Sceaduwe – Chapter 1
With a sigh, John rose from the breakfast table to pace to the landing, grabbing the heavy newspaper that had just landed with a startling thud in front of their door. Sherlock continued staring dreamily into his coffee cup until the requested object landed forcefully in front of him, John grunting as he dropped back into his chair.
The consulting detective snapped open the paper, his eyes quickly scanning the pages until he found something of interest, and a scowl descended on his face. "We need to go to the train station."
"What's that, then?" John asked curiously, shoveling a piece of egg into his mouth.
"Murder in Scotland, Loch Lomond."
"They found a liver floating on the surface of the water."
"Human, of course?"
"Obviously. Dive teams found a corpse. Male, approximately 30 years old. Dead for about 12 hours when they found him. Single gunshot wound to the head – no weapon recovered."
"That doesn't sound of interest to you. Could just be any old suicide," his colleague commented absently as he chased a stray bit of toast around his plate with his fork.
Sherlock's eyes gleamed as he leaned in. "With his liver removed? No, no, John. It's the details."
"He was wearing a Westwood suit. There was a laser pointer in his front pocket, engraved with the letter 'M'. And this – this is the selling point."
"He had a length of horse hair tied around his throat. In a bow."
John merely stared at Sherlock, who was biting his lip in eager anticipation, practically vibrating in his seat.
". . . And?" the doctor prompted.
"Violin, John. The bow. A bow of a musical instrument is strung of horse hair. Horse hair – in a bow. Westwood suit. Laser pointer. M. Violin – sign that it was for me."
"We need to go to the scene and be sure. But that is my tentative hypothesis, yes." Sherlock sprang up, his breakfast forgotten, and dashed to his room. John, finishing his poached eggs on toast, could hear his flatmate talking eagerly to himself as he flung open dresser drawers and ripped clothing off of their hangers in his closet. With a patience borne of his months living with the strange detective, he calmly carried his dishes into the kitchen and headed upstairs to gather his own clothing.
Half an hour later, both men were busily stowing their luggage in the trunk of a hailed cab in the piercing light of an overcast London morning. The foggy cloud cover only served to scatter the bright sunlight of September, causing the whole sky to glow an eerie white, blinding in all directions. Sherlock shielded his eyes with his gloved hand as he looked back up at their flat, still and silent with each door locked, before folding himself into the interior of the cab.
There seemed something familiar about the cabbie, but Sherlock couldn't quite place it. The hair color was similar to someone – something important. A vague sense of unease swelled in his gut, and the detective turned to his colleague, who was deeply engaged in staring out the window.
The doctor turned to him, a question poised in his eyes. Sherlock jerked his head toward the cabbie and back at his companion, his jaw set tightly, but John merely tilted his head slightly, evidently confused.
"What is it?"
John regarded the cabbie for a long moment, then shifted in his chair, shrugging his shoulders and regarding Sherlock curiously. "I think you just might be down on cabbies, because of, well."
"Yes, I know, but no, it's –"
"It's probably nothing, Sherlock. You're just excited about this case, is all. Looking for connections."
"Are you suggesting I'm paranoid?" the detective asked huffily, dismissively tightening the knot on his scarf.
John laughed, reaching over to pat Sherlock's knee. "Perhaps just a little."
Surprised by the uncharacteristic display of physical affection, Holmes flushed deeply, lapsing into an embarrassed silence the rest of the way to the Euston train station.
They were soon settled on the train, Sherlock sitting with his legs up on the seat, John sprawled opposite him, working intently on a crossword as his flatmate muttered to himself, deep in thought. Sherlock's clear, glacial eyes flicked rapidly over the shifting landscape outside, before they alighted suddenly upon the still, bowed figure of his friend.
"But what does it mean, John?"
The doctor ran a hand through his hair and set the crossword aside, steepling his fingers to show he was paying attention.
"The liver." Sherlock pulled out his phone, only to find there was no signal, and cursed, jamming it back into his pocket.
John just sighed, smiling slightly. "Well, it has to be symbolic of something. The liver is such a specific organ to take out. It must have been a sign of something."
"Good, yes, but of what? Loch Lomond. It's a loch, not a sea loch but one of the true lochs. Deep, touristy. Projects an image of timelessness but also of antiquity. The Highlands of Scotland. Not very well known for serial killers, can't think of a single one in the past decade. Known for something else, something . . . else. Clans. All the trifle that comes with the Victorian fetishization of the traditional Scottish way of life, yes."
"Superstitions?" John offered.
"YES, John!" The detective's eyes glowed fiercely. "Very good! Yes. Superstition. It all makes sense. Water spirits, Scotland's known for those. Kelpie, selkie, mermaid, others, others. Cause of death was the gunshot wound rather than drowning, points off for there, spirits don't use guns – oh. It wasn't meant to confuse us into thinking this was anything but a murder, no, it was to suggest a specific fairy tale. The liver, then. The liver, the liver – John, do you know much of Scottish water spirits? It's never come of use to me before."
"Not much more than the layperson."
"Right. Location specific, generally. So a loch – not a river or a stream, but a loch – in the Highlands of Scotland, liver removed. Do I have signal yet?"
"Try mine?" John offered, tossing his phone to his flatmate, who caught it smoothly, giving a happy yelp when he saw that it still had bars. It took him less than a minute to find the proper Wikipedia page and hand the back to its owner, a triumphant smirk hanging easily on his lips.
"That's our story – the Each Uisge. The most dangerous water spirit in Britain. Very good choice, reminding us who we're dealing with."
"Right, good. But why do we have to go to Scotland if you could have just figured that out on the phone?"
Sherlock looked miffed, his lip curling derisively as he jammed his hands into his pockets. "Obviously I would like to examine the bodies for any details that the inquiry would have missed. You will be useful for that as well. It always helps to have a fresh set of eyes."
"And it helps to get away from Baker Street for a while," Holmes offered, a genuine smile throwing his face into light. "One of those working vacations."
John returned his smile, picking up his crossword again. The two sat in companionable silence until disembarking at Glasgow Central to pick up a train to Hyndland. England far behind them, the fresh, bracing air of Scotland was a welcome change, filling their lungs with cold, damp air while they lunched at a café.
Something about the Scottish light warped John's features, Sherlock decided, a subtle change from warm and companionable to bristling and distant. He scowled, analyzing his friend's face as the doctor sliced at his steak with neat, surgical swipes until John looked up, shooting him a questioning glance. He shook his head, brushing his index fingers against his lips as he observed the man returning to his meal.
Something was off. He couldn't quite decide what, but the sickly feeling in his stomach rose once again and he couldn't bring himself to ignore it.
Their train to the heart of the Highlands departed again shortly, throwing them once again into the chilly quiet that had begun to descend around them. Sherlock gazed out the window, his brain calculating and recalculating, analyzing any possible clue: both for the murder scene awaiting them at Loch Lomond, and for the sudden shift in his attitude toward John.
"Have you done anything to irritate me lately?" He asked suddenly, turning back to the unassuming man still penning words into the boxes of his puzzle.
"Irritating me. Have you done it recently?"
"Uh . . . not that I'm aware. Why? What's this about?" A microexpression crossed John's face almost too fast for Sherlock to catch it – was that pride? – before it settled on concern.
"Nothing. Just – curious."
"I thought you would know better than me if I've annoyed you."
"Brain. Deletes things it doesn't deem important, sometimes misses a few particles. Stray emotions and things like that."
John chuckled – it seemed more a short bark than a true laugh – and grimace slightly. "Thought you didn't bother with emotions."
"Sometimes they bother with me."
The long-suffering doctor simply sighed. "Right. Well, I'm going to take a nap, if it's alright with you? Wake me up when we get to Hyndland."
"Of course. Then one more train to Balloch."
In the lull of the car, the companionable snores of his flatmate and the soothing rattle of the train's windows, Sherlock pulled out his phone, typing in a quick Google search.
How to know if you're angry with your flatmate
When the search pulled up nothing of interest, he tried something else.
How to remember if someone has annoyed you
Nothing conclusive appeared, and he tried again.
How to know if you're angry or infatuated
A stream of interesting articles appeared; Sherlock rolled his eyes, suppressing a groan for the sake of the sleeping doctor, and settled down to read.
An hour later, the train shuddered to a stop at the station, John jerking awake at the touch of Sherlock's pale, cold hand on his shoulder. "Already here? Felt like ten minutes."
"Sleep distorts your awareness of time."
"Yes, thank you," John muttered crabbily, pulling on his coat. "Find anything interesting on your phone about the murder?"
"Yes – no. Not about the murder." Sherlock drew himself up to his full height, descending to the platform, his nose twitching.
"About what, then?"
"What?" Watson's expression deepened into confusion. "Why were you looking up me?"
"Not you specifically, about you."
"Okay . . . what then?" John asked, hurrying to keep up with Sherlock's long strides as they made their way to the next train.
"Google seems to think I'm in love with you."
The doctor burst out in laughter, stopping suddenly to double over with the strength of his mirth. "You – in love – with – oh god Sherlock! That's – oh god – no, that's ridiculous."
Sherlock caught his hurt look before it could spread over his face, settling on biting his lip savagely. "Right. Very amusing. We have a train to catch, come along."
"Sorry, it's just – that would never happen."
"As you say, John. Come on," he growled, tugging on the bent-over man's hand with a furious burst of energy. Straightening, John followed obediently, still chuckling.
"Let's try to focus on the dead man, alright, Sherlock?"
"This isn't a, a . . . honeymoon, or what have you."
"I'm perfectly aware." Even Sherlock could sense the awkwardness roiling between them as the two settled themselves and their belongings onto the train.
"Just so we're clear. That's all."
"I know – it's fine."
Another stretch of silence appeared between them; Sherlock idly wondered if there ever had been a time where they had felt truly comfortable with each other, or if his mind had merely glossed over any unpleasantness that had existed in the past. The man tucked in the ratty chair opposite him, reading a paper he'd snatched up in the station, surely didn't seem threatening; yet Sherlock felt a growing restlessness, a discomfort.
Surely it had to be some sort of attraction? No other option made sense. They had no secrets from each other, no part of their lives kept separate or contained: to suddenly feel such a sense of unease must suggest that Sherlock's own feelings had somehow shifted, bringing them in an uncomfortable new alignment to which his mind must adjust. It was the most probably conclusion of the data – he would make that his working hypothesis. Certainly, it was a puzzle to play with while they pondered the case, like a background program kept running while he handled more pressing things.
As for the true matter at hand? Sherlock settled down, running a hand through his thick nest of curls and closing his eyes as a vast network of speculation and calculation spread throughout his mind. In this situation, only the body could tell.