A Week is Just Seven Days (Isn't It?)
Disclaimer: Not my property, used without permission, but with extreme respect.
Sherlock Holmes was in a foul mood when he slammed through the front door of 221B Baker St. Finding his insufferable older brother sitting in his chair, drinking tea from his mug and chatting with his flatmate did not improve his mood. The home office folders piled in on the table between them was the final straw; whatever Mycroft was up to, Sherlock wasn't interested.
"Get out," he snarled, stalking across the room.
John Watson looked up from the folder in his hands, his brows drawn low over his eyes, a disapproving look on his face. "Sherlock," he said, his tone carrying a note of censure.
"Charming, as always, dear brother." A faint smile hovered around Mycroft's lips. He pulled a pocket watch from his vest pocket and clicked it open. "You're late."
"Yes, well, I was stopped by a patrol on the tube," Sherlock said, throwing his bag at the couch. "The blasted bomb sniffing dogs made a huge fuss and it took forever to get them to release me."
"Why, exactly, did the dogs have an issue with you?" Mycroft asked, his voice pained.
"Likely chemical traces on his clothes." John was flipping through a manila folder held open on his knees. "With as much time as he spends at Bart's and the mortuary, I'm surprised that he's not declared a threat to public health."
"I'm surprised he's not declared a threat to the public health on general grounds," Mycroft said. "Still, why did the patrol stop you, Sherlock?"
"It was because I was carrying a bomb," Sherlock said, as if he was speaking to a particularly slow child.
Both Mycroft and John looked at him, Mycroft with resigned annoyance, John with dawning horror. "Or, you know, because he was carrying a bomb," John said, his voice faint. "Why were you carrying a bomb, Sherlock?"
Mycroft heaved a sigh as he stood. "Excuse me," he said, pulling his mobile from his pocket. "I imagine there are some calls I should make, preferably before the snipers are dispatched."
As soon as he was out of the way, Sherlock reclaimed his chair, slumping low. "I needed to see the design structure, and the pictures were useless. It was disarmed, so much fuss for nothing. Why is everyone such idiots?"
"Oh, I don't know," John said, going back to his file. "It's probably because most people really dislike bombs, even disarmed ones, and they really don't belong on public transport, Sherlock." He gave the bag on the couch a sideways glance. "I really don't want it in the flat, either. Get it out of here."
"It's not going to explode, and I'm not done with it yet," Sherlock said, his attention on Mycroft's cup of tea. He wanted tea, but if he got up to get it, Mycroft would take his chair again. He considered asking John, but a quick glance at John's face made it clear he wasn't amenable to the request. "Mrs. Hudson!" Sherlock bellowed.
"She's out," John said, "and bombs explode. It's rather what they do, Sherlock, no real way to redeem them of it." He looked up again. "And where did you get a bomb?"
"Evidence locker at the Yard." With a mental shrug, Sherlock picked up the teacup and took a sip. Mycroft could make himself a new mug. "Ugh, too sweet. No wonder he's so fat."
John winced. "Who let you take a disarmed bomb from the Yard's evidence locker?" he asked.
"I'll have it back before anyone realizes it's missing."
Mycroft had been just reentering the room, his mobile still in his hand. He heaved a heavy sigh and reopened it. "Excuse me," he said, his voice full of ice. "It would appear that I have additional calls to make."
"Take your time," Sherlock called after him. "What's this?" He picked up one of the folders from the table.
"Documents from a medical unit on the ground in Afghanistan," John said, flicking through the pages. "There's a rumor going around that a military unit is assisting with the illegal smuggling of human body parts out of the war zone."
Sherlock scanned the pages, his fingers flipping through them far faster than John could. "Interesting. But we're busy." He tossed the folder aside with a faint, disgusted twitch of his lips.
"You're busy," John corrected. "I am not helping you play with a bomb. A line has to be drawn somewhere, Sherlock, and I believe explosive devices that have already been disarmed is where my line is. After being an unwilling suicide bomber once, I've no interest in repeating the experience."
"Fine," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes. "I'm busy."
"Which works out well, since this was not ever intended for you," Mycroft said, returning to the room. "Go play with your toy, Lestrade will be by in an hour to collect it, so your time is limited."
Mycroft ignored him with the ease of years of practice. "What do you think, John?"
"The numbers aren't adding up." John sighed, and leaned back in his chair, his chin in one hand. "Most of the time, the cause of death is pretty clear. What's being done here…" His voice trailed off, and he shook his head. "I don't want to think you're right, but…"
"But you think I'm right." Mycroft sat down next to the bomb without turning a lash. "How soon can you be ready to go?"
Sherlock straightened in his chair. "Wait, what-"
John glanced at the calendar pinned to the fridge. "I'll call the surgery. I'm fairly certain the leave won't be a problem, especially if you can give me anything showing that I'm doing something official for the home office."
"Go, what do you mean, go?" Sherlock asked Mycroft. "John, what does he mean, go?"
John gave him a look. "Go, Sherlock. To Afghanistan." He turned his attention back to Mycroft, not seeming to realize that for all his talk about bombs, he was the one who'd set one off in the middle of the goddamn living room.
For a long moment, Sherlock just sat there, his mind awash with data, his eyes snapping between John and Mycroft as an unpleasant burning sensation built beneath his breastbone. He heard his breath hiss between his teeth, faster and faster until he made a deliberate effort to slow it down. Control. CONTROL. This was not a time to panic, or to start screaming like a five year old.
Afghanistan. John could not go to Afghanistan. Not back there. The last time he'd been there, he'd been shot. Why was he going back to a place where he'd been shot, it made no sense, why was Mycroft asking it of him, what was his angle? Why? Why John?
"Why John?" he burst out, and both men looked at him, startled.
"I'll go phone Sarah," John said, standing. "See if they can shift the schedule around for tomorrow."
"Thank you." Mycroft looked at Sherlock. "Because he has the experience to spot the parties involved, and the background that means he has a good chance of being trusted by those who are innocent. This particular issue requires a deft touch and a good deal of diplomacy, both of which he has in spades. So it was never a case for you. Luckily, unlike you," Mycroft said with a tight smile, "he does wish to serve his country, and I am more than happy to see that his time and expertise are properly compensated."
John returned. "It's fine, case load's light this week. I can be ready to go tomorrow morning, if the paperwork can be completed that quickly."
"The proper documents were drawn up before I even got in the car to come here," Mycroft said, nodding.
"Am I that predictable?" John said with a faint smile.
"No, I was hopeful." Mycroft stood and extended his hand. "I'll send over the instructions tonight by courier, and I'll arrange a car tomorrow morning. Thank you, John."
John clasped his hand for a firm shake. "I'll pack."
This was a nightmare. This was actually Sherlock's definition of a nightmare, and he couldn't seem to wake up. Sherlock was staring at them, trying not to think about the situation, trying to make his brain shut up, but his brain had never been particularly good at being silent. "I can't go," he gritted out. "I have a case."
Mycroft gave him a pitying look, but John just smiled. "It's fine, I can handle this, Sherlock."
It's fine. It's fine. No, it was not fine! What'd he mean, fine? Sherlock resisted the urge to rip his hair out. What was John thinking, he couldn't go to Afghanistan. He couldn't go without Sherlock. No, no, he couldn't go at all, this was stupid. Why was everyone such an idiot, this was a stupid idea, he couldn't go to Afghanistan.
Okay. Deep breath. Logic. Just be calm and logical and mature about this.
"You can't go," Sherlock said, the words slipping out before he could stop them.
John's smile just got a little wider, eyebrows curving up over his warm eyes. "As a matter of fact, I can. My job can give me the time, and my flatmate will be busy trying to blow himself up, so I am quite free to go."
"No," Sherlock told him.
John tipped his head to the side, a faint amount of amusement in his expression. For the most part, though, his eyes were kind and warm. "Sorry, Sherlock, but I need to do this, and you don't need me right now, so I have no reason not to go. I serve queen and crown, and I've got to pack."
"No," Sherlock repeated. "No, you don't, Mycroft-"
"Sherlock, for heaven's sake, stop acting like a child," Mycroft snapped.
Sherlock jerked to his feet, and without another word, he stormed out of the room, slamming the door to his bedroom behind him.
Sucking in breath from between clenched teeth, he turned on his heel, stalking from one end of the room to the other, his mind pouring through various plans and possibilities. He could not allow Mycroft to do this. To use John like this. It wasn't fair. It wasn't safe.
Out in the living room, he could hear the continued murmur of voices, and he scooped up a book off the bed and flung it into the wall. The bang was enough to silence the flat for a brief moment, and then they started talking again as if nothing had happened.
Snarling, Sherlock threw open the window and was out and gone.
Mycroft slid into the back seat of the black car, not surprised in the least to find Sherlock in Anthea's seat, his gaze furious. Mycroft settled himself down, arranging his case, umbrella and coat to his liking before he turned his head in Sherlock's direction. "And what have you done with my assistant?"
"She's up front. For some reason," Sherlock said, his teeth flashing in a feral sort of smile, "she decided she didn't wish to take part in this little discussion."
"Please don't bully my employees, it's uncalled for." He tapped lightly on the window separating the back seat from the front, and the car moved forward. "As well as being beneath you."
"You bully my employee all the time," Sherlock shot back.
"John is not your employee. And I do not bully him." Mycroft gave him a tight smile. "I utilize his skills, just the same as I do anyone else."
Sherlock responded to that with an undignified snort. "Call this off. Find someone else to 'utilize.'"
"You're doing this to get back at me for something," Sherlock said, his hands forming tight, brutal fists on his knees.
Mycroft's eyes fluttered shut, the movement so subtle that it would've gone unnoticed by anyone else. Sherlock missed nothing, and Mycroft knew it.
Mycroft took a deep breath, and released it as a faint, frustrated sigh. "Despite what you might choose to believe, Sherlock, not everything is about you. Sometimes, a hat is just a hat. Sometimes what you choose to perceive as a great conspiracy to control you is merely me finding the best man to do a particular job."
"Find. Someone. Else." Sherlock bit off each word with a harsh force.
"There is no one else, Sherlock. He has a unique combination of skills, background, intelligence, loyalty, discretion and compassion that means that he can do this quietly, efficiently and properly. They will talk to him, he will find out what happened, he will spare the innocent a massive scandal and see that those who acted without consideration for their fellows and their unit are brought to task for it. And he will do it with grace and efficiency.
"So you see my difficulty. I can ask a willing man, a man with rare training and intelligence, to do a sensitive job in service of his country, and risk annoying my only sibling in the process. Or, I can allow this mess to stretch out until everything is exposed by the press, good men are dragged through the mud, and the resulting scandal takes up huge amounts of both time and money that would be better spent doing something, anything, else." He tapped an index finger against his pursed lips. "Well, when I put it like that, there's almost no contest!"
Sherlock's face twisted with some unspoken emotion and for an instant, Mycroft did think his younger brother was going to take a swing at him. He stared, his expression placid, until Sherlock got himself in hand again. "Don't do this," Sherlock said, but it was a pained whisper now, as close to begging as he would get, and Mycroft steeled himself against a pang of honest sympathy.
He sighed instead, folding his hands in his lap. "Sherlock. You did quite well in taking care of yourself before he moved in; you will be just fine. It should take no more than a week, at the outside, to handle this." He paused, wondering just how far he could go into Sherlock's comfort zone before the other man panicked.
It was tiresome trying to pick his way through Sherlock's mental minefield, but if he pushed too hard, Sherlock would go straight home and get into a fight with John. And that would be the worst possible outcome to this conversation. He took a deep breath and chose his words with extreme care.
"He's taken trips before," he said, his voice calm and even. "This is not without precedent."
"This isn't a weekend jaunt to Dublin," Sherlock gritted out. "You're sending him to a place where he'll need body armor and an assault rifle."
Ah. The heart of the matter. Fear of loss. Lack of control, something that Sherlock could not bear. He could maintain the fiction, at least in his own head, that he could protect John from anything, as long as he was close by. Distance, and danger, would make Sherlock insane.
"He is not going to the front lines, Sherlock. He's no longer a soldier. He's a civilian, looking into a matter for the crown. He'll remain safely on base."
Sherlock ran a hand through his already disordered curls, and Mycroft could detect a hint of a tremor to the fingers. "Oh, yes, no one's ever been shot down going in or out of a base in a warzone. And the concept of a 'base' is severely limited in that part of the world right now."
Mycroft met his eyes without flinching. "You have two choices, Sherlock. You can accept that he is doing this with good grace and wish him well, or you can pitch a fit like a child. He is remarkably patient with you, and I do mean that in the most literal sense, the man deserves to be nominated for sainthood for putting up with your moods. But you are not his boss, you are not his spouse, and if you attempt to order him around in this manner, it will backfire."
Sherlock opened his mouth, and Mycroft held up a hand. "Do not." He took a deep breath. "Trust him enough to let him do this without fuss. Be a proper friend, a proper gentleman, and go with him to the airport to see him off. Otherwise, if you continue pouting, he'll leave anyway, but in a black mood that will not make this task any easier. You want him focused on his task, not worrying about your state of mind, Sherlock, that should be obvious even to you."
There was a moment of stillness, of silence, and then Sherlock raised one leg and kicked the panel in front of him with unrestrained violence. Mycroft didn't point out how amazingly immature that was, but judging by the way Sherlock slumped down in his seat, he knew it anyway.
When he spoke, the words were very soft, and very cold. "If anything happens to him," he said, "I will hold you fully responsible." He looked at Mycroft, and there was something dark and frightening there in his eyes.
Mycroft held his face steady with a force of will. With every outer appearance of calm, he smiled. "I will see to it that he is well protected."
"See that you do." Sherlock rapped on the panel between the front and back seats. "Stop. I'll see myself home." Without waiting for the car to come to a complete stop, he wrenched the door open and stalked off, leaving the door ajar.
Anthea slipped in, pulling it shut behind her. As soon as she did, the car began moving again. Her face was a bit paler than usual, but her expression was composed. "Orders, sir?"
Mycroft slumped back in his seat. "Make certain that we maintain a sizable protective detail on Dr. Watson, and increase Sherlock's surveillance for the duration of the situation. If he puts a foot out of line, I wish to be notified immediately."
Anthea nodded. "What constitutes 'sizable,' sir?" she asked, her fingers flying on her mobile.
Mycroft flicked a glance over his shoulder, where Sherlock had disappeared. "Treat him like royalty. Literally." He slumped down in his seat, rubbing his forehead. If this backfired on him, the fallout would be spectacular, to say the least.
Monday: Day 1
John shifted his bag up higher on his shoulder. "Sherlock?" He rapped his knuckles on Sherlock's bedroom door. "My car's here, I've got to go." He paused, waiting for a response. "Sherlock?"
Nothing. He sighed. "I know you're not asleep, and I know you can hear me." He also knew that Sherlock was standing on the other side of the door, his shoulders braced against the panel. Pointing that out would be rude, though. "Okay, I'll call when I'm wheels down in country, so you know I've arrived safely. Text me, but remember the time difference; please don't wake me up to ask where Mrs. Hudson is at two am local time. Mycroft says I'll have full internet access, so send me an email if there's something more complicated you need. The surgery has my number and email, they shouldn't call here, but if they do, please remind them I'm out of town.
"There are frozen meals in the freezer, and the local take out numbers are on the fridge. Please eat. Don't forget your pot of hair is still on the stove, and it smells bad enough simmering. If the water boils out of that and I come back to a burned out mess of human hair in our best saucepan, I will not be pleased." He could almost mouth along with Sherlock, 'it's an experiment,' but he didn't. "Mrs. Hudson's going to look in on you every day, she promised, and she will tattle you out if you're smoking or indulging while I'm gone, you know she will."
He paused, and rested his forehead against the door. "Sherlock. I've got to go. Will you please come out and say good-bye?" He waited, but there was only silence. Then, from the street, the car's horn gave a polite honk, and John sighed. "I will be back in a week," he said, calm and precise about it. "If there's any delay, I'll let you know immediately. I am coming back." He felt silly saying it, of course he was coming back, but he'd learned by now that for all his deductive prowess, Sherlock did better when emotional things were made as plain as possible.
John straightened up, his fingers ghosting on the panel of the door. "I'll see you soon, Sherlock. Please take care of yourself while I'm away, all right?"
Shouldering his bag, he turned away from Sherlock's bedroom, making it all the way to the door of the flat before he heard the door open. "John?"
He glanced back, grinning. "Yes?"
Sherlock looked miserable, his face drawn up in a pout, his brows a furious line, his shoulders hunched and his arms crossed protectively in front of his body. "Be careful. Please."
It wasn't a question, in fact it was pretty close to an order, but John didn't mention it. He walked back to Sherlock and clasped Sherlock's shoulder with one hand. "Thank you. I'll be fine. Take care of London for me, all right?"
Sherlock nodded, relaxing enough to uncross his arms. "Your car's waiting."
John nodded. "I'll be back in a week," he repeated, and headed for the door, urged on by the staccato notes of the car's horn. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" he yelled, thundering down the stairs. Slipping out of the building, he handed his bag to the impatient driver and slipped into the back seat. The car had just pulled away from the curb when his mobile buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket.
"One week. SH"
He shook his head, a faint, affectionate smile playing around his lips. He flicked off a quick response, "One week, promise. JW"
Before he could even close it, the phone buzzed again. "Do not get shot. SH." Laughing, John went to reply, and another text followed the first. "Strike that. Do not get hurt. SH." John settled back, waiting for him to run out of steam. A third text, "I'm not joking, if you get hurt, I'll be furious. SH." And a forth. "And I'll shred your passport. SH."
Laughing almost too hard to make a reply, John finally managed, "Understood on all counts. Same applies to you. JW."
Closing his mobile, he put it back in his pocket, his head going back to rest on the seat, feeling a bit better about the situation already.
For the first day, Sherlock spent his time either staring at the ceiling, staring at the wall, torturing his violin, and tracking John's progress in his travels. He'd had plans, deliberate and carefully crafted, to make surreptitious copies of the paperwork and itinerary that Mycroft's office had delivered to John. They were elaborate plans, involving misdirection, picking of locks, getting John a little tipsy and possibly climbing up the outside of the building.
Some part of him was disappointed that Mycroft had forseen all of this, and simply given him a copy. The contents of the envelope with Sherlock's name typed precisely on the front were the same as the one that John received, with one exception. Sherlock's paperwork had a bright orange post-it note on the front that read, "Don't be an idiot about this," in Mycroft's stong, clear hand.
Sherlock had gone straight to the gas stove and lit the note on fire. John didn't seem concerned by this, or the way Sherlock snickered while he did it.
Instead, he just said, "When you're done there, could you put the kettle on?"
Sherlock had read every page in his packet, after checking to make sure it was the same as John's. Then he'd read it again, memorizing salient details and starting to process a mental map of where John would be, and when he'd be moving. When John had gone to bed, he'd pulled out his laptop and began getting everything in order.
Now he bounced back and forth between his laptop, his violin and the couch, alarms prompting him when John was due to switch planes or cross a border. With access he really should not have had, he checked airline databases, air traffic control records, weather reports and troop movements.
It wasn't until John was on a military transport, with Sherlock reading through the list of who else was on the flight, that his mobile rang. He picked it up, the movement absent. "Hello, Mycroft."
"You are going to be arrested, if you keep this up," Mycroft said, disdain heavy in his voice. "I did my best to overlook your infractions into civillian databases, but do stay out of the military ones. That boarders on treason."
"Mmmmm," Sherlock replied, not really concerned, but feeling like he should say something.
"You are not listening to a word I say, are you?" Mycroft heaved a heavy sigh. "Sherlock, for heaven's sake, do pay attention, for once in your life."
"Yes, very interesting." Sherlock frowned at a name, curious why it rang a bell, and made a mental note to check up on it when he had a spare moment.
"Do I have to cut your internet access?"
"Mmm, feel free," Sherlock said, lips quirking. Not like he hadn't made preparations for just such an eventuality. He knew how Mycroft's mind worked.
"Fine, I'll just disable John's phone, instead."
Sherlock's back snapped up, and his fingers tightened on his phone. "You wouldn't dare."
"Of course I would, Sherlock. I shouldn't enjoy doing it, in that it would cause him concern as well as make you very agitated, but I will do it. Now let it be. He's in the air, there's no further reason for you to be in the systems."
Gritting his teeth, Sherlock closed out the connections. "Fine," he groused, slumping back in his chair, his arms crossing over his chest. "You are keeping him under watch, aren't you?"
"You know I am," Mycroft soothed. "And he's keeping you updated as well. Go and do something else, something more productive with your time." Without saying good-bye, Mycroft disconnected the call.
Sherlock flipped over to his texts. There were half a dozen, all from John, every time he touched down or took off, for each delay or change of plans, he'd sent Sherlock a simple update. He opened the most recent one, for about the tenth time.
"Taking off, last leg. Need coffee and a nap. Will let you know when I'm on base. JW."
Sherlock closed his mobile. For some reason, he got the impression that this was going to be the longest week of his life.
Whatever Mycroft's office had sent on ahead to prepare John's way, it had raised certain expectations, expectations that John Watson knew he was incapable of filling. By the time the third high ranking officer had looked at him with a combination of consternation and outright confusion, John had found the humor in the situation.
It wasn't as if he looked all that impressive in fatigues. Short and compact, not so broad in the shoulder or long in the leg, John was well aware that he seemed like a pleasant sort of chap, but not the sort of person that came with a huge stack of paperwork signed by the permanent joint headquarters.
"Captain..." The Colonel looked at his paperwork, his brow furrowing. His brow looked like it had undergone a lot of furrowing in his career, and a faint sense of worry hovered around the man like a cloud of cologne. His ruddy skin was tanned by the desert sun and his stark, heavy features matched his broad, bull-like frame. It would be easy to write off the man as a martinet, but there was sharp intelligence in his dark green eyes and he met John's gaze with a polite, calm smile. "Watson, is it?"
John gave him a slight smile and a crisp salute. "Yes, Colonel."
The man exchanged a look of puzzlement with his aide, but recovered quickly. "Thank you for coming out, Captain. I'm Colonel Larson, this is Lieutenant Adams, my aide d' camp."
John accepted the man's extended hand. "Pleased to meet you both."
"Do you need help with your things?" Adams said with a pleasant smile. He was a striking man, a little taller than Sherlock, with nut brown skin and warm brown eyes.
"This is all I brought, thank you, though." John shouldered his bag. "I've always preferred to travel light."
"Out here, that's for the best," Col. Larson said with a faint smile. "So you'll be auditing the medical files?"
John nodded as the three of them started walking across the landing strip. "Yes. There's been some concern about medical supplies going missing. The usual things that happen in war zones," he added, with the sort of half-smile that lent his face the right amount of humility. Mycroft's assignment had come complete with a very plausible cover story. John didn't look like a detective, but an accountant, that could be believed. "Damn paper pushers. Expecting to be dealing with polite rows of numbers and not, well, reality, if you know what I mean."
Adams snorted under his breath, but Larson gave him a sideways glance. "Hopefully we'll pass muster," he said, with a faint smile in John's direction. "We've had quarters arranged for you, and work can begin tomorrow."
John stared at the sky. God, it was beautiful. It was easy to forget, since the damn country had been clawing its way through one war after another for the last couple of centuries, but damn, it was beautiful in a 'you're going to die here,' way. The mountains rose at the edge of his vision, the stark, weathered landscape as foreign as the moon. "I'm still awake," he said, his voice calm. "Might as well start now."
Adams was watching him, his eyes curious. "Not your first tour of duty here, is it?" he asked, his voice soft.
John inhaled, and the smell of swirling dust and sun baked stone touching off all sorts of memories. "No," he said, smiling back. "Left a lot of myself here." His hand gripped his left shoulder, where the ache of the old bullet wound still remained. "Blood sweat and tears, if you know what I mean."
"The definition of military service," Adams said, grin stretching out to crease his cheeks and make his eyes gleam.
"It is at that." John adjusted his helmet. "If you could lead the way?"
Adams glanced at Larson, who nodded. "This way, please, sir." As John followed him between the buildings, he glanced over. "You're a doctor, then?"
"Yes," John said, glancing around, matching the lay of the land with the maps that Mycroft had provided. "There must be quite a few of those around here."
Adams nodded. "Not as many as we'd like, actually," he said, with a shrug. "Just had a changeover of personnel, we're stretched thin. Usually, we'd give you a liaison with more medical experience, but I'm sorry, we just don't have anyone to spare. Corporal Cooper will be assisting you, just let him know what you need, but he may or may not be able to answer much about supply use or requisitions."
Wasn't that interesting? Of course, it could be true, but it presented some interesting challenges. Might also make thing easier. John gave him a polite smile. "Oh, I'm sure I'll muddle through," he said. After all, he had six days.
Tuesday, Day 2
Why was there no milk in this fridge?
Sherlock braced his hands against the sides of the fridge, glaring at the contents with all the force his brain and eyes could produce. He threw in a full body lean for impact. "John, why didn't you get-"
He glanced over his shoulder at the empty flat, and there was a curious sensation in his chest. He didn't really want to think about it all that much. It seemed familiar, but it wasn't. It shouldn't have been. He didn't remember feeling like this.
He realized, a little too late, that his hand was rubbing at his breastbone, above the empty, aching sensation. He dropped it to his side, and just as a matter of course, he slammed the fridge door shut.
Stalking across the room, he dumped the tea out, and then retreated to the living room to throw himself onto the couch. His dressing gown fluttering around him, he curled himself into a ball and folded his arms in front of his chest to stare at the back of the couch.
It wasn't particularly interesting.
With nothing better to do, he considered the unpleasant sensation that still seemed to be lingering under in his chest. Indigestion? Maybe. Or maybe he was just hungry. That would seem to be more of a stomach feeling, though, and he'd recognize hunger, wouldn't he? He'd been hungry.
After all, before John, he'd often forgotten to eat for days on end. If he was lucky, he'd remember before he passed out.
Sherlock pursed his lips. He did not miss that at all. Most people had their university blackouts because of booze. Sherlock just passed out in the library. A lot. Sometimes he'd end up in some obscure stack and just lie there until someone found him.
To this day, the sound of shrieking librarians was a hidden phobia.
Okay, so, eating something would probably be good. Tea. Except there wasn't any milk, was there, he'd just had this discussion, just between himself and with the uncaring, unproviding fridge, and there had been no resolution. Just the fridge telling him to go to hell.
And there was that curious, unexplained ache again. It had to be hunger. He considered making something to eat. Or at least a cup of tea.
Tea would be god.
He jerked his head over his shoulder. "John, I'm-"
The flat was still empty.
And there was that ache again.
There was a polite tap on the door, and before he could respond, Mrs. Hudson popped her head in. "Good morning, Sherlock, dear. How're you feeling today?"
Sherlock stopped rubbing his chest, and gave her a random grumble by way of a reply. She was used to his moods, at least to the point that his lack of intelligible reply didn't really bother her. "Oh, now, you can't laze about all day," she said, heading for the kitchen and setting the kettle.
"I don't see why not," Sherlock grumbled. "It's not as if I have anything better to do."
"Now, now, dear, there's no point in being all pouty." She came over and patted him on the head with a light hand. Sherlock, not interested in being placated, swatted her hand away, making her laugh. "If you wanted to, you could clean up the mess on the stove," she pointed out. "That's like to rot, and then the bin collectors will be up to argue with you about biohazardous waste again."
"I don't put anything truly hazardous in the bins, and if it bothers you so, you can deal with it," Sherlock said, kicking his legs out along the length of the couch.
Mrs. Hudson made a clicking sound under her breath. "Not your housekeeper, dear. Now, up you go, let's have a cuppa and you can get your day off to a good start, don't you agree?"
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "Do you have milk?"
"Oh, sorry, Sherlock, no. I'm out. Don't take it so much myself anymore, the dairy does bad things to my digestion, you know that." She patted his shoulder. "I've got non-dairy creamer, I'll go get some."
Sherlock made a terrified face at the couch cushions. "No, thank you."
"To the creamer, dear?"
"To the tea." He sat up, not because he wanted to, but because it was clear that she wasn't going to budge from his flat until he got up. "Well, thank you so much for stopping by," he said, rolling to his feet so fast that she took an involuntary step back. "It was wonderful to see you, now, off you go, I've got so much to do, busy, busy, no time to chat."
Putting a hand on her back, he steered her towards the door with big, swift steps. "So, so nice to see you, really, we must do this again some time." Throwing the door open, he gave her a tight lipped grin and waved her out.
"Oh, all right," she said, with a sniff. "I'll stop by again at supper, Sherlock."
Inwardly, Sherlock cursed. Biting his tongue, he managed to keep his smile on his face with a force of will. "Wonderful," he said, and he hoped it sounded pleasant instead of bitter.
She smiled at him, and patted him on the chest with a light hand. "It's normal to feel lonely, Sherlock. Don't be concerned about that."
Sherlock froze. "What?" he asked, blinking down at her.
"Well, without John around, you're obviously going to be at loose ends," she said, her smile only growing wider. "It's normal to feel lonely."
Her hand fell away, and without thinking, Sherlock's hand came up to touch the same spot, where that empty, aching feeling was back. "I don't get lonely," he said, spitting out the last word as if it was poisonous.
"Of course you don't, dear." Mrs. Hudson gave him a smile that seemed, well, pitying, and Sherlock resisted the urge to slam the door in her face. "It'll be fine, Sherlock. He'll be back in just a couple of days."
"Yes," Sherlock said, and just like that, she was gone. He shut the door and stood there, staring at the closed panel. Then he leaned forward and rested his forehead against the wood. "I'm not lonely," he snarled, "I'm just hungry."
The kettle pinged, and Sherlock spun on his heel. "I just need a cup of tea," he corrected himself.
Even if there was no milk. Pulling his mobile out of his dressing robe pocket, he started to type.
"Can I get you anything else, sir?"
John glanced up from the newest stack of folders that had been placed in front of him. "No, Corporal, thank you." He leaned back in his chair and stretched, feeling the muscles of his back burn as he shifted position. Okay, that should be a sign. He stood, rubbing a hand over his tired eyes. "How many more are there?"
"About a hundred," Corp. William Cooper said, his tone apologetic. He was a short, broadly built young man with a full crop of freckles across his nose and high cheekbones and a shock of strawberry blond hair. He had a pleasant demeanor and was efficient in his work, which had made John's job so much easier.
John groaned at the news, and Cooper struggled to hide a grin. "Yeah, the hope of a paperless war hasn't really touched us out here." He shifted. "Would you like a cup of tea, sir?"
"That'd be fantastic, thank you. Grab one for yourself, too, I think we both need a break."
"Be right back, sir."
As the cheerful young man disappeared through the tent flap, John paced the length of the makeshift headquarters, stretching his arms over his head as he moved his legs. Rolling his head on his shoulders, he let out a sigh.
The tent and masonry set up of the semi-permanent base was more comfortable than the field, that was for sure, and he didn't mind the military sameness of it all, the neat and practical table and chairs, filing cabinets and wire covered lights. It was a pleasant enough place to work, and they'd been left to it. There was always the clatter of rotors or gusts of wind outside, and the sound of boots in the halls, tense voices or joking ones, bits of gossip flying fast outside the windows.
For now, however, the paperwork was telling a convincing story only because John knew right where to look. He rubbed his forehead, wanting to move on, but incapable of not gathering as much evidence as he could. Efficiency warred with Sherlock's annoyed voice in the back of his head, and as always, Sherlock won.
Trying to solve a case without adequate data, John could almost hear him say, was just plain idiotic.
He was smiling to himself when Cooper stepped back in carrying a tray. Two mugs of tea, a plate of biscuits and sugar and creamer were balanced carefully on one hand. John grinned at him. "You get stuck waiting tables a lot, don't you?"
Cooper laughed. "Actually waited tables before I joined up," he said. "I kept at it enough for me to realize that I didn't want to do it for the rest of my life."
"Thank you," John said, accepting the mug with a sigh of relief. The tea was dark, strong, and just a bit on the bitter side, and damn, it tasted so good. After a couple of sips, he sat back down and reached for some creamer.
On the table, his mobile buzzed. It was a common sound by now, it had been rattling its little electronic brains out for the past couple of hours, and Cooper, taking a seat across from him, opened his mouth. He closed it without saying anything, hiding behind his mug instead.
Curious, John arched an eyebrow in the young man's direction. "What?" he asked, with an easy smile.
Cooper's eyes shot up, and a faint bit of pink showed up on his ears. "Nothing, sir."
John's grin just got wider. "Oh, c'mon now, none of that. We're having a cuppa, what were you going to say?"
Cooper studied him, hazel eyes sharp, and seemed to come to a decision. "You know you can set your mobile to just alert you once for an incoming message, don't you?"
John frowned, his brows pulling in as he tried to make sense of that. "Yes, it's-" The phone buzzed again, and he figured it out. "Oh, oh, no. No, that's what it's doing. Every time it's doing that, it's a new message." He started laughing. "No, I can see why you'd think that it's on 'bother me until I look at the message', but no."
Judging by the look of relief that flashed across Cooper's face, he was glad John hadn't take offense. Then he looked down at the mobile. "You get a lot of texts, then."
"I have a flatmate with an unlimited data and texting plan and a lot of time on his hands," John said.
"They're all from one person?" Cooper's voice rose up about an octave, and catching himself, he cleared his throat. "Sorry, I mean, that's... That's a lot of texts. I figured you had a very jealous girlfriend or something."
"You have no idea," John said, his tone wry. "There might be one or two in there from someone else, but for the most part, yes. There's probably a couple dozen from him, because he finds them convenient."
Admittedly, this was more than he'd usually be sending, but John got the feeling that the man might be feeling a little frustrated. Not that he'd ever admit it, but whenever John was out of the flat for more than a few hours, the texts did seem to pick up to an almost alarming pace.
He glanced up and found Cooper staring at him with the expression of a man who didn't know if he was being lied to or not. John grinned. "Go ahead, take a look if you don't believe me."
Cooper gave him a look, clearly wondering if this was a trap, and John's grin only got wider. "I'm serious. go ahead. His texts are by turns hysterical and terrifying."
He does police work," John said, stretching the truth just so that he didn't have to explain Sherlock's real job description. "So it'll either be about the contents of the cupboard, or a picture of a maggot infested foot with a dozen smileys dancing around on the screen."
Now I know you're making this up." Still, Cooper reached for John's mobile.
What makes him cheerful isn't necessarially what would amuse the rest of us," John explained. He took a sip of his tea. "And trust me, I've learned not to have anything in my mouth when I check his messages."
Cooper was scrolling through the messages, his brows drawn up tight. "There are nine messages in a row that just say, 'We need milk,'" he said.
Yeah, he does that sometimes," John said, grinning. "I'm not sure if he's trying to harass me, if he forgets he's sent the other messages, or if he gets stuck in a recurrent loop. You know, send text, take a sip of tea, check microscope, send text, tea, microscope, text..."
Is he demented?"
Brilliant and insane, possibly," John agreed. "Not so much for social niceties."
Cooper flinched. "Ah, there-" He swallowed, his face drawing up in a wince. "There are the maggots. Dear God, that's a lot of damn maggots. Wait, is this in a fridge?"
Probably," John said with a sigh. "I'm not there, and I'm usually the only thing that stands between our fridge and biological contamination. It'll be a free-for-all until I get back and explain that jars of fingers do not belong next to the mayonnaise."
You're messing with me," Cooper said, but he was still going through the texts.
Our flat is not Safe-Serv certified, let's put it that way."
Isn't that dangerous? I mean, it's just asking to get something infectious."
He has a startlingly strong constitution. I've never seen him sick, not so much as a sniffle." John stopped, arrested by the thought. "Jesus, that's a terrifying thought. Sherlock with the flu." He shuddered. "No, we'll be skipping that."
Cooper laughed. "Do you have a plan as to how you'll be skipping it?"
Well, hell, at this point, you owe me a favor, right? I can hide here with you. I'd prefer a war zone to Sherlock with a fever." He looked at Cooper, trying to keep a straight face, and the young man was rubbing his mouth, as if deep in thought, but his eyes were dancing. As one, the two of them burst out laughing.
He sounds like a character," Cooper said. "But be serious, that is not your fridge, is it?"
Seriously, I once got home to find a human head in the crisper drawer."
Yeah, it was on the top shelf."
That set them both off into gales of laughter again, John bent over double as he struggled to draw breath between bouts of the giggles. When he finally got himself back under control, he sat up, leaning back against the table, his elbows braced on the wood, eyes wet as he stared at the ceiling.
Can I ask, why do you live with him?"
John picked up his tea and took a sip. "Because it's never boring," he said after a moment's thought. "Because he's my best friend, for all that he's a constant thorn in my side."
Yeah, but that doesn't mean you have to live with him."
Well, some people chase tornadoes. Some people research tsunamis. Some people hunt escaped fugitives. Some people start wars in the middle east. I live with Sherlock Holmes. We've all got something in common."
You're all mental?" Cooper said.
"I was going to say suicidal tendencies, but that works too." Grinning, John saluted him with his mug. "Get back to work."
Yes, sir." Cooper stood, just as the phone started vibrating again. He looked down at the incoming text. "Sir?"
Yeah?" John reached for the stack of folders.
You're out of milk."
So I've heard." John shook his head. "Do me a favor, Corporal." Snagging a piece of paper, he wrote down their address, and the address of the nearest Tesco's. "Text him back with directions between these two locations."
He doesn't know where to go?"
Oh, he does, but sometimes, it's just more fun to be snarky." John stabbed a finger in his direction. "Google that for him, please."
Yes, sir." Grinning, Cooper did as he was ordered, and John went back to his paperwork, shaking his head.