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Loosed Reins

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Someone was always telling Sherlock Holmes what to do.

Ever since he was a child, the orders tended to fall into two major categories, and he hadn’t decided which infuriated him the most. There were the big ones, like ‘Don’t let people know you’re so smart, it intimidates them,’ which made him livid. But then there was also the plethora of tiny, ridiculous details, like ‘Smile,’ and ‘Sit up straight,’ and ‘Don’t laugh at that,’ of which there were so many more that they might win over the bigger ones.

Sherlock, being Sherlock, ignored them entirely and did whatever he pleased. The rest of the world could just endure or, if they couldn’t, simply bugger off. That way they wouldn’t need to be offended by him, and he needn’t be offended by them. Ideal.

Sherlock wasn’t sure, though, how he felt about things when John told him what to do. On the one hand, he really didn’t want John to bugger off. On the other hand, the last time Sherlock had done what someone said simply because he didn’t want them to leave, it had exploded in his face.

So he tried to change only a few, very minor things, and then only if John became exceedingly angry over them. Last week, for example, John had been furious after he’d almost poisoned himself, even though it had clearly been his own fault; the arsenic had looked nothing like sugar, he should have just observed. Did Sherlock need to hide all the soil from the flowerpots so John wouldn’t eat that, either?

Sherlock had eventually agreed not to “put poisons into containers that had in the past or might eventually contain food.” Logically, however, it was an impossible task to predict the future; how could he know what idiot things John would do with food? The man was like a rather intelligent monkey at times. Sherlock had mentally amended the rule to, “Don’t allow John to find poison in containers that he habitually uses for food until he or I forget about it,” and it was working out fine.

Today was looking to be another rule-making day, if John’s sudden intake of breath in the kitchen was any indication.

“JESUS.” There was a loud slam, and then angry stomping. Sherlock didn’t open his eyes. John would bellow at him whether he opened them or not, and really, he had important things to consider.

John stood above Sherlock and waited for him to acknowledge his presence for thirteen seconds before giving in and shouting anyway. New record.

“You’ve stuffed an entire body into the fridge this time,” he accused. “What happened to the milk? The leftover risotto? My bloody jam?”

Sherlock did open his eyes at that. “As a doctor, it should be readily apparent to you that there is only a partial body in our refrigerator, John. Popular horror stories notwithstanding, it’s rare for an entire corpse to fit into one this size. I had to cut the body up into several parts to pack it in, and there is still only seven eighths of it there.”

John stared at the ceiling. “That’s not better.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “You’ll need to be more precise in your complaints, then. You yell at me for putting an entire corpse into the refrigerator, but when I point out that I didn’t, you’re still angry.” He tilted his head. “Perhaps you should work on your communication skills.”

“Let me communicate to you, then, that the refrigerator is completely full of corpse, and there is no room for what we humans use the appliance for, which is food,” John told him, lips pressed into a thin, angry line. “This upsets me. I was planning to drink some tea and finish the risotto in preparation for a miserable afternoon wiping noses at the clinic, and now I can’t.”

“Not unless you plan to reach down the pipes to get it,” Sherlock agreed, unfazed. “I poured the milk and your beloved rice mixture down the sink, as I surmised they would spoil if left on the counter, and you hate when I leave food out to rot. See? I do take you into account when I do things. You could try thanking me.”

John looked like he wanted to strangle him.

“Are you going to hit me?” Sherlock asked with interest, sitting up.

“Am I—No, what, Jesus, no,” John managed, deflating. “I…just…leave me some space for actual food, please. On the top shelf, where nothing will drip into it.”

“I wrapped him in plastic,” Sherlock pointed out. “He’s unlikely to drip much.”

“Christ,” John muttered, hand over his face as he walked away. Sherlock shrugged and got back to work.

After about fifteen minutes, John finally recognized the important question and came running back in.

“Hold on,” he shouted, skidding back around the corner, “where’d you put the other eighth of him, you mad wanker?”

***

Sherlock hadn’t always ignored people when they told him how to act, but it was so maddeningly difficult to follow every tiny demand. There were always other, secret rules no one would tell him about, that people insisted didn’t exist; and when he invariably slipped up and broke one of them, all his previous efforts suddenly became obsolete.

When he’d been young enough to keep trying anyway, Mycroft had told him that he was strong for getting up and doing it again every time. Sherlock had known he was weak for failing, and later decided that he was weak for wanting to try. If he were actually strong he wouldn’t care what other people thought of him; he wouldn’t let them make him change.

So finally he decided to stop being weak, and it had been his favorite decision to date. Well. Except for inviting John to move in with him. Other than that, though, best decision of his life.

Although sometimes he wondered; John could be frustratingly irrational.

“What. Jesus Christ. What.” Sherlock looked up from his work to see John standing in the doorway, home from the clinic apparently, his coat in hand and his mouth wide open. Sherlock adjusted the mask over his face and wiped the viscera from his safety glasses.

“I’d close my mouth if I were you,” Sherlock advised, getting back to work. “You wouldn’t want anything to fly into it. There’s always the chance of contracting kuru even though I haven’t spattered much of the brain yet.”

“You are… bloody blazing blue Christ, are you beating seven eighths of a corpse with a hammer in our living room?”

Sherlock looked up again, surprised. Then he looked down at the mallet in his hand and the destroyed human remains at his feet. “Is this one of your questions that mean something else? Even with your limited simian intelligence my actions here are hardly opaque.”

John huffed a disbelieving laugh. “Yes, Sherlock, that was a question that meant something else entirely. That question meant, ‘It is completely unacceptable to beat human remains with a blunt instrument anywhere in our flat.’ It’s like when I say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and I mean, ‘Stop that right fucking now.’”

Sherlock gave a put upon sigh and rolled his eyes. “I put down plastic. I covered the entire flat in plastic, you love plastic, you’re always nattering on about it when I do an experiment. So I put down plastic, and now you complain anyway.”

John looked pained. “I’m going back out,” he said to the ceiling, “and when I get back, this is all going to be gone and it will look exactly like it did when I left this morning.”

Sherlock looked interested. “How do you plan to accomplish that?”

John pointed his finger at him. “You are going to do it, Sherlock, and you have about two hours to figure out how.”

“Well that’s just unreasonable,” Sherlock complained as John turned around and pulled his jacket back on. “There’s no way to replicate the dust patterns from before.”

“Don’t care!” John called from the stairs on his way out.

Sherlock stared down the steps for a moment, shrugged, and got back to work. They would have quite a row when John came back two hours later and found nothing changed, but really, it was surprising he thought anything would.

Sherlock had put down plastic, though, so perhaps John wasn’t entirely out of line thinking he could affect Sherlock’s actions.

Sherlock didn’t like how much he was changing for John, when he thought about it, which wasn’t all the time. He generally had a case on that demanded all his attention, and when he was high on a cloud of adrenaline and John’s praise it was easy to ignore a few compromises that slipped in. In his darker moods, he thought perhaps he should force him to move out, stop the slow slide towards normalcy that was becoming his daily life.

He had even tried a few times, but John Watson, with his leashed ferocity, was fascinating.

John Watson was a wolf masquerading as a sheepdog, but he acted like a sheepdog. He liked acting like a sheepdog. And when he needed to protect something he considered his, and brought his wolf nature out to play, it always curled back up without a whimper when he was done with it.

Sherlock wanted to study him for hours, figure out everything that made him tick. Wanted to (metaphorically, never literally) cut him open and see how he worked. Sherlock had never been interested or, if he were honest, able to keep his furies under control. John had his so completely ordered that they sat and rolled over.

Sherlock couldn’t keep him if he made him leave.

So Sherlock had slowly, so slowly he might not have noticed had he not noticed everything, started to tidy things away without being asked. Started to eat at regular intervals and sleep in a real bed, often at night; started to hold his tongue when he knew it would upset John if he didn’t.

It…frustrated him. But there were upsides. And it wasn’t as if he was changing for anyone else.

***

“Maybe try to tone down your deductions just a bit, Sherlock,” Lestrade told him the next day. John had grudgingly forgiven him for the night before, as he had finished his experiment and disposed of the remains and the plastic by the time John had returned home. Sherlock told himself it was because he had collected all the data he needed and would have tidied it away in that time anyway. Sherlock was not fooling himself. As a result, he was feeling irritable.

“I need your help,” Lestrade was saying, “I really do, but this witness is…well….”

“Seeing as Garvin Lewis would have been your main suspect instead of a witness without Sherlock, maybe he’d better take him as he is,” John interrupted, and Sherlock was mollified. Slightly.

“I’m just saying there’s no reason to rile him up when you could just avoid it,” Lestrade continued, with the tone of a man who knew he was fighting a losing battle. “Why get into a fight when you could just….”

“Not be myself?” Sherlock finished, pulling off his gloves. “You seem to have an entire building here full of employees who are, in fact, not me, yet you’ve rung my mobile and asked for help anyway. Odd that you would want someone else. Perhaps you were looking for John?”

Lestrade looked meaningfully at John, and Sherlock sighed. “Good try, Lestrade, but John feels too uncomfortable with your previous request at the moment to rein me in on your behalf, even if he does secretly agree with you. He’ll certainly make the attempt to manage and control me at a later date, don’t worry.” John shot him a look, and Sherlock smiled, all teeth. “Come on then.”

John followed him down the hall. “I don’t try to manage you,” he said quietly.

Sherlock stopped abruptly and stared down his nose when John stumbled to avoid running into him. He was uncomfortably close—people generally stepped back at this point. Their proximity also forced John to tip his neck back to look at him, which was never good on his ego.

Sherlock looked John over while he regrouped, vaguely annoyed that he stood his ground.

“What would you call it then?” he asked, curious. “When you tell me where to put my experiments and when to play the violin? When you tell me not to deduce your alcoholic sister and to be nicer to Lestrade?”

“I call that insisting you treat things I care about with respect because we share most of them,” he protested, and Sherlock snorted and turned, heading back down the hall. John chased after him. “I call that not being a complete doormat.”

“Hm. Interesting. So you had your hackles up when Lestrade wanted me to ‘tone down’ parts of me you like, but the parts you don’t like don’t count? Or was it just how he phrased it?”

John was quiet. “You know it’s not like that, Sherlock.”

“I know you think it’s not like that.” Sherlock stopped at the door and narrowed his eyes. “So those are about respecting you and your things. What about ‘timing’ and ‘Don’t show off’ and every time you say ‘Sherlock, you can’t just do that,’” he mimicked in a singsong. Then he spun on his heel and went in.

“Dammit, Sherlock, I don’t—“ John cut off his protests when he saw Garvin, determined to be professional. Sherlock smiled.

“Ah, Garvin. We’re here to speak with you about a murder. You know, the one that you didn’t commit, not the other four you think no one knows about.”

John covered his face with his hands as everything went downhill from there, until Garvin stood and lunged at the detective; Sherlock took a placid step back and John slammed all sixteen stone of his assailant directly into the concrete floor, twisted the man’s arm up behind him and ground a knee solidly into his back. John was more violent than he usually was about it, too—likely taking out his frustration from their argument.

“You bloody cunt!” Garvin screamed at him as the police rushed in. “I’ll fucking gut you when I see you again! Your little boyfriend won’t be around all the time!”

“Yes, very clever, threatening me in a room filled with officers of the law,” Sherlock drawled. “I’m quaking in my shoes.”

“You said he wasn’t a murderer,” Lestrade growled from behind the cursing criminal, trying to get the cuffs on as the man thrashed and bellowed.

“I said he wasn’t the murderer,” Sherlock corrected over the din, bored. “You and John might both benefit from working on your communication skills.”

“We almost let him go before you stopped by!” Lestrade exclaimed, exasperated. Garvin got lucky and pulled an arm loose, almost catching Lestrade in the jaw. He slammed it back down against the table. “You can’t withhold evidence on the off chance you’ll want to piss me off with it later, Sherlock!”

“It was hardly so contrived,” Sherlock scoffed. “It was simply a matter of language. Even if I wanted to withhold fodder for upsetting you in case I become annoyed in the future, I can’t imagine I would keep any stockpiled, since you and your team infuriate me with such frequency.”

Lestrade raised his eyebrows at that. “You’re in a mood, aren’t you?”

Sherlock sneered and swept out. “Call me when you find the bodies in his apartment, Lestrade, and he feels more like discussing his friends’ hobbies.”

***

“John, you can’t just hit people until they tell you what they did. That is what we in the business call a forced confession,” Lestrade was yelling, “and it is completely inadmissible in court.”

Garvin had eventually spilled to the Yard about his murderous friend, Artis Wrede, and Sherlock had barged right in as soon as he’d figured out where Wrede was spending his time. John had of course come along with him. After a spirited chase through the warehouse (it always seemed to be a warehouse), Wrede had jumped from behind a corner and tackled Sherlock, grinding his face uncomfortably into the pavement and pressing a gun in the back of his neck. Wrede had expected John to halt and listen to his threats; John hadn’t slowed a step and ran straight into him instead, plowing his good shoulder hard into the man’s solar plexus.

John had then, as Donovan might say, hit the suspect until candy came out, and he wasn’t even winded. Sherlock was thrilled and had completely forgiven him for the incident with the seven eighths of a cadaver.

“So question him again later, when he’s safely on the other side of a wall from John,” Sherlock told Lestrade, feigning disinterest. “We already caught you a murderer, now we have to get a useful confession out of him as well? Isn’t there any part of your job that you actually do?”

John let loose a snort, then looked embarrassed.

“Oh for god’s sake,” Lestrade muttered.

“Need I tie your laces for you as well? What about your fringe? It wants trimming,” Sherlock continued. John tried to glare at him and failed.

“Stop it Sherlock, this is a crime scene and I just assaulted a man,” John managed, starting to giggle. “Greg is right here, don’t make me start laughing!”

“You beat him senseless, he’s missing teeth,” Lestrade said angrily “Bloody right you shouldn’t be laughing!”

“Come now, Lestrade, it was entirely self defense.” Sherlock waved him off with considerable nonchalance. “John was forced to protect me.”

“Oh yeah? Kept bleeding aggressively at you, did he?”

John dropped his face into his hands and turned red, shoulders shaking, and Sherlock couldn’t bite back a grin. “He was certainly doing a great deal of damage to John’s knuckles.”

John started snorting and tried desperately to quell it. Lestrade threw up his hands, done with them. “I suppose I should be happy he didn’t fall out of the window, yeah? Fine, get out before I start to do my job as a police officer and arrest you both for violent vigilantism. And John,” he continued, “get a bloody hold on yourself next time. We need you out of jail to keep this madman in line, or as close as he gets.”

John’s giggles trailed off and he looked uncomfortable, and Sherlock’s grin disappeared. He inclined his head, then walked off without a word, leaving John to run after him.