Straightening, she smoothed her white coat and cleared her throat delicately. "So…" Molly snuck a look at him, "they think you did this?"
He blinked slowly, "Molly, listen to me, I didn't harm that girl-"
"Of course you didn't," she scoffed and then touched his hair aside. But he didn't move. She placed her fingertips on his forehead and pressed lightly. It didn't hurt him. "Are… are you sure you're all right?"
"Your perfume…," he said absently. Her Sung perfume penetrated his senses, and, for the first time he didn't find it's fruity, floral mix unpleasant. That was new.
"Uhm. What about it?"
"Making me hungry."
She took her hands back and stared at him. Then she said, "You're a lot of things. I mean, you're brilliant and tricky, you're, uhm, handsome and intense, but not violent, particularly not with women." Molly Hooper stepped back, "There's me. Being selfish. And you didn't even shout about it. I… would have shouted, but you, you know, just try another path. You try until I give you your way."
"Now, now, Molly," Sherlock tipped his head to one side, "all will be forgiven if you help me."
"Oh yes, I know." She looked at the floor and tucked her hands into the pockets of her white coat, "With you, a deal must always be struck."
Something happened behind her eyes, in that little overworked brain of hers.
The woman he knew. Sherlock felt himself smile slowly. "Ideal."
"I've got an injection for John," Molly smoothed his sleeve and looked at him, which Sherlock found odd. He ignored it and considered his next steps. She continued, "Doctor Sawyer – Sarah – told me that the accident was serious? You've got some serious bruises."
Sherlock didn't answer her on the matter. "Start on the blood? There are a lot of samples." He said lightly as he pulled away from her in favour of texting John. "I need you to be meticulous."
'She'd doing it. Come get a shot of Demerol. Love Demerol. Terrific.'
Sure, he was put out with the man, but, by in large, John's had been a reasonable decision. Plus, thanks to that move, John had missed what the injection had done to Sherlock, which had spared a lot of personal pride. And, of course, it didn't matter what Molly saw. He glanced at her. "Still here?"
She stopped staring and blinked at him. "Ah… oh yes, of course…. If you're sure you're all right."
He waved her away.
Molly picked up the case that Sarah had brought and walked into the back. "So we're looking for a difference."
"Yes we are," Sherlock looked up from where he sat, but his gaze darted from her to the remaining syringe on the table. Demerol was bloody lovely.
She paused by a door. "I'll do my best."
"That's all I ask," he said distractedly and wished she would go away. The burning bend of his elbow tugged at pleasant sensations in the rest of him, none of which were welcome in her company. When Sarah walked in with coffee, Sherlock felt he might have crossed the room, gripped her by the arms, and pecked her on the cheek. "Sarah." His voice had a grumbling note that made her look up in surprise.
"Black, two sugars," she walked to him. "God knows how you can drink it like that. It could honestly be used to seal a roof. Well, all right, figuratively." Then she saw the needles and stopped. "Are you… all right?"
Sherlock took the coffee, reached out, and gave her hand a wordless squeeze. When he returned his attention to the slate he'd set on the table when fishing through his coat. He pulled up the photos of the abstract painting John had e-mailed him.
Behind him, Sarah stood motionless. She was pretty sure he'd just clasped her hand. John had told her he'd probably never touch her. Nothing personal, he just doesn't touch people. Weird.
"Where's Molly?" John asked quietly as he dropped into place beside Sherlock, his body half-turned to take in Sarah's curiously amazed expression.
"Working on the samples Sarah so kindly supplied. Any trouble getting out of the artist's loft, Sarah?" Sherlock asked distractedly. "I kept an eye on it on the way in, and it doesn't seem you were followed here... so you're doing something right, or it's dumb luck."
"Aren't you sweet," she laughed. "Actually, Sherlock, it went like you said. The City police seemed to think I was with DI Lestrade. I mean, I overheard someone say I'd come with Lestrade's people. And I never ran into anyone from the Yard, in fact."
Sherlock nodded as if that reaction had been the only logical outcome, and pushed the slate in John's direction. "Want your Demerol, John? I highly recommend it."
"Took a pill, actually, thanks." But John took his hands out of his pockets and checked the needle. That kind of looked like… a lot. She hadn't shot Sherlock with that much, right?
John shoved Sherlock's hair aside and pulled his head around. He looked at Holmes' swollen pupils. Or he was wrong and she'd hit him with quite a bit of the drug, that was certain. However much she thought he weighed, she'd estimated high. Sherlock simply didn't eat enough to get much over 79 kilos, he was long and slinky. And now soaring. "What ever happened to not taking medications?"
Holmes' brows pulled up above the inner corners of his eyes – so innocent. "You said I needed painkillers, and I'd be all right. I thought you would prefer this to what I'd been using."
With a sigh, John settled back and rubbed his palms on his expensive trousers. "Demerol slows brain activity for 2 to 4 hours, Sherlock, and I think she overshot your weight."
Sherlock blinked slowly. The reply was delayed, and supressed. "What?"
"Well, you're always gadding around in that greatcoat of yours. It makes you look beefier."
Sherlock blinked, "You're telling me she made me dense?"
Sara stepped forward and curled her hands over his shoulders. "It's all right, Sherlock. We'll help you keep on top of things."
He laughed at the inanity, "Oh God."
John blinked a few times, rapidly. Sherlock was solid. He hadn't budged a millimetre when Sarah touched him. In fact, he now leaned back against her so that his dark curls brushed against her cheek. His eyes closed. One of the most atypical things he'd ever seen Sherlock do, but there was no cause to feign a disguise. This was Sherlock then, right? This was him and… Demerol. The Sherlock he'd be, if the monster intellect hadn't scratched the surface of his brain raw decades ago. Company didn't even give him pause now that he was drugged.
The implications…. John shook his head to clear it. He had to focus on Sofia.
Sherlock's green eyes half-opened on the slate before them. "I'm not able to rule it in or out. Ivan Lieber's painting needs professional analysis." He sat forward, stuck a fingertip on one edge of the slate, and spun it on the glassine surface of the table. The uneven green ring began splitting into whirling green concentric circles like tree rings, and became oddly uniform. This image fell apart as the slate came to a stop again.
John looked up at Holmes, "But Doctor Lieber said it wasn't from Sofia. He said someone still on the staff had-"
"People lie, John. I have to get some of the abstracts out of her apartment somehow, get them and the photos to an art critic. Even if she was selling them online… there's no one to ship them now. We're going to have to go in and take them."
"So theft then?"
Sherlock's lips compressed in irritation. "Borrow them."
"Stealing things from under the noses of the City and the Yard police causes us problems, Sherlock. Didn't we learn that lesson? And by 'we', I mean 'you'," John told him. Though it really was Sherlock's letter to begin with, there was no way John was supporting a plan that involved making off with more of Sofia's belongings. Though, really… he'd helped with the letter.
Holmes sat back and looked at Sarah. "I may have a job for you."
"Oh good," she nodded cordially.
"Hear that? And she brings me coffee," Sherlock turned his head to take in John. "And she's a doctor. You can be replaced, John."
"She's a crap shot." John growled his annoyance at Holmes.
"There is that," he glanced at Sarah. "Work on it."
Sarah smiled patiently, "No."
"Okay," Sherlock accepted this and opened his hands. "This would be so much simpler if she'd signed all her works on the front like a sensible girl. Why doesn't she sign them all on the front?" He sighed and picked up his coffee, which he sipped. His other hand pulled the slate closer. "Since John's being a spoiler, but I can't replace him, have to get creative." He started tapping the slate quickly, his fleet fingers disconnected, it seemed, from the difference in cycles that should have taken hold of his brain by now.
Sherlock smiled, but it wasn't the normal quick flicker. It was a slow burning smile that had a distinct rise and fall. He pushed the slate in John's direction. John glanced down, "I mean, maybe she has some other storage for them?"
"You'd be okay stealing from there?" Sherlock chuckled.
John looked up at his flatmate. "I'm trying to keep you out of the hands of the police."
"And I'm going to regret giving this slate back to Elliot. It's so lightweight and so powerful. And quiet. Such a good assistant."
"Aureate Gallery on Bruton Street?" John ignored Holmes and read aloud for Sarah's sake.
"Has seven of her paintings on display, four of them are abstracts," Sherlock smiled again. It was strange, that slow warming up and cooling down. "That, and a true expert, may prove enough. Don't you think, John? Or are you still thinking Lieber wouldn't have come up with a fabrication rather than say she was in the boot of his car?"
John remembered the car alarm going off in the garage and thought of Sherlock. "She wasn't though, was she? I mean that was you that caused the car to start alarming."
"Yes it was," Sherlock nodded. He scooped up the slate and went for his hat and coat. "And it took a fine flash of connivance to get around the cameras, thanks. There's a very narrow passage around the flank of the garage will let you do it. I just put my foot through the slats in the concrete and gave the boot a little push. Off it went. Can always count on bankers, lawyers, and management to have touchy car alarms. You certainly require a lot of maintenance, John."
John chuckled in response to that and then glanced at Sarah. "Want to go to an art gallery?"
"Of course she does," Sherlock said with that throaty rumble of his voice in his chest. He rolled the hat on over his curls, pocketed the slate, and stalked for the door. "She's going with me, and I know all the good places."
It was a different dynamic with the three of them.
Sarah made a huge difference. She was able to scout for them, buy things for them, and take all sorts of action out in the open. She was also a very pretty young woman. Taxis preferred her. People stopped to help her. Information flowed freely to her. Sherlock watched this with a growing sense of admiration. It was impressive, the difference a woman made.
About the time a man gave up the taxi he'd gotten, so that she could climb aboard, Sherlock turned sprightly to John. "If you don't want her, can I keep her?"
"What the hell are you on about?" John growled.
"Don't be jealous. Oh, I want her now… but not like that."
Huffily, John strode up and climbed into the cab. It didn't matter to him how Sherlock said he wanted her. When you were Sherlock Holmes, you were vibrant, larger-than-life, and impossible in any sense of the word. He was magnetic. And so his innocent nudges couldn't help but hold an unvoiced threat. John took Sarah's hand possessively in one of his and looked at its smooth beauty. He wanted those for himself.
She laughed and gave his fingers a squeeze. "If Sofia knew what we were out doing, I think she'd be astonished… and also grateful," she winked at Sherlock as he got in. Then she tossed a look at John and her cheeks reddened, "Particularly about him."
Sherlock, coming in on the tail end of this statement, had no indication that he was the 'him' in question. He simply gave the driver directions and settled in his seat.
Sarah leaned closer to John. "I know it's not the time… but you look so smart in that suit, John."
From his seat, Sherlock made a small sigh. He'd fully anticipated, even plotted, that there would be some of this, but he didn't want any part of it. Not that John cared. He sucked a breath and nodded without daring to look at her, and, certainly, not at Sherlock's sour mood. It wasn't so long ago that he and Sarah had managed their first really passionate kiss – they'd been in the Athenaeum Hotel about to go after Russian mobster Rurik Zyza, in fact. Less than a week ago? The life of a Consulting Detective was a full and furious one. The life of a Consulting Detective's assistant was one part house servant and one part spy.
He reached across and checked Sherlock's pulse against his watch. Well, he tried. Sherlock snatched his arm back, which meant that John had to give him a look and try again. Instead of Demerol, John had opted for the codeine. Sherlock's pulse throbbed steady, slow, and deep. Nothing was wrong there, but it was alarming for John. Demerol could be habit-forming, and not something he would have shared with Sherlock. Of course, there was no way for Molly to know….
John eased back. They'd arrived at the Aureate Gallery. Sherlock shot out of the car so quickly that John expected he'd burned half the Demerol in his system. He was through the door to the place before John had turned his head around. Sarah paid the cabbie with a hurried, "Go after him, John."
He didn't need any further prompting. "See you inside."
The lofty interiors of the Aureate Gallery were white and wooden, ceilings covered in long planks of whitewashed board like massive wainscoting. Sherlock, in his grey charcoal coat, looked out of place in the bright, cheerful place. John checked behind him to see Sarah come through the doorway and glance about the collection of strolling gallery goers, and the white walls. She made for the dark pillar that was Sherlock Holmes, as did John.
"We meeting Raz here?"
"God no." Sherlock shook his head. "He wouldn't come in the door, I don't believe. And he's been a bit put out by your attitude regarding the ASBO."
"That little prat is put out?"
"I should thing so," Sherlock's brows went up and he removed his gloves. "I texted him earlier, and he told me if you'd be along, I should piss off."
Sarah's brows drew down in disapproval.
"Your friends are charming." John groused.
"Not a friend," Sherlock turned to John, and his coat floated out around him, a pool of darkness in the whiteness. "And gratitude's half-life changes in accordance to the person, John. I may have done him a favour, but, in his mind, that was some time ago. Let's find her paintings, shall we?"
Sarah cocked her head, "Aren't you waiting for your art expert?"
"Already here." Holmes smoothed the curls that framed his face, even though his hair was very short now, and led the way around an employee who had come to welcome them. John nodded in greeting, and followed. It was Sarah who stayed behind and spoke to the young man.
In the back of the building, an arched doorway took them out of the luminous watercolours and white planks, and into a shadowy black room. Holmes nodded as if this met with his expectation. His coat fanned through the black doors like the wings of the fallen. Inside, a young woman caught her breath and fell back. It was difficult to say whether he'd surprised her, or whether the svelte couture had given her pause. John recognized that, until his hair grew into the mass of curls in which he could hide again, Sherlock's looks were rather on the beautiful side of masculine appeal. It was damn amusing to watch, particularly in the Yard, where he was so hated, and, now, so doggedly pursued by several of the rookies – a few of whom were male.
Sherlock led the way through dark halls lit by track lights, until he found the first of the abstracts that struck him as Sofia's. Standing before it, hunched in a long, scuffed, clearly expensive coat, was a long-haired woman. She seemed about Sherlock's age and very pretty, after a too-thin fashion, but some sickness sapped the roses from her cheeks. Her hair was a nest of stringy colours and extensions. Thin and pale, she shivered microscopically as she looked at the painting. "Holmes."
A shadow of a smile touched her pale lips. "You gotta pay me up front, babe."
"Oh, you know I can't do that," Holmes fell in beside her without looking at her. "You need a fix. And a bath. And a week of Sunday dinners, I think."
"Touché. A flock of touchés." She said darkly. "Quitting's… gruelling. It's… a nightmare."
"Quitting," Sherlock sucked a steadying breath and exhaled, "is worth it."
For a moment, neither spoke, though John could feel a tension in the air between them he hadn't anticipated, it was underscored as Merriweather turned her head minutely, just barely looking in Sherlock's direction.
"Okay, hot shot. I got your jingle and all. Pretty picture you sent, now what's going on?"
"A girl is missing."
She snickered. "Jesus why are you such a humanitarian?"
"That seems an odd thing to complain of." Holmes tipped his head a little and looked at the painting. As he leaned forward into the light the girl quite honestly gave him a looking-over. She made a soft, rueful sigh and hugged herself tightly.
"Okay, so you're right." She sighed, "I know how you love hearing people say that."
"Of course I'm right."
Behind John, Sarah arrived, guided by the gallery employee. She reached up a finger to shush him, and dismissed the young man with a soft murmur of thanks. She turned to look at the pair before the painting, a tableau of too-tall, too-slender, and rather unusual.
"Well it's a difficult thing to do, Sherlock," Merriweather revealed. She acted as if Sarah's arrival was of no importance. "You know, to look at the early work of an artist and quickly align it with the finished product of a successful professional."
"You asking if this was done by the missing girl?" She reached a fur-cuffed hand into her pocket and took out a mobile phone she showed to Sherlock. It was bizarre seeing the reversal. "The girl who did this little number sent to you, I think, by the handsome little blond back there? Did you doll him up?"
"Yes." Sherlock said. When he looked at her this time, their eyes met, and they both smirked and looked away. Clearly, there was a lot of backstory going on here.
Merriweather had a throaty chuckle. "You don't like boys, so you're working an angle – you have something going on with the missing girl?"
"I have something 'going on' with the City Police," Sherlock said.
"Quite serious." Sherlock said dryly. "I have a badge."
She laughed so hard at this that she almost doubled over and had to put a hand on the wall to keep from losing her footing. "You? Someone gave you a bleedin' badge? They had to be rat-arsed! Or do they know you at all?" She had to wipe her cheeks as she righted herself. "God."
"Not helping." Sherlock told her critically. He looked at the painting. "I'm not you. Tell me why this is Sofia."
"Sofia's her name, huh?" She turned to look at him and then glanced over John and Sarah. In that look they could see for the first time, under the greyish skin and hollowed cheeks, the miscellanies of a pretty face. Maybe she saw, in them, the kind of people she'd resisted becoming. Either way, she dismissed them and turned to Holmes, "So… do you want to know who I think she is? This Sofia?"
Sherlock turned around in a hurry. His coat clapped against the black panel walls.
"No. I'm not kidding," and the woman chuckled, "which you know, because the OCR is fully engaged. Reading me that hard, you know I'm not lying, Sherlock. I think I've seen her work before."
His voice was a mere breath, "How long ago?"
"Three years ago in an amateur exhibit. I can't be sure, but I never forget a painting, Sherlock. I still have photos." Her head turned so that her blue eyes took in paintings further down the hallway. "This one's got talent. She'll sell. If she's not dead… which she will be if you keep hanging around her. Once you get her back, you really want to consider leaving her alone." Her high-heeled boots clacked down the hallway full of abstracts.
John didn't appreciate the thin woman's sentiment, which was, going by Sarah's suddenly annoyed expression, an affliction that was getting around. But Sherlock merely turned and followed Merriweather.
Before them, she muttered, "God knows you're the kiss of death."
"Where are we going?" Sarah asked quietly, once Holmes was further out of earshot. Or she figured he was, anyway. "That girl isn't well. And she's terrible to him."
"She's trying to quit drugs." John explained. She fastened her arms around one of his and they walked companionably in Sherlock's wake. "It makes a person temperamental." Sherlock's personality seemed to have stalled somewhere between temperamental and wildly high, in fact.
"Oh lovely," Sarah said tightly. "Just the person we want around a former cocaine addict."
"We have to have some faith in him, Sarah."
Twenty minutes later, after they'd gotten off the tube and walked to the small, dark flat Merriweather occupied, John was not feeling as confident. There were towers of magazines and books inside, such that it was possible to believe that her new addiction was to be hording. The sitting room had only enough space for a low table, one chair, and a television – large and flat. The rest was book shelving, with only a break for a small computer table and a laptop at the only window. The girl sat at it as Sherlock walked slowly through the flat.
Oddly, the television came on when she began to type.
"Could you watch her?" John asked softly.
"Absolutely," Sarah crossed her arms on her ribs and stared at the girl's turned back.
John went quietly in search of Sherlock. He was in the small kitchenette down the hall and off to the left. He stood over a small, scrupulously maintained drug kit, his fingertip idly against a cotton ball. With his back to John, Sherlock reached to pick up a bottle of pills with one hand and a baggy of cocaine with the other. He set the pills down. The cocaine he held out before him like a drying photo in a dark room. John watched as Sherlock's fingers slowly opened and the baggy dropped onto the table with a soft plop. He stared down at it a moment, and then slid the bottle of pills to sit directly in front of it. He closed the kit.
"Buprenorphine," Sherlock said and drew out the word, "Subway. She can shoot Subutex if she feels like. I like the needles so…."
Yes. It was a marvel. He liked needles. Someone should have foreseen a potential for disaster there. And Sherlock had gotten a lot of positive reinforcement. John eased into the room and picked up the bottle of pills. It didn't have a prescription label. His lips drew into a line at that. These were street drugs. "Is this what you used? Subutex?" Please God, via prescription. He found he didn't like to think of Sherlock managing all this on his own, and with no guarantees the drugs he was taking to treat his addiction were safe.
There was a long pause, long enough that John thought he'd gone too far, and the conversation was over. But then Sherlock said, "This isn't how I quit." He took the bottle away and set it back on the table in front of the cocaine again. Then he left the kitchen.
John stared at the cocaine for a while, unable to fathom how such an insignificant thing could outwit a man like Sherlock Holmes. He followed Holmes back into the tiny front room.
There, Merriweather rose to her feet. "Finished poking at my stash, Sherlock?"
"Yes," Sherlock said barrenly.
"Check the Media Centre over here," she motioned at the television and then tapped her laptop keyboard. "Sit with me and I'll explain it."
John didn't follow the majority of that conversation. It was heavily influenced by artistic styles and other minutia about which he knew vague little. Sherlock and the woman spent the better part of an hour going through photographs. Holmes was listening with undivided attention. But what struck John most was that Merriweather was an utterly different form of life when she was talking about art. Her body language opened up; her hands gestured widely; her tone of voice was sure and lush. She acted less like an addict, and quite a bit more, well… like Sherlock.
"See, the stuff you have is a few years down the continuum even from the one you texted me. You can still see the same elements; you can still see she's using the fan to finish, and she's always mixing a deeper red, like a bit more magenta than it could be, maybe should be. She's got issues with the colour red. But patterns are still up in her work: lots of rich reflections; lots of doubles; the numbers even go exponentially. I'm sure you can see the math in her abstracts. I mean, it's a strange thing – abstracts like hers imply a lack of control. The math is in the strokes, and even the number of strokes. I've never seen anyone else use this sort of style," she waggled one of several art magazines she'd brought for reference at him. "She's weird enough that her stuff stood out to me."
"The connection's not solid enough, Pamela." Sherlock said over his steepled fingers. "I see it… I don't know that it can be trusted, statistically."
"Fine," she swiveled on the floor and sat on her heels. "You went out with this bird, right? That means you know everything from her occupation to her cup-size."
"Granted." Sherlock watched the girl tap on her laptop.
The girl smiled abruptly. "So where's she from?"
Sherlock nodded. This was an acceptable path, "North Yorkshire."