John grunted when he landed on the dirty floor after being hauled by force inside a darkened warehouse and unceremoniously pushed forward to fall down on his bum. He winced, vaguely thanking God that he wasn't wearing one of his nicer throusers before he left the flat, as he surreptitiously tried to free his hands which were bound behind him, only to get grit inside his nails as his fingers scrambled blindly and scratching against the floor more than gaining purchase of the rope around his wrist.
From his eye line a pair of feet encased in cheap leather walked up to him before a voice spoke up, "Good ev'nin' Mr Holmes."
John groaned an internal Oh no, not again before he looked up to see the grin on the battered face melting into surprise.
"This ain't Holmes!"
"Wot? But he was there! Opened the door like he owned it!"
"You bloody fuck! He's the boyfriend, he is!"
"I'm not-" John started to protest before a fist punched at his bad shoulder to keep him quiet. John grunted again, pain blossoming under his skin and all he could do was take deep breaths as he willed it away.
John groaned. "S-seriously, if you people would just ask before kidnapping the wrong person-"
"Then we'd better make sure the right person comes, then, eh?" the first man sneered.
"He won't come," John said with a scoff, hoping his bluff would get him out of another hostage situation. Twice in a month? Really? It was embarrassing! "Got better things to do. Threw me out coz I was breathing too loud."
"Yeah? Well maybe this'll change his mind," and it was the only warning he got before a fist landed at the side of his face from Bad Guy number 2. He was barely able to shake off the dizziness before another blow landed at the other side of his face. He could already feel the bruises forming when a pair of hands dragged him up from behind to prop him up before Bad Guy number 1 gave him a well-aimed punch to his solar plexus that left him gasping for breath and wanting to throw up at the same time.
He felt hands rummaging inside his pockets before they found his mobile phone and dazedly registered the flash and sound of the automated click from his camera phone of a photo being taken.
"He'll come when he sees that you won't be breathing for long," said the first man and before another punch landed on his face which knocked him out cold, he was thinking that all he wanted to be was back in 221B with a cup of warm tea and sharing the warmth of the flat with a brilliant, stupid man called Sherlock Holmes.
John woke up to the acrid smell of ammonia and when saw something being waved under his nose, he reflexively lifted his hands to bat the offending thing away.
"Easy, easy," a masculine voice said, holding his hands down before it could land on anything, probably the man's face which was looming above him and watching him in barely constrained interest.
John slowly opened his eyes wider, but had to blink at the brightness of the room lit by the morning sunlight which flooded warmth and light into his surroundings through the open windows. Christ, it's morning already?
"Wh-Where am I?" John said, sitting up on what he could see was a sofa that would've only been comfortable in his nan's house. John looked around and had to halt. Actually, the whole room looked as if it was fashioned by someone older than his nan.
"You're in 221 Baker Street," the man said, breaking John out of his mind-wanderings, "Mrs Hudson found you outside, unconcious against the front door of our place and I carried you in here."
John stared as the man stood up and straightened his waistcoat and then his coat before running his hands through his slick dark hair as if emphasising the fact that carrying another man has managed to rumple his otherwise fastidious appearance. John couldn't help but think of Mycroft at that moment.
"Oh, I'm at Mrs Hudson's?" John asked rubbing at his face, "Where is she?"
"She's just gone to make some tea. Now!" the man exclaimed, as he sat across John, crossing his legs and leaning back against the armchair before peering at him in an intense manner. "You certainly are a curious man."
John blinked and started to speak but found his throat lodged by habitable nervousness. He cleared his throat subtly, licked his lips and said, "E-Excuse me?"
"You've been in England for quite some time but have spent some months, maybe years overseas, evident by the slowly lightening of your tan. Your accent has a curious mix of Southern and East of London but none of the upper class enunciation which I find most odd since your fingernails and the back of your ear says that you maintain a more than proper state of cleanliness. My guess would be is that your occupation forces you to this state of hygiene - a doctor or a surgeon, then. Ah, but not just a doctor. A soldier as well. You have callouses on your right hand, the same spots on the fingers where you would hold the revolver. Either that, or I'm talking to a criminal or a policeman... which I doubt as I've dealth with both classes to know one at first glance. So! A soldier and doctor just returned from overseas. India or Afghanistan?"
John took a moment to gape at the flow of drawling yet frantic words coming out of the man's mouth before he exclaimed, "Oh my God! You're another Holmes, aren't you?"
The man's green eyes narrowed. "And which Holmes would that be?"
"I dunno," John said in exasperation, waving his hands at the man, "You dress like Mycroft and act like Sherlock! Are you the middle child?"
"There are only two of us and if you know Mycroft, he is older, out of shape and is prone to periods of incapacitation when he finds things tedious for his mind," the man sniffs disdainfully.
John gave a scoff of laughter. "What? So you're saying you're Sherlock Holmes?"
The man stood up and gave an elegant bow. "At your service."
John stared at him a bit more before trying again, "The... First?"
"No," the man said, frowning, "Just Sherlock."
John tugged at his collar of his new shirt for the umpteenth time as the man who calls himself Sherlock Holmes inspected his discarded jacket with a keen eye. The brunette insisted that John be fitted with a new set of clothes, proclaiming that what he was wearing was unsuitable.
"A gentleman does not show their shirt sleeves in public."
"Then I won't go out!"
"Mrs Hudson comes in here often. She will be aghast! And other people visit at times for consultations."
John threw up his hands in defeat submitting himself to be fitted for TWO shirts, TWO waistcoats and TWO pair of throusers. He was also given a hat, a frock coat and a tie which at that moment he was in the process of loosening to allow himself some breathing space. Bugger! I've never felt collars this stiff in my life! What are they made from? Cardboard?
He had to admit, though, that he felt really dapper in his new clothes, lessening his disgruntlement at his suspicion that all Holmes actually wanted was to freely look over his clothes that he bought at Debenhams in 2009 without being incumbered by a body, more than to protect the virtues of Victorian ladies of London.
It was a few hours ago that John realised that he was not set up in an elaborate prank by Sherlock or Mrs Hudson or God forbid, Mycroft, and he began to set out explaining to Holmes that he may have inadvertently slipped back in time after a clash with one of his friend's enemies - his friend that happened to be named Sherlock Holmes as well.
At Holmes' blank look, John continued, "Maybe he's your great-great-great-great grandson or whatever? But what are the odds that you have a landlady called Mrs Hudson and living at Baker Street as well... Coincidence?"
"Are you saying that you are from the future?"
"Yes! Like... like that scene from Charles Dickens' A christmas Carol with the Ghost of Christmas Past..."
Holmes continued to look non-plussed before he eyes lit up in realisation. "AH! Goethe's Faust: The Second Part of the Tragedy!"
"A German play with Greek mythologies full of backstabbing, lust, envy, murder," Holmes explained, the last part said in relish, "But the idea of time travel was mere fantasy and no fact to base the fiction."
John sighed, one hand on his waist while his thumb and index finger of his other hand rubbed the ridge of his nose, wishing that this 19th century Sherlock was more knowledgable in disciplines of science other than Chemistry. Like Physics, for example, because he sure as hell can't explain time travel without bringing Doctor Who into the conversation. And he only watches the series for the adventure and less on the scientific mumbo-jumbo.
"I don't know..."
Holmes patted his shoulders in comfort. "Fear not, Doctor Watson. I've not found you mad, yet. Your manner, although anxious, is calm and controlled. No sign of erratic breathing or heart rate and your eyes are clear and your speech without hint of dishonesty. Probably you did travel through time or have just sustained enough injury to muddle your mind into thinking so. Whatever the reason, we'll get to the bottom of this."
John gave him a grateful smile which Holmes returned crookedly but before the doctor could say anything else, Holmes suddenly pounced on his jacket which John left laying on the sofa as soon as he changed into his new casual wear. If what he was wearing was casual wear, he dread to think what he would need to use for non-casual occassions.
"Synthetic leather, you say?" Holmes asked, scrutinising the the leather bits patched on the elbows and shoulders.
John shook himself to the present time and nodded even if Holmes wasn't looking at him. "Yeah, genuine leather's pretty pricey in my time," he replied, tucking his hands in his throusers to stop himself from fighting with his collar again. Belatedly, he realised that he should've chosen the simple bow tie like the one Holmes was using instead of the noose around his neck...
"What?" John said.
"Oh nothing..." the brunette murmured. "Your time..."
John sighed. "Yeah, all right. Still not buying that yeah?" he said, finally sitting down on an armchair with a huff, tapping the arm of the chair with his fingers or a bit before picking up the newspaper on the side table to occupy himself as Holmes started on his jumper next.
A few minutes later, there came a knock on the door and Mrs Hudson, a woman who might've been an older sister of his Mrs Hudson if they were both living in the same era, entered and nodded at John before speaking to Holmes. "Excuse me, Mr Holmes, a lady is here to see you - a Miss Ogilvy, for consultation."
"A client! Yes, thank you, Mrs Hudson," Holmes said, stashing his newest puzzles i.e. John's clothes, on the chair behind his writing desk as a young woman walked in, her face plain but pretty behind puce-coloured netting attached to her hat.
Sherlock turned to John, giving him a look but the younger man merely looked at him back, not understanding that Holmes would want John out of the room to give him and the woman some privacy, until at the last minute.
"Oh! Sorry! I thought - well, I always helped Sherlock with his cases..."
"He's a policeman?"
"A consulting detective, he calls it."
"Impossible!" Holmes hissed under his breath, "It never existed until I created it!"
"Future," John reminded him smugly.
"If he is real, he sounds like an unimaginative boy already," Holmes said in disgruntlement before sighing. "Fine. You can stay and help."
And with that, he turned away from John and gave his attention towards their guest.
"Good morning Miss Ogilvy. I'm Sherlock Holmes and... ah... this is Doctor Watson," Holmes said, nodding towards John, who stood up with Holmes when their visitor appeared. John gave the woman a welcoming nod and a smile which the lady returned.
"Miss Ogilvy, please take a seat," Holmes said, waiting for the woman to sit on one of the chairs before he took the sofa across from her. John decided to remain standing, leaning against the frame of the fireplace for the heat. He was already missing indoor heating and was grateful for the casual coat Holmes made him wear.
"Now, Miss Ogilvy," Holmes said, "Are you here for assistance on the disappearance of your fiancee, Mr Algernon Berry?"
The women's lip thinned in response. "I suppose you've read it in the newspaper two days ago. The police are at wit's end that they have even taken to thinking that I was involved in his disappearance! I was the one who insisted it was foul play when all they could think about was kidnapping or burglary gone wrong, and they have the gall to imply I was behind it!"
The woman's hands started to shake and quickly, John poured the still warm tea which Mrs Hudson made for them early on into a cup, balancing it carefully on a saucer before handing it over to Miss Ogilvy who accepted it gratefully.
"Thank you, Doctor," the woman said, giving John another smile before taking a sip to calm her nerves. As soon as she was able to, she continued her account, "Algy has a laboratory out in Clapham. He spends most of his time there researching alone or with a fellow scientist on experiments small pharmaceuticals contracted him to carry out while finishing his thesis in King's College. I visited him last Sunday and he was pleased to see me and said to me that if I was able, to wait for half an hour before he could be done with his latest tests so that we may walk home together. I left him in his laboratory, went to one of the rooms where a housekeeper was sorting out a few messes, and read a book while I waited for him to finish. As soon as I finished my book, I realised it has been a quarter past the time so I went back to fetch him. But he was nowhere to be seen! When I saw his crutch in the room, I became worried. He would never have gone far without it! As you may have read Mr Holmes, that my fiancee is crippled in the right leg. I suspect he has been abducted by force!"
Holmes brushed his finger against his lips in a pose John began to recognise as his thinking pose - much like Sherlock who would steeple his fingers in front of his mouth when he was busy processing all the information at once.
"No one has seen him coming in and out?" Holmes asked.
"No one, Mr Holmes," Miss Ogilvy said, "the housekeeper was in the next room, cleaning, and she said she didn't hear the door opening or closing because the hinges makes such a racket when it does."
"The police found no trace of oil on the hinges?" Holmes asked.
"None, Mr Holmes," the woman replied, "It still makes a racket when they tried the door."
"Hmmm... the windows?"
"Locked from inside."
"I see... Has anything been moved since you've called the police?"
"No," she told him, "I made sure of it. I told the housekeeper to keep everything in its place and not let anyone in an out except the police and myself and that if the police were to come without me, that she should keep an eye on them."
"Excellent!" Holmes said, jumping out of his seat, "If I may trouble you madam, that Doctor Watson and I may visit the scene of Mr Berry's disappearance today?"
"Oh, thank you Mr Holmes," the woman said, her eyes alight, "I was afraid you would not take my case! But I must tell you in all honesty that I do not have enough funds to pay your normal fee-"
"I shall accept whatever you are able to part with, Miss Ogilvy," Holmes told her magnanimously, "Although, I cannot promise you now that I'll be able to find the whereabouts of your fiancee until I'm able to examine the laboratory from whence he disappeared."
Miss Ogilvy looked down in a moment of sombreness. "Yes, I understand, Mr Holmes. Thank you."
"Come Doctor Watson!" Holmes said, taking his frock coat from the rack beside the door, "Let us be off!"
John sped down the steps to chase after Holmes but before long an annoyed shout bounded against the stair walls, "Watson! Your coat and hat!"
A few seconds later, John appeared back in 221B to snatch his new frock coat and hat from the rack before bounding back down the stairs again. He hasn't been scolded for not bundling up before going outside since he was five! Red-faced, he joined the consulting detective who stamped his foot in impatience as John hurriedly put on his coat on the way.
"Really!" Holmes said in a huff, "Do people in the future wear any clothes at all?"
"Just enough to cover the important bits," John shot back, silently enjoying the mixture of disbelief and horror on Holmes' face.
"Doctor Watson! What do you make of this?"
John walked over to where Holmes was kneeling at and saw a scatter of white and grey dirt on the floor. No, not dirt, he internally corrected himself as he squated beside the consulting detective to take a closer look. Nearby, Miss Ogilvy, an inspector and two constables were watching the pair in interest.
"It looks like... ash..." John said.
"You are correct. Though from where, I cannot be certain, yet," Holmes said, before nodding to the stool beside him, "This is where Mr Berry is seated while he conducts his experiment?"
"Yes Mr Holmes," the inspector, Barton, answered while Miss Ogilvy silently nodded.
Holmes lifted himself a little on his hunches and peered at the surface of the stool at eye level before running one of his fingers across the wood. Then he hitched himself higher to do the same on the metallic table and running another finger across the surface table before inspecting both fingers with pursed lips. Next, he looked up at the ceiling, casting his eyes across the expanse of a short radius above the table.
"What is it?" John asked, also looking up.
Holmes looked at John from the corner of his eyes before looking away and telling John with a challenge in his voice, "You said you've helped your friend in cases before? You tell me."
John lifted his eyes heavenward, sighing, before he went back to the ashes under the stool. Other than assisting Sherlock in subjects the man refused to store in his "hard-drive" and being his sounding board, John has been observing the processes of Sherlock's data gathering from the moment the man began dragging John to his cases. If Holmes was the same as Sherlock, he would have a bit of a headstart compared to the first time he met the modern-day consulting detective.
Carefully, John traced the steps Holmes went through, noting the ashes: how much was on the floor, how much was on the stool and on the table before looking up to note the stain on the ceiling. The doctor squinted his eyes and after a moment, he took a step back, picked up a nearby stool - much to the consternation of the constabulary - and lifted himself on it to take a closer look a the ceiling.
"What have you found?"
"Burn marks," John said, jumping down from the stool, "Of course, you knew that."
Holmes' lips curled into a smile. "I did. And what else?"
"The ashes are from the same source," John said, rubbing his fingers to feel the texture of the ashes.
"More are scattered at the seat of Mr Berry," he continued, nodding towards the stool, "Mostly on it, so it's mainly been dropped onto the stool, some falling off and there are more under the table. There isn't much on the table itself but it's also there."
"How about Mr Berry's crutches?"
John picked up the crutches leaning against the wall beside the fireplace and examined it. It was cool to the touch and light. "Aluminium? It's warped here..." he said running his fingers along the wavy dent on the cane and looked up at Holmes who seemed to be beaming with excitement.
"Aluminium?" exclaimed Barton, "I thought it was teak!"
John arched an eyebrow at the man. "Teak?"
The inspector stammered, "W-Well, it has the colour of teak and very sturdy. Aluminium is very hard to come by."
John blinked. "Really?"
Barton blinked back at John. "Of course! Where do you-"
"He just returned from the Americas, Inspector," Holmes cut it, "Aluminium is probably in abundance there."
John turned to look at Holmes. If he was a betting man, he would've said that Holmes was depending on Barton's ignorance to miss the slip he made.
"Miss Ogilvy? Is the state of the crutches unusual to you?" Holmes asked before the woman stepped forward to look at the crutches.
The woman's brow creased. "Yes, it is. It was smooth before."
"You picked it up when you saw that your fiancee was not in the room? Where did you find it before you placed it against the wall?"
"Propped up against the table," Miss Ogilvy replied, staring at Holmes, "How did you know I picked it up when I first entered the room?"
"It's expected for someone who knew of Mr Berry's handicap to pick up the one thing he can't move without, to ascertain physically what they already know in their mind that something has gone amiss," Holmes explained. "The internal composition of aluminium can create delayed distortion on itself once exposed to a certain degree of heat."
"Miss Ogilvy put it beside the fireplace, didn't she?" Barton pointed out.
"It was too far from the fire to be affected," Holmes said, "therefore the crutches must have been affected by a different source of heat. And where do you suppose from?"
Everyone simultaneously looked up at the ceiling with the burn mark before dropping their eyes onto the table.
"The bunsen burner is set on the minimum flame. I've checked," the inspector remarked, "It's not big enough to make that kind of mess."
"Some sort of heat source certainly was big enough to make that mark," John said, looking back up at the ceiling as well, "It would be hot enough to warp the aluminium. So the heat came from this table. But where is it?"
"Like a candle, the source of heat burns itself out and leaves residue. Miss Ogilvy hasn't seen anything different from when Mr Berry disappeared and if truly no one has entered and left this room before the police arrived, therefore it is still in this room," Holmes said before waving at the ashes, "Hence, we can safely say that this here is the source of heat."
"Good grief!" the inspector said, peering at the ashes, "And I thought it was part of Mr Berry's experiment turned over! But what is it?"
Holmes hunched back down on the floor and carefully sifted through the ashes until he found a sliver of white to bring to the light.
"Doctor Watson," Holmes called, and John was instantly by his side, "I have my suspicion but can you confirm what this is?"
John took the sliver of white, held it to the light as well and it was a whole five seconds before his eyes widened and turned to look at Holmes in disbelief.
Holmes arched an eyebrow and John snapped his head back to the sliver, giving it another intense look before turning to look at Holmes again.
"It looks like a bone," John said in surprise.
"Correct," Holmes said.
"What?" Barton cut in impatiently, "Mr Berry was doing experiments with animals?"
"Never!" protested Miss Ogilvy, "His experiments are with solutions and solid forms obtained from pharmacists and the university's laboratories. He's a kind soul and would never experiment with animals, dead or alive!"
John winced and gingerly placed the bone back on the pile of ash before stepping away from the table.
"Then, there can only be one thing," Holmes said, "Something has been burning hot enough to warp the aluminium crutches and then Mr Berry was gone. All evidence points that he has not left the room: His crutches, the closed window & the creaky door. So he must still be here."
"He's... hiding somewhere?" John hazarded which earned him an disdainful look from Holmes.
"My dear boy, whatever for?"
John clamped his mouth shut, turned his attention back to the table and stared and stared and stared.
"Oh my God..." John said quietly, "You mean that's-"
"It is," Mr Holmes said grimly.
"What is?" the inspector demanded.
"Miss Ogivly. I'm guessing Mr Berry partakes in more than the occasional drink after dinner?"
The woman gave Holmes an affronted look. "Yes, Algy does have trouble with alcohol but he was perfectly sobre the day I came to see him."
"As I have suspected," Holmes murmured before he turned around and started pacing.
"There is a phenomenon where a body can be burnt to cinders caused by even the smallest flame and fueled by body fat in addition to the level of alcohol present in the system," Holmes said out loud, his voice sounding crisp yet smooth in the silence of his rapt listeners, "Cases are rare where documentation is shoddy to form any conclusive results." This, Holmes gave the inspector a dirty glare as if he was directly responsible for it. Seeing the man's befuddled face, John was sure Barton was innocent. "Any precise details of this phenomena are written in books of fiction but have some credibility in their hypothesis."
"You mean to say Mr Berry burnt himself into - into -" the inspector wordlessly flapped his hand to the ashes. "Th-That's impossible!"
"It's called Spontaneous Human Combustion," John told the inspector, before turning towards Holmes, "Is that what you're saying?"
Holmes gave John a proud smile and nodded. "Excellent, Doctor Watson. Excellent."
Miss Ogilvy began to wail.
It was nearly dark and only a few people were around when three policeman, Holmes, John and their client came out of the laboratory to stop in front of a cab which was waiting by the side of the street.
"I am sorry for your loss Miss Ogilvy," Barton said lowly as soon as the woman sat inside the box, "And I appreciate that you are willing to come to the station to give us a statement so quickly."
"I just want it over with," the woman said with a sniff before blowing her nose. She gasped in the process of reigning her composure before turning to John.
"Thank you Doctor Watson," she said to man who have helped her walk to the carriage and held her comfortingly as she cried her heart out in the laboratory early on.
"It's alright," John said, patting her hand which cluthed at the window of the carriage, "We'll see you at the station."
"Come, Doctor Watson!" Holmes called out.
As soon as the cab holding Miss Ogilvy slowly rolled out into the street, John turned to catch up to Holmes only to have his feet slip at the sidewalk and banging his head against the back of the carriage.
Miss Ogilvy wiped her watery eyes with her handkerchief before she looked out of the window at the sound but saw nothing of interest. She sniffed and leaned back on her seat, waiting for the arrival at the station.
Beside the road, another cab stopped, hailed by the Barton and as the inspector climbed up the box, Holmes turned around to call for John again impatiently.
Holmes brow furrowed with consternation when he saw that the only people around were two bankers and a merchant on their way home and no sign of the younger man.
"John! John! Wake UP! John!"
John groaned and his eyes fluttered open bit by bit before seeing Sherlock's face looming over him with an expression of worry.
"What-?" John voice croaked, "Sherlock?"
Sherlock nodded, his curls bouncing, helping John slowly sit up before the doctor felt a wave of dizzines that he had to lie back down again.
"Shit," John groaned, "What happened?"
"You were kidnapped, again..." Sherlock told him primly before his voice took on a subdued tone, "They sent me pictures... I was... I called Lestrade and he and his men are now pursuing Steve Dixie as we speak."
John sighed, closing his eyes to lessen the throbbing in his head. "Got on his bad side, did you?"
"It was a minor altercation." Sherlock sniffed as he thumbed the number of the ambulance on his phone. "Or so I thought. I did not factor into account the involvement of his mistress which subsequently exposed the affair to his wife."
John chuckled. "Every man's nightmare."
A moment of silence passed while they waited for medical attention before Sherlock spoke up. "John?"
"I don't remember you changing your clothes before you left the flat."
John blinked, lifted his arm and saw a glimpse of tweed under the brown coat. He quickly sat up, fighting nausea to realise that he was wearing a suit and waistcoast under the long coat and suddenly he understood why the collar around his neck felt so stiff.
"No..." John breathed, "Can't be..."
Back in the 19th century
"Hm?" the man replied, flipping open another page of the newspaper.
Watson held up a black coat, an odd mixture of fleece and leather, to Holmes. "This is an odd piece of clothing. Where on earth did you get it? Don't tell me you made this."
Holmes jumped, snatching the jacket from Watson's lax fingers and looked at it over. He had forgotten where he kept it and it seemed that Watson discovered it while the doctor was looking through the trunk of clothing for something wearable after his shirt sleeve was eaten through by one of Holmes' spilt experiment.
"Nonsense. Mrs Hudson does all the sewing," Holmes said, folding the coat meticulously before sitting back on his seat bringing the coat with him. "Do you remember about the 'The Singular Affair of the Aluminium Crutch' that I told you about?"
"How could I forget," Watson said with a wry grin, "It still seemed far fetch to me."
Holmes lit a cigarette and leaned back comfortably on his chair. "Which is why I didn't tell you of a case within that case that you will think more far fetched than spontaneous human combustion."
Watson, eager for more tales even how impossible it may be, sat down on the sofa near Holmes. "I have no doubt, " he said with a chuckle, "Go ahead, I'm rife with anticipation."
Holmes took a puff and exhaled the smoke through his lips, patting the jacket on his lap with his free hand and said, "I call the incident 'The Mystery of The Time Traveller'."