Mrs Hudson set a tray of large sugar cookies and a pitcher of sweetened milk on the table and fussed, cleaning away the remains of whatever the boys had thrown together for dinner.
"Morning Mrs Hudson!" John said cheerfully, "Oh, lovely! Thank you!" He dived happily on a cookie.
"Not me love, I'm not your house keeper."
"Oh, Talis from downstairs? These are brilliant, I'll have to stop by on my way out and thank her." John poured himself a glass of the sweet milk and sat down at the table, pulling the newspaper open and skimming over it.
"See that you do, God knows he wont." She nodded towards Sherlock's room and John could only snort in agreement. "I did tell 'im last week that there was a young lady moving in... I don't even think he heard me."
"It was a busy week." John snagged another cookie under Mrs Hudson's mildly reproving gaze.
"That isn't really a breakfast, now is it Doctor?" She said, gently but pointedly pulling the tray of cookies to the other side of the table.
"Quite right, quite right. I'll drop my compliments in to Talis on the way out. I imagine Sherlock will be up soon."
"Ha. You say that as though he's in any way predictable." Mrs Hudson scoffed.
It was hours later that Sherlock emerged, though he looked for all the world as though he hadn't slept at all. He flounced around the apartment for a while, absently eating cookies he'd found on the table and glaring balefully at the various items in the room which refused to jump up of their own accord and offer him some kind of diversion. John would be gone too work, no salvation from his mind numbing boredom there, and Mrs Hudson had long since made it her habit to be gone most of the day whether she needed too or not. It was that or find herself caught up in his manic search for entertainment.
Floating up through the floor of the kitchen he heard the grating, nerve jarring sound of bubble-gum pop. Some vapid, helpless, brainless, cretin with no more spontaneity or talent than a Goose honking in the fog. Humphing in irritation and not pausing to consider the implications of someone enamored of bubble-gum pop being in a usually deserted room, he hurried down, still in his pajama's and robe, to burst through the door of the previously empty room.
Inside, the place was transformed. Oh the paint was still peeling off the walls, but it was largely hidden by great lengths of fabric in shades of purple and blue which were tacked to the ceiling beginning around the light fitting and then again in the corners to drape down the drab walls like the inside of an Arabian tent. Beside the fireplace, which had been turned into a little shrine with candles and a few photographs, stood a darkly stained wooden desk covered in books on literary analysis and Shakespeare. Across the room, beside the door where Sherlock stood, blinking stupidly, was a double bed, unmade with a young woman sitting cross-legged in the middle surrounded by books.
"Four days and..." she glanced at a little black clock on her bedside table, "eight hours. I was going to give it another few days before I turned the music up again." Talis' eyes rose from the copy of 'Beginning Shakespeare' she was reading to regard him coolly over the rims of her glasses.
"... What are you doing in my house?"
"I live here."
"What? Since when?"
"Well... as I said, four days and eight hours ago. Or at least that's when three other students helped me to move it. We were quite loud, and not at all secretive." She set her book aside and looked at him seriously. "I knew it was you... when Mrs Hudson told me why the room was so cheap... I just knew it was you."
"Then why did you take the room?"
"Because it's cheap, it's central, and let's face it, you've already proven you can go weeks without noticing me at all. Stay upstairs and we'll be fine." She reached for the book again but Sherlock lurched forward and snatched it, glaring down at the offending object as though it were a rude little puzzle. "Hey!"
"Why are you reading this? 'Beginning Shakespeare', you began Shakespeare when you were eight, this can't possibly be relevant to you." He seemed pleased, even triumphant at his declaration, as though he'd somehow caught her out in a lie.
"It's a safety blanket Sherly. I like reading it, no one expects you to understand the concept,"
"There's no need to get personal."
"No, never any need for that at all." She crawled to the edge of the bed and snatched the book back, glaring at him darkly. "Get out of my room and go away. I've got work to do."
"Not another thesis on this woolly headed nonsense?" he tried to hold onto the book but she was too quick for him. "Haven't you already published enough of this rubbish?"
"This rubbish is research into the most productive creative minds in literary history, go back to your microscope you emotional retard and leave me alone!" She picked up a candle from her bedside table and threw it at him, humphing angrily when he caught it.
"I don't see why you're so angry with me. You're the one who moved out."
"How long did it take you to notice I was gone, Sherlock? Was it two weeks later when the rent came due, or did you polish of everything in the kitchen before then and wonder why no one had restocked it for you?" Her voice rose in pitch and volume until, by the end, she almost screeched at him.
"That's a really annoying habit you still haven't grown out of..." he pointed out blandly.
"get out of my room, Sherly..." She growled dangerously. "Oh, and remind John that we're having dinner at seven down here."
"What? You're cooking for John now?"
She'd pulled herself back together and looked at him coolly again, opening her book without looking to a dogeared page. "We've had dinner the last two nights... Where did you think the left-overs in your fridge came from?"
"You know he has a girlfriend," Sherlock said, completely ignoring his own bitchiness in saying so.
"Sarah. Lovely girl. She joined us for dinner last night... John said something about you playing with eye-balls."
"It was an experiment!"
"Just don't put the jelly in the ice cube tray again. Anderson never got over it, you know?" She went back to her book, proud and pleased that she'd at least managed to get the last word in as Sherlock fumed and grumbled in the doorway before shutting the door none to gently and storming up the stairs. "Dick head." She grumbled to herself.
By the time John got home that afternoon, Sherlock had worked himself into a bit of a state. One by one he'd eaten his way through the plater of sugar cookies, effectively shunting his system into hyperactivity. "She's staking me. It's Mycroft! She's working for him! She must be..." he was babbling when John walked in.
"Oh, you've met her then. I though maybe you two were avoiding each other or something." John pouted a little that the tray was empty, and poured himself a glass of water instead. It wasn't too long until dinner anyway.
"Avoiding? How could I avoid her, no it's perfect you see? You see?"
"Umm... no. Not really. You two do know each other then?"
"What? Yes of course. He couldn't send someone I didn't know, if he did I'd know it was him!" Sherlock spun and looked at him wildly for a moment. "She drugged the cookies! She's diabolical!"
"Sherlock! She hasn't drugged anything, I had at least five of them this morning before I left. I thought they were quite good actually."
"Well maybe it only affects higher brain functions. Ah!" Sherlock yelled as John threw a tea towel at him. "Right, right, sorry."
"They're just full of sugar, your blood pressure is probably up for the first time in days, that's all. If you ate better this wouldn't happen."
"Yeees well, you might have told me you two have been supping together. What could you possibly have to talk about, anyway?" he asked.
"She's a lovely woman, Sherlock, and for the record she's very interesting. Did you know she's a doctor of history and literature? She's working on a dissertation on Yeats." John told him.
"Yes, yes, yes, the same old 'soft' business she's been wallowing in for over a decade! Avoiding any real discoveries in favor of writing about dead poets."
"You do know her then!"
"We used to live together." Sherlock said absently, pacing back and forth.
"I beg your pardon! Like... like a girlfriend?"
"No! Yes. Maybe,"
"Well, at least you've covered all the possibilities there..."
"We went to university at the same time, I had an apartment and she had a high tolerance for... me. She stayed for almost a year."
"Well... what happened?" John leaned forward, fascinated by the possibility that Sherlock might actually have felt something real for someone as a younger man.
"She moved out."
"Yes, I got that. Why?"
Sherlock turned and looked down at him blankly. "No idea. I was concentrating on other things at the time."
"Ah, that'll be it then." John stood and headed towards the bathroom.
"What? Where are you going?"
"Women don't like being ignored for 'other things' generally, and I'm going to clean up for dinner." He loosened his tie as he spoke.
"Clean up? It's not a date, John, you're eating Welsh home cooking with a flatmate."
"I am showing a lovely young woman who took the time and effort to cook for me that I appreciate it by not showing up looking like I've just run a marathon. You don't have to be dating a woman in order to be polite to her." He turned on his heel and went into the bathroom leaving Sherlock to fume irritably behind him.
Come seven o'clock, John trotted down the stairs in a clean pressed white shirt and smart black pants to be greeted warmly at the bottom of the stairs by a smiling Talis in a light cotton dress which started white around the hem and smoothly changed to a dark purple at the bodice. "You look... irritated." He faltered in his compliment as her expression of welcome melted into annoyance. John looked over his shoulder to find Sherlock in his usual suit jacket and pants standing behind him at the top of the stairs.
"Evening." He said smoothly.
"What do you want Sherly?" Talis said through tight lips.
"Sherly?" John half laughed half coughed.
"I'm sorry, I thought you said dinner was at seven."
"... Sherlock, you weren't actually invited," John started uncomfortably.
"He knows." Talis said shortly, offering John her hand and pulling him down off the stairs. "There's no point, he likes it when you make a fuss. Come on," she deliberately turned her back and led John into the small kitchen and dining room she shared with Mrs Hudson. About the table there were four place settings and Sherlock looked at them, his brow furrowed in slight irritation, as Talis gestured for them both to sit.
"You knew he was coming then?" John asked, his eyebrow raised partly in amusement, partly in curiosity.
"He liked to think he's inscrutable, but he follows rules of behavior just like everyone else, it's just that his rule book is written in 'butt-head'." She smiled sweetly when John pulled out her chair for her but waved him off. "Sit, please, you too Mrs Hudson. I've got everything." She bustled happily about, humming to herself as she put a number of steaming pots and platters on the table containing various meats, vegetables and a very decadent looking pie for desert. Sherlock sniffed it all and an irritable frown formed on his face.
"You've put mint in everything!"
"Sherlock!" Mrs Hudson admonished but Sherlock ignored her.
"You know I don't like it."
Talis looked at him steadily for a long time, refusing to be deterred by the manic look in his eye until finally a smile spread across her face. "Technically, you weren't invited, and John likes mint just fine."
"How could you possibly know that?"
John opened his mouth but Talis waved him off. "I asked, Sherly. It's what normal people do." She dished servings out to everyone and then, turning with a flourish from the oven, she placed a dish before Sherlock which had been prepared before the mint was added.
"And you always said I was a show off." Sherlock muttered, placing the napkin delicately in his lap.
"Actually I always said you were a troubled genius." She sat at her place between John and Mrs Hudson, looking across the table at Sherlock. "Of course that was before I knew you."
"Come on now, children." Mrs Hudson fussed with her napkin, trying to cool the tension at the table. "Talis has put on a lovely spread, the least you could do Sherlock would be to bite your tongue. You're not the easiest person to get along with dear, even for those of us who adore you."
"You adore everyone, Mrs Hudson."
"Yes dear... but it takes effort some days."
"Talis, you were telling me yesterday about your work on Yeats," John said spontaneously, trying to direct the conversation to a less controversial topic, little realizing his mistake.
"Good God, Yeats? Really? It'll be O'Casey and Joyce next!" Sherlock snorted.
"Actually it's O'Casey and Joyce at the same time." She leaned forward and met his eyes, "Synge too." She said and chuckled softly when he shuddered.
"Insufferable prats, all of them. Massively heightened senses of their own self worth, and an obscene love of phonetic rhyme."
For a moment John thought Talis would argue as she glared across the table, her posture unnaturally stiff, but she didn't. Instead a tiny smile quirked up the corner of her mouth and she started to chuckle softly, her eyes tearing up. Sherlock looked at her coolly for a moment and then he too started to laugh. "You're right of course. The point isn't to justify them, Sherly," when she said it this time it sounded more affectionate, "it's to articulate their uselessness in perfect English for everyone to understand."
"Oh who cares what everyone else thinks. Your beloved academics have been singing Yeats praises since before you were born!"
She sat back, flopping one arm lazily over the back of her chair looking perfectly relaxed for the first time since John had met her. "To prove I'm smarter than they are I suppose. You'll never convince me you don't understand that."
"Of course I do, but it isn't really an achievement to prove you're smarter than monkeys." Sherlock gently patted his lips with his napkin, looking at her intensely. "When will you abandon this fuzzy-headed fluff and succumb to the hard sciences?"
John blinked at the exchange, finding the sudden shift in the dynamic off-putting, bizarre and utterly fascinating. Talis was smiling now, at ease and relaxed, somehow the banter and snark had eased her down.
"When I've learned it all. Can't move on to the next thing until I've finished this one." She told him with a cheeky grin.
"Ha!" Sherlock sat back, his arms flopping down beside him and his face animated and amused in a way john had rarely seen in the past few weeks. "Still stalling for time, avoiding any real work."
"I wouldn't want to muscle in on your one claim to glory, Sherly. God knows you'll never be famous for your interpersonal skills."
"You didn't care about that before..." He said carefully, in a measured tone.
"Everyone cares about that Sherlock... We can fool ourselves otherwise for a while but..." She sighed then and stood. John lurched to his feet as she did in true gentlemanly style and Talis blushed slightly. "It's not that you hurt me, Sherlock, you're not a cruel man... you just forgot I was there, an' in the end that's worse." She tucked her chair in neatly and went to the door. "Enjoy desert, I have an early class in the morning... Goodnight."
John, who was still standing, mumbled a goodnight and then looked down at Sherlock, whose face was even more blank and unreadable that usual. All traces of his apparent mirth from moments ago was gone and he seemed cold and far away. "Sherlock...?"
"She really was your girlfriend?" John's voice betrayed his surprise.
"It's possible." He looked up at his friend and for the first time John saw genuine confusion on Sherlock's face.
"How can you not know?"
"Does it matter?" Sherlock stood, leaving his chair out and turned to leave.
"I think it matters very much to her," John pointed out steadily.
"Give it time, John, and you'll come to realize that Talis feels intensely about everything she lays eyes on. She's a sentimental creature."
Note: Oop, longer than I usually write, and look, it's past 1am. Dang it!