After his third attempt to slide the key into the lock, John let out a shaky sigh.
Harry had left him the wrong key. Again.
As this day wasn't as shitty as it could get, he was now freezing his arse off on the pavement in front of their flat, in the pale light of October. Rubbing his hands against each other he considered calling Mike again and asking him if he could sleep at his place for the night. Then he remembered the terrible backache he’d endured after the last time, and the fact that Molly was probably spending the night there anyway, and changed his mind. Looking at the small golden key in his left fist, John took his phone out of his pocket and typed his sister's number with numb fingers. The street was quiet; a few passers-by eager to hurry home and leave the frozen wind behind shut doors. When the ringtone resounded more than five times, he hit the call button with all the irritation he could muster. Harry had probably gone out with Clara without thinking about him, likely drunk already. John had hoped meeting Clara would help his sister with the addiction that had appeared when she attended art school. Especially after Harry’s previous girlfriend, her partner at art lessons of four years, had been discovered shagging the professor between classes. John remembered bitterly how Harry had been a walking mess during the fallout, how she used to half-open his door at night, sniffling miserably and slipping beneath his sheets, marking his cotton shirt with tears and mascara. He didn't know the girl personally, didn't even know her name.
Yet after two years and four months, John still hated her with all his heart.
Tightening his coat and flicking his collar up, John began to walk in the other direction, feeling hungry and sodding tired. He strode through the London evening, wondering if one day the earth would be kind enough to turn on its axis without leaving such wounds along the way.
After half an hour of purposeless wandering, John managed to find a relatively comfortable bench near the Thames. The city lights were glowing like fireflies on the surface of the dark water, mirroring the starry sky above his head. John had always loved how the silence of the night could keep him from overthinking. It transformed dark moods into scattered fogs of thought nearly too thin to be concerning, giving him a complete oblivion of existence that was perfect beyond articulation. He would lay there with an arm beneath the nape of his neck, eyes glimmering in awe at the sight of bright constellations. When he was eight he remembered learning all the names by heart before going to bed, his fingertips running along the coloured paper with curiosity. He’d daydreamed about becoming an astronaut for years, until his mother explained to him one night that she was going to become a shining star too.
That was when he knew he wanted to be a doctor.
If John couldn't stop the heavens from welcoming each and every soul he loved, then perhaps he could help them to remain on Earth a little longer. Still, John liked to watch the cosmos and forget; feeling only the presence of loved ones by his side while falling asleep. He forgot about the cold, about the pain of his back pressed against unyeilding wood. Letting his ocean eyes drown among the little lights, his eyelids became heavy and closed without realising it. Tonight his dreams were rife with unknown voices, which seemed very far away—the echo of a bullet’s flight and sharp screams. He couldn't see anything but black, blinded with only one undeniably developed sense left. The blackness shifted, becoming a weak shade of blood. This was when John’s head snapped up and he saw the hand slipping from his coat pocket. It only took him an instant to understand, but the thief was already escaping. John tore after him, barely catching up when he saw his adversary’s partner also at the edge of the bridge, running too but clearly not as fast. John attempted to tackle him to the ground as he had been taught in seventh form, but the fellow was stronger than he looked. John stumbled between two barriers, trying desperately to keep his balance. He was a mere yard away from a tumble into the river when the pickpocket pushed him head first into the Thames.
The last coherent thought that crossed John’s mind before darkness swallowed him whole was that the fireflies were no longer shining.
I'm dead , thought John, strangely calm. He couldn't hear, see, or smell anything, but there was water in his lungs so he must have died. Gradually, however, he became conscious of the wind on his face and began to feel the warmth of fabric wrapped around him. It seemed he was no longer constricted by the laws of gravity. He could actually feel himself standing in the air but didn't understand how that was even possible. His head was pounding, his blood running madly throughout every cell of his being. His lungs were aflame, hopelessly trying to fill themselves with oxygen.
But oxygen was not necessary when you were dead, was it?
He couldn't tell.
A vague scent of Earl Grey and chemical miasma reached him, and John breathed it in deeply, as painful as it was. Even if he had never smelled anything remotely like this before, it somehow reminded John of the sweetness home could provide. Eyes still closed, he allowed himself to go back into that sweet oblivion. When the grip around him tightened, the scent intensified and John smiled, remembering the words his mother had whispered to him each time he’d woken out of a nightmare.
A tender and truthful: “Home sweet home.”
When John finally woke up the next morning, he mumbled soundlessly at the daylight that was caressing the side of his neck. He was lying in a double bed, white covers around his waist. The room was empty, save for a small desk beside a large window and a periodic table of elements that was hung on the wall. He took a moment to muse over how he’d come to be in a bed without any of his clothes on apart from his pants. He tried hard not to think about how someone had managed to undress him while he was unconscious. His throat was sore. Probably inflamed, he deduced, as he massaged the glands under his jawline. The taste of filthy water eventually invaded his tongue, bringing back unwelcome memories with it. Feeling pathetic, he pushed his head further into the pillow and closed his eyes. He was definitely a fucking moron. At the thought of his sister, John moaned and threw his left forearm against his eyes.
“Awake, I see,” a deep baritone remarked from the doorway.
John froze instantly, only just starting to wonder in whose flat he’d slept. Considering that the voice seemed to belong to a young man who was apparently no friend of his, probably a stranger then.
Carefully, John let his arm fall to his chest and his apprehensive gaze meet the green one. In fact, John couldn't say what exactly colour it was. It was a veritable plethora of blue, grey and green, shades that made him think of thunder clouds and hurricanes followed by a radiant spring sky. Pure chaos. He was vaguely aware that his mouth had fallen open, and forced himself to blink after incalculable seconds. His voice came back eventually, sounding more high pinched than usual.
“Here, take this,” the taller man said as he handed John a glass bottle with a spoon.
John thanked him and took a better look at him while drinking the medicine. The man was young, probably only nineteen or twenty years of age. There were errant black curls falling over his forehead, and his face was built with a pair of ridiculously sharp cheekbones and full lips. John surprised himself at the sudden thought that crossed his mind—his rescuer was like an ancient Greek statue, with his creamy skin and impeccably sculptured body framed by a purple shirt and black trousers. He frowned slightly.
Time to focus on other thoughts that would not make John blush like a teenage girl. Feeling like he ought to say something, John was about to open his mouth when the young man leaned against the wall, hands in his pockets, and spoke again.
“I was there when you fell into the Thames. The two men that stole your wallet were searching for a vulnerable person and had almost given up when they finally spotted you, a Uni student lying on a bench, sleep-deprived—likely caused by an alcoholic brother who left you out while he was getting drunk with his girlfriend. In fact, considering the hour and his tolerance for vodka,” the man added with a glance at his watch, “she left him when began dancing with pretty girls, and came home furious.”
He said all of this without stopping for breath, almost sounding bored.
What the hell ?
“How do you know all that?” asked John, astounded.
That angelic face regarded at him as if he was some kind of very stupid creature with a particularly thick mind. He narrowed his eyes and said, “I deduced it, obviously.”
Obviously. Okay, John was a bit lost here. He didn't know this bloke but he nevertheless had just divulged most of John’s life like facts he read in this morning’s paper. John felt suddenly very exposed. He covered his bare torso with a sheet, cheeks flushing, and thought helplessly that if he could disappear right now he would very grateful. The rustling of fabric against the wall caught John’s attention once more. His gaze met the young man's. He saw there a faint uncertainty that had nothing to do with the previous nonchalance.
“Did I make a mistake?” he asked, sounding annoyed at the potential confirmation.
John was initially too stupefied to respond, but quickly collected his thoughts.
“No, you—you're right. I mean, partly, because Harry's my sister but—“
“Damn it!” the young man hissed, passing an angry hand through his curls. “There’s always something.”
“No, it's fascinating. How do you do that?” John asked, with utmost curiosity.
“Sorry?” The man stared at him with wide eyes, as if he had just suggested he was a fire-eater.
“D’you just look at people and tell by the folds of their jeans what they ate for lunch that day? Like on the telly?”
“No,” snorted the genius, with that you are an idiot expression John was truly beginning
to tire of. “This nonsense has nothing to do with the Science of Deduction . I have a website,” he added solemnly.
John couldn't help it; he giggled at the name and immediately regretted it when he saw those pale eyes retracting. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to upset a perfect stranger in his own bed after he’d saved him from drowning.
“Sorry. What exactly is the Science of Deduction? he inquired, pulling himself together with a small smile. The young man settled more comfortably against the wall.
“I observe, eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” he explained with pride. There was something childish about the way he talked and carried himself, an impression that made John think of withdrawn introversion that had grown gradually into a self-defensive arrogance. He imagined a small black haired boy with an acute gaze deducing other children. It must have been difficult.
“Do you really think it's good?” he asked John doubtfully after a moment.
“Of course! I suppose you're already aware of how incredible it is, aren't you.”
“That's…not what people usually say.”
“And what do people usually say?”
“Piss off.” The man smirked, eyes sparkling with sudden mischief. John let out a slightly hysterical laugh.
This fellow was definitely something.
He licked his lips hesitantly and held out a hand, letting the sheets fall from his shoulders altogether. “John Watson.”
“Sherlock Holmes,” replied the other, shaking the proffered hand.
John had never heard such an odd name before but an unexpected twinge quivered in his chest when their hands met. He smiled at Sherlock and focused on the way the young man's lips arched upward as he returned the smile. Then John’s eyes met those vivid green irises in the dim light and he couldn't breathe properly.
“Pleasure to meet you, John Watson.”
The street’s cacophony resonated in the distance of London's dawn, muffled by the glazed window. John could almost see the top of Kingston's buildings from here. Regardless how much he tried, he couldn't stop himself from worrying about where his sister had spent the night—if she had thought about taking a cab and returning to the flat or if she’d slept in a night club's corner with a scotch bottle in one hand and a strange girl's curves in the other.
He was finishing putting some clothes—Sherlock’s clothes—on, when the young man himself came back into the room. He slunk onto his bed like a cat. With his chin propped on his knees, observing John without blinking, John began to feel rather uncomfortable. Sherlock’s white shirt was too tight and his black jeans a bit too long on him, but John had no other choice. His own clothes were still wet and smelled like stagnant water.
He broke the gaze and let himself wander around the room before asking, “Are you going to the Uni ? I didn't see you before but considering that you live five minutes from there...”
“It's eight minutes, actually. But yes, I am,” Sherlock replied somewhat tonelessly.
“What are you learning?” John heard himself spill the words before shutting his mouth. He had to admit it was a little difficult to concentrate with the intensity of Sherlock's stare upon him. If it was possible, John was certain he could drown once again.
“Chemistry, and you’re studying Clinical Practice. I noticed the St Barts' magnetic card in your wallet.”
“But my wallet got stolen, how do you...” John muttered with sudden apprehension.
Oh God, I'm going to be murdered!
But before he considered scuttling away, Sherlock handed him the wallet, which smelled of rotten bananas and something more indeterminate. Wrinkling his nose, John took it between two fingers and grumbled a “Thanks,” that he didn’t really mean.
“I found it in a bin when I brought you here. There's no money left but you still have your
papers and Uni card.”
“Thank god,” replied John, with so much exhaustion his sarcastic tone fell flat. “I only had
ten quid anyway.”
Silence settled between them, Sherlock still piercing that X-Ray gaze at him, as though he could read his mind, dissect it. Maybe John should go back home and find out where Harry was. Yes, he really should.
Sherlock moved from the bed, extracting something from his trousers pocket. He gave John his unexpectedly dry phone, and, without allowing John time to express his gratitude, left the room. John stood still for interminable seconds, trying to recover. Pull yourself together, mate!
He tossed his dirty clothes in a plastic bag nearby and began to leave the room as well. Reaching the living room, he caught a glimpse of raven curls fluttering towards the kettle. John rather fiercely told himself that he hadn’t actually just seen a bag full of human thumbs, before Sherlock handed him a cup of scalding tea. He accepted it gratefully, almost groaning from pain at the heat spreading through his throat. Bad idea.
Scarcely repressing a choke, he took the time to look at the mess on the floor and the scattered papers on the table while complimenting himself. Apparently there existed far worse than his own personal chaos, which was quite something. Mike would have been jealous. There was a microscope standing wobbly at the center of this catastrophe of open books, cylinders and test tubes scattered among plates and empty glasses. What a bloody masterpiece.
Sherlock was busy mixing the contents of different tubes, which looked vaguely like ethanol and potassium permanganate.
“Experiments,” he explained without looking up.
“Do you know that using them tog—“ began John, but his voice was abruptly swallowed by a detonation that made them both cough through the white smoke. John poured the rest of his now cooling tea on the smoking tube without a second thought and stared at Sherlock. He could have roared at the sight of that horrified face, owlish eyes facing the disaster of the failed experiment. But Sherlock immediately scowled at him.
“What is wrong with you?” he shouted, clearly outraged at John's will not to perish in a fire caused by chemical reaction. “Of course I knew, that was what this experiment was about, but now I have to take it from the start!”
John gazed at him, wondering how a talented man like Sherlock could be this stupid about basic security instructions. He wasn't even wearing safety goggles or gloves. Meanwhile, Sherlock was discarding the botched result in the sink with great noise, and thrusting his hands under the water flowing from the tap. John tried to approach him, wanting to examine his burned fingers, but Sherlock turned his back. Fair enough.
John lifted his bag, gripping it under one arm, and hesitated a moment before turning back and moving toward the door. Fist clenched on the handle, he exhaled an apologetic “Thank you,” that was almost lost in his chest. Then he departed without looking back.