brbsoulnomming: (sherlock - not quite hand holding)
Bri ([personal profile] brbsoulnomming) wrote2011-05-29 01:20 am

Parallel Part One



See Master Post for warnings, notes, etc.

---


There’s a dead body sprawled on the grass in front of the University of Westminster Cavendish campus.

John refrains from making that observation aloud, of course, because he doubts Sherlock will be impressed with it. But he writes it down in the notes he’s taking anyway. He eyes it consideringly for a moment, then scratches it out.

That’s a horrible way to begin a blog post. Far too morbid, and anyway, there are often dead bodies in the cases he and Sherlock work. It’s hardly a distinguishing feature.

John glances over at Sherlock inspecting the body of the young man. They’ve only just gotten there, so John figures he has a few more minutes before Sherlock asks him to take a look. While he’s waiting, John examines the crowd that’s formed outside the police tape. Most of them are students, and a fair number of them are gathered around a pretty redheaded girl whose eyes are filled with tears. Kayla Miller, the victim’s girlfriend, Lestrade had told them when they arrived, before leaving them to it while he spoke with the girl who’d found the body.

“John,” Sherlock says, standing and inclining his head towards the body. “Take a look.”

He does, examining the body carefully, trying not to miss anything (though inevitably, he will). “Hasn’t been dead long. No more than five or six hours, I’d say. He reeks of alcohol, probably intoxicated. Fairly obvious what killed him.” John nods at the four stab wounds in the young man’s chest. “No sign of defensive marks, probably because of the intoxication.”

“And?” Sherlock asks.

“And...” John glances over the body once more. “His shoes are missing.”

Sherlock smiles. “Exactly. Everything else the same as the other three murders: staff or student, killed on or near a Westminster campus, multiple stabbings, cryptic message spray painted nearby. But now something’s missing. That’s new. Or is it? We weren’t invited to the previous crime scenes; I’ve had no opportunity to discern if anything was taken from the other victims.” He raises his voice. “I need crime scene photos, case files, anything and everything you have on the other three victims. And I need to speak with the girl who found the body!”

Then he frowns, crouching down to examine something in the grass. “We need to talk to the girlfriend, too. Find out if he had red and yellow trainers.”

John frowns. “Why red and yellow?”

Sherlock points to a rock in the grass. “There’s footprints around this. Someone tripped over it, recently. Left traces of their shoe. Trainers, red and yellow, can’t tell more without analyzing the sample. It rained last night, stopped around one AM, this was left after. Not much traffic here at that time of the night, odds are that if it’s not the victim’s-”

“It’s the killer’s,” John says.

“Obviously,” Sherlock replies, but he gives John the pleased, excited smile he uses when he’s found something interesting and John’s followed his thought process. Then he turns back to the group of officers standing nearby. “The girl who found the body!”

But although Sherlock’s itching to get at her, the police are still talking to her, so they end up interviewing the girlfriend first.

Sherlock mutters about incompetence and the police being out of their depth while they walk over to where the girlfriend is standing, surrounded by friends.

“We need to speak to Ms. Miller alone,” Sherlock says.

One of the friends, a plain-looking brunette girl, glares at them. “You guys literally just left. Can’t she have five minutes to herself?”

John offers them an understanding smile. “I’m sorry. It won’t take long.”

“It’s okay, Anna,” Kayla says. “If it helps, I don’t mind. I’ll talk to them.”

The groups disperses, save for a tall, handsome brunette girl, who stays where she is with a defiant glare.

“It’s fine, Lacey, it is,” Kayla tells her. “Go check and see if they’re done with Sam yet, yeah?”

“All right,” Lacey says reluctantly, turning away.

“I don’t know what more help I can be,” Kayla says. “I already told the other detectives everything I know.”

“Not part of the police,” Sherlock says. “We help when they’re out of their depth, like now.”

“Oh.” Kayla blinks. “I, um.”

“We might ask you some questions you’ve already been asked,” John says gently. “But we’re sorry for your loss.”

Tears fill her eyes, and she wipes them away with her sleeve. “Yeah. Everyone’s sorry. Me too.”

“How long were you together?” Sherlock asks.

“Six months next week,” she replies.

“Before the murders, then,” Sherlock muses. “Were you happy?”

Kayla looks taken aback. “I – yes, of course. I like to think so.”

John shoots Sherlock a look. “We know he was on the rugby team with the first victim and had a class with the second, but can you think of any relationship he might have had with the third?”

“No,” she says. “They might’ve had a class together sometime, and I think Finn went to the pub he worked at a few times, but nothing else.”

“Did he own a pair of trainers? Size twelve, red and yellow markings, possibly other colours as well?” Sherlock asks.

“What? I – I don’t know. We don’t live together, and I didn’t pay that much attention to his shoes,” she says.

“Hmm,” Sherlock says, and John can tell he’s lost interest in talking to the girl.

“I don’t understand,” Kayla says, wiping away more tears. “Everyone loves Finn. Everyone except - her.”

“Who?” John asks.

“Freaky Fiona,” Kayla says. “That’s what everyone calls her, anyway. Well, not us, Sam and Lacey would be livid if they heard one of us talking about someone like that, and I never really had anything against her. Before.”

“She had a grudge against Finn?” John asks.

“She has a grudge against everyone. No one’s as smart as her, so no one’s worth her time. I didn’t care, she can be a freak all she wants in that lab of hers, but she had to go and start hurting people,” she says.

John frowns. “You believe she’s behind the murders?”

“Everyone does,” Kayla says. “Even some of the professors, they’re all whispering about it. She’s always been a freak, anyone who’s had a class with her knows that. She’s always talking about chemicals and equations and formulas if you’re lucky, bacteria and poison and dead bodies if you aren’t. There’s a bunch of people saying they knew it, they knew she’d go crazy and start killing people who she thought had ‘wronged’ her. What I want to know is, if they all knew it, why didn’t they stop her before she started?”

Sherlock has been growing progressively tenser as she spoke, and John hears “we all hated him” in Sebastian’s voice echoing in his head. John fights the urge to take Sherlock’s hand, because it’s the kind of gesture that can easily be misinterpreted, even if its intention was purely platonic comfort.

“So – all of the victims somehow ‘wronged’ her?” John asks.

“Yeah,” she says. “I mean, I didn’t really know much of her before the murders started, but people talk. Finn didn’t believe the rumours. He made some jokes about her, stupid, meaningless crap, I’ve heard him tease his friends worse, and she freaked out at him. She punched that guy who worked at the pub in the face because she said he insulted her, everyone there saw it. And everyone who was in Professor Andrews’ class with her knows how much they hated each other. And Austin? Austin was just like Finn. Meaningless teasing.”

John wants to say that it’s never meaningless, not to the ones getting teased, but he can’t bring himself to imply to this crying girl that her dead boyfriend was a bully. So instead he says, “Just because someone’s misunderstood doesn’t mean they’re a killer.”

“That’s what I thought. Then my boyfriend turned up dead a week after joking about her,” she says.

“What was her name again?” John asks, because they’re going to have to talk to her, whether John wants to or not.

“Fiona Masters,” Kayla says. “She’ll be in the chem lab, she always is.”

“We’ll talk to her,” John says.

“Good.” Kayla’s tone turns hard. “That’s what you should be doing instead of talking to me, arresting that freak.”

Sherlock turns and walks away.

“Thank you for your time,” John says hurriedly. “Once again, we’re very sorry for your loss.”

When he catches up to Sherlock, he thinks, ‘Fuck it,’ and he wraps his hand gently around Sherlock’s wrist, giving it a light squeeze. He keeps it there as they walk, and if his stomach flutters a little, well, it’s only because this case is upsetting, and the warmth in his chest when he sees Sherlock lose some of the tension in his shoulders at John’s touch is only because John dislikes it when his friend is upset.

John lets go before they reach the classroom the police are using to talk to the girl who found the body. They have to wait only a few moments before they’re let inside.

There’s a girl sitting on one side of a large desk. She’s pretty in an average, down-to-earth way, with dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. There’s a book-bag resting against her chair. Lestrade is sitting at the desk across from her, but he stands and walks over to meet them when he sees them enter.

“Couldn’t wait two minutes?” Lestrade asks.

“If you don’t have what you need by now, you’ll never get it,” Sherlock says.

Lestrade sighs. “Go easy on this one, Sherlock. She’s had a long morning, and I’ve already got her friends breathing down my neck.”

“Intimidated by university girls, Lestrade?” Sherlock asks.

Lestrade glances through the still open door, where John can see Lacey hovering protectively nearby. “I am a bit by that one, yeah,” Lestrade mutters as he leaves.

Sherlock and John approach the girl sitting at the desk.

“You’re the police?” she asks. “Detective Inspector Lestrade said two of his colleagues were coming.”

“Consulting detective,” Sherlock says.

“This is Sherlock Holmes,” John tells her. “I’m John Watson. We just have a few questions.”

She sags briefly, then her shoulders straighten. “Samantha Brown, but everyone calls me Sam. I’ll answer whatever I can.”

“You moved the body when you found it?” Sherlock asks.

“Him,” Sam corrects. “When I found him, and yes, I moved him. I know you’re not supposed to, but I couldn’t see the blood until I turned him over, just him on the ground, and I thought – there’d been a party, at a flat right around the corner, and Finn just lives on the other side of campus, he’d have come this way to get home. I just thought he’d had too much to drink.”

“So it wasn’t strange for him to be on campus late at night?” John asks.

“Not really. Didn’t happen a lot, but if he was going somewhere within walking distance, he’d always go this way,” she says.

“You knew him well, then,” John says.

“Yeah,” she says. “He’s one of my closest friends. And he was dating another.”

“How was the body positioned when you found – him?” Sherlock asks.

“He was face down,” she says. “Kind of sprawled out, like – like he’d just passed out.”

“Were his feet bare?” Sherlock says.

“He had socks on, but yeah, no shoes,” Sam says.

Sherlock smiles slightly. “Four hours between the time he was killed and the time she found him, not much time for someone to come along, and why would a random opportunist take only his shoes?”

“Take his-” Sam blinks. “You think the killer took his shoes.”

Sherlock, John knows, had probably disregarded her existence for the moment, but at the note of surprised comprehension in her voice, he glances back at her.

“It wasn’t exactly unusual, for Finn to lose his shoes or something else when he was pissed. He’d take ‘em off and leave them at the party, or somehow lose them on the way back to his flat.” She smiles slightly, sadly. “Can’t remember how many times a bunch of us went looking for the things drunk-Finn had lost last night.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow as he processes this new information. “Where is the flat he was at?”

“Not exactly sure, just know it was nearby,” she says. “Martin Morstan was hosting it.”

“You weren’t there?” Sherlock asks.

“No. Martin invited me, but I had a study session this morning.” She glances down at her book bag. “It’s why I was here so early.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says, then asks in an almost bored tone, “Did he own a pair of trainers with red and yellow markings?”

He’s obviously not expecting her to know, and neither is John, so when she replies with an immediate, “No,” both of them look at her more closely.

“You’re certain?” Sherlock asks.

“Like I said, I’ve gone on scavenger hunts for Finn’s crap a lot. Shoes were actually pretty common,” she says. “He’s only got two pairs of trainers, and neither of them have red or yellow on them.”

“Finn’s girlfriend wasn’t so familiar with his shoes,” Sherlock says.

Sam rolls her eyes a bit. “If you’d gotten extraordinarily pissed the night before and managed to lose crap while you stumbled home, would you call your girlfriend to help you look for it? No, he called his mates, and that’s what I am.” She pauses. “What I was.”

She’s still sitting up straight, shoulders squared, no tears, but her voice hitches slightly.

John puts a hand on her shoulder briefly before pulling away. “I know it’s hard to lose a friend like that.”

“We’re very sorry for your loss,” Sherlock adds stiffly. “And thank you for your time.”

“Just-” Sam says, then stands and slings her bag over her shoulder. “Find whoever did this.”

“We will,” Sherlock says, all confidence and eyes gleaming with excitement. “That’s what we do.”

After they leave, their final stop for the day is the chemistry lab. There’s only one person in it, a girl who looks about nineteen or twenty. She’s tall, closer to Sherlock’s height than John’s, with pale skin, dark hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, and light blue eyes. Beautiful, really. Not that John’s looking, of course. She’s in a lab coat and wearing safety goggles and gloves, carefully measuring out some sort of blue liquid.

“Fiona Masters?” John asks.

The girl sets down the beaker and removes her gloves and goggles, looking annoyed. “I’ve been expecting you to stop by, but I’d hoped it wouldn’t be until after I was finished.”

“I’m John Watson, and this is Sherlock Holmes. We’ll try not to take up too much of your time,” John says.

“Too late,” she replies snidely.

John stifles a grin. Her “you are wasting my time simply by existing in my presence” look is good, but Sherlock’s is better.

“You have a connection to all four victims,” Sherlock says.

Fiona glares at him. “If by ‘connection’ you mean all four were imbeciles who thought trying to torment other people, of whom I was only one of many, was a valuable way to spend their time, then yes. I had a ‘connection’ to them.”

John chuckles. Both Sherlock and Fiona stare at him.

“Sorry,” he says. “It’s just – you sound just like him.”

Sherlock looks affronted.

“Oh, come on, Sherlock, she does,” John protests. “I – oh, never mind.”

“Yes, that is what I meant by ‘connection.’ Which means your ‘connection’ serves the dual purpose of providing you with motive,” Sherlock says.

“Believe me, if I was to start killing all of the people who think it’s entertaining to try and torment me, there would be a lot more dead bodies,” she says.

Sherlock smirks slightly. “Interestingly enough, considering it’s a serial killer, more bodies is exactly what we will soon have.”

Fiona looks briefly troubled, making her look younger, less assured of herself. Then the stubborn, confident tilt to her chin is back. “Then if I were doing it, I’d hardly have just told you that, would I?”

John’s seen a look like that before. Not as long, and not as open, obvious, but he’s caught quick flashes of something much like it in Sherlock’s eyes, when Sherlock’s trying very hard to show just how much he doesn’t care what people are saying about him.

“We’re not here to accuse you of anything,” John says. “We just want to ask a few questions.”

Fiona narrows her eyes at him. “Really. That’s exactly what the police said, and all they wanted to ask was where was I last night, or on the nights of the other murders, and could they have a sample of my handwriting?”

“That’s because they’re idiots,” Sherlock mutters.

Fiona looks at him interestedly. “First true thing that’s been said all day.”

“We’re here to find out what you know about the victims,” John says.

“You’re still looking in the wrong place,” she replies. “I wasn’t friends with them. I barely knew them, except when they got bored or drunk and took it out on me.”

“That’s why we’re asking you,” John tells her.

She frowns at him, similar to an expression John’s seen Sherlock use when he doesn’t understand something but doesn’t want to admit it.

“Sometimes the people a bully torments know things about him that no one else does,” John says quietly. “Like the fact that he is a bully, for example. Or weaknesses, trigger points. At the very least, they have a very different view of him than others do.”

It sounds somewhat obvious that he’s speaking from personal experience. He knows Sherlock has picked up on it, and he suspects Fiona will as well.

Sure enough, she looks closely at him. “You don’t look like someone who has much experience with bullies.”

‘Should have seen me a year ago,’ John thinks, then says out loud, “I have a sister, five years older than me, who was openly gay from the minute she hit secondary school.”

Fiona looks surprised, then confused, then vaguely frustrated. “That’s a very cryptic answer. Does that mean your sister was bullied and you have vicarious experience, or you were bullied because of that and have first-hand experience?”

“Both,” John says. “Not for long-” No, people learned very quickly not to mess with John or Harry Watson, and by the time John entered secondary school it was all a faded memory. “-but enough to know.”

Fiona watches him for a long time. Then she says, “Not all of them were bullies. That professor, yes, but the two rugby players were just boys.” She says that last word with distaste. “I didn’t even know the guy who worked at the pub. Just poured a drink on him when he hit on me one too many times. First and only time I was in that pub.”

“And you told the police this?” John asks.

“Obviously. But I’m a ‘suspect,’ why should they believe me? And other people are so happy to contradict me,” Fiona says.

“Ah, yes, the opinions of the masses. Always so reliable,” Sherlock says.

She looks back and forth between them. “You’re not what I expected from detectives.”

“I’m a consulting detective,” Sherlock tells her. “You can’t have expected it; I’m the only one in the world.”

“And I’m not a detective at all, actually,” John adds. “I’m a doctor.”

Fiona pulls her hair out of its holder, runs her fingers through it, and ties it up again, neater and tighter. “There is something I know about the victims. I told the police, but they didn’t believe me. I don’t know about the pub worker, but the rugby players, that professor? All of them had a drug habit.”

“Why didn’t the police believe you?” John asks.

“Aside from the obvious? There’s probably no evidence. They were good, careful, or they would have been caught by now. And none of their friends, no one here knows,” Fiona tells them.

“How is it that you know, then?” Sherlock asks.

Fiona fixes him with a level stare.

“Ah,” Sherlock says. “Excellent. Do you know who sold it to them?”

“No,” she says. “I’ve just seen them in certain places, at times when there’s only one thing they could be doing there.”

“Pity,” Sherlock says. “No, wait, good. This gives us a starting point. Well, another starting point, we have several others, obviously, but oh, yes. Promising, very promising.”

He heads for the door, but John lingers.

“Sorry for him,” he says. “He meant to say ‘we appreciate the lead you’ve given us and we’re getting right on it.’”

“I don’t need appreciation,” Fiona tells him.

“Right, of course not,” John says cheerfully. “But you’re going to get it anyway. Thank you, Ms. Masters.”

She looks at him oddly. Then she says, “Fiona.”

He smiles at her. “Thank you, Fiona.”

“John!” Sherlock yells from the hall, where he’s likely just noticed John was missing. “Come on!”

“Duty calls,” John says, then hesitates and hands her one of his cards. “Look, if you think of anything else, or if you need anything, feel free to call. Or text.” He smiles at her again, then jogs after Sherlock.



---



When Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson finally leave, Fiona’s frustrated and confused. She’d expected them to treat her with barely concealed suspicion like everyone else. She hadn’t expected them to not only believe her, but actually take her suggestion into consideration. It always throws her when she’s wrong about things. Usually only momentarily, but this is different. This is someone listening to her. That’s new.

And Dr. Watson. He’d been - nice to her. Genuinely nice. Which doesn’t matter at all, of course. Not at all. They’ve still been irritatingly distracting. Intolerable.

But she slips his card into the pocket of her jeans, anyway.

Fiona’s too unfocused now to return to her work, but it doesn’t matter, because the two men have only been gone a few moments before there’s someone else standing in the door of the chem lab.

It’s a girl, roughly Fiona’s age, perhaps a few years older. Dirty blonde hair, hazel eyes, short in stature, well built. Pretty, if Fiona were the type to notice that kind of thing. She looks vaguely familiar, though Fiona doesn’t know her name. Fiona has seen her recently, and she narrows her eyes slightly as she attempts to place her. Ah. She’d been at the most recent crime scene.

Fiona sighs. These murders have been most inconvenient in a number of ways; keeping her from doing her work is just the most current. And therefore most irritating, at the moment. She looks down at her experiment.

“You were talking with those two detectives,” the girl says.

“Your observational skills are excellent,” Fiona replies. “I look forward to seeing more of them.”

The other girl chuckles slightly, and Fiona looks back up at her, surprised.

“Sorry,” the girl says. “It’s a horrible time to be laughing.” There’s a pause, then, when Fiona doesn’t answer, she says, “I’m Sam.”

“Do you generally laugh when someone insults you?” Fiona asks.

“Yup,” Sam replies. “Or I do when I state the obvious like that and have it coming. And when someone is obviously saying it to irritate me and expects me to be insulted.”

“Hmm,” Fiona says. “I wouldn’t have thought of you as someone who ever did the opposite of what was expected of them.”

Sam raises an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

Fiona waves a hand dismissively. “I know your type. In the Human and Medical Science course, likely planning on attending a graduate program in medicine because your parents wanted a doctor in the family, you go to every football and rugby match, or, more likely, you’re on the team, out at the pubs every night because it’s what your friends do, boring.”

“Can’t all be super geniuses living exciting lives in the chem lab,” Sam says.

There’s a hint of irritation in her otherwise calm voice, and Fiona smiles.

Sam sees it and sighs. “And now you’re doing it again. Look, I heard what you said to the detectives, about Finn doing drugs.”

“Ah. I assume you’re here to tell me I better not be spreading lies such as that about your deceased friend?” Fiona asks.

Sam shrugs. “Assume all you want, but that’s not why I’m here. Do you really think the drugs might have some connection to their deaths, or did you just tell them that to get them to go away?”

Fiona’s eyes narrow. “Why?”

“Because the murders need to stop. And if the police really aren’t going to explore the drug aspect like you said, when it’s the only thing they’ve got to go on, then maybe we could do it,” Sam says.

Fiona ignores the use of “we” for the moment in favour of eyeing her speculatively. “You want to investigate the murders, to solve them. Why do you care?”

“Why do I – are you serious?” Sam asks. “Until they know what connects the victims, there’s no way to tell who’s next. And Finn is – was my friend. I knew Austin. They deserve better. And whoever did that to them-”

She cuts off, but the sentiment is clear. Vengeance. Protecting future victims. Common, typical reasons to want a murder solved, and while noble, still slightly boring. Not reasons for Fiona herself to get involved, although there’s something about the fierceness in Sam’s expression that almost makes her want to.

“And it’s – strange,” Sam says. “Stranger than they’re letting on. There’s writing, and not just the bits that’re on display for all to see.”

Fiona frowns, intrigued. “Other writing?”

“I’m not just Finn’s friend; I was the one who found him,” Sam tells her. “I thought – I thought he might still be alive, so I went to try and help him. He wasn’t.” She swallows, glances away briefly, then looks back. “But I saw, on his chest, there were markings in purple ink. Some kind of pattern; I didn’t get a good enough look to tell what it was. But Finn doesn’t have a tattoo there.”

“How do you know that?” Fiona asks.

Sam just looks at her.

Ah. Dull again. But not enough to dampen Fiona’s interest.

“My information might be a little dated, but I doubt it’s changed,” Sam says.

“And if he didn’t put it there, then it must have been the killer,” Fiona says. “And as every other crime scene has the same elements, he must have written something on the other bodies as well. Something the police don’t want the general public to know.” But something Sam noticed. Fiona smiles, then nods. “All right. I’ve some things to attend to tonight. We’ll meet tomorrow morning for coffee to discuss it further. Seven o’clock all right?” she asks, gathering up her things.

“I, what? Hang on, seven o’clock where?” Sam asks. “Hell, what’s your name?”

Fiona pauses. It hadn’t actually occurred to her that Sam wouldn’t know who she was, though she supposes that explains why Sam hadn’t accused her of being responsible for the murders. Well. Hopefully Sam’s attitude won’t change. “Fiona Masters. As for where,” Fiona shrugs, “your usual place will do. See you at seven.”



---



When John comes downstairs the next morning, he finds Sherlock staring at the living room wall, which is covered with pinned up crime scene photos and case files. Almost exactly the way John had left him when he’d finally gone up to catch a few hours of sleep.

After finishing up at the crime scene yesterday, they’d spent a good while waiting for those photos and files to be delivered. Sherlock had disappeared for part of it, and spent the rest pacing and threatening to go and fetch the information himself.

But everything had come, and then they’d spent a while attempting to decipher the messages (“forever sticks in” for the first victim, Austin Collins, rugby player; “says we’re dumb” for the second victim, Martin Andrews, professor; “jerks have got” for the third victim, Kevin Mitchells, student and pub worker; and “move onwards and outwards” for the last victim, Finn Morgan, rugby player.)

Pieces of what seemed to be a larger message, and they’d tried reworking them (John painstakingly writing out various combinations) until Sherlock, who’d been doing it all in his head, said that each combination was just as likely as the last and, considering it was a serial killer, the perpetrator was likely planning on writing more messages. For the moment, it was useless to attempt to discover what the whole was without all the pieces.

Then Sherlock had gone silent, staring at the photos, and John had gone up to bed.

“Did you sleep at all?” John asks as he heads into the kitchen to make some tea.

Sherlock makes a noncommittal murmur.

“I’ll take that as a no,” John mutters.

He brings two mugs over when the tea’s done, handing one to Sherlock and looking over the photos. “Any luck in the last few hours?”

Sherlock takes an absent drink from the mug. “No obvious signs of missing items.”

John frowns, leaning in closer to examine a photo of Professor Andrews’ body, pinned up at John’s eye level. “This one – he’s got a tan line on his left ring finger.”

Sherlock doesn’t look away from the photos, but the corners of his lips twitch upwards in a brief smile. “Yes. His file says he’s recently separated, had been planning on getting a divorce, most likely removed it himself.” Sherlock waves a hand at the wall, irritated. “They’re all like that. No jewellery, no hats, no scarves or gloves, because they didn’t wear them, or because they were taken?” He frowns, taps his fingers against his knee, then nods. “We need more information.” He moves towards the door, setting his mug down on the coffee table as he goes.

John sighs, gulps down the rest of his tea in one go (and doesn’t that bring back memories of uni, as if this case wasn’t doing that already) and resigns himself to skipping breakfast. “Where are we going?”

“Flatmates, colleagues,” Sherlock says, putting on his coat. “The last people who saw those three alive might be able to tell us if they were wearing something that wasn’t found with them. Their effects are still evidence, of course, but we have pictures, that should suffice. I want you to speak with the rugby player’s flatmate and the pub worker’s colleague. Their addresses are in their case files.”

John reaches for his own coat. “What about the drugs thing, the one Fiona told us about?”

Sherlock raises an eyebrow. “Fiona, is it?” Before John can answer, he continues with, “Already taken care of. Well. In the process of being taken care of. Not all of us have been idle half the night.”

John closes his eyes, counts to four (the number of hours he’d slept last night, incidentally), until the urge to strangle Sherlock has moderately diminished. When he opens his eyes, Sherlock is staring at him intensely.

“What?” John asks.

“You don’t think she did it,” Sherlock says.

“So? Neither do you,” John replies. “Or you wouldn’t have acted on her suggestion.”

Sherlock waves his hand dismissively. “I explore every avenue of investigation, John, and in any case, it’s of no consequence. Your belief in her innocence is far more intriguing.”

“Why?” John says.

Sherlock smiles like John’s done something right. “Yes! Precisely. Why do you think she’s innocent?”

John frowns. “I dunno. Instinct, I guess.” He doesn’t say, ‘she reminded me of you, and I kind of wanted to give her a hug.’

Sherlock makes a derisive snort. “Instinct cannot reliably tell you if someone is a killer.”

John shrugs. “I can be a pretty good judge of character. I’ve learned to trust it. I’ve been mostly right about you, after all.”

Sherlock frowns at him. “You - judged my character?”

He makes it sound almost scandalous, and John fights a grin.

“What was the result, then?” Sherlock asks.

John fixes him with his best imitation of a Sherlock-style ‘you should be able to figure this out on your own’ look. “I killed a man for you on our first case. You think I’d do that for just anyone I’d known for a day?”

Sherlock’s making an expression that, were it anyone else, John would call gaping. But Sherlock Holmes doesn’t gape at people.

“John,” Sherlock murmurs, an odd quality to his voice that John’s never heard before. Then he clears his throat and shoves a pair of folders into John’s hands. “All the information you need is in here. Text me when you’ve finished, and do try to be efficient about it.”

He leaves before John can respond to that.

John rolls his eyes, but tucks the folders into the pocket on the inside of his jacket and heads out, determinedly not trying to figure out just what had been in Sherlock’s eyes then, or why it’d stirred an odd, fluttering feeling in John’s stomach.



---



Sam’s at the coffee shop at six forty-five the next morning, because she wants some caffeine in her if she’s going to deal with more like the chem lab yesterday. That, and she hadn’t slept much last night. The rugby team had held a sort of giant group comfort gathering (not an official memorial, that would be planned for and arranged later). But all of Finn’s friends had been there, all the rugby players, the cheerleaders, the men’s and women’s football players. Not too much different from the normal crowd, except it was all of them at once instead of only a third or so, and it was a lot quieter than their normal parties.

After that, she and Lacey had made a quick stop at their flat to grab some clothes before they’d gone over to stay the night at Kayla’s. The rest of Finn’s closest friends were there as well, Anna, Danny, and Sawyer, the people Sam thought of as the core group, the ones Finn called to go on his scavenger hunts or when he got it into his head that they should go on a road trip at four AM or when he needed somewhere safe to fall apart or –

Sam clutches her coffee cup tighter. As much as she loves her friends, and as much as she’d needed them last night, she’s almost grateful for the time alone. Things had been so crazy yesterday, and she and Lacey had spent all of their time comforting others, so that it’s sort of nice to be able to just breathe. But she can’t allow herself to just sit back and mourn, not yet. Not when the person who’d done this is still out there, can still hurt someone else.

“Sorry Finn,” she murmurs into her second cup of coffee. “I’ll grieve for you when this is done.”

Fiona chooses that moment to appear at her table, and Sam glances at her mobile. Seven on the dot. If Fiona’s heard her, though, she gives no sign. She shrugs out of her long, dark purple coat, drapes it over the back of the chair across from Sam, and sits down, setting her own coffee mug on the table in front of her.

“You didn’t sleep last night,” Fiona says by way of greeting. “Your eyes are bloodshot and the bags under them are darker than they were yesterday.”

“Thanks,” Sam replies, trying not to feel irritated. “You look gorgeous, too.”

Fiona frowns, and Sam wonders if that was her way of asking if Sam was all right, or if she was still up for investigating today.

“I’ll be fine for today. I’m used to doing things on little sleep,” Sam tells her. “Hazards of being a football player and hoping to get into a graduate program.”

Fiona smiles slightly. “So I was right.”

“Yes, on the facts, if not the motivations,” Sam says. “How did you know, anyway?”

“Your book bag was open; I could see your text books. I saw you at the crime scene when I passed it yesterday, saw who you were hanging out with, so you had to at least belong to that crowd, go to matches, but you have the build of an athlete, so I assumed player. And everyone in that crowd frequents pubs.” Fiona looks slightly disgruntled. “How was I wrong on the motivations?”

“My parents thought I’d do something with law, or maybe the military. But they were quite happy I chose doctor. And yes, sometimes I go to pubs because my friends drag me along, but sometimes they go because I drag them.” Sam doesn’t admit that it’s more often the first, or that Fiona had hit a nerve there, because sometimes Sam did do things just because everyone expected her to.

Fiona’s frowning at her. “Is that why you didn’t go directly into a medical program, then? Your parents thought you’d do something else?”

“It was expected that I’d go to university, and I wanted to go, so I did. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do my first term,” Sam says, before realizing she’s just admitted to another thing that she did at least partially because people expected her to. She grimaces and shrugs. “When I realized I was interested in medicine, I picked the course most suited.”

Sam takes another drink of her coffee, then frowns. “How’d you know to show up here, anyway? I didn’t tell you where I usually go for coffee.”

“You were carrying a travel mug from here. Those aren’t worth buying unless you come here often enough to get their discount,” Fiona says.

Sam looks down, pointedly, to the travel mug that’s in front of Fiona, the one with the logo of the coffee shop they’re sitting in.

Fiona smiles.

“That is pretty awesome,” Sam admits.

Fiona’s eyes narrow.

“I’m not being sarcastic,” Sam says hurriedly. “I mean it, there’s nothing wrong with being smart and using it.” Of course, there are politer ways to use it, but Sam has a feeling telling Fiona that won’t do any good.

Then again, Fiona’s now looking at her like Sam’s some sort of chemistry project that’s shown an unexpected result, one which Fiona isn’t sure she likes or not, so maybe Sam should have a go at telling her anyway.

But Sam doesn’t, because while it’s a bit creepy, it’s also slightly flattering. Fiona’s looking at her like she’s interesting.

‘And doesn’t that say something about me,’ Sam thinks, then leans back a bit in her chair and says, “I asked some people about you.”

“Oh?” Fiona asks, her tone full of politely faked interest.

“Most people seem to think you committed the murders,” Sam says. But then, she’d found that out before she even talked to Fiona, when she overheard Fiona’s conversation with the two consulting detectives. Sam mostly just wants to know what Fiona will say to that.

“So I’ve been told,” Fiona says. Polite disinterest now, and Sam can tell that Fiona’s trying to put on a carefully bored expression. It’s mostly successful, but Sam can still see the hurt in Fiona’s eyes before Fiona looks down at her coffee.

“Did you?” Sam asks, blunt and honest.

Fiona’s head snaps up, and she looks ready to say something sarcastic and cutting. But her gaze meets Sam’s, and whatever she sees there seems to change her mind.

“No,” Fiona says.

Sam nods. “Okay, then.”

Fiona frowns. “You believe me, just like that?”

Sam shrugs. “I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I don’t think you did it. I think together we might find who did. So. What’s the plan for today?”

Fiona stares at her for a long moment. Then she says, “I don’t know if the man who worked at the pub was involved with drugs. We should find out. And try to see what the connection might be. Same drug, same dealer, I don’t know. Search their rooms, maybe, see if there’s anything the police didn’t find because they weren’t looking for it.”

“I can get us into Finn and Austin’s flats,” Sam says. “But the other two will be trickier.”

Fiona stands, picking up her coffee. “We’ll start with the two rugby players, then.”



---



John takes a cab out to the first victim’s flat to start. The case file he’s got on Austin Collins says Collins’ flatmate, Chris Maxwell, was the last person to see him the night he’d died.

The door opens almost immediately after he’s knocked, to John’s surprise.

“Did you forget-” a young man’s voice says, then stops when the door’s open enough for him to see who’s behind it. “Oh, sorry, I thought you were someone else. Can I help you?”

“Are you Chris Maxwell?” John asks, then continues at the boy’s nod. “I’m John Watson. I’m investigating Austin Collins’ murder. Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Yeah, sure,” Chris says, letting him in. “Have you guys found anything yet?”

“We’re looking into several new pieces of information we’ve recovered,” John tells him. “That’s why I’m here, actually. Can you remember what Austin was wearing that night?”

Chris frowns. “Um, yeah, I think. Vaguely. Why?”

That doesn’t sound encouraging, but John pulls out the folder and his notepad anyway. He hands Chris a series of photos (carefully selected during the cab ride to be as least morbid as possible). “Can you think of anything he had on the last time you saw him that isn’t in these pictures?”

Chris flips through the pictures. After only a few moments, he frowns. “Yeah. His bracelet; it’s missing.” He points at Austin’s bare right wrist. “It’s black leather with silver beads.”

“You’re sure he was wearing it when you saw him?” John asks, writing the description down.

Chris nods. “He always wears it. Got it right before a match, and forgot to take it off. We did awesome during the first part. Then he remembered during a break, took it off, and we started losing. He sticks it back on, we come around and win. Aus said it was the bracelet, called it his good luck charm. He wouldn’t have taken it off.”

John scribbles this quickly into his notes. “Thank you. Just one more question. I realize this may be slightly uncomfortable, but, to your knowledge, did Austin ever take drugs?”

Chris scowls. “No. The other cops asked that, too, and my answer’s the same as it was then. I don’t care what that creep says, Aus didn’t do drugs.”

John resists the urge to wince. “You understand, once the subject is brought up, we have to ask,” he says, in his best understanding voice.

Chris’s scowl fades. “All right. I know. It’s just – it’s horrible, having to hear that shit about Aus.”

John nods. “Well, thank you very much for your time.”

Chris gives him back the pictures. “Glad to help. We’re all happy to do whatever we can; we just want this bastard caught.”

“So do we,” John says honestly. “We’ve got the best on the case. My partner, he-” John smiles slightly. “His success rate is astronomical.”

“Good,” Chris replies as John leaves. “Let’s hope he keeps it that way.”

John spends a bit finding another cab, then directs it to the other address in his information. One of Kevin Mitchell’s co-workers had been the last to see him alive. Hopefully she’ll be able to remember what he’d been wearing well enough to know if anything was missing when he was found. They were just co-workers, so John isn’t expecting her to, but then, Collins’ flatmate had surprised him.

He rings the bell to her flat when he arrives, belatedly hoping he isn’t waking her. It’s not exactly early, and Collins’ flatmate had been up, but she works at a pub, and for all he knows, she could have had a late shift last night.

But when she answers the door, she looks relatively alert. “Yes?” she asks.

“Jamie Kowalski?” he asks. “John Watson. I wanted to ask you a few questions about your colleague, Kevin Mitchell.”

“You with the police, then?” she asks, but doesn’t wait for a response before standing aside and holding the door open for him. “Figured you guys’d be coming round here now that there’s been another one.” She closes the door behind him and gestures him into the living room. “Can I get you anything, Detective Watson?”

“John, please,” he says, feeling slightly bad about deceiving her. “No, thank you, I’m fine. I won’t take up too much of your time.” He pulls out the photos, once again carefully selected to be as least grisly as possible, and sets them on the coffee table. “It might seem like a strange question, so don’t worry if you can’t remember. But can you think of anything that he might’ve been wearing when you last saw him that isn’t in these pictures?”

Jamie leans forward, examining the pictures. After a few minutes, she picks one up to look closer. “I – yes. He has this – handkerchief that he always wears poking out of his breast pocket. He likes to offer it to girls who’ve spilled their drinks – you know, be their hero. He definitely had it that night, I remember him using it. But it’s not in the photos.”

“Can you describe it to me?” John asks, trying not to sound too eager as he pulls out his notepad.

“It was red, with a black chequer pattern,” she says. “And it has his initials on it, in the bottom left corner.” She flushes lightly. “He’s given it to me a few times.”

“That’s excellent,” he tells her. “This is going to be very helpful, thank you.”

She looks pleased, then blinks. “Is that all?”

“Well.” John’s hesitant to ask, especially given how Chris reacted, but he goes for it anyway. “There is one more thing. Do you have any idea if Kevin happened to be involved with drugs?”

Jamie pauses, then smiles slightly. “Suppose he can’t get into any more trouble than he already is, can he? I never knew anything definite, but sometimes he’d come into work looking like he was on something. Not too obvious, but I – I noticed him a lot. He was – fit. And he had a nice smile.” She flushes again. “Anyway, I heard him mention it once or twice, but not to me, and it was only snippets of conversation.”

John writes that down as well, then gathers up the photos. He tucks them and his notepad back into his jacket pocket and stands, holding out his hand.

“Thank you very much,” he tells her as she shakes it. “You’ve been extremely helpful.”

He texts Sherlock after he leaves, but John’s already hailed a cab and is halfway back to Baker Street before he gets a reply.

Meet me at Paddie’s. Will be there soon. SH

Why Paddie’s? John texts back, even as he tells the driver to change his course.

You missed breakfast. SH

John smiles, absurdly pleased.

It’s nearly noon; you’ll be cranky without food. SH

The pleased feeling fades into exasperation. Affectionate exasperation, though, as Sherlock’s at least noticed John’s lack of eating and sought to remedy it.

And Paddie owes me a favour. We could use a free meal. SH

Since, as you so often remind me, we have limited funds. SH

What do you mean I often remind you?

You made me go to Minsk. SH

Minsk, John. SH

And I had to purchase aeroplane tickets. Resulting in a negative. SH

Wouldn’t have been a negative if you’d taken the case.

No amount of money was worth that. SH

Yes, and that’s why I have to remind you.

John’s arrived at Paddie’s now, and in the time it takes him to pay the cabbie, get a table, sit down, and say yes to the waitress’s offer of coffee, he’s received eleven texts. With a sigh, he scrolls up in his inbox to read them in their proper order.

As I originally said. SH

It’s particularly enjoyable when you do so on my own website. SH

Perhaps I should begin advertising things such as that on your blog. SH

I’m certain people will find those much more enlightening than your entries. SH

Be sure to check your blog at your earliest convenience. SH

Now would be preferable. SH

John. SH

Are you checking, John? SH

No witty reply, then? SH

John. SH

John? SH

I just got to Paddie’s. John texts as quickly as possible to avoid another dozen or so “John”s.

Ah. SH

Are you checking your blog? SH

John sighs, and resolutely does not open up his blog. No. Are you on your way here?

This is, unfortunately, taking much longer than I had anticipated. SH

What’s taking longer? What’re you doing that you can text so much?

Waiting. SH

If disdain was capable of being transported through a text message, John has a feeling he’d be faced with a whole lot right now.

Waiting for what?

To speak with one Professor Jake Berenson. Last person to see Martin Andrews alive. SH

I had the misfortune to arrive at a time when his regularly scheduled office hours have been turned into appointments to discuss term papers. SH

It is quite inconvenient. He should have posted the change on the faculty’s directory. SH

And you’re actually waiting instead of barging in on the professor and whatever poor student he’s in there with to demand to speak to him anyway? Good on you, Sherlock.

There’s a long pause, which John is grateful for, as his coffee arrives and it allows him to thank the waitress and tell her he’ll wait a bit longer before ordering food. Finally, his phone beeps again.

You really should check your blog. SH

John grins, and sends back, You barged in on them and got told off, didn’t you?

I was informed that, as I am not officially a member of the police, I would get no information until he was finished with his appointments. SH

John tries not to giggle, but isn’t successful. So now you have to wait.

Your amusement is unappreciated and inappropriate. The situation is not humorous in the least. SH

It is a bit.

How’s your blog? SH

I’m not checking it, Sherlock, no matter how many inane messages you leave in your boredom.

Come on, John. SH

Entertain me, John. SH

This is intolerable, John. SH

Too bad this can’t be solved with breaking and entering and burglary, as is your usual method.

You’ve hit it exactly, John, I do so love when you know what I’m thinking. SH

Better than explaining it to me?

Hmm. You do tend to make the most gratifying expressions of amazement. SH

I’m so glad you enjoy it when I grin like a fool.

Of course. I adore the way you smile. SH

John stares at that text message for a long time. Sherlock can’t have meant it the way it sounds. It likely doesn’t even sound that way, and John’s only reading things into it because –

He cuts off that train of thought. There was no reason he was seeing it that way, because he wasn’t seeing it that way. There was no way to see it. Other than the way it was. Yes.

John, I only mea SH

Please ignore previous message: hit send instead of delete. SH

Did I offend you? It wasn’t intended as an insult. SH

No, sorry, waitress came by to see if I was ready to order. It’s fine. I like it when you smile, too. He hits send before he can think better of it. Nothing wrong with returning the sentiment. It’s the truth, after all.

:) SH

Oh, God, please never do that again.

But you said you like it when I smile. SH

When *you* smile, Sherlock, not when you send me an emoticon.

Why are there asterisks around ‘you’? SH

For emphasis.

That’s just as bad as emoticons. SH

Is not.

Is so. SH

My sister uses emoticons.

Ah. I’d certainly never want to remind you of your sibling. SH

Yeah, that’d be awkward. Way more than Sherlock knew. Way more than John was willing to admit, even to himself.

Indeed. SH

Did you order? SH

No. Waiting for you.

I won’t be eating. SH

Yes you will.

We’re working. SH

Don’t care. You haven’t eaten since we found the body.

It disrupts my thinking process. SH

It does not. It’s all in your head.

Precisely. My focus needs to be all in my head. SH

You’re eating, Sherlock.

And do you intend to force-feed me? SH

If needs be, though I’m sure that’ll cause a scene. Might not get our free meal.

One of the most irritating things about you, John, is that there are times when I cannot tell if you are bluffing. SH

You like it.

Yes, I think I do. SH

John swallows, and has to debate his response to that for a moment. He settles for, If you’re really that bored, I’ll wait and speak with the professor.

Tempting, but impractical. I will be in before you can get here, and there is, sadly, nothing more I can be doing at the moment. I’m still waiting for word on both lines of investigation I set in motion last night. SH

What lines?

The sample of the trainer sent to the lab, though that one I may have to simply do myself to get any kind of result quickly, and an investigation of the tip given to us by Ms. Masters, of whose innocence you are so assured. SH

Not this again. You don’t think she did it, either, I know you don’t.

Yes, but my belief is based on logic. Not because I like her. SH

John sighs and ignores that last bit. What logic?

If she was the killer, it’d be far too obvious. SH

I know you don’t like an obvious solution, Sherlock, but generally, the most obvious answer is the right one.

No, too obvious for her. Everyone thinks she did it; she’s far too clever for that. If she did kill someone, no one would link it to her. Likely as not, the body would never be found. SH

John considers texting, ‘I told you she sounds like you,’ but decides against it. It’s probably not a very good idea to imply that that’s what would happen if Sherlock decided to kill someone. Instead he texts, That doesn’t sound like logic to me. Sounds like you have an instinct about her.

It doesn’t surprise me that you are unable to recognize my conclusions for the logical thought processes they are. SH

Nice comeback. Implying that I’m an idiot never gets old.

So nice to hear that your thoughts once again align with mine. SH

John laughs. They do when your brain lets you hear whatever you want to.

There’s no reply for a long time, long enough for the waitress to refill his coffee twice. John tries not to worry, because really, what could happen while Sherlock was waiting to speak to a professor (all right, that was a stupid question, and not the best line of thinking). Still, the most likely reason for Sherlock’s silence was that Sherlock had gone in to talk with the professor.

Finally, John gives in and texts, Are you here yet?

This time he only has to wait a few minutes before getting a response.

In cab now. Order me something, if you’re going to insist I eat. Doesn’t matter, whatever you’re having. SH

John smiles. Meeting must have gone well, then, if Sherlock’s going along with John’s insistence that he eat. Of course, John knows that Sherlock’s only telling him to order something to appease him, and likely isn’t actually planning on eating anything. John orders for them both anyway, figuring he can probably get at least a little bit of food into Sherlock.

Their food hasn’t arrived yet (though the coffee John ordered for Sherlock has) when Sherlock sweeps in through the front door, coat swirling around his legs. He looks – dramatic, eyes bright and intense, and John can’t help but stare.

When Sherlock stops at their table and raises an eyebrow, John grins at him.

“Like the entrance. Very dramatic,” John says. Yes, John, that’s why you were staring.

Sherlock makes a face at him and says, “Shut up.”

John laughs as Sherlock sits down.

“Well?” Sherlock asks, taking a gulp of the coffee.

John pulls out his notepad and recaps what he’d learned from Chris and Jamie. Their food comes while he’s talking, but John waits until he’s finished before digging in.

Interesting,” Sherlock says, steepling his fingers.

“So Professor Andrews was missing something too, then?” John asks between bites.

“Yes, of course,” Sherlock says absently. “That much is obvious; he’s taken something from each of his victims. Trophies, perhaps, or some other significance. But look at what he’s taken. Trainers. A handkerchief. A bracelet. A pocket watch. All seemingly random. But each has some sort of significance to their owners, some story behind them. How could the killer know this, unless-”

“Unless he knew the victims,” John says, when Sherlock pauses, waiting for John to catch on.

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees with a smile. “We know the killings weren’t random, with writing that large, there’s obviously some message he wants to get across, but the victims, they aren’t random, either. They’re people he knows, well enough to know what has the most significance to them, and then he takes it.”

“Couldn’t he stalk them?” John asks. “Maybe that’s how he knows about it, he learns about his victims before he kills them. These potatoes are amazing, by the way, have you tried them?”

“I had thought of that,” Sherlock says, stabbing a few potatoes with his fork and popping them into his mouth. “But even the best stalkers leave evidence. Generally they can’t help themselves, part of them wants the victim to know they’re there. With four victims, the level of knowledge required to know the stories behind these items, someone would have noticed something. Far more likely he’s a member of their social circle.”

John nods, then says, “You should try the omelette, it’s excellent.”

Sherlock absently cuts off a piece. “Not in the midst of it, of course, but somewhere on the periphery.”

“So he’s likely on the rugby or football team, then,” John says.

Sherlock frowns at him. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, two of them were rugby players, and a third worked in a pub. If you’re on one of the teams, you have an open invite to any event or party. You’re automatically part of that social circle, even if you’re not really close friends with anyone. You can find out all sorts of things about people at those parties. And when you spend a lot of your time in pubs, well-” John shrugs, then adds, “At least, that’s how it was in my day. Here, try this.”

He thrusts a forkful of omelette and potato at Sherlock, who eats it without taking the fork, chewing thoughtfully.

Sherlock’s looking at John like he’s done something interesting again, and John wants to ask if it’s because he alluded to his uni days, because he knew something that may help narrow down the suspect list, or because John has now successfully gotten Sherlock to eat several bites of omelette and potatoes. But he doesn’t, because drawing attention to the latter will probably mean he won’t get Sherlock to eat any more of it.

It turns out he needn’t have been concerned, though, as Sherlock stabs a few more potatoes and some omelette with his fork, eats it, downs the rest of his coffee, and stands. “Come on, John.”

“Mmf,” John says, shovelling the remainder of his omelette into his mouth. “Where are we going?”

“Home,” Sherlock replies. “There’s work to be done.”

---

Part Two

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