The clinic felt cold and crowded with the air conditioning roaring away above him. John disliked the heat, but then, several years in Afghanistan had taught him tolerance. Cold was something he'd always hated. It came from early childhood remembrances of his father losing jobs, and the family limping through winters on what could be scrimped, saved, borrowed, or begged. That had been seasonal work. John had decided for the steady course of the military. They'd paid to make him a doctor, and he'd given them a good 5 years of his life in gratitude.
He hated the cold.
He also disliked this meeting.
The senior doctor in the clinic had a small, sterile, ice-cold office in the back, quite close to the fire door that, once upon a very distressing time, John had dragged a shot, bleeding Sherlock Holmes through by sheer physical force of will. It was his loyalty to that same man that was the cause of this very meeting.
"Frankly, John, I didn't believe Sarah when she told me you rejected the offer of a fulltime post." Doctor Rangan looked up at him curiously. "I think the entire clinic is reeling."
"I'm sorry," John said uncomfortably.
The man's dark brown gaze glided down to stare at paperwork at his desk. "So… I thought I'd appeal to you in person. We could bring in someone new, of course, but you're well known here, and well thought-of, I should hope you know."
"Very good." The man cleared his throat and knitted his long dark fingers before him on the desk. He stared. John felt himself glance at Dr. Rangan's hands. John always watched people's hands, but it wasn't for any deductive reason to which Sherlock would lay claim. Afghanistan had taught him that's where the trouble started. He was safely in London, but his brain chugged along as if still in the tribal regions. And what would Sherlock see in those long fingers and their pale nail-beds? If only Holmes could lean over Watson's shoulder right now and begin his autocannon barrage of deductions. How painful this was. How painful rejecting this was. How he could use Holmes' support.
Dr. Rangan began again. "Is it the salary? We're prepared to negotiate with you, John. We know you're overqualified for here. You could walk into any hospital in London and become a surgeon. We've seen your records. But you bring such knowledge and experience to this clinic, and you're so steady that everyone's skills have grown from associating with you. I can't replace that. I'm prepared to offer you-"
John held up both hands, "Oh no-no. Please don't." He really didn't want to hear the number. He was afraid it would make him ashamed of what he was about to do.
Dr. Rangan blinked in surprise.
"Have you spoken to Sarah?"
The doctor raised a hand. One curled knuckled tapped his lips. "About you?"
Oh, dear God. Best steer clear of that, in case dating fellow doctors was frowned upon by the management. "About the situation," John opened his hands before him, "about my… other job."
Rangan's expression darkened some and he sat back in his chair to consider John. "Sherlock Holmes…. The clinic buzzes about him. I've come into the break room to hear the nurses talking. Something about a blog? Sarah has told me about some of his… exploits, but I understood that was an unpaid position?"
"It is," John shut his eyes and opened them only when his phone pinged. He took it out and checked it by habit, but only had the time to confirm it was Sherlock.
"Is that him?" Rangan asked offhandedly.
"It's at the end of my shift so he's, yes, he's probably got a case, or-" John tucked the phone away and sighed. "I'm sorry, Kumar, I really am. I'm just not ready. I mean… yes, it's unpaid, but these cases..." John's hands opened on the arms of the chair. He found it impossible to explain.
There was a long moment of silence before doctor Rangan sighed. "The offer still stands, John. We won't be interviewing before the end of next month-"
John's phone pinged.
"-and I want you to give it some serious-"
"-thought before you-"
"-dear God, is that still him?"
John nodded and smiled, "Yes. Please ignore him. He has raging ADHD." Ping.
"You might want to check those." Dr. Rangan fiddled with the pen he held in his hands.
I also might want to throttle him. "Thank you," John sighed and took his phone out and fiddled with the controls to turn off the sound of incoming texts. Then he flipped to read the texts:
'At Scotland Yard.'
'Oh God let this end.'
'Nightmare of nightmares, I am in Lestrade's team meeting.'
'John, get down here as quickly as you can.'
'Get. Me. Out.'
It took every erg of energy that John could muster at that moment, not to laugh out loud. As it was, the smile that crossed his face drew doctor Rangan's attention immediately.
"Something good?" he asked curiously.
"Something too good to be missed," John almost broke up on that last part. He tucked the phone away. "But it will keep. I… maybe we should talk about schedules. I want to help, of course, and do more, but there are the demands of Scotland Yard besides, and maybe if we could think of something?"
"But they have a slew of medical examiners at their disposal," the doctor sat forward again. "I don't follow, John. Why is it you that they need? Is it… your combat experience, somehow?" Kumar pulled out a desk drawer and drew out a large square of paper with schedules hand-written on it.
"Not precisely," John sighed and leaned over the paperwork. "You'd have to know Sherlock."
Sherlock was the only person in the room who leaned back so far in his chair that he could look at the ceiling. He rocked it left to right softly, unable to be still, and his fingers fiddled on the armrests. Currently, he was looking at the fiberglass ceiling panels and wishing he could hop onto the table, push one out of its T-bars and escape like Indiana Jones. He could use the bullwhip to shut off the lights.
Lestrade paused, mid progress report and addressed the fact Sherlock Holmes' behaviour was now pulling most of the attention in the room, "Sherlock?"
Sherlock's deep purring drone drew out the words, "Mind-numbing."
"Sherlock," Lestrade's face appeared between Sherlock and the ceiling. "Sit up straight."
"Oh God, why?"
"Because you're not fourteen," Lestrade shut his eyes and gathered his strength, and then he caught hold of the chair in which the branch's latest acquisition – the world's most insouciant, and only, Consulting Detective – perched, to pivot it upright. At least Sherlock didn't resist. He looked around the police gathered at the large table, groaned, and put his head in his hands, liberally messing up his dark curls. Lestrade clapped him on the back. "Good lad."
"Die. Oh please, someone, die." Sherlock shut his eyes and prayed. He rubbed his forehead.
"Sicko." That came from the officer directly on his right. Sherlock, however, was too miserable to respond. He took out his phone and began searching the internet for violent crimes in London.
He glanced up three minutes later. Something… something on his periphery… had alerted him. It had sucked him out of the noiseless insulation of his concentration and deposited him on the tail end of Lestrade's sentence: "-crime numbers have been impacted, as you can imagine."
Holmes scanned the table for the offender. His eyes lit on the police psychologist and bounced away as a matter of course. He'd been dodging Dr. Callum Kerr for weeks. Sherlock had no idea – and this was rare – what colour the man's eyes were. He might have had heterochromia and that would have been a happy mystery. He was indirectly aware of Kerr staring at him.
When nothing came up, Sherlock grew confused. He shut his eyes, inhaled, exhaled, and let his eyelids drift slowly up. Inside his mind, he shut out the dull prattle at the end of the table, and he began to read the entire room. This was a very demanding thing to do. It was exhausting.
Some minutes later, something else came up on radar, something jarring. He focused on one person, Sergeant Ling. He studied her hard-bitten profile where she sat across, and three seats down, from his present position. The meeting rolled on. Sherlock's phone gave a soft chime – that would be John texting him.
Lestrade's voice penetrated his shell of peace. "Sherlock's effectiveness is a matter of record, Anderson. Since he got the badge, he's closed 45 cold cases apart from the active investigations we've called him in on. You point me at another person who does that in his spare time."
"It's because Freak's addicted to misery," Donovan fired back. "A day without a grisly crime scene to enjoy is a day without sunshine."
Sherlock cocked his head, barely focused on this.
Donovan growled, "You're the type who'd tuck into tomato soup with people impaled all around you, do you know that, Freak?"
"Love tomato soup," Sherlock said flatly. His gaze glided across to Donovan, "And you're the type who'd sanctimoniously starve to death; how stunningly moronic that is. Believe me, people killing one another is inevitability. It's entirely inadvertent that it gives me something fun to do."
She stood up. "You're sick."
He sneered, "And you're supposed to like solving crimes. Or why else be here?"
"I can't believe law enforcement is forced to look at a criminal like you every day."
"You're a half-wit and I have to look at you." Sherlock snapped on the way to his feet.
"Sherlock!" Lestrade swore under his breath. Without John Watson along to moderate, Sherlock was unmanageable: saying what he wished; doing as he pleased; hissing and growling like a semi-feral animal. "Sherlock sit down!"
His eyes had been scanning the table, restlessly, and now he exploded. "All of you, shut up!" Raw aggression stiffened his body language. And he was a big guy.
"You're out of line." Lestrade told him.
Sherlock rounded on him, "You brought me here. I told you never to bring me here for inanities! I told you I wouldn't abide this!"
Lestrade would've had the badge of anyone who dared speak to him like that, and yet, with Sherlock, it was an expectation. Lestrade opened his mouth to reply, and then, like magic, Sherlock's hostility switched off, replaced by unruffled composure. He'd turned in place and extended an arm across the table. "Wait. Wait there," he said lowly, "you can't go yet."
Police who had started to rise, having had enough of him, now froze at the deep, mollifying note in his voice. It was soothing. Plus, no one had a clue who he was talking to, at least not until Sherlock walked his side of the table to stare across at Ling. Cops moved out of his way.
Finally, Sherlock grimaced and rubbed his temples with a soft grunt. "Your gun. Leave your gun. And your badge, I guess. Like in movies. Just leave them." His fingers flicked in air.
Ling rose slowly, like an ash cloud of pumice over a volcano, out of her seat. "What the hell… is this Freak talking about?" She said the entire sentence through her clenched teeth.
"Oh, this is so not my problem," Sherlock muttered to himself, but he put a long hand through his dark curls and restated the demand with a more pronounced flick of his hand. "Your gun. Leave it. Badge too."
"Slow down." Lestrade looked between them. "What's going on, Sherlock?"
Sherlock put his head down and exhaled. His hands came to rest on his narrow hips. "I don't want to deal with this."
"Deal with what?" Lestrade asked him.
Ling sneered, "Nothing. He's crazy, boss. It's a load of cack."
That had been the wrong thing to say. Sherlock made an inarticulate grumble. He prowled around the end of the table and extended a hand at Ling. "Look at her. Flat affect; dull eyes; hesitation marks under her shirt-cuffs; and every time you mentioned a forecast further out than a month, her face would present utter misery. She's suicidal. She won't make it to next month. Do you really want her to have a gun?" Sherlock stopped when he could look down at Ling. He cocked his head at her. "Someone died. Someone you think you can't live without. Did I make that up?"
She went pale and grim, and closed her eyes.
Lestrade turned in place, "Mandy?"
"He's a liar," she said, but… there was breathlessness about her voice as she did so. "He's-" she was forced to put her head down.
Sherlock pushed one stiffened arm aside, reached in, and took away Ling's gun. He shoved it at a nearby cop, wordlessly. "Smell the curry? Someone brought Indian take-away. Mmm," he said that last lustily – his chest rumbling like the innards of a cello. With that Sherlock Holmes headed out the door.
He'd found the curry dishes and busily served himself. Several minutes after, Lestrade located him sitting lotus in the far corner of their section. He looked out the window at the jagged skyline of London and munched curry rice. At his side sat a stack of case files from Homicide and Serious Crimes. Several were open with Sherlock's fluid handwritten notes, each word oddly far from the last, jotted on a notepad that was coded by case file.
Lestrade stood beside him and gazed out over a summery city patterned with cloud-cover; neither man spoke. He'd seen Watson's comments that Sherlock's capacity for silence was maddening. According to Doctor John Watson's blogs, one of the most challenging things about living with Sherlock Holmes was the silence. Having been through the team meeting, it should have been hard for Lestrade to believe, but this Sherlock acted as if he existed on another plane, one in which he was the only living being left. The busy energy that typified Holmes was shut away. It left Lestrade feeling kind of… cut off. Three minutes passed and Sherlock didn't look his way. He was so… unusual.
When Sherlock finished his curry and washed it down with the last of his Perrier water, he simply set his elbows on his knees, knitted his fingers at his lips, and stared at the street below.
"Do you know I'm here?" Lestrade asked.
Holmes' green gaze pivoted up to take him in. "Something?"
"Yeah, something," Lestrade bent over him. "You're going to have to do better than that next time we call you in for a meeting."
Sherlock blinked, "Better than preventing officer suicide?"
Dammit. There was that. "About Mandy Ling… you saved her life, that's certain. That was… good of you, Sherlock."
"Ah. Tell John." Sherlock reached out to tap the window. "He's not here yet. Something has delayed him. The recent messages on his blog, combined with his restlessness coming home from work suggest that it's related to his position at the clinic."
"Think he's about to be down-sized?" Lestrade asked. There was real regret in his voice. Some people around here – though not all – thought well of John Watson and his exemplary military record. He, for one, respected John, and didn't want to see unfortunate things happen to the man.
But Holmes only scoffed. "John Watson dug through human bodies in such dire shambles the men had one foot in the heavens, and yet he made them live. His qualifications are so far beyond that piddling little clinic. He will not be downsized. They're going to offer him a fulltime job, and he, being John Watson, and loving life, will have to refuse. It will be difficult for him, and when he hurries back here, he'll need consolation. He is that type of man."
"But… that makes no sense," Lestrade said. "I mean, he's a good man. He deserves the position and the money. I mean, unlike you Scotland Yard doesn't pay him."
"Well it had best change policy on that." Sherlock shut the folders nearest him and glanced up. He was rewarded by Lestrade's expression, which, yes, wondered why they hadn't made provisions for a highly trained man like Watson.
"It'll be a tough sell."
"Then take it from my salary." And Sherlock flipped the notepad to the first page, which said SHERLOCK in oddly-spaced all caps and, underneath, Don't Touch, and then he spoke slowly, "I won't work with anyone else."
"Okay." Lestrade set his hands on his hips and stood in silence for a while. "And you don't feel bad stymying his medical career?"
Sherlock's lips pulled to a sudden gritting of his back teeth. "He's given up years of his life to deep enemy territory and ruined bodies… shattered minds," Sherlock got to his feet. "Now all he wants," Sherlock raised a hand and pointed his first two fingers at his temples, "is this. I don't know why. I don't care. Thus, I'm not doing something to him, Lestrade; not standing in his way. I let him take what he needs. That is all that is required to take the keys to John Watson."
Lestrade wasn't sure what to say to that. He felt… bowled over. Some button had been pushed, certainly, because Sherlock wasn't one to share. Now Lestrade found he couldn't approach the strange disconnection of Holmes' sentiment – couldn't pick up something so intimate and acutely unfeeling. It had too many sharp angles, and required tongs. Lestrade looked down at the tips of his battered shoes. God. What must he think of me, then? What are the keys to me?
Sherlock looked out over the city anew. Lestrade reversed his logic.
What are the keys to him?
Likely, Lestrade would never know. His phone went off and he plucked it off his belt to give the text a read. "Something weird. Hm. Litres of blood in an artist's loft in Blackfriars over in the Cheapside area. No body."
"That's not Met jurisdiction," Sherlock's brows rose and he noted aloud. "That's the City of London Police Department."
"It is," Lestrade heaved a sigh and then showed the phone to Sherlock, "but someone, someone over in Counter Terrorism and Serious Crime Directorate, wants to talk to our CD, and by that, I mean you. They've sent me a formal e-mail too. Looks like word is getting around."
Sherlock's expression shifted. It became happy. "Missing body. Thank you."
Lestrade's lip curled up in disgust that had zero impact on Holmes. The tall Consulting Detective merely stalked away and left Lestrade stood there, thinking: So much for Doc Watson getting done and needing reassurance when he arrives at the Yard. However, it was such a curious thing to have a direct invitation from the City of London Police Department, who worked closely, and yet remained highly autonomous, that Lestrade didn't question his next actions for longer than a moment. He felt for his keys and followed Sherlock Holmes' long summer coat through the office.
They rode in Lestrade's Toyota, Holmes outright refusing a police car. He sat in the back, rather than the passenger side. Lestrade knew better than to comment on it. Sherlock wasn't like most people. He treated this ride no differently than he would a cab. The entire trip over – at least as far as Lestrade was given to notice – Sherlock's green eyes were lightly shut. He seemed to be gathering himself. Or it might have been excitement. Nothing had come up on the radar for him in two and a half weeks now.
The lofts were in a stone building of advancing age, which stood close to the water. In fact, the lofts were linked by a death-defying staircase, which was supported only at the wall, and which reached up seven stories. The lift looked even dodgier. In any event, Sherlock was the spirit of fearlessness. His long limbs devoured stairs, which, while the treads were worn and the railing stout, but rather open, he judged to be quite acceptably sturdy.
As soon as he saw police tape, brass-buttons, and red and white checks, he was off like a bloodhound.
The loft in question was on the fourth floor, simplicity to find. It was the centre of a witches-brew of activity that had people in nearby lofts peeking out worriedly. Sherlock hung by the front door in a state of excitement that wouldn't allow him to be still. Lestrade's glance confirmed Holmes had, in fact, paused at the threshold in order to first text John Watson.
"He's on his way," Sherlock said merrily. He put the phone away and closed his hands together before him, about to push into the room beyond.
"Good to hear," said a woman who approached the door from inside the loft. She measured the strangely enthusiastic man who fairly quivered in the glow of the skylight, and cocked her head, "I gather… you're Sherlock Holmes?"
Sherlock's eyes crawled what he could see of the apartment beyond her. He ignored her.
"He is," Lestrade stepped in where John Watson normally would, and extended a hand to the woman. She took and shook it, graciously. Lestrade chose to continue, all the while wondering if he should bother. "Sherlock, this is Senior Investigating Officer Charlotte Warren."
"Lovely," Sherlock glanced brightly her way. "Can I come in?"
"I heard about your deductive work on the Met police conspiracy. It was exceptional. So I called you here." The woman's hair was blisteringly red in the natural light from the hallway. She was in her mid- to late-thirties, and distractingly attractive, which was part of the reason why Lestrade knew exactly who she was. She was sizing up Holmes at the moment, as if debating her decision. "Several of my peers believe you're a killer and a confidence man, Mr. Holmes."
"Lovely. Can I come in?" Her peers didn't matter.
She remained in place, barring the doorway. "I think otherwise."
Sherlock had no opinion.
She issued a steely demand. "Prove me right." After a moment wherein he met and held her darker green gaze, SIO Charlotte Warren stepped aside. Slowly, and with his eyes on her, Sherlock circumnavigated the woman.
"Thanks," Lestrade nodded as he followed. But she flanked him, so Lestrade slowed.
She spoke in a lowered voice. "So that's Holmes."
"That's him." Lestrade glance to see what Sherlock was doing. He was walking in slowly, his eyes combing the very air around him, it seemed.
"And he's truly yours then? I wondered if… but here you are to unleash him. Admirable. He's quite a victory for your team," SIO Warren straightened and joined her hands behind her stylish coat. "Of course, I'd hoped to involve him in the City of London PD. Investigating fraud is complex, you understand. There's often considerably less tangible evidence to go on than a murder. But I was blocked several times by men above my head."
He couldn't really say 'I'm sorry', because he wasn't. Lestrade had risked his career more than once for Sherlock. Yeah. He wasn't giving him up. Hell, he didn't even feel motivated to share the man.
She seemed to guess this as she looked his way. "Well… congratulations, DI Lestrade."
"Uh, yeah," Lestrade wasn't sure why this suddenly embarrassed him, but he had to look down and away. His gaze caught the end of Sherlock's coat and bounced up to his shoulders. Sherlock turned his head and his dark hair shone, in an unholy corona, outlined by the light from studio windows beyond. Not for the first time Lestrade prayed Sherlock would do his worst, and by that, he meant utterly entangle the villain behind this.
"How does he work?" SIO Warren crossed her arms and asked. Her pursed lips caught Lestrade's attention and he had to shake himself. It wouldn't do to get on like an idiot around Charlotte Warren. He'd make a fool of himself. And… what the hell kind of question was that anyway? How did he work?
"Well," Lestrade rubbed his chin. "Far as I can see, you… wake him in the morning, feed him leftover Chinese, point him at a crime scene, and get the hell out of the way."
"I… I don't understand."
Lestrade's brows went up, "Uh, good show. That's correct. That's it, exactly." He checked his watch. "He'll need his assistant at some point here. That's John Watson, by the by. Nice bloke. You can talk to him, Watson."
"I've heard his name before," she admitted. "He's a medical doctor – quite accomplished. He's spent most of his adult life in Afghanistan. All true?"
"That's him. Sherlock showed up with him one day, like – God, I don't know how a thing like Sherlock meets a person, really. But good luck. John Watson, you can think of him as a translator." Lestrade broke off his examination of Sherlock's slow turn in the room. "Your best bet doing anything with Sherlock is going to be working through John Watson."
This morning's meeting had taught him that much. Somehow, John channeled away some of Sherlock's worst habits. Speaking of which, Holmes' body had drifted to a halt and his frame was beginning to stiffen.
"Oh, that's… mm. So when does he arrive?" she seemed torn between paying attention to Lestrade and trying to follow what Sherlock was doing, holding so still.
"He's got something going on at the clinic where he works," Lestrade rolled his shoulders to clear them of tension, and glanced around at the City police. "Gonna have to wait and see."
"You lot," Sherlock's body snapped around to the right facing deeper into the loft. He raised his voice. "Okay-okay. Too loud. Get out. All of you. Shut up and get out."
All around Holmes' booming voice, City police straightened and glanced around them, unsure who he was speaking to in such a tone.
"Yes you. And don't look at me. It's confounding. Get out." He pointed at the door.