Hello! I've read so many lovely Sherlock fics I thought I'd try my hand at one! I hope you enjoy!
Just a mild disclaimer before we begin: Not only am I American, but I have never actually been to the UK. If I get something wrong please let me know with kindness.
John Watson lay in bed at 221b Baker Street, relishing the peace and quiet that could only mean one of two things: his flat mate was still asleep (unlikely), or he had left in the wee hours of the morning on some business that was equal parts clandestine and ridiculous (probably).
Regardless of the reason, he was determined to take advantage of it and have a bit of a lie-in. He exhaled slowly and turned onto his back, his mind reforming the familiar patterns and pictures the water splotches made on his ceiling. Absentmindedly, John toyed with the idea of trying to fix the roof for Mrs. Hudson before sighing and rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes.
True, he enjoyed the quiet but he had to admit that the mornings when Sherlock went out were, as his flat mate would put it, exceedingly "dull."
He was just contemplating breakfast when he heard a door slam and Sherlock's booming voice from the floor below caused his heart to drop into his stomach.
Watson jumped out of bed faster than he thought possible and retrieved his discarded trousers from where he'd dropped them the night before. He just managed to get one leg in when he heard hurried footsteps on the stairs and his door was thrown open.
"John," Sherlock paused as his eyes darted quickly around Watson's tidy, barely furnished room. "What, were you still in bed? Do you know what time it is?"
Watson hopped up and down, shoving his other leg into the trousers as he frowned at Sherlock.
"Yes well, I don't think my sleeping habits are relevant right now as you've just shouted 'fire'." He grabbed his phone off the bedside table and hurried toward the open door. "We should be getting out of here! Where's the fire, the kitchen? Did you call anyone yet?"
Sherlock gave John an exasperated look. "The kitchen?" He pulled out his own phone and started texting. "I never know what you're going on about." He turned and started back down the stairs. "Come on, Lestrade's sending a car for us."
"Wait, what about the fire?" John called loudly down the stairwell.
"Exactly why Lestrade's sending a car," Sherlock responded incredulously. "I'll meet you out front."
John grumbled under his breath but grabbed his coat and followed Sherlock down, finding no fire and nothing at all amiss in the flat. Realization dawned on him as he started down the second staircase and emerged onto Baker Street to find Holmes waiting with his nose in his phone.
"So I take it when you shouted 'fire' you meant a case?"
"Yes of course, what else would I have meant?" the taller man responded quickly, not looking up from his phone.
They stood in silence for a moment, John stifling a yawn as he blinked into the bright morning sun. He watched the bustle of early morning pedestrians move about eagerly, silently wondering how they managed the energy, until a stately town car came to a stop in front of them.
"This would be us then," Sherlock spoke quietly, finally putting the phone back in his pocket.
John whistled lowly as the driver got out of the car and held the door open.
"Since when do we merit this?"
"Hmmm… I've always merited this Watson," Holmes spoke as he slid into the back seat of the town car.
"Well then, it's nice to see Detective-Inspector Lestrade is finally coming to terms with it," Watson muttered as he followed. Their driver shut the door behind them and returned to the front, easing the car back onto Baker Street.
"Where are we going? And why on earth," he added, almost as an afterthought, "would Lestrade ask you to come to the scene of a fire?"
Sherlock tilted his head slightly but continued staring out the window.
"I haven't the slightest idea… to both your questions," he spoke thoughtfully before sinking back into silence.
The quiet left John to his thoughts, which were currently occupied recalling the last time he was in a car like this.
The "infamous Mycroft abduction," as Sherlock had taken to calling it. Though it appeared Sherlock was proving a no better conversationalist during this particular "abduction" as Anthea had been during the first.
John was startled out of his thoughts after about twenty-five minutes as the car came to a stop in a middle class neighborhood he couldn't place. Sherlock got out without waiting for the driver and stood dangerously in the middle of the street, turning rapidly in a circle while angry drivers expressed their displeasure with the braying of horns. He finally stopped and stared in what John thought was a northerly direction.
"Come on John, it's this way." Sherlock moved quickly down a narrow alleyway between two buildings as John hurried to catch up.
"Shouldn't we ask the driver where it is?" John shouted after him.
"No need, it's this way."
"How do you know?"
"Can't you taste it?" Sherlock's voice lilted slightly and Watson knew without seeing his face that he would be smiling almost imperceptibly.
"There's ash in the air."
John stopped in surprise and looked toward the sky. He stuck out his tongue like a school boy in winter hoping to catch a stray snowflake, but tasted nothing.
"You look ridiculous."
He glanced in front of him to see Sherlock frowning a few meters ahead and embarrassedly tucked his tongue back into his mouth.
They emerged out of the alley at the back of a brown brick housing complex with several gardens surrounded by tall fences. Sherlock turned toward the sound of voices and led them down the row until they came to the last garden and the only one with the gate propped open. As they approached the muted voices grew louder.
Sherlock stopped. "Do you smell that?"
Watson sniffed the air. "I smell… well fire. Smoke, and that's it."
"Exactly, no petroleum based accelerants, paint solvents, alcohol… Why am I here?" He spoke more to himself than to Watson as he entered the garden, eyes darting about as he surveyed the scene.
The garden was well kept even if everything was covered in a fine dusty sheen. It was small and only made smaller by the multitude of people traipsing about. A few of the forensics team stood in the back left corner, smoking of all things, and Sherlock almost smirked at the irony. More unnecessary police officers loitered here and there but his eyes were drawn to the far right corner where a young woman sat on the ground, two paramedics hovering over her. Her face was covered with an oxygen mask and the rest of her that he could see was streaked black where they had tried and failed to wipe off all the soot.
"A possible witness to foul play?" Sherlock spoke quietly to himself as he followed the blackened fence to the garden door. His eyes swept over the broken glass on the ground and up to the door which stood open, the glass pane in the middle shattered.
"Hey, you can't be in here… Oh it's just you freak."
"Good morning Sally, where's Lestrade?"
She jerked her head to the left. "Upstairs waiting for you. Put these on." She thrust a box of latex gloves into his hands and hastily retreated past them into the fresh air.
"That was odd," Sherlock muttered as he easily snapped his gloves into place.
"What do you mean?" Watson replied, struggling with his own gloves.
"She usually tries to keep me out for a little while longer."
They stepped over the glass and were immediately assaulted by the smell, ten times worse now that they were inside. Sherlock's eyes swept the room and he hesitated every so often to run his gloved hands over singed furniture. He stayed longer at the sofa, bending over slightly and grasping something between his thumb and pointer finger. He frowned as he rubbed them together and then moved towards the staircase.
The upstairs was far worse than below, almost everything was blackened and crumbling. Detective Inspector Lestrade walked out of a room on their left.
"Ah there you are. Any trouble getting here?"
"Why'd you have the car drop us off around back?" Watson asked curiously.
Lestrade opened his mouth to answer but Sherlock was quicker. "Everything here is slightly damp, most of the smoke has cleared and the temperature is returning to normal. So it happened in the night, most likely two to three hours ago. This of course means the press have gotten wind of it and are probably camped out front," he paused and turned to Watson, the corners of his mouth turned up a bit. "Can't have them see that Scotland Yard has called in outside help can they?" He turned back to Lestrade, quickly changing the subject. "Is that smell what I think it is?"
Lestrade nodded somberly. "I sincerely wish it wasn't."
Watson looked back and forth between the two of them. "What is it then?"
Sherlock frowned but squared his shoulders in determination. "Human flesh." He strode into the room as the Doctor's jaw dropped in surprise.
The sight and smell before him caused even Holmes to pause and curse under his breath. Recovering quickly, he raised his arm, covering his mouth and nose with his coat sleeve as he stepped further into the charred room. The floor groaned uneasily at his feet and he turned back to Lestrade.
"I'm going to assume the structure's been deemed sound or you wouldn't have let me enter."
"Inspector just left," the DI responded as he stepped back into the room, followed closely by Watson.
"Oh dear lord," Watson cursed, covering his mouth and nose like Holmes and turning toward the wall.
The entire room was grayish black and peeling but Sherlock's eyes were drawn to the remnants of the bed against the far wall, or more importantly, what lay on it.
The skin of the body was almost completely blackened and shriveled, and in some places completely burned away, strips of taut reddish muscle peeking through. Despite the state of the body, it was most definitely the broad chest of a man and, had he been wearing any clothes they melted away long ago.
"Thomas Wellington. Age thirty one. Comes from money but worked for a non-profit downtown," Lestrade read from a small notebook in his hand.
Sherlock shifted his gaze to the man's face. His eyeballs had gotten so hot they had liquefied and burst in their sockets. His lips and hair had suffered a similar fate, and almost entirely burned away. Stepping back, Sherlock uncovered his mouth.
"The fire started in this room," he stated matter-of-factly.
"Obviously," John started, "but how is this," he waved his hand at the body, "even possible?"
"You're a soldier John, you've seen destruction before," Sherlock answered nonchalantly, his eyes drifting over the rest of the room.
"Yes, but nothing like this, never a man burned beyond recognition" he spoke softly.
Sherlock stepped close to the wall, examining a particular point as he spoke. "Human flesh burns at one hundred and thirty degrees… it ignites at four hundred and eighty."
"Could it have gotten that hot?"
"It can take less than thirty seconds for a small flame to spread out of control," Holmes spoke almost reverently. "Temperatures can range anywhere from one hundred degrees at floor level to six hundred degrees at waist level." He turned slowly, eyes sweeping over the walls until they focused on Lestrade and Watson. "Inhaling could literally blister your lungs. In five minutes a room could get so hot that everything ignites at once… a flashover."
Lestrade nodded. "Yes that's what the fire inspector said."
"And yet here I am, so I can only assume you suspect arson…" Lestrade nodded again. "I smell no accelerant, there are no stains on the floor, I see no gas cans or unusual burn patterns. Did forensics find any trace evidence?" Lestrade shook his head. "I repeat… and yet here I am."
"You haven't seen the note yet, in the bathroom." Lestrade gestured to the scorched remains of the opened door to the left of the body.
Sherlock's eyes widened and he hurried into the bathroom, followed closely by Watson.
It took him only seconds to find it.
The shared plaster wall between the bedroom and bathroom was entirely blackened save for an untouched portion at eye level that spelled a single word.
"Shame," Sherlock whispered, moving closer.
"How is that not burned?" John asked from behind him.
Sherlock didn't answer but leaned forward, his nose almost touching the clean area before stepping back and running a gloved finger over the letter 'S'.
"A flame retardant clear paint, original purpose most likely to fireproof fences or decks, anywhere outdoor cooking occurs. Easily purchased at any home improvement store… murder by arson it is then." He glanced at Lestrade. "I assume you've canvassed the area for any peculiar onlookers?" Lestrade nodded. "Right," Sherlock exited the bathroom, removing his gloves as he went. "Let's talk to the witness then." He led the way downstairs and back outdoors, all of them taking deep breaths of fresh air, attempting to rid themselves of the putrid odor of the bedroom.
Someone had brought the young woman a chair so she didn't have to sit in the dirt and the oxygen mask was gone, but she hadn't bothered to brush the ash and soot off her hair, skin and clothes, preventing Sherlock from forming an accurate picture of her.
"Why hasn't she been taken to the hospital?" he questioned Lestrade quietly as he watched her shoo away a paramedic armed with a syringe.
"Refused," Lestrade answered quickly, "Said they could look her over here or not at all."
"Hmmm…" Sherlock stared a little longer before addressing Lestrade. "Victims wife I presume, not married long by the look of the surviving photographs." He didn't wait for the DI's confirmation, taking long strides towards her, trusting that the others would follow.
She had managed to curl in on herself in the chair; head tilted downwards, her face slightly obscured by long hair of an indefinable color. Sherlock stepped close enough that he was certain she could see the tips of his black shoes. He cleared his throat before speaking.
"Excuse me Mrs. Wellington, would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"
"Claymore," she spoke quietly, her voice low and weary.
"My name is Claymore. I never changed it." She looked up finally, her eyes widening in confusion. "I'm sorry but… Sherlock?"
Sherlock's mouth formed a thin line as he stared down at her but it was Watson that spoke.
"Do you know each other?" he asked in surprise.
"I'm not sure," Sherlock replied, sounding quite surprised himself, but even as he spoke his mind began stripping her hair and face of the dark smudges while subtracting years until all that was left was the dark brown hair, soft features, and bright eyes that he remembered.
Lestrade's eyes shifted between the two of them in disbelief. "So you do know each other?"
"Apparently," Sherlock said flatly. "Though your surname wasn't Claymore when we knew each other."
"You weren't supposed to know my last name," she spoke, her voice still shell-shocked.
Sherlock scoffed and couldn't stop his eyes from rolling. "I knew everyone's last name."
"This is fascinating really," Lestrade began, "and as much as I'd love to hear all about whatever this is, would it be possible to get back to the task at hand?"
Sherlock took a step back, straitening his cuffs. "I know everything I can from what's left of the crime scene."
Lestrade sighed. "Would you mind enlightening us then please?"
Sherlock took a deep breath and began speaking quickly in a somewhat bored tone.
"The fire started upstairs in the master bedroom around four in the morning. Mr. Wellington was asleep there and from the charred remains of the cotton-polyester blanket and pillow on the sofa, Alexandra was asleep downstairs. From his position on the bed I can deduce that Wellington was probably rendered unconscious by the toxic fumes and never actually woke up. You were right to assume it was arson though if an accelerant was used I think it's safe to say the flames completely consumed it. The lack of a definable odor would suggest it's something we've not seen before that spreads quickly and burns hot. As for how it actually ignited I haven't the faintest." He paused for a breath. "This is where it gets interesting. The note on the bathroom wall would suggest the arson was premeditated and, consequently, murder. The murderer was quick and resourceful and was most likely someone Thomas Wellington knew or he wouldn't have had access to paint the fire retardant liquid on the wall. So the question then becomes, what did Wellington have to be shameful of and why did he want Wellington to pay for it?"
"'He'?" Lestrade's eyes widened purposefully and he flicked his head towards Alexandra.
"Statistically speaking most arsonists are male though I suppose… Oh. She didn't do this Lestrade."
Alexandra's eyes widened even more as she turned to the DI. "You think I had something to do with this?"
"I hadn't ruled it out," he replied softly.
"No," Sherlock shook his head. "As I said before, she was asleep on the sofa when the fire started. If she were responsible why not just leave through the garden? But no, the covering of ash and inhalation of smoke would suggest she went up stairs to try and rouse Wellington. She hasn't even tried to clean herself off yet and the absence of the smudges around her mouth and nose tell me she had the foresight to cover them with her sleeve." He nodded at her hands cradled in her lap. "The bandage on her right hand is due to the burns she sustained when she tried, clearly not thinking in her haste, to open the bedroom door. When she couldn't get it open she ran back downstairs as the fire was spreading but she was smarter this time and she kicked in the glass on the garden door as evidenced by the broken shards and lacerations on her right foot." Sherlock surprised them all by suddenly grabbing both Alexandra's hands from her lap, causing her to wince as he applied pressure to the bandage. He ran each under his nose before dropping them unceremoniously into her lap once again.
"And finally, the flame retardant that was painted on the wall has a very distinct odor that would be, but is not present on her hands."
They all stood, or in Alexandra's case, sat, in silence for a moment.
"Well," Lestrade spoke to her, breaking the tension. "Did he get it right?"
"Exactly right," she replied breathlessly and Sherlock smirked slightly at the DI.
"Sherlock, could I have a word please? Privately?"
He wrinkled his brow but followed Lestrade to the opposite end of the garden, leaving John to stand awkwardly next to Alexandra. He smiled at her kindly.
"I'm John… and I'm very sorry for you."
Her lips turned up slightly, the smile not quite reaching her eyes. "Thank you John. I'm Alex."
Watson glanced at Lestrade and his flat mate who appeared to be arguing with a quiet fervor.
"So, um, probably not the right time," he spoke again, returning his gaze to the woman seated next to him, "but how do you know Sherlock? It's been my experience that he doesn't really have friends."
She opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted.
"Why were you sleeping downstairs?" Sherlock shouted at her suddenly from across the garden, making her jump.
"Downstairs, you were sleeping on the sofa. Why?" He and Lestrade closed the distance again quickly and Sherlock stared at her intensely, waiting for her answer.
"Tom and I had a row. So I slept downstairs."
"Historically speaking, it's usually the husband who's banished to the sofa."
"Yes well I…"
"Where is your wedding ring?" Sherlock interrupted.
Alex looked down in surprise at her left hand. "I don't know, I must have forgotten…"
"And your name, why not take his?" he continued quickly.
"And honestly, you don't seem very upset."
She sucked in a breath and stood up, her eyes glaring. "How dare you! A man is dead!"
"A man? Not 'your husband'?"
"Sherlock what is your point?" Watson spoke loudly, not pleased with the way he was speaking to the young woman.
"My point, John, is that this was a marriage of convenience and nothing more."
"That's insane… you're insane," Alex muttered.
"Is it? Most newlywed women don't forget their wedding rings. And the sofa… I don't think you had a row, I think that's where you sleep. The photographs I saw are all of your wedding day and all staged; no candid shots. They're all for show."
"You don't know…" Alexandra began only to be interrupted again.
"Not quite finished actually. When I knew you your name was Alexandra Breckenridge. Now you say its Claymore and not Wellington. So you were married at least once before to a man you loved, obviously, you kept his name. He died and you marry Wellington but don't take his name. Why? Because you don't plan on keeping it that long." Sherlock started pacing, speaking more to himself than the others. "So that brings us back to a marriage of convenience. Citizenship? No, no, he was an Englishman. What else do we know of Thomas Wellington? Early thirties, works for a nonprofit downtown. Doesn't make much money; obviously… look where he lived. But Lestrade says he comes from money. Oh…" he paused and stopped pacing. "Yes of course." Sherlock smiled at nothing in particular. "Difficult parents or grandparents. They see what a wild young man he is and cut him off. His inheritance now has conditions… a wife, a family, a settled life. But he knows it won't work because even if he marries… his boyfriend… they'll never accept that. So what does he do? He meets you," Sherlock stabbed a finger in Alex's direction, "he hires you and the two of you form an agreement: you'll marry him, pretend to be his wife, put on a good face for his family and when the inheritance comes through you'll get your share, a divorce, and be done with each other."
"That's brilliant," John spoke quietly.
Sherlock hopped slightly and shook his fists in excitement. "Did I get it right?"
"God, you really are still a bastard aren't you?" Alexandra crossed her arms over her chest as she frowned at him.
Sherlock cleared his throat and lowered his arms. "That's a matter of opinion."
"Is he right?" Lestrade asked and Alex nodded. "Where you going to tell us?" He asked more angrily.
"Isn't it obvious?" Sherlock began. "She was still going to hold out for the inheritance, however unlikely," he smirked.
They all stared at her.
"It sounds bad I know." She sighed but continued. "The truth is I barely knew Tom, but he was my friend and I wouldn't do this to him."
"No of course you didn't," Sherlock spoke seriously.
"She didn't do it Lestrade. At the very least she wouldn't have jeopardized getting her cut of the inheritance," Sherlock interrupted.
Lestrade sighed in frustration. "Fine, then who did?"
Sherlock groaned loudly and turned his eyes to the sky. "Must I do everything?" He looked at Lestrade again. "I'd look at the boyfriend. It certainly matches the note. The secret shame of hiding his lover to oblige his family."
"Do you know the boyfriends name Mrs. Claymore?" Lestrade asked.
"No, there was someone but I never met him… Look, am I free to go?"
"I suppose, but we'll stay in touch. Don't leave London." With that Lestrade turned and walked to Sergeant Donovan.
"Right, I think we're done here." Sherlock put his black leather gloves back on and adjusted his scarf before nodding his head slightly in the young woman's direction. "Alexandra. Come on John." He turned and began walking out the way they'd come in.
"Uh, Sherlock… wait," Watson turned back to Alexandra. "Can we drop you somewhere, with family perhaps? I mean you can't stay here."
Alex shook her head. "No, no family. I'll be fine. I'll get a room somewhere. Thank you though. You're nicer than most people I meet." She gave him a small smile as Sherlock came back into the garden.
"John, we're going to have to get a taxi back. Lestrade's sent the car off."
Watson held up his hand to silence Sherlock. "Fine, hold on a moment." He returned his attention to Alex. "You know you could stay with us tonight, at our flat, if you want."
"No she can't," Sherlock spoke as he stood next to John.
"Sherlock, come on," Watson spoke as though he were talking to a child. "That's not very hospitable."
"It wasn't meant to be," he replied slowly.
Alexandra raised an eyebrow at the pair of them. "It's fine John, really. I'll find some place."
"No, you know what you can stay in my room for the night and I'll sleep in the common room. Or at the very least you'll have somewhere to get cleaned up and rest for the day before you have to deal with the Wellington's." He turned his head toward Sherlock. "I live there too Sherlock, I should have a say."
Holmes pressed his lips together in a straight line and stared down his nose at Watson for a few seconds.
"Fine," he spoke sharply and turned on his heels. "But you're paying for the taxi," he called back over his shoulder.
John smiled at Alexandra in embarrassment as Sherlock walked away. "Shall we?" He gestured after his flat mate and they began following him back to the main road.
"So, um…" John spoke hesitantly. "Just out of curiosity, where did you meet Sherlock? At university?"
She shook her head as she walked beside him. "No, I never went to university."
She glanced at John out of the corner of her eye and then up to the tall, stiff back of the man they were following.
What did you think? Should I continue?