Sherlock didn’t quite hide his surprise when John returned and John pretended studiously not to notice. He recovered quickly, sniffing in his usual nearly affectionate disdain, “You were nearly late for lunch.”
John ducked his head down, smiling, “Will you be eating something?”
“I ate this morning.”
“Are you on a case then?” John asked.
“Oh, that would be bliss,” Sherlock threw himself backward onto the sofa. “No, the criminal masses are being exceptionally dull.”
It probably wouldn’t last, for now Sherlock’s ennui was exactly what John needed. That pleasant curl of familiarity.
Their life continued in the vein that John was used to before; exciting, cases, running about London and everything that he loved (and secretly loved) about 221B. The strains of melancholy music at three in the morning that tapered away his nightmares on the infrequent nights they shook him awake, Sherlock shouting at some truly awful telly, being useful for Sherlock in a way that no one else was allowed to be. Playing Sherlock’s sounding board, making him tea, harassing him to eat enough and get some sleep. Some things had changed of course, he expected that. Sherlock was more liable to do the shopping and other than becoming periodically distracted by a discussion of explosives and produce (John had said absolutely not in the flat, too much mess, and so negotiations were put off until a time Sherlock could find some place to blow up eggplant) he did the shopping rather well. Except for when he had something else on his mind and would delete the shopping list as soon as John had told it to him and just follow John around, pushing the trolley while John steered with his fingers interwoven in the mesh.
Periodically he would point at someone and say, “John observe and deduce,” as if John were some sort of detecting breed of dog. But then he wasn’t sure how much time Sherlock had spent around children so he might do, consider them a kind of pleasingly malleable puppy. John was also required to keep his own journal for the experiments Sherlock had decided were part of his education. This wasn’t something he had enjoyed with Sherlock before. Mostly because he had been the one having to clean things up and shoulder things aside to fit himself at the breakfast table. Now they would sit side by side at the kitchen table in goggles and lab aprons, and occasionally wander St Bart’s-ward and do chemical tests, dissections and soil analysis. There was something thrilling about occasionally blowing something up, as much as John must also play the devil’s advocate and say no blowing up feet in the flat. Like all the fun parts of primary and secondary school science class. The best part of all was when Sherlock would lean toward him and whisper, “You’re really supposed to write a report on this, but you don’t have to. Just don’t tell Mycroft.”
Sometimes John would do a report anyway, because he knew how to write articles for medical journals, he just did it again in miniature. It was the least he could do to retain the life he was living. The last thing he wanted was to be sent off to school. Mycroft had a short campaign for just that purpose with whatever Mycroftian plot he was hatching. John had protested fervently for a variety of good reasons, he wasn’t a child, he already knew everything, Sherlock needed him. He had more, but in an unusual move of maturity Sherlock sent him upstairs. Being sent upstairs like a hysterical child would have upset John normally, but he knew the planes of expression in the lines of Sherlock’s posture. He would fight for John to stay.
Sherlock had agreed John shouldn’t go to school, and had dumped the glossy full color pictures booklets for the exclusive public schools that Mycroft brought into the fire. Mycroft and Sherlock had two or three conversations that seemed to consist of Mycroft giving long meandering treatise on the importance of education while the mind was still young and malleable, and about socialization. Sherlock’s counterargument was essentially saying, mine, mine, mine, stop taking my toys but what really meant, I know I can do this, just trust me enough to do this, I know I can if you’ll just let me. John knew that sentiment, he lived that sentiment, and he didn’t want to leave Sherlock to go stay with children far away from 221B, far away from home, even if the children were exceptionally smart and even if he could come home on the weekends.
“Really Sherlock?” Mycroft finally said.
There was a soft moment of silence like the soft slide of Sherlock’s fingers down his violin strings. “John is remarkably self-aware, showing the capacity of independent thought and decision making greater than that of several of the students wandering around St Bart’s. He is incredibly intelligent for all that he’s been deeply trained to appear almost ordinary and he has been extensively trained in maths, sciences as well as English and the various social sciences. He has made the decision that would like me to carry out what education he needs, which is hardly any. And even if I were to consent to let you send him to some beautified version of the institution that valiantly tried for years to convince him that he was small and unimportant and that he was ineffectual and not that terribly clever it’s not what he needs. He needs to be here with me, with someone who understands, with someone who actually cares about him as a person and not some resource for the British Government.”
“You’re making me into a -”
“I’m not Father!” Sherlock shouted suddenly, John, eavesdropping against the banister nearly jumped and gave himself away. “And I’m not saying that you are either. But considering John’s past, it is better for him to stay here, in the same place, with me.”
There was a loaded British Government sized silence; Mycroft’s silence was capable of containing enough subtext to arrange a minor trade agreement. “How long did it take you to compose and memorize that nice bit of language?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, all those sweets have finally gone too your head,” John could hear the sniff in those words which meant in Sherlockian, quite a while.
“Hmm,” Mycroft hummed; there was a thread of almost amusement in that hum as well as about a million other things John couldn’t parse. “I think John may belong here after all. Do try and keep him safe and alive. I suppose he had sense enough when you forget him, or forget to buy groceries, or scar him emotionally or drown him a little in second hand smoke to go seek comfort in the arms of that little mismatched gang of street urchins.”
High strung silence jaggedly ruptured from below with all the disquiet of violin strings vibrating on the edge of snapping back to hit someone in the eye. That was on the very border of acceptable. Mycroft was desperate then to get John out of the flat.
Get John away from Sherlock.
It was strange and disquieting and even Sherlock’s superior experience in Mycroft-parsing didn’t seem to be able to locate the source of his… not fear. Mycroft wasn’t afraid of anything. Not except maybe losing Sherlock who was smart enough to get himself into trouble he couldn’t get back out of again. Other than that, well, Mycroft was afraid of nothing.
“Oh, go interrogate a dictator,” Sherlock replied and then there was a clamour and clink from the kitchen of dishes against pans as if Sherlock had an interest in cleaning anything other than flasks and beakers.
He worried Mycroft might eventually crack Sherlock’s resolve if he kept pressing. There had been a strong emphasis on emotional development and when Sherlock had said he has me Mycroft let loose a few seconds of silence so powerful operas could be written about it. That silence could inspire a movie trilogy. Dirty, filthy warfare that silence.
Sherlock, for all his sociopath posturing, was resistant to just about any argument except that his very nature made harming someone unavoidable.
Sherlock had been too well-trained into believing he was… too much to belong with people for long. It wasn’t true, but he had been very well-trained. John understood caring was no advantage when it only made it worse when someone threw your personality, your brilliance, your mental artistry, all the things that people should admire, back in your face.
Mycroft was the one he really had to convince.
Mycroft fled, diplomatically, the domesticity, hovering for a moment at the doorway to adjust his suit coat. John looked down at the immaculate lines of his shoulders and the careful arrangement of his posture, the dark auburn of his nearly thinning hair. Mycroft looked up suddenly at John, even though John had thought he was being completely quiet and even though he was holding his breath, looking straight into John’s eyes.
John tried to see if something of Mycroft’s real feelings were hiding somewhere on his face. But reading Mycroft was an insane thing to hope for. Knowing some of the things Sherlock got into as a child to expand his skillset, he could picture Mycroft practicing looking inscrutable while on fire hanging upside down over a tiger pit. The eldest Holmes had always unsettled him, a soldier liked to know what was real.
“I know you worry constantly,” he said, he wanted to go downstairs and offer some sort of moral support to Sherlock but couldn’t pass go with Mycroft there analyzing his hair follicles. “And that you probably have a head full of the thousand different ways someone like him who never wants to accept or admit that he’s in fact mortal can get himself hurt. But I’m not one of those ways. Sherlock is my friend and I’m sticking with him.”
“You are very young,” he managed to sound both unruffled, unimpressed and possibly, secretly, contemptuous all at the same time. He adjusted his cufflink with a beautiful movement.
“I’m old enough.”
Mycroft looked at him.
“Sherlock can do this.”
Mycroft finally broke his gaze and stepped down the stairs as unaffected as a summer morning. John half stumbled down the stairs to get to Sherlock, curled around his raised knees. Sherlock looked at him seriously, blankly, for a moment. It was like getting caught by some alien creature in an unexpected place, those eyes with so much going on behind them. He checked Sherlock’s number of patches to cover the shock of it and made him tea and toast.
Sherlock said nothing from his strop huddle.
“Did,” John tried, “Mycroft appear to have gained a couple of pounds?”
Sherlock’s mouth twitched at the corner.
“Try to eat your toast, even transport needs fuel.”
“It’s Friday,” Sherlock finally broke. “You have to go see Roost. You’ve been reminding me.”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “But I can stay here a while. If you’d like me to stay for a while I can.”
“I have told you before,” Sherlock waved that off. “I don’t do sentiment. I don’t need coddling. It is both inefficient and ineffectual.”
“I know. But I like to ask anyway, just in case you magically decide one day that you want to practice some sentimentality of your own.”
Sherlock snorted as if John had told a very good joke, John smiled indulgently back at him.
“Try to eat your toast.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock said and went back to thinking.
John felt a little bad for misleading Sherlock. He wasn’t really if one thought about it. He was going to go see Roost, but only because there was a way out of Davey’s lair that CCTV couldn’t cover and he had finally found a way to set up a time to meet with Dimmock via strategically placed notes. But if Sherlock was in a mood like this, he wouldn’t want to talk with John for a while anyway. He slung his bag over his shoulder, the hard edges of his medical kit touching his shoulder blades and the base of his back. With Mycroft’s push to have Sherlock send him away, off to some posh school he sort of wanted someone to set up a backup plan with. His hand curled around the CCTV free directions written neatly on the back of a receipt for dim sum. He couldn’t check it until he got out of sight of Mycroft’s eyes about town; he wanted to at least give the illusion he actually was going to meet with Roost. John followed the directions to a side door of a block of flats very similar to the one John lived in when he got back from the war. He was fine, climbing up the side stairs until he got to a beige door. Dimmock’s door. This was madness, this was genuine madness. What was he supposed to say? What was he supposed to ask? What if Dimmock had too many questions?
He looked down at his hands, holding them one way, and then the other. They were perfectly steady. John took a deep breath. He could stand here panicking all morning, or he could knock.
He had invaded Afghanistan, he could knock on a door.
Dimmock answered the door dressed in plaid pajama pants that hung over the top of his feet and a thin, well-worn jumper. He looked impossibly young, huge eyed and anxious. John supposed there was some comfort in the fact Dimmock looked as jumbled as he felt. “I – sorry, if I realized you were coming this early I would have put on some real clothes.”
“I just wasn’t-”
“Dimmock, its all fine.”
Dimmock took a soft breath and nodded once. “You should come in.”
He moved aside, watching John hesitantly step in and look around curiously. The flat was small. It consisted of a bed with bright blue linens, a stocky square bedside table, two overstuffed armchairs and in the kitchen a table that had enormous legs. They were like a stack of big wooden onions. It was obviously all second hand and jumble sale buys. The only decoration on the matte beige of the walls was a single square painting of a chicken, it was very pretty, black and white speckled. It was a lone sentinel against the beigeness of the flat.
“I haven’t had visitors…” Dimmock startled and then cut himself off, fled to the kitchen. “How old are you really?”
“Thirty-four,” John said, snooping at the bedside table. There was a shelf for books under the drawer filled with neat stacks of paperbacks. A few of them were in Russian, a couple in French one was a Farsi-English dictionary. “You?”
“Fifty-seven,” Dimmock said, his voice had the sound of a death bell to it. “Can you have coffee?”
That set John back. Fifty-seven. That was horrendous. A whole life gone. John thought he had lost. “No,” he said quickly, coming back to himself. “No, I’m not really tall when I’m an adult, I don’t want to make it worse.”
There is a faint huff of what could be laughter followed by the familiar sound of water running, of a coffee pot’s hollow hooo at being filled. The click of the pot into place and the hiss and bubble as it heated. Dimmock didn’t look at him as he leaned against the kitchen doorway. His back tightened and pulled in waves, it was like the men who had served one too many tours, pushing on and on with the whole world and every cast iron pain of it dragging behind him.
“I was coming up on twenty-five years of marriage,” he finally said, staring at the coffee pot. “Lizzie, she told me to be careful. My eldest, Nells, she was coming down from uni that weekend and so my wife wanted me to be careful.”
John didn’t know what he was supposed to say to that, what was anyone supposed to say to the erasure of twenty-five years of marriage.
“I didn’t tell, I couldn’t tell any-” Dimmock started to take quick, sharp breathes, like a wounded animal. “No one would have believed me, they would have locked me away…” He knees buckled and he caught himself on the counter with his elbows and forearms, an uneven scramble. “Every time I worked a case where there was someone widowed, I just- I just- He shouldn’t be allowed to do that. He shouldn’t be allowed to do things like that.”
John didn’t feel like he knew Dimmock well enough to try and comfort the broken line of his back and Dimmock didn’t know him at all.
“Thank you,” Dimmock said very softly. “Thank you for knowing my name. You have no idea what it’s like to lose everything and no one knows your name.”
“I do,” John said in his gentle, you might not lose that leg voice. “A little, I didn’t have a family, or a wife, or even a girlfriend. I just had a flatmate, a sister that doesn’t like my company, and some friends that I’d go to the pub with sometimes. And it hurt me, to have everything burned away. To have it shoved in my face how little the world changes without me in it. But I can’t imagine what it would be like for you.” He stopped and didn’t say anything for a while. “I know you don’t remember me, but I knew you and I’m sorry you had to go through that, through this. I’m sorry you have to experience this abominable thing.”
There was only the sound of the coffee maker and Dimmock’s sharpedged animal breathes. Finally Dimmock stood straight and pressed his fingertips to the counter. “What were you?” he finally asked, a soft half-drunk sound.
“A doctor, a broken down soldier and a surgeon who couldn’t be trusted to cut anyone open. I blogged and helped to solve mysteries, but I didn’t do anything other than that. The only thing I was good at was following geniuses around, shooting at things and making tea.”
“Tea is important. You must have been kind before,” Dimmock said, finally looking at him. “If nothing else, you must have been kind. You’re kind now. Most people only want to deal with other people’s problems if they’re getting paid to do it.”
“It’s my problem too,” John creased his eyebrows at him.
“So you’re a good man,” he shrugged.
It was quiet then in the little flat with its sentinel chicken. Dimmock stared at the coffee maker in a familiarly strained face while he collected himself, lost the pained, pinched tightness around his mouth. John gave him privacy, sitting in one of the armchairs and reading through the notations Sherlock had made in his journal all in red, but mostly in the margins. Finally there was the sound of mugs and the opening of the refrigerator door.
“Milk?” Dimmock asked, sounding far more himself. Collected and not in that anxious way men got when they were about to cry in front of someone, “I don’t have much else.”
“Milk is fine,” John looked up and Dimmock nodded back over the partition dividing the kitchenette from the rest of the room.
“You’ve some books in Russian,” John said, trying to help break through the silence.
“Helps with diction, speaking like a native; or something like.”
That surprised John. “Why do you have to speak Russian like a native?”
“Grendel is hiding out in Russia right now; I’m trying to seem as native as I can. It’s not an easy language to learn.”
“I can imagine.”
Dimmock laughed faintly, “Sorry,” he shook his head and crossed to hand John a World’s Best Granny mug, another jumble sale buy it looked like. “It’s a little strange to talk to someone who looks so young like this.”
“I’m not-” John started.
“I know,” Dimmock interrupted him, and promptly slouched down in his own chair. “Believe me I know. But it’s still a little strange. Stranger to have someone to talk to about this. When Grendel sent me back in time he did more than just erase my marriage, he killed my wife.” Dimmock turned his head away and kept talking as if he were afraid John might say something about it. “I don’t want to go over it right now. But I decided that was going to stop him. Keep him from doing this to anyone else. I’m a police officer, I made it to commissioner,” he peeked just once over at John before his eyes darted away and his fingers danced anxiously over his mug. “And Grendel’s a criminal. So I’ve set out to catch him.”
“You’re going to kill him,” John said.
Dimmock’s hand flexed.
“I suppose you have dibs on him, I’m not going to argue.”
Dimmock’s mouth tipped, mean and determined at the edge, “Good. I’ve been using some of my old contacts, people from cases I worked on, to try and roust him out. He set up shop in Spain for a little while, I had him rousted, I know enough about the future members of Interpol to chase him across Europe. Now Grendel is trying to get equipment from some ex-government members or current I’m not sure; he’s currently hiding out in Russia anyway so he’s doing something. Trying to root me out,” Dimmock shifted in his chair. There was a solemn little endurance in his voice. He sounded very old and very tired. “I don’t know what to do now. It’s only a matter of time before he finds me. I don’t have the resources. No matter how ahead I am technologically, it’s just a matter of time before he finds me.”
“It sounds like you’ve been living a Bond film,” John said, Dimmock had talked about marriage, about children. John felt a twisting sickness in his belly at the thought of it. There was nothing else he could think to say to that. “I want to help you. It’s only right.”
“Soldier you said,” Dimmock smiled faintly.
“I might be able to help you,” John said. “I have a phone. It was my sister’s, she gave it to me when I pensioned out. When Grendel got me I still had it on me. I think because there’s two of them no one can track the signal.”
“How can you be sure?” he looked awake now, less like he was pushing past pain and more like he might have, back when he was commissioner. Hungry and sharp and ready.
John told him about Sherlock, how Sherlock had saved his life and the first night as his flatmate, before he had even moved in they were flatmates, when he had saved Sherlock’s life back. And then about his brother the British government and being kidnapped to an abandoned warehouse and having that life and the cases taken away. How he wanted it back. How he went back and shot the cabbie and then followed Sherlock and then again, the Blind Banker when he sent the text to Sherlock and signed it W. “For Watson of course,” he explained sheepishly. How Sherlock had found him and what he and his brother had assumed that John was some sort of government experiment and W was some super genius. And how Mycroft had tried that morning to get Sherlock to send him away.
“He won’t though, he promised,” John said.
“But it worried you.”
John shrugged, sipped his milk.
“We can use that,” Dimmock tapped one finger against the side of his mug, “I need to get Grendel off my back and it wouldn’t hurt to pull Mycroft’s attention away from you. If he’s got the position and power you mentioned then we can use him too.”
That made John’s stomach clench, “No, he’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Can tell how your grandmother died by the state of your shoes brilliant. I’ve only stayed ahead of him because I know him a little, as much as I could. I know Sherlock more like and just make made guesses at the rest. He’ll eat you alive. And let’s be honest, if someone finds out about Grendel’s whatever it is-”
“I’m going with ray gun,” Dimmock half-shrugged, a nearly sassy sort raise of his eyebrows and tilt of his shoulders.
“What people would do to get it.”
“I agree,” Dimmock put his mug down beside him. “Likewise I want you to understand what we’re up against with Grendel.” Dimmock hunched over his knees, clenching his hands together in a knot. He was suddenly pale and drawn and terribly old again. “When I get close to him, when I try to stop him, he punishes me. Any trouble I give him. He, he burnt down a school after I got two of his men arrested and his little workshop set down. There were,” he closed his eyes. “Children died.”
“When I got back from the war,” John said gently, “my therapist wanted me to talk about everything, say everything, but I couldn’t. I was afraid that after I had told her those horrible hard things I fought through that she’d just look at me with that passive understanding face and take notes. Like she wouldn’t care. I could tell her about the feeling of holding a man together with my bare hands and she wouldn’t be shocked and she wouldn’t be horrified and it would be like it didn’t matter at all. The worst part is saying it and not knowing if it will be taken seriously. So I’m not going to ask you about what you’ve been through. But if you want to talk I’ll listen.”
Dimmock’s hands tightened and his eyes squeezed closed so that his eyebrow almost touched his cheek.
“We’re fighting him together now, you and I. We’re in this together now, shoulder to shoulder. We’re going to stop him, catch him and put a bullet in his head.”
Sorry I’ll be a little late today, will you say I spent these past few hours with Roost? – W
Hurry up. He keeps moping at me. BD