As heat waves go, John finds London’s latest effort to melt the population both welcome and a bit hilarious. Since his time in Afghanistan, he’s found himself sympathising with visiting Australians who think 28 degrees Celcius isn’t that much to get excited about. Summers in the desert could be fiercely hot and he got used to them. There isn’t much he misses about Afghanistan, but he misses those hot, dry days.
But dear old London isn’t built for heat and humidity, and no-one knows how to deal with it. It’s impossible to buy a drink that’s properly cold, the buildings are designed to keep interiors warm in winter, and air conditioning all over town is failing to keep up with demand. People strip to their lily white skin and drop in parks at lunchtime, figuring at least to pick up a tan.
Meanwhile, after three days of this, the tube has fallen over, the machinery unable to deal with the rise in temperature, and of course everyone is trapped in the stations or in sweltering queues for buses that have also broken down; they are prowling the streets feeling uncomfortable and edgy, primed for violence if conditions escalate.
But despite the stickiness, the discomfort and the frankly evil tempers of anyone and everyone on the streets today, John is enjoying himself. For the first time in forever, he doesn’t need extra layers of clothing to keep even basically warm. Today, he ventures out not only sans jumper, but in just an old pair of fatigues and a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Here to save your life, not kiss your butt”. The shirt was given to him one birthday by the Fusiliers. He hasn’t worn it in two years, but it suits his mood today.
He returns from his stroll to the park, taken purely for the pleasure of the sun on his skin. He mounts the stairs to 221b, pausing only briefly to wonder at the saucer on the fourth step. In it is a square of butter and a tiny sprig of parsley.
There’s another square of butter and parsley in a saucer outside their door. Within the flat, he counts no less than six more dishes at varying heights and locations, from the kitchen to the living room. There may be more of them secreted around the place, but he’s afraid to look.
“Twenty three degrees Celcius and half a millimetre, John!”
John awaits further details, some collection of nouns and verbs that will make sense of the announcement, but none is forthcoming.
“The flat is full of butter, Sherlock,” he says.
Sherlock swirls impatiently out of his bedroom. “It’s an alibi, John.”
“What have you done now?” John asks, deliberately misunderstanding.
Sherlock snorts derision. “A man’s future depends on the depth to which parsley can sink in butter on a hot day. There are variations in temperature in different rooms and areas of most buildings. I have determined the optimum conditions for the parsley to have sunk the required depth, and I’ve texted Lestrade to arrest the son.”
“Wonderful,” says John, “Well done, you. What is that you’re wearing?”
Sherlock, wearing his blue silk dressing gown over what appears to be a pair of forest green Speedos, sweeps past John to stare, sulking, out of the window. “It’s hot,” he says, by way of explanation, “Too hot to think.”
“And yet, you solved a crime with nothing but butter and parsley, in your swim trunks.”
Sherlock chooses to ignore John’s rambunctious mood. Instead, he leans his hands against the windowsill and glares out at sweltering London.
“The heat is awful, John. It impairs clear thinking. Not mine so much, but God, the criminal mind is only just above the pedestrian at the best of times. This week it’s… dull. Interminably dull.”
“The press is full of crime,” John counters, “The heat is driving people bonkers.”
John is pretty sure that Sherlock replies first with ‘Pfffft’.
“Stupid crimes, John, inspired by nothing more than inflamed irritation and rage about public transport. Nothing with real craft to it. Nothing with finesse.”
Nothing, basically, for a bored and somewhat inflamed consulting detective to work on.
“There’s a free concert on in Trafalgar Square,” suggests John.
“That can only be considered a crime to anyone with an ear for music,” scoffs Sherlock.
“Actually, not this time. Anne-Sophie Mutter’s in town for a concert…”
“I am aware of the fact.” Sherlock has, in fact, been complaining for a week that he can’t get tickets to the German violinist’s single, VIP-only show, and John suspects that Mycroft has arranged this as some kind of punishment for past or future misdeeds.
“And she has agreed to play this afternoon, for free, in the square. Word’s out on Twitter, and there are some posters up in the park. No doubt it’s someone’s idea of soothing the savage beast.”
“Savage breast,” Sherlock immediately corrects him.
“I’ve seen the people coming out of the tube stations, and I think my version’s more applicable,” says John amiably, “But anyway. It’ll get you out of the flat – it’s vile in here – and you can at least listen to something pleasant while you get some air.”
Sherlock shows a flicker of interest, but then his phone beeps and he thumbs it on to check the message. The ensuing sigh contains enough exasperation and melodrama to satisfy the huff of your average 12 year old girl.
“Lestrade,” says Sherlock bitterly, “Wants to talk.”
“Well, get some clothes on and we’ll talk in the square before the concert. Unless you want him to come here and be flabbergasted by your skinny white legs.”
Sherlock gives John a sharp look, then snaps the robe closed about his body.
“I’m fine with your skinny white legs, by the way,” says John with a grin, “Also your skinny flat abs, but Greg’s going to be dying of the heat in his regulation suit and the contrast is going to make him want to kill you. If you meet him outside it might at least stave off a bad-tempered decision to stage another bust.”
Sherlock’s expression conveys his surprise that John is making a suggestion that has merit, and John rewards Sherlock’s rare decision not to voice this surprise by making no further comments about Sherlock’s skinny white legs.
Forty-five minutes later, they are in Trafalgar Square. Sherlock is still mildly disgruntled that he cannot appear in public in his usual coat and scarf, or indeed a jacket with any kind of turned-up collar. His body may be transport, but like the rest of London’s transport, the heat doesn’t agree with it. John finds it amusing, and a little annoying, however, that Sherlock can throw on a pair of tan cotton trousers and a faded red t-shirt and still look utterly graceful and impeccably dressed. He even nearly managed to look impeccable in a pair of green Speedos, which is saying something.
Sherlock’s t-shirt reads ‘Science: It Works, Bitches.’ His only reply to John’s raised eyebrow was “What?” so John has, regretfully, resisted asking about it. Attempting to apply Sherlock’s methods, he thinks that the shirt is a memento from university. John’s never seen it before, but Sherlock mustn’t hate it completely, or he wouldn’t have worn it now.
Oh, unless the washing hasn’t been done for a month, which it hasn’t, because John’s been experimenting with how long it will take to force Sherlock to do the laundry. So far, it seems that ‘until hell freezes over’ is the answer. As soon as the heatwave ends, John will have to cave and do the laundry himself, because he’s got nothing left to wear except clothes more fit for Afghani temperatures than the-rain-is-getting-warmer-so-it-must-be-summer London.
So, Sherlock is wearing his last clean t-shirt and a disdainful expression as he gives a series of free character readings, via his usual deductions (heedless of consequences) to the people jostling them as they try to get through the crowds to the steps of the Gallery, where they said they’d meet Lestrade.
John glances up at Sherlock, who is towering over him even more than usual, because he is attempting to thread his way through the throng by standing at the edge of the fountain. John can see Lestrade, dressed, as predicted, in his suit, and waves. Lestrade waves wearily back, easily spotting him in the company of that lanky figure perched above the common herd.
Sherlock is just finishing a particularly inspired series of observations – “…and your grandmother has noticed you stealing from her purse, but she’s letting you get away with it because she thinks you’re poor. She has no idea about the drug habit. Is that any way to treat your Granny?” – when the object of Sherlock’s derision goes beyond outrage to plain old rage.
“Screw you!” He shoves. Sherlock leaps nimbly aside, but someone seated at the edge of the fountain has moved inopportunely, and he steps on her hand. She shrieks. Her boyfriend swears and goes to shove him, but Sherlock sidesteps, and some other fellow is shoved instead.
A brawl breaks out.
Sherlock, looking entirely too amused by this, forgets to duck and is promptly pushed backwards into the fountain. There is a loud splash and a yell of surprise, which effectively halts the brawl while the combatants look on with considerable interest.
Sherlock sits up in the fountain, soaking wet, bedraggled. Forlorn, even.
Everyone else suddenly thinks that leaping into the fountain is clearly a brilliant idea, and like a surge of otters, they move. Suddenly Sherlock is not alone in the algae-lined, tepid water. He has his eyes screwed shut against the sudden onslaught of people splashing great heaping scoops of water at one another. The addict who steals from his granny is putting extra effort into making sure the tall, skinny bastard is as wet as it is possible to be.
John has managed to evade the worst of this – he’s an old hand at brawling, with an almost surgical approach to who to hit and when. Right now, he’s hanging back, looking for his opportunity. Mostly, though, he’s looking at Sherlock who has all the hallmarks of a wet, unhappy cat, and he's not even bothering to stifle the giggles.
Sherlock crawls away from the melee through the fountain, slipping a little on the sludge at the bottom. At the edge, he stretches a hand to John for help.
John, the fool, obliges, and a moment later finds himself diving head first into the fountain, copping a mouthful of dirty water. He bobs up to the sound of many voices cheering approval at his method of entry into the spirit of things.
John glares at Sherlock. Sherlock glares at John. Then they both snort and start laughing, because, God aren’t they a mess, dripping wet and liberally coated in slime.
“Are you two quite finished?” Lestrade has elbowed his way through the crowd and is glaring at them.
“You’re only angry,” says Sherlock, beginning to giggle again, “Because you’d desperately like to be in here with us.”
“You’re off your trolley.”
“Not at all,” says Sherlock, “You’ve loosened your tie three times today and you’re still too hot. You were flapping your coat when you were on the steps, obviously trying to get some air to circulate and cool you off. And your mouth is practically watering.”
“It is, you know,” says John helpfully, “Though I wouldn’t recommend it, Greg, because God knows what bacteria are breeding in this thing. It doesn’t smell too good, and that’s a fact.”
“Just get out and tell me about this butter and parsley thing, because I have no idea what you’re talking about with that, and I need some actual evidence before I go arresting Bersten Jnr for the murder of his parents.”
Sherlock stands straight up, water streaming off him, as he gestures impatiently. “He claims to have set the table and then, while his parents started on the soup, he went outside to secure the barking dog, which got away from him and he gave chase. But if he left the door open, as he claimed, the butter in the kitchen would have melted to a much greater extent than it did. No intruder entered by the back door. Bersten never left the house. The kitchen temperature remained optimal for the slight softening and melting of the parsley into the butter, while he let the drugged soup take effect and then slit his parent’s throats. It’s obvious.”
Lestrade tugs his tie down for the fourth time and scowls at Sherlock. “If you’d put that in the bloody text, I wouldn’t have to be down here in the bloody heat with the bloody crowds in Trafalgar Bloody Square listening to you being so bloody…”
“Heat getting to you a bit, Greg?” asks John, a little kindly, but there’s still a laugh at the back of his throat, so all he gets for his attempt at sympathy is a foul glare.
“I’ve half a mind to arrest you both for public nuisance,” he snarls.
Sherlock opens his mouth to respond to that irresistible straight line and John attempts to kick his ankle under the water. The movement stirs up sludge, a chocolate wrapper and an old bandaid. John increasingly wishes he hadn’t swallowed any of that water.
A police whistle blows nearby, because actually, swimming in the Trafalgar Square fountains is apparently several kinds of Not Allowed. Sherlock sighs and drags himself out of the water. John regards his offered hand just a little suspiciously at first, but then lets his flatmate help him out onto the paving stones.
The rest of the fountain’s inhabitants are attempting to scatter like cockroaches when the light comes on, but they are all sloshing around in an ungainly fashion, and it looks like the Bluebottles might get quite a haul. They’ve been in uniform all day and are pretty stroppy themselves, especially as all these miscreants look like they’ve been having fun.
Lestrade just stands back and hollers: “Over here, chaps!” to the boys in blue.
John and Sherlock don’t even bother exchanging a glance. With matching manic grins, they light out for parts unknown, moving surprisingly quickly for men in waterlogged shoes. Of course, it starts chafing after a bit. It’s almost a relief when, streets later, the big black car slides to a halt beside them and the door opens, as if by magic.
As Sherlock and John slide their soggy selves into the car, there is a slight squeak. John is not sure whether it’s the leather upholstery reacting to their wet clothes, or Mycroft reacting to the way their wet clothes are ruining the finish.
“Here,” says Sherlock, leaning forward to scrape a glop of something awful off John’s neck.
“Oh, and here,” says John, performing the same service for Sherlock’s forehead.
Done, they turn to smile blandly at Mycroft’s deeply disapproving expression.
“You are worse than children,” Mycroft hisses.
“Have you loosened your tie?” Sherlock asks, all innocence.
“No, I have not…”
“You’ve run your finger around the inside of your collar, at least,” Sherlock decides, “For you, you look practically dishevelled.”
This from the man in wet and clinging cotton pants and t-shirt liberally besmirched with pondscum. Opposite him, the veteran in equally soggy, filthy and clinging fatigues is laughing into his hand, as though that’s going to mask the reaction from The British Government.
“I should have let them arrest you,” snarls Mycroft, “And my god, look at you. And that shirt, Sherlock. I thought you got rid of that years ago.”
Sherlock plucks the wet cotton away from his chest to read its inscription. “It’s a perfectly serviceable shirt, Mycroft.”
“It was a joke gift, Sherlock, from the gardener. Your name wasn’t even meant to be in the Secret Santa list for the staff. And you were seventeen.”
“I like it better than the tiresome gift you got me that year. Socks, if I recall, which I don’t, because it was too tedious to remember.”
The discussion descends for a little while into a tit-for-tat battle over who gave and received the worst presents of all time. John keeps switching sides as he listens, because frankly, they are both appalling at the art of gift-giving by the sound of it.
But, despite the drenching and pondscum and Lestrade trying to get them arrested and Mycroft’s obviously snitty mood, John continues to feel pugnacious. His sense of humour, always liable to get him into trouble at inconvenient moments (and one of the reasons he and Sherlock click, because they both are a bit wrong that way) wants to come out and play.
“Sherlock. Mycroft. This is ridiculous. You’re brothers. Grown men. You should forget the past and make up.”
They both glare daggers at him.
“Seriously, Mycroft,” John persists, “You call us childish, and you two are still arguing about presents you bought each other when you were ten.”
Mycroft stretches his neck a little, annoyed at being berated by a fountain-drenched doctor.
“And Sherlock,” John says, his eyes glinting, “Come on. He’s your big brother. He’s just trying to do what’s right.” Sherlock lips part to deliver a cutting reply, and leaves his mouth hanging open at John’s next words. “You two should hug and make up.”
“Hug?” says Mycroft coldly. “And. Make. Up?”
Sherlock’s mouth snaps shut, and the look he gives John is pure, gleeful evil, because he completely understands that glint in John’s eye.
Mycroft thinks he understands that glint, but then thinks that it could not possibly mean what he thinks it means, because John has a modicum more dignity than Sherlock, and a certain level of respect for Mycroft’s role, and for Mycroft himself, surely, and…
“Forgive and forget, Mycroft, hmm?” suggests Sherlock in his very best false-nice voice before throwing his arms around his big brother in an aggressive, waterlogged, slimy hug. In fact, he hugs Mycroft extremely thoroughly, with not the slightest bit of fraternal affection. In further fact, he has practically climbed into the elder sibling’s lap in order to achieve maximum transfer of pondage. “What?” says Sherlock, his face pressed into Mycroft’s shoulder, knowing his wet hair is transmitting algael stink to Mycroft’s collar and, hopefully, his ear, “No return hug?”
Mycroft, trapped, gives John a filthy, filthy look: a look that promises Payback in no uncertain terms.
Sherlock lifts his head to look at John and says: ‘John, you’re practically family now, what with all the regular kidnappings I mean meetings you have with Mycroft…”
John considers the suggestion. He hears Mycroft say “Don’t you dare!” which tips the balance. He promptly seizes Mycroft’s face in his hands and plants a huge, wet kiss on Mycroft’s forehead. John then clasps Mycroft’s scowling head to his swampy bosom to thank him profusely for all those opportunities to meet him at inconvenient times in irritating locations “because anybody can text or call, but you so like to make our meetings so special.”
John releases the captive and Sherlock clambers back to his seat. “You’re right, John, I do feel much better,” he says.
“Thought you might. I bet Mycroft does too. Don’t you feel better, Mycroft?”
Mycroft, damp and dishevelled, looks murderous.
Less than a minute later, the car pulls up at Covent Garden and two wet men are deposited, somewhat violently, on the roadside.
Not even slightly regretting the prank, John and Sherlock take a minute to tidy themselves up. This mostly consists of them trying to unpeel wet clothes from their persons and letting the cotton fall back where it will.
“We’re going to pay for that, John,” says Sherlock, grinning.
“Well, yes, but we always seem to be paying for something,” John replies.
“True,” Sherlock concedes, “And at least this time we’ll have the look on his face to keep us warm during the ordeal.”
“I wonder what he actually meant to talk to us about.”
“He’ll text when he remembers,” says Sherlock, “though a fat lot of good it’ll do him.” He pulls his ruined phone out of his pocket. Brown water trickles from the casing.
“Ah. Sorry about that.”
“Safe at home in Baker Street. I didn’t feel like taking calls today.”
They spend a moment reflecting on how the luck is usually the other way around, with John’s things usually being destroyed. Often by Sherlock, as it happens.
They agree that home might be sensible but not really an option, because John’s phone is doubtless filling up with dire, cutting messages from Mycroft. Covent Garden is also filling up with yet more cranky, hot people who can't get the tube or a bus; also with cranky, hot policemen just itching for a chance to arrest someone for anything at all, just so that they can be sure that everyone’s having a horrible day.
Sherlock and John (walking a little awkwardly due to chafing) make their way to Hyde Park. The grass is strewn with the pale bodies of Londoners who have given up the fight and are sprawled, listless, to develop tans and maybe a melanoma. Anything, as long as it stops being so hot.
The detective and his blogger find a patch of ground and join them. They peel off their shirts, which they lay on the grass to dry, and lie back. John can feel Sherlock’s eyes on his scar.
“You don’t usually go shirtless,” Sherlock comments.
“I’m trying to maintain that tan you so admired the first day we met.”
“I didn’t admire it. I noted it.”
“Yeah, yeah, you tell yourself that while you try not to burn up, vampire-like, in the sun with that lily white skin of yours.”
Sherlock makes a disgruntled huff. ‘If you’re going to be like that, you can buy me an ice cream. None of that rubbish vanilla, either.”
Grinning, John goes in search of ice cream. It’s a long queue, but he doesn’t mind waiting. It’s actually been a fun day, and he is enjoying the way the pretty woman and her friend at the end of the queue are admiring his arms and back.
When he gets back to Sherlock, he drops a tub of Chocolate Macadamia Swirl on the man’s pale, bare stomach, because watching him yelp will be funny. But Sherlock catches the damned thing before it lands.
John flops down on the grass beside him with his own Caramel Hazelnut Swirl and sits it deliberately on his belly. The cold is delicious.
The day has been a bit mad, he thinks, and he’s as cracked as the rest of London in what passes for heat in this country. He rolls his head to the side to look at Sherlock, who seems to be making a science out of carving shapes in the ice cream with the little wooden spoon.
“Today you solved a crime, we nearly got arrested, we ran miles across London, pissed off your brother and had ice cream.”
“Pretty good day, I think.”
“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, “Pretty good.”