Title: Strange News from Another Star [1/3]
Summary: Part One. Wherein Harry is in one of her moods, Sherlock finds he doesn't know everything and the sky is ablaze with orange fire.
Characters: John, Sherlock, Harry, Clara & Mrs Hudson
Pairing: Harry/Clara, John-Sherlock
Rating: T (just in case)
Notes: Continuation of the story 'Topical', in which John has lunch with his sister and Sherlock is the topic of conversation.
Harry was in one her moods. John could tell the instant he set foot into the bar he'd agreed to meet her in and he seriously contemplated turning around and leaving. He could call her on the way back to Baker Street and tell her Sherlock needed him. But then she looked up, her eyes glassy but clear and he knew he couldn't leave.
"John," she said quietly, her voice thick but strangely flat and John tried to catch a glimpse of her eyes, her pupils. They were a little dilated but nothing unusual given the lighting of the pub and he wasn't sure whether to be pleased or distraught by that. He'd seen her like this a few times when they were younger, when she would go for days without speaking to anyone, merely floating through the days in a bleary haziness until she appeared, rejuvenated, at the other end. He'd known about her struggle with bi-polar long before she did; combined with her alcoholism... "I wasn't sure you were going to come."
He tried to smile as he slid onto the bar stool next to her but it fell flat.
"Well, I am." He flagged the waiter down and ordered a half pint of lager and indicated Harry's almost empty glass. "What are you drinking?"
Harry looked up to the waiter, bypassing John's gaze.
"Just a Sprite, thanks." John couldn't keep his eyebrows from hitching at that and when Harry turned to him, she tried to level him with a glare that fell far short of severe. "I'm trying to stop. Or cut back, at least at first."
John started. He'd been on at Harry for iyears/i to stop drinking and when it didn't result in them screaming and shouting at one another, it lead to them not talking for months.
Harry laughed but it was a hollow sound.
"You already have the list memorised in your head; all the reasons you recite at me every time we argue are relevant here."
John frowned, turning his body more towards his sister, studying her. He was no Sherlock Holmes, but neither was he a simpleton. He could see dark circles under her eyes, wrinkles that weren't there before, lines of tension that crippled her lips, her long slender hands no longer just islender/i but skinny. The top she wore was loose and floaty, the cardigan thick and baggy on her arms and her normally well kept blond hair was pulled back into a messy loose ponytail. She wore no makeup.
"I'm just... why now?"
She sighed and rested her elbows on the bar, staring straight ahead at the optics. John knew she wasn't there with him, not completely and the fact that she iwasn't there/i and trying to stop drinking scared him a lot than he thought it would. He felt a tight knot form in his stomach, a thickness about his throat that was only exacerbated when he thought back to how she was not even ten days ago; laughing and joking and even though she had made her way through half a bottle of wine in about twenty minutes, she was happy. It was a far cry from the woman sitting in front of him now.
"Why not now?" John drew his eyebrows together. "I've lost everything, John." He looked away then, uncertain what he was supposed to say, if anything at all. "I want to have a baby." John's jaw dropped and he spun on his chair to face her. She still didn't look at him. "First it's the alcohol, then the pills. Then maybe they'll consider me."
John thought about the long lineage of mental health problems, of the likelihood that the donor would have mental health problems – or worse.
"I don't think-"
"My biological clock is running out, John. I'm thirty six years old. If I don't get clean this year then I might be too old and then what will I have? A broken marriage, a shitty flat that I won't be able to afford because the likelihood of me being made redundant in the next downsizing at the office are ridiculously high and... I need something, John. I need something to hold me here."
"What do you mean, 'hold you here'?"
She waved her hand around in that dismissive gesture he had grown to abhor; it did little to appease him.
"It's just London. It's so oppressive at this time of year."
"What, spring?" She shrugged and the vacant look re-entered her eyes. He didn't like it, at all. He covered her wrist with his hand, feeling the thick wool beneath his fingers and palm. She turned her head down to stare at the contact before lifting her eyes to his, her expression quietly surprised. "Harriet, what aren't you telling me?"
She studied him for a moment and though her stare wasn't quite as 'I-can-see-through-you-to-your-very-soul' as Sherlock's, it wasn't entirely without an unnerving quality. He didn't look away though and was rewarded with a small, tired but entirely genuine smile from Harriet.
"Nothing. I'm just... it's hard. I miss Clara. I miss drinking." She eyed the glass that John hadn't realised had been placed in front of him and he made a mental note to remember to pay the tab. John felt a stab of guilt for not retracting his order when Harriet had told him she wasn't drinking and pushed the glass away. Harriet's smile dimmed and she closed her eyes, shaking her head minutely and she sighed. "I need a holiday." She let out an airy laugh. "I might book up somewhere with my redundancy package," she continued with a bitter lilt to her voice that John was sure she was trying to hide.
"Harriet..." But he had nothing else to say, so he simply shook his head and resettled against the bar.
"We didn't finish talking about Sherlock Holmes," Harriet said some long moments later and John turned to her with a half amused smile.
"I think we have better things to talk about than my flatmate."
Harry tilted her head and squinted her eyes at John, her eyes glittering with barely suppressed humour and John would gladly talk about Sherlock if it kept that smile on her face.
"Quite." She smirked. "Tell me about you and Sherlock."
John rolled his eyes and smirked to the bar top.
"There is nothing to tell. Really. Last week, he was just..." He shook his head. "That's his version of humour."
Harriet smirked and laughed lightly.
"It was pretty funny."
"No, it wasn't."
"It really was." John rolled his eyes again but smiled. "He's gorgeous, by the way," she remarked into the silence that surrounded them then and John tilted his head towards her slightly.
"Is he?" Harry hummed in the back of her throat and John huffed slightly. "I hadn't noticed." But he had, of course, and the look Harry sent him let him know that she knew that as well as he did. "He plays the violin at three in the morning. He's not normal."
Harry waggled her eyebrows salaciously and smirked even as John felt his cheeks heat, knowing what she was thinking.
"Talented fingers then?"
"Shut up!" he laughed, slightly mortified and shifted the conversation to their parents.
They stayed until the crowd got rowdy with those revellers who were out for the night and the office workers out for a post-office drink went home. As they made their way out the door into the still cool spring night air, Harry tugged her cardigan tighter around her and fastened it with a belt she pulled from her bag and John laughed slightly shaking his head, even as he zipped up his own jacket.
"I'm sorry about earlier," Harriet said to the space next to John's face but he shook his head. "I don't mean to worry you."
John smiled then and reached out to touch her arm again. She followed the motion, staring at the contact. He pulled his hand back after a few moments when his mobile vibrated in his pocket but he ignored it, knowing already that it would be a text from Holmes.
"I'll speak to you soon, all right?"
Harriet nodded but she looked contemplative again, her eyes fogging over for a moment before she smiled and rushed to him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He was startled but managed to recover enough to laugh lightly in her ear as he curled his own arms around her waist.
"I love you, John. I don't think we say that to each other enough. And even though we argue and whatever just... Yeah. I love you, all right?"
He pulled back from her, staring down at her face but she was smiling up at him – perhaps a little sadly – and he squeezed her shoulder.
"You're really freaking me out, you know."
She grinned and laughed and he wondered when it was that she had become such a good actress.
He frowned but shook it off and squeezed her shoulder again.
"I'll ring you tomorrow, okay?"
She nodded, already half into a world of her own. John pulled back from her and she smiled, lifting her iPod out of her pocket and slipped her headphones over her ears.
"Better than mufflers," she responded to his amused grimace before she spun on her heel and flounced off in the direction of the underground station.
John watched her go before turning and walking back towards Baker Street. He fished his phone from his pocket and opened the text.
He didn't bother responding.
"Didn't you get my text?"
John sighed as he picked his way through the debris of Holmes' night in to the kitchen.
"I did, yes."
"I told you to bring food."
John held up the Tesco bags in his hands and shook them slightly, the plastic rattling in a soft rasp.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes as he leapt from his armchair and John glanced at the nicotine patches on his arm (two, a quiet night). Sherlock followed him into the kitchen, where John began to pull items from the bag.
"That's not food. Those are ingredients."
John huffed out a laugh and manoeuvred around Sherlock, pulling open cupboard doors in an attempt to find space amongst Sherlock's chemical paraphernalia.
"Yes. And together, they make food," John said slowly as he moved back to the bags – once again, required to skirt around Sherlock who was standing most inconveniently in the middle of the small aisle left by the worktop and Sherlock's worktable.
"But we don't cook."
John sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Just because we don't doesn't mean we can't."
Sherlock was silent for a moment and when he turned around, Sherlock was frowning down at the packet of mince in disdain.
"Well I can't."
"You also didn't know who the Prime Ministers were. Just goes to show you can't be good at everything."
Sherlock huffed and twitched his head in an attempt to move his fringe from his eyes – he needs a hair cut, John noted before urging the thought away.
"I'm good – great, actually – at things of importance."
John scoffed but turned away from Sherlock's narrowed gaze.
"And cooking isn't one of them."
"Not when there's twenty four hour eateries all around London." John didn't bother to reply, too amused by Sherlock's vehemence to bother arguing with him. There was a long moment and John knew that Sherlock was most likely baffled by John's lack of response. "What are we having, then?" Sherlock asked and John held his breath when he felt Sherlock's heat at his back, the soft breath tickling John's neck as he peered over John's shoulder at the ingredients scattered across the worktop.
"Spaghetti bolognaise," he managed in a normal voice, smiling slightly when Sherlock made a sound of annoyance and twirled away from his back.
John reached for the packet beside him and held it up without turning round.
"I'm putting chorizo in yours."
"Hm. You didn't buy any sauce."
John turned then and stared at Sherlock askance before shaking his head and turning back to the worktop. He opened a few drawers and finally pulled out a couple of knives, a chopping block from one of the cupboards and a pot and frying pan from another.
"I'm going to make sauce."
"Really?" Sherlock almost sounded amazed and John laughed lightly again. Sometimes, Sherlock really was like a child. "Do you mind if I watch? It could prove to be useful."
John held his hands up and hid his smile.
"By all means." Sherlock stood at his back again. "But sit down. You're in my way."
Sherlock let out a startled breath but did as John bade and sat in the chair that no doubt had seen too many miniature chemical explosions.
When the sauce was boiling and the mince sizzling in the pan with the garlic and onions, John turned to Sherlock who had been silent throughout the entire procedure.
"I didn't know you could cook," Sherlock murmured as he stared at the frying pan and John shook his head and laughed.
"We established that you don't know everything." Sherlock glared at him but the severity of it was tempered by the small smile that flitted about around his lips. "I had to learn to cook or me and Harriet would have starved." Sherlock frowned, his eyes instantly taking on that intense stare John had come to know. He moved in before Sherlock could try and deduce anything. "Harriet is older but she can't even boil water without it turning into a disaster zone. My parents worked shifts so if we wanted to eat at regular hours we had to - iI/i had to learn how to do it myself."
Sherlock sniffed, put out that John had cut off his no doubt entirely icorrect/i diatribe about John's younger life, before standing and moving to the cooker. John narrowed his eyes, ready to defend his food, but Sherlock simply stared at it for a long moment before turning to John with a dangerous glint in his eye.
"It remains to be seen if you can cook well." And then he flounced out of the kitchen and dropped into his armchair, legs and feet sprawled out in front of him. "How is your sister, by the way?"
John hesitated a moment too long and turned his eyes from the sight of Sherlock lounging.
John heard Sherlock take a breath, pause and then let it out.
"You say that a lot, you know. I wonder how fine your food will be."
John bit back his relieved laugh but turned to finish off their dinner.
Twenty minutes later, John smirked.
Sherlock nodded, his orange rimmed lips quirking up at the edges.
"We're never going to Angelo's again."
Harry, it's John. You freaked me out last night so call me when you get this. Uh, bye
"I'm sorry, what?" Because surely he must have heard wrong.
"I asked Sherlock to be my sperm donor."
"John's not here," a voice said from in the room that Mrs Hudson led her to and she turned to the woman who simply smiled indulgently and shook her head.
"In you go, dear."
"A cup of tea would be nice, Mrs Hudson!"
Harriet watched Mrs Hudson roll her eyes as she made her way back down the stair they had moments before just climbed.
"You know where the kettle is, dear."
Harriet's eyebrow fluttered once before she pushed the door to the sitting room of her brother's flat open. And then she faltered. The place was a mess. Boxes filled with papers of manila folders covered most of the floor and most of a long table that she could see used to act as a sideboard; a grey-blue dressing gown was lying in a heap on the floor at the back of the couch as though the discarder had been aiming for the couch but missed. There was a skull on the mantelpiece. She turned around on her heel, taking in the mini-lab in the kitchen, the jars of who knows what that lined the walls, glass shards from who knows what.
And then there Sherlock Holmes standing in the midst of it all and despite the fact that she was unapologetically gay, she felt her breath catch in the back of her throat. She didn't know how her brother could share the same flat as the man and not be half-mad with desire. The light streamed in from the window, backlighting him and she took in his apparel: light grey lounge pants that had the effect of looseness but in fact were tapered against Sherlock's long, lean legs; a light blue tee shirt that was moulded to his surprisingly broad shoulders; his hair a wavy mess on his head.
"I have no idea how my brother can live like this," she said eventually after de-snaring herself from Sherlock's gaze.
Sherlock tilted his head as though assessing her and she barely refrained from fidgeting.
"Your brother has a startling ability to adapt to his surroundings." She quirked an eyebrow and a smile flittered across his face, so brief that she almost missed it. "Even so, it's not usually as messy as this. No cases, you see." She didn't but she nodded anyway. "As I said, John is not here."
"Yeah. I know." She fixed her gaze on Sherlock again and smiled. "He's only one of three reasons I'm here."
Sherlock looked startled for a moment and Harriet laughed quietly when he tried to school his features back to his impassive, imploring gaze.
"Really?" He squinted his eyes and pursed his lips slightly and Harriet let him try to figure her out. She looked around the room for any signs that her brother lived there. It took her a moment but she found them, scattered around with Sherlock's belongings and she smiled. "I admit, I can only think of one reason why you would be here, especially when your brother is gone. Since I do not know you, I can only assume it is an attempt to... get to know me?"
Harriet laughed out loud at that, her smile indulgent and she saw true annoyance appear on Sherlock's face and she laughed more. Her brother was right; he truly was like a child.
"Not entirely right, no." His frown deepened and she heard him take a long breath. "Have a seat, Mr Holmes."
He narrowed his eyes at her as she gestured to the chair at the window and moved herself to perch on the chair that she knew without a doubt was her brother's.
"I know I am not the champion of social convention but shouldn't it be me who asks you to have a seat?"
Harriet's indulgent smile deepened and she took great delight in the annoyance that marred Sherlock's chiselled features.
"And I know you're not the champion of social convention so I took the initiative and released you of the burden. Now please, have a seat. There's something I want to say to you."
Harriet didn't miss that he refused to sit down, instead opting to loom over her for a few seconds before dropping to the floor and sitting with his legs crossed in front of him in a move that was entirely too graceful for it not to be practiced.
"I don't know what you know about my brother-"
"I'm sure I could say the same of you."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"But I will tell you this, Mister Holmes. When John left for Afghanistan he took a broken heart with him. Me and John might not be close but I don't want to see him like that again." Sherlock opened his mouth to speak but no words came out and Harriet smiled. "I'm a semi-pro boxer, Mister Holmes. Even so, I know plenty of people who owe me favours, do you understand?" Sherlock was staring at her askance, wordless. "In other words, if you hurt my brother I will hire someone to knock you around and then come in while you're down, chop your balls off and then send them to you in the post. Either that or put them in the microwave with your collection of human eyes."
Sherlock guffawed and Harriet was surprised at how sweet she had managed to keep her tone. When she had given a similar speech to the former Mary Watson she'd sounded a lot more threatening. And clearly that hadn't worked because the woman had still broken John's heart and left him after only seven months of marriage.
"Are you... threatening me with bodily harm, Ms Watson?" Sherlock enquired, his tone perilously close to curious and Harriet snorted out a laugh.
"Yes. I am."
Sherlock glanced around the room as though looking for the answer there and, coming up empty, he returned his stare to her.
"John may come across as a strong man but underneath all of that is a big heart that has only just recently healed. He cares for you, a lot more than I think even you realise." She watched Sherlock assimilate that and just as he moved to speak, she cut him off. "Now, I know John probably didn't mention it but I want to have a baby."
She paused and in the silence, Sherlock frowned and tilted his head. She waited for his apparently genius mind to catch on to what she was saying because she suddenly found that she had lost her nerve. Her palms had begun to sweat but she refused to wipe them off on her jeans, knowing that Sherlock would take note of the movement.
She closed her eyes and took a breath.
"My only option, really, considering my own personal taste in sexual partners, is artificial insemination." She stared at Sherlock, willing him to click on but his face remained quietly curious, if not a little blank. She took another breath. "Would you consider being my donor?"
"John, thank God you're here!" John looked up at the exclamation from his flatmate, taking in Sherlock's almost panicked face as he loomed over him. "I'm going out."
John turned to follow Sherlock with his eyes as his flatmate rushed down the stairs, almost tripping on the bottom step in his haste before grabbing his coat and shrugging it on while attempting to pull the front door open.
"Sherlock, you're still in your pyjamas!"
Behind him, John heard a sniff and he spun around at the sound and froze in his tracks. Harry was sitting on his chair with two silver tracks on her cheeks from where tears had very recently fallen. He let out a huff of air and rushed to her side.
"Are you all right? Harriet?" She didn't respond, except to drop her face into her upturned palms and John looked askance around the room. What was she doing here? "Harriet, what's happened?"
"I asked Sherlock to be my sperm donor."
"I'm sorry, what?" Because surely he must have heard wrong.
"I asked Sherlock to be my sperm donor."
John fell back from his haunches and stared at his sister in complete and utter bewilderment.
"What?" Harriet lifted her head to glare at him. "I'm sorry but... " He let out a chuckle and tried to back the one that attempted to follow it but within moments he was laughing, the boisterous sound ricocheting around the room. "I'm sorry..."
But Harry was laughing too, quietly and into her hands and shaking her head and John couldn't help but wrap his arms around her.
"What did he say?"
"What do you think?" She asked in a biting tone and John winced slightly, but nodded.
"Why, on God's earth would you ever ask him to be your sperm donor? You hardly know him."
"And I would absolutely not know some random donor." John conceded with a nod and let go of her shoulders when she pushed him back. "And besides, have you seen those cheekbones?"
Harriet Watson-Clancy is surplus to requirement
'Harriet, it's John – again. Pick up your bloody phone. What's happened? Call me back as soon as you get this.
"Have you heard from her recently?" John asked and Clara nodded against the plastic cup.
They were in the garden outside John's counsellor's office enjoying the summer sun as it beat down on them at a scorching twenty eight degrees. As he felt his face warm under the heat, John thought of Sherlock, who had refused to leave the house since the minor heat wave started, citing that his skin was just too pale to handle the level of UVA and UVB rays that the summer sun emitted. He patted the bag at his side, smiling at the thought of Sherlock's face when John handed over the bottle of factor fifty sun block.
"Yeah, the other day. To get the divorce papers signed."
"Yeah." Clara took a breath and sipped from her Starbuck's frozen tea. "I don't know what's gotten into her."
"How do you mean?"
Clara sighed and looked down to the grass and John followed her gaze for a moment before turning his head back up to the sky.
"It's not the first time she's left me." John turned to her. "When you were in Afghanistan, she left me three times. None of them for as long as this and none of them ended up with me signing divorce papers."
"I didn't know."
"It's not something I like to broadcast." John nodded in understanding but couldn't find appropriate words. "She wants a baby." John snorted at the memory of Sherlock's stricken face, of Harriet's hysterical laughter and, later, Sherlock's complete and utter incomprehension of the entire situation. John's explanation of 'your cheekbones, apparently' hadn't done much to appease Sherlock's confusion and John had laughed for a long time after it. "What?"
"Nothing," he replied shaking his head. "It's not important."
Clara stared at him for a few moments before looking away.
"She's not normally as volatile as this. I mean, two weeks ago we were talking about how to fix our marriage, how we can make it work and how much we loved each other and then a few days ago I'm hiring a lawyer and signing everything that needs signed and... And she was so cold."
John sighed and considered taking her hand in his but thought better of it. Instead, he turned sideways on the bench and bit his lip.
"Listen; I know Harry. I know how she is. You had her for four good years but this, this flighty broken person is who she is. She might not be better off without you but I can assure you, you are better off without her." John saw tears spring to Clara's eyes and he felt a pinch in his own chest. It hurt him to say it about his sister because, despite the odds, they had gotten closer over the past few months. But he also knew that it was the truth. Harriet was selfish and she was destructive about it. Until she sorted herself out, Clara was better off without her. "She will just keep breaking your heart."
"I've been telling myself that for the past year." She looked down and a blob of saline fell from her lower lid and splashed onto the lid of her plastic cup. "It's just so hard."
"I know. Believe me, I know. But you will be better off."
"Thanks, John." She winced. "I don't really feel better after our chat but I better get going."
John's phone rang in his pocket and he sighed, holding his finger up to indicate to Clara to stay. She smiled and settled back onto her chair.
"Yes. I need you to pick something up for me."
"I thought you preferred texting?"
"I couldn't run the risk of you ignoring my text. Lestrade came by, he needs our help but I need you to go to the pharmacist on Samford Street and pick up-"
There was a loud crack then followed by a dull boom and the sound vibration knocked the phone from John's hand even as he fell sideways off the bench, Clara landing beside him. Around him, he heard a few people screaming and then the sound of more booms, quieter this time and when he looked up, the sky was ablaze with orange fire. It took a few seconds but debris began falling from the sky and John rolled his body over Clara's, ducking his head against ground.
"John? John! Can you hear me? John!"
He scrabbled blindly for his phone and pulled it to his face.
"Sherlock..." His voice came out breathless, quiet and tortured.
"Oh, thank God. Where are you?"
"A plane exploded, I can see it from here. Where are you?"
John gulped, tried to take a breath but his mind kept flashing to other booms, to another time, another warm clime. His heart was hammering in his chest and his vision was blurred but he turned his head anyway, and at first all he saw was the building he'd been in, the grass and the edge of the chair he'd been sitting on. He tilted his head, his cheek scraping against the grass and the concrete and then he saw it.
Something hit the back of his neck and he thought to scream in pain but before he could, before the sound could materialise, he blacked out.