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Things had not gone to plan at all. Sherlock’s heartbeat was hammering in his ears but he could still hear the men panting behind him, their footsteps echoing around the dark, narrow alleyway as they weaved through the scattered rubbish bins he was leaving in their path.
They had stopped shooting at him; that was unexpected, but perhaps not inexplicable. They were in a residential area now - windows bright with early evening lights, clothes hanging from fire-escapes, the faint sound of televisions turned up too loud, the smell of foods cooking, a party somewhere further away - and even with silencers on, despite what movies would have people believe, their guns were a noisy 120 dB which could easily attract unwanted attention from innocent bystanders.
As he ran, using his hastily memorised map of the area to plot a route to the nearest main road -- he had never been so grateful for the regular grid arrangement of American cities -- Sherlock reviewed the immediate circumstances that had led to this point. He had worked hard to arrange that meeting with Câmara, using every subterfuge and disguise he could muster, only to see the man whose information he sought gunned down in front of him, murdered by a single shot to the head as they crossed the car park to his offices. Câmara’s henchmen had immediately scattered, seeking the shooter in the buildings closest to them. But one look at the wound on the dead man’s forehead told Sherlock exactly where the sniper had been. Looking up, he just caught a glimpse of a man in a green anorak disappearing from view on the roof of one of the buildings.
Sherlock didn’t hang around to find out what happened next. He started running through the alleyway between two office blocks, leaving the industrial estate and heading back to the residential area nearby. It wasn’t long before Câmara’s men concluded that he was involved in the murder and started their pursuit. Sherlock deliberately wove through the silent back streets, hoping to confuse them. Only one more block now, and he would reach a busy road where he could vanish into the crowd. The two men behind him were slowing down. One of his pursuers was limping, his breath more laboured than his companion. Probably older, heavier, less used to this kind of exertion. The other man was more dangerous; healthier, and therefore likely to stay the course, but also more likely to be rash. The kind of man who might just pull a gun in a residential area out of sheer frustration. If that happened, he would have to hope the man wasn’t a good shot.
Sherlock passed between two low one-storey buildings -- a laundry and a restaurant judging by the smells -- and entered a wider street lined with apartment blocks. Cars were driving by and a few people were walking along the pavement. A little girl was skipping towards him, a helium balloon in one hand, her mother following close behind, eyes glued to her phone. Sherlock turned down the collar of his coat and started walking normally when he suddenly heard his name called from above.
Startled, he looked up, though he couldn’t have looked more astonished than the man who had called him. The man was standing on the roof, as out of breath as he was, his large eyes wide with surprise, his green anorak looking almost grey in the fading daylight. Bloody hell.
If this was the sniper, Sherlock was going to kill whoever was responsible when he got back to London.
But right then, the man suddenly crumpled in pain, apparently blacking out before tumbling head-first over the side of the roof. The little girl screamed.
House was in a good mood. He'd worked out the diagnosis for his current case the previous night. He was looking forward to belittling his team for ten minutes or so before telling them to go treat the patient. If he could only get himself a new case before Foreman assigned him to clinic duty, the next few minutes would almost be fun.
As he approached his office, he could see his team already assembled around the table with their notebooks and coffee cups. But there was a fifth person with them; a thin man in a heavy dark gray coat, leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the table. House's stomach clenched unpleasantly when he recognized the man’s narrow pale face, framed with tousled dark hair. The man looked at him through the glass of the office and smiled sardonically.
House stalked into the room, purposefully ignoring the new arrival.
"So. It turns out two hookers and a banana really is a great way to diagnose a middle-aged man in the throes of agony. Now, everybody, listen up.” He moved over to the board. “What do you--”
"It's CRPS," said the young man in a bored voice.
His deep voice was languid, but every consonant was enunciated clearly with an unmistakably British accent. Which was to be expected but still caught House by surprise; he hadn't heard that voice in years. It sounded incredibly out of place in the familiar surroundings of House's outer office.
"Complex regional pain syndrome. That’s incredibly rare!" exclaimed Chase.
“But it fits,” said Park, pushing her glasses up her nose and giving the Englishman a suspicious look. “How do you know it's CRPS?”
“It’s written on the board.”
All the members of House's team automatically looked at the whiteboard behind the Englishman. It had exactly the same information on it as the previous day when none of them, House included, had been able to find the correct diagnosis.
The young man rolled his eyes. He swept his legs off the table with a dramatic flourish and stood up to wipe the board clean.
“Right," he said. "Now that's out of the way, we can move on to something more important.”
"Uh, we weren't finished with that," said Taub. He looked at House. "Or were we?"
House observed the Englishman, leaning heavily on his cane. "I take it everyone else is seeing this pale imitation of me?" he asked. "For a minute there, I thought I was seeing dead people."
The young man pursed his lips and glared at him, but started to write on the board. The young man... Not so young anymore, House noticed; up close, he could see the crows' feet forming at the corners of his eyes. It made House feel incredibly old.
He had thought the man was dead. He'd even gotten used to the idea. But here the kid was, back like the proverbial bad penny.
"Charlie--" he started. The man turned his head away like a toddler refusing his dinner. "Okay, I forgot. Sherlock. There I was thinking I was shot of you. Guess I should have known you wouldn’t stay dead like normal people.”
House saw a fleeting expression of surprise cross Sherlock’s face, as if he hadn’t expected that reaction. He soon recovered.
“Believe me, coming here wasn’t my preferred option,” said Sherlock shortly.
"House, aren't you going to introduce us?" asked Adams, who looked far too curious for her own good.
"He was here when we got in but he didn't say a word," explained Chase. "We were going to call security, but we figured he was a friend of yours."
"Yes, I'm an old friend of his. Sherlock Holmes," said Sherlock, waving the issue away with a flick of his wrist. “Obviously, there is some history here. Feel free to use up whatever spare brain capacity you might have trying to work it all out. Just make sure your main focus stays on your new case.”
"Uh, sir. How did you really work out it was CRPS?" asked Park. Which would have been more of an intelligent question if she hadn't been looking at Sherlock like Christmas had come early. Or whatever she celebrated in her multicultural family. “House was looking at that board yesterday and he didn’t--“
"Oh I bet he did. Either that or he is as much of an idiot as some of his online case reports suggest," said Sherlock, rifling through the markers at the bottom of the whiteboard to change color. "As it happens, I had a patient with exactly the same symptoms a few years back.”
"You're not a doctor," said House coldly. “I don’t think even you could have qualified in three years. Especially while pretending to be dead.”
Sherlock wrote a few more words on the board and threw the marker back in the tray. He gave House a bright smile that creased his eyes.
"Did I say patient? I meant 'victim'. Performed the autopsy myself. She actually died of a stab wound. Boring case but I wondered why she’d suffered from acute leg pains before she was murdered, even though there was nothing to see in the autopsy. I later realised they had been triggered by a minor injury a couple of years earlier."
“So all the patient needs is specialist help,” said Taub. “That’s good news.”
House laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, and all we needed was the Messiah here to open our eyes.”
“Good. Now, here is your new case,” said Sherlock, ignoring House and speaking rapidly to the team as if it were his own. “Jamie Maddens. Forty-five-year-old white male - 'Caucasian' I suppose you'd call him here. Recently arrived from the UK, apparently on holiday in New York. He fell off a rooftop as he was running away from a gang of muggers. It wasn’t a high building, but he sustained the kind of injuries you'd expect under those circumstances; broken limbs, bruises, mild concussion. He initially appeared to be recovering well in hospital, but took a turn for the worst two days later and has been in a coma ever since. I don't have his NHS records but I've listed everything I know about his health on the board in black and some possible hypotheses in blue. I want you to find out why he’s unconscious, fix it, and wake him up so I can talk to him."
House quickly scanned the information on the board, automatically considering and discarding possibilities and concluding that there was no puzzle here. He approached Sherlock; he was pleased to find that Sherlock was still slightly shorter than him.
"I think you’re confusing our professions,” said House. “I don't take random patients off the street just because I have nothing better to do.”
"Well, actually--" started Chase.
"That isn’t a case for a team of diagnosticians. That’s a statistic,” said House as if Chase hadn't spoken, though he noticed that Sherlock's gaze lingered on the Australian as House continued. “There can be any number of reasons why a person ends up in a coma. Most of them boring. You would know that if you spent more time with living people. But being chased by muggers and then falling off a roof is kind of a giveaway in this case."
House picked up the eraser and started to wipe the board. Sherlock grabbed his arm.
“House, I wouldn’t have brought him here if it wasn’t important.” He turned towards the team again. "I’m a private detective. I’ve been employed to find the new head of a worldwide criminal organisation. In order to do that, I’ve had to fake my own death.” He gave House a dirty look, clearly unhappy at having to divulge that information. “Jamie Maddens has the information I need to dismantle the organisation."
"Who would employ a dead detective?” scoffed House. “Oh, I know. Your brother Mycroft.”
"I don’t work with Mycroft and I do have clients,” said Sherlock petulantly. “People always need the help of someone who can see things they can’t."
House circled Sherlock, observing him intently. "Not many people, I bet. Three years sure is a long time to be playing possum," he said thoughtfully. "I'm guessing Big Brother helped you out for a while. Daddy’s trust fund probably got all wiped out with the estate taxes when you 'died' and you've never really learned to earn a living. But you've had a falling out; you don't look like a guy who is still being bankrolled by one of the richest men in Britain. In which case, good for you. The fact that he knew you were alive and still called to tell me personally that you were dead shows just what a total dick he is."
“He actually called you to say I was dead, just so he could hear your reaction?” said Sherlock. “You have to hand it to him, Mycroft does know how to bear a grudge.”
"So here you are, breaking into a hospital--" House walked over to the window and ran his fingers over the jimmied lock on the balcony window. "-- and begging for a favor in your worn clothes." He noticed Sherlock glancing down at his coat. "I don't mean the coat. That is sentimental; you've had it at least ten years and it's part of this suave, mysterious detective look you've been trying to cultivate. At least until you became associated with that god-awful hat. But you're holding on to the rest of your clothes for practical reasons. Take your suit, for instance: expensive, well-tailored, but you’ve been wearing it just a little too long, gotten it cleaned a little too often. The color is losing its depth; the cuffs are starting to fray. You’re clean and well-groomed, so you’re not out on the street just yet. But your shoes are worn; you’re taking public transportation more than taxis these days. Must be quite a shock for a man like you."
"So you're deducing that I'm not working with Mycroft just after I told you I wasn’t working with Mycroft," said Sherlock sarcastically. "Well done. I can see why they're so impressed by you."
He looked at House’s team as if he hadn’t noticed them before. “Are they really the best you could find? A barely qualified student with a chip on her shoulder. A plastic surgeon with an unnecessarily complicated personal life. The poor little rich girl trying to make her life meaningful. And of course, the Australian who has worked for you for so long he's forgotten how to do anything else."
House followed his gaze sourly, torn between the desire to prove Sherlock wrong and his need to keep his team’s egos chronically below ‘discernible’.
Sherlock turned his attention back to House. "I didn't spot anything more exciting in the hospital admissions database. Let’s face it. It’s clinic duty for you and your underlings if you don’t take this case."
"Oh, don't worry, I can keep myself busy. I'm not going to help you," House indicated the door to the office. "It was great seeing you again, Sherlock. The exit is that way. Unless you'd prefer to go out the way you came in.” He nodded towards the window. “Don’t worry, I’ll get one of my 'underlings' to clean the board. The rest of the hospital staff will take good care of your witness.”
"No! You will take care of my witness."
Of course, House should have known that Sherlock would be stubborn as a mule. Somewhere in his old Deleted Items archive, he had a 200-email conversation thread to prove it.
Sherlock walked over to House, moving closer until his breath was tickling House’s cheek – which House had to admit was a very neat trick. Definitely intimidating. He might have to try it himself.
"Don't pretend you have anything better to do with your time," said Sherlock. "Things aren't exactly going well, are they? You're on parole, tagged like an animal because society can't trust you to behave like a human being. Ageing, addicted to--" Sherlock sniffed him. "--an opiate analgesic?-- you drink alone, ruminating on things that might have been. You blame whatever has happened to your right leg for your unhappy life. Old injury now, chronically painful but not as bad as you make out -- you were limping less heavily when you laid into me just now -- though I’ll grant you that it isn't psychosomatic. Of course, the addiction and the bitterness don't help but you always were an awkward sod. It's no wonder you're single again. And no, your sham marriage doesn’t count." He swept his hand at the room, the team, the whiteboard. "If you didn't have this, you would have nothing. You would be nothing."
"I'm a sad, bitter old man," exclaimed House, slapping his forehead. "My god, thanks for the revelation. You've saved me hundreds of dollars in therapy. And hookers. They charge a fortune to tell me the same thing. And here I can get all the abuse for free, straight from the world’s leading expert on interpersonal relationships." House shrugged and turned his back on Sherlock. "Time's up. The answer is still 'no'. Say hi to the Queen for me."
Instead of continuing the altercation, Sherlock went silent. House turned back to look at him.
“House, the idiots at the last hospital had no idea what was wrong with this man. You’re the best doctor in North America,” said Sherlock finally, his eyes lowered as if it pained him to admit this. “And you have a whole team at your disposal. I need your help.”
House glanced at the team at his disposal. Chase was rolling his eyes; Taub was not paying attention at all; Adams and Park were listening intently. Interesting.
“Why would I want to help you?” challenged House.
To his horror, Sherlock took a step back. He was blinking rapidly, his eyes darting away from House’s face to rest on his shirt, on the board, even on Park for a moment, as if he didn’t know what to do next. Sherlock pursed his lips, and when he raised his pale gaze to meet House’s again, his eyes were brighter than before.
“I need him awake, House,” he said softly. "This is my chance to come back from the dead. I’m on my own in a foreign country and when this happened, you were the first person I could think of who might be able to help. I-I don’t know what else to do."
House stared at him. This was going to be one hell of an awkward scene if Sherlock was going to get this upset about it. Not that House was uncomfortable with awkward scenes, and he really was pissed off with Sherlock right now. Even so, the haunted look on Sherlock’s angular features felt eerily familiar.
“I could do it!” interjected Park suddenly. “I mean, I’m on clinic duty anyway if House doesn’t have a case. And, you know, I was in the middle of my neurology residency when House employed me, so, like, I guess Mr. Maddens is kind of in my area. I might not be the best doctor in North America but at least I have some experience of difficult diagnoses. And, you know, I’ll ask my colleagues if there’s anything I need help with."
Chase looked puzzled and Taub just nodded vaguely. But Adams gave Sherlock a sympathetic smile.
“I’ll help out,” she said. “We’ll see what we can find.”
“Oh, thank you,” breathed Sherlock gratefully. “Thank you so much!”
House gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder. “Aw. Someone took pity on the poor widdle English guy.” He waved his cane at the girls. “Okay, the Swan and the Ugly Duckling are on Prince Charming’s so-called case until... let’s say eleven a.m. Plenty of time to confirm my diagnosis of ‘boring’ and ‘not a case’.”
Park and Adams both gave Sherlock reassuring smiles and left the room. House erased what Sherlock had written on the board; though House saw a flicker of irritation on his face, Sherlock didn’t try to stop him.
“Chase, go get our Mr. Reilly the address of some facilities for managing his CPRS,” ordered House, heading for his personal office. “Taub, go do your clinic duty until you find me an interesting case. If anyone needs me, I'll be in my office recovering from all that pathetic sorrow-drowning I did last night.”
House heard Taub groan and leave the room, but when he turned to look, Chase was still there, standing by the table.
“House, what’s going on?” asked Chase. He was observing Sherlock, his normally wide eyes narrowed in a manner that almost suggested deep thought. “Who is this guy really?”
Sherlock stepped closer until he was only a few inches away from Chase. He leaned in and tilted his head, almost creating the impression that he intended to kiss him.
“None of your business, mate,” said Sherlock, putting on an Australian accent.
Chase squared his jaw but leaned back. “Seriously, House, is this a friend of yours?”
“Yeah,” said House flatly. “The kind of friend who thinks it’s okay to let his friends think he’s dead for three years. So more like a jerk, really. Chase, go deal with our soon to be ex-patient.”
Chase gave them both a dubious look but complied with House’s request. It occurred to House that he really had been working with Chase for too long. Given how often he’d fired and belittled him, it was something of a miracle the guy had any self-respect left. Still, he didn’t need Chase for his self-respect; he needed his ability to think.
Looking pleased with himself, Sherlock moved towards the door. House spoke just as he reached the threshold.
“Tears were a nice touch,” he said. “You must really be desperate.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Half your team are women. It was bound to work on at least one of them. Both is a bonus.”
“I’m not gonna help them if that’s what you’re hoping,” said House in a sing-song voice.
"’Course not. I look forward to hearing their diagnosis," said Sherlock smugly. "And talking to Mr Maddens in the morning."
House watched him go. He had a feeling the next few days would be interesting if nothing else. He grinned. The patient might hold no interest but working out why Sherlock was so interested in him might be fun.
House works out something new about the patient Sherlock brought in.
Foreman brought House a real case later that morning. Under normal circumstances, House would have rejected it, especially since it came directly from his ‘boss’. But he didn’t want Sherlock to think he could just waltz in and get House to do his bidding because... because of what? Because Sherlock thought House owed him? As far as House was concerned, Sherlock’s little act over the last three years made them more than even.
Given a choice between screwing with Foreman and screwing with Sherlock, House decided he'd screw with Sherlock. It wasn't as if the opportunity arose very often. He took the new case.
Sherlock himself didn't reappear all day. A discreet sounding of the nurses revealed that Maddens had had no visitors. Sherlock either genuinely didn’t care about the patient’s well-being beyond his usefulness as a source of information, or he was pretending not to care. Or he had other things to do with his time, but House dismissed that possibility. He was so preoccupied with these thoughts that he barely had the energy to mess with Wilson over a bet they’d made on the secondary occupation of the new canteen barrista.
By the end of the day, House was sufficiently intrigued to walk past Maddens's room as he prepared to leave work. Seen through the door, there was nothing remarkable about the patient. Life signs were consistent with a trauma-induced coma. He had bruising on his face and body, fractured tibia, compound fracture of the right ulna. His injuries had been adequately tended at the hospital in Manhattan and were mending normally, some of the initial bruising little more than yellow stains on his skin now.
But House could have gathered that much from the admissions report and Park's initial assessment. He slipped into the room and closed the blind on the door, before using a passkey to open the locker in the patient’s bedroom. The man's jacket revealed nothing interesting. A U.K. passport and driver’s license, his return ticket on Virgin Atlantic, a pass for a medical conference in New York -- all in the name of Jamie Maddens; a wallet with no money in it save a few English coins; a set of keys with a tag that promised some company called Sainsbury's would return them to their owner if they were handed into a police station.
The wallet also contained a printed photograph of a black woman smiling happily on a beach. House glanced at the wedding band on the patient's hand and wondered if that was a picture of Mrs. Maddens. He moved on to inspect the contents of the patient’s bag.
"Uh, sir," came Park's voice from behind him. "We’re not on this case anymore. I'm sure you're not supposed to be looking in the patient’s bag when you’re not his doctor."
"How long have you been working with me, Park?" asked House, rummaging through the clothes in the bag.
"Um, long enough to know you do things you're not supposed to do if you think they'll help you diagnose a patient's problems?"
"Exactly. If I wanted a lecture on ethics, I'd ask Adams." He glanced up. "Oh, hi, Adams."
"Hi," said Adams flatly, arms crossed. “We already looked through all Maddens’s stuff this morning. We didn’t find anything relevant to his medical condition. He’s a pharmaceutical salesman; we checked with the conference he was meant to be attending last week and they confirmed he was there. Then you took us off the case and that’s all we got. But there’s nothing interesting in his bag.”
House finished looking through the bag; sweaters, shirts, pants, a toiletry case, a small tub of teabags, an orange plastic bag containing three or four days of dirty underwear. House straightened up.
“You’re right,” he said thoughtfully. “It’s what’s not here that’s interesting. Clothes, toiletries, passport, keys, driver’s license, empty wallet... Ten points if you can tell me what’s missing from that list.”
The women looked puzzled. Not for the first time, House wondered what it was like to live in their limited little minds.
“Bzzt.” He pretended to look at his watch. “Time’s up. No ideas?”
“No, but I have a feeling you’re going to tell us,” said Adams.
“Phone?” prompted House impatiently. “Everyone has a phone these days. Where’s this guy’s phone?”
“Your friend said he’d been mugged," said Park. "So it was probably stolen.”
"No. My 'friend' said he was running away from muggers. They wouldn't have been chasing him if they already had his phone and the contents of his wallet."
Adams shook her head. “So your 'friend' is lying. Maybe he took the phone because it contained information he wanted."
"Um, about his condition," said Park, "we got the ER doctor to redo a CT scan and X-ray this afternoon, but there’s no sign of concussion or a clot caused by his other injuries.”
“He was started on a course of antibiotics at the other hospital but with no improvement," continued Adams, "so it’s either a virus or a drug-resistant bacterial infection. We discussed it with Dr. Taylor, his attending, and decided --”
House stared at the patient's face, tuning out the rest of Adams's and Park's explanations about the patient's condition and treatment. The condition was irrelevant. The patient himself, however, was a different matter. The photograph in Maddens's passport was blurred and depicted a man with a square, lined face and large nose who could be practically anyone. It was similarly difficult to make out the man's features underneath the bruising and breathing mask.
But House had an excellent memory. He smiled to himself and walked out of the room, leaving his colleagues in mid-speech.
In the hospital car park, he walked confidently over to where he'd left his motorcycle. It was gone. Inspecting his pockets, he realized that his house keys and hospital badge were also missing.
He cursed Sherlock Holmes and pulled out his cell to call Wilson.
Porn was definitely getting worse these days, thought House. The girls had looked like Barbie dolls for years, all identikit tits and ass, and now even all the guys had plastic surgery. It was like watching a live action version of the Barbie and Ken “doctors and nurses” he used to play with Marcie Horowitz in fifth grade. Maybe less dirty, he thought with a chuckle as he poured another handful of popcorn into his mouth.
He turned the volume up when he heard the hum of a motorcycle outside. A couple of minutes later, his front door opened. Lying on his couch, which faced away from the door, House could only see the new arrival out of the corner of his eye. He pretended to be engrossed in his movie.
Sherlock took one look at the TV and wrinkled his nose, though he said nothing. He put House's helmet on the table by the door and hung up his long coat. He was still wearing the same outfit as earlier - a closely tailored grey suit and a dark red shirt. House tried to imagine Sherlock riding his bike dressed like that and wearing the crash helmet. He wished he'd looked out of the window when Sherlock had pulled up.
"I take it you have a spare key," said Sherlock, talking over the grunting and sighing from the television. He tossed the keys and badge he'd stolen at House.
"Yeah, one of my colleagues stalks me. So I gave him a key." House looked down at the keys. "You know, you could’ve just asked,” he said sarcastically. “I might have said yes.”
“I needed transport and you weren’t in your office,” said Sherlock. He looked around the living room thoughtfully. "I used to live in a flat on Baker Street in London. Same house number too. When I first visited the flat, the address sounded familiar so I took it. Now I realise I must have read your postal address somewhere."
"Ah, so you do subconsciously want to be me," commented House. "I've often wondered."
Sherlock gave him a dirty look. "I need your kitchen table."
Without waiting for an answer, he picked up the bag he had brought and strode into the kitchen. House turned off the television and followed him.
"Right. So you steal my keys, you steal my bike... You steal my hospital's equipment," he added, when he realized Sherlock had just pulled out a microscope with a Princeton-Plainsboro label on the side. "How did you get that home on the bike?"
"With difficulty. Next time, I'll take your car," said Sherlock. "How is the patient?"
"Unconscious. Boring. A waste of my team's time. A new case came in this morning so we're working on that."
"I doubt Mrs Leibnitz's failing kidneys will prove any less boring than Maddens's coma,” said Sherlock dispassionately. “I saw your colleagues had prescribed some new medication for Maddens. I presume you are satisfied with their course of action.”
“Yes. Very satisfied. They’re working on Mrs. Leibnitz now.” House observed Sherlock shrewdly. “You know, it would help if you told us everything you know about your Mr. Maddens. Or maybe explained why he's so important to you.”
“I’ve told you everything you needed to know,” said Sherlock, laying out glass slides and covers; all no doubt stolen from the hospital. “I wrote it all on the board before you wiped it. Luckily, Chi was taking notes. She’s confident their current course of treatment will clear up the infection and allow him to wake up.”
House wondered how Sherlock had gotten on first name terms with Park so quickly. He considered telling Sherlock what he'd noticed about the patient. But some information was more valuable when you held onto it until the right moment.
Sherlock continued his preparations in silence. House sat down at the table, opposite Sherlock, and after a moment, changed the subject.
"You know, I'm certain it's a felony to enter the United States under a false identity. I should report you to the proper authorities... Did anyone seriously buy the idea that you're Norwegian?"
"You found my suitcase."
"Figured you'd be coming back here so I looked around. 'Jeremy Sigerson'. Did you come up with that name on your own or was it from some kind of detective secret identity website?"
Sherlock was looking for a socket to plug in the microscope. "I chose the name and nationality at random. Fancied leaving the EU for a change. I can't exactly travel the world as Mr Sherlock Holmes (deceased), can I?"
"Guess not." House rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You must have needed a lot of help to pull this off. Do all your friends back in England know you're alive?"
"No. Just Mycroft. And he doesn't know where I am."
House found it made him feel a little better to know he wasn't the only one who had been duped. And that he knew something that Mycroft didn't.
"Why did you leave that message telling your roommate you were a fraud?"
Sherlock was now seated again. "People who commit suicide leave notes. I turned on the recording app on the phone before I called him.” His voice was emotionless, but his eyes were unfocused. “I thought recording the conversation and leaving the phone would stamp out any conspiracy theories before they started. The aftermath of suicides can be messy if there is no clearly stated motive.”
"Yeah," agreed House.
His colleague Kutner's unexplained suicide still irritated him years later, like an itch he couldn't scratch. The worst kind of mystery: one he couldn't solve. Sherlock's supposed death had been less of a mystery, an off-screen tragedy that had left House feeling strangely detached from the feelings he thought he should have. The event had coincided with a low point in his life, when his addiction to Vicodin had led him to hallucinate and he’d ended up in rehab. Mycroft’s phone call had seemed like just another bad dream.
But House had often asked himself over the following years why a healthy young man with his whole life ahead of him would lie to his best friend and then commit suicide.
The answer, apparently, was that he wouldn’t.
House observed Sherlock intently. He was older and thinner than he had been the last time they met, though the latter hardly seemed possible. There was no gray in his wavy hair, but there were fine, shallow lines around his eyes. It was incredible to think that only that morning, House had thought he would never see Sherlock’s narrow face again. He was almost wishing things had stayed that way.
On the other hand, Sherlock had at least brought a little mystery with him.
“Yeah. Good idea to leave a note, but that was kind of a crap motive to give people," said House thoughtfully as Sherlock busied himself with samples again. "The first thing the inquest proved was that you weren't a fraud. I guess you said that because you wanted everyone to think you were ordinary. Forgettable. Someone not worth grieving for.”
Sherlock's methodical preparations faltered for a split second. House leaned back and pulled a vial of Vicodin from his pocket.
“I bet deep down inside, you were happy to be dead. You wanted to stop being the Reichenbach Hero and go back to being Sherlock Holmes, the geeky freak who can say and do anything he wants because nobody cares. Not this guy who had to go on TV and pretend to be nice, who had to say thank you when he got gifts he hated. It's hard, being nice to people when you know what morons they really are. Believe me, I've tried."
"Yes, I can tell you were brilliant at it," said Sherlock sarcastically.
"But faking your own death was kind of extreme if you just wanted to lay low," continued House, ignoring him. "And you don't need to be dead, all on your own, to fight bad guys. In fact, I'd say that's kind of a handicap. There must have been some other reason. Something that required you to actually be dead. A deal with that guy Moriarty perhaps?"
Sherlock's body language suggested mild surprise. House rewarded himself with a couple of Vicodin pills.
"Let me see. He probably threatened to kill you anyway if you didn't jump. I guess faking your death is always better than actually being dead. But no," said House slowly. "The inquest said Moriarty was already dead when you jumped. So why still go through the trouble of faking your death? To protect yourself from his associates?"
Sherlock pulled on a pair of surgical gloves.
"Or protect your friends from his associates?” House tried again.
Sherlock's hesitation was almost imperceptible but House smiled in triumph.
"Ah. He found your weak spot, the one thing you couldn't protect from his people, because even Sherlock Holmes can't be everywhere at once. He threatened your friends. That's why you had to go through with it."
"Essentially, yes," said Sherlock in a tone that didn't invite further conversation.
"I didn't know you had any friends," said House. "Guess they were attracted to your charm and modesty."
“Amazing, isn’t it? Another thing I’m actually better at than you.”
Sherlock was extracting a fine brown powder from a small evidence bag. He sprinkled some onto a slide, used an eyedropper to place one drop of solution into the center and dropped a cover slip onto it so he could put it in the microscope. A small amount of the powder -- soil, House now realized -- spilled onto the table.
"You're messing up my table," said House.
“Look, I have work to do,” said Sherlock, leaning down to peer into the microscope. The light inside the device shone into his eyes, reducing his pupils to pinpricks. “I need quiet. If you're going to watch that film again, I suggest you use headphones."
"I take it you expect to stay here?" asked House.
Sherlock huffed in irritation at the continued interruption. "If you would be so kind as to put me up, yes, I would appreciate it."
House wondered if Sherlock even had a backup plan. His inspection of Sherlock's flight case had revealed even less than the patient's at the hospital. In fact, both contained such a similar mix of nondescript personal effects -- even though Sherlock's were considerably more refined and expensive than Maddens's -- that House decided Sherlock must have packed both cases specifically with his snooping in mind.
He very briefly considered turning Sherlock out on the street. He was under no moral obligation to put him up after all. On the other hand, until that morning, House had believed he would never see Sherlock again. Maybe this was their opportunity for a fresh start. Assuming it didn’t end badly like last time.
"I'm turning in," said House. "There are spare sheets in the closet in the corridor. You can make your own bed on the couch."
House pulled himself to his feet. "Listen, I'm on parole. If you're still using, I'd appreciate it if you'd do it someplace else."
Sherlock lifted his head from the microscope with an angry jolt.
"No, I don't use anymore." He eyed the vial of Vicodin that House was still holding. "You know, hydrocodone is categorised as a Class A drug in the United Kingdom. Back home, we’re exactly the same kind of addict. You must be so proud."
He gave House an insincere grin that made House want to kick him. Or mess with his head.
House was having a pleasant dream. It was either one of those where his leg was okay -- the kind that pissed him off when he woke up -- or the recurring one where some random brunette was giving him head. Either way, it vanished without trace when music burrowed its way into his brain and stirred him to consciousness.
It was a piano. Not any old piano, but recognizably his own piano in his living room. House sighed and glanced at the clock. Three-thirty-four a.m. Not a great time for Debussy. He considered simply closing his eyes and letting the familiar tune lull him back to sleep, but this was his apartment and he needed to lay down some ground rules.
To his credit, Sherlock was playing as quietly as was possible on a grand piano, his long fingers barely brushing each heavy key as they flew across the keyboard. His eyes were closed.
“You know there’s no moon tonight,” said House loudly.
Sherlock’s fingers lifted off the keys. He cocked his head slightly, listening to the very last vibrations of the chords inside the piano. Then he opened his eyes. He seemed puzzled by House's statement.
“Clair de lune,” explained House, moving closer. “I appreciate it's a night time tune but there’s no full moon tonight. Also I have work in the morning. People don’t fix themselves, you know.”
Sherlock hesitated but then lowered the fallboard over the keys. His hands continued to caress the polished wood when it was closed, not playing but moving over the smooth surface as if following some melody in his head. House knew that feeling, when music was buzzing in your mind and the need to play became almost obsessive.
“You’re... good,” he said, the compliment feeling strange on his tongue.
“Yes.” Sherlock sighed and stopped stroking the cover. “I had to learn the piano at school. I prefer the violin, but I left mine behind when I died. I’ve had to make do with what I could find since then.” Almost involuntarily, his hand reached up to touch the top of the piano. “This has been retuned recently. It’s pitch-perfect.”
“Pisses me off when it isn’t,” said House. Standing at the opposite end of the piano from Sherlock, he ran his hand possessively on the lacquered wood of the closed lid. "You didn't know you were playing Debussy's Clair de Lune?"
Sherlock shrugged. "It's the music that counts, not the composer."
"I guess so." House leaned on the piano, always ready to discuss one of his favorite topics. "Do you still compose? I remember you used to make up tunes when you were younger."
Sherlock stood up abruptly. He ran his hand through his thick hair and gave House an irritated look.
"Look, I find this awkward," he said. "You trying to... bond with me or whatever you’re doing."
"Yeah,” said House. He straightened up, leaning heavily on his cane as he backed away from the piano. “It's not like I haven't spoken to you in three years. And last time you called me before you swan dived off that hospital, you were in Minsk and wanted to know how to ask if a victim had lacerations in Russian.”
“You speak Russian. That was the only language the coroner understood,” said Sherlock as if it were obvious that calling House in the United States was the only option in that situation. “Turned out your Russian wasn’t much help anyway.”
Sherlock turned his back on House and went back to the kitchen, where he was apparently testing the alkalinity of different soil samples.
“You should go back to bed," said Sherlock. He sat down and started fiddling with the microscope. “I won’t bother you again.”
"Sure," snapped House, left standing in the middle of the living room. "I wouldn't want to make things awkward for you."
Sherlock said nothing. House observed his almost aristocratic profile a moment, with its slightly upturned nose and receding chin, and then smiled slyly.
"There is one interesting thing about your patient, by the way. The passport and return ticket in the bag you brought in with him say he's Jamie Maddens, born in Birmingham, U.K."
"Burmingum," corrected Sherlock, writing something on a notepad. 'Birmingham' was presumably one of those many things the English couldn’t be bothered to pronounce as it was written.
"But here's a funny thing,” continued House. “He looked kind of familiar, so I had a look through the online archives of some British newspapers this evening. Turns out under all that bruising, Mr. Maddens is a dead ringer for someone who got a lot of press in the U.K. when you jumped off that building.”
Although he said nothing, House could tell that Sherlock's attention was no longer focused on his work. His long fingers had stilled, resting on the notepad.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t work out that this guy was Dr. John Watson?” asked House.
Sherlock rubbed the back of his head absentmindedly with the pen he was holding, still silent but clearly agitated. House smiled with satisfaction and headed towards his bedroom.
“Good night, Sherlock."
Holmes meets Wilson and House meets Watson.
When House got up the next morning, Sherlock was lying face down on the couch, fast asleep, only his curly hair visible above the comforter.
“Not a bad dream, then,” murmured House. He limped back down the corridor again.
He considered doing what he usually did; getting dressed and going straight to work, with nothing but a couple of Vicodin on the way. But not knowing whether he’d have all his keys back by the morning, House had arranged for Wilson to come pick him up. Also, he was hoping to talk with Sherlock before leaving.
House got dressed and was searching for cereal in his kitchen when he heard Sherlock get up and go straight into the bathroom. Having found a packet of cornflakes, House looked at the equipment and sample bags all over the kitchen table. He considered being really nice and eating his breakfast off the dining table instead, but this was his home, so he cleared a space on the kitchen table with his forearm, pushing a pile of evidence bags and papers up against the microscope.
Shortly afterwards, there was a knock on the front door, followed by Wilson letting himself in.
“So I take it the thief brought your bike back?” he said, gesturing towards the front of the building, where Sherlock had parked the motorbike the night before. “Did you find out who did it?”
In his impatience to get home and start looking for Sherlock’s stuff, House had told Wilson practically nothing about what had happened the previous day. He hadn't been in the mood to explain about Sherlock, and he had let Wilson draw the conclusion that some hospital visitor had stolen his keys and bike.
“Hmm. House keys are back too,” said House, holding them up. “You want cereal before we go to work?”
“No, thanks.” Wilson shook his head, standing in the kitchen doorway. “Right, so either you didn’t really lose your keys or you know who stole your keys and you just weren’t-- is that a microscope from the lab?”
“Yeah.” House ate a large spoonful of cereal and spoke with his mouth full. “It appears so.”
“What’s it doing in your kitchen?” Wilson looked mildly alarmed. “Are you experimenting on yourself again?”
“No, but he is.” House pointed at Sherlock, who had just appeared in the kitchen doorway behind Wilson. “Experimenting, that is. Not on me. In fact, he’s analyzing New Jersey soil samples from the look of things."
Wilson turned and did a double-take when he took in Sherlock’s appearance; wet hair, bare feet, silky pajamas half open at the chest. Pink silky pajamas.
“Mid-life crisis? Again?” suggested Wilson, raising his eyebrows at House.
Sherlock, the asshole, seemed to think that was funny, though he scowled when he saw the untidy state of his stuff on the table.
“It isn’t what you think, Wilson,” said House automatically, though he didn’t particularly want a conversation about what Wilson might be thinking. Damn it, who wore pink pajamas anyway?
Sherlock smirked and walked over to light the stove under House's tea kettle. He muttered something about backward countries that didn't have electric kettles.
“No, wait. I know you,” said Wilson suddenly, grinning and pointing at Sherlock. “You’re Charlie! House has pictures of you. You’re his cousin Margaret’s kid.”
House had forgotten that Wilson had seen the photos when they were living together some years back. Christ. He really had to stop telling Wilson stuff. Especially made-up stuff. And do something about Wilson constantly snooping in his things.
Sherlock glanced at House, clearly puzzled but prepared to play along. “Yeah, Cousin Margaret’s kid,” he repeated, putting on a passable imitation of Wilson’s accent.
“British Cousin Margaret,” explained House.
"Thank God for that,” said Sherlock in his normal voice. He sat at the table, looking disgusted. “I don’t think I could keep up the accent.”
“Oh, it’s not that hard,” said House sarcastically. “I’ve been doing it for years.”
Wilson extended his hand and smiled at Sherlock. “I’m Dr. James Wilson. I’m a friend of House.”
“Sherlock Holmes,” said the Brit, shaking Wilson’s hand warily. “Sherlock is my real name. I don’t call myself Charlie anymore.”
“Yeah. ‘Charlie’ was just a thing to stop kids calling him ‘Shirley’ at school,” explained House. He took another look at the pajamas. “Can’t imagine why they’d do that.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. Which really didn’t help with the looking gay. Perhaps sensing that there was some tension between the other two men, Wilson indicated the mess on the table and changed the subject.
“So I guess this is all yours, Sherlock,” he said with admiration. “House said you were a forensic toxicologist. Something of a genius, apparently.”
“Yes, a genius,” said Sherlock with no hint of modesty. He looked Wilson over. “I know quite a bit about you too. You used to live with House, just flatmates, of course. You’re neither of you even remotely curious about what might lie beyond the confines of the sexual norm in your part of the world. Over the years, though, you’ve become something of a constant in each other’s lives. Not necessarily a healthy thing but if no one else will have you, I suppose you have to take what you get. You get on well enough; you, Dr Wilson, enjoy House’s mind games because they make life interesting. He enjoys having your undivided attention, which he obtains by systematically scuppering any relationship you might have. As he is incapable of maintaining one of his own, he makes sure there is no competition for your attention. Beyond that, your main common points are your respective professions - House occasionally needs the input of someone who is knowledgeable about medicine but not actually employed by him - and the usual mundane occupations of heterosexual males with low ambitions for their personal lives; drinking, playing card games, making bets you invariably lose, and watching pointless sporting events on television.”
Wilson blinked. “Uh, yeah, something like that.”
House shook his head. "He’s just projecting. His ‘friend’ is in a coma at Princeton-Plainsboro,” he added, rolling airquotes as he spoke. “And by friend, I guess we’re talking about the kind that comes with pink pajamas.”
“Lilac, actually,” said Sherlock absently. The kettle had boiled; he rummaged in the untidy pile on the kitchen table and extracted one of the same round teabags that Watson had in his bag at the hospital. “And Jamie Maddens is a potential informant, not a friend.”
Sherlock continued as he prepared his cup of tea. “I’m actually a private detective," he explained, pouring milk, sugar and boiling water into a mug before dropping the teabag into it. "I never finished the forensic science degree.”
“You could have gone back,” pointed out House, still finishing off his breakfast.
Sherlock gave him a sharp look as he threw the teabag into the garbage. He sat at the table with House. “I got a job. An interesting job.”
“No you didn’t, you got yourself a hobby,” said House impatiently, dropping his spoon noisily in his empty bowl. “I read the coverage of the inquest. All the stuff they said about your time at school. I can’t believe you threw away the opportunity to become a scientist or a doctor. With your grades, you could have done anything! Instead, you chose to play Columbo while your brother paid your bills."
“Well, my life took a weird turn just before I started university,” said Sherlock with a shrug. “In the end, I didn’t feel it was for me.”
House stood up; he didn’t know where he was going or what he wanted to do, but he needed to get away from this conversation. Unfortunately, Wilson was barring the way out of the kitchen.
“I’m sure Sherlock uses his scientific knowledge a lot as a detective,” said Wilson affably, indicating the equipment on the table. He turned to Sherlock. “And you know, I often think House would make a great private detective. So they can be two sides of one coin. If you can make a living out of doing what you love, then that’s great.”
God, Wilson did spew some bullshit when he was trying to make peace. House gave him a grudging smile and put his cereal bowl in the sink as if that was what he had meant to do all along.
“Yes,” agreed Sherlock. “And my job did pay my bills. When Joh-- when I got clients, I started to do very well, and all without Mycroft’s bloody help, I might add.” He crossed his arms and pouted. “I’m a grown-up. I didn’t need him then and I don’t need him now.”
“Oh, yes, you’re the very picture of maturity,” said House with amusement.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at him. “I'm not taking lessons in maturity from a man who drives his car into his girlfriend's living room just because she dumped him.”
Wilson sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "Okay, listen, House, I guess now all your keys are back you don’t need a lift anymore, so I'll--"
"Actually, he does," said Sherlock without missing a beat. "I need transport and there's practically no petrol left in his motorcycle. I need his car. You’ll have to drive him to the hospital."
“You used up all the gas in my bike?” exclaimed House.
“I spent my money on other things. Your car keys, please.”
Sherlock held out his hand. House glared at him; they faced off for a minute, but House finally decided that one of them was going to have to be mature about this. It just wasn't going to be him. He detached his house keys and the key for the gasless bike and placed them on the table. He also threw a twenty-dollar bill alongside them.
"There's a gas station a couple blocks away," he said, taking great satisfaction from Sherlock's look of irritation. "You can take the bike and fill her up. I'm taking the car."
Sherlock scowled, but took the keys and the money. He dropped them into the breast pocket of his pajamas and extracted his notepad from the jumble of sample bags and equipment at the end of the table. He pretended to read his notes from the previous evening. House smirked, savoring his small victory.
"Right," said Wilson, holding his hands up as if that might encourage Sherlock and House to stay in their current stalemate long enough for him to escape unscathed. "I have a nine o'clock appointment so I have to go. I’ll see you at work, House. Nice meeting you, Sherlock. Hope your friend gets better soon."
He turned and left the apartment before anyone could involve him in any further arguments. Sherlock raised his eyes from his notepad, fixing House with a clear, light blue gaze.
“I didn't know she sent you pictures of me,” he said softly.
“I guess I was on her Christmas card list,” said House, lowering his eyes. He turned his back on Sherlock to wash his breakfast bowl. “Wouldn't have wanted to miss the sight of you in all those hilarious school uniforms.”
Sherlock laughed shortly. “My father said humiliating the governing classes at school was what made Britain great.”
“Yeah,” said House shortly, more irritated than he cared to admit by Sherlock's casual statement. "But then, Sherrinford Holmes was a pompous asshole, just like your brother."
Before House could say anything further about the men in Sherlock’s family, he was interrupted by a beep from his pants pocket.
"Oh, a pager," said Sherlock, spreading out his experiments again. “How quaint.”
House smiled when he read the message. "Good news. Seems your boyfriend is awake at last. So I guess you're coming to the hospital with me after all."
Sherlock continued to set up his soil analyses. “It's all right. I have some work to finish first. I'll come over later.” He looked up at House. “By the way, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't mention his true identity to anyone. If my theory about his presence here is correct, there is a good reason he used an assumed identity.”
“And I guess you're not going to tell me what that theory is,” said House.
“And you don't want to see him?” asked House, genuinely surprised.
“I haven't seen him for three years,” said Sherlock calmly. “I'm sure we can both wait a few more hours.”
House shrugged and went to put on his jacket. “Suit yourself... I’ll see you later. Just don’t blow up my kitchen like you did last time.”
He heard Sherlock grumble something about it only having been minor smoke damage. House left the building, feeling thoughtful. Maybe he had misjudged the situation after all.
House started off the morning by giving his team plenty to do. Half of them had hangovers, and they needed to be punished for having a good time without him. He dispatched Chase and Adams to investigate Mrs. Leibnitz's workplace in central Princeton for environmental factors, and gave Park and Taub tests to run all day to prove that their initial theories were wrong.
With all of them out of the way, he went down to see Dr. Watson. The man was indeed conscious and although he was visibly weak, he was slowly typing one-handed on his phone. Watson put the phone face down on his bed when House entered and closed the door behind him.
“Good morning?” said Watson in a croaking voice. His wary tone clearly said 'who are you and what are you doing here?'
“Brought you a present.” House held up the teddy bear he was carrying and put it on the table by the window. “Kid on the pediatric ward left it behind.”
Watson raised his eyebrows. “Who are you?”
“Oh sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I am your attending physician, Dr. House,” said House, putting on his best ‘caring doctor’ act. “So, Dr. Watson, how are you feeling today?”
The man stared at him blankly. “I think there's some confusion. My name is Jamie Maddens and I’m a pharmaceutical rep, not a doctor. My passport and driving license should be in my jacket if you want to check.” He moved his broken right arm and winced in pain. “But I’m feeling a lot better, thank you.”
“No, you’re not. I’ll bet you were feeling a lot better when you were in a coma, feeling no pain. And you’re not Jamie Maddens. You’re Dr. John Hamish Watson. You’re actually forty years old, not forty-five, and you were born in Aldershot, England, near your father’s army base.” House pulled an Internet printout from his pocket. “Unless you’re suggesting that The Daily Mail was lying when they wrote the caption to this photo?”
“You obviously don’t know The Daily Mail,” said Watson wryly, though he took the paper. He glanced at the picture of Sherlock at the top of the article - the one of him looking sinister under his deerstalker hat - then down at the photo of himself standing outside an official-looking building in London.
House leaned over to read the caption aloud. “Loyal: Holmes’s partner Dr John Watson leaves the inquest with girlfriend Mary Morstan.”
“Okay. It’s a fair cop,” said Watson with a long-suffering sigh, handing back the paper. “You got me. Now who are you really and what do you want? The only doctor I’ve met so far is Dr Park. And a Dr Taylor is the one listed as the consultant on my paperwork.” Watson smiled ruefully at House’s frown. “The night nurse kindly showed me my file when I woke up at three am. I don't like the look of my blood works, by the way."
"Neither do I, but at least they’re consistent with a trauma-induced infection, which is what we’re treating. Okay. I’m not your attending, but I am Dr. Park’s boss,” admitted House. “I’m following up on her work after your friend Sherlock Holmes convinced her to take on your case.”
He observed Watson intently; the man swallowed and lowered his eyes, his mouth set in a grim line. He looked a lot older than his forty years. House realized he really had misjudged the situation.
“You already know he’s alive,” he said flatly. Watson said nothing, so House continued. “He’s here in Princeton. Guess he chickened out of actually visiting you.”
“Yes, well, I doubt he has much to say after all this time,” said Watson in a dry voice. He picked up his phone as if intending to resume his typing.
“He’s staying away because he knows you’ll be mad at him,” said House, pacing, his cane thumping the floor. “I can't blame you. It was bad enough just after he jumped off the building. Trying to understand why a young man in his prime would take his life just because someone was trying to destroy his reputation. The only plausible explanation at first was that he had jumped out of guilt. That he really was a fake who pretended to be brilliant, but arranged his own cases to suit his purposes. Except anyone who knew him would immediately know that wasn’t true. It was disproved within months by the endless inquest into his death. Witness after witness saying he really was that clever, and a mounting pile of evidence to show that he couldn’t have committed those crimes. So for years, you grieved for him; for the pointless death of an innocent young man who could have been so much more.”
House limped over to the window and adjusted the position of the teddy bear. “But now, it turns out the death was a trick. It was a lie to dupe his enemies. But he didn’t just dupe his enemies. He lied to every one of his friends too. Even the man who lived with him. He made you bury him. Grieve for him. He forced you to rebuild your life without him. And now he’s back after all that time, after you’d finally gotten used to the idea that you would never see him again. Back after putting you through all that pain for nothing. That’s cold, even for Sherlock Holmes. I can see how you might have some issues with him.”
“I don’t know about me, but it definitely sounds as if you do,” said Watson with a hint of amusement in his large eyes. He had lowered the phone again.
“Really? You don’t have any issues?” asked House in disbelief. “But you were -- what? His live-in P.A., his bachelor companion, his loyal roommate, his partner... The man so close to him that everyone assumed they were lovers. My god, the British press sure as hell lived up to its reputation for innuendo when it came to you two. And you totally played into it with your grieving widower act after he died. Visiting his grave, picking fights with anyone who spoke ill of him. The press loved it.”
Watson's eyes darkened. “I got over it. I moved on.”
House glanced at the ring on Watson’s finger and the picture on the printout. The 'girlfriend' identified in the article wasn’t the same as the woman on the photograph in Watson’s wallet. Given the other contents of Watson’s carefully packed bag, House decided to place his trust in the Daily Mail.
“My condolences, by the way,” said House, struck by a sudden realization. “Your wife. She died recently, didn't she?”
Watson sucked in his breath. “You’ve certainly done your research,” he said coldly.
“Your socks,” explained House, though he was annoyed that it hadn’t actually occurred to him to research Watson’s wife online. “Most of the holes have been darned. You don’t look the type to care about appearances, which suggests you lived with a woman who enjoyed sewing. It makes sense that having recently lost Sherlock, you would have attached yourself to someone who was his polar opposite in every way. But some of the darned socks now have new holes in them, which tells me you’re no longer with the little wife. You still wear your wedding ring, so you’re not separated, and your hair is grayer than it was three years ago. You cared for her while she was dying. Cancer?”
“Anaplastic carcinoma of the thyroid.”
Watson’s lips were pressed into a thin line, but he rolled his eyes. "Trust Sherlock Holmes to find the one doctor in North America who is basically him with a limp.”
But House had already lost interest in the conversation. He glanced at the phone Watson was still holding -- the one that had been missing the previous night -- and smiled.
“Actually, he’s me with a British accent,” he said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a coward to catch.”
He walked out of the door, swinging his cane, and set about exploring the hospital.
This week: House finds out more about Sherlock and John’s relationship.
House eventually found Sherlock hiding in the lab. He was sitting with his feet up on the workbench, holding a hot drink while Park, on the other side of the table, tidied up her work area. For once, Sherlock had removed his coat, which lay on a chair beside him. He was wearing a slightly different suit with a purple shirt not unlike one House himself owned, though Sherlock’s was probably genuinely from Dolce and Gabbana.
Watching them through the glass door, House was fascinated by the way Sherlock was observing Park, his face lighting up with interest whenever she looked at him, only to revert back to boredom when her gaze was averted. Park was babbling and playing with her dark hair, her bright eyes rising to look at Sherlock every few seconds even though she was meant to be working. Whatever his inclinations, Sherlock clearly had an effect on the ladies–or at least insecure, geeky ones like Park.
House rolled his eyes and decided he should come to her rescue.
“You do know he’s gay, right?” he said as he walked in.
Park glanced from House to Sherlock in surprise. “I– I wasn’t, I mean we’re only talking.”
“Sure,” said House, pulling a chair over so it was level with Sherlock’s feet on the table. “But I don’t employ you talk to tall, handsome strangers with sexy British accents when you could be doing Mrs. Leibnitz’s stress test.”
“Oh. Yeah, sure.” She looked down at her results. “I was done anyway. Um, the results were negative just like you said they would be.”
Park hastily gathered up her clipboard and left. House sat down next to Sherlock.
“Don’t mess with my staff, Sherlock.”
“I wasn’t ‘messing’, we were having a conversation.” Sherlock leaned back on his chair and smirked. “You think I’m gay because I wear lilac pyjamas?”
“In this case, ’Gay’ is just a convenient shorthand for ‘don’t touch’,” said House. He nodded towards the door Park had just exited from. “Just a subtle hint to warn her that you’re leading her on. And it’s nothing to do with the pajamas. I remember you saying girls weren’t your thing.”
Sherlock shrugged. “I was seventeen. Besides, it doesn’t follow that boys are my thing. I have better things to do with my time than have sex.” He finished off his drink and straightened up, sweeping his feet off the table with a fluid movement House could only envy. Sherlock waved his hand dismissively. “Sex is a pointless activity.”
“You’re obviously not doing it right,” said House, horrified at the thought of sex being pointless. “Or not doing it with the right person. And don’t pretend you’re not interested. You’re not asexual if that’s what you’re suggesting. You have a libido. Yesterday, when you gate-crashed my staff meeting, you spent the most time looking at Chase, who I guess is the most attractive member of my team.”
Sherlock observed the contents of a Petri dish in front of him. He had apparently relocated his soil analysis experiments to the Princeton-Plainsboro lab.
“If you say so,” said Sherlock with amusement. “He’s also your longest serving assistant. He has learned to be guarded about his appearance and his emotions, and I found him a little harder to decipher than your other colleagues. It’s rather interesting, actually. He’s roughly the same age as me. He obviously looks up to you. He’s adopted your beard and short hairstyle. And he gets quite protective of you when someone he doesn’t know criticises you.”
“Yes,” said House, deadpan. “I needed a surrogate son so I adopted a... blonde Australian. Not one of your sharpest deductions there. It’s more a case of not being able to get rid of him. Plus he always has an entertaining love life.”
“Well, I don’t.” Sherlock prepared a new slide before peering at it in a microscope. “And if I had a type, he wouldn’t be it.”
“No, I guess if short men with big noses are your thing, I should set you up with Taub,” said House with amusement. “I’ve seen your boyfriend, I know what you like.”
Sherlock snorted derisively without raising his eyes from the device. “For the record, since it was important to him, John and I weren’t lovers. He isn’t gay and I’m not interested in that kind of thing. Our relationship was purely platonic.” He gave House a sly look. “You lived with Wilson. Did you have sex with him?”
“That’s different,” said House, though he found the notion amusing.
“Why?” Sherlock pushed a strand of dark hair out of his eyes. “Because John and I are so much younger and better looking?”
“No. Because you look gay. My ex’s two-year-old daughter had a bob like yours.” House wondered how old Rachel was now, but dismissed the thought. He frowned at Sherlock’s hair. “I liked it better the way you had it last time.”
“Ah yes. The All-American clean-cut teenager look,” huffed Sherlock. “I remember that.”
“I guess coming from such an odd family, trying to be ordinary was your idea of teenage rebellion.”
Sherlock suddenly straightened up as if a thought had just occurred to him. “Did you split up with Stacy because of your leg?”
House automatically looked down at his leg, puzzled by the non-sequitur until he remembered that Stacy was the one who had cut Sherlock’s hair that time. He had never worked out how she had persuaded Sherlock to sit still long enough.
His mind flashed back to Sherlock, nearly twenty years younger and maybe an inch shorter and several pounds lighter, looking at himself in the bathroom mirror.
“I look really ordinary now,” he’d said, running his hands over the short cut Stacy had just given him.
“Yeah, especially with the fetching outfit,” House had responded, unable to resist a dig at the clothes the poor boy had been obliged to borrow from one of their neighbors.
Sherlock looked down at the stripy shirt he was wearing and scowled, but Stacy wrapped her arms around House and gave them both a bright smile. “Oh don’t be so horrible, Greg. I think he looks very grown up and handsome with his hair like that.”
Sherlock’s scowl had vanished, replaced with a pleased grin that made him look about twelve years old.
God, that was a lifetime ago. Just thinking about the way things had been made House’s insides ache.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Sherlock without giving House time to respond. “Shame. I quite liked her.”
“Of course you did,” snapped House. “Your Mom had just died.”
Sherlock looked completely nonplussed by this statement. He apparently decided that the solution was to ignore it completely. He leaned down and resumed his observation of whatever was in the microscope.
“It’s interesting, really,” said Sherlock conversationally, adjusting the focus as he spoke. “How things change over time. Your life was very different the last time I was here. You were a healthy man in your prime, with an interesting job, a girlfriend who adored you, a large family house. And now look at you.”
House firmly clamped down on the emotions Sherlock’s casual remark provoked. Looking at the young man – younger man, Sherlock was no longer in the first flush of youth either – it occurred to House that he wasn’t even trying to be deliberately hurtful. It didn’t mean House didn’t want to hurt him back, though.
“Watson already knows you’re alive,” said House, observing Sherlock’s profile and pleased to see the almost imperceptible flick of his eyes towards House before they returned to the microscope. “Has known for some time by the look of things. Didn’t seem bothered whether you came to see him or not. It’s a shame, really, when you used to be so close. But then as you say, it’s ironic how things change.”
Sherlock gave one of his dramatic sighs. “I’d never realised before just how irritating it is to be with someone like me. You really enjoy the sound of your own voice, don’t you?”
“I noticed his socks,” continued House, adopting Sherlock’s trick of ignoring anything that didn’t further his side of the conversation. “When did his wife die?”
Sherlock shot House a look of undisguised surprise. “Four months ago.” He gave a little half-sigh. “Yes, I gather Mary was a keen seamstress. John should really get himself some new socks.”
“That’s it,” said House, pursuing a sudden flash of inspiration. “That’s why you stayed away so long. Maybe you’d only planned to be ‘dead’ for a couple of months. But then, Watson got married and you realized your return would turn his life upside down. He was happy, content with his new life. But now his wife has been dead a few months, you think you can walk back into his life and things can go back to the way they were.”
Sherlock opened the centrifuge and put one of his experiments into it. “You obviously missed the bit about me needing to dismantle Moriarty’s criminal network.”
“Yeah, because all you need to dismantle a worldwide criminal network is one man with bad hair and a suitcase full of old clothes,” said House sarcastically. He decided he was unlikely to learn anything more about their relationship if Sherlock was hiding down here while Watson was laid up in a hospital bed upstairs. Time to up his game. “And don’t pretend. You care about Watson. Maybe you care too much.”
Though he raised his eyebrows at that, Sherlock continued his tests. It was already starting to feel familiar, House talking and Sherlock pretending not to listen.
“You know, you’re a lot like me,” said House, trying to sound sincere without sounding too unlike himself. “I hate seeing people I care about in pain. That’s why my last girlfriend left me, you know. The one whose house I demolished. She had a cancer scare and I couldn’t handle it. Hid myself away.” He stood up and, just for good measure, patted Sherlock on the shoulder. Sherlock looked as if he’d just been assaulted. “I know how scary it is to have to cope with that. So you take all the time you want until you’re ready to visit Watson.”
Sherlock raised his eyebrows. “Well, at least you’re not advising me to adopt your idea of coping and take all the drugs I want until I’m ready to visit John,” he said brightly.
House made a mental note to find out exactly who had been talking to Sherlock and play a childish prank on them. In the meantime, he returned to his office to see if the subtle seed he had planted would bear any fruit.
About half an hour later, House was sitting at his desk, staring intently at his computer screen, when Wilson poked his head around the glass door.
“Hey. You heading for some lunch?”
“Yeah, I’ll see you down there,” said House without looking up.
Instead of leaving, Wilson came in and closed the door. “Say, I wondered if you wanted to go out tonight. We could take Sherlock somewhere.”
“Right. Show him the bright lights of Princeton, New Jersey,” said House sarcastically, twirling a ball and keeping his eyes on the screen. “You know he lives in London, right?”
It occurred to him that he didn’t actually know where Sherlock normally lived now. But just as Wilson started to mention a pizza and the game on TV, House raised his hand.
“Showtime,” he said, turning up the volume on his computer.
Puzzled, Wilson looked over House’s shoulder. “Is that the ‘English Patient’ – what’s his name, Maddens?” He looked more closely at the low resolution footage. “You– you put a nannycam in Maddens’s room?”
On screen, Watson was lying with his eyes closed, apparently asleep. But in a corner of the screen, leaning in the doorway, stood Sherlock, cutting a forbidding figure in his long dark coat. For a long time, nothing happened; Watson slept and Sherlock watched.
Then something startled Watson and he woke up with a jerk. He immediately turned toward the door and saw Sherlock. He didn’t smile or say anything; he just observed him silently with the same grim expression he’d given House earlier that morning.
“Hi,” said Sherlock with a shy smile.
“Three years and the best you can come up with is ‘hi’?” said Watson. His voice was hoarse and he winced in pain as he pushed himself further up his pillows to see Sherlock more clearly.
“I’d rehearsed better speeches. I’d planned better circumstances.” Sherlock took a step forward and waved his arm at the room. “But even I can’t plan for everything.”
Watson went quiet again. Standing beside House in the Diagnostic Department on the floor above, Wilson sighed.
“House, what are you hoping to see here? This is private.”
“Sherlock says they’re not lovers,” said House shortly, as if that made the scene less private. “Fifty bucks says he’s lying.”
Wilson sighed. “Ah. So it’s a puzzle. I should have guessed.”
“Pull up a chair if you want to see yourself lose the bet,” said House, even though he didn’t really want Wilson there; who knew what Sherlock might reveal while he was talking to Watson? On the other hand, the only truly dangerous piece of information was Watson’s true identity, and Wilson could be trusted with a secret like that. “The rate these two are going, it could be hours before they say anything interesting anyway.”
“I’m not betting. You probably already know for sure that your cousin’s son is gay. So this isn’t much of a mystery.” Wilson sat down beside him nonetheless. “You know, House, there are times when I really think you live on a different planet from the rest of us.”
“That’s because you all live on Planet Ordinary.” House handed him a packet of nuts. “Peanut?”
Meanwhile, on screen, Sherlock had edged slightly further into the room. He was staring intently at Watson, his normally narrow eyes wide, an almost childish look of anticipation on his chiseled features.
“You look older,” he said, his deep voice still hesitant. “Your hair is greyer.”
“Oh, thanks,” said Watson sarcastically. “You... look exactly the same. You’re even wearing the same bloody coat. And the same shirt.” He laughed humorlessly. “What did you do, buy yourself a spare set for emergency fake deaths?”
Sherlock’s shoulders slumped and he halted his slow progress towards the bed. “Listen, I needed a reliable witness. If I couldn’t convince you–“
“Oh, I was never difficult to convince, was I?” said Watson coldly. “You knew I was susceptible to the gas from Baskerville, so you used the phone call to plant the idea that you were going to die. Then all you needed to do was jump and get one of your friends to dose me and I would see what I expected to see even though the body on the ground wasn’t yours.”
“When did you work it out?” asked Sherlock, looking impressed.
“I didn’t.” Watson’s tone was bitter and Sherlock was visibly taken aback. “Greg said there was a rumour that you’d faked your death and we worked out how you did it after that.”
House noticed Wilson looking at him. “Different Greg,” he explained. He guessed Watson was referring to a Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade who had been mentioned in the U.K. press.
“Well, we worked it all out mainly after Molly told us how you did it,” continued Watson. “We never were that quick on the uptake, were we, and that was one bloody complicated plan you put in place. I don’t know about the killers, but you and Mycroft certainly had me and Greg stitched up.”
Sherlock looked deflated; he was staring at Watson, whose eyes were downcast. For nearly a minute, neither of them said anything.
“I don’t know how the British get anything done with those stiff upper lips,” said House.
Wilson helped himself to a peanut and chuckled politely.
In the end, though, Watson reached out to press the medication button on his morphine drip and cleared his throat.
“So is this your coming out– I mean, coming back party? Are you going to stop pretending to be dead?”
“I don’t know,” said Sherlock evenly. “Maybe.”
“Just for the record, to be clear, before you tell me you’re sorry – at least I bloody hope you are – and I say it’s all water under the bridge and whatever.” Watson cleared his throat again; it was obviously a nervous tick of his. “I don’t want to work with you anymore, Sherlock. Or live with you and all that. It was fun while it lasted but I don’t need that anymore.”
“Yes. I gather you’ve got a new job,” said Sherlock sharply. “Being a paramedic wasn’t exciting enough for you.”
Watson gave him a crooked smile. “I got a better offer. And I was doing just fine until I saw you down there. I should have run the other way, but no, I just had to make bloody sure. And then, then I don’t know what happened. Suddenly, I was lying on the ground, staring up at you. I can’t remember what happened next.”
House’s mind couldn’t help considering the possibilities. A stroke? An aneurysm? He was so distracted by Watson’s symptoms that he missed part of the conversation. Sherlock said something about taking Watson to the hospital, but Watson didn’t seem interested.
“God, I’m going to be the laughing stock of the whole bloody country when this gets out.”
“They’ll have forgotten.”
“The papers never forget anything, Sherlock,” snapped Watson. “It’ll be front page news. ‘Super Sleuth faked own death. Bumbling flatmate didn’t even notice.’ I’ll be the idiot who swore he saw you die before his very eyes. The idiot doctor who didn’t even notice you weren’t dead. Congratulations, Sherlock, you might not be the world’s most intelligent man but you’re sure as hell the most convincing liar. They’ll dredge up that recording again – you telling me, confessing that you were a fake. That you invented Moriarty. Why on Earth did you say that?”
Sherlock paced. “I didn’t think I would be gone this long. I thought – I thought it would call off Moriarty’s killers if I gave them exactly what he’d wanted – me, dead, destroyed, my very reputation annihilated. All I wanted at that time was to hunt them down and kill them. I thought it would be easier for you too. I knew you’d be upset. People are always upset when other people - family, friends, even people they barely know - die and I didn’t want that when it wasn’t even true. I thought you’d grieve for a friend, but not a man who had lied to you, not someone who wasn’t the man you thought he was.”
“I was in love with you, you berk!” exclaimed Watson. “Nothing you said would have convinced me you weren’t the man I thought you were.”
House noticed the increased blood pressure on Watson’s BP monitor, and he leaned forward, eager to hear more.
“So much for the stiff upper lip,” said Wilson. “And you were right about them after all. I’m glad I didn’t take on that bet.”
“Yeah, me too. I’d owe you fifty bucks right now.” House could see the look of utter astonishment on Sherlock’s face. However evident they might have been to the British press, Watson’s feelings were apparently news to Sherlock. “They really weren’t lovers.”
“And yes, I am aware I just said that out loud,” said Watson on screen, a little sheepishly. “Christ, I didn’t think about it at the time, but I must have been to put up with the amount of crap you put me through. But that was three years ago. I was an idiot and yes, eventually, I worked out that you weren’t quite as impressive as you seemed. And that you certainly didn’t give a fig about us, any more than you did about anyone else whose life you saved. Molly said you thought Moriarty would threaten to kill us to get at you, but you know what, that’s not really why you jumped. In the end, it was all about outwitting Moriarty. About having the last bloody word.”
“House, wasn’t the guy who shot you a few years back called Moriarty?” asked Wilson.
House shrugged. “It was an alias,” he said shortly, not wanting to miss any more of the conversation on screen.
“So I got over it,” concluded Watson. He fixed Sherlock with an even, unwavering stare. “I’ve moved on.”
“I know,” said Sherlock softly. He looked away, accidentally staring straight at the camera. “I’m sorry about Mary. She looked like a... good person.”
“She was,” said Watson with a weak smile. He closed his eyes a moment. “I take it you’re the one who brought my things here.”
“Yes. I found your hotel card.” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, still focused on the teddy bear that was hiding the camera. “I made sure everything was safe.”
“Good. That’s a relief. I might need that here, to be honest.”
“They won’t find you.”
“Yeah, well, I’d feel safer in case they do.” Watson shifted uncomfortably and cleared his throat again. “I seriously didn’t know what to do when I saw you with Câmara. What the bloody hell were you–“
Sherlock suddenly peered into the lens, giving House and Wilson an unflattering fish eye view of his narrow face.
“Silurian mountains,” he said.
House rolled his eyes at what was obviously some kind of code word. And indeed, Watson immediately interrupted what he’d been about to say. His expression brightened considerably.
“Dangerous?” he asked.
“Harmless,” said Sherlock confidently, his magnified nose still filling most of the screen. “I don’t think anyone knows you’re here, Jamie.”
“I think we’ve been rumbled,” said Wilson with amusement.
That was confirmed when Watson suddenly groaned. “Oh God. I just said I was in love with you.”
“Well, three years ago,” said Sherlock, his lips quirking into a smile as he straightened up and walked away from the nannycam. “And to be fair, who could blame you? I am one of a kind.”
“No, you’re not.” Watson exhaled in pain as he shifted his position again, but he gave Sherlock a cheeky grin. “I met your friend Dr House this morning. How on Earth did you find a doctor who is exactly like you, only twenty years older?”
“Nineteen, actually. And I’m not a bit like him,” said Sherlock petulantly.
“Who is he, a former teacher of yours? Your childhood role model?”
“He was one of my mother’s students. Her favourite, I suppose.” Sherlock shrugged. “Since he wasn’t a million miles away from New York, I thought I might as well bring you here to see him. He’s a diagnostician.”
“That would explain the arrogant attitude, then.” Watson frowned. “So they still don’t know what’s wrong with me? The nurse said they’d ruled out most known infections and were hoping for the best. She did say Dr House was an arse, but that he was the best.”
“Oh, you’ve already been making friendly with a nurse, have you?” Sherlock looked out of the door. “The blonde or the brunette?”
“The Asian girl, Nurse Rajachandrani,” said Watson. He watched Sherlock with an amused look. “She apparently has family in Crouch End.”
Still sitting beside House, Wilson helped himself to some peanuts. “If the English call Indians ’Asians’, what do they call Asians?”
“East Asians?” said House. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Well you apparently had a doting English teacher when you were a kid... a teacher who I take it wasn’t your British cousin Margaret after all.”
“No. She was my chemistry lecturer, actually,” said House shortly, straining to hear the men on the screen. “And I wasn’t a kid, I was in college. Aha.”
While House and Wilson were talking, Sherlock had moved closer to Watson’s bed. They were laughing at something one of them had said about the nurse, though thanks to Wilson, House had missed the joke.
“You really haven’t changed. You immediately worked out who gave me that teddy bear, didn’t you?” said Watson, looking over at the camera. They had apparently decided to drop the secrecy charade.
“Yes,” said Sherlock, following his gaze. “But to be fair, House gave me a teddy bear last time we met too. So it was a bit of a tip-off.”
“So you knew him when you were a child?” queried Watson. He was looking at Sherlock with a tender curiosity which belied his earlier declaration about not wanting to have anything to do with him anymore.
“Not really.” Sherlock scowled, a crease appearing at the top of his nose. “I was seventeen.”
House smiled at the memory; especially how insulted Sherlock had been when he had found the bear in his bed.
On screen, Sherlock’s nostrils flared. “I can smell blood. A lot of–“
He turned and stared at Watson; dark blood was seeping out of his nose and ears, and he was looking up at Sherlock in horror.
“Help! Nurse!” yelled Sherlock, before springing over the end of the bed to pick up the nannycam. “Greg! I need help here, now!” The camera fell to the ground, filling House’s computer screen with a view of Sherlock’s shoes on the floor.
But House was already on the phone, calling in help and getting a page out to his team. Still holding the phone to his ear, he limped out of the door, Sherlock’s voice echoing out one last time before Wilson shut down the feed.
“God, Greg. Please help him! John! John–”
This week: John is less boring, Sherlock is odd, and Wilson isn’t an idiot.
“Change of plan,” said House. “It turns out ‘dying’ is less boring than ‘in a coma because he bumped his head’. We’re working on Jamie Maddens.”
All four members of House’s team had just come out of the elevator, having been paged back from their lunch. They were used to being ambushed by House, and none of them batted an eyelid as he turned his back on them and headed towards his office, expecting them to meekly follow like a gaggle of ducklings.
“Four days ago, the patient fell off a building, went into a coma two days later, woke up twelve hours ago, and then hemorrhaged while talking to Sherlock Holmes. Theories?”
“He’s allergic to Sherlock Holmes?” muttered Chase.
House thought of Sherlock standing ashen-faced and silent outside the room until Watson had been stabilized. He had walked away without a word when House came out and told him he was going to take the case after all. God only knew where he was now. House had at least expected a thank you.
“Thrombocytopenia is a potential side-effect of pretty much every drug he’s received since he got into hospital, but his blood and liver seemed normal when he was admitted here yesterday,” said Park, panting a little with the effort of keeping up with House. “We don’t have a full medical history. Maybe the hemorrhage is due to an interaction with something he was already taking.”
“Warfarin can cause clotting disorders,” suggested Taub. “And it interacts with most antibacterials and some types of foods. That would definitely explain the bleeding.”
“He’s a healthy man in his mid-forties,” said Adams. “We have no evidence he’s taking Warfarin.”
“We have no evidence that he’s a healthy man in his mid-forties.” House paused and pretended to think, his hand on the door to the Diagnostics Department. “Well, okay. Maybe we have evidence he’s a man. I’d take nothing else for granted.”
He was mildly surprised to find that Wilson was still in his office. Judging by the look on his face when he joined the team in the meeting room, Wilson had been hoping to catch House alone. House made a mental note not to let Wilson corner him today.
“You’re taking the case,” stated Wilson as the team settled around the table. “Maddens. You’re going to work on him.”
He looked relieved; maybe he’d been lying in wait to berate House if he didn’t take the case. House couldn’t see how this was any of Wilson’s business.
“Yeah. I find that blood everywhere always livens up a case.” House indicated a free chair. “Unexplained blood everywhere is like Christmas come early. Why don’t you join us?”
“Because it’s probably not cancer?” said Wilson. However, he apparently didn’t have anything better to do, or seriously wanted to talk to House as soon as the team was out the door, because he still took up House on his invitation and sat down.
House copied out everything Sherlock had put on the board the previous day, adding ‘hemorrhage’ and, since he now had the preliminary test results he had ordered, ‘abnormal liver function’ to the symptoms.
He added his team’s suggestions as they came up with them, systematically crossing out everything that didn’t fit. The lack of a patient history was a challenge, but given that some of the diagnoses included fun things like alcohol poisoning, he was looking forward to getting an ad hoc history from Watson himself after the meeting.
With that in mind, he was about to dispatch his team to perform a further series of tests revolving around coagulopathy and the state of Watson’s liver when Sherlock burst in with a wad of print-outs. He was still wearing his heavy coat and scarf indoors, which would have been hilarious if his expression hadn’t been so grim.
“Oh. If I’d known he was going to be here, I would have brought some popcorn,” said Taub with amusement.
“Maddens’s NHS record,” announced Sherlock, handing the papers to House. “I heard you telling the ICU team you didn’t have a full patient history, so I assume this will be useful.”
House perused the file rapidly. The name and date of birth had been removed from the front page, as well as most other personal details – using a sloppy Find and Replace, House noted – but it looked like it could be Watson’s file. House assumed Sherlock wouldn’t be stupid enough to mess around with them at this stage. He threw the pages on the meeting table.
“Everyone pick a page and give us anything that might be related to his condition. Especially anything that might point to something else than idiopathic liver failure.”
House hated idiopathic conditions; things that appeared to have no specific cause annoyed him. He liked his puzzles to have an answer. The only problem right now was that there were too many answers on the board.
“I already checked. There isn’t anything useful,” said Sherlock. He settled on the couch in the corner, kicked off his shoes and sat huddled in a ball, his knees tucked under his chin.
Taub looked up with a puzzled expression. “Um, there are no personal details on these papers. How do we know this is Maddens’s file?”
“Because I say so,” snapped Sherlock. “Now tell me what you find.”
“Perhaps you could start by telling us what you know,” said House. “Just in case there aren’t any mind-readers in this room.”
“I told you.” Sherlock huffed. “He was running away from some gang, across the rooftops, and then he saw me, he fainted, and fell off the building.”
“See, allergy to Sherlock Holmes,” muttered Chase under his breath.
“He was conscious when he was admitted to the first hospital,” said Park. “And Dr. Taylor redid the CT scan yesterday and there was no bleed on the brain. But maybe the symptoms we should be looking at are why he fainted when he saw Sherlock, and his current bleeding. Maybe the coma itself was just trauma-related after all.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “You think it’s a coincidence. He had some kind of blood disorder and it just happened to manifest when he fell? You should be investigating what would cause all the symptoms, including the initial fall and the coma, not relying on nonsense like coincidence to justify your lack of imagination!”
“House, why is Holmes here?” asked Chase, probably voicing what the rest of his colleagues were thinking. “We don’t normally have friends and family sit in on our meetings.”
House unfortunately caught Wilson’s eye at that moment and was irritated to see his friend raise his eyebrows knowingly. On the one hand, Chase was right; they usually kept relatives at bay while they looked for a diagnosis. On the other hand, House knew that if he told Sherlock to go, he would refuse, and while that might lead to the kind of entertaining scene that Stacy had patiently broken up when Sherlock visited them as a teenager, House had work to do.
“Don’t worry about Holmes,” he said. “If he starts throwing toys out of his playpen, I have some crayons in my desk.”
Disappointingly, Sherlock didn’t seem to be listening and didn’t react, though House was rewarded with smiles from his underlings. “We’ll assume that’s Maddens’s file,” continued House, “or what’s left of it after a mysterious wavy-haired censor got hold of it. Park, want to start us off?”
“Well, it looks like he was a soldier. He was wounded in Afghanistan and suffered from PTSD after a shoulder injury. That scar we saw yesterday,” she said, looking at Adams, who nodded. “Makes alcoholism and substance abuse more likely. Or it could be some new Gulf War Syndrome? Might explain the PTSD and these new symptoms.”
“That wasn’t PTSD,” said Sherlock sharply. “His doctors were idiots. He just missed the excitement of being at war. And anyway that was four years ago. Someone would have noticed if he was sick back then.”
House wrote up ‘PTSD’ in the symptoms column. “Yeah, because someone is really good at noticing things that are right under his nose.”
Sherlock gave him a dirty look and wrapped his arms more tightly around his knees. House smirked with satisfaction and took a dose of Vicodin.
“He was admitted to the hospital in 2010 with a suspected overdose of... Sodium Nitrate?” said Adams, staring at the page, clearly puzzled as to how anyone might overdose on a common food preservative. “There’s no mention of the cause but repeated exposure to that level–”
“It was a one-off,” said Sherlock impatiently. “That isn’t the problem.”
“He’s been treated for exposure to other chemicals too. His admission form says he works for a pharmaceutical company in the U.K., Albion Pharma,” continued Adams, only giving Sherlock a cursory glance.
“Maybe we should contact them and ask what they’re working on,” said Chase.
House scoffed at the idea. “Yeah, because pharmaceutical companies really like revealing their plans for world domination. And this is assuming he does work for a pharmaceutical company at all.” He looked at Sherlock, but the man’s poker face was excellent.
“Acetaminophen poisoning could explain the coma and liver failure,” suggested Taub. “It’s also associated with a higher risk of bleeding than other causes of liver failure.”
“Poisoning,” murmured Sherlock. He uncurled his long legs and went to read the board as House added ‘Tylenol poisoning’ to the list of possible suspects.
“That’s paracetamol to our British cousins,” said House, observing Sherlock intently. “I guess it depends what our friend ‘Maddens’, the ‘pharmaceutical rep’, was doing with his ‘life’ before he fell off that building.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I know it’s paracetamol. I do read American medical journals, you know. But I doubt he was knocking back pain killers just before he was mugged.” He frowned as he read the board, a crease appearing at the top of his nose; it was an expression House sometimes saw in his own mirror. “Alcohol poisoning? He isn’t an alcoholic! His sister is an alcoholic and he despises her.”
“Yeah, because addictions don’t run in families,” snarled House. “And how would you know? You hadn’t even spoken to him for three years until this morning.”
Sherlock said nothing, but he scowled at House and defiantly added an A to ‘hemorrhage’ so that it read ‘haemorrhage’. House was tempted to write ‘diarrhea’ on the list, just to see if Sherlock would add an O after the H to make it “diarrhoea”.
“Talking about addictions,” said Chase, interrupting their stand-off. “He was prescribed Paroxetine tablets after he was discharged from the army, and it looks like there’s a recent prescription for other anti-depressants too.”
“His wife died a few months ago,” said Wilson shortly, eyes on the paper in front of him.
“Still, that’s twice in five years.”
“Make that three times,” said Taub, raising his own sheet of paper. “Patient was prescribed SSRIs and one doctor even recommended putting him on a suicide watch after... the death of his ‘flatmate’ Sherlock Holmes three years ago.”
It was almost comical to see how everyone at the table turned to look at Sherlock.
“I must have missed that bit when I was editing it. And anyway, that’s irrelevant,” said Sherlock. He waved his hand dismissively, but started pacing and rubbing his forehead in agitation. “He fell off a building and became sick in hospital. What he did or didn’t do four months ago or three years ago or five years ago is irrelevant. You’re wasting your brain power on nothing. More coincidences!”
Chase ignored him. “A history of depression or mental illness, combined with a family history of alcoholism, would make him more prone to substance abuse. If he took an overdose of something that isn’t covered by our tox screens, or that was already out of his system by the time he was admitted to the hospital, that could explain all his symptoms. Especially if we confirm that the underlying condition is liver failure. Long-term abuse of–”
“I told you that isn’t it!” said Sherlock, practically shouting and resuming his frantic pacing. House wondered if they really were going to need crayons to keep him quiet. “John– Jamie wouldn’t do that. He just isn’t the type to take drugs. And believe me, I know something about taking drugs–”
“Yes, so you do,” murmured House under his breath as Sherlock continued to rant.
“Have you even smoked pot before?” House had asked all those years ago, glancing at the long-limbed youth sprawled in the chair beside him.
It hadn’t been a good day. His patient had nearly died twice and Stacy was off at some lawyers’ conference in Ohio. Given Sherlock’s habit of tying up their phone line all day, using their AOL dial-up to ‘IRC’ some boy back in England, House had hoped for a quiet smoke on the back porch, but he had no sooner sat down than the kid appeared, complaining that House had gone out to work when Sherlock wanted to talk to him.
“Of course I’ve smoked pot before,” said Sherlock casually. “We’re all ‘sorted for E’s and Whiz’ at school, as they say in the– song, I think.” He frowned for a moment as if the actual source of the quote escaped him. “So yes, I’ve taken all sorts of stuff. Besides, the only way you can survive boarding school is by getting high.”
“Yeah. I don’t want to break any illusions at your tender young age,” said House, his brain already pleasantly addled, “but I’m afraid that’s true of life in general.”
He had suspected there was a touch of youthful bravado in the boy’s confident assertion of widespread drug use. But Sherlock’s hand was still extended, a silent demand for the joint that House was holding, and House handed it over.
“No, we can’t rule out substance abuse, especially with his sister’s history,” said House, shaking himself out of his reverie and writing on the board. “Which gives us possible Serotonin syndrome if he’s overdosed on all those meds he’s been prescribed. Combined with his habit of brawling when anyone questioned Sherlock Holmes’s integrity after his ‘death’, I think liver damage following substance abuse is today’s winner.”
Sherlock was still pacing; House deliberately placed himself in his path, forcing him to come up short.
“He’s a doctor,” said Sherlock firmly. He had apparently decided that a living Watson was better than a dead ‘Maddens’. “He wouldn’t deliberately do anything to endanger his own health.”
“No, of course not. Doctors always take good care of their health,” scoffed House, leaning in so that he was practically nose to nose with Sherlock. “Especially when they’re suicidal. So this couldn’t possibly be anything to do with someone breaking his heart by, oh let’s say, pretending to be dead, maybe?”
“Or the fact that his wife actually is dead,” said Wilson, still seated at the table behind them. “Because you know what, that can be pretty upsetting too.”
House noticed the sympathetic look Taub gave Wilson. Then he wished he hadn’t, because he remembered Amber and felt a familiar, dull ache of guilt. He backed away from Sherlock.
“I can tell you one thing it isn’t. Cancer,” said Wilson, getting up. “Leukemia was an outside chance but it sounds like our patient’s dangerous life just caught up with him.”
Sherlock’s expression suddenly became thoughtful and without saying a word, he turned on his heels and went into House’s office, closing the door behind him. House and the rest of the team stared after him in disbelief.
“See how annoying it is when you do that to people?” said Wilson.
Though he had just stated his intention to leave, Wilson instead walked over to look through the blinds of the office. House joined him, and it wasn’t long before all the rest of the team was peering in too.
Inside, Sherlock was standing bolt upright, small eyes scanning the empty space immediately in front of him, his hands waving apparently at random in front of his face. Every few seconds, he would shake his head or roll his eyes in irritation.
“I don’t know about you guys,” said Taub, leaning over for a better look, “but I think that guy is kind of freaky.”
“Yes,” agreed Adams. “I wondered if he was some kind of sociopath when we talked to him last night. He was way too interested in that murder they talked about on TV.”
“You’re just sore because you flirted with him and he turned you down,” said Taub. Adams gave him a sour look.
“To be fair,” said Park, “I don’t think he noticed you were coming on to him.”
“Because I wasn’t,” said Adams firmly.
“It could be schizophrenia,” suggested Chase, observing Sherlock with interest. “He’s obviously having some kind of hallucination.”
“I’d go with Asperger’s,” said Taub. “When he makes eye contact, he does it very deliberately. He’s trained himself to do that. But mostly, he stares at your clothes.”
“Oh! Yes, that would fit,” said Park with excitement. “He is brilliant. I mean, he, um, helped me with those lab tests on Mrs. Leibnitz this morning and his memory is really impressive. He didn’t need to look anything up, and when I checked, he was right every time. Plus he has great attention to detail. He can guess things about you just by looking at you.”
“Yeah, kind of like–” started Adams, interrupting herself when she seemed to remember that House was standing right beside her.
House, for his part, was thinking that his entire team deserved to be put through a maze of his best mind games for the next few months. It was now clear that they had gone out with Sherlock the previous evening and let him coax all sorts of information out of them. House could imagine that for all his remarkable ability to deduce facts from random clues, Sherlock was not above a bit of old-fashioned research.
“Er, guys, Sherlock Holmes isn’t the patient,” said Wilson, glancing at House with something that looked inexplicably like concern.
At that point, Sherlock suddenly opened the office door. The six people clustered around it, House included, took an instinctive step backwards. Sherlock frowned and tilted his head very slightly, as if trying to work out what they were doing. House sighed. They probably looked pretty dumb, a bunch of doctors all standing together in a semi-circle around the door like curious school kids.
“So. Any luck exploring that busy ‘mind mansion’ of yours?” asked House, remembering Sherlock’s antics the last time he had met him.
“He’s been poisoned,” said Sherlock simply. “A dart to the neck while he stood on the building. I didn’t notice it at the time but it was still stored in my subconscious.” He raised an eyebrow at House. “And it’s a mind palace, actually.”
“Ah, I see, you upsized,” said House with amusement. “The mansion wasn’t large enough for that big head of yours.”
Apparently not listening, Sherlock just turned and walked out without further explanation, leaving a cluster of very puzzled looking doctors in the Diagnostics Department. House hoped he didn’t look quite as dimwitted as his colleagues.
“Wilson is right. It is annoying when people do that,” he commented, resisting the temptation to run after Sherlock and find out what he was planning.
Instead, he shooed Wilson out and gave various tasks to his staff. Whatever Sherlock was up to, House’s job was to fix Watson. His staff members were soon performing a battery of tests on the man’s blood and liver, while House took a moment to re-watch the video of Sherlock’s encounter with the patient, in case there were any clues as to Watson’s real occupation and why anyone would want to poison him. There were no easy answers to be found there; the only people who could tell him were Sherlock and Watson himself. Once the first results were in, House decided to follow his original plan and go see Watson again.
He was just entering the elevator when Wilson appeared from nowhere, slipping in before House could whack the door open again with his cane. House gave a long-suffering sigh and braced himself for what he guessed was coming.
“Twenty-two years,” said Wilson with a helpless gesture. “House, I have known you twenty-two years, and you never told me about Sherlock.”
“That’s not entirely true,” House pointed out reasonably. “You saw the photos.”
“Yes. And you lied to me about them.” Wilson shook his head. “When I found those photos of some kid in a British school uniform, I thought that maybe it was something you wanted to open up about… But you told me lies about a cousin in England and never mentioned him again.”
House looked up at the numbers above the door. “Twenty-two years and that still surprises you. Some might think it’s because you’re an idiot, but I find it kind of touching. Besides, I did tell you about Margaret.”
“Sure, you told me years ago that you had an affair with a married woman when you were in pre-Med at Johns Hopkins. You didn’t tell me she had a son!”
“Actually, she had two,” said House. “Her husband’s genes got lucky too. Odd behavior aside, though, I think mine turned out better.”
The elevator door pinged and House walked out. Wilson followed.
“House, why don’t you want anyone to know that Sherlock Holmes is your son?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” said House, turning to face Wilson when he reached Watson’s room. “I’m impressed by your stunning powers of deduction. And I would love to stand here and discuss just how close to a soap opera plot my life actually is.” He slid the door open. “But I have a sick patient to attend to.”
With that, he gave Wilson a smug grin and closed the door on him.
This week: House improves his bedside manner and Sherlock annoys everyone. But then he was pretty annoying as a kid too.
When he entered the room, House was surprised to find one of the nurses, a young blonde, sitting by the bed, apparently just keeping Watson company. Watson had already been thoroughly cleaned up following the earlier incident and the latest check-up by Adams and Park suggested he wasn’t in immediate danger now the meds were kicking in. There was no reason for the nurse to hang around. It had to be the English accent; given Watson’s plain looks, there was no other explanation. House wondered if he would get laid more if he acquired one. Well, maybe if he acquired an English accent and lost the bad attitude. He missed getting laid.
The nurse took House’s subtle hint and followed the direction of his cane out the door. Watson himself looked as bad as could be expected given his dysfunctional liver. His skin had a yellowish tinge to it now and he was using the oxygen mask again. His condition appeared stable but if Sherlock was right about the deliberate poisoning, who knew where the next symptom might manifest?
Sherlock... House could still see Wilson through the door, chatting to the same blonde as she returned to the nurses’ station. He sighed. Sherlock wasn’t something he’d ever intended to discuss with any of his work colleagues.
“If you’re looking for Sherlock,” croaked Watson, pulling his oxygen mask away from his nose and mouth, “I think he’s running tests on my blood somewhere.”
House said nothing and observed Watson thoughtfully, though he took note of the fact that Sherlock was probably in the lab. House had assumed, like most of the British press, that Watson had been Sherlock’s lover. But now he wondered whether it had ever occurred to Sherlock that he might have a romantic relationship with Watson. And indeed, why should it? There was nothing remarkable about the man on the hospital bed; he was old before his time, half a foot shorter than Sherlock and apparently lumbered with considerable bad luck.
The press had based their theory on the fact that Sherlock had apparently never had a girlfriend. Therefore, since he lived with a man, they had concluded he was gay...
“He took your camera,” continued Watson wearily. “But you didn’t miss anything. Sherlock barely talked to me. He was in case mode. I’m not sure he even noticed I was conscious when he took my blood.”
… On the other hand, Sherlock could be asexual and simply not interested in sex. If so, then it was likely to be due to some physiological reason; House wasn't a great believer in asexuality. He could just about understand men who didn't like women, but men who didn't want to have sex at all made him suspicious.
“Apparently, I’m a very lucky patient. Nurse said you rarely visit your patients at all. Twice must be some kind of record.” Watson paused and coughed. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just have a little dose while you do your thinking. Let me know when you have a cure for my liver.”
He put on his breathing mask and closed his eyes.
“Question,” said House. Watson opened his eyes and glared at him. “Why does a medical doctor become a paramedic? For that matter, why does a fully qualified doctor become a front line medic instead of sticking with the RAMC well away from the front lines?”
Watson sighed. “I’m suppose you’re going to tell me why based on the colour of my underwear.”
“Excitement,” said House, ignoring him. “You enjoy the thrill of combat, of saving people’s lives under pressure. You’re addicted to adrenaline. That’s what you got from hanging out with Sherlock.” He narrowed his eyes. “That's why you fell in love with him.”
“Oh god,” groaned Watson. “That was supposed to be private. I didn’t know the whole hospital was listening in.” He pulled the oxygen mask down. “I just wanted him to understand what it meant, what he did to me. I didn’t mean it literally. Or I did mean it literally but I didn’t mean, um... Never mind.”
“So you lied.” House raised an eyebrow. “You told him you were in love with him to make him feel bad about what he did to you.”
“No. Well, maybe,” admitted Watson hoarsely, apparently deciding that he preferred House to think he had been lying. “But everyone lies once in a while.”
“Everybody lies,” corrected House. “What are your intentions towards Sherlock now?”
“Intentions?” repeated Watson and House wished he had picked a better term. “What are you, his dad? My only intention right now is to get better and go back to England. And get a decent cup of tea,” he said wistfully.
“You just told Sherlock you were in love with him and yet you don’t want anything to do with him?” said House, quickly moving the subject away from the ‘dad’ issue.
“Look. Maybe my therapist is right and it was an unhealthy co-dependent relationship that made me feel useful and, well, you said it, fulfilled my craving for adrenaline.” Watson pursed his lips as if he were sucking a lemon; perhaps subconsciously rejecting the notion. “The thing is… my wife has just died. The last thing I need is to go back to whatever I had with Sherlock.”
House pondered this for a moment. He approached the window and looked out at the gathering dark clouds above. “Did Sherlock wear pink pajamas when he was living with you?”
“Pink...? Um, no, I don’t remember pink ones. Why, has he finally come out?” he added with amusement.
House looked over his shoulder at Watson. “Did he have anyone while he was living with you?”
“No. He didn’t go out with or sleep with anyone while we were living together. At least, not that I know of, but then I wasn’t with him all the time.”
Watson seemed more alert now. He pushed himself up in his bed, maneuvering awkwardly because of the tubes attached to various parts of his anatomy and the casts on his right leg and arm.
“Mind you, he’d flirt with women sometimes,” he said. “Well, I suppose it was flirting, but he usually did it to get something.”
“That’s usually why guys flirt with girls,” said House sharply, turning and leaning against the window.
“I don’t mean like that,” replied Watson with a lopsided grin. He stared into space, apparently recalling some incident. “There was this one woman who was really into him. I think he was intrigued, but it was a bit like watching someone hit on Peter Pan.”
House laughed involuntarily. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“You obviously know him well,” said Watson, returning his smile.
House looked out of the window; it had started raining. “No not really. I only met him once.”
“They lost my bloody suitcase,” said the skinny boy when House opened the door. It was raining hard and the kid was wearing only a light sweater and pants which were soaked through. His long dark hair was plastered to his narrow face. House, standing in the dry safety of his front hall, just stared at him.
“It wasn’t on the carousel when I waited and this chap said I should walk over to the complaints desk and the woman wasn’t at all interested until I pointed out I could always tell her superior she was stealing from the till, obvious really, I saw her fingernails, and then she gave me this form, it’s in my bag,” he raised a navy blue rucksack, “and told me to fax it back to them. It’s lucky I didn’t put it in my coat, I’m not sure what happened to my coat, but it’s gone too. Maybe I left it on the bus.” He looked puzzled for a moment, as if he had only just noticed that he wasn’t wearing a coat in the pouring rain. “Do you have a fax machine?”
“Sherlock?” House blurted out, completely nonplussed by the boy’s presence here, on his doorstep in Princeton, New Jersey, when he was supposed to be studying at some fancy school in England.
“Charlie. The other boys called me Shirley at prep school so Mummy said I could pick another name,” Sherlock said without emotion, still standing in the rain, his thin clothes completely drenched. “Can I use your fax machine?”
“But he’s staying with you, right?” said Watson. He looked puzzled. “Or, well, you must be quite intimate if you’ve seen him in his pyjamas...”
His voice trailed off and he gave House a suspicious look, obviously misconstruing the situation. Since House wasn’t about to tell him the truth, he observed Watson through narrowed eyes.
“Okay. Let’s pretend you didn’t just assume I was gay and sleeping with a guy nearly twenty years younger than me,” said House. “He’s staying with me, that’s all. You obviously have a good reason for thinking he's gay, though.”
“I... wasn’t making a comment about anyone’s sexuality,” said Watson, before clearing his throat and continuing in a cautious voice. “I’m just curious as to why he’s staying with you when he’d normally check into a hotel. How do you know him anyway? Oh, right, he said his mother was one of your teachers. Did you stay in touch with her after you were a student?”
“Yeah, she sent me Christmas cards every year for a while,” said House, preparing some lies in case Watson asked too many questions.
But Watson just smiled benignly. “My mum is like that. She sends Christmas cards to about fifty people every year, and some of them she hasn’t actually seen for decades. They just send each other a signed card with drunken robins or glittery stars on them, and some one-size-fits-all A4 newsletter with all their family’s news and pictures of the kids and grandkids. And that’s it, that’s how they communicate.”
“So there you have it,” said House, pleased that Watson at least would buy the Christmas card excuse. “And after she died, Sherlock emailed me about some of his cases. Then, he just turned up at my place yesterday and expected to stay with me. Believe me, it wasn’t my choice.”
“Greg, who is it?” asked Stacy, apparently drawn away from the warm fire to investigate why her boyfriend was letting in a cold draught by holding the front door open for so long.
Sherlock’s entire demeanor changed and he grabbed Stacy’s hand to shake it. “Oh, hello, I’m Charlie,” he said with a friendly smile. Even though he didn’t know the boy at all, House could tell it was all a show. “I’m, um...” Sherlock glanced at House and said, “I’m Greg’s cousin. From England.”
“Yeah, something like that,” said House, pissed off that his anticipated evening of watching a crap video and then getting laid was well and truly out the window now.
“Do you mind if I come in?” asked Sherlock politely, because he’d been standing outside as if he needed to be invited in like some kind of vampire. “Only it’s awfully wet out there and I lost everything I brought with me except my bag and the clothes on my back.”
“Sure,” said Stacy. “God, you’re soaked, you poor kid. Come in by the fire. Greg, shame on you leaving him out there like that.”
Observing Sherlock with instinctive mistrust, House followed them into the living room. He noticed Sherlock looking around with keen interest, and made a note to check that everything was still there if he had to leave the room for any reason.
He was horrified when Stacy offered to let Sherlock change into a set of House’s clothes. Sherlock protested loudly too but Stacy cut them both off.
“Greg, come out here and tell me what he’s allowed to wear,” said Stacy firmly, indicating the hallway. She was using the kind of tone House often thought must be very effective when dealing with her legal clients. It certainly worked on him. “Charlie, you’re going to stay here and you’ll wear what I give you before you catch cold!”
“Yes, Miss,” said Sherlock, wide-eyed, before appearing to regain his cool. “I mean, just try to find something that doesn’t make me look too middle-aged.” He eyed the shirt and jeans House was currently wearing.
“Middle-aged?” repeated House. “I’m only thirty-six!”
House caught sight of his own reflection in the window. What he wouldn’t give to be thirty-six again; young, healthy, blessed with a full head of hair that wasn’t thinning on top, and living with a woman who loved him.
“You’re in for a treat, living with Sherlock,” said Watson, his tone gently sarcastic. “He used to stay up for days when we had a case, and then he’d collapse and pass out. If he was lucky it might be in his bed or on the sofa, but one time, he lay down on the living room floor. I just stepped over him for the rest of the day. But until he does pass out, I have to warn you, he’s a nightmare. Shooting the walls and playing the violin in the middle of the night. Used to really annoy our landlady.”
Watson said that as if it was the most natural thing in the world for someone to be shooting walls at any time of day, let alone nighttime. House found it oddly... comforting, to know that not everyone in the world thought Sherlock was a freak.
“Thanks. I’ll make sure to keep him away from guns,” said House. He wondered if Sherlock had been through the apartment the previous day and found John House’s gun in his bedroom closet. “He doesn’t have a violin, but unfortunately he discovered my piano and started playing Debussy at 3.00 a.m. this morning.”
“Oh, Clair de Lune, was it?” Watson smiled. “I don’t know anything about classical music but we had a case once and this guy had a grand piano. Sherlock just sat down and played, and then, he told me all about how he’d had to learn Debussy and Saint-Saëns, and other composers I’d barely heard of, at school. It turned out that the bloke's love of music was crucial to the case, so that was why Sherlock had retrieved all the information from wherever he’d stashed it in his mind palace. He’s probably deleted it again now.”
House rolled his eyes. “Yes, he has.”
“He must be in case mode if he’s deleting things and he isn’t sleeping. I wonder what he’s working–” Watson interrupted himself and looked around the room. “Oh. Of course. I’m the case. I suppose I should be grateful I have the best doctor and the best detective in the world looking after me.” He smiled cheerfully, which looked odd in his jaundiced face. “Anyway, there’s one thing - you need to make sure he eats. If he’s really focussed on something, he won’t think about it, but if you make him something like a sandwich, he’ll probably eat it.”
“I’m not fixing him food. I’m not his mother!” House changed the subject before Watson could get back onto what his relationship with Sherlock really was. “Whatever you do, it must be something illegal,” he said.
“Never mind about me. You need to make sure Sherlock eats and sleep,” said Watson animatedly. Sherlock was obviously his specialist subject. “I suppose if you don’t know him very well, you’ll find him a bit odd, but he’s... he’s just like that. If you don’t tell him how to behave properly, he’ll do the strangest things just because he acts on instinct and doesn’t think about how other people will react.”
When House came back into the living room, having told Stacy the truth and agreed to let her set up the guest bedroom, Sherlock had stripped down to his underpants and was lighting a cigarette in the fireplace.
“Everyone here speaks with an American accent,” he said, sitting down on the couch and apparently addressing someone on the empty chair opposite him. “It’s like being in a television set!”
“Are you okay?” asked House brusquely as he entered the room. “Who were you talking to?”
“Victor,” said Sherlock, looking House guilelessly in the eye and exhaling smoke as he spoke.
“Yes, he’s a boy I know at school.”
“Why are you talking to a boy you know at school when he’s obviously not here?”
Sherlock stared at the chair for a split second as if he hadn’t noticed before that ‘Victor’ wasn’t sitting in it. Then he looked at House as if he were an idiot.
“I could have talked to you but you weren’t here either.” He shrugged and took another drag from the cigarette. “Besides, I don’t know you well enough to know how you would respond. And it would be very odd if I started talking to myself. Victor is the logical choice for any observations I might need to make when there is no one present to hear them.”
House rolled his eyes; this was going to be one tough time until they packed this kid back to England. “And you’re naked... why?”
“Because my clothes are wet and I was promised some dry ones,” said Sherlock slowly, enunciating as if House might have trouble understanding him. “Obviously, the dry ones will be easier to put on if I’m not wearing the wet ones anymore.”
House blinked. It was hard to argue with logic like that. He went over to get himself a cigarette from the packet on the mantelpiece – his cigarettes, one of which Sherlock had just stolen – and looked down at the strange kid on his couch.
“Does your mom know you’re here?”
“No. She’s dead,” said Sherlock casually.
“Never mind about Sherlock,” said House, dismissing the memories. “Albion Pharma confirmed that ‘Jamie Maddens’ works for them, but since we both know you’re not Jamie Maddens, I guess we both know you don’t work for Albion Pharma. At least not as a pharmaceutical rep. Why else would you be using a pseudonym?”
“Because the British press are like pitbulls when it comes to a story like Sherlock’s death?”
House considered that hypothesis and dismissed it. “No, Sherlock said you were doing something more exciting. I think a man who had seen action in Afghanistan and been a paramedic at the time of the last London riots would need something a bit more stimulating. A job that would involve getting shot with a poisoned dart.”
Watson grinned. “You say you don’t know Sherlock very well, and yet when he tells you he saw a poisoned dart in his mind palace, you trust him?”
“Wouldn’t you?” asked House.
Watson cleared his throat. “I’m a bit of an oddity, to be honest. Most people tell him to piss off when they meet him. But I’ve trusted him with my life ever since I first met him,” he said grandiosely, though he looked away with a sad expression.
“Shame you couldn’t trust him with your heart,” said House softly. “Must have been tough when he died.”
Watson gave him a wry smile. House was about to attempt once more to find out Watson’s current profession, when Taub came in.
“Sorry to interrupt, House,” he said, casting only a cursory glance at Watson. “But can you come down to the lab? Don’t get me wrong, Holmes is an obviously gifted young man, but he’s, um, kinda difficult to work with. So perhaps we could use those crayons?”
Watson chuckled and House smiled at him involuntarily before following Taub.
“So, um, we’re going with ‘mysterious poison’?” asked Taub as they made their way to the lab. “Just because Holmes said so?”
“Yeah.” House thought about reminding Taub that Sherlock had been present when Watson fell, and was therefore the only lead they had on what had happened that night, but he thought that was obvious.
A cell phone was ringing when they reached the lab. Taub sat down in his seat again and pretended to resume his work as if he hadn’t just run to Teacher to snitch on Sherlock. House stood by the doorway and observed the scene.
Park was off liaising with the other labs involved in more advanced toxicological tests on Watson’s bodily fluids, Chase was running the blood analyses in one corner of the room, and Taub was at the workbench behind Sherlock. Adams, however, was apparently assisting Sherlock at the HPLC machine. Sherlock was wearing neither his coat nor his jacket; he was evidently sufficiently stressed to shed his armor for once.
The ringing seemed to be coming from Sherlock’s pocket.
“Could someone get that?” asked Sherlock without raising his eyes from what he was doing.
“Er, that’s your phone,” pointed out Adams. “And it’s in your pants.”
“It isn’t in my pants, it’s in my trousers,” snapped Sherlock. “So why don’t you just get it?”
“Because I don’t want to put my hand in your pants?”
“That’s not the impression you gave last night,” muttered Sherlock.
Chase smiled and Taub actually laughed; Adams looked mortified. House pulled the cellphone out of Sherlock’s pants pocket and after a quick glance at the name on the display, answered it.
“Hi, you’ve reached Sherlock Holmes’s phone. He can’t take your call right now because he’s busy being a dick. But if you leave your name and number, I’m sure he’ll continue to avoid your calls.”
“Er, who is this?” asked the man’s voice at the other end. “Sherlock sent me this text message about John-- Dr Watson’s sister, asking for her number, but... Who are you?”
“I’m Dr. Watson’s doctor, Dr. House. I’m just moonlighting as Sherlock Holmes’s voicemail,” said House cheerfully, though he had an inkling that he knew what was going on and it wasn’t good news. “Sherlock’s phone tells me you’re ‘Lestrade’, presumably Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade, formerly of Scotland Yard.”
“Yes, yes. Listen, is... Are they okay? Where are they?”
“Princeton-Plainsboro Training Hospital in Princeton, New Jersey. And yes, in case my accent didn’t tip you off, that is the New Jersey in the United States.”
“What the hell are they doing in the States?”
“Oh, lots of British people come here. Some even make millions.” He patted Sherlock’s shoulder with faux bonhomie. “I’m sure they’ll both go far. Well, as long as Watson gets better.” Sherlock’s shoulders slumped a little and House added, “Which he will. He has the best team in North America working on him.”
That didn’t seem to cheer Sherlock up; Lestrade, on the other hand, seemed reassured.
“That’s a relief. I was worried. I mean... listen, can I talk to Sherlock? I know he has this thing about phones, but I’d just like to know he’s okay.”
Another memory of Sherlock’s last visit came to mind, but House suppressed it firmly. He’d done quite enough daydreaming for one afternoon.
“I’m not holding him hostage,” said House, though he could hear the concern in the man’s voice. He held out the phone, but Sherlock was pretending to work and shook his head. “He really doesn’t want to speak to you. I can put you on loudspeaker if you want to give him a piece of your mind. Bearing in mind that there is a lady present.”
The lady in question rolled her eyes at House and went over to discuss something with Chase.
Lestrade laughed. “Best not to, then. Thanks all the same.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” said House, picking up a sheaf of lab results from one of the desks. “I’ll just express your feelings through a more appropriate medium, then.”
He rolled up the papers as he spoke and then whacked Sherlock over the head with them.
“Ow!” exclaimed Sherlock, rubbing his head. “What the bloody hell was that for?”
House’s colleagues looked as if they thoroughly approved, and he could hear Lestrade laughing out loud on the other end of the line.
“Thank you,” he said. “That’s cheered me up for the evening, that has. Blimey, I haven’t heard from the bastard for three years and then he suddenly sends me this text asking for Harry, John’s sister’s phone number. I, well, you can imagine what I thought, right?”
“I can assure you Dr. Watson will be fine. I’m not so sure about Sherlock. I think several members of my staff are plotting murder as we speak.”
Sherlock apparently decided he’d had enough, because he got up and left the room. Taub looked pleased. Adams immediately took over at the HPLC machine.
“Great, he’s just walked off in a huff,” said House. “I better go see what he’s doing.”
He walked out into the corridor, but Sherlock was already nowhere to be seen. It was amazing how quickly those long, healthy legs could carry him, thought House enviously.
“No problem,” said Lestrade. “Listen, thanks for answering. I’d have been on the first plane out there otherwise, once my mates tracked down the signal… You know, John always keeps in touch, but he’s been a bit vague about what he’s been doing since Mary died and, well, I always thought he was looking for Sherlock. Why anyone would care about that spoiled brat is beyond me,” he said in a tone that did nothing to convince House that he meant it. “Just, listen, make sure Sherlock takes care of himself. He’s, um, had some issues in the past.”
“He’s clean if that’s what you’re referring to.”
“Yes, well, you know what it’s like...”
“Yeah,” said House. “You have no idea.”
“Just tell them both to come home, right? Mrs Hudson will soon boot those yuppies out of 221B if she hears Sherlock is coming back. Well, take care now.”
House uttered similar platitudes about Lestrade’s wellbeing; it reminded him why he hated phones and being polite to people. But for some reason, he sympathized with the man.
Pocketing the cell phone and, on impulse, grabbing a phlebotomy kit from the supplies store, House went off to track down his wayward son.
This week: Sherlock and House discuss sex. It's one of House's favourite subjects. But not necessarily one of Sherlock's.
Having searched in vain for Sherlock both in the Diagnostics Department and in Watson’s room, House headed back towards the lab. He was passing the morgue when he heard a rhythmic thumping noise coming from inside. He couldn’t see anyone through the door, but there was a cadaver on the nearside table; a middle-aged woman who looked vaguely familiar. House pushed the door open.
If Sherlock had hoped to cheer himself up by investigating someone who was already dead, it obviously hadn’t worked. He was sitting on the floor between the two autopsy tables, rhythmically bouncing a ball off the wall opposite with his right hand, occasionally catching it in his other hand when he misfired.
House remembered the seventeen-year-old Sherlock, with his short hair and borrowed clothes, bouncing a ball off the wall in their guest bedroom. He also remembered that Sherlock was doing it on a Sunday morning when House had intended to have sex. But as Stacy had reminded him at the time, it was one of House’s own stress-reduction techniques.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t damn irritating when you weren’t the one doing the bouncing. House leaned down and caught the ball in mid air – he noted that it was his own ball, stolen from his office desk. He tossed Sherlock’s phone at him in return. Sherlock caught it awkwardly without even looking up.
“Hey, kid, if you wanna play ball, let’s go outside,” said House in a loud, obnoxious voice. “I’ll teach you to pitch like a real American.”
“I’m not interested in pitching,” said Sherlock glumly.
“Yeah. I had you down as a catcher too. Watson will be pleased.”
Sherlock observed him through narrowed eyes. “I mean I bowl. They made me play cricket at school.” He looked around the morgue. “I hate hospitals. People die in them.”
“Statistically, most of the people in my care don’t die. They get better, leave hospital and then die of something else another time.”
“That’s certainly what happened to Mrs Leibnitz,” said Sherlock, nodding towards the table in front of him. “Had a massive aneurysm the minute she was out of your care.”
House glanced at the body on the table. It was unlikely he could have prevented that from happening even if she had still been his patient. But it dampened House’s mood nonetheless.
“I was sixteen when I saw my first dead body,” continued Sherlock.
House climbed over Sherlock’s outstretched legs to reach the table in the far corner and pull on some gloves. He could tell where Sherlock’s anecdote was heading.
“Mummy died while I was away at school. They let me out specially for the funeral. I asked Father if I could see the body, so we all went to the mortuary to look at her. Well, look at her body anyway. She wasn’t there anymore.”
“My Mom is still alive,” said House without thinking.
“Bully for you,” commented Sherlock.
“No, I mean we should...”
House’s voice trailed off. What exactly was he proposing to do? Go see Blythe House, or Blythe Bell or whatever she was calling herself, and tell her she’d had a grandson for thirty-five years and her only son had never bothered to tell her? Of course, since she had yet to reveal who House’s biological father was, House thought they were even in that respect.
“Why are you preparing to take my blood?” asked Sherlock, his eyes on the paraphernalia in House’s gloved hands.
Ah yes, a change of subject; one of House’s own favorite diversionary tactics. He supposed he should be proud. He made a ‘come here’ gesture and to his surprise, Sherlock complied, standing and rolling up the left sleeve of his purple shirt.
“It can’t possibly be related to John’s situation. Even if you discount my subconscious memory of the poisoned dart, there is no suggestion of contagion,” said Sherlock, his deep voice rattling off possibilities as he approached House, “which means you want to test something that only concerns me. You did a paternity test last time we met and you said the results were unequivocal. So you think I have a disease? No, you’d be more concerned if that were the case; you try to hide it, but you do care.”
“Why would I care about a spoiled brat like you?” said House, tightening the tourniquet and disinfecting the area.
“I don’t know. I’ve never understood that,” said Sherlock. He curled his hand into a fist.
House’s eyes fell on the thin track marks on Sherlock’s arm, tracing the veins in the crook of his elbow, and he froze for a split second. The scarring was not severe enough to collapse the vein; House pulled himself together before firmly plunging the needle into the raised vein. He decided one sample would be enough. He handed Sherlock a small ball of cotton and slipped off the tourniquet.
“You used to shoot up,” he remarked. “I thought the press said cocaine was your thing.”
Sherlock shrugged, holding the cotton to the small puncture wound. “I didn’t like snorting it like a pig, like all the bankers and solicitors and politicians I went to school with. I used to inject it as a 7% solution,” he explained casually. “John said it was just typical of me to make drug taking as complicated as possible. The paraphernalia appealed to my... I suppose my interest in medical experiments. Not that I was averse to popping pills.”
“Yeah, I remember that too,” said House. “You were certainly good at finding them.”
“Charlie, this is Cherry,” said House, proudly ushering the girl into the living room.
Sitting on the couch, Sherlock looked Cherry over with wide eyes, taking in her short skirt and high-heeled shoes. Then he blinked and scowled at her.
“You’re a prostitute,” he blurted out.
“Yeah, I think she knows that,” said House. “But she’s a very nice prostitute who loves posh English boys, right, Cherry?”
“Sure,” she said with a wide grin. “Pretty posh English boys especially.”
House assumed the ‘pretty’ bit was professional license; he personally thought Sherlock was pretty darn ugly. Cherry sat on the couch beside Sherlock and smiled invitingly. He was still staring at her and though he didn’t look as if he was about to ravage her, he did at least look intrigued.
“I know,” said House brightly. “I’ll leave you two to get to know each other, and I’ll be back in an hour.”
“I hardly think a whole hour would be required,” said Sherlock, completely missing the implications of what he had just said. “I know everything I need to know about ‘Cherry’ already.”
House picked up his house keys and sighed with exasperation. “Charlie, just for once in your life, behave like a kid your age!”
Sherlock pouted but said nothing more as House left. That was after the incident in the kitchen and Sherlock was probably still wary of House’s temper. House, for his part, was feeling horribly guilty and hoped Cherry would be a suitable peace offering for a seventeen-year-old who had spent all his adolescence in a boys’ school.
The guilt didn’t stop him being pissed off when he came home after an hour to find Sherlock and Cherry still fully clothed and sitting on the couch. Cherry was giggling uncontrollably and Sherlock was just staring up at the ceiling, his dilated pupils making his usually pale eyes look almost black. Clearly, Cherry had shared happy pills with Sherlock instead of having sex with him as instructed.
“Great. I buy him sex and he gets drugs. Here,” said House, handing Cherry her fee. “And now, out!”
“Bye, bye, Charlie, it was great knowing you,” said Cherry, blowing Sherlock a kiss.
Sherlock smirked at her insincerely while House sat in the chair opposite Sherlock and tried to picture what his own father would have done. Whatever it was, he intended to do the reverse. Unfortunately, John House would probably have walloped Sherlock again, which meant House had to be patient and understanding instead.
“Did you even have sex with her?”
“I told you girls weren’t my thing,” said Sherlock smugly.
“That’s all in the past now,” said Sherlock proudly, interrupting House’s thoughts. “I’ve been clean for eight years.”
“Hmm.” House wrote Sherlock’s name on the sample. “And when was the last time you got high?”
Sherlock opened his mouth and then closed it again. One point to me, thought House with satisfaction. He knew from experience how difficult it was to resist if drugs were on offer.
“Are you testing me for drugs, then?” asked Sherlock. “You won’t find anything. I didn’t even touch the Vicodin you have hidden behind the mirror in the bathroom.”
He said that with great pride, which made House wonder if Sherlock had been tempted when he found the Vicodin.
“No, not drugs,” said House, feeling even more pleased with himself.
“Not disease, not drugs... What else have you been obsessing about since I’ve been here?” Sherlock’s entire countenance brightened up as if a light bulb had gone off in his brain. It was kind of sweet. “Sex! You’re going to test my hormone levels to see if my lack of interest is due to a physical illness.”
Okay, one all, thought House. “Yes. I don’t think it’s normal for a healthy young man not to be interested in sex. Either you’re lying or there’s something wrong with you.”
“I can provide a sperm sample if you want to eliminate physiological problems or a lack of libido,” said Sherlock helpfully. “It won’t take a minute.”
“No, this will do,” replied House; he might have been more tempted to take Sherlock up on his offer if it had been given less eagerly. In the meantime, he couldn’t suppress a smile at what Sherlock had said. “Only a minute, huh? That must be quite a powerful go-to fantasy.”
Sherlock returned his smile. “You must be very bored if you’re trying to get some interest out of my sex life.” Then he frowned. “Either that, or you’re trying to distract me from thinking about John.”
“Nah, just taking a scientific interest in why I don’t have grandkids.”
It was worth having this conversation just for the look of horror that took over Sherlock’s long face at the thought of reproduction. Then the younger man’s eyes widened as if another thought had just occurred to him.
“Was that sexual innuendo?” he asked. “The bit about pitching and catching. You were referring to roles in homosexual intercourse.”
Sherlock looked so innocently curious that House was tempted to laugh out loud. “With lightening wits like that, I can see why they dubbed you the most brilliant detective of the modern age,” he said instead.
“I thought Americans didn’t do sarcasm,” grumbled Sherlock.
“I could be half-British,” said House with a shrug.
“So I’ve heard. Until recently, you thought your mother’s Scottish husband was your biological father. That was always improbable given his shorter stature. Your father is more likely to have been a tall man.” Sherlock looked thoughtful. “I suppose that explains my existence. My mother was a serial adulteress just like yours. That’s why you were attracted to her.”
House was not a man with a quick temper, but he felt a rush of anger. Before he gave himself time to think, he grabbed Sherlock’s arm.
“You should show more respect for your mom’s memory. And you don’t even know mine!” Realizing what he was doing, House let go and took a step back. “They are both good women who were married to jerks.”
“My father wasn’t a ‘jerk’!” said Sherlock loyally.
House had his own opinion about that, but he let it go, still unnerved by his own loss of control, and turned to the corpse on the autopsy table.
“Anyway, it’s getting late. Come on, let’s put Mrs. Leibnitz away.”
House zippered the body back into its bag and Sherlock helped him pull it onto the gurney. Sherlock’s phone beeped while they maneuvered the body back into its slot in the ‘filing cabinet’ on the back wall.
“Will John really be all right?” asked Sherlock when he’d checked the message on his phone – presumably Ms. Watson’s contact details, courtesy of the former Detective Inspector Lestrade.
There was such a guileless, hopeful tone to Sherlock’s voice that in spite of his earlier anger, House didn’t have the heart to play games. He decided not to examine that sudden altruism too closely.
“I don’t know,” he said. “His current prognosis looks good, though until we work out the exact cause of his liver failure, we can only manage his symptoms. If it is poison, then the toxins may have done further damage that we haven’t uncovered yet. But at least there’s one thing to be grateful for. If this is a designer poison like you say, Watson must have gotten a low dose.”
Sherlock paced between the two autopsy tables. “The dart was aimed from the ground at a target on a roof about fifteen metres away. Since I subconsciously saw the dart on the pavement afterwards, we can assume that it was not embedded very firmly in John’s neck when he fell. In fact, it was most probably a glancing blow, sufficient to put John off balance and introduce some poison into his system, but not enough to actually kill him.” He stopped and took in a deep breath. “That means we are indeed dealing with a very small dose of a very powerful poison.”
“So that’s why you were trying to contact his sister,” stated House. “You’re worried that even this small dose might be lethal.”
“I wasn’t trying to contact her. I simply thought it would be useful if I got her number in case something happened. That’s what caring people should do,” said Sherlock as if it was something he had learned by rote. “If anything happens to John, I need to be able to notify his family. I’m the only friend he has here. I have to be responsible and take care of things for him.”
“Sure. That’s very grown up of you,” said House with a hint of amusement. “Don’t worry, you’ll be taking him back to London in no time. Your friend Lestrade says Mrs. Hudson will even give you your old place back.”
Sherlock lowered his eyes. “No, I’m not going with him. John is right. That’s not a good idea after all this time. The press made my friends’ lives a misery when I died. They’ll do it all over again if I come back.” He turned away. “But more importantly, right now, we still don’t know enough about this poison. I should get back to the lab.”
“No,” said House, grabbing his arm again, though more gently this time. “I’m not having you go back in there to piss off my staff. That’s my job. We’ve sent samples to some of the best labs in the country and you can look at the results tomorrow. Come on, go get your precious coat and meet me in the lobby.” He made no effort to suppress his grin as he hit upon the ideal place to take Sherlock’s mind off John Watson. “I have an idea that will cheer you up.”
“I should have known the idea would be something childish, House,” said Sherlock approximately an hour later, though his eyes were drifting across the stage. At least he had stopped texting, which he had been doing on and off since they got in the car. House hoped he was texting Lestrade back in England.
“You didn’t read the sign on the door? This is ‘Adult’ entertainment. Nothing childish about it.” House popped an olive in his mouth and looked around the strip club with satisfaction. “You said you’re not interested in sex, so I figured this wouldn’t bother you.”
“It doesn’t.” Sherlock relaxed back in his chair and took a swig of the whisky House had ordered for him. He observed House thoughtfully. “You’re testing me again, to see if I’m aroused by the sight of half-naked women writhing around metal poles. I assume you intend to measure this by the dilation of my pupils and the direction of my gaze, perhaps even the rapidity of my pulse, rather than a direct observation of other physical responses.”
House chuckled. “Yes, there are some limits to my curiosity.”
“You want to know if I’m interested in this?” Sherlock waved his hand at the girls on stage. “I don’t find this arousing. Not because there’s anything wrong with me, or because I’m gay – men in this situation would be not only unappealing but rather ridiculous as well – but because what I see are three women who are hoping to end the night without getting groped by some drunken businessman.”
He focused on each woman in turn. “The one on the left is a drug addict. She hides it well; this isn’t a low class establishment and they probably take care not to let their staff do anything illegal on the premises. But she’s used some to get herself up on stage. The one in the middle has children; at least one was born within the last two years. She still isn’t getting enough sleep and it isn’t because she parties after her shift here. She goes home, pays the babysitter – she’d be less stressed if it was a relative – and grabs a few moments of sleep before the baby wakes. The third one is lucky tonight; she’s the least pretty of the three, but she is ovulating and consequently although no one is consciously aware of it, she’s more attractive to the punters. She’ll get more tips than the other two.”
House had spent the whole time looking at Sherlock’s long-nosed profile. “Have you ever even had sex?”
Sherlock kept his eyes on the girls, still observing them analytically. “How much sex would qualify for your purposes? Do you want to know if I masturbate or if I’ve ever been touched sexually by another human being or actually gone to the trouble of securing a partner for regular intercourse?”
“I’ll define it as any act that involves a happy end and another human being. Doesn’t have to be the Bill Clinton definition.”
Sherlock looked a little puzzled, possibly because Bill Clinton had been consigned to his Deleted Items. “Why does it matter so much?”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said House with a shrug. “But it must matter to you, or you’d tell me.”
Sherlock laughed. “You’re trying to trick me. If you want to know what turns me on, you’ll have to work it out yourself.”
Although Sherlock had only drunk half a glass of whisky, his eyes were already brighter than usual. It hadn’t occurred to House when he bought the drink that Sherlock didn’t normally drink alcohol.
Sherlock scowled as one of the girls – the one who was ovulating – came off the stage to make a fuss of a man at the next table who was waving cash around.
“Why is everyone so obsessed with sex anyway? Why is the mere idea – not even the concrete reality – so exciting to people that they feel the need to either plaster the world with it or make it so shameful and secret that they have to lock up and punish the innocent objects of their desire? I’ll grant you that sex is pleasant enough –” He noticed House’s raised eyebrows and gave him a smug smile. “I did say I could provide a sample, so you can at least deduce that I do know what it feels like. I just don’t think about it incessantly as everyone else seems to. In fact, it’s probably the only base urge I can safely ignore because leaving it unsatisfied will not result in sickness or death.”
“Well, there is some evidence–” started House.
“–plenty of evidence that abstinence is completely harmless, whatever some researchers might have you believe. People who suffer from abstinence are people who want to have sex and poison their lives with the thought of what they’re missing. I don’t want to have sex. I don’t actually want to eat, sleep or go to the loo either, but at least I can live without sex. You, of course, are the type that misses having sex,” he continued. “I gather you don’t sleep with your so-called wife. Which one of you sleeps on the sofa?”
“We take turns.” House tried to derive some enjoyment from the show, but the mother of a toddler had lost some of her appeal.
“I saw the photoshopped pictures of you with your wife,” said Sherlock. “She’s younger than me. You should have pretended she was your daughter. Though I understand that wouldn’t have been such an effective way of getting back at your ex.” When House didn’t respond, Sherlock added, “Where is your wife anyway?”
“She had to go to Atlantic City for a few days for a business trip. A legitimate business trip that even the immigration officer couldn’t object to." He sighed dramatically and gave Sherlock a dirty look. "I was looking forward to a peaceful time without her; watching porn, walking around naked, leaving the toilet seat up... But instead, I find myself living with a mad man who does experiments in my kitchen and plays loud music at 3.00 a.m.”
House hoped Dominika’s job would keep her out of town until Sherlock left. A wife and a son was more family than he wanted to deal with right now.
“In any case, what you need isn’t sex,” said Sherlock as if House hadn’t spoken. “You want companionship, someone there when you come home, someone to talk to about all the trivial things that go through your mind, someone who can tell you if you’re being an idiot and reassure you when you don’t know what to do. Someone to keep you sane.” He stared glumly at his whisky glass.
“Is that what you had with John?”
Sherlock downed the rest of the whisky, which, given the effect it was having on him already, was not a good idea. Not that House was going to stop him.
“Ninety percent of the people I meet think I’m an arrogant horse-faced git and want nothing further to do with me,” said Sherlock rapidly. “Of the remaining ten percent, the majority – mostly women – want to have sex with me and are willing to put up with my social ineptitude, perhaps because they think all I need to reconnect with humanity is a damn good shag. That leaves a handful of people who do tolerate me but don’t want to have sex with me which includes close relatives and people who have adopted me as a surrogate son for whatever reason. John... John was unusual.”
“Right. Because he tolerated you but didn’t see you as a surrogate relative." House leaned forward to reach his own drink. "And now you’re disappointed because you think perhaps he just wanted to have sex with you all along?”
“No,” said Sherlock, though his body language said that House was closer to the truth than he cared to admit. “He said he was in love with me because he wanted me to realise the pain I caused when I died... But John is straight. He doesn’t want to have sex with me. I’m a man.”
“Still, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you,” said House, observing Sherlock's reaction closely.
He had expected Sherlock to be surprised or unhappy, but instead his narrow face lit up with a smile.
“You aren’t interested in my sexuality at all. You’re just worried–” started Sherlock, but he was interrupted by another text message on his phone. He grinned when he read it. “Ah sorry. My date has turned up.”
“Your... date?” repeated House.
“Yes, our little chat in the morgue inspired me to try my luck, and I scored,” said Sherlock slipping his coat back on. “Don’t wait up!”
House gave Sherlock a split second’s advance and then followed him out onto the sidewalk. He saw Sherlock get into an SUV and though he couldn’t see the driver, he did see Sherlock lean over and give the person a kiss.
House stared in disbelief at the retreating car. Not least because he recognized it. It belonged to Adams.
This week: In which it is established that Sherlock can find first base, Watson is getting progressively worse, and House, against all expectation, discovers he may have a daughter-in-law.
“…The dialysis may clear out remaining toxins but it’s unclear whether the poison is still only in his blood or has settled in his tissues,” said Chase. “It might be hard to eliminate it completely unless that toxicology lab in Boston really can find a substance that will bind to it and flush it out.”
“They seemed confident,” said Park, who had liaised with the lab in question. “But they said it would take a couple of weeks.”
Taub shook his head. “Let’s hope he has a couple of weeks. We’ve slowed the rate of progress but his liver function is still deteriorating...”
House tuned out the conversation. They were in the boring part now, when the puzzle was solved, the diagnosis was made and the only question was how to treat the patient. It was usually at this point that House handed over to other doctors, but he had a feeling Sherlock wouldn’t want anyone else to look after Watson.
That was assuming of course that Sherlock was still interested in Watson. House tuned back into the conversation again when Adams started to talk.
“Also, we should run an MRI to look for any sign of clotting. We don’t know how much internal bleeding the patient suffered yesterday,” said Adams. “If a clot becomes detached, it could reach his brain–”
“Or break his heart,” said House, staring at her. “No, wait. That’s just his boyfriend fraternizing with the natives.”
“Sherlock isn’t his boyfriend,” said Adams with an impatient sigh.
“Oh. Is that what he told you on your ‘date’ last night?” said House with fake concern.
House had followed Adams’s car back to her place the previous night. He had to admit that Adams and Sherlock had looked like people who intended to have sex, judging by how close they stood to each other as she keyed in the code to her building, though he noticed that they didn’t actually kiss.
House had gone back to the strip club afterwards and had returned to an empty apartment late in the evening. Sherlock was still gone when he got up that morning.
“You’re dating Sherlock Holmes?” asked Chase, staring at Adams in disbelief. “Why?”
“Why not? He’s good-looking and charming... When he wants to be,” she added, noticing the disbelieving looks on her colleagues’ faces. “He apologized really sweetly for being an ass in the lab and asked me out. That’s all I’m going to say about it,” she said primly.
Taub grinned. “So I guess you wanted to put your hand in his pants after all.”
Adams made a face at him.
House observed her intently. “You didn’t have sex, though. Chase had sex last night. He’s had a shower but he still reeks of the blonde he took home.” Chase rolled his eyes and made a helpless gesture of defeat. “But you didn’t. You took Sherlock to your place, you ordered takeout, and maybe he even slept there, but you didn’t have sex with him.”
“It was our first date!” she exclaimed. “Do I look like the kind of woman who sleeps with a guy on the first date?”
Park raised her eyebrows. “Do you really want us to answer that?”
“So if Adams is the type of woman who normally lets a guy hit a home run on the first date,” said House slyly, “why did Sherlock stop before he got to first base?”
“Second base,” corrected Adams.
That made House falter a little. “Right, so first base and then he called it off before second base. Why?” He paused dramatically. “Because he plays cricket.”
“Actually, his phone rang and he had to go,” said Adams smugly, pleased to prove House wrong.
“Can I just point out that there’s nothing gay about cricket?” said Chase.
“I’m not sure that’s true about Sherlock Holmes, though,” said Park.
“I… don’t really care about cricket or Sherlock Holmes’s sexuality,” said Taub. “I guess it’s more important if you’re his dad, and I can totally see that I’ll want to know if Sophie and Sophia are lesbians when they grow up. But for now, I’m more concerned that our patient’s liver is failing, his kidneys are starting to malfunction and his other major organs look set to go the same way.”
“How very mature of you to rise above our petty speculation,” sneered House.
“Wait, Sherlock Holmes is House’s son?” asked Chase.
A quick glance at Park and Adams told House that, like Taub, they already knew.
“Sherlock confirmed it last night when we were on my couch,” said Adams. “Talking on my couch.”
“It’s kind of obvious if you’re paying attention,” said Park. “I mean, he looks like you.”
“Yeah. Chase was obviously too busy getting off with the same nurse Maddens and Wilson were macking on yesterday to connect to the hospital grapevine,” said House. Though he was tempted to deny it, it wasn’t difficult to work out what had happened. “Speaking of which, Wilson is either tapping into the collective consciousness of the entire hospital or he’s been blabbing my secrets.”
“So it’s true?” asked Chase. “How did that happen?”
House pretended to be interested in the rain outside. “Oh, he arrived the usual way.”
I hope this letter finds you well. I realise I haven’t been in touch for many years now. Perhaps you have already left university or you are staying on to complete a full degree. You are incredibly fortunate to have such a quick mind, and I hope you are putting it to good use. …
His parents had received the letter; the Queen of England’s profile on the envelope had intrigued his mom, but she had sent it on without opening it. House was still licking his wounds after his ignominious dismissal from Johns Hopkins at the time and he had left the letter lying on his cluttered desk for a couple of weeks – he had a feeling it would be bad news – until curiosity finally got the better of him.
…Sherlock is your son. I know this will come as something of a shock, especially since I did not mention that I was pregnant when we were together. Forgive me, Greg, but you were so young…
Sitting on his single bed in his student digs at the University of Michigan, House scanned the first few paragraphs and then stared at the photograph that was enclosed. It pictured a little boy lying on a carpeted floor with his small fingers on a flat brown home computer. He had long eyelashes and Cupid’s bow lips, and his narrow face was framed by tousled dark blonde curls. The caption on the back, written in Margaret’s practically illegible handwriting said ‘Sherlock, aged 4 and ¾, programming Big Brother’s ZX Spectrum’.
…They either blame us for being bad parents, which we are not, or keep asking if there is some history of mental illness in our family which might explain why Sherlock is so withdrawn and uncooperative at nursery school. Goodness knows Sherry can give Sherlock a run for his money when it comes to being withdrawn and uncooperative!, but we have no idea of your family background and it would be helpful if you could reply, if only for my peace of mind…
House hadn’t replied. It wasn’t one of his happier memories. But then, on the whole, none of his memories involving Sherlock were happy.
“Taub is right,” he said. “We need to concentrate on our patient. Hook Maddens up to the dialysis machine in the observation room. That way we can keep an eye on him more closely in case he shows any further signs of clotting or organ failure.”
“Should we still be calling him Maddens?” asked Park. “I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to google Sherlock Holmes and work out that his roommate at the time of his ‘death’ was actually a Dr. Watson.”
It was apparently impossible to keep any secret safe here. “Yes, we’re still calling him Jamie Maddens,” said House.
“Sherlock said it was essential not to reveal Watson’s true identity,” said Adams self-importantly.
House stared at her again. Sure, she was young and hot, but aside from that, he didn’t see her being Sherlock’s type. Not unless Sherlock was an ordinary guy after all, in which case ‘young and hot’ was probably more than enough.
That reminded him that he already owed his team some serious pain for talking to Sherlock about him behind his back. And now he also owed them for listening to Wilson’s gossip; he pretended to read a message on his phone.
“Ah, a message from on high tells me that not everyone is doing their clinic hours.” House grinned. “So you’re all on clinic duty this morning. I’ll page you when it’s your turn to observe Watson. Chase, you can take first shift since apparently, your sex life kept you out of the rumor mill. But back to clinic duty after that.”
There was a collective groan from the other doctors. Feeling greatly pleased with himself, House went into his office to retrieve the disappointingly normal results of the tests he’d ordered on Sherlock’s blood the previous evening and headed for Wilson’s office.
Wilson just sighed and leaned back in his chair as House walked in.
“Look, House, I didn’t mean to let the cat out of the bag,” he said immediately. “I know you wanted to keep it secret but Taub and I got talking about Sherlock yesterday evening and it kind of slipped out. But maybe it’s a good thing that everyone knows?” He waved his hands vaguely, no doubt trying to think of an upside to this. “Taub might be able to give you some tips?”
House glared at him. “Right. Because two girl toddlers make him an expert on what to do when your son in his mid-thirties turns up. I’d be better off asking you, and you only had a long-lost son for a couple of days.”
“Yes, thanks to you.” Wilson pursed his lips. “Is that why you invented a son for me? Were you thinking about Sherlock?”
“No!” said House. “That was just about you moping around saying you wanted kids. I wanted to prove to you that it wasn’t true. Nobody actually wants kids. They just want the idea of kids.”
“You picked a kid who looked like Sherlock.”
“No, I didn’t!” protested House.
“Yes. You did,” said Wilson.
He pulled out a printed picture of Wendel Wagner, the boy House had hired to pretend to be Wilson’s son a few weeks earlier. Then he gave House a childhood picture of Sherlock; one of the ones Margaret had sent him. Wilson had presumably stolen it from House’s apartment while he was out the previous night.
“Long nose, narrow face, dark hair, long eyelashes…” said Wilson. “You picked your son to play my son.”
“Sherlock has little mean eyes and pointed cheekbones,” said House, dropping the pictures back on the table. The one of Sherlock, aged about 13 and wearing his school uniform, fell on top. “Anyway, I thought Sherlock was dead when I did that. In fact, long dead.”
“Yeah, that must have been tough on you. He really is your son, by the way,” said Wilson, pulling a paper out of a drawer in his desk. “I got a DNA sample yesterday and had it compared with yours.”
“So did I.” House showed him the printout of Sherlock’s blood test results. “Yeah. He’s definitely my son. Also, he has no STDs and aside from low blood sugar due to not having eaten anything nutritious for a few days, he has normal hormone levels. Which means maybe he really did get to first base with Adams.”
Wilson’s small dark eyes widened in surprise. “First base. With… Adams?”
“Turns out she has a thing for arrogant dicks,” said House. “They allegedly went on a date last night.”
“I can see what she sees in him, but seriously? Adams? Why would he date her?”
“To mess with me, of course.” House stood up and headed for the door. “He told me he wasn’t interested in sex, then the next thing he does is go out with one of my staff. Which means now, I have to mess with him.”
“He’s with Watson if you’re going to look for him,” said Wilson, leaning back in his chair. “He even brought some fruit. I’d like to think you’d be as attentive if I ever got sick.”
“This is different. You’re not in love with me,” said House, opening the door. “Sherlock brought fruit? Someone’s feeling guilty!”
He heard Wilson groan loudly as he left the office.
House headed to the observation room. Taub was sitting alone in the glazed room, reading something on his phone.
“Where’s Chase?” asked House, closing the door behind him.
“I have a situation,” said Taub vaguely, his eyes still on the tiny screen in his hand. “We swapped shifts.”
Sherlock was obviously proving too much of a distraction; House’s control over his own team seemed to be slipping. Still, he had more important things to worry about right now, like observing whether Sherlock was going to mention his date with Adams to Watson.
House glanced at the picture on the monitor and then looked through the window.
“You switched the audio off to give them privacy,” he said to Taub. “How mature of you.” He flicked the audio on. “Oops.”
Taub rolled his eyes and started poking his phone hesitantly, typing out a message to one of his co-procreators by the look of things.
Down in the room, Sherlock was standing by Watson’s bed, clean-shaven but still wearing the same clothes as the previous day; tight-fitting pants, purple shirt, a slim-line jacket. The coat was nowhere to be seen. Watson was holding a magazine in his good hand and looking up at Sherlock with a tender smile.
“That’s really thoughtful of you,” he was saying when House turned on the microphones. “I’m going to be hooked up to this machine for hours, but I’m not allowed to use my mobile because of all the equipment. So thanks for the magazine.”
Sherlock looked very pleased with himself. “The lady in the shop said that’s what she would get you.”
“Well, then, the lady in the shop is very thoughtful.” There was a twinkle of amusement in Watson’s jaundiced eyes. “And I’m sure the fruit will be delicious when I’m allowed to eat again.”
“It’s what normal people do for their friends. Responsible, grown-up people. John... Are you sure the microphones are off?” asked Sherlock, his expression suddenly serious. Watson nodded. “Right. Why was Câmara a target?”
“I don’t know. I was following orders,” said Watson. He laughed dryly when Sherlock raised his eyebrows. “That’s what I do, Sherlock. You know that. I trust people who are cleverer and better informed than me to make decisions. Made me an excellent soldier. And a pretty good sidekick.”
“You were an excellent sidekick. I hope your new employer appreciates you,” said Sherlock softly.
“Oh, I don’t know, you never did.”
Sherlock just smiled at that. “Who is your employer anyway? I’ll work it out eventually, so you might as well tell me,” he added when Watson shook his head.
“My employer is someone who prefers to remain anonymous,” said Watson, “and who pays me handsomely to remain that way.”
“You won’t even tell me?” Sherlock sounded hurt but to his credit, Watson was unmoved. Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “It must be someone I know, then. Mycroft would be the obvious choice, but whoever commissioned the hit must have known I would be there, and I am fairly certain my brother wouldn’t have taken that risk. Placing me in mortal danger seems a little out of character.”
Watson frowned. “Yes, obviously, he couldn’t possibly imagine that I would be able to miss that enormous head of yours at 70 meters.”
“So wait, our patient is a hit man?” said Taub, putting his phone down.
“It looks that way.” House was still absorbing that information himself. “I guess that is more exciting than being a paramedic.”
He expected Sherlock to either ignore the quip about his inflated head or respond with an insult, but instead he broke into a wide grin. Watson smirked and started to laugh. Sherlock followed suit and approached the bed again, his hand hovering over Watson’s.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” said Sherlock. “I’m actually talking to you. The real you. John Watson.”
Watson gave Sherlock a look of such complete adoration that it even gave House a warm feeling. Warm enough to feel profoundly uncomfortable and alien. He pulled out his phone and sent a quick message.
“I’m sure you had plenty of conversations with the imaginary me while you were gone,” said Watson, resorting to humor as his British reserve apparently got the better of him.
“Oh yes. Incessantly,” said Sherlock. “You know all about my adventures. Though I had to stop talking to you while I was travelling on public transport. Apparently, talking to imaginary friends is frowned upon in the U-Bahn. I thought that was a silly rule. You were in complete agreement.”
“Of course. I’m sure the imaginary me is very compliant.”
“He isn’t a patch on the real thing,” said Sherlock.
He lowered his hand hesitantly, until his fingertips brushed the side of Watson’s left hand. Without hesitation, Watson turned his hand to curl his fingers around Sherlock’s. “You know, Sherlock, I–”
Whatever Watson had planned to say was cut off when Adams came into the room. Sherlock froze and let go of Watson’s hand abruptly as she made her way around him to check the dialysis machine. Adams passed close behind Sherlock when she left. House couldn’t see what she did, but whatever it was made Sherlock jump. She gave him a flirtatious smile which he returned shyly. He stared at the door for a moment after she left.
Watson, meanwhile, was scowling. “Well, I can safely say I’ve never seen anyone do that to you before. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to,” he added, though House noticed that his eyes drifted to the back of Sherlock’s tight-fitting pants.
“We had what the Americans call a ‘date’ last night,” said Sherlock in a matter-of-fact voice. “That usually involves some level of physical intimacy.”
Watson cleared his throat. “So. I can see why House is so fascinated by your private life if you’re going out with a member of his staff.”
“Oh, he doesn’t really care about my private life.” Sherlock shrugged. “He’s only worried that I’m going to end up alone and miserable like him. He thinks that’s less likely if I have a sex life.”
“House is worried about you?” said Watson in disbelief. “Judging by what the hospital staff say, he’s never worried about anyone. People like him are the reason I didn’t want to work in a hospital. He sounds like a typical consultant; aloof and disinterested. He’s never even discussed my medical condition with me.”
“House doesn’t need to discuss your medical condition with you. He can tell everything he needs to know just by observation.” Sherlock spoke rapidly as he warmed to his subject. “When I was here last time, he diagnosed that a woman had syphilis just by observing the way she interacted with her husband. He worked out that although the wife thought they’d both been practicing abstinence before they married – they were some kind of born-again Christians – the husband had actually been sleeping around for years. And it was true; the husband confessed and then the medical tests confirmed the diagnosis. But House had deduced it all just by watching them in the same room for a few seconds! I’d never seen anyone do that before. It was amazing.”
House’s gut clenched uncomfortably as he remembered that incident. He had been showing off, trying to demonstrate to Sherlock how clever he was. The kid had seemed unimpressed at the time.
“Okay,” said Watson with amusement. “So I was right, Dr House is your childhood role model.”
“I wasn’t a child,” snapped Sherlock, who now looked as uncomfortable as House was feeling.
“So, um, did you enjoy your date with Dr Adams?” asked Watson, his tone so jealous House was surprised his yellow face hadn’t turned green. “I wouldn’t have said she was your type.”
“No. Yes. Well– That’s not the point. House fancies her and she doesn’t like him, so it was a convenient way for both of us to annoy him. As it turns out, though, she does fancy me. She sort of pounced on me once we were alone. It was rather pleasant.”
Sherlock smiled vaguely, clearly enjoying the memory. House could tell the expression wasn’t lost on Watson either; the poor man looked quite dejected. He seemed to be struggling to find something to say, but Sherlock’s thoughts had already moved onto a different topic. He was staring at the door, his head slightly tilted as if considering something. Then he closed his eyes.
“House. Of course. Jessica was warning me that House is watching us again.”
“Oh, so Dr Adams fondled you to let you know House is watching us again?” said Watson wryly. “Why don’t I ever get coded messages like that?”
Sherlock suddenly turned to look at Watson. “John, I want you to know that I don’t intend to come back to London with you.”
“Right.” Watson looked taken aback. “Okay. I can’t say I was expecting you to, but–”
“I’ve been thinking about settling in New York,” said Sherlock. “It’s a cosmopolitan city with a varied clientele and a sufficient crime rate to keep any detective in work. There’s this Chinese woman who… anyway, it would be for the best. My return after all this time would embarrass you.”
“Right,” said Watson again.
“We can stay in touch. I’ll continue to email you.” Sherlock paused when Watson frowned and added, “I emailed you several times under the name Jeremy Sigerson. You didn’t work out that was me?”
“No. No, I didn’t,” said Watson with irritation. “Though now you come to mention it, I did think he was a bit of a pillock. I should have known it was you.”
Sherlock ignored him. “John, I need the formula. The test results were inconclusive; I ran them again late last night, but the poison in the samples had been partially metabolised and we will need a fresh sample if we want to find a cure. I need to find Câmara’s henchmen. Wait. Don’t breathe!” He frowned and stared ahead, waving a hand through his imaginary databank. “The soil samples suggest a less populated area by the seaside, but they’d travelled by car so it’ll be difficult to work out where they came from, not impossible... Morgan. One of them said Morgan. It could be a person, of course, but is there a place called Morgan?” He closed his eyes. “Ah, yes, of course there is. On the coast. I was right!” His eyes opened again. “I need to go.”
“Of course you do,” said Watson with a sigh.
Sherlock looked at the door but then with what appeared to be an effort, he turned to look at Watson.
“I wish you could come with me,” he said.
Watson’s face lit up as if that was the nicest thing Sherlock had ever said to him. Which given Sherlock’s nature might well be true.
“Believe me, I’d rather be coming too. But you… go and do your thing.” He gestured weakly with his broken arm. “I’ll be fine.”
“Okay…” said Taub slowly as Sherlock left the room. “So your long-lost son is a slightly crazy private detective who faked his death and who appears to be gay but is dating one of your female staff and also apparently has a girlfriend in New York, and whose former roommate and potential love interest is a professional hit man. And you say my life is complicated?”
House kept himself busy after Sherlock’s departure trying to re-analyze the poison samples they had extracted from Watson’s blood. In the end, he came to the conclusion that Sherlock was right; they needed a fresh sample to make any further progress. He would have to hope that Watson’s body would eliminate the poison, or that the lab in Boston would find an antidote more rapidly than expected.
He returned to his office and allowed himself a moment to sit at his desk staring at the photograph of Sherlock. The uniform the boy was wearing was ridiculous; a navy blue three-piece suit with a starched shirt and tie, finished off with a boater hat perched on his head. Sherlock had the rigid grimace of someone who was only smiling for the camera; House couldn’t blame him.
Although House had never responded to her first letter, Margaret had continued to write. She somehow found out his home address when he was completing his residency and sent him a Christmas card when Sherlock was about ten, apparently to inform him tersely that Sherlock knew about his paternity and wanted to know more about the “American doctor”. After that, cards and photographs had turned up every year, wherever House lived. He assumed Margaret had the means to hire a private detective to track his movements. Then of course, Sherlock himself had turned up.
House pushed the photograph into a pile of papers on his desk; it didn’t matter if anyone saw it now that practically the entire hospital knew that Sherlock was his son. Besides, he might use it as ammunition if Sherlock annoyed him again.
In the meantime, Watson’s condition appeared stable after the dialysis that morning and there was little point in hanging around. House decided he might as well go run some errands in case Sherlock did come back that night.
He was just crossing the lobby on his way to the car park when he noticed a handsome young brunette coming out of the Dean of Medicine’s office with Foreman. House took in the tight-fitting suit that emphasized her shapely ass. That was the thing he missed most about Cuddy: getting opportunities to leer at her throughout the day. That and the actual sex, of course.
The woman turned to smile at Foreman and for a fleeting moment, her milky white skin and blood red lips reminded House of Sherlock’s mother. But there was a hardness to her face that Margaret’s had never acquired; even at this distance, House could tell this was someone who worked hard to control the people in her life. He was amused to note that her eyes strayed from Foreman to watch the pretty blonde nurse walk by.
But it wasn’t until he drew nearer and heard her speak that House really stopped to pay attention.
“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for Jamie, Dr Foreman,” she said, her English accent making his name sound almost dignified. “I must dash, but I’ll come back to see him tomorrow. During visiting hours this time.”
Foreman’s face fell when he noticed House watching them. House approached.
“Hi. You must be...” What could she be pretending to be – Wife? Girlfriend? Sister? With all due respect to Dr. Watson, former soldier and doctor, and current hit man, this woman was clearly none of those things. “...Mr. Maddens’s employer?”
The woman’s red lips parted and her pale eyes lit up with interest. It had been a long time since a woman had looked at him with such intensity. House fought the impulse to show off and do something stupid just to impress her. Or worse, to pull out the pins holding her dark hair in a neat bun and lean in for a kiss.
“You’re Dr House,” she said with amazement, her lips barely moving. “Jamie told me about you in his texts. Yes, I am his manager in the Sales department at Albion Pharma.”
House continued to hold her gaze. “Come to sell your wares then?” He glanced down at her red-soled stilettos. “I know a professional when I see one,” he added more quietly.
There was a dangerous quality to her gaze now. House smiled. An ex-professional, then; one who was not ashamed of what she had done but had abandoned that life and needed to keep the facts under wraps.
“Your colleague is in safe hands,” said Foreman, apparently feeling the need to justify his large salary by saying something. “Dr. House is one of our best doctors.”
“I know,” said the woman, glancing at her phone. “I’m afraid I really must go. Perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow, Dr House.”
“Mrs,” she corrected with a bright smile as she turned her back on him and walked out the door. “Mrs Nicole Sigerson.”
This week: Mr and Mrs House double-date with Mr and Mrs Holmes. Contains nudity.
Illustration courtesy of Mr_ghost for the Chinese translation on www.mtslash.com
The motorbike was parked outside 221 Baker Street when House pulled up a couple of hours later. He let himself into his apartment with a smile; he hoped Sherlock would be grateful for the surprise he had gotten him. Well, he hoped Sherlock might be grateful, even though he knew Sherlock would be unlikely to express gratitude.
Of course, another reason for bringing Sherlock a gift was the hope that it might encourage him to open up about the hitherto unmentioned 'Mrs. Sigerson'. House wondered if Sherlock even knew she was in town. Judging by the conversation he had overheard that morning, Sherlock certainly didn’t seem to know that Watson was working for her. Since Sherlock had been away from the hospital all day, presumably hunting Câmara’s henchmen, House hoped he might get to be the one to announce both to Sherlock.
Sherlock’s coat and, bizarrely, his jacket and purple shirt, were laid out in a heap on the couch. There was also a duffle bag House didn’t recognize tucked under the piano. He put down the grocery bags and assorted purchases on the couch alongside Sherlock’s clothes and moved towards the back of the living-room. House could tell that Sherlock was in neither the kitchen nor the bathroom, which meant he had to be in House’s bedroom.
As if on cue, House heard Sherlock give a deep groan. For one moment, he thought Sherlock might be injured, but the next thing he heard put an end to that idea.
“Oh, that really does feel excellent,” said Sherlock in the bedroom, his voice almost a growl.
A woman giggled. House wondered if that could be Mrs. Sigerson, though she didn’t strike him as the giggling kind. Then he noticed a familiar case by the hallway closet and his heart leaped into his throat.
“Dominika?” he murmured, alarmed both at the thought that his pretend wife was already home and – though they weren’t lovers and it was none of his business – what she might possibly be doing with Sherlock in House’s bedroom.
His first impression when he cautiously peered through the door didn’t really dispel his fears. Sherlock’s naked white torso was plainly visible as he lay sprawled across House’s bed. Dominika appeared to be straddling him, her upper body covered in a fashionable print dress, but one naked long leg folded beside Sherlock’s hips and both her hands on his surprisingly chiseled chest.
Dominika looked up when House stood in the doorway.
“Hi, honey, I’m home,” she said cheerfully.
House blinked. The slight change in angle now he was closer to them revealed that Sherlock was still wearing his pants and Dominika was in fact kneeling beside him. Not that there would have been anything wrong with the alternative, of course. Sherlock and Dominika were free agents. Well, both married, apparently, but otherwise unattached.
“Your friend is hurt so I give him massage. Is finished now,” explained Dominika, throwing her long legs over the side of the bed; House noticed that she was wearing bicycle pants under the dress, so clearly her modesty had been in no way compromised by Sherlock’s proximity.
House wasn’t so sure that was true of Sherlock. There was an unusual flush on the Englishman’s high cheekbones and he sat up with his back to House, sitting on the opposite side of the bed.
“He isn’t my friend,” said House, watching Sherlock with interest. “He’s my son.”
Dominika stared at them both with wide eyes. “You never told me you have son. You tell me everything else but not about him?”
“He’s ashamed of me,” said Sherlock, who seemed as surprised by House’s revelation as Dominika, albeit obviously for different reasons. “He never even told his best friend about me.”
“You never told your best friend about me either,” pointed out House. He would address Sherlock’s assumption about the reason for House’s secrecy some other time. Or preferably never.
“So, I am your mother-in-law,” said Dominika with a grin.
“Stepmother,” corrected Sherlock and House at almost the same time.
“Pleased to meet you, Sherlock House," said Dominika sweetly. "I unpack bags now.”
Dominika skipped out of the bedroom on her long, healthy legs. When House turned back to look at him, Sherlock was smirking knowingly.
“You want her. She would let you, you know.” Sherlock stretched his left arm awkwardly. “Is that why you’re hiding letters from the Immigration service? So she’ll have sex with you?”
“Shh,” hissed House. He wondered if Sherlock had been through his trash. “And no. I just figure I’ll tell her about them when my tiresome family gets out of town. Speaking of which, you were awfully cosy with her just now.”
“Yes,” said Sherlock with a smile. “She practically jumped at the chance to get her hands on me.”
House ran his eyes over the lean muscles on his son’s chest and arms. “Sure. You’re young and healthy and... Surprisingly fit for a ‘boffin’ as the press called you.”
His eyes came to rest on Sherlock’s left shoulder; it was slightly redder than the surrounding pallid skin. House sat down on the bed beside Sherlock to take a closer look.
“I guess you found Câmara’s henchmen.”
“Hmm. Yes. Unfortunately, there were three of them. No sign of the poison or any antidote. But I might have a lead on a lab they use,” said Sherlock. He frowned at House’s hand on his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“I’m a doctor. You’re injured.” House carefully palpated his acromio-clavicular joint and manipulated Sherlock’s arm to observe the range of movement. “You dislocated it and reset it yourself? It’s fine now but I’d recommend that you lay off the bad guys for a while. We’ll get you a sling at the hospital.”
“I’ll be fine. It doesn’t even hurt.” Sherlock leaned away from House’s touch.
It occurred to House that this was only, what, the third time House had touched Sherlock in any way. No, the fourth, he thought grimly.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The kitchen was filled with black smoke emanating from a pot on the stove. Sherlock, who had clearly worked out where House kept his drugs stash, was watching it with dilated pupils as it billowed around the room, leaving uneven brownish marks on the cabinets.
House ran over to turn off the heat under the pan and opened the window. The smoke cleared but the stains remained.
“Hey, that was fun!” protested Sherlock. “I was testing the flammability of this stuff.”
He waved a bottle of disinfectant he had clearly stolen from the janitor’s trolley at the clinic where House worked in those days. The fact that Sherlock had not only been unimpressed by his bring-your-kids-to-work experience, but had used it to steal hospital property made House even madder. Though he had something far more important to worry about than the theft.
“Stacy is back on Thursday. She is going to freak out when she sees this,” he said in despair. “Clean it up!”
“No!” said Sherlock, folding his arms. “It’s your house. You can do it.”
“It’s your mess and you’re going to clean it up!”
“Oh, piss off.”
House saw red and before he could control himself, he raised his hand–
House swallowed. Yeah. It wasn’t Sherlock he was ashamed of.
“Though if I need more poking, I’d rather you got your wife to do it,” continued Sherlock, oblivious to House’s mood. “I was rather enjoying that.”
“So you do like women. Or are you just messing with me with my wife this time?”
“The only thing you should conclude from that is that I enjoy a massage,” said Sherlock. He sighed and looked House in the eye. “But since it’s so important to you: I do have sex with women. I don’t do it very often because I genuinely have better things to do with my time, but I find some women attractive. So I am capable of forming physical and emotional relationships with people and you can stop worrying about me.”
“But you went out with Adams last night to mess with me, right?” said House.
Sherlock smiled, fine lines creasing the smooth skin around his eyes. “All right, yes. I convinced Jessica to overcome her natural dislike of me last night purely to play a trick on you. Though I have to admit that after the strip club, and since she so obviously fancied me, I was very tempted… but then my mobile rang so we didn’t go through with it. I suppose judging by this morning, I might still be in with a chance if I play my cards right.”
He looked innocently hopeful and for a moment, House could almost believe that it was all an act; the mind palace, the manic obsessions, the borderline Tourette’s. Maybe Sherlock really was an ordinary man with a strange name who enjoyed playing the occasional prank on his absentee father.
But then Sherlock’s nostrils flared and he leaned forward to sniff House’s shirt like a dog.
“Irene!” he exclaimed, leaping off the bed. “Oh, crumpets. I’d better get dressed!”
“Irene?” repeated House, still sitting on the bed. “Is that her real name?”
Sherlock paused, one hand on his flies. “I don’t know. I never asked. I only know her as Irene Adler. She used another name when we got married.”
“She’s calling herself Mrs. Nicole Sigerson right now,” said House. “You married a woman, but you never asked what her real name was?”
Sherlock removed his pants and threw them into House’s laundry basket. House followed him out into the corridor, past Dominika who was still unpacking her stuff, and into the living-room.
“Considering we’re both legally dead, I doubt we’re legally married,” said Sherlock. He removed his socks and, dressed only in his underpants, opened his flight case and pulled out a fresh set of clothes.
House only just had time to register the fact that the set of clothes included underwear when Sherlock shucked off the underpants he was wearing. Of course, Dominika chose that exact moment to cross the living-room and drop something off in the kitchen. She stopped to stare appreciatively at her stepson.
“He is very like you,” she said to House. “But he doesn’t have birthmark on his–”
“Yeah, we’re past thinking that’s relevant,” interrupted House. “Definitely my son though.”
“I assume the blood test you ordered yesterday also showed that I am free of STDs or any sign of hormonal abnormalities,” said Sherlock brightly, pulling on a clean pair of pants and underwear. “There’s really nothing wrong with me.”
“I think a lot of people might disagree with that,” grumbled House.
Sherlock was buttoning up his light grey shirt. It was as tight fitting as the purple one and House seriously wondered if Sherlock had any idea how gay it made him look.
“Well, a lot of people are idiots,” said Sherlock indulgently. “Dominika, a cup of tea would be marvellous. Milk, two sugars, use the teabags on the counter.”
Oddly, Dominika did as she was told, disappearing into the kitchen. Sherlock launched himself ass first onto the couch, smiling as it gave his slim frame a small bounce.
“So, now all we need to do is wait for my lovely lady wife to turn up,” said Sherlock smugly.
Realizing that there was no room on the three-seat couch now that Sherlock was sprawled in the part not already occupied with House’s earlier acquisitions and Sherlock’s coat, House settled on the armchair beside it.
“What makes you think your wife is looking for you?" asked House. "She’s posing as Watson’s employer from Albion Pharma. Maybe they decided they were better off without you. Lonely widower, sexy wife of his apparently deceased roommate. A match made in soap operas.”
If House had seriously entertained any hope that his innuendo might make Sherlock jealous in any way, he would have been severely disappointed.
“Yes, of course she's his employer,” said Sherlock, who now seemed fully adjusted to the news that his wife was in town. “It was obvious that he had to be working for someone I knew and someone who, like me, is pursuing Moriarty’s former associates. The question is, is she doing this for her own purposes or on behalf of– what is that?”
House smiled as Sherlock extracted a case from amongst the grocery bags. “What do you think it is? A new rifle for your friend the hit man?”
House glanced at the mysterious duffle bag under the piano and wondered if it contained Watson’s gun.
“No. It’s obviously a violin.” Still looking bemused, Sherlock opened the case. He pulled out the violin and plucked the strings. “Not a very good one,” he added, wrinkling his nose.
“Yeah, I had a feeling the first words out of your mouth wouldn’t be ‘thank you’,” said House, rolling his eyes.
Having found Sherlock in bed with Dominika, he was kind of wishing he hadn't bothered asking the guy at his favorite music store if he could borrow the violin for a couple days.
“It’s a gift from a grateful patient," he said nonchalantly. "I figured you might as well play it while you're here, but try not to get any scratches on it. I'm selling it on eBay on Monday.”
Sherlock wasn’t listening. He stood up and started tuning the violin, pacing back and forth in front of the tall sash windows at the end of House’s living-room. It took a while until Sherlock had each string tightened to his satisfaction; the E sounded flat to House’s ear, but then he wasn’t a violinist.
When he was happy, Sherlock picked up the bow and, eyes closed, plucked at the strings, playing the same note – a D – twelve times. It wasn’t until he played a discordant tritone that House realized what he was playing. Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre; how appropriate for a dead man. House smiled and quickly sat at the piano, waiting for a suitable cue to join in.
As soon as House began to play, Sherlock’s eyes flew open and his lips curled into a smile. Not the insincere smirk that usually adorned it but a genuine wide-eyed grin of pleasure. Then he closed his eyes again and turned back to the window, lost once more in the melody.
At some point, Dominika appeared with the cup of tea, though all she did was place it on the coffee table and sit on the couch, staring up in awe at Sherlock as he played. House didn’t mind; he would have been the first to admit that Sherlock was a talented violinist. And although he still saw too much of his own lanky features in his son, House was beginning to glimpse what other people saw in him. There was an almost angelic quality to his smooth features now and the dull light from the window cast soft shadows on his prominent cheekbones and the curve of his lips.
From this angle, House could also see Margaret. Her face had been fuller and wider, more like her son Mycroft’s, but she too had had curly dark hair and those perfectly shaped lips.
It was a hot spring day. Margaret was pulling up her halter top, tying the string under her thick hair. She picked up her cigarette from the ashtray and squinted out into the bright sunshine.
“I can’t believe it’s so hot already,” she said.
“Guess you’re not used to it, huh?” said House, still lying naked on her bed.
“No, I suppose I’m not. Though you probably won’t believe this, but it was this hot last summer in England. The hottest summer on record, apparently. Or certainly in my lifetime. We took Mycroft down to the beach in Weymouth and the poor mite practically got third degree burns. Sherry looked like a lobster.”
House chuckled politely and got up to pull on his jeans and his ‘Disco Sucks’ T-shirt.
“Greg,” she continued, “do you ever think about having children?”
“Nah. I’ll do that when I’m old. Say, forty or something,” he added teasingly.
Margaret rolled her eyes. “I’m not old, you pipsqueak.” She put the cigarette down and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Greg...”
Her voice trailed off and even though he was only eighteen and infatuated with her, he knew there were plenty of things he didn’t want to hear at this stage in his young life.
‘I’m leaving you... I’m leaving my husband... I’m pregnant...’
But in the end, she had said nothing and just kissed him, filling his mouth with the taste of lipstick and nicotine.
House looked up at Sherlock, at their son, amazed that those moments of passion a lifetime ago had produced this; this man, flawed, scarred, emotional and imperfect in so many ways, and yet perfect in his humanity.
It wasn’t fair. Why had Sherlock happened when House could have happily screwed up his own life and died sad and alone as it seemed he was destined to do, without the guilt of knowing he had screwed up someone else’s life in the process? He wondered how much time the little boy had spent thinking about the mysterious American father who never wrote to him.
House had vaguely hoped that Sherlock’s peculiar mental processes might insulate him from the usual psychological damage parents inflicted on their children. But now he had heard his son extolling his virtues, he wasn’t so sure anymore. The guilt brought a familiar sour lump to his throat.
Sherlock obviously knew the piece very well, whereas it had been years since House had played the piano accompaniment and he kept having to ad lib until Sherlock got to a point he remembered. But the music flowed between them, creating the swelling tide of ghosts and skeletons dancing in their graveyards as Death played its fugue.
“Домініка, відкрий двері,” said Sherlock suddenly. He was looking out of the window, still playing, but his smile was more sinister.
Dominika hesitated and then sprang to her feet to open the door. Sherlock’s wife was standing behind it. She had changed since House last saw her at the hospital and was now wearing a tailored raincoat over a tight-fitting cream-colored dress.
She smiled politely at Dominika and walked in without a word, her eyes immediately on Sherlock. She watched him for a moment, standing by the door as Dominika took her rain-splattered coat. Then she moved towards the couch; she paused to pick up Sherlock's coat, holding it to her chest for a moment before moving it over so she could sit down. Dominika sat beside her and although Mrs. Sigerson - Irene Adler - seemed mesmerized by her husband, she still found a moment to glance at Dominika’s cleavage and bare legs.
The men had reached the final movement; the rooster had crowed and Death was playing one last, plaintive melody before retreating to the shadows.
“Bravo!” said Dominika enthusiastically.
“Don’t clap!” snapped Sherlock before she could put her hands together. “The music is quite perfect enough without a gaudy display of appreciation.”
“I see you’ve lost nothing of your tact and charm, Sherlock,” said Adler archly.
“Don't tell me you're still upset," said Sherlock disdainfully.
"About being abandoned in Helsinki? Not at all. In fact that was rather a relief. I met the loveliest girl after you left." Adler looked around House's living-room. "I didn't imagine that we would meet again like this." She fixed her cool gaze on House. “Sherlock, aren’t you going introduce us?”
“No,” said Sherlock grumpily. “You’ve obviously already met. He’s John’s doctor.”
“Yes, though that doesn’t explain why you’re apparently living with him,” said Adler, eyeing Sherlock's clothes on the couch and the case by the fireplace. “Imagine my surprise to come looking for a House and find myself a Holmes. But I have to say I thought a gentleman with your good breeding might extend a better welcome to his wife.”
“Why, of course, darling,” said Sherlock with a long-suffering sigh. He put the violin down on top of the piano and came over to give Adler a quick kiss on the cheek, like a little boy forced to kiss his maiden aunt. “How are you, my dear? Had a nice trip? Enjoying your new life employing John as your personal assassin?”
“Oh, he isn’t my personal assassin.” Adler glanced at House and Dominika, but took her cue from Sherlock and spoke freely. “It’s purely business. I have the contacts and he has the skills.”
Adler paused as Dominika leaned in between them to pick up the groceries House had left on the end of the couch. House’s wife seemed to instinctively understand that she was superfluous to this particular plot. House, on the other hand, left the piano and came back to sit in the armchair, enjoying this scene very much.
“And don’t get all high and mighty about John being a killer,” continued Adler once Dominika was gone. “He killed for the British Army. He killed for you. And now... Well, he kills for money. He’s really very good at it; he might not be a great detective, but he is an excellent hunter.”
House raised an eyebrow with amusement. "I take it no one is bothered by the fact he kills people for a living."
“Not very nice people, I’m sure,” said Sherlock.
"Oh, so he's an ethical killer," said House sarcastically. "I guess he's all square with the Hippocratic oath, then."
As so often happened, Sherlock ignored him. "John really is an excellent shot,” he said with enthusiasm. “He must have been surprised to see me with Câmara. I was standing less than an arm’s length away, but he still got a perfect hit.”
“I see you were so impressed that you left his equipment lying in plain sight in Dr House’s living room.” Adler looked down at the duffle bag under the piano. “That’s a little sloppy, don’t you think? Despite their reputation, not every American has an arsenal in their home. Dr. House certainly doesn’t seem the type.”
“He owns a gun. It’s lying unloaded on the top shelf of his bedroom cupboard. Which makes it pretty useless as a defensive weapon and therefore pointless except as a keepsake of his father’s. Or rather stepfather, since his biological father was someone else.”
“Yes, that runs in the family,” said House, observing his son. “At least two generations of bastards.”
Sherlock shot him a dirty look. “Anyway, my stepmother was here when I came back. I didn’t want to draw attention to the bag by hiding it in front of her.”
“Your- Oh.” Adler glanced in the direction of the kitchen and then gave House an appraising look.
“Yes, you wanted introductions,” said Sherlock, waving his violin bow. “Irene, my wife, Greg House, my father, and Dominika - I don’t know her real last name - my father’s wife.” He lifted the violin to his chin and retuned the E-string.
“Two generations of bastards. I see. I must admit–” She looked over House’s plain clothes, graying beard and thinning hair. “You’re really not how I would imagine Sherlock’s father.”
“And you’re really not how I imagined Sherlock’s lover.” House looked down to stare at her chest. He was pretty certain she wasn’t wearing a bra. “I wouldn’t have said you were his type. Or that you had the right equipment. I mean, I know you can do marvels with strap-ons these days but you’re still kind of a poor substitute for a butch army doctor.” He glanced up at her pale face and remembered Margaret. “On the other hand, you do look a lot like his mother.”
“Oh, god,” moaned Sherlock dramatically. He started to play a slow tune on the violin.
“Coronation Street, really, Sherlock?” said Adler with a laugh. “I wouldn’t have thought you even knew what a soap opera was.”
Sherlock lowered the violin and sat down at the piano instead. “I used to know the names and biographies of all the characters; I watched it in secret with Cook when Mummy was out. I never imagined then that I would one day be living in my own soap opera, finding myself in some godforsaken American town with my biological father who has pretended that I don’t exist for thirty-five years, a wife whose interest in me is entirely scurrilous and based on my reputation rather than my person, and a stepmother who is several years younger than me and only married to this pathetic old man so she can continue to live in this country filled with ignorant fat people who don’t even know where England is, let alone the rest of the United-Kingdom.”
“I think you’re doing us all a grave disservice,” protested Adler.
“No, me, I really just want green card,” said Dominika, who had apparently run out of busy work to do in the kitchen. “I cook dinner, yes?”
“Excellent idea,” said Sherlock from his semi-concealed position behind the piano. “Do run along! We can carry on quite well without you.”
Dominika looked behind her into the little open plan kitchen. “Kitchen is just here. I can still hear conversation. And my English is very good.”
“Yes, certainly perfectly adequate for the standards practised here,” said Sherlock sarcastically.
House stood up decisively. "I think we should all go out to dinner and celebrate this impromptu family reunion. Since Sherlock has already been making friends with my wife, it's only fair I get a chance to know his. Maybe we can negotiate a wife swap later." He leered at Adler who returned his gaze impassively, then he turned to look at his son. "That's if we can convince Sherlock to come out from behind that sex-proof piano and sit anywhere near his wife, of course.”
“No, the woman can’t be her mom. Sister, maybe, but mother? No.”
“Of course she is. Look at her neck, at her hands. She’s at least ten or fifteen years older than she seems. She’s had cosmetic surgery. The daughter is younger than she seems too, probably still at college or university. Studying... accountancy, judging by the cut of that suit. She’s estranged from her mother now. Disapproves of the new stepfather, thinks her mother should grow old gracefully. She knows her mother disapproves of her too, thinks she’s throwing away her youth and beauty, wasting her time on study, on getting a career instead of enjoying the youth her mother craves.”
“Yeah, I see it. The mother gave the daughter that necklace; it’s out of place with the rest of her conservative clothes. But the mom wants her daughter’s approval too. Look at the pale bands on her fingers; she’s removed the excessive jewelry she usually wears. And those shoes don’t match her outfit. They’re probably the only ones she had that don’t make her look like a hooker. She’s trying to meet her daughter halfway. I hope her daughter understands that.”
“Maybe.” Sherlock turned away abruptly from the women in the far corner and pointed, none too discreetly, at a couple seated at a table closer to them. “That man is having an affair. He feels guilty about it, though, so he’s taking his wife out for a nice meal.”
“She suspects, but she’s playing along because why look a gift horse in the mouth when you can milk it and clean up in the divorce settlement,” completed House.
Sherlock smiled at him brightly. House had to admit that it was fun to people watch with someone who was as observant as he was. He could imagine it might become quite irritating after a while - after all, they were both adept at showing off, and that was easier when the person with you didn't know exactly what you were about to say. But for now, the conversation was quite enjoyable.
House had picked the same French restaurant where he had taken his mother and new stepfather a few weeks earlier. A different waiter was in charge of their table, and it seemed nobody there remembered House dropping his pants to display his birthmark.
“So, Mrs. Sherlock–” started Dominika, apparently bored of listening to House and Sherlock dissecting the other diners.
“Irene, please, Dominika, you can call me Irene.”
“Oh, Irene.” Dominika smiled sweetly. “You are knowing Sherlock for a long time?
“Four years, give or take a few months. But we’ve only been married for a couple of years.” She gave Sherlock a predatory look which he pretended not to notice. “We met up again by accident in Isfahan of all places. Iran isn’t the most comfortable of places for unmarried, unaccompanied women and it just happened that holding a wedding would give us both an opportunity to entrap our mark of the time, who was definitely not a nice man. Here, I even have a wedding photo.”
Adler held out her phone to show House and Dominika a picture of her wearing the same ivory dress with a bouquet of white flowers and a cream-colored scarf draped elegantly around her head. Sherlock, on the other hand, was almost unrecognizable. In his tuxedo and with a hairstyle that almost looked like Marcel waves, he looked remarkably like House’s maternal grandfather in his youth back in the 1930s.
“You make a very convincing redhead, Sherlock,” said House, handing the phone back to Adler.
“Strawberry blonde, actually,” snapped Sherlock, still leaning over to observe the couple.
“Nice porntache too,” added House with a chuckle. “Very Clark Gable.”
Adler laughed. “I made him shave that for our wedding night.”
House narrowed his eyes. “Considering you’re both gay, that must have been kind of awkward.”
“You really didn’t believe me when I said I fancied girls, did you?” said Sherlock. He actually sounded offended.
“No.” House looked at Adler expectantly.
“Just in case there is any doubt in your mind, Dr House,” said Adler in a low voice that sent shivers down House’s spine, “and as difficult as it may be for you to believe, our marriage was consummated the usual way.”
“You certainly left no stone unturned in that respect,” said Sherlock, though his eyes were scanning the room, his body tilting slightly to and fro as he looked around.
“You’re right,” said House. “I do find it difficult to believe.”
“You’ll just have to trust me. Even if I had photographs, I hardly think it would be appropriate to show them to you.”
“Really? I thought they would be your favourite handouts at parties,” grumbled Sherlock.
Adler ignored him; her pale eyes were still on House.
“I’ve made a career out of knowing what men like, Dr House.” Adler leaned forward and though she was fully clothed, she managed to make the movement seem almost obscene. “Every man has his tipping point. Even Sherlock Holmes.”
House leaned forward too, until his face was only inches from hers. “It must have been such a disappointment to you to discover that Little Boy Blue here was just another ordinary man after all.”
“True. I wasn’t even his first if that’s what you’re thinking,” said Adler, leaning back in her chair with a sly smile. “Apparently, some prostitute got her hand down his trousers when he was seventeen.”
House glared at his son. “So you did have sex with Cherry. You told me you didn’t touch her!”
“I didn’t,” said Sherlock with a smirk. “But she was so keen, it would have been churlish to refuse. Besides, I was seventeen!”
House stared at him one moment and then burst out laughing. “You asshole. You made me think–”
House stopped abruptly as his pager went off. He felt a cold pall of dread wash over him. There was no reason for the hospital staff to page him at this time in the evening unless something had happened to one of his patients. And House only had the one patient.
I promised nudity, didn't I? In case you were disappointed by the fact that it was only written nudity, here is a picture of what House and Dominika were treated to (NSFW!)
This week: Sherlock gets a kiss and a mission, and House gets to know his daughter-in-law.
As House had feared from the moment his pager went off at the restaurant, Watson had taken another turn for the worst. House sent Dominika home in a cab but didn’t protest when Sherlock and Adler insisted on coming to the hospital with him.
“The coagulation agents we’ve used to control his bleeding produced a clot,” explained Park, meeting them at the hospital door with Adams. “Wat- Maddens had a heart attack twenty minutes ago. Chase has just gotten here and is prepping for surgery to remove the clot.”
“The problem is that both his platelet and blood factor production are too irregular,” explained Adams. “If we reduce the transfusions, he starts bleeding out, and if we increase the amount we’re giving him, this happens.” She seemed to notice Sherlock and gave him a friendly smile. “Hi!”
Sherlock made an indistinct noise in response, his eyes focused in the middle distance and his mind no doubt on Watson. Adler, on the other hand, eyed Adams with predatory interest. House indicated the three women while they waited for the elevator.
“Irene, this is Dr. Park, one of my colleagues, and Dr. Adams, who went on a date with Wonderboy here last night,” said House loudly, enjoying the discomfort on Adams’s face. “Park, Adams, this is my daughter-in-law Irene, Sherlock’s wife.”
Adams took in Adler’s impeccable appearance with a sour expression and turned away. “Of course she is,” she sighed.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Adler, her accent conferring a touch of old-style dignity to the exchange. “I hope the date was satisfactory? It isn’t usually Sherlock’s cup of tea but I am sure he had his reasons.”
The man in question was standing apart from the rest of them, mumbling to himself and gesturing impatiently at his own thoughts. The two women observed him for a moment, apparently enthralled by what they saw. House followed their gaze and squinted, but all he could see was an odd-looking nutcase. A nutcase he admittedly found quite likeable in spite of the sarcasm and arrogance; though that was easily attributable to some weird genetic bond.
The elevator arrived and they all bundled in, Sherlock flanked by Adler and Adams, which would have been hilarious if he had paid the least bit of attention to either of them. House wished he had met his son again under better circumstances. He also wondered if both their lives might have been different if he’d been less of an ass last time.
Sherlock had been lying on his bed in the guest room, reading one of House’s medical text books and feigning disinterest in his father’s presence, but the announcement that they were going to a party apparently piqued his interest and he looked up. He had spent the night on Stacy’s computer again, using their toll-free AOL dial-up to chat with one of his school friends, and he looked tired, his eyes redder than usual. House was even tempted to ask him if he was okay, but Sherlock put down his book and sat up.
“What kind of party?” he asked brightly.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said House airily, as if he routinely got invited to mystery parties. “One of my co-workers is celebrating his birthday and I figured you might enjoy it. Guess they don’t have many parties at boarding school.”
“Well, they do have some, but they’re pretty heavily chaperoned.” Sherlock gave him an accusing look as if suspecting that House intended to chaperone him.
House was still trying to be a cool dad. Or more precisely, trying to pretend that he wasn’t a dad at all. He could just about justify it by the fact that he was only thirty-six and Sherlock was practically an adult.
“No chaperone,” he assured Sherlock. “You can party all you like. There will be loads of students from PPTH, so they’ll be practically your age.”
Actually, he knew most of them would be at least ten years older than Sherlock. But he remembered being uninterested in people his own age when he was younger, so he assumed Sherlock wouldn’t mind. He also assumed, despite all the evidence he’d had so far about Sherlock’s drug-seeking habits, that it would do no harm to expose him to a party given by Med students. He knew he’d screwed up with his reaction to the kitchen thing and then probably made things worse by giving his possibly gay son a female prostitute, so he figured the party would be a harmless peace offering.
“I want you to enjoy yourself,” he continued. “You know, enjoy your youth.”
“Yes. That’s... nice,” said Sherlock awkwardly. Unexpectedly, he got off the bed and gave House a quick hug. “Thank you.”
It didn’t last long and House never found out what had prompted it, but he remained rooted to the spot with surprise as Sherlock released him and lay down on the bed to read his book again.
“Cool,” said House. “Well, glad you’re looking forward to it then.”
House shook his head. Why the hell had his mind picked that particular memory? He eyed Sherlock, walking alongside him down the corridor to the ICU with his gray coat flapping, and wondered if he would need a hug if Watson didn’t make it. Though even if Sherlock did need a hug, House figured one of the women would give it to him.
Watson was awake when they reached his room, though he had the exhausted look of a man whose body was giving up the fight. House checked his readings while Sherlock stood by the doorway, apparently shocked by the sight of all the equipment around his roommate. Adler, however, rushed over to Watson’s bedside.
“Oh, Jamie, I am so sorry. I wouldn’t have sent you to that conference if I had known something like this would happen!”
Watson gave her a weary look. “No, I don’t suppose your friend Sebastian told you about the poison.”
“Sebastian?” repeated Sherlock. “You’re working with Moran?” When Adler didn’t deny it, Sherlock’s features became contorted with rage. “He’s the one Moriarty charged with killing John if I didn’t die at Bart’s! He was Moriarty’s right-hand man. And you’ve brought John into contact with him!”
“I am well aware of the irony,” said Irene coldly. She glanced at the other people in the room, and lowered her voice. House, who was closest to them, was probably the only one who could hear her over the whirring of the ICU machines. “Given your determination to remain dead, there seemed little point in turning down his generous offer for the elimination of some old rivals. He was very impressed with John and said he was willing to let bygones be bygones. Don’t worry, he doesn’t know you’re alive.”
“If he didn’t know before, he’ll know now!” exclaimed Sherlock loudly, less concerned about keeping their affairs private than she was. He turned on his wife with such an expression of fury that Adams, who wasn’t even on that side of the room, took a step away from him. Adler, however, stood her ground. “You’ve led Moran right onto us, you stupid bitch!” he shouted. “Get out of my sight.”
Adler pursed her lips but did as she was told. She pulled out her phone as soon as she left the room, pacing back and forth in her stilettos.
“How could I have missed that?” growled Sherlock. “I should have known she would be up to something. Women are never entirely to be trusted, even the best of them. And I should have been keeping an eye on you, even if that was apparently a creepy thing to do and everyone said I should let go and let you move on with your life, but then I take my eyes off you for a few months and this happens! Moran must have planned this, the perfect opportunity to kill you and catch me. Complete Moriarty’s plan to make me suffer for not dying–”
“Sherlock,” said Watson weakly. “Come here.”
Sherlock’s scowl of rage softened a little and he approached the bed. “John. You should have been more careful–”
“Stop ranting for a minute and listen to me,” interrupted Watson. “Sherlock, if I don’t make it–”
“There’s no reason to believe you won’t,” said Sherlock firmly. “House has an exceptionally good success rate. That’s the only reason people put up with him.”
“Your faith in me is touching,” said House, “but Watson needs to go to the OR so it would help if you could both speed up the deathbed confessions.”
Watson didn’t seem to hear him; his eyes were on Sherlock. “I have a locker at Grand Central Station.”
“I know,” said Sherlock with an impatient wave of his hand. “I found the key. All your things are at House’s flat.”
“Right.” Despite his dire medical condition, there was a hint of amusement in Watson’s voice as he continued. “So you’ve probably also worked out the code on my other phone and read all my personal messages, but in case you haven’t, it’s 1895. Just– if I make it, don’t tell me what you think about the messages Mary used to send me. That’s private. And if I don’t make it… Look, you don’t have to call her but you should text Harry. Or tell Greg and he’ll get in touch with her.”
“I-I’ve already got her phone number,” said Sherlock in a strangled voice. Shifting over to get a clearer view, House realized that Sherlock was crying. “But I won’t need it. You’re not going to die.”
“I’m a doctor, Sherlock.” Watson’s large yellowed eyes were on Sherlock’s face. “I know you think I’m an idiot, but I am a doctor. I can read my charts.”
House, who was holding the charts in question, had to agree that the prognosis was glum. He didn’t bother to school his features into a more neutral expression when Sherlock looked at him for confirmation.
“No, you’re not going to die,” repeated Sherlock stubbornly, though he was crying freely now, quite unselfconscious about his watery eyes and nose. “You can’t die. House won’t let you.”
“They might be able to patch me up now but they can’t keep on doing that forever. As long as this poison stays in my system, I’m just going to get worse.” Watson reached up with his unbroken arm, lifting all the tubes attached to it with difficulty. He stroked away one of Sherlock’s tears. “Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that. Come here.”
Adams and Park looked pointedly away as Watson curled his fingers around the nape of Sherlock’s neck, pulling him closer. Sherlock seemed to be the only person in the room who didn’t guess Watson’s intentions, because he turned his head as he lowered it, cocking his ear as if he expected Watson to say something to him.
Watson smiled wryly and kissed Sherlock’s cheek. At last, realization dawned on Sherlock and he turned his head to press his lips to Watson’s. It was a dry, awkward kiss, hampered by Watson’s oxygen tubes and Sherlock’s uncomfortable position leaning over the bed, but neither of them seemed to mind.
“Chase is ready for him,” said Taub, arriving with the orderlies to fetch Watson. He noticed what Sherlock and Watson were doing. “Oh, sorry. But we really need to take him to the OR.”
Sherlock lingered a moment longer, gently rubbing his nose against Watson’s before straightening up. His tear-stained face was grim as he followed the team out of the room. He sniffed and made no effort to wipe away his tears when they took Watson into the operating theater.
When his friend was out of sight, Sherlock turned on his heels and headed for one of the back exits. House followed him and found him lighting a cigarette by the door, sheltering from the rain under the overhang.
“You’re an idiot, Sherlock Holmes,” said House.
Sherlock just glared at him. He didn’t seem to be enjoying the cigarette very much. The packet was already half empty and House recognized the brand as one favored by women. Sherlock had probably stolen it from one of the nurses.
“I doubt one cigarette will do that much harm,” responded Sherlock, deliberately misunderstanding House’s comment. He sighed, exhaling a plume of blue gray smoke. “I can’t just stand around here. I need something to do.”
“And I believe I have just the thing.”
Adler had followed them and was standing in the doorway . House half expected another outburst from his son, but instead, he threw the cigarette away when she beckoned and followed her meekly inside. Adler handed Sherlock a handkerchief and he wiped his cheeks in a perfunctory fashion while she spoke to him. His face was filled with renewed determination when she showed him something on her phone. Sherlock strode over to House.
“House, I need the car.”
“What for?” asked House.
“Sherlock, you should be there when John wakes up,” said Adler softly. “There’s plenty of time.”
Sherlock ignored her. “House. The car keys. Can I have them, please?”
House dropped them into his outstretched hand. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to find out if there’s an antidote. And if there isn’t, I’m going to find the people who did this to John and I’m going to kill them.”
Chase was as calm and efficient as always, apparently unaffected by the fact that he himself had been laid out on the same operating table only a couple of months earlier. House wondered if Chase blamed him for that attack, when a patient stabbed him with a scalpel. Although House himself hadn’t been present, there had been a general feeling at the time that the risk-taking culture he encouraged in his team was to blame for Chase bringing the scalpel into the potentially psychotic patient’s room in the first place.
Well, if Chase blamed him for that, it was nothing compared to the number of things House blamed himself for. He wondered again why he had remembered the hug before the party when they were in the elevator. Perhaps their relaxed banter at the restaurant had reminded him of the relationship he might have had with his son if he hadn’t screwed up and ignored Sherlock all his life, and brought to mind the only other time they had been close; though that had ironically been the prelude to the biggest screw-up of all.
The operation was successful but House left the theater in a low mood. He half wished he hadn’t given Sherlock the keys. Adler was right: Sherlock should be there with him when Watson woke up, not out chasing bad guys. Still, this time, Sherlock really was a grown man and House couldn’t blame himself for his son’s poor decision-making.
At least Adler herself had opted to stay. She was talking to the blonde nurse in the waiting pod; she looked up when House approached and said something to the nurse, dismissing her. House took a deep breath and firmly dismissed his dark thoughts.
“That is one popular woman,” he said lightly as he approached Adler. He admired the nurse from behind; young and hot but not his type. He leaned on his cane and looked down at his daughter-in-law. “I have to warm you, though, you’re the fourth person to hit on her in two days and Chase already got lucky.”
“I know. I’ve just debriefed her,” said Adler placidly. “But I’ll take it from here now so she’s going back home.” She shook her head gently when House gave her a quizzical look. “You didn’t think I would let my best associate perform a dangerous mission without some backup? I’ve been keeping close tabs on John ever since he was first admitted to hospital.”
“But you didn’t come in person until you heard that Sherlock was here too,” said House.
“How is John?” she asked, her expression communicating concern that House wasn’t certain she actually felt.
“Alive.” House lowered his eyes. “Which at this stage is pretty good going.”
“Poor thing. He’s such a good man; he doesn’t deserve this.” Adler had remained seated and even hunched down a little, giving House the impression that he was towering over her. It made her look deceptively vulnerable. “Dr House, you have to believe that I didn’t know this would happen. I heard a rumour that Sherlock was in New York, but that’s all it was. A rumour. Sebastian wanted Câmara gone and I simply thought that if the rumour was true, I could kill two birds with one stone.”
House sat down on the bench across from hers, leaning nonchalantly back on the glass pane behind him. His leg ached from the effort of standing in the operating theater.
“Which birds were you killing, though?” he asked. “Câmara and Sherlock? I guess if you’ve been keeping tabs on Watson, your friend Sebastian probably has too. Was that the real deal? Send Watson to shoot Câmara and hand Moran Sherlock on a plate?”
Adler pretended to be shocked. “My marriage to Sherlock might not be the romance of the century, but you surely don’t think I wanted him dead.” She smiled. “Moriarty has been dead for three years. Sherlock hasn’t been back to England for practically as long. Sebastian isn’t that loyal to his old master.” She lowered her eyes demurely. “But I thought perhaps it was time John and Sherlock were reunited.”
“I see. You sent Watson to murder someone just so he could be reunited with the love of his life. Very romantic.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” she said without missing a beat. “I take it you understand the relationship between them.”
“Sure. Watson is straight and madly in love with Sherlock and Sherlock is gay but completely oblivious.”
“Not entirely oblivious,” explained Adler. “But cautious. He’s been hurt before. And he’s broken hearts before too. Nobody enjoys hurting the ones they love.”
“I guess he should have thought of that before he faked his death,” said House. “He sure as hell hurt Watson.” Not just Watson either; House remembered the dull ache he’d felt when he heard the news too. It wasn’t something he wanted to dwell on. “So Sherlock is gay, right?”
“No.” Her red lips parted into a mischievous smile. “He’s Sherlock Holmes.”
She laughed at House’s dubious expression.
“You’re a doctor with more than a passing interest in the subject. As you know, the brain is the biggest sex organ, and Sherlock’s brain doesn’t work like ours. Sometimes it works better, and other times, it just gets in the way. So his body reacts normally to the usual stimuli but his brain sometimes interferes.”
“Particularly when his partner doesn’t have the right equipment?” asked House with amusement.
Adler laughed again. “I hardly think it is appropriate to discuss a man’s ‘equipment’ preferences with his father.”
“Sure. But I’ve got to say it is great to hear that Sherlock is crap in bed,” said House, returning her smile. “For a moment there, I was afraid Adams and Dominika might be onto a good thing.” He leaned forward and took the opportunity to leer at Adler’s tight-fitting dress which hugged her small breasts in just the right places. “You know, if you wanted someone who does appreciate your equipment while you’re here... I know it’s not really your thing, but women don’t usually pay for sex so I guess you must know a thing or two about sleeping with men.”
Adler’s expression became more serious. “I’m out of that business. It was entertaining for a time, but I-” She paused, as if pondering whether to tell House the truth about her retirement. She apparently decided not to confide in him. He could guess the reason anyway.
“In any case, I didn’t have sex with most of my clients," continued Adler. "I provided them with services - disciplinary services, if you like - and if those services happened to arouse them, that was their problem.” She leaned forward as she had done at the restaurant. “Besides, if you won’t sleep with a woman who is married to you, I doubt you would sleep with a woman who is married to your son.”
She was right of course. House leaned against the glass behind him again.
“I know why you’re out of the game. You’ve met someone,” he said slyly. “Someone you actually love, not another trick to play games with.”
Adler didn’t respond immediately; she held House’s gaze, appraising him coolly again.
“I didn’t believe it when I first met you earlier, with your Nike shoes and dishevelled appearance. But you are like your son,” she said softly. “You both like to pretend that you’re rogues with no regard for social niceties. But I know rogues. Deep down inside, you’re both honourable men. Just out of interest, why don’t you sleep with Dominika?”
When House said nothing, she looked him over appraisingly. “I think… You feel guilty about something. Marrying a woman younger than your son? Taking advantage of someone who only wants American citizenship? Or is there something else?”
“Yeah,” said House, adopting a conspiratorial tone. “I don’t really know how to break it to her that I really don’t like knishes.”
“I wonder why you married her?” continued Adler as if he hadn't spoken. “An altruistic desire to help someone in need? Oh, I told you, I know an honourable man when I see one, Dr House, and I am sure you are quite capable of inexplicable gestures of kindness. But Dominika is hardly a stereotypical illegal immigrant who has fallen on hard times. So what else could it be? Your way to mend a broken heart, perhaps? A means of punishing a lover who rejected you?”
House held her gaze and he knew from her smile that she had guessed the truth. It was possible that the blonde nurse had passed on hospital gossip about his affair with Cuddy, but it was old news by now and he thought it would be a mistake to underestimate Adler’s perceptiveness.
“I’m beginning to see why Sherlock chose to marry you,” he said. “Though I’m still kind of surprised he chose to marry at all.”
Adler lowered her eyes with a fond smile. “Well, as I explained earlier, we agreed that it would be useful for the task at hand.” She looked up at House again. “But his real motives were probably closer to your own. After all, John had just married Mary Morstan.”
“So you knew he was just acting out because he was heartbroken, but you went along with it anyway. Why?” asked House, before pretending to work it out. “Oh, of course. You wanted Norwegian nationality!”
“I owed Sherlock a favour,” said Adler with a laugh. “But the fake Norwegian passport has been quite useful. I hope Dominika will enjoy her real American one as much.”
House looked down at his pocket with irritation as his phone began to ring. “Oh, speak of the devil... It’s the old ball and Ukraine in person.”
He pulled out his cell with an exaggerated eye roll that amused Adler. However, he became more serious when he heard Dominika’s voice. She sounded in a panic.
“Greg,” she started, rolling the R dramatically, “there is bad men in your apartment. I hear them come in and I go out kitchen window. They not taking anything, they just waiting in dark. Should I call police? Is trouble for you?”
Adler was frowning at him, obviously sensing that something was wrong. House mouthed ‘Câmara’s men in my apartment?’ at her while Dominika continued a blow-by-blow account of how she had escaped. Irene gestured for the phone.
“Dominika, wait,” said House. “Describe the men to Irene. She thinks she might know them.”
Adler raised her eyebrows when she heard Dominika’s description. She thanked her and passed the phone back to House.
“You’re right. The man with the scar on his face is one of Câmara’s men,” she said, pulling out her phone. “That’s an interesting turn of events. I suppose I’d better text Sherlock. He’s probably at the lab whose address I gave him, but I’m sure he’ll be interested to know that the men he’s been looking for are in your flat.”
“Hang on, Dominika,” said House on the phone, standing up. “The cavalry is coming.”
This week: House discovers that Sherlock kicks ass but isn't immune to stupidity.
By the time House had dragged Wilson away from whatever he had been doing to give him a lift home, Sherlock was back and apparently fighting Câmara’s men single-handed. Sitting in Wilson’s car, House could just see some shadowy figures in his living-room.
“Sherlock would not let me help,” complained Dominika, who had been hiding in an alleyway down the street until she recognized Wilson’s car parked across from the building. She showed them a case of vials. “He say I must hide and give you this. Is antidote.”
House frowned at the six vials, each color-coded, but only labeled with a number. “Which one is the antidote?”
Dominika shrugged. “I ask Sherlock, but he doesn’t know. He is very busy with four baddies.”
They all looked up as a man crashed out of House’s open front window and limped away. He didn’t seem to notice their car.
“Three baddies,” corrected House. “Wilson, take Dominika to your place but drop off the case at the hospital first. Get the lab onto analyzing these samples.”
“House...” started Wilson, clearly worried about what House intended to do.
“Don’t worry, I have a cunning plan.” When that failed to wipe the worried expression off Wilson’s face, House added, “I’ll call the cops if none of the neighbors have done it yet. Go! I’ll be right behind you.”
Grabbing his cane, House got out of the car and sneaked around to the side of the building. From there, it wasn’t difficult to shimmy open his bedroom window again - this was obviously how the men had gotten in - and climb into his apartment. Not for the first time, he was grateful he lived on the first floor. He quickly grabbed his father’s gun from the closet.
Sherlock was fighting two men in the living-room. He was unarmed, though John House’s samurai sword was lying by the couch; possibly the weapon he had selected to creep up on the men. The two men he was fighting were apparently trying to catch Sherlock, though they weren’t having much success. Every time one of them managed to grab him, he used their momentum to crash into the other man, evading their grasp.
A third man was lying in the corridor by the bedroom, apparently knocked out, though as House watched, he came to and tried to get to his feet. House whacked him quietly on the back of the head with his cane and the man collapsed again, unnoticed by the others in the living-room.
Uncertain how he could help Sherlock, House stayed where he was, concealed in the shadows of the unlit corridor, his cane in one hand and his stepfather’s gun in the other. Despite being up against two men, one of whom was younger and the other bulkier than himself, Sherlock was gaining the upper hand. House couldn’t suppress a twinge of pride at the sight.
Following an impressive roundhouse kick that knocked the older man off his feet, Sherlock twisted around to grab the sword and pointed it at the younger man’s throat.
“I think that’s quite enough of that, don’t you?” he said. “The antidote isn’t here if that’s what you’re looking for. I don’t have it. If I did, do you think I’d be here fighting you idiots instead of being at the hospital saving my friend’s life?”
“You must have it,” said the older man, picking himself off the floor. “You spoke to The Woman at the hospital and left immediately. You wouldn’t have come back so soon if you didn’t find it.”
Sherlock lowered the sword and laid it down on the piano. “Or maybe I came back so soon because there was nothing to find. The Woman wasn’t that helpful. She’s my wife. Separated, though,” he explained, giving the older man a significant look. “You know how it goes. She’d do anything to spite me. I’m sure she got great satisfaction out of sending me on a wild goose chase.”
The man half-smiled, confirming that Sherlock had guessed his marital status correctly. House observed the two men; for a moment, he thought they might be father and son. The older man was certainly observing the other one with what could be interpreted as fatherly concern, though the young man’s body language was different, as if he viewed the older one as a subordinate rather than a father. He was on edge, watching Sherlock’s movements with incomprehension and fear. House’s concerns about the young man’s behavior were confirmed when he pulled out a gun and pointed it at Sherlock. Although he was unarmed, having just put the sword down, Sherlock reacted only with raised eyebrows and a bored look.
“Yes, I thought you might have a gun,” he said languidly.
“Rui,” said the older man in a warning tone. “Put the gun down. We gotta go. He’s right. He wouldn’t be here if he had the antidote on him. He’s given it to someone else, which means it’ll be at the hospital.” When the younger man didn’t move, he added, “Come on, Rui! The cops will be here any minute.”
“He’s not interested in the antidote,” said Sherlock, facing the man with the gun calmly. “He’s here to avenge his father. I must admit I had no idea Câmara had a son.” He glanced at the older man. “You raised him as yours but learned the truth some years ago. No wonder you’re out of sorts with the missus.” He addressed the young man called Rui. “It must have been quite a thrill to discover you had this master criminal for a father rather than one of his mere underlings. Such revelations can sometimes be underwhelming; discovering you are the son of an American doctor rather than a British civil servant, for instance. But oh yes, you must have been very pleased. And here you are imagining that you are avenging his death by shooting the messenger.” He looked down at the gun with disgust. “And the messenger’s innocent friend by the look of things.”
“You were there when he was shot,” said Rui.
“So were you. And so was he.” Sherlock nodded in the direction of the older man. “I can assure you my presence there was purely coincidental. I was following up on a lead which I hoped would put me in contact with Moriarty’s successor at the head of his empire, so that he could be brought to justice. Câmara Sr’s usual line of business was dodgy pharmaceuticals, the kind you buy off the Internet because your state medicine won’t pay for it or you can’t afford it otherwise. His products are directly linked to dozens of deaths in the poorer areas of this country and hundreds worldwide. And that’s without counting all the people whose health has been permanently compromised.”
Sherlock turned his back on Rui, and pretended to observe one of the faked photographs of House and Dominika on the piano. “But Câmara also had a sideline in more exotic chemicals imported from his native Brazil. The kind unscrupulous ladies like my lovely wife might dispense to unsuspecting consulting detectives. Or that even less scrupulous consulting criminals might use to dispose of undesirable rivals. But with Moriarty’s empire crumbling after his death, Câmara saw a chance to up his game even further, by peddling a deadly poison for which only he had the cure. Unfortunately for him, Sebastian Moran must have decided he would like a piece of that action. I see you recognise the name.”
“Shit. I told you Moran must be the one who raided our labs last week,” said the older man. “So he’s the one who commissioned the hit on Rui’s father?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. I am merely an innocent bystander,” said Sherlock with a smirk.
Rui didn’t seem to be buying that and given the smartass look on Sherlock’s face, House couldn’t blame him. But then House wasn’t feeling too happy with his son right then either; he was still seething over the idea that his being Sherlock’s father was ‘underwhelming’.
“Bit of a coincidence that your friend just happened to be the hit man, don’t you think?” said Rui, though he had lowered his gun a fraction.
“No, not really,” said Sherlock airily. “My wife worked for Moriarty for years. She must have known Moran very well and probably offered her services to help him with a few little ‘problems’ like suppliers getting too big for their boots. As to why she employed John…” He inhaled sharply, staring at nothing in particular as the revelation came to him. “Oh, of course. Irene wants to recruit me. That’s why she employed John specifically for this job. She knew he was a good shot so it made sense on a practical level. But Irene must have other good shots at her disposal and she never does anything for purely practical reasons. She didn’t know where I was, but she knew that eventually, I would look for John and if she kept him close, she might be able to convince me - or manipulate me - into working for her.”
“I don’t believe you,” insisted Rui.
Sherlock looked over at him with a sneer. “No, of course not. That would require some level of intelligence. And if you were really intelligent, you wouldn’t have let Moran kill your father and then steal his greatest assets.”
Not surprisingly, Rui’s reaction to the insult was to raise the gun and point it at Sherlock’s face. “I guess we’ll see who-”
Alarmed that Sherlock might genuinely be in danger, House decided to create a distraction. He pointed his father’s gun at the men and sprang into view, as best he could with only one and a half functional legs.
“Freeze. Police!” he yelled.
Alarmed, Rui swung around and shot in House’s direction, though he missed by a couple of feet. House decided that was as much heroism as he was prepared to muster at this point and threw himself on the floor behind the couch.
“Oh well done, House,” said Sherlock sarcastically, grabbing Rui’s arm and starting to tussle with him. “Did you seriously think they’ll be impressed by an old man with a limp and an unloaded gun?”
Another shot rang out, destroying something behind House - hopefully one of Dominika’s garish mementoes of her homeland. House crawled forward behind the couch until he could peer around it at the space in front of the piano where the men were fighting. Or rather, where Rui and Sherlock were fighting; the other man had backed away toward the front windows.
“Shit, Rui, are you crazy?” exclaimed the older man. “The whole street can see you through these windows. Leave him!”
With his face pressed flat to the floor, House could only see Sherlock’s leather shoes and the hem of the thick woolen coat as he somehow managed to bend down and grab one of Watson’s guns from the duffle bag. Looking up, House saw the older man get involved again and grab Sherlock by his left shoulder, the one he had injured earlier. There was a scuffle during which Rui appeared to punch Sherlock in the stomach, making him bend over in pain. Acting with a strength and speed House didn’t even know he still possessed, he jumped up to his feet and whacked Rui hard with his cane. This gave Sherlock the chance to kick away Rui’s gun and elbow the other man in the face. Rui still looked determined, but the older man dragged him towards the door just as police sirens started outside.
Sherlock waited until the men were at the door, then he raised his gun and shot Rui in the knee; he collapsed, screaming in pain. His companion gave Sherlock a grudging look of respect as he struggled to maneuver Rui’s deadweight. It delayed the villains sufficiently to allow the police to burst through the door into the building and intercept them.
“House, hide your gun,” ordered Sherlock, lowering himself awkwardly onto the couch.
The cops were busy dealing with the two bad guys so House did as he was told, kicking his stepfather’s gun under the cabinet by the kitchen. He then set about distracting the police by telling them about this inexplicable robbery that had just happened. He knew that a proper investigation would reveal the presence of two guns - Rui’s, still lying on the floor, and Watson’s, wherever that was - but for now, he really just wanted to sit on the couch beside Sherlock, both to tend to his son’s injuries and because his own leg hurt like hell.
When he turned around, someone had wrapped a thermal blanket around Sherlock and it was the fact that he was still wearing it more than his pale face that worried House.
“You’re injured,” he said, batting away a cop who wanted to ask him more questions and sitting beside Sherlock. The other cops were now busy with the unconscious henchman in the corridor.
“Did Dominika give you the antidote?” asked Sherlock, his lips barely moving. He was clutching his coat tight shut and didn’t sound like his usual arrogant self.
“Yeah. Wilson will get the lab started on working out which one it is. Are you sure one of them really is the antidote?”
“I bloody hope so. It’ll be a right bummer if it isn’t.”
Sherlock unfolded his arms and House saw for the first time that his gray shirt was spotted with blood. Sherlock raised his hand; he was holding a thin metal dart.
“Hi, Dr. House, can I talk with you a moment?”
The nurse’s light brown skin looked green in the subdued light of the kitchen. House was momentarily distracted by the man’s prominent Adam’s apple before he read his body language and guessed why he was there, interrupting House’s amicable argument with a colleague.
“Uh, Dr. House, you know that guy you brought,” said the nurse once they were in the parlor. “I - uh - I don’t think he’s feeling too good...”
The street lights were streaking past, casting alternating patterns of shadow and light on the dashboard. The route was as familiar to House as the back of his hand. He knew the sequence of every set of traffic lights, the places where the traffic got snarled up at busy times of the day, the shortcuts other motorists hadn’t yet discovered.
He also knew exactly how long it would take to get to the hospital even at top speed and with a police escort, and that was gnawing a pit of anxiety in his stomach.
“Don’t fall asleep,” he said, his eyes on the road ahead.
“Trying not to,” muttered Sherlock. His habitually pale skin looked positively ghostly.
House had seen overdoses before and at a glance, he could tell Sherlock would survive given the right treatment. Even so, the sight of this boy he’d never wanted to acknowledge was his son convulsing on the cold bathroom floor made his insides clench uncomfortably. He didn’t want a son but he didn’t want him dead either.
“Ecstasy. He took three pills,” said the nurse when House asked him what the hell Sherlock had taken. “I said ‘You gotta be crazy, man’ but he said he wanted to know what it would feel like.”
“He sure as hell got his answer,” said House, kneeling on the hard floor just as Sherlock started to go into cardiac arrest. “Now get down here and help!”
House made the nurse give Sherlock CPR while he called the hospital to tell them they were coming. He had driven across town at breakneck speeds then too, trying to get to PPTH before his idiot son died from his own stupidity.
He had supervised Sherlock’s treatment that evening... until a fat young man in an expensive suit appeared and whisked Sherlock back to England.
And that was the last time House had seen his son in the flesh until he came into work three days earlier and found Sherlock sitting at the meeting table. Seeking House’s help because this guy Câmara’s son had tried to murder Watson.
“Why the hell didn’t you just shoot the son of a bitch?” he asked. “I could tell he was dangerous.”
Sherlock was curled up in the passenger seat, knees tucked under his chin, his head lolling on his fastened seatbelt. He was clearly struggling to remain conscious.
“I obviously didn’t think this would happen,” he said through clenched teeth. “Hurts like buggery too.”
“Yeah, and you’d know, wouldn’t you?”
Sherlock laughed softly. “Why does that matter so much?” He turned towards House with difficulty. “You’re worried I’ll end up alone.”
Right now, I’m worried you’ll end up dead, thought House. “Just making sure you’re not the kind to fall in love with an anatomically correct doll. We had this patient recently-”
“Tell me about Mummy,” interrupted Sherlock, still watching House through half-closed eyes. “Did you love her?”
House thought Sherlock probably didn’t want to know the truth right now. “Yeah, sure.”
“She didn’t love you either,” said Sherlock as if House had just told the truth. “But she said you were the cleverest student she’d ever met. She was very proud of the fact you’d become a doctor.”
Talking did seem to make Sherlock a little more animated despite the pain. Even though he needed to concentrate on keeping the car on the street without crashing into the police car in front, House realized he had to keep him talking.
“And yet you were underwhelmed by the fact your real father was an American doctor.”
“To be fair, I think I pictured... What was his name? The American doctor who was like a detective.” Sherlock paused a long while. “Oh, yes. It’s still there. Quincy.”
Glancing at him, House saw that Sherlock’s eyes were creased in amusement a moment before he winced in pain.
House laughed too.
“Yeah. I modeled my career on Quincy.”
There was another long pause before Sherlock spoke again; his eyes were closed.
“I don’t understand you, Greg. You don’t know me. You’ve only met me once. You didn’t even like your own father so it isn’t as if you’re trying to recreate a cosy relationship with me. So why do you care about me?”
“Is that Doctor Gregory House?”
Even at 3.00 am and with his head full of troubled sleep and whatever was troubling him at the time - hallucinations of sex with Cuddy, as he recalled - House recognized the drawling British accent. He made an indistinct noise to indicate he was listening.
“I’m afraid I have some rather bad news for you,” said the man on the other end of the line. In retrospect, House should have noticed the jarring hint of triumphalism in his voice. “My little brother is dead.”
“Your little brother,” repeated House stupidly, even though he knew this was Mycroft and they were talking about Sherlock.
“Yes. I believe you have been corresponding with him recently so I only thought it fair to let you know. Though given that you nearly killed him the one time he visited you...”
“An accident. Yes of course.” Mycroft’s voice was dripping with insincerity. “It could happen to any vulnerable teenager in the care of a doctor who sees nothing wrong in giving young people recreational-”
“Is that how he died?” interrupted House, his mind reeling.
“No, he jumped off a training hospital in central London.” This time, Mycroft managed to school his voice into some semblance of grief. “It was suicide. I am sure you are aware of the unfortunate turn of events which led-”
House hung up and lay back in his bed, dazed by the loss of a son he had only just started to know through their online conversations.
Sherlock laughed dryly and looked out of the window. “I don’t care about you either.”
“Right. So you promise you won’t visit if you move to New York?”
There was another long pause. Sherlock’s teeth were clenched in pain.
“I don’t want to move to New York,” he said in a strangled voice. “I want to go home with John.”
“Yeah.” House glanced at him and put his foot down on the accelerator. “I don’t think you were fooling anyone, you know.”
He could tell Sherlock was struggling to stay conscious. “Look, I’ll make sure you can go back to your own Baker Street with your Dr. Watson, but you’ve got to promise me you won’t die before you get to hospital, right?”
Sherlock didn’t respond and House tried to control the panic slowly rising in his own chest.
“Do you hear me, Sherlock?” he said more loudly. “Don’t die on me, you asshole! Promise me you won’t die.”
This time, he got a croaking response.
“Yes, Dad, I promise.”
This week: As if he doesn’t have enough trouble already, House gets a visit from the rest of Sherlock’s family.
“Um, Dr. House, Dr. Foreman wants to see you.”
House raised his head from the microscope and stared at Park for a moment. He realized that he had been so engrossed in his analyses that a whole hour had passed without him noticing. He glanced at the time on the clock on the wall. It had to be dawn by now, the first light of day breaking somewhere outside the hospital while he was ensconced in the dungeon of the lab.
“He said it was urgent?” said Park uncertainly.
“What the hell could be more important–” House broke off when he realized he was shouting. He didn’t shout. He didn’t usually lose control to that extent. “Tell him I’m busy,” he said in a more normal voice.
“He says it’s urgent because someone is demanding to see you,” she insisted. “About Sherlock.”
“Go tell him– wait, someone is demanding to see me?”
House smiled wryly and pulled himself to his feet. Why shoot the messenger when the actual culprit would be so much more fun to kill?
“Sure. Foreman wants to see me now. Why not?”
He picked up the printouts he’d been studying and stood up.
“House,” said Park. “I’m really sorry about Sherlock...”
House didn’t answer and grabbed his cane, wincing as his leg protested. He helped himself to a couple of Vicodin to get through the pain.
Foreman’s office was plunged in semi-darkness, lit only by the breaking dawn outside. House paused at the door when he saw the tall, thin man standing by the window, a backdrop of rain behind him as he leaned nonchalantly on an umbrella. Maybe this was going to be more entertaining than he’d expected.
“We meet again, Dr House,” said the man.
“That kind of works better when you’re holding a large cat… not a wet umbrella.”
“House, this is–” started Foreman, who looked as though he had been dragged out of bed for the occasion.
“Oh yes, we’ve met,” said House. “You’ve lost weight, Holmes. It doesn’t suit you. Makes you look anemic.”
“And you look like a man struggling with an addiction and losing,” said Mycroft Holmes suavely, as if he were paying House a compliment. “You went into rehab shortly after I last talked to you. I gather it wasn’t successful.” He looked House over with a sneer. “I understand better now why you avoid contract with your patients; your dishevelled appearance is hardly going to inspire confidence. And yet, this hospital gave you your job back despite your recent stint in prison. They really must be desperate; your working practices are hardly safe at the best of times and you were recently the subject of an investigation implicating your working methods in the near fatal stabbing of one of your collaborators. You’re lucky Dr Foreman here pleaded with his friend to be lenient.”
“I didn’t–” started Foreman. “How do you know that?”
Mycroft glanced at Foreman as if he were barely worth his attention. “I know many things: your recent affair with a married woman, for instance; your failed romance with a former work colleague who is now in a lesbian relationship; your deluded belief that keeping this deranged drug addict on staff is the only competitive edge you have in the marketplace that is healthcare in this country. At least I assume that is the reason; your predecessor’s motives were at least easier to understand, however lacking her taste in men may have been.”
He turned back to House. “I have made arrangements for my brother and his former... flatmate to be transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. It is run by a friend of mine who will be joining us later today.”
“The Mayo Clinic?” exclaimed Foreman, his newfound business instincts no doubt roused by the idea of losing patients to one of PPTH’s major competitors. After all, fake company or not, ‘Albion Pharma’ had already paid significant sums for Watson’s treatment. “You can’t just move them–”
Mycroft smiled knowingly and House really wanted to wipe that smirk off his face. “I have chartered a private jet. If my friend from the Mayo Clinic deems them ready to travel, they will come with us. And if you’re going to engage in some petty dispute over guardianship, Dr House, I can assure you that I have enough paperwork to ensure that Sherlock is well taken care of whether you agree or not.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you have proof of ownership of your 35-year-old brother in triplicate,” snapped House.
“Who the hell are you?” said House, standing in the way of the large young man leading Sherlock out of his hospital ward. “And where are you taking him?”
“I am his brother and I am taking him home,” said the fat man with an English accent, drawing himself up to his full height.
House stared at him; despite his obesity, he was struck by the man’s resemblance to Margaret. So this was Mycroft, the little boy she had left behind in England when she was teaching at Johns Hopkins. Even after a bare couple of seconds of his acquaintance, House decided he couldn’t blame her.
The man walked past House but Sherlock stopped in the doorway of his ward, apparently continuing a conversation.
“You’ve been eavesdropping on my private conversations again, Mycroft,” he said with something that sounded like admiration. “I suppose doing it via the Internet makes a change from simply reading my post after I’ve opened it or using that ridiculous device that makes a clicking noise on the phone. I’d like you to show me how you got access to our IRC chats though. Or does your boss have people to do that for you? Of course he does. You never were very into computers; you wouldn’t know where to start to even get connected to IRC.” He suddenly stopped to take his own pulse. “Also, you’re quite wrong about me, you know. No physical effects of thinking about Victor at all. As if I were capable of the same foolish emotions as normal people! I’m really not. I have far more important things to think about.”
“That remains to be seen,” said Mycroft impatiently. Both seemed oblivious to House still standing watching them. “It is perfectly obvious to me why you have ended up in hospital. Perhaps you should rummage around that ‘mansion’ of yours to see if you can find the reason too?” He glanced at the staff, patients and visitors around them. “Preferably without your version of the Robot dance.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes at Mycroft’s comment. “It isn’t a dance,” he said. “It’s perfectly normal self-stimulating behaviour to focus my senses and help me organise the thoughts in my mind. Any doctor will tell you that.” He blinked and seemed to notice House for the first time. “Oh, here’s one right here. House, tell him it’s normal behaviour to self-stimulate when you have a superior intellect.”
“Charlie, I told you. I’m not a psychologist,” said House.
“So you’re Gregory House.” Mycroft looked him over, his lip curling in disgust. “Good grief. You really are American, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. And you’re Mycroft. Charlie told me all about you. Pleased to meet you,” said House without sincerity. “You can’t just take him back to England. He’s barely recovered!”
“I think you’ll find I can, and I will. I hardly think you’re going to argue with me. I know my brother, Dr House. He would try the patience of a saint.” Mycroft gave House a disdainful look. “And I think based on what Sherlock–”
“Charlie!” interrupted Sherlock.
“Based on what Sherlock has told me, it seems he has been trying your patience to breaking point.”
“I can assure you that despite appearances, Dr. House is one of the best doctors in the United States–”
Foreman’s standard defense was interrupted when House’s phone rang. Making no excuses, House pulled it out and answered.
“Yes, Holmes with an L. Like Katie Holmes.” House saw a flicker of irritation on Mycroft’s face and grinned. His smile faded as he listened further to the very agitated nurse who had been tending to Sherlock. “Look, he hemorrhaged two hours ago and his colleague had a heart attack last night, you must have known…” He sighed. Mycroft was looking at him with concern; House gave him a grim look. “Yeah, I’m sure you did everything you could. I’ll get there as soon as I can.” House hung up and headed out of the room. “I really don’t have time for this.”
“House, what’s wrong?” asked Foreman. “Has something happened to Holmes?”
House wasn’t surprised when the other two followed him across the lobby. Foreman started babbling platitudes at Mycroft, possibly the spiel he had developed to try and stop people suing the hospital when their loved ones weren’t getting better, but Mycroft managed to shake him off with a mixture of threats and promises. When House walked into the elevator, he and Mycroft were alone.
“I want to see him,” demanded Mycroft.
House gritted his teeth and pressed the Basement button.
He noticed an almost imperceptible hesitation on Mycroft’s part as they stepped out of the elevator, opposite a list of the departments on this floor. House led Mycroft down the corridor, needing no effort to keep his features grim. After a moment, Mycroft broke the silence.
“I was informed on my arrival that Sherlock had once again been hospitalised while in your care. I could write off one such incident as simple incompetence but twice suggests a certain whiff of criminal negligence.” Mycroft’s voice sounded almost as sarcastic and aloof as House remembered, but his eyes were scanning the nameplates on each door they passed. “I gather the police want to have a word with you too. I assume they will be revoking your parole.”
“We’ll see,” said House, pushing open one of the doors.
It was probably a tribute to Mycroft’s background or perhaps simply the phlegmatic nature inherited from his parents, but he barely flinched when he realized they were entering the morgue.
“House,” he started, and there was a hitch in his voice. “What happened to Sherlock?”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, Mycroft, your brother is an idiot with a death wish,” snapped House. “He picked a fight with the guy who poisoned Watson and got dosed with three times the amount that sent Watson into a coma. It took Watson two weeks to get to death’s door. It took Sherlock six hours. Six hours to liver failure and hemorrhaging and...”
House stopped. Not for dramatic effect, or because of the fear that he could see in Mycroft’s eyes. He just couldn’t continue.
“I need to see him,” said Mycroft, and maybe House was imagining it, but there seemed to be a pleading undertone to his voice.
“Yeah, you said.”
He pulled open one of the drawers in the morgue refrigerator at the back of the room. Mycroft took in a deep breath, clearly steeling himself.
“Is that him?”
Now that he had lost weight and aged, Mycroft’s resemblance to his mother was more pronounced. House remembered her arched eyebrows and lightly cleft chin, and the wistful way she had talked about her little boy back home who was so serious, just like his father. House relented a little; he glanced at the label on the drawer.
“Unless Sherlock had a sex change and turned into a 65-year-old female called Mrs. Leibnitz, no, it’s not him.”
House pulled the ball out from beside the bagged corpse of his erstwhile patient and showed it to Mycroft. “Left this here a couple days ago. I knew Treiber would hide it somewhere obvious.” He walked out, barely glancing at Mycroft as he left. “Let’s go see your brother.”
The brief look of surprise and relief Mycroft gave him was worth it, thought House with satisfaction. In fact, it almost cheered him up.
“Well played,” said the Englishman as they headed for the elevator again. “For one moment there, I actually believed– I assume we can call it a draw?”
“For three years of believing he was dead?” said House. “I don’t think so.”
Mycroft rolled his eyes, apparently fully recovered from the experience. “You barely knew him,” he said coldly. “I hardly think two weeks of feeding him recreational drugs followed by fifteen years of desultory email conversations qualify as a cosy father-son relationship. You didn’t even come to the funeral.”
“I was in rehab,” said House shortly, though that had been a feeble excuse even at the time. There was little doubt that the clinic staff would have let him go if he’d explained the situation. He just hadn’t wanted to explain the situation. “Anyway, seeing as you grew up with him and you still treat him like some kind of scientific curiosity, I don’t think you’re in a good position to say anything about my relationship with Sherlock.”
“At least grant me the fact that he never ended up in hospital because of me,” said Mycroft calmly. “Let alone twice.”
“That’s not what he told me,” said House in a sing-song voice.
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 01:27:59 +0100
Subject: haemolytic anaemia
What would cause haemolytic anaemia in a 20-year-old male?
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 01:29:36 +0100
Subject: FW: haemolytic anaemia
Never mind. Worked it out. How is Stacy? Still with you?
House stared at the emails. He hadn’t heard from Sherlock since his abrupt departure the year before. In fact, aside from a few photographs Stacy had taken at the time and developed a few months later, it was as if Sherlock had never been. Back in those days, it was still uncommon to receive unsolicited emails and House stared at the signature and the top-level domain for only a moment before hitting reply.
From: Greg House
Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 20:30:12 -0400
Subject: RE: haemolytic anaemia
Charlie, is that you?
Stacy is fine and yes, she is still with me. How is your charming brother?
I guess from your email address that you took the place at Cambridge in the end?
It was several days before House got a reply.
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: “House” <email@example.com>
Date: Sun, 2 June 1996 03:59:02 +0100
Subject: RE: haemolytic anaemia
Yes, studying NatSci at Cambridge like Mummy. This is one of the teachers’ accounts. He let me borrow it because he doesn’t know how to use his computer. PC unfortunately. Even worse than the one you had.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>
To: “House” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sun, 2 June 1996 04:21:12 +0100
Subject: RE: haemolytic anaemia
Not talking to Mycroft. I fell out of a window disconnecting a camera he installed. He took me to hospital. They kicked me out before they even looked at me. Imagine!
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: “House” <email@example.com>
Date: Sun, 2 June 1996 04:22:03 +0100
Subject: RE: haemolytic anaemia
You never did reply about the haemolytic anaemia, BTW.
Mycroft pursed his lips and House led him to the ICU, neither of them saying anything more as they walked side by side, Mycroft’s umbrella tapping the floor in sync with House’s cane.
“Here.” House opened the door to the room next to Watson’s.
“Where the bloody … hell have you been, House?” demanded Sherlock breathlessly as soon as he opened the door. “I’ve been waiting … for those lab results … for over an hour! And how is John?”
“Alive. Asleep,” said House, raising an eyebrow when he saw Sherlock’s predicament. “You should take a page out of his book. I see you’ve decided to skip the unconsciousness phase. Anyway, you have a visitor.”
Despite his greenish yellow skin and hoarse voice, not to mention his inability to move, Sherlock managed to put on an impressive display of utter irritation when he saw his brother walk in.
“Oh God,” he moaned huskily. “Just when I thought … things couldn’t get any worse!”
“Yeah, my feelings exactly,” muttered House.
Mycroft said nothing for a moment, surveying his brother with polite curiosity.
“House. Why is my brother restrained?” he asked.
“Perhaps his lovely wife came to visit. I understand she’s into that kind of thing.” House undid the restraints on Sherlock’s wrists. “Or a nurse tried to stop him getting out of bed. I had to actually sedate him to get him into the gown.”
“Yes, I was wondering how you had managed that,” said Mycroft with a half smile.
“I told the nurse...” started Sherlock slowly, his voice croaky and hesitant as he rubbed his wrists. Talking was clearly painful and exhausting, but he was apparently unable to stop. “... I was going to find you, but apparently, I’m not allowed to ... disconnect any of this equipment. He called three ... orderlies to help him, and me a dying man!” Sherlock grabbed his oxygen mask and breathed heavily into it, though his expression was thoughtful. “Maybe I shouldn’t have ... mentioned that his boyfriend ... is cheating on him.”
“No,” agreed House. “I’m surprised he didn’t gag you as well. He was so upset he called me to complain.”
“I see that the passing years have made Sherlock older and still no wiser,” said Mycroft, settling in the chair by the bed. “I have often thought it a shame that he wastes his talents on insulting people at the least opportune time, when there is so much more to be gained by waiting for the ideal moment.”
“I’m not like you two … I don’t enjoy hurting people,” said Sherlock ruefully. “It’s not my … fault everyone is so … bloody sensitive. And I’m amazed. People really do talk ... about you in the third ... person when you’re in a hospital bed.” He raised his left hand. “House. The analyses.”
Sherlock clutched the printouts and dropped his arm as soon as House handed them over. He was breathing heavily, exhausted by the small effort. He covered his weakness by scowling at Mycroft.
“What the bloody … hell are you ... doing here anyway, Mycroft? Surely not coming ... to take me home like last time? I’m a bit old for that...”
“You’re apparently never too old for your brother to take you away,” said House. “He has chartered a jet to take you to Minnesota.”
“I hope it isn’t that cheap jet your friend Birling ... recommended. You know the first officer ... stole that whisky.” Sherlock looked at the papers he was holding. “Aha. I was right about the Bot … Botulinum. A minute amount … but unmistakable. I could feel it.”
“My brother must the only scientist in the world who can identify a poison through its effects on his own body,” said Mycroft wryly.
“Next page,” ordered Sherlock, dropping the papers he was holding. House grudgingly moved the analysis of one of the potential antidotes to the top.
“I ask myself how someone with Sherlock’s exceptional observational skills might have missed the fact that his assailant was about to poison him,” continued Mycroft, steepling his fingers.
House looked at Sherlock again as realization dawned. “You did that on purpose. You wanted a fresh sample and you thought you’d be able to analyze it better if you tried it on yourself.”
“I doubt that was his only motivation,” commented Mycroft.
House ignored him. “You really are my son, aren’t you?” he exclaimed with delight.
Sherlock pouted and shuffled the papers with his left hand. “That’s not the right formula for the antidote.”
House reorganized the papers so Sherlock could read the analyses of each possible antidote, but he noted with concern that Sherlock, who was normally right-handed, didn’t seem to be using his dominant hand at all.
He pulled out the ball he had retrieved from the morgue and threw it lightly at Sherlock’s right hand. Sherlock just watched it land by his fingers and roll off the bed with irritation.
“Sherlock, you can’t move your right hand,” exclaimed House.
“Of course not,” said Sherlock as if that was obvious. “My right side stopped … working just after you handed me the papers... Feels quite numb too.”
“You’ve had a stroke, you dumbass!” said House, pulling out his pager to call in more staff. “You didn’t think it was important to mention that?” He laid Sherlock’s bed flat and started testing the reflexes in his left side. Although Mycroft remained seated, there was plain fear in his features now. “The poison disrupts your blood’s ability to clot. If you have bleeding on the brain, we might need to operate to relieve the pressure. Every second counts!”
“You ... wouldn’t have let me read the papers,” said Sherlock, speaking rapidly even though the stroke was beginning to affect his speech. “Numbers 5 and 6 are placebos; 1 and 3 would interact ... with the poison to make … the patient worse. It’s 2 or 4.” He squinted thoughtfully, ignoring the medical staff pouring in at House’s page. “Number 2. That’s the one ... Do John first ... more likely to survive.”
From: “Sherlock Holmes”
To: “House, Gregory”
Date: Thu, 25 June 2009 11:19:27 +0100
Subject: RE: Tobacco ash
> so like I said, you might as well rewrite the whole essay, because nobody is going to care about 240 types of tobacco ash
243. And as I said before, you are a medical doctor and you therefore know nothing about the world of forensic science or the precise techniques required for the analysis of vital evidence.
In any case, the point is moot as John said no-one would read it so I have deleted it. Apparently, more people were reading his blog than my carefully researched monograph.
Thank you for the explanation regarding the effects of small-cell carcinoma. I almost missed it, coming as it did after the lengthy rant about your boss and its pointless expression of your poorly suppressed desire to have a romantic relationship with her (rather than just sex as you allege).
Must go because John is cooking me breakfast.
From: “House, Gregory”
Date: Mon, 29 June 2009 08:17:09 -0400
Subject: RE: Tobacco ash
Quick email. In the middle of a case.
1. Of course I want to have sex with Cuddy.
2. Who is John? And why is he cooking you breakfast?
From: “Sherlock Holmes”
To: “House, Gregory”
Date: Mon, 29 June 2009 17:56:19 +0100
Subject: RE: Tobacco ash
John cooks me breakfast because we live together.
Happy birthday, btw.
From: “House, Gregory”
Date: Tue, 30 June 2009 08:15:36 -0400
Subject: RE: Tobacco ash
When did that happen? You didn’t mention that when you called from Minsk!
Still, congratulations. Make sure you nominate him for a sainthood.
Birthday was 3 weeks ago but thanks.
From: “Sherlock Holmes”
To: “House, Gregory”
Date: Tue, 07 July 2009 00:14:12 GMT
Subject: RE: Tobacco ash
John just gave me a lengthy lecture on not letting people think we’re a couple. He’s very keen for everyone to know that he is straight. Particularly women, I should imagine.
So no sainthood required.
I’m closing my site, btw, so you can join all the people who found his blog more interesting than tobacco ash: http://www.johnwatsonblog.co.uk/
From: “House, Gregory”
Date: Thu, 9 July 2009 08:26:19 -0400
Subject: RE: Tobacco ash
I take it back. He doesn’t deserve a sainthood. Anyone who thinks you’re “charming” needs to be certified!
Also, are you sure he’s not gay?
Sherlock hadn’t responded to the email and mentioned Watson only in passing after that, though House had continued to read Watson’s blog with amusement. But that all seemed like a lifetime ago; before House thought Sherlock was dead. Before Sherlock really was nearly dead… apparently for Watson.
“I always knew you were a hopeless romantic at heart, but surely this pushes dedication to a new extreme,” said Mycroft, addressing Sherlock directly for the first time as they left the room on their way to the MRI.
Sherlock turned to look at the room next to his as they passed. Watson’s slumbering form was just visible through the vertical blinds.
“No, I vuzjust–” Sherlock stopped talking when he realized he was slurring his words. “Ididn’t…accident.”
“You didn’t think I was working hard enough on Watson,” said House, realizing what Mycroft was getting at. “You thought I’d work harder to save you.”
“Tsnature,” said Sherlock. “Gotantidote.” The words were barely intelligible and he gave House a look of pure panic. “Can’t... can’t...”
“I know. The stroke is affecting your facial muscles,” said House, swallowing his own sense of panic. “Try not to talk. Just for once,” he snapped as Sherlock tried to say something more. “Don’t worry. I’ll fix this. You’ll be back to your usual self in no time.”
House glanced at Mycroft. Mycroft didn’t look at all convinced; and for once, House wasn’t entirely convinced either.
This week: House and Mycroft hold vigil over an unconscious Sherlock.
Many thanks for FishieMishie for joining the beta team. ;)
It was lunchtime; a steady flow of employees and visitors were crossing the hospital’s main lobby and flooding into the cafeteria, laughing and talking, filling the air with the din of human activity. House watched them from the mezzanine balcony for a while, unusually taking no pleasure from his observations.
His leg was aching. He swallowed two Vicodin to dull the pain even though it had only been an hour since the last dose. He promised himself they would be the last before lunch. Better be careful; if anything else happened to Sherlock...
He rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t slept all night; the operation seemed to have gone well, even with Kleber’s interference. But what if he’d made the wrong decision afterwards? Perhaps he should have just let Sherlock’s body recover before giving him anything else. What if it made things worse? What if he started bleeding out again or developed a clot instead? For that matter, what if it was too late anyway and the stroke had done irreparable damage…
House firmly dismissed those thoughts and watched Wilson come in, friendly with the staff as always, caring and empathetic. Normal. House had successfully avoided him all morning and didn’t intend to break his run of luck. He turned away and took the elevator down to the basement exit where Sherlock had gone to smoke the previous day.
A cleaner appeared, no doubt intending to take her cigarette break there; she gave House one when he asked, but didn’t stick around to smoke with him. Wise move. House stood just outside the door and blew smoke at the No Smoking sign in the drizzle. The cigarette tasted bitter and unfamiliar after all these years.
“Bad night, huh?” said Wilson, coming to stand beside him. He was carrying a box. House sighed; he had long since given up trying to understand Wilson’s knack for appearing when he was least wanted. “Chase told me about Sherlock... That’s terrible. I’m really sorry. I mean the poison and then the stroke... I hope the antidote really was in that batch.”
“Yeah. I hope so too, because I’ve dosed them both with one of the preparations.”
Wilson’s eyes widened with surprise. “You gave them... But you can’t have tested it. How do you know you chose the right one?”
“I don’t.” House kept his gaze well away from Wilson’s shocked expression. “Sherlock’s condition was deteriorating even faster than Watson’s. He had the stroke at six a.m. – Chase couldn’t make it back on time and Kleber is an idiot. I had to operate on Sherlock myself to drain the hemorrhage. He’s still unconscious.” House swallowed. “It’s too early to say whether there will be any permanent damage. If there is... if it happens again...”
“Sure. You wanted to cure him as quickly as possible. You should have gotten a second opinion, though,” said Wilson gently. “Sherlock is your son, House. Foreman is going to be all over you for operating on a family member. You’re just not objective.”
“No. But I’m usually right.”
“Let’s hope so,” agreed Wilson, looking worried. He paused a long time and then lifted the box he was holding. “I meant to drop this off when I took Dominika back to your place, but I forgot.” He handed House the shoe box of photos that he had stolen from the apartment the previous day. “I’ve got to say he was a very ugly child,” he added, obviously trying to cheer House up a little.
House smiled wryly. “Takes after his dad. Lucky all my early pictures are in black and white.”
He extinguished the cigarette and opened the box. Despite what he had just said, he didn’t think Sherlock looked much like him at all beyond a superficial similarity in their coloring and height. There was a faint look of House’s maternal grandfather, especially in the wedding picture Adler had shown them, but the cheekbones were a genetic mystery.
The topmost photo was one a passer-by had taken at Stacy’s request, that day they’d visited Princeton University. House had forgotten how young he’d still been then, with a full head of mousy brown hair. Stacy was sitting beside him, a strand of dark hair blown across her handsome face. Even Sherlock looked happy, giving the camera a timid smile; so ordinary with his short spiky hair and smooth young face. He didn’t look like a kid who would be overdosing in some stranger’s bathroom less than two weeks later. They just looked like a normal family.
House closed the box angrily. “Sherlock is an idiot.”
“Yeah. Just like his dad,” said Wilson. “Listen, House, I don’t know what you’re doing down here, but you should be with him, be there when he wakes up.”
“What, hold his hand and talk to him while he’s unconscious? You know I’m not the type,” said House, though he had to smile at Wilson’s well-meaning naiveté. “Besides, his brother is here. Not that he’s the type to hold Sherlock’s hand and talk to him while he’s unconscious either.”
“Oh, so that’s what you’re doing down here. You’re avoiding his brother because he blames you for what has happened to Sherlock.”
House glared at him, about to protest that Mycroft had no reason to blame him, but Wilson just raised his eyebrows and House smiled grimly.
“Yeah. I guess he does.” He wished he hadn’t finished the cigarette; there was nothing to occupy his hands now. He opened the box again and gave Wilson the photograph on the top. “Sherlock came to find me after his mom died. Turned up on the doorstep. That was when I lived with Stacy.” He laughed shortly. “He’d lost his suitcase so we had to borrow clothes from a neighbor. For the first week, things were okay. He liked Stacy and I guess she stopped us from arguing. But then she had to go to a conference, and things... Things kind of went downhill.”
“You fought?” asked Wilson, handing back the photo.
“I hit him.”
Wilson said nothing, waiting for House to continue.
“He got high. I had some pot and he smoked it all and nearly set fire to our kitchen. I knew Stacy would freak out when she saw the black marks on the cabinets, but Sherlock refused to clean it up, so I did exactly what my dad would have done and I hit him.”
Sherlock reeled back in surprise, one hand to his cheek, his eyes flashing angrily.
“Hey, that hurt!” he exclaimed.
“It’ll hurt more if you don’t clean this up!” yelled House.
“You have no right to do that!”
“I’m your father!” shouted House. “I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”
Sherlock’s small eyes narrowed for a moment, though aside from his initial reaction, he seemed unfazed by the blow. “Is that what yours did? Mine never laid a finger on me.”
“I can tell,” snapped House, still angry at his son’s defiance but equally furious at himself for losing control. For becoming just like the man he was pretty certain wasn’t his father. “Might have done you some good.”
“Yes, he sometimes speculated about that. Mind you, he could go weeks without talking to me when he was in a strop. He’s a bit senile now, though.” To House’s astonishment, Sherlock started opening the cabinets in the kitchen. “They used to threaten to cane me at school, but it’s been illegal in state schools for years so even private ones are getting nervous about it.” He was clearly still high, but searching methodically through the cupboards. “Cleaning products, where are you? Oh... there you are.” He pulled out a bottle. “Ah, we have this one back home too. It tastes disgusting and causes a nasty rash when applied cutaneously, though you could probably kill yourself with it if you could get past the taste.” He poured a small quantity onto a sponge and dabbed at the black marks on the cabinets. “If I wanted to commit suicide, I’d put it into a capsule, or perhaps a condom; it’s caustic enough that it might eat through the latex in your stomach. Although actually condoms are surprisingly solid.”
“Been experimenting with them, have you?” said House, almost surprised that Sherlock even knew what a condom was. He picked up a sponge and started cleaning too.
“Of course. The nurse was handing them out to us all at school. A bit pointless, in my opinion, as it was perfectly obvious which ones of us were sexually active. They should have simply handed the condoms out to them and saved themselves the bother of giving some to the rest of us. Anyway, Victor and I conducted scientific tests in the lab to assess their resistance.”
“So you’ve never actually used one properly?”
“Of course not,” said Sherlock nonchalantly, still scrubbing. “I go to an all boys school. Opportunities haven’t exactly been forthcoming and girls aren’t really my thing anyway.”
“I’ll see what I can do about that,” muttered House, already feeling better now that he felt a plan coming on.
After all, even though House himself wasn’t allowed to touch these days, he did still know a few hookers who would be only too happy to show Sherlock how to use a condom.
“I felt guilty so I screwed up worse. I got a hooker for him and he got drugs off her. Then I took him to a party and he took three ecstasy pills and OD’ed in their bathroom.” Telling Wilson all this was surprisingly easy; House wondered why he hadn’t done it years ago. “Next day, his brother came to take him away, and that was the last time I saw him until he turned up a few days ago.”
Wilson said nothing for a moment, while he formulated a comforting banality. “Well, kids like to experiment. I mean, he must have your addictive personality.”
“Sure he does. After he’d been with me, he went back to England, became a junkie and dropped out of college a couple years later.” House focused on some litter on the ground. “He could have been anything he wanted to be, but he came to visit me and he became a drug addict.”
“And then the most famous detective in the UK,” said Wilson immediately. “According to the British Times, 346 people came forward to testify that he wasn’t a fake at the inquest into his death. Another paper worked out that he had been instrumental in something like 120 arrests and convictions. He’s done a lot of good.”
House gave him a quizzical look, amused in spite of himself by Wilson’s logic. “You think the measure of a person’s worth is how many people they’ve helped? Guess that puts us high on the list then.”
“No. Yes... Well, it shows Sherlock led a good life in the end, right?” said Wilson lamely.
“No, it shows he was a jerk who had a hobby that incidentally helped other people. A jerk who then lied to all those people for three years by pretending none of them mattered enough to stop him committing suicide. There’s gonna be a lot of pissed off people when he comes back.” House shook his head. “No, I messed up and he’s screwed up like the best of us.”
“Okay, so he’s screwed up, but that doesn’t make it your fault,” said Wilson, adopting a different tack. “If everyone is screwed up anyway, then it wouldn’t have made any difference if you were there or not, or if you gave him drugs or not. He’d still be screwed up. I’ve smoked cannabis but I never became an addict. You weren’t an addict before your leg. Sherlock didn’t become an addict just because you hit him once and gave him pot. Something else must have happened when he was at college. But the point is, he’s clean now and he still helped all those people.”
House’s sarcastic retort was cut short by his pager going off. He read the brief message from Park a couple of times, a slow smile forming on his lips.
“Good news?” asked Wilson tentatively.
“Yeah. Sherlock is still unconscious, but Watson is starting to show signs of improvement.” He grinned at Wilson. “Guess we have our answer about my abilities at least.”
House looked through Watson’s door. He was not exactly the picture of health – hardly surprising given that he was suffering the after-effects of liver failure and heart surgery, and still had two broken limbs – but the results of the first tests Park and Taub had run looked reassuring. Watson was talking animatedly with one of the nurses; he had certainly perked up since his ‘deathbed’ kiss with Sherlock the previous night.
House turned to look into Sherlock’s room next door. The blinds were closed but House could just catch a glimpse of Mycroft where one of the blinds was bent, creating a gap. House raised his eyebrows; Mycroft was not only talking to his unconscious brother, but also holding his hand.
Unable to resist this opportunity, House slid the door open. Mycroft immediately straightened up, releasing Sherlock’s hand.
“There’s no shame in loving your brother, you know,” said House.
“I am not ashamed,” said Mycroft calmly. He leaned further back in the chair. “But I prefer not to have an audience.”
House walked over to the window on the opposite side of the bed. The room was reflected in the glass, against the backdrop of the gray day outside. Sherlock’s reflection made him look like any other patient, his features half obscured by the oxygen mask and the bandage wrapped around his head, and his body lost among all the tubes and wires monitoring him and keeping him alive.
House turned back towards the bed and glanced up at the encephalograph readings. “If you have anything sentimental to tell him, now’s the time. He’s still out cold.”
“Thank you, but I believe I have unburdened myself sufficiently for one morning,” said Mycroft, his dispassionate tone at odds with his words.
From: Holmes, Mycroft
Date: Mon, 21 November 2000 17:31:45 GMT
Subject: Sherlock Holmes
It has come to my attention that you have been conducting an email conversation with my younger brother over the past few years.
As you may know, Sherlock is a troubled young man; he is currently in a rehabilitation centre where he has no access to any means of communication. It is my belief that there is a direct connection between his contact with you and his current substance dependence. I am therefore requesting that you henceforth cease all contact with him.
Date: Sun, 7 January 2001 02:36:15 GMT
Subject: Ignore my brother!
My brother hacked into my email account while I was away, got all my email contacts, and told a lot of you not to contact me anymore. Apparently, you’re bad influences and responsible for my “substance dependence” - as if I were some kind of easily-influenced junkie.
For anyone who is concerned about me: the occasional use of a small amount of cocaine simply helps me think. It isn’t my fault weaker spirits let it ruin their lives. I am quite capable of living without it, as indeed I have proved by passing all the tests in the ghastly clinic he sent me to with flying colours.
Business as usual will therefore resume.
PS: Vic, you should tell your wife about the barmaid at the Red Lion.
PPS: House, I need to go to Florida urgently. I’m going to need your help.
“It’s strange to see Sherlock so still. He is usually in perpetual motion, a maelstrom of activity,” continued Mycroft thoughtfully. His hand resting on his lap twitched, perhaps fighting the desire to hold Sherlock’s hand again. “What is his prognosis? Given your usual reckless attitude to safety procedures, I assume you have already administered the number 2 antidote?”
“No, number 4.”
Mycroft looked alarmed and straightened up in his chair. “Sherlock said you should use number 2. I may have doubts about my brother’s sanity at times, but he is an outstanding forensic scientist, and his knowledge of poisons in particular is unparalleled.”
“Sure.” House lowered his eyes to one of Sherlock’s immobile hands, firmly dismissing the doubts crowding his mind. He wondered if holding it would make him feel any better. “But he’s a forensic pathologist. His specialty is finding out what kills people. I’m a medical doctor. I know what cures them.”
“I see.” Though House wasn’t looking at him, he could feel Mycroft’s gaze boring into him. “Well. Let’s hope for all our sakes that your professional judgment is better than your attitude would suggest.”
“It is,” said House, trying to sound confident. He met Mycroft’s gaze. “I chose the right antidote. Watson is hitting on one of the nurses already, no doubt trying out some of that famed British humor on her.”
Mycroft raised an arched eyebrow. “Yes. The world is full of gay men but my brother likes to make life hard for himself.” He sighed. “When do you think Sherlock will wake up?”
“I don’t know,” said House, swallowing the sudden lump in his throat. “The blood tests my colleagues ran earlier show some signs of improvement. The antidote is working on him, same as it is for Watson.” He breathed in deeply. “Sherlock’s main problem right now is the after-effect of the stroke. Three-quarters of stroke victims suffer some kind of permanent or temporary disability; anything from a mild limp to a loss of cognitive abilities.”
He met Mycroft’s eye and realized they both understood the implications. Sherlock would be miserable without his superior intellect.
Mycroft closed his eyes a moment, digesting the information. “I suppose I’ve always known it would come to this eventually as soon as he evaded my surveillance: Sherlock lying in hospital facing certain death or, even worse, a loss of his faculties. My brother is, as you so succinctly put it this morning, an idiot with a death wish.”
“You thought he’d end up in hospital if you weren’t there to protect him?”
“I have rarely been proven wrong.” Mycroft exhaled slowly. “You think I’m overprotective. You think I’m stifling my grown-up brother’s freedom.” He shook his head. “You obviously don’t know Sherlock very well. He has a brilliant mind, but the self-preservation instincts of a lemming. He’ll try anything and do anything if it will stop him being bored, or better still, prove him right. You think I’m overprotective, but you have no idea how much Sherlock needs protecting.”
‘Unburdening himself’ had evidently put Mycroft in a talkative mood. “He was a day boy at school; he would wander away for hours on his way home without telling anyone, because it never occurred to him other people didn’t know where he was. When he was at university, after both our parents had died, I’d get calls from his tutors telling me he had missed several weeks of lessons. When he stopped going altogether, I had to use a private detective to find him and ended up calling the police in the hope of knocking some sense into him. I tried to force him to stay at home with me, I put him into rehab, I got him jobs, but nothing ever stuck.” He pursed his lips a moment, his eyes on his brother’s obscured features. “So in the end, I let him go. I got people to follow him instead, paid his roommates and casual acquaintances to report on his activities. I used every resource at my disposal to, if not keep him safe, at least ensure that I would be the first to know if he was hurt.”
“I guess everyone needs a hobby,” commented House. He thought about the way Wilson and, for a time, Cuddy, had always seemed to be in league to interfere when he got into trouble. “Did you get Watson to spy on him too?”
“No. He refused.” Mycroft steepled his fingers and smiled wryly. “He had known Sherlock less than two days and was already fiercely loyal to him.”
“Love at first sight?” said House with amusement, remembering what Watson had said. It felt like weeks ago.
Mycroft looked doubtful. “Watson had just been invalidated home from Afghanistan. He had a poor relationship with his only family and suffered from a psychosomatic limp and suicidal depression. He was an adrenaline junkie in need of a pet project and he latched onto my brother. I’ll admit he surprised me when he refused to spy on Sherlock. My brother’s previous attempts at forging a stable relationship had involved less scrupulous young men.”
House thought for a split second. “Like his friend Victor?”
“Yes, Victor Trevor.” Mycroft raised his eyebrows. “Special advisor to the Minister for Foreign Affairs now.”
“Ah, going places, huh?”
“Hardly. He’s a Liberal Democrat,” said Mycroft disdainfully. “I used him to keep track of Sherlock while he was with you. It wasn’t difficult to convince the egregious little pipsqueak to let me read his chat transcripts. But then the idiot started bragging about his new girlfriend and Sherlock stopped talking to him. In a way, it was lucky my brother ended up in hospital. He had refused to reveal his exact location to Victor, but I’d learned enough to place a watch on hospital admissions in Princeton.” He looked over at his brother. “Given the likelihood that he would eventually seek you out, I was monitoring your hospital again this time around. I’ve waited seven months to hear any news of him this time. When Sherlock really wants to hide, even I can’t find him. You can imagine my relief when the first sign of him was a routine blood test ordered in your hospital a couple of days ago. I didn’t know that I would once again find him laid up in hospital on arrival.” He observed House. “I take it the DNA test answered your question, by the way?”
House looked down at the worn but spotless floor and laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, he’s still my son.”
“Evidently.” Mycroft was still staring at House, his eyes narrowed appraisingly. “And you actually care for him too. But why? You only met him once. You don’t know anything about him. A mere DNA test is hardly a sufficient basis for an emotional bond.”
House met Mycroft’s cold gaze and put the box he was holding on the bed between them. Mycroft picked it up with a frown, but his expression turned to surprise when he opened it and saw the letters and photographs inside. He pulled out the one of Sherlock with the home computer and stared at it a moment before he spoke again.
“The ZX Spectrum was my father’s present to me for my twelfth birthday. He didn’t understand technology himself, but he did understand its power.” Mycroft smiled wanly. “I wasn’t interested. I enjoyed the games you could buy on cassette, but I preferred chess or draughts in the real world. Sherlock, on the other hand, immediately took to it. He was only five years old, but he could copy programmes out of books and run them practically before he knew how to read. Mrs Carter, our housekeeper, I suppose you would call her, though she was theoretically just the cook, used to take him to the computer shop in town.” He smiled fondly. “He worshiped Mrs Carter. They used to watch Coronation Street together in secret. She adored him. But then –” He looked over at Sherlock to check that he was still asleep. “– I suppose we all did.”
“Even your father?”
Mycroft frowned as if it had never occurred to him that his father might object to Sherlock’s existence. “Yes, my father was very proud of him too.”
It seemed that with the floodgates open, there was no stopping Mycroft now. His voice faltered a little as he glanced at his brother.
“You see, when I was a child, I was often promised a sibling. A little brother or sister to play with. But every time, it would end the same way; my mother would return from the hospital, ashen-faced and determined to throw herself into some new endeavour. Then one day, she met you–” He looked House over with disdain before turning to look at Sherlock again. “–and this happened. He happened and our lives were never the same again.” He looked through the papers in the box. “I had no idea she had kept you so thoroughly informed about his life.”
“Yeah. I never replied to any of them, but she just kept sending letters and photographs. Guess she thought some day I’d appreciate them.” He met Mycroft’s gaze briefly and lowered his eyes. “She was right. When you told me he’d died, I read everything in that box again and–” House looked down at the floor again. “Your mom was a smart woman.”
“Yes. She certainly was.”
House looked up with a start. Mycroft rolled his eyes. Sherlock was observing them both through narrowed eyes.
“How long have you been awake, Sherlock?” asked House; the encephalogram chart was normal again.
“Dunno,” said Sherlock, his voice still slurred and unusually quiet. He grinned at them through the oxygen mask. “Something ‘bout ev’ryone adoring me?”
This week: Sherlock gets his happy end, but deduces something about Irene that makes House feel incredibly old.
“Do I really have to wear this ... apron?” grumbled Sherlock, sitting up in his bed and pulling at the hospital gown he was wearing. “Does it actually serve a medical purpose or do you just do it to ensure patients won’t run away for fear of embarrassment?”
“Nah, we’re just making you wear it so Adams here can admire your ass,” said House.
Adams, who was leaning over Sherlock and trying to get him to do cognitive tests, gave House a dirty look over her shoulder. To be fair, given that he'd been staring at her ass, House probably deserved it anyway. As for Sherlock, between the white bandage on his head and the hospital gown, he wasn’t quite the confident show off he had been when he waltzed back into House’s life a few days earlier.
“Hold that still,” snapped Sherlock, his eyes on the card Adams was holding up.
“I’m not moving,” she pointed out. “You’re having trouble focusing, which is kind of to be expected so soon after a stroke.”
“Sherlock, do help the nice lady make you better,” said Mycroft, still sitting in the visitor’s chair by the bed and surveying the scene with detached amusement.
Sherlock glowered at him and was still in that position when a flash went off, accompanied by the artificial sound effect of a phone camera. Nurse Rajachandrani had just wheeled Watson in and he was sitting in his wheelchair looking very pleased with himself. Mycroft pushed his chair back and stood up to let them get closer to the bed. The nurse left the room.
“Yes, I’m definitely sending that one to Greg,” said Watson with a grin, showing Sherlock his phone. “You look like an Easter egg.”
Sherlock pouted as Watson said hello to everyone else in the room and passed around the phone, though House noticed that his son’s eyes remained glued to the doctor’s face. Watson was focused on the photo he had just taken, apparently oblivious to Sherlock’s attention. House still didn’t get what Sherlock saw in this plain-looking middle-aged man; he generally expected gay men to have better taste. He hoped Watson was worth all the trouble Sherlock had gone through.
When the phone came his way, House leaned forward to look at the unflattering photo Watson had just taken of Sherlock and laughed. He picked up the shoebox of photos and letters he had placed on the window sill beside him.
“I have even better photos in here,” he said with amusement. “Ones his mom sent me when he was a kid.”
“This should be entertaining,” said Mycroft sardonically, now standing by the entrance.
“House, don’t you dare!” growled Sherlock.
Unable to resist, House opened the box, though before he could pick one of the unflattering ones from Sherlock's mid-teens – like the one with the mullet, horsey teeth and barely disguised pimples – Adams fished out the picture taken with Stacy at Princeton University.
“Aw, you look really handsome on this one,” said Adams, showing it to Sherlock. “You look more like your dad, too, except cute, obviously. Is that your mom?”
“He doesn’t look at all like me,” pointed out House, who was also annoyed at being cast as ‘dad’; although factually accurate, it made him feel very old.
“I don’t look a bit like him!” protested Sherlock at almost the same time. “And no, that’s the girlfriend he was living with when I first met him. It was all rather awkward as I remember.”
“Yeah. Awkward is one way of putting it.” House involuntarily exchanged a look with Mycroft and knew they were both remembering how that particular trip had worked out.
“Nice haircut,” said Watson with appreciation when Adams passed him the photograph. “And you look about twelve as usual.”
“That’s probably why my girlfriend decided to mommy him and cut his hair,” said House.
“Oh, yes, Nisha – Nurse Rajachandrani – was telling me about that!” said Watson, looking from House to Sherlock. “Eighteen months I lived with you and you never once told me you were American! All those years of shouting insults at American TV shows and it turns out you’re a Yank yourself. No offense,” Watson added for the benefit of the Americans in the room, “but this is hilarious. You should have heard some of the things he said.”
“I am not American,” said Sherlock, crossing his arms petulantly.
“Since your biological father is American, technically, you are entitled to American nationality,” said Mycroft, a sneer curling his lips. “Which makes you somewhat less British than the rest of us.”
Sherlock glared at House. “This is all your fault.”
Only a couple days earlier, House might have argued or obfuscated, but right now, he was tired and very relieved to see Sherlock back to his usual self. He felt uncharacteristically at peace with the world.
“Well, you sure got me there,” he agreed, raising his hands.
Adams handed back the photograph of them at Princeton University; Sherlock’s eyes followed the movement.
“Are you still in touch with Stacy? No, of course you’re not,” said Sherlock, frowning. “This hole in my head is making me slow. You wouldn't be miserable and shacked up in a sham marriage if you stayed in touch with any of the women who put up with you in the past. They might remind you that you’re the one who ruined it every time.” He tore his eyes away from Watson and glanced at House. “Though I'll grant you you're probably better off staying away from the last one after what you did to her house.”
House leaned over and patted Sherlock – gently – on the head. “Aw, look at my kid, all worried about his poor old dad's love life.”
“Given how curious you were about–” Sherlock rolled his eyes as Adler walked into the room and posed elegantly by the door; Mycroft’s lip curled in disgust. “Oh, yes, by all means, do let’s cram more people into this little room!”
“Ah, good timing. I guess we can move away from my love life and onto yours,” said House. He pointed at Adler. “Adams, Watson, watch her carefully. You might pick up some tips on picking up Sherlocks.”
Adler ignored House's comment and raised an eyebrow when she saw the four people crowded around Sherlock’s bed. “Holding court, are you, Sherlock? I see you are feeling better.”
“Right! That's enough. I'm fine. Everybody out, now!” shouted Sherlock, making a sweeping motion towards the door. Adams looked over at House, who nodded.
“That’s it, out! Not you,” Sherlock snapped at Watson when Adams made to pull the wheelchair towards the door. She let go and left, though she was the only one.
Mycroft took one step towards the door but this only brought him closer to Adler. “What, exactly, are you doing here?” he asked her.
“I’m visiting my husband,” she said sweetly, “brother-in-law.”
“You both used a false name. Legally, you are not married,” said Mycroft coldly.
Adler’s smile was triumphant but not seductive. “Legally, we’re both dead. I think that gives us some leeway in what we consider to be the truth of our relationship.”
“Don’t pretend you actually care about him,” said Mycroft more viciously. “You didn’t come here to see Sherlock. Any caring wife would have been here hours ago.”
“Yes,” she admitted. “But I think we both know I’m not the type to hold his hand or talk to him while he’s unconscious.”
“You’d be amazed what comes over people when they see their loved ones in a hospital bed,” said House with a grin at Mycroft, who pursed his lips in distaste. House took a good look at Adler and continued, “You’ve just had lunch with Foreman; you’re wearing your business suit again, along with your wedding ring and the red-soled shoes. Good on you. After all, why not forge a business deal on behalf of your legitimate employers at Albion Pharma with a man who happens to have a thing for married women and a large pharmaceutical budget to manage? Must make a change from ordering hits on former associates like that guy Câmara.”
“Câmara was not a very nice man,” said Watson, his lined face serious but unapologetic.
“That would be an understatement,” agreed Mycroft. “I don’t think anyone will miss him. His son is in police custody. I’ve instructed my people to provide sufficient evidence to secure a conviction when the matter comes to trial.” He glanced at House and Sherlock in turn. “Given the chance that an investigation might lead back to the person responsible for Câmara’s death, my people will also convince the police to drop any further charges regarding the shootout at 221B Baker Street.” He raised an eyebrow. “Intriguing coincidence, by the way.”
“Yes. So everyone is well again and justice is done. A happy ending, hurrah!” said Sherlock sarcastically. “Now, you can all bugger off and come back later. Except you,” he added, pointing at Watson.
“Actually, I have a plane to catch,” said Adler calmly. “I just came to say goodbye, Sherlock.”
“No you didn’t,” said Sherlock impatiently. “You’re just here to remind Mycroft of your existence. It’s blindingly obvious. You want to continue to live in peace in London where your girlfriend Freya Norton is a respected barrister, and my brother is the only person you know who could make that happen.” He narrowed his eyes and paused for a split second before continuing. “Interesting. You want to use your connection with me to emotionally blackmail him into giving you a free pass, but you don’t intend to tell him the whole truth? I would have thought you had a more convincing argument at your disposal by now.”
Adler turned a little pale. “I should have known you would guess,” she said, her voice barely audible. She gave Sherlock a pleading look. “Sherlock, some secrets are worth keeping.”
“I don’t guess, Irene, I deduce.” Sherlock raised his eyebrows. “You’re forfeiting your advantage because you would rather risk losing altogether than reveal your secret.” He glanced at Mycroft. “You’re afraid he’ll take her away.”
Mycroft seemed to immediately grasp what Sherlock was talking about. He covered his face with his hands and groaned “Oh, Sherlock, you idiot.” House looked from Adler to his son, trying to work out exactly what he was missing; the one possibility that came to mind made him feel older than ever. Watson just looked lost.
“You know what,” said Adler a little too loudly. “We can discuss this when you’re back in England. I really must run.”
“What was your plan exactly?” asked Sherlock as she turned towards the door. “Keep the secret for another 17 years until I found some stranger on my doorstep?”
“Speaking from experience, that can be quite traumatic,” said House, though his mind was reeling.
“Evidently. House here was still pretending I wasn’t his son a couple of days ago,” said Sherlock. “He was similarly put out by my appearance on his doorstep seventeen years ago. And yet judging by that box he’s holding, he’d had ample warning of my existence. I conclude that it would be significantly more traumatic to be presented with evidence of a grown-up offspring with no forewarning at all.”
“How could you let this happen?” growled Mycroft, glaring at Sherlock. “I realise that the entire concept of sex has largely evaded you, Sherlock, but I honestly thought even you wouldn’t be stupid enough to have unprotected sex with a woman who had already tried once before to use you to blackmail me for her personal gain!” He closed his eyes. “I knew I should have stopped John getting married.”
“What? Me?” exclaimed Watson. “What’s that got to do with Sherlock and Irene?”
Mycroft rolled his eyes. “I’m sure someone will draw you a diagram, John.” He turned on Adler, who was watching him warily. “As for you! If there is indeed a child and if a DNA test proves that it is indeed his, you will hand it over–”
“No, she won’t,” said Sherlock, waving his hand at Mycroft. His brother protested but Sherlock continued, looking Adler over slowly as he spoke. “Yes. There is a child. Thirteen months old. Blue eyes, obviously. Dark hair, probably still in baby curls now but curly hair displays incomplete dominance, so it may become simply wavy later. You were still practicing your trade when we married, a trade you enjoyed, giving you as it did an opportunity to punish men for their historical and continuing sins towards women. But you’ve given it up now, even though your girlfriend didn’t object to it. You’d be more worried about exposing your offspring to your clients if the offspring was a girl. So I conclude the child is a girl. I hope you don’t keep her in a safe,” he added with amusement. Adler returned his smile, though she was rubbing her hands together nervously. “Anyway, I trust the accident this morning was nothing serious.”
Adler’s jaw dropped a little. “No, Freya told me she fell off the– wait, have you been spying on me?”
“Me? No. I was unconscious, and Mycroft here was too busy holding my hand to eavesdrop on your phone conversations this morning.” Sherlock smirked as Mycroft snorted in irritation. “So this is purely logical reasoning, as always. You didn’t mention anything about leaving today when we had dinner last night, therefore you have brought the time of your departure forward. You didn’t come to the hospital first thing this morning when you heard what had happened to me. As Mycroft said, a caring wife would of course have visited me immediately; we both know you neither care nor are legally my wife whatever the ceremony we went through might suggest, but you are adept at playing the roles you cast yourself into. So there had to be a reason why you didn’t even go through the motions. We’ve already established that you have a child; you have put on weight since the last time I saw you and yes, Mycroft, I did notice that the sex was unprotected, even though I might have been distracted by other considerations at the time, and it did occur to me that this might have been deliberate. Ms Norton is far older than Irene and probably expressed the desire for a family that she had never taken the time to produce herself.”
His tone softened a little. “As unlikely as it may seem, Irene is in love and prepared to do anything to make her girlfriend happy. Including waylaying a man whose genes she admires and who is by his own nature unlikely to interfere in her family life. It is generally the case that a parent will care more for a child than anyone else – the speed with which a cure was found for John’s poisoning once I was also affected is testament to that – and it therefore makes sense to assume that the child is the cause both of your conspicuous absence from my bedside this morning and your abrupt need to return home early.
“You spent the morning talking to your girlfriend and rebooking your flight. That would make most sense if the child had had an accident. By lunchtime, you’d received news that it wasn’t as serious as you originally feared, and went ahead with your scheduled working lunch with Dr Foreman. Hearing from Foreman that I was currently being visited by my devoted brother, you decided to squeeze in a rapid visit to remind Mycroft of our connection with a view to lobbying him for protection, and here you are ... Yes, John, you may comment, since you are obviously bursting to do so.”
Watson blinked and smiled self-consciously as all eyes turned to him. “Er, no, nothing to say. Just … that’s brilliant!”
“Only brilliant?” said Sherlock lightly, rolling his eyes. “I was hoping for at least ‘fantastic’ or ‘amazing’ given my weakened condition. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to do this after a stroke?” He pointed at his bandaged head; Watson just gave him a tender smile. “Mycroft, give the lady your assurance that she will be protected. Best keep the child alive; it is safe to assume she will remain the sole descendant of our mother’s line. I have no intention of producing any more and though logic would dictate that you’d be the more likely progenitor in our family, you don’t appear to be having much success.” He frowned. “You might want to have that looked into some day, by the way. In the meantime, Irene, I am sure Ms Norton is a very affectionate step-parent and you have employed a good nanny?”
“Of course,” said Adler, looking relieved.
“And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be raised by lesbians?” commented House, fighting a strong urge to leave the room and play a prank on someone rather than deal with the reality of being a … he was only in his mid-fifties, for Christ’s sake!
“Well, there you go,” said Sherlock. “Mycroft, you don’t have time to look after a child, and I have no intention of getting involved, so it is best that she remain with her mother.” He smiled at Adler. “You can send me pictures but under no circumstances should you ask me to babysit. Paternal instincts don’t run in our family,” he said, indicating House. “Now, go away, all of you. Except John.”
Adler came over and kissed Sherlock on the cheek. “You’re a good man, Sherlock Holmes.”
“No, I’m not,” he said, though he looked pleased. “John is a good man. I’m just a clever one.”
“Can I just say I resent the implication in that sentence?” said Watson, pretending to be offended as Adler left the room.
Mycroft was still standing in the doorway. “Sherlock–” he started.
“Oh for goodness’ sakes, go away, Mycroft!”
“The expression, Sherlock, is ‘for goodness’ sake‘,” said Mycroft icily as he swept out after Adler.
That left House, Watson and Sherlock alone in the room.
“Wow. So you really did have sex with her,” said House. “I didn’t know you had it in you. Or, you know, vice versa.”
“Yes, it all seems rather improbable, doesn’t it?” said Sherlock thoughtfully. “If I were a normal person, I’d probably be quite shocked. Anyway, I’ll forward you the pictures of the Child which Irene will undoubtedly send me, but you won’t have to do anything.”
House thought about the one time he’d babysat Cuddy’s adoptive daughter Rachel and the little girl had swallowed a coin. “Yeah. That’s probably best.”
“So … you ended up with Irene Adler after all,” said Watson, who looked a bit dazed by the whole scene. “And you have a child. Sherlock, you didn’t even ask her what the child’s name was!”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll learn it sooner or later,” said Sherlock airily. He swept away the topic with a wave of his hand. “And I haven’t ended up with Irene. As if anyone would actually want a wife!”
Watson said nothing and there was an awkward pause. Sherlock glanced up at House, who frowned at him. Sherlock’s face suddenly lit up with comprehension.
“Oh. Was that insensitive?”
“A bit,” said Watson.
“Right. Yes, of course. You’re still grieving.” Sherlock frowned. “Though, no. It’s been four months now. You started going out with Mary three months after my funeral. So you must be over the grieving process now. It took you only three months to get over it last time.”
Watson opened his mouth, closed it again, then finally said, “Actually, I wasn’t over it ... over you when I started going out with her. But it was different. I wasn’t married to you.”
“That’s not what the press said,” muttered Sherlock petulantly. “And you did say you were in love with me. House is witness to that.”
“Yes, I’m not going to live that one down, am I?” sighed Watson, casting an embarrassed glance at House.
“No,” agreed Sherlock. “John, can you stand up?”
Watson blinked, surprised by the non-sequitur. “Um, you do know I have a broken leg, right?”
“Yes, a partial fracture of the right tibia. You can put your weight on your healthy leg and the cast will provide adequate support should you accidentally put the broken one on the floor. You can lean on my bed. Now stand up.”
Watson exchanged a puzzled look with House, who shrugged, though he was pleased the conversation had moved off the subject of Adler’s offspring. House had taken thirty years to get used to the idea of being a father; he wasn’t quite ready yet to restart the entire process for a grandchild.
After a moment’s hesitation, Watson sighed and pulled himself to his feet.
“There had better be a good reason for this, Sherlock, because –”
Watson had barely straightened up before Sherlock suddenly lunged at him, grabbing him in an awkward bear hug and burying his face in Watson’s hospital robe. After a brief pause, Sherlock pressed his lips to the exposed skin above the bandages on Watson’s chest, then, apparently overcome by his own boldness, he pursued the movement, placing small kisses up Watson’s neck to his jaw. They kissed briefly and Sherlock whispered something in Watson’s ear that made the doctor clear his throat and blush a little.
“Oh,” said Watson, wide-eyed. “Right. Um, wow. Since when?”
Sherlock loosened his grip to look up at him. “Oh, pretty much since we first met.” He gave Watson a shy smile. “You said I was amazing.”
“Yes, well, my old Mum always said the way to a man’s heart was through his massive, overblown ego,” said Watson with a laugh. He stroked Sherlock’s cheek, running his fingers across one of the prominent cheekbones. “You kept that quiet, didn’t you?”
Sherlock threw himself back onto his raised pillows with a dramatic sigh. “John, I think we will just have to accept that you’ll never be able to see what is right in front of you.”
“Right.” Watson lowered himself gingerly into the wheelchair again. “I knew you were gay, though.”
“No, you didn’t,” said Sherlock.
“He did, he wrote it in his blog,” said House, leaning back against the window. “We all knew you were gay, Sherlock.”
“No, you didn’t,” insisted Sherlock. “Anyway, I’m not ‘gay’. I’m above such petty nomenclature. It isn’t my fault if men are inherently more attractive than women.”
Sherlock reached out to Watson, who immediately took his hand, his expression lighting up as if Sherlock was doing him a great favor. In fact, the doctor looked as if he was seriously considering kissing the erstwhile detective’s hand. They clearly had a shared belief in the greatness of Sherlock Holmes; House found that thought both disturbing and kind of touching.
Sherlock suddenly scowled at House as if he’d only just noticed his presence. “Are you still here?”
“No.” House pushed away from the window. “Not if you’re going to do any more, what do you call it over there, ‘snogging’?”
He still had his doubts about this relationship, but both men were recovering from serious conditions and now wasn’t the time to air his newfound fatherly concerns.
“I’m gonna leave you kids to it. I’d offer you a condom, but I guess with all the tests we’ve run on your bloods this last couple days, I can safely say you don’t need one. Just remember the door’s made of glass. If you need help keeping your hands to yourself, Dr. Watson, take a look at his childhood photos. Should calm you down.”
House chuckled at Sherlock’s glare and handed the shoebox to a bemused Dr. Watson as he walked out.
Everyone says goodbye to Sherlock, but House doesn’t see why he should.
As usual, House could tell what Wilson wanted before the man even walked through the glass door. He leaned back in his chair and waited patiently until Wilson was standing on the other side of the desk before speaking.
“No,” he said.
Wilson blinked. “What do you mean, no? You don’t even know what I’m going to say.”
“Yes, I do.” House took a couple of Vicodin and pretended to be watching something on his computer. “You want me to spend ‘quality time’ with my son before he leaves this afternoon.”
“Well … he’s going back to England this afternoon, so I guess this is your last chance to spend some quality time with him.” Wilson had apparently rehearsed his speech and was determined to use it.
“I’ve spent quite enough time with him the past few days. That’s my quota for the next seventeen years or so.” House put his iPod headphones on again and closed his eyes.
Wilson made an indistinct noise of frustration before leaving the office. Eyes still closed, House smirked with satisfaction and skipped the current track - a sentimental power ballad - to find something more in tune with his mood. A folksy guitar introduction backed by the twang of a sitar announced the start of an old song he hadn’t heard for years and he let his mind drift for a while.
My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
Perhaps inevitably, his mind drifted onto Sherlock. House had been a kid when he met Margaret. Eighteen years old for Christ’s sake. He’d believed he was a man – he’d had girlfriends and he was the one who had pursued her – but looking back thirty-five years later, House knew he’d been just a kid. Even when news of Sherlock’s existence had reached him, he was still a student struggling with his own set of problems. Nobody could blame him for wanting to pretend the kid didn’t exist. Still, there had been a dull ache of guilt at the back of his mind all those years, only compounded by the effect Sherlock's brief visit in 1995 had apparently had on the boy’s life.
House remembered the unexpected hug that day he’d told Sherlock about the party. Was that the day Victor had told Sherlock about his girlfriend? Sherlock’s eyes had been red and puffy - had Sherlock actually been crying? House felt a cold dread as he wondered if that was why Sherlock had overdosed. Perhaps he couldn’t handle the pain of Victor’s rejection and he had acted out. And House, the so-called responsible adult in charge of him, had completely missed it. Whatever Wilson said, House knew he had screwed up back then; it was lucky Sherlock had gotten his life back on track later. And now, years later, the kid had become a reluctant father too and the cycle was starting all over again.
House pulled out the shoebox, still in his desk after a week, and took out the picture of Sherlock using his brother’s home computer. He propped it up against his monitor and swiped through the pictures on his phone, selecting one that Irene Adler had texted him. The Child, as Sherlock called her, was lying on the floor with her short fingers on an iPad. Her hair was darker and longer than Sherlock’s had been, but aside from that, she looked just like her father. House wondered if he would ever meet her.
He put the pictures down when Adams opened the door. House smirked when he noticed the cleavage on show in the opening of her white coat. It was probably nothing to do with Sherlock and everything to do with the handsome locum working at the clinic downstairs, but House still made a show of staring at it thoughtfully.
“Hoping to show Sherlock what he's missing by going back to the UK? I guess if things don't work out with the guy he actually tried to die for last week, you might stand a chance.”
Adams gave him a sour look and indicated the forms on House's desk. “Foreman asked me to remind you to sign Holmes and Watson’s discharge papers.”
“Sure. I'll do it when I've done my clinic duty,” said House. “I’m sure Foreman wouldn’t want me to miss that just to sign some papers. But you can tell him not to worry, I’ll sign. I've done enough of the family thing for a lifetime.” He observed her thoughtfully. “Speaking of directives from Herr Foreman, shouldn't you be doing clinic duty too? I’m sure that cleavage would perk up some of the old guys down there. Or, you know, maybe a locum or two.”
Adams opened her mouth and then shut it again with a sigh; she fled before House could start on the length of her skirt.
And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad.
You know I’m gonna be like you.”
The old tune lingered in House’s mind when he took his headphones off a few minutes later and walked out of his office. He went to annoy Foreman, who was trying to close an important deal with an insurance company and therefore needed a childish prank played on him. Foreman didn’t seem particularly grateful for the distraction from the stress of the negotiations, but House was sure he’d thank him later. Once the cleaners had removed the ink from the walls, of course.
House went to the bathroom, only to find himself suddenly with a Taub standing at the next urinal, very pointedly not using it. House pursued his current occupation.
“Tell Foreman it was worth it and I regret nothing,” he said immediately.
As expected, that momentarily put Taub off what he had intended to say. “Foreman? Why? What did you do-” Then he narrowed his eyes. “Wait. Right. I get it. Diversionary tactics.”
House zipped up his flies and turned his back on Taub to wash his hands. Taub paused and House thought he could probably bet a significant amount of money that he knew what Taub was going to say next. He would have won, too.
“So. Have you signed the discharge forms? I mean Holmes and Watson's. You know Holmes's brother has chartered a plane for this afternoon. There’s a car picking them up at 12.30.”
“Actually, the doctors in the Stroke Unit still want to keep a hold of Sherlock. I'm waiting for their go-ahead.”
That wasn't entirely true; the doctors and therapists on the Stroke Unit had indeed objected on the grounds that Sherlock still needed therapy and they didn't trust even a private British clinic to give it to him. But Foreman, possibly nudged somehow by Mycroft, had overruled them and told House, still listed as Watson and Sherlock's attending, to sign the discharge papers. Given Sherlock's desire to go home, House didn't have any objections, though whenever he thought about it, he felt ... something at the thought of Sherlock leaving.
“Look, I know how you feel,” said Taub sincerely. “When I thought Rachel was going to move away with Sophie…”
“Isn't that one called Sophia?" said House to distract him. "I thought the one you got from that CNA girl was Sophie?”
“My wife and her boyfriend decided to nickname her daughter Sophie,” said Taub shortly. “The point is-”
“The point is you think fathering two baby girls by two different mothers at the same time makes you an expert on me dealing with my thirty-five-year-old son.” House dried his hands. “I'm pretty sure I've had this conversation with someone before and we concluded I’d get better advice from Wilson. Actually, I'd get better advice from a hooker. The hooker my gay son impregnated, for example, since she has a couple months’ head start on you when it comes to baby girls.”
“Your granddaughter’s mother is a hooker?” said Taub with surprise. To be fair, it wasn’t something Sherlock tended to mention when he talked about Adler and the less House told people about being a grandfather, the happier he was. “God, he really is your son!”
“He sure is,” said House, and the thought gave him a warm feeling that he didn’t immediately recognize.
Feeling satisfied with that exchange, House limped out of the bathroom and was devising a prank to play on his entire team when he just happened to walk past the Stroke Unit on his way back to his office. He grinned when he heard Sherlock shouting at the therapists who were trying to help him. Poking his head around the door, he saw his son standing in the middle of the room in his “Lilac” pajamas with his arms crossed like an angry child, refusing to take the ball a big burly therapist was trying to hand him. They seemed to be performing some hand-eye coordination exercise involving tennis balls.
Watson was in a wheelchair in the corner nearest the door, his broken leg propped up and an amused look on his face as he watched Sherlock. House remembered his earlier thoughts about Victor, and Sherlock’s overdose, and he slipped into the room.
My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, “Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let’s play.
Can you teach me to throw?”
I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do.”
He said, “That’s ok.”
“You’re not gay,” said House, pulling up a chair beside Watson’s wheelchair.
Watson stared at him a moment, then cleared his throat. “Right. Glad to know someone agrees with me after all this time. Bit late, mind you.”
“You’re not gay, but Sherlock is. Sooner or later, he’s going to want to bump uglies,” pointed out House. “Which I guess won’t be a problem straight away seeing as he’s a catcher - just thought I’d clear that up in case you hadn’t already noticed.” He watched his son flounce away from the tennis balls despite a pronounced limp. “But how long do you think you can go before you start wishing he had tits?”
“With all due respect, that’s none of your business,” said Watson with a scowl. “We’re not … We’re … We’ll sort something out,” he concluded lamely, looking down at the cast on his arm.
“I sure hope so,” said House, feeling more earnest than he had in years. “Sherlock is in love with you. He gave up his life with you to keep you alive three years ago. He stayed away from London even though he hates the rest of the world because he wanted you to be happy. He hooked up with a woman who used him as a sperm donor because you broke his heart when you got married. He even risked his own life getting poisoned last week because he didn’t think I was working hard enough to save you.” He shook his head. “I sure as hell hope you won’t leave him for some woman because God help me, Watson, I’ll track you down and make your life hell.”
Watson raised his eyebrows and House suddenly remembered that under his benign exterior, the man was actually a professional killer.
“Well, okay, I’ll send you some angry emails,” he added.
Watson’s eyes crinkled in amusement. “All right, I’ll be careful.” His expression became more serious. “Mycroft told me how Sherlock has been since he left. I mean, really, it’s his own fault. He could have let me in on it and taken me with him, but I think he panicked and he isn’t used to trusting anyone. And, well, I wouldn’t give back my years with Mary. In a funny way, that’s what made me realise that what I had with Sherlock was so special, and … I don’t know. I’m not very good with words.”
“I know. I’ve read your blog,” said House.
Watson cleared his throat again. He took a deep breath and fixed House with an earnest gaze. “Look, just so you know. I love Sherlock. I really, really do. I don’t know how things will work out. I don’t even know if we’ll get around to having sex, let alone how that will work out if it happens, but I’m just so happy to have him back in my l– Ow!”
Sherlock had apparently bowed to pressure from the burly therapist and started aiming, firing and missing at the target. Watson rubbed the side of his head with his free hand, clearly not fooled by Sherlock’s innocent look. The tennis ball Sherlock had thrown rolled to House’s feet.
“Yeah, I love you too, Sherlock,” called out Watson, before adding in a lower voice, “We’re obviously not paying enough attention to him. He's like a small child sometimes.”
House watched Sherlock aiming more accurately at the target now that Watson was watching him. “Can't imagine where he gets that from.”
“Your friend Dr Wilson has his theory,” said Watson with amusement, looking at House. He shook his head and grinned. “I have to admit I would never have believed Sherlock had an American father.”
“Yeah. And imagine my surprise at finding out I had a British son. Who grew up to be Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatest detective."
On impulse, House picked up the tennis ball Sherlock had thrown earlier.
“Hey, kid!” he shouted. He stood and, bending his knee just like he’d learned to do back in high school, pitched the ball back at Sherlock. “Catch!”
Sherlock nearly caught it but his body was still too uncoordinated and it fell to the ground. He scowled at it as if it had done him a personal affront.
“Not doing too good there. Maybe we need to keep you here a couple more weeks,” said House.
“Don’t you dare!” exclaimed Sherlock. “I am absolutely fine and I'm going home this afternoon. If you try to stop me, I'll break out of this hospital by force. I haven't had a decent cup of tea in years!”
He picked up the ball, backed up a few steps and then did a slow run up for a few feet before bowling the ball overarm at House. It narrowly missed House’s face but knocked down a bag of tennis balls off the peg on the wall, spreading them across the floor.
“Well bowled,” said Chase appreciatively, coming in with a clipboard; no doubt the discharge papers House still hadn't signed.
“Trust Sherlock to be good at cricket,” grumbled Watson. “Posh git.”
He leaned out of his wheelchair to lob a ball at Sherlock. House helpfully did the same, and they then repeated the process, so that Sherlock had to protect himself with both arms as the men started pelting him with tennis balls. The therapists looked on with disgust. Chase tried to get House’s attention but gave up and left when a tennis ball hit him on the nose. He handed Watson the clipboard on his way out.
“Cut it out!” exclaimed Sherlock, though he was laughing so much he was finding it difficult to fend off the balls. “All right! I promise I’ll never attack a pair of crippled doctors again.”
House laughed too. He signed the discharge forms Watson handed him and pretended that he didn’t mind that Sherlock was leaving.
Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
“Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?”
The same song came on later when House was lying on the recliner in the corner of his office. He moved it on, and was enjoying some nice depressing blues when he opened his eyes and found Park leaning over him. House sat up with a small cry.
“God, don’t do that,” he exclaimed with exaggerated outrage. “That’s enough to give anyone nightmares!”
Park rolled her eyes. “You know, Sherlock and John are leaving in, like, half an hour,” she told him. “Maybe you should be there?”
Park blinked. “Well, um, he’s your son and he’s leaving?”
“I don’t need to say goodbye.” House lay down again and closed his eyes. “Sherlock has gone nearly all his life without talking to me. I’ll email him later.”
Given that he didn’t need to say goodbye to Sherlock, it was pure chance that House happened to be in the lobby, finally about to start his quota of Clinic duty, about thirty minutes later.
He had to admit that Sherlock looked impressive in his long gray coat, striding confidently out of the elevator with a walking stick while Watson trailed behind, pushed in a wheelchair by a very angry-looking orderly. Another, equally disgruntled orderly followed, pushing an empty wheelchair. Clearly, Sherlock had refused to be wheeled out of the hospital, as was customary to prevent lawsuits. House couldn’t suppress a smile of satisfaction.
The orderly wheeled Watson over to the Reception desk where he filled in the final paperwork for himself and Sherlock. Sherlock, meanwhile, stood beside him and observed all the people in the lobby with a serious expression, no doubt dissecting them in his mind. There was plenty to observe; the nurse whose boyfriend was cheating on him; the barrista from the cafeteria who moonlighted as a stripper; the security guard whose marriage was on the verge of collapse because of his gambling habits. Every human being’s secrets and failings were visible to the naked eye and yet only House and Sherlock could decipher them. House observed Sherlock’s profile and felt a weird sensation of kinship.
“House. You should be saying goodbye to Sherlock. Not standing over here doing … whatever you’re doing.”
House quickly looked down at the Clinic folder he was holding, annoyed that Wilson had managed to creep up on him unnoticed.
“Clinic duty,” said House casually. “Don’t need to say goodbye. We’ve done as much bonding as we can stand. Shame you missed the ball fest in the Stroke Unit earlier, though; I did you proud. There was some major bonding going on there; mainly between me and Watson. Turns out we both like throwing things at Sherlock. On the plus side, the Stroke Unit doctors changed their minds about wanting to keep Sherlock there any longer.” House lifted the folder. “Just picking my patients for this afternoon. It turns out three women aged 20 to 30 are in need of immediate medical attention.” He looked in the direction of the clinic, trying to see the patients through the glass doors. “They should really include patients’ measurements on these forms.”
“You’re an ass, House.”
“Sure.” House snapped the folder shut and headed towards the clinic. He cast one last quick glance at Watson and Sherlock; they were apparently having an argument, probably on the lines of the one he was having with Wilson.
I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
Given that there really was no reason for a lengthy goodbye, House expected Sherlock to win the argument and for both men to leave. However, it seemed that he had underestimated Watson’s determination and ability to manipulate Sherlock, because when House reached the clinic door, Sherlock was standing right beside him looking sheepish.
“John says I should say goodbye to you because we might not see each other again for a few years,” he said in one breath.
“Right. Sure. Well, it was sure good seeing you,” said House, focusing on the incongruous red button hole on Sherlock’s coat. “You email me when you get back.”
“Yes. Look ... Thanks for saving John’s life,” said Sherlock after a pause. “I had no idea how lost I was without him.”
“Yeah, that’s the thing about misery. You kind of stop noticing it after a while.”
Sherlock observed him keenly. “You shouldn’t. You should find something that makes you happy and keep hold of it.” He narrowed his eyes. “You think Dominika only stays with you because the Immigration service told you to live together for six months. You think she'll leave if she finds out her application has already been accepted. I think you're wrong.”
“The trouble with happy people,” said House, raising his eyes to Sherlock’s with a grin, “is that they all think they've discovered the secret of true happiness and want to tell everyone about it. You need to concentrate on Watson. Leave Dominika to me.” He gave Sherlock an awkward nod and lowered his eyes again. “I'm glad you're happy.”
Sherlock turned to look at Watson and a tender smile lit up his face. “I should have told him years ago. Next time I fake my death, I’m taking him with me.”
“Yeah, I can see how a fake death might get a bit lonely on your own,” said House with amusement. “Still, I guess you got your man in the end.”
“Yes. And I can finally go home! I know it won’t be easy but Albion Pharma is setting up a forensics lab in Sussex so that will keep me busy until I can start work as a detective again. Mycroft is horrified at the idea of me working for Irene of course,” he said with satisfaction. “I think marrying her - well, pretending to marry her at any rate - has turned out rather well after all: progeny without the responsibility and ample opportunities to annoy Mycroft as well.” He smiled and lifted his hand as if an idea had just come to mind. “I know! When Mycroft has fed some sympathy-inducing lies to the press and I can resume my detective work, I’ll let Lestrade to do the boring cases. He lost his job because of me so it’s the least I can do. Then John won’t keep going on at me about not helping people in need just because I think they’re boring. And Mrs Hudson has given her tenants their notice so I’ll be back at home in Baker Street in no time. Irene only lives ten minutes away, so I'll be able to take the Child to Nursery for her sometimes. Apparently that's the kind of thing fathers have to do these days. Anyway, once I'm back at 221B, all I’ll have to do is convince John to move back in and all will be well!”
House had to laugh at Sherlock’s enthusiasm for his new life. He couldn’t remember when he’d ever been this euphorically happy himself, but he found that for once, he didn’t resent another person’s joy. That still didn’t explain what came out of his mouth next.
“Yeah, I’m proud of you, son.”
Where the hell had that come from? He expected Sherlock to make fun of him, to counter the maudlin sentimentalism with some British sarcasm, but Sherlock just grinned happily.
For a moment, they were looking each other right in the eye, overcoming that Asperger’s or whatever it was that normally made this uncomfortable. Then Sherlock’s arms were around House, pulling him into the kind of impulsive bear hug he’d given Watson after his stroke, except without the kissing, thankfully. House didn’t know what to with his hands for a moment, though it seemed natural to put them on Sherlock’s back, flat on the rough material of the woolen coat. It gave him a strange feeling, like something odd was happening to his insides.
“Thanks,” said Sherlock again. “Give my love to Dominika.” Then he turned elegantly and limped back towards Watson who was talking to Wilson. “You should tell him, you know,” he said to Wilson for no apparent reason as he walked past them towards the exit.
House didn’t spend much time pondering what Sherlock thought Wilson should be telling him. He was too busy watching his son walking away, tall and elegant, and looking way more cool limping with a walking stick than House could ever hope to.
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.
Wilson approached. He was watching Sherlock and Watson leave too.
“You know, at first, I thought Watson was a bit of a pushover but he does actually have influence over Sherlock.” Wilson gave House a thoughtful look. “Maybe that’s what you need. A Watson to keep you in line.”
House grinned. “Why would I need a Watson when I’ve got a Wilson?”
Sherlock and Watson were at the door now. House turned away and limped towards the elevator. He wasn’t in the mood for clinic duty after all. He wondered when he would see Sherlock again – let alone meet The Child.
He thought about going home to Dominika that evening, pretending he didn't know she was legally free to leave him without fear of deportation. He thought about Sherlock going back to England with the love of his life, to live near his daughter and her mother, and his friends Lestrade and Hudson. Maybe the kid wasn't so much like his old man after all.
“I might be your Watson but I won’t sleep with you, you know,” said Wilson, joining him at the elevator.
House pressed the Up button. “Yeah, I hear that’s what Watson used to say.”
He turned to take another look at the entrance. Sherlock was still there, leaning on the glass door, talking to Watson as they waited for the car Mycroft had booked to come and take them to the airfield. They weren’t touching, but there was an undeniable possessiveness in Watson’s body language; his intense observation of Sherlock's features, the tender way he pulled a hair off the sleeve of Sherlock’s greatcoat. And though Sherlock appeared to be oblivious, he leaned a little closer when Watson touched his arm.
House felt an odd swelling sensation in his chest. The elevator pinged but he paid it no notice.
Mycroft's car arrived and the chauffeur helped Watson into the car. Just as he was about to follow, Sherlock turned and saw House watching him. He winked.
House laughed and followed Wilson into the elevator.
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, son?”
“I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
Lyrics of “Cat’s in the Cradle” adapted from The Harry Chapin Archive.
Chapter 16: Epilogue
This week: Sherlock returns to the US for House's funeral. But as always, things are possibly not quite as they seem.
Additional dialogue from "Everybody Dies", House M.D. series finale by David Shore, Peter Blake and Eli Attie.
Many thanks to everyone who has betaed and commented on this story, and to all the people who left kudos here; you all kept me writing to the end and made this a better story! Thank you and, given the date on which I am posting this, merry Christmas!
The taut strings bit into Sherlock’s fingertips, softened and clumsy after practically three years without practice, but the bow flew across the violin effortlessly, powered by the flesh memory still embedded after all these years. He had first learned this piece as a young boy, just before he and the school orchestra decided by mutual agreement that he was not First Violin material after all. He didn’t ask himself why it was this piece that came to his fingers first; Danse Macabre, the dance of the dead, appropriate for a man who had been dead for three years and was now on the cusp of coming back to life.
A piano broke into his solitary tune, providing an unexpectedly accurate counter melody, and Sherlock’s eyes flew open. Greg was looking up at him from behind the piano, the stern portrait of one of Dominika’s countrywomen glaring over his shoulder; Greg, who went to childish lengths to pretend he didn’t care and yet had bought Sherlock an expensive violin. The other members of Sherlock’s family had enjoyed music but none had shared his instinctive understanding of it. Sherlock couldn’t remember if he had thanked Greg for the gift; he couldn’t do it now, so he smiled instead.
That had been quite a night. It was the night Irene walked back into Sherlock’s life and a glance at her expanded waistline – almost half an inch – and full breasts told him that she had not only borne but was still breastfeeding a child. His child. And of course, more importantly, it was the night John first kissed him.
But in that moment, when Saint-Saëns’s music flowed so effortlessly between them, it was also the first time he had felt like Gregory House’s son.
And now, only a few weeks later, Sherlock was sitting at House’s funeral, listening to a succession of people telling lies about the great person his father had allegedly been.
“Rubbish,” muttered Sherlock in indignation. He rubbed his knee, feeling the smooth texture of the expensive material beneath his fingertips. Spencer Hart, Savile Row. He hated taking Mycroft’s money again but it was so nice to afford new tailor-made suits. “She’s lying. He was a terrible son. He didn’t even tell her I exist.”
“Sherlock, shush!” hissed John, who was staring straight ahead, feigning rapt attention. Why did people do that? What was the point; did anyone here seriously care that John Watson, a man most of them didn’t even know, was paying attention? And given that they most probably didn’t care, why did John need to put on this charade?
“John,” started Sherlock, intending to ask the man himself since he was sitting right there and currently engaging in the behaviour Sherlock found so intriguing.
“Shh!” went John, still not looking at him, as if lack of eye contact might keep him quiet.
They were sitting right at the back; despite Sherlock’s best efforts, they had arrived late rather than not at all. John’s determination to drag Sherlock to this pointless exercise in group conscience-salving was quite remarkable, if utterly irritating. Still, at least he hadn’t actually forced Sherlock to deliver a eulogy; every now and then, someone on the seats in front of them would spot them and try to make eye contact, and that was quite enough attention.
Jessica Adams turned around and gave him a little wave from one of the front seats. He remembered her climbing onto his lap and practically assaulting him in her eagerness to kiss him during their “date”. He turned to John, intending to point her out to him, but John’s expression was still forbidding.
Sherlock let his eyes linger on John a moment longer, lost in his beauty; short greying hair; paedomorphic features; prominent nose; skin pitted like orange peel but as soft as velvet. The light from the factory-manufactured printed glass behind John was shining through the eyelashes on his right eye, creating the illusion of a little halo. Sherlock longed to stroke John’s face; smell his scent; taste the soft, creased skin under his dark blue eyes; Sherlock was allowed to do all that now that they were together. He wondered what John’s eyelashes would feel like on his skin. Butterfly kisses, Cook had called them, holding him to her, her face against his cheek, her short eyelashes tickling his skin.
But Sherlock wasn’t a little boy anymore; he was a father, a lover, the employer of a man who needed money to support his unfaithful wife. And now he was an orphan, sitting at his last remaining parent’s funeral like a real grown-up.
Sherlock sighed with boredom.
“I could have stayed in England, you know,” he said. “It isn’t as if House will know I’m here.”
John gave him a dirty look, his small mouth set in a thin line of disapproval, before returning his attention to the latest mourner delivering a hackneyed eulogy.
Sherlock pulled out his phone and swiped in a quick text.
Can I kiss you?
John shot him a look of irritation when his phone vibrated. The stern expression on his lined face softened when he read the text, though, and he gave Sherlock that crooked smile of disbelief mixed with admiration that had captivated Sherlock the first time they met. Victor, Lestrade, Stamford; other men had been impressed by Sherlock’s deductions, but none of them had ever looked at him like John.
“No!” mouthed John, though he was laughing silently.
Sherlock felt a dry, warm sensation on his hand and looked down to find that John’s fingers were entwined with his. It made him feel … happy. John looked tired, not jetlagged yet, just tired because his arm was still in a cast and he had to walk with a stick again while his leg finished healing. And because they’d stayed up way too late watching something ridiculous on the iPad, embracing each other on the double bed in their hotel room. Sherlock leaned over and kissed John’s cheek anyway.
John gave him a pleased smile and then appeared to instantly forget his own not talking rule when someone new walked up to the front of the room to talk.
“Who is that?” he whispered. “She looks familiar.”
Sherlock tore his eyes away from John and turned his attention to the woman at the front of the room. Dark hair, dyed; mid-fifties; high, rounded cheekbones; small brown eyes. Married to a man who hadn’t come to the funeral. Stacy, the woman who had lived with House for years until the infarction that crippled his leg made him drive her away.
“He was a trying boyfriend,” she said in the middle of her speech, “but I never stopped loving him.”
“Evidently not,” commented Sherlock, analysing the juxtaposition of her words and body language. “She cheated on her husband with House years after they broke up.”
John looked annoyed but his face lit up as he remembered how he knew Stacy. “Oh, wait, she was on that picture House had,” he whispered. “She’s the one who cut your hair, right?”
Sherlock accidentally caught Stacy’s eye as she continued her eulogy, and she smiled when she recognised him. He hastily lowered his head, feeling like an awkward adolescent again.
“I don’t remember,” he said.
“Hey, hold still,” she said softly, her fingers brushing his scalp as she carefully clipped his hair. Dark clumps were falling past his eyes and creating an irregular pattern on the tiled bathroom floor. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. I used to cut my little brother’s hair when we were younger.”
“Your little brother may not have had high standards of personal grooming,” grumbled Sherlock, though to be fair, he had agreed to this.
Stacy laughed softly. He liked her. She was intelligent and strong and exactly the kind of woman his mother had been. He felt awkward and inadequate when House was around, but Stacy was kind and he liked watching her. He didn’t even argue when she offered to cut his hair.
Her chest was close to his face; if he just tilted his head forward a bit, his cheek would touch the white cotton of her pristine work blouse. He could smell her skin; perfumes and liquid paraffin and the unfamiliar scent of a grown woman, confusing and overloading his sensitive olfactory receptors.
She leaned across him to pick up a comb and he gave in to the impulse to lean forward, letting his head rest on her chest, just enough pressure to feel her warmth through the cloth. The comforting feeling affected him in a strange way, moisture rising to make his eyes prick.
“Oh, you poor kid,” she murmured, pulling him to her bosom and stroking his shorn head. He wrapped his arms around her and drowned in the sensations. “You must really miss your mom.”
Sherlock thought he should keep John away from Stacy if he could. Somehow, the revelation that he had once, however fleetingly, had something of a schoolboy crush on his would-be stepmother in a classically Oedipal manner didn’t strike Sherlock as something that would maintain the awe with which John appeared to regard him. Besides, John would probably think it was hilarious and tease him mercilessly.
“He was my husband for real,” said Dominika, up next, severe in her black jacket. “I could not help but love him.”
“Well, until she discovered he was keeping her with him under false pretences,” said Sherlock sotto voce.
John turned and gave him a long-suffering look. “Am I going to have to take you outside?”
Sherlock sulked and didn’t listen to the rest of what Dominika said, or indeed Foreman who came after her. They were followed by a tall young woman; late twenties; bleached blond hair; former underling for House; jabbering on about what a great boss he was; used to go out with Foreman of all people. Boring.
“He was willing to kill me,” she said. “And I’ll always be grateful.”
On the other hand ... Sherlock squinted at her. Dying of a terminal disease; bisexual too. Less boring. House propositioned her before she got the blonde hair, probably angling for a threesome with one of her female partners – Sherlock could think of nothing less appealing – and then offered to kill her if the disease got too much. Less boring, but still irrelevant.
Despite being the one person who had worked for House for the better part of a decade – and who had inherited House’s position as PPTH’s Head of Diagnostics – Chase didn’t have much to say beyond the usual platitudes about House being his mentor. Maybe he had heard that if you had nothing nice to say, you should say nothing at all.
He was followed immediately by a blonde woman with a small mouth; Sherlock could tell from the way they looked at each other that this was Chase’s ex-wife. This one actually used to be in love with House; probably even went out with him, presumably back in the days when she had dark hair since her hair was also obviously dyed. She was crying, and John squeezed Sherlock’s hand.
Sherlock knew he was supposed to be sad; that was the point of this gathering; collective grieving was as old as laying petals and offerings of food on the curled up body of a loved one buried in a prehistoric cave. He looked at the large photograph of House by the little black urn and he felt that sinking sensation in his chest again, the one he’d had when he first heard the news back in England, as if his internal organs were rearranging themselves every time he thought of his father.
But this was stupid; Sherlock had barely known him. Why did it matter that what was left of Greg House was stored in that little urn on the table? Everybody died; it was the epitome of the human condition.
Sherlock peered at the dead body, cataloguing all the details of the corpse: the lank grey hair, the myriad broken little veins under the lined skin on the cheeks, some longer facial hair where the hormones disrupted by the menopause had made whiskers grow. He extended one finger and touched the forehead, noting how dry and cold it felt, quite unlike living tissue.
“Sherlock, do you have to poke Mummy?” asked Mycroft in a bored voice. “She’s definitely dead.”
“Charlie,” corrected Sherlock, straightening up and brushing his long hair out of his eyes. He was still in his school uniform, the three-piece suit incongruous in the cold fluorescent light of the hospital mortuary. “It’s Charlie now.”
“No, it isn’t,” retorted Mycroft, his fat jowls quivering with indignation. “Mummy let you get away with that nonsense, but she named you Sherlock and you should be proud of it.”
“Why? I didn’t choose it. Charlie is a nice normal name.”
“Oh, and are you a nice, normal boy?” sneered Mycroft.
“You should get a haircut, young man.”
The two young men turned to look at Mr Holmes senior, sitting on the only available chair and leaning heavily on his wooden cane. He was looking up at Sherlock from under his wiry white eyebrows as if he couldn’t quite place him.
“You’re not my father, you can’t tell me what to do,” grumbled Sherlock without conviction.
“Perhaps we can leave the soap opera dialogue for another time,” suggested Mycroft. “Now, we are all going to leave and let the mortuary staff do their job.” He helped Mr Holmes to his feet. The old man looked momentarily bewildered and spluttered a protest. “We’re in the mortuary, Father, and we have to go home now. Say goodbye to Margaret.”
“Goodbye, Margaret,” said their father vaguely. “Funny. My wife is called Margaret. Beautiful woman.” He blinked and appeared to notice Mycroft for the first time. “Ah, Mycroft, my good boy. Where’s the clever one?”
“I’m here, Father,” said Sherlock, giving Mycroft a superior smirk.
“Dear me, that uniform is still as ridiculous as it was when I wore it,” said the old man. “Still, humiliating the upper classes is what made Britain great.”
Mycroft just rolled his eyes and ushered his father out of the room. Sherlock followed, hands in his pockets and scowling with irritation because he hadn’t had time to examine the body as he wanted to. He looked over his shoulder at the corpse lying on the table and wondered where his mother had gone. There was a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Right, listen, you two,” said Mycroft decisively once they were in the corridor. “We will go to Mummy’s funeral on Thursday where we will all behave like civilised people. You will sit quietly through the cremation, and you will look sombre, avoid histrionics and speak to no one. I will try my best to keep people away from the pair of you, but if you do end up talking to anyone, I am counting on you not to embarrass yourselves, our family or the person unfortunate enough to offer you their condolences by belittling them or sharing inappropriate anecdotes about Mummy’s life.”
“Don’t worry. Never talk to people at parties,” said Sherrinford Holmes haughtily, as his nurse came over at a signal from Mycroft. “Margaret is the expert mingler. Where is Margaret anyway?”
“She died of cancer, Father,” said Mycroft patiently as the nurse led their father away. He sounded tired and even Sherlock could tell he looked older than his twenty-three years of age. “She died a horrid lingering death and left me with the pair of you to look after. I must have been a serial killer in a past life to deserve this much hassle.”
Sherlock observed him through narrowed eyes. “You’ve put on a lot of weight, Mycroft. You’ve been comfort eating. You really should take care of yourself.”
Sherlock closed his eyes. The sinking sensation remained as Sherlock thought about House, dead and cremated in the little urn. Yes, he was sad. Normal. His father was dead, or so he was told, though this time, there was no corpse to poke. Just a burnt body identified by dental records. If this had been one of Sherlock’s cases...
He was distracted by a woman slipping in to sit on a chair to his right. Her large eyes were filled with tears, her thin face a mask of grief framed by long dark hair. Early forties; Middle Eastern origin, probably Jewish; another former lover, of course, easy to spot yet another dark-haired replica of Ms Margaret Sherlock-Jones. Given her late arrival – spent most of the day debating whether to come or not – probably the one whose living-room House had demolished.
Sherlock looked at the photograph of House smiling benignly by the urn and frowned. Now he thought about it, he was sure he had noticed something on his way in. He focussed on a spot in mid-air and concentrated, struggling to keep his hands still – John was bound to interrupt him if he waved his arms – and he worked his way through the confusing jumble of data in his mind. Something to do with one of the guests? Maybe ... No, one of the cars, nobody getting out; someone observing the crowd...
He was yanked out of his mind palace when John squeezed his hand.
“You okay?” he mouthed, his warm fingers stroking gently, his palm heavy on the back of Sherlock’s hand.
“Of course I am,” said Sherlock with irritation. “I didn’t know him that well.”
“He’s a doctor.” He could feel his mother’s small blue eyes on him. The globe spun around its metal core, brightly coloured countries filing past his gaze. “His name is Gregory House and he lives in the United States.”
The colours on the globe merged together, creating a soothing, hypnotic vista which occupied his entire field of vision and allowed him to focus on the thoughts in his mind. He hummed quietly as his imagination took hold. He was a racing driver, screeching around the track at Silverstone, his German nemesis in hot pursuit. Off the track, they would fight crime together like Batman and Robin, only without the silly suits. Yes, that was better than just racing cars. And way more interesting than the boring old pirates he’d been into last year. He had more mature interests now he was nearly ten.
The globe slowly came to a stop before him and he was distracted by the names of the cities in the large blob of red that spread from Eastern Europe to the Pacific. He gave the globe another push and felt a stimulating thrill as it revolved again, a shudder of delight running through him at the thought of returning to his imaginary crime fighting.
“Sherlock, darling,” said his mother gently, a note of reproach in her voice.
“Yes, Mummy,” he responded, reluctant to devote mental power to talking to her when his mind was at rest, mesmerised by the spinning globe, and able to concentrate on his internal game. “I was listening, you know. My biological father is a doctor called Gregory House who lives in Michigan.”
“I didn’t tell you he lived in Michigan,” she said, amusement in her voice.
“Cook took an airmail letter to the Post Office while I was at school the other day. I didn’t see the recipient but I saw the postcode as she put it in her bag. Americans call them ZIP codes; I read it in a book in the library. MI means Michigan. I know you write to other people in the United States, but you wouldn’t be raising the issue with me now if he wasn’t on your mind, so it was a reasonable guess that he’s the one you wrote to.” He gave the slowing globe another prod. “Now, if you don’t mind. I need to spin the globe.”
Mummy sighed. “Oh, darling, what are we going to do with you?”
“Nothing,” he said with irritation. “You don’t need to do anything with me. I can take care of myself.”
“God, I hope so or poor Mycroft is going to have a hard time when we’re gone.” She gave him a kiss. “You can ask me about your real father any time you like.”
“Yes, Mummy, I will.”
He never did, though, and then it was too late.
“It doesn’t make sense, though,” said Sherlock in a low voice as Wilson took his turn at the front of the room. The woman beside them frowned at him but he ignored her. “What was he doing in that abandoned warehouse anyway? The damage to the MRI machine was no worse than any of the other thousands of pranks House played on people in the past and Wilson is the one who is dying of cancer – I deduced that much during our last week in hospital – so House had no reason to commit suicide. Even taking into account cowardice in the face of Wilson’s illness, and assuming he was high, since the the body they found was riddled with heroine, House wasn’t the kind of person who would just give up. He’s like me. What did you say about me that time? He would outlive God just to have the last word. He’s not the kind of person to just die in a random accident.”
“Sherlock, please don’t do this to yourself. These things happen. Even to people like House,” whispered John gently. “You know I talked to Wilson just after it happened. He saw House in the building and then he saw the building blow up. That’s pretty definite.”
Sherlock watched Wilson thoughtfully as his father’s best friend spewed the usual well-meaning nonsense.
“He was my friend. The thing you have to remember … the thing you can’t forget is that Gregory House saved lives,” Wilson was saying. Sherlock rolled his eyes and groaned. “He was a healer. And in the end …” Wilson paused, apparently struggling to keep his train of thought. “House was an ass.”
Pleasantly surprised, Sherlock turned and smirked at John, who shook his head. “Yeah, that’s what I should have said at your funeral,” muttered John.
“…The truth is, he was a bitter jerk who liked making people miserable,” continued Wilson. “And he proved that by dying selfishly, numbed by narcotics, without a thought of anyone. A betrayal of everyone who cared about him.”
Wilson was interrupted by a phone call, and actually paused his speech to berate the audience, even though the ringing was obviously coming from his own pocket. Sherlock couldn’t believe how stupid ordinary people were. Wilson worked it out after far too long and looked at the phone; his expression changed. The room erupted into a murmur of consternation and Sherlock smiled.
Before John could stop him, he stood up.
“The thing about a good man is that he can only lie if he doesn’t know the truth,” he said quietly. “Blood on the pavement was pretty definite.”
Sherlock ran out of the building and looked around. The car he had noticed earlier was gone and there was no one in sight, but there were several outhouses and sheds around the crematorium where anyone could hide. There were also any number of buildings within visual range of the chapel, and a simple eavesdropping device would be sufficient to monitor the funeral and interrupt Wilson while he was talking. Even so, the presence of the phone in Wilson’s pocket indicated that it had been planted earlier in the day, possibly just before the start of the ceremony.
Sherlock focussed on the flowerbeds lining the chapel. The earth was dry and mostly undisturbed, but when he kneeled down, he realised some of the bushes were bent, the marks in the soil beneath them rather like...
“Sherlock, do you have to do this now?” asked John in that long suffering tone that meant he thought Sherlock should stop doing whatever he was doing and do something boring instead. “This is your father’s funeral, Sherlock!”
“No, it isn’t.”
Sherlock waved John’s large feet out of the way – couldn’t the man tell he was standing on a vital clue? He would have said more – not that there was much point sharing his thinking until he was certain he was right – but when he turned the other way, he found himself facing a pair of low heeled red pumps.
“You remind me so much of your grandfather,” said a soft American voice.
“Oh, did he crawl around the bushes at funerals too?” huffed John irritably.
Sherlock stood up without bothering to brush off his trousers and observed the woman with curiosity. Mid-seventies; 1.65 meters tall; handsome face; hair dyed a neutral blonde but which had probably been dark in her youth. The well maintained facial skin of the stay-at-home wife of a well-off man. Wedding ring. Remarried. Remarried to the Scotsman who wasn’t House’s father. Sherlock tilted his head and met the woman’s gaze with curiosity.
“You have his cheekbones,” she continued, looking up at Sherlock with a tender smile. “God, I thought he was handsome in his RAF uniform. How could a plain little American housewife resist?”
“A British pilot, eh?” said John with a grin. “Okay, Sherlock, that does make you a little less American. And maybe you’ll be a bit nicer to that unfortunate pair from that cheap charter firm Mycroft employs to fly us around. You know the captain reminds me–”
“This is John,” interrupted Sherlock, suddenly remembering that others were incapable of learning anything about people they hadn’t met before by simply observing then. “Dr John Watson. John, this is House’s mother.”
“Blythe Bell,” she said, extending her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Watson.”
“Likewise. You gave a very moving speech,” said John, shaking hands with her. He shot Sherlock an irritated look. “Sorry we got here so late.”
Sherlock realised he should probably provide more information for his grandmother. “He’s my boyfriend.”
“I think we’re done with the introductions, Sherlock. Besides, I thought we’d agreed on ‘partner’,” grumbled John.
“If you want everyone to think we’re lawyers. We live together and we have sex,” added Sherlock for Mrs Bell’s benefit, uncertain what else to say to her. John groaned and looked embarrassed. Oh right, not supposed to mention sex. He should say something vague instead. “I love him and he makes me very happy.”
He glanced at John, who gave him a grudgingly pleased smile.
“I visited you once when you were a boy,” said Mrs Bell, who apparently also agreed that the time for introductions was over. “Your mother wrote my son when you were five. She didn’t know his address so she sent the letter to ours. I don’t think Greg ever noticed I’d steamed it open. The next time my husband John had to go to Germany, I took the Sealink to England and sought you out. You were in the park with your stepfather. I didn’t talk to either of you; I just sat on a bench and watched. All the other kids were killing aliens or holding tea parties, but you were on your own in a corner, staring up at the sky, lost in your own world. Just like your dad at that age; always daydreaming. It used to drive John crazy. He’d get so mad at Greg ... But your stepfather asked you what you were doing and seemed fascinated by what was going on in your world.” She smiled sadly. “I’d meant to talk to your mom, maybe arrange for you to come over. But I guess I realized you already had all the family you needed. Or maybe I just chickened out.”
“Yes,” said Sherlock distractedly. His eyes were following Wilson, now hurrying to his car with a furtive look on his face. Anyone with half a brain would realise just by looking at him that he was up to something.
“Well, I’d better go,” said Mrs Bell with a sigh. “It was nice meeting you, Sherlock. You must come visit some time. Or maybe I could come to London.” She smiled. “I’d love to meet your little girl. I loved Greg and I was very grateful to have him, but I always thought it might have been nice to have a daughter too.”
“Yes. Mine is very clever,” said Sherlock, because his daughter was exceptionally gifted for a toddler and he wanted everyone to know that. “John can show you pictures. He carries them around with him.”
“So do you,” said John with amusement, pulling out his phone. He smiled at Mrs Bell. “He pretends to be all cool about it, but he dotes on her.”
Sherlock was still observing Wilson and barely heard what Mrs Bell said next; something about contact details or email addresses. John was dealing with it anyway. When Sherlock looked in her direction again a few minutes later, Mrs Bell was leaving, heading back towards a group of mourners which included her current husband – far too short to be House’s father, was House really that stupid? – and several of the people Sherlock had met last time he was in the United States.
“Your son isn’t dead,” he called out after Mrs Bell.
She turned to look at him with a smile. “I know. I noticed the cane prints in the flowerbeds too.”
Sherlock grinned as Mrs Bell turned her back on him and rejoined the group. A glance at John revealed a familiar bewildered look on the doctor’s careworn features. Sherlock leaned down to kiss him lightly on the lips.
“Who said fathers never learned anything from their sons? We should go home, John,” he said, seizing the man’s hand. Wilson’s car was driving off into the distance. “I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Gregory House.”