A Study in Blue
In 1919, John Watson is sent home. One of the thousands invalided by the gas and the bullets and the mud and the stink of what had once been France. There is a crater in the middle of Europe, and John Watson had been pulled out of it alive. A sad reminder of what John Watson had once been, but John Watson nonetheless. Some nights he wakes up, imagining the dull resounding thud of far-off mortars, the light of the flares stinging the black velvet sky with a spear of blinding white, the smell of mud and blood on his hands and working only by firelight to amputate another gangrenous limb. The echoes of comrades screaming alone in the dark die in his ears as he chokes them down with a sob.
This London is different than the one John Watson left behind, and this John Watson isn't the one that London remembers, either. He leans on a cane, relies on it heavily as he stalks through his grey days (moving through the streets he almost remembers, anything to keep moving, to keep from falling into the dangerous malaise that wants to swallow him and every soldier still breathing into its hot maw). Some of the boys wear their uniforms in public, all their medals, all their stripes. Not John Watson. He doesn't want to show off, doesn't want to disrespect the office, doesn't want anyone to know he'd been a medic and ask him how many lives he'd saved (because the only number he remembers is how many he hadn't).
John sits in front of the typewriter. Nearly new and already collecting dust. Can't bring himself to write about the war, and nothing at all to write in the present. He's a loop, a loop that refuses to open and let him out. He heard that Ambrose Black killed himself, yesterday. A little square in the paper. Nothing to look forward to, everything to look back upon, and Ambrose hadn't liked what he'd seen. John doesn't want to be Ambrose Black. He wants so badly for something to happen. Something.
It's a Thursday, 1st January, 1920, when, taking his usual somber walk through Kensington Gardens, John hears his name.
"John Watson!" says the vaguely familiar voice, and John almost recognizes its owner when he forces his lame leg to let him turn and face it. "It's Mike Stamford," the jolly man says, and he immediately responds, with a laugh, to John's gaff. "I know, I've got fat."
It's only the men who didn't stand ankle-deep in freezing mud who have gotten fat. But John smiles anyway, even if it feels painful. "Yes, hello. How long's it been?"
"Near four years," Mike answers, and he gladly shakes John's free hand. "Look, mate, you free for lunch?"
John smiles again, but nowadays he hardly ever means it, and there's a painful line between his eyebrows. He's nearly always free (even when the unemployment lines favor the wounded ex-officers, John is stubborn as hell and refuses to acknowledge disability with a sheet of paper).
"Sure," John says stiffly.
Mike treats him to lunch at the Criterion, and John feels even more out-of-place than usual (he hasn't worn anything nice, he'd just been out for a walk, and now people are looking at him, looking at his leg and his limp and he can practically feel their eyes curling with pity look at the poor boy home from war) but John just grits his teeth through it.
Mike asks about the war. He has the wide-eyed glassy look of a boy, and he spectacularly manages to ask all the wrong questions, but John can't bring himself to hate the man (partially because he's known Mike for years, partially because he'd feel like a right arse for taking Mike up on a meal then shouting at him). But Mike asks about France, what it was like driving in the ambulance line (some nights, John's teeth still rattle when they go over foxholes and bodies). John's false smile hurts worse than his leg, but Mike is a friend, and he hasn't had a friend since he'd come back over the Channel.
"You staying in London?" Mike asks after he's run out of questions to ask about long-dead boys and men.
John gives a tight laugh. "I can't afford it. Jobs scarce as they are." Something in his right hand shakes, and he balls his fists to stop it.
"Flatmate?" Mike suggests. "I'm sure there's plenty of blokes just back who need someone to go halves."
"Who'd want me for a flatmate?" John asks, and there's something of pre-war John in there, in his crooked smile.
Mike mirrors it, and there's a slow dawning light in his eyes that speaks of plans and schemes. "Look, I'm having a bit of a to-do out at my place tonight. Upminster, not so far a go by train. I'd like if you'd come." He smiles like a boy. "You might get a flatshare out of it."
John wants to say no, sorry, I'm fine enough without you uni boys and your champagne. But he loves London, and he'd hate even more to pass up the opportunity to stay. So he nods and tells Mike he'll see him at eight.
The air is thick with smoke, even outside in the garden. Mike must've had good money, or a good family; the place looks stunning. The garden's strung with ball lights, and there's an open bar set up under one of the jutting eaves on the patio, and everyone's got their drinks and fags. The mellow scratches of a phonograph echo out across the yard, slow trumpet and piano.
They can't be much younger than John, the men and women standing in strategic knots in the garden, on the patio. There are a few like Mike, who must have got out of service somehow, and while it shouldn't seem insulting to John personally, he takes it to heart and tries not to speak to any of them (because he's not sure he won't shout). He hopes to God none of them are what Mike had in mind for a flatshare. They all went off to university while John was in a camp learning how to save lives.
(Worse are the men who all share the same far-off look in their eye, like they're still stuck in the mud in France and watching from across the Channel; these boys who drive their fast cars and sleep with fast women to keep their adrenaline up because without it they'll die.)
They try to pull John into intellectual discussion (in which they speak loudly at length about the bread lines and the strikes without really saying much of anything). John passes off his anger as ignorance, which they all think is quaint, and he smiles falsely around his experience. Put these boys in the middle of the unemployment line, they'd be a puddle of tears in minutes. Savoring the fact is the only thing keeping John sane in conversation.
Sherlock Holmes is the first man that John meets that doesn't want to talk about politics or unions or the sort of men he saw die on the battlefield. Sherlock Holmes, wreathed in his own cigarette smoke and looking at him (into him) with catlike gray eyes, says: "He won't notice."
John pauses, almost passes by because he's not even sure the lanky creature sitting elegantly on the barstool is speaking to him. "'Scuse me?" he clarifies.
"Mike," the pale man says easily. "He won't notice if you leave."
"Who says I want to leave?" John asks defensively (and he can tell even from seven feet away that the man's not drunk like most of the revelers are, and for some reason that's very interesting).
"You do." The man offers a feline smirk. He unfolds from the stool, and suddenly John feels dwarfed by the man who should by all means be some sort of statue adorning the garden, not a man walking about it. "Your limp is aggravated when you're under duress, which you clearly wouldn't be if you were enjoying yourself in any capacity. And yet you don't leave because you don't want to upset anyone—our gracious host, Michael Stamford, some sort of old acquaintance. I'd say fellow RAMC, but Mike's dodgy vision kept him out of the war and your stubbornness kept you in."
The man takes another long draw on his cigarette and exhales in thought, and John can't move.
"So, a fellow doctor but not a combat veteran like yourself. You've been serving since—" And he pauses, cocks his head. "—1916. Quite a long time to be away from old friends. I assume you met Mike today somehow in a casual situation, and he let slip an invitation to his get-together. But it's obvious you've drifted apart and really have little in common anymore, and so much is obvious even to him, since he hasn't come to speak with you since meeting you at the door. So, no. He won't notice if you leave."
It leaves John's jaw wagging, and the tall man simply grins through it, skin bunching pleasantly at his eyes.
"How...?" John begins uselessly, and all he latches onto is: "How'd you know I was RAMC?"
"Obvious." The man drops the blunt stub of a cigarette and grounds it out with his toe. "Would you like me to start with your military stature or the wound you sustained in action?" He smirks again, and, having completely avoided John's question, he holds his hand out between them. "Sherlock Holmes."
He should keep walking. Find Mike, excuse himself, it's not really his scene anyhow, but he doesn't. He takes the man's hand in kind and shakes firmly. "John Watson."
"Captain." John queries, "Mister?"
There's an odd quirk to the taller man's lips, suddenly terribly amused. "Sherlock."
They've been talking for barely five minutes before Mike approaches them, a tentative grin working onto his face. "Well, looks like you found each other," Mike says, and John's head turns at an odd, questioning angle.
"This is the bloke I told you about," Mike says as if he's some sort of magician waiting for applause.
John whips his head back around to the tall man beside him, who doesn't looks surprised at the development in the least.
"What, him?" John asks incredulously.
Sherlock gives a laugh. "Bad first impression?"
"No," John cuts in, and he leans heavily on his cane for support as he shifts. "No, that's not—I don't know anything about you."
"I play the violin," Sherlock says, and he buttons his long dark coat up to his neck. "Sometimes I don't talk for days on end. Others, I can't seem to stop. The place is central London, 221b Baker Street. Tomorrow at seven sharp, Captain." He gives a glancing wink before he addresses their host. "Mike, you'll have to excuse me, I've some blood to take before I head home."
And he's off, leaving behind only the impression of bouncing curls and the swish of a coat, giving the impression of moving quickly while the rest of the world goes slower to compensate. John watches him until he's gone through the gate, turns back to Mike with his eyebrows raised.
"He's always like that," Mike assures him.
AN: So begins my new BBCSherlock AU. I have no idea what possessed me to do this, other than the fact that I am in love with the time period and the boys. I've got my eyeballs glued to research for this, so hopefully it's realistic enough~ I'm not sure how long this'll be, or how long I'll be writing in the verse, or how closely it will adhere to the show or books, but there's only one way to find out. WRITE LIKE MAD! Thanks for sticking around, and for reading. Leave us some love and DON'T FORGET TO STAY AWESOME!