As pleasant as it would have been for Sherlock, it was unhappily not possible for him to spend all of his time in the chemistry lab. There were other [boring] classes that one was occasionally required to attend and also occasionally one needed to eat and to sleep and whenever he tried doing either one of those things in the lab someone would point out the idiotic rules.
Some things, of course, would have been dangerous to do anywhere someone might see.
He had a small bedsit in a house on the edge of the town centre, having persuaded his annoying brother that forcing him into the company of others in one of the residential halls could lead to nothing good. Mycroft didn’t know about the drugs, of course. If he had done, Sherlock knew that his brother would have instantly dragged him off to some dreadful facility and forced him into sobriety. Worse, he would have run to Mummy and tattled.
All of which was completely unnecessary, of course. He was not an addict; he was a user. The cocaine did not control him; he controlled it. Although no doubt Mycroft would simply label it an act of childish rebellion. What did he know anyway? His only rebellious act was to sneak a third slice of cake.
At least cocaine wasn’t fattening.
Admittedly, though, the morning after could be a bit grim. But he hadn’t really understood how very grim it could actually be until this particular morning. [Or afternoon, really, given the angle of the sun coming in through the window.] Unpleasant reality only hit when he rolled over and managed to open his eyes to discover John Watson sitting in the room’s lone chair.
He was just sitting there, still as a stone, watching him.
Sherlock tried to decide what the first words out of his mouth should be.
He might have passed it all off as influenza or something equally acceptable.
Sadly, the yellow elastic band, the syringe and the needle that were lying on the floor would probably put the lie to that.
Because anything was better than the rising sense of shame he was feeling, Sherlock decided that righteous indignation might be best. “What are you doing here? Thought your rigorous studies kept you in London.”
John seemed to consider his words before speaking. “I had today free and so I thought it would be nice to make a day trip to Cambridge to see my best friend,” was what he finally said.
Sherlock swung his legs off the bed and stood. “Need the loo.” He went into the small bathroom and closed the door. After a moment, he locked it, knowing that John would hear the click. He pissed, brushed his teeth and splashed cold water in his face. A haphazard effort to bring some order to his tangled curls was fairly useless, so he tugged at his tee-shirt to erase the wrinkles and finally opened the door.
John had switched the electric kettle on and was staring at it intently.
“A watched pot,” Sherlock said, hoping to lighten the mood as he pulled his jeans on.
John glanced at him. “Oh, my god. It’s even worse than I thought. Drugs have reduced you to spouting clichés.” His grim tone belied the light-hearted words.
Neither of them said anything more until the tea was made and they were both sitting again, John in the chair and Sherlock back on the bed. Each held a chipped china cup that John recognised as coming from the Holmes kitchen.
“How long?” John asked finally.
Sherlock decided that he simply couldn’t be bothered to lie. “Last year, Michaelmas term.”
He could practically see the thoughts skittering through John’s mind, as his friend tried to recall every time they had seen one another since then, wondering if he had missed something. Sherlock briefly considered reassuring John that it was not his fault, but only that Sherlock was so skilled at dissembling that kept the truth hidden. Probably wisely, he decided that those words would not help the situation.
John finally spoke again. “Why?”
“Why not?” He knew the flippant tone was a mistake even before John’s lips tightened in anger. “Oh, John, what did you expect? Here I am, surrounded by idiots, all of whom hate me. Course work is mostly terminally dull. And I have no idea what I want to do with whatever is left of my life. Seems like a pretty clear recipe for disaster to me.”
John took a swallow of the tea and ran a hand through his slightly too-long hair. “You know I couldn’t afford Cambridge, Sherlock, or would I be here.”
“You are not my nanny, John,” Sherlock said harshly.
“But I am your friend.”
Sherlock gestured as if tossing something into the air. “Moon dust,” he said. “As ephemeral as that.”
He thought those words would make John angry; why he wanted to do that was a question with an answer he did not want to confront at the moment. But in the event, John did not look angry again; he only looked sad.
“I remember the night I saw you dance your final recital,” John said musingly. “You were…magical. I thought that you could do anything, be anything, that you wanted.”
Sherlock abruptly missed dancing, almost regretting the decision that he was not prepared to make the sacrifices to be a professional, choosing instead to focus on chemistry. But he brushed off John’s words. “Stage lights and beautiful music. That was not really me. I’m just a freak with a racing brain and a drug habit. You’d be better off without me.”
“I will never be better off without you.” John was bristling.
Sherlock always loved it when John bristled on his behalf. He sighed and finished his tea. His mind was slowly clearing and so he eyed his friend more carefully. “You did not come here simply to visit me,” he drawled. “There is something you want to tell me.”
“Maybe not today,” John said.
“I am not some swooning Victorian damsel,” Sherlock bit out. “What is it? Have you met the future Mrs Watson? Are you here to ask me to be your best man? Well, sadly, I must decline that honour, as I shall be busy that day. Whatever day it is.” Sherlock hoped that his tone conveyed only icy disdain and not the pain that the very idea made him feel.
John just looked a bit bewildered. “What the fuck are you on about?” Then he stood and took both cups back to the tiny counter where the kettle sat.
“John,” Sherlock said insistently.
John took a deep breath. “I have signed on for the army,” he said. “They will pay for my medical training.”
Sherlock leaned back against the wall and pulled his knees up to his chest. “And then send you off to be killed,” he said flatly.
“Well, I hope not,” John replied as if it were a joke.
Sherlock knew that desperate times called for desperate measures. [Damn, he thought, maybe John was right about the drug-induced clichés.] For one fleeting moment he considered confessing all. Although how he could confess to John speaking words that he had never had the courage to use, even in his own mind, was a bit of a mystery.
And that gave him an idea.
“I forgot to tell you about the mystery I solved the other day,” he said.
After blinking a bit at the non-sequitur, John took his seat again. “What mystery?”
“One of the idiots in the chemistry lab had a boyfriend who was getting mysterious messages. Hand-written in some kind of odd code. He was convinced that the boyfriend knew the code and what the messages said, but he kept denying it, insisting that it had to be a joke.” He ducked his head and smiled just a bit. “I have something of a reputation around uni for helping people with their problems. Although that is not my motive.”
“You just like the puzzle,” John said, sounding fond.
He had known that John would understand. John always understood, at least when Sherlock did not hide things from him.
“Did you solve the mystery?”
“Of course. I proved that the boyfriend had a wife in Wales. The code was something they started as children.”
“Poor bastard,” John said.
There was another lull in the conversation, before John tossed out his own non-sequitur. “So you think it’s a bad idea for me to go into the army, but it’s fine for you to inject that crap into your arm?” No longer fond; a harsh tone instead.
Sherlock flinched away from the the words and the harshness. Perhaps not so much a non-sequitur after all. “That’s different.”
“Actually, I don’t think it is,” John replied.
It began to seem as if some honesty might actually be required. Sherlock could only hope that it was possible to walk right up to the edge of the truth and not fall over. The falling might feel good, but the landing would hurt. He took a deep breath. “Sometimes it gets…a bit…lonely,” he said, staring at the table of elements poster hanging above his desk.
John was quiet for so long that Sherlock finally did glance at him. His friend looked worried and unhappy. “I’m sorry, Sherlock,” he said. “Sorry to be such a shite friend.”
Sherlock bent over to clean up the debris from last night’s activity.
“Bloody hell,” John muttered. He came over to bat Sherlock’s hands away and then picked everything up himself, carefully. After a look around the room, he found an old copy of the Sun and used it to wrap up the evidence. “You read the Sun?” was all he said, shoving it all into his battered canvas knapsack.
“Best place to find the gossip.” Sherlock leaned back against the wall, stretching his legs out to their full length. “You are not a shite friend, John,” he said. Then, feeling the need to dilute the tension in the small room, he smiled faintly. “Of course, how would I know? Never had anyone to compare you to.”
John only twitched his lips a bit. “Arse.” He dropped into the chair again. “What are we going to do, Sherlock?” he asked softly.
Sherlock was quiet for a moment, before shaking his head. “I don’t know, John,” he said, the words uneasy on his tongue because they were a lie.
Of course he knew what was coming. John was going off to be a soldier and a doctor and he would be brilliant and good, because that was who John Watson was. And someday, maybe after one too many pints or on some painfully sentimental occasion, he would reminisce about the odd friend he used to have. The boy who danced and loved mysteries and who burned out like a shooting star.
John finally jumped to his feet. “Put your shoes on,” he ordered. “We’re going for Chinese.”
Sherlock groaned, but did as ordered.
They sat at the back of the nearly empty little restaurant and ate spring rolls and prawn fried rice and egg drop soup. John talked about his classes and his part time job at Costa. Sherlock talked about his experiments and the violin lessons that he had resumed several months earlier.
They did not talk about the army or the drugs.
After they had lingered far too long, as the restaurant filled and emptied and filled again, the slightly irritated waiter dropped the bill and two fortune cookies down onto the table. They split the cost of the meal and pocketed the cookies without opening them.
It was starting to get dark as Sherlock walked with John back to the train station. En route, John took the newspaper-wrapped bundle from his knapsack and threw it into a deep rubbish bin.
As usual, John gave him a hug before boarding the train. Sherlock tried not to cling to him too tightly. “Come to London soon,” John said.
Sherlock only nodded.
It wasn’t until the train had vanished from sight that Sherlock took out the fortune cookie and broke it open.
Sherlock crumpled the paper and tossed it over the barricade, down onto the tracks. That earned him a dirty look from an old lady nearby. Briefly, he considered boarding the next train and chasing John to London.
But, then, instead, he just walked out of the station, thinking that it was the kindest thing he could do for the person he loved.
His knowledge of astronomy was extremely limited, but he could only assume that an exploding star could cause collateral damage and John didn’t deserve that.
John forgot all about the fortune cookie until he reached into his pocket for some coins to pay for a cup of tea from the trolley. He smiled and cracked it open, eating the stale pieces before unfolding the slip of paper.
And then he gave a bark of laughter that startled the woman sitting across the aisle.
He held up the paper. “My fortune,” he said by way of explanation.
She smiled. “Good news, then?”
“I have no idea. It’s in Chinese.”
She gave a soft laugh and returned to her book.
John decided to save the fortune to share with Sherlock the next time they were together. He tucked it safely inside his wallet, behind his student I.D. card, his National Health card and a picture of himself with Sherlock from some forgotten fancy dress party in primary school; he was a cowboy and Sherlock wore a flouncy white shirt, an eyepatch and a tricorne hat.
Sherlock Holmes the Pirate,
It made him smile again, to see those two grinning boys. His arm was draped across Sherlock’s shoulders, while Sherlock fiercely brandished a plastic cutlass.
And suddenly, without knowing why, John realised that he was blinking away tears.