SiS Day 27: "'J' Is For..." by dltoro
Name: Helena (dltoro)
Type of work: Fic
Title: 'J' Is For...
Prompt(s) used: Sherlock/John; Sherlock gets an intern who develops a crush on John
Warnings: Only a couple of swear words that I can think of. Apart from that, mostly harmless.
Notes/Acknowledgments: Beta-ed (if that is a word) by the wonderful ebonystar, as usual.
Consider this work for voting?: Yes please!
When John first hears the noise he assumes a murder is taking place.
It’s not, of course. Murder is too gauche for Sherlock Holmes; it’s too expected. Sherlock is just the sort of man to purposefully strive for the unanticipated just to be annoying, to shock and confuse and to provoke exasperated cries of: “Why the hell did he just do that?”. The moment Donovan warned away a Watson was the moment Sherlock Holmes became moral. Well, sort of. Close to it, at least. Closer than a killer.
So it’s not a murder, but it’s loud, and Mrs Hudson is going to start loitering nervously in the doorway if John doesn’t intervene, or at least endeavour to. David Cameron’s face gets folded in half and plonked on the carpet next to the armchair; John is forced to leave his daily perusal of the newspaper for another time when a scene isn’t on the cards.
John is halfway down the stairs when the noise becomes decipherable. It turns out to be a Holmes shouting at a Holmes, with a Teenager standing in the middle.
“Take it away!” Sherlock is screaming, his voice higher than usual. John pictures a princess standing on a chair, ordering the removal of a rodent. “You had no right to bring it here. No right!”
Mycroft leans on his umbrella as if his brother’s petulance has made him physically weary; his riposte is quick but laboured, and John’s been in the middle of enough Holmes brotherly disputes to know that this is Mycroft’s speciality: “There’s no point shouting about it, Sherlock. I happen to have done this for your own good.”
The boy standing in between them coughs, once, and all eyes in the hallway turn to him. He’s an unassuming little thing, probably eighteen or nineteen but not yet mature enough to merit the double decade. His dress is formal, probably too smart, really, but ignorance breeds formality in situations like this. At least the navy fabric of the suit compliments the light brown of his crop of hair, and brings out the sky in his eyes. John detests himself for noticing this, but, well, living with a deductive genius rubs off on you in mysterious ways.
The thought suddenly hits him that they have a teenager in their hall. What the-
“In what way did your colossal mind conceive the notion that having a… child follow me around would ever, ever be beneficial to either of us?” Sherlock exclaims; his gesturing arm whacks the boy’s elbow in a movement that can’t be wholly accidental.
“Don’t be so petty.” Mycroft’s fingers pull the teen closer to him, away from the dangerous reach of his brother, “He isn’t a child, he’s a student and he has a name. Joseph is here merely to observe. Think of him as… as…”
John’s presence on the stairs suddenly becomes apparent. Sherlock, ears finely tuned to the unique timbre of his housemate’s voice, twirls around with an expression already smug and thankful. Mycroft inclines his chin in gratitude. The boy does nothing.
“Yes, John. An intern. Much like in medicine.”
There’s a certain inflection in Mycroft’s speech that gives him the air of a university professor; for one moment John feels like his star pupil, then realises the horrific nature of that thought and the illusion shatters spectacularly. It doesn’t help to have Sherlock Holmes staring at you like he’s sussing out the angle for your skull on his mantelpiece.
“John,” The man in question pounces, “John, tell him we don’t want this boy in our house. Tell him.”
Associating with the Holmes family turns peer pressure into governmental force.
“Agreeing to this is in your best interests.” Mycroft remarks and John isn’t quite sure who he’s supposed to be addressing, “You must learn to work better with others; your people skills at this present moment are, frankly, appalling.”
“That’s part of my charm.” Sherlock responds; of course the insult was aimed at him. John prides himself on being rather good at dealing with his fellow men – he needs to be, after all, being part of the Sherlock Holmes Damage Limitation Squad.
Joseph makes the atrocious decision to laugh at that. Sherlock’s head swoops back to face him – John can almost hear the whooshing of the air with the movement – with a look normally reserved for the lowest of the low, the murderers, the scumbags… and Anderson.
“Get him out.” He says plainly, eyes on the boy.
“No.” Mycroft closes his eyes and lets out a gutteral sigh, “Sherlock, I am simply not going to yield to your petulance. You seem to have mistaken this conversation as a discussion. It is an order. Therefore your instructions are to invite Joseph into your home and let him observe your practices-”
Sherlock makes a similar noise, but with a bit more whine.
“Without objection. Do you understand?” When there’s no response, Mycroft taps his umbrella against the floorboards then looks up at John. “The only child in the immediate vicinity, I’m afraid, is you, Sherlock.”
There’s no explanation for why his eyes are on the doctor, but John feels sufficiently unnerved by it anyway. Mycroft nods to him, then, with a swing of his umbrella, exits through the front door. The tension is thick; the air seems to have taken on the consistency of custard.
“Well,” John says, as if the voicing of an inane four-letter word will help at all. It doesn’t; the silence lingers on.
Then, abruptly, noise.
“Well at least I’m not fat!” Sherlock shouts at the door long vacated by the tremors of his brother’s exit. There’s a sob that sounds something like a yelp and then Sherlock Holmes makes his dramatic exit up the stairs to 221B, leaving two bewildered men still almost perfect strangers to one another wondering what the hell just happened.
“Right.” John decides to voice another inane word, this time with five letters. He turns to Joseph, “Um… hello.”
“Hello.” Comes the reply. That’s it. John’s not sure if he ought to hold out his hand, bow, curtsey, cuff the boy? He’s not used to dealing with teenagers out of his doctor guise; it’s a lot easier to assert your authority with your own office and desk plaque. Now that he’s just John Watson it seems an entirely different ball-game. He looks up at the staircase. “Do you want to come upstairs?” sounds far too suggestive, so John sticks with:
“I’m John, by the way, if you didn’t catch that. John Watson. I live with Sherlock.”
Joseph’s eyebrows make an ascent on his face. “Why?”
“That’s a… good question- Sherlock?” Suddenly he can hear all too familiar cracking sounds coming from way upstairs. Christ, that was quick. “He’s taken my gun. My bloody gun.” John mutters, making his way up the stairs much in the same way his flatmate did only a minute ago – thoroughly pissed off.
John pauses at the bend in the staircase, turning back, “You may as well go and sit in the lounge; there’s tea in the pot, the kettle needs some more water, but…” He moves up another few steps before pausing and turning again, “And call me John. Please.”
Another flight of stairs later, call-me-John finds Sherlock in his bedroom shooting bottles off his chest of drawers.
“Oh for fu…” John curses before he wrestles the weapon off the wayward detective. “Sherlock, we have a guest! You can’t just go around… shooting things! What the hell is Joseph going to think?”
“He’s here to observe me, is he not? This is what I do.”
“Sherlock- I swear one of these days I am going to cheerfully murder you.”
The man in question simply stretches himself out on his bed like a contented cat. “Well that’s good news for you, I suppose. At least you won’t be caught. Lestrade’s team couldn’t catch a cold.”
“There’s always a positive.” Sherlock recites with the diction of a Blue Peter presenter.
“Is that so? Then please, God, find a positive in this and stop being so unbearable.”
John isn’t expecting it when it happens, so Sherlock’s sudden exclamation of “Fine!” catches him off guard. The detective launches himself to his feet and proceeds out of the door and down the stairs with frightening intensity. John immediately heads after him, sensing imminent peril.
“SLAVE!” Sherlock calls upon entering the living room; he finds Joseph perched on the edge of the sofa. “Move.” He instructs with a dramatic wave of his hand. The boy just manages to get out of the way before Sherlock flops his whole body lengthways across the cushions. “I’m thirsty.”
“Um, Sir,” Joseph begins with a voice like a dormouse, “I thought Mr Holmes said I was your ‘intern’, Sir.”
“Don’t call him ‘Sir’.” John adds from the bottom of the stairs. Sherlock scowls at him, face against the padded armrest.
“Get me a drink, slave.”
“Don’t do it.” John mutters, gesturing to Joseph to follow him into the kitchenette, “I’ll make sure Sherlock gets what he needs. You don’t have to do everything he says, you know. I find it works. Well, most of the time.”
“Mr Wat- John, you said he took your gun. You have a gun?”
John smiles, popping teabags into two chipped mugs. “I’m Doctor Watson, actually. Ex-Army Medical Officer. Keep it for sentiment, mostly.”
And for saving Sherlock’s life the odd time, he fails to add.
“So this… happens often?”
“Not really.” John lies.
Joseph’s expression changes to one of deep concern, “He’s not going to… shoot me, is he?”
Bugger – John hadn’t thought of that at all. Now it’s been mentioned it actually appears a frighteningly realistic prospect.
“No, no!” John retrieves the bubbling kettle from its stand, shaking his head, “No. He wouldn’t. No.”
That seems like enough negatives for now.
The day that follows is a Saturday, and John Watson plans to achieve very little. He wakes just past ten in the morning and stays in bed for another hour, half-heartedly trying to muster up the energy to get himself out of the covers and into the shower.
There is a knock on his bedroom door. John replies with “Urngh…?” The person on the other side doesn’t appear to be fluent in Watson Saturday Morning Speak, as the door edges open to reveal the silhouetted frame of Joseph, clutching something rectangular. The boy should have known that “Urngh” doesn’t mean “Please come right on in!” – that’s “Flunfff”. The literal translation of the former contains expletives.
“Sorry to bother you, Doctor Watson, sir,” Joseph begins, then internally flagellates himself for forgetting the ‘call me John’ talk he’d gotten the day before, “but I think Mr Holmes might be dead.”
John rolls over and buries his face in the pillow.
“He’s not dead.” He murmurs into feathers.
“But… but- he asked me to observe his thinking time and make notes in this,” There’s a pause where John assumes Joseph is raising a notepad or something, right now he doesn’t particularly give a fuck, “and we started four hours ago and he hasn’t moved or said anything; I think he might not be breathing. Should I call an ambulance?”
John sighs, “No, Joseph, you don’t need to call for an ambulance. I’m a bloody doctor and if I say Sherlock isn’t dead, he’s not dead.”
“He’s messing with you, Joe. He just wants to waste your time. Just go and tell him that his brother’s coming over; I’m sure he will magically rise from the dead once faced with that prospect.”
There’s a lengthy pause, one that John deems long enough for him to roll back over to face the door. When he does so, however, Joseph is still stood there. A blasphemous curse word trips out of his lips before he can stop himself.
“Um, I was just wondering, John, if you, perhaps, wanted a cup of tea.”
The doctor closes his eyes and exhales forcefully out of his nose, “Yes, why not. Thank you.”
When he opens them again, the boy still isn’t gone.
“And some toast?”
“Okay, yes. Thank you, Joseph.”
“Strawberry. Thank you, Joseph.”
“I prefer… I like ‘Joe’, actually.” The boy adds, then, upon receiving no response from the man making love to his mattress, closes the door and plunges John back into blissful darkness.
Sherlock is nibbling on a cracker, knees pulled up to his chest, when John considers it safe to re-enter the living room.
“You called him in at six in the morning to watch you sleep?” John heads straight for the meaty question as he pads across the floorboards.
“He made you a sandwich.” Sherlock replies in monotone, “It’s in the fridge. It was five o’clock, actually, and I wasn’t sleeping. Merely practising the art of remaining motionless.”
“The art of- right. You are aware he isn’t your slave, right?”
Sherlock drops his knees, “I could ask you the same question – getting him to make you sandwiches and tea and toast and bring you biscuits and little cakes with a little vase of flowers on a nice little tray? Yes, that’s very un-hypocritical of you.”
“What? I never asked him to do anything of the sort.”
“I suppose you haven’t checked by your door, then. He’s been leaving you offerings like you’re some…” Suddenly the detective tails off, frowning. “It doesn’t matter. I had to actually phone Lestrade and ask him for a case to stop the boy from running off all the time.”
“You’ve got a case?”
Sherlock looks smug, “I’ve been working on it all afternoon.”
“By lying on your arse?”
“Cabinet papers.” Sherlock initiates a change of subject with a cool swiftness John’s learnt to recognise, “Gone missing, again. You’d think they would at least have implemented new systems after the Bruce-Partington fiasco, but isn’t that one of the wonders of our dear Government…”
John chuckles; it’s the only way he knows how to respond. He’d find the obvious incompetence of the Government funny if he weren’t the one forced to clean up their mess for them. Or at least run after the man doing the tidying in slight awe and admiration. The chuckle is for Sherlock’s benefit – there is a man with a life dedicated to sniggering at the ineptitude of others.
“I texted Mycroft but he wasn’t any help. He knows something about it – obviously – but he’s not sharing it with me. Petulance doesn’t suit him.”
“It suits you, though, apparently.” John mutters under his breath, inspecting the desolate expanse of their fridge shelves. The sandwich isn’t difficult to locate.
The doctor is happy to clarify for him: “I said petulance apparently suits you, though.”
“Obviously,” Sherlock closes his eyes, pacified by his flatmate’s answer; “I have the bone structure for it. Mycroft’s face is too round.”
“How does that-? Never mind.” John gives up.
The following afternoon there is a development in the case of the missing papers. Now along with the mislaid manuscript is an AWOL employee. John learns of this not through Sherlock but instead through Lestrade; the house phone trills for minutes, it seems, until a succession of knocks disturbs John’s blogging (the entry, for the curious, is titled ‘Sherlock’ and consists of a lengthy keyboard slam as the body of text) and Joseph peeps his head around the door.
“There’s a Detective Inspector Lestrade on the phone for you- well, not for you; he wants to speak to Mr Holmes but Mr Holmes won’t come out of his bedroom. I tried knocking but he shouted at me through the door and called me a… a-”
“Pass me the phone, Joe.” John remarks; Joseph’s dejected expression switches to a smile. “Thanks.” John waves the boy away once he has the receiver against his ear and watches his reluctant departure. Joseph takes a sweeping look around the doctor’s living space as if constructing a mental picture, then leaves.
“Ah, John. Sherlock not available?”
“I’m afraid not. We’ve got this… boy with us, he comes over every day to ‘observe Sherlock’s methods’, apparently-”
“Oh, the kid I spoke to? Joseph Cushing? Wondered if one of you had gotten yourself an assistant; he announced his name like a bloody thespian: ‘This is 221B Baker Street, Joseph Cushing speaking’.”
“Bloody hell. Sherlock’s been flitting between exploiting and avoiding the boy – he’s on his avoidance phase now. Yesterday he made Joe sit and observe him ‘thinking’ for about four hours when I’m pretty sure he just fell asleep.”
“Wow, that’s… can’t say I’m surprised.”
Suddenly that feels far too informal and revealing for the men and there is silence. John coughs.
“Well, anyway, Sherlock is refusing to leave his room. So I’ll have to pass on any information you’ve got for him, I’m afraid.”
“Right. Okay. Well, you know those papers that went missing…?”
Lestrade continues to detail the case until John finds himself up to speed on the entire thing. The absent Civil Servant goes (or, possibly, by this time, went) by the name of Alec Donaldson; he left his position at a quarter to seven the night before and didn’t return to work the following morning. Searches of his apartment and all other places of frequenting were issued but retrieved negative results. There’s obviously some connection being assumed, just what exact link the man holds with the whole debacle remains to be seen.
John thanks Lestrade for his time; the detective returns the gratitude then hangs up. With the dead line humming in his ear John contemplates relaying the information just imparted to him to a disgruntled Sherlock Holmes. It doesn’t take him long to decide against it. Procrastination seems the best bet here, so he’s just going to replace the phone in its cradle and return to blogging. Or attempting to blog.
He opens his door and almost falls face-first into the floorboards. Sherlock had warned him about the memorial-esque collection of offerings outside his door but he’d dismissed it as the ravings of an insomniac Holmes. God, on a second look it does look worryingly like his door has been the scene of a tragic accident culminating in his untimely demise. Throw in a few cards and bunches of flowers and he has a collection worthy of a graveside.
That is… disturbing.
Phone still in hand and nerves frazzled, John makes his way into the living room; unsurprisingly (and yet somehow… startlingly) he is greeted by the sight of Joseph scrubbing dishes in the kitchenette. This vision in marigolds seems equally as disturbing.
“John!” The boy exclaims, raising his sponge in greeting. Suds slop onto the floor but John doesn’t mind – in reality he’s grateful for something remotely clean finally being dropped onto that lino. He nods at the guest and crosses the room to reunite the phone with its receptacle.
“I just thought… the dishes needed doing, and Mr Holmes hasn’t come out yet, so, I assumed… would you like some tea? I can make tea. Or a sandwich? I think we still have jam. Unless it got used up. But I don’t think it would have. Jam lasts for a long time, doesn’t it? That’s the beauty of jam. My parents keep it in the cupboard but you keep it in the fridge. Is that what you’re supposed to do?”
John straightens up, grinning, “I think so. ‘Refrigerate after opening’? Got to treat your jam well.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Joseph replies before realising John is actually taking the piss. In a nice way, obviously – he doesn’t know where this jam-obsessed reputation came from but seeing a young man so intent on adhering to it is most endearing. The boy drops his sponge back into the sink with a gloomy plop.
“Tea would be great, actually.” The doctor seats himself down in his armchair, head tilted towards looking over his shoulder but not wanting to make the full rotation for fear of… well, he’s not the young sprite he used to be. Getting stuck like that wouldn’t be too fun.
“Okay,” Joseph’s voice responds from behind him, sinking down half an octave.
John twigs: “Why don’t you make one for yourself as well? Doesn’t look like Sherlock’s going to be needing you any time soon. You could come and sit with me, if you’d like.”
There is a squeak from the kitchenette that John ignores. He listens to the sounds of the kettle being filled, boiled, emptied; teaspoons clink in cups and transport teabags to the bin until eventually the fridge closes back on the milk and Joseph pads over clutching two mugs of tea like he’s negotiating a high wire. He sinks down, bending his knees rather than extending out his arm to relay the brew to John. The doctor accepts his scalding mug with a smile.
Joseph then slops tea over himself. Both of the men act like they didn’t notice.
John leans back in his armchair, exhaling into the mug he brings to his lips. The liquid inside is too hot for consumption just yet, but he likes to inhale the aroma. John’s a bit of a tea fiend. Everyone has their one vice, he supposes (excluding Sherlock who has ten), and his is hardly impressive. He’s seen enough drug addicts in his time to know what dependency is; shame his isn’t cocaine, or ketamine, but caffeine in the shape of the quintessential English middle-class beverage. You can’t choose your addictions, however, just the same way you can’t choose who you…
Joseph sits himself down opposite with a deliberate clink of china. John lowers his mug, feeling that if he doesn’t start conversation then impenetrable silence will take hold. Silence is great, yes; he doesn’t get enough of it. Awkward silences aren’t quite so fun – John gets the compulsion to fill them with inanity. He’s got previous form with the boy opposite; he’d like to prevent a repeat.
“So, detecting, mmmm?” He begins, considering this a safe bet. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Unless they’ve got a suspicious-looking lesion – then John finds even the most loquacious can turn mute. But he’s meandering. He’s pretty sure Joseph doesn’t have any suspicious lesions, from what he can see.
“Detecting?” Joseph responds like he has never heard the term.
“Detecting, deducing, whatever you call it nowadays. What made you want to join that particular profession?”
The boy shrugs, “I don’t know. I suppose I just want to help people. You know – figure things out for them.”
That’s the last thing Sherlock does, John thinks, ‘help people’.
“Admirable motivation.” He notes instead. Joseph squirms like a wormy pet and almost splashes tea on himself again. “I was the same, sort of. With the Army. Got my degree and thought… well, my parents… you got family, Joe?”
“Yes, Mum, Dad and two sisters. They’re both younger than me, though. I’m the eldest. The big brother.”
“They must be pleased, though. You, getting this… thing. With Sherlock.”
“They’d never heard of him. I didn’t even tell them I’d responded to the ad or anything. Had no idea. Then when Mr Holmes turned up – not the Mr Holmes here, the… other one – they thought… I’ve got form, you see.
John isn’t quite sure what the kid is getting at, but he’s also not too sure he wants to know, either. If form is what he suspects it is, it’s likely that Mycroft has it too. And Sherlock. And-
“‘Form’?” He enquires anyway, his curiosity not able to go without being sated.
“I like… you know.” Joseph winces like patients do through lumbar punctures. There’s a pause until he eventually decides to let caution meet the wind, “I’m gay.”
For some unfathomable reason John’s first reaction is to respond with: “Well you’ll fit in round here, then; Mrs Turner next door has two lodgers that are, and-” He suddenly decides against finishing the sentence. A slight topic shift would do the trick, he feels, now. The look on Joseph’s face seems to the affirmative.
“So what on earth did Mycr- Mr Holmes say to make you agree to this? I know he’s the master of spin but- it’s hardly an appetising prospect, is it – I mean, he calls himself a ‘high-functioning sociopath’.”
“That wasn’t mentioned.” Joseph replies almost wistfully, “Mr Holmes said he had a brother who was a detective and that he was in need of an assistant. I said what do you want me to do, then, and he said that perhaps I could just observe him instead for a little while, you know, take notes, and then report back to his office at the end of each day. He said that he worries about him constantly.”
“He seems to like doing that. With the pause.”
Joseph giggles, “There was a pause, yes.”
“‘Constantly’,” John imitates, “See, that’s one trait I think those two actually share. They’re both dramatic as anything. Sherlock rubs it in your face, while Mycroft waits for you to come to him… I’m saying too much.”
“No, it’s interesting. You seem to know them well. Are they your friends?”
Somehow John cannot answer that. Well, he knows how – but the reasons are long and arduous and not for the boy sat opposite him letting his tea go cold. Sherlock’s more and Mycroft’s less… funny how that seems to apply to everything.
“Yes. I suppose they are.” John lies out of convenience.
“I think I’d like that.” Joseph admits after a pause.
“Being friends with a Holmes? You really wouldn’t.”
“No. Having friends. In general.”
John desperately wants to not believe what he is hearing,
“What? I can’t believe that. You must have friends! You’re an intelligent kid, you’re kind… you make brilliant cups of tea.” He raises his mug in reinforcement and takes a sip. Bugger – his is lukewarm now, too. Oh well, pretense demands another swig.
“You really think that?” Joseph prods, eyes like search rays.
“Of course.” John clears his throat, then is struck by unadulterated insanity. “So you’ve not had a boyfriend, or anything?”
“No,” Joseph’s gaze sinks to the floor, “never.”
“Well, strangely enough, neither have I! So that’s…” John flounders; Joseph’s dead eyes return to him, “that’s… something we have in common- right… right.” Another sip of tea is deemed necessary.
A pause follows – it’s hardly unexpected.
“But there is… someone I like.” Joseph ventures and John almost chokes on his tea at the comprehension that he’s actually having one of these conversations.
“I don’t know if he likes me back, though.”
“Yes, I know that one. You know, you constantly watch them like… will they, do they, is he ever going to…” Once again the realisation hits; Joseph’s eyes go from biologically big to impossibly so in a split-second. John coughs. “I meant- you know I meant… ‘she’. I meant ‘she’.”
“I understand.” Joseph says, his eyes making the fib unconvincing.
“But, you know,” John swiftly diverts the subject away from himself, “I wouldn’t worry about this guy not liking you back. Because the chances are he does but just won’t admit it.”
“You really think so?” The boy leans forward in his seat, allowing his mug to rest in his lap as his neck cranes towards the man opposite; his tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip in an almost reptilian motion.
“You know what, I’m sure of it.”
Suddenly there is a helpless sort of whooping noise from the hall doorway and Sherlock Holmes falls headfirst into the living room. Twenty-seven thousand questions assault John’s brain all at once: the most prevalent pertaining to what the hell just happened. He’s no master of deduction but the chain of events and culmination of them seem to suggest some variety of eavesdropping, but why?
“Sherlock?” John checks, in case for some reason he and Joseph are sharing a joint hallucination. He’s never seen Sherlock make an arse out of himself and this would be amusing if it weren’t so startling. The detective groans into the floorboards, unwilling to hoist himself up and acknowledge his idiocy. Perhaps if he remains prostrate then eventually the other two men will lose interest in the imbroglio and return to their business.
Actually, he doesn’t want that. So he straightens up.
“I need you to help me with something, slave.” He announces despotically, shoulders back to regain at least some of his pride, “Immediately.”
“What exactly, Mr Holmes, sir?” Joseph enquires; he and John exchange a look and it takes all of his will to not dissolve into giggles.
Sherlock clears his throat, “Um… er… a… the details aren’t important. But the matter is – of the utmost – just follow me at once.”
“I thought you didn’t want to see me, Mr Holmes? I thought you said I was a… I’m not going to repeat it, it was rude.”
“That was a term of endearment. I do that, don’t I, John?”
John raises his hands in amused capitulation, “Keep me out of this. This is between you and Joe.”
The doctor isn’t quite sure what the catalyst is, but it is after these words that Sherlock Holmes seems to explode. His eyes widen, his chin jerks forward and his arms fly upwards, hands clutching at the air like he’s killing flies. It’s after this sudden flurry of movement that he freezes – this is the calm before the storm, John feels, the deathly quiet before a retaliative strike. Sherlock swallows thickly, slowly; the two seated men seem to be holding their breath although they don’t know why.
“Get upstairs, slave.” Sherlock instructs, voice calm, steady and quiet. Unnervingly so. Joseph doesn’t move – the quandary between moving slowly or quickly is paralysing him. He’s reluctant to run in case his sudden movement sets Sherlock off, or something, but would a snail’s pace antagonise him more? “Upstairs.” Sherlock repeats as if in answer.
Joseph runs into the hallway without questioning.
Sherlock drops his arms and then his gaze to John. “Joe, John. Joe. Joe!”
“Yep, last time I checked those were both still our names.” John replies, figuring he has nothing to lose by calling Sherlock up on his melodrama. The detective sucks on his teeth.
“Why are you doing this.”
“Doing what? Having this conversation with you? Because for some reason I tolerate your foibles. God knows why- there was no reason for you to do that. None at all.”
“Joseph needs to stay with me.” Sherlock suddenly declares after a long, contemplative silence on both sides.
“I want the boy to stay with me at all times.”
John’s eyebrows collide in confusion and incredulity, “I thought you didn’t want him hanging around you all the time; from the fuss you made, I thought…”
“You don’t not want him, or…?”
“John! Please!” Sherlock throws himself into the armchair opposite, head cast downwards, “That boy is an annoyance- moreso even than an annoyance, actually, he is a pest. I would much rather have him far, far away from us, but if we are… obliged to keep him here, I would prefer him to stay with me rather than you.”
“Well that makes complete sense. Should I be offended?”
“Not at all.”
John eyes him suspiciously.
“Are you going to explain this?”
“I wasn’t intending to.”
“Hmmm. Well. I should have guessed, I suppose. Shame you won’t just admit that you like him, though.”
Sherlock’s head jerks up, indignation in his eyes. “Pardon?”
“Sherlock, come on,” John replies, mirth manipulating the timbre of his voice, “it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So you like the kid. I like him too. Now that wasn’t so difficult.”
Suddenly the world turns a sickly shade of green.
“So you like him, then.” Sherlock states, and somehow this feeling isn’t like any of the others. He’s been insulted, yes, ostracised, many a time, but he’s not experienced rejection before. Sherlock has gotten used to people wanting, needing, asking after him; he’s used to people putting up with his foibles because he’s brilliant and they need his help. It’s addictive and constant.
John Watson is a man who doesn’t need Sherlock Holmes, or at least appears not to.
This is new.
It takes John a couple of moments to decipher the undertone of Sherlock’s speech. Then, converse to expectations, he bursts out laughing.
“Oh, God, no, not in that way!” It’s at this point that John realises he’s still clutching his mug of cold tea, and places it on the floor next to him, “I meant that he’s nice to have around. You know, he makes tea, he listens to my stories-”
“I listen to your stories.”
“Sherlock, hearing isn’t the same as listening. You wouldn’t be able to recount a single story I’ve told you in the past week, would you?”
“That’s because they’re not very interesting.” Sherlock has to admit. John folds his arms in bittersweet triumph; it’s always less fun getting one over on his flatmate when he has to accept an insult to achieve it, but you take what you’re given.
“But anyway,” He continues after a sufficient pause to bask in his glory, “he’s hardly a pest. Ever since Mrs Hudson remembered she wasn’t our housekeeper I’ve been missing having someone around to… you know, do stuff for us. That’s lazy, isn’t it.”
“No.” Sherlock counters. For once in his life he doesn’t know what to say, so contradicting his flatmate seems the best bet. It’s a format familiar to the both of them.
It turns out that John has nothing in response to that, either, so there’s silence. Sherlock takes this opportunity to observe the paraphernalia on the mantelpiece – he doesn’t find anything there particularly interesting but it beats studying John’s subconscious gestures, the twitching of the corners of his mouth, infinitesimal eye movements, the undulations of his throat when he swallows. The more he gazes at John the more difficult it is to remain detached about the human form. When Sherlock Holmes observes people he sees nerve pathways, blood flow, synapses, joints, muscles, mechanics. When Sherlock Holmes observes John Watson he sees poetry.
This doesn’t correlate well with his lifelong principles.
John sighs into his shoulder, eyes closed in a sort of weary bliss, “I wish Joe was here now; I’m dying for another cuppa but I just cannot be arsed-”
“He loves you, you know.” Sherlock suddenly snaps, switching his vision back to John.
“Joseph. He loves you. He’s entirely in love with you.”
John bursts into nervous laughter, “No he isn’t. What makes you think that?”
“Eyelines. Unconscious gestures. Voice timbre. Inflections. Affectations. Proximity. He makes you tea. He never makes me tea.”
“That’s because you’re horrible to him.”
Sherlock straightens up in his chair, “The fact still stands.”
“Well I don’t believe you. These… signs, whatever you say, I just… no.”
“You do realise you’re arguing with Sherlock Holmes.”
“You do realise you’re arguing with John Watson.”
Sherlock steeples his fingers in silent riposte and places the tips to his lips.
“I haven’t seen any of these things you claim as proof.” John remarks after a sigh.
Sherlock’s reply is swift and spoken with immense rapidity: “Yes, of course you see, you do, you just don’t observe. They don’t appear obvious because you’re not actively looking for them.”
“And you are?”
Well, that floors him. Sherlock prefers to be honest; it’s more fun that way and leads to fewer smug retorts. Confronting someone with the absolute truth is much more satisfying than manipulating them into believing a lie – the guilt and pure shame on their face is like visual music to Sherlock Holmes, a Samuel Barber concerto for Violin. Somehow the fear in their eyes suits that third movement quite, quite perfectly.
It would be easy to lie; he’s a sodding Consulting Detective, it’s his job to observe. He could fabricate an untruth that John would believe more ardently than he does that the alphabet starts with ‘A’, that the Earth goes round the Sun (or something), but would that really be worth it? It seems a bizarre premise, but Sherlock feels that, somehow, John deserves his honesty now more than ever. It’s not stopped him before, when it came to if he’d gotten the milk, or the carrots John asked him to (of course he had), or if he’d stopped obsessively checking his messageboard in case of a new taunt from his nemesis (what a ridiculous accusation). It seems trivial to have fobbed his friend off with falsehoods for such insignificances. A lie would save him now.
Or perhaps not.
God, having a conscience is so annoying.
Sherlock gets to his feet and moves towards the mantelpiece, trailing a finger along its dusty surface. “Yes. I had my suspicions when he first caught sight of you on the stairs. From that moment on I decided to keep a closer eye on him. So you are correct: I was looking for them. But I didn’t have to look far to recognise them.”
“These… signs- how come I’ve not seen them at all, then?”
“I wouldn’t? Why?”
“Because I look at you like that every day. The way Joseph does. Constant variables are rarely picked up on as being extraordinary, even if they are… very much so.”
John looks down at the floor like he’s suddenly discovered something captivatingly fascinating about the carpet. The pause that follows feels like asphyxiation; each second is further constriction of the fingers clamped round Sherlock’s throat. It’s always something he thought he would enjoy, strangely enough, as a masochistic sort of pleasure, but this isn’t fun. Not at all.
“I was merely using that to explain why you hadn’t noticed-”
“Why? Why do you look at me like that?”
This immediately appears to Sherlock Holmes one of the most inane questions he’s ever been faced with. He would prefer to be asked why he respires, why his hair is brown, why he finds the need to act like he just fucking hates everyone. Why look at John the way he does? It’s more than just a case of appearance.
“I find you continually fascinating.” Sherlock eventually responds with enough succinct eloquence as he can muster. John laughs nervously again.
“Does that mean I look at you that way, too?” He enquires.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’d say I find you ‘continually fascinating’ too. Do I look at you the same way you look at me?”
“Not that I have perceived.” Sherlock notes, unable to conceal the note of melancholy in his voice.
“When you’re not looking.” John suddenly begins, standing up, “When you’re off in your own mind. Observing. Deducing. Calculating. That’s when I do it.”
“When you can’t see. Do you think I’d be able to live with you knowing everything? I’d be like Joseph. Just like him – a stupid kid, obvious, embarrassing. You hate him because he’s not a challenge, is he? He likes me, it’s obvious; well I’d be the same.”
“I don’t hate Joseph because he’s simple. I hate him because he’s in love with you. He’s gentle. He’s kind. He’ll do things for you, he’ll offer rather than be asked. He deserves you more than me and I can’t stand that. So I would prefer to destroy him than have him destroy me by taking you.” Suddenly the implications of his words hit him. “Ignore all that. I’m tired, I haven’t eaten-”
“You twat.” John bursts out laughing and this seems horribly improper, given what Sherlock has just unwillingly admitted.
“Perhaps if you weren’t so wrapped up in yourself you’d notice what I just said.”
“That I’m a twat? Somehow I caught that.”
“No, before then. Before you were absolutely idiotic and told me you love me.”
Sherlock is quick to respond: “I never said anything of the sort.”
“Not in so many words.”
“Not at all.”
“Sherlock,” John’s smile has faded a little, “don’t ruin this.”
“I don’t see how I’m ruining anything.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t, would you.” A gentle hiss of breath. “It’s a shame, though.”
“That you’re disputing it. Because I’d say it’d be statistically very likely that if you did, I would be able to echo you in response.”
“I don’t like it when you’re intelligent.” Sherlock replies with the beginnings of a smile.
“Most people don’t. Apparently it doesn’t suit me. I’m supposed to stick to wearing jumpers and pulling exasperated faces.”
The joke doesn’t have the desired effect; Sherlock leans away as if tugged back on marionette strings on one side, face set and solemn.
“John,” He begins after a humourless pause, “if, say, hypothetically, I were to find myself in… love with you, I can assume that in such a situation I would most probably find it, perhaps, difficult to convey it to you out loud. In such a case I suppose I would hope that you would be able to accept the fact without it being vocalised.”
John takes a while to consider his answer; it’s a while that Sherlock doesn’t particularly want, but he supposes that’s what you do, being a human – you make allowances for things that don’t suit you. You weigh up the positives and the negatives and what you expect to get out of the situation, and if you feel the balance weighting on your side, or the side that seems right, you proceed.
It is remarkable how much an ex-Army Doctor can teach a man who knows everything.
“If that was how things turned out, then I suppose I would just be grateful for having my feelings reciprocated. I have to say I wouldn’t particularly care which way they came my way just as long as I could be assured that they did, and would continue to.”
“They will.” Sherlock turns back to face John, then realises his mistake. “I mean- they would. In this hypothetical situation.”
They stare at each other for what feels like an age but it’s probably only ten seconds. Still, ten seconds of eye contact is enough for tacit agreement, conveyance of thought, of feelings… it’s enough for them to know. The right corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitches upwards.
“Slave?” He calls, eyes still on John; the doctor is startled by both the word and the volume. “Come down here. There’s been a development.”
The thudding of feet down stairs adds percussion to their low chuckling.
“Yes, Mr Holmes?” Joseph asks when he appears in the doorway, noting the proximity of the two men with a cautious frown.
“Did you touch anything?”
The boy shakes his head.
“Good. I have an actual job for you- no, not a fabricated one this time. I want you to observe the most important of all my practices. Have you got a pen and paper?”
The boy crosses the room and retrieves his notebook and biro.
“You’ll need to make detailed notes. If you fail to catch every nuance first time round I shall be willing to try again to suit your incompetence, but, you know… Are we all set?”
The boy nods.
“Please do watch carefully.”
Upon his words Sherlock Holmes seizes John by the shoulders and pulls him in for a kiss. At first John appears shocked – to be fair, one can hardly blame him – but soon the man relaxes into the motion and finds it to be exactly as he imagined. The arms dangling limp by his sides eventually regain nerve signals and make themselves useful by sliding round Sherlock’s waist and pulling the detective in closer. John breathes in the man’s distinct scent; it’s intoxicating and John feels he may just have found his new addiction. Screw tea, he’ll take Sherlock Holmes over that any day.
Unfortunately bliss is not eternal; all good things must come to an end, as they say. Sherlock pulls away and John relaxes his grip and the pair part, breathing heavily, almost for one moment forgetting their guest standing by the doorway looking half repulsed and half devastated.
Well it’s obvious that Sherlock hasn’t as he immediately turns to Joseph with the smuggest of smiles – aren’t they just his speciality?
“Did you get all that?”
The boy swallows thickly and says nothing.
“Regrettably there is no option for you to learn by imitation, I’m afraid. If you even try and attempt such an advance on my… boyfriend, I shall make it so that you never do any other form of advancing – in your career, life, or years – ever again. Do I make myself clear?”
The boy nods again.
“Now I’m sure Lestrade’s team have found dear Donaldson’s body in the Thames by now. Go and join it.”
Joseph’s final bow comes with a choked off sob, a clutching of his notepad to his chest, then finally a spinning on his heel and a half-run down the stairs to the exit. It seems horrific but neither of them contemplate missing him.
“…That was kind of harsh.” John feels he needs to add to cement his position as the ‘moral one’ in the pairing. Sherlock laughs, turning back to his doctor.
“I just rescued you from the unwelcome advances of a very young man. I was expecting more of a thank you.”
There are grins on the faces of both men that are in no danger of moving anywhere. Yes, John knows there will be times when he’ll honestly want to murder the detective (to add to those already been and gone); Sherlock knows there will be moments where John’s sheer goodness will irk him more than the general public’s pedantry ever has. But for now they grin.
“And: ‘boyfriend’?” John checks, amused by his detective’s submission to the lexeme.
“Put in for emphasis. But it’s a start.”