Sherlock finally gets the supplies he needs, and spends the remainder of the day working. Lestrade texts him four times for an update, until Sherlock finally tells him that he’s doing yet another one of their jobs for them, and Lestrade will have the results of the test when Sherlock does – or sometime after, when Sherlock’s figured it out enough that he decides it’s time to clue Lestrade in, but he doesn’t say that part. It’ll still be faster than the police lab will get anything.
John is being thankfully quiet, going about his own business, though Sherlock suspects he’s itching to ask him questions about what else Sherlock has figured out. Sherlock had been planning on rewarding him with a few explanations the next time Sherlock hit a point where there wasn’t much to do but wait, but then, not long after it began to get dark, John’s phone starts going off.
Whoever he’s having a conversation with – Sherlock suspects he knows, but is going to indulge in his desire to think otherwise until John unfortunately confirms it – is very eager, and John texts almost constantly for a good ten minutes.
Sherlock scowls. The clicking of the keys on John’s mobile is distracting, breaking his concentration.
“Fiona and Sam didn’t find the trainers,” John says after the clicking has stopped for a few minutes.
“That’s hardly unexpected news, is it?” Sherlock asks absently. Then he frowns, looking up in mild concern. “They’re not coming here are they?”
“Yes, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to have them over here while you’re in there working; figured that’d be a very pleasant evening,” John mutters. “No, they’re not. They’re working in the university lab right now, and it closes at eleven. By the time they’d get over here, it wouldn’t be long until we had to leave, and I didn’t want to have to come up with some kind of excuse.”
Excellent. Sherlock is willing to overlook John’s earlier disruption and the sarcastic nature of the first part of his reply, as John was smart enough to make the right decision and keep the girls away from his work.
“They’re coming over tomorrow afternoon, though,” John adds.
Sherlock reconsiders John’s intelligence. “Why?”
“Do we need to have the ‘they’ll just investigate on their own and get into trouble and in our way’ conversation again?” John asks.
“That’s no reason for them to come here,” Sherlock says. “We can accomplish keeping them out of our way via text.”
John looks at him for a long time, long enough for Sherlock to grow irritated – especially as he can’t decipher John’s expression.
“What?” Sherlock snaps.
“When y-” John starts, then seems to change his mind. “They did a decent job on their own, and they clearly want to help. I just think they need encouragement instead of someone just dismissing them. Look, if all goes really well, by tomorrow we’ll have our man and it won’t matter. Hopefully, we’ll at least have a suspect, and maybe there will be something they can actually do to help.”
Sherlock wants to say that’s doubtful, but it isn’t true. If it is indeed the drugs that the killer is using to choose victims, then John may be right; after tonight, they might have more information. Tonight, they will be looking for someone on the rugby or football teams, with red and yellow trainers and a drug connection. Sherlock’s studied pictures, of course, and John is supposed to be doing that now, but despite John’s optimism, it’s unlikely they’ll ‘get their man’ that night. However, it is likely that they’ll have several suspects to obtain more information on, which Brown and Masters – thanks to their sports and drug connections, respectively – may be able to provide.
If Sherlock’s being entirely honest with himself, he would prefer to have someone with them who will be able to recognize a rugby or football player on sight – as he suspects Brown would be able to do. But bringing along an inexperienced university girl would be far from ideal. And he suspects John would be strongly against the suggestion.
Sherlock would be tempted to consider it anyway, but the stakeout is only one aspect of his plan. He’ll have the identity of the trainers soon, and then he’ll get in touch with some of his contacts – he has a few people in the right area who owe him a favour – and get the sales records of the shoes, compare those to the members of the football and rugby clubs. In truth, this is more likely to produce results than the stakeout, but, well. A stakeout’s more fun, and Sherlock dislikes the idea of merely waiting when he could be doing something.
He doesn’t tell John any of that, of course. John’s comment is more deserving of a reply of, “We could still do either of those things via text.”
John sighs. “Well, I like them, and I think they could use the support, so they’re coming here.”
Sherlock sulks. It isn’t as though he dislikes the girls – Brown is intriguing, for all her seeming normalcy, and though Masters is arrogant and irritating, she’s clearly intelligent, and both of them are less annoying than most – but being around them makes him somehow uncomfortable. Watching them makes him – want something he’s not aware of, or perhaps it makes him more aware of something he doesn’t want to be. He can’t explain it. It’s confusing, which is absolutely not what he needs during a case.
“Fine,” Sherlock says crossly. “But they’re your responsibility.”
John rolls his eyes. “I didn’t expect otherwise. But you could give Fiona some-” He shrugs. “I don’t know, guidance or something.”
Sherlock frowns. “I tried to offer her tips. You were displeased.”
“I meant because you both-” John pauses, then shakes his head. “Never mind. You’re right, you definitely shouldn’t be giving her guidance.”
Sherlock scowls. “Why not? What’s wrong with my guidance?”
“Nothing,” John tells him. “Just don’t think it’s really appropriate.”
Sherlock sneers. “Your efforts at reverse psychology are very transparent, John. I learned to detect it from Mycroft’s attempts; you don’t stand a chance.”
John considers that. “I’m not actually sure I was using reverse psychology. I can’t decide if you being an influence on her would be just what she needs or go horribly, horribly wrong.”
Horribly wrong? All right, Sherlock will readily admit he’s not the best role model, but horribly, horribly wrong? Sherlock wonders why John brought it up at all, if he was only going to conclude it was a horrible idea – that other bit, the part about it being just what she needs, isn’t even worth dwelling on, and Sherlock is contributing it to a (hopefully) temporary lapse in John’s sanity.
This is nonsense. Distracting him from his work, and John from what he’s supposed to be doing.
“Less talking, more picture-studying,” Sherlock orders. “We need to be prepared for tonight.”
They don’t, actually, as they never make it to their stakeout.
They’re in a taxi, almost there, when Sherlock gets a text from Lestrade. It’s late, too late for Lestrade to be merely trying to get information out of him, and Sherlock knows before he’s even opened it that something’s happened.
“What is it?” John asks.
“There’s been another murder,” Sherlock says grimly, directing the cabbie to change course for the University of Westminster campus.
“Another one? Already?” John asks.
“Yes,” Sherlock replies, tapping his fingers against the side of the door. “He’s escalating, John. Rapidly. There were weeks between the other murders, over a month for one, and now a fifth barely three days after the forth? Why is he suddenly so eager, moving so quickly?”
“Maybe he found out you’re on the case,” John suggests.
Sherlock smiles, then schools his expression back to solemnity. “Your high opinion of me is always appreciated, John, but now is not the time for flattery.”
“I was being serious, actually,” John says. “Your reputation isn’t exactly a secret; maybe he’s heard of you. You’ve said he’s got a message that’s unfinished. Maybe he figures he’s not got much time left before you find him, so he’s got to get it done.”
Sherlock considers that. It’s possible, he supposes, but it’s a theory based entirely on speculation. He disregards it, for the moment, though he does file it away for a potential return after he’s gathered more data.
He doesn’t talk for the rest of the cab ride, mind whirling over the latest news. He has to stop himself from thinking too much, from wandering down paths he has no support for, to stick to going over what he already knows.
Sherlock drums his fingers against his leg in irritation. There is new information out there, more data, just waiting for him. He considers urging this cabbie along like he had the other, but he suspects he barely has enough to cover the fare as it is, and he doubts John will pay extra for what John will likely call “needless impatience.”
Finally, finally, they arrive at the main campus, and Sherlock bolts out, leaving John to catch up. John does, as always, and the two approach the crime scene together.
Lestrade is there, and Sherlock can see Donovan talking to a pair of uniformed officers next to the crime scene tape, but there’s no sign of Anderson. Sherlock doesn’t allow himself to be hopeful, though, as he doesn’t see any of the other forensic techs, either, and the man could be off somewhere being incompetent out of sight.
“What do you know so far?” Sherlock asks as he stops in front of Lestrade.
“Almost everything’s the same,” Lestrade says. “Student here, stab wounds, spray painted message.”
Sherlock narrows his eyes at him. “Almost everything?”
“The victim’s female,” Lestrade tells him.
Female. That’s new. “Where’s the body?”
“This way,” Lestrade says, leading them to the body. “She was found about an hour ago by another student, behind the Harrow residence hall. She-”
They’re at the body now, so Sherlock holds up a hand to silence him, then crouches down. He can hear Lestrade and John talking while he works, but he ignores them. Their conversation is irrelevant.
After a few minutes, he stands. “John.”
John obediently steps forward to examine the body. Sherlock takes out his phone as John works, pulling up Google.
“Hasn’t been dead long,” John says. “Two, three hours at most. Less than the last victim.”
“Hmm, yes, she was left near the residence hall, much more traffic even at this time of night,” Sherlock says absently. Ah, there’s the site he’s looking for.
“He’s escalating, Sherlock, and he’s changed the pattern of his victims,” Lestrade says.
“No,” Sherlock replies, flipping through a series of photos.
“No?” Lestrade asks.
“He’s not changing his pattern,” Sherlock says. “It’s just our understanding of it that’s changed. The victims’ gender has nothing to do with why they’re chosen.”
Lestrade frowns at him. “All right, then, why are they chosen?”
“Drugs,” John offers.
Sherlock grimaces internally. Clearly, he and John need to have a discussion about revealing things to the police before they have been thoroughly investigated. There’s still something about the drug connection that feels the tiniest bit off to him, especially as there’s another victim with uncertain drug history, and they haven’t gotten to do their stakeout.
“Drugs,” Lestrade repeats.
“It’s a working theory,” Sherlock snaps. “Three of the victims have confirmed connections, enough to pursue, not enough to be definite. The victim was a cheerleader.”
“How do you know that?” Lestrade asks.
“Athletic, lean, not bulky, built for flexibility. I’d have said gymnast, but a bit too much going for her up here-” he taps his chest, “-for a truly successful gymnast. And-” he pushes up the victim’s shirt, revealing a tiny tattoo on her hip, “-there’s this. Black and yellow pompoms, ‘Westminster Dragons’ written inside. She’s not just any cheerleader, she’s the captain.” He holds up his phone, open to the Westminster cheerleader’s webpage, shows them the picture of their victim, smiling in her uniform, then goes back to looking at her Facebook page. “Name’s Ashley Green.” Sherlock turns to John. “You said the members of the sports teams would be in the same social circle, would cheerleaders be in there?”
John blinks, then shrugs. “Yeah, probably. They’re all at the same matches, usually leads to them going to the same after-events.”
Sherlock nods; he’d thought as much. He flips through another few pictures, checks the body and the surrounding area, then smiles.
“Found something?” John asks.
“Didn’t find something,” Sherlock replies, handing his phone to John as he crouches back down to look at the earth. Footprints, from the same trainers as the other scene, though no traces of rubber left behind this time.
“What am I looking at?” John asks.
“Her necklace,” Sherlock says. “She’s wearing it in all of those pictures; where is it now?”
“Suppose she couldn’t have just left it in her room?” Lestrade asks.
“Highly unlikely. I’ll need to speak with her boyfriend,” Sherlock says. “Find out if there’s anything about that necklace that makes it unique.”
“Who says she’s got a boyfriend?” Lestrade says.
“Captain of the cheerleading team, of course she’s got a boyfriend,” Sherlock replies.
John raises an eyebrow. “Bit of stereotyping there, don’t you think?”
Sherlock scowls and snatches his phone back, using it to take pictures of the footprints. These are much more detailed than the ones a few days ago. Then he flips back to Green’s Facebook. “Her Facebook lists her as in a relationship with one Tristan Harris.” He clicks on Harris’ profile and smiles. “Ah, his mobile number is listed.” That makes it much simpler.
He starts composing a text, but the phone is taken from his hands before he can finish. Sherlock’s head snaps up, and he narrows his eyes when he sees John holding his phone.
“You are not going to inform some poor kid via text that his girlfriend’s been murdered,” John says. “Look, it says he lives at the residence hall, too. Room 241.”
“I’ll send someone up to talk to him, get him down here,” Lestrade says.
Sherlock grabs his phone back from John, deletes the text, absolutely does not sulk – John always stretches the truth in his blog entries – and says, “I was going to be tactful.”
John shakes his head. “Someone you love dying isn’t something you should find out from a text.”
There’s something far too serious, personal, in John’s tone. Sherlock tilts his head curiously. “Who sent you a text like that?”
John blinks. “What? No one.”
He’s telling the truth, but – there’s more to it than that. There’s a defensiveness about him that he only has when he’s trying to hide something from Sherlock.
“Not a text, then,” Sherlock says. “But something close.”
John sighs. “A voice mail.”
Ah. “Who?” Sherlock asks.
John’s back straightens, and he stares fixedly at a point just past Sherlock’s left ear, jaw clenched. Hmm. Not an answer that Sherlock’ll get out of him easily, then, and this isn’t the place to try. Sherlock files the conversation away for later, when he has more time to get through John’s defences, and leans back over the body, pulling a set of keys out of the pocket of the jeans.
“What are you doing?” John asks.
“We need to search her room,” Sherlock replies. See if she actually did leave the necklace behind, and look for drugs. “Send Harris up to the victim’s room when you’re done with him,” he says as he passes Lestrade on the way to the residence hall. “We’ll be up there.”
“Sherlock,” Lestrade protests. “You can’t-”
“I’m looking for the necklace,” Sherlock interrupts. “It was your idea, what if she’s merely left it in her room?”
“If not, it’ll give us a tie to her killer,” John says, and this time Sherlock approves of him chiming in.
Lestrade grimaces, then sighs. “All right, just – try not to disturb much.”
“We’ll be careful,” John promises, even as Sherlock is already continuing on.
They don’t find the necklace in Green’s room, and there’s no evidence of drugs, either. Fortunately, when Harris finally comes to talk to them, he does indeed know the necklace’s origin. The first year that Green had been captain, the Westminster Dragon cheerleaders had won a national competition. Harris had gotten her the necklace to commemorate it; that was why it was a dragon curled around a 2010. Another victim with something important to them taken.
The sun has started rising when Sherlock and John exit the residence hall, and the number of people gathered around the crime scene has grown; word has spread about the newest murder, it seems. Sherlock scans the crowd as he and John walk, searching for red and yellow trainers. It is possible that the killer would return to the scene of the crime, after all.
He’s looking mostly at feet, so he hears her before he sees her. Sherlock looks up for confirmation, and yes, that is indeed Brown standing a bit away from the police tape, talking to a group of students. Sherlock recognizes one of them as Morgan’s girlfriend, Kayla Miller, and the other girl looks vaguely familiar, but he doesn’t recognize any of the four male students, and Masters is nowhere in sight. Has Brown brought more people into the investigation, then?
Curious, Sherlock slows down, leaning casually against one of the police cars to listen.
John frowns, stopping next to him. “Sherlock? What’re we-”
“Shh,” Sherlock says, nodding towards Brown and the others.
John looks surprised, then raises an eyebrow. “You’re spying on her?”
“I’m observing,” Sherlock retorts. “Their investigation.”
John looks back at Brown. “I don’t think she’s investigating right now.”
Sherlock ignores him, and John rolls his eyes, but stays silent. With a closer look at the group, Sherlock can see there’s a bit of a divide. Brown seems to be at the head of the group, with Miller standing close to her right side, arm linked through hers, and one of the male students standing nearly as close to her left. The other girl is standing close to Miller, body angled towards Brown, and is leaning against another boy, who has his arms around her. The two remaining students are standing just a bit away from them, and from each other, part of the group but not as close as the other five.
“-in her room. Don’t think she’s planning on coming back out until they’re gone,” one of the slightly separate male students is saying.
“I’d hide, too, after sending out a mass text like that,” the vaguely familiar girl says.
“Everyone reacts differently to this kind of thing,” the boy next to Brown says.
“No, Anna’s right, Sawyer,” the boy with his arms around the girl – Anna – says.
“I know, it wasn’t a good move,” Sawyer admits. “Guess she just wasn’t thinking.”
“She never thinks,” Anna mutters. “At least Tristan didn’t find out like that, but it sucks for the rest of us.”
Miller tightens her grip on Brown’s arm.
“How is Tristan, Dom?” Brown asks.
The boy who’d spoken first – Dom – says, “In shock. He just finished talking to the police, and he hasn’t said a word to anyone, but he won’t go back inside. Just keeps standing over there staring.” He fiddles with a ring on his left index finger. “Guess Megan’s taking over as captain for you guys?”
“Yeah,” Anna says, then looks over at Miller. “At least for now.”
Miller looks away. “Probably permanently. She’s better at it than me, even in the best of times.”
“Don’t say that, Kay,” Anna says.
Miller smiles a bit. “It’s the truth.” Then she shakes her head. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”
“Makes you wonder who’s next,” Anna mutters darkly.
“Anna!” Brown says.
“Come on, Sam, we’re all thinking it,” Anna says. “Someone’s got it in for the university, wasn’t that what you were saying on the way here, Danny?”
Danny hugs Anna a bit closer to his chest. “I said it was screwed up. Some bored psychopath getting his jollies, and we have to suffer for it?”
“No one’s going to be next,” Brown tells them determinedly. “He’ll be stopped before that.”
“I hope you’re right,” Anna says, but she sounds a bit less upset.
“She usually is,” Sawyer comments.
Brown smiles gratefully at Sawyer, and Sawyer takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.
Dom sighs. “I think I’m going to try and get Tris to go inside again.”
Miller lets go of Brown’s arm. “Let me come with. He might-” She pauses, cutting off a choked sob. “I just know what he’s going through, is all.”
“Of course, Kayla,” Dom says.
Danny looks over at Brown, who nods, and Danny and Anna follow after Dom and Miller.
“How is Kayla doing?” the final male student asks.
Brown gives him a bit of a sad smile. “Not great. This is the first time she’s voluntarily gone anywhere but her flat or one of ours.”
“She actually wanted to come here?” he asks.
“Yeah. Said she didn’t want to pretend like nothing was happening, wanted to face it. I’m not sure it was a good idea.” She shrugs. “But talking to Tristan might help.”
The boy glances over at the others, looks at the crime scene, and then back to Brown. “What you said before, you really think the police will stop the guy before it happens again?”
“Of course I do, Eddie,” she tells him with a smile. “Besides, they’ve got a bit of – outside help.”
“The two detectives that talked to you and Kayla, right?” Sawyer asks.
Brown deflates a bit, very briefly, then smiles again and nods. “Right.”
Sherlock smirks. He has no doubt that the ‘outside help’ she’d been referring to wasn’t about John or himself at all.
“That’s – Detective Holmes, right?” Eddie asked. “He was here, just a bit ago. Talked to Tristan. Some of the guys looked him up, is he really as good as everyone’s saying?”
“Better,” Brown tells him. “He’s, well, he’s brilliant. He talked to me, too, got a lead just by looking about. He’s a bit fantastic.”
Her tone is sincere; she quite obviously means it, and Sherlock’s smirk turns pleased and slightly smug.
“Maybe you should hire her to do public relations for you,” John says, sounding amused.
“And his partner’s just as good,” Brown continues. “Rumour has it he’s ex-military, an excellent shot.”
“I told her not to say anything about that,” John grumbles.
The others – minus Dom – return to the group, and Brown turns her attention towards them.
“Any luck?” she asks.
“We got him to go inside with Dom,” Anna says.
“I’m going to meet up with him later, to talk,” Miller adds.
Brown smiles. “Good. That’s – good. Do you want us to come with?”
Miller shakes her head. “I think it’s something I need to do on my own.”
“Hey, look,” Danny nods towards the crime scene. “Freaky Fiona’s here.”
Sherlock glances over, and sees Masters walking along the edge of the police tape, examining the scene from a distance. He turns back, eyes on Brown, waiting for her reaction.
“Don’t call her that,” Brown says.
“You can’t be serious,” Anna says. “Look, Sam, you’re usually right about stuff like that, but protecting a killer’s a little bit too far, isn’t it?”
“You’ve got evidence then, have you?” Brown asks, tone cold.
“Look at her,” Danny says, nodding towards the crime scene again, where Masters has now ducked under the tape. “Who does that? Why else would she be here?”
“She’s here because I texted her and asked her to come. Because she’s my friend,” Brown tells them.
There’s silence for a moment. Then Anna says, “If Lacey were here-”
“If Lacey were here, she’d smack you over the head for accusing someone with no evidence and tell you even her newest cadet could do better. Hell, you lot are lucky that I’m not smacking you over the head for breaking our ‘a good friend of one of us is a friend of all of us’ rule,” Brown says.
“She’s right,” Sawyer offers.
“Shut up, Sawyer,” Anna mutters.
“I don’t want to hear another word about it from any of you,” Brown tells them firmly, then waves Masters over.
Masters hesitates, then walks over, stopping next to Brown’s side. “Hello,” she greets, somewhat stiffly.
For a moment, no one does anything. Then Sawyer smiles and says, “Hi. I’m Sawyer.”
Sawyer’s still holding Brown’s hand, and Brown squeezes it slightly. Masters seems to catch the movement, as she looks Sawyer up and down with slightly narrowed eyes.
Brown doesn’t notice, and continues the introductions. “And this is Danny, Anna, Kayla, and Eddie. Guys, this is my friend, Fiona.”
“Charmed,” Fiona comments.
“Yeah, right, lovely,” Anna says.
Awkward silence reins for a bit, then Danny says, “Well, I think we’ve been here long enough. Let’s all go grab some breakfast, yeah?”
“You guys go on ahead,” Brown tells them. “Fiona and I have some things to do.” She lets go of Sawyer’s hand and smiles at them. “I’ll see you all later. Nice talking to you, Eddie.”
She and Masters head off, leaving the others looking after them.
“What is she thinking?” Anna mutters.
“You know Sam,” Sawyer says.
“Her and Lacey both,” Danny agrees. “Always finding the good in people.”
“Even in killers?” Eddie asks.
Anna looks at him like she hasn’t noticed he was there until now. “Apparently. Let’s hope she doesn’t end up her next victim.”
“Sam’s smarter than that,” Kayla protests.
“I know,” Anna says. “But she still likes the freak.”
“Won’t last long,” Danny says confidently. “Freaky Fiona will keep on being freaky, it’s not like she ever tries to hide it. She’s just a psycho or something; Sam’ll pick up on it.”
“Yeah, good point,” Anna agrees. “God, all we have to do is wait until Sam sees the freak’s flat. If she brings embalmed animals to other people’s flats, wonder what she’s got in her own?”
“Thanks for that mental image, Anna,” Danny mutters.
There’s a round of quiet laughter, the kind that would be louder if the place, situation, were different. The group walks away, with Eddie breaking off from them to head into the residence hall, but Sherlock isn’t really watching them. He’s still hearing laughter – not theirs, and it’s not relevant, not important, it’s deleted. But it isn’t, not really, and neither is the conversation that went along with the laughter – not the first, he suspects, but the first he’d heard –
‘Oh, Lord, he’s doing that trick of his again, it’s ridiculous.’
‘Can’t he learn a new one?’
‘Hell, it’s like he thinks he’s showing off all the time, doesn’t he get that everyone hates it?’ -
No. Wrong. Irrelevant in general, especially irrelevant now, to the case.
John’s fingers close around his wrist, squeezing gently, a warm, almost comforting presence. Something to ground him, to help support the memory’s irrelevance. He’s not at uni, surrounded by people who think that what he does is a trick, he’s solving a case, and he’s got someone who – someone who –
And yet. Sherlock narrows his eyes at John, unable to completely disregard the memory of his last meeting with Sebastian.
“You said colleague,” Sherlock says.
John frowns in confusion. “What?”
“When I introduced you to Sebastian,” Sherlock clarifies.
Guilt flashes in John’s eyes, and he glances around. “You’re asking that here?”
“Yes,” Sherlock says.
John sighs. “The way you two said ‘friend,’ I thought – it was some kind of code between you two. That he was making fun of me, that I was some kind of hanger on who had nothing better to do than follow you around while you worked.” He looks away. “It was true, of course, but I figured that if I said colleague, it’d be like I had some kind of right to be there. I didn’t realize until later, when I saw how much of a wanker he was, that –”
“That he was making fun of me, not you,” Sherlock finishes for him.
“I’m sorry,” John says. “I wasn’t trying to deny we were friends, and I – guess I didn’t think you’d noticed. I should have realized. I wanted to punch him so badly when we went back to get the cheque, you know. Had to settle for making snide comments about how brilliant you were, solving the case.” He pauses, then brightens a little. “I could still punch him, if you want,” he offers, almost hopefully.
“No,” Sherlock says, though the offer paired with the explanation fills him with a strange kind of warmth. “He’s not worth it.” He twists his hand slightly in John’s grasp so he can wrap his own fingers around John’s wrist and use it to tug him forward. “We’ve been here far too long. We have work to do.”
Sherlock texts his contacts on the way back to their flat, sending Green’s photo – he’d prefer to do it in person, but he doesn’t want to wait until that night. There’s enough waiting he has to do as it is. Waiting to hear back from his contacts about the professor – frustrating, all he’s gotten is ‘he kind of looks familiar, I don’t know, let me ask around’ – waiting to hear about Green, waiting for tomorrow night – tonight, really – to do their stakeout, and though he’s identified the trainers, he’s now waiting for the sales records. That he’ll likely have the latter, at least, by late morning or early afternoon, is of little comfort at the moment.
Especially as there’d been nothing new at the crime scene, nothing to spark off a new line of investigation. Just another message, just as incomplete and nonsensical as the others. Sherlock adds Green’s photos to the wall when they get back to the flat, tacks up a piece of paper next to hers like he’s done with the others, and scribbles the message left next to her body on it.
Then he leans back, eyes narrowed as he stares at all five of the messages. Some of them could actually be made sense of, when taken on their own.
Professor Martin Andrews: ‘says we’re dumb.’ Simple: although Andrews had been popular with his students, it was no secret that there’d be a student or two in every class that would get on his bad side and be subjected to subtle, snide ridicule. A disgruntled ex-student, then, taking revenge.
Kevin Mitchell: ‘jerks have got.’
And now Ashley Green: ‘cheat if you can’t.’
Both equally simple. Someone with a grudge, getting rid of Mitchell for being a jerk and Green for cheating at – something, cheerleading, perhaps.
Is that it, then? Are they complete messages within themselves, meant to be taken only in their own context? What of the other two, Austin Collins – ‘forever sticks in’ – and Finn Morgan – ‘move onwards and outwards’ – whose messages don’t seem to be connected to them at all? And why are they all fragmented, missing key parts that can be filled in to make a whole, but with no certainty that what’s filled in is what was intended?
“Are you that clever?” Sherlock muses. “Hiding the whole in a convoluted string of parts that can’t be deciphered until you’re finished? Or are you that stupid, that the message you’re trying to convey isn’t coming across at all?”
“Which is worse for us?” John asks.
Sherlock considers. He’d prefer the clever option, of course, because that would make it much more interesting, but neither are very good news for them. “Both options mean that the messages give us nothing.”
He pushes himself away from the wall and flops onto the couch. “The waiting is intolerable, John.”
John leans forward in his armchair. “I know a way to make the time fly by.”
Sherlock looks up, intrigued. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” John says. “It’s called sleep.”
Sherlock rests his head back again, disappointed. “Dull.”
John rolls his eyes. “It may be dull, Sherlock, but it’s also necessary. When was the last time you slept?”
“I’m fine,” Sherlock replies.
“I didn’t ask if you were fine, Sherlock, I ask you when you’d last slept,” John says,
“Not too long ago,” Sherlock says evasively.
“Right,” John says. “Well, you haven’t slept tonight, or rather, last night, and I doubt you’ve slept much since this started. Which means, since it’s been three days, I think you’re due for some sleep.”
“What you think,” Sherlock says boredly. “doesn’t matter. You can hardly force me to go to sleep, can you?”
“Don’t be too sure,” John says.
Sherlock scoffs. “What are you going to do, hold me here until I fall asleep?”
“Don’t tempt me,” John tells him.
Sherlock closes his eyes, bored with this conversation. It’s pointless, and he already knows John will give up; he doesn’t feel like waiting – waiting, far too much waiting – for John to figure that out for himself. “I can tempt you as much as I like, we both know you won’t.”
There’s silence, and Sherlock would feel triumph at being right, but he’s irritated and right now, correctly predicting John’s reactions is just dull.
Then there’s a weight on his legs, something pinning his wrists to the arm of the sofa, and Sherlock’s eyes fly open.
“Looks like you still can’t tell when I’m bluffing,” John says from above him.
Quite suddenly, Sherlock is far from bored. “Looks like.”
“Still like it?” John asks.
Yes, Sherlock wants to say. Yes, he very much does. But he doesn’t say it, because he’s finding it a bit difficult to breathe at the moment, to concentrate on something besides John’s hands pinning his wrists, John’s legs heavy over his, John’s face so very near his. He wants – he wants to rock his hips up, just to see John’s reaction, but he can’t - he can’t - he suspects his desire to do so might not entirely be just to see John’s reaction.
“You realize this can absolutely not work, right?” Sherlock asks. He hears himself as he says it, knows he’s not really talking to John. But John will think he is, will provide a reply that will enable him to focus on something other than – than –
John looks at him for a long moment, then sighs. “You need to sleep, Sherlock. You’re obviously exhausted, and you’re going to hit the hallucination stage soon. Unless you want to start dealing with oysters taking over the world, or me having to catch you to keep you from cracking your head when you pass out again?”
Sherlock grimaces. Not his proudest moment. “No,” he admits reluctantly. John is right, of course, though Sherlock will still be fine for a little while longer, he had been planning on sleeping for a half hour or so after the stakeout.
“I’ll sleep if you answer a question for me,” Sherlock says.
John frowns, like he suspects a trap, and asks cautiously, “What?”
“Who left you a voicemail about someone you care about dying?” Sherlock asks.
John flinches, clearly not expecting that. Sherlock watches him debate internally for a bit, then John narrows his eyes at him.
“How long will you sleep for?” John asks.
“An hour,” Sherlock says.
John snorts, like he thinks that’s ridiculous, then names a ridiculous number of his own. “Six.”
“Two,” Sherlock says.
“Five,” John replies.
Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “Two.”
John glares back at him. “Five.”
“At least four, Sherlock, or no deal,” John says.
Sherlock shakes his head. He won’t budge on this. He can’t.
“Three and a half, then,” John says. “Please.”
He’s almost pleading at that, concern obvious. For a moment, Sherlock is detached from himself, and sees the situation as it is: John, holding on to a secret, potentially traumatic, that he absolutely doesn’t want to reveal, and now it’s on the line, and he’s begging Sherlock to take the deal, just so he’ll sleep.
He’ll explain why, Sherlock thinks. He’ll explain why it can’t be more than two, and then – then – John will agree to the two hours, and tell him anyway, and Sherlock will feel even guiltier than he does now, that his friend will go to such lengths to make sure he takes care of himself.
“Three and a half,” Sherlock agrees quietly.
Relief fills John’s eyes, and he clambers off Sherlock.
Sherlock feels the absence acutely, and balls his hands into fists to stop himself from reaching for John. It’s inconvenient, this thing he suspects he’s become aware of but is refusing to acknowledge. Not during a case, likely not ever. He rolls over onto his side, so he can look at John.
John settles back into his chair, then says, without looking at him, “It was Harry. Dad died when I was eighteen. Harry called me when it happened, but I was out. She left a voicemail on my dorm answering machine. She was drunk, I don’t think she realized she wasn’t talking to me at first.”
“John,” Sherlock says softly, though he doesn’t know how he’s going to finish that.
John shakes his head. “It was a long time ago. And he’d been sick for awhile, it wasn’t unexpected. Just wish I’d found out a different way than listening to my voicemail after the cinema.” He swallows, then looks over at Sherlock. “Curiosity satisfied?”
Sherlock frowns. “It wasn’t curiosity. I – like knowing things about you, John.”
John smiles. “You also like knowing things about poison and bees, but I’ll take that as a compliment. Now you agreed; go to sleep.”
“Three and a half hours?” Sherlock asks.
“Three and a half hours,” John agrees.
Sherlock hesitates. “John. I want you to wake me up after three and a half hours if I’m still asleep. Even if it’s a deep sleep.”
John blinks. “Yeah, all right.”
“Do you promise? Promise you’ll wake me up,” Sherlock insists.
“Okay, Sherlock, I promise I’ll wake you up,” John says, looking at him oddly.
Sherlock believes him. Almost. Enough, because he closes his eyes, exhales slowly, and allows himself to fall asleep.