9

A Boy and His Skull

[2010 Sherlock Fan Fiction]

"I don't understand these grades at all, isn't he settling in?"

Sherlock was up in his room and he could hear his father's voice downstairs – the slightly pleading note in it that the man always got when he was trying desperately to understand something that confused him which, in this intellectually acute household, was often.

"I mean, I understand that the move to secondary school has been hard on Sherlock, but these are just...I mean, he's a very clever child, I don't understand. How can he fail everything?"

"Weren't you supposed to be looking out for him, Mycroft?" he heard his mother accuse, her voice stronger, attempting to take action. Having been a teacher herself some years ago, she rather dominated this conversation, pushing his father back to only making empathetic but generally useless comments.

"I can only do so much, mum." Mycroft replied, sounding offended. "I can hardly force him to make friends, or participate in class, and if he doesn't bloody well speak..."

Sherlock frowned to himself, his mouth in a slight sneer. Oh yes, he thought, Mycroft had done plenty. He had barely been able to shake his older brother since he started. Sherlock was 11 years old, and Mycroft was almost 18, attending the 6th form section of their school. The divide between them was often more than just years, and Sherlock couldn't wait until Mycroft would leave for university. He didn't hate his brother, per-se; he just wished that he'd stop meddling. Especially now. It was like he had three parents, sometimes.

"That must be the problem." His father interjected gently, "If he doesn't talk, he can't participate. Maybe he doesn't want to."

"But why? I don't understand it! What did we do wrong, why did he have to stop talking all of a sudden? It's been 6 months! It's not healthy...I'm worried. Perhaps we should get him a psychiatrist." His mother said. Mycroft gave a dismissive snort, which led her to immediately switching to telling him off.

Sherlock groaned and reached for his tape-player, putting on the headphones and turning up the music as loud as he could tolerate. He'd had enough of that conversation.

Some time later he heard a knock at his door. He had switched to lolling so that he half dangled upside down off his bed, and – once he had thought they were no longer bickering about him – he had moved from the tape player to a thick old book about various types of poisons, which he had rather sneakily disguised with a sleeve from a maths textbook. He was bored – but then again he always was – but the poisons interested him enough to stop him from having the urge to throw things out of the window. He ignored the knock and carried on reading upside down. Finally after a pause, Mycroft invited himself into Sherlock's room, pushing aside the mess of clothes that had accumulated by the door. Sherlock glared at him.

"I've come to talk, Sherlock." He said, clearing his throat.

Sherlock returned his eyes down to his book, reading about a particular plant found in India that could act as a strong sedative, though had a tendency to cause liver damage.

Mycroft sighed. "I suppose you know that we've been talking about the grades you brought home..."

Sherlock gave a short nod, not moving his eyes off the page.

"We're just puzzled, that's all. A child with your IQ should be at the top of his class. What's wrong? Don't you like school?"

Sherlock's eyes narrowed a little at the word 'child'. He hated that. He hated being the baby of the family. And of course he didn't like school. He despised the new place, and all the idiotic beings inside of it. Instead, he shrugged.

"And this not talking business...it's upsetting mummy you know." Mycroft pressed. "I don't understand why you just decided to stop all of a sudden. I mean, before I thought that it was just the stress of moving schools, but it's been 6 months already, Sherlock, enough is really enough. I mean...are you being bullied? No one mentioned if you were being bullied. I didn't notice, but if you are I can help. I know plenty of people in school who can assist you. There's really no reason to be quiet over it."

Sherlock – purposefully loudly- turned his page. Mycroft gave him a rather sour look. "And I know that isn't a maths book, brother, I wasn't born yesterday." He snorted.

Sherlock gave him a long look and then tossed the book away dismissively.

"Well that's just childish." Mycroft huffed. He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head in exasperation. "Fine. If you won't be co-operative, suit yourself. But you'll have to make the effort. Get your priorities right. You need to try at school – it's important. Very important. And you don't want to upset our parents do you?"

Sherlock turned away with a little snort and Mycroft sighed. Sherlock didn't look back, but heard Mycroft close the door as he left. Sighing, he curled up and squeezed his eyes shut. Nobody understood. But then again no-one ever had done. The whole world was sluggish and stupid and he was so bored and alone in a crowd that it drove him crazy sometimes. He hated the big school full of strangers and Mycroft's oddly intricate network of older fools at his bidding. He hated being made to sit in boring class and listen to pointless lectures on subjects he didn't care about. But he had no passions, no hobbies, just a morbid interest in how things worked and how things died and the secrets that people kept. And he didn't really know why. 6 months ago he had stopped talking because he realised that no-one ever really understood or cared what he had to say anyway. He kind of liked it – being quiet. It was just him and himself and the big pointless universe of badly-hidden secrets, and that would do just fine. He'd be silent forever and go insane with the sheer boredom of existing when his brain could never shut up and tried to tear his sanity apart.

The next day, Sherlock was in school again in the final break. He was still getting used to the itchy school uniform of black trousers, white shirt, a blazer and a blue and green striped tie. Outside it was pouring with rain, so most of the students had crowded inside to cram the halls to avoid it. Hating crowds due to the information overload he often got from observing them, Sherlock had decided to go outside instead, taking shelter under a tree to read, enjoying the cool hiss of rain even if the occasional drops blotched out across the text to crinkle the paper. After a few minutes he heard some people near him and ignored them.

"Hey Freak, whatcha reading?" One of them spoke up, looming over him.

Sherlock looked up and fixed him with a condescendingly blank look. A ginger haired boy with a round, rather chubby face, who was perhaps 12 or 13 was joined by two friends, forming a loose triangle around Sherlock. A glance over him was all it took for Sherlock to access him. By his old, too small uniform he doubted that his parents were very wealthy – they probably only scraped enough to send him to this posh school on stubborn refusal to accept themselves as a lower 'class' than their families traditionally had been, so the boy probably suffered from an inferiority complex and compensated by trying to dominate other kids before they had chance to make fun of him. His laces were tied by fixating two separate loops together, rather than the under-and-through-the-loop method, which Sherlock took as an indicator that he wasn't that intelligent, and he obviously ate too much, which probably meant that while his parents weren't wealthy, they still spoiled him. The boy's friends were equally pathetic cases. Sherlock's look soon turned a little smug and he returned to his book to ignore them.

"Hey, freak I'm talking to you." The boy snapped and suddenly knocked Sherlock's book out of his hands and into the mud. Sherlock looked at it and his stomach tightened in quick hurt at that. He finally stood up and glared at the boy. Taking that as a confrontation, they tightened formation around him.

"They say you can't talk. Are you a spaz, freak?" the boy goaded, giving him a shove back into his friend. The friend shoved Sherlock into the other friend, laughing at the 'oof' sound Sherlock made as he tried to right himself. They then gave him a rougher shove and he was soon on his back.
"Ah!" Sherlock yelped as the wind was knocked out of him from landing on the hard ground. He winced. "Ugh..."

"Heh, see he can make noises. Just needs some persuasion." One of the other boys said. He looked to the main one for permission and then gave Sherlock a kick in the ribs, making him cry out loudly again. Sherlock scrambled away, his heart thudding quickly and his ribs throbbing. He suddenly realised, to his chagrin, that he was actually scared. There was something predatory in the boys' eyes that he didn't like – they were too stupid and too jealous, he was sure that they could easily take it too far. Plus, they seemed to latch onto this weakness quickly.

"Aww look, little spaz is gonna cry." Another goaded as Sherlock managed to get to his feet, mud streaked down his clothes. He looked to the side to his precious book on poisons and then made a dart to grab it, but instead received a punch to the mouth for his trouble. He cried out and clutched his face staggering, tears springing to his eyes. The boys started laughing and cut off his access to his book. His book.

"You scared spaz? You scared?"

"Get 'im!"

The boys yelled a little war cry – mocking him- but it did the trick. Sherlock's eyes widened and as they charged for him he darted to his feet and started running, forcing through and scooping up his book as he went, the precious if destroyed volume in his hands. He wouldn't let them have it.

"Hey come back Freak!" they yelled, charging after him.

Sherlock was small and light, but he was fast, and ran as fast as his feet could carry him towards the school gates, his long curly dark hair sticking in his eyes due to the rain. He'd never felt so terrified in his life. Perhaps he was overreacting, but right now it didn't feel like it. Once he reached the school gates he kept on running, leaving their jeers in the distance, and kept running, clutching his book to his chest. He ran down past the fencing, slipping through a gap in the chain link fence that led to the rail tracks, and ran past the underside of the bridge that the older kids often came down and graffitied in their lunch break. Soon he was out of breath, and limped determinedly further into the derelict areas around the railway line where homeless people often congregated and whom Mycroft had warned him sternly to stay away from. The rain was heavy now, and he soon realised that he was soaking wet and freezing. He let out a little sob of relief that he hated himself for when he realised that the boys had long since stopped chasing him.

Looking around, he spotted a derelict little building made out of what looked like mostly corrugated iron with smashed in windows. Deciding that he needed shelter from the freezing rain, he walked in...

The building was dark and dusty, with a concrete floor smothered in debris. Sherlock hugged himself, shivering and feeling rather pathetic and lonely. He never wanted to go back there. And they had called him a freak – a freak. He sniffed and sat down on the cold floor.

It was then that he noticed. The room wasn't just full of random debris, but he also spotted some rather grimy and moth-eaten sleeping bags collected in a corner. He stood up again, stooping curiously as he walked over to inspect them. As he rummaged around in the pile he found a couple of books that had yellowing dog-eared pages and crumpled paperback covers. One was a book on the English language – more specifically the etymology of it - and had been heavily annotated. The second was a book 'the mysterious affair at styles' by Agatha Christie and promised to feature someone named Hercule Poirot. Sherlock regarded them quizzically, but then some movement in a shadow caught his eye.

He turned around, looking for the source of the movement, his heart leaping in a sudden terror that it might be the boys again. He found that he had to look up, and what he discovered in the mid-corner of the room made him gasp in surprised horror but what, oddly, Sherlock actually found less horrifying than if the boys had returned. Dangling from a girder, moving slightly from side to side with the air currents or some unspent momentum, was the hanging body of a man.

It took a moment for Sherlock to find his breath after the initial shock, and he spent it staring at the man – into his open dead eyes and slightly swollen mouth, his rope-encircled neck bent at an unnatural angle and a tipped chair at his feet. It was an appalling sight but, when Sherlock breathed again, inhaling the sickly scent of decay, he found that it didn't frighten him. No...instead he was interested.

He stepped tentatively forward and looked him over in silent fascination. The man was dressed in a long khaki coat and tattered grimy trousers with a hoodie and two layers of t-shirt. His hair was a rusty brown colour and his eyes, though milky with death, had once been brown, and his rough skin was pale. Sherlock guessed that he was in his mid 40s, but he may have been a little younger if weathered from a hard life. Sherlock watched him for a good few minutes, a childish little part of him expecting him to move. But, instead of being frightened by that notion, part of him longed for it. He wouldn't be alone.

He took another step forward and then crouched to the floor below him, hugging his knees and looking at him, still accessing him. His mouth twitched into a slight nervous smile. Somehow, having someone as equally quiet was quite relaxing. Safe. Someone who wasn't judgemental. Who had secrets too. Who was actually interesting for once. Sherlock wondered how he had got there. What had happened to him. Who he was. And that sharp brain of his started whirring away – but this time it wasn't maddening. It felt right.

"Hello." He said quietly, his voice a little awkward from disuse initially. "I'm Sherlock Holmes. What's your name?"

He paused, of course getting no answer. He then got to his feet and pulled up the chair, standing on it so that he was high enough to reach into his coat pockets. He rummaged around, finding a few trinkets – a broken watch, a stained handkerchief and food packets - and, eventually, a wallet. It was empty of money, but had a few things in it. He discovered a train ticket from a month ago and a couple of discount cards and finally a crumpled picture of a smiling woman that, judging by the ink quality and ageing, Sherlock guessed was at least a decade old. He looked back up at the body.

"I'm going to find your name, ok?" he said quietly. "I promise."

The next day was a Saturday and Sherlock sat in the living room, reading a book and peeking over its cover to study Mycroft as his elder brother rather reluctantly worked on an essay. As much as Sherlock begrudged him, he had to admit that Mycroft could ace almost everything he turned his hand to, especially that which interested him, but academically the elder sibling did have a distinct trend of laziness that meant that he despised doing things personally, and would usually only coast along until it became absolutely necessary to put in the effort. Unfortunately for him, this essay was one of those definitive pieces of work that required him to actually try. He gave a miserable little groan.

Sherlock smirked to himself and looked down at the man's train ticket wedged in the yellowed Agatha Christie novel he had salvaged from the hanging man's belongings, concocting a plan. He actually quite liked the novel, although he had never actually chosen to read a fictional book – he had abandoned them once his parents had stopped reading him bedtime stories. He had never seen the point in the often too-obvious plots of one person's useless imaginings. But this was different. This had murders and puzzles in it, and Sherlock had even found that he liked Poirot, although he sometimes grew frustrated with the questions that the great fictional detective didn't ask that seemed obvious to Sherlock. Plus it was his – the man's. And the man had read it countless times it seemed. He finished his page and used the train ticket as a bookmark. He then shifted to watching Mycroft.

"What do you want?" Mycroft asked, sounding dully irritated at being disturbed by his brother's staring, not expecting the usually silent Sherlock to answer. He always had a knack for knowing what Sherlock was doing even though he couldn't' see him. He seemed to observed everything, like he had eyes in the back of his head. Observation was where Mycroft's true genius lay. Observation and the ability to utilise and manipulate other people to do things for him. Thankfully that was rather limited when he was at home with just the small family, Sherlock thought.

Sherlock stared him for a little longer before taking a slight breath and saying firmly: "Drive me to the train station."

Mycroft started in surprise, looking like he threatened having a little stroke at Sherlock actually speaking, completely without warning. He turned slowly to stare at his younger brother.

"E-excuse me?" he asked

"I want you to drive me to the train station." Sherlock repeated calmly, ignoring his reaction, holding the book protectively in his lap.

Mycroft swallowed and then nodded numbly. He wanted to ask why Sherlock was speaking again all of a sudden, but at the same time didn't want to risk provoking his brother back into stubborn silence by an insensitive question. Besides, he was eager to get away from his essay, so an errand didn't sound too bad.

"Why do you want to go to the station, may I ask?" he said, putting down his fountain pen. The space of silence between the question and the answer made Mycroft fear that Sherlock would clam up again for 6 more months, but his brother eventually just fixed his silver-blue eyes on Mycroft with a neutral, but somehow still rather intense, look.

"Will you take me or not?"

"Well...yes. Of course. Provided that you don't intend to run away." Mycroft said with a raised eyebrow, not putting it past him to do just that. Especially after the trouble the boy had gotten into when he came back covered in mud yesterday.

Sherlock looked satisfied at that. "Come on then." He stood up, expecting Mycroft to drop everything then and there. Mycroft, weighing up his options, decided that the essay could wait. Sherlock clutched his book to his chest as followed Mycroft out, the two grabbing their coats on the way, and Mycroft grabbing his umbrella also – his unending paranoia of being rained on present as ever. Once they were in Mycroft's car he chucked his umbrella in the back seat. Sherlock also slunk into the back seat in preference to having to sit next to Mycroft in the front. Mycroft reminded himself not to be offended by his brother's consistently odd and antisocial behaviour. He remembered receiving a long lecture from his mother the last time he had ranted about Sherlock having – as he had put it at the time- 'about the same social skills and niceties as the bubonic plague'. She'd gone on about various rather complicated and dull excuses for him such as Aspergers or Sociopathy or something to that effect, though Mycroft had zoned out. He still thought that, rather than being medically socially difficult, Sherlock was just a stubborn –and rather spoilt- little git most of the time that needed constant supervision if he was ever going to grow out of his childishness. But god help him if he should ever say that to his parents.

When his irritation at Sherlock blatantly ignoring him had passed he spoke up:

"So why exactly am I taking you to the train station, Sherlock?"

Predictably he was met with silence. He sighed. "Should I wait around for you? Or do you plan on hitchhiking back?" he asked irritably.

More silence. He'd be damned if Sherlock refused to talk again – he'd gotten so close to opening him up. As he drove he stubbornly carried on trying to make conversation with him.

"I noticed that you were reading Agatha Christie." He said. "But that's not your copy. Did a friend lend it to you? I thought that you hated fiction."

More silence. He fought the urge to thump his own head against the steering wheel in exasperation.

"It's a good book." He said feebly, still trying to get a response. "Very interesting. Good characterisation. Almost accurate, even if the author doesn't know what she's talking about. Many observations are discarded that, to me at least, would have been perfectly obvious if the detective was worth his salt. I would have solved that murder a lot quicker, if I was a fat moustachioed Belgian." He smirked.

Sherlock looked up at him with more interest, watching the back of his head and Mycroft's eyes as his older brother glanced in the rear-view mirror at him. Sherlock smiled slightly in silent agreement, which seemed to pacify Mycroft a little. At least he wasn't being ignored.

Soon they pulled up in the train station car park and Mycroft got out, soon followed by Sherlock. Sherlock gave him a look and Mycroft reached in to pull out his umbrella.

"Don't give me that look. I'm not leaving you to your own devices." He snorted. He then held out a hand. "Come on, I'll come with you."

Sherlock looked at the hand like it was something venomous and Mycroft sighed and withdrew it, slipping it into his trousers. He then followed at a brisk walk as Sherlock practically ran off, still holding his book to his chest as he did. He immediately went to the ticket office, yanking out the crumpled old train ticket.

"I need to know where this train has come from and when." He said clearly, resting his chin on the desk of the ticket office, peeking over at the taller woman on the other side. He pushed the ticket under the gap in the glass towards her and waited.

The woman blinked at him and glanced around for who was supervising the juvenile. She then looked back to him and gave her well practiced polite smile.

"Well alright, let me just take a look." She looked down at the ticket. "Hmm...We've had a route change since this came into effect. This was back in October..." she looked to her green-screened computer, typing lightly. "I think that the route was between Manchester and St Pancreas in central London."

"What time?" Sherlock asked curtly.

"It left Manchester at approximately 5pm and arrived at 8pm." She replied.

"What's the nearest cheapest hotel?" Sherlock asked, almost cutting off her answer in his impatience.

She gave him a mildly irritated look. "I...well, there's a hotel in the station. Of a travel inn a few streets away."

"Is it cheapest?"

"Well I don't know –"

"Come on, you've got to have an idea. Is the hotel here ridiculously overpriced or not?" Sherlock pressed.

She gave him a blank look. "I'm not sure. And I don't think it's my place to comment on the station's pricing policies."

Sherlock huffed. "Fine, fine. Tell me, do you have seat reservations at that time? On the train? Or do you have records of who buys the tickets?"

"Well, uhm, that route often has obligatory seat reservations. It can get quite packed, especially on Fridays, which is when this would have been booked." She said, looking around for who supervised Sherlock. She seemed to relax a little when Mycroft caught up and stood next to Sherlock, giving her an apologetic look for his brother's behaviour.

"I need the record of who bought this ticket." Sherlock said firmly, tapping on the glass. "it's imperative."

She looked through her files. "This ticket was a month ago, it's take a lot of work to find it..."

"Well then you had better hurry up, hadn't you?" Sherlock snapped.

Mycroft gave him a look and pulled him back a little. "Sherlock! Ma'am, please excuse my brother, he gets a little...overzealous." he turned back to Sherlock, giving his arm a warning squeeze. "What are you playing at? Why are you harassing this woman?"

Sherlock glared at him and then withdrew his ticket. Mycroft struggled with him a moment and managed to catch hold of it. "What is this? Sherlock, tell me."

Sherlock looked sulky, and folded his arms stubbornly silent again. But he looked between Mycroft and the woman. He needed their help, he couldn't find out the man's name alone, even if he hated to admit it.

"...I need to find out who used that ticket." Sherlock mumbled.

"Why?" Mycroft pressed.

"I just do. It's really, really important." Sherlock said, lowering his eyes and frowning.

Mycroft regarded him for a while and his expression softened. He sighed and nodded, letting go of his arm and patting his shoulder. "Fine...fine. If it's important to you." he said. After all, whatever it was, it had made him talk again. He looked to the woman behind the desk.

"Could you please help us out? I know it's a pain, but if you could try for us it would really help us." He asked persuasively.

She sighed and then nodded. "Well...alright. If you come back tomorrow I should have rooted it out for you, is that ok?"

Mycroft smiled. "Thank you, I am in your debt, ma'am."

Sherlock looked disappointed at having to wait, and looked up at Mycroft. His brother gave him a hard look and Sherlock had to relent. "Now, what do you say to the nice lady?" Mycroft encouraged.

"That's fine."Sherlock mumbled.

Mycroft rolled his eyes. Of course it had been too much to expect a thank you from the boy. He then took Sherlock's arm again and pulled him away. "Come on, we're going home. I need to do that bloody essay." He grumbled.

The next morning, Mycroft was asleep in bed, lightly snoring, when he felt a poke at his side.

"Mycroft." Sherlock's voice said. There was another poke. "Mycroft." Poke. "Mycroft." Poke.

"Mycroft." Poke. "Mycroft." Poke. "Mycroft." Poke. "Mycroft." Poke. "Mycroft." Poke. "Mycroft." Poke.

"WHAT?" Mycroft sat up straight and glared at him.

"I want you to drive me to the station today." Sherlock said, giving him a smug look at succeeding in waking him up.

"I liked it better when you were mute." Mycroft groaned, rolling over and smothering his face in the pillow.

"Come on you fat lazy fool. Up. "Sherlock shoved him.

"FAT?"

Sherlock grinned as Mycroft lunged for him and ran off, Mycroft chasing after him. "So you're up then?" Sherlock called after him smugly, running down into the kitchen, doubling around the table and then charging back upstairs and into his room to hide out until Mycroft was ready.

"So he's talking again, then." His father said with a smile as he read his newspaper in the kitchen, not flinching as Sherlock had charged around him in a loop.

"Apparently so." Mycroft groaned, running his hands over his face. He reached for some juice and huffed.

"Thankyou for bringing him out of it." His father said sincerely, giving him a smile and pushing over the cereal to him.

"I didn't do anything. He just spoke because he wanted something." Mycroft sighed, but smiled back.

"Maybe if I give him a hobby he'll be a little happier." His father mused, flicking the pages of the newspaper. "if he doesn't like school, he might want something to take his mind off it. Then he may actually work when he's there."

"Like?" Mycroft raised an eyebrow.

His father shrugged. "Well, what about an instrument?"

Mycroft started to laugh and then paused, looking at him when he realised he was being serious. He then nodded. "Mm. Actually that might not be a bad idea."

His father nodded. "You see, I'm not quite as much as a fool as your mother's family thinks." He winked. "Now, you try and be tolerant and look out for him, ok? I'll go try and find a nice instrument to take his mind of school. You know I used to play the violin. Maybe I can teach him that. It'd be nice to spend some time with him, just us two. You know how jealous he gets of me and you." He laughed.

Mycroft nodded and finished off his cereal. Once he did he walked up stairs to get dressed. When he was finished he knocked on Sherlock's door. "Come on, you flipping nightmare. I'll give you a ride."

Sherlock opened the door and smiled. Soon they were back in the car – Sherlock stubbornly still in the back – driving back to the station. Once they were back at the station, they approached the desk and the woman smiled slightly in recognition. She then slotted a piece of paper through the glass.

"Here you go, gentlemen. The train was booked a month ago, the 5.15 from Manchester to St Pancreas. A seat was booked as reserved for a Mr Arthur Appleby. Will that do?"

Sherlock grinned and took the paper. Mycroft still didn't understand why it was so important.

"Excellent." Sherlock said, reading over the paper again. He then ran off back to the car. Mycroft blinked as his hurry and thanked the woman before following him.

"So...this Arthur is..?" he asked.

Sherlock was silent again, reading over the paper with a smile on his face. Mycroft sighed and got back in.

"Home?"

Sherlock nodded, folding up the paper and putting it in his pocket.

Mycroft rolled his eyes. "This is the last time that I'm your chauffeur." He complained, and drove them home. He reminded himself to keep a closer eye on Sherlock. He was obviously up to something.

"Your name's Arthur." Sherlock said, speaking to the dark empty room again. He was in his school uniform again, having skipped out of history class in order to go visit his new friend.

"See?"

He pulled out the paper and held it out towards the body. The man's body had suffered badly after the two days of absence, which only fascinated Sherlock more. The smell and appearance were repulsive, with his body having bloated significantly – something that Sherlock had never seen before. Flies also buzzed around and he was sure that the rats or foxes had been circling the prey during the night, looking for a way to get to him. Sherlock was glad that he had seen what he had looked like before this stage, or else he would not have had any way to identify him later when he decided to ask around. The boy wasn't affected by the gory sight – attaching no emotional significance to his state in order to be appalled.

"According to the lady at the train station you came from Manchester. Why? And why did you kill yourself like this? There's no signs of struggle at all – I've been looking." He put the piece of paper away and stepped closer, looking up at him. "You were only here for a month, but you've got no possessions any more. Just your books. I hope you don't mind, but I borrowed them. They're really interesting." He tilted his head a little. "From the notes you made in the etymology-thesaurus book, and from the passages you read over and over in the Poirot book...I think that you dreamt of being a writer. Is that true? I'm not usually wrong about this stuff."

He looked thoughtful and hugged his arms. "I think I really like you Arthur. You listen to me. People just tell me to shut up usually. So I did. But they didn't like that either. I don't understand people. But I think I understand you. I bet that you moved here to follow your dream but it didn't work. I bet that you don't have much else going for you. You must have only had cash on you when you caught that train, since you have no cards and you've certainly not been robbed. And you still have your wedding ring...but you were in this mess. You didn't leave your wife, because you still have the ring on and you still carry her picture. If you had been in such financial trouble and only divorced, you would have sold your ring first. It's gold. Quite expensive I bet."

He walked around him and then looked back up into his swollen, now sickly coloured face.

"You've only been here a month. Maybe it was a last-ditch attempt to try and find another life. And your dream didn't manifest, so you were sad. But you can't have been sad enough to kill yourself just after that. So you must have been depressed. Really depressed. And, Arthur – Mr. Appelby – I think that that was because your wife died, wasn't it?"

He was silent for a while, listening to the silence in return from his new friend.

"You must have been really lonely and desperate." He murmured. "I get that way too sometimes. Maybe a little crazy. Sometimes I get really really really bored and I wonder what the point is. And I think it'd be easier just not to bother breathing. But then you came along and..."

He shrugged, averting his eyes away. There was a very long pause, and Sherlock batted some of the flies away that got too close.

"I think that I'm going to cut you down now, Arthur." He said quietly.

It took a lot of effort, but Sherlock managed to find a large shard of glass form the shattered windows, and used some crates to heave himself up to the girder. It was dizzyingly high for the small boy, but he edged across the girder on his rump, his heart hammering. When he reached the rope he leant down on his stomach and carefully but firmly started to use the glass to hack away at the rope. After a while he managed it and Arthur's body thumped down to the ground. He gingerly retreated and climbed back down and walked over. Carefully, he reached to his throat, ignoring the weeping goo that had accumulated due to the decomposition and, unsqueamishly, tugged the rope off and heaved the man onto his back.

He swallowed and then wiped his hands on his trousers. "You don't have anyone, but you've got me so..." he shrugged. It never even crossed his mind that he should inform anyone of finding the body, or that he needed a proper burial. But in his own way he'd shown some form of respect by cutting him down. That was enough. Taking a last look at him, Sherlock left, the school bell ringing dimly in the distance.

The rest of that month, Sherlock was a frequent visitor to Arthur in the abandoned building, usually sneaking down on his lunch-breaks, regardless of weather. He would visit to watch with fascination the decomposition of the man, and would often sit huddled close to him and chat about his day and what had happened to him. He talked about how he had finished the Poirot book and how he really liked the idea of being a detective because he said that he must be a good one if he could work out what had happened to Arthur. He also told the dead man about the more findings he had found out about his life – like how he had managed to find his wife's death and marriage records, and how sorry he was for the car-crash. He'd said that, if it made Arthur feel better, he would never learn to drive, that way he'd be safe – relatively speaking. Eventually, he returned the train ticket and other belongings to him, but asked if he could keep the books. He took the silence as a yes.

Over the next weeks, Sherlock's father produced the violin, and he started taking lessons at school and at home with his father, and before he knew it he was so caught up with the instrument and the frustrating yet satisfying attempt at learning to play it that he stopped thinking about the dead man. It wasn't until after Christmas, and a particularly traumatic argument with Mycroft over the dinner table, that his consoling dead friend returned to his mind.

It wasn't until New Year's Eve that he had truly had enough of his family over the holidays that he managed to slink out of the house in the evening as the family were gathering friends over to drink in the new years. It was dark outside, but Sherlock carried a little torch and bundled himself up in his winter coat, wrapping scarf tightly around his neck. The black sky was moving and lucid with light snowflakes that drifted down, settling in a damp cobweb over Sherlock's locks. He walked briskly towards the school, glancing over his shoulder to make sure that no-one had noticed. Once he reached it and the streetlights petered out, he switched on his torch, climbing down into the railway tracks, the light sending some rats scuttling away. He finally reached his building and walked in.

"Arthur?" he called, sweeping his beam of light around. "It's me, Sherlock Holmes. Remember?"

He searched and then let out a little gasp when the light finally picked out what he was looking for. There, jumbled where he had laid him out, was a skeleton, perfectly picked clean and bleached from the cold and infiltrating weather.

Sherlock walked over and crouched to look at it in fascination. "Wow...it's been a while since we last talked hasn't it? I'm sorry I left you by yourself, Arthur. I really didn't mean to. Were you lonely?"

He edged forward and then pushed the bones around experimentally. He found that he wasn' repulsed, as usual, and actually started picking some up. He looked thoughtful.

"It's new years. People shouldn't spend the new years alone, or so I'm told. My mum and dad and brother are having a party, but I've got no friends there so..."

He tilted his head.

"I mean, you're my only friend. So...do you want to come with me? You won't be alone then and...and I think I need you. You can live in my room, and I'll never forget to talk to you again, Arthur."

As ever, the silence that greeted him was taken as a yes. He smiled and reached out, carefully picking up the skull. He inspected it, giving it a childish rattle as if expecting his brains to still be in there. Then he secreted it under his coat and started to walk back home.

By the time he arrived, they were already counting down to new years. By the time he had hurried up into his room he heard the chime downstairs and a little roar of cheers from the guests and his family. He smiled and placed the skull secretly under his bed.

"Happy 1988, Arthur."

In 2010 Sherlock grinned as he heard a little yelp of surprise from the toilet upstairs. He was sat on the chair of his flat, a laptop resting on his long legs, typing up a new case on his website.

"Jesus Christ Sherlock!" he heard John Watson's voice exclaim in a mix of anger and embarrassment at being so easily shocked.

"Is there something wrong?" Sherlock asked innocently, pretending not to be interested, still typing.

There was a grumbling and stomping sound and Watson returned down the stairs, a sour look on his face and a skull in his hands, the arms of his sleeves of his jumper tugged over his hands so that he didn't have to physically touch the human skull.

"I found this staring at me on the toilet." Watson complained, thrusting it at Sherlock. The detective took it and smirked.

"Well?" Watson pressed.

"Well what?" Sherlock asked, tucking it casually under his arm and typing with his other hand.

"Well what was it doing in the bathroom?" Watson asked, sighing and flopping onto the sofa.

"It's not an it. He's a he." Sherlock pointed out.

"oh great, so now I know the gender of it." Watson muttered.

"You're not much of a doctor if you can't gender a skull, are you?" Sherlock replied, turning his eyes back down to the screen.

Watson groaned and occupied himself with rummaging through a stack of books that Sherlock had left haphazardly on the floor. He picked one up, looking interested. "Agatha Christie? I thought you didn't read novels."

"I don't. Not mine." Sherlock said dismissively.

"So why do you own it?"

"Well it's mine, but it's not mine." Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Are you going to insist on interrogating me with pointless questions or are you going to let me work?"

Watson sat back for a while but couldn't' resist. "So...the skull in the bathroom. Why?"

"Well I can't very well talk to you while I'm in the bath, can I?" Sherlock said with a smile.

"Yeah, well just remember that if I die from a heart attack because Skully pops up out of nowhere, your rent'll be very high without me." Watson pointed out with a little smirk, his sense of humour finally coming back.

"Duly noted." Sherlock said, typing. "And Arthur."

"What?"

"Not 'Skully'. His name is Arthur." Sherlock said, not looking up from his screen. Watson blinked and looked back over at the skull's morbid grin. So it actually had a name. He nodded, deciding not to question Sherlock's eccentricity any further, but couldn't' help but wonder about where the skull had come from, especially when Sherlock dubbed it as a 'friend'. Eventually he pulled his eyes away and gave a little huff of decision.

"So: tea?"

"I thought you'd never ask."