Expensive, Mycroft texted, when Sherlock moved into 221B.
Split two ways, Sherlock texted back.
That’s the expense.
* * *
When Sherlock first came out of her room in nothing but the pyjama bottoms and the dressing gown flapping at her ankles, John had merely looked at her with the eyes of a man who had seen many things. There was slight surprise, but no judgment, and when he spoke it was in the mild-mannered spirit of an observation. “Usually people wear more.”
“They sometimes don’t in Burkina,” Sherlock said, wondering if John was going to be difficult about this after all.
“We’re not in Burkina.”
“Good, you got milk,” she said.
John put away the groceries. Sherlock went back to her dermestidae.
“You don’t do that in public,” he said, after a while.
“Now, where would I find a tarsus of an even-toed ungulate in public?” Sherlock joked. “Though no doubt Moens has trotters. Do you know sales for ox-cheek and beef skirt went up two-hundred-and-twenty-five percent last year?”
John looked vaguely ill. Sherlock supposed there could be a multiplicity of reasons, but all he said was, “Beef skirt?” not without frustration.
Sherlock was looking at a pakicetus tarsus online and making comparisons between that one and the ankle the colony was currently stripping, taking occasional notes. “Greater omentum,” she said absently, and only then realized John wasn’t frustrated about not knowing beef skirt; she must not have answered his question.
She looked down at the colony and realized it must be the dermestidae. They did eat flesh. Of course, John wouldn’t know anything about them. You wouldn’t, unless you worked in a museum or were an entomologist or knew anything at all, really, so she said, “Oh, the beetles. Of course I don’t feed them in public. And you know, it’s not as if they exactly all come crawling if you drop a bit of meat. It takes a while for the . . . . My colony is contained. Though if spills aren’t cleaned up, et cetera, you get Anthrenus ver—carpet beetles.”
John looked at the beetles, so Sherlock went back to pakicetus. “Ox-cheek, really?” he asked after a moment.
“What about tongue?”
“Still a delicacy. Whereas tiger penis—” Then it registered, his utter lack of interest in the beetles, or in ox-cheek and tongue, even though he’d asked. He was just humoring her now, and why; she thought about it; it was difficult living with someone polite, who would humor you. Mycroft never did, and thinking of Mycroft she realized John was utterly disinterested in beetles because she hadn’t answered the question he wanted: the dressing gown. “Of course not,” she answered. “We’re not in public.”
“I don’t . . .” John frowned slightly, opened his mouth, then shut it again. “Can you put the tiger penis where the petri dishes are? In the fridge. Wouldn’t want to get it mixed with sausage.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Even if it has gone down in price, it still costs upwards of two-thousand quid. Thirteen hundred, dried; whereas tiger penis wine—”
“There’s tiger penis wine?”
“I meant, I would wear a shirt in public,” Sherlock said. “But you’re not public.” She had known him one week at this point, and already he wasn’t public. Then again, Sherlock was not the best about privacy; anyone in the flat might have been subjected to pyjama bottoms, dressing gown, and no shirt. Sherlock was not the best about having flatmates, either, especially polite ones who humored you.
The slight frown was back again on John’s face, never wholly unkind. “Most people only have one or two conversations at once, to add to what I was saying before.”
“Does it bother you?” she demanded. “I mean the dressing gown,” she added, before he could fail to follow her again.
John looked at the beetles for a while. Actually, he looked all around the room, anywhere but at her: the skull on the mantle, lycopodium growing in a plastic-lined shoe box by the window, Van der Graaf generator on loan from Daresbury in the corner, and the orrery, always with the orrery; nowhere to put the dratted thing.
(“If you had only looked at this,” John told her later, after that dreadful painting, “you would know about Earth circling the sun, and all these delightful things.”
“That,” Sherlock said, “is a very rare and delicate example of Sassinid mina-kari enamel craftsmanship; it’s worth twenty-thousand pounds and invaluable to history; please don’t tinker the red one that way.”
“The red one which is Mars?” John asked. “That red one?”
“I can’t be bothered about Mars.”
“But you can about Persian crafts.”
“Because it affects our daily lives, John. Keep up.” )
Currently the orrery was wedged in between a pressurized tank of carbon dioxide and a large jar of glycerin. As John looked at it, Sherlock realized he was looking at her after all, even though he wasn’t.
“It’s fine,” he told her.
(“It’s all fine,” he had told her.)
That was . . . surprising, Sherlock thought, because there were some things about it that were obviously not fine. When she didn’t wear a shirt, he looked at her. Looked away when she tilted her head toward him, but more to be polite than to hide that he had been looking. John was clever enough to have worked out that they both knew he was looking.
Yet there was something (moral decency, or some other wasteful invention) that made him not want to look, so when she caught him, he stopped. This and several other things (his hands dripping half-way between tap and towel, lips parted, eyes dilated; and another time, a glass half-way up to his mouth) made her realize he did not mean to be looking, and often didn’t notice that he was, until she caught him at it.
Irritating, Sherlock thought. She did not mind John looking at her, but she minded him looking away. It was more difficult trying to tell if people were hiding something if they were already trying to hide something. Not that John often lied, but he sometimes did and that was interesting, very interesting; it wasn’t as interesting when he was looking away or off in his room or distracted because of something so utterly tedious as John happening to catch sight of her breasts.
So Sherlock added a vest to the pyjama bottoms and dressing gown combination, how wearisome, but John didn’t complain about the bones or the beetles or the barnacles, and he stopped looking away, and he never commented on the vests being his (too short), so she guessed that was that.
* * *
Distractions, texted Mycroft.
I don’t get distracted, texted Sherlock.
I didn’t mean you.
* * *
That wasn’t that, of course.
They came back to the flat successful from a case, and Sherlock had been happy. She had almost been burned by lye and John had had to shoot his gun. And another man—serial arsonist—had actually been burned by the lye and the reaction of the skin had been interesting; there had been bubbles involved. And then she and John had almost died, but only for a little while.
So she had been distracted as they entered the flat, talking, and only remembered later that she had also been undressing: unwinding her scarf, taking off her coat, leaving trails and dollops of cashmere and wool on the way to her room. She hadn’t taken off her shirt (silk) until the corridor, but not because she had in mind society’s ridiculous taboo against nudity; it was just next and on the way.
Standing in the parlor as John was, he could have only seen her back and the strip of her bra (satin) against it. Then he would have seen her bare back and maybe just the slight curve of breast, but no more, because by then she had reached her door, and even if she never bothered to close it, her wardrobe was on the other side of it. That was if he was still watching by then, which he was.
She hadn’t been thinking about him watching, or taboos, or anything of the sort, talking from the victim’s laptop to the arsonist’s jaundice, distracted by a lightness of being. Everyone was so consumed all the time with little tiny troubles; the pointlessness of it all weighed down on her, but she had solved the case, and had almost been burned with lye. This made her forget about a lot of things for a minute or two; she felt so light, coming back to the main room in pyjama bottoms and vest, sitting in front of her computer and opening her website.
She could hear John in the bathroom, going for a piss while the water boiled for his tea. She could hear the urine in the toilet, the flush, the tap running, hum of the kettle and the clunking of a mug, tink of spoon. Sherlock liked these things; they fit nicely. He had shot his gun so his hand couldn’t be shaking now, and they had both been poisoned; she liked these things a lot.
Everything was tied up, no loose ends, all the pieces fit, each detail integral to a single solution, nothing pointless at all. Especially not John, John wasn’t pointless, John and methodical shuffle sounds: they all tied up; they all meant something; they meant the case being solved and almost dying, and Sherlock almost burned with lye. This made her feel very light, thinking about it.
Sherlock typed out a sentence and called, “If you insist on blogging about our latest case, kindly don’t describe our arsonist as sallow.”
“Why not?” John came in from the kitchen.
Sherlock stared at him: innocent expression, mug in hand. No visible explanation for sudden mental ineptitude, but it may have been internal. She turned back to her computer. “Lacks precision. Jaundiced is accurate. Vital to the case.”
“Jaundice?” said John, politely blank.
“Were you listening?” Sherlock stared at him again.
“When?” he asked, frowning. “While you were stripping?” John took a sip of his tea. “Afraid not. I wasn’t going to say ‘sallow’,” he added, as he moved for his chair.
“Yes, you were.” She went back to typing. “Your prose is almost Victorian at times.”
John set down his tea and picked up the remote. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
He nodded and sat down. “How was jaundice vital?”
“I saw the itching cream in the cupboard.”
“But we already knew Simmons was the arsonist.” John was flipping through channels.
“That was how I knew where he was,” Sherlock said, still typing.
“I thought that was the soot.”
“You weren’t listening because I was taking off my clothes?”
John only glanced her way. “It’s distracting when you do that,” and he sipped his tea.
Distracting, he said, as if it were only natural. Of course it was, Sherlock realized: distressingly natural. Everything was so natural: sex, tea, the telly blaring inane and excerebrous things. Television was an invented device (36” Panasonic Flat Sceen, Aspect 16:9, Model TX36PL32), but somehow it seemed the most natural of all, a culmination of eons of breeding and feeding without any rhyme or reason to it, any sense of order or direction, like whales.
Whales were fundamentally nonsensical; Sherlock hated them. Little lobe-fin fish coming up to breathe on land and what was the point of lungs, sinuses, legs, double- and single-pulley ankles if ambulocetus was only going to crawl back into the muck again, and what was more, what was the point of knowing it? What was the point of Mary Anning? Paleontology, evolutionary biology, that whole sordid mess; when man began to walk upright and his brain case rearranged to fit the stance, why did he not learn to control impulses, to think logically, to channel all his myriad energies into usefulness; instead man was pointless. He was an animal; he acted like an animal, except far less orderly than some animals. They could have all been insects; they could have been like hymenoptera: workers, drones, just one queen with the pluripotentiality of the hive her responsibility, hers alone. Sherlock liked bees. She loved them, really. She wished they all were bees and she was a bee and their cells all slanted down, like bees.
Not feeling light at all any more she went for the violin, away from John and his telly and tea and naturalness. Bacewicz, mathematics, B-flat, resonating chambers; pitch was an invention of the mind to differentiate wave frequency. Sherlock ripped the bow across the surface until it screeched, then back again.
“Alright, then?” John said from the door, after five insufferable minutes of this.
Sherlock turned away and played.
“Right,” John said. She knew he nodded, even though she wasn’t looking at him. John was just the sort to nod to himself, and lean against the doorframe, and be holding his tea, most likely. Sherlock sawed furiously at the violin. “Was it something I said?” he asked, after a while of standing there.
She closed her eyes and grit her teeth. She couldn’t tell him that she was upset because she wanted them to be bees.
It wasn’t that it wouldn’t be polite because he wouldn’t understand; it was that he wouldn’t understand, and that infuriated her. (If they but had been bees—)
“You know, Sherlock, it’s always going to distract me, you taking off your clothes in the middle of the living room,” John was saying. “Doesn’t have to mean a thing more than that, unless you want it to. I’m just a bloke.”
Sherlock began to play “Flight . . .” so violently that it might as well have been a physical attack, until he went away.
* * *
Too much disclosure, texted Mycroft.
Too much closure, texted Sherlock.