Chapter 7 – Under The Skin
Thank you all! Your reviews really made my day. The last chapter was written in a rush late into the night and I'd just wanted to share it with you all. Im so glad you liked it. Again, thank you.
My reviewers are the best people in fandom right now! You make me want to write this story every time you review. So thank you OneCutePug, WL Chastain, mervoparkite, beemoh, 11jane11 and marketeerbubbles for writing in. Many thanks for your appreciation of this story.
OneCutePug: I wanted the last chapter to be like a natural progression of Sherlock's known character. And since you liked it, I guess it turned out well. So, a bit of a get-together there just to whet your appetite because Im being wicked, but the reunion will come soon-ish. Enjoy!
WL Chastain: OMG! You did NOT just say 'Sherlock' and 'Twilight version of Edward/Bella' in the same sentence! And you said it out loud! I am mortified! *blushes bright red* But seriously, John is quite a homey kinda guy even if he does have a mean adrenaline streak. He is completely fascinated with Sherlock. He's been looking out for Sherlock for a long time. And they're in a relationship. It stands to reason then that he would be quite a bit more protective of him than usual. More especially now than before. But please! Never talk about Twilight again! *begs on knees* Though I wouldn't mind a Damon Salvatore reference. *winks*
mervoparkite: Glad you liked the previous chapter. The 'watchers' will be revealed in time. Stay tuned!
beemoh: Yes, well, revelations will have to wait for another day. But I will be building the story up till then. So keep reading!
11jane11: Thank you. I was hoping Sherlock's thought process would be jerky enough to express his helplessness and the effects of the onset of pneumonia. Guess it worked out well enough. And the watchers … well, you'll just have to wait and see. Keep reading!
marketeerbubbles: Thank you for your review. Always highly appreciated. Glad you liked the story. Keep reading and reviewing!
Note to readers: This chapter is on the edge of the knife.
And here's the next chapter up for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Waking in his own room blinking in the sunlight, John took a moment to stretch, working the kinks out of his stiff muscles, groaning as a shoulder popped. Looking around the room he noticed the lack of dust and clean clothes neatly pressed kept on the chair. Getting up, he collected a pair of pants and went into the bathroom wanting a long hot shower.
By the time he got out, he had reviewed in his head all the events of the past month, an exercise that helped him keep things in perspective. 'Not unlike Sherlock's Mind Palace,' john smirked at the thought. He started from Sherlock's near relapse and the subsequent beginning of his slow recovery, at which point John had decided to leave before the detective's sharp eyes recognized him to more recent events, before thinking back to an amusing memory. Ash, who had stayed behind to care for Sherlock, had related his conversation with the man.
'Who are you?'
Ash signed out his name.
Sherlock frowned and turned his full attention on the young man in that piercing way that made people feel like he was looking through them. Apparently deciding not to grill the man for answers he wouldn't need, he continued with, 'Why are you here?'
'To care for me while I was sick. For how long? A week.' Falling silent, Sherlock folded his hands under his chin, thinking back to the hazy memories of those days.
'Was John Watson here?'
The man responded negatively. 'You are wearing one of his jumpers,' Sherlock remarked pointedly. 'You don't have bags under your eyes, so you have been sleeping at least 8 hours a day. Which means you haven't been staying up nights looking after me. Or at least not all the time since you do look tired. And you don't have the slumped shoulders, limp collars and rumpled creases of a man who's been flying too often causing jet lag. So you can't have been travelling at all in the past week or so, and you are not the only one who has been taking care of me. It is therefore reasonable to assume that since you have recently been in contact with the doctor in the past week and you insist that you haven't gone anywhere, then John was actually here. That's a fresh jumper. It still smells like John. Whereas you do not smell clinical at all. Would you like to try again?'
Unexpectedly, Ash signalled only one name: Mycroft.
John was amazed that the detective had been distracted from his valid line of thought to believing – at least they all hoped so – that Mycroft had arranged for John's jumpers (of all things) to be flown out to Ash every other day. Still, it was the better option than the detective knowing about John's involvement. The boys had even cleared out all traces of ever having lived there for the better part of the week during Sherlock convalescence.
Since then it had been a long few weeks of keeping up the farce and John was tired of waiting about and doing nothing while his team was having fun with all the tactical prep and execution they were all good at. Trained to be a chameleon by profession, John was the most successful spec-ops leader in years and until his invalidation home had been on call for jobs almost until the very last day, barring time spent in the hospital repairing his shoulder. He didn't expect his therapist to understand him considering she wasn't cleared for information on his undercover life. Write a blog. Ha! As if a life like his could ever be talked about like that. Still, she was a useful cover and it kept up the illusion of a routine. He smirked to himself.
Getting up to make yet another cuppa, John glanced at his phone, willing it to ring. Several preparations had been made in the past few months and it would soon be time to put those plans back into play. He had another skin to wear and he needed to fill it out before he swung things back into the game.
His phone rang; not the encrypted one. It was Lestrade. He took the call.
"John. How are you?"
"I'm good, Greg. I'm good." It was a routine opening to their conversations and John was careful to keep his voice tired, weary but steady, letting the DI pick up on the cues that his body language would later supply in the pub. The man was still worried that John would become depressive and lock himself away from the world again.
"Just finished up a case, you know, those murders down on Hyde Park. Much later than he would, I guess. But better late than never, I say."
Greg was rambling. John wondered why.
"Anyway, I was wondering whether you'd like to go to the pub today? We could catch up."
"Of course, Greg. I'll come down at 7. Same table?"
"Sure. See you there."
"Thanks Greg." The line disconnected leaving John frowning at his phone in confusion. Usually Greg liked to talk about the weather and the cases he was on, drawing John into the conversation as a medical perspective. And he hadn't mentioned Sherlock even obliquely after the first month that John had rejoined society. That in itself put a red flag up. Taking out his other phone, John called a few numbers not stored in the mobile, speaking in terse short sentences to the people on the other end, queries and replies flying back and forth until John was satisfied there was no more to learn.
But there was the rest of the day to pass. Finished his cooling tea, John got off his chair and padded back into his room to get dressed. A short text to Mycroft ensured he would be 'abducted' again once he got 4 blocks away from the flat. Accordingly, he pulled on a light shirt, wore his most comfortable jumper, a loose pair of jeans and his running shoes, sliding his bomber jacket on on the way out, the front door of 221B shutting firmly behind him.
Stepping away from the door, John glanced around, casually scouring the street for watchful eyes, covering the action by smoothing down his jacket and putting up the collar in a move reminiscent of his friend. Once satisfied, he started walking towards Hyde Park. As expected, four blocks later, a familiar sleek black car slid up beside him and the rear door opened. Hanging his head with a sigh, John got it and faced Mycroft. Anthea was nowhere to be seen.
"Well, this is new."
"Indeed," replied the elder Holmes brother. John just grinned.
"And to what do I owe the pleasure of your company here rather than at your office?"
"The fact that we are not going to the office."
"That is obvious since we turned in the opposite direction about 5 minutes ago," allowed John amiably.
Mycroft remained silent, staring at John. John in turn looked out the window, the passing landscape barely registering in his mind and yet the soldier in him knew exactly where they were going. When they reached the farmhouse, John got out of the car and stretched. He heard Mycroft sliding out behind him and stepped aside. Before them, the doors of the mini-castle opened and Anthea stepped out, for once without the ever present Blackberry in hand. She shook hands with John then moved to stand beside her boss as he preceded John into the house.
Around them the grass swished in the wind, flowers bloomed lazily, birds swept by on air currents and a lone eagle hovered on the spin of a gyre. Nothing hinted at the plans being made in that quaint little house that existed in a time of its own. Stone and mortar, wood and earth heard it all, but kept their own counsel; their tongues long since resigned to an eternal silence.
Anthea accompanied John back to London in the evening, dropping him off at his preferred pub to meet Lestrade. The doctor made his way through the slowly filling bar to a corner table near the back, where they could sit and talk in relative peace. The bartender was a friend and ensured that they weren't disturbed.
At the antique grandfather clock behind the bar struck chimed 7, John saw the familiar figure of Lestrade making his way towards him. John rose to greet his friend, noting the tired, blood-shot eyes, the slight growth of a beard and the drawn, pale features. He raised his brows inquisitively at the approaching man and got an exasperated frown in return.
"Oh, do sit down John. No need to go all 'doctor' on me before I've had a pint."
"I wouldn't need to if I could see you weren't looking like you'd be better off on a holiday … or five."
"Says the man who refused to talk to anybody or even look out the bloody window for close on 5 months."
John waved a dismissive hand. "Yes, but you are not a doctor."
Gregory Lestrade gave John Watson a Look and both men broke into shared laughter just as the bartender set down their drinks on the table. John thanked him and handed him a card. Greg looked up at that. "Are we celebrating something?"
"The existence of beer."
"I'll drink to that." As one the two men raised their glasses, clinked them and drank a hearty draught.
For a while they talked of everyday matters; Greg's marriage, the latest case, Anderson's dismissal on the grounds of sexual harassment (John privately laughed at that one, wishing he could tell Sherlock about it), even the weather. But as the drinks flowed and the evening turned into night, the men gradually became quiet and waited for the other shoe to drop.
Seeing his friend's hesitation John took the plunge. "What is it, Greg? You look troubled. What has happened?"
Greg nursed his drink, looking at the stained table-top, one finger tracing the rim of the mug like a dog chasing its own tail. John finished his drink in silence, not wanting to push the other man. Finally, exhaling loudly through his mouth, Greg looked up at John, raised his drink to him in a salut and gulped it down, then setting it down with a decided thunk.
"I think I'm being followed," he said in a soft voice. John didn't pretend to not hear him.
"When did you notice?"
"Two weeks ago."
"And you didn't say anything?"
"I didn't want you to worry." The look on John's face shut him up quickly. "I'm telling you now."
Passing a hand over his face, John fought to control his expression and his breathing. Greg watched him anxiously, wondering why he would react so strongly. But then he remembered the feeling of being hounded constantly, of not sleeping nights because he was afraid of the stalker getting into his house, attacking his wife. The lack of sleep was telling in the office and Donovan had had to cover for him a few times. A throat being cleared brought him back to the present with a jerk and he found a different John looking back at him.
This was the Captain who he'd seen and learnt to recognize at various crime scenes when the detective was being difficult and had needed to be reined in. At those times, only the Captain could bring the genius to attention and make him stop. He was also often the peace-maker between several parties and Sherlock when everyone got too frustrated with John's flatmate. Amusing as it was, Captain Watson held the only line to Sherlock's attention and occasional obedience. It had come as no surprise to him when John had confided last year that the flatmates were finally a happy couple. He had congratulated John heartily, wishing him the best. No-one could have guessed what would happen only months later. With a mental shake of his head, he brought his own attention back to John.
"I'm going to ignore the compulsion to bump you upside your head for not saying anything for so long," John said in a strained voice. Greg had the grace to look sheepish. "But now, you will explain to me what exactly you saw, felt, observed since you first thought you were being followed."
Greg gulped under the heat of the glare from the Captain. It was irrational to be feeling like a 5 year old caught at stealing tarts, but there it was. Squaring his shoulders, but keeping his eyes on the table, he began.
"A month ago, Jen and I were returning from the movies. It was late, but not so late that the streets would be empty. I'd had a feeling before this, but I'd never been able to spot anyone and I had just put it down to paranoia. This job and all that running around after Sherlock on those cases; gave me a healthy appetite for paranoia." He glanced up nervously at John looking for any sign that mentioning the detective might be distressing for the doctor. Seeing none, he continued.
"I kept a watch around for any sign of anyone watching all the way back home, but it was only when we'd settled to sleep that I heard a sort of scuffling around at the back of the house. An investigation revealed nothing, but that night was the first that I decided to stay up and keep watch." Greg took a long swallow from the fresh bottle of beer the bartender delivered to their table.
"Paid off. I saw a shadow on the street from the bedroom window. He had a hoodie up, but his head was raised as if he was looking right at my window. When I got downstairs, he was gone."
"Definitely a man, then?" questioned John.
"Looked like it. Clothes were well fitted. Couldn't have been a woman."
"How many times did you see the man after that? Ever in the day time?"
"From a distance, I think so, yes. Dark hoodie, black or green, dark blue jeans, average height, or he may have been slouching, and no other details whatsoever. Either he's a hired hand or someone isn't taking any chances."
"And more recently? What happened now to make you tell me all of this?"
"I saw the man on a roof opposite the New Scotland Yard building with a telescope pointing right at my window. Never saw it there before, never saw it there again. Of course, I was in a window diagonally below and behind a curtain, so I doubt I was seen, but I have no doubt that it was the same man. By the time a search could be called together, and the place investigated, the man had disappeared without a trace."
John was a bit taken aback by this information. As far as he knew, all the snipers allocated to the three of them had been taken care of by him personally. And none of his associates had caught even a whisper of any other tails on any of them. So where then, did this one come from? He turned his attention back to Greg.
"When was this? How long ago?"
"About a week."
"Been seen since?"
"Once. Outside my house. He was lounging around and smoking when I got back home. Thankfully Jen's gone to visit with her parents and sister. Won't be back for a while."
"Hence the perfect time to tell me," mused John, already running through scenarios in his head. They would have to catch this man. And as he was proving to be clever, it would be difficult. But perhaps not.
"I'm going to call in some unorthodox help. If you happen to see an influx of homeless people around you, anywhere, anytime, don't shoo them off. Understand?"
Greg nodded in understanding. "I know Chessy. Happened to bump into a few of them when I first knew Sherlock. They're good people."
"Yes," replied John, and his voice was quiet, thoughtful. "Yes they are."
~ Scene Break ~
Sherlock's Homless Network was still up and running, obviously getting their orders from someone even though he didn't want to be found. John had met a few of them on his runs around the city with his mad flatmate. It had taken time, but he had been able to get through to a few of them, befriending them and tasking them to keep an eye on Sherlock in return for medication and healthcare when he could provide it.
Unknown to Sherlock, at least until he'd disappeared, John had rented 221C from Mrs. Hudson for his new friends, and turned the cold drafty basement into a warm and inviting refuge. The braver ones came often, and left bearing gifts of food, clothing and medicine for those who needed it. Sometimes they came to simply talk to the doctor, grateful for someone who listened to them. Chessy was one of the more regular ones. Bright, cheerful and ruddy cheeked, she would waltz into the room – as the only one John had trusted with a spare key to the apartment – and text the doctor from a prepaid mobile. She was always eager to tell him things about the city and this time, John was the one grateful to have a dedicated pair of eyes and ears around the vast city.
John was at work at the clinic when he got a text from a prepaid number. Making his excuses, and feigning a pain in his leg, he limped out and caught a cab back to Baker Street. Letting himself in, he went to the basement apartment and knocked on the door. Hearing a thump and a giggle, he stepped back and was soon greeted with a wide smile as Chessy ushered him in. Looking around, he smiled when he discovered that she had been reading 'Alice in Wonderland' while ensconced on the sofa, the book now lying on the carpet, hence the thump. A fire was burning in the grate and John settled into the high back chair, relishing the warmth. Chessy joined him, but sat on the hearth rug, facing the fire. Neither broke the silence for a while.
A hand shook his shoulder and John jolted into awareness. The lights were on, he noted immediately and there was a decided crick in his neck. Groaning, he rose from the chair and stretched, turning in the same move. Chessy was still there, although there was now supper on the table; bread and cheese and tea, by the looks of it.
"Figured you might want a bite, Doctor John." She sounded reproachful. "You haven't been sleeping well."
John wondered who the doctor was when his new friends started looking out for him. He gave the girl a small smile, "Well, might as well eat something now. Join me?"
Chessy gave a short nod and sat herself down at the small table, while John poured tea for them both. It looked like Mrs. Hudson's third best set; he'd have to thank her after this.
"So, what news, Charissa?"
"You know I don't like that name," she pouted, frowning. John smiled and passed over a cup of tea, waiting for the girl to speak.
Taking a sip, Chessy began. "Some of the younger boys have been assigned to the cop-man and the landlady. The older ones stay in the shadows, but they're keeping an eye on things. There was someone following both of them for a while. Never at the same time. Never on the same day. And never both together. We're not sure if he's alone but there's never anyone else with him. He looks like the cop-man described him, but some of them say he look taller. Like 6 feet. Anyway, all he's done so far is watch them. Doesn't even seem to carry a gun. At least not that anyone's seen. But," She paused for another sip. "Looks like you had a tail too. Twice. Both times when you were with the cop-man."
John grimaced. He hated missing things. But come to think of it, he'd never felt like he was being watched and all his cursory sweeps had never revealed anything out of place. Yet this man had been around, apparently close enough for the network to pick him up. He jerked out of his thoughts when Chessy added, "And Jenks heard of a rumor about a guy staying in those abandoned houses."
"The Nicholas Cage Mansion on Park Lane."
"Are you sure? That place is locked up tight."
Swallowing a sip of tea, the girl replied, "No, we checked it out. There's definitely someone there."
"Right, thanks Chessy," John smiled at the girl who immediately picked up her book again, then turned to his phone, texting almost immediately. Three replies beeped in one after the other, and upon reading them, John relaxed marginally.
Maybe it was time to take over from Sherlock for a bit. London had to be kept safe after all. And their own Consulting Detective was out gallivanting after criminals all the way across the world. It really wasn't fair what he had to do for Sherlock, John mused. Maybe he could talk Mycroft into giving him a salary for it now. It was worth a shot.