With a gasp and a start Sherlock Holmes awoke. It took a moment for his sharp eyes to focus on the weave of the fabric covering the back of the couch. Stifling a yawn, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and nonchalantly resumed his pondering. With the exception of the barely noticeable drool spot on the pillow, no one would ever be the wiser.
He hadn't intended to fall asleep. Apparently, exhaustion was an after effect of oxygen deprivation. He would add that to the list.
Listening to the sounds out on the street, and gaging the angle of sunlight cast through the window, Sherlock surmised it must be 7:53 am. He was fairly certain it was Monday. Clinic day for John, meaning the doctor would've ordinarily already been up and gone.
Depending on the accuracy of these most probable facts, Sherlock fished behind him, without actually rolling over, for the cup of tea John always left for him. He was not disappointed.
Except something was different. He flicked away the loose paper that had come to rest against the mug and stuck his index finger into the liquid.
The tea had obviously been made at approximately 6:49 am. A full 23 minutes earlier than normal.
Sherlock attempted to jump from his spot on the couch, only to have his body rebel. His shoulders and arms ached and his neck was inordinately stiff. He rubbed his hand around his neck and yelped in pain when he brushed against the bruising just under his jaw.
Right. Oxygen deprivation due to strangulation. He recalled the events of the prior evening.
Turning his attention to the conundrum of the cold tea in front of him, the pieces began to fall into place. John had been injured, a dislocated shoulder, amongst other more minor contusions and abrasions. There was only one logical solution. He must have woken early, come downstairs for some aspirin, made Sherlock his morning tea, and gone back to bed. Sherlock would have been too lost in thought (and definitely NOT asleep) to acknowledge John's presence.
John was nothing if not predictable in his morning routines.
Sherlock picked up his mobile and dialed the clinic. Someone ought to let them know John would not be in. After two rings an unfamiliar, and saccharine sweet voice chirped a greeting.
"Good morning! You've reached the clinic! This is Mary, how can I direct your call?"
"Good Lord, who hired you? Are you always so fake, or only with strangers?" Sherlock growled, convinced the decibel of the woman's voice was going to pierce right through his skull.
The woman released a shocked gasp, and remained in stunned silence. "Ugh, I don't have time for this. Get Sarah," Sherlock demanded.
"Ex... excuse you," Mary interjected. "I don't care for your tone. I don't think I will be getting Sarah for you."
"Are you an imbecile, or has no one explained to you the finer details of being a receptionist? You pick up the phone. You transfer the calls." Sherlock was actually kind of enjoying this, though his patience was being tried. "Put. Sarah. On. Now."
"Listen here, you little," Mary's tone had settled into a threatening rumble. Just before she had time to release her vulgar tirade Sherlock heard another female speak behind her. Mary relented the phone to the second person, and Sherlock could hear drawers and cabinets be slammed. He forced himself not to smile.
"What do you want, Sherlock? John's not here," Sarah's forced tone was about as pleasant as she ever got with the consulting detective. And somehow she always knew when it was Sherlock on the other end of the line.
"About that, he won't be in at all today. There was an... incident..."
"I know he won't be in. He requested this day off months ago," Sarah paused. "Sherlock," her voice wavered, "he takes this day off every year."
Sherlock sat stunned. The inflection in Sarah's voice meant he should understand the implied meaning of her words.
He was at a loss.
So he faked it.
"Right," he replied slowly. "How... ridiculous of me." When Sarah only sighed in response, Sherlock knew he wasn't going to get any information from her. "Well, goodbye then."
"Uh, yeah, Sherlock."
"And Sarah, for what it's worth... Mary? She's just... delightful." The sarcastic sneer on Sherlock's face could be perceived through the phone connection. Sarah slammed the receiver down.
How did John cope with these commoners? No wonder his mental facilities often seemed to be dimmer than usual after his shift.
Sherlock decided he would let John sleep a while longer before insisting he have his injuries checked over. He must truly have been spent to return to bed.
Despite the fact that John became an incoherent bumbling mess if he missed too many consecutive nights of sleep, the man's internal alarm clock was precise as any Swiss time piece. Even after so many years out of the service, reveille was as much a part of John as anything could be, as if the bugle call pulsed through his very veins. Sherlock could count on one hand the number of times he remembered the Captain not rising with the sun.
Abandoning the cold tea, Sherlock set about deciphering Sarah's message to him. "He takes this day off every year," she had said. And there was sentimentality behind those words. A deeper meaning.
John had the day off, so he must have made plans. Sherlock slumped into the chair at the table and flipped open John's lap top. He had long since stopped trying to set a pass code to keep Sherlock out of his personal business. It was just easier for everyone involved.
He checked John's online calendar first. The doctor had been reluctant to even set up the account. John Watson did not need reminders. Unlike Sherlock, who couldn't be bothered to remember such mundane and cumbersome details as what day the dry cleaning would be ready, or what time a client meeting was scheduled for, John remembered. Without fail. It was a trait that was both a blessing and curse. Blessing because he could always be prepared, and could occasionally keep Sherlock on track. Curse because, since having met the consulting detective, he had missed approximately 73% of his scheduled events.
Sherlock couldn't hide the grin as he recalled watching John, early in their acquaintance, very nearly short circuit the first few times he had caused the doctor to miss appointments. John seldom reacted now, or rather, he had grown more proficient in concealing his frustration.
No, John did not have need of an online calendar to mark the appointments he had missed. He kept the calendar updated so that Sherlock would have an outline of where he could be found at any given time, on the rare occasion he was actually able to go about his life outside the confines of 221b Baker Street and the demands of the madman who resided there.
To John's chagrin, it was not a courtesy that was reciprocated.
This particular Monday had been labeled in red, but there were no accompanying notes or alerts. It was the only day the entire month void of any data at all, with the exception of the color designation. Sherlock scanned through the notes and appointments on the calendar, deciding there was nothing noteworthy to be gleaned.
"What a dull existence you lead, John Watson. If it weren't for me, how would you even survive the monotony of it all?"
He clicked the back arrow, in order to scan through previous months. There were several months with notations listed every day, but those only went back about six months. As with his blog, John had not maintained the calendar in Sherlock's two and a half year absence after "the fall."
John hated it when Sherlock referred to his faked suicide as "the fall." He had tried to convince Sherlock the nomenclature was boorish and insensitive. Sherlock always retorted that John's unpoetic turn of phrase, "the day you left," was equally garish and overly sentimental. They had reached an impasse, and had not spoken for three days after that particular argument. The debate had never been settled. Sherlock assumed John had simply accepted his logic as correct and conceded the victory. Obviously, after the exchange of the previous evening, Sherlock had been incorrect.
John still worried about Sherlock leaving.
Sherlock would have to take extra care in dispelling the preposterous concern when they had their discussion later, after John finally woke up, and after an examination by a medical professional. John was a notoriously poor patient, opting rather to self-diagnose. Sherlock was certain he would be in for a fight. Maybe he would delay a little longer.
With a yawn Sherlock rang Lestrade.
“This is Lestrade.” The D.I.’s voice rang with a hint of laughter.
“Can I assume from your joyous tone that your team apprehended the second suspect after John and I left the scene last night?” Sherlock snarked.
Greg coughed and sputtered, “Oh, uh, Sherlock…” He cleared his throat and assumed a more serious tone. “No. Ah, no, not yet.”
“Typical.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I don’t suppose you actually took the bartender into custody either? He’s clearly a key player in the whole scheme…” Sherlock trailed off as he realized Lestrade was not listening. He could tell Lestrade had his hand over the phone’s receiver and there was muffled shushing and giggling. Lestrade snorted in an effort to cover a laugh.
“Look, Sherlock, I’m in a… a meeting. You and John come by the Yard later and we’ll go over everything.”
“Sherlock, I really have to go. Just…” The D.I. was near dissolving into a fit of giggles. “Just come by later, okay? And Sherlock, be nice to John, today especially. He’s in a… fragile state.” There was a commotion in the background, followed by a muffled “Ow!” from Lestrade. “Later, yeah?”
Sherlock dropped his phone with a clatter onto the table. “Incompetent,” he huffed in frustration, but in a flash of realization, snatched the mobile up once more and texted Lestrade.
“Wait. What did you mean by ‘today especially?’ SH”
“You know. GL”
“Meeting. Talk later. GL”
For being one of the Yard’s “finest,” Lestrade certainly was irksome. With a sigh Sherlock returned his attention to John’s calendar.
So. Tediously. Exhaustingly. Boring.
Deciding to overlook John's blog for the time being, he had already carefully scrutinized and picked apart every detail of the last paltry entry and left multiple condescending comments to that effect, Sherlock opted to bathe and dress for the day. He'd let John sleep a few more minutes before dragging him off to Bart's to be examined and x-rayed. Then maybe they'd visit Lestrade and actually track down their suspect. And then definitely the conversation. Yes, a perfectly acceptable plan. Hospital. Suspect. Talk. John would be pleased that Sherlock had been so considerate as to plan a coherent, if somewhat fluid, schedule for their day.
Feeling very satisfied with himself, Sherlock traipsed up the stairs to John's room, and began addressing the doctor before he even reached the door.
"Alright, John, I know you aren't thrilled with the idea, but I must insist you allow yourself to be examined by a physician. I simply cannot abide you being in anything other than top form if you are to continue..." Sherlock halted just inside the bedroom.
The bed was made; not with the usual military precision, but near enough considering the person who had creased the corners had done so with a very recently dislocated and then poorly relocated shoulder. The soiled clothes from the night before had been picked up from the floor and placed neatly, yes neatly, because that is how Captain John Watson sorts his dirty laundry, in the hamper (a very telling characteristic, actually). The mug and water glass were gone from the bedside table, as was John's phone. In their place lay the neatly wound charger cord.
With a loud huff and a roll of his eyes, Sherlock stormed from the room. Even when he was injured, John was frustratingly meticulous. But that point was completely irrelevant. John was not in his room. Why wasn't he in his room?
Sherlock sent John text. "Where are you? SH"
Taking the steps two at a time and hitting the landing with unnecessary force, Sherlock stomped into the kitchen. John's medical kit was back in its place on the counter, meaning John had cleaned up Sherlock's mess, yet again. He stalked to the cabinet and flung it open to see John's mug and water glass on their respective shelves. John had done dishes. How dare he? Did he not know he was injured? He was not meant to tidy up after himself, let alone Sherlock. At least not this soon. But probably by tomorrow. Tomorrow would be okay for him to resume his duties.
"You are aware I was prepared to accompany you to have your shoulder examined? SH"
"Mycroft's paying. SH"
"Fine, you may pay if you insist. But can we sign Mycroft up for inappropriate subscriptions using the cards in those old magazines in the waiting room? SH"
His sense of self-satisfaction having dissipated completely, Sherlock determined to locate the good doctor immediately. Not to check his welfare, but to reprimand him until he understood what it meant to be a good patient.
" You're infuriating, you know that right? SH"
With absolutely no regard for propriety, Sherlock burst into the bathroom and slammed on the light switch. The fact that he himself had very recently occupied the space should have quelled his manic eagerness, but he paid no mind to the obvious. Sherlock ran his thumb over the bristles of John's toothbrush. Still wet. John's towel had been left to dry on the rack. Sherlock took the corner of it between his thumb and forefinger placing a section of the towel to his nose and inhaled deeply, in order to get an accurate measure of dampness. John had showered at approximately 6:27 AM.
A bit not good.
That's what John would say if he were present. And perhaps something about replacing his toothbrush. "But you aren't here," Sherlock mumbled. "So who cares what you think?"
"You should probably pick up a new toothbrush while you're out. Or not. Depends on how much you trust me. SH"
Knowing full well the unlikelihood, Sherlock conducted a quick check of his own room, just to make certain John had not retired there since he had remained on the couch overnight. John was not to be found.
"Mrs. Hudson! Mrs. Hudson!" Sherlock bellowed as he slammed his bedroom door behind him and trampled down the stairs to the dear lady's flat. Pounding emphatically on the door, Sherlock continued calling her name. "Mrs. Hudson! Mrs. Hud..."
"Good gracious, Sherlock, whatever is the matter? Is it a fire? Made another murderous client angry?" Mrs. Hudson had swung the door open in a panic. The color had drained from her face, her eyes were slightly wild, one hand clutched the top of her dressing gown and the other fidgeted nervously with the few curlers that remained in her hair.
Having been interrupted mid-pound, Sherlock froze with one fist raised, ready to strike. He cleared his throat, ducked his head apologetically, and murmured "Have you seen John?"
"Honestly, Sherlock. You nearly gave an old woman a heart attack, all because you've misplaced your flat mate? He's a grown man Sherlock. Did you try calling him?" Mrs. Hudson had placed her hands on her hips and taken on the tone of a scolding mother. Sherlock tried to interrupt her. "Don't you talk over me, young man. It is entirely too early in the morning to be carrying on this way. You should be ashamed. If John Watson has a reason for being out at this hour, then I am certain it is a perfectly good one. Especially today of all days!" She punctuated her speech with a stomp. "Do you understand? What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Yes ma'am," Sherlock was positively sheepish in his response. With hands shoved deep in his pockets and eyes averted, he looked every bit the apologetic child. "Sorry... I'm sorry Mrs... Wait. What did you just say?"
Crossing her arms over her chest, Mrs. Hudson huffed, "Which part, Sherlock?"
"Why did you say, 'especially today of all days?' What does that mean?" Sherlock had taken ahold of Mrs. Hudson by the shoulders and had lowered his face to be even with hers.
"It... It's just a... An expression. People say it sometimes. I say it..." Mrs. Hudson's voice faltered in uncertainty, but she admirably managed to maintain eye contact with Sherlock's precision glare.
"But why did YOU say it? Why is everyone using that phrase in reference to today? Is there something unusual about today? Is something wrong with John? Tell me!" Sherlock's questions were rapid fire, and he had to restrain himself to keep from shaking his landlady. He was seething, and in her hesitation to respond, Sherlock opened his mouth to lay into her one more time.
He did not get the opportunity. Mrs. Hudson wrenched herself free from his grasp and proceeded to smack him across the face with all the force she could muster.
"You... you hit me!" The consulting detective was stunned speechless.
"You'll get worse than that if you ever act this way again. It's not my fault you don't pay enough attention to John, or to anyone else for that matter, to remember what today is. You'll get no help from me, Sherlock Holmes. I'm not one of your criminals to be manhandled. I suggest you march yourself upstairs and wait for John to return." Mrs. Hudson turned on her heel, and slammed the door in her tenant's face. As an afterthought, she shouted through the door, "You can forget the scones I was going to bring up to you... But John can still have his. And yours!"
Sherlock was certain John would tell him he should feel something, perhaps remorse, or worse, guilt, for causing Mrs. Hudson such distress. He really only felt a growing sense of urgency. Something was off. First John and Lestrade, now Sarah and Mrs. Hudson, had all referred to this day with a reverential acknowledgement. And now John was nowhere to be found. What could it all mean? What was he missing?
Sitting with a thud on a stair Sherlock dialed John's number. He wasn't responding to texts, but maybe he would answer a call. Sherlock usually only called when it was an emergency, that should get John's attention.
The phone didn't even ring, but went straight to voice mail.
"You have GOT to be kidding me. John Watson, you contact me immediately!" Sherlock roared into the phone, displeased that pressing the end button just didn't have the same impact as slamming the receiver down had earlier when Sarah had hung up on him.
"Mrs. Hudson hates me. It's all your fault. You should buy her something nice when you replace your toothbrush. SH"
"ANSWER ME. RIGHT NOW. SH"
When a response text didn't arrive, Sherlock jumped to his feet and ran up the stairs, attempting to ring John once more. Yet again the call went straight to voice mail. He drew his arm back to throw the phone down the steps, but thought better of it at the last moment as he realized he had yet to replace his replacement phone after what John had dubbed "the noodle incident." Despite himself, Sherlock chuckled at the memory, until he realized John's voice mail was still recording.
"I am NOT laughing because of something ridiculous you said once. To the contrary. You're being an idiot and I hate you right now." He disconnected the call and stormed into the flat. Stopping short, Sherlock took his time scanning every inch of the sitting room for any sort of clue as to where John could have gone.
The small, well-worn notebook John took along on cases remained in its spot next to his laptop. Not casework then.
However, the pen John kept tucked in the tablet was absent. It had been an obligatory Christmas gift from Mycroft, and as such, was inordinately fine, especially held in contrast to the shabby leather bound notebook. John was cautiously protective of it. Sherlock scoffed. So, John needed a pen. Signing documents, perhaps. Definitely something important, to warrant the use of said coveted writing implement.
Sherlock noncommittally rifled through the mound of mail and loose papers on the coffee table, tossing envelopes and glossy fliers alike to the floor. With a huff he sent the whole mess cascading over the edge of the table, deeming the lot of it completely dull and unnecessary.
John's coat hung on its designated hook, while a cherished, nearly threadbare, button up cardigan John often wore around the flat was missing. Ease of use, Sherlock decided. The coat was decidedly more cumbersome, especially with a dislocated shoulder. It also reeked of stale alcohol, the sweat of one behemoth thug, and whatever other unsavory substances had been puddled on the filthy floor of the pub where John had been attacked last night. Given enough time, Sherlock was certain he could figure out the exact coctail of grime adorning John's coat.
Perhaps another time.
“Should have dropped your coat at the cleaners since you were going out. Maximize your time. Think, John. SH”
Not wanting to miss a thing, Sherlock examined the contents of John’s coat pockets. A few coins, a random button (“A button, John? Really? What does it even belong to? Is it yours? Mine? SH”), assorted first aid supplies (bandages, ointments, aspirin), a rather nice pocket knife (“Lovely pocket knife, John. I think I’ll hold onto it for you. SH”), and a small supply of latex gloves and evidence bags. Sherlock hummed in appreciation. Captain John H. Watson, MD. Always prepared.
As he shuffled through the assorted bandages, a business card flitted to the floor at his feet. He picked it up and examined it closely. Law Offices of Lakhany, Slate, Vogel, and Weir. Sherlock recognized the firm. He tapped the card against his lips a few times as he thought. The senior partner, Mr. Albert Lakhany, Esq., was an old family friend. His specialty was settling estates. This particular law firm had never been involved in any of Sherlock’s cases, and he had made especially certain that John had been shielded from encountering any unnecessary acquaintance or relation of the Holmes family. There really was no reason to subject the man to such torture. Hadn’t he endured enough in his life?
Sherlock stood still, still tapping the card to his lips, contemplating any possible scenario that could possibly explain how John had come to possess the calling card. “Mycroft,” the younger Holmes growled. That explained the “how.” There were three people who knew the “why.” One of them was actively avoiding him at the moment, and one was bound by law to keep the reason private.
That left Mycroft. Sherlock shuddered, and reluctantly dialed the number.