Eleven-year-old John Watson had a dilemma.
Dilemma was a fancy word, a posh word, one his nanny used when he'd done something particularly naughty.
"John Hamish Watson," Nanny would say, with that special hard click of her teeth over his middle name that let him know that although she pretended to like him alright, she'd rather he eat worms and die. "What have you done now? Spilt the milk all over the counter, have you? Well, this is a fine dilemma you've set me. Shall I go straight to your parents with word of this, or is it the pantry?"
John usually chose the pantry, because he really didn't like disappointing his parents, and because secretly he knew the pantry choice pleased Nanny, because it meant she could watch telly in peace while he sat in the dark with the onions and sardine tins and Penguins packets for hours.
John sighed, wrinkling his nose, and lifted the lid of his shoebox to peek in at his dilemma, who just also happened to be his patient. The dilemma sat unmoving in the bottom of the box, nestled among a handful of reeds John had ripped from the edge of the nearby pond. John wasn't sure, but he thought his patient might have nestled just a tiny bit closer against one of the two chemical hand warmers he'd arranged in the box.
John shut the box, folded his hands atop the lid, and chewed his lower lip. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and he had all the time in the world before Nanny looked up from BBC One and noticed he'd scarpered. His patient, on the other hand, needed attention now.
"You shouldn't get attached. Land turtles aren't native to the United Kingdom."
"I know." John shifted on the uncomfortably cold park bench. He refused to glance up, because if he did Sherlock Holmes would likely manage to drip jam in his eye. Again. And as much as John enjoyed strawberry jam, he enjoyed it most on his toast, and not stuck in his eyelashes.
"It's probably someone's pet. Got lost and was too stupid to hibernate."
John bristled. "He's not stupid. He's hurt. Maybe he's not the sort that hibernates, anyway."
"He is." The tree branches spread up above the bench and over John's head rustled alarmingly. John stared resolutely at the shoebox on his lap, even as rain drops - and something stickier - dripped onto the back of his neck. "Sherlock!"
"Sorry." Sherlock muttered. "That dollop got away."
"Why," John asked, trying to be patient with his odd friend, "must we be out smearing strawberry jam all over a sycamore on a fucking cold afternoon in bloody November?"
"John." Sherlock sounded mildly scandalized. "Does Nanny know how you use your mouth?"
Nanny didn't, and she'd probably back-hand John if she did. But lately he'd discovered he liked using swear words, and if he couldn't practice cussing at Sherlock, what was the point, really?
"It's for an experiment," Sherlock continued. The branches over John began to crack and groan as though under a strong wind. John squinted and glanced up cautiously. The sycamore wasn't gigantic, but it wasn't small, either, and Sherlock Holmes was rather out on a limb in the grey sky, all long legs wrapped around a dangerously skinny branch, one pale hand gripping a jam jar, another a sticky paintbrush. "Bees."
"The bees are asleep, Sherlock."
John rolled his eyes and peeked in at his patient again. The tortoise looked more like a rock than a living thing; dirt-covered, legs pulled into its shell, head mostly vanished. There were old puncture wounds on several of the poor guy's scutes. Probably a dog. Dogs often mistook turtles for chew-toys.
It wasn't the old scars bothering the tortoise, though. It was the cold.
"Testudo horsefieldii," Sherlock said. "Commonly called the Russian Tortoise, although actually native to Afghanistan. Prefers direct temperatures above 30C, and a diet of broadleaf vegetation, and fall to spring hibernation. Generally grow no large than 6 inches diameter, which is why you'll find an influx of the creatures in the pet trade."
"Brilliant," John said, as he always did, because the younger boy was just that: brilliant.
The old sycamore groaned, and Sherlock's feet and legs dangled in front of John's face, quickly followed by the rest of him. Sherlock was like a cat, he always landed on his feet, even if it was from two yards up and onto slick, muddy grass.
"You can't keep him, John. You've no way to keep him as warm as he needs, indefinitely. If he were healthy, he'd be hibernating. He looks almost dead anyway. And Nanny will have a heart attack if she finds a reptile in your room."
"Shut up," John retorted, clenching his fists on top of the shoebox. Sherlock wasn't trying to be cruel, John knew. Sherlock just looked at the world differently than other people, and John adored that about his friend, really, but sometimes Sherlock was just a bit much -
"I can," Sherlock muttered after a moment of strained silence.
John looked up. "What?"
"I can keep him warm. I've got the lamps. Well, right now I'm using them for a decomposition series, but I've thought the samples were contaminated from the beginning, really, Mycroft probably got them from a butcher and not the morgue as I asked, but - "
"Really?" John stared at his friend.
Sherlock was tall for his age, more bone than muscle, angular and wiry. His nice black trousers were covered with muck and jam, his expensive shoes muddy, and there was a snag in his school jumper. Also sycamore twigs in his curls and jam on his hands and face.
Sherlock was rarely helpful, but when he was, he was extremely helpful, almost as good as Father Christmas, really. But still -
"You wouldn't experiment on him, would you?" John clutched the box a little closer. "He's a living thing, Sherlock. He needs to be kept warm and dry and fed and…and loved…until spring. Then, you know, if he's healthy, maybe we can release him."
Sherlock pursed his lips.
"No, not native," he said. "He'll only get sick again. We'll keep him. And…not experiment, but observe. Watch his weight, his intake and out-take. He'll need calcium, just the right amount. Mycroft won't mind. So long as I don't get attached. They live a long time, you know, John. Forever."
Nothing lived forever, John knew that. And Sherlock could be a bit of a drama queen. But he had a good heart, even if he was mad as a fucking loon.
"Right." John hopped up, held the box out. "Can we go now? Is Mycroft home? Can we ask him? What should we keep him in, anyway? A tank?"
Sherlock leaned on John's shoulder, and considered the sleeping tortoise. "Land turtle, John. He'll need some room. Perhaps peat moss, in the bath tub. We'll hang the lights from the shower. And a thermometer, I'll need to check his temps hourly, at least at first, until he starts eating - "
John's heart felt like it was swelling to burst. "What shall we call him?"
"He doesn't need a name, John, it's a tortoise…"
"Sherlock. Everyone needs a name."
Sherlock was warm against John's side. He smelled like jam and sweat and dirt and John knew he'd never ever have another mate quite like him. Sometimes, when John sat alone in the pantry with the onions and sardine tins and Penguin packets, he wondered if there was a God, and if so, if God had sent Sherlock to rescue John from the dullness of everyday life.
"He has a scientific name," Sherlock replied, arch. "Testudo Horsefieldii."
"Fine." John hid a smile. "Testudo it is, then."