The things that had been turning up around the flat over the last few days had John a little concerned. Not that they were anything particularly disturbing in themselves. In fact, given that 'things' in the past had included severed body parts ("Of course they need to go in the fridge, where else would you have me put them? The bread bin?"), a marijuana plant ("It's purely experimental John.") and a box of live sewer rats ("Just listen to them! Do you think, seriously, that anyone could have slept through that racket?"), these new items were quite refreshingly normal. But no, John was worried over what they represented.
First it had been the tights; sheer black, size large/extra long, still in their packet and tucked in the pocket of Sherlock's coat when John went to answer his phone for him.
Then there had been eyeshadow in the bathroom, a little clippy box that John had some vague idea should be called a palette, with six colours of powder in shades of blue and green.
And now, while doing housework, John had gone to empty the bin in Sherlock's bedroom and had found a tissue with a pink lipstick blot on it.
John was going to have to face the fact that Sherlock had a girlfriend.
This was going to be difficult on many levels.
As strange an idea as it was, Sherlock was a healthy grown man, and quite a good looking one at that. There was nothing wrong with him seeing someone, despite having never shown any interest previously. What John couldn't work out was when he would have had time to bring this girlfriend home, at least for her to be situated for long enough to be doing her make-up, without John noticing.
And also, why hadn't he introduced John to her? Sherlock met all of John's girlfriends (whether John wanted him to or not) and he would have expected that Sherlock would want them to meet John, at least so he could show off. However, he hadn't even mentioned it.
While it would undoubtably mean an easier time dating for him, the reason that this situation was troubling John was simple; whenever he tried to picture the sort of woman that Sherlock would be attracted to and that would be attracted to Sherlock, he could only picture somebody terrifying, nightmarish. How would John cope if he had to deal with some kind of female version of Sherlock turning up in his home at regular intervals? How would his working relationship with Sherlock, their living arrangement, their friendship work?
What if Sherlock...well, what if he ditched John?
John only realised he'd been standing for several minutes in the middle of the living room, plastic bag full of rubbish in one hand, a lipsticky tissue in the other, when his phone snapped him out of his thoughts with a loud ring. He stuffed the tissue into the bag, tied it off and dropped it by the door, then went and looked at his new text:
'John, come at once to Le Pinet. You aren't busy – SH'
John rolled his eyes. The cleaning was mostly finished, not that it was ever possible to get everywhere cleaned given the constant state of untidyness due to all of Sherlock's stuff. He supposed he could go...
Oh who the fuck was he kidding?
He pulled on his jacket and put the bag of rubbish in the bin outside on his way.
Le Pinet was a little French-style cafe a few streets away. It was a quiet, airy place with good food, not really Sherlock's style, but they'd gone there for lunch once when Speedy's had been closed during a power cut and John had since taken a couple of dates there since. It was mid-afternoon, and he could see as soon as the place came into sight that it was nearly empty. Sherlock's dark hair and clothing were clearly visible in the window against the yellow and white interior of the cafe, and John could just make out another, smaller figure sitting close at his side.
Christ, was this it? Was John going to be introduced to The Girlfriend?
He suddenly felt horribly nervous. No, not even that; he felt uncomfortable, anxious, as if some huge, overwhelming change was waiting for him.
A bell jingled merrily above him as he pushed open the cafe door, and Sherlock and his companion both looked up. The woman was dressed in stylish casual-wear, small and curvy with a pretty face, and as soon as she realised that John was the person Sherlock had been waiting for she gave him a warm smile.
John felt his tension twist inside him; surely Sherlock couldn't be seeing somebody nice, could he?
They each had an open notebook filled with lines of text in front of them, along with Sherlock's laptop and a small stack of magazines at the woman's elbow. It looked for all the world like they'd been doing research, and John wondered if he'd got this all wrong. Sherlock waved him over, and John took a seat on the other side of the table to him and the woman, dropping his jacket over the back of the chair as he sat. Sherlock glanced up at him, then gestured vaguely at the woman with one hand while continuing to type with the other.
"John, this is Kirsty Lowen. Kirsty, John."
"Pleased to meet you," Kirsty said in a low, pleasant voice, and she reached across the table to shake John's hand. Her handshake was firm and warm, her eyes fixed on him, her attention easily drawn away from Sherlock. To his relief, he was becoming increasingly sure that she wasn't Sherlock's girlfriend, not even Sherlock's type.
Though she was definitely his type.
"Kirsty is helping me with a case," Sherlock continued, not looking up from the computer screen. "She is a consulting woman."
"A...I'm sorry, a what?" John asked.
Kirsty smiled at him and opened her mouth to answer, but Sherlock interrupted, looking up at John with the withering half-scowl that he was all too used to.
"A consulting woman," he replied irritably, enunciating the words with care as if it would help. "Now listen carefully and I will explain to you the details of the case."
Kirsty gave John a sympathetic 'what is he like, eh?' sort of look and he smiled at her as Sherlock turned his attention back to the computer and began to speak.
"Over the last two years and four months there have been six murders that were committed under similar circumstances. The police of the various nations in which the murders took place have yet to piece together the simple fact that they have all been committed by the same person, and so I have decided to take the opportunity of the main suspect's precense in London to lure him out. Do you both follow so far?"
Kirsty nodded, scribbling on her pad. John tapped his finger on the table to get Sherlock's attention and asked; "Does Lestrade know you're doing this?"
Sherlock sneered slightly and turned his eyes back towards the computer screen. "He is aware of my interest in the case, but as none of the murders have been committed with in the Met's sphere of influence he cannot be seen to become involved. Now, if I may continue?"
John gave him a steady glare, which made Kirsty giggle quietly. Oh dear yes, she was pretty.
"The coinciding facts of the murders are as follows: Each has taken place in a wealthy region of Europe, mostly in resorts or at exclusive society events in cities. The victim in each case is male, middle aged and married to a woman he has been known to mistreat or abuse. He has been found strangled or garrotted between two and four days after his disappearance from an event or gathering at which another man publicly took him to task on his treatment of his wife."
"And was that other man the same in every instance?" John asked. Sherlock gave him a faint smile.
"Precisely. This same man has also romanced the woman in each case, taking her away from the scene of her husband's humiliation in a way that witnesses have described as 'chivalrous'. Whether or not this has resulted in sexual relations is unconfirmed."
"So he saves them and kills their husbands?" Kirsty asked, propping her chin in one hand. "Has he got some kind of...hero complex do you think?"
Sherlock shrugged. "I can't say at this point, not enough data. But I can tell you who this man is." He turned the laptop around so they could both see it. A large photograph of a fair haired, late-middle aged man filled the screen, the image maximised from an article on a gossip website that was greyed out in the background. The man was a little overweight with a rather jowly face that showed signs of having once been handsome. His suit (as John could now attest from having been lectured by Sherlock about such things) was bespoke and of high quality, accessorised with some subtle but undoubtedly valuable gold jewellery. Kirsty wrinkled her nose at the picture, clearly not impressed.
"This is Algernon Garvin," Sherlock announced. "Born into money, he holds token positions on the boards of various companies and is what, fifty years or so ago, would have been referred to as a 'jet setter'. He travels the world, takes part in high society gatherings and spends money frivolously, often surrounding himself with women in the process."
"Nice work if you can get it," John murmured.
"Hmm. Well, at least your career rarely leads to deaths by strangulation John. Garvin's alibi intrigues me; he isn't the sort of man to have connections or loyal friends who would kill for him and he hasn't been associated with any criminal activities since a minor incident in the early eighties, yet in each case there is very little time during the possible window in which the murder was committed that he wasn't accompanied by at least one person, often the wife of the victim. It's...surprising that he should be so clever. Anyway, a client who owes me a favour has been able to confirm that Garvin will be at a party at the Royal Lancaster Hotel on Saturday evening, thrown in aid of a branch of the National Trust. I have an invitation to the party and am going to ensnare him."
"You know full well what that means John."
"Yes, but...I mean, ensnare how, exactly?"
Sherlock sniffed, as if offended that John doubted he had a perfect plan. John didn't actually doubt it exactly, but Sherlock wasn't always as on the ball as he usually was when it came to things like sex and attraction. Whether it was due to inexperience, lack of interest or something else entirely, John wasn't sure, but that blind spot could easily lead to trouble if Sherlock was going to be playing some kind of cruel spouse in this endeavour.
"I've looked into Garvin's romantic history, as well as the women whose husbands were murdered, and have found a great deal of correlation between all of them; he has a very distinct type."
John became aware of a mischevious little smirk on Kirsty's face.
"Simply put," Sherlock continued," He likes tall, willowy women with dark hair, younger than him but no younger than thirty or so."
John looked at Kirsty; in her thirties, yes, but aside from that she was small, buxom and strawberry blonde. She grinned at him and shook her head, then pointed one finger at Sherlock. "Not me, him," she said.
John turned back to Sherlock.
"Of course me. Why not me?"
John sighed. "Sherlock, you're...you're very tall. And bony. And your hands are huge, your voice is deep, your-"
"That is why I've hired Kirsty," Sherlock interrupted with a smug note of triumph in his voice. "I told you, she's a consulting woman."
Kirsty was now giggling irrepressibly, attempting to cover it up by pretending to blow her nose into a tissue.
"Um...I think one of you had better tell me exactly what that means," John suggested, praying it wasn't something bizarre.
Kirsty nodded and pre-emptively shut Sherlock up with a wave of her hand, making John immediately envious of her.
"I'm transgender John. You know what that means?"
John nodded, somewhat surprised.
"I always knew I was a woman, and nearly three years ago I changed my name and began living as I am now. And when I did, I found that there was far more difference between living as a man and living as a woman than I'd expected."
She paused, and John nodded again, getting the vague impression that he was listening to a planned speech, something she'd used to explain things to people over and over.
"People react to you differently, and I had to behave differently to get the same responses from interactions. I discovered that there's a big gap between being a woman as myself and being a woman as part of society. I had a lot of adjusting to do. Do you understand John?"
"I...yes, I think so," John replied. "And so...you advise other people on these matters?"
Kirsty smiled at him. "Yes, exactly. And, well, I'm a hairdresser professionally, and I've got a bit of a reputation for helping people to get their, you know, their style down, when they feel ready to do so. It can make such an impact on your attitude, you know, looking like you feel. So, I've started up a little website where I can give people advice, on their look and on their attitude and other things. But I've been looking for a project I can showcase a bit, and when Sherlock came and asked me for help, I thought it would give me some useful insight, you know? How does a man, in body and mind, transition into a woman? Have you ever read any of Angela Carter's books John?"
"Uh, can't say as I have, no. So you're helping Sherlock for reasons of, what, intellectual discovery?"
"And money," Sherlock pointed out.
"And because it sounds exciting, helping solve a murder and that. Don't you think?"
"Oh, I know that feeling all too well," John told her, and she smiled impishly at him.
"So the plan is, you have until Saturday night to make that," he pointed at Sherlock, "look and act convincingly like a woman, so she can go and be a damsel in distress and in so doing trap a serial murderer. Have I got that right? Sherlock?"
Sherlock was frowning stormily at his flip tone and Kirsty was trying not to laugh at his expression again, when Sherlock's phone abruptly rang, and he took it out of his pocket to glance at the screen. "It's that idiot," he snarled, and strode off across the restaurant, tucking himself out of the way in a nook near the bar so they couldn't hear his conversation.
Kirsty watched him go, her eyebrows raised. "Who is it then?" she asked John.
"Oh, who knows. As far as Sherlock's concerned, practically everyone is an idiot. He sounded properly annoyed though, so it's most likely somebody who's actually done something stupid, rather than just a stranger who's been refused the benefit of the doubt."
Kirsty pursed her lips together hard, but couldn't quite stop a little splurt of laughter from escaping, and John joined her in a subdued fit of the giggles. He was peripherally aware of Sherlock peering curiously at them, the phone still pressed to his ear, but ignored him. Kirsty's cheeks were red and she looked adorable. Yeah, John decided, let's give it a try.
"Kirsty, maybe this is a little forward of me, but I wonder if you'd let me take you out to dinner one night," he asked, showing her his best flirting smile.
She smiled sweetly in return, but dipped her head in a way that John knew all too well meant he was about to be turned down.
"That's really lovely of you John, but I'm seeing somebody, actually. Sorry."
Damn. She was even used to Sherlock. It would have been perfect.
"Ah well, I hope you don't mind me asking," he said, she shook her head.
"Oh no, not at all. I'm flattered."
They were grinning a bit awkwardly at one another when Sherlock returned to the table. He put his phone back in his pocket, opened his mouth to speak...then glanced between John and Kirsty with open curiosity. He was mostly behind Kirsty, so she didn't notice, but John knew the look on Sherlock's face like no other; he'd just worked out what conversation they'd had while he'd been away from the table, could probably quote it back to them if pressed.
And to John's horror, he looked curious.