As impossible as he would have deemed it in the cramped, airless, and fume-filled room, John fell asleep. He jerked awake only when Holmes – his coat smelling like fog and wind – slumped onto the chest beside him. "John. Here."
Sherlock gave him bottled water.
"What did you do?"
"Went to meet, Sarah." He nodded. "She's pulling the car around. Give me a pill, John." His hands were shaking.
His movements stiff and painful, John pulled out the pill baggies and decided the dosages. He gave Sherlock a studied once-over in the light of his mobile phone and handed him one of the more powerful pills. Sherlock waited like a baby bird, his lips half open with a steady pant of air passing between, his body quivering, and his eyes clouded. When injured, there was a genuine difference in resilience between a depleted body like Sherlock's, and a fed, rested, and maintained one, like John's. As the hungry, sleepless, sapping hours rolled on, the gulf between them would only widen.
John steadied the bottle so that his flatmate could drink. "It won't be long," he muttered soothingly, "It won't take long."
When John took his own pills, he watched Sherlock's huddled body. Holmes rocked slightly and each steady puff of air had a soft groan on the tail-end. John fairly willed the pain relievers to blossom in the man's stomach, course through his bloodstream, and penetrate the barrier between blood and brain, because he'd only ever seen Sherlock in such a state once before. And the man had been shot at the time.
"Your mobile, Sherlock."
John slipped it from the man's inner jacket pocket as gently as he could manage. He checked the message, which was Sarah's.
'We have a problem. You're flagging. I need to get you in the car. But there are police checkpoints all along here. I need you to go another 5 blocks.'
John looked at Holmes. He had slumped against the flats of paint beside him and was breathing hard. This was a man who didn't breathe hard after running across a ward.
She texted a reply.
'Can you go 2 blocks?'
That… might be possible. Or, no idea.
"Holmes, can we go 2 more blocks?" John asked.
Sherlock's breathing was levelling as he asked, "Depends on the direction."
'Can try.' John texted in reply.
How weird it was, texting her from Holmes' phone! It was almost like she was another woman, entirely, with Sherlock.
Together, they worked out a plan that would take Sarah through the checkpoint closest her, and allow her to intercept them a few roads over. Her turn to change direction would be innocuous enough, even if noticed. John tucked Sherlock's phone in his own pocket and rose stiffly to his feet. His ribs pinched achingly. His lungs burned for a few deep breaths, but then he was able to muster himself to move again. He turned to Sherlock.
Holmes' green eyes were open, "Is it time?"
"The Met has checkpoints on the roads. Sarah needs us to go a few blocks."
His lips flattened a moment, but his eyes lit with resolve. "If that's what she needs."
Thankfully, the effort had switched from searches to checkpoints. John kept Sherlock to alleys, with only brief forays into the street. The pill he'd taken began to cut into Holmes' pain as they walked, and, by the time they dropped into Sarah's car, he was grim, yes, but in control of his faculties.
"All right?" Sarah asked.
"I hate Lestrade right now," John pointed out. "But he's damn effective." The seatbelt he pulled across his chest sat painfully over John's badly bruised skin, but he let it lie.
Sarah informed them. "At least I've had a call from Doctor Hooper; seems she wants us back at St. Bart's about the blood. She's beginning to get data back now."
"Which is where you'll be going," Sherlock told her, "And then you'll text us the findings. We have to get across town to the offices of Ignis Ray Pharma."
"Which are where?" Sarah scanned her options ahead and pulled into the middle lane.
"Newham. We're going to Silvertown." Sherlock raised the slate and pointed it at John. "We'll start on the banks of the Thames."
"Why there instead of… wherever they ship freight with trucks? What made the decision?" John was surprised.
Sherlock's bowed lips pulled back to dimple his cheeks. He was irritated. "Trucks come in and out of the Ignis Ray Pharma Silvertown facility, and it's on the Thames, giving them more than one way to move her around. Going after their truck freight right now… the police presence makes heading there untenable. And give me back my mobile."
John handed it over. "And if she's not in Silverton?"
"Then we have a problem. We'd need to get back into town without being spotted by anyone from the Met. Ignis' freight depot is between Mooregate and Shoreditch. Less than 20 minutes from New Scotland Yard, and right on top of City jurisdiction. Which makes it an issue, seeing as the area is crawling with Met police right now."
Sarah's expression darkened. "It doesn't matter to me. I'll stick you in the boot and drive you there if you think she's at that place."
"Unsafe," Sherlock told her while tapping on the mobile that John had handed over. "Just get to the nearest DLR line. We need to get on the grounds. Facility is reasonably large. Means there will be a door someone forgot to lock, or a window someone left ajar, John. It's human nature." He added,"Luckily."
The Docklands Light Rail got them to the area they needed, but it was late at night and a cold walk from the station down to Ignis Ray Pharma's buildings in Silvertown. John was grateful for the pills he'd taken. Sherlock, unyielding to the wind and muffling fog, seemed to find fatigue impossible. He also seemed to have unerring skills at navigating in a smoky wall of weather.
When they arrived at the lit sign for Ignis Ray, John followed Sherlock behind it. There was a simple wire fence between the service road and the parking lot. Scaling it was quick work for Sherlock, though the pain of misusing his injured body was evident in an uncharacteristic wince. John couldn't make it over the fence without help. This meant Sherlock was forced to scale it again, boost John over, and clamour over it a third time. By the time they were both on the other side, it was clear that Holmes was in a great deal of discomfort, and John was quite eager to get him to rest. But they were off again within five minutes.
For the most part, Sherlock kept to shadows. Eventually, they slipped from tree shadow into the black skirt of a building.
It was hard to say if the fog down by the river was on Sofia's side, or not. It was thick enough that a veil covered the water and everything John squinted at on the North bank. But the powerful overhead lights caught in droplets and created a bright halo in air. They stood to be detected in the same glowing fog that concealed their actions. Sherlock took no chances, and kept to the cloudy shadows for the most part. Meanwhile, John found himself with fingers crossing and uncrossing, as he prayed that Sofia Rothingham was hereabouts, somewhere where Sherlock could reach her.
John blanched when – while silently navigating the grounds – he saw the mountain of shipping containers. In fact, he tugged Sherlock's arm, but his flatmate only whispered in his ear. "No power. She will have lost blood. She's in one of the three buildings… but which?"
Good Lord. How was Holmes going to determine that?
John thought it impossible, and would have called the police… if they'd had a shred of evidence to warrant it. Sherlock turned what had to be the millionth knob to find it locked… but the next door on was ajar on a brick. Sherlock pointed and John found himself in military mode, with low, loose knees, and paying attention to Sherlock's every gesture. But they made it inside unmolested.
John wanted to duck in the nearest room, but was detained by Sherlock. "Look. Stop. You're in a panic." The man pointed through the glass door and gestured at a panel John could see protruding from the wall. Sherlock leaned in again to say. "Lights are on motion detectors. We can't go in any of these rooms."
Clever boy. John's brows went up. "Well, what are the odds they don't know we're here?"
"Excellent," Sherlock told him. "Be aware I'm deep in the network of the parent company. I know where the cameras are in the Ignis buildings. Coverage is thin inside, thicker out in the containers. But what we're looking for might not survive a night in the containers. Therefore, it's not in the containers. Follow me. I'll keep us away from the cameras."
They wound up downstairs in the janitorial area. Sherlock quickly got John into coveralls that were a little too large, so John rolled them up. Holmes climbed into a pair and tucked the hat and coat in a plastic bag he put on a cart with a large rubbish bin on the front.
"I'll do, but you'll never work," John leaned on his mop and rolling bucket and scoffed.
Sherlock looked baffled. "Why's that?"
Laughable. "Because you look like a fugitive GQ cover. There's nothing you can do about it, Holmes. It's just you. We'll need to get you something better, like a Security jacket and hat. You'd look sharp then."
"Oh my God," Holmes hissed through his teeth, "is this Fashion Week, or are we solving a case?"
John backtracked, "More convincing. I meant you'd look sharper, you follow, as in much more convincing as Security, you know, the clever hat and all?" John pointed at his own head.
Sherlock reacted with a precise demonstration of his hands in air. "Push the bucket. Shut up."
Along the way, Holmes actually did collect rubbish here and there. It was unbelievable, given he couldn't throw out as much as a paper napkin properly at home. Holmes maintained the illusion of janitorial staff – a tall, beautifully-kept, janitor with pristine fingernails, and a violinist's hands. Who might have been on a magazine cover. Ridiculous. But there was something in the way he moved, how he was, that made you forget what your eyes actually saw. John chuckled as he wheeled behind his flatmate. He had no intention of mopping yet another floor. It was bad enough cleaning up after Sherlock. He wasn't cleaning up after the staff of Ignis Ray.
They did a circuit of the building on all floors, Sherlock putting aside a large bundle of rubbish no less than four times. Meanwhile, John worked on a plan of convincing Sherlock that house-chores were practice for the next time he had to disguise himself as a menial.
They left behind the carts as they went to the second building. Sherlock set his phone's screen display to low. "No messages."
"Molly's not done? It's been hours." John thought about it, "Or Sarah can't find her."
"Or Sarah didn't reach her," Sherlock added and missed the worried look that crossed John's face. He texted Sarah quickly – Update me – and tucked the phone away again.
"How are we getting in this one?" John moaned softly as the second of Ignis Ray's buildings loomed out of the fog.
Sherlock held up a card he pulled from the pocket of the overalls he wore – which, being gray in the thick mist, nearly made John lose track of him if he got too far ahead. Holmes had a key card. He used it to get them in with a soft admonition. "From here on out, there will be a record of what we've done, something that will break pattern for Security, given the man who owns this card should be at home asleep right now. We'll have to be quick about it, John."
"That's great news," John said dryly. "You just tell me when it's time to run for our-" He clammed up in a hurry. They'd hit a hallway with a corner office that was glass at the front and side. That meant Sherlock and John had a decent vantage, from the darkened hall, of the lights of police vehicles beyond the front entrance. The SIO stood just inside the door. Beyond her, Lestrade paced back and forth like a leashed hound. Neither of them even glanced in the direction of the hall at a 45 degree angle to them, they were too busy gawping at Sofia.
John almost said her name. The one thing that stopped him was Sherlock's hand across his mouth. It eased away and John whispered. "Sherlock, they found her. It's over."
Holmes' head cocked slightly.
Hair newly cut and styled.
Recently coloured with some signs of lighter roots due to haste.
Slightly darker than I remember.
Now John looked up at Sherlock. "She's all right. It's okay. We can just back out of here and no one needs to know we broke in. Once we're clear, I'll text Sarah. Sherlock, don't you see?"
She raised her hand. Sherlock strained to hear her soft voice and made out the words 'not a funny prank', 'degree in nursing', and 'part time'.
"You're going to have to come with us," Charlotte Warren glanced back at Lestrade. "I'm going to drive Miss Rothingham over to the station, Graeme. This needs untangling. Do you think Sherlock might have done… those things to the apartment for some reason?"
Sofia touched the nest of her throat with one hand. "What things? Whose apartment? Mine? Not mine, yes?" but for the moment, she was ignored.
Charlotte's lips narrowed slightly at Lestrade as she considered this angle. "They did see one another. He doesn't seem the type."
"He's not the, uh, crime of passion type, or the passion type, really, at all. But he's a well good lock pick, that one, so… he could get in. But this… wasn't him. No." Lestrade rubbed his face, stuck his hands on his hips, and glanced at Sofia. "Though that's a better question for Miss Rothingham than me, SIO."
"Fair enough," Charlotte said and her gaze scanned the room so that John sank back to the wall lest she glimpse them. Realistically, she had a bad angle for it. Sherlock didn't budge. He simply stared.
Lestrade's voice registered disbelief. "Miss, you're the last person we expected to answer the bell when we got over here."
"Oh. It's the hour, yes?" She agreed. "And why are you here?"
"Silent alarm." Lestrade said.
John looked up at Holmes' unreadable expression, which was focused as the point of a compass whose one arm pinned Sofia, and the other, himself. Had they tripped a silent alarm coming in? And what was going on in Sherlock's head right now?
Lestrade straightened and looked Sofia's slim frame over. She was a tall, pretty girl with tremendous waves of honey hair. Like Sherlock, she was visually striking. "You're sure you're unhurt? Nothing wrong with you?"
She turned around and picked up a purse and coat from the front desk, her soft voice clearer now that she was facing the right direction. "Apart from being worked to death? But I'm a part timer. And brand new. I suppose one does have to expect it. I'm sorry… I was about to go home. I'm knackered. Will this take much longer?"
"Not at all. Pardon us, DI Lestrade, and please listen for your mobile phone." Charlotte told him as she turned to escort the puzzled girl to the door.
Lestrade watched them exit and stood a moment longer, his face mystified. "What the hell…?" he muttered. Lestrade glanced around the area, which made John and Sherlock draw further down into the hallway, his angle being slightly better, but then he turned and followed Sofia and SIO Warren outside the building.
As soon as the doors to the foyer, and then to the lot, shut, John put his face in his hands and laughed shakily. "Oh my God. She's all right." When he pushed his hands up through his hair, Sherlock was gone, though the rattling and rambling from the break-room made it clear he hadn't gone far.
He was pacing along, his long, deft hands – the rudders to his brain – flailing about him in air, directionless. They flicked from his forehead to his hips, to smoothen his jacket, seeing as the overalls had been discarded on the floor with the bag of his coat on top. He pressed his fingertips to his eyelids, moved them off to his temples, acknowledged John with a glance and exploded. "How? How? No… this makes no sense. How is she here? I mean working here? God!" He checked his phone, and, seeing nothing, snapped at it. "Useless! You are useless!"
"Sherlock, take it easy." John counseled. Not only was he speaking at a normal volume, or better, the man was positively quaking.
He swept close. "Now, John, listen to me – How? Think. She was taken: the blood in the apartment, the car in the alley, her letter and the missing rug. We know she was taken. She didn't just walk away." Sherlock's chest rumbled those last words.
"She's walked away before." John pointed out. "She's adopted a whole new identity. Sherlock, you just saw her; she was right here, in front of the both of-"
"She walked away to hide from Ark-Co and Ignis Ray, not to come back as a part timer here!" Sherlock swung around to point at him. "She was abducted. She did something; she knew something, and it cost her her career. She ran away because she thought it could cost her her life. And now what am I supposed to believe? They let bygones be bygones and hired her back? She hid for two years, man! Can that kind of mistrust vanish in seconds? And I suppose she tripped the alarm, herself, and left the building with the police for her own … oh." Skidding to his knees, he scrambled for his coat, which lay in the pile of coveralls, and whipped out the tablet. Then he typed wildly. Sherlock's breaths whistled through his clenched teeth as he read and worked the phone, almost gasping for air. The wind had been knocked out of him.
John watched this. "She was just here, right in front of us. She's okay, Sherlock. Calm down."
"No-no-something's wrong." He breathed airlessly. "My God, how is this happening to me?"
He scrolled through the tablet as he rose to his feet again, and his head cocked a little. He turned the slate and moved his fingers to zoom the article he'd inadvertently flipped to. Then he stuffed the slate away in the coat he'd pulled up with him, and dialled out on his mobile.
"Sofia's found, man." John opened his arms, utterly in disbelief. How could this pass Sherlock's notice? How could he not be folding up to go home right now? "She's no longer missing. As in safe."
His head was bowed, his fingers squeezing the pain at the bridge of his nose. "Shut up. Get out. Just get out of my sight." Sherlock said unequivocally.
John took that opportunity to go out into the hall and check the likelihood anyone had heard the commotion Sherlock had been making. The man had obviously lost his marbles. John scowled. They should be making a straight line for Molly and Sarah with the news. But Sherlock had been wrong. So, instead, expect Sherlock to throw a hissy. John shook his head and ducked in the closet marked Caretaker, still able to hear Sherlock's voice from up the hall. That meant anyone within a radius of two or three halls could hear it.
"Sarah? Tell me." Sherlock's voice vibrated with pressure.
Across the city in St. Bart's Sarah stood with a grateful hand on Molly Hooper's wrist. The other woman was beaming. Sarah nodded and gave the girl's wrist a squeeze. "Oh! She's brilliant! Molly, I mean. She's found it! I can hardly believe it myself. It's the blood cholesterol, Sherlock. I mean, the blood type, just about everything else is identical, but the cholesterol is vastly different. I mean too different to be from one girl. I tested some of her old blood from the bank. Sofia's cholesterol was low. She was vegan. But this other blood is high, with a lot of-"
The world inside of Silvertown's Ignis Ray facility stopped spinning like a top. Sherlock shut his eyes and sucked a breath in through the nose. He stopped feeling slightly ill. There was no need, because he was not going mad. "Anything else?"
"She gave a pint of blood on the same night that she disappeared. It disappeared too. The older blood, from midweek, they didn't take."
"They needed fresh," Sherlock confirmed.
Across the city, Sarah nodded her agreement as if he could see it. "The blood bank she worked at was stuffed that night, and there aren't many security measures on the place. I almost walked from the back door to the front without a single person noticing I was where I shouldn't have been. It was just as you suspected."
"Yes," Sherlock nodded softly. "Yes, I see."
"What do I do now?" Sarah asked seriously. "What do you need?"
"I need you to find the birth announcement or hospital certificate for Scarlett Walker. Quickly. Text me the findings." Sherlock said quietly. "I'm close, Sarah."
"Then I'm doing it," she said right before he hung up.
Sherlock tucked his mobile away. He stared into the face of the big Security Guard for only a moment before they both moved. They met with a thud between their prior positions. Sherlock had connected with the man's jaw and thrown his momentum off to the right. But the Security Guard quite easily outweighed him. His fist buried in Sherlock's belly, once, twice. Sherlock's breath went out and his knees hit the floor. For a few, dark, confused moments he wrestled to maintain consciousness.
When he faded back into his throbbing body, Sherlock found he was still on his knees. Only seconds had passed then. The Guard had hold of his hair. Nothing he could do, because Sherlock had discovered he couldn't make his body comply with his wishes. It occurred to him that he was only semiconscious. This wasn't improved when the guard slapped him, hard, in the face.
Sherlock spilled on the floor, only to have the man pull him up to his hands and knees again.
The world was dim and shaky. Sherlock barely held on to it.
"He's up here! No, in the building, you twat…. No, up fucking here, inside the building, with us!" The guard's voice spiked with agitation. "No, I don't know how – I thought he was fucking dead! Now he's walking through walls and showing up on my fucking coffee break; he's right fucking here!" The fingers in Sherlock's hair shivered. There was a longer pause. "Like hell I'm doing that. You come do it. I'm with the fucking Church of England, mate, and do you have any idea what that would do to my fucking karma?"
The irony almost made Sherlock smile.
"Okay, fine. I'll bring him." The guard finished and hung up with a curse. Apparently, he had one left to spare. There was a pause of several seconds before the burly man spoke again. "Okay, you slippery, supposed-to-be-dead, genius bastard. I'm going to carry you down to my mate so he can drown your arse, so no sudden moves." With that, he started to get into position to pick Sherlock up. He did this as if he didn't expect Holmes was really awake.
Halfway through the motions, Sherlock opened his eyes and smiled, and, in a very normal voice asked, "Now, how, exactly, did you know I was a genius?"
"JESUS!" The man yelped and backed up almost to the door.
"Is 'genius' something Sofia says about me? She's here, then. I was right. And she's been warning you about me." Sherlock curled his legs under him and dusted off his hands. He gave his stomach a gentle probing with his fingertips. The pain made him feel sick, and he couldn't quite keep that off his face.
"You burnt up." The man stuck out a finger at Sherlock.
"Your findings are premature. What really happened was that I saw the truck coming, got on the table, and up over the bonnet. Apart from some cuts from the glass, the real damage went on below me. Oh and I got a look at the driver. He'd closed his eyes before the impact. You can tell him I'm coming for him after this is resolved. He murdered a girl. Bad thing."
"You'll be dead in an hour. Good thing," the guy snapped. "Doesn't make a difference how bright you are if it won't keep you from drowning. Now come with me! I can't be fagged with carrying you, but I don't mind thumping you to submission."
Holmes drew slowly to his feet. "You sound like a lovely person." Sherlock said dryly, "May I point out it does make a difference how bright I am if, by your logic, it does keep me from drowning?"
"Shut it!" the man made a reach for Sherlock, and John released all the tension in his body in a resounding lash of the broom he'd fetched. It smacked the back of the man's head and splintered. The Security Guard dropped like stone. The end of the broom flew at Holmes, who dropped down under it and turned to watch it smack against the wall, ricochet into the fridge, and come skidding across the floor. It stopped by John's feet in the broad doorway.
"Security Guard outfit," John panted. He ducked down and picked up the hat, walked over, and delivered it to Sherlock's seemingly numb hands. Holmes' fingers folded around it reflexively. "More your speed. Get his jacket. We need to get away from here."
"Okay," Sherlock said.
John walked out into the hallway and put his hands on his hips. Inside the room, Sherlock took off his coat, jacket, and shirt and began changing into the Security Guard's outfit. The shirt was a little large, but he folded and tucked the sides until the fit was better. His jacket went on, and the security coat over that. He took the radio, security badge, and weapons as well. Then he smoothed his hair and put on the cap. The expensive coat went neatly folded and placed on top of the fridge before Sherlock texted Lestrade. "John."
"We need to move him outside." Sherlock nodded. "There are cameras on the front lobby."
"No we don't. We need to leave out the front door, and-"
"Yes. We do." Sherlock's fingers ran over his belly carefully.
He'd been hurt in the scuffle John had heard. Hurt in the stomach. "Sherlock, it's madness."
"Really?" Sherlock looked at him. "You met her for about ten minutes in a dimly-lit restaurant."
John opened his mouth and then closed it again. This was Sherlock – Sherlock Holmes – he was speaking to. People's raw fear of his observational skills had made him into a social pariah. "Really?"
Holmes stared at him levelly. "We're not done here, John."