A Casual Reunion
Steam rose in coiling spirals from the iron bath and silence swirled with the rising mist. Droplets of moisture beaded deep blue tiles, fogged opaque windows and misted an oval mirror. Gallons of water filled the bath, the water's surface peppered with thick bubbles which slowly burst, oozing a luscious scent. Silver clawed feet supported the navy tub at each rounded end, the talons gripping the cool tiles of the bathroom's floor. Slightly stiff taps had quelled the gushing water, their metal surfaces reflecting the weak morning light.
The flushed and wrinkled skin of two bodies floated in the body of water. Toes peeked under the blanket of bubbles. Hair sagged beneath the water's heavy weight, the colour darkened and glossy.
The smaller of the two figures stretched towards the ceiling, their hands gently kissed by the rising steam. Limbs slumped and returned to the depths, eagerly accommodated by the sloshing water.
'Now this . . . this is a great idea.' Ruby murmured, her fingers bumping against the side of the bath.
'I was just going to take a shower.' Sherlock replied.
'This is better.' Ruby felt his chest cave as he let out a frustrated sigh. 'Sherlock, you're in denial about how much you're enjoying this.'
'I'm not –'
'Yes you are.' Ruby twisted her body slightly until her nose was buried beneath Sherlock's chin. Her breath tumbled down his neck, dashed across the water's surface and extinguished a fistful of bubbles. 'Baths are excellent for unwinding after a stressful day.' She added.
'You didn't strike me as being particularly stressed last night – or this morning.' Ruby's lip quirked as her hand cupped Sherlock's shoulder, the side of her breast pillowing against his upper torso.
'Hmm, this morning was lovely.' Ruby admitted; her giggle running over Sherlock's Adam's apple before it was swallowed by the bath's wall.
Sherlock's arms folded around Ruby, his hands clasped around her submerged hip. 'The bath is not . . .' His body sank another inch beneath the surface and he breathed deeply. 'Unpleasant.' He finished.
Beneath the bubbles, ripples chased each other, the water sloshing slightly from Ruby's laughter. It took a long, meandering pause to settle the tiny lake of water.
'I'm still shocked that you slept for ten hours.'
'And how would you rate your shock?' Sherlock asked, his fingers tapping against the bone of her hip, the gesture muted beneath the water.
'What do you mean?'
'Well, did it surpass your shock of waking this morning to find my head buried between your thighs?'
A powerful shudder rippled through Ruby's body, her mind presenting the lush image in disturbing detail. 'I don't think they're measured on the same scales.' Ruby answered, gently nudging Sherlock's neck with her nose. 'I thought you were joking last night when you said to expect round two in the morning.'
Sherlock's eyebrows furrowed. 'Why would I joke about that?'
'Because . . .' Ruby worried on the plump flesh of her lower lip. 'Because you might find it boring now that you've done it.' She finished in a rush.
'Boring?' Ruby was stunned when Sherlock chuckled. 'Do I find morphine boring after the first hit? No, I go crawling back for another.'
Ruby's head snapped away from his tickling breath, though a blinding smile tore through her lips. Cupping a handful of bubbles, she tilted her head and blew them in his direction, laughing as they softly battered his chin.
The ropey muscles of his neck twitched. 'For the sake of your pride, I must implore you to abandon your attacks, especially if future assaults rely on bubbles for ammunition.'
'I have several ideas on how to make this bath water disappear. And after your inevitable surrender, I have some interesting conditions for our truce – conditions which you may not find . . . agreeable.'
Ruby arched an eyebrow. 'Oh stop it with your lightly veiled threats.'
Sherlock's hand ghosted to the surface and broke through the soapy blanket covering the water. Gently, he wiped the scum from his chin but his bubble soaked fingers only smeared more soap. Upon realising this flaw, a sigh which seemed to deflate him punctured his body. Sherlock's hand plunged beneath the surface and gracelessly flopped against the curve of Ruby's spine. Her fingers lightly scrabbled along his shoulders, gripping the platform which had become familiar over the past twelve hours.
Lungs slowly expanded and contracted, identifying the luxurious smells which perfumed the air.
Lavender . . .
Camomile . . .
A hint of vanilla . . .
Beneath the bottled aromas there prowled a different scent. Half an hour earlier, the scent had been deliciously palpable; the pheromones bursting from every crevice as sweat beaded blushing flesh. Even veiled with the necessity of cleanliness, it lightly oozed from Sherlock's skin. Ruby's nose burrowed against the tender flesh of his neck, silently remarking how compatible their immune systems were for him to smell that good.
His arms tightened slightly around her waist. 'Mhmm?'
'Why do you have so many bath products in here?'
Ruby felt her body inch upwards as Sherlock shrugged, a casual reminder of the lean power which thrummed in his body. His thumb circled the swell of her left shoulder blade, coaxing her eyes to flutter shut. 'They belong to John. Contrary to popular opinion, he loves to take baths.' Sherlock murmured.
Ruby's eyes snapped open and her eyebrows furrowed. 'What?'
'It's hardly the strangest conclusion I've drawn.'
Ruby twisted her neck and splayed her hands against his chest. Water rushed down the steep slopes of her shoulders and clattered against the bath's soapy surface. Steam rose and unfurled in neat spirals before vanishing.
The words slowly spooled from her mouth. 'You're lying.'
'Don't be absurd.' Sherlock's legs spilled open to accommodate her shift in position, her knees and shins biting into the iron of the bath's floor.
'You're going to pretend your flatmate loves baths?' Ruby's eyes narrowed on the naked man propped against the bath's end and lightly shook her head. 'You know what Sherlock? You–' She poked his submerged chest 'are a ridiculous man.'
'You possess a worryingly poor judgement of character if you've only realised that now.' Sherlock replied.
'You love taking baths –why is that such a hard thing to admit?'
'Oh for God's sake, if I loved taking baths so much, then why did I choose to shower this morning?'
The water slopped against the sides of the bath as Ruby pulled away from Sherlock's loose grip. Rivulets of water raced down the curve of her spine as she turned, her back bumping against the hard taps. Red hair was plastered to soaked skin. The water crept up her stomach and re-submerged her breasts as she settled, her back ramrod straight to avoid the tap's silver spout. The caps of Ruby's knees peeked out from beneath the bubbles. Leaning forwards, she stacked her arms on top of her knees, smiling at the man occupying the opposing end of the tub. 'I can think of two explanations, each equally probable.' She said.
'You know, your debating style is quite rigid. I'd advise some flexibility to improve your chances against such an impressive foe.'
'Explanation number one!' Ruby loudly announced, waving a soapy index finger through the air. 'You wanted a shower this morning to hide your skills at drawing a bath.'
A frown creased Sherlock's forehead. 'Any moron can draw a bath, it's hardly rocket science.'
Ruby snorted. 'Nope. '
'Have literacy rates plummeted? How else would the entirety of this fine nation fail to read the instructions on the back of the box?'
'Because Sherlock, no-one bothers to read them. It's called being lazy. You know –' Ruby shrugged 'That thing you do when you ask people to open windows or fetch you a pen when you have perfectly working limbs.'
Sherlock pursed his lips and he glanced at the shower curtain. 'I wanted a shower this morning because it's how I usually practise good hygiene –'
'Explanation two!' Ruby loudly interrupted, waggling two fingers in Sherlock's direction. 'You planned to have the shower with me, correct?'
Sherlock nodded. 'Correct.'
'I would argue that was because you wanted to experiment with what your research would identify as shower sex.'
'Ruby, don't be obtuse. If I wanted to seduce you, it wouldn't make any difference if the faucet was on or if we were stewing in a vat of water.'
Blood throbbed above Ruby's right eyebrow, a light protest against his outrageous arrogance. 'Sex in a tub of water is awfully uncomfortable.'
Sherlock's cheeks hollowed, producing an oddly starved appearance. 'Oh, I'm more than aware of that piece of information. I would propose a simple solution.'
Ruby's blood pressure hitched from the dip in Sherlock's tone. 'And what solution might that be?' She asked, failing to ignore the erratic beat of her fickle heart.
Sherlock brushed the damp hair from his eyes. Hands emerged from the soapy bath and gripped the cool edges of the tub. The knuckles slowly whitened, the bone straining against the flimsy skin as hunger hollowed his features.
The intense eye contact was interrupted by a shrieking wail. It reverberated around the small bathroom, the screech bouncing off damp tiles.
Ruby rushed to her knees; ignoring the mini tsunami she sent Sherlock's way. Scrabbling along the sink, her slippery fingers clutched her phone and she sat with a gentle thud on the bath's floor.
'Dispatch?' Sherlock asked, the bubbles creeping up his chest as he leant forwards, all thoughts of exotic solutions extinguished.
'Yep – Hey!' Sherlock's hand shot forwards and snatched the phone from her grasp. 'Give that back!' Ruby snapped. Sherlock opened her phone, entered her password and rapidly read the text. 'Oi! How long have you known my password?'
'Awhile. It was hardly taxing to crack it.' Sherlock didn't bother to look ashamed as his eyes dashed across the phone's screen.
'Sherlock, that's bloody inappropriate!' Ruby snarled. Reaching forwards, her fingers gripped the phone, blocking his view of the screen. For a moment, they battled over the contraption, each attempting to wrestle it from the other's grasp. Soapy fingers slid over the slick mobile until it wriggled free.
With sickening swiftness, it plummeted into the foamy water.
There was no clank as the mobile disappeared into the iron bath. Only a slight depression in the bubbles hinted at the vanished phone. Hovering hands gently touched as the moment of silence spiralled, coiling tighter and tighter until the hands retreated and slipped beneath the water's surface.
Slowly, Ruby and Sherlock looked up.
'Sherlock . . .'
'It might not be if you –'
'I felt it vibrate twice against my leg. It's definitely dead.'
Ruby's hand emerged from the bath and her palm faced the ceiling. A few scrabbling seconds passed before Sherlock placed the drenched contraption in her hand. The power button was pressed but no spark of life pulsed through the phone.
'What did it say?' She asked, staring at the blank screen of the phone.
'Something about a murder.'
Ruby gazed at him, livid. 'What do you mean something about a murder? Is it a fresh crime scene? A development in an ongoing investigation –'
'I don't know –'
'You don't know? How can you not know?!'
'You grabbed the phone before I finished reading.'
An ear-splitting silence battered the bathroom. It sank into the tiles, burst unsuspecting bubbles and dripped down exposed flesh.
'Let's just be grateful we didn't get shocked.' Ruby said.
Sherlock snorted. 'Don't be stupid. Suspended in a large volume of liquid, the phone short-circuited before it had the chance to electrocute us.' His hands gripped the sides of the bath and he hoisted himself upwards. Water roared down his body and loudly collided with the soapy surface, destroying hundreds of bubbles in one deadly sweep. Sherlock swung his legs over the bath's edge and snagged a towel from a nearby peg. Nonplussed at his nakedness, he roughly towel-dried his hair, the rapid movement drawing Ruby's attention south.
Sherlock caught her staring and a sly smile tugged at his mouth. 'Ruby, stop gawking.'
'I wasn't –' Sherlock's eyebrows shot upwards. As if on cue, a blush flooded Ruby's cheeks. 'Shut up.' She retorted, folding her arms and staring at the far wall. Seething in a gloriously scented bath was an unnatural clash which set Ruby's teeth on edge. Her fingers gripped the moist skin of her ribcage and she continued to stare at the tiles.
'We need to find out about this new body.' Sherlock muttered, interrupting Ruby's inner conflict. 'Oh I hope it's a new murderer; I haven't had one of those in a while.' Ruby's head turned as the "we" turned to "I", watching as Sherlock's gaze turned glassy; his mind hurtling through different realms of thought. 'But I'll have to get there before the morons muck it up – the combined stupidity of Donovan and Anderson could singlehandedly derail the entire investigation!'
Ruby was struck by how manic Sherlock appeared. A glittering grin was complimented by his towel-dried hair which now stood on end. The enthusiastic dishevelment had been triggered by a murder – the ultimate motivation to abandon your naked lover.
The grey cotton whispered around his waist before he extended a hand in her direction. For a long moment, Ruby stared at the wrinkles which puckered his fingertips, amazed she hadn't been tossed aside and labelled a distraction. She took his hand and grimaced when he tugged her from the bath. As her feet flinched against the cold tiles, she was assaulted with a large blanket of a towel.
Ruby tore at the cotton until it no longer covered her head. 'Sherlock –'
'Do hurry up – I'm going to lose my mind if I don't get on this case.'
'No Ruby!' He gesticulated wildly. 'These pointless interruptions will only aid in the culprit's escape.' Sherlock dashed into his bedroom, leaving a trail of droplets in his wake. He flung open the doors of his wardrobe and immediately rifled through its contents, tossing reams of silk, cotton and polyester onto the floor. After wrapping the toga-length towel around her body, Ruby followed him. She ignored his wild antics and wandered over to his nightstand, sweeping her dripping hair over her right shoulder as she went. She placed her now useless mobile beside Sherlock's sleek phone, where a tiny light the size of a half grain of rice silently flashed. Ruby swiped her thumb across the phone and quickly glanced through the message Lestrade had forwarded.
'Not now Ruby, I need to find a shirt that imbues the essence of my intimidating personality to avoid questions which will only further slow the investigation. Find a shirt then find a taxi then find where the body's at–'
'It's in Christchurch Gardens.'
Sherlock stalled in his wardrobe's assault – a horrid mustard yellow scarf clutched in his hands. He quickly turned on the spot, his eyebrows furrowed.
'How did you –' His voice died when Ruby waved his phone. 'Oh.'
'He didn't say much. But the fact it's in Christchurch Gardens is seriously worrying.'
'Why's that?' Sherlock asked, abandoning the hideous scarf and finally deciding on a shirt. The crimson cotton slid over his head and gripped his lean frame tightly.
Ruby picked up her ruined blouse from the floor, holding the tattered remains at arms-length. 'See? This is why I didn't want you ripping my shirt off.' She scowled at the tattered garment before dropping it on the floor. 'Got anything for me to borrow?' She asked.
Sherlock's lips lifted and his eyebrows rose. 'Personally, I think that towel suits you rather well.'
Ruby folded her arms. 'Sherlock, if you want me to tell you the significance of Christchurch Gardens, get me something to wear. Now.'
Without another word, Sherlock spun on his heel and resumed ransacking his wardrobe. Ruby retrieved her jeans which had somehow wriggled beneath the bed and pulled them on, trying to ignore how she wasn't wearing any underwear (she'd inspected them earlier and concluded that they deserved to be incinerated and never worn again). With her back to Sherlock, she finished drying her shoulders before dropping the towel and tying the catch of her bra behind her back. A small triumph manifested when she hooked the bra on the first attempt.
She flinched when she felt a warm hand gently cup the small of her back. She hadn't felt or heard him sneak up on her.
'Here.' Sherlock murmured, pressing something thick and heavy into her hands.
She glanced down at the woolly jumper and was instantly grounded. 'Is this John's?' She asked, holding up the jumper for inspection. It was thick, navy wool but had no hideous patterns stitched into the fabric.
'Nope. That came from a rather challenging investigation concerning a dead goose and a rather precious jewel.'
'Of course it did.' Ruby sighed and pulled her bra straps up the slopes of her shoulders. The right one protested against her slightly damp skin and sharply twisted. Before Ruby could straighten it, long fingers gently untangled the strap. Sherlock's hand lingered on her right shoulder, the warmth from his fingers seeping into her cool flesh, inspiring powerful memories from the past morning and night.
Turning on the spot, Ruby leant up on her toes and pressed a gentle, chaste kiss against Sherlock's mouth. His pillow-soft lips parted slightly and his eyes widened at the sudden embrace. Gradually, Sherlock's eyes fluttered shut and his hands clutched at the intimate curve of Ruby's spine, drawing her body closer to his. The room was still for a precious moment as Ruby leant into him, the swell of her breasts brushing the stiff cotton of his shirt.
Slowly, her heels returned to the worn floorboards but to her surprise, Sherlock's neck curled so his mouth could follow. The plump flesh of his sharp Cupid's bow encased her mouth and Ruby smiled at the familiar technique.
'Sherlock.' Ruby said against his mouth, his name vibrating across his lips.
'What?' He demanded; his hands splayed dangerously close to the clasp of her bra.
Ruby gaped at Sherlock, stunned. 'Um . . . murder?'
Sherlock's eyes snapped open and as if her skin had burned him, his hands abandoned her. 'Right. Christchurch Gardens. Explain the significance of the location to me in the cab.'
With enviable efficiency, Sherlock tucked his shirt into a pair of trousers, pulled on two mismatching socks and laced up his shoes. He strode out of the bedroom, throwing on his suit jacket with one elegant sweep.
Ruby grappled with her damp hair and after a few seconds of struggle, threw it into a messy ponytail. The thick wool of the borrowed jumper itched against her naked skin, but she ignored the discomfort, hunting around Sherlock's bedroom for her shoes. She quickly realised they'd been kicked off at some ungodly hour in the living room. Hurtling down the corridor towards the kitchen (she didn't put it past Sherlock to leave without her), she sprang into the living room and discovered her pumps peeking out from under Sherlock's armchair. Dashing down the stairs, she caught sight of Sherlock disappearing out the front door, his Belstaff coat securely fastened around his body. Ruby slipped out the door before it closed after him and stood panting outside 221 Baker Street, her breath misting in the crisp morning air.
Miraculously, a cab trundled to a halt mere inches from Sherlock's raised arm. As they clambered inside the cosy interior, Ruby wondered if Sherlock had paid the local cabbies to circle through Baker Street at unlikely times.
They settled into their seats. As the cab pulled away from the pavement, neither noticed the unusual closeness of their bodies, their legs and arms lightly touching on a seat which allowed for complete isolation.
Sherlock turned towards her, his expression sharp. 'Now Ruby, tell me the significance of Christchurch Gardens.'
The taxi skirted around a corner and Ruby gripped Sherlock's arm to avoid slipping away. 'If you know London as well as you claim; you know which important building is near that particular park.'
Sherlock's eyes dashed around their sockets before his frame stiffened.
'Exactly.' Ruby replied.
The cab door hadn't properly shut before Sherlock was off, striding towards the crime scene which glittered with police tape. Ruby watched him go, his coat flaring behind him.
She glanced down the street, her eyes alighting on the famous revolving sign which marked Scotland Yard (though it was mostly used as a landmark by the press). Her gaze returned to the tiny park and her sigh coiled in a long plume of mist. The proximity of the body to Scotland Yard couldn't mean anything good.
Hunched in the ill-fitting sweater, Ruby nodded at the uniformed PC and ducked under the blue and white tape. The scene was crawling with police officers and forensic analysts and Sherlock's head-start had already earned him an argument with Anderson. Shaking her head, Ruby gave the rowing couple a wide berth and spotted Lestrade, his eyes twitching over a cup of steaming coffee. She strode towards him, her breath billowing in great clouds ahead of her and the frosty grass crunching beneath her feet.
'Alright Smith? You look a little tired.' Lestrade said, swallowing an impressive gulp of the Yard's finest Joe.
'I'm pretty good, just had a late night.' Ruby had to wrestle with the monstrous grin which threatened to cleave her face in two. Luckily, she managed to school her features and shrugged instead. 'What do we have?' She asked, her gaze drawn to the body strewn on the grass.
'The usual. An unidentified stiff. Asian, male, snappy dresser – That's about it.'
'No wallet? Organ donor card? Phone?' Ruby asked, trying to ignore how her fingers felt like icicles in the shallow pockets of her jeans.
Lestrade shook his head. 'Nope, he's clean. Anderson said he died from asphyxiation about eight hours ago –'
'But he wasn't murdered here.' Sherlock loudly interrupted, striding towards Lestrade with a fuming Anderson in his wake. Again the urge to grin reared its magnificent head and Ruby had to snuff it with a hobnailed boot. 'It's sloppy, obviously the work of an amateur.' He bent over the body and slid open his magnifying glass, his fingers deftly manipulating the contraption.
Ruby's gaze fled from Sherlock's long fingers, a hot blush smearing her cheeks.
'The murderer had small hands.' Sherlock muttered to himself, scanning the bruising around the victim's neck before scooting further down the corpse, his eyes flashing over the expensive suit. Gloved hands rolled back the right sleeve of the man's jacket and shirt. Branded on the forearm was a tattoo – some form of kanji.
'I'll get someone from linguistics to have a look at that.' Lestrade muttered; his forehead deeply wrinkled as he stared at the unfamiliar language.
Sherlock sprang to his feet and furiously began typing on his phone. 'That won't be necessary Graham; the Japanese kanji allude to membership in a particular gang of smugglers.'
'It's Greg you pillock.'
'Yes.' Sherlock replied absentmindedly, his eyes flashing over his phone.
'Face it gov, if you're not an unidentified stiff, the freak ain't bothered.' Donovan said as she joined their group, her frizzy hair neatly tucked under a bobble hat.
'Finished taking statements?' Lestrade asked; his voice slightly louder than usual.
'Yep, just finished with the guy who found the body. He was out for his morning jog and has a rock-solid alibi for last night.'
'Is he our only witness?' Ruby asked.
'So far.' Donovan replied.
Lestrade grimaced and finished his coffee. 'Bollocks.'
Anderson perked up. 'It's a messy disposal, so further testing should provide –'
'You need to arrest Miss Costello before she boards her flight to Cuba.' Sherlock loudly interrupted.
Lestrade's eyebrows rose, gifting him the visage of a lost puppy. 'Who the bloody hell is Miss Costello?'
Sherlock jerked a thumb at the well-dressed corpse, his gaze still glued to his phone. 'His housekeeper.'
'How could you possibly know the identity of his housekeeper when we don't even know the identity of the body?' Anderson sneered.
Sherlock glanced around at the disbelieving faces, his lip twitching slightly as he relished the opportunity to show off.
'Not many people know how to gain access to a group of smugglers, especially the Japanese. Luckily for you, someone important owes me a favour. Now, if you'll look here at the tattoo –' Sherlock gestured to the corpse's arm '– you'll see that it's a simple kanji which means "barrel". Such a container was used for smuggling when ships were the most common form of transport. My contact owed me a favour, and he's just informed me of a lieutenant's absence, a half Japanese/British citizen called Makoto Kent who belonged to this particular troupe.'
'So . . . this was a hit?' Lestrade asked.
'No don't be stupid. I'm assured Mr Kent was an esteemed and hard-working member. This, Detective Inspector was a crime of passion. You can tell from the size of the hands used to do the asphyxiating. Balance of probability, female.'
'Just because the murderer was female doesn't mean she wasn't ordered to kill him.' Donovan interjected. Ruby nodded and when Sherlock glanced at her, she raised her eyebrows.
'Agreed. But tell me this; why strangling? It's such a personal kill, you have to stare right at the victim as the light leaves their eyes . . . An assassination is more easily handled with a gun. Short version: Mr Kent conducted an affair with his much younger housekeeper and promised her that he'd leave his wife. But as can be seen from the prime condition of his wedding band and the expensive cuffs she gifted him, he still loved his wife and had no intention of leaving her. Distressed by this news, Miss Costello confronted him and in a blistering rage, strangled and killed him.'
'But how do you know about this Miss Costello to begin with?' Lestrade asked.
'My contact.' Sherlock replied, his impatient words steaming through the crisp air.
'And did this source also tell you about the affair?'
'No, the body told me that. Look at him!' Sherlock gestured at the corpse. 'Clear symptoms of a man conducting an affair. They're so obvious even you lot should be able to see them.'
Lestrade loudly cleared his throat and shifted his weight to his right hip. 'Well, let's just say that this Miss Costello did strangle Mr Kent – that would make her a pretty strong woman.'
'Wrong again. Mr Kent's suit has shoulder pads, an allusion to upper body strength and he's below average height and weight. Overpowering him wouldn't have required anything superfluous – but Miss Costello was careful and opted to inject him with a tranquiliser, you can see the tiny puncture mark on his neck.'
'But this Miss Costello, how d'you know she's connected to this murder at all? You can't trust your source so implicitly, especially without physical evidence.' Ruby argued, smiling slightly as Sherlock readied his defence.
Sherlock flicked through three different tabs before turning his phone and displaying it for his small audience. 'Would you not classify the actions of a woman putting her house up for sale, emptying her savings account and booking a one way ticket to Cuba as guilty? Because I certainly would.'
Silence roared around the small group gathered around the corpse and Ruby willed her slack jaw shut. Ever since she'd met him, she'd always known that Sherlock was brilliant, but this . . .
This was inspired.
Damn, I tapped that last night. Hang on . . . I tapped that this morning.
Ruby felt her cheeks bunch and it was all she could do to supress a giggle.
'There's no way you could have figured all of that out in the space of five minutes!' Anderson whined, folding his arms.
'The internet is a wonderful tool Anderson.' Sherlock replied, casually tossing his phone into the air and catching it. 'Perhaps in the future, you'll harness a sliver of its potential – after a few senior-support classes of course.'
Instead of countering, Anderson settled for looking as if he'd swallowed a lemon.
Lestrade loudly cleared his throat. 'Er, Sherlock . . .?'
'What?' Sherlock snapped; his eyebrows furrowing as he stared at Lestrade.
'Well, you're normally good but even by your standards you have to admit that this was a little bit –' Lestrade shrugged 'I dunno . . . there's something a bit different. You've entered some sort of hyper speed.'
Ruby had to bite on the side of her cheek to smother her rising laughter.
'I haven't the faintest idea of what you're blathering about.' Sherlock replied, though his mouth slightly curved. 'Are you questioning the reliability of my conclusions due to a marginal increase in efficiency?'
'Heathrow airport, terminal four. I'd ask Miss Costello a few questions before she leaves the country. The physical evidence will back me, but not before her flight leaves.'
Lestrade slowly licked his lips before stiffly nodding. 'Right, I'll send a unit to pick her up. You better be right about this Sherlock.'
Sherlock stepped over the body and paused in front of Lestrade. 'Has my intellect ever disappointed you?' Lestrade chewed his lower lip and shook his head. 'Then I suggest you make the call.'
A heavy sigh steamed from Lestrade's mouth and he turned on the spot before striding away, fumbling for his phone with gloved hands. Anderson tightened the zipper of his plastic overalls and followed an irritated Donovan to a different corner of the crime scene. They were quickly replaced by an analyst with an oversized camera.
'You look a little flushed.' Sherlock commented, his voice lowered as the camera continued to flash.
'It's cold.' Ruby replied, hunching further into the itchy confines of her borrowed jumper.
'That doesn't explain your pupil dilation.'
'Oh that.' Ruby waited for the cameraman to finish up with the corpse and retreat from earshot. 'I imagine my pupils are dilated because I'm remembering what you were doing with your hands last night . . . and I'm wondering if I can persuade you to repeat that performance. You see, it's a true struggle because I don't want to tarnish the crime scene either.'
She glanced at Sherlock, smiling at the bewilderment which glued his brows together. Slowly, his expression thawed and a deep breath billowed from his nostrils.
'I had no idea you were so easily aroused.'
'It's not my fault that you suggestively hold your microscope.'
Sherlock blinked rapidly. 'I don't hold it suggestively –'
'And you'll have to be more careful when you're showing off.' Ruby teased, resisting the urge to run her hand along his shoulder. 'It's a miracle I haven't ripped your clothes off since we arrived.'
Sherlock's exasperation pillowed against the cold air. 'Behave.' He said, running a hand absently through his hair.
Her smile faded and she could feel the glowing admiration further colour her cheeks. It was strange for such an emotion to be untainted by jealousy.
'Jesting aside . . . Sherlock, that deduction was awe-inspiring.' Ruby shook her head slightly and wondered if her cheeks were steaming. 'I don't think I'll ever get used to you – or your brain.'
Ruby glanced away from her feet to find Sherlock staring at her, his lips slightly parted. He opened his mouth, but on the brink of speech he rapidly snapped it shut – Ruby could hear his teeth clank together.
'Hang on, hold that thought. We've got someone who's watched too much CSI near the crime scene.' Ruby muttered, spotting a shifty figure prowling the taped perimeter. Straightening her shoulders and doing her best to stop her teeth from chattering, she headed towards the suspicious person, leaving a bewildered Sherlock in her wake. 'Excuse me?' Ruby called, her voice halting the hooded figure. 'This is an active crime scene, you have to leave immediately.'
The woman lowered her hood, revealing long, black hair and heavily made-up eyes. A silver ring looped through her left nostril and a dark plum stained her lips. 'Did you not here me?' Ruby stopped just short of the tape which separated them.
'No constable I . . . I heard you perfectly.' The woman quietly replied; her hair falling forwards and obscuring her left eye.
'That's detective to you. And if you're looking for a quote, you'll just have to wait for Scotland Yard's statement like everyone else.'
The woman didn't try to move, preferring to stare at Ruby with wide, unblinking eyes. Ruby frowned; the woman's gaze was setting her teeth on edge.
Before she could say anything else, Sherlock appeared beside her.
'Everything alright?' Ruby asked, turning her attention away from the mysterious woman to Sherlock's ramrod straight figure.
Sherlock stared at the woman, his nostrils flared. 'Leave this crime scene before I call you a police escort.' He snarled, the visceral reply deepening Ruby's frown.
The woman shook her head, her plum lips parting to reveal two rows of crooked teeth. 'An escort won't be necessary . . . I merely wanted to see what all the fuss was about.' Her steady gaze didn't flick to the organised carnage behind them. It remained rooted to Ruby's face.
'You've had your fill of rubbernecking. Now clear off and stop wasting our time.' Sherlock's words steamed from his mouth, clouding the air with irritation.
'As you wish.' The crooked teeth disappeared, sealed behind plump lips like tiny prisoners in a cellblock. Smokey eyelids dipped and severed the unsavoury eye contact. A moment later, the woman was strolling in the opposite direction, pulling her hood over her black hair as she went. Together, Sherlock and Ruby watched her figure meander along the freezing road before vanishing down a side street.
Muscles which Ruby hadn't realised were tensed, slowly unfurled. Ruby was quick to notice that she wasn't alone in experiencing this odd sense of relief – Sherlock's shoulders had slouched and his wrinkled forehead was now smooth.
'That was weird.' Ruby remarked, shoving her hands deeper into her pockets. 'Then again, people always act a bit strange around crime scenes.' Ruby watched Sherlock, his narrowed gaze focused on the alleyway where the woman had vanished. 'Do you know her?'
'What?' Sherlock snapped.
'Well, you're not so sharp to people you've only met.'
'Don't be absurd, she was nothing more than a distraction from the case – and you know how little patience I have with those.'
Without elaborating further, Sherlock marched away from Ruby, his feet eagerly crunching the frosted grass. After finding a secluded corner next to a warped statue, he took out his phone and called one of the few people listed in his contacts.
'What have you done now?' A languid voice asked after two rings.
'Mycroft. You need to update Ruby Smith's surveillance to level four.'
'Level four? And why should I give the order for such an outlandish precaution?'
Sherlock stared at the alleyway the woman had disappeared down and pursed his lips. 'Because I'm standing at a crime scene and Diane Smith passed by, playing the role of curious bystander. She also exchanged pleasantries with Ruby who, need I remind you, is still under the impression that her sister threw herself under a bus.'
A long pause met his words.
'Did she recognise Diane?'
'I'll send some of my people to scope out the area.'
'You know it's too late for that.'
'Why the rush, Sherlock? You sound awfully flustered.'
'Perhaps you've forgotten that Diane Smith is the key to closing this investigation!'
Mycroft chuckled, the sound inspiring a snarl to maul Sherlock's features. 'Careful Sherlock, don't forget what I told you about this caring lark.'
'Just get it done.' Sherlock spat before jamming his thumb against his phone and shoving it into his pocket.
Sherlock closed his eyes and took two long, deep breaths. There was no need to navigate the complex labyrinth of his mind palace; he knew exactly what he needed to do next. Reaching for his phone, he quickly called another of his sparse contacts.
'Hey Sherlock. Is everything alright?'
'I need you to drop whatever it is you're doing and come to Baker Street.' Sherlock's gaze lingered on Ruby, her attention focused on the body which was being zipped into a black bag.
'Bloody hell, is it serious?'
Ruby's head lifted from the hidden body and her eyes locked with Sherlock's. An innocent smile plucked at her lips and exposed her teeth.
'Tremendously.' Sherlock replied.
Hello! I'm overwhelmed by the response to the last chapter, thank you for your kind words and the avalanche of favourites and follows! However, the site did go down for over twenty-four hours after I initially posted the chapter (that wasn't stressful AT ALL) so if you wanted to leave a comment but found your way blocked, I would be overjoyed to hear what you think. Also, I'm a lot more comfortable with writing that sort of material now that I have some experience . . . would my lovely readers be interested in a similar sort of chapter in the future? It would encompass a different emotional development of Ruby and Sherlock's relationship.
Anyway, onto the current chapter. Diane and Ruby reunited! Say whaaaaat? I'm very cruel, I know. I hope you enjoyed it and apologies for the delay, turns out I lost some of my sanity during January while writing the previous chapter and it took most of February to find it so I could write "normal" chapters again.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!