Sherlock entered the flat and paused, easily taking in each and every inch of the room in the space of three seconds. He’d say it had been ransacked except that everything had been so carefully replaced that a lesser man – a far lesser man – than he wouldn’t even have realised that anything was amiss at all. The fact remained, though, that while not a single item within Sherlock’s line of sight had actually gone missing, almost every single one of those items had been shifted, just slightly. Among other things, the ‘12’ of the wall clock now pointed three degrees counter-clockwise from being directly vertical, and the slightly-bent-back corner of a previously pristine book cover was trapped between the thick collection of pages inside and the table it was resting on, and tiny outlines of dust-free surface had been left behind where seventeen items had been put back down just millimetres from their origin.
He passed through the outer room into his bedroom and noticed that this time something was missing, though it took him approximately ten whole seconds (sloppy, he told himself, though he blamed his brief lack of skill on his dismay at how thoroughly his sock drawer had been tossed apart) to identify, through process of elimination, the object in question. Or rather, the two objects, for the half-concealed pockets of his now absent blue shirt had not been empty.
Sherlock had no doubt of the culprit as well as the motive.
“Your housework skills leave something to be desired,” Sherlock announced when John arrived back at the flat.
“As usual, Sherlock, I have no idea what you mean,” John replied mildly.
“If you wanted to satisfy your curiosity about the efficacy of my brand of cocaine,” Sherlock elaborated, “you needed only ask. I know I’m not always one for sharing, but we could have come to some kind of agreement. Though, as a doctor, I have to admit I thought you’d insist on steering away from the personal use of illicit chemical substances.”
“Of course,” John scoffed. “I took your illegal drugs because I felt like taking a hit myself. Right.” He shook his head.
“Ah, true to form after all; there’s that thinly-disguised condemnation I expected. Then I take it I’ve just played a role in contributing to the concentration of toxicity in London’s sewage system?”
“All right,” John admitted, “I flushed your stash, yes.”
It was hardly the first time that John had expressed concern about what he referred to as Sherlock’s ‘disturbing habits’, or even threatened to actually take away his recreational drugs, but usually John was only inspired to do so when he was palpably worried because Sherlock was in the middle of a fit of boredom, not – as he was now – in the middle of a case and with his sharp mind buzzing enough not to require any artificial aid.
Of course, Sherlock obviously didn’t need to ask why this time was different. It was plain what had happened.
“And how is Lestrade this afternoon?” he asked.
John stared at him blankly for a moment. “What, you can smell his aftershave or something?”
“You’re learning,” Sherlock commended him. “Of course, Lestrade has only once used aftershave throughout my entire acquaintance with him – an exceptionally cheap and foul-smelling brand which was likely given as a gift and which is no longer in production, thankfully. It’s actually his cologne I can most easily detect. But you used the correct thought process, at least,” Sherlock said. “There’s also a fresh shoe scuff in his size on the steps leading up here, and the skull on the banister has been moved. I take it he came here for some purpose other than to try to find proof of my minor criminal activities so that he could have me under his thumb; he’s often foolish, but not so completely stupid that he could possibly think to succeed there.”
“Wait, I understand the rest of it, but you got ‘Lestrade’ from the skull being moved?”
“Of course. You wouldn’t have wasted time checking the skull, having witnessed me move it around and put it to other uses far too often to believe it would make a good hiding place, even temporarily,” Sherlock perceived. “Most other people who set foot here, such as Mrs Hudson, are generally too bothered by the sight of human remains to go out of their way to actually touch them. Any type of unwelcome home invader who would think to pick up something like a skull would either take it or discard it, not put it carefully back in place. And though he obviously doesn’t do so consciously, Lestrade picks up that skull and stares at it for a moment every time he enters this room. I believe it’s the morbid fascination of a jaded homicide investigator at work.”
“Now you’re just showing off. You could have just said that last part and left the rest out,” John said.
“I could have,” Sherlock admitted. “I could have even just told you it was too simple to bother wasting my breath explaining it. But how will you ever adopt my methods if you don’t understand the whole of my process?”
John rolled his eyes and Sherlock knew he’d conceded the point. “All right,” John said, “while you’re being clever, then –”
“While I’m being clever? Putting aside what an inane word ‘clever’ is compared to my true aptitude, I’m always unparalleled in my level of genius,” Sherlock interrupted, insulted that such a correction was even necessary where John was concerned.
“Yes, unfortunately, I know that well enough already,” John said. “But my point was that you might as well prove it one more time by telling me how you knew it was me that found your drugs and not Lestrade, if you knew he’d been here,” John suggested.
“Please,” Sherlock said dismissively. “Child’s play. Who else would have put more care into keeping our common area tidy than my bedroom? Lestrade never searched at all, though you clearly feared that he would; hence my missing items.”
Sherlock didn’t say thank you for John acting to attempt to protect him – he never used those words, for it was a phrase that had come to mean nothing of consequence through its vast overuse, and because it implied some kind of debt that Sherlock had no intention of ever owing – but nor did he disabuse John of the believe that he’d done Sherlock a favour when John said, “You’re welcome, by the way.” He couldn’t deny that he would probably have appreciated John’s efforts – either silently or sarcastically, of course – had Lestrade actually got it into his head to have a poke around. And it wasn’t as if Sherlock couldn’t lay hands on more drugs at a moment’s notice, anyway, so he’d suffered no great loss.
So instead, all Sherlock said was, “I’ll expect to see my shirt back in my cupboard shortly. I like that colour.”
“You have three others that look just like it,” John pointed out. “You’d think with so much spare change to spend on clothing – and where does that money even come from, anyway? – you could actually pitch in for groceries every now and then.”
Sherlock threw himself into one of the chairs. “Food. Boring,” he said. “Now what might have at least the slightly possibility of being interesting – though I’m admittedly doubtful – is why Lestrade was actually here.”
“Oh,” John said. “He needs help with a suspected murder.”
“As always. But I’m already on a case.”
“It doesn’t seem to be keeping you all that busy,” John pointed out, gesturing to his current physical inactivity. “What, you can’t handle two cases at once?”
John’s challenge was incredibly transparent, but Sherlock was bored with the current case – he’d thought it would prove more interesting when he’d taken it on – so he might as well at least find out what had Lestrade’s brain overtaxed this time so that he could amuse himself with new forms of mockery.
The fact that it so clearly made John happy to believe he’d won didn’t factor into Sherlock’s decision to spring suddenly into action, of course. Not at all.