Sherlock Holmes was sitting on his favorite chair, lotus, with his laptop on his knees. He looked like he hadn't moved for hours, in fact he was surrounded by an array of folding trays, upon which there were piled baggy upon baggy of samples of all kinds: transistors, strands of hair, kitchen knives, moldy bread, a fragment of sparkly nail polish, bits of bone, hose, scraps of skin, even a phial of what John felt pretty reliably was Sherlock's own blood.
"I put my bullet in," he whispered as John and Sarah stood just inside the door to the living room. "It's magnificent."
"Great, yeah… what are we talking about?" John hung his coat up on the coat-tree he'd bought and put beside the sitting room door, so, of course, Sherlock's coat was on the couch. John snatched it up with a grimace and hung it up too. Sarah walked into the room and stopped dead.
Her eyes goggled at the organized chaos around Sherlock's chair. "What are you doing?"
Oh-boy. John heaved a sigh, "Use your words, Sherlock."
"Molly… Molly's lab just took receipt of a TM3000 Tabletop Microscope, which she insisted someone needed to test drive over the weekend. But… somehow no one volunteered."
"Oh, that's inconceivable," John smothered a grin. "Isn't it inconceivable, Sarah?"
"Quite," she turned from hanging up her coat, unable to keep from grinning.
"Is it that large blue toaster-ee thing by the seat, with that little orange pipe-gadget and the tube coming out?" John squat down to take a look at the microscope that so lit Sherlock with awe and admiration. He didn't have to say aloud to Sarah that those starry eyes most certainly did not owe to the idea of an intimate dinner date, or her audacious plan for tonight, a blind double-date. If Sherlock had gotten wind of it, he would have changed the locks. John, though, held out some little hope for it. Holmes had to be shared with others. He was just too amazing, and exasperating, for one person to stand, alone.
"Looks more like a bread maker had a love-child with a printer, John." Sarah said.
"Curious," Sherlock looked up at her. "I thought something similar from the design. It's very different from the TM1000. Would you like to see?" He turned around his laptop and tapped the screen. "That is a scrap of bloody nylon magnified 30, 000 times."
"As in panty hose," she marveled in spite of herself.
"Absolutely." He told her.
"Dear Lord, it looks like power lines of some kind."
Sherlock turned the laptop back to face him again and smiled. "You should see the screen captures I was able to get of the moth wing and my bullet."
"Like modern art, I'm sure." John sat in the more traditional chair across from Holmes. He glanced over what the man was wearing. Sherlock was always in extremely well-tailored suits. Right now the suit was dark, with a dark green shirt. He always looked smart, but even for Sherlock, this combo was looking modish. He just had that unconscious way about him.
"So get your jacket," he tried sounding casual about it. "We're going out."
"I can't possibly leave." His fingertips reached over the low arm of the chair in which he sat and touched the top of the blue boxy microscope covetously.
"It will be here when you get back," John said. "Come on. Let's go eat."
"Now that can't be true. You've had a week and a half of hospital food. It's only your second day of freedom and you want to stay at home with a blue box for your mate?"
"Well put." Sherlock panned across the surface of the nylon beatifically and it wasn't clear who he was talking to when he said. "Bravo."
John looked across at Sarah and mouthed, I'm sorry.
She sat down on the couch and considered Holmes. "Sherlock… what if I were to give you some samples from the clinic? Would that help you to calibrate the-"
"Nothing dangerous, of course," she told him. "But who knows what we have lying around."
John held his breath and prayed she wouldn't offer him anything he could weaponize. Sherlock's mind was like a black hole. Everything went in. Next to nothing escaped him. Who knew what was happening inside it. In some ways, handing him an agar plate of strep was like handing plutonium to an extremely creative madman.
"Can you draw up a list?" Sherlock asked her calmly. "I was just thinking that-"
Then his phone went off and he cocked his head to read the screen on his armrest. "Lestrade you are inconvenient."
John's jaw dropped. "Come on, Sherlock. This gadget can't be more interesting than an actual crime." He laughed the idea away, and then was horrified at himself.
Sherlock's brows swept up. His tone was arch, "Perhaps you should reserve final judgment until you've had the opportunity to observe a magnified human retina with this thing." He picked up the call with a jab of his thumb. "Sherlock."
Well who else would it be? Who else would dare touch that phone?
John led the way to the kitchen and cast a regretful look back at Sarah. "You know this might mean no night out for us, yes? And are you prepared to let your girlfriend know we've got to call it off?" He reached out and touched her hand. Perhaps a little human contact would lend him the strength to look in his fridge, maybe soften the blow. John had a solid intuition that the bottom shelf was going to contain many, many dreadful things, among them, human retinas.
"She was pretty excited to meet him after I showed the picture." Sarah smiled ruefully.
"Oh, women love his looks," John told her at last. "It's him they don't care for."
"Then what good are they?" Sarah scoffed and wrapped her arms around John.
Not. Bad. Her hair smelled like coconut – hypnotic as the small mounded breasts and the narrow figure pressed against him. He smoothed her shirt against the small of her back.
In the front room, Sherlock swiveled in his chair, stepped on the seat, the back, and hopped to the floor. Even apart from the green eyes, Holmes was especially feline, complete with a fat cat brother. He paced to the windows and looked out at the road below. The phone call had ended, certainly.
"Lestrade," Sherlock simply assumed everyone was listening to him. "Something strange is going on at the Yard. Not Ninth Muse strange, unluckily, just… political." His hands made a vague and uninterested wave in air.
Regrettably, it was time for John to extricate himself from Sarah. He crossed from the back of the kitchen into the front room. "He can't possibly want you involved with Scotland Yard politics." Indelicate didn't begin to describe it.
"Not at all. The phone call was to tell me to stay clear." Sherlock smiled tightly. It was gone in a flash. "He'll call me with news. Isn't that charming? Well, we're not waiting about. Let's go eat." Sherlock crossed back to shut down the microscope.
Shoe was on the other foot now. Good luck for them, as it turned out.
Sarah, looking sharp in her heels, John thought, somehow reached the couch where Sherlock's jacket sat, before he did. She picked up the jacket, an action that stopped Sherlock's normally relentless activity in its tracks. He shot John a look, a look that said She is touching my things.
John put his head down rather than laugh outright. No need to agitate the man.
Sarah handed the jacket over to him, graciously, giving the fabric a little smoothing. This was one of those things John found impossible to explain to people. It was one thing to plot and plan for Holmes. It was another to stand in his way, even in small things. When you brought him up short, you could practically feel a crackle in the air.
Sherlock pulled on his jacket, swept past Sarah, and grabbed his coat on his way down the stairs. "John, what do you feel like?"
This part had been planned ahead of time, "Italian?"
"Really?" Sherlock stopped and turned on the stairs. "You've had it twice this week already, judging by the containers in the garbage." He continued on down.
"Well, see, I've been favouring Italian and… you went through the trash?" John grinned. "I mean, in my experience, the only prior involvement you've had with garbage is to make it."
"Don't be impertinent," Sherlock said as they reached the bottom landing. "I'm just back from hospital, and I was trying to help."
"Ah, I see," John caught up with his flatmate and strode beside him. Sarah fell in on his left, her beautiful cape-like coat billowing with each step, which was an odd tableau, surely. "Well, if I haven't told you yet, that was some brilliant work on the Ninth Muse case. It's good to have you back."
"Not to be morbid," Sarah said over her crossed arms as she strode behind them into the street, "What did you ever do with the bullet, Sherlock?"
"I'm thinking of framing it."
"You could put it on a necklace," Sarah suggested. "You know I would never suggest this to anyone else, but I don't think you would shy away from something so dark."
His brows swept up. "Is it dark?" Invariably, he looked at John.
"Arguably," John told him.
"How arbitrary." Sherlock blinked as if the thought had never occurred to him. That was likely because it hadn't. He rarely considered the emotional content inherent in an object. Holmes raised a hand to summon a cab and darted inside with alarming ease, already texting. John, however, had never seen Sherlock wear jewelry of any kind. A necklace was probably out of the question.
"Think John. If I'd been shot twice, it would have been cufflinks." Sherlock said lazily as they climbed in. There was nothing to do on the heels of that but laugh.
They ended up at a place called Pensaci Bene! Sherlock zagged into the entrance at his usual speed and gestured at the menu chalked over the top of the bar. "Wild-caught salmon, red bell peppers, fresh angel-hair pasta: brain food. Can practically feel the omega-3s. And they have cocoa coffee. Dear God, I'm starved." He laid a hand on his slender middle.
"Ah, omega-3s," John said knowledgeably, "Mixed results in clinical studies about the benefit of omega-3s on people with ADHD-"
"Which I do not have."
It made John laugh. "Sleep disturbances. Difficulty relaxing. Temper tantrums."
Sherlock's eyes widened. "I do not have temper tantrums," he exclaimed. But then he turned away and laughed. He was aware he seemed weird to other people, and, sometimes the window that John afforded him was cause for hilarity.
A large, busty woman burst from the back and opened her arms to him. "Sherlock!"
"Alda." He nodded as he unbuttoned his coat.
"Your timing is excellent. Best table in the house." She hurried along to lay her hands on his arms, bend in, and kiss his cheeks, though Holmes didn't return the action.
"How is Alphonse?" he asked as he straightened.
"Ah, we'll never forget what you did for him. He's in University now, you know. He's getting As and Bs and having such a good time." She beamed up at him and opened her hands, "Ah, it's been too long! We'll whip up your favourites, of course. Just tell the waitress if you'd like something different. Follow me."
Holmes settled into a booth in a bay window. The woman swept through her packed restaurant with a loud clap of her hands, and called out to the staff in sprightly Italian. John slid in beside him. "What's the story with this one?" he jabbed a thumb after Alda.
"Son, Alphonse; age 18; being written out of his inheritance on the grounds of illegitimacy. I simply offered incontrovertible proof the older son, Cosimo, was born out of wedlock. The threat of scandal did the rest. Child's play," Sherlock sipped the glass of Pinot Gris that had arrived at the table right after he had. Unlike John and Sarah, he didn't seem inclined to wait for food. "He'll be very comfortable for the rest of his life. Money legitimized Alda. The pair of them bought this restaurant, for instance. She'd been a waitress here. It's much better since she's taken it over."
"That's amazing." Sarah sat back and smiled at him. "You're amazing."
Sherlock motioned his glass at her. "Stop her doing that." This was aimed at John.
Having heard him say this many times before, Sarah simply winked in John's direction.
She was a charmer, for certain, and a glass of wine would only make her – John suddenly thought of the painkillers Sherlock still took for his healing arm. "Now not a lot of that."
"Blue eyes and stature aside, you are not my mother." Sherlock's brows went up, but he didn't drink any more of the wine on an empty stomach either.
Sofia arrived not ten minutes after they'd settled in at their booth. John had forgotten about her, really. Sherlock had been in the middle of explaining his methods on The Ninth Muse case. Some of them had seemed like utter magic to John. Sarah, who had missed much of this, sat still, positively rapt. When they switched, Sherlock listened intently to Sarah's encounter with Mycroft. He nodded here and there and finally moaned, "Dear God. He's managed to have our apartment wired. Seems confined to the front room, though, or he would have been sniffing about much sooner. Mycroft wouldn't have been able to endure hearing a woman rattling around in either bedroom without knowing what's going on. Don't worry, John, I'll sort it out." He sipped the wine, snapped out a napkin deftly, and folded it beside his charger – quick, sharp moves.
"How?" John was still reeling from hearing that Sarah had napped on his bed, in fact.
"Sarah's information. She's given enough that I can isolate two of the listening devices already." Sherlock said. "Finding anything else simply requires the correct hardware aimed at-"
Sherlock glanced to his right and gave a brief nod, before he went on. "Sarah your observational skills are a bit infrequent in the population. You don't do a good job, but you don't embarrass yourself either. It's curious."
"Oh, thank you," Sarah grinned, seemingly immune to Sherlock's bluntness. She motioned out from the booth with a hand, "Hold on a moment, Sherlock."
"Sorry, pardon me," the woman said again. This time, Sherlock was forced to pay attention to her arrival. He turned his head and took the newcomer in silently.
"Are you lost?" His green eyes narrowed. "Oh, no. You haven't misplaced yourself, look at you. You're a friend. A friend of Sarah's. And how you're dressed indicates-" His head whipped about to take Sarah in with such a heated gaze that John reached for her hand in an instant. Then Sherlock returned a long-suffering stare in the woman's direction. "Well, sit down. You'll get in the way of foot traffic."
"Oh," she flushed a little. She was actually quite slim and pretty in her lovely lavender dress. "Yes, of course. How sensible of you. You must be Sherlock, then. Sherlock Holmes."
"So I must," he said as she eased in beside him.
"John, this is Sofia." Sarah motioned toward her friend. "We've been mates for about five months now. Very clever girl – I mean in the creative way. Not something that would show up on an IQ test so easily, I'd venture, but…."
"Nice to meet you," Sofia reached across the table. "I hear such good things about you, John."
Her hands were so beautifully neat.
Sherlock took another sip of his wine, set his elbow on the table, and played with a curl just above his ear. John began to feel a bit remorseful. Gone was the easy, smiling Sherlock of their arrival: the Sherlock that John found endlessly stimulating. It was a shame, considering that, lately, Holmes felt somewhat easier with Sarah's presence. For instance, he spoke to her, directly, more often than he ever had before The Ninth Muse murders, and some of what he had to say wasn't even case-related.
Holmes turned his head just enough to take in Sofia's hand as she released John's. He didn't make any motion to touch her.
Shiny fingertips, low ridges.
His brows drew down a little. "So how does an artist meet a doctor? Were you also a patient?"
"What did you tell him, Sarah? Oh my," she spread her fingers over her cleavage. When Sarah only smiled and shook her head, Sofia glanced between John and Sarah curiously. She wasn't sure what to believe, but then brightened. "Or is this the detective work you warned me about – the science of deduction? How did you know that, Mr. Holmes?"
He played with his wineglass. "Noticeable pattern of wear on your fingertips," he reached out and snatched her hand with captivating speed, then turned it over to study it for a moment. She might have been on a slab. "Pronounced deterioration of ridges on first two fingers of each hand and particularly on the right hand; faint smell like gypsum; relatively short nails, but painted; slight discolouration on the hypothenar eminence." He released her hand again. "Right-handed; works with her hands, but not at traditional types of manual labour. No sign of that. Wear patterns on ridges show repeated friction with a rough surface; smell of chalk; not a teacher – sanded pastel paper. Fingernails are short but painted due to the difficulty cleaning the remnants of pastel from the beds." He pivoted her hand over and held it up to the light of the candles. A soft shine of blue lit her skin. "Pure pigment tends to leave an impression. Origins of this particular brand of pastel, I think, Northumberland."
"Astonishing," John gawped at Holmes.
"Straightforward," he released Sofia's hand again and said. "Look at her nails, John! Use your head. She's painted them with a purely decorative white pattern at the tips. An average person would not be so exact with a brush. So artist."
Sarah laughed, "She might have had her nails done."
Holmes gathered his patience and said. "But she didn't, because she's an artist."
"He's right. I did them myself," Sofia smiled curiously at the man beside her. Holmes, however, sipped his wine as if she'd somehow faded into the ether in response to his erudition. John had never seen that look before. It wasn't quite dismissive, just rejecting. Why?
"That's so clever," Sofia grinned at Sarah. "You didn't say he was so charming."
"She didn't say it because I'm not." Sherlock told Sofia flatly.
"Oh, I think I might have to argue that point." Sofia's head tilted right. Large, honey-coloured curls bumbled down across her white throat. Honestly, she was so pretty John found it disarming. Sherlock glanced at her behaviour as well, but his expression was closed – something that often happened when he was pulling information out of a living person and into his head. "I really might."
Head tilt angle. Likes what she's seeing.
"Then you would be wasting your time." Sherlock told her shortly.
John sat back. When his head tipped, the angle was much more pronounced. It was confusion. Sherlock could be quite smooth in his dodges. He often was, with Molly Hooper, whose lab he crashed on a semi-regular basis. What was happening here was… odd.
Sofia said, "I hope you don't mean that."
"Do you often interact with people who are deceptive, or don't mean what they say?" Sherlock picked up a hunk of bread from the plate before him, daubed it in spiced olive oil, and jerked his head at Watson. "Talk to her John." He bit into the bread and gave a hearty chew.
Oh hell. "Sherlock, I don't follow," he said guardedly.
"Unsurprising." He turned a little toward Sofia. "How about the rest of it, then?"
She looked mystified, "I'm sorry, I don't… understand?"
He made a small harrumph of amusement. "I can only tell that you're an artist, I suppose."
"Oh, I don't rightly know what you can-"
"Let's try this as a primer," Sherlock rounded on her, and drew a little closer to her face. "Why were you crying?"
At first, Sofia's face drained of colour. Then, within seconds, it went scorching red. In fact, her eyes glittered with emotion. She looked aghast.
"Very nice choice made in the waterproofed mascara, but there are still faint tracks in your finishing powder," Sherlock told her as he double-dipped the bread. His tone was devoid of emotion. "Did someone kick your puppy? What happened?"
Sofia got up and hurried from the restaurant. John was scandalized by this, and began to go after her, apart from Sherlock's sudden snap of. "Sit down."
"No, Sherlock! We can't have her running around the streets in a state of distress like that. What the hell was that about?" John broke from the table and hurried outside. However, he was already too late to see where Sofia had vanished to. He peered into the damp night air, threw his hands up, and swore on Sherlock's bad behaviour. "Dammit."
The door behind him opened and closed. Sherlock swept past. John only just reached out amongst the foot traffic and snatched him by the elbow. This brought him around. It was his left arm, and still tender, so he didn't resist. His green feline eyes were bright with anger, not a look one saw him wear often. John knew his irritation, frustration, annoyance, but this was different. Of course, John was feeling pretty upset right then too.
"All right, let's have it out then." He snapped at Holmes.
"Let me go."
"That's it? That's all you have?" John gave Sherlock's arm a yank. "You treated that poor girl with less consideration than I've seen you give to corpses."
"Is there some problem?"
"Oh, I see, so they're only worth your attention when they're dead." John snapped. "You play into the hands of people like Donovan and Anderson. You're supposed to be smarter than that! You're supposed to be better-"
"We talked about this. I told you. I warned you."
"That was unforgivable behaviour, Sherlock."
Sherlock turned his face away somewhat, though when he tried a step back, John held him fast. "I'm sure you'd like to run off, I'm sure you would, but I'm afraid you still have Sarah to apologize to over this. That poor girl, Sherlock; that was disgraceful."
Sherlock's body was stiff. He looked at John coldly and snapped, "Just let me go."
"John!" Sarah called from the doorway. Her gaze was on his fingers, biting into the elbow of Sherlock's coat, and she sounded flummoxed by the sight of it. As if a bubble had burst, John caught what he was doing and released his friend's captive arm.
In a wink Sherlock had turned and all but vanished in the passersby.
John straightened slowly. "God dammit!" but this time he cursed himself. Since when did he manhandle people? Even if they'd been complete idiots? And his vehemence upset him suddenly, because Sherlock, for all his brilliance, honestly didn't know better.
Lestrade phoned John not 20 minutes later.
"And you've not seen him?" the Detective Inspector asked.
"No," John shut his eyes and cursed himself inwardly. He was already back in the Baker Street flat with Sarah, both of them feeling utterly defeated. "But I'll give him a text and see if that raises him."
"He's not at the flat."
"Is that a question?" John looked around him.
"No. I was by." Lestrade said. "Listen. Get him over here. It's of the highest importance."
"I understand," John pushed the curtains and eyed the street below. Cars passed. Cabs passed. But none of them stopped and disgorged Sherlock Holmes. The line in John's ear went dead, so he hung up and let his arm sag to his side.
"I expected it might be rocky," Sarah said softly. "I didn't think it would be volatile. He practically attacked Sofia, and I've never seen you two go at it like that…. I'm so sorry, John."
"For what?" John asked as he turned her way. He struggled for words, "I wish it had worked. I wish he could… give someone a chance." John rubbed his face and looked at the floor. "We can't do that to him again. I don't know what that was, if he had a meltdown, and I don't know where he is right now, how he's feeling-"
"John, he's a grown man," Sarah noted soothingly. She crossed the room and reached for him.
"Who's a former drug addict, and it's not good not to know where he is. He hasn't answered texts – this is Sherlock and texts we're talking about. He's off the radar, and-" he looked up and realized what he'd just said. Damn. He fixed his gaze on Sarah.
Her eyes were wide. She spoke slowly. "A former drug addict? Him?"
"Yes," John's head drooped, "but please don't mention it again. I shouldn't have told you."
"Well, yes, he's very private." She seemed to be moving blocks around inside of her head, rebuilding the image she had, which represented Sherlock. "Drugs…. I just don't understand. He's so intelligent. I mean, they'd mess with his mind. It's what drugs do."
"I think that was the intention," John said helplessly.
Sarah sighed, stepped up, and slipped into his arms. It just defied John why Sherlock couldn't see the value of having someone like this. He just couldn't wrap his head around it. There was simply no comfort as comforting.
The door downstairs quickly opened and closed. John and Sarah jerked apart. Only one person they knew moved at that speed. Sarah wisely plucked her throw off the couch and Sherlock pushed the door to the sitting room. He looked between them and took off his scarf.
The hand John clapped over his mouth was purely reflexive. It was relief. His friend could be pointlessly erratic, but was all right.