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[personal profile] ellie_hell
Title: The Pull of One Magnet to Another - Part 2
Rating: R (Sexual activities)
Warnings: Mention of animal cruelty.
Beta: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] anarion who is always an inspiring plot consultant, and to [livejournal.com profile] omletlove who was an all-star beta, both for SPAG and plot; I couldn’t have hoped for a better beta, she’s amazing.
Pairing: Sherlock/John, with a tiny hint of Mycroft/Lestrade.
Word Count: 46 500 total, 6273 this part.
Summary: Mummy has arranged Mycroft’s marriage with an ex-army doctor. However, John meets Sherlock first, and sparks fly.
Disclaimer: The case was stolen from the movie Untraceable, and so was the computer speech.
Notes: Written several months ago for a prompt on the kink meme, but I wasn’t happy with it at the time, so I gave it a huge makeover. If anyone from the meme is reading this, I want to thank you for your huge support. The title comes from the song I Was Married by Tegan and Sara.

Back to first chapter.

Chapter 2

Sherlock didn’t sleep much that night; he kept looking at his phone in case he had missed a text from Lestrade, but either no crimes had been committed, or the DI was reluctant to involve him. That wouldn’t do. The sun was up, John would eventually come down into the living room, and Sherlock would have to take him to Mummy’s house. Or worse, Mummy would pick him up here. Either way, it was too soon. He needed more time; he needed to know why John had been chosen to marry Mycroft, and most importantly, why he had accepted.

A lifetime as the husband of a dull government official, being dragged to dreadful functions and benefits…. John was a doctor, he was a soldier, and he had sewn people up while missile alarms had echoed in the camp. He had showed such an interest in Sherlock’s cases, had seemed thrilled just hearing about them; certainly he wasn’t the kind of person who would enjoy being married to someone like Mycroft. More time to acquire data, that’s all he was asking for. He was still working on a plan when his mother called. He answered, and she started talking immediately.

“Sherlock, what exactly do you think you’re doing?”

“John is safe, he spent the night in my flat. He was tired yesterday after we had dinner, so I offered my spare bedroom.”

“There shouldn’t have been a dinner,” she said in a tone that never failed to make Sherlock feel like a repentant eight-year-old child.

“I wasn’t even supposed to pick him up. I had other plans, and they took longer than I expected,” he said, not mentioning the fact that he had deliberately prolonged their stay at the morgue.

“Did you expect me to drag him into a cab without offering food when he was clearly hungry?” he asked.

“Well, what’s done is done, but John Watson will be in my house in no more than four hours. I’ve had enough trouble finding him and getting him to agree to this marriage, I will not have you scaring him off.”

“I am not—” Sherlock began, but the line went dead when his mother hung up on him.

He looked up to see John looking at him curiously from the top of the stairs. His hair was ruffled and sticking out in all directions, and he was scratching the back of his head, which caused his t-shirt to ride up. From where he was standing in the sitting room, Sherlock could see a small slice of skin with a remarkably soft looking trail of golden-brown hair.

“Do you mind if I use your shower?” John asked, his voice roughened from disuse and his eyes heavy; he had obviously just woken up, and the tell-tale signs of sleep were all over him.

“Go ahead,” Sherlock answered before hurrying downstairs to borrow (not steal, obviously) a couple of teabags from Mrs Hudson.

Back in his kitchen, he rinsed the mugs they had used the night before, and as soon as he heard John turn the shower off, he put the kettle on and waited for the water to boil. Other than the biscuits Mrs Hudson had brought up the night before, there wasn’t anything edible enough to be called breakfast, maybe they could go out? Sherlock examined the countdown that had been running through his mind since his conversation with his mother: she wanted John back before 11:00; therefore, they needed to leave by 9:30. There was enough time left to go out for a bite.

Eventually, John came down and they had tea. Sherlock told John about his mother’s phone call, and maybe he was imagining it, but it seemed as though a shadow was clouding John’s eyes when Sherlock announced they were leaving in approximately two hours. However, it was gone as soon as it had appeared, and John seemed enthused by the suggestion of having breakfast out, so Sherlock took him to a small café not too far from Baker Street, John following more easily now that he wasn’t carrying an enormous suitcase. They chose the table closest to the open window, Sherlock bought them a couple of coffees and pastries, and when he came back to their table, John was looking out with a dreamy look on his face. He was obviously miles away.

“I miss London,” John said after a while, “I was living here before I left for Afghanistan, but I was living with Harry since I was sent back. I just wish I had more time….” he trailed off.

“Mycroft lives in London, you’ll be here all the time from now on,” Sherlock said, successfully hiding all trace of disgust in his voice.

John sighed, resting his chin on his right palm and looking out. “It’s not the same. You must know what it’s like walking around the city with no purpose other than looking around, no one expecting your return, being alone but not really because London’s there,” he said with a wistful smile.

“I know what you mean,” Sherlock said.

He did know how it felt, he couldn’t count how many times he had roamed the city just to take in his surroundings and enjoy the murmuring life around him. He wished he could show John his London. The London that was buzzing with criminal activity, and filled with wild chases across rooftops.

“It’s such a beautiful day, in another life I would have gone for a walk in Hyde Park,” John said, still sounding wistful.

Sherlock watched him intently while a new plan was formed in his mind. If there was no pressing need for John to be back at his mother’s house, and if he missed being in London as a free man, perhaps an offer to stay for one more day would be well received. There was nothing Mummy could do, unless she decided to drive to London and pick John up herself, but it was worth the try. One day, just another day. It had to be enough to figure out why John had agreed to marry Mycroft, and if he got to know the intriguing man better, well that was just a little bonus wasn’t it?

“You could stay for another day, you know. Mycroft is away; you could spend some time visiting London as a free man,” Sherlock suggested, and John shot him a genuine smile.

“Are you—” John started to ask, but Sherlock anticipated the question and cut him off to answer irritatingly.

“Yes John, I’m sure. I don’t mind letting you stay in my flat for another night, it’s no bother at all.”

There wasn’t any trace of John’s previous heaviness left in him; his eyes were shining, and his smile was radiant.

“Thanks Sherlock, but what about your mother? She’s expecting me today.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Sherlock said as he took his phone out of his pocket. He was about to ring his mother, but talking to her meant she could argue, and she didn’t own a mobile, so texting her wasn’t an option. Instead, he texted Mycroft.

John is staying with me until tomorrow. Tell Mummy.

Mycroft replied so quickly Sherlock didn’t have time to put his phone back into his pocket before it beeped again.

John’s place is at home with Mummy.

John wants to be in London; therefore, his place is in London.

Don’t be childish.

Piss off.


“There, it’s settled,” Sherlock told John as he pocketed his phone, “you’re staying with me for another day.”

“I really appreciate it,” John said, “I could cook you dinner as a way to thank you,” he suggested, and Sherlock brushed him off with a casual wave of his hand.

“I assure you, there is no need to thank me.”

“Come on Sherlock! Yesterday was the most fun I’ve had since I came back from Afghanistan. Also, we need to eat, and I’ve been told I’m not that bad.”

Sherlock glowed with pride; John had had fun with him. No one ever had fun with him. In fact, Sherlock rarely had fun in the presence of living people. It was improbable that both he and John would have had fun together, but apparently they both had enjoyed their visit to the morgue and the following dinner.

Once they were done with their coffees and pastries, there was an awkward moment in front of the café; Sherlock didn’t know if he was supposed to head back home or accompany John. They stood facing each other, John nervously tapping his fingers on the handle of his cane.

“I won’t stay out for long—my leg—will you be home this afternoon?”

“I don’t have plans, but if I’m out Mrs Hudson will let you in,” Sherlock said, and he couldn’t help feeling a little dejected that John was about to take off alone.

“If you haven’t got anything planned, maybe you could come with me?” John suggested.

Sherlock tried not to look too eager when he agreed; a grown man jumping with glee was unusual enough when he was alone, it would have looked ridiculous outside in broad daylight. For a moment, he thought about hailing a cab to spare John the walk to the park, but the psychosomatic limp intrigued him. He wanted to observe John’s walking pattern, to see how long he would go before asking for a break, how long until it got worse, or perhaps how long until it got better.

The journey to Hyde Park was pleasant; there weren’t too many pedestrians, and they pretty much had the pavement to themselves. A few times John noticed a shop that hadn’t been there when he had been in London the last time, and Sherlock enjoyed explaining what had happened to the old businesses (bankruptcy, closed by the Food Standards Agency, family crisis, death of the owner, and one particularly brutal murder). John was delighted by the extent of Sherlock’s knowledge of London’s streets, and he kept asking questions, eager to know more about the crimes that had been perpetrated in the area. They were both so engrossed in the conversation they almost didn’t notice that they had reached Lancaster Gate.

Upon entering the park, John went straight for the Lancaster Fountain, walked down the three stairs, and leaned on the railing to watch a small duck family happily floating on the Serpentine. Sherlock didn’t join him; he stayed behind and watched. John was standing perfectly straight, and his cane was resting on the railing beside him, forgotten for now. He was wearing a pair of dark jeans and an army-green jumper over a checked shirt, the collar barely visible under his black coat. It was the perfect example of common clothes, hiding what seemed like a very ordinary body. Nonetheless, Sherlock could easily make out the still muscled form underneath the multiple layers of clothing, see the defined biceps when John’s hands tightened on the railing, and distinguish the firm arse under the denim.

Sherlock could feel something fluttering deep in his stomach as he detailed John’s appearance. He had experienced it before, a long time ago, when the work hadn’t been the only thing at the front of his mind. He could vaguely remember the burning sensation in his abdomen, the shivers in his thighs, and he welcomed the early stirring signs of arousal with curiosity.

For the first time since he had picked John up from the train station, Sherlock wondered if there was a way he could steal him away from Mycroft, just for a little while. The thought startled him, and he pushed it away; John probably fascinated him only because there was something about him he hadn’t been able to deduce yet. If his observation skills weren’t enough, he was more than willing to resort to a strategy he rarely used: asking direct questions. It usually was an unreliable method to acquire data – everybody lied – but it was worth it in this situation.

When John climbed up the stairs again, Sherlock joined him, and they started walking along the Serpentine. Sherlock wasn’t walking as quickly as he normally would have, but his pace was unquestionably faster than John’s usual one. Yet, the shorter man was following, still limping but never out of breath. When the silence had stretched on for about five minutes, Sherlock decided to start actively working on discovering the secrets behind the upcoming arranged marriage.

“Tell me John, how did my mother find you?” he asked, and as if on cue, his phone buzzed. It was most likely his mother ringing him for the third time, and he ignored her once more. He looked at John quickly, and saw that he looked sheepish.

“Err, it was a dating website actually. Some fellow soldier’s idea of a prank.”

“A prank, really?”

“A few years ago, I went out for a few pints with some friends from the army, and as it often does, a few pints turned into many pints. When the pub closed, we all ended up at Murray’s place, and we continued to drink. We were pretty pissed, and they thought it would be hilarious to make me a profile on a dating website. I had forgotten all about it until your mother contacted me,” John explained.

“It must have been a surprise; a man doesn’t often get a proposal from a possible mother-in-law,” Sherlock said, hoping to move the conversation forward.

“Surprise is an understatement,” John replied, a faint blush reddening his cheeks as he looked down at his shoes.

“Was it long before you agreed?” Sherlock asked.

“A while,” John answered, clearly avoiding Sherlock’s gaze.

The wheels were actively turning in Sherlock’s mind. John seemed bashful, and he was obviously trying to bring the conversation to a halt by being as unresponsive as possible. There had to be something slightly shady behind John’s agreement to an arranged marriage. It couldn’t be that bad, or Mummy would have found out, but still unpleasant enough for him to look ashamed.

What made people blush as John was blushing at the moment? Not the vivid angry blush, nor the subtle almost timid creeping blush of attraction, but the betraying shameful blush; the one people tried to fight back, but that always ended up giving them away. What were people ashamed of? Usually, shame came when people felt they were breaking rules, when there was a discrepancy between what they were doing and what was considered normal. What rule was John breaking? What made him feel abnormal?

Maybe something about sexuality. People tended to make a terrible fuss when sexuality was involved, but it seemed inconceivable that a sexual matter was pushing John into an arranged marriage. Unless he was a sex addict and wanted an intercourse partner at his disposal. It was unlikely anyone would ever desire Mycroft sexually, but Sherlock recognised he was biased when the attractiveness of his brother was involved. However, he couldn’t rule out addiction. John was obviously not a drug addict; Sherlock would have recognised the signs right away at the train station. It couldn’t be an alcohol addiction; John had been very slightly tipsy after drinking a little more than half a bottle of wine. Perhaps it was money. Money was an immensely powerful motivator and Mycroft had plenty of it, therefore, it was a plausible hypothesis. Sherlock had to resist the urge to grimace at the thought; the idea of John marrying someone for the money was so mundane and uninspired, he refused to linger on the thought.

There was also the possibility that John was marrying Mycroft for reasons Sherlock hadn’t thought of. Many years of solving crimes had taught him that people could do exceptionally asinine things for very foolish reasons. As fascinating as John was right now, Sherlock couldn’t rule out the possibility that he was one of those uninspiring people. The mere thought made him cringe; he needed to collect more data, but John was being deliberately unhelpful. If the direct questions didn’t work, Sherlock would have to be even more aggressive in his interrogation methods. He also needed to burn the image of his mother browsing dating websites out of his brain.

“Why are you marrying my brother?” he finally asked, turning to look at John.

“It doesn’t matter,” John said.

“It matters to me! I don’t understand!” Sherlock exclaimed, surprised by his own outburst.

“Do you need to understand everything?” John asked, the hint of a playful smile on his lips.

“Yes. No. Only the interesting things,” Sherlock replied, and he was surprised to see John’s smile growing even wider.

Unfortunately, John refused to say more, and they remained silent all the way to the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen where they had a cup of tea while sitting under an enormous willow tree. The lilacs were in full bloom around them, and their sweet aroma filled the air, giving the moment a rather bucolic feeling that Sherlock would have found sickening if he had spent more than two seconds thinking about it. Instead, he was concentrating on John and on what he was saying, because for what felt like the first time in years, Sherlock was participating in a conversation for the sake of having a conversation. It was novel and stimulating to find out more about John by engaging in a sharing process instead of stripping him bare of his secrets, as he had done the night before, and as he did with everyone he met.

There was something enjoyable about the give and take of the conversation, but as much as he found it interesting to learn more about John, it wasn’t the source of the incredible rush he was getting. What was truly remarkable, Sherlock realised, was being the centre of John’s attention. John could not seem to know enough; he kept asking question after question about Sherlock’s life and his work, and Sherlock told him almost everything he wanted to know. Almost. But he wasn’t the only one talking; John wasn’t greedy of information, in fact, he was quite chatty as long as they stayed away from the topic of Mycroft and the wedding.

They took longer than necessary to finish their tea, due to the fact they had both been stalling in order to push back the moment they would have to leave. However, when they took their last sips, the liquid was so cold they both grimaced, trying their best to hide it in their cups. When they finally got up to resume their walk, the wind was blowing harder than before, and the smell of lilac followed them until they reached Round Pond. John never complained about his leg, he never asked Sherlock to slow down, and he never asked for a break; he just kept walking like the determined soldier he was. Their walk lasted a little over two hours, and when they reached the Lancaster fountain again, they knew a lot more about each other than they had in the beginning of the day. Sherlock’s mother had called five more times, but he had ignored every ring, unwilling to let anything spoil the pleasant day out he was having with his new acquaintance (or were they friends now?).

They walked to the Tesco Express on Baker Street where John bought everything he needed to cook them dinner. Sherlock was in charge of the trolley, and he followed John around the aisles with barely concealed amusement. John kept asking whether he had various ingredients, and everything Sherlock didn’t have went into the trolley. With every item John handed him, Sherlock’s eyes widened a little more. It was obvious what John was planning to prepare; the chicken, yogurt, and various spices spoke for themselves, but Sherlock was still excited to know he would eat his first homemade curry chicken. He was in such a pleasant mood that he picked up eighteen red apples for an experiment he planned on doing with maggots.

They almost had a row at the checkout. Sherlock believed it was his duty to pay since he was the host, while John argued that a thank-you meal had to be paid for by the person doing the thanking. Around them, people were resolutely not staring, and if some of them were giggling softly, it was caused by the highly amusing vegetables they had put in their trolleys, not because of the two men arguing like an old couple. In the end, Sherlock gave up, but he was rewarded by John’s pleased expression and another bright smile, one of the smiles that never failed to make him feel slightly warmer.

Once in Sherlock’s flat, John put the shopping away. Sherlock assured him there wasn’t a specific place for things, so he ended up putting what didn’t need to be refrigerated in the same cupboard. Meanwhile, Sherlock called his mother because he didn’t have a valid reason not to anymore. He dreaded the conversation, but he wanted to take it off his mind quickly. Apparently, his mother had been sitting beside the telephone, because she picked up after the first ring.

“What is this nonsense?” she answered without any form of greeting. Victoria Holmes had always been remarkably forthright.

“Mummy, there’s no need—”

“This is ridiculous! Is it part of your foolish rivalry? Is it a childish need to steal what is Mycroft’s? Or perhaps you want to make him miserable by ruining his wedding?

“No, I—”

“Whatever you have planned, it won’t work. John agreed to marry Mycroft, and that’s what will happen. He is a sensible match for your brother, and I will not let you get in the way.”

“I’m not—”

“Tomorrow morning at the latest,” she said, and she hung up before Sherlock could say what he had planned to say.

Now, his mother was convinced that he was deliberately trying to ruin Mycroft’s future happiness, which he wasn’t. Not really. He just needed to understand, and for that he needed time. According to past experiences, John was probably about to do something utterly dull that would disillusion him; in fact, it was surprising it hadn’t happened yet. He just wanted to keep John until he wasn’t fascinating anymore, he wasn’t asking for much.

“That sounded painful, who was it?” John asked, and for a second Sherlock was tempted to answer that the phone call had been from Mycroft, just so John would think his future husband had an awful temper. However, that would make Mummy right, so he resisted the urge; John would have plenty of occasions to discover how awful Mycroft actually was.

“My mother who thinks I’ve kidnapped you,” he answered.

John grimaced and gripped his cane tighter, obviously feeling awkward.

“You should have told me, I would have talked to her, let her know I’m the one who manipulated you into letting me stay,” he said, and Sherlock brushed him off with the wave of a hand.

“Trust me, if I didn’t want you to stay you’d be at home with my mother already,” Sherlock said, and he slumped down on the sofa with his laptop to read the news, hoping to see a crime he could bully Lestrade into letting him investigate. With John.

They had a very quiet afternoon. John spent a lot of time browsing through Sherlock’s bookcases, his expression alternating between curious, impressed, and disturbed. Sherlock’s book collection was very heterogeneous; old chemistry volumes frolicked with various textbooks, Bibles, dictionaries, travel books, and surprisingly, a couple of Victorian romance novels. When John giggled, Sherlock looked up from his computer.

“It was for a case,” he said, and John nodded knowingly, his smile not quite leaving his lips.

John finally chose a book about Jack the Ripper, and he settled in the same armchair he had sat in the night before. The book was interesting, but not nearly as engrossing as the margins filled with the notes Sherlock had scribbled in his very neat handwriting. It was a good thing John was so absorbed in his reading; he never noticed the increasingly longer looks Sherlock kept giving him. They talked occasionally, when John asked for some precisions about something Sherlock had written, but most of the time they didn’t, and it was comfortable that way. Most people couldn’t stand long silences, but apparently John didn’t mind them, which pleased Sherlock immensely; he appreciated a quiet atmosphere while he updated his website.

Sherlock was almost done with typing up the case of the missing jars when John got up and went to the kitchen. Sherlock could hear him moving things around, but it didn’t sound like the usual tea-making noises. Intrigued, he placed his laptop on the coffee table and made his way to the kitchen where John was rummaging through a cupboard. His purchases of the day were scattered among a petri dish field on the worktop, and he had taken out a cutting board, a knife, a saucepan, measuring cups, a skillet, and wooden spoons.

“Pancreas, mould, semen, peaches,” Sherlock said, which caused John to look up with a puzzled look on his face.

“What? Is this a riddle or are you just rubbish at kitchen conversation?” he asked.

“I used that knife to cut a pancreas, I put mould on that cutting board, semen in that measuring cup, and I boiled peaches in the saucepan.”

John grimaced as he picked up the measuring cup with two fingers and inspected it.

“Was it your semen?” he asked.

“Is that relevant?” Sherlock inquired.

“I suppose it’s not. But seriously, that’s…revolting. Except for the peaches, that’s surprisingly normal,” John said.

“They were rotten peaches,” Sherlock admitted, and John laughed.

“Let’s just ignore the fact that you use your kitchenware for your experiments, don’t you clean them afterwards?” John asked as he filled the sink with hot water and immersed the things Sherlock had used to experiment. Then, just in case, he also put the rest of the dishes he needed to use in the sink.

“From my point of view, you’re using my experiment equipment as kitchenware. These have never been used to cook before, at least not by me. I clean them when necessary,” Sherlock answered as he took a seat on one of the high kitchen chairs, and he pushed his microscope out of the way so he could rest his forearm on the table.

“Just out of curiosity, how often is it necessary?” John asked.

“Whenever Mrs Hudson yells at me,” Sherlock answered, and John chuckled as he started doing the washing-up.

“You’re a special kind of slob, aren’t you?”

That’s not something Sherlock thought he needed to dignify with an answer, so he didn’t, but he kept his eyes on John. He was standing very straight, his weight equally supported by his two legs, and his cane was resting on the closest cupboard door. Watching John in a kitchen was fascinating; he looked solid and reliable until he had to take a few steps and used the worktop for support. Yet, there was always something graceful about his movements. Sherlock was entranced by the way John pivoted on his good leg, the way he cut the chicken with medical precision, and the way his wrist twisted slightly when he manipulated the skillet’s handle. But it was nothing compared to the way he flicked his hip to close a drawer after putting back the corkscrew. Before long, there was a glass of white wine in front of Sherlock, and John was back in front of the hob, stirring the basmati rice.

It was impossible for Sherlock to watch John moving around the kitchen without picturing him doing the same at Mycroft’s. He gritted his teeth as he imagined John pouring Mycroft a glass of terribly expensive wine, chopping vegetables on a spotless worktop without any microscopes, pipettes, and chemicals cluttering it. Would Mycroft sit as Sherlock was sitting right now, or would he help? Would he make John laugh as Sherlock had done several times today? Mycroft would undoubtedly want to talk about his day at the office; would John even be interested in boring government work? Of course he wouldn’t, John was like Sherlock, he seemed like the kind of person who thrived on adrenalin, and the only kind of adrenalin Mycroft got on a regular basis came from opening his umbrella indoors.

Slowly, the many ingredients were turned into a delicious smelling curry chicken, and Sherlock got closer to the stove to peek at what John was stirring. He could smell the blend of spices, the tender chicken, and the soft hint of coconut milk; the whole dish smelled so heavenly, he couldn’t resist the temptation to dip his finger into it. John saw what Sherlock was about to do and immediately stopped him by grabbing his wrist.

“First, this is extremely unsanitary, especially now that I know you enjoy manipulating organs, mould, and semen. Second, you’ll burn yourself. Here, hang on,” he said as he picked up a wooden spoon, gathered a piece of chicken in it and handed it over to Sherlock.

Instead of picking up the spoon, Sherlock bent down to bite the chicken straight off it, and his eyes widened slightly as he swallowed. It was delicious, and he told John so, not only because it was the truth, but also because he genuinely enjoyed the light blush colouring John’s cheeks every time he was complimented.

Sherlock repeated the praise a few times while they ate, John turning just a little redder each time. For a moment, Sherlock wondered if he looked as pleased and smug every time John called him brilliant, but he quickly banished the thought; there was no way he would ever be caught in public with that expression on his face.

They both ate so much that they couldn’t imagine having even one bite of the pie baking in the oven (made with the apples Sherlock had picked out for his experiment), so they decided to save it for later tonight. John was about to start cleaning the table when Sherlock’s phone beeped to announce the arrival of a new text message.

I’ve got a case for you. Smartarse kidnapped someone and is showing off on the Internet. You’ve bothered me enough; you’d better come at once.

Immediately, Sherlock’s face lit up, and he read the text to John whose eyes widened in surprise (and interest?). The case did sound enthralling, Sherlock loved killers who made skilful use of technology, it would hopefully take more than one night to solve, and if he played his cards right, John would accompany him and stay with him until the kidnapper was caught.

“Will you come?” Sherlock asked, hopeful.

“I don’t know, won’t I get in the way?” John answered, obviously intrigued.

“You won’t. A doctor’s opinion may be useful. Also, it could be dangerous….” Sherlock trailed off, and for a few seconds, there was a noticeable struggle on John’s traits.

“Alright, I’ll come,” he finally said, and Sherlock grinned as he put on his scarf, coat, and gloves. John did the same, and soon they both climbed into a cab heading to Scotland Yard.

:::

Chapter 3

When Sherlock and John entered Lestrade’s office, the DI wasn’t alone; he was with a man in his early thirties Sherlock had never seen before. He was wearing brown trousers, a thin slice of neon yellow underwear visible over the waistband, and an extremely tight white shirt with a plunging V-neck. Not the kind of person who was usually spotted in Scotland Yard, let alone Lestrade’s office. The DI looked up at Sherlock, and he frowned when he realised he wasn’t alone.

“Who’s he?” he asked.

“Doctor John Watson,” Sherlock answered before adding, “he’s with me.”

“What do you mean he’s with you? This isn’t a social event; you’re not allowed a guest!” Lestrade said.

“I said he’s with me,” Sherlock insisted, “are you going to be difficult or are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

For a moment, Lestrade seemed torn between the urge to push the issue and the need to brief Sherlock on the recent events. Finally, the latter won, and Lestrade sighed heavily.

“Oh, alright. Sherlock, this is Jim Moriarty; he works for the Police Central e-crime Unit. Jim, this is Sherlock Holmes, the man I told you about,” Lestrade said, and Jim smiled, extending a hand that Sherlock shook briefly.

“Sherlock Holmes! What a pleasure to finally meet you, I’ve heard so much about you!” Jim exclaimed, but Sherlock barely looked at him.

“Lestrade?” Sherlock asked with a raised eyebrow.

Looking weary, Lestrade turned his laptop around so Sherlock and John could get a good look at the website he and Jim had been watching before. The layout was terribly simple, just a black background with a video feed in the middle. On the top of the site, the name of the website was written in bright letters: Watch Me Kill. Under the video feed, there was a counter showing 532 active users. Even if the layout had been more elaborate, it wouldn’t have been enough to distract them from what was happening in the middle of the screen.

A gagged man was hanging upside down from the ceiling, struggling. They couldn’t see his hands, but from the way he was moving, it was obvious they were bound together and tied to something on the floor. He was somewhere dark, but some light came in from a single high window, which meant he was probably held in a basement.

“Is it real?” Sherlock asked, his eyes never leaving the computer screen.

“Unfortunately, it is,” Lestrade confirmed before looking at Jim, gesturing for him to continue.

“The website has been up for about two weeks now, it was brought to the PCeU’s attention because someone was killing animals and showing off online. He did it just like he’s doing it now: a cat or dog tied to the ceiling by its back paws, and to the floor by its front paws. There was also a counter and as soon as it reached a certain number, a higher one each time as he gathered followers, the animal was killed.”

“What does he do with them?” Sherlock asked.

“When enough people are watching, an arrow is fired from a crossbow aimed at the animal’s heart. Well, I say animal…. It was sickening enough when he was killing animals, but now it seems like he’s moved on to killing people,” Jim replied.

“Are you sure it’s streaming live?” Sherlock asked.

“Yes,” Jim said, “can you see the window right there?” he added, leaning over Sherlock’s shoulder to point at the screen. “We studied the light and weather pattern, and although we can’t be totally certain, we believe this house is, if not directly in London, very close to it.”

“Good to know your department isn’t completely incompetent. I assume you tried to shut the site down?” Sherlock curtly asked.

“Closing the site won’t work, the IP changes constantly, each new address is an exploited server that’s running a mirror of the site. The site’s name server uses a low TTL – that’s time to live – so the computer constantly queries the name server’s record. That’s how it gives you a new address,” Jim explained.

He seemed particularly smug. After spending so much time in the lowest floor of Scotland Yard and working with very few people, he now looked like a kid who got to show off his toys. Sherlock groaned, and he turned to look at John. The doctor looked puzzled; he probably hadn’t understood a word Jim had said.

“There are thousands of exploited servers on the Internet; he won’t run out anytime soon,” Sherlock said as an explanation, and John nodded.

“He’s accessing these machines so quickly, he’s got to be running his own botnet. We are blocking the IPs, but every time we shut one down, a new mirror pops up. It’s infuriating,” Jim said with a shy apologetic smile directed at Sherlock.

“Sherlock, I’ll need everything you can tell me from the video. We need to find that basement and stop him before that poor bastard dies,” Lestrade said, and Sherlock squinted at the screen, John doing the same beside him.

“There’s not much to tell. From the timbers, I’d say the house was built in the eighties.”

“Anything else?” Lestrade asked, and before Sherlock could answer, Sergeant Sally Donovan entered the room and everyone turned to look at her. Her cheeks were flushed as if she had been running, and she was clutching a cell phone in her right hand.

“Found out who he is,” she announced, and Lestrade immediately got up.

“Who?” he asked.

“Peter Howarth from London. He’s a bartender at Beduin, he was working on Saturday, off on Sunday, but he didn’t come in today. His wife claims he left for work at 15:30 for his shift beginning at 16:00, but according to his boss, he never arrived.”

Lestrade quickly got out of his office, ordering his team to start moving; they were to divide into two squads, the first one would go to Howarth’s house while the second one would visit the Beduin pub. There was a lot of activity while the policemen grabbed their things and got ready to leave, but soon enough only Sherlock, John, and Jim were left. Before leaving with everyone else, Lestrade looked through the doorway.

“Jim, back to your department. Sherlock, if you find that house, I may have to marry you,” the DI said as he hurried out of his office.

“That’s not an incentive,” Sherlock shouted after Lestrade, but he didn’t look back, and soon he was out of his sight, running after his team.

Jim, however, remained in the office, fidgeting slightly beside Sherlock. A few times, he looked as though he was about to talk, but he kept looking at Sherlock with his mouth agape. When he finally talked, it was in an almost quivering voice.

“So, we’re bound to run into each other again if you’re on the case. Sherlock Holmes on the case, that’s bad news for the bad guy, right?”

Sherlock didn’t answer; he just kept staring at the computer screen where the man was struggling against his restraints. Jim didn’t seem bothered by Sherlock’s silent treatment; he continued to watch Sherlock for another minute before finally making his way to the door.

“Goodbye, Sherlock Holmes,” he said before leaving.

“That was strange,” John said once Jim was out of sight.

“Yes, he was attracted to me,” Sherlock said distractedly, still deep in thoughts as he watched the man on the screen.

“He was?” John asked. “He had a disturbing way of showing it.”

“He slipped his phone number into my pocket when he leaned over me to watch the screen. A bold move, albeit not a very creative one,” he said as he got up to rummage through Lestrade’s drawers. Then, he turned to John, and he announced that they were leaving to do some research.

“What kind of research?” John asked.

“Lestrade’s team will interrogate the family and co-workers, so at least we won’t have to bother ourselves with tedious human interactions. We’ll list the possible routes he could’ve taken to work, and we’ll look for data. I’ll just need his address,” Sherlock said as he took his BlackBerry out of his pocket and started typing deftly.

“There,” he said as he showed John the screen of his phone; it was the 192.com website with Peter Howarth’s contact details.

“It’s about ten minutes away from here. I know it’s not ideal to look in the dark, but if there are signs of a struggle, I should be able to spot them. Come, John,” he said, and together they left Scotland Yard.

For the bigger part of the evening, they prowled the streets between Howarth’s house and the Beduin pub, looking for anything suspicious. Sherlock used a torch he had stolen (borrowed) from Lestrade’s office to light up the way. While they were looking, Sherlock remained acutely aware of John’s presence at his side. It was very different from what he was used to; not roaming the streets while looking for clues, he was used to that, what he wasn’t used to was someone beside him at whom he could talk (because let’s be honest, Sherlock did most of the talking). John always followed, even if they made several round trips to explore all the probable routes, he never complained about his leg, but the limp remained, albeit inconsistently.

Sherlock looked at everything. He searched the streets and looked for suspicious tyre marks, he looked for unnatural footprints in the sand, for grass ruffled in a particular pattern, or curious neighbours looking too enthusiastically out the window. All the while, John inquired about what they were looking for, and he tried his best to observe, sometimes pointing out things he thought Sherlock might want to take a closer look at. Sherlock was surprised to find that he was weirdly touched by John’s enthusiasm; of course everything he pointed out was irrelevant, but Sherlock always felt the urge to grin stupidly every time he heard John say, “Sherlock, have you seen this?”. Just because he knew it would make John light up with pride, Sherlock picked up a cigarette butt he knew had nothing to do with the case, but that John had shown him.

It was almost two in the morning when they got back to Sherlock’s flat. As soon as they were there, Sherlock grabbed his laptop and opened his Internet browser to check the Watch Me Kill website. Peter Howarth was still alive and as well as he could be. He was still hanging from the ceiling, his wrists and ankles were still bound, but he wasn’t struggling as much, he looked exhausted. Sherlock sat in his favourite chair, in his favourite thinking pose, with his laptop on his thighs. He needed to cogitate, to observe.

Sherlock was aware of John making tea in the kitchen, and of him carefully putting a steaming cup on the armrest of the leather chair. When John told him that he was staying on the sofa in case he needed his help, Sherlock brushed him off with a wave of his hand. For the following hour, he pictured the few pieces of the puzzle he had, shuffling them and trying to assemble them in different ways in hopes of deciphering something he hadn’t noticed before. On his laptop screen, Peter Howarth was trying to keep his head raised towards his chest, but his face was getting considerably redder, and he seemed on the verge of passing out. Yet, he was still alive. Under the video feed, the counter showed that the number of viewers had almost doubled.

When Sherlock emerged from his trance-like thinking state, he realised that John had fallen asleep on the sofa at some point. He looked peaceful, content, and Sherlock spent several minutes just looking at him, trying not to picture him asleep in Mycroft’s gargantuan bed. Moving carefully in order not to wake him up, Sherlock went to his bedroom, picked up his duvet, and covered John with it. John shifted in his sleep and murmured something that sounded a lot like ‘camel’, and Sherlock, smiling a little, resumed working on the case.

Next part.

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Ellie L.

December 2012

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