In the week following the denouement of the serial suicides (what John reverently calls “The First Case” before coining it as “A Study in Pink”), John Watson learns next to nothing about his new flatmate. He does not know Sherlock’s favorite film, his favorite genre of music, or his favorite book. All of the fundamental trivia that one should know about his flatmate remains unbeknownst to John.
One thing that John does know about Sherlock is that he is quiet. He doesn’t notice it at first; he preoccupies himself with unpacking what little he has and tidying his new room. It doesn’t take him long to unpack; he’s only got three boxes (one for clothes, one for small appliances, and one for books) and he only empties two of them. He tries to find room on Sherlock’s bookshelf for his own books, but it’s so crammed with biographies of chemists and historical leaders that he can’t find space to squeeze in even one thin volume. So, John keeps his books in their respective box and places it in the corner of the living room next to the couch, as if the books are on a waiting list for shelf space. He then puts his own kettle on the counter next to Sherlock’s kettle, and thus ends the single day of settling in.
It isn’t until the following day as John sits in his armchair with his morning cup of tea when he notices Sherlock’s silence. He can feel it resting itself heavily over the flat like a fog; it is stiff and consuming and pensive and not like normal silence at all. He feels that he could touch it, grab it, cut it with a knife. And that is just the feeling of the atmosphere.
Sherlock’s physical being is almost impermeably still; he is all tensed and has this thoughtful vigour that John can see even though Sherlock does not move an inch. He is perched on the arm of his chair like some mysterious bird of prey, with his wiry legs bent and feet planted on the seat cushion. He’s hunched over a bit as to rest his elbows on his knees and his hands are clasped underneath his chin. His piercing, narrowed eyes stare not so much at the wall as through the wall, like he’s deeply concentrating on some perplexing abyss that only he can see. John does turn a couple of times to see if he can catch a glimpse of the thing in which Sherlock seems so engrossed, but there is nothing but the out-dated-yet-charming wallpaper.
In a way, the motionlessness and the way the sunlight illuminates everything give Sherlock a statuesque quality. John finds himself marveling at Sherlock like a gum-chewing, picture-taking tourist; how the sleeves of Sherlock’s white button-up are gathered at his elbows, how the dusty sunlight shines through the loose waves atop his head and glints off of the pale crescent of his back, giving his whole body a sort of halo, how a single deep line of thought begins at the center of his furrowed brow and diminishes as it extends up his forehead. It’s all displayed here like a work of art in a still, ever-constant museum.
However idyllic it might be, Sherlock’s picturesque placidity does not help John to know him any better. Sherlock may have been able to deduce the army doctor’s entire life story from just one look, but the talent of observation and deduction does not find itself at John’s disposal. He only knows that a) Sherlock is a so-called, self-coined “consulting detective” who is b) quite a strange fellow (John is not sure whether that “strange” holds a negative or positive connotation), but who is also c) unconventionally beautiful (which is very recently acquired information). Other than that, Sherlock remains an unmitigated enigma.
Sherlock’s present demeanor does not seem to welcome conversation or small-talk; another wrench thrown in the struggle to know him. John realizes that every effort he could make to initiate a nice conversation would be futile, so instead of asking all of the questions whirring around in his mind, he says, “I’m going to go visit Mrs. Hudson.”
To him, John’s voice sounds weird and incredibly out-of-place in the quietude of the flat. Sherlock doesn’t respond and John is neither surprised nor disappointed at this fact. John stands, shuffles to the kitchen to place his empty mug in the sink and exits the flat through the kitchen doorway leading to the narrow staircase. He is pleased to hear the evenness of his footfalls; one is no longer heavier than the other, and there is no third thump of the end of the cane striking the floor. He sends yet another silent thank you to Sherlock, who is no doubt disregarding it in his thoughtful state. John thinks it’s nice to thank him anyway.
When he approaches Mrs. Hudson’s door, he knocks once sharply, then quietly a couple times more. After a few moments of silence, Mrs. Hudson opens the door just a crack.
“Oh, Dr. Watson!” she exclaims, despite the fact that John has told her many times, “Please, call me by my first name.” She hugs him all the same and invites him in.
“So, you’re still here?” she asks as she shuffles to the couch in the main room, across from the chair in which John sits. She doesn’t ask like the fact bothers her; on the contrary, she sounds rather pleased.
John nods and smiles a little. Mrs. Hudson throws her hands up, saying, “Oh, God bless you, dear. He’s gotten so lonely lately.”
“Actually,” John begins hesitantly, “you seem to be more satisfied with my presence than Sherlock is, to be honest.”
“Why do you say that, dear?” Mrs. Hudson leans forward, obviously expecting to hear an extravagant story of a brawl or yelling match between the new flatmates.
“Well, Sherlock is a bit, er…quiet,” which is an understatement of the highest degree, but it’s apparent that Mrs. Hudson understands perfectly well what he means.
“He told you that he goes through bouts of silence, though, right?” Mrs. Hudson points out. And yes, Sherlock did mention that; within the first minute of their meeting at St. Bart’s, Sherlock had told him about his habits of playing the violin and not talking for days. But John didn’t think that the silence would feel this strange.
John explains the selcouth stillness plaguing 221B, although he does not mention the artistic feeling underlying it all.
“Is it because he, I dunno…doesn’t like me?” John asks, feeling a bit foolish as he does so. He feels a bit like a pubescent boy coming to his mum for dating advice.
Mrs. Hudson adopts a look of intense sympathy and reaches across the coffee table to place a withered, comforting hand on John’s wrist. “Oh no, sweetie, I’m sure he likes you just fine.” This response makes John feel even more ridiculous.
Mrs. Hudson bends her head down a bit to look into John’s downward-cast eyes. “I mean it, you know,” she says quietly, tightening her grip a little on John’s arm. “You know who all was closest to him before? Me and Lestrade. That was it. Not even his brother. Then you come along and he takes you in almost immediately, without you trying to weasel your way into his life. And he accepts you.”
John looks up to see Mrs. Hudson smiling the most genuine of smiles. “Yes, he’ll be quiet some days and unbearably vivacious some other days. He’s strange in that way; it’s like night and day with him. But he likes you now and he will keep liking you. You are, after all, the closest anyone’s ever been to him.”
What she says blows the dust of worry from John’s mind. He’s not sure how Mrs. Hudson has that effect on him, but she does. He smiles a little and thanks her for her time and then retreats to his flat.
Sherlock is still in that position and John is not surprised, although his heart does sink a bit. He starts rummaging around in his brain for things to coax Sherlock out of this state and into a conversation or a night out or even just a change of stature. The mental search is in vain; all he can think of doing is talking, which he deduces would be much like discussing things with a person in a coma.
Deduces. John has a bit of a Eureka! moment; he figures that maybe he can try to train himself to do the same thing in two hours that Sherlock can do in an instant. It’s a stretch, and John knows that if Sherlock could read thoughts, he would be laughing his arse off, but John has run out of ideas.
So John walks over to Sherlock’s bookshelf first. The creaks of the floorboards under his feet seem to echo in the stillness. He faces the shelf and scans it up and down, wondering what to look for first. Then he notices dust; dust on the shelf space in front of the spines of the books, dust on top of the books, it’s everywhere.
Well, nearly everywhere. There is a gap in the dust in front of one thick volume, which John pulls from the shelf. He turns it over in his hands; the front cover has no title on it, but the spine is emblazoned with the words The World’s Most Influential Chemists and Their Studies. It’s old and a bit beat-up and every page has been dog-eared or folded right in half. John notices highlighted words and sentences and sometimes even whole pages and paragraphs. They are all annotated in yellow highlighter, but some streaks are faded while others are brighter against the beige pages. The more vibrant notes could have been made only a couple of days ago. John is incredibly pleased with himself as he realizes that he has found Sherlock’s favorite book.
John replaces the book in its respective nook on the shelf and looks for something else to observe, the newfound confidence in his deducing skills flooding his psyche. The absence of a television set (and, therefore, the absence of films) in the flat is definitely a hindrance to this “investigation.” John looks around the flat – underneath tables, between the books on the shelves, on top of the shelves, any odd place where one would be compelled to hide a movie collection – and finds nothing. There is no sign that Sherlock has even seen a film, let alone owned one. Nevertheless, this is important evidence, and with it, John comes to the following conclusion; Sherlock’s interest in films – Nil.
The music is not as tough as the films. Sherlock has his violin locked away in its sleek, black leather case and leaned up against his armchair, and, when they first met, the first thing Sherlock mentioned was his knack for violin-playing. On the desk between the two windows sits a stack of compositions. Some John can recognize, including pieces from his own favorite composer which are newly-printed on clean paper and top the stack. Beneath them are Sherlock’s compositions. John can’t read music very well (he’s gotten rusty since his clarinet days), but the notes and staffs and dynamic markings in Sherlock’s scrawled and rushed handwriting all band together and make a piece of visual art. This sort of web-like art takes up about three-fourths of the stack; the rest are older books of music from Beethoven and Bach and Mozart. And so it is decided that Sherlock seems to favor his own compositions, but sometimes he lets incredibly seasoned musicians and John’s favorites through the cracks of his self-absorbed armor.
“Any luck, John?” Sherlock suddenly asks in a wry fashion. John spins around, startled at the sound of his voice, which now seems to echo in the quiet room as it would in a cave. Sherlock has lifted his chin from his clasped hands and now looks at John with an amused half-smile tugging at a corner of his mouth. His once-languid eyes have adopted a sort of vivacity that John has not seen in almost a week; his crystal irises beam in the muted sunlight and the crinkles at the outer corners of his eyes make him look downright genial, even after his sarcastic question.
John only shrugs in response to Sherlock’s query, figuring that any spoken answer will provoke a sly, backhanded comment.
But Sherlock does not make any digs at John; he stays smiling that crooked smile, studying John’s face rather than the tentative movement of his shoulders.
“I know you have more questions for me,” Sherlock croons. “I can see it.”
It’s quiet again, only this time Sherlock isn’t ignoring John. On the contrary, Sherlock is completely focused on him, silently pressing him to speak. John can feel Sherlock’s eyes fixed on him, boring into his chest, tracing his every slight movement. He can almost feel Sherlock’s will pushing against him, clouding around his neck like steam, as if trying to choke a question out of him.
But John can’t seem to find the words, even though there are thousands of them in his head. It’s all a whirlwind, a high-speed flurry of questions and phrases, and John, not being able to reach out and grasp just one, withdraws a clumsy fistful of words that don’t make sense when strung together.
“I can see it,” he reiterates, “in the way you tilt your head and in the way you look lost in your mind and in the way your eyebrows are knitted together. And, of course, there is also the fact that you just scoured my portions of the flat for any trivial information you could scrape up. Decent job on that, by the way.”
John makes his way back to his respective armchair, slightly embarrassed and fully aware of Sherlock’s watchful eyes. He is, again, reminding himself of a puerile boy.
Sherlock is actually making him quite nervous.
Sherlock is also sifting through the words in John’s mind, which is something that John finds bothersome and invasive most of the time, but it’s useful at the moment.
“You want to know what I was thinking about earlier,” Sherlock finally says after another brief and pensive silence. And it’s not a question. No, he has reached into John’s thoughts and nimbly plucked the words that make up the most interesting question available. Sherlock does not want to waste any time with queries he deems unimportant.
John nods once. He’s willing to ask anything that will get Sherlock to speak more than two words. He can see Sherlock working out a long-winded answer which he believes is about an experiment he’s been thinking of performing or a new clandestine case. He expects something wordy and laced with snarky comments.
But what Sherlock says takes John by surprise.
“You.” Sherlock’s glittering eyes gaze at his flatmate, analyzing his reaction; he smiles a little when John shifts in his seat, seemingly uncomfortable. However, when John asks, “Were you, now,” Sherlock can hear the tone of satisfaction in his voice, as if John was silently hoping for a response like that.
“Yes,” Sherlock says quietly. “Well, the night you shot the cabbie, to be more specific.”
Even though this shouldn’t have been a reminder for John, it is. It all rushes back into his mind like a flash flood; the sight of Sherlock curved slightly backward, holding the oblong pill to the light and studying it; the cabbie standing opposite him with his respective pill, taunting Sherlock; Sherlock’s trembling hand drawing the pill closer to his parted lips; and the click and blast of the gun and the slightly sick satisfaction of killing a man as the shot hit home. The cabbie was a bad man, but a wicked life is still a life, and John had taken that from him.
It’s the first time John has revisited this instance. He should have not stopped thinking about taking that man’s life, yet he shrugged it all off so easily. Too easily. It scares him a little how cavalier he was after all that, going to a late dinner with Sherlock and carrying on. But maybe he didn’t give it a second thought because of the person he saved…
“You hardly knew me…” Sherlock’s voice is quiet and vaguely bewildered, as if he, the one-in-seven-billion consulting detective, cannot work out the reason for John’s actions. The sudden loyalty and the extremes to which John stretched them almost stump him. But Sherlock is more impressed than anything else at this moment.
“You hardly knew me,” he repeats, louder this time and wanting a response from John.
“Yes. But it wasn’t that great of a deal. I was just doing the right thing…” John’s voice sort of trails off as he attempts to find excuses to suppress the magnitude of what he did that night.
Sherlock is simply amused at John’s downplay effort.
“You’re good, John,” he says, almost to himself. “Quite good.”
Now, Sherlock never compliments anyone. Even people who don’t know him can pick up on that air of superiority. He never stoops to pat a lesser man on the back for something Sherlock himself could have done in half the time. He is always smarter, braver, more apt than any man or woman and he doesn’t let anyone forget it. And yet here he is, telling John that he is good, without the slightest hint of condescension or irony. It isn’t hero-worship or profound fawning, but it’s enough for John. More than enough.
The warmth that John feels spreading from his core outward manifests itself in a smile. It’s a smile so genuine and sweet that Sherlock has to return it, the corners of his eyes crinkling and his cheeks dimpling once again.
The sun has sunk behind the building across from their flat, giving it a softly golden halo. The evening clouds begin to roll in with the deep blue skies. The rigid silence has completely dissipated, leaving behind a warm, calm stillness that settles over the room like a light, sweet fragrance.
John still does not know too much about Sherlock. But he does know that Sherlock’s armor that shields him from others – the stupid and the insolent and the overly-sentimental – is not impermeable. The silence that cushions him does not block everything out. The eyes that shut tight in thought are not necessarily unseeing.
Because he sees John.
And that’s enough for now.