Sherlock is ten years old when he solves the Carl Powers case.
How the police had failed to notice the missing trainers is beyond him, outrages him in fact, but he convinces the force, at long length and by means of near-constant harrassment, to pay heed. His telephone calls are relentless, the quality of his letter writing light years beyond his age, the frequency with which he turns up at New Scotland Yard absolutely astonishing and probably illegal. The faces of the police officers when he appears reflect a wide spectrum of amusement, irritation, grudging respect, and fury. But Sherlock can't be deterred by the doubters. Sherlock sees things, really sees them, and it's difficult to explain that to the people who marvel and who sneer at it. Some of the officers are gruff, sipping their coffees and shooing him away as if he were a stray cat, and some are openly red-faced and hostile and some condescending and some pudgy and tired and kind, but none of them understand that he has investigated the matter and he knows Powers was murdered. He knows.
He knows it somewhere based hard and deep in his chest, somewhere that feels like the keystone of an arch.
He tells the policemen and policewomen again and again to find the trainers, and some listen, and some don't. And finally, at last, after weeks of hounding via mail and telephone calls and personal visits, they bring in a boy of Sherlock's age for questioning when the shoes are spotted by a classmate sitting in a school locker assigned to an Irish lad with sad, bright eyes and dark hair and a grin of incarnate evil, and then Sherlock goes home once more to the townhouse in Pall Mall.
The foyer is very very very long, and far too placid.
No one is here.
Well. His parents are here.
Someone is droning on in a low tone through a door about damned bloody Socialists, and Sherlock sighs. His father, he realizes, will not care that justice has been served. He will not care that a killer, and a very young killer at that, is off the streets. His father will wonder how Sherlock got to London again, dull boring why god tedious dull duuuuuuulllllllll, because it's never a challenge to get to London.
It's only a challenge to stay there. Which is a shame, because Sherlock absolutely adores London.
Later, after they've discovered he has materialized again, Sherlock is summoned to dinner, which he eats with Mummy as she sips something beautifully golden in a small crystal glass, refilled exactly eight times. But Sherlock is no longer mystified by his mother's glamour (she really is very glamourous) or her intelligence (it isn't as if she uses it to show off, and isn't that the point?) or her beauty (she looks just like Sherlock, he realizes, without at the same time realizing that he is beautiful himself). None of that matters like it used to matter when he was little--when Sherlock was seven, for instance, or when Sherlock was eight. The silverware is too flat now, next to the bright frantic depth of the lights of London beyond, the sirens and the headlamps and the tall tall buildings, and Mycroft is off at school.
"His name was James Moriarty," Sherlock brags. "He killed Carl Powers with poisoned shoes, and I brought him to justice. He'll be pronounced guilty, I know it."
"You're quite the little marvel, my darling," Mummy answers, and her voice has gone soft from the drink she sips from the crystal.
"They'd never have solved it if not for me."
"How marvelous. What will you tackle next?"
He has no idea. In fact, Sherlock has nothing to do. Again.
At night, he turns on his side, rustling soft sheets, and stares out the window of his third story bedroom in the townhouse. He dreams of blood and death and beautiful sacrifices. He dreams of the pristine lines of scientific rigour and the heady chaos of human behavior.
He dreams of peace and hell.
Both of those already live in his head, anyhow. It's only a matter of time before he encounters them for real, he supposes.
He cannot wait for it to happen. Adventure cannot arrive quickly enough.
Sherlock is eleven when Jim Moriarty is sentenced to a very long stint in juvenile prison. A few days later, in mid-March, he receives a letter.
I've been talking to the police about you. They're very impressed. So am I! I'm a huge fan. I'm going to have a lot of time to think about you now, and that's what I'll be doing, thinking about you. I'm rather a pip when it comes to thinking. I'll think of you all through the day, and all through the night. I'll be thinking about you tied to a bed while I skin you with a fish knife, all in long lovely strips, and then I'll salt them and feed them to you to keep you alive. When we run out of your skin, I'll start feeding you bits of muscle I slice off, but if you find it too tough raw and don't like it, I might make a concession and let you snack on your own fat! Delicious!
What a lark it will be!
Shuddering, Sherlock sends the letter to the Yard detectives. He doesn't hear back from them. And Sherlock goes on with his life.
In another part of England, a boy named Mike Stamford makes the last minute decision to join his mum for a trip to the seaside. He hadn't planned on doing much of anything that weekend, but when she proposes the journey on a whim, he sees no reason not to agree. He loves his mum, and nowhere do they feel more close than when combing the beach for shells. In a tragic misfortune that is ultimately blamed on the intoxicated driver of a large truck, she loses control of the vehicle when the truck driver swerves into her lane, and the pair crash into a tree.
Mike, who unbeknownst to his mother had unfastened his lap belt, is killed instantly. His mother survives to be haunted by the tragedy.
Sherlock Holmes, of course, never so much as hears these strangers' names.
Sherlock is sixteen years old when he realizes that something is wrong with him.
He is sitting in a study in the country house, the room full of light and full of air, the windows open and the breeze tugging at the pale curtains, bending over a chemistry set he received upon his twelfth birthday. It is four o'clock in the afternoon, and he is unaware that his self-perception is about to take a sharp turn. Beyond, along the portrait-hung corridors of the family's estate, he can hear the bustling of busy feet. Every summer, the Holmes family takes in guests of a certain high station, and every summer, Sherlock divides his time between ignoring their presence and ruthlessly deducing their secret lives. He has grown accustomed to removing his mind to a place of clarity and distance, treating distractions with no more fuss and bother than a waterfowl would grant to the rain that swells the shores of their little lake.
Sherlock bends further over his beakers and retorts, bowlike lips pursed with concentration as his slender fingers trace the words in his textbook. He can identify this salt, he knows he can. It is only a matter of focus and patience.
The door creaks open and the source of the scuffling enters. Reginald Musgrave is a quiet boy and an arch one. Sherlock likes him to the extent that he doesn't actively dislike him, and Sherlock actively dislikes a great many people. Sometimes he likes Reginald even more than that, and the thought of the ways in which Reg is pleasant and courteous and not dull always brings a soft curl of warmth to the region of his heart.
Reginald has fair hair and a high brow, and for some reason he is shutting the door behind him.
"Still at it, then?" Reg wonders. "You'll make yourself cross-eyed."
"But I'll get a first in chemistry when I try for one."
"Course you will," Reg laughs. "You're brilliant."
Brushing his dark hair from his eyes with a delicate wrist, Sherlock nods. He is brilliant. Reg has grown taller this summer, they both have, springing up like weeds, and all traces of childish fat have abandoned him. It seems to have found its way to Mycroft's midriff by accident. Sherlock finds this endlessly amusing, and his brother does not, which makes it all the more delicious.
Reg has appeared at Sherlock's elbow as if by magic. Odd. Sherlock is generally quite keen when it comes to the relative movement of bodies through space.
"Why've you shut the door?" Sherlock wonders, not really wondering. The salts are nearly ready. Their secrets are almost laid bare.
"It's all right, you know," Reg tells him. There is a husky quality to his voice that wasn't present previously. Has never been there previously.
Sherlock glances up. The sun has burned golden streaks in Reggie's lank hair, and the button-down he's wearing under the woolen jumper is loose at the collar. Sherlock can see the barest dusting of fine down there, like the feathers on a gosling. Reggie has always been a terrible clothes horse, but it's getting worse of late. The boys had used to spend hours fashioning costumes for impromptu Shakespeare plays and the odd pirate drama, memories that fit Sherlock like a favourite pair of oft-worn trousers. Reggie is uncomplicated without being dense, and in Sherlock's experience, that is worth something incalculable.
"What's all right?" Sherlock asks.
Reggie reaches out and traces his fingertips along Sherlock's stark jawline.
"That you're different. It's all right. I am too, you see."
Swallowing, Sherlock wonders briefly how Reg could possibly know such a thing. The other boys at school are all elbows and hormones, sweaty and sticky and mindless, humping warm objects as if their lives depended on regular emissions, and Sherlock can't fathom a bit of it. But this seems to be the topic that Reg is broaching. How extraordinary. Sherlock has awoken to questionable bedsheets once or twice, but he hasn't the smallest desire to insert any part of himself into any damp, confined space, and if Reg is similarly sexless, then god bless him for a true mate. When Sherlock tries to think of anything more distasteful than the scene he interrupted down by the stables last spring, that catering girl his parents had hired for their party mashing her face into the crotch of one of their horrible houseguests, he can't help but shudder.
The Reg leans over and kisses him. It isn't unpleasant. Or even difficult. It's warm, and breathy, and a bit intimate, and rather nice, like being complimented. But Sherlock starts backward in surprise all the same.
Smiling in a self-satisfied fashion, Reg reaches down and cups a palm over Sherlock's trouser front.
"No," Sherlock, exclaims softly, batting the hand away.
"What's the problem?"
"That's--no," Sherlock repeats, struggling to catch up to the conversation and failing miserably because he has absolutely zero practice at that task. He is generally miles and miles ahead.
Reg adopts a gentle look. Sherlock has seen it before, on days when Sherlock was sulking, or on days when his head started hurting his heart.
"There's no harm in being gay. Like I said, I'm the same."
"But I don't want to," Sherlock protests. His heart is hammering.
"Don't tell me you're above it or something."
"Of course I'm not."
"Well, then? You like me. I know you like me."
That's true. They like each other. Sherlock swallows. Perhaps Reg is entirely correct, perhaps something should happen, something slimy and embarrassing, because he likes Reggie so much.
That is the very worst notion Sherlock can think of.
Reggie cocks a fond eyebrow at him.
"But--" Sherlock whispers. He is backing away and it feels better, it feels a million times better, he can breathe, he--
"I won't hurt you."
"I know you won't."
"Then don't be a prude."
"I'm not. And I do like you, I just--"
"Come back here."
"I think...I think, I think I don't like it," Sherlock stammers.
Reggie's eyes narrow. They're blue and rather striking, and Sherlock swallows, staring back in mounting panic. Sherlock doesn't have a great many friends. Sherlock has a brother who's growing more boring by the day and a distant mother who drinks and a father who sleeps with the help, and Reg has always been willing to traipse along moonlit paths in the dead of night, and to bury treasures, and to draw pirate maps, and to forge secret vows sealed with blood on their palms. Reg is important.
"I thought I meant something to you," Reg bites out.
"No, I don't. Not if..."
Biting his lip where Reg just kissed him, Sherlock thinks hard. There must be a way of solving this. There must. There is a way of solving everything. And Sherlock, though he is very young, suspects already that he might be a genius.
"I don't want to with you because I don't want to with anyone," Sherlock explains.
"Come off it," Reg snorts. "Everyone wants to with someone. And I know for a fact you don't like girls. Wait, do you like girls?"
"So you like boys."
"What, you expect me to believe you're some kind of robot or something?"
"Of course I'm not--"
"Don't you ever touch yourself?"
"I...well, sometimes, but I don't particularly like it."
"Don't like it?" Reggie's eyebrows are ballooning upward in disbelief. "What the hell is wrong with you? Why wouldn't you like it?"
"It's all just...it's messy, and complicated, and--"
"Sherlock, I know you like being independent and all, and yes you're a neat freak, but you're not some kind of goddamned android. Granted, you're the only bloke I know with a sock index, but--"
"My heart beats too fast, and it's uncomfortable."
"That's completely ridiculous."
"And I don't know what to think about, and--"
"Fucking," Reg says, exasperated. "When people have a wank, they think about fucking. I think about fucking you."
A terrible silence falls.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock whispers.
Reg shakes his head and turns away.
"You said it was all right that I was different," Sherlock pleads.
Reginald shoves his fists in his pockets. He's verging on handsome these days and Sherlock is too observant not to know it, but suddenly he wants the old Reg back. He wishes they were still eight, sharpening sticks into arrows and stringing bows with kitchen twine, tripping over each other and laughing. Things were simple then, and when Reggie looked at Sherlock, Sherlock felt like a king. Now he feels like one of his own dissection subjects, flayed out and pinned to a board.
"Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?" Reg snaps, and Sherlock understands that he has insulted his only friend somehow. "You're a right freak."
After Reg storms out, Sherlock wonders whether a cloud has passed over the sun through the window, or if his perception has changed due to the sheer ghastliness of their altercation. He goes back to the process of identifying the salts, but his fingers are trembling and there's an ache in his chest that he's never experienced before. When he positively identifies the bisulfate of baryta, Sherlock can barely bring himself to care.
Sherlock later discovers that this whole shagging business can get him other things he wants--and that if he chooses partners carefully enough, whether or not he comes never even enters into their heads.
Cocaine, he reflects as he watches the traffic lights sweep past in the darkness beyond his little window in Montague Street, is a wonderful substance. Good cocaine, the kind he likes, and pure morphine, the kind he likes very much indeed, are rather a drain on his finances, however, and living by one's wits by popping up unwanted at crime scenes is proving less immediately lucrative than he had hoped. And this is the reason that this fellow named Grant is in his bed. Grant is a thin ginger man with freckles on his chest, and he is a complete tit, but rather a well off one, and he brought Sherlock's favourite drugs along with him when Sherlock indicated via text that his urges would at last be seen to. He is asleep on his side, snoring lightly. Sherlock can see the individual hairs of his red stubble when a car goes by and the headlamps shine through.
Sherlock hates him.
He hates that now his room smells like sweat and humans. He hates that Grant wears t-shirts with bands on them Grant doesn't actually listen to. He hates that his arse feels like this when he moves. He hates how easy it was to hide the fact that he wasn't even aroused. He loves that he didn't come, he only does when alone and every other month or so, just when he has to, but he hates Grant for not caring. He hates himself. He hates Grant.
He suspects he might hate being alive. There is nothing for him in this world other than crime scenes, and there hasn't been a crime scene in days. If he isn't careful, if he doesn't dose himself carefully, the pain will come back, that feeling that the world has ground to a stop on its axis and nothing will ever be all right again and no one cares that it won't be all right except for Sherlock.
This bed is far too crowded and he has never felt more alone.
Next time, Sherlock thinks exhaustedly, I'll use my mouth and pretend that turns me on and then I won't even have to take my kit off. That will be easier.
Despite Sherlock's plans, next time Grant wants the same thing again, and so he grits his teeth and doesn't whimper and he thinks about star systems expanding, thinks about the entropy of rivers and ways to deduce Niagara Falls from a single drop of water.
Sherlock is thirty-four when he falls hopelessly in love at first sight.
He is running after a suspect through the streets of London, a cold-blooded killer by the name of Abernetty, and the thrill that courses through his veins is better than any drug. Of course, he'll need the drugs to counteract the black reaction that will set in when the adventure is over and life is grey again, will need the cocaine or the morphine which he can now afford to buy himself, but for now, he is alive. He is godlike in his speed, he is invincible. His coat billows behind him as he leaps over a fence surrounding a construction site. He and Abernetty left Scotland Yard in the dust five minutes ago, and that is fine by Sherlock, though he regrets a bit that Lestrade was nearly mowed down by a Jeep following Sherlock's wild dive into traffic, and if Sherlock loses his man, weeks of work will have been in vain.
The sky has never been bluer, and his legs have never felt so strong.
Sherlock can see Abernetty ten yards ahead, dodging brick piles and buckets and iron beams. His face is thin and mean, and his brown hair is balding at the crown of his head. The autumn breeze ruffles his blue windbreaker. Abernetty darts around a wheelbarrow stained with dried cement and nearly falls.
Sherlock can taste victory in the fucking air.
Over another fence, out of the construction site, and Abernetty is careening into Hyde Park. The green of the trees is electric, the blood pounding in Sherlock's ears is symphonic, the delight he takes in each long stride out of all proportion. The trees pass in a blur. The sun is setting over London. They are attracting stares now. A man selling peanuts watches them streak past. Abernetty is on a collision course with a small man walking down the path with a cane, every slow step a seeming struggle.
"Stop that man!" Sherlock shouts.
Instantly, the limping fellow stands up straighter. He tackles Abernetty to the ground in a way that Sherlock can only describe as artful. Before anyone quite knows what is happening, Abernetty's chest is grinding against the pebbles as he thrashes, mouth practically frothing with curses. The little man has both Abernetty's arms pinned behind his back and doesn't even seem to be breathing hard.
"All right, all right, settle down," the little man says mildly to Sherlock's prey.
Sherlock slows and stops before the small man, gasping. The small man looks up, dark blue eyes alight. He has dirty blond hair and a fascinating face--round and weathered, but handsome. He wears a black jacket with a patch of leather on the shoulder, as if he is used to shouldering rifles. His lips are quite thin, his grip on Abernetty steady as a rock.
"This a mate of yours, I take it?" he quips.
"You've been in the Middle East, I perceive," Sherlock pants.
The man frowns, but he doesn't look displeased. "How did..."
"Your wrists. Well, and the military hold you're using on that killer under your knee."
"He's a killer?"
"On eight counts, yes. Afghanistan or Iraq?"
The little man looks intrigued. Lestrade staggers up, clutching at his side, silvery hair mussed and his shoes spattered with mud. "You're under arrest," he bluntly says to Abernetty, who snarls as Lestrade pulls out a pair of handcuffs. "And Sherlock, no matter what barmy adrenaline addiction you're suffering from, you can't just expect civilians to tackle bloodthirsty killers. It's not cricket."
"I don't mind," the stranger says.
"He's not a civilian," Sherlock says.
"Well, I am now."
Lestrade hauls the spluttering Abernetty to his feet and passes him off to Donovan, who can run incredibly fast in heels and has just joined them. The Yarders lead him off in the direction of the squad car that has pulled up to the edge of the park. Sherlock holds out his hand to help the little man up. He forgets Abernetty entirely. The man's left hand is warm and calloused in places that mean he is extremely practiced at firing a gun. The man's grip is sure, but when he gets to his feet, he leans a little. Sherlock bends down and picks up the cane. He hands it to him.
"Ta," the little man says. He smiles. It's a curious smile. "Are you a plainclothesman?"
Sherlock scoffs, disgusted. "Wrong. I'm a consulting detective."
"A detective. Interesting."
"No, a consulting detective. I've a turn for both observation and deduction, which led me to create a trade of my own. Here in London we have lots of government detectives and lots of private ones. When they're at fault, or when people are at the end of their wits, or the Yard is out of its depth, which is always, they come to me. I'm the last court of appeal in criminal detection. I take private clients, too. When people are in trouble about something and want a little enlightening, I listen to their story, they listen to my comments, and I pocket my fee. Now and again a case turns up which is a little more complex, and then I have to bustle about and see things with my own eyes. Those are the best sort of cases. I have a lot of special knowledge which I apply to problems, and that facilitates matters."
Sherlock belatedly grows aware that he is babbling terribly and shuts his mouth. The small man is smiling in bemusement. The smile looks very nice on him. His teeth are white. He has forgotten his injury and stopped leaning on the cane. Psychosomatic, then. Interesting.
Everything about this man is interesting.
"So this was the, er. Bustling sort of case, then?"
"Does bustling usually involve tackling murderers?"
"Not often enough, but yes."
"What else do you consider bustling? Car chases, gunfights, that sort of thing?"
"It is dangerous."
"Lots of special knowledge. So you went to consulting detection school then," he remarks. "Didn't know that existed."
"No, I studied in a great many areas, all hand-selected and tailored to further my career. I invented the job--I'm the only one in the world like me."
"Now, that I can believe."
Sherlock smiles, overwhelmed with delight. There is something contradictory and compelling about this man. He returns Sherlock's stare with both lightness and gravity. The fact that Sherlock is staring in the first place is...unfortunate, he realizes. A lot of people are put off by his stare. Stupid people, sheeplike people. This ex-soldier doesn't seem to mind the scrutinity, though, which is odd in and of itself. That's marvelous. Sherlock realizes that the thought of the small man being put off by him is absolutely unbearable. But he has already babbled, and stared, and the small man is still here.
"Well, cheers, mate," the little man says, holding out a hand. "Best of luck--"
Think. Sherlock feels panic mount in his chest at the thought of losing this very small, very strange person.
"I have to thank you," he says. "For tackling Abernetty. You didn't have to do that, and it was...it was good. So I would like to thank you for assisting me in my work by taking you to dinner and paying for the meal."
You sound like a fucking robot, Sherlock thinks in despair.
The small man chuckles. The small man finds him laughable. God, it's mortifying. The sun is nearly down, and the lights have come on in the park, glittering through the trees. A couple on a quilted blanket a little distance away lie on their backs with their fingers entwined, watching the stars come out. Sherlock's heart is pounding painfully, and he hasn't got his breath back yet, and nothing makes sense anymore. He wants to know everything about this person. Sherlock wants to start with the day he was born and then read forward like a book, a page at a time, day by day, until he understands Afghanistan and the limp and the perfect small smile.
"I don't even know your name," the little man says.
"John Watson," he replies. He sticks out his hand again and Sherlock shakes it. He likes the feel of their palms together. It makes sense, like a puzzle piece fitting.
"Hungry?" Sherlock breathes.
Please please please.
John Watson grins. "Starving."