"I'll have a car sent round."
John considered saying no, that he'd take a cab or the tube instead, but the expression on Sherlock's face changed his mind. In his own unique way, Sherlock was offering, not insisting – John could see the faintest of questions touching those pale grey eyes.
He wondered what would happen if he declared he was staying the night.
Probably better not, he told himself. He doubted his resistance would last if he did.
"Thanks," he said, smiling as Sherlock held his jacket for him. John didn't miss the way Sherlock's fingers brushed unnecessarily over his shoulders and neck as he helped John into the coat. He didn't mind it, either.
"Thanks for dinner," he said, turning and leaning up to give Sherlock another kiss. Sherlock's touch in return was light, almost hesitant, and John fought down a smile.
First good night kiss? he asked himself. He kissed Sherlock again, just for reassurance.
"Next time, I'll take you somewhere."
Sherlock hesitated almost imperceptibly at that, but John had been watching for it. He was trying to work out what John would plan – and probably trying not to demand an explanation. Instead, he nodded smoothly, expression schooled back to pleasant.
"Of course," he agreed. John grinned and kissed him a final time.
"Good night, Sherlock. Thanks again – dinner was amazing."
"And the rest?" Sherlock asked, arching an eyebrow.
"That was good, too," John said, then chuckled at his partner's feigned huff.
Sherlock let him out and hesitated in the doorway as if uncertain about accompanying John to the lift or going back inside. In the end, he leant against the doorframe, arms folded, and waited until John was stepping out of view. The doctor gave him a final grin and got an answering twitch of the lips in return.
When the lift doors closed behind him, he inhaled a deep breath and let it out abruptly, fighting down the urge to grin like a maniac. There were probably cameras in the lift. It was precisely that sort of building.
The main door was held open for John, as was the car door. He recognised Sherlock's own driver and half wondered if the man ever slept, but thanked him anyway as the door was shut with a quiet click behind him. The interior of the car was warm but dark, smelling faintly of leather.
In the private darkness, John did let himself grin. He felt somewhere between lightheaded and floating, almost pleasantly drunk – but he hadn't had enough wine for it to be only that. He chuckled softly in the quiet space.
He felt fantastic.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt like this. It seemed like it must have been years. Three months ago his life had been confined to a tiny room in a barren complex with no money and a psychosomatic limp, only the prospect of a dismal new year looming in front of him.
Sitting in the back of a private car on his way to his flat after the best first date he'd had in – well, possibly ever. It still seemed surreal that this had happened – all of it. The job, the flat in Baker Street, Sherlock. Discreetly, even though no one was watching, John pinched himself lightly, feeling the tiny flare of pain across the back of his hand.
The city slid by, alternating dark and artificial light, groups of people and empty spaces. John felt like he could see it with new eyes; in Afghanistan, he'd learnt to see past all the buildings and pools of light and depths of shadows to what was really there – a trap, an enemy combatant, a day-to-day scene that meant no harm.
He'd never thought to apply it to London before. Now he wondered who among the crowds they drove past belonged to Sherlock – knowingly or unknowingly – and who belonged to Jim Moriarty or one of the other organised crime syndicates that operated in the city. He was there, right in the thick of it, and it should have been appalling.
It was exhilarating.
The car slid up in front of his flat and John raised his eyes to see a glow from his windows – mingled blue and yellow lights. He wasn't surprised to find Jamie in the living room, watching telly in the chair he'd more or less made his own when he'd lived there. It was well after midnight, but the mechanic was still dressed – jeans and a t-shirt – and had helped himself to one of John's beers. He looked up when John entered and raised the can, nodding in silent salute. John got the distinct impression that even if Jamie could have spoken, he wouldn't have.
John nodded in return before shucking his coat and shoes and rolling up his shirt sleeves. He fetched himself a beer from the kitchen as well and settled into his chair, relaxing with a faint, contented sigh. Jamie was watching some American film John vaguely recognised. He sipped his beer, tasting Sherlock on his still slightly swollen lips. John smiled to himself and fished out his phone when Jamie began to type something on his own mobile.
Good time? the mechanic asked, attention still turned toward the telly. John's eyes flickered toward the television screen then back to his friend, considering.
Yeah, thanks, he sent back. Nice of you to wait up for me.
Jamie arched an eyebrow at him, a hint of amusement gleaming momentarily in his hazel eyes.
"Fantastic time, actually," John said, taking a sip of his beer, eyes sliding to the telly again. "He cooked dinner for me."
Jamie huffed lightly, a faint sound through his nose. John's eyes darted back to him but the mechanic had returned his gaze to the film, watching some actress chase someone down while wearing improbably high heels.
That was nice of him, Jamie sent. John kept a sharp eye on his friend; Jamie had adopted a well practiced talking-to-superior-officers expression and John saw right through it.
"Oh, piss off," he replied without any bite in his voice.
Jamie said nothing, sipping his beer, attention still focused on the film. John settled more comfortably in the chair, trying to follow the plot that was being spun out on the television screen, although it didn't make much sense. The American actors, in his opinion, all looked alike, making it hard to tell the male characters apart.
He's a good boss, Jamie said after a few minutes. John snorted inwardly but swallowed on the mirth – and on the urge to point out that Sherlock was good at more than just being a boss. He could feeling the fading tenderness in his lips and, when he licked them, he could still taste Sherlock against his skin.
"I know you don't like him," John said and caught the flicker of surprise that crossed Jamie's features, too quick to be quelled. "It's okay, Jamie. You don't have to."
Jamie set his beer aside with a quiet click and settled his hands on the arms of his chair, drumming his fingers lightly against the upholstery. John mustered his best captain's glare but it wavered under the full weight of a sergeant's glower. John took another sip of his beer, breaking his friend's gaze to look back at the telly. He could feel Jamie's gaze still pinned on him but couldn't quite bring himself to meet it as he licked his lips.
"You know–" John began, swallowed, and started over. "You know I really like him, right?" He took a deeper draught of his beer to cover his embarrassment but felt the touch of heat in his cheeks nonetheless. Maybe he could blame it on the alcohol.
Jamie sighed again, louder this time, and John caught the movement as his friend looked away then back again. There was a faint flutter of motion and Jamie snorted softly; it took John a moment to realise the mechanic was laughing. John stared; Jamie's head was bowed into his hand and his shoulders were shaking silently. He felt the shock like a jolt down his spine, fingers tightening on his beer can, then the absurdity of the situation hit him and he started to laugh, too.
He swiped at his eyes and tried to get himself under control, sucking in a few deep breaths, faint tremors running through his shoulders, tightening around the bottom of his lungs.
"First time dating since Afghanistan," John managed. "And I'm starting with an international criminal, right?"
Should've worked your way up from regional, Jamie replied, then ducked when John pitched a handy pen at him. Another chuckle escaped his lips and Jamie's shoulders were still shaking, lips pressed into a thin line as he struggled to regain his composure. Jamie huffed quietly and shook his head.
"Can't help who you fall for," John murmured, not quite meeting Jamie's eyes, the last of his laughter fading away. Jamie shrugged one shoulder noncommittally, his own amusement vanishing. John frowned slightly, covering his uncertainty by finishing his beer.
Can you? he asked himself. Maybe. But maybe it didn't matter, either. This was what he wanted. A year ago, if someone had told him this was where he'd be now, John would have been appalled – if he'd believed it at all. His life had changed so abruptly thanks to two bullets – one in his shoulder, the other in a stranger's leg. It made him suddenly uncomfortable to realise that the same sort of injury that had brought his life to a screeching halt had also kicked it back into high gear.
A month and a half wasn't long, but the man he'd been the day before he'd met Sherlock wouldn't recognise this life he had now. He wondered if he hadn't been shot but had met Sherlock anyway if he'd have found him so attractive. The thought made him more uncomfortable and he tried to shake it off, but the answer was there anyway. Yes.
There was something appealing about the danger, the uncertainty… Harry had been right when she'd said that she'd never pictured the house and two kids and the dog for him. He'd joined the army looking for the same thing Sherlock was giving him now. Of course he'd have wanted it regardless.
"Another beer?" John asked, pushing himself to his feet. Jamie held up his empty can in response and John took it, exchanging it for a new one. The mechanic met his eyes as John settled back into his chair. On the telly, the film seemed to be wrapping up, but it was hard to tell. Jamie raised his eyebrows at him, expression expectant.
"What if it was you and Tee?" John asked. "What if you were in my place and she was in Sherlock's? Would you still love her?"
The words shocked him; he hadn't been intending to ask that – he hadn't even known he wanted to. Jamie's nostrils flared in silent protest but John swallowed on the urge to smooth things over, to pull back.
Neither of them had ever named it so bluntly and John wondered now if Jamie and Tricia had to each other. He didn't think so; Jamie's expression was too dark, too tinged with uncertainty. John felt a flash of anger – not at his friends but at the situation, at its unpredictability. It had made sense not to acknowledge it when Jamie had still been in the service, back when it wasn't this, back when it was almost nothing. But Jamie had been discharged and there remained no possibility of repercussions, nor was Tricia more likely to die if the words were said aloud.
Would it make it easier if she did die if they never actually said it? John asked, then shook his head. No.
She's not, Jamie texted and John nodded.
"But would you? Love her anyway?"
Jamie huffed and looked away before meeting John's eyes again, expression closed. He shook his head but John didn't think he was saying no.
You said you liked him, Jamie snapped back. John flushed, suddenly embarrassed, caught by Jamie's hard gaze. He nodded quickly, taking another sip of his beer to ease the sudden dryness in his mouth.
"Yeah," he managed. "I'm not–" He sighed, the explanation failing him. John half expected Jamie to tell him to slow down – and he certainly wasn't thinking of love with Sherlock, not yet. But, he realised, he was expecting it. Not now but eventually. It was shocking – although he'd never wanted some quick fling to pass the time.
"I just mean– if the situations were reversed…"
She's a doctor, Jamie shot back. She helps people.
"So am I," John replied. "And…" He glanced around at the flat. He wasn't naïve or ignorant – Sherlock was a criminal. He hurt people. And he helps them, John thought. Sure, maybe only if he wants something from them, but he doesn't pretend that's not the case.
He thought of the halfway house, his tiny bedsit, his life going nowhere. He saw their memories reflected on Jamie's darkened features.
The mechanic shook his head again, eyes sliding to the telly again where the credits for the film were rolling. Jamie clicked the television off and the silence was almost deafening for a moment, despite the fact that the volume had been kept low so as not to disturb Mrs. Hudson. John watched his friend carefully and finally Jamie sighed again and returned his gaze, pursing his lips into a thin line.
I don't know, he sent. But I think so.
There was more information – not much, just enough to convince Veronique that her instincts were right, that her tired mind wasn't fabricating false connections. The details about Sherlock Holmes were scant but she'd managed to come up with a bit more on Gabriel Mitchell. She had a friend or two at the London bureau and favours were Interpol's stock-in-trade. Somebody always owed something to someone else – and she did her best to ensure that her credits exceeded her debts.
God bless the NHS, she thought, skimming the medical records that had been rather illegally obtained for her. Holmes and Mitchell moved through the world without leaving much of a mark – but there was always something. Hospital records could be altered or deleted although it probably benefited them occasionally to appear to be cooperating with the police.
She remembered the seventeen year old boy she'd trailed for a few weeks. Veronique had been certain it had been him that had committed those burglaries in Paris and in London but she hadn't been able to prove it. She hadn't even had enough evidence to get past her superiors – the gens d'armes and the Met would never have touched him. So she had set out to prove herself right and capture his talents before anyone else could. She had no evidence and even less authority to arrest him, but, by rights, a seventeen year old boy should not have known that, should have been entirely disarmed by the possibility of serious consequences.
Instead, he'd turned down her offer, thanked her politely, and walked away.
Now she understood why.
Someone had got to him first with a better offer. On the surface he was doing astonishingly well for himself – but it went deeper than that; Veronique doubted Mitchell would have been happy as nothing more than a real estate executive. A boy that clever either turned to the law or against it.
And now here he was, eight years later, working for the man she'd seen talking to him at that gala. The same man for whom Chauvière worked. That wasn't a coincidence. There was some mention in Mitchell's hospital records indicating that he and Holmes were personal partners – she didn't believe that for a moment. Veronique had no real evidence one way or the other, but it felt like a lie. It wasn't an uncommon lie, either; it got Holmes into the hospital with fuss or questions.
She studied the file that had been sent to her, evaluating Gabriel Mitchell as best she could from another country using only a passport photograph. He was settling into his features, less sharp, more confident, those same bright green eyes.
Veronique thought hard.
She needed more information than Chauvière had provided – yes, they could chase it down but it would take time, it would cost money, it would mean more damage done by those they were trying to identify. She could go back to Chauvière and he would flatter her and flirt with her and she'd come away with nothing because he was expecting her to return. He was probably waiting for it. He was a man who liked to play games – working for someone like Holmes, he had to be.
But Mitchell… He wouldn't be much different. He'd always been good at evasion and eight years working under a man so careful he hadn't even been on Interpol's radar, much less under suspicion, would have honed that talent. Holmes had found him before Veronique could get to him and had picked him up for precisely the same skills.
But whereas Chauvière would be waiting for her and would lead her in a merry, teasing dance, Mitchell wouldn't be expecting her at all.
Veronique's lips curled into a dark smile.
He wouldn't be expecting her, but she didn't for a moment believe he'd ever forgotten her.