John has an epiphany on a Saturday in June.
He’s wandering aimlessly around Soho looking for a present for Harry when he decides to duck into a grimy looking record shop on a whim. It’s full of people ten years younger than him with piercings and skinny jeans; most of them inspecting worn looking vinyl, some flicking through the CD racks. He drifts over to the CDs to see if anything jumps out at him, picking up a couple to study the covers, surveying the posters on the walls and not recognising any of the bands advertised. He feels old.
“Need a hand?”
He turns to face a round-featured twenty-something woman with dyed orange hair pulled into two sticky out plaits. She grins toothily at his blank look.
“You look a bit lost. Looking for anything in particular?”
He looks at the pile of unknown albums in his hand and looks back up at her with a helpless shrug and a grin,
“Not a bloody clue what I’m doing, to be honest.”
She laughs, “Present for somebody is it, then?”
“My sister. I don’t even know what she likes really.”
The woman taps her chin. “No idea whatsoever? That could be difficult. You could always get her a voucher?”
John shakes his head dismissively, “Nah, she always says they’re too impersonal,” he rolls his eyes, “she’s pretty difficult to buy for.”
“I’m sensing that,” the woman grins, “okay, so tell me what she’s like. Maybe we can stereotype our way to a suitable purchase.”
“Hm.” He considers for a moment, “She’s a feminist alcoholic divorced lesbian.”
The woman looks unfazed. “Right. Divorced, so. Nothing maudlin. And perhaps something,” she begins to flick through the racks with purpose, “hmm, something riot girl?”
“Riot girl?” he asks, bewildered.
“Feminist punk. Three r’s,” she says offhandedly, piling CDs into his hands as he stands there feeling useless. “Do you remember what she listened to when you were younger?”
“God, no idea. She had some Bowie albums when she was a teenager I think? But she’s over thirty now.” He’s embarrassed to realise that he really has no idea what she’s actually like now. The familiar guilt nags at him, and he pushes it away.
“Right. Do you want to have a listen to a few things, or do you want me to choose something good for you?”
“Please, choose something. I’m completely at a loss.”
She laughs, “Okay, I’ll let you listen to it anyway in case you think it’s completely awful, but I think this one might be a winner. Late nineties feminist punk, it’s a great album.” She leads him over to a listening post with a pair of enormous headphones and slots the CD in.
He listens, it’s...pretty good actually. He finds himself nodding unconsciously along with it and flushes slightly when she grins at him again.
“Yeah actually, it’s good. From my limited knowledge of what Harry likes she shouldn’t actively despise it, at least, which is the most I can hope for really.” He shrugs and gives a smile, taking the album from her and tucking it under his arm. “Anything else of a similar nature you’d recommend?”
She wanders about the racks, picking up albums and telling him a bit about each one.
“Female fronted band from the early nineties, a bit less noisy than what you’ve got there. Oh, these guys are great, you should get your sister this album. Listen to this! Oh man I’d actually forgotten about this one, it’s a bit of a classic. Bit less shouty as well if you think she might be put off by that...”
By the end of it he has a good-sized pile of CDs and no idea what any of them are any more. He asks the woman to pick her five favourites and she flicks through them, putting some to the side, “Nah, nah, this one’s good but... ooh! Yes definitely this one. And this one. You can probably leave that one. Um, yeah, yeah that one.” She seems to be mostly talking to herself, and he watches with amusement as she forms the pile and finally shoves them towards him.
“I hope your sister appreciates this! It's a carefully put together punk rock odyssey.”
He looks through them, still nonplussed but confident that Harry should like a couple at least. She was always more interested in music than him.
“Brilliant. I’ll take these then. If she doesn’t like any of them I’ll send her back here to face your wrath, or advice.”
“Probably advice, I don’t really do wrath.” The woman beams sunnily, packing his purchases into a bag and ringing them up with a practiced air.
“I’d gathered,” he says wryly.
Just as he’s rummaging in his wallet to pay his phone buzzes three times in a row. Sherlock, then.
Mild explosion in 221B,
no need to worry.
Nothing too toxic.
Probably wise to stay
away for next six hours or so.
John gapes at his phone, forgetting all about his shopping. Mild explosion. What the fuck is a ‘mild explosion’? It should bother him more that his worry does ease, knowing it’s ‘nothing too toxic’, at least. For fucks sake, Sherlock.
“Um, are you okay there?”
He looks back up at her with what must be a gobsmacked look on his face, “Just the usual, my flatmate has caused a “mild explosion” in our flat. So, uh, I guess I’ll be hanging about round Soho for the next few hours.” He gives a slightly hysterical laugh, “Bloody fuck.”
“You’re joking. Really? I mean, what?” Her eyebrows are practically crawling into her hair.
“Yeah, it’s actually not that surprising. Sorry, just give me a sec to send a couple of texts.”
She waves him off and takes the next customer.
He sends a text to Sherlock,
And one to Mycroft,
can you confirm that
“mild” explosion is the correct
A few seconds later there’s a reply from Mycroft,
Confirmed. Six hours
should be sufficient. Please
do not strangle him when you
get home, John, I have
expended a lot of effort
ensuring the list of people
who want to kill my brother
is as small as is reasonably
Mycroft’s texting style makes him inwardly smile as he taps out a quick reply,
i’ll try to restrain
The woman has finished with the other customer and comes back over to where he’s standing, moving to ring up his albums again and re-pack them.
“So, your flatmate exploded your flat, and this is…normal?”
He shrugs, digging again for his wallet. “It’s been blown up before. Not by him that time though, by his arch enemy.”
“Arch ene--” She starts to giggle, “What? Right, we’re almost closed here and then we’re going to the pub. If you’re not going to be able to go home because your flat exploded then come and join us and tell me about why your flatmate has an arch enemy.” She pours his change and receipt into his hand and grins at him expectantly.
He considers for a moment, not sure how fun going to the pub with a bunch of strangers almost half his age will be, but it’s really not like he has anywhere else to go, and the woman has been very friendly so far. “Sure, thanks. Where are you headed?”
“The Red Lion, over on Kingly Street, you ever been?”
“Ah yeah, the Sam Smiths pub, right? I’ll just go and…hang about there for a bit then.”
“We’ll find you! I want to hear all about this flatmate of yours.”
He rolls his eyes with a smile and heads out, bag swinging on one arm as he checks his phone again.
No need for sarcasm.
glad to hear i can
still pull off sarcasm in 3
A blank text probably
would have been more
thanks for advice, will
take on board for next time
you BLOW UP OUR FLAT
im pretty sure signing
blank texts defeats the point
After that there are no more replies, which he takes to mean Sherlock has found something less boring to do than text him. He hopes it has something to do with making the flat unexploded, but he knows well enough not to hope for miracles.
The pub is only about ten minutes walk from the shop and it’s fairly quiet for a Saturday afternoon, so he gets himself settled at a corner table with a pint of ale and pulls out his purchases to look them over, glancing up at the door every so often to see if the orange-haired woman has arrived. After a while he checks his phone again in case there have been any developments re: the exploding flat. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t actually want to know any of the particulars, and as long as he ends up being able to sleep in his bed tonight he probably won’t ask. He wonders what his life has become that his flat blowing up is a minor inconvenience. It’s pretty tame in comparison to being strapped to a load of semtex with a sniper rifle aimed at his forehead, he reasons, and maybe slightly less tame than being kidnapped by your flatmate’s Machiavellian older brother on the first day you met.
He’s halfway through his first pint when a group of people spill through the door. He spots an orange head and gives a little wave, waiting for her to weave her way through the tables and chairs to squeeze in beside him.
“Christina,” she says, sticking out a hand. “Nice to meet you.”
He smiles, takes it. “I’m John.”
“So. John. Tell me the story.” The others are starting to gather around the table now, some chatting amongst themselves, some edging closer to John, having obviously heard about his exploding flat. Someone plonks a pint of stout in front of Christina and she takes a long draw of it, slumping back with an exaggerated sigh of happiness.
He takes a deep breath, and then tells them about Sherlock.
“So. So. Um, he faked his own death so you..and s’mother people…wouldn’t die. Ugh, that’s like, so heartbreaking I want to cry.” Christina is leaning heavily on the table with one elbow, chin propped in her hand. Terrifyingly, she looks like she might actually cry. He leans over and pats her on the arm clumsily.
“S’okay. He came back. And. It was fine. I didn’t…punch him in the face or ‘nything. Wanted to. But he look’d so…happy. Wanker.”
By this time almost all the others have gone home. He and Christina and a heavily tattooed bloke called Hillary are crowded around a tiny table stacked high with finished pint glasses. Hillary looks like he might actually just be asleep sitting up. His eyes are closed and he hasn’t made any sign of movement for about the last fifteen minutes.
“I’d like it. I think. If s’mone…I d’nno, if someone loved me ‘nough to make some grand...” she waves her hands about, “gesture of devotion.”
“Pft. We’re not t’gether. And t’wasn’t a gesture. Was a necessity.” John flops his hand at her dismissively.
“I’ll raise your ‘pft’ and say ‘what does that matter?’”
John rolls his eyes, prepares his reasoning for the millionth time. She cuts him of with a clumsy finger over his mouth.
“’m gonna tell you something that I think. Will you listen?”
He nods, slumps sideways in his seat a little to look at her more clearly.
“Right, so. I have a theory. My theory is that most people ‘re idiots.” John snorts a laugh; she glares at him and he tries to look apologetic, waves his hand for her to continue.
“Most people have all these weird ideas about love ‘nd relationships and what love means and what a r’lationship is. I mean, they have so many ideas ‘bout it that when they actually do it for th’mselves they do it all wrong. So people think things like, they think things like you,” she waves an accusatory finger, blinking at him blurrily, “you think that because you don’t fancy men you can’t love one. WRONG! You’re wrong. S’a shame ‘cause it’s much easier for women to admit that they love someone platonically. Harder for you. Men. Something about masculinity. Dunno.”
He opens his mouth, she shushes him.
“I dunno ‘nything about you, but. Y’know. You’re loved. And it must be great, must be ‘mazing. M’jealous. Why do relationships have to be love and sex or neither? People are stupid. You’re not ‘nything except you and what you feel. People always have to label, they have’to analyse, to know what they feel rather than just…feeling. Stupid. Stupid idiots.”
He’s gaping at her. She gazes at him, orange fringe stuck out at an odd angle from where she’s been running her fingers through it.
“Th’more time I spend with people” she continues, doggedly, “the more I think that almost nobody does what they want to do. Everyone thinks they sh’ld be one way or th’other, this thing or that thing. Everyone forces th’mselves into holes, shapes they don’t fit into b’cause they think that’s how they should be. My metaphors get more tenuous when I’m drunk. S’rry.”
“S’okay,” he murmurs.
“And on that note,” she says, eyeing the bottom of her pint glass, “M’gonna stop rambling at you and go home. Will your flat be un…not-exploded by now?”
“Um. I’ll check.” He fumbles for his phone, pokes at the keys,
hello is the flat
The reply, as always with Sherlock, is almost instantaneous.
Yes. Try to sober up
a little before you get
home, would you? SH
pft didnt spell anything
wrong how do you know
Punctuation is the key,
“He says the flat’s unsploded. Great. Suppose I should…”
Christina pokes Hillary out of his slumber and hoists his arm bodily over her shoulder. He’s actually quite impressed, she can’t be much over five foot and Hillary isn’t exactly small. He’s not completely limp, but enough that she must be supporting a lot of his weight.
“Er, do y'want a hand with him?” he offers.
“Nah, m’just gonna shove him in a taxi. He’ll be fine.”
He helps her bundle Hillary into a black cab. She shoves a twenty into the driver’s hand and gives him directions, then closes the door with a thump.
Before she leaves, she pulls him into a hug.
“Nice t’meet you, John. Come visit me at work again and tell me how your sister got on.”
He nods, hugging back; watches as she flags down the next taxi and hops in. He pokes about in his wallet. Ten should be enough to get him home, and he waves over the next cab that comes his way. In the twenty minutes it takes for the taxi to get to Baker Street, he stares out the window, thinking.
Sherlock is on his chair watching something rubbish on television when John gets in. The flat does, actually, look surprisingly unexploded. Sherlock looks over at him.
“Have a good evening at the pub?” He says the last word as if it personally offends him.
John regards him; perched there with his knees up looking like a petulant overgrown crow. He feels an enormous wave of fondness flood over him, and whether it’s that, or the fact that he’s drunk, or what Christina said he doesn’t know, but he strides over to Sherlock and gathers him into a crushing hug, squeezing tight and burying his face into Sherlock’s hair.
Sherlock sits frozen for a second, before moving to pat him awkwardly on the back. John gives him a quick, perfunctory kiss on the top of the head, says “’night, Sherlock,” and turns to head up the stairs towards his room.
I love you, he thinks, you bloody great arse. He’ll never say it, but he thinks Sherlock probably knows.