John woke to the sound of a soft, steady thumping coming from the stairs. Odd noises at all hours were something he was becoming accustomed to, living with Sherlock. Lying there blinking into the semi-darkness of his bedroom, he thought that for the most part he didn't want to know what his mad flatmate was dragging home this time. But he was awake now, and thanks to the double curse of being a military man, and a doctor, unlikely to go back to sleep. He slid out of bed and grabbed his robe from its hook on the back of the door. On the landing outside his bedroom he clumsily and sleepily fought his way into it, dealing with a sleeve turned wrong side out for a few frustrating moments. Looking down the steps, he could see that the lights were on in the main level of the flat. Shadows were flickering and John assumed it must be Sherlock wandering around doing ... whatever it was he had taken into his head to do in the wee hours of the morning. There was just no telling what Sherlock, in his relentless mad way, was up to. John, despite every instinct telling him this was a bad idea, wandered down the stairs full of curiosity and peered into the open kitchen door.
Sherlock’s coat was flung onto the top of the kitchen table, which was, as usual, covered with a variety of scientific detritus. A microscope sitting on top of a pile of cookbooks, a Bunsen burner surrounded by a group of beakers bearing liquids of various colors and viscosities, crumpled pieces of paper in a bowl. How Sherlock had flung his coat amongst all that without breaking anything was a true mystery.
“Oh, John, there you are. Good. Now. What’s the most efficient way to flay a cat?” Sherlock asked from where he knelt on the floor working a knot out of the fastenings of a cloth sack.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I have to cut up these cats. Surely they taught you something about dissection during your medical training.”
John stood there gaping at Sherlock.
Speechless for a moment, he rubbed the back of his neck in consternation. As he turned, John could see the time glowing at him from the stove hob.
“It is 3:47 in the bloody morning, Sherlock.”
“Obviously,” intoned Sherlock looking up at John with an air of condescension.
“And you’re telling me that you are sitting on the floor of our kitchen in the middle of the night with the intent of vivisecting a few cats before sitting down to a nice bit of tea and toast??!!”
“You know I don’t eat while I’m working.”
John pulled out a chair from the table and plumped down in it, staring at Sherlock.
“You know you’re not normal, right?”
“So I have frequently been told so.”
John scrubbed his face with his hands and sighed.
“I knew I should have stayed in bed.”
“Stop being so hopelessly prudent, and ask the right questions John.”
“The right questions? About a sack of dead cats in our kitchen? Which you expect me to help you cut up? There is no right question in that situation. That situation is wholly wrong Sherlock.”
John was up and pacing now. He took one look at the cat sack and walked out of the room, stalking down the hall, purposely taking the long way around the avoid the aforementioned bag of dead cats. He yanked Sherlock’s laptop off the desk and crossed to the archway between the sitting room and the kitchen, but still maintaining a decent distance between himself and the slightly damp sack sitting on the linoleum in front of him.
“Here,” he said and tossed the computer at Sherlock, not caring particularly if the other man caught it. But of course he did.
“It is now the 21st century. The next time you want to play doctor in the middle of the goddamn night, try Google before waking me up. Or YouTube. I’m sure there are plenty of how-to videos out there on the net, probably enough to keep you happy for hours on end. I, meanwhile, am going back to bed.”
“I’m disappointed in you John,” Sherlock said as he opened his laptop and started tapping away on the keys.
“I can live with that. It’s the bag of cats I’m having trouble living with.”
Sherlock laughed then, a genuine warm laugh that made John smile, unwillingly, even as he contemplated whether Lestrade would aid and abet if he strangled Sherlock one of these days.
“And I’m going OUT for breakfast!” John called as he took himself back up the stairs to his room. Below him he could hear a tinny voice from the computer speakers intoning, “Now. When beginning your dissection, place the cat firmly on its back, making sure to secure the limbs from getting in your way…”
He also thought he heard a rattle, like the sound of someone digging cutlery out of the silverware drawer, but he told himself he was simply hearing things and slammed his bedroom door shut.
Weeks later, and John is lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling while Sherlock stands by the window (newly repaired) playing something soothing on his violin. John’s on his third whiskey and things are pleasantly fuzzy as his fingers caress the contours of the cut glass tumbler he’s balancing on his chest.
“You said once you played the violin when you were thinking. What are you thinking about?” John asks closing his eyes and concentrating on the soft sounds of the music.
“Do you miss the operating room?” Sherlock replies. It seems like a non sequitur, but John suspects that such a thing is impossible when having a discussion with Sherlock. Things are always connected somehow, even when he can’t quite see how.
But, he can only concentrate on the concrete at the moment.
“You had me round St. Bart’s only last week.”
“You know what I mean.”
John sighed and thought about how to answer the question. There was admittedly a thrill at holding another person’s life in your hands, about being skilled enough to save that person’s life … or to fix some problem and make their life better. But after his time on the front lines, watching as young men’s lives seeped out through his fingers and soaked into the desert sand, he found the desire to hold people’s lives in his hands somewhat tempered.
And now, there was running instead of suturing, and handguns where once there had been scalpels.
The music stopped, and Sherlock turned to John to say solemnly, “You mustn’t get bored John. It’s not, well, it’s not good.”
Sherlock turned away then and resumed playing. John had no idea what it was, but the music was louder and faster than before, with a sense of urgency that told John just a little bit about what Sherlock was thinking. And maybe, just maybe he had the right questions to ask, suddenly.
“So the middle of the night feline necropsies, that was…” John said, not bothering to move, or even open his eyes, but with a slight smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes.
“…kindness? Caring? An attempt, anyway?” went unsaid, as John mulled these thoughts in his head. He knew Sherlock would know what he was thinking, even through the patently lovely fog of alcohol that lingered in his head and curled around his fingers and toes. And that seemed just delightful, John thought as he found a laugh bubbling up from inside himself.
Sherlock switched to playing something triumphal and warm, while the laughter of the two men served as harmony and filled the empty spaces of the flat at 221B Baker Street.