"John, can you come over here for a second?"
"Sure, Sherlock. Why?"
"Just stand outside of the flat. Mrs. Hudson's going to take our picture."
The camera clicks. Sherlock rustles off, back to his work. John didn't think anything of it. The day was never brought up again. The photo was never seen again. The memory was pushed to the back of John's mind. And that was where it should have stayed.
/ / /
John Watson was not a man of a paranoia. But even he knew that there had been a seed of suspicion planted in his mind that strange afternoon. Sherlock knew it too. This was not a good thing.
It had all started with a picture. While checking around the quaint corners of the flat for his missing sock, John stumbled upon a photograph. There was nothing peculiar about it, it simply held the image of Sherlock standing next to a stout man with black hair in front of 221B. In small, neat handwriting that John recognized as Sherlock's immediately, there was a scrawl that read "Richie. 6. 2009."
"Sherlock?" John lifted his head and let a hint of curiousity play about his face. "Whose this picture of?"
Without looking up from his work, Sherlock answered. "An old friend. Well, I say friend..."
"Where's he now?"
For a second John could swear he saw a twinge of a smile on Sherlock's normally stoic face. "You weren't the first person to come to Baker Street, John."
John let the subject drop and went back to looking for his sock. But he couldn't help but feel uneasy from that day on.
The third time he found a photograph, John didn't even bother asking Sherlock. He didn't like the tense look that came over the detective whenever they were mentioned. John wasn't the most of observant of people (there was a reason Sherlock was the consulting detective of the duo) but he recognized a difference in the air between them at the rare times he brought up the topic.
So John kept adding to his collections as more and more of the photographs appeared around the flat. So far he had "Maria. 2. 2006.", "Arnie. 8. 2009",
and "Victor. 9. 2004.", and of course Richie.
"But who is number one?" he mused to himself. The numbers and dates didn't seem to correspond in any chronological order. It felt strange and a little bit exhilarating to be keeping a secret from the most intelligent man in London. Even if Sherlock knew about John's little pastime, he didn't seem to be bothered by it.
It was around this time that Sherlock began to leave the flat for long intervals of time. John was nervous at first but ignored it, as Sherlock's absence gave him more time to study the photos and search around for more of them. He had to know who the first person had been, and what the numbers meant. It ate away at his mind as the weeks flew by. What was Sherlock hiding from him? He was a secretive man, but this was strange even for him. There had to be something wrong.
For awhile the flatmates kept on doing their own business; John with the pictures and Sherlock with the periods of leaving. They rarely talked anymore, their dinners filled with silence and the occasional small talk. But one day John felt a tap on his shoulder has he was reading the morning paper.
"John," Sherlock's voice was calm, all nervousness from the week before gone. "I need you to pick up a package for me." He slipped John a piece of paper with an address scrawled on it. It was the same sketchy handwriting that John had studied so many times on the photographs... the army doctor instantly pushed them out of his mind for fear Sherlock could read the thoughts on his face. When he looked up, he was relieved to see his friend's expression had not changed.
"Why can't you pick it up yourself? I'm not your dog, you can't just send me to fetch something and expect me to run off."
There it was, the hint of a smile again. "John, it's a matter of great importance. Only you can get the package."
"It'll be safe! Trust me." The consulting detective almost had a plea in his voice. The vulnerability that existed there was human enough to take John aback. But soon the paranoia returned again... John had seen Sherlock use emotion faking to manipulate suspects, how did he know he wasn't do it now?
"Fine." replied John, and he retreated out of the flat. It wasn't right to be thinking these thoughts about his best friend, his flatmate. Sherlock was a bit on the different side (okay, that was an understatement) but he wouldn't do anything to harm John. Right?
/ / /
The address lend John to a strange holding center on the far side of London. He opened up the garage with the keys Sherlock had given him and walked inside. He flicked on the light switch and discovered a large package sitting at his feet.
John was a wiry person, but the package was heavy and it strained his arms to carry. He put it down and flipped out his phone, calling for a cab.
By the time John got back to the flat, it was dark outside. The clouds hung heavy in the air, giving everything an ominous feel. John wheezed as he carried the cardboard box upstairs.
"Sherlock..." he called. "What... in the hell have you go in this thing?"
There was no answer. John rolled his eyes. Typical.
He opened the door and nearly dropped the package. The flat had changed in the hour he had gone. Sherlock's stuff was still there, but everything that belonged to John had been cleared out. Even the space where his laptop had once been was empty.
"Sherlock? Sherlock?" John called, his voice becoming anxious. He ran into the hallway and ducked a head inside Sherlock's room. Nothing. Then he ran into his own and felt his knees grow weak.
All of his pictures had been stripped off the wall, his books, even his army medals. He checked under the bed and pulled out the shoebox where he'd hidden the photographs. Sure enough, they were gone too.
"SHERLOCK? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"
John marched into the living room, calling 911, and in his frenzy, tripped over the package. He looked up, still fuzzy eyed, to see the cardboard box had split with the force of his foot and the contents had been spilled. He grabbed at one of the objects that rolled past him.
A wave of nausea washed over him as he realized he was holding a human skull. He sat up and shrieked, dropping it onto the floor with a loud bang. He crawled back over to the package and found more and more of the skulls. Written on the top in faint handwriting were... numbers? There was a 6 here, a 9 here, an 8, a 7, a 2.
But no number one.
John had no time to sink this thought in as he collapsed onto the box, his chest heaving. This couldn't be happening. Then he realized a piece of paper was fluttering from the box and falling to the ground.
He snatched it hungrily and unfolded it. It was a picture of him and Sherlock... standing outside 221B. It was the picture Mrs. Hudson had taken just a few weeks before. John had thought nothing of it then... oh god, could it be? He forced himself to turn over the paper, ignoring the rising bile in his throat.
Sure enough, in neatly written letters were the words "John. 1. 2010-2011."
Just as Sherlock stepped out of the hallway, John felt the paper slipping from his shaking hands. His vision began to spin and he fell backwards onto the ground.
/ / /
When John awoke the first thing he realized was his hands and feet were strapped down. His mind began to flash with memories of his time in the war and he blinked back the hot tears that were forming in his eyes.
"Okay John, settle down..." he whispered shakily to himself. "You're strapped to a table, in a dark room... Sherlock'll come and get you, he'll f-find you. Or the police..."
He gasped in relief as Sherlock stepped out of the shadows.
"SHERLOCK!" he cried. "Sherlock, where am I? Can you cut me out?"
Sherlock touched a finger to his lips. John realized the taller man was holding a knife.
"Is it Moriarty, Sherlock?" John's voice fell to a whisper. "Is that why I'm here?"
"No, it's not Moriarty, John. Or should I say... Number One?" The smile that once had only been hinted at was a full blown grin across Sherlock's pale face.
"No." John pulled harder at the straps. His wrists strung as the leathers rubbed hard against his skin. The tears began to dot at his eyes again, but he made no effort to keep them back. Suddenly it was all rushing back. The photos, the skulls...
"You're probably wondering why you're here."
"What a fantastic deduction!" John couldn't keep back the rawness in his voice. "What the bloody hell are you playing here? Who were those people in the pictures, Sherlock? And why am I one of them?"
"I've found that within certain people there exists a certain... 'spark'. It's a talent in which the person is not extraordinary themselves, but when they're with intelligent people such as myself, they just ignite the brain. There's been ancient studies done on it, exactly what makes the sparks tick. Brain chemistry and the like. But no one's ever come as close as I have."
"And what the hell does that have to do with me? What were those numbers on the photographs?"
"Every flatmate I took in, I carefully observed." Sherlock's voice was cold and emotionless, but the teasing smile never left his face. "I rated the sparks I saw in them on a scale from one to ten. You were never supposed to find those data logs. And John, John Watson, simple army doctor... you were the spark I was always looking for. You were number one!"
"And then," John said with his teeth clenched to the point where blood began to well up in his mouth. "What did you do with them? What did you do with the people?"
"Cut them apart. What the researchers that came before me never realized is that the spark is inside people. And if i can harvest it, well... I won't need anyone anymore to make my brain work."
Blood was beginning to leak from John's wrists. His mouth was dry and every breath felt forced as it dragged it's way out of his lungs.
"Sherlock, why? I thought... I thought..."
"No John, you didn't think. If you had thought you would have left a long time ago."
"Please let me live. Oh god, please..."
"You never were a clever one. Always picking the most boring of last words. Now, let's have a look at those lovely sparks inside you!" Sherlock's eyes were lit with an icey fire as he advanced closer to John.
John was crying. Blood was running down from his mouth as little sobs escaped, and every breath of his echoed within the dark room. Sherlock's dark curls had blended in with the shadows and soon everything within vision was smudged.
"Shh, John. You're my best friend, the least you can do is help me get your sparks..."
Sherlock took the knife and made a small incision along John's lips, digging to part the fleshy material into two. Then, before John could make a tortured cry, Sherlock raised the knife and chopped clean through his neck.
No, a knife was not good enough. Perhaps it was time for the hacksaw.
"John Watson," Sherlock whispered. "It's been a pleasure."
/ / /
The police arrived on cue days later.
"They say," one police officer said to another, "That when Lestrade found the bastard he was just sitting all calm in his chair, holding the skull and being all 'Alas poor Yorick' on it. Just totally calm. Sad thing too, I hear Lestrade really liked the guy."
"Oh, god. What a sicko. Did they catch him?"
"Sherlock Holmes has his way of worming out of everything. I heard that Lestrade, he, turns back to the police car and there was nothing there but a scarf and a pair of police cuffs. Never caught him."
"Horrible. Wait, is this about the case awhile back? The one with the guy who had skulls just piled up in his flat?"
"Yeah, that's the one."
"Sally Donovan says she knew it all along." The other police officer chuckled tiredly. "I bet this is the first time she's sad about being so right."
"Sherlock Holmes. Guess he wasn't lying when he said he was a sociopath."
/ / /
"Thanks for letting me stay on such short notice." said Matt, stepping inside the flat.
"Oh no, it's fine." replied his new tenant. "It'll be nice to have someone new around here."
Matt eyes the skull on the mantle. He picks it up, weighing it between his hands. "And who's this little guy?"
"He's an old colleague. Well, I say colleague, but I mean..."
"No, friend. Best friend."