by Mad Maudlin
In the small attic bedroom, at the top of the stairs, John found Sherlock sitting on the floor with his back to the door. "What are you doing in my room?" John asked, because upon coming home he'd thought that Sherlock was out, since his coat wasn't hanging up--instead he was sitting in John's bedroom, with said coat arcing out behind him like a shadow and approximately a mile and a a half of leg splayed in front.
"I didn't know you were such a talented artist," Sherlock said, not looking up.
John's heart did a funny thing in his chest, and he stepped over Sherlock's spreading coattails to confirm his suspicion: Sherlock had one of his old sketchbooks in his lap, and was flipping idly through it. The other things that had been piled on top of said sketchbooks were spilling out of the wardrobe in a jumbled river. "Bit not good, Sherlock," John advised him warily.
"I should've seen it," Sherlock grumbled, because of course the surprise wasn't that John used to draw, it was that Sherlock hadn't figured it out from the first. "Thought of course it did take me a few hours to realize that you're ambidextrous. Right hand, please." He held up his hand as if waiting for John to offer his.
"What's the case?" John asked, knowing it was the only thing likely to derail Sherlock's thought processes when he got like this.
"Oh. Art student. Faked suicide. I need to determine how quickly a heavy drawing paper would absorb blood, and I recalled seeing you carry these up when you were moving your things in."
Sherlock had been laying on the couch, asleep or meditating, while John lugged boxes up two flights of stairs; John sometimes thought he was justified in suspecting the man was a wizard. "And you just decided to stop and have a look, did you?"
Sherlock seemed very interested in John's middle finger, and when he didn't find what he was looking for on the right he growled slightly and grabbed at the left. "The number of hours it takes to develop this level of skill, even for someone with a natural gift, ought to--aha!"
"Aha?" John asked warily.
One long, slender finger stroked the side of John's, stopped to rub slightly at the knuckle. "There. You've got a bump, just there, from holding the pencil too tightly. You haven't drawn since you were wounded, probably because of the hand tremors, yes?"
John pulled his hand away and snatched back the sketchbook. "It's none of your business," he said, and found a page to tear out. "Go play with your blood."
Sherlock cocked his head, staring at him. "Ah. Of course. I should've realized you've been mocked for this hobby in the past."
"I haven't--I just--it's not something I do anymore." He felt his cheeks start to burn, which irritated him further. "It's something I did when I was a kid. I don't know why I even keep the damn things."
"Nor why you made the effort to give me a page that was blank, obviously," Sherlock said.
John climbed over Sherlock's legs and started putting his things back in order. "Just for this, you're getting dinner," he said. "I think I fancy a pizza."
"Of course," Sherlock said magnanimously. He paused at the top of the steps. "You know, you really are a better artist than a writer."
John exhaled through his teeth. "Sherlock. Case. Bloodstains don't study themselves."
"There's no need to get stroppy about it..."
Later, after Sherlock solved the murder in dazzling fashion and they both stuffed themselves on pepperoni with extra cheese, John went back into his wardrobe and dug up the sketchbooks he'd spent so much of the afternoon burying again. Some of them went back to medical school--if he'd kept any of the ones from before that, they were in Harry's attic, or buried in storage somewhere.
It had been a hobby, a way of passing time--he told himself Sherlock had been exaggerating about this level of skill because really, it wasn't like much. Doodling, mostly. Pictures of his mates, or of girls he'd fancied; the view from his window in every season; little cartoons making fun of the most hated consultants and least popular students. There were a fair number of anatomical studies mixed in from exam times, as he taught himself bones and muscles and nerves by drawing them from memory. No time to draw at Sandhurst, but later he'd sometimes passed the boring hours with quick sketches--using printer paper and a biro just as often as a sketchbook and charcoal, but still. He'd kept some of them, creased and folded together: the sunrise over a beach in Cyprus, a Christmas market in Germany, the mountain view from Kandahar.
He'd never drawn his patients--it had felt invasive, personal, and anyway he'd never been able to turn off his doctor's brain long enough to see any kind of symmetry in burns, abrasions, bandages, cannulae. The whole point of drawing was a distraction. Sometimes he'd drawn the other soldiers--Bill Murray pulling a face at him, some of the enlisted men playing impromptu footie in the dust, that sort of thing. Of course he'd been teased from time to time, because that was just how soldiers socialized; but it wasn't that big a deal because it wasn't as if he was serious about it. He hadn't even picked up a pencil in months.
He put the sketchbooks away--very, very far away--and went to bed.
John was still on locum work, which sometimes meant long hours on short notice; he ended up pulling a week of ten-hour shifts when the surgery was beset by stomach flu, and was nearly asleep on his feet when he stumbled home on Friday. To find Sherlock perusing his sketchbooks again, bare feet on the coffee table.
"Do you always draw your lovers in such detail?" Sherlock asked.
John, exhausted, managed to muster a faint, "What?"
Sherlock turned a few pages and peered closely at whatever was on it. "Your repetoire is largely devoid of nudes, which is to be expected since you're self-taught, but you do have a certain flair for specific women--and no small number of men, either. They're the only ones drawn without any significant background detail, the only ones who appear more than once as the sole object of a study, and the only ones drawn in, ah, intimate poses."
John pulled the sketchbook out of his hands again; he'd been staring at a doodle John had done in Afghanistan, a quick one when his body had been too tired for precision but his mind had been too restless for sleep. A girl that he'd seen in one of the villages while on a patrol: barely a teenager, with enormous, liquid eyes shaded by the dull scarf over her hair. He'd drawn the whole scene as well as he could remember it, the market basket she'd had over her arm, the pock marks in the wall behind her; he remembered how he'd gotten distracted detailing the water cistern at her side before he gave up and went to sleep.
He shut the book and snatched up its mates. "What part of 'Sherlock, go away' sounded like 'Sherlock, please psychoanalyze my doodles'?"
"I was bored," Sherlock said.
"And still pissed off that you missed something," John pointed out.
Sherlock scowled. "Regardless, it's been an enlightening afternoon. You have had a remarkably cosmopolitan sex life, compared to the average British man your age."
"What," John asked, wondering if he should even bother, "inspired you to try to deduce my sexual history from a bunch of scribbles?"
But Sherlock just looked up at him with his head oddly cocked. "The fact that they are anything but, John."
John shook his head and took himself straight off to bed.
He dreamed that night of Tina Lowry, who he'd dated--Christ, well over ten years ago. It had been while he was stationed in Britain, and they'd been gleefully casual about it all, and she'd cajoled him into seeing Titanic with her at some point. Draw me like a French prostitute, she'd teased him, and in retaliation he'd drawn stick figures in obscene poses with a thick, black marking pen. He wasn't sure she'd even known that later, when she was asleep, he'd sketched her face.
In his dream, they were chasing a zombie through Bart's with chainsaws, so John tried not to read anything into it.
Sherlock went on best behavior for several days after that; at the time John thought it was a stab at atonement, but really he was probably just lulling John into a false sense of security. Sherlock kept his violin in its case between midnight and six, tidied up after himself, and even made an attempt at buying groceries, though that had resulted in far more celery than they could ever actually eat and no milk.
John kept himself busy, either with work or his blog or crap daytime telly; he very nearly forgot the whole fiasco. Until the day he came back from Tesco's (ample milk, no celery) and found a drawing pad on the coffee table. Next to it were a selection of pencils. Everything else had been put away, or transfered in jumbled heaps to the desk--John wasn't sure.
"Sherlock..." he called.
"It's nothing to do with you!" Sherlock shouted back, from somewhere in his bedroom.
John sighed, and started putting away the shopping. "I was actually going to ask if you'd thrown out my crossword."
"No, you weren't," Sherlock called confidently. "And I did, because you'd got two words wrong. Why do you insist on doing crosswords in ink?"
"Maybe if you hadn't set fire to all the pencils..." John muttered to himself.
It had to be a form of psychological warfare, though, because long after the pad had been devoured by the creeping clutter of Sherlock's things John was still thinking of it. Or--no, that wasn't quite right. He was starting to think through it, in his mind's eye, to overlay bits of the world in charcoal or lead. Little things, like Sherlock's half-empty teacup or the way light splattered over a wet road. When he was rattled by adrenaline or bored at the surgery, the itch to pick up a pencil and doodle had crept back in--something he hadn't really felt since he was shot, since he went from a life-long lefty to grudgingly ambidextrous.
He tried to push it out of his mind, first. It was silly, after all. He didn't do that anymore. Besides, he was months out of practice, and didn't have any of the pencils anymore, and---and it was silly. It didn't matter.
Which made him feel all the more foolish when he realized how much it was distracting him.
That was when he started to draw again.
It wasn't easy. John was months out of practice, and the lingering impairment in his left hand made it hard to control the pencil the way he used to. But it wasn't like anyone was going to see the damn things, so he waited until Sherlock had gone out to play with the homeless before he smuggled up the bag with the sketchbook and pencils from its hiding place in Mrs. Hudson's parlor. He shut himself up in his room, thinking back to when he'd been a teenager and drawing silly cartoons had been a way to shut out the arguments going on in the rest of the house.
And he drew.
"These are nice," Sherlock said, three weeks later, having broken into John's room again.
John was willing to admit that he'd been fairly...prolific, once he'd started again. It looked worse than it was, since he self-consciously gathered up all the newspaper margins and sticky notes and receipts that he used when the sketchbook wasn't around; the great piles of paper made him look like a hoarder. "Do we have to have the boundaries talk again, Sherlock?" John asked frostily.
"If you were serious about it you would lock your door," Sherlock said. "I like these."
John didn't point out that Sherlock could just pick a lock, because Sherlock was holding up the sketch book to facing pages. On one side he'd sketched Sally Donovan standing against the background of smokestacks, a crime scene from ages ago; the lurid light from inside the factory had contrasted with the whirling reds and blues from the police cars, and he'd gotten a glimpse of her in quarter profile, just the angle of her check and neck. On the other side was a simple cartoon, of Sherlock smirking at Lestrade: John hadn't made much effort to get the proportions right, so Lestrade come out looking squat and rat-faced, while the cartoon Sherlock was about seventy percent leg, all angles. Since John hadn't used any kind of fixative, each drawing had slightly smudged the other, leaving ghost impressions over what he'd meant to draw.
"That's nice," John said. "Give it back."
Sherlock gave it to him, but then immediate grabbed a stack of loose pages and started shuffling through them, laying across John's bed sideways with his (admittedly lanky) legs splayed out before him. "You've changed your grip on the pencil because of the nerve damage," he observed. "Is this meant to be Sarah's hand?"
"Can't you deduce it from the nail polish or something?" John asked, gathering up as much incriminating evidence as he could before it fell into Sherlock's clutches.
Sherlock clucked at him. "Art is an act of interpretation, John. Richard the III wasn't actually a hunchback."
John shoved the stacks of paper and the sketchbook into the wardrobe and shut it. "What has Richard the III got to do with anything? And why are you so fixated on my drawings?"
Sherlock just raised an eyebrow at him. "Why do I play the violin, John?"
"To be obnoxious," John said, and pulled the pages--Sarah's hand and all--out of Sherlock's hands. "Out."
"You're being unreasonable."
"I'm changing clothes."
Sherlock folded his arms behind his head. "And I have to leave the room for this, do I?"
John felt a flush creep up his cheeks. "I'm not telling you again." Sherlock raised one eyebrow, then stood up and left without another word. That alone was a sign that John needed to be very, very worried.
Sherlock treated John to an extemporaneous violin concert that evening--and deep into the night--though if he thought it clarified his point from earlier he was in for disappointment. They'd already had the discussion about John's allegedly tin ear and disappointing taste in music, so he didn't see anything wrong with tuning out for minutes at a time; Sherlock didn't seem to need his active participation anyway. He sometimes stood so still and erect near the windows that only his bowing arm seemed made of flesh, and the rest marble; other times he looked like was wrestling the damn violin, bending and swaying as the music climbed and fell, dragging note after note out against its will. At one point John caught himself outlining in the margin of his newspaper, erratic pencil strokes to capture the shape of arms and shoulders and waist, but caught himself just in time and scribbled over in thick gray strokes.
At one point Sherlock stopped, dropping both hands but somehow still holding the violin tucked under his chin; he wandered into the kitchen like that, rattled some crockery and resumed playing before he'd come back in. At another point, after playing so vigorously he seemed in danger of spraining something, he rounded on John and demanded, "Well?"
"It's pretty," John said with a straight face.
Sherlock moaned and shook his head, and started over with something slower.
John argued in his own head that Sherlock was made for cartoons, really; for exaggerated limbs and silly expressions, for clouds of smoke and impossible contortions. For motion. So it made sense that that was how he drew him, jagged and silly, careless about stray pencil marks and guide lines.
"Have you ever done a self-portrait?" Sherlock asked one day, as John was adding just the right number of ominous curls of irritation around his cartoon alter-ego's head to signify the past three days' of sulking. As John hadn't realized Sherlock was even in the room, he jumped; the pencil skidded across the paper and the tip broke off.
"No," John said, and started trying to rub out the line. "Who'd want to look at me?"
"Ah," Sherlock said, and wandered away again.
Once again, it faded into the background, below the level of John's awareness: he didn't stop doodling, and Sherlock at least pretended not to take any notice of it whatsoever; he kept up the blog and Sherlock complained about it; he complained about the shopping and Sherlock came home with fifty tins of beans and four large boxes of chocolate digestives, but no bread.
"Do you do this on purpose?" John asked as they put the beans away.
"Shopping is boring," Sherlock sniffed.
And then, once again, it happened: John came back from drinks with Mike and another old classmate, feeling pleasantly loose but far from tipsy, and Sherlock had cleared everything from the coffee table except for a large drawing pad and a selection of different pencils. This time he was laying on the couch, fingers steepled to his chin--John privately called it the Corpse Position.
Before John could even say anything this time, Sherlock said crisply, without opening his eyes, "I want you to draw me."
And John said, "No," and went up to his room.
When he came back downstairs for breakfast, Sherlock was still on the sofa, and he asked "Why not?" as if he hadn't noticed John pop out of the room for eight or so hours.
John, after figuring out the provenance of the gripe, huffed at him. "I draw you all the time."
"You draw caricatures," Sherlock protested. "I want you to do it properly."
"Is this some sort of test of my visual memory, or something?" John asked as he fixed himself tea and toast. Butter and Marmite, because he knew Sherlock loathed the stuff.
Sherlock sighed. "Do you even listen to me? Interpretation, John."
He scraped the Marmite over the bread rather harder than strictly necessary. "Sorry. No elliptical sentences before nine o'clock."
From the sitting room came a growl. "First of all, elliptical is a technical term and you've used it wrong. Second, why not?"
"Why are you so keen on this?" John asked. He sat down, and took petty pleasure in the curl of Sherlock's lip when he spotted the Marmite. (Something to do with a childhood trauma; Mycroft had alluded to it once, before Sherlock drowned him out with the violin.)
"Why are you so obstinate?" Sherlock countered.
"Because I'm not a trained monkey?" John hazarded.
Sherlock muttered something doubtlessly questioning that fact.
"Besides," John added, "this is just for fun, right? It's not serious or anything."
Sherlock's eyes lit up. "And what about me as a subject makes it suddenly serious?"
John shook his head. "No. You're not understanding me. I'm not...I mean, are you talking like a commission, or something?"
"Of course not, don't be absurd," Sherlock said.
"Then that's even more of a no," John said, and sipped his tea, even though it scalded his tongue a little.
Sherlock sighed, and covered his eyes with one forearm; it created a line of tension in the folds of his shirt all the way down to where it tucked into his belt. "Why must you be so difficult?"
"I've had an excellent tutor," John said, and Sherlock threw a cushion at him.
It actually put John off drawing for a few days, the whole silly argument--well, that, and the image of that fold in Sherlock's shirt drawn taut against his chest by his raised arm. A part of John actually welcomed the break; he'd been doodling nearly constantly for weeks at that point, and he was starting to think he might never get the gray smear of pencil lead off the side of his hand. It was a nice reminder that he didn't have to do this, that he didn't need it, that it was just another hobby, something he could live without.
Sherlock noticed this, of course, and seemed to think he was helping by leaving pencils all over the flat, and stopped throwing out anything that looked remotely on-sketch-able; good news for their utilities, as it kept him from throwing out the post before John had sorted it, but bad news for general hygiene. Their flat always teetered on the cusp of disaster in good times, so added random piles of mostly-blank paper threatened to tip the balance into out-and-out pig sty. John rebelled after three days, and made sure to hoover thoroughly while Sherlock was trying to fiddle with his website.
"You're being extraordinarily petty," Sherlock declared, hunched up on one end of the sofa while John went after the random hairballs under it.
"You're the one who can't leave off!" John retorted.
"Think of it as a sort of experiment!"
"Isn't it obvious?"
John switched the hoover off, and in the void of sound his words sounded strangely loud. "You're going to have to come out and say it, Sherlock."
Sherlock just muttered something about idiots without much conviction.
One of the things John had learned was that Sherlock was a man of extremes: he would go for days without eating or sleeping, if he had something more important to do (or, conversely, when he was wallowing about on the couch moaning about the lack of anything to do) but then, when the case was solved or the experiment concluded, he would calmly sit down and put away enough food for a small rugby team before falling into a near-comotose state for up to twenty hours at a time.
That was how it was after the armored car case--that was what John planned to call it on his blog, at least--after three days of more of less constant roaming about London, crawling around in skips and consulting with the homeless, culminating in a frantic chase along the M25, which had been partly on foot and entirely insane. Sherlock insisted on going out for dinner afterwards--Angelo had just been closing up for the night, but made a special exception for the two of them--and despite putting away two improbably large plates of spaghetti carbonara, he'd also gone hunting for fish and chips on the way home, eventually settling for three different flavors of crisps from a shop near the Edgeware Road Tube. John claimed a shower before he collapsed into his bed, and as he slipped out of the foggy bathroom he wouldn't have been at all surprised to find Sherlock snacking on fish fingers and custard in the kitchen, still talking about a mile a minute.
Instead he found Sherlock had finally succumbed to human frailty, and dozed off on the couch--his head was mashed into a cushion and one of his legs was hooked improbably over the back. He'd kicked off his shoes, and the screen of John's laptop cast soft light on the odd angles of his face from where it sat open on the table--already in screen saver, so Sherlock must've been out nearly as soon as his back his the upholstery. His breathing was deep and regular, occasionally a little raspy but never crossing the line into full-blown snoring.
John was asleep on his feet, but he found his eyes tracking every crease and fold in Sherlock's shirt, the faint suggestion of a vein on the inside of his forearm, the blue-black sheen of his hair and the place on his heel where his socks were wearing thin. Tracing every line and shadow. Not analyzing, though. Interpreting.
"All right," he said, experimentally, loud in the room. "You win."
Sherlock didn't so much as flicker an eyelash.
John went upstairs and went for the box in the bottom of his wardrobe.
When John woke up, it had gone two o'clock, and the sun had long fled his windows; he'd got smears of soft grey lead on his pajamas and the pillowcase, and Sherlock was sitting cross-legged at the foot of his bed, having changed into his own sleepwear. The blue dressing gown was puddled around him, and he was staring at John's drawing.
He'd dug out one of the biggest sketch pads he owned--the size had felt right. Sherlock held the drawing very carefully by the edges, and his eyes were poring over every detail, every line and smudge and shadow, with the same attention he usually reserved for crime scenes. John sat up, kicking a slippery fold of blue silk off his foot and rolling his shoulder, willing himself not to slouch or tense up. Go to your God like a soldier, he thought dryly. "Well?"
Sherlock looked up, and beamed at him. "I knew it," he said triumphantly, then tossed the drawing lightly aside. John opened his mouth to voice a protest, but was rather interrupted when Sherlock stretched across the bed and kissed him.