The taxi ride had been relatively quiet. John had started to explain his plan to Sherlock at one point, who had just dismissed his attempt to be helpful by turning away his head and watching the streets and Hyde Park pass by. John shook his head, pursing his lips subconsciously. Sherlock accepted his help insofar that he didn't refuse to go and see Lestrade, but he didn't say anything about what he thought about taking up work on a case. He wasn't excited or curious as he would normally be at the prospect of a promisingly unsolvable murder. Whatever was going on in the Consulting Detective's mind, he wouldn't share it. He only opened up in tiny bits when he lost control about himself; however, for John those bits spoke volumes.
Upon arriving in front of Lestrade's office, Sherlock didn't waste time in knocking at the door, he just rushed into the room, flopped into one of the leather chairs by the wall of the office, deliberately avoiding those in front of the DI's desk, and frankly asked, "What is it that you and your highly unprofessional lot here can't bring light to yourselves?"
Lestrade looked from Sherlock to John, who was still standing at the door, having shut it behind him. He shrugged, raising his eyebrows and nodding his greeting to the DI.
"Yeah, hello, Sherlock. Thanks for asking, I'm fine. And you?" the DI replied cynically, ignoring Sherlock's impoliteness regarding their professionalism. As John knew, he was used to it and generally didn't make much fuss. However, John didn't have to have Sherlock's powers of observation to see that Lestrade was slightly taken aback by the Consulting Detective's look. Looking at him now, John could see that Sherlock's face was cold, without any fascination or curiosity. Sherlock was much paler than he usually was, which John had thought was impossible, and thinner. Even the Belstaff coat couldn't hide that he was just bones and skin. John realised suddenly that Lestrade hadn't seen the younger man in a while because he hadn't had a chance to. He knew that Lestrade had tried to pay a couple of visits and had been informed by Mrs Hudson that on the first occasion they had both been in some undisclosed private clinic and that on the second visit, Sherlock hadn't been in a condition to be able to see any visitors. He supposed that he had become used to his friend's altered appearance and hadn't fully realised what the impact would be. He wondered, uneasily, what Lestrade made of the situation.
Sherlock stared at Lestrade for a moment, and John could almost see his mind turning over quickly, working out the implications. He was not used to Sherlock coming to the wrong conclusion, so he was shocked to see the Consulting Detective's pale cheeks flush with sudden anger as he burst out:
"Oh, you KNOW how I am; John has most certainly informed you about every detail of my health condition, so why bother with this palaver?"
"Sherlock!" John admonished his friend. "I haven't told him anything, have just asked for a case, so…"
"What haven't you told me, John?" Lestrade interrupted. "Sherlock?"
"Nothing of importance", Sherlock said hastily. "Now what's this case about that you can't solve?"
Greg and John exchanged quick glances and John nodded slightly.
"Right," the DI commenced, "we found a body two days ago, male, in his thirties. An old lady walking her dog found him in Paddington Street Gardens, Westminster, so just around the corner from your place."
"And…?" Sherlock probed impatiently.
"He was shot. It looks very unprofessional, though, as the calibre is a .22 short."
"What? So either an Olympic athlete has branched out or it's a recreational shooter. Who else would use such ammunition today?" John remarked, surprised.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You should update your knowledge on ammunition a bit, John. Even in the Olympic Games they don't use .22 short anymore. Well, shot from short distance then. Look for a sports shot, check the registered weapons and even you'll catch him easily. Why did you get me here for that?"
Sherlock got up from the chair and turned to leave.
"Now that you mention it, Sherlock, we'll check the weapon registrations. Not that it had crossed even our minds before…" Greg replied sarcastically. "There's something else about the body though."
"It's been branded. Post mortem. The ammunition hasn't brought us any further; it wasn't bought in Great Britain. The branding looks like a sign or a rune or something."
Greg shoved a couple of photos together on his desk and handed them over to Sherlock, who flicked through them quickly.
"You know who he is?" Sherlock wanted to know.
"No, not so far. He doesn't have a criminal record, nothing obvious."
"Hmm, … homeless," Sherlock mumbled, immersed in thought.
"Why that? I mean, why do you think so?" John questioned his friend.
"Look at the photos!" the Consulting Detective snapped. "He's not a criminal, he's homeless. There are marks on his back, caused by pressure and cold, from sleeping rough. Also, he suffered from poor blood circulation - an untreated heart disease, but not for very long. The beard isn't much more than a stubble, so he's still trying to keep up appearances as much as is possible for him. His clothes are dirty, but not quite ragged. His shoes don't look too worn. So, homeless he is, however not long-term. Cross check shooting clubs, and do DNA tests. I'll tell you who he is by tomorrow morning."
"What about the branding, Sherlock?" John asked. The tall man had already turned to leave, then turned around, making a funny face. "I have no idea. So far. Actually, I have twelve ideas, but it doesn't make sense to talk about them so far. It would just be too much effort to explain to you and eleven out of the twelve explanations would be in vain anyway. I'll tell you tomorrow."
With that he left the office and in his usual disdainful manner, walked down the corridor, leaving John behind.
"I got to rush, call you later, e-mail me the pictures, will you?" John said hastily before hurrying behind Sherlock.
Sherlock had already reached the end of the corridor and hurried down the stairs, John trying to follow him.
"Sherlock! Wait!", he yelled.
Neither did the addressed person stop nor did he react at all. The Consulting Detective just hurried down the stairs and out of the building, his coat flying behind him as if it also had problems in keeping up with its owner. Sherlock stopped at the kerb and raised a hand in order to hail a taxi. It was a mystery how he managed to get a free cab almost instantly and this one was almost about to pull into the London traffic when John reached it, managed to open the door just in time and threw himself on the backseat, grinning defiantly at the surprised driver.
"He doesn't have his money on him," he explained apologetically despite knowing it wasn't true and causing Sherlock to mutter angrily.
"'Cause I do! Even if I didn't, you'd be right behind and could pay the fare then."
"Isn't it ridiculous to pay for two taxis if we have the same destination?"
"Not when I have to think. So shut up if you want to finish this taxi ride in front of 221B and not somewhere on the way to it."
"Tss," was all John could say. He was used to Sherlock's moods, particularly when being on a case, but he hadn't expected his flatmate to be so cold. It was as if he took John's efforts for granted, without probably even noticing that they were efforts. At least if this case absorbed him, he wouldn't have to think about his emotions. And still, it was yet to show if it had been a good idea to get Sherlock back to work.
The rest of the taxi ride went in complete silence. Once the cabbie had made an attempt to start a cheery chat with them, which had resulted in a sheer endless flow of insults from Sherlock and the threat of the driver to get back to where they had come from to sue the Consulting Detective for his insults. Only thanks to John's diplomatic intervention and an extra, astronomically high tip John could have easily paid a second taxi with, were they taken to their destination.
Upon arriving at Baker Street, the ex-army doctor was exhausted and really doubted the suitability of his scheme. He also noticed that Sherlock was exhausted himself, climbing the stairs to their flat more slowly than was normal for him – actually most of the times he took two steps at once and now he only took one at a time. Also, John had secretly watched him pinching the bridge of his nose. Maybe he was suffering a headache. John decided to give Sherlock some Paracetamol before it got worse, although he was prepared for the younger man toreject them. If he didn't, it would be proof that he did have a terrible headache.
And so it was. After they had taken off their coat and jacket and Sherlock had flopped onto the sofa, John had got him a glass of water and two pills of paracetamol and his flatmate hadn't even complained or muttered, just said "good" and taken them.
"Are you alright, Sherlock?" John wanted to know.
"Yes, John, why shouldn't I be?" he snapped back, "I'm just a bit dehydrated, just need some tea and I'll be fine."
It wasn't very likely that that was the case because John took meticulous care of Sherlock staying hydrated, but he didn't want to probe any further.
"I'll get you some tea, rest yourself."
"I don't need rest…," Sherlock mumbled, apparently already on the verge of sleep.
John grinned. "I know, Sherlock, I know." He headed for the kitchen in order to prepare a tea for himself and watch Sherlock sleeping – just to make sure he was ok.
After an hour of Sherlock quietly snoring and John drinking his tea and taking yet another attempt at reading his book, the Consulting Detective started to shift a little on the sofa, slightly moaning, the eyes behind the lids moving rapidly. John had just decided to wake him, albeit this time he would be more careful, when suddenly Sherlock's eyes snapped open, and a long "Ohhh!" escaped his mouth, signalling that he must have had an idea in his sleep, maybe a clue to the case.
"Give me the pictures," he ordered, sitting up on the sofa and stretching out a hand to John.
"I don't have them. You didn't take them with you, neither did I."
"We always have copies of the crime scene and body photos, so why not this time?" Sherlock wanted to know. He was the greatest deductionist on Earth, but the very simple and obvious facts could sometimes just slip through his perception.
"You ran away." John stated drily.
His flatmate gave him a strange look. "You should have waited for them and taken another taxi."
"Ah, shut up, Sherlock," the doctor interrupted his flatmate's rant. Enough was enough.
"Lestrade wanted to send me the pictures anyway. I'll check if he has already and print them out, okay?"
Sherlock stood from the sofa and started pacing the room right away. He pointed to the printer that was sitting on top of a pile of books next to the desk in the living-room.
"Relax, Sherlock, whatever idea it is that you've had in your sleep, talk about it and it won't get lost. I'll print them as soon as I have them." While saying that he opened his laptop and checked his e-mails. He was relieved that Greg had been quick with sending the wanted photos. John connected his laptop to the Wi-Fi printer and double-clicked the print-button. The printer shook itself a couple of times before it made the regular sound of applying ink to the paper. After a short time John took the pictures out of the printer and handed them to Sherlock, who hadn't stopped his pacing.
He flicked through the printouts as if he was looking for a particular photo and suddenly stopped short, dropping all but one picture that he stared at, paralyzed.
"What? Sherlock? What is it?" John asked worriedly, crossing the room in long strides and trying to get a glimpse of the photo. Sherlock's hand sank so that the shorter man could see the picture, which showed the chest of the victim, pale with dark spots on it, the burnt traces of the branding building a revolting contrast to the dead flesh.
"Sherlock, the branding, is that really a rune?" John asked. "I always thought they were more angular."
Sherlock woke from his paralysis. "This is not a rune, John. If you know it already, why do you ask? Look at it! I mean, LOOK at it!"
John did what he was told, but couldn't see anything that would give him a clue as to what the sign was. It showed three curved lines in a row and one horizontal line. All lines reminded John of his Maths lessons; they looked like the integral signs, like the letter s with a stretched middle part. However, the actual curves were slightly angular. The horizontal line was another tilted stretched s that crossed the central vertical line in the middle and connected the outer vertical lines with its ends.
John shrugged his shoulders. "What is it then? I don't see anything."
Sherlock snorted disparagingly and looked at John.
"Same as ever. You're blind."
"Hang on, Sherlock, you had obviously had this idea when you were asleep. So, how could I possibly have recognized anything in it earlier than you? I don't consider myself slow, but I didn't even get a proper chance to look at the photos! Now what is it?"
"This is meant for me. -A
warning. Most likely." Sherlock explained as if that was a simple fact and
didn't worry him at all. However, his reaction had revealed that he was scared
and that in turn sent a shudder down John's spine.