Chapter 7: Sunday
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It was an odd day, even by 221B standards; and it was odd in that it was utterly uneventful. Sherlock lounged on the couch, waiting, tracing patterns in the ceiling and straining his eyes to read a few case files. By lunchtime he could read as far as three feet away without too much difficulty. He’d always been a fast healer, and today especially he was grateful for that. The clock seemed to have slowed to a crawl, eleven o’clock growing further and further away rather than closer, and John wasn’t helping anything; he hadn’t said a single word since they’d left the crime scene, although since breakfast he’d periodically walked into the den, lifted a hand as if to say something, and just as suddenly walked away.
It was probably that . . . that appalling display of affection at the crime scene. He would have brushed it off, explained it away, but in all honesty it had caught him by complete surprise; it hadn’t even registered until they were halfway home, and by then John had been so impassively silent for so long he was afraid to say anything. So he shoved it into the basement of the Mind Palace, where it pulsed like a living thing, and busied himself with cases, solving two and driving himself half-mad with the other five, although he didn’t mind it at all because the madder he was the less he thought about John’s forehead against his mouth.
“Everything all right here?”
He started, snapping his head around to stare. After nearly thirty-six hours of silence he hadn’t been sure whether John was even in the flat anymore. “Depends,” he said slowly. “What time is it?”
And he had to smile, because finally, the waiting was over. “John, let’s take a walk.”
The night air was cool and damp, a fine mist clinging to the breeze. It was just cool enough to be comfortable in his long coat, and even though he could only make out headlights, neon flashes and street lamps, he was starting to feel in his element again. The easy pressure at his elbow didn’t hurt either.
“You still haven’t told me where we’re going.”
“Can’t a couple of old friends enjoy an evening stroll together?” Sherlock said easily, taking a right turn at seventy-nine paces. John followed, albeit hesitantly. The blind leading the blind. How very poetic.
“A couple of old friends who aren’t us, yeah.” He adjusted his grip so that they were pressed flush from elbow to shoulders. So much contact was unnecessary; Sherlock should have pulled away. He leaned in.
“Just a stroll, John, just an evening constitutional. You trust me, don’t you?”
John didn’t answer directly; he didn’t have to. Instead, with a dry sound that suggested he was rubbing his eyes, he mumbled, “Ah, Sherlock,” and something else, something that sounded like “can’t keep waiting.”
“Nothing.” His thumb was running lazily back and forth over Sherlock’s arm, and Sherlock noted with clinical surprise he was enjoying it. Physical touch used to repulse him, too dirty and filled with germs. After a week of almost constant contact, however, he was so accustomed to it that he felt vaguely unsettled at the thought of letting go. Perhaps the assault had wakened a childlike sense of vulnerability.
Or perhaps it was just John.
“I . . . I noticed I offended you at the crime scene,” he said hesitantly. Normally he would be loath to discuss it, but it was the only thing still bothering him.
John’s fingers twitched, but he didn’t pull away. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“Obviously it was something or it wouldn’t have upset you.” He hesitated, but reached over and laid his other hand on top of John’s. “What did I do this time?”
John sighed, a sound more fond than exasperated. “It’s just – you’re allowed to seem vulnerable every once in awhile, you know? I’m not a seeing-eye dog, I’m not a hammer in a toolbox you can take out, use and put back. I’m your friend. You’re allowed to need me every once in awhile.” Another quiet snort. “‘Not in front of the children.’ Honestly.”
“That was probably uncalled for,” he admitted, turning left at eighty-four steps. “Would it help if I said you’re hardly just a seeing-eye dog?”
“Not a seeing-eye dog. High praise from Sherlock Holmes.” His tone was unreadable, and he withdrew just enough that their shoulders stopped touching.
Sherlock tightened his grip on John’s hand, which slid slightly down his arm. “You have to know that you’re the best friend I could hope for, John, you hardly need me to tell you that anymore.” It was meant to sound as dismissive and condescending as always, but it came out embarrassingly serious. John, however, relaxed, their shoulders lining up once more.
“Well, obviously, but it’s nice to be reminded every once in awhile.” He gave his arm a squeeze, and they continued on this way for exactly one hundred and eighty-two steps, neither speaking, easy silence stretching out between them, pretending it was perfectly normal for two flatmates to walk down the street at nearly midnight practically holding hands. They’d gotten far too comfortable with each other.
“How’s your eyesight?” John asked as they turned left at two hundred and sixteen steps.
“Better,” he said honestly, squinting appraisingly at the street. “Not so well in the dark, of course, but in the daylight I can make out most objects. Not well enough to drive but legally not blind.”
“Spectacles would probably do wonders right about now, you know.”
“John,” Sherlock said with supreme dignity, “it will be a crisp, cold day in hell before you see me in spectacles.” John laughed, and his hand slid still further down Sherlock’s arm. Sherlock let it.
By the time they turned right at six hundred and thirty-three steps they were hand in hand.
He had barely time to enjoy the sensation of John’s thumb gliding over his index finger, however, when John stopped dead, looking up in horror. “Wait –” Damn. He had counted on John not recognizing the building until they were at the door. So much for a pleasant walk. “This . . . this is the crime scene.”
“Yes.” No point in lying.
He could hear the gears turning in John’s head and wondered why he found it so endearing even when it meant there would be a fight. “Oh no! No, you are not doing this, not again! You are not lying and manipulating your way back into danger barely a week after you were blinded with a baseball bat!” The fury in his voice mounted with each word, and with a curse he tried to pull his hand away and turn back. Sherlock’s reaction was instinctual; he seized it with both hands and held on for all he was worth.
“Wildlife smugglers, John,” he said rapidly, the words tripping over themselves in his haste to make him understand. “Singapore is one of the wildlife smuggling capitals of the world, and there’s good money for businessmen willing to smuggle exotic pets into the country.”
John stopped pulling. “You’ve got to be joking,” he said, although he stayed where he was.
“It wasn’t a dog, it was a primate. A macaque, most likely, based on the most common exotic pets and the size of the claw marks. Easily small enough to hide in the ventilation system but large enough to do a substantial amount of damage to a grown man, as evidenced.”
“So you’re saying he was murdered by a monkey.”
Sherlock huffed. “Have you ever been confronted by an angry macaque, John?”
The eye roll was almost audible. “So he was getting ready to sedate it, but it had already clawed its way out and attacked him when his back was turned.”
“As you so brilliantly deduced at the crime scene, yes,” he said, and sped on because the crime scene made him think of the kiss that had sprung from nowhere. “You saw him, he was a posh corporate man who thought he’d make a quick bit of cash – hardly zookeeper material. Now all that remains is for the man’s handlers to realize something has gone horribly awry and come to collect the animal. They would come at night to avoid attention, of course, and I gave them approximately two days to see the police and devise a plan, so –”
“So any minute now a bunch of angry, most likely armed animal smugglers are going to break into the flat and try to fish a monkey out of a ventilation shaft?” John’s voice was fraying at the edges. “Fucking hell, Sherlock.”
“I don’t know why you insist on getting this upset every time we run into a spot of trouble, you know, I would have thought you’d be used to it by now.”
“A little warning would still be nice, you know? Maybe a written notice if you’re feeling generous.” He began tapping at his mobile with his free hand; he seemed to have forgotten he was holding Sherlock’s with his other. “I’m phoning Lestrade, I am phoning Lestrade and telling him what you should have –” He broke off abruptly, just for a split second, but it was enough.
“They’re up there now, aren’t they?”
“No,” John said too emphatically. “Just two minutes, all right? Two minutes and Lestrade will be here.”
“Two minutes is too long, they could leave or hear the sirens, Lestrade never did understand subtlety –” He tried to bolt for the building, but John yanked him back with surprising strength.
“Sherlock, don’t make me do this,” he growled, with just the hint of a plea.
And then John lunged, wrapping his arms around him and bowling him backwards. They slammed into a lamppost, tangled together, and before Sherlock could do more than register their cheeks pressed side-by-side he was being whipped around, cold steel clapping around his wrists.
“The hell do you think you’re doing?” He yanked as hard as he could, but the cuffs held firm.
“Keeping you safe.” John stepped back, panting slightly but undeniably satisfied with himself. “Let’s see you break your neck down the stairs now.”
For a full thirty seconds, Sherlock Holmes was actually speechless. “I . . . h-how long have you been carrying these around?”
“You really do think I’m an idiot, don’t you? ‘Let’s take a walk.’ Honestly.”
Gritting his teeth, Sherlock hauled back, throwing his entire weight and then some into his arm. Pain lanced around his wrists, but the cuffs didn’t so much as groan. He’d spent good money on these cuffs. “John, there are people around.” John’s sense of social decorum had always been greater than his; maybe the thought of someone seeing the world’s greatest consulting detective handcuffed to a pole would stir some sympathy.
No such luck. “Well, none of them have the keys, so I really can’t be arsed. Now I’m phoning Lestrade and you’re going to stand there and keep quiet, you understand? Keep on like that and you’ll cut yourself.” Even through the exasperation the smugness was palpable, making Sherlock seethe with humiliation. “Hey, Greg, long story short the killer’s a monkey and its owners are at the crime scene right now, so we’d appreciate it if you hurried. Yeah, monkey, like Wizard of Oz without the wings. Great.” The mobile beeped off, and John let out a sigh of satisfaction. “Now we wait. Like normal people.”
“Normal people do not cuff their friends to lampposts,” Sherlock muttered blackly.
“Normal people don’t take evening constitutionals to crime scenes,” John retorted, and seemed about to say more when he cut off, and Sherlock realised that in the light of the lamppost John was only barely blurry, his head snapped around to stare at the window of the flat.
“They’re leaving, aren’t they?”
“I think they might have spotted us – one came to the window and pointed.”
“If we lose them we’ll never find them again, them or that monkey,” Sherlock said urgently, yanking again at the cuffs. The steel bit deep and held. “John, you’ve got to let me –”
“Not a chance,” John said, pulling his gun from the back of his jacket. The air froze in Sherlock’s lungs.
“You are not going up there without me!”
“You said it yourself, this is our one shot and I’m not watching you break your neck on a staircase. Lestrade will be here in two, I’ll be right back.” And to Sherlock’s horror, he took off.
“My eyesight is fine it’s fine John you’re not going without me JOHN!” Blood was running down his wrists and he didn’t care because John was gone, disappeared toward the building without backup or Sherlock or even a plan. He swore, flapping his hands wildly and swearing even more loudly at the wave of pain the motion caused. John was going to get himself killed. After everything, after all the times he’d been there to pick Sherlock up off the ground, he was going to get himself killed and Sherlock couldn’t do a damn thing because John handcuffed him to a lamppost.
Handcuffs. Wait a minute.
Forcing himself to calm down, he took a deep, centring breath and hoisted his hip up toward his hands, bringing his coat pocket into reach. He’d planned for this. Well, not exactly this – not being brutally betrayed by his best friend out of sheer pig-headedness – but he’d planned for being handcuffed, at any rate, and with any luck his failsafe was still in place.
And it was. Nestled in the lining of his jacket pocket was a single hairpin. Which should more than suffice, but Sherlock couldn’t help but groan. A hairpin. His failsafe was a hairpin.
He twisted the cuffs, glancing up at the window. Flashes of movement, but nothing concrete. No shouts or gunshots, at least, but every passing second made that all the more likely. His mind racing with something like prayers, he hunched over, fumbling with his hands until the hairpin was close enough to his mouth that he could prise it apart with his teeth. Two more swift bites and it was in shape, bent to the same minute S form as the key. And now the difficult part.
True, his vision was better than it had been in the last week, but jamming a thin strip of metal into a pinprick of a keyhole with bound hands was no picnic with perfect eyesight. Contorting his wrist a bit further than was natural, he scrabbled around, willing himself with all his might not to drop the pin.
Muffled shouting from the flat. Sherlock’s blood ran cold with it, a roaring filling his ears. Clamping down on the instinct to howl John’s name until he came back to him, he redoubled his effort, frantically scratching the pin back and forth until it snagged, just a bit. Finally, the hole. Twisting his wrist yet farther, setting his teeth against the fine lines of pain threading all the way to his elbow, he jammed in the pin and turned as sirens filled his ears.
A single gunshot burst in the flat.
Sherlock’s fingers slipped, numb; by some miracle he’d managed to stick the pin deep enough that it stayed even as he lost feeling in his entire body. For half a second there were no deductions, no Mind Palace, just a blank wall of terror; then he was almost in control again, clawing at the pin with shaking hands, trying desperately to turn it even as muzzy background voices shouted questions.
A click, a jerk, and he was free. Not even bothering to dislodge the other cuff, he whirled around with a roar of “JOHN!” and tore off, at the building’s door in five strides flat. He was vaguely aware of officers following him, of concerned tenants poking their heads out or shouting for the police, but he cared for none of them, saw none of them; his entire world had shrunk down to the path between himself and John, to the third corridor on the left to the staircase up five floors and to the second door on the right –
Except he was only two flights up when he careened into someone. Someone who smelled of animals and was covered in loose hair and was holding a spectacularly drowsy monkey under one arm.
He punched him so hard he felt the jaw break under his fist, snarling in satisfaction as he crumpled down onto the landing. In all probability he would have preceded to kick in the skull of the man who had threatened John if it weren’t for about six hands hauling him back so some underling could slap on cuffs and confiscate the monkey, and even then he might’ve bloody well tried if not for a familiar voice calling his name.
He was only another flight and a half up, crouched on a landing with one knee drawn up to his chest. “You melodramatic git, there was only one and he wasn’t even that good, he missed me by a mile and the recoil took the gun out of his hand –”
Sherlock almost collapsed on top of him, falling into something that was more of a messy splay of limbs than a proper hug. “Don’t you ever do that,” he gasped. “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”
“Welcome to my world, you prat,” John said affectionately, but he brought one arm around his back and squeezed. Sherlock allowed himself precisely two more seconds of indulgence before leaning back and pulling himself together, although it took considerably more effort than he would have thought.
“John,” he asked, “why are you on the ground?”
John rubbed the back of his neck, the outlines of his ears darkening slightly. “I might have . . . sprained . . . something.”
“And how did you do that?”
An indecipherable grumble.
“I fell down the stairs, you bastard,” he snapped, and they both burst into such decadent giggling that Lestrade looked over.
“Everything all right over there?”
“John needs a hospital,” Sherlock announced, standing and hauling John over so that his arm was over his shoulder and their fingers were loosely twined (for maximum stability, of course).
“Of course he does. I’ll get one of the boys to drop you off.” Lestrade shook his head, looking over at them, Sherlock with one hand out to brush the wall and John wobbling on one leg. “Dear God, aren’t you two a sight.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Sherlock said, and it was so bloody awful that John giggled all over again, and still cackling like children they limped off together down the stairs.