Sherlyn knows it's a very bad idea to use again, but as she has weighed out the benefits and detriments too many times to count, she dismisses the arguments against as irrelevant. In any case, they're far less important than the object at hand.
Sherlyn will use, and then she will climb back up out of it again. It's what she does.
Or at least it's what she used to do, before Baker Street. And it's what she's done since John has been gone, since she's lived here alone.
Sherlyn ignores the frission of foreboding she feels, tells herself that she needs fresh ideas, a new lead. A new perspective. There's something bothering her, a niggling of an idea she should have noticed already, and she doesn't know what it is. It's infuriating. In the last nine months she's trod the same paths, spoken to the same people, stared at the same (paltry) pieces of evidence so many times, so often that her eyes might cross from a strange mixture of boredom and frustration that makes her want to tear her hair out by the roots and scream.
And still, she has nothing to show for her efforts. The alley from which John had been taken—for surely he was taken, or at the very least violently coerced—revealed only blood—type O negative, the universal donor, somewhat unusual, and John's type exactly—and scraped tissue samples.
The tissue DNA matched that on file from his military service. Conclusive.
The tissue is also what leads the Yard to believe that John was killed, or perhaps abducted and then murdered in a more convenient location, somewhere the perpetrators would perhaps have a bit more leisure.
Sherlyn frowns and shifts uncomfortably. Shoves aside that thought, as usual. Continues reviewing the evidence.
Of course, there's not much more to go over. That's where it ended, where the investigation stalled. John wasn't police, after all, however much the Yard liked him. It bothered them, yes, and they all had their various theories, but that's all they were. Theories.
And Sherlyn, normally so quick to pick up the threads that everyone else has missed, so eerily perceptive that people would rather believe she is psychic than that she can see what they miss—she found herself stymied.
Blood and tissue and a dead end.
If that were all, Sherlyn might have moved on, agreed that John was very likely murdered. She would have tried to find his murderer, yes, but she would have carried on. Taken cases from the Yard, the odd errand from Mycroft.
However. That is not all.
There is the small, unexplainable matter of John's ID tags. Namely, that one of his military ID tags—not two, but one, and hidden—was found on the scene. And this … this is the thing that Sherlyn finds maddening. The thing that no one else can—or in Mycroft's case, will—understand.
Namely, that John didn't normally wear them.
Aside from the fact that she just notices things no one else does, Sherlyn knows that, on the particular day that John went out and never returned, the day on which they had their fight about nothing because she didn't want him to leave (her mind skims over the sentiment attached, it's irrelevant here in any case) John was, quite distinctively wearing a t-shirt with no chain underneath.
No necklace. No ID tags.
No dog tags, and yet later his tags were found in the alley. Logically, it follows that there are two possibilities: either the kidnapper(s) retrieved them beforehand (broke into the flat, stole them), or, alternatively, that John put them on just before he went out. The likelihood of it being John is, everyone agrees, far higher.
It begs the question: Why would John take them? Why would an ex-soldier take ID tags with him? Obvious: John knew he was walking into a high risk situation, wanted a means pf identification.
There's an interesting thing about military ID tags. Soldiers never let both of their tags leave them. In fact, they're often superstitious to the point of paranoia about both tags being taken from them, to the point that they will wear one tag on the chain, and the other in their boot. This way, if one goes missing, or one tag is damaged, the soldier can still be identified.
John, Sherlyn knows, followed this practice in Afghanistan: one tag around his neck, the other inside his boot, wedged firmly between his sock and the tightly-laced leather.
And that is interesting, because the tag found at the scene was scuffed on one side, as if from long-term exposure to leather. It was also very slightly curved, as if rom the pressure exerted between a man's calf and a stiff boot.
Therefore, Sherlyn believes, she knows, that it was John who dropped his tags in the alley. Only he would have dropped the tag he kept in his boot. His kidnappers wouldn't have known, would have grabbed the one around his neck if they left one at all.
John dropped the tag, and that one in specific, because he knows her. He knew that Sherlyn would notice. He dropped it to show from where he was taken.
The Yard believes that the criminals dropped the tag to taunt her, to show off, to say what they had done. They don't think the scuff marks and curvature on the tag are in any way significant.
But Sherlyn knows better. If the kidnappers left the tag, if for some reason she is incorrect in her conjecture about the tags and John was carrying both around his neck, why the scraped dirt over the tag, as if to keep it from drawing a kidnapper's eye? Why not display it proudly?
It's all so obvious. But it doesn't matter, since that's all she has.
Sherlyn needs something new, has needed.
John has been gone nine months, and she's tried everything. Every contact, every inkling of an idea. And nothing.
Three months ago, Sherlyn hit a wall, a wall of paper tacked in front of her, of yarn and headaches and missing connections, and of talking to herself when she would normally talk to John, a wall of emptiness, and she has not stopped hitting it since.
It's possible that's when she started decompensating.
Sherlyn places these thoughts behind her, enters the bathroom with her supplies and locks the door firmly. The tile is white and sparkling. It smells slightly of pine cleaner, thanks to a twice-weekly cleaning service that comes in and cleans, despite her protests (they also install replacement electronic devices when necessary and file reports that end up on her sibling's desk, but at least he's paying for it).
Sherlyn blinks against the bright whiteness. What happened to you, John? And why does Mycroft want you buried so badly?
Sherlyn doesn't flatter herself that her older brother is motivated by concern, or at least not solely. If it were concern, his pressure would have evolved over time and not immediately. He's denied it, of course, and until now, she had no proof, but the death certificate being expedited … She only had to make one phone call, to a clerk who owed her a favor, to find out all she needed to know.
There's something about John's disappearance that Mycroft—or his office—doesn't want her to know. But what?
She needs quiet; she needs to think creatively, and the usual processes are not working. It's enough of an excuse—not that she particularly needs one.
Now she sits in the cool white porcelain of her bathtub. On the rising tide of the rush, just before it engulfs her, there is a short, very small period of hyper-lucidity to which she clings, even as she knows it will never last. It feels like the rest of the world is encased in a bubble of glass. She is separate, able to see scenes from outside. Objective. Inviolate. It is her very favorite part.
In this case, it is useful.
She watches the memories float on the surface, just out of arm's length, moving pictures. What she is looking for is planted firmly in her brain, and what comes should reflect that desire, but what comes surprises her. It's not an image of John just before he disappeared, not the last fight they had.
It's a much earlier, happier memory. Before Moriarty, before she faked her own death. Back when John still trusted her.
Sherlyn slumps over a little further, squints her eyes in order to make the vague, underwater images more clearly.
After some experimentation, it happened that the best way to see them is on her side, her head resting on the ledge of the tub with her eyes fixed on what is, of course, a mental hallucination.
Those parameters set, she can see it all quite clearly. She can see it all, and she is pulled inside.
John is leaning against the open bathroom doorway. He looks bemused. "Is this some kind of woman thing?" The expression on his face suggests he knows otherwise.
"Hardly." Sherlyn has the mirror she uses for detail work, the one with a light bright enough to cure seasonal affective disorder. The bathroom glows.
"Nice suit," John says. "A little, erm—"
"Large?" Sherlyn says.
"Well, than your usual." He shrugs.
"It won't be." Sherlyn doesn't elaborate. John watches as carefully, she applies brown coating to one side of her face with tweezers, quickly substituting a fine brush to adhere the putty to the glue.
John coughs. "Just out of curiosity, mind, what exactly are you doing?"
Sherlyn starts on the facial hairs. The key is subtlety: Two or three black ones on her upper lip, three especially long ones to one side of her chin. A tiny white one for the mole. Perfect. "I have a date."
John shifts slightly. "Ah, well," he deadpans, "that makes perfect sense now." He coughs, hiding a smil as she applies off-colored, yellowish caps to three of her front teeth, grins in the mirror to examine that they're settled in properly. "Are you sure you're not, uh, making yourself too pretty?"
"It's a setup."
"Okay," John says slowly, "getting warmer. And I take it you don't wish to be set up?"
"By my mother." Sherlyn sponge-applies foundation in a shade that in no way resembles her actual skin tone.
"Hmm. And you don't just say no to mummy why, precisely?"
"As in …"
"As in, I'll have far less of it."
"And I have achieved full understanding." John grins "If it helps, you're, well, astonishing. I definitely would not do you."
Sherlyn gives him a scathing glance and leans over, grabbing a set of odd bike shorts that appeared to be padded in both the thigh and bottom, slips them under her too-large skirt and filling the fabric to capacity. John coughs. "Good god, are you sure you're not going overboard?"
"Yes John," Sherlyn says grimly. "I am sure. Never underestimate the power of someone thinking you're a fixer-upper."
"It sounds like you speak from experience."
John nods, slightly in awe at her transformation. "This," he says slowly, "I have to see."
Sherlyn arches an eyebrow at him. "Then come." She adds, "You'll have to keep a distance, of course. Stay at the bar."
"It's a date." John is already getting his coat. He's grinning. Sherlyn looks at him sourly.
"Yes, it is. Unfortunately."
In the tub, Sherlyn stirs. Why this memory, now? There doesn't seem to be anything relevant in it; has her brain finally betrayed her? She's swept up again before she can think of it further.
On the cab ride over, John says, "You do realize that most women try and look more attractive for a date, don't you?"
Sherlyn shrugs. "Boring."
John shakes his head, grinning again. "Only you. Male or female?"
Sherlyn glances at her flatmate, noting the tension in his shoulders, the pressure he's applying with his fingertips as he holds his knees. "Male," she says. "Mother's choice, remember?"
"So she doesn't, erm, know?" He frowns. "I thought Mycroft …"
Sherlyn looks out the window at the streetlights as they passed. A light drizzle has partially fogged up the windows. She'd taken the opportunity to wear a genuinely horrifying, bright green trench coat. It might have been stylish on an eighteen year old pole dancer. Twenty years ago. "I'm not actually a lesbian, John," she says, sighing impatiently. "I would have thought you'd have caught on to that by now."
She feels John stiffen beside her, then very deliberately relax. "But … I thought …" he frowns. "You said, when we moved in together—correct me if I am wrong here—that comment about my girlfriend's rear—"
Sherlyn snorts. "So? It was a nice arse, objectively speaking. Likely all that yoga."
"That is not the point, Sherlyn!" Now, she notes, John seems genuinely upset. He's always getting hung up on small things like that. Labels. Tiresome expectations. Sherlyn sighs in aggravation. "I just let you think that, obviously. You made assumptions,"
"Assumptions based on you ogling other women's body parts!"
"I never corrected them, that's all."
"That's all! That's all," he repeats.
"I thought you would be more comfortable living with an off-limits female, John."
John shakes his head. "No wonder my sister kept laughing at me and wouldn't say why."
Sherlyn just hums in agreement, and finally John sighs. "Well, what are you, then, if you're not a lesbian, despite, I might add, massive evidence to the contrary?"
"Christ, John," Sherlyn observes, "you seem quite worked up over this."
"Sorry, sorry. It's just … I just …" he frowns. "You caught me by surprise, that's all."
Sherlyn frowns. "Should I apologize here?"
John sighs. "No … no …" he pauses. "You're right, it doesn't matter. Why should it matter?" There's a short silence, a sigh. Then, "Yeah, actually, I think it would make me feel better."
"Sorry?" Sherlyn rolls her eyes.
"Fine." John looks away. The cab is approaching the hotel, a pricy affair with several attendants under a huge awning. "So you never answered."
"God, john, does it matter?"
"Could you please just?"
"Fine. Nothing. Everything. I …" Sherlyn trails off, shrugs. "I don't think the labels apply, okay? I don't see the relevance."
"Relevance." John swipes a hand over his face. "You don't—" He shakes his head. "You know what. It's okay. It's fine. Let's just—the cab's—let's just get out now."
"Finally." Sherlyn finds that she's equal parts amused and puzzled by John's behavior.
They walk into the hotel bar separately, and John perches at the counter, far enough away to be inconspicuous but close enough to enjoy the show. Sherlyn meets her date in character, all clumsy hands and overeager smiles. It isn't long before John's able to take the empty space opposite her.
"Well," Sherlyn says, "That's over." She signals to a waiter, orders a single malt scotch. John raises his eyebrows.
"Make it two," he says. "On second thought … bring me two of my own."
Sherlyn grins. "That painful?"
"I think you may have scarred him for life." He snorts. "Hell, I think you may have scarred me."
Sherlyn laughs, hard. "One down … the rest of my age bracket, and those much older, to go."
"Oh," John says, deadpan, "I don't know. I'll bet your family thinks you could pull off a little bit younger."
"Please, John,," she says, "don't spoil it."
"Sorry, sorry." John raises his glass. "To scaring off your posh young men."
Sherlyn clinks with him. "To be fair, he wasn't so young. Fifty, if he was a day. Divorced with a heart condition. I told him to see a cardiologist. That much sweating can't be healthy." She winkles her forehead.
"Always sexy on a date, the health critique."
Sherlyn grins slowly. "I think that one might have done it, yes."
They burst into laughter, ignoring the glares of the other patrons.
It was a nice night, so they walk home, still replaying the expression her date's face, the way her practically fled from the bar. It took a while, but she remembers that neither of them minded.
Much later, stumbling on the way to Baker Street, John says, "Look, I'm just going to think of you as bisexual, you realize."
Sherlyn considers that. "Will it mean we never have to talk about it again?"
Sherlyn stirs in the tub with glassy, unfocused eyes. The rush is coming too fast, too hard, and she knows she took too much. She's sweating. Blearily, she strips off her shirt to press her flesh against the cool surface of the bathtub. Sherlyn struggles against the euphoria that wants to sweep her away. Why this memory, in particular? She closes her eyes, goes deep into the room, the palace where she stores her most important memories, the ones she bothers to keep. How does this memory help?
The undertow of the drug is pulling her under, tugging her into other memories, of John's laughter, and of darker ones, of his anger at her. She struggles to find what she needs.
Finally, It comes. Her eyes open wide. That memory … the walk … She and John walked right by the alley on their way back to Baker Street—the very alley where John was last seen by the CCTV before—according to Mycroft—it failed. The camera covering the back of those buildings was non-functional.
She goes back over their walk in her mind. Freezes the two of them, laughing. She's jogged ahead there, done a spin in front of him, gesticulating to make some point, then she glances into the alley to her left—just there …
And that's it. There it is. The whole point.
Because from her vantage point of hyper-aware remembering, she can see it. There at the mouth of the alley, there in the dark, on the top of the building.
Not one camera, but two.
Sherlyn has walked into that alley precisely twenty-five times since John was taken, and each time, there was only one camera.
Two minus one equals someone took a camera away at some point between her memory and the point at which she entered it to investigate what happened to her partner.
Sherlyn doesn't gamble, but she does enjoy looking at the odds of various events. Ironically, it was a hobby she shared with John (who is a gambler).
The odds in this case lead Sherlyn to believe that whatever happened to John in that alley, it was recorded. And Mycroft knew. In fact, Sherlyn would almost ay money on the fact that, not only does he know, but that , in point of fact, he saw everything.