I knew that going to war wasn't going to be a picnic. Of course I knew that, it was called war for a reason, after all. But parts of it, the low moments of training, being in camp with the lads, I made some really good mates, and that's one of the great things about the army. You're forced into camaraderie because you don't want to see anyone's brains turned smeared across the sand, even if it is a bloke you can't stand. You literally become a family. Do you think families like getting together for Christmas? Hell no. Do you think we enjoyed being crammed into a helicopter and sleeping in the sand together? Fuck no, but we did it.
I also knew that coming home from war was going to be horrible. I couldn't wrap my head around how to go from the instincts of a soldier, constantly prepared for anything and everything with a gun at my hip 24/7, to the blithe day-to-day simplicity of a civilian. Suppose that's why I landed with Ella Write-About-Fucking-Everything-It-Will-Honestly-Help-You Thompson. But the funny thing is: how can I write about something that doesn't happen? Nothing happens to me. Ever. Not anymore. I could write about the war, but Ella wants me to acclimatize to civilian life, not dwell on my combative past.
After my weekly appointment with dear Ella - trust issues? Really? - I decided to take the long way home through the park, maybe try to forget about lunch because I couldn't afford it, and instantly regretted the decision when I saw a familiar figure sitting on a park bench a few meters away. He was too near for me to turn around without noticing, and so I quickly faced front and kept walking.
Oh, God, not this. Anything but this. I wasn't ready to run into anyone I knew from before the war, not like this, not yet. Not with my leg acting up even though it wasn't injured, not with my shoulder wrecked, malaria draining away my few remaining years of youth before their time, not with my face ten years older than than the rest of me. I was ready for Mike Stamford calling after me in the park. I picked up my pace; perhaps Mike would think he'd been mistaken.
Looks like the game is up, old boy, I thought to myself with a minute shake of the head as I stopped, turning to face my old mate. God, he'd gotten fat.
"Stamford, Mike Stamford, we were at Bart's together," greeted the larger man breathlessly, waiting patiently for me to shift the bloody hospital-issue cane from one side to the other before trying to shake my hand.
Yes, I know who you are, you idiot, scattered across my mind before I felt ashamed and smiled. I couldn't be so bloody depressing all the time, or no one would speak to me again. "Yes, sorry, yes, Mike, hello." I couldn't even get myself to swallow, it was too hard, trying to look like I was genuinely pleased to run into this boyhood friend.
"I know, I've got fat."
What to you want me to say to that, you wanker? 'Oh, yes, I did notice you're quite a bit fatter than last time I saw you. "No..."
Mike continued to grin, though he was beginning to look just as uncomfortable as I felt. Perhaps he was getting the hint. "I heard you were abroad somewhere getting shot at! What happened?"
I knew my face was contorted into a disapproving frown for at least a moment, but I honestly couldn't help it. How could someone joke about something that very well could have happened? Then again, it was probably a lot easier for someone on the other side of the war to forget things like that. "I got shot," I explained, probably a bit too bluntly, going by the look on Mike's face.
We had coffee, of course, because that was what old friends did when they bumped into each other. It was unbearable, being stuck in time like this, how did people manage it? I felt like my skin was vibrating with the ardent desire to get the hell away from there as quickly as possible. The bench hurt my leg. The leg that wasn't supposed to hurt.
I laughed at something Mike said, but wasn't sure why it had been funny. What had I even asked him?
"So, you staying in town until you get everything sorted?" asked Mike politely. The typical small-talk.
"Can't afford London on an army pension," I shrugged.
"Ah, you couldn't bear to be anywhere else," goaded Mike teasingly. "That's not the John Watson I know!"
I was a Captain for Her Majesty's Royal Army once, and now I'm sitting here with you, having coffee, half the man I used to be. One shoulder, one leg. What else did I leave behind? A lung? A kidney? Half my heart? I've killed more people you can fucking count, and you have the gall to think you know me.
Instead I said, "I'm not that John Watson." Alright, perhaps I snarled it, but it was better than bashing Mike over the head with my cane. I flexed my hand and laughed at the idea of Harry's help that Mike suggested. Yes, I would turn to my irresponsible alcoholic soon-to-be divorcee of a sister for help with money. Then Mike suggested a flatmate, and that was even funnier, though I didn't laugh. "Come on, who'd want me for a flatmate?"
It was, apparently, Mike's turn to laugh now. "You're the second person to say that to me today."
Alright, that had me slightly intrigued. "Who was the first?"
God bless Mike Stamford.
On the way to Bart's he gave very little information on what, exactly, we were doing, but I was feeling a bit better with the chance of something interesting finally happening and went along with it. The building was comfortably familiar, all straight lines and clean angles in reliable shades of white and teal. I touched a wall and felt the coolness of the painted brick sing through my skin.
There was already someone in the lab when they got there Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a shallow man, but this was a downright gorgeous woman, with gracefully-curled black hair tied back at the base of her skull and an impeccable suit. I wanted to know her name. I wanted to know her name yesterday. "Mike, can I borrow your phone?" she asked in a voice that was rather low for a woman, but not masculine. It vibrated in my chest and made me feel alive with the possibility of something strange and entirely new.
"What's wrong with the landline?" replied Mike, sounding more fond than annoyed.
Without looking up from her work, the woman drawled back, "I prefer to text."
Mike shrugged as I watched on, a simple observer. So easily forgotten. "Well, I left it in my coat, sorry."
Her shoulders drooped the smallest fraction of an inch, but otherwise made no visible reaction. Dark lashes cast long shadows on her cheek as she looked down at her work, and I suddenly found myself fishing in my trouser pocket. "Here, use mine," I offered blindly, holding out the mobile to her. She turned, looking mildly surprised, but thanked me in that low voice. Her eyes were shockingly light gray.
"Afghanistan or Iraq?" she asked as she bowed over the mobile.
A jolt went through my system. I had the distinct feeling that something was about to happen.
"Yeah, she's always like that," chuckled Mike once the woman - Sherlock Holmes - had swept out the door. But not before completely bowling me over. She rattled off a million things about me that I couldn't conceive how she'd known. Was she some sort of psychic, I wondered? But then realized that that was ridiculous and dismissed the thought immediately.
Still blinking rather fast in the wake of what I would probably forever call Hurricane Holmes, I cleared my throat. "So, you know her rather well, then?" I asked, trying to keep the hopeful strain from my voice. I really couldn't help it, and it seemed my old friend was taking pity on me.
"Sorry mate," answered Mike apologetically, "she's not looking for anything like that. Actually, wait, she didn't mention, did she?"
"Mention what?" I asked, feeling my heart drop apprehensively.
"Well, er...she's got a kid. A baby, actually, just a few weeks old, his name's Benjamin, after Ben Franklin, innit a laugh? Pretty sure it was meant to be a joke but she liked the name so much it stuck; I think I've got a picture of him in - oh, right, in my phone... John? Where are you going?"
At the time, I had no idea what possessed me to go to Baker Street after finding out Sherlock had a baby. Babies are loud, and messy, and take up a lot of space. It's not as if I was a rabid baby-person, either. Oh, God, I was probably going to end up babysitting the thing if I didn't get a job, too. Next I knew he would be as Tesco buying nappies and formula like a doting husband, except the wife and baby weren't mine.
And yet at the same time, I couldn't help wondering why Sherlock had told me about her violin, or the not talking for days on end, but not about her baby, which would obviously be something a bit more important for a potential flatmate to know.
"Potential flatmates ought to know the worst about one another, after all," she'd said.
Then it struck me that Sherlock was being clever, or at least cleverer than me. She'd pointed out the worst of herself, and a baby certainly wasn't what one would consider to be a bad characteristic. It had seemed almost sweet in hindsight, and so I supposed that was why I went to 221B. It was different, and would be a bit weird, sure, but wasn't that exactly what I was looking for after facing the inanity of normal life?
Sherlock pulled up in a cab just as I made for the front door, climbing gracefully from the back seat and somehow attracting my attention even when my back was turned. "Miss Holmes," I greeted, then instantly wondered if that was the proper article to use with her and if she would be offended. Too late now, I supposed, and extended a hand.
"Just Sherlock, please," she dismissed politely, smiling and shaking my hand before knocking on the door. We discussed the niceties about the location of the building; she gave a little self-satisfied smirk as I mentioned how expensive it must be. "Oh, the landlady, Mrs. Hudson, she's giving me a special deal. She's fond of me. A few years ago her husband was on Death Row in Florida, and I was able to help out."
"You stopped her husband being executed?"
Her eyes were laughing at me, but at least it gave them a pleasant shine. "Oh no, John. I ensured it."
Before I could muster a response I was spared by the door swinging open, an elderly lady with an impossibly tiny baby in her arms beaming as Sherlock wrapped the both of them in a hug. "Sherlock," she cooed as the younger woman pulled the baby to her own chest.
"Mrs. Hudson, Doctor John Watson," she introduced briefly before leading the way into the house, bouncing the infant in her arms. I smiled politely at the landlady before following Sherlock inside, being mindful not to trip myself up in the door with my cane. Even with a baby in her arms she was bounding up the stairs faster than I could. My leg started to shake as I hobbled up the seventeen steps to the flat, threatening to give out as I tried to keep up with my mysterious potential flatmate. I mentally snarled at the uncooperative limb, and for the time being it let up a bit.
"So, is this Benjamin?" I asked, helping Sherlock shimmy one-armed out of her coat. She stared at me as though I'd grown a second head. My face heated up slightly. "You know. Your son? Mike said you named him after Ben Franklin."
Sherlock rolled her eyes good-naturedly and shifted the sleeping baby higher in her arms. Lord, he was still pink and wrinkly like new. "That was a joke. His name is Alexander," she corrected primly.
"Like Alexander the Great?"
"I..." honestly didn't know what to say to that. Maybe it was too obscure for the moment, but that was unimportant anyway. "Never mind." I looked around the flat for the first time, not exactly relishing the idea of clearing out all the rubbish, but taking a liking to it regardless. It was small but homey, with unusual wallpaper and a nice fireplace. "So, this place looks like it could be very nice. It could be very nice indeed."
I turned the corner to look in the kitchen, Sherlock roving over to stand beside me at the same time, smirking as she studiously avoided looking at me. "Yes, my thoughts exactly," she breezily agreed as the baby began to cough and gurgle in the crook of her elbow. Gray eyes wide, she hitched him up to her shoulder and rubbed his back. Alexander's wrinkled little eyes squinted at me over his mum's shoulder, and I momentarily forgot what I was talking about.
"So I went ahead and moved in."
"As soon as we get all this rubbish cleared-"
Sherlock stiffened slightly, now definitely looking away from me as I sort of rounded on her in shock. How could one little woman (as tall as me) possess to much mess? "Well, I mean, of course I can clean..." she quickly amended, placing the baby in a crib I hadn't even seen tucked into the corner of the sitting room and beginning to shuffle papers around. She tossed a stack of files into a box, floundered over where the box should go, grabbed a smaller stack of envelopes and documents and stabbed them into the mantle with a letter opener. It was really rather adorable, watching her icy composure slip for the first time.
Now I'm not going to pretend that Sherlock herself was by any means adorable. She'd really sort of skeeved me out by rattling off "I know you're an army doctor, recently invalided home from Afghanistan. I know you've got a brother who's concerned about you, but you won't go to him for help because you don't approve of him (possibly because he's an alcoholic; more likely because he recently walked out on his wife) and I know your therapist thinks your limp's at least partially psychosomatic (quite correctly, I'm afraid). Enough to be going on with, don't you think? The name's Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221B Baker Street. Afternoon!" She was all straight lines and hard angles (except for the lingering softness of a new mother still clinging to her midsection), expensive tailored suits, and reeking of pure genius. What could ever be adorable about her, I had no idea. Not at the time, at least.
But the fact that she wasn't one of those typical flirts who spent all of their time trying to be precious and twee was partially what drew me to her in the first place. She is nothing more than purely herself, more than admirable in the day and age.
"I looked you up on the internet last night," I blurted out, then felt my face turn bright red. That had not come out at all in the way I'd intended it to. I'd meant to sound spontaneous and casual, but had come out sounding more like I'd just announced I spent the night before outside her bedroom window. I hastily added, "I found your website, The Science of Deduction?"
She turned to me with a pleased smile. "What did you think?" she asked, hands tucked into her pockets.
I shot her a disapproving look; her eyebrows furrowed inquiringly.
"Oh, Sherlock, the mess you've made," twittered Mrs. Hudson as she fluttered about the kitchen. Of course, the chemical equipment was hers. Goodness, what did this wild woman do for a living? She didn't seem like a doctor, even though she'd been in Bart's. Perhaps a chemist? Probably something in science at the very least. "There's another bedroom upstairs, if you'll be needing two, that is..."
I froze, feeling my face flush while Sherlock merely rolled her eyes. "Of course we'll need two," I insisted a bit too loudly, "why wouldn't we need two bedrooms?"
Mrs. Hudson smiled knowingly. "Oh, it's alright dears, no need to hide from little old me!" she giggled. I sat myself in the nearest chair, appropriating a Union Jack cushion. "What about these serial suicides then?" the landlady continued when I refused to add more to that ludicrous conversation. "Seems like it'd be right up your alley, dear. Three in a row, what a pity..."
"Four," supplemented Sherlock from where she'd migrated to the window. I looked up and my god, she cut an impressive figure with the shadows cast across her face. Blue and red lights started flickering outside. "There's been a fourth."
Before I could wrap my head around what exactly she'd said, an older man with salt-and-pepper hair appeared in the door, smiling sheepishly. "'Lo, Sherlock," he greeted, "I heard the tyke was out of hospital, thought I'd bring round a card from the lads." He held out a blue envelope and, with a smile that seemed to contort her somber face into something harsh, Sherlock took it.
"Oh, look at that!" she exclaimed in a voice entirely not her own, tearing the envelope into eight neat little pieces and flinging them out the window. Alright, that seemed a bit harsh, but who am I to judge when just the day before I was fighting the urge to clock Mike Stamford? She cocked out her elbows, hands on hips. "Come on Lestrade, why are you really here?"
The man named Lestrade's smile only faltered for a second before he valiantly fought to put it back. "Alright," he admitted, dropping the act moments after he'd managed it. "I need some advice, advice only, Sherlock." His voice hardened on the tail end of the sentence, as though he could see the cogs turning in Sherlock's brilliant mind.
Her corny smile melted into something much more smug and domineering. "What's different about this one, Lestrade? Why do you need my 'advice'? I already know there's been another suicide, and I know there's something different or you wouldn't be here, so what is it?" she asked in a low voice. If I'd known better it would almost seem seductive, but then again, at the time I really didn't know better, and did think it was seductive.
"This one left a note," admitted Lestrade with almost a pained look on his face.
Sherlock looked radiant. "I'll follow behind in a cab!" she announced.
"You've just had a baby!" snapped the older man. "I'm not going to let you go running around crime scenes when you should be with your son."
"But Lestrade," purred the woman as she crossed her arms, "you need me."
I watched Lestrade shift from foot-to-foot before crumbling. "God help me, I do. But I'm putting Anderson on forensics just for your cheek." Ignoring Sherlock's pouting, Lestrade nodded politely at Mrs. Hudson and me before trotting back down the stairs.
Sherlock turned imperiously back toward the window and stared out until it was obvious that Lestrade had gone. Then she literally jumped for joy, a broad grin spreading across the sharp planes of her face in the exact opposite of the way she'd done before. This delight was real. "Yes! Four serial suicides and now a note! Oh, it's Christmas!" she jubilantly cried, spinning a circle and clapping her hands. "Mrs. Hudson, you'll watch Alex? Please, please, please will you watch him for just a few hours? John, make yourself comfortable, have a cup of tea, don't wait up!" Before waiting for a reply from the landlady Sherlock had bounded out of the room with a whoop of joy. A bona fide whoop of childish glee.
I didn't know whether to be frightened or impressed. Either way, I was feeling a bit jealous at the same time. No damn limp slowing her down, no rotten shoulder to be taken into consideration, certainly no war nightmares to keep her up half the night. Perhaps I should have reconsidered moving into a flat with someone who had a great amount of potential to make me feel sorry for myself. Perhaps after shouting at poor sweet Mrs. Hudson over my damn bloody leg I should have made the proper excuses and never come back. But I apologized, and stayed in my- the chair, and picked up a newspaper. Lestrade's - DI Lestrade's - face stared back at me.
"You're an army doctor."
Jumping with surprise, I pivoted in my- the chair before getting right out of it to face Sherlock as she wound her scarf round her neck. "Yep."
"Any good?" she drawled next. It whispered like a challenge in my veins.
She blinked, a slow smirk forming at the edges of her soft lips. "Seen a lot of violent deaths, a lot of action?" she continued, practically goading me, and Christ, I should have seen it coming but didn't have the foresight back then.
"Yes, of course. Too much. Enough to last me a lifetime," I recited as if the words themselves were knives in my throat. That was what I was supposed to think, at least. No one was meant to enjoy warfare.
One sharp black eyebrow quirked challengingly. "Want to see some more?"
"Oh, God, yes."
And we were off, Sherlock kissing Mrs. Hudson on the cheek and handing her a baby monitor before dashing out the door with a cry of "Ah, yes, Sherlock Holmes is back in the game!" and a flap of her coattails.