He felt thoroughly wrung out by his lengthy shower, emptied until he was virtually hollow. John would feed him and he would sleep and wake up knowing how to explain to John that Anna was no longer necessary – redundant anyway, two doctors dating – and that there was no need to call upon Lestrade or Harry or Clara or anyone else for companionship, as he was back for good. If John's fear of abandonment could only be allayed by Sherlock promising he would not play dead again – a condition Sherlock knew he could meet, as Moriarty had been the only threat sufficient to disrupt the orderly patterns of his life – then Sherlock would make that promise and keep it, come hell or high water.
He found soft sleep trousers in his drawer and a T-shirt that he turned inside-out before pulling on. The silk dressing-gown felt like water against his skin as he smoothed it down to hang properly. He could hear and smell evidence that John had filled the hour by cooking, and smiled as he considered reciprocating the attentiveness by allowing John to watch one of his dreadful programmes or, even worse if only because they lasted so much longer, a film. He could sit through one without any comment as long as he made an effort, he was sure.
Sherlock felt a chill drift down his back as he walked toward the kitchen; he should have dried off more thoroughly. John's back was to him, looking warm thanks to his cashmere jumper, and John was stirring something that smelled unfamiliar but hearty.
"Is it ready?" he asked, impressed despite himself that John didn't jump though his progress through the flat had been inaudible.
"I didn't realise you were eating with us," John said. "But there's plenty, so you're welcome to. It will be ready in ten minutes."
Sherlock sighed, but quietly. Of course John was cooking fancy meals for Anna; hadn't he just defended her presence in his life as if he truly believed it would be permanent? "When does Anna arrive?"
At that, John did turn, though he kept stirring the rice with one hand. "It's not Anna. It's Mycroft."
"Yes," John said imperturbably. "He's my guest."
"It's my flat –" Sherlock began before subsiding and considering; this, probably, was why John had been so overwrought before. Sherlock had not missed how swiftly John had cleared the kitchen of Sherlock's experiments, how all of the paperwork Sherlock had liked having to hand was filed neatly away in those rolling file drawers, and he supposed that John was doing the same kind of work on him, trying to prove that he had equal rights in the state of the flat. "Fine."
"Good," John said, and attended to the food on the hob. "Ah, he's here," John continued brightly, as if Sherlock had gone suddenly deaf, or that he could no longer be trusted to deduce what those thunderous treads on the steps might mean. "Do you want to let him in or would you rather stir?"
Sherlock said nothing, implying with every fibre of his being that he was abstaining from that lose-lose choice, but he opened the door to the flat in order to catch Mycroft off his guard.
Mycroft appeared unruffled, though there were some suspicious bulges in his pockets that Sherlock instantly set about deducing. One large and square in his right trouser pocket, one small and cylindrical in the inner breast pocket of his suit jacket.
"Good evening, Sherlock," Mycroft said, making a show of courtesy purely to impress John. "I do hope you're well."
Sherlock bared his teeth in response, taken aback when Mycroft betrayed no emotion whatsoever and continued past him as though Sherlock were an insufficient impediment to ingress. Sherlock ended up trailing his brother back into the kitchen, where John was smiling benevolently at Mycroft, who was sticking his gargantuan nose into the pot still bubbling from John's exertions.
"It smells heavenly, John; I must thank you for your efforts. Your khoresht fesenjaan is sure to be sublime."
"Wait until you've tasted it to thank me," John warned, but he looked untroubled. "Sit down; it's nearly ready." He turned off the burner under the rice, but kept stirring the contents of the other pot.
"Do you need to tend it still?" Mycroft asked, clearly intimating that he wanted to speak with John. Sherlock sat first, determined not to be chased out of his own kitchen. John shook his head at both of them and gestured that Mycroft should take a chair as well. Once John was seated, Mycroft presented the square box he'd palmed.
"This is yours," Mycroft said, and John was surprised into accepting it without a murmur. When he opened the hinged box and saw what was resting on the midnight velvet, however, his mouth opened; Sherlock supposed the sight of Grandfather's watch, utterly simple and utterly beautiful, would do that to anyone.
"Mycroft, it's lovely. Normally I'd say that someone who gave a gift this lavish had more money than sense, but I know you've got all the sense in the world." John paused and drank in the beauty of the object shining in its case. "But you know I can't accept this."
Mycroft wore his most infuriating smirk. "Please, John, you must. I spent nothing on it, I assure you; it belonged to my maternal grandfather, and it was passed down to me, as was my father's watch. I can only wear one, and this one, regrettably, has been gathering dust in the meantime. As your own timepiece has incurred some damage . . ." Mycroft paused, and Sherlock eyed the cracked face of John's watch and saw the shadow of a bruise underneath it – not chipped by gravel, then, but broken by the butt of Moriarty's gun as it slammed frantically against John's wrist. "You need a replacement, and it would please me to know Grandfather's watch was finally being put to use."
It all sounded plausible, even to Sherlock, who knew very well what Mycroft was doing, sideways as a crab even when there was no need to be, oblique even with John, who was trusting and straightforward and steady. Sherlock felt a sharp jolt of hatred pulse through him. If John took off the watch he was wearing – the watch he'd been given by his parents before he began university – then the bug Moriarty had secreted inside it would be useless and Sherlock would have no way of making sure John was . . . was alive, was doing whatever it was he did when Sherlock wished for him.
"Thanks," John said, reaching for the watch, silver lambent against the fair skin of his palm. "I haven't got round to taking mine to the shop for repairs."
"Allow me," Mycroft insisted, radiating smugness as John smiled and handed over the damaged watch.
His smirk did not fade even when John said, "This is a loan, not a gift. I'm not parting with mine permanently."
"I understand," Mycroft assured him respectfully, as if he weren't burning with the desire to slide his eyes Sherlock's way and gloat openly.
"Alright then," John said, rising, "dinner's ready."
"I'll wash up," Mycroft said, rising and slipping John's watch into his trouser pocket. Sherlock would have bet all of the money he'd ever earned that Mycroft would dismantle the bug the moment he slipped out of John's view.
He rose, agitated at the way Mycroft was bulldozing into his life, and froze when John teased, "Where are you going? You can't need to wash your hands when you've just come from the shower."
The answering grin Sherlock plastered on his face was enough to discomfit John; Sherlock wished he'd be a little less perspicacious when it came to him, just this once.
"Are you feeling ill again?" John asked quietly, leaning close as if he hadn't been shying away from all expressions of intimacy since Sherlock had returned.
Sherlock shook his head mutely, willing John to understand. John bit his lip, evidently puzzled, and the sight of him struggling to understand relaxed Sherlock; surely John could not have put his finger on Sherlock's deeds so unerringly by dint of thoughtful deduction. John had taken a shot in the dark and scored a lucky hit. It would calm him down to run through all of the evidence John had overlooked, to settle back into their familiar routine, so, emboldened, he asked, "Why did you say I had been surveilling you?"
John started at that and one corner of his mouth, that curiously telling and mobile architecture, turned down. "You walked back into the flat hours after I killed Moriarty," John said simply. "Such good timing couldn't have been a coincidence."
Sherlock flushed hot and then cold at the bare-bones explanation that had not required any brainpower at all.
"Quite right," Mycroft said from behind him. "Was the pomegranate any more of a coincidence, or are you both a master chef and a master allusionist, John?"
John's face stayed unhappy. "Would you believe I wasn't thinking of Sherlock but of you when I made this?"
"I would, Doctor," Mycroft said in a gravely apologetic tone, and John's shoulders relaxed and his chin went up so that all of his face was aimed at Mycroft. "I appreciate your care for my health."
"Diet food?" Sherlock snapped, intentionally shattering the fresh peace.
"Heart-healthy," John started, but Mycroft interrupted again.
"He'll have deleted all of that, John; anything to do with food was of no interest to him."
"I learned from the poor example of my elders."
"What you do not know, Sherlock, is that the pomegranate is a food with a story built around it, that of a loved one's unexpected return from the realm of death."
Sherlock was determined not to look at John's face just then.
"And what you have failed to deduce, despite John's painstaking selection of an appropriate recipe and this bottle of pills I have taken to carrying on my person, is that I had a heart attack while you were apparently occupied elsewhere."
He couldn't help it then; he had to read Mycroft's greyish skin, the protrusion of the bottle under the soft folds of his suit jacket, the directness of his gaze. Mycroft was not lying and John had known, had – Sherlock saw it in his stance – been the only witness to the attack and had got Mycroft to hospital in such short order that Mycroft's life had been spared. John was a marvel. But John was withholding himself from Sherlock still.
Trial by fire, then. "What do you need to hear?" he demanded, forcing John to meet his earnest eyes.
"That you're hungry," John said, retreating, as he dished out chicken-and-pomegranate stew over rice.
It was unbearable that John put so low and yet so distant a price on his regard. Still smarting, Sherlock turned on Mycroft. "Did you really think I had failed to deduce the state of your health? Is not the more plausible explanation that, as you did not bother to deduce that I was merely absent and not dead, I withheld my own conclusions about you?"
"Not at all, as you clearly see my health as a never-ending opportunity to flaunt your superiority," Mycroft said, a knife-edge in his voice. "Do not, furthermore, attempt to convince us that your original plan was a ploy to rouse me. Were you truly trying to pique my interest, you would have chosen another method; you are aware that you have gone to this well too often for it to arrest my attention."
"No –" Sherlock pleaded in a harsh whisper, the word nearly punched out of him.
"I have seen you dead, or infinitesimally close, several times, always because you set the stage to appear so. Overdose when you were nineteen, again at twenty-three, another encore later still." Mycroft was implacable, sitting there like an underworld judge, but it was John's face, crumpled with agony, that made Sherlock squirm.
He could barely breathe under the weight of their eyes. He dropped his spoon in the untouched mess of his plate and bolted from the table.
He paced until the floorboards of his bedroom sang predictable notes. His laptop was right there and he eventually succumbed to its lure, hunched in a tight ball on the treacherously soft bed. There was a study on the prevalence of heart attacks in the newly bereaved, which would have pleased Mycroft, who apparently subscribed to the medieval notion of the physical organ of the heart being the seat of emotion. T wenty-one times more likely than an unbereaved person to succumb the next day, six times more likely in the next week.
So Mycroft's grief for Amy had been genuine, and John had seen it; it was little wonder that John had not wanted to reach out to him, as Mycroft would have made clear that Sherlock was the one to blame for her death. It wasn't fair that things had spiralled so spectacularly out of control, that Amy's own agency as a player in the game was thoroughly ignored, that John could withhold himself and feel no loss just because Sherlock had never reached out in return.
Everything had gone awry and Sherlock could not see even a single thread to lead him out of the labyrinth, though it was his own construction.
He started as John's arms wrapped around him from behind and John's warm lips pressed against his temple. He swivelled as best he could, still enfolded in the comfort of a soft jumper and strong arms. "Why –?" he asked, swallowing the rest of his question.
"It wasn't until I said it out loud that I realised," John said, voice a rumble in Sherlock's ear, against Sherlock's spine, "for all that I'd been stewing over it for so long. That you returned to Baker Street as soon as Moriarty was gone meant you'd been watching me or him, yeah. But it also meant that you wanted to come home."
"And you're glad?" Sherlock asked, hands coming up to clasp the sturdy forearms that lay over his clavicles.
"Gladder than I'd known I could be," John said, then eased himself free. "Get some sleep."
"So what happened with the rest of Moriarty's people?" John asked the next morning when Sherlock stumbled into the kitchen, as if continuing a conversation in progress. John shook something into a liquid mess of eggs and then whipped the mixture thoroughly with a fork, his hips shifting in a pleasing rhythm as he stirred.
Sherlock wasn't sure how much detail John wanted. He had asked, yes, but had done so in a way that conflated all of the henchmen, collapsing the levels of distinction between them, so that Moran was no more important than the pathetic specimen Molly had shrivelled into dust with no more than justified indignation. "They made themselves irrelevant or were eliminated."
"By you?" John asked as he poured the egg mixture into a hot pan already sizzling with a pat of butter skating drunkenly across its surface.
"Not –" Sherlock had not planned to confess, but something about John compelled him. "One, yes." Even from behind, he stood out – the way his hair grew in neat, tight spirals from one point on his head; the matchless softness of the pink insides of his elbows, glimpsed as he stood with arms akimbo; the cracked heels on which he danced slightly while waiting for his eggs to cook. John was wearing only the T-shirt and drawstring trousers he'd slept in, but was making a hot breakfast. Taken together, that meant that the weather was turning and John would go on long walks and return with his cheeks brightened and his spirits lifted simply because it was autumn.
John turned to eye him. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Sherlock shook his head tightly; the less time Underhill occupied his thoughts, the less purchase the whole incident would have on his time with John. Though . . . John had killed before and somehow was still John.
"If you want to later, just let me know," John said lightly, and there was a pause during which Sherlock congratulated himself on his escape. Then John continued, as he flipped the omelette, "Honestly, did you have one decent meal while you were chasing after them?"
John's tone indicated that a good meal would have been a real treat, but the closest Sherlock could recall coming to that was the packet of cigarettes he'd smoked through while on Moran's trail. John eyed him and said, "Cigarettes do not count as a meal, Sherlock. Incorrigible."
He wasn't incorrigible, surely, not if his first impulse had been to conceal his actions from John and vow not to succumb again?
"What did you live off of?"
"Grammar, John," Sherlock said caustically and John grinned shamelessly.
"Off of what did you live?" John rephrased obligingly, still smiling, but repeating the question gave him time to consider the possibilities and the mirth disappeared from his face. "You didn't have to –"
"I had some cash handy," Sherlock interrupted, unwilling to let John put his doubts into words, but even there he steered wrong. John's face transmitted his fear that Sherlock had been saving money for drugs. As if he could not have manufactured whatever he needed, as he had before. As if he had no incentive to stay clean, given that he knew very well how John would look at him if he began to use again. "John –" he began, cutting himself short when John slid the omelette in front of him.
"Eat it while it's hot," John requested, as if a command would have been an imposition, and cracked more eggs to make his own breakfast.
John's breath quickened and he shook out the newspaper twice, thrice, the way he did when he was genuinely interested in the subject at hand. Sherlock gritted his teeth, frustrated that he had not skimmed the paper before John settled down with it and would have to ask like any idiot what had caught John's attention. No, better by far to let John volunteer the information; music would surely coax it out of him more quickly than any other indirect stimulus. He warmed up his fingers with scales and arpeggios, then ran through a few exercises of his own devising.
But John, contrary John, resisted the music and read further, sinking deeper into his chair; he even booted up his laptop and entered a URL with his accustomed slowness, checking his typing several times by referring back to the newspaper. Sherlock frowned and turned from Romantic to Baroque, feeling a sense of failure. John glanced up as the crisp, mathematical melodies penetrated the fog he was in.
"Did you do that on purpose?" he asked, eyes shining.
Sherlock merely smiled, determined not to douse the aura of mystery, but John laughed and said, "Suppose not."
"You would have taken credit for it if you'd known what you'd done. No, first you would have explained every thought in my head and then you'd have taken credit for deducing them."
It wasn't mean-spirited; John was inviting him to laugh. Sherlock didn't think he could manage that much, but he could at least be civil. "So what were you reading?"
"They've sequenced the Black Death genome ," John answered promptly. "It's fascinating."
Yes, John would be intrigued by a story like that, combining medicine with history and public health. He wondered if John might have gone into research had he not been swept off his feet by the siren call of adrenaline. Actually, that was irrelevant; the crucial point was whether John mourned the lost possibility of such a life, if he would trade the scars on his body for an eternity of safety and boredom. John might wish to retain his army and medical-school experiences, but it was a near certainty that the last few months had represented a low point for him, one that he must wish to forget. Those months looked like years on John's face, and Sherlock abruptly recalled that he must have missed John's birthday. Surely he'd been taken out, though, by all the people that John claimed had his best interests at heart – Harry and Clara, Lestrade and his wife, even Stamford and Donovan. There was no way to ask.
"Sherlock?" John broke into his recriminations with a puzzled smile. "Just the very words 'Black Death' are enough to ensure a rapturous silence? I'll have to try that more often."
"Just considering the concept of public service," Sherlock said crisply, but he must have miscalculated his tone, as John swiftly cut him off.
"You do know that solving cases is an act of public service, don't you?" When Sherlock scoffed, John plodded on, so absolutely in earnest that Sherlock had not the heart to point out that motives were completely meaningless. "You solve problems that look insoluble, even ones that don't look like problems. And you don't require any reward other than setting things right."
"Yes, nobility is my salient characteristic," Sherlock sneered.
"I'm not claiming that it is. I'm just saying there are a hundred uses talents like yours could be put to, and you've chosen to serve the greater good."
Was that the light in which John truly viewed him? No wonder his blog posts were paeans in praise of the matchless intelligence that bowed to no considerations but the truth.
But John was particularly sharp-eyed today, and he read Sherlock's discomfiture with ease. Sherlock opened his mouth, ready to rebut all of John's pitying theories as soon as they burst forth, but John looked at him, sleep-rumpled and well-fed and agonisingly bored, and said something unexpected. "This time tomorrow, I'll be on my shift, so I'm going out while the weather holds. Care to join me?"
There was going to have to be a point at which he stopped hiding away from John, if John was going to forgive him fully. He raised his chin defiantly and went to change his clothes.
Only a few leaves had reverted back to the colours that chlorophyll masked in the warmer seasons, but there was a definite bite in the air, and Sherlock missed his scarf. John's bright face was turned up to the sky and he was already humming something under his breath. Sherlock considered him as objectively as he could and realised there was no outward symmetry between them that would indicate that they wanted to spend time together, as there was between the two women walking toward them hand-in-hand or the man on the corner wearing the same style of jumper as his wife. He stuffed his fists into the pockets of his coat so he wouldn't reach out; it was up to John to set the terms of their time together, as he'd asked for his company.
"Were you in London the whole time you were away?" John asked, startling him into looking directly at him.
"And you dyed your hair because?"
"I needed Mycroft's men to overlook me," he started, trying to keep everything simple. He should have mentioned Moriarty instead, he saw instantly; John was getting agitated, no doubt recalling Mycroft looking wan and weak in a hospital bed.
"I don't understand how –" John interrupted himself. "The woman he loved had been brutally murdered and her body just recovered, and you –"
That time, Sherlock interrupted him. "Don't exaggerate. She was a player in the game, a tool he could use for his ends." John was silent, so he pressed his advantage. "She designed all of the surveillance equipment he had placed throughout our flat."
"Mycroft loved her, Sherlock."
"You have no proof of that." What did it matter in any case? She was dead and Mycroft's feelings were moot. "Don't, I beg you, say 'you can't deduce love' or any other trite and ghastly thing."
"No, I wouldn't. You deduced love right in front of me, that first case we worked on. Jennifer Wilson, you saw that she'd had a string of lovers just by looking at her, remember? But you didn't know why she had them, what part her memories of Rachel played in that decision, or why she didn't just leave her husband."
"You know your brother loved her, that she was important to him."
"And sentiment should outweigh all other considerations?"
John stopped short. "Hardly. But it is a consideration all on its own."
At last, John was saying something useful. "And you believe I cannot be trusted to give emotions their proper due."
"Have you ever had to?" John fired back. "I certainly haven't made you, and it sounds like Mycroft never did either."
"You are making leaps that defy logic," Sherlock warned, striding away, pulling clean air into his lungs.
"No, I'm not. I was introduced to you simply as a potential flatmate, but I became your bodyguard, your audience, your doctor, your caretaker, your friend –"
"Everything," Sherlock summarised; it was hardly flattery if it was the truth, and he wanted John to stop being angry and just smile at him the way he used to, before Moriarty sent their lives careening off-course.
"No," John said, walking next to him, military march. "No one person can be everything to another person."
Sherlock reached for him to stop him in his tracks but John didn't see; Sherlock made a desperate grab for him and pulled him close.
"You see any emotion as a flaw, except when it comes to me. All of your emotions, good and bad, are aimed at me," John said. Sherlock shook his head – what a ridiculous notion – and that seemed to strengthen John's resolve. "And you want me to be solely invested in you."
"I know quite well you are not," Sherlock acknowledged, recalling John's pleasure as he and Anna coupled on the sofa, John's tenderness as he spoke to Harry and Clara, John's delight in Lestrade and his wife.
"Leave over being angry at me," John said, facing him squarely, and Sherlock stared in disbelief. "Because here's the thing, Sherlock. The fact that I didn't wail like a widow, that I put myself to bed and got up in the mornings and went to work and held tight to my friends – that doesn't mean that I never loved you or that I'm not happier than I've ever been about anything that you're back. It just means I had reserves of strength to call on. So stop punishing me."
That was not right at all. John was the one doling out the punishments, withdrawing from Sherlock at every opportunity. But the words would not come out; his throat was stuck, his face was hot, and John was out of reach despite being toe-to-toe with him.
"Let's not even get into the fact that your realisation that I didn't fall apart means that you started to doubt if you'd read me right at all, and consequently you're unsure that running off in secret was the right move to make," John said, looking up with eyes that were rock-steady, unable to be evaded.
John suddenly looked a little blurry, and Sherlock was horrified to find himself blinking back tears of frustration and rage. He couldn't tell if John had seen, as John was looking terribly kind and terribly unyielding, the two in perfect balance. With a supreme act of will, Sherlock swallowed and spoke.
"What you mean is that you were unprepared for me to carry out logic to its fullest extent and thought I'd give up the organising principle of my life in order to remain with you." A thought occurred to him. "Or perhaps it is your girlfriend who requires an explanation for our relationship and you could not offer her one."
Didn't John see that they could transcend boundaries, that they belonged together? Anna was not necessary, and John's sexual hunger was just a weakness.
John's face took on a peculiar expression.
"Anna and I are no longer dating," he said, and Sherlock felt the words like he'd been thumped on the back by a giant fist. "But this is what I mean – you resent that I want a lover just because you don't. We're not alike in every way, Sherlock, and there are people I want or need who aren't you – sometimes because they aren't you."
He stopped, abruptly, and shook his head. "That sounded terrible. I just meant – here, take Harry for example. She's my sister, the only other person in the world who grew up with the same mum and dad in the same house. She knows things about me no one else does, things she probably doesn't even remember sometimes." Sherlock's anger found a new channel, that Harry would squander memories of John. "And I love her and I know she loves me. But even she can't be everything for me the way you want to, and it's true the other way round as well; I'm her brother, but I wasn't her reason for quitting drinking."
"Clara was," Sherlock pointed out.
"Yes, but my point was that people usually need more than one source of strength, and Harry had herself and Clara and me and who knows how many other people besides."
"I've had to hear about your sister's alcoholism on a fairly regular basis, and it has no bearing on our situation," Sherlock said, ignoring both the triumphant tattoo of his heartbeat that shouted Anna's gone and the feeling of pins and needles in his leg.
John's eyebrows, which had been arched hopefully, slammed down. "Here's the relevance. She's more than my sister, though that's the way I'll always know her. There's more to me than just your friend or dogsbody or whatever you need from me at any given moment. You don't get to play merry hell with my heart because you think you've sussed out everything there is to know about me."
Looking at him, at the lines on his weary face and the soft dampness of his mouth, Sherlock sincerely thanked whoever had broken John's heart before him, just because it meant he hadn't been the first, hadn't been the one to scar and maim the man standing in front of him, all earnest eyes and enraged words.
"There are parts of me that you don't get to have. I am not on this earth just to be your shadow and echo."
"That was not my assumption," Sherlock responded venomously. "You say that I do not take emotion into account, but that seems to be all you do. Look dispassionately at the situation, John; that's all that I require. Moriarty thought he had killed me, and I saw the advantage I could gain if his delusion was not dispelled immediately. His whole organisation could be brought down by someone working invisibly. There was no one else to be that someone other than me. To use your terrible logic, I was born for it."
John looked shocked and brought his hand up to scrub futilely at his face, as if he wanted to wipe the sunshine away; his borrowed watch shone in the light and Sherlock was dizzy with gratitude that Mycroft would never hear a syllable of this excoriation. "You do know that's not true, don't you? I wasn't saying that there's more to just me than you ever saw; I meant to say that there's more to you too."
"No –" He could barely get a word in edgewise, so eager was John to refute even the most self-evident logic.
"Look, there are two things everyone who meets you knows straight off: you're a detective and you're my best friend. Two things – not just one, like you're a machine made for a single purpose."
"You're wrong, John; everything ties together in me." He began pacing, and John stayed still and let him roam, though he'd begun casting a longing eye at the closest bench. "I was born with ample intelligence. I grew up with Mycroft training me to observe and think; before I had my first haircut, I had made my first deduction."
He could see the counter-argument John was about to make and felt a vindictive pleasure in beating him to the punch.
"I picked up the violin not because music spoke to my soul but because the discipline of it made orderly the paths of my thoughts; cocaine lent those thoughts swiftness." John's eyes clouded and Sherlock felt the sting of a pyrrhic victory. "I was not speaking idly when I deemed everything but my mind 'transport'; everything I am has tended toward one goal, as I've winnowed away all else. As for your proximity – my work necessarily endangers my life, and you stayed because I could supply you with adrenaline."
"And I said I loved you because?" John asked forthrightly. "No, don't bother, you haven't got an answer, and that speech you gave is the biggest load of shite I've ever heard in my life. If you didn't know it before, hear me and know it now: you're more than a crime-solving machine, more than just Moriarty's nemesis."
He sniffed and stepped closer, halting Sherlock's pacing. "You deserve better than that." His hands came up to cup Sherlock's elbows, an awkward position that was less crowding than a full embrace but conveyed the same meaning, at least when John's smile was shining out at him. "I should have seen you weren't accustomed to treating yourself as a person and couldn't be expected to know how to see me as one either."
"Was that a compliment?" he asked after a pause for consideration, genuinely curious.
"No, you egomaniac. An observation." His hands grew tight. "It devastated me, Sherlock, thinking you were dead. Don't do it again."
"Never," Sherlock promised, and a breeze blew between them, setting John's sun-gilded hair on end and no doubt rearranging his own curls into an unflattering mop.
John laughed, squeezed once, and let go. "Though given that I secretly thought of you as the Pollux to my Castor, I supposed I should have known you'd prove to be immortal."
Sherlock awoke in the morning to a Johnless flat, absolutely silent. He felt some sort of stirring in his belly and assumed it was hunger and would go away eventually. Then he considered John's plea for him to think of himself as a person – not normal or ordinary, but just as human as John. When he was hungry, he should eat, particularly since there was no case that made running lean a matter of urgency. There was milk in the fridge, and bread and eggs. He wasn't sure he knew what John had added to the eggs to make the omelettes, so he decided to keep it simple. Toast with John's raspberry jam and a glass of milk took only a few minutes to prepare and just as short a time to consume; the whole process from beginning to end occupied less than ten minutes, though he had skipped the washing up.
Feeling refreshed, he lounged in one of the club chairs, his spine against one arm while the other supported his knees, idly composing on his violin. There wasn't a complete idea there yet, not even a proper motif, but something was germinating – John would like that term's horticultural connotations.
He borrowed an egg-timer from Mrs. Hudson and boiled two for his lunch when that rumbling made itself known again. John kept salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder on the table; Sherlock divided his eggs neatly into quarters and experimented with combinations of spices. The section with salt and pepper reminded him very strongly of sitting for the first time in a proper chair at the table, same as Mycroft's and not that embarrassing raised chair he'd needed for so long because he'd been rather small. He and Mycroft had only had one year of shared breakfasts before Mycroft had gone off to school and Sherlock spoke either to empty rooms or to servants who had been trained not to answer back. One year of being half of "those odd Holmes boys" before he had to stand on his own and let his brain and tongue carve out a place of respect suited to his shape. Only a few days of that and he'd realised that caring what others thought of him, called him, was as pointless as expecting himself to be able to fly.
He dumped his plate in the sink and determined that if he chose the same foods tomorrow, he would eat his eggs off his toast plate and save John the washing of one dish; it sounded vaguely restful rather than alarming to have a routine sketched out.
He opened his laptop to research "Pollux" and "Castor" and found too many disparate versions to be able to rely on any one. It was John's allusion, so all he needed was to go to the source John had used to understand his full meaning; he pulled John's favourite Greek mythology text from one of the shared bookshelves. Castor and Pollux were half-brothers, hatched out of eggs laid by their mother, though Castor was entirely human and Pollux was half-divine. Sherlock wondered briefly at what point in human history people stopped being so bloody idiotic before reading on. Castor, the one who could be killed, had been, and Pollux, the untouchable, the immortal, had out of love given up half his immortality to share with his brother.
He could see why the story appealed to John – the two were inseparable and an exemplar of fraternal devotion. Reading the story as John knew it gave Sherlock a feeling of disbelieving pleasure; it seemed that John saw them as not only linked but of a kind, though he erred in viewing Sherlock as the greater of the two. Sherlock thought that their completeness and utter self-sufficiency as a pair rather undercut the point John had made so passionately yesterday, but accepted that fiction did not always follow the rules; John was at least partly right about the parallel – Sherlock had no intention of living without John. He just had to remind John of what they had shared, draw him slowly back in without dropping any hint that that was what he was doing, because John was as stubborn as a mule and had convinced himself that Sherlock did not need him specifically but rather any warm body that parroted "Fantastic" and "Brilliant" at regular intervals. But John was hardly fungible, even if he did claim for himself – and, more importantly, for Sherlock – the absolute ordinariness of being human.
Still, Sherlock knew they were two prime examples. With a feeling of glee, he entered the URL for his website and updated it: Accepting cases again. He wondered what John was doing, then checked his email. A message from Lestrade from that morning, consisting of the DI's office phone number, was in his inbox; Lestrade was clearly firing on all cylinders to have realised that Sherlock no longer had his contacts in his phone and that he might need a reminder of the best way to reach someone. Still, Sherlock had had Lestrade's mobile number memorised for five years, and required no such courtesies. He texted Lestrade and picked up when Lestrade rang him back.
"Got a case, bit of a weird one. Pranks escalated very suddenly up to murder, looks like. D'you want in?" A bit different from a pleading "Will you come?" but he supposed Lestrade had started to wean himself away from depending on others to do his job for him.
"Where are you?"
"Mayfair – Berkeley Street."
"I'll be there within the hour," Sherlock promised, beaming so incessantly that, minutes later, the spray from his shower hit his teeth.
John shouldn't miss this, he thought as he towelled himself dry. Berkeley St, Mayfair – murder. SH he texted, but got no response.
Settled in the cab, he checked his email on his mobile, and it seemed to be in good working order, but John did not respond. Perhaps John would be waiting at Berkeley Street with Lestrade.
He did hope Lestrade wouldn't make a big production out of working with him again; surely that co-tantrum he and his wife had thrown would be enough to get any irritation out of his system.
"Just over there, by the police tape," Sherlock directed the cabbie, who looked more than eager to depart the scene, which made Sherlock look closely at him for the first time. No actual crimes committed, just a disinclination to be in proximity to the police, suggesting an adolescence spent on the cusp of criminal behaviour.
"Ah, Lestrade," he said, exiting the taxi, speaking first to catch Lestrade on the back foot.
"This is the third showroom that's been broken into with merchandise destroyed," Lestrade said, launching immediately into the most professional rundown Sherlock had ever heard from him, "but the first where a murder occurred as well. We're proceeding on the assumption that the same party was responsible for both, but we're open to hearing your conclusions."
"How very generous of you," Sherlock said, unable to resist.
Lestrade still stood between him and the door to the Jaguar showroom. "If you don't want to be part of the investigation, you're free to go right now." His face was set and he did not appear to be bluffing.
"Will the Jaguar people agree to that?" he needled.
"Absolutely," Lestrade said, almost convincing. "Just as John would let you walk away from a murder victim."
It's a public service, Sherlock recalled John saying of his work, and he dropped the posturing and inclined his head to indicate that he would follow Lestrade's lead. "I'm ready."
There was a cluster of people hovering near the body, none of whom was John, so he decided to start with the vandalism, which no one was paying much attention to. Three of the seven cars in the showroom had been damaged, the tyres slashed and the paint near the bottom of the frames scratched. He crouched and tucked his body close to the first car – taupe, closed-top. The scratches in the paint were not quite shallow, but nor were they a message; probing the longest scratch thoughtfully with a delicate fingertip, Sherlock decided it was simple carelessness. The vandal had clearly wanted to slash the tyres and had simply not taken enough care to tuck his knife flat against his thigh as he moved from rear to front.
He rolled forward a bit, sitting back on his haunches and wondering dispassionately why so many people rhapsodised over "new-car smell." It was doing nothing for him, though perhaps that might have been because the smell of inky black rubber was so strong, as his face was mere millimetres away from the right front tyre. The damage had been done to the upper left of the wheel, at about "ten o'clock," if the tyre could be reimagined as an analogue clock. It was no mere puncture or slash – the vandal had sawed at the tyre until the rubber parted and expelled some of the noxious air trapped inside. A closer inspection of the wheel – when it was not in situ – would no doubt reveal that the blade used was serrated.
Sherlock followed the vandal's progress around the car, using the trail of rubber shavings left in a faint but distinctive ring around the vehicle to do so. The ivory car bore the same markings, as did the one painted a pale green often referred to as "mint," though the actual herb's colouring was much more robust and vivid. It was at the ivory car that he encountered Donovan, whose arms were folded sternly across her chest when he glanced up to dismiss her with a look.
"No, you don't," she said. "You had people crying over you, thinking they'd give anything to have you back, and here you are with that same sneer on your face."
"Sally," he said, sighing a little as he stood, letting the folds of his coat, which had been tucked into the bend of his knees, fall freely. "I don't believe I owe you any apology."
"End justifies the means with you, doesn't it?" she agreed, face blank like he'd hurt her somehow. "I notice John's not here, putting up with your shit. Maybe having you swan off was enough to break the spell."
No, John was coming, wasn't he? He turned his back to check his phone, frowning as he tried to make the lack of response to his text seem like a clue for Donovan's benefit. "I have apologised to John for my absence, and Lestrade evidently found that to be sufficient, Sergeant. I suspect that if I turned this conversation the right way round, I'd be waiting in vain for your thanks for dismantling Moriarty's organisation."
"You apologised to John?" she demanded, as if she expected him to produce video of the moment to satisfy her. She dropped her hands and stepped away. "The body's over there, when you're done crawling round on your belly."
He watched her walk away, surprised by how readily she'd dropped her steely pose. No longer entwined with Anderson – that much was evident from her posture and her complexion. Still subordinate to Lestrade, despite the fact that in terms of ability they were roughly equal; she was not quite ready to strike out on her own yet, though she had been preparing, in a thoroughly disorganised and haphazard way, to sit for the Detective Inspector examination.
And here came Lestrade now, ready to wade into the evidence of the vandal's work on the tyres because he could not see any connection between this crime and that of murder. Sherlock put up a hand to stop him before his shoes actually disturbed the ring around the third car.
"The murder was committed because the victim surprised the vandal in the commission of his planned crime. The victim is a security guard, stripped of his uniform, which will be located in a bin somewhere in the showroom; you should have been able to identify his profession from the fact that this is at least the third security guard you and I have found dead since we began working together and all the bodies have shared certain tell-tale characteristics. To return to the main crime: this was not vandalism for the sake of damaging something expensive and out of reach. He – for simplicity's sake we will call the criminal 'he' – slashed open the tyres of these two cars, killed the guard by stabbing him in the chest, and returned to hack away at the tyres of the third car. There is blood evident on the shavings of rubber circling the third car, and no doubt there are particles of rubber in the stab wound that punctured the guard's heart."
"Fantastic," Lestrade said, deadpan. "Why?"
"Ah," Sherlock said, biting back a retort about the DI needing a bedtime story. "That's where it gets interesting. We know he had time to kill the guard, strip him, and return to his task, but it's unclear whether he had finished or whether he intended to damage every car in the same way and was scared off by something. What is the estimated time of death?"
"Six this morning. Morning guard came to relieve him, found him still warm. Can't remember if he heard anything, though he admits he was making enough of a racket to have scared off anybody, singing along with his iPod."
"Good. So, the possibility exists that the vandal was interrupted and plans to return to finish the job. The question then becomes: why did he damage these three cars, either only or first?"
"You want to translate that?"
"Do drop the act, Lestrade, and admit you're following me; I won't fault you for not having the answer to that question, as I don't yet have it myself." Sherlock, pleased at Lestrade's gaping, continued. "Either he only wanted to damage these three cars, or he chose these three cars first and was planning to do the same to some, if not all, of the others. So, why these three?"
"These three are the only light-coloured models in the showroom," Lestrade offered, clearly postulating that the vandal had some deep-seated trauma concerning pale cars. "Or" – he had seen Sherlock's purposefully unsubtle eyeroll – "maybe it had nothing to do with the paint, since it's the tyres he was after."
Good, that was better, and quicker than Sherlock had expected.
Donovan had rejoined them, listening intently. "If the killer was hiding in the employees' loo, which he might have been, as there are no signs of a break-in, these three would have been the first he'd see when he came from that direction."
"Valid," Sherlock allowed graciously. He pivoted and did a quick sweep of the showroom, collating the information in his mind. "The showroom appears to be organised by models. There are XFs, XJs, XKs, and a few scattered throughout that do not, miraculously, have 'X' in the model name. Only the XJs have been damaged."
His mobile beeped and he saw a flash of a message: You go ahead. John He lost track of what he was saying. When he looked back up, Donovan was directing the photographer to get close-up snaps of all of the tyres in the showroom and Lestrade was watching him silently. Sherlock turned his attention back to his phone, fingers flying as he sought an answer to the immediate problem and filed the far more important one away until he could discover what had gone wrong.
"X Js are fitted with 225/55 16 W Pirelli P6000 tyres, with which no other model is routinely matched," he said after a few minutes of furious Googling.
"There is no bloody way a man's lying dead because some nutter had a beef with a kind of tyre," Lestrade said. "Absolutely not."
"The data is here; I have not twisted it to suit any theory, not even one in which our vandal was traumatised by a pale-coloured car."
Lestrade looked like he was trying very hard to keep hold of his temper. "How likely is it that the killer's done here?"
"Impossible to say. Leave a man here in case, and notify all Jaguar dealerships in the vicinity that there is the possibility of trouble."
"New cars only, and just Jaguars?"
"That much you should be able to tell from the other two dealerships he hit," Sherlock pointed out, and turned to go.
An hour later, he was on his own sofa, one of the blankets that lay on the arms draped comfortably over his bare feet, his laptop warming his thighs. P irelli, an Italian firm, had just opened a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Carlisle. Presumably there was some way to trace each tyre back to the plant where it was made, though the key to the puzzle could also be matching the tyres to the vehicles; he was not going to endure a five-hour journey north unless he absolutely had to. It would be a neat deductive triumph to solve this one with a minimum of legwork in any case.
John walked into the flat then, looking happy and energised, even after a fairly long shift. Sherlock opened his mouth to greet him and then closed it with a snap when he smelled the foreign fragrances duelling for ascendancy on John's skin. One was Anna's shampoo, without a doubt, and the other was less familiar these days, but still unmistakeably Sarah's lotion. No wonder John appeared so satisfied with himself.
"Did you not inform me that you were no longer seeing Anna?" he asked.
John didn't even have the grace to blush as he took off his jacket. "I'm not, but –"
No, he didn't have to stay to listen to John explaining how wonderful she was, or, worse, how irresistible he was even to women he'd given up. Sherlock swung his legs off the sofa, set his computer aside, and stood.
"Wait," John said, smiling while his face took on a familiar expression of confusion, "what's got into you?"
"You were in close contact with Sarah and Anna within the past hour. Anyone else that you managed to fit into your schedule?"
John had been peering at the laptop screen, shaking his head at the photographs of luxury cars, all designed to part a fool and his money, when his spine stiffened at Sherlock's words.
"Really? This again?" Sherlock crossed his arms defiantly. "You know quite well why Sarah and I called it quits, Sherlock. You had to, because you were the main reason!" John cleared his throat; evidently he had not meant to let his irritation become so full-throated. "And I . . . left her in the lurch when you disappeared" – Sherlock remembered the conversation he'd watched on his laptop, when Mycroft had coaxed John into admitting he'd quit the surgery – "and I knew she'd been having quite a time trying to find someone reliable to fill my spot. So I introduced her and Anna, and they hit it off."
"And you've indebted them both to you," Sherlock summarised when it became clear that John believed the story needed no further embellishment. "Sarah gets a doctor for her staff, Anna gets a steady paycheque, and you?"
John shot him a look that was at least half disappointment. "It was in my power to do them a favour, and I was happy to do so because they're my friends." It sounded like he was reciting a lesson in front of an indifferent classroom. He eyed Sherlock up and down in a way he'd insisted before was rude, but apparently only when Sherlock did it, and continued, "This isn't some barter system through which we'll now get free food or free dry-cleaning or what have you for life." John ran a hand through his hair. "You're making me feel like a shit, you know." He paused, but his words were no more convincing for having been considered. "It's like you think I want to erase you and make you over to be the next Dalai Lama. It was just something I could do to help them both out."
Fine. John was after unrewarded acts of kindness, but how did introducing two women who were bound to meet each other sooner or later, given that they were both medical professionals who had kept company with the same man, take precedence over a crime scene complete with murder victim? In fact, it was implausible that they hadn't met before, when John had been too adrift to insist on boundaries between his personal life and professional one, when Anna was a new romantic entanglement and Sarah would have been looking to rekindle her own relationship with John.
"During your work hours," Sherlock noted in a low murmur.
"No, during my break – they met me there. Jesus, if my boss had no problem with it, I don't see why you should have."
"You didn't answer your phone."
"Ah, that's the real crime, is it? Wouldn't have helped even if I'd had the time," John said, and Sherlock sucked in a surprised breath; Anna and Sarah together could not have made a compelling argument for John to cut ties with him, could they? "Not much of a car fancier," John said, sparing another glance at the laptop as he went into the kitchen for a glass of water.
"Off to the pub with Mike, if you want to join us?" John offered though he barely waited for Sherlock's indignant shake of the head. "If you solve it, come out and join us. We'll be at the White Rose." He walked out the door, inelegant jacket only halfway on.
Sherlock would have screamed with frustration, had he not known that it would have no effect other than to summon Mrs. Hudson with a pot of tea and a wide array of biscuits.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/427273.html.