Part 1 - The Noxious Experiment
John came down stairs that morning, yawning and scratching, in his boxers and t-shirt. The flat was quiet.
He shuffled into the bathroom to take a leak and clean his teeth, examine the bags under his eyes in the mirror, grimace at himself as he rubbed the stubble on his chin.
‘Coffee,’ he told his reflection, because that was obviously the only answer to the toll of gravity, anno domini, and a late night chasing villains across London’s rooftops with the world’s only consulting detective.
So he opened the living room door.
It was like walking into a toxic fog. He could have cut the stink with a cleaver. Sulphur, methane, whatever it was, it actually made him wretch as he staggered for the window to open it, desperately holding his breath. Leaning out on the window frame, oblivious of his relatively undressed state, he sucked in the cold air, coughing the disgusting foulness out of his lungs until he felt able to face the room again. He pulled the hem of his t-shirt up over his nose and mouth, and staggered back into the smelly heart of the flat.
Scientific glassware sat innocently on the draining rack by the sink. Sherlock had clearly conducted his evil experiment, cleaned up after himself (for a change), and then, realising the likely outcome of the noxious emissions he had generated, had done a bunk.
John called him all the vilest names under the sun. He called down the very wrath of God and every minion of hell on his flatmate. At the top of his voice. And then spent the rest of the day in a freezing flat with all the windows open, and wads of cotton wool shoved up his nose.
Sherlock’s homecoming was, as they say, not good.
‘What experiment,’ he complained in a wounded tone, after John had shouted at him, non-stop, for a full quarter of an hour. And then he proceeded to flounce about the flat looking hurt for three days, until the next interesting case came up.
Part 2 - The Mystery of the Eggy Drifter
Waitrose in Kensington High Street. The biscuit section, to be exact. They had been following a suspect in a particularly labyrinthine fraud case. Sherlock was having a whale of a time. John was hoping to browse the jam selection. The suspect, a portly man in a yellow and black checked waistcoat which put John in mind of Rupert the Bear, was standing at the far end of the aisle, examining a box of water biscuits which were on offer.
Suddenly Sherlock grabbed John’s upper arm and started steering him in the opposite direction.
‘What the…’ John hissed out of the corner of his mouth.
‘Just look normal,’ Sherlock trilled out of the corner of his mouth, innocently.
In seconds they were in the next aisle, approximately level with where they had been before. John found himself staring at boxes of nettle tea. Sherlock was examining a jar of beeswax furniture polish with all the fascination of a man preparing to propose marriage.
And then John heard the commotion in the other aisle.
‘What on earth?!’
‘Dear God, has something died in here?’
John sidled to the end of the aisle, peered around the corner, and was nearly mown down by a woman with a trolley rushing past him in an effort to escape, towing a child with a distinctly puzzled expression.
‘Mummy, why does it smell of dirty poos in here?’ the little darling piped.
At which point, the smell hit him like the Wall hits a marathon runner. He staggered back, reeling.
Sherlock was suddenly was beside him, his expression one of innocent impatience.
‘Come on, John, or we’ll lose him!’
John scurried after him, while at the same time, coming to a few of his own unavoidable conclusions.
Intermezzo – The Special Relationship
John was standing up to his ankles in thick mud. On a building site. No, better to be precise - a Crossrail building site. A dozen yards away, on the other side of a metal grill fence, a vast hole was being drilled into the ground to take the new rail tunnel. The ground in between was, up until a few hours ago, the site of an extensive archaeological dig being conducted in tandem with the construction. An ancient burial ground was being dug and surveyed. Its unfortunate inmates were to be examined by pathologists before being respectfully reburied miles away in Canvey Island, Essex, where they wouldn’t get in the way of any further nationally important transport systems. Which was why it was unexpected to find a mutilated, and more importantly, very fresh, body amongst the relics of the ancient dead.
John, Lestrade and Sally stood in a row, in wellies, reflective yellow vests and hard hats, watching Sherlock stalk about on his ridiculously long legs, muttering to himself, and periodically getting down on his hands and knees to examine the mud with his magnifying glass. He had refused to wear any of the safety paraphernalia because he was, after all, Sherlock Holmes.
‘What’s he doing?’ Sally frowned.
‘Deducing,’ John said.
There was a long silence while they watched some more.
‘You know, even the way you say his name has capitals,’ she said.
‘Of course it has capitals,’ John huffed. ‘It’s a proper noun. All proper nouns have capitals.’
‘No, I mean the way you say it,’ she persisted. ‘You’ve got him on a real pedestal.’
Lestrade crossed his arms around his body, hugging himself against the chill. ‘She’s got a point, you know, mate,’ he said.
‘I do not have him on a pedestal,’ John insisted, realising even as he said it that his being so adamant was probably a sign, to them if not to himself, that actually, he did.
‘I was reading something about this the other day,’ Sally said, offering a conversational opening.
Sherlock stood up at this juncture and scowled at her. ‘Oh, yes, Sally, do please avail us of the information you gleaned on your latest literary adventure,’ he snapped, dripping sarcasm, then bent over again.
Sally huffed and concentrated her attention on John. ‘It’s when you invest a relationship with too much emphasis. Expect it to fulfil all your needs. Which it can’t possibly. You make the other person into kind of God who is responsible for everything, and then when things go wrong, which they inevitably do, you blame them for it, and things come crashing down. It’s called the Special Relationship. With capitals.’
Lestrade stared at her with an expression of complete disbelief.
‘What are you on about?’
‘I’m just saying he needs to De-Special his relationship,’ she snapped back.
‘De-Special it?’ John gaped.
‘Well, apart from the ruddy psychobabble, she’s got a point, mate,’ Lestrade pointed out. ‘I mean, you do. A bit. Well, a lot really.’
‘Need to stop putting him on a pedestal.’
‘Oh, and you don’t?’
‘Nah. I know what he’s like,’ Lestrade shrugged. ‘I mean, he’s not bloody perfect, is he? Far from it.’
Sherlock stalked up, with a face like thunder.
‘If you’ve all finished your cod psychoanalysis, perhaps I can do my job? You’ll find that the murder was committed with a number two steel rasp, about twelve inches in length, wielded by a person of between 5’6” and 5’7” in height, and with red-blonde hair. I’d check the assistant dig director’s alibi if I were you. And please don’t trouble me with anything less than a six next time. Come, John!’
And with that he stalked off with a swirl of his tweed coat.
Part 3 - Frappies.
John put the box down on the table between them.
Sherlock went on reading.
John cleared his throat.
Sherlock did not look up from his copy of the Telegraph. Page three. You always got the best crimes on page three of the Telegraph, he said. He spent more time on that page than he did combing the rest of the newspapers together. John had been sceptical at first, but he had taken note of the yield in relation to the effort, and Sherlock was right. There really was more, and juicier, crime in the Telegraph. Although, of course, most of it fell more into Mycroft’s secret orbit, but nevertheless.
John cleared his throat. Again.
Sherlock said, ‘well done,’ and didn’t look up.
‘Thank you. Well done for what? Exactly?’
‘You lasted three months, two weeks, six days and’ Sherlock glanced at his wrist watch. ‘Roughly fourteen hours. That’s longer than my previous seven flatmates combined.’
‘To do what?’
‘You have worked out my Achilles heel. It’s been such fun working with you, John but I entirely understand your objection to my anti-social affliction.’
‘Your terrible personality?’
‘My flatulence. You’ll no doubt honour your commitment to pay the remaining half of this month’s rent while you look for somewhere else.’
John tapped his index finger on the cardboard box.
Sherlock had tilted his head to one side so that when he looked up, John could see only one of his slanted green eyes.
‘If you put down that bloody paper, you’ll see I’ve got you a present. And no, I’m not moving out, but thank you for asking.’
Sherlock raised a sceptical eyebrow for a moment, and then dropped the level at which he was holding his paper slightly, in order to glance at the box.
‘It’s not medicine. I thought it would be medicine,’ he said.
‘You can have the medicine if you want.’
‘It doesn’t work,’ Sherlock said, stubborn to the last. But he was peering at the box. John knew he had tickled the detective’s curiosity.
Eventually, after a silent battle of wills, Sherlock huffed and crumpled his paper into his lap so he could read the front of the box.
‘Charcoal-impregnated pants,’ John said. ‘Apparently the charcoal absorbs noxious gases. I recommend them to all my IBS patients. I’ll stay here as your flatmate. And amanuensis, or whatever you want to call me-‘
‘Blogger,’ Sherlock interjected.
‘If you promise to wear these.’
Sherlock gave him a steely look.
‘Sherlock, you fart worse than a whole herd of cattle, and no one will live with you if you don’t sort it out. So sort it out.’
Sherlock picked up the box as if it contained nitro-glycerine.
‘Frappies?’ he grimaced again.
At that point, because they were both men, and regardless of their intellectual brilliance and professionalism, men can’t resist a fart joke, they both dissolved into fits of laughter.
The following week, Sherlock caught the notorious and vindictive Compton Road Baba Ghanoush poisoner with a string of particularly brilliant deductions. It was all over the papers. John’s blog on the case achieved the highest number of hits of any he had yet written. It had lots of capital letters in it.
Part 4 - How to De-Special Your Relationship
Two weeks after that, John, Lestrade and Sally Donovan stood in a row, in wellies, reflective yellow vests and hard hats, on another building site. A car salesman with a well-documented fear of heights had been impaled on a steel pile that had been driven thirty feet into the clay the day before. Since there were no high buildings nearby from which he could have jumped, or been pushed, and yet he had clearly fallen a considerable distance, there was some reasonable puzzlement as to how he had got into such a pickle.
Sherlock stalked about on his ridiculously long legs in front of them, oblivious of the necessary safety paraphernalia. He was Sherlock Holmes, after all. With capitals.
‘Come on, Sherlock,’ Lestrade complained. ‘There’s got to be something!’
‘There is a veritable feast of clues here, Gordon,’ Sherlock sneered. John was certain that he knew Lestrade’s Christian name perfectly well, but stubbornly refused to use it because, well, just, because. ‘It’s not my fault Scotland Yard is too stupid to put them together.’
They watched him stalk about some more.
‘I took your advice, by the way,’ John said to Sally.
‘You did?’ She looked shocked.
‘Yeah. I de-specialed my relationship.’
John shrugged. ‘It turns out that you can’t de-special Sherlock bloody Holmes. Sorry. He’ll always have capitals.’
What John was completely oblivious of, as he stood up to his ankles in mud watching Sherlock deduce that the poor car salesman had been pushed out of a microlight at a height of 15,000 feet, was that his little gift had achieved an extraordinary effect. Far from de-specialing his relationship with Sherlock, he had, from Sherlock’s point of view, actually specialled himself with his willingness to put up with, well, Sherlock’s ‘little problem’. From that moment on, Sherlock adored John almost as much as he adored himself, which was quite saying something. This was a fact which no one guessed until quite a time later.
John reflected on the whole business, and was quite sure that such lurid farting was the most extreme way possible of destroying one’s adoration of another human being. Sherlock certainly had clay feet. The fact that his ‘little problem’ had failed to put John off was evidence to him that his feelings for Sherlock were ‘un-de-specialable’.
Some decades later, as he sat in a deck chair in a garden on the High Downs, watching Sherlock pottering about with his bees, swathed in gauze and heavy drill that failed completely to disguise either his wiry figure or his gracefully frenetic movements, John realised the folly of his original conclusion. Farting was, of course, not the most extreme way to de-special a relationship. That would be jumping off a building, faking your own death for two years, coming back unannounced and expecting to be received into your old life without a blink, as if none of it had ever happened. In the grand scheme of things, John decided, letting his head fall back, and enjoying the heat of the afternoon sun on his face, that would pretty much de-special any relationship for good.
The fact that it had not, despite a somewhat bumpy ride to begin with, said everything that needed to be said about their relationship. Which was, simply, that John and Sherlock had one of the most Special relationships there has ever been.