Characters Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, Dr. Walter Bishop, Olivia Dunham, Lincoln Lee, Astrid Farnsworth
Word count: 6,165
Spoilers: Early S4 for Fringe, S1 for Sherlock
Warnings: Some gruesome medical descriptions (nothing worse than you’ve seen on Fringe), discussion of mental illness and treatment thereof
Disclaimer: Fringe is Fox’s and Sherlock belongs to Mr. Doyle, not I!
A/N: Thanks to etoiledunord for betaing and making it a whole lot better!
Summary: A case in London leads Sherlock to needing a consult from one Dr. Walter Bishop, a man he met in less than ideal circumstances.
“Found something that stumps you for once?” Anderson said acidly. Since Sherlock was strategically retreating (not fleeing) the room with the victim while Lestrade shouted after him in full cry of, "Sherlock, would you just try to explain a theory that makes sense?" the comment was not entirely unwarranted, however unwelcome it was. Sherlock turned to give Anderson the icy, knowing stare that preceded him expounding on one of Anderson's peccadillos in the most public and embarrassing manner possible, and Anderson abruptly shut up. John trailed along in Sherlock's wake, followed by the DI himself.
"I told you, I shall need further investigation. And a consultation."
The entirety of Scotland Yard fell silent immediately at that pronouncement coming out of Sherlock's mouth. "I need plane tickets to Boston for tonight's six p.m. flight," he continued blithely, checking his phone for dates and times.
"Sherlock-," John said softly, in warning and a hope of an explanation.
"It's a very interesting case, John, and I'm certain the DI would like to know how the woman-."
"Jennifer Harrison," John supplied.
"-has had her eyes eaten out of her head by no apparent known means." Unspoken and yet intensely audible to everyone was the tag: I, of course, know all the known means as I've experimented with all of them, you lot of ignorant fools.
Though perhaps only a few people added those last few words.
“Her passport tells the story, Lestrade. She travels to London frequently for work. And anyone in that type of suit she was wearing will have enough co-workers and associates to fill up the entirety of Bart’s mortuary if the killer decides to turn his attention that direction.” The passport Sherlock was brandishing (undoubtedly pilfered from Ms. Harrison’s handbag while John had been examining the soupy remains of her eyes) was not British maroon but rather American blue.
Lestrade gave a long-suffering sigh and pulled out his cell phone to start authorization. Anderson's eyes nearly popped out of his head in incredulous indignation. (John privately wondered if that was what caused the poor woman's death, and then dismissed it because Sherlock didn't even know the victim.) John quickly caught up to Sherlock before he could do something that would earn him even more enemies.
"Please don't tell me we're consulting someone like that graffiti artist," John said.
"Why could that bother you?" Sherlock said, stopping abruptly to look up something on his phone.
John set his jaw and counted to five. "ASBO, remember?"
"Hmm," Sherlock said, clearly not remembering. John devoutly wished he was able to edit his life for content.
John counted to ten. "Who are we consulting in Boston?"
"Oh, that. Dr. Walter Bishop. Expert in extremely unusual scientific phenomena."
John paused at that. "More unusual than your usual wont?"
"Quite so, if he was to be believed in his rambling."
"Rambling?" John asked.
"Oh yes, used to natter on about nanotechnology and drug-induced future visions and sentient hive minds all the time. He mentioned something that reminds me of this case."
John highly suspected that Sherlock had wished the "drug-induced future visions" had come up on his watch. But more importantly, when had this Dr. Bishop nattered on at Sherlock about this kind of fringe science? John couldn't remember Sherlock ever having an interest in something he couldn't test and prove for himself, and he knew his flatmate was openly scornful of speculative nutters in the guise of scientists. "When?"
"When did he natter on?"
"In the dayroom, mostly."
John counted to fifteen, quickly. "What dayroom?"
"St. Claire's. Come on, John, Mycroft will undoubtedly do something dreadfully tedious to prevent us from going if we don't head off quickly."
“Sherlock!” Lestrade’s voice caught Sherlock’s attention and he looked up sharply as the DI quickly closed the distance. “Jennifer Harrison wasn’t the only one.”
Sherlock’s head came up, like a hound suddenly catching a scent.
“I had someone checking Interpol; there’ve been four other cases in the past three months with similar causes of death, all in different countries.” Lestrade held up a held up a hand briefly to cut off Sherlock’s torrent of questions. “I’ll have someone meet you at the airport with the files. Get going, you’re on the next flight out.”
John fell in beside Sherlock with entirely commendable patience, keeping the rest of his questions behind his teeth as Sherlock gleefully thrashed the Internet for information in advance of the police files. Despite the seriousness of the case, John knew his own expertise wouldn’t really come into play until he’d seen the medical reports. But he knew they would be bad, very bad. Time enough for that later, right now, he had something much closer to home he wanted to ask about, and this time he waited until they'd returned to Baker Street before bringing it up.
"What is St. Claire's?" he asked as they climbed up the stairs. The new-case giddiness around Sherlock suddenly vanished, and the set of his shoulders went stiff.
"Mental institution." There was a faint flatness in Sherlock's tone that sent off a bit of a warning bell in John's mind, but he was going to find out if they ended up going there anyway.
"What, were you observing?" John asked casually, offering Sherlock an out. He’d accept a lie from Sherlock on this, anything he wanted if needed to keep something secret.
"No, I was committed there for two years."
John counted to twenty to make sure he didn't explode, not at Sherlock, but on his behalf. "Mycroft again?" he asked flatly.
"Mummy." The finality in his tone prevented John from asking further questions about the specifics of the diagnosis.
"Where is St. Claire's?"
"Massachusetts, America. Weren't you paying attention, John?"
Setting aside the logistics and legalities of involuntarily committing (and John couldn't imagine Sherlock docily submitting himself to incarceration) a British citizen to an American facility, John still wanted to know certain things. Certainly the Holmes family could have afforded discrete and excellent care without having to ship Sherlock across an ocean.
"Why over there?"
"Mycroft's career. Bad form to ship off one of the family to a mental institution, even the raving lunatic that I was."
"Raving?" John asked quietly.
"Enthusiastic with little care for volume control, if you please. At any rate, Dr. Bishop might have been a rambler, but brilliant under that chemical concoction with which they insisted on dosing him. His theories were genius. Unable to be proved, of course, while he was inside, but brilliant nevertheless."
"Why was he there?" Was this St. Claire's some kind of hush-hush facility for the rich to deposit embarrassing relatives?
"A girl died in his laboratory. Terrible accident." Sherlock shut down again as he stalked into his room and began rummaging through his wardrobe.
John retreated to his own room, quickly and efficiently packed enough for a week, and was back downstairs before Sherlock had even laid out what he was going to choose from.
He had a fairly good idea that Sherlock was going to keep the rest of his story behind his teeth until they landed in America, at the very least. What he'd learned in the last half-hour was more than he'd learned about Sherlock's past in a year. He liked to dole that out sparingly, if at all. And it certainly explained his rivalry with Mycroft, not to mention Mycroft's ostentatious need to try to look out for his brother. A very slight shiver went through John; he and Harry didn't get on, but he couldn't imagine her trying to get him locked away.
But he knew why Sherlock was going back. It wasn't just the case, it was the exact same reason John had teamed up with Sherlock for his consulting cases. Something about Dr. Bishop must have impressed Sherlock enough to remember him, even in the midst of two personal tragedies.
"So, where is this place, exactly?"
The cab was American yellow rather than the ubiquitous London black, but Sherlock barely seemed to notice as he watched John toss in the baggage. He was utterly unfazed by the long plane trip, looking as fresh as if he’d just woken up an hour ago rather than been awake for three days straight.
"St. Claire's, Sherlock."
"Whatever gave you the idea that we were going there?"
John pressed his lips together as he got in the cab. "Perhaps because that's the only place you've mentioned?"
"Dr. Bishop hasn't been at St. Claire's for over three years. He’s at Harvard University.”
“What, a professor?” Privately, John thought that was a nice switch from Sherlock’s usual informants. Not that they hadn’t yielded important information, but it would be nice to talk to someone in a laboratory rather than a back alley.
“Hardly. That’s merely the base of operations for his consultation with the FBI.”
John caught his jaw before it could hit the floor. Lestrade was either very confident Sherlock could impress the FBI or knew someone there he truly wanted to irritate. Possibly both. Or, to be more charitable, five dead bodies got a response from any decent law officer.
“Since when does the FBI work with-?” John caught himself before he could say something a little too blunt. He was almost positive Lestrade didn’t know about Sherlock’s hospital stay, and didn’t need to, Sherlock not being an official member of Scotland Yard, but anyone working opening with the FBI would have had a full background check. “Work with civilian scientists with an unusual research bent?” he said very carefully. Sherlock seemed more amused at John’s question than anything else. He guessed the FBI didn’t talk to Lestrade very in-depth about Walter Bishop, or he probably wouldn’t have paid for them to come.
“The FBI doesn’t consult amateurs either, John.”
The laboratory in question was set on the far side of campus, a building absent-mindedly ignored by most of the passing students. Their goal, not surprisingly, was in the basement. The echoing corridors were home to only a handful of people, and as they descended the stairs, the place took on an air of abandonment. Well, as abandoned as the strangely mingled smells of formaldehyde, grape gum, strawberries, and cow manure would let it be.
“Mr. Holmes?” Two agents, dreadfully Hollywood in their dark suits, one a women with her blond hair tied back, the other a man with short brown hair and thick black glasses, were lurking in front of a door with a frosted glass window at the end of the hall. It was the woman who stepped forward, brisk and no-nonsense as she extended her hand. “I’m Special Agent Olivia Dunham; this is Special Agent Lincoln Lee. You’re the consultants from London?”
“Yes indeed. Sherlock Holmes, at your service. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
Sherlock had, for reasons of his own, adopted a flawless East Coast American accent, and John saw the two agents relax minutely at hearing a familiar voice. For a minute, he hated Sherlock a very tiny bit for his easy ability to assume roles. Not just the accent, the strangely kind and welcoming manner too. John wondered if he could get the video function on his phone to work so he could have documented proof that Sherlock could be civil. He was certain the Scotland Yard crew would pay good money for that.
He barely heard Sherlock introduce him, but managed to shake hands and present his ID without fumbling. It didn’t particularly surprise him when Sherlock pulled out an American passport for himself.
“Come on,” Agent Dunham said, nodding her head towards the door. “Walter was ecstatic when he heard you were coming.”
She opened the door, the scent of strawberries becoming stronger now. An older man, curly hair still somewhat dark, a lab coat around his shoulders so naturally that John couldn’t imagine him without it, practically pulled Sherlock inside the room and into a hug. A hug which Sherlock returned. Willingly. John blinked in bemusement.
“I didn’t think I would see you again. How’s your head?” Dr. Bishop (this had to be Dr. Bishop) said.
“Admirable, all things considered. Relatively intact,” Sherlock said, pulling back slightly to smile.
“Olivia came to get me out. I work for the FBI now, you know. This is Agent Olivia Dunham.”
“We’ve met. Ah, Olive.”
Agent Dunham looked at Sherlock sharply as Dr. Bishop drew him further into the room.
“Someone is out picking us up lunch. Come, I’ll introduce you to Astrix.”
“Astrid,” Agent Dunham correctly absently, following them.
“Agent Farnsworth,” Dr. Bishop corrected himself.
As John rounded the corner into the lab proper, he had to stand still for a moment to take it all in. If Sherlock had been born a few decades earlier, had funds enough to spare, and little normal supervision, their flat might have looked frightening like Dr. Bishop’s laboratory. The random equipment, the beakers that contained poisonous chemicals and lunch both, even the cow, it all gave John a peculiar sense of familiarity.
“Most people are a little weirded out by the cow,” Agent Lee commented.
“When your flatmate leaves human heads in the refrigerator and eyeballs in the microwave, a cow is almost welcome,” John said dryly.
Agent Lee grinned. “Welcome to Fringe Division.”
John exchanged a look with Agent Lee, and saw the faint acceptance in his eyes, the vague, “I’m just going to go along with this until someone has time to explain it to me,” expression that he knew was often on his own face as of late. They nodded in tacit acceptance of the inexplicable.
Across the lab, Sherlock seemed to have made nice with Walter’s assistant without incident, and they were in a discussion about something that involved a great many cutting gestures. John figured they’d get the conversation back around to Jennifer Harrison’s murder eventually.
“So you’re actually from London?” Agent Lee asked. John sighed purely to himself when he realized that with Sherlock posing as an American, John was the exotic creature in the room.
“Grew up close by.”
“I didn’t realize many people actually read and remembered Dr. Bishop’s articles. Most of them were classified. Is Mr. Holmes-.”
“A consulting detective,” Sherlock cut in abruptly, stopping Agent Lee’s awkward line of questioning. “Now Walter, I remember you talking of alternate uses for flesh-eating bacteria. Specifically, targeted uses.”
“Yes, yes. I had a theory about such ruthless little organisms. It might be possible, with judicious use of donor DNA, to write a retrovirus to change the food source of the bacteria from all cells to specific cells. They could be set to eat cancer cells or fat cells any other set of cells designated. Well, not eat, exactly, that’s not what they do, they release certain toxins that cause the breakdown of tissue, but if one can tailor them to release toxins only toxic to certain types of tissue, the result will be the same. Of course, my experiments into such matters were brief and volunteers were understandably scarce, so I was never able to get much hard data,” Dr. Bishop explained brightly.
“It seems someone appreciated the same theory.” Sherlock took a packet of pictures from his inner coat pocket and tossed them on the table. Everyone gathered around the gruesome things, but Dr. Bishop snatched the pictures first.
“Look at this. The eyes decayed with advanced-state necrotic developments with the victim only ten hours’ dead. This is fascinating! Where’s the body?”
“Arriving soon,” Sherlock said confidently, crowded next to Dr. Bishop to examine the pictures anew.
John didn’t scream, but he wanted to, badly. “Sherlock, you didn’t transport the body on the plane.” He rubbed one temple to stave off a headache.
“Of course I did,” he said, as if John were an idiot for thinking otherwise.
“The body with some apparently hitherto unknown strain of flesh eating bacteria.”
“How else was Dr. Bishop to study it? I had the casket sealed, John.”
Agent Dunham put a hand on John’s elbow briefly, steadying him. “We’ve handled some pretty odd cases in the past few years. We told Scotland Yard how to package the body.” In a lower voice she added, “And it came over on a private government cargo plane.”
John heaved a sigh of relief. At least someone else around here had more of a care for public safety than scientific curiosity.
“We needed to see it, Dr. Watson. Jennifer Harrison was an American citizen, but if you start seeing things over there that are anything like we’ve seen, then we all need to get a handle on it as soon as possible,” she said.
“What have you been seeing?” he asked. Agent Dunham looked over the horrific pictures in Dr. Bishop’s hand with little sign up distress.
“Worse than eyes being eaten out,” she said softly. Someone knocked on the door and Agent Farnsworth went to answer it. Sherlock and Dr. Bishop turned from their photographs with identical excited expressions as more agents wheeled in a body bag. Agent Dunham moved closer, presumably to sign for the poor, dead woman, while Sherlock started pulling on gloves with avid interest. Behind him, Dr. Bishop was pulling a rattling tray of autopsy tools close, moving around Sherlock as if they’d done this a dozen times before.
John looked out the window of the office to the main laboratory, uncertain if he should take his eyes off of Sherlock and Dr. Bishop.
“Trust me, you’re much better off waiting until they get past the gooey parts,” Agent Lee said. “Come on, relax for a bit.” He gave a crooked smile as he said that, gesturing to all the papers and files on the murders spread on the table for everyone to sift through. After Sherlock had hogged the Interpol files on the plane, this was John’s first real view of them. They were trying to hunt for patterns in the crimes while Sherlock and Dr. Bishop examined the body.
“I am a medical doctor, though,” John pointed out, shaking his head. “It’s part of the reason Sherlock drags me around to his cases.” It was less feeling left out, though, and more simple worry as to what two men of genius intellect and rogue scientific bent would do when left alone together.
Agent Dunham rubbed at her eyes as she put down a typed report that must have dated back from the sixties, something she’d pulled from Dr. Bishop’s filing cabinet, and nodded in sympathy. “Just out of curiosity, how does Mr. Holmes know Walter?”
John hesitated, caught between his duty as a doctor and a friend to protect Sherlock’s private medical history (of which he honestly knew very little) and trying to be forthcoming with his hosts. But in the end, it was Sherlock’s choice to reveal what he would, not John’s.
“I can’t say, if you don’t mind.”
Agent Dunham nodded, and then firmly handed him a folder of Jennifer Harrison’s medical history. John turned away from the window at last and began to read.
Sherlock bent over the woman’s face, watching Walter run a small metal spatula around her eye sockets with careful and expert hands.
“How long has it been now?” Walter asked, carefully scraping away the putrid remains of Ms. Harrison’s eyes. The damage went through the back of the eye socket, through the optical nerve, and deep into the brain. The woman hadn’t had a chance of surviving.
“That long? You’ll have to forgive me, I’m a little fuzzy on things from time to time.”
“Nonsense. You only recall things of importance,” Sherlock said sharply.
“I hope that were true. I have had-,” Walter paused and shook his head. “Days and weeks that were less than ideal. I don’t leave here, you see. Attempting to find chemical equilibrium in the beginning was difficult.”
Walter deposited the organic sample in a test tube and added saline. A brief expression of sadness crossed his face, turning him worn and older than Sherlock ever remembered him being, even in St. Claire’s.
“But you have done something extraordinary, here,” Sherlock insisted.
“I can’t take too much credit.” Walter smiled as he nodded in Olivia’s direction, her pale head bent over the table in the other room visible through the glass. “She found some of my theories had been employed to rather brutal ends and moved heaven and earth to get me out. She’s a remarkable woman.”
Sherlock clenched his teeth for the briefest instant. “She knows?”
“Everything there is to know,” Walter confirmed. He put the sample in the centrifuge and turned it on, listening to it whirr. “I should like to do some tests on you,” he added casually.
“I’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime.”
“Not by me you haven’t. Shock therapy was terribly invasive.”
Sherlock smiled bitterly, an expression that would have shocked John if he’d seen it. “With my history of chemical imbalances, they were wary of using medication on me.”
“No excuse,” Walter said.
“I won’t say it was for the best, but my incarceration provided time for me to consider modifying my behavior on my own.”
“No one ever bothered to try to understand you,” Walter said vehemently. “There was reason for my placement there; Ms. Warren’s death could have been prevented if I had been more careful, somehow. But they forced therapy on you due to their ignorance of your genius-.”
“I was terrible, Walter. A danger. Lethal, even.” The hum of the centrifuge seemed oddly loud as Sherlock’s words dropped into the silence between them.
“Does Dr. Watson know?”
“No details. He only found out about St. Claire’s yesterday.”
Sherlock followed Walter’s gaze as looked across to the other room where John and the agents were diligently going over the files Lestrade had given to him. Olivia pointed out something on an Italian file, and John’s mouth moved, giving his opinion. Sherlock idly wondered if the trials on Olivia had ever born fruit. He rather thought so.
“Is he your Olivia?” Walter asked quietly.
“Hardly. I’d been managing on my own for years.”
Walter raised an eyebrow.
“I needed a flatmate.”
Walter waited still.
“It’s been a bit over a year.”
“This calls for a celebration! I’ll make us some strawberry shakes while this sample separates.”
Sherlock waited, watching over Walter’s shoulder as he mixed an optimal ratio of ice cream, sugar, sweet whey, and yeast. “And consulting for the FBI?”
“Well… a learning process. It was my work that led them to need me. My responsibility. They would have been within their rights to detest me.” Sadness reigned on Walter’s face for a minute. “I suppose you’ll say I care too much.”
Sherlock’s expression softened. “No. Not at all.” He absently touched one temple and fancied he could still feel remnant of the conductive gel the orderlies had used on his head before they attached the electrodes. His gaze flicked up to John, and he dropped his hand.
“Come, drink, and then let us see what horrible beastie ate Miss Harrison’s eyes,” Walter said, regaining his cheer.
“Fascinating. Look at the delineation here. From necrotic to healthy, instantly! The bacteria didn’t care for epidermal, muscular, or skeletal tissues, just nerves,” Walter said, gesturing to the slide.
“I thought that was part of your theory, that it only eats the cells it’s been tailored to eat?” John asked, trying to peer over Dr. Bishop’s shoulder.
“I never had a chance to really develop the bacteria the way I wanted. But this experiment was successful!”
“Aside from Ms. Harrison being dead,” Agent Lee said dryly.
“Did she have any diseases of the eyes, John?” Sherlock didn’t even acknowledge Agent Lee’s existence, and John concealed an involuntary smile as he double-checked the medical records. He’d been looking for vulnerability to infection, but now the information practically leaped off the page.
“Myopia and-. Sherlock, she had cataracts.”
“Jennifer Harrison was thirty-five,” Agent Dunham said, a question in her tone.
John shook his head. “It’s not unheard of; there are diseases and other factors that could cause them.”
Walter hovered over the woman’s body, Sherlock right next to him.
“There was no sign of a struggle at the scene, no sign of restraint. Ms. Harrison had been injected voluntarily with the bacteria,” Sherlock said.
“How do you know that?” Agent Lee asked.
“Trace of white powder from a latex glove on her shirt cuff from where the killer pulled her sleeve back into position.” Sherlock shoved the woman’s sleeve back and pointed at the tiny wound at the crease of her elbow. “No bruising on the injection site. Whoever injected her is experienced, practiced, knew exactly what he was doing.”
Sherlock was clearly on a roll, but Agent Dunham put in her own observations when he paused for breath. “No bruising on the forearm or,” she pushed the sleeve higher, “on any part of the arm, so she didn’t struggle against the injection.”
“Unless she was being threatened,” Agent Lee pointed out.
“The woman was a prominent lawyer. I doubt being threatened would bother her,” Sherlock said, attempting to take over the conversation again.
“So she probably was participating willingly. Whoever did this to her was probably a medical professional that she trusted,” Agent Dunham continued blithely. She gestured to Agent Farnsworth and they took the medical file from John’s unresisting hands to pour over it. Neither seemed to notice they’d left Sherlock hanging. He looked nonplussed, blinked once, and dropped his hands to his side.
“Why would she come to London if she wasn’t feeling well? When that bacteria started eating her eyes, the pain would have been terrible,” John asked.
“Because she was looking for a doctor. This happened in London. People have a terrible romanticism about medicine; they think a doctor in another city or country must have some way of fixing them their local medicine can’t. John, what did you see in Lestrade’s files?”
John looked down at the other files on the table and quickly organized his thoughts, hoping Sherlock’s tolerant mood lasted. He’d rather not have his intelligence insulted in front of the FBI, even if that was Sherlock’s usual mode of speech. Jennifer Harrison’s death had been a mercy compared to some of the others in the Interpol files, and he didn’t want to be distracted from the case by his own frustration.
“None of the victims were local, each of them had a different location of infection but the same type of death.” He flipped over each picture, but didn’t look at them very closely. Once had been enough. A woman with her chest hollowed out, a second with her neck decayed inside to the spine, a third with femur rendered into putrid slime, and the fourth with her nose and mouth eaten away.
“The damage is less each time,” John said. “Less tissue eaten away, less surrounding damage to the other types of tissue. Whoever is doing this is getting better each time.”
“Better?” Agent Dunham asked, an edge to her voice.
“Jennifer Harrison had cataracts. Each of these other women had some kind of tissue disease, cancer, for the most part.” John turned the pictures back over, because Agent Farnsworth was starting to get a little green. “I think they went to this person for treatment.”
“He must said he could make their problem go away,” Agent Dunham said, shaking her head.
“Why not go to the company doctor?” Agent Lee asked. “Cataract surgery isn’t exactly uncommon. She could have done it the regular way and only been out a few weeks. Why go to someone else with such a weird way of treating her?”
“Her profession, obviously,” Sherlock said haughtily. “High-powered lawyer, unwilling to spend time recovering and-.” Sherlock paused, frozen in thought. Agent Dunham reached out to shake him from his trace and Dr. Bishop batted her hand away before she could touch him.
“She wanted to feel useful,” he said finally. “There were no other calls on her phone. No family, no friends that wondered where she was. Her work was her life, she was about to lose her edge. She kept her condition secret from everyone once her first doctor discovered it; check her phone records. She didn’t want to spend weeks recovering, she wanted to be well immediately. This man knew that, counted on her desperation, presented the solution she wanted.”
“But how did he find her?” Agent Dunham insisted.
“A successful experiment!” Dr. Bishop crowed. “Someone on whom the bacteria worked, a recruiter.”
A quick word from Agent Dunham, and Agent Farnsworth was on the computer and mobile phone simultaneously, checking phone records and authorizing a trace. Sherlock seemed favorably impressed, though perhaps only John would be able to tell.
“Someone who staked out the waiting rooms of doctors of prominent patients and brought Ms. Harrison in for her treatment. Another woman of similar status, or who could fake it well enough for Mr. Harrison to feel as if she could trust her. Agent Farnsworth, don’t bother with Ms. Harrison’s work phone, find her other phone, her private one. The number we want will be on there,” Sherlock said. “Once you have that number, back-track it to the dates of the other murders and find out what doctor she’s been calling. That’s our murderer.” Agent Farnsworth sighed and redirected her computer search; she didn’t even pause in her typing.
“Why isn’t the recruiter dead too, if she had the same bacteria in her?” Agent Lee wanted to know.
“Most likely because the recruiter was a fluke, a one-time success. The doctor thought he’d perfected the bacteria strain, but forgot to add enough limiting enzymes. Instead of just eating Ms. Harrison’s cataracts, the bacteria ate her entire eye. He’s been striving to repeat his miracle ever since his first attempt with the recruiter; hence the other victims and the decreasing rate of tissue damage. He’s experimenting,” Dr. Bishop explained.
“Which means he could be doing it to someone else right now,” John pointed out, adrenaline starting to race through him. Agent Dunham got out of her chair, looking as tense as a greyhound before a race.
“Got it! Alice Dunlop, number comes back to a private medical clinic of one Dr. Lowe on the edge of Boston!” Agent Farnsworth exclaimed. “He just came back into the country two days ago!”
“All right, call local PD and have them surround the area. They are not to breach the perimeter, whatever happens. Tell them we’re on the way.” Agent Dunham checked her gun briefly as she started for the door.
“Here, Dr. Watson, if you find another patient, use this. It should inhibit the action of the bacteria long enough to transport them back to the lab for a more permanent cure.” Dr. Bishop pushed a syringe case and a vial into John’s hands. John looked up at Agent Dunham and saw no reluctance to let him go along. He put the delicate items into a protected inner pocket as Sherlock interrupted the tense exodus from the lab.
“John, it would be most inconvenient if you were to be rendered into protein sludge,” Sherlock commented, settling back into his chair.
Dr. Bishop leapt hard on the heels of that apparent non-sequitur. “Ah, he’s right. Dr. Lowe may panic when he realizes the charges he could face, and he does have a formidable weapon at his disposal. There is only so much of the inhibiting agent available. Protective suits would be recommended. And for heaven’s sake don’t get into a firefight in his office!” Sherlock nodded lazily at Dr. Bishop’s pronouncements and hung his coat around his chair with the air of a man who was staying precisely where he was.
“You’re not coming?” John asked incredulously. This might have been the first time he’d ever seen Sherlock back off something as interesting as apprehending a criminal.
“It’s far more likely he’ll give up peacefully,” Sherlock said blithely, as Dr. Bishop shoved biological protective suits at everyone going. “Best of luck.”
John looked far from convinced, but was swept out of the lab with Olivia and Lincoln anyway. The door swung shut behind them and the attendant Astrid with her video feed.
“Do you believe Dr. Lowe will try to hurt them?” Walter asked.
“Not at all. He’ll probably be horrified at his mistake and surrender with entirely too much dramatic tears of sorrow.”
“I thought the same. Come! I have a tub of ice cream in the freezer.” Walter pulled out a tub of fudge ripple and two spoons, setting them on the workbench between the acid testing station and the aquarium. Sherlock didn’t indulge. Walter didn’t mind.
“I didn’t say so before, but this is impressive.” Sherlock raked his pale eyes over the cluttered laboratory with an expression of envy.
“They’ve given me everything I asked for. They’re wonderful people, Sherlock, truly. I’m useful again.”
“I particularly admire the LSD station.” Sherlock smiled a bit as Walter grinned in response.
“Just attempting to find equilibrium again. I don’t use it much medically anymore.” Walter’s eyes grew keen as he looked at Sherlock. “You?”
“That was never my poison.”
“Stimulants, yes, I remember. But if you’re working with the police…?”
“I had to downgrade.” Sherlock unbuttoned his cuff and pushed up his sleeve slightly to reveal the nicotine patch stuck to his pale forearm. Walter pushed the sleeve up further, uninvited, as Olivia had to Jennifer Harrison, and saw the small, shiny scars at the crook of his elbow.
“That bad?” Walter asked softly.
An expression crossed Sherlock’s face, one so foreign that most who knew him would have been shocked to see it: shame.
“I needed greater focus, or so I believed. But seventeen years, Walter. That is… extensive.”
“But you haven’t changed your fundamental self. You were lucky.”
“John will tell you, quite accurately, that I am one of the most self-absorbed creatures that he’s ever met. I must be, though, for my work.” Sherlock looked into the microscope absently and twisted a dial slightly. “Perhaps I should have stayed in St. Claire’s longer.”
“I never leave the lab,” Walter said quietly. “The world, it’s too big for me now. Too hard to catalog in its entirety. Better to remain here, and have the necessary pieces brought to me.”
Sherlock’s fingers tightened on the microscope dial, and he removed them before he did damage. “Criminal.”
“Yes. You, and I, and them. But now, see what we do? What we always talked about, didn’t we? Doing something that matters-.”
“And finding someone, at least, who understood,” Sherlock finished. He turned away from the microscope and saw in his mind’s eye Lestrade, the ever-patient, willing to have Sherlock around even if he showed up his people for fools. John, who never refused a trumpet call to battle, not even if it took him far from home, who had never pushed for answers to Sherlock’s past, not even when he was flung right into the middle of it.
“I’m glad to see you, old friend,” Walter said, patting Sherlock on the arm. “Truly, I am. You must come again sometime, perhaps when we’re not hunting wild bacterial strains.”
“Walter?” Astrid’s telephoned voice interrupted the quiet of the lab, and Walter got up to go to the monitor.
“Yes, my dear, I’m here. What do we have?” Walter peered into the depths of the screen, a vital member of this small team even though a video feed.
Sherlock pushed away from the lab bench to look over Walter’s shoulder, seeing John through the ridiculous bubble of the protective suit helmet holding Dr. Lowe’s shoulder in an implacable grip.
“I would like to hear about some of your other theories, the ones I never got a chance to test,” Sherlock said, dropping the precise American accent he’d always used over here.
“I think we could manage to horrify all our friends by the time they get back,” Walter said, breaking into a grin that made Sherlock think that, despite his not inconsiderable acting skill, he hadn’t fooled the old man for a minute. “Astrid, I think you have things well in hand. Dr. Lowe seems properly subdued. Do call if something worse happens!”
Walter turned away from the screen and jumped off his stool, bustling over to a table covered with what appeared to be the remains of a dozen old computers and perhaps a washing machine. “It will be like old times.”
“New times, clearly,” Sherlock corrected, his smile a brittle and uncertain thing.
“New times, indeed.” Walter handed Sherlock a small apparatus covered in tinfoil, and stepped back against the lab table in full lecturing mode, eyes bright and animated. Sherlock listened to things that even John might have scorned for their absurdity, and he could see Walter was whole and well.
For the first time in seven years, he felt hope for himself, too.
Prompt: Walter and Sherlock know each other from time spent in the institution. Sherlock and John fly to Boston when one of his cases resembles one of the theories Walter used to ramble on about.