A/N: Having a bit of writer's block, which means it's time for another one of these! I know you're all excited, haha.
As usual list any scenes you'd like to see written up this way in a review and I'll add them to my list.
Both their victims turn out to have been antiques smugglers, the graffiti cipher is actually an ancient number code used by Chinese merchants. And thus the plot thickens.
Sherlock suggests a stakeout, John declares he's hungry, and so they compromise by stopping in for a bite at a noodle shop across the street from the Lucky Cat Emporium. John orders something or other and flirts with the waitress while Sherlock completely ignores them - better things to think about, also not hungry in the slightest. Never really hungry, actually, not for a long time now... nicotine patches are all the sustenance he needs anyway so it hardly matters. John keeps insisting Sherlock needs to replenish his glucose levels though or he'll get sick, which is frankly ridiculous because how long has he been living this way? Years, honestly, decades, and he hasn't passed out more than a few times. Hasn't so much as had any medical complications even. (Well, aside from the seizures that once... but no no that was more down to the drugs, hardly counts.) So really he's fine so long as he ingests food once every few days or so. Any more than that is just distracting and wasteful.
He quickly dismisses such inane musings from his mental space however - John won't be nagging him about eating when they're on the job after all, so there's no reason to waste brainpower thinking about it. The waitress leaves and soon enough they're back to discussing the case; pointless repetition of facts, but it helps to get everything straight in his mind. As they speak Sherlock idly jots down the two numbers they've translated so far onto a spare napkin, doing his best to replicate the unfamiliar symbols along with their Roman numeral equivalents.
Ancient Chinese number code, obvious. Another of those things he should have - could have - noticed earlier, if only he hadn't been so cluttered with stray information. Needs to delete more data, keep things clearer... but then again the numbers system is exactly the sort of thing he'd delete if he were to do a systems sweep, so that might not have helped. Something of an impasse, he supposes. A delicate balance between keeping irrelevant facts around on the off-chance they'll be needed someday and not filling his brain up with useless rubbish.
He fiddles with the napkin, folding and re-folding, while he walks John through the logical chain of events so far. The bank to Sebastian to smuggling to money and illicit profits, half a million in a week, all of it slotting so neatly into place. John fulfills his role admirably, asks just the right question - why did they die? It doesn't make sense...
Sherlock stares into space for a moment, absently palms the folded napkin. Quick flip of the wrist to tuck it safely into his sleeve, no trace of its ever being in his hand. Movements very slightly clumsy - losing muscle memory. Should really try to get more practise in but Lestrade hasn't been particularly annoying lately and John would probably not be too thrilled to be pickpocketed all the time and- oh! Hah! Light-fingered, of course! Stole something from the hoard, killer threatens them both. Perfect.
John agrees with the reasoning and goes back to eating; Sherlock's already had breakfast (toast with peanut butter, forced on him by John after the doctor realised he hadn't eaten the day before - annoying, but tolerable considering it makes John feel useful) so he instead allows his gaze to wander to the street. Pedestrians and doorways, a phonebook abandoned on the pavement, ripped plastic and wet at the top right corner...
Wait, wet? Why? When was the last time it rained?
John doesn't have to follow as Sherlock bolts out the door but he does anyway. Not that Sherlock really notices, as he's far more interested in the phonebook. Inconsistent, been there since Monday. No answer to the buzzer so they go round the back - open window, unsecured fire escape, obvious break-in... or escape, perhaps? A fleeing victim?
No way to know but to check.
A vase tips over as he climbs through the window, but he'd been half-expecting that so he catches it easily. Calls down to John, doesn't get an answer but he's not really paying much attention anyway. Too many details - things to check and events to deduce. Laundry (not dried, starting to mildew), milk (smells awful, sour, gone off), a ridge in the rug (size eight at best, small for a man). So someone's been here, and he's not very tall... had to be reasonably athletic, then, to gain access. Was the fire escape ladder left unsecured originally or had they needed to climb up to it? Have to look for details on the way back out, could be relevant.
John keeps yelling about something and ringing the buzzer, which is annoying, but Sherlock ignores it. Better things to do. Fingerprints on a photograph, small, strong hands, calloused... it's their acrobat suspect, has to be. Strange, though - the man's been sloppy. Didn't secure the ladder, left the window ope- oh.
Oh! No no, not in the least. The killer hasn't been sloppy... Sherlock has.
Stupid, stupid! Obvious! Should have noticed from the start, should have- but no never mind there'll be no use in self-recrimination now. It's not a large flat; his suspect is close at hand. Small, short stature... probably well-muscled but Sherlock should still have a relatively good chance of incapacitating him. He's no prize fighter but he has been in his fair share of scuffles, knows weak points and how to think on his feet. It'll be best if he can maintain the element of surprise though - just have to flush the man out, find where he's hiding. Can't be too difficult, not many places...
There! Ornate privacy screen, partially unfolded. Likeliest spot. Sherlock pockets his magnifying glass and moves carefully, stance shifting to a defensive posture. Slow approach, quiet footsteps... push the screen back quickly but- it's empty?
Sherlock has time to blink exactly once in confusion before a length of fabric loops over his head, around his neck, tugging down to the floor like a noose and oh christ can't breathe!
Panic! Panicpanicpanic JOHN shitshitshit can't breathe JOHN! fuckcan'tohgodnonon-
He can practically hear the delicate cartilage in his trachea bend and crack, air coming in strangled gasps and he can't do a single bloody thing about it. The killer's at his head, can't kick, hands too busy trying to gain purchase pry away the fabric anything but it's no use - a grey haze begins to creep around the edges of his vision. Some part of him knows what that means but it still doesn't prepare him for the disorientation when it finally...
He blinks awake with a gasp and immediately begins coughing. Fabric still at his neck get it off! and the scarf too, fuck he can barely breathe-! The suspect's not bothering to be subtle, footsteps loud, ran off toward the window. Sherlock can't exactly do anything about it though while he's stuck hacking his lungs out on the floor so he barely even notices. Breathe, just breathe, breathe.
For the first time in a good long while he finds himself incredibly grateful that he's stopped smoking - lord only knows how much worse this would be if his windpipe were still blocked with cigarette tar. Thankfully his lungs are more or less clear at the moment, so he manages to get his breath back and make it to his knees within a minute or two.
Still gasping, but his trachea hasn't been crushed too badly and his head's only swimming a little. So really he's fine, overall - stood up from worse attacks before. Fine, yes, just stay upright.
Something in his pocket, wasn't there before - origami? A small black flower. Oh, right, the syndicate's trite little calling card. Strange, though, the killer couldn't have assumed he was dead; left far too quickly. A warning, then? Reminder of who he's dealing with? Pointless - as if he didn't know already. It means they've figured out he's on to them though, so he'll have to be more careful.
Much more careful. Christ, getting caught like that was a damned rookie mistake, absolutely pathetic. Mycroft would be furious.
Mycroft... oh good lord, Mycroft can never know about this. He'd have Sherlock put on triple surveillance with a bloody agent assigned and no no no no, this incident is to remain utterly secret.
Sherlock abruptly shakes his head to clear it - no stop thinking about it delete the event never happened, idiot! Anyway, so! Moving on. To what...?
Oh, yes, right, and speaking of people who take inexplicable interest in his personal affairs... John's probably still outside. Should go and update him on the situation. And that... means standing. Of course, standing... walking. He can manage that. Definitely.
Hauling himself to his feet isn't so bad. Then he stumbles, which isn't really a good sign, but quickly regains his balance. Alright, hang on, pause to take stock... head's still a bit off, room spinning, but... no, he's fine. Fine fine perfectly fine, been through much worse before. Just keep going, ignore his body's protests and refuse to give in to the weakness of flesh-and-blood stupid useless transport. Mind over matter and all that - and his mind is much greater than the meagre husk of matter he's been saddled with, so he remains perfectly (mostly, sort of) steady as he makes his way to the front door of Soo Lin's flat.
John is, predictably, still hovering by the buzzer. Sherlock attempts to calmly inform the other man of his findings. Unfortunately speaking turns out to be slightly more troublesome than walking was, so it ends up coming out a bit choked. Feels like his throat is swelling shut... and that's quite likely a Very Bad Thing but never mind don't worry about it. All in his head anyway... probably. Keep calm and it'll work itself out, always does. And John doesn't seem the least bit worried so Sherlock must be doing a fair job of behaving normally. Just ignore it, it's nothing...
He tilts his head downwards in a somewhat-subtle attempt to clear his airway and spots something at his feet; splash of white on grey pavement. Kneeling down to retrieve it perhaps isn't the best of ideas - sets his head spinning again - but he steadfastly straightens back up regardless and studies the envelope while John's busy asking his usual array of pointless questions.
Note from a young male... love interest? Ah, no, a colleague. Works at the National Antiquities Museum. Excellent; solid lead with plenty of opportunity to gather information about the newest victim. Sherlock pockets the scrap of paper and turns to head down the street, John at his side.
As they walk the doctor shoots him an odd, sidelong look. You've gone all croaky, are you getting a cold?
Sherlock shakes his head, coughs - just once, mind, even though he's beginning to feel like he's just chain-smoked an entire pack of cigarettes and a single cough is not nearly enough to make that particular sensation subside. Collapsing into a debilitating fit of hacking would be decidedly undignified, however; worse yet it might make John suspect there's something wrong (and there isn't, not at all, honestly he's had worse), so Sherlock determinedly exerts every ounce of willpower at his disposal to halt his body's pathetic instinctual reaction to the near-strangulation. Manages to swallow instead.
And there, see? If he can swallow he can breathe... mostly. Probably. So he's fine, perfectly okay, not injured in the least. Which means it's a non-issue, and so he doesn't have to say anything about it, meaning that (most importantly of all) nobody needs to know that he's just been caught like a blind novice traipsing about a crime scene like an idiot. Nobody. Not John and not Lestrade and absolutely not Mycroft.
Nope, there's nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. Throat feels like it's closing up but that'll pass soon enough.
He dredges up a fake smile for John as they walk.