Somewhere between the Tesco Metro and Baker Street, John has lost an entire hour.
This is, of course, a minor disaster. John has always been good at managing his time, and it's not as if there had been many ways to spend it when he'd been deployed, but after months of sitting around doing nothing much, his budget has grown distressingly tight. Between shopping for two, the higher rent he's paying to Mrs. Hudson, and the taxi fares Sherlock keeps leaving him with, John is fast-approaching broke. He simply can't afford to lose an hour; he can't.
He walks back to Tesco's, scanning the sidewalk, the gutter, the corners where an hour might roll to disappear into the dust, grey on grey. He walks to 221b on the other side of the street. He stands in front of the door for a moment, head hanging as he stares at his feet. Then he does the whole thing again, turning up every little bit of rubbish, peering underneath every parked car. He goes into Tesco's to ask if someone, perhaps, has handed in some time that didn't belong to them. No one has. The hour remains lost. Someone else must have found it and picked it up, no doubt crowing to their friends about the find. Even in a city like London, an extra hour gets you a long way.
"Bloody fucking hell!" John kicks the leafless tree in front of the shop, plastic bags swinging in his hands, and an old lady gives him a wide-eyed look of shock before she hurries to get away from him. John looks after her, dismayed, then angry. At her for being scared of him, at himself for not controlling his temper, at the hour for falling out of his pocket undetected. At the damn tree for standing there. He takes a long, deep breath and lets it out slowly, white pluming in the air.
Then he kicks the bloody tree again.
He's not going to make it to the end of the month without that hour. Buggering bloody fuck, fuck, fuck!
The short walk back home has never seemed so long. The hour refuses to magically appear in the gutter. John's damned leg is aching something fierce. Somewhere just below the base of his throat, a fine mesh of dread has started to spread through his upper thoracic cavity like a sickness. Every limping step carries him a bit further towards the slim door of 221b and its unpredictable co-inhabitant. The world's only consulting detective and, John has already realised, constant pain in the collective behinds of Scotland Yard. John's brilliant, impossible flatmate.
The bloke he's going to have to hit up for some of his time.
It takes John twenty minutes to work up the courage to ask. Not because he's ashamed or anything, but because… well, no. Of course he's ashamed. He didn't grow up in a rich household, but they always managed, even with his father's drinking. Having to ask for time, at his age, is… humiliating. Desperately so. If he had a job… But he doesn't have a job, now, does he? As his grandma used to say, 'ifs have never got any cow fat.'
Sherlock is tapping away busily on John's laptop – John's laptop, how did he even guess the password – and for a moment, John wants to snatch it away from him. He saved two months for that laptop. It's his. But whatever Sherlock's focussing on, it keeps him from turning his attention to John. Right now, John is okay with that.
So he puts away the shopping first, and opens the fridge again when he's done to turn all the milk bottles to face the same way, nodding at how tidy they look now, all in a row. He picks up the bills, flips through them, puts them down, picks them up again, sorts them by due date, and leaves them in a neat stack on the side table. He sits down in his chair. He leans forward. He licks his lips.
"Listen," he says, hating the way his voice sounds, hesitant and meek. "Could you… If you'd be able to lend me some… Sherlock?"
Sherlock has kept on tapping, but now he pauses, fingers hovering over the keyboard. He's still looking at the screen, but at least now he's listening. Probably.
John clears his throat. "I need some time. That is. Do you think you could lend me…?" He can't say it. Fists clenched in his lap, he still can't say it. God, he's always known he's stubborn, but he didn't think he was this damn proud. Right then, try again.
"Sherlock," he says, but Sherlock holds up a hand and turns his head a moment later, looking John up and down as he smiles slightly.
"You were fine when you went out for the shopping," he announces, "so the amount you lost must be substantial. An hour?" He doesn't wait for John's reply before he goes on. "And no, I'm not in the habit of sharing my time with anyone."
John feels himself flush with humiliated anger. "Right," he says stiffly. "Sorry to bother you."
Sherlock tilts his head. "You misunderstand me. I do not hand out my time at whim; however, I'm not averse to letting you earn it."
"Earn it!" John throws up his hands and gets to his feet, pacing as he shakes his head. He'd known this was a bad idea. He never should have opened his mouth. Should have gone to Harry and let her gloat a little. At least she wouldn't have asked him to- "If you think I'm going to prostitute myself for-"
"Please." Sherlock has the gall to look unperturbed by John's agitation. "I don't have to pay you to get on your knees for me."
John stares at him, open-mouthed. It's true; of course it's true, but for Sherlock to throw it into his face like that-
Then he huffs out a disbelieving little laugh and shakes his head. "Right," he says, grabbing his jacket from where he'd thrown it over the back of his chair, "sorry, I forgot to who I was speaking. Never mind."
"To whom," Sherlock mutters. John ignores him. His stomach is churning. He has to get out of the flat, now, before he says something they both will regret. He knows Sherlock isn't as bad as Donovan makes him out to be, far from it, but how he got from there to thinking Sherlock might be sympathetic is beyond him. He must have been out of his mind.
"Be back in a bit," he says, privately vowing that it will be a long bit, but Sherlock… Sherlock is standing now, one hand held out as if he wants to stop John but doesn't quite know how.
"Wait," he says. John waits. Sherlock studies him for a second, deducing God-knows-what, before he says, "I apologise."
"I did not intend to… That is, my phrasing was unfortunate. Please allow me to explain." Sherlock folds his hands behind his back, looking impossibly awkward.
"All right," John says cautiously. He wonders how often Sherlock bothered to apologise for anything. Probably not very often.
"I have a proposition." Sherlock winces and adds, "Not that kind of proposition."
"Right." John nods slowly. Sherlock is looking a bit off, somehow. Like this is terribly important, when it's really just John.
"I've been trying to teach you my methods, but perhaps your progress would increase in speed if you had a little more incentive." A small smile flicks across Sherlock's face, there and gone again. "I suggest that at our next crime scene, you try your own observations before I offer mine. I'll reward you in accord with your success."
John blinks, again. "You're going to make me deduce at crime scenes," he says, testing the idea, "and you'll pay me for the stuff I get right."
John thinks this over as Sherlock watches him, still holding his uncomfortably stiff pose.
"I don't have much of a choice, do I?" John asks finally.
Sherlock hesitates. "I will lend you some time, if you prefer." He smiles again. "I'm hoping you'll indulge me."
And really, what can John possibly say to that?
"She had a sunburn on her scalp," is what John says when Sherlock asks him what he observed about their client. She's looking for her boyfriend, who disappeared two days ago. "Not on her face, though. Do you think she was on vacation lately? Somewhere hot? The sun block covered her face, but not her hair."
"Tell me where she went," Sherlock says.
John frowns and tries to work out what he's supposed to have noticed. Her clothes were perfectly ordinary, and he'd seen no garishly obvious souvenirs around her place.
"I don't know," he admits. Sherlock throws him a disappointed glance before he starts to expound on the woman's jewellery and how it signifies that the boyfriend has likely disappeared back to Turkey.
John gets a minute and a half out of noticing the sunburn. Enough to do the shopping for two days, but not enough to take care of a bill. He'll have to try harder.
"What the hell was that?" Dimmock asks as John climbs out of the empty pool. Empty except for the drowned couple, that is. Pretty hard to drown in a pool without water.
"A lesson," Sherlock says, dropping six shiny minutes into John's palm. "If you ever want to learn how to do your job properly, don't hesitate to call me."
"Wait, you're paying him?" Dimmock looks taken aback.
"They're very special lessons," John says earnestly. He and Sherlock barely make it into the taxi before they start giggling.
"He's been dead for about four hours," John says with certainty. The man's face is mostly stiff, but the rigor mortis has yet to travel all the way down his neck. "Burst capillaries beneath his eyes. He's choked on something." He palpates the man's throat. Something's stuck in there but, "Can't say what without an x-ray."
"Occupation?" Sherlock asks. Next to him, Donovan sighs impatiently while Lestrade looks on with a slight frown. Neither of them has outright commented on John being the one to examine the crime scene; Dimmock must have been gossiping.
John leans back a little. The corpse is wearing jeans and a light sweater along with a clean pair of shoes. He's slim, but not in the best shape. No calluses on his hands. Skin lightly tanned, but no tan lines.
"Office worker," John decides. "Maybe retail?" Some kind of informal environment, in any case. "Rather well-paid, I'd say." He points at the jeans. "Those are brand-name."
"And his shoes?" Sherlock prompts.
"Shoes?" John takes a look, but he doesn't recognise the brand. The soles look sturdy, so they probably weren't cheap, either, but he fails to see what-
"Oh!" The word slips out before John realises he's perhaps a bit too close to adopting Sherlock's mannerisms along with his methods. Donovan snorts, but John sees it now, and it's so obvious he can't believe he didn't notice before. He reaches for the man's left shoe – far more worn than the right one, not bought at the same time, should have seen – and fumbles with the sole for a bit before he finds the right spot. Lestrade lets out a whistle as the sole peels away to reveal-
"Occupation: diamond smuggler," John announces proudly. Sherlock practically beams at him.
Fifteen minutes. A small fortune, to him, but not nearly worth as much as the happy glow in John's chest.
April rolls around with a gust of wind and seemingly endless rain. John is back on his own time, but Sherlock still insists on paying him.
"You're making some slight progress," he says. From Sherlock, that's worth more than effusive praise from anyone else. "Besides, I've seen the inside of your wardrobe. If you keep working with me, you'll have to buy a suit."
John rolls his eyes, but he's secretly pleased that Sherlock thinks he's getting better at observing clues. The Yarders are getting used to the new routine as well, stepping aside to let John have a look before Sherlock swoops in and takes over. Once, in May, when John is floundering so badly at a crime scene he doubts he's going to earn as much as thirty seconds, Donovan coughs suddenly and not-so-subtly points to where the victim's handbag has fallen out of the skip. Sherlock's lips twitch but he doesn't comment, and John walks away with three minutes. He brings Donovan her favourite coffee from Starbucks the next time they're at the Yard.
In June, they have a bit of a lull. Sherlock spends a lot of his time trying to find out more about that 'Moriarty' the cabbie had talked about. John goes out hunting for a job – he's hardly going to let Sherlock pay him forever – but none of the local clinics want a ridiculously overqualified surgeon who can't operate for the occasional tremor in his hand. Should he ask Harry? He wouldn't call himself a connoisseur, precisely, but he knows enough about wine to help out. Make it a bit easier for her not to fall off the wagon.
He's still thinking about it when Lestrade calls them to a case. It's high-profile; the daughter of a member of the House of Lords has fallen down the stairs inside her small but tasteful house. Foul play is assumed. The scene is crawling with police.
Sherlock pokes around in his usual manner – this is not the time to let John fumble his way through a deduction or two – and while he's busy taking apart the victim's daily habits (various charities; engagement to a man who thinks a woman shouldn't work for her upkeep; drug addiction), John looks around the other rooms. Sherlock might reduce the victims to their role in whatever crime has been committed, but John prefers to look at them as human beings. A photo on the mantel catches his attention; he picks it up and sucks in a sharp breath as he realises its significance.
"- induced a state of severe disorientation, rendering her unable to realise she had already reached the top of the stairs," Sherlock is saying, jabbing his finger at a puncture wound in the victim's naked thigh. "This wasn't a murder."
"Ah, Sherlock." John holds up the photo, but Sherlock is on a roll.
"If anything, this should be called an elaborate suicide. She misjudged the effects of ketamine on her body, thus injecting too high a dose. Honestly, Lestrade, why you insist calling me on these cases is beyond-"
"Sherlock." John shoves the photo at Sherlock, who actually snaps his mouth shut. "She was a nurse. The back of the picture says 'trauma ward, 2007.' Ketamine is used in emergency surgery. There's no way she didn't know which dose would be too much."
For a moment, the room is absolutely silent. Then Lestrade clears his throat.
"So. Do I have a murder case, Sherlock?"
"It would appear so," Sherlock says, a strange glint in his eyes.
The crime scene explodes into controlled chaos. Police officers and various technicians hurry to and fro, Sherlock pulls out his magnifying glass with a flourish, and John quickly loses track of which detail signifies what. He's a tad shell-shocked, to be honest. He leans against the wall next to the door to the living room, well out of everyone's way, and tries not to look completely out of place.
"Well done," Donovan says as she passes him. She presses something into his hand; when he looks down, he stares at the pinkish hue of a small five-minute sphere.
He breaks off when Anderson adds another ten minutes, muttering, "About time someone showed him up."
One by one, the technicians and officers find an excuse to walk past him, nodding and clapping him on the shoulder, each of them adding to John's growing pile of time. Lestrade grins as he drops half an hour into John's pocket.
"I can afford it," he says at John's incoherent protest. "That was priceless. I hope someone took a photograph of his face."
When Sherlock declares the case closed a short while later – the fiancé's ex-girlfriend, who is also the victim's cousin – John has just over four hours in his pockets. Sherlock takes one look at his stunned expression and drags him off and into the nearest taxi.
They ride in silence for a bit, before John can stand it no longer.
"Did you do that on purpose?" he asks. There must have been a dozen little clues pointing to the former nurse having been… well, a nurse, and he can't imagine Sherlock missing all of them.
Sherlock smiles slightly as he looks out of the window at the passing streets. "Does it matter?"
John thinks about that. He's been running after Sherlock only for a few months, but it feels like forever. They're a team; the independent consulting detective and the doctor, each with their own strengths. Does it matter if he genuinely picked up on something that Sherlock overlooked?
"Not really," he says, glad to find that it's true. "No."
Sherlock's smile deepens. He stays quiet for a moment, which John doesn't mind at all. They rarely talk on the way home, when a case is closed. But when Sherlock speaks again, there's an odd note of hesitancy in his voice that makes John sit up a little straighter.
"In March, when I said… The, uh, the unfortunate phrasing of mine…" Sherlock breaks off with a grimace. He looks down at his hands. "What I mean is… I was wondering if you'd, uh…"
John's heart slams so hard against his ribcage he's half-afraid it's going to break something.
"I was thinking," he says slowly, praying to God he's reading this right, "that if you were doing me a favour back there, I should repay you. Four hours are… really a big favour."
Sherlock lets out a long breath. "Oh? What did you have in mind?"
John tells him. Sherlock actually blushes.
"That's… yes," he says in a strangled voice, "I wouldn't be averse to… yes."
John does go to his knees for him, later. Sherlock doesn't pay him for it.
But he's earned it.