Author's Note: I'm so sorry for everyone who got an alert and thought this was something new... this site took away some of the line breaks in this story for some reason, and it was really bothering me. I've patched things up, though. Sorry for the confusion! (June 15, 2013)
A bajillion thanks to Atinauj Lemredude for translating this story into French. You can find it at:
www . fanfiction s / 7798892 / 1 / A_study_in_linguistics. Just take out the spaces.
Also to Shalott, for the translation into German, which can be found at
www . fanfiktion . de / s / 4f34706b0002360206713c6a.
I wrote this before Series Two, and it does not take any of the second series into account! If I get positive feedback, I may consider doing a sequel based on Series Two.
My policy on reviews is… You should definitely submit them! If you've posted anything from a fandom that I've watched/read, then I'll return the favor. I'm obsessed with having conversations about the shows/books/movies I'm passionate about.
There are 27 parts to this story – a small prologue, and 26 sections for each letter of the alphabet. You should read them in order. Some are intended to stand alone, but others are tied together by common themes. You should be able to figure it out, hopefully!
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson had their own language. It was a language of few words and minute facial expressions, and John had learned that it was nearly the only way to have an honest conversation with his eccentric flat mate.
Sherlock didn't do "emotions," so John had learned how to convey them without broaching the subject head-on. John didn't like to talk about Afghanistan, so Sherlock had learned to circumvent the topic whenever possible.
It puzzled the rest of the world, but then what did the rest of the world matter?
When John Watson walked through the door of the flat, he was greeted with the sight of Sherlock lying on his back on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling with a close, focused look that meant he was deep in thought. Usually, John was considerate enough not to interrupt these moments. Right now, however, he didn't really care.
"Did you do the shopping?" he said. What he meant, of course, was – I bloody well know you didn't do the shopping, you git. I just want to hear what excuse you come up with this time.
"In a manner of speaking," Sherlock replied, shaking his head to come out of his contemplation. It wasn't the answer John was expecting, and he sighed, wondering what exactly the consulting detective had done this time. He dropped his jacket across the back of a chair and went to the fridge, pulling it open with some trepidation.
"Apples," he exclaimed, which could be roughly translated to – You've bought us a refrigerator full of apples. Where the bloody hell is everything else we need?
"Experiment." Don't be silly, John. You can't eat those. I'm doing a project.
"You – are infuriating," John said. No hidden meaning behind that one.
Sherlock's mouth twitched upward as John re-entered the living room. Yes, I know. And yet here you are.
"I'll leave, you arrogant moron. I will. Don't think that I've got to put up with this kind of behavior." But Sherlock took unconscious note of the fond exasperation in John's tone and reverted the words in his mind to their intended purpose. I'm not leaving. I just want to provoke a reaction out of you. It wouldn't work, though. Sherlock's eyes rolled back for a moment in response.
Don't be insulting. You're not going anywhere.
"There's no need to be so snippy, John. You do owe me your life, after all," Sherlock's tone was casual, but as always, his words held double strength when closely observed. We're comrades in arms, now. You shot Jefferson Hope, and I saved you from Shan. You're not leaving.
"I saved you first!" John said indignantly. "Besides, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't have needed the saving in the first place." Of course I'm not leaving. Don't be a prat. Just do the damn shopping next time.
"I suppose," Sherlock said, a peace offering in his tone, "You could have an apple. Just one." Because we're friends.
"Oh, gee, thanks so much." Sarcasm. That much was easy. I'll do the shopping tomorrow.
When Sherlock was bored, the world knew it. John could read the signs easily, but this was no great accomplishment. Anyone who spent more than a day around Sherlock Holmes when he was bored was unlikely to forget the experience any time soon.
There were two stages. The first was relatively silent, and if John were lucky enough to be home when this stage set in, he could often circumvent the disaster all together.
Sherlock would lie stock-still on the couch for hours on end, staring aimlessly at the ceiling, his eyes clouded over in an uncharacteristic show of aimlessness. Sometimes, a mere bickering match would be enough to bring him back from the edge.
John would read the urgency of the situation on Sherlock's face, and act accordingly. Sometimes a small squabble over a forgotten shopping trip or an errant body part in the flat was sufficient. Other times, he would start in on Sherlock's rude behavior towards Sarah or Lestrade or anyone else that came to mind.
If Sherlock argued back, it meant that his mind was stimulated at least for a moment, and this would usually hold the boredom at bay for a few hours.
Most of the time, however, John was at work or with Sarah when stage one set in. Often, he'd return to the flat to find Sherlock already well into stage two: Destruction Mode.
There were really only two cures for this type of boredom. While Sherlock shot the wall full of holes or mixed chemicals together at random and left the entire flat smelling like burnt hair for days, John would send a not-so-subtle text to Lestrade.
He felt guilty for how much he hoped, in these scenarios, that someone had been recently and creatively murdered. Sherlock was a force to be reckoned with, and a new and unique case was one of the only ways to snap him out of his stupor.
The second way to accomplish this was highly risky, and only to be used in the most dire of scenarios. As John watched Sherlock pull some frozen human fingers out of the freezer and stare at them with frank curiosity, he sighed. Lestrade had just responded to his text in the negative – nothing new.
He felt the phone shake in his hands – This would snap Sherlock out of his funk and get him back to his normally snobbish self, but it came with a price. He'd be bitter and cranky for the rest of the day, which was an only slightly more tolerable condition than the boredom in the first place.
John wrinkled his nose in distaste, and pressed send.
Mycroft, would you mind giving your brother a call? I think he needs something to keep him entertained.
Sherlock paused, about to dip one of the fingers into a highly questionable solution. Hearing the faint sound of his phone vibrating, he groped in his pocket, anticipating an exciting new case.
Then, he glanced at the caller-ID. "Damn it, John!"
"John, let's go!" Sherlock said, his voice brusque with poorly concealed excitement. It was early on a Friday morning, and the view of the street outside of 221B was dreary and grey – a typical March morning in London.
"I've got work, Sherlock," John said wearily, clomping down the stairs with his shirt still half unbuttoned.
"Lestrade called. I need you for a case," Sherlock pouted, and John translated the simple sentence in his mind – I've grown to rely on you, and I actually value your opinion over anyone in Scotland Yard. Never expect me to say any of this to you aloud.
John sighed. "I really can't."
Sherlock flicked his eyes upward in a lazy sort of eye-roll, knowing that was John really meant was – I really shouldn't, because I've got work. But if I call Sarah she can cover for me and I can come with you. I've got to act reluctant for the sake of pretending to be a good employee.
"Let us dispense with the unnecessary arguing, shall we?" Sherlock said flippantly. "I'm calling for a cab."
John grumbled his obligatory grumble and grabbed his jacket off of the hook in the hallway, fishing his mobile out of his pocket as he did so. He jabbed a few buttons on it and held it to his ear, joining Sherlock on the street below.
"Hey, Sarah, listen. I can't come in today, I've got – Yes, well… alright, thank you." He hung up and turned to Sherlock, who had his customary smirk firmly in place. Your actions are so obvious it's comical.
John narrowed his eyes and turned to face the street, crossing his arms over his chest. I hate that you're always right. Then he twirled his phone around in his hands a few times, faking nonchalance. If you keep acting so superior about it, I'll call Sarah back right now and tell her never mind, I can make it in.
The cab pulled up to the curb, and Sherlock stepped forward, holding the door open in a mock show of civility. "After you." You'd never do that.
John dropped the phone into his pocket with a sigh, because Sherlock, as always, was correct.
IV. Detective Inspector
Lestrade watched the two men approach with his usual amount of skepticism. He couldn't figure out what it was about John Watson that Sherlock seemed to like so much. And by like, of course, I mean that he hasn't insulted him enough to make him run for the hills yet.
"Sherlock, thank you for coming," Lestrade said. He had decided that starting with polite was always his best bet. Sherlock waved the greeting aside rudely, brushing past Lestrade and toward the caution tape shining nearby.
Lestrade shrugged, used to this behavior, but John, who was shadowing Sherlock as always, clapped a brief hand on the taller man's shoulder. Lestrade watched Sherlock tense, and grimaced. John was in for a verbal lashing now, and as much as it was nice to not be on the receiving end of one of these assaults, it was never fun to watch Sherlock take someone down a few notches.
To his astonishment, however, Sherlock turned, sighing. "You're very welcome," he reluctantly muttered to Lestrade. He paused. "There, are you happy?" He turned to John, and John rolled his eyes and continued toward the caution tape. After a moment, though, his mouth twitched briefly into a smile and Sherlock's followed suit.
Lestrade's eyes widened. "This John bloke's got him behaving like a normal person!" he remarked to himself.
Sally Donovan walked by at that moment, snorting in disbelief. Sherlock Holmes behaving politely. That'll be the day.
But she was forced to admit that Lestrade might have a point, when Anderson made a comment on the body that Sherlock obviously disagreed with.
The consulting detective had just opened his mouth with an arrogant smirk when he caught sight of John, who was standing to the side with his lips pursed in an expression of premature disapproval. Anderson, already bristling from the insult he could feel coming, watched in bewilderment as Sherlock snapped his mouth shut and turned back to examining the corpse without a word, only sparing a quick disparaging glance at John over his shoulder.
John smiled slightly at the pout on Sherlock's face. Talking down to Anderson was, after all, one of his favorite activities.
Sherlock felt only the slightest twinge of guilt about deceiving John. So, he hadn't exactly given Mycroft the newly recovered memory stick. He had much more interesting plans in mind. Besides, with John out of the way, Sherlock didn't have the distraction of worrying about him when he came face-to-face with Moriarty. That was the strange thing – in the past, Sherlock had never spared a thought for his own safety, much less anyone else's. But John was different. John would die for him, and that was new indeed.
The pool was eerie and silent, filled with forgotten echoes of happier times. Sherlock couldn't have picked a more suitable place for this show-down.
But the glee he was filled with vanished with a sickening certainty the minute he saw John Watson walk through the door.
He was ashamed to admit even to himself that for one startling moment, he had been pulled in to the illusion.
"John... What the hell…" Because it couldn't be. Sherlock Holmes had studiously avoided the entire institution of friendship his entire life. John had been an exception, and he can't have misjudged him so terribly.
He walked forward, his face etched into lines of disbelief. Horror. Betrayal. Pain. And then…
"What… would you like me… to make him say… next." His tone was flat. Sherlock knew he was employing a deeply ingrained militaristic ability to shut down surface emotions and remain stoic.
Sherlock seemed to be having problems employing the same technique. A wave of relief washed over him, immediately followed by a wave of immense guilt. All his fault. He had to fix this.
"I can stop John Watson too," John was saying. "Stop his heart." His eyes were shining with fear and anger, and Sherlock could feel his insides broil with fury. He kept his eyes on John's for a moment – I swear to you, John Watson, I'm not going to let you die.
John's eyes remained fearful. Disbelieving.
Christ, Sherlock thought to himself. I swear it, John. I'll make you believe me.
He had delighted in Moriarty only minutes ago, but now he was in no mood to.
But he couldn't reassure his friend. He had to confer first with his enemy.
Moriarty was a mystery. Exciting, new, clever, interesting. But Sherlock Holmes wanted him gone. In this moment, he could not think – could not appreciate. All he could see was John, strapped into a vest. All he could notice was the fact that with one pull of the trigger, John would be dead.
A million things flashed through his mind as Moriarty reached forward to take the memory stick out of his hands. He could see the intention in John's eyes a split second before he acted and tried desperately to get him to call it off. Stop what you're doing. You're an idiot if you think I'm going without you.
But John was a soldier, and John was a friend. His eyes were screaming what his words were saying – Run, Sherlock! Get the hell out of here and forget about me.
No chance in Hell, John.
Yes you are.
It was remarkable how little Moriarty mattered, in that moment. He was there – speaking, breathing, separating them from peace and safety. But Sherlock could only stare at John, and John could only stare at Sherlock.
We're both going to die here, aren't we?
Yes. Either that or I'll get us both out of here. I'll do whatever I can.
That I believe.
And then, somehow, it was over. Moriarty was leaving, his voice in sing-song. For a second, Sherlock couldn't move. His arm was locked straight and the gun was pointing toward the absent figure of Moriarty.
Then, like a magnetic pull, he turned to John. He could see in the eyes and the corners of the mouth his utter exhaustion. Fear. Relief, but dizzying terror, still lurking in the set of the shoulders.
Sherlock felt the gun go slack in his hand. It was uncharacteristic to show worry, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
"Alright." He dropped to his knees. Appropriate. In that instant, Sherlock felt so beneath John that he was startled by the shattering drop in his own perception of self-worth. John wasn't speaking. Normally, he wouldn't have needed verbal reassurance, but his brain felt scattered, wrong. "Are you alright?"
And he was. They were. The bomb was off of John and Sherlock could think again. Could stammer out something approaching "thanks" and could understand that the actual words weren't at all necessary.
There, in that darkened swimming pool, Sherlock could make jokes with his friend John Watson, and know that everything was right with the world.
VII. Game Plan
They were smiling at one another in relief. The words that didn't need to be spoken were swirling in the air between them, making the room taste heavy and wonderfully light all at once. They had both made it out of this alive, and that made everything good.
Thank you. And I'm sorry I can't say "thank you" aloud.
I understand. And you don't need to say thank you. What else am I supposed to do? Of course I'll risk my life for you.
I'd do the same.
And then, it wasn't over. Moriarty was back, and unfortunately the answer was obvious from the second the sniper's lasers were trained again on the two men. Sherlock's mind whirled through possibilities and landed on only one that could perhaps save them. He was going to have to blow them up.
Moriarty's voice jumped octaves as fast as his mind jumped emotions. "Everything I have to say has already crossed your mind."
Sherlock didn't even need to look at John to know that in this instance, they were on exactly the same page. He did it anyway, and flicked one eyebrow up ever-so-slightly. I'm going to shoot the bomb. We're going to dive into the pool.
John's eyes tensed and narrowed and he adjusted his position minutely against the edge of the wall, prepared for quick action. Of course you are. Of course we are.
In the seconds before Sherlock turned back to Moriarty, his eyes flashed bright and intensely purposeful. I am so sorry.
Sherlock started to speak, keeping his gaze locked to John for one second longer, to see his eyes brighten in response. You're always forgiven.
"And probably my answer has crossed yours."
The gun was remarkably steady in Sherlock's hands, because for some reason the thought of dying when John was there to save him just didn't seem right. He would pull the trigger, and John would fix it.
What a perfect metaphor. I blow things up, and John's there to patch them together again. Sherlock's finger tightened on the trigger. John's legs coiled, ready to move.
The world exploded.
Sherlock awoke in fragments. First came back the sensation of smell. His nostrils were filled with the smell of disinfectant, which he equated instantly to hospital. He couldn't, for one frightening moment, recall why he had reason to be in a hospital, but as the insides of his eyelids burned with light from outside and the steady sound of a heart monitor began to fill his ears, the memory came slamming back into him like a freight train.
His eyes popped open and swiveled automatically to either side, looking – Ah. Something in his chest loosened. John was sitting in a chair by his right side, fiddling with his mobile. So he was alright, then.
Perhaps he sighed, or made some other noise, because John's eyes rose from his phone to rest on Sherlock.
"Three days, then?" Sherlock asked, feeling the words rasp out of an abandoned throat. This was no great deduction – the date was shining in the corner of the blue-screened television mounted on the wall. Three days since the pool. I blew us up. And you saved my life. Thanks for that.
"Quite right," John said with a smile. Don't worry. We're both alright. I've been here the whole time.
"You?" Sherlock asked. He narrowed his eyes in an accusing sort of way, which John took to mean – You'd better not downplay your injuries for my sake. I want to know exactly what I'm feeling guilty about.
John raised his right shoulder slightly in a shrug that spoke to false casualness. Sherlock made a note in his mind – Left shoulder bothering him again. Possible dislocation?
When John spoke, it was with an air of total nonchalance. Stay calm, Sherlock. I'm fine. Better than you, in fact. "27 stitches on the back of my left shoulder from shrapnel. It was dislocated. And a very minor concussion."
Sherlock's lips pursed in disapproval. You shouldn't have pushed me out of the way.
John looked up towards the ceiling as if hoping for divine patience. You're an idiot if you think I'd do anything else.
"Moriarty?" Sherlock asked. The lines on John's face pulled together, tightening in a way that made his next words completely unnecessary.
There was a pause, while the two men internalized the consequences of this. Moriarty had warned Sherlock to leave him alone. But Sherlock Holmes was Sherlock Holmes, and John thought him unlikely to do anything of the sort.
They spoke simultaneously.
"We'll have to try again."
"We'll have to give up."
For once, they had surprised one another.
"You don't need to walk me up the stairs, John." Sherlock's voice sounded disparaging on the surface, but John knew the truth.
"There's no need to be embarrassed," he said, his tone lilting upward in amusement.
"I'm not embarrassed," Sherlock said, sounding horrified by the suggestion. "I just don't like feeling helpless."
"I know." And you're not. Just let me help you.
Sherlock sighed, shuffling awkwardly across the floorboards and over to the couch, John still supporting him. Fine. Whatever. You can pretend to be useful and make some tea.
"I'll make you a cup of tea, yeah?"
"Yes, thank you." I knew it. Also, you should be sitting down. "If it's not too much trouble."
John sighed. "I feel fine, Sherlock."
"Hm." Somehow I don't quite believe you, given that you always say you're fine, and it's not always the truth.
At that moment, Mrs. Hudson bustled into the flat, and forcibly shoved John into an armchair, insisting that given the extreme circumstances, she could help out a little, but only a little, because this wasn't her job, after all.
"How are you doing?" John asked Sherlock casually, relaxing back into his chair.
"You've asked me that three times in the past twenty minutes," Sherlock intoned back. I'm fine. I'm completely fine. It's you we've got to be worried about.
Sherlock wasn't accustomed to the feeling of guilt. It was unsettling to feel responsible for another person's pain, and even more unsettling to feel hurt by said pain, regardless of his own involvement.
"So you're going to leave Moriarty alone, then?" John asked, inordinately nervous about the question. It had been so strange to hear the words 'give up' slip through Sherlock's mouth at the hospital, and John had let it drop, but he couldn't forget about it now that they were back safe and comfortable at home.
"For now," Sherlock said cryptically. His tone screamed leave it alone, John, but was also resigned to the fact that John would be doing no such thing.
"How do you mean?"
"I'll leave him alone until I can figure out a way to track him down without his knowing about it. Obviously I can't openly pursue the chase anymore, given what almost happened to y- to us." John may not have been as observant as Sherlock Holmes when it came to these things, but it would have been impossible to miss the way that Sherlock had been about to say "you." John felt oddly touched by this, but said nothing.
Sherlock didn't do "emotions," and the two of them would certainly never be discussing the look of sheer terror on Sherlock's face when he had seen John strapped in to that bomb. Perhaps that was alright.
The language existed in every word spoken. The same word, said several times, could mean several very different things. Sherlock Holmes could say John's name and mean almost anything.
"John," a greeting, that spoke of their relationship. Sherlock called John by his first name because that was what friends did. Friends said a name in greeting with a nod and a half-smile. Sherlock didn't know this from experience, but he was getting pretty good at it.
"John." Short, like a command. Usually this meant that Sherlock needed John for something. A new case, or maybe he had just figured something out and wanted to talk it through.
"John." Accompanied by a sigh of exasperation. This one usually came during a case, if John asked a stupid question, or failed to pick up on a minute point quickly enough.
"John!" Quick, with a rough quality of worry that was nearly undetectable to everyone but John Watson. He'd said it as he'd leaned down to untie his friend from a chair, his fingers feeling stilted and useless against the thick ropes.
"John." Soft. The closest Sherlock came to gentle. He'd said it when John's eyes had started to flutter shut in the middle of a crime scene, as he realized his flat mate's need for regular sleep. He'd set it as they sat over Chinese after their first case together, in an attempt to thank him for shooting Jefferson Hope. John had waved away this attempt at gratitude so easily that Sherlock had been struck instantly by John's exceptional character.
"John…" A placating plea. John was making tea. Can I have some? John was upset with him for something. I can't help it! It's just my nature. I didn't mean to hurt you. John didn't want to come on a case with him. Oh yes, you do. You know you do! Work's boring. Come on an adventure with me!
"John." A tone of professional courtesy. Used most often in the first few weeks of their acquaintance, and later only on cases, when Sherlock wanted a medical man's opinion. It was a way for Lestrade and the rest of the people at Scotland Yard to see John as a man worthy of respect – if Sherlock respected him, then he had to be someone good.
"John – " Sherlock had only used that tone once in his life. A breathless exclamation, coming out of him without permission, as he saw him walk in to the swimming pool where Carl Powers had died, and for one second had lost all faith in his only friend. Thank goodness he'd never had cause for it again.
John could tell something was different the moment he walked through the door to 221B Baker Street. It could have been an elusive quality to the air – something slightly different to the stillness. Most likely it was the fact that Sherlock was talking to himself.
This in itself was not unusual, but usually he would mutter under his breath until he'd solved the problem, whatever it was. He did this less now than when they had first met – he seemed to be alright with using John as a sounding board for his ideas now. Sherlock would call it "standing in for my skull," but John knew that it was more than that.
But today? Today Sherlock was talking. And after a moment John realized that he was in fact talking to someone else in the room.
"What in God's name are you doing with that?" John asked, appalled. Curled up in Sherlock's lap on the couch was perhaps the most adorable tiny black cat that John had ever seen.
Sherlock's long fingers were scratching the back of the kitten's head absently, and he was muttering something to it under his breath. He looked up at John's exclamation, offering his friend a half-smile in greeting. "Hello, John."
"What the bloody hell are you doing with a cat?" John said. You can't be trusted to take care of yourself! If you're using that thing for some sort of twisted experiment I will kill you.
"What? Can't a man get himself a kitten?" This is amusing. The look on your face right now is almost more exciting than the new pet.
"Yes, a man can. You on the other hand – Seriously, what are you doing with that?"
"I'm petting it," Sherlock said, his voice perfectly bland.
John waved a hand through the air impatiently. Yes, I can see that. But why do you have it?
"Victim with a new kitten. The poor thing was going to starve if someone didn't look after her."
"You're joking. We can't get a cat!" John said, his voice spluttering in disbelief. Sherlock, you'll be the most horrible pet owner in all of London! The world! I'll end up looking after it, and I refuse to do that!
"John, don't be such a spoil-sport. Besides, Harriet already seems quite at home, wouldn't you say?" The kitten had jumped off of Sherlock and was walking in circles over a spot on the sofa. After a few moments of careful consideration, the kitten twitched her nose in approval and settled down, curled in on herself like a tiny cushion.
Blast it all. It's too cute to turn away. John's shoulder's slumped slowly in resignation, and Sherlock's mouth twitched up in victory. It took a couple of seconds for John's mind to attach to one very important detail. Sherlock had already gone back to scratching his new companion behind the ears before John could manage to get the words out.
"Wait a moment – did you just say Harriet?"
XII. Left Shoulder
The crime scene was not particularly unique or special in any way that Sherlock could discern. One glance could tell him that this had nothing to do with Moriarty, and thus was not remarkably interesting to him. He had kept out of the Moriarty business for several long weeks, and while he refused to admit it to anyone (especially John), he was itching for another encounter with his fan.
"Surely you don't need me on this one, Detective Inspector," Sherlock said lazily, mentally cataloguing every detail he could observe from the victim and the scene. "Most likely a jealous lover, this. Clearly a crime of passion, and with someone she knew very well."
"How do you figure that one?" Lestrade asked. It was a uniform question, and he was more than a little surprised when it was not Sherlock Holmes who answered it.
"She let him in – there's no sign of a break on the door, and the footsteps suggest that the struggle took place in the doorway. You can see the streaks from where her body was dragged over to the living room floor. She was moved after she died, that much is obvious."
Sherlock looked at John in surprise for one moment, and then his eyebrows quirked upwards in surprise. I'm impressed, and that's a rare sentiment coming from me. Anything else to add?
"Also," John continued, feeling warm from Sherlock's silent praise. "She turned her back on him the minute he came in the door – so it was someone she knew and trusted. She didn't even think twice about it."
"You've gotten very good at that," Lestrade said. Sherlock smiled slightly like a proud teacher, and John rolled his eyes. Don't go getting all superior, Sherlock.
Why not? I've earned it!
It was at that moment that Lestrade reached forward and clapped a friendly hand on John's left shoulder. The Detective Inspector watched as the looks on the two men's faces changed dramatically, and had only a second to wonder at this before he was being pushed backwards by a panicked John, who had put enough force behind the shove to send him colliding into the wall opposite.
"John!" Sherlock said, getting a strong grip on John's right arm and spinning him around to face him. "You're fine. It's fine."
John stared at Sherlock without seeing him for a moment and then his focus snapped back. His expression turned to one of embarrassed horror. "Sorry," he said, clearing his throat quietly.
"Don't be ridiculous. You don't have to be sorry," Sherlock said, indignant at the suggestion.
"Sorry, Lestrade," John said, a little louder. "You just caught me off guard. I was… um. That's my wounded shoulder, is all."
Lestrade stood straight, feeling harangued for something he had no knowledge of. "Right. That was… it was my fault." He observed with some measure of shock the way Sherlock had oriented himself – slightly in front of John, like a protective cover, shielding him from the rest of the world. They were talking in low voice to one another and seemed to have forgotten that Lestrade was even there.
After a few moments, a cloud seemed to disappear from over the two men, and they stood tall again, turning back to the bewildered Detective Inspector. They got back to the crime scene without further comment.
Lestrade felt his head spin, and made a mental note to call in a favor to an old friend with access to army medical records as soon as he got the chance.
Sherlock had that look on his face. It was tight-lipped and narrow-eyed and John knew exactly what it meant. "Do you have a new case or something?" he asked, coming down the stairs and wondering if there was anything actually edible left in the kitchen.
"No," Sherlock said absently. Then he seemed to become aware that another person was in the room, and he looked away from his – John's – computer screen and towards his flat mate, who had just opened the refrigerator and shut it with a disappointed groan. "Why do you ask?"
"You have a look on your face."
"It's a serious I'm-focusing-on-something-that's-worth-my-time sort of look. Quite a rarity," John said, picking up the tea kettle and inspecting it for evidence of toxic substances. Satisfied, he filled it with water to boil.
Sherlock smiled at John's description. "Not a new case. An old one." His tone of voice was far too significant to be meaningless. John walked a few steps forward, and took note of Sherlock's face. There was something serious and deadly etched into every line.
"I thought you said you were going to back off of Moriarty."
For a moment, Sherlock's eyes flickered in surprised pride. You're getting good.
Of course. Moriarty, though?
"I'm not… digging conspicuously," Sherlock hedged. John wondered why he had that guilty look on his face – after all, it had been John who had assumed that Sherlock would keep the up the search for Moriarty in the first place.
"Alright. Well… Tell me if you find anything," John said, his voice casual. Seriously, it's fine. I understand. You should be looking for the bastard. The sooner we find him, the better.
Sherlock's eyes shone for a moment, and John read the guilt there, going deeper than he would have expected. "John, I need you to understand that I'm not going to involve you. I'll make sure that Moriarty leaves you alone. I'll do whatever I have to."
It was such an honest statement that it drew John up short for a moment. "Don't be ridiculous," he finally said. "I want to help."
"Too dangerous," Sherlock said, almost like a reflex.
"Too damn bad." The retort sounded almost angry, and Sherlock's eyes widened. John continued. "I'm going to help you. It's not your bloody fault that Moriarty's a sick bastard who kills people for fun."
"Yes, I know. But I can't let you be one of those people," Sherlock said, his tone disarmingly open. John stared for a moment at the consulting detective. Then he pursed his lips and nodded.
"Thank you. But you're not keeping me out of anything." We're in this together, and if you keep anything from me there will be hell to pay.
He looked for a moment like he wanted to argue, but after contemplating the very stern look on John's face, Sherlock finally nodded, and meant it.
"And what the hell is this, then?" John demanded, storming out of the kitchen and towards Sherlock's spot on the couch. Harriet the Kitten was playing with the lacing on Sherlock's shoes, and he was nudging her gently away with his toes when John came rushing in, holding the objects in question up for Sherlock to see.
"Given that you're angry, I'd say that you already know exactly what they are," Sherlock said. His tone seemed bored, but John detected a layer of underlying tension.
"You told Lestrade you were clean!" John said, feeling his voice shake with barely suppressed fury.
Sherlock sighed, closing the case file he had been perusing. Clearly you're being irrational.
Don't give me that placating look, you moron! You're hiding drugs in our flat!
"I am clean," Sherlock said, his voice intentionally level and calm. "I swear. Those are old."
"Old, yeah? So you haven't been – you're not…" John was having difficulty getting the right words out, but that hardly mattered. Sherlock knew, as always, exactly what he was trying to say.
However, instead of giving his friend the response he knew John was looking for, he quirked his eyebrows up. "I fail to see how it's any of your business."
John's mouth dropped open. "You fail to see… Are you serious?" His shoulders were tensed as if for battle, which was only one of several tells that informed Sherlock that John had gone past irked and straight to furious in no time flat.
He couldn't explain to himself why he was provoking John's anger, but he supposed it had something to do with that I'm-in-charge-of-you look that John had on his face. He had never responded well to being taken care of, as Mycroft or Lestrade could have well attested to.
"It's none of your concern, John. I'm clean, and if you don't believe me then I can't really do anything about that, can I?"
"You'll get rid of this." It wasn't a question. John was using his "soldier" voice, which Sherlock should have taken to mean trouble. Instead, he just shrugged, leaning down and scooping Harriet up absentmindedly.
John was silent for a moment, and the air between them crackled with tension. Finally, John spoke again, in a tone of voice that brought Sherlock up short. It was deadly calm, and yet somehow terrifyingly powerful. "You'll get rid of this, or I'll move out."
Sherlock could see in John's clenched fists and his clear, focused eyes that this was not an idle threat. He felt the color drain from his face in an involuntary reaction, and watched the satisfaction creep up on John's face as Sherlock stood, setting Harriet down on the arm of the couch as he did so.
He disposed of all of it that night.
XV. Other Men
"Where have you been?" John asked. He had been going for nonchalant, but Sherlock of course stripped away this pretense with laughable ease, and detected the worry hovering underneath.
"A case, actually," Sherlock said. He was still high from the thrill of it – Lestrade had managed to call him in for something good for once. It had only lasted him a day, but it had been an actually encompassing puzzle while it had lasted.
John was silent for a moment. "Oh. You didn't call."
Sherlock's mouth twitched up briefly, but he turned away from John to hide his expression. "You were working," he said casually.
John bristled slightly, and Sherlock noticed the tensing of his shoulders. "Yes, but I've been off work for hours."
"Hm," Sherlock muttered, already somewhere past caring about the conversation. "Yes. Well. David was more than sufficient help for this case. It wasn't all that exciting."
John let that sink in for a second, and felt suddenly like an underappreciated housewife. All things considered, it was an unsettling sensation. "Who's David?" he finally managed. Sherlock's mouth tilted into a smirk again, as he heard the poorly concealed jealousy behind John's tone.
"New employee at Scotland Yard. He's brilliant. Lestrade finally hired someone decent." Sherlock was serious, of course. David was in fact a nice addition to Scotland Yard. He normally wouldn't be so inclined to heap lavish praise on someone, however, no matter how much he liked them. It was just that it was so fun to see the look on John's face.
"Right. Sounds like a great guy," John said, his tone biting. Sherlock bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling, and wandered into the kitchen, just in time to feel his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and flipped it open, letting the smile break free.
"Excellent. John, let's go. Lestrade's got another case!" He was already a few steps out the door when he realized that John had not moved from his spot on the couch. "Are you coming?"
"No, thanks, I don't think I will," John said, his tone highly superior. Sherlock resisted rolling his eyes.
"And why not?"
"No reason. I just want to have a quiet night in. Is that alright with you?" Everything from the tensed shoulders to the rigid posture on the couch suggested the exact opposite of the relaxed guise John was attempting to represent.
Fine, I'll play nice, Sherlock thought wearily. Teasing John might be fun in the short-term, but it became less so when his flat mate got up in arms about it. "I need you," Sherlock said sincerely.
John's eyes flickered briefly in surprise but then the walls were back up. "I'm sure you could ask your new friend David to help you."
"Aha!" Sherlock said in victory, prancing back into the room to sit next to John on the couch. "Jealous."
John sputtered, scooting away from Sherlock and bumping in to a startled Harriet, who meowed indignantly at the intrusion. "I am not!"
"Are too," Sherlock said smugly. "And anyway, there's no need. David was absolutely abysmal when it came to following orders. He kept questioning everything I was doing every step of the way. Tedious."
John's face remained serious on the surface, but Sherlock could see a muscle twitch under his eye, indicating suppressed forgiveness. "My value to you is in my ability to follow orders?"
Sherlock blanched slightly at the seriousness of the tone, but then stood up, scoffing. "Don't be ridiculous, John." A pause. "Are you coming?"
He looked so disarmingly sincere in that moment that John found himself standing up to follow. Jealous. I was so not jealous!
Yes, you were. But it was rather amusing, so don't worry. Besides, no one's as good as you.
Don't you forget that, Sherlock Holmes.
"Sherlock, what the hell!" John said, his voice coming out higher than usual. He had just walked through the door to the flat after work and had been slightly confused to see that his flat-mate was not lying on the couch or using his computer. He had wandered, bewildered, around to the other side of the couch only to see said flat-mate lying flat on the floor, eyes closed and limbs limp.
His mind had split in two – half of him was in a haze of panic – oh god, what did he do? Drugs? Was he poisoned? No, no, no! The other half snapped into doctor/soldier mode. He had vaulted the last few steps in record time and dropped to his knees, his hand jumping to Sherlock's throat to check for a pulse.
For a few dizzying seconds his fingers were shaking too badly to find it. Then, it was there. Steady and normal against the pads of his fingers. His heart had jumped to his throat when he had first seen his friend lying on the floor, but now it settled and slowed.
He wrinkled his forehead slightly, and then nudged Sherlock's shoulder with his hand. No reaction. He pushed harder. Nothing.
"Sherlock!" He yelled it like an order, and suddenly Sherlock's eyes shot open. He sat up so quickly that John had to back away across the floor to avoid skull collision.
For a second, he looked confused as to where he was, but then he seemed to figure it out. He leaped to his feet in one fluid motion, and then turned back to see John crouched on the floor.
"What are you doing down there?" he asked, his tone conversational.
John spluttered. "What am I doing – Sherlock – Oh my God are you…" He trailed off, realizing how ridiculous he looked, sitting on the floor. He got to his feet, feeling a phantom spasm of pain in his leg that often occurred when he was scared out of his wits. "What were you doing on the floor?"
Sherlock walked around the back of the couch and flopped down upon in, scooping Harriet up in one hand and placing her on his lap. John walked shakily around and sat in the armchair. Waiting for a response.
"Sleeping," John repeated. "You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
There was something so aggravating about that politely curious tone that John nearly jumped out of his seat and punched Sherlock right in the face. "You were just – lying there! For a moment I thought you were… Explain yourself!" He trailed off, sputtering.
"I was on the floor playing with Harriet. I was tired. Moving seemed like too much of a hassle."
Again, the voice was too calm and annoyingly cavalier for John's taste. "You really can't understand what scared me about this just now?"
Sherlock considered for a moment. "Oh."
"I'll do the shopping?"
John sighed. That was as good as it was going to get.
The flat was quiet. John glanced around and noticed Sherlock's absence, and for a second his pulse quickened in alarm. Sherlock Holmes didn't go out much, and John rarely came home to an empty flat. He glanced around the couch half-heartedly, wondering if Sherlock had decided to fall asleep on the floor again. Nothing.
He pulled out his phone and sent a quick text – Where did you go? – , opening the refrigerator and then closing it, deciding that ordering out was probably a better bet.
A buzzing sound came from the table in the sitting room.
"Oh, Christ," John muttered to himself, walking up to the table and picking up Sherlock's phone, which had just received his message.
However, he hadn't had time to become hysterical before his own phone buzzed in his hands.
So sorry if we've worried you, Doctor. I've taken my brother out. – Mycroft Holmes.
John nearly laughed out loud at that idea. Poor Sherlock. Poor Mycroft. Poor – oh, who was he kidding? They both deserved the torturous experience of being in each other's company.
But now… Hm. He had the flat to himself. He could call Sarah, but the two of them had been arguing a bit as of late. It seemed she was feeling a little jealous of John's friendship with Sherlock.
Which is ridiculous, John thought to himself, reaching for the television remote. It's not as if I don't make time for her. Not my fault my flat-mate is such a handful.
He had only been staring at the telly for ten minutes or so when he began to understand Sherlock's urges to shoot the wall full of holes. He hadn't been this bored since before meeting Sherlock. He was always either at work, on a case, or else at home with Sherlock, putting up with crazy antics.
Since when did he need Sherlock Holmes to keep himself from boredom?
And why exactly was it that he didn't seem to care?
Lestrade's contact had been surprised when he had asked about John Watson.
"Watson? Ah hell, don't tell me he's a suspect?" Tom Ivers had said. He sounded beyond shocked.
"No… No, nothing like that. Rather… professional curiosity."
Tom had chuckled a deep baritone chuckle at that, and had acquiesced soon enough, promising to call Lestrade when he pulled up official records – not, of course, that anyone in his circles hadn't already heard of John Watson.
"Christ, what did he do?" Lestrade asked. John didn't seem like a particularly memorable guy. Sure, he had been in Afghanistan, but Lestrade had never imagined that he had been or done anything particularly special. After Tom had told him the story, he wasn't sure whether or not he was glad to know.
When working at the yard, he had seen the army doctor in an entirely new light – a new light that practically forced him to speak up when Anderson made a snide comment towards John.
"Oy, show some respect!" Lestrade snapped. Anderson's mouth shut suddenly, his face taking on a disbelieving hue. Sherlock, who had been about to tell off Anderson himself, straightened up and faced Detective Inspector Lestrade, eyebrows raised. John just looked confused.
"What?" Anderson finally managed.
"I said show some respect."
Sherlock looked at Lestrade for a moment and then his mouth twitched upward. John glanced at him sideways. What? What is it?
Sherlock let his eyes flick to John for one second. You're not going to like it. Then, he turned to Lestrade. "You looked him up."
John knew Sherlock was right, because Lestrade's face flushed. Oh, Christ. Embarrassing.
Lestrade spluttered indignantly. "Alright. Yes. But come on, Sherlock, you know what he's done. He deserves respect. Gratitude."
Sherlock's lips pursed. "Unlike you and my meddling older brother, I respect John's privacy. So no, I don't know what he's done, beyond what I can guess."
John caught Sherlock's eye and smiled slightly. Thank you.
Lestrade seemed shocked. "You're living with a war hero and you've got no idea?"
John snapped a sharp look at Lestrade, but the Detective Inspector was oblivious.
"I have an idea," Sherlock said disdainfully. "I always have an idea. If John wants me to know, he'll tell me." Lestrade squirmed under Sherlock's gaze for a few moments, and then looked to John.
"Sorry. I shouldn't have…"
"No, it's fine. You were curious."
"Yeah. Um… Thank you, for…" He trailed off as John waved away the thanks, feeling his face grow hot. Sherlock was tense, clearly holding back a string of deductions. John had no doubt that Sherlock had guessed a lot of the truth concerning John's injury, and was extraordinarily grateful that he was keeping quiet.
He took a step closer to his friend, and Sherlock turned subtly in his direction. His eyes were piercing. I won't ask. But I do wish you'd tell me.
John knew that Sherlock Holmes was used to living alone. It was more than that – he was used to being alone, in almost every sense of the word. But now-a-days, they were a team. They had gotten so good at their own little language that just the use of Sherlock's name was enough to get a message across.
"Sherlock." Lilted up at the end, nearly like a question. What are you up to? What are you thinking about in that brilliant head of yours, and are you going to invite me in? He used this tone when Sherlock had stopped sharing insights mid-thought, usually on a case.
"Sherlock!" A sharp reprimand. Sometimes it was accompanied by a brief grip on the shoulder. This worked well when Sherlock said something unnecessarily rude – Usually to Lestrade or Donovan. When it was Anderson, John usually let it slip.
"Sherlock…" Hesitant. Cautious. When Sherlock Holmes was upset there was often very little to be done. Usually he just had to sit with him. And that was enough.
"Sherlock," A greeting. Simple. The complexities of the name rolled off of John's tongue and through the air. It was almost a pleasure to speak so casually with someone like Sherlock Holmes. That someone so truly remarkable could count John as a friend was something hard to get used to.
"Sherlock." Relief. The feeling of those long hands pulling away the rope from his chafing wrists, or wresting off an explosive vest with frantic questions. Sometimes, when the world was falling apart, it was enough to know that Sherlock was there to stop it from exploding.
"Sherlock." Exasperated. The flat was a warzone again, or he'd been repeating the name over and over several times, and his oblivious flat-mate was off in another mental universe. Answer me! What the hell is that greenish stuff in the fridge?
"Sherlock." A command of sorts. Come on. There's nothing more to be discovered here. You're pissing people off at the crime scene again. It was almost akin to calling for a dog – Here boy! Come on, now. It's time to leave. If anyone else tried this (mainly, a certain man by the name of Mycroft) they'd be subject to one of the truly burning glares that Sherlock could produce on a moment's notice. With John, a small eye-roll was followed most often by obedience.
"Sherlock!" Shouted through a window. That little pill was hovering in the air above Sherlock's mouth, taunting John with its tiny ability to take away a life. John had only known Sherlock for a day, but there was no hesitation in pulling the trigger. He needed Sherlock alive, if only to berate him for his idiocy later on.
"So what have you guessed?" John asked. He tried to make his tone sound politely disinterested, but knew he had failed miserably when Sherlock turned to him, raising his eyebrows sardonically.
"About what, exactly?" Sherlock said, a perfunctory statement. It had only been two days since Lestrade had revealed his knowledge of John's record, and Sherlock had been waiting for John to bring up the topic.
John brushed away Sherlock's question with the slightest twitch of his hand. Sherlock was hesitant to speak – he wanted, very desperately, to know if he was right about what he'd deduced. He didn't, however, want to upset John in the process.
John sensed Sherlock's trepidation, and nodded in encouragement. Sherlock sat on the couch and templed his fingers, observing John in his chair. "Well. I've seen your scar, so I know you shot from behind. I know enough about you to know you weren't running away from gunfire. I can also tell from the scar that the gun shot came from above you – I would surmise that you were kneeling down and tending to a patient when you were shot."
John nodded ever so slightly, both affirming Sherlock's theories and allowing him to continue. Sherlock didn't celebrate this victory. That much of the story had been clear to him.
"You miss the war – Mycroft was right about that much." Sherlock's eyes met John's for a moment – Sorry. I don't much like it either. "You thrive in high-risk situations. You didn't leave the war by choice, clearly, but your emotions pertaining to Afghanistan are more than just a craving for action." He paused apologetically. John's shoulders were tensed but his eyes were resigned.
You're right, of course. But I know you need to say it.
"So… You lost someone. Perhaps even the person you were trying to save when you were shot."
John nodded again. "Yes. I did." Sherlock didn't do "comforting," or "sympathy." He stared at John for a moment, and John stared back.
I am sorry. And I'm sure it wasn't your fault.
I appreciate that.
Of course, Sherlock and John didn't need words anyway.
"The way Lestrade was looking at you. You got a medal or a reward of some kind." Sherlock said, knowing John needed him to move on.
"Yeah… I… do you want to know?" John asked.
YES! Sherlock thought. "Only if you want to tell me."
John only hesitated for a moment, which made Sherlock realize that perhaps he wanted – or needed – to tell this to somebody. He felt oddly humbled that John had chosen him.
"In short, I was trying to bandage up a GSW to the stomach when the gunfire started. We weren't under cover, and he probably wouldn't have made it anyway… But I couldn't…" Leave him.
Of course you couldn't. John was truly incredible.
"Well… I got shot, but I dragged my friend away anyway, and… well, I picked up a gun and took out five or six of them."
Sherlock's eyes widened involuntarily.
"And then, before I passed out, I pulled a few more guys under cover… they tried to get me to stop, but I honestly thought I was dead anyway. I didn't want them to waste time or resources on a dead man."
Sherlock was silent for a few seconds. Finally, he said the only thing he could think of. "I'm really glad they didn't listen to you."
John smiled. "I guess I am too."
"How did you manage this?" John asked, holding up a very familiar object for display. They were in a taxi on the way home from a case that Mycroft had recruited them for. Sherlock had somehow gotten a hold of his elder brother's umbrella.
Sherlock smirked, his face taking on a look of deep amusement. "I'm a lot quicker than he is. I snatched it while you were busy talking to that suspect."
"You mean witness."
"Why, don't you suspect her?"
"Why should I?"
"Why else would she have smeared mascara and no tear-tracks?" Honestly, John.
Hey. Watch it with the superior attitude. "Isn't it a bit petty, stealing possessions from your brother like that? You are adults, after all," John said, keeping his gaze fixed out the window. He still knew exactly what Sherlock's face was doing, however. He could picture it perfectly – the drawn in eyebrows and the nearly mean twist to the mouth. He didn't take kindly to being insulted, but he was also remarkably aware of his own nature.
"I am petty when it comes to Mycroft, true enough." That's ALL I'll be conceding to, John. Don't push it.
"You two are like a couple of elementary-school kids arguing over toys in the sandbox."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, and took the umbrella back from John, twisting it importantly through his hands. "It's a quirk of his, this umbrella. He'll either spend money on a new one, which of course he realizes I'll find hilarious, or he'll have to make a special trip just to get this one back, which he'll find a demeaning waste of time." Either way, I win.
John sighed deeply and stared at Sherlock, his eyes rolling upward for what felt like the millionth time this week alone. It's not winning. The fact that either of you are even engaged in the game is beyond ridiculous.
"Don't tell me you and Harry never got in to it?"
"But we've got real problems!" John said, pushing aside the suggestion that his and Harry's quarrels were anywhere as ridiculous as Mycroft and Sherlock.
"And you think we haven't?" I've thrown you off with this one. You know I won't tell you, and I know you'll always wonder.
"Fine, Sherlock. Tell me about your childhood." I know you're not going to, blast it. You win again.
The cab pulled up to the flat on Baker Street before Sherlock had a chance to respond. He leaned against the folded-up umbrella as he walked towards the door. It really did make a nice walking stick.
When Sherlock Holmes played the violin, there were two very possible and very different outcomes that John had learnt to expect.
There was the random pulling and pushing of strings, discordant chords. It was an extremely accurate way of gaging his mood – anger and frustration swirling through the air. It meant – I can't think! The answer exists, but I can't find it anywhere.
"Want some tea?" John would ask on such occasions. This could be translated to mean general, vague support for whatever was going on in Sherlock's head, since there was no way he was capable of understanding it to its full extent.
There were three possible answers to this question.
"Yes." I'm not so far gone that I can't hear you, and I can feel the answer is on its way. No nicotine patches necessary.
"No." I'm not so far gone that I can't hear you, but I'm too frustrated to bother with trivialities like tea. Leave me alone.
Silence. Trouble. I'm spiraling out of control.
John made him tea no matter what Sherlock said, and it was always gone within ten minutes.
If Sherlock wasn't pulling at strings randomly, he was employed in the other of two possibilities: Playing beautiful music.
John had no real knowledge of such things but he was constantly in awe – as he was so often with Sherlock Holmes – of the talent he possessed.
One of the most telling things about their entire friendship was his song selection – John could remember so well Sherlock talking about his "deletion" of unnecessary facts, which was what made Sherlock's violin-playing tendencies all the more incredible.
He remembered John's favorites. He played them when John was cross or stressed or tired or whatever the case might be. He deleted things like the solar system or who the prime minister was, but John's favorite songs were worth remembering. It was enough to end all arguments and restore balance every time.
When Sherlock walked into the flat to silence, he wasn't particularly concerned. After all, John had plenty of reasons to be absent. He could be with Sarah, or late at work, or even having dinner with Stamford or one of his other old friends. It was unusual, though, to find the kitchen devoid of a note and his phone empty of any new texts or calls.
They had never talked about it, but it was something they had been doing since Moriarty and the pool. No freaking out or frantic phone calls – just a text, to say where you were going at all times. It kept the panic attacks at bay if he knew where John was, and that he was safe.
The absence of any such text was slightly worrying, but Sherlock knew his paranoid brain was jumping ten steps ahead of the actual reality. In all likelihood, John was perfectly alright. Even so… A quick text wouldn't hurt.
Where are you?
He managed to let the kitten distract him for 10 minutes before he sent another text.
John. Where are you?
Alright, so worrying was probably illogical, but that didn't mean that there wasn't a chance something was wrong. Another two minutes.
Beginning to suspect another kidnapping. Must remember to plant tracking signals in your shoes. Where are you?
Four texts and two missed calls later and Sherlock was pacing the apartment, waiting for the moment he would step across the line into full-blown panic and call Mycroft. He had just allowed his shaking fingers to find his brother's name in his contacts when the sound of the door opening below caught his ear.
Footsteps. John's footsteps. Sherlock would know them anywhere. He sat down and tried to act unconcerned, but then John entered the flat looking bored more than anything else, and he felt himself snap.
"Where the hell were you?"
John swiveled to face him, looking startled at the anger in his tone.
"Out with Sarah. Why? What's wrong?"
"You didn't… I just tried texting you seven times," Sherlock muttered, annoyed at how petty it all sounded. John heard the real intent of the sentence effortlessly. I was worried. Extremely worried. And now I'm angry.
"Sorry. I'm really… phone died. I should have called."
They stared at one another in silence for a few minutes, Sherlock noting John's truly apologetic expression and John observing Sherlock's stern set of the shoulders with some measure of bewilderment.
"You should have. For all I knew, you had been… That is, I thought that perhaps…"
"Moriarty? Yeah. I know it was stupid. I should have called."
Sherlock smiled grimly and moved slightly over on the couch, a silent invitation. John walked over and sat down next to him, sighing tiredly.
"Yes, you should have," Sherlock said, his tone once again controlled and cool. But you're forgiven, always.
John broke his arm in the stupidest of ways. His choice of location was commendable, he supposed. He had been right outside work in the parking lot when his phone had vibrated.
Bored. – SH
He had been half way through a response – Please don't shoot holes in the wall. I'm just leaving w –
It happened before he could finish the word. BAM! And that was how a frantic relative of a patient had come driving, careening into the lot and slammed into the unwitting Doctor Watson.
When he came to on a stretcher in the hallway, his first thought was to curse the recent decision to list Sherlock as his emergency contact. This feeling became completely justified as soon as Sherlock arrived.
"What did you do?"
"What makes you think I did something?"
"Never mind. A car hit you. How did you not see a car coming toward you?"
"How did you know it was – oh, never mind. I need an x-ray to see if it's broken."
Sherlock's eyebrows had creased in what could have been mistaken for worry. "You're a doctor. Shouldn't you know if it's broken?"
"It's broken. But they've got to run their tests."
"Hm. Your timing is awful, by the way."
John raised his eyebrows, by-passing the tedium of the spoken word. What do you mean? There's nothing going on at home.
"Lestrade called while I was in a cab on the way over here. Triple murder just ten blocks from the flat." Sherlock looked down, away from John for a moment with a peculiar expression on his face that John took to mean 'guilt.' It could be translated into an admission that he had seriously considered heading straight to the crime scene instead of stopping at the hospital.
John sighed. "Go on, then. It's just a broken bone."
The answer came so immediately that it shocked the man who had said it. "Don't be ridiculous."
"I – " Sherlock paused, looking miffed about something. They both realized what it was simultaneously.
He doesn't want to go without me.
I don't want to go without him.
That's more than a little irritating.
"Alright, if you insist."
They grinned at each other, and John became aware that the pain in his arm had lessened considerably. Maybe listing Sherlock an emergency contact had been the right move after all.
XXV. Yard Work
The three victims kept Sherlock silent for an unusually long time. John had been speaking with Lestrade and Donovan a little ways off from the actual scene of the crime, and when he approached he found the consulting detective staring very intently between the three bodies. So severe was his concentration that he was actually choosing to ignore Anderson's tirade of complaints and insults from a few feet away.
If that hadn't been a big enough clue that something was wrong, the victims told him the rest.
"What? What is it?" Anderson seemed to be oblivious as always. Lestrade walked up and John and Sherlock turned to him simultaneously.
Sherlock was often ten steps ahead of John on cases, but at this moment they were on exactly the same page.
"What are their names?" Two voices.
Lestrade looked startled. "You want to know their names?"
Sherlock didn't deem that question with a response. He waved his arm carelessly and turned to glance at John, their faces solemn.
"You look a little pale, there, Sherlock. Would you like a seat?" Lestrade asked.
"The names," John snapped.
When Lestrade finally found the pages in his file, he read them off, his tone more confused than anything.
"The older woman – that's Mrs. Harrison. Then the tall fellow, that's Samuel Hargrove. The blonde man's called James Whitcom.
"And are the victims connected in any way?" Sherlock asked.
"Not as far as we can tell. But there's got to be some sort of pattern. Do you have – " Lestrade cut off mid-sentence, suddenly aware he was being ignored. John and Sherlock seemed to be having some sort of silent conversation, which ended when they turned towards the bewildered Lestrade and spoke together.
"What? How do you figure?"
Sherlock glanced briefly at John with the customary eye-roll. He's so slow. "The victim's appearances and the initials of their names match Mrs. Hudson, John, and Myself. Clearly a message from Moriarty."
The members of Scotland Yard all stared at the victims with new interest.
"Why would he choose Doctor Watson and Mrs. Hudson, though?" Anderson's nasally voice poked through the tense silence.
"He's trying to hurt me, clearly."
"Why would that – "
"Anderson, just keep quiet for once," John said. "Sherlock – maybe we should back down from this one."
No one was more shocked than Sherlock Holmes himself at the answer he gave.
"That's probably best."
"What sort of case is this, anyway?" John asked, staring with some understandable confusion over Sherlock's shoulder at the computer screen.
"Apparently, the dead have risen," Sherlock said, his voice gleeful.
John walked around the desk and stared, waiting for Sherlock to look up at him so he could raise his eyebrows. This is ridiculous. Why are you interested?
"Honestly, John. Do keep up. What's interesting is not the nonexistent zombies inhabiting London. What's interesting is why someone thinks they exist."
"In other words, you've got a case that will prove how messed up human beings are."
"True. But that's not all."
"Obviously. It's also distracting you from Moriarty."
Sherlock looked up from the computer screen, his eyes suddenly serious. "That's hardly a simple task."
"I'm aware. Are you going to – I mean, that thing with the bodies…"
"Was clearly an attempt to get me to retaliate. If I do, then I'm just playing his game."
"Alright…" John trailed off, staring intently at his flat-mate. "Your solution, then, is to do nothing."
"I think that will aggravate him the most, yes."
"And we want to aggravate Moriarty?" John said. Sounds a bit dangerous to me.
"For now." Sherlock paused, pursed his lips in thought, and then continued. "Look, John – could we just leave it? For now? There's a young woman certain she saw a legion of the dead rise up and wander down the street in front of her home."
"Infinitely more interesting, I suppose."
"Less dangerous for the both of us, certainly."
The logical follow-up question felt heavy in John's mouth, but the words were unnecessary. Since when did you start worrying about danger?
Sherlock glanced at John and then away, quickly. Since Moriarty strapped you to a bomb.
"For all that you're a genius, you've certainly failed in one respect," John said, wandering over to the couch and scooping up Harriet with his unbroken arm.
"What's that?" Sherlock's voice had the start of indignation in it.
Sherlock sighed, closing the laptop and turning the chair around to face John. Almost unconsciously, he leaned forward and scooped the kitten from John's hand, stroking her behind the ears. "What on earth do you mean by that?"
John grinned, noting the smile on Sherlock's face as Harriet pushed her face into his palm with a tiny, content meow.
"You're a terrible sociopath."
John couldn't help but laugh at the scowl on Sherlock's face as he gingerly removed the kitten from his lap and handed her back to John. "Take that back."
When a true meeting of the minds occurs, words become obsolet