Title: Stop the Presses
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters.
Summary: In a bid repair his image and win back public confidence following the Magnussen mess and in the midst of handling the newest threat from Moriarty's camp, Sherlock is forced by Mycroft to give an interview to a popular weekend magazine. As the interviewer gets progressively more personal in a bid to know "the man beneath the hat", Sherlock tries harder to downplay his true thoughts and feelings – to the detriment of certain personal relationships.
Author's Notes: My little contribution to the whole 'Molly is wallpaper' debacle. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade! And yes, I made up the name of the magazine.
The Man Beneath the Hat: A Conversation with Sherlock Holmes, London's Great Detective
by Rowan Lindstrom
The first five minutes of my hard-won, exclusive interview with Sherlock Holmes, England's most brilliant deductive mind and new national treasure, passes in complete pin-drop silence. He stares at me with coldly appraising eyes, drumming his fingers impatiently on his armchair, and I fidget with my pen as I wrack my brain to find the perfect icebreaker somewhere amidst the interviewing skills I've spent the past ten years perfecting.
They'd warned me at the office that he was not only famously aloof but also that he'd been heavily coerced into this tete-a-tete. I had - perhaps foolishly – assured them that I was up to the task.
As it turns out, he soon spares me the trouble of asking the first question as he asks me what, exactly, I am after and if I really think I need an entire half hour. I explain to him that I won't take up too much of his time and that my main goal is to get people a little bit closer to who he is as a person, not as an anti-hero.
This declaration earns me an eye-roll. Right, I think to myself. On we go.
Q: Mr. Holmes, let's start at the beginning. You studied chemistry at uni and earned top marks in the subject. What was it that made you veer into detective work?
He eyes me with a raised brow. I raise my own back at him, although sweat begins to form on my upper lip at the notion that he is perhaps at this very moment turning his famed deductive reasoning onto me and is about to inform me that, as is clear from of the small mustard stain on my tie, my wife is in love with our gardener.
It is indeed difficult to describe the sensation of sitting across from a man who is clearly and unabashedly reading your every gesture, his piercing blue eyes seeming to stare past your clothes, past your flesh and into your very core. Disconcerting is perhaps the most positive spin I could put on it, and I suddenly understand what it must be like to be standing before Sherlock Holmes having done something truly illegal. I think to myself that I would rather face the entirety of Scotland Yard.
Thankfully, when he finally does speak, he limits himself to a bored, slightly petulant critique.
SH: Not a particularly original question to start with. Isn't this information already public knowledge?
Q: Maybe for some, yes. But can you comment, for the sake of the rest?
SH: (sighing) I left uni in a haze of drug addiction and spent the following two years repeatedly coming perilously close to overdose and certain death. My brother, in a last ditch effort to save my life, made an arrangement with his contact at Scotland Yard for me to consult on cases. The rest is history, as they say.
Q: Why the drugs?
SH: Why not?
Q: Well, obviously, drug use is dangerous.
SH: Not as dangerous as me when I'm bored.
Q: And the drugs kept you from being bored?
SH: The drugs kept my mind quiet. I was still bored, but I didn't care as much.
Q: How did you finally kick the habit? Was the withdrawal difficult for you?
SH: The physical withdrawal from substance abuse is always difficult, as any idiot knows. As for 'kicking the habit', as you put it, it was a matter of necessity. With the work keeping my brain occupied, I didn't need the high the drugs provided anymore. Plus, intoxication is detrimental to one's acuity and therefore, accurate detective work.
Q: So, you keep doing the work because, in a way, you're addicted to it?
SH: I keep doing the work because they keep calling me for consultations.
Q: They, meaning Scotland Yard?
SH: And private clients.
Q: Why do you think they still call, after everything that's happened in the past couple of years?
SH: By 'everything', I'm assuming you mean my faked death and, more recently, my brief relapse?
Q: Well, that and your murder of Charles Magnussen.
At the mention of Magnussen's name, Holmes visibly bristles.
SH: I'm not going to talk about Magnussen.
Q: It's something you have yet to address publicly.
SH: No, it's something I have categorically refused to address publicly. A stance which hasn't changed.
Q: Why not? You were forthcoming enough with the press on the details of your takedown of James Moriarty.Perhaps the press could help people understand the Magnussen situation better if you were to tell your side of the story.
SH: I don't care if people understand it. Have I not made myself clear? Move on.
There was a clear 'or else' that he was gracious enough to leave off the end of his command, and it wasn't lost on me. Left with little choice in the matter and now faced with a subject who has gone from prickly to downright hostile, I quickly change the subject.
Q: You mentioned your brother. You and he must share a close relationship.
SH: If by 'close', you mean that he never sees fit to leave me alone, then yes. Very close. Suffocating, in fact.
Q: He works for the government, is that right?
SH: Yes, and that's the last I am able to say on that topic. Move on.
There it was again...that unspoken 'or else'. Taking the threat seriously but not quite ready to relinquish the subject matter entirely, I change tacks a bit and soldier on, hoping to eventually stumble upon a topic he wouldn't mind discussing. With the way it's going so far, I'm not holding out much hope.
Q: And your parents, they're still living?
SH: Didn't you do your research before coming here?
Q: Just trying to state the facts clearly, Mr. Holmes.
SH: Fine, then yes, if you can call what they do 'living'.
Q: What do you mean by that?
SH: Losing themselves in the ubiquitous mob of camera-toting tourists that pop up in every country on earth and make proper appreciation of the local architecture completely impossible. Dining out in new, mediocre restaurants weekly. Spending money on small kitchen appliances they don't need and will never use. Playing bingo. The usual things people do with retirement.
Q: And what would you do with retirement?
SH: Probably go back to drugs.
I'm not sure whether or not he's joking, but since it's impossible to tell from the totally impassive expression on his face and since I don't fancy lingering on the disturbing possibility that he may be serious, I continue.
Q: Are you close with your parents, then?
SH: In what sense? Since I obviously care for my own parents, I can only assume you're asking if I see them often.
Q: Do you?
SH: Make a deduction based on my tone and what I've just told you. How many of those activities do you imagine I would find anything other than revolting?
Q: I'm going to guess that's a no.
SH: Very astute.
Q: Your mother, she wrote several volumes on applied mathematics and advanced trigonometry, is that right? And she also boasts some knowledge of quantum physics?
SH: Yes, she was quite brilliant in her time. She stopped writing – and, we suspect, thinking – when she decided to marry my father and have children.
Q: So you don't approve of her choices? Even though you yourself are a product of them?
SH: I wouldn't be upset at not having been born if I wasn't born in the first place. To answer your question, her choices were her own. However sentimental, wasteful and ill-advised they were.
Q: Why do you think she made the choices she did?
SH: You'll have to ask her. Why not do that now? I can give you her address. You can leave right away and make it before tea time.
Q: A nice suggestion, but my editor will sack me if I don't finish with you first.
SH: Oh. Goodie.
Sensing that this topic was now also exhausted, I move on as he adjusts himself in his chair. He glances towards what I initially assume is the window, possibly contemplating an escape route (he has jumped from a rooftop once before and survived – I can't help thinking he might be willing to take the risk again simply to avoid having to complete the interview). I soon realize that he wasn't looking at the window, but rather at his music stand upon which sits and old and well-loved violin. I quickly jump on the topic.
Q: It's been said that you play the violin to help you think.
Q: Have you ever received formal training, or are you self-taught?
SH: I'm in no way qualified to play with the London Symphony, if that's what you're asking. But yes, I did receive formal training as a child.
Q: What is it about the violin that first appealed to you?
SH: It didn't appeal to me. It was forced on me when I was five and I didn't have a choice in the matter.
Q: But it appeals to you now?
SH: In the sense that I can use it to my advantage, yes. I can't say whether or not I would enjoy the sound of a violin more than any other instrument if I didn't personally play it.
Q: Not a music lover, then?
SH: It depends on what you call music. Most people have a far too relaxed definition of the term.
Q: Well, there's something we can agree on, Mr. Holmes.
SH: Well, I'm happy we could find common ground, Mr. Lindstrom.
It's about as close as he has come to friendliness. Having coaxed something resembling affability from him, no matter how unwillingly given, fills me with such a sense of accomplishment that I momentarily fumble with where I want to take the interaction next. Finally, I decide to go back a step.
Q: You said you're on lukewarm terms with your brother and your parents don't really strike you as exciting company. As far as other people in your life who keep you grounded...
SH: What do you mean by that, exactly? Grounded as in, sane?
Q: Not necessarily. I mean people you're close to...people you count on to be there for you in a jam.
SH: I didn't hear a question. Did you ask one?
Q: Well, obviously there's John Watson, your best mate. Was it difficult for you when he got married earlier this year?
SH: Difficult in what way? You mean the wedding itself? I was forced to make a speech...
Q: No, I'm more interested in the upset it must have caused in your everyday life.
SH: Considering the fact that I'd spent the two years prior to his marriage being dead as far as he was aware, his marriage didn't really register very highly on the radar of large 'upsets' in our relationship.
Q: Talking of your relationship with Doctor Watson...what is it, exactly? There has been talk in the past that your relationship went beyond friendship, but obviously with him getting married and your recent exploits, it seems that's not the case. At least, not now. Can you comment?
SH: Our relationship has and does go beyond friendship, but not in the way you're implying. You asked me if my brother and I were close, but John Watson is more of a brother to me than he is. Speaking in terms of the cliché, cloying and often fantastical notion of how normal siblings interact, of course, and ignoring the fact that siblings detest each other more often than not...
Q: Right, got it. But back to John Watson. What's your opinion on his wife?
SH: Does it matter what I think? I'm not the one who married her.
Q: But do you approve of her?
SH: John doesn't need my approval to do things. He's a grown man.
Q: I'm just asking if you like her.
SH: (sighing) Yes. She's actually perfect for him. Make sure to print that bit, it'll get me freshly baked bread for a month.
Q: Perfect for him and bakes bread for his friends? What more could anyone ask for, eh?
SH: Yes. My thoughts exactly.
Q: I thought you didn't eat while you were working.
SH: Where did you hear that?
Q: The trivia section of your fansite.
SH: What? Fansite?
Q: SherlockLives dot com.
SH: Oh, dear lord. The capacity for people to be asinine is boundless. It sounds like something Anderson founded, speaking of asinine. Please tell me this website isn't what you used to prep for this interview. I do have a blog of my own, you know.
Q: Yes, I took a look, but it was mostly about ash types and other things I didn't really understand.
SH: I'd be thrilled to explain the specifics if it meant we could stop batting stupid questions back and forth about my personal life.
Q: Thanks, but let's get back to the topic at hand, stupid though it may be. Is it true?
SH: That the topic is stupid? Yes.
Q: That you don't eat while you're working.
SH: (hesitates slightly) That has been a rule of mine in the past. I've bent it more often recently. Mostly because of Mary's bread.
Q: So, her bread is acceptable for a working detective to eat?
SH: It's portable.
I've been on shaky footing since the beginning of the interview, but I'm now sensing that the tone has lightened at least a little bit. I decide to take my life into my hands and venture into even more personal territory.
Q: Many people find it amazing that you're able to completely shut down your basic needs in order to, shall we say, divert power to your brain. Some would say it's unhealthy.
SH: It's not unhealthy for my brain, which is all I care about. The rest of the body is just transport.
Q: So you basically ignore all your body's more primitive functions? Eating, sleeping...
SH: The ones I'm able to ignore, I ignore.
Q: You deprive yourself of romance, too. Is that a hard and fast rule, or would you ever be tempted to bend that one as well?
For a moment, he stares at me as though I've sprouted horns on my head, a crease appearing between his brows.
SH: Who in God's name would want to read about this?
Q: Oh, you'd be surprised how many women – and men – inquire.
SH: So it's your duty to ask, is that how it works? To sate the curiosity of the masses?
Q: Well, it is part of my job, yes.
SH: (pause) No.
Q: No what?
SH: No, I'm not pursuing anything of that nature. I never will.
Q: That seems to be a very final answer for a relatively young man.
SH: It is final.
Q: Why so opposed to the idea?
SH: Because sentiment is a weakness one's enemies can use to their advantage. Also, love is nothing but a foolish notion – a chemical reaction that self-pitying fools have dressed up over the centuries as something greater than what it is with tasteless and often ridiculous poetry, lyrics, prose, art...
Q: You mean you've never been in love?
SH: (snorts) No.
I dither a bit and shuffle some paper around, trying to decide if I want to step even further out onto the ledge. I decide that the worst he can do is throw me out of the window.
Q: There has been some speculation about you in that regard.
Q: Talk that perhaps something romantic has happened behind the scenes.
SH: Behind the scenes? My life is not a film.
Q: No, but it is the subject of a blog.
SH: Yes, to my continuing chagrin. Look, I am not romantic, I don't believe in succumbing to mawkish sentimentality. It clouds reason. And sex, which I'm sure will be the subject of your next question, is a distraction.
Q: What do you mean, distraction?
SH: It causes a normally reasonable person to devolve into a primarily instinctual being which, even temporarily, is a limitation.
Q: So...Irene Adler?
Holmes actually allows one corner of his mouth to quirk upward as he replies.
SH: What about her?
Q: She never distracted you at all?
SH: Distracted, no. Challenged? Possibly. I'm not opposed to saying that I hold her in some esteem as one of the most cunning and clever individuals I've run up against in my career.
Q: There are some who think it was more than that. That there was something between you during your work on her case.
SH: It wasn't her case. She was the case.
Q: Well, regardless...was there?
SH: Something between us?
SH: (long pause) I ended my association with Irene Adler years ago and have had no contact with her since. And that's the last I'll say on the matter.
Q: Moving on from romance, then...let's talk about other key people in your life.
SH: Why? Why are we not talking about my work?
Q: Because people can read about your work at any time on John Watson's blog. And I told you, people want to know more about Sherlock Holmes, the man.
SH: No, they don't. Why would they?
Q: Because you're an enigma.
SH: The more people know about me, the more I must add to my list of liabilities. I believe this little chat is coming to a close soon, correct? Didn't I only agree to half an hour?
He glances at his watch, frowning. Ignoring his missive and knowing my time with him is limited, if not already expired, I move quickly to the next name.
Q: Martha Hudson?
SH: (shrugging) She's my landlady. I've known her for a long time, and I suppose I'm as close to her as someone can get to the person who divests them of their rent every month. Plus, she brings tea in the mornings. With biscuits.
Q: And what about Detective Inspector Lestrade?
SH: He feeds me cases and I help him remain in good standing with his superiors. A good detective who occasionally says something truly insightful. Needless to say, I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for his confidence in me at the beginning.
Q: And what about the pathologist you work with all the time?
I forget the name and begin to thumb through my notes. I don't get a chance to say anything more, however, before he leans forward and brusquely informs me not to bother.
SH: No need to print the name.
SH: The name of the pathologist. Don't print it.
Q: You didn't have an issue with the rest of the names I mentioned.
SH: They're already known to the public. If my pathologist is still managing to fly under the radar, then all the better for everyone.
Q: Mr. Holmes, she's not exactly under the radar. Most of your biggest fans already know her name. It's all over the website.
SH: Let's keep it contained there for as long as possible, shall we?
Q: Well, anyone reading this who's interested will simply look it up anyway.
SH: Then let's hope the percentage of people reading this who are sad enough to actually look is relatively low. Although why anyone would be interested enough to do so is beyond me.
Q: Well, it's thought that she may have helped you with your...
SH: She didn't.
Q: Okay, well, nevertheless, she's a friend of yours, isn't she?
SH: She is a competent pathologist and colleague. 'Friend' may be stretching the matter.
Q: Alright, nevermind, then. She was only on my list in the first place because it seemed as though you liked her more than most.
SH: (sighing) I 'like' a lot of things. The wallpaper in my flat, for instance.
Q: You're comparing her to wallpaper?
SH: Moving wallpaper. Yes.
Q: That seems...harsh.
SH: You're the one continuing the line of questioning. Speaking of which, are we done?
At this, Molly Hooper had finally had enough. Slamming the magazine down on her coffee table and snatching up her long-empty mug, she stormed to the kitchen and almost broke it as she dropped it into the sink.
She swallowed hard and fought back the pressure behind her eyes that threatened the imminent onslaught of tears. She would not, absolutely would not, shed even one more tear over this insensitive monster of a man. Bracing herself against her sink, she took a couple of deep breaths. With every second that ticked by, she became more and more incensed.
How stupid had she been, thinking that things had changed for the better since he'd been pardoned? Thinking that perhaps things had progressed to the point where, if pressed, he wouldn't hesitate call her his friend? She thought back on all those evenings lately in which he'd coerced her into cancelling her plans and sitting with him in his kitchen poring over journals and dissecting various organs. All those times he'd called her at all hours of the night to excitedly recount a case he'd just solved, so eager to share it with her that he didn't even realize what time it was.
He'd even repeated his invitation for fish and chips one evening, as they were leaving the lab. She had, to her complete disappointment, been forced to decline - having promised her Auntie Augusta she'd have dinner with her – but she'd thought the invitation itself said more than actually sitting down and eating with her.
She'd been wrong, evidently.
Well, she thought bitterly, bugger him and his chips.
Throwing open a cupboard and gracelessly jumping up to grab a big bag of crisps from the top shelf (she kept them there so they were deliberately hard to get to – for the sake of her cholesterol), she pulled them open and shuffled miserably back to her sofa, plopping down and crunching away as she flipped through the channels. Settling on some old Sandra Bullock movie, she leaned back and let her mind go numb as she watched it.
Right in the middle of the film, her phone chimed. She glanced at it and scowled furiously as she saw that it was from Sherlock-bloody-Holmes himself.
Come to Baker Street. I think I finally found the problem with the liver. I'll order Chinese. SH
Seizing her phone and feeling her slightly-subdued anger ignite all over again, she typed back what she thought was a calm, collected, clear and concise response.
I'm busy tonight...and from now on actually, so why don't you go ahead and 1) eat the liver 2) use the leftover formaldehyde to soak your head and 3) lose my number.
She waited for a few minutes and, when he didn't respond, turned the sound off on her phone and tossed it onto the plush chair across the room so she couldn't hear it if it buzzed. Deciding the crisps had worn out their welcome, she went back to the kitchen and came back out with a pint of ice cream and a bottle of wine. Pulling the cork out of the bottle and taking a sip without even bothering to get a glass, she scanned her coffee table and snorted to herself.
"It looks like I just broke up with someone," she muttered to the empty room, and then frowned at herself before setting the wine down and pulling the ice cream open.
She'd barely gotten five bites and two more sips in before there was a terse knock at her door. She closed her eyes and sighed as she set the ice cream down – she knew exactly who it would be. Standing and trudging to the door, she pulled it open and found herself eye to eye with a very perturbed Sherlock Holmes.
Molly let her arm drop listlessly to her side.
He didn't say anything to her – just stared at her, his expression unreadable.
Taking a step back and turning around, she silently and grudgingly made it clear that he could follow her inside if he wanted, but that she would prefer he not. She heard his footsteps behind her and then had to physically stop herself from jumping ten feet as her front door slammed into its frame with a deafening crash. She turned around to find him staring at her, his blue eyes burning.
Ratcheting her chin up a notch, she asked unenthusiastically, "Tea?"
"Care to explain that text?" he asked, his voice deceptively light – she could hear the anger underneath.
After a brief pause in which she felt only the smallest twinge of guilt in her gut, she replied in a flat voice, "Is that a no?"
"Obviously I must have somehow offended your sensibilities, but I'd prefer you simply tell me exactly where I made my error instead of leaving me to guess."
"Hope you don't mind if I have some while you keep talking," she said crossly, attempting to turn and go back to her sofa. Before she could get as much as two steps away, his hand shot out and grabbed her arm. She could literally her face burning as she turned around to glare furiously at him.
Bending down slightly so that she had to look him in the face, he bit out, "I'm not leaving until you explain that text."
She didn't appreciate the intimidation tactics he was using and pulled her arm out of his grasp. There was no way in hell she was going to let him play the victim or make her feel ashamed of what she'd said to him. She'd meant every word, and he'd also deserved every word.
"I'm surprised you care," she shot back, and he shook his head and retorted haughtily,
"Believe it or not, even I appreciate at least a brief explanation when I receive a text that makes it sound very much like I'm being summarily and casually dismissed from someone's life."
She set her mouth in a thin line and fixed him with a hard stare. He returned it, and it suddenly seemed to her that there was as much veiled bitterness and hurt in his eyes as her own must have held in that moment. It only made her more furious.
"Wallpaper?" she said, only to her horror, it came out as a rasped whisper.
His brows furrowed in confusion. "Sorry?"
"Wallpaper?" she repeated, and this time her voice came out strong and clear, "You compared me to your wallpaper!?"
Realization dawned on his face and he looked briefly like an animal caught in the sights of a rifle before his face melted into the perfect picture of daft incredulity.
"Surely you aren't referring to that ridiculous interview that Mycroft forced me to give to...what was it?"
"London Weekend, Sherlock," she almost shouted, "It's very widely read, which means that tomorrow I get to look forward to a lot of sympathy and sniggers from my colleagues. Not to mention a lot of angry calls from mates affronted on my behalf..."
"Why should you feel affronted?" he demanded, his eyes narrowed, "I made it a point not to mention you by name."
"You're joking. Are you joking?"
"I don't tend to joke when I'm irritated," he snapped, and she crossed her arms over her chest.
"Sherlock," she explained, her voice softening in spite of herself, "I thought we were friends. I thought..."
"Friends?" he interrupted, his voice clearly indicating that he thought she was a complete moron.
"Okay, fine, now I know I am equivalent to wallpaper in your mind," she lamented, "I just don't know why I had to find out you felt that way from a bloody magazine!"
"I don't feel that way! I was protecting you!" he insisted loudly, his eyes starting to look slightly wild.
"From who? Overeager teenaged fans who visit your website?"
"It's not my website, I've never even been on it. And no, I was thinking more along the lines of criminals who might decide to harm you in order to get to me."
"Are you actually insane? You talked about Mrs. Hudson, John, Mary...everyone else..."
"And you didn't compare Mrs. Hudson to a bedside lamp or Greg to a footstool!"
"Oh, for God's sake..."
"And you actually said nice things about them!"
"Everyone knows John and I are close, and Mary's his wife. Everyone knows I share a friendly relationship with Mrs. Hudson. Speaking highly of them doesn't tell the world anything more than what they already know. Lestrade is a DI, he can take care of himself. If I can prevent the world from finding out how important you really are to me for as long as possible, then I will. It's safer."
"Well, coming over here wasn't a brilliant idea, then. In fact, we should actually stop associating with each other outside of the hospital, because there's always the chance you'll be followed, or someone will hack into our text messages..."
"Our professional association can be used to explain any visiting we do, and I would never be stupid enough to say I love you or anything sensitive like that over text."
She felt like she'd been hit on the head with an anvil as she stared into his scowling face.
"I'm sorry, what?"
He sighed impatiently and repeated, "Are you getting ill? I said our professional relationship is more than sufficient to cover any visits, and I would never be stupid enough to say...oh."
"Oh," she parroted, and then they stood there staring at each other, dumbfounded, for a good several minutes.
"Do..." she began, then cleared her throat, "Do you? I mean..."
He stood up a bit straighter and ran his hands over his curls before replying, "I didn't intend to say that, obviously."
"Oh," she murmured, deflating a bit but still so shocked she couldn't find it in herself to feel anything else, "Sherlock, I...I feel like I just eavesdropped on your mind."
"Yes. And I feel like my mouth just stabbed me in the back. I...didn't mean to say that."
He seemed to struggle with his words for a moment and just stood there looking completely flummoxed for a second before she decided to speak up, all traces of anger having left her.
"We can just pretend you didn't. If you want."
He looked back up at her and stared for a long moment before admitting softly, "I don't know if I want that, either."
Their eyes met and held, and after a moment in which her insides turned to mush and small, warm smiles had slowly crept onto both their faces, Molly asked,
"So...not wallpaper, then?"
"Not wallpaper, no," he replied, his voice slightly raspy as he spoke to her. After a moment he stepped forward until he was as close as he could get to her without pressing up against her and said, "I'm sorry. I do try my best these days to avoid hurting you."
She shook her head, blowing out her breath in a huff.
"No. Well...a bit," he said gently, then asked, "But you understand now? My reasoning?"
"Yes," she agreed, but still added, "I still don't agree, though. I don't care if people know we're friends."
He drew a long breath, then replied, "I'm not entirely sure that's really what we are, Molly Hooper."
Feeling her hands begin to shake and suddenly overwhelmed by what seemed to be happening between them as they stood there, she smiled brightly and said,
"We can go back to yours if you still feel like working on that liver."
He breathed a sigh of relief as her words let him temporarily off the hook and, with the weight of what had passed between them still hanging heavily between them to be dealt with another time, he smiled as he replied,