The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (2024)

Chapter 1: Book Cover

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The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (1)

Chapter 2: Book Cover

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Hello, I’m Jaye but some of you may know me as AlJeDd. This is my first ‘proper’ story and was written over eight months. I really hope you enjoy it!

Some information before we begin:

This story is not for the faint hearted, as I’m sure you’ve seen by the tags. If you would like to read but you’re not sure of the contents drop me an email ([emailprotected]) or message me on my Tumblr and I’ll be happy to give you a more detailed list of trigger warnings, however do be warned they will contain spoilers.

There are 25 chapters that will be uploaded thrice a week until completion, and after that I will upload a gallery of illustrations I created for this universe. Feel free to bookmark, or if you would like to receive an email when I upload a new chapter, hit the subscribe button.

Please be kind to me. Remember I have written this for free during my own time and I am not receiving any money for it. This story is completely finished so I will not be taking requests, nor do I want constructive criticism. If you have nothing nice to say, move along. There are plenty of other stories and authors to suit your tastes.

With that being said, the next ‘chapter’ will be an acknowledgements page, followed by the first chapter. From then on the only uploads will be the actual story, and if any additional information is needed I will add it to the author’s note.

I appreciate if you took the time to read this disclaimer. Thank you so much for choosing to read my story, and I very much hope you enjoy. Happy reading! Lots of love, Jaye.

Chapter 3: Acknowledgements

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Before we begin, I’d like to make some acknowledgements to the people who were with me behind the scenes. Without them, this story would not be where it is today.

First of all, thank you to my parents, but particularly my mum. You’ve been my biggest supporter since day one, back when I was a scrawny kid writing fantastical stories about whatever took my whimsy. When I first told you I was writing a novel, all the way back in January, and a murder mystery nonetheless, you were so excited you could barely contain yourself! Every time I finished a chapter you would read it in one go and beg me for the next one, even if it had not yet been written. I adore our little celebration dances and the forehead kisses and late-night discussions; the love you have given me endlessly. This one’s for you, mama. I hope I make you proud.

Shay. Oh, Shay. What on earth would I do without you? You’ve been my rock since December when I first started toying with this idea I had. You’ve been there when I’ve texted you at every hour of the day or night, ready to listen to my rambling with such patience and grace. You let me use you as a soundboard and bounced back so many ideas, a lot of which has been included. It took twelve rewrites to get the ending and for every last one you had to endure my flood of messages. I am truly grateful to you, my dearest friend. I love you so much and I am sorry for driving you up the wall! I hope this is worth it! Please check Shay’s work out too. She means the world to me.

Bryan, too, has listened to all of my excitement, frustration and everything in between. You’ve been so kind and supportive of my special interests, you’ve let me keep as much of this a secret as possible, but begged me constantly to read it, sending me random ‘I love you’ messages when I needed it most. The motivation did wonders for getting this done. You have been so amazing and wonderful and I just want to thank you for it all, you and Shay have made me feel so loved and wanted in a time of great struggle for me. Thank you, I love you too. Can’t wait to see you at Bingo Thursday.

Next up is Nico. Again, how often have I ranted and raved about this damn book? It’s been mission impossible trying to talk about it without giving away any plot details, but I think I managed. Despite this not being your cup of tea you’ve been especially supportive and kind and listened to everything I’ve had to say even if a lot of it didn’t make sense. You’ve encouraged and motivated for me to keep going even when I hit roadblocks. So thank you, my friend. It means the world to me. Check out Nico’s work too! Looking forward to watching Granada with you.

A short thank you to my ‘real life’ friends, that is, the ones I didn’t meet online. None of you will actually read this and I’ve already thanked you all for the support personally but I just wanted to add it here too. Thanks for checking in on me, asking how ‘the book’ is going, if I’m happy with it, if you can read some of it. Thanks for letting me share bits and pieces and show you my artwork. I’ve had nothing but support and kindness.

And finally, thank you to the discord I’m in. I only met you a few months ago, some of you I’ve only known weeks, yet every single one of you have been so happy for me and equally as caring. You asked me questions and sounded genuinely interested, you let me share my art and snippets of chapters and were my hype men. Particularly I’d like to thank Rory for your medical advice, though I’ve probably sprinkled in some inaccuracies still. Jones, for all your art advice and taking my paintings to a new level. Mela, my dear wifey, for your constant love and memes (let’s not forget the angst) and Alyssa, for always hyping me up. If your name wasn’t mentioned just know I still see you and you’ve all been incredibly sweet.

Lots of love to every single one of you,

Jaye, AKA Al the Rat King.

Chapter 4: Chapter One

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The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (2)

Instruments clatter from one surface to another, some destined to the mint speckled linoleum floor surrounding the corner-sink, others thrown toward a disgruntled doctor. He ducks, raising placating hands, lips grimly stretched.

“You’re a part of it too!” His patient yells.

“I assure you there is no such conspiracy,” says the doctor, running a hand through his sandy-grey hair, “perhaps we should take some deep breaths. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“What, so you can dose me up on sedatives? Absolutely not!” A tub of urine sample strips are collected from a glass-faced cabinet and thrown at the sink, the lid popping free and scattering the contents in the basin.

“Mr Kingsley, please calm down. I don’t want to have to call security,” the doctor lies, for security are already en route, “why don’t we discuss this civilly?”

“There is no civility in this godforsaken city! They watch us, you know? They watch all of us! I bet they’ve got cameras in here too.” The man whirls around the room, scuffed trainers painting streaks of mud into the fibres of the blue carpet. He searches for cameras and upon finding none, glares at the security sensor nestled in the ceiling corner above the desk. “Am I giving you a good show, huh? Am I?”

The man waggles his arms, maintaining a distance — not yet violent directly towards the doctor, who has been the subject of his ire for the last thirty minutes. He only intervenes when his patient steps up onto a cushioned chair to lever himself onto the desktop. “Mr Kingsley, please get down.”

“Release your hands from me, you vile swine! I reckon you’re in on it too! Big Brother’s reliable soldier, working a meagre wage for Big Pharma? I’m onto you!” Mr Kingsley growls, flailing his limbs as he is gently grappled as to prevent a fall.

The door opens softly and attracts their dual attentions, enough to briefly quell Kingsley’s futile attempts to remove himself from the doctor’s hands, but it is not the security guard sorely anticipated. A timid receptionist no older than twenty-one raises her wrists to her chest, eyes flickering between the two parties embroiled in a standoff. “Is everything okay, Doctor Watson?”

“Just fine, thank you Emily. Mr Kingsley and I are about to sit down and have a cup of tea, aren’t we?” The proverbial olive branch is slapped away, Kingsley’s chest heaving as increasingly wilder eyes dart between the doctor and the exit.

“Unhand me! This is abuse! I shall have you reported!” Kingsley aims a dark glare at the intruder. “f*ck off, bitch, be glad I haven’t reported you too for joining this sick cult!” Emily the receptionist squeaks, cowering from the wagging finger pointed in her direction.

She watches like a terrified fawn as Doctor Watson switches from the forbearing gentleman to Captain Watson of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, who swiftly pulls Mr Kingsley down from the desk onto solid ground. When he is opposed, the patient wriggling and screaming for help against a vicious attack, legs kicking out, Watson takes advantage of their weight difference to pin him to the floor, belly down, arms pinioned under his own weight. He cannot slide them free, and his legs uselessly smack at the floor as Doctor Watson presses against his back.

“I’m very sorry Mr Kingsley. I understand you’re upset, but you must realise the danger. I will release you when you’re calmer. Can we try some deep breaths?”

The man gulps for air like a captured fish. “I can’t breathe! You’re crushing me!”

“I’m not crushing you, Mr Kingsley. Perhaps you are feeling too restrained, I apologise,” Doctor Watson shifts his knee to the lower vertebrae, protecting the delicate bones there and allowing space for the lungs to expand but not so that escape can be accomplished. “Is that better?”

Realising he is no closer to freedom, and discreetly finding the containment soothing, Mr Kingsley sighs and presses his flushed cheek to the cool floor, smelling a citrus cleanser and the fusty scent of a vacuum filter. “Yes.”

“Excellent. I’d like you to close your eyes and focus on my instructions. I promise that no harm will come to you – this office is safe and you are in no danger. Emily, could you please get Mr Kingsley a cup of water?”

Emily leaves without a word, for which the doctor is grateful. He has eliminated the source of his patient’s vulnerability and hopes they will be able to find serenity. Mr Kingsley shuts his eyes, body sinking further down as he follows a set of breathing exercises directed clearly yet gently. As his limbs fall lax and the upwards pressure of his spine against Watson’s knee eases, he is incrementally released until he lies facedown of his own volition.

“Very good Mr Kingsley. You may stand up whenever you feel ready. No rush.” Doctor Watson bites his lower lip, grappling at the desk edge to rise to his feet. He is unsteady, preemptively catching a stumble, and he shakes one leg out with a wince. Mr Kingsley does not move, but he listens to the three rhythmic footfalls and following clack of the handle as his doctor crosses to the door. “I’ll just be a minute.”

Outside the door stands a security guard in the midst of a hushed argument with the receptionist. Emily is holding a plastic cup of water from the cooler in the waiting area, the surface of the drink rippling. She plants wide eyes on the door to the office, but she cannot see beyond it due to Doctor Watson’s stance.

The security guard clears his throat and turns to Watson. “Sir, you called?”

“I did, yes, nearly forty minutes ago. The situation is under control now. But it could’ve deteriorated.” He replies, jaw ticking. Stormy eyes are fixed upon the guard, dominant despite their height difference, the doctor notably shorter.

To his credit, the man remains unmoved. “My apologies, sir. I was off duty.”

“So who was on duty?” Doctor Watson asks with a shard of ice to his voice.

The guard, his tag labelling him Steven, shifts his booted feet, gaze askance. “Nobody, sir.”

“Right. We’ll get that sorted out, then,” Doctor Watson leans heavily on his cane, which clicks when he shuffles, “he’s no longer volatile but that isn’t to say he will remain that way. I’d like you to stand here and keep an ear out.”

“Of course, sir.” Steven’s curt nod is ignored.

“And Emily, I’m so sorry you had to witness that,” Watson tips his head, “please don’t take anything he said personally. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, yes, yeah,” she blows her fringe despite it not being in her eyes and passes over the wobbling cup of water. “Are you?”

He notices her fleeting glance towards his leg and smiles. “No worse for wear. Off you go now, take a break to collect yourself. There’re a few energy drinks in the staff room fridge and some biscuits in the cupboard if Mrs Norton hasn’t nicked them all yet.”

She laughs as he winks jovially and begins to walk away. “Thank you, Doctor Watson.”

Watson enters the room to find his patient now seated in a chair, hands limp in his lap, regarding placidly the destruction of his creation. He acknowledges his doctor with pursed lips and a dusting of colour high on his cheeks, shoulders hunched towards his neck. He tugs at a loose thread on the hem of his shirt.

“Doctor Watson, I am so sorry for-”

A hand waves dismissively. “No need to apologise, Mr Kingsley. I think you were just a bit confused and perhaps afraid?” He smiles courteously at the nod of affirmation, passing over the cup of water. “How long have you had these episodes?”


“Thank you so much,” Mr Kingsley shakes his hand with a strong grip, the other cupping over Watson’s, “again, I would like to apologise for the state of your office.”

“Not to worry,” Doctor Watson matches his enthusiasm then releases his hand to slide over a prescription. “I do hope these work for you. I’ll have that referral sent off for you. I think CBT will do you some good. And if not, come back and we’ll look at another avenue. How’s that sound?”

“Excellent. And er, do please apologise to that lovely girl earlier. I think I gave her quite the fright!” Mr Kingsley laughs self-deprecatingly and rubs the back of his neck as he makes his way to the door. His fingers wrap around the metal door handle but he does not open it immediately. “Thank you again. For treating me with dignity. I’ve had some… poor experiences with other doctors in regards to these episodes.”

“That is quite alright. As I said: not to worry. Now you take care, Mr Kingsley.” He smiles close-lipped, head dipping.

Mr Kingsley clutches his prescription. “You too, Doctor Watson. Bye.”

“Bye now.” Doctor Watson waves with his left hand, his right already hovering over the computer keyboard to type up the report and send off the referral for cognitive behavioural therapy. He genuinely hopes Mr Kingsley’s issues can be resolved, or at least ameliorated so that he may have a good quality of life and more independence.

When he is finished, Doctor Watson heads to the reception desk to slip through some notes. “No rush, but these are for Mr Kingsley.”

“Oh, thank you John!” The oldest woman on the team takes the paper and skims it with her almost comically large spectacles. “What a day you’ve had!”

“Certainly not the worst,” he laughs, but she flashes a knowing look, eyes drawn to his leg. He clears his throat, “anyway, you lovely ladies have a nice night, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Can’t come soon enough!” She jokes, leaving him laughing.

It is dark when he exits the building, bidding the last remaining staff a good night. From here he can hail a cab right to his door, saving his tremulous leg from unwarranted pain. His satchel hangs from his right shoulder, clacking against his cane that he leans on at an inappropriate angle. It is not the only injury he is plagued with, one that requires a lack of stress it would receive constantly if he were to switch the cane to the side of his agonised leg.

The lift in his building is out of order, the best Hackney has to offer for a man only sixteen weeks into his arrival in England. Doctor Watson is British, was born and raised in London, but has been gone for quite some time. He shuffles up the steps one at a time, teeth gritted to both stifle his frustration and redirect the burning in his left thigh. With eyes lowered to focus on the raised bumps lining each step he cannot see the pity in the eyes of a fellow tenant, nor does he want to. Once revered on the field, he cannot refrain from reacting poorly to bouts of public sympathy on his behalf. He is not delicate, not a porcelain doll to be handled carefully, and he is capable of independence. When he reaches the third floor, perspiring against the collar of his black shooter jacket, he almost shouts. Instead a guttural groan echoes across the hallway and he limps to the door of his next-door neighbour, relying heavily on his cane. He knocks and waits, careful not to stumble.

“What do you want?” Answers a gruff older gentleman, face harried and stubbly. He looks unwashed, greased hair slicked back to accentuate his receded hairline.

“Afternoon, Mr Adams. I just came home,” Watson gestures around his feet.

“And?” Mr Adams grips the doorframe with stumpy fingers.

Doctor Watson sighs, restraining the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “And your bin bags are all over the hallway again. Can you please remove them properly or at least keep them away from my door?”

“Not my problem.” His neighbour snarls.

“It is your problem, though. Why so many bags anyway?” John indicates to the seven stuffed bin bags conveniently placed outside his door, entirely avoiding the owner’s. He does not want to begin to imagine what might be in them.

“None of your f*cking business, knobhea*d. f*ck off back to your little fa*ggot friend and don’t disturb me again!” The furiously etched features of his neighbour’s face are replaced by the front door, which connects with the frame so hard the sound reverberates all the way to the main stairs at the end of the hallway.

John retreats, head hung, and weaves around the mess so that he can leverage on his own door and push away the offending rubbish with the rubber tip of his cane. The black plastic bags are shoved aside just enough for him to come and go safely, pressed to the walls of the corridor where they cannot become a trip hazard. The door opposite his opens a crack to reveal the concerned plump face of his neighbour.

“Is everything alright John?” She asks, beady eyes glinting in the low light of her flat.

Watson smiles at her grimly. “Just fine, Mrs Taylor. Sorry to bother you with the noise.”

“Not at all. Those bloody bin bags! I’ve reported it to the council, but they don’t seem interested in the slightest. Do you happen to know his landlord? I shall send them a complaint instead,” Watson intercepts what he knows will be a ceaseless tyrant of kvetching with a shrug he hopes is polite yet nonchalant.

“I don’t. I’d say speak to management, but…” John shrugs again, sucking his teeth, “you have a pleasant evening, Mrs Taylor.”

Slightly disappointed to have lost an unwilling victim to her gabbling, she nods and waves at him with her fingers clapping her palm. “You too, my dear.”

John shuffles into the minuscule hallway of his own flat, hanging his coat on the hook nailed two steps in. His keys are dumped on the kitchen worktop alongside his mobile phone and some spare change fished from his khakis from this morning’s taxi. For a moment he revels in the relative silence, bracketing his arms on the cool counter, though muffled by his sleeves, and presses his head down atop them. When he stands again he blinks against the sensitivity twinging his eyes under the harsh overhead light, feeling prickly. Despite knowing he will find nothing, John opens his fridge. Milk, butter, a single bottle of sealed ketchup and an expired packet of thinly sliced ham greet him. Watson throws the ham in the bin and takes a deep breath, ignoring the flare of pain that seems to be emanating from every muscle between his cervical and lumbar vertebrae. A few steps are all that are needed to cross the entire kitchen, so John leaves his cane rested against the wall and forages in the cupboards. The short thrill of joy he has upon finding decent bread and a tin of beans is immediately diminished by the fact of such a depressing success, Watson dumping the foods into the appropriate heating implements so that he can change into long sleeved loungewear.

In lieu of a dining room table John lowers himself into a rickety chair at his desk, mauled from, at minimum, a decade of use and abuse detailed in the wood. John is sure there are stories to tell among the etchings but he could not begin to properly deduce what. Sometimes he stares at them, imagining how they could have came to be: the long score from a clumsy crafter, the staggered scratches from a child’s toy race car. Today he is exhausted, heavy lids dragging across his laptop screen, for he does not own a television. He used to be a keen reader of the news, but it depresses him now, so he sticks to medical articles and reruns of TV shows on YouTube. Mostly he stares at the blank page of his blog, the one recommended he update regularly by his therapist. None of the rambling non-sequiturs have ever been posted publicly, nor the heart-wrenching monologues of his psyche since returning to the UK. He would never dare.

The cursor flashes at him daringly but there is no inspiration to spur his creativity tonight. Perhaps he shall start at the basics, he thinks: list the facts of his day, in order of how they occurred. He should be careful to censor any private information if Doctor Ella Thompson is to see; though she is a keen advocate of patient confidentiality. He imagines Ella’s pride in their next appointment, him showing her the updated draft after profusely stating that nothing interesting ever happens to him that would reliably shape a readable blog post. She had argued it was not for an audience, regardless if he uploaded or not, but to vent his emotions, positive or negative, and read the blogs of others in similar circ*mstances. For now he will type his truest emotions into an empty abyss privy only to his therapist.

He pecks at the keys with his left index finger, cursing the tremors for hitting the wrong letters and doubling his typing time. His non dominant hand wields a fork, as he has found messy food can and will sully the surrounding area if handled by his unsteady fingers. Once they could curl confidently around a scalpel, sew the neatest sutures into skin and withdraw bullets from even the smallest entry wounds, but now he is left struggling to direct food into his own mouth without smearing the contents everywhere but. John’s plate is barren by the time he has saved his retelling of the day’s events and he sips at a glass of tepid water, the back of his chair creaking under the weight of him. Sighing, Watson decides to retire to bed early on account of a tumultuous day, though he is pleased that his Tuesday clinic is reduced to a half day. Standing up is much harder than sitting down, his leg reminding him vocally of days without pain all the way to the sink. He leaves the dishes until tomorrow, utilising his cane on the walk back to the desk. A drawer fits his laptop perfectly, and he slips it in, avoiding the SIG SAUER tucked in the shadowy base. A novel is his nighttime companion, Watson climbing clumsily under the cold sheets and tucking them to his chin against the draught of mid-March air, praying for satisfactory sleep he knows will not come.


John Watson’s newly restricted mobility has often prevented him from socialising. He does little with his half days off work and nothing of note in the evenings, on even fewer occasions with ‘friends’. John does not have friends — an abundance of colleagues, perhaps, and a couple of people he knew from his university days, but no true friends. If invited he will attend social events but that has only been the case once, in which a drunken bar fight had him making a hasty exit as to not exacerbate his fresh injuries.

There are talks of a pub night on Friday with the staff from the surgery, an invite extended that he spends the taxi ride home on Wednesday evening debating. It would be nice to go out, he thinks, but it cannot be far if he is unable to procure a taxi later in the night due to his leg. He pays the fare with a tenner and pockets the meagre one-pound-seventy change before taking a deep breath to tackle the stairs, grumbling about the point of lifts if they are always broken. There are no bin bags strewn across the hallway today, but John knows it is not for his benefit and likely the result of another neighbour complaining, and if he were to guess, Mrs Taylor would be the culprit.

John fishes for his keys, hands shaking from lack of proper food, an energy drink not enough to fuel his final few hours at work. As he pulls the jangling keyring from his pocket and raises it to the lock, it slips from his grip and clatters to the floor. Cursing sotto voce, John bends to retrieve them, however his leg spasms and he almost tips forward. At the last second he grasps the door handle to right himself, and is almost sent careening onto his hallway carpet when the door swings open. He freezes, still in an awkward crouch, to listen for noises. There is silence from within the flat, but that does not guarantee safety. Watson’s bedsit is old and the doors unchanged since initial installation, which means it still requires manual locking whenever he ventures out. Not once has he forgotten to lock his door, not with his ingrained instincts and a distrust for several of the seedier neighbours surrounding his flat. However here it stands, unlocked and open ajar, the heckles raised on the back of his neck. Righting himself, Watson steps into his flat and silently shuts the door behind him. He leaves his cane propped below the coat hook, left hand grazing the rear waistband of his trousers for a gun that is currently in the desk drawer.

Without preamble he moves towards his desk, almost stumbling in his haste to scan the rest of the room. His laptop is sat atop the desk, lid open, screen black. When nobody jumps out at him waving a weapon about John opens the desk drawer. A shuddery exhale matches the tinge of adrenaline in his blood at the sight of his SIG SUAER nestled where it should be, returned to the comfort of his own hand. He is steady, back straight, eyes tracking the tiny bedsit — there are few places to hide — and rounds the partition wall to stalk his own bedroom. The novel he left on the nightstand the night before has moved, as if someone has leafed through it and dropped it back down again. John does not ponder why such a conclusion sprang to mind as he must focus on a potential intruder. There is nobody hiding around the far side of his twin bed, nor stuffed into the confines of his wardrobe. That leaves the kitchen.

John’s unwavering gaze like that of a hunting lioness is square on the kitchen door, for beyond that may lay an enemy. He flings the door open, which he tends to shut — as hallucinations have been known to lurk in the darkened doorway of a night — so that it hits the wall behind it, yet nobody is there. His kitchen looks exactly the same, as does the bathroom; at least there is nothing untoward he can notice. John sighs, allowing the gun to drop to his side. He swallows a lump of disappointment that there was no person to challenge, albeit simultaneously glad that whoever broke into his flat and had a look around did not take what few valuables he possesses. Strange, that. Pondering the purpose of such an endeavour, he sets the gun back into the drawer and connects his laptop to the charger. He cannot be entirely sure these were not incidences of his own doing; he may have never suffered from lapses of time and memory before but he has been running on such little sleep and nutrition it cannot be ruled out either. The thrill of the chase ebbs away into the same dull prospect of another evening alone, and John moves into the kitchen sans cane to make some dinner. The cupboards were replenished yesterday, a reassurance that for the next week he will not starve, and he sets down a packet of pasta beside a pan of boiling water. Something simple but filling. The kettle bubbles quietly as he opens the fridge to retrieve milk for his tea, not paying attention. He grapples for the milk, eyeing the pan of water, when he fails to make contact with the handle. Frowning, he turns back and finds that the pint of milk is facing the wrong way. As a left hander John forgets his mindless adaptations such as handles and placement of objects on a table until a right-hander reminds him of such. This seems to be one of those occurrences, one he knows is definitely not his failing memory. The handle of the pint bottle is on the right hand side. And the level is surely lower than it was this morning, him being the sole tenant of this bedsit. How peculiar, he thinks, not without a sense of fear.

John decides to address the matter with police tomorrow. For now he is in no imminent danger, and just to be certain he shuffles to the front door, fridge left open and kettle fully boiled to lock and jiggle the handle. If nothing comes of it, which he doubts there will, considering nothing was actually burgled, there is at the very least an interesting blog post, a conversational point he can use to steer a potentially uncomfortable chat with his therapist. The burglar who stole his milk. He laughs at his own mind, that the intruder had the decency to wash their mug. Unless, he thinks, they drank straight from the bottle. John’s nose crinkles – as a doctor he cannot conscion drinking from the same bottle an unknown source has transferred any number of germs onto. He pours the remainder down the sink and recycles the carton, deciding in that moment to expand his social horizons and go for drinks Friday night, where he can share this fun little anecdote and be done with it.

Chapter 5: Chapter Two

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (3)

John stands against a wall, using that as his support so that he may conceal his cane in the shadows. Colleagues bustle around the tight space, the dim lighting of the closest pub to their surgery casting large swathes of the seating areas into darkness. On the other end of the room is a pool table and a dartboard crowded with people he recognises as well as strangers from outside of work, bobbing about beneath a harsh spotlight hanging by a thick wire from the rustic beams of the ceiling. The pub is pleasant despite the lack of lighting – traditionally British, in the sense that many come together of an evening here to socialise rather than sit alone to drink away their woes, and the décor is a mix between modern technology in the televisions and machinery behind the bar counter and a Victorian-esque cottage. John, however, is not in such a cheery spirit this evening. He is still shaken from the events of two nights ago, and not entirely sure he did not imagine a break-in, as there is still no evidence except for a rotated milk carton to solidify his claims.

On top of which he is also suffering from bouts of fatigue triggered by night terrors and pain exacerbated by the constant engagement of his job. For such a mundane set of tasks he is put to work physically, especially since his responsibilities have stretched to visitation of senior homes of a late afternoon. He is exhausted, tetchy, and disguising the rumbles of his stomach with well-timed coughs, though he doubts anyone could hear it over the sound of the football match blaring on the television metres away. So here he stands, alone, irked and wishing he had declined the offer to attend. He has not been ignored; certainly not, as patrons have acknowledged him and fellow doctors much younger than he have proffered to buy him drinks, all of which he has politely rejected. He would rather not engage in the more prosaic whims of small talk he has neither interest nor response to add to the conversation; and alcohol inhibits the potency of his pain medication — not that he believes it is working at full capacity now, as his thigh twinges and he shifts unevenly on his good foot. Perhaps it was a poor decision to shuffle along after the lively group, his patience wearing thinner with each passing minute as pain decreases his tolerance.

John lasts another ten minutes before he concedes defeat to his aching leg and sour attitude. There is nobody nearby to notify of his departure, but that does not matter as they seem to have moved on happily to the games room without him. Watson limps toward the door, tugging his coat further around him and wishing he had brought a scarf to combat the slicing chill of howling wind. Coveting to stuff both hands into his pockets but only permitted one, the other occupied with his cane, John exits the pub into the night and rounds the corner in search of a taxi. It appears his swift absconding has been performed unnoticed, until a group of men hunched beside a fire escape ladder are alerted to him, their heads swivelling to inspect the clack of John’s cane against the pavement.

“All right, Doctor Watson?” It is a fellow doctor from the surgery who speaks, surrounded by a few John recognises and most he does not.

“Just fine, thank you. Wouldn’t happen to know where I can get a cab from here, would you?” He replies with a tepid smile.

Though several crane their necks to eye further down the empty road, the one who spoke first looks him up and down, not unkindly. “Leaving so soon?”

“Ah, my leg, you see,” John taps the sole of his shoe with the rubber end of the cane, “showing my age there, I think.”

His younger colleague shakes his head empathetically, followed by the group surrounding him. “Not at all, Doctor Watson. Can I give you a lift? I haven’t been drinking.”

“Oh no, you’re all right, but thank you. I’ll see to myself.” John’s mouth downturns politely.

“Are you sure? My car’s just round the corner, I can drive it up to you?” He offers, poking his thumb in the direction of the junction where John is headed.

“No no, that won’t be necessary. Very kind of you to offer but a taxi’ll do me just fine. Down there, I presume?” He waves his free arm towards the road.

“Should be. If not you could ring one in. Do you need the phone number?”

“I’ve got it, I think,” he lies, “thank you again. Enjoy your evening lads!”

John pretends to thrill in the short cacophony of cheers directed at him as he heads towards the main road. When they assume he is out of earshot, but is not, John hears the tut of a doctor he is still unfamiliar with. They remark with pity on his condition, how it must be awful to have to leave early due to a disability. He hums to block out the infuriating pity, knowing he cannot, with good manners, tell the naïve man to shove it. He does not need their baseless sympathy, nor is he likely to tolerate such acts directly to his face; albeit right now he is tired and hungry and afflicted and it is not worth the battle of reeducation.

Down by the pub the road is too narrow and full of potential drunks for any sane driver to wait, but a short walk to the junction provides a rank full of Hackney cabs waiting to be hailed. He slides into one with a grimace, feeling rather than seeing the eyes watching his struggle into the backseat, though no word is spoken beyond a greeting and the recital of his address. The cab is warm and soothes some of the ache in his muscles, and he rests his head back, eyes shifting closed to rest on the way home. It is only ten minutes — maybe eight dependant on traffic, yet necessary to stifle some of the emotion he does not want to surface. John is a man of extreme pride, and if his past has taught him anything, it is to quell emotion of any extreme and force upon his face a mask of stoicism. It is almost too easy to hide his true feelings and, conversely, project social virility. He has lacked a true purpose since his return to England and the struggle to return to civilian life has been far too great, something he will not admit aloud to his therapist, though he does not doubt she is aware. Watson fears that acknowledgment would mean that he has to do something about it, despite finding a job and being provided a bedsit by the government, he does not yet feel ready to traverse more difficult mental grounds whether by therapy or medication. Wanting to groan, John swallows thickly and blinks away the prickle behind his eyes, blaming the slight filling of his waterline on the brightness of lampposts flashing by. Stuck in his head once again, time has become a distant object and he is thrown harshly from his reverie by the somewhat heavy halt of the vehicle.

“We’re here sir.” John is thankful the driver does not ask of his wellbeing and passes over a tenner, telling him to keep the change as a show of gratitude. “Oh, thank you mate. You have a nice night now.”

“You too mate.” John says sincerely. He has less trouble getting out the car, the warmth having worked wonders on his cramped muscles. It certainly has benefit when he is met with the twice-daily challenge of three floor’s worth of stairs. The ‘Out of Order’ sign taped to the lift waves at him mockingly as he opens the main doors to the building. It is silent and barren but lit well, glaring into his corneas against the filthy — and previously white — flooring.

Such a tumultuous day warrants a peaceful evening, John thinks, and perhaps a nightcap if he is so inclined, once he has showered and changed into comfier clothes. He can tolerate the issue of alcohol and medication in bed where he can rest properly into the late morning, for he is not due anywhere until Monday. Tomorrow may bring with it the common sense of isolation he has felt since returning home but for now he revels in two whole days of total peace should he so wish to shut himself away. His therapist would despise the cowardly choice of weekend plans but he cannot find it in him to care. The tantalising urge to crawl into his bed without so much as a wash or snack is almost irresistible except that John knows it will only worsen his state come morn, so he powers through to his door.

His heart skips, hand reaching behind for a weapon not there. This time he is certain of an intruder, whether still currently in his flat or not, they have not bothered to disguise their movements. The front door is open: just a crack, imperceptible to any passerby but blatantly clear up close. There is no evidence of forced entry but the lock has been tampered with, for Watson without a shred of doubt locked his door this morning, has been vigilant since the incident two nights ago. With the splayed palm of his left hand he pushes the door open, careful of alerting a potential assailant to his entrance, stopping before the creak in the hinge.

First he pokes his head in to check for someone hiding behind the door despite the tight squeeze but is met with nothing and nobody. Further into the flat, again his cane set aside as it is too loud, John checks for and retrieves his gun. Identical to the Wednesday break-in his laptop sits inconspicuous atop the desk, this time unopened but a clear reference to his pesky friend. His bedroom area, open plan and sharing the space with the hallway and living room, contains a large shelf built into the wall. It is the only method of storage apart from the kitchen cupboards and two shallow drawers in his desk, yet still sparse with the few items John has acquired or inherited from well-wishers in the past sixteen weeks of his arrival to London.

Which is why he immediately notices the stark difference from that first night he discovered a burglar-not-burgling: his photo album is missing. It is tome-like in volume and unmissable, a quick scan of the room confirming it has not mysteriously fallen into a nook. John frowns. He is not afraid, there is no current trespasser, but he cannot prevent his previously tired mind from whirring awake to conjure up motives for such a peculiar burglary. No longer grasped by vestiges of fatigue, John does a second lap of the tiny flat and reaches the same conclusion. Nothing else has been taken, valuable or otherwise, and he briefly pokes at a kindling fire of worry that perhaps his visitor knows him personally. Who in his diminutive social circle would want, nay do such a thing is beyond him, yet the thought of a stranger taking only a single item of sentimental value is utterly bizarre. A true puzzler he imagines he is not equipped to solve alone.

Watson inhales deeply so that he may control his distress — though he is in no immediate danger the mental image of someone entering his private space and rifling through his belongings encourages a roil of nausea in the pit of his stomach. He stumbles to the kitchen, a prickle of sweat emerging from the nape of his neck and tickling the collar of his burgundy cardigan. Somehow the familiar bubbling of the kettle soothes his nerves and John leans his entire weight against the counter, head in hands, gun dumped beside his mug. Remaining there until the water boils allows him time to console himself, and when he turns to steep a teabag the shakiness of the post-adrenaline rush seems to have abated. John clenches his fists one at a time then flicks his fingers against his palm from pinkie to index, a stim he has unknowingly performed since his teenage years. With much better control over his faculties, John faces the kitchen and beyond to the rest of his flat. There is one more thing to check before he decides what to do — the fridge. As if something is lurking in wait to jump out at him John flings open the door wearing a wince, but there is nothing there, and his heart rate normalises. It is not the end of the chilling events of the evening, however, as once again, despite his diligence, the milk carton handle is facing to the right.

John grasps his mug and gun, venturing into the atrium of his flat with his phone tucked between his neck and shoulder. He sets the weapon in the drawer as he waits for the number to dial then approaches the front door to collect his cane and ensure the door is firmly locked. “One-oh-one, is everything all right?”

“Hi there,” John switches his phone from his shoulder to his palm and meanders to his desk, two muffled clacks followed by a rubbery thump, “I’d like to report a crime.”

“Okay. Can I get your name?”

“John Watson.” He sits down at the creaky chair, gun placed on the battered tabletop beside the steaming mug.

“Are you currently in any danger, John?”

“No no. My flat was broken into. But that’s the weird thing,” he scratches at his scalp, feeling rather silly now.

“What’s weird, sir?” The tone of voice has lightened to one of interest, and John can almost imagine the responder sitting straighter at their computer, quite like he has.

John sighs. “Well, I’ve already reported a similar incident that happened on Wednesday. They didn’t take anything then. But today… I thought the same, until I found that my photo album has been taken.”

“A photo album?” He can hear the incredulity in the monotone voice. He frowns.

“Yes. Weird, innit? Nobody else has access to the flat, nor would they even know about the album, really.” John gesticulates to an invisible audience.

“Have you got a third-party landlord?”

Watson frowns, the deep furrow of his brows exacerbating the drop of heavy eyelids. “I- yes?”

“With a master key? I’m just suggesting, sir, that your landlord may have visited and mistaken their files for this album of yours.”

“It’s not your job to assume,” John snaps in a low tone. “Look, I’m sorry, that was uncalled for but I’ve already talked to another responder about this and it wasn’t taken seriously.”

“I understand sir. You can report another crime on the Met police website but unless there is a current break-in there is nothing I can do for you this evening. Is there anyone you can stay with if you feel unsafe?”

No, there is not. Instead, he says: “that won’t be unnecessary.”

“All right sir. Are you certain your flat has passed the carbon monoxide test?”

“I don’t have an alarm.” Watson feels his cheeks heat — perhaps this is all just a misunderstanding stemming from confusion, although he has not suffered a single other symptom of CO poisoning.

“You can ask your landlord or even ring the local fire service to check and fit one free of charge. I’d suggest you have that tested, but you can still report the break-in on the website. Do you need anything else from me today?”

“I do not. Thank you for your time.”

“No problem sir. Please don’t hesitate to ring again if there are anymore issues or nine-nine-nine if there’s an emergency.” John would bet they could not care less if he rang back.

“Will do, thanks.” He says curtly.

“Have a nice evening sir.”

“You too.” John clicks off rather aggressively and drops his mobile onto the desk with a clatter.

His exhale is thick and his eyes droop further as the last of his energy bleeds out of his body, which slumps against the desk. Hopelessness seeps into him, ears on high alert for any sounds, but all he can detect is the thumping movements of his next-door neighbour, who he prays will give him a night off from relentless noises throughout the night. John opens his laptop to the unclosed tab of the Metropolitan Police Department website where he clicks on the option to report a crime. Following his address he types out a basic statement knowing nobody will read a longer report of a robbery of a photo album. Once that has been submitted he notes to speak to his landlord and books an appointment with the fire service online to check his flat. He shall explore every avenue if necessary, but he doubts he will find any answers. Just to be safe, John collects his laptop to scroll in bed and locks his bedroom window. After such a trying few hours he decides he deserves a night off and rings in a takeaway. It shall not arrive anytime soon, not being the beginning of the weekend, which gives John ample time to shower and change. He can only hope the rest of his night will be kinder to him, that his slumber shall not be plagued by the horrors of his memories.


Over the course of the weekend John spends a lot of time in his own company researching various gaseous poisonings and working the pain out of his muscles through self-managed physio. In between, when the weather permits it, John forces himself from the dingy confines of his bedsit to venture beyond. Hackney Downs Park is becoming a favourite of his to visit — local, spacious and full of benches for him to sit and observe the public. There he feels integrated without having to involve himself in unwanted conversation.

Saturday rains with the exception of one hour around lunchtime, so on Sunday John stays out most of the day; despite somewhat of a chill the sun is so rare he cannot bear to stay inside, trapped in solitude with his own warring mind. Come Monday he is restless and rather irritable, having cursed his way through breakfast and almost made himself late by getting dressed in the dark, about to go to work in two different shoes, which he realises halfway down the hallway to the main stairs. An unremarkable day would usually feel like a circle of Dante’s Inferno but today Watson is relieved to have lived another twenty-four hours sane. All weekend he has been sure of a voice uttering his name but the source is unidentifiable and after several instances John began to ignore the whisper. The thought of returning home, if it can even be called that, sounds as torturous as sprinting through treacle, and John wants the fresh breath of normalcy before he sees what new horrors await him.

Without friends, or anyone he feels can properly trust, John dines alone in a restaurant he would normally avoid due to the cost. It is surprisingly pleasant, a good buffer between work and returning home even if he is sent sympathetic looks for the empty chair opposite him. Some must assume he has been stood up. He finds he cannot care for their opinions, too tired, and when it is time to leave he tips the stunning waitress for her stellar service and hobbles home. A full belly of food he did not have to scrounge from his cupboard or cook half-conscious has done wonders for his mood, he finds, walking straighter, whistling as he goes. The journey seems less gruesome when he is energised such that public transport is not needed, a rare occurrence he will grasp with both hands. His mood is further encouraged by the empty hallway to his bedsit, sans bin bags, litter, and his wretched neighbour. John stops whistling as a precaution and touches his door.

It swings open.

“f*ck,” he whispers to himself, pressing his forehead to the door for a beat. He refuses to allow this to dampen his high spirits and marches on into battle knowing he will find no suspect in action.

A perfunctory search leaves him bemused once more, and he chooses to go about the rest of his night as if nothing has occurred. A cup of tea is left to steep in the kitchen as he showers and when he is done he sits on the floor to organise his laundry from yesterday’s clean load. Some items of clothing such as vests, loungewear and pyjamas are folded and set aside from a moment, the rest hung up in the tiny wardrobe. What is left fits into the drawers beneath, which he does breathlessly, cursing his stiff dominant arm. When John leans back on his heels to shut the drawers, he frowns. Where there was a cardboard box shoved thoughtlessly into the base of the wardrobe he is met with thin air.

Eyebrows furrowed, John tugs aside the hems of trousers, chinos and jeans but there is no sign of the box. He checks under the bed, using a white screen on his mobile as a torch, but there is only spare bedding, some bits of rubbish and dust bunnies that are in dire need of a hoover. The shelf is still barren of his photo album, too, and there is not a single other place he could have stored the bulky cardboard box. Alongside the photo album, he is rather despondent to have lost his keepsakes and can only hope that whoever has taken them will return his items once they have proven to be of no use to them. He cannot understand why someone would take the box, even if he sticks to his theory of the burglar being someone he knows, because it is filled with items sentimental only to him.

The photo album perhaps had pictures in of family members and friends, but the box contained various miscellaneous items from his time abroad. Trinkets and coins from grateful families, old boots, his first set of battered fatigues, his dog tags and a printed medical file brought back from the base hospital where he was stationed. Among those were some photos taken on polaroids and disposable cameras, and in a glass tube stoppered by a cork at the very bottom was the bullet that sliced through his flesh. The bullet that did not kill him.

As is becoming wont of his nightly routine, John sends another criminal report to the Met police, so that it is at least on record, and decides he will catch the thieving bastard unbeknownst. Whilst he does not have cameras, nor does he have time to acquire any and install them from a shop (there are rules against nails in the walls, too), John knows there are other ways to capture evidence of another presence without technology. He has a bottle of granulated salt in the kitchen cupboard that he uses to map out each of the doorways, including the front door. A thick line ensures that even if the intruder stumbles into it but notices their mistake it shall be impossible to rid themselves of every last granule. Upon second consideration John also coats the desk drawer base in salt, shutting it inch by careful inch so that the pattern inside is untouched.

He also adds some to his shelf and in the bathroom for added reassurance. John realises to an outsider this would look daft, and that his mental stability may be questioned, but he cannot conscion sleeping another night here, especially with his choppy sleep and the occasional hallucination distorting reality of a nighttime. He is resourceful, strong-minded and absolutely not scared, so he tells himself as he readies for bed. Tonight he will sleep with his gun tucked beneath his pillow. He is taking no risks.


A knock at the door startles John, and he hobbles there with a grunt, opening it only a couple of inches. Two men stand there in embroidered polo shirts and heavy cargo pants. “Hello there, fire service?”

“Oh, god yes, of course,” John ushers the men into his bedsit with a shake of his head and sheepish chuckle, “I completely forgot you were coming, sorry.”

“No need to be sorry. Is this a good time? We can come back?”

Watson waves a dismissive hand. “Oh no, you’re quite all right. Tea?”

“That’d be fantastic, mate. John Watson, is it?” The men follow him into the open space.

“That’s me,” John says as he makes his way into the kitchen. The kettle is soon bubbling away. “I appreciate you coming so quickly.”

“You mentioned a CO check, yeah? We came as soon as. Health and safety risk, you see.” The men follow him into the flat with their kit.

“Indeed. I’m a doctor, I’ve treated a couple cases of poisoning.” John has only just gotten home from work, in fact, still in his shoes and coat. He shrugs it off and dumps his lanyard beside two mugs — he does not own a third. A man with no visitors needs no more than two. The shoes stay on for now, trusty cane against the counter by the sink.

The first man kisses his teeth. “Grim, innit? Where’s your fire alarm?”

“Just through here. Not even sure it works.” John gestures to the space that joins all the rooms together.

“Well, that’s what we’re here for.” A short stepping ladder is used to access the alarm as the other man pulls out a small contraption. The long nozzle of the Combustible Gas Indicator is walked through the flat, not just in the kitchen but every room, including the bathroom. There could be a gas leakage from a neighbouring flat either side of him or even from above. On even rarer cases it has seeped up into flats from rooms below. John watches, having finished the tea, and feels a small pit of dread in the base of his stomach.

“What is it?”

The fireman is frowning at the label on the side of the alarm and twisting the white disc this way and that. He descends the three steps to the floor to show John his peculiar finding. “Says here this was checked a few months ago and all was fine, but the battery is missing.”

“What?” John leans in closer. Indeed five months ago a check was done as requested by his landlord a few days before he moved in, but the casing is empty.

“You haven’t taken it out, have you?”

John looks around the room as if to present his case to an invisible jury. “What would I need a nine vamp battery for?”

The fireman hums. “Some people take the batteries out to borrow them for a bit and forget to put them back in. But you’re right, a nine vamp is a bit of an odd one to nick. How weird.”

John shrugs, disguising a short pulse of relief that he is not the only individual finding odd happenings in this flat. Had he been superstitious he would have pinned this on a ghostly being, but he is not, and is certain there is an explanation to all this. Maybe the landlord took the battery out — he will have to ask. Yet another task to add to the list regarding his cursed flat. If he could afford so and had the same convenience he would move but this flat is wonderfully close to work and cheap enough that he knows he will find nowhere better for his current circ*mstances.

They ponder the paradox for only a few seconds more as the second fireman returns, in the process of tidying the CGI away. It is one positive, at least, that the flat is not contaminated and safe to reside in, just as John suspected. That is rapidly quashed by the reality of a consistent intruder rather than an issue Watson is suffering with mentally. He is driven from his thoughts by the blatantly loud sip of the second fireman who jerks his head out the atrium of the flat and clicks his tongue. “What’s the salt thing about?”

“The salt?” John’s cheeks heat — he has not had chance to sweep up the salt from the bathroom doorway nor the shelves. “Oh, yeah. That.” Neither man speaks, yet both are curious, the first clearly resisting the urge to look for himself. “Mum’s a bit superstitious is all. Says this place gives her bad vibes and the salt is supposed to repel bad spirits. I don’t believe in it myself but she came 'round this weekend. And, well…”

He chuckles, relieved they do too after a second. The second fireman shakes his head with an accompanying snort. “Mothers, eh? Mine’s the same — every bump is a bloody ghost. She forgets she lives with three cats.”

He thanks the men when they have drank their teas and installed a new alarm suitable for both fires and carbon monoxide — with batteries — so that John can rest assured his flat is up to standard. They exit without fanfare, warning him jokingly not to remove the batteries in this one before John is left alone to scratch his head. Could this be a whacky coincidence or related to the ongoing visitor, he wonders as he walks the few paces to the opposite flat, his door shut and locked out of paranoia.

“Oh, hello John love!”

John flashes his most polite smile and gives a small wave with his hand still dropped at his waist. “Hi Mrs Taylor. How are you?”

“I'm well, my darling… are you? You look slightly peaky.” She furrows her brows, the door opening wider so she can properly inspect him. John feels like a young boy all over again seen to by his mother after a trip on the pavement.

He smiles, eyes flickering away. “I’m all right, yes. Look, I have a really weird question and I don’t want to worry you is all.”

She takes a pregnant breath. “Okay.” The word is drawn out, pitched up with curiosity.

Rubbing the back of his neck, John chuckles nervously. “Has there been anything strange going on in this corridor? People you don’t recognise?”

“No dear.” She replies, mouth downturned as she recollects the last week or so.

“No-one at all?”

“Is everything all right John?” She peers at him with such concern he cannot meet her gaze longer than a handful of seconds. He rocks back, swallowing a shout of pain bolting through his leg and nods. She does not seem convinced.

“I’m fine. It’s fine. Thank you for your time, Mrs Taylor. Have a lovely day, sorry for disturbing,”

“Wait, John!” She calls, but the door is already shut behind him. Tutting, she vows to keep a closer eye out for the poor chap; what with his past and sudden reintegration into society she can imagine he is a plagued man.

John’s back is pressed from neck to lumbar spine against his front door. He despairs.

Chapter 6: Chapter Three

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (4)

John is losing his mind. He is sure of it. That must be the only explanation. He stares at the floor where the foot of his bed ends, unblinking, chest tight despite the heart pounding for freedom within. A man of his experience is not easily spooked, but this is a worst fear combined with his recent paranoia. Inexplicable. Baffling. Terrifying.

There, sitting inconspicuous on the carpet, are his photo album and cardboard box of keepsakes.

Perspiration clings to tacky skin, a dichotomy to the chill rippling goosebumps down his damp flesh. John swallows, a lump in his throat wicking away his saliva, and he wills his roiling stomach to settle so he can stand up. Though his eyes do not shift from the items a few feet away, John’s ears are pricked; he almost hopes he will hear something, that someone is here, waiting, so he can confront them with fists, his SIG; ask them why they would scare him so. He is not delicate; no, quite the contrary, but to tease a troubled man in his own home is a cruelty unfathomable.

It is Thursday, two days after the fire alarm was replaced. Aside from visiting his neighbour and working until five in the evening yesterday, John has had contact with no other person; friend, family or otherwise. Sunlight filters through the day blinds, the daily futile battle against the perdurable burning star, yet according to the clock it is barely sunrise. Whoever entered did so recently, as John did not settle until past one and slept fitfully, waking several times. Oh god, he thinks, were they here when I was awake? Anyone could have watched him sleep, feverish and shouting to fallen comrades and enemies that are no longer a threat.

There is a new threat now.

When he feels less faint, John stands, fighting against the wave of dizziness befalling him. He has always felt lightheaded in frightful situations, right before the adrenaline hits, yet the almost tangible reassurance of finding his gun safely nestled beneath his pillow spurs him forward. The salt lines are undisturbed despite the intruder having to navigate in the dark, unless he was too out of it during the night to notice a light source other than the glaring moon. Shivering, Watson steps into his house slippers so that his bare feet are somewhat protected, stalking from the room with the flap of his thin and cheap dressing gown. Light is still scarce, John squinting to see, gun firm in his grip and raised, bolstered by his right forearm. Once again, he is alone, firmly torn from sleep by the creepy revelation. His intruder was daring this time. Becoming more confident, god, John hopes not. There is not much farther they can elevate their crime without including some form of assault. Gone is the worry of judgement as John slips his phone from his dressing gown pocket and calls for the police. He cannot take much more of this.


Frustration bubbles at the base of his stomach and curls up into fiery flicks of ire. With no current attacks occurring to his being he will have to wait for a constable to visit, which cannot even be guaranteed today. Nor can he miss work, which he explains, assured he will be notified on a withheld number if an officer plans to visit. He feels ignored and not the least bit soothed by the phone call. It will take being stabbed whilst on the line to the police to be taken seriously. Not even tea can calm him this morning. Though he will be the collected and kindly doctor in an hour or so, for now he indulges in a good bout of self-flagellation. Surely he is succumbing to a mental illness. That is a much more sound explanation for these peculiarities. He cannot keep this to himself anymore. The police may not listen, but Ella Thompson will. Until Monday, however, he is stuck. His therapist could not fit him in any sooner unless he considers the appointment an emergency, but he cannot conscion doing that, not if he were to take the place of someone in a genuine emergency. Instead he shall wait. Bide his time. Go to work, wear the jovial mask, advocate for his patients when he cannot do so for himself.

And he does his job to an exemplary standard. Aside from the puffy bags sinking his lower eyelids, he blends in perfectly with every other tired middle-aged man. Except he is not middle-aged, simply weathered by the proceedings of his life. It is not made any easier by the police, when by Friday they have still not contacted him, and he comes to find out why. Their ineptitude has cost him, and the rage he has tampered down quite remarkably for a man with a temper finally explodes. He shouts unsavoury words down the phone, firing questions at the tolerant responder until he halts, heaving for breath, and apologises.

“That’s all right sir. I understand your frustration. I’m not sure why our officer visited without letting you know, and he is not supposed to leave without contacting you first in case of outside circ*mstances. I can report the incident on your behalf, if you’d like?”

“Yes. Please. God I’m so tired of this. I’m lucky I don’t have kids otherwise I wouldn’t have known what to do. I can’t afford to move.”

“That must be very difficult for you. Listen, we’ll get this sorted out, but if you really feel unsafe I’d recommend you stay at a nearby hotel or a relative’s house.”

The pitch of John’s voice raises with distress, and he cannot lower the volume. “I can’t! That’s the thing! I would’ve done so already! God, sorry, shouting again. This isn’t personal by any means.”

To their credit, the phone operator does not stir. “Don’t worry about it sir. Can you tell me exactly what’s been happening so I can refer your case on?”

“You’d… god I- thank you.”

“Of course. Would it be easier if I asked you some questions?” John pumps the air with his fist, cheering to his empty kitchen. At last there is progress!


John is stuck in a traitorous dance: one step forward, several large paces back. His case has been referred to another department in hopes something will be done to help him as the intruder has now revisited and it is looking as though their suspect is plotting future returns. Nevertheless, he still has not had a constable check his flat out properly, nor is there any certain reprieve from another break-in. John has left everything exactly where it was placed for there is a small chance that due to his complaint his case will be fast tracked over the weekend. He does not want to infringe on a potential crime scene, especially if the evidence left is the key to finding their suspect. John feels like a detective, exhausted and harried, and decides a trip out of the flat would be of benefit.

He does not venture far. A hardware store a few streets away contains all the items John needs to prevent his mysterious guest from entering his room again of a night. His rabid stalking of the shop, ideas of booby traps floating around his peripheral mind, is so similar to the plot of Home Alone that he has to stifle a laugh with a faux cough into the sleeve of his black shooting jacket. He has already been given strange looks – he does not want to be caught laughing with a ball of rope and duct tape in hand. None of the items he buys are necessarily incriminating, but even he can see the combination is suspicious. Regardless he is not denied any of his pickings, and he steadfastly ignores the twitching contortion of confusion on the shopkeeper’s face as he is rung up. Watson does not care. No longer possesses the capacity to care, as he walks back home to that poky bedsit. His plan is foolproof and he is confident.

The door is locked when he returns home. An excellent start indeed. With a small smile John unlocks the door and juggles the carrier bag with his cane so that he can enter. The line of salt is exactly as he left it, as is the one on both sides of the kitchen. He feels most pleased, the ache in his body from a session of physiotherapy no longer tiresome, but welcome. His shoulder does not complain as much under the weight of the bags and his limp is reduced somewhat, so he sets the carrier bags on his desk and props his cane against against the chair. Looking up, his mood plummets just as quickly as a nosediving aeroplane.

His blood runs cold, prickling gooseflesh and sweat simultaneously. The bedroom window is open, just a crack, a breeze swelling the belly of his day blind until the weighted pole clanks against the sill. His things are gone. The salt line remains untouched, and when John ventures in he feels his pulse elevate. On the shelf, exactly where it had been originally, is his photo album. Dumping the bag on the bed, John flings the wardrobe doors open, and as if by magic the keepsake box is stuffed inside like it had never left. He yanks the box from the depths to rifle through but drops back in shock. It has been rearranged. By year.

“How the f*ck…” John swallows against the dryness of his mouth. The boots and fatigues are set together, his first sets of uniform, alongside photos from that time period. Some are not hard to match but in other pictures John is not of any distinctive age. The various trinkets and well wishes he received have been laid down in order too, as if someone followed the exact timeline of his deployment and recorded it all in perfect chronology. His mind is set now: this person knows him, and well. It has to be someone who toured with him, because he cannot think of anyone else with this kind of information. Not a single detail is wrong.

Yet. John has never bothered to arrange the box. Sometimes he could not even bear to see it, hence its place inside the shadowy pits of the wardrobe rather than on display. What he did decide to keep was placed in the first container he could find, a cardboard box that originally transported boxes of sterile latex gloves. John sits on the bed, legs threatening to abandon him, and he inhales shakily. Heckles raise on the back of his neck, ears picking up on noise, but when he whirls around, the person — or entity — he is sure is watching him from behind is not visible. The feeling persists; he feels surveilled and trapped, the star of some sick prank show where the façade is never dropped.

The noise he heard was likely from the open window, and when he feels strong enough, John crosses the perimeter of the bed to examine. There is no indication of a break-in from the outside panes, providing John confident belief that the intruder entered through the front door — now aware of the salt lines — put away his things, then escaped through the window. When John peers out, he frowns. A ledge just below his window accesses the exterior of the other flats, yet it is no wider than four inches and would serve as a rickety climb below. Not impossible but improbable for a layman to attempt without basic knowledge in free climbing. Watson cheers slightly; surely someone will have seen a person abseiling the blocks of flats from the third floor that will confirm to the police that he is of sane mind.

The victory is minute as John realises that even with such luck of finding a witness willing to corroborate his story he is still currently battling this unknown spectator. With that, he marches determinedly to his fallen carrier bag to upend it on the kitchen counter. Organising takes his mind from the pressing matter, his gun tucked into the rear of his waistband for rapid withdrawal. He doubts anyone would dare enter the flat now; if they have been watching him they will be aware of his comings and goings. John arranges the items by relation and intended room — an extension to the salt lines he is much surer of in terms of fruitfulness. He begins with charging a set of motion activated lights, thin panels of white LED that shall alert him during the night, magnetised on the back to attach where he likes. They shall be employed as soon as the batteries are full, and John moves on to his windows, where a set of inner locks are installed below the latches. These cannot be tinkered with from outside, if John’s theory of an external break-in is correct, and he already feels much more secure. The lock consists of a pair of plastic attachments that sit on the window panels either side of the opening, one hollow, the other containing a pin that he slides through the first piece and screws in with a threaded key.

The front door is also installed with a secondary lock, this one a thick plastic attachment to the door frame with a large handle that slides up ninety degrees across the door. This one can only be used when he is home, as he would not be able to lock it from outside the front door, but it serves the main purpose of increasing his comfort of safety. John takes two steps back from the front door to where the end of it would reach were it open, still inside the short alcove made to simulate an entryway, and kneels. Parallel to the ground, two inches up, he ties a taut line, one end wrapped around an adhesive hook so that the other end can be coiled once around a second hook on the adjacent wall and attached to a bell. When the tripwire is tugged by even the slightest pressure the bell chimes, and John is certain he shall be able to hear it in bed. With the success of this one he applies these makeshift tripwires to every doorway. All except for the bathroom door, for he does not want to injure himself during the night, which instead is closed over with a bell above the door similar to that of a shop chime to notify him if anyone attempts to enter through the bathroom window.

A large torch, military grade, is set on his bedside table, so strong it could serve as a lamp itself. Overkill, perhaps, but a consolidation to John’s paranoia. Should anyone enter, he can not only momentarily blind them with the strength of the beam but their identity will be clear to him, recognisable or not. When he slumbers, John’s SIG SAUER will be tucked beneath his pillow as he had slept in the army, ready to be deployed at any point. It is not fully loaded — he is not unsafe — as his crack shot would require no more than two bullets to put paid any criminal seeking harm on him. Satisfied, Watson has a final look around his flat to confirm everything is set in place as he had imagined, convinced that tonight he will sleep better knowing he is much safer. He will not allow this shadow to overwhelm his happiness.


Mrs Taylor eyes her neighbour, her concern barely suppressed. He has worsened in state, a man so different to the one she met a handful of months ago when he first moved in. He is stronger in many ways; braver, too, but there is something wild in his eyes now that was not there before. He is staring at her, unblinking, though his posture is slack as if he is careful not to look dangerous.

She glances either side of the corridor, noting the emptiness, for John has become a reserved individual, leaving the flat only when the hallways are barren of other human life. With a sigh, she says: “I’m not sure what you mean.”

John scratches at his bicep distractedly, continually eyeing his surroundings, shoulders drawn in tight, one more mobile than the other. “Nothing strange has happened. Nothing at all?”

“Like what?” She asks, leaning against the doorframe. He declined her offer of tea, and he will not enter her flat. She wonders why.

“Like… anyone coming by that you don’t recognise? Neighbours acting differently?”

“My darling, the only one acting differently is you. Will you please tell me what’s wrong? Perhaps I can help.” John shakes his head empathetically and she tuts, frowning. “John, honey, please. When was the last time you slept? Or ate, for that matter?”

“I’ve been eating and sleeping,” he snips defensively, “I’m sorry for startling you. I just- yeah. Sorry.” John takes a step back as if to retreat to the trenches of his flat, his cardigan tugged close to his middle, arm covering his underbelly. If he was an animal Mrs Taylor would be certain his tail would be tucked between his thighs.

The next door neighbour to John’s left, Mr Adams, steps into the corridor with a single bag of shopping. John drops his head, advancing closer to Mrs Taylor’s door to provide a wide berth for the man to shuffle past. Mr Adams nods his cap in greeting to her, but at John he sneers. “I know you’ve been bloody sleeping, kept me up all damn night with your damn yelling. Call yourself a soldier?”

“Captain, actually.” Watson replies, features hardened. His eyes flash for the briefest moment — Mrs Taylor provided with a glimpse into the darker side of Doctor Watson’s soft demeanour.

Adams scoffs, slotting his key into the door. “Had no idea the British army were taking on pansies nowadays. Keep the noise down for f*ck’s sake! Some of us can actually sleep through the night without wetting our beds or crying out for our mommies. Honest to god,” he mutters as he enters the flat, door slammed shut behind him.

“My apologies, Mrs Taylor. Have a nice afternoon.” John swivels, trembling slightly, to unlock his own door.

“John, pay him no mind. I haven’t heard anything,” she lies. The units surrounding John’s flat have all heard his wails at night — heart-wrenching cries for his fallen brothers that last sometimes for hours and end in deafening silence. John does not look at her, his hand on the door handle but making no move to open it. “Please come talk to me if you ever need a friend. I’ll keep an eye out for anyone I don’t recognise, okay?”

“Thank you Mrs Taylor.” John says to the door. He opens it ajar, only wide enough for him to slide through, shirt buttons catching along the edge of the door. When it shuts, Mrs Taylor would swear she hears two locks click in his wake. She ponders the doctor’s mental state as she closes her own door.


John’s therapist is a formidable woman. Trained in trauma related behavioural issues, she has seen her fair share of soldiers, and John is no exception to her no-fuss rule. She expects honesty in her sessions, regardless of self-esteem issues preventing exposure of such ugly truths to another person, honouring truth with exemplary treatment. However John cannot shift decades of learnt reservedness and the stake of fear that he shall be shipped away to Broadmoor should he ever admit aloud the veracity of his opinions when it comes to the interminable mundanity of civilian life. As a patient he has made wonderful progress, but as a person he battles daily to maintain the mask of contentment, to find genuine happiness in a settled life with a job and a roof over his head and a handful of friends and family to call his own. It is not what he wants. Not truly.

And John is not sure she is aware of this, cannot tell for certain whether she has decided to pick her battles and indulge these whimsies or if she is blindsided by his warm smiles and anecdotes of workplace fun. Not that he considers it real fun — but he is suited in stature and appearance to feign such a person who is a good laugh, companionable and a fan of small talk. John Watson can be flirtatious and gracious and altruistic, qualities that are true of heart and come naturally, but he can also be selfish and temperamental, riddled with insecurity. He reeks of a history that taught men to be tough and stoic, unemotional in the face of adversity and most certainly to never cry. The proverbial stiff upper lip.

So it is a surprise when he books an appointment in a burst of desperation, not for performing such an act, but for his honesty. Doctor Thompson watches him, right leg crossed over the left, pencil skirt tucked tight over her shiny hairless skin. He shifts, eyeing an embroidered flag behind her, unspeaking. They have been here for five minutes, silent beyond polite greetings, and John knows she is sussing him out. Her eyes rove from head to toe, noting the tremble in his left fist, the tic of his clenched jaw, a twitch in his eye, the slight raise of his left foot where his hip has taken the brunt of his weight. It must be troubling him worse than usual.

“Why are you here John?” She asks finally, the tip of her pencil tapping gently against the notebook opened in her lap. His name is scribbled at the top, his file stored loosely on a side table to her left. The page is otherwise empty.

“Because you are my therapist,” he replies plainly. A fact of deflection.

“Indeed,” she says, inhaling on the word, “but you’ve cancelled every appointment for the last several weeks. Why come back now?”

“Something’s happened.” He shifts in the chair.

“But why come back? Lots of things were happening when we last left off.”

John sighs, not unkindly. His mouth works for a moment before his breath catches. She waits. “Okay. Something has happened and it has bothered me. I wanted some advice.”

“Why not talk to friends, your sister?”

John laughs, curt and sardonic. “Because I fear I may be going crazy.”

“Crazy?” She repeats, threaded brow raising.

“Y’know… mental, ‘round the bend, lost my marbles. I think I’m going nuts.”

“I understand the definition. I want to know why you feel this way. Spare no details.”

So he tells her.


John meets with an old friend at the suggestion of his therapist. She had listened quietly to his ramble and when there were fifteen minutes of their hour-long session left, Ella tentatively asked him questions. He knew what it meant, he too was a doctor after all. This questionnaire in particular he has performed on his own patients. With clipped responses he answered honestly, for he understood lies would be recognised, nobody can fool a doctor at their own test. No diagnosis was provided, nor judgement or declaration of insanity. There were no men in white coats to escort him to a facility, and she did not advise him to check into a psych ward. Instead she offered kindness in the validation of his feelings. He may be having dissociative states triggered by new stressors such as work and lack of sleep, as the happenings corroborate with fears he has previously shared. A trick of the mind, John realises is what she thinks, and he wants to scream. Instead he books another appointment, one he intends to keep, and asks a friend if he has a moment free to meet up. They arrange to meet the same day.

“I can’t believe it’s April in a few days,” Mike Stamford chuckles with a shake of his head. “I swear it was only January yesterday.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” John replies flatly. They share a sardonic chuckle over their paper cups of coffee, sighing into the chilled air. “How’ve you been, anyway?”

“Plodding along. You know how it is.” Mike’s smile remains an unchanged point from the first time the pair met as nineteen-year-olds attending their first university lectures. Though he is a portly gentleman now he is no less sweet and easygoing as he was as a young man, with the same thin spectacles and twinkling eyes despite a decade or so of teaching. He is a man dedicated to his specialty and John has grown fond of him in their reunion — one of the few contacts he maintained upon his honourable discharge, even fewer among those with no association to the army.

John takes another sip of his coffee for something to busy his idle hands. His cane rests between his legs, rubber end stoppered by the tip of his brogue, and he gazes unseeingly into the park. Mike is looking at him, he can feel it without visual conformation. “Go on. Ask. I can hear you thinking from here.”

“Oh, no no. I was- well, I was just wondering why you’re here. Not that I don’t enjoy your company,” he chuckles nervously, eyes now averted to follow a similar path as John’s, “you stopped replying to my texts, and you don’t live anywhere near here, so. What’s up?”

“Astute as ever, professor,” John says wryly. “You know I’m not good with… texting. All this technology. And I’ve been…”

“It’s all right. You can tell me as much or as little as you like. Or nothing at all. Do mind me if it’s none of my business. Been worried about you, ‘s all.” Mike genially nudges his shoulder and John lets himself tip with a small smile. His gratitude cannot be expressed via words, and he has never been a verbose man, but Stamford understands. Always has.

A friend is what he needs. That, he and Ella agree on. He clears his throat and actively unclenches his fists so they are no longer white-knuckled. His fingertips tingle. “Some strange things have been going on in my flat. I thought I was going crazy. So I booked a therapy appointment. If I am crazy they haven’t sent me to the gallows yet.”

Mike tuts at the rare show of John’s inner vulnerabilities. “Has it helped? Therapy?”

“Kind of. Ebbs and flows I suppose. I stopped going for a while, but all this stuff has shaken me, a bit, if I’m honest. It’s all so mysterious. Make a good detective novel, I reckon.” Making light of the situation helps somewhat, and though Mike is not stupid, he chooses to gloss over the poorly placed humour.

“Mysterious, you say? I’ve got a man for that.” Stamford says confidently. He has reinstated eye contact.

John frowns, eyebrows drawn to the top of his nose. “A man?”

“Well, consulting detective, he calls himself. He’s good, though. Really good. Solves all kinds of mysteries. I could arrange a meeting, if you like?”

John snorts. “When’s he available?”

Mike checks his watch then stands, dumping his empty coffee cup in the metal barred bin. “Come on, we might still be able to catch him at Bart’s.”

John follows along, curiosity piqued. Perhaps this consulting detective will have some answers.

Chapter 7: Chapter Four

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (5)

“Jesus,” John mutters as they approach the morgue. In an empty room of slabs stands a gentleman observing the stiff body of an nondescript person, the sheet pulled back to expose everything below the shoulder blades. The body is naked and laid facedown, scrutinised by the peculiar man.

The gentleman wields a riding crop. It is long and thin, made of quality leather, or extremely well-made pleather, and he holds it confidently. The crop is raised elegantly aloft before whistling sharply down toward the uncovered back of the cadaver, three distinct whippings placed down in a neat row before he aims higher around the ribcage and begins to senselessly scatter marks there. Raven-black curls, haloed walnut brown in the stream of sunlight from the window, bounce enthusiastically to the rhythm of his movement, as if this is a macabre dance.

Mike sighs as though the parent of a wayward child caught crayoning the walls. “It’s an experiment.”

“An experiment? What kind of experiment requires beating a corpse?” John exclaims. Mike shrugs, idly watching.

John is awestruck, he will admit, though not because of the gracefulness. There is a finely tuned rage in this act, he can spot it a mile away; it goes beyond a mere experiment. This is a release of frustration. When the man has finished he drops the riding crop carelessly to the side of the body, erecting himself, suit jacket tugged from the bottom hem to straighten it. He departs from the room without covering the cadaver and stops outside the door, expressionless.

“Measuring the development of bruises and welts postmortem. A man’s alibi relies on the results,” he says, then turns to Stamford. “Can I borrow your phone?”

“Sorry?” John blinks. Piercing eyes of an indiscernible colour — blues of ice and ocean, greens of lime and leaf — read him, for there is no other way to describe it. John is being read like he is merely a fact file on display at a museum. He finds it uncomfortable but not intolerable. Not dissimilar to the daily inspections from his superiors in the army, and he is surprised to find his body automatically shifting into parade rest under the scrutiny. The man’s eyes flash so fast the emotion cannot be identified.

He gestures to Mike. “You asked what kind of experiment requires beating a corpse.”

“Oh. Yes. Right.” John says dumbly. His brain is too sluggish to kick itself for his response. He clears his throat.

“Mike, your phone?” The man reaches out, clapping the tips of his fingers against his palm expectantly.

“Sorry, it’s in my office. Why don’t you use the landline?”

“I prefer to text,” he sneers, as though phone calls are the bane of his existence. Perhaps they are, if he is as good as John has been lead to believe.

“You can borrow mine.” John blurts, fishing for his phone from his right chest pocket.

“Oh, thank you.” The man takes the phone and begins to type, thumbs a rapid blur on the keyboard. It is at a speed John has not had the practice to master. There is silence, and John shifts, looking to Mike, who wears an odd smile.

“Are you the Consulting Detective?” Watson asks after nearly a minute of quiet.

“I am. Afghanistan or Iraq?” Replies the man, who does not even look up from the screen.

“Afghanistan,” he answers automatically, before he stutters. “How did you-” John is interrupted by a spew of information.

The man scans him, although his body is perfectly still, and he takes a breath. “Your choice of haircut. You've kept it military, cropped everywhere but the top. You were not intimidated by my scrutiny and fell into parade rest subconsciously, ergo, you are a soldier. We are in a morgue yet you are not uncomfortable by the sight of a dead body, which suggests you are used to corpses.”

John looks to Mike, bewildered, but he watches silently with a smug smile. His eyes dart back to the man, who is gesticulating wildly with the hand holding the phone. “You’re left-handed — you took your phone from your right pocket — you were injured on that side but favour your right side still, so, recently invalided then. I know you’ve got a brother who’s worried about you but you won’t go to him for help because you don’t approve of him — possibly because he’s an alcoholic; more likely because he recently walked out on his wife. And I know that your therapist thinks your limp’s psychosomatic — quite correctly, I’m afraid.”

He hands the phone back, which John takes numbly, placing it in his pocket to clench and unclench his left fist, which has begun to tremor. He shifts awkwardly, head dipped but eyes raised to watch the man as he checks his watch. The man rocks back on his heels. “So what did you want me for?”

“How do you know I’m here for you?” John snips, cheeks reddened. The man’s lips quirk upwards for a half-beat, and John relents. “Mike said you might be able to help me. Weird things have been going on. Somebody keeps breaking into my flat but they don’t - didn’t - take anything.”

“How do you know this is not a delusion?” He asks dismissively.

“Because they did take something eventually! Some personal items of mine. Not even things of value, either. Stuff only I’d want. A photo album. My army things.” John says through a tight jaw, wound tight as a spring.

“Soldiers commonly suffer with dissociative episodes when suffering from PTSD,” he retorts haughtily.

“But then the stuff was returned.” John’s pitch heightens in desperation; he does not care how he looks, taking a step closer, glowering, his fist balled tightly.

“Are you sure you did not just forget where you put them? Perhaps you should have your flat checked for carbon monoxide. The fire service does it for free.” As the man places a hand on the door he came from, ready to depart, John steps forward, not quite preventing, nor threatening, but prepared to make the man pay attention.

“No, please, you’re not listening to me. I did all that, contacted the police, and someone had removed the batteries out of the fire alarm, but it wasn’t me, and the last check had been before I moved in. Then my things… when they came back, they were in a pile at the bottom of my bed, just randomly put there. So I left them, went out, and when I came home they’d been put away! How could I have done that if I wasn’t in? And the window was open, but I never open my windows. I can’t be in two places at once!”

Something changes in the man’s expression, warped into unbridled interest. It is eerie but reassuring, and John is hopeful he has grabbed his attention. He is just shy of pleading on his knees. “I shall tend to your case when I have the time. Do please update me with any new information, but don’t be boring. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I left my riding crop in the mortuary. I have some results to oversee.”

“Wait. You just expect me to believe you’ll solve this entire case? Two minutes ago you called me delusional. I don’t even know your name!” John cries.

“The name is Sherlock Holmes and the website is Science of Deduction dot com. Afternoon.” Sherlock winks with a click of his tongue and briefly looks at Mike, who nods his acknowledgment with a small smile.

Stupefied, John turns to Stamford for some form of explanation. He receives a simple shrug. “Yeah, he’s always like that.”


Holmes’ website is of simple design. More care has been taken in the organisation of the webpages than aesthetic appeal, including several options ranging from contact forms to academic research papers written by him and information on previous cases. It is quite a rabbit hole to fall down — John spends two hours scouring the entire site. Sherlock Holmes is an intelligent man, undeniably, yet inexperienced in appropriate interactions with other humans, from what John can judge in his public forum. A highly interesting person, he thinks, opening a new tab to perform his own research. As suspected there are comments on his lack of tact and empathy but the general overarching consensus is that he is good at what he does best, and what he does best is solving mysteries based on observation, deduction and an open mind. It is a great reassurance to Watson that his problem will be properly listened to, that he may have found one person who understands these happenings are not merely delusions. There was certainly a quirk of interest in those keen eyes upon mentioning the return of his personal items, as if this small fact alone had unlocked a delight in the peculiarity of John’s issue.

When John has finished looking up every small detail of this Sherlock Holmes, it is dark. He sighs, closing the lid of his laptop to stretch the protesting muscles of his spine so that he can scramble together the energy needed to make himself a meal. Not takeaway, not again, he is not sure his digestive system can withstand it. For a doctor he is remarkably unhealthy, if not just as hypocritical as a chain-smoking surgeon, and he huffs at the thought. A simple pasta bake shall do, easy to make and tolerable to digest, albeit a bit boring. He has considered taking up cooking as a pastime but cannot find the motivation to make such elaborate meals when there is nobody to share them with, as he has never and will never invite a soul to the poky bedsit he is currently calling home. He hopes he can save up enough to find somewhere new to stay, for these break-ins have only increased his urgency to move somewhere pleasanter where he will not be lambasted by rotten neighbours, or forced to haul himself up three flights of stairs on a painful leg, or subjected to the constant noises of other tenants surrounded by too-thin walls.

The food is decent, if bland, considering he has cooked lacking ingredients and proper utensils. John munches at it stood at the kitchen counter where he feels most alone. Though it is not quiet around him he feels lonelier hearing the laughter of neighbours above whilst he eats in the solitary dimness, pointlessly wiling away the hours until bedtime. He fears had he a TV he would become addicted — destined to be a solitary hermit obsessed with daytime TV drama and gossip and restricting all points of conversation to what he has seen on those programmes. But Watson is getting ahead of himself, and as he washes the few dishes he has sullied he makes a determined truce with himself. If Sherlock Holmes will not listen, cannot find the answers, then John will solve the damned case himself! There is no way he cannot do so with such strict security measures now in place, and he is sure if he asked Mrs Taylor to check his front door whenever he heard noises she would do so, if reluctant. He may have to use her concern for him as an advantage, as much as he despises being seen as a weak man, and pray it does not lead to him being sectioned. Playing the part of troubled former soldier can work to his benefits, he is sure.

John has made a vow to himself and he has to admit he feels better for it. He shall prove Ella and those policemen wrong. Delusions are not the cause of these intrusions, he knows that for certain, and to demonstrate, John writes down the date and time on a neon sticky note alongside his activities for the night. He writes another one before his shower and jots down the time again when he is finished. If this is the price to pay for sanity, he shall perform it until his last breath. The lacking quality of sleep hails an early bedtime, and John slides under the sheets confident that he has every form of handmade security installed and working. His gun may be lumpy beneath his pillow but no more irritating than the small pack he carried on tour. A novel titillates his mind before sleep, and John, for the first night in weeks, feels positive. There is no besting him now. No chance.


It is everywhere. The air is thick with it. A metallic fog, flooding his nose, coated on his tongue, dusted on his fingertips. He cannot hear, ears ringing, senses ravaged. Sand and soil blur his vision and invade every pore of his clammy skin, nails crammed full of it. He cannot focus on risk of infection right now, and he coughs, blood and mud spraying either side of them. He is knelt, batting away the flailing hands of his fallen brother, who wails incoherently. He thinks the soldier cries for his mother.

“It’s all right. You’ll be all right,” he mutters, though he cannot promise such a fact. Pressure is applied to the wound but it oozes, unyielding, the tangy scent unavoidable.

“Captain!” A disembodied voice yells, scarcely audible over the crackling around them. He looks up just as pain blooms, spreading across every nerve-ending with fiery glee.

Shouting, the Captain drops, the force having sent him to his back in a flurry of movement. There is more yelling, commands barked, the shrieking of injured men, and he sees red. Red everywhere. Then grey, fuzzing around the edges of his vision, a dotted vignette that ripples and grows steadily until he sees black.

John lurches up, teeth clamped tightly on his fleshy thenar eminence to quieten the cry upon his lips. The air is clear and fresh, but his lungs burn nonetheless. His eyes are damp and when he blinks tears spill onto his cheeks, dripping onto his sleep shirt. Sweat clings to him, the bedsheets soaked through in a jagged outline of his body. Watson sits up, clutching at his face as he spends long seconds focusing on his errant breathing. Vain to defuse the panic; panting, he staggers towards the bathroom, flinging the door open — the bell chimes above and he startles, whimpering into the dark. He is fortunate for the motion activated light as the bathroom swims into his vision, distorted by upset. Cold water bursts from the tap, cooling his blazing cheeks, splashed against the clammy heat of his neck, further wetting his shirt. He peels it off and flings it in the shower cubicle to be dealt with later before returning to the solace of the water. John cups his hands and sips with a trembling bottom lip, cursing the vestige of the night terror on his resolve as he wobbles. To orient himself, John stands straight and grips the sink bowl with both hands to regard his own rugged appearance.

Behind him, in the doorway of his bedroom, stands a shadowy figure.

John gasps, whipping around so fast he knocks into the sink and twinges his neck. The figure is gone. Panic threatens to seize control of his faculties, and he drops to the floor, spine pressed uncomfortably against the sink cabinet, knees drawn to his chest and held firm by interlocked hands. The pain grounds him to the moment, and John counts each of his fingers and toes, wiggling them to confirm their existence. When he is done he recites his name, the date and his address. It aids in forcing stabilisation to his breathing, for he is focused on remembering facts, and as he peeks through the gap between his knees, there is no figure watching back as he frightfully expected.

John moves only when he thinks he is able to walk, unstable despite feeling much calmer. He is coltish during a thorough investigation of his flat, staggering on one leg as the other drags uselessly, and he clambers with the support of nearby surfaces into each small room. A bellow of frustration has to be clawed down into the heavy chamber of his chest upon finding no evidence of an intruder, for a real threat can be dealt with; a figment of his petrified imagination cannot. He carries his gun with him to the kitchen for a soothing cup of tea, and as he sets the mug down it bounces rapidly with his shaking hand. John balls his dominant hand into a fist, right hand placed over the left shoulder to ease the ache, and when the tremor settles, not fully abated however, he dumps two sugars into his tea. Irregular and not to his taste, but necessary to rid of his weakness. Sleep will not come soon, and with morning approaching, John resigns himself to a long day. As his tea cools on the bedside table Watson uses a flannel and some soap to wash away the worst of the sweat from his armpits, the base of his spine and his crotch. He feels fresher, less timid, scorning the state of his mind and how it can so easily ravage him. A towel buffers his body against the damp sheets, for he has no clean spares, laptop open and ready to distract him until it is time to prep for work.


John craves sleep. An overwhelming fatigue blankets his being, the swelling beneath his eyes prominent and deep purple. Several have commented, though he has made an effort to look presentable and professional, knowing he could not perform his job safely without fortifying his mind for the work day. Now it is done, however, sleep calls for him. John can think of little else, and as he hauls his aching body up the stairs, he munches on a pasty. Something to line his stomach so that he does not wake in discomfort to a protesting tummy. He is sure his mood can be improved, but not without rest. John reaches his floor and pushes the door open, the small pip of optimism instantly rotting at the sound of a voice.

“Oi, you!”

“Afternoon, Mr Adams.” The words are polite but the tone is flat, indicating anything but warmth.

“I told you to keep the damn noise down, did I not?” His neighbour exclaims.

“You did.” John replies dully.

“So why the f*ck have I spent all day listening to you banging about? Best not have had that dirty fa*g over. Won’t be having poofters in my building, oh no!” Adams growls, animalistic in his rage.

“What?” John’s blood runs cold, but his neighbour is none the wiser.

“You heard me. Filthy perverts, the lot of you.” He tuts with a shameful shake of his head.

John presses forward, tiredness forgotten. He is wide awake now. “No no, the banging. What banging?”

“Don’t play silly with me, Miss Nancy. Keep the f*cking noise down or I’ll put an end to it myself.” John ignores him, almost dropping his keys in his haste to open the front door. It opens without requiring the key, and he automatically grasps at the back of his jeans, a thrill of panic tinging his veins when he finds no weapon; of course, because his gun is currently in the desk drawer.

Mr Adams sneers at him, unaware of the panic in his nonverbal language. “Tell your man-whor* to stay the f*ck away. Disgusting, disease-ridden queers!”

John snaps, veering around. “Shut the f*ck up!”

“Excuse me?” Adams is genuinely taken aback, sputtering indignantly. He fiddles with the brim of his cap, lifting it slightly only to press it down low on his forehead.

“You heard me! I’ve had it up to here with you! Months you’ve been at it! I get it, we’re all dirty perverts, give it a f*cking rest already. Honest to f*cking god. We can’t all be perfect like you, can we? Just shut the f*ck up. Oh, and whilst you’re there, maybe have a f*cking wash? Call me disgusting but christ almighty you stink the whole hallway out! Now back the f*ck off, shut up and leave me alone or so help me god-” Watson departs just as abruptly as he came, slams the door open and dashes inside, wasting no time to investigate, not even to shut the door, cane abandoned in the entryway. He hops over the trip wires and ducks to examine under his bed, the shower, the kitchen cupboards to find everything in its place. He growls, swivelling around where he catches Mrs Taylor watching him just behind the threshold of his flat.

“John? What’s the matter?” He is twitching, scratching at the back of his neck. She has never seen him so tetchy, nor stood without his cane.

He chuckles sardonically, flashing a smile that is not reassuring as it is belied by the manic glint in his eyes. “Nothing, Mrs Taylor. Did I disturb you? I did, didn’t I? Goodness me, I’m terribly sorry. Shall I — let me walk you to your door.” John ushers her backwards, and she goes, bemused by the odd behaviour. This is the most erratic she has ever seen him.

“John my love, you look exhausted. Why don’t you go have a rest? I can make you some tea, if you like?”

Just as quickly as it came, the raised voice is replaced by his usual well-mannered articulation. “I’m fine, thank you. Just a bit tired is all. Long day at work.”

She clasps his hands before he can bodily waltz her inside her flat. “John, you’re shaking. What’s happened?”

He tugs his hands from her and clasps them at the base of his spine. “That’s the thing, Mrs Taylor,” his laugh is wry and a touch hysterical, “nothing has happened at all.”

Sans fuss, he twists on his heel and enters his flat, shutting it behind him without looking back. She stands there for a moment, unsure what to do, and decides he is in no mind for conversation — she doubts he would listen to common sense. There is no noise beyond the door when she presses her ear against it, and wearing the common frown she has developed in his company, Mrs Taylor leaves him alone. Best to approach when he is of sounder mind.

John flits about the bedroom determinedly. A duffel bag donated by a distant friend is sitting atop the duvet, lid flipped open. He packs clothes methodically the way he was taught in the army because he dreads at any moment he will need to flee. He lays his flannel shirts flat on the bed, undershirts on top of that, followed by boxers folded in half. He rolls them tightly, securing them with socks like bookends, doing the same to his work clothes. He has few jeans and so packs them on top of two towels at the bottom of the bag — one to use for washing, the other to protect a bed should he sleep elsewhere — before filling the spaces in between the duffel bag with personal items and his gun. Watson sets the bag on the kitchen counter, body slouching beside it as the small burst of energy deflates from him. Fear still grips at his racing heart, thrumming with adrenaline that has nowhere to go. He clicks on the kettle, pacing the tiny kitchen like a stereotypic zoo tiger to rid of the tingling in his limbs. It works minutely, taking the edge off the volatile emotions bubbling away in his chest that threaten to claw out kicking and screaming. He has been taught by Doctor Thompson to pause and think about his actions rationally rather than emotionally, a tactic he had struggled to maintain long before his time as a soldier.

Tea scalds his tongue, unnoticed, glazed eyes staring into the middle distance. John sets his phone on the zipper of his duffel bag, safe but unable to disturb him. The flat is too restrictive, cannot sustain tranquility when it is the source of his distress, so John gulps the burning liquid down to the gritty dregs and marches to the door, spine straight, chin ticked upwards, face drawn. Fresh air is necessary to maintain his fixed comportment, and a walk in the park will help him work through the issue at hand and make a decision. He knows what he wants may be different from what he needs, and a clear mind is crucial for a successful resolution. John steps over the bell line at the front door and opens it in near-silence, for the last thing he needs is another row with Mr Adams; he is not sure he could cope without unleashing a diatribe audible a floor away. Creeping from the flat like he is the intruder of his own building, John slips out of sight in the direction of the local park.


John clambers the stairs much more refreshed than an hour prior. He is firm in his decision now — some time away will do him good, he is sure of it, and perhaps when he returns the intruder will have given up their bizarre invasions. There are muffled noises from within the door to his corridor, murmurings and movement. He enters to a flurry of activity, brows furrowed as fellow tenants gather around the door of Mr Adams’ flat. It is open, two people John vaguely recognises bustling at the door as another speaks into a phone. Mrs Taylor stands in her doorway, wan and trembling, perspiration visible on her hairline when John gets closer.

“What’s going on?” He asks, frowning at her in corncen.

“Oh John,” weeps Mrs Taylor, grasping at his shirt.

Their other neighbour, phone pressed to his ear, stares at him with hawk eyes and raises his free palm. “You! Stay right where you are!”

“Mrs Taylor, are you — can someone please explain what’s happening?” John allows Mrs Taylor to lean on him, his cane maintaining their balance. She starts to sob into his chest, grasping at the fabric either side of her head.

“Oh John,” she repeats breathlessly, “he’s dead.”

Chapter 8: Chapter Five

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (6)

Teams of police swarm upon the narrow corridor like locusts to farmland, all nattering and pushing and directing. The scene is closed off beyond John’s flat, although he is still prevented from entering his own rooms. He and the set of neighbours removed from the proximity gather behind hastily set-up tape, watching constables and a group of forensic officers flooding in and out of Adams’ flat. One constable acts as security, redirecting questions to a superior who promises to respond when there are answers to give. John backs off, leaning against the wall to ease the strain on his leg, observing from afar as Mrs Taylor is comforted by the man who was on the phone. He had reacted rather poorly to John’s presence and his glares have kept Watson away — not out of fear, but to prevent conflict. Voices approach from the stairwell, two males, the first too low to hear properly, the second beginning a spiel.

“Peter Adams, seventy-three. American Vietnam vet, lives alone, has no pets or known medical conditions.” The second man says, whose head comes into sight a fraction after the first’s. John’s breath abates, heart stuttering in his chest.

“Nothing of note? Hobbies, work, family and friends?” John’s assumption is confirmed as Sherlock Holmes, introduced to him by Stamford, hops up the final step, brows knitted, lips pressed together.

The first man, clearly in the police force but wearing no discernible uniform, pockets a small notebook and sighs wearily. “Christ, the vic’s barely cold, give us a minute!”

John watches silently as Sherlock and the officer approach the doorway to Adams’ flat. Mr Holmes grits his teeth, visible even from afar, and gestures to the man he is stood next to. Orders are barked out by the man — surely the Chief or Detective Inspector — and within seconds the corridor is a hive of groans and mutterings as all who were inside the flat exit to congregate outside the front door. Sherlock enters alone, slamming the door shut on a mousy forensics photographer who opens his mouth to speak. The detective that arrived with Holmes quells him with a touch to his arm, murmuring with furrowed brows. Everyone falls quiet, even the worried neighbours, and John watches, enthralled, as Sherlock emerges some time later with a thoroughly bored expression.

“Homicide,” He confirms quietly, and then louder, he says addendum, “you brought me out for this? It’s barely a four.”

The detective mutters something to Sherlock, casting his gaze to the tenants, and John watches Holmes’ face light up, before he parts from the ensuing crowd of police and forensics towards them. Scanning the muddled group, Sherlock approaches like a stalking cheetah, narrowing his eyes. His belstaff coat, made of a dark wool with silver highlights weaved through, swishes elegantly behind him. It appears tailored to his every measurement: expanding to hug his broad chest and toned trapezius, form-fitting against his unusually trim waist and wider hips before billowing out around his legs, ending mid-shin.

“Which of you found him?” Sherlock asks. The group points to Mrs Taylor, who dabs at her nose with a tissue. “Did you enter the flat?”

“No, I found the door open, I’d just got home from a friend’s, you see, and-”

He cuts her off with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Don’t care. You confirmed his death?”

“I- yes.” Mrs Taylor blinks, mascara streaked down her face, tracks of foundation removed to reveal blotchy skin beneath.

“How could you have, if you did not enter?” Holmes interrogates, glaring at her with a cold firmness.

She stammers wordlessly for a moment, hands flailing. “There was a pool of blood! He wasn’t moving!”

“You were stood in the doorway. From that distance you could not properly confirm Mr Adams was deceased. He may have still been alive, a death could have been prevented if you had just entered the flat and checked!” He retorts, leaning further into her space.

“Ex-excuse me? I, there was blood everywhere! The whole place was a mess and I thought maybe the killer was still in there! Please, you have to believe me!”

“I do, I just wanted you to talk quickly,” Sherlock turns away from her as she weeps anew, fingers steepled below his chin, “killer, interesting.”

“Sorry? Look, I don’t know what your problem is, mate, but you can’t shout at her like that! She’s traumatised!” Exclaims the suspicious neighbour whose name John does not know.

“What was your involvement?” Holmes asks, annoyance clear upon his sharp features.

The man bristles, standing taller, chest puffed like a puffin. “I phoned it in.”

Sherlock ignores him, and John is certain the man has just been deduced as Holmes had mentioned on his website, quite like how John himself was in the mortuary. It is fascinating to watch when not directed at oneself, he thinks, hoping he can press into the shadows.

“Who was here during the time of Mr Adams’ death?” Those who raise their hands are noted, their names and contact details taken by the constable for later questioning.

“Was he murdered?” Asks another tenant, who John thinks lives the furthest from his flat. Sherlock opens his mouth to answer when his upper arm is grabbed by the detective, clearly leading this investigation, who flashes him a look that serves to promptly quieten him with an audible snap of his jaw.

“We cannot confirm anything at this time.” Several mutter their opinions over the matter, their voices indiscernible, but what shocks John is a surprising act of synchronised accusations. No such thing is indicated verbally, but several of his neighbours turn to look at him, some with vitriol, others with pity, one with unbridled fury.

John shifts his weight between his right leg and the cane, glancing at Sherlock’s associate, who has also picked up on the atmosphere. Sherlock follows their gazes, his icy eyes landing upon John’s crumpled form — he is pressed tightly to the wall as if wanting to be consumed by it, shoulders hunched, head dipped as he tracks them through sandy blond eyelashes. Not a single person offers up any further information, however, and John is left cowed in the corner, feeling just as pathetic as he knows he looks. So much for being a Captain, he thinks harshly, straightening his spine. When the attention has departed from his being, Watson looks up again, feeling the searing heat of watchful eyes. He is less surprised to find Sherlock scrutinising him, though his face holds no emotion, a blank slate that John cannot read. It is somehow better than the faces of those he suspects believe he is responsible for Mr Adams’ demise.

Mrs Taylor is directed by an officer to a squad car, where she will be taken to the station and given a chance to calm down. The neighbour who called the police protests her removal, but his kvetching is drowned out by a group of policemen who begin to guide the tenants back to their flats with advice to find alternative accommodation for the night. John waits until the crowd has dispersed so that he may limp to his own rooms in peace, but as he begins to clack his way down the corridor, a presence joins his side. Sherlock is tall up-close — the top of John’s head stops roughly at his nose, yet he does not feel intimated by such a foreboding figure at his side. It is almost, weirdly, comforting.

“You’re right to believe so,” he says, not looking at John.


“That Mr Adams’ death is related to the spate of break-ins you’ve been reporting.”

John’s hobbling steps falter for a second. “How… I didn’t even say anything.”

“You didn’t have to. I read it on you. I highly suggest you find somewhere else to stay for the weekend, at the very least.” Sherlock tucks his gloved hands into the deep pockets at his hipbones.

“Won’t that look bad? I’m clearly already being seen as a suspect.”

“No man should sleep afraid. Find a hotel. Stay with your brother, perhaps. Do not sleep here tonight. Not until we can confirm the circ*mstances. I have a feeling something bigger is going on here.” Sherlock’s mouth ticks upwards, the parody of a smile.

“It’s no laughing matter, Mr Holmes.” John says grimly, mouth a thin-set line.

Sherlock blinks. “I never said it so.”

“Stop smiling then. This is a crime scene, remember?” Sherlock’s lips straighten into a neutral mask of indifference.

“Quite so. Fret not, Doctor Watson, I’m on the case.” Sherlock oscillates on the spot, gone with a flutter of his greatcoat, like a whisper in the wind, and John, with a weary sigh and a troubled glance toward the door of his recently late neighbour, lingers long enough to collect his duffel bag and call for a taxi. He does not notice the hushed chatter of officers behind him. He is the first to go, Mrs Taylor the exception.

Later, in a Travelodge, perched upon the edge of the bed, head in hands, John reminiscences.

He doesn’t remember telling Sherlock his name.


On Sunday, when John is meandering through the park, as he has spent the majority of the weekend, his phone rings. It is the police — they would like to ask him a few questions. He has nothing better to do except people-watch and wallow in self-pity, plus it would be beneficial to clear his name. He pockets his phone and zigs the opposite direction in search of a cab. He has no hood to combat the fine trickle of rain that has showered sporadically since he first began his rove of the winding pathways, yet he pays it no heed, finding the sensation of pattering dampness to his hair and exposed skin an improvement to the overwhelming numbness that has overtaken him since Friday.

He is greeted warmly at the door of the police station, offered water and the chance to use the toilet before he is deposited in a barren room except for a large round table and three chairs. He is directed to the seat farthest from the door and left for a moment in silence. Outside of the tiny room, that shall fit no more than five men comfortably, John can hear distant movement and the rumble of indiscernible conversation, nothing distinct enough to pick up that might indicate their level of suspicion on him. With time ticking by agonisingly slow, John sits back, propping his leg upon the knee of the other, fingers outstretched to drum against the edge of the table. His watch tells him twenty minutes have passed when at last the door swings open, abrupt, banging against the wall behind, and John has to restrain a flinch.

“God, sorry. Hello Mr Watson, how are we today?” A bumble of files and coffee spill over a pair of lightly haired arms, sleeves of a work shirt rolled up to the elbow.

“Doctor Watson,” he smiles toothily, “not bad. And yourself?”

“My apologies, Doctor. Oh, you know how it is. Work work work.” The detective John recognises from the crime scene dumps a notebook and file upon the tabletop and leans over to shake his hand, smooth to John’s callouses, warmer too. “I’m Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade.”

“Afternoon, Inspector.” John bobs his head politely and sits straighter, tugging his hands down into his lap beneath the table.

Lestrade drops into the seat opposite with a rough noise of protest. “Right,” he says to nobody in particular, “shall we get started? Have you been offered a cup of tea, some water?”

“Yes, thank you.” John’s mouth works for a second before he regains control and levels his gaze with Lestrade’s. “Am I under arrest?”

“Oh, no no,” Lestrade waves a hand, “you’re free to leave at any point. This is just an informal interview, so to speak, just so we can ask you a few questions about late Friday afternoon. We will also take a witness statement if you’ll consent to it.”

John dips his head. “Of course.”

Lestrade sends him an easy smile and he relaxes some. “Excellent. So, run me through Friday. You can start as early in the day as you like.”

“Not much happened, with the exception of the evening. I went to work as usual, came home and-” John stops suddenly. He sighs and slumps forward, spotting a slight pitch of Lestrade’s eyebrows in alarm before his face smoothes into impassivity. “Look, I’ll be honest with you. Mr Adams and I didn’t get on. I don’t care if it makes me look guilty or not, because it’s probably all on record anyway.”

“It’s not about looking guilty or not, Mis-Doctor Watson. What exactly is on record?”

“Well, I assume the neighbours have told you about our… arguments, shall we say. He didn’t like me very much.” Lestrade gives no confirmation or denial to the statement, and John scrubs at his face. “We had some spats, he didn’t agree with my… lifestyle I suppose, and he made it known whenever he could.”

“What kind of spats?”

John shrugs, eyes wandering the room in recollection. “Arguments in the hallway, mostly. Been like that since I moved into the building.”

“And other neighbours witnessed these arguments? How often did you fight?”

“Er yes, he wasn’t exactly quiet. I usually didn’t pay him any attention — didn’t want the drama, you know? But he was at me nearly every time he saw me, and when he wasn’t calling me names he just ignored me.”

“And how did that make you feel?”

“I don’t know. Didn’t really care. I was a Captain — takes a lot to get to me.” John shrugs again. It almost feels like a therapy session to be grilled like this, but he will maintain his honesty, unlike his usual appointments with Doctor Thompson.

Lestrade’s expression hardens, his brows furrowing and lips pouting slightly. “Takes a lot,” he repeats lowly, “such as hom*ophobia?”


“He was quite hom*ophobic, wasn’t he? Didn’t take kindly to you and your boyfriend.”

“My- well, yes. Did the neighbours tell you that?” John huffs humourlessly. “He wasn’t what you’d call a fan of my partner. That said, I’d never hurt him.”

Lestrade’s mouth downturns solemnly, as though they are sharing a secret. “A soldier recently invalided home. I can imagine that being difficult. Navigating a new world too. I’d feel angry, wronged. To then face hom*ophobia on your own doorstep? Well, I’m not sure what I’d do.”

“I was a doctor. I healed, not hurt. I’m not sure what you’re attempting to imply,” his raised eyebrows tell Lestrade he knows exactly the insinuation, “but I would not use my hands for harm. I know how this all looks, and awful convenient, actually.”

“What do you mean by that?” That perks him up, his pen poised above the notepad. The page is yet to be graced with helpful information.

“Weird things have been happening to me. Break-ins. I’ve reported them but nothing came of it. And now my neighbour is found dead? I don’t know, it’s odd.” Watson animates with his hands.

“Your neighbour was murdered and your reaction is that it’s odd?”

John narrows his eyes, meeting Lestrade’s who matches the look with his own scrutiny. A single eyebrow is raised. “So he wasmurdered, then. That’s been confirmed?”

Lestrade is quiet, rifling through his paperwork. “Let’s go back to Friday. Did you and Mr Adams have an argument?”

“He started on me as soon as I got up the stairs. Claimed I’d been making noise in the flat all day, but I couldn’t have, because I’d been at work. I panicked, with all these break-ins I thought the intruder might still be in there, that I might be able to catch them. I checked but there was nothing, nobody, so I went for a walk to cool down. When I came back a few people were out in the hallway and that was when the police were called. I think some of the neighbours believe I’m to blame…” John drops his head into his hands and puffs a breath from expanded cheeks — he cannot understand how these trivial incidences have evolved into such calamity.

Lestrade, to his credit, continues on, jotting down a summary of John’s perspective of events. “You say you went for a walk.”


“Can anyone confirm this?”

He shrugs with his right shoulder. “Not unless Mrs Taylor saw me leave. Not like I’m going to tell anyone, I’m a grown man.”

“Of course,” the corner of Greg’s lip quirks upwards, gone the next second. “Where are you staying now?”

“A Travelodge nearby.”

“Why? You were an army Captain, you don’t seem like the type to walk away from danger.”

John bristles. “You don’t know me enough to know the type of man I am. Recently invalided with a disability, like you said. And with all the break-ins on top of Mr Adams’ death… would you feel safe living there?”

“No, probably not.” Lestrade concedes, jotting down something indecipherable from John’s angle.

“In fact, your officers told people to stay away for the time being. I was just following their orders. I was a soldier, remember?”

“A Captain. You gave the orders.” He quips.

“I had superiors. We all do. Look, I’m not the man you’re looking for. I understand all this is necessary and I’m happy for you to take my phone and I’ll provide a proper statement but I did not harm Mr Adams in any way.”

“We appreciate your cooperation. I just have a final question.” Lestrade looks to him, and when John nods he continues: “what was with the duffel bag?”

“I was going to a hotel. I packed a bag.” John shrugs, arms crossed. He is rapidly losing his patience.

“Packed it awfully fast.” Greg remarks. “Witnesses saw you leave the scene almost immediately.”

“I packed a bag beforehand. I had already planned to leave. I went for a walk, came back, Mr Adams was dead. I’d like to leave now. I’ll come back another time to provide a statement.”

“And the phone?” John fishes it from his back pocket and dumps it on the table with a clatter. Grasping his cane, he hobbles around the table for the exit. Lestrade swivels in his seat to face Watson. “Thank you for your time.”

John dips his head, mouth a firm line. “Afternoon.” The door slams shut behind him.


John knows he cannot stay in the hotel much longer, and decides that tonight after work, he will return to his bedsit. There are a few properties on the market he will be able to afford as part of a flat-share, and though inconvenient in terms of home-to-work navigation, he will be able to breathe freely again; escape the perpetual cycle of fear and paranoia. He wakes early Monday morning, or more accurately, stops lying down. He does not remember sleeping nor could he recall the passing hours, but it is a vast improvement to waking drenched in sweat, certain there is an enemy lurking in the shadows. Here he does not have to check his manmade security system or consciously step over tripwire, and the bathroom has a whiter light to his warmer bulb at home. Warm water drips from his face, a daub of shaving cream dotted at his jawline. He wipes it away with a damp flannel and regards his worn body — the mottled starburst scar upon his scapula, a pockmark from childhood chickenpox, the faint tan lines where his sleeve ended around his bicep in the arid heat of Afghanistan. His body may have changed vastly in a few short years — skinny and coltish during university, compact and powerful in the army and now scarred and proverbially dented — but John does not detest his appearance. This body has gotten him through life, survived a bullet and a war and powered through just as stubbornly as his mind.

Reverie broken by the clack of his toothbrush falling into the sink, John blinks, coming-to sluggishly. He has extra time this morning to collect a pastry on his way to work which he is looking forward to. Watson is a foodie at heart, when he has the appropriate tools to cook. He has even dabbled in baking, albeit those endeavours were less successful than his cooking abilities, having been taught at an early age by his mother. The prospect of a decent breakfast — not healthy, but flavourful in comparison to the bland cereals and burnt toast of the hotel’s morning buffet — puts a delightful spring in his step, cane momentarily abandoned against the edge of the bed. John feels more put-together than he did yesterday, confident the police will realise his innocence and perhaps pay attention to his raised alarms of the most bizarre intruder he has ever heard of.

It is such an assurance that it brings a visible cheer to his aura, one that is complimented by his colleagues when he arrives whistling to the surgery. They too have noticed his slow descent into what they feared was madness, him silent or deflective when asked what has troubled him. John settles into his office for the morning where he will interact with patients until noon. After a lunch break he will complete paperwork and any phone calls necessary before heading out to in-house calls, mostly surrounding retirement homes and older citizens no longer able to travel to the surgery. For the first time in what he feels has been weeks, John does not lament the day ahead and scanning through his list of patients, he is not flooded with mundanity-fuelled dread.

The first few patients pass by quickly, reporting issues that are easy to handle. After such a taxing weekend the monotonous cases are not as dull as he usually finds them, resulting in a rapid completion of paperwork between patients. He believes the day will be like any other until he hears an unexpected knock at the door. Not due another patient for forty-five minutes, he grants them entrance with his eyes on the overhead clock. There stands Emily, the young receptionist, her hands wringing at her abdomen.

“Everything okay?” He asks, genuine concern tinging his voice.

Emily bobs her head, glossy black hair swishing around her shoulders. “Er, yes. It’s just- someone is asking for you at the front desk. Says it’s important.”

“Have they got an appointment?” John glances at his list of patients, several of which are now ticked off.

Emily shakes her head. “He’s not even registered here but he’s refusing to leave without speaking to you first.”

“Do you know his name?”

“Erm, Lestrade, I think?” Her fingers interlock then pull apart, clammy palms wiped down the front of her black trousers.

John swallows. “I’ll be there in a moment. Thank you Emily.”

She leaves without speaking, and if she finds his sudden reservedness strange she does not say so. John stands, straightening out his clothes and grabbing his cardigan. He decides against grabbing his briefcase, walking tall and proud despite the tap of the cane at his side. Heart thumping distractedly in his chest, John rounds the corner to find a familiar man stood at the desk.

“Sir, you cannot just barge through! There are other patients!” Cries the receptionist, leaning over the desk with her arm outstretched, perhaps to prevent the steadfast man from marching down the corridor of his own volition.

The man scoffs at her, maintaining his distance, the corners of his nose crinkled with disgust. “And I have told you I am not a patient. I need to speak with Doctor Watson.”

“Is it that important you must speak to him now?”

“Yes. See?” He flashes a card at the harried receptionist whose expression morphs from poorly concealed annoyance to rather serious. John clears his throat, attracting the attention of all parties present. “Ah, Doctor Watson! May I speak with you in your office?” The visitor turns his back to the desk, his tone light, contrary to the firm look directed at the latter. It brooks no argument.

John flashes a smile at the desk. “Sorry for the hassle. Right this way sir.” John spins on his heel, frogmarching back to his office. His head whirls with questions, none of which can be answered until the office door is shut behind him. He gestures to the seat beside his own and sits heavily. “What are you doing here, Mr Holmes?”

Watson is ignored, Sherlock’s eyes scanning the room as though lapping up hidden information in the peeling posters and confessions within the white-washed walls. In a leather-bound hand is the identification card flashed to the receptionist. John points to it with lax fingers. “Can I see? Your website said you don’t work for the police, so what’s that?” Sherlock allows him to take it, and he skims the card with a frown. “Detective Inspector Lestrade?”

Sherlock hums. “I pickpocket him when he’s annoying. You can keep that, I have plenty.” John, due to the absurdity of his current circ*mstances, barks out a sharp laugh. It evolves into a chuckle until he is struggling for breath, muffling the noise in his sleeve. Sherlock stares at him, visibly bemused. “What?”

“Oh god, I don’t know, that was just a bit funny. Pickpocket him when he’s annoying.” John giggles again, wondering where his usual resolve has sauntered off to, when Sherlock’s face softens and he produces a rich chuckle from the base of his chest. It is much deeper than John’s, and he is momentarily stunned by it, not expecting such a sound to emanate from such a boyish man. Watson sniffs, wiping away the moisture at his eyes before standing to attention. “So why are you here? More questions for me?”

“Actually, I was hoping you could patch me up.” Sherlock looks askance. “I’m not actually registered at a surgery, and you’re a GP, so.”

John is visibly unamused. “So? Go to a hospital, they can see you without a registered practice.”

“I abhor hospitals, and I know you have time. Won’t take long,” Sherlock exhales noisily as he hops onto the medical bed, blue paper crinkling beneath the waterfall of his belstaff. His legs swing petulantly.

“Oh,” John waggles an eyebrow, “stalking me, are you?”

A bizarre expression passes Sherlock’s face, eyelashes shuttering like a surprised camera. “The receptionist said you were on lunch.”

“Ah, yes. It’s quiet around here,” John muses aloud. “Very well then. Let’s see it.” Sherlock removes his coat and tugs his shirt from his waistband to produce a bloodied bandage that has been tied together haphazardly. When removed, a gash two and a half inches wide oozes blood and platelets, dribbling sluggishly. “Jesus, what happened here?”

“Suspect tried to stab me. Just barely grazed me.” Sherlock shrugs with a curled lip of distaste, whereas John’s eyebrows shoot up towards his hairline.

Barely? This’ll need stitches. Most interesting case I’ve had in ages, like.”

“Then I guess I’ve come to the right place.” Sherlock flashes a cheeky smile that John cannot help but return.

Slipping on a pair of latex gloves and collecting his suture kit, he asks: “how did you find me anyway? On police record or something?”

“I’ve not read your file. I deduced it.”

“File? There’s a file?” John sneaks glances at Sherlock’s aloof face as he mops up the bloodied mess around the wound site, finding no usual response, not even a wince.

“Of course — you’re a suspect in a murder case,” John shushes him, eyes worriedly flitting to the door. Sherlock huffs. “Aren’t you going to ask me how I deduced it?”

“Oh go on then. Probably something to do with distance and travel time between work and my flat or something. Can’t travel far with this leg,” John watches the glint fade from Sherlock’s eye and wonders what he has said wrong.

Sherlock blinks at him for a moment, stunned. “Oh,” his eyelashes flutter again, and John thinks he looks akin to the human equivalent of a computer rebooting, “yes. That’s… yeah.”

“Not exactly difficult, is it?” Sherlock frowns, icy blue eyes hardening, and his jaw tightens. John knows it is not pain because he has not even touched the wound directly yet, and he was showing no signs of discomfort previously.

“Why did you decide to become a GP after being a surgeon?” He asks the non-sequitur with direct, steely eye contact.

“How did you know I-”

“Obvious.” Holmes leans forward, eyes flickering rapidly to inspect John head-to-toe. “You made a comment about how quiet it is and that I have been your most interesting case in weeks. You are confident with a needle; now I would understand that as a GP, but you’re so confident you can have a full-blown conversation and even look up from your work. Someone who is not used to treating open wounds would not be so blasé; they’d concentrate, focus on their task fully. In fact, you are so unfazed by my injury you’ve automatically set out a tetanus jab. The booster jab, I note, otherwise you would’ve sent me to A and E for the three course injections.

“You are also wearing layers — I suspect an undershirt beneath your shirt, so you’re still not acclimatised to British weather and your hand was trembling earlier, but your cheeks are flushed so it’s not because you’re cold. An intermittent tremor, then, in your dominant hand too, yet within minutes you’re able to wield a suture needle without issue.”

“So you do know why I became a GP after being a surgeon.” John states.

“I do.” Sherlock bobs his head once.

“Indulge me.” John smiles.

Sherlock’s grin is shark-like. “Wounded in action. I previously assumed it was your leg — stupid, I did not observe correctly. Your left leg irks you when you walk, yet you are able to stand up without issue, and you aren’t currently using your cane for support,” he gestures to the cane resting at Sherlock’s side against the patient table, “therefore with the added tremor in your left hand I suspect the actual injury is in your arm and the leg is a psychosomatic side-effect. A surgeon cannot safely perform with an intermittent tremor and an unsteady leg, especially working long hours stood up. But a doctor can still be a doctor, just in a different capacity,” Sherlock smirks, “not exactly difficult, is it?

“Incredible.” John breathes.

“You realise you said that out loud.” Holmes wears a smirk, a twinkle in his eye belying his utter satisfaction.

John clears his throat, fiddling with the suture needle as his cheeks tangibly heat; he is certain there are splotches of colour across his face. “Sorry. I’ll shut up.”

“No, it’s… fine.” Sherlock’s eyes avert from his face, scanning the room but unseeing. He purses his lips then releases them, hands fidgeting in his lap.

“Why did you really come here?” John snips the end of the knot on the suture.

“I told you already: I needed patching up. Knew a doctor.” Holmes shrugs, his head tilting to look at John from his lower position.

“You don’t know me, though.” John risks a glance upwards.

“Don’t I?” Holmes narrows his eyes in challenge.

“You know basic facts about me, yes, don’t give me that look,” he chides, “you may have deduced them but you don’t know me.”

“Close enough, I’d say.” John stares him down, a small gap left in the remainder of Sherlock’s wound where he is yet to sew. He holds the needle in his left hand and thread in the right. Sherlock relents. “Okay, fine. I came to warn you. They are going to bring you back in for questioning; they believe you have something do with it. But I’m on the case.”

“Right.” John says plainly. “You’re on the case? My case or Adams’?”

“Both. As I said, I suspect they are connected. There’s a thread there, and I intend to tug on it. We shall see what is unravelled.” Sherlock replies, pensive. His eyes fog over as if in deep thought and John leaves him to it, finishing up the sutures with a wad of gauze taped over. He is sure Sherlock knows the aftercare process already — a man inexperienced with such an injury would not be so nonchalant — regardless he hands him a pamphlet and explains the proceedings before allowing Sherlock off the bed.

For a moment Sherlock seems fine, until he takes a single step and teeters sideways. “Woah!”

“Easy there. Back on the bed. Everything all right?” John steadies him, helping seat him on the edge of the bed. When Sherlock’s wan skin does not improve, he tugs a pair of heavy feet up so that Holmes is prostrate.

Sherlock waves a hand around his head. “Just a bit light-headed is all. I’ll be all right.”

“Stay there for a second. When did you last eat?” John slowly releases his grip, having not even realised the clasp he has on the man’s biceps.

“Can’t remember,” Sherlock mumbles into his scarf. He looks paler, almost vulnerable beneath the stark overhead light. John tuts.

“Don’t move. I’m going to go get you some sugary juice. Won’t be long.”

Sherlock is exactly where he left him when he returns, a small paper cup of blackcurrant cordial in hand. He aids Sherlock in sitting up but does not fuss over him, the space between them enough to provide him independence but allow a helping hand if his balance fails him once more. Holmes takes tiny sips of the drink, mouth souring at the strong taste though he does not verbally complain. When the cup is finished he looks much improved and stands without issue to straighten his clothes. Slipping on a pair of bespoke leather gloves, Sherlock takes the discarded aftercare pamphlet and tucks it into the vast pocket of his belstaff coat.

“Thank you. I must be getting on now. Do have a pleasant day, and heed my warning.” He stalks to the door, stopped by John’s extended arm.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Quite so. I appreciate your exemplary care. When can I have these removed?” Holmes wafts a hand in the general area of his newly fixed wound.

“Between seven to ten days. I’d say eight. They’re waterproof, but please be careful not to tear them.”

“I’ll see you in eight days, then,” Sherlock flings open the door with another smirk, “afternoon.”


John remains distracted for the entirety of his workday. Sherlock Holmes is a curious man; though he lacks tact his deductive abilities are admirable, and John finds he is looking forward to their next encounter. His wit has brightened up a lowly doctor’s day. Prior warning that the police are suspicious of him is nice too, if a little daunting, but he cannot allow this fear to grip him in a squeezing vice as it has done. It is not conducive to a stable mental state. John floats through the remainder of his patient list, tackling colds and flu jabs and complaints of the NHS that he has no control over. He smiles and chuckles and prescribes all treatments with an airy, polite comportment that people seem to thrive under. A feat he can perform without truly feeling such a way himself — a mask he wears: the affable doctor, and sometimes when it suits him, the poor disabled soldier brought home half-dead from war. Those things are a part of him, yes, but they do not define John H. Watson. He is more than his public perception, and has no doubt that Sherlock is the same.

He ponders the craving in his gut for a man he has met a handful of times on his meander back to the hotel from the surgery. The receptionist flashes him a short smile which he returns, and in the lift, which works unlike the one in his building, John begins to whistle cheerily as he had earlier in the morning. Fluctuating emotions have plagued him, so when a positive mood strikes him, John intends to take advantage of it. It is time to pack up, check out and return to his flat, currently not afraid now that Sherlock is working his case as top priority. He is certain this intruder will not risk an uncovering of their identity for the sake of petty crimes. They are under close scrutiny now.

John approaches his room in a hallway that is clean of rubbish and free of abuse. He has greatly enjoyed the lack of diatribes upon every arrival home. When he reaches the door he fishes in his pockets for his keycard. His coat pockets do not reveal it, where he is certain he had put it this morning, nor do his work trousers or cardigan. As he is hunting for the lost card, patting pockets and cursing his thoughtlessness, a pair of men approach him. He smiles briefly, continuing to frisk his own body, when the men stop in front of him.

“Er, hello.” He says, pausing his ministrations with his hands still hovering over his person.

“John Watson?” One asks with pursed, thin lips.


The pair step closer, the other retrieving a set of handcuffs from his belt. “You’re under arrest for suspicion of murder.”

Chapter 9: Chapter Six

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (7)

John’s mouth gapes, though he does not resist the handcuffs applied to his wrists, which are tugged behind his back. “Is there anything in your pockets that might harm us or yourself?”

“No, no,” John feels hands patting him down regardless, and he cranes his neck to watch, unable to stop the crawling sensation of violation on his skin.

The officer pays no heed to his pinched expression. “Where are your keys?”

“I’ve lost them.” John admits, looking between the officers. He stands still as they search him again, confirming there are no keys on his person, that he is not lying to stall the inevitable. Notably, they are not wearing constable uniforms but are happy to provide their badges and a warrant card when he asks. The tall, burly constable with a shaved head clasps his arm with meaty fingers, whereas the shorter — though taller than John — policeman, much younger with a mop of curly platinum hair, sighs and glances behind him.

“I’ll go get the master key. Be back in a sec’.”

“You’re not gunna do a runner, are you?” The arm wound around John’s bicep tugs him slightly, pushing him off-balance when pain tears through his shoulder.

“Do I look like I can run?” Watson comments, nudging his head at the cane now collapsed to the floor.

“I’ll release the cuffs then. Are you in pain?”

He rolls out his shoulder with a prominent grimace that contorts his face and brings forth a sharp gasp between his gritted teeth. “Dodgy shoulder.”

“Ah, pulled joint? Been there, mate.” John cannot help but be baffled by the polite chatter when he has just been arrested for murder, wondering if this is parr for the course to lull suspects into willingly providing information. Still, he has nothing to hide.

Again he rolls out his shoulder, this time more carefully, wincing less harshly against the sting. “Nah, got shot.”

“You got shot?

“Mm. I was a solider before this.” John gestures to his cane a second time. The officer attempts not to gape, and if he has any idea of the details of the case he is likely questioning if this unassuming doctor is capable of ending another’s life. He was a soldier, after all, and people tend to believe all soldiers have taken lives in the pursuit for justice and liberation. Some may think them heroes, others scornful of the violence.

John answers perfunctory questions about his day, none of which are prying, and loathes the conversational manner of the officer as they wait. It is a blessing, then, to spot the officer's partner dangling a master key from his fingers. “All sorted.”

They enter the room, John sandwiched between them as they move right to the bed. He is offered a seat, which he takes out of compliancy rather than need, watching placidly as they gather his items and pack them much less neatly into his duffel bag. It is obviously a search posed as a helping hand, but John is not worried, until the officer pries open the mouth of his medical briefcase, the one he takes to work each day. He shifts, pretending it is to alleviate a pain somewhere, trying to maintain an appropriate rate of breathing. However the officer finds nothing incriminating and moves on, collecting the bags and gesturing to his partner. John, bemused and a little distracted, is read his rights where they sit, and once he has verbally confirmed he understands, they are on the move again, this time to the squad car waiting just outside the doors of the hotel. The receptionist from earlier stares, wide-eyed, her lips pursed and downturned. She does not return John’s gaze.

In the car the officers converse, but he is not invited to partake. Watson shifts, weight supported by his right side; he is allowed wrists free of steel as he has not shown any opposition and a partition barring access to the front of the vehicle prevents any potential accosts. He cannot think of the case against him, what evidence they have procured, because his mind is filled with more pertinent questions. One of which is most potent: where the hell is his gun? John has never made a habit of carrying the gun, finding its presence soothing simply tucked away out of sight, but with a murderer on the loose and a potential stalker he has taken no chances since Friday night. He was worried he might be named top suspect, therefore understood with a warrant his flat, and the hotel room, could be searched without his knowledge. To find an unlicensed, illegal gun in his possession would grant him immediate prison time, therefore the weapon was tucked into his medical bag this morning. An inner pocket, zipped and double-lined, would have made its discovery impossible without someone deliberately searching, which the officer had done, thoroughly. It spikes a fear within him, and he attempts to silently recollect any moment he left the bag unattended. Frequently, he finds. f*ck.

John is booked into custody the moment they arrive, and he goes willingly, not wanting to risk a forceful admission that may exacerbate his already sore injuries. They take his details, fingerprints and some photographs before he is taken to a private room similar to the one he was initially questioned in. It is as equally barren as the first, seeming sparser and bleaker now he is being prepped for a grilling. Noises can be heard outside of the door moments before it opens to reveal Detective Inspector Lestrade, who nods to someone out of sight before entering the room with a woman around John’s age and shutting the door behind him. Similarly to their last meeting, he clutches a travel mug of coffee and he brings with him the scent of meat and gravy, likely a pastie he consumed in a rush on his way here.

Sitting down heavily, the woman silent at the table, Lestrade sorts out his files and mug before looking at John. “So, Doctor Watson, do you understand why you are here today?”

“I’m under arrest for suspicion of murder.”

“Correct. This is Sergeant Sally Donovan,” he gestures to her, but she merely stares John down. “I’m going to read you your rights, I’ll have you sign off on them and we can get started. Would you like a drink?”

“Water, please.”

“No problem. Would you like to use the bathroom?” John agrees, only because he is unsure when he will next be able to go. He is ushered out and escorted to the toilets further down the corridor. The bustling continues for a few minutes, John taking a breather in the quiet of the bathroom as he splashes cold water on his face. The man staring back at him in the mirror is wan and drained, and he turns away from it, finding no hope in his reflection.

Watson is left in the room alone again for longer than necessary, which he knows is part of the interrogation process. He is supposed to feel on-edge, out of control, scrutinised. It is working: he feels all of these things, but knows the evidence against him cannot be vast, as he was not even present in the building at the time of the crime. If he sticks to his story, that being the truth, he is sure the officers will agree that is is a coincidence, no more than that, and they can focus their efforts on catching the actual killer.

After waiving his rights to legal counsel, certain it would only add to the mounting suspicion on him, John leans back in his chair in an attempt at flippancy. Too much of this and he will look callous, stuck between maintaining the truth and wanting to appease the speculation. Detective Inspector Lestrade, not the Chief, John notes, opens a Manila file containing forms, a notebook and what appears to be photographs of the crime scene. Sergeant Donovan is rigid, pouting mouth not disguising her disapproval. “Let’s get on with it then. I’m sure you don’t want to be here any more than I do. So let’s stick to the truth and we can get this all sorted out, eh?”

“Indeed, Inspector.”

Lestrade waves a hand. “Oh, Greg is fine. Can I call you John?”


“Excellent. I know we’ve discussed this before, but I’d like you to explain as much as you remember from Friday. Go through the entire day, morning to night.” Greg opens the notebook to an empty page and sits back to listen.

“Okay. I woke up from a nightmare, had something to eat and went to work. I obviously can’t disclose what happened there — patient-doctor confidentiality, I’m sure you understand,” Greg nods appreciatively, “then I came home and my neighbour was already in the hallway waiting to start an argument.”

“Your neighbour being Mr Peter Adams?”


“So you come up the stairs, I presume, and what? He’s just there?”

“Yeah. Called out to me.”

“What did he say?”

“Well I can’t say verbatim, but he complained about me making noise all day in the flat. Called me a fa*g, I think, said my partner and I were disease-ridden perverts or something along those lines. Got every hom*ophobic insult he could in. Er, then he threatened to put an end to the noise himself if I didn’t sort it.”

“And what was the noise?”

“Banging, I think. Maybe he thought we were, y’know…” Watson trails off, averting his eyes to the table.

“Having sex?” Lestrade prompts.

John cringes, glancing at Donovan, who shows no reaction. “Yeah. But I haven’t seen my ex in a while. Didn’t end on the best of terms.”

“Oh? What happened?”

“We had issues from the start. I spoke to my therapist about it and she suggested we split up. So we did. He wasn’t too happy with it all. That’s it, really.”

“What kinds of issues?”

John sighs, wondering what relevance this line of questioning has on Adams’ death. “We argued a lot because he was controlling. He would get upset if I went somewhere without telling him, said it was because he was worried about my injuries. We weren’t together long, mind, just a few months. My first, erm, male partner.”

“You’ve never dated another man before?”

“No,” John clears the dryness in his throat with a cough, “anyway. I blocked his number because he kept texting me at all hours.”

“Was it ever violent?”

“No. He would throw things when he was angry, but never at me or anything.”

“What’s your therapist’s name?”

“Am I allowed to give that out?”

“We will find out one way or another,” Greg shrugs, “you could save us the time.”

“Ella Thompson. She has a website but you’ll find her number in my phone.” Lestrade nods, thanking him quietly as he jots down the name. John wonders what she will say about him when they interview her. Perhaps she’ll mention his reoccurring trust issues.

Lestrade taps the base of his pen against the paper. “Going back to Peter. You said he told you he’d put an end to the noise himself. What do you think he meant by that?”

John raises his palms heavenwards in bemusem*nt, his mouth downturned. “Haven’t got a clue. Neither of us were ever violent. I think he was all bark, no bite. Thankfully.”

“Thankfully?” Greg’s intonation rises in interest.

“Well he clearly didn’t like me or my partner- ex-partner. I’m sure you’ve heard of, hell probably even seen the kinds of violence we face. I’m thankful he stuck to the insults rather than his fists.”

“I mean you were a soldier, you could’ve fought back.”

John knows instantly where this line of inquiry is going. He steels himself, frame rigid. “Not with my injuries. They didn’t discharge me for no reason.”

“You’re not paralysed, though.” John narrows his eyes. It is a rather inappropriate comment to make, one that demeans his disability. He swallows before he can shout.

“My range of motion is limited. I limp. I was a doctor in the army, I did not fight, I did not hurt.”

“You’re saying you killed no-one.”

John takes another breath, squeezing the flesh between his thumb and forefinger to settle his racing heart. “Yes. I killed. Entirely self-defence. We were being attacked, we were losing ground, my men were injured.”

“One life for another.”

“That’s one way of looking at it. I am not proud of it, Inspector. It haunts me. Every night I see death. I have to live with that fact, you must realise.”

“Would you ever kill again?”

John sneers, leaning closer. “Would you ever kill?”

Lestrade’s mouths works silently for a second, blinking uncomprehendingly. “Sorry?”

“It’s an interesting question, one nobody can truly answer until they are in that situation. It doesn’t get any easier. Each life taken is as horrific as the first. And what I did was to protect myself and my men. It was us, or them.”

Lestrade readjusts his position, uncrossing his legs only to place the opposite knee on top of the other. He seems uncomfortable, referring to his notes, eyes flickering askance at Donovan, likely having not anticipated this turn of events. He regroups before John’s eyes, clearing his throat. “You’re not a monster, John. Sometimes mistakes are made, that doesn’t make us bad people. What matters is honesty and integrity. You’re a strong man, a doctor, stronger than I.”

“I didn’t kill him.” John says in a clipped tone, each plosive spoken crisply.

Greg rests his forearms on the table, the space between them diminishing. “Then who did? Who else would do such a thing? Did he have any enemies you know of?”

“Enemies? Not sure. But he was not a very well-liked man.”

Greg hums. “Combative with everyone, then?”

“Oh yeah. I don’t mean to talk ill of the dead but death does not negate the behaviour of the living.” John replies, crossing his arms.

“Interesting. Did you read that somewhere?”

He shrugs. “Maybe, I don’t know. Not really relevant, is it?”

“No, not really,” Lestrade concedes. “I can imagine it was a difficult day for you then. Friday, I mean. Lack of sleep, already tetchy from a nightmare, working all day. Then the lift is broken — you’re in pain, knackered — and you’ve got three flights of stairs to climb.”

John thinks this is an odd detail to focus on. He frowns. “The lift has been broken for ages now. I think I only used it a handful of times before it was out of order.”

Greg pushes on: “you get to your floor, likely in a lot more pain, all’s you wanna do is get in and have a quiet night. Don’t we all? I get it, work can be so overwhelming, I can’t imagine having to deal with a rude neighbour like Peter.”

“Usually I just ignore him, like I said to you on Sunday. But on Friday I just snapped. I’m fine with him going after me, but he brought up my ex, and he had nothing to do with it.”

“What do you mean by ‘snapped’?” Lestrade’s pen is poised over his notebook, words scribbled haphazardly over the lines.

“I shouted at him, at Peter. Yelled some not-nice things, expletives. Told him to back off, leave me alone.”

“You threatened him,” Greg brings forth a piece of paper that John identifies as a witness statement, “‘leave me alone or so help me god’.”

“Is that a threat?” John asks.

“I don’t know, is it?” Greg fires back, eyebrow raised.

“I didn’t threaten him, Inspector. I was frustrated, it’s just an expression. A common expression. I was loud, yes, and I insulted him because he insulted me. That was the last of our interactions.”

“You’re certain of this?”


“Because you went for a walk?”

“Exactly.” John’s teeth grit.

“Your behaviour was reported as erratic and unlike you. Can you explain that for me?”

“What exactly was said?” His eyes narrow.

“Tell me from your point of view.” Greg retorts.

“Well I was on-edge from that argument. I thought someone was still in my flat, an intruder, the person who has been messing with me for weeks now. I left the argument to search for them in case the noise startled them away. But there was nobody in my flat, and I was frustrated. Tired. As you said.”


John dips his head. “Of course.”

“Anger runs in the family, does it not?”

“What do you mean by that?” John bristles visibly, shifting in his seat, body inching forward, eyes on the target. Greg has to admit he can see the Captain in this man, and would undoubtedly be terrified under his command. The low tone sounds unthreatening but there is a danger that seeps through.

He persists. “Well, your sister, Harriet Watson. She’s had a history of violence. Several ASBOs, addiction, domestic violence. Quite the record.”

“What are you implying?” Watson’s eyes narrow, vision tunnelled on Lestrade.

“I’m just saying it’s not uncommon for siblings to mirror behaviour. You grew up together, didn’t you?” Greg says.

John laughs derisively. “Are you for real? You’re saying because my sister has had issues with the law before that I must’ve killed my neighbour?” Greg stares at him. “Oh my god, you’re being serious.”

“Calm down Doctor Watson. We have to investigate all avenues.”

“Wrong!” The door bursts open, crashing against the wall and ricocheting off, almost hitting the intruder in the face.

Donovan groans, the first noise she has made, and she says, “go away, freak.”

Lestrade, at the same time, says, “Sherlock, what-”

“Don’t be so imbecilic, Lestrade. The sister, seriously? You can do better. I’m hoping you don’t believe John has some form of consanguineous affiliation to violence that would lead to murder?” Sherlock spits, the vitriol spoken with an acidic tone.

Lestrade sighs, put-upon. “Do enlighten me, Holmes.”

“Oh, I intend to.” Sherlock sits with a waft of his coat, which blows over the table and flutters the files there, engaged and strikingly alert. He fixes his eyes on John. “This neighbour of yours; he was hom*ophobic, insulting?”

“Yes.” John says plainly. He is not sure if they are playing a game, but does not want to assume wrongly. Sherlock is unreadable.

“This has nothing to do with the sister. Or John, for that matter.” He says without moving his gaze from John.

“Sherlock, you can’t just barge in here and-”

“As ever, Detective Inspector, you see but you do not observe.” Sherlock gestures to Watson. “John wasn’t even in the building at the time of the murder, and I know the Scotland Yard lot are brainless but this is another level of stupidity.” Donovan’s responding scoff is ignored.

“His phone never left the building, Sherlock. Who goes for a walk without their phone?” John’s eyes flicker between the two men, feeling as though he is watching Sherlock’s interrogation rather than his own.

“John was a soldier, he relied on his own senses rather than technology in the depths of the grasslands. He is unused to his new mobile, why would he take it with him?” Sherlock does not look at John when he adds, “who is going to contact him?”

“That is not enough to prove his innocence, Sherlock, you know this.”

“I do. Which is why I came in the first place. There is CCTV footage of John walking, alone, around the time of the murder. Not at home. Would you care to fault video footage? Cameras do not lie, Lestrade.”

“We’ll just be a moment, John,” Greg moves stiffly to the door, face stormy. “Sherlock, out.”


“Out!” Sherlock huffs like a petulant teenager and stalks from the room with a twirl of his greatcoat, Donovan following behind, fuming waves rolling off her blazer.

John can hear raised voices but cannot pinpoint specifics. He sits, slumped, taking a sip of water to soothe his parched throat which he clears several times. Meeting Sherlock brings a flood of relief, and to know he was captured on camera, proof of his truth, is reassuring beyond description. Heart pounding, John forces control over himself. He refuses to panic, to allow the interrogation tactics to get to him. He is not in the wrong here. He did not kill Peter Adams. He is not a murderer.

Lestrade took his notes with him when they exited, so John has naught to look at except for the shadows casted on the wall opposite the door of the room he is sat in. The window is thin and reinforced with fireproof mesh, but he can see the sharp lines of Sherlock’s coat and the muddle of his hair. There is a final bout of noises before the door opens again, Sherlock appearing triumphant and smugly pleased as he takes the seat opposite Lestrade’s, almost adjacent to John. He removes only his gloves and shows no sign of discomfort over his recently treated stab wound.

“Afternoon, Doctor Watson.” He greets as if they have not already seen each other today.

“Hello Mr Holmes.” John replies with a polite, tepid smile.

Holmes bobs his head once. “Sherlock, please.”

“So there’s footage of me?”

“Indeed. Only a small glimpse, mind, but enough to identify you.”

“Sherlock, stop it.” Greg snips.

“Lestrade, look at this man. There is no evidence that he was present at the time of the murder, in fact we now have evidence in the contrary-”

Greg interrupts, “the time frame does not completely exclude him!”

Sherlock groans into his hands, bashing at his eye sockets with the heels of his palms. “You’re telling me that a recently disabled man with limited mobility in his dominant arm who relies on a cane nonetheless, snuck into Mr Adams’ flat after an argument, fought him bare-handed without alerting a single person, killed him, left the flat and cleaned the blood from him, discarded the clothes used in the murder, left the building without being seen, went for a walk then returned home in less than an hour?”

“He lived a metre away. Hardly difficult to go between flats.”

“Lestrade, listen to yourself! You are missing the point! They had just been rowing, how could he have entered Adams’ flat without there being another argument? Nobody heard any noise to indicate John was in there. Still, a clear sign of a fight,” Sherlock snatches the file and rifles through the crime scene photographs until he finds photos of Adams’ flat to refer to. “Note the mug smashed on the floor, but the handle is still intact? It was used as a weapon. Or the lamp, knocked over but still on the sideboard, where someone caught it so it wouldn’t make a loud noise. See the rug? The way the corner is flipped up? There was a scuffle; started in the kitchen, they stumbled into the living room. Adams fell into the desk, knocked over the lamp and was hit over the head with the mug sat on the desk, you can see the wet ring from where it was placed, causing him to collapse. He was an ex-soldier, he would’ve fought, and the assailant would’ve needed a rapid response time to catch the lamp so quickly.”

“Your point?”

“I’ve just given you the point! John couldn’t have done it! A disabled man against a healthy veteran. Who do you think will win?”

“Honestly his entire personality revolved around being a vet,” John notes, “did you not see his cap?”

“His cap?” Lestrade repeats. The turn of the conversation is enough to give one whiplash. Luckily John thrives under pressure, and he nods.

“Yeah, that cap he always wore. Battered old thing, he never took it off.”

“Describe it to me.” Sherlock says sharply, eyes on John like a lion to a gazelle.

“Er, black leather brim, the main bit was grey, made of suede I think. Had two shotguns, gold, on the front. Confederate, I think.”

“You said he never took it off? Elaborate.” Sherlock presses.

“As in he was never seen without it. Like his bloody trademark. Sorry, why is this relevant?” John feels like he is experiencing a rollercoaster ride of a conversation, finding no correlation in the matter, as seconds prior he was being accused of murder.

Sherlock interrupts, fingers steepled at his chin. “It could serve to be extremely relevant. There was no cap, John.”

Watson frowns, eyebrows pleated. “What?”

“Nowhere at the scene. Not on his head, in any of the rooms, a drawer or wardrobe. I looked.” Holmes replies.

“You looked specifically for the cap?” John asks dumbly.

“Of course not, don’t be stupid. I have an eidetic memory — the details are emblazoned in my mind palace,” Sherlock taps his own forehead, “and there was no confederate cap to be found. Oh this is interesting! It’s the finer details, you see.”

His manic grin is unsettling; not the typical response one may have for a deceased person, especially when murder is involved. Lestrade sighs. “What do you mean? How is that interesting?”

“Your intellect, or lack thereof, pains me, Lestrade. Look here,” Sherlock points at a close-up shot of Mr Adams’ head, “striations just above the ears and along the hairline. Where might you see that? He wore a cap too tight — it was sentimental, he’d had it for years, likely during his service, so when he gained weight and couldn’t bear to go without it…”

“The cap squeezed his head.” Greg answers for him.

Sherlock slumps back in his seat. “Exactly. So, he died in the hat, but it was nowhere to be found. We find the hat, we find the murderer. Now where could it have gone?”

“John may be able to answer that question.” Lestrade says.

Sherlock groans like a frustrated teenager. “Good god! Where would he have put it? Did he eat it? Did it grow legs and run away?” John snorts, looking down at his crossed arms, willing his smirk to dissipate. “You checked John’s flat. No sign of it there, or in the hotel or any of his bags.”

“We found a bullet. Care to explain?”

John shrugs with one shoulder pointedly. “Souvenir. I’m sure you found my box of army stuff.”

“But no gun?”

“Did you find a gun? Where else would I put it?” Watson licks his lips, looking between the men. Sherlock is staring at him keenly.

“Well, let’s hope you’re right. We are searching your office at the surgery as we speak. We aren’t going to find anything, are we?”

“Except for piss pots and ear thermometer caps, no.”

“And you’re willing to do some DNA swabs?”

“Sure. Like I said, I did not murder Mr Adams.”

“You can understand our thoroughness in investigating this.” Lestrade says, regarding John with less scorn. Watson nods, a tight smile looking more threatening than polite. “I think we’re done for now, then. I’ll have someone come in to do the swabs.”

Sherlock demands to stay, and Lestrade allows it, as if they have a tacit shared agreement. John follows all instructions without fuss, allowing a forensic officer to poke and prod him. They collect two vials of blood and buccal swabs from inside his mouth. His nails are too short to trim, but they too are checked for any signs of damage to indicate a fight and scraped with a wooden toothpick to loosen any potential evidence from underneath. Sherlock watches the entire debacle, back pressed to the wall where John previously sat, face stormy at the way John is moved about, as though he is a marionette, almost growling when he is nearly toppled without his cane to support his weight. John does not complain, however, too exhausted to do much beyond comply, and because he cannot leave custody quite yet, he is given a cell to await further notice, one that Holmes is not permitted to enter. John’s clothes are removed with all personal items, and when stripped bare, only his cane allowed for mobility, he is forced to perform a cough test to ensure nothing has been concealed in his rectum.

He cannot deny he feels violated afterwards, shivering not just due to the cold as he is handed alternative clothing, grey jogging bottoms and a thin white t-shirt to wear during his stay. The cell is chilly when he arrives, bare beyond basic amenities. There is a short bench to act as a dual couch and bed, alongside a threadbare, starched blanket that will do little to warm him. He will have to request use of an external toilet and only for his exemplary behaviour is he permitted to keep his cane. Watson half collapses onto the bench, groaning. Stretching out his limbs does little to ease the throbbing ache in the left side of his body and without pain medications to alleviate his suffering John hunkers down, hoping he will find some rest.

Chapter 10: Chapter Seven

Chapter Text

John wakes to a sharp rapping upon the metal door of his cell. He groans, the measly blanket slipping from his lap as he staggers to his feet, stumbling and needing to reset before he can walk to the door. He is warned to stay back, and as he grasps his cane disorienting light floods into the tiny room. An officer, one he does not recognise, opens the door wide and beckons him out.

“You’re free to go.”

“What?” Watson’s brows cinch close together.

“I’ve been told you are no longer under arrest. Head to the desk to collect your things. Would you like to use the toilet before you go?”

“Er, sure.” John says, wincing. He is fully awake, a skill he picked up in the army, an alertness brought forth immediately to assess the situation. The bathroom is chilly and he shivers as he urinates, scratching at the back of his neck. At the sink he washes his face with water and hand soap, smoothing down his hair as best he can. It is short enough to tame with just the dampness of his hands, and when he is done the officer is waiting for him outside, leaning against the far wall. In silence John is lead to a tall desk partitioned by plexiglass, a bored looking man sat behind it.

“You have a nice day now,” the officer says, leaving John at the desk alone. Not entirely alone, however, as Watson feels a presence behind him.

The foreboding figure of Sherlock Holmes casts a shadow over John, who smiles tiredly. “Good morning.”

“Morning, Doctor. Pleasant night?” He replies, head co*cked amusedly.

“Oh, the best. Slept like a baby.” Sherlock chuckles, a low, deep sound rumbling from his chest. John’s smile becomes more genuine. “Why are you here?”

“I came to collect you.”

John looks about the small area like there is an audience waiting for him. “Do I need collecting? I thought I was a free man.”

“Don’t you want to know how you ended up a ‘free man’?” Sherlock raises his fingers as quotation marks.

“Mm, tempting. Starving, though, so food first.”

“One step ahead of you.” Sherlock produces a delightfully aromatic package from his pocket. “Bacon roll take your fancy?”

“Oh, you’re a star.” John groans none-too-cleanly, flashing an apologetic look at the unimpressed older man behind the desk. He is handed his personal belongings in an evidence bag, pleased to see his phone in there, alongside his duffel bag. John excuses himself to change into his own clothes, and after sneaking a camper’s shower using the hand soap as a substitute again he feels much fresher. Not much he can do about his breath, however.

Sherlock stands outside the door, rocking his weight between his heels. He is engrossed with something on his phone, but as soon as he sees John he pockets the device and steps forward with a smile. “You look much better. Shall we?”

John covers a snort with a cough — Sherlock is one step away from linking arms with him down an autumn path. He follows Holmes onto the street, taking a gulp of air before accepting his gifted breakfast, mouth watering. Despite the exhaustion of poor sleep and what he is certain was a mini nightmare, John feels all right. Shocked he was released so fast, he asks: “how did you get me out within a day? I was arrested.”

“The contrary evidence proved it could not have been you. I fast-tracked the DNA tests.”


Sherlock smiles smugly. “I did them.”

John blinks. “Is that allowed?”

“No, but I had the help of a registrar. In fact, you’ll probably meet her soon.”

“What business does a registrar have performing DNA tests?”

“She is competent, I assure you. Quite happy to help.” Sherlock says with an odd intonation, and John hums as he takes a bite of the breakfast roll. Flavour explodes on his tongue and he closes his eyes for a moment, basking in the tastiest food he has had in days. Not even the dryness in the floury barm can deter him from eating the entire thing.

“Sorry, where are we going?” John mumbles around a mouthful, pressing the back of his hand to his lips.

“Saint Bart’s. I want you to take a look at something.” Sherlock marches on, moving to hail a taxi. John finishes the last piece of his breakfast and hurries along after him, shoving the empty packet in his pocket.

It is only when they are seated in a black cab that he frowns, swivelling in his seat to face Sherlock. “Hang on. I’ve barely known you five minutes and you’ve got ‘something’ to show me?”

“Quite right.” Sherlock says, head ducked over his phone.

“But I don’t even know you!” John exclaims, drawing Sherlock’s eyes from the small screen of his smartphone.

“And yet here you are,” Sherlock replies with another smug smile. He returns his attention to his phone and they do not speak again until they pull up beside the hospital. Sherlock rummages in his belstaff before tutting.

“Here, let me.” John pays the fare and urges him to exit, only John thanking the driver. “I owe you more than that, so it’s the least I can do.”

“Nonsense,” Sherlock waves a dismissive hand, “you owe me nothing. Though I would like a favour from you.”

John’s gait stutters as his thigh spasms, and he covers a wince with the back of his left hand, body slanted against his cane. Sherlock slows his pace, making no mention of the injury, and points to a small coffee shop. “Go get yourself a drink. I know you’re gasping.” Watson needs not speak, for the inquisitive expression etched upon his features is telling enough. Sherlock nudges him toward the counter, speaking as they go. “You keep clearing your throat and that barm was quite dry. We aren’t in any rush.”

John orders a black coffee, needing the bitterness, dumping two sugars into it and stirring absently, all the while he has an almost tangible sense of eyes on him. He bins what he does not need and fishes through his pockets for the empty barm packet. In doing so he drops his keys and curses under his breath, taking a short breath to prepare for the painful descent to the floor. Sherlock swoops in before he can do so, easily grasping the keys and holding them out for John. When he takes them their fingers brush and Watson feels warmth flood his cheeks, clearing his throat and busying himself with a swig of his drink, ignoring the scald of too-hot liquid against his tongue.

“Ta,” he mutters, shifting the duffel bag strap on his shoulder. Sherlock nods, breaking the intense stare fixed on John’s face to twirl on his toe and lead the way once again. It is a welcome reprieve from those omniscient eyes.

They take a lift to the bowels of the hospital, the air of each level lower decreasing in temperature. The depths of St Bart’s are chilly but clean, barren of life, which John finds rather symbolic as Sherlock pushes his whole body into a door marked ‘Morgue’. There is a ringing silence except for their dual echoing footsteps and the sharp tapping of John’s cane. Sherlock knows the route well, ignoring unmarked doors until he enters a small unoccupied office space. It is someone’s, though, as John spots a framed photograph of a tabby that is embossed with glittering plastic hearts labelling the cat as Toby. There is an organised chaos to the desk — piles of teetering documents and folders threatening to collapse at any moment but clearly categorised. It is surely not Sherlock’s, but he is accustomed to the space as he confidently chooses a stack of manilla folders and rifles through them.

“Aha!” He cheers, dragging a folder out like he is playing a game of Jenga. John watches him open it, index fingers swiping down lines of text before he snaps it shut and exits the tiny area abruptly.

Watson stumbles to keep up, feeling too self-conscious in the silence to speak. The next door they enter squeaks loudly, hinges bemoaning their old age. Inside is a row of metal chambers, each labelled neatly on paper slotted into frames on the fronts. Sherlock goes straight to the end of the row and unlatches the door, which swings open with a shriek. He tugs at the handle inside to reveal a corpse. John checks over his shoulder, soldier instincts activating as he surveys beyond the door.

“It’s okay John. You’re not in any trouble.” Sherlock states, albeit there is no condescension in his tone. John puffs out a breath from his expanded cheeks.

“What are we doing here?” He hisses, shifting against his cane, “I shouldn’t be here!”

“Relax, Captain. Hardly your first body. This is what I wanted to show you.” Sherlock sets the slab on a trolley and after shutting the chamber door he pushes the corpse into an adjoining room. The wheels lock into the floor with a click, jostling the body. John does not approach, lingering in the doorway to watch Sherlock fling the privacy sheet away with a flourish. “Come closer, John. He’s not going to bite you.”

John does, and upon recognising the body, he stumbles back. “Christ, Sherlock!”

“I wanted to ask your opinion. As a doctor.”

“What happened to telling me how I got out?” John snips.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I did already. The DNA testing and the CCTV footage. Do keep up.”

“What could you possibly need from me that you couldn’t ask the registrar?” His voice is low and harsh, hissing venom from a snake’s jaws

“Well, you knew him. I wanted fresh insight.” When John does not advance, Sherlock moves to him instead. “Please?”

John drags his eyes away from the corpse to regard Holmes. His eyes are wider, bottom lip jutted petulantly in a moue that should not be so convincing. Swiping at his face, John takes a final glance behind him and sighs. “Fine! Fine.”

The expression brightens, reaching eyes that twinkle in the harsh florescent lights. He is even paler here, alabaster skin more porcelain, and John is sure he could map all of Sherlock’s veins. Watson shakes his head to rid of the bizarre thought and finally stands at the side of the body, duffel dropped just behind him. He has not seen Peter Adams since their argument, when he was still alive. Now he is stiller than John would have liked, thankful that his glassy eyes are mostly closed over. They are yet to be pinned shut, therefore there is a small white slit above the lower lashes, but John’s attention is directed to the bruising around his temple.

“Run me through what you see.” Sherlock passes him a pair of nitrile gloves.

“Subcutaneous contusions but no petechiae. Suggests he hit his head but was not choked,” John slips easily into doctor mode, cane leaning against the table as he uses both hands to gently manipulate his dead neighbour’s head. He tries not to think too hard about that fact. “Further bruising around his arms. I would say drug use, but-”

John ducks in so that he is centimetres away to peer closely at the median cubital vein, “but the basilic veins show no pinpricks. He must have grappled with the assailant.”

Good, very good. Keep going.” Sherlock encourages, his voice rich with excitement. John clears his throat into his shoulder, eyes flickering up to capture unbridled glee on Holmes’ face before he moves further down the body.

He checks the fingertips, remarking whitlows and striations there that are inconclusive to pre-mortem trauma. The abdomen has many more bruises that bloom like eddying ink in water. “Interesting.”

Sherlock moves to his side, leaning over his shoulder, breath audible. “Do tell.”

“Notice the pattern? The bruises are in bursts, almost, like he was kicked or kneed in the stomach. I’d say kneed, and then…”

“Then?” Sherlock urges.

“Does that look like a boot to you?”

“Vaguely. What are you thinking?”

“He was pinned to the floor by a boot to the stomach. He must’ve been dazed for that to be enough to stop him. So this was first,” John gestures to the nebula of bruises around the torso, “and he hit his head on the way down. You said something about a mug?”


John straightens. “Was I right?”

Sherlock hums. “Close. There was a scuffle, he was apprehended from behind, but he fought back, managing to pull himself free. He staggered, fell into the opposite countertop then he was kicked several times and thrown into the living room, where he collided with the desk. His head was hit with a hefty object from behind; likely the mug as mentioned, he went down, fell unconscious and succumbed to his injuries.”

“What was the cause of death?” Sherlock grimaces, rounding John until he is at the head. He rolls it off the headstand to reveal a congealed dent in the seam of the parietal and occipital plates. “Closed cranial fracture, subdural haemorrhage.”

“Diffuse brain injury?” Sherlock asks.

“Well, that’ll certainly do it.”

“The location of the injury suggests he was turning his head as it happened,” Sherlock says.

John hums, taking an automatic step back. Holmes readjusts the head, causing the jaw to slacken due to secondary flaccidity. John stares at the mouth and frowns. “Wait, stop!”

“What?” Sherlock halts, the privacy sheet dangling from his fingers. John is glad he did not remove his gloves as he gently peels back the top lip to inspect the teeth. “What is it, John?”

“His tooth.” John points to the sizeable gap. “It’s gone.”

“Astute observation.” Sherlock says sardonically.

John glares at him. “He had one. A gold replacement.”

Oh.” There is more to that word than John understands. Instead he releases the lip to return to its original form like a sponge and uses his pinkie finger to indicate his following deductions.

“Where’s the bruising around the face? The tissue trauma? There’s no swelling; it’d still be visible.” John says.

“Did he have the tooth before he died?” Sherlock is looking at him, his full focus a laser point on John’s face.

John nods firmly. “Yes. I’m sure of it.”

“So what are you saying?”

“There is no evidence of fresh trauma or healing. No sign of blood or platelets. Would it have been cleaned?”

“Swabbed, perhaps, but otherwise left alone. The inquiry is not yet concluded.” Sherlock taps the file. John does not consider the implications of him toying with a body still being processed, as he is too focused on the outlier.

“Then I’m saying the tooth was removed post-mortem.”

“Oh, this is getting good,” Sherlock says in a groaning tone that has John’s head snapping up, “that experiment I did when we first met, do you remember it?”

John’s eyes widen in realisation. “Postmortem bruising.”

“Exactly. I experimented with various intensities of trauma and concluded that discolouration, simulating contusions, develops no longer than fifteen minutes after death, due to pallor and liver mortis. I also found only the most intense trauma is able to form bruising so close to death.”

“It wouldn’t develop properly,” John adds, “it takes ten to twelve hours for bruises to properly form under the skin.”

“He wasn’t hit in the face hard enough to knock out a tooth, otherwise there’d be similar bruise patterns. So we can rule out accidental ingestion. There was no more than fifty minutes between the assailant entering his flat and his murder. Well, that’s what I thought. Less than that now, because of the tooth.”


“He needed time to enter, kill him and, as we now know, remove the tooth postmortem. Pallor mortis occurs between fifteen and twenty minutes, as you know. So he had to do all that before somebody was alerted to the incident. If we are right in assuming this case and your stalker are related, that means he had to finish roughly fifteen minutes before you returned from your walk so that he could be found, reported and for the police to arrive.”

“How do you know it’s a man?”


“You keep saying ‘he’,” John remarks.

Sherlock points to the boot-shaped bruises. “Look at the foot span. Clearly a man’s size.”

“Could be a woman with big feet.” John argues with a shrug of his good shoulder.

Sherlock scowls at him. “You’re a doctor, John. You know the expression: you hear hooves in the corridor-”

“Think horses, not zebras, right. Still, that isn’t enough is it? Did they confirm the weapon?”

“His mug, remember? There were blood splatters on the mug, and the handle had come clean off, but the mug itself was smashed from colliding with his head. The suspect would’ve needed leverage, agility, and judging by the angle, he had height. Strength, too, to subdue him before his untimely demise.”

“His mug,” John squawks out unexpected laughter, “what a mug.” The laughter dies in his throat and he fixes Sherlock with wide eyes. “Oh god, sorry. That was quite unprofessional.”

“It was a filthy mug too. He was probably one of those people who rinses tea out with cold water and deems it clean. He was not the most hygienic of men.” Sherlock’s comment is partnered with an impish smirk despite the crinkle of disgust around his nose.

“Or the nicest,” John agrees, “a discriminatory man indeed. Inflamed, easily offended. Made my life hell. Not enough to murder, mind.”

As he muses aloud, finding it odd to air out the man’s proverbial dirty laundry in his deathly presence, John backs away even further, a good two paces, allowing Sherlock to cover his corpse and unlock the gurney from the floor. He follows along as Sherlock slots Peter Adams back into his neatly labelled chamber, slamming the door with a little extra emphasis than necessary. “Good riddance, I say.”

They exit the hospital in mutual silence, stepping out into the wan sunlight that agitates John’s sensitive corneas. He searches for the taxi bay, knowing he will have to return to his godforsaken building and face his other neighbours, and sighs. Sherlock turns to him once he has hailed a taxi, but just before they get in, he asks: “dinner?”

John smiles. “Starving.”


The Italian restaurant Sherlock brings them to is small but homely. Busy despite the daytime hour, chatter floating about the space pleasantly. It is nice, John decides, slotting into a booth at the front window as gestured by Sherlock. They sit almost adjacent, Sherlock at his side but facing the front door, and almost immediately a portly gentleman attends to them.

“Sherlock!” He caws, extending the vowels. They shake hands rather aggressively, John watching on, amused. “Anything on the menu, whatever you want, free.” John smiles politely as he is handed a menu, the other left on the table when Sherlock does not take his. “On the house, for you and your date.”

“What’re you fancying?” Sherlock asks John.

“I’m not his date,” John says to the waiter.

The man claps a hand upon Sherlock’s shoulder. “This man got me off a murder charge.”

John stares at Sherlock, whose eyes are scanning the menu, but takes Angelo’s offered hand to shake it. Sherlock looks up at their hands then at John. “Three years ago I successfully proved to Lestrade at the time of a particularly vicious triple murder that Angelo was in a completely different part of town, house-breaking.”

Angelo beams, “he cleared my name!”

“I cleared it a bit.” Sherlock frowns incredulously.

Angelo pays him no heed, grinning. “If it wasn’t for this man, I’d have gone to prison.”

Sherlock’s fingers drum against the menu mutely. “You did go to prison.”

Angelo ignores him and winks at John. “I’ll get a candle for the table. It’s more romantic.”

John grumbles indignantly, shouting after him: “I’m not his date!”

Sherlock stifles a smile and looks to John, who matches the gaze with his own limpid eyes. “I come here often. A lifetime of free food has its benefits.”

Angelo returns with a tealight inside a rounded glass jar, setting it down between them on the tabletop, giving John a thumbs-up. He leaves just as quickly. John sighs again, sinking into the cushioned seat. He could fall asleep here, and doubts his energy will last longer than what is necessary to get home once he has eaten, but he is still on high alert. “So what do you actually do?”

“I’m a Consulting Detective.” John nods but is no longer looking at him, scanning the other tables.

After sweeping the restaurant, he looks back, realising what Sherlock has said. “A… that’s not a real job.”

“I know. I invented it.” Sherlock says smugly as he stops drumming his fingers. He maintains a wan smile and leans in close to reassure John in hushed tones, “it’s all right. You’re perfectly safe here.”

Watson blinks, then concedes. “Sorry, just a bit on-edge. I always feel like I’m being watched.”

“You are,” John’s eyes flicker around the restaurant, alarmed. “I’m watching you.”

He relaxes, knocking at Sherlock’s arm. “Ha-ha. Prick.” Sherlock grins, eyes twinkling. They are again interrupted by Angelo, who protests their choice of simply water, reminding them that he is paying for their meals, and takes their orders, promising to fast-track them. When he is gone John stretches, grimacing as his shoulder twinges. “So. Outside of being a Consulting Detective, what do you do?”

“Nothing.” Sherlock answers plainly.

“Nothing? You don’t have any hobbies, friends? Acquaintances? Girlfriend, boyfriend?”

“Dull. I don’t need friends.” Sherlock’s forehead pleats as his eyebrows draw close to his nose.

“So you don’t have a girlfriend then?” John asks, licking his dry bottom lip as Sherlock stares out of the window. The sunlight filtering through the glass compliments his profile, hair glowing auburn, pale skin striking compared to his sparse but dark moles.

Sherlock shakes his head, eyes flickering around the street beyond the pane. “Girlfriend? No, not really my area.”

John hums, taking a sip of water. It is astoundingly refreshing and he has to remind himself it is not polite to chug a glass in public. “Oh,” he says nonchalantly, “d’you have a boyfriend?”

Sherlock turns to him rapidly. John backpedals with raised, placating palms. “Which is fine, by the way. Not like I’m going to judge.”

“I know it’s fine.”

John’s small smile wavers. “So you’ve got a boyfriend then?”

“No.” Sherlock’s expression is unreadable.

“Right. Okay. You’re unattached, just like me.” John looks around the restaurant as though the décor has been completely altered since he last looked up ten seconds ago. “Fine. Good.”

Sherlock watches Watson intently as he clears his throat and twiddles with the handle of his cane. Holmes’ expression morphs into a dazed surprise. “John, erm, I think you should know I consider myself married to my work, and while I’m flattered by your interest, I’m really not looking for any-”

John gulps. “No! No, I’m not asking, no. Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, I’m not either.”

An unwavering pair of eyes lay on him, and John feels like he is being stripped bare, but he does not look away. Sherlock nods to himself, once, a minute move John would not have caught if he was not staring so hard at him. “What about you then?”

John snorts through his nose. “Ha, no. Can’t you read it in my sleeve or something?”

“I’m not omniscient, John. But that reaction suggests a poor experience with a relationship.”

“Recently broke-up, actually. Things don’t seem to be going great for me, do they?” He laughs self-deprecatingly; it dies down when Sherlock does not copy him and he sighs again. He looks down at the table, and in his periphery spots Sherlock rubbing the sides of his index and middle fingers against his thumb.

“What happened?” Sherlock’s sincerity does not speak of meddling, and John feels it is safe to talk to him. He is surprised Sherlock does not already know if he is ‘consulting’ with the police, but it would be nice to tell it from his perspective.

“Basically, I came home from war. There was a man in the next bedsit provided to me by the army. He was nice. Sweet. Helped me out but wasn’t patronising about it. He got me back on my feet and when I got a job at the surgery and I moved to where I’m living now, we got together, it was one of those whirlwind romances. But it got a bit controlling, and he became possessive. I talked to my therapist about him and she mentioned he wasn’t a healthy partner and I should focus on myself first. I didn’t agree until the jealousy started — he kept blowing up my phone, showing up at my door begging to get back together. That was one of the reasons Peter Adams hate-”

John pales. Sherlock peers at him, barely acknowledging Angelo when he sets down their food. “John?”

“N-nothing. It’s fine.” John clears his throat and shakes his head to physically banish the train of thought from his mind. He picks up his fork and jabs at his risotto.

“Can I ask about your injury?” Sherlock takes a sweeping bite of his fettuccine. John nods mutely. “What exactly happened?”

“I got shot. Left scapula exploded, basically,” John would normally mind his words around the dinner table but he remembers they have come directly from examining a corpse, “I lost a lot of blood. Fell pretty hard, too; tore my quad and sprained my left ACL.”

“Oh, so it wasn’t entirely psychosomatic?” Sherlock’s thick brows raise in earnest surprise.

“They fixed it, so it shouldn’t bother me anymore. I get phantom pains, I suppose. My therapist says it’s PTSD, hence the hand tremor.”

“And what do you believe?"

“I’m inclined to believe my therapist.” John snaps back, shoving a forkful of rice into his mouth.

Sherlock takes another bite of his own food, chewing pensively for a moment before he swallows. “You’ve been under remarkable stress all weekend. In fact, the past week. Today you witnessed and touched the body of your deceased neighbour in an unfamiliar environment, yet not once has your hand trembled. It’s not PTSD, John.”

“You’ve been watching?”

“I told you. Anybody can watch, but few observe.” John’s eyes crease around the corners, a hint of a smile visible if one is to look closely, and Sherlock is staring right at him. “Don’t worry John, we’ll get this all sorted out.”

“Why are you doing this?” John waves his arm between them. “Being nice, sorting the case out? I can’t pay you, you know.”

“You heard. I got Angelo… somewhat free. It’s my job. I’m a detective. I detect. Solve crimes. And yours happens to be the most interesting one in my caseload.” Sherlock shrugs. “Tell me about your brother’s alcohol problems.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” John says around his fork, pulling it back slightly to speak.

“Lestrade mentioned it during your interrogation. I’m just curious.” Holmes does not look at him, instead spinning fettuccine around the prongs of his fork without lifting it to his mouth. He looks chagrined.

John shrugs his right shoulder, tucking his left hand beneath the table to clench against an incoming tremor. He is rather surprised at how personal the questions are despite them barely knowing each other, but he likes Sherlock, has a bizarre sort of trust for the man, and for everything he has done John is happy to maintain his innocence and answer any questions that might help find his stalker-intruder. “Harry’s got a drinking problem — gets blackout drunk a lot. She’s an angry drunk, we- er, we call it the Watson Rage, in my family. Stupid joke. Most of the time she doesn’t even remember the night before and it’s infuriating to watch her spiral.”


“Harry, short for Harriet.”

“Gah, there’s always something!” Sherlock shakes his head, muttering to himself: “should’ve known it was a sister.”

“When we first met, you mentioned her. Didn’t you?”

In unison, they quote: ‘I know you’ve got a brother who’s worried about you.’

John nods emphatically. “Yeah! How did you know about her alcoholism?”

“I observed.” Sherlock’s grin is shark-like, toothy and glinting over the flickering candle. “Your phone.”

John pulls it from his pocket and inspects it, but even flipping it over does not reveal her partiality to alcohol. “Go on, I’m stumped.”

Sherlock nods towards the phone, his hand held out, and John passes it to him. “The scuffs. There are tiny striations around the charger port, which could have been caused by a number of factors, but there are scratch marks on the lower portion of the phone screen too, suggesting shaky hands. Now it could be your doing due to the tremors, but there are other marks around the entire phone, and this phone has sentimental value to you, you’ve looked after it. There’s a phone case and screen protector on it now, but you can see the previous damage underneath. This is a new model, expensive, but you have no use for any of the features; you don’t even know how to fix the font size, even though you have to squint to read texts. Ergo, this phone was gifted to you. Now, why would a doctor who is earning decent money choose to keep a hand-me-down? Sentiment. It was given to you when you first came home from the war and you don’t care enough for technology to mind the damage.

“There’s more. There are longer marks and scratches, so the previous owner mixed the phone among keys and coins and such; they didn’t care for it anymore. Contextually I am supported in that theory as I know you were gifted it, and I can further prove it by the inscription on the back. Damaged, granted, but legible. ‘To Harry, from Clara xxx’; as I said before, this phone is a new model, only six months old. The kisses lead to romantic attachment, but now the phone is in your hands. If Clara had left Harry, she would’ve kept it, people do, sentiment, as I mentioned. Like how you’re keeping your sister’s scratched-up phone even though you barely use it or any of the features. So, to summarise: Harry left Clara. Why? Perhaps the drinking stuff, Clara didn’t approve, maybe the ASBOs Lestrade mentioned, and she couldn’t handle the judgment anymore. Or perhaps it was the Watson Rage. Maybe all of the above. It can tell a lot about a person; their phone, or in this case, multiple people.” Sherlock finally stops for breath, his chest heaving slightly behind his suit jacket.

John is stunned into silence. Then he laughs, and Sherlock frowns, but he shakes his head and waves his hand to explain he is not mocking him. Gasping for air, he wipes mirthful tears from his eyes. “That was… amazing. I mean you’re right, I’m sh*te at tech and my sister’s an alcoholic and she left Clara and christ. You are something else, Sherlock Holmes. Extraordinary, quite extraordinary.”

Sherlock smiles. “You’re not so bad yourself.”


John smiles in the taxi on the way home, separate from Sherlock as they live in opposite directions. Staring down at his phone he can now see the little details and how someone could glean all that information without really knowing who he is. He wonders how Sherlock sees the world, and if it is constant; also, alternatively, how overwhelming it must be. He thinks, if it is not too untoward, he would like to befriend Sherlock. With his arrest charges dropped, a wonderfully full stomach, good company for the day and the premise of sleep ahead, John finds himself more relaxed than he has been in weeks. Sherlock is on his case. He has not been forgotten. There are people looking into the strange happenings. Most importantly, he is not alone.

Not even the sight of his building is enough to quell the pleasant flutter in his stomach, and John tips the driver as he exits the cab. The lift is, unsurprisingly, still broken, but he takes the stairs with more energy he thinks he has ever had. He barely even leans on his cane as he approaches his door, pointedly avoiding looking at Peter Adams’ former flat. Nobody bothers him and he is double pleased to find his poky flat identical to how it was left days prior. Dumping his duffel bag at the door where he will eventually sort and wash his clothes, John makes a beeline for the kitchen, pleased to find milk still within a suitable consumable date. With tea brewing he does a once-over of the flat to confirm there has been no further tampering, and there has not, leaning into the theory that the murder and his intruder are connected. Only an over-confident criminal would murder their beloved’s neighbour and return to break into their empty flat. Beloved. John ponders the odd wording his mind has conjured and again he recalls his experiences with his ex.

He had not wanted to alert Sherlock to his assumption as it may be broadly wrong, albeit he cannot help but ponder if his ex has something to do with all this. John blocked his number, so perhaps he has found another way to garner his attention. With a ragged sigh, John strips down to his underwear and climbs into bed with his mug and laptop. There is little he can do about his missing gun — he cannot report it as he obtained it under less-than-legal means, but he is equally concerned it will be traced back to him if found.

“Buggering f*ck!” He says to nobody. Taking a calming, deep breath, John releases the pent-up frustration he has subdued into furiously clacking at his keyboard. Ella wanted him to write a blog, and if this is not a worthy entry, John does not know what is.

When he has finished typing, fingers aching, John at last succumbs to his fatigue. Draining his mug to the dregs, he sets it aside and settles into his pillow on his right side. Within minutes he is asleep, the fastest he has managed to do so since deployment. However, in his haste to get some well-earned rest, John forgets check his security measures, such as the batteries in his motion-activated lights, nor does he remember to reapply the bells on strings.

Chapter 11: Chapter Eight

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (8)

John wakes with vim, snapping alert as he is wont to do since his days in the army. His shoulder, which always bothers him at the first call of consciousness, provides only a sluggish hum of discomfort, and his leg does not hurt at all. Watson is not one to toss aside such an achievement and gets up to have an experimental pace, jovial and prepared to tackle the world. He whistles as he enters the bathroom to void his bladder, unaware of the dead battery in the motion-capture light as it does not activate during the day. The mirror provides an image of a brighter, more optimistic man than he has seen in weeks, and John, in a giddy, impish mood, smiles at himself then giggles over the silliness. No cane is necessary to transport him to the kitchen where he makes a cup of tea, leaving the milk on the countertop in case he fancies another. With a lack of food in, the bread sporting some funky lime-green growths, John fishes out a forgotten packet of porridge from the back of a cupboard. Not his preference but decently filling in a pinch. He adds milk and pops it into the microwave, and whilst it cooks he scoffs at the front of the box depicting a uniformly heated, steaming bowl filled with fruits and a perfect dollop of yoghurt. He doubts anyone ever manages to get their breakfast to look like that, swigging a mouthful of milk right from the carton.

The porridge, despite being stirred, is too hot to be immediately edible, so John utilises the spare time he has to unpack his duffel. The laptop is set in the desk drawer, clothes separated in preparation for the laundrette downstairs. Toiletries are removed from his dopp kit and slipped into their rightful places and John notes to shave before he heads to work. He has been told he looks haggard when he does not shave, and that a clean face makes him more approachable, according to his sister. She may be many choice things, but she is always honest. John slurps messily at his breakfast, leant over the counter like a troll beneath a bridge, for there is nobody there to judge him, and if his stalker is watching, he is sure this will put them off. A tuneless hum carries about the flat, and for the first time John is not concerned about the noise he makes against the shared wall with his deceased neighbour. In fact, he feels nothing about the matter: not sadness nor glee. Just simple, blessed nothing.

There is a brief flash of panic upon spotting the stringed bell hanging limp from only one nail at the front door, but then he remembers removing it before leaving for the hotel, and curses his lack of intuition when going to bed. Next time he shall not be so careless, he thinks as he kneels and reties the string taut to the other nail. The bell chitters at him when he flicks it, before he gets back to his feet and exits his flat for work. Watson’s cheery mood continues into his commute to the surgery, even when he realises belatedly that he was never given his medical bag back, instead chatting away to the taxi driver as though he has not spent the weekend in custody. It is like he is a free man in more than one way, every breath fresher than the last, as he reminds himself with startling clarity he had not performed his nightly security ritual, and yet, here he is: safe and well.

There were no signs of his intruder, who is surely aware of his whereabouts. John tips the driver and almost skips into work, his cane merely an appearance at his side, whilst his gait has automatically corrected now that he is not in pain. He nods his head at the reception desk but is met with a much colder greeting. The younger girl, Emily, cannot meet his gaze, keeping her eyes speciously fixed on the computer monitor, whilst the older woman sneers at him. He blinks, wavering for a moment, before continuing to his office. On the way he crosses paths with a nurse practitioner and a fellow doctor who once offered him a lift home from the pub, both of which he has been friendly with before, and both of which glare at him.

John places his hand on the doorknob of his office door when he hears his name being called. He jolts and looks to the source, his boss, Hannah Appleton. One manicured hand beckons him towards her office, a thin smile far from reassuring. He adjusts his stance and moves to her, the cane utilised more heavily now. A polite smile is not matched, and John sits in a cushioned chair as gestured. Hannah is grimacing, a poor attempt at a smile, perhaps, John is not sure, except she is having obvious difficulty looking at him.

“So, how was your weekend?” She asks.

“My… weekend?” John’s face crinkles.

“Yes. You er…” Hannah sighs, scrubbing at her face and rubbing at her under-eyes, glasses skewed in the process. She straightens them and manages to glance into his eyes, which are dark, the colour unidentifiable. “Look, I’m just going to cut right to the chase.”


“Have you seen the news?” Appleton tilts her head.

John shakes his head, looking down at the desk where a folded newspaper lies. “Not in a few days, no. Why?”

“You’re on the news, Doctor Watson,” she uses his formal title rather than his forename as she usually does. Distancing herself from him already. He swallows thickly, anxiety making his stomach feel as though it is plummeting. “They said you’re a suspect in a murder case.”

“What?” Hannah passes him the newspaper and he snatches it, ferociously scanning the article. “I was a suspect, yes, because he was my next-door neighbour! I was cleared!”

“I am not theorising on your innocence, Doctor, but with all the bad press; we’ve had reporters at our door this morning! Your patients have cancelled or asked for another doctor. John, I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go.” John’s hearing tunnels, and he cannot rip his eyes away from the poorly-captured photo of him as he exited the station with Sherlock’s coat visible at his side. Hannah is still rambling: “I hate to do it, you’ve been a star doctor here and your work ethic is fantastic, but you being here hinders the safety of our patients and staff. You can work the rest of the day and we’ll pay you to the end of the month as a thanks to all your efforts, but I’m sorry John, we can’t keep you.”

John looks up then, flushed. “You’re serious?”


He stands, slamming the newspaper down. “I am not a murderer, Miss Appleton. I was cleared. But I understand. I’m not staying if I’m going to be treated as though I am guilty. Goodbye.”

It is far from the impassioned speech he wanted to perform, only because he knows Hannah is not the sole decision maker, so he drops his identification lanyard on her desk and redirects his ire into a steady march his old Commanding Officer would have lauded. If people are staring at his noisy departure, he is not aware, his sole intention to get out of there as fast as he can. On the street he collapses against a nearby wall, breath ragged despite the lack of physical exertion, and he has to take a moment to forcibly wrest his respiratory system under control. The day has turned bleak, and now he sees the world in a much different light. It is remarkable how the world one interacts with can change depending on the mood of the observer. This morning he saw the grey skies for their brightness that helped illuminate his kitchen in lieu of artificial lights. Scents of petrol and pollution were a trail of hundreds of stories as each person around him experienced the day from a different perspective. Now, however, he sees the grey skies as miserable and a promise of rain, and the smells disgusting, clinging to his skin and his clothes, fogging the air with their parasitic relentlessness.

He has few friends to trust with such sensitive information, and lacking further ideas on what to do with his day, he decides to pay one of them a visit.


“You’re serious? That’s awful, mate.” Mike Stamford weaves around lab benches, placing down booklets at every seat. John ghosts him two paces behind, absently straightening the papers along the way. Some of the gripping tension is dissipating now, though he is sure if he were a cartoon character the ugly emotions would be rippling from him in crimson fumes like hell-smoke.

“I don’t even wanna go home. I was fine last night but now having to live next to where he died? I don’t think I can do it. Do I find a new job first and then move, or just throw it all to the wall and move anyway?” John stops to rub at his neck. “f*ck.”

“It’ll be all right John. You’re welcome to stay with me and the missus for a while to get back on your feet.”

“What, you don’t mind housing a suspected murder?” John sneers self-deprecatingly.

“You were cleared. By Sherlock Holmes, no less. I trust his judgement.” Mike shrugs, and when he breezes past he pats John’s shoulder. “Have a think about it.”

John’s smile wavers, his eyes drooping like a basset hound. It is then that Mike makes a strange noise and he looks up between hooded lids. “I just remembered. Sherlock’s looking for a flatmate, y’know. Why don’t you ask him about it?”

“I don’t have his contact details. Well, I suppose I could use his website.”

“He’s here, I think. I’ve got a lesson in ten minutes, can you remember how to get to the morgue?”


“Ah, John, just the man I wanted to see. I have your medical bag here. The police yet again prove their incompetence. They forgot to give it to you.” Watson has barely stepped through the door, finding Sherlock’s grin equally eerie and pleasant in spite of his rubbish day. “What brings you here?”

“Well,” John puffs his cheeks out, shaking his head as repeating it aloud solidifies the news, “long story short, I got fired.”

Sherlock’s frown darkens his entire face. “Fired? Whatever for? You’re a stellar doctor.”

“Er, thanks. Because of the Adams murder. Apparently my face is plastered all over the news as top suspect.”

“The media are vultures. Do try to ignore it.” Holmes spits.

“I can’t exactly ignore it when I’ve lost my job over it. They were staring at me like I was guilty!” Watson’s voice raises, booming across the spacious room and reverberating off the windows panes lining one wall.

“Why do their opinions matter to you?” John has no answer, mouth working silently, and Sherlock tilts his head, walking towards him after setting down a tool. “Stop worrying, John. Also, you didn’t answer my question. Why are you here?”

“For company. Mike’s busy though, he said to come find you.”

“And here I am.” Sherlock opens his arms outwards, wearing a cheeky smile. His coat and suit jacket are gone, the sleeves of his button-up rolled just beyond his elbows, hands protected by blue nitrile gloves.

“Here you are.” John mirrors his smile then looks across to the metal slab Sherlock was working on. “What’s all this then?”

“Ah, come see!” Sherlock is much too gleeful to show him the gaping mouth of a corpse. Beside him is a medical tray on wheels piled with a plethora of tools both medical and household items. Sherlock waves his hand towards them, “I’m testing the efficiency of various items in removing teeth with minimal trauma. Perhaps it shall provide an answer to this piece of the puzzle.”

“Right. Any luck so far?”

“Some interesting finds. I’d have to repeat the experiment to collect more accurate data. You said it was a gold tooth yes?”

“Er, yeah.” John replies dumbly.

Sherlock sighs. “Drat. I’ll ask Molly to keep an eye out for some. We checked the stomach contents and confirmed he did not swallow his own tooth. So where did it go?”

John thinks it a rhetorical question until the silence drags on and he looks up to Sherlock’s eyes boring into his. Palms raised defensively, he blurts: “don’t ask me, you’re the detective.”

“And I shall endeavour to detect. So, was it a new flat you were asking about?” Watson startles as though he has been electrocuted, and Sherlock chuckles at the stricken expression marring his features. “You just lost your job, you already expressed a dislike for your current accommodations, and just this morning I told Mike I was searching for a flatmate. Now you’re here, clearly nervous. Am I correct?”


“Of course I’m correct. There’s a lovely little place in central London. 221B Baker Street. Let me just tidy this up and we’ll head on over.”


Sherlock raps the brass knocker on the front of the Victorian-esque door and tugs his leather gloves off, taking two steps back and smiling at John. Watson whistles lowly. “Well, this is a prime spot. Must be expensive.”

Sherlock gesticulates, “oh, Mrs Hudson, the landlady, is giving me a special deal. She owes me a favour; a few years back, her husband got himself sentenced to death in Florida. I was able to help out.”

John’s expression morphs. “Sorry — you stopped her husband being executed?”

Sherlock’s smile contorts, eyes glistening. “Oh no. I ensured it.” John gawks at him, not matching the enthusiasm, and Holmes deflates diminutively.

He seems nervous, watching John stand at parade rest, but he brightens when the door opens to reveal an older woman. “Oh Sherlock, hello!” She greets pleasantly, arms out for a hug. He swoops in, embracing her briefly before pulling back to reveal John.

“This is Doctor John Watson.”

“Lovely to meet you, Doctor. Come in, come in!” She ushers them inside, grinning, and points them to a set of stairs several paces inside.

They go up, ignoring the second flight of stairs towards the loft space, and have a choice of two doors to enter. Sherlock selects the one opposite the stairs, stepping into a living room. John surveys the original Victorian fireplace, two armchairs adjacent: one an upholstered wingback with a balmoral check blanket thrown over the back, the other a leather Le Corbusier, positioned facing one another atop an area rug. To the right is a small desk piled high with boxes and papers, and parallel to the fireplace, against the far wall, is an overstuffed albeit battered leather couch perched behind a coffee table. That too is barely visible for all the boxes.

John nods approvingly, “well, this could be very nice. Very nice indeed.”

Sherlock looks around the room happily. “So I went straight ahead and moved in.”

Simultaneously, John says: “soon as we get all this rubbish cleaned out… oh.” He clears his throat, hyper-aware of Mrs Hudson’s eyes on him. “So this is all…”

“Well, obviously I can, erm, straighten things up a bit.” Sherlock dashes forward to throw a couple of the strewn folders on the desk into one of the boxes, making a half-hearted attempt to clear the surfaces. He dumps the box on the floor to reveal a pile of unopened mail that he takes to the mantel and stabs with a knife.

John, slightly horrified, averts his eyes and instead scans the mantel. He raises his cane to point, “That’s a skull. A real skull.”

One corner of Sherlock’s mouth flicks upwards. “Old friend of mine. When I say ‘friend’…”

Mrs Hudson tuts and surges for an abandoned mug of tea. She holds it almost at arm’s length and moves towards the kitchen. That too, John finds, is littered with detritus. “What do you think then, Doctor Watson? There’s another bedroom upstairs if you’ll be needing two bedrooms.”

John looks between her, Sherlock and the staircase leading to the loft space, wearing a bemused frown. “Of course we’ll be needing two.”

She waves her hand about, “oh, don’t worry, there’s all sorts ‘round here,” her voice drops conspiratorially, hand cupped over her mouth. “Mrs Turner next door’s got married ones.”

Watson’s eyes widen slightly, and he looks towards Sherlock as if to share his incredulity, but it appears Holmes is oblivious to the insinuation, rather more pleased that John approves of the rooms. Mrs Hudson tuts, scanning the kitchenette like it is the first time she is seeing the state of it. “Oh Sherlock, the mess you’ve made! This is no good first impression for the lovely doctor.”

“Sorry,” Sherlock says, genuinely chastised. “So, John. What do you think?”

“I like it. A lot. I’ll have to find a way to move my stuff, if you’re okay with it, Mrs Hudson?” John sets down his medical satchel against the wingback armchair. It calls to him, maroon fabric with grey ornate patterns, overstuffed and homely in a way only secondhand furniture can be.

“Oh this is wonderful news! Sherlock, do tidy this mess up. Doctor, can I get you anything? Tea?”

“Please, just John is fine. As for the tea-”

“I’ll help you move, John. No time for beverages, Mrs Hudson, we must move the lovely doctor out by nightfall.” Sherlock tugs at John’s arm, the most contact they have had yet, and leads him down the stairs. “Be back in a few hours!”

John mumbles a protest but is swiftly nudged into the street, where Sherlock hails a cab with some sort of magical summoning. They slip into the vehicle, John reciting his address, unable to process the past hour. Sherlock’s leg bounces, and he rubs his first two fingers against his thumb, hand pressed to his lips. John turns to him and asks: “so how does this deduction thing work?”

Sherlock is all too happy to tell. One must have a honed sense of observation to advance towards deductions. It is a timeline of observation to assumption to evidence and finally deduction, all of which must be practiced. It involves all senses, Holmes explains — not simply keen eyes. One must understand causation from action and the results that can indicate a wealth of information. For example, a person who has travelled will smell of the transport they used, and may bear smudges on their clothing from public seating or a food eaten on their journey, such as sauce stains. Scuffs on the shoes can tell Sherlock where they have been, as well as the state of their clothes — wet if rained or snowed on, windswept hair the result of gusts, sweat from warmth or close proximity to other passengers. These observations alone cannot provide solid answers, but together they paint a picture, and with further context Sherlock can make deductions, all of which he is able to provide in a matter of seconds.

“I have a mind palace,” he explains.

“A mind palace?” John parrots, incredulous.

“Indeed. We’re here. Lead the way, John.” They take the stairs side-by-side, their shoes clacking loudly up each step. The lift has still not been repaired.

As Watson fumbles with his key in the door, feeling a thrill as it remains locked as it was this morning, the opposite flat door opens. “Oh, John.”

“Hello Mrs Taylor. How are you doing?” The tone is friendly and does not belie his annoyance that they have been disturbed, but Sherlock whirls around to regard her with beady eyes.

“Okay, I guess. You’ve been all over the news. They said you did it!” She gasps out breathlessly.

“John was cleared as a suspect. The investigation is ongoing.” Sherlock snips at her, face hardened. John clears his throat, plastering a placating smile on his face.

“Don’t worry, Mrs Taylor, I’ll be out of your hair by tonight.”

“You’re moving?” Her voice pitches upwards in surprise.

“I am. I wish you the best, Mrs Taylor. Thank you for your kindness. I hope the next neighbours give you less trouble.” With that John steps into his entryway, Sherlock so close his breath tickles the clipped hairs at the rear of Watson’s skull.

Watson’s flat is a dichotomy to the Baker Street rooms: small, barren. Where his looks like he has moved in today, 221B is exploding with life, the history of Sherlock Holmes spilling over boxes and buried in mountains of files and stabbed beneath a knife on the mantel. The sparsity of this flat John had not minded until his first ever proper guest, and he shuffles in the open space between his bedroom and the kitchen self-consciously. “I’m aware it’s not much.”

“Easier to pack up. You sort the bedroom, I’ll tackle the kitchen.” They get to work — John filling flat-packed boxes he finds under the bed from when he first moved in full of everything he owns from the bedroom, bathroom and desk. He collects his army box and gathers the spare boxes to give to Sherlock in the kitchen. “Thanks. We’ll keep what’s good and bin the rest. We’ll need to do a food shop anyway.”


They take another cab back to Baker Street, having loaded the boot with all of John’s measly items. It is a welcome relief to leave that building behind, and John does not even feel the need to give it a farewell. He will contact his landlord in the morning, but he doubts the man will take issue of him leaving if he too believes Watson a murderer. Before he left John locked the door and posted the keys through the letter box so they are no longer his problem; not that they provided much hindrance to his stalker. Sherlock is gazing out of the window, elbow rested on its shelf, thumb pressed to his bottom lip, middle finger tapping against it as his leg jostles below. If he is aware of John’s eyes on him, he does not acknowledge it, until Watson clears his throat.

“What’s a mind palace?”

Holmes turns to him then, eyes glistening. It is the same glint John is coming to associate with excitement whenever John incites an interesting query. “Think of the brain like a hard drive. My hard drive is full of useful information; terabytes worth. I store whatever I need to in there. I can retain memories from decades prior in intricate detail.”

Decades? How?”

The hand at Sherlock’s mouth rises to tap audibly at his temple. “A mind palace is simply a memory technique. You create a location you are familiar with; it can be somewhere you’ve visited before or even a place made up as long as you are acutely aware of each room and the furniture inside.”

“And then, what? You pin memories to objects?”

Sherlock wears that impressed smile again, head bobbing. “Exactly. The limit is your ability to navigate the space.”

“You said any location?”


“And yours is a memory… palace?” John shakes his head, baffled. “How much can you remember?”

“As much as I choose to. I delete what I do not need, so only pertinent information is stored within the walls of my palace.”

“What classes as pertinent?”

The taxi driver curses at a bicyclist and swerves, knocking Sherlock into John’s side. He recovers quickly, though his hand hovers a beat longer against John’s knee when he straightens. John forces all his energy into not looking, instead blinking towards the reflective plexiglass partition. Sherlock is unruffled, acting like the move was completely intentional. His hands, now on his thighs, drum a tuneless song. “Cases, mostly. Results from experiments that may be useful for future cases. I remember faces vividly. Chemistry equations, self-defence techniques, addresses, among other things.”

John hums. “How long did it take you to build it?”

“The palace is never done, John. There are always new and interesting things to add. Whole rooms, in fact.” He says, gaze lingering on Watson.

If he speaks in code John does not understand, nor does he feel flustered by the attention. He suspects a lot of people find such scrutiny extremely uncomfortable, but to him, being seen feels nice. Like he is wanted. That this brilliant, eclectic man chooses to dote his attention on him — a plain and simple doctor, who is a little broken — is a great boost to his ego. When the taxi pulls up to the kerb outside the flat, Sherlock pays the fare and leaps from the vehicle. “I’ll take the boxes, you grab the bags.”

The haul seems pathetic in comparison to Sherlock’s rooms worth of belongings, albeit it is easier to get him settled in. John is given privacy to adjust to the bedroom and unpack. The double bed is already prepared with fresh bedclothes tucked neat into the frame, tight as those in a hotel. Aside from a wardrobe, a single bedside table made of cherry wood and an armoire, the room is at liberty to be decorated how he sees fit. John starts with his clothes, the shirts, jumpers and jeans hung in the wardrobe. Undershirts, boxer-briefs and socks are slotted into the armoire. Atop it goes his dopp kit full of toiletries, what limited items will not be sequestered to the shared bathroom downstairs, and on the bedside table he sets down his wallet and his keys then plugs in his phone charger. Having a fresh room far away from the Hackney flat is thrilling on its own, but John decides to move in properly. He sets his army box on the bed and rifles through to find his dog tags, which he sets on the bedside table too, then sifts through his personal photographs until he finds a framed picture of him and Harry before his tour in Afghanistan. She was sober, then, with long blonde hair dyed purple at the ends, a cracking smile, wild crystal blue eyes and a snub nose like John’s. It has been a long time since he could bear to look at this, but now he sets it adjacent to the bedside lamp and vows to give his sister a call. Perhaps he shall find some art for the walls, something to his tastes that will bring personality to the room, but for now he is happy with the progress and stoops to shove the remainder of his things under the bed, flipping down the duvet to cover them.

Trotting downstairs, a proverbial spring in his step, John finds the living room much clearer. It is not completely barren of boxes yet, but great progress has been made, and it appears Sherlock is sorting through random bits of paper and such to decide what needs tossing and what can stay. He too must have had a rushed move-out, John thinks, pocketing his wallet. Sherlock glances at him as he reaches the bottom stair, and John calls out to him.

“I’m nipping out to do a food shop. Any requests?”

“I’ll text you.”

“You don’t have my number.” Sherlock stands with the grace of a leaping elk and holds his hand out for John’s phone. Within seconds he has inserted his contact details and returned to his cross-legged position among piles of paper. “Right. Be back in a bit.”

Sherlock hums, already absorbed in his task, and with a small smile John heads downstairs. Weirdly, it already feels like home.

Chapter 12: Chapter Nine

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (9)

The street is lined with shops, people milling about, though it is not as busy as he expected for a main throughway. A check of his phone told him there is a Tesco Express nearby, perfectly suitable for their weekly food shop, considering there is only the two of them to buy for. As he strolls, John is aware of a strange sensation. Gut instinct tells him something is amiss, but when he surveys his surroundings there is nothing untoward to alert his attention, yet the tingle at the nape of his neck persists. He is tempted to retreat, but decides he did not storm Afghanistan to be afraid of an unseen entity. The shop window ahead is angled, and he uses it to look behind him without twisting his head. There is nobody on the street, at least not from his limited view, however there is a sleek black car moving too slowly to be a part of the main traffic. It is following him.

There is a briefest flash of panic — is this his stalker? Are they to finally meet, and if so, the intentions of this person are yet to be identified. John does not want to die today. He walks quicker, but there is nowhere safe to cross the road. The car pulls up ahead of him, idling on the pavement, and John’s swift pace falters. Out of the car steps a man he does not recognise. Primly dressed in a three piece suit, pinstripes perfectly aligned, even a watch chain visible at the waistline. Long legs, spider-like, raise him to a full height of above six foot, the top of John’s head reaching his mouth. Watson tenses, but he has been spotted and there is no chance to feign nonchalance. Scouring, beady eyes bore into his, the man staring down his hawkish nose with a blank expression that somehow looks like a permanent sneer.

“Good afternoon, Doctor Watson.”

“Who are you?” John cannot be blamed for the harshness of his enquiry, although the stranger does not appear flummoxed by his adverse reaction.

Instead, he wears a tight, thin smile that speaks more of underlying, unspoken danger than friendliness. “I have a few questions for you.”

“I won’t speak to reporters.” John’s attempt to walk around him is stopped by a raised palm that is remarkably more successful at halting him than physical contact.

“Do I look like a reporter to you? Please, just a minute of your time.” Despite the words used, it is not spoken like a plead for attention, more of a command that shall be obeyed. John would normally relent to such authority due to his training but he has no trust in this man and does not intend to continue the conversation without further information.

“Then who are you?” He snips, eyes cold and hard.

“An acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes.”

John has had enough. He nods his head curtly, falling into a marching stance. “Right. Afternoon.”

“How is unpacking going? Baker Street is not a big place, and you did not have many items to move. I bet Sherlock is still sorting through his mounds of… belongings.” The man says the last part through his teeth, disgusted by the mere mention of it.

John bristles, “how do you know about that?”

“Please, get in the car Doctor Watson.” The man says in a sing-song voice.

He does not know why he does, but John slips in after the man, though he leaves the car door open lest it automatically lock and trap him. That is the limit of his forethought. Regardless of the man’s seeking gaze pointed at the door, John keeps it open, almost leaning out of the seat entirely. “Make it quick.”

That reptilian smile returns, too toothy to be genuine. “Of course. You don’t seem very afraid.” An umbrella lies across the man’s lap, an extension of himself, quite like John’s cane. John’s gaze flits to it then back up to meet steely eyes, his own narrowing.

You don’t seem very frightening.”

The man barks out a laugh at that. “Ah, yes. The bravery of the soldier. Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity, don’t you think?” His tone drops low, all pretences abandoned. “What is your connection to Sherlock Holmes?”

“How is that your business?”

The man picks at invisible lint on his trouser leg. “I am an interested party.”

John’s eyebrows raise, and he asks scornfully, “I’m guessing you’re not friends, then?”

The man scoffs. “Have you met Sherlock? He doesn’t have friends. I am the closest thing Sherlock has to a friend.”

“And what’s that?”

The man’s lips purse. “An archenemy.”

“Right. We’re done here.” John raises his hand to the car door.

“I’d pay a meaningful sum of money on a regular basis to ease your way,” the man says in a rush.

“Why?” John asks. His phone chimes.

“Because you just lost your job. Your face is all over the news. It shall be quite difficult to find work, no?”

John has been privy to a couple of these conversations during his time in the army. He knows what to ask. This man does not look charitable; there will be a catch. “In exchange for what?”

Ah, there it is, John thinks. The stranger examines his fingernails, appearing bored. “Information. Nothing indiscreet. Nothing you’d feel… uncomfortable with. Just tell me what he’s up to.”

“Why?” John’s phone chimes again. He slips it from his pocket and checks it as the man answers. It is a short list of foodstuffs Sherlock has requested.

“I worry about him. Constantly.”

John curls his lip. “That’s nice of you,” he says flatly.

The man sighs quietly and shifts to look at him properly again. “But I would prefer for various reasons that my concern go unmentioned. We have what you might call a… difficult relationship.”

“No.” John steps out from the car.

“I haven’t mentioned a figure,” the man says after him.

“Don’t bother,” snaps John.

“You are very loyal very quickly.”

Watson’s lips press together, head shaking. “No I’m not. I’m just not interested.”

“We shall drive you to Tesco.” John does not ask how he knows, the stark similarity to Sherlock’s deductive abilities jarring. There is no clear resemblance, except for those piercing eyes made of grey-sea and something fey.

The man knows they are done here, and as John moves to shut the door, ignoring the second offer, he calls out: “buy ginger nuts. They are his favourite.”

John storms away, having difficulty wresting his temper under control. His phone chimes. It is Sherlock again.

Oh, and ginger nuts too. They’re my favourite. SH

There is a stomp to his step, and his face must bear the emotional whiplash he has been experiencing frequently as people steer clear of his raging path to the shop. For once, Watson wishes he could have a normal day. So much has happened so quickly, and he knows if he is not given a chance to process it all it will snowball into a great toll that shall hit him at the most inconvenient time. He has experienced that a handful of times during his tour; it is not something he covets to emulate once more.


“John! I tidied up. Should look much better now.” Sherlock shouts down the stairs. John thanks Mrs Hudson for letting him in and promises to sort out a security deposit and rent as soon as possible. She waves him off, wearing a smile too bright to be directed at a stranger. John ascends the stairs with a fond shake of his head, thinking about her authentic loveliness, something not oft found in central London. When he reaches the seventeenth step and finds the kitchen tidy, the last trickle of anger drains to floor.

“Hiya. I was going to order takeaway but I didn’t know what you’d like. Got everything you asked for, though. Except that brand of milk. Sold out.”

“It’s all right. Thank you.” Sherlock smiles and helps him unload the shopping. Together they form a system to suit them both best, each memorising the contents of the cupboards. When Holmes stands beside him, switching on the kettle as John unboxes the teabags to dump them into a jar, he sniffs at the air.

“What?” John tries not to feel insecure, just stopping himself in time before he sniffs at his own armpits.

Sherlock’s expression sours. “Did he offer you money?”

“I- what?”

“He didn’t kidnap you, did he?”

John’s expression blooms like a flourishing flower. “Oh! You know him?”

Sherlock sneers, face crinkling inwards. “Unfortunately. Are you all right?”

“Fine, fine, yeah. I did think- actually, never mind.” John shakes his head. “It’s silly.”

“Go on.” Sherlock prompts.

“Well, I thought at first he was my stalker. I must admit I panicked for a moment.”

“That’s not silly at all. The enemy is still at large, you must have your wits about you,” Sherlock catches the brief flash of horror over John’s face, “though you must not feel too paranoid.” He rushes to amend addendum.

John then breaks into a smile and giggles. Sherlock questions it, wondering what he has said that it so amusing. John shakes his head and waves a floppy hand. “That’s what he called himself. Your enemy.”

Holmes sighs. “He does so love histrionics. So, did you take the money?”

John splutters. “Of course I didn’t!”

Sherlock, to his complete surprise, deflates. “Pity. We could’ve split the fee. Think it through next time.” He witnesses John fall into deep thought and quickly makes up the two mugs of tea, one with the RAMC logo on it, the other an anatomical diagram of a bee. “Don’t worry about it John. Don’t let it ruin our night. Now, Indian or Chinese?”


John tips the last of his beer into his mouth, using his other hand to dab at mirthful tears. He has had a good night, a very good night. It is wonderful to have company outside of work, someone who makes him laugh and is not intent on wasting the hours with alcohol in a dingy pub. The fire is waning, his stockinged feet toasted where they rest on the coffee table, and he co*cks his head to look at Sherlock.

“I can’t believe it. He actually tried to swim the width of the Thames?” John asks, incredulous.

A smile plays at Sherlock’s lips. “I swear to you. Didn’t get very far, mind. He’s lucky I called for the rescue boat beforehand.”

“Oh god, yeah…” John’s blinks come in longer bursts. Today has been insane and the fatigue is finally hitting him. Sherlock nudges him with his elbow.

“Go to bed.”

Watson’s head rolls along the back of the couch to look at his new flatmate. “What about you?”

Sherlock drums his fingers against his chest. “I don’t sleep much. I’ll be around, though. Go on.”

John rises with a groan, chuckling, palms raised as he is nudged again. “All right, all right. Didn’t know you want to get rid of me so quickly.”

“Never. You’re far too interesting for that. But I can’t have an intellectual conversation with a zombie. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Sherlock’s smile is lopsided, cheeks flushed from the beer he has imbibed; although not much, he is far too skinny to have a high tolerance to alcohol. John wishes him a good night, procures a glass of water and hobbles up the stairs to the top room.

Watson feels more secure knowing he has the higher floor to himself. Despite the additional effort for his leg, which may prove troublesome in the future, he feels unassailable in the creakiness of the ancient staircase. He is safe, and anyone approaching his room will be heard clearly before they can reach him — and as a man trained in light sleep, he will be awake and alert at the first sign of an intruder. Sherlock knows not to approach without prior warning. Pyjamas are laid out on the bed, and as John changes, he looks to the photograph of him and his sister. He must ring her tomorrow, check in and see how she is doing. They have not spoken in a few weeks, although he would not consider them on bad terms. They have had a strained relationship for going on two decades now, since she grew a backbone and fought with their parents. He is proud of her for doing so nowadays, but as a child he loathed the constant arguments, the drama, the endless comparisons between the two Watson children.

John slips into bed, finding the mattress significantly comfier than the one in Hackney, and hopes that he shall sleep well. The light clicks off, basking him in darkness, and below, John can hear Sherlock tidying away their plates and takeaway rubbish. He drifts to sleep with the ghost of a smile.


John gasps, lurching upright, a soundless scream restrained by gritted teeth. He is confused at first, surveying his surroundings, unsure where he is, but then the day’s events replay in his mind and his heart begins to settle. With ragged breathing, he gets to his feet, stumbling, leg twinging in protest, and checks the bedroom door. It is shut still, no sign of anyone coming to disturb him, which means a nightmare awoke him. His pyjamas are soaked with sweat; rather than ignore it and try to get back into the haze of sleep as quick as possible he takes the time to lay down a towel on the damp sheets and change into fresh bottoms, leaving his torso bare. The pile of discarded items are set inside his large duffel bag, a makeshift hamper, and he remembers that he has a pile of laundry waiting in the morning. Good. Menial tasks will serve him well whilst he adjusts.

When he is about to get into bed, John pauses. There is noise beyond the bedroom door. He creeps forward, turning the knob agonisingly slow, but there is nobody lurking behind the door. John peeks down the stairs, hearing a melodic tune emanating from the living room. Sherlock is playing a violin, drenched in the golden glow of the various lamps scattered around the space. His back is to John, looking as though he is playing to an audience on the street below, but it is far too early for there to be anyone around. The music, John admits, is beautiful. Soulful, but not melancholic. A soothing melody that he would like to hear more of. John retreats back to his bed, leaving the door ajar so he can hear properly, and takes a swig of water. When he lies back down, the shadows are just shadows, the glint of a gun just a streetlamp reflecting off the mirror, staring eyes just a hook on the back of the door, and the ragged breathing of a comrade long gone is no more than his own shaky breath. Tonight, there is nothing but a new room and Sherlock playing downstairs. He falls back to sleep without issue. It is a shame he misses the last lingering notes of the song.


A persistent headache plagues John’s skull, which pounds at the base. He takes a while to wake, indulging in long minutes to stretch all of his limbs, arching his spine against the sheets with an indecent groan. John sits up against the headboard and checks his phone. It is nine, slightly later for him than usual, but he has nowhere urgent to be. The room is much nicer to wake up to — not some impersonal bed in a tiny room, but larger, warmer, comfier. Perhaps it is the history within these walls, dating back to the Victorian era, or the décor choice the landlady has chosen; he is not sure, nor is he keen to dwell on it. Only when he feels like it does John get up, shivering as his feet contact the draughty floorboards. He dons his cheap bathrobe over his pyjamas, making the laundry his priority, knowing if he does not sort it now he will lose the motivation later. When he is finished, John gathers his dopp kit, a pair of jeans, an undershirt and a flannel button-up alongside his spare towel.

Sherlock is nowhere to be seen when he heads downstairs, so he locks the interconnecting bathroom door to Sherlock’s bedroom as well as the main one and has a blessedly hot shower. The headache improves after, but to be on the safe side he pops two paracetamol from the blister packet and swallows them dry. Two slices of bread are slotted into the toaster, kettle boiling at the same time, and John sighs happily. Once he has eaten breakfast he will get started on the laundry and if Sherlock still has not emerged he will go check on him. John wonders what time he went to bed, if he did at all, presuming that he must have because of the closed bedroom door. He does not want to be a meddling flatmate; Sherlock’s personal habits are his own. John sits alone at the table, scanning over the kitchen properly now that he has the time to do so. The walls are a deeply hued shade of green, but the tiles vividly alternate between forest green, cream and a lighter shade of green. The cupboard fronts are a shocking white in contrast to the grey, faux-tiled linoleum, an oak kitchen table sat atop a grey and white patterned area rug. There is a tiny sliver of a window between the sink and fridge, which is mostly concealed by a large blind and a tiny sill inundated with dead potted plants and random objects. John cannot be certain what was already there and what nicknacks belong to Sherlock, but he has a feeling the majority of the clutter is Holmes’, because Mrs Hudson seems like quite a neat person.

It is a stark contrast to his previous apartment, which was always sparse. John never knew what to do with the space, unused to a bigger area owned solely by him. He thinks he will prefer a flatmate; he grew up in a tiny house, moved into university shared accommodation and then straight into army barracks. Returning to England has been his longest stint living truly alone, and has he despised it. Alone with his thoughts far too often, in company he detests: his own. It is that thought that prompts him to retrieve his mobile phone from his pocket, and he dials his former landlord’s number. The man answers after several rings, addressing John with the same short, clipped tones he is becoming acquainted to since his face was plastered on every major newspaper. As predicted the man is happy to nullify their tenancy contract, asking only for the rest of the month’s rent. John does not argue his innocence, and the case nor the news articles are never brought up, but the atmosphere is palpable, and it is obvious the landlord wants to cut ties with him as fast as possible. John hangs up, pleased with the result, though money will be tight for a while until he can find a new job to catch up on the dual rent payments.

As he washes his two dishes and the knife used to butter his toast, John hears the bedroom door down the hall crack open. He is setting the items on the drying rack when Sherlock emerges, fully dressed in a suit sans jacket, his feet shoeless but socked. John smiles up at him. “Good morning,” he greets.

“Morning.” Sherlock replies, his mouth ticking upwards. “How’d you sleep?”

“Eh, all right. I woke up. Heard you playing the violin.”

“I know,” Sherlock says, heading for the kettle. He slides past John, not quite touching, but close enough that the breeze wafts against Watson’s skin. John nods, once, sensing that the man needs space. Instead of lingering and forcing a conversation with his flatmate before he is ready to talk, John heads back up to his room and retrieves a load of washing.

Sherlock is sat at the kitchen table with a newspaper, and looks up as John reaches the bottom of the stairs. John opens his mouth, only air escaping, shuts it, then opens it again to ask: “got any laundry that needs doing?”

“Oh, erm. You don’t have to do that.”

John shrugs. “May as well. Saves doing another wash load.”

Sherlock looks almost flustered, jumping to his feet with a screech of his chair. “Er, yes, okay. I’ll just go get it.”

John waits. Judging by the chaos that has seeped into the rest of the flat, John would not be surprised to learn Sherlock’s laundry is just one big pile that he must sort through, as he takes three minutes to bring back a bundle of darks. “Ta,” John tilts his head back so Sherlock can add his clothes to the precarious pile and heads toward the utility room downstairs, calling behind him: “we could do with a hamper and a washing basket.”

The washing machine produces such a strong hum that it can be heard and felt through the floor as John returns to the kitchen. Sherlock is tapping away at a laptop, and upon seeing him, swivels it by the keyboard to show him. “How’s about this one?”

John blinks. Sherlock is showing him an image of a hamper split into thirds — each section labelled as darks, colours or whites. Watson shrugs one shoulder, and says: “that’ll do me. Need a basket as well.”

“Got one. Ergonomic handles. Can fold up too for better storage.” Sherlock replies eagerly. It is such behaviour that has an amused smile playing at John’s lips; Holmes is clearly trying to make a good impression but is coming across as an overexcited puppy desperate to show off a new trick they’ve learnt. With confirmation Sherlock taps a few buttons and proclaims their items en-route to be delivered, but John does not know when.

Watson decides with time to spare he will call Harry and perhaps look for some things to make the upstairs bedroom more his own. This house feels more permanent than all his other residencies, and he shall take the opportunity to truly personalise it.


Sherlock clacks at his laptop keyboard noisily, nose buried in the screen. It is an addition to the scientific equipment strewn around the kitchen table, half of which John recognises but has not usually seen used in the same experiments. He is too distracted to ask, however, chest undulating visibly, eyes wild. Holmes ignores him at first, until he slams down a hefty book. That is when Sherlock looks at him, startled somewhat by the manic state of his new flatmate. He opens his mouth to ask of the issue when John blurts first: “there’s a photo missing.”

“Might it simply have slipped into the boxes yesterday?”

“No, I checked everywhere. Not like there were many places it could’ve gone. Can’t have been left behind,” John had done a triple check of the flat, searching in every nook and cranny for any items that may have been forgotten in the gloomy shadows of the bedsit.

“What’s missing then?” Sherlock pushes aside the equipment scattered about into a messy ensemble at the other end of the table, standing at the head to peer over John’s shoulder. Watson tries not to allow his mind to wander to the proximity of their bodies, though they are so close he can feel the wafts of body heat emanating from Sherlock. He clears his throat, a diminutive shake of his head casting the distracting thoughts away, and he opens the book to a page further towards the back.

The clear plastic pockets, two per page, contain images of John and another man. Sherlock’s eyes flicker to John’s face, noting the rush of blood to his cheeks. On the second adjoining page the topmost photograph is noticeably absent. Sherlock observes, index finger reaching out to slide across the edge of the pocket where it should be contained. He hums, feeling John’s expectant gaze. Finally, he meets his eye.

“Note the crinkles. All the other photographs do not have these, so whoever removed it had some difficulty, further proving your claim that it has not accidentally gotten lost.” Sherlock then flicks the flapping edge of the plastic, “see here? Torn: the person not only struggled, but was in a rush to pull it free.”

“My stalker, d’you think?”

“You certainly seem to believe so.” Sherlock replies.

John’s eyes scan his face. “Do you?”

“It is the most likely conclusion, if you’re certain it wasn’t you. What was the photograph of?”

John scratches the back of his neck, reluctant. His lips part but only air escapes, and Sherlock urges him on. It is pertinent to understand what exactly is missing, as it may hold vital information, Sherlock reminding John that he can see clues where others see nothing, so even if he thinks the details are not important, they very well might be. John cedes. “It was of my ex-partner and I. The man in these photos.”

Sherlock huffs. “Yes, but what exactly did it depict? Explain in detail.”

“Er, it was us on a date. There was some light festival going on, and he wanted to go, said I hadn’t been out enough and I should ‘explore the world’. I wasn’t really interested, but it was fun in the end,” John muses, before clearing his throat and getting back on track. “The picture was us in a light tunnel.”

“What pose?”

“He had hold of the phone and he was kissing my cheek. Erm, he was on the right, me the left.”

“Were you smiling?”


“With teeth?”

“Um, yes, I think?”

“What is his name?” Sherlock grills. That, John cannot help smiling at, watching a bemused frown crinkle Sherlock’s forehead.

“Johnathan Crouch.”

“Johnathan and John,” Sherlock parrots back.

“Silly, I know,” John is mirthful, then he sucks his teeth. “He goes by Nate. Or he did, when we were together.”

Sherlock wears an odd expression, features stony, and he continues the impromptu interrogation.“What were you both wearing?”

“Couldn’t see much of us. Coats and scarves, I think. I had a hat on, a erm, beanie, is that what they call it? Woollen.”

Sherlock sighs. “And did he have a hat on?”

“No. These silly earmuffs, I think. He was tryna get a laugh outta me.” John’s accent changes as he thinks back to that day, when they were both so happy. It had been a fantastic night, and later they had gotten so drunk no taxi would take them, so they had stumbled home at the crack of dawn, using each other for leverage. He realises he is smiling, and exhales noisily. “It was our favourite photograph.”

“Did he have a copy of it?”

“On his phone, yeah. But he gave me this book to keep all my pictures in, and had a few of the best ones printed off. I had the only physical copy. Wait — you think he went to all that trouble to steal it, when he could’ve just printed it off again?”

Holmes sucks his teeth. “Sentiment, perhaps. He wanted the one with memories attached. This is under the theory that your ex-partner is your stalker. Is that what you think?”

John shakes his head, hands gripping the table, and his skull drops between his shoulders. “Honestly, I don’t know what to think. Who else could it be?”

“I endeavour to find out.” Sherlock says firmly. John nods, weary, head still ducked. Sherlock moves back to his original seat, but has not yet sat when John’s phone pings in his jeans pocket. He frowns, tugging it free — he has just spoken to Harry, and she usually does not text, finding the keyboard too cumbersome to navigate with trembling fingers. There is nobody else he can think of who would contact him, hence why he checks immediately. Initially, he fears the worst: some sort of family emergency, but when his eyes land on the screen they widen. Sherlock leans forward, attempting to peer over the top of the screen. “What? What is it?”

“It’s him.” John’s breath comes quicker, and he surveys the room for a sign of the man, “oh god, is he watchin’ me right now?”

Sherlock’s eyes flash, and he moves so fast he is simply a blur, clasping John’s shoulder; gently, for it is the injured left side, and enforces eye contact. “Don’t be stupid. How could he be watching you right now? I assure you, you’re perfectly safe.” He then taps the rounded edge of the phone. “Arrange a meet-up.”

John’s head whips to him sharply. “What? Why? If he’s my stalker-”

“Then we could wrangle a confession out of him.” Sherlock finishes logically. “I’ll be watching close by. Pick somewhere public, somewhere you’re comfortable. Let’s see if we can do some investigating of our own.” His smile is reassuring, a soothing curl of his lips, and John copies it.

“All right,” he says determinedly. “Let’s catch this bastard.”

Chapter 13: Chapter Ten

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (10)

John is not one to see someone as guilty blindly, and has chosen the motto that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is an accurate occurrence, especially in the war. If anyone who was randomly accused of war crimes by the enemy were immediately condemned there would be no man left to fight. He too has been a victim of this public view of hatred when he has done nothing to deserve it. However, he cannot ignore the niggle in the back of his mind that Crouch is in fact the man of the hour — the orchestrator who has been playing with him for weeks now — and that this encounter shall be somewhat nerve-wracking, but fruitful. Johnathan has always been a bad liar — there are certain tells, but John cannot rely on that fact alone to help him decide if his stalker is the man he once thought he might love. If there is evidence to be found, however, Watson is confident Holmes will uncover it, and he would not have agreed to this arrangement had it not been for the Sherlock’s insistence that he shall be watching from another table.

Not only is Holmes an exceptionally intelligent man, but he is also an expert at discretion — blending into the crowd austerely without his bold belstaff. John tries not to glance at him as he waits at another table, coffee mug spun absently by the handle, eyes firmly on the entrance to the café. It is a place he and Johnathan are familiar with, and he hopes the comfortable environment will soften his ex up enough to convict himself (if he is, in fact, guilty). It does not help his case that when John had suggested they get together, he had immediately freed up the following day; if he works at the same place Watson remembers, then this is interrupting his work schedule. The eagerness was a bit disconcerting, considering neither man has been in contact for months, after John tentatively unblocked him following a long dry spell of no further communications. He hopes Johnathan does not think this an invite to restart his barrage of messages. He has heard enough ‘I miss you’s to last a lifetime.

When the bell above the door chimes to indicate another customer, John jolts harshly, almost upending his coffee mug. The sound reminds him of the safety precaution he installed in his previous flat, and as his eyes flash up, he is met with the grinning face of Johnathan Crouch. “John! Oh how good it is to see you! C’mere!” Crouch leans down to embrace him, John halfway between standing and sitting. As though no time has passed at all his former boyfriend avoids contact with his left shoulder, hovering his hand at his tricep. “So, what brings us here?”

“Do you not want a drink first? I’ll pay.”

“Oh, sure, that’s nice of you.” The man is positively beaming, wearing a smile so big it should not rightfully fit on his face.

Together they move to the counter, and during Crouch’s conversation with the barista John surreptitiously turns to look around the room, catching Sherlock’s gaze. There is no recognition in Holmes’ eyes, and he glances back down at his notebook and chemistry textbook, looking to those unassuming a university student cramming for an exam. It is the perfect disguise, for at any point Sherlock can look around the room, pretend he is bored of his papers, and be left well alone from disturbances. Already customers have avoided his table, those around him keeping their chatter low. Holmes utilises his youthful looks well, having shaken out the styling gel in his hair to produce a halo of riotous curls more suited to that of a twenty-something student.

John pays for their drinks, buys himself another, needing the sensory distraction of a mug to steel his resolve, and they congregate at the table he has reserved with his jacket and cane. Johnathan sits down with a groan, earning a glare from Sherlock-cum-student, and he grimaces playfully, waving a hand in apology. Their coffees are too hot to drink, and already Crouch seems much too comfortable in Watson’s presence, slouched in his seat, thighs spread asunder. It is different to his previous behaviours, similar to when they first met and Crouch had been obvious in his attempts to flirt. John had humoured him then, and he will play along for now.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in work? Do you still work at that office you hated?” John asks, keeping the topic in neutral territory.

“Ahh yeah, sent myself on an early lunch break. Not like anyone ever notices whether I’m there or not, unless it’s to turn their computer on and off,” Johnathan shrugs, a sneer tinging his voice. “But I do get to wipe the security tapes now. As good as a promotion I’ll get. What about you, Doctor?”

“Late start,” John mirrors the shrug.

“I’ve gotta say, you’ve been killing me with curiosity. What made you message me back? Not that I’m complaining, like, but you stopped answering ages ago. In fact, I think you blocked me.”

“Phone was being dodgy,” John knows it is a rubbish excuse, yet blurts it anyway, “and there’s been some… news.”

“Oh?” The attention he fixes on Watson is absolute, if a little unnerving.

“Remember Peter Adams?”

Crouch’s eyes narrow in confusion. “Who?”

“Our neighbour. My neighbour. That American vet next door?”

“Oh, that f*cker, yeah I remember him. hom*ophobic twat,” he mutters sotto voce with a shake of his head, “what about him?”

“He’s dead. Murdered in his own flat.”

“What?” Crouch puffs out his cheeks and laughs, a high-pitched bark of a noise that earns him another glare from Holmes. “Good riddance, I say, he was a scumbag.”

“Enough to murder, though?”

“I’d say so. f*cking hated the guy.” Crouch takes a sip of coffee, and when John does not speak, he takes it as an invitation to continue. “He was a good for nothing, selfish know-it-all c*nt, and y’know what, I’m glad he’s dead, ‘cause he put you through sh*t for no reason except ‘cause we’re gay.”

“Not gay.” John corrects automatically.

“Bi, then. We still stuck on this crisis, for f*ck’s sake? Does it matter?” Watson sets his jaw and leans away, taking his mug with him, and the distance makes Crouch sigh, almost crawling over the table. “Sorry, sorry. Not my place. Just got me all riled up, that. Remembering what he said to you. Do you still live there? I went to check on you but there was nobody about and my key didn’t work.”

“Your key?” Watson’s ears perk up, heart pounding.

“Yeah, the spare one; I still had it,” John uses all of his willpower not to look over at Sherlock to confirm he too is hearing this. “Did you change the locks?”

“Had to Nate, murderer on the loose. Although it is quite funny,” John muses, watching as the nickname for his ex-partner triggers a small smile.

Crouch takes a sip of his drink. “Funny? What is?”

“You’ve really not seen the news, have you? They thought I did it.”

Johnathan scoffs, head thrown back. “Oh f*ck off! That’s bullsh*t. Who said that? Has anyone hurt you? Did they kick you out the flat; they can’t do that, y’know, it’s against the law.”

Watson shakes his head, one hand raised placatingly. He must tread carefully. “I’m fine Nate. Just thought it’d be better to tell you in person than over the phone, considering our history with him.”

“Mm, I always wanted him dead. I used to fantasise about killing people like him. Smashing his smug face in, knock that stupid f*cking cap off. Well deserved in my opinion.” Crouch schools his expression, unaware that John’s heart has quickened again like a preyed rabbit. “D’you want me to come ‘round? I will, I’ll keep you safe, you know I will, just say the word.”

“Were you just planning on waltzing in unannounced?”

“It’s my flat too.” Johnathan’s face lights up, and his smile becomes eerily toothy. “So that’s why you called me here! Aw, you don’t have to be embarrassed, love, you could’ve just asked. Course I’ll come back. I’ve been hanging on, y’know, waiting for you to see sense.”

“See sense?” John repeats dumbly.

“Yeah, I knew you’d want me back soon enough. I love you, Jay, you know that.” The nickname strikes at John, who has not heard it in months, and he swallows, almost glancing at Sherlock again. “You miss me, I know you do. You miss us. It’s okay, I do too. I’ve missed you like f*cking crazy, actually, worried out me mind that f*cking dickhe*d next door was gunna do somethin’ to ya.”

Crouch’s accent morphs into his native northern twang he usually disguises. He had once told Watson that he was seen as stupid if he kept his Cheshire dialect, that Londoners can be snooty towards outsiders, but whenever he is emotional, highly strung and desperate, as he has been often in John’s presence, the accent emerges.

“I’m fine, Nate.” John repeats slowly. Crouch bangs the table with the flat of his palm, attracting the attention of nearby customers. John grips the handle of his mug tighter, fingers bloodless.

“You listen to me, Watson,” Johnathan snakes his torso up the table, fingers curling around the edge of John’s side of the table, “I’d do anything for you — f*ck, I’d kill for you! That stupid therapist got in your head, made you think I don’t love you, but it’s BS. You’re mine and I’m yours. We were so happy, and then it was all ruined by that f*ckin’-”

There is a sharp inhale, an elongated exhale, and Johnathan slips back into his seat. When he next speaks, his voice is much lower. “Come back to me, Jay, I promise I won’t get mad. I forgive you, I get it,” he shrugs, mouth downturned, “wasn’t all your fault, but I can’t carry on like this, love. I owe people money and favours and tha’ that I can’t pay back ‘cause I was waiting for ya, but I can’t wait any longer. Be sensible babe.”

“Are you for real?” John’s nostrils flare, and he sets down the mug before he smashes it in his white-knuckle grip. He moves in closer, Johnathan copying with an easy smile, a glint in his eyes. “You stay the f*ck away from me. If you continue communication I will get a restraining order against you.”

Crouch’s jaw hangs open and for a few agonising seconds he can only splutter without words. At last he recovers, scanning the room with narrowed eyes. “Who is it? There’s someone else, isn’t there? Did you f*cking cheat on me?” When John does not reply, worried he will speak out of turn and land in another holding cell, Crouch jumps to his feet. “How f*cking dare you! Where are they? Is it a man, woman? Who is it? I’ll f*cking kill them, you’re mine!”

The shouting attracts a manager, a middle aged woman with a pixie cut who grabs him by the arm and demands he leave. Johnathan growls, storming away and narrowly avoiding bumping into a table. He flings the door open, the bell jingling in solidarity, and John is left at the table, staring after him. Finding the gaze of almost every table, his cheeks heat, pink blossoming at a dizzying rate to his wan skin. Watson takes two deep breaths then carries their mugs to the counter, where he apologises profusely. It is not his doing, they understand, and the manager ensures he is safe to leave before she allows him to go.

“I’ll walk him home,” comes a strange, high-pitched voice. John turns to see Sherlock, with his mussed hair and calculating eyes donning a shy smile, “if that’s all right with you?”

“Er, sure. Sorry again,” John ducks his head and moves to the door, shadowed by the chemistry student, who holds open the door close to his neck. When they step out of the café John deflates. “I just wanna go home, sort my thoughts out.”

“Of course,” Sherlock says, his voice returned to the familiarly deep baritone. He slings his satchel over his shoulder and marches down the path towards their flat, John hot on his heel, but they do not make it very far.

There is the bumbling noise of someone in the alley to their left, followed by a small clang of wood against concrete, and Johnathan bursts forth. “You were f*cking cheating on me! Who are you? Jay, who’s this? What’s he got that I don’t?”

“I suggest you calm down and walk away.” Sherlock states, the underlying threat to his tone either ignored or completely missed by Crouch.

“I’ll knock your f*cking teeth in, mate. This is between us.” Johnathan jabs a thumb between him and Watson, who is beginning to lose grip of his temper. There is danger brewing, and he is not sure he will be able to quell the frustration of many months if their interaction is to continue.

Sherlock drops the satchel to the floor, grasps Johnathan by the placket of his coat and lifts him so that his feet graze the ground, moving them backwards in an elaborate and oddly elegant dance until Crouch’s back thumps against the brick wall. Holmes leans into his ear, and though John cannot hear the words he can see the snip of teeth and the ghost of Sherlock’s breath wafting the downy hairs around Johnathan’s ears. Upon pulling away the colour has notably drained from Crouch’s face, and he blinks at Sherlock then at John. The sudden calmness is unsettling, but there appears to be no more fight in the man. Sherlock nudges him towards the pavement, prompting Johnathan to walk away before the situation escalates. John cannot believe what he is seeing, his verbose ex cowed and dashing away without another word.

“What on earth did you say to him?” John asks as Sherlock swipes the satchel up and begins a punishing pace onwards in the direction of their shared rooms. Johnathan is nowhere to be seen. Aside from the bustling traffic to their right the day is pleasant, and Watson uses Sherlock’s silence to process what has occurred in such a short amount of time. In comparison to Afghanistan the event is far less taxing and frightening, yet just as exhausting mentally.

Holmes hums after a few minutes, crossing the road so sharply John almost topples to keep up. “You aren’t limping as severely.”

John glances down at his cane, which he notes belatedly is not being worked as rigorously today. He too hums. “Must be the adrenaline, happens sometimes when I’m heightened.”

“It’s progress nonetheless,” Sherlock says with a smile, and it almost seems like praise. Watson clears his throat, finding the approaching presence of their flat a welcome reprieve. He focuses his mental energies on the seventeen steps to the main level and the further eight to his room, for there is little else he covets than a moment of peace. Isolated solace trumps tea; John just wants to be alone.

Watson takes the seventeen steps with pleasure, but as his foot reaches the landing, Sherlock calls from the open kitchen door: “can you remove my stitches now? They’ve been bugging me and I’m healed enough.”

John restrains a sigh then follows him through the door and leans his cane against the table. “I’ll be the judge of that. Pull your shirt back, let’s see it.”

Sherlock instead removes his coat and dress shirt entirely, revealing milky white skin. There is a thin layer of muscle and almost no fat draped over his bones, and he is completely unabashed as he sits upon the kitchen table in lieu of a medical bed. The skin is marred by nicks and striations of various sizes, something John had not noticed when initially stitching the wound in question, but it is clear Sherlock has procured quite the portfolio of scars already. There is a square wad of gauze taped to the injury, and when John peels it back, Sherlock stares down at it. Watson is somewhat surprised that Sherlock bothered to follow his instructions, and as stated Holmes is healed enough to warrant removal of the stitches. There is a puffy reddened line replacing the gash John had originally witnessed, marred by bruising of various colours to form a sort of nebula, the scarring tissue a band of planets.

“Hold still. Might pinch a bit but it shouldn’t hurt.”

“Not my first rodeo with stitches, doctor.” Sherlock says lightly.

“I can see that,” John uses his index knuckle to tap a nearby scar, ‘I’ll just go get my kit.”

John lays out a piece of kitchen roll beside Sherlock’s hip, on it the used gauze bandage, and clasps a pair of medical scissors, with a curved tip that slips easily underneath each thread, near the knot, to be snipped free. The thread releases easily, and whilst John tugs them free and disposes of them on the paper Sherlock turns to his phone. The gentle tapping of thumbs on the keyboard is soothing, and John falls into his familiar doctor headspace as he rids of the last stitch and assesses his work. It shall scar, of course, but the line is neat, and when the swelling goes down Sherlock will be left with a tiny striation. Not much to behold of his adventure at all, because Doctor Watson is good at his job, and takes pride in his work, once deemed the best surgeon to grace the barracks with his perfect sutures.

Tiny pebbles of blood bubble up where the sutures had penetrated the skin, and John dabs at them with a cotton ball, humming. “Bleeding is normal, but just to prevent infection I’ll bandage it up again. Not for long, though.”

“I know, Doctor.” Sherlock looks over the top of his phone at John, who finds himself momentarily mesmerised by the sharpness of his irises. Stunned, Watson shakes his head to clear of the clinging reverie and pokes Sherlock’s uninjured side with the roll of adhesive tape.

“Doesn’t hurt to remind you, prat. Up you get, we’re done.” Holmes obeys, standing to his full height at a proximity not usually appropriate for flatmates who have only recently been acquainted. Watson ignores the heat radiating from Sherlock’s body towards his, like the invisible tendrils of methanol flames, and focuses on tidying away the mess and wiping the surfaces and equipment clean more thoroughly than necessary. Holmes makes no move to help him, back to scrolling through his iPhone, nor does he seem to notice his lack of social etiquette.

When the table is cleared and medical bag stored away, John returns to find that Sherlock has not moved an inch. He is entirely absorbed in his task, the world around him inconsequential to whatever has captured his attention, and John is unsure how to approach. The battered watch on his wrist indicates his stomach has the right to growl, the fridge beckoning him. Holmes has to be forcibly moved backwards and out of the way, yet shows no indication that he is aware of this happening. John shakes his head at the oddness of his flatmate and goes rooting for food. A simple sandwich and some salad shall do, for he is still reeling from this morning and a heavy stomach would do little to ease his troubles.

“Sherlock, what are you eating?” Holmes does not even blink, and John pushes his phone away from his face, “Sherlock, did you hear me?”

“What?” Holmes snips. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“I asked what you plan on eating. It’s lunchtime.”

Sherlock flaps a hand at him. “Nothing, John, I’m working. I can’t work on a full stomach.”

“Why not?” Watson asks.

“Digestion slows down my thought processes. I must be sharp and alert at all times.”

“No, food is fuel. Eat. Sit down, I’ll make you something,” John rummages for the bread and dumps it on the speckled counter alongside the selected items from the fridge. “Do you like chicken?”

“No. The texture is abhorrent to me.” Sherlock’s head shakes rapidly side-to-side, a move so uncontrolled John deems it an involuntary reaction.

“Okay, ham?”

“Likewise.” Holmes grimaces, lips pulled back to reveal gleaming teeth.

“Er, toast? You need to eat something.”

Sherlock ponders this for a moment, staring at up at John from his seat. He must see the earnestness in Watson’s expression for he relents, almost deflating against the edge of the table. “Toast would be acceptable.”

John plasters a warm smile on his face, silently proud to have won this battle. “Excellent. What do you want on it?”

“Butter only. Thinly spread. Any lumps and I won’t eat it,” says Sherlock to his phone screen.

“Sir yes sir!” John salutes at him playfully, then turns to his task. They share the space in silence, but it is not awkward, and Watson finds a warm domesticity to the situation he has not felt in a long time, not even when he lived with Johnathan, who was always making noise of some kind. Here he does not feel obligated to speak, to continue conversations, and Sherlock has proven he is not a fan of small talk, which is okay too, in Watson’s eyes. He also prefers more meaningful conversation, and has no desire to talk of the weather or gossip.

Two plates followed by two mugs are set down at opposite ends of the table. Sherlock does not look up from his phone until John kicks him lightly under the table, to which he fixes him a tepid glare. “Eat,” John pokes the air with his fork.

“Sir yes sir,” Sherlock lazily taps two fingers to his temple in a parody of John’s salute, but he does put down his phone and pick at a piece of toast. It is, however, the most bizarre method of toast consumption John has ever seen.

First the crusts are removed in four sections, set down beside the other slice of steaming bread. Sherlock then hooks the tip of his finger under the buttered half of the slice and peels it back to reveal the crispy side of the toast not touched by the butter. These two halves he places down on the plate, perfectly straight, then he selects the crispy edge and rips it into strips. Once aligned he begins to eat them, one by one, and John tries not to stare, wondering whether the food has gone cold yet. John has finished his entire sandwich before Sherlock has even consumed half a slice of bread, at which point he wonders whether to say something. Holmes’ concentration prevents him from doing so, as under closer observation it appears he has difficulty eating, and John does not want to accidentally insult if there is a medical reason behind his struggles.

Sherlock moves onto the soft, floppy piece of toast, shredding it with his teeth instead of his fingers, then plays with the portion not in his mouth, squishing it and manipulating the shape. To John it is like watching a child explore their food, complete with Sherlock sniffing and licking at the toast as if he has never experienced it before. John does not say a word.

“Can you stop that?” Sherlock asks in a clipped voice.

John freezes, looking around himself, but there is no obvious source to Sherlock’s annoyance. “What?”

“The squelching. When you chew.”

“Oh, sorry, didn’t realise I was doing it,” John swallows his forkful of salad.

“Hurts my ears.” Sherlock remarks, eyes averted to his toast.

John puts down his fork and furrows his brows. “Do you want me to stop? I can get something else?”

“No no, it’s fine. Can I put some music on?”

“Of course. Do whatever makes you comfortable.” John does not pick his fork up again until Sherlock has selected a classical music playlist, the song unrecognisable to John’s ears. When the noise is blaring and Sherlock starts peeling his second slice of toast John feels it is safe to finish his salad, taking smaller bites to avoid squelching the salad cream drizzled on top. “Does food usually bother you?”

“It is a topic of contention, yes. If I do not have to eat I shall not.”

“Don’t you feel hungry?” To John, that is a baffling prospect, for he is a man with a strong and insatiable appetite.

“Hunger is a sensation like any other, and with training you can learn to ignore it.”

“That’s not healthy.” John comments, frowning as he thinks back on the time before he met Sherlock, and whether anyone has ever bothered to speak to him about his blatant struggles.

Sherlock shrugs nonchalantly, finding no issue in the matter. “Neither is my occupation, or my other habits. I have never claimed to be a man of good health.”

John feels it inappropriate to venture further into these so-called ‘habits’ and what they might entail so early into their companionship, so he settles for the safety net of doctoring. “You won’t heal as fast without fuel and energy, Sherlock, take that from the doctor who came from an active war zone.”

“And yet I have healed just fine, have I not? My body is used to these conditions, and I do not intend to change those habits anytime soon.”

“Stubborn bastard,” John mutters with a grin.

Sherlock smirks. “Quite.”


John retires to his room after washing the dishes, taking Sherlock’s, who he is proud to note has finished his given portion. He sits on his bed for a while to process the interaction with his former boyfriend. There is much to unpack, and John needs solitude to work through it; today’s encounter has been telling, but he is not sure what to make of it. Johnathan has not texted him again, however, which is unexpected, and John has to wonder what exactly Sherlock said to him to quell the anger. Nobody has ever managed to console Crouch’s temper, not even John.

When he has exhausted his mental energies John opens up his laptop and begins to search for local job vacancies, some of which he does not need a doctorate to apply for. Perhaps it is time for a career change, or at least new scenery that does not involve the most mundane of coughs and sniffles round-the-clock. John is used to high-stakes, life-threatening scenarios, not the elderly dawdling for their flu jabs or children throwing up in his office. Again he curses his injury for preventing him from returning to surgical work, the tremor in his hand too unpredictable to allow for safe yielding of instruments.

Options limited, John decides to give up and dedicate tomorrow to properly job hunt. Upon shutting his laptop he realises the room is much dimmer now, and it is evening according to the clock on his phone. John gets up from the bed with a groan, grappling for his cane, and hobbles to the doorway. He cannot hear movement downstairs, so he plonks down quietly, trying to keep his tread light so not to disturb his flatmate. Sherlock lies prostrate on the couch in a pair of worn pyjamas — the grey top stretched and baggy, pinstripe navy bottoms hung low on his hips. Draped across him like a flooding river is a silk dressing gown, the open plackets strewn messily and bunched around the nape of his neck. Sherlock takes up the entire couch, head resting on one arm, bare feet propped, his ankles crossed, on the other end.

“Evening,” John crosses through into the kitchenette but is met with silence. He glances over his shoulder, but Sherlock has not moved an inch, eyes closed, fingers steepled under his chin, and if it were not for jerking twitches of his head and low murmuring John would think him asleep.

Holmes lurches up when John drops a packet of various fish products on the counter. “Concentrating!”

“Go to your room then. I’m gunna be fairly noisy.” Watson does not feel rude saying such a thing, as they need to form boundaries between one another, and Sherlock has not portrayed himself as a sensitive being.

“What are you doing?” Sherlock’s head twists unnaturally around to regard him, quite like an owl, his curls mussing, a single coiled forelock falling onto his forehead without the styling gel to hold it.

John glances down at his pickings. “Making tea? It’s dinnertime.”

Holmes grumbles, face contorted by a sneer. “For you, perhaps.”

“Come join me. Do you like fish?”

“No. Yes.” Sherlock blinks.

John’s mouth quirks up. “Help me, then. Have you ever tried fish pie?”

“If I have I’ve deleted the experience.”

“Right… well, let’s give it another whirl. Come on, you can nap later.”

“I wasn’t napping, John, I was thinking.”

“Right, yes, of course, my mistake. Up we get Holmes, Doctor’s orders.” Sherlock moans and groans and flops his limbs around for a minute, petulantly insolent, before he rises to his feet and stomps into the kitchen. Regardless of his comportment John sees the compliance as progress, and gestures to the food he has set out. “Have you ever cooked before?”

“Obviously, don’t be daft, John.” Sherlock answers snidely, but there is a softness to his eyes that belies his amusem*nt. He clasps a pouch of fish sauce and peers at the instructions on the back. “You need help with this?

“No,” John nudges him with his hip, “but I thought it’d be nice for us to do something together. That wasn’t solving my case, that is.”

Sherlock acquiesces with surprising ease. “Very well. Shall we begin?”

John enjoys the activity, guiding Sherlock to hand-mash potatoes in a bowl as he organises the oven and mixes cooked salmon, smoked haddock, cod and prawn into the fish and cheddar cheese sauce, a sprinkle of spinach added in tandem. It is a simple set of tasks that makes room for banter to be shared between them, solidifying a friendship John is content to possess with his flatmate. It is a great improvement from the isolation of living alone; despite the overcoming messiness upon each surface. Sherlock is not the tidiest of men, no matter how hard he has tried to cast away his papers. He does, however, mash the potatoes to perfection — and he is the type of person who hyper-focuses on the details, not allowing John to take charge of the bowl until he is certain there is not a single lump left in the mixture. John thinks it might also be a heed taken in relation to his texture aversions, but he says nothing, waiting patiently for Sherlock to finish, busying himself with seeking plates and cutlery.

“Done.” Holmes announces, tapping the masher on the edge of the bowl.

“Excellent,” John smiles, and he tips the fish and sauce combination into the smooth mash. “Would you like to do it?” Sherlock takes charge, further evidence towards his want for a desirable texture in his meal, whilst John checks the oven and grasps a beer from the fridge. Sherlock settles with water, and when the stirred mixture is to his liking he pours it into an oven tray, perfectly levelled, then sprinkles a packet of pre-made parsley breadcrumbs with such precision Watson would think he is a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Sherlock waltzes away to the desk in the living room as the pie cooks in the oven, leaving John alone to entertain himself. It is jarring after their brief moment of bonding, and Sherlock seems in no mood for further communication as he types furiously at his laptop keyboard and mutters to himself, deaf to the call of his name. Watson takes a seat in the fading fabric armchair he has claimed as his own, taking a dog-eared novel in hand to peruse whilst he waits. The book is one he has struggled to become absorbed in, and he is yet to determine if that is because he lacks engagement in the writing, or if he has been too stressed to properly enjoy the work. When the oven timer chimes, informing him of the meal’s completion, he is still no closer to an answer, as his mind has frequently wandered to Johnathan Crouch and the man sat across from him, oblivious to the goings-on beyond his laptop.

“Sherlock, food’s done.” John calls through the sliding glass partition between the rooms. There is no response as John tugs the tray free and sets it on a heat rack atop the counter. He opens the window to rid of the steam and dishes out two equal portions. “Sherlock?”

“Hm?” Sherlock hums without looking up from the screen.

“I said the food’s done. Come sit down.”

“Oh, yes.” Holmes rises from his seat at the desk, gazelle legs taking few strides to reach the kitchen where a steaming plate greets him.

“All right?” John asks when Sherlock does not sit down, staring at the food. Holmes blinks, then sits, covering his flustered cheeks with fluttering hands. He mumbles an affirmative and pokes at his portion with a fork. Watson smiles, toeing at his foot under the table. “Eat what you can. I won’t be mad if you don’t like it, or anything. At least you tried.”

Sherlock looks rather alarmed, and for a brief few seconds John is convinced he has overstepped, but then Holmes ducks his head, concealing a small smile. “Thank you, John. That is… considerate of you.”

Watson switches on the radio shoved against the tiled wall of the kitchen counter, surprised it functions, to drown out their eating noises. Sherlock jerks, a minute movement of the hand holding the fork, but he does not speak, and John does not make him, unwilling to cause embarrassment. He is a doctor, known for his patience, and when in the army, he constantly found ways to make the dreadful experiences of his men more comfortable, and this situation is no different. Perhaps it is the combination of the food prepped by his own hand and the companionable silence marked only by the tinny music behind John that encourages Sherlock to finish his plate, cleansing his palette with a shared bottle of white wine in lieu of the water, but John is pleased nonetheless.

Watson does not know the intricacies of Holmes’ character yet, but from basic observation he does not appear to be a man with much understanding of social etiquette. It is, therefore, a pleasant surprise that Sherlock joins him at the sink to dry their dishes, John passing them over in silence as the evening news drones on around them. Their closeness is couthy, an atmosphere John would like to emulate again, of which he does not express verbally, yet hoping the other feels the same. Unfortunately their proximity is torn asunder as Sherlock, without looking at John, mumbles an excuse and retires to his bedroom. There are a couple hours left of the day, and as Watson has been wont to do on longer evenings of relentless boredom, he swipes up his laptop and numbs his mind with senseless videos on the internet. It is better than the alternative: sitting alone, left with his tumultuous thoughts.


John lurches up, gasping, throat parched and eyes wide. A perfunctory scan of his new bedroom reveals no hidden enemy lurking in the shadows, and he pinches at the fleshy web between his thumb and forefinger in a bid to forcibly settle his heart rate. He hears the tinkling of music, a composition he does not recognise, and twists his damp body upon his tangled bedclothes with a dull squeak of the mattress to look outside the window. It is dark, at least for London, plagued by light pollution, and the solitary lamppost to the left of his window. Watson untangles weak limbs and stands up, feeling as confident as a newborn lamb, picking his way across the cool floorboards to his bedroom door. It is closed, as he left it, and he is doubtless that he has cried out in his sleep, alerting Sherlock to his distress. He is thankful he has not been disturbed, finding the whole ordeal mortifying, and stands at the top step for a moment, trembling, to catch his breath, soothed by the sweet lilting sound of a live violin. The dulcet tones are almost hypnotic, distracting John from the haze of a night terror he cannot recall beyond memories of his time at war, to ground him to the reality of his being. He is home, he is safe, there is no enemy here, he is guarded. Sherlock is becoming his nightly sentinel, and with that comforting thought John stumbles back to bed, grimacing at the cool wetness of his perspiration on the sheets. There is a glass of water on his bedside table, and John cannot remember if it was he who brought it upstairs, grateful for it regardless, and after a long sip his throat is refreshed and he lays back down, serenaded by wavering pitches and the strong pulse of vibrato through the floor; lulled by the compassion of his flatmate.

Chapter 14: Chapter Eleven


Had quite a busy day so I’m going to upload this and proofread tomorrow. Sorry for any mistakes x

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (11)

John wakes without fanfare. There is a ringing silence to the flat that suggests even Sherlock has slept, and with the sun beaming bright and excitedly through the window John finds his lips curled into a smile. A second nice awakening has done wonders for his mood, and he rises with a pep in his step. He strips his bed and bundles his pyjamas into a pile that he shall take downstairs to wash immediately, for there is only this and one more wash load for him to have completely finished his laundry. John prefers to stay on top of chores, finding the tasks more palatable to perform on a daily basis than in one large go when neglected for some time. He hums as he moves, gathering the washing and his empty water glass to make his way downstairs. The morning is enviable — relaxed, breakfast eaten without rush and tea drank observing the skittering ants below the living room window as they bustle to work and school. Though he enjoys the quietness of the morning there is something exhilarating about the early dash to catch a cab or a bus to his job, and he knows he will become tetchy and ungrounded if there is nothing worthy and productive to occupy his time.

John moves aimlessly about the space, taking the opportunity to properly observe his surroundings. Despite what he assumes has been a quick dusting of the surfaces, there is still a thin film of dust upon the edges of the main bookshelf to the right of the genuine Victorian fireplace, which has been filled to the brim with so many tomes and medical journals that the weight has caused the shelves to bow. Among the literary textbooks are random CDs labelled with spidery handwriting in permanent marker, and, bizarrely, two defunct printers. In fact, as John tours his own living room, there are a multitude of printers, some stacked on top of each other, none of which appear to be functional. To the right of the bookshelf is a display cabinet containing an eclectic plethora of random items, including an antique pestle and mortar, two teapots, various chemicals and two empty bottles of liquor, more books, but most intriguingly: sat on the highest shelf, a human skull still attached to the first six vertebrate encased in a glass domed jar.

There is not a single free surface — even the mantle is cluttered, as well as the floor around it. Another shelf on the left of the fireplace contains even more books, a side-profile painting of a young man John does not recognise and a litany of sketches (one a highly detailed graphite portrait of a foot). A frayed area rug, bright red with blue and green threaded patterns, brightens the room against the Victorian gothic fleur-de-lys wallpaper, brown leather couch and the muted green hues of the textured wallpaper on the surrounding walls. John is certain they could open a library with the sheer number of books — those not on shelves are stacked haphazardly beside the front door, an accident just waiting to happen; on the coffee table, shoved into the low sills of the two large and thin windows on the wall opposite the front door. It is like stepping into the life of a real Victorian citizen, or a well-made recreation of one’s abode, and if not a detective John would select a museum curator as Sherlock’s next career.

He has never been a man to collect items; growing up on the breadline, he shared a room with his sister in a cramped bedsit alongside his mother and father. Jean Watson was scarcely home, working two jobs throughout most of John’s youth, whereas his father, Hamish, never did reintegrate well to civilian life when he returned home from the war. Like John he was a soldier, and like John’s sister he turned to the bottle to cope. As John grew up he had few items to call his own, due to a lack of space and money, and never developed a want to do so when he was old enough to move into dorms for university. He has always been a tidy boy, so to live among such chaos now could potentially overwhelm if he does not accustom himself to it. Sherlock is a collector, that much is clear, and has an affinity for psychology and, notably, insects. There are several cases of preserved beetle species, and tucked on yet another shelf beside the couch is a case of pinned butterflies, not including the several books John has found on bees. It is endearing, that Sherlock has such passions and has, over the years, built up a physical representation of his interests to make the space his own. Sure it is messy and slightly startling to stumble upon but John enjoys perusing all of the bibelots in what he realises is now his home. A home, he thinks, trailing a finger across the back of his chosen armchair, a quilted maroon with swirling grey patterns. He has lived in a bedsit and in a student house and in barracks, but never a home. Not a proper one that he can do whatever he likes to. It brings a smile to his face, one he does not realise he is wearing until he hears the rumble of a voice behind him.

“Good morning.”

John restrains a jolt and turns, morphing the smile into something more friendly. “Good morning, Sherlock. Sleep well?”

“Indeed. What are you doing?”

“Just taking a tour. There’s a lot to take in.”

Sherlock goes very still, only his eyes moving as they scan the room then flit back to John. Quietly, he asks: “do you want me to take it all down?”

“What? No no, I like it. ‘S different. Unique. Quite like you,” John muses.

“Like me?” Sherlock frowns, eyes coasting the room again.

“Yeah. Different is nice. I like different,” says John, failing to restrain his wider smile.

“Me too,” Sherlock assents, relaxing the rigidity in his whip-thin frame, though he does not move from the border of wooden floorboards and linoleum that segregate the kitchen and living room. After a moment of shared silence, John clears his throat and turns around properly, triggering Sherlock into offering tea. An automatic reaction, as a true Brit, and John accepts, walking into the kitchen alongside Sherlock, who still seems to be processing their conversation.

“You’re quite the tea connoisseur,” John chuckles. Sherlock hums, bemused, and turns to look at the cupboard. Inside are several brands and flavours of tea, some of which are foreign. The fancier brands require a strainer, and with a closer look there are also coffee brands that use a cafetière. John is unsure if Sherlock owns a tea strainer, but the cafetière is currently being used as a plant pot on the kitchen windowsill.

As John fills the kettle and pops it on the stand to boil, Sherlock collects the mugs and walks John through the various options. Watson knows some of the brands by the quality of packaging alone are expensive, and feels flattered that he is trusted to drink such esteemed leaves. They work together, and it is a peaceful affair punctuated by the click of the boiling kettle and the tapping of spoons on mugs. John sits down at the kitchen table, back to the front door, and slips the topmost newspaper from a pile scattered at the place next to his to rifle through absently. Though they remain in silence for some time, John finds sharing his living space with company is significantly better than the unwavering silence of his flat.

When Sherlock has finished his mug, seated painfully straight opposite John, he sets it down and adjusts the handle to align with an invisible specification. Eventually, he asks: “any plans for the day?”

“Hm, yes actually. I went job hunting last night and found a few positions so I’m going to look properly today.”

Sherlock’s eyes flash with something akin to surprise, but it is stifled within a second. “A job? Already?”

“Well, yes, the rent isn’t going to pay itself.”

Sherlock shifts, eyes averted, and he fingers the rim of his mug absently. “You shall never have to worry about finances, John.”

“What do you mean by that?” He asks, narrowing his eyes.

“I- never mind. Have you found anything in particular?”

John, for want of a nice morning, does not press. Instead, he mentions two jobs he thinks he might snag, but he worries his tremor will be a factor in a quiet dismissal of his application. He experienced such when he was first discharged home and capable of working again. “I’m only looking for part-time or locum anyway. Start off easy.”

“I see.” Sherlock says, and it is sharp, flummoxing John. He stands up with a screech of his chair and heads into his bedroom without another word, mug forgotten on the table, leaving John to scratch his head alone. Sherlock is a strange man.

Over a second mug John peruses further job vacancies in the area, venturing slightly farther out with the use of the tube routes. It takes more time checking the commutes are possible both of a morning and in an emergency than it does to fill out the bog-standard forms and attach his cover letter. Hannah Appleton, his previous boss, is connected as a reference, alongside a supervising officer from the Homeland department of his army squadron that can vouch for his service. He hopes Hannah will honour her offer to provide a good reference, as she is the only current tie he has to medical work outside of his residential work before enrolment in the army. When he is done, applications checked, double checked, and sent off, he moves on to making some breakfast.

Debating knocking to offer some to Sherlock, John only gets as far as pulling out eggs from the fridge when his phone begins to ring. He does not recognise the number and feels a flash of hope. He shuts the fridge and grabs the mobile, clicking accept on the call and holding it up to his ear. “Hello?”

“Hello, is this Doctor John Watson?” The woman’s tone is formal but light.

Watson copies. “Speaking.”

“Ah, hello there Doctor Watson. My name is Susan Weatherby, Practice Manager of Ritchie Street Group Practice.”

“Good morning Miss Weatherby.”

“Good morning to you too. I’m calling because I saw your application for a GP role at our surgery?”

“Indeed,” John says, and he moves to sit down at the kitchen table. His heart thrums and he cannot keep the smile from his face — receiving a callback so rapidly is always good news.


“Sherlock?” John raps on the closed bedroom door with two fingers and hears a hum in response. “I’m going out, not sure how long I’ll be.”

There are rapidly approaching footsteps and the door opens, revealing John’s new peculiar flatmate still in his pyjamas and dressing gown. “Where are you going?”

Watson replies cheerily, “I got a job interview!”

“Already?” Holmes frowns.

“I know, mad innit? Should go well, I hope. Do-do you think I’ll be penalised ‘cause of the news?” Notably, there have been no newspapers available in the flat that even mention the ongoing murder case and John’s suspected involvement.

Sherlock frowns. “You have not been charged. You are no longer a suspect. Do not worry, John.”

“Right, yeah, yeah,” John cards a hand through his hair and huffs out a laugh, but there is no humour. “You’re right.”

“A recurring theme, you’ll note.” Sherlock says seriously. John chuckles properly then, and lightly shoves Holmes in the shoulder.

“Prat.” Sherlock matches his smile, but it is overly toothy, like he is pretending to smile but is not privy to the joke. John clears his throat and departs, wearing his best shoes and a crisp suit he saves for job interviews.

“When will you be back?” Sherlock asks after him, fiddling with the tie of his dressing gown.

John shrugs, running a hand down his face to check he has not missed a spot when shaving. “Not sure. Why, do you need me?”

“Oh, no. Where is it?” Sherlock blinks like a shuttering lens, amending, “the job interview.”

“Not far. Marylebone, Ritchie Street.”

Sherlock’s face goes blank for a moment, then his eyes clear and he says: “ah. You best get moving then. Your bus’ll be here soon.”

John checks his watch, amazed that Sherlock is correct. “See you later.”

Sherlock does not say a word, and when John clumps down the stairs he shuts his bedroom door again.


Sherlock opens his bedroom door fully dressed, adjusting the button cufflinks of his suit jacket. He has no secure plans for the day, but as he enters the kitchenette his mood sours. “What are you doing here?”

“Ah, Sherlock. How nice of you to join the land of the living.”

“What do you want, Mycroft?”

The man, Mycroft, twirls an umbrella, the ferrule whirling elegantly. “I came to check on you and your new flatmate.” He says as though the word pains him.

“We are fine. Thank you for your concern, goodbye.” Sherlock points to the door but, infuriatingly, Mycroft does not move, plastering on a queasy, placating smile he uses to deescalate situations.

“Yes, quite. Found yourself another obsession then. I pity the man.” Mycroft sighs, exasperated, and looks around the new abode Sherlock has deigned worthy of his residence.

Sherlock growls. “No, it’s not like that. Stop it.”

Mycroft sighs again, deflating. It is not worth the fight. He dumps two manilla files on the kitchen table, previously tucked under his arm. “The files you requested. Dare I ask?”

“It’s for a case.” Sherlock spits through gritted teeth, snatching the documents in case they are stolen from him.

“Ah yes. The case. Your latest case. Don’t get carried away, Sherlock. Remember what I told you-”

Sherlock interrupts him with a deflective wave of his unoccupied hand. “-caring is not an advantage, yes yes now go away!”

This time Mycroft complies, but not before he looks Sherlock up and down, eyes narrowed. He floats from the room like a spirit, leaving no evidence of his presence except for what is clutched in Sherlock’s hands. That shall be squirrelled away somewhere to be examined at will, but the contents is no longer his concern. Not for a while, anyway, he hopes. He leaves Sherlock hunched over the kitchen table, lit harshly by the fluorescent bulb above, making his skin look sickly wan.

The files are appraised, committed to memory and stored away in his bedroom. There is little need for them now, but Sherlock has no time to dispose of the documents as the front door opens again, followed by the scuffing of shoes kicking against the doormat. Then he listens to seventeen plodding footfalls on the stairs, and retreats to his armchair. He sits with his left leg crossed over his right at the knee, fingers steepled beneath his chin. John pokes his head through the kitchen doorway; upon spotting Sherlock he enters through the sitting room door.

“Hi!” John chirps.

Sherlock looks at him with a tepid smile, and he blinks slowly. “Hello. Good news, I gather?”

“Very! She said-” A phone blares out for attention, and Sherlock dips a hand into his inner jacket pocket, raising his other index finger to warn John to hold his thought. The caller ID intrigues him, and he answers curtly into the phone. John waits patiently where he is, watching excitement flash over Sherlock’s face.

When he has hung up and pocketed the phone, he looks sheepish. “My apologies. Lestrade said one of the neighbours has come forward with additional information about your case.”

“Oh. Excellent. Which one?” John asks.

“No idea,” Sherlock’s mouth draws into a thin line, but his eyes are bright. He grasps the arms of his chair with a histrionic clap then jumps to his feet. “Must dash, he wants me to consult. No surprise there.”

“Can I come?” John perks up, eyes alight.

“Unfortunately not. I don’t want to compromise the case with your presence there. I will, however, keep you updated.” Sherlock moves as he speaks, donning a scarf with shocking efficiency and speed before thrusting his coat over his arms as he practically vaults down the stairs. “Don’t wait up for me!”

John blinks at the empty space where Sherlock had just been, chuckling. The man has a one-track mind, but Watson does not mind, too chuffed from the success of his morning. He wanders upstairs to his quarters only to change into jeans and a comfortable jumper, his proverbial armour, then moves back downstairs to collect a mug of tea and a book from the shelf to entertain himself. He thinks Sherlock will not mind sharing his collection; besides, there is little else to do except mindless chores, and John is in no mood to clean. In half an hour or so he shall make himself a sandwich and plan out the rest of the day, but for now, with the high of the morning, he is content to wind down until Sherlock returns.


Sherlock strides into the briefing room confidently. He eyes the files strewn across the round table then looks to the Detective Inspector, who is haggard but pleased. “Ah, Sherlock, excellent. We were just about to get started.”

“This is voluntary, yes?” Holmes confirms.

“Indeed. She spoke to us the night of the incident in fact. Mrs Taylor, Peter Adams’ neighbour, opposite.” Greg’s voice is gruff but light, and it is clear he is hopeful this interview will be more fruitful than the few others he has conducted already.

“Will you let me in there?” Sherlock is restless, pacing the small area, his hands fluttering about his abdomen.

“If you’re nice. No insults, no deductions. Got it? If you don’t behave, you’re out.” Greg barricades the doorway, casting a parental look upon Sherlock, eyebrows raised to wrinkle his forehead.

“Message received loud and clear Lestrade. Shall we?” Sherlock wears his game face, mouth set, eyes narrowed and expression steely. They step into the interrogation room, Sherlock nodding his head at the woman, Greg smiling.

“Hello there Mrs Taylor, I’m Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade and this is my colleague Sherlock Holmes.” He says, gesturing to them both.

“Oh, hi, yes,” the woman replies timidly. Her skin is clear and eyes dry but in her hand she clutches a tissue. It is crumpled but, from Sherlock’s assumption, currently unused. A preemptive measure, then. She does not seem to recognise him.

They sit, Sherlock draping his coat over the back of his seat, Greg rolling up his shirt sleeves. He sets down a folder pertaining to the case but keeps it shut for now, with the exception of an A4 notebook he tugs free. A click of a pen marks the beginning of the interview. “So, you requested to speak with us regarding the murder of Peter Adams?”

“Yes, I want to be of help. I… saw that John Watson was listed as a suspect.”

“Is that what you wanted to discuss?” Greg asks.

“I just wanted to go over that night again, from my perspective. You see, John is a lovely man, and I just cannot imagine him going so far as to-to kill Peter.” She gulps involuntarily, swallowing several times and taking a sip from a provided glass of water.

“I understand Mrs Taylor. Would you like to start from the beginning?”

“How far?” She chuckles nervously, fraying the edge of the tissue. “John and Peter have never gotten along really. Not that it was John’s fault, mind, and- oh god I hate to speak ill of the dead- but Peter was not the nicest to John or his… partner.”

“Can you tell me, from your perspective, what happened the night Mr Adams died? I’m aware you’ve already spoken about this, but another run-through would be much appreciated.”

“Of course. So, I was home, pottering about. No, I was watching TV, and at about, ooh, I’d say five o’clock roughly, John came home.”

“How did you know it was John?”

“I didn’t at first. Well, Peter must’ve come out of his flat at the noise or something, I’m not sure. I was still sat down, you see. And then I heard shouting, so I got up to check, even though I knew already it would be those two. I was looking through the peep hole of my door, oh, goodness that sounds terrible,” she chuckles to herself, “but er, yes. And Peter was shouting at John, just as I thought.”

“What about?” Greg asks whilst jotting down the information. Sherlock watches intently without speaking a word.

“I didn’t hear the first part of the conversation, but something about John making noise all day. Which was a bit odd, actually, because he works all day and he’d only just got home. It was probably the neighbours above. Anyway. They were tossing insults around, some really rude things, and I decided to step in.”

“What did you do?” Greg asks, scribbling away. He does not look up.

“I think I asked John if he was okay. Something along those lines.”

“What did he say?”

“He apologised for the disturbance, but he was tetchy. Ruffled. He usually ignores Peter but that night…” she huffs out a breath, the tissue flapping out of her loose fist, where it sits in her lap. “I’ve never seen him shout like that before. It was like he’d lost his mind.”

“Is there anything in particular that was strange about his behaviour?” Greg asks.

“Well, he was shaking. He looked like a caged animal, if I’m being honest with you. Although, there was something he said…” she trails off, eyes fogging in memory. Greg prompts her to continue and she blinks as if snapping from meditation. “I think I asked what was going on, and he sort of…laughed, but it wasn’t a funny kind of laugh. And then he said, I think, ‘nothing has happened at all’. Which, at the time, in fact even right now I still don’t understand what he meant by that. But er, yes. He then went storming into his flat, and I think he was looking for his partner.”

Lestrade smiles at her for divulging this information. Sherlock, however, presses on. “Partner, you say? Do you know anything about them?”

Mrs Taylor shrugs at him. “Only that his name was Johnathan. It was a bit of a joke, you see. John and Johnathan.”

“What kind of relationship did John Watson have with Johnathan?” Lestrade asks. He has to switch to a new piece of lined paper in his notebook. The rustling attracts Mrs Taylor’s eyes, and she stares at Lestrade’s thick fingers without really registering what she is looking at.

“Oh, I’m not sure. They were very private actually. Sometimes I heard shouting but they’ve been quiet for a while now.” She replies, blinking.

“What do you mean by that?” Sherlock asks, leaning forward. Mrs Taylor eyes him for a moment, deliberating in some form of innate response whether he should be classed as a threat before she answers.

“I see them both going in and out of the flat sometimes. Well, I haven’t seen Johnathan in a while, but then again I’ve been busier, and he has always been a quiet man. As far as how their relationship is I’m really not sure, John doesn’t really talk about that kind of thing. I wouldn’t either, with a neighbour like Peter.”

“So you’re somewhat close to John Watson?” Lestrade questions. He seems more confident in Mrs Taylor’s line of inquiry now, sitting straighter, shoulders lax, his expression eased into a less creased state.

“I keep an eye out on him. He’s strong, stubborn, keeps to himself but you can just tell when someone’s struggling, can’t you? He wasn’t doing well at all when he first came home from the war. Took weeks for him to get back on his feet, and he refused all help too, bless him. He’s a very sweet man, which is why I was so shocked to see him in the news. He never really engaged in fights with Peter.”

“But he did a few times, didn’t he?” Sherlock watches as Mrs Taylor flinches, just the smallest hint of movement that Greg does not catch from where he is writing and speaking. Perhaps she is afraid of dumping John into an unfavourable position, even if unwittingly.

Her next words are chosen more carefully, and spoken at a slower pace with a forced casual infliction. “Well, on that night they argued, sure, but I think that was a tip-of-the-iceberg moment for John. I just — John has always been ever so polite.”

“What did you think of Johnathan?” Greg asks, and he looks up from his notebook when there is no reply. Mrs Taylor is staring at the table, eyes glassy, unfocused, and she gnaws at her lip. “It’s okay Mrs Taylor, we’ll take any information you have. Even the tiniest detail might be important.”

“I- gosh I feel awful saying this — I’ve never really liked Johnathan. He's quite… how do I say it? Controlling, I think, of John. Bossing him about, and the shouting as I said before. You couldn’t help but listen in. If there was ever an issue, it was Johnathan causing it. If anything, he was the one who argued back with Peter, and it was John who would break the fight up. But as I said, he's been quiet for a while.”

“Did the fighting ever turn physical?” Lestrade looks up from writing her words down, searching her expression for the truth.

Mrs Taylor frowns deeply and she shakes her head firmly. “No, never. Nothing like that. Just hallway arguments and slamming doors. Childish stuff, really.”

“Mrs Taylor,” Sherlock’s voice is warm and sickly sweet, paired like a good wine with his affable smile, and she responds predictably, the tension in her frame dissipating. “When was the last time you saw Johnathan?”

“Oh, let me think,” her gaze shifts off to the left and upwards in recollection, and she hums. “I’d say a few weeks ago now. Oh, wait, no, more recently in fact. Perhaps just under two weeks ago.”

“You’re sure?” Holmes clarifies.

She shakes her head curtly. “Not certain, no. But he does come by now and then. Just lets himself in. I think he and John have been doing good because I haven’t heard arguing in ages.”

Interesting. Do you happen to have a routine of any kind?” Sherlock asks. Greg cannot be sure where this line of inquiry will lead, but there is a spark of interest in those blue-green eyes and he knows he will be made privy afterwards. So far Sherlock is behaving wonderfully, and with it comes the privilege of gaining information directly from the source.

“Routine? No, but I do stay home a lot. Joint problems, you see. I’m getting old now!” Her and Greg chuckle, but Sherlock does not react. He asks if she tends to spy on the other neighbours and restrains a twitch as Greg kicks at his foot under the table in warning.

In truth, Mrs Taylor is just a lonely, albeit admittedly nosy, neighbour. She is familiar with the comings and goings of the other neighbours and is able to divulge some information on how Peter Adams navigated his retirement years. “He just kind of floated about. He went to the shops every morning, sometimes the afternoon, and occasionally went to the pub with some of his old army friends. He didn’t speak to many people. Well,” she laughs then quells it with a sharp cough, “I suppose that is true in more than one sense. He shouted at everybody. He was very grumpy.”

“Did anyone else have issues with him?” This is one of the most important questions, to which every answer he has received from various witnesses has been the same.

As predicted, Mrs Taylor does not disappoint. “Oh, almost everyone. He wasn’t very well liked. It’s sad, really. I just think he didn’t know how to socialise after the army. He never really came home from the war.” She muses absently, frowning at the table. Lestrade packs away his notebook and stands, startling her from her reverie.

“Thank you so much for your time, Mrs Taylor. You’ve been of great help to us and you were very brave to come back to speak to us.”

“You’re quite welcome. If you have any more questions for me don’t hesitate to call.” Sherlock thinks this is the most interesting event of her life in several years, hence her eagerness to be involved. Greg, however, says not a word on the matter, simply thanking her again and offering to walk her to the exit.

Sherlock relocates to and waits in Greg’s office, who returns and graces him with a pleasant smile. “You did good in there. Behaved well. Did you catch anything?”

“The boyfriend.” Sherlock drums his fingers against the desk, his other hand raised to his face.

“Ah, yeah, me too.” Greg replies, but he does not expand further.

Sherlock, in response, frowns, and shifts to look up at Lestrade. “No, that’s the thing. She mentioned his frequent returns to the flat, yes?”

“Yeah, and?” Lestrade takes a seat at his desk and sets down the files with a heavy clunk.

“He and John haven’t been together for a while now.” Sherlock says.

Greg stills, taking a single, tiny breath, then he meets Sherlock’s eye. “Oh. You think-?”

Sherlock steeples his fingers beneath his chin. “I’m not sure what to think. But I vow to find out.”


Sherlock steps through the outer door of the 221 apartments, tugging off his scarf as he closes the door behind him. It is quiet, bar the tinkling of music from Mrs Hudson’s tinny radio. Not wanting to be caught in her mindless conversation, he climbs the stairs with a lighter gait, removing his shoes outside the closed front door. He never usually closes it, but perhaps John prefers that modicum of privacy. Holmes realises why when he pushes it open. John is positioned on the floor, cross-legged, and using his fingers to walk his arm out away from his body. His spine straightens out as he moves, but upon hearing the snick of the door he jerks, looking up.

“Don’t let me disturb,” Sherlock says, raising placating arms.

John mutters something to himself, cheeks flushing visibly, and he sits straight again. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I thought you might be asleep. Didn’t want to wake you.” Holmes replies with a gentle shrug as he sets down a bulky satchel at his feet.

John blinks at him. “Oh. That’s awful kind of you.”

Sherlock gestures to John’s seated form. “Are you in pain?”

“Nah. Just standard physio. I, er. Yeah.” John clears his throat awkwardly but does not move from the area rug. Sherlock simply hooks his coat onto the stand by the door, collects the satchel and rounds the doorframe to enter the kitchen.

“Tea?” Holmes offers, jerking his head at the kettle.

“That’d be lovely, thanks.” John says in the living room. Sherlock leaves him there, making more noise than necessary to procure mugs and get the water boiling so that Watson does not feel scrutinised. A glance through the half-open slider door between the two rooms shows John continuing the exercise with better success, his arm almost fully extended past his shoulder. It trembles with the effort and John grunts, head dropped low, but he does not quit.

“When you’re done go sit in your chair, I have a bit more information to share with you.” Sherlock shouts through.

“Anything worrying?” John replies without lifting his head.

“No, nothing you don’t already know.”

The tea is made to their preferences — Sherlock’s dark but sugary, John’s with a dash of milk but no sugar — set down upon the side tables at each of their armchairs. John clambers to his feet rather inelegantly and collapses into his chair with a grateful puff of air. A thin sheen of sweat glistens the skin of his forehead, and he removes his jumper, leaving him in a plain undershirt. Sherlock tries not to look, and quells a spike of disappointment that the bullet scar is concealed by the stark white fabric. Whilst his tea is cooling, Sherlock retrieves the satchel, dumping it on the coffee table so he can pull files out of it. Several are scattered around his feet, fluttering when discarded, the rest pinned to the gothic wallpaper, where John is sure their landlady will have a fit when she sees it. At the end of his endeavour Sherlock has mounted all the vital evidence of the case on display to peruse at their own volition and John gets to his feet for a closer look.

“If you notice anything amiss, do let me know. You are more intimately connected to this case than I.” Sherlock says, and the wording strikes John as peculiar. He briefly side-eyes Sherlock, but the man is not looking at him, and he shrugs it off.

A once-over of the evidence provides no results, but then John pauses and rounds the coffee table to jab at a small photograph. “That’s Peter,” Sherlock looks at him as though he is stupid, but John presses at insistently, “and that’s the cap I was telling you about.”

“They must have found pictures of him. You’re sure this is the cap?”

“Absolutely. Hard to forget when you see it everyday.”

“Worn by your tormentor, no less.” Sherlock says sans tact. John makes a small noise in the back of his throat and his finger slides off the picture, smacking into his thigh with a thwack.

After a moment of quiet, both men examining the smattering of crime scene photographs, John glances at Sherlock. “So, who was it who came forward?”

“Mrs Taylor.”

John’s face brightens, and he seems to sag with relief. There is trust there, then. He is right to feel warm towards her, Sherlock thinks — though he personally abstains from most human connection he can see when there is a worthy person of friendship in others. He eagerly tells John of her perspective, feeling a small thrill of delight at the beginnings of true happiness spreading into John’s body. A proverbial weight has been lifted at the news of her support, and somewhat realistically too, for Watson stands straighter, his gait evening out. Though Mrs Taylor provided more of a positive testimony to John’s character than a timeline, they still piece together what happened in the lead-up to Peter Adams’ demise. It is then, with some hesitance, Sherlock decides to tell John about his ex-partner.

At first Sherlock’s jaw works, finding the most suitable way to say it, and John smiles indulgently. “Go on, what?”

“You’re not going to like it.”

John snorts derisively. “In all honesty I’ve not liked any of this, but do go on.”

“Mrs Taylor mentioned your ex-partner, Johnathan.”

“What about him?”

“You broke up with Johnathan, when?”

Watson looks off at the wall and kisses his teeth. “A while now. Going on two months.”

Sherlock’s mouth twitches, a steely gaze fixed predominately on John. “She said she’s seen him entering your flat on several occasions. As recently as two weeks ago.”

“What?” John whirls around to stare at Sherlock, eyes wide.

“As far as she is concerned, this is a confirmed sighting. She still thinks you’re dating.”

“Oh god. Jesus. f*cking hell. Do… do you, Christ, do you think he- he did it?” John’s pallor whitens in an instant, and Sherlock, fascinated, actually sees the acceleration of his heart rate battering against the thin material of his undershirt. His skin goes clammy and he sits down, lowering his head closer to his knees.

“John, are you quite all right? Are you going to faint?” Sherlock moves to his side, bent at the waist, tilting his head down towards John’s.

John mumbles from between his legs, “give me a minute. I just... all this time.”

“Let’s not theorise without enough data, John. That’s how mistakes are made.”

He looks up, cheeks flushed but blotchy pale underneath. “I mean surely you can see how bad this looks?”

“Likewise, Doctor Watson. Your comportment seemed equally suspicious the night of the murder, but I saw through it, didn’t I?”

“Oh god, I wish this would just get solved already! So it was him breaking into my flat all the time! That’s why there was no bloody evidence! He was just locking it again behind him,” John rambles aloud, and Sherlock lets him, though the contents means little to him.

“You forgot he had a key?”

“I thought he’d given it back to the landlord when we split. The landlord certainly never came to ask for it back, so I just thought… oh god did he murder Peter?” John’s breath comes quicker, consuming him, hands shaking so hard even fisted they tremble.

“Calm down, John. You were a Captain, I’m sure you treated plenty of murderers.”

“That was not the same thing Sherlock,” John snaps, but he takes a deeper breath, leaning back into the couch cushions. He is too heightened to feel embarrassed, but he is certain later on the shame will creep into his bones. Holmes, in turn, softens, and sits down beside him, with enough space between their bodies to feel their shared heat but not make physical contact.

“My apologies, John. I understand. A lot has happened to you over the past few weeks, I can see how this would be triggering.”

John takes several more breaths, holding them on the inhale, counting out on the exhale, until he is no longer lightheaded. “It’s not that it’s triggering, per se, but that I potentially lived under the same damn roof as a killer! What if it had been me? Or more than just Peter?”

“That isn’t the case, John. Listen,” Sherlock waits for John to look up at him, trembling though he is, “it is not worth the emotional trauma to make wild assumptions without the appropriate data yet. We need more evidence, so until then, try to remain calm. Sentiment will not help you.”

“I can’t just switch my emotions off!” John exclaims, eyes wild.

Sherlock frowns, looking at him strangely. “You can’t?”

“Oh, and you can?” Watson replies, voice dripping with acidic sarcasm.

“Yes.” Sherlock says sincerely. John blinks at him and then looks away, unsure how to commence with that information. There is certainly something different about Sherlock, who has a total disconnect to the emotional aspect of the conversation, and immediately gets to his feet when John has settled down enough to breathe correctly. As if John has not just had a panic attack on the couch — mild, yes, but still an attack nonetheless — Sherlock returns to the satchel to finger through the files. John, slightly baffled by his apathy, watches him delve into the work with no further explanation, and after a moment stands shakily to retrieve a drink. He drains the first glass to the dregs and fills up a second, chugging that halfway down. Sherlock, at the sound of John setting down the glass, looks up to see him wipe his mouth with his sleeve.

“Can I have some tea?” He asks like a young child. John opens his mouth, but no sound comes out, so he clears his throat and says yes. Sherlock’s mouth ticks up on one smile in a parody of a smile, and he says: “thanks.”

Now that John has been cast to tea duty, he can regroup in privacy. Thoughts race through his head, questions tripping each other up to be answered first, flooding into his mind like a stampede, and he knows if he thinks too much he will break down. So he sticks to the facts they have learnt and does not attempt to hypothesise under Sherlock’s advice, tapping at the mug with a teaspoon. Two steaming mugs are carried into the room and John looks around for somewhere to put them. Sherlock’s he sets down on the side table beside the leather armchair and his he keeps hold of, taking the same seat at the couch as before. It is peaceful watching Holmes form an order to the papers, cross-legged and hunched over the table similar to how he found John earlier. Watson, however, becomes antsy, needing a task to feel less useless.

“Did you get the forensic results back?” John asks, feeling slightly insecure as his voice blares in the quiet. Sherlock fishes for a form and scans over it noiselessly, the ringing silence stretching for so long John almost repeats himself.

“Your DNA test came back negative, as I told you. There was no other DNA at the scene except for Mr Adams’ and forensics have suggested the assailant wore gloves. Few results have been found from testing. Mostly the blood splatters.”

John nods but Sherlock is not looking at him. “Right. So. Back to square one?”

As if Sherlock has not heard him, he says: “that’s why you were still held as a suspect. A doctor has endless access to nitrile gloves. You know how to kill someone. You’re the perfect fit.”

“But I didn’t do it.” John says it with a lack of confidence, and he knows the second it comes out of his mouth that Holmes has picked up on it.

“You don’t sound so sure,” Sherlock muses, and he glances up. John shifts uncomfortably under those icy eyes the colour of sea foam.

“I didn’t. You know I didn’t.” Sherlock hums, and for a moment John’s heart skips a beat, because if Sherlock Holmes does not believe him, who will? But Holmes simply types something into his phone and sets it down then goes back to his papers.

Eventually he reassures John, “Johnathan Crouch will be brought in for questioning, you need to relax. As of right now, there are no other leads for us to pursue.” John sighs.

He cannot stand sitting there doing nothing, so with a definitive clearing of his throat to let Sherlock know he is leaving, he grabs his jumper where it is slung over the fabric armchair and departs from the room, mug left beside the sink to wash later. Sherlock’s mug sits untouched on the side table, cold and forgotten, quite like how John feels. The morose is physically shook from his head — he cannot waste time on unfounded emotions, and Watson takes the steps up to his bedroom to collect his phone. He dials a number saved in his contacts, tapping his fingers against the back of his phone where it rests against his left ear.

After an age, a feminine voice answers. “Hello, this is Hackney Turning Point, how may I help you?”

“Hi, this is John Watson. I was ringing to inquire about my sister, Harriet. I know they confiscate phones and such… would I be able to speak with her?”

“Of course, just give me a moment.” John can hear the heavy clack of a keyboard and provides the necessary information to prove he knows Harry, such as her date of birth and current address. The woman on the line shifts audibly then mutters, confirming the spelling of the name. After several minutes, John asks: “is there a problem?”

“I’m just having trouble locating Harriet on the system. Are you absolutely sure she’s here?”

“She definitely was a week ago. Is there a way to see who has checked out?”

“Yes, one moment please.” There is more clacking and clicking then the woman clears her throat. “I’m very sorry Mr Watson, it appears Harriet left two days ago.”

“Ah,” the sinking feeling is familiar but unwelcome. “Thank you for your time.”

“Can I help you with anything else?” The receptionist asks, but they both know the answer.

“No thank you. Bye now.” John clicks off with a whooping sigh that expands his chest to almost painful levels. He rolls his head, working out a crick in his neck; and seated at the edge of his bed he finds every inkling of composure from the very depths of his being before he picks up his phone again.

“Hello?” Comes a gravelly voice.

“It’s John.”

There’s a sharp inhale. “sh*t. Did Clara tell you?”

“Tell me what, that you bailed on rehab again?”

“Look, John, it wasn’t working for me. Too restrictive.”

“Harry, for fu- you say this every time. Do you even want to get better?”

“‘Better’ implies that I’m sick,” she replies haughtily. John laughs humourlessly and he shakes his head, incredulous, despite her not being able to see it. “What do you want?”

John scoffs. “I only rang to tell you I’ve changed addresses. You promised!”

“Where are you now?”

“Baker Street,” John says.

Baker Street? How the f*ck are you affording that?” Her laugh is sharp, cutting.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is you’ve walked out on treatment, again, and you didn’t even tell me. Have you relapsed?” He knows his voice is raising but he finds it hard to control.

Harry also begins to shout, but she sounds little more than a petulantly insolent teen. “Oh give it a rest, Johnny! Honest to god.”

“Yeah. You’ve got that right. You swore to me, Harry. You promised this was it now. Why do you do this to yourself? To us?” Watson is breathing heavy now, subsumed by fury. Harry’s sobriety has always been a tetchy subject, but this is yet another repetition of broken promises.

Harriet sighs. “Hanging up now,” she sings, “we can talk when you’re not trying to throttle me through the phone.”

“No, talk to me, Ha-” John cuts himself off with a loud exhale at the distinct click of the call ending. The room feels stuffy with his ire, and John needs a distraction. He stomps down the stairs, but upon reaching the two entry doors to the main hub of the flat he takes several deep breaths and heads into the kitchen for another cup of tea. Sherlock has swivelled in his spot to watch him, though he still clutches paperwork in one hand. The other tugs at his bottom lip.

“Sorry for all the shouting,” John shoots him a sheepish look but does not offer up an explanation. Sherlock nods, once.

“Tea? I’m waiting on confirmation from Lestrade.” Holmes says.

“Are you going to drink this one?” John chuckles. Sherlock frowns until he follows Watson’s pointed finger to his abandoned mug.

“Oh.” He says plainly.

“Bring it here and I’ll make you another.” Sherlock carries the mug to John, their fingers sliding against each other in the trade, and Watson turns abruptly on his heel so that Sherlock cannot see the gulp in his throat. Sherlock is a very attractive man, that John can admit, but he feels so wrong even thinking such thoughts of a man he would not be surprised to learn is a virgin.

Instead, he distracts his battered head with the simple and repetitive task of making tea. The mundanity grounds him to the moment, stops him from feeling so afloat with all the happenings bombarding his system at once. This time Sherlock takes the mug from John and keeps hold of it, fingers wound around the handle so that the index finger may tap the rim of the mug in specific yet tuneless patterns. With nothing better to do, the men fall into a pleasant lull — John reading the book he selected earlier in the day, Sherlock sitting beside him, at a distance still, to plunge into his mind palace. It is peaceful.

Chapter 15: Chapter Twelve

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (12)

There is a wet splatter and the man gargles. John shouts to his aide to apply compression to the wound, but there is so much blood. It gushes from the wound, a waterfall only spurred on by wails of agony. He grimaces, hastily cinching buckles around flailing wrists. The tendons there bulge obscenely, curled fists punching at the gurney, and the soldier’s back arches so far he nearly topples from the bed. John needs to work quickly now, and he wipes the blood from his gloves on his apron so that he can properly grasp a needle and thread. It is the least he can do to treat such a severe gaping of flesh, and he has his aide flush it with saline, revealing viscous yellow globules of fat. He jumps in, creating sutures and stopping the blood becoming his priority. It will be an ugly scar, but there is no time for attempts at aesthetically pleasing stitches.

“Doctor!” John turns to the urgent voice and finds his patient choking on his own blood. He swears under his breath, ordering a tracheal tube, and it is handed to him seconds later. All of his reserve is poured into feeding the tube down his patient’s throat, and oh god, he is only young, no older than twenty-two, and John cannot get the tube in, muscles constricting against the intrusion.

“sh*t, I need you to calm down, lad. Come on,” John whispers at him, but the kid is beside himself, transported to another world, sweat soaking his fatigues. The medication pumped into his veins does little to loosen the muscles, and John knows he is running out of time. As a last resort he turns on the suction prematurely to siphon away the worst of the blood, the squelching reverberating off the tiles of the base’s operating theatre. When there is a clearer path John eases back the head of the lad to open his airways and shoves the tube in. There is nothing else Watson can do, and fresh blood trickles de novo from the corners of his mouth.

In his struggle the patient has shifted the oximeter clipped to his fingers, alarms blaring from the machines nearby in response, and John finally slots the tube in. He pounds the suction button then checks the hunk of dangling flesh that was once a shoulder. Gauze, sodden, is slipping from the site, but it has not been the main cause of concern. The aide collects the oximeter from the floor and attaches it to their patient’s finger, but there is only a ringing screech that drags out. John, cursing, manipulates the tube free, but he cannot even see down the throat for the blood welling up in there.

The struggling has stopped.

There is nothing else they can do.

Panting, John drops the tube on a nearby tray. He switches off the protesting machine, leaving behind a bloody fingerprint. They drop into silence, bar his and the aide’s ragged breaths, but John cannot stop yet. He places down a white sheet over the unrecognisable body of the young lad, covering the final sluggish drool of blood from the wrecked shoulder, and places his dog tags — which had previously been ripped away to access his throat in a failed tracheostomy attempt — onto his chest. The metal is warped, curled into itself as if protecting the precious identification there. John moves on, unbuckling the restraints and tucking the limp arms under the staining sheet. Eventually he reaches the head, unwilling to look as he straightens it. Thin rivulets of blood pooled in his mouth race in twin streams from the corners of his mouth towards his neck, and finally, John looks at his face. He lurches back, gasping.


John yells, sitting up so fast his muscles cry out. The sheets, patterned with colourful circles, squeak against the puddle of perspiration beneath his heaving body, but, he thinks sardonically, at least it is evidence that he is alive. His pulse, unlike the one in his dream, pounds hard, thrumming visibly in his wrist. Exhaustion plagues him worse than it had before he slept, and Watson swings his legs over the edge of the bed to ground himself to the room. He counts his fingers then his toes, which are cooled by the ancient floorboards, then reminds himself aloud of basic information.

“My name is John Hamish Watson. I was born April twenty-third nineteen-seventy-one. I live at 221B Baker Street. I am in London. I am safe.” John’s breathing regulates as he repeats those facts, over and over, until the whispers wax volume and he fully believes his own words.

He can hear nothing outside of the bedroom, albeit blood still rushes like a creek in his ears. The water on his bedside table is tepid but the perfect remedy for his parched throat, until he remembers the gurgling in his dream. The water tinges pink, eddying into the glass like ink, and he yanks it away, blinking hard. It is just water. Plain, translucent water. When he recalls how to swallow, John takes a few more sips then stands to change the bedclothes.

He has taken to keeping spares at hand, even if it is overkill for his rate of laundry. With a fresh bed and no toiletries at hand, John creeps down the stairs on an irregular gait; on the bottom step he takes a steely breath and peers around the tiny landing but there is no enemy there to jump him. Tonight there is no sign of Sherlock either, the pang of guilt John feels at potentially waking him quelled by the cooling tack of sweat on his skin as he hobbles to the bathroom. The shower bursts to life with a creak, and John passes the time waiting for the water to heat by examining his reflection. In all honesty to himself, he does not look as bad as he feels, but his eyelids sport the usual sagging post-night terror, eyeballs bloodshot and stinging from unshed tears. He sniffs, consoled by the reality of the well-lit bathroom, and he steps into the shower for a quick wash. Even the simple routine of rinse, lather and rinse makes him feel remarkably more human, and he exits the bathroom in a plume of steam. If Sherlock has not been disturbed by the shower so close to his bedroom then John argues he will not wake at the sound of the bubbling kettle either, so he makes himself a cup of tea.

Watson collects a small bowl to pour some of the sugar into. He did not use the full bag when filling up the jar when he first moved in, so none is spared for his plan, and rooting in the drawer (mostly out of curiosity) John also finds a ball of hessian string, some pin tacks and a rather scuffed but functioning bell. He pockets the items in his bath robe and sets to making a large mug of tea that he blows on as he ascends the staircase to his room, the bowl of sugar in his other hand. The tremor in his left hand has decreased significantly; quicker than usual, too. The twinge in his leg lessens with the confidence of his newfound security measures, and when John enters his bedroom he shuts the door tight, pushing on the handle to simultaneously hear and feel the click.

On the bedside table John sets down his steaming cup with the bowl of sugar placed neatly beside it. Not a granule is spilled, for which John is surprised, but he wastes no time on the matter. He would like to go back to sleep promptly, but until he has carried out this ritual he will not feel comfortable enough to rest. He ties a knot in the hessian string so that it forms a tight loop around the door handle, then he winds the string around itself thrice. Unravelling the ball of string roughly the length of a small ruler, John halts his progress to slot the bell onto the string; this one much bigger than the one from his flat. It chimes even during the installation, unfettered and loud in the dead silence of the night. John feeds the end of the string through the metal hoop at the top of the bell twice to form an adjustable knot. Keeping it taut, he then pins the end of the string to the wall, making sure that too is looped several times to secure it. At the end of his endeavour, John is faced with a straight string like birthday bunting with a bell dangling in the middle. A test jiggle of the door handle sets the bell ringing shrilly into the air, and John praises himself for his ingenuity. However, he is not yet satisfied.

Clambering onto the bed with the want to be quiet but with the grace of a newborn giraffe, Watson kneels at the end of his bed, the bowl of sugar in hand. There is enough to sprinkle a line around the perimeter of the bed frame, undetectable in the dark room save for the gentle susurrus as it hits the ground. When John is done he switches on his lamp to check out his handiwork, pleased with the result. It is only temporary, he tells himself. Throat parched, John drains his mug of tea in record time, leaving the dregs to dry overnight in the bottom of the ceramic. He shuffles down under the covers, and with a final breath the lamp clicks off, plunging him into darkness. Still, he sleeps fitfully.


Sunlight flitters across the bedsheets, dimming and brightening the walls with the lazy trawl of clouds stuttering over the sun. John wakes, snapping into full alertness as though still in his barracks. He rubs at his eyes so that the blurriness there clears enough for him to read the bedside clock. It is early, too early for most on a Saturday morning, but he has no desire to sleep. The few precious hours of rest he has received were both fleeting and unsatisfactory, leaving him irritable and twitching with a vibrating energy found in the sleep deprived. John realises he fell asleep in his dressing gown, and almost forgets about the sugar circle on the floor like a lousy parody of a ghost protection sigil, feet hovering over the granules. He stands, hopping over the sugar, and finds that his leg is only aching dimly rather than the sharp throb he has come to expect following a night of poor sleep.

A work induction at the new GP surgery is not until Monday, and the prospect of two whole days of nothingness is equally daunting as it is dreadful. Ennui is already threatening to grasp at his vulnerable mind even before the day has fully started, and John itches for something to do. Anything to take his mind off the new warped form of night terror he has experienced. Never has he dreamt of patients other than actual comrades on the field he treated, so to see Crouch staring lifelessly up at him was an extremely distressing sight. He knows, logically, that it is just his psyche processing the last few days, but it is no less frightening to recall. John is doubly pleased to see that his new homemade security contraption is still in place, and with a simple pull of the pin in the wall it comes free, leaving the bell dangling at an angle on the string. He leaves it there, still attached to the door handle, and exits the bedroom with the door closed behind him.

Sherlock bursts out of his room fully dressed, striding with vim to the kitchen table where he meets John. His phone is in his right hand, and he taps at it one-handed. “Good morning John,” he greets without looking up.

“Morning, Sherlock.”

“We officially have a warrant for Crouch’s arrest. Apparently Mrs Taylor’s recounting was more useful than I initially believed.”

“That’s great news, Sherlock,” John says sincerely.

“So, are you coming?” Holmes replies, as if they are discussing a picnic in Regent’s Park.

John, in turn, blinks incredulously. “What?”

“Well you helped, you should be allowed to come.” Sherlock’s tone sounds like a shrug despite his shoulders remaining stationary.

“I’m not sure that’s how it works.” John chuckles. “In fact, I know that’s not how it works.”

“Will you come?” Sherlock looks at him properly, intent eyes sparkling to life in the morning sunrise. At the same time, his thumbs blur blindly over the keyboard of his smartphone, casting out a message with impressive speed. It buzzes before John even has time to respond.

“Of course.” Watson says. Sherlock breaks out into a grin almost shark-like with his teeth on show, and he turns sharply on his heel to descend the main stairs. John follows up to the top step. “Sherlock, wait.”


“I’m not even dressed yet.” Holmes looks him up and down as if seeing for the first time.

“Oh. Yes. Do hurry up!” Watson, feeling the familiar flood of adrenaline to his system, likely spurred on by the tacit command of Sherlock’s impatience, obeys. He is dressed in under five minutes, neglecting breakfast in lieu of this exciting turn of events.

They take a cab to New Scotland Yard where Lestrade greets them. He frowns at John’s presence, in no way subtle with his disapproval. “What’s he doing here?”

That toothy smile returns to Sherlock’s lips, contorting his entire face, and his eyes widen some as he says: “John is the bait.”

“Sorry, what? I thought I was here for… well I’m not entirely sure what I’m here for.”

“I just told you. Do try to keep up, John.” Sherlock snips, then he flounces into Lestrade’s office as though it is his. Greg shares a look with John, one of exasperation and a deep-boned tiredness. John doubts Greg has even gone home yet from yesterday’s shift. Regardless, Watson is granted permission to enter the office space, the second largest of the bullpen. The walls are made of glass but covered in pleated blinds that are currently closed. It gives the office a more homely feel, if one can ignore the seemingly endless stacks of paperwork weighing down the centre desk. Sherlock sits in the chair in front of the computer, feet propped on the tabletop, phone in hand.

“Oi, shift it. You’re already pushing your luck.” Sherlock is shooed to the other side of the desk, and he plonks down into one of two chairs, ignorant to the chastising. John sits in the second seat as offered by Greg, but he feels like an outsider. He was, after all, the main suspect of this case not too long ago. Lestrade lowers himself into the ergonomic chair with a wince. Clearly he has been in this position for many hours, and John can deduce based on his posture that his coccyx is causing him grief. Lestrade says nothing, however, except to reprimand Sherlock for withholding evidence, namely a recording he took of the conversation between Crouch and Watson in the café.

“Relax, Lestrade, I couldn’t have the idiots here compromising my plan.”

Your plan? This isn’t some case brought in by a desperate client, Sherlock. This is a homicide investigation! An official inquiry! You do not go off without me, do you understand? Otherwise you’re off the case. The next several cases, in fact.”

“You won’t do that.” Lestrade challenges him with a gaze. “You won’t. You need me too much.”

“God help me, I do,” Gregs sighs, “but I’m serious Sherlock. You give me everything you have as soon as you have it. Are we clear?”

“Yes, Inspector,” Sherlock somehow makes the title sound like an insult, “are you ready to listen?”

“I’m all ears.” Lestrade capitulates, his exhaustion preventing a full-on row at seven in the morning. Sherlock smirks at the outcome, but it drops when John fixes him with reproving appraisal.

Holmes’ voice, when he speaks, is more subdued. “I have a plan. Crouch isn’t onto us yet. I propose we use John here to lure him in so that he comes willingly. I have a feeling Crouch will not accept his arrest quietly.”

John uses a significant portion of his energy to school his expression into polite interest. Internally, he is warmed by Sherlock’s unspoken support. Surely he heard his cries during the night, and if not, the shower will have disturbed him, if he even did sleep. With such a keen skill in the art — or science, as Sherlock calls it on his website — of deduction, he will have read John’s desperation to occupy his weekend, and this is the perfect distraction. Lestrade, in the meantime, is questioning Sherlock’s certainty in his own plan, for John’s involvement carries its own risks both in public and in the department. It would be Greg’s job on the line if something were to go awry. It takes some coaxing on Sherlock’s end to convince Lestrade to agree, but he does eventually, after confirming John is up for the task.

A debriefing with his team has Greg inundated with questions that last half an hour, Sherlock restless in the back of the room. He cannot seem to sit still, shifting in his seat every couple of minutes. His right index and middle fingers continuously rub against his thumb like a cricket, his left alternating between drumming on the tabletop and tugging at a coiled forelock. John tries hard to listen to the briefing — it does involve him after all — but Sherlock’s fidgeting is rather distracting. In the end, it is another constable that twists in his seat and sneers at Sherlock like a schoolboy.

“Would you shut up? Keep still for f*ck’s sake.” The man turns around before Sherlock can respond, and John is baffled by the rudeness. No warning was given, and Sherlock, abashed, stills, going almost statuesque. He does not look at John, who wants to check that he is all right, but there is no opportunity to capture Sherlock’s attention as the briefing ends and the room bursts to life. Constables and detectives file out of the conference room but Lestrade remains, holding out an arm to prevent Sherlock exiting. He does not allow the men to leave until they prove they have listened by reciting the operation and promised him to cooperate.

In Greg’s office, among the latter, Sherlock and the DCI assigned to the case, John unblocks Crouch’s number and composes a simple message informing him that the police have questions, as directed by the Detective Chief Inspector. They do not have to wait long for a response, though Watson is filled with trepidation at the prospect of meeting up with the man another time. That is made worse by Crouch’s enthused outrage as he protests his innocence via a stream of blocky text in all caps. John, still under the influence of the homicide investigation team, sympathises with him and offers support as someone who has also been dragged into Peter Adams’ murder. Curious, Johnathan falls for the bait, inviting Watson to his new residence to talk.

To not raise suspicions — as Crouch has been known to be violent towards police officers before — John is sent independently via taxi to the suburbs. He agrees to wear a microphone beneath his jumper and, if capable, to set up a video recording device to potentially capture a confession. The hope is that Watson shall be able to use the trust Crouch has in him to wrangle some more information about the night of Adams’ murder, including his potential involvement, but John is not so sure that will happen. Still, he cedes to the plans set in place, entrusting the team to perform their jobs properly, but most of all he relies on Sherlock’s stalwart attitude to produce a positive result. With the microphone pack tucked into the rear pocket of his jeans and covered by his jacket, John provides the given address to the taxi driver and sits back for the ride. His thigh jiggles impatiently, gaze darting about the whizzing scenery beyond the window as sweat begins to prickle the palms of his hands. Equipped with the knowledge that the police are following behind conspicuously does little to ease his nerves, but he stiffens himself so that an anxious comportment does not immediately give him away.

Johnathan Crouch’s residence is evidence of his money. After they met he received a raise at work that could have afforded him a much nicer living space, but he wanted to live with John, and John would only allow it if they could pay equal rent, leading to a compromise of the bedsit in Hackney. The terraced house Crouch lives in now is quaint, perhaps, but perfectly suited as a bachelor pad for a single man in his thirties. John plants one foot on the doorstep and leans over to ring the bell, listening out for sounds inside the house. He wipes his clammy hands on the seams of his jeans and resists the urge to glance behind to check for the plainclothes officers nearby. Within twenty seconds the door flings open, Johnathan peering out beyond, scanning the road either side of his door. His eyes then flicker back down to John, and he ushers him inside rather quickly, a hand to the small of his back.

“God I’m so glad you came.” Johnathan breathes a pitchy laugh that quirks the corners of his lips but does not reach his eyes. John shrugs, following Crouch into the kitchen. He stands at a mini breakfast bar and agrees to a cup of tea, if only to have an object to occupy his hands. “So, tell me everything.”

“There’s not much to it. Both of us are suspects ‘cause we lived next door to him.”

“Well they’re clearly grasping at straws to find this murderer!” Crouch bellows out a laugh, but it is humourless and falls flat. John simply stares at him. “Do you think they know?”

John feels his heart lurch. “About what?”

Crouch looks around conspiratorially. “About the fight.”

“What fight?”

Johnathan goes very still, eyes widening. He fidgets with the edge of the countertop. “Doesn’t matter. ‘S not relevant anyway. I’m not the one who bonked the f*cker.”

“Did you two have a fight? A physical fight?”

“Yeah. I was comin’ ‘round but he started moaning at me, so I shouted back, and-” Johnathan shrugs, aborting his explanation. Watson swallows thickly.

“When was this?”

“Dunno. ‘Bout two weeks ago?”

“Did you hit him?”

“I went to,” Johnathan mutters, “but he hid in his flat like a puss*.” It is the proverbial tip of the iceberg for John, who can no longer hold his tongue. Crouch stumbles back as Watson shakes his head with a dangerously harsh chuckle.

“We broke up. What do you not f*cking understand about that? Have you been stalking me?”

Johnathan scoffs. “Stalking? Don’t be daft! I was comin’ to check on you!”

Watson’s tone waxes volume and pitch in disbelief, and he yells: “to check on me? You were the last person I wanted to see! How long has this been going on for?”

Johnathan opens his mouth to fire back a response, but there is an obnoxious pounding on the front door and the bark of a male voice proclaiming that the police are there and to open the front door. Crouch’s gaze flashes back to John, who is retreating from the breakfast bar. His mug remains empty in front of the kettle.

“You f*cking traitor! Did you call them? It’s you isn’t it, blaming me for that bastard’s death. I bet you’re f*cking bugged too!” Through the yelling the police demand again to be permitted entry before they break the door down. Crouch ignores it. “I didn’t kill him — what, do you think I bashed his head in or something?”

“Well, did you?” John asks flatly.

Johnathan, in response, explodes. He surges forward and shoves John, hard, sending him careening backwards. “f*ck you Jay! All’s I’ve ever done is love you, and this is my repayment? You take me for some sort of murdering thug? I swear to christ Watson, you don’t wanna go there!”

“What are you gunna do, kill me?” John challenges. His voice has dropped an octave into a growling baritone he used often as Captain in the army. The front door receives only three forceful rounds of a battering ram before it gives in and uniformed officers swarm the place. Crouch lunges at John, but he is captured, and officers grapple at Johnathan who attempts to wrench free. He is wrested under control, pinned on the floor stomach-down. He is cuffed and frisked before being dragged to his feet.

As he is escorted from his own home, his rights recited to him, Crouch makes eye contact with Watson, sneering: “you’ll pay for this!”

John waits for the swarming team of police to conduct their searches of the kitchen before he exits, ignoring the vitriol spat at him that becomes muffled as Crouch is placed into a police cruiser. Sherlock awaits him further down the street, hands in pockets, greatcoat flapping in the breeze. An errant curl flutters over his forehead, dampening the foreboding contortion of displeasure on his features. One of Lestrade’s officers approaches to remove the microphone from John’s person, working around him in silence.

“Are you all right?” Sherlock asks.

John raises his arms so that the wire connecting the microphone to the battery pack can be fed out of his shirt. “Fine. Yeah. Not my first rodeo with… him, that.”

Sherlock stares at him, saying nothing until John is freed from the tech. He strides away, the confidence in the move as much of a beckoning to John as a verbal call. Trailing along, Sherlock hails them a taxi in the street. “New Scotland Yard.”


“You did good, John. Did they take the mic off you?” Greg Lestrade asks in the quiet of his office. Outside of the door is a constant bustle of officers and the perpetual clacking of dated computer keyboards.

John nods, feeling prideful that he has been of use, the Pavlovian response of a soldier. “They did, yeah. What happens now?"

“We interview Mr Crouch, see if he’s willing to cooperate.” Lestrade smiles at him politely, one hand absently scrubbing at the salt and pepper spattering of stubble on his chin. He is naturally tan but the skin of his face is pallid with stress, and heavy purple bags beneath his eyes belie his exhaustion. “Thank you for all your help, John. It’s greatly appreciated.”

“No problem. Do you think he was the one who did it? Killed Peter?” Watson asks. He does not think he will receive an answer, and he is not even close to Sherlock’s level of deductive skill, but he is not oblivious to body language cues.

Greg’s is stalwart, producing nary a twitch. “I’m not at liberty to say. This is an ongoing investigation.”

“Of course.” John bobs his head.

“Right. I must be off. I think we’ve let him stew long enough.” It is a somewhat unprofessional thing to say to someone who has been interrogated by him prior, but John is no layman unaware of the workings of police investigations. Lestrade ushers him from the office space and directs him towards the exit.

Sherlock, however, snags John by the sleeve on the way out of the door and spins him around. “Wha-?”

“Come along John.” Holmes marches them after Lestrade, who notices the footsteps behind him and glances over his shoulder.

“Oh for- no! Out!”

“No.” Sherlock says firmly. His tone brooks no argument but Lestrade stands firm, blocking the entrance door to another corridor. Sherlock flicks an ID card from his pocket — the same one he pilfered from the man in front of him to access John in the surgery days ago — and swipes it into the electronic lock. It beeps, flashing green, and the door clicks open.

Lestrade looks like a furious parent witnessing their child’s havoc, and slumps. “You stay back. You say nothing, you don’t come in, understood? I’ll not have your carelessness compromise the case.”

Sherlock waves a hand that could be agreement or dismissal, and pushes the door open with the side of his body. John takes a step to follow but is stopped by an arm bracketing his chest. “Not you as well. You’re civilian.”

“So’s Sherlock,” John points out.

Lestrade thwarts his second attempt to move forward. “Absolutely not. You can both leave.”

“John is with me. He is no longer a suspect and he has proved valuable to you. Do not burn bridges when John could be helpful in the future.” Sherlock warns in a low timbre.

“Oh right, and who is he to you?” Lestrade snips. His fingers curl tighter around his paperwork, bloodless with his frustration. John is ready to make a polite apology and scanter off, but Sherlock smiles.

“My flatmate. Nay, my helpmate. Step aside, Lestrade. You have a suspect to interview.” Sherlock’s plosives are crisp in his public school accent. The pride on his face is enough to have John tingling pleasantly despite the odd wording of his involvement. He has to school a smug grin.

Lestrade, on the other hand, is openly bemused. “Sorry? Since when?”

“A few days ago. Don’t worry, I haven’t compromised your precious case. Having John here is an asset, as you’ll come to realise.”

John chimes in addendum: “I’m willing to do anything to help out. It’s not all altruistic, don’t get me wrong. We might be catching my stalker as well as a killer.”

Lestrade wavers. “Do you think Mr Crouch was responsible?”

“Honestly? I think-”

Sherlock interrupts. “We are not dismissing his potential involvement. Now please. Can we get a move on?” The conversation is aborted just as abruptly as Sherlock’s sharp footfalls on the linoleum floor, his oxfords tapping away. He is clearly knowledgeable on the layout of the precinct as he chooses a door, enters halfway and waits for John. It is the other side of a one-way mirror, the room dark and walls blood-red. John takes a seat in a computer chair whereas Sherlock strands ramrod straight at the window with his arms clasped at the elbow behind his back.

Lestrade enters the room and sits down. Before he can even introduce himself and read Crouch his Miranda rights, Johnathan says: “I want a lawyer. I won’t speak without a lawyer.” The pained expression Greg attempts to conceal seeps through in the pleat of his thick eyebrows and he exhales for longer than necessary, a parody of a sigh.

The interview ends before it even begins, and Sherlock begins a diatribe directed at the window, most of which is spoken so fast John cannot understand. He storms out when Johnathan has been transported back to custody, but Greg is already walking back to his office. “Lestrade!”

“Leave it, Sherlock. Go home.” Greg weaves through the bullpen towards the office door of his superior. It is as good a dismissal as any, and Sherlock grunts in frustration before stalking to the exit. John, like a clumsy puppy, jogs after him.

Sherlock hails a taxi with ease on the pavement and gets in, almost slamming the door in John’s face, who catches it at the last second. Watson asks the driver to take them to Baker Street and peers cautiously at Sherlock. He is frowning deeply, stroking his thumbnail over his bottom lip with his index finger curled over the top of his thumb. Gaze fixed out of the window, John thinks he will be resigned to a silent cab ride. In an act of gallantry, as Sherlock appears to be in a fairly volatile mood, he thanks Sherlock for his support in front of Greg.

Holmes turns to him then, the heat of his full attention prickling John’s skin. He pulls his hand away from his mouth. “What do you mean? Having you on board is logical. You have a personal connection to Johnathan Crouch and we can use that to our advantage.” The dialectic is spoken with no emotion, as if Sherlock only sees John’s aid as a means to a result and no further beyond. Truly just an asset. Watson mitigates the sting of such reasoning at the thought of Sherlock referring to him as a helpmate. He does not ask, unsure if he wants to know the answer, as helpmates are typically in reference to one’s spouse, albeit he is flattered by what he deems a high compliment in Sherlock’s books.


Repleted by the comfort of greasy takeaway food, John slinks off to bed later in the evening. Sherlock has been resting in his armchair, knees drawn to his chest, eyes closed with his hands steepled below his chin in silence for the better part of three hours. He has refused all openings of conversation John has offered, and it is abundantly clear that he is in no mood to socialise. Watson performs the nightly routine of changing into pyjamas, brushing his teeth and collecting a glass of water for the bedside table. He reties the bell on his door, tests it, and when satisfied retreats to bed, stepping over the sugar line. Fatigue hits him harder when he is warm, belly full and mind at ease, an improvement to the constant buzzing it has been doing to process the swift, ceaseless events claiming his life.

John sits down at the sole table in the room. Everything is metal: the walls, the floor, the table and two chairs. A door made of steel opens to his right, and Johnathan walks in. He sits down grimly. “We know what you did, Jay.”

“I didn’t do anything.” John replies, but his voice is reedy.

“The evidence speaks for itself. You can’t deny it any longer,” Crouch looks down at John’s hands, which are clasped tightly atop the table. Watson follows his gaze. His skin colour is indistinguishable for the sticky crimson painting it, trailing sluggishly down his wrists, puddling beneath his fists. “I tried to protect you.”

“What? I-I didn’t! Whose blood is this?” He frantically wipes his hands on his jeans, smearing the blood in streaks, hot against his thighs.

“You know whose. Why did you do it John?”

“Stop it Nate! I,” John looks up to find Crouch smiling shark-like, but his teeth are red too, and viscous blood oozes from his teeth. It pools on his chin, dripping like treacle to the floor. “Oh, god.”

Johnathan rises to his feet, revealing a bullet wound identical to Watson’s, except this one is fresh. Bone fragments peak from torn scapula muscle, blood splashing over his pale torso like a macabre painting. “It’s your fault John.”

“No, no, it isn’t! I didn’t do this!” He cries, tears streaming down his face. He dabs at them, but when he pulls his hand away, there is more blood coating his fingers. It drips from his face, splattering in little dots on the table.

“Of course you did!” Johnathan replies lightly, as if John is a child who stole a chocolate snack and is coated in the melted substance. “This is all because of you.”

“Oh god, your shoulder.” John stares, sickened, as a thick rivulet of blood pours from the entrance wound, taking with it a shard of bone. Crouch laughs, a maniacal sound he has never produced before, causing drool made of rich blood to fly from his lips and speckle over the table to join John’s tears.

No amount of experience can make gruesome wounds look any less horrifying, and John clamps his hand over his mouth, smearing a streak of blood across the lower portion of his face. Suddenly, there is a tinkling sound and Johnathan sighs, seemingly unaffected by the blood obstructing his airways. “Saved by the bell.”

John lurches awake. At the door, the bell chimes.

Chapter 16: Chapter Thirteen


We’re halfway there! Thank you all for the support — even if I don’t reply to your comments they bring me great joy. Lots of love, Jaye💜

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (13)

There is a figure peering through the doorway. The bell jingles, hung from the string that has pulled free from the door. John squints at the shadows. “Sherlock?”

“John, are you all right?” Sherlock asks, stationary.

John winces as he sits up properly, prodding at the aching tissue in his marred shoulder. “God, sorry, did I wake you up?”

Holmes shakes his head, inky curls illuminated by a sliver of light. “I was already awake. You started shouting. Can I come in?”

John nods his head in affirmation whilst scrubbing at his eyes. “Gah, what time ‘s it?”

“Just after two. Are you injured?” Sherlock steps into the room, skirting past the bell that chimes at him in greeting. His eyes land on the glittering sugar line in the moonlight.

“Nate pushed me. I think he’s just exacerbated the pain. I’ll be fine.”

“Can I see?”

“Er, yeah, okay.” John is surprised that Sherlock has no qualms with climbing onto his bed, long limbs dangling over the edge until he tucks his legs under his bum.

He gestures for John to turn around, who first untangles himself from the duvet, and then feels self-conscious for the copious amount of sweat slicking his skin. Sherlock pays no heed to his insecurity, instead tugging at the hem of John’s shirt in a silent request for him to remove it. As seems to be a recurring theme, Sherlock is fascinated by John’s being. He hovers a finger over the scar, waiting for John to grant permission, and when he does, the trace of his finger is so feather-light John shivers. Sherlock explores in silence for a while, feeling the jagged outline of scar tissue before dipping into the crater of missing flesh. John sits still, focusing on regulating his breathing and slowing down his heart rate.

Sherlock speaks again, causing John to startle. “What’s your level of sensation?”

“I can’t feel anything in the middle. The ridge bit around the edge is hard to explain. I can- here, run your finger over it and I’ll tell you what I can feel.” Sherlock obeys, gliding his fingertip with slightly more pressure around the seam of the scar. John occasionally acknowledges the touch, but mostly stays quiet. “Sometimes I can feel a tingle further away from the site. The nerves are a mess.”

Sherlock probes further down, closer to the shoulder blade, and John winces, instinctively moving from the pain. “You should hire a new physiotherapist.”

“Why?” John asks in a sing-song.

“They’ve been treating you wrong. Do you receive massages?”

“Sometimes, yeah. Wait, how do you know whether I need a new physiotherapist?”

“Here, it hurts, yes?” John grimaces as Sherlock prods around his shoulder, moving down towards his ribs. There is a sharp pain there when Sherlock digs in, despite the pressure not being very hard. “The muscles around the area need attention too. They’re overcompensating for the lack of strength in the shoulder.

“Your therapist has targeted the immediate muscles, which will give you relief in the short-term, but the trick is to work the muscles all the way down. Your other muscles have taken on the slack in the meantime, but that will cause unevenness and pain and your shoulder will remain weak. All muscles groups need to be engaged and treated.” Sherlock explains, flippant and informative.

John is impressed. “How do you know that?”

“I trained as a physiotherapist for a case. Learned a fair amount. Massage, too. Can I give it a go?”

“I should probably just book an appointment with my therapist.” John counters politely. He does not move away from Sherlock’s touch, however.

Violinist fingers, long and deft, run from John’s nape and down to the sacrum. It feels positively heavenly, and John cannot resist a groan. Sherlock works out a knot in his trapezium, spending long minutes in a stretched silence to do as he wishes. John sits, placidly, in a semi-dozing state.

“You were kneeling when you were shot,” states Sherlock, voice loud in the quiet.

John nods. “Yes. Attending to a fallen comrade.” There’s a beat, and then: “how did you deduce that?”

Sherlock’s lip quirks. He has heard that question hundreds of times before, but never genuinely. He understands the concept of sarcasm when that question is asked sharply at him, but John seems curious, amazed. “The entrance wound is close to your clavicle, but the exit wound is centred in the scapula. The angle suggests you were shot at from a height; not quite a building, but a hill at the very least. You were kneeling and fell backwards which stemmed the blood flow from the rear. Is that how you twisted your leg?”

“That’s… exactly it. Jesus. That was,” John inhales deeply, feeling Sherlock’s keen eyes on him almost tangibly, “incredible. Absolutely fantastic.”

Shyly, Sherlock wriggles. “Thank you John,” he says quietly. John smiles, rolling his shoulder. It always aches after a massage but doubly so with the rough shove today. Holmes is not done yet though, for he begins easing the tension from the rhomboid muscle, working methodically in segments. Next he traverses over the teres major and infraspinatus, the muscles that cushion each side of the scapula. It is painful but John perseveres, rewarded by a much more pleasant massage of his latissimus dorsi, the large muscle that covers either side of the lower spine. Sherlock’s fingers dance over his lower back, dipping into the dimples there, thumbs sliding up and out in a rhythmic pattern. By the end of his endeavour John is proverbial putty in his hands, slumped over and fighting sleep.

“Better?” Sherlock asks as he scoots away. John turns back around, rolling out his shoulder again to greater relief.

His groan is rather inappropriate and he settles back against his pillow. “Much. God, that felt good.”

“I can tell,” Sherlock smirks, eyes flashing down briefly to John’s crotch. Horrifyingly, the pyjama pants slung low on John’s hips are tented rather prominently.

John makes a choked noise and grabs his other pillow to clamp it down. “I am so sorry Sherlock, Jesus!”

“It’s quite all right John. It’s an autonomous biological response to stimuli. All natural.” Sherlock kneels at the end of his bed, lit only by the sneaky moonlight creeping around John’s blinds. Pale skin glowing, glacial eyes twinkling, Sherlock looks ethereal, and John quashes that thought with immediate effect.

“Still,” Watson offers as a weak argument. He presses the pillow tighter to his crotch, eyes averted and glad for the dim light that conceals the flaming of his cheeks.

Sherlock fiddles with the tie of his dressing gown. “Would you like me to stay? Until you fall asleep?”

“Oh. That’s very kind of you, but no. I’ll be okay thank you. In fact I think I’ll be more than okay, now you’ve worked on my shoulder. It feels like new!” John’s accompanying laugh is superficial and somewhat awkward, but he feels less alone in that vein, as Sherlock too seems shy.

“Please let me know if you ever want my assistance again. I’d be more than happy to help,” Sherlock smiles, coy.

“I really appreciate that, Sherlock. But you should go get some sleep too. I know you don’t sleep much like, but you look tired.” John hopes he does not come across as insulting, and is relieved as Sherlock’s smile devolves into something softer, gangly limbs rising off the bed. He manages to avoid the sugar circle without looking and slips from the room with a final quiet ‘goodnight’.

As John snuggles under the duvet again, throat lubricated by cool water, he pointedly does not think of how Sherlock must have looked massaging him, with those pleated brows and pouty cupid’s bow lips, perhaps a tongue poked between teeth during an unguarded moment of concentration. He need not think at all, really, for a minute later, when he has situated himself in an attempt to fall back asleep, the first cheery notes of a song blare out from directly below him. The distinct twang of a violin. With a smile, John closes his eyes.


Sherlock is invited to observe Johnathan Crouch’s interrogation once legal counsel is arranged. John cannot stand wiling away the hours he will be gone on his own, so he arranges to meet Harry. His sister is understandably wary of him and his anger, but relents, unable to deny her brother a visit. She is staying in a bedsit with another woman, but has the place to herself for a few hours and invites John in.

Over tea and biscuits, they catch up. “So what’s been going on with you Johnny?” Harry asks, dunking a Biscoff into her tea. She swirls it around absently, and John notes the tremble in her fingers.

He ignores it. “Where do I start?” He asks with an amused puff of air from his cheeks. “It’s been a crazy few weeks.”

“Tell me about it.” Harry snorts, shifting in her seat. Her eyes flicker briefly up to regard her brother, and he tries to soften his expression. It works as desired, her relaxing under the lack of scrutiny.

“What made you leave rehab early?”

“It wasn’t working for me.” John stares her down, causing an raise in her pitch. “It wasn’t! Don’t look at me like that!”

Sans judgement, he asks: “what was it this time?”

Harry sighs, deflating into a ball, and she fiddles with handle of her mug. It seems to open up the lines of communication, however, as she begins to talk. “It felt too restrictive. I couldn’t stand the group therapy either. Just so many pitiful whinging bitches moaning about how awful their lives are. I mean I get it, we all turned to the bottle for a reason, but christ it just became unbearable. And all the staff kept giving us these smiles, and it just felt…”

Harry gesticulates uselessly for a moment, her mouth working but no words forthcoming. John says: “patronising?”

She releases a heaving sigh that sags her shoulders. “Yes. That. Exactly that. I couldn’t stand it anymore Johnny.”

“That’s… yeah, all right, I’ll give you that. Why didn’t you talk to me? We could’ve gotten it sorted out, couldn’t we? I don’t even know who it is you’re staying with.” John remarks.

Harry gestures with a floppy wrist, “oh, she’s someone I’ve known a while. One of Clara’s friend’s friends I met at a party a while back. She’s nice.”

John makes an odd noise in the base of his throat. “You’re not… together, are you?”

She scoffs. “f*ck’s sake John, I don’t just shag every woman I meet!”

“I didn’t mean it like that, stop it. I’m just looking out for you, yeah?” He says, frowning at her.

Harry sighs again and relents, the temper ebbing as fast as it came. “Right, yeah, sorry. So, tell me all about you. Why did you move?”

John’s responding laugh is sharp, almost hysterical and humourless. “Christ, how long have you got?”

“Oh, do tell m’eudail.” Harry smiles sunnily, her mood brightened. Her and John often hint at their Scottish roots by speaking Gaidhlig to one another, but it has been a while since she has referred to him as her darling — a childhood endearment she loved using — for most positive phrases were phased out in favour of insults. John matches her smile.

“Well, mo nighean donn,” John jests. He speaks in reference to Harry’s natural brown hair, currently bleached blonde though chestnut roots peak through. She grins, and John begins to regale the wild events of the past couple weeks.


When John stomps up the stairs petulantly at four in the afternoon, he is met with a ringing silence. There is conflict with his feelings — he is not sure if he prefers the emptiness of the flat so that he may stew in his anger privately or if he would like company to vent at. The latter is selfish of him, he knows, but Sherlock seems like the kind of man to listen intently to what he has to say. Regardless, the choice has been taken out of his hands, and after procuring another cup of tea, a pastry from the nearby Tesco tucked under his arm and his novel from the side table, John retreats to his bedroom to wallow and ruminate alone.

The relationship with his sister is rocky, and while there seemed to be an improvement over their temporary spat Harry had taken issue to John’s alleged hypocrisy. She argued that John was doing the exact same thing as her — moving in with someone during a vulnerable stage in his life and becoming reliant on them. John had disagreed, causing a rather tempestuous argument to break out in her friend’s dreary kitchen. Once again they are on uneven ground, and John is unsure whether to regret the truths he has spilled about his feelings on Harry’s addiction. They were spoken in anger, yes, but no less earnest. She, of course, did not appreciate such comments and kicked him out, but not before John spotted an unopened bottle of vodka on the kitchen counter. He knows it will not remain that way much longer.

He does not return from the cosiness of his bed until six in the evening, yet there is still no sign of Sherlock. John moves into the kitchen and gathers ingredients to make a tuna pasta bake. It is a reliably simple meal, easy to make and the batch feeds four people — plenty to munch on and store for later or save for Sherlock to try when he gets home. John eats alone, turning on the radio for company, staring at the green splash-back tiles opposite over the stove.

It is a quiet night.


John wakes in the morning with no memory of how he got into bed. If he was plagued by nightmares, they are gone from his mind, and he still has no idea if Sherlock has returned home yet. However, it is Monday and in just over an hour he is due in for his work induction. There is an excitement thrumming through his veins at the prospect of new work in an environment that will not see him for the news reports. He hopes, anyway, but that niggling thought causes the majority of his trepidation. John Watson has never backed down, though, and he is ready to take on the challenge with poise and his laidback politeness that has always served him well.

If Sherlock came back overnight, there is no sign of him. His bedroom door remains closed tightly, so John leaves it be. If he got home late he is likely to be catching up on sleep, so once John has eaten some breakfast, he makes sure to creep around the bathroom and produce as little noise as possible. John dresses in freshly ironed slacks, a white undershirt and a striped button-up. Atop that he dons a brown cardigan, a plain choice that works wonderfully with his calm demeanour to ease the worries of nervous patients.

When it is time to leave, John hovers in the doorway at the junction between the stairs and the two entrances into the flat. He is unsure whether to check on Sherlock before he leaves, but he realises they are not close friends, and it is none of his business, so he leaves. The commute is short — only twenty minutes via cab, but he takes the bus. He has to switch buses, walking a few minutes to the next stop, but he is in such a chipper mood, and the weather is dry, so he does not mind. In future if the weather is extremely poor he may consider a cab, and perhaps in the summer, he plans as he walks the three minutes to Platform 5, he can invest in a bike and cycle to work.

It is a stuffy ride to the next stop, where he has to get off and walk to a different stop to catch another bus, but John maintains his pleasant comportment, finding he does not rely so inordinately on his cane. He has high hopes for this job, having gotten on well with his new boss. The fresh air, despite London’s prevailing pollution, does John some good, and he takes a deep breath before walking into the surgery. He is greeted by the reception staff and ushered into his boss’s office. Despite his early arrival there is somewhat of a rush getting him situated, but he prefers it that way, feeling a zing of adrenaline.

“I’m so sorry John. A meeting’s come up so I’m all over the show. Can you just stand against that wall so I can get your picture for your lanyard?” John obeys, flashing a toothless smile and blinking against the flash of the cheap camera. His boss, Susan Weatherby, fiddles about with the computer as she connects the camera to it, before the printer whirrs to life and a card drops into the collection tray. She checks it then passes it to John with a smile. “Here’s your ID.”

“Ta. Where do I go from here?”

“Right, because this is your induction, technically, we’ve got you on a reduced list of patients. I’ll have one of the advanced practitioners pop in to check on you, but please, if you have any questions or there’s an issue, don’t hesitate to dial three on the phone. It’ll connect you to the front desk.”


Susan startles and she shakes her head, gesturing to the phone as if remembering a list of information to feed to John. “Dialling one will call my office phone and two is for security, as well, but I’m going to be out for a few hours unfortunately. Sorry about that.”

“No worries. You sound like you’ve got a lot going on,” John smiles easily, “do let me know if you need any help with anything else. I can be more than just a doctor.”

“Oh really?” She laughs.

“I make a mean cup of tea, yeah, not to brag.” John chuckles. “I’m also willing to do some boring admin stuff if need be.”

“Oh, I might just take you up on that offer. And the tea, too. I’ll be gasping later!” Susan giggles before marching out of the room, beckoning him to follow. As John walks he slots his new ID into the plastic holder clipped to the lanyard he slips over his neck. It clacks against the buttons of his cardigan. “This will be your office. I hope it’s up to your standards, I don’t know what it was like in the places you worked before.”

“I worked in Afghanistan, ma’am, this is glorious.” She laughs at that and gestures for him to set his satchel down and get situated. There is enough time to run John through his patient list, the computer program that he shall rely on heavily for patient records and finally where all the amenities are.

“That should be everything. As I said, dial three to speak to our lovely receptionists if you need help. I don’t expect you to remember everything immediately. I’ll have Kath pop by in a bit.”

With that she is gone, leaving a gust of lightly floral wind behind her. John sighs, settling into the cushioned office chair and wheeling it up to the desk. He logs into the computer using the login details taped to the monitor, familiarising himself with the new system before he checks his list for the day. He has a patient in roughly ten minutes, so he utilises the spare time to use the toilet two doors down and acquaint himself with the contents of the cupboards in his office. They contain the same equipment as every other doctor’s surgery, just organised differently. John feels confident in the space when his first patient arrives, and he shifts into doctor mode, plastering a smile on his face.


It is not until lunchtime that John sees any other staff member. He is sat at his desk munching on a sandwich he has brought with him when a head peers around the door. He jolts and chuckles self-deprecatingly as a woman leans against the doorway, apologising profusely. “It’s all right. I’m John.”

“Katherine, but I get called Kath a lot. I’m one of the advanced practitioners.”

John’s reciprocating smile is not entirely fake.“Lovely to meet you. What would you prefer I call you?”

She blinks, taking a couple of seconds to process the question. Her cheeks blossom with little apples of pink. “Oh, that’s… nobody’s ever asked me that. Kat, if you don’t mind. I didn’t pick the nickname, it makes me sound bloody old!”

John offers out his hand and she shakes it, grinning. “Nice to meet you Kat. Have you come to check on me?”

“I have indeed. Not losing your mind yet?” She asks with a twinkle in her eye.

“Not entirely, but that has nothing to do with working here.” They laugh together and Kat enters the room fully. “I’m fine, though.”

“Good good. Can I get you anything? Cup of tea?”

“Why don’t I come with you?” John shoves the other half of his butty into his lunchbox and follows Katherine to the staff room. There is one other person in there that grunts at them in greeting, but Kat just laughs and introduces him as Grumpy Mark, their resident grouch. Her and John take a seat at one of the three tables, the other occupied by Mark, who still has not looked up from his newspaper. John is given a rapid breakdown of their alumni, including fun but useless facts about each person. John has a good laugh keeping track of these people despite being yet to meet them, and he asks what she thinks of him.

“I think you’re going to be a breath of fresh air, Doctor Watson.” She says with a smile and a cheeky wink. He pokes his tongue out at her.


For an induction, John believes the day has been rather successful. He has met a fair amount of the staff and they have all been friendly and accommodating. Not a single person asked about his cane, either, not even patients, though he did catch a couple looking at it propped against the desk. The cane, he has noticed, has become more of an accessory than a companion, and that thought pleases him greatly. On the walk to the bus stop from work, with a proverbial skip in his step, John rings one of the few fruitful numbers in his phone. To his surprise, he manages to snag a cancellation appointment with his therapist for tomorrow evening. That only adds to his excellent mood, and John heads home feeling, for the first time in a while, that his life is coming together.

“Sherlock?” He asks as he climbs the seventeen creaky steps to the front door of 221B. There is no reply. There is, however, a sticky note in neon yellow on the kitchen table with the familiar spidery scrawl of Sherlock’s handwriting informing John that he is out and may be gone until late.

Late, as it stands, starts to tick into nighttime. John would not constitute eleven as late, but rather approaching a new day. Dialling Sherlock’s number only receives his snarky voicemail, and after the third attempt John gives up. Though he is tired John does not really feel like going to bed on his own now that he has had the privilege of lodging with Sherlock, and the nervous energy worrying over his new friend prevents him from settling.

With a bit of grumbling, John searches for the homicide department’s contact number for New Scotland Yard and rings it. He has to wait a moment before he is redirected. “Hello?”

“Hi there. This might be a bit of an odd question, but is Sherlock Holmes there?” John asks.

“He is, yeah… John?”

“Yes?” He replies bemusedly.

“John Watson?”

“Yes, speaking.” John holds the phone away from his ear and checks the number.

“It’s Greg Lestrade.” The voice takes on a familiar timbre now, and John chuckles at his lack of intuition.

“Oh, hi Greg. Is Sherlock with you now?”

“He’s in the building somewhere. Do you need him?”

John kisses his teeth audibly. “I was just wondering where he was. He wasn’t answering his phone.”

“Ah yeah, he does that. Do you want me to take a message?”

“No no, it’s fine. Is everything all right?”

“Yes, why wouldn’t it be?”

“Oh, just- he’s been gone for hours.”

“He does that too. Look, I’ll go find him a give you a call back. Same number?”

“Er. Yeah. Thank you.”

“No worries. Ta-ra.” Greg hangs up with a heavy clunk of the phone. John sighs, glad to have solved the mystery of his odd flatmate’s disappearance. He combs a hand through his own tawny hair, encouraging the forelocks to swoop to one side, and sits down in his armchair to cease his subconscious pacing. He takes a sip of his tepid tea then frowns at it as though it has personally offended him.

The minutes tick by into the double digits when John’s mobile buzzes again. He startles from his reverie and answers immediately. “Hello?”

“Hiya John, it’s Greg. I found Sher-” John is inundated with a heavy crackling noise with an underlying snippet of argument and the sound of fabric scraping across the microphone before the sound stops.

“John, what is it?” Sherlock asks with a tinge of urgency in his voice. John feels guilty he has caused such a reaction and huffs in humour.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to worry you. All is good, I was just wondering where you’d gone. It’s been hours.”

“Why, what time is it?”

John checks his watch and hums. “Going on half eleven now.”

“Really?” There is a pregnant silence, and then: “oh, so it is. My apologies. I got distracted.”

“Ah, it’s fine. Do you think you’ll be coming home soon?”

“Why, do you need me?” Sherlock asks, taking on a knowing tone as though they are part of an inside joke.

John blushes, glad nobody is there to see it. “No no. Don’t come home for my sake. I just thought you’ve had quite a few late nights. Have you eaten at all today?”

“Hm, tedious. Eating slows my thought processes.”

“You need to eat, Sherlock.”

“As I said: tedious. Don’t make me repeat myself John.”

“You know what? I’ll sort something out. Won’t be long, keep your phone on you.” John does not wait for a reply before he hangs up and calls a nearby takeaway. By the time he walks there the food will be done, and he slips a pair of shoes on. He has already changed into more comfortable clothes, and luckily they are suitable for public appearance.

John thanks the cab driver and tips him before sliding out of the taxi with a white plastic bag hanging from his arm. He is not quite sure where he is supposed to go, so he heads for the main entrance and informs the receptionist there that he is supposed to be meeting Detective Inspector Lestrade.

“A meeting?” She asks, looking pointedly at the clock. “At this time?”

“Not a formal one, no.”

“What’s your name? It should be in the system if you’ve got an appointment.”

“Oh no, it’s nothing like that, I’m just-” John realises he is rambling and he is seconds away from being escorted out when a voice comes to the rescue.

“No worries Sarah, he’s with me.”

“Oh, he is?” She sounds genuinely surprised.

“Yes. Thank you. Come along John.” Greg beckons him almost like a dog, but his airy tone is friendly enough not to be patronising and John complies. He is walked through various corridors and up a set of stairs to reach the bullpen he was previously briefed in. Lestrade lets them both into his office where Sherlock is sat in a guest chair hunched over some paperwork. He does not stir at the noise, but the rustle of John’s takeaway bag releases an enticing aroma that has him looking up.

“Ah, John. Good evening.”

“Hello. Brought some food for you both. Thought you could do with the fuel.” John says, holding the bag aloft.

“Ar mate, you’re a star.” Greg grins at him and crowds over the bag to see what goodies are available. John has already eaten tonight, but for the sake of solidarity, now that he is aware of Sherlock’s dietary particularities, he has ordered himself some chicken fried rice.

“Sherlock, will you eat something? We can turn the radio on.” John suggests, gesturing towards a small radio sat precariously atop a pile of files. Sherlock glances between Greg and John as if expecting a comment to be made towards him, but Lestrade is not even listening — pouring over some sweet and sour chicken as if a man starved. Holmes nods minutely, automatically grasping the yellow styrofoam container passed to him by John.

“What is it?” He asks, sniffing the box and peeking inside.

“Steamed dumplings. Do you like those? If not I got a couple of other options. I even have plain rice.” He rifles through the bag to show Sherlock, who blinks at him with the faintest flush daubed on his cheeks.

“Oh. That is very considerate of you John.”

“That’s all right. So, will you give them a try?”

“Yes, all right.” Sherlock agrees, not even needing to ask as John crosses the short space to turn the dial on the radio. It lands on a generic pop channel, but John fiddles with the signal until the harrowing wail of classical music rings out into the space. He sees from his periphery as Sherlock relaxes and pecks at his food. It is good enough for Watson, who sits at his side and digs into his own rice.

“John, this is so nice of you mate. Didn’t have to get me anything.” Greg says around a mouthful.

“You’ve been working your arse off, mind my language. You could do with some good food. Well, good being subjective.”

“A doctor feeding us poor blokes takeaway? Shameful,” Greg pokes his tongue between his teeth as he grins, and the atmosphere they have carried since their first introduction wafts away. It is of great relief to the pair.

John laughs. “Doctors make the worst patients, as they say. How long will you be here ‘til?”

“Oh god knows. All night maybe. We’re having to work on some new leads, you see.”

John nods in acknowledgement before his expression is captured by a frown. “What happened to Johnathan? I thought he was the main suspect.”

“Did Sherlock not tell you?” John looks between the men and is met with twin grim expressions. His heart sinks. “We had to let Crouch go. Wasn’t enough evidence to hold him beyond twenty-four hours.”

“Stupid.” Sherlock spits, the plosives delivered with crisp accuracy. “Even with the witnesses and John’s recording-”

“Which was inconclusive. And did not pinpoint to the exact night of Mr Adams’ murder.” Greg reminds him addendum. “Without DNA or CCTV footage we can’t prove he was there. There’s no solid evidence.”

“It was him, Gavin. I’m certain of it.” Sherlock says sharply.

“That’s just hearsay at the end of the day, mate.” Greg jabs at his food with the provided plastic fork. John’s frowns deepens. He is unsure who this Gavin person is, and why he is relevant, but Sherlock is already winding up to perform another diatribe about the matter. He is understandably upset that yet another lead has been taken away from them, and though not spoken it is tacitly clear Sherlock is annoyed that he has promised John to solve this case and has currently had no success.

John cuts Sherlock’s tirade off, knowing it will get them nowhere. “Did Johnathan mention visiting my flat? I still think those break-ins were linked to the murder.”

“Briefly, but again, there wasn’t enough to go on. Nightmare, this. Drivin’ me mad.” Lestrade says around a mouthful of food. He swallows audibly, and John sees Sherlock’s face twitch at the sight before quickly looking away. “God, the only thing that’d make this better is a beer.”

“A few pints would probably do you good mate.” John snorts.

Greg tuts, waggling a spoon-laden finger. “Naughty doctor. Encouraging alcohol too?”

“Ay, I never claimed to be healthy. We all knock a few back on our off days.”

“Tell me about it mate. Due a pub night anytime soon. Can’t wait until we solve this one, I reckon the celebratory pub crawl will be an all-nighter.”

Sherlock slams his styrofoam box on the desk. “Done eating now John. Can we go?”

John switches his attention to Sherlock. “Oh right, I thought you were staying here for a while.”

“I was going to, but all of the evidence is boring and they won’t let me into the archives. You had your first day back at work today too. Let’s go.”

“Yeah all right.” John packs away their rubbish, keeping the uneaten dumplings as Sherlock makes no inclination to help, instead fussing about with his belstaff and navy blue scarf. Greg sends John a look, like that of an exasperated parent watching their oblivious child leave behind a mess, and they share a grin. “See you later mate. If you ever want more grub give us a ring. I’m usually free after six of an evening.”

“Never mind the grub mate, we need a pub night. I’ll let you know, yeah? Take care Sherlock.”

Sherlock does not reply, tapping away at his smartphone, so John nudges him and raises his eyebrows in Lestrade’s direction for prompt. “Goodbye Giles.”

Again John frowns, but Sherlock is already stalking off and with a final farewell John rushes after him, bag of leftover takeaway in hand. As he is wont to do Sherlock summons a taxi with little effort and slides smoothly into the back. He does not speak at all on the ride home, nor does John push him, finding satisfaction in managing to wrangle some food into a man who should be at least two stone heavier. Sherlock snaps from his thoughts as they pull up to the kerb and rushes from the cab into the house, leaving John to pay the fare. He does so with a smile and a gruff ‘thanks’, his pace much more sluggish up the stairs to their flat. The additional warm food and lull of the taxi has fatigued John, and he is quite ready to collapse in bed.

After collecting pyjamas John heads into the bathroom to freshen up before bed, brushing his teeth and pointedly avoiding his tired reflection. He can hear Sherlock through the interconnecting door to his bedroom, and if he squints through the obscured glass pane he can see hints of movement too. By coincidence they meet in the hallway, Sherlock also donning pyjamas in way of striped bottoms and a ratty grey v-neck. They smile at each other toothlessly, and John leads the way to the kitchen. He reaches into the cupboard for a glass and is startled by Sherlock doing the same, and they both jolt as their fingers touch.

“Sorry,” they say in unison, Sherlock’s fricative performed with a hint of a lisp.

John pulls his hand away so that Sherlock can grab a drinking glass first, watching with slightly heated cheeks as the man bobs his head in thanks and skirts around him to use the sink. It is a cramped space and John can feel heat radiating from Holmes’ body, trying to will his own to settle down. When John has acquired a second glass (he drinks three quarters of his first one and has to refill), he bids Sherlock a goodnight and all but rushes to bed. The door handle bell is applied, pinned and checked to John’s satisfaction when at long last he slips into bed for the night. It is not long before he falls asleep. He does not, however, have the privilege of slumbering for long.


John jerks awake, eyes opening wide and watery to stare at the ceiling. He can hear the tinkling of the bell and a draught. To his right he tracks movement and turns his head. Sherlock stands a few steps away from the sugar circle, concern etched into his thick brows.

“Did I wake you?” John grumbles, tongue cottony and swollen. His throat burns, and he cringes as he sits up.

Sherlock shifts his weight between the balls of his feet. “You were shouting. I didn’t know whether to wake you up or not.”

“That’s all right, I appreciate it. Sorry for disturbing you, but you can go back to bed now,” John takes a sip of his water to stop the gravelly hoarseness of his throat affecting his speech.

Sherlock does not leave; instead taking two steps closer. “What are your nightmares about?”

John blinks at him as his torpid brain processes. “My time in the war. Mostly medical scenarios. People dying.”

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean, that’s it?” John feels a twinge of defensiveness at the blatant minimisation of his nightly terrors. Sherlock shuffles again, his eyes no longer meeting John’s.

“Sorry. I meant it as in, do you ever have nightmares about anything else? The case? Before the war? Your relationship?”

“Not really, though sometimes Johnathan is in my dreams… nightmares. Why?”

“I’d like to do some research,” Sherlock says, and that is when John notices the laptop propped against his hip and arm where it dangles, his fingers curled underneath it. “To see if we can do something about it.”

John bristles. “I’ve got an appointment with my therapist tomorrow after work. I’ll mention it. Might have to go back on sleeping medication.”

Sherlock frowns, the downturn of his lips accompanied by another bemused pleat of his eyebrows. “Why did you stop taking them even though your sleep cycle hasn’t improved?”

“They enhanced the nightmares, if you can believe it. I’ll just have to try another type. Again, sorry for disturbing.” John says, shuffling further down under the covers — whether for warmth or shelter, he does not know.

“That’s all right,” Sherlock says as he rounds the bed. Instead of turning right to exit the bedroom, he meanders around to the free side of John’s mattress and sits down with the laptop draped across his thighs.

“What are you doing?” John inquires rather rudely.

“Researching?” Sherlock poses it as a question, tone indicating that he believes the action was obvious. John stares at him, waiting for him to laugh and declare it a joke, but Sherlock is no longer paying attention to him, instead clacking at the keyboard and washing their faces in a sickly blue glow. Beyond the laptop, John can see nothing of his bedroom but blackness.

“Is that my laptop?” Watson asks, incredulous.

“Battery’s dead on mine.” Sherlock mumbles, chin tucked to his chest. He leans forward to adjust the pillow behind his neck then settles again, long skinny legs stretching out under the duvet. “Go back to sleep,” he whispers after a minute of silence. If he is flustered by John’s incessant gawping, he does not show it.

There is nothing for it. Sherlock has consistently shown signs that he lacks the ability to read social cues, and John is too tired to explain why his behaviour is odd, to say the least, so he does as he is told. The blankets are warm and he has not sweated nearly as much, indicating Sherlock awoke him before the night terror could wrap its inky tendrils around his faculties in sleep. A whirring fan inside John’s laptop works wonderfully as white noise, and the solid presence of another human, one John is beginning to associate as his proverbial sentry, is greatly comforting and coaxes him easily back into slumber.

Chapter 17: Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (14)

John sleeps through until the ringing of his alarm clock wakes him. With a groan he slams his hand down on the wide button atop the clock to shush it and rolls his feet out of bed. The floorboards are cool beneath his feet, a draught chilling his toes. After scrubbing at his face for a few seconds, the heels of his palms press so firmly into his eye sockets that a burst of phosphenes scatter the bedroom in wild kaleidoscopic colours, knocking him slightly off-balance when he stands. The fatigue is almost overwhelming, a dichotomy to the good sleep he has just received from Sherlock’s presence at his side. Remembering this makes John stagger, and he clasps the doorframe, setting the little bell pealing into the quiet, which was reapplied whenever Sherlock slipped out in the night. He silences it despite knowing soon he will disturb Sherlock as he gets ready for work, wanting a moment of peace to collect his thoughts.

“Oh god,” John groans sotto voce. Shame burns hot in his belly, boiling tangibly a steam that pinkens his skin like the ruddy cheeks of a schoolboy in winter. Logically there is nothing to be ashamed of — only a cynic could fault an injured war veteran for his continued nightmares — and he would even be the one as a doctor to ease the worries of a patient should they share the same experience. Regardless, there is a guilt that gnaws at his skin for disturbing Sherlock to the point that he resorted to stationing himself at John’s side, for he knows this cannot continue. He is almost surprised, in fact, that Sherlock has tolerated it thus far.

The spiral of intrusive thoughts that beckon to him like the light of an angler fish tempts John to call in sick at his new job and refuse to leave his bedroom for the day. But he was a soldier, and he persists; a little bit of embarrassment is not going to stop him — god knows it would have early-on had he been subsumed by discomfiture. With a resolute setting of his jaw, his chin ticked up proudly, John steps out of his bedroom, work clothes in hand, to clump down the stairs. Sherlock is already up, seated in the leather Le Corbusier armchair closest to the living room windows, his sable hair backlit by the watery morning sun. He looks up at the noise, wearing nil but a silk midnight-blue dressing gown, striped pyjama bottoms and a smile warmer than the beam of sun cast upon his halo of ringlets.

“Ah, John, good morning.”

“Hello. How long have you been up?”

“A couple of hours. You seemed to have settled and wanted to spread out on the mattress,” his smile morphs into what John would describe as a fond smirk.

John swallows. He turns back towards the kitchen but projects his voice. “Did you stay the whole night?”

“I did. Is- that is okay, yes?”

“I, I suppose so. Did I, oh god, I didn’t have anymore nightmares did I?”

“You slept through without issue.” Sherlock replies, getting to his feet with the grace of a ballerina. His mile-long legs carry him to the kitchenette where he helps John make their cups of tea. The proximity stuns John again, and he clears his throat several times without speaking.

As he is stirring milk into their mugs, Sherlock tidying away the carton into the fridge, he says quietly: “thank you.”

Sherlock turns around again, swiping his mug from the counter. He brushes past John, the smile widened now into something beautiful, the crystal of his eyes twinkling in the kitchen sunlight like the sparkle of the ocean itself, captivating John. “You’re welcome.”

John finds it a miracle that he is able to gather his puddle of limbs from the linoleum and get ready for his second day at work, though his brain remains a goopy, melted mush of gratitude, guilt and affection. Not even Nate had ever bothered to stay with him during the worser bouts of night terrors, electing to sleep on the couch or sequester John to it instead. Now he has a flatmate who has been an exemplary pillar of support in the short time they have known each other, and John is falling for him. As he brushes his teeth, analysing his streaky, condensated reflection in the bathroom mirror in a way he has not in so very long, he notes the fresh lines clawing their way out of his eyes and the corners of his mouth. His forehead bears the rivers and streams of frequently furrowed brows, his skin drier and paler than it was in Afghanistan. With ample time to do little but think, and think, and think some more, his body has shut down against the stress he warred it through unwillingly, and now it is fighting back, demanding convalescence. His eyes, however, those dark irises a stormy sea, seem clearer than they did before. Youthful almost, as though the light has been restored, the sun brightening that raging ocean contained within eyes that have bore witness to the worst horrors at humanity’s hand.

With it comes a curious insecurity. John has never been particularly fussed about his appearance — his character did enough to charm most people on its own during his boyhood and he knows he is handsome. Not even his height has been an issue, shorter than average as he is, for his compact muscle attracts a variety of people. Today, however, he is surprised to be genuinely assessing himself, eyes tracing the craggy tectonic plates of his lips and the greying of his tawny, thin hair. Reverted back to his teenage years, John wants to impress. He wants Sherlock to like him beyond the pity of an owner watching an elderly dog trudge around in their final days. He wants to be invigorated, appreciated. He wants to be desired. John turns away from the mirror with a snarl at his own selfishness. Sherlock has made his opinion on relationships crystal clear and John must respect that. It may only be a baseless attraction to Holmes because he has paid him positive attention, the first a touch-starved, stubbornly stoic man like John has received since his partnership with Johnathan Crouch.

With a firm mental slap across the face, John warns his brain to calm down and collect itself before he gathers his dirty washing and exits the bathroom. Sherlock is curled up in his armchair, knees to his chest and his feet tucked under his right buttock, stuffed between the seat and the arm. He is tapping away at his laptop on the opposite arm in a position that looks the antithesis of comfortable. John smiles at the sight before blinking back to reality. “Don’t forget your tea.”

Sherlock looks up from the screen, blinking for five seconds before looking down at the side table. “Ah, yes, thank you John.”

John heads upstairs to retrieve his cane, phone and keys. He has time again this morning and plans to pick up breakfast next door in Mrs Hudson’s café. When he clops down the stairs like a contented pony Sherlock remains in the same position, though John cannot see from his position if the tea has been drank or forgotten again. Donning his coat and medical satchel, he calls out: “I’ll be out late. Got that therapy appointment after work.”

Sherlock does not respond. There is no acknowledgment of John’s presence at all, his eyes glazed and fingers hovering over the keyboard and mouse pad, frozen in time. John suspects Sherlock has delved deep into his mind palace, and decides to leave him be. It seems the best course of action during these periods of absence is to let it pass by naturally without disturbance. With a final once-over of the contents of his pockets, John leaves.


John has felt most optimistic following the success of his work induction and today is no different. He is trialling a full day unsupervised today due to his competency yesterday, though he has staff members available nearby should something go awry. The cancellation appointment he snagged with his therapist is not until half four, thankfully his list of patients do not expand beyond twenty-to-three, giving him ample time to travel to Doctor Thompson’s office after his shift. Fuelled by a wonderful breakfast roll and one of the most delightful coffees he has ever had the privilege of drinking, John is feeling more than prepared to tackle the day. He glides into the doctor’s surgery, pausing to greet the receptionists. Susan is waiting for him in his office to give a second tutorial on the workings of this particular surgery. Again he is offered the support of all staff, but there is only one person who comes to check on him.

“Hello again stranger.” Katherine enters with a smile.

John returns it, leaning back in his office chair. “Good morning Kat. How are we today?”

“The sun is shining and we’re inside. Couldn’t be better. Et tu?”

“Eh, comme ci, comme ça,” John’s mouth turns downwards. “The sun is glorious and I’m stuck in here until three.”

“Ooh, who have you got today, let’s see.” Katherine wanders over to the computer screen, bending to get a good look. John can smell her perfume at this proximity though he cannot identify it. Something floral, womanly. Pleasant. It wafts in his face when she raises her arm to jab a finger at his third patient. “Lucked out there, didn’t you?”

“Why, who’s Jan?”

“Our resident worry-wart. Though to be fair, she does have chronic UTIs. I swear she hoards the piss pots!” John laughs at that, a proper, unabashed belly laugh that vibrates his chest and warms his cheeks. She chuckles alongside him, ocean eyes sparkling.

“Better than sunbathing then. Can’t wait! Anyone else I should be warned about?”

“Hmm, let’s have another look.” Kat folds over again, scrutinising the screen. She grabs the mouse beside John’s hand to scroll further down, when she hums as if impressed. “Two in one, lucky man. Save some for the rest of us!”

“Go on, who’ve I got?”

“Tom Phelps,” Katherine kisses her teeth and makes firm eye contact with John. “Piles.”

“Damn, I really am lucky. Are you sure you don’t want to share? I’m happy to donate one for a good cause.”

“Oh you flatter me doctor, but really, they’re all yours. Think of it as a welcome gift from us to you.” She pats her chest then expands her hand towards him dramatically.

“You’re too kind,” John simpers. Kat snorts, rather piggishly and unexpected, and she covers her mouth with blushing cheeks. John simply chuckles, a lighthearted heightening of the pitch of his voice before Kat has to take her leave to attend to her own duties.

“See you later, Doctor.”

“And you, Nurse.” Long after she has gone, John’s smile persists, and he greets his first patient with more friendliness than usual.


Despite his two forewarned patients, John was still hit with the excitement of a prostate exam and a physical examination of thrush. It is not that he judges the individuals for such problems, and it is certainly a vast improvement on the litany of injuries, illnesses and rampant STDs he treated in Afghanistan (soldiers are among the randiest of groups outside of rockstars), but still not his favourite duty as a GP. In summary, John is glad to clock out for the day, bidding the staff he passes a pleasant rest of their day. Though John has plenty of time to catch the bus to his therapy appointment, he decides the weather is forgiving enough to take a stroll around the area, and scope out any good haunts for his future lunch breaks. The street is somewhat busy, children milling about with their parents after school, some people exiting from the surgery amongst adults bustling with their heads down and expressions drawn. John probably looks tired too, and he is not looking forward to therapy no matter how hard he believes it is necessary.

When he can delay no longer, John shuffles to the edge of the kerb and hails a taxi with much less grace than he has witnessed in Sherlock. He scoots into the backseat as he is reciting the address to Ella’s office. During the journey, John makes stilted small talk with the driver, listening to him ramble about his son’s football game and his tween daughter’s friendship group drama. Sherlock would say he is living vicariously through his children, and the thought causes John to lean his elbow on the window ledge to press his palm to his mouth, preventing a smirk from emerging. The driver seems pleased to have been allowed to gush about his children, and is overly cheery in his farewell wish to John as he exits the vehicle, tucking the spare coins from his twenty-pound note into his trouser pocket.

John has not been here in weeks, yet it is no different than when he was here last. He cannot remember if the potted plant was as proudly grown as it is now, or if the walls have always had an off-white stain to them, or even if the water stain on the ceiling of the waiting room has always been there, poorly concealed with a daub of paint whiter than the original shade. He wonders if being around Sherlock has encouraged his own deductive skills to develop, or whether he is in less of a heightened emotional state to visit this dreary place and can properly acknowledge his surroundings. Whatever the root cause, it entertains John for the few minutes he is sat around waiting for Ella to call his name.

“Well, hello John. It’s been a while,” Doctor Thompson says, not unkindly. She smiles at him, and when he dares look at her face it is sunny with genuine happiness. She ushers him into the seat opposite hers, the one beside a large bay window expansing nearly floor-to-ceiling. Her seat is cuddled up to a potted Strelitzia nicolai and a side table that contains her notebook, a drink of crisp, clear water and a smaller plant John cannot identify.

“Hi Ella.” They have always been on first-name terms, John feeling conflicted at the title of doctor upon first returning to England, not knowing if he would ever be one again, and Ella preferring a more informal acquaintanceship with her clients.

“So,” she pats her thighs once to punctuate, “how have we been?”

John puffs a gust of air from his ballooned cheeks. “It’s been a rollercoaster, honestly. There’s a lot to unpack.”

“I’m glad to see you here again John. Where would you like to start?”

“How about we continue where we left off? I’d like to tell you about my new friend Sherlock Holmes.”


John scowls. Ella’s reaction is not what he expected. He thought she wanted him to make friends and socialise more; to dip his toes into civilian life, but she is wearing the same expression she had when John told her about dating Nate. She hums, scribbling something down on her notepad that John cannot read from his angle, then she addresses him with her full attention.

“So you move in with this man a few days after meeting him, and he’s also the private detective on your case?”

“Not officially,” John defends, feeling and sounding like a petulant teenager.

Ella purses her lips. “But he works with the police. Who are also working on your case. The one in which you were implicated as a murderer?”

“I thought therapists weren’t supposed to judge?” John snips. Ella does not even so much as blink.

Her smile, though, is tepid. “I’m not judging. I am confirming the facts so that I can navigate this properly. Is everything mentioned so far correct?”

John wavers, eyes flickering between the notebook on her lap and her face. “Yes,” he relents eventually. Ella nods, once, the light bouncing off the angular bones of her face.

“How are the nightmares?”

“Perpetual.” John grumbles.

“And how has Sherlock responded?”

“He comes in to comfort me sometimes. Check on me, make sure I’m okay.” John does not mention them sharing a bed, “it helps.”

“John, I-”

“I thought you were encouraging me to make friends! Is that not what you wanted? What is it that you want?”

“That is what I wanted, correct. But I want you to have friends, plural. You cannot be reliant on a single person, John, it’s not healthy. We have different friends for different reasons. I don’t want the pattern to repeat.”

“By pattern you mean Nate?”

“Have you seen him recently?” She redirects.

“No,” John lies easily. He is good at lying to her when he feels necessary. She eyes him but does not press the matter. John is surprised she does not note it down.

“Good, that’s good, John.” The praise feels empty when John knows he is being untruthful, but he does not want her to get the wrong idea and think his progress has regressed since they last spoke. He needs not the gruelling counselling he received all those months ago, when he was a broken shell hobbling into her office; gaunt, jaundiced and starving.

John leaves the office and walks towards the bus station. Ella’s tightly-pressed lips are seared into his mind for the time being, her disapproval tangible on his skin as he hails the bus to stop. He takes a seat, gaze directed almost mulishly out of the window so that he need not speak to anyone on his journey home. To any outsider, especially one who does not keep up with current news, he is just another boring civilian bumbling his way through life, and certainly not one embroiled in a murder case. It is odd, how he can just continue his life while a man is dead and his stalker is MIA. John is not sure which option is more intolerable: knowing he has a stalker that could strike at any time, or one that has been dormant. He supposes he would not want another visit as he shares a flat with someone else, and to endanger Sherlock with his mere presence would be a horror he is not prepared for. Then again, he considers that the stalker may have backed off following the added risk of an additional witness. Those theories occupy him until it is time to ding the bell before his stop and make the awkward amble down the aisle to the hissing doors.

He still has a walk to go before he is home, and John utilises the time to process Ella’s words. He can understand from her perspective that his relationships often look dependent — in his career he has had little time to socialise outside of work hours, especially in the army, where all the men are reliant on one another in close quarters every day of their lives. He came home, got into a premature relationship neither of them were honestly ready for, and now he has impulse-moved into a flat with an essential stranger. John argues he is still independent, however; his job gives him financial stability, he is happier than ever, he still has Mike Stamford and he is sure if he hunted for their contact details his old friends from uni would be happy to meet up. Friendships have never turned sour, just fizzled into nothingness since his deployment; only his relationship with Johnathan ended on bad terms.

Watson climbs the seventeen steps to his new flat with his new flatmate in a new part of the city following his new job, and spirals. He grips the doorway to the living room to find Sherlock lounging on his back like an indolent lion in the sunshine. He has not gotten dressed and there is an opened box on the table. When John moves in closer, the visual input a worthy distraction, he inhales sharply, not quite a gasp.

“What are you doing?” He asks.

“Thinking.” Sherlock drawls.

John peers down at a pale wrist exposed to the ceiling. “Are those nicotine patches?”


“Three of them?” He asks incredulously.

“It’s a three patch problem,” says Sherlock, deigning to crack one eye open to regard him upside down. John gapes at him and grasps the box to check the dosage. Sherlock has consumed a higher amount than recommended, but he is not experiencing any symptoms of nicotine poisoning.

“Have you done this before?” John asks without looking up.

“Obviously.” The clipped tone rumbles deep from his chest and Sherlock closes his eyes, the conversation dismissed. John gives up, a lecture screeching to a halt on his tongue, producing instead a guttural little noise as he turns on his heel towards the kitchen. As the kettle boils, John stretches out the protesting muscles along his spine, encountering satisfying pops along the way. “You had a disappointing therapy session.”

“Yes.” John replies, omitting no further details. To anyone else, the cue would be read that he does not want to discuss the topic, but Sherlock has never possessed such a skill, or does and chooses to ignore it anyway.

“What did she say?”

“Doctor-patient confidentiality,” John reminds him without heat. Sherlock sits up, swinging his legs over the edge of the couch. When his bare feet hit the floor his long, spidery toes wriggle.

He stalks closer as if pursuing intriguing prey, and John has to singularly focus his energy into not bristling under the scrutiny. Sherlock hums. “She thinks I’m a bad influence.”

“You’d make a good psychic.” John says. Sherlock grins at the tacit affirmative.

“What is it exactly? You moving in, or that I’m willing to spend time with you outside of the case?”

“I didn’t ask.” John replies truthfully. Sherlock hums again, a noise of interest.

“You need a new therapist.” He says, as if he has some form of knowledge John is not aware of.

It raises the heckles at the nape of John’s neck, and with a huff that has an air of haughtiness to it, John snips, “you sound just like my ex.”

Sherlock’s gaze snaps to him, his glare tactile as it prickles John’s skin. Tight-lipped, Holmes leans closer to John and says, “I shall never be compared to that imbecilic, rotten-mouthed clot, do you understand?”

John’s eyes widen a fraction, his arms raised in an innate defensive position with palms facing outwards. “I’m sorry. It’s been a tough day. I don’t want to talk about therapy anymore,” he placates.

Sherlock does not answer him, but his eyes soften and he returns to the couch without fuss. John, feeling awkward just standing there, finishes making his soothing brew, one that will calm the tremor in his left hand and loosen the tightness of his skin at such an uncomfortable conversation. It marks the first point of contention between the pair, and John feels guilty for snapping with such a personal remark that was, in hindsight, unnecessary and cruel. Sherlock does not seem outwardly affected by it, but then John is still learning how his flatmate navigates the world, and that does not mean Sherlock will not internalise his emotions. He seems to have been wordlessly forgiven, however, and for that he is grateful. Two mugs of tea are made as a peace offering, and Sherlock accepts it with a small upward quirk of the corners of his mouth, sitting back to leaf through a book John cannot see the title of.

“So my therapist has asked me to write blog entries about my life. It was a way of easing back into civilian life when I came home, but I never updated because nothing ever happened to me. Now that there is — a lot, in fact, I was thinking about giving it another go.” Sherlock hums, and whilst he glances up he does not speak. John takes that as acceptance of alternative conversation. “So, the reason I’m mentioning it is because a lot of the current events in my life involve you. What I’m asking is, do I have permission to mention you?”

Sherlock does not answer for a while, and John shifts uncomfortably, taking a sip of his too-hot tea. “I mean, it’s fine if not. I don’t have any readers anyway, it’s just a part of the therapy.”

“That’s fine. You can mention me. I write blog posts too, I understand the appeal.”

John chuckles, earning a sharp twist of Sherlock’s head. He clears his throat but maintains his smile to reassure Sherlock that he is not mocking him. “Documenting 240 types of ash isn’t a blog entry, that’s a scientific article.”

Sherlock scoffs, but there is a hint of mirth to the crinkle of his eyes. “Two hundred and forty three.” With a histrionic swish of his silk dressing gown, Sherlock flounces off the kitchen to tinker with his science equipment. John settles back into the couch, amused.

Watson spends the remainder of the afternoon typing up his best recounting of the past few weeks. He begins with his split with Nate and briefly mentions the fallout. He recalls his stalker, pushing through the increase in his heart rate and a bout of cold sweats that emerge as he details exactly what happened, and his genuine fear that the stalker will never be caught. He does not mention his suspicions, but he does clear his name against the speculation of his person, should anyone happen to stumble across his blog. The hours wiled away typing — for he pecks at each letter on the keyboard with both index fingers — are a good way to process what has happened. Now that things are actually happening in his life outside of the mundane work routine he had developed upon first returning to London, he finds there is much he would like to discuss.

It is dark by the time he finishes, and John uploads the raw file without proofreading. He hopes to get back to it when he can, but he finds the unedited document almost poetic — a stream of consciousness where he unleashes all that has been on his mind. He finds he can share more with a screen than he can with Ella. Maybe that is the point of it. He looks forward to seeing her, too, and the pride she shall feel for his efforts. John shuts the laptop with a clack and heads into the kitchen to make dinner with Sherlock. Perhaps he can convince him to eat again.

Chapter 18: Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (15)

“I’m proud of you John,” Doctor Thompson says, and she is smiling at him, and John feels for the first time since he began therapy that he has done something right. “This is really good. What made you want to begin your blog again?”

“Something happened to me.” He repeats from his last session.

“A lot happened to you,” she agrees, “namely this Sherlock Holmes. You mention him a lot in your blog.”

“He’s been here through it all.” John shifts his bum in the armchair, finding the close armrests claustrophobic. He grips the edge of them, fingers curling over the patterned fabric as he stares at the banner behind her head without really reading the words.

Ella sighs quietly. John suspects she is tired of him and the joy of her lauding is sapped right out into the fibrous area rug beneath his feet. “John, I’m not keen on this codependency. You must exercise caution. I’d like you to reread your entry and note how many times Sherlock is mentioned.”

“As I told you, he has been here through the whole thing. That’s why he’s mentioned so many times,” John’s tone adopts the snarky pettishness of an insolent teenager, but Ella is unperturbed.

“You need better coping mechanisms. Solving a murder you have no involvement in is not the solution. You’re struggling with your identity and friendships, I understand, and we have the tools to improve your social life, but you’ve got to want it and put the work in yourself.”

“I know who I am. And I have other friends!” He can hear the defensiveness in his voice but is helpless to stop it.

“What about your sister? And,” Ella checks her notes, which John realises is a print-out of his blog entry, “Mike Stamford?”

John releases the arms of the chair to curl his left hand into a fist, the right moving over to cover it. His eyes are hard and stormy. “Mike is… fairly busy right now. And you know I’m not close to my sister.”

“Have you seen either of them in the past fortnight?”

“My sister, yes. It didn’t end well.”

“An argument?”

“Of sorts,” John’s irises mist and raise up and to the left, the memory of Harry kicking off fresh and unpleasant.

Ella straightens, uncrossing her knee whilst the notebook is set on the side table. Her pencil skirt is primly ironed and she tugs it further over her knees before cupping them with intertwined fingers. “Think on your friendships. Old, current, ones you’d like to rekindle. Perhaps consider finding the contact details of those you’d like to talk to again, I think it would really benefit you. For homework I’d like you to consider who your true friends are and who you can fall back on for support.”

“And you don’t think Sherlock is one of those people?”

“Sherlock may be completely harmless. I ask you to exercise caution. Be careful who you trust, especially so quickly. I would advise that to anyone, not just you.” Ella purses her lips, checking the clock. There is enough time left to discuss what she wants to, as she opens her mouth again, working silently for a couple of seconds. “You mentioned on your blog about meeting up with your ex-boyfriend Johnathan.”

sh*t. “Yes.”

“You told me on Tuesday you hadn’t seen him at all. Is there a reason you lied?” Her tone is barren of judgement but John feels scrutinised regardless. He had completely forgotten that he had omitted that piece of information and that she would read the entirety of the blog. He clears his throat but a lump persists, clogging his airways. She tries again. “Why did you meet up with him?”

“We believed he might be involved in the murder case.” He replies truthfully.

“‘We’ being you and Sherlock?”

“And the police.”

Ella sighs again, dropping her knee. “John, I cannot treat you properly if you don’t tell the truth. I’m not here to judge, I’m here to help. I can’t do that if you go back to speaking to those who have provided toxic relationships. You need to move on.”

“I can’t really talk about it because it’s an ongoing case, but I really am done with Johnathan.” John says almost pleadingly.

“Perhaps so, but you may be giving him mixed messages. You know what kind of man he is and I worry for you.” She sighs. John’s head drops into his hand, pensive.


John does not know why he always rebooks appointments when he leaves resentful of himself and mental health treatment in general, but he does and he has. He hopes in the next session there will be more positivity, as he does genuinely want to be treated. He would not keep returning otherwise. With that advice under his belt, John makes a mental note to ask Mike out to the pub. And then he remembers Greg Lestrade’s offer.

The journey home gives John ample time to ponder who he would consider a friend, and who out of those he would deem close. None come to mind in the latter category, not even his sister. Sherlock is the closest to a consistent friend he has had since his discharge, if Johnathan is not to be counted. It is interesting food for thought now the anger has subsided for absent wondering. John cannot fault Ella for her concern, the twinge of guilt at his confrontational tone telling him to apologise via email. She is seasoned in furious veterans and though he is aware she will not take his outburst personally he still cannot deny his rudeness.

John dumps his keys on the kitchen table when he gets home. Sherlock is huddled over a state-of-the-art microscope and does not stir at the sound of Watson removing his coat and shoes. “Afternoon.”

“Hello,” Sherlock looks up, performing his usual scan of John, who is almost tempted to puff out his chest and clasp his arms behind his back for inspection. He stands at parade rest instead, chin jutted out whilst he waits for Sherlock to finish. “Whose number do you need?”


“Lestrade’s, most likely. I assume you already have Mike’s.”

“Okay, seriously, how could you possibly know that?” John’s laugh borders on hysterical. “Are you stalking me?”

Sherlock gestures to John’s left hand. “You’ve put down the rest of your things except your phone. You usually have no use for your phone. You’re also just standing there looking at me rather than going for the kettle or to your bedroom, so clearly you want my attention. The phone suggests you need to contact someone, but you would’ve already done so if you could; ergo, you need my help, a phone number specifically, because you email on your laptop, and our only mutual contact is Lestrade.”

John shakes his head. “Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.”

“Just pull his number from my phone.” He says casually, but there is something smug playing with the corners of his mouth.

“Ah, ta. Where’s your phone?” John cannot see it in his perfunctory scan of the kitchen table. Sherlock hums noncommittally.

“In my jacket pocket. You’ll have to reach inside yourself — I’ve a rather intriguing specimen here to examine.”

“Oh, right. Okay.” John takes aborted steps around the table, stopping a couple of feet away from Sherlock, who makes no move to ease the way. John has to edge his hand under Sherlock’s arm, feeling a deceptive flex of muscle there as Sherlock adjusts a knob on the side of his microscope, John’s fingers curled around the hem of the placket. When he reaches inside the closest pocket he finds nothing.

“Other side.” Holmes mumbles, leaning closer to the eyepiece.

“Yeah, could’ve told me before I went rummaging.” Sherlock does not answer, leaning down to refer to a set of scribbled notes, the handwriting spidery and nearly illegible. Watson sighs and withdraws his hand from the first pocket to dip into the left side. He finds the device and tugs it free, the tight space meaning his hand and the phone drag along Sherlock’s white dress shirt. The fabric is so thin he can feel the heat of his flesh and for a moment he is sure he can record the steady thrum of Sherlock’s heart. “Thanks. Password?”

“All numbers. Ten, fifteen, eight and fourteen.”

“Why do you use numbers for a password?”

“Because you expect that I should use letters and characters.” John nods once at that, releasing a quiet ‘oh’. He has to concede it is rather clever to subvert the expected. He types out the passcode and is granted entrance into Sherlock’s iPhone 3GS, seeking out the contacts. There are more than John had anticipated, some of the names a random assortment of abbreviations that make no sense.

“Found it?” Sherlock asks after a moment. His eyes peer over the eyeglass of the microscope.

“I can only find Gavin Lestrade.” John frowns.

“Yes? That’s him. Surely you have not requested his number without first remembering his name?” Sherlock sneers, tone haughty.

John narrows his eyes at Sherlock, who remains unruffled. “Speak for yourself mate. Why do you call him Gavin?”

“Because that is his given name? Do keep up, John.”

“His name’s Greg.” Watson states, showing exactly how confused he is, though Sherlock simply turns away.

“That’s what I said.” John huffs in amusem*nt, copying the phone number into his phone. When he is done, he leaves Sherlock’s phone on the table near his elbow, swivelling on his feet to make a cup of tea. Automatically, and how fast he has adapted to a second person blows his mind, John makes two mugs, one to Sherlock’s specification.

“Have you eaten yet?”

“Eating is tedious. Slows the thought processes.” Sherlock taps the side of his head. John shakes his head, setting the mugs down so that he can take a seat opposite his flatmate. They share a companionable silence, Sherlock clinking at glass slides and beakers, John clacking at the keyboard of his mobile as he types out a message to Greg Lestrade.

Hi, this is John Watson. Got your number from Sherlock. Still up for that pub night?

John's tea is still halfway full when he receives a reply, phone buzzing loudly against the scratched wood grain. He spots Holmes glancing up in his peripheral, curious like the pricked ears of a cat. John reads the message in silence, thrilled with the response.

Hi John. Wednesday?

John had forgotten about those days when his career was so unpredictable he usually only had time to go out drinking during the weekday. It takes him back almost a decade, and he smiles to himself, ignoring Sherlock’s hot stare. He is allowed to do what he likes, and he is tired of feeling judged. So far Sherlock has been extremely supportive, and he hopes that it will remain that way. Sherlock still does not look away as John replies to the text:

Sure. See you tomorrow.

When he is done, and Holmes has still not looked away, he clears his throat pointedly and says, “drink your tea, Sherlock.”


John dresses nicer than his usual attire. A newer plaid shirt, not the ratty ones he favours under his jumpers, and he dons a dark green cardigan to wear with his brown corduroys and posher shoes. He feels fresh and younger with the help of a moisturiser Sherlock has given him.

“Your skin is awful,” Sherlock said earlier that evening. “Have you ever used moisturiser?”

“Maybe? Not recently like.” John shrugged, glancing at his reflection in the mirror.

“It’s time to change that. I don’t want my doctor shedding like a lizard. Use this.” Sherlock shoved a rounded jar into his hands. The label was in French, but John could just about understand that it was a facial moisturiser; the packaging alone indicative of the price. He swept a dollop out with a clean index finger and daubed it in random places before rubbing it in. Sherlock watched him from the doorway, their gazes meeting in the reflection of the dusty bathroom mirror.

“Like that?”

“Perfect. You look much better already.” Sherlock swiped the jar off the sink counter and exited through the interconnecting door to his bedroom, which shut behind him.

John has to admit, as he smooths down his hair, checking a final time his appearance in the mirror above the mantel, that his skin has vastly benefitted from even just that one bout of hydration. Purple bags, usually prominent, are less visible beneath his eyes, the skin less puffy, and it feels cooler, too. Refreshed. A dewy glow adorns the fading tan, making him look more the age he is. Stress has worn his skin and hair, which is already greying in his thirties, feigning his age to range more in the forties. He feels good.

“Going now Sherlock.”

“You’re only going to see Lestrade, not a bloody date.” Sherlock hangs off the last word, eyes scanning so fast they appear to flicker like a playful flame.

“It’s nice to dress up sometimes. I don’t get out much.” He hears another hum, but John does not stick around to wait for a response, clomping cheerfully down the stairs and out the door.


“John, over here!” Watson weaves through the crowd, dodging an unruly gentlemen so that he is not sloshed by a precarious pint of beer. He slips past a couple with his arm out, muttering an apology as he goes until he can slide into the safety of the booth Greg has sought out.

“Hiya.” John smiles, reaching out so that they make shake hands.

Greg tips his head, genial and polite. “Evenin’. What you having?”

“Pint probably. And you?” John drops into the cushioned seat with a huff, feeling his body sink into the peeling pleather as though it too is sighing.

“No worries — I’ll get this round in. You’ve already fed me.” Greg saunters off towards the bar, John watching. When he returns, he smiles, and John loosens under it. It is nice to not be scrutinised.

“So, how’s work?” Watson asks. They take a swig of their respective drinks just for something to do. John feels his worry eddy away into the noise of laughter further along the pub.

“Can’t talk about much like. Busy, I can say that. Busy and relentless.” Greg mumbles into the lip of the pint glass. It fogs with his breath, the froth lapping at his top lip.

John kisses his teeth in solidarity. “Been there mate. Sorry to hear it. I can’t wait for the day they catch this bastard.”

“Aye, you and me both. So,” Greg takes a large gulp of his drink, “what’s it like living with His Nibs?”

Watson laughs into his pint. “Better than living alone. He’s certainly… unique. Extraordinary. I came home to find him wearing three nicotine patches. Three! Anyone else and they’d be in hospital for nicotine poisoning!” John gesticulates wildly.

“I’d rather that than the amount he used to smoke in the past, or any of the other stuff he used to take, and you know how stubborn he is. Getting him to quit anything is nigh impossible.”

John leans in closer to talk over the hum of conversation surrounding them. It is reminiscent of children sharing a secret. “What’s he like? I mean, I haven’t really seen much beyond him working at home.”

“Yeah, that, basically. Mulish, rude, but so goddamn smart. The Yard hates him for it, but I see the value. When he came to me baby-faced and reeking of god-knows-what about five years ago, all’s I saw was his potential. He was desperate for a case, near begged for it. But he helped us out even when I told him to sod off and come back once he’d sorted himself out.” Greg speaks like a dad recalling a memory of their child. John supposes with this new context that Sherlock is somewhat Greg’s charge.

“Right right. So he’s young then?” It is a bit odd for John to ask that aloud — to not even know the general age of his flatmate. It is not like he can make a firm guess based on looks alone; Sherlock has the lankiness of a pubescent teen and the face of a twelve-year-old, not much different to Greg’s description of him.

“Late twenties — I don’t know the exact number. I don’t even know his birthday. He’s a very private man. You’re lucky to catch glimpses. What I do know is that emotionless robot shtick he pulls is total bullsh*t. He gives a sh*t about the people he helps, it’s not just some morbid game to him, no matter how hard he tries to pretend it is.”

John smiles when he remembers a question he has been dying to ask. “He keeps calling you Gavin. What’s that about?”

“Oh yeah. He refuses to learn my name. I can’t figure out if it’s a game he plays to annoy me or whether he genuinely does not care about getting it right.” John laughs at Greg’s sullen expression, and the man lights up with false incredulity. “I’m being serious! For a man with a name as unique as Sherlock you’d think he could get Greg right!”

“Mine’s impossible not to remember.” John remarks.

“Okay, serious question,” Greg’s face draws in, his brow furrowing. John stares at him, thrown off-kilter by the non-sequitur. “Did anyone ever forget one of your names when you were with Crouch?”

Greg’s expression lightens and he begins to snigg*r, causing John to smirk in a fond annoyance. “f*ck’s sake. No, they didn’t. Most people call him Nate anyway. Although his best mate called us John squared.”

John squared, oh I like that! I wonder what yours and Sherlock’s name would be. Sherohn? No… oh, I know! Johnlock!”

“We aren’t together.” John replies firmly.

Lestrade shrugs good-naturedly. “Yeah, I know. But people think you are already.”

“People?” John asks, equal parts incredulous and wary.

“Well, a few from the Yard. They wonder where you came from all of a sudden and how you managed to tame The Insufferable Sherlock Holmes.” Greg takes an impressive swig of his drink.

“Is Sherlock, you know…” John hopes the message in his eyes is conveyed, and when Greg’s spark, he knows he has been understood. Lestrade considers the question for a handful of seconds, then takes another sip of his beer.

“Sherlock is just… Sherlock.” He waves his hand like a floating piece of paper. Somehow the answer is perfect and useless all at the same time. They drink on, but the conversation never truly strays away from the topic of Holmes.


Sherlock is gone when John teeters home at midnight. He does not really care, grabbing a glass of water and bobbing into the bathroom to brush his teeth so that he can lie flat on his back in bed and revel in the lightness of friendship. Going out tonight was just what he needed to feel more normal again. Despite Sherlock being the main subject of the night John and Greg have discovered their shared interest in football; both being Arsenal fans, they have made a pact that whenever time permits they will meet up at a pub somewhere and watch the match. John respects Lestrade now that they are on even ground — though it would be frowned upon by the force that Greg has gone on a social outing with a former suspect in his current homicide case.

It was tonight that John learnt he is not the only lonely man floating through London, a ghost of a former human. Who they were as kids and young adults is gone, worn away like the truncated erosion of a cliff-edge, marred by the battering of life and duty. They have both seen tragedy and death, far more than any man should, in positions and scenarios that should never have happened. In the face of cruelty and suffering they have had to slip on the mask of stoicism, requiring gallantry to complete their jobs without crumbling. However no man can witness the things they have witnessed and not begin to shatter. Theirs is just not as immediate and histrionic.

Over time, dents turned into cracks, filled with the waters of laughter and companionship throughout the years. In those hard, scary hours, however, the water froze over, widening the cracks, until years passed and the cracks became long, jagged fissures that threatened to split them in two. Bits and pieces snap off and float away to never return, their psyches scarred and war-worn. Both have fought a battle even though only one was on the field. Such symbolism was not discussed in quite a poetic manner, but Greg had shared some of his weariness by the golden liquid of courage he had imbibed during the night. He too has few friends, certainly none outside the force, and is in the throes of a divorce from a not-so-pleasant wife. A serial cheater, verbally abusive, unable to take accountability; some of the content had resonated with John.

Greg, when not prodding at his mind with the stick of justice for answers, is actually rather nice. He is witty and kind, and has a heart of gold still protected and withheld even after all these years of horrors he has seen as a detective inspector. There is faith there, resistance to the notion that true, nationwide change cannot be made in the world of crime, something that John has quietly succumbed to over the years. They both like sports and walks in nice places, Greg likes to read romance novels, a shocking revelation, and John shares his ironic love of true crime. They both have siblings that drive them up the wall, but the fondness in which Greg speaks of his nieces and nephews is sweet, and it is obvious he regrets that his job takes him away from family time so much.

In summary, John has learnt a lot about Greg Lestrade, not the detective inspector of the homicide department at Scotland Yard, but the man who likes to play tickle monster with four-year-old Ava and watch Location, Location, Location on a Saturday morning with his feet up. He is sure Greg has learnt a lot about him, too, stuff he has not even realised, yet he is happy to share. Greg is the kind of man one can confide in and either be given the perfect life advice or a well-needed kick up the arse. He would have made a good father. John cannot remember if he said that part out loud.

When John slips under the streets, the ceiling warbling like the reflection of water at a poolside, he is grinning like a maniac. It is true that one can so easily forget the beauty of the world when they have been hidden away for so long. A lack of friends when he has needed them has taken its toll, especially after his messy breakup with Nate, but there is hope there now, a shining light of a lamppost down a dark street, guiding him towards a brighter life; where there are kind and funny people who want to be a part of his life, to share in his feelings, good or bad. He wonders where Sherlock fits into it all. He does not seem like the man to want friends, John recalling the words of the stranger who pulled up beside him. Sherlock doesn’t have friends. Then there is Greg’s insight into his past, of being scrawny and desperate for scraps of attention like a stray dog. John wants to be his friend, wants to be let in to see behind those stone walls of protection borne of decades of bullying. He is listened to now, but he has never been respected. John wants to change that. He wants Sherlock to feel the same way about John that John does about him.

Christ, John thinks, rolling onto his side towards the sound of movement downstairs, I’ve had too much to drink. It is dangerous to have these thoughts about Sherlock, for both parties. He grasps his pillow to resist the urge to go downstairs and share a cuppa with Holmes. He would not be good company anyway right now, and John does not know what kind of relationship Sherlock has with alcohol. With a yawn, he drifts to sleep, a fading glissando reaching his ears as though floating dust motes — perpetual but unnoticeable unless one chooses to look, to listen.

Chapter 19: Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (16)

John approaches an office building, shoes clomping along the pavement. He is alone, clothes crumpled from sharing a cramped bus with the miserable group commuting into the heart of London like him. He feels self-conscious of the scent clinging to him — not because he smells bad, but because the person who pressed him into the window of the bus had a rather pungent stench to their clothes, and he worries it has permeated into his cardigan. Beside him is the familiar clack of his cane on the uneven pavement, sometimes catching on a risen paving stone. He is in a good mood, all things considered; his workday was not completely terrible, and he spent his lunch break with Kat sharing anecdotes of their life before delving into the medical world. The weather is decent for the beginnings of May — the sun weak but present, the breeze chilly.

John is looking forward to sharing his week with Ella. He has made friends, blogged about his experiences — though the actual entries shall never be posted, not when it threatens Greg’s job — and is excited to see her reaction. He has done as asked, though it is a much slower process gathering a list of the vague faces from his past and narrowing that already short list down to who he would actually like to contact. He is not sure how to even go about finding their contact details, but he does know should he really want it Sherlock would likely be glad to offer his assistance. If the man can find a lost cat in an outside town without ever leaving the comfort of his own flat (it turns out the gardener had stolen the tabby for themselves), then finding a handful of men in London among modern technology will be almost insultingly easy.

Stepping into the building, John bypasses the empty reception and walks down the hall towards Dr Thompson’s room. He is running a tad late, which he had called ahead to warn her about, after his usual bus was cancelled. She had told him not to worry, that she would be there waiting for him whenever he managed to get there. John plasters on his classically placating smile, the sheepish aversion of his eyes prepared for when he greets her. The door is shut, which is unusual, so he knocks. Perhaps she has run over her appointment slot with the previous client knowing she had a little extra time, or has gotten distracted writing a report and lost track of time. Ella is an extremely punctual woman, down to the minute, so when she does not answer the door, John frowns, knuckles poised to rap on the door once again. This time he adds more force, and the door swings open.

“Hi Ella, sorry, I did knock,” John steps into the room, chuckling lightly. Ella is sat in her armchair opposite the empty patient’s armchair, head hung down to look at her notebook. “Ella?”

She does not answer. John moves closer, feeling his heart rate wax volume, thunderous in his ears. “Ella, can you hear me? Are you all right?”

There is no response. Doctor instincts kick in and John lays his cane down to kneel at her feet. He tips her head back. Her eyes: glassy, blood-filled and vacant, stare through him, unseeing. Two fingers creep up to the side of her neck, feeling around for a pulse, Watson’s gaze on the clock to the side where her desk is. Nothing. John stumbles back as he looks down at her properly, her neck a sinewy mess of blooming nebula bruises and swollen lymph nodes. In a panic, John stumbles out of the office, his spine thumping against the far wall with a tinge of pain dulled by adrenaline. He fishes for his phone, almost dropping it as sweat-soaked fingers poke at the keyboard. He holds the phone to his ear, unable to tear his gaze away from his motionless therapist. His movements have disturbed her body, and her head lolls back against the neck of the armchair, exposing a throat brutalised and sickening.

John quietly begs into his phone, “come on, come on, pick up!”

“Hello?” That baritone voice is like a cooling salve on an infected wound. John sighs with relief, his chest ballooning as he gathers air that feels much too thin.

“Sherlock, you have to get here quick! She’s — oh god. Please Sherlock, it’s happened again.” He gasps.

“What’s happened? Where are you John?” There seems to be little urgency in Sherlock’s voice, and John wants to scream.

“Ella’s office. Doctor Ella Thompson. My therapist.”

“What about her?” John can hear the clack of a laptop keyboard in the background. He can only assume Sherlock is searching for the address listed on the public website under her professional name.

“She’s dead. I need to call the police. An ambulance? Who do I call? Jesus Christ!

“No, it’s all right, I’ll sort that. Tell me what happened.” Sherlock employs a soothing voice used on panicked victims and children. He listens to John’s gabbling, voice working in aborted motions to squeeze words through the pinhole in his throat.

“I just found her like this. Her neck, christ, her f*cking neck.” John is distantly aware of the hysteria in his voice, and he mops sweat from his brow with his forearm. “I need to call the police.”

“John, wai-” The line goes dead.


“Sherlock, thank f*ck.” John rushes from the waiting room chair towards him, stumbling on weak knees. Sherlock catches him by the arms, holding him steady until he can stand independently. John’s skin is damp and wan, and his eyes are permanently widened, eyebrows set high towards his hairline. His mouth is ajar, breath coming quick but aberrated, teetering on the brink of a panic attack.

“I’m here now John. Take me to her.” They walk through streams of police. The building has been emptied, but John has been granted a pass to stay. An officer, surreptitious to John but immediately obvious to Sherlock, has been ordered to keep a close eye on Watson.

At the far end of the building one office door is open, forensics crawling in and out as though the entrails of the disembowelled room. Greg Lestrade is in the doorway, his back to them, but at the sound of their voices he turns. He glances between John and Sherlock, but there is no friendliness there, none of the warm laughter they shared over drinks just the night prior. Whether that is because Greg does not want to show any relation to John or if he has genuine concerns that John is involved again is unbeknownst to Watson. John is barred entry, but he cannot stomach getting close to the entrance anyway, allowing Sherlock to dip his head in whilst he hangs back.

“I’ll be back in a minute, okay?” Sherlock says. The reassurance floods a warm relief through John, who takes a gulp of air and nods. “Go sit back down if you need to.”

“Am I under arrest?” Greg turns around and regards John, who speaks flatly, head dipped and eyes lowered. Far from the jovial giggles he caught last night over a story about Greg’s niece Ava. Lestrade sighs, retreating from the bustling noise of the forensics team beyond Ella’s office, and takes John back to the waiting room.

John sits when beckoned, but Greg remains standing. “You’re not under arrest, no. But it would look much better for you to come to the station willingly to answer some questions.”

Watson’s head drops into his cupped palms and he exhales shakily. “Of course. Christ. She’s a good woman. A good doctor. Who the f*ck would do something like this?”

“I don’t know John.” Greg replies, his eyes drifting towards the corridor. From here, if one tunes out the muffled trampling of his team, it is hard to tell there is anything happening at all. It was so peaceful that the entire building was rather confused when the police stormed in and demanded everyone evacuate. Nobody was found to be armed and Doctor Thompson’s door was kept shut during the process.

“Did you see her neck? That’s sick.” John looks rather like he is about to vomit, sickly pale skin going green. It is hard to believe he used to be an army surgeon.

“Are you okay? Do you need anything?” Greg does not want another cleanup beside an active crime scene, but he also does not want to usher John from the building when he is vulnerable.

“I think I need some air, yeah. Will you tell Sherlock I’m outside?”

“Sure. He’ll be out soon. Will you come to the station?”

“When do you want me?” John blanches at the comment. “Christ, not like… my head’s f*cked.”

“I’ll come get youse. You okay on your own?” Greg holds an arm out as if to brace Watson, who waves a hand at him.

“Fine fine, just need some air.” John stands on wobbly feet and rushes out of the main doors into the sunlight. He passes two officers barricading the doors — only the staff members, some of which he recognises, lingering to collect their personal items. Some stare at him curiously, but when it is obvious he is not police the crowd parts quite like the Red Sea for him to snake through.

Immediately the breeze allows him to take much bigger breaths, the air fresher, and John collapses against a tree, head back, hands clenched into fists at his hips. The aching in his leg twinges anew, reminding him of his forgotten cane beside Ella’s body. He cannot believe it. Does not want to fathom it. Cannot conscion not being there sooner. Perhaps he could have rescued her. Perhaps she would not have died at all, if he had not been late. He knows drowning in the potentials without the evidence to prove he could have helped is dangerous, but the spiral is a slippery slope he washes in when there is nobody there to curtail the thoughts. The nausea abates, albeit not entirely, still roiling in his belly like crashing waves against a craggy cliff, and his sweat cools in the wind, a settle of cold tackiness that is highly uncomfortable, clothes sticking to his skin.

John focuses on that. Sensation alone. Breeze-ruffled hair. The stream of air expanding his lungs via his nostrils. He recites the process of respiration. Clenches and unclenches the sharp zing of pain in his bloodless knuckles. Counts the red-blue red-blue flash of lights permeating through his eyelids. It takes long minutes to stop his heart from rioting in the cage of his ribs, and his hearing wades in and out, the world sounding to him as if he is consumed by a wide tunnel, trapped at the far end and unable to connect with those on the other side. His eyes firmly close of their own volition during his efforts to calm down, which is why he senses more than sees the dip in light as someone steps into his personal space.

“John.” The voice, deep and firm, drags him unwilling from his bubble of serenity and into the harsh reality of this hellish situation. John peels his eyes open, squinting as a halo of sunlight sets Sherlock’s black hair into a lighter sable. “Are you all right?”

John’s breath puffs out, shaky but firm. “Better now. Do we have to go?”

“It would be better if we did. You’re not a suspect yet, but that might change. I’ll go with you.” Sherlock wraps his coat further around his body, swirling in a flurry towards the main road.

John reaches out for him, grasping at the thin strip of fabric buttoned to the back of the greatcoat. “Please don’t leave me.”

Sherlock’s eyes soften, the icy blue less harsh around the edges. He guides John by the small of the back away from the tree and the crowds and the spitting flash of squad car lights. “Of course. Come on, we’ll take a cab.”

“Is that allowed?” John asks as he is lead away.

“You haven’t been arrested.” Sherlock says in lieu of a clear answer. He directs John from the claustrophobic street towards the main road, a taxi hailed with a wave of lax fingers.

During the drive neither man speaks, John unable to, Sherlock staring out of the window. There is tension there, thick like the tang of metal in the mouth. It is like the air is borne of it, smoky tendrils of discomfort wrapping around them and darkening the world. Holmes hops out of the car when they arrive, stooping to pay the driver through his window so that John can push his depleting energies into entering NSY. They are ushered off to the interrogation rooms, but only John is allowed to go through. Half an hour of isolation gives Watson time to settle, his nerves wrought but no longer in the throes of an adrenaline rush. He startles upon the click of the door, Greg entering backwards, pushing the door open with his spine for his arms are laden with paperwork.

“Right. I need your statement. Tell me exactly what happened, starting from you first entering the building.”

John recites the events in a state of dissociation, from stepping past the barren reception and down the hall to her room. Finding her. Checking for a pulse. The realisation. Calling Sherlock.

“Why did you call Sherlock first instead of the police?”

John shakes his head, which is ducked down near the table. “Dunno. I panicked. I did say on the phone that I needed to call the police. I think I hung up on him to do so. I just wanted him to come.”

“Why? You barely know him.” Greg is more than aware of this fact — that John really does not know Sherlock past who he is as a flatmate and partly as a detective.

John shrugs. “I was worried I’d be the top suspect again. I was scared. This is getting personal now.”

“What do you mean, ‘personal’?”

“Well there’s that whole thing with my stalker, and then my next-door neighbour dies, and then a few weeks later my f*cking therapist dies! What the f*ck is going on?” Watson’s voice waxes volume, seeming like a bellow in the echoing chamber of the bland room.

Greg sets down a hand close to him. “I understand. I need you to calm down John.”

“Jesus, sorry,” John scrubs at his face. “You wanted to ask me questions?”

“Do you think you’re able to? We can do this another time.”

“No, no. Go ahead. Rather get this over with.” Greg nods curtly and flips open his notebook, setting a manilla file to one side. John’s eyes wander towards it, but his eyes are foggy, the visual input remaining unprocessed.

“You mentioned injuries to her neck. Can you describe what you saw in more detail?”

“Er, yeah. She had a long ligature mark around her neck, and there were scratches. It was swollen too. Petechia around the irises and over her skin, some under her eyes too. Aside from that I didn’t really look. Once I realised she was dead I left the room.” The information rushes from his mouth, points of fact shared in rapid succession as if in Accident and Emergency, though he only performs for a team of one today.

“What did you do when you left the room?” Greg asks whilst writing post-haste.

“Called Sherlock then the police. Then I went and sat in the waiting room. I couldn’t go back in there. I left my cane beside her.” John remembers the last point as a belated fact, that he has moved around without it since the incident. He is not sure what to make of that. There are more pressing matters at hand.

“The door was closed when police arrived.” Greg comments.

“Yeah, I shut the door in case anyone looked into the room and saw her, but I didn’t want to cause panic so I didn’t say anything to the receptionist.”

Lestrade nods. “Did you notice anything unusual?”

“She didn’t come and get me, but I was late so I didn’t question it. The door was shut, which it never is, and when I knocked she didn’t answer… obviously.” John replies.

“Obviously?” Greg’s brow wavers as he quells the urge to raise it.

“She was dead at that point. Or was about to be dead.” John is beginning to dissociate himself from the incident, slipping into doctor mode to prevent the emotional outburst clawing to be set free from his chest.

“You didn’t see anyone else?” Greg’s pen is poised above the page, waiting.

John shakes his head. “The corridor was empty. I didn’t see anyone near her office.”

“Was anything else amiss?” The tip of the pen hovers precariously, leaving tiny spots of ink on the fresh line. John focuses in on it so that he can avoid the laser beam of Lestrade’s eyes on him.

“Not that I noticed. Though, she was looking down at her notebook. I thought she was just looking at some notes but when she didn’t answer me I went into the room and asked if she was okay.”

“There was no noise at all?” Greg taps the tip of the biro against the paper, wobbling the pen between his fingers.

“Noise? As in did she make any noise? No. I knelt to check on her but I just knew she was gone. I checked her pulse but there was none.”

“When was the last time you spoke to Doctor Thompson?”

“About half an hour before my initial appointment time. My bus was cancelled and I had to wait for the next one so I called her at the bus stop.”

Greg scribbles the time stamp down. “And there was nothing unusual about her behaviour during that phone call?”

“Nothing at all. She said she’d be waiting for me. Jesus, do you think someone might have been with her?” John tugs at the sides of his hair, skewing the strands into a riotous mess.

“You’re absolutely sure there were no background noises?”

“No, nothing!” John makes a whining noise of frustration. “Christ, had I gotten there sooner…”

“John, I understand this is difficult. I will ask you one more time: there was not a single thing you found strange? Think really hard, any detail might matter.”

“She seemed cheery on the phone, not like she was in a rush or nervous or anything. I’m pretty sure it was silent behind her, but I rang her at the bus stop and it was busy there, so I might’ve missed any noise. Erm, at the office I didn’t notice anything beyond the s-st-strangulation marks. I wasn’t looking at anything else.” He goes pale, and Greg relents, snapping the notebook shut.

“Thank you for your time John. I don’t have anymore questions for you, may I ask you to come back if I do?”

“Yes, of course. Is Sherlock outside?”

“Should be. Could barely stop him from barging in. You’re free to go.” John almost runs from the room, the door clanging behind him before Greg has even stood up.

Sherlock is not waiting in the corridor and John is not confident enough to go looking for him without walking into an unauthorised bullpen, so he circles back to the reception. The side of his thumb slips between his teeth so he can worry the skin around his nail. He paces the edge of the room, avoiding the waiting room chairs and people. The receptionist gives him an odd look but says nothing, so John continues until he feels the buzz of his phone. Unfamiliar but welcome, he yanks it from his pocket harder than necessary to check his inbox.

I’ll be there in a moment. SH

John sighs, slumped against the wall. His thumb is tender, the raw skin pink and angry. There will be a whitlow there in a few days, hard skin he will not be able to bite off that will catch on his clothes and drive him mad for days. It is an insignificant thing but of great comfort in this moment, a buoy to hold onto in the violent waters of his overworking mind. He walks through the healing process, the layers of skin knitting back together, how long it will take, the sting of pain as the exposed under-layer of skin is pressed to his front teeth.


Startled, he looks up, not immediately spotting the source of the voice. Sherlock is at the automatic doors, wriggling his fingers into his thick leather gloves. He beckons John with his head before waltzing from the station, attracting the attention of several people dotted about the waiting room. John, like an obedient dog, follows onto the pavement, almost instantly climbing into a black cab after the man.

“So?” He asks. His voice is smaller than he intended, belying the calmness he wishes to exude.

Sherlock rattles off their address to the driver, coat tucked close to his chest. “We’ll discuss this at the flat. It’s okay. You’re all right.”

“Yes.” John says, to agree, to convince himself. He takes another deep breath through his nose and exhales it over six seconds from his mouth.

“You are all right John. I’m on the case, remember?” John does not answer, but his smile reflects off the window, and Sherlock shares it.


“What on earth is all that?”

Sherlock glances at him. “Photos from the scene. Can you look at them?”

“Should you have those?” Even as John asks he peers over the coffee table at the scattering of photos.

“Well, they’re hardly going to loan me Anderson’s camera. I wanted your input.” Sherlock says the name as though it tastes of bitter venom.

“Right.” Holmes takes photos in groups to the mirror above the mantlepiece and sticks them up in a meticulous but unknown pattern, calling for John to pass him certain pictures from the collection of print-outs.

There are more photos than there is space, so Sherlock pulls some down to make room for better angles or close-ups. When he is satisfied he steps back, arms crossed, admiring his work. “We’ll start with her injuries. Can you cope?”

“Yeah, yeah,” John’s fingers dance along his face for a moment. “I want to help.”

Sherlock grins. “Excellent. This should be interesting.”

John scans the photos. “What do you want to know?”

“Describe her injuries to me.”

“I already did to Greg.” He frowns.

“I want to hear it. Your insight as a doctor is invaluable. Please.” Sherlock waves John toward the mirror, who goes back to perusing the various angles. He selects one, pulls it free and holds it between them.

“This one shows petechia in the eyes. When pressure was applied to her neck it burst the blood vessels in her eyes. You can see it underneath as well, that speckling of red dots. She was straining, her eyes probably bulged.” John sticks the picture up again when he is done and selects another.

“What’s the blood around her mouth?”

“Bit her tongue? Or her lip? Hard to tell where the injury is. Pre-mortem though; there’s swelling, but that could be from her straining or the cut.”

The closer shots of Ella’s injuries have an impersonal effect to them, and from here, she is unidentifiable. Just another set of photographs of a deceased individual, helping John to dissociate from the person they have come from. He can analyse as a doctor, anxiety reduced significantly. It is certainly an improvement to the constant edge of panic he has been walking all afternoon. The next photo focuses on the neck, taken from the front where Ella lay after John’s manipulation of her head to check for a pulse. He ignores the flash of memory and runs his pinkie fingernail over a long red line.

“Ligature mark from something being wrapped around her throat. It seems to have irritated the skin so it was probably rope? I used to see it on the hands of some of the soldiers when they’d been clinging to hemp.”

“And those lines underneath?” Sherlock’s tone sounds more like he is encouraging a child into explaining their observations than someone who does not know what happened.

“Scratches. From her probably. Trying to scratch the killer or pull the rope away from her windpipe. You can even see the hint of fingerprint bruises.”

“Interesting. What about this one?” Sherlock passes John another image.

“Her ears?” Sherlock nods. “Bruising behind the ear, and I think that might be internal bleeding of the canal. Petechia on the lobes.”

Sherlock grabs another photo, this one showing Ella’s entire face. John grimaces, looking away. “Same as what I’ve mentioned plus swelling and facial drooping. Can you put that one away?”

“Of course.” Holmes drops that one into the pile on the coffee table rather than hanging it back on the mirror.

“Go on then.” John prompts indulgently.

“What?” Sherlock turns sharply to him, scrutinising with a feline flick of his eyes. A lot of Sherlock’s movements are cat-like, his head remaining still whilst his irises scan John head-to-toe, fingers flexing like a curious tail.

John nods at the mirror. “You’ve obviously made some deductions. What have I missed?”

Sherlock’s mouth stretches into a grin with far too much teeth, and his eyes dance, a licking flame of excitement kicking him into gear. “For that, we’ll need the photos of the entire office. There’s more to this than what you’re thinking.”

John finds the smile infectious. “Do enlighten me.”

Chapter 20: Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (17)

Photographs are strewn over every surface in categories. The mirror is littered with close-up shots of the injuries to Ella Thompson’s face and neck. On the desk to the right of the mantle are photos of her body, both wide and zoomed in. On the coffee table, arguably the busiest surface of them all, are photographs of her office from every angle. There are so many that the pictures spill onto the floor, set in a semi-circle concave to the table so that Sherlock and John can sit in the curve and observe. John watches Sherlock work, and when he is done, they scramble to the area rug to begin.

Sherlock is not quite ready for his soliloquy. “Tell me what you see. Spare no detail. If anything is amiss, I need to know. I don’t know what the office looked like before these photographs were taken.”

“Okay.” John does not expect to find anything different. There is a slim diary on the office desk, open to the current date. There is a list of names, but the second-to-last on the list is John’s. There is a colour-coded mark beside his name — yellow, and at the top of the page is a key. Green for attending, yellow for late, red for absent. Neat handwriting, unlike the scribbles in her notebook. John speaks of these facts aloud, wondering if there is a significance he is missing.

Next he regards the chairs. Neither of them are out of place. “Wait,” John squints, “there.”

“What is it?” Sherlock’s verdigris eyes zone in like a laser pointer.

“The carpet. The armchair left dents. It was there for a long time. But it was moved. Only slightly, can you see? Someone moved the chair back.” John says.

Good, John.” Sherlock’s voice is velvet, the praise almost sensual. A shiver, quick and sharp as a lightning bolt, races up John’s spine. “Anything else?”

“Erm…” John’s search continues. He pulls up a photo of the notebook Ella had been reading. “These are my notes. Well, the notes she made of me during our appointments. There’s… what is that?”

Across the page of their previous session, scrawled across the writing, is dark red ink. “Lies? What’s that mean?”

Sherlock hums as he reads. “Do you think Ella wrote that?”

“No. But who would?”

“Someone who thinks they’re lies.” Sherlock responds. He has leaned in close to see for himself, his breath hot when it exhales towards the photo, John’s fingers catching the brunt as he holds the paper up. It is weirdly intimate, being so close that their hair almost mingles, and John has to wrest his wandering thoughts back under control.

“I don’t recognise the handwriting. Hard to even see it, really, against the blue. The red pen is a biro though.” John deduces.

“Very good. What might that mean?”

“I don’t know.” Sherlock’s expression dulls, and John raises the pitch of his voice. “I really don’t!”

“I’ll explain in a moment. I have a theory. Continue.” Holmes’ fingers raise to steeple under his chin, digging into the soft flesh of his lower jaw.

John returns the photo to the correct slot and uses his finger to scan the rest. For the majority of the photos he can see no difference, the ornaments the same, no furniture overturned or out of place except for the shifted armchair. John has never sat at the desk to know if the items were always that way. He is about to give up and declare there is nothing left when his eye catches the blank wall behind Ella’s chair in a wide shot.

“What is it?” Sherlock asks — if he were a cat, his ears would be pricked.

John picks up the photograph and holds it close to his face. He scans the other photos, aware of Sherlock’s keen gaze. He finds two other photos, one of the entire wall and another taken slightly closer to highlight the sideboard behind the chair, one that has always been decorated with various ornaments: a hand-crafted, kilned vase painted grey, a basket of potpourri and a lamp with a wide rectangular shade in burnt orange. Before he speaks he checks the other photos, ones that show the three other walls of the office.


“Something’s missing.” Sherlock’s brows raise in interest. “There was a little hanging canvas thing here.”

John jabs at the plain wall. There is no scuff of the paint, no nails visible or missing. “Hung on the wall?”

“I’m sure of it. I used to stare at it all the time.”

“Can you remember what it was?”

“A quote. Er, god, hang on…” John, with eyes closed and the heels of his hands pressed into the sockets, wracks his brains. Sherlock waits, patiently, an unmoving force beside him. “The person was called Jung. You are not what happened to you, you are what you make of it. Something like that.”

Sherlock rips his laptop from the charging cable and opens it up. It takes a minute to boot up and unlock, but he navigates the mouse to Google and types in the quote. “This?”

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become, yes, that’s it! By Carl Jung. It was hung right there, in the middle. On a triangle canvas flag thing with a wooden pole going through the top. It was hung up by string wrapped around the dowels.” John points to the centre wall above the sideboard, but there is no indication there was anything there. “I swear it was right there!”

Sherlock hums, searching through the photographs. “And it hasn’t been moved elsewhere?”

“It’s always been there. She never changed the layout of the office. Probably to maintain familiarity for her clients.”

“Interesting, another trophy then.” Holmes speaks more to himself, but John’s eyes narrow.


“The killer is taking trophies.” Sherlock’s fingers rise to steeple on his bottom lip.

“You’re saying this is the same killer who got Peter?” John’s voice is thick, and there is a persistent lump in his throat that refuses to be swallowed down.

“I have high confidence in that theory, yes.” Sherlock replies, oblivious to John’s distress.

Christ. So are they targeting me? Or the people around me?”

“Not sure. That’s what we’re going to find out. There has to be a link! A motive.” Sherlock taps his fingers together, still steepled at his chin, eyes narrowed to the photographs.

John’s breath is shaky when he remembers to release it. “Sherlock, I really don’t like this. I have a sister, what if she’s next?”

“Send her away then,” Sherlock waves a dismissive hand, his mouth warping into another grin, “can I tell you my deductions now?”

“Sherlock, I’m being serious! She would be defenceless! Especially if they know she’s an alco-oh god. Do you think I’m still being stalked?” Holmes rocks back on his heels, mouth open but the words coming out as an abated exhale of air, aborting whatever it is he planned to say. John looks to him, staring through his eyelashes, his face expressive and so vulnerable. “What do I do?” He whispers.

“Don’t worry John,” Sherlock comforts in a voice of smooth caramel, “I’ll get to the bottom of this. There won’t be another.”

“I really hope you’re right.” John sighs, scrubbing at his face. He is haggard, in desperate need of sleep, but he can see how desperate Sherlock is to explain his deductions. “Go on then. Tell me what I’ve missed.”

Sherlock dives right in, barely pausing for breath. “You noted the scuff marks where the chair used to be. You were correct, but perhaps not for the reason you thought.” Sherlock takes a photograph depicting the underside of her desk. “See the carpet here? Striations, short but plentiful. What would cause that? Certainly not the desk chair, because those marks aren’t seen anywhere else.”

“Her shoes?”

“Yes, John! More importantly: her heels. She fought there. Struggled. Which means?”

“She was attacked?”

“Obviously. But she wasn’t at the desk when she died, was she John?”

“Right. So the killer moved her to the chair during?”

“After. If it was during there would be more damage to the carpet fibres, a twin set of tracks where she was hauled. You can see where she was sat at her desk and pulled backwards. There’s enough room behind the desk chair for the killer to have shifted them both away from the desk. Note the damage to the edge of the wood — she tried grasping for it. And the mug; there’s spillage, subtle, but you can see it around the rim of the mug.”

“Christ almighty.” John mutters in horror.

Sherlock drags his fingers along the appropriate photograph. “He killed her at the desk. From behind. I surmise he used the desk chair to push her across the room, but during the process of transferring her into the armchair her deadweight shifted it back a little.”

“What did he use to kill her?” John asks even though he is not sure he wants to know. Either way, it will replay in his nightmares, a reel of film rewound over and over.

“Some kind of rope, you were correct in that. He didn’t bother using his hands.”

“Why not?”

“He would’ve left fingerprint-shaped bruises.”

“You keep saying he. How do you know it was a he, if we can’t confirm a link to Peter?”

“Strangulation takes extreme strength, especially when the victim fights back. The assailant had to be tall to combat her thrashing weight and not fall over. The ligature marks tell us how exactly he did it. Had he wound a rope around her neck like a scarf there would be no break in the line around her neck. There was. That means he held the two ends in each hand, and based on the size of the gap in the mark at the back of her neck I deduce he had been close, almost pressed to the chair, ergo taller. In fact, he was extremely tall against her, can you see this?”

Sherlock jumps to his feet, whirling on his heel to grab at the evidence on the mirror. He sits down and shows John a picture detailing the ligature mark around Ella’s neck. John nods. “It isn’t an equal, clean circle all the way around. The line drifts upwards towards her ears, it would’ve caught on her jawline. Which means the person had to be tall.”

Impressed, John nonetheless says, “there are tall women.”

“Over six foot?” Sherlock squawks.

“Not an impossibility.” Watson shrugs, even though he does not really disagree with the deduction.

“Yes, but it is an improbability. You’d spot a tall woman a mile off. People look to that sort of thing. No, it had to have been a man. Strong enough to hold on when she struggled.”

“Do you think she knew him?” John takes the photo from Sherlock of Ella’s blood-lined neck and sets it down again.

“I thought the same thing, but there’s no way she would’ve allowed anyone to come behind her desk. She would’ve stood up to answer the door.”

“She usually leaves the door open.” John adds.

“Again, we are talking the most likely scenario. I believe whoever it was came into the room when she was gone. Slipped in through the backdoor, you saw it, only a couple metres away from her room. Anyone could linger there, waiting, and enter without being seen.”

“Where on earth would they hide? Under the desk? Surely she’d see him!”

“Exactly, but look,” Sherlock pulls out a photo from behind Ella’s desk, “the cupboard. Big enough to fit a man, don’t you think? There wasn’t much in there, some spare clothes, pamphlets, you can see the contents in this photo.”

John takes the photograph to inspect it. The crawl space at the bottom is wide and deeper than it looks on the outside. More than enough room to fit a man. “So he snuck in when she left, hid inside the cabinet and waited?”

“I suspect so. Bided his time. Waited until she sat at the desk — she had to, because we saw the yellow mark next to your name.”

“Oh my god, do you think he was in there when I called her?” The colour drains from John’s face.

“Potentially. It had to have happened between her leaving the room and returning. What was the exact time you rang her?”

“God, er…” John fishes for his phone from his pocket, tapping at the keyboard to find the list of his most recent calls. Ella’s is at the top beneath Sherlock’s number. He selects her name. “It was two twenty-eight.”

“We’ll have to wait until we receive the CCTV footage from the office to determine when exactly the suspect entered. Molly is likely working on Ella now, if she isn’t too busy. Cause of death will be strangulation, as we know, but the motive still remains. And the notebook.”

“Lies?” John parrots the scribble found on the page, poking at a photo of it, noticing its similarity to bloody slash marks across Ella’s neat notes.

“Yes. Written across a paragraph detailing your poor relationship with Crouch.”

John pales. “Do you think the placement is significant?”

“Likely. Whoever wrote it deemed her conclusions a falsity. Enough to kill her, it seems. I checked, there were no other notes or patients with the same tagging. The red ink came from a standard biro found in her desk drawer. It was used and then tossed back in among the other pens. Thankfully it was only one of two, and the other was a slow-drying ink. Hard to tell with full confidence, but the writer was male, right-handed, angry.”

“Of course he was bloody angry! He killed her!”

“But he did it after she died. He couldn’t let her know he’d been there beforehand, and she likely would’ve set the notebook up before she sat down. Killing someone, especially asphyxiation, is taxing work, and he would’ve been exhausted after. Out of breath. To maintain his anger is significant. You can tell from the penmanship. Sharp lines, thick ink — he pressed down hard, it went through three other pages. He wanted it to be seen.”

John sinks further to the floor, looking like a puddle of despair. “Sherlock…”

“Yes?” Holmes fiddles with the pictures, the rustle, for a second, the only sound in the room audible over a rush the blood in John’s ears.

“I’m scared.” He confesses sotto voce, emotion welling in his eyes.

Sherlock tilts his head, an errant curl dropping to tickle John’s hairline. “It’ll be okay John. I won’t let anything happen to you.”


For two agonising days John can do nothing but wait. He works, floating through the days, and even though they do not really know each other Katherine can sense something is wrong. She does not ask, and he does not tell. The only fortune is that he has been cleared as a suspect, likely due to Sherlock. On the fourth day, when the rest of the staff and patients present in Doctor Thompson’s vicinity that day have been tirelessly interviewed and provided statements (the files stolen by Sherlock to be copied and brought home so he and John can look through them together), Greg finally brings in Johnathan Crouch. Only Sherlock is permitted to watch through the interconnected room, but he opts to stay in Greg’s office with John, citing that some redecorating is due. Greg, with a shake of his head, does not bother questioning the choice of words and makes his way down to the interrogation room.

Johnathan sits there, placid. “Afternoon Mr Crouch. I’m not sure if you remember me but my name is Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade. Feel free to call me Greg.”

“Hi Greg. Totally missed this place,” Crouch jests, tongue poked between his teeth in a cheeky smile. Greg chuckles softly and sits down opposite him, back to the door. Files slump around him, but he ignores them in favour of a wad of barren lined paper.

“I’ve got a few questions for you regarding Thursday, two days ago.”


“Excellent,” Greg smiles, “are we all right to get started?”

Crouch bobs his head, “ready when you are!”

“Have you ever been to this address before, Mr Crouch?” Lestrade slips a piece of paper in front of him.

Crouch hums. “Not sure. What type of building was it again?”

“Offices.” Lestrade replies, deadpan and straight-faced.

“I’ll need a picture of the building.” He is handed one almost immediately, and recognition flashes across his eyes. “Oh aye yeah, that’s the place I used to pick my partner up from therapy. John Watson? You know, the one you also think is a killer.”

Greg does not reciprocate Nate’s chuckle. “Have you ever been inside this building before?”

“Yeah. Sat in the waiting room for a bit.” Johnathan says, tapping the photo with his index finger. The noise echoes in the quiet.

Greg nods, his eyes on Crouch. “And ‘round the back?”

“Erm, let me see?” Crouch examines a printed picture taken from Google maps. “Think so? Once, ‘cause it leads back the main road. I think John mentioned his therapist’s office was right at the back entrance and that I could wait there instead.”

“Did you ever speak to Doctor Thompson directly?” Greg begins to jot down illegible notes on the paper, Johnathan watching intently. When he realises he has been asked a question his physically shakes from his reverie.


Greg slides another photo across the table. It depicts a black woman with her 4C curls cropped close to her head, brown eyes warm but her smile closed-lipped. She wears a plain pink blouse buttoned to the top, a lanyard just visible between the layers of clothing. Crouch kisses his teeth. “Can’t say I have. This is her, then? Doctor Thompson?”

“So you don’t recognise this woman?” Lestrade presses.

“No. If it’s John’s therapist I wouldn’t go near her, she did keep slaggin’ me off like. And she wanted us to go to couple’s therapy but I said nah, ain’t bothering with that faff. Bet she did it on purpose, bad-mouthin’ me so we’d pay her more to ‘fix’ us.” Nate drawls, his northern accent returning as he rambles.

Greg’s pen remains immobile on the paper. “How often did you pick John Watson up from therapy?”

“Dunno, didn’t exactly make a tally chart. A fair bit though. Why?”

“You’re certain you never once saw John’s therapist in person?”

“Aye. ‘As somethin’ ‘appened to her?” The intonation of Nate’s voice increases in pitch. He leans closer on his forearms.

“Doctor Thompson was found dead in her office.”

“f*ckin’ hell. Imagine the therapy you’d need if you found your therapist dead.” Johnathan makes an odd, humoured noise in the back of his throat.

“Is this a laughing matter to you, Mr Crouch?” Lestrade looks at him, incredulous, jaw set firm and prominent.

Nate scoffs, wafting a hand. “Oh, lighten up,” when Lestrade’s eyes harden, he wilts, “sorry — didn’t mean to step on any toes. Go on. How’d she die?”

“We’re yet to receive the coroner’s report. Any ideas?” Greg taps his notes with the back of the pen. It clacks sharply like booming thunder, and Nate kisses his teeth, clearly bothered by the noise. Greg does not stop.

Air puffs from Crouch’s cheeks, fluttering the paper. He tilts his head, a swinging pendulum, looking around the room as if for ideas. “Bashed over the head with her own notebook? Strangled with that lanyard of hers? f*ck knows. Who found her?”

Greg writes that down. “We’re not at liberty to say. Where were you on Thursday afternoon?”


“All afternoon?”

“I went out for a bit. The park for lunch.”

The pen scratches loudly. “Is that a common thing for you to do?”

“Sometimes, yeah, when the weather’s nice.”

“Did you bring your own lunch or buy some?”

He shrugs with one shoulder. “Can’t remember.”

“You can’t remember a few days ago?” The pen pauses, wavering.

“Well sometimes I bring my own food and sometimes I buy it whilst I’m out. Why would I pay attention to what day I- hang on a minute,” Nate looks off to the top left of the office, “I remember now. I brought my own food in.”

“You’re sure of this?” Greg glances up at him.

“Yeah, ‘cause Thursday I had that butty before the bread went off. Yeah, definitely had my own lunch. Took it out, ate it in the park.” Crouch nods firmly, looking back to Lestrade.

“Can anyone corroborate this? What time did you go out?” Greg scribbles away.

“Dunno, around three maybe? I started work late so I had a late lunch. And why would I know if anyone could confirm that? Who pays attention to what other people have for lunch? You can ask my colleagues but it’d be a long shot like.” Crouch’s chuckle dies off, and he peers at Greg with a knife-edged glare. “Wait, you don’t think it were me who did it, do you? Again? f*ck’s sake!”

“You have not been arrested, Mr Crouch. This is a voluntary interview. You’re free to leave at any point.” Greg’s pen rolls between his fingers.

Nate scoffs, rising to his feet so quickly the chair knocks against the wall behind him. “Well yeah, I should think so! Ta-ra.”

“We’ll let you know if we have any other questions.” The door slams, and Greg is left on his own. With a sigh, he gathers up the pictures and taps them against the table to straighten them before they are shoved into his paper file.

When he enters his office, Sherlock’s head snaps up like a startled deer, but his eyes are sharp, keen. The wall beside him is covered almost every inch with case notes, files, photos and post-it notes sullied with questions and facts in sharpie. “So?”

Greg sighs, dropping the file on the only spot free on his desk: right in front of his chair. He leans one arm on the surface, body tilted, the other hand rising to scrub at his face. “It’s not looking good for him. He knew the cause of death.”

“He did?” Holmes hums, interested. John goes pale, taking a seat quietly at the desk. He does not speak, cast into the shadows.

“‘Strangled with that lanyard of hers’, he said. We’ve yet to release any information to the public.” Lestrade’s eyes mist in thought, lip worried by his teeth. The thin skin is already raw and threatening to split and bleed, but Greg does not seem to be aware.

Sherlock’s face lights up and he claps his hands. “Her lanyard! That was it! The material would leave ligature marks similar to that of rope.”

“Right, yeah. Don’t get too excited. Dead person, remember?” Greg says, not unkindly.

Sherlock sobers. “Lestrade, you need a warrant.”

“It’s him, isn’t it?” John asks in a tiny, choked voice. Twin heads turn to look at him, crumpled in the seat like a naughty schoolboy waiting in the office for a parent to pick him up. He looks equal parts small and old, like the stress has carved years onto the lines of his face. Grey hairs are beginning a mutiny against the sandy blond atop his head.

“We can’t know for sure without more evidence. I see you’ve gotten started on that front yourselves,” Greg’s voice is soothing but he sends Sherlock a light glower. John does not speak, alerting Lestrade to him again, who briefly exits his office to get the poor withering man some water. “Drink this. Deep breaths John.”

John sips at the refreshing water, silent, as Sherlock begins his explanation, oblivious to John’s anxiety. “So, here is the timeline of events based on my deductions of the crime scene and the current evidence. This is my top theory but subject to change. Are you listening?” Sherlock turns to receive a sharp nod of the head from Lestrade. “Excellent. Do keep up. Doctor Thompson received a phone call from John at two twenty-eight. She noted that he would be late in her colour-coded diary. From there she knew she had time, so she went to the toilet, grabbed a cup of tea before John arrived. During that time the killer entered her office from the fire exit around the back — no cameras there, you see, and climbed into the cabinet behind the desk to wait.

“Doctor Thompson then entered the room with her mug of tea and set out her notebook that contained her notes on Doctor John Watson on the side table beside her armchair. She went back to her desk and sat down. The computer was open on the file for her previous patient, so she was about to write up her report for the session when the killer exited the cabinet and moved around behind her. He pulled the lanyard up around her neck, almost like a noose, and strangled her standing whilst she was sat down. She fought, but it was futile. She died at the desk. The killer then used the desk chair to push her over to the armchair where he set her body out like she was perusing her notes and wrote the word LIES in red pen he found in her drawer. He then exited the same way he came in, probably not too long before John arrived. Are we all following?”

“Christ Sherlock, you got all that from an empty office?” Lestrade shakes his head, awestruck. Sherlock is the smartest man in the room in every circ*mstance but his deductive skills never fail to baffle Greg. It is almost a shame he refuses to become an employed detective or a profiler by the NSY — they have asked, but Sherlock does not want to be restricted to their rules and procedures.

He scoffs. “Please, the room was crawling with evidence. As ever you see but you do not observe! Have you got the CCTV footage yet?”

“Yep, but there’s nothing. I’m guessing you’ll want to take a look.” Greg fiddles with the computer to pull up a folder containing the video footage taken on the day of the murder.

“Of course.” Sherlock snips as he comes around the desk to watch, gesturing for John to come too.

“The camera is at the wrong angle. It’s placed where the door is, and there’s a blind spot directly beneath.” Greg says. “One minute and forty-three seconds after John goes into the room, he reappears.” On cue Watson bursts from the room, colliding with the wall. John, watching the footage back, has to turn away at the sight of sheer, sickening distress etching into his face as he fumbles for his phone.

“See, impossible for John to have done it. He’s been caught on multiple cameras from the moment he left work until finding Doctor Thompson.”

“Yes, I’m aware. John, are you all right? Go sit down again.”

“So you can’t even see whoever it was?” Sherlock ignores John shuffling back to his seat, eyes never leaving the screen.

“Frustrating, I know. We’re working on the cameras in the surrounding area, but we haven’t had much luck. There are no cameras at all down the entire backstreet where the door is.”

“Why bother putting cameras in if you’re not going to cover where is actually needed?” Sherlock sneers, a dramatic whirl of his greatcoat blanketing his thighs as he sits down in Greg’s chair to pick through the clips himself.

John gulps as he swallows another mouthful of water, the lump in his throat firm and mutinous. “It’s not for break-ins.” Sherlock leans sideways to look at him, confused. “The cameras are there in case something happens with one of the patients or doctors. For incident reports. Can’t put any in the offices because it’s a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, and because they aren’t really for security purposes…”

Sherlock, in lieu of speaking, shuts his mouth, lips downturned as he processes the new information. He will not admit aloud that he did not know that, but his silence says more. John manages a tiny smile behind the rim of the shoddy plastic cup as he takes a final minuscule sip of water. Lestrade scans the wall properly, starting from the end closest to the door, eyes trailing down the strings wrapped around pins. John feels useless albeit too weak to get up just yet.

“So what now?” He asks instead.

Greg answers without looking. “We get a warrant for Crouch’s arrest and interview his coworkers. See if we can establish a clear timeline. I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to have a warrant granted with so little evidence.”

“The cases seem connected, and it definitely wasn’t John who killed them. Who else is linked to them all?” Sherlock mutters, skin flashing with splotches of colour from the computer screen. “Has Molly done the autopsy yet?”

“She’s swamped apparently. Won’t get ‘round to it until tomorrow at the earliest.” Greg sighs, long and deep. “I best request that warrant now. Be back in a bit. Stay out of trouble. And John, if you need more water or a coffee the machines are just outside this door on your left.”

“Yeah, ta.” John whispers, a quirk of a wan smile barely rising before Greg leaves, and it drops. “Sherlock?”

“Hm?” His eyes still do not stray from the screen.

John shifts, expelling nervous energy through a rhythmic roll of his fingers against his palm. “They’ll catch him, right? Even if it isn’t Johnathan.”

“I’m on the case. I’m the best hope they have. We’ll get it sorted John.”

“You keep saying that.” Watson mumbles sotto voce.

“I mean it, that’s why.” John snaps his head up, not realising Sherlock could hear him. Their eyes meet. “Go call your sister, ask her to go somewhere else. Not tell anyone where she’s going.”

“f*ck!” Watson exclaims, his breath stolen again.

Sherlock’s face blooms in surprise, and he adds, placatingly, “just as a precaution! I don’t actually believe she’s in any danger.”

Wresting his raging heart with a hand pressed to his chest, John cries, “Jesus Sherlock, don’t scare me like that!”

“You mentioned you were worried about her. That’s the best option.” Holmes replies with a nonchalant shrug.

John slumps into his seat. Harry would never take his claims seriously; most certainly would not uproot the beginnings of her new life for her paranoid brother’s sake. He wonders if it is worth resorting to begging down the phone, if his pleads would even be listened to. There is still no solid evidence to suggest John ties these murders together, that someone is threatening those around him. Sherlock has not been the slightest bit bothered by his proximity. Watson ponders this over a comfortable silence, crackling the plastic cup between clenching fingers whilst Sherlock pecks at the keyboard between videoclips of the CCTV footage.

“Anything?” John asks after a while.

“For once Lestrade’s pitiful team are right. There’s nothing. Not even a flash of fabric or squeak of a shoe.” Sherlock growls at the monitor as if it is personally responsible and flings his body back into the seat.

“Well, sh*t.” Watson exhales.

“Indeed.” Sherlock replies.

The door opens, Greg bursting through. “Warrant’s being processed by the judge. We’re gunna make a list of all his coworkers. John, do you have any details? Names, numbers?”

John shakes his head. “Nothing, sorry.”

Lestrade exhales loudly, not quite a sigh. “That’s all right. Oh, I also need to ask if you’d like to go into Witness Protection. It is entirely your choice, but that may be subject to change. Do you understand what that would mean?”

“New identity, new house, new job. New everything.”

Greg bobs his head, smile grim, little more than a thin press of his lips. “Exactly. But we are required to ask. I can get you a leaflet?”

“No, thank you.” John shakes his head again, arms raised as if warding off the leaflet itself.

“You’re sure? Or we can get security outside your flat for a bit, if you’d prefer that.” Greg fishes for an informational booklet among the stack of paper tucked into his forearm, yet more paperwork to add to the precarious piles on his desk, but he is interrupted by a snarl.

“For god’s sake Lestrade, he’s not a child! He doesn’t need a bodyguard hanging around. He is an army doctor, nay, a Captain!” Holmes exclaims brusquely.

“I wasn’t asking you, Sherlock,” Greg spits, the plosive a jagged dagger. John has never seen him snap so harshly at Sherlock before, who seems to be disguising his own surprise. Lestrade turns back to John, much calmer. “So, John, please don’t feel ashamed or any less for wanting protection. That’s what they’re there for, and this is all quite a lot to process. I’ll ask you, John,” he says pointedly, “would you like security?”

John, lip worried and eyes harrowed, shakes his head. “No. I will be okay.”

“If at any point you change your mind, do not hesitate to let me or any of the team know, okay? Honestly, I don’t want you worried sick when we can do something about it.”

“I really appreciate it Greg, I do, but I’m good.” Watson nods his head.

“All right. Just had to ask.” Greg says, shooing Sherlock from his chair so he can fill in the paperwork marked with John’s polite denial for the offer of either options.

John smiles weakly, praying he will not regret his decision.

Chapter 21: Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (18)

“John, are you coming?” Sherlock asks, slipping his arms into his greatcoat.

Watson looks up from his book, distractedly blinking. “Hm?”

“The morgue. To see Ella’s body?” John stares at him blankly. “I did ask you an hour ago.”

John frowns. “I wasn’t even in an hour ago, I was out food shopping.”

Sherlock’s mouth opens, jaw working in silence. He exhales, brows pleated. “Oh,” he breathes, then muttering aloud: “who was I talking to then?”

John shakes his head, mouth downturned. “Am I even allowed to come?”

“I know the special registrar, remember?”

“That doesn’t answer my question.” John says, but he hauls himself from his armchair, cane gathered at the door. With his shoes still on he only needs to tug his coat over his oatmeal knitted jumper.

Sherlock smirks as he dons his scarf. “Come along John.”


The room is cold, and her glower is etched firm. “No.” She says, arms crossed.

“He could provide crucial evidence.” Sherlock argues.

The woman, with significantly less stature on Sherlock’s towering figure, huffs. “He is a stranger! I can’t just allow anyone to come in here and-”

Holmes interrupts her, rounded, soft eyes that stand out against the sharp bones of his face fixed upon her. “Please, Molly? He knew her. I need his insight to solve this case. Besides, you’ve already finished the examination, haven’t you?”

“Just now, yes,” she sighs.

Sherlock wears a little smile, the corners of his mouth drawn inwards to pleat the skin of his lips. “See, we won’t even be contaminating anything. He’s a doctor. He knows to be careful.”

“Sherlock, I-” her voice is small, quite like her, a harvester mouse timid in the face of a bird. She nibbles at her fingers, lowers them, toys with the button hole of her lab coat.

“I’d really, really appreciate it Molly.” She fidgets, eyeing John who bears a gentle smile reserved for skittish patients. Gnawing at her lip, she relents, providing a minuscule nod. Sherlock breaks out into a wide grin and he places a splayed hand on her arm, covering the expanse of it. “Thank you. Why don’t you get some coffee, take a break?”

“I don’t know.” Molly tilts her head, subconsciously leaning into Sherlock’s touch. John has never seen him touch another person except for himself and Mrs Hudson.

“You’ve been working so hard Molly. Ten minutes, yeah?”

“All right.” The mousy woman sags, pulling her ponytail over her shoulder to play with it. The ends reach her navel, caramel streaked with vanilla. Doe, coffee-brown eyes like that of a golden retriever look up at Sherlock, soulful, and she manages a smile, cheeks pink. “Please don’t mess anything up.”

Sherlock holds one hand aloft and squeezes her arm with the other. “I promise. Go on, off you go.”

Molly retreats, muttering to herself, her sturdy shoes squeaking against the sparkling linoleum floor. She heads down the long corridor, hair swishing like the tail of a horse. The second her back is turned, Sherlock’s smile drops, and he sighs, exasperated, and opens the door to the morgue. He lets John in first, who regards the familiar stoic expression Sherlock wears in public. Holmes leads the way, using the file plucked from Molly’s desk to find the correct freezer. John stands back, watching him expertly remove Ella’s slab onto a gurney and push it into an empty room.

“That was mean of you.” John comments, looking unseeing at the sheet-covered corpse.

“What was?” Sherlock locks the gurney to tracks bolted to the floor.

“Being all sweet with her just to get what you want. She really likes you, can’t you see it?” John says, expression closed off, nose scrunched.

Holmes scoffs, teeth flashing bright in the fluorescent lights. “Sentiment is a defect. Plus we really don’t have time to be standing around chatting when she was going to relent anyway.”

“Sher-” John turns swiftly on his heel when Sherlock pulls the sheet down to Ella’s stomach, her body devoid of clothes. “Please cover her up, I don’t want to see that.”

“Hang on a minute then, I’m looking for something.” Sherlock mumbles. John stands there, counting every ticking second that lurches the tiny arm inside the clock on the wall, listening to the sound of fabric shifting, plastic sliding against itself followed by a short click. “Done, you can turn around now.”

John exhales, cheeks puffed out. Sherlock is packing away a retractable loupe into his coat pocket, looking down at the deceased woman. Ella’s skin is mottled and inflamed, still, the sheet barricading a string of bruises on her chest sloping towards her abdomen. A headspace he used on the field to cope with the horrific scenes he witnessed fogs who John is outside of this moment, not the former patient of this woman, but a doctor examining a body. Sherlock eyes him over, the file propped against his left forearm. There are no open wounds except for the sharp speckles of blood where Ella’s fingernails clawed at her own skin to yank free of the rope. Her lips are hued wrong, like the saturation has been sucked away, her skin ashy.

“It was definitely her lanyard.” Sherlock says in the quiet.

John’s head snaps up to regard him. “Hm?”

Sherlock prods at her skin, right where an Adam’s Apple would be, “there. You can just see the shape of a ring and a rigid line. It wasn’t clear on the photographs.”

“What is it?”

“The metal ring that connects the plastic card holder to the lanyard.” Sherlock mimes his description with his hands, tapping at the hollow of his throat. John tries not to stare, swallowing thickly.

“How did it not snap?”

“My thoughts exactly. The lanyard I can understand, but the ID? She would’ve pulled that off in her struggle.”

“So what’s your conclusion?” John asks, not mockingly. He pointedly avoids looking at the body lying between them, statuesque, the cold from the freezer tangible in the air, licking at John’s skin playfully.

“Nothing new. We know he’s collecting trophies. If we’re lucky the metal ring might’ve fallen into the carpet, but there won’t be a big enough DNA sample to test it, and I doubt he would’ve touched it anyway. No, what I came here for was your opinion. Check everywhere, Doctor Watson. Head to toe if necessary. Is there anything else, no matter how small, not caused by the strangulation?”

John’s spine straightens, chin raised, and he nods in response, one curt, swift tip of his head. The stance of a soldier. Lacking preamble, Watson slips on a pair of nitrile gloves and bends, holding his breath so not to ghost it upon her cold skin, and begins a thorough examination. The stapled beginnings of the Y shaped opening on her chest is the only evidence of her death, her expression peaceful as though she is slumbering. Closer inspection shows more scratches around the side of her neck, towards her ears where the ligature mark drifts upwards. Her fingernails, usually immaculately manicured and painted, are broken, the polish chipped and flaking. Some of it clings to the nail, curled in on itself from the dragging of her fingers, the skin surrounding swollen and bruised. Notably, none of her hair is missing, John musing aloud.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s something we’re trained to look out for — chunks of hair missing, bald spots, unusual thinning. It’s another sign of abuse in strangulation, when the victim’s hair is yanked.”

“Excellent deduction, Doctor,” Sherlock says, a twinkle to his eye, “anything else?”

“I’m not finished yet.” John is left to it, working in companionable silence. He looks inside the ear, around the shell and behind, across the mouth, then inside that too. He freezes.“Sherlock, it’s happened again.” Holmes makes a keen noise and tucks the file against himself to peer over where John points. “Her tooth is missing.”

“Postmortem?” Sherlock asks, bringing out his magnifying glass from within the depths of his coat pocket.

John sucks air through his teeth, examining her mouth through Sherlock’s loupe. “There’s a bit of blood, so it’s hard to tell. It was either removed right before or immediately after death. There’s the beginnings of inflammation in the gums but it didn’t have time to bleed properly, therefore there’s no clotting.”

“The second one. They’re definitely connected. But why? What does the killer want?” Sherlock mutters. John withdraws his fingers from Ella’s mouth and yanks the gloves off one at a time, the first tucked into the palm of the second.

“We need to tell Greg.” John says, straightening.

Sherlock snaps the loupe shut and pockets it. “No, I will let Molly know and she can put it in her report.”

“I thought she didn't have time to do the examination yet?" He reminds Sherlock.

"I asked her to fast-track it. if they're connected, which they are, we need to work quickly."

Gesturing at her mouth, he asks, "she didn’t notice it; the tooth?” John glances at the file.

“Let me see,” Sherlock flips through the pages again, eyes a blur of movement. “There’s mention of cracked teeth from her clenching her jaw.”

“Why would she clench her jaw if she couldn’t breathe? Wouldn’t her mouth be open?”

“If the lanyard was pulled up tight against her jaw hinge she wouldn’t be able to open it even if she wanted.” Holmes explains, tapping the bruised striations against the curve of her jaw.

John’s expression sours, lips drawing inwards to form a grim thin line, eyes crinkled. “Jesus. This is horrible. She didn’t deserve this. Nobody does.”

“Our killer would disagree.” Sherlock replies, snapping the report shut.

John has nothing to say to that, slipping the sheet over Ella again, knowing this is the last time he will see her. He swallows the constriction in his throat, able to do nil but watch Sherlock wheel her back to the freezer and lock the chamber door. “John, are you quite all right?”

“Fine.” He says, jaw wound tight like a bungee cord, eyes red-rimmed but dry.

Sherlock is merciful — or does not know what to say, John suspects — and does not probe, leading them through to Molly’s office. It is cramped, piled high with files and knickknacks, the bedazzled framed photograph of the cat peeking out from within. Sherlock is just setting the file down on her computer keyboard when she bumps into John.

“Gosh, sorry, so sorry!” She backs off, stepping out of her own office with her arms raised.

John smiles at her, corners of his mouth ticked up, arms out as if to steady her. “That’s all right. Did you have a nice break?”

“What? Oh, yes,” her cheeks glow with her embarrassment. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

Sherlock interrupts before John can make a sound. “And more. You need to add to your report that one of Doctor Thompson’s teeth was removed.”

“Sorry, where?”

“Upper left fifteen. The second molar.”

“Right. Are you sure you’re not mistaking the cracks on the bicuspids either side?”

“No, John found it. The tooth is missing entirely.”

“All right, I’ll check it out. I don’t know how I missed that.”

“Always helps to have a second opinion, Molly. What were your conclusions?”

“You’ve read the file.”

“I want to hear you say it.”

She sighs, put-upon. “Strangulation was cause of death. She had scuffs on the sides of her feet from her shoes when she dug her feet into the floor. Fingernails damaged from scratching, erm, the scratches on her chest from her own nails. The ligature marks across her neck, broken capillaries in various patches around the face. Bloodshot eyes-”

“Any DNA?” Sherlock interrupts.

“None. Only her own under her fingernails. Forensics took her clothes to look for fibres. All her injuries, with the exception of the strangulation, were self-inflicted defence wounds.”

John nods, but Sherlock taps at his own neck. “What about the lanyard?”

“Lanyard? What lanyard?”

“The lanyard used to strangle her.”

“I didn’t see one. Wouldn’t the Met have it? Forensics?”

“Interesting,” Sherlock’s fingers steeple beneath his chin, “our killer is getting more confident!”

“Why? What’s this about?” John asks. Molly nods, glancing at him then back to Sherlock.

“Neither the police nor you have the lanyard, but we know almost for sure that was the murder weapon, so to speak. So where did it go? She didn’t swallow it. There was no lanyard in her office. Which means our killer took it.”

“Why does that mean he’s more confident?” Molly frowns.

“Well he’s already taken one souvenir: the canvas flag. Now he’s taken the lanyard too.”

“I would though, if I were him. You wouldn’t leave behind the weapon, would you?” John retorts.

“So you find the lanyard, you find the killer?” Molly asks.

Sherlock nods. “That’s the working theory.” As he strides from the room, side pressed against John’s front, he pauses and bends down, lips ghosting Molly’s cheek. “Thank you.”

“For wha’?” She mumbles, eyes glued to their feet. John glances away, feeling cramped.

Sherlock straightens and smiles. “For letting us see. You’ve been a big help.”

With that, he is gone, billowing out of the hallway doors like a cloud of woollen smoke. John smiles at Molly, tipping his head at her with a muttered thanks of his own, then scurries like a badger after Sherlock, leaving Molly alone, head reeling. Shoes squeak against linoleum, one set faster than the other, then the hallways echo with their clunking footfalls on the stairs. Through corridors, weaving maze-like to the exit, John jogs to catch up with Sherlock’s ridiculously long strides. Outside, Sherlock waves his arm at a cab and as if drawn by magic it pulls up at the kerbside. John slithers in after him, the car already moving before he has shut the door.

They sit for a while in silence, John toying with his phone. Sherlock turns to him, frowning. “Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Thinking so loud. What is it?”

John shakes his head. “Noth-”

John.” Sherlock looks at him, brows raised.

“Oh, all right. I don’t know whether to cancel my appointment with my physiotherapist. What with everything going on, how do I know this killer won’t target him as well?”

“When’s your appointment?”

“Tomorrow. After work.” Sherlock hums but does not speak, and after a moment, John adds on an inhale, “I just don’t want to be the reason, even by proxy, that someone else gets hurt.”

Sherlock bobs his head. “I agree. Keep up with your exercises and I shall play intermediary in the meantime.”

“Oh yeah right, and what do you know about physio?” John does not mean to sound so harsh, but he is tired, nerves on edge, left hand trembling and thigh throbbing.

“I told you already: I am practiced in physio, and I would be happy to assist in your therapy.”

“You’re sure?”

Sherlock bobs his head. “Of course. I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t believe in my own abilities.”

John sighs, guilt-ridden at his outburst. “Thank you, Sherlock, I’d really appreciate that.”

“I would also advise you quit your job. Just for the time being. You don’t need to worry about finances.”

John splutters, glaring. “What? No, we’ve discussed this already!”

“It’s just a suggestion, John, to keep you safe. I mean no harm.”

“Sorry, sorry. It’s a tetchy subject. After being discharged there was a possibility I wouldn’t find any work and I just felt so… helpless. And I never want to feel trapped again.”

“I understand John. It’s all right.” Sherlock fixes him with an odd look he cannot read, almost mirthful, like John is being silly, but without the mocking edge one would expect with the curl of his lip and the sparkle in his eyes. Watson is clearly forgiven for his outburst despite the silence that settles over them like a warm blanket, familiar and comfortable.

Sherlock leaves John to pay the fare but waits for him in the open doorway of 221. Mrs Hudson’s door is shut, no sounds coming from within, and together they remove their coats to hang them on the hooks in the foyer and clump up the stairs. Though the day has not been physically taxing John feels emotionally drained. He lauds his own composure facing his former therapist’s corpse, something he imagines has not been done very often, if ever, but now he wants to give in to his body’s demands and rest his whirring mind lest it overheat. He and Sherlock go their separate ways, John to his armchair, Sherlock to the kitchen. The silence continues as John picks up his book, with the exception of clinking glass and a rustle of a bag hitting the tabletop in the kitchen. John reads halfway through a chapter until he can no longer stand the dryness of his tongue, feeling capable of spitting feathers. He walks into the kitchen only two steps, halting with wide eyes.

“Are those fingers?”

“Indeed,” Sherlock responds, torso bent low toward the table.

John splutters. “Where the hell did you get a bag of fingers from?”

“Molly gets them for me. Don’t worry, they’re fresh. I kept them in the crisper.”

“The… are you for real?” Sherlock looks up at him blankly. “Contamination?” John reminds him, as if it is a new concept.

“They were sealed. Perfectly safe. Store-bought meat poses more of a threat to your digestive system. Well, unless you plan on eating these fingers.” Sherlock says, tipping his head.

With a shake of his head, John continues on his intended path, gathering the milk on the way to the kettle. When it is filled with water and bubbling away John holds out a mug with raised eyebrows, and Sherlock nods before turning back to his work. “So what exactly are you doing?”

“An experiment. Testing the corrosion of various acids on dead tissue. It may be vital to a future case.”

“What, like cleaning up blood and such?”

“As well as the removal of fingerprints on victims, yes.” Sherlock adds a droplet of acid from a pipette onto a pinned finger, the pad facing up. It immediately begins to fizz, an awful smell permeating the room.

Gasping, John dashes to open the window, scarce difference made of the putrid gas wafting from the table. “Christ!” He exclaims, pressing his sleeve to his nose. “I’ve been in a war zone and even that didn’t smell this bad.”

“Mm, interesting.” Sherlock jots down the results, unaffected by the stench. “Complete removal of fingerprints, but not the skin itself. John, take a look at this.”

“Down to the dermis.” John mutters, swivelling on his heel to attend to the tea.

“How far down do fingerprints go?” Holmes asks, tapping the pipette into a beaker.

“The basal layer. You’d have to remove the entire epidermis, essentially.” He replies, stirring milk into their tea and adding two sugars to Sherlock’s, lowering his face closer to the mug so he can waft the scent of tea bags rather than burnt flesh.

Sherlock scribbles in his notebook. “Hm, perhaps a less corrosive substance would work just as well. One with less effluvium.”

“Yeah, well, if you’re going to be experimenting with that stink, keep this door closed.” John sets down Sherlock’s mug and gestures to the glass privacy doors partitioning the living room from the kitchen. “I don’t want that seeping into the rest of the flat.”

“Yes John,” Sherlock says as though an exasperated child to their meddling father. Smirking, John goes back to his armchair to read, Sherlock’s tinkering audible through the glass.


John splutters awake, tongue swollen and cottony, eyes crusted and squinted, to a dark flat. A silence so prevalent it is almost audible itself casts an eery air over the living room. A chill tickles goosebumps on John’s arms, and after rubbing his eyes, he stands up. He is alone. The partition scrapes deafeningly along the track and John cringes, peeking around the edge. A sliver of silvery moonlight projects into the kitchen from the window, now closed, the room dim with a watery wash of light. John can see the table, coated in science paraphernalia, countertops blessedly clear in stark contrast, as if a bomb has wreaked havoc on the table alone. The fridge hums at him as he explores inquisitively, tempted to call out for Sherlock but finding the decision unwise with his bedroom door shut. He does not want to accidentally wake him, especially belted with the knowledge that Holmes sleeps so little and has been frequently disturbed by John’s night terrors.

As quietly as able John relieves himself in the toilet, keeping the light off, avoiding his shadowy complexion in the mirror. He splashes water on his face and dabs it dry with the hand towel, sighing under his breath. Unsure what woke him, as any potential nightmare has been wiped from his memory, John glances towards the obscurity glass pane separating the bathroom from Sherlock’s bedroom. It is void of light, the silence beyond fruitless information as to whether Sherlock is home or not. John exits the bathroom, padding toward the kitchen with a wide stretch of his arms, feeling the scar tissue in his shoulder tug at overused muscles.

In lieu of making a cuppa, John retrieves a glass of water, finishing the first and drawing a second to take upstairs to bed with him. He plans on grabbing his laptop from his bedside table and ordering takeaway to sate the growling of his stomach, but when he twists the handle on the front door in the kitchen he is met with unexpected resistance. He jiggles the handle but nothing happens. Frowning, John walks around and tries the second door in the sitting room. That too is locked, unforgiving against his efforts.

“For f*ck’s sake Sherlock!” John hisses. He turns on his heel, uncaring of the noise and raps his knuckles on Sherlock’s door. When there is no response he knocks harder, met with further silence. Decision made, Watson opens the bedroom door, intending to ask why the hell Sherlock has locked the doors, but the bedroom is barren of life.

Peeved, hungry and aching, John hobbles into the kitchen with a petulant stomp in his step and yanks out the ingredients to make a simple pasta bake. The whole time he mutters to himself about stupid men and the lack of note left to explain why he is trapped in his own flat, orchestrating a symphony of noises from the click of the hob ignition, the clatter of two pans and the bubble of the kettle harmonising with his complaints. Only on this occasion is he grateful for the kitchenette, as despite the incessant twinge in his leg he does not require his cane, which is currently leaning against the partition wall outside the flat, out of reach.

As the pasta softens and sauce heats through, John leans against the counter, bracketed by his elbows, head between forearms to stretch out his spine. He can almost feel it lengthening, the backs of his knees burning with the position, ignoring his protesting muscles. It was a mistake, falling asleep in his armchair, but there is nothing for it now, and John sighs, clicking on the radio for some company. Between the ten o’clock news and charting pop songs John is able to detract from the pain in his limbs and settle on the couch, for he would not dare touch any of the chemicals on the table right before ingesting food. He eats his dinner to the cacophony of songs he does not recognise, finding peace in an annoying situation and planning the remainder of his evening. Sherlock’s laptop is not on the desk where it usually is and John left his phone in his coat pocket; which is downstairs in the foyer.

Once his stomach has settled, the pangs diluted by a decent meal, John sees about ridding himself of his sweat-damp clothes. Hauling off the couch, he groans, taking painful steps to ditch his plate in the sink for later and continue into the bathroom. The hot water should work wonders on his stiff joints, uncoiling muscles and sluicing the day’s grime away. The first delve into the stream of water is delectable, and for a moment John basks in it like a lizard on a sun-kissed rock, eyes shuttering closed. He takes his time in the heat, performing a few cool-down exercises on his muscles so that any sweat may be sluiced away, and when done he feels looser, like a clipping of thread; malleable and agile. Steam billows around him, fluttering butterfly wings that tickle his skin and dust the walls and mirror. A towel warmed on the radiator rack curls around his body and John sighs pleasurably, his thigh no longer so ardent.

At the sink he brushes his teeth, swilling mouthwash with the towel wound and tucked around his waist. His mind wanders, planning the remainder of his night, when he freezes, mouthwash tingling his gums. He spits and knocks his head against the mirror, realising his mistake. Without access to his bedroom he has no nightclothes to swap into, and he has already discarded his outfit in the hamper — not that he would get back into them now he is clean. There is nothing for it. Hair combed flat to dry of its own volition, John enters Sherlock’s bedroom, feeling like he is intruding without consent, no matter how open Sherlock has been in regards to his personal quarters. It takes a minute to locate pyjamas, for each drawer is neatly arranged to a standard beyond military. His underwear is organised by colour and brand, socks indexed and pyjamas categorised. John has never seen anything like it, and loathe to disturb it, he grasps the topmost pyjamas and a pair of boxers from the end of the row.

For all of Sherlock’s impeccable dress sense and his affinity for organisation in his wardrobe and dresser drawers, there is something vulnerable about the rattiness of his pyjamas. Not a single set is new, the materials thinned over time and clearly well-loved. The current set, striped lounge pants, are bobbled around the buttocks from where he has sat and wriggled in them, the length trickling over John’s feet, poured caramel over his skin. Luxurious still and at one point bought expensive, the wear in them has a sentimental touch John can appreciate. It seems Sherlock is a collector, borderline hoarding items of his special interests, as if he hyper-fixates on hobbies or trinkets then bores of them easily, having nowhere to put them, but his one true comfort is his pyjamas, alongside his greatcoat and the various types of dressing gowns and bath robes in his collection.

With nothing to do and gritty-eyed from such an emotional week, John, after a brief indecisive oscillation of the floorboards in question, hunkers down under the covers of Sherlock’s double bed. Sheets of a thread count higher than John doubts he has ever felt before glide like melted butter against his skin, the mattress firm but yielding to his weight. He sinks into the pillows, plumped yet soft, the bed so comfortable he slips into slumber in minutes, nose subconsciously pressing to the heady whiffs of Sherlock’s natural scent.

Chapter 22: Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (19)

John wakes peacefully, no nightmares tugging him towards a panic attack, pain dulled by the high quality mattress. He rolls over with a small noise at the back of his throat, momentarily disoriented by the change in usual location until his brain reboots and he jerks up. A crick in his neck needs to be manipulated free before he can get up, a cursory glance around the room showing no sign of Sherlock’s presence at any point during the night. John stretches and swings his legs over the edge of the bed, waggling his toes against the chilly floorboards. A draught, leaking like tendrils of smoke from the mountains, tickles his skin, beckoning him to get up. After urinating and splashing some cold water against his face to wake up, John slips on one of Sherlock’s dressing gowns and pads out toward the kitchen, the cuffs of the pyjama bottoms dragging around his heels.

“Good morning John.” Sherlock greets, sat at the kitchen table, still dressed in his coat and scarf. He does not look up from his phone, thumbs tapping away with soft thunks against his smartphone keyboard.

“Where the hell were you?” John’s voice has a bite to it, eyes hardened as the anger of his helplessness the night prior trickles into his voice.

Sherlock is either oblivious or deliberately ignorant. “I was at the Yard. Crouch’s arrest warrant was granted.”

“You locked me in!” He exclaims, venomous.

“Yes. There is a violent killer on the loose connected to you and when I went to leave you were asleep.” Sherlock looks up then, setting his locked phone face-up on the table.

And?” John growls, the picture of unfettered danger.

“We have no security and I wasn’t here to keep watch. It was only for your safety. Did something happen?” Sherlock’s eyes narrow, scanning up and down John’s body, laser-like.

John opens the fridge with slightly more force than necessary. “I couldn’t go up to my bedroom.” He says snidely.

“Ah, yes. You could’ve just used my bed.” Holmes replies with a shrug.

“I did. I haven’t slept in a man’s bed in a very long time.” John pales as soon as he says it, but Sherlock only smirks.

“Or worn their clothes, I imagine.” He replies cheekily, gesturing with a pointed gaze at his own pyjamas on John’s frame. Watson’s skin colours again in a flush that reddens the tips of his ears.

“Yeah, well they don’t look as good on me as they do on you.” He blurts. There is a moment of silence, them staring at one another, John mortified.

“Excellent. What’s the problem then?” Sherlock asks mercifully. John sighs, shaking his head. He does not even know where to begin, and Sherlock seems genuinely confused. Plus John knows his intentions were kind, and he finds the anger seeping out of him.

“When did you get in?” John asks in lieu of an argument.

“About twenty minutes ago,” John nods, ambling to the kettle for a morning shot of caffeine. Sherlock swivels in his chair, arm draped over the back to look at him. “Why didn’t you move my experiments?”

“Well for starters, I’m not touching the same acid that burned right through those fingers,” they smile in shared amusem*nt, “and also, it’s yours. And it’s important. I’m happy eating on the couch anyway; it feels a bit weird eating at the table on my lonesome.”

“Hm,” Sherlock replies, eyes misting over, and he says quietly, “I appreciate you leaving it alone.”

“Have people cleared away your experiments without asking before?” John asks, removing the tea bags, piping hot, from the mugs.

“Often. Especially as a child. Father never understood the mess.” Holmes replies distractedly, as if seeing one of those instances playing out in front of him.

“I’m sorry, that’s not fair, especially if it was important,” John passes Sherlock a steaming mug, and he takes it with a bob of his head. “Did you sleep at all last night?”

“No time to. I’ve taken on another case in the meantime.”

“Oh? From the Yard?”

“A private client. I do have bills to pay after all… how tedious.” John laughs, attempting to quell it by blowing into his mug. “Did you have any nightmares?”

“Not that I know of. Wait, you said you were at the Yard last night but that you’ve also taken on another case?”

“Yes, I used one of their private offices. There’s often one free. I went out to do a consultation first, then went back to the Yard. Is that an acceptable answer, mother?” Sherlock replies, his tone sharp but his eyes mirthful. John nudges him playfully with a shrug of his good shoulder.

“You were the one who encouraged me to play detective. Your alibi didn’t add up.”

“Oh yes, sorry, I forgot to add: I was out murdering too.” Sherlock says, tongue poked between his exposed teeth. It is the closest to a cheeky grin John has witnessed since knowing him, and he schools his own to shake a disappointed head.

“I appreciate the honesty, Mr Holmes, but I’m afraid that’s an automatic life sentence behind bars. Anything to say for yourself?”

“Hm yes, you’re late for work.” Sherlock flashes his phone screen clock at John, who looks down at it and curses, darting off to the sound of a rumbling chuckle like a roll of thunder.


On the bus, harried and slightly rugged from the morning rush, John sits tightly curled in a seat, cramped among other passengers taking their daily work commute, noses buried in phones or books or newspapers. Shoulders hunched, cane tucked between his feet and work satchel sat firmly on his lap, John thinks about this morning’s conversation, and wonders why on earth he thought flirting with Sherlock was a good idea. The man has been clear about his attachment to work, and John is almost certain he is on the asexual spectrum somewhere, though he is mostly clueless on the subject. It seems cruel, in hindsight, to have subjected him to that kind of teasing, but then he is also flummoxed by the lack of reaction. Perhaps it was him being kind, clement. John feels his brows crease together, worrying for a fleeting, horrifying second that Sherlock might decide he has had enough of the baggage John has brought with him and will decide this is the last, burdening straw and kick him out of the flat. If he is even capable of doing so.

John looks out the window and curses, hopping from his seat at the last second to dive through the doors before he is trapped until the next stop. He wars with himself mentally at his carelessness today, stumbling about with his satchel and cane, catching a pitiful look from a woman pushing a pram. He is tempted to snap at her, keeping a toddler much too old in a pram when he is perfectly capable of walking. Instead, he takes a long, deep breath and calms himself. Being so riled up will do him no favours and only worsen the clumsiness — in a worst case scenario, it might even exacerbate his limp. Rumpled but blessedly on-time, John hurries into work, briefly nodding at the reception staff, and collapses onto his desk chair with a worn exhalation. There is a fairly long list of patients to work through, and after collecting himself a second time and setting down his satchel, John calls in his first patient.

Work, he finds, is a mundanity that tests both his patience and his bedside manners, so to speak. Most of his patients come in with common ailments that could have, realistically, been dealt with at home. He skips lunch, having forgotten his own at home and in too much pain to bother hobbling out to a local shop or food truck, nibbling on two biscuits and a large mug of tea in the staff room. More than one staff member remarks on his appearance, concerned for his health, the bags purple and prominent under his eyes despite a decent sleep, his skin sickly, hands tremulous.

“I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” he replies each time, trying not to grimace in embarrassment. He is supposed to groom himself well and be a beacon of positivity in this office as the doctor who is relied on by the infirm, and he cannot rightfully do his job properly if he looks like death warmed over, as one colleague describes.

He wants so desperately to text Sherlock, asking for an update on Crouch, his anxiety peaking just after lunch, but there is no likely update to give if he has not received word, nor does he want to initiate a conversation in case Sherlock has finally gone to bed to catch up on sleep. It is surprising that work has become a boring, simple task to bulk out his day now that he has experienced the intricate oddities of detective work, craving to be out with Sherlock investigating and bringing justice to Ella. It is nearly all he can think of, finding his mind wandering as patients drone on about their problems, which usually he would be attentive towards and happy to assist. Today, he is absent.


“Bye now, see you tomorrow,” John says with a wave as he shuffles out of the building. The receptionists wave back, logging off their computers and gathering their coats like the rest of the staff as cleaners bustle in to spruce the place up.

John’s cane clacks rubbery against the pavement, headed for a taxi so that he does not have to expose his sore leg to public transport. A black sedan, sparkling exterior reflecting the fading sun, slows down behind him and begins creeping forward. He glances back, assuming he is in the way of someone’s driveway, when his heart starts to pick up speed. When he turns the corner onto the main road, it follows, idling behind him. Remembering his last odd encounter with a car like this, John fishes for his mobile and pauses, waiting to see what might happen. The same man he met a few weeks ago steps out of the vehicle, long legs spidery. He looks down his skinny, hawk-beak nose, accentuating the beady blackness of his eyes as he pins John down under his gaze, a trapped butterfly unsure whether to submit or flee.

“Good evening, Doctor Watson. Will you come with me?” The man smiles at him, but there are no teeth visible in the crooked raise of his mouth corners, unnatural as if he does not know how to portray human emotion. Alien-like, teetering in uncanny valley territory. John glances around for witnesses, knowing the question is a command, not an option to decline. The man, to his credit, waits patient and statuesque for him to acquiesce, offering out the car door for John to climb in first. He does, sliding along the premium leather seats to the far end.

“Are you the real stalker, then?” John asks the moment the door closes, the car pulling out to begin a smooth ride.

“We’ve had this conversation before, you’ll recall. Would one’s stalker be so obvious?”

“Obvious?” Watson parrots.

“A car like this is not subtle. I showed up in broad daylight, you came willingly. You even have your phone at the ready. You could call the authorities, if you like.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I possess a minor governmental position. It has been my job to oversee you. As someone in such close company of Sherlock it is paramount you must always be on your toes. I would advise not to get into a car with a stranger, that is elementary, but in this case it has worked in my favour.”

“I still don’t know what you want.” John spits, a façade to the worry banging at the cage containing his heart.

“I am here to inform you that as of today we shall be upping your security due to concerns following the murder of your therapist Ella Thompson. This is non-negotiable, but not to worry, it will not affect your daily life in the slightest. In fact, you likely won’t even notice your security detail. They are paid well to be good at their jobs.” The man says, each word enunciated to perfection.

“Sorry, this is the government funding this? What business does the government have in Ella’s case?”

“As I said, you are in close contact with Sherlock. His… methods of investigation require supervision. He is aware of such a fact.” Fingers tap absently at the handle of the ever-present umbrella.

“So I am being stalked, then? That’s real?”

“As of yet we have not found the culprit. We do suspect you are under some form of recreational surveillance. To combat that you shall be monitored.”

“Jesus Christ. Who are you? Seriously, who the hell are you? The government wouldn’t just send out some rando to tell me I’m being put under surveillance. Where’s your ID?” The man tugs a card out from his jacket pocket between his index and middle fingers, passing it over to John, who looks it over thoroughly. “Mycroft Holmes. Holmes… you’re Sherlock’s brother?’

“Indeed.” Mycroft’s mouth pinches into a grimace.

“Sherlock has a brother? He never told me that.” John’s intonation warbles incredulously.

“He wouldn’t. He despises me. I am the meddling older sibling. You mentioned to him that I referred to myself as his arch-enemy, didn’t you?” John nods dumbly, “and yet he did nothing to correct that fact. It is a childish feud and one he persists with tirelessly.”

“So you really are concerned then?”

The man, for one flashing second, drops the mask, unveiling a harried, work-worn man approaching his forties. “Constantly. He is my ward. And now you are too. This is all official government business, I can assure you. I can send you the reference number to inquire about the matter.”

“Yes, please, do you need my-” Mycroft slips his mobile out and taps at the screen. A moment later, John’s phone pings in his hand, and when he glances down, he finds there is an email there. An email with the case reference number. “How did you know..?”

“Ah, here we are. Do have a pleasant evening, Doctor Watson, and please send my regards to Sherlock.” Mycroft says, smiling with a glint of tooth. The smile does not reach his eyes, and the car pulls to a stop before John can say another word. He exits the vehicle, dazed, having barely shut the door before it rejoins the traffic and leaves him alone, staring down at his phone. It takes a physical head shake to pull him from his reverie, and John enters his flat feeling like he is floating. Sherlock is back to his experiment inside, dressed in pyjamas and bundled into a thicker version of his regular dressing gown.

“Afternoon, John. How was your day at work?”

John hangs his coat on the hook inside the flat lest he be locked out again. “You didn’t tell me you had a brother.”

Sherlock pauses, a deer in the headlights, before his eyes narrow and he jumps to his feet. “Mycroft,” he hisses, moving to look out the front windows. “What did he offer you?”

“Nothing. He told me I’ve got security now. Can’t say no.”

“You declined that from the police!” Sherlock exclaims, whirling around with his arms in the air.

John shrugs. “Exactly, but apparently I don’t have a choice in the matter.”

“I’ve tried to get rid of that senseless clot but he is a shark, a sea snake, a regenerating fly on the wall! Stay away from him.” Holmes growls, throwing away the netting draped over the windows as if it has personally offended him. They flutter closed again, rippling from the force of Sherlock’s retreating flounce.

John sighs, flopping down at the kitchen table to coax Sherlock back to his seat. It works, the man dropping with a thump into the opposite chair where his microscope is stationed. “Look, I just want to say I’m sorry about this morning. The flir-”

“It’s no bother, John. I prefer you sleeping in my bed, or in my presence. Data has shown it significantly improves your quality of sleep. In fact, I extend an offer that you continue to share my bed from now on. It isn’t often I sleep in it anyway.” Sherlock misses the beetroot line raising from John’s chest to his hairline like rising ethanol inside a thermometer, preoccupied with a sample on a glass slide.

It is exceedingly difficult to tell if Sherlock is trying his own hand at flirting or sees the arrangement as a platonic benefit to his flatmate’s sleeping schedule. As a man of science he observes the world in data points, and John is perhaps just another subject to him, sharing his bed a means to an end, similar to how he is an asset to the homicide cases. Maybe he is not as altruistic as John believes, for if Watson sleeps well there are no nightmares to disturb Sherlock, whether he is working or resting too. Too many factors potentially contribute to Sherlock’s offer, leaving John’s already reeling head hot and confused. Instead, he asks if Sherlock has even slept yet.

A weary sigh is not what John expects to hear as an answer, as if this is a commonly asked question he should already know the answer to. “John, as I have stated before, my body is transport. I have trained it acutely to require less food and sleep to function than the average human male so that it may not interfere with my thinking processes. In fact, digestion slows me down, if you’ll recall.”

“You’re not leaving this table until you eat something. Tea and toast?” Sherlock glowers at him, but the heat is minimal, and John knows he has succeeded. “As your doctor, of course.”

“Of course,” Sherlock concedes. When the toast is set down on a plate beside him, he pecks at it obediently, the pair basking in the comfortable companionship. “I have an update for you.” Sherlock says around a mouthful of crust.

“Go on?” John asks, politely ignoring Sherlock’s shredded toast as he meticulously eats it section by section. The plate is not quite empty yet, and Holmes looks to him for permission to leave the table. As agreed he has eaten most of the toast and his tea mug is empty, so John nods and follows him to the coffee table.

They sit adjacent on the couch, pressed together knee-to-thigh, Sherlock flipping open a manilla folder in his lap. “The police searched Crouch’s house top to bottom. Does he have a car?”

The heat of Sherlock’s leg seeps into John’s cooler one, relaxing the muscles there that jump at the forgotten sensation of human contact. He is painfully aware of his surroundings, proprioception acute as he tries not to touch Sherlock with his upper torso. He feels a burning sensation on the side of his face and looks to find Sherlock watching him intently. Brain stuttering to life again, he stammers “I, er, no. Don’t think so.”

“He didn’t have one when you were dating?” Sherlock asks through his teeth. John shakes his head. “Good.”

“That’s the update?”

John is glared at, and Sherlock makes a show of flipping the page over to display reams of handwritten notes and photocopied witness statements. “A few of his colleagues have been interviewed already, but they’re still working through the roster. Some of Crouch’s coworkers have described changes in his behaviour. Paranoia, aggression, isolation.”

“That’s not good,” John mutters for want of something to say.

“The day of Ella’s murder he left his phone in his booth at lunch, and coworkers mentioned he’s been leaving his phone in the office drawer frequently.”

John shakes his head. “That seems unlike him. He works in security, he wouldn’t just leave his phone at work.”

“Well he has,” Sherlock sighs. “A locked drawer, but a drawer nonetheless. What might we deduce from this?”

“It’s not looking great.” John replies, licking his lips. “He’s going to be interviewed again, right?”

“Once they’ve gathered information from the remaining colleagues, yes. They aren’t taking any chances this time. He’s asked for legal counsel too.”

“I suppose he’s not taking any chances either,” Watson responds drily. Sherlock passes John the file to peruse at his own leisure so that he can gather his laptop. He clicks loudly at the keys, screen illuminating his pale skin, eyes strikingly blue as they flicker over words John cannot see.

This account in particular is by a female coworker, her first name somewhat recognisable to John as someone who Crouch had always found time to complain about. She works in a different department but a small office space means that they share the area, secluded only by their cubicles. It is her who marked a difference in his behaviour; in recent months, Crouch has been his own dichotomy: quieter, opting to eat alone or disappear for his hour lunch break without word on where the afternoon takes him. She has no idea where he goes, nor has she particularly cared. He has never been much of a talker at work, but he would, up until a month or two ago, still practice socialising in the staff break room, munching on sandwiches quietly around the table. However, that does not mean he has been one to avoid conflict, as she cites several arguments either initiated by him or deteriorated by his unnecessary involvement, ones that often ended in threats of physical violence. John sees the Johnathan he knew written in these pages, the thought of his vitriol being spread outside of their home both horrifying but oddly reassuring. He is not glad that others have been exposed to Crouch’s darker side, the mean streak that would scream and shout and demand, but he is vindicated in knowing it was not something he suffered entirely alone, no matter how much it felt that way. To have records of it from another mouth is a satisfaction he revels in, for it means they might be one step closer to ending this unspeakable tragedy once and for all.

When John has finished reading, the file is removed from his hand and replaced by another, nary a word shared between them, Sherlock scarcely looking away from his laptop. This document is a statement from someone John does not know in the slightest, who has experienced one of Johnathan’s screaming matches. Two more people, in fact, detail similar instances of Johnathan’s poor comportment on a spectrum of general grouchiness to viscous threats of bodily harm, thankfully (though scary) never advancing beyond diatribes. His manager is among those, who had begged their boss for a replacement employee but was denied. Johnathan has never been formally reprimanded for his conduct beyond the manager and supervisor, for without a higher-up in the company filing a report, there was nothing they could do to punish him, or remove him as they wanted. Unfortunately Crouch’s exemplary work outweighed poor behaviour in the eyes of HR.

John sighs, dropping the papers to his lap and palming at his eyes. When he opens them again, he looks to Sherlock. “Wait, is that my laptop?”

“Mm.” Holmes continues to tap at the keyboard.

“What are you doing on there?” John leans over to look without waiting for a reply, eyes turning sharply to Sherlock, affronted. “That’s my blog.”

“Astute observation, Watson. Might you deduce what I’m currently doing too?”

“Why are you reading my blog?” John’s voice has a glass edge to it, an arête of disbelief. “That’s private.”

“Exactly, which is why I had to look.” Watson looks so incredulously dumbfounded Sherlock should worry whether he has grown a second head. He sighs, exasperated. “There may be key information on here you aren’t even aware of, but I knew you’d deny me access if I simply asked.”

“So you went behind my back?”

Sherlock blinks. “I’m right in front of you. Hardly conspicuous.” In his second breath, he segues: “did Ella give you advice on how to move on with your life after Crouch?”

“Well, the blog, for starters. She liked me updating it and then she’d take a look. I never uploaded any of it publicly.”

“Did you find it beneficial?”

“Not at first. Not until recently, in all honesty.” John inhales heavily. “But now I do enjoy it. It’s helpful to keep a journal, of sorts. I was thinking about uploading it publicly, but then Ella died.”

Sherlock snaps the laptop shut. “John, you thrive knowing you have a purpose in life. You are comfortable with labels: doctor, soldier, brother, flatmate. Boyfriend,” Holmes smirks at that one, “but the GP work alone cannot provide that. It isn’t providing that. You crave the thrill of the battlefield, the adrenaline pumping through your veins.”

“Yes.” John concedes. “I love it. God help me, I love it.”

“I can provide that, John. I can give you the excitement. The thrill of the chase, brain work. Activities to bring joy and enrichment to your life. Most importantly, I can give you a purpose. Another label: my assistant.”

“Sherlock, are you implying I quit my job?” He asks with slow deliberation. Sherlock, once again, does not heed the implicit cue to back off.

“Private cases offer vast financial benefits. You wouldn’t have to wile away the hours in that stifling office and the ridiculously bureaucratic rules of being a doctor. We could work together, you and I. Your wealth of skills and my knowledge combined would be an unstoppable force.”

“You sound like an evil villain,” John chuckles. Sherlock’s eyes, like the crosshairs of a sniper rifle, lock onto him, unwavering. “Look, I appreciate the offer, and I will admit I’ve never felt safer than I do with you.”

“I can make you feel alive, John. You don’t need a therapist to tell you how to live.”

“Sherlock,” John sighs.

He is relentless, speaking faster in desperation to be heard. “Your nightmares have reduced, you’re less reliant on your cane. You seem more confident, cheerful despite the circ*mstances. Come on, John, surely you can see it?”

“Yes, all right, my nightmares are getting better.”

“All the more reason to continue sleeping in my bed.” Sherlock interrupts with no reduction of his smugness. “Think about it, would you?”

“Okay!” John raises his hands placatingly. “Okay.”

“Excellent. I’m going into my mind palace. Do not disturb me unless for an emergency.”

“I’m going downstairs. It’s about time I properly introduce myself to Mrs Hudson.”

“Lock the flat behind you. And this time remember your key,” Sherlock says derisively, but when John looks he is smiling, eyes closed and fingers steepled under his chin. When John gets up from the couch, moving fluidly unlike his usual creakiness, Sherlock swarms his previous spot with mile-long legs, his monkey-esque bare toes wriggling into the warmth left behind.

John allows a fond smile to contort his mouth as he does as told, shutting, locking, then testing the doors before he clumps down the seventeen steps and rounds the bannister to approach his landlady’s door. He knocks and takes a step back, seeing her small silhouette nearing through the obscure glass panel of her front door. The lock clicks and she pulls the door open a tad, peering her head around. “Oh, Doctor Watson, what a surprise.”

“Please, call me John. I’ve come to meet you properly.”

“That’s so sweet of you John! Come in, come in!” She opens the door wider, stepping to the side for him to enter. “Do mind the mess, I wasn’t expecting visitors.”

“What mess?” John laughs as he gazes around the spotless flat. “You have a lovely home.”

“Oh, you’re a charmer for sure. Tea? I have some biscuits too.”

“That’d be lovely, thank you.” John is ushered into a seat at her kitchen table whilst she potters about plating biscuits and pouring tea into old fashioned cups, complete with a bowl of sugar cubes and a tiny pitcher of milk.

“So, my dear, how are you? Sherlock told me you’ve had a rough go of it.”

“What exactly did he say?”

“Just that you had to move for safety reasons. I’ve been there myself, dear, what with a husband like mine.”

John looks around the room. “Wait, Sherlock mentioned this to me, he said he was executed?”

“Indeed. A nasty man like that shouldn’t have been in the business he was in. Though I do sometimes miss my dear Frank…” she looks off to the left, a wistful smile dancing across her lips. “He and I used to get up to all kinds. Couldn’t keep our hands off each other. Well, that’s the kind of whirlwind romance you have with a man when he met you exotic dancing.”

John blanches. “Riight,” he sings flatly, “well, I am sorry to hear about your husband.”

“Oh, nonsense. Anyway, we don’t want to sit here nattering on about my prime, do we?” She chuckles quite like a distressed owl, “do you watch any soaps?”

“I used to. Well, kind of. I watched bits of episodes on Youtube.”

“Oh come on, Corrie’ll be on in a minute. Won’t you stay?” She grins, eyes twinkling with the night’s sky trapped in them, and John could never deny a face like that.

“Of course. You might have to introduce the characters to me though, I think I’ve been watching episodes from about ten years ago!”

“Not to worry my dear. You’ll never want for words in my company!” She titters, pulling him from his chair by the arm like he is merely a schoolboy and marching him towards the couch. She firmly seats him with a quiet ‘sit’, then rebounds to the kitchen to collect their drinks and biscuits. John adores her already as she ambles about looking for her readers, the remote delegated off to John.


“I really don’t want to overstay my welcome, Mrs Hudson. You’ve been so welcoming.” John says once the episode has finished.

“Oh pish posh!" She wafts a hand at him, the beaded bracelets on her wrist clacking together. “Tell me about yourself. How have you been? We never got to talk properly before.”

“Yeah,” he mutters, eyes on the dregs of his second cuppa, “I’m confident Sherlock’s going to crack the case but we think I have a stalker, and I don’t want to frighten you or anything, but I’m so worried me just being here is putting you both in danger, and-”

She slaps a hand down on her thigh, skirt wafting around her ankles with the motion. “I’m going to stop you there my love. Sherlock is perfectly capable of handling himself, and he’s been in far more dire situations. As for me, well, I had a cartel leader for a husband and I’ve been through the menopause. Nothing can stop me. I know how to defend myself.”

John chuckles, feeling like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders, but there is still a persistent niggle there. It must show on his face because Mrs Hudson pats his knee. "Look at me.” He does. “Sherlock may seem cold and cruel sometimes, but it’s all just a silly mask to protect himself. He can love so ferociously that I think it scares him, and he’ll do anything for the ones he loves.”

Watson’s face heats, the blood rushing to his head so quickly he sways for a moment. Mrs Hudson tuts at him, taking his mug to set it on the coffee table. She grasps his hands, both weathered but the pads of hers soft to his callouses, warm and delicate. Her thumb brushes against his knuckles. “You shan’t worry about all this faff unless he tells you to, all right?”

“Yes, okay.” He concedes.

“There’s a good lad. We stick together in this household, no matter what is going on. And you don’t have to tell me the details either. And if you feel like you’re in danger, tell one of us, or the folks down at Scotland Yard, and we’ll keep you safe. I promise you, John. Sherlock will sort it out. He always does.”

“Thank you Mrs Hudson. I feel much better.” John says earnestly.

“That’s good to hear my love, now why don’t we-” Mrs Hudson’s front door, at the other end of the flat, opens with a small squeak followed by a string of beads placed over the kitchen doorway. They rattle in protest, footsteps approaching swiftly until the tall cut of Holmes appears in the living room.

“You haven’t talked his ear off, have you?”

“Oh hush you. Silly man.” She grins at him, and John swivels his head between them like an enraptured younger sibling.

“Come along John. It’s getting late and Mrs Hudson will need to take her herbal soother.” He enunciates the last part with a wicked lift of his eyebrow. She flusters, batting at John’s thigh to get him moving.

“They’re for my hip, dear.”

John giggles, finding the notion so bizarre yet freeing. The reassurance has him light and bubbly. “Do what you like. Herbal soothers can be quite medically beneficial. I won’t tell if you won’t.”

“Atta boy. Off with you both then. Unless… Sherlock, are you joining me?”

“Not tonight. I’ll find out if you gabbed the poor man to death.”

“No, we just had a lovely chat and watched the soaps. I’ve got him into it.”

“Perish the thought!” Sherlock says with an exaggerated sigh. He steps aside for John to walk past, whose shoulders are bouncing with his silent laughter. “Come along, John, before she tries to have you watch morning talk show panels.” He shivers, bounding from the room with a loud crackling as he eddies the kitchen doorway beads, heading into the atrium of the building.

John pauses at the front door, bobbing his head back in, where Mrs Hudson is positioned at the sink to rinse out their mugs. “Good night Mrs Hudson. It was a pleasure to meet you properly.”

“And you, dear heart. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to come see me. If I’m not here I’m likely next door in the café. We’ll have to do this again!”

John grins. “I’d love to. Na-night!”

“John!” A deep rumbling like an impatient storm calls distantly.

“Best go before Prince Charming gets a strop on,” she winks at him over her tufty fringe, grey with chocolate and blond streaks running through the bobbed locks. Her necklace clangs against the sink bowl.

Sherlock is gone when John finally exits the flat, shutting the door behind him tightly. Before he heads upstairs he checks the main front door too, locking it and giving it a heavy tug. When he deems it secure he shuts the vestibule door, an assurance so that he may finally be satisfied enough to return to his own flat. He still cannot immediately see Sherlock when he enters through the kitchen entryway, locking the door behind him, so John takes a minute to stand in the empty space, the overhead fluorescent light buzzing. He is unsure where to proceed from here, noting the clean kitchen table, except for scuff marks, before he moves to collect pyjamas. As he is bundling his pyjamas, Sherlock raps his knuckles on the bedroom door.


“Yeah? Come in.” He shouts.

“Are you coming?” Sherlock asks, tilting his body into the doorframe.


“Downstairs? Are you coming to bed?”

John chuckles nervously, clinging desperately to the bundle in his hands. “Oh. Honestly Sherlock, it’s all right.”

“Nonsense.” Holmes scoffs.

“I don’t want to be a burden.” Watson argues weakly.

“You’re more of a burden up here if you have another nightmare and I need to come check on you.”

His cheeks heat, splotches dappling his cheeks. “You don’t have to do that.”

“The noise wakes me regardless. I’m not going to leave you to suffer alone.” John wavers, twisting his body left to right. Sherlock sighs. “John, come on. Stop being daft.”

“Oh all right.” He relents, following Sherlock from the pristine bedroom. Holmes does not look back once, expecting John to be behind him at all times, though he does not say anything when John stops short to enter the bathroom whilst Sherlock goes on into his room.

John brushes his teeth for twice the time he usually would, staring at his reflection sightlessly. He freshens up, soaping his armpits and crotch with a flannel and ensuring his face is scrubbed clean. When he is sure he looks presentable, even if just to sleep, he quietly twists the doorknob to the interconnecting door and steps into the dim golden glow of Sherlock’s room. The man does not look up from a book perched on his lap, scribbling notes into the margins with biro, brows furrowed. John, laden with no more than his mobile for his morning alarm, rounds the bed.

“Do you want a drink before I join you?”

“Water is fine, thanks.” Sherlock mumbles, scowling at the text in front of him. Glad for the distraction, John retreats to the kitchen, now dark, to collect two glasses. The water swirls, hushing his rioting thoughts, calming the nerves tingling under his skin. Using someone else’s bed is quite a private affair, but sleeping beside them is another level of intimacy John is not used to. He and Johnathan slept together, however only as a couple and not a minute before. Even when they were still testing the parameters John would return home to his own flat, opting for privacy in his own quarters lest he have night terrors.

But this is different. Sherlock knows of the nightmares, has seen and dealt with them by his own hand. Comforted John, checked on his wellbeing, when he could have ignored it, swept the matter under the rug and never acknowledged it. He has not, and he will not, with how clear he has made his offer of support to John, who is eternally grateful though equally mortified. With a clearing of his throat that reverberates around the barren room John checks both front doors are locked then marches back to the bedroom, head held high.

Chapter 23: Chapter Twenty

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (20)

“Here.” John sets down the glass of water on the bedside table. Sherlock looks up only to flash him a toothless smile in thanks. “What are you doing?”

“I’m making corrections. I like to take notes and fix the mistakes in published scientific articles. They are often wrong.”

John walks around the bed to the free side. “Why don’t you write your own then?”

Tedious.” Sherlock spits.

“You’re spending the same amount of time note-taking in the sides of current books.” John points out as he settles under the covers, the greatest amount of space allocated taken. The gap between them is not very vast. John can still feel the dip in the mattress from Sherlock’s weight.

Sherlock pauses mid pen-stroke, turning his head slowly like a predator to John. They lock eyes, storm to ice. John shrugs with a lopsided smile. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” Sherlock sneers.

“It was just a suggestion, don’t get your knickers in a twist.” John snorts, sinking further into the pillow now he feels more comfortable. Sherlock continues to scowl, but there is an amused gleam to his eye and he lets the matter go. After a few more notes he drops the pen with a loud clatter on the bedside table, startling John enough to jump. Sherlock winces at him in apology, John’s hand rising to his face as if to wipe away the flush tinging his skin.

“Are you going to sleep?” Sherlock asks.

“Dunno. I can certainly try. Why do you ask?”

“I… I could read to you, if you like?”

“What were you reading?” John lazily taps his hand against the back of the book lying on Sherlock’s stomach. He flips it over to show Watson.

Handbook of Quantitive Criminology.” The book seems new but battered from constant use, the corners curling into themselves like wilted flowers, the front cover displaying faint indentations of words where Sherlock has used it as a makeshift tabletop.

John huffs amusedly. “Riveting, I’m sure.”

“Mm. In particular their stance on visualising data.”

“Ah, right up your street then.” John’s eyebrow arches, a playful smile dancing across his face.

“Of course. It is not as imbecilic as I first predicted but there are still points to be made.”

“Read it to me. With your added notes and all.”

“Really?” Holmes’ voice is pitched oddly, reedy and strained yet almost a whisper like a child excited to show off their work. It is utterly endearing and John wants to do anything to keep that look alive.

“Really. I’m interested to know your perspective on it. Go on, don’t look so shocked!” Sherlock blinks back online, long eyelashes fluttering like the wings of an excitable moth to a light. He nods, once, twice, curls unfurling from his hair gel to dust his forehead, ink in water. John would quite like to touch them, but he does not dare, hands clasping under the blanket.

Look Before You Analyse: Visualising Date in Criminal Justice.” John settles in, lying down properly with only Sherlock’s lamp on and his warm, rich voice colouring the air.


John wakes to light shining in his eyes. A beam, caramel coloured, just as warm as the bed he lays in, cuts across the room to illuminate dust motes from a gap in the curtains. Squinted eyes, covered by an outstretched palm, water lightly, the world blurry and vignetted around the edges. With a small noise at the base of his throat, John turns his head away from the light, his hand dropping to his side. He blinks away the moisture under his eyelids, groggy and disoriented. When his eyes focus, he is met with a sight that tempts a gasp from his lips. Sherlock lies on his side, facing John. Long, delicate eyelashes blanket his cheeks, fanned over the freckly flesh glowing in the watery morning light. John can see the veins over his eyelids, stark road lines against creamy thin skin, his own eyes trailing down to catalogue sleep-softened features. Ajar lips, pink and plump, puff hot breath against the fuzzy hairs on his arm, creating currents like anemone on a seabed. Both arms are tucked under his chin, hands loosely fisted with the forgotten book wedged under his ribs. One leg, lanky but toned, stretches atop the blanket, the other still tangled in the duvet. His bare toes twitch as he dreams, his eyes moving beneath the lids.

John stares and stares, unable to prize his gaze away from such an ethereal being. He has not had chance to look so closely at Sherlock, but now, without those eyes of crystal scrutinising, he feels free to explore the constellation of moles dotting the column of his throat. The proximity allows John to see the beginnings of stubble dappled over his jaw and upper lip. His brows are smoothed out and thick, a shade lighter than the halo of curls billowing smokily around his head, free from the trappings of his hair gel. One ringlet forelock tentatively rests against his forehead, and before he can think, John is reaching out his fingers to touch.

Ghost-light, he cups the coil over his fingers, using his thumb to trace the shape. It is soft, satiny like the sheets they lie in, and John becomes more brave. He sets down the curl delicately and reaches for the clump tangled in a nest closest to John. The tips of his index and middle fingers stroke at the hair, admiring their wildness when not tamed by product. They are nicer this way, he decides, pulling his hand away as though scalded when Sherlock makes an aborted noise and begins to stir. He rolls onto his back, exhaling loudly through his nose, but his eyes snap open. John does not move, statuesque as spotted prey, clenching his knuckles bloodless.

“Good morning.” Sherlock says to the ceiling, before his head lolls towards John. A smile, dopey, brightens his entire face, his eyes twinkling but glassy, and John reciprocates.

“Hi, Sherlock.” His voice croaks.

“You sleep okay?” Sherlock rises up to rest on his elbow, but John wants to indulge in the warmth a little longer.

“Dunno, did I?”

“I’d say so. No nightmares. Well, none when I was awake.”

“Did you sleep much?”

Sherlock checks the time. “Three hours. That’s ample enough for me.”

“My alarm’s about to go off.” John remarks, disabling it before it can encroach on their blissful moment. “Your bed’s very comfortable.”

Sherlock inhales, the action aberrated as his chest stutters with the force of it. “How long have you been awake?”

“Only a minute before you.” John fibs, eyes flickering between Sherlock’s. They are so close he is almost cross-eyed, their breaths mingling into the pocket of space between them. Skin, hot from slumber, radiates around them, creating an oyster shell to encase them. For a moment, John is consumed entirely by the atmosphere, smiling at the sleep-mussed man stretching like an indolent lion, his sigh tapering into a breathy moan.

“Lestrade thinks it’s Crouch’s turn to be interviewed today. I’m going to watch.”

“I’m working.” John sighs. “You’ll keep me updated?”

“Of course,” Sherlock replies, oddly sincere. “Though I doubt they’ll get much except ‘no comment’ out of him.”

“Here’s to hoping.” John says as he sits up, raising his glass of water like a toast. Sherlock chuckles, grabbing his own so they can clink glasses. Sherlock grimaces as he takes a sip of his own, remarking of its lukewarm temperature.

They get up together, John relieving his bladder whilst Sherlock gets the kettle started. They switch, John pouring out the water onto dual tea bags, humming under his breath. Holmes does not return for a while, and when he emerges, he is fully dressed, hair tampered by drying gel.

“Your hair looks nice natural.” John says with his back turned.

“Does it now? Gets in the way.” Sherlock mutters, pulling out the milk and handing it to John from behind. Phone in hand, he taps at the screen, leaning against the kitchen counter at Watson’s side.

“Still looks nice. You suit it.” John says for want of conversation. Sherlock looks up, smile wavering, struggling to respond.

“Thank you John.” He says after a minute, returning to his phone though his eyes cut to John every few seconds. Watson coughs, itching to get away, taking his mug into the living room.

To his dismay Sherlock joins him, dropping into the opposite armchair, eyes glued to his phone. He takes distracted sips of his drink, but it is an improvement to it being neglected on the side table, so John says nothing, quietly consuming his own. The caffeine imbibed energises him, and he is able to move around without the use of his cane. That is an excellent sign — usually nightmares have him kicking out, worsening his injury of a morning. Today he is positively spritely, and bids Sherlock a good day an hour later, who nods goodbye.


“Forty-eight hours, that’s it?”

“That’s generous,” Sherlock says, shoving a forkful of chips into his mouth. Ketchup bleeds from the corner of his mouth but he dabs it away elegantly before anyone can see. “There just isn’t sufficient enough evidence.”

“This is ridiculous.” John hisses.

“Quite. At least Lestrade got him talking, I did not expect him to go against his attorney’s advice.”

“Well, only to proclaim his innocence. Hardly helpful.”

“He couldn’t give a good reason as to why he left his phone in the office though. And he did admit he hates the people he works with. A peculiar action to take for someone wary of their coworkers.”

“So if they don’t get a confession, and there’s nothing to show in forty-eight hours, that’s it?”

“He’s a free man.” Sherlock confirms, dropping his blue plastic fork in the styrofoam box. “You understand my frustration now.”

“God, I wish I could’ve been there. Maybe he would’ve talked with me there convincing him.”

“Mm, I agree. But we can’t compromise the case, Doctor Watson,” Sherlock says, a perfect impersonation of Greg’s gruff baritone. “Alas, it is what it is.”

“So what do we do now?”

“I’m glad you asked, John,” Sherlock’s smile is impish, “we investigate ourselves.”

“Haven’t you been doing that already?” John asks around a mouthful of battered fish.

“Yes, but sometimes I find it useful to tail the police and do my own searches after they’ve finished. Occasionally I uncover evidence of significance that they themselves have missed.”

“Where abouts are we going?”

“To Crouch’s, of course.”

John gulps, eyes widening. “But that’s illegal!”

“Not necessarily,” Sherlock stands, binning the measly scraps of his food, John following suit, “I want to look around the area, not just inside. There could be a wealth of information hidden about, we just need to find it.”

With that logic, John does not feel so guilty, and he is assured what they are doing is perfectly legal, if a bit morally skewed. He follows Sherlock from the chip shop and down the path, his pace a skitter to keep up with Sherlock’s lengthy gait. Four heels click against the floor, a fifth resounding clack their companion as they duck down the stairs into the underground station.

“No taxi this time?”

“Better to take the tube. Will your leg be all right?”

“I’m fine, don’t worry. How do you know where to go from here?” They press their Oyster cards to the scanner and are let through, Sherlock’s strides confident. “You haven’t even checked the map.”

Holmes swivels to look at him, pausing so abruptly that John almost runs into him. He taps his temple. “I have the entirety of central London seared into my brain. I know every path, every road, every route.”

“This another mind palace trick?” John asks amusedly.

Sherlock frowns. “It’s not a trick, it’s a technique,” he huffs haughtily, turning on his heel, “come along.”

They hop onto the tube just before the doors hiss shut, taking a seat beside the door. John slumps down, but Sherlock sits pin-straight, spine so long he appears to tower over John. For a few minutes they sit in silence, Sherlock alternating between tapping at his phone and drumming his fingers in a specific pattern along the side seam of his belstaff where it is draped upon his perpetually bouncing leg. John stares out of the window ahead, but his mind is elsewhere, processing the next bit of information, fury whispering for his attention. He cannot believe Johnathan is set to be released a second time, that they still have not caught their killer, potentially John’s stalker. He wonders if he is wrong, that these are separate people, and that he is still being watched. In a moment of vulnerability, he ponders a terrifying theory that these are instead an act of a group, some sick organisation toying with him.

“John, stop thinking so loudly.”

John blinks back into reality, unfocused eyes zoning in on Sherlock. “Sorry. Did you say something?”

“I said I want to have a look around the building, front and back. I’ll need you to keep guard.”

“Right.” John sighs, bone-weary, and receives a questioning look from Holmes. “I just want this all to be over with.”

“I promise it will be soon. We will sort this, John. You’ll find out the truth.” Sherlock co*cks his head, smiling slightly. “And then we can focus on other cases together.”

Had John not been looking at him his neck would have cricked from the force of his head turning. In lieu of such a histrionic response, his mouth falls ajar and his eyes scan Sherlock’s face from forehead to chin. “You still want me? After all this?” Sherlock smirks, John’s sudden pallor stark under the harsh white lights. “I meant like as a flatmate… or a friend. If you… want, to be friends, that is. God, sorry. I know you don’t do friends, forget I said anything, I’m just stressed, it’s the nerves talking I think, god what are we doi-”

“John.” That one word, spoken as if a command in itself, silences Watson. He gapes, jaw working soundlessly. Sherlock’s smile widens. “I’d like to be your friend.”


“You’ve done an exemplary job as my partner. I understand this is a difficult time for you. I swear to you, John, you’ll find the truth, find closure, and we can all move on, yeah? I’d like to be a part of that, in whatever capacity you’ll allow. Sentiment is not my strong suit, but you bring out the best in me, John.”

“Christ, Sherlock,” John whispers, staring at those plump lips, teeth peeking from under the top to nibble the bottom. John wants to thumb it away, but he squeezes his hands together in his lap, fingers twitching.

“Have you ever heard of pursuit predation?” The non sequitur has John’s expression crumbling in bemusem*nt.


“A form of hunting among animals and some insects. The predator has the ability to plan ahead. To stalk their prey, learn about them, before they strike.” Sherlock swats at the air, earning an odd look from a passenger. “The Emperor Dragonfly is my favourite example. A remarkable creature, as blue as the sky and green as the pond weeds it inhabits. Able to observe its prey’s behaviour, concoct a route to prevent its escape, always one step ahead. It will coax its prey into a vulnerable position without the prey ever knowing it is being sent to its doom. And then when the dragonfly has its prey where it wants it? Well, game over.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Our killer is the Emperor Dragonfly.” Sherlock glances out of the window and jumps from his seat. “Come on, we’re here.”

There is no time for further conversation, though John has a sneaking suspicion that Sherlock has planned that deliberately, for he weaves expertly around the crowds, barely pausing for John to catch up. They step out onto the main street, but Sherlock does not hail a taxi, marching them down the street. John does not recognise the area, striding obediently behind, but when they head towards the quieter suburban streets he identifies the road as Johnathan’s. His breath is snatched from him the closer they advance towards the terraced row of buildings. His fingers flex around the handle of his cane, pace slowing considerably, attracting Sherlock’s attention who only belatedly realises the significant gap between them.


“I’m fine,” John waves a hand about. He hobbles after Sherlock, thigh twinging in waves of pain like a pulsing ocean crashing against a cliffside. His shoulder aches, reminding him of his last encounter with Johnathan. Holmes, conflicted, sways for a moment, waiting until John is once again at his side to continue towards Crouch’s residence. Notably, and John has to restrain a smile at the notion, Sherlock has slowed down, taking smaller steps, no longer in such a rush.

The curtains are closed but there is a gap Sherlock peers through, hands cupped over the glass of the window. He is hardly inconspicuous, and John clears his throat, feeling as though the whole street have their eyes on them. Sherlock hums, scanning the pebbles under the window that crunch under his weight. He shifts some using the toe of his oxford, flicking his coat tails behind his hips to crouch and examine the plants dotted among the stones. When he has finished there he twirls, still hunched over, to upend the doormat. There is no key, and he scowls, digging one-fingered in a plant pot after checking there is nothing underneath.

“Sherlock… doesn’t Johnathan have a flatmate?” John asks slowly.

Holmes inclines his head toward John. “He did. After all the police activity the flatmate moved on. There are no current occupants in the house. Or at least, there shouldn’t be.” Sherlock growls at the plant pot and fishes in his pocket for a small pouch.

“Sherlock, what are you doing?” He receives no answer, so he steps closer, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Are you breaking in?”

“There was no key.” Sherlock says, pulling two metal picks from a leather-bound case.

“No, Sherlock! Nothing illegal! I don’t want to be in anymore trouble!” He hisses, and Sherlock looks up at him, eyes big and round. John’s are steely, turned grey in the watery sunlight playing hide and seek in the clouds, and Sherlock deflates. “What even is that?”

“My lock-picking kit.”

“You do this often then?”

“As I said, I do my own investigations. They usually won’t let me in once the crime scene has been cleared.” Sherlock huffs.

“This isn’t a crime scene.” John retorts.

“Not yet it isn’t. There could be all kinds of evidence behind that door that the Yard are too blind to see for themselves!”

“Fine, you can go for it, but I’m not standing around as your accomplice.” With that, John pivots on his heel, marching away from the door and back towards the train station. He hears scuffling behind him, but he refuses to look back, and several seconds later Sherlock’s oxfords come into view, followed by the flap of his greatcoat.

“I’m sorry.”

“I just don’t want anymore trouble, I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course. There was nothing around anyway. And the back was just a car park. Drat!”

“Sorry we came out here for nothing.” John says, sincere. Sherlock shakes his head at him, lips pursed, but he says nothing, and together they walk to catch another train. The car rattles to life, them managing to snag seats next to each other again, and John sighs as the brakes screech. He tucks his cane between his crossed legs, settling back into the seat knowing the journey to Baker Street Station will be longer than their first ride, and he glances at Sherlock. The man remains prim, jaw set, his teeth pecking at the fragile skin of his bottom lip again, eyes narrowed. John cannot stand the silence any further, turning his body towards Sherlock. “So. Mycroft is your brother.”


“Can I ask some questions?”

Sherlock softens. “Of course.”

“Older brother?” Sherlock nods, glowering at the empty seat opposite. “Where does he work, then, if he’s part of the government?”

Sherlock laughs, a humourless, high-pitched noise. “He’s not part of the government, he is the government.”


“When he’s not meddling with British homeland affairs he dabbles in the CIA too. He is a man with his fingers in many pies, and I don’t just mean that metaphorically.” The cheap remark is petulant but brings a snide smile to Sherlock’s lips.

“That’s why you don’t like him then? Because he’s meddling?” Sherlock does not answer, and John worries he has hit a nerve. “He said you’re archenemies. Awfully strong choice of word.”

“Well, yes. We don’t get on. He is a nosy, fat, miserable nuisance who believes everyone else’s business is his own.”

John nods, processing the ire there borne of decades of conflict. Quite like John and his sister. “Does he… I mean, he said he’s got security on me… does that mean he watches us? Me? You?”

“It’s practically his day job.” Sherlock sneers. “He’s obsessed with me. You’re just in his sights because you’re near me.”

Seeing the utter horror etched into John’s features, he backpedals. “I suppose this is a good time to tell you he’s not your stalker. He wouldn’t bother with the legwork.” Sherlock huffs, flopping back into the seat, inches from smacking his head off the wall.

John has no words. For the rest of the trip back home, he is silent as the grave.


They eat dinner together at the kitchen table, Sherlock needing no prompt to shovel forkfuls of curry into his mouth, though he remains distracted by his laptop, perched beside his plate. The moment he is done he gets up from the table in a flurry of movement to whisk his laptop away to the couch. He lies prostrate, laptop balanced on his sternum, head lolling back. John, conversely, eats slowly, eyes flitting between the busy contents of a glass-door cabinet in front of him and Sherlock. They have spoken little since Johnathan’s house, John lacking words in light of being made aware of Mycroft’s watchmen, though he believes Sherlock genuinely does not know what to say to him rather than there being ill-willed tension between them. John sighs quietly, gathering their used plates when he is finished to begin washing the dishes. A task to occupy idle hands, unfortunately not stimulating enough to parry obtrusive thoughts worming their way into his skull and taking residence there, unmoving until he provides appropriate attention. John sighs again, dropping the dishes into the drying rack and drying his hands with the tea towel. He needs to do something, anything.

At first a book seems the way to go; a form of entertainment that is not mindless telly or the dreadful internet where he is always a click or two away from being reminded of the dual murder cases. Once he begins to settle into the story, however, his mind wanders, inky tendrils grasping around his thoughts to pull them into a spiralling abyss of self-loathing and guilt. He thinks of Ella and how close he had been to saving her, that her death could have been prevented if he had not been late; of Adams, that if he had not gone for that walk perhaps he would have heard the attack and intervened. Each time, his mind’s eye flashes Johnathan’s face, weighing the evidence for and against him, still struggling to believe the man, though he had a temper, could be capable of such heinous crimes, could conscion taking two lives. On top of this the connection between the two victims cannot be fully confirmed, for the speculation is based on their acquaintance with John and their similar demises. The whole thing ties back to him, and John suddenly cannot breathe, cannot catch his breath, there is no air, can’t breathe can’t breathecan’tbreathe-


He is on his feet in flash, racing down the stairs and out the front door so fast his body is a blur. He shuts the door behind him and leans his weight against it, chest heaving so hard that his ribs complain. The ache is welcomed, grounding John to reality. The world feels far away, and when John looks down the cracked paving stone beneath his feet seems to fall from its place, Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. His hearing tunnels, sweat prickling all over his body and trickling down his back. John smacks his head back against the door three times, but it does little to help, feeling numb against the ministrations. His body no longer belongs to him, a shell to carry his consciousness, knees buckling.

“John? Open the door John!” Comes a voice, distressed but distanced, shouted through a length of pipe. John steps away from the front step, grasping the railing at the side of the door and clinging for dear life, sure he will plummet to his death if he lets go. There is commotion to his right but it happens in slow motion, and suddenly there is no tunnel, but treacle, sticky and encompassing as it swallows him whole.

“Oh dear, is he… right? Do I…call…ambulance?”

“…panic attack… ‘ck inside. Okay?” John makes a gurgling noise in the base of his throat, uncontrolled but proof he is still on this physical plane. He squeezes his eyes shut against the plunge pool swirling and spitting at him, made of concrete and black-painted metal. His knuckles, bloodless with the force of their grip on something solid, John is not entirely sure what, are encased in sudden warmth, a soft force encouraging them to loosen. He obeys, eyes clamped closed still, his breathing harsh, a wheeze of air through a pinhole.

What he recognises as a hand presses flat against his chest, held there to restrain the rampaging hummingbird of his heart from fluttering free. There is a gust of hot air near his ear, words spoken but incomprehensible, and he whimpers, just wanting to understand. His knees revolt, crumbling under his weight and he topples but is caught and lowered safely to the ground. The urge to curl up and ride out the terror is prevented by the source of the hand on his chest holding him close, a firm torso supporting him there on that cold floor. John directs his entire focus into that torso, following its steady rise and fall, rise and fall. Inhale. Pause. Exhale.

“That’s it. You’re doing really well. Focus on me, John Watson. Breathe in, 1, 2, 3, 4, and out, 2, 3, 4. Excellent. Again.” John follows the instructions, his hearing sharpening with each passing second. The plunge pool hardens, becomes a solid surface that remains motionless when he finally opens his eyes, the light harsh. Traffic bustles past, the occasional passer-by looking at them slumped on the door step curiously, but their eyes quickly avert when they look at Sherlock, heads lowering to rush past. John takes in a final gulp of air then exhales slowly, albeit it is shaky and weak, quite like himself. John’s body slackens, no longer an eddying leaf in a hurricane, allowing Sherlock to take his weight.

“Can you hear me John?” He nods his head, unable to talk. “Good, that’s good. I want to take you inside now, can you stand up?”

John tries, pulling numb legs under himself so he can push up, but nothing happens. He whimpers, shaking his head. “That’s all right. It’s okay John. I’m going to lift you up, is that okay?”

Nodding, John follows the count to three and pushes up with all his might, depleted as it is, bracketed safely by Sherlock. They take the stairs agonisingly slow, pausing when John’s balance threatens to turncoat, but when they reach the top Sherlock is able to half-drag him to his armchair. He fusses about with a glass of water, handing it to John as he mutters, “I’m sorry.”

“Fo’what?” Watson slurs, tongue cottony and too big for his mouth. He takes a sip of water, and it helps clear the numbness.

“Putting you through all this. I didn’t mean for you to end up so affected.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t expect this reaction either. Can we not talk about it anymore?”

“Of course.”

“I’m so tired of it all. I want something different. It’s becoming my life, I don’t want it to be my death either.” John switches the glass to his right hand so he can squeeze his dominant hand into a fist.

“No, it won’t.” Sherlock says firmly, pulling out his phone. “I’ll see if Lestrade has any other cases we can go on.”

“I can’t just join an investigation!”

“Why not? I do. You’re my veritable assistant.”

“Veritable?” John repeats around the rim of the glass.

“You’ve been of great help to me. I want to reciprocate.”

“What? No, I think you’ll find it’s the other way around.” John argues. Sherlock bites his lip, glancing away. A man so pale cannot disguise the flushing of his cheeks, but John makes no comment on the splotches of pink, finding it endearing. “But yeah, I think something different is just what I need.”

“I’ll keep an eye out. Why don’t you go to bed? It’s not exactly early, I don’t think.” They glance at the clock in unison, finding it nearing eleven. John has work in the morning, and he sighs, nodding his agreement.

Leg twinging, John stands from his armchair wobbly, wearing a grimace and clearly struggling to hold his own. Sherlock raises an arm in offer but a wave of a hand denies the help. It is John’s turn to blush, and he hobbles down the hallway towards the toilet. Steadfast effort, almost mulish in nature, is taken to avoid the reflection mocking John from its glassy throne. He keeps his eyes down, emptying his bladder, the bathroom lit only by what comes in under the door from the hallway. He washes his hands in warm water but cranks the tap to the right to dunk his head into the cold, slurping water in the process. Afterwards he brushes his teeth staring at the door so he cannot be tempted to glance at his ragged appearance, for in his tempestuous emotional state he cannot be sure he will not begin to weep at the sight of himself.

John heads into Sherlock’s bedroom in his underwear to find clean pyjamas laid out on the bed and a glass of water waiting on the bedside table. For the first time in hours a smile tugs at the corners of his mouth as if controlled by a puppeteer, and he gets dressed quickly to dive under the luxurious covers. Wanting the day to be over with as soon as possible, John snuggles into the pillow and closes his eyes. Sherlock is nowhere to be seen.


“Doctor, there’s a new patient in.” Katherine chirps from the doorway to John’s office.

“Not on the list?”

“They requested an emergency appointment.”

“Send them through, thanks Kat.”

John throws his stethoscope over his neck, tidying his desk as he waits. Gathering unfilled prescription slips, he hears the door open and calls behind his shoulder. “Come in and take a seat.”

“Hello John.” The air in the room drops several degrees. The birds outside the open window stop chirping, some scattering. At the base of John’s neck, hairs rise in revolt, warning him of danger. Slowly, prey in tall grass, John swivels his chair around to face the grinning, toothy patient.

“What are you doing here?” John’s calm façade masks the spike of fear piercing him like the spear of a bayonet.

“You seemed to be avoiding me, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.” Nate says with a nonchalant shrug.

“You can’t be here.”

“Actually, yes I can. I’m your new patient!”

“Nate, you need to leave.” Watson replies, as firm as capable without devolving into a row. Johnathan does not receive the memo.

“No!” He shouts, voice booming in the small space. He smiles slightly, but it does not reach his eyes, composing himself. His voice returns much quieter. “You need to tell the police they’ve got it wrong.”

“I’m not involved in the investigation.”

Crouch growls like a rabid animal. “Bull. sh*t! Don’t lie to me, Jay. Stop all this now, come on. You know I’m innocent.”

“No actually, I don’t know that.” Watson rebuts.

“Johnny,” he sings, a dangerous song of fire and ice, “hey now. You want all this to stop as much as me. You love me, you don’t want to see me hurt, do you? Tell them to back. Off. Yeah?”

“You need to leave.” John feels under the desk for his panic button, but he cannot find it. Johnathan’s eyes drift down to his hand fumbling, the corners of his mouth contorting upwards, up up up, almost impossibly wide, exposing every tooth in his upper jaw.

“Promise me you’ll tell them.”

Watson frowns, feeling sweat bead at his neck and forehead. “What? Tell them what?”

“That it was you.” Nate laughs, but it is the caw of a crow. “You killed them.”

John shakes his head vehemently, neck cricking audibly. “No. No I didn’t. It wasn’t me!”

Suddenly Crouch is on his feet, bracketing John in. He stares up at him, eyes hard, but Johnathan screams, “STOP IT!”

John moves to call security via his phone but it is snatched from his grasp and thrown against the door. It hits the frame and shatters into pieces. “Tell them. They’re wrong. Do it, do it now!”

“Nate, stop, leave before you make it any worse!”

“You deserve this.” Crouch spits. Before John can ask what he means, his desk chair is spun around so that his back is to Johnathan. He tries to twist back but he feels the lanyard around his neck being cinched up tight, cutting off his airways. His carotids bulge, thin wisps of air reaching the back of his throat, and John fights, but he is no match. The lanyard pulls in further, so tight his vision vignettes into grey-sepia, hands pulling fruitless at his ID to make a gap for breath. Johnathan’s breath is aberrated behind him, heavy puffs of air that gust atop John’s head, his vision going black, pulled under-

John lurches up, gasping, hands grappling at his neck. He claws at the skin, blind with panic, feeling hands rest upon his shoulder. “John, John, wake up, you’re having a nightmare. It isn’t real.”

John turns to him, eyes so wide tears well in his waterline, and his hands drop to grasp fistfuls of Sherlock’s ratty pyjama shirt. He gulps for air, feeling the band of unrelenting pressure wringing his throat. A sob effervesces from his lips, and he buries his head into that warm chest. “Sherlock.

“It’s okay John. I’m here. I’m here.” Sherlock hushes, his large hand cupping the back of John’s head. He does not move any more than that, just holding, comforting.

Chapter 24: Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (21)

John’s energy is at near-zero when his alarm rings, but he is already awake. He has not slept at all since the nightmare woke him; neither has Sherlock. They have spent the past few hours sat on their respective laptops, one clacking away at the keys with breakneck speeds, the other watching silly videos on Youtube with headphones in. There is little John can do about the fragility of his headspace, but he fears if he does not go to work the lack of routine to his day will ruin him irreparably. He slides from the bed, groaning, joints stiff and knees sore. He takes two steps and almost tumbles, grabbing for his cane with a sharp inhale between gritted teeth. Muscles from every part of him protest, some waving their proverbial white flags and planning to disengage at any moment. With Sherlock’s eyes planted on his skin, Watson makes an agonisingly slow journey to the bathroom.

Again he avoids his reflection, flushing the toilet with a downcast gaze before heading to the kitchen. He has porridge for breakfast, washed down by a cup of tea, knowing a quick breakfast allows him more time to get ready. He usually has to allot more time for a shower and getting dressed when his body is like this, for he cannot move very fast, and the pain is a strong motivator that whispers in his ear to go back to bed, to curl up in that nest of warmth and comfort with Sherlock at his side and not move until the pain goes away. But that will never happen, and even if John decided to stay in bed all day it certainly would not ease his afflictions — in fact, the immobility would probably worsen the issue — so John swallows down his breakfast and some pain relief around the stubborn lump in his throat and returns to the bathroom to shower.

He steps out in a billow of steam, wrapping a towel around his waist. He turns to the hooks on the back of the door and deflates.


“Everything okay John?” Sherlock asks through the door. John winces, looking down at his damp body. “John?”

“Yeah, Sherlock. I er, I forgot to get my clothes ready for work. They’re upstairs…” he trails off, hoping Sherlock understands. There is a moment of silence, and were it not for the shadowy figure stood behind the door John would assume Sherlock has walked away.

Just as John is about to exit the bathroom, the voice asks, “I can go get your clothes for you? Saves you going upstairs.”

“Would you mind?”

“Of course not. I’ll be right back.” The figure disappears from the door, but his feet are visible beneath the slip of space under the other door as he walks away. John sighs, combing back his hair with damp fingers, and decides to style it whilst he waits. Having brushed his teeth in the shower, John does not even have to look at his face in the mirror as he does his hair, instead staring almost too hard at the top of his head as he detangles the thin, greying strands with his comb. There is definitely less colour striping through the strands than the last time he looked, but with such extreme stress he is hardly surprised. He is certain his eyes, were he to look, would be soulless, and he fears there is dead man waiting for him in his reflection. Turning away, John walks into Sherlock’s bedroom, wondering if it is appropriate to consider it his own too, when Sherlock walks through, John’s uniform on hangers.

“Thank you so much. I’m so sorry.” John sheepishly takes the clothes, cheeks aflame.

“Your mind is elsewhere, John, it’s okay. I admire your strength to continue working, though I would politely advise that you call in sick.”

“I can’t just sit here all day. I’d go stir-crazy. I’ll be fine. The patients will distract me.”

Sherlock’s mouth works silently for a moment until he asks: “will you promise me something?”

Anything. “Depends what it is.”

“Promise me that if you’re struggling too much you’ll call. Or text. I will come and get you.”

“I don’t need a chaperone to get home.” John snips, feeling a zing of embarrassment like a hot poker to his chest.

“Not at all,” Sherlock assures, “but considering the current circ*mstances I’d rather you not be alone right now.”

John concedes the matter with a sagging body, nodding. “Yeah okay. That’s fair.” Sherlock watches him expectantly, and he huffs. “I promise.”

“Good. That’s good.” Sherlock stands there, fingers fiddling with the tie of his dressing gown. John stares at him, eyes narrowing, but he does not move.


“Hm?” Unreadable eyes snap to him.

“A bit of privacy, please?” John raises an expectant eyebrow, holding up his clothes.

“Oh, yes, I- yes.” Sherlock sways his body without actually taking a step for several seconds before he remembers how to walk and exits the room into the hallway. John sighs, shutting both doors behind him with a shake of his head at the lack of etiquette.

John dresses on his own, the vest a bit of a struggle with his shoulder aching so much, but his button-up is much easier to slip on. His boxers are the same: loose, thin, although his chinos require the aid of the bed to sit on, and even then he takes long moments inching himself down to reach his feet to pull the trousers up his legs. By the end he is close to sweating, feeling like his blood is boiling him from the inside-out, yet the thrill of accomplishment he feels for doing this task independently brightens the ordeal. Except for his shoes, John is ready to go. He unplugs his phone from the charger and straightens the duvet cover, plumping their pillows up automatically as he goes, habitual from his time in the army. The bedroom is spick and span when he is finished, his watch telling him he has ample time to commute to work.

Outside of the bedroom stands Sherlock, shuffling his weight between his feet. “What’ve you got there?”

“Your badge.” Sherlock holds it up, hovering, and John nods, allowing Sherlock to clip it to his shirt pocket. It sits against his breast, tucked somewhat behind his cardigan yet still visible. “No lanyard necessary.”

John, astounded, asks, “how did you know?”

“I deduced it. You were scraping at your neck during your nightmare. Paired with your therapist’s recent cause of death it wasn’t exactly a difficult leap to make. Hopefully that helps.”

“I- thank you, Sherlock. That’s so thoughtful.” John tugs at the edge of the laminated pocket his surgery ID has been tucked into, pulling it out to get a better look. “Where’d you even get this?”

Sherlock shrugs. “Someone from the press. I nick them when they bore me.”

John lets out a veritable giggle, face brightening for the first time. Sherlock joins in, providing a harmonious chuckle reverberating deep from inside his chest, before he recovers and steps aside for John to pass. Cane balanced between his legs, John dons his coat, shoes put on whilst sat in his armchair. His body still aches fiercely, teeth gritting against the pain, yet he perseveres. Before he leaves, John swallows down two paracetamol to work with the ibuprofen he took earlier, then shoves the blister packets for both into his trouser pocket. Anything stronger and he will be too woozy to work, and John is determined to power through the day. Sherlock bids him farewell at the top of the stairs, watching John take each step at a time.

Over a minute later John hits the pavement from the doorstep slightly hard and grimaces, hand turning white due to the grip he holds on his cane. He hears commotion behind him and turns to see Sherlock hop out into the street, the front door still wide open, dressing gown wrapped around his middle. He holds out a hand to summon a taxi, one rolling to a stop kerbside a second later. He opens the door and nods at John to get in, then rattles off the address through the front window to the driver. “Have a nice day John. I’ll see you later.”

John, mortified, feeling the cabbie watching him, nods. “And you.”

After that John seems to float through the day, patients warping together in his memory, the monotony sidelined by overbearing pain. In between patients John walks the perimeter of his room to loosen stiff legs, rolling his shoulder and hissing through gritted teeth. During his break he cannot stomach lunch, the tablets in his pocket his only sustenance. In states like this he hates being seen and sequesters himself to his office, only venturing out for the toilet or to notify the reception staff of information of import. It is during his lunch hour he hears a knock at the door, glancing at the clock in confusion.

“It’s only me!” Katherine pops her head through the door, eyebrows jumping as she bites her bottom lip, playful and friendly. “What you doing hiding in here all on your bill?”

John says nothing, smiling at her, but it is so grim she frowns. A cup of tea is set down at John’s elbow and she swivels his chair to get a closer look at him, reminiscent of his nightmare. He shivers. “Christ John, you look like crap.”

“I’m fine. Rough night is all.”

She wants to ask more questions, he can see it on her face, but she says nothing, patting his arm. “Tea for you there. Drink it. If you need anything, let me know, all right?”

“Thanks Kat, that’s very kind of you.” John’s second smile is more genuine, and she seems pleased by that, leaving him alone.


John conceals his limp as he exits the building, bidding the staff he encounters a good evening. Stepping into the cool air he sighs, tilting his head up to the blindingly grey sky. “John.”

Watson jumps, whipping his head around to find Sherlock pushing his lean body from the brick wall of the surgery. “Sherlock?”

“I’ve come to get you. Here, take these.” Sherlock hands him a blister packet, and when John scans it, he finds his own prescription pain medication, the kind he only takes when he is at the end of his tether. Without argument he pops two out, glad he forewent his previous two doses of the weaker medicines, and is passed a water bottle to wash them down.

“Thank you.”

“No problem. I’ll get us a cab.” Sherlock does not hover, and for that John is grateful, following a pace behind to the main road. Again Holmes is able to summon a black cab from seemingly nowhere and they get in together. “Are you okay?”

John sighs. “I’ve been better.”

Tomorrow would have been his usual physiotherapy appointment had he not cancelled in fear of threatening his therapist’s life. One was more than enough. For a while Sherlock’s company is maintained in a comfortable silence, albeit the eyes on him can be felt even without glancing in the window’s reflection to check. Sherlock shifts, adjusting the ends of his coat around his lap, clearing his throat several times. The air feels warmer, a vacuum in which they are held, closed-off from the taxi driver and the rest of the world. “I’ve been thinking.”

“Do you ever stop?” John jests, head lolling sideways on the seat to regard the other man. Eyes hard and serious soften, seeming to go rounder in amusem*nt.

Sherlock drops his gaze to Watson’s mouth and back up, and for a brief but thrilling second John thinks they might kiss. Alas, Holmes looks away, body unmoving in the seat, and John does not know if he should feel glad or disappointed. “Your physio.”

“What about it?”

“You’re so sore today, I was thinking we could have a session tonight?”

“I picked Fridays so I’d have the weekend to recover,” John remarks.

“It’s gotten quite bad though, don’t you think?”

“I- yeah okay. You’re right.” John sighs.

“Perpetually.” Sherlock titters, waggling his brows.John snorts, batting at him. “Prat.”

Inside their flat, they gather in Sherlock’s bedroom, a takeaway set to be delivered within the hour. John sits cross-legged on the bed in a thin crewneck and his exercise shorts, bare feet tucked close to his thighs. Sherlock circles him, a shark upon a feast, asking him to move his arms in certain ways and bend low to the mattress. He hums as John obliges, and when his visual assessment is complete he knee-walks towards Watson, settling behind him.

“Nothing arduous today. A few stretches and a massage. In my professional opinion.”

“Professional,” John chortles, the smile audible in his voice, “okay. Take it away, doc.”

Sherlock presses a warm hand to John’s uninjured shoulder, probing the hidden bulk of muscle there. He slides his hand down further to support John’s tricep and slowly they raise the arm up above his head. This side offers no resistance, moving fluidly into position and holding, whereas the left takes longer to reach its destination a little way’s from vertical, wavering with exertion. John pants, teeth gritted, albeit receptive to Sherlock’s touch, trusting him. He holds it for a few seconds longer before Sherlock eases it back down to his side, the rep performed again a few times on both sides.

“That’s enough of that, I think.”

“Hurts.” John chuckles humourlessly, a harsh bark of laughter.

Sherlock says nothing else, pushing John’s upper arms into his sides, elbows pressed to his ribs. With his forearms extended away from his body, Watson brings his palms together then apart, loosening the stiff roller joint all the way at the top. It burns, ice-hot travelling down his arm, but it is less painful than the first exercise, and without words Sherlock seems to understand that; John’s expression read like a tell-all magazine piece. He instructs John to lie on his back in a soft voice, the volume hushed but sounding loud in the quiet room. Prostrate, John has to crane his neck to watch Sherlock look around the room questioningly, zoning in on the cane leaning against the wall. He grasps it, eyes alight and warm, and hands it to John, who knows what to do already, bringing the cane above his head between both hands. When his elbows lock he feels one side zing with pain, the sweat sheening on his skin.

“Okay?” Sherlock checks from above.

“I’ll live.” John puffs. Sherlock hums, mouth ticking up. Having someone he knows on a personal level perform these exercises with him feels intimate, but he supposes the last person he did this with, outside of his physiotherapist, was his boyfriend at the time. That had been a mostly fruitless experience, because Johnathan had made it his mission to make John laugh at every opportunity, stopping him from stretching properly until he had whacked the man with a foam roller and banished him from the room.

This, somehow, feels more private than that, the dim room adding to the atmosphere John cannot put his finger on. Sherlock leans in closer, fixing his posture, body heat rolling in waves towards John, breath fanning over his hair and fluttering tawny forelocks. John clears his throat, eyes on the ceiling, toes wriggling as awkwardness courses through his veins like a raging hormone, and he focuses on completing the stretch so that he can withdraw to the safety of the other end of the bed.

“Where are you going? I want to massage your shoulders out otherwise they’ll just stiffen up again and this will have all been for nought,” Sherlock says, patting the centre of the bed where he wants John to lie. “On your belly.” He demands, oblivious — or perhaps ignorant — of John’s discomfort.

He has a squeeze-bottle of massage oil, indicating that John should remove his shirt, who does so reluctantly, the movement jerky due to the pain in his shoulder, newly awakened despite the stronger pain relief. He lies down as told, face turned sideways away from Sherlock, who does not speak, warming the oil between his hands. He commences directly on top of the current pain, soft hands with calloused musician fingers coaxing out the tight coil of muscle so that it may bloom, a proverbial sunflower stretched high and proud. John listens to the traffic outside of the window, his eyes falling shut of their own volition as Sherlock works silently behind him, only his short exhales audible when he bends to access beneath the shoulder blade. John hisses, shifting unconsciously, and Sherlock mutters an apology, his thumbs digging in to work out the knot there. When it is loosened the pain recedes back to the dark hole it came from, though the ache mulishly remains, even as Sherlock massages out the worst pain all the way down.

Similarly to their first excursion into this bizarre circ*mstance, Sherlock attacks every muscle in association to John’s shoulder, moving further down still until he is pressing under the ribs. John assumes he is done, feeling lighter already, but Sherlock relocates his hands to the right side, restocking his hands with oil. The glide is glorious here, John groaning in satisfaction. There is some pain, but that is to be expected from where he has unconsciously favoured his right side to ease the left of his body weight. The lack of strain, in comparison to his left side, provides a duller ache, ergo the process is quickened, deft hands performing sorcery to have John reduced to a puddle of gratified goo.

The doorbell rings, one wired to their specific flat, and Sherlock slips from the bed. John does not move, nor does Sherlock ask him to, wiping his hands on a damp towel before heading downstairs. Watson sits up, slowly, testing his refreshed body. The pain has cowed considerably, little more than a whinging sensation, a whisper of a breeze he can ignore. He had forgotten how pleasant it is to move a body that is cooperative, but that docility is instantly washed away when he looks down.

“f*ck,” he says, leaping from the bed to swap his tight, unforgiving shorts for a pair of loose jogging bottoms left out for after. He has to wriggle into them, for his satisfaction has gone beyond musculature and ventured into hormonal. The joggers do a better job disguising his treacherous crotch’s interest in the massage, but if Sherlock were to look he would know, John is sure of that. Watson has extremely limited options: the quickest cold shower of his life, one he is certain will undo all Sherlock’s hard work, or he could cower here with a pillow over his lap like a guilty teenager, or, the option he chooses, go about as if it is not there.

If his gait is altered he will blame it on the massage, but when Sherlock comes upstairs, planting the delivery bag beside the plates John sets down at the same time, he says nothing. They mete out the food unequally, John taking more at Holmes’ behest, and rather than sit at the table or on the couch Sherlock nods his head towards the bedroom, laptop in hand. “I don’t want you leaning your back on anything and wiping off the oil.” He explains whilst arranging the bed for them; pillows for their laps as well as one to balance the laptop on for better viewing.

“What do you want to watch?” John asks, shovelling a forkful of food into his mouth. Now that the nausea that comes with his daily pains has passed, he is ravenous, unbothered by his own eating when Sherlock simply pecks at his.

Sherlock clicks a few buttons. “I’ve got a documentary on bees. They’re fascinating.”

“Bees it is.” John says with a smile that Sherlock reciprocates, his cheeks reddening some.


Watson walks from work straighter than the day before, more cheerful and smiling after bidding Katherine goodbye. She has been sneaking into his office when she can, sharing lunch with him and remarking frequently on his pleasant comportment. John has spent the day giggling like a schoolboy and he feels giddy for it.

“Ah, John, just in time!” Holmes cheers, pushing off the wall and approaching him with his wide gait.

“Sherlock?” John steps into pace with Sherlock without consciously doing so, cane click-clacking with them.

“Come along John, I have something to show you.” Watson scarcely keeps up as they barrel towards the main road, hopping into a hackney cab. Inside, Sherlock blurts that he has a case, one disconnected to John’s, and that he would like to scope out a potential bolthole.

“Sorry, what’s this about?”

“The case, John!”

“You haven’t told me about another case.”

“Oh, I must’ve told you whilst you were at work,” Sherlock’s eyebrows pleat before he wafts it away with a hand. “No bother.”

“You talk to me when I’m not there?” John asks, a fondness warming his belly. Sherlock ignores the jibe, turning his entire body towards John, legs so long his knee brushes John’s.

“There’ve been reports of a man wearing something like a cloak attacking people. He threatens violence most of the time, but there have been a few instances of assault when he’s thrown things at people.”

“Do we know who this is?”

“I’m yet to procure a name, but I have an inkling as to where he’s based. It’s in Hackney.”

“Why are you interested in this? It seems a bit… I don’t know, pedestrian? For you.”

Sherlock’s grin becomes toothy, predatory. “Astute observation, doctor. You’re right. This man claims he is the second coming of God.”

“Christ,” John murmurs.

“Not quite.” Sherlock replies, earning a playful nudge for his troubles. They chuckle, both looking out their respective windows, but John can still feel that bony knee pressed to his.

“So what are we doing? Why are you in such a rush to go now?”

“Twenty minutes ago there was another threat of violence, but the man did a runner. I think I can predict his trajectory. We can catch him!”

“I’m not some vigilante, Sherlock.” Watson gestures to his cane, but Sherlock simply scoffs in response.

“Oh come on, it’ll be fun!”

John gawks at him. “Wha- Sherlock!”

“Not good?”

“Bit not good, yeah.”

“Could be dangerous?”

John sighs. “Oh, go on then.”

They drive in silence for a while, before Sherlock snaps up, whip-straight, demanding they stop. The cab driver obliges, though confused, and is handed a tip for his troubles. Holmes and Watson depart the cab onto an empty street. The paths are lined with litter, deep potholes like gaping mouths of a monster swallowing bits of rubble, debris and leftover pieces of car. As they delve further into a rundown estate, however, they hear the beginnings of commotion. Orders barked out, civilians murmuring, a male voice shouting out in protest.

“Police! Down on the ground! Stop resisting!”

“Dammit, we’re too late.” Sherlock mumbles, stepping directly into the atmosphere. He helps the two constables on the scene pin down a writhing, shrieking man, his hood concealing his face. Jogging bottoms, sodden and sullied with wet mud, are rucked down beneath his bum, revealing tattered underwear. His shirt rides up, exposing too-prominent ribs, but John cannot see any more of the man.

With the extra set of hands the topmost officer is able to slip free his walkie-talkie. “Medical aid needed, suspected casualty. I need an ambulance on-scene. Back-up required, and the van too.”

John moves around gaping passers-by, parting the crowd with his cane to see what is more interesting than the man being apprehended. On the ground, splayed and bloody, is another man. To the naked eye he appears dead, and John drops to the floor, leaning in close to listen to his airways.

“He’s alive!” John calls out, receiving the attention of the officers.

“Oi, who are you?” One of them asks, voice gruff, face stern.

“I’m a doctor!” There is no further protest, but Watson is not listening anyway, nudging the patient’s chin backwards to open his airways. He is breathing but it is aberrated, a slight crackling sound audible, and John scans his body for injuries. The blood-soaked shirt does not immediately reveal the source, but as John peels it away, the man moaning, a large gash is made visible.

Blood, scarlet and thick, oozes steadily, colouring everything in its path. John’s hands are saturated with it in seconds, and he grits his teeth, looking around. “Sherlock, your scarf!”


“Your scarf, now! I’m making do.” Sherlock’s eyes light in realisation and he tugs his scarf free from his neck one-handed, hair sent askew. He tosses it at John, who catches it and presses the heavy fabric to the wound. The man cries out, trying to wriggle away, insensate. “I know, I’m sorry. I need to apply pressure to stop the bleeding.”

“f*ck, it hurts. It hurts so bad!” Cries the man.

“Try to remain calm, sir. I’m here to help, okay? I know it hurts.”

“He stabbed me! He f*cking stabbed me!” The patient wails, head rocking side-to-side.

“Do you know what with?”

“Knife. Big knife. God, am I going to die?” He whimpers, glassy eyes skyward.

John presses down harder instinctively. “You’re not going to die. Do you know who he is, the man who stabbed you?”

“Charles,” the man gasps.

“Charles who? Surname?” The bleeding is no longer as rigorous, but it stains the scarf sluggishly, tainting John’s hands and wrists in liquid crimson. The man gulps a breath, pale, a sheen of sweat breaking out over his hairline and beading around his face.

“Kingsley. Charles Kingsley!” John freezes, glancing towards the pile of men on the floor. Patrol officers are starting to arrive, their sirens wailing histrionic and frantic. Two squad cars skid to a halt at the kerbside, the first car moving to the pinned assailant, the others rushing to John’s aid.

With a rundown of the man’s injuries — potential internal bleeding, the knife pulled free of the wound, they radio in for an update on an ambulance’s ETA. “Two minutes,” someone says among the chaos.

The officer leans down at the victim’s side and smiles. “Hello there. An ambulance will be here any second. You’re going to be okay. Hang on in there mate.”

“He f*cking stabbed me!” The man repeats.

“What’s your name?”

“Bill,” he inhales sharply as John peels back the scarf to inspect the wound, wincing apologetically, “Bill Mathers.”

“All right Bill, an ambulance is on the way, in fact, here it is now. We’ll get you sorted out, but you’re safe. The man who attacked you, do you know him?”

“We-gah! We went to school together. He’s a right weirdo. He started saying he was the f*cking second-ow, second coming of God!”

John looks between the officers. “Mr Kingsley suffers from schizophrenia, but I believe this is a bout of psychosis.”

“How do you know that?”

“He was a former patient of mine.” John says. The ambulance crew flood them before the conversation can continue, John reciting the limited information he has whilst they tend to the wound and have a gurney set up. John helps, applying ECG tabs and swapping out the scarf for gauze as they pump Bill full of pain medication. One jots down information on the top of his gloved hand, scribbling the man’s age and brief medical history in biro.

When Bill, now calmer with his pain under control, is loaded into the ambulance, John ambles over to Sherlock. He is soaked in blood, having used some spare gauze to wipe the worst of it off, clothes stained with it, the scarf likely a lost cause. Sherlock has taken a step back to allow the police to stand Kingsley up, John relaying his name and his diagnosis as they search him for more weapons. A smaller pocket knife is found in his jogging bottoms, alongside a burner phone and a wallet. His hood is pulled back off his face so he can be addressed properly, manic eyes scanning the officers. John clears his throat, startled to find that gaze, a wildfire of fury, set upon him.

“Doctor Watson.” He spits, each consonant crisp and enunciated.

The officers glance between them. “You know this man?”

Even Sherlock perks with intrigue, scanning the man as deductions whirl in front of his face like leaves in the wind. It is Kingsley who answers. “He betrayed me.”

“It wasn’t what you thought, Mr Kingsley.” John soothes.

“No, no it was exactly what I should have expected. Why I thought you’d be any different…” Kingsley snarls.

“I moved surgeries, I couldn’t transfer you. That’s not how it works.”

Kingsley fights against the hold on him. “You didn’t even tell me!”

“It’s against protocol. I’m sorry, really, I am. I didn’t want to leave but I had to, okay?”

“It’s all right now anyway. It all worked out as it should in the end. God spoke to me, you see. He showed me the right path. He will come for all who defy Him!” Kingsley growls, wrenching his arms, but they do not come free, and his kicks result in him being pinned to the floor again.

“Get the restraints!” One officer calls, another scurrying to one of the squad cars. They bind his legs together, John wary of the action when the man is delusional and potentially confused, but he is currently too big of a threat to be allowed freedom.

A police van parks up in place of the ambulance, the back doors opened in preparation. It takes nearly the entire team to safely escort a writhing, shrieking Kingsley into the van, who fights and flails when the leg restrains are removed for safety purposes just outside the van. He pounds at the caged door, a silverback of ire, but the secondary doors close over his contorted face and muffle the screaming. John sighs, almost running a hand through his hair before Sherlock tugs his arm away.

“Sorry about your scarf.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “Not to worry. It went to a good cause.”

With Kingsley now packed away, the officers get to work setting up a crime scene, collecting evidence, removing the crowds. John and Sherlock are approached, required to give their witness statements, but there is not much to glean as they arrived after the fact. It takes no more than ten minutes, the pair providing their landline phone number should they be called in for additional questions, and then they are let go.

“No cab’s gunna take us with me looking like this.” John chuckles, holding his arms away from his body. The blood is beginning to crust on his skin. As if on cue a woman advances towards them, eyes widened, mouth twitching whilst wringing her hands. “Hello.” John says.

“Hello dear. Sorry to disturb, it’s just, I live over the road, just there,” she points to a nearby house, “and I was wondering if you’d like to use my bathroom to clean up a bit?”

“Oh.” John says plainly. “That’s very kind of you, but I don’t want to make a mess.”

“Nonsense, you can’t go walking ‘round like that!”

“This way, was it?” Sherlock asks as he saunters off. She grins, taking the lead, walking the pair past the final nosey stragglers. John supposes he is a sight to behold, drenched in blood, some of which drips from his sleeves towards his elbows, his cane held in Sherlock’s grip.

They are bustled into a house, John and the woman taking the stairs to the upper floor bathroom where he is directed to remove his shirt to expose his white undershirt, the only item of clothing not bloodied, so that she can drop it into a carrier bag. She hands him an old towel and directs him to a bar of soap before shutting the door behind her. Through the thin walls John can hear her chatting to Sherlock, his voice a low rumble, words indistinguishable. John sighs, rinsing his hands under warm water first before picking up the bar of lavender soap. He washes similarly to how he scrubbed up during his days as a surgeon, skin pinkening beneath his vigorous ministrations until he is sure every drop is gone. Some of it has caught in his arm hairs and smeared, thinner blood worming under his nails, which takes slightly longer to remove without a nail brush. When John deems himself as clean as possible without showering, he turns to the state of his chinos. Twin pools of blood on the knees are the worst of the damage from where he knelt beside Bill, but there are also speckles of it on his shins and thighs from wayward drips.

Except for removing them, washing the spots with cold water and donning the soggy result, there is little else John can do, and he dabs at the wet with the towel. Another sigh escapes John’s mouth, ragged and slightly shaky as adrenaline leaks out of his body in toxic fumes. He exits the bathroom, towel slung over his arm, feeling as silly as he looks as he clumps down the stairs and finds the woman and Sherlock sat at a quaint kitchen table.

“Ah, John.” Holmes says.

The woman swivels to look at him, poorly disguised alarm writ over her face. “Oh dear, your pants are still quite bad. I didn’t see them before.”

John shrugs, kissing his teeth. “It’s the best I can do. I appreciate your kindness.”

“That’s all right my dear, but I’m not letting you leave ‘til you have a sugary cuppa. Or a coffee.”

“No no, it’s fi-”

Sherlock interrupts, smiling at her, sickly sweet, “he’ll have the coffee, thank you.” John relents, taking a seat at the table, head in hands. Sherlock sips at a mug of tea, and he seems affable, more so than John has ever seen him with a stranger. She sorts his drink then sits down, eyeing him. “Are you doing all right? That was quite the adventure!”

“Fine, thank you. I’m a doctor, I used to be a surgeon, nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“Oh wow, well, you’re very brave!” She gushes, her eyes round saucers of awe.

“John, while I was apprehending a murderer you were saving a life. Your efforts should be commended and I laud your quick thinking.” John risks a glance at his face, finding eyes of glacier glittering in the low light, searing into his. Perhaps Sherlock believes through diffusion alone he can convince John of his praise.

The woman must sense the change in the conversation and attempts to lighten it with an awkward, strained chuckle. “You just jumped right in there! Most of us stood there, useless.”

“The Bystander Effect.” Sherlock blurts. She looks at him, bemused. “The theory in which the more bystanders there are to an event, the less likely an individual is encouraged to help, whether due to social pressures or the shared thought that someone else will step up and provide aid.”

“Oh. Well, yes, I think that was a perfect example. Even after the police arrived most people just watched the man on the floor.” She turns back to John. “Is he going to be okay, Doctor?”

“Fingers crossed. I couldn’t see how deep the wound was, but he’s in the best care now.” Watson takes a sip of the coffee, trying not to gulp it. He is shaking harder now, left hand concealed under the table to allow a tremor to pass unseen, but Sherlock knows, sending John a cutting look. Watson glances away.

“Do you know what happened?” She asks, her curiosity causing her to bat her head between them for answers.

Sherlock does not answer, swallowing the last of his tea, so John replies with a vague, “stab wound. They probably had an argument.”

“John, finish your coffee, the police asked for us to go to the station and answer a few more questions.” Sherlock says, tone short, his usual grouchiness seeping through. John, draining what is left of his drink, stands on wobbly legs. His cane rids the worst of the balance issues, and after a few paces John’s thigh stops twinging, an aftereffect of kneeling on the cold hard floor.

“Thank you again for your generosity. You take care now.” John nods his head with a small smile, walking stiffly to the door.

The woman returns his smile, rushing ahead to open the door, her back pressed to the wall to let them pass. “And you, my loves. Thank you for helping that man.”

Sherlock inclines his head at her, but it is curt, and he takes a light grip on John’s arm to pull him down the driveway towards the road. Out of earshot, John asks, “do we have to go to the station?”

“No, I just needed an excuse to leave.” Sherlock says. “She was quite annoying.”

“She was nice.” Watson retorts.

“She wanted to engage in… small talk.” Sherlock shivers dramatically, releasing John’s arm to hold him still. “Take your coat off.”

“Why?” John does as he is told regardless of the responding silence, watching Sherlock remove his greatcoat. Gesturing for John to take his own shooter jacket off, Sherlock trades them, also taking the cane for a brief interlude. John slips his arms into the thick woollen abyss, finding the weight unsurprising but no less comforting. It is like a warm hug, long on his shorter body, cutting just above his ankles, and when Sherlock fiddles with the collar to pop it up, a whiff of his natural scent embedded in the fibres wafts up John’s nose, pleasant and heady. The closeness seems intimate, Sherlock fussing over him until John playfully smacks his hands away so he can button the coat up. It sits snug over his wider frame, not tight, but when he looks down, the bloody trousers are concealed entirely from view.

“So we can get a cab.” Sherlock smiles satisfactorily. John laughs in realisation, the absurdity of his afternoon catching up to him, and they go hunting for a taxi. Out here it is much harder to procure one, away from the city, even with Holmes’ skill, so Sherlock dials for one, providing an address a seven minute walk away. By the time they get there, the taxi pulls up, giving an air of magic to it.

The ride itself is of no significance, except for the startling charge in the atmosphere. John catches Sherlock look at him several times, him doing the same in snatches of time. Their hands rest dangerously close on the middle seat, their feet angled towards one another. John pays the fare from the backseat as Sherlock hops out, the front door left open for John to come in. Watson finds Sherlock in the kitchen waiting for him, staring unsurely, in the process of removing of his jacket. John, however, knows exactly what he wants to do.

In a blur of movement, Sherlock is tackled, back slamming against the now-shut door with his jacket sleeves tangled around his arms. He releases a short ‘oof’ sound as his spine collides with the wood, body pressed tight between the door and John, who grasps his cheeks in wide, callous hands and mashes their lips together, cane clattering to the floor and kicked away, careless of its whereabouts. John lowers his hands, trailing across the tight shirt over Sherlock’s sternum, even further down to untuck it from his waistband, fingers sneaking inside to touch the skin of his lower back. Sherlock raises on tiptoe, lightly pushing at John’s shoulders, who instantly retreats, wide-eyed and flushed.

“Oh god, Sherlock, I’m so sorry,” he blurts, terrified of overstepping.

Sherlock shakes his head so fervently curls dislodge from their neat placement. “No no, it’s fine. I just — I’ve never done this before.”

“Never? With anyone?” Watson cannot disguise the bafflement in his voice.

“Is that okay?” Sherlock’s hands wring, eyes askance.

“What? Of course it’s okay, nor is it any of my business.”

Holmes has gone beetroot, unable to raise his gaze higher than John’s chin. “Well, I. Sorry.”

“It’s me who should be apologising.”

“Don’t.” Sherlock untangles his gangly limbs from his jacket so he can hold John’s upper arms. “I’ve been expecting this.”

“But do you want it?” Watson affirms.


Wonderment seeps into his voice, eyes glittering. “Can I kiss you again? Properly?”

“Please,” Sherlock whispers, pressing his forehead to John’s. He leans down and John up, those same hands capable of healing and hurting raising to cup his cheeks again. The grip is more gentle, reverent almost, and when John’s mouth meets his there is less desperation in the act.

It feels like all John has ever wanted. A vagabond finding home. An unattainable covet captured in the fist of a victorious soldier. John melts, a hand cupping the back of his skull to draw him impossibly closer. He is consumed.

Chapter 25: Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (22)

Breaths, puffed from heaving chests, intermingle into the minuscule pocket of air between swollen mouths. One set of eyes have fallen shut in relief, overwhelmed by a dream come true, whereas the other’s are open, searching, keen and bright. The first pair of eyes open after a moment, once he has collected himself, the sea meeting the sky, and they begin to giggle.

“Jesus, I’ve wanted to do that since the day I met you.” John breathes.

“And now you have,” Sherlock smiles, a shyness creeping into the creased corners of his mouth. John pecks it away before pulling back, the air colder without Sherlock to warm it.

“Your scarf…” John gestures to the carrier bag filled with the sodden material. “I’m gunna wash it.”

Wash it? Are you absurd?”

“I’ll certainly give it a go!” John carries it towards the kitchen sink, long since used to Sherlock doubling it as a basin for his experiments that he does not care about its common usage. “I am sorry for ruining it. I was a bit limited on supplies.”

“Nonsense, I’ll not have you slandering yourself. A man’s life has been saved due to your quick thinking.” Sherlock purses his lips. “Besides, I can always acquire a new one.”

“Are you sure? It seems expensive!” John says, running the cold water to dunk the scarf in it. With the material still so wet an admirable amount of blood is rinsed free from the fibres, swilling the water pink.

Sherlock snorts, “yes, well, that’s what Mycroft’s credit card is for.”

“Prick,” John laughs.

“He is, isn’t he?” Holmes retorts, and when John turns to look at him he sticks his tongue out, just short of blowing a raspberry. John laughs, an emotion so vividly pleasant rushing through him it forms a lump in his throat and he has to look away, clearing his throat beneath the gushing susurrus of water.

“Go get a shower whilst I wash this.” John says.

Sherlock’s nose crinkles at the sight of him. “I think if anyone needs a shower it’s you.”

“You have first pick. But don’t use up all the hot water, all right?”

“I thought soldiers took cold showers?”

“Does this look like the Middle f*cking East?” Sherlock bellows a laugh, shaking his head.

“Touché, Captain Watson.” Sherlock does as he is told, heading off towards the bathroom just as John starts to run the water warmer, seeking out the tub of stain remover powder they always have stock of in the cupboard. He hums as he sprinkles it onto the scarf, though most of the blood has washed out better than he anticipated. Perhaps that credit card will not be needed after all.

In all that time, albeit no longer than twenty minutes, John just exists. He does not think about anything — in fact, he finds his mind blessedly quiet for what feels like the first time in a year. Pondering now could spoil his exemplary mood and bring about a compunction for kissing Sherlock so suddenly. The methodical soaking of the scarf is just mentally stimulating enough to keep those wretched thoughts at bay, having less of an undertaking to will away creeping thoughts of blood-soaked clothes and men in agony.

Tonight, however, he shall not be so fortunate.


John slips under the duvet with a sigh, listening to Sherlock’s movements on the other side as his back is to the man. His eyes cross the contents of a shelf, some of the objects foreign and unidentifiable. Even in this room there is little of John’s to leave behind evidence of his existence, but he quite likes it that way. Here, Sherlock’s presence is overwhelmingly obvious even when he is not physically in the room. He is a collector, though these items are much neater in their organisation and display than those beyond this door. John likes to make up stories about where they are from and how Sherlock came to have them in his possession, but he is sure that if he asked, the true anecdote behind them would be equally if not more interesting than the wild tales he comes up with.

“John, are you awake?” Sherlock whispers so loud he may as well speak.

“Hm?” John is pulled from his musings back into the room with the man he has just kissed.

“I just. Before you go to sleep…”

John turns to look at him in the dark, the glare of the lamp shining in his eyes restricting him to an abstract silhouette of his curls. “What is it, Sherlock?”

“I was joking around, earlier, but I just want to tell you, in all seriousness…”

“Yes?” John asks breathily.

Sherlock clears his throat. “That, er, thing you, er, did back there. It was. Good. Yes, it was good. Erm, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, I think? What exactly are we talking about?”

“While I was trying to solve a murder, you were saving a life. I laud your efforts, Doctor Watson. Truly. That was remarkable what you did. I wanted it to be said.”

John smiles, hoping Sherlock can see it. “That’s very kind of you, Sherlock. Good night.”

“Goodnight, John.”

He grunts in response, relinquishing his body to the fatigue blanketing his skull. Sherlock says nothing after that, his weight dipping the mattress as he shifts, the lamplight vanishing to plunge them into darkness. John sinks to sleep effortlessly.



He wakes up, looking around the dark bedroom, but it is barren except for him. “Sherlock?” He calls out, rubbing at his eyes.

“John!” The voice is alarmed, frightened, and John is out of bed in seconds.

He rushes from the bedroom to the living room. Sherlock is sat in his armchair, but there is something wrong about it. He is too stiff, sitting straight, when he always slouches in the seat. John approaches carefully. “Sherlock, are you okay?”

Holmes does not answer, eyes locked on John’s armchair, and when he is at the angle to do so John looks down at it. Johnathan sits there, smiling smug and proud, and without a word he rises to his feet and heads towards the door. “Nate? What’s happening?”

“Payback.” He says simply, and then he is gone. John lurches for the front door but there is nobody there, the stairwell empty and cold. He turns back towards Sherlock.


“John.” Sherlock replies warmly. He smiles, sweet and short and small, leaning back in his armchair, incrementally relaxing. He is in his coat and scarf, but his hands are curled around the armrests and he is barefoot.

“Will you please tell me what’s happening?”

Sherlock pales, the smile wavering, lips wobbling, and as he flops back into the leather seat his navy-blue scarf begins to change colour. It darkens, a deep violet that spreads from the middle out, crawling ink as though his heart has been ripped out. John gasps, dropping to his knees in front of Sherlock. “Oh my god, you’re bleeding!”

“It’s all right, John. Look at me.” John ignores him, yanking the scarf away to examine the wound, praying it is just pumping heavily due to the proximity to Sherlock’s heart. When the scarf is removed, however, John reels back. Ella’s lanyard is wrapped tight around his neck, coiled like a boa constrictor, blood pouring from beneath.

Sherlock, contrastingly, seems flippant over the injury. “John. It’s all right.” He lurches forward, gripping at Watson’s upper arms. “John! Come on John! Wake up! I’m right here!”

John’s eyes snap up to his, narrowing as his eyebrows draw close together. “What?”


He comes to with his hands grappling at Sherlock’s wrists, a bloodless grip that will surely bruise, attaching him to the unharmed, real Sherlock. This one is tangible, and is breathing steadily, allowing a manic John to pat around his chest and pull back to look at his fingers. There is no blood. The room smells of clean air and John’s tangy sweat, not of copper. John’s breath slows, shaky, and he drops back against his pillow. “Jesus f*cking Christ.”

“It was about me? Crouch was there?”

“What?” John mumbles.

“You called out our names. You sounded panicked.”

“You were bleeding. Your scarf…”

“I’m perfectly all right John.” Sherlock removes his shirt, revealing milky unmarred skin. “See? And the scarf is on a drying rack, remember? That blood isn’t mine.”

John lies down flat on his back, waves of tremulous shivers rapidly cooling the sweat on his skin. Sherlock does not fuss over him, and for that Watson is grateful, but he does supply a warm soapy flannel for John to clean himself with. He removes his shirt too but does not replace it, opting to sleep on a towel in his boxer shorts. Sherlock sorts it all out, wordlessly concerned by the trembling, and before he gets back into bed he ensures John drinks some water. With his eyes closed, John can only rely on his other senses, feeling the mattress tilt with Sherlock’s weight as he shuffles into position then settles, the soft breeze it produces, Sherlock’s scent carried upon it. John feels rather than sees him wavering, but he does not respond to it, wanting to see what happens. Sherlock’s hand, warm and large, splays across John’s chest, right over his heart, and John is certain he will be able to feel the blip of excitement there, the skip of a beat, his erratic pulse.

“We’re safe. We’re okay. Go back to sleep.”

John mumbles, shuffling closer, and when he turns on his side and cracks an eye open, they are mere inches away. Without looking up in case he loses his courage, John tips his head into the hot junction where Sherlock’s neck meets his chest, and buries into it, inhaling. Sherlock rolls onto his back, drawing John close so that he can lie halfway across Sherlock’s torso, nosing at the lower nest of curls at his nape. His skin is warmer than John’s, who seeks to draw it out, to steal some for himself, and Sherlock lets him. Not another word is spoken, fingers trailing light but soothing up and down John’s spine, and for a moment John thinks Sherlock might kiss him, but he just presses his lips to a dry patch of John’s downy hair and stays there, unmoving.


Sunlight filters through a gap in the curtains, rousing John from his slumber. The bed is cold and empty, his hand smacking Sherlock’s side to seek him out in his torpid state. He wakes quicker upon realising that he is alone, no noise heard beyond the bedroom door, which has been left ajar. John collapses onto his back, scrubbing the fatigue from his eyes and stretching languid until his throat produces an involuntary groan. It is late in the morning, but he is in no rush, ambling around the room as he dons a dressing gown and slips chilly feet into slippers. He scratches his neck with his free hand as he relieves himself in the toilet, avoiding the mirror as he is wont to do these days. With the kettle boiling, John moves to investigate Sherlock’s whereabouts, not having to venture far. Holmes lays prostrate on the couch, eyes closed, fingers steepled under his chin. Curls billow like smoke over a Union Jack cushion stolen from John’s armchair, long toes curling over the arm of the couch. He does not acknowledge John, who has not made his movements quiet, though he does eventually squint open an eye when a mug of steaming tea is placed closed to him on the coffee table.

“Good morning,” John greets cheerfully, flopping into his armchair in a move so expert not a single drop of tea is spilled. Sherlock hums, the noise he makes when he is in one of his nonspeaking spells, rolling his head to the side to regard John. “Been up long?”

Sherlock raises a hand, limp-wristed, to waggle it. He blinks up at the ceiling for a while, the room devolving into a silence not uncomfortable but pensive, until Sherlock abruptly lurches to his feet, heading for his violin. He plucks at it initially, the twang of strings hypnotic to John, who has never actually seen Sherlock play. It is a vastly different experience watching as well as listening, and John intends to indulge in every second of it. Spindly fingers tune the instrument with ease, testing the notes with a few silky swipes of the bow, John mesmerised. Despite the audience of one, Sherlock pays the room no mind, his back to it as he stares out of the window. The song he plays is not recognisable, and John does not remember hearing it during nights of anguish, so he settles back, sipping at his tea and hoping this will become the norm of their weekends.

Sherlock does not turn once, his spine achingly pin-straight, his fingers wavering to produce crystal vibrato as he takes them through a journey of chipper notes that gradually twist into something richer, darker, a melancholy developing. It seems to be an auditorial display of his inner emotions, and belatedly John begins to worry that the song is telling him something. He listens more closely, deep pitches rattling John’s core, the music stripping him to his bare bones and analysing him as if Sherlock’s very eyes. It becomes rather unsettling, the eery noise creeping into unbearable territory, but when John moves, the armchair groaning, Sherlock stops. If he were an animal his ears would prick and swivel, though his body does not move. John stops, a hunted rabbit spotted by the fox, body awkwardly half in the chair, hovering but still.

“John.” It is more than a name: a statement, a question, the final note to the song, a full stop at the end of a sentence. John tenses instinctively.

“What is it?” He asks, the side of Sherlock’s jaw raises in a smile John cannot see, outwardly pleased John has deduced the atmosphere.

“I must speak with you.”

“You already are. Is something wrong?”

Sherlock drops the violin to his side, knocking against a bony hip with the tiniest tinkling note ringing out, a disconcerted cry of concern. John pushes himself flush against the back of his chair as Sherlock sits opposite him, legs asunder and stretched before him, cutting a surprisingly imposing figure. “I’ve been thinking. Though I do not regret yesterday’s… activity, I must stress that it will not happen again.”

“The kiss, you mean?” John swallows thickly.

“Yes. I enjoyed it, as I know you did, but I am married to my work as I have mentioned before, and I cannot allow a relationship to jeopardise that.”

“Then why did you allow it in the first place?” Incredulity waxes the volume of his voice. “We share a bed for Chrissakes!” Sherlock opens his mouth to speak, but only an aborted noise, more of a squeak can escape as John laughs humourlessly. “You let me kiss you…”

“I assure you full consent was given. I don’t regret it John, but I’m telling you I can’t do it again. It was not an act sexual in nature. As for sharing a bed, it is only because data has proven that co-sleeping is beneficial to you.”

“Oh, so it’s totally altruistic then?” John’s voice drips venomous sarcasm, but Sherlock seems to take the message literally.

“Not entirely. I too enjoy your company and I have slept better knowing you are not suffering upstairs alone.”

John is quiet, the clock ticking loud between them, pleading for reprieve, a minute passing, then another half. Eyes scanning sightlessly at the carpet, John says, “I’m sorry.”

“Do not apologise, John. It was a mutual decision, a pleasant one at that.”

Without another word, John exits the room. Even if he wanted to speak no words are forthcoming, his mind a blank, jagged cut of slate. An unforgiving weight settles on his chest. When he has rinsed his mug and there are no more menial tasks left to distract idle, tremulous hands, John retreats to his bedroom, lacking the stomp of an insolent adolescent, laptop tucked under his arm. He spends the day upstairs, not to hide, he is not hiding, he was a Captain, he does not hide. It is a matter of avoiding awkward interactions, he says to himself, only going downstairs when he can hear Sherlock move away from the kitchen.

Come nightfall John realises a game is being played, and it is his move. Sherlock is aware of his nightly routine and there is little left to be desired in their current circ*mstances, yet he remains mulishly seated in the kitchen where John must pass to use the bathroom. John shall not be bested in such a petty move and reciprocates by ignoring Sherlock entirely as he walks by, pyjamas in hand. He completes his bathroom ablutions then strides towards the sink for a glass of water. He feels the air waft as Sherlock turns in his seat, but he does not turn to look. A battle of wills commences, the pair too stubborn in their pride to cave. It is Sherlock who gives in when John moves to leave.



“Are you not coming to bed?”

“I am going to bed. My bed.” John’s teeth grit, his back turned to Sherlock, and childishly he adds: “I wouldn’t want to jeopardise your work.”

“John-” The rest of the sentence goes unheard as John heads upstairs. He is divided on whether to feel glad or not that he is not followed.

In the dark, John’s bed is too cold and too big. There is no breathing to lull him to sleep except his own, and every position exacerbates that weight in his chest, waterlogging him to the boggy pits of his bed, far from sleep. Restless, he tosses and turns, sighing and grumbling to himself just to hear his own voice. Downstairs is silent as the grave, as empty too, a draught creeping up and disturbing the sugar circle that has never been swept up. John sits up, slumped against the headboard with his neck tucked into his chest, unable to restrain a moue. He feels like a child that has stormed off to their room to make a point but is only punishing himself. He wonders if Sherlock is asleep yet, the man who claimed that sleep was a rare commodity but has spent each night in bed for John’s sake. There is no reprieve from the hurricane of thoughts, the kiss twisting violently about his head, and at the centre, the eye of the storm, Sherlock’s calm rejection.

John finds sleep hours later, staring up at the ceiling until his eyes burn. Patterns swirl and pulse, the room seeming to lunge in towards him then retreat, the popcorn ceiling undulating until he feels his stomach churn and he shuts his eyes. Beneath his eyelids water builds up, the dryness flooded away and causing a few stray tears to slip from the corners of his eyes and down his temples. John inhales until his chest hurts, holds it as long as he can then exhales slowly, body deflating. It brings a wave of calmness to his mind, enough that he is able to conscion proper rest. Eyes still closed, John wriggles into a more comfortable position under the covers. It is not long before the nightly onslaught begins.

The vividness of a night terror wakes him convinced that Crouch and Kingsley have formed a pact and entered his room. There is no bell to warn him of their arrival, yet he wakes anyway, body pinned to the bed like a butterfly, and he could do nothing but watch them kick the sugar circle, one man either side of the bed. They stare in silence, John’s eyes flitting between them, when there are footsteps de novo on the stairs. He looks over, heart pounding so hard his skin breaks into a cold sweat. He recognises that tread. Sherlock.

The relief to see such a familiar face is short-lived. It was a trick, those footsteps, because the entity that enters the room is not a man with curled chocolate hair and startling verglas eyes. It is a dragonfly. It hovers above John, appearing to stare down at his helpless form, wings buzzing so fast they are but a blur. The body is long and whip-thin, quite like Sherlock’s physique, a vivid blue with green highlights towards the head and bracketed with thick black lines. Somehow, John knows it is him.

John snaps into consciousness expecting to see two men and an anisoptera gathered at his side, but there is nobody. He checks the shadows and the door; not even Sherlock is around, downstairs shrouded in darkness. Emotion wells up in his belly, boiling fire-orange at first and rising up his oesophagus, but the magma settles like a lump of ash in his throat, and the eruption is nothing more than a few frustrated tears. Sniffling, feeling rather sorry for himself, Watson acquiesces to the prospect of no sleep, his white flag made of tissue dabbing at the moisture gathered on his cheeks and dripping from his chin.

With little else to do in the dewy early morning, John consoles himself by sipping at water and settling his laptop over his duvet-covered thighs. He sits back, chin tucked to chest again, the screen wobbling through glassy vision. The case may be in a state of inertia but that does not mean John is incapable of doing his own research. Not that he really knows what he is doing, mind, but he starts off on Google Maps, dropping himself into the 360° street view of Ella’s office building. There is access to the road that leads to the backdoor the assailant entered. It is hidden away, tucked like a child behind their mother, confirming that the attacker had to have prior knowledge of the building. John clicks the white arrows overlayed onto the images, simulating a walk down the road in both directions, trying to figure out where the person came from, which direction they exited, and if any of that links to Johnathan.

There is still a seed of doubt there, that his former partner could be capable of these violent, personal attacks. Their relationship was rocky and toxic, but never violent, and John cannot imagine a reality in which the same Nate who would dance to the radio in his stuffy kitchen or skip towards him in the street and sing at the top of his lungs when drunk is the one responsible. It does not make sense, but then John thinks of the possessive obsession, the begging and hundreds of texts and calls. Still, he ponders, murder is another level entirely. Adams’ murder could have been a poor decision in the heat of the moment, but there is no excusing Thompson’s as anything but a visceral, targeted attack. Pre-meditated, to an extent, one which John cannot sure he will ever know the reason behind. Or if he even wants to know.

Dully, John clicks off the tab and opens a new one, searching Johnathan’s work building. He need not have travelled far to pay Doctor Thompson a visit; in fact, there was time for him to walk the distance there and back during his lunch break. John feels his heart rate spike, trying to remember more clearly the day Nate had come to pick him up from therapy. It had been a day like any other, most occasions were, John wrought with raw emotion and exhaustion after each session. Most times Johnathan would wait out on the main street for him, so that he did not have to be alone; once or twice he sheltered from poor weather in the waiting room. Except for one day, when John had been crying, did not want to be seen, Johnathan had suggested he wait around the back. Then, when John finished, he could sneak from the building via the fire exit and console himself, with Johnathan’s help, before they reached the main road. John had accepted, snivelling pitifully as Johnathan made jokes to make him laugh. It had been a pleasant end to an awful appointment, but now John wonders if the memory is tarnished as the occasion in which Johnathan was able to scope out the building for a future vengeful attack.

Racking one’s brains is tiring business, but John feels wired, a wound-up clock set to ring the alarms at any moment. His bedroom feels too small, like he is unwelcome here, and he needs to get out, go elsewhere, and quickly. His clothes still reside up here, and so he dresses in a pair of soft, worn jeans as well as his undershirt, button-up and jumper ensemble. Comforted by the familiarity, John collects his wallet, phone and keys then tiptoes down the stairs where his coat and shoes rest by the door. Silence prevails, sinking its teeth into the flat and spitting out an eeriness that can only come to London during the early hours. John exits through the main doors, locking them behind him. He is not sure where he wants to go, but it has to be away from here. He begins his journey towards Regent’s Park, to the left of 221, glancing briefly up at the window. He double-takes, certain there was a figure stood there, looming in the shadows, but upon his second look it is gone, merely a trick of the light. Shaking his head, John walks away, his cane a whispering companion at his side.


Light dawns mildewy in the May morning sky, blanketing the pavements with watery gold, the sky a playful pink with streaks of orange and lilac. John appreciates the view, sat on a park bench, resting tired feet after their long journey. In the time it has taken for the sun to raise its sleepy head John has traversed from Baker Street to Hackney on foot, and from there to his old apartment block, Nate’s work and Ella’s office. It seems different, being physically in the space where it all happened than looking through a digital map, and allows him a much better idea of the potential route Nate would have taken from work to Thompson. Inconvenient, but doable. Quite like the act itself.

John is the first customer to enter a nearby café when it opens, one he visited twice with Johnathan during their time together. It is a nice little place, cramped but homely, the walls spared not an inch from random knickknacks and art from local talent. Even ten minutes after opening John is not the only customer, but he orders some breakfast and finds a quiet corner to sequester himself into out of the morning chill. He has worked up quite the appetite with all that walking, and he has to remind himself that it is impolite to shovel food into his mouth when his breakfast sandwich arrives along with a steaming black coffee. Just what the doctor ordered, he thinks to himself sardonically.

Holmes is surely awake by now, and aware of his disappearance, yet there are no texts asking where he is. The man is smart not to approach John in a mood like this — not currently peeved but susceptible to a rapid and severe drop in mood should he be reminded as to why he has spent the entire morning wandering the streets. Watson reminisces about a time when he was not privy to his own life, Crouch intent on knowing every minute of his day, how he spent it, who with and where. The exhaustion of battling that conversation every day is certainly not something he has missed, and John finishes his food in silence, his own company enough for once. Plates clatter beyond the counter at the fore of the shop, and a young couple talk lowly nearby, sharing bites of a muffin between two coffees. He feels like an outsider watching them, the girl, no older than twenty-one snickering at a joke, batting at her partner, who bellows out with a shake of his head, his smile hidden behind a sip, albeit his eyes sparkle like Sherlock’s.

There it is again. Thinking of Sherlock. John must banish these thoughts. His saviour is a buzz in his pocket, a short and singular vibration that startles him from the spiralling reverie he was sure to tumble down. Fishing for his phone, John looks away from the giggling couple and the illusion is broken. He returns to reality with jarring clarity as he reads the text message.

Crouch has been released. GL

John’s throat parches, the moisture evaporating in an instant. The coffee does nothing to ameliorate the dryness, preventing him from swallowing, a lump forming in his throat. This was an inevitability, what with the severe lack of evidence, but theory is much different to practicum. Left thumb hovering over the keyboard, mind at a standstill, John’s phone buzzes a second time.

We can discuss over drinks. Same place, Thursday night? GL

John scrubs at his face, and when he looks up, he is alone except for the staff milling about. He drops his head back down to the phone screen. See you there.

With Crouch potentially in the area, much too close for John to feel safe, despite being aware of the security personnel likely tailing his every move — though he is yet to spot a single one — Watson gets to his feet abruptly, the chair screeching across the wooden floorboards. Having paid for his coffee John leaves his mug and plate on the table and makes a beeline for the exit, head bobbing in farewell to the young girl behind the till. He has to get out of here, out of Hackney. It is imperative. An itch develops under his skin, worming its way down to his bones and digging in, making him feel wobbly even with his cane. His shoulder aches fierce and demanding, thigh fighting for his sole attention, decimating a proper gait. He has no time to stop and wallow, however, he needs to leave. He is the least bit keen on finding out how Johnathan would react should they cross paths again.

Pavement birls beneath him, the world a blur and muffled by the hot-red blood circuiting his body. Heart rate elevated, temperature rising, sweat beaded at his forehead, John realises belatedly that he must calm himself lest he trip into the swiping claws of panic. With deep breaths he manages to tamper an erratic diaphragm, which in turns lathers a soothing balm over the roiling ocean in his stomach, no longer threatening to upheave his breakfast. The thick muscle in his chest is not so easily tamed, waging war on his ribcage, its sirens blaring deafening in his ears. John heads for the bus station, where he knows Johnathan will not be, not yet. On the slight chance he does take the bus they shall not meet, and with that reassurance, the doors closing behind him with a hiss, John can finally take a proper breath, and his heart, bemused but compliant, settles back into regular working order.

Numbly, John waits for his stop and walks the rest of the way home, only five minutes usually but doubled today due to the stiffening of his leg. Sherlock is not around, and for that John is grateful, as he does not want to be seen in a state like this; bedraggled like a fought street cat. With the space to himself John pours a cup of tea to soothe his nerves and seeks out a snack to tide him over. He does not plan on staying in the common areas, so with a stifling mug and some biscuits in his clutches he retreats to his bedroom. He secures the door with his cane propped underneath the handle, the bell-on-string wrapped firm around it. The paranoia has won today, but John would argue he has a right to feel this unnerved. A potential murderer obsessed with him is on the loose. He cannot be too careful, even with this mysterious government security monitoring him.

Limited research exhausted, John turns his Google searches to his dream. He is surprised to find that, though he takes dream interpretations with a pinch of salt, dragonflies flying around one in a dream symbolise a significant change that is about to come to one’s life. In the dream, John recalls, he knew the dragonfly was Sherlock. He does not know how, but it was a certainty. It must hold meaning. Sherlock must be the significant change. Relating to the case, John doubts, but of their relationship, he does not want to allow himself hope. The more he thinks of it, the more he finds the notion of dream meanings insignificant and silly. It was just his mind processing information, and Sherlock has previously mentioned that specific dragonfly, so John’s brain has interpreted that as Sherlock being the dragonfly. That makes more sense, John thinks. Dream meanings may be a dead end, but there was a species Sherlock mentioned specifically. Something regal.

It does not take long to find what he is looking for with some reverse engineering. He searches for a dragonfly matching the description of the one in his dream, and his laptop spits out a name. The Emperor Dragonfly. A remarkable name for a captivating creature. It is almost a perfect match, down to the electric blue abdomen segmented by thick black lines and the green-brown tinging the thorax. Information about the Emperor provides a better picture into Sherlock’s analogy. A pursuit predator, the dragonfly watches its prey from afar, planning an attack that anticipates its every move with a counteraction of its own, designed to cut the prey off during pursuit. Extremely intelligent insects, curious and fearless not unlike Sherlock Holmes. It is extremely fitting and a much more sound explanation for his bizarre dream. Strange sentient insects are better than the graphic deaths he has seen behind his eyelids.

John wiles the time away on the internet, venturing downstairs to use the toilet and eat a short lunch at the kitchen table. Sherlock is yet to show himself, but his bedroom door is ajar, an invitation into the empty room John declines. Petulance is his only coping mechanism against the rejection, something he is ashamed of but unable to work through. It is not like he has a therapist to help him identify his feelings. Teeth gritted, John returns to his bedroom to finish his novel lest he put it down and never pick it back up again. The day continues like that and into nightfall, dinner cooked and eaten alone, but that is not an unusual performance when Sherlock is involved. John doubts he has eaten a morsel since they last ate together, but in his anger he has no concern for it. Let Sherlock deal with the consequences of his own actions, if there are any. It is not his problem. On the cusp of sleep, John opens his laptop a final time to draft a blog entry that will never be posted, one that exposes every emotion, even the ugly ones, and his opinions on the happenings in his life. Not a single detail is spared, and afterwards, watching the cursor blink at him, John feels better. He may no longer have a therapist but that does not mean her methods cannot still be employed.


Come Monday morning Holmes and Watson still have not seen one another, and John goes to work with an edge to his comportment. It dissipates the moment he steps into work, a vapour flitting towards the ceiling to pave the way for a polite smile he can plaster on during the day. Occasionally, John wonders what Sherlock is doing, if he is at the Yard exploring other avenues, finding this killer to end the torment. Kat visits him first thing in the morning, with that dazzling smile and fantastic giggle, and John gulps. Another conquest, perhaps. Katherine has been lovely to him since the start and she clearly finds him attractive. Their humour is similar and she is such a good laugh, and as John attends to patients his mind wanders; instead of Sherlock standing there it is her, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, teeth nibbling at her bottom lip with that flash of mischief in sparkling blue eyes. The thought clings, stubborn sediment to the river bed, unable to be washed away by the stream of patients through his door.

At lunch, John has made a decision. If he has not got long for this world, with a raging killer on the loose, he may as well live his life to the fullest. And Katherine is a wonderful, formidable woman worthy of the nicest attentions. She may deserve more than John, but he wants her, and has for a while, momentarily distracted by Sherlock. He waits in the staff room for her, as usual, and when she arrives it is with a burst of daisy petals and a sun-warmed breeze as she glides into the seat opposite, coffee invariably in hand. John smiles at her, and she reciprocates, her gaze wandering to his mouth, lingering there before she catches herself. She talks about an older gentleman who argued with her for half an hour, and the woman who was obsessed with her cats, how she could not wait to escape.

“To come see you.” She admits, smile turning coy, eyes flickering to the table.

“It’s always a breath of fresh air to see you.” John adds.

She says addendum, “a palette cleanser.”

“See, you get it. Unless you decide to throw up on my shoes, or demand a prescription.”

“Don’t tempt me, Doctor Watson. I might need you to test my reflexes.”

“That can be arranged.” John grins, uncaring of who might be listening. They gaze at each other, leaning in closer, their breaths mingling in the space between. A pink tongue darts out to wet lips, the other, plum coloured, drawing back to reveal teeth. Mouths hover closer still, one set of eyelids fluttering, mascara-tinted eyelashes fanning like a peaco*ck’s train.

“Doctor Watson?” The door to the staff room opens, and they pull back, Kat’s giggle a joyous tinkle as she quirks a brow at John. He groans lowly sotto voce as one of the other nurses pops her head in. “Ah, there you are! I’ve been looking for you! I have a patient here I’d like you to take a look at, if that’s okay? The problem seems a bit more serious than I’d thought.”

“No worries, give me two minutes.” John replies, wearing that tepid smile people seem to preen under. It drops the second she leaves, and Kat laughs harder. “Well then.”

“You know how it is. Work work work.”

John mutters as he gets up. “Tell me about it. I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” John glances back at her, hair haloed by the golden sunlight glowing through the window behind her, and she winks. A zing goes through his belly straight to his heart, and he beams back, as bright as those rays illuminating her.

Chapter 26: Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (23)

Sherlock still is not back from wherever he has gone when John returns home from work. Granted, he could have nipped back knowing John would be at work, but Watson is too mulish to text him. He is bone-tired, quite ready for bed. A late end to the work day had prevented him from seeing Kat before her shift was over, and too tired to cook he headed into the city solely to pick up a chippy to eat on the way home. His leg is thankfully not as bad today; painful, but only the dull annoying throb he has learnt to ignore. Some rest and elevation will work wonders, with a couple of ibuprofen if the aching persists. Belly full of warm food, John strips in the bathroom down to his underwear, wrestling lead-heavy legs into pyjama bottoms.

He brushes his teeth staring down at the sink, reflection a smudged oil painting in the taps, an abstract form of himself disconnected from reality. Right now he is tired but pleased with today’s advancements. Kat wants him too, and now he sees that Sherlock was right. The kiss was nice but a one-off. Whether Holmes is still closeted or not, that is not John’s prerogative to know, nor does he want to make it his business. Sherlock will always be unattainable, a pretty man with a magnificent brain who has no time for common relationships, and John is okay with that. Sherlock is extraordinary in every other regard, it should be no shock he is in this subject too.

John’s confidence peaks for the first instance in months. Sherlock liked him enough to kiss him, despite the baggage John has hauled into his life, and Kat wants to, he can see it as plain as the glow in her creamy skin. For now, however, he has batteries to recharge, and that involves his bed and the dog-eared novel he is a chapter away from finishing. In the morning, he will reassess his feelings, as Ella taught him to do, and go forward with certainty. He goes to bed prepared to tackle tomorrow, vowing that if Kat does not want to reciprocate his advances, he will handle it the opposite to how he has with Sherlock. And in regard to Sherlock, he owes an apology.


John gasps awake, hand clamped over his mouth. He peers out into the darkness, fear striking like a lightning bolt straight to his chest when he realises the ringing bell in his dream is real, tinkling from the other end of the room. The door handle jiggles slightly, turning in agonising increments. Finally, the door creaks, the bell pealing loud and clear, before all movements cease. John stares at it, chest heaving, when he decides he has had enough of sleeping in fear. This he can control. He flings the door open, finding a flummoxed Sherlock stood on the other side, hand raised incriminatingly.

“Hello.” He says after a moment of silence.

“What do you want?”

Sherlock says, “I thought I heard you having a nightmare.”

“I wasn’t.” John replies, jaw tight.

“Well I thought-”

“You thought wrong. Why were you trying to open the door so slowly if you assumed I was having a nightmare?”

“So that I didn’t frighten you awake. Humans are known to become volatile when frightened. And you were a Captain.” Sherlock reminds pointedly.

“Right,” John sighs, running his hand through his hair to quiff it back. Sherlock watches the motion, eyes following the curve of his hair before his gaze drops back to John. “Look, I wanted to say sorry. I behaved like a child.”

“It’s all right. I rejected you.”

“It was quite confusing, yes. Mixed signals.” He concedes, his smile more of a jerk of his mouth into a curved line than earnest.

Holmes nods. “Then we’re even.” Sherlock does not move, so John waits him out, wide awake now but no longer gearing up for a fight. “Are you doing okay? You know Crouch is free?”

John holds the door open wider, Sherlock snaking in, dressing gown dragging against John’s bare front, wafting that heady scent. Watson shakes his head. He will not fall into that trance again. He gets back into bed, comfortable enough around Sherlock now to settle under the covers. Sherlock’s back is pressed to the headboard, knees drawn to his chest but bare feet tucked into the warmth of the duvet. John’s shoulder grazes the top of Sherlock’s thigh, warm tanned skin to chilly striped bottoms. “I’m doing okay. We expected this to happen. Now I’ve got my doubts.”

“Who else could it be?” Sherlock asks with genuine curiosity colouring his voice.

“Someone random? Someone who’s attached themselves to me by chance?”

Sherlock growls. “This is the hardest case I’ve had in ages. The answer’s staring us right in the face, I know it. There’s not many I can’t solve, and I will solve this one.”

“Here’s to hoping.” John says, tilting his head back to look at Sherlock upside-down. The angle makes Sherlock appear alien-esque, his sharp features skewed but eyes just as vivid, glittering in the barely-there light sneaking around the blinds. “I really am sorry. For before.”

“Water under the bridge, John. I admit I confused myself. Now’s not the time to talk about it though. Go back to sleep.”

“Where’ve you been?” He asks, not quite ready for sleep.

“I was out solving another case. Sometimes I need a palette cleanser, and there’s little else I can research about your case until there are more updates.”

John kisses his teeth. “Do you know what happened to Mr Kingsley?”

“He’s in custody. The other gentleman is pressing charges.”

“It’s a horrible situation.”

“He knew you?” Sherlock asks abruptly, his hands fiddling with the flapping trouser leg on his shin.

“Kingsley? He was a patient of mine back in Hackney. He’s been struggling for a very long time. Delusions, paranoia, but I won’t get into it. Patient confidentiality, of course.”

Sherlock shifts, hip brushing John’s hair. “Of course.”

“I referred him on to specialists, but I hadn’t heard back from him. I moved before I could receive an update, and they wouldn’t have given me one if I’d asked.”

“Patient confidentiality.” Sherlock repeats, and now that John is not looking he can only hear the smile.

“Ten points to you, clever clogs. I did wonder what happened to him, it’s such a shame he’s not doing well. He needs help, not prison.” John scrubs at his face before tilting his head back again. “Could you help him?”

“Kingsley? How?”

“Prove to them he needs medical treatment, not a jail cell. If you can show them he was suffering from an episode of mania…”

Sherlock’s lips downturn in thought. “I can certainly give it a go, yes. If that’s what you want.”

“Yeah… it is, yeah. I can provide a report as his previous GP noting the concerns I had and the referral, but it’d have to be his current doctor to provide their own insight. Did anyone check he went to his appointments? Was a follow-up made? I left before I could have it arranged.”

“Why do you care?” Sherlock asks, earnest inquisitiveness bleeding into the question, like he has never thought of it until now. “Who is he to you?”

“Everyone deserves health and happiness, Sherlock. If I, his GP, wouldn’t listen, then who would? Who would he turn to, because even the most supportive family cannot help in situations like this, when medical intervention is required. I’m just… the beginning of many departments.”

“You’re the flick of the domino.”

“So to speak. So, will you?”

Holmes frowns. “Will I?”

“Help him.”

“It’ll take some effort. But he deserves health and happiness.”

“Thank you, Sherlock. I mean it.”

“That’s all right, John. Now go to sleep, you’ve got work in a few hours.” Sherlock slides from the bed, padding to the door. He redoes the bell from outside of the door with a bit of fiddling, and though faint, John swears he can hear him say, “I’ll do anything for you.”

Then he is gone, door shut tight behind him. John waits until he hears Sherlock reach the bottom step and head into the bowels of the house before he slips out of bed and quietly props his cane under the door handle. He is taking no chances.


John steps out of the bathroom dressed for work. “sh*t, sorry.” He gasps, bumping into Sherlock in the hallway.

“Morning John.” Sherlock smiles, effortlessly pulling away and leading to the kitchen. He sets the kettle into motion, John sourcing the milk and a packet of porridge. Sherlock dumps two pieces of bread into the toaster, cheeks stippled pink at John’s approving gaze.

“Got much on today?”

“The current case is a waiting game, so I think today I’ll go have a look at Mr Kingsley’s case and see if I can get the ball rolling with his lawyer, if he’s been smart enough to request one.”


“Well, yes, I always recommend legal aid before speaking to the police, even if you’re entirely innocent.”

“No, I meant you’ll really go see about his case?”

Sherlock blinks at him, bemused. “Oh. Yes. You did ask me to.”

“That’s a very kind thing to do, Sherlock. I appreciate it.” Sherlock shifts his weight, and in lieu of a verbal response he jerks his head in an awkward parody of a nod. Busying idle hands with toast, Sherlock elects to end the conversation there, and they share breakfast in the quiet, broken by the hushed radio, car engines and Mrs Hudson pottering about downstairs.

When it is time to go, dishes abandoned in the sink for later, they put their coats on together at the front door. “After you.” John says, arm out. Sherlock bobs his head, bouncing down the stairs and out the main entry door in one fluid movement. He moves like the flow of a river, gone by the time John has locked both doors. Walking for his bus, John’s mind is on Katherine. He has slept on it, and he feels no different. He likes her a lot, and now that he is on fair ground with Sherlock again it feels less like a rebound.

She is not there when John arrives, so he will have to wait until lunch to action his plan. Patients flow through his door, and when his fourth — a nice older gentleman — shuffles out of the room with a shaky prescription in hand, Kat bobs her head in. She grins, realising he is alone, and saunters into the room with a mug of tea. “This is for you.”

“God you’re a star.” John cups the mug between his hands and takes a fortifying sip. Made to his liking as always, and she smiles, lounging with her hip against the desk. “Y’okay?”

“Yeah yeah, it’s just…” her smiles lingers for a beat too long, seeming forced, her eyes unmatched, but then she blinks, “it doesn’t matter.”

“Y’sure? You can talk to me if you need to.”

“I know. Thank you.” She pats his shoulder, the good one, then slips from the desk to the door. “See you in a bit.”

“Can’t wait.” He smiles, but it is genuine, then she is gone. He hopes he is making the right choice. He would be quite upset if her potential rejection meant jeopardising this playful friendship they have built up, and he does not want her to think that she has been giving him mixed signals if there is nothing more to their relationship than this.

It is food for thought, and somewhat of a distraction as the clock ticks ever forward, marching them with its hushed orders closer to noon. John keeps glancing up at the clock, attempting to be surreptitious lest he be accused of not paying full attention to his patients, even though it is true. The last patient before lunch is ushered out with a smile and polite chatter, but John has already logged off his computer and follows his way out towards the staff room. The room is barren for a moment whilst he gathers two mugs for tea and collects his lunch from the fridge.

“Why don’t we go out instead? The weather’s gorgeous. For Britain, anyway.” Kat says, appearing in the doorway.

“You know what? That’s a fantastic idea.” John packs away his lunch into the fridge.

The weather is beautiful. A soft breeze combatting the beating sun sends trees and bushes fluttering, making an oxymoron: a cacophonous susurrus. Birds chitter above their heads, flitting back and forth out of the shrubbery on the footpath they take towards the hub. Kat matches his pace, and does not seem to mind at all that John has brought his cane as a friend. It is hardly a decent wingman, by any means. She chats to him about random nonsense, anything really, yet John is captivated. It matters not what she talks about, because it is the smile lighting up her face and the sun washing her eyes in a sparkle than John cannot stop looking at. His cane is the one that leads him on, preventing him from careening to the side when he cannot take his eyes away from the crow’s feet around hers or the smile lines framing her mouth. She is. Beautiful.

“What?” She chuckles coyly.

“What?” John parrots, blinking back to reality.

“You keep looking at me.”

“Am I not allowed to appreciate pretty things?”

“I’m a pretty thing, am I?” She grins so wide all of her teeth are exposed, a blush dusting her cheeks pink, visible even beneath her makeup.


She looks away, touching his arm briefly. “It’s this one here! They make the most amazing food. And their coffee is to die for!”

They order coffee and sandwiches then take a seat at one of the nearby tables, far enough away they cannot be distracted by the hissing coffee machine. The café is quaint, busy but not heaving, a steady stream of customers flowing through the door. Above it is a small bell that chimes whenever someone enters or exits, and at first John is startled, the heckles raising on the back of his neck, and he swivels in his seat to look over his shoulder. A warm hand clasps around his own atop the table, and he jolts, turning back to see crinkles of concern around those lovely eyes.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, fine. Sorry. Did you say something?”

She moves swiftly on, and for that John is grateful. “I was saying this is where everyone who works nearby goes. You’ll meet plenty people in the area coming here. It’s nice. I like it a lot.”

“I like you a lot.” John blurts. Kat’s smile widens, exposing her teeth again, and something joyful flickers like a mischievous flame in her eyes, burning away the worry.

“Oh yeah? I like you too.” She says, sipping her drink.

“I mean, like-like. Not just… god, sorry, I don’t want to make this awkward.” His hands gesticulate of their own accord.

“Do go on, Doctor Watson.”

“This is schadenfreude.” He narrows his eyes at her, and she giggles.

“Perhaps. Today I’m a sad*st, so go on. You like me a lot, you were saying?”

“Yes. I… yes I do. I think you’re lovely. More than lovely. Radiant.”

A surprised laugh bubbles from her throat. “Christ, really? This must be my lucky day. I’ve been waiting for you to get on with it for ages now. I was about to do it myself, that’s what I brought you here.”

“Do what yourself?”

“Ask you out, idiot!”

John’s mouth cracks ajar, gaping at her, and then his face lights up, dazzled, if a little flummoxed. “Really? Well, this makes my job a lot easier. Kat, will you go on a date with me?”

“Finally! Laura’s going to be chuffed!” She cackles, throwing her body back into the chair.

“Laura? Why?”

Kat dabs a speckle of coffee from her chin where she laughed. “The other nurses have been putting bets on whether you would ask me out or not. She bet today would be the day.”

“Lucky Laura.”

“Lucky me. The answer’s yes, by the way. Tomorrow?”

“What time do you finish tomorrow? I get off earlier.”

“I’m only in ‘til twelve.”

“Three for me.” John drums the table. “How does five sound?”

“Perfect.” Their food arrives, the waitress quick to scurry away when she sees the puppy eyes they cast upon one another. John does not tear his gaze away once, and he is sure that there could be a raging inferno waging war outside and he would be none the wiser, too busy cataloguing every line and freckle on Kat’s face.


“Sherlock, are you in?”

“Just a sec!” There is a distant bumping and the sound of something scraping against the floor before Sherlock emerges, smoothing riotous curls from his face, dressed in a suit but his jacket replaced by a dressing gown. “Good afternoon. You look well.”

“Thank you, I am.” John’s weight shifts between his feet, eyes averting as his cheeks flush.

“What is it?”

“I thought you would’ve deduced it in my shoelaces or something.”

Sherlock scans him. “You’ve had some good news. Personal news, but you’re embarrassed to tell me, so it’s something you think I’ll have an opinion on. Unlikely to be a promotion so soon into the job and not something regarding a patient. Your body language confirms that for me. Something more personal then… a friend at work? Ahh, I see.”


“If someone asked you out you wouldn’t be hiding the information, and after our recent… activity… you don’t want to hurt my feelings. Did they say yes?”

“They did. You’re not upset?”

Sherlock smiles at him, something between jesting and derisive. “Sentiment is a chemical defect, John. Remember that. I made it clear I do not wish to seek a relationship with you. You’re free to do what you like.”

“Honestly, that’s a relief. I really didn’t want to muddy the waters.” John sighs so heavily with relief his frame deflates, muscles he did not know were tense relaxing.

“It’s all fine, John. When’s your date?”

“Tomorrow night. I’ll probably be home late… if at all.” John waggles suggestive eyebrows at Sherlock, whose face remains blank, as if the implicit meaning has evaded him. John sighs and drops the act, making a beeline instead for the kettle, “tea?”

“Please.” Sherlock sits at the kitchen table. “Are you okay?”

“Grand, why?”

“Your shoulders are uneven. Is it bothering you?”

“Oh.” John glances down at his injured shoulder, the angle forbidding him from seeing. He rolls it in the joint, feeling stiff muscles tug uncomfortably. “Yeah, just the usual ache after a long day.”

“Let me help you. I can give you a massage.”

“You don’t have to do that.” John sets down their mugs and joins Sherlock at the table. “I’ll just do some physio in a bit, stretch it out.”

“Perform your physio exercises as usual and I will massage the site afterwards.”

“It doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice.” John chuckles. Sherlock does not laugh, however, eyes boring into John’s.

“It’s for your own benefit, John.”


“You’ve skipped several sessions.”

“Yeah, okay. Sure.” John gulps at his tea. “What have you been up to today?”

“Arguing with police over Mr Kingsley’s case. They’ll relent soon enough.” Sherlock sips at his own mug, fingers tapping against the ceramic in a pattern. His leg bounces under the table, making short, repetitive noises on the linoleum.

John does not know what to say to that, his gratitude already exhausted, for he hardly expected there to be much success with the police regarding leniency for Kingsley. He finishes his tea first, leaving Sherlock at the table, whose eyes are glazed and fingertips running along the grooves of the wooden table, deep in thought. Rather than disturb him John retreats to his bedroom to begin his physiotherapy. There is time to do a full body workout, and John works from head to toe, feeling the muscles complain, fight, then acquiesce, his tendons following suit at a much slower pace. It is painful and tiring, a light sheen of sweat glistening his exposed skin. Sherlock arrives just as John is finishing, getting to his feet after lengthening tight ankles, thigh spasming in protest.


John groans, the noise tapering into a heavy exhale. “Bit sore.”

“Come on then. Lie down.”

Thin bony fingers begin at the temples, rubbing circles into the papery skin to banish an oncoming headache. On his back, John’s eyes fall shut as thumbs trace the bags beneath his eyes, swiping from the tear ducts out towards his ears. Frown lines scored into his forehead are coaxed until lax, the motions venturing down to the shells of his ears. It is an odd but pleasant sensation, the cartilage rubbed and manipulated, a roaring noise to John but near silent to Sherlock, who staves off the headache completely. At the neck, he strokes in the divots of his clavicle, sweeps over his pecs and digs into the flesh of his front shoulder, right at the junction where his armpit forms. Each arm is pulled out to its full wingspan so the hurting muscles can be loosened from the biceps and triceps to bony wrists. Details are paramount to Sherlock, and this is no different; he works his way across the cordy tendons that enable movement in John’s fingers, thumbs circling his palms. Every part of John is given attention, the doting massage strange but too relaxing to be analysed.

Once Sherlock has tackled the mulish thigh that jumps under his touch, John is encouraged to roll onto his stomach so his back, calves and feet can be addressed. Similarly to their last encounter, Sherlock sits on the bed at John’s side, cross-legged, leaning in so close that his breath disturbs the fine hairs at the nape of John’s neck. Ignoring the usual pain associated with massages on knotted muscles, Sherlock is exceedingly gentle with him, only applying the absolute necessary pressure needed for John to fully feel the benefit.

“Thank you, Sherlock. You really are good at that.”

“You’re very welcome. You’re looking so much better now. Not that there was something wrong with you before, but you look healthier, less drawn. You look good, John.”

“I appreciate that Sherlock. I feel a lot better, even if this case isn’t any closer to being over.” John sits up, his body so relaxed he feels like he is floating, “especially now that you’re in my life.”

“Likewise. Where are you going tomorrow?”

“Not sure yet. I’ll see if there’s anything on at the cinema.”

Sherlock scoffs. “The cinema is boring and unoriginal. Wait here,” John obeys, fondly bemused as Sherlock leaps from the bed and clomps down the stairs. He is only gone for a minute, and when he comes back he holds slips of paper in his hand. “Try this.”

He first passes two large tickets to a performance, and when John is confused, frowning, Sherlock hands over a brochure for a show called the Chinese State Circus. A two-hour long show filled with history and culture and incredible skill. John laughs. “Yeah, this is much better than the cinema. How did you get tickets?”

“I know one of the performers. You may as well use the tickets up. They aren’t going to be in London long.”

John glances up at him. “You’re sure?”

“They won’t be used otherwise. Please. Take them.”

“Thank you, again, Sherlock. You’re so generous.”

“I don’t hear that often.” Sherlock looks away, clearing his throat. “Anyway, the name is under Holmes.”

“Brilliant, she’ll love it. Anyway, dinner?”

Sherlock smiles. “Starving.”


Having texted Kat the revised plans, though keeping the exact location a secret, Watson spends the time after work getting ready. He checks his reflection again for the umpteenth time, as if making up for all the times he has avoided the mirror. Now he actively seeks it out, ensuring his hair is smoothed down as he wants it, teeth sparkling, clothes tamed. He wears tight chinos, the posh ones he never wears for work, as well as a nicer button-up shirt that he leaves undone at the top. The temperature is mild enough not to require a jumper, but he keeps his shooter jacket slung over his arm for after the show. On his feet are a set of brown brogues buffed to perfection he reserves for dates, watch on his left wrist and phone tucked into his trouser pocket. John looks good and feels good. The massage has done such wonders that he decides against bringing his cane. Not that he feels ashamed of it — not anymore — but for one evening he wants to feel sexy, an equal.

Sherlock is not home when he comes downstairs, so John locks up the flat on the way out, taking a cab into the city to meet with Kat. She is waiting for him there, even though they are early. “Hi!”

“Good evening. You look stunning.”

“Oh, wow, thank you!” She giggles, swaying on her feet abashed and gesturing to him. “You look so handsome. Where are we going then?”

“Do you like the circus?”

“No way, the one that’s in town?”

“Oh, you know about it already?”

“I wanted to go but I couldn’t get tickets! Is that where we’re going?” In lieu of a verbal answer John pulls the tickets out of his pocket and slides them out like a fan of cards. She takes them, reading the small print, and looks up with twinkling eyes. “No way!”

“Right this way, gorgeous.” John holds out his arm for her to link hers through, and she giggles again, joy effervescing uncontrolled out of her throat. As they walk towards the theatre, she rests her head on his shoulder.

Being so early, they line up at the concession stand for drinks, each getting a large glass of wine in plastic solo cups. There is already hubbub in the foyer so they chat to some of the other patrons, complimented on their relationship and proclaimed by a younger woman to be ‘such a cute couple’. Kat cannot wipe the grin from her face, gabbing away to another woman as John and her partner listen politely, as men tend to do. When everyone is ushered to their seats Kat begins to murmur about other circuses she has been to. John can barely hear her, but he understands the gist just from watching the emotions on her face slide across a scale of shocked and elated. Her hair is bouffant, forelocks swept back off her face, but the rest of it is left loose, framing her pink cheekbones.

Kat’s makeup is light and tastefully done, eyes coloured in beiges and a pale strike of purple accented along the crease. Long black eyelashes frame her bright irises, mouth painted a rich pink to compliment the eyeshadow and the purple, floaty blouse she wears. Jewellery completes the look, bangles jangling on her wrist, a large rose ring on her middle right finger. John’s eyes rove unashamedly from top to toe, halting Kat’s words like a train screeching to a stop.

“What, is it too much?” She asks, tugging at the ends of her hair.

“No. No. Not at all. You are so beautiful.” John breathes.

“I must be for how many ways you’ve told me.”

“You deserve to hear it. You just always look so lovely, even in scrubs, or like this. My mum used to say something funny: you’d look good in a binbag.”

“Likewise, Doctor. Your shirt brings out your eyes, though I’m not entirely sure what colour they are. Brown, blue? It’s so hard to tell.”

“Very dark blue. You might not be able to see in the low light.” Kat leans in closer, her eyes flickering between his. He can feel her warmth, sees the tiny jerk at the corner of her lip, before she moves in and kisses him. No more than a chaste peck, lacking the passion he had shared with Sherlock but just as sweet. Her lips are soft and taste of artificial flavouring from her lipstick, the tang of wine on the tip of a brave tongue that darts out a second time to kiss him again.

“Christ.” He breathes.

Her grin is positively impish. “I’ve been wanting to do that for weeks.”


“John.” There is movement to Watson’s right, a man dropping down into the empty seat beside him.

“Jesus Christ!” John startles, leaping back. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I had a third ticket. The police are ignoring my calls.” He sneers.

“Not now.” John growls through gritted teeth.

“Who’s this?” Kat leans around John, curious.

“Kat, this is Sherlock Holmes.”

“Evening.” Holmes nods his head at her.

She smiles at him warily, bobbing her head back. “Hello.”

Sherlock sits back in his seat out of view of Kat, who sends John a bemused look. He cannot say more on the matter as the show lights go down, plunging them into darkness except for the stage floor. Kat leans into John’s side, not quite touching but spreading her body heat towards him, cup of wine held in her lap. There is an explosion of sound and colour, the space coming to life as performers flood the stage in glittering traditional costumes, as dramatic as Sherlock. John and Kat murmur to one another in awe of the various acts, thoroughly enjoying the show until Sherlock tilts his body to join the conversation.

“Did you know all of the performers are trained in the Chinese tradition Ma Xi, despite their shows lacking in any animals?”

“What’s Ma Xi?” Katherine asks.

“Hippodrama.” Kat shakes her head, not comprehending, and Sherlock sighs, earning a warning nudge via John’s foot. “Horse theatre.”

Kat nods with her mouth open in a silent ‘ah’ then sits back, arm resting in line again. Acrobats flip and whirl, all of them landing perfectly, their bodies a precise art, seemingly made of steel and ocean waves, fluid yet solid all in one dizzying dichotomy. A few minutes later, Sherlock presses to John again, eyes on him but addressing them both.

“Alongside acrobatics, there is a blend of kung fu martial arts stemming from the Shaolin Temple and artists from the Peking Opera, the most dominant form of Chinese opera. It adds mime, traditional dances and acrobatics to musical performance, which lends itself well to the circus.”

“Wow, really.” Kat says flatly, not quite rude but indicative of her annoyance. John, unsurprised, sees the lack of understanding of the clear social cues in the keen interest of Sherlock’s expression. As a way of guiding he presses his index finger to his lips and Sherlock submits with a frown, slumping defeated into his seat.

That is only the beginning, however, as Sherlock’s leg begins to bounce, vibrating through the floor and up into the row of seats, disturbing the entire aisle. Sherlock seems not to notice, hands clasped in his lap but fingers restless, flicking against one another like hyper molecules. It is almost like he is itching to be up there performing with the acrobats, his eyes wide with boyish glee. John returns his focus to the show, bravely taking Kat’s hand in his and intertwining their fingers.

A dragon made of six men leaps onto the stage, vibrant and met with raucous applause. Through it, Sherlock leans in again. “The dragon dance is more than two-thousand years old, originating in the Han Dynasty to encourage rain during the drier seasons. Its movements are said to simulate the fluidity of water, and can be made from cloth, paper or bamboo. Whichever is used as the main material names the dragon; bulong, zhilong or zhulong.”

“It’s gorgeous.” Kat breathes, mindful of the surrounding audience members.

Sherlock continues, “the colour of the dragon represents something different, but they are always benevolent symbols of power, thought to bring luck and prosperity to the people of China.”

“Shush, Sherlock. Other people are trying to watch.” John says sotto voce, inches from the shell of Sherlock’s ear. Holmes shuts up, but his leg never stops bouncing, fingers dancing around his body as though puppeteered by a separate entity.


John’s feet shift continuously, giving the illusion that he is swaying. He stands to one side, tucked away from the crowd but in view of the women’s toilets, tiptoeing the edge of the main hub of activity. “Sherlock, piss off.”

Sherlock bristles at his side. “What? This is only the intermission.”

“I’m on a date here. You said you were okay with this!” He hisses.

“I am okay with it!” He exclaims defensively.

“Well go away then! Or shut up.”


“No, Sherlock. Either keep your trap shut or go home.” Sherlock’s mouth works for a second, a noise caught in his throat, before he curtly nods, turns on his heel, and disappears into the crowd. With a sigh, John shakes off the unsettled feeling blanketing his stomach and smiles as Kat approaches.

“Oh, where’s your friend?”

“Ah, he had to go. He works with the police and I think he was called in.”

“Oh, right. Shall we go back in?”

John links arms with her, inclining his head towards the door. “After you.”


“God, that was amazing! Thank you for bringing me.” Katherine gushes, practically skipping from the theatre.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was pretty spectacular.”

“Go on, what was your favourite bit?”

“Hard to choose. I liked all the dancing. It was very clever how they tied it all into the acrobatics. The music was brilliant too. What about you?”

She cannot contain her excitement, shrieking, “the dragons! I’ve always loved watching them on the telly, but they’re even more magical in person.”

“They don’t even look real, with the way they move.”

“I know! That’s what I thought!” They walk out onto the main street into early evening, not quite dark yet but approaching twilight. “Hungry?”

“There’s a nice place in Marylebone, close to Regent’s.” John suggests.

“Lead the way.”

They dine in the Natural Kitchen, sticking to conversational topics that are neutral, such as work and the performance as Kat giggles about one of the audience members. She does not ask about John’s past or his leg or the lack of cane, nor does he tell her, listening to her rant about her mother and sister and their adamance for her to find a boyfriend ‘before it’s too late’.

“God, sorry, am I talking too much?” She says after a few minutes, sipping at water to quench her dry throat.

John’s smile is reassuring, the twinkle to stormy eyes matching his joviality. “Not at all; I’m enjoying listening to you.”

She waves her hand at him, remembering to eat another forkful of her food, so similar to Sherlock. “No, I am! Go on, tell me about you. What do you get up to outside of work?”

“Not much really. I moved here from Hackney and I’m still settling in.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Who was your friend?” She asks around a mouthful.

“Sherlock? He’s my flatmate. I’m sorry about him, by the way. He can be so oblivious.”

“It’s fine. I had a lovely time. And this restaurant is nice too. I’m glad we’re here.”

“Me too Kat. It’s so nice to get out of the house, and with a pretty lady no less.”

She mock gasps, clutching an invisible pearl necklace. “Lady? Beg your pardon!”

“My bad,” John laughs, palms raised placatingly, “would you prefer fit bird?”

“Oh f*ck off!” She laughs from the chest, shaking her head as mirth clouds her eyes. “Bellend.”

“I’ll take bellend over ugly.” John snorts. “If I’m a bellend, what is Sherlock?”

“Oh no, I don’t want to say anything. He just looked like he wanted to join in, but Christ he’s clueless, isn’t he? Someone kept giving us dirty looks.”

“He’s not very well liked.” John admits, though he has heard that more than witnessed it.

“Why do you live with him then?”

“I disagree with other people. I think he’s great. Severely lacking social cues, but he means well. He’s so clever and sweet.”

“Sweet?” Her mouth downturns in interest.

“Mm, he’s a detective. Takes cases on for free sometimes.”

“Oh. You did mention the police.”

“Yeah, he’s a consulting detective, so he doesn’t exactly work for them, but my god he loves to prove people wrong. He can be so-”


Watson looks up, expression draining into horror-filled shock, skin paling two shades. “Frank.”

“It’s been ages! Where’ve you been?” Frank exclaims, his voice too-loud in the small restaurant, gathering the attention of fellow diners.

“What are you doing here?” John asks lowly.

“Nate’s been asking for you. Did you block him again? Just give him a call Jay, yeah?”

“Is he here?” Watson swivels in his seat, surveying the room as Kat watches on bemused, eyes tinged with worry.

“Nah, he’s back home. Go see ‘im, would ya?”

“Might do.” John says for the sake of getting rid of Frank. He glances at Kat then back up at the man.

“Nice to see you mate. I know when I’m not wanted. Have a nice night with your… friend.” Frank sends Katherine an odd look, eyes lingering a moment too long around the neck of her low-cut blouse. He saunters off, and John stares after him.

“Who was that?” Kat’s voice is thick with flummoxed incredulity.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m really sorry.”

“Are you okay? You’ve gone white as a sheet.”

“Fine. Don’t worry.” John clears his throat, finishing off his glass of wine.

“We can leave, if you want? I’m done here anyway.”

John’s eyes refocus back on her and he smiles. “Why don’t we go for a walk? It’s still mild out.”

“Mm, that sounds lovely.” Her reassuring smile holds no pity, and John shakes off the pit of dread seeding in his stomach, flagging down the waitress for the bill.

They leave together, holding hands, Katherine beaming at the gesture, her thumb stroking against his knuckle. The route is short, and the darkening sky bleeds pinks and purples, a zingy stripe of clementine highlighting the windows of the high street. For a while they are quiet, reaching the park to the sound of chirping birds and smacking trainers on the pavement as children play football nearby. They chat about the ducks, laughing as the kids begin a silly fight over penalties, meandering around the large pond that encompasses a portion of the park. As they are walking, Kat looks up and snorts, attracting John’s attention, who follows her line of sight.

Sherlock comes from the opposite direction, marching towards them with a purposeful stride. “John!”

“Oh for f*ck’s sake.” He mutters, earning a short laugh from Katherine.

“You’re still out? I thought you would’ve gone home by now.” Sherlock says to Kat. She blinks at him. “Anyway, I have an update on Mr Kingsley.”

“Who’s that?” Kat asks.

Sherlock turns sharply to her. “His schizophrenic patient who tried to kill someone. Well, nearly did, he stabbed someone.”


“John jumped in to help, ended up covered in blood.”


“And when we got home we kissed. Partially an adrenal response, but nonetheless enjoyable.”

“Sherlock! Shut up!” John yells, chest puffed. Kat shoots an alarmed look, eyes all wide, and he chuckles nervously, hand rubbing the nape of his neck. “That’s enough now, Sherlock. Go home.”

“But the case-”

“Isn’t mine.”

“It’s fine. Police stuff is important. It’s getting late anyway, I don’t want to miss the last bus.” Katherine says, her entire demeanour changed.

John’s expression crumples. “Oh no Kat, don’t go, it’s not important.”

“No, honestly. It’s fine. I’ve had a wonderful evening, John. I’ll see you in work, yeah? I won’t be in tomorrow though.” She pecks his cheek, John’s protests cast off by the wind as she walks away, heels clicking on the pavement.

Sherlock scarcely waits for her to leave, not even watching her go as he turns to John. “So, the case. The police have finally-”

“Shut up.” John spits.


John storms off towards Baker Street, teeth gritting when he hears those quick oxfords catch up to him. “What the f*ck was that Sherlock?”

“She asked who he was.” He replies lamely.

“You told her we kissed! You told my f*cking date that we kissed! Why?”

“Are you ashamed? I deduced it John, she isn’t hom*ophobic.”

“Are you being serious? This is for real? You really don’t know what you’ve done wrong?” John’s laugh is sardonic, dipped and dripping in venom.

I didn’t know you were going to be here. I was coming back from-”

“Sherlock, I don’t give a flying f*ck.” John stops and whirls around. “For once, just one night I wanted to pretend I was a normal bloke. Is that too much to ask? After everything?”

“She was too dull for you anyway. Your intellects do not match.” Sherlock retorts, speaking as though it is an obvious fact a child would know.

“Oh f*ck off!” John bellows, startling Sherlock, who recovers in a second to place a mask of indifference over his expression. “It is not your right to decide that! You made your stance clear on us, you don’t get to f*cking interfere! Were you jealous?” John does not wait for an answer, picking up the pace, gait uneven with his pique. Sherlock has the mind not to keep up, watching as John enters the flat ahead and slams the door shut behind him. He is gone when Sherlock steps inside.

John paces his bedroom, fishing for his phone. He dials Kat’s number, listens to the ring over and over. “Hi, this is Kat. Leave a message!”

“f*ck.” John throws his phone on the bed, temper rising like mercury in a thermometer, blood-red and tempestuous. He strips down to his trousers and undervest, gathering loungewear and his towel. A shower will do him good, will calm down his rage lest it peak to a level he has not experienced in a while.

The pile of items in his hands are gripped so tight his knuckles are bloodless, bone-white and tremulous to match the spasm of his thigh. John flings the bedroom door open and almost socks the man stood sheepish on the other side. “f*ck off.”

“I’m sorry.” Sherlock pines pathetically.

“I said f*ck off. Go investigate the case some more if it’s so important, but leave me out of it!” John growls, pushing past Sherlock so that their shoulders bump deliberately. Sherlock stands there, silent, and watches him go.

Chapter 27: Chapter Twenty-Four


Content warning for graphic descriptions of violence and death. You have been warned.

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (24)

The phone rings, blaring in the small office, startling Greg from his reverie. He snaps to attention, sitting upright in his desk chair and grappling at piles of paperwork, dumping them into other messy piles so he can access the telephone.


“Lestrade, I’ve been trying to reach your mobile.” A baritone voice gripes impatiently.

The alarm hidden in the irritability has Greg perking up. “Sherlock? What is it?”

“Have you seen John?”

“John Watson, your flatmate?”

“Yes, obviously.” Holmes snips.

“Can’t say I have. Why?”

“I can’t get hold of him, and he didn’t show up to work.” Sherlock says in one rush of breath.

Greg frowns, checking the clock. Ten o’clock. Were it not for Sherlock’s unusual comportment he would have told him to just wait for a few more hours. “Right. I’ll be over soon, okay? Are you at Baker Street?” Sherlock provides a mumble of affirmation. “I’ll be there in no more than half an hour.”

Sherlock waits, pacing the floor, wearing tracks into the area rug. The noise disturbs Mrs Hudson, who comes to investigate, but when she admits she has not seen John in a couple days she is shooed away. The flat is much too quiet, two armchairs empty and a kindled fire waning, taking its final spitting breaths in the hearth. As promised, Greg’s boots clump up the seventeen steps no more than thirty minutes later, moving quicker than his regular pace but not fast enough for Sherlock. Lestrade’s breath toes the line of panting, and he looks to Sherlock with crinkled eyes and tightly set lips.

“Go on then, what’s happened?” He asks through his exertion.

Sherlock’s teeth are gritted, and from them he spits, “John’s missing.”

“Missing? How?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes, but Greg can see the lines of tension creasing around his eyes, the corners of his mouth drawing inwards. “I haven’t seen him since Wednesday evening; he’s gone.”

“Well, couldn’t he have just taken the day off?”

“It’s been two days, in case you hadn’t noticed,” Sherlock inhales, holds it, then releases it slowly. When he next speaks his voice is softer, belying his deeper concerns. “I rang the surgery, but they said he hasn’t been in. He would’ve contacted them to say he wasn’t coming, I know he would. It’s just…”

“What, Sherlock? What is it?”

“Well, with Crouch being released… I’m worried.”

“Right.” Greg drops heavily onto the couch. Sherlock continues to pace, fingers steepled below his chin, but his hair is wild, eyes manic in a way Greg has not seen since he showed up high on illicit drugs to a crime scene, back when they were first becoming acquainted. “Tell me exactly what happened. When was the last time you saw him, more accurately than just that evening?”

“Wednesday night he went on a date with a colleague, to the circus. He came home late, he went to bed, I haven’t seen him since. He isn’t answering his phone, and he hasn’t been to work. He went in yesterday but not today. It’s weird.”

Greg’s PNB is pulled from the depths of his jacket, perched on his knee with a pen poised over it. “He went to the circus, you said? Do you know the name of his date?”

“Katherine. Goes by Kat. I don’t know her surname. I… do have something to admit.” Sherlock wrings his hands, eyes struggling to waver higher than Greg’s nose.

“What’s that?” Lestrade asks calmly despite the peal of alarm bells in his gut.

Sherlock exhales shakily. “We argued. I had three tickets to the circus, and I went too, after John, and he got angry at me, told me to leave in the intermission.”

“And did you?” Greg writes this down on the small page.

“Yes, and then later on I bumped into him in Regent’s, whilst he was still with Katherine. He was angry that I was there again. We went home, he shouted at me, and that was the last time I saw him.” Sherlock looks stricken at the thought, skin paling before Greg’s eyes.

“What makes you think Johnathan Crouch has something to do with it?”

Sharp eyes turn on him. “It’s awful suspicious, don’t you think, Lestrade? Crouch is released, the same week John, who was openly against him, goes missing. I swear to you, Lestrade, there’s something going on.”

“Does John have any family you know of? Outside of-”

Sherlock shakes his head. “Just his sister Harry.”

“What about this Katherine, do you have her number?”

“No, but the surgery will.”

Greg pockets the notebook and withdraws his keys, dangling them aloft. “Let’s go have a look then, shall we?”


Sherlock is tetchy in the car, only accepting a lift as Greg is not in the cruiser. The unmarked car glides through traffic, but even Greg can feel the floor lurching like an undulating wave due to Sherlock’s jiggling leg. The tension has ramped higher now, Greg’s knuckles bloodless on the steering wheel. He has no reason for concern yet, but Sherlock’s nervous energy rolls off like curling licks of steam, permeating into Lestrade’s smoke-blackened lungs. Greg opens the window, taking a few deep drags of the fresh air as he pulls into the surgery car park. Sherlock is out and marching towards the entrance before the car has even stopped, and Greg curses, parking and hopping out.

He reaches the tail end of an exasperated conversation between Sherlock and the receptionist, and steps forward with his ID out. “Good morning, I’m looking for Doctor John Watson.”

The receptionist, a middle-aged woman, glowers at him, eyes flickering down to read the card. Her face slackens with surprise, paying no heed to the grumbling line of patients waiting behind them, one lamenting Sherlock’s rudeness audibly. “As I just told your… colleague, he isn’t here. Didn’t show up for work, didn’t call. No show. These bloody doctors…”

“Can I speak to his boss? Are they available?” She withers for a moment, fingernails scraping the edge of the desk upon which she leans over awkwardly. Greg presses on, wearing his most dazzling smile. “Please? It’s a police matter.”

“Is he in trouble?”

“He might be if we aren’t quick. We need to speak with his boss, now.” The misinterpretation of her question has the woman gaping, but she grasps at the phone, pressing a button and holding it to her ear, eyes averted from the men.

“Ah, hello Mrs Weatherby, I have someone here for you.” There is chatter down the end of the phone, rising a watery smile from the receptionist, who whispers insistently, “it’s the police. About Doctor Watson.”

Greg flashes another smile for good measure as she puts the phone down. “She’ll be right with you.”

“Thank you for your help. Sherlock?” Lestrade guides Sherlock away from the desk where he was drumming a tuneless rhythm. They linger adjacent to the desk out of the way of the main hallway traffic. Not even two minutes later a harried women heads towards them, sweeping her hair from her face.

“Are you the police?” She asks gently so not to be overheard by the occupants of the waiting room.

“Detective Inspector Lestrade. May we speak somewhere more private?” He shows her his ID again, and she peers at it with a stricken expression.

“Of course,” she says, leading them back from where she came, “is Doctor Watson in trouble?”

“We’ve just got a few questions is all.” She lets them into her office, taking a seat behind the desk whilst the two men sit opposite. Sherlock’s spine is whip-straight, eyes scanning the room. For the moment he seems content for Greg to lead.

“Right, Miss..?”

“Susan Weatherby.” She rises back up to shake his hand, but Sherlock looks away, refusing her outstretched fingers. She coughs and sits back down. “What seems to be the issue?”

Her hands fuss at papers on her desk, not able to keep still, rising to play with her lanyard then the tips of her loose hair. Greg smiles placatingly. “When did you last see John?”

“Erm. Let me think. Tuesday?”

“When was the last time anyone else here saw him?”

Her expressions sours. “I’d say yesterday, when he left for the afternoon.”

“Did he have any other patients to see to that day, out of office?”

“Perhaps. I can check?” Her head tilts, hand hovering over her computer keyboard.

“Yes, please.” Greg replies.

“He didn’t show up for work this morning.” Sherlock states, glancing once more around her office before pinning her down with his stare.

She clears her throat twice, eyes firm on the screen despite her fingers remaining stationary. “No. Highly unusual. He’s always punctual.”

“Who do you think was the last person to see him?” Greg asks.

“I’m not sure. I’d assume the reception staff on the way out.”

“Did you know Katherine and John were dating?” Sherlock asks abruptly.

Weatherby blinks. “I- no. I did not. We don’t encourage workplace relations here. It interferes-”

Sherlock scoffs, leaning towards her. “Relax, Mrs Weatherby, we aren’t senior management. I need Katherine’s details from you. Her number, most importantly.”

“Oh. Of course.”

“Can we see her?” Lestrade asks.

She frowns at the monitor. “I don’t think she’s in, she’s got a long weekend I think.”

Greg nods, “I see. Was this time booked off?”

“Oh, no, she’s part-time. Only works Monday to Wednesday. And the occasional extra days.” Weatherby clicks through the system, landing on the information she was looking for. Greg jots down the number in his pocket notebook, wrapping up the conversation with Susan, providing contact details for her to send additional information to him, whereas Sherlock does not even nod his head at her, flouncing from the room.

In the corridor he pulls out his mobile, typing in the number he has just memorised. “Sherlock?”

“I’m calling Katherine.” Lestrade raises his hand out, the office door shutting behind him.

“Sherlock, wait. Let’s keep this official, yeah? In case there is something. Let me call her.” Huffing, Holmes relents, cancelling the number before it can dial. He recites the number aloud for Lestrade to punch into his phone, and they begin to walk back to the car as it rings.

They are just opening the car doors when Katherine answers. “Hello, is this Katherine Smith speaking?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“I’m Detective Inspector Lestrade, have you got a minute to talk?”

“Detective?” She sounds bewildered and wary.

“Indeed. Have you heard from John Watson at all?”

“John? No. Not since Wednesday night.” Greg switches to loudspeaker, making no move to start the car. “Is something wrong?”

“John didn’t come into work this morning. Do you know anything about that?”

“No. As I said, I haven’t heard from him since Wednesday night.” There is an edge to her tone, like she cannot wait to get off the phone, and in the background there are indistinguishable noises. Sherlock’s jaw tightens as he casts his gaze out of the passenger-side window.

“All right, thank you for your time, Katherine. Can I reach you on this number if I have any more questions?”

“I- yes. Of course. John’s okay, right?”

“We’re just trying to figure out where he’s gone off to. There’s no cause for concern at the time being. Goodbye, take care.” Greg clicks off the call, head tipping back against the headrest.

“You lied.” Sherlock says.

“Did I?” He asks, genuinely bemused.

Holmes lolls his head towards him, an ice-hot glare striking Greg’s spine with a shivering bolt. “You’re not concerned? Where’s John, Lestrade?”

Greg sighs, ever the exasperated parent to Sherlock’s wayward behaviours and high expectations. “All right Sherlock. We’ll keep trying. We’ll try his sister next. Her number’s in the system. You coming?”

Sherlock clicks his seatbelt into place. “Obviously. Get a move on.”


“Weatherby’s replied. Says John was out doing rounds. His last stop was Dalston.”

Sherlock blanches. “On the outskirts of Hackney.”


“Crouch lives in Hackney.” Sherlock reminds him pointedly.

“I’m going to call Harriet Watson first.” Greg uses the office phone, pressing the numbers in from her file on the computer. He raises it to his ear, and says, “if she doesn’t know where he is either, then we’ll look into it, okay?

Sherlock slumps back with a puff of breath. Fingering the tassels of his woollen scarf, the one scrubbed clean after being soaked in blood, he listens to Greg’s clipped conversation with Harry. He cannot hear her side, but from the disappointment clouding Greg’s expression she has no idea where he is either. Greg thanks her and hangs up with a shake of his head. “She hasn’t seen him in weeks.”

“You have Crouch’s address?”

“Yes, but-” Greg’s mobile rings, shrieking across the small room. He pulls it from his jacket pocket, frowning at the number. “It’s Katherine. Hello?”

Sherlock perks up with interest as Greg shoves the phone into his shoulder so he can locate a pen and his PNB from his jacket pocket. On it he writes an illegible scrawl that Sherlock scoffs at before Greg thanks Katherine and hangs up.


“Katherine recalls an unknown male approaching her and John on their date. Apparently he referred to John as ‘Jay’ and claimed Crouch was looking for him.”

“Where was this, at the circus?”

“No, a restaurant called the Natural Kitchen.”

“That’s in Marylebone.” Sherlock leaps to his feet. “Lestrade, we need to go to Crouch’s. I’ve got a bad feeling. Gather your team.”

“Sherlock, I can’t just-”

“He’s gone missing, Lestrade. Nobody’s seen him since yesterday, but I haven’t seen him since Wednesday. This is out of character for him, and he’s a disabled man. He couldn’t have gone far. Does that not strike you as cause for investigation? Especially now that Crouch is free and we still haven’t found the killer connected to John?”

Greg sighs. “I was supposed to meet up with him last night.”

“What?” Sherlock whirls around from the door to regard him so fast he blurs.

“For drinks in the pub. I know it’s morally wrong to do so.”

Holmes takes two steps closer to the desk, not quite a threat but screaming of danger. “Well, what happened?”

“He wasn’t answering his phone so I came to your flat to see if he’d just forgotten or something, but there was nobody home. I assumed you two had gone out together.”

“I was here investigating another case.” Sherlock growls at him, teeth flashing, and he spits, “you’re telling me this now? Get your men on it.”

Greg’s cheeks expand with a great breath, released audibly as he sits up. “Okay. Yeah. I’ll get the team together. Sit tight, unless you want to listen to the debrief?”

“Yes. I want to be part of it all. Do not contact Crouch, we don’t want him knowing we’re coming.” Sherlock’s jaw ticks, and he follows Greg out of the room into the bullpen, where Greg’s team are shuffled into the debriefing room down the corridor from his office.

A warrant is requested to apprehend Johnathan Crouch in his household, with permission to break down the door if necessary. The warrant allows them to search the property too, and seize any evidence they might find. Sherlock paces the back of the room, teeth worrying the edge of his thumbnail, his soft footsteps on the carpet earning several displeased looks from the constables. He pays them no heed, eyes flickering like dying lamplight between the floor and the board of information posted for all to take note of. There is a photo of John, his mugshot from when he was booked for the murder of Peter Adams. Beside it is Crouch’s photograph, also a mugshot, their glares discomfiting to those they stare down upon. Within half an hour, Greg receives a grant on his warrant.

“All right folks, get ready. We leave in ten.” He announces, stirring a flurry of activity. Sherlock pushes through the crowd back into Greg’s office, who adorns his suit jacket but no additional protection.

“I’m going with you.”

Greg blockades the door, earning a glower so fierce for a single second he thinks his body might cow instinctively. He holds firm, arm raised against the doorframe. “I can’t stop you, but do not interfere, understood? This is our department. For John’s sake, yeah?”

“You say that like you think something’s happened.” Sherlock says, eyebrows permanently pleated.

Greg sighs, “I just know what you’re like. Let them do their jobs, all right?”

Sherlock says nothing, which is as good as an affirmative in Greg’s eyes, and they move towards the car park, a team behind them, some in riot protection vests, two in plainclothes and the rest in constable uniform. Sherlock shotguns in Greg’s car, leg jiggling harder now, his foot in a perpetual bounce. The skin of his fingers is bitten raw, the usually unblemished skin irritated by nicks of his teeth. Lestrade glances at him, lines on his forehead prominent, mouth pursed tightly. They do not speak on the drive, a long line of cruisers and unmarked cars creeping like snakes to Hackney, Greg’s at the front. He parks in a side road a few streets away from Crouch’s flat, sending the plainclothes on ahead to assess the area.

Upon receiving the confirmation needed Greg ushers the group to follow, and in a line they creep towards the property. Those in riot gear are sent to the door first. One of them knocks several times, but there is no response. “Police! Open the door or we’ll break it down!”

The command is repeated twice more before it is announced: “move back! We’re breaking the door down!”

“Get the big red key.” The enforcer, a large red battering ram, is passed along, no time wasted in bashing it close to the lock. Each swing knocks a bigger hole into the door, the enforcer swapping hands once before the door acquiesces.

Police swarm, wasp-like, buzzing with energy. Some yell into the house, the men in riot gear taking the stairs to the upper bedroom, whereas the constables flood the downstairs. Sherlock is among them, sweeping into the house. He follows a lone constable to a closed door. It is shoved open to reveal a kitchen in disarray, and both men stop in their tracks.

“We have a casualty, call an ambulance!” The constable falls back to call for help, and Sherlock is left alone. He drops to the tiles, pressing his fingers to a limp wrist.

There is a gasp behind him, but he cannot tear his eyes away from the body. “Sherlock?”

“f*ck!” Sherlock goes for the neck. “John? Can you hear me?”

“sh*t. Let me try.” Greg nudges him to one side, feeling around the pulse points. He too curses, falling back on his knees. “Should we attempt CPR?”

“It’s too late. He’s gone.” Sherlock moves to the other side of John’s body, grey and bloodless.

Glassy eyes stare sightlessly up at the ceiling, skin devoid of all colour. His jaw is slack, mouth gaping as if gasping for a final breath. John’s head is cradled in a blanket of wet blood, thin trails of it seeping into the tiles to form truncated rivers in the grout lines. The source of the blood is located behind his ear, a large gash gargling scarlet and fleshy. A flash of white is visible, albeit cracked like road lines on a map, skull exposed and stark against the sea of crimson.

“Jesus Christ. Come on Sherlock. Get away.”

“Can’t.” Holmes whispers, trailing a thumb along the blooming petals of purple and blue across the thin skin of John’s temple. There are several cuts, small lines no more than a couple millimetres wide, but his right cheekbone is deformed, flat where it should be peaked and swollen where it should dip, his lower lid sagging to expose the underside of his eyeball.

Greg yanks Sherlock to his feet by gripping underneath his armpits, having to haul him from the room. In the hallway Johnathan Crouch is being bodily escorted down the stairs in cuffs. Wide eyes spot the scene behind Sherlock and Greg, and he yells out, hair wild and breath ragged. “What the f*ck! What the actual f*ck is that?”

Lestrade blocks the view with his frame, meeting Nate at the bottom of the stairs. “Johnathan Crouch, you’re under arrest for suspicion of murder. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.”

Sherlock storms forward, grabbing Johnathan’s ratty shirt collar. He pulls him close, eyes rabid and sparking like a struck match, teeth bared. “What the f*ck did you do to him? What did you do to John?!”

“Sherlock! Back down!” Greg wrestles Sherlock away, fingers pried free from the material. “Let him go!”

“I didn’t kill him, oh my god. Oh my f*cking god.” Crouch repeats the statement over and over as he is lead out to an awaiting cruiser, washing his face in the too-bright reds and blues.

Lestrade pulls Sherlock out of the house, forcing him to look away from the distant sight of John’s sprawled body, his hands clamped over Holmes’ shoulders. “Sherlock? Sherlock! Listen to me. Are you listening?”

“Hm? Yeah.” Sherlock’s eyes rove over his face, but they are glassy and unseeing, the visual data not meeting his brain. There is a tremble to his lips, and Greg’s heart pangs in sympathy.

“Go home, okay? You need to go home. I’m going to call your brother. Do you need help getting home?” He speaks slowly, loud and clear, waiting the few seconds it takes for Sherlock to process the question and form a response.

“No, no. I can do it.” Sherlock shakes Greg’s arms off, waving his hands around to put space between them. “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure? I can get your brother to come pick you up?”

Sherlock glances over his shoulder at the now-closed front door, fingers tugging at his scarf. His fingernails are white, tension coiling spring-tight in his rigid frame. “Where will he be taken?”

“Sherlock, stop it. Not this time. Go home.” Greg demands, his tone brooking no argument even without physical contact. Sherlock would surely lash out if he were touched now.

Where?” Sherlock growls, unrelenting.

Greg stammers wordlessly, subsumed by the flashes of fire and challenge in Sherlock’s grey eyes. “Bart’s, probably. Seriously, Sherlock, leave it be.”

“I want Molly Hooper on it. She did the other two — Christ — she did Adams and Thompson. She’ll do John’s too, do you understand?” Holmes is manic, swaying on his feet, incisors flashing animalistic with the promise of bloodshed should anyone deny him.

“Yes, okay, I’ll make a note of it. Now please!”

Sherlock stumbles away, raising a hand to protect his eyes from the relentless red-blue projections upon his pallid skin, now almost as colourless as John’s. He heads down the street out of sight, and Greg feels his lungs clammer for more air, chest tight, wound up and heart pounding, nausea rising in his throat. He does not go back in, sending forensics to the kitchen to photograph the scene. Instead he finds his phone in shaking fingers, listening to the ring then waiting to be transferred.

“Mr Holmes? Sherlock needs you.”


Days blur into one muddy brown mess, flecks of grey marking the hours. Sherlock’s involvement in John’s case is forbidden, but it does not stop him attending every meeting and tugging every thread of evidence he can get his slippery fingers on. He is there when Molly Hooper — the mousy special registrar — does the autopsy, leaning against a bare counter out of the way despite his eyes boring tangible heat onto her skin. She is careful with John, thorough too, making sure this time not an inch of his body is overlooked, unlike Ella Thompson’s.

John’s right cheekbone is smashed to a pulp, the bone there fragmented like shattered glass. A large crack in the shape of a lightning bolt has carved itself up from the site to his eye socket, explaining the sunken tissue of the lower lid. Several teeth are cracked but intact, with an anomalous missing tooth on the left side of his mouth; further tests conclude its absence in the contents of his stomach either. Sherlock is rather keen to have that included in the report, with a note declaring its similarity to the previous two unsolved murders.

In addition to these injuries, John has several fractures: excluding the cheekbone and eye socket there are also damages to his clavicle, fifth and sixth ribs of his right side, the eighth left false rib and his right ankle. Corresponding to the broken bones, there are contusions littering his body like smudges of paint, random markings from his ankles to his scalp, some even hidden under his hair, all of them a nebulous palette of indigo and cobalt.

John’s official cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head.

“Did he suffer, Molly?” Sherlock’s voice echoes too loud in the otherwise barren room. It feels like a disrespect, and blessedly, from where Sherlock is standing, it looks like John is simply sleeping, if one is to overlook the bruising. Molly works her mouth wordlessly, eyes on the large Y sutured shut over John’s torso. “Be honest.”

“It’s hard to say, Sherlock.” He implores her to continue with urging eyes. She sighs softly. “The bruising would suggest he fought at the end of his life. He certainly received a battering, but the head injury suggests a rapid if not instant death. Take that as you will.”

“Can you fast-track the report? Please?” Sherlock’s eyes are round and red-rimmed, waterline heavy with grief.

She dips her head. “Of course. It’s my top priority. But Sherlock?” His eyes dart up to hers. “Go home and get some rest.”


Sherlock paces the office, managing seven steps before he has to turn back on himself. His audience of one shakes his head, scrubbing at his hairline. “I said you weren’t to get involved.”

“No, you said interfere. I’m only asking for what you’ve found so far. Hardly a detriment to the case.” Greg wavers, stopping Sherlock in his tracks. “Lestrade, just tell me.”

“Fine! Christ. I mean we didn’t need much anyway, his defence is f*cked. All that circ*mstantial evidence, it’s open and shut. We went looking instead f-”

“-you were building a timeline, yes, I know how it works. What did you find?” Sherlock’s voice carves into a sharp icicle of impatience, his RP accent even more enunciated.

“John’s phone was last recorded in Dalston, where his last job was for the day. It was turned off after he received a phone call.”

“From who?”

Greg fiddles with the corner of a file on the desk, feeling rather than seeing Sherlock’s prompting look. He keeps his gaze earthward when he replies, “you.”

Sherlock’s inhale comes addendum with a noise of epiphany. “That’s why I kept getting his voicemail. I wanted to know where he was.”

“Right, yeah. Well, he turns it off and that’s all we have. His phone was found in Johnathan’s flat. Unfortunately, due to it being a residential area, there’s no CCTV available. We have footage of him exiting the surgery, and then he’s gone. His last confirmed whereabouts are with that final patient.”

“So he saw the patient in Dalston and then just disappeared?”

“In the eyes of technology, yes. There was something odd, though.”

“What?” Sherlock’s eyes flicker, and if he were a dog his ears would be perked.

Greg mumbles to himself, rifling for a slip of paper in the slight folder of John’s case. He tugs it free, passing it over the desk. “On Sunday John’s phone pinged in Hackney. Do you have any idea what he was doing there?”

“No.” Sherlock snatches the paper to read through it.

“I texted him around the same time, warning him that Crouch had been released. And offering to go to the pub. Surprised I haven’t gotten into trouble for that.” He puffs out a breath from rounded cheeks.

“He was there before he received that text?” Greg nods, taking back the phone records to tuck into the folder. “Is there anything else?”

“We got Crouch talking. Granted, it was all nonsense, but he got himself a psych analysis.”

“What did he say? I’d have thought his lawyers would have shut him up.”

“Oh they tried, but he was harpin’ on the second we opened the door.” Greg beckons Sherlock to his side of the desk where he pulls up the footage from Crouch’s interview.

The room is bare, stripped back to the necessities. Crouch sits furthest from the door, head in hands, slumped over the surface of the table. His lawyer, a stern man with one leg crossed over the other knee, writes notes and whispers at Crouch. Greg scrubs through the video, speeding past ten minutes of waiting before him and Seargent Donovan enter, make their introductions, and sit down.

Crouch looks up, gasping for breath, open palms planted on the table. “I don’t know what the hell is going on! I must’a gone crazy, ‘cause I swear to youse I did not kill him! I were sleepin’.”

No attention is given to the sharp hisses of advice coming from the lawyer. He begins to cry, snorting and sobbing like foraging swine. “I’d never kill my Jay, never! What the actual f*ck is going on! I need help, I don’t remember it… I don’t remember.”

Greg cuts the video there, sinking into his seat as Sherlock sighs deep and frustrated, standing to his full height. “Yeah,” Lestrade responds.

“His defence will claim it was accidental, but there was clear evidence that he tried to help at least briefly,” says Sherlock.

Greg narrows his eye. “How do you know that?”

“Please,” Sherlock scoffs derisively, “I’ve seen the forensic photos.”

“You shouldn’t have, you know.” Greg shakes his head, heels of his hands digging into his eye sockets before pulling them away to look up at Sherlock. “Tell me what you saw.”

“Crouch had been drinking. John shows up unannounced, surprises him. They get into an argument and it turns into a fight. Crouch swings first, John tries to deescalate. He was pushed into the kitchen counter and either punched or kicked repeatedly until he went down. He tried to get back up, and in a drunken rage he bashed John from behind with a rolling pin. Sound familiar?”

Greg sighs. “Peter Adams.”

To further demonstrate his point Sherlock snatches the file from the desk before Greg can prevent him, laying down several photographs taken by forensics. They show a countertop of alcohol, blood around the area, a rolling pin sullied by a telltale crimson substance thrown to one side. The scene is contained within one half of the kitchen, the other side showing no indication that there is a crime scene a mere two feet away. Greg frowns down at the pictures, asking, “why would John go there in the first place?”

“I think he was debating a visit in secret at the very least on Sunday. As you said, he went to Hackney the day Crouch was released, he knew he was going to be beforehand; I’d told him we’d run out of time to provide substantial enough evidence to extend his custody. So he goes on Sunday, has a look around, and Wednesday night an old friend of Crouch’s approaches him to let him know he’s being sought after. I can’t tell you the reason why John went, I’m not as omniscient as you believe, but it isn’t that far out of character.”

Greg kisses his teeth loudly, helping to regather the photos. “You said he tried to help?”

“Molly put it in the report. John died almost instantly. So he’s lying there, unmoving, and Crouch panics. John was partially rolled over and there were streaks of blood where he’d tried to either compress the wound and slipped on his knees or clean the blood. Hard to tell. Yet in all that time, from John dying to our ambush, he never once called for medical attention. It’s further evidenced by the clothes and the tea towel. You saw it. He dumped his bloody jogging bottoms in the hamper and the tea towel in the sink and went to bed with John just lying there.”

Greg takes a swig of lukewarm coffee, grumbling at the bitterness. “He’s being held in custody until the trial. f*ck knows when that’ll be, but there’s no argument there. It’ll be a sentencing, they can’t possibly talk him out of this one. His lawyers are good, but not that good.”

“They won’t be fighting for a contest to the charges, don’t be stupid. They’ll argue manslaughter.”

“It’s automatic life though, still. It’ll be a miracle if he ever gets parole.” Greg finishes his coffee and dumps the cup in the bin, getting to his feet with a groan. “Regardless, it’s out of our hands now. You’re to go home and let it go. See a therapist, move on.”

Move on?” Sherlock repeats incredulously, voice filled with confusion and a tepid anger that has settled over him like blanketing snow since John’s death — tinging his skies grey, falling silently upon him until he becomes impacted with it and he unleashes pent-up emotion onto the closest outlet, usually the police and his landlady.

“This case could take years, Sherlock. You can’t be fixated on it for that long. We caught him, and he’s going nowhere, okay?”

“Caught too late.” Sherlock spits, vitriolic acid to Greg’s wearied alkaline.

Lestrade softens, body settling over his desk, hard lines blurred for Sherlock’s comfort. “I know, and I’m sorry it cost John’s life. But no more now, okay?”

“What about Adams and Thompson?” Holmes presses, ignorant to Greg’s adamance.

“It’s being investigated still, but I doubt much’ll come of it. We’ll probably only get him for John.” Greg pats his shoulder. “You’re too close to this, and I don’t want you, even with good intentions, compromising John’s justice. Leave it be now.” Sherlock opens his mouth, brows pleated, but Greg’s hand raises to silence him. “Leave it, Sherlock. Off you go.”

Coat tucked close to his body, Sherlock turns abruptly on his heel and storms out of the office, fury whetted by the dismissal and palpable in the thick air of the busy bullpen. Greg throws his body back into his chair, grappling for the telephone on the desk. He taps in the number from memory and holds it up to his ear, listening absently to the ring. “Hello?”

“Hi, this is Detective Inspector Lestrade requesting to speak with Mr Holmes.”

“I’ll just be a moment.” The line goes silent, and twenty seconds later the woman chirps, “patching you through now.”

A crisp voice greets him in dulcet tones. “Good afternoon, Inspector.”

“Afternoon Mr Holmes. Just a quick one. We’ve got as far as we can with John Watson’s case, but I’m worried Sherlock’s gunna stick his foot in it, so to speak. I told him to go home.”

“But you do not trust he has done so.” Mycroft states dully, sounding distracted and almost bored. His younger brother is the sole cause of their continued correspondence.

“Exactly.” Greg exhales into the receiver.

“Not to worry, Inspector. I shall check on him personally.”

“Much appreciated. Bye now.”

“Goodbye.” Mycroft Holmes sets the telephone back into its cradle and stands from his desk. He collects his coat and umbrella but leaves his work satchel in his office. Outside, he greets his PA with a polite nod, informing her tersely, “I’ll be out of the office for an hour maximum.”

“Yes sir.”

Mycroft’s chauffeur is idling at the kerbside when he exits the building. They ride in silence to the familiar location on Baker Street, Mycroft’s hands resting atop his umbrella, fingertips drumming rhythmless. The foyer of 221 is silent, but that does not deter Mycroft. He takes each step with deliberate elegance, skipping entirely the creaky sixth step and reaching the top to a closed door. He does not knock, entering through the sitting room. Initially one may fail to notice signs of life in the room, but Mycroft takes another step inside, spotting the tips of Sherlock’s shoes.

“DI Lestrade called.”

There is no response. Mycroft stands adjacent to John’s armchair, tapping the ferrule of the umbrella on the floor beside where Sherlock rests. John’s cane is leant foreboding against the armrest, and in Sherlock’s lap sits a trinket box. Upon a cloth is a strongly scented polish, which he runs along the muzzle of a SIG SAUER.

“He asked me to come check on you. Said he’s worried.”

Sherlock sets the gun down inside the trinket box, where a space has been left for it, nestled among a battered confederate cap, a frayed lanyard missing its identification card, and a dog-eared photograph of John Watson and Johnathan Crouch. Mycroft stares down at it, twirling his umbrella, releasing a heavy yet clipped sigh.

“I warned you what would happen if you got too close, didn’t I, Sherlock?”

Chapter 28: Chapter Twenty-Five


The finale is here. Thank you everyone so much for sticking through with me on this journey, and I’m so sorry for the shock of the last chapter. I didn’t expect this to get much attention so when everyone rooted for John I was like uh ohh… I know what’s cominggg…

Anyway, here it is. The answers to your questions. Enjoy. Lots of love, Jaye.

Chapter Text

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (25)

John storms into the bathroom, the door slamming shut behind him. With his pyjamas dumped on the toilet cistern he takes a moment to grip the sides of the sink and lean over it, taking deep breaths before he behaves rashly. A shower will do him good, wash away the anger in swirling puddles beneath his feet, down the drain and out of his mind so he can return to the world calmer.

Sherlock is gone when John emerges dressed in his pyjamas, but his bedroom door is fully shut and John is sure he heard movement when drying off. He is glad for the peace, and makes himself a cup of tea in silence, finding that biting, seething heat in his stomach no longer a roiling tsunami but a small wave — unthreatening for now but inclined to subsume anyone who may underestimate it. He drinks the tea scalding, the burn on his tongue a reminder to back down from the precipice of embarrassment of his date. Whilst he stands there, drinking under the beginnings of silvery moonlight, John pulls out his phone and thumbs through for Kat’s contact.

Hiya Kat. Hope you got home safe. I’m so sorry about my friend. That wasn’t fair to you. I hope I can see you again, I really enjoyed your company, but I understand if you don’t want to. John xx

He debates the kisses, deciding he may as well, that there is little to lose. Not having Kat as a potential partner is no true squander, but to lose her as a friend would be devastating. He gets along well with his colleagues and can have a laugh with anyone at work but no person has truly bonded with him the way Kat has, and he would be very sorry to have underhandedly jeopardised that.

There is no reply when John’s tongue reaches the tangy dregs of his tea, and with a sigh he relents for the night. There is little point ruminating over Katherine’s thoughts and feelings until he has confirmation, something he has learnt from Sherlock. He goes around clicking off the soft lights and closing the curtains in the living room before he heads to bed, firmly locking and checking the two front doors on the way. Inside his bedroom he shuts the door tight, waiting for the click, and attaches the bell, his cane propped beneath the handle lest Sherlock try to enter. Shuffling through the dark John tiptoes over the sugar circle and flops into bed, groaning into his pillow like a lovesick teenager.

Morning comes too soon, burning John’s corneas with its beckoning call, forcing him awake from a restless sleep. He feels bone tired, more mental than physical, except when he swings his legs over the bed there is a wobble to his gait. A spasm rends his thigh, pulling a gasp from his lips that he does not stifle. He hobbles for clothes, taking the steps one at a time, each step purposeful and licked with the snake-tongued sandpaper of pain. The front door key is slipped from John’s dressing gown pocket, quietly unlocking the kitchen door, Watson stepping through to sling his clothes over the back of one of the chairs. The flat is quiet, the curtains still closed, and upon the table is a handwritten note, twig-thin letters sprawled indolent but firm on a scrap of paper.

John, can we talk later? Text me. SH

With a grimace, teeth bared, John walks around the note. That nipping reminder of his failed date last night stirs an ink swirl of anger within his stomach, something that he quells with tea and toast. The tea, left to cool unlike last night, warms him from the inside and whispers a warning to remain calm, get through the day. John leaves his phone, barren of notifications, on the table to shower in peace. Under the hot spray he probes the starburst of tissue that mars his left shoulder, little of which he can actually feel. His body still feels limber from the massage, but his thigh aches, mulish in reminding him why using his cane is necessary. Mint toothpaste scours the tender tips of his tastebuds scorched from the too-hot tea last night, but he does not regret it. John finishes, drying himself slowly, taking his body in sections, all the while avoiding the foggy mirror.

Sherlock’s bedroom door is closed when John emerges, and he cannot remember if it was before. There is nothing he wants to say to him, not now, not so soon after the debacle; therefore it is cast from his mind in favour of readying the flat for the day and beginning his commute to work. Today he will concentrate on his patients, no matter how mundane their ailments, and stave off any negative thoughts regarding Kat. He is almost thankful she is not in today, that he does not yet have to confront it head-on, but there is that lingering afterthought that Sherlock is awaiting his response.

The day is boring, nothing more interesting than a benign skin tag and week-old stitches to remove from a young gentleman, but sprinkled within those hours are calls from Sherlock, each one going unanswered. John leaves the surgery early to perform his call-out appointments, spending his afternoon between houses and a care home, hopping from one sweaty bus to another. By the time his work day has ended in Dalston John has grown tired of public transport. The weather is nice, sunny if a bit breezy, but his jacket puts paid to that, and he decides to walk home. Kat is yet to answer his message, and John is becoming increasingly more annoyed with the buzz of Sherlock’s insistence, so he switches his phone off and takes a peaceful path away from the high street home.

A detour into Regent’s is just what he needs. There are scarce groups of people milling about, so John takes his time, submitting, for once, to the sturdy security of his cane. A light breeze wicks away the spiky heat of the sun on his skin, less arid than in Afghanistan, and John breathes it in, filling his lungs with the sweetness of sap and the acrid tang of the duck pond. He walks the perimeter of the water, which glitters impishly at him, mallards and swans greeting him in hopes of food.

Capillary waves susurrus at the concrete boundaries of the pond’s edging, near-silent except for the more raucous perturbations caused by the birds bobbing atop the water. John stalls there, watching without really seeing. His stomach grumbles, having skipped lunch today, too nauseous to eat. He thinks back to preparing dinner with Sherlock in 221B, sharing looks and heat and giggling over the hob, the sparkle in his eyes as they sat across from each other; so close, close enough that had John been braver, he could have extended a foot, stroked it along a bony shin.

He thinks of Kat in the restaurant, her laugh so alluring, lipstick making her mouth seem so wide and inviting. He had wanted to kiss her, right there, claim her in front of everyone. He had wanted to hold her hand in the park, perhaps kiss her there too. He had wanted to take her home, to his or hers he did not care, and do more than kissing, but Sherlock had stopped it.

John pauses at the edge of the water. Sherlock. It is always Sherlock. He is at the centre of it all. The one who provided the tickets, the one who suggested where John take his date. Then he was there, at the circus, butting in on their date — he had known it was such, John had told him explicitly not one day before. And what was he doing out that late, coming from the wrong direction? Where had he been? John’s left hand trembles, fisted tight and shoved into a pocket, out of sight, out of mind. There is a seed of doubt there. Sherlock said he was not busy, and yet there he was, at exactly the right time. When John had almost taken Kat home. Earlier, too, those times he picked John up from the surgery. And today, the note, plus the litany of phone calls prompting John to switch his phone off. Jaw ticking, John leaves the park abruptly, stride striking hard against the pavement, causing two teenage girls still in school uniform to jump out of his way in surprise. John barely hears them, does not really even see what is in front of him, driven home on autopilot. The outer door is unlocked when he reaches it, banging against the wall behind with a clang. The whole thing seems to wobble in fear, but John pays it no heed, slamming it shut and frogmarching seventeen steps in one inhale.

There is nobody home when he reaches the top, but the living room door is unlocked.

“Mrs Hudson?” John shouts. He steps out onto the landing, leaning over the bannister to look down the stairs. “Mrs Hudson, are you in?”

Silence prevails. A growl, animalistic and uncontrolled, rumbles from the base of his throat, and he storms back into the flat. He starts at the desk, pulling back reams of paper Sherlock never bothers to clean up, pushing knickknacks aside and flinging open the drawers. He empties each one, all tipped out over the floor, not caring about the mess it makes. It is not much messier than what Sherlock produces on his own. John looks under the desk, the coffee table, the two side tables. He feels beneath the fireplace, removes the mirror from the wall. What exactly he is looking for is unclear, but there is something not right, and he cannot rest assured until he has investigated. His gut tells him this is important, and his gut feeling has saved many men during his army career. It is Groundhog Day, searching another flat for more evidence he does not think he will even find, for a threat he cannot prove, one he knows is there, watching him, waiting to make a move, to strike when he can do nothing. He is indefensible.

Sweat pumps from his body as it is ravaged by hormones, threatening to cow to emotion. John runs upstairs to his bedroom, throwing off his jacket in the process so that he can cool down, feeling slightly hysterical and stuffy in his own skin. The coat is left strewn on the bed as he fetches his gun, keeping it close to his side. He heads back downstairs, checking Sherlock’s room first for signs of life, but it is empty, bed made and window closed. Over the roar of blood in his ears, Watson moves back into the living room, tucking his gun into the waistband of his work trousers. He carries on where he left off, stepping over what he has already examined. The armchairs return empty, encouraging John to search the wall housing the fireplace more closely. There are five rows to both bookshelves either side of the mantel, each so laden with books they bow threateningly. Atop each bookcase are more books, stereos, one of those oddly defunct printers Sherlock has never gotten rid of. Random bits of junk, spreading like wildfire as tall as can manage.

There is a sizeable gap between the top of the shelves and the ceiling, but John has no doubt that were there more space to do so Sherlock would have filled that with bric-a-brac too. Among the various collections Sherlock has acquired there is absolutely nothing to suggest that John’s intrinsic feelings are correct, but he keeps looking anyway. He tries to think like Sherlock; through heaving chest and pebbled skin, he takes a step back, looks at the finer details of the bigger picture. Dust, only a thin layer, rests upon some of the shelves, undisturbed. He should not look there. The right bookshelf is the one most often used, and John delves deep into it, picking through novels and tomes without much luck. The first three shelves are uncorrupted, and John drags the desk chair up to it so that he may peer into the shadowy depths uninhibited.

Stepping up, adrenaline rushes through his veins, robbing his thigh of its cry, dampening all sensations not pertinent to his survival. And what an odd way to think; that he may be in danger in his own empty flat, no different to his bedsit in Hackney. The adrenaline courses impetuous still, rampaging through arteries and ransacking capillaries, all that movement and yet nowhere to go — nothing to pour into. John uses his eyes, first, as Sherlock has taught him. He uses a blank white screen on his phone to illuminate the dichotomously busy but quiet bookshelf. So full of life yet untouched. Or… perhaps not as untouched as John expected. Among the dust motes and thick encyclopaedias, there is a break. The tops of books are clean, wiped free of the thin blanket that filters everything grey, and not in a random pattern either; it is methodical, deliberate. John breathes shakily, pulling away two of the hardbacks that look as well-used as the ones on the first shelf.

John grips the edge of the bookshelf, feeling himself teeter with vertigo despite not moving an inch. “sh*t.” He pulls back several more books, tossing them carelessly to the floor, half-blinking at the sounds of impact. “What the f*ck,” he whispers to himself.

There, innocuous, with nary a blinking light, sits a camera. A rolling camera.

The camera is sat on a book, aimed into the room, particularly at John’s armchair, though he cannot say for sure without reviewing the footage. He tries to yank it down, but there is a cable connected to it. Between thumb and index finger he follows the cable up and into the back of what he thought was a defunct computer. It is, in fact, a UPS — an uninterruptible power supply — so that it does not need to be plugged in, though the battery on it would not last very long. Such rudimentary technology would still require a digital video recorder to examine the footage, or even store it at all, but there is no additional box connected. John rips the camera free from the UPS and turns it upside down, finding an in-built DVR. Cradling the camera in one arm, John steps down onto unpredictable legs to sit at the kitchen table. The DVR, he finds, is hidden behind a slide-away piece of plastic screwed into the bottom of the device.

Watson upends the kitchen, not sure where else to look, to find a screwdriver, or even a knife with a tip small enough to fit in the screw-head. Hidden in the back of one of the drawers is a screwdriver kit, with various heads included. Feeling a thrill up his spine, zinging fast through tingling skin and out his fingertips, John drops into a chair and pulls the camera to him, the kit flung open. It takes a few attempts to find the right fit, John hunched over the minuscule area like a stray dog protecting its food. There is no head the perfect size, but the next closest grips well enough, though it has a tendency to keep slipping. Cursing sotto voce, he starts to pick at the edges of the plastic cover with the flat fringe of the tool.


Jerking, John grazes his hand along the sharp edge of the bevelled plastic where he has almost pried it open, jumping to his feet. “Ow, f*ck!”

“John? What happened?” Sherlock takes one long stride to his side, peering down with alarm writ across the cutting lines in his forehead.

“Did you do this?”

“What?” Holmes squints.

John makes a strained noise in the back of his throat, gesturing wildly to the mess atop the table. “The f*cking camera! Don’t lie to me. Just be honest.”

“Camera? Let me see!” John steps away from the chair so Sherlock can replace him. He curses at it, John watching as his heart pounds just as intensely as it did in Afghanistan. “Mycroft. I’m going to kill him! That wretched maggot.” Sherlock growls. He turns to John, mouth open, when he frowns. “You’re bleeding.”

“What?” John looks down, ribbons of blood trickling down and pooling in his sleeves. “Oh.”

Sherlock snatches the camera to his chest, examining it as intently as a crime scene. He does not look up as he speaks, moving to the front door. “There’s a first aid kit in the bathroom. I’m going to see my berk of a brother about this. Are you all right?”

John blinks, fuzzy with shock, but he answers automatically, “I’ll be fine. And Sherlock?” Sherlock stops in the doorway, only his head turning back. “We’ll have that talk when you come back, yeah?”

“Of course.” Sherlock inclines his head, camera bundled into his coat. With that he is gone, and John stumbles into the bathroom.

He hisses as water contacts the laceration. Short and not too deep, certainly nothing that requires sutures, yet oozing a fair amount of blood. A clean flannel is sacrificed, wrapped around the fleshy distal palmer, where his fingers meet his hand. Compression staves off the worst of the blood, sullying the white cotton, and John is pleased to wrap tight gauze around it and move on with his day. Though Sherlock seems to have caught their culprit, John does not feel comfortable remaining in the flat. He is still in his shoes, but he remembers he left his jacket upstairs. The flat is in disarray, but he leaves it, heading to the living room door.

“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.” John rattles the doorknob, but it stands firm. He rounds the curved wall to try the kitchen, but that too is locked shut. His keys are in his jacket. “f*ck!”

To release some of the energy surging through his body, John pounds on the door. The outlet does little to soothe his glowing anxiety, bioluminescent and clawing for his attention, so he spins on his heel. He recalls, with startling clarity, that Sherlock has a lock picking kit. John marches for his bedroom, grateful he at least has his gun, feeling eyes on him that are not there. John opens the window, gasping into a breeze that picks up outside, and with that invisible breath cooling the sweat on the nape of his neck, John dismisses personal boundaries and searches through the bedside drawers. A few defunct phones lay dead in the base, Sherlock’s iPhone charger incompatible, a packet of tissues — nothing of use. John looks through the other side, finding an unopened pack of chewing gum, an empty notebook and a paperback book on bees. His eyes well with frustration, not wanting to but starting to be overcome with vexation.

With little else to do, John clambers onto hands and knees and feels blindly under the bed. He finds nothing, so he pulls the bedside table out of the way, jolting at the loud clatter it produces. He sticks his hand out, shaking, and pats at along the floor behind the beside table. His fingers hit something solid, and he pulls it free. At first he is not sure what he is looking at. A box, ornately designed, beautifully crafted. In the light it shines bronze and gold, and a small shake produces a rattle of items inside. There is a lock on the front, and for a moment John freezes, feeling as though he is still being watched. He turns to look over his shoulder, but there is only himself. Shaking it once more, John hears the same rattle, but there is an underlying sound. Held up to his ear, John hears it again: glass.

“Jesus,” he exhales.

There are few other explanations for a former addict living with a doctor to hide a locked box containing glass behind his bedside table, none of which shout innocence. Sherlock’s comportment makes sense now: the unpredictability, the irrational erratic behaviour, his constant energy, the ability to run on such little sleep without irritability. Contrasting moods between self-induced starvation and uncontrolled binging. The possessiveness over John but the lack of action. Watson swallows a lump in his throat and gets to his feet. He needs to know what is in the box. This is now his top priority; there is little else he can do, locked inside as he is.

He dashes back into the common areas, peeping out of the front windows at the busy street during rush hour, pedestrians and schoolchildren swarming the pavement, but no Sherlock. No noise downstairs either. He returns to the kitchen, feeling like he is spiralling out of control. Found among the junk in the kitchen drawer was a set of pliers. He takes them, and without hesitation, nonetheless wobbly, he slips the thumb-sized padlock between its gaping jaws and clamps down as hard as he can. The metal implodes, shattering the lock. John drops the pliers to the table and twists the broken lock from the looped mechanism.

He opens the box, and promptly collapses to the floor.

“f*ck f*ck f*ck,” he says to himself, clutching his head. “What the f*cking f*ck?”

Only when John has a slightly better grasp on his faculties, when he is no longer hyperventilating into the linoleum, seconds away from fainting, does he get up. His body falls heavily into a chair, hands shaking so hard at first he misses the contents of the box, knocking into the side of it instead. Watson has a lot more to worry about than drugs now. He changes his mind, pulling back his hand and retrieving a rubber glove Mrs Hudson keeps next to the sink. Then, eyes misted, John lifts out a fabric flag hung by a wooden dowel and string. Upon it is a quote by Carl Jung. He places it down on the table, lifting out a suede and leather confederate hat with the two golden shotguns placed in a cross front and centre. Next comes a lanyard, the identification card bearing Doctor Ella Thompson’s name detached, the edges of the lanyard frayed and striated.

“Oh god,” John whispers as he plucks out a photograph, the top corner keeled in on itself. He smiles up at himself, wearing a woollen hat, Nate grinning at his side, lights twinkling around them. Nate, on such a night, who had showered him in love and made him laugh until his sides hurt. Nate, the one who had yelled and cursed and thrown things. Nate, the one he kicked out, when the laughter turned to tears and hope was lost. Nate, the one he thought capable of murder. Nate, innocent.

John’s right hand drops to brace against the table, but knocks instead into the trinket box. It clinks, drawing his attention. He does not want to, but feels he has to. He looks inside, peering over the edge like a child on a bridge. Nausea rolls from his stomach up his oesophagus, and he whimpers, pushing the box away. A glass jar, primarily used for storing liquid makeup, contains two teeth. Both molars, one a dusty gold.

Leaving everything as it is, John goes back to Sherlock’s bedroom, the unforgiving floor cold and hard on his knees when he kneels, but he does not care, needs to know, needs to check. The gun is pulled out of his waistband and set aside behind him where it cannot be accidentally triggered. He shines the torch beam into the murky space, a suitcase concealing a brown slip. John pulls that free, checks inside the suitcase. Nothing, unimportant. He tosses it back under the bed. The brown slip is a manilla folder with his name printed on it. He flips it open, kneeling awkwardly in Sherlock’s too-quiet room with blood booming in the shells of his ears. At the top is a pinned note.

Burn this when you’re done.

It is not Sherlock’s handwriting. He rips it away, eyes scanning down the paper so fast he has to stop and reread. Every little detail of his life has been written down. Records as far back as the hospital he was born in, a copy of his birth certificate, school reports and grades from primary school through to university. Reports from his commanding officers in the army, notes on his conduct, lauding him and recommending his promotion to Captain. Details of the men he rescued, the ones he could not. Most of the information here John did not even know existed until now. Text messages between him and Nate, his sister, friends. Records of family deaths, it just goes on and on.

He flips the page over, and the breath is knocked from him once again.

A piece of paper, annotated, with a hand-drawn layout of his Hackney flat, detailing the exact positions of every lock, motion sensor light and salt line. It has details about the common contents of his food cupboards, his timetable at the time, as well as labels as to where his most personal items were stored.

“John? Where are you?” The living room door clicks and groans, allowing Sherlock entry. “John?”

Watson clambers into the kitchen, legs as useful as a newborn fawn’s. “What have you done?”

Sherlock looks from John to the table and back. His skin drops several shades. “John, I-”

Eyes wet and voice tremulous, John asks, “why do you have this?”

“I-I didn’t want them ruining the e-evidence,” Sherlock stammers, blinking rapidly.

John takes a deep breath, scrubbing at a runaway tear. “Don’t. Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not lying.” John tries to walk around him, out of the front door, but Sherlock blocks him. “John, listen to me.”

“I trusted you,” John whispers, head down but eyes looking up at Sherlock, full of fire and ice and pain. “What the f*ck have you done?”

Sherlock’s face crumbles, eyebrows sinking towards his eyes, bottom lip wobbling. He opens his mouth, webs of saliva at the corners, and he swallows thickly. “Everything I do is for you.” Tears flow from his eyes, soaking his cheeks and dripping from his chin onto his coat, like a switch has been flipped, the dam broken. “I did all this for you.

John thinks he might vomit. “How long has this been going on for?” Sherlock weeps harder, sobs wracking out of his frame, shaking his shoulders and juddering his chest. “Sherlock… are you the one who broke into my flat? Did you take my things?”

“I didn’t mean-”

John talks over him, enraged but unable to raise his voice, the whispering danger a siren call to Sherlock’s morality. “How long were you watching me? Stalking me? Weeks, months?”

Sherlock grasps the doorway, snivelling for a moment before he composes himself, a mask falling over his features that rids the emotion; swaps it out for a hard etching of fury that has John’s heckles working on overdrive. “Do you remember when you first came home, John? You weren’t ready to be transferred yet, but they did it anyway. You caught an infection, in the hospital. I was there, on a case, and I saw you, John. You captivated me. You looked so small in that hospital bed, all alone. Do you remember John? I doubt you do, you were insensate.” He chuckles sardonically, but in a flash it contorts into something ugly, fuelled by hatred.

“But I do. I remember. And I vowed to protect you. So I kept tabs on you, made sure you were doing okay. I watched you move into your little bedsit in Hackney, start a new job. I was so proud of you. And then he came into the picture.” Sherlock growls, spittle flying from his mouth. “He took you, changed you, made you think he was the one. I had to sit back and watch it happen, do you understand what that did to me? At first I agreed with Doctor Thompson, you had to get away. And you did. But then that co*ckroach neighbour next door got worse, didn’t he? And I knew I had to step in, I couldn’t watch you suffer anymore, so I started leaving traces of myself. Your guardian angel.”

“Sherlock,” John’s voice cracks, barely above a whisper, “did you kill Peter?”

“It had to be done.” Sherlock replies. “He couldn’t continue to get away with it. He was tarnishing you, John. Making your days hellish.”

“And Ella?” A tear drips from John’s wobbling chin. “What did she do wrong?”

“Oh, John,” Sherlock smiles as if he is naught but a silly dog, “she didn’t want you to be with me. She was trying to get you to push me away. She was planting seeds of doubt in your head.” Sherlock taps John’s forehead gently with his finger, and John gasps.

“You murdered her, because-”

“You weren’t supposed to know any of this, John. I am sorry you found out this way. Come sit down and we can talk about it.” Sherlock gestures to their armchairs, ignoring the mess of John’s creation.

“Sherlock,” John’s plosive is sticky with upset, “I need to leave now.”

Holmes blanches. “You can’t.”

“Sherlock, move out of the way,” says John, his voice firmer now. The horror is swirling black, a thundercloud about to strike.

“John, think rationally. Don’t do anything stupid. This is- I did this all for you, can’t you see?” Sherlock laughs incredulously.

“You killed them! What the f*ck! You f*cking killed them!” A sob rips through John’s throat, and he gasps in an attempt to stifle it, breath shuttering in his chest.

Sherlock grasps his arms, his grip a vice around John’s biceps, fingertips digging into the muscle painfully. “John, please don’t leave! I can fix this!”

“Fix what, Sherlock? You can’t bring them back! Was Johnathan next? Or was, oh god,” John pushes weakly at Sherlock’s hands but they remain firm. He stammers, feeling lightheaded. “He was going to take the fall for it, wasn’t he? You were setting him up.”

“After what Crouch did to you, it was only fair he be punished.” Sherlock spews, spittle flying from his mouth again.

John, verging on hysterical for the second time this evening, starts to giggle, earning him a bemused look. “I noticed that, you know, but I never said anything.”

“What?” Sherlock blinks several times in rapid succession.

“You’ve never said his first name, did you know that? You always call him Crouch.” Braver, now that the truth is out, John adds, “were you jealous? Did you not like that we shared a name? Did you think I’d never find out?”

“I would have told you.” Sherlock insists, wearing a moue like he is no older than a child.

John drops the act, and bellows, “when? When Nate rotted in prison and I was stuck being your damsel in distress? f*cking hell Sherlock! You’re delusional! You need help, okay? We can get you help.”


“Let go of my arms. Let go, so I can take this to the police and we can get you the help you need, okay? Your brother can get you the best care.”

“I can’t. I can’t let you leave.”

John smiles gently, eyes shimmering with unshed tears. “It’s all right, Sherlock. It’ll all be okay. I just need you to let go of my arms.”

Sherlock shakes his head, squeezing his eyes shut then flinging them open a second later. He sniffles. “I can’t do that,” he whispers.

“Let go,” John reaffirms lowly, “or I’ll make you.”

Twin tears race down Sherlock’s cheeks, glacier-blue eyes wide and round. “John, please don’t leave me,” he cries, grip tightening. John hisses, trying to pry the fingers off, but Sherlock does not budge. He starts to wrench his arms free, twisting every which way, pushing away with his feet, but he is too weak, too overwrought with emotion, the adrenaline waning now.

“Sherlock, you’re hurting me!” He shouts, and it seems to startle Sherlock, who releases him immediately and stumbles back onto the landing. John wastes no time waiting for Sherlock to advance upon him again, shoving past to get to the stairs. He will have to leave his jacket behind, and he curses his panic-ridden mind for leaving the gun in Sherlock’s bedroom.

“No, you can’t go!” Sherlock dives for him, grazing at his clothes, and John lurches away as if branded.

His thigh spasms, no cane there to balance him, and John shrieks, losing his balance. “f*ck!”

“John!” Sherlock shouts, unable to help as John tips backwards, gravity pulling him down the staircase.

He misses the topmost steps, seeming to free fall for hours, but then the impact comes, John’s head hitting the tread first with a sickening crack. His body follows shortly after, twisted grotesquely as he tumbles down the rest of the stairs to land heavily on the secondary landing.

And then.

There is silence.

Deafening, terrifying silence.

“John?” Sherlock takes a tentative step down. “John!”

But John is not moving. Sherlock rushes down the rest of the stairs to his side, crouching awkwardly in the tight space. Two fingers go under John’s nose, however there is no sign of breath. Not wanting to worsen a potential spinal cord injury Sherlock feels around the pulse points, but he cannot get a reading. John remains unresponsive, his cheeks paling, eyes open but unseeing. His head oozes thick blood, soaking his shirt, dripping towards the steps. Sherlock shoves his scarf under it, compressing the wound, and fishes for his phone with his other hand. The line trills for several agonising seconds, scarcely audible over the roar of blood in Sherlock’s ears, the click of connection distant, like they are standing either end of a tunnel.

“What is it, Sherlock?” The plosive is firmed crisp, clipped with annoyance. He has been disturbed.

Sherlock has never cared for his brother’s work, and he is not about to now. “Mycroft.”

There is something in his voice, emotion converging with that one word that has Mycroft audibly straightening in his chair. “Sherlock?”

“You need to come.” He whispers into the receiver.

“What have you done, Sherlock?”

“Mycroft. I need you.”

“Are you snivelling?”

“Now is not the time for mockery, brother mine.” He growls, spit coating his chin.

“Then for what?”

Sherlock stares down at John, a tear hanging from his waterline. He sniffs. “Absolution.”

Mycroft draws an icy breath. “I’m on my way.”

Sherlock waits there, alone, his scarf beneath John’s head, breathing for them both. Mycroft finds him ten minutes later, curled in like scorched paper on his haunches, breath aberrated and arms circling his knees. He rocks back and forth, sweat clumping his hair together in stringy, limp curls that hang damp over his face, concealing his eyes. Mycroft approaches the wild animal with purposeful, loud steps, stopping two stairs from the landing.

“I see,” he says. Sherlock continues to rock: back, forth, panting at the floor. He grips his knees so hard his arms tremble.

Mycroft walks back down the stairs. He removes his coat and his jacket, hanging them on the hooks by the front door. He rolls his sleeves up to his shirt garters, then creeps back up to his brother. His hand, that closes around a bony shoulder, is taken into a harsh grasp, just shy of breaking his ulna, but Mycroft can feel the muscle grind against the bone nonetheless.

“This is your fault.” Sherlock hisses through gritted teeth, a serpent out for blood.

“However so?”

Sherlock tugs at his arm, unrelenting, squeezing a fraction tighter. “He found the camera. Your camera.”

“You’d have removed it had you so wished.” Mycroft replies haughtily.

“That is not the point!” Sherlock gets to his feet, a fluid motion so quick Mycroft tilts back, his toes curling to steady himself, free hand catching the bannister.

“Come along, Sherlock, we don’t have time for games. We must clean up your mess.”

“My mess?” Sherlock’s laugh is high, deranged, so lacking in humour it is like a sluice of cold water from a bucket. “It was your camera he found.”

“Just that?” Mycroft asks, and he sees it. The flash of insolence, reproach in the crow’s feet around Sherlock’s eyes, atonement in the crescents of nails on his captive arm. “I told you to burn it.”

“Oh f*ck you Mycroft, you always have to be so perfect!” The thin wrist is yanked, unceremonious, to the clip of teeth, spiking into the flesh and scraping skin away. Jaws clamp down hard but not unforgiving, a brief press warning of their capabilities, a reminder of their youth. Mycroft watches, passively, wiping his waxlike expression devoid of pain. Sherlock pulls back, snarling, saliva bubbled at the corners of his mouth, his tongue darting out to lick his bottom lip.

“Retribution?” Mycroft asks, taking his arm back without looking at it. It will leave a mark, but no blood is drawn, nor will it scar.

Sherlock repeats, “absolution.” Hidden behind Mycroft’s sleeve is an identical, but smaller set on his opposite wrist of tooth marks, white now where it had scarred, tissue and muscle and flesh rended asunder by mindless fury.

Mycroft sighs, so light it could be mistaken for a regular exhale, and he says, “we need to move the body.”

Him.” Sherlock crouches over again, looking up with a sparkle of feral intentness. “His name is Doctor John Watson.”

“Yes,” Mycroft agrees, lowering himself to Sherlock’s level, the angle awkward, the edge of the step cutting at his knees.

Sherlock cups John’s cheek, breath coasting his forelocks, but his eyes never leave Mycroft’s. “Say you’re sorry.”

Mycroft glances down at the bruising blooming on the underside of John’s face, frozen in a strangely peaceful expression, and indulges. “I’m sorry Doctor Watson. We have to move you now.”

“I’ll take care of you, John.” Sherlock whispers, capriciously adoring. Mycroft shifts, untangling John’s legs so he can wrap his fingers around the ankles. The bones shift unnaturally in one, crunching and grinding like a mill. Sherlock uncoils, slipping his arms under John’s armpits, pumping one arm to manipulate John’s head to loll against his bicep.

“One, two, three,” they haul Watson up each step, finding their bearings one at a time, Mycroft not wanting to slip and end up like John, Sherlock not wanting to drop him. Sherlock walks backwards to his bedroom, kicking the door open further with his foot.

“Here.” He directs, placing John down as if he weighs little atop the duvet. Mycroft places his legs at the foot of the bed, lined up straight so not to irk Sherlock into a frenzy. He is yet to garner Sherlock’s full involvement in Watson’s demise.

Reverent, Sherlock adjusts the pillow under John’s head, the wad of scarf tentatively dragged away. Of course the bleeding has stopped, so little of it spilled anyway, no pumping heart to expel it, despite it being a head injury, which are notorious for spurting from even the smallest of cuts. Mycroft holds his hand out. “Your scarf.”

“They won’t check.” Sherlock holds it to his chest.

“It has your DNA all over it. Over him.” Mycroft retorts, clapping his fingers against his palm in beckoning.

“They won’t check,” Sherlock insists.

“You’ve a plan.” Mycroft says. Sherlock looks down at John, hands shaking where they are clasped, and he nods. “Tea first.”

Mycroft moves about the kitchen as if it is his own, glancing disinterestedly at the contents on the table. Sherlock reglaes the story from his perspective; coming home to find John hunched over the camera, the wild fear in John’s eyes. How he had grabbed the camera and bolted in a panic, ran for a taxi to seek out Mycroft, but on that journey realised John could find the rest of it, and turned back. Mycroft listens and he learns, asking questions and gaining answers. Through it, they form a plan.


“You’re sure about this?” There are men Mycroft could hire for this sort of job, but Sherlock had insisted they be the ones to do it, that John only be moved by his hand.

“I’ve been watching,” Sherlock assures, opening the outer door to the street, “he won’t wake.”

Mycroft dips his head, following Sherlock out. “As you wish.”

Sherlock raises one hand, summoning a cab to the kerbside. He pops open the boot as Mycroft slides into the backseat, providing the address as Sherlock lays down a worn duffel bag. He closes the boot, rounding the car and getting in the same side as Mycroft so that he has to shift to make room. Once the door is shut they are moving again, Sherlock fastening his seatbelt and pulling it tight so that it cinches unforgiving against his body like the scales of a boa constrictor. The driver does not speak to them, humming along to the radio, nor do the brothers utter a word. Sherlock’s leg bounces, his ruined trainers squeaking over and over, shaking the floor beneath their feet until Mycroft places a hand on his knee and squeezes. It stills.

Mycroft thanks the driver and pays the fare as Sherlock tends to the duffel bag, grunting as he pulls it from the car. He tugs the straps over his shoulder, hauling the bag up, and closes the boot with his free hand. Mycroft stands behind it, shrouded in the darkness between lampposts. He is stiff, surveying the street, uncomfortable in the borrowed clothes drowning his figure. Despite the extreme hour, they look as though they are supposed to be there, dressed in dark t-shirts and jogging bottoms. Sherlock wears a black knitted beanie, curls tucked inside, and without his telltale hairstyle he is almost unrecognisable, greatcoat absent. They walk two streets, Sherlock somewhat hunched, and when they arrive at their destination Mycroft scans windows and doors up and down the road. All of them conceal the residents behind blinds or curtains, and when satisfied, Mycroft signals for Sherlock to continue.

“I’ll keep watch.” Mycroft says, stalling at the door.

Sherlock eyes him head-to-toe, fiddling with his lock-picking kit. The door swings open a moment later, caught so not to bash against the wall. “You never have liked the legwork.”

Sherlock vanishes inside, the door shut deliberately behind him. Mycroft hunkers down in front of the window, where the bushes begin, and waits. Sherlock removes his shoes and leaves them on the doormat, padding through to the kitchen. He has exerted himself, sweating underneath his black zip-up jacket, as he gratefully sets down the duffel bag so that he can investigate the bedroom. Only one is occupied now, the other stripped barren, loud snores coming from the farthest room, penetrating the closed bedroom door. Perfect. He sneaks to the bathroom on the same vein of hallway, taking the topmost clothes and a pair of socks.

In the kitchen, Sherlock works rapid and methodical, setting the scene with no detail spared. He first unzips the duffel bag, pulling back the flaps like they are a ribcage in autopsy. He unearths John from it, headfirst, supporting him under the neck with two pairs of nitrile gloves from John’s medical kit. The weight of the head paired with gravity allows Sherlock to birth him from the bag, body laid out on its side as if it landed there. Sherlock grasps John’s shoulder, gripping hard to he can feel the craggy edges of the scar there, and pulls him over, so that his body is warped belly-up, legs twisted like he has been half rolled over.

There was no saving the blood collected by the scarf, as little as there was anyway, so Sherlock withdraws a syringe from Watson’s duffel bag. He exposes John’s bellybutton — moving aside his button-up and undershirt — the one place that would never be checked, and withdraws blood from inside the furled tissue. It takes several attempts to gather enough, which Sherlock deposits around the head wound, allowing it to make a mess. He depresses the plunger in quick succession around the area to speckle the cabinet fronts, watching without emotion as the pool under John’s head trickles into the grout lines. There is some left, and Sherlock grasps the spare joggers from the hamper, spreads the rest of the blood around, then folds the knees in it. Blood seeps and expands in the fabric, staining the navy scarlet. He dips the bottoms of the socks in more of the blood, and when they are soaked he carries them all back to the hamper, abandoning them to dry.

There is a knife on the countertop, one he runs through the fresh cut on John’s hand, free of the gauze. Sherlock looks around, seeking, deciding. A rolling pin is shoved into a metal caddy, taller than the other utensils. Sherlock takes it, dips it into the blood under John’s head, ensuring he catches the edges of the wound before he dumps it in the sink and gathers a crumpled tea towel and sponge. With scarce effort Holmes wipes at some of the blood, alternating large sweeps with smaller scrubbing motions, those too ditched in the sink. He examines his handiwork, and when there is nothing left to do he strips off the gloves, tucking them and the syringe into the duffel bag which he takes with him.

Snores accompany Sherlock to the door, where he slips his feet into his battered trainers, taking one last look at the closed kitchen door. Goodbye John, he thinks as he exits. Mycroft is there waiting for him. “Done?”

“Yes.” Sherlock begins a brisk pace, matched by his brother.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Mycroft says diplomatically. They separate at the junction at the end of the street, moving in opposite directions. Sherlock does not call for a cab, tilting his face up to the fine rain soaking him to the bone. It is penance. He walks, duffel bag limp and swinging against his leg. Under the smell of rich, wet earth, he smells copper.

It consumes him.


Sherlock strips naked, a bell chiming as he steps over a crude circle of sugar, lying atop the duvet, where he digs his face into the pillow, smelling cheap shampoo and the tang of sweat. He inhales it, burying himself into the scents. He drags an icy cane parallel to his body, palm petting the handle, fingers tracing the ergonomic shape, rubber tip catching against his knee. He weeps.



“Lestrade, I’ve been trying to reach your mobile.” The baritone voice gripes impatiently. Sherlock tucks the phone into his shoulder so he can continue fussing over his trinket box.

“Sherlock? What is it?” He speaks with Greg, voice pitched slightly higher, pushing air from his lungs to sound breathless. All the while he rearranges and sorts, dropping a third tooth into the glass jar inside his box and leaving a large gap beside a photograph of two men, when they were happy, when they had life.

“Right. I’ll be over soon, okay? Are you at Baker Street?” Sherlock provides a mumble of affirmation, getting to his feet, trinket box in hand. “I’ll be there in no more than half an hour.”

Sherlock hangs up, leaving his phone on the kitchen table, making his way to the bedroom. He pulls the bedside table farthest from the door back from the wall, revealing a chasm, and places the trinket box atop another. He will come back for it later. For now, it is showtime.

A man is about to be condemned in the name of the Emperor Dragonfly.

The Marked Man of the Emperor Dragonfly - Jaye Harriet (AlJeDd) (2024)
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