Fandom: Sherlock/Life on Mars (incorporating aspects of Ashes to Ashes)
Word Count: 4089 words.
Notes: Sherlock/John overtones, Sam/Gene overtones. About as slashy as both shows, so, pretty slashy, actually. Technically, gen. Thank you so, so, so much to chamekke, who beta read this section and held my hand as I sobbed tears of angst. She cannot be held accountable for any remaining errors, nor errors in previous parts of this story.
Summary: “This can’t be the solution,” Sherlock said. He nudged the man with his foot. “This isn’t a mystery, it’s plain to see."
The car skidded to a halt. Sherlock wasn’t prone to stating the obvious --- or at least, not prone to stating what was obvious to everyone who wasn’t him, but he was clearly surprised and indignant.
“You punched me,” he said, cold voice biting.
“Such amazing powers of observation,” Gene mocked. He pointed at a man running into oncoming traffic. “Sometimes drastic measures must be taken to shut annoying flapping traps. We need to shift it. Now.”
John had little time to be concerned on Sherlock’s behalf as they climbed out of the Cortina. He only just had presence of mind to lock the passenger door. He followed Gene, who was a surprisingly quick runner, aware that Sherlock was by his side. Sam shot ahead of them, tight on the tail of who John was presuming was their suspect. It was getting dark, but there was still a large crowd on the streets, figures that persisted in moving straight into John’s line of sight and way. He almost tripped several times, but the thrill of the chase and the adrenaline kept him balanced and intent.
They ran for several minutes, until Gene suddenly pulled up short, bending over, breathing hard.
“We’ve lost him,” he choked out.
Sam stopped ahead and sauntered back. He nodded. “He lost us.”
Sherlock insisted on examining the street thoroughly, getting the ever-familiar gaze that was at once intent yet somehow vacant. He circled, bending down to examine this, reaching up to examine that. Blood had dripped onto his shirt and he’d smeared it over his upper lip and cheek, but he didn’t seem to care one whit.
“What do we do now?” John asked. It had been a long day and he hoped the answer was, ‘eat food, go to sleep’. He couldn’t see what more they could do. The suspect had evaded them successfully and their only lead on him was his address.
“We need to get Rucastle’s description and information out there, and set someone up to watch his place, but it’s getting late and it might be best to leave this one for other members of CID and the Bobbies,” Sam answered. “Agree, Gene?”
“Yes, my little deputy dawg, sadly I think you’ve got it. Let’s pray Rucastle doesn’t decide to go on a murdering spree in the meantime.”
“I’ll call Ray, Chris and Annie and see if they can come and interview Rucastle’s neighbours.”
One of the good things about solving crime with Sherlock was that he rarely had to witness the sheer tedium of organisation that went into policing. There was little delegation, no mandatory paperwork, nor regulations that had to be followed. He could tell that Sherlock was thinking much the same thing as they watched Gene and his team sort through the minutiae of ensuring everything was appropriately set up. After rolling his eyes at what he said was a lot of fuss and bother, when all he needed was a couple of hours to think, Sherlock gazed longingly at Gene’s cigarettes and set down to do just that. He was uncommunicative, focussed. It gave John time to muse himself.
John couldn’t help but wonder if Gene had punched Sherlock for more than some peace and quiet. The timing had been strangely coincidental. Gene had been odd all day; knowing who Sherlock was, in many ways taking him under his wing. It was almost like --- like he had been misdirecting them from the beginning. Providing a distraction. It was unsettling.
John had been so caught up in the mystery that he hadn’t had time to stop and acknowledge the insanity of the situation. People didn’t just time travel, that didn’t happen, and yet he had accepted it because Sherlock had insisted and all of the details supported that conclusion. He hadn’t noticed the same black cat walk twice in front of him, yet. No one had morphed into an agent. It had been easy to dismiss the unreality of it all because of how real it all seemed, but it shouldn’t have been. And the more John thought about it, the more he felt Gene knew more than he was letting on.
By the time they finally got to sit down and eat, it was past ten-thirty, and John ate enough for both himself and Sherlock, who was, as usual, refusing to clutter his consciousness with something so trivial as food. Sometimes, John wondered if he could slide small slices of pizza or toast into Sherlock’s mouth without him noticing, making full use of Sherlock’s unwavering concentration to trick him into regular meals. He suspected that were he to try at this very moment, there would be nothing he could say to convince everyone around them that they weren’t the romantic couple they constantly were taken to be.
“It’s okay if Sherlock and I stay at your house tonight, isn’t it?” John asked Gene, who was two bites into his third bacon butty.
Gene was thick with sarcasm. “Darling DI checked earlier. I don’t mind. I’ve a sofa and an armchair that’ll pass mustard.”
“Pass or ooze?” Sam queried. “Knowing what you must’ve spilled over the years, I can’t help but think it’s wise to ask.”
“Bit rich from he of the grotty bedsit that’s likely oozing blood from its walls. When was the last time you thought you could eat there without contravening basic health and safety, eh?”
“But least none of that was me.”
“Scotch bottles on the floor? Week old dishes on the kitchenette counter?”
“I’d had the flu!” Sam finished half of his butty and slid the other half over to Gene, with an automaticity that spoke of many shared instances.
“No, see, you pretend to be all prim and proper, but really you’re a slob like the rest of us.”
“... so should I wear a parka, then?” John asked, “or cover myself in ham?”
Sam grinned, for the first time since John had met him, his whole face lighting up. He eased back in his chair and gave Gene a relaxed, affectionate glance.
“We could always put them up in the cells, couldn’t we, Guv?”
“You get positively nasty when you’ve gone a whole day without a drink, don’t you, Sammy-boy? Haven’t noticed that before. Maybe because this is the first time you’ve gone a whole day without a drink.”
“Now who’s being the rich one.”
As the others spoke, Sherlock spent the whole time either steepling his fingers under his chin (as though, John thought, he was praying to the god in charge of finding missing persons), or reading through a small black notebook that he had magically acquired. John felt it was probably for the best.
John tried to sleep that night, he really did. But Sherlock stayed so still John was compelled to check if he was still alive. And he did so in the middle of the sofa that John was meant to be sleeping on. As if that hadn’t been insult enough, at the very moment that John had settled on the arm chair, Sherlock paced around the room in a manner that was loud and attention-seeking. John muffled his head with cushions. Stuck his fingers in his ears. Could not block out the noise.
John guessed he managed at best three short power naps, so that when Sherlock shook his shoulder at five-thirty-six am, he had only been feigning sleep so as to discourage Sherlock from talking to him.
“I know where Rucastle is,” Sherlock said. “Let’s go.”
“We should wait for the police,” John replied, calmly, he thought, for a man who knew how to fire a gun and had been afforded a good opportunity to wish to do so.
“The police are a bunch of blundering dunderheads,” Sherlock dismissed.
“This blundering dunderhead wants to know what you’ve ascertained,” Gene said from the doorway, looking ominous as he loomed in the shadows.
Sherlock didn’t start, but his tone became sharper. “Will you tell me why you punched me yesterday?”
“Looked in a mirror lately? The answer’s self evident.”
“Except that it’s not, Gene. Before that little incident everything had been tickety-boo. What don’t you want Sam Tyler knowing? That we’re from the future, like him? And why wouldn’t you want him knowing that?”
Gene’s eyes narrowed, his jaw clenched, but he didn't respond to Sherlock's words. Indeed, John noticed with interest, he ignored them completely. “What we have here is an obstruction of justice. I’m perfectly willing to punch you again if you don’t answer. Where’s Ruscastle?”
“Will you tell me once I’ve shown you?”
“I’ll do my best to assure you there were no ulterior motives,” Gene said caustically.
Sherlock’s nostrils flared as he snorted. He stormed out of the house. John presumed he was supposed to follow. Clearly, so did Gene. Sherlock stood beside Gene’s Cortina and pointed.
“We’ll pick Gladys up along the way, shall we?” Gene demanded by way of enquiry.
Sherlock didn’t respond. He chose to sit with John in the back of the car, refusing to be drawn out into conversation as they drove to Sam’s block of flats.
“What’s happened?” Sam immediately asked John, slipping into the front passenger seat.
“I think it’s got to do with the punch,” John replied.
“Gene punches me all the time and I don’t go into a sulk,” Sam said, airily.
John didn’t want to articulate his sense that it was more than the physical act. One day, Sherlock got punched six times before breakfast. And then, of course, refused to eat breakfast. He was remarkably upbeat the entire time.
“Go left at the next junction.”
They drove for maybe half an hour, into the manufacturing district of the city. The streets were lined with textile mills and warehouses, a couple of which were abandoned and becoming derelict. John was not surprised that their suspect might be here, but he did wonder how Sherlock knew.
“Have you been listening to a word Annie Cartwright has been saying?”
“Not lately, Sherlock. I spent several hours attempting to sleep.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on it before. Annie interviewed all of Rucastle’s neighbours last night. She gave a précis before dinner, and, luckily, wrote extensive notes.”
“And, Walter Teller works as a cleaner for several of these buildings.”
“Rucastle could have obtained his keys.”
“So now you just have to deduce which building it is.”
“You’re learning, John, well done.”
John wouldn’t admit to anyone that he loved it when Sherlock used condescension to give genuine praise. He trained his eyes on the buildings, knowing that at any minute, Sherlock would take notice of some miniscule detail ordinary human beings could never possibly hope to observe.
It took rather longer than John expected. They drove down one particular road six times before Sherlock told Gene to stop the car. He got out barely before it had stopped and examined a heavy-set wooden door.
“Can you see, gentlemen?” Sherlock asked, keeping his tone hushed. “Someone didn’t know which key opened the lock. Unless I am very much mistaken, we’re on the trail. God, I love this bit.”
John guessed he was every bit as crazy as Sherlock when this return to buoyancy delighted him. He watched as Sherlock pulled a lock picking set from his pocket.
Sam blinked several times. “Where did you get that?”
“Lost and found. It’s a wonderful place. Like a treasure trove of bad decisions and idiocy. There are three or four items in that room that should probably be destroyed. I took the liberty of removing a couple for this very purpose.”
“Oh, Sherlock,” John sighed. Everyone turned to stare at him, expecting him to continue. He held his hands up in apology. “That was it. Just: oh, Sherlock. Nothing else can really be said.”
He remained silent as they crept into the mill.
It didn’t take long to spot Rucastle, mostly because he was lying asleep in the manager’s office. Sherlock insisted it was Rucastle as opposed to an employee due to the mud he could see on the sliver of trousers visible from the door. No one questioned it. As they came closer, it became apparent that Gene agreed with Sherlock’s assertion. Not actually ever having known what their suspect looked like, John had to trust in their judgement. Sam readied his handcuffs, Gene cupped his hands around his mouth. John and Sherlock blocked the door. If pressed, John would say the teamwork was exemplary.
“Wakey, wakey, give it a shakey,” Gene bellowed. His voice echoed throughout the mill.
Rucastle made to leap up, but Gene put a loafer on the small of his back and pushed.
“Edwin Rucastle, we have reason to believe you’ve been a very bad boy.”
“An exceptionally mischievous miscreant,” Sherlock said, leaning in close. He appeared to be examining Rucastle’s fingernails.
“When nasty oiks like you can go about, doing people in, what’s the world coming to, I ask you,” Sam added.
“I’m sorry,” Rucastle screamed, “I promise, I --- I’ll tell you everything.”
“You’re not actually our killer, are you, Rucastle?” Sherlock said, full of bile. Gene stuck his loafer in harder.
“I am,” Ruscastle squealed. “I am. Was only doing it on orders, but for my sins, I’m a murderer.”
“What makes you say that, Sherlock?” John asked.
Sherlock faltered, gestured towards Rucastle. “Because...”
“Hardison said he’d pay me more than I’d be likely to see in my whole lifetime otherwise. Said it would only be the one, but one became two, became three, became four, and I think he expected me to do away with the whole bus.”
“That can’t be it,” Sherlock said, persistently.
Gene lifted his foot up and then stomped it down again, causing Rucastle to squeal in pain. “Tell the truth.”
“I used a cudgel my dad gave me. It’s in my bag. Over there, behind the door.”
Sam frowned. “Is this some kind of weird version of good cop, bad cop? He’s confessing.”
“This can’t be the solution,” Sherlock said. He nudged the man with his foot. “This isn’t a mystery, it’s plain to see. The passengers and driver on the bus witnessed a drug deal between Rucastle and another, which would have been all well and good, except that this idiot let it be known he was a politician’s aide. The politician told him to ensure the secret was buried by killing those who had heard him. It’s all so simple.” The final utterance was said as if it were venom.
“So?” Sam asked. “Why does it matter if the case has an easy resolution? Isn’t that what we hope to get every day?”
“It isn’t the case I was brought here for if anyone could have solved it, is it? I wasn’t dragged back to this hellhole for a mere trifle. Logic dictates that I solve the unsolvable and collect my reward, but that won’t happen after this.”
“You need to come with me,” Gene said, firmly. He stabbed wildly at the man on the ground, then tossed Sam the keys to his Cortina. “Tyler, take this nasty little scrote to the station.”
“Where are you going?”
“Somewhere that doesn’t concern you. Move, the lot of you. We don’t have all day.”
Sam wavered for a moment, then cuffed Rucastle and dragged him up. He shuffled him towards the door, glancing back at Gene as he did so. He was out of sight after a few seconds, though there were sounds of him struggling to haul Rucastle over the concrete floor of the mill. Sherlock stood stock still, studying Gene.
“I said move,” Gene reiterated.
“It’s a terrible cliché, but it has to be said; who died and made you king?” John asked, drawing himself to his full height.
When riled, Gene Hunt lost a lot of his charm. He grabbed hold of John’s lapels and dragged him close. John struggled to no avail. “My fists, punchy and smacky. Bloody powerful, they are. D’you want my feet joining in too, giving you a kick up the backside? No? Then do as I say.”
Gene set him down, and John straightened himself out before he followed. Sherlock flicked his hand over John’s shoulder to smooth out the rumpled fabric, scowling deeply. Any minute now John was anticipating that Sherlock would at his most petulant --- and that was never a pretty sight.
John didn’t know how they could go far on foot, but it turned out they didn’t have to, as at the end of the street there was a building that John was positive hadn’t been there before. Sherlock confirmed his suspicions by waving his hand regally towards the facade.
“Oh good, so you are going to tell us the truth. Never matter, I think I’ve figured it out by myself.”
John gave a deep sigh. “Glad someone has.”
“Haven’t you any idea, John? Do you really not know?” Sherlock asked, clapping John on the back. “We’re dead!”
Inside the building, John’s main impression was, ‘brown’. Everything was muted and relaxed. John had not expected the place to be a bar, but then, he didn’t know what he had expected.
“You’ve finally arrived, mes braves,” the bartender said. He had a Jamaican accent and dreadlocks. Still nothing of what John felt he ever could have anticipated. He gestured to the stools, but Sherlock made no move, and so, neither did John.
“Make them doubles, Nelson,” Gene said. “Better yet, triples. Give ‘em each a bottle of your finest.”
“We’re dead?” John asked. “I don’t feel dead.”
“Let’s put it this way --- you’re not exactly alive,” Gene confirmed. “Tell them, Nelson.”
“Have you ever heard of limbo?” Nelson began. John rolled his eyes. “Of course you have, everyone has.” Nelson said, sounding suspiciously less Jamaican. “The idea is that it’s a waiting place, somewhere souls can go when troubled, before moving on to a higher or lower purpose. This section here, this plane, you might say, is reserved for police officers.”
“I’m not a police officer,” Sherlock asserted, face drawn tight.
“No, you’re not. And that’s where things’ve gone wrong, you see, because them upstairs didn’t think to check that DI Lestrade wasn’t dead, that neither of you were DI Lestrade, when they zoomed you up here. You were both carrying copies of his badge, and that’s all they cared about.”
“I imagine it must be very tedious, dealing with people and their petty little problems,” Sherlock said, strangely hollow. “There must be lapses in attention to detail.”
“I was told to keep you busy whilst they sort out the paperwork,” Gene said.
“And what are you, Gene? An angel?”
“Self-appointed guardian. This place needs one. Every soul brings with it a bunch of cases they never solved, villains they never conquered, emotional baggage. It manifests, until the spectres seem as real as our lost souls. Every cop that comes here needs to sort these things out for themselves. It didn’t work for you because, as you said, you’re not strictly one of us.”
“Sam doesn’t know any of this, does he?” John asked.
“No, he does not.”
Sherlock gave an angry huff. “You were terrified we’d tell him.”
“I don’t want him to have any idea of this,” Gene said, balling his fists. “He’d give up. He wouldn’t see the point. But this world needs all the heroes it can get. And by God, at his best, Sam’s the one for the job.”
“He has a right to know,” John said quietly. “Everyone does.”
“Oh, really?” Gene asked. His eyes opened wide and John thought maybe he was going to get punched, but Gene didn’t move. “You think people would be happier knowing that the meaning of life is you live, you die, you continue to live as you did before until such time as some arsehole decides you’re ready to rest? You think it’d be grand for everyone to realise that everything, everything is pointless in the end? There is no higher purpose, there is only the struggle.”
“I think it would be more honest. And you said yourself --- this world needs heroes. If you still want to be one, why are you so convinced Sam doesn’t?”
“Because he gave up before. He lived. He was only ever meant to be here for a temporary stint, get his head screwed on straight so as he’d learn to live life to its fullest, but Sammy-boy’s no Sherlock. He decided he preferred it here. You think I’m so heartless I can tell him he ruined his one chance at life? That in death you don’t get to have children, create a family, see your loved ones grow, you don’t get to hope for real long-term change, because everything you do is tempered by the fact that it all stays the same in the end?”
“I’ve always known, Gene,” Sam’s voice called from the door. John swivelled to look at him, startled. He was ordinarily a difficult man to sneak up on, but he had been figuratively shell-shocked by this revelation. Being figuratively shell-shocked was almost worse than its literal counterpart. “I am a detective. I knew what I was getting myself into. But, like you said, this world needs heroes --- and even if the change is only for a day --- well, it’s a good day.”
Sam stepped forward, put a hand on Gene’s shoulder. “I didn’t give up on life. I chose the family we created. I realised it was more important to me than anything else I’d been basing my existence on. Meaning is relative to feeling. I feel happy and productive here.”
“This is all lovely,” John said, and he meant it, he really did, for whatever quality of ‘lovely’ discussing being dead could be. “But what does this mean for us?”
“Yes, do I get sent to the plane for consulting detectives?” Sherlock asked, expression sarcastic. “It would be awfully lonely. I think I’d prefer hell.”
“Maybe that is your hell,” John said. “Boredom.” He had intended it as a joke, not seeing how there was anything left but to laugh. Sherlock became paler. “Are you alright, Sherlock?”
“I don’t want to be dead, John,” Sherlock said, simply. He looked shattered.
“No. Me either.”
John didn’t know how to articulate his emotions. After everything he had been through, to end like this seemed unfair. But life, he supposed, had never been intended to be fair. He just didn’t want it to be over yet, didn’t want the finality of death.
“Good news, then,” the barkeep said. “You’re not dead. What happens next, my friends, is that you both return to your bodies, none the wiser any of this occurred.”
“Just like that?” Sherlock asked.
“Interdepartmental communication has been conducted, forms filed, and yeah, you don’t belong here, not for ages yet. Two lifetimes’ worth. You're going soon, you should say your goodbyes.”
John looked at Sherlock and shrugged. Sherlock smiled one of his rare genuinely warm smiles.
“Best of luck, both of you,” Sam said. “John --- I’m sad we won’t get to spend more time together, but not if it means you get to meet someone special and settle down. Clearly you would make an excellent father. I hope you get everything you want. Sherlock --- I have to tell you that you’re a real prick. Try to be less of a prick in the rest of your life.”
“You’re too kind, DI Tyler.”
“He doesn’t appreciate genius when he sees it,” Gene said, punching Sam on the arm. “I know that you won’t need luck, so I won’t wish any. I suppose I should thank you for your work on the case, but I’m not gonna. I guess what I can say is that at least the punch won’t have done any lasting damage.”
“Thank you, Gene,” John said, not even sure himself if he was being sincere.
“You’re all so sweet,” the barkeep said. “But time is up, or coming up." He touched John and Sherlock on the shoulder. "One of the two,” he continued. “So we’re off."
John had known that reality had taken a backseat in his life the first time he’d ever met Sherlock. It had taken one simple phrase ("Afghanistan or Iraq?") to indicate that anything was possible when Sherlock was around. Anything at all.
Winding up in a Manchester hospital alongside Sherlock, with no memory as to how he got there, still seemed like a stretch.
[Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4]