Chapter 32: Listening
John glared. Sherlock held his heated gaze, and did not flinch when he grabbed his collar. He was swallowed by the sheer, overwhelming strength in John's pupils. In this very instant, Sherlock felt more possessed than he had when his friend had concretely been inside him.
At last John spoke again, his tone inexorable.
He crushed their lips together.
Sherlock didn't have time to gasp, but in his surprise, he almost pushed John back. Then he thought it really would be a pity, and instead he let the other kiss him, sighing in contentment as they parted. Kissing wasn't as fun as murder. But it did send similar sparks of excitement throughout his body, Sherlock noticed idly.
"So much for my reputation," he murmured, his brow still against John's.
"Well, I don't think the roses will mind."
"There's a woman there."
"I don't think she even registered we were here."
John brushed his lips against Sherlock's again, then sat back as his friend emitted a frustrated groan. He smiled.
"So. What do you want to do now?"
"I don't know. You're the one who brought me to the park."
"Do you want to go to the pub?"
Sherlock shrugged. "The pub doesn't matter. It just sounded like something you'd feel more comfortable with..."
"...because it wouldn't look like a date. Well, last time I went on a date with you..."
"...and my girlfriend," John went on, "it ended with you being attacked by the Chinese version of Spiderman and with her and me being kidnapped."
"Are you saying you don't feel like repeating the experience?"
"Oh no, I'd love to."
Their eyes locked for a second before they looked away with mirroring smiles.
"Right, well, sorry, I have no show tickets to see the Chinese Mafia this time."
"Mmm. Let's just settle for what we have then, shall we?" John replied as he took Sherlock's phone out of his pocket. He cleared his throat.
"Dr. Farquhar, general practitioner located on Pall Mall."
"What? I'm allowed to read out loud for myself, aren't I?"
"John," Sherlock repeated sternly.
"Or do you have anything better in mind to distract me?"
"I have a number of things in mind, John. And I am quite ready to show you if you're willing. "
"Are you flirting? God, is Sherlock Holmes flirting?"
"Is that what it is? Is this flirting? I thought it was more like... you know..."
Sherlock looked perplexed and just a little embarrassed.
"Well, erm... 'Your hair is different today, it looks nice.' Something like that."
"What? No! Not yours!"
As the doctor's eyes widened, Sherlock realized his mistake and groaned.
"And so with who did you... erm... flirt?" John asked.
Hearing a tinge of jealousy in his discomfort, Sherlock could not help but want to tease him some more. A small smirk played on his lips as he answered off-handedly:
"Oh, you know, just a woman."
"Yes, a woman. Why are you so surprised?"
"You mean, a woman, but not a suspect, or..."
"No, not a suspect."
"Ah. I see. No, I don't."
"Molly," Sherlock said to put an end to John's torment, finding he did not enjoy making him jealous all that much. His partner blinked.
"You flirted with Molly?"
"She had bodies on her list, bodies that I wanted to see. Eddie Vancoon and–"
"Wait wait wait, you knew about her feelings? What was that last Christmas, then?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes, trying to hide his embarrassment. "I didn't know she was... serious."
"But you don't flirt with just any woman in order to get what you want – surprisingly enough, flirting isn't something you often have recourse to, although it could be pretty useful, considering your... well, anyway. So your using it with Molly means that you knew about her feelings for you."
"She's had boyfriends, John! It was just a crush. I mean I thought it was just a crush."
"You were wrong."
"Don't rub it in. I apologized to her, didn't I?"
John cleared his throat. "Right. Sorry. So... Dr. Farquhar seems to have been a neighbour of your brother's."
"Oh please. You're not reading for yourself, here!"
"Fine! Several times these past three weeks a man has come to pick up Dr. Farquhar at his practice at unreasonable hours, and brought him back very late at night, or very early in the morning. The man has always come late, after closing hours. The first time he came it was just before the doctor closed for the night. Mycroft says he saw him because he lives on the same floor as Dr. Farquhar. Wait, Mycroft lives in a flat?"
"What did you think? That he lived in a palace?"
"I don't know. I can't really picture him living... well, anywhere. Mansion, maybe?"
They looked away and smirked.
"So, as I was saying–"
"Do I have to listen to this?"
"Well, you can always go and leave me here, if you'd like."
Sherlock glared. "No I can't."
"Well it wouldn't be very gentlemanly on a date, but..."
"Oh just go on."
"When Mycroft casually asked him about this peculiar visitor, Dr. Farquhar's reaction was very strange – he seemed panicked but just answered that it was for a very sick patient, and he could say no more because of doctor/patient confidentiality. Mycroft found him suspiciously nervous, but did not push it."
"Then a week later he met Dr. Farquhar with the stranger again downstairs, getting into a car with a suitcase. Mycroft greeted him and the doctor paled, while the young stranger with him was all smiles. And... Apparently Dr. Farquhar told Mycroft he would be away for a while, going on a bit of vacation. But he hasn't been seen since then."
"That woman is staring at us."
John looked up and met the eyes of the young woman who had been having a heated conversation over the phone a while before. She was, indeed, staring at them.
"Do you know her?" Sherlock asked.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Sherlock, I'm sure!"
"She's coming towards us."
"Excuse me..." the stranger began. She stopped in front of the bench on which they were sitting and looked from John's face to Sherlock's. She was in her twenties. Her complexion was quite pale, and her eyes were red as if she had been crying. "Are you John Watson and Sherlock Holmes?"
The two men exchanged a look.
"I'm Eva Blackwell," the woman said after they had ordered drinks.
She was a very pretty woman with brown hair and green eyes, slender and finely dressed. She must have been in her mid twenties, but her make-up hardly concealed her lack of sleep. Not just a little fretful, she kept bringing her hand to her inner pocket, her fingers twitching, and John caught a glimpse of a cigarette pack. Sherlock's clients never looked too good, John mused, but this one seemed particularly distraught behind her neat façade.
He forced himself to smile encouragingly so she would tell them what she wanted with them. Sherlock was looking around the pub grumpily, and Miss Blackwell was staring at the table as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. John repressed a sigh.
"So you read my blog," he said politely, nudging Sherlock under the table so he would be a little more pleasant to Miss Blackwell, who was obviously very troubled. Sherlock did not change his attitude but grabbed John's hand under the table and kept it. John almost rolled his eyes.
"I do! And I love it. I'm a great fan."
"Of Sherlock's, you mean."
"Of your blog!"
John blinked. Now Sherlock was paying attention to the woman, eyeing her warily.
"So what do you want?" he asked, his tone rather cold. John glared at him, but Eva gave a weak smile. She put her hands on her lap and tried to keep them there. Poor woman, she clearly craved a cigarette.
"You really are like Dr. Watson describes you," she said.
"And how's that?"
"Please, Sherlock. Miss Blackwell, what can we do for you?"
"You mean what can I do," Sherlock mumbled, barely audibly, but loud enough for John to hear him. John tried to take his hand away but Sherlock squeezed it and ran his thumb over John's palm in a placatory way.
God, this is awkward, John thought.
"I... I need your help, Mr. Holmes."
Sherlock arched a regal eyebrow.
"I mean, I wish to hire you," Eva added precipitately. "I've read Dr. Watson's blog, if someone can help me in London it's... I think it can only be you. Please. Won't you listen to my story?"
"Well that's why we're here, isn't it?"
"I'm sorry. Please go on," Sherlock amended with one of his perfunctory smiles.
"I... I am being blackmailed," she whispered, looking around as if someone could have been listening.
"Blackmailed?" John said. "But then shouldn't you... I mean, shouldn't you go to the police?"
"No!" She shook her head vigorously. "I can't, or he'll reveal everything!"
"Your drinks," the waiter announced.
"Thank you," John acknowledged. Sherlock's eyes were fixed on Miss Blackwell. Deducing.
Once the waiter was gone and Eva had drunk half of her double whiskey, she resumed:
"He has in his possession some letters. Compromising letters."
"Yes, we could have guessed as much."
"Sherlock, behave!" John ordered between gritted teeth, his voice low. Sherlock ignored him.
"So who is this man, exactly?"
The woman's eyes turned to slits, and her hand started shaking.
"Milverton," she spat, a tremor in her voice. "I know several people who've been blackmailed by him before. A friend told me she knew a woman whose husband committed suicide because of it."
"Okay, now please calm down," John said in what Sherlock construed to be an appeasing tone. Eva took another sip of her drink.
"He wants me to pay £500,000 in exchange for his silence. If I don't pay him, he will make the letters public, and that would cause a terrible scandal for me – one that would lead to..." Her voice broke and she had to collect herself before finishing: "...to the cancellation of my engagement, undoubtedly." Stifling a sob, she buried her face in her hands.
"Well... Uhm... That is regrettable, but I don't see what you want us to–" John began.
"So you'd like me to retrieve the letters," Sherlock interrupted with a smile.
"I'll give you everything I have, Mr. Holmes," Eva said feverishly, grabbing the consulting detective's hand as it rested on the table. Sherlock stiffened noticeably. "Please. I don't have the money he's asking for, but I will give you everything I possess."
"I'm sure that will not be necessary, Miss Blackwell," Sherlock replied curtly.
"What is your price, then?"
"We can't state one before we've retrieved the letters, of course," John cut in before Sherlock declined some seriously needed money now that the doctor was out of work. "And naturally it wouldn't exceed what you have – God, it wouldn't amount to what you have, we're not extortionists."
Miss Blackwell gave John a touchingly grateful look. Sherlock frowned again and said before there could be another display of outpouring emotion:
"I will take on the case, Miss Blackwell. I mean, it isn't exactly a case, but..."
"Oh thank you, Mr. Holmes, thank you so much! I will be forever–"
"Yes, I'm sure," he cut in as he stood up. "John?"
"What? Are we going already?"
"Well the sooner we start, the better! Miss Blackwell, would you please write down the name and address of your blackmailer? And give John your contact details."
"Certainly. But do you not want them?"
"Oh he's got my phone."
Eva stared a second, then blushed and looked down to write on a piece of paper she ripped out of her datebook. John swallowed uneasily.
"So you are a couple after all," she murmured.
"I'm sorry, what?"
She looked up at John sharply. "I saw you kissing in the park. But I wasn't trying to imply anything. I wasn't... judging you or anything. It's just that on your blog you're so... Never mind. I'm sorry. I should really mind my own business, it was a stupid comment for me to make."
John closed his eyes and took a deep breath, but before he could say anything, Eva went on:
"Dr. Watson, I have just begged you to retrieve some compromising letters for me. Surely you must be aware that I wouldn't want to displease you in any way."
"No of course not, that's–"
"John, why don't you go and pay for our drinks?" Sherlock interrupted. His friend was about to protest, but Sherlock shoved his wallet into his hand and so John just did as he was told with a groan.
"Miss Blackwell," Sherlock said to their newly found client, "could you tell me how Mr. Milverton came to have those letters?"
"Well, I... They are letters I sent to someone..."
Sherlock tried not to roll his eyes. "And could that person have given them or sold them to Mr. Milverton?"
"No!" she exclaimed, outraged. "Never. I... They must have been stolen."
"Someone from the same household then, perhaps?"
"It is quite a big household, Mr. Holmes. I suppose any member of the staff, or even a visitor, could have taken them. Is that important? I do not care to know how he came to have them. I just want you to-"
"Yes. So tell me, what do the letters look like? Ink, stationery..."
She seemed surprised by the question, so Sherlock developed: "I assume you do not want to tell me the contents of those letters, Miss Blackwell. I will need however to recognize them, so any piece of information regarding their appearance would be most useful."
"Well, they were just... letters, you know," she said. Sherlock could have slapped her, almost started to move, but luckily, she went on: "It was very simple white stationery, and the ink was red."
"Red? That's unusual."
Eva blushed. "They were quite unusual letters, Mr. Holmes."
Sherlock cleared his throat and glanced at the counter to see if John would soon be back.
"One last question, Miss Blackwell. When I do get my hands on the letters – and do not doubt that I will – what would you like me to do with them? Should I bring them back to you or–"
The young woman's expression had darkened considerably; her voice was cold, her tone final.
Sherlock nodded in agreement. "Fine. Well..."
"I am trusting you with this, Mr. Holmes. My situation is desperate, I admit it. But I am trusting you with it nonetheless."
The consulting detective tilted his head to the side in puzzlement just as John came back.
"I suppose you are, if you're hiring me."
Miss Blackwell shook her head.
"What I mean is... The way Dr. Watson portrayed you on his blog... It makes me want to trust you."
"What an idiot."
"Who? Eva Blackwell?"
"The way Dr. Watson portrayed you on his blog... It makes me want to trust you," Sherlock mimicked. "I've never heard something so absurd!"
"Hum... Shouldn't you thank me or something?"
"What makes her think you tell the truth about me? What makes her think she can believe what's written on a blog? It's preposterous!"
The consulting detective just shrugged as John retrieved the file Lestrade had left with Mrs. Hudson. There was a note with it – Lestrade saying he sincerely hoped Sherlock would help, having once stood him up even though he'd taken the time to come himself. Also they should not keep the file once they had read the contents, he was breaking enough rules as it was, he shouldn't even be telling them any of this, etc. John felt a pang of guilt and made a note to thank the D.I. next time he saw him. Sherlock was very lucky to have him as a friend.
"John. I think we should go on dates more often."
"You got me a client, John!" Sherlock answered gleefully as they walked up the stairs. What enthusiasm, John thought, remembering how sulky he'd been in the pub. "A client! Brilliant."
"But Sherlock, what about Mycroft's–"
"Oh, let him look for Dr. Farquhar if he wants to. We have a case! Well not exactly a case. But there's something to retrieve from a clever man and that in itself should be fun."
John couldn't repress a smile. He was oddly reminded of the time they had been asked to retrieve compromising pictures from Irene Adler.
"Please try not to get drugged this time," he said, earning himself a glower as he pushed the door open. The moment he stepped in, he froze.
"Hello, Dr. Watson," greeted a familiar, honeyed voice. "Sherlock."
Mycroft Holmes was comfortably waiting for them, reading a newspaper in John's armchair. Sherlock's eyes turned to slits.
"What do you think you're doing, breaking into our flat?"
"It's not a break-in, dear brother. I have your keys."
But John stopped him before he could throw a tantrum. "Hello, Mycroft. Make yourself at home."
"Why, thank you."
"What are you doing here?" Sherlock growled, closing the door behind him.
"Why don't you answer your phone?"
"Yes, hence my asking you the question."
"Because John answered."
"Oh is that it, then? New job, Doctor? John isn't your carer, Sherlock."
"Really? I thought you'd be happy, considering you've always thought I needed one."
"Calm down, Sherlock. Mycroft, what did you come for?"
"Am I not even allowed to visit my little brother now?"
"Yes, of course," John said.
"No," Sherlock deadpanned at the same time. John glanced at him. Mycroft gave a little smirk.
"Did you read the PDF file?" he asked.
"John read it for me."
"Dear me, he does everything for you nowadays, doesn't he?"
"Mycroft," John warned.
"And so?" Mycroft went on, ignoring John. "Won't you take the case?"
Mycroft arched an eyebrow. "Why not?"
"Because I'm busy."
"I've got a case already. Two, even," Sherlock said, waving the file Lestrade had brought.
"Well, then, maybe you can put your best man on it, yes?" Mycroft drawled as he stood up pompously and slowly walked to the door.
"No," Sherlock replied dryly. "John is busy too."
"Doing what, I wonder? I heard he's not working anymore."
"Can you not do this when I'm standing right here in the room?" John mumbled.
"You may take a walk if you like, John. I imagine you haven't had much of a chance to get some air lately, have you?"
Sherlock paled with rage, and John answered curtly:
"I am perfectly fine, thank you."
"Are you? Well that's good, very good. I wish we could say the same for Sherlock."
"Get. Out. Of. My. Flat."
"Did it ever occur to you that you may need to get some air as well, Sherlock? Broaden your experience, perhaps. Give John some space."
"I have enough," John said firmly before Sherlock snapped.
"Do you really? Your life was always about balance, Dr. Watson. Between mundane and thrilling. Your relationships always fulfilled your need for the mundane. To what will you turn if this present relationship does not perform that function? And, knowing my brother, I assume it doesn't."
"Mycroft, this is none of your–" Sherlock began.
"Not to mention the fact that you have stopped working. How long do you reckon you'll last? Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with Sherlock Holmes."
This time, Sherlock fell quiet. John glared.
"Thank you, Mycroft, that was really helpful. Why don't you wait and see how we do, then, if you're so worried?"
"Wait and see? I have already done plenty of that, I'm afraid."
"But you've seen nothing."
John looked at his partner in surprise. Sherlock's face was grave, and his tone, dark.
"You think you can barge into my life, knowing nothing, assuming. Stop wallowing in your guilt, Mycroft. Something happened to me and you could do nothing. It completely escaped you and when you realized, it was too late. How frustrating must it be, I wonder?"
Mycroft's brow furrowed and his gaze became icy. John swallowed.
"That you, of all people, could not prevent my being kidnapped or my being shot. You keep trying to put the guilt on John, but we both know that's not how you feel."
"How I feel? Don't be ridiculous."
"Who's being ridiculous?"
They stared at each other heatedly. John kept glancing at one, then the other, not quite sure how he should intervene, if at all.
"Sherlock, you are being taken in again. This is textbook, as always. How many times will you need to be fooled before you understand?"
"John is no Irene Adler, Mycroft," Sherlock spat.
"No," Mycroft conceded. "But what is it that you're attracted to, I wonder?" He gave John a pointed look.
"Get out," Sherlock ordered. Mycroft turned towards the door again, and as he left, dropped nonchalantly:
"I wonder if you can answer that question for him, John."
No sooner had he stepped out than Sherlock jumped at the door and locked it. John just stood in the middle of the living-room, eyes fixed on the door handle. Absent.
"Don't make that face, John. We can both answer that question and there is absolutely no need for Mycroft to know," Sherlock said, walking up to him and taking the file from his hands. He turned away and started reading it.
"Can we both answer that question, Sherlock?"
Sherlock looked up from the file, frowning. "Of course we can."
Sherlock swallowed. He did not like John's tone. Not at all. John walked up to the window and stared outside.
"Tell me, then. What is it you're attracted to, Sherlock?"
Sherlock blinked. What in the world was John expecting him to say? Clearly he wanted a specific answer. Didn't he? What was he trying to say otherwise? John wasn't exactly the type to fish for compliments, Sherlock thought, so what was he on about?
"I already told you. The fighting. Tea. The belt. Your voi–"
"No, Sherlock, that's not what I meant, and that's not what Mycroft meant either."
This was a little too much. "Enlighten me, then. What did I miss?"
John's profile was tense. Jaw clenched. Brow slightly furrowed. Sherlock swallowed again.
"You were attracted to Irene Adler," John said.
"Oh for goodness' sake, are you being jealous? You? Now?"
"This has nothing to do with jealousy, Sherlock," John assured him softly, turning back to him. Sherlock glared.
"What are you trying to say?"
"That perhaps... I... What really turns you on has nothing to do with me."
"Here we go again," Sherlock growled. He walked up to John at once, pinned him against the windowpane and crushed their lips together. John opened his mouth instantly and Sherlock deepened the kiss, but the next moment his partner was writhing and pushing him back. John was panting and his face was flushed when he locked eyes with Sherlock, holding him at arms' length.
"No. I... We have to think. Just think, Sherlock. Mycroft was right. Don't you feel like experimenting with other subjects?"
"Other subj... John–"
"No, stay where you are. Listen I–"
"The answer is no, John!" Sherlock replied angrily, shaking John's hands off and turning away. Was this all it took? "What can I do to make you believe me?"
"But I belie–"
"No you don't! Clearly you don't. You're the one who might not be satisfied with this arrangement, not me! So stop trying to make this a problem about me."
"Why do you keep mentioning the Woman? You're the one who's had women, John, you're the one his friends call Casanova, the one who keeps having different girlfriends – not me! Broaden my experience? Don't make me laugh. You're the one broadening yours here."
"Or did you not mean the Woman per se, but the dominatrix? You think what I'm attracted to is... what? Humiliation? You think I get off on humiliation and that you just so happened to be involved in a scene where my humiliation couldn't have been more complete and so–"
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Sherlock," John murmured, catching him, pulling him into an embrace. Sherlock pushed him back violently.
"Is that what you think?!"
"No. I'm sorry I–"
"Then what? What is it, John? What do you think I'm attracted to? Power play? Yes, I might well be attracted to that, actually."
"What are you suggesting exactly? That I try having sex with other people to see? And to see... what?"
"That's not what I–"
"Yes it is."
"Will you let me finish?!"
They glared at each other, still standing close, John desperately trying to get closer. Sherlock saw pain on his face. He looked away.
"I..." John resumed, "I wasn't suggesting that you should try having sex with other people."
"Yes, you were," Sherlock said icily, and John realized he was right; even though he hadn't put it that way, that was basically the logical conclusion of what he was trying to say. "You could never help it, could you? Listening to what others said. To what people said. It's always so important, isn't it?"
"Sherlock, this isn't about–"
"Of course it is."
He opened the file again, fell into the couch, and resumed reading. John blinked.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Taking a look at Lestrade's case."
"Sherlock, we were just talking!"
"No, you were trying to talk, and were saying nothing. Or only contradictory things. I'll talk to you when you've cooled down."
John felt his hand begin to tremble and clenched it into a fist. He stared at Sherlock, voiceless. What had he been trying to say anyway? He didn't want Sherlock to have sex with anyone else. He was never jealous with any of his girlfriends, but he wasn't used to sharing. Especially not Sherlock. He couldn't bear it.
"Sherlock," he murmured, sitting by his side on the couch. Their thighs touched. That's when John noticed Sherlock was shaking. "Oh God Sherlock..."
"Is this really what you think?" Sherlock let out between gritted teeth, a tremor in his voice. "That it could have been just anybody, anybody at all, as long as I was humbled and disgraced and somebody was watching?"
John took his hand, pushing the file to the side – obviously Sherlock wasn't really reading it.
"No, Sherlock, I'm sorry, that's not what I meant at all. I love you." He squeezed his hand, and brought it to his lips. "I love you."
These words just made the detective feel even worse: confused and out of place. John nuzzled up into the crook of his neck and held him, rubbing his brow and nose against his throat. Sherlock breathed in deeply. He would kill Mycroft. Everything had been just fine with John, they were doing just fine together. Why did his brother have to come and throw his despicable insinuations in John's face once more? Now he had to reassure him all over again.
"Do you remember why your therapist couldn't help, John?" Sherlock asked quietly, reaffirming his grip on John's hand.
"I don't know."
"Because she got it wrong. Your 'trauma' wasn't what people thought or expected. It wasn't so simple."
John wasn't sure what point Sherlock was trying to make, so he just hummed against his skin in encouragement. Sherlock swallowed and John, hearing him gulp, couldn't stop himself from kissing his throat.
"No one is smart enough to help me with this, John. I will admit that things are not simple; but you won't deny that I was your cure after the war. I think only you can be mine now. It doesn't have to involve anything you don't want it to involve, just... You. I trust you, John. Only you," he added, probably to pre-empt any remark such as I thought you said you didn't trust anyone.
John sat back to look at his friend.
"It'd be wonderful if you could listen to me instead of Mycroft or Moriarty," Sherlock grumbled, averting his gaze.
John smiled. Every time he said something nice, Sherlock just had to chunter to avoid being too embarrassed. A cure, was it? It was the first time John had been in a relationship as a cure, and he wasn't sure he liked the idea very much. But for once Sherlock was trying to say something kind, and John certainly wasn't going to brush him off.
"I'll listen to you. So what's the case about?"
"Serial killing, apparently. Three victims," Sherlock said, still a little upset and not looking at John.
John cleared his throat and took the file from his friend's lap.
"It says two murders here, but three victims."
"The last one wasn't killed."
"Yes thank you, I think I could have got that."
John glanced at Sherlock, but the detective still seemed annoyed and ignored him, keeping his eyes fixed on the window. John looked at the file again, moving a bit closer to the detective. Sherlock did not push him back.
John was scanning the page a little morosely, wondering how he could lighten up Sherlock's mood again, when he froze. His eyes widened.
"Sherlock you've got to see this."
"The third victim's name."
He showed Sherlock the file. The consulting detective's eyes sparkled as he read and looked back up at John.
"Charles Augustus Milverton," they said as one.