At first glance, the living room of 221B appeared unchanged. However, John Watson was no ignorant fool and he was quick to identify several things which sent alarm bells ringing. For example, there was evidence from a recent case abandoned on the coffee table instead of pinned to the wall above the couch. In the kitchen, the table was void of scientific endeavour and, most worryingly, a spotless ashtray sat innocently on the mantelpiece. It looked freshly scrubbed of ash.
Movement to the left attracted John's gaze and he watched as Sherlock's door shut with a gentle click.
'Shit.' John muttered, flexing his fingers quickly. Sucking his upper lip into his mouth and rolling his shoulders, John walked to the door and rapped sharply on the worn wood. He didn't wait for an answer before opening it.
'Go away John, I'm busy.' Sherlock said bluntly, sitting on the far-side of the bed with his back to the door, his blue dressing gown sprawled across the covers.
John dropped his grip on the door handle and cleared his throat. 'You're not busy.' John stated flatly, a muscle twitching in his jaw. Sherlock leapt to his feet and spun around, his robe following him with a delicate swish. Seconds passed before a sneer mauled Sherlock's features, his gaze flicking over his flatmate.
'Oh John. You should know better than to take seriously the anxieties of someone who has as much dust between her ears as Mrs Hudson. Although, her sharpness of hearing is quite remarkable for someone at her time of life – honed from years of eavesdropping, I imagine.' Sherlock fiddled with the tie on his dressing gown, his eyes still fixed on John. 'Then again, I suppose you can't help yourself. You're desperate to solve some sort of mystery after your dull weekend with your latest . . . squeeze.'
'Her name's Mary.'
Sherlock shrugged before ploughing ahead. 'So, you've taken it upon yourself to invade my bedroom and lecture me about some aspect of my personality that you no longer find amusing, a speech which I have little time for and even less desire to hear.'
As John took two very deep breaths, he uncurled both sets of fingers which had reflexively clenched into fists. There was instant relief for the tender flesh which his fingernails had bitten into and he sternly reminded himself that Sherlock was goading him on purpose. This time he wouldn't succeed. Sherlock had some questions to answer and he wasn't going to dodge them by doling out insults to the person trying to give a damn.
'Why didn't you go to the crime scene on Sunday?' John asked; his tone deceptively calm.
'Why does it matter?'
'Why does it matter?' John repeated, his voice abruptly spitting, 'It matters because this is your livelihood and you happen to be in a bloody privileged position to do what you do! I don't remember you ever turning down the opportunity to stare at a corpse –'
'Oh? I remember a time when I wouldn't leave the house for anything above an eight –'
'Those were the good days Sherlock! The golden age! When you were so over-ridden with cases that you actually had a reason to send me out as your wingman! But of course, that all abruptly ended when you decided to jump off a roof –'
'Oh good Lord, you're not still angry about that are you?' Sherlock rolled his eyes before strolling towards his wardrobe, pretending not to notice John's rising temper.
'Not – still . . . You . . . You let me grieve –'
'Well, it wouldn't have looked very convincing if you'd known. Honestly John, your face is like an open book, if I wanted to play dead, you weren't exactly the best man to conceal such a secret –' Sherlock's sentence was cut off as John's hands fell on the lapels of his dressing gown. He was roughly yanked from his wardrobe until John's snarling face was mere inches away.
'Listen to me you little shit! I don't know what the hell happened to you over the past four days, but unlike you after your grand return to civilisation, I'm trying to help you get back on your feet and deal with whatever's knocked you. I suppose I was being overly optimistic in thinking you'd understand such a motivation, never mind be grateful for it.' John dropped his grip on Sherlock's dressing gown. 'Now, how about we begin this again, with you telling me what happened.' John prodded Sherlock's chest with his finger before he stepped back and folded his arms.
'I don't know what you're talk–'
'Let's start with your refusal to go with Lestrade to an interesting crime scene, and then we can move onto the absence of your scientific distractions, why you're composing and your genius reason for returning to cigarettes.' John resisted the urge to smile as he realised he'd deduced Sherlock's secrets. It was a refreshing but simultaneously uncomfortable role-reversal.
Before Sherlock could recover, his phone rang, the sharp ringtone demanding his immediate attention. Fishing it out of his pocket, Sherlock ignored the seething glare from his flatmate and squinted at the screen.
'Oh, good to see that's still working.' John scorned.
Sherlock waved an arm in John's direction before turning and pacing the length of his room. 'Hello? Yes, this is he . . . You have it? Ah, excellent. I'll be with you shortly. Thank you.' Sherlock threw his phone on the bed, flung his dressing gown from his body and yanked a suit jacket from his wardrobe. 'Lovely chat John, but I've work to do. You're welcome to come along; I know you've been dying of boredom in Bath.' Instead of waiting for an answer, he strode from the room, his bare feet slapping against the floorboards.
'You know we're going to talk about this at some point.' John pointed out, returning to the living room where Sherlock was dashing around, pulling on his socks and locating a shoe which had for some reason lodged itself behind a radiator.
'But the work comes first John, it always has and it always will.' Sherlock pulled his coat on and tied his scarf into a neat knot, frowning when John's eyes dropped to his shoes. 'Problem?'
John glanced up from his shoelaces and exhaled slowly. 'I've plans later. I can't be late for them.'
'Oh, you're referring to your annual Christmas Eve pint with Lestrade? I imagine the two of you moaning about your tragically boring lives can wait.' Without waiting for a response, he jerked his head towards the door before hurrying down the stairs. Sherlock's mouth twitched when he heard John's heavy sigh followed by his footsteps on the staircase.
A minute later, the two emerged briskly onto the porch, the door of 221 Baker Street slamming behind them.
'Where are we going? You decided to be dramatic and vague as per usual.' John muttered, watching as Sherlock extended a lanky arm and hailed a taxi. A cab obediently trundled to a halt and Sherlock ducked inside, closely followed by John. As the taxi pulled away from the curb, a wolfish smile tugged at Sherlock's lips, his sharp gaze trained on his window.
'We're going somewhere fun.' He said, not bothering to hide his glee from his momentarily defeated flatmate.
Ruby's phone buzzed and she quickly removed it from her pocket, frowning at the blocked number. She swiped her thumb across the smooth glass and raised the phone to her ear.
'Hello?' She asked hesitantly.
'Ruby? Oh thank God, I thought I was going to have to call Mycroft.' John's heavy sigh of relief raised the hairs on the back of Ruby's neck.
'Everything alright? You sound funny.'
'Erm, well . . . that's the reason I'm calling.' There was a short pause on the line, allowing Ruby's worry to grow. 'Short version: I've got myself into a pickle. It's Sherlock's fault – not exactly headline news, I know – then again, he's not completely to blame, he didn't force my hand, but he didn't exactly . . .' John trailed off, exhaling sharply.
'John?' Ruby asked, a frown tugging at her eyebrows.
'Look mate, kindly fuck off, yeah? I'm clearly in the middle of a conversation!' This was followed by the sounds of a small scuffle from the other end of the line, curiously magnified by the phone's microphone. 'Sorry about that, they're all so bloody impatient!'
'John, where the hell are you?' Ruby asked, wondering who was trying to get him off the phone. A crackly sigh greeted her question, and she could almost see John pinching the bridge of his nose. 'Don't ask me why . . . but I'm sort of in jail.'
'What?' Ruby squeaked, her voice bouncing against the kitchen tiles.
'You heard me the first time. Now, I normally wouldn't ask, and I cannot stress enough about payback . . . but if you could, I mean, if you wouldn't mind –' John roughly cleared his throat, his swallow audible, '–if you could lend me some . . . some . . . money to bail me out? I don't really want to spend Christmas Eve in a cell.' John's voice was strained as he rushed through the request, his words forcing Ruby to chew on the side of her thumb.
'Don't worry John; I'll have you out within the hour.'
'Thank you, Ruby. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I promise I'll pay you back as soon as I get my hands on my wallet –'
'John, mate. Don't worry about it. Bail is hardly going to dent my finances.' Ruby gave a dry bark of laughter. 'Like I said, within the hour. Sit tight. Oh, and it would really help if you didn't punch anyone before I see you.'
'I'll do my best, but I won't make any promises about Sherlock. When I see him I swear to God I will flay that shitster for getting me into this! Alright, yes, yes. There you go, I'm finished, happy now?' John said hotly to (Ruby presumed) his security guard before hanging up.
Ruby stared at her phone, slowly shaking her head and stifling an inappropriate giggle. There were various things Sherlock and John did for cases which skated near the illegal side of the law. But they were smart enough to avoid getting caught. Sherlock always got them out of trouble; it was practically a condition of his friendship with John.
Grabbing her coat and gloves, Ruby took the elevator down to the lobby, wondering what disaster had happened for John to end up in a cell.
'Thanks, there was a rough crowd in holding cells.' John muttered, massaging his wrists where handcuffs had been just seconds ago.
'No problem. Here's your stuff.' Ruby said with a smile, handing over John's plastic bag of personal belongings. 'Check it thoroughly; there have been some light-fingered bastards in that office.'
John spent the next minute rummaging around the bag before nodding and heading towards the exit, his stride as sharp as his gaze was livid.
'So, any particular reason you took residence in Scotland Yard's finest cell on Christmas Eve?' Ruby asked cheerfully, watching John's hand twitch from the corner of her eye.
'Don't want to talk about it.' John replied briskly, blowing air onto his hands and rubbing them furiously. 'Actually, that's a lie. I want to yell myself hoarse and batter that wretched flatmate of mine into next week!' Ruby tried to suppress a giggle as she imagined Sherlock's expression if John ever punched him. 'It was a monumental cock-up! Sherlock of course walked away from it leaving me to shoulder the consequences. You'd think I'd know better by now . . . but when Sherlock says he needs help to do something for a case, I follow him like the blind moron I am and find myself constantly surprised when shit creek action is thrown my way!' He licked his lips and ran a hand through his hair, oblivious to the odd wind-swept look he now sported. 'So, when things turned sour – and wow, did they turn sour – Sherlock escaped and I . . . well. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened to me.' He shook his head roughly, his forehead creased by an ugly frown.
' . . . You okay?' Ruby asked, fighting against her lips which felt like they were going to spasm if she continued supressing her laughter.
'Am I . . . Hah. Okay . . .? No, not okay. Pissed off? Yep, that sounds about right.' The fingers on John's right hand danced against his thigh. 'And where the bloody hell have the cabs disappeared too? Please God let there not be some stupid law which gives them Christmas Eve off.' Ruby coughed loudly, hoping to rid herself of the ill-timed laugher. Oblivious to Ruby's discomfort, John paced impatiently to and fro.
'There's not a cats chance in hell I'm returning to Baker Street. If I so much as see Sherlock . . .' John shook his head, his silent threat finally quelling Ruby's urge to laugh. 'Besides, I'm meeting Lestrade for a pint, even if I am already twenty minutes late. He'll be roaring with laughter when he finds out the reason for my delay.' John grimaced.
'Alright so, we'll drop you off at the pub first then.'
'Sure you don't fancy a drink? I'm pretty sure it's mandatory to get the person who bailed you from jail completely banjoed.' John chuckled lightly, his frown slowly leaving his face.
Ruby shook her head, 'I've some things to take care of, but I'll be over to annoy you in the morning with all of my Christmas cheer.'
'Oh, brilliant. Christmas with Sherlock, I bet I'm in store for a plethora of joys.' John said drily.
'Just be happy he didn't invite Mycroft over.'
John's head snapped to the left, his eyebrows in danger of disappearing into his hairline. 'I'd say that would be the worst Christmas present of all time.' He shook his head, his eyes blinking rapidly. 'Christ, I need a drink.'
'Yeah, holding cells are never fun. Congratulations on not starting a riot.'
John chuckled slightly, 'You've only seen it from the outside, it's a completely different story once those iron bars switch sides.'
'Nah, you don't.'
Ruby turned and stared intently at John's face, disliking the way his eyebrows rose in chastising disbelief. 'Yes John. I do understand.' She held his gaze for another second, her smile maddeningly wide. John opened his mouth to argue, but he was distracted by something over Ruby's shoulder. Glancing at her with a slight frown, he decided against questioning her further and threw out his arm to hail the lone taxi.
The silence was broken by the water slapping gently against the sides of the painstakingly tiled pool, the heated water stirred from hidden jets. Naked statues of women from Greek and Roman times peered around realistically chiselled boulders, their delicate faces watching the water with vague interest. Smooth steel bars were fastened around three marble pillars set within the pool, providing support for the low but intricately vaulted ceiling. The soothing light illuminated two Jacuzzis, their surfaces pebbled with lazy bubbles. As it was Christmas Eve, the five star leisure facility was abandoned by the hotel's guests, a sign pinned to its entrance declaring it closed until Stephen's Day.
Deserted. Silent. Undisturbed. This was how Ruby liked it best.
It only took a few seconds before she was almost completely submerged, the water creeping up her neck and darkening the shade of her leafy green swimsuit. Taking a deep breath, she dunked her head gracefully, exhaling through her mouth until there was no air left in her lungs. She hit the bottom of the pool with a gentle thump, her feet pointing towards the ceiling of water hidden by her closed eyes. It was so peaceful down here, a momentary escape from society. She smiled when she realised she was Disney's anti-Ariel, floating in the water with her cloud of red hair and wishing she didn't have to return to the world on the surface.
However, her brain was firmly demanding oxygen and she didn't plan on drowning today. Pushing her feet against the floor, she propelled herself to the surface, taking deep lungfuls of air and hastily swatting the red locks plastered to her face. Treading water, she guided her body towards the side of the pool and rested her shoulders against the smooth stone edge, her toes barely touching the floor.
'Nice evening for a quiet dip.' A voice murmured, echoing strangely around the odd crypt.
Ruby flinched away from the wall and spun around, her eyes wide as she stared mutely at the intruder who had crept up behind her. She thanked whatever deity had stilled the urge to skinny dip when she'd disrobed minutes earlier.
'Don't sneak up on me like that, Sherlock!' Ruby spat, quickly swimming to the middle pillar and holding onto the steel bar. She was intensely aware of her heart pounding erratically, and though such cardiac behaviour was normal after being scared; it was showing no signs of abating. Images of a certain camera feed danced in her mind's eye and she blotted them out with gritted teeth. 'What the hell happened this evening? I had to bail John out of jail!'
Sherlock glanced at the distance Ruby had placed between them, his brows furrowing ever so slightly. 'John was an idiot, I wasn't. Why are you all the way over there?'
'He had to wait for three hours until I bailed him out! D'you know what sort of vagrants are kept in that holding cell, Sherlock? John was penned in with a bunch of animals!' Ruby shouted, her voice magnified by the crypt.
'Well technically speaking, we are merely the evolved cousin of the Neanderthal and as we still possess the almost identical genome of the ape, it isn't much of a stretch to apply such a label to the company John was entertaining –'
'You can't leave your best friend in jail, Sherlock. It's not okay.' Ruby stated flatly, releasing her grip on the steel bar and swimming to the shallower end of the pool, her arms resting on the stony edge.
'But you can banish your best friend to six months of silence until you feel strong enough to see him again?' Sherlock sneered, swiftly walking to the end of the pool Ruby occupied and staring down at her, his hands smoothing imaginary creases from his suit jacket.
'I was in witness protection! And in case you'd forgotten, you abandoned your best friend for two entire years! That's twice the amount of time you actually knew John! Not to mention that was after you'd forced him to watch your suicide – which you never bothered to inform him was fake!' The muscles in Ruby's neck strained, tilting her head upwards.
'I don't need to explain myself to you.' Sherlock snarled, 'But if you must know; my actions were motivated by a master criminal who was going to assassinate everyone I held most dear – unless I threw myself from the rooftop of Bart's hospital. Authenticity was paramount. And for such a plan to work smoothly, John's grief had to be sincere.' Sherlock spat, his gaze colder.
'Well . . . Well . . .' Ruby floundered for a moment, 'We've both made some sacrifices then, haven't we?'
Sherlock worried at his lower lip for a moment, his eyebrows furrowed slightly, wrinkling the skin on the bridge of his nose.
'Some sacrifices were nobler than others.' He hissed.
All discomfort inspired by Sherlock's presence evaporated. Red. That was all she could see as she felt the blood pumping through her veins. Her arms abandoned the stony edge and returned beneath the water, fingers flexing with impatience. Ruby's lips twitched slightly as her hands quickly rose to the surface of the water . . .
The smug look on Sherlock's face vanished as fat droplets of pool water collided with his impeccably clothed frame. He flinched slightly, his eyes widening before narrowing severely. With some visible effort, he swallowed the insult that leapt to his tongue and peeled off his suit jacket, hanging it up on a nearby hook.
'Might I inquire as to the motivation behind splashing me?' He asked; his voice tight as he tried to control his annoyance.
'Make a goddam deduction.' Ruby sneered, 'Then again, your ego is so vastly inflated that any perceptions formed about yourself simply cannot be trusted. So, I'll put you out of your misery; you were being an ass.' Ruby said, her eyebrows furrowing as Sherlock bent and started unlacing his shoes. 'What are you doing?'
'Auditioning for the ballet.' He replied drily, kicking off his shoes and socks before rolling up his trousers to his knees. With a slight sigh, Sherlock lowered himself to the ground and allowed his feet to splash into the pool. The water slunk up Sherlock's pale calves, stopping just short of his knees.
Ruby watched him for a long moment before inching her way over. 'Why are you here?' She asked, resting her hands on the edge of the pool, her eyes peering upwards. He seemed very calm for someone whose ego had been insulted and his expensive suit splashed.
His movements were quick as he stooped and roughly dunked Ruby's head beneath the water, smirking as her shriek of surprise was swallowed by the pool. After a few seconds where her limbs flailed helplessly, he lost his grip and Ruby returned to the surface, spluttering incomprehensibly, hair sticking to her face. She coughed roughly and glowered at Sherlock, her green irises pronounced by the slightly bloodshot whites of her eyes.
'What the fuck was that for?' She snarled, snorting to get rid of the water which had gone up her nose.
Sherlock shrugged, though his malicious smirk failed to inspire sympathy. 'This is an expensive suit and chlorine requires dry cleaning.' He explained, though his smirk was promptly replaced by a frown as he leant forwards. 'I didn't know you were allergic to chlorine.'
'Oh shit, it's not bad, is it?' Ruby asked, tugging on the skin beneath one of her eyes for Sherlock's inspection.
'No, shouldn't be anything much to worry abou–' Sherlock's sentence was cut off as Ruby's hands sprang from her face and wrapped around his neck. It knocked his balance and with little effort, she pulled him head first into the water. She roared triumphantly before dissolving into a fit of giggles as Sherlock jerked gracelessly to his feet. With a scowl etched onto his face, he roughly brushed his fringe to join the rest of the hair plastered to his skull.
'What's the matter Sherlock? You look a little annoyed.' Ruby's chuckle died in her throat when Sherlock did not share in her amusement, towering over her, his rage rolling off him in invisible waves.
A tense moment passed before Sherlock heaved a sigh which seemed to deflate him, his anger dissipating. 'You escalated the situation. Very mature.' Sherlock muttered as he glanced over his saturated shirt.
'Well, you should've known you would need to bring swim trunks.' Ruby replied, fiddling with the ends of her hair.
'And how would I have known that?'
'You know . . . because you're, well – you.'
'I'm not a seer, Ruby.'
'You damn act like one at times.' Sherlock quirked an eyebrow and Ruby forcefully gritted her teeth. It was as if he was deliberately getting on her nerves. 'How did you know I'd be in here?' She eventually asked.
'Balance of probability . . . process of elimination . . . y'know, the usual.' Sherlock replied, his voice slightly clipped.
'Sherlock? Is everything alright?' Ruby asked, taking a step forward and folding her arms when she realised the shallow water failed to cover her barely clothed breasts.
Sherlock pressed his tongue against his cheek, frowning slightly when some droplets scooted down the side of his face. 'The man who forced you into donning the role of Jasmine, you're finally going to give up his identity.' He murmured; his eyes whip-sharp as he focused on Ruby's face.
'That's not why.' Ruby stated slowly, 'You know I won't tell you anything about him. So, I'll ask again; why are you here?'
'Fine.' Sherlock snapped. 'To offer my services with your latest murder investigation, which are far more valuable than your average –'
'No. If you wanted to help on the case, you would have been there on Sunday. And after your no-show, you refused Lestrade's invitation when he went round to 221B! Now, third's the charmer; why are you here?'
Sherlock ran his hands lightly across the surface of the water, a slight crease forming at his brow, 'John asked me to –'
'I seriously doubt John's asked you anything since he's so pissed off with you for leaving him in jail.' Ruby snarled, reaching forwards and grabbing Sherlock's wrists roughly. 'D'you even know why you're here?' She asked, searching for an answer in Sherlock's guarded eyes. A long pause met her question before the skin between Sherlock's eyebrows wrinkled and he slowly shook his head. 'Oh, well that's disappointing.' Ruby muttered before dropping her grip on Sherlock's wrists.
'Disappointing?' Sherlock growled, the word falling from his tongue in disgust.
'Yep. Here I was thinking that we were going to have an adult conversation about what happened last Saturday night but no, it doesn't seem like you're in the mood to explain why you got me bollock-drunk and snogged me senseless.' A deafening silence met her casual statement and Sherlock's frown vanished, his eyes blinking rapidly as he swallowed heavily. He opened his mouth to speak but after several attempts, he shut it once again. 'I have cameras in my hotel room, Sherlock. Got them installed after that fuckery from that serial killer who stole his victim's thumbs. When I woke up on Sunday with a memory blank, I got mighty curious and found the footage from Saturday evening. I saw . . . well,' Ruby cleared her throat loudly and worked some saliva into her mouth. 'I saw everything.' Sherlock closed his eyes for a long moment, a muscle twitching in his jaw. His eyes snapped open when he felt tentative fingers stroke along his prominent cheekbone.
'What are you doing?' He asked; tone slightly husky.
'What does it look like I'm doing?' She murmured.
'It is rather rude to answer a question with a question, and you have always had quite an odd attachment to my cheekbones.'
The skin crinkled slightly around her eyes though her lips didn't lift. 'You deflect questions with questions all the time.'
'Delusions have led you to believe that you possess the flair necessary to copy my conversational habits. I can firmly pronounce that your personality is lacklustre in this respect. Now, if you would be so kind as to remove your hand from my face –' Sherlock's gaze flicked to the offending hand and he repeatedly flexed his cheek.
A triumphant smile tugged at Ruby's lips, 'Why?'
'Because . . .' Sherlock gestured towards his face and rolled his eyes. 'Oh for God's sake, you've wrongly jumped to conclusions from insufficient evidence –'
'I don't think I have.' Ruby countered, fearlessly stepping forwards and supressing a smile when Sherlock took a step back. 'I think you came here tonight out of sheer desperation because you have no idea what to do with your emotions.'
'Oh please. You're plainly trying to force a reaction from me to answer those petty feelings of yours. If you could stop embarrassing yourself and end this pathetic display that would be simply marvellous.' The twinkle vanished from Ruby's eyes and she glowered at Sherlock, a glare which he held with strained indifference.
'Really? Embarrassing myself?' She hissed. 'We'll see about that!' Ruby's lip twitched when she noticed Sherlock's shoulders tense. 'Number one!' Ruby barked, removing her hand from Sherlock's cheek and wagging her index finger, 'I hope you haven't forgotten how you stormed in on my date with Frank after the conclusion of The Thumb Thief – textbook jealousy, so it was!'
'Jealousy? Please, you know that he was the most sinfully boring man you'd ever had the misfortune of encountering. Plus, I needed you for a case – much more important than your endurance of his pathetic "wooing" .' Sherlock made the quotation marks with his fingers.
'Stealing me away from one of the few dates I've been on is unbelievably selfish!'
'So you leapt to the conclusion that my motivation for intruding on your "date" was as a result of my supressed feelings which manifested in the actions of a jealous moron?' Sherlock surmised, his eyebrows shooting upwards. 'Oh, I have truly overestimated your potential if this drivel is what you call an argument.'
'Number two! That whole "teaching you to kiss" tutorial from last year. If it had been anyone else, I would have immediately called bullshi –'
'There was no ulterior motive there,' Sherlock roughly interrupted, 'It was merely the desire to add a new skill to my already impressive arsenal.'
Ruby blinked slowly, trying to process how Sherlock was able to recite such an answer with a straight face. 'My God, you actually believe that don't you? That's . . . that's terrifying. Is it always so simple to shield yourself from your own emotions?'
'Caring isn't an advantage.' Sherlock replied, the words sounding tired and used.
'Where your friends are concerned, you damn well do.' Ruby growled, her eyes narrowing to slits. 'So, let me get this straight; you pinning me to a wall and engaging me in a good auld exchange of saliva was so you could add "kissing like a pro" to your list of accomplishments?' Sherlock flinched at the coarse description, and dropped his gaze to the surface of the pool. 'You know what I think, Sherlock?'
'Something mediocre and inaccurate, I presume.' He replied through gritted teeth, glancing up from beneath his eyelashes, his nostrils flared.
'I think you were shocked. Your primitive reaction completely disarmed you as it was something beyond the cold reason and logic you usually abide by. Why else would you have disappeared the following morning if you didn't feel comfortable talking about it?' Ruby challenged.
'There was a case–'
'Number three!' Ruby interrupted, her three fingers making a scout's honour symbol. 'When you arrived at my mansion for my parents' anniversary, you effortlessly wrote yourself in as my date and spent the majority of the evening dancing with me. The next day at your suggestion, we went for a casual hack with the horses and somehow ended up spooning in our underwear to keep warm.'
'That was for the purposes of combating hypothermia –'
'The following evening,' Ruby continued loudly, 'we shared the same bed while I looked after you because you'd had a bad reaction to a sedative provided by that dumb dominatrix. Let's not forget that she tried to rob me blind and seduce me simultaneously.'
'And how is her attempts at seduction proof of my undying love?' Sherlock scoffed, his eyeballs rolling dramatically.
'Oh, you need more evidence? Fine, I have bucket loads! Number four.' She flashed four fingers in Sherlock's face, smirking as he gritted his teeth. 'My one night stand with Robert McGregor –'
'Oh, if we could keep this conversation to simple events instead of discussing the revolting primitive acts between you and your . . . partner.' Sherlock replied drily, though his gaze was far too sharp to compliment his nonchalant tone.
'Your reaction in the debrief when you figured out what had happened was nothing short of despicable.' Ruby stated through clenched teeth, an echo of that particular humiliation still prickling her skin.
'If you would have preferred your department not noticing your unhomely behaviour, then you should have avoided such an act – or at least concealed it to some degree.'
Silence met Sherlock's statement and Ruby openly gaped at him, blinking slowly as she connected two pieces of old information to create something new. 'I had no idea, Sherlock.' She whispered.
'No idea about what? You'll have to be less vague as your lack of knowledge covers a sprawling array of topics.' He snarled, stooping slightly, his annoyed expression invading her personal space.
Swallowing loudly, Ruby quickly located her voice, 'I didn't mean to hurt you with . . . him.'
Sherlock blinked briskly as he straightened; his Adam's apple bobbing slowly. After a moment, his head tilted down so he could glare at Ruby with unconcealed suspicion, 'You honestly believe that I could be affected by such nonsense?' The volume of Sherlock's voice wasn't what set Ruby's heart racing; it was his guarded tone which clashed magnificently with his superior stature and the glower being thrown in her direction.
'Yes. And I bet you hated yourself –'
'Why would I hate myself for experiencing something which never occurred?' Sherlock quickly interrupted, his icy tone reintroduced to their conversation, complimented by a simpering smile. Ruby sucked her bottom lip into her mouth where her front teeth visibly chewed on the tender flesh. Shaking her head slightly, she lowered herself further into the water and pushed backwards from the wall, abandoning a drenched Sherlock whose posture softened with her obvious exit. She felt the reassurance of a tiled step beneath her feet and slowly began leaving the pool.
'Not exactly the most riveting climax to a conversation.' Sherlock drawled, halting Ruby's slow but blunt retreat.
'I'm just . . . done really.' Ruby replied, spinning around and shrugging in Sherlock's direction. The water lapped softly at her thighs, urging her to return to their comforting depths.
'Done with what?'
'This.' Ruby indicated the space between their separated bodies before shaking her head rigorously. 'I just . . . I wish you could be honest with me Sherlock. Just for once.'
'Honest?' Sherlock ridiculed, 'How can you expect honesty when you are so eager to hide secrets which concern not only your well-being but the success of the case?!'
'Because they're my secrets, Sherlock!' Ruby yelled, swallowing hastily and pursing her lips. 'And whether I choose to divest them should be up to me, not you.' A shaky hand ran through her hair, brushing any rebel strands sticking to her forehead and cheeks. 'And if you want honesty, then fine, I'll be truthful!' She took a deep breath, trying to stifle the butterflies which fluttered in her stomach. 'I'm stone cold sober, a female adult in her early thirties who is declaring for you and for anyone who gives a rat's arse, that I . . .' She paused in her confession, a muscle twitching in her cheek.
'That you what?' Sherlock taunted, taking a few hesitant steps forwards.
'It's quite simple at the end of the day;' Ruby's shoulders rose and fell and she smiled in Sherlock's direction. 'I like you.' The colour rose to Ruby's cheeks as quickly as it drained from Sherlock's. It would have been comical if she were in the mood for laughing. 'Have done for a long time – as I'm sure you've noticed.' Ruby paused, examining the wrinkled skin covering her fingers. She began to wonder how long this conversation had taken to reach this disappointing conclusion. It felt like hours. 'So obviously, I was angry when I saw what happened on the tapes, how you used that affection to your own advantage but I've . . . I've just realised something. Something incredibly important.' She chuckled, her teeth stretching her mouth into a genuine smile, the complete opposite of Sherlock's tense expression. 'You're a master manipulator, I know that. But even you couldn't have predicted with such certainty that the night would have presented you with an opportunity to inquire about the man who forced me into my stripping career.'
Sherlock was silent. Ruby didn't like him when he was silent; he always had the last word in fights such as these but no witty replies? No insults to deflate one's self-esteem? Silence could only mean trouble.
'I kissed you and . . . and you liked it, I know you did because things might have escalated further! But I was struck with a sense of almighty suspicion and . . . If I hadn't said anything, if I hadn't accused you of manipulating the situation – then who knows?' She said with a shrug.
Her insinuated challenge drew the anger from Sherlock's bones, 'Shut up Ruby, you've no idea what you're talking about.' Sherlock's seething tone did nothing but strengthen the small bubble of hope which rose bravely in Ruby's stomach. Denial. Denial was better than silence – or so she hoped. 'So, your meandering train of thought has arrived at the conclusion that I enjoyed the exchange of saliva which involved the introduction of millions of bacteria into my system?'
'Yes. And then you used my suspicions as an escape route.' Ruby paused for a moment, gathering the necessary courage to carefully speak her next words. However, it was rather difficult to keep track of her thoughts when Sherlock was staring at her so intently, his expression tortured. He looked irritated, yes, but there was another quality present which Ruby couldn't quite identify. Regardless, his gaze forced the hackles on her neck to rise, and that was a feat few could boast of.
'In your warped mind, it would preserve your dignity to pretend that this had all been part of your master plan – to get me drunk, mildly seduce me in order to uncover hidden information. But that . . . that wasn't what happened.' Ruby ran her fingers along the surface of the water, her gaze dropping to her hands as she could no longer stand Sherlock's piercing gaze. 'There was a pause – a breath where you made a decision after I'd initially kissed you. Oh, you must have hated it once you realised your desire for physical intimacy. Of course you did, you've been taught by your abomination of a brother that such feelings are a weakness.'
'Moron, I do not –'
'Yes. You. DO!' Ruby's echoing voice mildly shocked her, and Sherlock flinched slightly, his Adam's apple dipping quickly.
'Ruby, I'm going to say this once in order to halt your further humiliation; I'm a high-functioning sociopath –'
'But you're not. Not really. That's just a self-imposed title – a constant excuse for your behaviour.' She abandoned her exit and waded further into the pool, pausing a few feet from Sherlock's guarded figure. 'Long before you met me, you'd convinced yourself that emotions and feelings are destructive forces which will bring every structure you've carefully constructed into chaos. John was the first person who ever questioned this principal.' She licked her lips and focused on introducing some moisture back into her mouth before continuing, 'Sociopaths don't have friends. They're incapable of forming intimate relationships and only pretend to form attachments in order to achieve an objective. Mrs Hudson, John Watson, Greg Lestrade and I all prove that's not the case with you.' The water splashing against the side of the pool was the only response this statement received. 'My sister was a true psychopath, I can identify better than most where empathy is absent in a personality . . . and you do not meet the criteria.'
'So I have a little empathy, that doesn't mean –'
'You threw yourself off a building to save your friends. That's not a little empathy, that is a man demonstrating qualities of a true friend –'
'Please, I did it for the case! Moriarty's network needed to be dismantled –'
'Bullshit! You said yourself right here a few minutes ago that it was to save those you held most dear, there wasn't a word breathed about Moriarty's network! Why are you so afraid of accepting that your feelings are developing into something . . .' Ruby gestured in Sherlock's direction 'something more?'
'Afraid? No, I have nothing to fear, I believe it is you who should feel afraid. You've shown your hand and find yourself terrified by the fact that you are wrong.' Sherlock snarled, dismissing her with a wave of his hand.
'I'm not scared, Sherlock. You're the one who's afraid. This is all out of your control, it's primitive and you know what? That's okay!'
'None of this is primitive –'
'You know what? I wasn't going to mention it but you've left me no choice! Before I went to witness protection and disappeared for six months, you were incredibly . . . um, happy to see me.'
'I don't recall –'
'And by "you" I mean . . .' Ruby nodded towards his submerged trousers and Sherlock's cheeks immediately flooded with colour.
'I . . . that was . . .'
'An erection, yes. And I don't think I'm jumping to conclusions by claiming that it was inspired by my presence.' Sherlock was lost for words. 'See, this is the issue! I don't understand why you won't allow yourself to feel . . . what you're feeling! It's natural; brilliant, healthy and sod any rules you've lived by up until now which stated otherwise. And most importantly, it'll make you happy!' Ruby sighed exasperatedly when Sherlock continued his impersonation of a mute man. 'Do you really have nothing to say?' Ruby couldn't help it; her voice broke slightly on the last word. She'd laid herself out bare and it looked certain that she was going to be flayed alive for displaying such vulnerability. The silence stretched and stretched with Sherlock failing to make eye contact, his eyes fixed on the surface of the water.
It eventually arrived at a moment where Ruby had to admit defeat. She'd tried her best but this man was simply impossible and had remained ruthlessly silent, laughing at her attempt to deepen whatever stupid connection they had accidently forged. Rubbing her face with her hands, Ruby's head shook slightly before she turned and hurried out of the pool, her wet feet slapping on the coarse ground as she sought out her robe. Her exposed body need not suffer the same humiliation her feelings had received.
There was only one problem – her robe wasn't hanging where she'd left it. Ruby's eyes quickly scanned the surrounding hooks but there was no sign of the fluffy white robe on any of them. Frowning, she crossed to the other-side of the pool, deliberately ignoring eye contact with the asshole that stood exactly where she'd left him. Just as she was reaching the door for the women's changing rooms, she chanced a glance back –
Only to find the pool deserted. Her gaze flicked around the arching crypt but there was no sign of the world's only consulting detective.
'Sherlock?' Ruby called out hesitantly. There was no response.
Typical, every time he comes close to expressing some feelings, he runs off.
Feeling an odd prickle of curiosity, Ruby retraced her steps back to the pool's entrance, but could only identify one set of wet footprints leaving the pool – obviously her own.
'Sherlock?' Ruby called again, glancing around the pool's edge and failing to find a suitable point where a sopping wet Sherlock would have taken his leave. A shiver stole down her spine and she cursed under her breath, linking her vanished robe with Sherlock's disappearance.
What an ass, taking that robe away. He really knows how to add insult to injury doesn't he?
Grabbing her hair and pushing it over to her left shoulder, Ruby roughly squeezed out the red locks, the water running over her goose-pimpled flesh. Once she'd wrung it to satisfaction, she returned to the ladies changing room and quickly pushed the door open. A few moments later she's discovered that the hotel had failed to stock any cabinets with freshly laundered towels.
'Bollocks!' Ruby snapped, slamming a cupboard shut and doing her best to suppress a shudder. It looked as if she'd have to leg it to the elevator in her swimsuit. Fucking wonderful.
Suddenly, a floorboard creaked behind her and Ruby gave a high-pitched shriek before wheeling around, fists in the air, her heart pounding.
'Who the fuck –' Ruby's voice died when she quickly realised two things.
Firstly, it was Sherlock. He had (for some unholy reason) decided that the best way to interact with her was obviously to sneak up on her.
Secondly, he was wrapping her dripping, shivering frame in a certain Belstaff tweed coat.
'S-Sherlock?' Ruby spluttered; her brows creased in confusion as his hands quickly rubbed up and down her arms. 'B-But your c-coat . . . the c-chlorine –'
'I stole your robe and threw it into the Jacuzzi as a prank, so it's my responsibility to make sure you don't freeze to death in a five star pool resort. I've no doubt Donovan would place me as the prime suspect in your murder investigation and we both know I don't have time for such idiotic processes.' He reeled off, not meeting Ruby's perplexed gaze.
'Are you not cold?' Ruby mumbled; her hands lost in the long sleeves of his coat.
'A bit.' Sherlock admitted, slowing his rubbing when he noted Ruby's lack of stammer.
'You need a change of clothes seeing as I, well, pulled you into the pool. Quite literally.'
'I can nick something from the staff lost and found, done it loads of times. It'll get me back to Baker Street.'
'Oh . . . okay. I suppose I don't have clothes which fit you anyway.' Ruby gave a weak chuckle, pulling the coat more tightly around her. 'Thanks for the loan.'
'You still have one of my scarves from a few cases back. I won't be so lenient with this particular item in terms of loan repayment.' Sherlock snapped, his gaze still focused on tying the buttons of the oversized coat.
Sherlock ran a hand through his drying hair, scratching the back of his head for a long moment, his eyes closed in thought. He eventually peered at Ruby from beneath his eyelashes, his expression straining to remain composed. After a few moments, he loudly cleared his throat.
'I'm not . . . um, good at –' He made a vague hand gesture, 'this. John's always said that I'm a machine with no concept of human emotion–'
'That's only when you do something thick, like land John in prison and forget about him. Pretty machine thing to do Sherlock.'
'I had to finish the job; otherwise the whole kerfluffle would have been for nothing! By the time I'd finished, you'd already bailed him out.' Sherlock was running his hand through his hair again, missing the wild look he now sported.
A minute passed in silence where neither moved. Within this time, Sherlock and Ruby shared a few glances which never lasted for more than a few seconds, lingering looks which would appear tender to the casual observer.
It was strange; Ruby could feel the anger inspired by Sherlock's reaction back at the pool steadily dissolve. A lone butterfly in her stomach bravely fluttered its wings when she recalled whose coat she was wearing. Everything felt distorted and she was forcefully reminded of a time in her childhood when she'd been in the house of mirrors where reflections failed to represent reality. She shouldn't be wearing Sherlock's coat, he should be wearing it. And Sherlock shouldn't have that wistful twinkle in his eye. That was the sole property of Ruby Smith whenever her gaze happened to land on him.
'I'm unsure of my . . . feelings' Sherlock's nose wrinkled at the word, 'but I think . . .' His voice trailed away and Ruby noticed that his hands with their appealing veins pressed firmly against his skin, were gripping onto her elbows. It wasn't exactly romantic, but it wasn't rejection either. 'Yes . . . I understand enough.' Ruby tilted her head slightly, peering at Sherlock curiously.
'And what does your approximate understanding concern?' She asked, quietly aware that something very bizarre was happening.
'You. Me.' He nodded to the small space separating them. 'This. I'm not used to, used to expressing myself in this dimension. Life's much simpler without an emotional distraction –' Ruby lifted her hand and used it to firmly cover Sherlock's mouth, forcefully ending his back peddling. After a moment, she hesitantly withdrew her hand, smiling slightly at Sherlock's abashed expression. It seemed all of his fancy words had momentarily deserted him – a rare sight indeed.
And then he proceeded to astound her, forgoing words in favour of pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead. Fireworks exploded in Ruby's belly and her heart leapt with joy as his lips lingered against her skin for a moment, his breath exhaling softly into her hairline. When he withdrew, Ruby's jaw was slack and she unabashedly gaped at him. There was a softness to his features, a suggestion of contentment the likes of which Ruby had never seen before. He was watching her with those intelligent eyes of his, his gaze flicking impatiently from her eyes to the spot on her forehead he'd tenderly greeted. When a huge smile threatened to cleave Ruby's face in two, Sherlock's frame relaxed slightly, although he immediately tensed when Ruby began to giggle.
'Did I do something wrong?' He quickly asked.
'What? No, no.' Ruby shook her head lightly. 'You just missed is all.'
'Missed?' Sherlock asked, his frown deepening.
'Honestly, did I really teach you nothing when you were my pupil?' With her smile evolving into a grin, Ruby rose onto her tiptoes and firmly placed a kiss against Sherlock's mouth. She didn't wait for a response before tilting her head backwards, her lips pursed into a thin line as her eyes swiftly scouted his face. 'Do you want this?' She asked, her heart hammering in her chest. 'I mean, d'you . . . y'know . . .' She exhaled the air slowly from her lungs and rubbed her eyes wearily with the palm of her hand. It took a moment before she found the courage to meet his gaze. 'Do you want me? That's something I have to know.' Her gaze dropped to the inspection of Sherlock's slowly drying shirt and she began counting the number of buttons on the garment to distract her from the lingering silence. Sherlock's tongue pushed against the inside of his cheek and Ruby felt his hands slide from her elbows to her waist. Glancing up from her button-counting (seven so far) Ruby found Sherlock nibbling on his lower lip. His eyes were downcast as he slowly nodded.
'Really?' Ruby whispered; her tongue tracing her teeth as Sherlock nodded once again, finally looking her in the eyes. 'Good. Cause . . .' Ruby's lips pursed slightly, 'I eh, well . . . I want you too.'
'Oh.' Sherlock cleared his throat roughly, 'So we're in agreement, then.'
'Yeah, I suppose we are.'
'I suppose that's . . . good.' Sherlock's Adam's apple bobbed quickly, 'So . . . dinner?'
'Dinner?' Ruby's eyebrows shot up. That was the last thing she'd expected from the consulting detective. Actually, this entire conversation was the last thing she'd expected if she was being honest.
'It's what people do in these situations, isn't it? They go to dinner.' Sherlock quickly recited, frowning at Ruby's obvious dismay.
'Sure, of course dinner is a . . . dating thing I guess. It's just –' Ruby smiled bashfully, shaking her head, 'I never allowed my imagination to produce the fantasy of us at dinner, it's um, well –'
'Novel?' Sherlock offered.
Ruby nodded briskly, 'How about we go back upstairs and get changed into something warmer. We can talk more about this . . . well, I suppose it's us now isn't it?' Ruby felt her heart swell when Sherlock made no objections to the unifying term. 'Sound good?'
'Okay. Let's go do that. There's an elevator at the end of the hall, it'll take us directly up to the penthouse. C'mon, you look like a drowned dog.' Ruby managed a weak smile before she pushed the long sleeves of Sherlock's coat past her elbows.
The two exited the changing rooms and walked down the hall towards the elevator, their strides jilted and awkward as if both had forgotten the art of walking. After passing numerous paintings of vacant landscapes, Sherlock's hand accidently banged into Ruby's.
'Sorry.' He muttered.
Feeling a warm surge of courage, Ruby smiled, 'Don't be.' She replied, reaching out and carefully interlocking her fingers within Sherlock's broad palm. She felt him stiffen beside her but after a few paces, his hand relaxed. It all felt surreal. Here she was holding hands with the world's only consulting detective, wearing his coat while her hair dripped cold water down the nape of her neck. Was this reality or fantasy?
She suddenly giggled.
'What's so funny?' Sherlock inquired
'Oh, nothing. Just . . . this is pretty phantasmagorical.' She giggled again while Sherlock rolled his eyes, but it was only a mildly irritated flick of his eyeballs.
'You have a strange obsession with that word. Remind me to broaden your vocabulary.'
'Sounds like fun.'
'Scrabble with me is not the everyman's definition of . . . fun.' Ruby grinned at this, imagining John's exasperated face at having to play any sort of game with Sherlock.
A moment later, Sherlock pressed the button for the elevator and the two waited in silence as the lift descended from the heights of the hotel, their hands still intertwined.
'Well, um . . . Merry Christmas.' She said, suddenly feeling shy. Licking her lips daintily, Ruby gently squeezed Sherlock's hand, her gaze focused on the brass doors in front of her.
Glancing down at the red-haired detective, a smug smile pulled at Sherlock's mouth. 'And a Happy New Year.' He replied before slowly squeezing Ruby's hand in return.
With an ominous ding the elevator doors trundled open and the looks of contentment on both Sherlock and Ruby's faces vanished. Ruby's hands leapt to her mouth in horror and a silent scream escaped from her lips, running down the hall with jackal-like pace, raising the hackles of anyone it passed. Sherlock quickly stepped in front of her, blocking her view of the elevator, his eyes quickly scanning its horrid contents.
Moving quickly, Sherlock grabbed his phone from the pocket of his coat which was still wrapped around Ruby. He ignored the petrified woman and harshly withdrew his phone from the left pocket and swiped his thumb across the screen. A moment later the phone was raised to his ear, the number ringing placidly as Sherlock's eyes were irresistibly drawn to the inside of the elevator.
He snapped his gaze away from the elevator when his call was answered, 'Lestrade? It's me. I know you're probably quite drunk right now but it is of paramount importance that you make your way to the Intercontinental Hotel as soon as possible.'
'Wha- Sheeerlock? What're you bliiitherin about? S'Christmas!'
'I am fully aware of the date Lestrade, but there's been a murder in the lower elevator which serves the leisure facilities. It will require Scotland Yard's immediate attention. I suggest you send over officers to maintain the credibility of the crime scene.' Without saying goodbye, Sherlock pocketed his phone and turned to Ruby who had lost the usual rosy hue in her cheeks. Stepping towards her, Sherlock placed both hands on her shoulders and looked her directly in the eye. 'Ruby, I need you to focus. We need to get out of here. Come back to Baker Street, you should be safe there. Lestrade will arrive with the Calvary shortly.' Ruby wasn't responding, her mouth gaping as she stared at the inside of the elevator. After taking a few deep breaths, she wrenched her gaze from the lift and focused on Sherlock before nodding. 'That's my girl.' Sherlock placed a hand on the small of Ruby's back and quickly guided her away from the lift, glancing over his shoulder as the elevator doors slowly closed.
Oh me oh my, is this chapter actually finished? Words cannot describe how many hours have gone into this chapter be it thinking, writing, re-writing, editing, re-editing. Probably the guts of 50 hours! So I hope you enjoyed this 9,000 word chapter and I would be really interested in your feedback because Ruby and Sherlock are . . . together now. I am so happy and I think I did it justice and I hope Sherlock was in character. This, as I said earlier, was no slap and dash chapter, I've been working towards it since this story began.
I've received some excellent reviews in my 4 week absence (a mixture of travelling and lack of computer and general dismay about the chapter I was undertaking) and I want to say thank you to those people who either constantly review or binge on the story and read it in a few days. You people are crazy but I like that and I appreciate it even more.
For those cool cats interested in my mental health, I can firmly say I am back to where I was before the drink-spiking incident. I feel so much better than I did, my mind is a lot more peaceful than it used to be. Thank you for your concern, a few kind words from a stranger can go a long way on a bad day.
Anyways, I'll end the ramble here. I hope you enjoyed the chapter and I'll catch you when the next chapter comes out. Much love my Shuby shippers, much love indeed.