They've lived together for a grand total of three days when Sherlock flounces onto the sofa beside John and demands to know everything about him, from what his favourite food was as a child, to what his favourite season is now.
"What?" says John, who is still a little bit taken aback by Sherlock's entire being. "Why?"
Sherlock rolls his eyes, as if giving an explanation for the random questioning would be the most boring and pointless thing in the entire world. "As flatmates and now colleagues, I feel that I should have every piece of possible information about you to store away. Also, I've come to a number of conclusions about you and I'd like you to confirm them."
John blinks and then puts down the newspaper he was reading. "Um, okay? My favourite colour is-"
"Blue," Sherlock interrupts, dismissing John with a wave of his hand. "Though you prefer wearing browns and neutral shades, probably because of time spent in the army, where blending in and conforming was natural."
John nods slowly, still more than a little confused. "Right. Uh, as a kid my favourite colour was-"
"How did you know that? No, never mind. My favourite season has always been autumn-"
"Autumn," Sherlock chimes in unison, and John shoots him a look as he continues to talk.
"-though I can hardly see how that's relevant to anything, and are you going to do that every time?"
Sherlock only smirks in response and leans forward, twisting his body to face John completely. "Continue."
John is both annoyed and impressed that every word Sherlock utters seems to be a firm demand, to which he can't possibly refuse. He contemplates that for a second, and then blows out a long, defeated sigh.
"What else? Uh, I've always liked good old fish and chips, though after being away I've come to quite like spicy dishes a lot. My favourite movie is either Singing in the Rain or Indiana Jones…"
Three hours and six cups of tea later, John feels as though he's talked himself out of having a voice completely. It's almost midnight, and Sherlock, who had hung on John's every word and asked what seemed like a hundred questions, is finally satisfied. John isn't sure if he should feel flattered or terrified, that Sherlock considers him so interesting.
Harry is moving house, and John isn't quite sure how she managed it, but she's roped him into helping. He finds himself in her attic, rummaging through old, torn boxes of items that once belonged to John and his family. He thinks he could actually get a little emotional up here, looking through items that were once a part of his life, though a very different one, when his parents were alive and he was studying to be a doctor, when joining the army had never even crossed his mind. He remembers well; he'd go home every few weeks to get his mum to wash his clothes and feed him anything but the Pot Noodles and toast that he lived on whilst at Uni. He always loved those weekends, when he'd watch a sports match with his dad over a couple of beers, and he'd banter enjoyably with Harry before heading back to school on Sunday night. But then his dad died, which was horrible, and then John graduated and moved away for good. Not too long after that, John joined the army, and then his mum passed away too, and it looks like Harry ended up with everything.
Of course, it's impossible to really wallow in memories when your flatmate has tagged along for God-knows-what reason, and is pointing out how pathetically idiotic you are for keeping your small slinky collection.
"Give me that!" John snatches the springs from Sherlock's hands and puts them into one of the boxes Harry's assigned for charity. "Honestly, Sherlock, did you just come here to insult me and my things?"
Sherlock sniffs, and moves onto a stack of photo albums. "No. I was interested."
"In what?" John asks, perplexed. "It's basic stuff. Even you must have old toys somewhere."
"Doubtful," is all Sherlock says in response, and begins flicking through a dusty album. He pauses, an entertained little grin tugging at his lips. He holds the album up to show John, his voice thoroughly amused when he says "you haven't changed a bit."
John laughs at the photograph Sherlock's found; a picture of a thirteen year old with blonde, heavily-gelled hair shaped in what are supposed to be rebellious spikes, and a stubborn expression on his face. He's sitting on some concrete steps somewhere, a golden retriever's head across his lap.
"I didn't know you had a dog," Sherlock states. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Still smiling, John shrugs as he resumes sorting through his mum's old books. "I didn't think it was important, I suppose. His name was Rusty. I loved that dog. He died a few years after that was taken, I think. I was absolutely gutted. So was my mum."
"Were you close to your mum?"
John hesitates. "I suppose, yeah. Not so much after my dad died, though."
"Liver failure," Sherlock says simply, continuing to flick through the photo album. "He was a drunk."
There's no need for a confirmation, of course. Sherlock's absolutely correct. Instead of replying, John decides to keep his mum's favourite recipe book and puts the rest in the charity box. He doubts Harry will miss them. Like Sherlock, she probably doesn't even know how to turn on her oven.
"You never talk about them."
"Hmm?" John glances at his flatmate, absently noticing the little particles of dust that float through the air.
"Your family. You never talk about them," Sherlock remarks, looking intently at John.
"You don't either," John points out, which makes Sherlock snort.
"You've met Mycroft. Trust me, you don't want to know."
John supposes that's true. In all honesty, the thought of Sherlock's family – if they're anything like Sherlock and his brother – is enough to scare him a little bit. Still, sometimes he gets curious.
"Tell me," Sherlock probes, and John sighs.
"I'm sure you've already guessed," he grumbles, reaching for another box. He rolls his eyes when he sees that Sherlock hasn't helped him at all, and has, unsurprisingly, created a huge, unorganized mess. "What do you want to know?"
Sherlock smiles, triumphant. "Everything."
So once again, John finds himself talking for hours as they clear out the attic. He talks about his childhood, his parents, how they met, what they did, and how they grew from a sunny young couple into a man with a drinking problem and a woman plagued with depression. He talks about how after he moved away to uni, Harry picked up bad habits that she hasn't yet managed to shake. He talks about being a relatively quiet teenage boy with a fearless, often-rebellious lesbian sister, and then a medical student watching his dad's addiction ravage and ruin his body and mind. He talks about the funerals, how his mother's was ten times worse than his father's, and how Harry blamed him for a long time, for leaving her and his mother to cope alone. He talks about how he still feels guilty, and he talks about how terrified he is that Harry might one day end up like the father he still can't help but resent.
Sherlock stays quiet the whole time, and for an entire hour afterwards, as though he's soaking up and pouring over every piece of information that John has just given him. John doesn't mind, really.
Another day, another crime to solve, and John is absolutely bloody knackered. Sherlock is about to charm the information they need out of a young bartender in a particularly busy nightclub, but John has opted to wait outside. He's hot and sweaty after running all over London all day, and doesn't need the added heat of hundreds of packed bodies all crammed together in an airtight space.
He can't help but smile when he hears a sudden, cheerful commotion behind him and turns to find a group of tipsy women all dressed in pink, very obviously celebrating a hen night. The bride-to-be, wearing an obnoxious hot pink veil and glittery tiara, spots him standing alone and she beams, waving him over.
"Hey, you! You won't mind taking a picture of me and my girlfriends, would you?"
John laughs and nods, accepting the camera that's pushed into his hands by a gorgeous brunette, wearing a badge that declares her "MAID OF HONOUR".
"Uh, what button is it?" John asks sheepishly, because technology isn't his strong point.
The woman laughs, as her friends gather behind her. "Aren't you a cutie? It's that big silver button right there. I'm Lucy, what's your name?"
"John," he replies, always friendly, and Lucy winks at him before running to join the others. John snaps a couple of pictures, and when he's done, she plants a big kiss on his cheek. He involuntarily blushes red as the group of girls whistle and catcall from behind them.
"Thanks for helping us out, John," Lucy purrs, her voice dripping seduction. She nods her head in the direction of the club and inches closer to John. "Can I buy you a drink for your troubles?"
John grins at her. "Sorry, but I'll have to pass. I'm waiting for a friend."
She pouts. "A lady friend?"
"Ahh, no, not like that," John reassures her, and then notices a tall, dark figure behind her. "Actually, there he is now."
Sherlock strides towards John, eyeing Lucy's friends with mild distaste as he passes them, and John presses his lips together to hide his amusement.
"I got the information," he says on approach, raising his eyebrows at John before turning to glare at the brunette. "Who are you?"
"I'm Lucy," she declares. "And I'm just leaving." She turns to John with big brown eyes. "You know where I am if you want to find me, yeah? Although I don't blame you for rejecting me; that 'friend' of yours is gorgeous."
John has long since grown used to people thinking that he and Sherlock were together, and so he doesn't bother correcting her. He wishes the girls a good night, then follows Sherlock away from the club, heading in the direction of the taxi rank a few streets over.
"She fancied you," Sherlock points out as they walk, as if John didn't know that already. He doesn't reply, and Sherlock looks at him. "Why didn't you ask for her number or something as equally mundane?"
John shrugs. "I don't know. I wasn't really interested."
"But usually you're all over any girl that finds you remotely attractive," Sherlock sniffs, disgusted at the prospect. "I can only assume it's because you're aware of the fact that the lines on your face are getting slowly more noticeable and your hair is turning more and more grey. You're scared of growing old without a wife and family. Stupid traditions anyway, I don't know why people insist on making them seem so important."
"Thanks for pointing out that I'm getting old," John huffs, absently touching the places on his face where he knows his wrinkles are a little more defined than they used to be. "I appreciate it. You're probably the one turning my hair grey, with the amount of stress you cause me."
There's silence for a moment as they walk, where John contemplates his future, and Sherlock observes what's happening around them. It's after eleven and London is still busy, full of people doing late-night shopping, and young groups of friends having a drunken night out. There's a lot to see, lots to notice, though by the way Sherlock sniffs disdainfully, it's clear that none of it is particularly interesting.
"You also didn't call that social worker last week," Sherlock remembers suddenly, and John shrugs again noncommittally. "Or the blonde policewoman the week before. Why?"
John thinks he says 'blonde' the way someone else would say 'serial rapist'.
"Ah, I dunno."
"It must be a purposeful decision, as you haven't had intercourse in almost-"
"Sherlock!" John hisses, and Sherlock blinks, surprised at John's scandalized interruption. John finally gives in with a sigh as they turn a corner, taxi rank in view.
"I suppose I just don't really need anything else to deal with at the moment." He stops, thinks for a second. "I don't mean that in a bad way. I just mean that I quite like things the way they are right now. I don't particularly want to disrupt that by bringing anyone else in to… whatever we have. I think all of my relationships have failed for the same reason lately, and it's a reason that I don't really want to work to improve on just yet, so…." John knows he sounds more than a little bit awkward, but by the way Sherlock stays quiet and then holds the door of the nearest taxi open for him, John knows his friend is silently touched by what he said.
"I don't want you to bring anyone else in either," Sherlock admits quietly, moments later, when they're on their way home, watching the bright lights of London pass by outside the windows. John, still feeling strangely awkward, pats Sherlock on the knee.
They've just gotten home from chasing a gang of criminals around the East End and John's shoulder hurts. He supposes it's his own fault really; he was the one to leap after Sherlock, roughly pulling him out of the way of some mad teenager with a knife. They'd fallen to the ground stiffly, and then if that wasn't enough, John had leapt up to knock the knife out of the boy's hand, barrelling into him, hard and ungraceful, whilst Sherlock examined the seemingly-crucial prints on the floor.
Now his shoulder is screaming in regret, throbbing under John's hand as he tries to rub some of the pain away. It's not working. He tears his jumper off, and heads for the bathroom in search of some strong painkillers, his fingers continuing to massage his old, ugly wound. As he walks, he passes Sherlock who's been watching him curiously the entire time.
When he returns to the living room, there's a hot cup of tea waiting for him on the little table next to his armchair. Sherlock is lying on the floor in front of it, his eyes closed, hands clasped together near his mouth. John doesn't speak, simply steps over his flatmate to sit in the chair, where he immediately reaches for the tea. He takes a long, wonderful sip, and then lets out a deep breath, feeling the tension drain from his body.
"Comfortable?" he asks Sherlock in amusement, looking down at the detective. Sherlock's eyes snap open and he looks up at John, ignoring his question.
"You never mention it." Sherlock murmurs.
"Never mention what?"
Sherlock stretches. "Your shoulder. The war. Any of it."
John instantly stiffens, a reflex that always happens when anyone mentions the war to him. He tries hard not to feel so rigid. "Yes, well."
Sherlock eyes him. "That's not an answer at all."
"You didn't ask me anything," John bites back quickly, and for some reason, that makes Sherlock smirk. He sits up quickly and surprisingly, his eyes never leaving John's face as he settles into a new position; leaning against the table, his long legs crossed in front of him.
"What was it like?" Sherlock asks deliberately, and John answers quickly, without hesitation.
Sherlock glares at him. "And you call yourself a writer."
That makes John snort, and then laugh immediately afterwards, shortly and sharply. He takes a second to collect his thoughts and memories, because he supposes it's time to talk about it, to really talk about it. It's not even surprising to him, that Sherlock is the one making him open up, when not even his therapist or Harry managed to. Sherlock lets him gather himself without saying a word, and John appreciates it.
"I wasn't expecting…" John starts, and then stops. "I'd always assumed that war movies exaggerated a lot..." He trails off, unsure, and tries not to notice the way Sherlock is staring at him so intensely. "It was hard. Really hard. No matter how much you train, you can't mentally prepare yourself for it. The things you see... You'd make friends one night and then the next day, you'd find out they'd been shot in the head." John's voice cracks with repressed emotion, and he coughs to cover it up, not looking at Sherlock. Instead, he stares straight ahead, watching the muted TV, but not seeing it at all.
"I was in surgery one day, after a roadside bomb had gone off. I'd only been over there for three weeks, maybe not even that. There was a man, unconscious, who had lost an arm and a hell of a lot of blood. They told me to treat him and the second I saw him, I vomited. I'd just met him the night before – Dan, his name was. Seemed like a really nice guy. He died on the table, lost too much blood. The worst part is, he had a week's leave planned – he was going to fly home and see his family the next morning.
"You can't even imagine it, Sherlock. What happened over there was… beyond words. I saw children blown to pieces, or innocent kids being used to lure soldiers in. I saw families ripped apart, buildings collapsing into dust, injuries beyond compare." John swallows thickly, glancing away from the TV and down to his hands, gripping the arm rests of his chair. "The worst part is, we all became so detached. We shot, we killed, because we had to. We didn't even think about the lives we were destroying. I was an army doctor, I wasn't even on the front lines much, but I still had to fight, because sometimes you have no choice – those are the orders you're given. And when we weren't killing, we were laughing, joking, messing around. When you're alone out there, you get really close to the other soldiers, because you need them. You need the laughs, or you'll go insane. I saw a lot of people lose their minds over there. And I often feel guilty, that I'm here in London, where I'm absolutely safe, when people I know are still over there."
By the time John stops talking, he's breathing hard. He's back there, in one of the makeshift hospitals, hearing the sobs, the screams of pain. He's on a rescue mission, hearing the gunfire, the explosions, the frantic orders. He's there, hiding in the grass, behind trucks, medical bag clutched in his hand, yelling "don't shoot, I'm a doctor", one of the only phrases he knows in more than one language. He's on his knees in front of a stranger, there's blood pouring from the young man's ears, his mouth, his nose, and John has barely any time. He can't tell if the boy is one of theirs, but it doesn't matter, he has to fix him. He can't leave him to die. The smells; blood, smoke, vomit, making him nauseous, but he can't stop.
Sherlock touches John's leg, snapping him out of it. Startled, John squeezes his eyes shut for a second, trying his hardest to regain a sense of steady composure. Sherlock doesn't move his hand.
"Tell me how you were shot," Sherlock murmurs, and his voice, low and calm, soothes John visibly.
"There had been a raid, but it had gone wrong," John replies automatically, remembering. "I was there to attend to the troops that had been shot, but they'd been waiting for us, hiding. I tried to explain I was a doctor, but they shot me anyway. They'd have killed me if I hadn't shot back. I killed two of them. My friend Bill got the others. I don't really… I remember being helped back onto the helicopter, then I must have passed out…" John shrugs lightly, trying to flash Sherlock a small smile, but he can feel it on his lips, strange and distorted.
The detective breathes out, his brow furrowed. "Horrific."
"Yes," John nods. "It was, rather. But then, I got you out of it, didn't I?"
Sherlock gets to his feet then, gracefully fluidly. He smiles, a small, private one. "I'm going to play my violin."
"Thank you for telling me. I was curious."
John smiles, genuinely. Sherlock rarely thanks anyone. "Okay."
It's quite a relief, actually, to have someone else know what it was like. Even if they won't really understand.
They're leaving a crime scene one day when John trips over his own feet and falls to the ground in front of everyone. John's not usually a clumsy man, and so he can't help blushing in embarrassment, especially when he hears the sniggers of Sally and Anderson from a short distance behind him. Sherlock helps him up, but John can tell the detective's trying not to smile himself.
"Alright children, that's enough," calls Lestrade tiredly. "You okay, John?"
"Fine, fine," John mutters with a stiff smile. "Might have bruised my ego a bit, though."
Sherlock waits until they're a safe distance away before letting out a snort of laughter. John can't help it; he chuckles too.
"Not your finest moment," Sherlock says, and John makes a noise of agreement.
"I suppose not," he says good-naturedly. "I've had more embarrassing moments though."
Sherlock looks intrigued, and John regrets bringing it up, because he knows that the detective won't let it go, and it's not a moment he particularly wants to relive.
"Tell me," Sherlock demands, and John blushes again at just the memory of it.
"Tell me," Sherlock repeats, in what can only be described as a childish whine. John shakes his head firmly.
"I'll make you tea for the rest of the day."
"I'll make you tea for the rest of the week and I'll keep body parts out of the fridge for a fortnight."
"Sherlock, will you just- Really?" John perks up at that, his eyes meeting his friend's. "A month."
Sherlock scoffs. "Not a month. I have important research that I'm already willing to put off for you."
"Three weeks?" John pushes his luck, and Sherlock rolls his eyes.
"Fine. Tell me what happened."
John groans, his cheeks hot. "It was my third year of uni, and I was staying the night at my girlfriend's new flat." He speaks slowly, as if it physically hurts him to tell this story. "It was the first time I'd been there, and to be fair, I wasn't really given a tour of the place. We'd been out at a club so we were pretty drunk. We got in and headed straight for her bedroom." John looks away from Sherlock, staring across the street, avoiding his gaze completely.
"We were pretty eager, so we didn't check she had any condoms. When we realized she hadn't, we were both naked and, you know, ready to go." John brings his hands to his cheeks and shakes his head. "She told me there were some in the bathroom at the other side of the flat and that her flatmate would be sleeping, so I went to get them without putting my clothes back on."
Sherlock can see where this is going, and he's already grinning. "Go on."
"So I head back to what I think is her bedroom, and all the lights are off, so I don't know any better… I can see an outline on the bed, so I climb on top of her and start kissing her neck, and then suddenly the light is switched on, and-"
John stops with a mild whimper, and Sherlock chuckles under his breath.
"It's not the right bedroom at all, and I'm naked and hard and straddling her flatmate's tough-guy boyfriend, whilst the girl is looking at me like I'm some sort of pervert. And then the guy wakes up and shoves me away, and I'm still drunk, remember, and I end up puking all over the bed."
Sherlock is laughing freely now, and even though John can remember the painfully humiliating moment in its entirety, a hearty, embarrassed giggle passes his lips. They laugh together for a good couple of minutes as they walk through the streets of London, ignoring the glances passers-by are sending them.
"Go on then," John says breathlessly, wiping a tear from his eye. "What's your most embarrassing moment?"
"Don't have one," Sherlock answers casually, and John is about to argue the point before realizing that he's probably telling the truth. Sherlock has no regard for social interaction at all, and doesn't seem to feel much shame in any shape or form. He probably doesn't even know what embarrassment feels like, and when John compares that thought against the humiliating memory he just shared, he thinks that Sherlock might be a lucky sod in that aspect.
He can hear yelling before he even enters the flat, and when he notices the posh black car parked out front, it's with a weary sigh that John opens the door. He walks in, arms full of Tesco bags, to find Mycroft heading down the stairs, looking stiffer than usual. The man smiles that tired, secretive, unnerving smile of his and opens his mouth to greet John, though is suddenly cut off by his younger brother, yelling from the apartment upstairs.
"Don't let the door hit you on your fat arse on your way out, Mycroft!"
The older man sighs a little, raising an eyebrow at John. "Has he been like this all morning? Sometimes I pity you, my dear John. By all means, you and Mrs Hudson must be positively saint-like to put up with him on days like these."
John doesn't tell Mycroft that Sherlock seemed absolutely fine before he went out for the shopping.
"Well, you know how it is…" is all John says instead, and lets Mycroft pass him on his way to the front door.
"Make sure he takes a look through the files I left him, Doctor Watson?"
Although it's a question, John doesn't feel like he can answer with anything other than a nod.
"Good afternoon." And with that, Mycroft is gone.
"What was all that about?" John asks, when he gets upstairs, dumping the shopping bags on the side of the kitchen table that isn't covered in lab equipment.
"Oh, the usual," Sherlock says from over by the windows, obviously making sure that there's no chance of his brother coming back. "Mycroft being an annoying git, and trying to recruit me to the government. When will he learn that I have no interest in helping him run the country?"
John still finds it rather hard to believe that something like that is 'the usual'.
"You've still never told me why you hate him so much," John points out, working quickly and efficiently as he puts the shopping away.
His statement is dismissed with a casual hand wave as Sherlock steps into the kitchen to grab an apple.
"No, seriously," John continues. "You haven't told me anything about you, really. I mean, I know you now, better than anyone, but I don't know why you and Mycroft are in the middle of this stupid feud, or what your parents were like, or where you went to school, or anything."
The detective looks at him, tossing the apple between his hands. "It's hardly relevant now."
"But still." John finishes stocking the fridge, working around the butter tubs filled with toes. "I'd like to know."
Sherlock sounds suspicious, watching John closely. "Why?"
John laughs a little bit, putting a hand on Sherlock's hip and squeezing past the man to fill the kettle with water. "Don't act like this is some police interrogation. We're friends, and friends generally know this stuff about each other. Besides, I've told you everything about me. It's only fair."
"And yet, no matter how much you tell me, I can't seem to figure you out completely," Sherlock mutters, and John doesn't know if it's normal to be flattered by that.
There's a long pause, long enough for John to put teabags in two mugs, one for him and one for Sherlock. He's almost ready to change the subject altogether, when his flatmate pulls out a chair from the table and sits down.
"I grew up in a large house in Hertfordshire," Sherlock says suddenly, sounding unusually subdued. "My father wasn't around much, and I've been told that I take after him. My mother was too concerned about our public image, but a wonderful woman, regardless. Apart from Mycroft, I didn't really have any friends, though I'm sure you deduced that already…"
John places a steaming mug of tea in front of his friend, and takes the seat opposite, eager to listen.