John had seen Sherlock do so many odd things over the years that most of them hardly registered anymore.
But this – this was slightly farther afield than the near-routine licking of unknown substances or joyous jumping over serial killers.
There was a bee.
There were lots of bees, actually, since they were in the middle of a sprawling agricultural research compound with five separate greenhouses and extensive grounds, but this particular bee had landed on Sherlock's outstretched fingers. It was warm enough that Sherlock wasn't wearing his gloves, but instead of shaking the insect off like anyone else would, Sherlock was...
Sherlock was talking to the bee.
No, no. That wasn't quite it – if Sherlock had only been speaking to the bee, John could have written it off as Sherlock using it as a temporary something-to-talk-at substitute, as John himself was several inconvenient steps away, but the pauses in Sherlock's murmurs had the cadence of a conversation.
A conversation with a bee.
A bee that had flown up to Sherlock and landed on his finger, like it was trained. A trained bee.
John was grateful that Lestrade and his sergeant were occupied interviewing one of the researchers, because even he couldn't come up with a plausible explanation for this new odd behaviour.
"This way, John!"
Sherlock zipped off down a gravel pathway without a glance to confirm that John would follow, but of course John did. He had no idea where they were going or how Sherlock had decided that they were going there, but the route was weirdly circuitous and definitely led away from the spot where a research scientist had been found dead with an equally dead dog in her overlarge handbag. They had to dodge huge stone urns, decorative benches, and low-hanging branches, and sometimes Sherlock skidded to a stop, head whipping around until he took off again. It felt like a chase, except they weren't pursuing or being pursued by anyone.
They passed Lestrade coming out of one of the greenhouses as Sherlock called, "Here!" and disappeared around a pile of gardening equipment. John was feeling proud of himself for not tripping over the coils of garden hose covering the uneven ground when he accidentally kicked over a pot of flowers and several unhappy bees buzzed out.
Despite his instincts telling him to get away from the bees as quickly as possible, John froze automatically.
"Not you, John, come on," Sherlock said, flapping his hand impatiently as he waited for him to catch up.
Baffled, John glanced over his shoulder to see who Sherlock had shouted at – had Lestrade come after them? – and saw no one. No one, but not nothing – the bees he'd disturbed hovered in the air for a long moment before they darted away, and John decided that he was going mad because there was no way Sherlock had just yelled at bees and expected them to listen to him.
"Where exactly are we going?" he asked as Sherlock trotted off at a slightly more sedate pace.
"There." Sherlock pointed to a section of shrubs and flowers that looked exactly the same as all the other shrubs and flowers they'd passed. He crouched down next to a plant with spiky leaves and yellowish-green waxy flowers, quickly donning a pair of latex gloves before starting his examination.
John squatted next to him, intending to try to determine what Sherlock was looking for, but instead he found himself staring at Sherlock's profile, completely disconcerted.
There was a bee in Sherlock's hair, a little above his ear. Not a bee, John was suddenly certain, the bee, the one Sherlock had been talking to.
Sherlock was saying something as he ran his fingers over the plant's leaves, but John wasn't listening.
It felt like the bee was looking at him.
He was going mad.
There was a stretch of silence where John was probably supposed to tell Sherlock how brilliant he was, and he was sure he would have if he'd been paying a stitch of attention to whatever he'd been explaining.
Lestrade, who had apparently got around to following them, offered a temporary reprieve. "What's this, then?"
Sherlock straightened but did not turn, pointing down at the plant. "Daphne laureola, spurge laurel, neither a spurge nor a laurel. Contains mezerein, which is exceedingly toxic to humans, cats, and dogs. Consumption causes violent vomiting, internal bleeding, coma, and death in short succession. In short, the killer."
"This specific one? These are all over, Sherlock," Lestrade said, glancing at John, obviously waiting for him to recite the relevant details that had gone in one ear and out the other because he'd been busy staring at the bee.
There was a significant pause where Sherlock, too, waited for John to fill in the blanks. John opened his mouth, closed it, and shrugged. Lestrade looked taken aback. With an exaggerated sigh, Sherlock launched into a long explanation about foot traffic at lunch breaks and smuggling pets onto the compound grounds. He was starting to wind down when he finally turned to face Lestrade, and John saw the instant that Lestrade saw the bee and moved forward to shoo it away.
Sherlock swayed backward, away from Lestrade's hand. "Don't," he snapped.
"I am aware. Leave her."
Her. Not it. Maybe Sherlock was the one cracking, not John. Donovan would be disappointed it didn't involve any bodies.
Oblivious to the baffled look on Lestrade's face, Sherlock continued, "The lower leaves show a clear bite-tear pattern at the right height for a small dog, the one in the handbag. As is revoltingly typical for people overly attached to their pets, I'm sure the dead woman thought nothing of letting the beast lick her mouth after it had chewed on the leaves of the plant. Combined with a sensitivity to the toxin, death was certain, but the amount ingested meant she was able to walk away from the immediate scene of the poisoning. Nothing more sinister happened here other than complete ineptitude on the part of the groundskeepers for allowing a poisonous plant to be cultivated and on the part of building security for somehow being oblivious to employees smuggling their tiny dogs in to work with them. I'd like to say I'd expected more from a premiere agricultural research facility, but I didn't. Waste of time."
"Not a murder, then," Lestrade clarified after a few beats of silence.
"No," Sherlock repeated, clearly disgusted, "not a murder. We'll be going now."
They left Lestrade rubbing at the creases on his forehead like he could smooth them away if he only pressed hard enough.
John didn't say anything at all until they were back at Baker Street, resolutely ignoring the increasingly pointed looks from Sherlock until they were sitting in their chairs with tea. Well, John had tea, Sherlock's was on the coffee table in front of him as he sat with his knees drawn up to his chest.
"You followed a bee to that plant."
"Daphne laureola," Sherlock corrected with a sniff. "Which you'd know if you'd been paying any attention at all."
"Sorry, I was a bit caught on the bee thing. It was like – were you talking to it? You were, weren't you? Tell me I'm not barmy."
Sherlock sprang out of his armchair with such force it scraped backwards several inches. The sound almost seemed to startle him, and he jolted forward half a step, knocking into the coffee table in a rare show of clumsiness. His tea sloshed over the rim of the mug. John looked at the tea puddle, then up at Sherlock's face. Sherlock was looking at the tea, too, like he couldn't believe it had dared to do such a thing.
John cleared his throat. "Sherlock?"
There was a fleeting second of accidental eye contact that crackled with tension, then Sherlock whirled and escaped to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
"Alright," John said to the spilled tea, "that went well."
John did not write a blog post about the case.
He told himself it was because it was a bit boring, since there'd not been any actual crime, not because it marked the beginning of his descent into madness.
In the weeks that followed, neither of them mentioned it. Everything was almost normal except for the amount of time Sherlock spent staring at John, which had increased to the point where it became odd for John to look up and not find Sherlock studying him intently.
Sherlock was probably deciding whether or not to have John sectioned, though there didn't seem to be much to debate, in John's opinion. On one hand, delusions about his flatmate talking to bees seemed relatively harmless. On the other, John had a gun and was quite capable of killing people with it.
Maybe Sherlock thought he could cure John of this, just like he'd cured the limp.
Maybe John should have himself sectioned.
They were seated at a tiny corner table in an equally tiny Chinese restaurant with their knees pressed together, watching for a hired thug to come out of a shop across the way, when Sherlock generously decided to add a bit more confusion to John's day.
Sherlock said, apropos of nothing, "She offered her assistance because all the new humans in the area were disruptive to her hive."
John's jaw dropped. Half-chewed bits of noodles fell out of his mouth. It was, he thought, an incredibly dignified response to Sherlock admitting he'd been communicating with a bee a month ago. One month of considerately letting John think one of them was going mad.
"There he is. Come on, John!"
Wonderful timing, as always. Never a coincidence.
He brushed noodles off his shirt as he dashed out the door after Sherlock.
Despite the dozens of questions carouselling their way around his head, John didn't bring it up when chasing the thug landed them at New Scotland Yard. They'd been stuck in Lestrade's office for an hour waiting to give their statements and Sherlock was testing the outer reaches of John's last nerve with his incessant fidgeting and inability to look at anything for more than five seconds at a time. (Lestrade was clearly leaving them to stew as revenge for being called in at two in the morning to deal with Sherlock. John didn't entirely blame him.)
Sherlock's fingers were drumming against the arm of the uncomfortable plastic chair, pausing only when he gave in to the urge to run both hands agitatedly through his hair. He did not look at John. If Sherlock were anyone else, John would assume he was worried or nervous or any number of other emotions he claimed to not have.
Finally, Lestrade slumped in, bags under his eyes, and stoically bore Sherlock's immediate tirade, occasionally taking notes when he said something relevant to the case. John clarified the bits he could, and then they were in a cab on the way back to their flat.
"Were you stung by a radioactive bee when you were a teenager?" John blurted out and got a scathing look in return. "Never mind. Sorry. Pop culture reference."
Joking had obviously been the wrong way to go about it since Sherlock disappeared into the bathroom as soon as they got home. John considered collapsing into bed now that it was past three, but that was what Sherlock no doubt expected him to do, so he sat on the sofa to wait instead.
Eventually, the bathroom door creaked open.
"I've been like this for as long as I can remember, if that answers your asinine question. It's not something that comes up often, especially in London, which is why you've never noticed until now." Sherlock was still wearing his coat, standing stiffly by the sitting room door. Ready to bolt.
"I'm sorry, Sherlock, I didn't mean to – I didn't mean for it to come out like that. I'm only relieved I'm not going barmy."
"I – you believe me, then?" He didn't wait for John to answer, doing a visual sweep of a million different things that John could only name a dozen of. "You do. Or you think you do. Interesting."
"I prefer believing you to thinking one of us has lost the plot," John answered truthfully. "I don't know where to start asking questions, honestly."
"Then take the more intelligent path for once and don't." Sherlock crossed the room with a few long strides and perched precariously on the edge of his chair, hands clenched together in his lap. "Why do you believe me?"
John ignored the insult and gave the question due consideration. "You said 'she.'"
Sherlock snorted. "That only proves that you believe that I believe. Try again."
He took a few seconds to organize the half-formed thoughts that had been floating around in the back of his mind for the past month. "From a psychological standpoint, not a specialty of mine, but – don't roll your eyes, are you thirteen? – but I can't think of a disease that would cause a sustained, specific hallucination for decades that wouldn't also cause other mental deterioration as it progressed. Since you're still the most brilliant person I've ever met, I think delusion can be ruled out."
Sherlock's lips twitched upward at the compliment as they nearly always did. The whiteness of his knuckles began to fade back to his normal skin tone, and he sat back a little in his chair.
"And then there's the fact you found that plant at the agriculture centre after we'd been there for all of fifteen minutes, so I don't know how you could have analysed foot traffic patterns when there was no foot traffic."
"The pattern of the disturbance of the gravel pathways, obviously. Don't be obtuse."
"The disturbance which would have been equally disturbed by the police milling about, since they were clueless and everywhere."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. It looked almost like approval, though more likely for the insult about the police than John's cognitive abilities.
John continued, "And you do care what I think – occasionally – and I can't think of a reason why you'd admit to something that makes you sound like a total nutter if it weren't true." The more John thought about it, the truer it seemed. If John had thought Sherlock had gone legitimately mad, Sherlock would've risked losing not only half the rent, but his all-purpose sidekick, dogsbody, friend, and bottomless source of ego-boosting compliments. Again.
Sherlock stared at him for a long time without speaking. Then he got up, took his coat off, flopped down on the sofa, and demanded, "Tea."
After that admission, John tried to forget the whole thing. Sherlock was obviously uncomfortable talking about it, no matter how curious John was. So he only thought about it when an insect buzzed past his ear or flew where he could see it. Or when he saw Sherlock.
Basically, he thought about it all the time.
Like now. Sherlock was currently digging through a skip, having handed his coat over to John. Since John had no idea what Sherlock was looking for (and Sherlock wouldn't tell him), he spent his time making sure the coat didn't brush the dirty pavement of the alley and rocking up on his toes to try to see what Sherlock was doing.
"Does anyone else know?" he asked. Oh, god. He hadn't meant to, it just slipped out. He blamed all the flies buzzing around.
Sherlock's head popped up over the side of the skip. There was a rotting banana peel on his shoulder. "Obviously not, don't be wilfully stupid," he said, scornful and immediately aware of the subject at hand. "You've already seen ample evidence that the masses are willing to discredit the science of deduction at the smallest doubt, adding in anything stranger than that would get me sectioned faster than Mycroft could eat a cake. His royal fatness suspects, of course, since I didn't know to hide it at first. I'm sure I have him to thank for some of my fondest childhood memories of psychological evaluation."
John mulled that over for a while, staring at the scuffed toes of his shoes. "Then... why tell me? Why now?"
"Other than the fact that you clearly thought you were going mad and spent all of your time thinking about it, thus rendering you hardly better than Lestrade's new sergeant at crime scenes?"
"Other than that, yes." John smiled.
"I suspect for the same reason you initially believed me, despite not having examined the issue logically," Sherlock replied, then dove back into the skip, bin bags flying out in his wake.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Can't hear you!" Sherlock called back, crunching and crashing around rather more enthusiastically than was necessary.
"Oh, spare me; no more insipid bee questions."
Affronted, John's mouth snapped shut and he licked his lips instead of speaking.
"Let's see. How did it start? Have I determined what caused the ability? Does it work with all bees or just certain species? Have I ever convinced a bee to sting Mycroft's overly large nose?" The sheer contempt dripping from each successive falsetto question would almost be impressive were it not aimed squarely at John. "I am not a dancing monkey waiting for you to throw a few coins, nor am I an experimental subject."
Any chagrin John had started to feel evaporated. He snorted. "That's a bit rich, coming from you."
Sherlock looked outraged and took a breath to deliver what was no doubt a scathing retort, but John held up a hand to stop him and, amazingly, it worked.
"Sorry. I'm sorry. I don't think you can blame me for being curious, but you're right. I'll try to stop thinking about it."
"See that you do."
Then Sherlock stopped speaking for three days. He'd probably strained something from the sheer effort it had taken not to remark on how easy it would be for John to stop thinking.
It was utterly impossible to stop thinking about it, but John was able to censor himself in Sherlock's company. Since he was nearly always in Sherlock's company, the hours he spent at the clinic were mostly used for browsing the British Beekeepers Association website and Wikipedia, trying to satisfy his curiosity that way. He knew it was doomed to failure, but it was something.
Sarah caught him at it between patients. "Decided to replace Sherlock with a less dangerous hobby?" she asked.
"If I say yes, will you have dinner with me?" he joked. Sarah had got married the previous year and had been gracious enough to invite him – with a slyly included plus one. John had left Sherlock at home and had proceeded to utterly fail at his half-hearted attempt to pick up one of the bridesmaids, mostly due to the texts he'd received from Sherlock every five minutes that he was incapable of leaving unread. (Most of them had said, Bored. Come home. SH. The last said, Sixty percent chance that the chubby bridesmaid has chlamydia. SH)
"No, because I know you'd be lying," Sarah replied, smiling. "Our helpful hypochondriac Mrs Lipman is here to see you. Have fun."
"I told you she wouldn't be here," Sherlock growled as he swept out of the bedroom and into the small kitchen where Lestrade and John were waiting. He paced as best he could in the confined area. "I told you this was the perfect sort of day for her to go hunting, and she is. You waited too long to bring us in on this. We'll search Kensington Gardens, you cover Hyde Park. Brunette with black, square-framed glasses, most likely wearing a nametag proclaiming her to be 'Mindy.'"
"I thought she was blonde," Lestrade said, not quite a question.
"Hair dye packaging in the bathroom rubbish bin, keep up," Sherlock snapped, then whirled and left the flat.
"Wait!" Lestrade tried, too late. John shrugged but didn't waste time apologizing before he hastened after Sherlock.
Once they were on the street, Sherlock hailed a cab and danced from foot to foot for the three seconds it took for John to catch up. "You'll like this," he said, sliding to the far seat.
With a dramatic flourish, Sherlock produced a pink glass bottle from inside his coat. "The kidnapper's perfume," he proclaimed. "Primarily carrot seed oil, violet, jasmine, and coriander."
"Alright..." John said, taking the half-full bottle. He sniffed it and wrinkled his nose at the overly-floral scent. "And?"
Sherlock sighed like he always did when John missed something obvious. "The name, John."
John frowned down at the bottle, turning it until he could finally make out the silvery text. "A Touch – ha! A Touch of Pink."
"Try to resist the trite blog post title," Sherlock said, but he was smiling.
"That's a no on 'A Second Study in Pink'? I know you love alliteration." A giggle burst free from his chest, never mind the fact they were on their way to stop a woman from kidnapping a third child. To be fair, Sherlock had recovered the first two missing children earlier that morning at a second flat in the care of a bewildered nanny who only spoke French. The children had been fine, too young to realize something had gone horribly awry for them. (And if John had held his breath, terrified for a moment that they'd cry at the sight of Sherlock's face, no one needed to know.)
"Terrible," Sherlock said, then started laughing, too.
Their giggles had mostly petered out by the time the cab dropped them off near the Marlborough Gate. They went in, passing the Italian Gardens with hardly a glance.
"Highest concentrations of children are the Peter Pan statue, Round Pond, and the Diana Playground," Sherlock rattled off as they skirted around families and couples strolling leisurely on the paths. "So far she's only taken infants with older siblings, so the caretakers' attention lacks focus. Easier marks. The cafes are likely spots as well." He stopped abruptly in the middle of the path, turning in a circle. "Too many possibilities, John, not enough time."
He ducked away into the greenspace, catching John's arm to pull him along as he strode toward a large flowering tree with branches that hung low to the ground.
The flowers were full of bees.
"Stand there so it looks like we're talking," Sherlock demanded, hauling John into place with one hand. With the other, he tugged John's coat and shirtsleeve up far enough to expose his wrist and unceremoniously spritzed his pulse point with the perfume.
"Don't whinge. Hold still."
A bee landed on his thumb almost immediately. A second alighted next to the first. A third. A fourth. Then he lost count; not that counting the bees crawling all over his hand was particularly helpful or calming, for fuck's sake.
The hardly-there brush of tiny insect legs against his skin was nearly unbearable and the impulse to shake them off almost uncontrollable, but he did his best not to twitch as Sherlock bent over his outstretched arm, his bee-covered hand cupped and held steady in Sherlock's.
"Where else is this scent?" Sherlock asked. It was clear he wasn't talking to John.
All but one of the bees flew away; somehow the phantom tingling itch where all their tiny feet had been was worse than when they were actually present. The urge to scrub at his skin grew stronger as the bee took off and flew in a small loop-de-loop over his hand before landing on his palm. His index and middle fingers spasmed; Sherlock spared a moment to glare at him.
The bee started moving in a pattern John recognized from his hours of bee-related reading as the dance that told other bees where to find food, walking in a waggly kind of figure eight. Sherlock observed the dance intently.
"That way," Sherlock raised his other hand to point, "eight hundred meters."
"Must be the playground," John said.
Sherlock nodded sharply. "Thank you," he said to the bee. Leave it to Sherlock to be polite to bees and not humans.
John had half a second to shake out his hand and scrub it vigorously against his trousers before they were sprinting across the grass, making a – oh, alright, fine – a beeline to where the kidnapper hopefully was. It was difficult to laugh and run at the same time, but John managed.
"How did you find her so quickly?" Lestrade asked.
John very carefully schooled his expression as Sherlock lied, "Luck."
Lestrade's face said he didn't believe it, either.
There was an uneasy feeling in the pit of John's stomach as he tried to write up the kidnapping case. It was fine until he got to the part where Sherlock used the bees, since he obviously couldn't include that, and then his words deserted him. Every time he tried to gloss over the search in the park something sounded off, which was ridiculous considering he'd never had a problem being vague about anything else over the years, whether to protect Sherlock or at Mycroft's insistence.
Sherlock had actually sniffed the kidnapper, though, to verify that she was wearing the same perfume they'd found in her flat. That part was definitely making it onto the blog. The part where she'd tried to hit Sherlock upside the head with her handbag and run for it was not. Admitting to tackling a young woman felt wrong, kidnapper or not.
"You can take the credit for choosing to search the playground first, if you like," Sherlock said, suddenly so close John felt a warm exhale next to his ear.
Having been in this position at least weekly for as long as he'd lived with Sherlock, John didn't flinch. "Why?"
"Claim instinct or some such rubbish," Sherlock suggested without moving. "There's a typo there. And there. And you forgot a capital. And a comma."
"Thank you, Sherlock," John gritted out. "I do edit these before I post them, you know."
Sherlock gave a little hum that meant John was being humoured.
"And anyway, I don't want credit. I just –" Just wanted to know more about Sherlock's weird ability that he'd kept secret from everyone his entire life that he clearly regretted telling John about even though he'd all but rubbed it in his face for a second time. "Never mind."
John got it, he really did. Sherlock was mysterious: no one could ever hope to understand how his brain worked, no one could know everything about him, and Sherlock wanted to keep it that way, despite everything they'd been through. John wasn't so emotionally constipated that he couldn't admit that it hurt, but it didn't hurt as much as losing Sherlock entirely had, so he'd deal with it. It would be fine.
A shift in the air next to his head signalled that Sherlock had gone back to doing – whatever it was he'd been doing before he'd decided to critique John's typing skills. John saved the draft of his post and closed his laptop. He didn't much feel like writing anymore.
"Is there a new bee in Sherlock's bonnet?" Mike asked out of the blue, gaze fixed on the pub telly. John almost choked on his pint. "He's been more rude than usual at St Bart's, if you can believe it. Molly's taken to hiding when he comes 'round."
"Don't know what you're on about, mate," John managed after clearing his throat. "He's Sherlock."
That was a half-truth at best, but John hadn't been able to put his finger on the difference, let alone the cause. Subdued was never a word that he'd use to describe Sherlock, but it almost fit his behaviour the past few days. Almost.
Thankfully the conversation turned back to the match they'd met up to watch and all the financial worries Mike and his wife had had since she'd lost her job; tonight Mike seemed particularly concerned with the unhealthy state of their pension funds. It wasn't the first conversation they'd had about it and it wouldn't be the last, so John mostly replied on autopilot while he dwelled on Sherlock's strange behaviour.
John was still thinking about Sherlock as he walked back to Baker Street after saying goodnight to Mike. This was not unusual. John thought about Sherlock a lot, regardless of his level of sobriety. The flat was dark and silent when he let himself in, which was a little unusual, but perhaps Sherlock had been so bored he'd resorted to sleep.
John's laptop was on the kitchen table surrounded by test tubes when he wandered in for a glass of water. Typical: Sherlock had most likely been using it to track experimental data. Not so typical: there was a notebook placed deliberately on top of it with a post-it stuck to it. Sherlock didn't keep paper notes for long, if he kept them at all, but the grey notebook looked quite worn, seams and cracks white with use and age.
Curious, John leaned over to squint at the post-it. The kitchen was dim enough to make deciphering Sherlock's tiny scrawl more of a challenge than usual.
The first time I destroyed this data I was 19. The second time I was 30, so it's due for a burning. Read quickly. SH
John nodded to no one and tucked the notebook under his arm before dragging himself up the stairs to his room. Part of him expected Sherlock to be sitting on his bed for an impromptu monologue about whatever data the book contained, but he was disappointed.
He was also so tired he passed out fully clothed, the notebook clutched in one hand, half under his pillow.
The first thing John saw when he opened his eyes sometime in the middle of the morning was a flat expanse of grey. He sat up and peeled the notebook away from his face, then unstuck the post-it from where it had migrated to his pillow. He hadn't dribbled on any of it, thank god. His curiosity won out over everything else that needed his attention (the fuzz in his mouth, his slept-in clothes, his bladder) and he cracked it open.
It was about bees.
Specifically, it was about Apis mellifera, the European honey bee.
More importantly, it was about Sherlock.
The first page was a hastily scrawled note.
Destroyed data was recreated verbatim to preserve the sanctity of the collection process. Arranged chronologically according to the initial timing of events as opposed to the time of recording.
John reread it a few times, confused, then looked again at the post-it he'd stuck to his lampshade and slowly parsed the information together. So, Sherlock had recorded the information in the book, destroyed it all, then rewritten what had been lost. Twice.
John was still digesting that as he skimmed over the next section of general facts about honey bees that read as if it were copied directly from a children's encyclopaedia. The part that truly caught his attention was an account of the first time Sherlock had spoken to a bee.
I was six years old and Mycroft was home from Eton for the summer. The nanny kept shoving me outside to play, and Mycroft insisted on coming along. He put his fat-fingered hand down on a bee like the enormous idiot he was (is) and shrieked like a small girl. He flapped his hand around until her body flew free and landed on the balustrade next to me.
She was dying. She expressed her regret that she wouldn't live long enough to tell her hive where our terrace flower pots were. Mycroft had ruined everything for her. Mycroft was (is) good at that. I asked where her hive was, and she used the last of her strength to tell me.
No one was paying attention to me due to the fuss Mycroft was kicking up over the little sting, so I went to find the hive. It was a bit farther than I'd anticipated, but I found it and told them about the flowers.
When I returned, all of the servants, Mummy, and Mycroft were out looking for me. The nanny was sacked. Telling anyone about the bee did not seem prudent at the time.
There were several more anecdotes – labelled from an adult's perspective as 'uncontrolled encounters' – before the young Sherlock discovered the scientific method and began recording his experiments with painstaking care.
One of the earliest experiments faced a page that had a list of names, all crossed out. There was one name had been so thoroughly struck through it existed only as a black inky blotch at the bottom of the list. Written boldly next to it was the word LIAR.
Question: Can other human beings understand the language of bees and speak to them in return?
Hypothesis: It is improbable that I am the only human being capable of this.
1. Ask classmates if they have ever experienced bee communication. (See list opposite.)
Sample size is not ideal but it is the only one available to me.
2. Verify any positive responses by having classmate(s) find a bee and ask where her hive is.
Data: Received one positive response, David. Had Mummy invite him to the house. Attempted to test validity of David's response. Ended up shoved into a rosebush and then into the fountain. David called me five variations of 'weird freak.' David lied, cannot understand bees.
Observations: David (liar) product of his mother's affair with a brown-eyed gardener. All communication has ended between classmates and myself as I am now known as 'weird bug freak.'
Conclusion: Trait is limited to myself. Not safe to obtain larger sample size.
John reread the observation section and felt like he'd witnessed the birth of Sherlock as the world now knew him. There wasn't any notation about what age Sherlock had been when he'd performed the experiment; John assumed he hadn't been much older than seven.
The next few pages had ideas for experiments that had never come to fruition, as evidenced by the large, capitalized EXPERIMENT ABORTED (classmate interference) scrawled instead of a conclusion. The last one in this part of the book had two sentences at the bottom. Mycroft says I am too old to 'play games' like this. I will have to wait to resume my experiments until he can no longer bribe the servants to spy on me.
Mycroft hadn't changed.
John had to flip ahead a fair amount before he got to anything else. These new experiments were much more sophisticated, pages filled with chemical equations and stoichiometry that somehow related to bee pheromones. Sherlock must have been at university using their lab equipment to do some of the things he'd detailed. At first it seemed like the research was going well, but it wasn't long before John turned a page and saw EXPERIMENT ABORTED (idiot interference), and it only went downhill from there. It wasn't hard to deduce when Sherlock had given up on uni entirely: he'd written Data Destruction #1 and the date.
The notes started back up after that as Sherlock tested the effect of various illegal drugs on his ability, which was followed closely by Data Destruction #2. John wanted to travel back in time and punch, then hug, this younger version of Sherlock. It wasn't totally dissimilar to how he'd felt when Sherlock had returned after his faked suicide.
There was more to read, but John couldn't keep at it after imagining Sherlock, alone, shooting up and snorting god knew what under the thin veil of science. He blinked his gritty eyes and flipped the notebook closed. If John were prone to being fanciful – which he wasn't, no matter what Sherlock said about his writing – he'd say it felt like he was holding part of Sherlock's soul in his hands. The fact that Sherlock had wanted him to read it at all was – well. It was something, alright. He placed it carefully on his bedside table and went to make himself feel human again.
Showered and in clean clothes, he made his way down to the kitchen for a sandwich and a cup of tea. The flat was pointedly devoid of Sherlock, so John settled into his chair to continue reading.
It turned out there wasn't much left. The ink on the last filled pages seemed crisper, fresher than the rest of the book. These pages held lists of equipment recommended for beekeeping. John had no idea where Sherlock planned to keep bees in London, but there were clear plans for a control hive and two experimental hives and a definite dearth of safety apparatuses.
John was rereading the uncontrolled encounter bits in the beginning of the notebook (Sherlock had, in fact, tried to convince a bee to sting Mycroft's nose and failed) when he heard the street door bang open and Sherlock thunder up the stairs. John sat up straighter, turning toward the landing, wondering if Sherlock was being chased or if John was about to be summoned to a crime scene –
The door opened and Sherlock practically tumbled inside, saw John, saw the notebook, and grimaced. It was his I have made a grave miscalculation face, which didn't see the light of day very often.
"Give that back to Mrs Hudson when you're done," Sherlock said stiffly, the frenetic energy that had propelled him into the flat abruptly gone. He went into the kitchen and pretended to ignore John, but John had been ignored often enough that the difference was obvious.
"Is there a case?"
Working up to a strop, then. Lovely. The hope that the Sherlock had left the notebook as a gesture of friendship fluttered out the window, never to be seen again. Turned out it wasn't something after all.
"Did it help?" Mrs Hudson asked after he'd clomped down the stairs and knocked at 221A. "Only he looked so distraught when he came to get it, and he made me promise years ago to never take it out of my safe unless he said please when he asked for it. I'd forgotten all about it. I think I was meant to burn it if he died, and, well, you know."
Caught for a moment on Sherlock being whatever Mrs Hudson considered distraught, John was slow to process everything else she'd said. "You've, ah, you've looked at it?" he asked haltingly.
"No, no, don't be silly," she tutted. "I've only kept it safe for him. It must have been important for you to see it."
A sudden thought struck John. "When did he ask for it?"
"Last Friday, was it? My memory's not what it used to be, dear, and I'm not his secretary."
That would have been right after the kidnapping case. Sherlock had been in possession of this apparently top secret notebook (And why give it to Mrs Hudson for safekeeping? Mycroft's snooping?) for a full week before passing it on to John. Had he recorded new data about using the bee for the case? No, that wasn't it, the last thing in the book had been the lists of beekeeping equipment; nothing about either the poison plant case or the kidnapper. Maybe he'd been about to burn it and had decided to let John see it beforehand – but then why tell John to give it back to Mrs Hudson?
"Oh, my, there's a face I haven't seen for a while. Why don't you sit for a spell, have a biscuit? You can tell me about it if you like, or I can turn on the telly." Mrs Hudson ushered him to the sofa and bustled into the kitchen.
"Do you ever find," John asked slowly, "that the longer you know someone the less you know them?"
The clink of china abruptly quieted before starting up again. "Yes, that does happen," Mrs Hudson replied carefully.
Too late, John remembered the situation with her late husband and realized what an insensitive arse he'd just been. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean – god," he scrubbed his hands over his face, "that was terrible of me. I'm so sorry."
"You are in a state, aren't you?" she said as she set a plate of biscuits down on the table and flipped on the telly to one of the shows they watched together. "He hasn't destroyed something in the flat, has he?"
John shook his head and let the mind-numbing telly do its job until Mrs Hudson got up to make the tea when the kettle clicked. "Do you know anything about beekeeping? In London?" he asked when she came back.
She did not, but the subject set her off on a long story about her sister's problems with a barking dog. John listened with half an ear and nodded in the right places, but he almost missed it when she suddenly returned to the original topic. "Why don't you – what is it that Sherlock's always telling me to do? Goggle it? I've got my computer 'round here somewhere."
Hiding his smile with his cup, John booted up the now ancient laptop he and Sherlock had given Mrs Hudson the year they'd started flatsharing. They both periodically tried to convince her that she needed a new one and they'd be happy to get it for her, but she'd hear none of it since the one she had still worked. Barely.
This was actually an ideal opportunity for a little sabotage; Sherlock would be proud.
"Huh," he said after a few minutes of reading about urban beekeeping and a few more minutes of emailing all of Mrs Hudson's files to himself. Carefully, he set his half-full teacup down next to the laptop. "Would it be possible to set up hives on the roof?"
"I suppose," Mrs Hudson said doubtfully. "Wouldn't that affect the neighbours? Oh, what would Mrs Turner say? I don't think that's a good idea at all."
"Probably not," John agreed and turned back to the laptop, deliberately knocking the cup with his elbow and sloshing tea across the keyboard. There was a satisfying popping noise and the screen went blank. "Oh, no!" Whoops, that sounded a bit overdone. "Here, let me... maybe it'll be alright..." he dabbed at the keyboard with a serviette and tried to look convincingly distraught. "I think I've killed it. I'm so sorry."
"Mrs Turner has a computer –" Mrs Hudson started to say, hands fluttering in the air above the overturned cup.
"We'll get you a new one," he announced decisively, picking the ruined laptop up and edging toward the door to the hall. "Think of it as an early Christmas present, if you like. I'll go and get Sherlock, computer shopping will keep him occupied for at least an hour. We'll be by later."
"None of those fancy touchy screens!" she shouted after him.
John savoured his moment of triumph on the stairs up to 221B, blissfully distracted from his Sherlock-related problems.
"Get out here, Sherlock, we've got to buy Mrs Hudson a new laptop!" he called as he entered the sitting room, dumping the computer on the table next to his chair.
"Really?" Sherlock stuck his head out of the kitchen, goggles raised to his forehead. It was gratifying that even in the middle of a strop and an experiment John could still generate a glimmer of interest. "Is that –"
"Oh, you know, clumsy me. Spilled tea on it. Terrible accident. Quite unfixable."
A smile slowly curled Sherlock's lips. "A tragedy, I'm sure. Give me a minute to finish this, then we'll go. Wouldn't want her to be without for too long."
"We're buying her flowers, too. Don't ask."
Sherlock pursed his lips and hummed. "Poorly timed husband reference," he decided aloud before disappearing from view, the clink of flasks and test tubes soothingly familiar. He reemerged with surprising speed, but John wasn't about to question or draw attention to the expedient cooperation.
Then Sherlock stopped in the middle of the sitting room and stared at John for a few long moments, brow furrowed just enough for the skin above his nose to wrinkle. John wasn't sure what he'd done to deserve such scrutiny, but they had things to be doing. He tipped his head toward the door and raised his eyebrows.
After another few seconds, Sherlock seemed to shake himself from his reverie and strode purposefully to collect his coat, but he paused again next to John, a strange wash of emotions crossing his face. Then he reached out and patted his shoulder. "She'd never have believed it was an accident if I'd done it."
John smiled and let his hand rest on Sherlock's back as he gently pushed him out onto the landing. "I know."
It had been two long days since John had returned the notebook to Mrs Hudson's safekeeping, and Sherlock had only wound himself tighter and tighter in the interval. He had to find a way to reduce the tension before it suffocated them both. Once more unto the breach, John thought, trying to convince himself that he was prepared to be cut off before he opened his mouth. Again. "Mrs Hudson didn't really fancy the idea of beehives on the roof."
The ceaseless clattering of laptop keys finally quieted. "Why would there be beehives on the roof?"
"Don't know where else you'd keep them in London."
"Oh." Sherlock glanced up, his cultivated nonchalance ruined by his rigidly straight spine. "I wouldn't."
"Keep them in London."
John could feel his forehead wrinkling as he stared at Sherlock in consternation. Where would Sherlock be, if not London?
Sherlock huffed an exasperated sigh and answered the unspoken question. "Retirement, John. As loath as I am to admit it, the rate of physical deterioration of the human body will eventually make fieldwork impossible. Hence, retirement. I'll need something to talk to and keep my mind occupied."
"What, I won't be good enough for you anymore?" John asked. He wasn't sure if it was meant to be a joke or not. Probably not. And suddenly Sherlock wasn't making eye contact, alternating between his laptop screen and somewhere over John's right shoulder. Very not good.
"We'll speak occasionally, I'm sure," Sherlock said, sounding as far from sure as he ever got, "but I don't think I can go back to just the skull for company anymore. Too dull."
What. What? What the bloody hell? Was Sherlock assuming John was going to die before they got around to retiring? Had he deduced it from John's propensity to throw himself between Sherlock and danger whenever he could? Was Sherlock going to let him?
"What is going on in that little mind of yours?" Sherlock asked. "I can see the wheels spinning frantically."
What's going on in yours? John wanted to shout back, but he was hung up on the fact that Sherlock had been planning on his death. Good god. Sherlock's morbidity was hardly news, but there were lines.
When John still didn't say anything, Sherlock said slowly, "Whatever is going through your head right now is wrong."
John took a deep breath. "So you're not planning on replacing me with bees when I die?"
"Die? Why, exactly, would you be dead?"
Sherlock sounded horrified enough that something eased in John's chest and he took a deep breath. "Why wouldn't I be talking to you? You've gone this long without mortally offending me, it's not like I'm going to stop for no reason!"
"I said occasionally!"
Now they were both shouting; always the hallmark of a conversation going well.
"You didn't sound very sure!"
"How should I know what you'd be doing after you retire!"
John opened his mouth to yell back and came up short. Why wouldn't Sherlock know unless Sherlock had no intention of being there with him? That was – that was worse than Sherlock planning on John being dead, actually. The pressure around his chest was back, twice as tight.
"I thought – I suppose it was stupid of me," he said at a normal volume, carefully controlling the waver that wanted to break through. He was a grown man; he would sound like one.
"What?" Sherlock demanded, overloud.
Best to just come out and say it; this could hardly get worse. "It never occurred to me that we'd be retiring separately," John said in one breath.
"It didn't." It wasn't a question until he added, "Not even recently?"
"What –" John started, but Sherlock cut him off.
"All you've talked about with Mike Stamford the past two months is his supposedly hopeless pension fund. He's also terrified that his wife wants to use this opportunity to have a baby, by the way, so I'd avoid talking about children."
Something about the first statement didn't quite ring true, but John ignored it and desperately seized the opportunity to steer them back towards normality. "Sherlock, have you been following me to the pub again? I invite you, you know, that means you can come with us."
"Answer the question."
John wished Sherlock would go back to not looking at him; he couldn't even think of lying to him with that pale gaze boring into him. "Ah – no."
They'd lived together for so long John couldn't remember a time when bacteria cultures and microwave eyeballs weren't a typical part of everyday life. They had joint bank accounts, for god's sake. And – and John had had a plan in the back of his mind, half-formed for so long he'd barely noticed it humming along in the background that, maybe, once The Work wasn't the driving force in Sherlock's life, he'd be willing to consider some sort of – romantic relationship.
It sounded ludicrous now that he'd acknowledged the idea existed. And more than a little pathetic. It wasn't that he was sitting around pining for Sherlock, he was – waiting. Biding his time. For what would probably be more than a decade; they weren't that old yet.
That made it worse.
It was just – Sherlock had been the most important person in John's life for far longer than any of his relationships had lasted, and John – John loved him, as deeply as he'd ever loved anyone. Harry, perpetually thinking herself funnier than she really was, had jokingly taken to calling Sherlock John's platonic life partner, and while he huffed and rolled his eyes to her face, privately he'd thought he would be perfectly content should it be true.
God, he was the real nutter in this flat, and he wasn't the one who could talk to bees.
"You're distressed." Sherlock had the gall to sound surprised.
"Of course I am, my whole end-of-life plan just got shot to shit," John snapped, honest as his anger bubbled back to the surface, though logically he couldn't be mad at Sherlock for his own stupid assumptions. "Sorry if I find having to come up with a new one distressing."
He stood up and strongly considered grabbing his jacket off the peg and leaving the flat, but storming off to a pub to get pissed over the fact that he'd set himself up to be disappointed by his best friend yet again seemed like too much work, so he went quietly upstairs instead.
Sherlock watched him go.
An hour later, John was staring at the familiar cracks in the ceiling above his bed, trying to figure out when he'd become so turned around about how his friendship with Sherlock was supposed to work. It was impossible to pin down a single point in time when John had skipped merrily off into the woods, making absurd plans, as Sherlock stuck to the path they'd forged.
His phone beeped.
I won't be retiring for at least fifteen years, barring grievous injury or death. SH
Sherlock was texting him. While he was in the same flat. Sadly, that was not unusual, though it was preferable to yelling, or, worse, conversations that took place without John present. He put his phone back down on the bedside table.
It beeped again. And again.
Circumstances change. Murder, marriage, scientific anomaly, funerals, Mycroft's meddling. SH
Why would you assume nothing would change? SH
Because John bloody well didn't want it to change.
John texted back, Why did you let me read the notebook?
There was a muffled beep from the hall. "I decided to give you answers. To see what would happen." Sherlock's voice carried easily through John's bedroom door because the prat was standing on the other side.
"You showed me something no one has ever seen in your whole life to see what would happen?" John asked, dangerously close to yelling again as anger and incredulity warred with his stupid hurt feelings. He got up and flung open the door. "What did you think would happen?"
The only light was from the streetlamp outside filtering in through the curtains, but it was enough for John to see that Sherlock was in his dressing gown, his hair in the sort of wild disarray that happened when he'd been running his hands through it constantly. "I put my mind in your hands, I thought you'd be clever enough to see it for what it was, but you –" He made a frustrated noise before putting on the ridiculous voice he used when imitating John. "'Oh, Sherlock talks to bees? Why not? I'll make tea.' It was supposed to push you one way or the other."
John cleared his throat, anger turning to confusion in the face of Sherlock's dishevelment. "Push me? What are you talking about?"
The repetition only agitated Sherlock further. "You'll bumble along dating dull women until you finally pick one and then where do your retirement plans end up? Certainly not with me," he hissed. "But if it worked and you saw it for what it was, we'd – but it didn't work, John, because you're an idiot!"
"What didn't work? Sherlock, you were acting like you regretted I knew about the bees!"
"I did after you started asking me questions like I was some sort of circus –" Freak went unspoken, but it echoed in the room nonetheless, hanging heavily in the air. Sherlock's mouth was pressed into a thin line.
And, alright, the ability to talk to bees wasn't precisely normal, but nothing about Sherlock was normal, that was the best thing about him. If he could tell what a man had had for lunch, who he'd been with, who'd paid, and who had tried to play footsie under the table before conducting some corporate espionage, why not something else extraordinary?
"I'm sorry," John said. "I was only curious, I should have – observed and deduced. Or tried to, at any rate. I suppose... I thought I had a handle on all of the major Sherlockian components, but then I found out I was missing this huge, basic piece of you... I should be used to being wrong."
"You've known for weeks now," Sherlock said shortly, arms crossed over his thin chest, feet bare on the floorboards. He looked strangely vulnerable despite the fact John had seen him almost strangle a murderer who'd broken into their flat with the belt of that particular dressing gown.
"I do. And you may not pleased with the results, but I am," he admitted, a little surprised at himself. "I'm sorry if you'd rather I didn't know, but I'm grateful. That you trusted me, at least for a little while. So thank you."
"It's got nothing to do with trust, of course I trust you. I'd never have given you the journal if I didn't." Sherlock growled, completely missing the point. "Open your eyes! It's the lack of result that grates, your placid plodding on the beaten path!"
"What result?" John half-shouted back, flinging his arms up in frustration.
"One way or the other, John. But you stayed the same." Sherlock sighed in exasperation. "You need it spelled out for you. Fine." Suddenly, he was looming into John's personal space. Way, way into it. "Toward," Sherlock breathed, so close their noses could brush. Startled, John swallowed, but didn't move. "Or away," Sherlock leaned back just as suddenly, a gulf of cold air rushing between them. "I've had enough of this asymptotic hell."
Finally, John understood.
"Ah, the dimmest bulb has clicked on." The brashness was poorly done; Sherlock retreated a step, poised as if to vault down the stairs on a second's notice. "I'd congratulate you, but I wouldn't want to give you the false hope of one day attaining intelligence."
John understood that Sherlock was a moron.
John was, too.
He'd fancifully – and somewhat wrongly – thought of the notebook as Sherlock's soul, but that wasn't how Sherlock thought of it. To him it was his mind, what had shaped him into the person he'd become. The most important thing he could give anyone access to, however clumsily achieved. John was meant to either reject Sherlock entirely, see him as the freak he was so often accused of being, or –
One way to be sure.
He closed the distance between them, frowning when Sherlock started to jerk away. "You didn't get a result – no, you didn't perceive a result because there's nowhere I can be pushed." Cautiously, gently, he laid his hand over Sherlock's rabbiting heartbeat. "I've been here the whole time, you madman."
Normally, John would find it a little humiliating to have to push up onto his toes to kiss someone, but Sherlock was frozen, wide-eyed, and thus uncooperative. His breath hitched when their lips met and John felt one utterly terrifying moment of doubt, blood turned to ice in his veins.
Then the force of Sherlock's response rocked John back onto his heels but not an inch farther, long arms locked tight around him. It was uncomfortable with his hand wedged between them, still over Sherlock's heart, but it was good. Better than good. When Sherlock pulled away he didn't go far, slumping into John, face buried in juncture of his neck and shoulder. John blew a wayward curl off his wet lips, giddy with relief and elation. "Is that settled, then? Can I go back to assuming we're going to retire together?"
Sherlock attempted to squeeze the air out of his lungs. "Yes," he mumbled into John's skin. "I'll need a human control for the bee experiments."
John sighed. It was a happy sigh, but he'd never admit it.
There was a particularly stubborn weed in the middle of one of the lavender bushes lining the front of the cottage that had managed to live through two of John's attempts to remove it. This was try number three. John had finally got a good grip on it without any lavender bits poking into uncomfortable places when a bee landed on his arm, just above where his gardening glove ended.
With a long suffering sigh, he stopped what he was doing (a branch of lavender smacked him in the ear when he released the weed) and waited.
She began shuffling back and forth, raising her wings up and down, which John had taken to calling the Sherlock is too lazy to text or walk around to the front of the house dance. Sherlock called it something much more dignified that John purposefully did not remember to irritate him.
John creaked to his feet, knees protesting like they always did these days. He trotted around the side of the cottage, careful out of long-ingrained habit to not jostle his passenger. "What do you need?" he called. If Sherlock was out at the hives, which he always was, he'd be able to hear.
No answer. His heart pounded faster, the result of years of close calls. It didn't matter that nothing had ever happened to them here; that didn't mean nothing would or could. John rounded the back corner of the house at a healthy jog and stopped short.
Sherlock was covered in bees.
John snorted in amusement and went to get the smoker.
"Pheromone miscalculation," Sherlock explained when he was free of his blanket of bees. "Her hive was unaffected," he added, gesturing at John's erstwhile insect companion.
"Mhm," John said and kissed him.
"Need to get inside," Sherlock mumbled without moving away. "The smoke won't last long."
"Then get," John replied, swatting his bum. Sherlock made a face at him that meant Come with me so I can monologue at you about my research. It was a very specific expression. And, well, John could use a break and a glass of water, so he followed Sherlock inside. The weeds could wait. Hell, the weeds he'd pulled before trying the stubborn one had probably grown back in the time it'd taken to rescue Sherlock from his own bees.
He got his water as Sherlock drifted in his wake, expounding on his topic of the day – methylparaben levels in queen mandibular pheromones, apparently. Wandering into the sitting room, he flopped down in the worn, familiar armchair that had made the journey with them from Baker Street.
"I considered it," Sherlock said abruptly, decidedly out of place in his aside about methyl oleate, coniferyl alcohol, and linolenic acid.
"Context, Sherlock," John prompted. He wasn't a mind reader, despite his ability to categorize Sherlock's facial expressions. That was just practice. Lots of practice.
Clearly stalling, Sherlock reached over and plucked John's water from his hand and drained it. Then he tried to hand the empty glass back, despite the coffee table being a foot away, because he was still a git like that.
"You started this conversation," John reminded him. He stoically ignored the glass Sherlock was now wiggling in front of his nose like the motion would somehow entice John to put it on the table for him.
"I briefly deliberated the relative merits of adapting certain bee pheromones for use on homo sapiens."
Frowning, John started to ask, "Is that possi – wait. Wait. Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
Of course, Sherlock chose that instant to give up and return the glass to the kitchen, strategically moving out of John's line of sight even if John twisted in his chair. "I was becoming wretchedly desperate, you realize. My thoughts had a mind of their own. A superior mind, obviously, I was at least sixty percent of the way to devising a method."
"Yes, I realized that you were a mad wanker a long time ago. I can see why you waited twenty years to tell me that, it almost seems sweet now." John couldn't help giggling when Sherlock swept back into the room to scowl at him. "God, you are a truly unique sort of daft."
"And yet you chose to be with me."
Grinning, John said, "Apparently I find uniquely daft to be irresistibly attractive."
"Hmph," Sherlock grunted, but the scowl melted into something much softer. "I should have a shower," he declared a moment later. "Need to remove the pheromone traces. You should leave off your interminable weeding and join me."
"Oh, I should, should I? Maybe if I wasn't the only one doing it it would go faster, have you thought of that?"
"As soon as you can train the bees, we'll switch," Sherlock offered with a smirk.
"You just told me that you considered using bee pheromones to get me to date you and now you think I'm going to have sex with you?"
Sherlock stepped in front of John's chair and leaned down, arms braced on his upper thighs. He smelled of smoke and sun and flowers. "Yes," he murmured against John's lips.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sherlock was right.