The class was called Interpersonal Relationships, and it was an actual course of study at John's new high school.
Not new, he reminded himself. He had attended Clifton Ealing High School for close to four full months now, and yet he still couldn't figure out why he needed to fill up his schedule with a class that centered on "interacting positively with others, making friends, and dealing with anger in a healthy way."
And even worse, the room was filled with people whom John would automatically label 'red-alert' and avoid. There were a number of different groups in the class, each with its own general reason for being dumped in the course.
There were the knuckleheads; giant apish blokes who inevitably played rugby, football, or sometimes even tennis. They were there because they had gotten into some masculine fight about their girlfriends, or more often, about their precious ability to throw, kick, or whack a ball better than another stupid oaf. Needless to say, they spent most of their time making stupid homophobic comments and guffawing loudly.
Then there were the smokers, who hung out in the back corner with the potheads, fingers twitching with some imaginary joint, eyelids always threatening to droop closed.
Then the loners, a small faction of which John counted himself a part. He was only in the class because he was a transfer student, and he thought he could manage well enough on his own, thank you very much. He didn't plan on making any friends, anyway - he was only there for one and a half more years, then he would be gone in an instant, hopefully off to one of the premier military academies that he wanted to be accepted to, one with a good medical program as well. Playing doctor was only a hobby, though, a funny little interest that John couldn't quite bear to give up just yet. Anyways, there was such a thing as army doctors - how else were the wounded soldiers going to get patched up and back on the front lines?
He wasn't a violent bloke, though, no matter how much he liked the feel of a gun in his hand. He wasn't a sadist, either, or a little boy who thought war was a glorified game. He just liked helping, though he had to admit he loved the thrill in his blood when firing out a round, when running flat out for dear life - even if it was just because he had stolen Harry's phone or something like that.
But he had to wait- so here he was, a small fish in a dangerous, roiling sea. Luckily, there were a few other kids who seemed as out of place as him. He assumed they had previously been goody-two-shoes golden boys who'd gotten caught with steroids or popping prescription drugs.
There was one boy, however, that John was mystified by. He didn't fit any of the other categories - he was a category in himself, snide and rude, with a cold, leering look. He was slim and tall, in John's year or the one above him, he guessed, with a strangely exotic face. John passed the boring forty-seven minutes every other day staring at the back of his curly dark head, bent over something in his lap, and wondering what his life was like.
The teacher called him Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes (a right strange name according to John), but the other kids called him 'fag' or 'freak.' He seemed both universally known and notoriously hated, and the whispers (not that John listened) said he was a crazy genius with a penchant for looking straight at you and knowing everything about your life with a cruel and consistent accuracy.
That and he liked blowing things up, apparently, which was purportedly his reason for ending up in a class of 'lower human spawn.' John was at the same time affronted and hopelessly intrigued, though he took special care to make himself as inconspicuous as possible, and he made certain that they never had the chance to exchange words. It wasn't that he was afraid of being seen with the bloke - he just didn't like being humiliated, and he had seen enough people reduced to tears by Sherlock's cutting words to know the same fate would befall him. John wasn't a secret pervert or a psychopath, but no one likes to have their life story announced to the world, even worse to a class full of judgmental teenage delinquents.
He also had a terrible fear that the other boy had noticed him staring, even though he made sure to be subtle, and the fact that Holmes sat at the front of the classroom right in the middle of John's line of sight wasn't exactly a hindrance. Still, he cringed to imagine Holmes spout out that John was bloody well obsessed with him in front of everyone, and he resolved to be more careful with his observing.
The room was slowly filling up, and a swell of giggles and swears rose around him as Sherlock strode in, indifferent as always to the extra wave of sniggering that greeted his arrival. He ignored all of them, taking his customary seat with graceful arrogance. With a quick glance, John saw him take something out of his breast pocket and peer down at it. He wished, not for the first time, that he had a seat more beside the other boy - not next to him, God no, but to the right or the left of the other boy so he could glance over under the guise of checking the clock and see his profile, and maybe find out what was clutched in his hands.
The first bell rang, loud and jarring, and Mr. Lestrade hurried in, carrying a haphazard pile of papers. John felt bad for the teacher - he was a decent man, and he had to waste his time teaching this hopeless class. He did get paid, though, John thought, which was more than he himself got out of it.
The teacher set the papers down on the desk at the front, running a hapless hand through his silver hair.
"Good morning, everyone," he said wearily, glancing around at the rows of students. "Everyone here?"
There was a scornful silence. John wondered what the reaction would be if one day he jumped up eagerly, and shouted "Sir yes sir!" He imagined Holmes turning around, slow and disdainful, and fixing John with a contemptuous stare.
Lestrade was unfazed by the barely concealed hostility. He smiled tiredly. "Don't all jump in at once."
Unsurprisingly, there was no answer. John glanced at Sherlock's head. It was still bent down, seemingly ignorant of Lestrade's presence. John silently willed the teacher to notice the other boy - maybe then he would confiscate the mysterious object Holmes was so fascinated by.
Shockingly enough, it worked.
"Sherlock," Mr. Lestrade began, frowning down at the boy. He went unnoticed.
"Oi, faggot!" one of the jocks shouted from the back, then dissolved into laughter with his friends. Holmes kept his head down.
Lestrade frowned harder. "That's enough, Mr. Brenton," he said sharply, before addressing Holmes once more. "Sherlock!"
Finally, the boy deigned to raise his head. John couldn't see his face, but he could imagine it - carefully respectful, but with an underlying arrogant sneer that said he considered himself so far above the teacher he was surprised he could even form coherent sentences.
"My apologies, sir," the boy said smoothly, and beneath his baritone John could hear an undertone of contempt. "I didn't realize class had started."
Lestrade sighed. "Give it here," he ordered reluctantly.
The teacher sounded weary. "Give me the mobile phone, Sherlock," he repeated, holding out his hand and raising his eyebrows expectantly.
Sherlock was motionless for a second, then stood, long legs stretching. John watched, captivated.
He sauntered forward, placing a black phone in the teacher's hand with a just a little more force than strictly necessary - the only sign that he was even a little rattled by the ordeal. John studiously did not stare as he sat back down, sprawling arrogantly on his chair.
Lestrade smiled humorlessly. "Thank you," he said sardonically, placing it on the desk next to his papers.
"Now, as you lot probably are unaware, even though I mentioned it at least ten times - our end of semester final project is coming up."
The teacher sorted through the sheets on the table, brow furrowed. He finally found the one he was looking for, and held the paper in front of his face, squinting.
"It's different, this year, so don't think you can steal from your buddies that graduated." He looked up. "You're going to be writing poems."
There were groans from his audience. John sighed internally, but leaned forward, listening carefully for Lestrade's next words. This class didn't have its name for nothing - all of their assignments and projects had to have an 'interpersonal' feature, meaning they all involved interaction with another person.
John wasn't too worried about that part, because luckily today someone had sat down next to him, one of those nervous blokes who was so scared of the other kids he could barely speak. John disliked him, but he was convenient, because if he had been sitting alone Lestrade might have had to pair him up with another loner, Sherlock Holmes.
Lestrade continued. "For the next two weeks, you'll be working with one other person. You'll spend the class together and use all the friendship strategies we learned to get to know their real personality, and let go all your prejudices like I taught you." He cleared his throat. "Tonight, you'll write a sort of pre-poem- all your thoughts and observations about the person before learning about their interests and beliefs. Then, after the two weeks, you'll write a post-poem.
"I'm passing out a rubric. This is twenty percent of your grade, and I'll be using this to evaluate your poems, so hold on to it, and don't pretend I didn't tell you."
The rubric said they were being graded not based on the quality of their writing, but on the quality of their observations and 'voice.' John stared down at the paper with anxiety. He had absolutely nothing to say about the boy next to him - he didn't even know his name. David? Ben? He sighed again, casting a surreptitious glance at Sherlock, who hadn't even bothered to look at the paper and was gazing at the wall.
He wondered who the strange boy's partner would be, and felt even more glad that David-Ben had decided to plop down at his table today.
Lestrade finished passing out the papers and stood at the front of the room again. "Alright, read this over, because it tells you exactly what I want." He took off his glasses. "Oh - one more thing," he said slowly, waiting until all eyes settled back on him. "I'll be the one choosing your partners."
There was a shocked silence, then cries of protest filled the room. John just stared in horror, gripping the edge of the desk so hard his hands turned white as the sheet in front of him.
"Yeah, you can't do that!"
Lestrade held up his hand wearily. When that didn't work, he shouted, "Quiet!"
Slowly, the voices petered out. Lestrade wore his serious face, eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Some of you - some of you -" he persevered over another muttered challenge - "believe that horsing around with your friend is going to get you an A. But that's just not true." He paused for emphasis. "I'll be drawing names out of a hat, so you can't blame me, just your own poor luck - and unless you want a zero, there won't be one complaint about the business."
He rummaged around in a drawer. John was frozen, suddenly feeling like he was watching the scene unfold from somewhere on the ceiling, watching himself bite his lip, watching Sherlock stare unblinkingly at the hat Lestrade pulled out and placed on the desk.
The teacher glared at them one last time. "And I don't want to hear any insults, not one word when you get your partner. You will be kind and friendly - or else you will fail." He coughed, and pulled a scrap of paper out of the hat.
"Nicholas Anderson." He rummaged around for a second. "And Sally Donovan."
The druggie and the bully glowered, but stayed silent. Lestrade waited for a moment, then continued.
"Angelo D'Accia- you're with Soo Lin Yao." The other transfer, a pretty Chinese girl, glanced fearfully at the heavyset Italian dealer, who leered back. John felt sorry for the girl.
The list went on, and John's stomach was a mass of squirrelly knots. It seemed harder and harder to swallow as he listened for his name or Sherlock's, heart pounding ominously as both remained unspoken.
Finally, it seemed like almost everyone had gotten a partner. John looked around feverishly, trying to spot someone - anyone - whose name hadn't been called. He was thinking so hard he almost missed Lestrade's bored 'John Watson.'
Lestrade cleared his throat, and John prayed to the god of school, the god of badly paid teachers, the god of undoubtedly rigged hat lotteries - but that didn't stop the words he knew were going to casually come out of the teacher's mouth.
"- and Sherlock Holmes." Lestrade threw the slip away carefully. "Class dismissed."
Sherlock Holmes was late. It didn't bother him, of course, but he already had received two tardies, and a third would get him on probation. This utterly ridiculous and pointless class was the only thing between him and a military academy for 'troubled boys', and Mummy's threats were never idle.
It wouldn't have been so dreadful if it had been a chemistry class he was forced into, but no, the poor Holmes boy who was so obviously suffering from a social disease just had to be placed in some heartwarming friendship-based class that was without a doubt wholly absurd and preposterous.
And to top it all off, he was being forced to complete actual work. No, not even that - to actively attempt to befriend another person.
It was ludicrous.
John Watson. Junior, transfer from private school - St. Vincent's, he concluded - who used to play rugby but sustained a serious injury a short while ago, judging by the fact that he isn't currently on the team (he would have had a lot more friends if he were). Close cropped sandy hair - likes it out of his eyes - and an aesthetically pleasing face. Nothing out of the ordinary, but attractive. Fit, too, Sherlock noted distantly. How did he get exercise without bothering the injury?
Wounded shoulder, he decided. Sneakers worn down, but a new model so the wear wouldn't be from long use over time. A runner.
Sherlock rarely spent time in the lunchroom, but on occasion he did sneak in for a moment just to gain data on who was friends with who, and who wasn't. He could never do it for long, simply sit and stare uninhibited as he would have preferred. He didn't eat lunch. He found a bench outside and read a book, most days.
An yet he never saw Watson, cafeteria or otherwise. Where did he go? Sherlock knew every crack and cranny in the godforsaken building they called a school, and he had never once seen the other boy.
It was a mystery, he acknowledged with some annoyance. Watson was like a tanned ghost. He was quiet in class, no friends, didn't make any effort to ingratiate himself with the other idiots in the class. Why? He could easily have been accepted with a few snide comments, a bit of pointed posturing towards Lestrade. Tripping Sherlock himself seemed to be the style nowadays, and if Watson had even just joined in the laughter whenever Sherlock spoke the boy would have a several imbeciles to choose from as friends.
But he was silent; perfectly invisible in all respects. It would have been intriguing to Sherlock if he hadn't had far too much experience with teenage boys. He had found they could all be placed in two categories: idiots who hated him outright, and idiots who resented him behind a mask because they were too afraid of him.
The latter were minutely more interesting, if only because he enjoyed baiting them. He'd take one look at them and tell them their secrets, their lives, everything. He liked the way their faces first scrunched up, confused, and then went red with helpless anger. Sherlock just smiled at them.
The first bell rang, and he was only a steps away. He threw open the door loudly, ignoring the eyes that followed his every move. Lestrade paused in his lecture, and Sherlock tightened his lips at the wry smile on his face.
"Thank you for joining us, Sherlock," the man said with long-suffering patience, and Sherlock threw himself down into his seat, frowning. Ridiculous, he thought venomously.
John Watson was looking straight ahead, mouth pressed together like he was on the edge. The edge of what? Sherlock wondered, and then stopped himself firmly. It didn't matter.
"Alright," Lestrade continued, amused. "I'm going to come around with a sheet with the discussion topic for today, 'Daily Routines.'" He passed the papers out, collecting their poems as he walked.
Sherlock took the sheet sullenly, passing up his poem. He glanced at Watson's with a prick of curiosity, able to see only two words, 'He can', because the other boy had folded it in half. Sherlock scowled. He must be embarrassed at his poor writing skills, he thought with a smirk. How many ways could there be to say "crazy queer"?
His own poem was one of his best works. Wordy and winding, it was close to ten pages long, written in iambic tetrameter. Sherlock had done his best to make it as confusing as possible, basing the whole piece around the use of a tailless mouse as a metaphor for Watson. The mouse was new to the zoo, except it was an alternate universe where mice were as large as humans and ran the world, while man was a tiny blip, relegated to menial tasks and dirty cages. Sherlock thought it made a mature, disturbing statement on the state of the world today. He doubted Lestrade would agree.
Watson was staring down at the paper he had received with something that looked close to fear. Sherlock smirked. He hadn't even started speaking and the other boy was afraid of him. It was almost too good to be true.
Lestrade, now carrying a haphazard stack of pages, cleared his throat.
"Okay, everyone," he began. "Start with the question prompts at the top, and work your way through all of them. I'll be grading these-" he waved the pile, "-at my desk. I'll hand them back tomorrow with a grade."
He sat down, and looked up at the silent faces in front of him. "Well, go on, I want to hear talking. If I look up and see blank faces, I will fail you." He grinned. "Get to work!"
Sherlock stubbornly kept his eyes on the page in front of him. If Watson wanted to speak, he could. Sherlock wasn't about to engage in pointless pleasantries with a boy who probably couldn't even recite the quadratic formula.
He heard Watson cough, and looked up against his will. The boy was slightly red-faced, one hand clenched on the edge of his chair (interesting - sign of nerves or anger?) and licked his lips once. Sherlock felt his eyes drawn to Watson's mouth and looked away quickly.
"Er, so. Hello."
His voice was pleasant, not as deep as Sherlock's. There was a slightly gravelly tone to it.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Hello," he drawled, fixing his eyes on the other boy, who swallowed but didn't back down. Sherlock stifled a scowl in irritation. That wasn't how it was supposed to happen.
Watson looked down at the paper. "Well. What are your everyday habits?" he asked, reading off the page.
Sherlock grimaced. This was worse than he had thought.
"I wake up, take the car to the school, attend my classes, take the car to my house, complete my schoolwork, and retire to bed," he recited, making his voice bored. Of course, that wasn't even the half of what he did in his time, but Watson definitely didn't need to know that. He'd probably wet his pants if he found out, Sherlock thought with a sneer.
Watson was looking at him strangely, and Sherlock was annoyed that he couldn't seem to decipher the other boy's face. "What?" he snapped finally, irritation coloring his voice.
The shorter boy started a little. "You don't -" he paused. "You don't do anything? Else, I mean?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "What were you expecting, that I torture animals in my free time? Maybe a spot of necrophilia?"
"No," the boy said defensively. "I mean, what do you do for fun?" He glared at Sherlock stubbornly.
Sherlock scowled. "I conduct experiments," he allowed haughtily, trying for a mysterious tone. This boy was a nuisance.
His admission didn't seem to have the desired effect. Watson brightened, looking interested. "What kind of experiments?" he asked curiously.
None that you'd understand, Sherlock thought. He did like talking about his work, however, and the one he was involved in now was particularly fascinating. It might even shut the boy up, too.
"At the moment I am researching the effect of certain compounds on human retinal fluid and areas of the pancreas - solubility among other things. Of course I do not have access to a human pancreas, as I would like, so I make do with a pig's." He looked at Watson, anticipating a horrified, shocked stare - but the other boy appeared as if he was actually hanging on Sherlock's every word. It should have been bothersome. Sherlock frowned.
"Christ," Watson breathed, and Sherlock looked at him sharply. "That's - really cool." Sherlock stared at him. The boy flushed, but continued on, undaunted. "What compounds are you using?"
Sherlock frowned again. "Aluminium oxide," he said stiffly.
Watson nodded. "So, what was the result?" he inquired, and Sherlock gave him a dirty look. He didn't need to fake interest for a good grade, Sherlock thought, vexed. He himself was quite fine keeping their conversation stilted and impersonal.
He cleared his throat. "The experiment is still in the preliminary stages, but in the first tests I have found that the substance is in fact soluble in the retinal fluid, and -"
Watson cut him off, smiling. "- insoluble in the pancreas," he finished. Sherlock stared at him again.
"How did you know that?" he demanded, unable to keep his tone as cold as he wished.
The boy grinned. "I like biology," he admitted shyly, ducking his head.
Sherlock sat back, processing this. Unexpected, he concluded. Perhaps not as unintelligent as first predicted.
"You want to be a doctor," he stated, suddenly wanting to gain back the upper hand. He wanted to see that fear on Watson's face again, wanted his face to spasm in shock, wanted to make him angry. He wanted to prove he was like the other oafs, because Sherlock knew he was - they all were, in the end. Anyway, Sherlock already knew everything about him. Granted, not the amateur biologist bit, but he had picked up on that soon enough.
Watson was surprised, but not half-terrified, not irate - not yet. "How do you know that?"
Sherlock smiled. "Why else would you study biology?" he asked, and then continued on without an answer.
"You've got a brother, two years younger. Must be in trouble of some sort because he and your mother aren't getting along. Perhaps he's struggling with his sexuality." He heard a sharp sound from Watson but ignored it, eyes fixed on a point somewhere beyond his head.
"You moved from St. Vincent's High School at the start of this year, and you played on their rugby team. Then you got injured. You moved here, a poorer neighborhood, so something must have happened economically. Perhaps a parent lost their job? Father is absent; judging from the letter you keep from him tucked in your binder. I saw his signature when you retrieved your poem."
Sherlock felt excitement rising in him, sharp and trembling. Watson was still silent beside him, but Sherlock didn't look at him, not yet, because he wasn't finished.
"So, military father. If he had left, there would be painful memories - you wouldn't put a sign of his in a place you would see every day. Mother must work, so she lost her job. Probably a teacher, they've been hit hardest by the recession.
"That brings me to you. You haven't tried out for the rugby team here, because they -" he gestured vaguely to the back corner where the rugby jocks sat, "- would have teased you at the start of the year for not making the cut. No one knows you. You're also a habitual jogger, judging by your sneakers. But why would you try so hard to keep in shape? You must really enjoy running. But maybe you're preparing for something - trying out next year? Likely not, as you would have tried harder to befriend the current team members. No, you're anticipating something else. Military father obviously dear to you, so being a soldier would have a positive connotation to you. Perhaps you also want to be a soldier, like your father. But you also admitted to wanting to become a doctor. So, perhaps your dream is to be an army doctor."
There was one last thing. "You also feel as if your education is pointless, as you have made no attempt to toady to the ruling masses here. If you had valued your enrollment you would have endeavored to 'fit in', as they say. Judging from that, you are currently suffering from a mild case of depression, possibly as a result of the constant worry about your father, but more likely originating from of your lack of social skills and your mother's strained relationship with your brother." He sat back in satisfaction, alert for a punch.
But Watson was simply staring at him, and Sherlock thought he detected something like relief in the boy's eyes. Sherlock looked at him in frustration. He didn't look angry - why wasn't he angry? Sherlock had just exposed his life story, and the infuriating boy was just sitting there, looked positively baffled.
"That was," the boy began haltingly, "amazing."
Sherlock looked at him for a moment, feeling a faint blush creep up into his cheeks. He swallowed slowly. "Do you think so?"
"Of course it was!" Watson looked incredulous. "It was bloody extraordinary!" He grinned, seeming startled, yes, but not angry. Almost happy, even.
Sherlock realized he was staring and turned his head sharply so it was facing ahead. "That's not what people normally say," he said.
Watson made a sound suspiciously like a small huff of laughter. "What do people normally say?" he ventured curiously, and Sherlock thought that this was definitely not proceeding how he had imagined it to.
"'Piss off,'" he replied emotionlessly, looking down at the paper in front of him without seeing the words.
Sherlock was certain he heard giggles this time. He looked over, shocked to see the other boy muffling his laughter with a fist.
"Sorry," Watson gasped, schooling his face into seriousness. "It's just - well, you're a bloody genius."
It was true, of course, but that didn't stop Sherlock from being astonished, and Sherlock Holmes was never astonished. He licked his lips slowly, feeling all of the sudden a bit lost. Unexpected, he thought again.
"Thank you," he replied, and if it was a bit stiff, it was worth the look of pleased surprise on Watson's face.
"No problem," the boy said cautiously. Sherlock let his gaze linger on him for a bit longer than strictly necessary, his mind strangely slow and foggy for some reason.
Whatever unusual 'brain freeze' he was experiencing, it took a few moments before he could gather his thoughts. "Did I get anything wrong?" he inquired, attempting a casual tone.
Watson fidgeted, biting his lip. "My dad's in Kandahar," he said. "Mum's an ESL teacher. She just got laid off in Chiswick."
"Completely correct, then," Sherlock said, resisting the urge to preen. He glanced at Watson, wondering if he would repeat his compliment.
"Not completely," the boy replied instead, and the corner of his mouth quirked up. "Harry's short for Harriet."
"Yeah," Watson confirmed, grinning.
"Sister!" Sherlock hissed, and scowled. Watson laughed.
"Don't worry, mate. You got the rest all right," he reassured Sherlock, then glanced down at the assignment sheet and around the room. It seemed as if they were far behind the other pairs, who seemed to be wrapping up their discussions. "We better get going, even though... that was still incredible," he continued, almost shy now.
Sherlock looked down, slightly befuddled by events. He blinked, studying Watson's face for a bit longer than necessary once again, and looked down sharply. He had never blushed, and he wasn't about to start now.
He was silent for a while, organizing the data of the exchange into neat piles in his mind.
It didn't add up. Watson had complimented him, even after Sherlock had been unaccountably rude and inconsiderate. It made no sense.
But then - oh. He was pretending, for Lestrade. For a good mark. Playing nice with the friendless outcast. Obvious.
No one could be that kindhearted.
He saw Watson shift uncomfortably beside him.
"Erm, well. Shall we...?"
Sherlock nodded, scanning the second question on the sheet in front of him, and pondering the odd sour taste in his mouth. There were exactly six minutes left in the class, and then he would be free to go home, explode the table or one of Mycroft's old suits, and just stop thinking.
"What is the one item you would consider necessary to your daily life and why?" he recited detachedly, focusing his eyes firmly on the line of clear black text. That question would be Watson's to answer, and he was definitely not curious as to what the response would be. Not curious in the least.
The boy was quiet for a moment. "I guess it would be my journal," he said, a trifle defensively.
There was no response for several seconds. "I suppose it helps," Watson said quickly, words rushed together. "You know, with the... stuff."
Frowning, Sherlock stared down at the paper in front of him. He presumed Watson meant the depression.
"So... what role do your friends play in determining your schedule?" Watson hurried to change the subject, reading the next line aloud and propping his chin on his hand.
Sherlock flinched inwardly. Both he and Watson knew he didn't have any friends - because he didn't need them, he huffed angrily.
Thankfully, the bell sounded a few long seconds later, and Sherlock permitted himself a tiny sigh of relief. His notebook, crammed with various papers and notes, was laying precariously on the edge of the desk, and he reached for it just as a beefy boy knocked it deliberately with his hip.
He scowled fiercely. The ripped up pages he had hastily stuck into the book were all over the floor, and with a angry set of his lips Sherlock bent down and began to retrieve them.
And then he saw another pair of hands next to his.
Watson. Insufferable. Of course, the idiot couldn't let the golden boy act up until Lestrade was out of the room.
And furthermore, those were his private notes, Sherlock thought fiercely, snatching the scraps of paper out of the other boy's hands without a word. He was fuming. Those were his!
"I have no need of your help," he snarled in a low voice, grabbing at the slips littering the ground. What if Watson had seen something? Sherlock made observations of himself and the world every day, clinical and organized, and his body was no different than any other teenage boys. Regrettable, of course, but normal. He was sure his ears were scarlet, and that only made him more furious.
He saw Watson hesitate, and wished the boy would just disappear.
Lestrade seemed to read Sherlock's mind. "John," he called. "Can I see you for a moment?" The man was holding a marked up sheet of paper with a very clear crease down the middle - as if someone had folded it.
Watson's poem, Sherlock concluded, feeling a stab of curiosity against his will. Why would Lestrade want to talk about his poem? He kept his ears sharp and alert, trying to make out their conversation, but Lestrade's gruff baritone was inaudible and John seemed to be keeping silent.
Sherlock gathered up the rest of his things swiftly, wanting badly to leave before Watson and the teacher were done speaking, but he had no such luck. He was shoving his notebook in his bag when the boy came back to their shared table, the tips of his ears flaming.
Was it from embarrassment or anger? Sherlock wondered, glowering as he put his bag on his shoulder. He strode out without a word to Lestrade or Watson, and, sighing, heard the sound of frantic steps behind him. He increased his pace.
"No need to keep up the show," he called out contemptuously, mouth twisting as Watson came up beside him. "I give you a standing ovation. Bravo."
Sherlock's head felt light and airless. He decided he was due for another meal.
"What?" Watson asked, keeping up easily, and Sherlock frowned. Runners, he thought, chagrined.
He decided to end the conversation as quickly as possible, and stopped abruptly. "I said," he repeated slowly, as if speaking to a toddler, "Bravo." Wheeling around in the opposite direction, he continued, "You've no need to make nice with me. I assure you, it is wholly unnecessary."
Watson was still right beside Sherlock, staring at him like he was an alien. Sherlock looked back in irritation. "What?"
They were in the back courtyard by now, and Watson's mouth was hanging slightly open. His hair was really very golden in the fresh air, Sherlock mused, and why in the world was he noticing that?
Still gawking at Sherlock, Watson squinted up, confusion showing in every feature of his face. "What the…?" he began, looking genuinely baffled. "What are you on about?"
Sherlock refused to make eye contact. "I am referring to the fact that you want a good mark for that abominable class. Really, helping the charity case isn't very original, but I suppose you all never think of anything new." He glared down at Watson. "Except, you're still here. Which is a veritable enigma, as far as I am concerned, as Lestrade is no longer in sight. Did he assign you to follow me home? Maybe make sure I wash behind my ears and don't slit my wrists in the nighttime?"
Watson was gaping. "No," he replied indignantly. "No, you've got it wrong."
"I am never wrong," Sherlock retorted icily.
"Well, you are about this."
They stared at each other angrily for a few moments. Watson's face was stubborn, lips set in a mulish line - but Sherlock wasn't looking at his lips. Or his lapis lazuli eyes. Unusual shade, he noted remotely, studying the boy's face intently.
"Well, then," he said bitingly, gaze challenging, "if you wouldn't mind, enlighten me."
Watson frowned. "Fine. Truth is, I wasn't pretending. That thing you did back there, it was brilliant. Really. I've never seen anything like it." He raked a hand through his hair absently, leaving it tousled. Sherlock was struck with an insane desire to reach out and smooth it down again, and curled his hands into fists.
"Alright, I'm going." It seemed Watson had noticed the gesture, and though his words were light Sherlock could hear a thread of bitterness underneath them.
He watched the shorter boy walk a few steps away before bursting out, "Why did Lestrade wish to speak with you?"
"He was, um, complimenting me. On my poem." Watson sighed, and scuffed a foot on the ground.
"Is that so?"
"Yes!" Watson's lips turned up a bit at the corners. "He said... it was good. Well-written, I mean. And, um, insightful."
Insightful? Insightful about him? How in God's name...?
"Why did he say that?" he inquired evenly, and Watson was blushing.
Why was he blushing? Why? How infuriating.
"Er, I dunno. Stuff I said, I guess."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, wanting to grab the other boy by the shoulders and shake the answers out of him. "Yes, and would you care to elaborate?" he asked, and this time he couldn't keep the impatience from creeping into his tone.
Mouth parted slightly, Watson looked at him for a moment, appearing as if he were weighing something in his mind.
"Well, I said you were like an antique," he admitted, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and pointer finger.
Sherlock raised his eyebrows, considering. An antique? Certainly not the worst thing he had been called, and he wasn't even sure the term was an insult.
"Because!" Watson said, waving his hands around. Sherlock stared at him. "You look like a lord, or something. You dress -"
"I wear the same uniform as everyone else."
"Yes, but on you it's different!" Watson burst out, then pressed his lips together so tight they disappeared. He looked mortified. "I mean - well. Bollocks," he muttered, looking down.
His lack of clarity was aggravating. Sherlock frowned for what felt like the millionth time.
"I do not understand your point," he said rigidly. Watson looked up and let out a slight snort of laughter.
"Well, alright. It doesn't matter," he said, and then smiled. It was uncertain, and shy, and Sherlock's brain did a little stutter-stutter as he watched.
He automatically gave the boy one of his patent 'social obligation' smiles, but it felt different when Watson grinned wider, eyes crinkling, and Sherlock wanted to trace the crease of his eyelids. He looked away, feeling heat bloom uncomfortably under his collar. Ridiculous, he huffed, shifting his bag around on his back. Utterly ludicrous.
Billy was waving to him from where he parked the family car, waiting patiently in the front seat. Sherlock glanced at Watson, feeling strangely hesitant. "You've missed the bus home," he stated, studying the boy.
"Oh, bloody hell!" Watson looked at his watch, turning to see the nearly empty parking lot.
"I have a car." The offer was surprising even to Sherlock's ears, and he cringed. "If you have need of a ride to your house."
Watson's eyes brightened. "Really?"
"Yes," Sherlock replied dismissively, taking that as an acceptance. He turned and began to stride away, leaving Watson to scramble after him.
They reached the car simultaneously, and Sherlock pouted. He needed to exercise more.
"Are you sure it's -"
"Please get in." Sherlock arranged himself in the back seat. Watson hesitated for a moment, and then clambered in next to him.
It prompted a strange feeling of pride, sitting there with another person. Not a friend, of course, but a classmate. An acquaintance, nothing more. Sherlock had never had an acquaintance.
He wondered what Watson's house looked like.
The temperature inside Sherlock's car was the perfect balance of warm and cool, but John felt a bit hot nonetheless.
Sherlock was ignoring him in favor of fiddling with his mobile phone, and John kept his gaze trained on the trees whizzing past, ground covered in slowly melting snow.
After perhaps ten minutes of smooth silence, Sherlock tucked the mobile into his blazer's breast pocket. John waited a few moments and cleared his throat.
"So, erm, we've got to finish the rest of the questions. I suppose. Eventually."
Sherlock grimaced. "Dull."
"Yeah," John agreed, and he bit back a grin. The scenery outside the window was still unfamiliar, and he wondered for a second whether Sherlock had kidnapped him to be part of one of his experiments. He found it worrisome that the thought didn't fill him with dread, just a breathless sort of exhilaration.
Soon enough, however, they passed the local cinema, then the diner his mum wanted them to try out, and then in a flash the car pulled to a stop outside John's house. He bit his lip, suddenly embarrassed. Through Sherlock's eyes it must have seemed decrepit; the paint job needed a lot of fixing up, and more than one window was boarded up.
"Thanks," he said lamely. Sherlock had his phone out again, and didn't look up. "Do you want to -" he stopped, throat dry. Was he really going to do this? "Do you want to maybe come in, for a bit? Tea, or something? We can finish the questions, if you like."
Sherlock head jerked up, shock flashing in his eyes for a fraction of a second, and John could have sworn he saw a bit of fear there as well.
"Look, you don't have to," he began, stomach churning. Bloody hell, he had ruined everything. "It's alright, I was just -"
Sherlock cut him off. "Yes."
"Yes, I accept. It is..." he paused. "Practical." He extracted himself from the car with an easy grace. The window rolled down. "Billy, please inform Mummy that I will be home late. I am working on a school project, if she asks."
The chauffeur grinned amiably. "You know she will, Mr. Holmes. She always does."
Sherlock frowned. "Yes, I know," he said crossly. "Thank you."
The driver gave a mock salute. "My pleasure, Mr. Holmes," he answered. "Just send the word when I should return."
He rolled down the window, and the car sped off, leaving cold air and silence in its wake. John led the way up to the door, cursing himself.
"My mum's a bit loony," he warned, fishing around in his pockets for the key to the front door. "But she's very nice, and makes great food, so I keep her around." He looked up to see if Sherlock had laughed at the joke.
He hadn't. He was gazing at the house, and John could practically see the gears working in his brain, processing and storing the information in the shadowy corners of his mind.
The key clicked in the lock at last. John pushed open the door with trepidation, holding it open for Sherlock and closing it behind him.
"You can put your bag down here, if you want," he offered, taking his backpack off and setting it against the wall.
Sherlock situated his bag next to John's and then straightened up. He was strangely quiet, and it was a bit frightening, weirdly enough.
"John, sweetie, is that you?"
Mother, John sighed, and then shouted, "Yes, mum, it's me!"
He heard her bustling around in the kitchen. Good mood then, he mused, thanking god. She never cooked unless she was feeling well. He started towards the kitchen, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Sherlock was following. The boy looked back, raising one elegant eyebrow. John flushed.
"Dearie, why are you so late -"
His mum, brown curls frizzier than normal, stopped dead when she saw Sherlock.
John was impressed that he had actually managed to render her speechless. But Mrs. Watson recovered lightning-fast, drying her hands on her favorite plaid apron and smiling so widely John thought her face might split in two.
"Hello," she said cheerily.
"Mum," John began in warning, but she had already bounded over to them, beaming. She extended her hand to Sherlock, talking quickly.
"What's your name? I'm John's mum. It's so nice to meet you!" She sucked in a quick breath. "I'm so glad he brought a friend over! I mean to say, it's just been ages. I was worried, you know, new school and all, but he's such a nice boy I just knew a friend would come along -"
John stopped her there, face tomato-red. "Mum!" He rubbed the back of his neck, pointedly not looking at Sherlock. "We're just working on a school project."
'Practical', Sherlock had called it. Well, fine. John would keep it practical.
His mum deflated a little, eyes darting back and forth between them.
Then Sherlock reached out and clasped her hand in his, shaking it as if she were a court lady, dainty and delicate. "Lovely to meet you, too, Mrs. Watson," he declared, smiling radiantly. "I'm Sherlock."
John gawked at him. His mother, meanwhile, was melting. "Oh, you're too sweet," she cooed, and John could have sworn he saw her blush.
Sherlock glanced at John. "Well, I suppose we ought to get started, John," he said, and his eyes crinkled with the force of his smile. What a suck-up, John thought nastily, a little piqued that he'd managed to charm his mum so quickly. He knew Sherlock didn't give one fuck about this, so he didn't have to pretend.
"Oh, bless your heart," Mrs. Watson cooed.
"Yeah," John bit out through gritted teeth. "I suppose we should get to work, Sherlock." What was he playing at, being a complete prat to John and then talking up John's mum like he was a fucking prince?
Mrs. Watson looked scandalized. "Sweetie," she scolded. "You haven't offered our guest any refreshment."
"Alright, mum," he said, and stomped over to the fridge. Bloody stupid Sherlock with his bloody stupid smile and his equally stupid charming fucking face.
His mum patted a chair. "Sit down, dear," she told Sherlock, and shooed John away from the refrigerator.
He took the neighboring seat grudgingly, keeping his eyes locked on the granite counter top as his mother set a plate of cookies down on the table. 'Talk to him!' she mouthed. John scowled.
It had been weirdly sunny for a few days, and he really was going to say something about that, but the door opened loudly before he could say a word.
"Oh, that'll be Harriet!" his mother said happily, and swept towards the foyer.
John swore again, this time under his breath. He heard the conversation from the kitchen.
"Harry, darling, hello!"
"Mum," was the curt reply. John winced.
"How did you get home, sweetie?"
"Someone drove me, obviously."
John could imagine his mother forging on in the face of the one-word responses.
"Who was it, dear?"
Bad move, John thought. He gripped the edge of the table, trying to block out the conversation.
"Why do you care? I'm home now, right? Don't smother me."
"Darling, I only -"
He heard Harry throw her bag down. "You're so annoying."
"Harry, I just want to be involved in your life. I'm trying, I really am." John's mother's voice was cracking, and he closed his eyes.
"Don't bother." John heard Harry pound up the stairs, and then her door banged shut.
John cursed and went to find his mum, who was staring at the staircase with a dazed, shocked expression. He put his arm around her, and she laid her head on his shoulder. "What did I do, John?"
"Nothing," he replied, hating his sister. He stroked her hair, and after a few moments she straightened up, smoothing her apron and plastering on a fake, fragile grin.
"I'm fine, dear. Thank you." She pulled him into a hug. "You're a good boy."
John managed a weak smile, pressed into her shoulder. "Thanks, mum."
She reached out and smoothed the short fringe of his hair. "Run along, now. And be nice," she added, fixing him with a mock glare. John smiled again, stronger this time. That was better.
Damn. Sherlock. He was still seated at the table, fingers intertwined and resting on his mouth, eyes faraway and fixed on some indeterminate point.
John sat down heavily and reached for another cookie. "Sorry about that," he muttered awkwardly, breaking it in half and offering the bigger piece to Sherlock.
The taller boy seemed to awaken from some deep meditation. "What?"
John held out the broken cookie. Sherlock frowned distastefully, and he withdrew his hand with a shrug.
"So," he began, feeling completely and totally out of his depth. "Do you want to go up to my room?"
He flushed bright red as soon as the words came out, realizing how they sounded a bit too late. He licked his lips. "I mean, to work. On the thing."
Spot-on, John, he thought, kicking himself. Great way to sound like a pervert.
He thought he saw a faint twitch of amusement in the corner of Sherlock's lips. "Shut up."
Sherlock rose. "I don't believe I said anything," he responded, seeming genuinely hurt. John just looked at him for a second, and then let out a chuckle. Sherlock frowned. "What?"
"You're a great actor, you know," John commented dryly, trudging up the stairs. He did a mental check - he had put all the clothes in the hamper this morning, so no underwear lying in embarrassing places; porn magazine (a parting gift from a mate at his old school) safely hidden in the closet. Everything was in its place.
Sherlock bounded up the steps behind him. "How did you know I was acting?" he asked.
John spoke without thinking. "Because I know you," he replied, and then stopped dead outside his door. Fucking hell, he thought, and stuttered out, "I mean, I know the real you."
Sherlock was still behind him, and John couldn't quite look him in the eye. "What is the real me, pray tell?"
"Just - forget it." John shook his head and pushed open the door. "Well. Here it is." He raised his hands. "Welcome to my humble abode!"
Sherlock smirked, taking in the crumpled but made bed, the nightstand piled with books, the couch (perpetually smelling of mothballs) that had been a gift from John's Aunt Francine.
Seeming satisfied with his observations, he strode over and lowered himself gracefully onto the shabby sofa, crossing his legs at the knee.
"Make yourself at home," John said wryly, and plopped down onto the bed, laying on his stomach.
Sherlock was staring at him, but when John looked back he broke off his gaze quickly and pulled out a rumpled sheet of paper. "I have the questions."
John rested his head on his hands. "Alright, let's start. Didn't we leave off at the 'role of your friends' one?"
He wasn't expecting the crease between Sherlock's eyebrows and the almost imperceptible thinning of his lips.
"Fine," Sherlock said, voice considerably colder. "If it needs saying, then I shall say it. I don't have friends." He was glaring daggers at John.
"Neither do I," John countered. It was the truth; his mates at St. Vincent's barely contacted him, and they had never really got on well in the first place.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, and John braced himself for a nasty retort. But shockingly enough, he just looked back down at the paper.
"How much time do you spend on the computer per day?"
John considered the question. "About an hour," he replied, factoring in homework and checking his email for any news from his dad. He wasn't the social networking type.
Sherlock sniffed, recrossing his legs. "Four to five," he threw out.
"What do you do for all that time?" John asked, genuinely curious, then reddened. What if it was porn?
It's not porn, he told himself firmly. Anyway, Sherlock didn't - couldn't - do that, and John suddenly had to stop his thoughts very quickly.
He rolled over on his back, trying to force his face into its normal color. Where the hell had that thought come from?
"Research." Sherlock's voice sounded bored.
"Oh." John licked his lips. "How many more of these are there?" he asked, then backtracked. "I mean, not that I'm not enjoying this -" he squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm just curious."
"Two," Sherlock answered, ignoring his stammers.
"Right," John said, and blew a long whoosh of air out his mouth. Perhaps he could manage to not make a complete arse of himself until Sherlock left.
They sat in silence for a little while, until John got uncomfortable and rolled back onto his stomach. Sherlock moved his eyes from where they had been studying the wall.
"Shall we continue?"
Sherlock cleared his throat, looking disinterested. "Next is: How does food dictate your habits? I.e., do you keep to a strict diet or indulge?" He continued, "Easy. I eat rarely, only when my body necessitates it."
"That's not very healthy."
"I'm not dead, am I?" Sherlock said idly. The corner of his mouth quirked up. "Yet, at least."
"Still." John frowned. "Your body needs nutrients."
"Yes, thank you, Doctor Watson."
Prat, John thought again. "Just get on with it," he said, rolling his eyes.
"As you wish." Sherlock looked down at the paper. "Last question: If you had one word to describe your daily life, what would it be and why?"
"Well," John scratched his head self-consciously. "Um. I suppose I would call it boring. Ordinary," he added quickly. What a stupid question. They were all stupid questions, no wonder Sherlock looked like he was bored out of his mind.
"Mine is predictable."
"What?" When he looked up, Sherlock's gaze was locked on one of the stains in the carpet. "Predictable?" he repeated, staring quizzically. "Really?"
"Oh, do you have a better word?"
"No." Jesus, why was he so prickly? "It's just - my life is predictable. Yours is anything but."
"Just because I act differently does not signify that I find my existence interesting." The words had a certain bite to them, and Sherlock's eyes swung to meet John's gaze suddenly. He looked irritated.
"Okay, well, fine. Sorry," John said awkwardly.
Sherlock leaned forward, eyes flashing with curiosity. "Why do you find your life ordinary?"
"Um." John tried to find a coherent answer. "It just - it just is. I mean, I've got a mum and a dad, and a house. I go to school every day. And I'm not missing a limb or an eye or anything." He considered the question again. "Yep. Pretty normal."
"Your father's in the military," Sherlock retorted, gazing at John with what he could have sworn was genuine puzzlement. "Your sister's a lesbian -"
"Oi! Keep your voice down!"
Sherlock brushed this off. "And you're far more intelligent than the average human male," he concluded.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"You heard me perfectly; I'm not saying it again."
"You think I'm intelligent?" He must have been grinning like a madman. Sherlock watched him carefully, expression unreadable.
"It's not an opinion, it's a fact," he replied curtly, crumpling the question sheet and stowing it his pocket.
John chuckled and flopped onto his back with a loud thump, hearing the springs whine in protest. "I'm not actually that smart," he said dryly. "As much as I'd like to be." He sighed. "I'm failing maths."
Sherlock was silent, eyes on the floor once more. John bit his lip. I'm boring him, he thought again.
"I could... help you, if you wish," Sherlock said, slower than anything he had said before.
Was he serious? "Could you?" John scrambled onto his knees and ran a surprised hand through his hair. "That would be brilliant!" Sherlock just stared at him again, frowning, and John slowed down a bit, uncertain. "I mean -"
"What are you studying?" Sherlock interrupted, ignoring him. He traced the seam of the couch with one long, thin finger.
The finger, much more bony and elegant than any of John's, was hypnotizing. John tore his eyes away. "Oh, erm, differential equations," he said absently, wondering if Sherlock played the piano.
"I learned that at age ten," Sherlock declared, mouth twisting in condescension.
"I'll have you know I'm in an advanced class," John informed him indignantly. "For normal people, I suppose."
He slid off his bed, stifling a laugh at the sight of Sherlock's pout. Not many people bothered to talk to Sherlock Holmes, let alone tease him. It was sort of exhilarating, like outwitting an angry bear, and he smiled as he crossed the room.
"I"ll go get my assignment, maybe you could help me with that."
Their legs were about ten inches apart when John sat down on the sofa. He couldn't help but notice Sherlock stiffen beside him as he lowered himself onto the cushion, and with a rush of hurt (you're being stupid) he moved his thigh farther away.
It didn't make him feel any better that Sherlock was acting like a bloody statue, all frozen and rigid. It was like he thought John was contagious, or something. John set down the two sheets of paper, placing the pencil within Sherlock's reach. He hesitated.
"Well, if you could explain the first one, er, that would be..."
"Of course." The words were clipped and short, but Sherlock picked up the pencil and began to scribble underneath the first problem. John watched with fascination, almost disappointed when he stopped writing in his strange, mostly unreadable scrawl.
John sat silently for a few seconds, awaiting an explanation to the hastily-written, confusing solution.
"Well." Sherlock looked impatient, reclining elegantly beside him, the picture of a haughty prince. "Go on. The rest are similar."
"What?" John asked finally, amazed. "You expect me to just... get it, just like that?"
"Yes." The taller boy seemed annoyed. "I wrote it out for you. Look at it."
John rubbed his eyes. "First of all," he began. "I can't read that." He gestured to Sherlock's lines of equations. "Second, you need to explain. I mean, tell me why."
Sherlock gazed at him, and John was sure he was going to spring up angrily and stride out of the house. But instead he picked up the paper again, sighing like it was unthinkable to have to elucidate his brilliance.
"First of all," Sherlock began disdainfully, then launched into a lengthy explanation, mentioning functions and 'vector-valued' and 'matrix-valued' and partial derivatives, and John had to pull on his sleeve a few times to slow him down.
John was working through one of the problems, Sherlock leaning over his shoulder, when his mum knocked on the door.
He jumped in surprise, jolting Sherlock's jaw with his shoulder. "Sorry!" he said guiltily, realizing suddenly how close they had been sitting. "You alright?"
Sherlock had retreated to the edge of the sofa, hand on his jaw, looking annoyed. "I believe so," he answered stiffly, massaging it with his fingers.
Mrs. Watson knocked again, louder this time. "John!" she called with concern. "Are you two alright in there?"
"Yes, we're fine! You can open the door."
She poked her head in, beaming. "Oh Sherlock dear, you're helping John with his schoolwork, you're so kind."
Sherlock managed a smile in return. "It's no trouble, Mrs. Watson," he said. "I covered this months ago."
John's mother didn't notice the condescending tone, and murmured praise while John coughed awkwardly. He felt a bit cold all of the sudden, and snorted at himself. It wasn't like he and Sherlock had been cuddling, or anything stupid like that. There was no reason for him to be shivering. Stupid, he told himself again. Stop being such an idiot.
"John, will Sherlock be staying for dinner?" His mother looked at him expectantly.
Bloody fuck. John could only imagine the destruction she could wreak during a whole dinner. "Er, would you like to?" he asked Sherlock, trying to sound like he really wanted the other boy to stay, and not like he'd rather have a rat gnaw his fingers off.
Sherlock frowned at him, eyes lingering on John's for a moment. He looked as if he were trying to see right into John. Well, for all you know, he can, John thought wryly. The idea was beyond terrifying. Sherlock gave a little cough. "I wouldn't want to inconvenience you -"
"Of course not, dear!" Mrs. Watson interjected earnestly. "We'd love to have you!"
Realizing that he was gaping at Sherlock like a fish, John shook the fog out of his brain. "Yeah, it's the least I can do now that you've practically done my assignment," he said, grinning.
Sherlock looked at him for another long second. "Well, I suppose that would be very enjoyable," he said slowly. He swung his eyes from John to his mother, and John felt his body relax, now that he wasn't pinned down by the other boy's gaze. Christ, he stared at you like he was either going to stick a knife in your ribs or kiss you.
And John was going to shut up, before his fucking queer mind could somehow get his mouth to blurt out something he'd rather not have said. Especially not with his mum right there.
"Oh, how nice," his mum exclaimed. Her happy look faded for a second, replaced by something akin to horror. "Dear me, I'll have to make another serving of everything!"