"I cannot believe that story. Are you on drugs?"
"You had to come collect me from the Met!" Sam said to Caro, glaring. "Not that you were in anyway useful! I should've called Margaret first thing, you were useless!"
"I have never posted bail for anyone before," Caroline groused. "I didn't realize it was that hard."
"I didn't need bail!" Sam groaned. She'd managed to hold it together until Caroline got her home to her flat. Emma and Margaret had been waiting for them to arrive, and there, surrounded by her friends, she'd collapsed into hysterical tears. Sobbing, almost howling with it, she'd let them all crowd around and make soothing noises until she finished embarrassing herself. Then she'd drunk the glass of water that Margaret had given her, eaten the pink frosted cupcake that Emma had pressed into her hand, and fallen sleep on the couch with her head in Caroline's lap, Caro's hand light and delicate on her hair. She'd slipped into an unconsciousness that was more than sleep without even so much as putting on her pajamas or brushing her teeth.
None of them had left.
Luckily, it was Saturday the next day, and no one had to work, so there was time to get herself together, to tell them the story while Margaret made pancakes and Caroline sliced fruit and Emma set the table. Sam had been sent away to change into something less terrifying. She'd found fuzzy pajama pants and a t-shirt and that was about all she was capable of putting on. The story took far longer to tell than she would've thought, but the complete lack of belief on everyone's part made her life meant that she had to stop over and over and reiterate that no, she was not making any of this up.
Was it really so hard to believe that she'd spent the night getting shot at, nearly getting kidnapped, then being rescued by the John's possibly insane stalker?
"Yes," Emma said, and Sam jolted, realizing she'd spoken aloud. "Yes, it's very difficult to believe, because that is crazy talk. Jesus, Sam."
"I don't like it any more than you do," Sam pointed out. She scrubbed both hands across her face. "I know it sounds crazy. I know it does. But at least Senor Crazypants and Scarf Combo wasn't shooting at me, and, I don't know, he's got good taste in people to stalk, so it seemed like a better plan than staying there and getting dragged, kicking and screaming, into someone's car."
"Or getting shot," Caroline said.
"Or getting shot," Sam agreed. "I cannot tell you how much I didn't want to get shot. Oh, god, I did not want to get shot."
"Nice to know that you've still got that wonderful sense of self-preservation," Caroline said, and it was clear that she was trying not to laugh. She wasn't being particularly successful at it, and Sam stuck her tongue out at her friend.
"But still-" Emma started, and Sam held up her hands.
"No," she said, and it was calm, but firm. "No. It's done. I know it, I just have to-" Her eyes watered, and she blinked hard. "I'm a wimp."
"Honey, I think we can all agree that you were amazingly patient. And brave. Because I would've blocked his calls after the first date," Emma said, hugging her. "It's okay, baby."
Sam sniffle against her shoulder. "I don't wanna break up with him."
"You kinda have to, honey." Emma kissed her forehead. "You know that, don't you?"
"Yeah," Sam said, her shoulders slumping. She sat up, exhausted. "Is there coffee?"
"Yeah, but no milk," Caroline said. "I'm sorry, I used the last of it for the pancakes."
Feeling like she should be doing something, because, honestly, being useful was good, Sam stood up. Her knees wobbled a little, but held. "I'll go grab some from the corner shop, that'll give you all time to discuss my obvious mental disorders and how you're going to trick me into therapy."
"Oh, is that what we're calling the pub this week?" Margaret asked, eyebrows arching. Despite sleeping in an armchair fully dressed, she somehow managed to look daisy fresh and perfectly put together. Sam, who was in her own flat and still couldn't do better than a pair of pink pajama pants covered in a doughnut pattern and with a hole in one knee, kind of resented that.
"I call the pub my one true love, and shut up." Sam stared down at herself, and sighed. "I'm just gonna get a damn jacket and go. I can do that, right? These pajama pants are appropriate for, you know, going out?"
"Not in the least," Margaret said. "Maybe you should-"
"Great, thanks, wonderful!" Buttoning her jacket, Sam found shoes, jammed her bare feet into them and stalked for the door. "I will be back in fifteen minutes."
"Take my phone," Caroline said, pressing it into her hand. "Since yours is-"
"Going now!" Sam yelled and stomped out the door. She was pretty sure the 'how to solve a problem like Sam's love life?' nun-time sing-along started before she made it down the steps to the front door, but she didn't care. Okay, so she cared, she cared a lot, but what could she do, other than grit her teeth, keep her head down and wait for them to be distracted by IMDB, tumblr or a passing squirrel.
She estimated that it would take about half an hour, if she could keep from getting goddamn kidnapped, so she'd just walk slow and avoid guys in ski masks or scarves.
Of course, the envelope on her front stoop with her name on it was going to make that a little difficult.
Briefly, she considered punting it into traffic, or just finding a rock and smashing it. The rock option seemed like a good plan. She liked the rock plan, and her primitive lizard brain liked smashing things. The rock was just a bonus.
Her rational brain forced her to lean over and pick up the bulky envelope. Her name was written on the outside in a strong, bold script, impatient lines of black ink cutting through the white surface of the envelope. The weight was familiar, and she knew even before she pried the flap up that her phone was inside.
It slid into her hand, unharmed, and she almost burst into tears again, because this had been with John, and it was fine, it was fine and it was back with her, and everything was okay, it was fine. She unlocked it, and it had been charged, and reset, and she wanted to kill him for touching it, the bloody bastard.
And her background was a shot of John in a hospital bed, eyes closed, stark white plaster on his forehead, but his face was relaxed, his lips curled up in a faint smile, and he was there, right there on her phone. Safe and sound, and when the first teardrop fell on the screen, it honestly surprised her. Sam jerked back, scrubbing at her eyes with her free hand, swallowing hard.
When her vision was clear again, she stared down at the screen, a faint smile curling her lips, her heart aching. "You should just tell him and stop being goddamn creepy," she said aloud, knowing he was there, somewhere. She hadn't seen him, but she never saw him, unless he wanted to be seen, and she knew he was there, waiting for her to find this. "Who are you, what have you done to him that you can't just tell him that you're scared for him? Don't tell me this is about me, it's not, or not really. Is it? You're watching him. Always watching him. Why don't you just-" She bit off the words. "This is a stupid male thing, isn't it?"
There was no reply, just the faint sound of pigeon wings and the occasional car rolling by somewhere in the neighborhood. Another tear tried to sneak out, and she scrubbed at it. "I'm almost tempted to say screw you and just keep dating him to spite you," she said, and her voice rose a bit at the end, and goddamn, she hated that, hated that she was such a wimp. "Tell him, or I will."
One of her neighbors walked by, walking his tiny annoying yappy dog, and avoiding meeting Sam's gaze. She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I'm standing on the curb talking to myself in pajamas," she grumbled. "Suck it up. I no longer care."
The walk to the corner store seemed to take forever, because she was just trudging along, head down, mind a mess of 'should I or shouldn't I?' and she was so overwhelmingly depressed, it wasn't even funny. She wasn't in a rush, really, she took her time about picking her milk, like this was something that took actual brain power, and wandered the store for a while before she paid for it.
And headed back home feeling like she was going to her own execution.
She was within view of her flat, lost in her thoughts, when someone touched her arm from behind. She let out a shriek and turned, arm coming up, and she nearly hit John in the face with her bag of milk. He dodged at the last second, and her aim was pretty off to begin with, and they both sprang apart, surprise on both their faces.
"Sorry," John said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. "Sorry, sorry, I was calling your name, I thought you'd heard me coming, I didn't mean to scare you, Sam. It's-"
With a choked off sob, Sam threw herself against him, her arms going around his neck, the bag of milk hitting him in the back, and she hugged him tight, burying her face in his neck. "Oh, God, oh, God, you're all right," she managed, her whole body shaking. "They said you were, but oh, God, I was so scared, I'm so glad you're all right, John-" She pulled back, staring up at his face with wet cheeks and huge eyes. "You are all right, aren't you? You're fine, you're not hurt, oh, God, did I hurt you?"
He was laughing, just a little, not at her, but a relieved little laugh. "I'm fine," he said, eyes warm and dancing. "I'm fine, Sam, I promise, just a knock on the head, you got away, they told me you got away?"
"I'm sorry," she said, chewing on her lower lip, and he hugged her tight.
"No, don't be, that's what I was hoping for, honestly, I was relieved they didn't get you." He leaned over and kissed her, light and soft and she opened her lips under even that slight pressure, and the next thing she knew, she was seriously making out with the man on the street in front of her flat.
The neighbor with the terrier walked past again, head down, staring at his dog with a ludicrous amount of focus. It was pretty laughable, but Sam was well aware that the fact that she'd pretty much been crawling up John's front was going to be all over the neighborhood by sunset.
"My life was so normal before I met you," she gasped out against John's shoulder, her face painfully hot. She buried her head in the folds of his coat, her hands clutching at the fabric. "I'm losing my mind, John. I really am."
He held on tight, and the pressure of his hands, his arms, was amazingly comforting. So comforting that she almost could ignore the way her mind was buzzing, her common sense screaming at her with a voice that sound remarkably like Caroline. Because Caroline was the one who knew, who worried about them. Emma was the mother bear, and Margaret was quietly supportive, but Caroline was the one who told the hard, ugly truths, no matter how many times they fought over it.
And Sam took a step back, pulling out of John's arms, away from the heat of his body, away from his touch, her head down, her shoulders shaking. He let her go, and Sam took a long second, sucking in her breath, getting herself under control, because if this was going to be the way it ended, she was going to end it without hysterics, without being a complete disaster of a human being.
This had been the strangest relationship she'd ever had, but John deserved more than some crazy bitch screaming at him in the streets. Even if he was a spy. She was pretty sure he was a spy. Or a government agent of some sort. Of course, she was also pretty sure she was losing her mind.r
"I'm sorry," she said, and her vision was blurry. She hugged her bag to her chest,, her arms crushing the milk. "I can't do this anymore."
John winced, his expression resigned. "Sam, I know this has been tough, but it's all been connected to one thing, the case I've been working on, and it's done now. I-"
"No," Sam said, and her shoulders were slumped, her fingers digging into her own forearms. "No, I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, you don't know just how much, because I do like you. I like you so much, you're so easy to be with, and so nice, and-" She stopped, licked her lips. "But I can't do this anymore. I feel like I'm going to have a nervous breakdown the whole time I'm with you.
"You saw you just now and my first thought was, 'Oh, thank God, he's safe, he's okay. And my second thought was, 'Who's after him now?' because that's what it is, John. There's always someone after you, and when I'm with you, they're after me, too. They're after me because I'm with you, because no one noticed me before and now I'm sleeping in police offices and nearly getting kidnapped and having people warn me away from you, and it's a terrifying experience, John."
"Wait, who warned you away from me?" John asked, and she wanted to strangle him, because of course that's what he focuses on, because he's a damn male, that's what he chooses to focus all of his attention on and she just wanted to choke him for it.
"Everyone, John!" Her voice may have squeaked a little on the words, just a tiny bit, really, she didn't know how to get herself back under control, but she was trying to at least not sound like Minnie Mouse over here, because that was just embarrassing. "All of your friends, everyone who knows you." She swallowed hard. "Him."
"Him?" John's eyes narrowed. "Him, who?"
Sam stared at him, and suddenly, everything was calm. Even. She sucked in a breath, and another, and it was okay. It was fine, because, yes, it was over, and man, that hurt. More than it should've, really, but at least things were settled in her mind, she'd made her decision, she was walking away with what was left of her sanity and her life.
"There's someone following you," she whispered, because maybe he didn't know, he'd never shown any signs of knowing, he'd never warned her, either. Maybe he didn't know, maybe no one had ever told him. Maybe she was the only one who wasn't afraid or wasn't in his pocket, maybe no one had ever told John, because he didn't seem to know. "He's always there. He's-" She swallowed again, her throat dry and tight. "I don't know what he wants, but he's always there, and I think he's following you."
John stared at her, and his face screwed up in an expression she couldn't quite read, something pained and frustrated and resigned, all at once. "But not you?"
"I've never seen him, unless I'm with you," she whispered, and she took a step closer. Just in case. In case he was listening. "I mean, he's never approached me unless we've been on a date."
John pressed a hand to his face, his fingers cupping over his eyes and then scraping down his face with a sigh. "Okay," he said at last, and his voice was tight at the edges. "He talked to you."
"Yes," she said.
"And he scared you?" John didn't wait for her reply. "Why didn't you tell me, Sam? I would've put a stop to it, I promise."
"He freaked me out, yes, and I don't think you should... Confront him," she said, settling on the word. "I think you should go to the authorities, but maybe that won't help either, DI Lestrade was with him the other day, but he didn't arrest him, I asked him, and he said he couldn't make the charges stick."
John was muttering something under his breath, something that sounded very much like, "I'm going to kill him," but Sam knew she was better off not hearing anything that could hold up in a court of law as a death threat. It was just better that way, wasn't it?
Taking a deep breath, John gave her a strained smile. "I just need to be clear. This man that you saw following me, could you describe him for me?"
She sucked in a breath, her fingers white-knuckled on the shopping bag. "Tall, dark-haired, thin, pale," she rattled off as quickly as possible. Tried to convince herself that talking about him wouldn't summon him like some sort of strange familiar or deamon.
"Blue-grey eyes and a long black coat?" John filled in for her when she froze up. "Blue scarf?"
"Yes! Knotted at his throat." She stared at him, gnawing on her lower lip hard enough to make it sting. "You know him?"
"Yes." He reached up and touched her cheek, his fingers cold without gloves, but light and delicate. "Don't worry," he said, and it was firm, comforting. "He won't hurt you. He won't hurt me either, but he will not hurt you. I promise." Leaning forward, he brushed his lips against hers, and the bare contact tasted like coffee and peppermint, and when he stepped back, she caught the tip of his tongue flicking out to wet his lips.
She knew she was blushing, but she stumbled back a step, and then another. "I really like you, John," she whispered. "But I can't do this any more. I really can't. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry, but I can't live like this, waiting for you to be arrested or shot or disavowed or kidnapped or, oh, God, I'm not saying it's your fault, but I cannot deal with your lifestyle."
Sam turned on her heel and took off, stumbling and tripping as she almost ran up the street. She knew he was calling after her, but she didn't stop, she didn't even pause, and she told herself that she was just having trouble seeing because the cold air stung her eyes. That made her a little less ashamed about the tears streaming down her cheeks.
"The sad thing is, every time I think I've found every possible reason to get dumped, my girlfriend finds a new and even more confusing explanation for why she can't keep dating me."
"Is that so?" Sherlock leaned over his microscope. "I'm sorry to hear that." And even he knew he was doing a lousy job of actually sounding sorry. It's not that he liked it when John broke up with his girlfriends, he just preferred that John not waste the time of getting them to begin with.
They were a distraction. An annoying one.
A hand came down on the table next to his microscope, and he felt John lean over his shoulder. "This one," he said, his voice very calm, and very, very close to Sherlock's ear, "seemed to think that I was in danger from some sort of crazy stalker."
Sherlock adjusted the magnification. "That does seem to fit," he agreed. "You do get kidnapped far too often for my peace of mind. I'd appreciate it if you'd stop that."
"Mmm." The fingers drummed on the tabletop. "Her description of the man in question seemed... Familiar, for some unknown reason."
"Really? How fascinating."
"No. It's not at all. It's boring." He bit off the word with his usual acidic delivery, and reached for another petri dish.
"I don't know," John mused aloud. "I find it to be completely fascinating. I find it fascinating when my girlfriend explains that she's absolutely terrified for my well-being, because a tall dark-haired man with a dark coat and a blue scarf keeps showing up in the vicinity of our dates."
"That's quite vague. Have you heard the statistics on eyewitness suspect identification-" Sherlock began before John grabbed hold of the back of his chair and jerked it away from the kitchen table. He glared up at John, petri dish still in hand. "This is a very delicate experiment-" John took the dish out of his hand and threw it over his shoulder. It shattered on the kitchen floor. Sherlock sighed. "That was childish."
"That's rich, coming from the man who's been creeping the hell out of my girlfriend!" John shouted.
"I didn't say a thing that wasn't one hundred percent factually correct," Sherlock said, drawing himself up. Stalking past John, he headed for his violin.
"How much did you say?"
"I'm sorry?" Sherlock said, pretending ignorance.
"Oh, don't be dense, it doesn't suit you. How often did you sneak up on her and play with her nerves?"
"I was concerned with our current case, and since it ended in gunplay and kidnapping, I was correct to be concerned." He avoided John's eyes. "I was keeping an eye on you."
"You were following me again," John translated. "You need to not do that, Sherlock."
Sherlock ignored him. "It's possible that I encountered Ms. Carter a few times."
"And made threats."
"I didn't make threats, John." He ducked around the table and headed across the room. "I provide facts. It's not my fault if she misconstrued those facts in a manner that made her think that I was on less than friendly terms with you."
"You deliberately encouraged her to misconstrue it!" John was right on his heels. "Sherlock, you cannot do that! You scared the hell out of the poor woman!"
"If I terrified her, she certainly isn't equipped to deal with the reality of your life," Sherlock grumbled, picking up the instrument in a way that caused his dressing gown to swirl around him as he brought the bow up. Ignoring the look on John's face, he started to play.
"Not my life. Your life." John reached up and stilled Sherlock's hand, his fingers light on Sherlock's wrist. "And if you have any interest in me sharing that life, Sherlock, you cannot do this."
Sherlock gritted his teeth. "She was so ordinary!" he burst out at last.
John's lips twitched, and some of his usual humor was there in his eyes. "So am I, Sherlock."
Sherlock made a scoffing noise.
"Thank you for that." He paused. "I think. The point is, you can't just mess with people that way, Sherlock. It's not nice, and I don't appreciate it."
Sherlock stared at him. "That's it?" he asked, arching his eyebrows. "That's the best thing you have to dissuade me?" He gave John a tight lipped smile. "I'll keep that in mind."
"No, you're going to apologize."
Sherlock's whole body went straight and tight as a bow string. "I most certainly will not."
John leaned forward. "Wanna bet?"
"There's no point in discussing this any longer," Sam said. "It's done."
The three faces that were staring at her were wearing almost identical expressions of concern and sadness. Sam did her best to ignore them all. "Really?" Caroline sad at last.
"Yes. It's done. What's done is done, and it's done, I did it, I knew I had to do it, and it's for the best, so what-" Sam stopped, her fingers white knuckled on a cocktail napkin. "Anyway, I'm fine. It is fine. I broke up with him. I'm never going to see him again."
"Are you sure that's what you want, honey?" Emma said, stirring her drink. "I mean, really?"
"What does it matter what I want? This was crazy, he was crazy, I'm losing my mind, and I'm never going to see him again!"
All four women froze, and with a feeling of dread, Sam turned her head to the side, very, very slowly. John Watson was standing there, a faint smile on his lips and a warm twinkle in his eyes. Behind him, held in place by John's hand fisted in the back of his coat, looking all the world like a petulant kitten being dragged around by the nape of its neck, the lunatic with black curls did everything but dig in his heels to impede their progress. He wasn't successful.
John ignored his passive resistance and shoved the larger man around in front of him, pushing him down into an open seat. "We haven't met," he said, glancing around at Sam's friends. "I'm Dr. John Hamish Watson, MD. This is my flatmate, best friend, partner, and general pain in my ass, Sherlock Holmes. The world's only consulting detective." He took a deep breath. "Sam, Sherlock has something to say to you."
"I really don't," Sherlock said, sounding bored.
John rolled his eyes. "Sherlock."
Sherlock slumped a little lower in his seat, his lips a flat line of resistance, his brows drawn so low that his remarkable eyes all but disappeared. "No," he said, forming the word with undue care.
There was a moment of silence, where all four of the women stared at Sherlock. Sherlock stared back, managing an expression that conveyed both petulance and disdain. Sam opened her mouth, and until the words came out, she wasn't aware that she'd lost her mind.
"You're his bloody flatmate? You're-" Her voice trailed off in an inarticulate sound of rage. "I will kill you, you bloody psychotic terrifying bastard!" And then Caroline and Margaret were grabbing her arms, holding her in her chair apparently not quite sure if that was a figure of speech or not, and not wanting to take the chance that Sam was secretly armed or could reach Emma's cider bottle.
John seemed used to this, because he moved Emma's bottle away from Sam, and Sherlock looked bored.
Emma reached over and poked Sherlock in the shoulder with her swizzle stick. He looked down at the damp spot on his coat, and then at her, perplexed. "Do you have any idea what this coat costs?"
"You wear that coat into the morgue, Sherlock, let's not get fussy about a little alcohol."
"Christ, he's real," Emma said. "I thought you were making him up, Sam. That, or hallucinating him. Hi!" She held a hand out to John. "I'm Emma. That's Margaret and Caroline. Are you a spy?"
"What? What, no!" John stared at her, his face stretching into a wide smile. "Are you joking?"
"Jesus, Emma, are you dense?" Caroline said, her voice disbelieving. "I'm pretty sure that if he is a spy, if someone asks him if he's a spy, he cannot answer yes to that question. I mean, not without water boarding being involved."
"Usually when water boarding is involved, a person has already been identified as a spy, so that's not exactly a control question," Sherlock said, his tone wry. Emma poked him again, and he gave her an affronted look. "Why are you doing that?"
She shrugged. "It seems like the thing to do."
"I'm not a spy." John looked at Sam, eyebrows arched. "I am not a spy. You thought I was a spy?"
"It made sense," Sam said, drawing the words out. "Kinda. A little. Emma made it make sense."
"That was Caroline's theory. I thought you were a mobster. Are you a mobster?" Emma asked, not the least bit bothered by the way everyone else at the table was staring at her, horrified.
John was shaking with silent laughter. "No," he said. "Jesus, no! I've never even been arrested!"
"That doesn't mean you're not a mobster."
"Also not precisely true," Sherlock said. "Not booked, but we were arrested. You know, when we escaped from the-"
John rubbed a hand over his face. "And you're making this worse, which is what you're intending to do, you rotter, shut up now."
"AH!" John pointed a finger at him, and Sherlock's eyes crossed a little as he considered the fingertip that was hovering an inch in front of his nose. "Not. Another. Word."
Margaret was just sitting very, very still, her eyes sliding between everyone as they spoke. "Excuse me," she said at last. Everyone looked at her. "You're not a spy."
"No," John said.
She narrowed her eyes at him, but didn't object. "Not a criminal."
"No," he said.
"Actually-" Sherlock started, and paused as the finger came back to haunt him. He subsided, and Emma poked him again. "Do that again and I will not be responsible for my actions," he told her.
"He's adorable! Like a rabid otter! You were scared of him?" Emma said to Sam.
"He's a lot less terrifying when he's not looming up out of dark alleys," Sam said.
"He's terrifying when ever and where ever he chooses to be," John told them. "Which, admittedly, is almost all of the time."
"Focus!" Margaret slapped the table with her fingertips. "Ladies and gentlemen. Can we FOCUS." She stared at John, eyes narrowed. "Military?"
"Former." John's eyes were gleaming.
"HA!" Margaret threw her hands in the air. "I win!"
"When did you guess military?" Sam asked.
"Right after the first date," Margaret said. "Former military?"
John's lips twitched. "Captain, formerly of Her Majesty's Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. I was shot in the line of duty in Afghanistan, left shoulder, a wound that ended my military career, but luckily not my medical one, or my life. My military pension should be catching up to me any day now," he explained to Sam. "It was still going to my other bank as of last cycle."
"So you really are just a doctor."
"Just a doctor." He grinned. "Sorry to disappoint you."
"Why didn't you ever mention it?" Sam asked. "The military service. Because you didn't, I'm really quite sure you didn't."
John winced. "I don't usually bring it up, you know, right away. Some women are put off by it, others-" He rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. "Others are a little too into it, if you understand what I mean. So I try to just not talk about it until we know each other a bit better, then it feels like discussing a former line of work, rather than unveiling a great secret."
"That explains the bullet wound and the gun," Margaret said, "but why couldn't I find anything about you online? I looked. Quite a bit."
"Sherlock, well, Sherlock solves crimes. I blog about it. It's pretty popular, actually," John said, and there was a hint of pride to his voice. "But a little while ago, I posted something that I probably shouldn't have."
"We may have slipped into classified territory without being aware of it," Sherlock said, not that it seemed to bother him. "The case rather got out of control quickly, and it's likely we stepped over a line, somewhere between taking the case and using the false passports to sneak crates of liquor across the border."
"It was rather a snowball effect, but yes, we ended up crossing a line or two. We went over that line," John said. "Way, way over the line. Our flat was invaded by all sorts of agents and the diplomatic corps, and there was yelling, and threats of violence, and confiscation of all sorts of things." He rubbed his forehead. "My laptop, his computer, our files-"
"The human jawbones from the freezer," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes.
"Wait, the what?" Sam asked.
"There was quite a mess, and it ended up being an issue, and the next thing we know, Sherlock's brother-"
"I love how he's 'my brother' when you're upset with him."
"He's always your brother. And I'm almost always upset with him, so I'm not certain where you're going with this," John said, before returning to his explanation. "Sherlock's brother holds a minor position in the British government-"
"He is the British government," Sherlock mumbled, and got poked with the swizzle stick again for his pains. "You are an idiot," he told Emma, who grinned at him.
"He had pretty much everything removed until it could be determined if there was a problem, or if anyone was going to try to assassinate us, and I think there's still someone assigned to read my emails-"
"No one is reading your emails," Sherlock said. "Stop being paranoid."
"You read my emails all the time, Sherlock."
"Well, of course I read your emails, that's just to be expected."
John stared at him, and it seemed like he wanted to say something, and then he shook his head. "So, anyway, after everyone calmed down, and the yelling was over and the charges of treason were dropped because there was no way they were going to stick, they put everything back online. I'm told that my blog's been restored, heavily censored, of course, and Sherlock's site is back up. We should both appear on a Google search again, but I wouldn't recommend looking us up soon, you'll end up on some government watch list." He paused. "Multiple government's watch lists."
"If she's been searching for you, she already is," Sherlock said, arching an eyebrow at Margaret. "I'd get a lawyer, if I were you. One that specializes in the Indonesian legal system."
"Lovely," she said.
"So, that case, that was why you were kidnapped the other night?" Sam asked.
"Oh, no. No, I don't write about cases until they're done. This was..." His voice trailed off, and he rubbed a hand over his face. "No, this was something else."
"This case wasn't nearly as interesting," Sherlock said, and no one was really quite sure what to say to that.
"So, your brother, did he have something to do with the woman? The one with the mobile and the big black car?" Sam asked Sherlock at last, but it was John who answered.
"That was Anthea. And yes, she's his Girl Friday, and is usually in charge of kidnapping me."
"John has a tendency to get into unfamiliar cars with beautiful women. It's a weakness," Sherlock said, staring at the ceiling. John gave him a look. He didn't seem to notice.
"And the police?" Margaret asked. When they both looked at her, she clarified. "Why were the police so upset by your presence, at the robbery? How do they know you?"
"Sherlock consults with the police," John explained. "I get dragged along."
"He keeps them away from me," Sherlock said.
"They like me more than him," John added. "In that I don't call them idiots. To their faces."
"Consults. With the police." Emma seemed suspicious.
"Yes," Sherlock said, eyes narrowing on her.
"And they're usually concerned that if I'm there, then Sherlock will be right behind, or Mycroft's people will be." John gave her a faint smile. "Interdepartmental paperwork is more of a bitch than you'd think, and Sherlock has his own set of problems."
"I solve problems."
"The number of problems you solve and the number of problems you cause usually even out," John told him, his voice caustic.
"The ones I solve are infinitely more troublesome than the ones I create."
"It's a matter of degrees."
Emma leaned forward and poked him in the cheek with the swizzle stick, and Sherlock's hand snapped up, catching it between his index and middle fingers and snapping it in half with a flick of his wrist. He handed them back with a smirk. "I did warn you."
Emma looked at the plastic fragments, and gave a shrug. "So, you consult. With the police. Doing what, exactly?"
He looked in her direction, his eyes narrowing on her. "Solving their problems. The ones they can't solve."
"So you're an informant?" Emma grinned when he pulled a face. "Guess not."
"No," he said, in a caustic tone.
"So what do you do?"
Sherlock's lips stretched up in a smile, and John shook his head. "No," he said, his voice firm. "You've caused enough trouble."
"No such thing," Sherlock said, eyebrows arching. His eyes were locked on Emma. "She asked."
"I did ask," Emma said, grinning. "I have no idea what's going on here, but yes, I did ask. I really asked, why are you staring at me like that?"
"Taking your measure," he said, turning away.
"Wonderful. What have you figured out?" she asked, eyes wide.
"Oh, God," John said, rubbing a hand over his face.
"You have two nephews by way of an older brother, both under age four, a cat, a boyfriend you're still in love with, but who has recently moved away, but you haven't broken up, though you're not really sure what the current status of your relationship is, you love old films and have seen the newest superhero movie twice in the last week, you're a copywriter and despise grammatical errors, but you depend heavily on spellcheck features, an addiction to orange chocolate and you're a cheap drunk."
There was a beat of silence. "So, pretty much everything," Emma said, blinking. "What'd I have for lunch?"
"Well, shit," she said, grinning.
"I am officially creeped out right now." Caroline took a long sip from her glass.
"That was pretty amazing, actually," Sam said, blinking. Sherlock turned towards her, his mouth opening, and she held up a hand. "No. No, no, no, you have already tormented me more than enough, and it's been a really tough couple of days, and if you pull that stuff with me, I am going to burst out crying. Again. So don't, please don't, okay?"
"I'm sorry," John said, wincing.
"It's not your fault," Sam said.
"Actually, yeah it is." Emma looked around the table. "Look, I'm going to say this, because you are all idiots. This is all your fault," she said, stabbing a finger at John's chest.
He blinked. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. This is your fault. Okay, okay, so it's a little bit your fault, Sherlock, because you were creepy, and a little bit your fault, Sam, because you were a timid wimp-"
"Hey!" Sam said, hurt despite herself.
"It's true and you know it's true. And it's a little bit the fault of all of your friends, John, because they kept doing the whole 'in-joke' thing around a new person who could not possibly have known what they were doing and best case scenario would've felt excluded and worst case, well, you've seen the worst case. The woman continued dating you thinking about bombs and guns and police intervention and the possibility of you dying in Hungary."
"I'm not sure where Hungary comes into this-"
"We really liked 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,'" Emma explained. "But the point is, this is all your fault."
John's head tipped to the side. "Okay," he said at last, lips pursed.
"Let's take this rationally," Emma began.
"Oh, this'll be amusing," Sherlock said, and she rolled her eyes.
"Shut up. I'm on your side. A little. Creeper." Emma cleared her throat. "Now, you've never met us before, and I know Sam wouldn't bring you here. Because this is our favorite pub, no men intrude on our girl sanctuary. And Sam was sitting with her back to the door, wearing a sweatshirt that she wouldn't wear on a date, or to work, and a hat that we really wish she wouldn't wear anywhere."
"Why am I friends with you again?" Sam asked her, and was hushed for her trouble.
"So since you couldn't have seen Sam, and you didn't know our usual table, you still recognized us. Which meant that Sam talked about us enough for us to be familiar to you. You knew enough about Sam's friends and life that you knew where we'd be, where we'd be sitting, and who we were. Without ever having spoken to the three of us before." She propped her chin on her hands, fluttering her eyelashes. "Am I right?"
John seemed to sense the trap he was walking into. "Yes," he said with a faint sigh.
"Which stands to reason that if you'd discussed your flatmate, and self-proclaimed best friend, then Sam might've had a chance of realizing who your creepy little stalker boy was. But since that never crossed her mind as a possibility, I'm going to guess that you never talked to her about Sherlock. Or even told her his name." Emma frowned. "That's kind of a dick move, and if I were your roommate and best friend, my feelings would be hurt. Like, seriously, hurt."
Sherlock gave her a disdainful look. "This is the best that your little mind can accomplish? Babbling on about feelings?"
She reached over and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Don't be such a pill and so nasty and he might introduce you to his dates, Sherlock."
"I'm not nasty," he snapped.
"Yeah, current evidence suggests otherwise," Margaret said. "I wouldn't let anyone I was dating near you, either, so, I'm on John's side."
"I'm not," Sam said, and she was a little hurt, that was strange, she did feel like she'd been made the butt of a joke. She looked at John, trying for a smile, but it was a weak thing. "I really feel stupid. I felt stupid. Everyone kept talking around me like I wasn't there. Not you, not really, but all of your friends, everyone who knew you, no one, um, took me seriously."
He nodded, eyes sliding shut. "I wish you'd told me," he said, his mouth kicking up on one side.
"I didn't really want to hear the answer," Sam said with a shrug. "Because out of all the options, 'consulting detective' didn't occur to me."
"Cannot imagine why." John glanced in Sherlock's direction. "I'm sorry, Sherlock. I should've told her all about you, but you do have a habit of doing things to scare off women who date me."
Sherlock made a face, lip curling up in a snarl. But as John held his gaze, the expression died, and he turned his head, avoiding John's eyes. There was a flash of something there, in his mobile features, that Sam couldn't identify, but she had to guess that John could. His face relaxed, just a little, and there was affection in his smile when he studied his friend.
"Fine," John said at last, and his smile stretched. "I'll just have to tell everyone about you."
"No," Sherlock said, his shoulders tensing.
"Yes," John sing-songed back. "So, let me tell you how we met..."
The rest of the night was a tangle of stories and laughter and alcohol and Emma trying to braid Sherlock's hair when he was arguing with John about just who had chosen to jump off that bridge first. John insisted that he'd gone after Sherlock, and Sherlock insisted that he'd only gone because he'd known John was going to fall. Margaret had actually put her phone away, but Sam could almost see her making mental notes to check up on later. Caroline made it clear that she didn't believe anything anyone was saying.
Sam, for her part, was just glad that she knew what was going on for once.
John checked his watch with a groan. "Sorry," he said, giving Sam a smile. "I've got work tomorrow."
She glanced at her mobile and winced. "Yes, so do I."
"Let's pack it in, ladies and gentlemen," Caroline said, standing. She shot the women a look, clearly she wasn't going to go anywhere until there was a debrief, but no point in letting the men know that.
While John was shrugging into his coat, Sherlock stood. "A spy, really?" he said, looking down at them with disdain.
"Oh, come on, we didn't have anything to work with," Sam told him.
He rolled his eyes, clearly not impressed by that statement. "And you managed to misinterpret every single thing that you did have. It's almost impressive how wrong-headed you've been."
"Sherlock," John said, and his voice had this warning in it. It wasn't a threatening sort of warning, but a faint sound of disappointment. It wasn't even addressed towards her, and Sam still winced.
For his part, Sherlock didn't seem bothered. "Oh, for me, that was positively diplomatic."
John stared at him for an instant. "It was. This worries me. This worries me quite a bit."
"As well it should." Sherlock looked down at Sam, his eyes a slit, his chin up, but there was a faint smile on his lips. For the first time, Sam detected a certain respect in his expression. "I'm sorry I frightened you," he said to Sam, and John's head snapped around so fast that Sam was afraid he'd given himself whiplash.
John stared at him,as if weighing the sincerity of the statement and then a smile bloomed on his features, warm and easy. He gave Sherlock an approving nod.
"Thank you," Sam said. "I reserve the right to punch you if you get all weird and stalkery again."
"Understood." Sherlock straightened his coat, his scarf. "Well, that's enough social interaction for tonight," he said, his tone sardonic. "John?"
"Yeah." John tucked his hands in his pockets, smiling at Sam. "See you at the bank."
She nodded. Then, before she could stop herself, she rushed out, "Dinner tomorrow?"
He paused, and slowly, carefully, nodded. "I'd like that."
He headed for the door, and Sherlock paused, just for an instant. "Spies," he said, his voice soft and low, eyes glinting at her, "are numerous and worthless. There's only one John Watson."
Sam's face stretched in a wide, feminine smile. "I'll fight you for him."
Only a single quick blink betrayed his surprise, and he leaned over, his mouth next to her ear, and he's been there before, and she's not scared this time, but her heart skips a beat anyway. "You'll lose," he whispered.
Sam caught his scarf in one hand, holding him in place, just long enough to turn her head and whisper into his ear, "That's okay, I've always wanted to try a threesome."
He didn't react, he didn't say a word, but as she released him, as he straightened up, there was the faintest hint of pink in his cheeks. Or she thought there was. It might've been a trick of the light, or her overheated brain, but she chose to think that yes, she'd gotten in one good hit.
No point in losing without landing at least one sucker punch.
In any case, he gave her an arch look, and a faint snort of derision that was only mildly countered by the hint of a smile on his face, and then he was gone, with a swirl of his coat and a firm step. He caught up to John with a couple of long strides and the two of them slipped into the bar crowd and out of sight.
For a long, long moment after they'd left the table, there was only silence. "Wow," Emma said at last.
"So that happened," Caroline said.
"I need alcohol," Sam said. "I need so much goddamn alcohol right now."
Margaret stood. "It's on me. Or rather, it's on Caro." She held out a hand towards Caroline. "Pay up."
"What, our bet?" Caroline stared at her. "No. You didn't win."
"I totally won. That is by no means the worst man she's ever dated, and that was the bet." Margaret wiggled her fingers at Caroline.
Caroline leaned back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest. "How do you figure?" she said at last. "Really, Margaret. Really? She was shot at, nearly kidnapped, threatened, stalked, worked herself into a near nervous breakdown, developed a serious drinking problem and now I'm pretty sure that she's on some government watch list, and it sounds like you sure as hell are. And you're saying, you don't think that this is the worst boyfriend she's ever had?"
"Yeah, remember Pepsi Can Mike?"
Caroline paused, and sighed. "Fine," she said, reaching for her purse. "But I want a-"
"Pearl Harbor, I know," Margaret said, rolling her eyes. She grinned as Caroline slapped the bill into her hand. "Sam, what do you want?"
"Care to be more specific?"
"Lots of booze," Sam clarified. "The booziest booze available."
"Yeeeeah," Margaret said. "Shots it is."
"Look," Emma said, using the broken ends of the swizzle stick to pin her hair up. "You did an amazing job with, you know, not panicking. At least not much. It's over now. Let's get drunk!"
Everyone froze. Sam groaned, her eyes sliding shut.
"He'd like a word."
Sam rolled her head to the side. She wasn't surprised to find the gorgeous brunette there, fingers busy on her mobile. "John and Sherlock just left," she said, too tired to even panic. "Sorry, you just missed them."
Red lips curled up, just the tiniest fraction. "No. He'd like a word with you."
Sam paused. "Uh, who?" she asked, and she was just stalling. She knew she was just stalling. But yeah, she didn't know what the hell else she could do. Running and screaming were her backup plan, but for now, she'd leave that as Plan B.
"Mycroft Holmes." The smile stretched, just a fraction. "Sherlock's older brother."
"Oh, God," Sam said, on a wail. "No."
The woman, Anthea, chuckled. "I'm afraid so." She glanced up from her mobile, one eyebrow raising in a perfect arch. "I did try to warn you."
"You and everyone else." Sam stood, straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin. "Margaret."
"Yes?" Margaret said, as she returned to the table. She was looking at Anthea with a wary sort of respect.
"Give me a shot. Now."
"That's probably not a good idea-" Margaret started, just as Caroline slapped a shotglass into Sam's hand. She sighed. "Don't."
"Too late!" Sam tossed it back, and coughed her way back to vertical. Her eyes watering, she turned to Anthea. "Okay,"she croaked. "Let's do this thing."
Anthea's lips stretched into a full grin. "Well, that was stupid," she said.
"Yeah, I'm known for that." Grinning back, Sam grabbed her purse. "I'm ready."
"Uh-huh."Anthea fell into step beside her.
"This is my life now, isn't it?" Sam asked her. Anthea arched her eyebrows, but didn't reply, and Sam started giggling, the sound high and just on this side of hysterical. When Anthea turned a sharp gaze on her, she shook her head. "No, no, sorry. It's nothing. I was just thinking, why couldn't THIS relationship be the one that ended in gay porn?"
Anthea laughed out loud, making Sam start. "No insult to you, Ms. Carter," she said,her heels clicking over the noisy sound of the bar, "but I still hold out hope."
(Author's Note the second: Thanks for sticking with me til the end. As I promised, the plot holes were mostly covered, including the fact that the official BBC Blog for Watson does have 'censored' entries, with appropriate comments from the characters about why they're no longer there. If you've never visited John Watson's blog, do that now. It's hysterical.
Dedicated to the real women who inspired Sam's friends. Names have been changed to keep the author from being bludgeoned to death with her own laptop, because they will find this eventually. I claim amnesty based on fandom. That'll hold up in court, right? This story was thought up as we discussed just how GODDAMN sketchy these two might seem if you didn't have the proper amount of back story. Or if, you know, Sherlock wanted you to think that he was sketchy. He's been dealing with Mycroft for his entire life, there is no way he couldn't have picked up a few 'looming and threatening' tricks.)