Sherlock hasn’t even gotten to Bart’s when he gets the text from John.
Sherlock frowns, rolls his eyes, and texts back, Busy. If you need assistance locating the DVDs I asked you to bring, perhaps you shouldn’t have forgotten them in the first place. SH
Or better yet, don’t bother, I doubt they’ll be necessary to get what I need from Molly. SH
Sherlock waits after that, though he has one more text ready, because he’s expecting some sort of sarcastic reply alluding to the fact that, as John’s a normal human being, he requires more than a few hours of sleep a night to function at optimum levels, unlike some other people who will remain nameless – John would be wrong on both accounts, as Sherlock has gotten somewhat less than a few hours of sleep a night and, as much as he dislikes admitting it, Sherlock’s body does, in fact, need sleep to function.
It’s an emergency, Sherlock.
The reply takes Sherlock by surprise. He pauses, moving his thumb away from the ‘send’ button, and considers that logically. John doesn’t say things like that unless it really is urgent. John could be in danger – hurt – and if he is, it’s much more important than picking up supplies from Bart’s.
If you don’t come back, I’ll let her play with your experiments.
Sherlock’s eyes widen, and he tells the taxi driver to turn back towards Baker Street while he types out his return text. What? Let who play with them? SH
John doesn’t answer fast enough – i.e., in the time it takes Sherlock to type out the second text – so he sends, No one better touch my experiments. SH
And then, They’re highly sensitive. SH
They’re also important to this case, John, in case you’ve forgotten. SH
Not all of them.
Sherlock promises the driver ten pounds if he gets them to Baker Street in under two minutes.
You don’t know which ones are related to the case. SH
I can guess.
I’m coming back, John, as quickly as possible. SH
He arrives in just over a minute, gives over a handful of notes to the driver, and bolts through the front door. Sherlock’s not half-way up the stairs before he hears voices. Calm voices, having an ordinary conversation, and he slows down to hear them. He dislikes the idea of bursting in without knowing what’s going on.
“Just sugar, no milk, thank you,” a female voice says.
“Lots of sugar, if she takes her tea anything like her coffee,” a second female voice adds.
Sherlock’s eyes narrow. John’s emergency is that he has two women over and is serving them tea? Sherlock should think John would want him gone from the flat, considering John’s normal reactions to Sherlock interrupting his dates. The two women sound vaguely familiar, though Sherlock can’t place them quite yet.
“Oh, shut up,” the first woman says. There’s a pause, then, “A private lab, Sam. Private.”
“Are you still on about that?” the second woman – Sam – asks. “Come on, the facilities you work with are better.”
“Not that much,” the first woman replies sulkily. “And he doesn’t have to share it with any idiot student taking a science course. Can’t I just have one?”
“No,” John and Sam say at the same time.
Two voices, the exact same tone. Intriguing.
“Tell you what, Fiona, I’ll buy you a test tube or something for your birthday and Christmas every year, and eventually you’ll have your own lab,” Sam says.
Fiona. Fiona Masters, the girl who John thinks didn’t do it – who didn’t do it, but that’s beside the point. And Sam must be Samantha Brown, the girl who’d found the last victim; that’s why they sounded so familiar.
John’s called them both over for tea, and demanded Sherlock come back for it? Why?
Well. The easiest way to find out is by going in. Sherlock straightens his coat, adjusts his scarf, and climbs the rest of the stairs, opening the door into the living room.
He’d been right – of course he’d been right – it is indeed Brown and Masters from the university sitting on the sofa in their living room. They’re sitting a reasonable distance away from each other, but they’ve angled themselves towards each other, knees all but touching.
John comes out of the kitchen with a pair of mugs, then. Sherlock waits until John’s handed them to the girls before saying, “You texted me to come home for a tea party?”
John turns to face him, looking vaguely confused, then irritated. “I texted you to come home because we had a break in.”
He looks back at the girls, and Sherlock follows his gaze. Brown looks vaguely guilty, but Masters just stares at him, unapologetic.
“I see,” Sherlock says, then raises an eyebrow at John. “And your response was to give them tea?”
“I’m English,” John replies matter-of-factly. “My response to everything is tea.”
That makes Sherlock smile, but it fades when he notices it’s made Brown giggle and Masters smile as well.
“It’s very good tea,” Brown offers.
“Thank you,” John says, smiling at her.
“Did you at least ask them why they decided to break into our flat?” Sherlock asks crossly.
“Of course,” John replies. “That’s why I texted you.” He looks at the girls.
“We needed to see the writing on the bodies,” Masters says bluntly.
“Fiona!” Brown hisses.
Masters blinks at her. “What? It’s the truth. Oh. Did you want me to lie?”
“No, I just-” Brown shrugs. “You could have given it context, you know, not made us sound like creeps breaking into someone’s flat to sneak looks at murder evidence.”
Masters raises one eyebrow. “We did break into their flat to look at murder evidence.”
“Yes, it’s the creep part I was protesting,” Brown says.
Masters scowls. “Fine, then. You explain it and make us not sound like creeps.”
“Right. Um. Well. After we looked around the crime scene –” Brown says.
“Yes, off to a marvellous start so far,” Masters mutters.
Brown glares at her. “Shut up.”
Sherlock makes a noise of frustration – that’s absolutely not a growl, no matter how John describes it later; humans lack the vocal cords necessary to produce a proper growl – and glares at the two of them. “One of you explain, quickly, or I will arrest you both.”
John clears his throat. “We can’t actually arrest them, Sherlock,” he mutters as an aside.
Sherlock sighs. “I know, John, that’s not the point. They don’t know that. Don’t undermine me in front of the children,” he hisses quietly.
But not quietly enough, because Masters sits up straighter and says indignantly, “I’m not a child.”
Brown giggles, then, when Masters looks at her, leans over to whisper something in her ear. Masters’ indignant frown turns into a smirk, which she levels on Sherlock.
He feels – strangely uncomfortable under the cool, knowing gaze of her blue eyes. Sherlock resists the urge to twitch his shoulders, and instead stares back at her, patently unimpressed.
“Do you two have any idea how unsettling that is?” John asks.
“How unsettling what is?” Sherlock asks irritably without moving his eyes, because he’s not going to be the one to look away first.
“Never mind,” John says, and he can practically hear the accompanying eye roll in John’s tone. “Will you explain please, Sam? From the beginning?”
Masters turns to look at Brown, and Sherlock allows himself a small smile of triumph before doing the same.
Brown bites her lower lip, then says, “I overheard your conversation with Fiona, about the drug connection. So I talked to her and we decided if the police weren’t going to do anything about it, we would. We started investigating.”
Sherlock raises his eyebrows. “You are ‘investigating’ the murders?” he asks, scorn obvious in his tone.
“Yes,” Masters replies, rising to the challenge. “And I’m quite certain we’ve made at least as much progress as anyone else.”
“Oh?” Sherlock asks. “Let’s hear this ‘progress’, then.”
Masters sits back, body language deliberately casual and unconcerned. She’s almost convincing, and Sherlock resists the impulse to offer her tips on her technique.
“You’re the detective,” Masters says. “Why don’t you detect it?”
Sherlock narrows his eyes at her.
“Fiona!” Brown says, not quite scolding, but close.
The tone is exceedingly familiar, and Sherlock looks over at her, frowning. The look of exasperated affection on her face is familiar as well, and he glances almost unconsciously at John, who seems vaguely amused. John glances at him, catches Sherlock looking at him, and the amusement in his eyes changes, becomes something deeper that Sherlock can’t figure out before it’s gone. Unsettled, Sherlock forces his eyes away and back to the girls sitting on their sofa.
“Try to remember that we’re the ones who broke into their flat?” Brown asks.
“Yes,” Sherlock says, glad to turn his attention back to something where he’s on more solid ground. “Let’s try to remember that. The whole story, please, with no more interruptions.”
“You’re the one who interrupted her in the first place,” Masters mutters.
“Anyway,” Brown says hurriedly. “We checked out their flats, offices, and we found cocaine in Mitchell’s room, but nothing else. So we talked to one of Fiona’s contacts, and found out that Austin had a drug habit, but Finn-” She falters slightly, and swallows.
Masters looks uncomfortable, like she wants to do something but doesn’t know what. She reaches out to Brown, but stops before her hand reaches the other woman, and drops it back onto the sofa. Brown doesn’t seem to notice.
“Finn used to come get him, but didn’t actually use,” Brown continues. “So we figured it wasn’t actually the drug use that matters, it was that the killer was picking victims that he saw in both places, so he’d have to be connected to both drugs and the university.”
John looks impressed, and Sherlock scowls. All right, it is a tiny bit impressive that they managed to work that out, but there’s no need to be admitting that. Sherlock had known that already, of course; his own contacts had told him about the two rugby players and the pub worker – though he’s still waiting for confirmation on the professor – but if he’s honest, Sherlock’s slightly surprised they know it.
“We went to look at the crime scene, but there wasn’t much; just took some soil samples and a bit of the paint for Fiona to run some tests,” Brown says. “And then this morning, we realized we still didn’t know what the writing on the bodies was, and Fiona said it was essential we have all the information. We weren’t going to steal anything, detectives, we just – we just want these solved.”
“We understand that,” John says gently. “But is this really the best way of ensuring that happens?”
“Maybe not the breaking and entering,” Brown admits. “But the rest of it?” And now there’s a determined set to her jaw. “Absolutely.”
“And why not?” Masters asks. “If we’re willing and able to contribute to the investigation, why shouldn’t we?”
John smiles, like he can’t help but agree with that, and looks at Sherlock.
Sherlock scowls. “Absolutely not. This investigation is far too important to risk it being hampered by two people who have no clue what they’re doing.”
John groans, making a face like Sherlock’s said exactly the wrong thing.
“I’d say we have more than a clue, considering what we’ve already found,” Masters snaps. “Who are you to tell us we can’t investigate?”
“Consulting detective,” Sherlock replies, calmly and coldly. “World’s only. Actually asked by the police to investigate. Oh, and also, the man whose flat you broke into and who can very easily have you arrested. I imagine being behind bars would impede your ‘investigation’.”
“Would it stop you?” John mutters.
Sherlock frowns at him. “What?”
John jerks his head towards the kitchen, and Sherlock follows him into it.
“When you were their age, if you’d gotten involved in an investigation, would you have stopped just because some adult told you to?” John asks quietly.
“Of course not,” Sherlock replies dismissively. “But I fail to see-” He cuts off as he realizes what John is implying. “Ah.”
“Exactly,” John says. “They’re not going to stop, no matter what we tell them. If we send them away, they’ll just be more determined.”
“They?” Sherlock asks, one eyebrow raised.
John looks at him for a moment, then says, “It was Sam’s friend lying there a few days ago. If I was in her place, and I had a chance to help, nothing would stop me.”
“Nothing?” Sherlock asks, because there’s a fierceness in John’s tone that makes him curious.
“Very little,” John amends, then shrugs and smiles self-depreciatingly. “Of course, it isn’t as though I have many friends aside from you these days.”
Sherlock frowns. He knows very well that’s not true. “What do you call those people you go to pubs with, then?”
“I said ‘many’ friends, not ‘no’ friends,” John points out. “All right, it isn’t as though I really have close friends aside from you, is that better?”
It is. Sherlock likes the idea that he’s John’s only close friend, even though he knows that’s not true, either, no matter what John may think. But Sherlock will take it, because when he’s reminded that John’s a man of many friends, who seems to belong in so many different environments when Sherlock’s never truly felt like he belonged anywhere – except, maybe, sometimes when John smiles at him – when Sherlock starts thinking of all that, it makes him uncomfortable, for reasons he doesn’t understand.
So he doesn’t think about it, just forces his eyes away from John’s – he’s been staring, and he doesn’t know what expression he’d had on his face. John must have noticed, but Sherlock doesn’t offer an explanation.
“Besides,” John says after a moment, giving a slight chuckle. “If Fiona’s half as good as you, Sam’ll be hooked for life.”
Sherlock frowns. He has no idea what that means. He wants to ask John – good at what, and what does he mean by hooked? – but he doesn’t, because John seems to think it’s obvious, and Sherlock doesn’t want to admit that it isn’t obvious to him.
Instead, he says, “I believe you may be right as to their convictions in investigating.”
“Oh, good,” John mutters. “Thanks for that.”
Sherlock turns and heads back into the living room, leaving John to whisper his name urgently before sighing and following after him.
“How did you know there was writing on the bodies?” Sherlock asks the two girls.
“I saw it,” Brown says. “When I found Finn, I saw markings on his chest. I knew he didn’t put it there himself, so I thought it must have been the killer. And Fiona figured that since everything else was the same at the crime scenes, the others must’ve had writing on them, too. But we still didn’t know what it was, so we came here.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock says. “That’s three things you two have found out about this case, then.” He puts just the right amount of reluctant admiration in his tone – anymore, and he suspects Masters would be suspicious. It helps that, yes, he is the tiniest bit impressed.
“Three?” Brown asks.
“Yes,” Sherlock replies. “The markings, the drug connection, and the missing trainers.”
Masters frowns. “Missing trainers?” she asks, looking at Brown.
“Yeah,” Brown tells her. “When I found Finn, his trainers were gone. But I told them, that’s not unusual. He was coming back from a party, he always lost things when he’d been drinking. Including shoes.”
“The trainers haven’t been found,” John tells them. “And Sherlock-”
“The trainers-” Sherlock interrupts, as he suspects he knows what John’d been about to say, and it won’t be to their advantage. “-are essential. If they’ve merely been lost, then-” Sherlock waves a hand dismissively. “But as John said, they haven’t been found. If they weren’t lost, but taken-”
He waits, and is rewarded when Masters says, “If the killer’s taken them, then it tells us something about him that we didn’t know. I assume the trainers have been looked for?”
Sherlock scoffs. “Of course. But we have as of yet been unsuccessful.” He smiles. “However, we now have someone much more experienced in the hunt.”
“More experienced?” Masters asks.
“He means me,” Brown says. “And he’s right. The number of times I-” She cuts off, and looks at Sherlock. “We can look, but if we don’t find them, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
“How is your success rate?” Sherlock asks.
“At finding Finn’s lost crap?” Brown says. “Good. Very good.”
Sherlock nods. “If you don’t find them, there will be one more strong point in favour of the killer taking them. If you do, then we’ll know he didn’t. Equal importance.”
For a long moment, Brown just looks at him. She’s sitting up straighter now, shoulders squared and jaw set determinedly. There’s an odd expression on her face, something that Sherlock recognizes but can’t place. Her hand is resting on the sofa, almost against Masters’ leg, fingertips digging lightly into the fabric of Masters’ coat where it drapes over her thigh.
“If you don’t want to look, Sam,” John says softly. “It’s not necessary.”
John’s insistence on using first names with them is becoming irritating, as is the genuine concern in his eyes when he looks at Brown, flicks his eyes towards Masters, and then back to Brown again. Sherlock is sending them to hunt for shoes, there is nothing to be concerned over, just as there is no reason for John to be using the sympathetic, understanding voice he uses with friends – or dates, but Sherlock refuses to think about that – rather than the one he uses on patients or the various people they come into contact with on their cases.
“No,” Brown says. “He’s right; it is important. And if I can’t find them, there’s a high chance they’re not out there.” She stands, setting her mug of tea on the coffee table.
“Tea party over, then?” Masters asks, putting her mug down as well. “Suppose we better get on it, who knows how long this will take.”
She doesn’t sound thrilled at the prospect, though Sherlock suspects it’s less to do with the shoe hunting itself and more that it is, more or less, what Sherlock told them to do. But then Brown brushes her knuckles against the back of Masters’ hand – there’s writing there, faint ink, but at this angle Sherlock can’t see what it says. A number, perhaps. Interesting.
Brown smiles at Masters, almost gratefully, and some of Masters’ reluctance fades.
John stands as well. “I’ll walk you out. Contact us when you’re done. You can text me, or come by, if you like, just – use the door this time.” He grins at them.
Brown winces. “I have some money; we were going to leave it for you.”
John shakes his head. “Keep it.”
Brown frowns. “But-”
“I remember what it was like in university,” John tells her. “And you’re going to graduate school, right? You’ll need it more than we do. Sherlock and I will take care of it.”
Sherlock frowns. “What, exactly, will we be taking care of?”
“They came in through the window by the fire escape,” John says.
Sherlock scowls. “The only way in through that window is to break it.” He turns his scowl on Masters. “Really, I expected better. Next time, do a thorough investigation of the flat you’re planning on breaking into. The roof access would have been a much better point of entrance; it’s far easier to get open, provided you know what you’re doing, and it has the distinct advantage of being in the perfect location so that John would not hear your entrance.” He pauses, then figures, why not, while he’s at it, and adds, “For that matter, do keep an eye on the front door to ensure that the resident of the flat has not gone back inside while you were occupied obtaining your own entrance.”
Brown wrinkles her nose at him, and pinches the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “Oh, God, please don’t encourage her.” She turns to Masters. “We are not doing any more break-ins.”
“Fine,” Masters agrees easily.
Brown raises one eyebrow. “And you are definitely not doing any without me.”
“I think perhaps we should take their money, John, if only as a lesson in being better prepared and more observant,” Sherlock comments absently.
“We are not taking their money, Sherlock,” John says. “And you are going to stop giving house-breaking tips to university girls.”
Ah, there’s that almost-but-not-quite scolding tone. Sherlock prefers it in John’s voice.
“Thank you,” Brown tells John. Then, “Are you sure? I-” She cuts off when Masters nudges her lightly, and says again, “Thank you. We really are very sorry. Right?”
“Yes,” Masters agrees. “Very sorry.”
Perhaps she’s sincere, though Sherlock can detect an obvious hint of ‘I’m doing this because you asked me to and it will stop you bothering me’ in her tone. In any case, it’s convincing enough for Brown, and the two girls follow John downstairs.
Sherlock waits until they’ve left before darting over to his experiments. He hadn’t seen anything out of place when he’d looked after first entering, or when he and John were in the kitchen, but he checks again now that he can give it his full attention. No, nothing disturbed. John must have been merely bluffing when he threatened to allow Masters to use his equipment.
It takes John a little bit to come back upstairs, and Sherlock tries not to think about what’s taking him so long. Sherlock absolutely doesn’t care if John wants to have private conversations with two women downstairs. Finally, he hears John come in through the door.
“Aren’t you the one always scolding me for turning down money?” Sherlock asks without looking up.
“First thing we’re doing is getting that lock replaced,” John says, like Sherlock hasn’t said anything. “And the one on the roof access, too, and by the way, I do notice when you leave and come back through it to try and throw me off. You’re not as quiet as you like to think.”
Sherlock frowns. “Then you must not be sleeping the whole night through, even when we don’t have cases.”
“No. Sometimes I don’t,” John replies simply. “Why did you send them to look for the shoes?”
Sherlock resists the urge to sigh. He had hoped that John had caught on to the plan when he didn’t protest. He doesn’t answer, and instead asks, “What were you talking to them about downstairs?”
“What? Oh, nothing. Just – making sure they weren’t going to tell anyone about my gun,” John says.
Sherlock raises an eyebrow.
John shrugs. “Of course I grabbed it. Didn’t know it was the two of them when I heard people downstairs, did I? Had to be prepared for the worst. Luckily it was resolved before I did more than point it at them. Their explanations were a lot more forthcoming with the gun.”
“Perhaps you should do all our interrogating,” Sherlock comments idly, then adds, “I doubt they would confess to breaking and entering merely to attempt to turn you in for possessing an illegal firearm.”
“Still. Just double-checking,” John says. “Why, Sherlock? You know they won’t find anything. Didn’t you say Morgan couldn’t have walked anywhere, since there were no dirt or grass stains on the bottom of his socks?”
“So the trainers must have been removed after he died, yes,” Sherlock says impatiently. “But they don’t know that. And if they’re off looking for trainers, they won’t be interfering with our investigation.”
John shifts his weight. “They did a good job, Sherlock, finding all that stuff about the drug connection.”
“I already knew all of that,” Sherlock says. It doesn’t come out as dismissively as he’d like, because John’s right: they did do a reasonable job.
“What?” John asks. “Since when?”
“I told you,” Sherlock says. “I had a train of investigation. I’ve heard back from most of my contacts.”
John looks irritated, like he’s thinking about saying something, but changes his mind and sighs. “You still didn’t have to send them to do that. Did you see the look on Sam’s face? The last thing she wanted to do was something that reminded her of her friend, something that she’d always done with him but would now never do again, but she’s going to do it anyway, because she thinks it’s important. And you-”
“Better for her to feel a bit depressed than to charge into something dangerous, isn’t it?” Sherlock snaps. “You said it yourself, they weren’t going to stop investigating. If I didn’t send them off somewhere, they’d only end up in trouble and in our way.”
There’s a long silence, then John smiles. “You did that so they wouldn’t get hurt.”
Sherlock scowls. “I did that so they would be out of my way. That it also keeps them out of danger is merely a bonus.”
“Uh-huh,” John says, in a tone of voice that says he clearly doesn’t believe him.
Which is ridiculous. Sherlock was obviously aware that sending Brown and Masters to look for something that isn’t there would make them safer, and it did indeed contribute to his decision, but it was far from the most important factor. John is attempting to make him into a hero again, and Sherlock dislikes it.
But he doesn’t dislike the way John is smiling at him, so he doesn’t protest it further. Sherlock does love it when John smiles at him – any sort of smile, really, but especially the ones John gives him when he thinks Sherlock’s done something brilliant or wonderful. And the softer, more mysterious ones that speak of something deeper, in a way that Sherlock doesn’t entirely comprehend, but still make him feel somehow safe and almost terrified at the same time. But those ones confuse him, so he prefers the former.
“What are we going to be doing, then?” John asks.
“Today? Finishing my experiments, if I can ever manage to get what I need. Tonight?” Sherlock smiles. “A stakeout. Best remember your gun this time, John, I imagine you’ll like the part of town we’ll be going to as much as you enjoyed where we found the Golem.”
Sam has her phone out, and is staring indecisively at it while they walk. Fiona watches her out of the corner of her eye for awhile, waiting, but when Sam still hasn’t done anything by the time they reach the Tube station, Fiona stops them.
“If you need to make a call, we can stop for a few minutes,” Fiona says.
Sam bites her lip – she does that when she’s considering something that makes her uncomfortable or nervous, Fiona feels as though she has enough evidence to know that – then shakes her head and slips her phone into the pocket of her jeans. “No. It’s better if I don’t.”
Fiona manages to contain her curiosity until they’ve boarded. Then she asks, “Who were you going to call?”
Sam glances away. “I’ve never done this alone. Like I told the detectives, this was a common thing with Finn. He’d get drunk and lose something in his stumble home, and then he’d call us and we’d all go out and look for it. I thought – maybe I should call them; they have just as much practice at it as I do.”
Fiona doesn’t really like the uncomfortable way her stomach twists at the thought of Sam’s friends joining them in their investigation. But she’s still curious, so she asks, “Why didn’t you?”
“Because I don’t want them to have to do this,” Sam replies, and there’s a very slight tremble in her voice.
Fiona frowns. In all honesty, she doesn’t quite get why this is upsetting her. Sam hadn’t even seemed to be shaken much at the prospect of searching Morgan’s room, and surely that would be worse, having to look through your deceased friend’s belongings.
“And I don’t want them to know I’m doing it,” Sam adds. “I haven’t told them, you know. I hate hiding it, but they’d either want to help but not be able to, because they have to be there for Kayla, or tell me to let the police handle it.” She chuckles softly, sadly. “Some of them probably both. But I can’t. I can’t just let it go.”
Fiona knows what that feels like – and yet, no, she really doesn’t. Not being able to let something go, oh, yes, she’s quite accustomed to that. But having to choose between following what you’ve got your hooks into – or what’s got its hooks in you – and being there for friends, having people whose opinion actually mattered so much to you that you cared, that you hated hiding things from them, that Fiona has never had experience with.
She doesn’t know if she wants to, not if it’s what’s troubling Sam.
“I know what that feels like,” Fiona says finally, because it feels like she needs to say something and she doesn’t know what else to say. “To not be able to let something go.”
Sam smiles slightly. “Yeah, I guess you would, wouldn’t you?” She shrugs. “Like I said, it’ll be better if it’s just you and me.”
Fiona smiles brightly. She couldn’t agree more. Pleased that that’s settled, Fiona leans back, content to spend the rest of the ride in silence.
“Where are we starting?” Fiona asks after they’ve gotten off the Tube and are walking along the street.
“The flat the party was at. I know Martin’s sister, so I got her brother’s address from her,” Sam replies. “Sometimes he leaves things at the actual party, so we can check there and then work our way to-” She pauses briefly. “-to the crime scene.”
Sam knocks on the door when they reach the flat, and Fiona stands to the side, slightly behind her. This isn’t her area; it’s Sam’s, and Fiona’s smart enough to know to allow the expert to work.
A pretty young woman answers the door, and her face lights up a bit when she sees Sam.
“Hullo Maggie,” Sam greets with a smile.
“Hi, Sam,” Maggie returns, looking at Sam in a way that makes Fiona wonder if Maggie’s another person Sam’s had ‘experience’ with.
The thought is displeasing, much more so than it’d been when Fiona learned of two of Sam’s other partners. There’s something off about this woman, Fiona decides. She’s acting suspiciously, leaning in the doorway and angling her hips like that without even inviting them in; Fiona will have to keep an eye on her.
“Missed you at my brother’s party the other night,” Maggie says.
“I had an early study session, had to give it a pass,” Sam replies ruefully. “But that’s why I’m here, actually. Did you see Finn there?”
Maggie’s smile fades, and her shoulders droop a little. “Yeah. It’s terrible, thinking that when I saw him leave, it was the last time.” Her eyes glisten a bit, not quite unshed tears, but close, and she says quietly, “He looked so happy.”
Sam leans forward, resting her hand on Maggie’s shoulder. “How are you doing?”
Maggie shakes her head. “God, listen to me. I’m sorry, Sam, I should be the one asking you that. You knew him much better than I ever did.”
“Doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to be sad,” Sam tells her.
Maggie smiles tentatively, and Sam smiles back. Her hand is still on Maggie’s shoulder.
Fiona clears her throat. “You said you saw Finn leave?”
Maggie looks over at Fiona, surprised, and Sam pulls her hand away.
“Um. Yes, a bunch of us did. You know Finn.” Maggie’s attention turns back to Sam. “Him leaving was always such a big production, never took less than fifteen minutes for him to actually go.”
Sam smiles. “He always found more people he had to say goodbye to.”
It’s only because Fiona’s standing so close to Sam that she hears the soft catch in Sam’s throat. Maggie shows no sign of having noticed. Fiona shifts, subtly, to rest her hand on the small of Sam’s back. Maggie doesn’t notice that, either, but Sam does, and some of the tension drains from her shoulders.
“Did he leave anything here?” Sam asks.
Maggie laughs. “God, I’m going to miss being asked that. What was it this time?”
“His trainers,” Sam says.
Maggie shakes her head. “No, he had those when he left. Hated the thought of him walking home barefoot, so whenever he came to one of Martin’s parties, and I was sober enough to remember, I tried to make sure he had his shoes with him. If they’re lost, they’re out there somewhere.” She smiles slightly at Sam. “At least you won’t have to look for his stuff anymore.”
Sam smiles back, but it’s stiff, fixed. “Yeah. Thanks, Maggie.”
“No problem,” Maggie says. “And, Sam, if you need anything, you know I’m always here.”
“I appreciate that, Mags,” Sam says, and she sounds sincere. “I’ll see you around.”
She turns away, and Fiona moves with her, keeping her hand where it is. Fiona glances back as they walk away, and Maggie’s watching them, eyes on Fiona’s hand. Fiona fights down an unexplainable surge of triumph and turns back to Sam.
“You were upset,” Fiona tells her quietly, because it seems ridiculous to ask if Sam’s all right when she clearly isn’t.
“I liked them,” Sam says, stopping when they’ve gone just far enough to be out of sight of the flat. “The stupid scavenger hunts. I whinged and complained just as much as the rest of them, but I liked them. Thought it was funny, just another thing about Finn that made him Finn.”
Fiona is – uncertain. It’s not a feeling she likes, not knowing what to do, or say, especially when she desperately wants to do something. “If you’re too upset to search effectively-” No, that hadn’t been right at all.
“No,” Sam says. “No, I’m fine. Let’s do this.”
But she doesn’t move, and after a few moments, Fiona says, mimicking Sam’s tone as best as she can, “You do realize that she has a crush on you, right?”
Sam catches the reference, and looks at her for a moment before smiling, just a bit. “Maggie? Maybe once, yeah, but we’re just friends, now.”
“She can’t be your ex,” Fiona insists. “She regarded you far too fondly.”
“That’s your evidence?” Sam asks. “She can’t be my ex because we’re still friends?”
“Yes,” Fiona says. “It’s statistically unlikely, especially as you were clearly good friends with two of your other exes.”
“I’m friends with most of my exes,” Sam says. “Probably because with most of them, the reason we are exes is because we realized we made much better friends.”
Fiona wants to tell her that that’s unlikely, that she’s strange. But Fiona’s out of her depth there; she has little personal experience with this, and none where she’s still on good terms with former lovers. “Yes. Well. The way she was looking at you was decidedly not friendly.”
Sam shakes her head. “She was just being nice.” Then she grins slightly. “Didn’t think you’d notice the way she was looking at me.”
Fiona scoffs. “This is an investigation, Sam. I make it a point to notice everything about the people we interview.” Then, because Sam is smiling again and Fiona assumes that means she’s ready to search with the enthusiasm she showed yesterday, Fiona asks, “Shall we continue what we came here to do, then?”
“By all means,” Sam says.
Unfortunately, it isn’t like yesterday. Well, all right, it is a bit; the excitement of the search is there, and the two of them searching the streets very thoroughly earns them no few numbers of odd looks, which are received with impish grins and occasional giggles, and once or twice when Sam crawls out from under some shrubs – Sam is always the one who looks under shrubs, as she couldn’t argue when Fiona pointed out quite logically that Sam’s shorter stature would make it far easier for her to fit – it’s to someone standing next to them, gaping at the sight of a woman suddenly emerging from shrubbery.
The third time this happens, Sam puts her hands on her hips, glares at the man, and says scathingly, “I don’t stand outside your flat and gawk at you every time you walk out of your front door, do I?”
The man mutters something incomprehensible and flees.
Fiona resists the urge to giggle. “Perhaps I should take you along next time I wish to get rid of someone. He looked terrified.”
Sam holds out her hand, and Fiona blinks at her for a second before Sam rolls her eyes and stands, brushing dirt off her jeans.
“Next time that happens, I’m going to tell them that I can’t find where I’ve hidden the evidence, and since they seem to be so interested in what I’m doing, would they like to help me locate it?” Sam mutters.
Fiona doesn’t even bother resisting this time, she just giggles, and Sam giggles right along with her.
The parts that are like that are quite lovely, amusement mixed in with the methodical search for something that may provide answers. But there are times when Fiona glances over to check on Sam’s progress and finds her just standing, staring at something with an expression tinged with longing. Or times when Sam straightens from where she’d been searching, grinning widely and seeking to share it with someone, but the person she’s looking for isn’t Fiona.
It’s those that are the worse, twisting something strange and painful in Fiona’s chest every time Sam’s smile fades when she sees Fiona and remembers that she’s not out searching with her friends.
When Fiona finally can’t take it anymore, she stops, looking uncertainly at Sam. “Sam,” she says hesitantly.
“I’m fine,” Sam replies immediately.
Fiona scowls. “You’re clearly not. This requires concentration, and it’s very distracting when you-”
“Is it?” Sam interrupts. “How terrible of me to distract you because I find it difficult to pretend that it isn’t getting to me every time I think of the last time I did this with Finn and remember that it was the last time. Sorry. I’ll try to be upset over my dead friend in a way that’s more convenient for you.”
There’s silence for a moment. Then Fiona says quietly, “I didn’t mean-”
Sam sighs. “I know you didn’t.” She wraps her arms loosely around her chest, absently rubbing at her upper arms.
Fiona has the ridiculous urge to replace Sam’s hand with her own. She shoves her hands into her pockets to avoid giving into it.
“I don’t even know if I want to find them,” Sam admits softly.
“I understand,” Fiona says.
“You do?” Sam asks.
“Yes,” Fiona replies. She manages to keep the slightly satisfied note out of her voice, though she is the tiniest bit pleased, because finally, she does understand. “If we find them, we have a definite answer, though it means the killer didn’t take them, and we therefore lose a potential piece of information about him. If we don’t find them, we may still have that information, but we don’t know for certain if they were taken by the killer or if we were merely unable to find them.”
Sam looks at her, then nods and leans back against the tree she’d been looking around. “That’s pretty much it, yeah. Well, that, and, we always found what we were looking for, somehow. I don’t know if it’ll be worse to break that and not find them, or keep it when everything else is so different.”
Fiona doesn’t want to be talking about this. She wants to go back to searching, so they can be done with it before nightfall – preferably with enough time left before the lab closes that they can get some work done on her tests. But she suspects that won’t be happening as long as Sam is upset. And – she’s finding she dislikes it, when Sam is upset. She wants to understand, and then she wants to make it stop.
“What was Finn like?” Fiona asks. “When he looked for his things with you?”
“He – he was like he always was, I suppose,” Sam says. “Loud, energetic. He’d spend the first five minutes or so apologizing, every time, and the rest of us would just roll our eyes and think that at least he’d stopped promising never to do it again even though we all knew he would. After that, he’d bound around like a puppy on caffeine. He’d run up to complete strangers to ask if they’d seen what he was looking for, but he was so damn friendly and eager that hardly anyone ever got freaked out or irritated.”
She smiles. “He even got some people to join in. Made a few friends that way, took them out to a pub afterwards. After the first few times, we made it a competition: Finn had to buy whoever found whatever it was a few rounds that night. He never found it himself; he got distracted way too easily. Think that’s why he needed us.” Then she looks away, her voice going soft and trembling slightly. “I’m already talking about him in past tense.” She sounds almost like she’s getting ready to cry.
Fiona freezes – much as she’d done earlier that day when facing Dr. Watson’s gun, though with no excitement, marginally less fear, and considerably more uncertainty. People very rarely cry around her – especially when she hasn’t been the cause of it – and when they do, she either leaves or gets rid of them as quickly as possible.
But this – this is different. Fiona doesn’t want Sam to leave, she just wants her not to cry. Fiona finds the thought displeasing.
“I don’t know what it’s like to lose a good friend,” Fiona says, because she doesn’t know what to do other than explain why she doesn’t know what to do.
“Good,” Sam says sincerely. “That’s good.”
Fiona frowns, suspecting that Sam has misunderstood. “I don’t know what it’s like because I’ve never had a friend like that before,” she clarifies.
There’s a pause. “Oh.” Sam hesitates for a bit, then looks up at her. “You do now.”
Once again, Fiona doesn’t quite understand. It’s starting to become a bit irritating, and reminds her why she normally avoids social situations that go any deeper than school projects or meetings with professors – though she can’t deny the slight warmth she feels at Sam implying they’re friends.
“With all of this-” Fiona gestures to indicate nothing that’s really there, but she assumes Sam will understand. “Are you so eager to add another person to the list, and risk it happening again?”
Sam blinks at her. “What? I – yes, of course. It hurts like hell, and I’d give almost anything for this not to be happening right now, but I’m not going to not make friends because one day, I might lose them. Even knowing what I do now, if I had to do it all over again, I’d still be Finn’s friend without hesitation. The time I had with him, the memories I’ve got, I wouldn’t give those up just because they’re causing me pain right now.”
Fiona considers that. “Will you feel that way about me? Would you look back to right now and wish we hadn’t become friends?”
Sam smiles slightly. “I think it’s a little too late for that. We already are friends. Besides, that’s not going to happen. Nothing bad’s going to happen to you, not while I’m around. Not while I can stop it.”
There’s something fierce and protective in her tone, expression, eyes, that Fiona’s never had directed at her before. It’s confusing, makes her feels safe, overwhelmed, and somehow antsy, all at the same time. “That’s not something you can promise,” she says finally.
“Sure it is,” Sam replies.
“No it’s not,” Fiona insists. “It’s quite illogical, actually. You won’t always be around. And even if you could be, there are things you can’t stop, things you can’t do anything about. It’s impossible for you to protect me from everything. Statistically speaking, something bad will happen to me. Likely soon.”
Sam stares at her. “Really not what I needed to hear right now, Fi.”
Fiona starts to reply, then stops as the nickname registers. She frowns, surprised, and then considers Sam’s tone – tired, defeated, and still upset – and changes what she’d been about to say. “I’m sorry.”
Sam blinks, slowly, for far too long, and continues staring at her. “What?”
“I was trying to make you less upset,” Fiona explains. “It didn’t work – it may have even had the opposite effect.” She pauses, debates, then says, “I do know when to admit that I’m out of my depth and defer to someone with more experience. What do you need to hear?”
Sam unwraps her arms from around herself and steps closer to her. “You could tell me that I can protect you from everything, and can make sure you’ll never get hurt.”
Fiona wrinkles her nose. “You want me to lie to you?”
Sam smiles. “Yeah. Be the Giles to my Buffy and lie to me.” Then she pauses. “Oh. Ick. I wish I hadn’t said that.”
“Buffy as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Fiona asks.
“You’ve seen it?” Sam says.
“No,” Fiona replies. She wishes she hadn’t heard of it, either, but there’s two girls who frequent the lab and like to have long, convoluted, grating discussions about it.
“Oh,” Sam says. “Good. Forget I said that, then.”
“What did you mean by ‘ick’?” Fiona asks.
Sam blushes, then frowns at her. “Aren’t you supposed to be lying to me?”
“Ah. Yes.” Fiona considers. “You’ll be my good luck charm. As long as I’m with you, nothing bad will happen to me.” She pauses. “Good?”
Sam smiles at her. “Perfect.” Then she takes another step closer, and hooks her thumbs into the pockets of Fiona’s coat. “Thank you,” she says quietly. “I know it’s dumb. It’s just – I wasn’t there. I keep thinking – if I’d gone to that party, we would’ve left together, I would’ve been sober, he probably would have crashed at my place, we would have gone a different way. But I didn’t. I couldn’t stop him from getting hurt, and I – need to believe I can still protect my other friends, can still protect you, even if it’s probably a lie.”
Sam’s eyes look more green right now, Fiona notes. Perhaps it’s the green jumper Sam’s wearing, bringing out the green in the hazel. She wants to lean in, take a closer look, but they’re already so close that it’s doing strange things to her heart rate. So she leans back slightly, though she doesn’t move away, and asks, “Why do you want to be my friend?”
“Why did you lie to me?” Sam asks.
Fiona frowns. “Because you said it was what you needed, and I didn’t want you to be upset.”
Sam nods. “Exactly.”
That’s not an answer, and it doesn’t clear anything up at all. This is why Fiona prefers math, science. There are answers, and even when they are confusing or less than definite, Fiona usually knows what to do to change that.
Sam tugs once on Fiona’s coat, then pulls away. “We better get back to work.”
Fiona hesitates for another moment, but she can’t bring herself to turn the conversation back towards things that make her feel confused and uncertain when Sam has so nicely steered it to something that Fiona feels much more confident in. “Yes, I suppose we had better.”