Chapter 1: The Meeting
John knew it had only been three years since he’d walked the halls of Imperial College, and yet it felt like he was walking through another world. For one, the Chemistry Department was now housed in a different building; the laboratories he passed were white and sterile, the harsh fluorescent lights bouncing off the perfectly kept spaces.
He wished he were meeting Dr. Stamford in his old office, the one with the thread-bare couch and the plush leather chair. Mostly he wished this because he wouldn’t have felt so lost, like a child on the first day of primary school. But John remembered that office well, particularly the last conversation he’d had in it.
After walking down far too many corridors and feeling like he was going in a large circle, John finally found himself standing awkwardly next to the open door of Dr. Mike Stamford’s office. Taking a deep breath to compose himself, John stood in the doorway and rapped his knuckles lightly on the open door.
Dr. Stamford looked up from the papers on his desk and his face lit up, “John Watson!” He exclaimed, as if reunited with an old friend.
“Dr. Stamford,” John returned amicably.
“Mike, please.” He said as he rounded the desk and John moved towards him. Mike’s eyes flickered towards the cane in John’s right hand but he said nothing. They shook hands and Mike motioned to the seat in front of his disheveled desk. “Sit, please.”
John sat and tried to compose his thoughts, but Mike continued speaking. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to get your email,” He began, but then realised how it sounded. “I mean, not the circumstances, naturally, but,” He paused. “I suppose when you left Imperial I didn’t think I’d hear from you. Much less that you would be wanting to return to us.” Mike’s face was beaming.
John smiled kindly, trying to make Mike feel a bit more at ease. “Well, not many job prospects.” His hand unconsciously curled into a fist over his bloody useless right leg. “And it’s certainly safer in a lab.” He attempted humour, and Mike laughed a bit more enthusiastically than necessary.
“So you’re looking for a laboratory to join, then?” Mike asked obviously.
John nodded. “I know that I’ve missed loads. And even if I’m the oldest student here, I’m willing to do the work.” At John’s words, Mike’s face shifted ever so slightly, as if he’d made a mental connection that John couldn’t see.
Mike smiled conspiratorially. “Have you found accommodation in London, yet?”
Confused by Mike’s question, John furrowed his brow and chewed on his lip. “No,” He hedged. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Mike said dismissively, standing and reaching for his lab coat. “I think I know just the laboratory for you. And there’s someone I think you should meet.”
John hobbled after Mike down the hallway to the elevator. “Where are we going?” He asked politely.
“Dr. Lestrade’s laboratory. He’s in materials characterisation, they’re two floors up.”
John wondered if that was who Mike wanted him to meet. The elevator arrived and they rode up two floors in silence. The floor of the building which housed the materials laboratories was a bit less anti-septic than that of the biochemistry labs John was accustomed to. The whole level had a bit of an eclectic, disorganized feel to it.
Following Mike as quickly as he could manage, John found them entered one of the first laboratories down from the elevator. The plaque on the door read:
Dr. G. Lestrade
Owing to the fact that it was well on four o’clock on a Friday afternoon, the lab was virtually deserted. John had worked in several biochemistry labs before graduating, but this lab devoted to a science he knew little to nothing about seemed much more relaxed and lived-in. “Bit different from the biochem labs.” He stated, only to realise that Mike had continued walking.
John noticed that Mike was walking past the benches towards a fume hood on the back wall where a tall, thin man with a head full of jet-black curls was meticulously pipetting from a container of concentrated hydrochloric acid.
“Hello, Mike.” The man said politely, not turning from his experiment he was running. He set down the eppendorf tube he’d been holding and placed a crystal onto the objective stage of a microscope in the hood. He glanced slightly at John as he moved.
“Afghanistan or Iraq?” He asked absentmindedly, adjusting the focus on the microscope.
Cutting off John’s obvious confusion, the man continued. “You don’t have a problem with chemicals, do you? It’s usually more simple to just keep them in the same refrigerator as the food. Easier access. I keep strange hours, and bring my experiments home with me, would that bother you?”
Now John was really confused. The man looked up from the microscope and surveyed John in a way that made him feel terribly exposed. “Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other,” He said with a devilish smile.
John looked at Mike who was grinning like a Cheshire cat and didn’t look like he was going to provide any explanation. So John returned to looking at the man in front of him. He was maybe a year younger than John, but still older than most of the other students. Standing, he was probably around six feet tall, and about a stone lighter than he should be at that height. His face was well-defined, cheekbones jutting out at a near impossible angle, and his eyes, a piercing grey-blue, made John uncomfortable. All of which was framed by those heavy, soft dark curls.
“Flatmates?” John asked suspiciously. The man stood and began walking towards a freezer.
“Yes,” He said. “I was just in Mike’s office this morning bemoaning my living situation and now he’s arrived well after he normally knocks off on Fridays with a new biochemistry student obviously back from military service in Afghanistan. Not really rocket science.” The man added languidly.
John’s mouth, he realised, was hanging open. Closing it with a definitive snap he shook his head and looked at Mike. He shrugged. “I’m sorry. Who are you?” John asked in a slightly demanding tone.
The man was scouring the freezer for something and John worried he hadn’t heard the question. But suddenly he shut the door to the freezer and turned. “The name’s Sherlock Holmes. I’ve found a flat in central London that we should be able to afford together,” He said, making his way towards the door of the lab. “Sorry, gotta dash, left my arsenic standard at the NMR in the basement.” And with that, he was gone.
John was going to say something to Mike when his mobile vibrated in his pocket.
221B Baker Street. Tomorrow. 7PM. -SH
Chapter 2: The Proposal
John meets Dr. Gregson, his PI, and learns of the collaborative project he will be working on.
As it turned out, Dr. Lestrade’s laboratory was not the one that Mike had in mind when they met on Friday, because John found himself walking into the office two over from Mike’s and meeting a Dr. Tobias Gregson.
The man was probably at least five years older than Mike, still a relatively young person in the halls of academia. His hair was a light ash brown and his eyes a vivid green. “Dr. Tobias Gregson,” He said, extending his hand to John when he entered the room. John gave it a firm shake. “You must be John Watson, please have a seat.” He said pleasantly.
John acquiesced and Dr. Gregson leaned back in his office chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “So,” He began. “You come highly recommended by Mike Stamford.”
John nodded. “He was my advisor when I was getting my degree,” John didn’t want to have to explain why he’d left, but he knew there was no way of getting out of it. “But I decided to join the Army after I graduated.” He paused again, rubbing that pain he knew was not real. “And now I’m back.” He said lamely.
Gregson studied him closely. “Mike’s shown me your coursework, and the contributions to the labs you worked in during your time here, and I have to say, I would be more than happy to let you rotate here, and join if you feel it’s a fit.” The man’s voice was not like the professors John remembered. It wasn’t refined or proper, though the words and grammar were immaculate. John felt more at ease.
“I’m certainly intrigued by your work.” John had looked Dr. Gregson up on the internet the night before to be familiar with his work. “I’m particularly interested in your work on the catalytic activities of RNAs.” He threw that out there.
But Gregson smiled politely. “Yes, yes,” He began dismissively. “But I’ve got a new project I need to put someone on,” he said. Feeling slightly disappointed, John tried not to let it show. He really was interested in that project. “I’ve been following the nanoparticles research for ages now, and we’ve one other professor here who is creating gold nanoparticles, and there was a paper about three months ago,” John realized that he was launching into a full-blow story, so he relaxed into his chair.
Gregson continued. “In this paper they talked about using gold nanoparticles to sequence DNA. Now, my background is in DNA, I’ve only just started looking at RNA since my beginning here at Imperial six years ago. I published a very important paper working on my PhD, so when this paper was published, everyone called me.”
John was intrigued, but he really wished that Gregson would get to the point. “I got offered a grant to do research on developing this technique further and trying to complex ligands to them. But I told them that I wasn’t leaving Imperial, so they’re letting me stay.” He smiled. “And you’re my lucky student.”
John had forgotten all about catalytic activities of RNAs, and his mind was swimming with gold nanoparticles and DNA sequencing. It sounded fascinating. “You said that a professor here makes the nanoparticles, does he characterise the ligands too?” It was a forgone conclusion that John was going to pass up this opportunity.
Gregson frowned slightly. “Ah, Lestrade,” He said, remembering. He laughed slightly. “No, Lestrade is a materials man. He would probably contaminate and destroy a tube of DNA if he looked at it.” Gregson laughed harder. Mates, John said to himself. Gregson sobered, “He’s got a student working on the nanoparticles, and one that will help you to characterise the ligand-nanoparticle-DNA complexes. You’ll be doing your work in collaboration with them.”
John nodded. “And what is the student’s name?” John asked, wondering if it would be that disconcerting man from the day before. The one he’d looked up on the internet before he even looked up Dr. Tobias Gregson.
“That would be Sherlock Holmes,” Gregson said with a strange mix of admiration and bile. Apparently John had shot a questioning look at Gregson’s tone. “He’s a genius,” Gregson said, shaking his head. “But he’s strange. He’s older than the others, like you.”
Great. John thought, and I’m to look at a flat with him tonight. John wondered why he was so late getting started on his PhD, and how the bloody hell he had known about Afghanistan.
“Well,” Gregson said, standing. It was a Saturday morning after all. “I’ve experiments that I want to get finished early today. And I’m sure you don’t want to spend your first Saturday back in a lab.” He smiled and shook John’s hand again. “Go enjoy London,” He said gruffly, with a smile.
John walked out of the laboratory building and breathed in London. God, he’d missed it.
The day was just fading into the horizon as John asked his cabbie to drop him round the corner from 221B Baker Street. It had been an unseasonably warm day in London, and John had walked as much as his leg would let him. He’d almost forgotten the feel of the pavement beneath his feet. His mind clouded with the memory of boots on sand.
Taking a deep breath and locking those things away, he paid the cabbie and exitted the cab. He turned the corner and his eye immediately went to the brick-red awning of Speedy’s, and then to the door beside it. As he approached, he realized that this was 221B Baker Street.
Just as he was standing awkwardly in front of the door, unsure of whether to knock or just walk away and forget about all of this, a cab slowed down and out glided the tall dark figure of Sherlock Holmes. His movements were calculated yet graceful. “Mr. Holmes,” John found himself saying, extending his hand, though he wondered why, since the man was probably younger than he was.
“Please, Sherlock.” He insisted, shaking John’s hand quickly. He then knocked on the door.
“Nice location,” John said as they waited.
“Mrs. Hudson, our landlady, she’s given me a good deal. Her husband was a professor at the university, doing very sensitive research.” Sherlock began removing his gloves. “He was about to make a discovery that would bring him fame and fortune. I was able to help out.”
John frowned. “You helped her husband with the discovery?” He asked, slightly confused.
Smiling wickedly Sherlock shook his head. “Oh no, I ensured that his rival would make the discovery first.”
Suddenly the door was opened by a small, older woman smiling brightly. “Sherlock!” She exclaimed, pulling the man into an embrace.
“Mrs. Hudson, this is John Watson, he’s a new student at the university.” John nodded politely and Mrs. Hudson put a hand on his shoulder, ushering him into the building.
John looked at the stairs looming ominously in front of him. Sherlock was already halfway up, taking them two at a time. Climbing as quickly as he could manage, Sherlock had already entered the flat when he reached the landing.
It was a lovely flat. John couldn’t deny that. When he compared it to the small, cramped space that the Army had put him up, it was spacious. “Well this is very nice,” He said, pleased.
Sherlock was watching him on the other side of the room as he surveyed the cluttered sitting room. “It will be just wonderful when we get a bit of this rubbish cleaned out,” John said helpfully.
Sherlock suddenly moved towards a stack of paper and books on the end-table. “Well, I can always tidy up a bit,” He said in a slightly embarrassed tone.
“You’ve already moved in?” John asked.
Just as Sherlock was picking up what looked to be a stack of papers from the Journal of Materials Chemistry, Mrs. Hudson appeared at the door, a smile on her face. “What do you think, John?” She asked. “There’s another bedroom upstairs, if you’ll be needing two bedrooms,” She added with a coy expression on her face.
Sherlock stared at John whose face registered surprise. “Of course, we’ll be needing two.” He said plainly, slightly miffed that Mrs. Hudson would assume they were together. He barely knew the man.
Mrs. Hudson waved her hand dismissively, “Oh dear, don’t worry, there’s all sorts round here.” And she walked towards the kitchen, which John noticed was absolutely littered with lab glassware.
“Sherlock,” Mrs. Hudson whinged when she saw the state of the kitchen.
John took a seat in one of the armchairs next to the hearth and looked at Sherlock. “I looked you up on the internet last night,” He said.
Sherlock turned his head from the kitchen where Mrs. Hudson was trying to straighten things up, “Find anything of interest?” He asked.
John laughed and shook his head. “You got your name on a total of 21 papers in your year and a half at Imperial,” He said incredulously. Most students are lucky to get a fraction of that number in their entire time working on their PhD. Shrugging lazily, Sherlock sat down in the armchair opposite John. “The majority of which were not with Dr. Lestrade.” John added as he didn’t elicit a response from Sherlock.
“Most of the other students are incompetent,” Sherlock said contemptuously. “When the professors go to Lestrade, he goes to me.”
John’s brow furrowed, “So, you do collaborations?” He asked, wondering if Sherlock knew that his newest collaboration was going to be with John himself.
Nodding almost imperceptibly, “I consult,” He corrected lightly.
John nodded slowly, trying to understand the strange man sitting in front of him.