Charlotte Warren's lopsided smile, the one that smothered her delight under heaps of cynicism, was back. John couldn't escape concluding she had a really lovely face, this woman. The SIO said, "I don't have to tell you that DI Lestrade is very good at threading loopholes, do I? That's why you work with him, I suspect. Drugs, weapons, or stolen property, Sherlock – they can Stop and Search anyone."
But John had already twigged by the time she said it. Sherlock had three types of prescription drug not indicated for him in unmarked baggies on his person right now. He could not allow Sherlock to be searched by police. Thus, John was immediately resolute. He glanced up at the SIO. "Thank you. Very much. Sherlock, we're out of here now." He caught Holmes by the sleeve and was surprised how easy it was to guide him along toward the lift.
John leaned on the button. The SIO stood behind his back with Holmes. "Give me the letter, Sherlock. That's all that they want."
"No." Sherlock said. He reached out and helped John pull the accordion-like metal screen back as the lift arrived. They were both too battered for one of them to do it if two could make lighter work. "No. That's not all."
"Okay. I've met some of your team today. Most of them honestly think you've done this, Holmes, simply because your path had crossed with this girl, so I can acknowledge what you're saying. But that's all I want. I checked your record, and you have no arrests of this nature." She whipped an arm out and caught the filigreed steel before either man could get inside the elevator. "They're looking for enough to arrest you on. Keeping back this letter you didn't know she sent, it looks very dodgy."
"The contents of the letter are private," Sherlock said crisply.
"I honestly don't care to judge what she wrote to you, outside of the evidence it may supply. This is my investigation. Give me the letter and no one in the Met sees it. You have my word." She dropped her arm. Sherlock stepped into the lift. John followed him closely and pulled the steel grill back into place between them. Much as he appreciated what she'd done, they needed to get out of here.
She shook her head and checked her phone. "Listen to me. The downstairs neighbours reported the sound of more than one person in Sofia Rothingham's apartment. Could have been two or three, they're saying. Doctor Watson's skin is in the game here as well. You need to try to trust me, even if only for his sake."
John stilled. Two or three people. John. Sherlock…. Sarah. He didn't need to look to know that Sherlock Holmes had already thought of-
Sherlock's coat fanned as he stepped forward. The lift had already begun to close its door when he extended a soft pink, oft-folded, slice of paper to the woman. She nodded and took it from him before they vanished out of sight. Then Sherlock leaned heavily on the wall of the lift.
He pulled his cell angrily out of his pocket and texted with quick, infuriated stabs.
"What are you doing?" John had to try twice to get the first few words out.
Sherlock rolled his body along the wall from his shoulder to his back, so that he leaned on the elevator wall, phone extended to John. His expression was devoid. The text said.
'Make no stir, take what you have, get out quickly and quietly. Go where planned. –SH'
Sarah. He was telling Sarah to get out. What a relief.
God it was madness, this Case.
John leaned back on the wall across from Holmes and put his head in his hands. Oh hell. Okay. So now Lestrade's men thought they'd done this? No wonder Lestrade had looked so tense and their perennial thorn, Donovan, so electrified. The only thing between Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and a mob of angry greatcoats out to lynch a Freak, was a thin line of disgruntled City police, and the red-headed SIO who'd just snuck them out of the building. Meanwhile, someone had slammed a truck through a restaurant and burnt the building down to get rid of them.
And they'd only just started.
"What was she into?" John let his hands dropped and sighed. He turned his head, "Sofia?"
Holmes' voice sounded empty, "They kidnapped her. There could be many reasons for that. One of them is that they need to know what she knows. Or they need to know how much she knows. They might have fired her, but Sofia also escaped. She's creative. Clever."
John said, "She can clear us."
"Yes she can, if we're in time. We can't be found standing over a body, John. If it looks that way, we'll have to abort." He shut his eyes and looked at the wall, but nothing could block the bitterness that stamped his smooth face in that moment. "All it means is… work faster."
God he looked exhausted.
It had occurred to John that if they arrived on the ground floor as someone like Anderson was coming in… then that would be it and they'd be caught. Sherlock would be stopped and searched. But John was a doctor, with access to these types of medications, and he could safely hold the drugs. Or more safely. Even if they also searched him, his profession would badly confound any discoveries. John felt reasonably confident that Sarah would immediately vouch for them. And, underneath his altruism, fudging numbers had been the exact reason John had insisted on doing the drug cabinet inventory at the clinic for the last two months. Thank God. So before they reached the ground floor, John stepped forward and shoved his hands into Sherlock's coat pockets.
Sherlock looked down at what John was doing with a remarkable lack of curiosity. At that close a span, it was impossible to look up at his green eyes and miss the dark hollows inside of Sherlock Holmes. He was a crevasse, a vessel cracked and empty in the places human society made full. In other people. But Holmes survived unfilled; unused.
John stepped back, the drug baggies went deep into his own pockets. He didn't take his eyes off Holmes. "You gave them the letter."
Sherlock had shut his eyes, "My pride. Not worth your freedom. Now give those back."
"John…" Sherlock's voice dropped so low John had to focus on every word. "You don't have a record. You don't want this trouble. It would ruin your career. Ruin you."
"Well, not planning on getting caught." John told him, and it made Holmes smile suddenly.
The elevator bounced to a stop and Sherlock's great, pale greens opened in his catlike face. "We're on our own now. Ready?"
"If you are," John nodded.
The door slid. There were no police outside of it. In fact, there was only a man taking delivery of a parcel, so Sherlock pushed the steel cage back with a soft purr of, "Oh, I'm always ready."
"Where are we?" John asked.
Sherlock led them both up out of the tubes and they headed for Regent's Street. He didn't like being underground all that much. It wasn't that he was claustrophobic, but that he seemed to need to see the bustle of the buildings and skies, the world beyond the glass of a cab. The tubes with their dips into relative nothingness, proved difficult for him. However, he travelled on them so little that no one expected to see him there, tall, imposing in his high-collared, long summer coat, his artfully short hair just beginning to grow out a fraction. He looked dashing, even in yesterday's suit.
"We're underneath Ark-Co's head office." Sherlock told John lightly.
"Oh my God, why?" John asked under his breath. "What are we doing here?"
"Well," Sherlock led them onto the street and swam into thick London foot-traffic. "I'm checking out their wireless access points right now, John. Very soon you'll be walking in with a CV." He pointed right and said, "Kinko's over there."
"I'm doing what?"
"Well they'd know me, it's why I have to keep moving." Sherlock said, and shifted the phone to his ear. His voice took on that crisp sing-song it could have when he was rolling out a plan before him like a red carpet for himself. "Hello Elliot. I have a special order. See my text. Thank you." He checked his watch and hung up.
"Elliot Luxe," Sherlock tucked the cell in his pocket and led them into Kinko's. "Knew him in Uni. He's an electronics guy. Nothing he can't hack. Well, almost nothing. He also runs a courier service around the London downtown, anywhere in London for select customers." Holmes led the way to the bank of computers in the back and grinned. "Oh, and Mycroft positively hates him."
So, of course, Sherlock had to make the acquaintance of this guy.
Sherlock pulled out a chair in front of one of the credit-card computers. He sat down in it and stretched his long back, enjoying the pull of muscle. "He's a little strange though."
To keep it in perspective, John reminded himself that this was coming from Sherlock Holmes. He pulled up a chair and watched Sherlock stuff someone else's card into the slot and flick through menus and programs. "Thank you Charlotte," he muttered.
"Oh my God, you stole the SIO's credit card?"
"She wants to help me?" Sherlock nodded at the computer. "She'll take this charge. A dead man can hardly use his credit card, and I'm running low on pictures of the queen. You?"
"Still have a few left."
"Well save them up," Sherlock began typing madly on the keyboard. "And get my phone."
John sighed windily through his teeth, but bore it. He took Sherlock's phone out of his pocket sort of like he would have pulled shrapnel out of a corpse, and it got him a dark look from Holmes.
"Text from your electronics friend saying the package is underway." John's voice dropped, "Oh, and he also said he'd heard you were dead. How did he hear you were dead?"
"It's Elliot." Sherlock shrugged. "Everybody who's anybody in the criminal underworld uses him. Well. And me."
"So you're mates are you?" John put the phone down within reach of Sherlock and the genius snatched it up and split his time between typing madly on the phone and on the keyboard.
"Elliot doesn't have those."
"Neither do you. So you have something in common." As soon as he said it, John realized it had come out badly wrong.
But Sherlock didn't seem to notice. In fact, he made no retort, whatsoever. Doggedly, he worked on the CV he was typing up, or John presumed that's what he was doing. Off on Sherlock's left, he studied Sherlock's profile closely. Was the man insensate? Was that it? During The Burning Question case, John had seen – well, more heard – Lockton Holmes slap Sherlock hard in the face. Did Sherlock's emotional deficiencies bring extremity out in a person over time? Could the sheer nonexistence of feeling in Sherlock's personality drive someone to hurt him?
John couldn't even tell if his last words had offended this man.
Why didn't he say something? Why didn't he point out it was a friend saying it?
Holmes focus made the questions virtually irrelevant. John feared it didn't matter to Sherlock because John Watson was something else: assistant; adherent; experiment; and not a friend. Which made him wonder, really… was that what he wanted? Did he want to befriend this 'strange being', flatmate of his? John had lots of friends. His face went grim, because Sherlock didn't.
"Oh." John exhaled his misgivings and decided that he shouldn't be thinking about things he couldn't change, and yes, he was being annoying right at that moment. He went away to look at the rest of the shop.
Moments later, John paused by some light pink stationary. So where was the love letter by now? The one Sofia hadn't meant to be a love letter. Or had she? Today, he couldn't imagine anything but wireless routers and fibre optic cables interfacing with Sherlock. God, that poor girl.
His mobile phone pinged.
'Go to the printer and pick up the CV.'
So John did just that. He brought the pages back to Holmes, somewhat amazed at the lack of spelling errors and grammatical issues; the CV was smoothly professional. Holmes' had written it in less than 10 minutes. "Brilliant… but who is Farley Goldsack?"
Succinctly, Holmes replied, "That would be you."
John blanched, "What? I can't lie my way through this, Sherlock. I've never worked with DNA-"
"Oh for God's sake, Molly can do it. It's not hard." Sherlock got to his feet and took Charlotte Warren's card back. He tucked it into his pocket. "Besides it's here."
John heard the bell from the Kinko's door and turned to see a fit blonde girl in biker's shorts and a racer-back halter walk in. She took off her aerodynamic silver sunglasses and made straight for Sherlock Holmes. "Sir, this is for you." She extended both hands before her, a manila package between them.
Sherlock took it from her. "Thank you, Elliot."
The girl gave a small nod. "How pleasant that you didn't burn up, Sherlock. It would have been a blow to the global intelligentsia."
"Satisfied that you think so," Holmes had already turned his focus to the package. He sounded comparatively distracted as he replied. "I suppose."
"Just a diversion. Now if you'll excuse me, I have paying customers. Stop calling me." She turned on her heel and walked out of the building. John saw her climb onto a strangely black and yellow-striped bike and positively rocket into traffic.
"That's Elliot?" John said as Holmes returned to stand beside him.
"No," Sherlock was already tearing through the packaging and breaking into the soft interior. Packing bubbles sprayed a pell-mell mess across the desk and floor. "That's a drone. All she does is say what he tells her to. There's very little deviation. They're very well trained."
"Not like me."
"You," Sherlock looked at John oddly. "I wouldn't know where to begin." He went back to the package again.
"Somehow, I doubt that," John grumbled, and, gratified by this, Sherlock chuckled. He opened a small, hard-shelled glasses-case and took out the glasses.
"Oh my God, these are marvellous." He opened the arms and inspected them carefully before setting them on the table between the pair of them. John looked at the glasses speculatively. They gave every appearance of being something out of Dolce & Gabbana – rimless and pricey. He imagined they'd look astonishing on Holmes, who extended a hand and pushed them slowly across to John.
"Oh God," John sighed. "What are these for, Sherlock. I'm not Superman."
"He wasn't the one with the glasses, as you'll recall… well, per se." Sherlock picked them up, opened them, and slid them into place. On John's face. Then he smiled. "We'll have to let Sarah have a look at you, I think, may break that long dry spell you mutter about."
John felt his lip curl an instant before he picked up Sherlock's gloves and whacked him across the back of the hand with them. Sherlock jolted, gave him a measuring look, and took the gloves away. "Now, don't be childish. It was a commendation; they suit you, though we're going to have to do something with the hair." From the base of the box, Sherlock pulled out what looked like a tablet PC. This was actually a small slate, which went directly into his coat's inner pocket. He gave it a comforting pat with his long fingers, like a mother would the back of a child.
"What are you planning?" John watched his flatmate circumnavigate the table in the hushed light from outside. He also watched cars go by beyond the window behind Sherlock. John was only peripherally aware of the return of this habit. It was no different than when he'd watched for suicide bombers in cars, in Afghanistan. It was innate to the adult he'd become.
Sherlock stopped in a whirl of long coat, and then he smiled. "Come. I'll show you."
That's how they wound up in Armani. Every soul in the store seemed to know Sherlock. He walked into the back with a small trail of young men shoving clothing at him, every thread of which he ignored, no matter how pitilessly fashionable their appearance. Sherlock collapsed onto a round seating affair, every spare inch of which he took with his long legs, and then began typing on his phone. All he said was, "This is John. There must be a jumper, but make him look nice."
That was it. John was immediately swept into what felt like a firestorm of pricking measurements. His entire body ached – he didn't appreciate the fuss in the slightest.
Sherlock, at one point, walked over and casually pulled the prescription drug baggies out of the pocket of John's coat. There was not a word from the staff as he did so. He might have pulled out a baggy of crack and these young men wouldn't have raised an eyebrow at him.
John was eventually shoved into a dressing room and ordered to change. This was all very unnecessary if you asked him… but damn had they found him clothes that fit well. It was… strange to John's eyes. He considered himself too mature to have his head turned by thread count and some pretty brand names. Sherlock was the swanky one. But he honestly couldn't remember looking so fine. It was a far cry from sand-clotted fatigues. He'd gone to weddings not looking this smart.
"Uhm," he peeked out of the dressing room. "Okay. Done." He stepped outside. All the young men stopped what they were doing and turned to Holmes. Sherlock stopped checking his watch. Those hammer-blow green eyes leapt up at John, sharp, critical, and cutting as surgeon's shears. And then Sherlock rocked back on his heels a little and handed the young man next to him an odd black credit card.
"Don't worry John. It's on big brother. My big brother." Sherlock walked through the young men to join John. He reached his long hands and settled the shoulders of the blazer to his satisfaction. "Really, now," he said in a strangely muted tone, "we must find a place to take you when this is done."
John froze and looked up at Sherlock. "What do you mean?"
Sherlock straightened John's lapels with fleeting, easy, practiced motions. "I mean Sarah needs to see this. Clearly, she has no idea what she's up against." He chuckled on the end of that.
Now John felt his teeth grit together. "Sherlock, I swear, don't stand there being a complete-"
"It's not cleverness." All his amusement had vanished, and he'd stopped fussing with the clothes. Sherlock took a step back and smoothed his jacket. "Am I…? Did I say something… unpleasant?" his voice died out.
Pitiful. John marvelled. "You really don't know?"
"John," Sherlock looked at him with that same fierceness John had first seen during the trumped-up drugs bust… that had been based in sad fact. Sherlock didn't want to deal with it, he just wanted an answer.
"You're fine," John sighed and held up a suited-arm with the shirt-cuff between his fingers and palm. "Why am I dressed like this?"
"Oh my God, look at the shoes," Sherlock moaned as he stooped and walked around John. He half-turned, "I've got to have a pair delivered, Reynard."
"Yes sir." One of the young men smiled and scurried away.
Sherlock turned to John. "Shirt, jumper, jacket, trousers – all very fit – but the shoes are news, John. Must have them. Now, you're going to walk in there for an interview. They're looking to fill several positions, clinical and non-clinical, in fact, and you-" Sherlock picked up one of John's hands and laid a thumb-drive into it, "are going to interview."
"I'm a surgeon," John said lowly, "not a geneticist, Sherlock."
"Wear the glasses, the glasses have a transmitter, and this," Sherlock handed John a hearing aid so small as to almost be invisible. "I'll hear you. I can help."
John felt his aching body tense further. "You're not even a surgeon." But he slid in the almost invisible ear piece anyway.
Now Holmes opened his long arms, "Doesn't matter if Farley gets the job or not. What matters is that someone inside the firewall plugs in the thumb drive, preferably, more than one person. HR is best. They're not likely to scan it with their AV just because it exists."
"Do what with their what?"
"God," Sherlock closed his hands in a gentle double-clap of John's upper arms. "You are so quasi-computer-illiterate, John Watson! Make the nice lady take the long 'proddy' thing and put it in slot-B. Hm. Wait. You should be good at this." He released John and went to get Mycroft's black card half-way across the store.
"Oh my God, he's a raving madman. I'm listening to the plan of a raving lunatic." John bundled up his clothing and runners into Armani bags. Like a small buzzing in his ear, John suddenly heard Sherlock's voice.
"I heard that."
"Dear God," John whispered and touched the small device tucked in his ear like a hearing aid.
"The wire comes in contact with the glasses and the signal gets a substantial boost. And leave your old clothes. I've told Reynard to send them with the shoes. Now do you think you can come on, princess? Daddy has work."
"You'd better hope what I heard was static," John muttered. When he looked up, Sherlock was outside, and he could hear road noise. This panicked him a little. "Sherlock?"
"We have to test the distance, John," Sherlock told him. "Stay calm."
"Someone tried to mow you down with a truck." John nodded in departure and headed through the front doors of Armani in one determined gush. Outside, the pair of people whose path he'd stepped into detoured around him with a demure 'sorry, sir'. Just weird.
"I know, I haven't forgotten." Sherlock said calmly. "But this is important. Years back I worked a case for the Ark-Co HQ in Dublin – they know my face. You have to get that thumb drive inside Ark-Co. I can't."
He'd worked a case for them. So it was all down to John Watson now.
John fiddled with the thumb drive.
"Stop that," his ear said.
Odd. How did he know…? Then again: Sherlock.
Nothing he could do about it. John couldn't exactly answer Sherlock back right then. He was sitting in an office in front of a pretty, young Human Resources rep who was making him feel every inch of his 29 years at the moment and – dear me – her taste in shirts ran to low-cut, drafty, and-
"Her face is about 12 inches up from there." Sherlock's amusement was transparent.
John didn't know about that. She was young enough that they were pretty damn high and – wait a second! John shut his eyes in comprehension. When he opened them, he scanned the unenlightening room around him, not really focussing on anything until she sat down with a pronounced bounce that drew his attention immediately back to –
"Honestly, John, I really don't need to be staring at those all day. Let alone gaging the air temperature given – ugh, is this your mind, really? Good God. You're simian."
Couldn't really fire back at that either. John bitterly thought that Sherlock couldn't understand any of this. He didn't crave companionship, or seem to care for sex, not even in a gregarious, solely visceral sense, not that that was John's modus operandi. It really wasn't. Likewise, Sherlock couldn't possibly know that John hadn't been with a girl since the feisty American E-6, a Staff Sergeant, who'd taken a liking to him in Afghanistan – Kitty Lenox. They'd hit it off, and managed to be on again and off again, around their different assignments, for over a year. Whenever they'd been within feasible driving distance, they spent free time together. That's how it had worked. He still thought about her, worried, really. Not that he could mention this to Sarah. Or would to Holmes. Unless it got him his own way, or resulted in serious crime, nothing about human emotion was pertinent to Holmes.
"All right, Mr. Goldsack," she leaned forward over her desk and John looked at the wall. In his ear, Sherlock actually smothered laughter, "They're ready to see you now."
He almost wished she could come. In some regards – two… regards – she was a lot like Kitty.
The man who walked out to greet John was somewhat less impressively dressed, certainly. John handled this with aplomb, of course. The man's chest would have been covered in ribbons and crosses before he'd worry about it.
"Mr. Goldsack?" the man asked.
"Yes, and you are?"
"Ivan Lieber." The tall, affable-looking man nodded in welcome, and John could actually see he gave a measuring glance and came up with approval. It was at times like this one where John was reminded that Sherlock was a genius. He manipulated people's perceptions with childlike ease. One quickly purchased suit, and John was being treated like a lord. But, Ivan Leiber: there was another name for Sherlock's research. He might be able to do something with that.
Sure enough, Sherlock cropped up in his ear. "One of the heads of Clinical Pharmacology."
Not so bad. "Nice to meet you." John smiled.
"Recently back from Afghanistan?"
"Yes," John said with a nod. "I took some time off to rest before I started back."
Sherlock had very little to say through the first half of the interview. That was almost entirely about Afghanistan. John had no way of knowing, of course, but Holmes sat back in the Starbucks near the building, burning the free Wi-Fi, and pulling his bottom lip gently as he listened. He hadn't asked about Afghanistan. He didn't ask personal questions. So this was like manna, this glimpse of John's life which John would share with others, but, for some reason, never spoke about with his flatmate. In spite of all Sherlock had seen. Like the sleep disturbances that overtook John. Like the nightmare he'd overheard during the Burning Question case, and the sleep-talking Watson sometimes did, which was often chilling enough to bring Sherlock to check on him. Sherlock Holmes didn't check on people. But he couldn't stand the sound of his flatmate's voice sometimes – the awfulness in it.
This was not something he could speak of.
John, meanwhile, was beginning to wonder if the entirety of the interview was going to entail him talking about the war. He was careful not to use specifics, what he spoke about was a gloss of things he and others around him had experienced. It was uncomfortable. This was the sort of thing he generally didn't bother with around Sherlock. Holmes' life was so exciting. There was no time for the prosaic and tragic war stories that made up John's young-manhood. Was there?