A/N- This disclaimer goes for this and all subsequent chapters. This is not a work for any personal financial gain. I'm just having fun with the Doyle's characters in Moffat's re-envisioned world.
I began plotting/writing this after A Scandal in Belgravia came out because it brought up so many delicious questions and hints about our favorite consulting detective. To the best of my ability, this story will adhere to canon up through that episode.
Oh, and it should be said that my familiarity of British culture is that which I have absorbed from Austen and Dickens novels, the occasional BBC miniseries and Top Gear. Forgive me where the errors may lie, but I will do my best to correct any mistakes if pointed out to me.
Rating subject to change.
His brow is covered by a layer of sweat. He quickly wipes it away.
"Hun…I'm…I'm heading out for a walk."
From somewhere inside the small house, he hears the feminine reply over the blare of a show. "Roger, don't bother. Telly says a storm is coming."
He blinks, swaggers on his feet a bit. Has to reach out and use the wall as support.
"I just…need some fresh air," he calls back.
A moment later—
"Take the dog then."
The man swallows and with shaky hands, grabs the leash from the hook on the wall. A giant wolfhound trots over on cue and nuzzles her master's hand. Large brown eyes watch every tremor. The dog whines.
"That's a good girl," the man whispers, clipping the leash on. "Out we go."
The telly's put on mute. A young woman hurries into the kitchen and grabs an umbrella. She hobbles back to the entryway. Her large belly slows her down. Expecting their first in a few short weeks.
She opens the door and looks out. "Roger! Roger, wait! You forgot your umbrella!"
He's too far away now. She sighs and puts the umbrella by the door, then goes back to the sofa to wait.
Thunder rolls softly in the distance, signaling that the rest of the day will be as dreary, cold and wet as the night has been. Several dozen miserable-looking law enforcement personnel pace about a taped off crime scene. They wear standard black coats with neon vests. One stands out among them. He's a slight built man with dirty blonde hair plastered to his forehead from the drizzle. His soaked tweet jacket screams academic, but his stance is rigid. The other officers shoot fiery glares in his direction. Self-consciously, he squats down and stares for a long moment at the body.
"That's a bloody awful way to go," he says, to no one in particular.
Dr. John Watson closes his eyes and stands, eager to get away from the morbid scene. Details swirl like tempest. Things that, a year ago, would have floated by him like air. Now he sees the battlefield. Parts of it, anyway. Sherlock would probably disagree. But he isn't here right now, the doctor recalls sourly.
He snuggles deeper into his jacket as the rain begins to fall more heavily. Observations surface in his mind.
Concrete, surface cracked. Painted burgundy now. The clouds are reflected in the blood. That's sick. Not the way the Lord intended it. The body is of a young male, late 20s probably? He propped up against the brick wall like he's taking a nap. What is this place? John looks over his shoulder. Oh yes. Right— old car factory. Reliant Robins were made here. Nasty little trike things. And Lestrade said something about a dog. The doctor looks around. Oh, there it is.
Another officer is holding its leash, though obviously unwillingly. Animal control hasn't arrived yet. John caught a few bits of earlier conversations. Some investigators blame the dog. He can understand why. The animal looks like a hound from hell. Its once silver coat is marbled with black oily mud and blood. So would appear any loyal creature lying close to its master in this place, John reasons.
He walks over and reaches out a hand. The wolfhound sniffs it, and then offers a warm lick across his fingers. The doctor smiles and gives the animal a quick pat on the head. Not a mean bone in this one's body, he thinks. Poor thing.
He turns away and ducks under the yellow tape roping off the area. Detective Inspector Lestrade is sitting in the car, warm and dry. He opens the door and John slides in.
"Coffee?" Lestrade asks, leaning over the seat with a cup. John smiles wearily and takes it. The warmth seeps through the economy Styrofoam into his numb fingers, and he releases an involuntary sigh.
"Would have offered a pint if I could," the detective inspector continues, reading his expression. The corner of the doctor's mouth rises in acknowledgment, and he takes a sip.
"Next time, then."
Both men want to say 'there shouldn't be a next time.' Both know that's a lie, so they sit quiet another minute and sip coffee in silence.
John speaks first. "He hasn't arrived yet?"
Lestrade shakes his head. "Pity, really. Especially with a case like this. Could have used the insight."
He frowns, and for a moment, looks much older than he really is. He stares out the window of the car.
"I don't have much to go on right now. Poor chap. What a mess. Passing jogger found him. Now I have to talk to his pregnant wife and I don't have a damn thing to say to make it any better."
"Mmmm." John takes another sip. He pulls out his phone again. No texts, no missed calls.
"I…uh…I'll tell Sherlock what I saw," he offers. "I'm sure someone will get to the bottom of this."
Lestrade nods. "Yeah. Well, thanks for coming out anyway."
John exits the warm police car and steps out into the rain. He hails a taxi.
"Wer' to?" the driver asks.
"Baker Street," John replies automatically. "221B Baker Street."
John stomps up the stairs tired, wet and in no mood for his flatmate's mercurial antics. I swear, he thinks, if I find his naked arse standing around in a bed sheet I'm going straight for my gun—
"Good morning, John."
The doctor skids to a halt and glares at the fully dressed, ridiculously alert looking Sherlock Holmes. They couldn't look more different at the moment. His flatmate's dressed impeccably in a black collared shirt and slacks, his dark curly hair awry and somehow just right, and he sits with just enough smugness it makes John want to deck him. Twice.
Sherlock glances over the screen of the laptop at his scowling friend. He receives a loathing glower as the doctor dumps his wet coat on the other chair and collapses on the sofa.
"Where were you?"
"That should be obvious." His tone is disinterested at best.
John purses his lips and tries again.
"Why weren't you at the crime scene? I know Lestrade contacted you."
Sherlock pulls out his phone and flips through the screens.
"Ah, he did."
The doctor's eyebrow rises. "…You didn't check?"
Sherlock places the phone on the table and looks back at the laptop screen, effectively shutting the other man out. John sits a few minutes in the thick silence before concluding that his effort is futile. Raw anger and frustration bubble to the surface once more.
"So that's how it's going to be? I leave a warm bed and good company to freeze outside investigating a case that you knew about and blew off."
Sherlock doesn't reply. The blue eyes twitch back and forth as he reads through text at impossible speeds.
I might as well be conversing with the bloody skull. "Fine. Just fine," John says. He stands up. "I'm going to freshen up now. Feel free to put some water on for tea."
Just as he turns away—
"Routine homicide. Hardly worth my time."
John spins around. "When is a homicide routine? A man is dead, Sherlock!"
Sherlock is still looking at the screen. The doctor stares at him with an open mouth.
"The poor man was…oh, never mind. I'm just wasting my breath."
Sherlock closes the laptop and rests his chin on the tips of his fingers, which are pressed together as though in prayer.
"He was what?" he responds placidly. His eyes are trained on the hideous brocade-patterned wall before him.
"Stabbed, Sherlock. Leaves behind a distraught pregnant wife. And dog for that matter."
If the revelation has any impact on the consulting detective, his face doesn't show it. Not even a twitch of the fingers. John swears under his breath and exits the room. He wasn't expecting a reaction just then. But he never stops hoping for one.
Sherlock's studious gaze flicks over his flatmate's retreating form, taking in the soaking clothes and general raggedness. "It must have been a shoddy mattress."
The doctor stops and shakes his head. "What?" he says, looking back over his shoulder.
"What's-her-name's mattress. Poor quality, at least in comparison to that which you're accustomed."
"It was…fine. How would you know?" John snaps. It's a reflexive comment, born out of an innate defense mechanism and lack of sleep. As soon as the words leave his mouth, he regrets them.
Sherlock's eyes glitter. He loves this game. And make no mistake, it is a game. John is the current piece in play.
"Purple circles under your eyes. Bruising worse than normal, despite a tendency toward late nights. Not much sleep then. Shoulders hunched forward, flexed occasionally, often with a grimace. Sore in the T2, no T3 region. Result of nocturnal recreational acrobatics? Improbable, given the current mood. Bad bedspring more likely. Clothes are wet, but lacking the wrinkles indicative of a night spent on the sofa. You've changed. Wouldn't have changed for a night on the sofa. Under eye circles. Sore back. Foul mood. Fresh clothing. Ergo cheap mattress."
John can do nothing but glare at him. Damn that man and his observations.
"You could've just said sex," he says at last.
An eyebrow rises.
John shakes his head. "Nocturnal recreational acrobatics? …Seriously?"
The fierce blue gaze narrows on him. "Bad. Shagging." Sherlock practically spits the words out. Even then he makes them sound elegant. John almost hates him for it, but doesn't care enough to ponder the thought. He's sore, wet and dirty, and has no more patience for Sherlock's games. The shower beckons.
John pauses at the doorway. He looks back over his shoulder.
"The mattress was fine. She kicks in her sleep." Ha. Take that, you bloody know-it-all. He continues up the stairs without giving Sherlock a chance to retort. It's a juvenile moment of elation, but when John steps into his lonely room, the feeling of victory fades.
As he stands in the cascade of warm water, all he can think about are clouds floating in pools of blood.
"I wanted to apologize."
Sherlock puts down the graduated cylinder and looks up.
"I was quite cross earlier today," John continues, "and I could've handled it better. I'm sorry."
Something passes across the pale, aquiline features that John can't identify. Sherlock looks back down again at his present experiment. The moment is lost.
"Very well. Hand me the Tetramethylammonium Hydroxide."
"The what?" The doctor looks down at a coffee mug sitting on the table with a clear fluid in it. "Oh, please say this isn't it."
Sherlock extends his hand.
John frowns and hands the mug over. "TMAH is a very toxic base, Sherlock. Should be used under a hood. In a real laboratory for that matter."
He takes another look around the ramshackle kitchen that some months back had been converted into a chemistry workstation. It was covered in beakers, unknown fluids, Bunsen burners, and a few other contraptions that for the life of him, John can't remember their purpose. Chemistry was never his thing at the Uni. Cooped up alone with a bubbling something or other waiting for a result…no thanks. But Sherlock thrives on it. Probably literally, John thinks with a grimace, eyeing some suspicious white powder on the table.
Unsurprising, his lecturing gets no response. John goes to the fridge and opens it. It's annoyingly bare, but at least there's no decapitated head staring back at him.
"Had anything to eat?" he asks. As if he doesn't know the answer to that. His flatmate doesn't set much time aside for normal human necessities. Interferes with his thought process, or so he says. More likely to maintain those damnable cheekbones. Vanity, Sherlock.
John's stomach is rumbling terribly now, despite the revolting smell wafting through the kitchen and beyond from Sherlock's unknown experiment.
His pocket vibrates. John reaches in and pulls out his phone. A text from D.I. Lestrade.
"Roger Shackley's body is at the morgue," the doctor announces. "Lestrade wants us to have another look."
"Roger Shackley. The victim from this morning's homicide in South Bank."
"So will you come?"
Sherlock's gaze remains locked on the liquid in the test tube before him. "No need."
The detective looks up and shoves the chemistry goggles up onto his mess of dark hair.
"You're going," he states, irritation seeping through the low tones of his voice.
John tries another tactic. "I think today is Molly's day off. Dr. Lovey's terrified of you, so it'll be just you and the body. No one else's thoughts to distract."
John's lying. Partially, at least. It's true enough the Sherlock requires a place to think sans most people in a ten meter radius, and he's usually obnoxious about stating the fact. (Corpses he has a special allowance for). It's also true that Dr. Lovey, one of two medical examiners on staff at St. Bartholomew's, is deathly frightened of the consulting detective. The man refuses to leave his office when Sherlock arrives (John suspects it has something to do with Sherlock beating the man's late college with a riding crop, but he can't be sure).
Sherlock's interactions with Dr. Molly Hooper, however, are an entirely different matter. It's not her day off at all, but John doesn't expect Sherlock to know that. The detective pays minimal attention to the ridiculously smitten woman. Poor girl, John thinks. She certainly knows how to pick 'em. Clamoring after the unobtainable sociopath, then onto the criminal mastermind when that doesn't work out. Some people really aren't lucky in love.
Sherlock interrupts his thoughts. "It's not Miss Hooper's day off, therefore all the more reason for me to stay here. Give Lestrade my regards."
Could he be avoiding her? Now why would—oh, never mind. John picks up his coat off the chair. It's still damp, but it will have to do.
"Alright, suit yourself."
He nearly plows into Mrs. Hudson at the door as she comes in holding a paper bag loaded with groceries. While the landlady is nearer to seventy than sixty, today she looks no worse for wear, sporting a smart looking red blouse and skirt. Her dyed brunette hair is freshly curled. Must have been at the parlor earlier today, he reasons. John compliments her on it.
"Oh John, you are too much!" Her pleasant expression evaporates as she steps inside. She wrinkles her nose. "Goodness, what is that awful smell? What've you boys been up to?"
John takes the bag for her and they both walk a few feet to her flat's door.
"You know Sherlock," he says. "Bored or causing trouble."
As if on cue, the echo of a screeching arpeggio fills the walls as the detective upstairs bows mercilessly on the violin strings.
Mrs. Hudson shakes her head and pushes the door open for the doctor. "Oh, that Sherlock." Her compassion and tolerance for Sherlock knew no bounds. After all, the man put more than a few bullet holes in her wall.
John sets the bag down on the small kitchen table.
"Thank you, dear," she says, moving quickly around the small kitchen. It's covered in faded white floral wallpaper, but sections have curled up at the edges revealing the same shade as their upstairs flat—a hideous aquamarine that could burn the corneas on a bright day. John will never tell her so, however. Perhaps there was some logic in Sherlock covering their kitchen up with his chemistry rubbish.
"Now where are you headed off to?"
"Oh, you know, the usual investigative business."
The landlady accepts his ambiguity out of experience.
"Very well. Take care of yourself, John Watson."
"Yes, always do." He heads to the door. "Oh, and Mrs. Hudson? It would be best if you step out again yourself. Or at least crack a window." He motions a finger to upstairs, and she nods.
"Oh, I was planning on it, dear. Sherlock may be brilliant, but his calling was never the symphony."
As he steps out, John genuinely smiles for the first time that day.
His smile has faded by the time he walks into the morgue. It's not due to the sterile white walls, harsh fluorescent lighting overhead or even the oppressive openness, interrupted only by stainless steel exam tables. It's not from the bodies in the cold storage or out awaiting autopsy, many of which ended up in St. Bartholomew's before their time. It's the mood. It's a place of utter stillness. Of sorrow and regret and heartbreak.
For Sherlock, it's a treasure chest of possibility, logic and mystery. Sometimes, John envies that perception.
"Good evening, Molly."
The young medical examiner turns around and flashes John a weak grin. He catches her not-so-subtle stretching to look over his shoulder.
"Uh, no, Sherlock's not with. Not this time."
"I see." Her face falls, but she's quick to cover it up. "You're here to look at the one that just came in?" She has a songbird-like voice, innocent and hopeful. And only the dead to talk with.
John clears his throat. "Yeah. Lestrade wants me to take a closer look. Not sure why—I already saw the body this morning."
She leads them over to one of the exam tables. Quickly checks the tag and looks back up at John.
"Um, here he is." She unzips the black body bag.
John picked up the clipboard on the table. "Wait a minute. This doesn't say the official cause of death is desanguination. Roger was stabbed, wasn't he?"
Molly looks down at her feet. "He was, just not only where they thought."
John pulls on some exam gloves and opens the bag further. Molly points to the pink wound on the victim's side. "It's fairly minor compared to most I see in here."
"Not enough to kill a man," he concurs.
She nods, and her long chestnut ponytail bobs. "No, I don't think so."
"You wrote peritonitis brought about by a perforated bowel."
"Perforated bowel—" John says. Creases appear in his forehead. "How could that be?"
Molly bites her lip. "There's no other DNA specimen obtained, so I'm not sure what else I can tell you."
He snaps off the gloves and leans against the table. Molly stands a few feet away, paying close attention to the tiled floor.
"Hang on. An infection like this must have taken at least 24 hours before resulting in death. Roger was found dead this morning. Body couldn't have been there more than an hour or two before I saw it. But the stab wound on his side…that's not a day old."
"I can have Dr. Lovey take a look in the morning if you want my findings reviewed."
John shakes his head and gives her a flash of a grin. "No, nothing like that. I'm sorry. I don't mean to throw suspicion on your report. It's just…this case isn't quite so routine anymore, is it?"
She looks baffled. "Routine?"
"Uh, never mind." He glances at his wristwatch. "Damn, I best be off."
"What?—where are you going?"
"Uh, I have some ideas I better follow up on. Thank you for your help, Molly." In actuality, he has an apology-date with Sandra on the other side of town and is already running late.
John leaves the morgue a man on a mission, leaving the poor medical examiner standing with her mouth open. When he's out of sight, she turns back to the corpse and zips up the bag.
"I don't understand them," she says to the silence, and with a soft 'humph' noise, kicks the table locks up and wheels Mr. Shackley back into cold storage.