal ordered before he waved Sherlock away.

Tossing the disgustingly coloured blanket into the open window of a nearby panda car, Sherlock slowly approached his Guardian, pushing his hands into his pockets. John lifted a brow and said conversationally, "Donovan explained to me about the pills. Bad business."

Lips curving in a furtive smile, Sherlock murmured, "Perfect shot. Knew I could count on you."

"No you didn't," John stated flatly. "The only thing you thought about, if you thought at all, was yourself." There was a menacing note seeping into John's voice. "You're lucky the ambulance is leaving now, because otherwise I'd punch you in your stupid fuckin' face."

With a nervous swallow, Sherlock took a tiny step back. "You should probably clean the powder burns off your hands."

"This ain't my first rodeo," John snorted. "By the way, they think I was arguing with Mycroft on my datalet in the alley at the time. I might not be a genius like some people, but I'm sure as shit not an idiot."

Duly chastised, Sherlock glanced around the street before looking John in the eye again and asking, "You are well, though? No guilt? Nervousness?"

John looked up at the sky in contemplation for a moment, then the corner of his mouth quirked up. "I've seen plenty of death in my time, and more than enough violence. I've lost sleep over some of the people I couldn't save, whether they died under my knife or at the barrel of my gun." Dark navy eyes met with Sherlock's lighter verdigris ones. "I'll sleep just fine tonight." The doctor shrugged, his posture relaxing. "'Sides, it's not like he was a nice guy."

"True," Sherlock smirked. "Hungry?"

"Hell yes."

Turning to lead the way down the street, Sherlock felt John fall into step beside him. As they traipsed over to John's car, Sherlock stated, "I know a good Chinese place that stays open until two."

"There's always room for Chinese.""Did you know the secret to knowing how good a Chinese restaurant must be is to examine the bottom left third of the door handle?"

"Bullshit."

The rest of the office was closed for the night, but Mycroft Holmes's work was only just finished. He watched his younger brother and Guardian make their way to Dr Watson's Jeep, tapping a finger against his lips in thought. "Interesting. We should upgrade their security status, my dear. Grade three should do it."

Seated across from him, busily reading something or other on her datalet screen, his personal assistant glanced up at him in a way that clearly stated 'I'm too well-bred to roll my eyes at you but not well-bred enough not to poison your tea'. He gave her a gamine smile. Turning her eyes back to her screen, she stated simply, "Yes Sir. Grade three."

The next morning, at half past five, Sherlock exited his bedroom and tiptoed to the stairwell, his shoes in one hand. They hadn't been able to return to the flat until a little past four in the morning, and John had gone straight up to his bedroom. It was Sherlock's hope that John would be asleep for at least five or six hours. That would give him time to pilfer the car keys from John's coat, drive down to Saint Bart's, and get in about two hours worth of work in the lab before his Guardian even noticed he wasn't at home.

"Going somewhere?"

Cringing, Sherlock slowly turned to face his Guardian. John was leaning against the jamb of the kitchen door with his arms crossed over his chest, and a mug in one hand. He was wearing a shapeless black hooded sweatshirt, with a stylised devil dressed as a doctor with a red cross on a white band around one of its flexed biceps, and black sweatpants. Sherlock could read a bit of tiredness in the faint dark circles under the shorter man's eyes, but John did not seem otherwise affected by lack of sleep.

One of John's eyebrows rose, "What part of 'disappear again and I will break both your ankles' didn't compute the first time?"

Sighing gustily, Sherlock turned sharply back into the living room and flopped face-down on the sofa. He had been so close to just a few solid hours of work without being watched over like an errant duckling. Perhaps the universe was plotting against him.

The soft sound of ceramic touching down on wood called his attention, and Sherlock turned his face to the left. A blue mug sat on the coffee table in arm's reach, steam curling up from the rim. Nearby floorboards creaked as John shifted his weight and walked around into Sherlock's field of vision.

"Seriously though, was there something you had to do?"

Frowning at the cup, Sherlock watched the steam waft into the air and dissipate.

"Appointment? Did that guy Lestrade want you to come in for an interview or some paperwork?"

Sherlock turned his head back to the sofa, sighing gustily again.

"I feel like I'm playing twenty questions with a tea kettle."

Silence fell for a solid five more minutes before Sherlock started fidgeting. He could feel John staring at him, not moving. Finally, Sherlock gave in, "I was heading to Saint Bart's hospital."

John made an odd noise then asked, "Could you say that again without being muffled by the sofa?"

"I said," Sherlock shoved himself into a sitting position, "that I was going to go to Saint Bart's Hospital. I was hoping to do some of my own lab work in regards to the late Mr Hope."

"Why didn't you just say that?"

A moue of disgust and discontent shadowed Sherlock's face. "You are my Guardian and therefore will be hanging over my shoulder every moment. I will be too focused on the work to answer any questions or even acknowledge your existence. Thus, you will be bored and act more annoying than usual"

"Okay." John stretched his arms above his head, and a faint popping came from his spine. "How about a deal then?" He waited to make sure he had Sherlock's full attention before continuing, "If you promise me you'll stay put in the lab, I'll drop you off there and go take a jog and run some errands. I'll come back for you around noon or so, unless you contact me earlier, and we'll pick up some lunch."

Blinking, Sherlock could only stare at John for a long moment in surprise. It was clearly an exercise in trust, but was it to prove to Sherlock that John had no compulsion to watch over him like a hawk, or was it for Sherlock to prove to John that he could be trusted to remain on his own. If John were like Mycroft, with the ability to order people to keep watch on all the CCTV footage, then trust wouldn't even be a factor in their professional relationship. There was also the fact that no one had ever tried compromising with him before.

John was still studying him with his head tilted slightly to one side and his eyes narrowed slightly. Sherlock flashed him a quick smile of contentment. "I also need to pop by the morgue."

The left side of John's mouth twitched upward, "Alright then, you contain yourself to the hospital morgue and the lab and I'll stop by again at noon."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes shrewdly, "Is there some sort of retaliation for if I do not?"

"Breaking your ankles is still an option on the table," John stated in the matter of fact tone someone else might have said 'you'll find a pink slip in your inbox'.

"I can't tell if you are being facetious or not."

A slow, disquieting smirk developed from John's half smile. "Your jacket's downstairs?"

Glancing over his Guardian's clothes, Sherlock asked, "Are you planning on wearing that?"

"No, I planned to jog around greater London in my underwear and a waistcoat." The sarcasm in John's tone was almost tangible enough to slap Sherlock in the face. John rolled his eyes at the dark look that was overtaking his charge's face. "I promise I'll come back and change before I pick you up later."

Sherlock's expression cleared and he stood up, straightening his immaculate suit jacket with a tug. "That is acceptable."

Stretching out a calloused hand, John said, "Shake on it then? And I need to hear the words, if you don't mind?"

Rolling his eyes elegantly Sherlock slid his hand into John's and intoned, "I will remain in either the lab or the morgue of Bart's until you return at noon, hopefully better dressed than you are now."

Frowning, John raised his eyes to the ceiling then shrugged, giving their hands a single, firm shake. "Not exactly what I was hoping you'd say, but I'll take it."

"I'll drive," Sherlock said almost cheerily, nearly bounding for the stairs

"Not a chance," John chuckled, following him down the stairs.

They waltzed out into the weak sunshine, and settled into John's car with only a small delay which consisted of Sherlock trying to open the driver side door and John standing with his arms crossed just staring at him. It was becoming apparent to both men that John's patience and ability to wait things out was infinitely better than Sherlock's. The consultant got into the passenger seat with a sour expression. He was mollified slightly by John putting on a Beethoven playlist as they drove.

John went so far as to escort his charge all the way in to the lab and watch him settle in a seat before taking his leave. Sherlock breathed a sigh of relief as John's form trotted around the hallway corner and disappeared from view. Determined to make the most of his time, he buckled down to setting up some pipettes, a few files, and a microscope in his own little corner of the room. He had no idea if John would return to check on him, but he figured it would be at least an hour before he would be safe to disappear into London's streets.

An hour and a half later, while Sherlock was studying the chemical composition of one of Hope's pills beneath the microscope, his datalet pinged loudly. Glancing over at it, he raised his eyebrow at the name of the sender. It had been at least five years since he'd last heard from Sebastian Wilkes, and they hadn't parted on very good terms at that.

The message read:

Sherlock – How are things, buddy? It's been a long time since we last saw each other. I hear through the grapevine that you're now a consulting detective. There's been an incident at the bank – something odd. I was hoping you could sort it for me. Please call by. Needless to say, I'll be relying on your discretion. - Seb Wilkes

With a glance at his watch to check the time, Sherlock smirked and fired off a quick text message to Sebastian confirming an appointment and requesting the address for his branch of the National Reserve. If he was very lucky, either the case would not be boring, or it would be boring and he could return to the lab long before Watson returned from his errands. He cleaned up his workstation with eager efficiency and then bolted for the door.

With a wave of his arm a sleek black cab pulled up and Sherlock bundled himself into the back seat. He probably should have felt a little reticent – after all, he had nearly been murdered by a cabbie rather recently – but the only thing on his mind was the thrill of a possible case. Even if the case turned out to be simple he could throw the answer in Sebastian's smug face. Perhaps Mycroft would even learn of it and chastise Watson for being so predictably nice.

When the tall form of the consulting detective didn't even hesitate to call a cab as he practically bounced out of the hospital doors, John shook his head and slid his car into gear. It was easy to follow the cab through the streets, especially with the GPS locator in Sherlock's datalet blinking on the screen of John's map screen. Sherlock wasn't even bothering to change cabs.

When they paused at a red light, John tapped a series of numbers quickly into his call screen and hit 'send' before switching back to the map. He deftly kept two car lengths behind the cab as they slid through the streets while the ringtone buzzed in the car speakers. When a female voice asked to whom he would like to be connected he simply asked for Mr Mycroft Holmes's personal assistant.

After another round of ringing, a female voice said, "Dr Watson, to what do I owe this communication?"

"I was wondering if you could do me a dubious favour?"

"Dubious?" Her tone was either intrigued or confused.

"I was wondering if you could find out where Sherlock thinks he's going in the cab I'm following so I can beat him there and act on my promise." John slid around a traffic circle once and then passed through to be sure he wasn't noticed.

Over the sound of fingers tapping rapidly at a screen, she asked, "What promise?"

"I promised Sherlock I'd break both his ankles if he tried to disappear on me. It seems he didn't believe me."

She made a sound like she was choking on a drink, and John realized she was smothering laughter. It took her a long second to compose herself again. "According to the last text message he received he's on his way to Shad Sanderson, the most secure branch of the National Reserve. I'll send you the address; and since the cab has to follow a predetermined 'fastest' route, I'm also sending you shortcuts and putting a 'No Stop' order on your plate. Run all the lights you like."

John was stunned quiet for a few seconds. "To what do I owe the honour?"

"I've been Mr Holmes's personal assistant for almost eight years, Doctor. In that time if I have learned one thing it's that trying to control Sherlock Holmes is like trying to tame a bear while wearing a salmon suit. It's just going to get you mauled in the end."

Rolling his eyes, John sighed, "So basically you're going to watch on the CCTV while he chews me out?"

"While that would be fun, no. You're trying to beat Sherlock at his own game. I think you may be the first person to try any approach other than brute force." She was silent a moment. "Good luck keeping the bear at bay."

With a snort, John hung up and tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He had known almost from the beginning that Sherlock would be a handful – his intelligence alone made him a challenge to keep up with. John might not be a genius, but his instincts screamed that Sherlock needed protection from himself almost as much as from the criminals he helped the Provosts put in jail. John was determined to follow those instincts – intelligent people had disappointed him before, but his instincts never had.

The cab pulled up in front of the building which held Shad Sanderson and Sherlock all but tossed his fare at the driver before hopping out onto the curb. A glance at his datalet showed him there were still no messages from his Guardian, which meant Watson probably hadn't even realized he was missing yet. Smiling to himself, Sherlock strode towards the door of the bank. He wrapped a hand around the door handle, and a calloused hand landed on his wrist.

"Fancy meeting you here."

Frozen in shock, Sherlock slowly turned until his cat-green eyes met with the slate eyes of his Guardian. Blinking several times revealed that he was not, in fact, hallucinating Watson's presence. He wanted to say something, anything, to try and turn the situation to his advantage. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind.

John's other hand cupped Sherlock's elbow and he steered them into a corner of the foyer. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't break your legs right here?" The dark voice in which he spoke, laced with what was definitely a snarl, sent a very unpleasant sensation down Sherlock's spine.

"I thought it was my ankles," Sherlock responded flatly, refusing to look like he was backing down.

"Semantics." John's stare was uncompromising and unrelenting.

"I was contacted by an old," the detective paused minutely, "acquaintance of mine. He has a case for me."

He thought the pause would have gone unnoticed, but John's eyes narrowed and his head tilted a bit to the side in an odd way that managed to convey disbelief, predatory focus, and consideration. "And the reason you decided not to contact me was, what exactly?"

"I don't need your help," Sherlock snapped waspishly. "It's not dangerous in the least; this is the most secure bank in London. The only place in the world with better security is an international bank in Switzerland. It's not like I walked directly into a slum with my wallet in my hand." He crossed his arms over his chest. "I even took a cab instead of the Tube, where I could easily have been stabbed while my assailant disappeared into the crowd."

"Considering your previous encounter with a cabbie, that last statement was even less encouraging than you think." Sighing through his nose, John rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand. "Look, you might not think I understand, but I do. You're a genius, maybe the smartest man in the world. I have no doubt that, when push comes to shove you could get yourself out of a tight spot with your wits alone. But you know what's smarter than getting out of a situation?" John's gaze was intense, and Sherlock was caught silent by it. "Not getting into it in the first place. When it comes to that, you've got all the skill of a mouse with toxoplasmosis."

Sherlock had the decency to look somewhat chagrined. He just barely restrained himself from shuffling his feet like a mortified school boy. "I don't exactly seek out cats, Watson."

"But you can admit they end up sniffing you out anyway? By the very nature of your job they're bound to come after you." The doctor's shoulders twitched, as if he were fighting the urge to pace, and his voice lowered. "Speaking as a soldier, when you make your enemy's lives miserable they never stop trying to find a way around your perimeter to sneak up on you six and take you by surprise."

Rolling his eyes, Sherlock locked his hands behind his back, broadening his stance and looming over his shorter Guardian. "I am a genius, as you said, Doctor. I am definitely capable of thinking more than three steps ahead of my opponents. I am rarely caught by surprise, and more than capable of handling myself after the fact, as you have previously stated." He leaned over a bit more, using his height to cow the smaller man, and lowered his voice into a sharper tone. "These are criminals, not soldiers. Low-lives, cut-throats, thugs for hire. Very rarely do I run into a criminal who's empire is broad enough to warrant military backup. You are a moot point, Doctor. A redundancy."

Instead of backing up or shrinking away, John rocked his square head on his neck, unslumped his broad shoulders, broadened his stance, and stood with his back arrow-straight. He stepped further into Sherlock's personal space, and the stillness with which he stood was unnatural for a human. He stared directly into Sherlock's eyes, gaze unwavering, and his lips twitched as if he were suppressing a snarl. Sherlock noted briefly that from a normal distance John's teeth looked human enough, but this close the sharpness, shape, and dental formula more closely resembled that of a cat or a dog.

"I'll ignore the fact for a moment that you've completely disregarded my medical expertise, and focus more on the fact that if there is one thing I know it is predators." John's held tilted, almost lizard-like, to the side. "Criminals prey on the weak, and the foolish, and challenge themselves by taking on problems that their brethren find too difficult. You're just a challenge in the way of their next score; a speed bump in the criminal underground. One day one of them is going to decide playing your game is too much effort and is just going to shoot you where you stand." The fang-filled smile that John revealed by slowly lifting his lips would have been more comforting on a diseased fox. "That is where I come in, Mr Holmes. On that day you're going to need someone to recognize that you're about to get your head blown off and shoot the other bastard first." John straightened his neck and covered his teeth and smiled contemplatively. "Or at least I'll be there to pull the bullet out of your ass."

Sherlock couldn't help the delighted smile that slowly spread over his face. Most of his previous Guardians had gone for the physical – threats, manhandling, pressure points. Not one had even thought to try rationalizing their presence. None of them had presented an argument for their continued appearance at his side. Nor had they ever seemed more threatening than Sherlock could make himself seem without resorting to a show of bodily strength. Not to mention, how the hell had Watson beat him to the bank?

"Very well, Doctor Watson. Very well," Sherlock brought his hands back to his sides and leaned back slightly. "Why did you arrive here?"

"I've been following you," the doctor was smirking. "I took a half hour jog, changed, and then I just putzed around the security room at the hospital until you got on the move."

Sherlock's brow furrowed in confusion, "I'm sorry, puzted?"

"Puttered," John recovered quickly. "Sorry. I puttered around the security room and then I followed your cab."

"You couldn't have beaten me here if you were following," an idea clicked on in Sherlock's head. "Mycroft. Of course."

"Close." John smirked again at Sherlock's quizzical glance. "His secretary actually. I promised her pictures of those broken ankles, by the way, so if we could get on with that?"Snorting, Sherlock turned towards the door of the bank, then glanced at his datalet. Sebastian Wilkes was not his favourite person by an extremely wide margin. It might be helpful to have a bit of backup with some spine. Especially one that didn't seem easy to intimidate. He took a critical look at the clothing John was now wearing – black combat boots laced up under dark blue jeans, a crisply collared black, white, and red plaid shirt underneath a black cable knit jumper, and his dark black peacoat. It was a serviceable outfit; a high-end salon would hesitate to turn him away/

"My fracturing will have to wait," Sherlock stated in a business-like tone. "As I previously stated an old acquaintance has requested my help with a security problem at this very bank in which we stand."

One of John's pale brows rose, "Security problem? Seems a little below your paygrade."

"It would be if this bank wasn't considered one of the most secure monetary location in the Coalition. The sort of place where keycards and redundancies abound." Sherlock spun on his heel and held the door open to the inner lobby of the bank itself. As John fell into step beside him, Sherlock lowered his voice and continued, "They had a break-in that the security and information technicians cannot figure out. When faced with an unsolvable puzzle, and an opportunity to impress his superiors, Sebastian Wilkes, an old acquaintance of mine from university, remembered my penchant for mysteries."

John hummed in a way that might have been an expression of curiosity or comprehension. He kept otherwise silent as they reached the main secretary, and only frowned when they were escorted into the inner business sanctum of the bank. Sherlock was pleased to note John wasn't impressed in the slightest with the opulence around him.

They passed through no less than three checkpoints with corresponding metal detectors before they were escorted onto the same floor as Sebastian's office. The two-man security detail were large men, dressed in all-black three-piece suits, who looked more suited to standing guard at the doors of a bar than the doors of a bank. One put his hand on John's arm in order to keep him from following Sherlock into Sebastian's office, and jerked back as if he'd been shocked. John smirked and walked around him to take up a post in full view of the doorway behind the chair opposite Sebastian's desk.

"Holmes, what's it been? five years?"

Sebastian Wilkes had changed very little since their time in university. Dressed in an immaculate Gucci suit in dark navy with faint red pinstripes over a burgundy waistcoat with cream coloured buttons and trim, an off-white shirt, and a navy silk tie. Fit, but not necessarily trim, he was still in fair shape. A wry smile flickered over his face as Sherlock shook his hand, and his grip was unnecessarily hard.

[New watch – Breitling, this season – came out in February, date is incorrect by two days but time is correct; has been abroad and crossed the date line at least twice. Suit is expensive, well tailored but not bespoke. Shirt is high-priced and good quality, just matches the cream accents of his vest. Has put on at least a half stone – face is flesher around the edges, sleeve cuffs are just shy of straining. No sign of a wedding ring.]

"It's been above eight years, actually, Sebastian." Sherlock settled into the seat opposite the desk with a twitch of his coat. "You're doing well. Been abroad a lot."

"Some." Sebastian had that smile on his face. The one he used to use in the formal hall that meant he was baiting whoever his conversational partner into saying something that he could use to his own advantage. Usually it was a set down, or a thinly veiled insult.

Sherlock hated that smile. "Flying around the world, twice in a month?"

"You're doing that thing," Sebastian pointed at him. He glanced up at John, who stood at parade rest behind Sherlock's chair. "We were at Uni together. This guy here had a trick he liked to do. Could look at you and tell your whole life story." He looked back at Sherlock briefly before looking at John again. "Put the wind up everyone; we hated him. You come down to breakfast in the morning and this freak would know you'd been shagging the night before."

"I simply observed," Sherlock stated flatly, glancing briefly at the window behind Sebastian's shoulder. In the reflection, he could see John's head tilt very slowly to one side, like a hungry owl.

"Enlighten me then," Sebastian leaned back in his plush velvet chair. "Two trips abroad in a month. How can you tell? Is there a ketchup stain on my tie from some special condiment store you can only find in Manhattan or something? Mud on my shoes?"

"I chatted briefly with your secretary," Sherlock answered. Sebastian smirked and nodded in a way that indicated he recognized when he was beaten at his own game. In the window, Sherlock could see John smirk before he relaxed back into stone-faced parade rest. "So, break-in?"

"Right," Sebastian picked up his datalet from the desk. It was covered with an expensive designer folio case, the back of it able to double as an elaborate business card. "Happened last night at about a quarter to midnight. I had our IT team send me the video."

In the video, which was focused only on the security desk of the trading floor, in the span of a minute a single symbol had appeared spray-painted in black at one station of the two-man console. Behind the security desk was a pair of lifts, and from what Sherlock could remember of that room there were no windows and only one door. The symbol was perfectly centred on the one side of the desk.

"Where were the security personnel at the time?" Sherlock asked as he passed the screen back to its owner.

"Switching shifts. They have to go down to the first floor to pass on their information to the next pair." Sebastian leaned back in his seat and pulled open a drawer in his desk. "Solve this, help us plug up the hole in our security, and for your help and discretion we'll pay you very handsomely." He slid a cheque for five thousand pounds sterling across the table. "This is just an incentive. There's another forty-five in it for you if you solve it."

"I don't need incentive, Sebastian." Sherlock said airily. He passed the cheque over his shoulder to John, who sucked in a sharp breath at the sum. John slipped it into an inner pocket of his coat while Sherlock gave Sebastian a perfunctory smile. "I'll be in touch with you in a few days when I have the solution."

"Appreciate it, old friend," Sebastian stood and gave him another hard shake of the hand.

Sherlock strode out of the room, John on his heels. They were half-way down the hall when John spoke up. "You never spoke to his secretary. You said that just to tick him off."

Smirking, Sherlock shortened his stride until they were walking in step. "I don't know what you mean."

"Let's have it then." John watched him out of the corner of his eye, a smirk on his face. "How'd you know?"

"His watch." At the inquisitive sound John made, Sherlock elaborated, "Newest model Breitling – only came out this February. The time is correct, but the date is two days ago; he never bothered altering it."

"Incredible," John said under his breath, his tone awed.

Preening slightly, Sherlock snagged his Guardian by the elbow and steered him to the security desk so they could see the symbol for themselves. With his datalet, Sherlock took several pictures of the symbol, the desk, the hall, the lifts, and the doorway. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched John strike up a conversation with one of the bankers in the cubicles nearby.

Once he thought he had enough visual evidence, and he'd silently debated the pros and cons of scraping some of the paint into one of the evidence bags in his pocket, he glanced around to locate his Guardian. John was perched with one hip on the desk of a nearby banker, chatting jovially with several of the young ladies and a couple of young men. Sherlock barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes before striding over.

"Come along, Watson," the consultant beckoned, sweeping through the middle of the group.

Behind him, he could hear John apologising for having to rush and leave. He caught up a half-second after Sherlock entered the lift, just before the doors quietly shut. "I assume you got everything you need?"

"Almost. We just need to stop by the main Security office to get the name of the guard who would have been on duty at that desk last night."

"Justin Montemorency."

"Yes," Sherlock paused, and turned his face sharply to the man beside him. "Wait, what?"

John gave him a mischievous smirk. "Justin Montemorency is the guard who came on duty at that side of the desk last night. Scuttlebutt says he quit half-an-hour after he came on shift, same time he and his partner finally got up to the desk and found the graffiti. They haven't been able to reach him since."

The door of the lift opened and John strode out, leaving Sherlock standing, half-stunned, until they had almost closed again. Catching up to his shorter Guardian in a few long strides, Sherlock stated, "You know, Watson, I think you missed your calling. Isn't there a daytime telly show you should be hosting or something?"

John snorted. "You're just mad you didn't find it out for yourself."

"Don't be silly," Sherlock turned to follow the sign labelled 'Security Main Office'. "It will make finding out where he lives much easier."

"Mayfair."

Sherlock stopped in the middle of the floor, whirling around to face Watson. "You cannot be serious."

"Charles street. One of the girls dated him for a few months." John's smile was just shy of utterly unapologetic.

Straightening his coat lapels, Sherlock barely refrained from childishly knocking John's shoulder as he strode towards the entrance to the bank. Over his retreating shoulder, the petulant consultant commented, "For your cheek, you can drive."

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