‘We did what we could,’ said Sally. ‘Firearms guys’ll bring him in.’
They were off shift, in the pub, soon after the failed arrest. Lestrade had his face in his hands, staring down at his beer.
‘Not the point, Sal. God, running off the way he did… innocent guys don’t do that. I just didn’t want to see, did I?’
‘You’re not the only one he fooled, Greg.’ Sally kept her voice flinty. She was the one who should have seen earlier, argued harder that first time when Sherlock waltzed onto a crime scene, rake-thin, kite-high, mouthy and smug, and paused for just half a second – might he say something human? – before sneering, ‘Well if it isn’t D.I. Donovan!’ She should have stopped it then, before it really began.
She had a crap track record with decisions like that.
‘He’s plausible as hell,’ she said. ‘He used the lot of us for years. God, all that charm but in the end he’s a junkie pervert, living in that grotty flat – drugs, murder manuals around the place, eyeballs in the microwave, sex torture kit –’
She broke off, aware she sounded like the chief super. And yet. Time after time she’d replayed that final scene from half a lifetime ago, wondering what it added up to in the end: what Sherlock was, and how exactly that mattered, and whether she had any business objecting if he insulted her from here to China so long as they were getting murderers off the streets.
‘Them boxes under the bed?’ Greg was saying. ‘It’s not illegal to own what you might call novelties, Sal. Though I don’t think the image of Sherlock Holmes on a leash is getting out of my head any time soon. Jesus,’ Greg rubbed a hand over his brow. ‘Time was we’d have laughed ourselves sick at that.’
‘Yeah, and it would’ve kept us good and distracted while he was off poisoning kids to make himself look clever. When it comes down to it, he’s just sick in the head. Some blokes are, and that’s the end of it.’
If only, if only, if only she’d had the courage of her convictions, and killed the doubting bit inside her that wanted to just let it go, to be the forgiving or at least tolerant grown-up even if Sherlock couldn’t, to laugh with him, not at him, when he wore the stupid hat. Well, he’d never been what he seemed to be, and there was no more need to doubt it.
School and that soldier had broken him, and he’d wallowed in it, in the perversion and drugs, and sick fantasies had bled into reality, and he’d turned that besotted Watson, or tried to. ‘You know he likes soldiers?’ she’d asked the poor sod early on. ‘You know how he likes soldiers?’ All she’d got in a reply was a constipated I-don’t-punch-girls-but expression, so who knew what was really going on there.
She remembered Sherlock standing in the rain with roses; and telling her he loved her, and it all seeming so, so real.
Greg’s phone rang. He growled something into it, but Sally wasn’t listening. Then he swore so violently and banged back so hard in his seat that she swivelled instantly. She knew it without telling. One more failure. The Freak’s killed someone. Watson? A lad from Firearms?
‘Sal,’ said Greg, and lowered his phone into his lap. ‘Sherlock’s… dead. Jumped off the top of Barts.’
Sally had the strangest feeling, like a long-forgotten splinter being yanked out of her heart then stabbed in again. No blood, though. All scar tissue. She hadn’t seen this coming, him finding the decency to end it, but she’d never really known him, had she?
Good for him. Good for everyone.
No. No good. Nothing good ever. But it was done, done, done.
Sally in pink PJs, hot water bottle clutched to her monthly cramps. Tracy down from the top shelf and on the bed. BBC News channel rolling, rolling.
Exonerated hero returns from the dead. Lazarus shock. Extent of Moriarty deception revealed. His smug – happy – living face. His soldier beside him.
The surge of joy. The gift of the impossible. The gift so strange it took some getting used to. A bit like how it had felt to be with him.
Sherlock was back on the job. On Sally’s damn job, actually, since she was still on payroll and he still flounced in and out on a whim. Well, they had a tacitly agreed pattern. He didn’t talk to her, and she didn’t talk to him. Lestrade assigned her tasks that kept them apart, and she wasn’t sure if she felt grateful or patronised.
The first time Sally saw Sherlock in person, she just walked past him close by and nodded to show that yeah, OK, she was glad he wasn’t dead. That was it. No more eyeballing each other. No insult tennis. He wasn’t a murderer, and she hadn’t driven him to suicide. Quits, or as close as they could get to it.
That worked until one afternoon Sally was supervising photographs of a crime scene and Sherlock came sweeping in and shoved his hand down the back of a grimy radiator.
‘Damn!’ he cursed. He’d got his wrist stuck. He yanked it out and twisted himself round trying to peer into the dark gap. ‘It’ll be down there. A Sainsbury’s receipt: three packets of cashew nuts and a bottle of Tizer.’
‘Fuck’s sake, Sherlock, that thing hasn’t been dusted for fingerprints!’ Sally snapped.
He turned around looking exasperated – and registered who she was. Then he was back in motion, peering down the back of the radiator.
‘The receipt’s caught near the bottom, I can see it,’ he said.
‘And I assume we need it. Right. Fine. Get out the way. I’m in a suit and you’re not.’
Sally lay on her back on the floor, plastic suit crackling, and reached up behind the blasted radiator to get the crumpled bit of paper. Sherlock was standing over her, fidgeting. She kept her eyes on the receipt, silhouetted against light from above. Then she pulled back, with the paper in her tweezers, and he crouched down to see it...
The bloody raw energy of him, right there over her. The weird eyes and the mad hair, giving off charisma like some toxic gas that hadn’t worked on her for years. And yet, and yet.
‘Tizer and almonds,’ read Sherlock, peering at the receipt. He kept his hand hovering in the air near it, not touching it – as instructed.
Sally stood up and slipped the receipt into an evidence bag.
‘There’ll be one for cashew nuts in the house somewhere,’ Sherlock said.
They locked eyes. He didn’t back down, and neither would she. Fine. It was coming then. Maybe she kind of wanted it. Maybe she was tired.
She crossed to the door and shut it on the arse of the scene photographer who was crouching in the hall to take more pictures. Sherlock looked at her straight on. No more stupid games.
‘You’re initiating a touching reunion,’ he said, and flashed his most reptilian smile. She didn’t focus on that, though, because something had been nagging at her since she’d seen him close up, and she realised it was a slight oddness in his stance. Police work teaches you to make certain deductions, and… shit.
‘Half the squad’s out there taking bets on which of us kills the other,’ she responded. ‘So if we’re doing this, let’s do it and get on with the job. I’m not blind: what happened?’ She pointed at his shoulder.
‘I was tortured in Serbia.’ Pause. Transparently fake nonchalance ‘And before you ask, no I did not get off on it.’
‘Jesus. As if.’ Sally sighed. ‘Are you getting it looked at? No, silly me, of course you aren’t going to tell me. I... I could give you a name of a counsellor. Police guy. In touch with reality.’
‘Helps you, does he?’ Sherlock leant back against the radiator, contaminating it to buggery. ‘You’re having quite the rough patch lately, I notice. Nasty encounter with a violent thug in the holding cell giving you flashbacks. Using five different boyfriends to distract yourself from the squad’s dodgy conviction rate, stuck on brown belt in karate, getting on better with your Mum though, especially since your brother just had two kids, which takes the heat off you to –’
‘Oh can it,’ snapped Sally, folding her arms in their crackling plastic sleeves. ‘Just maybe I know about my own life without you telling me. I suppose you want me to say, oops, how stupid of me to think you might be a risk, what with the drugs, the eyeballs in the microwave, claiming to be a sociopath, treating police work like a game, the kinky shit under the bed, yet another soldier –’
That did it. Sherlock was in her face, looming same as he ever had, though he couldn’t fool her into thinking he felt nothing but anger. How long since she’d seen him this close? New lines around his mouth, new sadness in his eyes.
‘You will not talk about John. But of course, that’s all it comes down to in your tiny little mind, isn’t it, getting back at the freak?’
‘Stow the tragedy!’ This conversation was not going the way she’d played it out to herself during more than one shower or boring desk shift, but damned if she’d give an inch. ‘I did my job. I thought the warped stuff in your head had eaten the rest away, and I’d failed to call it when I could have. If I was so totally wrong about you, where’s your soldier now? I called that right, twenty years ago: you can’t keep a relationship, even a bloody weird one.’
For a moment she thought he’d hit her. Instead, his lip trembled just for a moment, and she saw it, and he knew she saw it. Then he spun away and announced in something like his usual constipated tone, ‘As if you can see past the end of your own nose! You were used by Moriarty from start to finish.’
‘You played with fire and as usual everyone in the damn building got burnt.’
‘And you were proven right and I killed myself. Were you finally satisfied?’
‘I cried myself to sleep!’
Shit. Absolute silence.
‘Oh,’ said Sherlock.
The door creaked open. The fucking photographer again. Possibly sent by Lestrade.
‘Um, is everything all –’ he started.
‘Yes,’ snarled Sherlock. ‘Go and photograph the u-bend, preferably from the far side. We’re busy.’ He slammed the door. He was breathing hard. So was Sally. She was going to get this under control. She was not not not fucking crying. Not again. Not for him. Maybe for herself. No, not even that. Better things to do.
‘You trying to tell me you’ve never made a shitty judgement call, Sherlock? Never taken responsibility for one, that sounds more like it.’
Sherlock had begun to pace, as far as was possible in the small room. He wasn’t even trying to look indifferent. It really wasn’t just about the whips and chains: the poor bastard was in love, with someone who didn’t even want to see him.
The lonely boy with roses in the rain. Harder-eyed now. Lonelier.
‘You’re not the only one who finds me lacking, D. I. Donovan. But a personality change at my age is unlikely, and soap opera emotions nauseate both of us. I am very, very tired, and we are not friends, so what is it that you actually want?’
‘I’d like everything you say not to sound like it’s got the word bitch in it. I’d like not to have to carry the can for you being crap at being human and getting the push from your – your John.’
‘Like the way I have to deal with your insinuations – announcements – that I’m less than human?’
‘Yes, I admit that was shitty of me. Have you seriously not noticed I don’t do it since you came back?’
Silence. Sally shifted on her feet and so did Sherlock. A slight twitch of his head showed that he was recalibrating his thoughts.
‘I hadn’t,’ he admitted, obviously annoyed at himself. ‘I’m noticing now.’
‘Genius observation. Here’s another, then: you’re enough of a freak to see round corners when I’m baffled, and I’m enough of a bitch to get shit done, and that’s just what we are, OK?’
Let Sherlock say what he liked now: it couldn’t hurt her in the face of the plain truth.
Instead of speaking, he leaned back against the window. When he smiled there were too many teeth in it, but it wasn’t quite fake.
‘Oh, the splendid bluntness that drew me to you,’ he replied.
‘Says the smart-mouth who drove me so mad I thought fucking him was a sensible life choice. Are we finished?’
In response, Sherlock let out a long sigh. Yet, finally, she’d lost the urge to punch him.
‘We keep trying to be,’ he said. ‘Only it never takes.’
She wasn’t sure, in the end, that she wanted it to.
One week later
It was 2am when the text came in. A good time for it, but only because Sally was on the night shift with a sleepy PC Patel, hanging round the back of a club in the pouring rain in wait for some scummy dealer who’d been cutting coke with glass. No sign. A washout, in both senses.
Sherlock: I found one of Dr Ahmed’s fingers. You’ll find the rest in a nettle patch within a 100-metre radius of the scene.
Sally Donovan: Lovely. Except I’m not on that case.
SH: You are now. I requested you.
Sally Donovan: omg I think that’s meant to be a compliment except who died and put you in charge of allocations?
SH: Nobody, but I needed someone at least two-thirds witted, and I’m persuasive. Also: happy anniversary.
What? Sally wiped raindrops off the top right of her phone display.
Sally Donovan: Bloody hell. That morning in the lab. Emily’s piss. It was 20 years ago.
SH: Quite so. Our first rapist.
Sally Donovan: Mostly mine. You went off to suck dick in a barn.
Sally Donovan: Also, that’s the least romantic thing a bloke's ever said to me.
SH: So you like it.
Sally Donovan: Yeah.
‘Shit – Sarge!’
Sally nearly dropped her phone, racing after Patel and overtaking him to neatly bring the latest scumbag down.
Sherlock came striding up the road. Half the police officers dotted around the scrubby roadside park side-eyed Sally as she walked to meet him.
‘Something troubling your little minds?’ Sherlock observed genially as he reached the tape, somehow managing to glare at the entire squad at once.
‘Hello, Sally,’ he went on, looking at her and almost smiling.
‘Hello,’ she replied, lifting up the police tape and making an expansive enter gesture.
Then she spoke into her radio: ‘Sherlock’s here. Bringing him in.’