Chapter Nine

The door to apartment 221B Baker Street slammed open, crashing against the door-stop with a loud bang. Sherlock Holmes stormed through the entranceway, muttering under his breath viciously on his way to fall face first on the threadbare couch. John Watson trudged into the apartment behind his roommate, closing the door softly.

"I'll put the kettle on, shall I?" he asked mildly, already moving into the kitchen, sidestepping the remnants of a long past experiment. Sherlock didn't pause in his vitriol infused monologue.

John filled the kettle and set it to boil before stumbling into the living room and falling into his arm chair with a loud groan. It had been a long and relentless few days - this being the first time they'd made it back to the flat since that first call onsite. John felt his eyes fall shut, and he forced them open, concentrating on nothing but blinking for a small eternity.

A knock on the doorframe jolted John out of his stupor, and he glanced up to see Mrs Hudson smiling softly at him from the hall, tray of tea and biscuits in hand.

"Just this once, mind," she murmured as she stepped into the flat, clearing a side table of papers without even looking. "I'm your landlady, not your housemaid."

John smiled weakly, shifting in his seat.

"Thank you, Mrs Hudson," he began. "I've just put the kettle on myself -"

"That was ten minutes ago, John," came Sherlock's muffled voice. He had not moved from his position face down on the couch. John flushed red, and Mrs Hudson giggled as she passed John a cup of tea. He thanked her and took a sip, almost choking on the hot liquid in his enthusiasm.

Over brewed and milkier than an Irishman's arse, exactly the way he liked it.

Mrs Hudson propped a steaming cup of tea on the floor by Sherlock's prone hand, patting the top of his head fondly before disappearing back down the stairs. John called out a farewell to her, nursing his tea with almost biblical reverence.

Sherlock ignored her and took a biscuit.

There was a glorious moment of pure silence, and John tried not to disrupt it with breathing. He took small sips of his tea and just allowed himself to exist with no thought for as long as his flatmate would maintain the peace.

"It just doesn't make any sense!"

John snickered to himself, before he heaved himself into a more upright position in his chair. He fixed Sherlock's prone form with a faintly amused stare - one that the man apparently noticed, if his bleak glare from the cushions was any indication.

"What doesn't make sense?" John prompted after another half-minute of silence. He propped his tea on the side table with a soft sigh, before leaning forward to fix Sherlock with undivided attention. Sherlock sat up and began to tap his index fingers together under his chin, frown etched onto his tired and drawn features.

"Everything! Nothing! It's all so... so illogical, so irrational!" Sherlock exclaimed, leaping to his feet to pace the room. John leaned back slightly to keep Sherlock's face in focus as it contorted in confusion and irritation.

"Why break the pattern?" Sherlock snapped, spinning on one heel to pin John with a dissecting stare. "Why venture away from a perfectly functional system?"

John raised his arms in surrender, defending himself from Sherlock's frustration. Sherlock huffed and continued his pacing. Once he was certain Sherlock's attention was back on the case, John lowered his arms to rub tiredly at his face.

It had been constant running for days.

Chasing corpses, collecting clues from crime scenes. Bouncing back to laboratories for quick analysis and quicker coffee before the next call for the next body. Every twenty four hours, like clockwork. It was a constant race.

And they were losing.

The only reason they weren't still at St Bart's was because the most recent corpse was still undergoing autopsy, and Molly had thrown them out when Sherlock gave her assistant a panic attack.

"What if," John called out, hands still over his face. "What if, the killer panicked, and stabbed this one when he got seen?"

Sherlock scoffed mid-pace, eyes rolling in frustration more than scorn. John lowered his hands to watch Sherlock as he thought aloud.

"The wounds aren't stab-marks, John, you know that, they're too clean, too precise!" Sherlock threw his arms up in irritation. "They'd have to be done perfectly, with a completely smooth blade-"

Sherlock's phone buzzed, interrupting him, and John sighed. He flipped open his own phone and started tapping quickly, updating the counter on his home screen. This was their seventh body already, another man from the muttering Sherlock was doing under his breath. John hauled himself to his feet and tossed Sherlock the scarf he'd tossed aside when they'd entered their flat. Sherlock caught it without a glance and preceded John down the hall, on their way to the next murder site.

It was Day Seven.

.MrH.

Day Eight.

"All right, I know we're all knackered, but I want to know if anyone has any clues," Greg Lestrade called out over the constant noise in the conference room. He could see Donovan and Anderson muttering at each other and glaring at Doctor Watson and Detective Holmes, both of whom looked as if they hadn't seen a bed in weeks.

The reality wasn't that far off.

"OI!" Greg barked, commanding silence. "This will go a lot quicker if people shut their yaps and pay attention!"

The room fell into weary peace, and Greg sighed, trying to ignore the approving looks from Sherlock and Watson in the back corner. He rubbed a tired hand over his face before addressing the room.

"So, our facts as of right now," Greg announced, gesturing behind him to the information they'd gathered, tacked up to the wall. "We're up to corpse number eight. All eight bodies have been identified as adult males. Different ages, different occupations, different religions, facial features, everything. Only thing connecting them is the cause of death, the overdose of the home remedy as recognised by Doctor Watson over there."

Greg took half-hearted satisfaction in the way Watson shrank slightly into the wall when everyone turned to look.

"The seventh corpse," Greg continued, dragging focus back to himself. "Is an anomaly at this stage. There are traces of the toxin in his system, but the cause of death appears to be the series of lacerations across his neck and chest, resulting in extreme blood loss. Current autopsy has had no luck in identifying the weapon, but we have the team at St. Bart's working as hard as we are on trying to nab some condemning evidence."

Greg paused to let his team mull over the information, snatching a swig of water. The noise level rose as groups of twos and threes began to debate amongst themselves. The only island of silence was Watson and Holmes, who appeared to be watching Greg closely. Greg nodded to them, before reigning in his officers.

"All right, you've had a chance to mingle, now I want suggestions!" he barked.

"Is there any connecting evidence between the locations of the bodies?" called out one of the officers. Greg smiled grimly.

"We've followed that lead as far as we can, each one of the victims seems to have disappeared from different locations, only to appear in completely new destinations all over the city. We've had no luck with CCTV or eyewitness accounts, either."

"Have we been able to track down a source of this toxin?" Donovan drawled. "If we know where it's from we can track down anyone who may have travelled here from there in the last few weeks?"

"Impossible," Sherlock called from the back. Greg sighed, hoping there wouldn't be another fight. "There are too many individuals who know the recipe for the remedy, the killer likely created it themselves from ingredients they can gather from any number of locations."

"Of course," Donovan muttered under her breath, just loud enough to be heard in the suddenly-silent room. Greg rolled his eyes.

"Right, well," he called, watching everyone turn to him. "There's a good four and a half hours before we're due to have the next corpse pop up, I want everyone not currently working on something vital to go and get three hours sleep, am I understood?"

A groaned chorus of affirmatives met Greg, and he smiled.

"Good work, lads. We'll get this guy, I promise."

.MrH.

Day Ten.

"Coffee?"

Molly Hooper smiled weakly at John Watson, accepting the steaming mug and breathing in the bitter sweetness. She took a sip of the hot drink, thanking John for remembering her preferred amount of sugar. Together the two drank and watched as Sherlock Holmes flittered around the latest addition to the Home-Remedy Homicides.

"Have you ever seen him like this?" John asked, interrupting Molly's contemplative observations. She hummed, taking a sip of her coffee, before speaking lowly, not wanting to disturb the genius at work.

"I've only ever seen him get even half this intense once," she said, watching Sherlock prick the cadaver with a series of flat needles and examining the blood he retrieved. "There was this multi-homicide a couple of years back, the first two victims were young, only about fifteen or so, both girls. Sherlock..."

Molly paused to take another sip, a frown creasing her brow.

"Sherlock went into this odd... I can only really describe it as a focus. He barely spoke, never ate, never slept, just worked constantly. He examined every single inch of every single body that came up, practically tore apart every crime scene. He about drove the Yard mad by the end of it."

John snorted softly into his own mug, and Molly shot him a grin over the edge of her cup.

"It worked, though," she mused. "After about three days of this, this trance thing, he just sort of stood up and walked out of the building. I called Lestrade and three hours later Sherlock just appeared again, dragging this lady with him. He dumped her on the front steps of the Yard building and she confessed then and there. I heard the whole thing from Lestrade after."

John nodded, and Molly turned back to watching Sherlock work. She admired the way his eyes seemed to glow as he worked, whisking tools in and out of the way with a skill that bordered on ethereal. A frown glanced over his face, and Molly bit her lip -

"John!"

John sighed, offering Molly an apologetic smile as he set aside his coffee and paced over to Sherlock's side.

"Take a look at this, do the wounds seem... familiar, to you?"

Molly sighed to herself as John bent over the cadaver, eyeing the lacerations with a doctor's eye. This was the second one to be brought in with physical wounds, the same cuts to the neck and chest. Molly watched as the two began to mutter to each other softly, first in surprise, and then in low tones that she couldn't make out.

Molly finished her coffee, making sure to set the mug down a little harder than usual so that Sherlock would know she was approaching. She knew how he hated to have people approach unknown and unannounced. She snapped two pairs of latex gloves over her hands, and made sure her hair was out of the way before stepping up to the cadaver.

"How can I help?" She asked, letting Sherlock's voice wash over her as she slowly took apart Mister Drew Turner.

She only hoped this case ended as well as the last one.

.MrH.

Day Twelve.

The Yard was abuzz with activity, a tension heavy and tangible in the air as Greg Lestrade walked in. Greg frowned at the suspicious busy-bodying of his team, and quickened his pace towards his desk. At the sight through the window into his office, Greg paused. Then he cursed.

Mycroft Bloody Holmes was sitting in his office.

Greg took a few deep breaths, nicked a coupled of breath mints from the complementary bowl on his secretary's desk, and strode into his room as confidently as he could. He could feel Holmes' amused gaze burning a hole in his jacket as he set his briefcase on the floor and settled himself behind his desk before finally raising his eyes to meet his guest's.

"Good morning, Inspector," Holmes smiled. The smile never reached his eyes, and Greg fought back a shiver.

"To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr Holmes?" Greg was rather proud of how well he'd managed to word that. Holmes' only response was to raise one perfectly groomed eyebrow.

"I'm afraid that this is more a matter of business than pleasure, Inspector," Holmes purred. "You see, I've received a rather uncouth missive, one that I think you would benefit from perusing."

Greg bit the inside of his bottom lip against a heavy sigh. He did not have time for this.

"Thank you for coming to the Scotland Yard with your problem, Mr Holmes," Greg started. "I am currently in the middle of a serial homicide case, but I can direct you to -"

"You misunderstand me, Inspector," Mycroft interrupted with a smooth amusement that set Greg's teeth on edge. It should be illegal to ooze that much smug satisfaction...

"You see," Holmes was still talking. "This missive is, for lack of a better term, a ransom note from our infamous little murderer."

Greg sat up in his chair so quickly he hit his knees against the top of his desk. He winced, more at the faux pas in front of Holmes than actual pain, and reached out to accept the immaculately preserved note from the politician's gloved hand. He paused just before touching the note and quickly snatched a pair of rubber gloves from his desk before gingerly accepting the note, carefully choosing not to respond to the amused expression on Holmes' face.

"Who has touched this?" Greg asked, eyes scanning every swipe of inelegantly calligraphed ink. He politely ignored Holmes applying sanitiser to the outside of his vinyl gloves, looking up only when Holmes began to speak once more.

"Only my assistant and myself," Holmes smiled blandly. "Both of us have worn gloves to avoid any unnecessary tampering. It is, after all, evidence in correlation to a rather serious crime."

Greg nodded his appreciation, reading the note over for a second time. The paper was odd, limp, and had obviously been rolled into a scroll rather than folded to fit in an envelope. The ink itself was an odd colour - not quite black, and it smelled of herbs rather than chemicals.

"I'll need to have forensics analyse this ink," Greg muttered to himself, lifting the note to check the underside before returning to the words themselves. "And possibly pull a linguist in from our consultants pool. Who even writes like this any more?"

"It is true that such attempts at formal language are a rarity in our modern times, poorly executed as this one may be," Mr Holmes almost looked sad. "That being said, I am sure my services will suffice should you need a translation. You might even be able to ask Sherlock, should you become desperate."

Greg looked up, eyebrow raised.

"You must know that this note must be seen by as few outside influences as possible. The contents of the note are, shall we say, delicate. It would not do to have just anyone see details that the Government holds close."

Greg looked down at the note again.

"My salutations to the esteemed leaders of our fine nation,

I am sure that by now you have been made aware of my recent actions. I regret the loss of such life, but find myself in a position where I am unable to gain the attentions of those that matter by any alternate means. That being said, I am sure that you, like myself, do not wish to see more senseless loss of life. Such a waste of resources is inefficient, and the dissent from the people, the fear, would be unconscionable. And so, I shall offer you this one chance at negotiation, in order to best serve both parties.

I know what it is that you want: you want to see the end of these killings, and a return to your nice normal lives without fear of sudden and unexplained death. I am willing to give you what you want, but in return you must agree to my conditions.

Firstly, I am but a simple person, with simple needs. Shelter, a home, is a basic necessity, and one that should not be denied any British citizen. So, I ask for an estate that shall remain safe and habitable. An island should suffice, just a small one, private, that I may live out my life in peace without either receiving threats from you, or being a threat to you. Benefits both sides, really.

Secondly, I would of course require sustenance, or at least the means to acquire sustenance for myself. To that end I will require a monthly donation of five thousand pounds, to be delivered in cash to a location of my choosing. Such a sum is not exorbitant, and could be added to any budget without too much strain. I am not, after all, unreasonable.

Finally, I would require both the promise of no attempted attacks upon my person, and the further promise of additional aid should I find myself in need. An open favour from the British Government, as it were. An attempt at my life would, of course, mean an immediate end to our truce, and I would not take such a slight against my honour calmly. You would do well not to anger me, one person a day is not a limit, merely a minimum requirement. I can easily cast my hand wider, and affect more people than you can imagine.

Should you agree to these conditions, call off your hounds effective immediately, and leave a written statement of surrender, to be signed by the Prime Minister and the Queen of England, upon the desk where this missive was discovered within 48 hours. Should you agree within 24 hours, I will cease the deaths immediately. You have the opportunity to save an extra life, do not squander the chance. I dread to think what the public would think of an office who dithered and sacrificed the life of - well, potentially any of them - all for a few more hours of deliberation.

I wish to make clear that while I do not enjoy the ceaseless death, I am very willing and very capable of continuing this course of action for the foreseeable future. One death, every day, forever.

I am ready to face that life, are you?"

"No signature?" Greg asked, looking up. Mr Holmes smiled genially. Greg actually shivered that time.

"I think you will find a stamp below the ultimatum that serves as a callsign," Holmes answered. His voice seemed even more cold than usual. Greg considered turning up the heat in his room.

"I will call Sherlock in, he can analyse the wording, and I'll call in my best forensics team -" Greg paused at the look in Holmes' eye. " - guy, my best forensics guy. We'll get this sorted."

"See that you do, Inspector, and I will see that you are rewarded."

With that, Mycroft Holmes swept out of Greg's office. Greg leaned back and let out a long, slow breath. Then he switched on the intercom to his secretary..

"I need Sherlock Holmes in here fifteen minutes ago, and someone dig Barry out of his cave. I have something for him to examine."

.MrH.

Day Thirteen.

John sprinted down the alley, face determined. He took comfort in the weapons he had strapped to each side of his body as he vaulted himself over a stack of crates and continued the chase.

Sherlock had gotten on alarmingly well with Barry from Forensics, and the two together had managed to piece together three possible locations for the next body to show up. Greg and the Yard were squatting, keeping their eye on two of the three, and Sherlock and he had taken the other. As the timer on his phone had clicked down to the last few seconds, there had been the sound of a car backfiring in the next alley over.

Sherlock had stilled in the same breath as John. They each looked at the other, suspicions confirmed as one, before they turned back to see a figure masked by a long stretch of heavy fabric - a cloak - move into the alley they were watching and gently lay another unnaturally still body on the dirty cobbles.

John and Sherlock had given chase in the same breath, lunging forward from their hiding place and startling the figure. He had started to run, and so John had followed, and now he was tracking down the killer with a dogged persistence that not even Sherlock matched.

Sherlock took a hard left, sprinting down another alley, while John continued to chase the figure, growing closer with every minute. The figure was clearly unused to physical exertion, judging by the wheezing John could hear on the edge of the breeze. The figure hit a dead end and turned left, and John grinned.

It was only a matter of moments before Sherlock caught up and cornered the killer. Only a matter of time before this hellish fortnight was finally over.

John turned the corner at a dead run, just in time to see Sherlock do the same at the next corner. He permitted himself a grin as the figure faltered, stuttering to a halt and turning to face him. John kept moving, hurtling towards the figure, fast enough to eat up the distance in seconds.

Too fast to dodge the flash of red light that came to meet him.

The last thing John heard was Sherlock, crying out his name in a roar that was too angry to be human. The last thing he felt was arms wrap around him and pull him along in a sharp twist before the stunning spell took hold and there was only darkness.

.MrH.

Day Fourteen.

"'You have ignored my generous offer, and in doing so have disrespected me. As you have chosen this path, I am now forced to respond. I have taken from you one of your own, the man known as John Watson. Should you decide to accept my offer - which has now, as a consequence of your disrespect, doubled in price - you will ensure his safe return. Continued disrespect, or the failure to cooperate within what is left of the original 48 hour timeline - a mere seven hours - shall see the termination of our negotiation, and the death of your esteemed colleague'... then it's just more self-centred waffle, and he's signed it with that same stamp again."

Lestrade lowered the note - written on bloody leather of all things! - to eye Sherlock nervously. The young man was unnaturally still, especially for him. There was no tapping, no fidgeting, no sneers or rolling eyes. He was a statue, a gargoyle of slowly mounting fury.

"What the hell is it written on?" Donovan asked loudly, snatching the missive from Lestrade's fingers. Lestrade let her, still more concerned with the potentially volatile detective in front of him. Out of the corner of his eye Lestrade spotted Donovan sniff at the leather, pulling a face.

"Eurgh! It stinks like blood!" she complained, holding the note at arm's length.

Sherlock growled.

"Donovan," Lestrade called quickly - he did not need Sherlock Sodding Holmes murdering his right hand. "Leave that here, go get Barry from Forensics to come analyse it."

"Why can't I just take -"

"Orders, Donovan," Lestrade interrupted. "Follow them."

"Yes sir," Donovan grumbled, but complied. Lestrade sighed, turning back to Sherlock. The silence of the room was deafening, and Lestrade wondered at the intelligence of isolating himself with the man.

"Sherlock, I..." Lestrade cleared his throat. "I just want you to know that we are doing everything we can to find him -"

"Pass me that note please, Inspector."

Lestrade gaped. Sherlock glanced his way, his normal arrogantly raised eyebrow marred by the emptiness behind his blue eyes. After another healthy instant of shock, Lestrade shook his head clear and passed over the missive.

"Thank you," Sherlock muttered, eyes already dissecting the note, Lestrade forgotten.

Lestrade felt the sudden need to sit down.

Slumping into a nearby chair, Lestrade rubbed at his face. This case had been beyond hellish so far, and it was only going to get worse...

"I knew it," a voice interrupted Lestrade's weary thoughts, and he looked up in time to see Sherlock lick the leather.

"Should I ask?" Lestrade sighed. He was too tired to be mad about the contamination of evidence. Sherlock shot Lestrade an exasperated look.

"The smell Donovan complained about, the blood," Sherlock shook the note under Lestrade's nose. "It smells like blood because it's written in blood."

Lestrade felt his face pale, the news alarming him all the more for Sherlock's vicious, grimly triumphant expression.

"John's?" he croaked, afraid of the answer. Sherlock grinned darkly.

"Better," the consulting detective announced. "It's frog."

Lestrade paused, frowning.

"Frog blood?" he asked. Sherlock nodded, leaping to his feet, note still in hand.

"A rather rare breed of frog," Sherlock replied absently. "That, combined with the parchment..."

Lestrade leaned back to watch the epiphany in motion. Sherlock span to face Lestrade, expression smug in victory.

"I can track the killer now," Sherlock announced, his smile too toothy to be comforting. "He got sloppy, and now he's mine."

"Uhh..." Lestrade's attempt at responding - at reigning Sherlock in - fell to pieces as the younger man clapped him on the back as he passed. The familiar contact was totally alien from Sherlock, and stunned Lestrade for a moment.

"Thank you, Lestrade. You've not been completely useless," Sherlock offered him a not-quite-genuine smile.

"Uhh..."

"Could I please borrow a car? I need to see a man about an amphibian."

"Uhhh..."

"Excellent! I'll text you when I need a clean-up crew."

"Uhhhh..." Lestrade could barely bring himself to blink as Sherlock Holmes swept out of the office in a blur of determination and casual bloodlust. A few silent minutes later, Donovan raced into the room, face screwed up in indignation.

"Sir, Sherlock's stolen a police car! He- what the hell happened to you?"

Lestrade swallowed, glancing at Donovan beseechingly.

"He said please..." he whispered.

Donovan gasped, then paled, staring out the still-open door.

"Son of a bitch."

AN -

Hello faithful readers,

I continue to find myself in these situations where I must apologise for leaving you hanging for so long. I fail to recognise how busy my normal real life activities make me, and as a result continue to be vastly optimistic in my predictions regarding updates.

I am truly sorry for such a long absence! I have no excuse, beyond my usual "Real life grr!" motif.

I hope you enjoy this slightly longer chapter, and please know that despite the huge wait between chapters, that these stories are still very near and dear to my heart, and that I am definitely still working on them in what little spare time I have.

(Just as an aside, I am low-key in love with Barry from Forensics, who's with me?)

And so, until next time,

Z