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Under Covers (1/3)

BBC Sherlock

Spoilers: None

Rating 18 (warning for non-graphic references to rape, explicit het sex, swearing, racism)

Betaed by the wonderful Blooms84

Summary: Sally Donovan goes undercover to help the Gloucestershire police catch a rapist.

John Watson wasn't much to look at, but Sally Donovan soon started to realise there was more to him than met the eye. She'd felt a bit sorry for him when she first met him at Lauriston Gardens; some clueless medic from Barts, she'd presumed, who Sherlock had conned into coming with him in order to piss off Anderson. It was only when they'd started searching 221B for drugs that she'd realised that the small, limping man was a decorated army officer. And later that evening, when she'd been telling him about the dead cabbie, she'd realised a few more things. That he didn't seem to be limping anymore. And that he was a bad liar, but almost certainly an amazingly good shot.

She'd just been about to ask DI Lestrade if they needed to charge Dr Watson when the stranger turned up. He proved to be Freak Mark II, Sherlock Holmes' elder brother, who she'd previously presumed was purely an urban legend. And he made it very clear that the dead cabbie had been killed by persons unknown who were going to stay unknown.

"So he's one of yours, is he?" she'd asked. "John Watson, I mean. What's the Freak done to get a spook as a bodyguard?"

"For your information, Ms Donovan," Mycroft Holmes had replied, with a particularly patronising smile, "Dr Watson is nothing to do with me. Bizarrely enough, he is almost exactly what it says on the tin. An ex-army doctor, who has chosen of his own free will to attach himself to my brother. Extremely attached, it would seem. I know I said 'very loyal very quickly', but I wasn't quite expecting this. Sherlock has not acquired a bodyguard, but, far more implausible, a friend."

Freak II obviously also loved the sound of his own voice, Sally had concluded. But she wasn't sure if he'd guessed what sort of 'friend' Sherlock had made. She just hoped John Watson wouldn't end up shooting the Freak in a couple of months time, after one lover's quarrel too many.


She tried to warn Dr Watson off again, a few weeks later, but he'd happily trotted off after Sherlock and ended up nearly getting himself blown up in the process. They said that Sherlock had saved John Watson's life at the swimming pool, but then they also said that Sherlock had deliberately blown up a bomb jacket, so you couldn't believe a word of the rumours.

You'd have thought that any sane man would have avoided the Freak after that, but obviously Dr Watson still hadn't come to his senses about Sherlock. Though Sally had been oddly impressed a couple of months later when they'd been out at a crime scene and Sherlock had dislocated his shoulder trying to open the door of a moving van. Not by the fact that Dr Watson had promptly relocated the shoulder: you'd expect him to be able to do that. But by the fact that he'd cheerfully ignored all Sherlock's instructions while doing so. Maybe he wasn't quite such a pushover after all, she decided, and found herself suddenly wondering what it'd be like to have those strong, solid fingers pressing skilfully into her body.

Oh god, she was losing it completely, she told herself. She’d long come to terms with the fact that she fantasised about white blokes as well as black ones, but imaging that about a gay, white bloke was just ridiculous. Maybe she just needed to make sure that she and Mark rearranged their shifts so they actually spent some time together this week.

She promptly forgot about John Watson’s hands, but Fate obviously hadn’t, because two weeks later she found out exactly what they felt like. Yet another chase after a suspect and this time it was her coming to grief, tripping over a broken paving slab and coming down hard on one arm. Once they had the suspect, Dr Watson had come back to where she was standing and swearing and asked: "Can I have a look?"His gentle touch on her wrist practically had her screaming.

"Probably just a bad sprain, but we ought to check the bone isn't chipped. I'll take you to A and E."

"I can get there on my own," she said.

"If Sherlock hadn't been showing off at Paddington, Mr Curry wouldn't have had a chance to make a run for it. It's his fault you got hurt," Dr Watson said, smiling, "and it's his account the taxi fare's coming from."

At that, she let him take her off to casualty, and he even stuck around till she finally got seen.

"You don't have to," she said.  "And won't Sherlock wonder where you are?"

"No. He'll have lost interest in life and be sleeping for the first time in forty-two hours. Might as well stay, I've got nothing else vital on and you probably need some company."

He was friendly, John was. You had to give him that.


John even seemed to be having some influence on the Freak, who was now betraying a few signs of humanity now and then. Though Sally didn't expect that to last, and she wasn't really surprised when Sherlock disappeared off at another crime scene. One minute he and John were looking at the woman who had been found strangled in some London nightclub, the next he was charging off, yelling 'ribbon', and John was just left standing there with her.

He wasn't a bad-looking bloke, actually, particularly when he smiled that warm smile of his, but right now he looked tired and worn and miserable, the way he had when she'd first known him.

"He's dumped you again, has he?" she asked John cheerily, and then realised that was hardly a tactful thing to say.

"He's in a bad mood," he said, with resignation, "because I suggested we should get a train out to Norwood, rather than take a taxi and get stuck in a jam for hours. If he does need me, I'm sure he'll text me later."

"Come and have a drink," she said, smiling at him. "Cheer yourself up."


"I'm sorry," John said, several pints later. "Things are just getting to me at the moment. It's terrible when you think there's some man out there who'd kill a defenceless woman like that, choke the life out of her."

Sally wondered about asking if it would have been any better if he'd killed a defenceless bloke, but it wouldn't be fair to wind him up like that. There were worse things a man could believe than that it was wrong to hurt women.

"There's a decent chance of getting our hands on him if the Freak's on the case," she said instead.

"Yeah, but it won't bring her back, will it? Won't make it all better."

"God, you are in a morbid mood tonight," she said, and then hesitated. Maybe there was some bigger problem between him and the Freak. She didn’t want to interfere, but somebody had to keep an eye out for John.

"Anything else bugging you at the moment?" she said at last. "Personal stuff?"

"It's that bloody obvious, is it?" John said, slightly too loudly. "Yes, I got stood up this week and it didn't help my mood."

"You went on a date?" Oh God, that had not come out right, had it, she thought, sounded like she thought no bloke could fancy him. “I mean, I’m sorry to hear that.”

"I was supposed to go on a date with Jaimie Harding,” said John, who was obviously a lot less tight-lipped when slightly drunk. “Do you know her? She's with the Crown Prosecution Service. Tall blonde with very nice legs."

"I didn't realise you dated, erm, you went for–" she began.

"Oh God, Sally," John broke in, grinning rather ruefully. "Don't tell me you thought I was gay as well?" One or two of the other drinkers in the pub looked round, and he dropped his voice. "I'm not sleeping with Sherlock, and even if I were gay I wouldn't be sleeping with him, because Sherlock is not interested in sex with anyone or anything."

"Really?" She tried not to sound too fascinated.

"His least offensive description of sex is 'an unpleasantly oozy waste of time'. But the problem is, far too many people think I'm his partner. Well at least far too many of the women I'd like to date."

"Including Jaimie?" She did know her, she realised, she was the very efficient one who tore you off a strip if your paperwork for a case wasn't all in order. But she got results. And she was good looking, certainly, even if her boobs had possibly had an upgrade.

"No, I convinced her pretty thoroughly that I was straight on our previous date. We were supposed to be going to see Inception this time, but I had to keep changing the day, because it's been frantic at the surgery for the last fortnight. I guess she just got pissed off with me about that."

"That's the problem with civilians," Sally said, "they never realise the job comes first. It's why I always seem to end up with other coppers." Well, and also because she was still dodging the Sunday School teacher her Mum wanted her to settle down with.   

John said, slightly hesitantly: "I heard you and DI Dimmock were...friendly."

"Yeah, me and Mark have been together for about four months now."

"He seems an OK bloke," John said. Sums Mark up nicely, she couldn't help thinking, an OK bloke.

"I mean," John added hastily, "Obviously a nice guy, good looking. I'm sure he's a good person to be with. Better than–" He came to a sudden halt.

Oh God, of course. John had been around to see January's fiasco, hadn't he?

"Better than Anderson, you mean?" she retorted. "He told me he and his wife had an open relationship. That just turned out to mean he couldn't keep his flies closed. His wife cut up rough, and that was that."

"You deserve better than Anderson," John said firmly. "He's a complete twat."

I deserve better than Mark Dimmock, she thought, but she'd somehow ended up with him. There were times you had to settle for what you could get.


As she took the tube home, she found herself wondering whether if she'd known earlier on that John was straight, she might have asked him out. Still, he was a bit old for her, and he might well prefer white girls, and she was with Mark now, and... and for all she knew, Jaimie Harding had actually dumped John because he was crap in bed.


It was a long cool summer, which did at least keep the murder rate down. She and Mark were both going to have the second week of September off, to sort his flat out. But, of course, on the Wednesday morning – when she was trying to work out the right colour for the kitchen walls – Sally's mobile rang and it was Lestrade.

"I know you're both on holiday," he said, "but I desperately need your help. Two rapes, one attempted rape and they're worried he'll strike again soon."

"We can come in this afternoon, sir," she said, as Mark started making frantic 'no, no' signals. "Two thirty OK?"     


It wasn't just Lestrade in his office, but the Freak and John, which confirmed it was something big.

"Thanks for coming," Lestrade started, perching on his desk. "I'm really sorry to drag you in like this, but this is something serious. Did you ever hear of a man called the 'Lambeth Rapist'?"

Mark shook his head, but her breath caught at the nickname even now.

"Yes," she said, "but that was years ago. Must have been. I was still at school then."

"You would have been," Lestrade said. "It was nearly fifteen years ago. A series of rapes and attempted rapes in and around the borough of Lambeth. A dozen attacks at least, over eighteen months. Victims young, most professional women. No homeless, no prostitutes, not the easy targets. All the attacks were at or near bus stops or tube stations. Perpetrator was a tall, burly man, middle-aged, short greying hair, otherwise unremarkable." He paused.

"How come I never heard of this?"Mark said abruptly. "It must have been pretty big, but I don't remember anything."

"You wouldn't have done," Sherlock said confidently. "Wouldn't have affected you or your family. Because the one factor linking all his victims together was that they were black. So maybe it's no wonder that Sally remembers about him, and you don't."

"Yeah," she said. "I was sixteen or so, and there was this white weirdo targeting black women using public transport. I think there was one summer I barely went out anywhere on my own. But the papers didn’t bother much about it, of course.”

"The crimes simply stopped," Sherlock went on. "The speculation was that the rapist got scared off, lost interest for some reason, or possibly even died suddenly. But in the last month there have been three similar crimes in Gloucestershire. All the victims are black women, all near bus routes. And allowing for the fifteen years difference, the descriptions are similar."

"You think he's started up again?" she said. "But why would he do that?"

"I have a number of hypotheses," Sherlock said, "but without more data, there's no way to eliminate any of them."

"Besides," Lestrade added firmly, "the key thing now isn't why, but how we stop the bastard."

"I can try and get something from the old cases," she said, automatically. "Might give some leads for Gloucestershire CID. Any possibilities for DNA testing of the previous evidence?"

"Wrong question," Sherlock said, in his most infuriating tone.

"What?" she demanded.

"Why us?" Mark said, turning to Lestrade. "We're not cold case specialists, and I haven't got any contacts in the Gloucester area."

"Right question," Sherlock said, smiling. "We've got Sally and you in because Lestrade's panicking that the man could strike again very soon. I'm not sure even I can find him in time; the old case files are remarkably uninformative. I'd barely believe it possible, but the Met were actually less competent back in the late 1990s. And the Gloucestershire police appear incapable of spotting a clue unless it's labelled as such."

"So what are you planning?" she asked.

"We've been kicking the options around between us," Lestrade said slowly. "And our idea is that the Met offers to run a decoy operation in Gloucestershire."

"Set someone up as a target for the rapist?" Sally said.

"Not just someone," Sherlock said. "You."

She was too stunned for a moment to say anything, by which time Mark had already jumped up from his chair and started shouting: "No, no way! Don't be ridiculous. Why the fuck should Sally get involved? It's Gloucester's problem."

"Why me?" she asked Lestrade.

"They don't need you!" Mark yelled. "They've got their own officers."

"They need," Sherlock announced, staring down his nose at Mark, "a young, fit, brave policewoman, with previous undercover experience. Who also happens to be either black or mixed-race. There aren't that many suitable officers even in the Met; there are none at all in the Gloucestershire force."

"But why me?" Sally asked.

"There is no-one else as good," Sherlock said, as calmly as if he hadn’t spent the last five years criticising her. "I know we don't get on, Sally, but if you're going to catch this man, you need to work with me."

"No, she doesn't!"Mark burst in again. "She is not doing it, do you understand? I'm not having it. If Gloucestershire want to risk someone, they can do it, but it's not our patch, and I say screw them!"

"You have no idea–" Sherlock began.

"Mr Holmes, it is out of the question–"

It was suddenly too much. What the hell did they think they were playing at?

"Shut up, both of you!" she yelled, and to her surprise they did, though Mark was still casting dirty looks at Sherlock and Lestrade. She tried to force down her rising anger – she was a professional, wasn’t she? She turned to Lestrade.

“Can Mark and me just have a word, sir, before we go any further?” Lestrade nodded and led the others out of the office. Mark stood there beside the desk, hands in the pockets of his jeans.

“What is wrong with you?” she demanded. “I know you’re pissed off because we’re supposed to be on leave, but it’s not your call whether or not I do this.”

"It’s unreasonable what they’re asking," Mark replied. "You can't possibly agree to do it."

"Why not?" she asked quietly.

"You might get...hurt."

Oh fuck, she thought. He still doesn't get it, does he? Surely he ought to, given how many ops he'd been on.

"You went undercover with the Spencer John gang," she said. "If they'd known who you were, you'd have been lucky to get out alive."

"That was different," Mark protested. He looked young and harmless enough to be useful at infiltrating all kinds of places. Right now, he just looked like a small, aggrieved puppy. "I can take care of myself."

She forced herself to stay calm, to sound professional. "So can I. And we need to catch this nutter before he hurts anyone else. If this is the only way to do it, I'm in."

"I'm not letting you take part in this!" Mark insisted.

"It's not up to you, Mark," she said slowly. "I don't work for you."

"No, but you're my girlfriend, and that gives me the right–"

"It gives you no fucking rights!" she burst out, "I decide what I do, not you."

"And I am asking you not to do this," Mark said. There was a belligerent tilt to his head now, that she'd once found endearing.

"No! You're telling me not to do this."

"I am asking you," he repeated. "And if you don't want to listen to my advice, well, maybe you don't want me as your boyfriend anymore, either, Sally."

"What the fuck?" she said, and she couldn't believe how she'd got Mark so wrong. "You think coz we're sleeping together, I'm supposed to do what you say?"

"I'm not letting you ignore me anymore, Sally," he said, staring defiantly at her. "If you agree to this, we're through."

She smiled then, because no-one got away with bluffing her. "I haven't decided yet whether I'll do it," she said. "But whether we do or not, we're through anyway. So you go home and paint your kitchen, Mark Dimmock, I’ve got work to do.”

She watched Mark walk off grumpily past Lestrade and the others, and then Sherlock strode back into the office and announced: "Right, that eliminates Plan A."


Plan A, it turned out, had been that Mark and her would go undercover together in the village of Midwinter.

"It's where we think the man lives," Lestrade said, "based on the bus routes he uses to go out to the surrounding towns."

"Makes sense," Sally said. "So you want me to try and lure him into an attack in the village itself?"

"It's worth a try. Sherlock reckons he's in an unstable state, and there's some recent event that's led him to start up the attacks again."

"OK, but why did you need Mark involved as well, sir?"

"Because you need an excuse to be hanging around Midwinter," Lestrade said, not looking at her, "which is a rather...traditional place."

"What Lestrade means," Sherlock announced, "is that there's no obvious reason why a black woman would want to go there.  It's the sort of place the Lambeth Rapist might choose to retire to: there are three non-white people in the whole village. The old manor house, however, has recently been turned into an upmarket hotel. And I calculated that our man, who obviously doesn't just hate black people, but specifically successful black women, might get very worked up if someone like Sally turned up there, with her new white husband in tow. We don't have time to waste looking for an alternative to Dimmock. So, Sally, if you're in on the operation, you need to decide who you want to spend a week or two being married to: Lestrade, myself or John?"

Was this just one of the Freak's sick jokes? She turned automatically to Lestrade. "You agree that honeymooners are the best undercover option, sir?  I couldn’t just be a businesswoman travelling on my own?"

“No,” Lestrade said. “We came up with a lot of scenarios, but this has by far the best chance of success. And you need someone watching your back: we don’t want you alone in the village for any length of time, too risky.”

He'd have thought the whole thing through carefully, she knew; he was too experienced to get bounced into something by Sherlock. And if she didn't agree, if she pulled out of the operation now, Mark Dimmock would win, and she wasn't having that. But pretending to be married to Greg would be weird and she certainly wasn't pretending to be married to the Freak. She looked round. She'd almost forgotten John was there, he was doing his 'fade into the background' technique, hadn't said a word. Just standing next to Sherlock, arms folded, looking harmless. She liked him; she could handle him.

"OK," she said, "I'm up for it, and John it is." She wasn't sure if she found Sherlock's smirk or the mixed look of delight and alarm on John's face more alarming.


"You'll need a cover story," Sherlock said as soon as they'd relocated to the briefing room. "As close to the truth as possible, because John's an unconvincing liar. So he's still Dr John Watson – it's a common enough name – but not ex-army. Recently back from overseas though, explains why he's only doing locum work. Ex-Médecins sans Frontières, I suggest, worthy but ineffective."

"Thanks," said John with resignation. "That's me nailed."

"As for Sally–"

"What have you got for me, Freak?"

"Sally," John said, and there was a sudden firmness in his voice. "If you're working with me, you don't call Sherlock 'Freak'. Understood?"

John was tougher than he looked, of course.

"OK, Sherlock," she said, "What have you got planned?"

"There's a solicitor called Sally Donovan working in Croydon," Sherlock said.

"Yeah, I get sent e-mails meant for her occasionally. She does divorce cases, doesn't she?"

"Do you think you can sound like a divorce lawyer?" Lestrade asked.

"Reckon so," she said. "Tough as a copper, but a lot better paid. OK, I'm Sally and he's John. So how did we meet, and what was the wedding like?"


A couple of hours later, the plan was coming together: they'd have something workable to put to the Gloucestershire lot, Sally reckoned. She had a to-do list a mile long already, but as she was about to head off, Sherlock said: "Sergeant Donovan, I need a word in private."

He'd been surprisingly restrained in the planning meeting, only called Lestrade an idiot a couple of times. Too good to last, obviously.

"What do you want, Fr–Sherlock?" she asked, when they'd found a free interview room. "Gonna tell me you'd rather it wasn't me you were working with? Because I assure you, the feeling's mutual."

"I was going to say," Sherlock replied coolly, "that you need to remember John's an excellent bodyguard, but he's not used to undercover work, and he's no actor. If you're posing as a couple, you’ll have to work out what you’re prepared to do to make the relationship look convincing."

She'd known that, of course. She was used to undercover work and the one in charge of the op.

"I'll work something out," she said, staring up at him, and then added. "Aren't you glad we didn't have to pretend to be honeymooners?"

"Oh, but Sally, I'm a much better actor than John," he said, and his deep voice was suddenly soft, even tender. "I wouldn't need any encouragement to act as if I found you irresistible." He smiled, and strode out of the room.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 14th, 2011 04:51 am (UTC)
I Love this premise, am very excited to read further.

got a little swoony over that last 'graph. :)
Dec. 15th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
Glad I've got you hooked: the next part's just gone up. As for the end para, I don't like to think what would happen on an undercover operation with Sherlock and Sally pretending to be married, but I'm not sure the honeymoon suite would survive intact.
Dec. 15th, 2011 09:56 am (UTC)
I'm totally hooked, and I can't wait for more. Gorgeous characterizations here.
Dec. 16th, 2011 12:53 am (UTC)
Oh, boy. What a set up! And I love Sherlock pulling that one moment of sheer charm on her at the end.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )