John stumbled out of the time machine on February 24, 1984. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves," he muttered as he heaved and leaned heavily against the machine. Nineteen years: That was quite a distance, wasn't it? He should have thought to drink up loads of water before he came; now he was paying the price. Even Sherlock-over-his-shoulder scoffed: "Obviously." Maybe he was in too much of a hurry. Should've sat and
got his bearings. Well, at least there wasdamn, no, no there wasn't. This would be the earliest he'd gone to, so he wouldn't have left any water for himself. John reached into his jacket for his notepad, and flipped to the page after the one on which he'd written the coordinates. "WATER," he scribbled in handwriting truly befitting to his profession. Well, he'd be able to read it, anyway. He laid it against the console of the machine: there. That way before he left he'd remember to bring some water here for himself for later.
But for right now, he was in a pretty bad state. One skin pinch test confirmed that theory: this was bordering on dangerous. He wasn't unused to itit had been a more frequent state of being than he would have liked during his time in Afghanistanbut that didn't make him feel any less awful. If he could think past the buzzing in his head and the nausea in his belly then he'd still have to work past the increased heart rate. A fountain in the backyard was beginning to sound rather appetizing right now.
Of course, given that he couldn't do that, happening across a drinking fountain or else finding someplace he could order a glass of water would have to do.
In the end, it was a much longer walk than he'd hoped. It had taken him several streets away, maybe more, and he was no longer in even vaguely familiar territory. At last he was finally able to find a café that would give him some water.
Naturally, he got a few odd looks for the sheer volume of water he attempted to consume, though nobody spoke up about it. (And what an odd question that would be, anyway.) He sat in the café long enough to watch customers come and go, ordering and eating and laughing or holding hands or jostling shoulders or discussing business plans. Here they all were, not knowing that in less than thirty years Sherlock Holmes would be jumping off a building. Here they all were, not knowing about a bomber who played puzzle games with men named Holmes. (Here they all were, not knowing about tiny little cell phones and text messaging, John thought, so really, maybe expecting them to expect Sherlock, who was much more unbelievable than a pocket-sized computer, was a bit much.)
There was, though, a moment at which the customer exchange slowed. It was subtle: Had John been subconsciously timing the frequency of customers entering? It was just that it had been a little longer than usual since anyone came in, maybe a minute
and when the next customer entered looking shaken and exchanged quiet words with the cashier, it was enough that John was tempted into taking a few steps away from his table to look out the window. The street had changed entirely: pedestrians had accumulated in a ring in the street. John sprinted from the café to hear a number of shouts for "Ambulance!" rising from the crowd. He pushed his way to the innermost part of the ring to see what it was everyone was looking at.
Oh, god. A girlyoung, maybe twentycollapsed on the street.
John quickly evaluated her state: Stilldeadly stilldead. She wasn't breathing. "Has anyone called an ambulance?" he shouted to the crowd after suppressing the initial urge to pull out his mobileit was 1984, after all. "Or the police?" The young woman's possessions were strewn about her, items from her handbag spilled out over her arms and arcing along a path to her face. Her face: flushed, red, covered in a thin sheet of sweat. John was sure he could decipher what had happened to her if he could properly look everything overbut then he would have to speak with the medical technicians and the police, explain why he could prove he was a doctor in 2012 but not in 1984, explain why if they looked him up they would find an eight-year-old lad with nothing but a still-blooming interest merely in the idea of being a doctor. God, it felt awfulhe should do somethingbut nothing to do, if she was dead. If he couldmaybe he could learnwell, it was just, this looked like
"Clear out!" shouted one paramedic, cutting through the crowd to make a path for several more with a stretcher. They crouched over her, muttering amongst themselves. "Does anyone know how long she's been dead?" he asked.
"Can't say for sure," John told him, "but I think it's been a few minutes at least."
"And you are
A doctor, dammit, now let me take a closer look, John wanted to say. "I've just been here for that long. It didn't look like she was breathing when I got up to the front."
"Did you see it happen?"
"No," John shook his head, and looked to the other people around him.
"She just fell," one said.
"She was stumbling around and keeled over."
"She was talking to herself, I think. Didn't make much sense. Maybe she was drunk."
Nonsense, thought John, because she didn't smell the least bit like alcohol. "No, look," he said, "she has those rashes on her skin, her face is all red. In fact, she looks flushed all over." He paused, considered leaving it there, but couldn't. "Maybe if you look at her arms and hands you can see whether she tried to catch herself or not?" She hadn't: John had noticed no indication of impact on her forearms or the heels of her hands, where she would have tried to reach out and catch her fall. Instead, he was willing to wager that her shoulder and hip had taken the brunt of the blow: the way she was sprawled out, the path of her possessions, they all pointed to her having swooned onto her side.
Sherlock-over-his-shoulder said, "No prominent marks, bruises." John tried to tune him out, to focus on the data rather than the voice.
"So probably no one knocked her over," John said. "I mean, or else she'd have bruises from some kind of a blunt weapon, right?" Of course. But he didn't want to be doing these peoples' job for them. They could figure it out. He was just
"Poisoning," said Sherlock-over-his-shoulder. Obviously, thought John, but he didn't say anything. They'd figure it out.
"This almost looks like one of those suicides," one of the paramedics said.
"The Yard will be out here soon enough, they can take a look."
John blinked. This was
familiar. "Sorry, what
"It's been all over the news, haven't you seen? Girls up and offing themselves. Dunno, it's probably just some drug kids are into nowadays, and they don't realize how dangerous it is. Overdose."
"Not suicides," said Sherlock-over-his-shoulder, "she clearly wasn't planning on dying." Obviously, thought John. Unless they were accidental, which was always a possibility.
"And this is the same thing?" John asked. "The same drug? Or poison?"
"Scotland Yard will have a look, but I'd bet so."
John nodded and took a closer look at the bodywell, as close a look as he could take without anyone shooing him off. There had to be something here he wasn't seeing; Sherlock would be able to figure out what had happened straight away, with just a glance and a brief inspection of some minor detail. If only John could find it, too.
John crossed his arms, felt Sherlock-over-his-shoulder looming, waiting. He felt like he was once again looking over Carl Powers' shoe, under pressure to impress. Sherlock had asked such things of him several times since that occasion.
"What do you think, John?" he'd ask, crouching over a corpse or a rug or an abandoned plate of spaghetti. John would take a few seconds to look it over; usually he became self-conscious after a moment and sputtered out a few obvious things and gave up. It got better the more frequently Sherlock asked him the question, though. Once, he'd really taken his time observing the bed of a suspected murderer, tried to keep his calm.
"The sheets are thrown back," John had said tentatively, "on this side. Which a lot of people do, but
" he glanced around, "
but not this bloke."
?" Sherlock had prompted, eyebrows rising and bright eyes shining with what John could only read as hope.
"Because his books are in alphabetical order," John said, affecting Sherlock's stance and condescending tone, "and his toothpaste is squeezed from the bottom."
Sherlock raised his eyebrows. "We've not been in the bathroom yet."
"Just a hunch," John said, which made Sherlock grin. Sherlock had leaned toward John, as if he were about to pat his back or pull him into a hugbut it had ended up an uncertain and momentary settling of his hand on John's shoulder.
"Very good," Sherlock said. "Excellent, John. But
"Okay, what did I miss this time?"
"The reason he got out of bed in a hurry and didn't make the bed before he left wasn't because he was in a hurry to catch the victim at the train station, it was because his friend called him and he'd left his phone in the kitchen the night before. The bed being mussed up has little to do with the murder, aside from that he got up in a hurry thinking it might be the accomplice calling him up. The murder didn't occur until several hours later. Obvious from the fact that while he forgot to neaten his beddingthat was merely a coincidencehe did wash not only the bowl from which he ate his breakfast but also the plate from which he ate his lunch."
John sighed, slumping his shoulders and rolling his eyes. "Why do you even ask my opinion?"
"It helps," Sherlock assured him, lip pouting out slightly in what John recognized as his softening out of analytical mode. It was a sort of apology, he knew. Others' claim that Sherlock was anything other than human was, in the end, simply a result of a gross inability to read him. It was an easy mistake to make. "And anyway, you were right: it was unusual that he didn't make his bed."
"Is there something else I'm supposed to have gotten from it?" After all, Sherlock had specifically asked John about the bed. There had to be some clue there.
"Nothing at all." The corner of one side of his lip tucked up into a light, lopsided smile.
"Right." Not likely.
"Well," Sherlock snapped back into analytical mode. "You did miss the smell of the shampoo in his pillow."
"Ah." John raised his eyebrows, prompting an explanation.
"Cheap: not from his own house." Right, because Sherlock hadn't seen the bathroom, either, but he would know what kind of shampoo this fellow would own. John smirked a little: even he could see now how that would be possible. "The question is: Where did he wash his hair the day before?"
"And I suppose you already have an idea of the answer to that question?"
And off they went again, although Sherlock insisted that they check the bathroom to confirm their theories. His shampoo was expensive; his toothpaste was squeezed from the bottom up. Sherlock smirked. "Well done." John beamed.
John snapped back to this scene, letting himself pay close attention to the dead young woman before him. Sherlock would have had no problem with solving this. John wondered if maybe he himself couldn't help out with the case, somehow. He could potentially save a lot of lives, if he did, andand Sherlock would be proud (proud in the Sherlock way, which would probably involve pointing out six ways John could have solved everything within half an hourbut proud nonetheless). John could tell Sherlock all about it, after he saved him.
John couldno, no, unlikely the detectives at the Yard would just let some random bloke meander onto the case. Maybe if he could conduct himself with the same kind of air as Sherlock, just waltz in and act like he belonged there
could he do that? And what would he do if he crouched down to make a deduction and got nothing? What if he was flat-out wrong? They'd shoo him away, haul him away by force if necessary. They might suspect him and actually arrest himand what a nightmare that would be. What's more, if anyone asked him to prove he was a doctorwell, they wouldn't exactly accept identification from 2012, would they? Probably lock him up just for that alone. He'd never be able to save Sherlock, and that wasn't worth risking.
But maybe he could so some searching of his own. Just because the police happened to be investigating it didn't mean he couldn't. He'd just
be careful. He could take the leads they didn't, go the places they wouldn't check. Sherlock had done it plenty of times. Either they would find the culprit first, or he would. "You'll find the murderer," said Sherlock-over-his-shoulder. "You know my methods." John felt a nudge at his shoulderhe had imagined it, he knew, but he still liked the thoughtgently pushing him forward to get another good look at the body. He committed as much to memory as he couldhe'd write it down later; doubtless John had less memory on his mental hard drive than Sherlock, as he cluttered his with useless things like who the Prime Minister was or whether or not something he wanted to say about a client's dead uncle was socially acceptable.
"Right," John muttered to himself. He might want to ask people if they had seen herso a physical description would be good. Simple details that anyone might remember, first, for that purpose: long, wavy blonde hair, petite figure, jeans, snug white t-shirt with blue stripes. Teal handbag, moderate in size, white laundry bag packed with folded clothes. Little yellow shoes. She was the picture, John thought, that many would imagine up at the phrase "pretty girl," all the way down to a small, pointy nose. John also noted what he hadn't of her symptoms, although the guessed that a lot more could be done to identify the drug or poison in a lab. Did the Yarders know what it was? Maybe he could listen in and find out. If he only he'd been able to see her alivemaybe he would be able to narrow it down more. He would guess, though, that this had been poisoningnot accidental, but intended to harm or kill, if there had been so many other similar deaths. It had happened before, and it would happen again if he couldn't figure out who did it and how.
John leaned farther over the body. He shouldn't physically move her thingsno need to become implicatedbut maybe he could see enough. Sherlock rarely used more than small touches to get what he needed; usually it only took a glance. He was the same with people, of course. Sherlock had moved through the world seemingly making contact with it in as few places as possible. That he stayed connected to one address for more than a month had occasionally surprised John; that he stayed connected to John sometimes surprised him more.
The laundry that had been in the larger bag was mostly foldedclean. She'd been walking with it, so either she lived near here and had taken a taxi elsewhere to do her laundrynot likely, it was mostly shops here and the neighborhoods were probably out of the price range for someone her age, she probably wasn't married, no ringor she had been to a laundrette near here. That much laundry, she wouldn't have wanted to carry it too far. She had another bag tucked into her handbag, but John couldn't make out what was printed on it. What had fallen out of her bag, though, was a receipt: Tesco, one just down the street. He'd look there. He could make out what was on the receiptnothing very telling, nothing that immediately struck John as odd, but maybe he could look near those items for something.
He'd have to find out more about the previous deathsthe ones the police had thought were suicides. How far apart were they? Where exactly had they happened? Who was the killer?Assuming there was one. "Of course there is," said Sherlock-over-his-shoulder.
John tilted his head down in a half nod. Who the hell kills herself on the way home from doing her laundry? he agreed. It could be accidental, but whatdid she go for a little morning jog to her dealer, decide her laundry and Tesco would be a lot more fun with some recreational drugs? Did she go to a dance club early this morning to make sure she'd have plenty of time to wash her clothes and pick up groceries this afternoon? Got a bad batch? Took too much? Maybe he could find more about what sort of a person she was, somehow, if she was the sort who would do something like that.
"Don't bother," said Sherlock-over-his-shoulder. "Check and see if all the deaths were attractive young women."
Much faster than identifying her and assessing her character, John agreed. If they were all very similar, it was almost certainly a serial killer. Was this an instance where he was missing one crucial thingshe was left-handed; her favorite color was clearly red, why would she carry a teal bag?one little thing to narrow everything down, the only explanation of all the facts? Right now there were many possible explanations; John didn't like that he favored one, but he hoped his gut was telling him so for a reason. Sherlock would probably be able to explain the very subtle things that John only caught subconsciously, observe what precisely made it murder and not an accident. Something I'd never catch, John thought, she has a chipped nail and the thread on one of her jacket buttons is bluer than the rest, and therefore she was murdered. He would believe it from Sherlock's mouth. Sherlock would have a reason for it. John had nothing. Either there really was nothing, or his observations were rubbish. Probably the latter. What else made her different? What else defined her? Should he try to figure out the brand of her jeans? Would that matter? There was no telling.
If it was a murder, they needed to find out where she was given the drug. Maybe there he could even find an indication of what it was, if there was nothing in the papers about the specific cause of the previous deaths. Something that caused paralysisshe looked as if she had frozen up when she fell. She didn't try to catch herself. Either she fell unconscious and then collapsedpossibleor experienced some kind of paralysis and fellequally possible, perhaps more likely given the other symptoms.
It would be so much easier if I could work with them, John thought as the police and detectives began to arrive. He backed away from the body when he was directed to, glancing over it one more time in the hopes something would catch his eye. But if he wanted to work with them, he would have to act like he knew what he was doingand not for ten or twenty minutes, as at Baskerville, where at least he'd actually been able to pull rank. He couldn't pull out any identification here. John could acthe'd done it before for cases, though usually playing the newspaper reporter, not such a challengebut keeping up Sherlock's level of sureness, of "if-you-think-I-shouldn't-be-here-you're-wrong"-ness, his, well, charismawould get tiring. At some point, he would mess up. Sherlock had the know-how to back up everything he said, or the wit and wisdom to explain away and distract from anything unimportant or that he didn't know. Sherlock could play stupid; Sherlock could cry on command.
John was a reasonable actor, for what Sherlock asked him to do, but Sherlock was a great one. It was a disguise in and of itself. He used it to solve crimes and get things from people and John was sure it had been used on him more times than he was even aware of, because Sherlock was a great actor, but obviously, obviously, obviously just before he died, he
Well. That wasn'tthat couldn't have been a lie, the feelings seeping into his goodbye, could it have?
There would be no point. Sherlock had nothing left to get from John, not if he was right about to
it had to be real. If John had nothing else left of Sherlock, besides the violin and the skull and the dust and the flat and the imagination that came with the extra cup of tea and the ghost who leaned over his shoulder, if he had nothing else left of Sherlock, at least he had the knowledge that Sherlock's big lie was his being a fake, that the truth he used to try to sell it was the wobble in his voice, a wobble meant for John. I'm not falling for it, Sherlock, he'd stupidly thought to himself during that conversation: stupidly, stupidly, falling. Had Moriarty dug his claws in so far that he could so thoroughly defeat Sherlock, so definitively destroy his name, that Sherlock truly felt he had no choice but to end his life? Moriarty had fooled Mycroft, too. He had never fooled John, but John never had much say in the matter of the games that Moriarty and Sherlock and Mycroft played.
Now, at least, he did, and it didn't matter what it meant when Sherlock spoke such painful and such painfully false lies, because he wouldn't this time, because he wouldn't call John from that damned rooftop and he sure as hell wouldn't jump. John could pose it to him some day while they sat in the flat, Sherlock observing what chemical peels away layers of toenails quickest while John wrote up the last case for his blog. "Sherlock," he'd say, "remember Moriarty?"
"Obviously," Sherlock would say. He would sound a little wistful, maybe, because for Sherlock it never came to watching his best friend jump off a building; maybe to Sherlock Moriarty would be a fun little memory worth missing. Maybe not: John suspected a great deal of what Sherlock enjoyed so much about Moriarty changed at the pool. From before to after the split-second of doubt that John's sharp eye had probably picked out more accurately and more keenly than Sherlock knewWas John Moriarty all along? Was John working with him?Sherlock had gone from playful to sick, from thrill to horror.
He and Sherlock hadn't talked much about it.
Sherlock had been about to say something about it later that night: the sofa, Sarah's texts, John's phone, the Bond movies. Sherlock had been about to say something.
John was sure that in those few terrifying minutes at the pool Sherlock had realized something important. Probably it was something like: Hey, stupid, that John Watson chap isn't actually going to stand around and let you die if there's anything he can do about it, or maybe, Oh ("Oh," oh, lips parted just so, the word soft and profound like a private show of one of Sherlock's grand realizations, just for John), this man is a friend, a friend, a friend good enough to make up for all the ones I never had but should've. (Sherlock would never think that; Sherlock seemed to view himself as unfit to have friends. Most would agree. Well: except his friends.)
Maybe that's what Sherlock was thinking; maybe that's what he had realized. Maybe that's what he was about to say, one of those things, but harsher, meaner, truer, more Sherlock. "John?" he'd asked, and John had barely even given him a glance, when he should have looked and read Sherlock's face, guessed, observed. "I wanted to
" The pause, why the pause? Because it was feelings, because it was Sherlock. What would he have picked instead of 'say'? Did he consider 'thank you'? Did he consider 'express my appreciation for your actions'? Did he consider 'apologize for being such a git and trying to meet Moriarty alone'? He had said 'say' but he had said it only after some thought. Maybe he was considering which word to use. Maybe he was dismissing other possibilities. What would he decline to do that led him to settle for 'say'?
He wanted to say.
What did he want to say?
But it didn't matter, and it especially didn't matter because later, when he saved Sherlock after the pool, he'd have that conversationsofa-Sarah-phone-Bondproperly and not butt in like an idiot with a smartarse comment just because he couldn't handle the thought of a soft Oh or Sherlock's harsh-mean-true-feelings thank-yous, and then John would ask his theoretical question later, maybe a year later. "Sherlock." He said his name more than he had to. It rolled like shorelines lapping rocks; it started out shattered and came out whole. "Remember Moriarty?"
"Obviously," Sherlock would say.
"What would you have done if he figured out a way to make you look like a fake?"
"He couldn't have done."
"Sure he could." Sherlock would open his mouth but John would press on. "What if he had? What would you do?"
Sherlock would think about it. He would press his fingertips together in mock prayer, consulting his godly mind for the details. He would think it up then and there: give Moriarty the proper credit, come up with the cleverest way Moriarty could discredit him, walk through all the steps, the whole dance. Would it come out the same? John had no way of knowing; he could only imagine.
"We'd wait for him," John liked to imagine Sherlock saying, "in hiding. And then you'd shoot him." He liked that version. Sherlock would then take the number he'd calculated, some figure tucked away in his mind"number of seconds John Watson has spent praising my intellect"and dole out exactly that many seconds of compliments to John's steady hand and sharp eye and deadly calm, and he would do it in just a way that made John feel like some kind of brilliant serial killer, because from Sherlock, that was a compliment.
But that wasn't what Sherlock would say. John couldn't fathom what he would say. He would have to wait and find out himself, while writing up a case in 221B with Sherlock and the chemicals and the toenails, later, after he saved Sherlock. Later: right now, there was a different case.
If John could find the murderer, he could drop a tip by the police anonymouslyslip a note under the door, call in, or something. John could save the future victims without anyone actually finding out he was from the future. If he would have known to look back on this case from 2012, would he find that they had caught the murderer? Had anyone definitively connected this to the other would-be suicides? Had it continued?
As the police ushered everyone away from the scene and taped it off, John paced back to the corner and dug through his pocket for his notebook, flipping to the page after the coordinates and writing down everything he could remember. He'd look at Tesco first, in the same aisle as the canned tomatoes and near the bread. He could ask the employees if they'd seen her. Maybe from there he could get a lead. Otherwiseotherwise he'd work from there. He could probably finish before the detectives even moved on to look there, if they thought to. The less they crossed paths, the better, if he didn't want to arouse suspicion. Maybe they'd identify the drug in her body first.
What do you think? he asked Sherlock-over-his-shoulder. Sherlock raised his eyebrows at John expectantly. Right, fine. Tesco it is.