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Under Covers (3/3)

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's going to stop the Lambeth rapist, whatever the cost to John and herself.

Part 1, Part 2

     
The briefing meeting next day was in one screen of the cinema at Gloucester, which was bizarre, but effective. Lestrade and Forbes were talking to each other in the polite and formal tones of men who really didn’t get on, but at least they seemed to have agreed on a course of action. And there was no Sherlock there, which suited Sally fine.

"He's back on the Lambeth end," Lestrade explained, when John eventually asked. "We're going to get this creep one way or another."

"Good job he's not around," said Forbes, who was small and dumpy and sharp-eyed. "I don't like having civilians involved in my ops." Sherlock had obviously got up his nose as well, Sally thought. No wonder they were trying to get the thing wrapped up so quickly.

"Well there's just John now," Lestrade said firmly. "And he knows to keep out of things once Sally's left the pub."

"Can we just check you have the timetable clear, Dr Watson?" Forbes said doggedly.

"OK," said John, with the resignation of someone who'd already been given the same orders several times. "Sally and I go down to the Black Ox to eat at 19.30. She'll then get a signal from you via a text message, at which point she quarrels with me. She storms off back to the hotel, but rather than staying on the road, she takes a shortcut, the footpath through the fields. When I've been quarrelled with, I sit in the pub for another half an hour, and then go back to the hotel along the main road. If nothing's happened, I meet Sally back at the hotel, and that's it for the night."

"You do not..." Forbes prompted.

"I do not leave the pub before the half hour is up," John went on wearily, "I do not get drunk, I do not draw attention to myself unnecessarily."

"Sergeant Donovan," Forbes went on, more enthusiastically. "You're happy with your part of the operation? We will have you under close observation at all times, and we will intervene immediately if you are attacked."

"That's fine," she said. "Let's hope we nail the bastard."

***

After the briefing session, Lestrade and the Gloucester team left, but John just sat there silently beside Sally in the empty cinema, looking worried.

“You OK?” Sally asked. Her hand was almost automatically reaching out for his, even though they wouldn’t be on display for a few minutes yet.

“Are you sure they know what they’re doing?” John asked. She was oddly grateful he didn’t ask if she knew what she was doing.

“What do you mean?”

“It sounds very risky to me. Especially not coming to your rescue till you’re actually attacked."

“Gotta be done like that,” she said. “I’ve had that before being a decoy. Until they’ve actually laid hands on you, or started to steal your bag, there’s no proper evidence. You get shat on by the defence counsel, with all that ‘oh, the officer over-reacted and my client just wanted to ask directions” sort of thing, and half the time they get away with it.”

“I see. So you’re OK with it?”

“Got Lestrade watching my back, which is almost as good as you,” she said, trying to sound cheery. “And it sounds like he and Forbes between them have the Gloucester boys well-drilled. Though you know what they haven’t planned?” she added. "What we're going to quarrel about."

It seemed odd to be discussing that holding hands – the cinema had put some background music on now, they’d be opening up the screen again soon – but she needed to be sure that bit would go smoothly. "You didn't ask, either," she added.

"I'll be more convincing if I don't know what to expect," John said quietly. "You lead and I'll follow."

"You're hard to quarrel with, though."

"Sherlock winds me up sometimes. You'll think of something."

"Sally the Solicitor will," she said. "Just remember it's MSF John she's furious with, it's nothing to do with you."

"I know," he said, as he stood up, and then he sighed and looked sadly at her. "But I wish to God this whole thing was done and dusted. I’ll be a lot happier when we’re both safely out of Midwinter for good.”

***

In the Black Ox that evening, they mostly sat in silence, as they waited for their meal to arrive; Sally the Solicitor staring morosely at MSF John, who was hunched over his beer and unhappily trying and failing to make conversation.

"Did I tell you about the time in Afghanistan–" he began at one point.

"I'm sure you did," Sally broke in. "You never stop talking about what you did there."

"I thought you were interested."

"I was, the first time." There was another long silence and then Sally's phone started to ring. MSF John winced slightly at the sound of the Black Eyed Peas.

"Who's calling you?" John asked in a tense voice, and as Sally read the text saying GO, inspiration struck her.

"It's a text from Mark," she said.

"Mark?"

"Mark Dimmock," she said, and saw John's eyes flick as he caught on.

"I didn't know you were still in contact with him," he said awkwardly.

"Why shouldn't I be?" she demanded. She hoped John could follow her lead, but if she was quick and brutal enough, it didn't really matter.

John was licking his lips nervously. "I thought it was over between you two."

"Why should you think that?"

"You said–"

"So I said that. So what? Why do you keep on trying to control me all the time?"

"I don't," John protested. He was definitely improving as an actor, she thought.

"You do. You're just like Mark, you think because you're a man and I'm a woman you get to tell me what to do."

"Sally!" He'd got MSF John's pained tone just right, a man seeing his relationship disintegrating before his eyes. "Please don't do this to me!"

"Why not?"

"Because I love you." He sounded so desperately sincere. "And I thought you loved me. So can you please stop thinking about Mark?"

"You know why I keep on thinking about him?" she demanded, because Sally the Solicitor was setting him up for the killer blow.

"Why?"

"Because he's not hopeless in bed like you are, John!" she snapped. John was sitting there speechless, his colour draining away, and that was as good an exit line as any, wasn't it? She grabbed her coat and bag and hurried out of the pub.

God, Sally the Solicitor was horrible, wasn't she? Still, never mind, she added to herself, because she was Sergeant Donovan again now, with a dangerous job to do and to do well. She started to head for the footpath.

She mustn't go too fast, she knew or they'd have problems keeping her under surveillance, and it would be rash, anyhow. There was a bright moon out, but there were a lot of shadows, and with the path beneath her feet so uneven, it was not at all pleasant, even without a possible attacker. There were things moving in the night around her, and was it the wind rustling the hedges or something, somebody else? And where was the path anyhow, she couldn't see it clearly for a moment.

She didn't dare look behind her; she must keep her eyes on the path or she'd trip, and she'd be appallingly vulnerable on the ground. Just keep going, she'd be safely back at the hotel soon. And then there was a hand reaching out from the shadows grabbing her arm – he'd somehow got ahead of her, how had that happened? Her nails went up towards his eyes, as she aimed her knee for his groin, but God, he might be old, but he was big and strong, and he kicked her legs from under her, so that she lost her balance. She opened her mouth to scream, but he grabbed her by the throat and hissed: "Shut up, you black bitch!" And fuck, he had a knife, he'd never been armed before...

And then something, someone, crashed into them, and she was falling. She managed to roll as she fell, to slide out from underneath the tumbling bodies, and she scrambled up and ran, because it wouldn't help if she got taken hostage. She ran straight into yet another person, and she could feel the bulk of his stab vest, even before he announced: "It's PC Watts, you're OK. Don't worry, you're safe."

"Have you got him?" she gasped. "He mustn't get away."

"It's OK, miss, Sergeant, we've got him. It's all under control."

"I need to see," she said, and she staggered back along the path. There were loads of coppers there now, their torches lighting up the field and the hedges around, and – God – there was someone still struggling further down. Had they not secured him yet? Then she realised that there were two policeman handcuffing a man lying on the ground. And that the man that Lestrade was dragging away was John, who was still frantically trying to kick her attacker's head in.

***

They'd been alerted about the operation at Gloucester police station, but they still wanted to play it by the book, treat her as if she'd been the ordinary victim of a sexual assault, and Sally was wearily grateful for their care. When she finally emerged from the rape suite, at some awful time before dawn, she found Lestrade dozing outside, her luggage heaped around him.

"How are you doing, Sally?" he asked, slightly groggily.

"We got him, which is the main thing. Do we have to stay around any longer?"

"No. I'll get some coffee, and then I'll drive us back to London. Nice safe city for us both."

"Thanks, sir," she said. "If you're sure you're not going to drive into anything. We could maybe get one of the Gloucester boys to take us?" She still felt far too wired to drive safely.

"Let one of them drive inside the North Circular? My nerves wouldn't stand it," he said smiling, and rubbing his face. "Oh, and John thought you wouldn't want to go back to Midwinter, so he brought your stuff here."

"Is he alright?" she asked, with sudden alarm.

"He's fine. Which is lucky for him because attacking an armed man in the dark is bloody dangerous."

"It was him who grabbed the suspect, was it?" She hadn't been 100% sure.

"Who else would rush in without thinking like that?" Lestrade said. "I swear, Sally, we would have got you out safely without him, but he just beat us to it. After we'd given him specific instructions not to get involved, too." He smiled. "But I suppose there's not much point in ordering John to stay out of trouble."

"He's a soldier," she said. "You can't expect him to sit around when a comrade's in danger." If he hadn’t been there – a knife was so quick – no. She wasn’t thinking about that.

"Suppose not," Lestrade said with resignation. "I've got him off assault charges, and Sherlock turned up and took him home."

Nice to see the Freak showing a bit of consideration for once, she thought. “So is there anything else we need to do?”

You’ve done everything you need to on this case. Time to go home."

***

"Will you be OK on your own?" Lestrade asked, when they got to her flat. "I can stay if you’d like someone around. Or if you’d rather, I can phone Jenny...or Kath Climpson or Yvonne Hemingway.”

"It's fine, sir...Greg," she said. What she wanted right now, needed was family. Someone who’d understand what she’d been through. "I'll have a shower, sort myself out, and then, well my sister Sophy's son Ezra is six months old and teething. She might be glad of me going round, even at 6 a.m." Sophy would remember about the Lambeth Rapist as well, be glad to hear her little sister had finally nailed the bastard.

“Nothing like a screaming baby to take your mind off your own troubles," Lestrade said, smiling. “Where does your sister live? Are you OK getting there?”

“I know a couple of local mini-cab drivers. I’ll get one of them to take me.”

Lestrade nodded. “As long as it’s someone you know, trust, not some random bloke. And if you need anything, phone me.” He paused and then added: “You were bloody brilliant, you know that, don’t you? I’m putting you in for a commendation.”

“Thanks,” she said. “Are you gonna sort out all the paperwork, as well? That’d be more useful.”

“I promise,” he said. “Come back in when you’re ready, and take care till then.” He tried to stifle a yawn and failed.

“Sleep well,” she said. “See you soon.”

***

She was back into work four days later, because her tolerance for babies was wearing thin. Sophy had been great, and her mother had come round and been comforting as well, but now Mrs Donovan was starting to get that broody look that said one grandchild just wasn’t enough. It was tough going back into Scotland Yard, but she’d been through bad cases before, and she knew that there was nothing like tasteless jokes from your colleagues to get you through the rough patches.

She was still edgy, of course, but they kept Mark away from her, and Kwame Joseph was soon busy planning how they would set up the first Midwinter Carnival ever, which would culminate in forcing the Black Ox to put some decent food on the menu, not just cardboard fish and chips.

"I say we burn down their maypole while we're at it," Jenny Ng added. About fifteen racial stereotypes later – which included a few token slurs on the French, just for Lestrade's benefit – Sally remembered why she wouldn't work for any force other than the Met. And realised that they were probably going to get into trouble with HR yet again.

***

The rapist's name was Barnaby Stockdale, Sally learned, and the CPS told her a few days later that he'd confessed to so many other offences they might not even need her evidence to bring the case to court. She smiled, her body unwinding a fraction more.

She ought to phone John, let him know about Stockdale, she told herself. He hadn’t been in contact, and she’d been grateful at first, that he’d realised she needed space. But she was starting to wonder if it was more than that. It was nearly a week now. Maybe he was presuming that things were over between them now the operation was finished. Well, it had been her saying no strings attached, hadn’t it? But he was still her friend and she ought...No, she’d leave it. Get Lestrade to tell John about Stockdale, if he hadn’t done so already. He was probably busy with Sherlock’s cases, anyhow.

***

Five minutes after she got back to her flat that evening, her mobile started ringing. When she answered, an irritatingly familiar voice said: "I need to speak to John."

"Why the fuck are you phoning me, Freak?"

"As my previous statement suggested, because I want to get hold of John."

"He's not here," she said automatically. "Why would he be?"

A sigh came down the line. "Sally, let's not dwell on the obvious. Just let me talk to him."

"I haven't seen him since we left Midwinter," she protested.

There was no reply for a moment, and she could almost see the frown of concentration on the Freak's face. And then he said abruptly:  "John was upset by the case, more so than I’d expected. A couple of days ago he said he needed to go away, think about things. I had assumed...." There was a pause, and then he added: "I thought you might be better at dealing with any fallout. I...find it difficult to know what to say on these occasions."

"I thought he was safely back at Baker Street. Why didn't you try and track him down?"

"I made the obvious deduction as to his whereabouts, and I didn't need him urgently. But if he's not with you, it's curious. Lestrade or Stamford would have told me, Harry's unlikely, especially given John's emotional distress – though I know where his gun is, which is reassuring – Bill Murray is a possibility, I suppose..."

She hung up, because she wasn't interested in listening to the Freak's deductions. Besides, she had her own ideas. John would have gone to someone sympathetic, but prepared to keep Sherlock in the dark about his flatmate's whereabouts.  Admittedly, the list of people who liked John and couldn't stand Sherlock was still a pretty long one, but she somehow suspected John would turn to a woman in a situation like this. And when it came to women who were soft touches, there was one obvious name that sprang to her mind. The first person to try, she decided, was Dr Molly Hooper.

***

"I must admit I am a bit worried about John," Molly said, as they sat and drank coffee in her cramped kitchen. "He said he needed to get away from Sherlock for a bit – which I can understand – and I was quite happy for him to stay in the spare room, but he's hardly coming out of it at all. And I think he's having nightmares."

"We had a nasty case in Gloucestershire, it must have got to him."

"I thought there was something," Molly said, "but he didn't want to talk. I'll tell him you're here."

***
John was too polite, of course, simply to refuse to see her. He just sat miserably on the bed in Molly's spare room, as she went in, arms wrapped firmly round his drawn up knees so she couldn't easily tell how much his hand was shaking. His face looked nearly as grey as his grey pyjamas. She pulled up a chair, and sat there and waited in silence. It worked, sometimes, with witnesses.

She was kidding herself, of course. Putting off what she knew she had to say, but didn't know how to.

"Thanks for rescuing me," she said at last. "I'm grateful." She wasn't any good at fancy speeches, and she probably didn't even sound grateful. But John didn't seem to mind.

"My pleasure," he said, almost automatically, and then abruptly added, "I shouldn’t have jumped in like that. Might have made things worse."

"But it didn't," she said firmly. "And if you'd waited round for the Gloucester lot to save me, we'd still be there, they're so dozy."

She expected a smile from John at that, but he didn't look any happier. She had a sudden memory of him sitting on the four-poster bed, grinning at her singing gospel music. There was something badly wrong, but she didn't know what. Try and get him talking at least.

"The bloke's name was Barnaby Stockdale," she said. "Confessed to a whole string of attacks. He was working overseas for years, so the team are trying to trace if anything similar happened elsewhere. The psychologists are going to have a field day with him, but he's fit for trial, I'm sure."

"Lestrade told me about him,” John said, and then he swallowed and said abruptly: “I would have killed him, you know, if they hadn't stopped me."

"You've killed men before," she replied automatically, "The cabbie." Oh shit, she thought, not supposed to know about that, am I? Though she was slightly grateful that someone had saved the Freak’s neck that night.

John nodded and went on raggedly: "The Midwinter bloke wasn't...a very nice man either. Almost as bad as Jefferson Hope."

He'd killed the cabbie, and saved Sherlock's life, and walked away almost casually after that. As a police officer, she did not approve of that kind of behaviour. As a human being, she’d shed no tears over the death of a serial killer, and she wouldn’t have done over the Lambeth Rapist either. So why was John this time looking as if he just wanted to curl up in a small ball and howl?

"What's the problem, then?" she asked, because being tactful obviously wasn't getting anywhere.

"That I'm no better than bloody Mark Dimmock!" he exploded, and his hands came up to his face, palms pressing into his eye-sockets, as if he could force the tears back by sheer pressure. "I was so scared. So shit scared that I lost it completely."

It finally registered. It hadn’t been one clean, calculated takedown this time, had it? When it was her, not Sherlock, in danger. 

"Because he was attacking a woman?"

"Because he was attacking you! You're beautiful, and brave, and wonderful, and he didn't care because you were the wrong fucking colour!"

He wasn't used to that, of course, the way she was. He'd have to toughen up, but now wasn't the time to tell him so.

"It's not your fault that some white bloke's a bastard."

"But I couldn't stop him! I wasn't allowed to protect you."

Very loyal, very quickly. She remembered someone saying that about John once. And she also remembered now that he wasn't a good actor, but when he'd said 'I love you' that last evening it had sounded real. Because it was real, perhaps? That was the problem with undercover work, pretending to be someone else did things to you. And, shit, she'd compared him to Mark, hadn't she, in that last quarrel?

"I didn't mean...," she said, and she stood up, and went over and put her arm round his shoulders.  "What I said about the sex wasn't true, you know."

"I know," he said. He rested his head in relief against her belly, but his voice still sounded as if it was being dragged out of him in tiny pieces. "But I'm the same as Dimmock really. Can't bear seeing a woman I...care about get hurt."

"It's OK," she said, holding onto him. "No-one got hurt. And we got him, thanks to you."

"I know," John muttered, and she could feel the tension in his warm, solid body as he forced himself not to shake, "but next time, please wear a stab vest."

Mark would have said there mustn't be a next time. John understood about her, but it went against all his instincts.

"Would you wear one?" she asked, and abruptly realised how much more she was really asking. He lifted his head, blinking the tears away.

"Look odd in the surgery," he said at last, with a ghost of his normal grin. "But I'll try and be careful. I mean, it's difficult with Sherlock around, but I'll do my best. If that's what you want."

"I want you, John," she said, "In my bed. And in my life. Because you’re a far better man than Mark Dimmock.” She put her mouth down to his, and suddenly he was reaching up, kissing her with the desperate hunger of a man who hadn't touched her for days. She could feel her own body start to respond to him, as she kissed enthusiastically back, an instinctive lust that raced in and swept away the bad memories. But as John's hand reached for the bottom button of her shirt, she grabbed at his wrist.

"God, I'm sorry," he said, pulling away. "I shouldn't, I didn't mean...you probably don't want to, after that."

Stockdale hadn't got her body, and he wasn't getting her mind, either. She would do what she wanted, what they both wanted. But not just yet.

"We're in Molly's flat," she said firmly. "I think there are limits. So I suggest you get dressed and come to my place. Because I'm not having sex in 221B till it's guaranteed 100% eyeball free."

"Give me a few minutes to pack," John said, and she left him and went downstairs. She tucked her blouse in as she went, but she should have known she couldn't fool Molly.

"John's feeling better, is he?" Molly said with a smile.

"He...I'm taking him home with me," she said, grinning back.

"That's good. He needs looking after sometimes, and he won't get that from Sherlock."

"I'm not sure I can give him what he wants," Sally said, and then, as Molly looked quizzically at her, added, "all that he wants."

"It's hard to love people as much as John does," Molly said. "But you came and found him. That's a good start."

"I'll do my best," she said. Because she didn't know if she felt the same way that John did, but they were friends, and they were good in bed together, and they could work out something between them.

And then John came downstairs, kitbag in hand, pulling on his coat, and there was a sudden feeling inside her that might not be love, but was at least pretty close. And as he fumbled in his pockets for his gloves, she reached out and took his left hand, and wrapped its tremors in the warmth of her own fingers, and said: "Let's go."

And John followed her, of course.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
rabidsamfan
Dec. 17th, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
That's utterly gorgeous. Just plain beautiful, and I'm so glad you wrote it. Thank you. There's a special place in my head for stories like this one, and I'll be back to read it often.
marysutherland
Dec. 19th, 2011 12:20 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it worked for you. It isn't a pairing I'd want to write all the time, but it did let me write about some very interesting topics.
maggie_conagher
Dec. 17th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you for finishing, and so quickly. This one's a keeper.

Real ppl w/ real problems.

I couldn't be sure of the ending and enjoyed letting you drive.

Something new, lovely.
marysutherland
Dec. 19th, 2011 12:24 pm (UTC)
I think BBC!Sherlock is poised strangely between the realistic characters (Lestrade, Molly, Sarah etc) and the larger-than-life ones (Sherlock, Mycroft, Moriarty), with John as the bridge between them. So I do enjoy sometimes writing about the practical problems people have with relationships, trying to get something to work even when it's perhaps not quite what they expected. I can't say what the future might hold for this John and Sally, but I think they might have good times finding out ;-)
impishtubist
Dec. 17th, 2011 06:06 pm (UTC)
This was absolutely incredible and gorgeous. I am not a fan of het, and it takes a truly wonderful story to make me like it - this is one of those stories. Thank you so much for writing it. I will definitely be back for a re-read (or two!).
marysutherland
Dec. 19th, 2011 12:27 pm (UTC)
I find het hard to write now, after doing so much slash and femslash: it's hard to get equality in the relationship, show it working for both of a pair. But I think this is one het pairing that might work out quite well, because John isn't an alpha male and can respect a strong woman, without being a pushover.
morganstuart
Dec. 17th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Absolutely fantastic. What a satisfying ending. I love where you took these characters and what you brought out of them. I can see this seamlessly following from BBC canon.
(no subject) - shehasathree - Dec. 18th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC) - Expand
2ndskin
Dec. 18th, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
Such a unique and sensitive portrayal of both people. A pairing I never would have thought of otherwise has suddenly become the opportunity to see many new, complex layers in both Sally and John. Just beautifully done, and a pleasure to read more than once. <3
fengirl88
Dec. 22nd, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
I didn't read this at first because my resistance to reading het is something fierce, but I liked what you did with this pairing very much. I particularly like the fact that John asks her to wear a stab vest next time - the difference between wanting to protect someone and wanting to control them.
marysutherland
Dec. 24th, 2011 09:39 am (UTC)
I wasn't expecting you to read this, knowing your views on het, but I'm glad you trusted me enough to do so. I find het very hard to write now, but this pairing did seem to me a plausibly egalitarian one, because John isn't a conventional alpha male.

In a very oblique way, this was inspired by Gaudy Night, and Peter having to accept Harrier getting into danger, even when all his instincts go against it. I knew when I started writing that the pivot point of the story would be the tension between John's genuine respect for women, and the protective urges of a man and soldier. And then I read the row about Midsomer Murders and racism and the rest just followed.
fengirl88
Dec. 24th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
aha! yes, it did remind me of that bit in Gaudy Night, and I like that tension in John.

Edited at 2011-12-24 06:34 pm (UTC)
innie_darling
Dec. 22nd, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC)
I have been waiting for a long, realistic John/Sally story, and this was just wonderful - they're both characterized so clearly, so sharply that it's a delight to read.
marysutherland
Dec. 24th, 2011 09:29 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it - it took a while for me to get up courage to write from Sally's POV, but I think there's enough in the S1 canon to show that she and John could get on well together.
(Deleted comment)
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )