The Dancing Man
By GE Waldo
“There are feet in the refrigerator.” John said as he reached passed the offending appendages to reach the milk, wedging his hand into a shape as small as possible so as not to touch Sherlock’s latest experimental ‘visitors’.
Idly flipping through the morning paper Sherlock remarked “John Watson, meet John Doe.”
“What are you trying to learn this time - how to turn my stomach before breakfast?” Despite himself John squinted at the dead man’s even, trimmed toe-nails. There was no sign of yellowing. “This fellow was quite young,” he said, “Car accident?”
“Irrelevant but one thing is for certain – he used to be taller.”
With a twist to his lip, Watson added milk to his coffee and nodded to the paper. Cadavers were never his favorite part of medical school. Now he was surrounded by their smaller reminders weekly. Incredible the little vulgarities a soul can get used to providing the larger servings of life – John glanced at Sherlock in his snug-fitting black Italian suit and flawless complexion - were of the highest refinement. Nodding to the newspaper in Sherlock’s hands - “Anything interesting?” he asked.
By way of answer Sherlock thrust aside the offending morning news as though the local editors were deliberately keeping the good stuff to themselves. “Drivel. Missing daughter, robberies, drunken brawls and one pathetic domestic murder – where oh where are all the intelligent criminals?”
Watson sipped from his mug. “I think you got rid of them all my friend. Perhaps you’re too successful for your own good?”
Sherlock looked affronted by the insinuation that he might be responsible for his own boredom and rose from his seat like a man in a jack-in-the-box, as though he could not bear one more moment of stillness. Sherlock reminded John of a snake, his boundless energy wound into a tight coil ready to strike without warning. “What I wouldn’t give for a Moriarty.” Sherlock swooped into the kitchen and poured his third cup of coffee and asking wistfully “Do you suppose he had a brother?”
“I bloody hope not.”
John frowned at the questions, and at the cup in Sherlock’s hand. The last thing Sherlock Holmes needed was more caffeine playing on the detective’s nerves and so, of course, his own. “Sherlock, why don’t you ring up Lestrade? He might have something worth your while.”
Sherlock stirred his coffee but had not failed to note John’s use of the pronouns. “So you will not be attending today?” He asked keeping his tone carefully neutral. The sudden pang in his chest, however, he could not account for.
John suddenly realized how he had said it. “Well, of course I’ll be going with you...if anything should turn up.” One case had the previous week; the murder of two young men. Lestrade had insisted it was routine. “It’s probably nothing...” The Inspector had said but in five seconds Sherlock had gathered up his coat and scarf and disappeared down the stairs so fast John swore there was left behind a little puff of smoke left in his wake.
When Sherlock returned he had photographs that he had taken with his own phone, some preliminary information from the coroner as to the times of death and probable cause, a single sheet of yellowed paper and, in his own words “a more accurate probable cause of death.” They had been given overdoses.
Watson had been unable to supplement Sherlock’s deductions and within minutes the man had huffed his disappointment through his perfect nose, and then sunk into silence; morphing into classic Sherlock Holmes in a deep funk and he had been that way ever since.
John joined him at the kitchen table. “Sherlock what’s wrong?”
Sherlock spoke without lifting his eyes from the page. “You say you are attending but are you not busy today with some or other pre-wedding activity? You were on your phone with Mary for twenty minutes.”
“It’s because she’s visiting her friend in Cardiff and I wanted to tell her that I loved her.”
“It takes twenty minutes to say I love you?” Sherlock asked his eyes on his coffee cup. Tiny vertical lines pinched his brows together. Something unpleasant twisted in his stomach. “You rang her yesterday as well.”
John wondered if Sherlock was cataloging his calls. “Sherlock, she is my fiancé and I enjoy talking to her and saying I love you. I also enjoy, in case you were wondering, helping you with your investigations. Now, are you going to ring up Lestrade or shall I?” Sherlock was approaching his insufferable stage of boredom where everything in creation annoyed him, especially other people’s enjoyment of the simple things in which Sherlock himself declined to partake of because they were “boring”.
Sherlock tapped one finger on the side of his cooling coffee mug. No matter it supposedly made him a lousy friend he hated to hear about John’s happiness with Mary. The worst part was he did like her. She was clever and good to John and his own insight into human behavior – what he understood of it – told him that it was all perfectly acceptable. Only she was also taking John away to live with her and Sherlock found it more and more difficult to ignore how that made him feel.
There were so many aspects of his life that would be altered. John’s chair for example, what was he supposed to do with it after John left? Who was going to sit in it and help him work through a case by making all the incorrect deductions but in doing so opened up to him the way to the light of investigative truth?
And, a sudden horror shot through him, would Misses Hudson rent out the upstairs bedroom to someone else? If so, to what mental dullard and for god’s sake why would she anyway? She wouldn’t really do that would she? How could he tolerate another set of unfamiliar foot-steps on the stairs each night and every morning? The absence of John’s little feet padding around the flat for most of the week was already trying his nerves. John had already moved all of his things out and once Mary returned from Cardiff they would be settling down in her house on the other side of London for good.
What would he do then? With all the endless preparations going on for John’s soon-to-be wedded life everyone had seemed to have forgotten about him. With John living elsewhere who would bring him home milk and food? And who would he eat it with? Who would cook him breakfast even if he almost never ate it? And what about going out to Angelo’s between cases? And the take-away fish and chips John used to pick up for them? And who would make them their morning coffee and their afternoon tea?
Sherlock glanced over to the skull sitting on the mantel. He really didn’t want to go back to having one-sided conversations with it. Plus John kept the flat nice and tidy. He seemed to know where to put things so Sherlock could easily find them.
And John snored. In most circumstances that would have been a deal breaker the first week but Sherlock had found the rhythmic rumble coming from up the stairs strangely soothing which bodily noise had lulled him into slumber on many of those difficult nights when his brain refused to slow down.
Inexplicably in only moments Sherlock had found himself in a black depression. After many minutes of silence he spoke and John jumped a bit in his chair, mistakenly thinking that his friend had gone into his mind palace to distract himself from the lack of cases. But apparently he had simply been doing some everyday “normal” musing.
“So if a worthy inquiry presents itself and I need you, you will not stop short with a dire requirement for ‘a fitting’ or an obligation to meet yet another assortment of Mary’s friends?” Sherlock asked.
“I like Mary’s friends and, no, as I said we’re all set to go.” The wedding itself was set to go. Whether he was set to be married was another story and his stomach performed back-flips every time he thought of it. “Now what about we chase down Lestrade for a case?” Then when Sherlock did not respond John’s eyebrows shot up with an idea. “I’ve got it - what about the photo’s from that case last week?”
Sherlock now looked up at him. The frost-blue eyes roamed over his features and John felt like he was being, to all intents and purposes, licked. Plus he got the distinct impression that Sherlock in answer to his last question was attempting to determine whether or not he was fibbing and was indeed about to rush out the door to arrange for more guest chairs or pick up an over-priced and largely inedible cake.
Finally Sherlock nodded once, seemingly satisfied and instead of taking up the idea of the photographs asked “I wonder, John, once you’re completely ensconced in married life, whether or not you wish to continue our association? You will have after all the surgery, your new wife and, seeing how these things usually progress, the sound of little running feet only marginally smaller than your own.”
“Doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep on assisting you and for the tenth time my feet are not that small. They’re a size eight.”
“A women’s seven-point-five in fact. And despite what you want you must know that want doesn’t always translate into able.”
“Sherlock, I will keep assisting you whenever and however I possibly can.”
John sighed, his shoulders first slumping and then squaring up. He left his chair and squatted in front of Sherlock - right in front of him - so he could stare his friend in the eye and give him no quarter to turn away. “Now what’s all this about, hm? I thought you liked Mary.” He asked.
Sherlock had not expected the move and having John so close without any warning made him...he could not classify the sensation, as though he was standing beneath a soft, warm shower. A spring rain - that was John. Extremely odd sensation to have while fully dressed but one he was reluctant to explore further with John right there, inches from him and staring up at him from his lower perch with concern. Always with John it was concern. Concern, care, kindness...
Sherlock thrust the feelings away. ‘Spring showers’ indeed! From what dreadful book of poetry had that memory arisen? Sherlock made note to search and delete such drivel as the soonest opportunity. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
Sherlock frowned at the profanity. Surly John remembers that I abhor such talk as the outward mark of the disorganized and dull minded? Yet Sherlock was forced to admit that when John swore, he himself tended to pay a bit more attention to whatever came after.
“I know you, Sherlock, you’re upset about something. Is it because I’m leaving soon? At the end of this week I’ll be living with Mary permanently.”
John was also nobody’s fool, at least not with human emotions. With case evidence that was right under his nose however... “Please, this has nothing to do with you.” Excellent. Perfectly indignant without being dismissive of his feelings. And then Sherlock felt suddenly guilty for having lied, even in so round-about-way. John deserved better. John always deserved better.
John had an awful lot of those things – feelings - wore them on his sleeve most of the time if truth be told. Sherlock had to be careful of upsetting them or John might leave even sooner than Friday. “I’m simply trying to ensure that I have you – that you will belo - be present to assist me on this case – whatever case that may...come in.” Not so good that last – a bit choppy.
John looked back at him, his expression surprisingly inscrutable. “Sherlock...”
Sherlock almost gasped as John took his hands in his own and held them. Sherlock’s eyes fell, instantly locking on to the hands engulfing his own. How strong they were; a soldier’s grip yet tempered by a doctor’s educated touch. Warm and gentle. Then those kind fingers rubbed at his a bit and the thing that had been twisting in his guts came to life as though John had just stoked his belly. Electric fingers of heat spread up his arms and across his back, down his sides, reaching every part of him in a flat second.
His lips parted and he could not help it but gasp. A small noise, an almost not there peep, had escaped but enough for John to have heard it. “Sherlock, are you all right? You seem upset with me and I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
John was in his full good friend mode. It was the accident, Sherlock realized. He had been hurt. John was a doctor. John was his friend. So far it added up. What did not were the shivers that John’s touch sent snaking over his skin.
With some difficulty Sherlock extracted his fingers from his friend’s and stood up, standing and moving away from John as fast as possible but not so fast as to arouse John’s instincts to follow, to help, to assess him and see if it was physical, this problem that he did not understand. “I’m fine, John, excuse me for a moment.” Sherlock waved a hand over his shoulder as he escaped to the bathroom, hoping John would take the hint that he simply needed to empty his bladder and not follow. “Why don’t you give Lestrade a ring as you’ve just suggested.”
John watched him go. An irrational urge said to follow and force his friend to spill but instead he ignored it and fished his phone from his right front pocket. It went to the Inspector’s voice mail. “Lestrade...John Watson. ‘Was wondering if you might have any cases.” He whispered hazarding a swift glance in the direction of the hallway leading to the bathroom (lest Sherlock appear out of nowhere as he often did and overhear the whole conversation), and then lent some urgency to his voice for the next bit “I’ve got a wide awake Sherlock on my hands with nothing to do.” His inflection said And we both know what that bloody means! “For God’s sake call me as soon as you get this.”
Lestrade watched a bit nervously as Sherlock did his bit at the scene of the dead man, the body of a pudgy, balding middle aged man bludgeoned to death and set up against a small ferry container as though a trophy left behind.
John watched also, looking for any sign of the uncharacteristically emotive behavior Sherlock had displayed at the flat earlier. There was only Sherlock in all his genius, swooping around the body like a great black bird of prey, sniffing this and probing that with his coat billowing majestically. It didn’t matter how many cases came and went by the wayside, Sherlock was a sight to watch and Watson drank him in.
Although as intent on Sherlock’s antics Lestrade was decidedly less patient for results from the public spectacle called Sherlock Holmes. “Anything..?” He asked.
Sherlock threw him an unmistakable look that said interruptions were neither useful nor welcome. “The blood is newly congealed.” He looked around the dock where the dead man lay slumped near the end of it. Tillbury Docks had dozens of containers stacked on the thousand meter-long dock; its one long side reaching to the fences and gates where locks and office workers sat in a two-story towers, and the dark water of the Thames on the other.
Anderson called out from his squatted seat by his little blue evidence kit. “We’ve already gathered that.”
“I would certainly hope.” Sherlock quipped. “Clotting barely an hour old in fact.” Sherlock said, his eyes skimming over the nearby stacks of containers ready to be ferried out. “Your killer is a worker of the docks and is still present, Inspector.” Sherlock said.
Watson instantly saw Lestrade place his fingers on the grip of his side-arm, his thumb unbuckling the clasp that held it tight in its leather holster. He bent over Sherlock and asked in a whisper. “Are you sure?”
Sherlock nodded, speaking in his near normal voice. “Why are you whispering? The other workers present came upon the dead-man moments after the attack occurred - correct?”
“Therefore your killer, who is not obviously among us and would be unlikely to make his escape along the dock as the offices at the end overlooking the operations there would easily spot a man covered in blood. Not would anyone have given him a ride without noting the blood-stains on his clothing and hands as there is no wash station near-by for him to have removed it. It is also unlikely that a man on a docks-workers wage could afford his own vehicle and even if he did he would not be allowed to drive it passed the parking area designated near the entrance so any escape by vehicle is problematic at best. Certainly he would not, after committing murder, call for a taxi and if he had done so, his clothing would still be blood soaked and the cab itself would again not have been allowed passed the parking zone - I assume your officers are already interviewing the other workers and confirming this?”
Lestrade nodded again. “Yes, on all counts.”
Sherlock nodded in a way that said I thought as much. “Therefore the only escape, albeit temporarily, would be for the killer to hide himself among the containers nearby and hope to make an escape once...” Sherlock checked his watch, “the evening shift has arrived as it is due to in nine minutes. No doubt the killer is hoping to slip out unnoticed by the others, in the meantime he is probably taking these precious remaining few minutes to turn his stained shirt and cover-all’s inside-out-” Sherlock glanced at the morbid crowd, dock representatives among them, all standing near-by. “Most of the workers overalls show signs of considerable wear therefore our killer turning his own inside-out would help to minimize the appearance of blood and he would go nearly unnoticed unless you were directly looking for blood stains.
“I suggest Donovan make her way through the crowd to see if our man is anywhere within at present. If not then he is still wiping his hands as best he can on his socks or pants and planning on leaving them behind tucked away somewhere – that is of course if he has any sense at all - and that I believe this is an impromptu crime of rage - probably over a women or some funds owed by one to the other - I then find that highly unlikely.” Sherlock stood up and took a much needed breath. “No, the killer has not gotten away, he is here...somewhere.”
As he listened to Sherlock’s reasoning John felt the same amazement at his friend as he had that first time years ago. Oddly it seemed so much time had passed since that first case and yet not so much at all. Sherlock still seemed as young and as brilliant as ever, and he was still as thrilled as ever to be working alongside him. How his life had changed that day, meeting the curiously compelling detective for the first time and for the first time in months, not feeling like he was a bug on its back about to gasp its very last to the world.
Meeting Sherlock had brought him back to life and life back into to him again. He often wondered what, if any, positive influences he might have wrought over Sherlock since that day.
Lestrade asked “So doesn’t it make sense to whisper and not alert him to the fact that we’ve figured out he’s here?”
Sherlock’s brows knit together at the word we’ve and Lestrade rolled his eyes. “Oh blast – fine - I mean now that you’ve figured out he’s here?”
“If he knows we know then he also knows an escape attempt is extremely unlikely to succeed unless he is very, very careful. This is a sloppy, disorganized thinker, Inspector. He may be so distraught over what he has done that he might even give himself up if you use your-” Sherlock waved his hand lazily trying to and finally unable to locate the correct term “Blow-hard thing.”
“It’s called a Blow-horn.” Lestrade reminded him.
Sherlock’s hand now said Whatever! John was enjoying the little hand-dance his friend often employed to convey messages that occasionally his mouth could find no words for. Sherlock talked with every part of his body yet no one could mistake his meaning. Whatever Sherlock was, he was never wishy-washy.
Then John’s mind went back to their earlier almost conversation in the flat. Almost never.
Watson decided his usefulness, even as he had only been Sherlock’s silent partner this time, other than giving him encouraging looks whenever Sherlock had happened to look his way, which he had done a few times since arriving on the scene, had come to an end and he strolled over to the end of the dock to take in a bit of the river air. The Thames was running fast today and Watson could feel tiny drops of moisture alighting on his face.
He closed his eyes to it, letting the cool moisture bring with it relaxation. Sherlock had solved another and now it was up to Lestrade and his team to sniff the killer out from his hole.
“John!” His thoughts were interrupted by Sherlock shouting his name and then the whine of an electric engine pushed to its limits.
Shouts of “Stop right there!” erupted. It was Lestrade running after a vehicle that in no way resembled a cab. This was a large orange painted fork-lift and it was bearing down on John at full tilt, its lethal-looking double tines headed straight for his tender middle. By the time his mind had automatically calculated that he had seconds left before the thing reached him those seconds were already gone.
He had another half second to register the round eyes of a man at the controls who by his frightened expression clearly had no idea how to drive the thing, the man who was about to run the out-of-control machine right into him and send them both over the dock’s edge into the icy water twenty meters below.
Only those events racing around in his whirling head were not what actually happened. What did happen was that another body hit him at full throttle, knocking the breath from his body and launching him sideways onto the concrete dock where he landed heavily. John lay there un-moving until his brain managed to re-set itself and start working once more.
After a moment he struggled to sit up and looked around. He saw Lestrade and a large mixed group of officers and dock workers bearing down on his location, all shouting and pointing at the edge of the dock. They all came to a halt en-mass and looked over to the water below.
It took John only a few seconds more to register that Sherlock was not among the crowd in question. He managed to stand, one arm pressed against his sore side and scrambled to the edge, looking below. “What happened?” He asked Lestrade. “Where’s Sherlock?”
Lestrade began to take off his coat. “He’s in the bloody water, that’s where.” John saw that the Inspector was about to take the plunge into the freezing wrath below until Anderson grabbed at his superior’s arm. “Inspector, that’s a sixty foot drop. You’ll break something for sure.”
John saw the suspect flapping his arms in the frothy stuff and trying to swim away to somewhere but he soon gave it up when he realized he would never last long enough in water just only above freezing to make it to any shore. So he began to call for help.
There was no sign of Sherlock or the fork-lift and John’s stomach sunk like a stone, knowing that if Sherlock’s clothing had somehow gotten tangled up in the machine, then he was surly headed to the bottom. And what’s more –
John stripped off his jumper and stepped to the edge. Lestrade tried to hold him back. “Didn’t you hear Anderson? You’ll never make that jump without injury. If Sherlock’s caught on that thing, he’s on his way to the bottom right now if he’s not there already.” Lestrade looked around with faint hope. “Does anyone have some line!?”
The crowd spoke to each other but nothing was produced.
“Someone get a bloody life ring!” Another called. One person set off running back to the office areas of the dock. It would take minutes, John thought, minutes and minutes, to bring back anything that might help. Why in hell didn’t they keep those things nearby?
Plus they didn’t know...John wrenched his arm free. “That doesn’t matter...”
Lestrade rubbed frantically at his many hours-old salt and pepper stubble, his voice shaking with false belief. “A couple of minutes and Sherlock’ll have worked himself free anyway.” Lestrade looked over the edge with sick eyes, the hope on his face fading even as he said the words. “Oh bloody hell!” It was a useless snarl of frustration when no Sherlock appeared.
“It’ll be too late by then.” John shouted back, tossing his jumper aside. “Sherlock can’t swim!”
He dove over the side.
The first thing John felt was a hard hit on bent legs. He entered the water with pointed feet in order to minimize injury to himself, hitting the surface below with a great splash and turning his ankle. Then the shock of the cold that immediately set up alarm bells in his body that screamed at him to surface and get out of the danger zone as fast as possible.
But he ignored them all. Amazing how swiftly his body returned to his training, his mind sharp and quick as he took a few seconds to hyperventilate and then a single massive breath - holding it - and then diving under the water. Once in the water his years of training as a soldier – including water survival techniques - returned in a rush.
As he kicked toward the bottom he calculated the best course. As he descended the darkness closed in but his mind showed him the way like a torch through the black. The forklift, with its size and mass, would go almost straight to the bottom. It was deep here and the Thames was running harder than usual, some inclement weather in off the Channel no doubt adding to its normally easy rhythms, but the forces pushing against his body were reduced to manageable levels if he simply kicked straight down. He should eventually be able to grope and find either the forklift itself or, even better, Sherlock who was still alive. Yes, definitely still very much alive.
It had been minutes now but Sherlock would have – must have – somewhere in his life at least learned to hold his breath. True he could not swim, admitting the embarrassing fact once while they had scouted out clues near the Cliffs of Dover and a kidnapping of a small town official that had occurred near there. But surely a man like Sherlock, who prided himself on knowing so much, would have taken the time to learn some water skills? John kept that thought clear in his mind as he kicked deeper and deeper. The pressure was just getting to be too much when his stretched out fingers brushed against something soft.
It felt for a moment like river weed but then he felt further down and his fingertips encountered hair and Sherlock’s cold skin. Not making the mistake of any delay, John hooked his arms beneath Sherlock’s limp arms and tugged. But something held his friend fast. John felt around in the near black, his fingers travelling down Sherlock’s torso until he found one leg, which was turned out to be floating freely, and then the other. He grabbed a fist full of trouser-leg and pulled.
But whatever had hold of Sherlock would not yield. John felt around more, growing a bit desperate now as his own lungs were burning in their need to exhale and then expand to take in much needed oxygen. His ability to command them, to tame them, was nearing its end. In another few seconds he would need to kick to the surface, hyperventilate and try again and he did not need his doctor’s skills to recognize that would be too late for Sherlock.
His left hand jerking around in the numbing water finally located the possible trouble. The forklift had sunk into the silted bottom tines-first, hooking the seam of Sherlock’s wool coat – a heavy garment that would have only added to the detective’s descent - on its way down. John tugged and tore at it but the threads refused to give way. His thoughts screaming in frustration John felt around and pulled and pushed here and there on Sherlock’s unresponsive body until he could slip him free from the water logged coat, first his right arm and then his left.
Finally, with his friend floating free, John gathered Sherlock under his arms and kicked toward the surface, praying his own screaming lungs held out until he reached it.
When he broke the surface, a line was already dangling in his face. Coughing and sputtering, he hooked the loop under Sherlock’s arms, tightened it, and then watched as his friend was hauled to safety by many hands from sixty feet above.
Once John was himself again safe on the dock, he could hear the siren of an ambulance in the distance. But there was no time to lose. He crawled over to where they had laid Sherlock out on his back, pushing Lestrade who had begun CPR, out of the way. “Let me.”
Pressing two fingers into the left side of Sherlock’s throat, the relief at finding a slow pulse was almost made him weep with gratitude. But the pulse was of course far too slow and John leaned over Sherlock, took a couple of deep breathes to get his own O2’s up, tilted Sherlock’s head back, trying to ignore the cold, slack features and the blue tinged lips under his hands. He pinched Sherlock’s nose shut, clamped his mouth around his friend’s cold lips and breathed life-giving air into him, watching his motionless chest rise. It expanded but not nearly enough and that told him there was for certain water in Sherlock’s lungs.
So John stayed that way, bent over, his own lungs crying for air, for rest, his back muscles cramping from the cold and from over-use, but still he worked, breathing, watching, breathing, watching...When someone offered to spell him off he shook his head violently, ignoring their protests and returned to the motions, which had become almost a physical life mantra of breathe, blow, breathe, blow...begging God or whoever might be on their side – if it was the Devil then bloody fine - Just bring him back to me. Please, oh please bring him back!
Moments stretched into a terrifying infinity as John continued to breathe for his friend, the one they called genius and freak, psycho and weirdo. The man who had saved London from terrorists and murderers and all those that were vile from within its dark depths, and who had asked nothing in return – And received almost nothing either and suddenly John found himself silently railing against that unspeakable injustice. How dare they treat this man as some sort of circus side show? How dare they gossip about him when his back was turned and scorn his difference! How dare they! Sherlock’s different-ness was one of the many magnificent things about him and served only to underline their own ordinary-ness. And the brilliant light in his eyes plus his glee for life made their own eyes dimmer and their mediocre spirits opaque.
Watson did not care what whispers might be making the rounds as the useless crowd of onlookers gaped. This extraordinary, brilliant, honorable man whom he counted himself privileged to know was his friend.
Was his friend.
Suddenly Sherlock was sputtering and then coughed up, literally, a lung full of murky water. John waved to Lestrade who quickly jumped to help John roll the prone detective onto his side where then more water came up, and then more. “Christ,” Lestrade whispered, “he swallowed a lot.”
John nodded. “Breathed in a lot,” John corrected him, himself gasping for precious, precious air. “He drowned!” But his tone said what did you expect you fool!? But Lestrade was of course, not a fool. He was a friend to Sherlock, one of the few so John let it lie. Instead he kept his hand on Sherlock’s convulsing back as the near-drowned man brought up yet another mouth-full of killing fluid onto the concrete.
Sherlock, who could not swim, had almost drowned right in front of them all. Drowned, but did not die, John reminded himself. Drowned but was not dead.
The medics appeared at his side and Watson brought them up to speed on his friend’s condition, watching - observing - to make certain they put Sherlock on oxygen feed and spread warm blankets over him and then finally his own body, its left ankle aching terribly and he wondered if it might be broken, which body he had pushed to its physical limits, said he had done enough.
And he fainted.
When he awoke John knew instantly that he was in the hospital. He took a few deep breathes, luxuriating in the feel of clean air pouring into an aching chest. He sat up without too much difficulty and gazed down at his feet. Covered as they were by a crisp hospital sheet, he didn’t need to toss it aside to know that his ankle had been professionally wrapped. Flexing his toes he knew his ankle was sprained but not broken.
He looked for and found the call button, pressing it until a nurse appeared, this one a tall young woman dressed in pale blue scrubs. “Yes Doctor Watson?”
Watson could see he was in a private room, arranged no doubt by Lestrade. “Where’s my friend. I was probably brought in with him or soon after. His name is-”
“Sherlock Holmes.” The young blonde woman with an easy smile said. “Yes, I know. He’s next door but one. Doing well I hear.”
I’ll be the judge of that, thanks. “How well?”
“I’m not his nurse, but I can get him if you like-”
The door opened and an older man entered carrying a pair of crutches. Around his neck hung a stethoscope and he was holding a white clip-board in his hand. John knew the latter two accoutrements meant Physician. “Doctor Watson?” The crutches were rested against the mattress and the fellow physician held out his hand. “I’m Doctor MacEwan. Mister Holmes is under my care, as are you. How are you? Foot all right? Bandages not too tight?”
John waved away the questions about himself. “It’s fine and I will be. How is Sherlock?”
MacEwan nodded reassuringly, his thin comb-over of silver hair flipping this way and that. “He is recovering well thanks to you or so I hear. That was brave, what you did.”
Watson let himself relax a bit though not responding to the praise. It was what Holmes would have done for him - if the daft idiot could swim! Watson silently vowed to rectify that little deficiency just as soon as he could drag Sherlock into a public pool again. “What about his lungs? O2’s all right? – I’m sorry I know you’re the Attending and don’t mean to question you it’s just that-”
“Believe me, doctor, no need to apologize. I was made aware of your concerns for your friend by the Inspector. I assure you Mister Holmes will be out of here within the next twenty-four hours. We just want to be certain his lungs are completely clear before we discharge him.”
“That’s good news. I’d like to visit him, if he’s awake.”
MacEwan’s genuine smile was now sprinkled with a large dose of patience. “Oh, I am sure Mister Holmes would appreciate some distraction.” He winked. “As we would a bit of peace.”
Watson flashed MacEwan a knowing grin in return. “Yes, right. Sorry about that. He’s not one for long stays, well, anywhere actually. Gets restless.”
MacEwan handed Watson the crutches and opened the door to the hallway for him. “Please don’t tire him too much.”
Holmes, sitting up when Watson entered, flopped back on the bed with obvious relief that it was Watson entering his room and once Watson made himself comfortable in a stiff bedside chair, he whispered “I thought it was that nurse coming back to sponge bathe me or something. He’s far too attentive for my taste.”
Watson could imagine the temptation for some young thing, seeing who it was that was under their care, to take be granted that privilege if at all possible. Sherlock cut a dashing figure on anyone’s radar. There’s probably a flock of nurses somewhere drawing straws to see who was lucky enough to change the bandages of London’s famous son John mused. But then John recalled how snippy and rude Sherlock could be when confined against his will and wondered if it wasn’t the other way around and the straw was for who had the bad luck to nurse him. “How are you feeling?”
“Dryer, Watson, decidedly dryer.” Sherlock looked down at the sheets tucked up to his middle and scratched his nose, the pronged air-way seeming to give him an itch. “Thank you by the way. I think that’s the second time you’ve saved my life. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to repay the accrued debt.”
Watson reached out and covered Sherlock’s fidgeting hands with his own right palm, cupping his friend’s long fingers until they were still. “Let’s just hope there’s no more close calls like that one for a while.” John said but was hard pressed to recall the first time he had saved Sherlock’s life. He was about to ask when Sherlock spoke again.
“Um, John...” Sherlock looked down at the hands intertwined and then looked away, slowly pulling his hands free. Slowly so as not to hurt my feelings, John thought. Sherlock really didn’t like to be touched but over time his manners had improved at any rate. With a kind nod of his head John accepted the gentle reminder to keep his hands to himself and leaned back in his chair, getting comfortable.
“Now that you and Mary will be cohabiting on a permanent basis, how are we...that is to say...when will...” Sherlock cleared his throat. “I’m not sure I will be able to...”
John frowned in his efforts to both concentrate and encourage Sherlock to continue. Seeing Sherlock at a loss for words was a rare sight. “Go on, I’m listening. Be able to what?”
Sherlock swallowed and then looked over at his friend.
John was certain, absolutely certain, that Sherlock was about to cry right in front of him. So certain in fact that he almost reached out once more, almost taking Sherlock’s hands in his again, like at the flat a few days ago, but then as suddenly as the expression had ghosted across Sherlock’s elegant features, it quickly vanished once more and the fleeting second of ‘the sad man and his comforter’ was gone. When Sherlock next looked over the cool dry eyes were as calm and as contained as ever.
“I believe from now on that I shall need another assistant.”
Whatever Watson thought Sherlock was about to say, it was not that. “What...what are you talking about?” He asked, rubbing at his lips as though to somehow rub away the unpleasantness words of protest perched on the tip of his stunned tongue. “I don’t understand your meaning.”
“My meaning could not be plainer. You will no longer be able to attend to me as before...” Sherlock answered but finding it difficult to address John directly, look at him eye to eye. What was it Mycroft said? Lies are harder when you care - in this juncture Sherlock would for certain consider sentiment a disadvantage. “...Because of being very busy in wedded bliss...” Sherlock found it impossible to keep the sarcasm entirely out of his voice whenever the subject of Watson’s impending nuptials arose, “with a wife and marriage and in time little clones of yourselves running around and I...” Now he found it easy to look at John. “I shall still need an assistant.”
John sat forward and damn that it hurt his ankle to do so. “Sherlock, I thought I made myself clear before? I will still be here to assist you whenever you need me.”
Sherlock turned disbelieving eyes to him. “Will you run out in the middle of the night? Will you drive us to Brighton if necessary to chase down a criminal? Dive into another river while your wife waits at home frantic for your return or frightened that you may not? Because I do not see how you can be both my full-time assistant and Mary’s full-time husband.”
John looked away and then back, his guts in a bit of a twist. Steeling his voice “I’ll manage,” he said.
Sherlock addressed him straight on. “You will not be able to and you know it. This thing you feel you must be – noble and all that – is not necessary. I can never repay you for what you’ve done for me over these years and it is time for you to – what do people say? – let go.”
Watson chewed at the inside of his bottom lip. “Look, I don’t know exactly what’s going on here but if you’re feeling guilty or something for me having to haul you out of the river, forget about it. There’s no way on this earth you’re going to get rid of me that easily. You are my best friend and that’s all there is to it. Mary will learn to cope. She’s a strong lady.”
Sherlock stared back daring John to look away first but damned if the man’s military bearing reared its square-jawed stoic head and bore down on him hard. John may have been a man on the small side of life but he could intimidate the shit out of someone when he put his mind to it so it was Sherlock who finally looked away. He fiddled with the top-sheet again, folding and re-folding the edge of it. And then “Ahem – thank-you John, I’m sorry but decorum said I had to try. You know –give you an out, be a good friend and all that.”
John leaned back, sighing. God Sherlock could stress the baked beans out of him sometimes. “Sherlock, I love you dearly but you make me nuts, all right?” He shook his head, feeling the tension that a moment ago had thickened to the consistency of custard now melt away. “You do, you make me positively nuts.”
When John returned to his room, it was to find Mycroft Holmes seated on the room’s single chair. He was impatiently tapping the blunt end of his umbrella against the floor. “Good afternoon John.”
With a cheery smile “Go to hell Mycroft,” Watson said and perched himself on the edge of the bed, easing the ache of his foot.
Mycroft smiled falsely, and John figured the man was probably used to much more inventive insults, most of them probably involving his mother in a variety of unsavory situations.
The last meeting between them had been far too long. Watson intended for this one to be short and not very sweet either. “Get out.”
Mycroft didn’t budge, just stared at his polished three-hundred-pound shoes. “Sherlock almost died today John.”
John held up a finger. “Almost, yes, almost, but he didn’t because I saved his life.”
“I suppose it’s useless for me to point out to you that it was only because he was forced to save yours....again.”
“Did I forget to tell you to piss off?”
Mycroft stared at John, his head tilted a bit, regarding him and although John had stared down many an enemy, he still found Mycroft Holmes’s unblinking gaze a bit disconcerting. “And I also suppose there is no point in my asking whether or not you have given thought to our previous conversation?”
“You supposed correctly. Good for you.” John crawled beneath the covers. Somehow sitting around in an immodest hospital gown when you were meeting the man Sherlock insisted was the British government and his sworn arch enemy, made his own bearing seem a trifle less threatening.
Mycroft stood, straightening his jacket. “Your wedding day is fast approaching John and despite the drivel you just fed to poor Sherlock – who we both know, somewhat inexplicably, trusts you - we also both know you will not be able to hold up your end of the agreement as you claim. But perhaps both our problems can be solved if we work together.”
“A cold day in hell Mycroft, a cold day in hell.”
“Or I could simply remove Sherlock from your life altogether. You would never see him again.” Mycroft spoke it as though it were already halfway to becoming fact and John thought again that Sherlock’s older brother was more snake than man and if there any sociopaths to be had, Mycroft topped the shopping list.
“Nothing more complicated than staying away. Go and be a husband, get ‘busy’ with producing offspring in the name of marriage, country and all that. Attend upon Sherlock as little as is feasible.”
“You mean betray him? Lie to him? Be sort of like you in other words.”
“Be smart.” Mycroft twirled his umbrella as though even this conversation was a bore. John didn’t believe it for a second. About his brother, Mycroft Holmes was nothing if not obsessed. “Tell me,” Mycroft asked, “how did you feel when Sherlock was laying on that dock, his face blue, his pulse almost gone, dying in your arms for having saved your life?”
“Are you losing your hearing? I think I said go to hell.” But John’s guts were saying something very different; they were telling him that Mycroft Holmes, the frozen-blooded bastard, was closer to the truth than he wanted to admit. Sherlock had almost died yesterday. Would any of the after events have happened if Sherlock had not needed to shove his assistant named John Watson out of harm’s way? Would Sherlock have almost drowned then? Probably not.
Mycroft nodded, knowing his words had struck a chord, and John wanted to smack the smarmy off the man’s freckled face. “The watch-word John is minimize. Sherlock has already given you a way through. All you have to do is change your mind. You’re good at that. Just accept his terms and you and I shall not need to meet again.”
“Accept his terms?”
“Let him try and find a new assistant. I’ll make sure he finds the best one for his needs.”
“The one you choose you mean.”
“Naturally since his best interests are at my heart.”
“You have to have one first.” Watson sighed, closing his eyes. “Let’s say I agree to this and I’m not saying I will - how am I supposed to do this?”
“It’s simple: reduce, delay, cancel, excuse, apologise and then do it all over again. Leave it to me to keep my brother safe.”
“When it was just you in the picture he was a drug addict. He was on his way out not down.”
“We had a contingency plan in the works but then, well...you came along.”
“Too delighted to be of service then. What contingency plan?”
“One I hope I will not need to implement.”
“You’re bloody barmy, you are.”
Mycroft gave a little snort through his nose and John wondered if it was the man’s standard of laughter. Mycroft set his umbrella to rest against the chair by the bed and perched on the side of the mattress on one well-ironed trouser cheek, looking at John intently, his face for once entirely open – and about as close to human as he supposed Mycroft ever got. “Time for some enlightenment I think you have somehow missed.”
Now it was John’s turn to snort.
“Sherlock is in love with you.”
John blinked and it took a few seconds for his brain to re-boot and produce speech. “I-I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“We both know you’re no genius but I imagine even you must have noticed at least some of the signs.” Mycroft sighed. “Or perhaps you have not taken time to observe now that you’re distracted by Miss Morsten.”
“Sherlock is not in love with me.” John said, too loudly. It was the shock. Had to be the shock. “I’m about to get married.” John then questioned himself as he denied it all. Not I’m not gay. Not You’re wrong Mycroft...curious. “Sherlock doesn’t...he doesn’t do that.” Do what specifically John didn’t feel up to discussing at that moment as his mind was fully occupied rewinding the last two years to try and discover the things about Sherlock Mycroft was insisting he had evidently missed.
“Doctor Watson, I know my brother thinks he’s a sociopath-”
“- a high functioning sociopath.”
Mycroft smiled indulgently. “And he is of course but even a sociopath feels sometimes. You’ve simply brought it out of him I’m afraid.”
Watson closed his eyes, and then opened them. Yup, the whole nightmare was still present and accounted for. “Let’s say you’re right and I’m not saying you are – what am I supposed to do about it?”
“Nothing more than we’ve discussed. I would not have mentioned this except you seemed determined to stay in Sherlock’s life no matter what upset it might cause him and I’m sure you know that unrequited love can be rather painful. More so for Sherlock. You must be aware by now that Sherlock’s brain doesn’t function the same as yours.”
“Does it anyone’s? Does it yours?”
Still that same mystery smile and John hated him for it. “Mine is more capable of, shall we say, differentiating.” He replied cryptically. “Are we agreed?”
Watson settled down in the bed, looking forward to some sleep and to erasing the elder Holmes brother’s visit from his mind. He wished he had a delete key like the younger Holmes. “I’ll think about it.”
Mycroft gathered up his umbrella. “Doctor Watson, I work for one of the most powerful governments in the world and have been given virtually carte blanche to use its vast resources as I see fit in the face of a threat. In this instance I wish to prevent any threat upon Sherlock. You are a threat to him.”
John knew he was no genius but he could recognize a warning when he heard one and as a soldier all it did was get his back way the fuck up. “I think you’re the threat.” Watson said and then announced. “Bollocks to you – right? I’m not going to abandon Sherlock. My God, how could I leave him to those bloody icicles you call arms and that pebble you call a heart? This is your ‘brotherly love’? Don’t make me laugh.”
Mycroft’s face actually turned a bit of color and Watson was gratified to see it. So the Great Mycroft Holmes can be gotten to - interesting.
“If you repeat these next words to anyone, especially to Sherlock, John, not only will I deny them but I’ll make certain that your medical practice is shut down and you will never work as a physician again anywhere in Great Britain and probably not anywhere else either. Sherlock has been, and is, and always will be my first concern.”
“I think you’re insane.” John accused. “I think you’re a psychopath. How in God’s name did someone as amazing as Sherlock come out of the same parents as you? I wish to hell I’d never met you. ”
Mycroft smiled with the confidence of a man with the world at the push of a button and Watson was reminded of the smile the devil must have got when he convinced the world he didn’t exist. “Believe me, John, when I tell you that if it meant my brother’s life, I would exterminate every living soul on this island. So you see - you really haven’t met me yet.” Mycroft tilted his head. “And it’s high functioning, Doctor Watson. I’m a high functioning psychopath.” Mycroft clarified helpfully and then, believing he’d made his point, stood and gathered up his umbrella, saying his last words as he left the room. “You’ll know what to do Doctor Watson. You’re getting married and moving away so you’re half way to our solution already.”
Watson watched Mycroft go and noted once again that when Mycroft walked he walked as though he was a man taking a stroll through the garden of life; a man with no specific purpose in mind.
He had suspected it before of course but Watson now knew without a crumb of doubt that impression was as false as false ever could be.
Martha Hudson, her hair done up to perfection, knocked and then let herself in. Her eyes being almost as observant as Sherlock’s, she noted it right away. “Why Sherlock, you’ve removed John’s chair.”
Sherlock did not look away from his microscope. “He no longer uses it.”
“But you’ve removed it.” She said with grand disapproval, turning her head this way and that just to see if perhaps he had shoved it into a shadowed corner or wedged it in the narrow hallway.
Sherlock continued to study the microbes at the end of the eyepiece, the kitchen in a disarray of beakers and bowls. “The absence of the chair neutralizes the absence of its former occupant.”
With heavy commiseration - “Oh...you miss him.” She said her eyes limpid with sympathy.
Sherlock abandoned his scraping and looked at her, his expression entirely affronted by the idea he was caught up in that particular sentiment. “That is not what I meant. Why do you think that’s what’s I meant? I didn’t mean that at all, Martha. Why in the world would you think I meant that?”
His landlady wandered to the kitchen to survey with old English dignity the slowly accumulating mess on the counters and on the table, reaching out one hand to move some of it and then changing her mind, not knowing where to begin or what unholy germs might be present on any of its surfaces. “I’m not blind Sherlock, you may think me an old fool but I can see when someone is hurting. You miss John. It’s obvious.”
He left the microscope and moved to his chair, which he had not shifted at all from its well set place, and took up a newspaper. It was yesterday’s news but he unfolded it with an angry snap of his wrist, burying his nose in it. “That is preposterous. “Obvious”!” He repeated the word as though it tasted bad on his tongue. “It is not “obvious” – nothing about me is “obvious”. I lived alone for many years before I met John as you well know.”
“Yes, and don’t I know it.” She said archly, “alone and lonely.” She came to stand over him, her eyes replete with the knowledge of years, not only the years she had known him but her own advanced years of life. She had seen seventy of them, and had accumulated an abundance of life experiences she knew were still waiting for Sherlock, not all of them good. This she said with her eyes, but with her mouth she instead gently scolded him. “Don’t try and tell me how fine you were, I lived underneath you for all those years, young man, and I know depression when I see it, I could well tell you about my sister-”
From behind the newsprint and heavily sarcastic - “-please restrain yourself.”
Ignoring his rudeness, by now an ingrained habit, she continued without missing a beat. “She was devastated after that Nasty Divorce,” spoken as though her sister’s experience had attained all the markings of an epic among the ages. “And I’m telling you when-ever you weren’t on a case, you did nothing but lie around moping and smoking the spliff - and without offering me any I’d like to remind you - that is of course when you weren’t blowing things up in my kitchen.”
“My kitchen, Misses Hudson, I do pay rent.” He turned the page noisily, trying to drown her out which she studiously ignored.
“-not hardly enough I’m sure.” She replied without blinking an eyelash. “Or those weird smelling people coming around at all hours of the night, it was enough to make me despair of you.” Misses Hudson sat down on the chair’s wide arm-rest and gripped his forearm kindly in her thinning, blue-veined left hand. “Oh Sherlock, I hate to see you up here alone every day – it isn’t healthy. Why don’t you find yourself a nice young man and settle down? Lord knows there were enough of them over the years at your knocker with their tongues hanging out. My sister’s best friend has a son about your age and I’m almost certain he’s gay – he wears gallons of cologne and those tight jeans and silk shirts like you sometimes do.”
This earned her an exceptionally dark frown from her tenant. “I have never worn gallons of cologne - or any for that matter. It irritates my throat as you well know.”
But Martha ignored his protestations with a practised ear. “Plus he’s blonde like John - and single she says. I’m sure there are lots of fellows like that in London - you’re a handsome boy, Sherlock, you’d have your pick really. Perhaps you could put an advertisement in The Standard? You know - something like ‘Good-looking gay man seeking good looking gay man; must be blonde and short’. I’m sure there are hundreds of them.”
“But you not interested in any one of them and why not I’d like to know...”
“The nice ones only stopped coming ‘round when John moved in.”
Sherlock’s scant reserve of patience was now entirely depleted. “Misses Hudson!”
“I know, I know, it’s time I went so here I go.” She sighed wearily over her most tenacious tenant and walked to the door in low, un-fashionable heels. “I wish you’d think about it at least and do try not to destroy the flat when I’m out today.”
Once she was gone, Sherlock dialed his phone and spoke immediately when the party in question answered. “John - are you about finished your morning domestic ritual, I’d like you to meet me at the Yard.”
John answered his voice a stir of puzzle. “Sherlock, why aren’t you texting me? You always text me, and you insist I always text you.”
Sherlock felt his heart speed up. He’d forgotten that basic rule-of-thumb between them, and now had to wonder why in the world he’d been set on it at the beginning. It took only seconds for his brain to come up with the answer – which he immediately deleted - and only another few seconds to invent a plausible lie. “Occasionally one must resort to conventional means of getting one’s point across. Of late when you are busy” – the quotes he placed around the word were thick with the insinuation that whatever John was getting busy with could not possibly be as important as attending to a crime scene with his former genius detective flat-mate, “you ignore my texts. Meet me at the Yard in half an hour.”
“The victims all seem to have been left where they fell and yet this is clearly a connected series of killings.”
“You mean a serial killer.” Lestrade corrected.
Sherlock answered with barely restrained sarcasm. “Series, so yes serial – and...”
Lestrade was standing over his shoulder. “And what?”
“Each body landed seemingly as it fell. That is a bit sloppy. Serial killers tend to enjoy posing their victims, their habits also run to ground; that is they become used to killing in the same fashion again and again with little variation because it provided them with so much satisfaction the first time. Oh if only I could have seen the bodies as they were before Anderson and his band of merry idiots got to them.”
Tired of the complaint - “I’m on thin ground as it is Sherlock, with the commissioner.” Lestrade reminded him. “So you think these are connected - I mean other than the fact we have three dead bodies on our hands?”
Sherlock shook his head. “According to your information the victims were not known to each other. One was a prostitute who was HIV positive and a drug addict and by the look of his physical condition nearing his last gasp among the living, two had spent time in jail for crimes varying from armed robbery to assault.”
“They were all criminals Sherlock, that’s a connection of a sort, if you ask me.” Lestrade said.
Sherlock cocked an eyebrow in acknowledgment. He thrust the photos away from himself. “That might be a connection of significance or merely our killer hunting among the vulnerable. Most serial killers tend to choose their victims from among the marginalized of society, the potential victims easily accessible and easily trusting if such trust might lead to a free hit or the opportunity for what they hope is an easy few pounds.”
Watson listened to the two men discuss the case and took up the photos, turning them which way and that, trying to see in the disposed bodies what the two men had seen or at least what Sherlock saw. After a moment Sherlock noted John’s perusal. “There is little more the photographs can tell us John.”
“What about the crime scene at least? Take a look around?” Watson felt a bit out-of-place as he only joined the investigation after the first several days, doing his best to parry Sherlock’s texts for him to join them. Mary had been fine with it but his mind continued to circle Mycroft’s veiled warnings to stay away from Sherlock, to “protect him” by doing so and it was wrestling with his conscience.
“Only the last two,” Lestrade answered. “In the Yard’s infinite wisdom I’m being pressured to limit Sherlock’s access again.”
Sherlock, although relieved to be out of the flat after several days of blocking by Lestrade’s idiot Commissioner, still felt his dignity had never been more insulted, adding “I am supposed to apply for an identity tag for god’s sake.”
“Did you?” Watson could well imagine Sherlock Holmes balking at such a requirement because undoubtedly in the detective’s mind he was Sherlock Holmes and everybody in London and their two cats ought to recognize Him by now.
Sherlock glanced at Watson and then away. “I refuse to clutter myself with trivialities.” Which was Sherlock’s way of saying that he couldn’t be bothered to comply.
Watson saw Lestrade rub at his eyes with a finger and thumb. Lestrade then sighed heavily. Clearly the weight of Holmes refusal to comply even with the smallest of compromises was giving him a fresh headache.
Watson turned his attention back to the photographs laying them out, side by side. “Sherlock, did you notice that this one’s arm seems to be pointing?”
Sherlock snatched the photo up and, using his tiny pocket magnifying glass, took another look. He did the same to the other two. “Their limbs are splayed out in various directions John; one could imagine them leading us to all points on the compass if we were so inclined.”
John thought the dismissive nature of the comment too quick for Sherlock. He stared at him. “Are you all right?”
“Certainly,” Sherlock stared back defiantly and Watson knew better than to question him on it - at least not in Lestrade’s office right that minute.
“And yet I’ve just pointed out that there might be a clue in the photographs and therefore at the crime scene...”
Sherlock glanced over at him, his face almost unreadable but John did see a flash of something - another something indecipherable - but again decided not to ask. He was supposed to be not engaging with his friend and it left a bitter taste in his mouth. Mycroft’s warnings scooted across his thoughts constantly now - the manipulative bastard! “Minimise, reduce, excuse...keep him safe.” Watson stood, pushing his chair back. “Um, if that’s all you need for me, I have some things to pick up.”
“You are o-of substantial use,” Sherlock blurted and then composed himself. “I could use your help at the third crime scene...” Sherlock looked at Lestrade with his eyebrows on the rise, “if the Inspector...?”
Lestrade frowned, balancing his need for Sherlock against the Commissioner’s steely eyes currently focused on Lestrade’s own precarious career and his lack of any leads to the brutal murder of three street people. “Now that the police are done with the crime scene there’s nothing that says you can’t have a look now, is there?” He said. “Even without the name tag. It is a public place.”
Sherlock jumped up and grabbed his coat. “A very good point Inspector. Come Watson, bring the photos and let us attend to the third crime scene.”
Watson watched his friend exit and Lestrade frowned at Watson when he did not move to follow. “Everything all right Doctor?”
Watson looked over at him, blinking as his mind to a moment to make itself up. Despite Mycroft’s warnings that his presence beside Sherlock was not conducive to the detective’s long term health, there seemed little danger in helping him investigate a couple of bare squares of pavement. “Sure, fine, everything’s good.”
The damn groceries could wait.
The crime photos had been gruesome enough; the actual scene was more so even with the body having been removed days before. The blood which had not yet been washed away by the investigators team or by rain was still evident, John noted, and had dried to a deep rusted brown. Blood never looked like blood once it dried. More like a primer coating for a tin shed and might easily fool an untrained eye. But he had seen enough in his life that it was unmistakable.
The body had been found sprawled nearby to the rear wall of a warehouse. Garbage was piled about although the police forensic people had already sorted through it, carting away anything that might prove enlightening.
“Let me see the photo.” Sherlock demanded.
Watson handed it to him and Sherlock spent a moment holding it up against the actual pavement and warehouse wall, to determine exactly where the body had lay. Sherlock pointed east along the wall itself. “If pointing is indeed what the body was supposed to convey, the victim was pointing in that direction.”
Watson’s anticipation of a bit of crime detecting was dashed a bit. There was little else in that direction but the corner of the warehouse they were examining with only more wall and dirty pavement beyond.
Sherlock noted his friend’s fallen countenance. “Do not be so downhearted yet, Watson. We are here not merely to look but to observe.”
Watson followed Sherlock as he walked slowly along the wall. Every-so-often Watson would hold out his palm and stroke this spot or that, as though willing the dirty masonry to voice its secrets. But as always, it was only Sherlock it spoke to, and he hadn’t lifted a finger. They pair only stopped when there was no-where else to walk and the wall on their left ended to a right angle turn.
Sherlock stood still for a few seconds and then he held up his finger, turning his head to Watson and sniffing the air. “Do you smell it?”
Watson sniffed. There was a faint odor of cooking in the air. “Is that-?”
“Grease – yes Watson.” Sherlock looked excited. He took several paces to his right and lay his head against the cool bricks, then he stepped back, bent down and scraped together some dirt and dust. “Watson,” he admonished “help.”
Watson watched his friend gathering dirt. “If you’ve suddenly caught a tidy bug I should have left you at home.”
Sherlock growled at his friend’s slowness, stood back from the wall before him and threw the dirt at it. John could immediately see that some of it clung. He understood and began to scrape up as much as he was able. Both of them stood there for some minutes sweeping dirt into their hands and then tossing it at the wall where some of it clung and the rest rained down in a thick dust cloud. Watson knew they looked like a couple of kids up to no good and hoped no one walked by.
“I think that is sufficient John.” Sherlock said and took a step back to survey the result, wiping his hands together to rid them of leftover grit. John noticed that their dirt toss had left Sherlock’s hair with a light coating of reddish dust. They were both a bit of a mess.
John followed suit and stepped back. His mouth gaped open. “What the hell is it?”
Sherlock looked aside to his friend, his eyes shining with anticipation. “Take a picture John. It is a game begun by a killer and we’ve just been invited to play.”
Sherlock stuck the image on the phone beneath Greg Lestrade’s nose. “I need to see the other crime scenes again.” He announced.
Lestrade frowned look at the picture on John’s phone and shrugged. It was a stick figure with a simple circle for a head. Both of the legs were drawn curving to the left of the torso and both arms raised above the head and curving to the right. “Graffiti...kids...”
Sherlock stopped himself from rolling his eyes half way through the action. Watson was proud. “It is not graffiti Inspector. A graffiti artist would use a visible medium; he would want his or her so-called art to be noticed by the public and the police in particular. This –shall we say- artist wants only my attention – and perhaps that of Scotland Yard. A symbol of a dancing stick figure – a dancing man - painted in grease so only someone with an observant eye would discern it was there and know how to make it visible.”
Lestrade wasn’t convinced. “And you think this dancing man is some sort of clue a serial killer left behind.”
“Holmes, we already know the murders are probably connected, probably done by the same killer. This figure was painted is fifty yards from the body.”
“It’s connected.” Sherlock sounded absolute in his opinion.
Lestrade shrugged. “If you say so, go ahead and investigate it – you’ve got my blessing – only the department has to stick to what we have, for now. A figure in grease on a wall nowhere near the victim is hardly evidence we can use, so you’ll have to follow up on your own. Go chase down your grease man.”
“Dancing man,” Sherlock corrected him, “because for certain there will be two more figures in grease at the other crime scenes.”
“Again, if you say so.” Lestrade nodded, doubtful of the grease stain vaguely shaped like a man was anything more than a kid’s sloppy wall art and he could not afford to put his career on the line because of Sherlock’s theory.
Sherlock seemed not quite satisfied yet. “Do I now have access to the third victim’s file and not just the photographs?”
Lestrade considered, scratching his trimmed head of salt and pepper hair. He had warm brown but tired looking eyes and his cockney accent, Watson had noticed, grew thicker by the time the shadows grew long on the street, and outside dusk was only a few short hours away now. “I’m on thin ice with the Commissioner as it is so when you come back with something more than one grease stain that sort of resembles a stick figure, I’ll consider it. You can pick up the addresses for the other crime scenes from Sally and copies of the reports. Go.” There was no mistaking the dismissal in his voice and Watson nodded his own thanks as Sherlock swept dramatically from the room.
Sherlock obtained the needed information from a scowling Sergeant Sally Donovan, and dragged Watson out into the street. Hailing a cab they were on their way to where the first victim had met his end. Sherlock paid little attention to the actual scene itself as it was more than a week old and now trodden by dozens of officer’s boots.
Once more the photo of the dead man was measured against the actual location of death. Sherlock indicated two possible areas nearby to check out and took the one closest to him, some twenty meters down from where the body had lay.
Watson wandered over to a collection of blue dust bins next to the wall Sherlock was resting the side of his face against and sniffing like a hound.
Not wanting to sniff anything in a garbage strewn alleyway, Watson decided to check out the bins themselves. They were large and square and all sitting in even rows but one. It was unlikely the killer would be that obvious he thought but the garbage collection in the area had not come around yet and the bins were still full to bursting with cardboard and all varieties of dry rubbish. Watson noted, among the musty smells of damp paper product another, stronger odor. “Sherlock...”
He pressed palms up against the bin in question and pushed it. It took both his and Sherlock’s combined strength to shift it.
Sherlock brought out of his pocket a bag of confetti. “Here.” He said thrusting it into his hand. “Spread it evenly as you can over the entire area that was under the bin.”
Watson stared at the detective. “Where in the blazes did you find a moment to pick up confetti?”
Sherlock frowned at the question. “We were in an office, Watson, with hole-punches lying on almost every desk- extrapolate.”
Watson didn’t answer. Sherlock had emptied them into his pockets. “That’s thinking on your feet.”
“Yes.” Sherlock acknowledged.
Sherlock waved his hand toward the area in question and then took up a large stiff square of cardboard and nodded to Watson to begin. As John spread the confetti he knew Sherlock’s intention was to fan away the loose bits at appropriate intervals. After a moment of sprinkling and waving of the make-shift fan, Sherlock signaled for him to stop. “Enough.”
Watson knew what to do next. He took his phone and snapped a series of photos of the marks on the ground while Sherlock made quick-fire comments about its shape and the configuration of the stick figures limbs. “You see, Watson, these limbs are different from the other symbol. Those were stretched out at right angles to the torso but this one, only two arms are out, the legs are held closer to the body. I suspect a code. Impossible to tell at this juncture but we will soon see about our next crime scene.” He sounded thrilled. To Sherlock, a good bloody serial killer was like Christmas morning.
Back at the flat, Sherlock studied the photographs he had loaded onto his computer from Watson’s phone, having printed up several copies of each. “Each figure is just different enough that it is clearly a pattern, even after only three figures.”
“Letters of the alphabet?” Watson hazarded as he poured boiling water into an old brown tea-pot and left it on the worktop to steep.
Sherlock shook his head but Watson knew he had not meant necessarily no. “Difficult to tell at this juncture...” Each figure might represent a word or a letter or even a phrase. We need more murders.”
“Of course you mean more c-l-u-e-s.” Watson encouraged.
Irritated by Watson’s attempt to modify his meaning, Sherlock turned his head toward his friend. “Why would our killer leave clues without first committing the murder?” He asked reasonably. “He is after all a killer.”
“He or she.”
Sherlock tilted his head this way and that. “The killer is possibly but unlikely to be a woman. These are violent crimes with a great deal of blood-letting. As well moving or posing the bodies afterward takes a degree of physical strength.”
Watson sighed, sitting down in Sherlock’s chair because his had disappeared. He wondered if it was upstairs. “Are we about done for today? I need to get home.”
Sherlock did not lift his eyes from the photographs. “You just made tea.”
“That’s for you.” Watson said and stood up. He had contemplated just sharing tea and doing some hanging around. There was potential for this investigation to get dangerous if Sherlock were indeed hunting a serial killer who was leaving clues for him or the police, so didn’t it make more sense to spend more time with Sherlock rather than less? Didn’t Mycroft realise Sherlock needed protection? But then the resourceful elder Holmes would be seeing to that wouldn’t he? Wondering if there was a long black car parked somewhere nearby Watson wandered to the window and looked out. There wasn’t.
He was a soldier. He could handle himself in a fight, carried a gun and was a crack shot. He was ideal as Sherlock’s protector. But then Mycroft’s point was never than he couldn’t protect Sherlock, it was that Sherlock took risks in order to protect him. Had left the country for two years to do so, had almost drowned last week doing so. “Er, how are your lungs?”
At that Sherlock looked up from the photographs. “They’re fine John.” His eyebrows came together the way they did when he suspected something beneath the words spoken. “Why? Is my brother all worried? Has he been harassing you again?”
“No, no. Not at all.”
“You’re a terrible liar John.” Spoken with genuine affection and Watson’s heart began to ache. “Don’t worry, I’ll speak to Mycroft. I know how to call off my big incredibly annoying brother.”
Watson shook his head, smiling. “I’m sure he just wants what’s best for you.”
At that Sherlock snorted. “Mycroft has no idea what’s best for me.”
Watson somehow felt that wasn’t entirely true. “How did this sibling rivalry get started anyway?” It was fascinating really watching the two of them verbally spar which on rare occasions had almost become physical. No actual blood had ever been drawn one from the other yet but Sherlock had tossed Mycroft out of his apartment on more than one occasion with a few well places hand holds and Mycroft had always at that point left peaceably enough.
But he always came back. Two brilliant brothers at odds, each fighting crime in their own way, each utilizing their gifted brains to the advantage of Queen and Country and yet, Watson felt sure, each for his own agenda as well. Certainly Sherlock did it for the thrill of the hunt and because without his detecting he felt, perhaps, incomplete? Useless maybe? Bored. Almost everything bored Sherlock. He shied away from most human contact, he distained emotions, he hardly ate. He hardly slept.
What he did do was deduce and that he did better than anyone John had ever met or knew of. Some days though it seemed to John that it could not possibly be enough for a satisfying life. How could Sherlock not feel lonely when he was surrounded by people and yet unwilling to interact with them except on a rudimentary basis?
All except for three. Lestrade because that was where Sherlock had to go to get the cases he worked on. John supposed, after a few years, Sherlock and the Detective Inspector had become more or less friends, and yet they never shared a meal or met for a beer or hardly spoke outside of The Work.
Sherlock had Martha because she had made herself sort of a surrogate mother to him in the absence of his own, living or not, also perhaps because Martha understood Sherlock well enough to know when to leave him alone and when not to. Sherlock went to Molly sometimes because that’s who he had to go to for his body parts but never saw her outside of the Bart’s unless John arranged something in a group, and then Sherlock only attended when John made him go.
Which thought suddenly and directly lead to another: Why did Sherlock agree to going to these functions when he didn’t want to? Who in their right mind would ever expect Sherlock Holmes, one of if not the most stubborn, self determining men in the United Kingdom, to agree to attend a party when he hated them?
Because he cares for you.
Fuck! And so of course it was brought all the way around and back to himself. John knew he was Sherlock’s only real friend, only close friend who listened to him and actually had begun to change for the better - a bit - John thought, because of his influence. Sherlock more than appreciates me, John thought, he actually likes me.
Sherlock is in love with you.
Once again Mycroft’s words returned with force. Mycroft had seemed to be insisting that Sherlock would continue to get hurt because he would do anything to protect John, including forfeit his own life.
Two years Sherlock had been gone. Two years to dismantle Moriarty’s web of crime lords. Faked his own death, accepted the label of a fraud, and left the country. John was suddenly overwhelmed with a need to know what went on during those two years Sherlock was on the continent and separated from everything he knew and valued.
Sherlock sacrificed everything for my safety. And for the hope of returning to rebuild his own reputation and life.
Sherlock is in love with you.
Of all the complicated bloody shit... Which would hurt him worse, John wondered, leaving Sherlock alone or staying by his side? “Sherlock...”
Sherlock was deep in contemplation over the photographs. “Mmm? Yes John?”
Watson closed his eyes to stop the water from forming there and to steady his hart for what he had to say. And do. “Um, look, I have to go. Mary and I are planning a little trip abroad for a while. I just wanted to let you know now so you can, you know, maybe call in someone to help you while I’m away.” Liar.
“Abroad?” The way Sherlock repeated the word the very idea seemed ludicrous. “Abroad? We are in the middle of a case – the beginning of one in fact and you waited until now to tell me you’re taking a vacation?”
Watson spread his hands. “Sorry. Mary insists. I guess I didn’t know how to tell you.”
John hadn’t worked that out yet. In fact he hadn’t yet worked out how he was going to manage to stay in country and fool Sherlock into believing he wasn’t. “Um - a few weeks. Canada, maybe parts of the United states...we want to see a bit of the world before we settle down.”
Sherlock pursed his lips. “I see.”
It was said with such a resounding hurt but trying to disguise itself as perfect control that John almost winced.
“When are you leaving?”
“After the weekend. I can help you until then, I mean a few hours a day at least, after work that is.”
Sherlock turned his attention back to photographs. “Well, enjoy your trip John.” Now it was naked undisguised disapproval and hurt. “You need not worry about assisting me. I’m sure Molly or Teresa will be willing. Teresa most especially, she has entertained the idea of taking over your bedroom.”
John nodded. Teresa was one of Sherlock’s many homeless helpers. John had seen her on more than once occasion give Sherlock a good going over with her eyes and he was certain it wasn’t because she fancied his coat. “Really? Teresa?”
Sherlock looked at him with a scolding countenance. “Why not Teresa?”
Watson worried his hair a bit. “Well, nothing really only that, I mean other than she’s one of your spies you...you hardly know her.”
Sherlock said, his voice dripping with irony. “I hardly knew you.” He turned his attention back to his work at hand and said with finality. “Goodbye John. Enjoy your time “abroad”.”
John recognized the bunny quotes around the word abroad with a sinking heart. Sherlock hadn’t bought into the lie at all. Of course he didn’t. John scolded himself for his cowardice. Bloody awful lie, Doctor Watson. Did you forget that you’re getting married in a few weeks? Is that all you could come up with? “Sherlock...look...um...Sherlock?”
Sherlock was staring at his booting up computer monitor, his face as blank as the screen. I will ring up Molly and arrange some experiments on how the various positions into which a body might fall when the victim is murdered face to face. That should tell me to what degree our killer needed to maneuver his victim postmortem. I will require two days to complete the tests. Sherlock wondered how many cadavers Molly had on hand.
“Sherlock...Sherlock? - Sherlock!”
He turned to look and it was John speaking to him from the entrance way to the sitting room. Why is John still here? Wasn’t he supposed to have gone by now? Momentarily setting aside the details of his planned experiment Sherlock finally managed to gather enough present awareness to form a word. “What?”
“I said goodbye.” John said.
Sherlock frowned a bit. Of course....goodbye, friends said hello and goodbye. His not-friends-but-acquaintances mostly said goodbye, usually with no small degree of finality. John-who-had-been-a-friend-but-was-now-not-a-friend was leaving and he was never coming back. Three years John had stayed with only a few blips of furious-and-will-probably-never-speak-to-him-again-Johns along the way. Three years - far longer than he had expected really. Most of his acquaintance-ships had not lasted over a week.
“Yes,” Sherlock answered. “Goodbye John.” He said.
With no small degree of finality.
“I’m sorry for this, Misses Hudson. We’re just a bit worried.”
Martha nodded herself anxious to know what was going on with her two boys. She worried one of her soft curls into a frizz. “Well, the door should be open. Sherlock never locks it, you know. I wish he would.” Misses Hudson said as she watched Molly ascend the stairs.
Molly found the door unlocked and entered. The flat was quiet. One look told her the kitchen was empty, and the bathroom. No one was using John’s bedroom which was up another short flight of stairs so she didn’t need to check it.
So there was only Sherlock’s bedroom left. Molly had never been in Sherlock’s bedroom before.
The door was shut. Her palms were suddenly sweaty and her heart was beating faster. She felt almost...afraid. Feeling silly for feeling scared she turned the knob and swung it wide.
Sherlock was there, sprawled out on the bed in his pajama bottoms and his blue dressing gown, the tie undone, the thin material wide open and doing nothing to conceal the taut flesh underneath. She held her breath. Molly had never seen Sherlock is such a state of undress before either.
Biting her lip and feeling very much like an un-welcomed voyeur she crept over to the messy bed, not wanting to startle him awake. He had his head flung back and turned away from her, exposing the long, ivory neck.
Molly stared, frozen in place at the sight of so much of Sherlock exposed to her eyes. Her eyes lingered, hungry and getting their fill while they had this rare chance to see him, to drink in what loveliness lay beneath the dark suits he wore and the heavy coat and long scarf.
Sherlock’s skin was so...white. Everywhere he was slim and shapely; the long muscles; the delicate flesh between his throat and his chest with its faint dusting of dark hair, everywhere he was...so wonderfully white. Sometimes she had a hard time believing he was fully human. With his ivory flesh and his mess of dark curls and his silver-blue eyes he was like some finely made spirit visiting from the next world and so moving through this one untouched by it.
Physically she found him so bloody beautiful that at times it made her heart ache and she hated herself for it because despite knowing how futile it was she still loved him. She had even listened to John’s gentle counselling of her over the years to put Sherlock out of her mind, to find someone else, someone who deserved her and who would treat her with love and respect and how she had tried – Christ tried so hard - to follow that counsel – and so had found someone, and then another, and then another and another, all of them, each within weeks, becoming a dim and wholly inferior replica of the man she actually wanted. And with none of them had she discovered a way to fall in love no matter how hard she worked at it. No matter how many times she smiled and accepted their sentiments of affection and respect, they all became wind and talking mouths and grasping fingers that left her mute inside and cold in her feminine parts.
And even when she swallowed her pride and months after she’d met him, slipping into an adult store and purchasing a toy and then trying it out that same night, bringing herself to climax with her own hand but with her eyes closed so she could imagine it was him; his silky mouth and his elegant hands caressing her body and his muscles rippling across his back beneath her clutching fingers – even her fingers lovinglovingloving him and him penetrating her over and over while moaning in her ear as he came because of her and for her and finally-finally-God-finally! for their secret love brought to bear for them and only them, and later, for the whole world...
But the shameful instrument of her night-time fantasy had left her so empty that the next morning she threw away the offending object and wept for a whole day.
Molly stole the precious moment to observe him without his knowing, without his penetrating, knowing eyes mocking her for it, caressing his flesh with her own hopeless eyes of longing, at once ashamed and yet feeling she deserved at last this much of him, only this much should not be an imposition. God she loved him.
Her eyes fell away from his sleeping body because she knew for a certainty that he did not return her unspoken sentiments in any way. Not even when she let herself fantasize that yes, perhaps he might someday love her back; and that fantasy would turn to hope whenever he might flash her one fleeting expression of kindness or thank her for her help – which he almost never did.
But then he would open his mouth and say something thoughtless or even cruel and her tiny moon of hope would vanish with a pop – just gone. Just like that. Torn violently away; out of existence once more and Molly would be sorely reminded that he was indeed very human and just as flawed as any man. At times, despite his brilliance she’d remember that Sherlock was more flawed than most and her heart’s burden of loving him would ease for a time.
Molly let the fantasies drift away from her once more and with exactly two fingers she poked his shoulder which that did the trick because he groaned and turned his head, his eyes opening, but not focused for a moment.
And then he turned his head far enough her way to recognize her and speak. “Molly..?” Then he sat up and clutched at his head, swinging his legs over the side. She took two steps away from the bed to give him more room, knowing he would probably not like her standing so close.
Only then did she notice the almost empty bottle of Scotch sitting on the floor by the bed and the empty glass beside it lying on its side. “Have you been drinking?” She asked and then felt rather stupid because it was obvious. In the small room the stink of alcohol was pungent, and his breath smelled of it.
Sherlock, still clutching at his head, managed to pull his dressing gown across his chest with one trembling hand while his other did not leave off rubbing at his eyes. He gestured to the bottle. “Empty bottle...” He whispered, sounding as though even speech hurt, “outrageously hung-over Sherlock - extrapolate.”
Molly nodded, deciding to ignore his feeble attempt at mocking her slowness. It was not a new exchange for either of them. “You didn’t show up today.” She said by way of explanation as to why she was in his bedroom un-invited while he was also in it and half naked. “And you weren’t answering your phone and neither is John. We were worried.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” He whispered, holding his head in vise-like fingers, his torso bent over like a question mark.
She imagined his guts were churning up a torturous brine of stomach acid and alcohol. “Everyone.”
“Ah.” Sherlock said the word replete with a full understanding of something that she had somehow entirely missed. “You and Misses Hudson then.” He finished.
She sensed her well worn sympathy swelling up for him and feeling like the well-worn fool that she was because of it added “And John of course.”
“Oh?” He asked, finally looking at her. “So you spoke to him this morning?”
Had she heard some faint hope in the question? she wondered, because he sounded surprised. “Well, no, but of course he would be worried.” She kicked at the bottle with the toe of her shoe. “Especially if you’ve been drinking this much.”
“It’s nobody’s business what I’ve been doing.” John...Delete. No, not delete - binned. Recycled, shunted from the Working Drive and into Compressed Storage.
John had gone away and it didn’t matter where.
In his Memory Palace he easily shifted the associated memories of John around, but there were so many, and so intricately woven in with so many other memories and feelings and sensations and experiences, many pleasant, enjoyable, even approaching something akin to happy, that he could not decide how to bring them together into one room. Plus many of them had settled in his chest and though some of those were good memories, they were re-designating it into a cache of aching and a room of sadness.
Delete was impossible.
Molly was staring at him as he stared at the floor and she had the sneaky suspicion that what she’d said about John he hadn’t actually believed. Or maybe he just didn’t care. He seemed upset and yet hadn’t even looked up or blinked at her. “Can I get you anything?” She asked.
He shook his head. “No. I believe I shall have to put off my cadaver experiments until tomorrow Molly.” He stood - too fast - swaying a bit and then almost toppling over. She reached to steady him and he recoiled from her touch like he had been stung. “I’m fine.” He snapped and then perhaps reasoning that he was acting like an ungrateful ass, added “Thank-you Molly.” He then shook his head as though puzzled and then looking at her as though seeing her for the first time. “How did you get in here?”
Unable to help herself, she blushed, recalling her secret ogling of his face and body. “Um, well...Misses Hudson...”
His expression said ‘Oh’ and he nodded, not caring about that either it seemed.
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” She asked, following him as he left the bedroom and then stopping short when he entered the bathroom and shut the door in her face.
From inside - “I am always fine.” He said.
That was hardly true. “Do you want me to call John?” She asked through the door, leaning against it and listening as he emptied his bladder. John would know what was going on. Probably.
Through the door came a muffled - “John who?”
How hung over is he? she wondered. “John Watson of course.”
“Oh. I’m sure if John Watson wishes to speak with me, he will do so when or if he wishes it.” He said with a note of finality.
Molly did not miss the implication that it was time for her to leave so she did because there was nothing left to say anyway and she met a waiting, worried Martha at the bottom of the stairs. The older lady had questions on her face. “Well?” His landlady asked. “Is everything all right with Sherlock?”
Molly heard - and could see - the concern on the old woman’s face and again wondered just what was it about Sherlock that inspired those around him to embrace his prickliness even though he was often so difficult a man to love. She wondered it about herself often enough.
Molly glanced back up the stairs, hearing Sherlock moving around above. The visit had not alleviated her concerns. “I wish I knew for sure, Misses Hudson but there’s some sort of...trouble I think, between Sherlock and John.”
Martha distressed her curls even more. “Oh dear...”
“There,” Mary announced spritely as she laid down the tray of things near to where he sat perched on the bed. “We have tea, and milk and sugar and biscuits. Now-” she said as she took a seat beside him in the dingy motel unit-with-kitchen, “why are we here John?”
John suddenly awoke from his reverie and looked stupidly at the tea pot, making no move to pour. “Um...sorry dear – what?”
Mary took his chin in her strong hand and turned his head so he was looking right at her and asked again “I said why are we here, John? Why are we in this awful motel in Cardiff instead of home finalizing our wedding arrangements?”
John sucked in a great breath. “I...I just needed to get away, that’s all.”
“Get away? From Sherlock you mean?”
John bit his lip. Mary was not a stupid woman. “I, we...it’s hard to explain.” He said lamely.
Mary nodded. “Try.”
He rubbed his forehead and stood up, needing to move around or grow roots - deep, forever rotten fibbing roots in this sour smelling room. “Mycroft thinks...Sherlock...Mycroft says that it’s...that I’m...bad for Sherlock. He wants me to stop seeing – to stop our friendship...or something.”
Mary followed her fiancé’s track around the tiny room. “You’re bad for him? Oh -” Mary closed her eyes, both hoping inside that it wouldn’t get this close but still knowing that this day, and this revelation, would have been inevitable. The words existed now, they had been spoken from Sherlock to her and, she had no doubt, from Mycroft’s mouth to John’s - who up until now had silently denied them.
But Sherlock was a magnet for people like John. Sherlock was dangerous and brilliant and beautiful and John, who was no stranger to the thrill of dangerous situations and people, had been caught up helplessly in the young detective’s dynamic orbit. And John had been drawn to her for many of the same reasons, the only difference was John had spent years coming to love Sherlock, while only months with her. Maybe if Sherlock had not returned... “John, I think you mean that Mycroft knows that Sherlock’s in love with you and he doesn’t like it.”
John turned to stare at her, his mouth working but nothing coming out. HE finally addressed the one part of that which didn’t leave him without a functioning brain. “When did the bastard drop by?”
“Mycroft? Never. I mean Sherlock told me about a month ago...but then I had already guessed anyway...” She took a breath because she had let out what she knew Sherlock would assume she would keep as a secret between them. But things were different now. It was only weeks later, and things were different. “...correctly as it turns out. Sherlock loves you John and I don’t mean like a chum. He’s in love with you.” She shrugged. “It makes sense.”
But true to his nature, her gentle John shook his head. “It doesn’t make any sense.” He insisted and God, she loved that about him. He was a wonderful, intoxicating man of contrasts. So strong mentally and physically –despite his small stature- but molded together with such kindness and humility – and he was loyal to a fault. John was practically perfect.
Except his heart wasn’t in it, wasn’t into the whole marriage thing. Not anymore. Not to her.
In contrast there was Sherlock. Once you knew him well enough, you could almost always predict how Sherlock would react to something: blood on a floor...a grand sight to his eyes and he would be of course brilliant. But give him human nature and he turned as dumb as a post.
But John...he was a man as full of surprises as they day she had met him.
“I’m sure someone’s got it wrong somewhere...” John rubbed at his eyes with frustrated fingers.
“Even Sherlock?” She asked incredulously. “John, I’m not angry at him, or you, because of this. Imagine if we had only learned this after the wedding...this has got to be hurting him.” It was certainly hurting her, and John by the way his face was twisted with confusion and pain.
“Sherlock is strong.” Saying it with more conviction than he felt just to make it true. “Even if...even if Mycroft is right, Sherlock would never expect anything from me.” John insisted.
“That’s only because he never expects anything from anyone – except you running with him down dark alleys and saving London from bombers, and he isn’t even getting that anymore.” Mary was surprised at herself. She was sitting there in that dingy room trying to convince her fiancé that his former room-mate was in love with him and to not entirely dismiss that for fear of hurting the room-mate, and she was equally shocked to find her own feelings growing more and more ambivalent because of it.
She loved John, no question, but she was not a woman to play second fiddle to a tall dark hero-type – high functioning sociopath hero type - with mercury colored eyes and stunningly brilliant. “John you need to figure this out. Mycroft must think it’s dangerous for you to be around Sherlock because he fears his brother is going to get hurt.” Not unwisely she thought. In the short time she had known Sherlock she had learned the lengths the man would go to protect those he cared about. After Sherlock had come home from his “death” and John had later explained the completed story to her, she had received only the highlights and even those were astonishing.
The Inspector with whom Sherlock had worked and whom John had introduced her to once, Sherlock’s former – at the time – landlady, and of course John; for these three people Sherlock had given up everything and escaped with only his life. The man was an adventure novel for Christ’s sake.
John rubbed his face hard as though to clear out life’s chaff and then threw up his hands. “Oh Christ – this is bloody perfect. So let me get this straight – Mycroft knows, Sherlock knows – naturally he knows - and you know – why in hell didn’t I know? Why am I always the last one to find out anything?”
Mary tried not to chuckle. She really didn’t feel like laughing even though anywhere else it might have been funny. “Because when it comes to these things you’re a sweet man who is as thick as pudding.” She shook her head. “I knew before Sherlock even said it, John. It’s so obvious - how he acts around you, how he looks at you, how he likes it when you touch him...”
“He likes it when I touch him?? That’s ridiculous. Sherlock hates being touched and I don’t think I’ve ever touched him.”
“Oh don’t be stupid.”
And yes he could suddenly recall a dozen times or more when he had treated Sherlock’s injuries, taken his arm to halt him when he was walking too fast, rubbed a spot between his shoulder blades when it was clear the stress was turning his spine into something resembling an inch-worm, draping a blanket over him when he fell into an exhausted sleep on the sofa instead of his own bed, and countless other times where his fingers had strayed closer than necessary or softened their touch from a pat into a rub of approval or encouragement. “Bloody shit!”
“John. Why are we still doing this?” When he didn’t answer she clasped her hands in her lap, having already decided. “Look, I think we should...I’m-I’m going to postpone the wedding.”
Now he stopped his pacing and stared like a man gone crazy. “What – no. No-no-no, this is just a glitch.” He ran to sit beside her again, taking her hands in his. “No-no-no, we don’t have to do that. This doesn’t even make sense. I am not in love with Sherlock Holmes. I love you.”
She smiled sadly at him. “I believe you, but I also know you love Sherlock and more than you’re willing to admit. Come on John, we both knew this was coming. I can’t compete with him. He’s...he’s Sherlock.” She shrugged. There seemed little need to expound on it. “Not being able to see him will crush you. Losing you would ruin him. You’re already climbing the walls and it’s been only a week and-” She hated to admit it but “-he needs you John.” And she hated to say it. “God, I’m being an idiot but he does, he needs you, and you’ll probably take this the wrong way but...I think he needs you more than...than I do.”
To quell the crushed look on his face she gathered his hands to her breast. “I do love you, but I will be fine alone - if that’s what it comes to. Sherlock...as strong as he is and as independent as he appears - now that he feels the way he does...I don’t think he’ll make it alone.”
She grasped his hands tightly because she was being all noble and it didn’t feel half as satisfying as it ought to have. John was worth having. She only hoped Sherlock recognized that as deeply as she did. “I don’t think it’s the Work that’s central to him anymore – I think it’s you - hell enough of this, what am I saying? - I know it’s you. I’ve seen it, the way he looks at you, how...complete you are when you’re around him and how horribly sad you were when you thought he was gone forever.”
She had seen it. And she’d witnessed it in the detective’s face as well. When John was around Sherlock looked at once happier and sadder, powerless to prevent the emotions from betraying what he thought was still his secret. John induced a kind of helplessness in Sherlock, an aching vulnerability that left him looking like a wounded animal, at once retiring but also wistful, his face a faded portrait of hope and longing but so ghostly-subtle you only saw it if you were looking really hard.
And Mary had been studying them both since that fateful reunion at The Landmark. From everything she had read about the supposed late Sherlock Holmes, only John’s spoken memories had brought him to life in her mind and not only as a picture of legendary brilliance or bravery but simply a man – a flawed, unusual man. A friend who had been deeply loved and terribly, terribly missed by one John Watson.
The man who now looked back at her with eyes sorrowful. And she knew it was not because he was upset at her decision because there was something else in his eyes now - a spark was shining in them, albeit one full of fear but one that, a moment before, had not been present.
Yet still he protested because John Watson was an honorable man. “Please don’t postpone the wedding Mary. I’ll figure this out, I promise - I love you.”
“We’re going to wait John...” She said and it was final, letting his hands go and turning away to pour the tea, probably cold now. “...just until you’re sure.”
John rubbed his face. “Okay, fine. You want to put the wedding off – then bloody fine!”
Exasperated - “John...” Exhausted too.
“Don’t. Just...don’t...I need to get some air.” He snatched his coat and left, slamming the door behind him.
Once out and walking, the rain began to drizzle. John ignored it and turned his collar up, putting one foot in front of the other and moving, just moving somewhere - anywhere. Walking had always helped him think. In his pocket his phone vibrated. Hoping it was Mary with a change of heart he anxiously read the message.
My brother is in a bad way. MH
“Oh what the fuck does he want now?” John stopped where he was in the rain and typed. What do you mean?
He’s been visiting an old friend. I fear the worst.MH
I thought you wanted me to stay away from him? You were a pretty insistent SHIT about it as I recall.
A last resort I suppose. Lestrade is not picking up and I am out of country. There is no one else. MH
You think he’s using again?
Bastard orders me away and then expects me to jump to his service whenever it’s too bloody inconvenient. Mycroft Holmes – Overbearing son-of-a-whore! Prat! Prick! Arsehole!
But because it was Sherlock...
John sprinted the last few blocks back to their dismal room at The Country Inn.
The cow bell above the door chimed. It was a hollow, used sound. An old bell over a newer door at the entrance to the fish shop.
Paul, his shorn blonde hair greying at the temples and the breath of a Van-dyke on his square chin, lead his patron over to his worktop beside the cash register. “Sherlock.” A greeting, a question, he knew Sherlock would take it as he pleased.
Sherlock Holmes he had not seen in over a year. Sherlock who came to him for two things and two things only. One was his excellent traditionally served fish and chips served well salted and piping hot in fresh newspaper and the other – “How’ve you been?”
Sherlock followed the shop-keep to the worktop where jars of pickles and onions sat in their brine waiting for eager diners, his hands stuck deeply in his coat pockets. He spared not a glance toward the jars, loathing pickled anything. “Paul...”
Paul could tell immediately that this was not a food call. He was almost sure of it but “Hungry?”
So it was the other thing then. “Bad one?” He asked, putting away his heavily bleached rag and moving out from behind the counter. He noted the knot of muscle at the rear of his friend’s mandible where it joined the maxilla; and the sheen of sweat on his forehead.
Sherlock watched his friend’s movements and bit his lower lip, knowing Paul would understand that he would not have come here if the craving hadn’t been nearing a ten on the agony scale of any addict. “Yes.” He said. The word that signaled his defeat hardly escaped his lips and only by the barest of margins was it even audible to the human ear.
Paul walked back over to him and stood close, searching his eyes. “It’s slow today anyway.” He took a deep breath, anxious eyes searching his friend’s ash-blues for signs of doubt or indecision. “Sherlock - are you sure?”
Sherlock looked away to the wall and the posters depicting faded beaches of Hawaii and the lush greens of Puerto Rico, vacation places neither of them had ever been to but looked better than the yellowed wall paper and nicotine stains from a million patron’s cigarettes.
“Yes.” emerged from his dry lips, this time whispered so softly, that even Paul had to crane an ear to hear it. But he could see the shape of his friend’s mouth and the form of the word and recognized how long and hard Sherlock had fought against being here and now, in this time and place. How hard he always fought before making his shoes turn in the direction of his little shop.
When Sherlock said nothing more - “Okay,” Paul answered the question himself and took Sherlock’s arm gently steering him toward the back of the shop, through a curtain, passed the oil-smelling kitchen, through another curtain and finally into a small sitting room where he had stashed a comfortable chair, a small round table and a long couch for himself. A tiny bathroom with sink served his own needs on those nights he slept here rather than go home to his one room flat, which he had been thinking of giving up.
On the other side of the tiny sitting area stood a squat refrigerator and a single sink with a few square feet of worn worktop and a two burner cooker. This was where Paul lived most of the time, Sherlock knew; it was close to the bone but still all his.
Paul gestured for Sherlock to remove his coat and went to a drawer by the sink to fish something out of it, returning to the couch with a small something wrapped in foil. Paul, middle aged but slim – he had kept himself in shape since his own battle with the needle had lead to dwindling health – kneeled in front of Sherlock and began to unbutton his shirt. “Bad week?”
Sherlock did not watch Paul’s fingers as the buttons were loosed. “Month...months.”
Paul set the foil wrapped thing aside and pushed the detective’s shirt off his shoulders, running his hands over the taut, pale skin. “You’ve lost weight Sherlock, since I saw you last, but...” He smoothed one palm over the intricate map of the detective’s abdominals “you’re still...” Paul pinched his bottom lip with his teeth in appreciation, “still so...so...” He sighed with pleasure at the vision before him. Then his hands stilled and he rested his trim buttocks on his trainers for a moment, staring at his friend intently. “Are you sure you’re sure? Last time you said-”
“I know what I said last time Paul.” Sherlock snapped but there was no anger in it, only a palpably thick exhaustion. Sherlock stared back at his friend, the fish shop man. “I need a hit so badly I can’t stand it anymore. Please stop asking me whether or not I’m sure.”
The flash of pain that crumpled the younger man’s normally smooth features made Paul suck in his own breath. “A really bad few months then, yeah...okay...okay Sherlock...no problem.” Paul rolled off the silky shirt from Sherlock’s white shoulders and began to trail kisses across his clavicles. “Mmm...” He whispered between kisses, “always loved these.”
Sherlock eased his lean form back into the cushions of the sofa with a sigh of utter release, closing his eyes to whatever Paul’s lips and hands intended for his body, and intending himself to accept it without question, embrace it without prejudice and let it swallow him whole. All done in total silence and complete abandon until the world around him turned into white noise easily ignored and the cacophony inside his head settled until it was still. Until he would not need to think about anything at all. A gift, precious, priceless and lately, the only thing he looked forward to with any enthusiasm.
His fish shop friend unzipped his trousers, pulled what he wanted from beneath the elastic of his cotton boxers, opened the foiled thing with his teeth and then expertly rolled the condom onto Sherlock’s already swollen cock.
Before coming here the world has reduced itself to three absolutes: The murder case - which was his mind’s high-speed motorway; John - who was his own breaking heart...
And now Paul...
Paul was his deafening mind’s salvation, the redeemer of his agonized flesh - that wanted heroin so badly the pain of it had become a corporeal demon - licked the slit of his penis and then took him in...
...in a single swallow, sucking greedily and licking the underside, nibbling the head and fingering Sherlock’s ever tightening balls. Stroking the fine hairs surrounding it with the fingers of his left hand, Paul held Sherlock in his right, sucking and nibbling, working up to the inevitable and long overdue rush of fluid that would soon emerge in hot streams.
Sherlock kept his hands at his side, furiously resisting the urge to run his fingers across Paul’s buzzed locks, keeping his eyes closed and his thoughts purposely away from any hint of Baker Street or the work or John, until the moment where he knew, along with his own semen, his thoughts would pour out into nothing; the place to where only Paul’s talented tongue knew the path.
Sherlock waited for it, and it was close. His body would seek and find its release and his mind would empty itself into the universe and for a few blessed, blessed minutes he would be free.
And then suddenly he was coming and freedom...un-crowded, unhinged freedom. He was ejected! Flung to the far reaches where being Sherlock Holmes was not recognized. His thoughts incredibly, gloriously unfettered by the ceaseless wheels that never stopped their rattling and the cogs that relentlessly turned and turned until they drove him to near madness. His mind that never allowed him real rest or a human level of peace...
His cock burst and then his mind too, a white space with no walls or doors or questions needing answered. No one’s face intruded and displayed its disapproval. No one opened their mouth to speak the cruel names. His mind broke open and all of it scattered to the four winds, taking all the stress and grief and incomprehensibleness of people and nature and requirements of The Normals with it.
When Sherlock folded over into his friend’s large hands, by experience Paul knew that Sherlock was by no means finished with his cure, his treatment. Immediately the detective grabbed hold of his shoulders - it happened every time, almost a reflex - and Sherlock squeezed, putting all his remaining strength into it, dragging his own slim form close and then onto the older man’s, sucking his own body against him until no air existed between their flesh, and then holding on for dear life, like a man drowning, going down the third and last time.
And by experience Paul remained calm and quiet as Sherlock’s tears made his own skin warm and wet. He brushed fingers through the detective’s curls until, after a few short minutes, some calm returned to the man. “It’s Watson isn’t it? John Watson?”
Sherlock, as he never had the other times either, did not answer.
But Paul knew it was. He’d known for some time and spoke kind words into his friend’s soft hair. “You’ve got it bad I know. And he’s off with someone else now. I read about it in the paper – an engagement announcement, but just not to you...” He kissed the silky hair, petting the trembling arms and made soothing noises from deep in his throat. “It’s alright. I’m sure it’ll be alright.”
Paul closed his eyes and sighed, the helpless sound of a man facing his friend’s grief but powerless to do anything about it, other than what he had just done. What he had done perhaps a half dozen times in all the years he had known Sherlock. The stroking of the soft hair, the quick mindless blow-job which meant nothing between them except his willingness to help and Sherlock’s willingness to be helped, even the illusion of closeness, seemed to be things Sherlock craved as any normal human being but things which the detective resolutely denied himself.
As Paul watched his friend come down from what Sherlock would term “a weakness from the losing side”, now came to settle the illusion of contentment, the lie of being “okay” and it always made Paul feel bit sick inside. Sherlock slipped into a stupor that Paul knew would last only minutes. Born with a brain that never quieted and a body that lived almost entirely separate from it, each a castaway from the other, each experiencing its own version of living with all the inherent agonies there-in, Sherlock was the most entirely alone man that he had ever known.
And there was almost no comfort for him out there, which Sherlock would simply call a weakness anyway, without the experience to know that all people required it for health - it was not actually an option. This was the echoing space that Sherlock lived in until the cravings for a hit of cocaine or heroin got to be too much for even the great Sherlock Holmes to endure. And that’s where he came in.
Paul watched, always fascinated by this part, as Sherlock would slump in his arms, asleep in seconds – seemingly going deeper than any human being had ever slept in the history of the world - only to awaken moments later, a bewildered start on his beautifully crafted features, and then his full faculties would return to their regular orbits in that magnificent mind and he would become once again that exceptional brilliant man, perfectly controlled and ready to take on almost anything.
Sherlock would be restored.
For Paul it was like witnessing the rebirth of a star that had expected to be snuffed out for good.
“Sherlock, you know I’m here for you. Hell, I love being here for you.” Paul had to admit he himself was just a little bit in love with Sherlock and could not grasp what was wrong with John Watson that he did not want this incredibly brilliant, good looking, very sexy, and very exciting man. “But I’m betting you haven’t told him have you?”
Sherlock, his eyes already drying, shook his head, his wet nose rubbing against Paul’s naked chest. Paul smiled, not minding at all.
“Then why don’t you? If he’s already leaving, I don’t see how it could possible make things worse.”
Sherlock lifted his head. His eyes were dry now but bore the telltale redness of a fit of weeping. “John is too honorable to break it off no matter what I say. Or what he feels.”
Paul lifted Sherlock’s chin and kissed his mouth once. What he wouldn’t give to have a whole night with that lithe body and that feral hair with those soft, soft lips moaning for him...But he was a practical man and would take what he could get. “Then he’s a bit of an idiot if you ask me.”
It was dark when he returned. Mary heard the key in the lock – old fashioned metal keys, it really was an awful place – and he entered, trying to be quiet. That’s my John. I hurt him and he tries to be considerate about it. She felt the tears start once more but was resolute in her decision. John wasn’t sure about her – about them, anymore. Marriage right now would be a mistake and she did not want him spending the next twenty years in regretful silence. And he would of course. He would suffer and take it like a good soldier. And she would be stuck with a husband who was everything she wanted except for the part where he loved her more than anyone else.
All because there was another.
She heard him undress and slip under the covers. He didn’t reach for her this time but she supposed he could tell she was awake by the way she was breathing, respirations even but sounding too even, too controlled. He had probably picked up that bit of deduction from living with Sherlock.
“I’m sorry.” He said quietly, sounding terribly defeated. “You’re right. I thought I was sure...about us. I’m truly sorry and now there may be a problem with Sherlock.”
“Mycroft thinks he may be using again.”
“Oh no. You need to go and talk to him.”
“In the morning.”
“I know, but just a few more hours. I just need a few more hours with you. If Sherlock’s relapsed there’s little I can do about it tonight. Where would I find him? There are a hundred drug dens in London he could be at.”
“Do you want me to come?” She did love him really a lot. God help me. “Whatever you need John. Remember that...whatever you need.”
“You’re a bloody amazing woman, Mary. I don’t deserve you.” Praise and yet he sounded tired, sad. “Christ I wish things were different.”
John tapped the window between himself and the taxi driver. “Wait – wait up, just drop me here...please. Right here is good.”
The cabbie pulled over to the kerb and John handed him a tenner, piling out onto the sidewalk – “Thanks...”
He looked down the street. Yes, it was Sherlock walking away from him. Going somewhere but not in a hurry, so probably not a case – and not in the direction of Lestrade’s building anyway. Not toward Bart’s so no experiments for that day; and not toward Tesco’s or any nearby grocer, not that Sherlock ever shopped for himself, at least not that John had ever witnessed. Hah! Take that Mister Brilliant Detective; I can make a deduction or three myself - thank you very much.
No, Sherlock was going to the fish and chip shop - Paulie’s Fish Palace. It was three in the afternoon, not quite time for dinner, too late for lunch – but then Sherlock ate at the oddest hours so none of that was definitive. Oh, there, he’d stopped, right in front of the fish shop. The door opened and all John saw was an arm issuing the detective inside. The door closed with the faint ring of a bell.
Right. This was where Sherlock went for fish and chips. Some old friend, he had indicated at one time or other, owned it. Sherlock had never introduced them. In fact, John didn’t think he and Sherlock had ever gone there together for chips or fish. Take-away is how Sherlock indulged his craving for fried chips and haddock. Always take-away.
When John reached the door in question, the sign had been turned to Closed and the bolt was turned. John glanced up at the overhead signage. Yes, this was the right place but he was locked out though it was the middle of a business day. And yet he could have sworn...he was certain that Sherlock had entered this door. Damned odd...
Sherlock left the shop and stopped short.
John was leaning against the brickwork beside the shop, his legs and arms crossed. Tense, angry and ready to fight.
Sherlock was simply not in the mood. “John...how was your time “abroad” at The Country Inn?”
“T’riffic. Saw the Great Wall and ate bird’s feet.” Of course the bastard would figure out where they were. It had been a pathetic lie anyway. John looked at the shop-front, noting the sign was still flipped to the closed side. “So this is where you come.” He said accusingly hurrying to keep up with Sherlock’s longer stride. "Funny you should put it that way." Then his friend without another word turned and resumed his trek toward Baker Street and home.
John called after him. “I know why you come here Sherlock.”
A snort. “Care to set a wager on that?”
Watson caught up and grabbed his coat sleeve, making him stop, and then positioning himself so he could face Sherlock toe to toe. Watson’s doctor mode kicked in as soon as he saw his face. Sherlock’s cheeks were flushed, perhaps the first color he had ever seen on the normally ivory white skin - so elevated blood pressure - and his hair was a bit...wilder than usual. It was some confirmation that Sherlock was using something. “You don’t just come here for the food, do you? He’s your dealer isn’t he?” He demanded.
At that Sherlock rolled his eyes and groaned. “Bloody Mycroft got you onto this didn’t he?” Sherlock looked up at the nearest CCTV and shouted. “Mind your own business big brother. Don’t you have some diet cakes to consume?”
“Well that doesn’t sound like a denial at all, does it?” John said, deciding that Sherlock’s silence about the suspected drugs was all but an admission. His hands angry fists at his sides John snapped “Christ Sherlock, after all you went through to get off the damn drugs, you’re using again. Why the hell didn’t you say something to me if it was getting that bad? There are alternatives.”
“Lately you haven’t made yourself exactly available, John and up to and including this moment I see no reason to change that – do you?”
“Sherlock, I’m a doctor. I can help you.”
Weary of the whole conversation Sherlock skirted Watson’s attempts to keep him in one spot and increased his pace. “Go home John. Mary’s waiting.”
But Watson was not one to be dismissed so easily and he grabbed Sherlock’s coat again, this time not letting go. “No, goddamn it Sherlock, you are going to stand there and listen to me!”
“Why?” Sherlock asked. “Why should I listen to you when as is so often the case you don’t have any idea what’s going on?”
“I know what drugs can do to a mind.”
“Interestingly enough, so do I.”
“What is it...hmm? What are you on? Cocaine? Heroin? Something worse?”
“Far worse as it turns out...” Sherlock muttered.
“Then what?” Watson demanded his face red and white with fury and involuntarily Sherlock’s mind regurgitated a memory of Mycroft making the same demands with the same self-righteous expression on his face. Then he shook his arm free of Watson’s iron grip. “Go to hell John! I am not on anything in case you’d had mind to ask.”
Watson, appearing like he didn’t believe him at all, set his jaw and crossed his arms across his chest. A challenge if ever there was one. “Oh?” He said loudly enough for the few eyes passing by to turn and look. “How long does it take to order a cup of chips? You were in there for over a half hour.”
Sherlock shook his head and looked away to the street where people walked unhindered. “So quick to believe the worst of me...” Sherlock leaned close, taking advantage of his few inches on John and snarled right back “Paul was my sponsor, John, not my dealer, my sponsor!”
Sherlock took one small step back to put distance between himself and John’s impenetrable wall of disbelief. He swallowed audibly shifting the anger from his shoulders because it was useless now anyway. Trust brother Mycroft to dig up and shred the very last corner of privacy in his too public world. “Paul and I were in rehab together. He was near the end of his stint while I was at the beginning. Once I got out, he was assigned to me as my sponsor, someone I could go to, someone to help me when I needed it – when the cravings got too bad for me to handle which was almost never by the way - if that question ever comes up in your head at any future date. And should it kindly remember that it was never any of your business.”
Watson’s face warped from doubt to shock to clarity and then finally contriteness. He stared, feeling like the world’s biggest heel. Dropping his arms to his sides, he stuffed them in his pockets shifting his feet, fidgeting in his discomfort for having doubted. “I...oh, I see.” He cleared his throat. Another Watson tell and Sherlock smiled to himself as his resentment suddenly fell away like skin cells. Emotions he remembered were useless things and suddenly all of their arguing was of no importance.
“When the cravings get to be too much and lately everything seems a bit too much, I can go to him and Paul...he understands - not merely comprehends as there is a great difference between the two. Paul helps me. We have found a substitute for drugs. He helps me, John. Paul helps me...cope.”
John looked at his shoes finding himself suddenly immensely proud of Sherlock for admitting that he needed help. Sherlock followed Watson’s gaze to the doctor’s footwear and finding them scuffed. John wore no socks, the laces were loosely tied...his jumper smelled of yesterday’s sweat. He had not groomed himself. John had been in a hurry to find him.
Putting it together in seconds - “Why is Mary not with you?” Sherlock asked sharply, suddenly needing to know the answer to that. It was important. An ill-groomed John was an anomaly. It meant he was upset with something and that something Sherlock was eight-five percent certain had nothing to do with him but everything to do with Mary.
John dug his hands into his jean’s pockets and shrugged helplessly, feeling like an even bigger heel. “She went home.”
Ah. He had deduced correctly. Sherlock had also not missed the sour noted in John’s words and understood then that something significant had occurred between them. He wished to ask more but John’s expression had abruptly shut down at the subject of his fiancé and Sherlock bit back his next question. With John and emotions you had to pick your time. John’s reactions could be quite volatile when it came to his private life.
“Um, can I walk you home?”
Sherlock tucked his hands into his coat and turned toward Baker Street once more, this time keeping his pace even, and a tad slower, for his shorter legged friend. “I have no books for you to carry,” he teased, “but I believe I have milk that is not passed date - tea?”
“Fine. But when we get there, I want us to talk some more.”
Another groan but this time there was no true malcontent in it.
“I mean it, Sherlock. We need to have a few things out.”
“Way to ruin a mood.”
Once back at the Baker Street flat, John put on water to boil and readied the tea-pot. It was a very English thing to do and besides it calmed him. He found he hashed things out better after having just consumed an excellent sweet cuppa.
Sherlock shed his coat, laying it across the desk chair and flung himself into his comfortable leather seat by the hearth, crossing his long legs.
Sherlock was in true form, Watson thought, as the detective steepled his fingers beneath his chin and regarded his friend coolly. “You know we still have a case.”
Watson nodded. “Sherlock that is not what I want to talk about.”
He sighed wearily. “Very well.” He drummed fingers on the arm of the chair. “Did my brother put you up to this...ridiculous attempt to shun me?” Sherlock asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously, and his expression taking on the look of a blood hound that smells fresh Mycroft on the air. “Because this has all the hallmarks of one of his ridiculous schemes to-” Sherlock did little bunny quotes in the air “‘protect’ me.”
John sat down in his own Baker Street easy chair and locking his fingers together “Look, Sherlock...I...this is difficult enough without...it’s better, I think, for both of us if I didn’t...”
Sherlock stared back unblinkingly. Appearing a bit bored actually and John took a deep strengthening breath. “Shit...look you were hurt, again.”
Sherlock’s mind put it together in a flat second. “Because of you, you think.” He suggested. “Mycroft thinks you are hazardous to my health. You really shouldn’t put any faith in what my brother believes, John, he is singularly obsessed with some misguided vow he made many years ago to keep me safe for our parent’s sake or his own peace of mind or something like that.” In Sherlock’s mind all three laughable endeavors, and none of which mattered a single iota. “It’s an old promise made by an over-zealous big brother to over-protective parents, with rather embarrassing consequences at times and, as you may have noticed, intrusive.”
Intrusive - yes. Sherlock was twenty-right, twenty-nine years old? So an adult perfectly capable of making his own decisions about his life, even if those decisions put him in personal, and at times, mortal, danger. Watson wondered how many times Mycroft had invaded Sherlock’s privacy, and his flat, in search of evidence that his little brother was using again or in general becoming too reckless for mummy and daddy’s comfort.
He’d personally witnessed three such home invasions, all of which had left Sherlock fuming. His short history of drug abuse not-with-standing, the violation of his personal space and life had to be incredibly grating. Watson sympathised. He could not imagine the indignity when even Sherlock’s friends and acquaintances had witnessed at least two such violations. Small wonder Sherlock rarely went home to visit and that the two brothers fought like wolverines.
John imagined how humiliating it would be to have no less than three parents all watching your every move. “Sherlock...Mycroft...he um...”
“Threatened you? Said he would make your life difficult if you did not stay away?” Sherlock dismissed Mycroft and his threats with a wave of his hand. “I can handle my brother on my worst day. It’s of no importance. Your employment and chosen paths in life will continue unabated, you have my word. You and Mary are quite safe. Mycroft will do nothing.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because if he hurt you or Mary in any way he knows I would hurt him back – very badly. Even if I had to kill him.”
Watson frowned disapprovingly. “I hope you’re joking about that.”
Sherlock shrugged in answer. “We’ve all killed John.”
Watson stared back, rubbing his chin. “I had no choice, you were about to swallow a pill of poison.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Yes you were.”
Watson sighed, perturbed, leaning back because this was a topic he had wanted to get into for years. “You risk your life all the time.”
“You went to war.”
“I had back-up, other soldiers. I was almost never in the thick of battle. You risk yourself needlessly.”
“You took risks. You were wounded – twice.”
“It was war.”
“So is this. And I take mitigated risks, yes, but they are never needless.”
“You break into international criminal headquarters and locked rooms. You ignore your health. You face down entire criminal organizations confident that you will always succeed.”
“Fruitless don’t you think to break into anywhere with the attitude that I will not.” Sherlock offered one of his stiff but conciliatory smiles. “Besides, since when do I break into anywhere without my crack shot at my side?”
Watson did not give ground. “You’ve been hit by a car and was nearly drowned, and all within a few weeks.”
“Some coincidences must be tolerated for the greater good.”
And then the question that was really on his mind, the one that had been nagging at him for many months. “Why would you not tell me you were alive as you had told twenty of your tramp pals, your parents and the newspaper vendor down the block?”
Sherlock dismissed the last one with a flick of a finger. “He simply guessed correctly.”
“Guessed? He sounded fairly sure about it to me. Almost had me convinced you were still alive.”
“Well he’s one of the obsessed fans of your blog. Can I help it if I attract the compulsive?”
“So why not me and don’t give me any of that I would have given the game away crap.”
Sherlock studied an interesting pattern on the rug. “I had to be sure the assassins had truly abandoned their intent to kill you and the others and exactly why are we discussing this yet again?”
John stayed on track. “We never really did so we’re talking about this again, and we will again until you give me a straight answer. It seems to me that after a year of no assassin’s bullets coming my way it ought to have been obvious.”
“Obvious? Obvious? Moriarty was anything but obvious in his criminal machinations - which is why he almost bested me.”
“You’re just excusing yourself.”
Sherlock sighed. “I had to be sure, John. I had to be sure and there was no way to do that without revealing myself and if I revealed myself then they would know, quite clearly in fact, that I was alive. What would you have had me do – ring them up? “Pardon me but do you mind very much telling me whether or not you still plan on shooting my best friend in the head?” Or would you rather I had died for real? It might have saved you all the trouble of mourning me I suppose and this tedious conversation.”
Watson flushed, and turned his face away. “Sherlock I appreciate what you did for me, in fact I doubt I will ever be able to repay you for saving my life, but as your friend – as your best friend – sharing your plans with me is a sign of trust; it is you revealing to me that you trust me enough to help you. If anything is to happen between us in the future, I have to know that you’ll share things with me. Everything.”
“You did help, your sadness convinced Moriarty’s assassins and you were not murdered.”
Watson sighed and then muttered. “The ruse went a long way in steering me toward that goal on my own.”
Sherlock caught the implication but decided not to directly address the subject of his friend’s almost suicide. It left his insides cold however and his heart beating a hard rhythm against his rib cage. “I am infinitely gratified that you decided not to act on that compulsion. It would have made my two years of exile rather pointless.”
Watson’s expression said that although he knew intimately what Sherlock’s – as it turned out - fake death had cost him, he had not contemplated what the two years had cost Sherlock. “Just promise me that next time, although I hope to God there is no next time, you’ll at least send me a note or something.”
Sherlock studied his own fingers for a few seconds and then said grudgingly “Next time...I suppose I could...seek your input...”
“No. If we’re going to continue this partnership, from now on you’re going to tell me everything.”
Sherlock’s eyes lit up and John found himself almost senselessly delighted to see it. “Mm...Depends...” The detective ventured.
“On whether or not in the interim your acting skills improve.” He grinned and his friend returned it. It was a small one but an improvement.
Then a crease appeared between Sherlock’s brows and he tilted his head, realising that his brain had skipped over something crucial. “What do you mean?”
“What do you mean what do you mean?”
“You spoke of a future - our future - together.”
John pressed his lips together and looked away and back and from his intimate knowledge of John Watson tells Sherlock understood it meant something rather big had transpired; something John was reluctant to talk about. “Did we not just agree to share..?” He prompted.
John Watson’s whole body tensed and then he stretched his neck until the tension popped at the same time forcing his limbs to sag in the chair, relaxing, spilling over the piece of furniture like water off a rock. Only his right hand moved, worrying his growth of whiskers.
Sherlock noted the mix of red and grey in them and for some reason it both charming and worrisome. He could not pin down an explanation for those emotions.
John said “Yes, we did.” And Sherlock waited while John sorted through whatever words he wished to use to convey the coming information.
John leaned forward, looking into Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock stared back, entirely puzzled by his friend’s countenance. One possibility came to mind with a sickening thud. It would explain John’s returning to him, his desire to “clear the air”, and his creeping silence. Possibly even account for Mary’s absence. “John...you’re not sick..?”
He shook his head and Sherlock relaxed.
“No, Sherlock, I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. Perfect health.”
Sherlock felt his own building terror ease. Perhaps John was not going to divulge anything more. “John..?”
Watson needed to talk to someone first. He suspected but wasn’t sure about some things. “Do you mind if we take this up later today? I have an errand to run.”
Sherlock nodded. “I shall take advantage of the quiet to have a bath.”
Even though the shop was now closed this customer had been standing outside waiting for the last ten minutes judging by his rain-soaked hair. Paul had noticed him as he had counted the day’s proceeds and turned off the coffee pots and steeped-tea maker. The glass-fronted shelves were now almost devoid of product and there was cleaning to do.
The person outside finally drew up the nerve to knock on the door.
Wiping his hands on his apron, Paul unlocked the dead-bolt. The man who entered was not one of his regular’s. They would know he was shut down for the day.
This fellow stood in the doorway with his hands in his pockets, slouching like a drowned rat. But he never-the-less nodded his thanks and entered, taking a seat not at the curtained windows – the two most coveted tables where breakfaster’s could watch the city awaken from behind a hot Jamaican or French roast coffee and hot scone with raspberry jam – but at the less coveted worktop where three bar-type stools were bolted to the floor.
“I’m closed but what can I get for you?” Paul asked. What the hell. He wiped the counter-top one final time, sweeping away the crumbs until it shone. He liked his shop clean.
The fellow, not tall but built rather well - thick in the shoulders - legs strong and very sure on his feet, except for the smallest, almost-not-there limp as he approached and hoisted himself onto the stool, said nothing at first and then linking his fingers together on the worktop – “Don’t suppose you might have some coffee left?” He asked.
No smile but no malice either. Pleasant voice, friendly type, likes for people to get along Paul thought. Blonde hair slowly going over to greyish and skin tanned despite the rainy skies of February. Unshaven but Paul suspected that was an unusual state of affairs, but his tan was an old tan, long time earned. Blue eyes wide open and honest but a bit of an intense gaze. Still one that perhaps didn’t see obvious things right away.
Watchful though like a guard dog is watchful, intent on its specified job. There were some fine wrinkles around the eyes. Nearing forty but still attractive to whomever eyed him as their type, Paul figured. Nice looking but not here for the company and certainly not the over-brewed coffee.
When Paul set the cup down in front of the fellow, sliding over a bowl of sugar and a pint of real cream, his quiet after-hours customer said “You must be Paul.”
Ah. Paul arranged some glasses beneath the worktop and smiled in answer. Makes sense. “And you’re John Watson.” He reached out his hand and John shook it, liking that he had produced a modicum of surprise in the man.
John, the smaller man of the two, still possessed a mighty strong grip and his finger tips were calloused from...he wasn’t sure. Policeman maybe? Soldier?
“Pleased to meet you,” John Watson said.
Paul nodded politely. “Any friend of Sherlock’s...” He added, untying his apron and hanging it up on a hook near the kitchen doorway. He poured himself a coffee of his own, adding cream but no sugar and came around to sit beside John on the stool next down. Best not to have the work-station separating them as they discussed what, he felt sure would be a very interesting exchange.
“So...Sherlock, Sherlock...” Paul said, his eyes adding ‘A most wonderful subject’. “What would you like to know?”
Watson set his cup down and linked his hands together in his lap, swivelling his stool to face the shop owner. “Well, you surprise me a bit.”
Sherlock doesn’t care a lick about privacy. At least not about mine.”
John Watson took a breath and let it out, his eyes searching the others, and then he laughed a bit ironically. “Funny, I had a few dozen things I wanted to ask you and now that I’m here...I’m not sure...but then Sherlock’s already pretty miffed with me right now.”
Paul understood even though he didn’t know the specific reason. A miffed Sherlock did not come around much, but still this poor bugger was not happy. Maybe Sherlock had cut him off, but then knowing Sherlock like he thought he did, it was doubtful they were involved, not sexually at least. And yet there seemed to be a connection there, enough of one to send this chap scrambling to discover who Paul was and what he was to Sherlock.
Interesting. Studying John’s frank expression coupled with the uncertainty lurking beneath; secretly Paul concluded that he rather liked this John Watson. Sherlock’s reaction to John’s prying – Sherlock’s feelings – were clearly on the man’s mind. In Paul’s experience few people ever bothered to consider how a bit of news or a cutting comment would affect the young detective. Few people cared enough to censor their opinion of the man himself either, not in private or to his face.
“He is complicated, isn’t he?” Paul offered by way of a second opening and John smiled at that, chuckling with some very genuine fellow feeling and then scratched at the back of his head, a self depreciating gesture and a wholly unconscious one, Paul thought. Charming actually. Sherlock does have exquisite taste in men!
Yes, he did like this fellow. Paul decided to go for the crux of the matter. “I met Sherlock at Craig - Castle Craig - that’s an addiction treatment center up in Scotland. Very expensive but very effective. It took all my savings for me to get in there and I’m sure it took a generous carving out of Sherlock’s parents pockets to get him in there and if you’re wondering why I’m telling you this very personal thing, it’s because until you comprehend what sort of addict Sherlock is, you’ll never be able to truly understand him, or why he still comes to me.”
“You were his sponsor?”
“Yup. Still am, in a way – oh not officially of course, that would be a breach of trust between sponsor and client, but I still help him when I can. When he...has nowhere else to go.”
He had John Watson’s full attention now. “So what sort of addict was Sherlock?”
“Is,” Paul corrected him. “Is. Always is. And always will be. Just because he isn’t using and hasn’t for years doesn’t mean he isn’t an addict. For any addict it is, unfortunately, a lifetime battle to stay clean.”
Watson had read as much but still, even as a physician educated in many of the baser side of humanity’s physical conditions, it was still difficult to believe. “But the cravings get to him sometimes.” John ventured and Paul nodded, looking pleased that John had honed in on the most pertinent reason for Sherlock’s infrequent visits.
“Exactly. Cravings, of a sort, drive him to me on occasion and I do my best to...assist him passed them.”
“Of a sort?”
Paul tilted his head. “Mmm, come now, you’re a clever fellow I suspect, you can guess I’m sure. I like Sherlock; I have always liked Sherlock – a lot - though not as much as you probably do. You’re sort of obvious you know.”
John shook his head, letting that lie. “How if I may ask do you help him? I’m rather faced with a sticky problem myself and it’s one I’m afraid I’m not anywhere near equipped to handle.”
“So you need to know...what kinds of things Sherlock gets addicted to.” Paul said “What un-does his buttons, slows his chains, oils his gears - makes him all wiggly..?”
“Well I wouldn’t have put it exactly that way - in fact I’m not sure I quite get all that to be honest.”
“Sure you do. Because that’s what you must get if you’re talking about Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock isn’t your typical addict, far from it. He’s not looking to get high, or reach some sort of cloud in the sky of psychedelic dreams...” Paul leaned over to underline the next point. “Sherlock craves that which brings him to his Sleepy Place.”
“Sounds rather like the every-day addict to me.”
“Not remotely.” Paul raised his eyebrows because he knew that was not what John Watson was expecting to hear. “Let’s try it this way: Sherlock craves those things that let him have peace, John, a vacation from his own magnificent self and whatever those things are, those things become what give him rest. They sooth the beast inside that demands his full and constant attention - his mind, John Watson, his mind that never stops its crazy train of deductive thought. There’s a hundred speeding locomotives wrapped up in that skull and all crammed to capacity and all forever pouring into that castle he calls a Mind Palace. Sherlock needs the high - not a place to escape to - but in order to escape himself.”
John stared, then shook his head and blinked. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“You do.” Paul assured him, “you’ve seen it. How many hours does he play that violin each week when he’s on a case? Or when he’s not? Clock it some time. How many hours does he sleep once a case is over? Twenty? Thirty? How many cigarettes does he smoke when he’s got nothing to do?”
“He’s on the patch now.”
“Oh Christ! No wonder he was such a wreck.” Then Paul remembered who he was talking to. “Whoops, sorry. Probably wasn’t supposed to divulge that bit but it’s all about distractions.”
“I’m still not sure I get exactly what you’re telling me. Are you saying Sherlock became addicted to drugs to escape not from reality but from...his own mind?”
Paul raised his right index finger to his forehead in a tiny salute. “Bingo.” The idea was clearly a very new one for Watson who suddenly looked stricken by it and Paul felt for the guy. He explained, somewhat sadly, further. “Imagine John possessing a mind that keen, a mind that see’s everything in its exact and true form, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of what is going on around you; someone’s clothes, their expression, the perfume they wear, the sweat in their brow, the way they hold their head, the scuff on their shoe and being able to deduce where they live and where they once lived, their choice of vocation and vacation, their relationship with their parents, siblings or significant other’s in ten seconds or less.
“Or stepping into a room and seeing not furniture but its manufacturer, age, style, origin and whether it’s the owner’s favorite or a cast-off from a hated relation, or being able to sum up someone’s entire work history by the paintings they hang on their wall or their sexual preferences including kinks by the way they arrange their candle-sticks on the mantel – that is Sherlock’s mind at work, John. And as much as it might seem like a blessing and a wonder, now imagine it NEVER. Shutting. Off! Not for a single moment. Not while he’s awake and not even while he’s fighting like a demon to escape into a few hours of real sleep.”
John Watson had wondered about it before. “Autistic?” He blurted and then explained “Someone once told me he thought Sherlock suffers from perhaps autism or maybe aspergers.”
Paul tilted his head this way and that. “Maybe...but if he does he’s never been diagnosed – not to my knowledge anyway. But one thing’s for sure – he’s the most brilliant man I have ever met in my life.” Paul smiled sadly. “And I feel sorry for him because Sherlock is both the proprietor and the prisoner of how his mind works.”
“So the stress of that, the work eases it.”
Paul nodded. “The Work – exactly.”
“So when he’s got no way to occupy his head, it gets to him...he looks for the thing that will bring him some peace, something to slow him down.”
Paul shrugged. “It’s why I decided to work with him all those years ago and why I still help him now. No one else understands him, or really wants to try, except for now maybe you. Sherlock needs his Sleepy Place – not all the time, just...sometimes.”
“Heroin brings him to his Sleepy Place?”
“Heroin gave – past tense - him that, yes.”
“And what gives him that now?”
Paul sighed. “I’d like to think it’s me but it’s not. And sometimes unfortunately the thing that gives him peace can also become the thing that brings him the most grief. Depends...”
“That you’ll have to figure out on your own. It shouldn’t be too hard.”
Watson nodded thoughtfully, satisfied but not entirely so. There was more of course, much more than, like it or not, he was privy to. And he really did want to help him. He really did want to see Sherlock happy.
Watson stood up and extended his hand once more. “Well, I appreciate the time.”
“Think it’ll help - our little talk?”
John looked at his coat hanging off the end of his fingers. “I honestly don’t know. He’s my best friend and...” He shook his head. “I’ve a decision of my own to make now but...” He sighed.
Paul understood only too well. “As I said - complicated.”
As John left the shop he made with unsure steps back to Baker Street. It was no longer his home and Mary had made very clear that he should spend time away from her until he had made a decision so he was effectively without a roost to call his own.
He stopped at the door to 221B and stood looking at it. The askew door knocker, placed in its relative position by Sherlock – who would sternly deny the fact – and the white gleaming paint kept sparkling by regular scrubbings from Misses Hudson. The small flat up the single flight of stairs, and the next flight to his own bedroom – this still called to his heart as home. This felt comfortable and familiar. The first place he had felt like that since he had left for the war.
Even Harry’s larger, more tastefully decorated place hadn’t felt as welcoming as this small, unremarkable flat at the top of dusty stairs where Sherlock had welcomed him seemingly without any doubts. He hadn’t even opened a line of questioning about personal habits other than to warn John about a few of his own.
No, he had ushered John into the place like a man showing off a personal prized possession, one he was suddenly anxious to share. John remembered looking around, a little puzzled at the disorder and thinking that it had to be the former tenant’s stuff not yet cleared out. And then Sherlock had muttered something about it being his stuff and gathered up a paper or two, nailing them to the mantel with a fine carving knife in an endearing but sadly pathetic attempt to “straighten up”.
John had made his decision right then, that second. He had often thought back to that day and asked himself why. Sherlock a perfect stranger, the flat a mess, Sherlock’s housekeeping abilities clearly atrocious almost beyond reason, and yet at that moment, standing there in the middle of a perfect stranger’s chaos, somehow he had known deep down that Sherlock needed him more than he needed a place to live. Behind the man’s expensive suite and air of indomitable control John felt lurked a small boy in need of a scolding and a warm embrace and behind that was crouched a very lonely person anxious to make something of a good impression to a perfect stranger.
And, remarkably John thought, Sherlock had made an impression but it was not the flat itself that had accomplished it. The flat was just a flat. It was the man himself who had been the selling point. The air simply vibrated when Sherlock was around. Everything sprang to attention when Sherlock entered a room, and life became electric. John could taste it on his tongue whenever he and Sherlock were on a case or even just talking over tea and biscuits.
He had returned to the living the day he had met Sherlock Holmes. And, he was convinced, so had Sherlock.
A picture of Sherlock smiling, almost anxious for john to say yes to the arrangement, flitted across John’s memories. The detective had looked a bit embarrassed about his flat but...and then suddenly everything seemed simple. John held up, and stood in the middle of the sidewalk, letting the clues fall into place like little blocks.
“Oh...oh my god...” he breathed. “Oh...Christ, Watson – you moron!..sex....Paul and Sherlock...holy fu-...that’s what he meant, Jeezus...” John ran fingers through his hair, not sure what to do with this new information. Sherlock and sex had always been so...so...separate. “Christ, Paul and Sherlock...Christ...”
The discordant howl of tortured violin strings assaulted his ears, but they stopped when he called out. “Sherlock?”
Sherlock still held the instrument to his chin as he turned to face John, but stilled the bow. His lips twisted in amusement. “Did you and Paul enjoy your talk?” He asked as a greeting.
John smiled, not all that surprised that Sherlock guessed where he had gone although the detective would have denied there was any guesswork involved what-so-ever. The collage of images where Paul was doing...things to Sherlock made his heart hammer and his stomach spasm in a most delightful - and then ugly - way. Watson refused to consider what he was feeling was jealousy because, he told himself, Sherlock had a right to his own privacy and his body’s private practises. “Yes. And did you have a good bath?”
Sherlock’s hand did not resume his tuning. “Fine.” He sounded bored. “Did Paul spill?”
“Umm...” John took a moment, a long moment, to hang up his coat on the hook by the door. Then - “Will you sit? I have something to ask you.”
“Ah. He spilled then.” But Sherlock seemed in the frame of mind to comply and put the priceless violin carefully in its case along with the bow. John had tried to replace it one day and found there was a trick to doing it so both fit correctly. Sherlock set it into place like two lovers would meld their fingers together – or their bodies - with the ease of long acquaintance.
Sherlock resumed his seat. He was now wearing his pajama bottoms with his blue dressing gown wrapped around him like a king’s mantel. He crossed shapely legs and waited patiently. He was certainly the king of something, John thought.
Without warning – because if he hesitated John knew he might never risk the action again - he crossed few two meters of space between them so fast he didn’t see his own feet move, crouched down and caught Sherlock’s restless hands in his own sweaty, nervous ones, holding them gently but firmly so that there was no escape for either of them. “Sherlock...”
Before even asking Watson tried to see if he could discover a truthful answer in the detective’s frost-over-robin-egg-blue irises, but soon disappointed that his own deducing skills were just not equal to the task. What he did learn was that his friend smelled clean with the faintest hint of vanilla shampoo scent lingering in his hair. A single drop of water tickled a tempting trail from the still damp curls to his freshly shaved jaw and then to his long throat and John’s eyes followed it, hooked on its trajectory to the tantalizing pectoral muscles and then to the edging of the blue silk dressing gown where it was gathered up.
Trying not to wish he were the water dropJohn cleared his throat and screwed up his waning courage. Bloody now or never.
“Sherlock...are you...are you...” Why does everything in my life always have to be so BLOODY difficult?? “Are you...in love with me?”
Sherlock studied his friend closely and his friend’s grasping hands with barely contained alarm. But Watson would swear he saw a glowing tenderness nestled in Sherlock’s stare, as though something warm and fragrant had blossomed in the chilled reserves of the young detective and was expanding outward toward him, about to envelope him, claim him, as his own.
And then Sherlock opened his mouth and the romantic illusion popped like an over-inflated balloon.
“Don’t be stupid John. It was of course inevitable.”
“Inevitable?” John repeated for the third time blatantly ignoring the flash of disapproval on Sherlock’s features due to his - John knew the detective would have undoubtedly voiced if given a sufficient interval to remind him - needless repetition of questions already voiced. “You make it sound like falling in love with me – if that’s what’s going on, though I have no idea because it’s you we’re talking about - was some sort of unavoidable accident.”
“Simply a natural progression – a pheromone-al conscription as it were.”
In trying to figure out that one John decided fuck it! and instead just asked “Sorry - a what?”
“We have been subjected to each other’s proximity - working together in and outside of this flat for more than two years. It is a matter of course - via somatosensory, visual, olfactory and other evolutionary responses - that our bodies each would eventually become...accustomed to the other. As a matter of course sooner or later one or both of us would, to use the vernacular, ‘fall in love’- a common but sloppy definition of sexual arousal - at least to some degree.” He indicated the indefinite-ness of some by a lazy wave of his right hand.
John rubbed two infinitely patient fingers over his brow. “‘Evolutionary sexual conscription’...to some degree? Mmm...yes...” Watson scratched his chin whiskers. He needed a shave. And a dictionary. And a drink the size of the Thames.
And a fucking psychiatrist. “Why that’s...charming Sherlock.” With no little sarcasm – “You’ve just titillated the bloody breeches off me. Lucky me to have become smitten-ed over by the world’s greatest sociopath.” Although John had decided himself a long while back that the jury was still out on that last. John clasped his hands together in a gesture of summation. “So what you’re trying to say is you falling in love with me – and again I still have no idea if this has actually happened because, well, again it’s you - was something totally beyond your control – that because we share tea and laptops your annoying human pheromones mixed together and like an evil villain took over your libido and kidnapped your penis?”
“Ah...using humour to mitigate your discomfort with the situation, interesting.” He said with a hint of scold, “though if I’m not mistaken somewhat inappropriate.” But to John’s astonishment Sherlock was dead serious. “However it is no secret that the aforementioned stimuli and perhaps bloody crime scenes and dangerous situations attract you - which really should not come as a surprise to you John, you hardly went to war for three years because you wanted to build sand castles. You like war, and dead bodies.” And then Sherlock crossed his legs, placed his four primary fingers beneath his nose as though he was praying to the God of Deduction and readying himself to deduce his working partner down to his individual John Hamish Watson molecules but then gave a start. “Your blush is out of place - love is nothing to be ashamed of.”
John stood up, walked around in a tiny circle, not certain whether to be angry or flattered or simply solve the equation by banging his head into a solid wall repeatedly until he was blissfully unconscious. “I am not ashamed of this – Christ! – Whatever this is that we’re now talking about which – and don’t think I didn’t notice your attempt to change the subject of our discussion – and that was you we were originally talking about, you sly git! We’re talking about you in love with me, not the other way around. And just so we’re clear I am not turned on by death.”
“But you are attracted to me.”
John stopped his tiny, frantic back and forth across Sherlock’s much abused carpet and shook his head trying to clear it. He raised a stern finger of warning to his clearly crazy friend. “Shut it. Just. Shut. It.” He had a suspicion he would be saying a lot of that in the next twenty minutes or so. “Yeah, I suppose I am, like a moth is to an open flame I’m beginning to think, you contrary, manipulative prat.”
Sherlock frowned. “Why do you always resort to calling me names when we’re having a difference of opinion?”
“Because you make me murderous – that’s why!” Watson slumped in his chair, took a deep clarifying breath and looked at his friend. “Sherlock, it’s a simple question although I realise – because it’s you – the answer might defy all the wisdom of mankind. But it really is simple: Are you or are you not in love with me?”
“There is a possibility however you needn’t concern yourself with it. I have devised a method of testing my hypothesis. I’ve devoted an entire room to it.”
“Hypothesis...and a room...?”
“Yes.” Sherlock cocked an eyebrow as though John was showing his all too slowness by not keeping up as expected. “That is what I said – a room, in my Mind Palace. I am certain that given sufficient time and positions I should be able to deduce the answer.”
“Of course. As unsanitary as it is, one must have in place particular parameters in order to conduct a scientific experiment with this sort of thing.”
“Parameters...experiment... Are you hoping to dissect me? Because I’ve got a bit of a problem with that.”
Sherlock blinked as though at the frankly stupid. “Of course not - I propose that we have sex.”
John closed his eyes and rubbed at them. The world’s worst migraine hinting its impending hammer of pain. “You...me...sex? In this room, or in your mind palace? Because if it’s just in your head, go at it mate.”
“You know my mind palace is where I have stored all my data on you and I have catalogued no fewer than seven women with whom you have dated since I’ve known you. With all of them you ate dinner, with five of them you got drunk or nearly-“
“With four of them you had sex, and with two of them you had anal sex and/or cunnilingus...”
“Alright – stop! Now how in hell could you know that? Any of that? I never brought any of those women here.”
“You brought Sarah here.”
“I never got beyond a snog or two with her because of your damn Chinese-circus-karate-arrow-shooting-assassin-murderers.”
“And you brought yourself here of course, afterward. After that it was hardly difficult. The odors alone-”
“And by the way “Chinese-circus-karate-arrow-shooting-assassin-murderers.” would have been a better title for that particular investigation on your blog, a bit wordy but never-the-less more accurate than “The Lotus Mystery”. I advise you log in and change it.” Sherlock replied reasonably and also a bit insulted. “And anyway they weren’t my murderers.”
“To this day she’s scared of me. At work she texts me from the next room. She probably thinks your insanity rubs off.” John dropped his head into one hand and willed his headache to please go away. “I see. So...” he felt like crawling into bed and having a good cry, “we take off our clothes, we have sex and then...?” He left the floor opened for Sherlock.
“And then these feelings you have for me will either intensify or go away. Simple.”
“Right, simple. A man who is in love with me – and don’t bloody deny it you posh git! – and who has never had sex with anyone in his life has devised an experiment involving me having sex with him to cure me of wanting to have sex with him.”
John cleared his throat and took a moment to convince his vascular system that, no, he was not having a heart attack but, yes, they will soon be down at a pub where they can share a frothy pint in celebration of losing his mind. “We’re not going to do this. You’re a master at twisting everything back around just so it lands somewhere besides at your size twelve’s.” John tried to stare down his bewildering friend, daring him to challenge the assertion.
“Eleven’s.” Sherlock was utterly unflappable. “You don’t wish to participate? I fail to understand your reluctance. I interest you and even if you don’t love me you do like having sex don’t you? After we first met you started chatting up every female in sight -”
John’s heavy footsteps were on the stairs and descending faster than humanly possible. The outside door shook the whole house as he slammed it shut after him.
He was into his fourth pint by the time Sherlock tracked him down.
He stared up numbly at his detective friend who slid into the booth opposite him. “Took you long enough.”
Sherlock cocked an eyebrow. “You only have four favorite drinking establishments; this one was farthest from the flat. Hardly more than a game of hide and seek.” Sherlock waved an approaching waiter away. “You are upset with me.”
John shook his head. “I’m upset with me.”
“Because my fiancé broke up with me yesterday because even she knows I’m in love with you, you gorgeous, sexy, irritating bloody mind-boggling bastard.”
Sherlock, to his own continued good health, did not argue the point. “Oh.” His heart beat a startling crescendo against his rib cage, a little fluttering bird trying to get out of its cage. Only a pressing of lips together betray the staccato going on below his sternum. “But I’m right? You are turned on by danger, by the hunt, by the thrill of chasing criminals and solving crimes but most especially by catching vile people at the end of your service weapon, and of course – for you – saving the life. You find it sexy as a matter of fact and therefore sexually arousing.”
From behind beer-watered eyes John stared down his crime solving, thoroughly insane genius friend. “’Course I am you idiot. And, yes, you are an idiot. An idiot faced with a question, an important question put to you directly, and you don’t want to answer because it’d be like admitting it might be true. The whole thing scares the hell out of you, doesn’t it?” John recalled the women he had taken after shortly after meeting Sherlock Holmes. And the many physical encounters spent dreaming it was Sherlock’s rippling muscles and creamy skin beneath him instead of Sarah’s or Nancy’s or Rachel’s or Whats-‘er-name or Who-ever-the-fuck’s. Over-compensation. A denial of desires. A refuting of night-fantasies he had silently and steadfastly denied in the light of day.
“I’ve never been scared of anything in my life.”
Lucky bastard only he didn’t believe him. “Shite! Were you scared of me dying?”
Everything in the pub shifted because a short, blondish earthquake called John Watson had just dropped a mountain on the floor before Sherlock’s feet which stiff backed detective blinked, unable to formulate a single word, and then took refuge in looking away.
It took him another five or six seconds to answer, a virtual eternity for the witty detective, which meant the question had thrown him just enough to cause a mini apoplectic fit inside his head. “Our physical systems came to accept and then expect the presence of the other. A certain level of chemical attraction was only natural.”
“Jesus, you can’t say it, can you?” Watson drained his pint and waved for another.
Watson was staring and rubbing a palm over his mouth. Sherlock watched, fascinated, intensely curious to know what sort of sensations he would discover if it were his fingers there, or his lips. He had never been properly kissed before – if there was indeed a proper method, and he himself had never kissed anyone. Not the way it was always being done on television, not with passion, not anyone he had wanted to kiss. Not willingly. Not so it felt nice and left him warm all over afterward and counted.
Except for a kiss that then arose in his mind un-summoned, one from long ago. A warm memory originally, as he recalled, from a time when he was barely more than twelve (after Mycroft had the year before gone off to achieve greatness at College and left his younger brother to cope with Daddy’s scowls of worry over his “decidedly odd” second son and Mummy’s fears over his “frightening abilities”), and where-by the opinions and words of doctors and psychologists he had been assigned the status of Highly-Intelligent-But-Emotionally/Socially-Disturbed-Child (the label not officially recorded because the professionals he had been taken him to and who had suggested it had been righteously refuted by Mummy with threats of civil suits and wished to protect their careers more than actually help a child understand that dissecting road-kill was not usually ‘done’ and why. Sherlock would have studiously ignored their advice anyway and continued his experiments. He hadn’t actually killed anything after all, merely appropriated carcases already devoid of life - what was the problem??), a label he had then torn off from the front door of his Mind Palace with a well placed mental pry-bar and replaced with Genius-Gloriously-Rebellious-High-Functioning-Sociopath-Who-does-Not-Need-Them-Or-Anyone-Else.
Anthony Geils, a young man who had become that rarest of things- a friend - had tried to kiss him nearing the end of the school year - Sherlock was already in the “Advanced” programs along with students older than him by three years including Anthony, a clumsy, wet contact of lips behind the Rugby bleachers which had taken Sherlock by surprise but had not, at first, been altogether unpleasant.
But Anthony, encouraged by the younger Sherlock’s lack of resistance, had quickly presumed upon much more than a kiss however and Sherlock had then felt grabby, insistent, uninvited hands at the front of his trousers and inside his zipper. Waves of fear and loathing had erupted in Sherlock’s stomach and then in his legs as he had fought the older lad off and escaped to the school loo.
The kiss had felt rather nice with the promise of more nice. The attempted molestation had left him feeling betrayed, and then contaminated, by his very own body. Frightening, illogical sensations that had taken him many days to expunge.
“So your love for me comes from your inner beaker of inadvertent attraction? I’m - what – an unfortunate accident?”
Sherlock realized he had let his attention slip a bit and had to drag his focus back to the sarcastic words coming from John’s mouth. But he had managed to gather the gist of what john had been saying and also suspected that John was looking for complete honesty. Unfortunately he found himself having to hunt through mental rooms for the correct words. When people asked for honesty he, with much unpleasant past experience, noted that honesty wasn’t always what they actually wanted to hear. Often they were hoping for words that matched what they had already determined in their own mind to be the correct ones, and reacted negatively when his did not meet up, which had been most of the time. “Essentially but I would not have put it so...coarsely. You are hardly an experiment, John. On the other hand physical love is hardly more than that – electro-chemical reactions, not much different than two electrodes forming a completed circuit.”
“Again - very romantic.” Said with humor but Sherlock felt a sharp pang in his chest at John’s watering eyes.
“I don’t understand why you’re upset. I care for you, John, perhaps not in the traditional sense, but you have become very useful to me and a valuable colleague, and I have expressed before that I love you. Perhaps I need to rephrase...”
“Sure. Like the way you love tea and your violin.” John grabbed at his hair with both fists until little tufts were sticking up everywhere through his fingers. “Jesus Christ.” Then he grabbed the others man’s hands again, this time gripping them fiercely until the blood in the tips of Sherlock’s fingers was squeezed out until they turned white and cold. “Sherlock, do I mean anything to you? I mean really mean something, something deep, something important; something so important that you went off for two years playing dead to protect my life. You did that Sherlock – you – Sherlock Holmes gave up everything for my life – for me. I can only imagine that you suffered for it. You must have suffered during that time for me, so I am going to ask you one more time and if you will not give me a straight, truthful answer, I will walk out that door and...” He took a deep shuddering breath. “I’m not sure I will ever speak to you again.”
Sherlock was staring; his mouth had clamped shut half way through John’s monologue and he could feel the tremor in the detective’s hands. Sherlock, not for the first time ever, but certainly to John at least it was as plain as day – had been rendered speechless.
“Sherlock...” John scooted just a bit closer, his feet reaching out and hooking themselves around Sherlock’s legs beneath the table. He could feel Sherlock’s strong calves stiffen although he did not pull away. “I want you to search your feelings, not your bloody mind palace, not your thoughts, your heart. Please for Christ sake, for my sake, please give me a straight answer. I promise you there is no wrong answer but I absolutely need to know: Are. you. in. love. with. me?”
Sherlock’s phone rang and the detective extradited one of his hands from John’s, slowly in the hopes of perhaps not to startling John into a premature leap up and escape through the pub’s exit, and then held up his index finger to forestall anymore conversation. He spoke for a moment into it, closed it, and then slipped it into his dressing gown pocket. “That was Lestrade.” He said, smiling across the table at the object of his involuntary love, not yet spoken aloud, not yet, no, but soon, when the time was not so taut with emotions and feelings and things he could not pin down to a board like his insect collection when he was seven and examine under a microscope at his leisure. So elusive, feelings were. So a jumble of conflicting thoughts, so ethereal and insubstantial and utterly confounding!
So not his area.
He fixed John with a narrow grin; a few polished teeth were showing. John caught its significance. Visible teeth indicated glee. “Crime scene?”
Sherlock jumped up. “Lestrade has more bodies for us. We must go.”
And then a text came in as well. And Sherlock read it.” No smile this time. Puzzlement, though – a narrowing of his eyes though not in the pleasantness of surprise at someone else’s unexpected observation or cleverness. “And Rupert Straite has escaped from prison.”
Even John was willing to forego any further discussion of feelings for the moment, to Sherlock’s everlasting relief. “Perhaps we can further examine this new phenomenon of our conscripted love for each other via a crime scene setting?” Sherlock suggested like it was something he had done before and had just plucked the idea out of his bottomless experiences of love in its many life-settings.
John snorted but Sherlock remained un-discouraged. “Should prove enlightening – don’t you agree?”
John was not quite willing to drop the previous subject yet. Not entirely. “You care for me – right?” He asked.
Sherlock studied his friend. What answer would make John come along? Stand at his side and be the support and quiet, deadly strength that he so sorely needed now in his life and within his work? He stood, staring down at the very drunk – but sobering up - Watson from his imposing height which might have intimidated a lesser man. But John Watson was nothing if not singular.
The thousandth man in fact. Sherlock’s eyes upon his good friend were tender. Perhaps, in this instance, the truth would be welcomed? Truth was so much simpler after all than dissembling. “How could I not? I may be a sociopath, John, but I’m not stupid.”
Greg Lestrade looked askance at Watson and he could feel the inspector’s curious eyes shooting back and forth between him and Sherlock who was presently bent over another eviscerated body – this time a woman – whose left leg was bent at the knee. The rest of her limbs lay close to her body. Her bloodied blonde hair was fanned across her face. Both arms showed trails of injection marks painted by blue and yellow bruising. “She was a user.” Lestrade pointed out the obvious. “Stabbed multiple times.” He added in between gum chewing. “Purse is missing. She’s a known street walker. Stays at a local cheap bedsitter – sort of a half-way house type place.”
He spoke in his customary telegraphic style; clips of words weaved into a loose but plausible theory. “Lots of con’s live there, in an’ out. Looks like a John robbery to me that went a bit wrong, or maybe her pimp got a bit angry. Some o’ these girls keep back a bit more of the profits than they’re s’pposed to.”
Sherlock acted as though he wasn’t listening although both of the men knew he was. This time Sherlock was examining the dead body instead of simply photographs and an alleyway stained by days-old blood. Watson had done his usual examination to determine the cause of death. Lestrade’s man Anderson had been correct. Stab wounds, two striking deeply enough Watson suspected it had nearly bisected her liver and one slicing even deeper into her kidney. The blood loss would have been rapid and, even had intervention come in time, most likely fatal in minutes.
Sherlock nodded, accepting the assessment, himself no slouch when it came to evaluating a cause of death but he was also intelligent enough not to question the expertise of two professionals at face value. Not unless he found sufficient reason to. “Attacked from behind and her right leg moved after death.” He pointed to the blood smears on the concrete next to her left leg. “You see here and here, where the blood had dripped down her legs before she fell. Someone then moved her right leg into this position, leaving her knee pointing in a westerly direction,” He lifted his eyes to follow his own trail of thought and John watched him. The two things – eyes and mind- were connected by an invisible string. Sherlock’s deductions – his very thoughts – connected to his body which sprang into action as though having been barked at. I an instant he was in motion.
He set off westerly. Ahead lay a short row of ramshackle houses, several boarded up. At one time they had been someone’s homes, the bright, sunny paint-jobs that once were indicating families had lived and grown here among new yellow paint and shiny swing sets and manicured lawns, but were now sagging husks of neglect, the paint peeling, the lawns overgrown with weeds, the porches heaved up in some spots and falling in at others.
The nearest one of the four was Sherlock’s focus and Lestrade and John followed, Lestrade indicating Anderson tag along with as lift of his chin.
Sherlock bent as close to the rotting wood of the outer wall as he could without actually touching it. He was sniffing the wall as high up as he was able and then crouching down to near the level of the weeds. At once he began tearing at the weeds, clearing a spot away from the mottled paint. “Here.” He announced.
John, and even Lestrade, knew what to do by now and while Sherlock stood back and watched as they began tossing hand-full’s of dirt at the area until an image appeared.
Watson took out his own phone and snapped a few photos while Anderson, with his expensive forensic camera, took dozens of the same from every angle.
Sherlock meanwhile had taken a mental image for his own brain files and spoke. “Another dancing figure,” he said. “This one is the same as the first I found,” he said. “The outline of an “S”.”
Watson repeated, knowing it was a bit stupid. “Another S?”
Sherlock nodded, a tiny puzzled line settling between his brows. “We have two S’s now and a T.”
Lestrade raised his eyebrows but offered no insights other than “Maybe you’ll get more letters at the other murder. Come on.”
But a noise – a dull thud – interrupted their retreat.
Lestrade looked at Anderson and raised his palm in a signal that meant You stay here. He withdrew his weapon and approached the porch of the tumbled house, and Sherlock followed with John taking up the rear. Anderson watched with a pissed off expression because he was told he wasn’t wanted.
But Watson knew Lestrade doesn’t care about tit about Anderson’s feelings right now because there’s a possible killer inside the shit hole and his steps are making the old boards groan under his weight. Watson feels the comforting presence of his own military issue side arm against his skin at the waist of his trousers, hidden at the back beneath his jumper. He knows better than to draw it while at an official investigation with Lestrade but it still felt good to have it.
Lestrade finally reached the door of the house. With one heavy boot he kicked it hard. The rotting wood gave little resistance as the door flew open in a shower of dust and splinters, and then sagging on its side, clinging by one sad hinge like a torn lip.
Inside in the middle of what once was a sitting room where children played, lay a man curled up on his side with blood running from a slice across his waist. In his one hand was clutched a lethal looking knife with a curved blade. Nearby, next to his soiled trainer lay another, smaller knife, also smeared with blood.
Lestrade approached the prone man with weapon drawn and aimed and kicked the smaller blade aside. He, carefully keeping his weapon dead-enter to the mad’s chest, pressed the sole of his boot to the man’s wrist until he dropped the second knife, which Lestrade then scooted away across the filthy planks with another well placed toe-kick. “Doctor...” He said, inviting Watson for a closer look.
Watson dropped to the man’s aid, checking his wound with sure hands. “Wound’s not too deep, but he’s lost a lot of blood. He’ll make it as long as we get him to a hospital soon.”
Sherlock was already speaking into his phone after dialing nine-nine-nine. After he was finished barking the street address and pertinent details into the tiny speaker he cut the call and dropped his phone back into the depths of his coat pocket, all the while staring at the prone man oddly.
Lestrade, however, appeared a bit more optimistic at this turn of events. “What say to this being our killer?” He asked rhetorically and sounding quite pleased about it. “At least of the latest girl.”
But Sherlock merely stared at the bleeding man, offering no comment and about which John didn’t like one bit. It wasn’t usual. Not that Sherlock was in any way remotely a usual person, but still. Sherlock should at least be refuting Lestrade if he disagreed and by the workings on his face, there was something regarding this up-turning that he did not. “Sherlock?”
But Sherlock only turned away. “By all means Inspector, let us determine what this man is doing here at all.”
The other murder held no surprises other than a new dancing figure painted nearby in the shape of something approximating an M, the figure contorted into a shape only a gymnast might accomplish while standing upside-down on one hand, but it was after all just a painted figure. The only thing that was unusual...
“Why’d they use actual paint this time?” Watson asked staring at the photo’s he had taken with his own phone, sipping tea he had located from a machine after they returned to Lestrade’s office. Bright orange paint colored the dancing figure, the hue one might find in a public bathroom or on a plastic road barrier. Serviceable but ugly. Offensive to the eye.
Sherlock answered though his mind was clearly in more places than one at that moment. He continued to stare at the earlier crime photos. “Because our killer knows I know what to look for now so there is no more need for subterfuge. Easier to carry a can of paint than a jar of grease and a brush.”
Reasonable as always, John thought. “What’s bothering you?” He asked, out of the earshot of the others, standing close to Sherlock’s side - closer than he needed to - Lestrade’s office was not that small. Sherlock noted the unconscious behavior without comment. Having John close had never bothered him and less so now than ever. In fact it felt...comforting - familiar, like an old blanket, one well-used but kept safe; a grandmother’s quilt perhaps.
Or an old hand-knit jumper lovingly made just for you by someone who cared.
Sherlock shook away the unproductive lines of thought and viciously turned his mind back to the crime-scene photos.
Several more crowded into Lestrade’s office, including Donovan and the officer who was delivering lunch by way of take-away sandwiches and coffee. Sherlock declined both but John took up what he was offered and bit into a concoction of sprouts, cheese, ham and mustard. It was heaven. Plus it would go a long way in soaking up his earlier alcohol binge.
“Nothing makes sense.” Sherlock said to John as his friend chewed. The sharp smell of mustard stung Sherlock’s nostrils and he snuffed to dispel it. The very act of eating during a case was something about Watson that had always irked him. “How do you think with your stomach full?”
“How do you not waste away with yours so empty? And what did you mean before?” John asked around a mouth-full of bread and meat.
“That our serial killer would turn out to be a simple-minded pimp-er of flesh, and apparently one who could not hold his own against a woman half his size.” He pointed out.
John swallowed, adding before the next delicious bite. “Seems to me if he’s willing to pimp, he might also be willing to be a worse bastard and stab a few girls.”
“And all of the victims were not girls.” Sherlock groused.
“But all of the murders happened less than three miles from each other.” Lestrade reminded him, chewing on his own layers of bread and meats. “Maybe he’s taken up a new hobby?” He suggested, half believing it. It would be so much easier. “Maybe these aren’t his first killings? Maybe he started elsewhere? Maybe he got a taste for the wet work a long time ago? And since you never work on the simple cases because they’re ‘too boring’, for your information not every killer is a clever killer.”
“Yes.” Sherlock snapped. “Otherwise how would the Yard catch any of them?”
Lestrade overlooked the insult, accustomed to dismissing fifty percent of whatever Sherlock said in a heated moment or it would have been impossible to work with the man. “At any rate, we’ll know soon enough if the weapon and the blood are a match for the victim and our suspect. In the meantime,” he said directly to John, “take your grumpy room-mate somewhere far away from my office.” Lestrade looked pained by something and the point was underlined when he reached into a desk drawer for a bottle of paracetamol tablets, shaking out a small army of them into his palm, and washing them down his throat with the remnants of his, by now, cold coffee.
In the cab ride back to Baker Street Sherlock was quiet.
“What’s wrong?” John asked in a sigh, not really expecting an answer. Sherlock’s funks could go on for days. Really the man had perfected The Great Sulk.
“Lestrade is a fool-”
“He’s really not.”
“I was speaking in general.”
“In general he’s really not.”
“If you must - then in specifics - the case, Watson, the case! Our killer seems to have more purpose than merely ‘liking the wet work’.”
“Lestrade was saying it as a possibility, Sherlock, that’s all.”
“It’s lazy deduction. Hardly more than guessing.”
“It’s been a full day. Some people actually need rest. Lestrade looked like hell. I’m sure the Commissioner’s putting huge pressure on him to solve these murders, the bloody papers are full of them and people are scared.”
Sherlock sat silently but Watson chanced a look. The detective’s irritation had smoothed out, somewhat, to a mere frustration, mixed perhaps with a grudging acknowledgment that humanity – which of course in the detective’s mind excluded himself - is rife with frailties and that Lestrade no doubt fell somewhere within that category. Possibly it had not previously occurred to Sherlock that the Detective Inspector might have such weights on his shoulders. “Perhaps...”
It was ridiculous how Sherlock’s tiny commiserations (usually after the fallible and fragile human condition of someone close to him was once again heavily pointed out), made John’s heart glow, which then made him feel somewhat of a man who had become accustomed to not expecting too much in the way of fellow feeling out of his room-mate and best friend. But, John reasoned to himself trying to ease his sharp disappointment in Sherlock, the sociopath, if that’s what Sherlock was, was actually learning what it was to feel sympathy. A bit.
Good enough anyway.
“John, I’m bleeding.”
John tore off his jumper, bunched it up and used its less than satisfactory wool-blend fibers to try and staunch the puncture wound in Sherlock’s lean torso. The blood refused to stop its warm escape into the cool night air. “Yes, I know Sherlock, just lie down and keep still.”
He pushed against the detective’s attempt to rise from his prone place in the dirty alleyway, surrounded as they were by dark and fog and now blood. Anyone coming upon them might be reminded of a scene out of a cheap novel of intrigue. It was actually ridiculous. “Shit! Sherlock, roll onto your side – I’ll help you. Come on, that’s it. Good, now stay still.” John instructed gently and then snarled his own idiocy to no one but himself.
The killer, whoever he was, had, to use a phrase from his latest detective novel, ‘got the jump’ on them or more specifically Sherlock who had taken four inches of a blade to his body before his attacker escaped.
John pulled Sherlock’s white dress shirt (the silk one that looked as good as any silk could ever look when draped over all that lean muscle and ivory skin), from inside his trousers, which shirt was rapidly turning darker with the color of life – really almost looking black – in the feeble light of the one street lamp thirty meters away, and now Sherlock’s blood was soaking through the jumper and beginning to pool beneath the expensive suit jacket and trousers. Even when faced with running down dark lanes chasing a murderer, Sherlock dressed to kill – metaphorically at least.
“Your suit’s going to be ruined – sorry.” John muttered as he tossed aside the jumper and pulled his own shirt off popping the buttons as he did, not caring where they flew. It helped though, the cotton of the checkered shirt doing a much better job as a temporary bandage than the loose weave of the jumper.
When Lestrade and his men, followed by the ambulance, arrived on scene, John was bent over Sherlock; bare chest smeared with blood not his own, barking orders at the emergency technicians like someone with the authority to do it. Like a doctor.
Here we are once more. MH
John ignored the text from Mycroft Holmes – ‘Here we are’?? Mycroft Fucking Holmes had not been to the hospital yet – the miserable sod!
He turned his attention to Sherlock lying unconscious on his left side in the hospital bed, looking pale and decidedly not a bit good. This time with a stab wound to his lower back that, had it been two inches higher, would have all but bisected his right kidney and internally bled him to death. As it was he lost a lot of blood en-route to The London and needed transfusions by the time they got him there. John had not remembered his gun and his own hands, no matter how strong, had not been long enough or quick enough to prevent the injury. He should have suspected the man would be carrying. Sherlock should also have suspected it of course but Sherlock was not the soldier – he was. John had gone over it in his mind a hundred times and he should have known. If he had been the criminal in question – any criminal - he would have brought protection as well and tucked it into his belt beneath his shirt ready to snatch and strike.
John had even agreed when Sherlock wanted to seek out the suspect themselves, to make sure they were on the right track. Stupid! He ought to have called in Lestrade as soon as the words had escaped Sherlock’s mouth. He ought to have been smarter. He was a soldier for Christ’s sake. He understood how to be prepared for danger and had let his guard down. He had been enjoying himself too much.
Blind luck had led them to a fresh crime scene – blind luck or some fresh depth of genius-cum-guess-work on Sherlock’s part – one that bore all the personal mark’s of their serial killer. Even Sherlock had not expected to run into the killer himself still lurking at the scene like a ghoul. Hidden, yes, but not invisible. Not to Sherlock.
John bit his lip at his own foolishness. The very things he was always warning Sherlock about he himself had dashed toward whole-heartedly. And because of that Sherlock might have died. Would have died had they not been in the city.
“What happened this time?”
Mycroft. Standing at the door, his tone conveying half a life-time of weariness and worry over his reckless, injury-prone younger brother. “Did he jump in to save you?”
For a moment John would not dignify the elder Holmes with an answer, but then it seemed futile – and stupid – to avoid it. Undoubtedly Mycroft already knew. He had the yard in his back pocket. “Not...exactly.”
Mycroft tapped his umbrella on the polished tile and sighed. There really was little left to say between them and the older Holmes brother seemed to sense that as well. “Do you really love my brother John..?”
Watson bit his lip, his eyes never leaving the O2 prong stuck up Sherlock’s nose to help him breathe and assist in the healing of his body once again.
Jesus yes. Angels in heaven help him he loved the insane fabulous freak of bloody nature and God. Christ he loved him so goddamn much he could hardly breathe around him most days. Un-fucking-equivocally yes I love him you ball-busting fuck!
John said none of it to Mycroft. “You have to ask..?”
“No.” Mycroft said softly. “No I don’t.” He cleared his throat and the feeling moment was over. “The doctors assure me he will recover enough in a few days to go home. Will you be there to...assist?”
“You know I will.” John said. “We have a case...” Not a good reason to continue to ignore something that was making more and more sense to him. He was bad for Sherlock’s long-term health.
“And once this case is over..?”
John didn’t answer aloud or directly. ‘The Dancing Men.’ That’s what I’m going to call it, this case, when I write it up. When he solves it.”
“The Dancing Men?” Mycroft repeated without scoff. “But you didn’t answer my question doctor.”
“You want me to abandon him.”
“I want you to do what is necessary to keep him safe.”
Oh how even the idea of leaving made his chest ache. Great waved of agony all contained in the space of an organ the size of his fist. One more word from Mycroft and he was going to beat the man unrecognizable. Fuck! But in the next minute didn’t raise a finger to Mycroft because the prick was making some sense. Fuck the prat for being right. Fuck him! “What if I can’t?”
But John realized, and hated, that the decision was well on its way to effectively being made for him. He knew what he needed to do now. Didn’t want to – God – no he didn’t. How much would it hurt Sherlock? How would his face look when John packed his things and walked out? It seemed impossible, what Mycroft was asking him to do. It seemed like the most impossible act to ever carry out by any human over all time.
Stop loving Sherlock.
No, not stop loving him, stop trying to protect him. Stop causing him injury through his failure to do just that. Stop breathing then? Is that all? “I don’t want to...” He whispered it. I love him so much. And he couldn’t even explain why, not entirely. None of it made sense. But I love him all the same. God please help me, I love him. I was supposed to, wasn’t I? Why did you send me to him if not for this?
God ignored him as usual and John mentally flipped Him the bird.
“The Dancing Men...” Mycroft repeated again. “Do it for his own good, John, or do you think that I cannot make my brother waltz?”
The final body was presented to them with a directional nod of Lestrade’s head. The inspector’s expression was of a man sick of bodies and no one to call to account for them.
Watson watched Sherlock’s usual proceedings from beside the stressed detective inspector who appeared as though sleep was a distant memory. This body, that of a young male, had been found in a grimy lane-way - dark, sweaty alleyways had become the norm for this investigation – his limbs posed in a certain fashion, his head sporting a deep wound that had come from an especially vicious attack to the skull with a blunt object, crushing the flesh of the scalp and actually cracking the bone beneath. Brain matter could be seen if one looked close enough, which Watson had and then retreated to let Sherlock do his incredible big brain thing, including scouting around for a single letter message in paint or grease.
Watson smelled coffee brewing somewhere nearby and checked his watch. It was already the late hour of the night an undoubtedly whatever coffee shops were within olfactory distance were making preparations for the early AM crowd. “Fancy a coffee?’ He said to Lestrade who glanced at him gratefully and nodded “Christ yes.”
By the time Watson had returned with two paper cups of the divine liquid, Sherlock was taking pictures of the body’s display with his phone and looked around for his partner with a quizzical eyebrow but John shook his head. The cause of death was obvious and he’d had his fill of close-ups for the week. Perhaps catching John’s discomfort with the gory scene, Sherlock instead himself walked over to them and addressed Lestrade. “Who found the body?”
Lestrade took a great gulp of the burning beverage. “Someone called it in. Anonymous.”
“For the second time...” Sherlock added and John heard an inflection of something in his voice.
“What’s that mean?” He asked both detectives. It was Lestrade’s investigation after all.
Sherlock pursed his lips. “What about your suspect?” He asked Lestrade, ignoring John’s question.
Lestrade didn’t miss the unspoken. It was not Sherlock’s suspect as the consulting detective was holding out for a different killer. “We’ve got his finger prints on the knife and the wounds on the previous victim match the depth and width of the blade. The poor girl’s skin was underneath his fingernails and one of her hairs was caught on the man’s shoe. He’s the killer, at least her killer.”
Sherlock shook his head and if Watson was not mistaken he looked flustered. “This doesn’t make sense.” Sherlock insisted.
Wow. Watson could count on one hand the number of times he’d heard Sherlock use those words during a case in the nearly three years he’d known him and the words were a dozen rugby sized fields away from being comforting. Trying to be helpful and to waylay his friend’s growing frustration with the case, offered “Well, not all serial crimes are perpetrated by one person.”
Sherlock threw him a look of utter scorn at the suggestion that his thought processes were in any way stuck on the possibility of only a single killer. “I’m speaking of the evidence. This youth appears to have been killed by our perp’ and yet Lestrade’s evidence toward his suspect seems incontrovertible. The kills are close together, if this were a team, the method of killing would have had to have been altered – most team killers never act alone and even if this one proved unique in that regard there would have been at least some delay between the last victim and this one. Nothing of these killings suggests a pair of killers working together.”
Lestrade, bags beneath bloodshot eyes and weary to his bone marrow shrugged. “It is what it is Sherlock. Maybe we’re still missing something.”
Sherlock snapped “Of course we’re still missing something.” He heaved a soft sigh. “Call me when your team is finished – if they find anything I missed which I seriously doubt.”
Lestrade raised his cup of coffee to Watson in thank you and Watson returned it with a nod, running to catch up with his fleeing partner. And it was fleeing, Watson knew. He’d witnessed Sherlock doing so before when the twists and turns of a case refused to add up. Sherlock would retreat to his flat and into his head to think, sometimes for endless hours, forgoing food or sleep. Watson hoped this was not one of those times.
Once back at the flat Sherlock did not flop on the couch of retreat into his head, he went straight to his lap top and loaded the crime scene photos onto the computer from his phone. Then, printing them up, at one end of the wall over the couch he tacked them to the wall until he had a virtual kaleidoscope of bloodied bodies in chronological order as to time of death. Then he pasted up a street map of London, which took up nearly the rest of the wall within reach and spent the next hour or more marking where the bodies had been found and when, and then scribbling notes directly onto the map of who, if known, had called in the discovery of the body.
When his work was done, he stood back and studied both for many minutes. Steepling his fingers he slipped into his Mind Palace and opened a “drawer” where the effects of Lestrade’s suspect’s pockets he had stashed. A ring of keys, a pen, a pocket knife, coins amounting to under one quid and two rolls of pound notes each with a rubber band around it, one equalling forty-five pounds and the other over two hundred. “Oh...”
Watson heard the by now familiar exclamation. It was a sigh but sounded like more. A spark perhaps, the light of an idea making its escape from the darkness of obscurity through sound. Almost sexual. (Definitely sexual if Watson allowed himself to indulge in the fantasy of said noise repeated combined with sweaty bodies tangled together in orgasms.) The Oh was nothing less in fact than the breath of revelation, the warm exhale that, after the ecstasy of enlightenment (or orgasm), might escape the lips of a man to caress his soul (or his lover’s throat.)
It was a noise that always made Watson’s skin tingle all over. He tried to talk and found his throat had closed up a bit. Clearing it discreetly – “What?” he prompted.
“He was her pimp and he had come to confront her when he found the weeks take a little short. Two rolls of notes in his pocket, one given to him originally, and one he had forced her to hand over later on, all that is obvious, but this man did not act alone, he could not have. He may be a killer but still he is an idiot. Kills one of his only means of support – because he is not dressed as a pimp who has many girls working for him, no this man has corralled in his stable only two or three prostitutes - and for only a few measly pounds. And then holds up in a house a short distance away, leaving a trail of blood. Even drunk or high a sane man tries to hide, tries to get away. But this man, drunk or high not-withstanding, leaves himself wide open to discovery – therefore an idiot.
“The ‘wet work’, yes he is certainly capable of that but this whole game of posing the bodies, no, that is not the invention of this man. The messages in shapes painted in grease - a body made into a letter - at first hidden nearby and then revealed to us in paint, that is not the work of a crude imbecile. There are two people working here, but not two killers. Two individuals not working in tandem, no, but working together none-the-less.”
Watson forgot the tea in his cup and the novel in his hands. “How do you mean?”
“Someone is using the dead to their own purposes, to make a puzzle.”
“For the police? A taunt?”
Sherlock strode across the room and stopped by John’s chair, looking down on him with a smile of triumph, as though the puzzle was as good as solved. “A taunt – of course – obvious - what else could it be? But one not for the police, that is why the messages were hidden at first, no these messages are not to attract the attention of the police but, as I have previously stated, to attract mine.”
“What do the letters mean?”
Sherlock smiled keenly as though things were finally getting interesting. “I have no idea.”
“The murders were not committed by this one idiot man they were committed by several criminals for different reasons. The murders are only related in that they were murders, everything else is secondary, the messages and the one behind them is our real puzzle. That is the mind we need to look for.”
“So bringing one or several murderers to justice is not our goal?”
“Lestrade and his team can take care of that end of things, they are I suppose somewhat capable. Our puzzle is the message in the letters or, more importantly, the one who made them.”
Leaving for now Sherlock’s casual dismissal of the killings and their human importance, Watson turned his attention back to his note book. “So, we have an M, two S’s, a T and an H.” Watson was marking them down on a small pad of paper. “No vowels so the letters could mean almost anything.”
“Of course they don’t mean anything, they may be a puzzle but they mean a very specific something to our puzzle maker. All we have to do if figure out what they mean to him. And we don’t yet know if there are no vowels intended, we may not have the complete puzzle yet.”
“So more bodies?”
Sherlock stopped his pacing, although this wasn’t the restless, stumped for more data pacing, this was Sherlock excited, anticipatory, thrilled at the chase sort of pacing, where he ate up miles of carpet without ever leaving the room. “Perhaps, yes.”
Watson frowned down at the paper. “Are we sure this is an M? It might be a W.”
Sherlock waved away the, for now, cryptic letters. “Not yet enough data to know for sure.”
Watson raised his eyebrows and, though knowing Sherlock despised it, repeated the letters, saying them aloud. “M or I suppose it could be a W...S...S...T...H...hmph...an acronym.”
“Don’t waste your breath John, while you were boiling the kettle for tea I isolated seven possible matches for an acronym that includes those letters, the lowliest was a deplorable –and armature - porn-site called ‘Sexy Simians WiTh Hard-on’s’ and the most obscure ‘SMall StreTched Hide’. Similarly none of the other possibilities appear to have anything to do with the murders of five street persons. Plus Lestrade will no doubt have his circus of computer apes feed it into their cryptogram program or some such uselessness. We need not concern ourselves with that just yet. No, what we need is the underlying reason for leaving the message in the first place; a message tells us something, shows us something – or leads us to somewhere – a message in and of itself has no purpose other than to lead us to the message maker. He is the real puzzle.”
“What if there is no other message? Or the message maker is just some... He had been about to say ‘freak’ and substituted the less Donovan sounding “creep who likes to screw with the police?”
Sherlock shook his head. “No, our messenger has a purpose. Think, Watson, he not only had to hunt down bodies already, or in the process of becoming, dead and that means a network of eyes keeping an eye on the more dangerous areas of London. That takes initiative, manpower, money, and a certain form of egotism with a possible sprinkling of criminal insanity. And it’s elegant use of resources. Using murders to convey what will no doubt prove to be murderous message to the police and to me without actually committing those murders himself. It’s quite brilliant really. Moriarty level of intelligence but without the accompanying blood lust.”
“Yes, yes, yes, cry for the already dead if you must, I’m trying to solve our case.”
“I thought our case was the murdered?”
“Our case if where-ever it takes us. At this juncture the case is the messages. Lestrade can deal with the unrelated wrongfully dead. Five murders over three weeks are not a statistical aberration.”
“So we don’t want to, you know, avenge the deaths of five innocents, or bring the killers, however many, to justice?”
Sherlock shook his head, swiping a hand through his hair as though to rid it of the fallen debris of words like ‘justice’ and ‘innocents’. “Oh don’t be a cliché John.”
Watson set aside the note book. “Fine, it’s all fine. If the case is the messages, we’re stalled anyway so we’ll resume our conversation from last night then.”
Sherlock stopped in the middle of the suffering carpet and looked at him sideways, but without his gaze quite falling upon the return of his irritatingly calm colleague, the twinned blue moons of his yes unblinking and a bit dark with annoyance. “John, we have a case.”
“And you just told me not to worry about the cryptic message so we do have a few minutes to spare to talk about last night. You never answered my question.”
“I believe I did.”
“Not entirely and don’t think I’ve forgotten that, you crafty git.”
Sherlock perched himself on his over-sized leather chair, much like a flustered cat, and smoothed down his jacket with a few long, languid strokes of his pale fingers. Watson could well imagine a feline perched there in much the same pose trying to shake off the irritations of its human by smoothing down its mussed fur with a few rough licks of its tongue.
And then he imagined Sherlock’s long, pink tongue and his thoughts nearly derailed onto other much lovelier scenarios. “Sherlock-”
Sherlock’s phone trilled for his attention.
Damn! Watson sighed and gestured for Sherlock to take it.
Sherlock threw him a look that conveyed in a no uncertain expression that was exactly what he intended to do no matter-what anyway, so don’t bother offering him permission as if he needed it. He spoke into the tiny receiver while keeping an eye on John, as though he expected that, while he took the call, John might pitch his note book at his skull. “Sherlock Holmes here...”
Tiny speaker or not, Watson recognized the speech pattern of Lestrade at the other end; a quick greeting but then short and to the point.
While Sherlock sat straighter with a glint in his eye, Watson slumped, deflated that once again that The Work had usurped their moment of peace and the opportunity to wring out a confession of love from his reserved, and occasionally insane, flatmate - not that The Work wasn’t important, it was. Watson loved chasing down bad guys every bit as much as his eager flatmate – plus he thoroughly enjoyed watching Sherlock’s flights across building tops with his great dark coat flapping around his slender form like the wings of some deranged black raven in the night, but he also contemplated other times and much preferred and less public locations where he could witness (and partake in), the sight of those long, tight muscles undulating, more slowly, more luxuriously, in a kind of horizontal hypnotic dance.
“Another body - splendid!” Sherlock was saying while twitching in his seat as though he was suffering a sudden rash on his plush cheeks. “Address? We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“This is not related to the other killings.” Sherlock stated as they entered their (still theirs, even though Watson still felt as in limbo as he had months back), 221B Baker street home.
Watson heard the sharp as a blade anxiety beneath Sherlock’s simple statement of fact. There had been another dead woman, beaten to death and stabbed repeatedly for good measure, but no messages of any medium splashed onto a wall or pavement anywhere nearby. Sherlock had increased the search grid to include two blocks square and he, John and Lestrade’s team had found nothing.
Watson resisted stating the obvious; that not all murders are related anyway but choose to keep his own counsel.
Sherlock approached his wall of notes and photos and perused them with sharp eyes. After some twenty minutes he shook his head as though ridding his brain of the problem and starting anew. Another half an hour and he turned his back on the wall and took his chair by the fireless grate, steepling his fingers together and ignoring John’s offer of tea.
Watson knew it was best to leave well enough alone and any further misgivings on the thought were put on hold as his phone vibrated in his pocket. Taking unhurried steps back toward the kitchen worktop with Sherlock’s un-touched tea cup in his hand and using the excuse of running the water to rinse it out, Watson took a quick peek. A message from Lestrade. Wasn’t often the inspector texted him for any reason he could think of.
Knew the body was unrelated to the crypto’ murders. Sorry, figured it out as you and Sherlock were arriving at scene. First evidence seems to support this. Don’t tell him. Don’t want the git distracted from the crypto’ killings. GL.
Watson shook his head at the message. A random murder of some woman would hardly be a distraction to the detective anyway. Sherlock would dismiss it with a bored wave of a manicured hand.
“Lestrade?” His own phone had chimed impatiently at him ten times in the last fifteen minutes and from the frequency (and the sheer high and mighty snobbery of its electronic tone); he knew it had to be Mycroft. Therefore he had ignored them all.
Watson left off this time being gobsmacked at the man’s ability to seeming mind read at will. Still gobsmacked of course but he was getting practiced at no longer showing it on his face. “Yup.” He congratulated himself on keeping his voice level perfect. “Wants to know if you’ve come up with anything more.”
Sherlock was nothing if not a trifle paranoid about any communication between Watson, who was merely his assistant, and the World’s Only Consulting Detective in Charge and asked “Why would Lestrade text you instead of me?”
“He’s worried about - and I quote - “distracting you” from the case.” Quite literally true so that was an easy lie-but-truth.
Not exactly an agreement but it had not sounded suspicious either. “How about dinner out tonight? Angelo’s or somewhere?”
Sherlock was finally shaken from his mental chambers while a small frown formed over his eyes. “Is this so we can talk some more?” Sherlock, as he was wont to do when faced with an unpleasant subject of which he’d rather stick a railroad spike through his head than engage in, let his tongue come down hard on the K in‘talk’. The man possessed a refined panache for drenching innocuous one-syllable words with unadulterated disdain.
Watson was no slouch when it came to insinuation either, though, and pulled out his big guns by letting out a soft but audible sigh, one that, for all its quiet delivery, spoke of a thousand mile journey filled to the proverbial brim with weariness and disappointment. “I was hoping...”
Sherlock was not so easily manipulated and answered with a lung full of his own stale breath, only his signifying his boredom with not only Watson’s attempt to manipulate him but his own fatigue with his flatmate’s sentiment. There was no time for sentiment when there was The Work to occupy his mind.
But still John was a very good flatmate (and there existed other potentially excellent nouns by which he might deign to describe John in the future: Assistant With Benefits; Titillation Partner; My Lover Who Kills Bad Men For Me; Mate Of The Stout Heart; Dweller Of My Soul And Perhaps My Bed Too..? (It was difficult to find a single word that would enshroud all that John had become to him), and Sherlock was not so frivolously inclined as many would believe over their importance. John was very important. John was The importance.)
Sherlock watched John tidy up a few dishes which was also important because John liked to do the boring things that would send Sherlock’s brain spiraling down into a bottomless chasm of lead-lined dullness.
John was also kind to him and, other than his parents and occasionally Lestrade (in his old gun-oil and thick coffee-ed, thunderously frowning way); the first person to ever treat him as normal (even when it was obvious to any idiot who bothered to pay attention that he was far above normal), and Watson seemed to attached importance to the impression that Sherlock is normal and that others accept and treat him as such. It was an emotional but endearing sort of thing, though superfluous to his character (already well and goodly complete as is thank you) plus ultimately futile.
Sherlock felt the tiniest twinge of guilt over his recent neglect of John’s emotions. The man did seem to possess a salad of them. And it was he himself who had originally broached the subject of feelings, fondness, affection, love...whatever word fit best he supposed. And therefore he really did owe John over it. “Fine. Angelo’s, eight o’clock for one hour and no garlic.”
The first reward was John’s shy smile at him over one rounded shoulder.
Dinner was a fine affair. Sherlock actually ate (to please John, not because he was hungry. It was a repayment, or part of one), although he ate sparingly and declined both appetizer rolls and dessert endings. His chicken Marsala was excellent (Angelo’s sauces spiced with his personal touches were superior to any served in the high priced establishments). He ate half the chicken and three or four of the whole mushrooms while John picked off the remainder.
The walk home was pleasant, the evening fair and clear, a rarity for November.
And then the calm of their pseudo-date was brought to a bone jarring halt when Sherlock said. “Oh, what is my brother doing here??”
Watson followed Sherlock’s deeply irritated stare at the long, gleaming Bentley parked out front of 221B. There goes any chance of Sherlock’s mood hovering anywhere in the vicinity of good John thought.
He walked up to the Bentley and opened the rear door to greet Anthea or whoever might be attending upon Mycroft of the evening. “Hello, Mycroft upstairs alre- Christ!” Watson almost jumped back when he saw what was waiting for his eyes in the rear of the vehicle.
Anthea was slumped in the seat, her head thrown back but not enough to obscure the bullet hole in the center of her forehead. Her eyes were closed and her hair was fanned out messily around her skull. Watson’s medical instincts took over and he reached in to check her carotid pulse, waiting for a full fifteen seconds.
There was none.
It was just at this second he remembered Sherlock heading up the stairs without him to confront Mycroft alone. Was the killer up there? “Jesus –Sherlock! Wait, Sherlock!” Was the killer with Sherlock and his brother? Watson raced up the stairs and threw open the door, not caring about stealth or that he did not have his service weapon with him. All that mattered was finding Sherlock safe.
The scene was one out of a Sunday night horror movie.
Mycroft was seated in Sherlock’s chair, in his skull there was also a hole, but this one in his left temple area. Not much blood but enough back spray on his pressed white shirt collar. An umbrella lay on the floor nearby. Mycroft’s eyes were closed. He appeared to be at sleep.
“Is this a joke John?” Sherlock asked, and Watson turned his head to look with his peripherals at his friend, who was posed ten feet behind him over his left shoulder. Sherlock’s fingers were steepled and pressed against his slackly open mouth and staring at his brother. Sherlock was standing as straight and as still as a post, not twitching, not blinking, maybe not breathing either. John couldn’t guess.
“This could be a joke. It would be crass coming from Mycroft,” Sherlock added in a whisper “but not out of the realm of possibility.”
Watson walked forward to check the pulse at Mycroft’s throat, not finding any there either. He left the body when he heard the distant wail of sirens. Someone heard the shots then, and had rang up 999. John returned to stand facing Sherlock, and looking him in the eye, watching for any reaction out of the norm, at least the norm for Sherlock given the circumstances. “Sherlock, I’m...I’m so very, very sorry.”
Sherlock’s eyes went from the body of his older brother to John’s deeply sincere blues and back again. “It’s all right John. No need to concern yourself. I have seen death before as you know.”
“Damn right I’ll be concerned if you don’t mind.” He answered softly, the seeming none-too-gentle words wrapped in tenderness itself because John knew that Sherlock may have seen dead bodies, been up to his elbows in them in fact, but not this kind. Not this sort of death and not the death of this man. Not a relative and not just a relative but his only living brother whom Sherlock, despite what appeared to exist a decade of feuding between them, had surely loved anyway. Yes, John thought, knowing what he did of Sherlock, he felt he was correct in that. Sherlock had loved his brother deeply. He just hadn’t had any idea how to express it, how to get passed the old familiar resentment long enough to say it.
So no, there was no chance in hell that Sherlock had ever faced this sort of death because this isn’t the sort of death you read about in the paper, about an aunt or an old college buddy whom you hadn’t seen in years. This was the kind that slammed into you out of nowhere to suck your breath away and shake the foundations of you; that took your insides and blended them into a quivering, nauseous mush of disbelief, shock and sorrow. So life impacting, so overwhelming – like a flash flood that uproots trees that had stood strong for centuries – that the world itself dissolves and you are left the sole survivor, abandoned to the horror of it, the only thing still standing.
John had seen this sort of reaction before in victims of horror or violence during his years with Sherlock and his tour in Afghanistan. A survivor, one half of a marriage or a sister or father – whoever but the one left behind - standing alone in shock. The eyes empty of emotion, of life, although the body still walking and still capable of rudimentary speech. Physically numb. Emotionally mute.
John gently took Sherlock’s elbows and tried to steer him toward the couch (it was farthest in the room from Mycroft’s body). “Sherlock, you need to sit down.” The sirens were much closer now. Only moments away. Sherlock moved as instructed for a few seconds and then his legs bent and he stumbled, but then recovered almost immediately. He took a seat obediently on the couch and once more steepled his fingers to his now closed lips. He didn’t say anything else until the sirens stopped but his eyes never left that of his brother’s dead body.
Watson nodded. He had texted him the minute he saw Sherlock was settled and not moving. “He ought to be here shortly too.”
One severely official looking man and several medical professionals entered the flat along with medical personnel carrying a gurney. A coroner appeared behind them and, after what John decided was an over quick examination, announced Mycroft Holmes dead by bullet wound to the head (“Obvious” Sherlock would have said had he been speaking at present). Two police officers entered now and moved to question Watson with glances at Sherlock, their experience with this sort of thing written across their features. Sherlock was definitely (their sober faces said), the relation.
But they moved to question him anyway. Watson announced to the officers that he was a doctor and that should Sherlock should not be made upset...but the officers stated they would need to question him alone and would you wait-over-there-please-thank-you.
But Watson hung out as nearby as possible but not so close as either of the officers would ask him to move away again, keeping his eyes on Sherlock. Sherlock answered their questions without rolling his eyes or throwing his hands around in agitation at their mental slowness and sloppy investigative techniques. To Watson it was the surest composite sign that the detective was in shock.
When the medical tech’s moved to lift Mycroft onto the gurney, Watson intervened. “Wait a minute. The inspector isn’t here yet. Lestrade...he’s on his way.”
“This is Mycroft Holmes.” The well dressed official now spoke and Watson realized that in all the hustle of people and the police officer’s questions and his worry over Sherlock he had forgotten about him.
He looked bored with him already. “So the body of Mycroft Holmes does not wait for a tardy inspector. We have this well in hand, Doctor Watson. This is government business now. Stand aside please.”
Watson glimpsed the Sig Sauer tucked into a holster under the man’s expensive suit jacket and did as he was told.
Sherlock’s silently watched the stern gorilla-man in the pricy suit and his helpers maneuver the gurney through the door to carry his dead brother away from his breathless, naked eyes.
“I don’t know how he is,” Watson said to Lestrade, arriving minutes after the others had cleared out, and chancing discreet glances in Sherlock’s direction, the tension inside him swelling exponentially. They stood together far across the room from Sherlock and spoke is urgent whispers. “Not really. We need to call his parents, or he does, if he’s up to it.”
Lestrade tried not to stare at the newly minted sight of a near catatonic Sherlock Holmes who had not moved or spoken since finding his brother’s gun-shot corpse. “Doesn’t seem to me like he’s up to anything but you never know with him, do you?”
Watson rubbed his chin with two fingers, wishing he had some idea of where to begin. “I don’t even know where they live. Phone number, full names...nothing.”
“Where’s his phone?”
“It’s right here inspector.”
They looked over to see Sherlock holding his phone out to either of them. He looked...calm. Usual. Himself.
He appeared as though he had not just walked in on his brother’s murder scene. “Where is your team?” Sherlock asked Lestrade with some impatience and Lestrade and John exchanged wary looks.
“Well, we’re not on this case, Sherlock. And in case you were thinking...you aren’t either. You’re too close –“
“-A frankly moronic regulation.” He snipped rudely. “Who better to solve my brother’s murder than me, who knew him best and understood where his enemies might lie?”
“Moronic or not, you’re not in on this one Sherlock and I’ll be sure to let all the division heads know the same. You need to go home.”
“I am home.”
“Your parent’s home, Sherlock” John clarified although he knew the detective understood. “They’re going to need you now.”
Sherlock’s eyes did a tiny side to side and for some reason it made Watson’s heart fearful. He suddenly had a picture in his head of two eagles circling a rabbit caught out in the open and the look in the rabbit’s eyes was exactly the same. “She.” He corrected.
Lestrade asked John “You’re going with him?” and relaxed a little when John emphatically nodded his answer. “I’m bloody not letting him out of my sight.”
John supposed he should not be surprised that Sherlock used the door knocker at his own parent’s house. From what he had gathered from Mycroft, this was an old, respectable family of some tradition. Therefore he had also expected a uniform-clad servant to open it, but instead it was the woman he recognized as Violet Holmes who swung it open for them, Sherlock’s white haired mother.
She stared at her younger son and John suddenly felt the heat of tension coming off Sherlock in waves. Standing very straight the detective stepped forward and said very respectfully - “Hello mummy.”
Her face white with the shock of tragedy and her eyes pink from crying, yet her hair was coiled into a well arranged bun and her white blouse wrinkle-free. Violet Holmes stepped back so they had room to enter the foyer. John closed the door behind him and waited his turn to formally greet the woman who had raised two very different sons - different like Venus was from Neptune, both magnificent in their own way yet dissimilar that you could never mistake one for the other. The younger, smaller son raged as hot as an open flame with not even a single moon to annoy it, and the elder son moving through the universe in a zone of cold; remote and chilled with a dozen tiny worlds orbiting it in complete obedience. Violet Holmes had named them herself: Mycroft, the older by seven years, and Sherlock who had come the year of her forty-third birthday.
John considered himself lucky to have befriended the younger, hotter world named Sherlock. No moon but me, that is.
Mother and younger son stared at each other for a fleeting moment and then without warning her left hand whipped out, slapping her younger son hard on his right cheek, making John actually recoil a good foot on the expensive ceramic floor. The crack her palm made when it met her son’s flesh had sounded like a gun-shot in the echoing space of the hallway.
“My son is dead,” She announced, “because of the people – because of the criminals – you are involved with.”
John, a bit shaken from the scene that had just transpired before him, felt the need to defend Sherlock who was standing there as still and mute as a statue but for some quick respirations. “Now Misses Holmes, with all due respect, Sherlock is not involved with criminals – he only works to bring them to justice.”
Violet Holmes looked at John, her eyes searching for he knew not what and then switched back to Sherlock where they underwent an immediate transformation. She stared at her younger son, horrified at what she had just done, covering her mouth with both hands in self-recrimination. Sherlock’s left cheek was bright red – John already knew it was on its way to a bruise. Sherlock had not moved an inch, accepting his mother’s disciplinary hand with what seemed to be stoic habit.
But as she awoke to the wrongness of her action the lids of his mother’s eyes pooled with tears as she then drew Sherlock into a fierce embrace, almost leaping into his arms and sobbing into his shoulder. “Oh Sherlock, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that...you know I didn’t...”
John heard his friend’s gentle murmuring in return. “I know mummy, I know. It doesn’t matter...”
“Oh Sherlock-Sherlock...oh my beloved boy...my son...oh God my sweet Mycroft, oh my son, my dear, dear son Mycroft-Mycroft - what will we do without him Sherlock? What will we do without him?”
John, for the first time in all the years he had known him, saw Sherlock partake of not only a warm embrace but watched, mesmerized, as actual tears rolled off Sherlock’s cheeks. They came freely and yet in a manner any tear would want to do when falling from the frosted blue eyes of Sherlock Holmes; silently, without sniffing or sobbing and utterly ignored as though he had no idea where they had come from, why they were there or where they were going. Wild drops of water alighting without invite onto a statue made of flesh and bone.
“I-I don’t know.” Sherlock said - his own voice muffled as he buried his face in her fleshy shoulder as well. “I’m sorry.”
“You must understand, Doctor Watson, that I am in no way trying to dismiss the friendship that you have somehow developed with my son, but as well as you think you know him, there is much about him you do not.”
John listened politely, nodding his head while reining in a dark urge to tell her that he knew her son pretty damn well, “Mummy” and in many ways probably a hell of a lot better than she did.
Violet Holmes pulled a large bag of dark raisins from the cupboard and shook out a good handful into the dough she had been stirring. The bowl she was using could accommodate, Watson was convinced, enough mixture to feed a Rugby team.
“Mycroft-“ Her voice broke on the second syllable and once more Watson felt a surge of fury at the killer responsible for subjecting these people – but Sherlock the most - to the grief they were now feeling.
“Oh...my poor son...” She regained her composure and cleared her throat. “Mycroft, we soon learned, was an exceptionally intelligent boy. He was bright and inquisitive and studiously kept to his books, skipping years ahead, and then skipping again. He loved to learn, John, and he loved facts and swiftly came to understand that scholastically he was well above his peers in every respect. He gave us no trouble what-so-ever. He was a jewel of a child - oh he loved politics and was voted leader of the school council all four years. By the time he left university he was practically running the place. We knew he was destined for greatness.” She smiled warmly, the memories returning – at least momentarily - years of youth to her worn face and John thought again of a mother’s ability to ignore her own misgivings over a child far too perfect to be normal. And remembered by said parents as perfect far too emphatically for it to be true. He had met Mycroft Holmes after all, and to him the man had always come across as an ice demon trying not very hard at all to pass for human.
“And then, in my middle age, Sherlock came along...”
Watson could hear the pitch in her voice falter and the etchings across her brow resumed with a vengeance.
“Sherlock was a surprise you know. I was forty-three years old and we did not expect to have another child. My physician assured me I could not - idiot man that he was.” She glanced over. “Please take no offense Doctor Watson, I have a great respect for your profession but Sherlock...well let me just say that no two children could be so alike - and so un-alike in the Queen’s whole Kingdom.
“We loved Sherlock of course, we adored him – I spoilt him something terrible...those dark curls and that pearly skin-” Her eyes warmed over again, sparkling with robust memories. “He seemed so terribly delicate...” She broke three eggs into her mix, taking up a large spoon and expertly whipping them in. “It was funny, you know, Mycroft was as hearty and healthy as a spring foal and yet he loathed the outdoors or sports of any description. But Sherlock, as thin and sickly as he was always with a cold or a cough – and do you think we could get that child to come in at the end of day? It played on my nerves I can tell you.” As much as she sounded like she was complaining, her gaze told a different story as they strayed over and once again to her son sitting in the next room, the circles beneath her eyes deep with concern over her second child. “Thank god he grew out of all that illness.”
John decided now was not the venue to bring up Sherlock’s habit of skipping meals for days, going without any sort of restful sleep and the nicotine patches he wore like merit badges up and down his arms whenever he was on a case.
She lowered her voice. “Sherlock still worries me, you know. He’s so...so...mercurial sometimes. I never know what he’s thinking.”
Despite his misgivings over her attempt to paint herself as the adoring mummy of an extra special child, John still felt a budding empathy. ‘Sherlock’ plus ‘mercurial’ wasn’t even half of it.
“As a child he was often sickly like that yet somehow packed with energy – it was simply impossible to get him to bed, to make him eat or do his normal school work; he was always off and running somewhere, exploring, coming back with cuts and bruises or soaking wet from the rain or puddles. And grow- my word he veritably molted clothing every week! I was quite beside myself with worry for most of his growing years.”
Considering Sherlock’s strikingly handsome features he could imagine the boy that had once been and whose tender beauty must have been breath-taking. Watson could almost see in his mind the little dark-haired angel/devil reflected in each of his mother’s pupils, the child smiling like a saint all the while planning mischief as his mother looked on with unabashedly adoring, yet fretting, eyes. Now he added to it a child of coughs and illness coupled with an indomitable spirit to run and seek adventure. The man of now well matched the child of then. Little had really changed.
And then mother Holmes’ face returned to its former lines of worry. “And, to our fright, he was every bit as sharp as his brother only he lacked the discipline Mycroft possessed. You know by the time he was seven Sherlock had taught himself four languages and had invented two more of his own making. He’d collect and dissect -” she made a distasteful noise “- dozens of dead animals and birds that he’d find. I’m sure you can understand we were terrified. The television is always saying that is one of the signs of a mind that is ‘disturbed’ is the word I think I heard most often. It quite frightened us I can tell you. We took him to a psychiatrist once hoping for some insight.” She finished mixing and wiped her hands on her apron. “Sherlock refused to say one word the entire hour. Later the psychiatrist telephoned us and forbade we ever bring him back.”
Watson could also imagine the things Sherlock had said but not admitted to. He had probably dissected the psychiatrist too, pointing out the man’s latent homosexuality or his penchant for fluffy sheep.
“It took many years but finally Sherlock settled down somewhat – enough to get through Uni’. He graduated top of his class in chemistry and then right after graduation moved away to London - we hardly saw him after that. The only news we heard was through Mycroft who himself was already well on his way to Parliament. Mycroft had tried to be Sherlock’s mentor -” she dropped her voice to conspiratorial whisper “- unsuccessfully. But at least they were both in London. I begged Mycroft to take care of his younger brother and he did...” Her eyes tear-ed up again “for many years, he did, bless his dear departed soul. I shall never forgive myself for putting that burden on Mycroft’s shoulders.”
John thought he ought to say something. “You know, I don’t think Mycroft ever considered it a burden. They fought of course, all the time, like brothers do, but I think...I think he loved Sherlock.”
“Oh, yes, yes he did.” She agreed softly. “Deeply.” Her eyes, softening and watering once more, turned toward the sitting room where Sherlock sat curled up in one corner of an ornate sofa, smoking cigarette after cigarette. Bad for his health – yes, but right then John knew it wasn’t Sherlock’s physical health that was paramount. His friend had spoken barely a word in two days.
“And I shall never forgive myself for striking my son.” She wiped at her eyes. “I don’t know why I did that – only...well, it doesn’t matter anymore; my Sherlock is home to stay. Normally I would never allow the cigarette in my house but, well, of course it’s different now. But at any rate my Sherlock is home and I shall never have to fear for him again - thank God.” She said with the finality of a woman who fully expects her own private prophecies to come to fruition even if the gods themselves protested.
John felt his stomach go cold. “Sherlock’s...he’s staying here?”
“Naturally.” She said as though it made perfect sense to her if no one else. “Well, I’ve been talking your ear off, you’ll have to excuse me, I’m certain Sherlock is hungry.” She took up a plate of dainties and walked them into the sitting room where Sherlock had set himself on one corner of the floral couch tucking his legs beneath him. He was staring at his phone and out the window into the garden, back and forth, and had been for hours.
Watson watched through the door crack as Sherlock nodded his thanks to his mother but the tray of already baked goods remained untouched.
Strangers came and went though-out the day. Violet’s cousins (must be, he could see the resemblance in the cheek bones and the striking paleness of the eyes), local friends, men and women, and the ladies from her book club, all drifting in and out of the kitchen and dining room where the matron of the estate continued to bake furiously, turning out all manner of breads and confections. John wondered how many cakes and cookies she had turned out the day her husband had walked out the door a year ago. Was it Sherlock who had mentioned it, or Mycroft? He couldn’t remember, so astounded at the time at the jarring thought the two brothers had such an ordinary thing as parents.
None of the visitors approached Sherlock, still inconspicuous nested, huddled up and speechless on a couch in a remote crook of his mummy’s world.
John escaped into his room up the stairs and dialed home. “Mary? It’s me. Listen I’ve been invited to stay for another...for a w-while and I think it’s a good idea. What? No, Sherlock’s doing as well as can be expected I suppose. He’s...sad I think. I mean it’s always hard to tell with him. He isn’t saying much. Hm? Yes, I’ll give him your love. I ought to be home by the end of the week. I love you too. Bye.”
He had not been precisely invited to stay a week (although no one had specifically told him to go home), but he felt it prudent to do so. He suspected Violet Holmes might approve of the arrangement if he stayed in one of the guest rooms on the other side of the manor, or perhaps the servant’s quarters – if there were any. Did she have servants? Just how flush was Mummy Holmes? He had no idea other than Sherlock had once or twice mentioned a pending respectable inheritance fund.
John returned to the main floor and decided it was time he got to the bottom of whatever Violet Holmes had meant earlier. Sherlock was still curled up on the sofa like a lethargic feline which was so remarkably like – and unlike - him it was giving John nausea and butterflies. “Sherlock...” He sat down opposite his friend in an enormous leather chair, the kind with winged arms and a high back that an average sized person could get lost in. “Thought I’d check up on you.” He said lamely.
Sherlock drew a long puff on his cigarette and slowly let out a long train of smoke. “You don’t have to stay here John. I don’t need checking up on, thank you but I’m fine.”
John nodded, entirely unconvinced. “Sure, right, I’m sure you are. Your brother is killed and you decide to leave London for good, sounds downright normal alright.”
Sherlock closed his eyes and when he next opened them he was looking away. “Mummy is alone now. I have to be here.”
“Because she needs me.”
“London needs you.” Yes, lame again, but he had to try.
John sighed, looking around. “What are you going to do here Sherlock? Garden? Paint? Help mummy with the washing out? You’ll be crawling out of your skin in a week.”
“Mycroft was the dutiful son who was to inherit the estate. Mycroft is dead therefore it falls to me.”
“And you’ll hate every minute of it. You’re not built for this sort of life and you know it.”
“Oh it doesn’t matter John,” Sherlock said in a tone he normally reserved for facts about the heavens. “I don’t have a choice.”
“You always have a choice.”
“Sentimental piffle will not change the fact that Mycroft is dead.”
Watson clasped his hands together, resting his elbows on his knees. “I understand that; you want to be a good son. Very laudable and I’ll support you any way I can during this time, but for how long?” What about The Work? What about our flat, our friendship? What about me? It was selfish of him John knew, but recently he had almost gotten Sherlock to speak openly about his feelings – so close! - and where those might lead them, if anywhere, and then with the swish of an opened door here they sat in Sherlock’s mother’s house, mourning the loss of her eldest boy and Sherlock’s only brother. It seemed the universe refused to give them a break.
Ironically his own amorous feelings toward Sherlock had finally solidified into Yes. He loved the crazy bastard and, ever since finding his brother dead in their Westminster flat, that tinkling bell had swelled into a clanging crescendo, backed with a chorus of John Denver type Colorado-Rocky-Mountain-High-Fire-In-The-Sky fucking revelation!
But here Sherlock sat polluting his lungs with fag after fag, stuck in some sense of son-ly duty the likes of which John had not witnessed, well, ever. By anyone.
It seemed the Holmes’ were a bit old fashioned. A family that, as far as John could understand what he was seeing, clung to some rather outdated traditions. The eldest son being now deceased, the youngest must come home to hold his mother’s elderly hand and take charge of the household; to be the representative of the line; to rule the manor and make a socially acceptable appearance that would last a life time.
“Sherlock, are you saying you’re not ever coming back to London?” Can’t be true. What in God’s name was Sherlock going to do in a rambling old house with nothing but dusty books and a fussing old woman to keep him occupied? He’d be insane within a week.
“Yes, John, that’s what I’m saying.”
John studied his own hands. His fingernails needed a good scrub. “But what about...look we never finished...” He sighed, biting his lip and swallowing, which was getting more and more painful to do. The lump in his throat felt the size of a boiled egg. “Sherlock what about...us?”
Sherlock butted out what had to have been his hundredth cigarette of the day. “Thank you for your friendship John. I can never repay you for it.”
“Friendship?” John looked away and back. “You know I’m not speaking of only that.”
Sherlock lit another smoke, carefully with long, elegant fingers in a dance of methodical precision, possibly to keep his hands from shaking John reasoned. How many hours had it been since the man had eaten a morsel or sipped at a cup of tea? Twenty hours? More? “Yes I...I know, but...that’s simply impossible now.” He whispered and then added with a touch of gallows humor “Unless you’re inclined to take up residence under my mummy’s roof, not a wise decision.”
Watson plunged ahead. “Would you welcome me if I did?” Fuck The Work. Without Sherlock it meant less than nothing.
Sherlock turned bloodshot eyes, squinting from fatigue over to look back at the kindest eyes he had ever known in the wide world. Eyes that held his own with a ribbon of caress; a look so gentle and so loving it near took his breath away. “She would not accept it, John...us. She barely accepts me.”
God this is so wrong. “What will you do here?”
“Whatever she asks. Father left a year ago, her favourite son has died. I’m all she has left you see.” Sherlock sighed, cracking his neck a bit. “Whatever else I am, I am not the absent son she assumes me to be. I cannot – will not - abandoned her. I owe her that much.”
John is angry at the words but careful not to let any of it go astray onto Sherlock’s shoulders, the man appeared to be barely holding himself together and that was a rare event indeed. Why do you owe her anything? What the hell happened in this family? “Sherlock, you deserve some happiness.”
“That appears to be the lot of others.”
“You’ve never before been a cynic.”
Sherlock passed him a thick book he had not noticed stuffed into between the cushions of the couch Sherlock rested on. He handed it over clutched in his cold white fingers. “Here John, a gift from me to you. Put it in your suite-case and take it home. Something to remember us by.”
“You’re welcome to stay the week, if you can stand it. I’m going to bed now. Goodnight John.” Sherlock stood to remove himself and a ghost would have made more commotion across the carpet than his soundless, willow-the-wisp steps. But still he was gone swiftly, like a mist, and even if John wanted to go after him and talk sense, he realized he didn’t even know where his friend’s bedroom was.
Later than night, sitting up in a bed in a bedroom off the dining hall that John suspected once upon a few decades past belonged to a kitchen-maid, John studied more closely the book Sherlock had gifted him. The detective had taken a moment to underline in faint pencil a few passages and then had book-marked the page with a fine leather insert.
The book was old and although the binding was rubbed and scuffed its spine was elaborately gilt with yellow morocco on-lays, the endpapers beautifully marbled, the papers edged in gold, and the etched plates protected by fine rice paper. John studied them at leisure, each one a depiction of a Christian religious scene; Adam being created, brimstone from heaven over a wicked city, Jesus on the cross, but the one that struck him the most – Satan being cast from heaven.
Inside the publishing copyright was dated 1866. He turned back to the underlined words, deeply curious now as to what Sherlock Holmes, scoffer of all belief in things religious, would care to take note of in such a book. Was Sherlock, deep down, a poet?
“Whereon I live, thy gentle looks, thy aid,
Thy counsel in this uttermost distress,
My onely strength and stay: forlorn of thee,
Whither shall I betake me, where subsist?
While yet we live, scarse one short hour perhaps,
Between us two let there be peace, both joyning,
As joyn'd in injuries, one enmitie
Against a Foe by doom express assign'd us...”*
No, John decided. Sherlock did not see himself as a poet.
But was the passage speaking of Sherlock and himself, or the two brothers, the one now forever bereft of the other? John turned out the lamp and rolled over, tucking the heavy cotton quilt up around his neck. A strange bed of a strange time in a strange house full of, but for one, strangers.
Sleep eluded him.
No one was around within speaking distance (John loathed to raise his voice in the tomb-like atmosphere of Violet Holmes’ echoing manor), so he answered the polite twice-knock himself.
Lestrade stood on the other side of the heavy oak and brass door with a look of apology on his face. If he was a man to wear a hat – he wasn’t – he would have had it properly off his head and in his hand. However Violet was away making funeral arrangements with Sherlock and, other than a petite housekeeper who spoke broken English, he was alone in the house.
Watson stood back and gestured for the inspector to enter. “Uh, no, he and his mother are off planning the funeral; they were gone when I got up.” It was a bit unreal actually, the thought of it. Sherlock assisting with something so family oriented - however sobering - like planning a funeral; looking at coffins that would befit Mycroft Scary as All Bloody Hell Holmes, choosing flowers and respectable food platters that would not to be too scanty as to disrespect the guests but not too lavish to taint the sober atmosphere with something so crass as a proper meal. Sherlock was out talking to people though John suspected Violet was probably doing the majority of the verbal interchanges. Sherlock, he imagined, would be waiting off to one side, his face in his phone, his heels itching to be anywhere but where he was.
Lestrade tried and failed not to look a bit put out. “I wanted to let him know that we found the murder weapon.”
“You did?” It had sounded a bit too stunned, as though Lestrade and his team were incapable of such instant investigative success without Sherlock around to point to them out how to do their jobs. “I mean...that’s great. A bit weird, you’d think the killer would take a bit more time or...try to get rid of it or something.”
“Well our killer isn’t new to making mistakes when it comes to the Holmes family.” Lestrade shifted his feet. “It was Rupert Straight’s service weapon, or rather, his old one taken from storage. Plus he left a calling card, the little diamond of paper. We found it on the carpet between the desk and, uh, the body.” Lestrade looked apologetic that it had been one of his people –one of his former people Watson reminded himself – that had taken out the great Mycroft Holmes. “Not much imagination I suppose but anyway he’s clearly daft.”
It hit John like a bag of hammers. He had forgotten all about Rupert Straight’s escape from jail, a man obsessed with Sherlock. “Christ...” John let out a breath. “Jesus, he must have come to our flat to confront Sherlock, but found Mycroft instead.” He ran fingers through his hair. “But why kill Anthea?”
Lestrade shrugged. “Maybe he thought Sherlock was in the back seat of the car but once he saw it was only the girl...”
John nodded. “He was probably holding the gun and realized he had to shoot her to keep her from alerting Sherlock. He must have thought Sherlock was upstairs with his brother and by the time he realized Sherlock wasn’t home it was too late to turn back and...fuck!” Watson felt like a fool. He was a soldier for Christ’s sake, he should have known Rupert might be coming for Sherlock. Why the fuck didn’t he prepare for that? But their minds had been on the crypto’ killings, and - at least his mind – on other more personal things. “Oh, fuck, I’m sorry Greg. I should have seen this coming. I ought to‘ave been thinking straight...or straighter at least. So he’s in custody then - Straite? You caught him?”
“Er, no.” Lestrade looked uncomfortable now and still holding the manila folder in his hands. “This a copy of the crypto killings, plus *ahem* the report on Mycroft’s...on what happened, or what we think happened, if Sherlock wants to read it. He still can’t be part of the investigation but I wanted to, well, keep him informed how it’s progressing at least, he deserves that much. We’ve got BOLO’s out on Straight, and men at the bus station, the train and Heathrow – all the usual angles. We’ll get him.”
“I’ve no doubt. Care for a cup of something? Or a shot?” John waved for Lestrade to follow him into a small sitting room off the entrance way. It was decorated in the trappings of tradition and wealth from times past. Heavily made over in dark wood, leather chairs, gleaming tables where one would set a glass of good port and a hearth for those cold winter evenings after a manly trip to the woods to kill a large beast and hang its head on the wall. There were in fact three deer heads staring down at them from unseeing glass eyes. It was a bit creepy actually but the room reeked of old money and was clearly made up with male comforts in mind; the men - the lords of the manor from old whispered to him from every corner.
Plus this was where Violet kept her best stuff and she had made it plain that her son’s best friend was to avail himself of any comfort he choose while under her roof. “Whiskey?” John asked then remembering “But you’re on duty..? And it’s morning, so night shift?”
“Not supposed to be off yet but yeah.” Lestrade looked at the ornate grandfather clock in the corner, no doubt keeping time for the Holmes for centuries. “I’m on for another ten minutes.”
John poured but knew the inspector was never really off duty. An eight hour day was a mere mark on paper. His desk never closed. His phone was always charged and on. It was after all part of the job. And his own sense of commitment. His own pride. Lestrade wanted to solve this thoroughly for Sherlock. Watson knew, for all their professional bickering, that Lestrade cared about the detective. Lestrade was after all a good man, through and through. “Well, I think that clock is probably slow.” John quipped and handed Lestrade a heavy cut lead crystal glass – only the finest naturally in the Holmes household - with two fingers of single malt Scotch in it. Again, only the best.
John sat opposite Lestrade. The hearth was empty but it wasn’t that cold. The two wing-backed chairs were comfort itself and they faced each other to talk. “So what about the crypto-grams?” John asked. “Rupert did those? He maybe didn’t kill the victims, or all of them, is that right?” At Lestrade’s affirmative nod, he continued. “But he used them to send Sherlock a message? How could he pull that off from jail?”
“I don’t know but we think the crypts might be the work of another person, maybe working with Straight but unrelated to the actual murders. Sherlock thinks Straite’s not imaginative enough for it. Maybe he’s right but who knows. So far we don’t have any one else to point to. But without the complete message...” He shrugged. “Our guys haven’t been able to nail anything down. Esses, double-U or M, an H, a Tee, what the hell could it mean. There’s dozens of possibilities.”
“Sherlock couldn’t narrow it down either. He seemed to think we needed more bodies. We need a vowel or two.”
“God please no more bodies. The commissioner tore a new hole in my arse yesterday over this. He wants this investigation tied up and right soon.”
“Well, the message is for Sherlock-”
“- we think, we don’t know.” Lestrade reminded him.
“Yeah, alright, we think it is so we’ll work from there to start. What is it about Sherlock that Rupert Straight see’s or wants? If Straight orchestrated them, it must be something personal for Sherlock. The man was taken with him to put it mildly.”
“Well,” Lestrade appeared a bit uncomfortable, “he, uh, liked Sherlock, wanted him, wanted to...”
John raised a palm in commiseration. “You don’t have to spell it out. The guy was – is – nuts and if he’s escaped or is maybe dead - and wouldn’t that be grand? But yeah he was all hot and bothered for Sherlock. Seems his love has turned to hate though.” Love is a far more vicious motivator. Sherlock’s words. Of course the detective had been correct.
“It would seem.”
“Did Mycroft know about that, all that crap that went on between Straight and Sherlock?”
Lestrade looked uncomfortable. “We got a rather frank request from the Home Office to send copies of everything to M16, care of M. Holmes, so yeah, he knew.”
“’Course.” John nodded. Naturally. Anything about Sherlock Mycroft would know and anything he didn’t, he would go to great lengths to uncover. “He kept more than a few eyes on Sherlock. So Mycroft had to have known a right nutter was after his brother’s, er-”
“Charms,” Lestrade finished, “yeah.”
Watson digested that. “You know, I’m surprised Mycroft didn’t have the guy, um, well, persuaded him to leave Sherlock alone.”
“The sort of seven foot, muscle bound type of persuasions you mean, yeah, I wondered that too.”
Watson shook his head. “This is really fucked up.”
“How’s Sherlock doing...with all this I mean?” Lestrade looked at the dregs of his single malt whiskey. “Losing his brother and all that?”
Watson didn’t think it was his place to discuss it but it weighed on his own mind as well. Having someone to share his thoughts with was welcome. Especially since Sherlock wasn’t talking. “I wish I knew. I mean, I can see what he’s doing, but I don’t have any idea what he’s thinking. He’s staying here you know.”
“Taking a break is he?”
“No, I mean he’s staying here. Not going back to London or so he says. Ever.”
Lestrade sat back in his chair. “Well, that is not what I expected at all. I figured he’d be all over this case, trying to bully his way in to forensics and pestering me every hour. He’s staying here?” He looked around at the rich tapestries. “Funny in one way he sort of fits into all this showy-money stuff, but in another...”
“He’s the odd man out among the Holmes’s.”
“Yeah. From what I know about Sherlock he doesn’t give shite about money.”
One wouldn’t tend to if one didn’t have to worry about it all the time, John mused. It was the everyday practicalities of having – or not having – money that seemed to escape the notice those born rich. If you had lots of something, you didn’t worry about it. Not that Sherlock had ever flaunted his family’s wealth. Had never once mentioned it actually. John had just assumed because of the schooling and the very expensive taste Sherlock had in clothing, cologne, food and just about every other luxury he indulged on his person, that Sherlock had come from old money.
But John had never asked because Sherlock, despite his personal spending habits, only lived in a good area because Misses Hudson gave him a break on the rent (and because he had taken in a flat-mate. For a time). He didn’t live at all outwardly as though he had money. But then Sherlock derided those who showed off their wealth, his lip curled in scorn. A funny attitude from someone who never stopped showing off. John figured it had to be related to the way his parent’s wealth. They’d had money but...what? Had they been more attentive to that than to their children? Had Sherlock been left to largely raise himself? Sherlock never spoke of his childhood which was frustrating because John had always been terribly curious about it. What sort of person could raise a man like Sherlock Holmes? What sort of child had Sherlock been to raise? Had something crucial been missed in his parents’ affections? Had there been affections?
John frowned at his drifting thoughts and made effort to swing them back ‘round to the matters at hand. “I think it’s some sort of sonly duty that’s come to the fore. Mycroft was seven years older, due to inherit everything but he’s dead now. And maybe there’s some sort of...thing with their mother.”
Watson knew he was already saying too much but he was far more worried than he let on. He lowered his voice lest any eavesdropping servants were listening at the door. “I overheard a conversation once between him and Mycroft, about their mother, some sort of upset in their past. I dunno’ any details but just maybe there’s some sort of emotional or maybe mental component...” He shook his head, wiped a hand down his face. God he was tired. “I just don’t know.”
“Sherlock’s never struck me as the sonly type.”
“I have a feeling there’s a lot we don’t know about him. You know how protective he is toward Martha.”
“Oh yeah, true, yes. Been sort of a surrogate mom to him she has I suspect.” The Holmes’s were an odd bunch. All families were. Lestrade couldn’t point a single finger at any family he’d met who didn’t have weirdness existing somewhere among its members. Maybe mummy Holmes needed someone to look after her affairs. The dad left some time ago he thought. Couldn’t remember where he had heard that bit.
“I think Mycroft took care of that end of things.” John said.
“So now it’s up to Sherlock? That why you think he’s staying?”
“It’s the only answer Sherlock will give me. It’s bollocks by the way.”
“You think he’s – you think Sherlock Holmes – is afraid?” Lestrade’s faced screwed up. He shook his head, already knowing the question was stupid. Sherlock had faced down Moriarty, was willing to go to almost any cocked up lengths to keep John safe and at his side, had sucked back acres of cocaine; had shot up bloody morphine for Christ’s sake. He shook his head. Sherlock Bloody Arrogant Git Holmes afraid? Not in bloody hell’s years likely. Of course John doesn’t think that, the Sherlock being afraid bit anyway. Lestrade wasn’t sure about the rest of it though. How much did John know about Sherlock’s previous bouts of drug use and his newest and clearly possessive/obsessive addiction to John Watson, former army doctor and side-kick extraordinaire? Did John understand that bit either?
“No. Not afraid. Sometimes I fucking wish he was. Did. Have, you know normal reactions and that – fear, regret - caution.” He smiled. “Fewer scars at any rate.”
Well you ought to know, oughtn’t you former army soldier/doctor? Lestrade downed his drink in one go. He was off duty now - fuck it. “So why is he here?”
John topped up their glasses. “His brother is dead.”
“So he misses him.” Lestrade offered. “Maybe more than he thought he might. You think maybe he even loved the ballsy git?”
“’Course he did.” Certainly Sherlock had loved his older and often wiser - or at least more cautious - brother, a man who watched over his own skin with a right more favour than did his reckless younger sibling. Of course Sherlock loved Mycroft, admiring him all the while furious at him as an ongoing state of thought. John had never managed to get the story out of either of the bastards not that he’d tried all that much. The Holmes boys never said anything they didn’t want to say. May as well try and shift Buckingham palace with a spoon. But his gnawing curiosity remained.
Mycroft had hinted at old bitterness and John pictured it as an old worried scar. Sort of like the one on his shoulder. It was nothing he’d wanted but it had happened and now the roughened skin and the ugly keloid lines were like a rather unsavoury relative, in point of fact, one you didn’t ask for but one you were sort of stuck with. And were now used to after many years. A part of you. A thing that happened, unpleasant at its conception, but still, part of you, that had stayed with you, on and on, shaping you a bit even, and then healing over into a hard, bit ugly, numb knot beneath the skin.
The bitterness, Mycroft had hinted, had been well set in, and the brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, thirty-five and forty-three years respectively, were unyielding, the two of them. Never-the-less, Sherlock, though he would have sneered at the sentiment if suggested, had loved his older brother.
John was sure of it. “’Course he did.”
Lestrade downed his last drink and stood. At John’s look of Are you sober enough to drive? Lestrade jerked his head toward the door leading to the hall and the front entrance. “Sally’s driving me, and she’s waiting. I should go.” He indicated the envelope on the little table between them with his chin. “Maybe give that to Sherlock when he’s ready to have a look at it yeah?”
John nodded and walked his friend to the door, counting himself lucky to be able to voice it in his head. Lestrade was that, now. It was good. He felt settled by that somehow. He had more than one. So did Sherlock in fact, although he tended to overlook them as such. Until lately that is. Since he pitched himself off of Bart’s roof and put another hole, metaphorically and this time through his heart - in the doing. He had forgiven his friend. Of course he had. Because of Sherlock’s action John was alive to forgive him. John shook off the memories, now knowing that, although they were real, the image of the dead Sherlock in them was not. “Yes, I will. Keep in touch Greg, please.”
The D.I nodded and walked down the rose-bush lined walk to the waiting car, idling in the cool-ish morning air. Overcast, drizzly. Very English weather. Funeral-typical like.
John himself opened the envelope and laid out the notes, the reports and the photographs, picking up one and then another, trying to get his head around the case. Straite had been crazier than they’d thought, and now he was dead, which made no sense but John knew he was no sleuth and could only apply his more ordinary doctor’s mind to the task. Why kill all those people to send a message to Sherlock - make him sorry for rejecting Straite John supposed although Straite couldn’t have known that it would do little to make Sherlock feel sorry for any of them as by the time he got to them they were already dead a become a mere puzzle to be solved - when he could have easily as shot Sherlock? And then Straite’s gun shows up on the body of another dead man.
The front door opened and Violet Holmes walked passed the room without lifting her eyes from the floor. But John could see with that single glance that her eyes were watery and her soft cheeks flushed with emotions. And probably the outside cold.
He then heard and recognized Sherlock’s steps on the well polished floor. Those feet clad in gleaming black leather two hundred pounds shoes followed the odor of the whiskey or John’s shampoo or his cologne – one or all of them John assumed – into the small study.
Sherlock was dressed immaculately in his also black tailored Italian suit and a pressed white shirt, all of which cost more than everything John owned in the world. A cotton shirt it looked this time and John wondered about it. Maybe silk was too epicurean for such activities as arranging a funeral for your dead brother. He supposed even Sherlock bowed to English convention when pressured into it via his grieving ‘mummy’.
John wanted to ask How’s things? But it sounded stupid in his head, so he didn’t and Sherlock saved him his indecision by stating “Lestrade was here.”
Not a question, of course the man knew. Curious - “His cologne?” John asked.
Sherlock shook his head. “I know his brand.” And seated himself opposite John in the chair Lestrade had just vacated, picking up the empty glass and refilling it, uncaring whether or not it had just been used. With his perfectly bowed lips pink from the cold he sipped from it rather than downing it, his little finger raising itself in the air just a bit, away from the others, with each taste of the distilled liquid. John suspected the finger was an unconscious gesture, one Sherlock was in fact unaware of because it looked so put on that it couldn’t possibly be. Sherlock was an accomplished actor therefore if he was putting on, John wouldn’t know it. Up was down and down was up, often, when you were dealing with Sherlock Holmes.
Plus Sherlock was elegant to the last. Long fingers, long muscles, and nary an ounce of fat anywhere on his body (a state John was convinced Sherlock was quietly proud of, his race-horse metabolism a striking contrast to his late brother’s steady rounds of dieting to keep his genetic predisposition to having a belly to a minimum), save for an ass that had no right to be so lusciously padded, and simply fucking gorgeous and firm and just right for grabby hands. All in all, Sherlock was built like a Roe buck; sleek and graceful and deceptively delicate looking while not being so at all. And thoroughly ornamental from his wide, swept back eyebrows, to his cheekbones which were the first thing to arrive anywhere followed by a body most men would die for and most others, male and female, couldn’t stop staring at and then fantasizing over the many and delicious things they would do to it if they could just get him out of his clothes. Down was up, up was down, up, down, lots and lots of up and down...
Shite! John shook his head a bit and was gratified to see that Sherlock seemed to take the gesture for exasperation/admiration of his abilities and not his best friend trying to erase the images of a naked Sherlock writhing on the bed beneath him. What were they talking about? Oh, yes, cigarettes smoke. Not sexy at all, that, unless it was lingering in the air around Sherlock’s remarkably beautiful features...
John furiously ignored the uncomfortable tightness of his jeans, his highly inappropriate, anticipatory penis – particularly in keeping with the funeral-esque situation - and instead of imagining Sherlock’s naked skin; he made a show of sniffing the air. There was a faint odor of cigarettes lingering, even though Lestrade had not lit up inside the house and John had not smelled fresh smoke on him at all when he entered. Which told him that it had been possibly hours since Lestrade had smoked one and still Sherlock...
Right. Of course. Sherlock knew every brand of tobacco sold in the UK, before, during and after burn included. How that never failed to astonish him. “Oh.” John nodded, his thoughts turning back to the tasks at hand for Sherlock. What was it like, preparing to bury your only sibling? “So things...all set then?”
Sherlock sipped his drink. “Mummy wanted an open casket.” Sherlock stated. “Ridiculous.”
John started a bit. “But...she does? Does she know, um, I mean Mycroft...have you talked to her?”
Ignoring all that - “Naturally Mycroft already had his own funeral arranged years ago. Cremation followed by a somber grave-side service attended by dozens of his boring political counterparts followed by, of course, a buffet of his favorite foods, all in the right, respectful of the dead proportions.”
“Oh, I see, well, that sounds...” John had no idea how to finish his sentence? Delicious?? That’s why he hated these sorts of things and also why he understood the reasons Sherlock hated them too. In such a sobering atmosphere as a pending funeral speaking your mind was Not Done Here, and Sherlock was loathed to sensor his thoughts on their journey to his tongue.
“He did love his food.” Sherlock said, as though somewhat reading John’s thought. Sherlock glanced at the pile of photos and police reports, and then went back to his drink. “You can tell Lestrade that I will not be consulting for him on this case or any other in the future.”
“John, I am staying here. This solves all of our mutual...feelings.” Sherlock said the word as though it were made of soggy, undercooked Brussels sprouts.”
John’s heart shrunk to the size of a pea. “What are you saying to me?”
“It’s simpler this way John. You’ll have Mary and I’ll have...” He waved a disinterested hand around as though gathering all his mummy’s worldly possessions into a single icy lump, “this.” The sound of deadness in the word made John wince.
“Sherlock, please think about this.”
“I promised John.” Sherlock said softly. “She won’t do well without me.” He added and then stood up. “Excuse me, I must check on her now.”
It sounded as though Sherlock already had a schedule of a thousand-and-one future Must Do’s in his head: wake mummy with tea and rolls, draw mummy’s bath, speak to mummy’s house-keeper about the floors, fetch mummy a drink (and several for yourself), watch mummy’s telly programs, bring mummy her needle-point, sit with mummy as she cries over her dead son...
“What about you?” John stood, insisting he get an answer. This was Sherlock for Christ’s sake. Not so much a sociopath as anyone believed, not even the man himself. “You deserve some happiness too and I know you well enough to know you’ll be miserable here. Christ, at least think about this before you make any decisions.”
Sherlock did not flinch at John’s tone. That he was being a reactive fool. Or being, if his ears did not deceive him, sentimental. He shuddered. Preposterous of course. “You have no idea what you’re talking about John. You may think you know me but you do not know my family or its history. I have to be here.” It was indisputable though he hated it all the same. However there was nothing for it. Presently Mummy needed him, desperately, and that was all there was to it.
“Or mother may do something...foolish.” And Sherlock was desperate to prevent such theatrics which might make his life even worse. Unbearable in fact if his absence or his neglect of her led to such a horrifying conclusion. He would be truly alone in the world if that happened. As dignified as his mother’s was and as reputable her name, and even with as physically undemonstrative her love was all the years he lived beneath her roof, he did believe she loved him. He knew it. She was his mother. She could not be left alone. He had to stay. Facts. That’s all. There was no puzzle here but in John’s mind.
As he let John process that he buttoned his jacket and straightened his lapels - “It appears Mycroft has gotten his own way at last.” Sherlock muttered and disappeared down the hall in search of Mummy Holmes.
John rubbed a hand over his face, trying to shake off the whiskey-woven cobwebs and picked up the pile of photographs himself, just to do something that felt like work, like being useful. No more bodies had surfaced, at least not ones with a cryptogram anywhere nearby. Each of the crypt’ photos he looked at in turn, trying in his head to make a word or an anagram out of them – one that made some sense, one that would solve the murders – not the murders but the reason for the murders and he heard Sherlock’s voice in his head correcting him further, back when Sherlock gave a damn about any of it, “Do not focus on the reason for the murders, John, they are as I have said incidental. Our killer merely used them to his own advantage. He may not even have committed them or at least not all of them. It’s the cryptogram itself and the Why behind it. What is this killer trying to tell us but more importantly why us?”
Yes, why Sherlock? John poured a third drink and then promised himself to stop there. One alcoholic in the family was enough. Thoughts of his sister had come to forefront lately. Made sense. Sherlock’s brother had died and so it was only natural for his own thoughts to stray to his own sibling and his relationship with her, or the lack of one. They were not close and John tried to think back to a time when they had been. When they were very small, before school had begun, and each was sole other person in their tiny worlds. When their mother’s garden was their playground and neither had friends beyond it.
Now? He knew her love of alcohol stood in his way. Sometimes he thought he wasn’t really seeing Harry at all when she was drunk but instead an inebriated, angry stranger with a chip on her shoulder. In those instances John felt like the put upon cabbie having to cope with one he picked up after the pubs closed for the night, not a pleasant transaction but a transaction and one he kids of had to accommodate.
Sibling rivalry, anger, bitterness, even old scarred bitterness, seemed to hang in the air in the Holmes and Watson families. Mycroft has finally gotten his way. Sherlock had said something like that. It was true Mycroft ceaselessly harangued Sherlock for his life style of drugs (past), his love of puzzles and danger (current) and personal indifference to social convention (on-going but something Mycroft used as a tool of his trade. There was a man who could bloody act as well, otherwise how could he have stood all the ordinary dullards with whom he’d constantly worked?). But Mycroft had been older than Sherlock by a good margin of years, and had learned a thing or two about high survival among the fools. Mycroft had practically run the British government and whatever he hadn’t run, had been a heavy influence over those who had. Small wonder he had tried to run Sherlock’s life as well, though failing spectacularly as he had at it.
“S, s, W, or M, T and H...” John whispered them to himself.
And now Mycroft Whatever-No-Doubt-Some-High-Well-Bred-Sounding-Posh-Git-of-A-Middle-Name Holmes was about to be buried and-
John stared down at the cryptograms...S, S, T, H and W or M...and his heart skipped just once. What if the answer was simpler than they had all thought? He stared at them for another moment, and then lifted his eyes to the walls surrounding him. Who would know besides Sherlock, the answer to the question that had just popped into his head because if he was wrong he didn’t want to upset Violet and certainly not Sherlock when he was, as withdrawn and silently as he was conducting it, still ensconced in a very peculiar slow death mourning for his brother, closing himself off from his own life.
It won’t bring him back Sherlock. John whispered to him in his mind words he knew he had no right to say aloud. Who was he to question Sherlock’s decisions about his life or future? If the detective wanted to stay and hold his grieving mother’s hand for the next decade or so, then John had no right to protest.
But what if he was right? It was only the T that bothered him, the only thing that didn’t fit. Sort of an unexplained left-over if he was right and he was almost certain he wasn’t because surely Sherlock would have seen this as well? But then he’d been understandably distracted of late. His mind was elsewhere. Certainly not on Lestrade’s multiple murder case.
Sherlock had said it. Perhaps the murders were incidental? Perhaps they were in every way but one, irrelevant in fact? As Sherlock had theorized, the dead were simply tools the murderer – the real murderer – was using to end his own game? Markers, pointers, road signs leading them to...
...what conclusion? To where? To the murderer? Were these nothing more than the initials of the killer and if so why reveal him or herself? The reason behind it all was still in murky waters but until the funeral he had little else to do anyway. May as well try playing at sleuth without Sherlock for once. Who knew - maybe he’d be struck with insight on his way to the Yard? John gathered up the photos, the reports and stuffed them all back into the folder. He had to call Lestrade. First things first.
Shrugging into his coat and gloves, he called up the stairs, hoping that Sherlock was within shouting distance and then stopped, changing his mind. He’d leave a short note and then text him later. Scribbling out his excuses on a square of expensive paper, he tucked the note under his empty glass on the small table, (If Sherlock wanted him this is where he would look first). There was no point worrying his friend over what was probably a stupid idea anyway. And a wrong idea. And anyway he needed some air. He called a cab first and then, once he was down the lane and waiting for it in the cold, pulled up Lestrade in his people list and texted him.
NEED TO SEE YOU ASAP. ARE YOU AT HOME? JW
It was a moment before he got an answering text.
STILL AT YARD. WHATS UP? L.
AN IDEA. PROBABLY WRONG BUT NEED TO RUN IT BY U. SHERLOCK’S NOT IN TALKING MOOD. JW
K. BRING ME A SANDWICH? DAMN VENDING MACHINE IS BROKEN. ANYTHING’S FINE. L.
SURE. 1 HOUR. JW
John watched Lestrade unwrap the sandwich, and he did the same to his own. Hunger had struck somewhere between the Holmes estate and the DI’s office.
“What if this is just a name?” John asked between chews. “Maybe the name of the killer we were thinking right?” He shifted in the damn hard seat, the wood of the chair scraping the floor as he did so. “Or maybe it’s a warning to the victim? I was just thinking that Sherlock may have been right and the guy you have in lock-up isn’t the real murderer. I mean he may have killed those kids but isn’t our murderer; isn’t Sherlock’s murderer. Maybe that killer, the second killer, came after Sherlock and missed?” He suggested and tossed the remainder of his sandwich in the trash, suddenly losing his appetite.
Was it a long shot? Probably. He’d let the expert (because Lestrade was an expert at his job after all. Perhaps not a genius but then most people were not. Most just worked doggedly until they either put it together or got lucky), chew it over in his head, and sort the facts and the plausibles from the implausibles while weeding out the downright silly.
“I was just sitting there looking at them and damn if it didn’t strike me that the crypts match Sherlock’s full name –well – except for the T, which I’m stumped over. Maybe they were a warning to him?”
“Why warn your victim?”
Yes John had asked himself that. But Moriarty had warned Sherlock over and over again. Could it be that this guy was just that arrogant? Or that good?
But Straite? He just hadn’t come across as intelligent enough to cook up something this elaborate or quick thinking enough get the drop on Mycroft I-Eat-The-Likes-Of-Rupert-Straite-For-Breakfast Holmes.
Lestrade wadded up his plastic wrap and binned it. “And by the by what the hell is Sherlock’s full name?”
Oh. Sherlock had never told him. Funny Lestrade hadn’t looked it up or gotten it out of Mycroft. “William Sherlock Scott Holmes.”
“’William’?” Lestrade took on the look of a man a trifle astonished and John could well agree. “I know.” A good, strong, old fashioned English name like William and some time in his past the detective, or perhaps it had been the family?, had chosen to use the much more unusual and antiquated second name.
“Look Straite was threatening Sherlock in jail but you yourself said he wasn’t the type; just a lot of posturing and hot air.” John underlined, letting Lestrade stew over the idea for a few seconds and then added “How sure are you that Rupert Straite murdered Mycroft Holmes?” John asked.
“Pretty damn sure. We have the murder weapon, the ballistics are a match to the one lodged in the wall behind – *cough*- er -behind Mycroft’s head.” Lestrade forced a swallow of food passed the sudden lump in his throat. The elder Holmes brother may have been a bit over-bearing but he’d helped the Yard out plenty during the years he’d known Sherlock. Besides he hated losing an ally in their collective never-ending attempts to – Lestrade wasn’t sure what to call what he felt for the younger Holmes; was it brotherly concern? Didn’t quit fit. A fatherly feeling? He wasn’t that old. He settled on care over Sherlock’s wellbeing.
Lestrade slowly finished the sandwich - egg salad - not his preference but beggars can’t be choosers. “If the killer Sherlock thinks is still out there - because by my money, we’ve got him in a jail cell right now - but if I’m wrong-” he raised eyebrows that acceded to the possibility without hesitation, it had happened before, “then the killer spelled out Sherlock’s initials – Why? And what does the Tee stand for then? What’s the point of any of it?”
John shook his head. See, this is why they needed Sherlock. He would have laid out for them the five or six perfectly sound reasons for all of it. Only Sherlock had not seen the initials of his own name in the crypts or if he had had either dismissed it – (because John refused to believe that Sherlock would not have noted that four out of the five crypts were identical to his own initials), for reasons he had not disclosed or he had been quietly erecting his own theory up to the moment he’d found his only brother dead in his Baker Street flat.
Sherlock’s all important work had been rudely derailed after that.
“I don’t know. Moriarty did things to fuck with Sherlock’s head, to make him dance, so...” John shrugged. He just didn’t have Sherlock’s brain. He couldn’t see his way through.
Lestrade sipped at his now cooling coffee. “Well don’t be shy. What do think the T might stand for?” Lestrade prompted. “You must have some idea, a theory – let’s hear it.”
“’Threat’?” He said lamely. “Terrible, tosser, torture -?” Both brothers were tossers but he doubted that was what the T stood for. Torture however. That one had possibility since the murder of the younger brother would be torturous to the elder and vise-versa. So...
“Do you think we might be wrong about all this? Do you think maybe it was Mycroft who was targeted and not Sherlock?” Sherlock’s flat was where Mycroft was the most vulnerable after all.
“I don’t see why. Unless it was to deprive Sherlock of his brother’s protection.” Lestrade mused aloud. “Possible I suppose.”
Yes, why kill Mycroft? And how would the murderer know to find Mycroft at Sherlock’s flat? Unless he had been coming to Sherlock’s flat to kill Sherlock and Mycroft simply got in the way. That’s certainly what it looked like. And who had a vendetta against Sherlock but Straite? And yet Straite seemed so...ineffectual. So incapable of such a strong of murders, or even the cryptogram – the ciphers- seemed beyond his type of crude imagination. Lestrade indicated that Straite’s work had been merely average. His work competent but unremarkable. Was the man unstable? Emphatically.
But crazy enough to plot out this elaborate series of murders and ciphers? It seemed unlikely. “How is the search for Straite going? Any leads?”
Lestrade shook his head. “Damn weird if you ask me. His bank accounts have been drained but he doesn’t have a car and no tickets were purchased by cash for any flight, train or bus out of London, at least not any where his ID turned up, so he’s still here somewhere. Thing is, he only had a few hundred pounds in his account and that won’t last long. Lying low right now I suppose. Sympathetic friend somewhere maybe? Didn’t ever see him with any but you don’t know about people really. At any rate he’ll have to surface eventually.”
John nodded. That one cryptogram bugged him. T...T...T...T...t...t...t...t...goddamn T! Could it mean someone who likes tea? That’d be virtually everyone in Britain. John took up the photo of the T. “It’s a small t.” He said.
“All the other ciphers were majuscule letters.”
“The h wasn’t.” Lestrade reminded him. “And besides, all of the other letters could be taken as capitals or minor letters. Hard to tell the difference really, except for the h.”
John nodded. “Yeah, and the t, well -” John frowned at the mysterious t. All of the letters didn’t look like anything else. They were definitely alphabetical letters. Hard to disguise them as anything other than.
But the t... “What if it isn’t a t?” He asked the inspector across the desk from him. Lestrade pursed his lips in thought.
“You mean maybe it’s a cross or a medical symbol. Some medical societies use a cross in their insignia – the Red Cross – for instance...you think it might be that?”
“I’m not sure. It’s a small t. Possible I guess.” John raised his eyebrows in doubt. “But even if it is, why is it here? Why did the killer use it?”
Lestrade sighed, vexed. “A W - or an M - two SS’s, an H, and a cross? What the bollocks does it all mean? Unless there are more bodies coming and I hope to hell there isn’t.”
William-Sherlock-Scott-Holmes and...t...??????? If they aren’t Sherlock’s initials then who’s? “What’s Mycroft’s full name?” John didn’t know why he didn’t think to ask sooner.
Lestrade opened a drawer and pulled out what John realized was probably the DI’s personal phone book. “I just keep his number and first name on my cell, but I should have, maybe... ah here it is: Mycroft S.S. Holmes –Christ!” Lestrade replaced the book in his desk drawer and slammed it shut, clearly upset with his own short-sightedness. “I never thought to wonder and here I am a bloody DI. But hell – so stupid! I feel like a rookie git.”
“The crypto’s - they match Mycroft’s name, too.” John said softly, feeling as though they had just made a major break-through. And yet, he still didn’t understand. Plus the bloody t was still there. Or the cross or whatever the fuck it was. But Mycroft Something, Something Holmes. Or W. Sherlock Scott Holmes.
John stood up.“I need to ask Violet something.”
“Sherlock’s mom.” He slipped into his jacket. “Thanks. Gotta go.”
“Call me yeah?”
John stepped back into the tomb quiet of the Holmes manor and listened as he wiped his feet. He heard the faint sounds of puttering in the kitchen and wondered if Violet had decided to do some baking again. He imagined a freezer so to be filled with sugary baked wares.
When he stepped in, Violet turned her head to see who it was at exclaimed “Oh John. There you are. If you’re looking for Sherlock, I think he’s in the garden.”
Only if there’s a bee-hive somewhere nearby he thought. “Uh, no, I mean not right now, I just wanted...I was curious...” How the hell was he to broach the subject of her beloved recently deceased son without it seeming unseemly? “Um, so did everything go alright? This morning? I mean with the –er –arrangements and all?”
Violet seemed to have recovered from the morning’s grim activities and answered evenly. “Very well, thank you. Mycroft had already arranged everything you see. A cremation, which has already been taken care of, a small private tea after the grave-side and then...” At that her voice hitched a bit.
“All arranged ahead of time, really?” Cremation. It didn’t suit the pompous Mycroft somehow. Surely Britain’s M16’s greatest mind and most valued member would want a display of some sort? A more elaborate way to say farewell to those over whom he had lorded it for years? Mycroft had worked in the shadows true enough but he was still a Holmes and there was nothing better the Holmes brothers loved more than to show off, if only to each other.
“He was like that,” she sighed softly. “Mycroft was always one step ahead of everyone, with that swift mind of his.” She said even softer. “Like his little brother.”
Now was about the right time and besides there may come no better one. “May I ask what you’ve chosen for the inscription, on the stone, um..?” he shifted his feet, “I suppose I shouldn’t ask – Sorry - I apologise, it’s none of my busi-”
“It’s perfectly all right John. You’re Sherlock’s best friend. Practically one of the family, I think, as Sherlock see’s it certainly.”
Oh. Sherlock thinks that?What had he said to her? He wondered.
“We decided on something simple,” Violet was explaining. “Mycroft so hated extemporaneous chatter.” Her hands did not cease their tireless work of rolling out the sweet dough on her work-board.“It shall read: ‘Mycroft Samuel Shane Holmes. Beloved son and brother’.”
John nodded as though he had already known. He hadn’t but it was interesting to be right for once. To have seen, if not the whole puzzle, as least perhaps a part of it. A hint of it. Maybe. “That’s...that sounds nice. I’m sure Mycroft would approve.” And then because he hadn’t said it yet “I am very sorry for your loss, Misses Holmes. Mycroft was...” A smarmy git. A lying bastard. An interfering, self-righteous, controlling prat! “...a good man.”
“Thank you John. And now I must get back to this. I’m sure Sherlock is in the garden.”
John had never been dismissed in so a cut-and-dried though charming manner. “Yes, yes,” he backed out of the kitchen “I’ll go and see.”
Sherlock was indeed in the garden, parked on a wrought iron bench, a cigarette hanging from loose fingers. He was staring at a small stream that meandered passed a grove of huge oak trees that had been planted in rows two hundred years ago or more. How long had the Holmes’ lived here? John wondered.
John took a seat beside him, slumping down wearily. It had been a long day and he’d hardly done a thing except a trip to London and back. Three hours tops. Yet he felt like a sack of dampened flour. He glanced to his right where Sherlock had said not a thing in greeting. But then he almost never did. ‘You know, if the boredom here doesn’t kill you, those bloody things will.”
Sherlock answered by pulling another sumptuous drag of cancer-causing smoke into his body and, holding it in his lungs until it began to trickle out his nostrils, he closed his eyes from the ecstasy. John sighed. “Yes, whatever, Doctor Watson.” He dropped his voice a register and tongued the words to better resemble Sherlock’s accent, emphasising the consonants; enunciating the t’s and p’s in a more Sherlockian manner, and then reverting to his natural, higher tones. “What the hell would I know -yeah?”
Sherlock sighed now. “I assume there is something you want to discuss with me, besides how many cigarettes I intend to smoke over the course of the remainder of my natural life which will number, I assure you, many thousands of them.”
“Great. Good to know my friend is trying to kill himself all over again. Lovely.”
“I was not trying to kill myself that time -”
“I bloody know Sherlock.” He said, trying and failing to raise his voice. “What about the work, huh?” He waved a hand around. “That’s all over is it? Gone? Finished with? Not important anymore?” Just like I’m not important anymore.
Sherlock butted out the fag in the damp grass and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He looked, John thought, for the first time he had ever witnessed, defeated by it all. Whatever and all it was. “I have to be here. I don’t want to be here. I have to be.” He looked at John to ensure he was listening. “I thought you’d be pleased,” He added quietly. “Don’t you understand me? I’m doing what I have to do. It, by the way, also happens to be one of those right things you are so fond of and almost never shut up about; I’m doing the Right. Thing.” He said it as though describing an honorable walking of the plank. “So will you now do me the pleasure of not berating me for it?”
He was not berating him. Well, perhaps a bit. It was...John wanted Sherlock with him in London, wearing his ridiculous swirling coat and solving puzzles no one else could and...being with John like before. Not here, in this echoing sad place the color of mud where Mummy Holmes’ less favorable son would soon be shunted to a decorative corner of his mother’s kingdom, waiting on her beck and call. John knew he was being selfish.
But he also knew this place would kill Sherlock.
Sherlock hadn’t spoken about Mycroft since...that day and had not on that day either. “I know he loved you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock sprang up from the bench and strode away a few feet, snarling. “Of course I know that, John. What the hell does it matter now?”
John followed him. “Because I think you blame yourself for his death. Mycroft’s dead because of you – that’s what you think isn’t it? For him being there. Don’t dismiss me; I bloody know you think that – he was there in your flat waiting for you when the killer showed up. But you’re wrong Sherlock. Christ! It’s not your fault.”
Sherlock turned on him, his normally pale complexion now powder white with ugly grey circling his eye sockets. He was exactly the shade of wind-bleached bones. “But he is still dead because of the case I was working on. It was The Work that sent a bullet through my brother’s brain.”
“No,” John said, his voice pleading. “No, it was a killer who did that, a murderer, not your bloody choice of vocation.”
Sherlock took a calming breath and then articulated very clearly what was on his mind, the words bursting forth, finally pouring from him like dirty water over a broken dam. Or like blood from an open vein.
“The crypto’s, the letters match my initials but they also match my brother’s except for the ‘t’, there is the ‘t’, the bloody ‘t’ which I have not haven’t figured out yet but the killer was most certainly after me - perhaps but less likely Mycroft or did you think I had not noted that possibility? What did you think I’ve been doing here - talking to mummy about her book club or her roses or watching her make biscuits all day every day? No, I’ve been thinking, trying to figure it out and you know what I figured out John? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, not remotely, because Mycroft is dead and do you know why he’s dead? You think it was the killer, the murderer – no! No! Mycroft is dead because I let him die.”
A ripple of horror shot through him. John tried to be-still the fear that had just bloomed in his chest and the aching of his pounding heart. He tried to pull his thoughts into some sort of order again. It wasn’t easy. “What the fu-?” He swallowed thickly, his throat suddenly parched and painful. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Sherlock’s almost wild-eyed look turned dark and empty. “I spotted that the crypts matched my initials which made some sense since I was likely the target and because I’m not an idiot I also immediately noted they matched Mycroft’s name as well. I reasoned that there existed some risk to his life but it was only a small possibility, a passing chance,” He shrugged and it was in blunt mockery of his own reasoning, “just a particle really. Unimportant, a trifle, nothing to be concerned about.” He looked away to the trees and the water giving them life. “It was far more likely that the crypto’s matched my name or his just by coincidence. The ‘t’ you see, the ‘t’ threw me off, the bloody ‘t’, it did not match. I let it lead me to complacency. Because why warn your victim after all? A smart killer wouldn’t do that if his purpose was to actually kill.”
“Moriarty did. He warned you.” John reminded him. “More than once. And if this cryptogram is for you, then he was warning you or is.”
“Moriarty was exceptional.”
John recognized it for what it was. Not praise, exactly, but, coming from Sherlock, for certain it was admiration for the dead criminal’s brain.
“But this killer is smart. Therefore it is certainly not Rupert Straite who had some imagination but not very much and it was obviously not some random pimp who doesn’t like his prostitutes keeping back a few pounds, no, but a smart killer. A killer who doesn’t even bother with all the muss and fuss with killing the victims, of course not. Not when he can just use the bodies other scum leave behind. Wait for a murder to occur, mark his message in grease or wax or paint, and leave like a shadow. No fingerprints, no evidence left behind. Nothing for the Yard to see because it is unlikely they would have seen it...so that would leave only one murder to commit, the one he really wants dead and have some fun while he’s at it, frighten the victim beforehand. Make it a game, a puzzle, make it fun...” Sherlock shook his head. “It’s brilliant.”
The detective was genuinely in awe of the elusive murderer-not-murderer. “But that’s not you,” John believed this. “The killer, it isn’t you Sherlock. You did not wish for this. Mycroft’s death is not your fault.”
Sherlock smiled softly at his friend, grateful for the charitable words if not in whole agreeing with them. “You are always so...lenient with me John.” He spoke with a kindness uncommon to him, his voice low and touchingly gentle. “So ready to acquit me of my most prominent faults, and for most of those not so prominent. So steadfast in believing that I’m a better man than I actually am. But you forget – I like the puzzle.” He said, underlining it for John’s benefit. “It was fun.”
“You are a good man.” John argued, pressing. “You’ve proved it. To everyone. And now you’re going to what – stay here for the rest of your life? Is this some kind of self-inflicted punishment??”
Sherlock stared back at his friend, his face grim, his eyes sad, but his voice still tender because it was John and there was no one else in the world like John. “I didn’t warn him.” Sherlock said with a catch in his throat that John heard. “I knew there was a chance, however small, that Mycroft’s life might be in danger, and I said nothing whatever to him about it.” The detective sighed, a great exhale of feted, bitter air, his words a strangled whisper. Despite himself, despite trying to quell the signs of his distress, his voice betrayed him.
John heard that too and could see in the anguished depths of his friend’s alien-pale eyes.
Sherlock once again tried swallowing the cold stone that for the last week had lodged itself in his throat and added “I was having too much fun.”
“Well, you had things on your mind.” John ventured in a desperate bid to turn the conversation around, to turn Sherlock’s mind on that point one hundred eighty degrees the opposite direction. “And Mycroft would have seen the danger anyway, he was always spying on everyone, he probably has cameras in Lestrade’s office, and – well – everywhere. He would already have guessed. Besides he had an army of people around him to protect him. Even his driver carried a gun.”
“But not when he came to my flat.”
John didn’t have spit enough to ask why, but it was clear Sherlock was going to explain it anyway.
“No. Because I forbid him, a long time ago, before I ever knew you, I forbid him to bring his body guard to my home. So he always came alone, except for Anthea on occasion. Mycroft wasn’t allowed to protect himself around me.” Sherlock bit his lip. “It...it annoyed me, you see. He did. Mycroft Holmes and his Thatcher-era suits and his bloody brolly and all his posturing that he was Big Government and Big Power and could alter ant facet of my life with a snap of his chubby fingers. So I forbid him his protection because he annoyed me.”
And because he loved you, he agreed to it John thought but very carefully did not say aloud. “Look, Sherlock, please-”
“-Thank you for being my friend, John. I don’t think I would have lasted as long as I have in this world without you.” Sherlock said. “I’ll text you about the time and place for the funeral. Now go home to your life and give my greetings to Mary. I’m staying here.” He walked away, lighting another cigarette on his way to his mother’s house.
Mary insisted on a Church wedding even though
neither of them was particularly religious. No parents attending were mentioned
by either of them. Harry had been sent her invitation but had not responded and
John felt a wave of depression sweep over him. It had been not two months since
Mycroft’s murder and Sherlock’s voluntary retreat to his mother’s somber
country estate although John could barely imagine it as such. More like a prison
for Sherlock’s genius.
“What do you think of this one John?”
Another cathedral of stained glass and numerous statues of pious saints looking down on him with eyes of - he imagined - profound disapproval. It smelled of incense, wood oil and un-dusted corners. “It’s fine.”
Mary looked at him and, finally exasperated, “Look, we don’t have to get married at all if this is the way you’re going to be.” She accused and then with uncertainty “You did say you wanted to. I did give you time and you said yes. You said you were sure this time.”
He looked at her. A statue of a bleeding Christ was there over her shoulder hanging on the cross, his stone face twisted in sorrow. What sort of loving order would willingly display the tortured, dying body of its greatest saint? One, two breaths and -
“Oh Jesus...” A thrill of horror shot through him. “Oh Christ...” His heart pounding hard and screeching to an almost stop before it then took off out of the gate like a spring filly with the rush of adrenaline pouring into its pounding hooves. Jesus...no, it can’t...no, no, you’re wrong John Watson, you’re wrong. You. Have. To. Be. Wrong. You’re not a detective and it can’t be that. But with the sudden weight of the world crushing his chest... Could it be?...no-no-no...but what if it is? Holy-flying-fuck...it can’t be.
But of course it was.
John turned to Mary who was right there and, suddenly, as she stood looking back at him with hopeful eyes, he knew he did not love her. Not enough. Not properly and with a deep conviction and certainty that it would last and that they would grow old together. I’m a bastard and an idiot but if nothing else at least I can be honest. “Mary...I’m an idiot. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.” He placed the car keys in her frozen fingers, trying not to look at her stunned face but it was her car after all, he would take a cab home and there was no time to waste. “This isn’t going to work; not for me. I can’t do this and I am so sorry. You don’t deserve it, any of it, but I have to go. I have to go now.”
Exited through the heavy doors and out into the fresh air! Once free of the oppressive weight of the cathedral John texted Greg.
I THINK I KNOW WHAT THE ‘T’ IS. NOT A LETTER OR A CROSS BUT A CRUSAFIX. TEXT MORE LATER WHEN I’M SURE. JW
Once back at Baker Street he quickly made his way to Sherlock’s bedroom and sorted through the things in his bedside drawers. Finding the book he thought would contain them he flipped through and found the list. At least he ought to go with some of their names on his tongue. People were more willing to help you if you remembered their names.
Next he sifted through his own bedroom closet and found he still had a cardboard box from his move in nearly three years ago. Tossing out the few soiled clothes he found there-in, he then located a good pair of shears from the kitchen’s ‘junk’ drawer and cut the box up into several large squares, leaving them in a small pile on the worktop. Next he located a dark marker and wrote out in clear block letters what he thought would best do. Messages only one man would understand if he was looking.
Tucking the six squares of cardboard under his arm and checking his wallet for cash, he set out to trace the locations of where he might find them, casting his mind back to the places he had trailed Sherlock on this case or the other.
The first person he went to he knew better than the others.
“Teresa!” He called.
She turned and spotted him. She had good eyes. “John Watson.” He announced when he caught up to her on the sidewalk, drawing her to one side so the other pedestrians were not impeded and so they could speak more privately. “Do you remember me, I’m-”
“I’d never forget a bit of a’ upstart.” She growled in her street brogue. “Wha’ d’ya’ want?”
He explained and when she seemed hesitant. “Look, I know you don’t know me from a hole in the fence but this is for Sherlock. He’s sort of...in trouble. I think this may be the only way to help him.” He took out a wad of bills. “I can pay you and some of the others...um...I’ll have to find them.” He thrust them at her.
Teresa snorted but her eyes fixed on the money in his outstretched hand. “You’ll not find ‘em, only I know where they all hold up.”
He thrust out the bills to her again. “Then will you..? Please? For Sherlock?”
She took the bills explaining “Just so ye’ know, I’m not doing this for th’ money, I’m doing it te’ help him. But the others, they might need a bit ‘ah cash. Not easy ye’ know, livin’ like this.”
John nodded anxious for her cooperation. “You remember what to do? What to tell them? They have to hold up the signs at one o’clock precisely and keep them there for as long as they can stand.”
“Yeah, yeah, I ‘member. I may not be no doctor but I’m no’ an idiot.”
“No,” John agreed. “No of course not.”
“Anything for him.” She looked at him, and a thread of understanding passed between them. “It’s not right, what they did to ‘im; in the papers. Lying bastards.”
John shuddered a little, his thoughts going briefly back to that terrible time. The papers had not been kind. “No, it wasn’t.”
“He not in a lot o’ trouble is he?” She asked, trying and failing to hide a frown of worry.
“No. And I think he’ll be all right, eventually, if this works.”
“It’ll work.” She assured him though she could not possibly know for sure.
Teresa made her preparations with five others in homeless network and at one o’clock sharp; they held up their squares of cardboard to the CCTV cameras located through-out the core of London.
WE KNOW THE TRUTH!
YOU’RE HURTING HIM
WE WILL TELL HIM
HE’LL BELEIVE US
STOP THIS NOW!
YOU UNFEELING BASTARD!
Slightly over a half hour later, John was not surprised when, on his walk back to Baker Street, a black car pulled up nearby and purred alongside him. It stopped but instead of getting in he walked over and bending down, knocked on the window. A sharp tap-tap.
When it lowered it was Anthea’s pretty face behind it. “John.” Not as bored sounding as usual, or disapproving, but irked about something. What he couldn’t guess, but it was interesting, that change in demeanor.
John swallowed, partly in fury and partly in grinding weariness, because he now knew that he’d been right. Probably. “So I take it our messages were received.”
“Please just get in.” She said, a bit of fond scolding nestled somewhere in her words. Even more interesting. He piled in. The car pulled away from the kerb and headed away from Baker Street to...he didn’t care to guess. Somewhere secluded no doubt. Very clandestine and government-typical hush-hush. Very typical too of Mycroft Samuel Shane Bloody Bastard Holmes.
He did. Clearing his throat once - “So where’s he been hiding then?”
Anthea for once, in all the times he had met her, was not staring into her Blackberry, furiously thumbing messages. “That’s where we’re going.” Her arms were crossed and there was tension in the tiny lines of her face near her made-up eyes. She was nervous he realized.
He settled back into the seat but was by no means relaxed. But instead began strategizing the solid left hook he was going to deliver to the bastard’s sharp nose the second he got close enough. “That son-of-a -”
“-Occasionally yes.” Anthea stared out her tinted window, watching the kingdom of her boss go by and responding to her guest’s rude remark. “He can be,” she said, “sometimes...”
“I imagine you’ve first-hand knowledge about that.”
“As I said, sometimes. But he’s also the most decent man I know. And, like his brother, smart of course. As smart as they come.”
“Yeah well, bloody goody for Mycroft but not, apparently, smart enough to know when he’s gone too far. Sherlock will never forgive him this.”
“Oh it’d surprise you to know how much those two have forgiven each other.”
“Oh? Like what for example?”
Anthea smiled mysteriously. “I think it best to stick to the issue at hand. Yes, your message was received.”
“Yes, Mycroft Holmes is alive.”
John nodded, satisfied that he was right about that bit. Not that he wanted to kill the man any less for it. “Right,” He said through clenched teeth. “So why -?”
“I’ll let him explain.” She answered and then bit her lip. John stared. She was actually vacillating. “But, and this is from me so I’d appreciate you not mentioning it to him...he was wrong.”
Fucking right he was wrong. “You think so?” Wasn’t she his loyal little Girl Friday - and every other day of the week - fetching and carrying for him, all the boring, ordinary tasks that he couldn’t be bothered with?
“I would never voice this opinion to him of course.” She said, and again in a way that urged John not to reveal her little confession. “People think Mycroft Holmes is a psychopath,” she said in a kind of curious muse. “I suppose he is, but he’s more too. More than a man in a three piece suit with his finger on the nation’s heart, you know.” Now she looked over at him. “He’s also a man with a little brother whom he loves – quite desperately in fact. Would do almost anything to protect him; keep him safe. Only this time he miscalculated.” She asserted softly, surely, trying to excuse his actions but John wasn’t buying it. Mycroft Holmes didn’t deserve any consideration. “Protecting Sherlock has always been Mycroft’s one constant concern, even above and beyond all those other tiny pulses he has to see to but, still...he shouldn’t have done it.”
John stared and he knew. “You did it.” He said, absolutely sure. Her face betrayed nothing either way. “The ‘t’, ” he said. “You did that, the one letter that didn’t fit. That was you.”
Anthea smiled again ruefully. “It was all I could think of. I needed you to know somehow. Mycroft had chosen the others; letters to match his and his brother’s initials. He knew it would titillate Sherlock no end, and confuse him. Bit of ego there, too, of course. Neither can resist playing with the other’s head. Straite was an idiot of course, he had nothing to do with any of it and why would any ordinary murderer want to kill Mycroft Holmes?”
Not a ‘t’, not a cross but a crucifix. An exchange. This life for that. A sacrifice. Mycroft dies and Sherlock gives up his dangerous career and goes home, writhing in silent guilt. Anguished but alive. Sorrowing but safe. It was perfect. The colossal prick had planned and executed his own death. The perfect solution: kill himself and Sherlock lives. Not happily but he lives.
The biggest problem with that was...Sherlock would be miserable for the rest of his life. Just a slower death is all, blaming himself for his brother’s death. Sherlock - self-absorbed, self-assured Sherlock Holmes - incriminating himself in his own brother’s murder for the rest of his days, believing he was at fault because he had not warned him. Mycroft had not foreseen that bit.
Or maybe he had. ‘High functioning psychopath’. The words Mycroft had applied to himself.
Jesus God Almighty. What was it with the Holmes brothers and their need to fake dying in spectacularly awful ways? “But how...Mycroft never found out? About the ‘t’?”
“While he was secluded? No, but he does now of course.” A wry smile. “He deduced it. And he’s expecting us. I may not have a job at the end of today. I’ve never...defied him before. I wonder...” she asked aloud, amused, a bit fearful? Both, John decided. “...I wonder what he’ll do.”
“Give you a raise I should hope.” John offered lamely. “He oughta’ bloody promote you.”
She ignored the comment, and the car drew to a stop. “Here we are.”
Into a high-rise apartment complex in a seedier part of London, then up the elevator to the top floor – and the last floor to go made possible with a key that Anthea inserted in the lock – and then stepping out into a hallway that smelled of new paint and deep pile carpeting fresh from the factory. Ah. Mycroft Holmes had had a loft penthouse built for himself, for his “seclusion”. For his pretend death. He’s probably still leading M16 around by the snout from here, John thought. They would no doubt have all fell in line with his miserable little scheme.
Mycroft Holmes would seclude himself in nothing less than serene luxury. Not like Sherlock’s ‘time away’ (as the detective liked to call it), no, nothing like it at all, John could well imagine. That had been under far less opulent circumstances, most horrors at which Sherlock had only hinted (circumstances over which John had never pushed far when noticing his friend’s elevated pulse and quiet quick breaths whenever he was asked about it. Some lingering PTSD there, John knew. He was after all not only a doctor but intimately familiar with that particular affliction).
Once shown into the spacious living quarters, Mycroft appeared – yes, very much alive as usual – in his three piece suit. No umbrella. Nothing with which to raise a defense. Perfect.
In under two seconds Mycroft Holmes, big brain behind the nation’s secret defense network, was sitting on the floor on his backside, sporting a bloody nose and a look of such shock on his face, that John just had to laugh. His knuckles stung and he shook out his hand casually, hoping he’d broken his nose. He flexed his fingers. They still worked. But a broken hand would have been worth it anyway.
Mycroft struggled to his feet as Anthea handed him some tissues from a decorative box on the nearby desk, fussing over him a bit. Maybe it would earn her some points in favour but John doubted it.
Mycroft straightened his suit, dabbing at the blood that stained the vest and looked at John ruefully. “I suppose I deserved that.” He said with polished dignity and John shook his head. The Holmes boys were unflappable.
John found his voice easily. “You utter prick!” He snarled. “Do you have any idea how much pain you’ve caused Sherlock with this fucking stunt of yours? Not to mention your old mum.”
In answer Mycroft took his seat behind his desk, waved Anthea from the room and, continuing to dab at the blood still leaking from his nose, spoke. When he did, a bit nasal-y, but still it was with a casual grace as though he and John were having a conversation as colleagues might, as though they met every week for drinks at his blasted club. John seethed but let the man speak simply because he felt if he made another move right then, it would be to beat Mycroft Holmes to a black and blue pulp.
“We had good reason to put together that little show on the roof of Bartholomew’s – to save his life.” Mycroft said as an opening, “I, Sherlock and about two dozen of his street groupies – those people -” he grimaced “-who were always lusting after him in one way or another.” It was a bit confounding, but it seemed Mycroft wanted to start explaining way back somewhere before his little trick of having been murdered in his little brother’s flat and letting his brother suffer for it. “Even you lust after him in your own way, Doctor Watson. Which was why the other thing was so necessary – I mean of course my death - to get Sherlock away from you or perhaps the other way around - you away from him– I did warn you after all. I wanted to break the link, the strings that seemed to be binding you to him – but as you know thanks to Anthea - I have been unsuccessful. I had feared as much.”
“Feared? Feared what?” The conversation was bizarre in the extreme, but he was morbidly curious.
“That it is already too late,” Mycroft stated. “He is already in love with you. Too far gone, as it has turned out, for any action on my part to detour it.” Mycroft sniffed audibly, and had to audacity to appear affronted by his brother’s perniciousness in not reacting as Mycroft had calculated he would. For being weakly human enough to fall in love.
“So you decided to solve your problem – the problem of keeping Sherlock safe by no less than tearing his heart out. Your mother told me all about it you know, the charge she set on your shoulders as a teenager. Maybe one you’ve gotten tired of.” John seethed. Curiosity being what it was though - “How did you do it anyway? You had no pulse...”
“Use your brain, Doctor Watson, clearly you do have one. It was of course simple. I know a man, an expert in arranging such special effects...fake flesh at my throat so you would feel no pulse, the ends tucked into my shirt, fake blood, fake hole, carefully placed bullet in the wall and of course, misdirection. I knew you would be too busy worrying over Sherlock to look too closely.”
“And the ambulance? One of yours?”
“And the medics, and the muscle...all of course in your employ too - bloody hell.” He spat. “All to get Sherlock to give up the work and return to his mother’s house. To save him maybe but mostly so you would be relieved of your responsibility over him at last.” Something struck a chord in John’s mind, something as crisp and as clean as a church bell on a bright Sunday morning. “Oh my God...” he said to Mycroft’s puzzled face. “Oh. My. God. And that’s not even all is it? Christ - I must be barmy. Why didn’t I see it before? Jealousy.”
“Jealous of you?” He snorted. “Don’t be absurd.”
But there had been a shift in the man, a lift of a brow, a blink of an eye, a twitch of one foot. Not much but enough to convince John that he was right. That he had hit it dead on the mark. “No - not of me, you ice-cold prat. You’re bloody well jealous of him.” John said. “You’re jealous of your own brother – of Sherlock and there’s no point in denying it, Mycroft, I know a bloody green headed monster when I see one. You are jealous.”
John felt a sudden elation at the revelation. He was almost giddy. He couldn’t wait to share this news with Sherlock. It ought to go a long way in easing his friend’s wrung-out heart. “But then it makes perfect sense, the surveillance at all hours of the day and night, why you’re always popping in to chastise him for his life style and his friends and his lack of doing things your way.”
Mycroft lifted his nose. “You are fantasizing.”
“No, I’m as sober as the day I was born and you are jealous of Sherlock, I mean, really, of course. You might have a few centimeters on him in height but that’s where the similarity ends doesn’t it?” John’s mind was swimming with the details, alive with them like electric eels ready to wrap around the other mans cortex and fry him but good! For the first time, he wondered if this was how Sherlock felt when his mind had all the tricks and treats of a crime uncovered and laid out for him in neat little rows. Easy to see it now, so easy.
“I mean Sherlock’s nothing like you at all is he? Other than a better man all around I think.”
“You don’t know my brother at all.”
“I’d say I know him a damn sight better than you do.”
“Oh really? And what has he told you about his childhood? Anything? Nothing? Do you know he didn’t speak until he was four and a half years old? Our parents thought he was deficient. At the time so did I. They almost sent him to a school for challenged children. But one day we were all at the breakfast table and daddy said something a bit –shall we say – idiotic. Sherlock opened his mouth and disputed what father had said in perfect English, listing the reasons daddy was wrong and Sherlock was correct about all of them - I checked. Later I taxed him on it and he said he had heard the stilted way the other children were talking and hadn’t wanted to speak until he had mastered the language. Mastered at five.”
John shook his head, waving a scolding finger. “Stop trying to change the subject. No, no, you might – no, not might, you do, I believe, love Sherlock. He’s your little brother, your only sibling, and you do love him, I believe that. In fact I think you feel almost a sense of ownership of him...but you are jealous; absolutely yes. But then why wouldn’t you be jealous - yeah? Sherlock’s young and fit, better looking, not a grey hair on his head - and a hell of a lot more of it. And by god can’t he pull of a black Italian suit like there’s no tomorrow? And you with your grey and brown suits and your umbrella that you carry everywhere rain or shine – even your briefcase is boring. You’re a walking cliche’ Mycroft.” He walked to the desk and leaned over it, putting his face right into Mycroft’s. “You, as Sherlock would no doubt put it, are dull, dull, dull.”
“A very good try John.”
John moved away, the smell of blood making him a bit nauseated. “No that’s it. I thought this over-protectiveness was just you trying to be a good brother, overbearing, self-righteous, controlling bastard of a brother but...hell, I was a good margin off wasn’t I? This is more a sibling rivalry taken to a ghastly proportion. All this really is, is you black with jealousy over your more interesting, prettier younger brother.” John strolled around the room now, taking in the high end glassware, the carefully placed ornaments, the rich carpets and the over-priced furniture that was new but built to look old. Everything said Money and Power and Don’t Fuck With Me, and it was all polished and austere and boring-boring-boring and very Mycroft Holmes down to his collar-stays.
All the while he continued to talk, feeling potent that he could, that he, John Watson, was not one whit frightened of Mycroft Holmes. He really wasn’t scary at all anyway, especially with a bloody nose. “And the sad thing is it doesn’t even end there. Sherlock’s made a name for himself. He’s in the public eye, he has notoriety and respect. People love him and the women! Oh the women really love him and half the men too and what’s more – what sticks in your dull, boring craw most of all – is that Sherlock won’t bed a single one of them and that drives you crazy because you would. Oh the envy. Oh to be like Sherlock, because oh my yes you’d take on those ladies if only they looked your way even once. But no one wants to bed you, do they Mycroft? No one wants the boring government dog who labours behind the scenes, un-noticed, un-interesting, un-admired, un-loved.”
Mycroft was quiet, not for long but long enough that John knew his words had struck a chord in Mycroft as well. The man was all but holding his hands over his ears to keep out the din.
John honed in for the kill shot. “Sherlock is everything you aren’t. He’s...he’s...”
John wasn’t sure he had a word for it; for what Sherlock really was. The lesser words that described the man floated before his eyes as bright as the stars: he was noble, if sometimes reckless, in his relentless pursuit of the criminal of mind, he showed a reserved and occasionally disdainful manner around the vulgarly sexed, he manifested (what at least appeared to be) shyness around those who overtly expressed their friendship toward him – or their sexual interest in him - a thing which often left him looking a little unbalanced. Sherlock displayed silent discomfort and occasionally even anxiety with social situations and yet endured them when necessary, even in his melancholy violin playing, his star-bursting brilliance and last but not least his still youthful and elegant features there was encased elements of this one descriptive that fit Sherlock so well. All of these things John found fit compactly and perfectly into a single word.
He had it and it was indeed correct.
Mycroft was silent for a moment and then...“Yes, he is.” He said very softly. “And thus he will die.” He wiped his nose and glanced to the brolly set against the door. The umbrella, John thought, was a tic. A thing Mycroft Holmes did when he had been pushed emotionally off-balance. And it was too far away for him to take it up and twirl it. Now on his features, John was astonished to see, lay a stark grief and every syllable the older Holmes spoke shrieked truthfulness. “My brother, ‘The Beautiful’, will die while still a young man, John Watson.” He looked at John, his features resigned to what he truly believed was the eventual reality and John felt a thrill of fear ripple through him, nudging aside his short triumph of being right. Because the certainty in the older Holmes’s eyes chilled him to his core.
It was as though prophecy had been uttered. Some day in the not too distant future, reckless, danger loving, self-neglecting Sherlock Holmes was going to turn the wrong corner at the wrong time, face down someone even more dangerous than Moriarty; someone without the patience of Moriarty; someone who didn’t care a whip about the game; someone with no conscience and little soul, probably someone who wasn’t particularly smart either. Most likely it will be the worst sort of criminal; the sort with nothing to lose. And this someone will be waiting for Sherlock holding a gun in his steady hand. This someone will be ready - eager even - to kill and he will then shoot his weapon without remorse or hesitation. And at the right spot too, and Sherlock’s brain or his liver or his heart will explode and he will fall down and die without another sound.
“You know it’s true, doctor.” Mycroft said grimly, resigned, his lips a thin line of profound disappointment in his brother’s former flat-mate.
John almost swooned with the thought of it. Christ, he did know it too. Whatever jubilation he had felt at beating Mycroft Holmes at his convoluted game and telling him, finally, exactly what he thought of him, withered into a cold, dead, stone in his stomach. The truth of it, of Sherlock’s pending death, was proverbially staring into his eyes, and he was ashamed to realise too late that he was a fool. That rooting out Mycroft had certainly sealed the fate of Sherlock.
“My brother will die while in his prime of life and now, thanks to you, there’s not a thing either one of us can do about it.”
John shoved aside his fears. It was done after all. Only one thing left. “You’re going to your mother’s house right now and you’re going to tell him, Mycroft. You’re going tell him and then beg his forgiveness.” John said with steel in the words. “Or I’ll take him away from you forever.” Then added “And you know I can.”
Mycroft stared for a moment but even he knew the game was up and it was time to admit defeat. He nodded solemnly. “Yes. We’ll take my car.”
Sherlock was in the living room, fully dressed though it was clear he intended on going nowhere. When John entered the room Sherlock was smoking. The air was blue with it. “Sherlock...” He had no idea how to prepare him. Even knowing what he knew, even when Sherlock had appeared seemingly out of the grave to greet him, he still had no idea how to advise him.
But then Mycroft put an end to his problem by stepping into the room after him. His nose had stopped bleeding but it was swollen. “Sherlock...” He said softly.
Sherlock stared, stood up, took a step back, looked at John, looked back to Mycroft standing very much alive before him, took a step forward, opened his mouth...
Nothing came out.
Then he was on Mycroft like a mad feline, grabbing hold of his lapels and shaking him, hissing into his face “What the hell is this? What the fuck-what the fuck?” Sherlock stammered and shut his mouth, releasing his brother and stepping back, shaking like a leaf, his face puce with rage, his eyes leaking tears but whether in grief or fury John wasn’t certain. Probably both was his guess.
“You...” Sherlock said softly, “You goddamn fuck.” He said his voice-box strained with holding back but his face, his face...
Greif. Shock. Devastation. His world had been rocked once more. “You bastard!” He shouted, shaking from head to foot, “YOU MADE ME THINK YOU WERE DEAD!”
And then, as though an invisible cord had been violently tugged between them, Sherlock’s face turned to John’s, who stood some distance away from the brothers, silent and waiting for the storm to ease. John stared back, understanding in an instant the cause of Sherlock’s sudden, stunned silence. Something dawned on the detective’s features, and they twisted, this time in sorrow, and then in apology. He stared at John for many seconds, his chest heaving and his next words emerging, painful sounding, from his dried up throat “Please forgive me...” He whispered desperately. Begging. Pleading. To John. He’d said the words to John, not to Mycroft, but to John Watson.
John bit his lip and nodded firmly. “Always.” Quietly spoken, and words only for Sherlock said softly so not to startle. Yet firmly enough to reassure, to reach his friend from across the cold room. He so wanted to embrace Sherlock at that moment so he would know, understand that ...of course...always. Always! But he didn’t move.
Sherlock swallowed his grief and rage and whatever else had surfaced without invitation and unwelcomed, and left the room through the glass doors to the garden. It was raining but he snatched up his cigarettes on the way out.
Mycroft moved to follow but one look of warning from John and his feet stayed.
“Don’t you fucking go anywhere,” John warned.
“Take care of him, won’t you John?” Mycroft said with a sigh, settling himself in a high backed chair and pouring out a tall whiskey.
John followed Sherlock out into the rain.
Sherlock didn’t even flinch when John sat down beside him on that iron bench. Sherlock was already soaked from the rain and was protecting his lit cigarette by cupping it in his downturned palm, the cherry turned upwards. Smoke trailed between stiff white fingers. His hair was flat against his head and his expensive suit sopping. John sat down right beside him, so their thighs brushed, and their knees knocked together a bit. He waited until the atmosphere was...comfortable and conducive to quiet talk.
Sherlock deduced this of course; that John, not Mycroft, would after him to offer comfort; to talk; to try and get him talking. Over that third one John would be disappointed because when one could hardly breathe for the phantom pain in one’s chest, talking was a whole other world away. Sherlock did his best to listen, but it was difficult over the wailing in his chest.
But still it was John, and John deserved some acknowledgment for coming to find him, for being the kind friend he was to his loyal core, and so Sherlock offered up what he was capable of.
“I didn’t realise,” he said quietly, looking out into the grey day. “I thought I did, but I didn’t.” Then he whispered so softly, a ghost from his lips “Eighteen months...”
John nodded. Sherlock was not referring to his brother’s betrayal or his manipulation. Sherlock, John understood, was experiencing what he John had felt when he thought Sherlock was dead all those horrible months. Eighteen of them. Sherlock comprehended now. At last John knew his friend understood what it was to lose someone and then to get them back only to know they had not been dead but left you to grieve over them anyway; and how it tore into you, rent you limb from limb, squeezed your heart until it was dry. He was feeling this now, and John wondered if it might be the first time in the detective’s life, experiencing that aching emptiness. And now, on this cold bench, a fellow feeling; empathy.
John sucked in a startled breath when Sherlock shifted his left hand and covered John’s right with it, digging in until their half- tangled fingers found purchase in each other. As Sherlockian gestures went between them, this one was a new born; and so all the more precious for its ethereality. One wrong move or too many words and John felt positive he would lose his delicate hold on the man. He knew Sherlock was processing. He had just been delivered a tremendous blow to his, of late, already tremulous psyche and he needed some quiet and calm to absorb it all.
Sherlock was a novice with emotions, or at least accepting that they existed in him, and John recognized the closed down expression on the detective’s face that he was off in his Mind Palace, shifting things he thought he knew into the rubbish bins and replacing them with angry, sweeping scripts on a blackboard: “Mycroft. Lying. Hurting. Lying. Fucking. Fat. Lying. Bastard. Mycroft. Is. Not. Dead...I! Hate! Him! I! Love! Him! I! Hate! Him! I! Love! Him! Bastard! Sherlock was not deaf or blind when he was like this, simply removed from all other distractions but emotions could not be written upon a blackboard and he was in agony.
But Sherlock could still hear him and so John took a soft breath, gathering the words to explain from his own knowledge what Sherlock needed to hear. “I know you don’t want to talk right now, Sherlock, and that’s fine. It really is. So I just wanted to – I want to say something to you and I hope you listen to me with at least part of your mind.” John plucked the decomposing memories from the bottom of his soul and brought them up to the light again. “I understand, you know, what you’re feeling right now.” Did he understand it? Oh yes, so very, very well. “You know I do because it’s what you’re feeling. When you...died, when I thought you’d died, it felt like someone plucked my heart from my chest and took it somewhere. I spent over a year trying to find it again, and I almost did...”
Mary. Mary had helped a lot. Not in every way but almost. She had helped him see life again, and not just pain. Not entirely, not altogether or wholly, but enough to take those first few steps away from the gutting sorrow of losing Sherlock and, in consequence, everything he had erected around him, in his life and in his heart.
John had healed, pretty much, under Mary’s insistent hands and welcoming smile. She had opened up a part of him he had closed to the whole world for the second time. “I know what it’s like, that pain. It’s...” He tried to think of a word with enough meaning to convey the depths of the agony he had gone through after Sherlock jumped from that roof, but he was just a doctor, not a poet, “...it’s just so horrible. And now...”
“And now you’ve just learned that Mycroft is alive and well and it was all a ruse; one of his games, just him trying to control you; just another attempt to rein in his little brother. Some good behind it, yes, some brotherly feeling there I’ve no doubt, as misguided as it was, but still, you feel played for the fool. For all his apologies, he may as well have eviscerated you.” Cut out your kidneys, lungs, heart - pulverised it all and then stuffed it all back in. John sighed because the recollections of that terrible time were becoming almost physical. “Anyhow, I know that’s what it feels like, I get it, trust me on that.”
But he also knew something else, a thing far more important than the rest, than the betrayal or even the pain... “Mycroft did it because he loves you, as screwed up as that it. As hard as that is to recognize right now. And you will, I know you will, find some way to forgive him. Because as much of a bastard as he is, he just wanted to keep you safe. Bloody stupid way to go about it, mind you, but there it is.” As for the revelation of Mycroft’s jealousy, he would keep that to himself. Sherlock probably had already guessed that much years ago.
Sherlock remembered, in the space of a breath, his two years away, fighting to protect that which he considered his and then coming home to John’s disapproval and fury. Whatever had been murky to him was now as clear as crystal. Whatever he had dismissed as mere over-reaction on his friend’s part now seemed perfectly justified. Deserving in fact.
“How long,” his voice cracked and he grimaced, hating that the weakness was showing itself so gleefully. “How long did it take you?” Sherlock looked at him now, his hand not moving away but gripping tighter. “How long did it take you to forgive me? I mean really forgive me?”
John smiled just a bit, the warmth replacing whatever shards of pain had crept up in his soul. “Right away my friend, the second I saw you standing there alive, breathing - still as cocky as hell, ya’ bloody git. In an instant.”
A tiny pinch of confusion appeared between his shapely brows. “But...you were so...violent...so very angry with me.”
John looked away, at bit embarrassed at the memory of his temper. “Yeah, sorry about that,” He shrugged helplessly. Sherlock did bring it out of him. “I didn’t say I wasn’t bloody upset with you.” He added, “But do you think I would trade having you back for anything?” For what? So his mourning wouldn’t have been for nothing? It was so laughable he had to turn his face away to hide his mirth at the ludicrous notion. Having Sherlock back was the greatest gift he had ever received and he’d been giving silent thanks every day since.
They were both soaked to the bone. “You feel like going in now? Maybe talking to him?”
Sherlock sighed heavily. “I suppose. When mummy gets home she will be very upset with him.” He smiled at that, enjoying the thought. It was the beginning of compensation.
John nodded. “I suppose she will, yes.” He stood, keeping his hand locked around Sherlock’s. “Come on; let’s get this over-with.”
Sherlock found his way to John’s room just off the kitchen in his mother’s house. He knocked and entered.
John was sitting up in bed, reading an article in one of Mummy Holmes’ gardening magazine about growing Gardenias. “So?” He asked.
Sherlock took a seat on the edge of the soft mattress and turned sideways so he could face John. “He’s gone home now. I made him promise to remove all cameras and other devices from the flat, although the CCTV camera will stay trained on the front step.”
“Sherlock Holmes compromising. I’m impressed.” And it didn’t hurt to have the comings and goings of clients and potential criminals on record just in case.
Sherlock’s mouth twisted a little and his eyebrows affected their own little shrug. “I also told him that he’s not ever to arrive uninvited to our home again, and to deposit fifty thousand quid into our joint account as compensation for being such a lying prat.”
“Nice touch.” John said. Our home. Our account. Warm, good things. Shared things. God he loved this man.
“Mummy’s going to disinherit him from the estate.” He said gleefully, clear admiration for his matron over that.
“Really? So you’ll inherit then.”
Sherlock shrugged. Money was never high on his list of things to be concerned over. “Oh, she’ll give it back to him eventually. It’s just to make him sweat a little.” He shuddered a little. “I certainly don’t want it.”
John could imagine Sherlock never wanting to come back here after the events of the previous months.
“Tired?” He looked tired. Strung out actually. John did not want Sherlock going back up to that empty chamber with the cold fire-place and the drapes heavy with memories around the bed, cloistering him in. Even though Sherlock had been raised here, grew up here, this house of dusty corridors and pinched sadness wasn’t home now and it didn’t suit Sherlock anymore. Maybe once upon a time he had fit in, being surrounded by all this cold money and restrained affections, but not now. Now Sherlock’s place was beside his blogger and friend John Watson and John approved of this whole-heartedly. He would in fact accept nothing less.
For once the detective nodded, rubbing sleep deprived eyes.
“Have a shower. Get changed.” John said patting the space on the mattress beside him. “Plenty of room.”
Sherlock looked quizzically at John but when John didn’t flinch even once he answered with a small upward twist of his mouth and a nod, rising to enter the en-suite, leaving the door open. An unspoken gesture; if you’re mine now, then I am yours. We belong and there is no shame in it.
Words would be superfluous at this point. John revelled in that he could look at Sherlock now, naked, exposed and open to being reached for. Touched. And Sherlock could now let allow himself the luxury of looking back, unafraid of what was growing in John’s expression. This is what they were to each other now. What months had transpired under frustration and heart-sickness had now been re-written in this wonderful, loving instant of time.
John watched, unabashedly, as Sherlock stripped beautifully nude and stepped into the soapy tub.
Right now. This moment: Sherlock naked in his bath and John in bed waiting for him. It was a moment John felt certain he would remember for the rest of his life. It might even become their anniversary.
Theirs; this here and this now.
And when Sherlock, smelling like soap and clean skin, slipped into bed beside him, it was as a man slipping into his rightful place, a connection made correctly for the first time; as someone sealed and packaged next to him as he ought and as he should have been from the beginning. A man, this marvelous man, fitted perfectly into his bed and beside his body like he was meant for him and none other. He, John Watson had been built for Sherlock and Sherlock just for him and him alone.
Lestrade was, to say the least, astounded by the turn of events, once Sherlock laid it out for him; the whole thing. The killings had been unrelated, as he had thought, but the cryptograms left behind, the work of another; his own brother, all of it a ruse. Sherlock also revealed his speculation that Mycroft had engineered Rupert Straite’s escape from jail so to use him as a pawn, as the culprit in his faked murder. Greg cursed a blue streak about the elder Holmes until he was out of breath. Then he made Sherlock and John promise to come down NSY to make a statement in a few days if he wouldn’t mind doing so.
Baker Street was quiet. It was morning. A good second sleep behind them, this time with some lovely kissing before bed, and John was never so happy to be home.
Sherlock stuffed his cell phone back in his trouser pocket. “Mycroft has made a new enemy I think. Graham is not pleased.”
“Er – Greg, Sherlock, for the last time, it’s Greg.” John huffed, reading the morning news, and feeling more content than he had in months. “Your brother’ll weasel his way back in I’m sure.”
Sherlock didn’t dispute it and took his own chair. “Does Mary hate me now?” He asked. She didn’t deserve the pain he had caused her.
“No. Mary’s not like that. She understands.” And even if she doesn’t it, there’s no going back when you finally understand your rightful place. John folded the paper and let it slide to the floor. Mary had to understand because he had made his choice with no regrets. “I think she saw how I was, where my feelings were, long before I did.”
John got to his feet and walked over to Sherlock’s chair, squatting down in front of him. “So...just so we’re clear...I’m going to go ahead and say the words, Sherlock, alright? I know it makes you uncomfortable, so you don’t have to say them back right away, it’s okay with me if -”
“Of course I love you John. Do keep up.” He said lifting an eyebrow at his flat-mate’s slowness. “Obvious.”
John supposed he should have deduced it sooner. He reached up and kissed him, lingering on those soft lips, promising more. There had not got there yet but soon. Much more later. But here was fine. Here. Now.
And tomorrow too. And after that... “Me too, just in case you were wondering,” John said. “Me too.” And the next day and every day after that, he deduced.
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