A/N: I do not own, nor do I profit from. Enjoy!
John had found Sherlock staring at the mirror shortly after three that morning, having drifted awake enough to realize there was an empty and cold space beside him. He'd almost gone back to sleep, because this wasn't abnormal, but he'd remembered then that Sherlock was supposed to be sleeping off the effects of two days of not properly caring for his recently concussed self.
The lack of sound in the flat had startled John into getting up quickly, ignoring the dizzy, groggy feeling that came with rising with too little sleep. He hurried into the living room to find Sherlock there, staring at the mirror, a stunned expression on his face.
But when his grey eyes slid to meet John's brown ones, John felt cold in a way that had nothing to do with the early hour or the lack of sleep.
Sherlock's eyes were gleaming.
John looked away then, at the mirror, and saw the message Sherlock had translated, scrawled across the glass.
Is anyone listening?
It made goose bumps jump up on his arms and the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
Sherlock was looking at him then, in the silence, that triumphant expression still in his eyes, and John wondered how long it had been since he'd decoded the message, how long he'd been contemplating it.
Then he wondered how bloody fast they could catch this killer and get him off the streets before Sherlock started enjoying the fact that he had another dangerous adversary.
Probably too late for that.
But now there was noise, the babble of voices in Lestrade's office, the volume too high for the small space, threatening to break out of the constraints. John had no idea why there were so many people in the office – they seemed to have attached themselves to the case somehow, fulfilling functions he didn't understand, but, by the looks of it, Lestrade didn't necessarily understand, either. The DI looked harassed – a normal expression he wore when Sherlock was around – and tired and more than a little aggravated. Donovan was there, which made sense, but also Anderson, which didn't, and other people John didn't know, officers and detectives, all of them who seemed to be talking at cross-purposes, above one another.
In the midst of this, Sherlock sat facing Lestrade's desk, in a tiny patch of silence that he cultivated for himself. He was in his black coat and purple scarf, sitting with his legs crossed, shoes immaculately polished as always, watching the DI with a level, removed expression.
Gone was the triumph John had seen earlier, that dangerous glimmer in his eyes, that expression of appreciation that made John worry, because he'd seen Sherlock sport it when dealing with Moriarty.
To Sherlock, this was not just interesting. It was fascinating.
But now, John thought, now, no, he doesn't look like that. He looked impatient and mildly annoyed at the babble around him.
"How is it that the lunatics always find you?" Anderson demanded and John repressed a sigh – he hadn't been hoping that a run in could be avoided, because he was more of a realist than that. He just wondered what the fascination was with the constant antagonism. It was as though it was a source of energy for both men, like sunlight for solar cells. As though, if they went too long without it, they'd power down and cease functioning on some level.
Sherlock shifted his cool grey eyes from Lestrade to Anderson, narrowing them somewhat. He delayed answering, which irked the forensics officer, and John saw Donovan cross her arms and scowl. Probably at both of them, John thought.
"Tell me something," Sherlock enquired smoothly, his voice as cool as his eyes, which John classified as Not Good.
"What?" Anderson snarled.
"Do you have to write yourself detailed notes to remind yourself to breathe? Is this why your brain cannot function on higher levels?"
Anderson stared at him and John was certain, absolutely certain, that Donovan repressed a snort of laughter hard, visible only as a small shift in her stance and a quick glance away, then back.
"The message said 'is anyone listening?'" Sherlock continued before Anderson could retort. "Not 'are you listening?' It was clearly not meant for me specifically, but for whoever could interpret it. Which so happens to be me."
"So you think like a madman," Anderson growled.
"Our killer thinks like a madman, a psychopath," Sherlock corrected, cocking an eyebrow, but his expression was not entirely condescending, there was anger in there as well. "I think like a genius. Although I appreciate that this distinction is lost to you."
Anderson curled his lip but Lestrade jumped in.
"Shut up, the pair of you," he said. "And everyone else, just shut up. This isn't getting us anywhere. We still don't know who he is or where he's picking up his victims. We barely know what he wants, except for someone to listen to him."
The rest of the voices stilled at the DI's insistence, but Sherlock and Anderson continued to glare at each other. Donovan exchanged a look with John that was laced with years of experience dealing with both of them, although John suspected now she'd had her fill of Anderson. She was keeping herself away from the forensics officer, and hadn't even called Sherlock "freak", which, admittedly, she didn't do around John anymore, because he'd snapped at her once about it. She seemed weary and tired, and not in a way that had much to do with lack of sleeping or being roused very early in the morning.
"Well, we know the question, let's give him an answer," Anderson snapped.
Sherlock's expression shuttered and his eyes flared and John repressed a groan.
"And then what?" he demanded in an icy voice before Lestrade could intervene again. "Shall we say yes and have him reply? What would he say in return? 'Oh, lovely, such a pleasure to meet you'? Which would require eight more pairs of murders on his part, I might add. Anything we say to him could be met by a response in his very particular way. Is that what you want?" At this, Sherlock glanced about the whole room, meeting other eyes pointedly.
John was somewhat surprised, although he disliked having to admit that. Sherlock was actually considering the possibility of more victims above possibility of continuing the game?
But that wasn't entirely fair, was it? He'd gone after that cabbie the very first case he'd worked with John, to prevent the man from hurting anyone else.
And, John realized, the game had already been played, the puzzle solved. Any more messages after this, Sherlock would be able to decipher easily, unless the killer changed the pattern, which John thought was unlikely.
The game now would be finding him while avoiding any more murders.
"Or perhaps you think if we let him know someone is listening, he'll simply turn himself in?" Sherlock enquired.
Wouldn't that be brilliant? John thought. It would be nice if they could announce at a press conference that they'd gotten the message, and yes, they were listening, and the man would simply show up at the Yard and surrender.
Without leaving another trail of bodies behind him.
Not bloody likely, John mused. He wondered how many more victims there were beyond these ten, how far back it stretched. He suppressed a shudder; what went wrong in the formation of a person's brain to make them like this? What bit of human empathy was shut off or left out altogether that created someone who could simply shoot a stranger in the head and walk away?
It made the doctor in him enraged and the rest of him just cold.
"Wouldn't be much fun for you, would it?" Anderson snapped and John bit down on a groan; he chose now to become perceptive and start accurately judging Sherlock's reactions?
"Shut up," Lestrade snapped again, shooting an angry look at his forensics officer. "Bickering isn't going to get us anywhere. I'm not making any decisions on this without orders from above. And we haven't even worked out what his pattern is. We still need to pin that down. He's a bloody serial killer. He wants us to know who he is."
John expected Sherlock to object to this, but he didn't, and Lestrade was only echoing the words Sherlock had spoken to John about serial killers on their first case anyway.
Lestrade sighed abruptly and waved a hand.
"Right. Everyone out. Donovan, Sherlock, John, you stay. Everyone else, piss off."
There was hesitation and Lestrade smacked an open-palmed hand on his desk, giving a glare round the small room for good measure.
"Well? Are you waiting for an engraved invitation? Go!"
With a degree of unhappy muttering and not a few dark looks cast at Sherlock, who ignored them with unusual stony silence, the rest of the officers filtered out. Lestrade waited until they left, then waved a hand at Donovan, who shut all of the blinds on the windows quickly, moving with an efficiency that suggested she'd done this before and was well used to it.
Lestrade pressed his fists together and dropped his head against them, staying still for a moment, then looking up. John felt a stab of sympathy for the DI; it was far too early in the morning for this and he looked as though he hadn't gotten much sleep as it was. Donovan took a chair recently vacated by another officer, exchanging a look with Lestrade.
"Why is he doing this?" the DI asked, not really addressing Sherlock, John thought, but the world in general.
"To see if someone is listening," Sherlock replied shortly.
"Yes," Lestrade said, rolling his eyes. "I rather got that from his ridiculously convoluted way of sending a message. But why is he so invested in finding out if we're listening to him? He's bloody left a trail of bodies from Sheffield to London. Of course we're listening to him."
"He doesn't have to have a reason," Sherlock pointed out. "He's a psychopath. He's likely doing it to see if he can."
"Not at all reassuring," Lestrade sighed. "Any luck finding anything similar, Sally?"
"No," Donovan said. "I've been checking on murders involving the victims being tied up in some way going back the last ten years and there's nothing that fits our man's pattern."
"This is the first time he's used this pattern," Sherlock snapped.
"I know," she replied coolly. "But we were hoping for something that might tip us off. He had to start somewhere."
Privately, John agreed with that. Lestrade drummed his fingers on his desk, then against his lips, and Sherlock followed the movement with his eyes and it was with some shock that John realized that both other men were probably itching for a cigarette.
"Sherlock. Do you think he's a genius?"
"Just come out and say it, Geoff. Do I think this is another Moriarty?"
John held back on a curse and saw Donovan stiffen but Lestrade only narrowed his eyes.
"We're dealing with a man who came up with the idea to use scarves binding his victims to send a coded message in shades of blue, Sherlock. This isn't normal."
"I'm not saying he isn't as smart. I'm saying he's not as connected. What kind of person sends the message 'are you listening?' the way he did? When Moriarty wanted to know if people were paying attention, he strapped bombs to his victims and actually spoke with us through them. If he really wanted to know that we were paying attention, he could have blown up half the city without much trouble. He was well connected, Geoff, likely more so than we'll ever realize. This person, whoever he is, is working on his own. He's moving across England by himself, I've no idea why, so don't ask."
Lestrade stared at him.
"So, what, we have a lonely psychopath on our hands?"
"Yes," Sherlock said simply.
"Brilliant," the DI muttered.
"It may be why he's killing couples," Sherlock pointed out and John recalled suddenly the conversation they'd had in the pub, when Sherlock had noted the killer was targeting couples, but heterosexual couples. "It may be that he's idealizing them somehow, and killing them negates what they have and he does not."
"You think so?" Donovan asked and Sherlock glanced over at her.
"I don't know," he said in what was, for him, a conciliatory tone of voice. "Until we determine why he's choosing the victims he's choosing and where he's finding them, I can do little more than speculate."
"Comes back to that," Lestrade sighed. "Keep working on it. I'll get Sam to check up for similar cases in the rest of the EU in the morning – later in the morning, I mean. Sally, keep looking for anything that may even remotely look similar to this in the Sheffield-London corridor. Blast. Sherlock, as much as I appreciate you figuring this out, couldn't you have done it a bit later in the day?"
"Really, Geoff, you're a DI. Lack of sleep comes with the territory."
"Oh, it's not that," Lestrade said wryly and John saw a similar type of smile tug at Donovan's lips. "It's the shit I'm going to get from calling up the brass at this time of day – night. Get back to work, Sherlock, and John, make sure he doesn't bloody kill himself by overworking with a concussion."
Sherlock huffed and John bit down on a smile at seeing his husband casually reprimanded like a disobedient child by the DI, who didn't even seem to realize he'd done it.
"Will do," John promised and saw Sherlock's expression darken again, which made him unable to keep the smile off of his lips this time.
"Come on, John," Sherlock said coldly, mustering the haughty air he assumed so well, which John knew was not at all feigned. "Apparently, I need my doctor to accompany me."
John saw Donovan grin and flashed a smile back at her, pushing himself out of his chair. He bid good morning to Lestrade, not at all envying the other man's position, because he was going to have a load of angry superior officers to contend with quite soon. He followed Sherlock out of the door, keeping up with practiced ease as the consulting detective breezed coolly through the station and back out into the chill morning air.