Title: Fate, At Your Fingertips
Spoilers: None. (Well, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band".)
Pairings: S/J. Harry Watson/Clara
Warnings: A murder, alcoholism, and domestic violence.
Summary: Even "soulmate" is just a word.
A/N: All the love to Kitkat McRaebs, who is the reason the last seven thousand or so words exist. In terms of where this might occur in BBC!canon, the events of ASiP happened without Moriarty revealing himself; the relationship between Sherlock and John is most like the one in TGG.
John's in his chair with tea and the paper; there's an article titled, "Mysterious Death of Surrey Tourist". Beside him Sherlock paces, muttering to himself. The case has not been kind to him — but then again, neither have the police. The Met might tolerate Sherlock, but the Surrey police certainly don't, and the restrictions put on his access is driving Sherlock mad.
"It can't be anyone else," Sherlock declares finally, lifting his head up in frustration. "Roylott must have killed Lucy Stoner. But how?"
"What, her printmate?" John says, accidentally letting hot tea slosh over his tongue in surprise. He winces and puts his mug down.
Sherlock shoots him a disdainful look. "Do you know another Roylott relevant to the case?" he asks tartly, and presses on without waiting for a response, spelling out possible motives and evidence with crisp gestures of his hands.
"And then the second autopsy showed traces of what could have been poison—John."
"You're not listening."
"I am listening," John protests. "The autopsy."
"The autopsy wasn't important," Sherlock says with a huff. "It was the timing. You haven't been paying attention at all—" Sherlock breaks off suddenly with a sharp frown downwards, and John follows his gaze to his own wrist, where he's been absently running a thumb under the band of his watch. John flushes; rubbing at your wristmark is perhaps a childish habit, but John's never quite grown out of it.
"You don't think he did it," Sherlock says, voice suddenly flat. "Because they were printmates."
"No, I believe you." John tries to sound reassuring. "Just...printmates aren't supposed to hurt each other. Don't hurt each other." He winces at the slip. "It'll be a hard time convincing a jury," he adds quickly.
Sherlock is looking at John as if he's some very interesting specimen under a microscope. John takes another gulp of tea to escape that gaze and mentally wills Sherlock not to say anything. "Nevertheless," Sherlock says after a deliberate pause, "the evidence suggests that Roylott did, in fact, kill Stoner."
"Right." John's not quite relieved, but at least Sherlock seems to be letting it go for now. "Is that what you're going to tell Greg?" he asks, suddenly curious. Greg has a lot of trust in Sherlock, but John's not at all certain whether the rest of the Met would let go of such an opportunity to damage his credibility.
"Yes, of course," Sherlock says blankly. "There's no other explanation." He strides out of the room with that, and John is left trying very hard not to yell after him, "Are you sure?"
There is a woman from Surrey dead in a hotel room and maybe (probably) her printmate was the murderer. John wonders how many people will call Sherlock a liar.
The last mouthful of tea is still warm, but it does little to dissolve the uneasiness from the back of John's mind. Impulsively, he undoes the clasp of his watch and slides it free, staring hard at the swirls that mark the inside of his wrist.
Somewhere, out there, there is someone whose fingerprint matches the one on his skin. And whose mark is the same pattern as the whorls on his thumb. The other half of a pair they're supposed to be.
(That idea shouldn't be frightening.)
He puts his watch back on and thinks he might need more tea.
Sherlock must have texted Greg about his conclusions, because he stops dragging John off to Scotland Yard at a buzz of his mobile and instead throws himself into a flurry of violin sonatas. This might be a better turn of events – there's less sitting around on uncomfortable plastic chairs while some harried DC tells him, "I'm sorry, Mr Watson, authorised personnel only" – but in between restless squeaks and fluid notes there are cut-off, improvised phrases: rough fragments of something new.
And then, as John is sleepily buttering his toast one morning, there's a sharp crescendo, a crash of chords, before Sherlock sweeps into the kitchen in only his blue dressing gown and throws himself into a chair with sharp eyes focused completely on John.
"What?" John asks, biting down on a yawn.
"You're not Registered," Sherlock muses.
Of all the things Sherlock could have said, that is one John doesn't expect, and it startles John awake. "How–" he starts, before shaking his head. "Never mind. No, I'm not Registered. I...haven't really thought about it."
"You have thought about it," Sherlock corrects irritably, stealing a sip of John's tea. He frowns at it but carries on talking without a break. "It would have been logical for you to Register soon after returning from Afghanistan. You deliberately went against the advice of your therapist and declined, even though you should know that the chances of finding a mate decreases exponentially after your forties."
John focuses on finishing the last of his toast without replying. And then, because Sherlock is looking up at him expectantly, he sighs and says, "Plenty of people don't Register."
Sherlock's eyes narrow; John winces at the defensiveness even he can hear in his voice. "I'm not talking about this," he says firmly, before Sherlock can get a word in. "I don't want to, all right?" He gets to his feet rather stiffly and heads for his room. Surprisingly, Sherlock lets him go without a word, but John can still feel the weight of his stare.
A few days later, Sherlock is gleefully ducking under police tape to examine a decapitated corpse before John has even finished getting out of the cab. With a weary smile, John pays the cabbie and starts towards the crime scene. "Hello, Sally."
"John," Sally nods back, lifting up the tape for him. The regulation fluorescent wristband she wears flashes in his eyes as he passes. She seems to have finally accepted that John isn't going to be warned away, and now just generally gives him puzzled looks, as if to ask: what's a bloke like you doing with a guy like him?
John isn't quite sure about that one, either.
"Ah, John, it's you." Greg comes over, a yawn overcoming his last words. There are tired lines etched deeply around his face, and his clothes have a crumpled look to them.
"You look like hell," John says frankly. "What happened?"
Greg grimaces. "The Stoner case," he says, with a furtive glance at Sherlock. "I don't suppose you could convince him to take another look at it."
"Why, did the Surrey police find something?" John asks, but he has a sinking feeling that's not it.
"Not...exactly." Greg pauses. John waits for him to find his words, watching Sherlock peer through his magnifying glass in the meantime. "Sherlock's well known down at the Yard for a lot of things, of course," he says at last, looking down at his shoes. "But he's giving us cases that are impossible to prosecute. I—we can't do a lot with that, John."
"Printmates," John says. "Um. He's done this before?"
"Yeah." Greg sounds defeated. "Sherlock doesn't care, apparently, but I do have officers who've met their mates, or family members who have, and they know what that's like – they're not going to be willing to prosecute something like this. Not without rock solid evidence, and right now, we just don't have it."
"I've told him that," John protests. "He doesn't care."
"Right," Greg nods, "and I know Sherlock's methods are usually sound, but – do you know how many printmates he's accused while he's been working with me?"
"I dunno." John thinks for a moment. "Maybe...twenty?"
Greg lets out a humourless laugh. "Closer to three hundred."
"Three hundred?" John splutters.
"Yep. Not lately, and I thought he might have given up, but...look, John, it's not good, and I'm starting to get a lot of heat for letting Sherlock in on cases at all."
"Well," John says slowly, "has he ever been wrong?"
"That's just it, isn't it?" Greg says, frustrated. "We can't tell, because no-one's going to be pressing charges."
"Regardless, I would be right." They both look up to see Sherlock's irritated expression as he marches towards them. "Now, if you're both quite finished with this pointless discussion, there's a guillotine to be found."
As he continues walking off the scene, Greg and John stare at each other with open mouths. "Did he just say 'guillotine'?"
The guillotine in question has been dismantled, but the pieces turn up days later at the bottom of the Thames, and the murderer himself gives up after a lively chase through London streets. John stumbles into 221B soon after that, cold and tired and ready to collapse.
First, though, there's a message on his phone he's been ignoring for two days. "John, pick up," it says. "Oh, come on. Fine. Call me, I guess?"
Well, at least she doesn't sound pissed.
He sits down in his chair and dials Harry's number with a sigh. "Hey," she answers. "Took you long enough."
"Hullo, Harry," he says tiredly. "You wanted me to call?"
"Ye-es," she says, the sound drawn out and reluctant. "I'm getting married."
It takes John a moment to process that statement. "Okay," he says. "That's. It's Claire, isn't it?"
"Oh," John says. "And you two are—"
"We went in and got our prints verified." She draws a breath, sounding nervous. "We're printmates, yeah."
John tries to think of something to say. "Have I met her?"
"No," she says after a pause. "I don't think so."
John fights the urge to give into hysterical laughter. "Should I?"
"She wants to."
"That's...good," he says, even though the word seems rather inadequate. "Say, this weekend?"
"Let me check," she says. And, after a moment, "Yeah, that'd work. I'll get back to you with a time?"
"Right," John says, and wonders why everything feels so surreal. "So," he says finally, "when's the wedding?"
"Three, four months." She just manages to not let her voice rise into a question. "Invitations should come in the post soon."
"All right, thanks. And, Harry?" John hesitates. "I guess, congratulations?"
Harry lets out a startled laugh. "Thanks," she says, and the word sounds rather stiff and foreign in her voice, but that's just the way things are.
In theory, the Registry is a great concept: a systematic way to unite printmates who might never meet otherwise. In practice? The idea of getting your prints scanned and having a computer find your mate is still off-putting to many.
"Hi, are you John?" a friendly voice brings John back to the coffee-scented atmosphere of Costa. He looks up to see a brown woman with a coloured scarf and a gleaming smile.
"Hi," John says, instinctively rising from his chair. "Yes. And you—"
"No, don't get up," she shakes his hand with a firm grasp and takes the seat across from him. The band of her watch is brightly patterned and looks like something Harry might buy, on a whim. (Now that he's thinking about it, that is probably the case.) "I'm Clara. You look just like your sister!"
John chuckles. "So I've been told," he says, shaking his head.
"No, it's a good thing," Clara grins. "I am rather fond of her, you know."
"Well, I should hope so. Can I get you a coffee?"
Clara, it turns out, is lovely to talk to, alternating infectious laughter with quick retorts. They stick to talking about work – Clara talks about primary school children with exasperated fondness, and the A&E always provides many interesting stories. But as the afternoon wears on, they both find themselves stealing glances at their watches and pretending not to.
Harry is supposed to be there. They call her mobile and it goes straight to voicemail.
"She might have forgotten," John suggests, crumpling his napkin in his hand.
"Maybe," Clara says, her mouth a sceptical slash.
"Or she got caught up at work."
"Or she could be down at the pub getting increasingly pissed."
"Ah." John bites his lip. "You know about that."
"Yeah," she says, and suddenly she looks very tired. "I do."
"Okay. Right." John stares at the last few drops of coffee clinging to the side of his cup, and then stands up. "I suppose I'd better go find her, then."
"No, it's all right," Clara says, also getting to her feet. "I should do that."
"But—" John starts to protest, and then catches himself. "Right, that make sense," he says instead.
"She's not just your sister anymore," Clara says, rather kindly.
Because that's what being mates means. (Is supposed tomean.) "Are you sure you don't need any help?" John asks her as they go out the door.
"It'll be fine," she shrugs. "We can work this out."
As Clara leaves, John watches the tired lines of her shoulders and fiercely hopes Harry won't screw this up.
When John enters 221B, there's an acrid smell in the air and blood on the tiled kitchen floor. "Oh my god," he breathes, before he remembers that with Sherlock, it's just as likely to be sheep's blood as a person's. "Sherlock!"
"Well, you're back early." Sherlock's bored reply comes from his bedroom. "Should've expected that – it was your sister, wasn't it?"
"Shut up about her," John calls back, but without any real conviction, as he goes through the door. "Is that my medical kit?"
Sherlock doesn't even look up, cuffs rolled up past his elbows, calmly examining his left arm under the light of his bedside lamp. John freezes for a moment at the sight of blood on the duvet, and then notices what Sherlock is doing.
"No," he says firmly, taking the suturing needle out of Sherlock's hand. "Absolutely not, you can't stitch yourself up. Are you mad?"
"I've already injected the lidocaine," Sherlock protests – of course he has, the prat – "and the needle is clean. Or rather, was," he amends, looking accusingly at John's bare hand.
"You know, for a genius you're often incredibly stupid," John says crossly, pulling out the box of gloves. "I'm going to wash my hands. Don't do anything."
"I have done this before," Sherlock points out, voice dry, as John leaves the room; but when John returns with newly gloved hands and a fresh suture kit, he's gratified to discover that Sherlock hasn't moved from his spot on the bed.
"Right," John says, sliding a towel under Sherlock's arm and positioning forceps above the wound. "You've already cleaned this—"
"Obviously," Sherlock mutters.
"—and it looks like it's going to need about...three stitches." John goes on, ignoring him. "What were you doing, anyway?" he asks conversationally. "Hold still."
"Experiment." Sherlock is dismissive. "Heated up unexpectedly fast. The flask shattered."
John makes a disapproving hum, putting the first stitch into place. "Dangerous experiments in the kitchen. You really should stop doing that. Same goes for haring after criminals by yourself," he adds as an afterthought.
"It's been ages since I've done that."
"Yeah, because I'm usually chasing after you. Hold still." John ties off the first stitch and starts on the second.
Sherlock does fall silent then, but as John pulls tight the last knot he says abruptly, "Four months."
"What?" John's scissors pause in trimming off the last stitch.
"Your sister. The relationship. Perhaps a margin of a month on either side," he adds. "I'm not familiar with her partner. By that time, I'd imagine, she'll admit to herself that an alcoholic wasn't quite the partner she'd hoped for and be tired enough to give up."
"That's not–" John swallows and finishes off, putting all the equipment aside. "That's not how it works," he says weakly. "They're printmates, it's going to work out somehow."
Sherlock makes a low, frustrated sound. "Printmates," he spits out. "Every human emotion tied to an accidental arrangement of melanin."
Wristmarks have many other names – ephelis dermatograph, "the lover's touch", l'empreinte du destin – but John's never heard anyone call them accidents before. And there's something desperate about the way Sherlock's mouth had curled around those last few words – the way Sherlock is staring hotly at him now –
"There are peer-reviewed studies about printmates, you know," John says. He'd looked them all up in medical school, hoping, without ever finding what he'd wanted to know. He keeps his voice casual and focuses on the gauze he's taping to Sherlock's skin so he won't have to look up. "The divorce rate—" And then his eyes light upon Sherlock's bare wrist.
The watch, laid out neatly on the bedside table.
The mark on Sherlock's skin is blood-flecked and stark against the pale skin and most definitely does not match the swirls on John's thumb. "Sorry, sorry," he mumbles, jerking his head upwards. His ears are burning, and there's an oddly hollow feeling in his chest.
"Four point three," Sherlock says with a bitter smile.
"That's the statistic you're looking for. Married couples who aren't printmates are 4.3 times more likely to get divorced than printmate pairs."
John blinks. "Right," he says hoarsely. "Sherlock, I—"
"I'm leaving for a case in Japan," Sherlock interrupts in clipped tones, examining his arm. He hasn't bothered to put his watch back on. "Tomorrow morning."
You haven't got a case in Japan, John almost says. I would know. What he says instead is, "Try to keep the bandage dry, and don't pull any stitches out."
Sherlock gives John a look that usually means he's surprised him somehow. "As I've said," Sherlock finally says, "this isn't the first time." With that he stands up and walks away; John can hear the rattle of glass from the living room. He sighs, shoves everything in his medical kit, and decides to go to bed.
The next morning, the blood on Sherlock's duvet has dried a rusty brown, and Sherlock is gone.
Sherlock doesn't come back for an entire week. John keeps himself busy by taking on extra shifts at the A&E and watches the news in the evenings instead of being on it. One night, Greg comes by to talk about the Stoner case; they end up going out for a pint.
"And that's another case that's never going to be closed," Greg laments over his drink. "Bloody insufficient evidence. And bloody Sherlock with his accusations and prosecutors who bloody well won't press charges and meanwhile there's a dead body and no-one to arrest – it's enough to drive anyone round the bend."
"Hmm," John nods. And then, because he can't help himself, "So what happened to Roylott?"
"Well, we couldn't do anything, could we? We held him for a couple of hours, and then the Chief Superintendent came round to point out that we ought to be looking for the real murderer instead of talking to a grieving printmate. He went back to Stoke Moran – him and his daughter, sweet kid..." Greg trails off to take another sip, and the next time he speaks his voice is more thoughtful. "Sherlock's always been a bit funny about printmates, you know."
"You said," John agrees, feeling a bit cold. "Three hundred, was it?"
"It's not just that." Greg looks morosely into his glass. "He never used to wear a watch, or wristband, or anything. Like he didn't care."
"Really," John says, frowning, because while bare wrists are indeed considered "edgy" among the younger crowd, Sherlock doesn't seem like that type. But then again, there are a lot of things John doesn't know about Sherlock.
(The wristmark, surprisingly clear and completely wrong.)
"Yeah." Greg laughs lightly. "First time we saw him at a crime scene, Sally offered him one of those disposable bands – we always keep a couple in the cars just in case – and Sherlock—"
"Oh, no," John groans.
"Sherlock is the world's biggest prat," Greg sighs. "Anyway, I'd better go. Can't close the case without a final report."
"Cheers," John tips back the last of his drink and follows Greg out into the night.
Sherlock comes back with even less notice than he'd gone with, and somewhere along the way his watch has migrated from his left wrist to right. John finds him sitting in the kitchen and tries not to stare too much (at all) as he asks, "So, how was Japan?" before he remembers Sherlock had probably been lying about that.
"A waste of time," Sherlock scowls, fiddling with a microscope slide. He doesn't offer anything more.
"Right," John exhales, and then, for the lack of anything else to do, puts the kettle on. "Oh," he remembers as he pulls out mugs and tosses teabags into them. "Greg came by, I think he wanted a last chance to talk about the case?"
"Lestrade has already heard all the facts," Sherlock says without looking up. "The poison was found in his safe; only he had access to it. The only uncertainty is how he managed to administer the poison, and if the police had let me question Roylott that would no longer be the case."
"Sherlock, that still doesn't fix the glaring hole in your theory."
Sherlock, with his lips pressed together, says nothing.
"Why? They're printmates, Roylott couldn't have planned something like that and carried it through – unless they were mis-identified?" John trails off as the new possibility strikes him. Mis-mates could happen, though only very rarely; the slew of lawsuits in the seventies had made dermatographers much more careful, before the technology came along and practically eliminated all uncertainties.
"They were printmates," Sherlock confirms. "I hacked the Registry."
"You heard me," Sherlock sighs, looking up and lacing his fingers together in front of him.
"That...that is not good, at all, I—do you even understand—"
"Probably." And now the corner of Sherlock's mouth is twisted in a private smile.
"It's not funny, Sherlock, how would you feel if you were Registered—"
"I am Registered."
John's mouth snaps shut. Opens. Shuts again. Behind him, the kettle clicks; almost automatically, he pours water into the two mugs.
"Yes," says Sherlock.
"Yes, I do have a printmate." He sounds put out by the admission. "Richard Brook, born in 1976 in Dublin, moved to Sussex at age twelve, read mathematics at Cambridge."
"Oh," John says, after what seems like an extraordinarily long time. "And you aren't secretly married or anything?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock says shortly. "I've never met him."
"Oh," John says again, giving up on being articulate. Because Sherlock has a mate. "Erm. Why not?"
Sherlock gives John a measured look. And then he abruptly stands up and dashes into the living room.
No answer, just the sounds of paper being thrown about. John blinks and then remembers the tea on the counter.
There's a loud thump and a triumphant aha, and Sherlock comes back just as John's pouring milk into his tea. "Sugar," Sherlock says absently, laying down a heavy binder on the table and nodding at the other mug.
"You can–" John starts tiredly, but Sherlock is scanning his index without paying him any mind. Rolling his eyes, John stirs in a spoonful of sugar and sets the mug down by Sherlock's hand. "So?"
"My records are nowhere near complete, obviously," Sherlock mutters, "but this might do." He flips to a yellowed page. "Herbert Wilkinson, 1969." Flip. "Annie Walker, 1969." Flip. "Lucy Tinslop, 1969. Jackie Ansell-Lamb, 1970. Susan Long, 1970. Gloria Booth, 1971. Wendy Sewell, 1973. Glenis Carruthers, 1974. Eve Stratford, 1975—"
"All unsolved murders, so what?"
"John, think for a minute. How many of them do you think would be unsolved if the police had had enough imagination to question their printmates?"
John gapes at Sherlock. "You're seriously suggesting—"
"That people are capable of brutally murdering their printmates?" Sherlock's expression is too fierce to be called a grin. "I only started researching in the eighties; the data from the nineties might be the most illuminating..."
"But—" John automatically protests, even as things begin to click together with crystalline clarity. There is a far-off ringing in his ear. "Everyone has a printmate," he starts, shaking his head. The indubitable facts: children learn them even before they can grasp their significance. "Only one printmate. Printmates always fall in love—"
"This does not make you 'fall in love'," Sherlock is snarling, his wristmark clearly visible above his sleeve. "Your expectations do. The idea that an arbitrary mark on your skin determines your future is a patent lie, and you know that."
"I don't—that doesn't—" John looks around, bewildered. "I need some air."
The door closes.
Defer your existential crisis; we have a client.
I'm taking your gun.
fifteen minutes and don't touch anything
You can make it in ten.
It takes John twelve minutes to get back to Baker Street. "What's going on?" he demands, slightly out of breath.
"John, this is Julia Roylott." Sherlock sweeps a hand at the slight girl sitting on the sofa. John thinks back to all the newspaper articles and their accompanying photographs; she is the spitting image of Lucy Stoner, right down to the wary expression.
"I thought the police already took your statement," John says.
"Um, yeah," she says softly, chewing at her lip. "But I couldn't tell them—and then I heard this Anderson bloke complaining about how someone named Sherlock was going on about printmates again, so I thought maybe you would believe me..." She trails off, twisting at her sleeve. "I found your website. There aren't a lot of Sherlocks."
"Right, so you're marginally more intelligent than the police," Sherlock waves, but a pleased look had come into his eyes when she mentioned his website. "Get to the point."
"Sherlock, don't be yourself. Sorry, what do you want to tell us?"
"They said it wouldn't have made sense. For my dad to have killed my mum." She shudders at her own words. "Because they were printmates. But, um—"
"Was there someone else?" Sherlock cuts in.
"How did you know that?" Julia stares at Sherlock in surprise.
"History," Sherlock says enigmatically, and John remembers the careful notes in the index. How many other Julias are in those pages? How many other Lucys?
Julia makes a confused face, but Sherlock refuses to elaborate. "They...fought a lot," she says into the silence. "Ever since I can remember. Mum wasn't happy a lot of the time. He—" She stops abruptly, looking stricken.
(Bruises, fading yellow. Don't – can't – tell anyone, though. Just don't.)
"Then she met someone." Her words come fast, blurring into each other in one quick breath, as if otherwise she wouldn't be able to get them out at all.
"She planned on leaving; Roylott found out and decided it couldn't be allowed to happen," Sherlock concludes. "Not enough for an arrest quite yet, but sufficiently interesting to merit an interview with this third party. Do you have a name or address?"
"I dunno exactly, he might live near Stoke Moran. I think his name's something like Ar—Armstrong? Arnott?"
"That will do."
"Hang on," John objects, when he's sure he has control of his voice. "Ms Stoner and whatshisname couldn't have been printmates, obviously, so how is this going to help convince the DA?"
"If anything, a convincing testimony." Sherlock shrugs. "But I suspect something else might happen. We'll be in Surrey tomorrow," he switches to addressing Julia. "But it'd be best if you weren't."
"I'm staying with my aunt until everything's over. She lives in Harrow. Um, what are you going to do?" she asks, eyes wide, and her face is very white.
"Excellent," Sherlock says, rubbing his hands together and completely ignoring the question. "Thank you, Miss Roylott, you've been very helpful." And then he darts away in the direction of his bedroom.
There is an awkward silence; now that she's said everything, Julia's left looking miserably at her shoes. John is suddenly struck with a memory of Harry, looking very much like that. "I'm...sorry about your mum," John says, clearing his throat.
"You didn't kill her," she bites out. And then, "Fuck, sorry, I'm not trying—"
"It's okay," John says, even though he has a feeling it very much isn't.
"It's just—" she starts, and then stops. Stands up. "My aunt's probably wondering where I am."
"Right," John says automatically. "Do you want me to walk you to the station?"
"I know the way," she says, and leaves before John can say anything else. John takes a deep breath, rubbing the bridge of his nose, and tries not to think too much.
The man's name turns out to be Percy Armitage: a short man with mournful eyes who lives in Reading. "Yeah, Roylott's a right bastard," he says, leading them to the sitting room. "Lucy used to show up with bruises down her arm, and she'd always say she'd tripped, or run into something. Or she'd say he didn't know his strength. Bollocks. Fucker knew exactly how strong he was, and how to use it."
"And you've never told anyone this before?" John asks.
"Oh, yeah, because they would have believed me," he says, rolling his eyes. "Dunno when 'printmate' became 'do whatever shit you want', but he was hers and that was good enough for everyone, wasn't it?"
John closes his eyes, but Armitage goes on relentlessly.
"And the funny thing is, even though I wasn't...hers, I might have loved her more than he ever did."
"Yes, that's all very well," Sherlock says, sounding rather snappish, "but what we're looking for is a way he might have administered the poison."
"Look, I don't know!" Armitage says, hands thrown up in frustration. "All I can tell you is that Lucy told him she was going to leave, and he—well, he must have been worried, started showering her with gifts, and then they went to London and she—she—" He takes a shaky breath. "I don't know if I could have made her happy, but...I would have tried."
"Gifts," Sherlock mutters. "Flowers? Food—chocolate. No, too obvious. Jewellery. The ring, the necklace. New wristband. Oh, that's interesting. Clever."
"Sherlock," John says pointedly.
"We should visit Stoke Moran," Sherlock says, decisive. "As usual, the police have missed something."
"Er, right," John says, looking after Sherlock sweeping out the door. "Sorry about him, he's a bit—" But he can't decide on a word and settles for a vague gesture.
"It's all right," Armitage says. "If I helped. At all."
"Yeah, I think so," John says. He thinks he ought to say something else, but can't find the right words.
In the end, Sherlock's barking at him impatiently and Armitage shows him to the door.
"Her wristband," Sherlock explains on the train to Stoke Moran. "New, obviously, but a gift. Slightly too loose. And you saw the style."
"Nope," John points out. "They didn't let me in; something about the Surrey police and leaking confidential information."
"Oh." Sherlock looks wrong-footed for a moment. "Idiots," he mumbles, and starts over. "It was thicker, meant to sit snugly against the skin. Not something a woman like her would have chosen for herself. But it wasn't speckled, and I should have seen it before, stupid, just assumed it was decorative—"
John lets Sherlock berate himself for a few more seconds before he asks. "What about the speckles?"
"It's not just patches of colour, it's texture. The band slips along the wrist, creates tiny nicks on the skin." Sherlock takes hold of John's wrist to demonstrate, his grasp warm against John's skin. "A gradual delivery of poison, less likely to be noticed."
"Wouldn't she have felt it?" John asks, pulling at his hand until Sherlock drops it. "Taken it off, looked at it?"
"Some sort of mild anaesthetic mixed in, perhaps. Roylott has a medical background."
"Okay," John nods. "Wait. Why are we going to Stoke Moran, then?"
There's a quick flash of teeth that's almost predatory. "Evidence."
They find the evidence.
They also find Roylott's pet cheetah, just before it attacks.
"Stay down!" John shouts, desperately hoping that Sherlock will (for once) do as he's told, and then there isn't time for much thinking.
Wait for the jump to clear, and—
And then a heavy mass slams into him and he has a mouthful of fur and faintly he hears Sherlock calling his name.
There are hands tugging at his. John blinks and heaves the cheetah off his chest. He can feel blood soaking into the front of his shirt, sticking to his skin.
"Are you all right?" Sherlock asks, frantically, checking his pulse, peering into his eyes. "John, can you hear me?"
"I'm fine," John coughs, and then pauses and forces himself not to be sick. "I've been worse." Breathe. Run through symptoms in his head. "I don't think I'm concussed."
"John," Sherlock says again, gripping John's shoulders tightly, and then he surges forward until their teeth click together.
Well, there's a clawed paw digging into his side and the smell of blood in his nostrils and Sherlock, Sherlock is kissing him hard enough to hurt and with too much teeth and—
"Sherlock," John rasps, pushing him back to take a shuddery breath, "what—"
"The police should be here," Sherlock says before John can finish, letting go altogether and springing to his feet. Aside from a faint breathlessness, he sounds completely normal. "Local, probably even more intolerable than the Met, but that can't be helped."
Sherlock's already walking away. "At least we have the evidence," he says, words rushing out even more quickly than usual. "The bands. Prototypes. More than enough to go to trial."
"Good," John says, feeling a bit dazed. "Um."
"Come on, then," Sherlock demands without quite looking at him, and John pushes himself up, wondering what the hell just happened.
Various psychologists shuffle in and out of the courtroom, testifying about the fear of losing one's printmate and what it might do, and in the end Roylott walks away with a much reduced sentence and a penitent look.
It's still a conviction.
Some days later, Sherlock says carefully, "You haven't written a horribly titled blog post."
John hums, and say equally carefully, "I think the papers have about covered it."
They don't talk about the case after that. John takes to covering more shifts at the A&E again, and Sherlock starts a new experiment and stops talking.
John wouldn't know what to say, anyway. Because Sherlock's left wrist is still bare, and Greg's shooting him (them) funny looks at crime scenes, and sometimes John thinks it might be best to just go down to the nearest office and get Registered.
Then Clara calls a month before the wedding with ill-hidden panic in her voice and John thinks, Oh, fuck.
He starts with Harry's old drinking buddies.
John has to argue ten minutes at the door, and is only grudgingly granted entrance when he snaps, "Yeah, I don't want to see her, either, but her printmate – and fiancée – does." The woman (one of Harry's ex-girlfriends?) thinks that over with crossed arms before nodding at the basement.
"Fuck off!" Harry yells, curled up on a shabby sofa, as John comes down the stairs. She sounds sober, but there are empty beer bottles scattered on the floor.
"You know what, I'd love to," John says, "but I'm doing my future sister-in-law a favour." He looks around for a place to sit before giving up and leaning against the wall by the sofa.
"Wrong," Harry informs him, viciously triumphant. "I'm not getting married."
"Not if you're going to stay holed up here," John agrees. "If you're lucky, you might even be able to kill yourself with alcohol poisoning before the wedding."
Harry doesn't reply to that, just shifts restlessly. John keeps silent, gaze flicking from Harry to the chipped paint on the far wall, and very slowly she begins to unfold.
"What are you even doing here?" John asks quietly, when she turns to look at him. "It didn't sound like you two had a fight."
Harry snorts. "No, of course not," she says. "We don't fight. Mostly I fuck up and she gives me this look and I apologise, and then we start all over again."
"Sounds like Sherlock," John comments, before he realises what he's saying.
A corner of Harry's mouth twitches upwards, briefly. "You gonna marry him now?"
"Shut it, we're talking about your problems."
Harry groans, curling her fingers into the denim of her jeans. "Clara—she's...not happy," she finally says, each word dragged out. "I can't make her happy. There you go: your sister is a failure."
The thing is, John's thought that a few times himself – but not about this, never about this.
"Harry," he says helplessly.
"Look," she says, glaring at him fiercely, "I don't want Clara to end up like Mum."
"You're not Dad," John tries. Somehow, it comes out with more force than when he'd been trapped in a bedsit, muttering it at himself.
"Yeah, right." she says derisively, arms spread wide. "Alcoholic, pathetic, and joke of a printmate. I'm pretty much there."
"Has it occurred to you that all of those are fixable?" John asks. It comes out too harsh, too impatient, but that can't be helped now.
"You think I haven't tried?" Harry snaps. "What the bloody fuck do you think I was doing this whole time, this thing with Clara?"
John opens his mouth to respond and realises he has no sodding clue.
"I didn't want to go in, you know," Harry says, voice breaking a little. "For the print verification. Because—" she cuts herself off. "But I thought—I wanted to try. It wouldn't have been much – but it could have been something I did right. That made me different. Isn't that just so fucking stupid?" she asks suddenly, with a bleak laugh that ends up sounding more like a sob. "I should have known it wouldn't work, but I really believed it for a while, that being printmates would mean something—"
She clenches her jaw and buries her face in her arms, but a strangled sound makes its way out anyway.
There's an odd scratchy feeling in John's throat, a rush in his ear. If Sherlock is right—
Of course he is, he thinks immediately.
A dead woman, a man in prison and another alone in Reading. And there is a reason he never Registered (muffled shouts through closed doors and shattered glass on the floor), because he was afraid; yet, all this time Harry had thought the same thing, and still she'd taken that chance….
Sherlock, bared wrist and panic, intoxicating lips against his.
John inhales, feeling as if he's looking down an abyss, and unsteadily perches at the edge of the sofa. "Harry," he asks in rough-edged words, "if you and Clara hadn't been printmates, would you—would you love her anyway?"
Harry looks up, and her expression says John is being incredibly stupid. "Of course I did," she snaps. "I do, all right?"
"Right," John says, and something slowly eases in his chest. "Isn't that all you need to know?"
"This isn't a bloody fairytale," Harry sneers. "It wasn't enough for mum and dad, was it? And it might not be enough now and I'm not going to do that to her."
John can't help the bark of laughter that forces its way past his throat. Harry stares at him uncomprehendingly. "You are so full of it," he says. "Don't make this about Clara. This is about you, being scared to death, and you just don't want to talk about it."
"Yeah, that talking thing's going so well for you, isn't it? Have you told Sherlock you fancy the pants off him yet?"
"I don't—you're deflecting."
"So what if I am?" she demands, words a whiplash. "What if you're right and I'm bloody fucking terrified, so what about it?"
"I dunno, maybe you could try trusting someone for once in your life, and Clara would be a good choice for that, don't you think?"
"I do—" she starts, before she closes her mouth so abruptly her teeth click together. "What?"
"Trust. Her." John grinds out. "It's the least you can do, give her a choice in all of this. Why do you think doing this to her would be any better?"
Harry shakes her head in confusion; with a groan, she shoots up from the sofa and starts pacing wildly. "I just. She doesn't need me. She shouldn't have been stuck with me as a printmate. God, it doesn't make any sense!"
"She doesn't want some random printmate," John says, leaning back. "It's you."
"No, she doesn't," Harry says automatically, but with uncertainty wrapping round her words. "I mean. She..." She stops completely.
John raises an eyebrow at her, not saying a word.
"I don't mean that," she says, rubbing at her face. "I'm not trying—" She stops again. "I. Um. Fuck." She flops back onto the sofa with a hysteria-tinged sound. "I panicked," she says. "I panicked and I ran and I'm an idiot. God, Clara's going to kill me, what do I do?"
"Go back," John says. "Talk to Clara. If you don't think she wants you back, you're just being ridiculous."
"Talk to Clara," she repeats, taking a deep breath. "Talk. I can...I can do that. I think."
"Right, good. You two finish sorting this out." John heaves himself upwards and heads for the stairs. "I'm going home."
There's something he needs to finish.
John halts before the door to 221B and takes a breath. It's ridiculous, really; he's shot men and seen men be shot and his heart's still hammering in his chest like he's about to do something dangerous.
Sherlock's sitting in the living room reading a paper on arXiv. The sleeves of his bathrobe are pushed up, his wristmark faintly visible, and with a rush of warmth John thinks he might be doing the right thing after all. "Sherlock, is anything going to explode in our oven in the next thirty seconds?"
"It's not going to explode, don't exaggerate," Sherlock dismisses. "And it has another half hour to go."
"Good," John declares, and then kneels down in front of Sherlock's chair and leans forward to press their lips together.
Sherlock makes an indistinguishable noise in his throat, and John pulls back to look at him. His eyes are flickering over John's face. "You talked to your sister," he says. "I might have been wrong about the marriage."
That's new. John raises an eyebrow. "Let's not talk about that right now," he says, hands on Sherlock's knees. "Why did you do it before? At Stoke Moran."
"You could have died," Sherlock says, like he's been expecting that question. (Perhaps he has.)
"And if I'm not dying now?"
Sherlock beams. "I'm not your printmate," he says, reaching for John.
"I know," John says against Sherlock's mouth. "Stop talking."
Harry calls a few days after she gets out of detox.
"Bring Sherlock to the wedding," Harry says as soon as he picks up, sounding tired but soft, not sharp. "Your 'plus one'."
"So it's on, then," says John, barely suppressing a sigh of relief. Not for the first time, he feels a sense of marvel at Clara — at Harry and Clara both.
"Obviously," she says. "Is that a yes?"
John mulls that over. "He hates weddings," he finally says. "And he'll make all your guests upset."
"Bring him anyway." And now she sounds like she's cracked a smile. "No booze, there's gotta be something interesting."
"…till death us do part."
And that's it. Harry's officially married. They kiss, Harry with one possessive hand on the small of Clara's back, and their wristbands gleam in matching colours as they grin towards the ranks of guests.
"He's been embezzling funds from his company," Sherlock says in a low voice, glancing at a man at the reception table. "Look at those cufflinks, compared to the quality of his shoes."
"Shh," John says, though he can't stop his lips from curving upwards. "Don't want to start a family feud or anything."
"Oh, there already is one," Sherlock says. "That distinctive split between the style of wristbands, don't tell me you haven't noticed."
John rolls his eyes. And then, "Hang on, is that Greg?"
Sure enough, there's the grey-haired detective inspector walking their way. "Oh," he says, startled. "I didn't realise it was that Watson."
"You—d'you know Clara?" John demands.
"Yeah, she's my cousin." Greg tugs at the tie around his neck. "Gotta say, this is a lot better than her first wedding."
"Oh," Sherlock breathes, understanding lighting up his eyes. "That explains the bands. Her previous partner must have been albino."
"Oi," Greg protests. "Stop trying to deduce my family. Or at least not out loud," he adds when Sherlock draws a breath.
"Why does it matter?" Sherlock asks impatiently. "It's old news, only your great-uncle and grandmother still have strong feelings about it, and the rest of your relatives are more concerned that you arrived here alone."
Greg suppresses a sigh. "I am off-duty," he says to no-one in particular. "It's my favourite cousin's wedding. What could I have possibly done to deserve this?"
John snickers. "I'm not sure anyone deserves Sherlock," he offers. "He just sort of...inflicts himself on you."
Greg laughs, clear and loud; Sherlock actually pouts, before John reaches down and threads their fingers together, and then there's a smile coming almost against his will, Greg carefully stealing away, and John thinks, giddily, that despite everything, this – they – might just work out.
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