Sally stared at the empty bottom of her glass. She should probably ask for another pint. Actually, she shouldn’t ask for another pint; she should go home, pull herself together, and just get over it already. So, of course, Sally asked for another round. Self-destruction seemed to be the theme for the evening, in any case.
“Thanks, no, I’m good.” John waved Sally’s offer aside. He was still nursing his last pint, in moderation, like someone whose life wasn’t coming apart at the seams.
Sally groaned and put one hand to her throbbing forehead. “I know better, you know.”
“Everyone knows better. That’s what makes it so much fun.” John finished his drink.
“No, not that. The…rest of it.” Sally waved vaguely. “I knew it was stupid. I knew he was never going to leave his wife. I…knew.”
“That’s what I meant,” John said, not unkindly.
The server set down another glass before Sally, and Sally took a greedy gulp. She still had no clue how this had become her life. She’d always been sensible, practical, and hard working. And, yeah, her love life had never been all that great. Maybe there was a bit more desperation there than she would’ve liked to admit. But how had she ended up dumped by her married coworker? And, on top of that, in her effort to avoid anywhere the rest of the Met might turn up, how had she just happened to choose the same pub to drown her sorrows that John Watson, it seemed, frequented?
Maybe Sally had the worst luck in the world. Or maybe she was just getting what she deserved for sleeping with a married man.
“Why are you even here?” Sally complained. “I don’t want you to be here.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
Damn it all, why did John have to be so nice all the time? Sally was miserable and feeling bloody stupid, and she just wanted to lash out at the fact that she was stuck with John, of all people, comforting her. He didn’t have to actually be good at it. That was like adding insult to injury.
“God, no.” Sally’s emotions were twisting in impossible ways, and she fought back a sob deep in her throat. She hated that she was a mess, and she hated John for seeing her like this, but she hated the idea of being alone even more right now.
“Do you want me to tell you all the reasons he’s not worth it?” John asked.
Sally shook her head. It helped to hold back the tears, she found.
“Do you want me to tell you how he’s going to end up miserable and alone? Because I can guarantee that.”
Sally shook her head more vigorously. Maybe she wasn’t holding the tears back so well, after all. “Could you…?” She waved one hand in the air.
“Right. Time for a trip to the loo.” John got up, patted Sally on the shoulder as he passed by, and gave her a moment to compose herself.
I am a Detective Sergeant, Sally recited in her head. I have bloody well fought my way up, and no one can take that from me. I am strong. I am better than him. I am better than this. And, if it ever came down to it, I could totally kick his arse. And then some.
Sally wasn’t sure if she was convincing herself, but at least she wasn’t crying.
Besides, he wasn’t that great in bed. Too full of himself. I don’t know why I put up with that, anyway.
Of course, once Sally started to think about why she put up with that jerk, she started to dwell on how lonely she was, again. And how she’d made a proper mess of her love life, again. It wasn’t helping. Nothing was helping, and probably nothing would help until she’d spent a good, long time moping over an arsehole who didn’t deserve it, and that would just make Sally hate herself even more.
She finished her drink, looked up, and swore.
“Oh, fuck, no.”
If there was anyone Sally wanted to see even less than John Watson in this state, it was Sherlock fucking Holmes. Sally tried to put up her best “stay away from me, you freak” front, but Sherlock didn’t seem to notice or care, not that he ever did.
“Sod off,” Sally said before Sherlock could even open his mouth.
He did anyway, of course. The man had no sense of human decency whatsoever. “I see that Anderson’s inevitable, pathetic return to monogamy has rendered you even more charming that usual. Where’s John?” Sherlock didn’t even have the courtesy to look at her while he said it, like she was nothing, and that enraged Sally more than anything.
“What part of ‘sod off’ was too complicated for your genius brain to process?” she snapped.
“I believe it was…the part where I cared?” Sherlock flashed her an infuriating, false smile, the one that said “look at me, I’m only pretending to be human, but one day when you’re not looking I’ll stick the knife right in your back and twist, and you’re helpless to do a damn thing about it because I haven’t done anything against the law just yet.” Psychos always had the most expressive smiles.
“Thanks, but I’ve met my quota of arrogant, self-centered jerks for the evening,” Sally practically growled. She really couldn’t deal with Sherlock, of all people, when she was like this.
“Yes, well, that’s to be expected, of course. Did you know that Anderson finished second-to-last in his class? Third-to-last at best. I’m willing to bet dead last was a very near miss. He overcompensates with that smug attitude. Can’t imagine it fools anyone.” Sherlock said all this absently, while searching the crowded pub by stretching his long neck out at all sorts of odd angles. He looked a bit like a demented goose.
“Wait…” Sally blinked. “Anderson…?”
“Barely got his accreditation in forensics. Surely, you’d noticed?”
Sally blinked some more. Superior, snooty Anderson had only barely passed? That didn’t compute. “How do you know?” Despite herself, Sally was growing curious. Anderson’s attitude that he had accomplished something with his fancy degrees, while he dismissed Sally’s tooth-and-nail struggle through the ranks to make Detective Sergeant, had always made her want to smack Anderson in the face, just a little.
“He gets defensive when asked basic questions about chemistry, especially when not related to tasks he performs as part of daily routine. Insecurity about his knowledge. He also sweats,” Sherlock leaned around the pillar, still on the look-out for John, “on his upper lip. Nervousness. Trained response. Must’ve got answers wrong frequently in school. Puts up a front, though, as if he knows better. Afraid of discovery more than usual, then. Not middle of the class. Bottom. Never mentions his alma mater, either, unlike Atkins or Weiss. He is trying to forget about uni. So…” Sherlock’s gaze focused laser-like on the loo, having obviously figured out the little mystery of where John was hiding. “In danger of being at the very bottom.”
Sally snorted. “You can’t know that.”
Sherlock considered for a moment. “Well, that, and he’s got a stupid face.”
Sally froze for a moment and then, before she knew what she was doing, she laughed.
Sherlock looked down at her in alarm. And, after all the threats she’d thrown his way over the years hadn’t daunted him in the slightest, that her laughing would freak him out, just made her laugh harder.
“Oh god, that’s wonderful,” Sally couldn’t help herself. “Tell me more about Anderson’s stupid face.”
Sherlock looked wary. “His low performance is most certainly related to his mother issues,” he ventured.
“Mother issues?” Sally hiccoughed a little, she was laughing so hard now.
“Severe mother issues,” Sherlock confirmed. “He wet his bed until he was at least eight.”
“How can you possibly know that?” Sally asked through her giggles. Tears were streaming down her eyes, but she wasn’t crying, and that was all that mattered just then. How had she never realised before just how funny Sherlock was? Of course, it probably helped that insulting Anderson was Sally’s new, favourite form of humour…
“He’s intimidated by women,” Sherlock was speaking slowly, as if Sally were some kind of lab experiment that had just grown an extra head. “His behaviour towards his wife and female coworkers demonstrates that clearly enough. He feels powerless—”
“—So he tries to take that power back,” Sally had known this, somehow, all along. By using me and dumping me, she didn’t add.
Surprisingly, Sherlock didn’t add it, either. “Bed-wetting isn’t uncommon among men of Anderson’s type, so I ran an experiment on him.”
“Oh, do tell.”
“I made a regular practice, at any crime scenes located within private residences, of looking pointedly between the mattress, the toilet, and Anderson, while affecting an expression as though I suspected him of something.”
Sally let out a howl of laughter. Patrons at several nearby tables turned to look at her in annoyance, but she didn’t care. “And you were right?”
“His palms sweat enough that he had to wipe them on his trousers. It’s generally the most effective way to shut him up at a crime scene. He obviously fears that I’ll mention it to the rest of the unit.”
“You’ve been saving it up?” Sally stopped laughing at the thought.
Sherlock blinked down at her, head cocked to one side, looking as much like a cyborg as he ever did. “I don’t follow.”
“You’ve kept that bit to yourself for your own use all these years, and now you’ve told me.”
Sherlock took a step back, like she was unsettling him. “I need to find John.”
“Why, Sherlock Holmes,” Sally teased, “I didn’t know you cared.”
Sherlock looked like a wild horse ready to bolt, which made Sally laugh even harder. Of course, before he could actually flee, John returned from the loo.
“Hey, everything all right here?” John asked cautiously, for once looking more towards Sally than Sherlock as he said it. John really was a hopelessly nice man. Heaven only knew what he saw in Sherlock.
“Fine,” Sherlock spat as if Sally had insulted him.
Sally laughed. “Brilliant,” she agreed. “Sherlock here was just telling me how Anderson was pants at uni and wet his bed until he was eight.”
John gave Sherlock a surprised look. “Did he?”
“Did you honestly expect me not to point out all the ways in which Anderson sucks oxygen out of a room?” Sherlock said waspishly before turning his attention fully to John. “I texted you. You didn’t answer.”
“Yeah, well, I was kind of busy.” John tilted his head deliberately in Sally’s direction.
“Where are my toes?”
“What’s the rule again?” John demanded. “If your body parts end up in my bedroom, they go in the rubbish.”
Sally tuned out their (frankly disturbing) bickering and pulled out her wallet to pay for the drinks. She didn’t know why, but seeing the pathetic corners of Anderson’s psyche made her flat not seem so dark and lonely any more. “You boys have a good evening. I’m going to take a taxi and sleep this off, yeah?”
“Yeah,” John agreed and gave her arm a squeeze.
She leaned in and gave him an affectionate peck on the cheek, because he really was a kind man. “Thanks for cheering me up.”
“Any time,” John offered her a small smile.
And then, before Sally could lose her nerve even with all the alcohol she’d consumed, she rose up on her tiptoes and caught Sherlock unprepared with a quick kiss on his cheek, too. He went rigid as a board and, when she pulled back, was already edging slowly away, eyes wide like a spooked wild animal.
There was something vaguely adorable about his complete awkwardness. God, Sally must have been really drunk to be thinking that.
“Thanks to you, too.” She giggled again because the situation was too absurd to do anything else. Sherlock was half hiding behind John now, like he was afraid she would maul him at any second. Sally turned to go, paused, and turned back. “You know, I really hope you never do end up being the murderer.” It was the first time she’d thought that; maybe it was more important than her instincts about Sherlock being right.
“I’m not a psychopath.” Usually, he didn’t even bother to defend himself.
“Good,” Sally said and waved them off.
When she got home, she didn’t even have much trouble falling asleep.
And, the next time she was at a crime scene, she looked deliberately at the bed, then at the toilet, and finally at Anderson, before she raised an eyebrow. Anderson’s face paled, and he fled the room with the lamest excuse she’d ever heard.
Sally smiled to herself. Maybe Sherlock Holmes was all right, after all.