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Bedtime Stories

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After deleting Winnie-the-Pooh from his hard drive 54 times, Sherlock gave up and stopped wasting his effort. Eventually the knowledge proved useful and amusing when a case for Mycroft pivoted on the phrase “a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness.”

He intended, after the gibe about the solar system, to drop an informed reference on John at the first apt opening.

He was thwarted by John never having read the books.

Sherlock had read the books.

He’d assumed it was compulsory.

“How...”

“Don’t. I just didn’t.”

“Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan,” said Sherlock, doing rapid retrieval. “Every English child was raised on them.”

“Not this one. Go on, ask me about Harry Potter.”

“Not for money, cakes, or cream. Didn’t you have a stuffed bear? I thought they were issued at birth.” To people like you hung in the air.

“I had a rabbit.”

“There’s a Rabbit in...”

“I know. I’d have to be as oblivious as...you, not to have heard about them. Never read the books, is all. Did you have a teddy bear?” John squinted at him, trying to imagine. There were no photographs of Sherlock, at any age, in the flat.

“I had a rat,” said Sherlock, sullenly.

“Stuffed?”

“Eventually. It’s hardly fair. Why should I be lumbered with this ‘common knowledge’ when you managed to escape it altogether? Through what I imagine must have been a tiresomely average education and upbringing? It’s unbalanced.”

“I’m sure there are adults roaming the streets who have never actually read Winnie-the-Pooh. Or even The Wind in the Willows.”

“That was next on my list,” lied Sherlock. He’d deleted all but the name of that book, though the ghostly after-image of a toad driving a motor car would not be expunged. The original had been banished early on for the sin of inconsistent proportions--unlike the less popular, but more dimensionally scrupulous, Gulliver’s Travels.

“Did you like the Pooh books?” asked John, looking skeptical.

“What were you read at bedtime?” asked Sherlock. John was reticent about his homelife, his childhood, and most of his history before his medical training. Having never met nor intercepted communication from members of his family, other than the coarse blog comments from Harry--the woman refused to text or email John, even when in her cups, which added a layer of meaning to her smart-phone regift--Sherlock worked primarily from the evidence of John himself. It was an absorbing and seemingly endless study. Sherlock was more than once forced to admit multiple interpretations of available data, and on occasion, though he never revealed it to John, he privileged the wrong one.

“I said,” repeated John, apparently, “if you’re not answering my questions, I’m not answering...”

“Nothing, then,” said Sherlock. “Too sad. Did that warp you for life?”

“Pot, kettle, black,” said John. Snapped John.

I was read to at bedtime.” Every sodding night through his seventh birthday, grimly, determinedly, religiously, by a series of childcare workers in training to become prison wardens. Who were preferable to his mother or father. Or dipsomaniacal Auntie Em, who once pinned his resisting body against the pillows with her foot for an animated account of the deeds of Robin Hood, the Pest of Lancashire. “It made me the man I am.” It helped. It engendered in him a deep and abiding suspicion of fiction and disdain for humanity, even when disguised as talking livestock.

And yet. He peered at John.

And yet.

Sherlock had been read to sleep. The mawkish, ridiculous nonsense droning in his ear, often in affected squeaky voices, had driven him into slumber, night after night. From self defense, likely, his mind slamming shut against the relentless procession of irrational ducks and nannies serving tea on the moon. Sherlock, boy and man, never suffered from nightmares.

John, on the other hand.

All right, yes, Afghanistan, shot in the shoulder, blood and sand. But had not Sherlock bled? Had not Sherlock been subject to harm and pain, boredom and idiocy?

John often dozed in front of the telly. Could one draw a parallel between the twaddle and squeaky drone of that doctor show he watched and the hired thugs of Sherlock’s childhood rendering him insensate with tales of a bear in a raincoat?

A wadded scrap of paper bounced off Sherlock’s nose. He blinked. “Oi! Man that you are: have we finished this? I’m going out.”

Not yet, thought Sherlock, rubbing his nose. Not finished yet.

***

He texted Lestrade:

Do you know what A means, little Piglet?
SH

After a long 40 seconds, Lestrade replied.

Who’s asking?

You tell me.
SH

Another 20 seconds passed, in which Sherlock imagined gears slowly grinding.

Either a sad, stuffed ass
or the bastard dim enough to be holding him

It proved little, but Sherlock felt better. Lestrade knew Pooh. Lestrade had had children. There was a picture book underneath the table in the spare bedroom of his house, the girl’s room. Lestrade, doting father, or his former wife, bitter domestic, likely read it to her. Were they replicating practices of their youth? Item, the book had been left behind. Item, Lestrade had let it lie. Item, possibly irrelevant, the cover showed a dancing mouse.

Lestrade, he’d observed, had nightmares. Quiet ones, that made him shudder and grip the bedclothes.

His phone rang. Lestrade checking. “Sherlock?” His two-drink, tired, rasping voice.

“Were you read to sleep as a child?”

A sigh. “That wasn’t code, then.” A pause. “Was it an offer?” His two-drink, tired, suggestive voice. But right on the subject.

“No,” said Sherlock. Reluctantly. Strangely reluctantly. Reluctantly enough to make him hesitate for a pulse beat. “Gathering data. Go,” his own voice rasped, “go to bed.” There’s John, even without John, there’s John. Lestrade disconnected without speaking again, without answering. Sherlock considered and marked him inconclusive.

***

“It’s an experiment,” he told John. “Go back to bed. Wait for me.”

John made a heretofore uncatalogued face. Then ducked his head. “You’re not experimenting on anything in my bed.” John’s tired, post-nightmare voice differed from Lestrade’s. Lestrade goes deep, John goes high. Over the wall, tight in the throat. Blinking in the kitchen in the middle of the night, he looked both old and childlike. His hair stuck up, his eyes drooped, his left hand shook, reaching for his mug. “I’ve just changed the sheets.”

“Location is significant. It’s not messy.” Sherlock raised an eyebrow; John reddened and tramped off, clutching his tea. It was the third night in a row he’d slept badly. Good.

On entering John’s room, Sherlock made a mental note to bring a chair the next time. “Move over,” he told John, who was sitting rather more bolt upright than desired against the headboard, in the middle of the bed, with the duvet tucked tightly under his hips and legs. At the roll of John’s eye in his direction, he flourished his book. “Really, John, what were you expecting?” he said, to see him blush again. Oh, John, dear, foolish John. Sherlock pushed and he shuffled over, ceding the warm spot. Sherlock slid into it, feet snug under the covers, his dressing gown riding up in a silken roll at his back. It was a chilly night, spring or no, and John was a comfortable, heat-radiant bulk beside him. Still sitting up. Sherlock frowned. “Relax.”

“What are we doing, again? And why?”

“You are lying down. Farther. More. The way you would when going to sleep.”

“I don’t go to sleep with an intruder in my bed and the lights on. Is that what this is about?”

Sherlock looked at him critically. He imagined him as a child (appropriate to tonight’s book). “Do you need your rabbit?”

“I’m not, I no, I don’t sleep with a stuffed toy, Sherlock. Grown men don’t...push off!”

“Would it help if you did?” Was that a significant component? Color, size, material... “Describe it. I’ll see what I can do tomorrow. It’s far less trouble if you buy your own,” he said, accusingly. He looked around the room and saw nothing within reach that could be adapted as a cuddly animal. He was nothing if not ingenious; he shrugged out of his dressing gown while John continued to fuss and rolled it up, cinching it with the sash. “Here,” he said, shoving the blue bundle into John’s chest. “Try not to drool.”

John shoved it back and swore at him. Sherlock gained a grain of respect for Auntie Em as tactician. Perhaps he should have practiced on Lestrade. But that subject was contaminated, regrettably. No, no regrets. Impractically? “You’re being unusually slow-witted tonight. And ungrateful.” He untied the sash and shook out the gown. Even lacking the experience as a child, John should recognize the convention by this point in his life. Advertisements alone were rife with the wretched practice. But John tended to become more irritable when tired. Sherlock slapped the book on his knee and jerked the cold silk sleeves over his arms.

That look returned to John’s face. “You want to read to me? Aloud. To help me sleep.”

“I will read to you. Whether or not you sleep is...”

“Well. All right.” John’s eyes were dark blue crescents, his hair still erect, his cheeks pink, the corners of his mouth--indefinable. Not a child. “Do your damnedest.” He hesitated. He lay down, on his back, hands clasped above the duvet.

Sherlock opened his book to the proper page. He blinked. He cleared his throat. He pitched his voice (his excellent voice) soothing and low. “Chapter Five: In which...”

“What happened to chapters one through four?”

“They’re markedly inferior. Shut up and listen. “...In which Rabbit has a busy day, and we learn what Christopher Robin does in the mornings.”

“You bastard.”

“Shut up. 'It was going to be one of Rabbit’s busy days. ...'”

***


Sherlock had not noticed before, but there was a bit of Mycroft in Rabbit. If one had to make comparisons. Loathsome as the ideation was, it added to his presentation. Mycroft did indeed seem to speak in capitalized words on occasion. John seemed to recognize Sherlock’s imitation, from the occasional snort or stifled snicker. Nonetheless, Sherlock was irked. He had rather liked Rabbit.

            He came to Owl's door, and he knocked and he rang, and he rang and he knocked, and at last Owl's head came out and said "Go away, I'm thinking--oh, it's you?" which was how he always began.
            "Owl," said Rabbit shortly, "you and I have brains. The others have fluff. If there is any thinking to be done in this Forest--and when I say thinking I mean thinking--you and I must do it."

Owl, Mycroft could be Owl instead. He certainly had looked like Owl (pause, to show illustration to the more or less constantly giggling John; pause, to rap John on the head with book, taken not well; but giggles subsided). Though not as thick as Owl when presented with evidence, and certainly more adept at spelling, which was key to the whole case for this chapter.

“Being hit about the head with a book is not conducive to sleep,” interjected John.

“Neither is laughing like a gibbon.”

“You’re making me laugh.”

“I have a gift for voices. Shut up and pay attention. The next bit throws a strong light on the misinterpretation of evidence.” Possibly Owl was Dimmock.

***

John yawned several times during the Owl interlude, and Sherlock frowned at the page. The passage introducing Pooh to the equation began with an insipid song. ‘Noise, by Pooh.’ In the interest of education, to be complete, he should include it; there was no tune indicated on the page, but he was a talented improvisationalist. He took a deep breath, and crooned: “‘Oh, the butterflies...’”

“Wait, wait, what?” cried John, clutching his knee.

“Problem?”

“What, no, what was that?”

“Song. Here,” he showed the relevant verses to John, together with the picture of Rabbit and Pooh. “It’s pleasantly relaxing. Lie down.”

“Christ on a stick!”

“You were yawning. Go back.”

“I’m awake now. If I’m going to survive this,” said John, inappropriately, “there will be no singing in my bed of butterflies and--let me see this thing—‘honey bees gumming on their little wings.’ Nor--oh Lord--cucking and cooing? I mean,” he made an unpleasant choking sound and Sherlock pulled the book from his hands.

“Fine,” he said, investing the word with ice. “You understand that your constant, simple-minded interruptions have ruined this session?”

“You could leave me to my own devices. You could go and I could have a quiet wank to...no, no, don’t look like that. I’m joking. I’m sorry. I’m hopeless. You’re right.” John put his hand--his non-wanking hand, Sherlock observed--on Sherlock’s wrist. “It’s fine. It was...good voice. Nice. Leave off if you like.”

“Don’t you want to see how it comes out?”

John made a different face and lay back down. Sherlock tagged the moment for later analysis and comparison to the seventeen other occasions on which John had looked at him like that. “We will take the verses as read,” he said, smoothing the disturbed page. John was dangerously close to identification with the Bear of Very Little Brain. “‘Hallo, Pooh,’ said Rabbit.”

***


By the time Piglet was attempting to gift Eeyore with his foolish violets, John’s eyes were shut. Sherlock may have been reading to himself now; John’s breath was even and slow. But he continued, enjoying the sound of his voice. He read on, alternately making his voice toll deep and sad, then pipe timid and hopeful (tired and raspy; but no, that would have been too low):

            "Is that little Piglet?" said Eeyore, still looking hard at his sticks.
            "Yes, Eeyore, and I--"
            "Do you know what this is?"
            "No," said Piglet.
            "It's an A."
            "Oh," said Piglet.

No, thought Sherlock, as he read. There were no parallels. He must have misremembered this.

            "Do you know what A means, little Piglet?"
            "No, Eeyore, I don't."
            "It means Learning, it means Education, it means all the things that you and Pooh haven't got. That's what A means."
            "Oh," said Piglet again. "I mean, does it?" he explained quickly.
            "I'm telling you. People come and go in this Forest, and they say, 'It's only Eeyore, so it doesn't count.' They walk to and fro saying 'Ha ha!' But do they know anything about A? They don't. It's just three sticks to them. But to the Educated--mark this, little Piglet--to the Educated, not meaning Poohs and Piglets, it's a great and glorious A. Not," he added, "just something that anybody can come and breathe on."

Breathe on, John breathed on. Rabbit re-entered and John murmured and rolled onto his side, against Sherlock’s thigh.

            "I will now answer your question."
            "Thank you," said Rabbit.
            "What does Christopher Robin do in the mornings? He learns. He becomes Educated. He instigorates--I think that is the word he mentioned, but I may be referring to something else--he instigorates Knowledge. In my small way I also, if I have the word right, am--am doing what he does. That, for instance, is?"
            "An A," said Rabbit, "but not a very good one. Well, I must get back and tell the others."

John’s nose poked against Sherlock’s hip. His fist gathered blue silk under his chin.

            "What did Rabbit say it was?" he asked.
            "An A," said Piglet.
            "Did you tell him?"
            "No, Eeyore, I didn't. I expect he just knew."
            "He knew? You mean this A thing is a thing Rabbit knew?"
            "Yes, Eeyore. He's clever, Rabbit is."
            "Clever!" said Eeyore scornfully, putting a foot heavily on his three sticks. "Education!" said Eeyore bitterly, jumping on his six sticks. "What is Learning?" asked Eeyore as he kicked his twelve sticks into the air. "A thing Rabbit knows! Ha!"
            "I think--" began Piglet nervously.
            "Don't," said Eeyore.
            "I think Violets are rather nice," said Piglet. And he laid his bunch in front of Eeyore and scampered off.

John’s face was smooth in sleep, solid and calm. If his hair was stroked, he nestled closer, silk pressed to his face. Piglet was more like...Molly, Sherlock decided. And blue, blue was the color of John’s Rabbit. He read on and on, in the quiet, to himself.

 

**End**