"Come on, John. We're going out"
"Why not this time?"
"Because I'm going out."
"Where are you going?"
"On a date."
"No, you're not."
"Yes, I…you can't just order me…"
"I'm not giving an order, I'm stating a fact. You are not going on a date."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because I happen to know that you broke up with Sarah two weeks ago." Sherlock was pleased to see a look of shock on John's face. John hadn't looked shocked since he'd come back from Sarah's after 3:00 in the morning, exhibiting all the symptoms of a nasty breakup (he'd seen that enough times at Uni). When he hadn't said anything about it by the next morning, Sherlock had decided to keep his deduction to himself to produce with a flourish at a time like this.
"Well, maybe I've got another girlfriend."
"No, you haven't. If you had, you wouldn't have said 'maybe' just now, and you wouldn't be going out at 2 AM." He wished the explanation had been more complex. He hadn't heard a "fascinating" or "that's incredible" from John since the breakup either.
Then John's face took on a hardness he did not remember ever seeing. He ran through his memory bank of facial expressions. Nothing.
"You know, Sherlock, where I go is really none of your business. We are both adults. At least I am. So, I'm off."
There was little point in chasing him. Besides, he could do this himself. He had gone on many night excursions alone before he met John.
Two weeks later he was bored. He couldn't understand why he should be bored, since Lestrade had called him in for several not uninteresting cases. Besides, when he was at home he had the mystery of John.
But the cases did not hold his interest. He remembered similar cases a year or so ago that had interested him. It had given him pleasure and a sense of purpose to see the pieces of the puzzles come together in his head. Now? Nothing. He'd even talked his way out of a hostage situation a day earlier. He'd deduced so much in five minutes about his captor's weaknesses that he had been able to convince him hand over his gun within fifteen. That should have given him a high for at least a few hours…but he'd felt bored by the time he'd handed the gun to Lestrade.
Besides, the mystery of John was not…good. John told him where he went and what he did with his time, and he could see for himself that John was telling the truth. Always. The mystery was why he refused to spend his time with Sherlock anymore….and why his face still had that hard look.
Then one morning everything changed again. John didn't go out anymore. He just sat in his armchair, watching telly. Not responding to it. Not enjoying it. Just watching.
It was a change for the better for about fifteen minutes. Sherlock seized the opportunity to think aloud to an audience, instead of an empty chair with a Union Jack pillow on it. After fifteen minutes, when John had not taken his eyes off Judge Judy even once, not to mention hadn't responded verbally to anything he said, he flounced out of his chair and curled up on the couch…but even that didn't get any reaction.
He fussed at this unresponsive John for about twenty four hours. Then he started to watch him closely.
Sherlock had spent enough time with John to know how his mind worked—what he did and did not care about—and the case he had just solved would please John—make John proud of him.
"I figured out who murdered that woman, and exonerated her dead brother this morning."
"Lestrade thought the brother was the murderer, because the gun that shot her belonged to him, and was on his person when they fished his body out of the river. He was wrong, as usual. I found bits of an algae that was obviously not from the Thames in his pocket. A little research showed it to be native to the south of France. So he was drowned elsewhere and then deposited in the Thames."
"Clearly that the man had been drowned in France, at the same time that his sister was murdered here in London with his gun. Only a criminal organization could create such an elaborate cover up."
Still nothing. It really was boring to repeat his own deductions in simple enough terms for someone like John Watson to understand if he wasn't going to get any type of response. He would make one more effort. He focused all his powers of observation on the man lounging in his chair, watching daytime telly with glazed eyes.
"She had been trying to escape a trafficking ring. Using my information, Lestrade was able to track down the ring, and rescue 12 girls."
The forefinger of John's right hand tapped once on the remote.
"Two of them were children."
Aha! John continued to slouch in his chair and stare ahead, but he was blinking more rapidly than he had been a minute earlier—a sure sign that he was struggling with some sort of emotion. Still, he refused to talk.
That was too much for Sherlock.
"Well, aren't you going to say something, John? I just singlehandedly restored a dead man's reputation, and saved twelve people, including two kids, from sexual slavery. You aren't going to congratulate me?"
"Why should I?"
"Because only I could have figured it out, and because lives were saved. You're always on about saving lives. This time I saved some—saved twelve. So why aren't you interested?"
"I'm glad those girls were saved, Sherlock. I don't need to dance around the flat to prove it."
John still wasn't looking at him, but any sort of conversation was a distinct improvement.
"Never mind that then. It's just that you're acting differently…Still...What I meant to say is that I have some possible leads to more of the same. I'm going to try to follow them. Will you come too?"
"Why should I?"
"I already told you once: I am lost without my blogger. And if we should stumble across people who are hurt, you would be much more useful than…my skull!" Sherlock grinned at John. He knew that bringing up old private jokes was an effective way to communicate with friends. They built camaraderie, and John had seemed to appreciate them in the past.
"Yes." When John finally did turn to him, his face was no longer blank, but showed anger and frustration…and maybe something else that Sherlock couldn't immediately identify, but he had to listen, and those two emotions were enough to be going on. "Yes, I know you're lost without me. And I'm flattered, of course, that you prefer me to your skull. That's all that this is about, Sherlock, isn't it? You need someone to listen. You need someone to do your dirty work. You need to make use of me."
"Well, you're no use to me at all like this."
"I'm sorry. Standing up to you makes me useless, does it? Maybe you should hire a maid. Or maybe I should just make a recording, Sherlock. I'll say 'cool!' 'wow!' 'fascinating!' 'remarkable!' 'I'm about to wet myself with excitement because you're so bloody brilliant!' That'd be enough. You could put it on an iPod, and play it while you think out loud. You could even put a speaker under your precious skull and pretend it's worshipping the ground you walk on. But you won't get any worship from me anymore. I'm sick of this. So sick of this. I'm leaving now!"
And he stomped out without even picking up his jacket.
For a few minutes Sherlock just sat and processed what had happened.
John was angry with him. That much was obvious. John was purportedly angry at him for what he had said. He was not angry until Sherlock had asked him to talk, and was most angry when he had said "you're no use to me." The reaction was unwarranted by the actual words. Sherlock always spoke his thoughts to John, and since he was so much cleverer than John could ever hope to be, at times his thoughts were not complimentary. But he was interested in facts. And John knew that. John was not able to distance himself from emotion the way Sherlock was, but they both understood that.
Of course, John did not think that Sherlock was incapable of emotion. He had convinced himself that the multiple doctors who diagnosed him as a sociopath were wrong (as if he were a specialist in psychiatry!) and had developed an annoying habit of telling him off for "pretending" not to feel anything.
Well, John was right, maybe. To a degree. Sherlock was far too intelligent to lie to himself, and he could no longer deny that he felt…something. At least he knew that he did not "keep John around" for his usefulness alone. But he had thought John knew that!
Obviously he was worse at reading emotions—or at least at reading John—than he originally believed.
Which brought him to his problem. He was sure that this recent lack of communication or interest from John had something to do with emotions. But he wasn't sure how. He went back over the conversation that John had walked out on. He had left when Sherlock had said he was useless. That was a clue.
And yet, something had been indefinably "not-good" before Sherlock even started talking. He had begun speaking in reaction to that not-good-ness, now that he thought about it.
It was definitely a three patch problem.
About an hour later he had gotten nowhere. He heard Mrs. Hudson open the front door.
"MRS. HUDSON! IT'S AN EMERGENCY!"
She trotted up the stairs and was panting when she stepped in. "What is it, dear? What happened? And where's the doctor?"
"That, Mrs. Hudson, is the emergency."
"Is he hurt?"
"No, no, Mrs. Hudson. He's just gone out."
"Don't be so dramatic, then. My heart's not as strong as it used to be."
"This is an emergency. I need to know what is wrong with John, and I need to find out right away, because if I have not completely failed in my estimation of him, he will be back within the hour, and I need to make sure that I have a plan of attack before then."
"Plan of attack? What are…"
"John has hardly spoken to me for several weeks. He no longer goes on cases with me. He is angered by the slightest thing I say. It used to take a lot of irritation to send him out of the house even when he'd had a particularly trying day—and this morning he's only sat and watched telly, so I know nothing trying could have happened." He went on to recount his whole, nearly one-sided conversation to Mrs. Hudson.
"Well, dear. I don't see that it's any great mystery. He obviously feels that you don't appreciate him for himself. That you just want him to do things for you and compliment you. He thinks that you like him for what he does, not who he is. I remember my friend Jane had the same problem with her husband. It was…oh, let me see…they must have married for…"
"Yes, Mrs. Hudson, but the things he does are part of who he is. How can he complain about that?"
"Because, Sherlock. You said he was useless to you. He probably thought you meant that unless he was useful, you wouldn't care."
This was beginning to sound ridiculous. Of course John was different if he was useless, but he wasn't. The situation in which he was useless was so hypothetical as to be unworthy of consideration. Still, there was no shame in admitting that emotions were not his area. Mrs. Hudson was a woman, and therefore an expert on the subject. He would try one more question.
"Well then, Mrs. Hudson, what should I do?"
"I think you should just talk to him about anything but your work. Tell him you care. Do nice things for him. Maybe get him flowers to say 'sorry'. Maybe even take him out to a very nice restaurant. That's what my Sam used to do in the old days, before the fighting got too bad."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
"Any time, love. Happy to help."
After she left, he thought about it. Flowers seemed like an odd thing to give a flatmate, but if that's what friends did when they had a row, there was no reason why he shouldn't give it a try. Going out to a nice restaurant seemed too risky, given John's recent volatile behavior, but he would order some very nice take away, and perhaps even…he looked at the kitchen…well…there wasn't time to clean the kitchen before John got back... The take way would have to do. And there was just enough time to call and order those flowers.
"I would like to order flowers."
"Yes, sir. What kind would you like?"
She was clearly a young woman in her 20s. Never taken her A levels. Unqualified for any skill-oriented job. He hated to do this, but then again, he was out of his depth.
"The flowers are meant to express an apology. What kind should I get?"
He could hear the grin through her words. "How bad was it?"
He gritted his teeth. "I don't know."
"Well, then, I'd say better safe than sorry. We will assume it was very bad. How about our 'Majestic Reds?'"i
Sherlock decided that wasn't a bad way to go. And as he knew that the cab he saw turning onto Baker Street was carrying John, he had to hurry. "Yes, yes. Whatever flowers would be best for a very big apology. I want them in fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen minutes. Your website says you deliver same day for free anywhere in London."
"Well, not in fifteen minutes."
"What if I paid for delivery."
"We don't really do that…"
"I'll pay you fifty pounds."
"Okay, then…so fifty-nine pounds for the flowers and then fifty for me at the door?"
Sherlock knew that those flowers could not cost the shop even a fraction of that price. He hated to be swindled, but there was nothing for it.
"Can I have your card number?"
Sherlock finished just as John walked in the door. John looked a less furious than he had before he left, but he did not look better. He just looked apathetic.
Still, Sherlock was determined to end this unpleasantness, even (he hated the thought) if it meant that he would not ever find out why John had gotten angry to begin with.
Talk to him, tell him I care, get flowers, dinner.
Well, the flowers were taken care of. Talking would be a good start.
"Where have you been, John?" he asked in his most pleasant voice.
John was meandering through the kitchen. He stopped for a moment and shook his head before turning to snap. "What business is it of yours? I wasn't getting milk, if that's what you wanted to know."
This is off to a good start. Sherlock smiled grimly. Something else, then? He looked around the flat for inspiration, then thought about what John had just said. Milk was something.
"Do we need more milk?"
"Yes, Sherlock. You might have noticed if you ever actually got the shopping yourself. And by the way, don't even think about asking me to make tea!"
It probably was a good thing John said that, Sherlock thought, because he almost had… Clearly, milk was a bad topic.
"Any more locum work?"
"No, Sherlock. Nothing. Do you think I'd just sit and watch telly all day if I had a job?"
This was not getting him anywhere. Well, until the flowers came (and he sincerely hoped that Mrs. Hudson knew what she was talking about) he could only try for step two.
"John. You do know that I care, right?"
"What?" John looked puzzled.
"I care about you, not just about what you are able to do to help me. Even though, of course, those things are part of you, so you shouldn't mind that I appreciate your helpfulness. But I…" He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "…I care about you as a person, too. You could not be replaced with…well with a maid and a recording as you suggested earlier, because they would not be you. "
John's face had moved from shocked to pleased (Sherlock was nearly certain) in a few seconds, and then his face twisted up into…well, Sherlock hoped it wasn't the prelude to crying, because that did not seem like the John he knew at all…but John had turned his back, his shoulders tensed, and almost shaking for a few moments. When he faced Sherlock again, he wore the blank expression.
Sherlock was completely bewildered. But fortunately the girl from the flower shop chose that moment to ring the doorbell, so he shot down the stairs. He came back into the room and shoved the enormous armful of flowers into John's face. John looked at them for a minute before putting them down and staring at them.
"For you, from me."
"Mrs. Hudson said…"
"He…he talked to Mrs. Hudson…" John cut himself off with a loud, and very long, hysterical laugh. When he had sobered down, he looked Sherlock in the eye. "I wouldn't go to Mrs. Hudson for advice on things like this, Sherlock. She's a nice woman, but she hasn't got the right idea about us, and you're too blind to see it. The flowers were a stupid, stupid idea. You would only get flowers if I were your boyfriend. And you must never have noticed, or maybe you deleted it from your hard drive as not important, but I have allergies. So, get rid of them! Or…no…don't worry about it. Because I can't do this anymore. I'm going up now to pack my things. I cannot stay in the flat with you any longer and keep a shred of sanity. "
He stomped out of the room and up the stairs, and really did start packing from the sound of it. Sherlock listened for the sounds of his anger petering out—the creak of the bedsprings when he sat on the bed, or the thump of slowly pacing feet. But he never heard them, and about an hour later, John came down the stairs dragging a very large suitcase. Sherlock knew that everything John owned was in it.
"Goodbye, Sherlock. I'll thank you not to follow me. Don't bother to send texts in the middle of the night asking me to join you at a crime scene or pick up bread or do anything else to make your job easier. I have to go. I have to go now…" And just before he turned there was a crack in the mask. But Sherlock was too disgusted to worry about it anymore. He had just humiliated himself by asking Mrs. Hudson and that girl at the flower shop for advice, and it had only made John laugh at him—laugh at him!—because he had not done the right thing. Well, he had tried!
Besides, there was no need to follow John right now. Mycroft most certainly had him under surveillance. John would be back in the next day or two. If he wasn't, Mycroft would tell him where to look.
John did not show up in the next day or two. Sherlock did text him…more than once or twice: anytime he had a particularly dangerous job…or anytime he wanted to try an idea on someone…and once when he was at his computer and wanted a cup of tea and forgot that John wasn't in the flat.
On the third day he pulled Lestrade aside when he was sure none of the other police were within earshot, and tried to get some advice from him. Lestrade did not want to chat the way that Mrs. Hudson did, but Sherlock felt (and that was the best word to describe it) that Lestrade's advice was probably better:
"It's only natural, Sherlock. You're childish and selfish, and you irritate all of us. It's no wonder it's gotten too much for John. But he's your friend—he'll come back. If the Greenwich pips case didn't send him packing, nothing else will. Just wait."
Waiting, however, was boring. Very boring.
And probably not worth it. He had grown lazy—slipped into a habit of caring. But he was Sherlock Holmes, the genius among idiots. He had broken a drug habit. He had broken a smoking habit. He would easily break this habit as well.
He began to focus his mind on his problems—giving himself no rest, attending to every minute detail when he walked the streets, forcing himself not to look more closely whenever he saw a short man with graying hair in the distance. He did not think of John very often at all.
And yet, when his brother called about a week later to tell him that John had suddenly disappeared, he observed first hand that some habits do die hard.
i This is a real bouquet from a real flowershop about two blocks from 221B Baker Street. The most expensive of the "I'm Sorry" collection. Hehe. .