Art of the Reasoner.
Summary: A world in which Sherlock is an artist, not a detective. Though that doesn't mean he can't help solve crimes. AU.
A/N: It might have been influenced by watching Van Gogh: Painted with Words where Cumberbatch was a fantastic Van Gogh. I loved the artist before the actor, but now it's made me love them both even more. *^*
"It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner should be used rather for the sifting of details than for the acquiring of fresh evidence."—Silver Blaze, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Originally posted at Livejournal: 29 January, 2011.
Sherlock didn't see the world like others did. Well, short of climbing into their heads, he could never technically see how others did. Though the concept did intrigue him.
While Sherlock couldn't use other people's eyes to see the world, they took photos, painted and sketched just exactly what they saw and then some, which was a good enough indicator to him.
He had always seen in, what he had dubbed, '4-D vision'. From what he could find, no one else saw the world filled with floating letters and numbers, answer after answer overlapping and crashing into one another. Sherlock occasionally wondered whether he was a robot—didn't robots see with a frame of binary numbers running up and down, or was that simply Hollywood propaganda?
There had always been another element to how he saw things, as if his eyes could cut through it all to its very heart—to the truth, as it were.
When Sherlock was younger, he had been encouraged to draw like any child was apt to by parents giving him crayons to occupy his attentions with. Except he didn't create the atypical, awkward stick figures. Sherlock drew with a concentrated fervour that normal children didn't have on things they shouldn't have noticed: the chipped nails of his mother's hands; a spidery crack in the pavement; the erratic way shadows fell with multiple light sources.
All of his pictures, varied and random yet oddly fixated, all had one major thing in common—words. Words, though in the beginning were little more than incoherent scribbles, filled the blank spaces, occasionally bleeding over into the drawings themselves. It was observation after observation of the minutest detail listed for the world to see.
Sherlock quickly learned to draw faces because they had the most amount of interesting knowledge to impart on paper. Faces were important.
The human face had so many little details that only Sherlock seemed to see. But he wanted everyone else to see it, too. Creases at the eyes—stress, fatigue, aging; lips dry and a spot of blood—worry, gnawing on lip, pain; stubble on chin—busy, unable to shave. Sherlock noticed a little bit of everything, and his mother was beginning to worry at just exactly how many sketchbooks he was filling up.
He didn't have the heart to tell her he had decorated his walls with pencil marks, filling up every space he could with knowledge. It was biting at him at every moment his hands were still. Like his mind couldn't stop running unless it knew Sherlock was doing something with the information that was so very unhelpful and pointless but there all the same.
Mycroft was good, aiding as best as he could, giving Sherlock stacks of papers and canvases and paints of all colours. Sherlock had painted his brother dozens—no, countless amounts—of times, over and over until he was able to recreate a portrait of his brother off by heart. The writing had almost stopped for Mycroft because all that ever needed to be written had already been done so, in another page of Sherlock's many books or another paint-streaked canvas.
Even his parents, whom Sherlock both loved and adored, he never drew so much. When he did, he always cut out their faces. Refused to paint the faces because the writing that followed—like an impulse, impossible to tame or control—horrified him. When he was old enough to really understand what he was writing on a level more than childish naivety, he saw that their relationship wasn't an entirely happy, nor a healthy, one. It was intense, like they would die for the other without a single word of protest. More than love—it was complete self-sacrifice.
It scared Sherlock, to be honest. So he tried to ignore it.
Hands were something Sherlock fixated on next, the lines and wrinkles never repeating, always unique and devilishly hard to recreate with pencils. Dirt under short nails—accustomed to manual labour; indent in finger—once a ring but now absent, perhaps a failed relationship?; smooth, soft skin—a child's hands, naive, innocent.
His hands were long and bony, kind of garishly cartoonish if he looked at them long enough. Sherlock didn't care that they were slightly abnormal. They allowed him to draw and that was more than enough.
School was an indescribable torture to Sherlock; seeing so much but being unable to record it anywhere safe. His notebooks had more drawings than schoolwork, and he came home every day with ink-stained fingers—red, blue, black and green. Often he could be seen ignoring the teacher in favour of drawing or sketching and occasionally simply writing, because schools, while painful, had so much sensory input it nearly drove him mad.
Some days, Sherlock thought he had gone mad at school. It wasn't an impossibility for him.
Tables and chairs where he was sitting were soon marked by his rather distinct handwriting and art. His graffiti was never quite intentional, his mind usually connecting sights to his hands and fingers before the filter registered that it was wrong. No matter though, because Sherlock kept going at it, drawing and writing and trying to rid himself of all the words he could see.
His parents and teachers were concerned, but Sherlock wasn't an idiot. He was distracted, yes, but he knew enough to pass his tests, finish his assignments and complete his homework. Sherlock rarely talked to other students, always too lost in his own mind to really care, so there were no complaints about making a nuisance of himself. In the end, Sherlock was left as he was because there was no real reason to justify forcing change on him.
Somewhere along the line, Sherlock discovered an old violin in his attic—probably while he was trying to find more space to work—and another way of converting information was handed down to him. His parents were initially hesitant to give him lessons, but they caved in the end.
Sherlock did not take to the violin like a natural. His hands were more suited to scribbling and twitching gestures and he had to train himself to seek smooth movements with a bow. Grace and patience defined the days he learned to play. It was tiring, but a fruitful pursuit to Sherlock all the same.
When he learned enough, he quit his lessons and figured the rest out for himself. Something about the violin connected with another layer of what he saw. Emotions, and he tried to explain further but words failed him. They were more colours and impressions than words. Harder to paint, impossible to sketch, but infinitely easy to release into the air and convert into music.
Still, his hands preferred the twitchy, erratic movements and he soon left the bow to simply pluck at the strings with paint-stained fingers. Occasionally, to his mother's despair, he would play until his fingertips bled, strings turning blue and green and scarlet red.
As soon as he was capable, Sherlock moved out of his home in the countryside. His parents did not understand why, thinking it was another atypical move to branch away from his childhood and become an adult, but Sherlock left because he was freer that way.
The flat he bought was part of an abandoned complex on the outskirts of London, but the water worked and he had a decent generator for electricity. Creature comforts didn't matter when he got isolation, which was far better. He did have to spend a few days cleaning out of all the crap and dust that had accumulated over the years. Then he got down to work.
The walls, floors and ceiling were all soon covered in art. The doors and the glass on the windows followed quickly, as did furniture like tables and chairs. All the tiles in his bathroom were painted individually, as was the ceramic toilet bowl.
Things he saw during the day he immediately would jot down somewhere to remind himself—he carried a messenger bag full of notebooks and pens for that very reason—and then in his studio he would recreate. His memory and visual recall were growing more powerful by the day. It was fascinating.
It was painful, too. Information died as soon as he covered it; released it from him through his arm and into a pen, to paper, to canvas, removing it from his mind like deleting a document from a computer. But when he couldn't remove it from his mind, it cluttered, filling his brain with pointless information that stopped him from accessing the important things.
So Sherlock painted and painted and painted, over his walls and over old images; over and over again. Sketching was something he did when his brain was just a buzz and the white letters turned grey at the edges. Then on the days where the sun was up high and there was a lovely scattering of clouds, Sherlock would go to the park and play his violin, uncaring that he was a multitude of colours or that his skin was going taut and grey as he worked himself to the ground.
On a park bench, he could play any song that came to mind. He loved the classics, but preferred to freestyle from what he saw—tenderness for the couple having an anniversary picnic; joy for children playing in the playground; melancholy for the homeless man beside him. The violin was the only time he could tell the world the emotions he saw. Coins and notes occasionally fell before him, but he always picked it up and gave it to someone he felt deserved it more. He had enough money for now, so there was no need to get greedy.
Everyone was so blind. Just because he could see shouldn't make him privileged.
For a while his life was good, even as his head swam with the fumes of paint, and his nails blackened by charcoal residue. He had to replace his bow and his violin strings a number of times, but he personally felt his music was best played with a frayed bow.
Because that was how he felt. His entire life felt frayed around the edges.
He needed inspiration. Just because the white letters were a swarm didn't mean he wanted it to go. When he was running out of new things to paint—at least, things he felt important enough to capture—Sherlock began to panic a little.
In hindsight, panicking never led to the best decisions.
Blood was similar to red paint but thicker—candy apple red, bright and vivid—and it swirled everywhere. It was something more than paint, the heady scent of rust and copper adding more words to the air. Fuzzy white words which were both indistinct and burningly clear, as if they were right there to be touched.
Electricity roared down Sherlock's veins—or was that the drugs? Either way, it was exhilarating. Sober, Sherlock could never have seen so many things. It was like his mind was ablaze with energy, things he had missed before coming forth in stark contrast.
A grating noise filled his ears and he noticed that he was carving spiralling grooves into the back of his violin, the knife scratching in pale lines that soon bloomed to resemble something like flowers. Every time he plucked a note, he could see music. Literally, see the music.
Years and years of playing and he'd missed all of this? He laughed as he realised that all this time he thought he could see he was really as blind as everyone else. How could he had missed all this information; all this delicious, stunning, glorious detail?
Of course he should have noticed the dust in the air, the way breathing left a distinct taste in his mouth from every rattling gasp, how the hairs of his paintbrush split in halves from use—
Sherlock woke up in hospital a few times. The feeling that followed was similar to a hangover, but more groggy and disorientating.
He hated every trip of course. The walls were always white—painfully so—and the words that floated around him were hard to see. The cleanliness was uncomfortable, the lack of colour and textures disorientating. He wanted the smell of paint to cover the taint of disinfectant in the air. Those points alone made it an awful experience.
Then there was the fact Mycroft was usually there when he woke, disappointed and tired and always making Sherlock feel guilty about liking the pressure of bandages on his skin and ashamed for longing for the cold prick of a needle sliding through skin and muscle.
"You need to eat more."
"You need to stop the drugs."
"You need to stop hurting yourself."
"You need to start thinking."
Mycroft said a lot of stupid, stupid things. Sherlock didn't need any of this. What he needed to do was show the world what he saw. The irony didn't pass him that he didn't actually show the world anything he made at all. His brother had suggested selling his art though—had gone far enough to suggest a few buyers—but Sherlock had always said no, too attached and knowing that he'd need those canvases to paint over later.
Sometimes Sherlock did commissions though. He never got fixated with those because they were what others saw, not what he saw. They were boring, mindless, dull pieces of art, copies and not interpretations, but they brought in money he used for more... fascinating outlets.
Sherlock saw a lot of things, quite an extraordinary amount of things, but he didn't see that his family would seek to throw him into rehab. The pain of withdrawal was excruciating. It was an agony worse than being unable to draw, unable to communicate, unable to put pen to paper and write down the letters to understand. Every moment felt like death, and every moment he wanted to die. It was a vicious never-ending cycle of aching hurt.
For a few terrifying days, Sherlock couldn't see anything at all but white and only white. As if the letters had completely filled and blocked his vision and without paint or pencils or paint to make it go away, he only could start screaming instead. It was the period of his life he least remembered.
On the day he was discharged, clean sober and fully free of drugs' enticing grip, Sherlock told his brother he was indebted—but would never forgive him for the pain. There was something darker about Sherlock's art from that day on. There were less vibrant colours and more details that shouldn't have been noticed.
Purple, blue, green—bruises shaped like fingers on reddened skin; black, dark green, brown—filth in an alleyway; pink, red, white—the insides of a dog run over on the road.
Wanting to get as far away from his brother's watchful eyes as possible, Sherlock travelled. He dipped into his meagre savings—not his trust funds, which his family had frozen—and planned a trip around the world. It was partly for leisure, but mainly for learning.
He wanted to learn more about what he could see and what it all meant.
For a while, he painted landscapes and exotic foods and strange miscellaneous items and places, all of which held far more of Sherlock's attention than people, which were a dime a dozen. There was something addictive about every sweep of the hills and every cluster of leaves. During his travels, he created like he was a man possessed.
Of course the logistics of carrying around these canvases and sketchbooks was difficult to work around at first, but Sherlock eventually rented out a secure warehouse and sent his works there for storage. In the beginning, he painted mainly: deserts and sand dunes; grassy meadows and wheat fields; rocky outcroppings over red, red dirt.
Few words invaded these paintings, though. He didn't have to write any of the floating words down because he could feel that what he saw in the peace of country sides was infinitely obvious to those who passed it. Peace, tranquillity, harmony.
As time passed, more people appeared in his art again. Like he was trusting humanity again, giving their profiles another go.
He filled over three sketchbooks with magnified views of jewellery—the hint of an earring beneath bushy hair; the glint of a cufflink covered by a wrist; a beautiful, intricately woven necklace, bursting with coloured beads and feathers. Those were the most smudged of his work, scribbles of tarnished metals and well loved shine dotted the margins and curled in on themselves like spirals when room ran out.
Sherlock hated drawing ordinary people. He liked drawing the people beneath ordinary. Very soon, he sought out the homeless and others society had shunned and asked to draw them. It was fascinating because he could reveal their entire life with one sitting, one painting to shout out to the world who they were and what they had done.
Sometimes what they had done wasn't very good at all. But Sherlock didn't judge so long as it was something interesting. He couldn't care less so long as it kept him occupied and focussed where the letters popped up.
Magenta, charcoal grey, sienna—blood, worn out clothes, murderer, eyes dead with regret; fuchsia, electric purple, lime green—a whore's outfit, trying to attract a buyer; grey, eggshell, cadmium yellow—a small orphan boy with the most marvellous blond hair and sticky pick-pocketing fingers.
Life was put into perspective. Everyone cared about the big picture, but it was the small details that made up a life. That's what should have mattered, but didn't. And as he traversed by foot, by car, by bus, plane, boat, horse and on one particularly memorable occasion, a llama—Sherlock taught himself to notice the details more and more.
No longer did Sherlock try to fight the letters that surrounded everything he saw. He embraced them.
Moving from place to place, Sherlock made sure he always stayed long enough to learn some of the language of the area. It was a theory he had—which eventually proved true when he woke up one morning to see floating German words intermingled with French and English.
The Spanish he recorded with oil paints, Chinese with watercolours, and tourists he rendered with charcoal and 2B pencils. In South America he worked with clay until his hands were cracked, dry and sore.
In some cities, he would randomly get coloured chalk and scrawl murals on the ground. He could write around the drawings until the chalk disappeared into dust, and if Sherlock was lucky, he would be around to watch the clouds burst with rain to wash away all his work. Watching it all disappear into streaks and blurs was something special in of itself.
For all that his talents were admired he had a few narrow misses with the law for defacing property.
How could he be faulted for wanting to experiment with the qualities of spray paint against grainy brick and wood?
Somewhere along the line, Sherlock took up smoking and drinking. Both were socially acceptable drugs to keep him stimulated, but he remained careful never to quite push the limits. He still had nightmares of rehab, after all.
The cigarettes gave him a hacking cough that made spots appear in front of his eyes, which he eventually painted alongside his words. Alcohol made everything appear in sharp detail, but his hands became too clumsy to put it to paper.
Eventually, he quit the cigarettes but not the nicotine. Sherlock would draw something on the back of every patch, hands twitchy as he tried to keep himself occupied. He gave up drinking because while it made everything stand out, it wasn't worth it if he couldn't record it and get the details down.
Music still made up a big part of his life, his violin following him everywhere. Part of him resented that he couldn't see the notes dance in the air without drugs. Still, he played what he felt and eventually decided that it was good enough for him. The unintentional busking helped him get extra cash for supplies and food, not that he ate much those days. Food was starting to really seem inconsequential. Skipping breakfast for a new brush seemed a worthy trade.
Whatever fat he'd been able to regain after rehab disappeared and his cheekbones threw daunting shadows on his face, all the more dramatic with his eyes gaunt from lack of sleep. For all that Sherlock spent time in the sun painting and busking and living, he never really tanned, still pale like a ghost.
He was living an artist's life, for sure. All he missed out on was a tantalising forbidden lover and some tragic love story. But he ended up skipping on that—not that he cared for that sort of thing to begin with.
All Sherlock needed was his hands and art supplies.
Paris was overrated, Sherlock thought. Of course, he went to pay dues to the artists of legend, but those works he really favoured were in Vatican City, not the Louvre. The sight of paintings decorating the ceiling while halls were lined with paintings made him a little homesick.
England could hardly compare to the illustrious nature of the world, but that's where Sherlock returned to.
His flat was still there, stinking of stale air and confined paint fumes. It was practically the same as when it made Sherlock happy, but now it felt too small, like claustrophobic inducing space. Sherlock wanted to move but Mycroft was somehow restricting his cash flow and England was an expensive place to live in, especially for an artist who hated commissions.
His brother was also obviously keeping an eye to see whether he'd fall off the wagon or not.
If Sherlock stayed sober in Amsterdam, then he would be fine in England. Hopefully. He slapped on another nicotine patch on his wrist and drew the Japanese character for knowledge on top of it with a red Sharpie.
The thought still itched and nagged at Sherlock though, like he wasn't trustworthy enough. He wanted to move away from the dreary city without a word of warning and give them all heart attacks. It would at least be more appealing elsewhere.
Except there was something strangely hypnotic and captivating about the grime and smog that blanketed London. He soon grew to know the streets in minute detail by walking down all of the side alleys most overlooked over and over again. There were details hidden away there that Sherlock liked recreating.
Alice blue, ash grey, tawny—a leaking rusted pipe; black, forest green, grey—a dumpster overflowing with black trash bags; feldgrau, amber, orange—a lone flower growing from a small crack in the concrete.
On the day Sherlock was sketching with watercolour pencils on his own homemade paper—an experiment in style—he noticed two fellows talking at the opening of the alley. He stayed quiet and observed them, noting the odd bone structure of the shorter one and an intriguing colourisation of bruising on the other.
He wanted to ask them to be models for him. Except he stayed quiet because even from where he was half hidden by a garbage bin he could see how their clothes screamed trying-to-be-discreet and there was a bulge under their jackets that hinted at a gun. Fascinating.
Sherlock stopped sketching the flower—beautiful study of colours, but dull all the same now—and flipped the page, already outlining the two men before him. The lines of their body were filled in quickly enough, muscle memory in his hands taking over the simpler aspect of clothes and stance. Those details could be added in later. He took his time with their faces though, taking pauses to choose the right colours that would capture the moment of half-fear and half-curiosity.
A Study in Secrecy, he would name the piece. He named all his pieces, but unless he wrote it down, he hardly had a reason to say it and would soon forget, so easily distracted by other things.
He had finished the taller man and was nearly finished the shorter man when there were sudden shouts and his unknowing models bolted. Sherlock wasn't too worried, having committed the scene to memory, but he sighed tiredly regardless. There was always something extra about art when he did it with a live model.
Looking down, he saw his hand had been busy filling the blanks while he had stared off into space.
Bulges indicates gun. Clothes indicate discretion. Bruising related to prior bouts with violence. Stances show men with power. Muscle structure display heavy training, perhaps as a bouncer or guard—gun presence means unlikely to be a policeman, though army personnel is an option. Eye contact = men know each other, not intimately on a romantic basis from boundaries of personal space in place, but as a business/partner-ship.
Minor criminals by the looks of things. Dull. Even a sordid love story would have been a little more remarkable. Collecting his things, Sherlock stood and walked out of the alleyway, looking up and seeing clouds he'd paint slate grey and wondered for a split second over the chances of rain. Fifteen percent at most, he decided before a voice made him look down sharply.
A man stood before him, a few inches shorter, eyes a brown darker than sienna and brown hair flecked with grey. Wrinkles on his face spoke of stress and the presence of calluses on certain parts of his fingers indicted a lot of writing—not a writer because they did their work, generally in this day and age, on the computer; so most likely someone face with a lot of paperwork. A black and white sketch of the man would do very well, maybe some blue to highlight certain areas.
Before Sherlock could firmly conclude any suspicious about him, his thought process was interrupted.
"Detective Inspector Lestrade," the stranger said as way of introduction. His face was set in a serious mask. "I'm going to have to ask you to come with me."
Sherlock briefly gave a thought to how he must look, his ratty old clothes streaked with paint and smears of charcoal ash and hands a jumble of various colours. He hadn't brushed his hair in what felt like years, and he had not gone out of his way to keep with the fashion trends, buying what was comfortable to move about in. Most definitely, his cheekbones were sharp enough to show he was a little unhealthy—though not starved from lack of food, but more of lack of time. There was no time to eat when he had to create.
Possibly the only thing he conceded to do was keep his face clean shaven and his hair a certain length, though that was more because he hated getting paint—especially acrylic—stuck in his hair.
However public opinion didn't matter one bit to him so the thought was banished from Sherlock's mind a second after he entertained it. His hands were busy with pencils and paper—HB pencils and college-ruled paper mind you, but it was something as opposed to nothing.
With nothing better to do than wait, Sherlock had taken up to drawing a characterture of the entire office. The layout was simple enough and he showed the inter-relationships of the staff he'd observed with little speech- and thought-bubbles. He hadn't been to many offices—too stifled and dull for him normally—but this one was busy and loud and thoroughly entertaining, papers littered everywhere in great stacks or tacked to walls.
Murder. Abduction. Theft. Assault. Homicide.
Concentrating on those papers—case files, really—for too long sent hundreds of words into his field of vision, causing a piercing ache to flare in the centre of his brain. Blinking rapidly a few times, Sherlock shook his head to clear it and went back to drawing. Sometimes constantly seeing the truth meant knowing when to stop looking.
"Should I be surprised that you're in police custody?"
Mycroft's voice was instantly recognisable, a dozen songs jumping into Sherlock's mind of what he could play on the violin to symbolise it. Looking up, Sherlock looked into a face that had barely any letters around it, familiar though a little more rotund. There was still affection for him, definitely, and an abstract version of fraternal love.
Then again, Mycroft's insinuation was enough to raise Sherlock's hackles into defensive mode. So Sherlock straightened his spine and replied haughtily, "Wrong place, wrong time. I didn't do anything."
"You do look remarkably present," Mycroft commented, his eyebrow raised as he peeked at what Sherlock was doodling.
"I haven't touched drugs in years," Sherlock replied coldly, a bite of anger inching into his tone. He scrunched up the piece of paper in his fist. Mycroft used to be the first person he showed his work to, when he wanted to show it to anybody. Not anymore.
"It only takes one—"
"Are you here to help or are you here to tell me pointless, trivial things?" Sherlock snapped. "If it's the latter, leave now because I'd prefer to be locked up." He wasn't lying.
Mycroft sighed, and nodded in the direction of the Detective Inspector's office, saying, "I've had a short word with him already. You can go."
"Am I going to get my papers back?" Sherlock asked irritably.
"No," Mycroft replied with a thin smile. "They've confiscated that for evidence. Since you so conveniently captured an image of the men they're chasing down."
Sherlock huffed but refused to speak any further. He walked past his brother, careful not to brush up against him in any way—showing, I still don't forgive you—and barged into the Detective Inspector's office without so much as knocking on the door.
Lestrade looked up with surprise, but Sherlock spoke before he could be interrupted.
"I want my things. Keep the sketch, fine, I can remake it at home," he said. "But I want my bag and my art supplies."
For a moment, Lestrade looked torn between amusement and annoyance. Luckily for Sherlock, the former beat the latter and Lestrade said, "One moment" before getting up and leaving the room, presumably to retrieve the items.
When he came back a few minutes later with the messenger bag in hand, Lestrade stared at the mess of files on his desk. Sherlock had gotten bored. He wanted a blue pen but all the ones visible were black or red. Finally, after rummaging around he found the blue pen and started tracing the veins on his wrist.
Drawing was the lesser of two evils because Sherlock's eyes were beginning to get drawn towards the open file, the one with photos and pictures. As Lestrade spluttered over the state of his workspace, Sherlock looked at his veins, all coloured in blue. The writing circled faded white scars, numbers telling of how old the wounds were.
He scribbled over the numbers and carelessly chucked the pen back on the table, standing up in one fluid movement and grabbing his bag back in the next.
"What the hell did you get up to?"
Sherlock didn't bother answering, checking that his bag was all right and that he had the majority of his supplies—though the paper he'd unfortunately have to remake at home.
"By the way, you know that abduction case?" Sherlock commented as he rummaged through his bag for a decent art pencil. "It's the husband." He should have kept quiet, but he knew this, the letters made complete sense floating and connecting answers with fine gold threads.
The blind should not lead the blind; especially when there was someone who could see.
"What?" Lestrade shot him an incredulous look, which Sherlock missed since his eyes were focussed on his bag. "How can you possibly tell?"
"The child, according to your files, is six. Children that young have to be entertained. Also, kidnappers normally wouldn't target a family barely above middle-class. It's something personal," Sherlock replied indifferently, as if talking about the weather. His years of bouncing from one country to the next, hanging out with people most others wouldn't dare make eye contact with—it gave him another perspective, more floating words, another element to how he interpreted the world.
"In the most recent photo in the file, a few weeks after the abduction, the father has finger paint staining the tips of his fingers—it's not just paintbut finger paint. There's a difference." Sherlock knew the difference was there from a fleeting glance. "And I doubt that's a hobby of his."
There was a beat of silence as Sherlock finally found the right pencil and tucked it behind his ear. He turned to walk out of the room, but paused for a second, adding, "Chances are he has a lover on the side; the colour of lipstick on the cuffs of his shirt doesn't match the wife's. Run a background check all the females who are in contact with the family. The girl will be there. Case solved."
"How hideous!" The client stared in horror at the portrait Sherlock had created in oil paints. "What have you done?"
Personally, Sherlock didn't know why the man was acting so affronted. He had followed the request perfectly: 'Show me as I am.'
How was he to know that apparently didn't include the double chin and the collection of pimple scars across his nose and cheeks? Sherlock couldn't be faulted for capturing the sickly yellow-orange fake tan, or for painting the hair with an oily sheen.
Honestly, Sherlock thought with a suppressed disgust, I told him to be more specific. If he wanted denial he should have ordered it.
The water in the bowl in which he was cleaning his paintbrushes was a foul green-grey—teal, but in the worst way—and Sherlock stared at the way the colours swirled over the surface, oil not quite mixing. Taking a deep breath, Sherlock steeled himself and turned around with a transparent grin.
"Shall I try again?"
"Yes, fine," the man snapped irritably, cheeks ruddy red. "Do it right this time! I told you: be realistic!"
When people asked for realistic in art, they rarely meant it—Sherlock knew what realistic was.
Wine stain on cuff—drinker, sloppy at best; thinning hair combed slick back—vain and insecure; gold rings and necklace—need to be ostentatious, to prove his worth. It was the description of a dull, vapid little man.
Sometimes Sherlock really despaired for humanity. He hated people like this man. Of course, Sherlock couldn't expect everyone to notice the details he did, but then there were idiots who were obviously, painfully obtuse, only seeing what they wanted to see.
As Sherlock started repainting the chin, he couldn't help but pretend he was cutting the throat of the man with his paintbrush, pink paint flowing and dripping down the neck like blood.
He was only pretending, of course.
There was a beeping coming from somewhere in his studio. The noise was driving Sherlock mad. It wasn't continuous, and it came and went, but the thing was that he couldn't find it.
His flat was a mess in its default state: open half-empty paint cans; stacks upon stacks of yellowing newspapers; faded copies of National Geographic, worn and tattered obscuring the coffee table; canvases lying propped up where ever there was room. It was chaotic in a way that looked like an art bomb had exploded and seeped its way into every crevice.
He wanted to scream but that wasn't destructive enough so Sherlock smashed one of his older easels, watching how it cracked and shattered into blocks and shards of wood. He emptied some white paint on top of them, mixing them so every wood piece was stained and then he hurled the pieces at a wall. They splattered with a sickening noise, sliding down slowly, leaving a white trail behind them as evidence of his anger.
Some might have called it an overreaction. But Sherlock hadn't slept in four days and he was tired and wanted peace and quiet.
"Goddamnit, stop, you sick little piece of technology!" Sherlock finally yelled, his patience broken. The beeping didn't respond to insults of course, and the noise persisted. Had Sherlock been insane—or more insane, depending on the definition—he might have thought the beeping had grown steadily shriller and louder to spite him.
The search for the source of the noise left a trail of destruction as he ran around, pushing stacks of papers over and rummaging through drawers without caring about the state of the contents. Eventually Sherlock uncovered a small object in one of the air vents.
Should have guessed, he thought mulishly. That was how the sound felt like it came from multiple rooms. Sherlock picked it up and turned it around in his hands. White paint from the earlier rampage flaked off and onto the object, which was a thin little phone and it was tied up with a garish white ribbon.
Sherlock reeled a bit; white noise, white letters, white ribbon and the smell of white paint overwhelmed him. Whitewhitewhite.
White for joy—for death—new beginnings—for endings—purity—eternity—for peace and tranquillity and ice and snow and endless white—
There were so many things white could have meant. Instead of wondering about it, over thinking the matter, Sherlock ripped off the ribbon and threw it on top of an overflowing paper scraps bin.
The chirpy beeping noise was still coming from the phone, so Sherlock fumbled around with the settings until he finally turned off the alarm. In the spot where a reminder should read 'appointment' or something similar, it instead said, 'Happy birthday, Sherlock. —Mycroft.'
In all honesty, Sherlock hadn't checked a calendar in weeks. It might have been April Fool's Day and he would have virtually no idea. Oh, he probably had known the date at some point but painted it away, removed it from his mind like he would destroy a canvas. Shredded, ripped, recycled but ultimately forgotten.
For a moment that lasted three beats of his heart, Sherlock stared at mobile phone and wondered whether it was worth the spite to throw it out. He liked cameras—but film cameras, not digital and certainly not phone cameras, because of the quality of the images. He didn't mind computers, and he did play around with using tablets to draw with, but preferred working with something he could touch and smell and feel over a digital screen. The idea of having a phone was laughable when everyone he talked to he could simply meet in person.
After that initial hesitation, he slipped it into his coat pocket, thinking he'd never use it but he could at least sell it for something useful.
Strangely enough, he never did get around to doing that.
When Sherlock was very young, very small, he had climbed up a tree. No one ever asked him why he climbed the tree. They assumed he was exploring like all good little boys were meant to do. But exploring implied some level of aimlessness. Sherlock had a very specific reason for climbing the tree.
He wanted to see the leaves at the very top of the tree. From a distance, the sunlight bounced off the shiny green surfaces in a way that sparkled, and he wanted to get closer. Maybe the light would be bright enough to hide away the squiggles that marred his vision, floating white somethings he soon learned no one else could see.
Unfortunately for him, he had slipped and fallen and broken his leg. He didn't cry, not even as they put the cast on his leg. His mother was unsettled, he could see that, but he just sat blank faced as they set his bone.
Though Sherlock never did reach the top of the tree, distracted by a singing bird which made him twist and fall without a scream, he did find out a way to blot out the squiggles.
His cast was bright white and while confined to his bed, he spent hours simply staring at it. Long enough that the floating squiggles faded and almost disappeared in the cavernous nature of the whiteness engulfing his vision.
For a long time, Sherlock had convinced himself that getting rid of what he could see that no one else could would help him fit in better, make him a little more normal.
It didn't. In fact, the white was horrendously uncomfortable, and Sherlock itched in his own skin.
So he covered up the whiteness like he would do so on paper. He got some paints and smeared it on the cast and then asked for some felt tips to write on top of that.
The relief that followed when his leg was encased in colours and letters was strangely overwhelming. But forgettable—it was so inconsequential.
If it were not for the fact Sherlock had kept his x-rays—somewhere in the flat, perhaps hidden in a sketchbook or maybe even painted over—then Sherlock might not have even remembered the incident.
"Where the hell are you?" Sherlock grumbled under his breath, rummaging through his things like a madman. In a way he was fortunate to be such a social recluse because the state of his flat was anything but inviting.
He had been cooped up in his flat for two solid weeks, the rains making an outside venture impossible and pointless. He could hardly accomplish anything with water destroying his canvases and turning his paper into mush. The one day he did try brave the torrents of rain, he came back freezing and soaked to the skin.
Today was excellent though because the rains had stopped. Sherlock was going to run out to the park—or somewhere open—and play his violin because going stir-crazy in his home was not an option. All the words floating by his head felt as listless as him, fuzzy and indistinct.
Dull. When had art become dull?
He could barely drag himself to eat during the worst of the heavy rains, but now that the sun was out—barely peeking through the clouds, but sunshine nonetheless, all shades of golden yellow and lemon—Sherlock felt like he was bursting with energy. It was revitalising and completely exhilarating.
Sherlock's violin and bow were leaning against the door, looking like a dog eager to leave the house and play (broken A-string notwithstanding).
His scarf was hanging loosely around his neck, always a ready choking hazard should it get caught in anything. It was threadbare and fringed with burn marks—from a test in varying charcoal textures; store bought and homemade.
However, Sherlock found himself busy trying to find his favourite coat. It was long and warm and mostly waterproof. He didn't buy it, the item far too expensive for his usual tastes, but it was something his mother had given him. She was smart to exploit the little sentimentality Sherlock had with something practical to keep him healthy.
Halfway through pulling his mattress up to see whether the coat was caught underneath, he heard it: an annoyingly familiar chirping beep.
The flare of irritation dissipated when Sherlock remembered: the phone was in his coat pocket.
Finding the coat was easy now he had a sound to track it with. It turned up underneath the couch pillows, though he had no recollection of how it got there. Tugging it on, he patted down his pockets until he found the still ringing phone. Accepting the call, he put it to his ear and sighed loudly in exasperation.
"Mycroft, I bloody well told you—"
"Hello? Sherlock Holmes?" queried a slightly static voice that was most definitely not his brother. Casting his mind for the voice, Sherlock couldn't quite place it. Male, most likely but—oh.
"Detective Inspector Lestrade?" Sherlock replied cautiously, wondering what supposed trouble he was in now. He spared a fleeting glance at the open window and frowned at the idea he might miss out on the sun. "How did you get this number?"
Then he shook his head and said, "Wait, don't answer that. Mycroft's the only one that knows this; he must have given it to you. Whatever illegal activity he thinks I'm doing, I'm innocent."
That drew a startled laugh out of Lestrade.
"No, no, no," he chuckled. "I'm here to thank you. Your sketches led us right to the culprits. They are startlingly accurate."
"Hmph," Sherlock replied, tone noncommittal. That had been nearly a month ago. He'd redrawn the image on one of the kitchen cupboards and decidedly forgot about it. It wasn't important.
What was important was every second passed wasted indoors.
"And," Lestrade hesitated and continued, "About that abduction case. You were completely right about it. It took a while to get the search warrant, but when we did, it all came out. The kid's fine."
There was a following moment of awkward quiet where Sherlock debated how to take the social cue to say something. He honestly couldn't care less about the story. He had already known he was right—affirming after so long did nothing.
"I'm sure this is all lovely, Inspector," Sherlock finally said with a growing impatience, "but I really do have things to do—"
"Yes, right. I'll cut to the chase." There was a deep breath during the pause, before Lestrade said firmly, "I want to offer you a job."
One day, Sherlock woke up and looked at his flat and decided, This is too small.
It was too long a walk from the hustle and bustle of life. When the generator failed, it was inconvenient to live without the electricity lighting everything up. Some might have considered painting by candlelight very romantic and a throwback to some old renaissance era, but it really strained Sherlock's eyes and when he painted or sketched in the dim lighting the paintings didn't turn out like he wanted.
Sherlock didn't spend that much money: the flat he had bought; the generator made his electricity; the price of water was minimal; and food was more an offhand thought rather than something he regularly stocked in his shelves. He wasn't quite sure what taxes he paid because officially he was unemployed—freelance artist that hated commissions didn't quite cut it—but Mycroft took care of that part of things. The only thing he fixated on getting money for was his art supplies.
But then Sherlock decided, This is too small, so he started being more careful with the money he did bring in. He took on a few more commissions—as stupid as they were—and made sure he didn't break anything that would be costly to replace.
The saving process was a little slower than usual because Sherlock had impulse urges to get higher quality supplies when he saw them, and occasionally the odd purchase—oh look, is that a real human skull? How fascinating!
Slowly, but surely, the money in the old paint can was growing and growing by the weeks.
He had a plan, an odd feeling since he generally wandered around and went where the current took him. But when a Holmes had a plan, well, God help us all.
Electric blue, electric yellow, electric crimson—the colour of sirens and alarms and lights in the night, all so vibrant and hypnotic.
"The job offer is still open."
Sherlock looked up with a flat expression from where he was sitting on the ground. Someone—a paramedic, probably—had put on his shoulders a garish orange blanket which Sherlock thought would be fun to paint on. Within his bag he had some nearly finished acrylic tubes and the good part of a broken paintbrush, so he had set to work when everyone's attentions were turned to the dead bodies.
"Are you still harping on about that?" he asked as he finished the rough outlines of a police car, the writing in Sharpie next to it listing how many years the vehicle was in service and how times it had crashed and how. Three years, two no wait, three collisions because of the varying number of paint flakes embedded in the scratches.
"My answer is the same as before," Sherlock declared. "No."
"Well, you get dragged into crime scenes often enough that you might as well be on our payroll," Lestrade pointed out in a dry voice.
"Pardon me for finding criminals and other unfortunates so much more engaging to observe and record rather than upstanding, average citizens."
Lestrade crouched down and sighed heavily. Shirt wrinkled, jeans worn, shadow of stubble—hadn't gone home in two days, overtime; smells of coffee and cigarettes—mix of stress and fatigue; his wristwatch ten minutes slow—too busy to notice or care about the battery failing.
"Don't you realise that you could help if you wanted to?"
"That's my brother's job, not mine."
"Your brother? The one that gave me your phone number?"
"Yes, that's him. And don't sound so interested. The British government's already snapped him right up." Sherlock paused and frowned, continuing in an almost petulant tone, "They wanted me as well. I yelled at them until they left my flat. Authority is dull and completely restrictive. Where's the fun in following the rules?"
"I'll just pretend you didn't say that then, shall I?"
Sherlock's smile was slightly plastic and fake, like a warped grin on a porcelain doll, but Lestrade seemed adamant to get the man to work with him.
"Becoming a detective would mean you have authority."
"Boring. My job is recording details, imprinting what I see onto something tangible," Sherlock declared passionately. "It's not to run around like a cartoon hero, saving the world from bad guys."
"What's wrong with being a hero?" Lestrade asked.
Sherlock snapped back, "What's wrong with not wanting to be one?"
For all he bemoaned about the phone being a gift from his brother, Sherlock never sold it, never abandoned it, threw it away, or lost it. He actually kept it in pretty good nick for a couple of years—good by Sherlock's standards at least.
The keys were slightly caked with paint and craft glue and the screen was bordered small smears of clay. Mycroft had good foresight to buy a waterproof one since Sherlock had dropped the phone in water—in cups, the bath, in the sink—more than once when a sudden urge to create something struck at him.
When he finally got control of his senses, Sherlock looked down at the phone shattered into a hundred pieces of small metal bits and curled wires, screen with a spider-webbing crack—all far beyond repair. Broken.
It felt good to destroy something.
His father just died and Sherlock didn't know.
"Sherlock—" his mother's voice was thin and reedy and gasping like there wasn't enough air for her, "—he's dead. Siger, your father, he's dead." The rest was mostly incoherent sobbing, but Sherlock could hear enough over the crackling and static of the phone to pick up the words, "Cardiac arrest" and "stress".
He should have guessed. He should have visited more and painted his father's face and read out the diagnosis and realised and help. Too late now; all of it was too late.
And Sherlock was so bitter because he could have seen it, he knew he could have. In his mind's eye, he could see the floating words and his father's face. Increased wrinkles, hunched shoulders, slow movements—tired, stressed, weary.
For a while, he thought about his mother. What she and his father had was intense to the point where it was unhealthy. They fought a lot. Except she loved him, she really did, and there wasn't an ounce of relief in her voice on the recount of Siger's death.
Intense, Sherlock remembered writing that down when he first painted them, truly painted his parents on canvas with a brush. Intense like they would die for the other without blinking an eye. Burning hate beneath the love, anger for being so dependant—two independent individuals forced to rely on someone else—a constant aching because their love wasn't as easy as it used to be...
Mycroft came around to check on Sherlock in a surprisingly short amount of time. Perhaps he had tried calling and worried when no one answered. Perhaps he just knew how Sherlock would react to their father's death. Perhaps his flat was bugged. Who really knew? Sherlock didn't care.
He was numb. Numb like alcohol made him, but everything was duller and slower rather than sharper and more vibrant. It drained at his emotions liked a pulled plug sucked away at bathwater.
His brother had made him eat a pastry he'd bought on the way, shower and then change in to cleaner clothes, all the while packing some others in a tattered suitcase he found under Sherlock's bed. Mycroft explained he would be taking them to their childhood home, to attend the funeral.
Funeralfuneralfuneral. Greys and blacks would traditionally be expected, but weather reports predicted sunshine and Sherlock would need to bring yellows and lush greens and maybe reds, or if that wasn't enough, a stencil scalpel knife so he could paint his pain with blood—
—or perhaps not, Sherlock thought when he met his brother's gaze. Mycroft motioned for him to exit the flat with a short, jerky nod. Looks like the diet will be broken yet again. Sherlock didn't say it though. That was his own form of kindness; understanding silence.
Without protesting, Sherlock followed Mycroft out, only pausing to grab his messenger bag. The next few days went in a bit of a blur for Sherlock. It wasn't so much grief as understanding there was nothing really to be done now.
He was alone with the open casket, given space and privacy to say his final words. There was nothing to be said though, so Sherlock was sketching the slack, peaceful face of his father. Black dust from the pencil pressing so hard on the paper stained the heel of his drawing hand, and he had to consciously loosen his grip on the stick of wood before he broke it.
The last time he'd broken a pencil from grief was when he was in rehab. He'd snapped a pencil in half from the pure longing withdrawal forced on to him, and then proceeded to try and carve his name into his thigh. That was when his art supplies were removed from him, and after that, the words filled his vision and blinded him.
It was almost curious how death didn't deter the amount of words and information that soared around in front of Sherlock's eyes. If possible, there was more. The words dripped with death and pain and details. Always the details—so important, and they were all wrong. The smell of embalming chemicals, the slack muscle look of relaxation on his father's face, the cut of his funeral suit and the way the tie was done in a full-Windsor knot, not the half-Windsor his father preferred.
During the few times he had copied images of the dead onto paper or canvas, it felt like an intrusion, something wrong and a little forbidden. This though, this felt like peace. He didn't need last words because he'd done this.
When there was no more room to write down the suspended observations, Sherlock stood to leave. He had barely turned his back before he hesitated. Slipping a hand into his coat pocket—he had washed the coat clean for the occasion, no paint or clay on it, and it felt too soft—Sherlock pulled out a folded scrap of paper.
On the drive to the countryside days before, Sherlock had drawn a very rough rendition of the time his father took him to the National Gallery. As a boy-not-quite-yet-teenage, Sherlock had been oddly entranced by the works of Turner, until his father dragged him to see Van Gogh.
At the time, he wasn't amazed by the sunflowers or the abstract swirls of bright colour and went back to Turner, preferring the fuzzy, hazy realism.
Now, Sherlock could appreciate Van Gogh for his insanity, for his vivid interpretations of the world. The intensity was something special in itself. He never told his father that though. He should have.
Something in him said his father always understood him a little more than his mother for the same reason he had seen a beauty in Van Gogh's insanity. Perhaps he saw that misunderstood genius in Sherlock and accepted it.
Whatever the reason, Sherlock would never know. Quietly, with a gentle hand, he slipped the drawing into his father's inner coat pocket—over his heart—and patted it down softly.
The picture was of his father standing close to Sherlock as they were surrounded by some of the greatest artworks ever to be created. With only pencil and paper, Sherlock could hardly do them justice, but he made his father and himself the main focus of the image. He'd drawn his father happy.
Irrational, he thought abruptly, completely irrational to be sentimental for the dead.
Sherlock left the room without turning back. His hands were shaking.
Painting dead bodies after the funeral didn't seem quite so wrong. Going to the morgue became a normal activity for Sherlock—as normal for him as was going down to visit the edge of the Thames to mix polluted river water with his watercolours.
At first, he was technically breaking into the morgue, but since he didn't touch or steal anything, it was hesitantly allowed for him. Not to mention that with any lock put in place, Sherlock had the strangest knack of being able to pick it.
He was there now, eyes riveted on the sight of a chest cavity being ripped open. There was a slightly desperate longing to paint the heart and the way the bones shined in the bright artificial lighting—but there was a compromise to be in the morgue. He wasn't allowed to bring paints in. Contamination, they explained.
So instead, Sherlock was sketching feverishly, coloured pencils staining the tips of his fingers as he smudged lines with a harried focus. He was sitting on the metal table to the right of the body, legs swinging back and forth as he worked.
The young doctor doing the post-mortem check—Molly, she had said, but Sherlock didn't remember her last name—turned and shot a quick, shy smile at him. Of all the morgue attendants, she seemed to allow the most amount of leeway for his work. She made the conscious effort to stay out of the way as best as possible while still doing her job so he could capture everything with his eyes and hands.
One day he would have to paint her. She would suit a soft, warm pastel colour scheme. Nothing bright and attention grabbing, and he would blur her features a little into the background—a gentle overall feel.
Though in all honestly, Sherlock doubted he would remember to do that. Not when there was a plethora of organs and skin and muscle and death to draw. Not for the first time, Sherlock wished he could take parts home.
Nothing too extreme, like a head—but if he could, he wouldn't say no—but he would love to take a hand or some fingers or, if it wasn't too terribly intrusive, some eyeballs.
"Sherlock—" Molly started as the mortuary door opened, revealing Sergeant Sally Donovan. She was quite... volatile with Sherlock. Her eyes zoned in on the body first, taking in its open ribcage before noting Sherlock sitting beside it.
"I can't believe it," Sally muttered loudly. She stepped back out of the room and before the door had even swung shut, she yelled loudly, "Freaky little Da Vinci's in here, Lestrade!"
There was a muffled affirming shout, and Sally poked her head back in the room, frowning as she said, "You know Da Vinci liked to cut up bodies. See how everything worked inside and then draw and label it."
When Sherlock just quirked an eyebrow at her—as if her taunts were below his radar—Sally added casually, "Leonardo was also meant to be gay. I wonder what that says about you."
Lestrade walked past Sally, giving her a sharp look but not verbally reprimanding her. She took the silent cue to leave the room, not bothering to glance back at Sherlock; he was still drawing, hands on autopilot during the entire exchange.
"Detective Inspector," Sherlock hummed smoothly in a mild greeting. Turning to Molly, her gloved hands stained crimson, he asked, "I'm terribly sorry, but could you give us a minute?"
For a moment, it looked as though Molly wanted to argue—why didn't Sherlock leave?—but she took another look at Lestrade and sighed softly, removing her gloves before quickly scurrying out of the room, a quick warning about leaving the body alone.
The corpse lay between Sherlock and Lestrade, but the latter made no move to get closer. Sherlock continued sketching; only throwing a cursory glance to the paper and the body before pinning Lestrade with a curious stare.
It wasn't often Sherlock admitted it, but he was wrong. When they first met, he thought Lestrade would be well represented coloured in blacks and greys and splashes of blue, but that was wrong. As they met more and more, he had to concede that Lestrade would suit brilliant violets and ruddy-red purples with silver threading through it like an intricate weaving.
The silence was finally broken by Lestrade, who exclaimed, "Is that three nicotine patches on your arm?"
Four, actually, Sherlock thought of replying, feeling the fourth patch on his upper arm, hidden by his sleeve. Thinking better of it, he decided on remarking, "You see me next to a dead body and that's your first response?"
"That says a lot more about you than me," Lestrade deadpanned.
"I should hope I'm not getting too predictable for you," Sherlock sighed and finally put his work to the side. "And the patches are there for a similar reason you wear them. Cigarettes are deadly, after all."
"Never took you for someone to control your impul—wait, how did you know that I'm wearing them?" Lestrade looked down at his long sleeved coat and back up at Sherlock with only a faint incredulous stare. He'd grown used to Sherlock being observant, but there were still occasions it surprised him.
"Long sleeves don't cover the fact you occasionally scratch at them. Not in the way you scratch at an insect bite but in a similar way children scratch at plasters that have been on too long; not that I'm comparing you to a child or anything," Sherlock grinned. "Also, there's a faint nicotine stain on your fingers. Clearly you're trying to quit but you aren't quite there yet."
"No stain on your fingers," Lestrade observed after a short pause.
"I'm quite over cigarettes." Sherlock tapped one of the patches with his index finger. "Not over the nicotine hit though."
"So I was right about impulse control."
"But grateful I've already been through rehab."
"Marijuana?" Lestrade asked wearily, as if he was suppressing the urge to judge.
"A little bit of everything, really," Sherlock said lightly, smiling thinly. Actually, I used stuff a whole lot stronger. "Now, what did you need to see me about?"
"A case." At Sherlock's expression, Lestrade hastened to add, "A complex one—murders are happening in broad daylight, in crowds, but not a single witness to the act."
"Artists observe the world and try to interpret it. How is that so much different from a detective?" Lestrade asked, rubbing his face wearily.
He and Sherlock had been talking for over half an hour—long enough that Molly had politely chased them out of the room so she could finish her job. They were now in one of the many empty laboratories, lukewarm coffees in hand.
"For one," Sherlock replied in a petulant tone, "I won't actually be able do to any art."
"What if you could?" Lestrade asked, and Sherlock could see the growing stubble and the long hours tied in with it; he wondered whether he was really so important—so necessary—that this man could justify an hour off work to appeal to Sherlock to take on a rather dull sounding mystery.
"I'm listening," he finally said, putting down his coffee and exhaling heavily. "But I told you. I'm not meant to be the hero."
Heroes were people like Lestrade. Sherlock was a type more alike with Mycroft than he cared to admit—more mirrors and shadows than anything absolutely tangible. He preferred to work behind the scenes and let his art speak for him.
"You wouldn't be in the spotlight," Lestrade insisted, his tone warming with enthusiasm. "Officially, I could put you down as a sketch artist. If you happened to go to crime scenes and paint there, piping up with an opinion or two, I'm sure we could brush it off. I mean, if you helped us with the case."
Sherlock's hands paused in their fiddling of his bag strap and he looked at the other man with a curious gaze. The idea was not repulsive.
"That sounds—" he cast around for a non-committal term, "—interesting."
"To be honest, it'd be easier if you were on the force." Lestrade laughed and said, "It's getting hard to explain how you're conveniently at so many crime scenes to begin with."
"I'm not going through university to get qualified," Sherlock said. He'd done that, for a very short stint. He couldn't see the appeal of tertiary education, though he had tried it for his mother's sake. It was barely any better than school, so he quit, and he moved out of home as he did so. "If you expect me to go back to that hellhole, it's no right here and now."
Lestrade nodded and rocked back on the heels of his shoes. "I'm sure we can come to some special arrangement."
Sherlock put his hands together lightly, fingertips brushing his chin as he thought. He had never really found an opportunity to work and continue doing art outside that of commissions. It was something he could see himself looking into.
What was the harm, regardless, of him taking on this? Would he need to change some of his morals? Like reporting drug-users when he saw them? Because he wouldn't do that, couldn't do that when it would feel so damned hypocritical. And the homeless people he had grown to know over the years—if they stole bread to keep themselves alive, would he need to take them to jail? Again, he wouldn't do that.
Then there were the hookers on the shady street corners—they liked him because he paid for them to keep their clothes on and stand while he tried to capture their eyes and their life story. Prostitution was frowned, surely, and while Sherlock wasn't part of it, he knew people that were.
How can I join the police, Sherlock thought, when I am willingly elbow deep in crime?
His mind quickly jumped to an image of his mother. In his mind's eye, she was gardening, because that was the hobby that took up most of her time these days. She was quieter, too, especially since father had died. Perhaps announcing he had a job catching criminals would make her smile, make her proud. Not that he needed the adoration, but as a son he had to do something, right? Paintings of sunflowers only made smile for a little while.
If he worked with the police, that was a steady income, right there. The money in his paint can would last for a few weeks in the place he wanted to rent in the middle of London. He'd been trying to get out of his small studio for ages except there was never enough savings to work with. But an income would mean he could stay for months and even buy more high-end materials to work with—
Of course his thoughts turned back to art, and the need to be able to freely continue doing it.
On that note, Sherlock nodded and said, "I'll give the sketch artist work a trial run."
Painting oneself was harder than expected. Sherlock had never really thought about immortalising himself in paint and canvas, but when the idea came, it took over his mind and ate at him like a parasite.
The journey was more important than the outcome. The slow strokes of the brush and the slick feel of paint against a textured surface. Sherlock had never really given himself the critical observation he heaped onto others. Who knew what results he could get from this?
Of course he needed a mirror, and in the craze of his flat he found one. It was broken, the bottom half shattered—Sherlock thought he vaguely remembered doing that to get the reflective glass pieces for a mosaic he had built, the mirrors for the thousand stars in the sky—but even so, it was perfect.
The colours came first, little bright spots of acrylic on a mess of dried paints, old smears on his palette from other works he never bothered to clean off. The wood was warped slightly and intentional or not, it curved smoothly to allow his hand a comfortable grip.
Sky blue, navy blue, and green-blue-grey—for his eyes. Peach, bubble-gum, salmon and yellow—for his skin. Black, dark brown with a dash of mahogany—for his hair. The rest could be added as he went.
Peace floated down around Sherlock as he worked, like a haze had covered him, his hands on automatic, translating the world his eyes saw into something tangible and undeniable.
Except when Sherlock finished, he stepped back and dropped everything in his hands with a start. In the emptiness of the room, the clatter of wood-on-wood felt like it echoed, louder than it really was.
The canvas was entirely black, dark as ebony and tar. Squinting, Sherlock could see patches darker than others, in some parts there were hints of colour underneath.
Looking at his hands, Sherlock saw how they'd been stained black, drying paint caking beneath his nails. Similarly, the palette was destroyed, black obscuring any traces of the other colours he prepared before. Shadows covered everything.
He had blacked out the canvas with writing.
After three more attempts of a self portrait with other mediums—pencils, watercolours, coloured pencils, graphite, ink, pens, felt tips, oil paints, a mixture of all of them—Sherlock gave up. Like with most of his works, he couldn't really control himself, couldn't by-step the urge to get rid of all the words and the writing and the floating piles of information that haunted him.
Even when he removed black as an option on his colour scheme, he could somehow mix the other colours and overlap them until he might as well have started with it.
A part of Sherlock wished he could read what he saw of himself, but when he looked in the mirror, only innocent white-washed letters floated around him, things he knew already. Scar on chin from chicken pox, structure of cheekbones from his father, shape of eyes from his mother.
Then again, he didn't really need to know what was so revealing even his subconscious sought to remove it. He really didn't need to.
That didn't stop him wanting to.
Contrary to initial observations, Sally Donovan was capable of a smile. It was just the ones that were directed at Sherlock were very rare indeed. That was a shame since she had brilliant teeth and eyes that would shine when she cared to share them.
He'd seen her smile at him exactly three and a half times.
The first time was when he was shivering, wrapped up snugly in a few towels after falling into the [a title="Because the Thames River is overrated."]Lea River[/a]. Running after criminals was not in the job description of a sketch artist. Sherlock ended up doing that more often than he meant to.
That evening, he painted what he had seen underwater. It looked like a dream and a nightmare, shafts of light and dark and shimmers and shadows. An entire wall of 221C was dedicated to the task. It almost made the entire endeavour worth it—Lestrade seemed to think the jump was worth it since it gave the evidence needed to convict the criminal, but Sherlock's messenger bag had been soaked, destroying six full notebooks and a new set of water colour pencils.
So he gained a mural and lost a few sketchbooks. It all balanced out in the end. But at the time he'd sat petulantly at the back of an ambulance trying to remember everything that was lost. It was frustrating since he really couldn't quite recall some details. Since the minutest details made for the most important bits, he left like he lost something vital—more so than blood or sweat or tears. Wasteful, he thought bitterly.
Then a warm nudge lifted his head and Sally was smiling—grinning, in fact—and there was mirth in her voice when she said, "You look like a drowned rat."
Her phone made a little whirring noise when she took a photo of Sherlock and she proclaimed, "This is definitely going on Facebook."
And that was enough to momentarily kick him out of his funk as he wondered whether it was worth the effort to display some outrage or to steal her phone and delete the image. Eventually he settled for giving her a slow, drawn out, judgemental gaze until she scowled and turned away.
If he painted her, he'd use the richest browns and maroons in Copic markers—not bright like sunlight, but like moonlight, soft with many faces. Since he had nothing on hand, he spent some time scratching her face in the dirt at his feet with a stick. When Lestrade came for him, one sweep of his foot removed all the evidence.
Nothing was left behind. It never existed.
Mrs. Hudson had been fond of Sherlock ever since he had met her in Florida all those years ago when he was travelling the world.
He had impulsively asked her to stand and let him draw her—something about her wrinkles and her eyes made her seem worth capturing. He wrote out her life story while she smiled kindly. She was very sweet, but Sherlock figured she was a fleeting member in a crowd. He never predicted he would have reason to meet her again.
If Sherlock believed in destiny, he might have said it worked in funny ways. Instead he remarked about how strangely improbable that this could have happened at all.
So it was later that evening she had hunted him down, desperate for help. It was his earlier sketch of her, along with Sherlock's testimony, that later became her alibi. Apparently her husband had tried to pin a murder on her. With Sherlock proving that Mrs. Hudson couldn't have been anywhere near the crime scene, the lies leaked out and Mr. Hudson was put to the death penalty.
"You're an Englishman, aren't you?" she asked curiously. When Sherlock nodded, she smiled and said, "I was right about that accent."
Sherlock just stared at her blankly, part of his mind occupied with the photos of the disembowelled victim the police had shown him, and he had wondered over whether or not it was a bad thing that he wanted to draw that, to touch the organs and find exactly what shade of pink and red would match them. Could he capture death in art? It felt wrong, but so, so right, too.
Something he would need to further study.
"Yes, well. If you're ever in England," Mrs. Hudson said, "and need a place to stay, come to Baker Street. I have a flat share which you're very welcome to at half-price."
"Thank you." Sherlock smiled warmly as he could, eyes reading the words around her face—grief, betrayal, anger—and he said, "I'll keep that in mind."
For some reason, he actually did keep the gesture in the back of his head, always waiting in case he ever needed it. Sherlock never thought he would—in the same way he never thought he would be presented with ample opportunity to paint dead bodies at crimes scenes. You live and learn though.
It was fortunate the offer was still open after all these years.
"I play the violin. Loudly," Sherlock warned over a cup of oolong tea. "And I paint—compulsively—on walls, doors, floors and ceilings."
Mrs. Hudson gave him a fond, maternal smile, which irrationally made Sherlock want to protect her from himself all the more.
"I also have a skull; a real human one. I keep paintbrushes in its eyes. When I'm frustrated, I've been known to smash easels." For a second, he thought about adding that he now worked with the police (somewhat), but there was no need to scare her.
"Honey, if you like to paint then why not take out the lower flat as well? 221C has an unfortunate spot of mould, but I'm sure it'll work out."
"But 221B is perfect."
"Sherlock, I didn't say you have to choose. Take both," Mrs. Hudson said as she sipped at her tea. "Of course, you'll need to pay half-rent on the two spots, but that's essentially two places for the price of one."
"Don't you need the—" money, Sherlock wanted to say, but cut himself off. Mrs. Hudson's eyes looked like she had heard the unspoken but understood.
"Never mind that; I could never find anyone interested in 221C anyway." She smiled like the case was closed and lifted a plate, offering, "Biscuit?"
Sherlock moved in later that evening. He kept his studio for sentimental reasons, but he got to work stripping 221C of its wallpaper and wondering how he going to arrange 221B into something homely. More furniture than he cared to admit was damaged with paint or plain old stress-induced destruction.
As time passed, Sherlock's attempts to keep his main flat art-free failed. Buckets of paint sat on the kitchen table; canvases leaned against walls and piled up in corners; bookshelves rapidly filled with filled sketchbooks. Even the paint stained skull was sitting on the mantelpiece, looking decidedly creepy with paintbrushes poking out of its eye sockets.
While Mrs. Hudson didn't seem to mind the encroaching invasion of art, Sherlock tried his best to keep it contained in 221C. In a way, he wanted his flat to represent him properly, like his clothes did. His clothes were well worn and loved with a hint of style—though there were bits of paint stubbornly clung to the sleeves and buttons. Most of the real insanity was hidden inside, or in the building's case, underneath in many locked rooms.
221C was beginning to look a bit more organised in the chaos though. Sherlock tried painting murals and frescos rather than disjointed snippets. They morphed though, scenes of joy in the middle of a forest merging into a wildfire and then the charred remains of trees with the full moon in the background.
It was rare that Sherlock would paint without visual aid or something from a memory, so those particular pieces always had a hazy dreamlike quality—and the words written alongside were always more jagged and never stuck to English.
Tonight, Sherlock was stretched out on the couch, a laptop balanced precariously on his stomach. Lestrade had insisted a while ago that Sherlock buy a good phone and a laptop so that they could stay in contact better—cases didn't follow some linear pattern with office hours, after all. The afternoon of that request, two parcels arrived on his doorstep.
He had a particularly vicious argument shortly after about not needing to be babied by his brother. Mycroft, predictably, denied everything. Irritated, Sherlock spent the rest of the evening learning how to hack websites, and when that got boring, the Wi-Fi accounts of his various neighbours. People really needed to choose better passwords.
There were all kinds of art, and Sherlock was dipping his hand into the world of website design. He'd always wanted a place to record his many works.
Art of the Reasoner, he decided to call it.
Normally, Lestrade wouldn't call Sherlock up when there were no bodies to paint, but today's case had an exception. The victim in question was rich—and had been recently robbed. Nothing extraordinary, but Sherlock was promised a look into the man's personal art collection should the stolen diamonds be found.
It was with incredible swiftness that Sherlock recovered them from the dresser of a fired maid. If he had seen himself, he would have described his expression as glowing. Of course, creating art was the best prize one could hope for, but he wasn't going to say no to an invitation to see a private collection. Some of the best artworks were, unfortunately, hidden from the world—they were like tantalising mysteries tucked away, longing for admiration.
Sometimes, Sherlock could read secrets in the brushstrokes.
Just before he left the Yard to go collect his prize, he caught Sally's puzzled expression as she stood just to the side of Lestrade's office door.
When she noticed that she had Sherlock's attention, she asked, "It really is all about the art for you, isn't it?"
"Of course it is," Sherlock answered, hands deep in his pockets, just waiting for Sally to continue. Part of his mind ran off, focussing on how his coat smelled a bit like turpentine, how the fluorescent lighting was too bright, and the sounds of conversation seeping through the vents—but he tried to concentrate.
"So it isn't about being a sick weirdo who gets off on dead bodies?" Sally queried bluntly.
"Just because you always see me painting the dead doesn't mean that's all I paint."
Sally opened her mouth and then closed it after a pause, nodding. With a small smile—smile number two—she said, "I'll believe that when I see it, freaky little Da Vinci."
It was a slow burning sensation, something that gradually snuck up on him. Sherlock had never been completely and utterly bored before, per se. Irritated? Yes. Frustrated? Most certainly. Angry? Without a doubt.
Boredom was a feeling he rarely experienced since he was always a self-driven individual. Art was something he could do alone, or he would seek out people to use as models. But it always spurred from a want to do it, a need to create.
Since taking a more active role in being a 'sketch artist', Sherlock found his life lacking. There would be periods in-between the admittedly exciting cases and bursts of creativity.
Some days he would just lie on the couch, boneless and feeling like jelly, watching the words fade in-and-out of focus around him. Boredom dulled his floating letters and observations and Sherlock batted his hand at them, disinterested in copying them down.
The strange lack of desire and motivation ate at him, especially when interesting crimes—to paint, at least—were running dry and walks through dirty, narrow side streets weren't quite cutting it like they used to. He tried walking a lot, for the fresh air, but it hardly brought the inspiration and burst of euphoria and adrenalin he wanted. Sherlock had walked so much the soles of his shoes were wearing thin and he was pretty sure that his mental map of London was more updated than that of Google Maps.
He'd even taken the effort to memorise the street signs. One of these days he'd have to go through with his plans of making a collage of them on the east wall of 221C.
On the occasions he ran into a drug dealer—he knew where to look, so it wasn't entirely coincidental—Sherlock was very tempted. The only thing that held him back was how he refused to give Mycroft the satisfaction of saying, 'I knew this would happen.'
Maybe the fact he was making an impact with his observations was sucking the artistic feeling from him. His dry spells used to only last a day at the most—now, a week without doing anything was normal.
Sherlock should have quit working for the police; should have removed the distraction of panic, adrenalin and victory.
But there were more things than drugs that were addictive.
A lot of people had told Sherlock he was awkward. More assumed he didn't know any better.
False. No, it was more than that. Ignorant.
Sherlock knew exactly how a well placed 'thank-you' and 'please' could affect the tone of a conversation or the way the public saw him. He understood, in some ways better than most, how a clean cut suit could raise his social standing; how trimming his hair and removing the paint stains could change the assumptions made on him; how lowering his voice and looking up through his lashes could manipulate the right person.
He knew all of this. The man wasn't stupid, after all—sometimes he was oblivious, but he was surrounded by people every day. If he didn't pick something up, there was something wrong with his hardware. And he could hardly preach about the importance of details if he couldn't see something as obvious as manners.
He recognised and occasionally acknowledged social graces for the sake of it. Key word being: occasionally. Normally it was easier to be a little strange, a little stand-offish, something new and odd and different. That was because that was who Sherlock was, and it would a damn sight too late to try and change that now.
Regardless of how he was seen, at least he was real.
Take for instance, the woman Sherlock was painting: chartreuse nails, cyan highlights, heavy coral foundation that was two shades off the real skin tone—screamed of plastic, of self consciousness, of wanting to be better by hiding in transparent masks.
Sherlock stank of paint fumes and his fingers were a plethora of colours. His skin was too pale to be healthy, his eyes a blue a shade too bright to be comfortable, and his teeth were crooked little squares in his mouth. Nicotine patches with swirls of felt tip littered his skin, but they were hidden by a coat feeling a little ragged around the edges.
Except that was all Sherlock, nothing else added, not anything exaggerated or falsified. He only acted when he needed something—manipulating people was a task he considered better left Mycroft's territory.
People were so blind, it ached. Sherlock didn't need to hide himself—he doubted they could read his mind like he could to them. Actually, sometimes Sherlock purposely made an errant comment to get a reaction and force them to see he wasn't normal.
Sherlock despised the idea of being normal.
So he never hid himself and still he was never seen unless he made the effort to shine a little bit brighter. He liked it that way.
They were in a small lunchroom, the closest one to Lestrade's office. Sherlock had heated up some take away pasta from Angelo's, but was picking at it instead of eating it. Sally was staring at him as she ate small bites of her fruit salad. They were sitting across from each other in silence.
"Let me guess," Sally said, breaking the calm. "You don't eat?"
Her gaze was sardonic and almost curious as she watched Sherlock twist his pasta into little clumps, playing with his food as if he were a child; his plate had their air of organised chaos, neat piles of spaghetti between piles of splattered tomato sauce and half-crushed meatballs.
"I do eat," Sherlock replied with a cool voice. "Just not while I have a creative block." He proceeded to then carefully top the piles of spaghetti with the meatballs and the chunks of tomato and carrot, making each little hill look like a nest for birds with the penchant for collecting knick-knacks.
"A 'creative block'," Sally repeated as if disbelieving. "What if the block never goes?"
"Theoretically I'd starve then. But," Sherlock said as he looked up with something feral glinting in his eyes, "that's never happened. Starvation is a surprisingly hardy motivator."
"I'll have to take your word for it, freaky little Da Vinci," Sally snorted.
"That's such a mouthful," Sherlock commented with a resigned sigh. "How about you just call me 'Leo'?"
"Short for Leonardo?"
"Since you refuse to use my given name, I don't see why not."
"Hmm," Sally hummed as she thought it over. "Freaky Leo. That does have a better ring to it." She took a bite and when she swallowed, said, "I'll give it a trial run."
When Sherlock looked up from his pasta, he caught the end of a smile quirking her lips—number three —and the fleeting moment passed when she scowled and flicked a piece of pineapple at his head.
He neatly caught the piece between his teeth and swallowed it, remarking dryly, "I see you've started going to the Sunday markets."
Sally exhaled heavily and said, "I don't even want to know how you knew that." She stood and added, "Let me go see if Lestrade can be any faster."
"He'll be here in three minutes," Sherlock predicted as he turned back to his plate. "Finish your lunch."
He heard the hesitation, the soft scrape of chair on the linoleum floor, and the small clink of the metal fork against the plastic bowl.
Sherlock destroyed the small piles of spaghetti with his fork and smiled a little himself.
His mother was dead. Suicide: a single bullet to the head.
Sherlock could picture it clearly. It would be all shades of red, almost brown at the edges where the blood dried, but the rest would be glistening wet crimson stains, dotting the marble whiteness of his mother's skin. And then there would be her eyes—wide open and frozen, he could imagine. Open and unseeing and utterly, devastatingly blue, brilliant and vivid and definitely more lively than Sherlock's grey ones. Yes, even death couldn't take away the life in her eyes.
Except none of that mattered since his mother was dead.
It was quick, painless and almost elegant. It was one of father's favourite hunting guns—mother hadn't lied when she said if she wanted to die by anyone's hands, she wanted them to be their father's. This was the closest she could do it by since her husband was six feet under and most definitely decomposed.
Mycroft told had told Sherlock this in person, his eyes red and puffy but still sharp with knowledge and almost defiant, like he wanted Sherlock to try and mention it.
You're hurting, he thought of saying, slightly dazed. There are new words around your head, floating and telling me things. That's not right. You're not meant to change. He thought it but didn't say it. He didn't say anything.
Even so, Sherlock barely felt any shock. Like he knew it was inevitable. From Mycroft's sigh, he had known it too.
Then again, death was the one inevitable thing.
It was the thing above all others that tore people apart.
Ironically, it was also the one thing that brought people together.
The only constant in life was death. A bittersweet fate every human shared.
In a way, Sherlock knew he should have been grateful that his mother kept herself from sharing their father's fate for as long as she did.
It was awful how complacent Sherlock had let himself become. He'd forgotten how well and truly ensnared he had been at the height of his cocaine addiction. It was so many years ago and as much as he'd like to think otherwise, time did fade memories. The human mind was a flawed design, after all.
After he stood by and watched his mother's casket get lowered into the ground—right next to father's, following their wishes wholly and completely—he'd left Mycroft to deal with the logistics of inheritance. For all Sherlock cared, Mycroft could keep it all.
Except Sherlock needed to do something and what he needed to do was see the music. Only once, he had said adamantly, only this once. Even to his own ears, the pledge was as false as crocodile tears.
It wasn't hard to get what he wanted. There was almost no hesitation before he prepped the needle, only pausing for a moment to think, Is this worth it—?
Sherlock wished he could explain how music had colour, had a texture and feel unlike anything else on earth. He wished he could record it and share it, but then another part of him was greedy and thankful that only he could experience such an exhilarating wonder.
He never felt like he was flying when he was using. He could best describe the feeling as being more alike to being completely submerged underwater, warm pressure surrounding him, coolness ticking his ears and the edges of his nose and everything blurry and sharp around him. He could taste copper on his tongue and salt around the edges of his lips.
Sherlock never flew but he never was quite drowning either. There was the feeling of water choking him but never really destroying him. It was a balance he danced on gleefully.
One week, two weeks, three weeks, four? Time blended together so finely it was hard to tell the moments apart.
When Sherlock painted, he would usually find an old chipped mug and fill it with warm water. He would clean his brushes in the water, over and over again, and it didn't take long before it was impossible to discern exactly what colours made up the disgusting murky grey. Time was getting to be just like that—impossible to split up, isolate and name.
Before this, Sherlock had forgotten just how overwhelmingly wonderful it was to be so open-eyed to the world; to see and comprehend and just wonder. He'd forgotten the joy to be had, or at least he'd suppressed the urge to remember. Except now he knew and he didn't want to forget, not this time around. He could try use up all the paint in France and colour in every dull spot on Earth and Sherlock would not forget how exhilarating it was to be able to see again.
A small part of him could feel his violin strings slick with blood, his fingertips raw and ragged around the edges. Not that he would stop plucking away at the strings, the A-string out of tune but producing beautiful, floating notes, regardless.
Another small part of him could hear yelling in his apartment—real or not real?—and the heavy air of smoke curled around him like a shroud and weighed him down.
Real or not real? Sherlock thought again as something pulled at him around his stomach. The violin was ripped from his hands but the notes stayed flying in the air, swaying as if they were dancing themselves—like little stars in the sky.
"Sherlock!" an angry voice filtered in through the haze, sound slow and muted like Sherlock was deep under the crashing waves of a beach. The water must have been cold, because he was feeling more and more numb. But in the good way, so it wasn't too bad.
"You idiot, why did you do this?" the voice continued, and try as he might, Sherlock couldn't reply. All the while, the music notes kept dancing even when there was no music to be had, only screaming.
Real or not real?
Mrs. Hudson had found Sherlock and cried out in shock. Calling Lestrade, he had come to pick Sherlock up. After spending a jerky, sleepless night in a cell, Mycroft came for him.
And then hell followed with the pseudonym of a Rehabilitation Clinic.
—not again, no, no, not again, not again, no, no, not again—
It was a long time before Sherlock would stop asking, Real or not real?
It was an even longer time before Sherlock's hands stopped shaking every time he picked up his violin. Flakes of dried crimson covered the strings and stained his hands like crushed pigments.
The tips of his fingers, if observed closely enough, could be seen dotted with faint, thin scars. His skin was vanilla white but his scars were the colour of cream.
Strangely enough, it took no time for him to paint again. He took to catching fireflies and painting them because they reminded him of little stars in the sky. They were as close to seeing music as he could get without destroying himself again.
Sherlock didn't forget the euphoria, but this time he re-remembered the pain.
It took the longest time of all before Sherlock deigned to speak with Lestrade and Mycroft again. He almost understood why they did it, but resentment was something hard to break.
It was autumn and frost hung everywhere, cold edging closer like a shadow stretching as the sun set. Breath came out in thin wisps of white fog, cheeks flushed cherry red and the fireflies all died in their jar.
The flat was as cold as outside because Sherlock didn't want to turn the heating on. Lestrade was visiting and his expression was pinched in discomfort, but he said nothing either, just sitting on the couch, still wearing his jacket as he looked over Sherlock with a critical eye, concern hidden carefully under a blank mask.
No mask could hide a person away from Sherlock though. Sherlock who was thinner than was healthy and had gaunt eyes and fingertip-shaped bruises on his arms and neck from when he pressed at them, needing something, anything to distract him—
The men didn't have much to say to one another. Not quite yet. Lestrade brought no cases and Sherlock had not yet found forgiveness.
"Why did you do it?" Lestrade queried cautiously on the cold afternoon. "The drugs, I mean," he clarified as a quick afterthought and Sherlock bit back the urge to snap, Obviously.
Wasn't it clear why Sherlock used? Because he was bored, because he was tired, because he was aching and the sight of music promised to take it all away. And maybe, just a little, he wanted to dance the line of hallucinations and nightmare once again.
There was no point to a world he couldn't see in.
When Sherlock said nothing, Lestrade pressed, "I thought you said you were clean."
"I'm clean now," Sherlock snapped bitterly. A snapped violin bow hung from a crooked finger, the frayed lines smelling of resin and felt smooth to the touch.
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
Sherlock frowned and looked up with baleful eyes. "How is it your concern?"
"I work with you." A thin frown twisted at Lestrade's face and he added, "Sometimes, I'd like to consider that we might be friends."
"Well, if that's the case, then you should know the day I started using again was the day my mother died." Sherlock could feel how his face was stiff and there was a challenge in his eyes. "Is that sufficient enough for you, Inspector?"
Before Lestrade could reply, Sherlock continued ruthlessly, "Or should I add she didn't die in the way we gasp one last breath and fall, but she sought it out, the barrel of the gun pressed to her temple before she pulled the trigger with a grin on her face."
Standing up from his seat, Sherlock persisted with tightly controlled anger, "She followed him—him being my father—somewhere, I don't know where—death is Hell or Heaven or a limbo in-between—with a smile. Am I just meant to not react? I am a freak, but I am not a heartless one. I feel. I loved them. Love them... Loved them? What tense do I use? What does it all matter?"
"Sherlock," Lestrade said quietly, soothingly, "it matters. Of course it matters; of course you can mourn them."
"I don't mourn them," Sherlock spat back, deflating even as he tried to stay angry. "I fear them. That intensity, it's not normal. They didn't care about anything as long as they had each other."
He sat down again and gripped at his chest, gasping a little. He was still weak—drained from the detox. According to doctors, he was meant to rest. Sherlock didn't like being told what to do.
"I hate them for leaving me. For having eyes that burned when they looked at each other. 'S not right," Sherlock mumbled, voice hushed.
Lestrade said sadly, "That's not abnormal. That's love."
"Then I would rather walk the fires of Hell than experience that."
When they were younger, Sherlock had shyly asked of Mycroft, "Can I paint you?"
Mycroft replied, "Of course," and then tucked away his algebra homework and looked on with an expectant expression.
Sherlock painted a simple portrait with those awful paint tablets more commonly found in corner stores—the ones that had a plastic brush and hard circles of pigments that didn't mix well with water. He was using standard A4 paper, which quickly warped from the moisture. A biro made do to surround Mycroft with words.
It wasn't good enough.
Later, in a different setting, at a different time, Sherlock asked quietly, "Can I paint you?"
Mycroft shot his brother a strange look but again nodded and said, "Of course."
Quickly, Sherlock pushed the sleeves of his brother's shirt up, displaying wrists with blue veins thrumming underneath with quiet life. He set to work covering it with body paint.
Blue veins, red veins, grey and green. Words circling 'round and 'round in white and black: big brother, mentor, kindness, patience—
Writing on skin felt different to writing on paper. Satisfying, Sherlock thought. Except then Mycroft stood to wash it off and the paints and letters ran together and finally down the sink, lost and forgotten.
For many years Sherlock made do with body paint and canvases and all those mediums in-between. For a while, Sherlock collected all the pens he used up, dry nibs and inkwells depleted, from all the writing he'd done on top of his brother's image, recording all those floating words. When he filled a bucket with them, he decided to try again.
So Sherlock asked his brother, "Can I paint you?"
Even after all those years, Mycroft paused like he was deliberating an answer, but the response never changed from a casual, "Of course."
Sherlock had a thin blue line running up the side of his hip. It curved at one end, the overall length no longer than that of a finger. Mycroft had a similar one, a bit more jagged and faded, on his right shoulder.
They were not scars and they were not birthmarks.
Sherlock simply wanted to try an art style that was a little more permanent: tattoos. Even as blood and ink mixed and everything stung like pepper and fire, Mycroft allowed Sherlock his little experiments, simply because he loved his brother.
If he didn't completely accept Sherlock's eccentric nature, who else would?
A new man in the forensics team managed to do something unheard of to Sherlock.
It was early evening and there had been a murder on a rooftop. Nothing big, just a body and a blood splatter, the murder weapon a copper pipe. Nothing particularly special either.
On the other hand, the sharp perspective drop was endlessly fascinating. Normally Sherlock didn't have the time to stop while chasing criminals over rooftops and appreciate the sharp angles the world. Distance changed a lot of things without changing anything at all.
There were even numbers in his vision as specific intervals calculating the distance, velocity and speed should he jump off the edge and freefall.
—y x 9.82m/s2 = v, if y = no. of seconds—
—distance in meters = 0.5g x y2 = d—
—d x 3.28ft/m = distance in feet—
Maths only occupied a small part of his mind space. He never really bothered to erase it since it never seemed particularly worth the effort to paint or sketch it. And not even Mycroft could make him write in a notebook again. That was awful. All those lines and barriers telling you where you could and couldn't write—it was so restrictive.
Anyway, a louder part of his mind was marvelling over how the fading sunlight was leeching away colours from those people below him. Or was it really an encroaching blanket of shadows hazing out the colours?
Ash greys to cadet, to vibrant forest greens darkening to a la selle green, old gold morphing into olives—it was like watching the world being repainted in front of his eyes.
"Sherlock," Lestrade's voice filtered in, tone tired and slightly exasperated. "Sometime this afternoon would be nice."
Without turning around, Sherlock vaguely waved a paintbrush as the detective, feeling bits of acrylic paint dripping off the tip. "No rush, Lestrade. The body isn't going anywhere soon."
A wave of vertigo threatened to hit Sherlock as he leaned further over the edge of the roof. Fascinating. Of course, not quite as thrilling as the view on top of the Eiffel Tower, but here he was less disturbed by people jostling for a view and he was close enough to the ground that it was easier to make out some details down below.
The air smelled a bit smoky and polluted with a faint metallic taint he attributed the blood pooling around the body. Then a wind would bring along with it fresh air that smelled of cooked bread and fresh pine. For a moment, Sherlock wondered—not for the first time—whether there was a way to paint smells.
"The first thing of importance you should note," Sherlock started saying, turning around as his paintbrush dripped violet spots on the concrete, "is how the victim's—"
"I can't stand it!" cried an unfamiliar voice to Sherlock's left. A bearded man in protective gear a shade lighter than verdigris—new member on forensics, then—stalked up and tossed Sherlock's art supplies off the roof, barking some nonsense about destroying a crime scene and having the decency to try show some respect to the dead.
For a moment, Sherlock could only stand and stare as his bag fell from the roof. Something burning welled up in him.
All those pictures lost—
He felt angry.
Silence fell when the man—Andrew? Andersaur? Anderson?—stopped shouting and the regular team stared on with wide eyes. They knew Sherlock was annoying and had the unfortunate penchant of spacing out and completely ignoring societal cues, but they also figured how just how important art was to him and knew not to mess with his things.
"I hope that didn't hit anyone," Sherlock commented mildly, looking over the edge as if he could see whether his bag had hit anyone. "It had a seventeen ounce glass bottle of masking fluid and three not inconsiderably-sized art books. At this height, the velocity would kill someone if that hit them directly on the head. Not to mention that would shatter the glass, and I do hate wasting art supplies."
The man paled before reddening, looked absolutely livid. "What the hell are you doing here?" he hissed angrily.
Lestrade cleared his throat and said, "Anderson, leave it. He's a valuable helper."
"Valuable?" Anderson repeated incredulously. "All he's been doing is walking around the body, contaminating the crime scene with paint of all things. He's sarcastic and most unwilling to help us—"
"—don't forget to insult my appearance while you're at it," Sherlock added dryly with a small smile. "If you want to point out my faults, it's best to start with something more personal."
Sherlock slid the paintbrush behind his ear, leaving his hands free to slide into his coat pockets. He drew himself up straighter, keeping the flat smile on his face. His eyes scanned Anderson's face, noting the white words that surrounded him like a white fog.
Black—thick rimmed glasses, expensive brand name, possibly insecure about visual appearance but yet unwilling to submit to contact lenses; brown, auburn, burnt umber—shaggy hair originally styled but grew out; sienna and chocolate—beard that's kept trimmed and neat; tarnished silver—engagement ring, heavily scratched, worn a long time perhaps indicative of real commitment issues; jonquil and buff—fingertips stained with signs of a nicotine addiction, poor self-control or really just self indulgent or maybe legitimate stress, which would explain the early age lines around the eyes—sangria and lust—indicator of an affair, unless the wife kissed with two shades of lipstick on...
"Oh my," Sherlock said suddenly, coat flapping in the wind. "Have I been speaking all of that aloud?"
Anderson's cheeks were a very faint pink. "You have," he bit out angrily.
"My apologies," Sherlock replied without any remorse in his voice. He snapped his head around and brought his hands together in a sharp clap. "Now, before my value working here was questioned, you wanted to know about the crime, Lestrade?"
Sherlock spat out facts and observations that looked like they were pulled from thin air, but they made sense every time. He didn't solve the case—he couldn't have, having not met a single of the suspects—but he narrowed the pool down to two people Lestrade's men were already hunting down.
"I think my work here is done, Detective Inspector," Sherlock murmured as he walked towards the exit. "And to Anderson, I wish you and your fiancé a very happy June wedding."
"How the hell—" Anderson started but Sherlock closed the door behind him without bothering to listen to the rest of the question.
They had hated each other ever since. Well, Anderson began loathing Sherlock when a bill for several art books and a bottle of masking fluid was sent to him.
"The paper... it's not the right shade." Sherlock sniffed it and declared, "It's been poisoned. The man licked his finger before turning a page and by doing so, took in the poison. He must have taken so much he died."
"Is that even possible?" Lestrade asked; his pen stilled from writing down the comments in his notebook.
"What, that this man read himself to death?" Sherlock raised an eyebrow and jerked his head towards the body slumped on the reclined chair. "I'm fairly positive that's the case here. Various tests should confirm my hypothesis."
Lestrade looked at Sherlock with the same suspicious awe the first time he'd pulled a stunt like this. Except that time had far more bodies with far less obvious clues.
"What I would give to see the world like you do for a day."
"You do see the world I do," Sherlock said. "You're just ignorant to everything important."
That tore out a startled laugh from Lestrade, who countered, "I have never met a man who could identify and name obscure colours off the top of his head."
"Well, you have now," Sherlock replied, dismissive. He put down the book and wrapped his coat around him tightly. He'd need a new one soon as the one he wore felt more and more threadbare.
"Doesn't it bother you?" Lestrade asked curiously. "Doesn't it ever get overwhelming?"
Overwhelming? Sherlock thought. He supposed that an average man's mind would be crushed by the sheer number of things he had to process on top of the usual information his senses delivered him, but he had never experienced life without them. He had nothing to compare it to because he couldn't get a control sample from climbing into someone's head.
Everything felt normal to him, but he supposed he was a little extraordinary to others.
After mulling over a response, Sherlock asked slowly, "Is it overwhelming to open your eyes every morning, Lestrade?"
"No, of course not," the man replied, surprised.
"Then what makes you think I'm any different?"
"Different is the kindest way to describe you, Freaky Leo." Sally walked in with a faintly amused expression on her face and stole Lestrade's attention away, questioning him about the press and the family of the deceased.
Feeling dismissed without ever hearing the words, Sherlock left. As he walked home, he thought about the discussion some more. Overwhelming?
The sun was hidden behind clouds and the streets looked clean and slightly desolate, same as ever. Words floated in groups and lines, eggshell white and absolutely harmless, disappearing at the corners of his eyes.
As a child, the sight was a little daunting because he learned it meant not normal, but now?
Sherlock felt only comfort in their presence.
Sherlock counted the smile he didn't see as a half. He knew it happened but decided to deduct points anyway because he couldn't control himself enough to open his eyes.
When Sally smiled number three-and-a-half, Sherlock was in hospital. He was confined to bed, which was a hell in normal circumstances, but he was so hurt he couldn't even bother fighting to escape. He just lay there, numbed and weak.
The walls were painful to look at, plain colours without texture or feel. A muted pain laced up and down his sides, a murkiness hazing his vision. That would be the morphine, he thought distractedly, wondering whether the signs he saw were real or not real.
Sally's voice took a few heartbeats to register. It took another moment for Sherlock to reply with a slurred, "For what?"
"You know what."
Silence fell and Sherlock made an attempt to move, but the best he could do was inhale a bigger breath of anti-septic tasting air. He opened his eyes, but they stung so he quickly closed them again, wincing against the lights.
"I owe you, Sherlock."
The use of his given name unsettled him. "You owe me nothing."
"There must be something," Sally said quietly. She sounded like she was sitting—no, wait, standing, right next to him. The sounds of her breath quavered with exhaustion. Understandable, of course. It had been a long week for all of them.
"Turn off the lights," Sherlock finally said, voice rasping and his tongue feeling thick and clumsy in his mouth.
Darkness fell with a faint click and Sherlock waited a few seconds before peeking through the barest gap between his eyelids. Black and greys and shadows. Much better.
"What you did, for Anderson—"
"It's nothing," Sherlock interjected, shifting uncomfortably in the bed, only able to move a small bit for fear of wrecking his body any further. "He's an idiot sometimes, a bastard on bad days, but I see he means well enough."
At least it wasn't a kitchen knife or something terribly mundane. A shard of stained glass was unconventional a tool. Not that the burning between his ribs felt any less. Sherlock decided he should be grateful that there wasn't a gun or something even more ridiculous.
"You deserve better," Sherlock continued. "He's engaged, Sally."
"Well, not all of us get what we want, now do we?"
"If you want to owe me, promise me you'll stop sleeping with him."
"And what does my romantic life have to do with you?"
"Well, I must concede you're much more relaxed since finding a sexual partner—"
Sherlock was cut off by Sally's groan and she said, "Change the subject, please. This is not the time or place."
—breathe in—disinfectant—breathe out —carbon dioxide—breathe in—
"Can I paint you?" The words slipped from his lips before he realised it. Morphine, he thought. Not good.
A creak from the chair and Sally said, "Pardon me?"
Sighing, Sherlock decided he might as well explain it. "You asked whether there was anything you could do for me. I just realised, I've never painted you. Would you model for an afternoon?"
And here Sherlock swore he heard a smile in her voice. "That would be lovely." He opened his eyes completely in the hopes of seeing it, but reflex caused him to shut them.
"When you get better, we'll work out times."
As he heard her footsteps fade and the door open, Sherlock quickly called out, "Don't change because of this."
"Of course not, Freaky Leo."
Sally's footsteps returned and she let a soft weight fall across his legs before leaving again, door swinging shut behind her. He realised after a search with probing fingers that it was a canvas. Textured, familiar material was under his fingertips; rough and coarse and real.
For a moment, Sherlock wanted to call out thank you. Then he remembered he was alone.
And music started dancing in front of him, shut eyes notwithstanding.
It was at university where Sherlock met Sebastian Wilkes.
Sebastian was a clever fellow, devilishly flexible with various languages—French, Spanish, Italian and even Latin; and if you counted maths as a language, with all those squiggles and scrawls incomprehensible to all but those who've learned it, then he could speak that most fluently of all.
Sebastian was a shallow person, bitterly shallow in the most superficial ways—fame, fortune and sex—so Sherlock had no inclination to speak with him. Nothing special, but Sherlock had watched him before. He had watched and observed everyone he could.
—slate grey, smalt, dark sapphire—white teeth; crooked, stretched smile; dead eyes; bored eyes; cleverer than most but still as stupid as the rest—onyx, indigo, electric lavender—
However, when Sebastian looked back Sherlock was a little amazed. Normally attention was drawn to him because he couldn't sit still during lectures, or over the fact he could go weeks without talking to anyone on campus. Sebastian was staring at Sherlock playing his violin.
They were in the park and Sherlock was fairly certain that he would be undisturbed and unrecognised here. The distance from campus was usually inconvenient enough of a deterrent, along with the heavy rain clouds that promised to Sherlock an 86% chance of heavy downpour.
After a final long quivering note, Sherlock stopped playing and started walking away from the coins littering his feet—someone else could have them. He packed up his violin into his case as he walked, flicking out a few stray pence, before clicking it shut securely, as if it could keep away prying eyes. The bow he kept in his hand, to occupy the one that wasn't carrying the case. There was comfort in the tawny wood and resin smell.
He was tall and lanky then, and he was going to grow even taller, with his next growth spurt in the fall—Sebastian had to quicken his stride to keep up with Sherlock, asking, "So, you play an instrument?"
Sherlock bit back the sarcastic retort dancing on the tip of his tongue—no, I don't play an instrument, I've just been fumbling with the strings and music just happens, how strange—and gave a short nod instead. His bow was tapping out a beat on his thigh and he was wondering what Sebastian wanted.
There were a few things that he could be asking for. Money, for one, because Sherlock came from a privileged family—however it was unlikely that Sebastian needed it, seeing as his family was richer than Sherlock's. Not to mention, there were no stressful signs indicative if he were in debt due to drugs or gambling.
Next was sex. Which was immediately struck out since Sherlock didn't do sex. He understood the concept, but never saw the appeal. Neither was he a late bloomer; his voice had already deepened considerably, along with other notable physical changes that came along with the tide of hormones.
He wasn't the type to tutor other students either, as stupid as they sometimes were. Sherlock loathed the education system, the guidelines and restrictions and unseen chains that locked around his body. His patience was never that good at school, already stretched thin and ready to snap from being unable to do anything creative or worthwhile for so long.
By the time Sherlock had realised that an uncomfortable length of time had passed without anyone saying anything, Sebastian was already trying to fill the silence.
"I've never seen anyone play with such skill—"
A bird darted in the sky, midnight greens and duke blues. It moved smoothly across the backdrop of arsenic-coloured clouds and was gone in the blink of an eye. Damn it – the rain.
"I always thought you were weird, but you're a bit of musical genius, aren't you?"
Thunder rolled, a crashing sound that hit—once, twice, thrice—and faded. Lightning flashed in accompaniment, as if it all were simply an orchestra of noise and lights.
"If you showed people how well you could play, you'd be famous—"
Sherlock picked up his pace and pulled his scarf tighter around his neck and it was getting harder to breathe. Rain was coming.
"You should consider learning another instrument, unless you already know one—"
A gale picked up and trees—army green, hunter green, pear and lime—swayed as the first raindrops fell. The air smelled of rich earth and water.
"I can see it now, you with a piano—"
When they found cover, the rain started pouring in earnest. Sherlock's shoulders relaxed and he held his violin case loosely towards his chest. Safe and sound.
When drips of water slid down his skin, he realised he was unnaturally warm and flushed, and he tried to stop panicking. There was a bit of information overload happening to his mind, his inner eye scanning and re-scanning every detail he saw, all the words and their meanings and the meanings behind that.
"So, Sherlock, mate, what do you think?"
Snapping out of his daze, Sherlock looked up and Sebastian's expectant face and coughed out a laugh.
"Why would I want to learn the piano? Tedious, boring, simple," he stressed in a disgusted tone. "It is no better than the drums, cavemen banging and knocking things to make some noise."
Sebastian looked taken aback, slightly scandalised by the minute widening of the eyes.
"Are you comparing pianists... to cavemen?"
"Don't let your wounded ego detract from you realising how right I am." He had never seen or heard that Sebastian played the piano, but no one used that hurt tone of voice unless it was personal.
Puffing up angrily, Sebastian bit back, "I've have you know the piano is regarded as one of the most beautiful instru—"
"Where's the expression in it?" Sherlock interrupted, agitated. "Where's the soul?"
"Wouldn't have thought you believed in one," Sebastian muttered.
"A soul that bows to God? Hardly. A soul that bends and sways to the light and colours of the universe? Of course that exists. That, Sebastian, is human expression—art."
Sherlock continued posting images to his website, Art of the Reasoner, which had actually started to pick up a following. A cult following was perhaps too extreme a description, but the commenter, theimprobableone,had a fanaticism verging on the insane. Which, of course, was why Sherlock tolerated him/her—it was always interesting to read their vague, slightly unsettling comments.
Sherlock learned the importance of watermarking his images fairly soon, especially when he learned some bastard was taking his works and claiming it as their own.
Possessive wasn't a word Sherlock would have used to describe himself. Even when he as hacking into the bank account of the man who stole from him, he refused to call himself possessive.
He had every right to get angry over someone taking what was his. What he had invested time, blood, sweat and tears (sometimes the last three in a literal sense) into creating.
Mycroft had called him two hours later and told him to stop messing around with the bank's security. Then he reminded his brother that if anything like this happened again, all he had to do was call. Mycroft's people were already taking care of the situation.
Sherlock snarked a bit at him before hanging up. Admittedly, however, there were times when Big Brother came in handy.
Her face filled sketchbooks but it was her voice that haunted him. Sherlock could write down music—not the way she sang it—but he couldn't forget her. Sheet music was hardly an apt recording method anyway.
A small part of him admitted that he really didn't want to forget.
Irene Adler was prima donna in the Imperial Opera of Warsaw. That was what she was infamous for. Except Sherlock had known Irene when she was a bright, young contralto; anxious and nervous at the prospect of singing at Italy's famous La Scala.
It was raining when they met all those years ago; Sherlock had slipped in a puddle and sprained his ankle. He was sidetracked from the pain by the idea that pain kept shooting little branches of bright colour into his vision—blinding, distracting, and a kind of wondrous enrapture that made him keep walking if only to be able to keep seeing.
His hobbling had attracted Irene's attention and before Sherlock knew it, he was drying in a small, well-lit room with poorly made tea before him. His leg was bandaged without the care of a trained expert, but with the firm hand of someone who'd done something similar before.
"Are you all right?" she asked, voice lilting and sing-song even in her accented Italian.
Even though he was feeling better, he had the unwelcome sensation of disorientation. For lack of anything to say, Sherlock grumbled in English, "Americans can never make tea right."
"Now, now; stereotyping is never good," Irene berated gently, switching to English, matching with Sherlock. "If I were to lower myself to those standards, I would make a query about why London has such a shortage of dentists."
He never asked how she knew he was from London. He should have.
Her smile was crooked, but the rest of her face was perfectly symmetrical, stunning in the way artists drew but never saw. She wasn't beautiful, not in the traditional sense, but there was something about her fact that drew Sherlock's eye.
"The name's Sherlock Holmes."
"I'm Irene. Irene Adler, that is."
"I'm from New Jersey," Irene had said with surprise. "How did you guess?"
This naturally led Sherlock to scoff, "Guess? There is no guesswork here. It's painted on your face and in your voice."
They talked throughout the night—half-arguing, half-learning—and somehow Sherlock stayed with Irene for an entire fortnight while his ankle rested. All the things he had were in his backpack anyway, so Sherlock never really had to go collect anything.
She sang for him every afternoon and morning, and he painted for her every noon and night. He picked pieces that would tests the very limits of her voice and she asked him to draw things that pushed at the edges of his imagination. Sherlock avoided using that when he could help it—imagination was such a tiring, imprecise variable, after all—but for Irene he didn't seem to mind so much.
For a while he could convince himself she was rather normal. She liked peanut butter and loathed jam and was absolutely awful at painting. Her fiancé, Godfrey Norton, was a nice man with a thick accent—English was his third language, unfortunately—and he could laugh loudly enough to shake a house down.
Then, as usual, the illusion was shattered.
Sherlock had taken a commission for the most ridiculous man—almost as ridiculous as his name: Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein—and had learned through his multiple trips to his house (a fair sized mansion for the CEO to the multi-billion dollar company, Bohemian Inc.) that Wilhelm was trying to track Irene Adler down.
If he hadn't heard this interesting morsel of information, Sherlock would have long dropped the commission because painting an idiotic man was not worth the effort of hobbling up the marble steps of his house with crutches.
Apparently as Wilhelm's wedding to Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen—Sherlock thought it another ridiculously lavish name—was coming closer, the CEO was growing increasingly agitated about apparent pictures Irene had of a past fling.
When he had enough evidence to back up his claims, he went to Irene and told her she was in danger. It was almost unsurprising how well she took that news.
It took only an hour for Irene and Godfrey to pack up their lives. Irene said she couldn't explain much, only that he shouldn't worry because she'd be safe so long Godfrey was with her. They had known it was coming.
He was left alone with only the lingering memory of a swift kiss on the cheek and a blurred photograph of the three of them together, laughing over something while fairy lights blinked high up above them.
That afternoon, he painted them over and over, their faces and their words and all their secrets. He burned the canvases and the now unnecessary crutches, and thought it was over and done with.
Except that voice. He couldn't paint away a voice like that.
So he remembered them.
But her most of all.
In the age of social networking, Sherlock was as isolated as ever.
He despised the innate nature of Twitter, where grammar and spelling were often forsaken to match the character limit of their posts.
The very idea of Facebook bored him. Why would he want to keep in contact with people from school? And family? All the family he had watched him.
LiveJournal, DreamWidth, BlogSpot—all of them dull, dull dull. The guileless meanderings of their petty lives hardly endeared him to the sites. He didn't need to be told their life story. He could see it.
Tumb1r had originally intrigued him until he saw it was a horde of people recycling the same pop culture images over and over again. How unoriginal.
Except then he found an art site called DeviantArt, and Sherlock impulsively cross-posted that with works from his site, The Art of the Reasoner.
He conceded it wasn't all that bad.
Just because Mrs. Hudson insisted he pay half-rent, it didn't mean she couldn't do with some more money. She tried to hide it, but Sherlock could see how she would open bills and frown and how she tried to use the medication for her hip—and other problems—as sparingly as possible.
It wasn't healthy. But even with the amount he paid, he was stretching his resources a little thin. There was the trust fund, of course, but Sherlock wanted to live without dipping into it. A sane person might have suggested that Sherlock give up buying paints and pencils and canvases for a while, but it was an unthinkable request.
So Sherlock decided he would acquire a roommate. It would be an interesting experience to have.
How the hell was he going to get a roommate?
For reasons he never clarified to anyone else, Sherlock had a multitude of sim cards for his phone. They were kept in a little ceramic bowl on top of a pile of sketchbooks with cracked and broken bindings.
Mycroft had given him—forced onto him, really—one of those special phones that could hold two sim cards at once. Sherlock kept one the same so Lestrade could keep in touch with him, but he was apt to changing the second when he felt like it—which was an often enough occurrence.
(Sherlock was also amused himself by changing the language setting of the phone every few days, but that's a story for another time.)
The numbers in his phonebook changed when he changed the sim card. He hated saving numbers to the actual phone because he knew how easily he broke them. Sim cards had the chance of being salvaged.
Each sim card had at least twenty contacts or more on it. The main ones he used stayed with the sim card that Lestrade knew the number of, and the others were people who were a little more under the radar, or people he'd helped in the past, or people he'd painted, or clients, or just someone he knew was helpful. Sherlock knew every single one of them off by heart but backing them up wasn't a bad idea in the case he painted them away one day, on a wall, in a book, behind a shelf, on the ceiling, somewhere.
Not all information should be painted away.
Still, he knew the paranoia of some of his contacts—and maybe he was a little paranoid himself, thanks to Big Brother Mycroft—so he never named the numbers with names. He named contacts by colours.
The primary colours went to Lestrade – blue, Mycroft – red, and Mrs. Hudson – yellow.
Shades of purple went to people he knew would be helpful to cases, shades of pink to those he contacted for art, and shades of green for all those people in-between.
He still had his parents' numbers, his mother white, his father listed black. The light and the dark, the day and the night, inexorable entities that couldn't exist without the other in some never ending loop.
In the end they turned to sickly grey and lost their vibrancy.
Sherlock couldn't bring himself to delete them though—metaphorically or literally.
Not just yet.
The first roommate—single male, university student, aspiring to work for NASA—left within a week. Sherlock was glad to see him go. Apparently lecture notes were not meant to be used for papier-mâché.
The next one was a Hispanic man who thought he could tolerate Sherlock since he'd come from a family of talented artists. He endured a bit longer than the first, but moved out after explaining he couldn't stand it anymore. At least he had the tact to leave calmly and not throw a childish fit and break anything like the first.
Sherlock kicked out the third roommate—single male, worked at the National Antiquities Museum—since he had an unfortunate tendency to knock things over—like paints, stacks of sketchbooks, canvases, buckets of paint stripper—and the resultant messes were absolutely catastrophic.
After carefully considering it, Sherlock took on a female flatmate (thinking the problem was the gender), but found that even more intolerable when she tried to tidy up his 'messes', inadvertently destroying a delicate experiment on paint pigment formation under the duress of various acids.
Now, Sherlock had no idea how statistically likely it would be for him to find the perfect flatmate. It was frustrating how difficult this was.
Instead of pushing it, Sherlock mused, he should try to let it go. When he wanted to paint something and found he couldn't, he would normally go and sketch still life for a while until the tedium snapped him and he could paint perfectly well again.
He figured maybe the tedium of life would force someone interesting into his house.
Then Sherlock snorted and typed up another advertisement requesting a flatmate, thinking firmly, Life doesn't work like that.
The canvases stayed white, the paper pristine and the air was still with fatigue. Nothing was happening. Nothing felt like it would happen.
Sherlock curled up tighter on the couch, a threadbare blanket wrapping around his legs which were tucked underneath him chin. He licked his lips. Dry. Tasted like talcum powder.
Fingers twitched but no other movement presented itself in Sherlock. It was as if he thought being dead-still would force a reaction from him.
He blinked and the letters in his vision shifted a bit, hazy in the air.
He catalogued all the things on his Must-Do list, and there were fourteen things he remembered really needing to paint, but the idea of trying to take any of those mental snapshots down felt so wrong.
Off. Like spoiled milk on the counter. Curdled and bitter and wrong. Rejected.
Twisting impossibly tighter, Sherlock looked small on the couch, petulant like he resented his body not working with him.
Dying, dry, dull, not bored, simply worthless—
All the clocks in the flat were broken—Sherlock needed the cogs for something though he couldn't remember what—so he wasn't quite sure how long he was just lying there, thinking without anything to think about.
And then the word Blue appeared on the screen of his humming phone and he saw, "Double homicide. – Lestrade."
The colours returned.
Sherlock suddenly realised he shouldn't accept money for art commissions.
He should accept secrets and favours.
When he painted an entire nursery to resemble the inside of a forest, the Chinese family promised him free dinners at their restaurant any time he wanted. Apparently they were stunned by the attention to detail some of the works had. You could see the shadows of the insects on the leaves.
A small corner shop gave him free canvases because he would paint the images they would use to display their wares. Sherlock didn't know what to make of it that their sales had risen by 7% since he started swapping art for fresh canvases.
When he sketched a woman by the pier, he had asked for her description of jealousy in return. He stayed and listened to her speak an hour after he was done drawing because her anger on the topic was intensely fascinating. Something that eats you inside out with little bites on your heart and soul—
His favourite bookshop gave him a discount of half-price for his assistance in redesigning and painting the display wall of their store. Sherlock didn't buy enough books that the favour was worth it, in a financial sense, but it was the idea that he could that gave it value.
Quicker than he thought he would, Sherlock had an entire folder of hand-scribbled favours and promises, with secrets recorded in his mind and art.
Money was so agonisingly normal. If you gave it some thought, money was paper and metal which was hardly worth anything. It was just a medium to use in exchange for work and items.
Sherlock felt his version of bartering was far more satisfying to all involved.
Except then there were those bad days when Mrs. Hudson seemed a little more stressed than usual—bills on her kitchen table, shopping bags a little too light, her eyes so very tired—and then Sherlock would need money. He would swallow his pride for her sake, if no one else's.
"Riding crop? What the—?"
To Molly's credit, she hadn't even flinched at the request. She just sighed heavily as if Sherlock made her life that much more taxing. Which, thinking about it, he probably did.
"Bruising on a dead body," Sherlock explained as he tried to walk past her. "I've wanted to capture the way bruises flow from blue and black and red and pink for a while now."
"But the lack of blood flow would—"
"Of course, I'm assuming that the body is fresh."
"Of course," Molly repeated under her breath, half dazed and half frustrated. Throwing her hands in the air, she motioned for him to go into the morgue. It was a sign of how she trusted him now.
Anyway, Molly had just catalogued everything, so if there was anything missing she'd know about it. Sherlock flashed a brief almost-sincere smile in her direction and disappeared.
If one was standing outside the morgue's door, one would hear very odd grunting noises and the sounds of slapping on flesh. Very odd indeed.
Some time in school—Sherlock honestly didn't bother remembering when exactly—he entered an art competition. More specifically, his mother entered one of his pieces when he wasn't paying attention.
It was the painting of the inside of their attic, only Sherlock had limited himself to pastels. So the image of his dark, grimy attic instead was bursting with muted colours that held warmth and light. The image was aesthetically pleasing, but nothing he wanted made public.
Part of the prize was a family of artist dummies. Sherlock discarded them to the floor underneath his bed the second he realised they were utterly boring.
As a general rule in the week that followed the win, Sherlock was rather difficult. He sulked that his work was used without his knowledge, and that tiny bubble of pride that people acknowledged he had talent didn't offset the grudging bitterness that art wasn't made for judgement and yet it had been judged, marked and graded.
On the last night of his extended silent treatment, he went to bed without stopping for supper—he was well aware of his threshold and since he had dinner the night before, he would last for another 36 hours without food—and he noticed several dark shapes sitting on his covers, leaning innocently against each other.
Flicking on the light, Sherlock could see they were his artist dummies. Except not quite the same as from when he first received them. Little bits of dust trapped in their joints were the only indicator that they spent time underneath his bed. Floating letters circled them like protective bees that guarded their hive.
The adult male figure had a strip of white gauze wrapped around its neck in an artful way that indicated it was meant to be a scarf. The adult female had a pink dress fashioned from what looked like old ribbons—from his mother's dancing shoes?
Looking back to the gauze, Sherlock saw it wasn't the same type from the first aid kit in their bathroom, so his father must have brought it in from the hospital. One of the androgynous child dummy figurines held in its arms a little party umbrella, painted blue with a clumsy hand.
Stepping closer, Sherlock picked up the last figure, another genderless child dummy, and saw the hand pads were stained with little flecks of paint and chalk and ink.
His family had taken the effort to recreate their family on the wooden humanoid dolls. Sherlock saw the gesture for what it was and walked down the stairs to eat. He refused to make any allusions to the dolls and his family didn't bring it up.
Everyone knew though. That was part of a benefit of growing up in the Holmes household. Not everything needed to be said.
The dummies stayed in Sherlock's room in all the years he grew up. Last he saw them, the day before he moved out of his parents' home, they were still sitting on the shelf, silent sentinels promising protection but representing so much more than that.
He supposed that these days, all that was left of his family was splinters.
"You've changed your lipstick," Sherlock said with faint surprise. "It's not that neutral salmon one you seem fond of. What is it now, garnet?"
Whatever shade Molly's lipstick was, her cheeks were colouring a sweet pink. She looked uncomfortable, but Sherlock wasn't quite sure why since he was only commenting on—
Before Sherlock could say anything, Molly asked, "I was wondering whether you'd like some coffee?"
"Black, two sugars," was a knee-jerk reaction, kind of cold, almost cruel of Sherlock. He quickly left the room but paused outside the door, trying to think, trying to figure out a way to explain he feared the intensity of relationships so he didn't bother, but all of that was too vulnerable, far too open and he didn't want to complicate things.
Molly was a nice woman, all exasperated sighs and never ending patience; just not the person for Sherlock.
So he walked upstairs without looking back, a knot twisting in his chest.
Their eyes burned like they would die for one another...
Sherlock was in the laboratory, testing out a theory: that painting blood would be more realistic if he actually mixed blood in with his red paints. He was using his own blood, of course, because using donor blood left a bunch of variables Sherlock had no control over.
So far, so good, it seemed. He was painting a canvas he had roughly mocked up the night before. The scarlet was startlingly bright against the genteel sepia-themed background. Blood didn't mix well with the oil paints, so the shading of colours wasn't quite right. It dried awkwardly in places and ran watery in others.
The heady taint of rust and metal filled the air, noticeable over the pungent smell of paint.
Perhaps water colours would be more effective, Sherlock mused as the door opened and two men walked in. One was someone he knew; the other, a stranger.
Mike Stamford was easily identifiable. He had taken an odd sort of liking to Sherlock ever since Sherlock had agreed to paint a simple portrait of Mike's kids, free of charge. He'd even done a decent job without complaint. That was when Sherlock had been fascinated with the strangeness that were children: undeveloped, round little things; all soft edges with barely anything interesting about them—which was, ironically enough, what made them interesting.
Then Sherlock looked at the men again, really looked, and realised he was staring at his new potential flatmate. Mild colours, non-assuming, short but average-looking all the same.
John was such a boring name.
Everything was too sharp. Every single blade of grass, the crush of wet dirt underfoot, the smell of cold fog and misery clinging to the air; all of it was too vivid, too loud, too bright, screaming at him, fighting for his attentions. The air tasted of salt. Of moisture, of ashes and bitterness, of memories discarded by the wayside—
Or was all of that imagined?
A pressure clamped down on his ears as if a gale was rushing around him but the air was perfectly still. The sun shone down no brighter than any other day. Leaves—gamboge, pumpkin and persimmon orange—fell down around him.
Eighteen people had passed where he stood, crushed leaves and indents in the soft ground glowing beacons to their presences, and yet Sherlock was the only one who had stopped. Not quite a popular spot to be, after all.
Sherlock blinked and rocked back on his heels, trying to focus on the gravestone before him. He had designed the gravestone himself. He didn't get the chance to actually carve and chisel it himself though—grief was a paralytic—so his eyes focussed on the mistakes, the imperfections he wouldn't have allowed through, and the perfections—like the smooth polish—that he wouldn't have done because sometimes perfection was distastefully artificial and—
Breathe. He had to remember to breathe.
What was he doing here? The familiar dig of a strap in his shoulder reminded him he was going to paint, something about wanting to catch the autumn air, but his feet had taken him here, of all places, to the cemetery where his parents were buried.
Screaming for attention. All of it. The praying angels with fragmented faces and lost digits and broken wings that all begged to be painted and fixed with plaster. Wilted flowers, lavish wreaths and dirtied ribbons decorating the grounds before graves. He wanted to pull apart the petals from the stems and decorate the grounds with reds and pinks and golden oranges.
His eyes flickered left and right, up and down, side to side again. The creak of the gate, the crumbling gravestones, the wet shine of glittering letters carved into rock. Gravestones were trying to be strong, pretending to be permanent; hoping to help those who wanted to grieve by being there, a reminder of what had been lost.
Sherlock didn't want to grieve.
Looking, thinking, and reminiscing.
He knew what he had lost. Couldn't move though, couldn't stop staring at all the colours around him—why was a cemetery so damned colourful? —and trying to name them all instead of thinking, instead of hurting, instead of just being there and remembering.
Everything was too blurry.
Sherlock wasn't crying. Just the world had started to blur and shift and melt together. Like the dreams of some surrealist.
He wondered what it would be like to dream.
Surprise, shock, rage, anger, fear, shock—
Sherlock would be lying if he didn't get a small kick from stripping down the walls of someone's life and baring it for the world to see.
He said all those things to John—army doctor; problem brother; psychosomatic limp—because it was a sneak preview of what was to come. If Sherlock could burrow into the secrets of John's life with only a glance and a phone, imagine the chaos he could cause by living with him.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. He must have walked enough to get the signal back on his phone. Pulling it out, he spared it a short glance and read that Pastel Violet had texted him, Bruises formed.
Excellent, Sherlock thought; gripping tighter at the strap of his bag. He hurried down to the morgue. He really had to remember to pick up his riding crop while he was there.
If there was something odd about Sherlock, it was that he didn't dream. He fell asleep and woke up without any data being edited in-between.
Sometimes he considered the experience just like dying.
Closing your eyes and feeling nothing, seeing nothing, touching nothing until your eyes reopen. It was a blackness that swallowed up his being entirely, never allowing for light to escape.
Sherlock didn't dream.
But that didn't mean he was free from nightmares.
For hours he worked at his palette, trying to find the right combination of whites, browns, yellows and gold to match the shade of John's hair. He wanted to recreate it, to immortalise it in a way far better than a camera or his razor-sharp memory. Except he couldn't find it; he couldn't make the colour of John's hair. It was dishwater here, dirty blond there, and dull yellow at the base.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! Frustration at failure seized Sherlock, gripping his heart and he just screamed.
There was never any prior need for perfection in his art. Erratic and flawed was his style, clumsy handwriting scrawling and marring whatever was done. He was a good artist, Sherlock didn't believe in false modesty, but for some reason he couldn't paint John. He could copy down some of the floating words, but not the man himself.
This was a fascinating development.
Perhaps John Watson wouldn't get boring too quickly after all.
Mrs. Hudson looked dubious when Sherlock announced the imminent arrival of another flatmate.
"He'll be coming over to look at his room in the evening."
"Sherlock, dear, are you quite sure about that?" she asked as she whisked eggs in a bowl. Sherlock swore he never hovered around her for food, it was merely coincidence he sought her out and she happened to be cooking.
"I'm very sure. He said he'd be here at seven." Well, technically Sherlock told him seven, but he was sure the man would turn up all the same.
"I'm not asking about that, and you know it." Mrs. Hudson sighed and said, "Dear, I'm fine. You don't need to trouble yourself to get a flat mate."
She started measuring out the sugar and Sherlock rocked back a little, swaying on the spot. He could see traces of flour in the air, like little dust particles but finer.
If it were anyone else, Sherlock would have pointed out the bills; the way she walked gingerly as if her hip ached; the signs of wear and tear around them; the small lack of little luxury items. If it were anyone else, he would blurt that all out and force them to see.
Except Mrs. Hudson deserved so much more than that—deserved a better husband, a better tenant, a better life all round—so he said, "It's no trouble at all."
"Why is there a knife on the mantelpiece?" John asked as he walked around the flat, eyes drinking in the place as he pondered the idea of living here. Though Sherlock knew he was hooked, drawn in from that very first question of, "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
"It keeps the unopened mail together," Sherlock replied, straightening some sketchbooks on the table. "I have a tendency of painting over any available surface when the mood strikes." He wasn't lying. He had missed some bills due to that unfortunate absentmindedness with important documents.
"Apart from the canvases, it doesn't look too chaotic in here," John remarked. "Just a bit disorganised."
"Don't worry about mess and chaos," Sherlock said. "I leave that for 221C."
There was a pause where John looked up as if he were speculating just how serious Sherlock was being before shaking the thought away.
"I looked you up on the Internet last night," John said, an almost challenging note in his tone.
"I believe the term is Googling; do keep up, John."
For a moment, John looked like he wanted to snap something back, but must have caught the small upward quirk of Sherlock's lips. "Yes, well, I found your website: Art of the Reasoner."
"Oh?" Sherlock turned and his eyes were curious. His fingers were twitching for a pencil to sketch out the tired lines of John's face and write down every little detail for the world to see, but instead of doing that he asked, "What did you think?"
"It's insane," John stated bluntly.
Sherlock was about to sneer a scathing retort when John added,
"I must say though, the pictures are beyond beautiful."
Stock still for a moment, Sherlock was the very picture of surprise—of his flavour of surprise, anyway. John had not been acquainted with him long enough to notice the slight widening of Sherlock's eyes; how John had all of Sherlock's usually erratic attention; the way his lips were parted in the smallest of ways, like he was on the precipice of saying something he didn't want to say.
People rarely compliment me.
They say it's strange, wrong, odd, or useful, but never beautiful.
I should say thank you.
Art only exists to be seen and appreciated.
I should say thank you.
All that Sherlock ended up saying instead was, "Of course they are."
"Anderson won't work with me."
This was a problem, to be completely honest. Sherlock did consider himself a cut above the rest when it came to noticing details, but he needed someone who had training. Noticing the details was wonderful if he also had the information to process it.
He knew anatomy, he knew poisons, he knew all those tiny ways to kill a man. But he conceded that there was more he could be missing out on—those awful things that took years of university and field work to really learn—and so he needed someone to help.
Just in case.
Some of the forensics team were helpful; except Anderson was part of the minority who never really contributed to Sherlock's thought process. He almost would say Anderson hindered it. Normally he would have to tolerate it.
"You're a doctor." He stared at John with a fresh intensity. "In fact, you're an army doctor."
Could he kill two birds with one stone?
Wouldn't hurt to give it a try.
"Your skin shades are all wrong," Sherlock said as his fingers ran over the worn fabric of the cab. "If I were painting you, I would need to leave distinct tan lines on the wrist and neck. Something between bisque and blanched almond with the tan being... hansa yellow? No, that's not right. For your skin I'd need to make something special—"
John raised his arm and looked it speculatively. Sherlock waved a hand and said, "Wait until you're under bright lighting. The flashing street lights are hardly going to help you."
"Okay, so I have tan lines," John countered, lowering his arm. "How the hell do you know about my stint in the army?"
"I know you've fought because your eyes are those that have seen death." Sherlock spoke the answer offhandedly, but John's expression was a little taken aback. "How you hold yourself is how I would draw a man in power: confident, strong, ready. You might have to model for me with that stance. It speaks military to me. So does the cut of your hair. Do you deny it?"
"But then there was that comment earlier," Sherlock continued, clearly on a roll. "You're a doctor—yes, but in the military, trained at Bart's. Your limp doesn't flow right. It's a beat that doesn't sit right. I've heard limps before. They sound dragged and tired and resigned. Your one comes and goes. Psychosomatic limp, clearly—that normally comes with a psychiatrist."
John barked out a short, sharp laugh, but at Sherlock's piercing look, he nodded for the man to continue, torn between incredulousness and amazement. Sherlock raised a battered phone between them and John said, "What the hell—?"
"Another thing you should know," Sherlock said. "I sometimes feel like pick-pocketing."
"Damn it," John grumbled, snatching the phone back.
Indifferent, Sherlock said, "The phone, though clearly given by your brother if you read the engraving right—"
Sherlock went on to describe all the minute details before saying, "He gave you the phone as a gift. He wants you to call him. Yet you come back from war and are looking for a flat share."
"I bet that tells you a million things."
Sherlock almost smiled. "Anyway, as I was saying, the item is clearly not cherished, because you handed it to my paint-stained hands without even flinching." Sherlock wiggled his fingers, and indeed there were splashes of purple on the tips. "Indicated either absentmindedness or issues with the brother; I think the latter. You've got very sharp eyes."
"Very good," John said, "but the drinking. How the hell did you gather that?"
"Alcoholic because of the scratches around the charging point. When I experimented with copious amounts of it, my hands always shook when I held things. Understandable that when Harry went home to charge it after a bit of binge drinking, his hands would shake and leave scratch marks."
For a moment there was stunned silence, and then John murmured, "Jesus. That's amazing."
Sherlock smirked. "Just wait until we get to the crime scene."
When Sherlock was fifteen, he was told to paint or draw something he found scary. It was meant to be an exercise in self-expression.
"What are you afraid of?"
At that stage, Sherlock had already well established that he didn't enjoy drawing things from his imagination and much preferred the solid lines of reality, or at the very least, reality as he saw it.
The clarification was important since what he saw never did quite match up to what other people saw. Sometimes he wondered about that. He would watch others and try to figure out what made them different.
Nothing. Something. Everything. Floating letters, secrets in the air around him.
But when he was told to draw something scary—to him—he had to think about it.
He was not afraid of insects or animals, dead or alive. Blood wasn't a stranger to him. Horror movies were laughable at best, though hardly an amusing pastime for him.
Sherlock did not fear death (not quite yet since his parents were both still alive and he didn't quite know the ripping agony it brought). He also secretly adored heights, loved the attic of his home for the view it gave.
Sherlock didn't fear people, per se. He didn't dislike them, but he wasn't quite fond of them either. There were those whose company he sought out, people he cared for and people he needed (the group was small and not overwhelming).
Finally, Sherlock painted a simple generic group portrait. He left the details simple, the colours bland and he didn't paint any of their faces in. Smooth and blank as the side of an eggshell. Then he covered all of it up in black paint and wrote over that in black writing, impossible to read but the shine of letters added a strange effect until it all dried up.
Years later he would find it, crammed between the yellowed pages of an old and nearly forgotten notebook. A note was written in the back of the paper with black pen, the cursive handwriting neat and clearly feminine. Except it was quoting Sherlock's answer to the question.
Blindness—the inability to see—is possibly one of the most terrifying things in the world.
"How do you get a colleague?" Sally asked, half-teasing, half-snarking. She didn't like how Sherlock disapproved of Anderson (of her choices), and he didn't like how she kept going back to him.
They were fighting, which was normal on the outside, but on a deeper level they were beginning to mean it.
"Freaky Leo's here," Sally barked into her radio. "Bringing him in."
"Can she call you that?" John muttered in an underside. He appeared bristled by the name-calling. Sherlock was slightly surprised, almost forgetting that it wasn't something particularly polite or nice.
"If it makes you uncomfortable," Sherlock said, "just think of it as her little term of endearment for me." Which it was, though it varied in levels of vehemence.
When Sherlock made the comment about the state of her knees a short while later, she rolled her eyes and he knew things weren't completely irreparable.
John was staring at the body with a grim expression, something Sherlock tracked out of the corner of his eye. His hands were busy sketching—no time for painting today—as he walked around the body slowly, eyes absorbing the details. Occasionally he would crouch down to touch and prod the body with a gloved hand (the other holding his pencil).
"Err, why are you drawing?" John asked, looking a bit sceptical.
"You saw the website," Sherlock replied tonelessly, too preoccupied to answer any further than that. The vivid colour of her outfit was throwing him off a little, but he worked it in, capturing the corpse in a variety of brilliant pinks, reds and yellows—she had been murdered, but there was no real way to incorporate in the grimness of blacks and greys into something so bright.
Lestrade took pity on John and explained, "It's how he works best. Not to mention, it gives us a physical copy of what he does."
"And what exactly does he—"
"John," Sherlock said, "do lend a hand and determine cause of death for me."
"Anderson—" Lestrade said but was cut off when Sherlock snapped,
"—is as sharp as rusty knife. I asked John because I know he's competent."
"Um." John cleared his voice quietly and said as an aside to Sherlock, "You can't know that. It's my word against no proof, really."
Sherlock's smile wasn't entirely artificial and another level of ambiguous. "I'm sure you'll do fine with a quick examination."
After a long moment, John broke away from Sherlock's stare and got down on his knee to check up on the woman, calling out his opinions as Sherlock continued walking around the body, stooping now and then to prod it, and occasionally adding lines to his sketch.
"Done!" Sherlock crowed triumphantly as Johns stood, handing the paper to Lestrade with a smug expression.
His darted from side to side as he quickly scanned the notes.
"You can tell she's an adulterer from her jewellery, coat, umbrella and the heel of her right foot?" Lestrade asked; a tired disbelief in his tone.
Sighing heavily, Sherlock said, "It's all in the notes."
"I can never read your bloody handwriting."
"There's a murder. No point pulling out the fancy cursive when there's something interesting on!"
"Death," John started, "is interesting to you?"
"No less than illness is to you." Sherlock tilted his head. "Doctors try to parade morals, but they wear the same badge of curiosity as I do. I like painting deaths to figure out all their secrets. You like working on the sick because there's a puzzle in that, too."
"I do it to help people."
"Unimportant." Sherlock waved to the body and described, in detail, exactly what was important, why it was important, and then running out of the room in a hurry, a stunned John and an annoyed Lestrade behind him.
"What's the mistake?" Lestrade yelled down the stairs.
Before either man could interpret Sherlock's exclamation, he ran off, coat flapping in his haste.
Lestrade sighed and laughed lowly before saying to John, "Only an artist would give a damn about the colours. Be careful about him, alright? God knows he's a special brand of crazy."
John asked, "What are you?"
There was a pause as Sherlock wondered how to answer.
Sometimes people asked as an insult, and Sherlock would either not reply or sneer, "As human as you, unfortunately," to them. However, John's tone wasn't like that. His expression was softer and kinder than that.
Then there was the question, "What are you?" asked in an adoring fashion when Sherlock had pulled something particularly spectacular, and again the correct response was silence or a derisive, "Only human." Yet Sherlock was merely walking beside John, on their way to Angelo's, and he had done nothing immediately recent to deserve such a reaction.
The half-lilt at the end suggested it was an innocent and sincere question; probably about his occupation. With a faint smile, Sherlock replied, "Just a sketch artist."
Later, when they were both laughing from the high of adrenalin and were eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant—Sherlock did guess the fortune cookies correctly, simply because he knew the owner and could pull stunts like this—Sherlock would correct the earlier statement, with the soft admission, "I'm a little more than a sketch artist."
He then ate some shrimp because he had finished a case and he was hungry and buzzing with energy. He felt he could paint entire worlds over and over, but was content to sit with John and just talk. The painting could come later.
"You don't think," John laughed, drinking deeply from his wineglass. "I think the fake drugs bust earlier confirmed that."
"Wasn't it the mad chase across the streets after that blasted taxi?" Sherlock asked, feigning disappointment.
"There was that, too, I suppose."
For a moment they just looked at each other, smiles dancing on the edges of their lips. It was nice. A feeling of ... comradeship welled up in him.
Without any visible cue, Sherlock said, "I stay up all hours of the night, I have multiple experiments in the kitchen and occasionally the bathroom, sometimes I get silent for days on end, and I've been called a bit insane."
John gave him a look and Sherlock conceded, "Okay, I've been called worse than insane, but you get the idea. I also play the violin; loudly."
This was John's last chance to get away, leave before anything truly overwhelming happened.
"That's only a threat if you play badly."
John wasn't running away screaming. He was sitting and eating and laughing and he had killed a man for Sherlock. There was something interesting going on here.
Sherlock grinned widely. "Then I think we'll get along fine."
"There's a head in the fridge."
"I know, isn't it lovely?" Sherlock said without taking his eyes from the microscope. The Thames River water was especially fascinating under high magnification. "Molly loaned it to me as a belated gift for my birthday."
"A human head."
"I do believe it is," Sherlock said idly. "Homo sapiens sapiens if you want to get technical."
The fridge door shut with a half-hearted slam. "Do you always get insane gifts?"
"If you're talking about the fingers or the eyeballs," Sherlock mentally noted to move those out of the microwave, "they're for some cases I'm working on."
"What fingers and eyeballs?"
Sherlock usually curled in balls or lounged around in some contorted shape when he was at home. He stood tall when he worked, but he felt most comfortable stooped and half crouched when he was busy doing something more meaningful than reading the world out loud: writing it all down and making it permanent.
He had heard girls describe his cheeks as sharp enough to slice through glass, boys grumbling that his eyes were cutting enough to see into their souls, and his mother worrying he was too thin to be healthy.
Hard lines, sharp lines, cold, cutting and angular.
It was rather unfortunate because a small part of him wished he was compared to his dad. His father was bestowed with a chubby midsection and a rounded chin, but he was kind and warm. Sherlock's mother was the angles, was from whom he had inherited his appearance.
In a way, Sherlock disliked Mycroft's multiple attempts at dieting because he felt like that was a roundabout way of expressing distain towards their father. It was absolutely ridiculous, but didn't stop him thinking like that.
Sherlock saw some of his father in his brother and didn't want that to go, too.
He started painting Mycroft again in case it did.
His brother was as flawed as any other person, but he was as close to perfect as Sherlock could see. And Sherlock saw an awful lot of things.
Now really, if someone wanted to attack Sherlock, there were plenty of opportunities for them to get him when he left his house. It was actually rather dangerous how often Sherlock would wander into isolated areas to paint.
So why someone tried to kill Sherlock in his own flat is anyone's guess.
Well, he had several very good guesses in mind, but that was neither here nor there.
He quickly sent off a text to Lestrade to come and arrest the now unconscious man. The shine of the thin sword caught Sherlock's eye, and after a moment of deliberation, Sherlock propped it against the bookshelf for safe-keeping; a memento of sorts.
Walking over to the kitchen, he looked at the scratch on the table and clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. After a short pause, he rummaged through the kitchen drawers and found a stencil knife.
Lestrade walked in fifteen minutes later to Sherlock creating an intricate carving in the wooden surface of the table.
At the right angle, the lines and curves looked like a tree, yet at another angle it looked like waves off a beach. The original design was stitched into the curtains of one of the crime scenes, but Sherlock had been looking for a place to recreate it for nearly a week.
Hide a book in a library. Hide a scratch in a carving.
"Is John all right with you destroying the furniture?" Lestrade asked as he walked across the room to feel for a pulse on the man on the floor.
"People are surprisingly tolerant of destruction when the results are aesthetically pleasing," Sherlock said mildly before blowing away some of the accumulating wood shavings.
Lestrade snorted in disbelief before calling Sherlock over to help carry the assailant down to the car. But it was true. When John came home later, tired and grumbling under his breath about the terror of technology, he stopped mid-tirade to almost smile at the carving.
"Is it a tree or is it the ocean?" John asked.
"It's whatever you want it to be."
His father played the harmonica when Sherlock was very young. It had life, but the noise had a whiny, tinny effect that irked Sherlock to no end. He wanted something smoother, more classical.
Mycroft learned how to play the piano, so Sherlock tried to learn it. It was intolerable. Fingers on ivory, pressing, pressing, tapping, tapping, no heart, no soul, boring, simple. It was like chemistry, like cooking: mix the notes to a particular beat and you get sound.
Sebastian tried to get him to play the piano, too. And then the saxophone (which was initially interesting and then as boring as everything else). He was surprisingly persistent, and it was only when Sherlock threatened to reveal the scandal of Sebastian's sister having an affair with a married professor that he backed off.
Victor Trevor came the closest to convincing Sherlock that there existed other instruments worthy of his time. They had spent many afternoons playing the guitar together. He could feel the vibrations of the strings and the hum of life. When he played guitar later though, on his own, it wasn't the same and he wondered whether companionship made the experience enjoyable.
None of them quite compared to the violin he found when he was younger, scrounging around the attic, avoiding thoughts of school, hiding from reality. When he played that, he could feel the music running up and down his arm in vibrations, his ears humming with the music and each pull of the bow creating beautiful music.
Why would he need anything else to play when the violin made him complete?
He staggered home—even after all these years the word home still felt a little strange—his head buzzing with thoughts of aquamarine and aureolin and wondering why some parts of his vision were turning a fuzzy monochrome.
—black and white, father and mother, right and wrong, ying and yang, life and death and the follies in-between—
Was the world swaying or was that him?
Sherlock stumbled a few steps before finding the wall and leaning against it, breathing heavily. He dropped his violin case to the ground with a solid thunk and his fingers felt for the wallpaper, the rough texture grounding him a bit.
The spots in his vision were familiar, but he hadn't touched cigarettes in years (or months?) and he could only feel one nicotine patch on his arm, a thick band of swirls drawn atop in purple ink.
His hands were covered in a fine dust—of seashell and steel blue—and when he tasted his fingertips, he found it to be chalk dust. That explained what he had been doing, and judging from the blunted, scraped nature of his nails, he had spent the better part of the day drawing on pavements.
The world was going black and white and it was harder to remember. Look, look! he thought angrily, trying to sum up the energy to move. Since when was he on the floor? He couldn't recall sinking to his knees, but he must have.
Spots in his vision, like little stars in the sky—
Snapping out of it, Sherlock clicked over his violin case. The strings were coated in dust and shiny coins littered the bottom. Vaguely, Sherlock thought he could thread all the coins together and make them hang from the ceiling into something gorgeous, but the words in his vision were blurring.
The stain on the corner of his case proclaimed in caps locks TRAIN STATION, the words disappearing as soon as he scratched it into his dry skin with his nail. The white marks disappeared with a rub of his thumb and they might have never existed at all.
Except it had said TRAIN STATION and Sherlock was almost positively sure that it was there where his day had drained away. Sluggishly, he felt for his phone and the screen displayed several missed messages from blue and yellow and gold.
—tired, tired, tired; bags under his eyes like bruises of cool grey; his coat so thin and heavy and suffocating; scarf like a choker around his neck; and it was all so familiar—
He closed his eyes and sighed, just as a voice from the edges yelled out, "Bloody hell, Sherlock! Are you—"
Sherlock awoke in a warm bed. By-passing the normal reaction of disorientation, he catalogued that he was in his room, waking after a seven hour sleep, and that John had carried him up here to his bedroom.
Thank God, not the hospital, not the damned hospital, was all Sherlock thought for a full moment of relief as his eyes took in the chaos of colours on his walls. He didn't paint them like he had done in 221C, but he had covered almost every inch of drab wallpaper with his art.
A shift in the mattress returned Sherlock's attention to John, who appeared to have fallen asleep watching over Sherlock. The letters were brighter and clearer now, telling Sherlock that John's job interview went well.
Work. How dull.
He purposely ignored the irony that he found much of his entertainment these days in his work with the Met.
A laptop was beside him on the nightstand. Sherlock grabbed it without disturbing John. It wasn't his computer, but the password was so easily hackable—birthday and the name of his first pet.
Via a quick search of the Internet history, Sherlock smiled to see a few pages of his website in the Favourites section. It seemed there were some pieces John was fond of, and Sherlock made a mental note to paint a little more in those styles.
While Sherlock was checking his emails, John stirred and blinked wearily through the haze of sleep. He snapped awake rather quickly after that and fixed Sherlock with a grim stare.
"When was the last time you ate?" he asked.
"A few days," Sherlock said. But that was long enough to make him tired. He had stopped eating because he had an art block and even while the rush of a new case had given him the boost he needed to draw huge murals, he had forgotten about food again.
It was trivial. No wonder he forgot.
"Sally told me to watch out for you because you'd starve yourself sometimes."
"She said that?"
"Not in so many kind words, but that was the general message."
"Well, don't worry about it. I'm not going to drop dead anytime soon."
John looked increasingly annoyed and agitated. "You passed out in front of our door. I don't need to be a doctor to know that's unhealthy."
"I'll eat later."
"You'll eat now."
Sherlock's eyes darted to the clock on the wall, a gift from Mrs. Hudson. It was stuck upside down and had the numbers in mathematical formulae, but he immediately saw that they were late.
"We're on a case! We should have—"
"Food first," John said firmly.
"We need to find the connection between the two dead men." Sherlock swung his legs over the side. He ignored the slight ringing in his ears, but he couldn't ignore the sharp look John threw his way.
In a softer voice, Sherlock said, "I'll eat after we figure it out."
Sherlock could see John's reluctance to agree but he did so in the end anyway. That was how they found themselves dining in a small restaurant in Chinatown, mulling over the details of the case as John made sure Sherlock ate something.
It could only last so long though, as Sherlock noticed a wet book and just had to do some breaking and entering.
Murders that looked like suicides.
Unrelated deaths connected only by the killer.
He wondered whether that was a new theme between the London criminal underground. Then he realised Chinese letters were appearing in his vision and thought that perhaps the web stretched wider than just England.
He had only a name and instinct to go on. Interesting.
He remembered the first time he was kidnapped.
Sherlock forgot a lot of things on purpose, but this was something he couldn't remove from his mind. Seeing John reminded him yet again.
It was many years ago. Sherlock had a knack of pissing off the wrong people.
There was pain—tolerable, familiar, but ultimately forgettable. The rough treatment, the cloth gag, the ropes that chafed his wrists—all of those forgettable, forgivable, but then they covered Sherlock's eyes.
That was when the fear set in.
It trickled slowly at first, like ice water down his spine. Then it burned like acid rushing down his veins, searing his blood to boiling point and all the while he had to act calm, stay cool and try to work his way out of the situation.
Trying to compensate, his other sense leapt to life—hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting, touching, thinking—but they were all aiming for the same thing: to get his eyesight back.
It was suffocating, even though he could breathe.
Sherlock remembered the first time he was kidnapped, the first time he was completely blind and vulnerable, and the first time he felt relief upon seeing his brother's minions.
"I'd appreciate your artwork more if you ceased using stencils so often," Sherlock commented with a critical gaze.
The teenager turned around with a start, almost dropping the spray can he was holding until he saw who it was. The metal of the can glowed in the light of the moon. Sherlock stared on coolly; almost smiling at the scowl directed his way.
Raziah returned the look with a scathing one of his own. Dark eyes, dark hair, pale skin, fingers stained different colours, reeking of paint fumes. If Raziah lost a few pounds, grew his short hair, and had a more prominent facial bone structure, then maybe he could pass for Sherlock on a cloudy day.
Perhaps, Sherlock thought; filing away that half-formed idea to the back of his head for another time and place.
Frowning, Raziah dropped the empty spray paint can and picked up another one from his bag. Black paint, how endlessly dull. There was a sharp clicking noise as he shook it up.
"Not all of us can freestyle quite like you, Holmes," was all Raziah said before tagging the graffiti. It was a strange tag, less loops and sharp points, but more whorls and complex little half twists in-between.
For a short while, the only thing that could be heard was the faint sounds of traffic echoing through to the empty lot, and the faint hiss of the spray paint being released from the can.
"Don't," Raziah cut in gruffly. "Only me mum gets to call me that. You call me 'Raz'."
"You ran away from home," Sherlock pointed out softly. "I doubt your mother has the chance to talk to you."
"Shuddup," Raziah bit back, but without any real heat. He didn't bother acting surprised that Sherlock knew—Sherlock always knew. He chucked the can back into his duffle bag and slung it over his shoulder. "You comin' or what?"
The boy didn't wait for a response before he started walking off, looking much more bulky than he actually was since he was covered in so many layers of clothing. Sleeping in the streets wasn't a walk in the park, especially in England. Days got short, nights got cold.
As they walked, they passed more and more buildings absolutely covered in graffiti. Sherlock passed a few atrocious tags—some teenagers had no imagination or talent, really—and he snorted derisively at some of the slogans splattered against the brick and plaster.
"One moment," Sherlock murmured, hand slipping and snatching of Raziah's cans before the other could protest. A hiss filled the air as Sherlock added a few deft strokes to some weeks-old graffiti.
"You are possibly the only guy I know who would correct their grammar, you know that, right?" Raziah muttered. "Not to mention you bother copying their handwriting. It's freaky how you do that sometimes."
Sherlock shrugged and said, "Some pieces deserve the editing. I blame the education system more than the artist."
Raziah snorted. "Holmes, mate, you're pretty intense about all this, ain't you? We hardly call ourselves artists. This ain't some fancy pants museum gatherin', all right"?"
"Art is expression through a medium," Sherlock said with a quirk of his lips. "Where does it mention anything fancy?"
"Ha." Raziah stopped in front of a stretch of untainted concrete. "Try telling the coppers somethin' like that and see how they like it."
"The police aren't always incompetent."
"Right, right." Raziah looked almost apologetic. "Forgot you're on their payroll now."
"Hardly," Sherlock said with a slight sneer. He shook the can he was still holding and started drawing an outline. In spite of himself, Raziah paused to watch Sherlock work.
There was something oddly freeing about spray painting. It was so much less controllable, more volatile, something quick and dirty to play around with. The feel of it was so much more encompassing—the sounds of hissing, the stink of toxic fumes, the cold touch of metal and the burst of colour spreading on the floor and dancing on dust motes.
"So, did you get what you needed from the yellow paint?" Raziah asked, not knowing what happened hours earlier—how could he have known?—oblivious to what those symbols meant. "I spent ages roving the streets for them marks. Better have been worth it."
Sherlock stilled his finger on the spray can for a moment and thought about it. Gunshots—white, red, yellow; tunnel—black, blue, grey; death—crimson. Did he get what he needed? Worth it?
"Yes, it was," Sherlock replied, finishing the outline of a man collapsed on the ground, a spear jutting out of his gut. "I'll need some red to finish this," he murmured, eyes bright in the darkness.
Raziah watched on silently as Sherlock encircled the outline of the dead man with words all scrawled in red paint positioned to look like blood. Before it dried, the moon shone on it and it glistened as if it were really blood.
Sherlock stopped when the red paint ran out and Raziah didn't bring up the yellow characters again.
Art is expression through a medium.
Sherlock's definition of art wasn't really that clear cut.
When he was seven, his brother told him that acting was an art form. Well, to be more specific, Mycroft had said lying was an art form. So Sherlock learned to pretend to be normal, just enough that teachers pitied his erratic behaviour, rather than feared it.
When he was fifteen, his mother told him that dancing was an art form. That it showed emotions through the subtlest kick of the ankle or flick of the wrist. It's because of that Sherlock knew the steps to the over a dozen various types of dances. His favourite was, strangely enough, the Waltz. Slow, graceful, beautiful—and a dance his mother had absolutely adored, so he would dance it with her; for her.
At twelve, Sherlock was told by his father that surgery was its own kind of art; one of repairing and fixing and looking at the details to see the truth. Siger was a well-respected heart surgeon who had often waxed eloquent on how humbling it was to see the root of all life laid bare before him.
Six weeks after that conversation, Siger had to have another stern conversation with his son explaining how catching and killing birds for dissection was not something beautiful or condoned. Taking a picture of the birds, making them live forever, was more beautiful than killing them.
If Sherlock had been given another year or so to fully appreciate the mystery of life and death and the beating heart, who knows whether he would have picked up a paintbrush again?
He might have become a doctor like his father, a dancer like his mother, or a politician like his brother. Or maybe the world's only consulting detective...
Then again, Sherlock's only real passion in life was art. It would be insanity to think otherwise.
Sarah was nice; pretty; understanding. All of those trivial things. Something a man who had been in a war zone for far too long would appreciate and crave. She was safe and soft in pastel colours, but something brighter than Molly's subdued tones.
She was the genuine article of someone normal, and thus boring.
Sherlock gave Sarah's relationship with John a few weeks before they both realised they were better off as friends, or at the least, co-workers.
His smile was a little wicked as he texted John, Need your help. –SH
His phone chimed back immediately with a response. I'm on a date. What do you need help with?
You've already left Sarah, I can tell – ditching her for me on both your dates is poor form, by the way – so it hardly matters what I need help with. –SH
Sherlock, John had written, you have got to be joking. You didn't pull me out of the date because you're bored, have you?
I am bored though. I'm considering how much heat it would take to burst your beer cans. I'm sure the splatter pattern would be fascinating. –SH
I'm coming home now. Don't touch/ruin/destroy ANYTHING.
"Why the hell has our bathroom been turned—"
"—into a dark room?" Sherlock finished for John. "I'm interested in photography again."
Sherlock looked up and raised an eyebrow. He lifted up the camera in his hands and snapped a photo of John's surprised expression. The flash sparked brightly, like a glimpse at the sun before it disappeared.
"Yes, 'seriously'." Sherlock was smiling but John had a faintly irritated expression on his face which wiped the smile clean off.
Was this the tipping point? Would he yell 'I'm sick of this!'? Would John move out and leave Sherlock alone again? Something cold seized his chest and Sherlock made a move to say something—
John's face relaxed and he shook his head fondly. "Just give me some warning next time, will you?" he asked as he opened the fridge.
Next time. He was staying, there would be a next time, a future and he wasn't leaving.
"What the hell's in the juice bottle?" John exclaimed suddenly. "It smells toxic."
"That would be the paint remover then," Sherlock said, leaning back in his seat as he fiddled with the camera settings.
"Is there anything else poisonous in this kitchen I should know about?"
There was a pause. Then Sherlock admitted, "Probably," before taking another candid shot of John by the open fridge door.
John hid a smile with a groan and Sherlock hid his fear with a laugh. All good things end eventually...
Taxies were more expensive, but they were a luxury Sherlock readily used for no other reason than to keep his sanity.
Buses were loud, dirty and packed with people. The sensory input was beyond overwhelming because there was no escape, no way out. He had to wait until his stop, but the irony lay in that he was so distracted that he normally missed them. And then the cycle would begin anew.
Sherlock could see in the nails of the man across from him that he was a labourer and a cross-dresser when his wife was out of town.
Two girls in front of him were only half-sisters, though they believed otherwise. It was in their chins, noses and eyes. Faces were one of the first things he learned to draw and he knew the markers of relatives.
He could see entire lifestyles from the patterned ties businessmen wore as an embellishment to their suits. Their watches told stories of their ego and their financial status. Scratches told Sherlock their drinking habits, whilst stains and burns spoke their smoking habits.
Jewellery teemed with secrets—anniversaries, weddings, engagements, affairs, love lost and found—and make up spelled out the person's plans like a map before him. The dirt on their shoes and their accents told him where they were from and the way they cut their hair told him a dozen other little things.
And all of that was only what he saw, not what he heard, or what he smelled, or tasted in the air around him.
The words would cram together and he'd be scribbling desperately, trying to get them all down, to get them out of his mind. Using the bus was always so draining, so exhilarating, and so utterly wasteful of his time.
Taxies were simply easier.
"Pick up some eggs next time you're out," Sherlock as he walked upstairs to 221B. His shirt was soaked through with paint – he had spent the evening painting the ceiling of 221C to look like firework explosions.
"Sure thing," John said from where he sat comfortably in his armchair watching the television. "You feel like making an omelette?"
"Not hungry," Sherlock said, "but I need the yolks. I'm going to make my own tempera colours—I have the pigments, but I just need the binder."
"I ... am not even going to ask."
"Methods are unimportant when you see the finished piece," Sherlock waved an ink-stained hand. That hand had been stained for nearly a week now – he had been messing about with a pen and it had burst in his hands.
As an afterthought Sherlock said, "Can you buy some milk and honey while you're there?"
"I just bought milk!" John cried out. "How the hell can we be out? I know for a fact you don't drink any of it."
"Drink it?" Sherlock scoffed. "Egg yolks are hardly the only binder I use for tempera paint."
"Christ, don't tell me you're painting the walls with milk."
"Of co—wait. John, don't tell me you actually think I like honey?"
"Dear Lord, no. Ants, Sherlock, did you think about that?" John groaned loudly. "We'll get infested!"
"Hardly, I should think. Anyway, the watered-down honey mixture is mainly for the canvases. They absorb it better."
"I- You know what? Fine," John sighed. "Anything else you want?"
"Some new crayons would be lovely."
"Look at the feet of the girls. If there are scars, then they are sex slaves. People hardly want something marred and broken. So they hide signs of training and reconditioning on the feet."
John's eyes were wide when Sherlock hung up.
"How did you know that?"
Sherlock scanned the bookshelves, and pulled a sketchbook down and flipped through the pages. It was a year old, full of sketches of dead bodies. Unhelpful.
"Time abroad," Sherlock explained in an offhand voice. "I learned things. Awful, morally wrong things, but I suppose that can't be helped. Knowledge is knowledge."
The small sketchbook slammed shut with a neat whump and Sherlock slid it back in its place.
"Wait, all this art is real?"
"Real in what sense?"
"That you've seen it."
"Most of it is. I hardly have enough patience to work with imagination." Sherlock looked through a newer notebook—only bought and filled a few weeks ago. "Does that... bother you?"
"No. It's just, well; you painted things from most of Europe."
"Parts of Asia, too." Sherlock spun around and opened a thick, leather-bound book to a sketch of Tiananmen Square.
"It's hard to imagine you backpacking across countries."
"I had a rebellious youth, you could call it."
John opened another sketchbook with fresh curiosity. The page showed a charcoal rendition of the Milan Cathedral. It looked like white against a black background, but that was really just layer upon layer of writing, the air thick with snippets of history.
"Care to tell me about some of it?" John asked.
Sherlock nodded, saying, "Find a picture and I'll tell you about it."
"Writing another anecdote for your blog?" Sherlock asked after listening to the pattern of the clacking of computer keys for several moments.
"Ah, you so you read the case write-up then?" John stopped typing and took a sip of his tea, looking at Sherlock with interest.
"A Study in Pink," Sherlock commented dryly. "Clever."
John's lips twisted downwards. "You didn't like it?"
"Don't take it personally," Sherlock said. "I generally dislike anything fictional written within my lifetime."
"How can you call it fictional?" exclaimed John. "You were there when it happened!"
"You left out so many critical details it might as well have been fiction."
John sighed and replied, "I never said I was a writer."
"You're going to keep writing the cases up, aren't you?"
"Nothing I say will convince you otherwise?"
"So be it." Sherlock sat up from the couch, wrapping the robe tightly around him. "I'm going to criticise all your entries."
Sherlock nodded and lay back down, listening to the clacking of the keys again. John was such a slow typer...
For his tenth birthday, Sherlock got a Rubik's Cube. It was a puzzle of colours. He solved it a few hours. If he realised all that was needed was a mathematical formula to solve it, he might have completed it even faster than that.
Then again, learning such a mathematical formula would have been a waste of time and headspace. He didn't need it.
Sherlock liked the Rubik's Cube for its simplicity. When he was feeling particularly stressed, he would just sit and slide the sides around, not quite aiming to solve the cube, just trying to rearrange it into patterns.
There was a certain special kind of therapy in just watching the colours move, no distracting letters or words in the way since he'd painted them all down.
Just him and the colours spinning and twisting in his hands.
Then he learned the world wasn't quite that simple.
Sherlock remembered the first time the Met thought he was the killer. It was almost funny in a way. Not so much at the time, but hindsight allowed for many concessions.
He had correctly drawn the face of the next victim. The serial killer had a type, a very clear type, and Sherlock had nearly been thrown in jail for guessing it.
If the killer had refrained from murdering another victim, perhaps Sherlock would have been charged as guilty. But three more blonde women were killed and Sherlock was asked how he knew that would happen.
Unfortunately, the event had caused Mycroft to come down and lecture Sherlock about the importance of explaining his methodology because people feared what they didn't understand.
"I do explain though! I explained and they couldn't see it and damn it all if I don't one day snap and go on a homicidal rampage!" Sherlock paced as his pulled at his hair. "All this painting is to help them see, but none of them get it!"
Slowly, Mycroft stood, saying to his brother, "People might be under the impression that you're cruel, but you're not, Sherlock."
"Pardon?" Sherlock was slightly thrown by the turn of conversation.
"You help people that want to understand," Mycroft explained with an empathetic expression, "and you're only cruel to those that refuse to."
For a moment, Sherlock didn't know what to say. Then he scowled and snapped, "Run along, Mycroft. You could do with the exercise."
With a genial tilt of the head, Mycroft left the flat and Sherlock alone to his thoughts.
"I want to go out and paint the town red," Sherlock complained, bored out of his mind. Nothing to draw, paint, sketch, colour, copy, write, do.
The nicotine patches—decorated with stick men John had drawn, all dodgy lines and inaccurate representations of body proportions—were itchy and he was scratching the skin around them raw.
"Literally or figuratively?" John asked, shooting Sherlock a stern look telling him to stop it. Something told Sherlock that if he broke the skin and bled that John would give him a lecture.
He stopped scratching.
"Literally," Sherlock replied in a flat voice. "Why would I figuratively paint the town red?"
"Never mind," John sighed, looking back down at his newspaper. Sherlock wondered when he would notice the missing articles, (he needed the letters to make a collage of words). "Don't do it though."
Sherlock considered it for a moment and then said, "I said I want, not I will."
"Are you going to tell me anything else you want?" John asked with a smile in his voice, even if his face was hidden from view.
In all seriousness, Sherlock said, "Blood red paint."
But when John laughed, he joined in.
"What is this place?" John asked, eyes wide with awe as he spun around slowly.
"It's my storage unit," Sherlock replied, shrugging as he rummaged through the canvases. "I got it when I went backpacking around Europe and I kind of just kept it."
The walls were absolutely covered in pictures and there were many unopened crates lying about. Sherlock knew each one had several canvases in them he did not wish to accidentally paint over and were therefore stored here, safe and sound.
John wondered over to a bookshelf and pulled a thick, leather-bound sketchbook down. He opened it to random pages, fingers sometimes pausing and hovering over the pieces, never quite touching them.
A picture of Paris, a picture of Berlin, a picture of Bangkok—where was the damned capital of—
Sherlock's fingers landed on the picture of Rome and not-so-gently pulled it from the crate. He had been on GoogleMaps and apparently the satellite view of Rome had evolved greatly in the last few years. He had to makes changes.
"Why don't you keep these things at the flat?"
"Not enough room there," Sherlock said in a muffled voice, a paintbrush in his mouth as he rummaged through his bag for some paints.
"No," John said, "I mean that downstairs one."
"That's my studio. I'd hardly wish to clutter it."
There was a moment's pause where John was undoubtedly thinking of the chaos of their flat and then another moment of silence in which he decided not to press the matter.
"Would you ever sell any of these?"
Sherlock shot John a look, an expression he dearly hoped convey, Are you crazy? There were pieces that were sellable, replaceable, destructible—but these all had meaning.
John shrugged and put the book back on the shelf in its rightful place. "I was just asking because I know I would pay for some of these. You've heard this a million times, but you have talent."
Pausing in his efforts to repaint the west side of Rome from memory, Sherlock said, "John, that's unnecessary. Take any piece you wish."
"I thought you wouldn't sell them?"
From his voice and body language, Sherlock could tell John didn't want to take any of them. He admired them but didn't want to take away something personal from Sherlock without reason. Sherlock made a mental note to present him with something later on.
"There's a big difference between selling something and giving something as a gift."
John raised an eyebrow and asked, "So you would really let me have one of these paintings, if I so wished?"
Admitting that he'd give John anything he wanted from this warehouse or from their home was a bit much, so Sherlock simply nodded and gestured for John to wander around some more.
It would take fifteen minutes for him to complete Rome, and then they'd leave. John wouldn't take a painting and Sherlock wouldn't insist on it.
Footsteps clomped down the stairs. Not Mrs. Hudson—her tread was gentler—not Mycroft—he had heavier footfalls—and not John, who was still out at work.
"Detective Inspector," Sherlock acknowledged without turning around. "From the speed at which you are travelling, I hope you're bringing forth something rather interesting to see."
"The air stinks in here, Sherlock!" Lestrade exclaimed. "How can you breathe?"
"I've long desensitised myself to the fumes," Sherlock replied, turning around from the collage of newspaper clipping he was creating. It was filled with headlines of murder, embezzlement, theft and robbery. Fascinating things, indeed.
"Some of these are clippings from the French papers," Lestrade observed, stepping closer to Sherlock's work, mouth and nose covered by his sleeve.
Shrugging, Sherlock said, "I speak French." Not to mention Mrs. Hudson did too, and they would read the French paper when the mood struck them.
Something trickled down his wrist and he looked to see glue running from the crook of his elbow to his fingertips. He wiped it off quickly, ignoring how it felt like blood.
"Can you speak German though?" Lestrade's voice cut through Sherlock's thoughts. He spoke as if he had a cold, though it was probably the result of trying too hard not to breathe.
"German?" Sherlock repeated, eyes alight with curiosity. "Ohh, we have a case with foreigners, don't we?"
"Technically, we just need you to listen to their statements and draw up a representation of the thief."
"I assume there aren't any bodies then."
Sherlock sighed and said resignedly, "I understand that people don't get killed every day, but I have far better things to do than fix up some petty crime involving tourists."
"Not so fast," Lestrade said. "Change it to German nationals and the theft of some pretty classified documents."
A chime rang through the room, causing Sherlock to immediately pat down his pockets before realising he had left his phone in one of the stacks of discarded newspaper clippings. The text read:
Should you solve this, I will send you a box of gold leaf for you to experiment with. I hear it's very effective with a wood or ceramic base. –MH
As a quiet aside, Sherlock swore vehemently. Looking back up to a puzzled Lestrade, Sherlock announced, "I'll help you."
"What ever happened to, 'Still boring'?"
"Some sacrifices must be made in the name of art," Sherlock replied shamelessly, bounding upstairs with a relieved Lestrade following close behind.
When Sherlock felt slightly overwhelmed, he would lie down on the couch with one hand over his heart and the other over his stomach. He would close his eyes as if he was sleeping but really he was trying to relax.
It was a trick his father taught him. Sherlock always felt irritable and keyed up after school, so this was one of the methods to relax because sometimes drawing just stirred him into an even bigger frenzy.
Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum.
He could feel his heartbeat, his pulse thrumming under his fingertips, the throb of his thumb and if he let himself relax enough, Sherlock could even hear the blood rushing in his ears in sync with his heart.
Out of habit, he thought about arteries and veins, listing them in no particular order—superior vena cava, great cardiac, right pulmonary—and the list was always spoken in his father's deep, reassuring voice. Sherlock remembered always countering the arteries with colours; he and his dad would just sit there speaking in turn one word at a time until everything was better again.
There was something rather special about those simple moments.
"The heart ties everything together, Sherlock."
Except now father was dead and it wasn't quite as calming as it used to be.
The couch was too short, didn't smell like the detergent used to clean his sheets and there was a missing warmth—presence—beside him to make him feel content.
Sherlock took his hands off his heart and stomach and put them fingertip-to-fingertip, under his chin, almost like he was praying.
As he considered getting up, John walked into the room and Sherlock could hear his heartbeat again. The bustle of noises in the kitchen, the soft rustling beside him in the living room—it was oddly calming.
Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum.
He wondered if his father's voice would stop listing the veins and whether John's voice would ever take over.
Late one evening, John walked down the stairs, a puzzled expression on his face.
"Where's my toothbrush?"
"Used it to paint something," Sherlock replied. He was lying sprawled out on the floor, looking at the cracks in the ceiling and wondering whether it was worth the effort to hide it with plaster, and maybe some extra layers of paint on top of that.
Without hesitation, Sherlock answered, "221C's floorboards."
John exhaled heavily. "Really? Couldn't you have used yours?"
"So you needed both then, did you?"
"I have two hands, John." After an awkward lull, Sherlock added, "But don't worry, I'll sterilise it before returning it."
"Don't go to the trouble," John said, resigned. "I'll just get a new one."
Beaming, Sherlock made a pizza for dinner with all the toppings rearranged to look like a colour wheel. John seemed surprised that it was not only edible, but rather delicious, all the same.
One day, Lestrade asked why he always signed his text messages.
"After all, the random ones are always from you."
It was before Sherlock had fully joined the police; he was still in a trial period and there was still so much for them to learn about each other.
Sherlock smiled before saying, "A good artist always leaves a signature."
Sally, listening in to the conversation, then added, "Yeah, so why do you sign stuff then?"
"Maybe some people are just too stupid to connect the dots and it saves time from having to type 'who are you?' texts," Sherlock bit back mildly, hiding the smile as Sally huffed in a show of indignation.
Lestrade sighed heavily and told them to quit fighting like children.
Sherlock had made a mental note to sign the next scrap of paperwork they shoved under his nose with the most embellished signature he could muster, just to make a point.
A gun was infinitely more fascinating than spray painting. So wild, so intense and violent.
Bullets firing into the wall, holes blossoming at the points of impact.
Not all art was about creation.
There was as much beauty in destruction.
A long time after, Sherlock would feel his heart jump to his throat when a man in a Westwood suit said exactly that. Except that madman sought out destruction more than creation and threw the world out of balance.
He scared Sherlock—almost more than blindness—because that could have been his life.
"You don't know the sun goes around the earth?"
"Does it matter?"
"Does it—Sherlock, this is elementary school knowledge—"
"Which helps me how?"
"I don't know, but you should know it!"
"Ridiculous. Knowing more doesn't make me smarter. It... clutters. If I have too many paints on my palette then how will I have any room to mix them together to get the right shades? How will I have any space to add more vital paints in? John, I said the details were important; everything excess is utterly unnecessary."
"Don't wait up, Sherlock," John called out as he left. Didn't say where, didn't need to say where. Sherlock could see in the crispness of his clothes and the brightness of his eyes that John was going on a date with Sarah.
It didn't hurt, exactly. Didn't bother him, not quite. But the concept twisted in the back of his mind and all of his sketches in the next half-hour took a dejected turn for the worse, even his brightest memories shown in sepias and blacks, whites and greys.
That's why he cared, Sherlock figured. It was messing with how he worked.
Shaking that thought from his mind, Sherlock went into his room and searched his wardrobe for some large sheets of black plastic. He spent the next hour cutting out an intricate design, every slice of the scissors a grating noise in the silence.
He rolled up the finished product, pulled out a roller, a can of paint, a tray and a roll of duct tape. All those weeks ago, he said he wouldn't, but this was a different time now, and Sherlock decided he could.
Time to paint the town red.
Sherlock arrived at the first wall, the area dark and deserted. While he wasn't a fan of the Warhol movement, the colours and repetitive style of the works a little jarring for his taste, there was something to be said about the simplistic nature of using stencils.
Slowly but surely, he soon covered the entire stencil with bright red paint. Stepping back, Sherlock looked upon his work and smiled. There was no need to add any writing because it was essentially only made up of writing.
The word bored was written over and over in English and French and German and Spanish and Italian and so many languages, even in Egyptian hieroglyphics—of course he did not speak all of them fluently, but bored was a word he learned in many occasions just because he could.
Also, for Mycroft's sake, he knew quite a handful of colourful swear words too, but felt that was a little too crass to be covering London's street with. There were children around, after all.
He had gotten around to roughly forty walls, fences, buildings and deserted alleys before his phone chimed for the first time. That would be Mycroft, Sherlock figured, indifferent to his brother at the moment.
When he had completed the sixtieth copy of his stencil; he reached in and pulled out his phone, staining the keypad with a thumb drenched red. The screen told him there were two messages. He must have missed the chime of the second one when he crossed the main streets, bustling with noise and floating letters that always drove him to distraction.
Quickly, he read the text messages:
Mummy wouldn't be proud. –MH
Which, in all honesty, made Sherlock's gut feel a little hollow, but it was only a few clicks before that was deleted and forgotten.
Sent only fifteen minutes earlier: I'm home, where are you?
Sherlock blinked and looked at the time. It was nearing 1am in the morning. John had told him not to wait up.
The date hadn't gone as well as expected. He purposely ignored the welling of vindictive joy and tampered it down to a mild hum.
Glancing at the red-stained stencil, with the words bored written over and over, Sherlock had an idea. He calculated he would roughly have enough time to make it work.
I'll be home soon, Sherlock texted as he walked to one of his favourite suppliers.
Art suppliers, that is. The one he used—a long time ago—for cocaine was all the way on the other side of town. Drugs were one of the furthest things on his mind right now though.
He was so engrossed in the ideas around his new project, he barely noticed that he left the stencil and roller behind in a pool of red paint. The Met would have a fun time trying to pin the culprit down: Mycroft would have removed video footage, Sherlock wasn't stupid enough to have fingerprints lying around, and Lestrade would probably work to keep the fact that someone they hired—a sketch artist, if nothing else —was breaking the law.
He was in Belarus interrogating a man. Taunting him by correcting his grammar until he snapped—anger issues, too easy, nothing interesting to record.
Unfortunately he missed out on John's birthday—as trivial as the celebration was, it still should have been celebrated because it signified John had survived another year. A comfort he found was in the fact John should have been getting his gift in the post very soon, if not already.
Sherlock made John a cane. It was more symbolic than practical (as he explained in the letter attached). John could go most days without it, but on those bad days, Sherlock felt he could do with something a little better than the hospital standard walking stick he had been making do with for so long.
It was made of mahogany, but Sherlock didn't consider that the special part. What was special was that he carved into it, in every language he knew and some that he didn't, the words and characters for protection and strength.
The only exception was one sentence in the middle of the cane: in a very small font, written in Latin, Sherlock had etched, 'Property of the sketch artist'. Not that John would ever know about that.
The best place to hide a book was in a library. The best place to hide insanity was in more insanity.
Sherlock Holmes was an artist, not an entomologist. He had no idea about the scientific name for the common house fly. He did, on the other hand, know the names for the poisonous insects, the quiet killers.
Did you know that bees killed more people than sharks every year?
Bees just happened to be beautiful and interesting just as well.
He painted the window of his bedroom with them all buzzing around in glass paints so the when the sunlight shone through the images they would shine. Around them floated their scientific classification and certain paragraphs from texts he liked describing them.
The words ranged from professional, analytical—opportunistic foragers, and will gather pollen from a variety of plants—to poems that caught his eye.
The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Sherlock vaguely wondered whether he should go and somehow see the real thing. He wanted to see the chaos of those little insects dance around him, far too fast for the eye to catch and concentrate on, and he wondered whether he could figure out their secrets too. Really though, just seeing them would be enough.
Perhaps when life wasn't quite so hectic and the allure of the city lights wasn't so strong.
John and Sherlock rushed into their flat, soaked from head to toe, dripping water on to the carpet. The rains outside pelted the roof and winds roared like a thousand hungry beasts waiting for a feed. It was lucky that they weren't caught somewhere far from home.
Sherlock was sniffing, rummaging through his bag, moaning at how his things were ruined, positively ruined forever and as paper turned to pulp in his hands, he looked up. The words died in his throat.
"John, don't move."
"What?" John had his back to Sherlock, struggling out of his heavy jumper weighed down with water. It was caught around his head, trapping his arms in a raised position.
Sherlock watched with an artist's eye, following the curve of John's body, the movement of the muscles, the tan lines and the faint covering of hair. But the most fascinating thing was the interlocking webbing that spread from a point on his shoulder, the only sign of a devastating impact.
"Sherlock, what is it?" The worry creeping in John's voice brought Sherlock back down to Earth, where he was soaking wet and holding a stack of papers crumbling underneath his hands and—
"It's nothing, but don't move."
He ran into another room, waterlogged jeans restricting his movements, but he wasn't thinking of that when he grabbed his newest canvas and brought it to the living room. John was still there, his face confused but pliant for the moment, watching with a curious gaze as Sherlock searched the shelves for his watercolours.
Squeezing some of the water from his scarf in a little well on his plastic palette, he announced, "This will be quick, I swear."
"I'm starting to get worried here," John said mildly. "Can I at least remove the blasted jumper?"
"A moment, a moment," Sherlock replied, distracted, hands blurring almost as they danced around the white, changing the pristine blankness into a blast of colours.
Somewhere during the chaos of Sherlock working, John had removed his jumper, tossed on the back of a chair in the kitchen. However, he stood dutifully with his back to Sherlock, even though the clothes he still had were clinging and uncomfortable.
Sherlock's pants didn't bother him so much, but his coat and scarf and long-sleeved shirt, well, they were all in the way, and they disappeared too, all in their own time finding their way to the floor. Except for the scarf, that had somehow landed itself on the mantelpiece next to the skull.
By the time he finally said, "Done," voice soft and tired, both men's hairs were barely dripping now, dried from the warm air of their flat.
John spun around on his heel—he was still wearing his socks, still looking as drenched as if he had walked through puddles, how uncomfortable—and looked at Sherlock with a gaze of awe. Sherlock turned his head away, face flushed, and John asked,
"So will I be able to have a look at this then?"
Neither seemed to care that they were shirtless together; why would they? Contrary to popular belief, they were neither lovers nor partners. Well, they were partners of an entirely different kind, one that had a little more complexities of emotion than the brackets of love or lust. It was more powerful than friendship, ran deeper than a brotherhood and wasn't quite a perfect kinship as you might believe.
Still, it was so many levels close to perfect.
Humming, Sherlock ran his fingers through his hair, dragging paint residue through it as he did so, and then he nodded, swiftly, stepping out of the way for John to get a good look.
When John saw the painting, he gasped.
It was a rough piece, watercolours blending together without enough time to dry and set properly with acrylics occasionally causing small rises from the canvas in sections Sherlock was too busy to wait for it to dry just enough. Still, in all its haste, it was beautiful.
The background was neglected in detail, dark shapes of no consequence almost forgotten. What was captured in stark detail so unlike a photograph was John. More specifically, his back and the scar that made it unique.
"I was right when I first met you," Sherlock murmured from behind John. "I did need to create your skin colour from scratch. None of the bottled ones or the shades I've made before quite matched it."
In the picture, John was painted with dark clothes that almost melded into the background, whereas his skin almost glowed. For a second, Sherlock could see his roommate's lack of comprehension and then—
A cock of the head, John leaned a little forward and then froze.
One of the greatest defining aspects of Sherlock's art was the writing. And Sherlock had writing in white all around John's body, locking into something tangible all the amazing and wonderful things he had observed over the time they had spent together.
There were so many words, the image almost glowed.
For a while they stood in silence, before John conceded, "Not wanting to sound vain, but this is brilliant." He didn't say brilliant like he did at a crime scene, or the way he would bite out brilliant sarcastically when paying the bills or facing off with an armed criminal.
It was something entirely rawer and completely more than any of that.
The smile Sherlock shared with John, secretive and humbled, almost glowed, too.
When Sherlock was younger, he had no patience for games.
Board games, after the initial intrigue, were boring, vibrantly coloured for all the wrong reasons. They grabbed attention and abused it by killing it, wasting time.
Sherlock didn't like the physically demanding games because he had better things to do with his energy. Kicking a ball around and around and around seemed like a waste. It was more interesting to sit at the sidelines and paint the movement of the ball spinning, the colours of the players and the background—red, green-yellow, teal—blending together like broken shards of a stained glass window all chucked together in a blender.
Sometimes he went down to the local pool because the way the light bounced off the water, in just the right way, could be absolutely captivating.
"He's your biggest fan."
The only games Mycroft wanted to play were mind games, and Sherlock indulged him because it was one of the ways they bonded. It was far from conventional, but the Holmes boys were always considered a little off, a little strange and weird, so nothing more was said of it. In those games, Sherlock liked to think he let Mycroft win.
Then there were other greater pursuits to enjoy, life and art and blooddeathgore. It was a cacophony of noise and sight and feel and everything. Sherlock didn't ever really think about playing games when all of this was so much better, so much more stimulating.
"He likes to be called an art connoisseur, but I reckon he's art thief by the stuff he claims to have."
"Why should that interest me?"
"Because, Mr. Holmes, he intends on adding your work to the list."
"I don't know. I hear artwork is worth more when the artist is dead."
In the beginning, he didn't want to call it a game. And it really wasn't, to begin with. It was a puzzle and legitimate prize and a problem all in one. He wasn't quite sure where or when it began to get so interesting.
Perhaps it was when he nearly died, at the hands of a pill he almost swallowed. (He had painted that pill in the following morning, every granule inside the clear capsule—white, ash and cadet grey—superimposed on his mind's eye, each one with a list of possible poisons listed next to it in ink that stained his fingers for days.)
Then again, perhaps it was when he was faced with symbols painted in bright yellow spray paint, taunting him by forcing him to hide in galleries and find the key in the forest of colour. (John didn't know this, no one knew this, but all of Sherlock's sketchbooks he had done while on the case had all the people he drew with their eyes blocked with a stroke of bright yellow. Next to each one, he had written, death is coming.)
It wasn't quite so fun when John was involved—not as a saviour, but as a hostage—and even bringing Sarah along added that extra element of discomfort. Not just who Sherlock cared for, but whoever cared for what Sherlock cared for would be taken, too. For a brief while it again stopped being a game and reverted back into a mystery. Something that needed more than his paints and his pencils and his brilliant artist's eye.
But his attention—when focussed led to genius—could not last that long and he drifted on to other projects. He categorised every single one of his paintbrushes (and of those he found, the number topped near a thousand). He discovered that painting with food products was not allowed, though even John had to admit that the experiment with food colouring had gone astoundingly well, far better than predicted.
Sherlock even had the time to wander around and check up on all the major players of his homeless network, sketching them so should they ever go missing—kidnapped or something awful—then the police would have something to go on, especially when they cringed away from photos.
Except ignoring, but never quite forgetting, the problem just exacerbated it.
"Why does anyone do anything? Because I'm bored. We were made for each other, Sherlock."
The shade of white on the sneakers was off. The colours of the blood on the seat weren't right. The corpse was wrong, wrong, wrong. Why weren't people looking?
How come they didn't see?
"Ten... Nine... Eight..."
It had to be a game now, Sherlock thought. Games had rules and protocol and this one had a timer. In the voice of a child.
His eyes scanned the painting back and forth, looking for something, anything, to give him an answer. Voices, yelling, in the background. All distractions.
He could feel his mouth rattling off facts and notes about the piece—tastefully done, a classic piece, but there's something off about it, I know it, it has to be false, what is it, don't tell me, I can see the brushstrokes aren't quite right, great forgery, but it has to be something greater, has to be something bigger, why don't I know, why can't I see this?
There was adrenalin flowing through his veins, poisoned with a tinge of guilt. He was an artist, one of so many kinds and he couldn't figure out the crime involving art? What was wrong with him? Wrong question. What was wrong with the painting...?
Fingers tapped against his leg. He had nothing to sketch on, nothing to write with, nothing to copy down the world around him and make things clearer. Too many questions, concentrate—
The child recited the countdown, "Six... Five..." and Sherlock was still reeling from the brilliance of his epiphany.
"The Van Buuren supernova!"
(Later, after John had smiled tiredly at him and told him, "Good work," Sherlock had repainted the Vermeer, a proper picture-perfect forgery. He scowled at it and taken a marker and wrote all over it. Wrote the names of all the people that had died thus far in the game. They thought he didn't know the people who had died, thought he kept them faceless. No, how could he? They were all over the news and even though that was trivial, a part of his mind recorded the information. When he set the canvas alight, he deleted their names and decided to start this game afresh.)
Should he have felt so guilty for feeling so alive?
"I gave you my number," Moriarty half sang, a cackle in his voice. "I wanted you to call me. Not all of this online nonsense."
Sherlock's mind flew through his mental phone book. He had saved the number from habit. Old sim card he barely used. Lime Green. Inconsequential, he had thought.
Now he wondered: How was I so blind?
The man before him had jumbled the letters, scattering them. It was chaotic. The words seemed to deconstruct before his eyes, deforming into letters that exploded into a mess of lines and twists in the air. It was a wonder that he could see the other man at all, what with all the mess surrounding him.
A mix of cool black and dark blue, his tie decked out with tiny white skulls. Even from a distance he could tell; hand stitched work. The strange lighting made his skin seem isabelline, though at the lab he swore it was a mix of tan and moccasin.
"You could work for me, you know," Jim—no, Moriarty—said, head swaying as he did. "I have all the right connections. I could make you a name that the entire world knows."
What was the point of fame but it being fuel for the very vain?
"Oh Sherlock," Moriarty laughed. "Don't even try pretend you're not as vain as me."
Had he said it aloud? Familiar adrenalin coursed through his entire being, energy electrifying his blood and he could feel his grip on the gun tightened. It was pointless, a gun when faced with a bomb and snipers and John. Sherlock had played hostage before, but being on the other side of things was very unsettling indeed.
Now he had something to lose.
"So what do you say?" Jim sounded like he was asking, but there was an undercurrent of a threat to his tone. "I can make you famous. I can give you everything you want. Want the Mona Lisa to be cut up and turned into a palette for you? Just say the word."
The laugh that followed was loud and hollow, rebounding from the walls and echoing over and over. Taking a step forward, Sherlock tried to reassert he was fine, in charge, completely, completely fine thankyouverymuch, but the look Moriarty shot him, one that promised the skies to rain down acid and fire stopped him in his tracks.
Was it awful that there was a tug in his gut to stop and take a photo of those eyes? Those brilliant eyes that burned like black sapphires—
John shifted in his heavy coat, the colours of wires grabbing his attention. Red dots hovered over his temples and John flinched every time the lasers accidently hit his eyes.
In that split second, the sapphires looked more like coal, so very dark and evil.
Water lapped at the pool's edges, every small splash registering, and a tang of bitter chloride sharp at the back of his throat. For some reason his eyes stung, staring at Moriarty too long. He glanced at John, who was standing very still, very pale, eyes very blue and very bright and the words were saying—
Oh, Sherlock thought again. How could I be so blind?
"No thanks," Sherlock said. "I have everything I need."
Jim's eyebrows rose high up his forehead, an exaggerated expression of surprise on his face. In a blink it transformed back to an eerie passiveness. He stepped forward, slowly, as if every step was perfectly planned, a dance of murder.
When he stopped, he shoved his hands in his pockets and smiled thinly.
"I'll ask again once John's blood paints the walls."
"Only I get to paint with his blood," Sherlock growled, almost startling himself with the vehemence.
Before Moriarty could react to that declaration, John grabbed him from behind—when did the position switch happen?—and yelled, "Run!"
Seeing an explosion is entire worlds apart from experiencing one.
For one, there was the pain. Which was a strange mixture of excruciating—breathing ash and fire, burning the lungs, tissue damage, pain, agony like fireworks every time he closed his eyes, every movement like ice shards stabbing at his heart—and numbing. He couldn't feel a lot of his body, disorientation clouding his mind.
Words spun like food in a blender and he felt vaguely sick.
Look at the stars, he thought, a weak hand trying to reach out and grab them. Water covered his eyes and he felt like he was drowning.
—he was drowning though, not just an illusion—
There was something rather familiar about the pressure and the warmth that blanketed his body. It was very warm, his heart, thrumming under his ribs as he fought—for breath, movement, and life—to see the stars again.
Scarlet ran into his vision, blurring and mixing with everything else. He tasted blue—since when could he taste colours?—and broke the water's surface. Now his entire body couldn't move.
Warmth disappeared and a chill overtook his body. The stars were absolutely beautiful, but oh, they were falling.
—parts of the building collapsing, frayed wires shooting off sparks and broken glass everywhere, floating tatters the only remains of the curtains—
Even though he tried to wiggle his fingers they wouldn't listen to his command and a vague kind of fear filled him up.
—what if he couldn't paint anymore?—
Fires burned everywhere—around him, inside him—and they threw an eclectic lighting over the scene. Chaos and destruction and falling stars.
"The end of the world," he mumbled, voice faint and tired.
"Not quite, Sherlock," a voice rasped next to him—statement or a promise?—but he was long gone by then.
In his mind, he was still drowning and the waters had turned blood red.
Was it any surprise that when he woke up in the ambulance, he was screaming?
"'The world is raining down with ash and fire, everything burning, death in cinders.'" Sherlock opened his eyes at the sound of his brother's voice. Mycroft was sitting beside him, one of Sherlock's sketchbooks open before him.
"Even for you, this is a tad melodramatic," Mycroft commented calmly. "Yet even while concussed, I must say your technique remains excellent."
Trying to sit up, Sherlock quit before he could cause himself any serious damage and sighed petulantly.
"I nearly died."
"That isn't really a reason at this point, considering how you've nearly died a hundred times before." The look Sherlock got was mildly reproving and disappointed. "What's changed?" he sounded curious, and anyone listening would have thought that he was simply asking a question.
Things were never simple with Mycroft.
There was a long pause where Sherlock didn't answer. The silence ended with the soft whump of Mycroft closing Sherlock's notebook. Standing up, he looked as genial and as unruffled as ever. His father liked saying their family had the calm disposition, that no stress could push them over.
Sherlock knew better though – Mycroft wasn't carrying his umbrella, his tie was askew by an inch and the cufflinks were loose. There were the smallest stains of coffee on his shoe—and he loathed coffee, only drinking when he'd woken up after less than two hours sleep. His brother had rushed and normally rushing was limited to international mistakes, not the failings of his little brother.
Swallowing hard, Sherlock answered as Mycroft was at the door, "I wasn't the only one who was going to die." His voice was soft, whether from hoarseness or from vulnerability, neither brother would ever dare say.
Mycroft stilled before he smiled and said, "At least now you've got some notion of self-preservation."
The raw edges of his stitches were fascinating. The black thread and the pink swelling of skin and the red tinges of dried blood and the greenish hue of aged bruises and—
Sherlock felt himself tire and he lay back onto his pillows propped up against his spine. He wasn't sure whether his fascination was because he was sick to death from the white-washed walls of his room or whether the drugs they'd pumped him with were particularly strong this time.
The paper before him was mostly pristine, only holding the faintest outlines of a needle and some jumbled words about morphine. Fatigue was working against him, work harder than before. It'd taken him an hour to drag the effort to sketch the damned thing in the first place. He was so distracted.
He remembered ... something. Something about running from a dream—or a nightmare—and needing the nurses to restrain him; he had ripped open his stitches and aggravated his burns (scars he really needed to see once the bandages could be removed).
There was also something about waking up screaming.
That's the funny thing about memories. You don't get to choose what you remember, not really. Of course, you could lie about what you remember; if you really wanted to.
Sherlock didn't remember the smell of chlorine, or the crash of concrete, but he remembered the heat and the press of water around him; the taste of copper in the back of his throat and the smell of smoke coiling around him so bittersweet.
So consumed by those thoughts, Sherlock barely noticed how hard he was pressing the pencil to paper until the tip snapped and broke off.
John was okay. Well, okay in the sense that he would live without permanent mental or physical damage. Emotionally? Much harder to tell at this point.
It was no shortage of fascinating, John's injuries. They were clean and healing nicely, unlike Sherlock's, which were red and raw since he picked at them, stretching them when he should have been resting.
Perhaps John's marks would match Sherlock's once he woke up. So far, John had been put to sleep more often than he was allowed to wake—they hadn't even had the chance to exchange two words to one another.
Sherlock sat by him sketching his face over and over again, as if every picture he drew was not good enough and he had to do more, more to keep John a permanent fixture in the world.
He used Copic markers and pens and inks and pencils of all varieties—he would have used paints but Mycroft would not bring those to him, something about how it would hinder his health to breathe in more fumes.
Sherlock had been breathing in paint fumes for decades at this point. It would hardly bowl him over.
In his sleep, John's face shifted, a pained expression fluttering over his lips and closed eyes, but then it disappeared, and another blink and his face regained its passive nature.
Slowly, gently, Sherlock reached for John's hand, the one without the needle taped to the crook of the elbow. When John did not stir at the gesture, Sherlock uncapped his markers and started tracing the veins of the arm and the hand.
He was following the little streams of life just hidden from sight and bringing them to full view so everyone could see John is alive.
No one would really see but Sherlock though.
This didn't bother him that much, having a reminder, since a part of him felt like he still didn't believe it.
Mrs. Hudson had kindly kept their flat clean during their absence, even taking the effort to clean out the fridge of perishables (and the body parts). When they were discharged, she helped them inside and fussed over them like a mother would over her children.
They didn't mind. She seemed rather relieved that they were alive. Actually, all of them were a little delicate. Coming home was a strange symbolic gesture. Like they were now back in the game.
Thrown back into danger even as they sat in a place that reminded them of safety.
221C was covered in dust, and the air smelled stale. Which wouldn't do. He needed it to smell toxic, reek of fumes and poison because that was familiar to him. That was Sherlock's version of safety.
So he spent a day or two repainting everything, the entire basement dripping red and blue down the walls and ceiling. John was trying so hard to stay calm and quiet, relaxed and peaceful, but there was no hiding those lines of stress and fatigue from Sherlock.
Tea wasn't going to solve this problem.
Sherlock called John down the morning all the paint was dry.
"Why are the walls covered in targets?" John asked, looking less disturbed and merely curious.
"You need the practise, don't you?" Without another word, Sherlock pressed a new gun into John's hands, a silent apology for losing (read: destroying) the previous one in the mess of the pool, accompanied by protective eye and ear gear.
Before John could ask—or protest—Sherlock left the basement to wait upstairs.
Ten heartbeats later, and Sherlock could hear the first gunshots, muffled by the walls and the concrete. He smiled and wondered how long it would be before John noticed the additional ammunition in the corners of the room.
A smile danced across his lips and he busied himself for the rest of the afternoon by debugging the apartment. Mycroft's hand was dreadfully clear here, and he took great satisfaction in destroying every last recording device into little pieces.
Oh well, it was the thought that counted in the end.
The first thing he did when he got the chance was play the violin. He wanted to hear something other than water lapping at his skin.
It was like finding a part of himself again, playing the instrument was like finding a lost limb; it was another door of self discovery, of freedom and living and he could breathe now.
Every time his fingers fumbled on the strings, every time his grip on the bow slacked too much, he was reminded of what had happened. But then he would pick up the tune without a beat of pause and he was reminded I survived.
Each piece he played grew in pace and violence as he fell back into step with an instrument that had literally followed him around the globe. He wasn't sure for how long he'd been playing before a warm hand touched his shoulder.
"Sherlock," John warned tiredly. "Careful; you're aggravating your stitches."
So Sherlock played slower. Calm music filled the air, each note drawn out and low, a hum of genteel sound. He closed his eyes and let the music take him away.
Neither of them was quite sure how it happened, but Sherlock lulled John to sleep with his violin.
Sign language was a funny thing. All twists of wrists and coiled fingers and tight, neat, controlled gestures all coordinated into a dance of meaning.
He first learned in on the streets, where he ran into deaf twins in the alleys of Berlin. It was an incredibly fascinating method of communication. Unfortunately for him, he needed his hands to paint and sketch and just create and so talking with them was highly inconvenient.
Still, there was a certain kind of grace in the movements, something he was sure his mother could have appreciated. He liked going through the alphabet, some basic phrases with his hands when his joints ached from being curled around a pencil or a paintbrush for too long.
Silently, he would broadcast his thoughts and feelings to the air and smile as his messages disappeared without a trace. Even though he tried so, so hard to copy the entire world down, he knew that some things were better left lost to time.
Things died down for a while. The world kept spinning—around what, Sherlock still didn't care about—and art was still being made. Yet, as with most things, it couldn't last.
John's voice woke Sherlock from a light sleep, and he rose to see what the problem was. A sharp bubbling panic rose at the thought of is John safe? only to be beaten back by the thought of yes, of course he is, how stupid to think otherwise—
Best not to dwell to long on those thoughts, or why he had them at all.
Without saying anything more, John's tight face told him something had happened, something interesting. Even if interesting did mean an extra four wrinkles had embedded themselves in John's face, making him look older, tired, and run down.
A newspaper—latest copy by the date, freshly printed judging by the smudged ink—was handed to him, and Sherlock didn't have to search far too see what John was talking about. Moriarty had made front page news again.
ROBBERY AND VANDALISM AT TATE GALLERY.
According to the article, the Tate Gallery had been robbed. Every single piece had been painstakingly removed and replaced with signs saying, The game isn't over yet.
Paintings weren't the only casualty. The statues were replaced with various skulls.
Moriarty was sending out a message. And he did have such a taste for the dangerously theatrical. The Chinese smuggling gang masquerading as a travelling circus was clearly a more toned down example.
"Why hasn't Lestrade called you?" John asked.
"Good question," Sherlock said, fishing for his phone in his pockets and patting the couch seats when it didn't turn up. All he found were crumpled sketches and a snapped violin bow he must have forgotten.
After a few moments, John handed him Sherlock's phone—"You left it in the kitchen"—and sat down next to him as Sherlock went through his phonebook to call Blue.
As the dial tone rang, John observed, "All those colours in your phonebook. Which one am I?"
"Gold," Sherlock replied, a small smile quirking his lips.
"Hello, Sherlock," Lestrade's voice finally came through, and Sherlock raised his hand to stop John mid-question. More pressing matters were at hand.
"What's this about the gallery—"
"I was about to call you."
"Why didn't you call me from the start?"
"Because," and then Lestrade hesitated, a very heavy pause that made Sherlock raise an eyebrow.
"Because?" Sherlock prompted, impatient to hear whatever had made the DI so reluctant.
"Media doesn't know this, but the skulls, I presume you already know about the skulls, had notes with every single one," Lestrade said. "We were just comparing them with dental records to confirm. Some are having their DNA checked, but the results won't be back for a few weeks at most."
"Stop being around the bush and tell me," ordered Sherlock, ignoring John's warning look to calm down.
"Jesus," Lestrade said and swore under his breath. "The notes claimed that every skull belonged to a white male, aged from early thirties to late forties... all named John."
Sherlock was frozen for a full thirty seconds before he barked into the phone, "I'll see you at the Tate."
"The thing is, of the dozen we've checked, it matches up. All those skulls belong to blokes called John."
"Make sure Anderson isn't on forensics," Sherlock snapped instead, not acknowledging the information, storing it away for later. When he ended the call abruptly, his hands were shaking.
John didn't know this, but Mycroft had his (for a lack of a better word) minions sweep their flat before they returned. Sherlock allowed it (allowed it in the sense he didn't actively protest it that much) partially because he was bedridden and more importantly because he knew there was a potential threat.
The team found nothing auspicious but a note that said, That was fun! We MUST do that again. xoxo
What were less easily identifiable or explainable were the dried flowers that were somehow slipped in through a barely opened window into Sherlock's bedroom.
"Is Moriarty under the illusion that he could pursue a romantic engagement with you?" Mycroft asked the evening of the sweep as Sherlock turned the dried flowers in his hands, eyes bright with intrigue.
Mikado yellow, naples yellow, mustard, orchid and heliotrope—small petals, silken to the touch; sky blue, baby blue, eggshell white—large petals, soft and smooth.
"No," Sherlock said. "Well, maybe, I'm not quite sure, but I don't think these are from him. These are very ordinary flowers, common ragwort and the white campions. I think even our gardens had blue poppies and bindweeds and those Rosebay Willow Herbs."
Mother had fought them to the very end, before she kil—before she died. She always told Sherlock that the flowers were nice enough, but they were weeds that choked her garden. Actually, her garden was almost all she talked about in the end.
Napier green, paris green and fern green—stems and leaves, dry, but perfectly preserved; pear, orange peel, tangelo, gold; the centres of the flowers, still with a hint of fragrance.
The stems were cut horizontally, instead of a professional diagonal cut. Actually, Sherlock paused and drew one closer to his face; some looked like they were torn from the plant instead of cut away cleanly.
"Silene latifolia and Senecio jacobaea; Meconopsis cambrica, Ipomoea imperati and Epilobium angustifolium: they'd all be considered weeds," Sherlock finally said aloud. "Moriarty would have sent something ostentatious and somewhat socially traditional, like roses or carnations. Probably attached to explosives or covered in poison."
"So who are these from?"
"Friends, of a sort," Sherlock said, carefully brushing the petals with bandaged fingertips. Something like a smile hovered over his lips.
"You don't have friends."
"Exactly why I tacked on the 'of a sort' at the end."
Sighing, Mycroft left Sherlock alone, allowing him to keep the flowers. Really now, it wasn't hard to tell who made them—low quality, weed-like flower with simplistic drying preservation methods; not of the quality of a worldwide art thief would tolerate.
Sherlock still had the dried flowers tucked between the pages of one of his notebooks. It was proof that his homeless network—some of them, anyway—cared.
Visit your old apartment, said the text from Red. Sherlock played with the thought of ignoring it, but decided that Mycroft could have stumbled on some important information. They were already out in the streets, so it wouldn't be so much effort to grab a taxi and check things out...
"I won't let you go alone," John said, reading the text over Sherlock's shoulder. His cane—the one Sherlock gave him—was hanging off the crook of his elbow. Sherlock was torn over which reason John might be carrying it – because he sincerely needed it sometimes to walk (they only left the hospital a few weeks ago, after all) or because it would turn into a rather good, legal makeshift weapon if worst came down to worst.
Sherlock shut his phone and turned around with a slight smile. "Wouldn't dream of it."
They arrived at Sherlock's old flat surprisingly quickly, considering the traffic. It looked more dilapidated than he remembered, though in all honesty it had been years since he visited.
They arrived at the door—unmistakable, a standout from other doors from the frankly psychedelic mix of colours and patterns spray painted on it—and Sherlock looked around the borders of the door, touching certain portions, muttering, "Where is it..."
"What are you looking for?" John asked.
"This," Sherlock said, and he slammed a portion of the plaster with his gloved hand. A part of the wall flaked off, revealing a key underneath, slightly rusted but not much worse for wear.
Slightly stunned, John commented as Sherlock unlocked the door, "Never can do things the easy way, can you? Most people just stick spare keys under the doormat."
"Most people also use their birthdays or some combination thereof in their computer passwords," Sherlock countered. "Predictable."
The first thing Sherlock noticed was the lack of lighting. The generator must have failed without regular maintenance. Shadows threw a ghostly feel to the flat, a rush of memories flooding his mind—blood cocaine pain darkness tired—before John's slight cough pulled him out of his thoughts.
He remembered exactly where he put the spare batteries and the flashlights, so he set about looking for them in the kitchen cabinets. Something in him froze though, when he saw a slight cracking in the walls, something the paint had flaked off enough to reveal.
Webbed lines, splintering cracks, that's where he threw a phone when he heard his father died...
"Sherlock?" John had stopped peering around the semi-darkness with interest at Sherlock's past and followed him into the kitchen. "Is everything all right?"
"Fine, fine," Sherlock heard himself reply faintly, a bite of irritation in his voice. He turned away and drew open the cabinets and drawers with a little more violence than absolutely necessary.
There were two flashlights, though one was unusable, covered in a still mildly sticky mixture of glue and paint. He handed John the other one and grabbed a pack of matches for his own use.
There was a sharp scratch and then a searing noise as Sherlock lit the first matchstick, a little halo of light surrounding his fingers, casting a warm glow on his face. John hastily switched on his torch and shone it around, lingering on certain things—
a corner of the ceiling, covered in music notes;
the broken lamp, painted with purple hues;
the shelf, filled with stacks of loose leaf paper;
broken paintbrushes, cracked ink wells, long emptied paint cans;
parts of the floor, painted to look like where the beach touched the sea;
a portrait on the wall of a homeless man Sherlock once knew
—while Sherlock tried to see what Mycroft had seen that was so important. It wasn't until they arrived at his old bedroom that they saw it.
Sherlock couldn't help the broken cry that escaped him. It was a violin, chopped up into tiny little pieces, rearranged so artistically, but it was a broken instrument. At first, in the poor lighting he thought it was his violin, but no, on closer inspection—
"Dear God, he butchered a Stradivarius."
"Aren't those worth—" John started to say, but Sherlock waved him off.
"It's not the monetary value, but the sound," Sherlock said, lighting several other matches as he took a closer look. "According to some, Stradivarius violins are some of the best in the world since the sound they produce is rivalled by none. What I would do to get one..."
He trailed off as he saw something scratched into the pieces of the violin, jagged letters marring the wood. The match went out with a hiss and he had to relight another one to read the message.
This was meant to be your 'Welcome to the Team' gift, Sherlock. What a shame you didn't join though. Perhaps you can appreciate this anyway.
I'm planning to cut John up exactly like this. Isn't it nice to have an example? xoxo
"Ow!" Sherlock yelped, the match dropping from his hands. Distracted, he had been burned by the fire, the tips of his fingers tingling. Colours burst in his mind's eye, a reaction to the pain.
John grabbed his hand and tried to look at it—muttering, "You need to be more careful"—but at that moment his flashlight burned out and darkness surrounded them once more.
Instead of cursing, Sherlock could only laugh weakly. He could see the letters floating around anyway, darkness notwithstanding. Sighing, his head dropped until his forehead was nearly touching John's, who didn't flinch from the sudden proximity.
"Why are your eyes closed?" John asked in a hushed voice.
Was it? Sherlock thought tiredly, amused. I didn't even notice.
Sherlock raised a hand to John's neck and revelled in the feel of a pulse thrumming underneath his fingertips.
"We look to see, to learn and understand," Sherlock explained softly. "But with you? With you, I know what I'm going to see. Warmth and kindness and patience—pastel colours with smudges of black and blue and red. I don't need to look at you to know that."
In a lower voice, he murmured, "A heart of gold." The darkness didn't seem so threatening when he could feel the glow of warmth beneath his fingertips.
Sherlock didn't see the world like others did. Well, short of climbing into their heads, he could never technically see how others did. Though the concept did intrigue him.
He never considered the fact that there might be one person in the world completely and utterly fascinated by how he saw the world.
[Excerpt from: Wilson, J., (ed.), 3011, 'The Greatest Artistic Influences', Thames & Hudson, London Publications, England.]
Chapter Seven: Sherlock Holmes – 21st century artist and man of mystery.
Though historians are well aware that Sherlock Holmes had indeed painted and drawn many thousands of works over his lifetime, only a scant hundred and twenty-eight have survived to the new millennia.
He was a revolutionary artist, inspiring the likes of DeMarco (see chapter nine) and Challency (see chapter eleven). Holmes' early sketches of dark skyscrapers are rumoured to have been what the infamous architect Achill Pelosi used to create the Truscune Tower, one of the greatest English landmarks since the Big Ben. The royal family owns twelve pieces in a private collection, which experts estimate to be worth a close £14.5million in total.
Yet this is not about Holmes' art. What we want to know is about Sherlock Holmes, the man.
Not much is known about Holmes' personal life—at least, not from his perspective. What we do know is that Holmes loathed writing about himself, avoiding it when possible. Strangely enough, there are many examples of his handwriting since his art's distinguishing feature is the torrent of observant notes that outline the object of focus. While interesting to show how his brilliant mind works, it is hardly helpful in exploring the man himself.
For an unknown reason, no self-portraits exist of Holmes. Holmes has taken six photos with himself as the focus, but no paintings or drawings; it is an odd note of an artist claimed to have copied anything and everything he saw that he felt was of interest.
He once had maintained a website on the "Internet" (an early rudimentary version of Cybernet)—The Art of the Reasoner—which hosted images of roughly thirty-five percent of his work, but it was taken down in his lifetime and only floating dregs remain in cyberspace as hollow evidence that it existed in the first place (see Appendix 7a).
Due to an unknown complication, historians have had trouble locating birth and death records, not to mention details about his occupation (vaguely referenced as a sketch artist, but several sources contradict that; some claiming detective, others a mad scientist). A few speculate that the great flood of 2073 led to the destruction of such records, but there are thoughts that they had been removed long before that.
All that is known is Holmes' family is the bare basics: he had a brother, Mycroft Holmes, who held a minor position in the British government, a father called Siger Holmes who died of natural causes and a mother who committed suicide. Any other personal details are all but lost to the trials of time.
In fact, a major reason why Sherlock Holmes' life is known at all is thanks to the written works of Doctor John Watson (for further reading, A Study in Pink is one of the most comprehensive of the Watson volumes). He is hailed as Holmes' closest friend, and there are some who believe they might have been lovers at some point in their relationship.
The texts were originally in 'blogger' format (outdated online-version of diary entries) before publication and even the novels are not extremely detailed. However, they include pictures of long lost works—one of the more studied pieces being Semtex and Chlorine (see Appendix 7b)—and the stories behind some of the pieces.
Several psychologists have tried to diagnose Holmes' from Watson's recounts because it is well accepted that Holmes' flavour of genius had most definitely come at a cost. From what we have read, Holmes' had the strangest infatuation with dead bodies, regularly bringing parts home to study. He has been likened to Leonardo DaVinci in that respect; even in his time, there are references to colleagues calling him that. It is mentioned in several documents Holmes' lack of respecting social conventions and his disregard of regulations.
Yet, regardless of being self-diagnosed as a high-functioning sociopath, psychologists are wary of confirming that due to Watson's kind regard of Holmes having some sense of responsibility and care. There are no records of Holmes' violin music compositions, but a short anecdote Watson tells speaks of Holmes writing him a lullaby when nightmares of his involvement in the Afghanistan War prevented him from sleeping.
From there, many have read between the lines and fully believe that Holmes and Watson were in a committed relationship with varying levels of intimacy. The more conservative argue it was friendship, citing he was heterosexual from the Adler Pages (see Appendix 7c), or declaring he was asexual, which is a more likely argument accepted by most historians.
However, Semtex and Chlorine, along with several other works feature John Watson in a very unique light that some care to think of as love.
Another such example would be Chinese Fireflies (see Appendix 7d) which is considered a more telling piece; Watson is shown covered in blood and surrounded by the lights of several fires—but what holds controversy with the piece is the writing surrounding Watson. The writing itself is not strange, but it is painted with a dark, flaky red paint, which, upon further testing, has shown signs of human DNA. The best explanation is also the strangest: Holmes' used his blood to write the bordering notations.
Even the widely debated Siger Sketch (see Appendix 7e), a piece believed to be of himself with his father at the original National Gallery (though the lack of signature holds with it no confirmation), does not seem to hold the sentiment of Chinese Fireflies. Some historians claim it is merely a development of style – however, since the dates of both pieces are separated by only several years.
The only undeniable thing from all this chaos of lost facts is that Watson and Holmes were incredibly close. In Phonebook (see Appendix 7f), arguably Holmes' most colourful and most well known surviving works, it looks almost as if everyone he knew was painted there in splashes of colour. Notice how the background is teaming with a crowd of various shades of the rainbow and at the forefront are several people – John Watson, in shining gold, as the most prominent figure of them all.
Second to the limelight is Mycroft Holmes in brilliant red, the infamous brother who has three portraits of varying quality created by Sherlock Holmes. Some say that the clear placement of Watson before family is significant. Normally the writing would have some evidence of whether or not this was true, but all the writing in this case is just numbers upon numbers.
Phonebook is also where the connections of Holmes' possible involvement with the police were made. In blue is Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade, if Watson's recounts are anything to go by. Police records do confirm such a man existed around Holmes' time, though proof that they had contact is yet to be shown in any context other than Watson's memoirs.
Holmes' landlady (name is widely debated to be Mrs. Hudson or Mrs. Turner) is next in a faded, unassuming yellow. Her presence is one of the more confusing sights, especially when he painted his parents much further back in black and white, hand in hand with faces blurred, as if smudged away as a mild afterthought.
Finally, the most infamous figure of them all is almost glowing in the corner. The man is painted in lime green with a wicked face, like that of a lizard and a smile that seems more akin to a leer. Jim Moriarty.
Infamous though strangely anonymous. No one has ever heard of any other records of the man in any format. Yet anyone who has studied Sherlock Holmes knows the name from Watson's chilling final chapter in the memoirs published posthumously:
"Jim Moriarty killed Sherlock.
He did it. I can't believe it.
After the anger and the shock, I felt only hollowness.
He should have killed me, too.
I'll kill him instead.
Sherlock, that bastard. How could he do that to me?
The waterfalls were a lie."
This is the only direct mention of Holmes' death, which only stirs the fires of controversy surrounding it. Almost all readers are puzzled by the erratic nature of the last few lines, but if thought of as written over a stretched out period of time (instead of written in one sitting), the meaning is clearer. "The waterfalls" is a reference to [...]
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A/N: HAHAHA, I am such a tease. There is so much I could have written, but I kind of like ending it here.
Yep, that's The End, folks, so I sincerely hope you enjoyed the ride! This is the longest completed fic I've written. Wow.
NOTE: There is an accompanying fic called "Art in the Blood", which you may wish to check out.