Chapter 1: A Study in 1995
January 29, 2010
“Hey, just a minute–”
John looked over his shoulder at Mike who lagged behind a few steps as they approached the biochemistry labs. His old friend appeared a bit breathless and in the fluorescent light on the hospital corridor it seemed to John that Mike was also uncharacteristically nervous. John slowed down, his eyebrows drawing together impatiently as his leg flared up in pain at the change of tempo, and wondered why on Earth Mike should be apprehensive of introducing John to his potential flat-mate.
“Look, John, about this guy – seriously, I don’t know but I thought it could be worth a try–”
“What’s wrong?” John stopped altogether, shifting his weight on the cane. “Does he have two heads or what?”
The giggle Mike let out sounded a bit forced. “Just – I’m not saying you should take him for a flat-mate. Most people wouldn’t stand him for five minutes.” Grabbing the door handle, Mike gave John one last piece of advice. “If possible, try not to punch him.”
The door opened and John walked in.
Oh, well. Shit.
John finished about two uneven steps on autopilot, cane digging heavily into the floor linoleum, unable to not stare at the man at the worktop – because Mike? You’ve got to be kidding. You can’t be trying to set me up with Sherlock Holmes.
With his stomach well on its way down through the floor and into the mortuary below, John watched as Sherlock looked up to take one sweeping gaze over him – and then he turned back to his experiment. As if he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
It’s been years, John mentally kicked himself to re-connect the short-circuited bits in his brain. He might not recognise you at first sight.
With a considerable effort John tore his gaze from the tall dark-haired man and looked at Mike. “Bit different from my day,” he remarked, aiming for casual. He wasn’t about to make a scene here but he sure as hell was going to have words with Mike afterwards. Whether this was Sherlock’s idea of a joke or Mike had somehow found out about them, it was just not on.
“You’ve no idea,” Mike chuckled, passing his palm over a spectrometer almost lovingly, and John realised that Mike thought they were speaking about the lab equipment. Could it be that Mike genuinely had no idea about–
Then Sherlock began to speak, something trifling to Mike, and John all but forgot about his damn leg because right, Sherlock had changed over the years. His hair was tidier and his movements more composed, elegant even, but the God damned voice remained the same. Suddenly John wished that Sherlock had already recognised him so he could go away and pretend that today never happened. Hurry up and get it over with, he said to himself, then fished out Harry’s old phone and offered it to Sherlock sooner than he could think twice about it.
Sherlock accepted the phone with thanks and returned it a moment later without a single sign of recognition. What the hell?
“How do you feel about the violin? I play the violin when I’m thinking.”
So they call it violin these days? Then John took a closer look. No, Sherlock definitely didn’t look high, and besides, Bart’s staff wouldn’t grant access to their labs to an addict. He must be clean by now, thank God for small mercies.
“....flat-mates should know the worst about each other.” The end of Sherlock’s little speech registered with John and he thought, you pretentious git, what about the really worst I know about you?
He didn’t say any of it aloud. In fact, aloud he said very little. Only some Sorry’s and What’s. The more Sherlock talked, all confidence and false geniality, the more baffled John grew. Why is he not recognising me?
And then Sherlock said something about having to dash and John grasped at his last straw. “Is that it? We’ve only just met–” he stressed it out, swallowing the after years of not seeing each other that should follow, “and we’re gonna go and look at a flat?” Instead of sorting out the mess we failed to sort out so many years ago?
Sherlock, for all the deprecating look in his eyes was worth, obviously had no idea that something could be wrong. He launched into a stream of observations and deductions that made John’s chest heave with laboured breathing as he struggled to keep his annoyance in check – not because of the contents, but because he was having his life story deduced for the second bloody time and Sherlock didn’t seem to remember the first instance.
Then the door closed and Mike grinned. “He’s always like that.”
“You tell me!” John muttered.
“What, have you met him?”
“No, not really,” John assured him, biting on his tongue. To himself, he added: I only married him.
September 6, 1995
“But – you are not alooooone, I am here with yooooou...”
Sherlock sidestepped the little brunette who stood in the middle of the pub, swaying on her feet and wailing the long notes of the song from the radio at the top of her lungs – the party was so in progress already that nobody seemed to mind her.
Young students in various states of inebriation were bumping into him from all directions as he stood close to the bar, scanning the crowd. It was now or never, his only chance. Mycroft was leaving for a month’s study visit in Brussels. Sherlock would rather prefer the other side of the globe but the Channel would have to suffice: Mycroft was about to be busy, taken up with the internship, and less likely to intervene in Sherlock’s affairs. Also, Sherlock was pretty sure that the possibility of his younger brother nurturing this plan had never crossed Mycroft’s mind.
There: A student about twenty-one, medicine. Currently chatting up a girl but the appraising looks he’s giving to people of both sexes indicate he’s bisexual. Self-confident: the girl he’s hoping to pull is two inches taller than he. Bearing and gestures: father – no, grandfather in the military, his life model. Already a bit pissed but still mindful of how much he actually drinks – possible alcoholic in the family, probably the father. Writing calluses, beginnings of wrinkles around the eyes: hard-working student, takes it seriously. Shirt, shoes, haircut: dire need of money. That will do.
Sherlock waited for the girl to leave for the loo and took her stool without any preamble.
“I have a proposition for you,” he said to the raised eyebrows.
“Look, mate, I’m already about to pull–”
“She’s three years older than she told you she is. And while some boys would prefer an experienced lover, you’d find out that this one is a mouse – she still shares a bedroom with her sister and their house doesn’t have a guest bedroom, if that’s what you’re counting on.”
The blond eyebrows rose a bit higher. “What – is she your ex or–” His blue eyes narrowed. “No, not your ex.” Sherlock mentally congratulated him for the observation – it didn’t happen often that people actually used their eyes – but then he withdrew the compliment immediately when the medical student leaned closer and whispered: “Are you even of legal drinking age? Wouldn’t want problems in this pub.”
“I’m eighteen, thanks for your concern,” Sherlock snapped impatiently. “And I’m not here for drink. As I said, I have a proposition for you.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock watched the girl whose place he’d taken emerge from the ladies, taking in the situation at the bar with a long face and tossing a few choice words in their direction that got swallowed by the music before they could reach them. The older student didn’t seem to notice any of it. Good.
“So you’re saying I should be hitting on you instead?”
“If anything, I am hitting on you. More precisely, I want you to marry me.”
The boy set his glass carefully onto the bar and gave Sherlock a good once over, an openly curious expression on his face like he was suddenly faced with something he had never been quite sure really existed. “You’re an alien,” he remarked, blinking a little heavily. The beer was probably getting the better of him.
“An alien.” The boy droned on. “Look, I know about anatomy, and this–” he jabbed his finger in the air an inch from one sharp cheekbone, “–this isn’t normal.”
Sherlock frowned, momentarily distracted by such absurdity, and checked his face in the mirror hanging behind the bar. The older boy started to giggle.
“I was hoping for a close encounter tonight, but I had no idea it would be one of the third kind,” and he downed the rest of his beer, nearly sputtering it out with a fresh burst of giggles when he took in Sherlock’s befuddled expression.
“Never saw myself as the target material for abduction. Go on, what’s so special about me?”
Thankfully this was exactly the kind of question designed to pull Sherlock out of his confusion and set him back on the rails.
“You’re studying medicine, it’s the only thing that really matters to you, and you’re good at it, I’d say an over-achiever even. Still not good enough for the scholarship, shame, isn’t it? Your family disapproves, would like to see you in a job already to help them pay off the debts your father has brought upon them with his drinking. You have one sibling, I’d say slightly younger than you, who’s only ever been asking you for money instead of being able to help you, so there you are: a good student with no resources for the next term.”
The student blinked twice and lifted his hand. Sherlock flinched in preparation for the punch that was sure to come but the object of his latest deductions merely signalled the bartender for another pint.
“So you’re an alien spy, collecting information on people. D’you know everything about everyone in this room?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes exasperatedly. “I am trying to have a business conversation!”
“Business? A minute ago you were on your way down onto one knee–”
“I need money. There is a trust fund established by my impossibly old-fashioned grandmother who set down a condition that I cannot access the money unless I am twenty-one or married. I don’t want to wait three years, I can’t live and do what I need on the allowance from my meddlesome brother who’s prying into how I spend every single penny, so I have to marry. Do you want to be a doctor?”
The young doctor-to-be didn’t touch the new pint, studying Sherlock with surprisingly sober eyes. “You can bet your money on it.”
“Then here’s the plan. I just need your signature on the papers. The tedious ceremony can’t be helped but I believe the price I will pay you will be worth the effort. After one year, the marriage will be dissolved. Well?”
Sherlock watched the thought processes whirling behind the other boy’s furrowed brow and only when his ribcage began to hurt did he realise that he had been holding his breath – ridiculous, as if there was any reason to be nervous. At last, the boy smiled.
“This is bonkers. Utterly, absolutely bonkers. Why not?”
“317 Harrow Road. Meet me there tomorrow at noon. Don’t forget your birth certificate.”
With that, he clicked his patent ‘human’ smile and left the bar, before the Gangsta’s Paradise roaring from the loudspeakers could inflict permanent damage on his brain.
January 29, 2010
The black car with tinted windows pulled up the kerb as soon as John stepped out of the main entrance of Bart’s. The back door opened and a smooth voice called out.
“If you don’t mind getting into the car, Doctor Watson.”
John actually did mind. Being spirited away from the streets in a car that only tried not to look Governmentalrang too close to home to all the spy and alien movies he liked to watch. But he was equally aware that trying to resist was about as useful as complaining about last winter’s lack of snow. After all, he reckoned that he had had this coming for years.
He settled himself in the seat, his cane awkward in his hands. The man in the three-piece suit on the next seat leaned slightly back as if taking a better look, or enhancing the advantage of the extra inches he had on John as he stared at him down his nose. After a few minutes of this silent contest John sighed resignedly and opened the conversation.
“Well – the famous brother at last. Mycroft – is it?”
The man nodded appreciatively. “Congratulations on your memory.”
“Are you going to step in now – what, fifteen years late?”
“Fifteen years and five months.” Mycroft produced a large folder and began to leaf through the pages as he spoke.
“And ‘stepping in’, as you put it, would hardly be of any importance now. I cannot say I approved of my brother’s stunt or the way he chose to circumvent the terms of the will. But I could have had the marriage annulled any time, Doctor.”
John kept his eyes on the folder. Was that his school leaving certificate? And his discharge report from the field hospital in Afghanistan?
Aloud, he said, “From the way Sherlock hurried with it, I thought I’d be a free man again the very day you got back from Brussels and found out that your brother married off under your nose.”
“And yet, here you are, over fifteen years later, still married, though I wouldn’t say happily.”
John shrugged. “Arranged marriages are rarely happy.” Now there was definitely something at the bottom of the folder that looked suspiciously like his therapist’s notebook. What the hell? Mycroft Holmes apparently gave the word ‘meddlesome’ a whole new meaning.
“Tomorrow, you’re going to have a look at a flat with your estranged husband. Shall I expect an invitation to the late wedding party at the end of the week?”
John decided he’d had enough of this baiting.
“Listen, Mr. Holmes, you very obviously know something that I don’t. Sherlock – he doesn’t remember me. I know, almost sixteen years, and all that, and he was probably high as a kite all the time I knew him, but– I remember him, and he’s just... so if you know what happened to him, get on with it because this seat is giving my leg hell.”
Mycroft nodded. “Very well.” He closed the folder and tapped his index finger on it. “My brother doesn’t know about this, if case you’re wondering. In fact, he genuinely isn’t aware of the fact that he’s married.”
John had issued enough What’s for today in the biochemistry lab already, so he kept himself from dropping one here as well.
“I assume the news has never reached you that after the predictable end of your liaison, my brother suffered an overdose on cocaine and had to be secured in a rehabilitation facility.”
John winced. “No, I didn’t know.”
“I can’t really blame you for leaving when you found out about this particular vice of his, given your life experience with addicts,” Mycroft Holmes said in a tone suggesting that blaming John was his favourite pastime.
“So, what? Did Sherlock suffer a memory loss?”
“It’s more complicated than that.” Mycroft folded his hands around the handle of his umbrella. “Are you familiar with the Method of Loci? It’s also called, somewhat frivolously, the Memory Palace. It’s an ancient Greek mnemonic device, a method of memory enhancement which uses visualisation of places to organise and recall information.”
“I noticed he had an excellent memory,” John remarked, “but here we’re talking about a hole in that memory.”
“Using this method, the facts become objects. You can store them, keep them for easy access – or you can throw them away into a rubbish bin, and forget about their existence altogether.”
“So.” John clenched his fist to keep the tremor at bay. “Because the whole affair was only rubbish to Sherlock, he threw it away. I get it.”
“For many reasons, I wish the situation was this uncomplicated,” Mycroft said, shrewd eyes clearly observing John’s shaking hand, the way he kept rubbing his aching knee, obviously enjoying watching the effort John was making in order not to squirm under such scrutiny.
“From what I gathered, the fallout from your entanglement brought my brother into a state of great distress. Sherlock was never good at handling stressful experiences. I assume that he distanced himself from the whole experience in order to protect himself.”
“You’re saying that he was hurt.” John kept his eyes on his cane. “That makes two of us. I wish I could forget it as easily as he did.”
“You should understand, Doctor Watson, that forgetting is not exactly what has taken place here. My brother must have stored every relevant piece of information into a certain room in his Palace, hid everything behind a locked door, and he only made himself forget about the key.”
“And what happens if he – finds the key?”
“You’ve been there, Doctor Watson.”
Yeah, he had. He still remembered the look of panic in young Sherlock’s eyes, the sting of his words, his carefully calculated rejection.
But damn, John needed the flat-share. And the odds that Sherlock wouldn’t ever remember him were actually pretty high. He’d deduced John’s life story not an hour ago, for the second sodding time, and yet he didn’t remember him.
“It’s a flat-share. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll find somewhere else – no hard feelings.”
“Interesting you should mention feelings, Doctor.”
Meddlesome and omniscient, those were the words Sherlock had for his brother. Well, John wasn’t about to argue with him.
September 7, 1995
Sherlock was already at the register office, pacing the length of the corridor, the heels of his shoes tapping out every second of the five minutes remaining to noon, when the medical student from yesterday showed up.
He must have still been feeling the after-effects of the party. He kept alternately pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing the back of his neck.
“Okay, so I wasn’t imagining it. I really got engaged to an alien last night.”
“Repetition spoils every joke. You’ve got the papers, I hope.” Sherlock hurried him inside the office, snatching his birth certificate and the lease contract from his jacket pocket before the boy could gather the coordination to produce them.
“Remind me why I’m doing this, because it obviously isn’t for your charming personality.”
“Spare me your chat–up lines, our relationship is purely business.”
“Wait a minute! I don’t even know your name!”
And so it shall remain, Sherlock thought to himself and manoeuvred the boy to a small table, forcing the forms on him. When his ‘intended’, John Hamish Watson, as his birth certificate stated, had finished filling them in, Sherlock completed his parts and shoved the forms at the registrar before John could have a proper look at them.
“The name’s Sherlock Holmes,” he said as a peace offering once they were back outside, John still looking a bit dazed.
“Really? Got the impression that you were scribbling down something longer.” Okay, not so dazed. Unexpectedly observant. But no need to worry here. The registrar owed him a favour, and Sherlock had arranged it so the publicising of their impending marriage wouldn’t be displayed too prominently.
“Now we have to wait fifteen days,” Sherlock continued, ignoring John’s inquisitive glances. “If we are lucky, my meddlesome brother won’t sniff it out from where he is and no formal objection will be raised.”
Barely twenty minutes past noon. That had gone pleasantly smoothly. With decent traffic and a good cabbie, he could even make it back into the lab in time for a new round on the cartilage decomposition samples...
“I know, this is business, money for me for a signature and one year of married status, but you know, we’ve just met, and I – I’d like to know at least something about you.”
John looked ill at ease, which was an unexpected and somewhat jarring look on him. Was there any social norm Sherlock had missed? He quickly scanned the relevant cupboards in his Mind Palace but sadly all his folders on personal interaction were piteously thin, and quite understandably none of them offered any advice on the required proceedings around getting married for convenience. Really, what was he expected to do?
Well, the last thing he needed was for his new fiancé to change his mind. Reluctantly, Sherlock ticked off his plans on carrying out more experiments and set about investing a little extra time into his business transaction.
At least, it wasn’t so bad, Sherlock reminisced on it later, which was rather surprising because conversing with people of his age was usually beyond boring. John wasn’t boring; in fact, he didn’t get any chance to be – all the talking was done by Sherlock, John apparently being happy just to sit there and listen. Oh bollocks. Nobody was ever happy listening to what Sherlock had to say about people around them. Sherlock was probably being rude – again – and John was only being accommodating. The chance of securing the finances for his further studies was probably enough cause for John to accommodate anything.
January 30, 2010
Good to know that some things never change, John thought grimly as he surveyed the mess Sherlock had had the nerve to make in 221B Baker Street even before he technically rented it. The man in question was spinning around, trying – and failing – to straighten things up haphazardly and the landlady, Mrs. Hudson, chirped away like a little bird, drawing his attention away from the restless man in the Belstaff coat.
“There’s another bedroom upstairs,” she pointed her finger upwards, “if you’ll be needing two bedrooms,” the ‘I’m a woman of the world’ attitude clearly expressed in her cheeky little grin.
“Of course we’ll be needing two bedrooms,” John said perhaps more forcibly than necessary. Afterwards, he hoped that it had sounded bitter and resentful only to his own ears.
September 9, 1995
Sherlock looked up from his Petri dishes, his nose scrunched at an unexpected yet familiar smell – oily, spicy, roasted vegetables – and squinted against the late afternoon sun coming through the window to find John Watson hovering at the edge of the lab bench, a take-away box of Chinese in his hands.
“What are you doing here?”
“Good evening to you too, alien Sherlock Holmes. Fancy dinner?”
“Oh, dull. How did you find me? You’re not stalking me, are you?”
“Nah, stalking my own fiancé, as if he was avoiding me on purpose.”
Nice observation skills there, Sherlock thought with some annoyance. He was indeed purposefully avoiding John, not wanting to let his dire record on social interaction spoil the nicely transacted business he so desperately needed. He had nearly run into John in the student canteen yesterday but had turned on his heel as soon as he spotted him.
John ran his fingers through his hair. In the light from the window it looked almost exactly the shade of gold-nickel-copper-zinc alloy, the colour of white gold that ordinary people never see because of the rhodium plating the jewellers add on top.
“Actually, I asked one of my mates – Larry – where I could find you to give you a black eye. So you’d have a matching set, y’know. Told him you’d insulted my sister. He was happy to oblige.”
Oh yes. Larry Whatshisname and his cheating girlfriend. Sherlock absentmindedly brought his hand to his black eye and the touch tugged loose the plaster above it.
“Do you get off on running around and insulting people? By the way, you should have had at least one stitch on that eye-brow. The plaster isn’t working, it’s going to scar.”
Sherlock rearranged his Petri dishes, raking through his brain to find a polite way to encourage John to leave so he could finish his experiment. Only there didn’t seem to be a polite way, so in the end he settled for tetchiness, hoping that John would get the hint. “Why do you care?”
“Oh, perhaps I like my husbands pretty? Come on, you’re bleeding on the worktop.”
Shit, so he was. Right into the algae in the dishes. Experiment ruined. That was why he hated distractions. He looked at John defiantly and gestured towards his eyebrow.
“You’re going to be a doctor. Patch me up then.”
They went to Sherlock’s place, a dingy little flat in an even worse neighbourhood, and John fixed his face with a couple of butterfly stitches. It left Sherlock a bit disappointed, he was actually looking forward to some first-hand experience with surgery needlework, but John assured him that the scar would be only tiny and his eyebrows were bushy enough to cover it.
“First you describe my cheekbones as an anatomical impossibility and then you offend my eyebrows,” Sherlock grumbled.
John laughed. “Trust me, Sherlock, I don’t have the slightest problem with your face.”
John insisted on eating and against his better judgment Sherlock again found himself enjoying the meal, and again John didn’t seem to mind that Sherlock talked more than ate. It confused him: John kept smiling at odd intervals even though Sherlock wasn’t telling him anything flattering or amusing. It was disconcerting, but also challenging: throughout the dinner, Sherlock set out conducting an experiment in finding out what made John Watson smile and what Sherlock had to do in order to replicate the results. Of course, experimenting on a sample set of exactly one specimen was generally bad science but Sherlock had a feeling that in John Watson, he had found an outlier to the average conversation partner.
When they finished, it was already very late.
“Calling it a night, then?” John smiled.
“Suppose so.” Sherlock checked his phone and re-set the alarm. “I have to repeat today’s experiment, starting early in the morning.” Now that he thought about it, he could use the blood contaminated samples after all, especially if...
“I have a morning lecture as well,” John informed him, interrupting his train of thought. Sherlock spared him a distracted glance, his mind already recalculating the algae concentrations. John continued, sounding a bit uncertain.
“Would you mind – it’s a bit far to the campus from where I live–”
Oh, right! A good host doesn’t keep his guests overtime. “Then you better go, John, if you want to get some sleep.”
“Um, I was wondering, if I could... perhaps kip on the sofa...”
There was no sofa in Sherlock’s flat. And there Sherlock had thought that John’s observation skills were above average. Well, can’t have everything.
“I’m sorry John, but I’m not accustomed to having visitors. There’s no other bedroom, you see,” he said politely, his mind already back on the algae.
John left rather quickly after that, and it left Sherlock with a slightly disconcerted feeling that he had somehow done something inappropriate. Social norms were unbearably tedious, but he was polite and considerate this time, wasn’t he?
January 30, 2010
John liked to think of himself as a sensible man. That’s why, while crouched over a pink clad corpse in an abandoned building God-knows-where, with one Detective Inspector whose face conveyed that he’d had his life share of dealing with stroppy Sherlock Holmes and one Forensic expert who seethed like a startled porcupine when ordered unceremoniously to stay behind the door, the first question that came to John’s mind was:
“What am I doing here?”
“Helping me make a point,” Sherlock muttered under his breath.
Well, that was an improvement. “I’m supposed to be helping you pay the rent,” John protested sotto voce.
“Yeah, well, this is more fun,” Sherlock remarked gleefully. John winced.
“Fun? There’s a woman lying dead.”
“Perfectly sound analysis,” Sherlock deadpanned, “but I was hoping you’d go deeper.”
John chuckled. “You surely don’t want that, trust my word on it.” He ignored the oddly questioning look Sherlock shot him and bent to sniff at the woman’s mouth instead.
September 11, 1995
“What are you doing here?” Sherlock hissed. He would have much preferred to yell, given that John had crept up on him unexpectedly from the quiet darkness of the office corridor, but then that would defy the very point of the corridor being quiet and dark.
“Stalking my favourite alien. Obviously,” John whispered, the smirk audible in his voice. Then he added: “Covering your back is what I would call it. And I kind of get the feeling that complicity in crime is what the police will call it when they catch us.”
Sherlock huffed and retrieved the lock-pick from where he had dropped it on the carpeting, then almost jumped out of his skin upon the feel of a hand grasping his shoulder. Damn him, John could move as stealthily as a ghost. Who could have known?
“What are you doing here, by the way? This is the bursar’s office.” John noticed the engraved plate on the door as it swung open.
“Exactly. I suspect that the bursar is embezzling money from some funds. I need to find evidence of where the money goes. It should be somewhere in these files,” Sherlock explained, keeping his voice low, as he approached the filing cabinet.
“Why don’t you tell the police and leave their work to them?” John inquired from where he stood by the door, keeping an eye out into the corridor.
“The police won’t listen. They never do, not until you have proof.” Sherlock dismissed the idea and rummaged in his jacket for a pocket light.
Silence settled in the room, only faintly disturbed by rustling of papers and smooth shuffling sounds of the drawers. Minutes ticked by and Sherlock’s frustration grew. “There’s nothing untoward here,” he muttered under his breath. “No off-shore accounts. No regular investments...”
John paid him no heed as he wandered around the office a bit, checking out various items on the small side table by the door. “Well, that’s an early Christmas gift,” he remarked after a while. Sherlock rolled his eyes at the incongruity.
“But I guess the kids are wont to snoop around for gifts, that’s why he keeps it in his office,” John went on with his irritating observations.
“Mr. Hemsworth doesn’t have children, John,” Sherlock mumbled around the pocket light in his mouth as he sifted through another file. Damn, where could the money go?
“Doesn’t he? Then why would he buy Star Trek Next Gen POGS? If I were ten years younger, I’d kill for them.”
Sherlock shot a glance at John who was standing at the side table, a little box in his hands. Children’s toy. For God’s sake.
“Yes, thank you for your input,” he said absentmindedly and put another useless file back. He reached for yet another and then suddenly his hand froze. “Oh. The parent-teacher association fund. The gifts.”
He let the files scatter on the floor and took two fast strides to John, snatching the box from his hands and taking a better look at it. “Are they valuable?”
John licked his lips. “It’s definitely an item, all sixty of the originals. Honestly, all the kids are crazy for POGS this year, haven’t you noticed?” After a poignant pause, John relented. “Well, I suppose you wouldn’t.”
“I have better things to notice than toys, John,” Sherlock snapped. “Could it be a collector’s item?”
“Suppose so.” John shrugged. “There’s the whole lot, you see. That’s the Captain, and Riker looks rather dashing with the beard, and look – that’s Data, hey, he actually reminds me of–”
“Too much information!” Sherlock covered his ears. “I get it. It’s about aliens, your area of expertise. Let’s go, case solved.” He put the box into his pocket and nudged John out of the door.
John giggled softly. “I didn’t even start! The one with the ears is a Ferengi. Don’t touch the ears if you ever meet one, by the way...”
“Are you even listening to yourself? How could I meet one? They’re fictional!” Sherlock stopped and spun around to face the older boy who was doing his best not to burst into full on laughter right there in the darkened corridor.
“You’ve been getting a rise out of me,” Sherlock realised.
“Yeah, it’s fun,” John admitted, wiping the corners of his eyes.
“Fun? This is my work!”
“And it would go much better without that stick in your arse, don’t you think?” John remarked, stifling another giggle as they slipped out of the building.
“John, I’m serious.” Sherlock hoped his voice sounded imploring enough. “You can’t tag along on my cases. It’s not strictly legal all the time and I need you out of jail at least until the fulfilment of our agreement.”
“You forget that I need that agreement as much as you do,” John said. “And I don’t mind, you know. Being your partner in crime.”
January 30, 2010
“But you’re not his friend,” called out the arch voice from behind him, not a question, merely a statement. So unshakable and smug was the certainty behind those words that it made John turn back and face the Sergeant again, even though he didn’t particularly want to. She was the one with the dubious state of her knees, after all. Her insight into Sherlock’s character was certainly biased, and her characterisation of it rather succinct.
“He doesn’t have friends. So who are you?”
John pondered telling her the truth but he didn’t particularly fancy picking up dropped jaws from the ground – not with his leg.
“I’m nobody. I just met him.”
The Sergeant shook her head at him. “Okay, bit of advice then: stay away from that guy.”
Bit too late for that, I’d say, John thought as he turned again and walked away.
September 17, 1995
“And isn’t that Holmes,” drawled a smooth voice behind him. Sherlock quickly evaluated his situation. Dead-end street in front of him, the Library behind the corner wouldn’t be open yet so early in the morning; his landlord had forbidden smoking in the flat and Sherlock planned to enjoy at least one cigarette in the open before the Library opened. Bad planning. Now there were at least three of them behind him. Sherlock straightened his spine and turned around.
“Bradley, Graham, Moseley. To what do I owe this distinct displeasure so early in the morning?”
The three young men came closer to him, forming a half-circle. None of them had the height to actually loom over him but the threatening effect was no less.
“Look at him, he remembers our names,” one of them laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound.
“Maybe it’s his favourite memory, him telling on us to the Dean,” another sneered.
“I see you’re still not over how lamely you cheated on the last end-of-term exams–”
The first punch swung faster than Sherlock anticipated. He nearly lost his balance but at least he avoided the full impact. Still the side of his face burned with a fresh graze: Graham wore rings.
The shout came from the direction of the Library and it shattered Sherlock’s concentration – luckily, it also stopped the three attackers from whatever they were planning next. They quickly backed away from him, as if nothing had happened, and Sherlock straightened his jacket and dusted off the nonexistent dirt from the lapels, smirking derisively even as the graze on his cheek stung. He already knew that voice.
John came up to him, his stride slow and measured and hands stuck into his pocket leisurely, and nudged Sherlock with his shoulder. “You all right?” He fixed the three with an even stare.
“Gentlemen, this is John Watson, my friend.”
This time, all three of them laughed, a cruel mixture of incredulity and mockery.
“How much is he paying you to be his friend?” Moseley asked. Sherlock lifted his chin and didn’t look at John. He knew exactly how much; they’d agreed on the marriage price at their first lunch. He heard a faint grinding sound, then a sharp intake of breath.
“Actually, I’m not exactly his friend.”
Their faces spread with the satisfied grins of people who felt that the rules of normalcy had reasserted themselves over the world.
“I’m his fiancé.”
Sherlock very much hoped that he didn’t look dazed when John took him by the elbow and led him away from the alley. As to the three of his vindictive acquaintances, they probably still looked like a new addition to the Campus sculptural groups long after he and John disappeared from their view.
“That was uncalled for,” Sherlock found his words at last, over a cup of coffee in the cafeteria.
“You’re welcome,” John retorted, unfazed as ever. “And I wasn’t stalking you this time, I only wanted to be the first to get my hands on the only copy of the British Journal on Neurosurgery our Campus Library purchases every month.”
“I mean it, John. I don’t need a knight in shining armour.”
“That’s good,” John nodded, “since my only armour will be a white coat, and instead of a sword I’ll be wielding a surgical thread. Should I patch you up again, by the way?”
“Can you be serious just once? This–” Sherlock gestured between them, “–is a business transaction. I don’t need, and more importantly, I don’t want anything beyond that.”
John looked at him with infuriating patience. “Sherlock, why is it so weird that we could be friends?”
“I don’t have friends,” Sherlock scoffed.
“Not for the lack of trying, I see,” John remarked ironically. “Why are you so hell bent on deciding that it wouldn’t work out? I think it would.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know, I think I do.” John was looking at him pensively, deep furrow between his eyebrows. “You’re the most observant man I ever met,” he continued, “you deduce the important stuff about people as easily as you breathe, so tell me: why did you pick me up in that pub the other night? What was it that made me special?”
“Need of money,” Sherlock replied instantly. “Dedicated to your life dream of becoming a doctor, enough to accept my plan,” he amended the harsh first statement after a moment.
John only shook his head. “You could have a homeless man for that. Or a random escort to pose as your husband for the money. But you picked out me. So now cast your mind back and tell me what you observed.”
Sherlock didn’t know why he obeyed but he did. His mind flew backwards through time until he found himself again at that dreadful noisy pub, looking at the blond boy at a bar. Off-hand remembered deductions floated around him, visualised for his mind’s eye in strings of flashing letters, but this time...
This time, he registered another set of deductions. He didn’t know he was making them, it must have been his subconscious registering things: Reserved but loyal. Calm but daring. Patient but stubborn. Unassuming but clever. Addicted to danger.
Sherlock opened his eyes and swallowed against a dry throat. “I saw potential,” he said. Then he buried his face in his hands and groaned. “How could I not have noticed it?”
“You did notice it,” John said. “And you chose me. You’re marrying me because of it.” His voice was kind, but for Sherlock it might as well have been the kindness of a vet suggesting a merciful way of putting down a suffering animal.
“Think about it,” John advised him and left. Sherlock didn’t lift his head. His mind was whirring.
Could it be that their paths were somehow meant to cross, that the very planets aligned and struck a chord of ultimate harmony at the moment they met – no. Sherlock couldn’t believe this. He didn’t believe in fates written in the stars. Hell, he didn’t even believe in the solar system.
What John was proposing, that was an entirely new territory. Here be dragons. Before Sherlock’s mind’s eye, a new reality unfolded: one where he had an assistant, a friend, a partner. That possibility had never occurred to him in his wildest dreams. He didn’t know how to navigate a partnership, a friendship. All he knew was how to piss off people.
No. This couldn’t work. Sooner or later, John would come to his senses and leave all the same. Saving his time would be kinder.
January 30, 2010
“Anything on the menu, whatever, free.”
It was nice to meet someone who was apparently fond of Sherlock for a change, but to John it seemed that this restaurant owner was rather overdoing it. He laid the menus on their table and continued boisterously:
“On the house, for you and for your date.”
“I’m not his date,” John protested, suddenly wary. What if this innocent assumption of being a couple sparked something within that complicated memory system of Sherlock’s?
Luckily, Sherlock seemed to remain completely oblivious. Concentrating on the case, something as mundane as being mistaken for a gay couple was probably beneath his threshold of conscious perception.
John took a moment over his plate, studying his new flat-mate’s profile as he looked out of the window, soft purple light reflections and blue shades painting that familiar face in new, strangely appealing colours. Sherlock both had and hadn’t changed over the years. He still talked a mile a minute and his tastes in the strange and macabre remained the same, but gone was the coltish, prickly youth who charged recklessly at anyone who appeared at the perimeter of his comfort zone. This adult Sherlock looked surer of himself, more comfortable in his skin, but also colder, like some incomprehensible, untouchable demigod, distanced from the world of puny mortals. John was already familiar with that emotional detachment, but while in the young Sherlock it was a coldness born from ignorance, disregard for feelings that had never stirred his heart before, in this grown man it felt more like a conscious decision for the lesser of two evils, both of them experienced but only one chosen to live with.
Fifteen years was a very long time. Maybe Sherlock had reconciled with the human side of himself at last and found someone who suited him. If John wanted to know, there was no time like the present. So he steered their conversation carefully. It helped that Sherlock was giving him only half of his attention anyway.
“You don’t have a girlfriend, then?” John asked as if en passant.
“No, not really my area,” Sherlock replied, his eyes still fixed on the window.
Okay, time for the real question. “Right. D’you have a boyfriend?”
Oh, that elicited a reaction. Sherlock looked at him sharply and John suddenly started to feel guilty. Really, Sherlock’s private life was none of John’s business. Despite what their marriage certificate stated, John had no claim over Sherlock, no right to question his choice of partner.
“Which is fine, by the way,” he deflected awkwardly.
“I know it’s fine,” Sherlock said quickly. Oh great, John thought, now I look about a mile deep in the closet.
There wasn’t any graceful way out of this and John knew with painful clarity that whatever he could think of saying would be misinterpreted. In the end, he let it happen. After Sherlock denied having a boyfriend, John assured him that being unattached was fine, and Sherlock topped the entire pile of awkwardness by making a little speech about being married to his Work. John wondered how many times Sherlock had had to turn down somebody’s advances, given how well rehearsed that speech sounded.
Married to my Work, indeed, John thought ruefully. Well, it wasn’t always like that.
September 22, 1995
The ceremony was awful. The registrar, who owed Sherlock a favour, knew better than to prolong it. The pair of witnesses, acquaintances bound to him by reluctant gratitude, were duly scared into subdued silence. Sherlock recited his part of the legal minimum in a hurried manner, and John...
Well, John was there, as he had promised to be. Saying the things that were required of him. And the whole time his eyes never left Sherlock’s, accusing, disappointed, angry.
Sherlock had successfully avoided him since that morning at the Library, the whole of the five days that remained to the wedding. Now John stood here, his lips pressed into a thin, determined line, and looked like a fighter who checked the magazine of his gun and found that he’d got one last bullet left.
“You may now kiss,” the registrar prompted. Oh, it’s over, thank God, Sherlock thought and began to turn away when John suddenly leaned forward, grabbed him by the shoulders, drew himself up on tiptoes and pressed his lips to Sherlock’s mouth.
It was a mostly chaste kiss, as some small part of Sherlock’s brain that wasn’t frozen with surprise registered. Another small part was glad for it: Sherlock abhorred the concept of passing bodily fluids between two people. Yet another small part of him was riveted by the feel of another mouth against his, another breath so close to his face, by the way his own lips yielded to the pressure, moved forward to touch, to follow, to taste, to sample, to connect and hold on, to give and take in return, to offer and keep and never let go – but these were only very small parts of him, because the rest of his formidable mind was currently blank and serene as a clear morning sky lit by the sun still below the horizon, filled with a strange feeling of wanted, wanting, desired, accepted, appreciated, worthy, loved, lovable–
Sherlock snapped his head back, opening his eyes, not realising until now that he had even closed them. John still looked up at him but all the anger was gone, replaced with– was that smugness? Why? As if to answer his unspoken question, John looked down pointedly. Sherlock followed his gaze and realised that his hands had moved to John’s waist of their own volition, fingers grasped tightly at the belt of his trousers and still pulling him close.
Sherlock let go abruptly and John only smiled, not mockingly but affectionately, and Sherlock wished the ground would open and swallow him because John was in love with him and that was simply unacceptable. Sherlock was horrified. It was just as ridiculous that his obedient, dormant libido should be awakened like a Sleeping Beauty by a single kiss. That just shouldn’t be possible.
Love was never meant to be a part of this. Unwanted distraction, a mere chemical defect. He couldn’t let anyone conquer the snow-capped mountain of his self-imposed reclusiveness and become his pressure point.
“Your certificates should be ready within two days or so,” the registrar was saying but Sherlock wasn’t really listening. He finished the legal proceedings in a strange haze and fled the building.
He needed to clear his head.
January 30, 2010
“.... but that was ages ago,” Sherlock stopped in his manic whirling through the living room. “Why would she still be upset?”
John looked around. The grey-haired DI, the acerbic Forensic expert, the smart Sergeant with a jar of eye-balls in her hand – everyone stopped and stared. It took a few more seconds for Sherlock to realise that he’d crossed one of those invisible lines that everyone navigated with innate ease without really thinking about it – until someone blundered right across them and brought them into the forefront of everyone’s attention.
Yeah, John thought, why would anyone be upset over things that happened years ago?
He was already half-way into his memories of the warzone when Sherlock stepped closer and made everything twice as bad.
“If you were dying... in your very last few seconds, what would you say?”
“Please, God, let me live.”John blurted out the first generic phrase he could think of because there was no way in Hell he could tell Sherlock what his real almost-last words were.
Because they were about him.
“Hey, John! John, stay with me, don’t fall asleep, don’t close your eyes, do you hear me, that’s an order, Captain!”
“You’re my s’bord’nate, Bill,” John mumbled, weak and dizzy with the blood loss. Above him, Bill Murray’s face scrunched under the thick layer of dust streaked with slowly drying blood. His own, or John’s, or some other guy’s who didn’t make it to the chopper on his own.
Bill pressed his fingers more firmly into John’s shoulder, trying to cut off the blood flow from the shattered artery. It must hurt, John meditated, there must be bits of bone piercing his muscles and exposed nerve endings screaming against the hot desert air but he was going into shock, and pain was but a distant memory.
“John, don’t sleep, dammit! Don’t give up! Talk to me!”
“Wh’t ‘bout,” John chuckled. It was so funny. Endorphins were funny. Who would have known?
“Dunno, whatever,” Bill Murray laughed too, an edge of hysteria to it, his fear palpable in the shaking of his hands. “Just stay with me, right? You can’t give up. There must be someone waiting for you, in London, heh? Some pretty lady. Tell me about her.”
“Nah, not a l’dy,” John groaned. “H’sband, actually.”
“Good! There you go! Can’t let him down, hm?”
John lolled his head from side to side. It moved so freely, like a limpet. His own medical training was telling him he was losing it, but who cared? Certainly not his ‘husband’.
It was so horribly funny. Technically Sherlock was still his next of kin. They would notify him if – no, after – John died. They would give him his tags and his medal and Sherlock would probably take it to a pawn store and get the money for his next hit.
John heard the change in the roaring of the chopper propeller as they began to descend to the base and closed his eyes. He’d almost made it, hadn’t he? It didn’t matter. All was fine.
September 22, 1995
Oh. Right. He’ll need to move out. This was a dreadful place anyway. Not enough space for a chemistry set, and a lamentably unimaginative landlord.
“Sherlock? Are you home?” sounded again from downstairs.
Yes, new flat. Somewhere close to a big hospital with a morgue, easier transport of the decaying material. Also somewhere John wouldn’t know about.
Oh but he was beautiful. Yes, that was the best thing about cocaine: it made everything shine. Scientifically, Sherlock knew it was just the heightened sensitivity to the light caused by the dilation of his pupils but who cared why every single one of John’s hairs was glowing like a summer sun reflected on fine grained sand as long as it was?
Yes, it made every detail stand out so clearly. Sherlock totally knew how he could have made such a mistake as falling for John Watson without even noticing. But now that he’d seen it, he could remedy it. Now he was above it. He was above it all. Feeling of supremacy. Another glorious effect of cocaine. There was nothing Sherlock couldn’t deal with.
“Sherlock, what the hell was that! Why did you–”
And he was also quick. Observant, his John. Not always but nearly always where it mattered. Though Sherlock supposed that the syringe left on the kitchen table wasn’t exactly subtle.
John took two steps closer to him, suddenly cautious. He was still breathing hard from when he’d run up the stairs two at a time, but now he walked as if on broken glass. As if through an area of landmines. His hands were clenched at his sides.
“What did you take?”
“Cocaine,” Sherlock drawled. “Helps me think.”
Slap! The force of the blow turned his head to the left before he could see it coming.
“This–” John hissed, “–this will help you think, you, you–”
“What, John?” Sherlock rubbed his cheek. God, even the pain was sharper, more defined, lingering to be analyzed in detail. Absently, Sherlock wondered what pleasure would feel like, magnified and transmuted by the spell of cocaine. Perhaps it would be worth the effort, even though the everyday pleasures had no appeal for him.
“How can you?” John yelled.
“Apparently I can.” Sherlock laughed. “Come on, John, are you going to beat me again? That chivalry of yours didn’t last long, then.”
John let his hand fall. His voice was low, with an undercurrent of barely checked fury.
“I could do so much more. Anything it takes for you to stay out of this!”
Sherlock was so tired of people who meant well.
“And how, John,” he leaned in, well within reach of those broad hands, hands of a healer, hands that had tended to his injuries and threatened his enemies and now had imprinted their shape on his cheek in red, “how is that any business of yours?”
John took a step back. To Sherlock it felt like the first of many victories he was going to gain tonight.
“There is no we,” Sherlock interrupted him. “We does not exist. You are going to take the money you’ve earned by helping me and then you’re going to leave me alone.”
“Do you still know me so little to expect I’d do that?”
Sherlock smiled. He liked it when he could be vicious. Tongue like a blade, words like nails. Nobody liked to be flayed open and pinned to the wall like a pitiful example of boring humanity.
“I know you much better than you think. That saviour complex of yours. Why do you want to be a doctor, John? Do you think it could amend your father’s sins?”
Sherlock could see the muscles in John’s jaw work but still he stood his ground.
“Or do you think that by saving me you’d somehow atone for what you failed to do for your sister?”
“Am I right? It’s her that you’re seeing. Let me tell you something, John: you can’t do a thing. Neither for her, nor for me. You don’t get to be a hero. Heroes don’t exist.”
“I don’t know why you’re doing this.” John wasn’t looking at him. He wasn’t shining anymore. “But if you’re going to waste yourself, I don’t want to be here to watch.”
He turned towards the door. The distance between them opened like a chasm without either of them physically moving. Sherlock could feel the chill of the abyss, quenching his anger into impenetrable armour.
“I can’t handle another addict in my life. Just can’t.”
The door closed. John was gone. The shine, and vibrancy, and the flashy imprint of pain and all the possibilities of unknown pleasures, all was gone.
Sherlock was satisfied to be alone again. Alone was good, familiar and affirming, safe in its predictability. Alone was like a comfortable niche aside the turmoil of incomprehensible human interactions. Alone was above the slime of ordinary life. Alone was the reason above mayhem, his uniqueness, his protection.
Sherlock looked around. When did the flat become so dark and chilly? He breathed in his precious isolation and suddenly he almost choked, the bitter feeling of absence clawing at his ribcage from inside. How could he feel something missing when it had never been there in the first place?
When had his comfortable niche of loneliness turned into a cold, vast dungeon where nobody dared to venture in and seek him out?
John Watson, what have you done to me?
Comedown was the worst on the cocaine. Fingers shaking and heart beating with sudden anxiety, Sherlock rushed to the kitchen and prepared another hit.
The next thing he remembered was waking in a hospital, Mycroft mad at him, half because of Sherlock’s stupidity and half because he had to be called back from his internship.
He deleted it all. Two months later, all he remembered from September was a rather spectacular overdose followed by a bit of circumstantial amnesia.
But sometimes there was a new voice in his Mind Palace, a nameless, bodiless voice that Sherlock could call a conscience were he so inclined. He of course didn’t believe in conscience but nevertheless, every time he was about to do something not good, he could hear his name called out in that voice, trying to stop him.
It followed him over the years, through several relapses, and when he got finally rid of the cocaine, he was already so used to it that he barely ever registered it. So it happened that on the night he found himself being talked into taking a potentially poisoned pill, he thought he heard that voice again, faint but startlingly clear, calling out Sherlock! But he was never good at listening to his conscience so he moved the pill another inch towards his mouth and then–
Later, when he spotted his new flat-mate hovering innocently behind a parked police car, his deductions snapped into place and he knew who had shot the murderous cabbie. Could it be that John had also called out shortly before he fired the shot? He probably did. The distance was considerable and the windows shut but in the dead of the night Sherlock would still have been able to hear it.
But no laws of sound propagation could explain how John could have the voice of his conscience. Sherlock briefly contemplated whether God and angels didn’t exist after all, because then John could have been his Guardian Angel, and then he decided he was really in shock and wrapped the orange blanket tighter around himself, feeling the warmth grow in him from inside.
Chapter 2: Courting Detective, the Only One in the World
“John H. Watson?” Sherlock asked curiously one day. John was in the middle of updating his blog and a red alert light instantly flared up in the back of his mind.
Here we go, John thought. He should never have listened to Ella and her stupid blogging suggestions in the first place.
In the early days after moving in with Sherlock, John expected the ground to cave in under his feet at any time. Sherlock would be reminded, one way or another, and John would be on his way looking for another flat-share. Sometimes the scenario held a certain appeal, especially when severed body parts began to pop up in the fridge and text messages about strange cases flooded Sherlock’s phone at the oddest hours. Living with Sherlock Holmes, John was never bored.
But the longer they lived and worked together, the more John believed that his secret was safe. He didn’t want Sherlock to find out. He saw their flat-share as their second chance, an unexpected offering from the Universe to set right whatever they did wrong in the past.
Almost sixteen years ago, John had rushed things. Friendship would have been good, back then. Well, now that he had this chance to rebuild their partnership, he wasn’t going to spoil it.
Sherlock clearly wasn’t interested in any form of romantic relationship, and frankly, his approach even to basic friendship was rather unorthodox. But he tried, John could see it. It showed in little things, easily overlooked by the people outside their little bubble, but it was there, and John cherished every single sign that for Sherlock, their companionship mattered.
John definitely didn’t need anything more. Especially not when it could jeopardize everything he already had. John Watson was a man who knew that you don’t always get all that you want. Having trained for neurosurgery only to end up with a tremor in his dominant hand after being shot had taught him the lesson the hard way.
He had to be cautious, of course. People assumed that he and Sherlock were an item, and at the beginning, John denied it loudly out of fear that it would ring some bells within that magnificent head of his friend. But it never did. Sherlock ignored those comments altogether.
Even if they hit awfully close to the truth, sometimes.
“I swear, if you two aren’t shagging, then you’ve got the short end of the stick,” Sergeant Donovan said to him on a particularly tiresome day, while they were waiting outside an abandoned house for Sherlock to crawl out from whatever secret passages he had set out to find and John’s hands were getting numb with the weight of Sherlock’s precious coat. “You’re practically married already.”
“If you could move your left foot, Sergeant,” came the deep voice from underneath, deepened even more by the dark echo from the sewers, and they both jumped as Sherlock’s face appeared beneath the manhole cover.
“This is how they escaped the locked room?” John asked, scrunching his nose at the smell. Sherlock’s trousers were stained with fluids John didn’t want to analyse. “I hope you know a good cleaner. I’m not putting this into the laundry.”
“See?” Donovan rolled her eyes. John clamped his mouth shut. The rumours were never going to end.
Yes, he did Sherlock’s laundry. He also cooked and made tea and did the shopping. But that was entirely beside the point, because if he lived alone he’d be doing all those things anyway. Yes, there were chemical experiments in the oven and violin screeching every time Mycroft paid them a visit and John’s tea sometimes tasted funny, but there were also cases, stake-outs and adrenaline, beautiful violin music on their nights in; and even a stroppy Sherlock after two weeks without a case was nicer than any of John’s friends and that fact alone should tell John right away how screwed he was, again.
Thankfully Sherlock was oblivious to each and every comment and as long as he remained that way, John was content. All he had to do was never to remind Sherlock of their shared past. It was surprisingly easy.
John Watson was such a common name, after all.
John Hamish Watson, on the other hand, was not.
Really, Sherlock? “Shut up.”
This isn’t even a Christian name, for God’s sake! “Go away!”
Convincing Sherlock that he hated his middle name wasn’t a problem. John had also locked his passport in his desk at the clinic and had sent his birth certificate into Mycroft’s safekeeping.
The Yarders weren’t the only ones dropping dangerously apt observations; but sometimes, John really had it coming. Like on that afternoon when his brain probably decided to take a short holiday from common sense because there was no way John in his right mind would agree to take Sherlock shopping.
“You should get the enamel protection variety,” Sherlock remarked, surveying the array of toothpastes. “The enamel sensitivity could soon start to be a problem, given your age and propensity for scalding beverages, whereas that whitening variety you normally use is exaggerating its effects and it’s completely unnecessary for you to use it anyway.”
John stopped listening at the mention of his age but then the rest of the sentence slowly registered with him and he frowned.
“You know, it feels like there is a compliment hidden somewhere among the insults,” he said slowly, “but it got completely lost in translation between Planet Sherlock and English, I’m afraid.”
Sherlock turned on his heel and stalked away.
“I could never get my husband to do the shopping with me, either,” an elderly lady said behind his back. “It was worse when I did; he used to read the smallest print on every label and question the staff about how they organized their stock.”
“In that case,” John smiled wryly, “I’d better be going before he starts terrorising some poor staff member.”
“I said, ‘Could you pass me a pen?’”
John stopped in the doorway. “What? When?”
Sherlock stared in front of him as if talking to a genie – which, as far as John could tell, wasn’t far from how Sherlock perceived reality.
“About an hour ago.”
John sighed. Another example of Sherlock’s belief that their flat was inhabited by phone-handing, pen-passing, tea-making genies that could apparently make audible agreeing noises whenever Sherlock had a work-related conversation with a non-present John.
“I just came in,” John pointed out.
“And the pen?”
John pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dunno, Sherlock, sometimes I really don’t know if I’m nothing but air for you, the way you take me for granted.”
Sherlock turned his head sharply towards him. When he spoke, there was an undertone of dangerous impatience in his voice.
“Do you know what air consists of, John? Seventy-eight percent nitrogen, a colourless, odourless, at first sight dreadfully boring gas, which molecule has one of the strongest bonds known to nature and so it doesn’t bind lightly to other elements and releases enormous amounts of energy when those heteromolecular compounds burn. A constituent of every major pharmacological drug, including plant alkaloids, a key part of proteins and nucleic acids.”
Sherlock got to his feet and walked towards him, his words gaining speed.
“Then twenty one percent oxygen, a highly reactive gas and a deadly poison that caused the greatest extinction event in Earth’s history, wiping out most of the anaerobic life on early Earth after the first oxygen-producing bacteria began to saturate the atmosphere with it, forcing other life forms either to adapt or to die out. One percent of water, a small percentage of rare gases and pollution.”
Sherlock stopped, out of breath. John stared.
“That’s air, John. Most people on this sodding planet could call themselves lucky if I held them in such regard as I hold air.”
“But you said that breathing was boring,” John objected feebly.
Sherlock rolled his eyes, breezed past John without another word and slammed the bedroom door shut after him.
What the hell was that? John wondered. It was a bit disconcerting hearing about air being described with words like dangerous, deadly, and a drug. Also, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he’d just missed something.
“Hello, Doctor! Looking good.”
Lestrade wore the familiar weary grin of relief that John had finally made it from the clinic to their crime scene to act his usual part – their deliverer from the impatient brilliance and scathing tongue of a certain detective. John harboured no illusions as to exactly why the police were always so pleased to see him; the compliment was something new, though.
“Of all Sherlock’s quirks that could be rubbing off on you, his fashion sense is probably the best thing,” Lestrade added.
Oh, that. John cleared his throat.
“This is making virtue of necessity, actually,” he explained, fiddling at the cuffs of his dark moss green shirt. “Sherlock got something unspeakable on his shirt during an experiment and so he stuffed it into the laundry basket, blissfully unaware that the stuff’s been slowly etching through everything it touched. By the time I found out, there was a hole in every single shirt I have – but at least he lent me one of his.”
“Seems new to me.” Lestrade’s eyebrows climbed higher and he pointedly swept his gaze over Sherlock and then John again, indicating the height difference.
“Yep, he never wore it. Apparently one of his brother’s gifts, deliberately two sizes too small so Sherlock would shut up about Mycroft’s diet.”
Actually, now that John related the explanation, it didn’t sound much like something Mycroft Holmes would do. Belatedly, it occurred to John that Sherlock could have had a spare shirt in John’s size ready exactly for this type of situation: when he accidentally destroyed his friend’s clothing. That would of course mean that Sherlock was aware that his experiments could endanger his flat-mate’s possessions, carried them out anyway, and then tried to smoothe things out, and wasn’t that just typical?
Lestrade cocked his head to the side and gave John a long considering look.
“I’d let him buy me a replacement for everything that he destroyed, if I were you,” he advised at last.
“Yeah, that’s an idea,” John agreed, well-mannered, even though he privately thought that shopping for clothes with Sherlock sounded like the tenth circle of hell. He shot a quick glance over to where Sherlock hovered near the remnants of an exploded safe box and for a second, he thought that Sherlock looked very pleased with himself. This case was apparently at least an eight.
Mr. Simon Percival Trevellyan–Smith sat quietly on a park bench and would continue to do so undisturbed perhaps until the break of day, were it not for Pixy.
As it happened, Pixy, the little Bichon Frisé, has escaped his leash on his late night walk, disappearing into the shrubs and leaving behind his elderly mistress, who, upon searching through half of the park only to find a seemingly asleep man on the bench, promptly attempted to wake him up and ask after her mischievous pet.
The gentleman not only hadn’t woken, but also had slumped into her arms in a quite ungentlemanly way when she leaned closer to shake him by the shoulder. The brave dog-owner hadn’t panicked, however: she pressed two fingers to the stone-cold neck, reasoned with herself that it can be tricky to feel a man’s pulse, and called an ambulance.
The paramedic had confirmed her suspicion, leaving her torn between appropriate consternation and indecent excitement. Then the young man noticed the inside-out turned pockets on the dead man’s jacket and called in the police.
DI Dimmock and his team arrived on the scene at half past eleven. He took one look at the blue-lipped face, and groaned.
“I can’t get a simple death by accident, or a manslaughter. No.”
“Why? Y’know who that is?” the forensic photographer asked.
“He’s a former MP,” Dimmock said grimly. “I swear, if this is about politics, I’m not stirring up a hornet’s nest. Call in that arrogant consulting sod, I need this case off my desk as soon as possible.”
And so the shit ball rolled through the system, gaining speed and weight, everyone on its way keeping their hands off it, until it landed on John Watson in the form of an urgent summoning text signed –SH right when John was about to be invited into Vicky Morrison’s bedroom.
Vicky, of course, made it quite clear that John was no longer welcome in said bedroom. Not in her flat either. Better yet, not even in her life – she was done with men who weren’t able to sort out their priorities, thank you very much.
“I can’t believe you’ve dragged me out for this,” John muttered, perfunctorily examining the corpse. “No wounds on the body, no vomit, a smell of alcohol, yes, but he’s not had more than a couple of shots. It’s as heart-attack as they make them. I had a bloody date, Sherlock!”
Sherlock didn’t dignify that with an answer, skimming through the contents of the dead man’s trouser pocket instead. John straightened his back, pulled off his latex gloves, contemplated the rather alluring idea of kicking Sherlock’s shin, hard, and then retreated to the police tape, making room for Dimmock and his impatient questions.
“Look at that bastard,” uttered a female voice behind him. John turned around and found a Sergeant – Willis, her badge said – keeping watch at the tape and surveying the scene with a look of utter contempt on her prettily freckled face.
“I’m behind you one hundred percent,” John assured her.
“Not your boyfriend. Him. Detective Inspector Dimmock.”
She kept her voice low but the outrage in it was unmistakable.
“I’m two months his senior when it comes to the time served, as a Constable I’ve spent more time at work on the sodding overtime than he had in the regular hours–” well, John doubted that, but he knew that bitterness loved to exaggerate – “and I could kick his arse at the shooting range any time – and now he’s already a DI and I’m still a Sergeant.”
There wasn’t anything John could possibly have said to this so he settled for a sympathetic sigh. He’d always thought that Dimmock looked rather young for a DI, too.
“I’ve requested a transfer,” she added resignedly. “I’ll be better motivated to do my job when I won’t be seeing that bloody face of his and planning an additional murder at every crime scene.”
“And here I thought Sherlock was the only one to inspire such ideas in people around crime scenes,” John chuckled. When it came to manners, Sherlock believed in herd immunity: everyone else had them so he didn’t need to bother. John spared his friend a brief controlling glance: Sherlock was still engrossed in the examination, ostensively ignoring John’s comments from behind the tape, even though he must have heard everything of their conversation. Well, John thought, let him see that he’s not the only one entitled to have fun tonight.
“I’m not his boyfriend, by the way,” he added. He couldn’t believe he’d let it slip earlier. “We share a flat, that’s all.”
“Oh.” Willis tore her gaze from DI Dimmock for the first time in their conversation. John smiled inwardly. It was the kind of Oh that held promise. He stopped paying attention to Sherlock altogether and thus missed the look of open-mouthed shock on Sherlock’s face when the detective looked up to them, measuring the distance – or rather, the lack of it – between John and Sergeant Willis with narrowed eyes.
Almost immediately, Sherlock drew himself to his full height and pinned Dimmock with an accusing glare. “When will you learn to discern between a really interesting case and a rubbish one that you should be able to solve if you weren’t so busy fearing for your position? This is not a murder, it’s a mere date robbery gone wrong, and I daresay even you could muster enough mental capacity to go around the local bars and pubs with a photo and ask after the woman involved. You don’t need me for that.”
“Wait, a woman? How do you know there was–?” Dimmock protested.
“There’s always a woman,” Sherlock rolled his eyes tragically.
“I hope the transfer is only to another team,” John grinned. “Being dragged out to look at cold corpses in the middle of the night would be a far better prospect if I knew you’d be somewhere around.”
She giggled. “Do you only need a corpse to see me again?”
“Yes, a pick-up.” Sherlock continued his explanation. “Look at him: a man on the far side of his forties, no relationship – yes, look at his shirt, for God’s sake – sexually deprived – had a packet of condoms in his pocket, three months after the date of expiry – an easy prey.”
“Any sane man shouldn’t need an excuse to want to see you again,” John replied gallantly.
“She would chat him up. Perhaps acting a poor, mistreated woman, playing on his instincts of chivalry.”
“How–” Dimmock didn’t get to finish his sentences today.
“She was snuggling up to him. That stain on his jacket lapel, that’s not dirt, it’s a make-up base, she was too clever to wear lipstick, you won’t find that. Judging from the position and shade of the stain, she was about two inches shorter than the victim, and a brunette.”
“Will you be busy solving crimes on Friday?” Willis asked. “I’m always ready to kill for a coffee after working hours.” Oh, yes, John liked women who didn’t mess around.
“But she wasn’t after sex, as the man so readily assumed. She planned on mugging him, so she slipped a dose of Narcozep into his drink. It usually takes effect after fifteen to twenty minutes, which narrows down the circle of possible bars they could be in before they ended up here. And yes, it was Narcozep, as you would already know if you’d bothered to look at the blue staining on the back of his teeth – the traces of indigo carmine, which is used to colour Narcozep to prevent drugged rapes. He must have been really distracted if he didn’t even notice the change, or perhaps she used a strongly coloured beverage.”
“Coffee would be lovely,” John smiled openly. Sergeant Willis smiled back.
“Of course, she miscalculated: the man was already in the habit of taking sleep medication, as proved by the receipt for Temazepam in his pocket. These drugs have a cumulative effect and so, instead of falling asleep and waking up with a convenient amnesia several hours later, he suffered respiratory depression and died. The most boring case of my career solved, and how could you have the nerve to ask my help with it, it’s beyond me.”
“You were almost tripping over your feet in your hurry to get here when I called you, and I did mention it was probably only an accidental death,” Dimmock pointed out, unshaken by the display of self-righteous fury. To his amazement, Sherlock clamped his mouth shut and left towards the tape without another word.
“You’re finished?” John asked him good-naturedly. “Did I just hear Dimmock saying that you knew this case was barely a two when you accepted it? Sometimes I think you do this on purpose, cockblocking me from half of London.” He shook his head at him but the words didn’t hold any real sting – the pretty Sergeant’s number was already tucked safely in his wallet.
“Sometimes, your skills of observation amaze me, John,” Sherlock got out through gritted teeth and strode out of the park.
The noise of multiple angry voices yelling at each other dominated the entire floor and as John paced hurriedly through the corridor, its source became unmistakably clear: Lestrade’s office.
“–it’s called evidence, and you can’t just sweep in and–”
“–the culprits would be long out of the country by the time you got the lab results back–”
“–I don’t care for your solved and unsolved quota, boss, if you don’t get the freak out of here this instant I swear I won’t be responsible–”
John closed the door behind him with more force than was strictly necessary. “Okay, what did Sherlock do this time?”
“John!” The outrage in his voice was obviously pro forma because Sherlock was beaming at him; a manic smile so wide that John took an involuntary step back. “I solved the case, John!”
“What case?” John asked suspiciously, taking in the whole scene – Sherlock curled up on a chair balanced on two legs and bloody rocking back and forth like a child, Sergeant Donovan in the farthest corner from him with her arms folded and face as dark as thunder, and DI Lestrade standing behind his desk, an empty sport plastic bottle in his hand and looking as if he would very much like to smash it against Sherlock’s skull.
The cacophony broke loose again.
“–those marathon runners framed for doping, they’ve been given the drug without their knowledge, one of those refreshments stalls along the route, they just press a bottle into your hand, you won’t even notice them–”
“–but the proper way was to collect the samples and send them in to the bloody laboratory, Sherlock–”
“–it’s the same over and over again, if you ask me, when will anyone understand that we can’t let him even close–”
“Shut up!” John yelled. Miraculously, everyone including Sherlock obeyed him. “Sorry,” he added to Lestrade. For two seconds, peaceful silence reigned over the office. Then John turned to Sherlock and when he spoke, his voice was so quiet, so controlled, that Lestrade pre-emptively tucked his head a bit between his shoulders, and Donovan brought her hands to her ears.
“So if I’ve got this right,” John said, “you deduced they were drugged with the water they were given during the race, and to make sure of your hypothesis you drank the whole bottle as well.”
“See? John understands me!” Sherlock grinned and nearly fell off the chair, arms flailing as he strove to regain his balance. “Though I must admit I didn’t take into account the difference between the metabolism rate of a runner in the heat of a race and my own, which is rather subdued due to my recent abstaining from eating–”
“Tell me one reason I shouldn’t bloody kill you right now Sherlock!”
“Oh, threats of violence,” Sherlock said dismissively. “You can get in line with Sally here; in fact she’s more efficient than you – skipped the negotiation bit and went right for the kill.”
John looked from Sally to Greg and back.
“Apparently, he tried to kiss Donovan,” Greg sighed.
“The onset of the drug influence is rather euphoric,” Sherlock said by way of an explanation. “Impaired judgment, as well. I suspect some derivate of tetrahydrocannabinol.”
“How about I take him home to sleep it off and you can have his neck tomorrow, when he’ll actually understand what you’re telling him,” John offered. Greg nodded exhaustedly and buried his face in his hands.
“Excellent!” Sherlock exclaimed and unfurled himself from the chair, getting to his feet and immediately bending forward a little, wincing with pain. John watched him gingerly take two steps, annoyance instantly replaced with concern.
“What’s wrong with you? Any indigestion? Stomach cramps?”
“I kneed him into the groin,” Sally Donovan muttered darkly. John winced sympathetically, even as a rather inappropriate grin was tugging at the corners of his mouth at the sight of Sherlock Holmes hobbling out of the office and giving the widest berth possible to the corner where Sally stood her unforgiving ground.
In the cab, Sherlock slumped against the seat and yawned like a five-year old. “Home. Bed. Sleep. Not necessarily in that order but it would be preferable.”
“I should get you checked into a hospital.” It was an empty threat, though, and Sherlock knew it.
“It’s already wearing off.” He yawned again and shivered. “I’m cold, John.”
“It figures with the other effects,” John remarked. Sherlock looked sleepy and pale but both his eyes were still able to focus so John didn’t worry too much.
“Sally’s self-defence reflexes are terrific,” Sherlock muttered, shifting in his seat. “Though I fail to see how a simple kiss should elicit such a violent reaction.”
“Maybe she just didn’t like your technique,” John joked absentmindedly, calculating the probability of Sherlock falling asleep before they reached Baker Street.
Sherlock snorted. “Ah, lack of finesse. Hardly my fault. Kissing is not my area. You can’t draw any relevant experience from a single occurrence.”
“What?” John asked, his mind still occupied elsewhere, and then he replayed the sentence once again in his head and– “What, really?”
Sherlock was staring at the car roof. “I don’t know what’s more perplexing to you: the fact that I only had one kiss in my life, or the fact that I ever had one.”
“Wait – no!” John looked at his friend properly, noticing the soft, unguarded sadness around his eyes. “Honestly, with your looks, and...” okay, this was awkward... “I’m just surprised there weren’t more.” Then he remembered something and thought, Oh God, please let this drug make him sleep and forget all about this conversation.
In the end, the curiosity won. “And was it a good kiss?”
“How would I know?” Sherlock murmured. “I don’t remember much of it. It happened while I was at Uni, and I did a disgusting lot of drugs there, you know.” He smiled a strange half–smile, only one side of his mouth going up. “I don’t suppose it went anywhere beyond that. I remember being kissed, the tactile memory, it can be very persistent.”
“Do you remember who it was?” John knew he should have been keeping his mouth shut but he couldn’t help himself.
“A name?” Sherlock asked, voice thick with drowsiness. “Victor, I guess. It’s a good name, isn’t it?”
Ah. Victor. Well, John shouldn’t be surprised – Mycroft had told him all about the deletion – but still... at least he was right when he assumed that there was someone after him, someone who let Sherlock explore his emotional side. Perhaps it was this Victor who wounded Sherlock’s heart so much that to this day, he carried it surrounded with ice-packs. But the past was in the past, and there was no need to feel jealous, John told himself sternly.
“Yeah, Victor is a nice name,” he patted Sherlock’s arm. Sherlock huddled deeper into his coat and shivered again.
“The only right name,” he mumbled. “You know how they say – to fall in love? Such a bad metaphor, really. But it’s true, in a way. Love is dangerous, a battlefield. I fell. And he won. Victor. No other name.”
John didn’t know what to do with this sudden introspectiveness. “I shouldn’t have brought it up, I’m sorry.”
“S’okay,” Sherlock slurred, eyes closing. Damn. They were still two blocks away from 221B.
“Sherlock, Sherlock!” John shook him none too gently. “I’m not carrying you, you great gangly heavy-coated idiot.”
The cab pulled to a stop. John stepped out, rounded the car and opened the door at Sherlock’s side. “Up you get and move!”
“John?” Sherlock was blinking and swaying as he stood up, clearly disoriented. “I’m so cold. I want to go home.”
“That’s where I’m trying to get you, if you could move your damn feet,” John grumbled, throwing one of Sherlock’s arms around his shoulders and dragging him towards the door. The seventeen steps to their flat were going to be a tall order.
“Will you stay?” He sounded like a little child, asking his parent not to leave his bedside.
“I can’t bloody well go anywhere with you so stoned that you can’t fit in the door,” John swore, finally manhandled Sherlock into the living room and dropped him onto the sofa.
“Here you are. You can blame the state of your back on yourself tomorrow.”
“But will you stay?” Sherlock grasped his hand. John stared at it for a while.
“Of course I will,” he said at last, gently extricating it and smoothing the hair off Sherlock’s forehead.
“Good.” Sherlock nodded. “The flat feels warmer when you’re in it,” he added as an afterthought.
John chuckled. “That’s because I always have to turn the heater on when I come home. You can’t be arsed to do it even though you’re swanning around in nothing but a sheet. It’s a small wonder you don’t feel cold all the time.”
“I don’t now,” Sherlock mumbled and curled up on his side, tucking his hands under his face. In the next second, he was already fast asleep.
John closed the living door behind him with a shoulder and leaned against it, gasping for breath.
“Brilliant?” Sherlock supplied, grinning from ear to ear next to him.
“That one’s bit overused by now.” John giggled. “I was going for ‘cracked’, because that’s about how my kneecap is feeling right now.” He rubbed his knee. The material of his jeans had protected it from scraping but it would still bruise spectacularly.
“Is it too bad?” Sherlock peeled his back off the door and went into the kitchen to rummage through the freezer. “We don’t have any ice but there are those peas you said you don’t like–”
“Never mind,” John waved it off. “I should have lowered myself by my hands before I took the jump and shouldn’t have tried to pull it off like a bloody ninja.”
“That’s additional proof that Clay has indeed used that particular window,” Sherlock beamed. “He’s another inch and a half shorter than you, so he had probably forgone the lowering part too, and both his knees were scraped and dirty when the patrol saw him.”
“Speaking of patrols, would it really hurt to tell the police about our investigation beforehand? I don’t particularly like having to run away from them like some criminal almost every other week.”
“Think of the money you save by not having to go to the gym,” Sherlock called out from the kitchen, voice muffled by a piece of sweet pastry he’d ignored this morning and was now devouring like a wolf. The sight provoked a sympathetic pang of hunger in John’s stomach and he realised it was almost dinner time. He checked his watch. The crazy running had had another unexpected benefit: it still gave him enough time to shower and change before going out on his date.
Last Friday, the coffee date with Samantha Willis had gone surprisingly well. For today, John had planned a dinner. Sam was pretty and clever and easily took his mind off things that kept disturbing him lately, like those strange looks Sherlock had been giving him and the way he kept falling asleep on the sofa while John was still watching telly, his curly head often gravitating onto John’s shoulder. To be honest, John didn’t mind it all that much. Such peaceful, cosy evenings were like a blessing and John simply couldn’t find enough strength in him to get up and move Sherlock into a more friendship-appropriate position. But besides those warm, comfortable evenings there were moments just like this one - moments of shared adrenaline and laughter, when the air between them was charged with potential, with an electric anticipation so intense that were it able to induce current, 221B would be like a small power plant. More than once, John had had to take his rampant libido and go out. He had dated a lot of late.
“I said, Indian or Thai? I’ll order in.” Sherlock’s voice came to him through the fog of his disorganised thoughts.
“Oh, don’t bother. I’m dining out tonight, and there’s leftover lasagna in the fridge for you,” John said and trotted up the stairs to his room. When he returned, arms full of a change of clothes, he found a scowling Sherlock blocking the doorway to the hall.
“Do you mind?” he tried to side-step him.
“Actually I do,” Sherlock snapped. “Why do you still insist on maintaining those meaningless relationships? What can those insipid women offer to you?”
John put the clothing on a nearby chair and ran a hand over his face. “These questions are wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to start,” he said. “But to cut it short, I’m going to answer the most obvious one for you, Sherlock, and don’t get alarmed: it’s about sex. Some people like it, you know.”
“Oh, that.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “You could get it at home, if you want.”
John lifted his spare clothes, put them on the ground and sat on the chair instead.
“If the need for sexual release is the only reason that drives you out of here, effectively ruining my concentration and clashing with our work, it would be mutually beneficial to start a sexual relationship between us.”
Sherlock looked like a Paramount of logic and John wondered absently if there wasn’t a hidden camera crew somewhere, waiting to jump up and call the surprise.
“So you’re suggesting that we become... friends with benefits,” he said tentatively. God, who would have known that Sherlock even knew the term?
“Yes!” Sherlock beamed at the same time as John shook his head resolutely:
“I’m not about to shag my best friend just to get off,” John informed him. “And dating is not only about sex. I would like to have a stable romantic relationship as well, however improbable it sounds with the lifestyle we’re having. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be trying.”
“You can have that as well.” Sherlock looked mildly offended, as he did on occasions when he thought John was being particularly dim, and John would have found it endearing if his head wasn’t currently spinning between incredulity and annoyance.
“Romantic relationship – with you.” John knew he was stating the obvious and he did it anyway, as if pissing Sherlock off would give him time to find the best way out of this absurdity.
“For God’s sake, John, I’ve been signalling my availability for weeks now,” Sherlock thumped his fist against the kitchen doorframe in exasperation. “And we are as good as married anyway, everyone says so. Even Sally Donovan, and she has the observation skills of an opossum.”
John sniggered internally at the phrase ‘as good as married’. If only you knew, Sherlock. Aloud, he settled for his favourite rejoinder:
“What? You’ve been–”
“I’ve been expressing my willingness to share intimate information about you,” Sherlock began enumerate on his fingers.
“Prying after my middle name doesn’t count as–”
“I’ve been complimenting you, even on public places, in front of other people–”
“–where those people really couldn’t tell if those insults were purposeful or just your normal behaviour–”
“I’ve been giving you thoughtful gifts. Those shirts I bought you really suit you, John.”
“It would be more virtuous if you hadn’t destroyed all my old ones first–”
“Well, you wouldn’t accept them any other way!”
John drew a deep breath. “Manipulating me into accepting them is not a good base for a relationship, Sherlock.”
Sherlock had the grace to look a bit guilty about that but he quickly recovered. “I wasn’t manipulating you when I told you what you mean to me, both physically and emotionally.”
“Eh?” John had a bit of trouble placing what Sherlock was referring to. “You mean when you compared me to explosive gases that caused a massive extinction or whatever?”
“I also told you that the flat feels warmer when you’re in it,” Sherlock said softly.
“So you basically have been cockblocking me, ruining my dates and scaring off my girlfriends all the time just to keep your feet warm?” John countered, very much aloud this time. He wasn’t about to let his resolution crack under the attack of Sherlock’s puppy eyes.
“But you are attracted to me!” Sherlock pointed an accusing finger. “Don’t try to deny it with your endless ‘not actually gay’ anthem because anyone with eyes can see you’re bisexual.”
John licked his lips and folded his arms. “Right, okay, I am bi. But what makes you think I am attracted to you, you great self-centred–”
“My eyes are up here, John,” Sherlock said, a hint of amused satisfaction in his voice. Startled, John realised that his eyes had indeed parked on their favourite spot of late: the constellation of moles on that long, gorgeous, absolutely bite-worthy neck.
“Okay,” he admitted. “So I can appreciate your physical form. And I still don’t want to shag you. Problem?”
“I don’t know why you should deny yourself. You so stubbornly keep distance between us. I’ve been giving you relaxants to make you more comfortable with my displays of physical affection, but–”
“You what?” Very slowly, John rose up from his chair. Sherlock’s eyes shifted from side to side, as if looking for escape routes.
“You’ve been drugging me? While I was going to work, to treat patients?”
“You could handle those idiotic diagnoses with only half of your brain on-line, John–”
“That hole you’re digging for yourself just got deeper, Sherlock,” John warned him. Then he checked his watch again. Too late for dinner, damn. There went another one.
“I’m going out,” he announced, “not with Sam, thank you very much, but to walk off the drugging-me-to-make-me-relaxed bit. Before I actually give in to the urge to grab your neck and squeeze.”
“It has just occurred to me that I might like it,” Sherlock said uncertainly. “You sure you don’t want to try it out? Erotic asphyxiation is–”
John couldn’t get down the stairs fast enough. Six feet of flapping wool coat followed him.
“No, and no, Sherlock!”
“But why not? I’m interested, you’re interested–”
John turned around in the hallway and drew himself to his full height. “On that very first evening, Sherlock, you told me you were married, married to your work. I’m not dating married men.”
The echoing bang of the front door was so loud that Sherlock missed the soft creak of the door to 221A opening, the curious face of their landlady peeping out. “Had a little domestic again?”
“I wish,” Sherlock muttered and went back to the flat. His strategy obviously needed some reconsideration.
–You owe me.
Mycroft glanced at the message on the screen, suppressed a sigh, folded the newspaper he was reading and retreated with his phone into his private, sound-proof quarters at the Diogenes Club.
“Hello, brother dear. I gather the good doctor didn’t welcome your advances?”
“Does a bang of the door mean ‘Yes’ in any of the twenty-six languages you’re fluent in, Mycroft?”
“Indeed it doesn’t. What went wrong? I was sure that my suggestions were fool-proof.”
Sherlock’s voice at the other end of the line was strangely reluctant. “It appears that some of my improvements were rather counter-productive.”
“Sherlock.” Mycroft clicked his tongue disapprovingly. “What part of ‘to-the-letter’ wasn’t clear to you when I explained exactly how you should follow my plan?”
“Your plan was stupid in the first place,” Sherlock murmured. “I can’t believe I let myself be talked into it.”
“I rather think it was a brilliant plan. I give you courting advice: if it works, you owe me a favour; if it doesn’t, I owe you one. It’s a win-win scenario, my dear brother, and probably the only one that you would ever agree to.”
“Well, it most definitely didn’t work.” Sherlock didn’t sound gleeful at proving Mycroft wrong. He sounded unhappy. That fact alone was a very clear sign to Mycroft that the situation was grave.
“What objection did John raise?” There must have been something, Mycroft was sure of it. His file on Dr. John H. Watson had grown three times thicker since the day they’d met; he knew that John wouldn’t say No to Sherlock without a reason.
“That he’s not about to shag his friend, to quote it loosely.”
“Oh, Sherlock. Does he not know about your predicament?”
“Mycroft, if you want me to hang up, just–”
“No, Sherlock, listen. If you only offered him sex and kept your feelings to yourself, you shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome. You fell in love with an honourable man. I suggest you come clean to him.”
“I’d like to see you do it if you were in my shoes,” Sherlock replied. It vividly reminded Mycroft of the petulant self that his younger brother had been at the age of five.
“One of us has to stay at the advantage,” he said smoothly. “But I do care for you, brother, and if you’ve decided to build your happiness in a relationship with another person, you deserve my full support. And Mummy will be thrilled.”
Sherlock disconnected the call.
Mycroft put the phone into his pocket, got up and went across the room to stand by the window, on his favourite spot where he could observe the life on the streets, the never ceasing buzz of the ‘great wen’. The trivia which he automatically deduced about the passers-by flashed in front of his eyes even as he kept smiling to himself.
John knew something was very wrong when he came back later that night and, instead of the usual noxious gases, there was a hot, spicy smell of cinnamon and apples drifting from the kitchen and making his toes curl with sudden hunger.
“I owe you an apology, John.” Sherlock was standing in the kitchen doorway, holding a bottle of wine.
John swore inwardly. He was hungry, and maintaining a strong facade would be ten times harder if he had to start accepting apologies.
“You didn’t bake the pie in our oven, did you? Because I sprayed it with disinfectant this morning, and didn’t have time to wash it out.”
“Of course not,” Sherlock scoffed. “I had it delivered in time to cool off before you got home.”
John hung his jacket on the hook, shaking his head at his inevitable surrender. “Of course you deduced exactly when I’d be done being too furious with you even to stay in the same room and would get back here.”
“We still need to talk, Sherlock,” John warned him.
“That’s what I was suggesting.”
“Nope. You were suggesting something entirely different,” John retorted.
“And I am still saving that as an option for later,” Sherlock smirked and handed him a glass.
“Drop it, Sherlock. Seriously. If it takes simple sentences for you to finally get it that this is your worst idea ever, I’ll be using them. We – are – not – shagging.”
Sherlock waited for John to take a seat at the table and then handed him a plate. “You keep telling me why we shouldn’t,” he began. “I’d like to tell you why I think we should.”
“So that I wouldn’t date elsewhere, you already said that,” John pointed out quickly.
“That sounds rather selfish and possessive when you put it like that.”
“Whoa, that’s some self-awareness,” John mumbled over a mouthful of his late supper, completely missing the fact that Sherlock hadn’t touched his plate yet because his hands were resting stiffly on his thighs, fingers clutching tightly into the fabric of his trousers.
“I haven’t been completely honest with you, John – and I don’t mean the drugging, please don’t bring it up now–” he stopped John’s reaction before his friend opened his mouth to speak, “and I’d like to remedy it. I am possessive, when it comes to you. I am jealous because of you, to the point of distraction. I liked doing nice things for you even though it transpired you might not have liked them at all. I am experiencing a complex set of emotions that– I mean, it seems that– I–” Sherlock looked as if he was forcing the words out while his throat and tongue decided to stand united against them.
John looked at him, his smile a mixture of crumbs and amusement. “Yes, Mr. Darcy?”
But John was already shaking his head. “Sorry, that was mean. But if you’re trying to tell me you’re in love with me, it’s another excellent reason why we shouldn’t get together.”
Sherlock blinked. John leaned forward, lending more weight to his words.
“You said it yourself. Love is dangerous.”
“Will you stop throwing my words back at me?” Sherlock asked exasperatedly. “Yes, it’s dangerous, and here you are, don’t you see it?”
Yes, John saw it, but he also saw the inevitable end of the best friendship he had ever had if he didn’t nip this in the bud, so nipping was what he did.
“So you think you’re in love with me. And I may be a bit in love with you, and what? These things happen all the time. I know you, Sherlock. You are a lightning bolt, a brilliant, flickering, unstable thing; your focus will be on me like a laser for a month, maybe two, and then you’ll know everything about me and decide you’ve fallen out of love and that will be it. You get bored easily, I don’t fancy myself being able to hold your interest long enough.”
Sherlock was looking down at his plate by the time John had finished his speech, and John could almost see the numbers going through that magnificent head as Sherlock counted silently to ten and back. When he looked up, his face was dark but his voice still controlled, even though there was something dangerous and desperate bubbling just beneath the surface.
“I do not think myself in love with you. I love you. And I can commit to long-term affairs, I learned to play the violin for God’s sake, and I’ve been fascinated with you all these months, and even though I never saw myself making it past forty before I met you I want it now, I want to live as long as possible, as long as you live with me, and I want– oh.”
John swallowed. He already knew that particular oh. It nearly always meant trouble.
Sherlock’s eyes shone with revelation. “You want stability. You said so. Stable romantic relationship. You have these old-fashioned notions instilled in you, house and wife and two point three children, even though in your core you’re nothing like that. But you wish for them. Well, I cannot give you children, but I can give you – John, will you–”
“No!” John shouted. “Don’t you dare propose to me.”
Sherlock frowned, puzzled by the force of the outburst. “But it would be the perfect solution! Everyone already thinks we are married, and it would convince you that I’m taking this seriously.”
John drew a deep, steeling breath. “Unfortunately for you, Sherlock, I know for certain that marriage is the last thing you would take seriously.”
“How?” Sherlock hissed. “Explain, John. Tell me why half of London can have you and I am not even allowed to try. Tell me why I’m the only one who’s banned from asking you to marry him.”
John was losing his nerve. “How about because you’re already married?”
Sherlock let both fists fall on the table top, hard. “Married to my work, yes, and surely you must know it was only a figure of speech which I deeply regret now–”
“No, Sherlock, I mean actually bloody married!” John bit his lip immediately but it was too late. Sherlock was staring at him, blinking rapidly.
“I am not married,” he said cautiously.
“Yes, you are.” Now with the cat out of the bag, John saw no reason in fighting. It felt strangely relieving, not having to hide any more.
“I think I would know about it,” Sherlock insisted.
“It happened while you were at Uni. It ended badly and you deleted it.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened in surprise. “Victor? I actually married... Victor?”
John got up from the table abruptly and went into the living room, all his appetite suddenly vanished. Sherlock followed him like a lost child.
“But I don’t remember,” he said imploringly. “How do you know about it?”
“Mycroft told me.” John shrugged. The mention of Victor was still niggling at his pride. After all this time, bloody Victor is the first conclusion his mind jumps to...
“Mycroft knew?” Now Sherlock sounded really lost. “But why – oh, oh. It doesn’t matter. It must not matter.” He picked up his phone from the mantelpiece and began stabbing the numbers viciously.
“It’s past midnight,” John pointed out to him. Sherlock scowled his patent ‘I couldn’t care less if I tried’ expression and held the phone to his ear.
“Hello brother dear,” Sherlock snarled, “may I know exactly when you were planning to let me in on the secret that I was married? And why did you keep that from me in the first place?”
It was so quiet around, the night at Baker Street with its subdued traffic and Mrs. Hudson succumbed to her herbal soothers long ago, that John could hear Mycroft’s voice from the phone if he held his breath.
“Good morning to you too, Sherlock. Do I have to point it out to you that you would be perfectly aware of your marital status if you only once had bothered to do your own taxes?”
“What do taxes have to do with– oh, don’t change the subject, Mycroft.”
“That rather answers my question,” Mycroft sighed. “But yes, you are very much married. Ever since September 1995. I believe congratulations are not really in order, though.”
“Certainly not,” Sherlock bit out. “Look, Mycroft, I need a divorce. I know you have the papers ready somewhere, you always have a contingency plan for everything. I’ll just sign on the dotted line and that will put an end to this absurdity. It’s John’s only objection, that I am not a free man.”
“That’s not my only–” John protested vividly but then Mycroft was speaking again.
“Is that so? Interesting. As it happens, I anticipated this course of events and positioned a car outside 221B Baker Street – my assistant will bring you the required paperwork in the next minute. I assume that you still have no actual idea about who you married?”
John frowned. Waiting car? Papers ready? He almost missed Sherlock’s answer and then he wished he had missed it because Sherlock was saying–
“I don’t care who it was. Some insignificant idiot anyway, if he didn’t try to get in touch with me for nearly sixteen years.”
John heard the front door opening downstairs and let himself be led by the sound, raging red before his eyes, almost blind with fury. He ignored the rest of the phone call as he shrugged on his jacket automatically. Sherlock’s face, alarmed and full of questions, floated somewhere around him: he ignored that too. He thumped down the stairs, almost barrelling into the dove-eyed assistant – what was her name? Andrea? – in the hallway, snatched the papers from her hands and spread them against the wall, grabbed the pen she held ready for him as if she knew it would be expected from her, and signed on his dotted line so forcefully that he nearly drove the pen through the paper. Then he all but threw the papers back at her and stormed out of the building for the second time that night, slamming the door behind him.
In the flat, Sherlock whipped around when he heard the flat door open. “John? Did you bring the–” When he recognised the visitor, his face fell.
“He keeps doing that,” he complained. “Never mind. Give me the papers.”
“Always so courteous,” Anthea remarked in her business-pleasant voice. She laid the papers on the living room table and arranged them into a neat order. “Your husband has already signed his part.”
Sherlock leaned over, not really listening to her. A second later, he wasn’t listening at all. In fact, his sense of hearing abandoned him, as did all his remaining senses. The only thing left before his eyes was a sprawled, painfully familiar signature following a name in neat, black-on-white print:
John Hamish Watson.
His vision whited out and his awareness turned inwards. Descending into his Mind Palace, he raced through the corridors until he came to a halt in front of a door marked September 1995. There was an electronic coded lock on the door, the screen blinking invitingly. He had never known the code – sometimes he would try but the password had always eluded him.
Not this time.
Chapter 3: Second Time is the Charm
John hadn’t even reached the street corner when the phone in his pocket pinged with an incoming message. He clenched his fists and dug his heels into the pavement harder on every step: he would not read it. Then he stopped. He waited, head hung down, until his breathing evened again. Then he looked at the phone.
–Making the same mistake again? –MH
–Piss off, Mycroft. John nearly threw the phone into the nearest rubbish bin.
The night was cold, as the nights in the second part of summer usually are. The sky was cloudless but the stars were few, and twinkling through the permanent haze. John’s knee still hurt and he was still a bit hungry – and then he stopped again.
Danger night. It was always on nights like this, when he and Mrs. Hudson searched the flat for the goddamned syringe and couldn’t find anything. Nights after cases lost, victims of kidnapping found dead, nights of failure.
John remembered what Mycroft had told him about Sherlock’s overdose. After the end of your liaison... how much longer after that was it, actually? Days? Hours? Minutes?
He sighed and turned around.
The door to 221B opened, letting through a breath of cold air and a weary-shouldered figure coming to a halt in the middle of the hallway, lifting his head and squinting at the landing where Sherlock was fidgeting with his shirt cuffs.
“John,” Sherlock said as the door closed.
“Don’t even start,” John cut him off.
“No.” John shook his head. “Just, no. I’m going to my room. I need to think about this. When I’m done with the thinking, we’ll talk. And don’t you even think about touching the violin.”
He said it with so much emphasis that Sherlock instantly understood what the word ‘violin’ actually meant. He froze at that, his eyes going wide. “John.”
John ignored him. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked up the stairs. The thuds of his steps followed an uneven pattern. In his room, he shed the jacket and his sweat-stained shirt, left the vest on and fell onto his bed, arms behind his head. He stared at the ceiling for a long while.
John realised that in banning the violin he hadn’t explicitly banned any other noises that could be disturbing his private heart searching session. Sherlock hadn’t set his phone on mute and so John could hear every tap of key and every faint ping of message sent through the thin door to his room from where Sherlock was sitting on the other side of it.
–I’ve been an idiot.
–You were right in what you said. I wanted to marry for the money but I chose you for you. I wish I had seen it then.
–Please John don’t divorce me.
John gave in. He raised his voice to be heard through the door. “I’m saving this message so I can show it to the Yarders next time you piss them off.”
Very slowly, the door opened. John didn’t move, didn’t even tear his eyes from the ceiling while Sherlock took a few cautious steps in. He didn’t budge over but also didn’t protest when at last Sherlock sat down at the edge of his bed.
“You said next time.” It sounded hopeful. John risked a small glance at his friend’s face. To his utter relief, there was no sign of those famous puppy eyes that John hated because they were a weapon Sherlock engaged on poor souls like Molly when he needed a fresh cadaver. No, tonight Sherlock looked like... an old dog, who knows his good days are numbered and has nothing but the love of his master to rely on that he will live to see the next day. It broke something in John’s heart but it seemed that whatever it was, it wasn’t a great loss to the world to have it out of the way.
“I’m sorry, John.” Sherlock repeated. “I’ve treated you abominably, I–”
“Don’t go all Jane Austen on me again,” John interrupted him. “I am sorry. I’ve been a berk, too. I shouldn’t have abandoned you.” He stared at the ceiling some more. “Not even the first time.
“I’m no better than you when it comes to jealousy,” he added after a moment. “I just got angry tonight when you mentioned Victor. Sorry.”
“Victor?” Sherlock let out a short, nearly hysterical giggle. “Don’t you understand? There was no Victor. It was you. I deleted everything I could about you but there were things I couldn’t delete, your touch, the sound of your voice, and it kept jarring at my memories so I created a name for all those bits I couldn’t place. It was a name. The one who won in the battle where I fell. The victorious one. Victor.”
“That’s...” John breathed out, unsure how to react.
“Then, on our first night together, when you shot the cabbie – I thought I heard you calling out my name. And it felt like I’d heard that voice before, only I knew I hadn’t so I dismissed it, but ever since I felt like – like I had found something I didn’t even know I had lost. I felt warm – warm from inside.”
John heard Sherlock gulp, as if suppressing something awfully close to a sob, and when he looked at him again he found Sherlock’s eyes fixed on the scar tissue on his shoulder, right above the hem of his vest.
“I used to think of that scar... with gratitude,” he said quietly, in a low voice filled with horror and disgust with himself. “I’d never tell you, obviously, but sometimes I would think of it and be horribly glad you were shot because we would never have met otherwise.”
He gulped down more breaths, obviously having difficulty keeping his voice even.
“You never got the money, did you? The sum we agreed on, for your studies?”
John shook his head. “I never saw the marriage certificate either. I suppose Mycroft squirreled it away the day he found out about me. But for the record, I would have thrown the money back in your face if you’d dared to show up with it back then.”
“So you signed with the Army. They would pay for your tuition in exchange for the time served.”
John began to see where Sherlock was heading. He sat up and grabbed him by the shoulder, forcing him to look him right in the eyes.
“You didn’t send me to Afghanistan; you didn’t aim the rifle at me, you didn’t pull the trigger, Sherlock. It’s not your fault. There was always the need for danger in me, I would have ended up shot or stabbed sooner or later – with or without you.”
He let go of the shoulder and took one of Sherlock’s hands instead, cold fingers entwining with his own.
“Imagine all those parallel universes where we met for the first time at the lab at Bart’s. It’s still me, a soldier with a psychosomatic limp, and it’s still you, an ex-addict with the finest brain in London. Nothing’s really changed.”
Sherlock didn’t seem convinced but some part of the horrible guilt that had shadowed his face lifted a fraction and he smiled. Encouraged, John continued.
“Or those universes where we met as children and hated each other before the end of secondary school.”
Sherlock huffed out a short laugh. “Those are statistically improbable.”
“Or those where we never met,” John said pointedly.
“I don’t want to think about those.” Sherlock bit his lower lip and faced John’s gaze again. “What about us? What happens in our universe?”
“Well, seeing as the entire universe, including your meddlesome brother, conspired to bring us together to give us a second chance...” John licked his lips, brought Sherlock’s hand to his face and leaned closer, letting his eyes fall shut, guided only by the warm, cinnamon-sweet breath from Sherlock’s mouth. He weaved the fingers of his other hand into the curls above Sherlock’s nape and proceeded to steal all that breath only for himself.
“Hello, husband,” John whispered when he opened his eyes again some minutes later.
The answering smile on Sherlock’s face could have lit up the whole night sky above London.
...and a little Epilogue
“John? John!” Lestrade barrelled out of the room, looking around for John Watson like a drowning man looking for a life ring.
“What did Sherlock do this time?” John asked resignedly. He hadn’t even finished donning his blue plastic suit and already there were some ruffled feathers for him to smoothe.
Lestrade came closer, looking over his shoulder worriedly. “He greeted Donovan. Nicely. And he didn’t verbally eviscerate Anderson for moving the corpse.”
“Oh, that.” John smiled. “Welcome to a world of happy Sherlock, Detective Inspector.”
Lestrade kept looking back as if he actually preferred the familiar, pain-in-the-arse Sherlock. “He didn’t have a lobotomy, or something?”
John laughed. “No, not at all.” Then he smirked. “At least not a surgical one.” At Lestrade’s quizzical glance, his smirk became unabashedly smug. “I might just have shagged his brains out last night.”
Several expressions chased each other over Lestrade’s face, until it settled on a broad grin. “Good on you, mate!” He clapped John’s shoulder. “Just for the record – how long have you actually been together?”
“Lestrade wants to know who won the Yard’s betting pool,” Sherlock’s deep voice drifted to them from the room.
“Well,” John pulled an apologetic face, “unless some prodigal Constable placed their bet on the twenty-second of September, you’ve all lost – the whole lot of you.”
“Wait. It’s only August. And you didn’t know each other in September last year. You met on the pink suicide case in January–”
“It was the September of 1995, Lestrade.” Sherlock appeared in the doorway. “Do keep up.”
At this rate, it seemed they would soon have to investigate the Case of the Dumb-struck Inspector, but John was enjoying this simply too much to care.
“Yep,” he confirmed. “That’s the day I married him.”