Disclaimer: All original characters and such belong to the BBC.
Summary: Sherlock is the last person anyone would go to for advice. But the unexpected guest in their flat doesn't know that.
Chronology: None specific
Pairings: None for the moment
Rating: K+ for over-cautiousness
Author's Note: Something I wrote to feel better, inspired by a friend's work. It was supposed to be short.
The light scuffing sound of feet on floorboards actually startled Sherlock Holmes for a fraction of second. The sound was too light to be John, and the hour of night combined with the shift the ex-army doctor had just had made the idea of his being conscious extremely unlikely. As they were the only two residing at the residence, and the hour made the possibility of guests or Mrs. Hudson dropping by essentially completely laughable, his next logical conclusion was an intruder. He carefully rested the pipette he'd been using on the kitchen table and sat alert, waiting and weighing his options of how best to dispatch the unwanted visitor.
But just before the person stepped hesitantly into view just past the doorway of the kitchen, he recalled the events of several hours before, realizing this was a different sort of unwanted visitor. This made it possible for him to not knock the startled-looking young woman to the floor in self-defense. She caught sight of him and her hand instinctively jumped towards her mouth but instead smacked her in the chin.
"Sorry! I…I didn't think anyone would be awake," she said, shrinking back in apology, her voice a barely audible whisper that bled into the air.
"You needn't whisper," he said, turning back to his work. "John worked a double shift and it would take far more than normal conversation to wake him at this point."
"Oh." The word came out still like a whisper, and the girl stood awkwardly on the threshold.
Normally Sherlock would have easily recalled every bit of the day and never would have suspected some intruder, but the last minute arrangement John had set up was boring and of no relevance to the consulting detective since he had been enthusiastically assured of a complete lack of change to routine and his experiments. Therefore, he had deleted the information from his mind. But now the awkward girl was standing there, still caught in his periphery as he returned to the vials scattered across the tabletop, and the information came creeping back. John's friend managed a small hotel in Kensington where the water pipes had burst the day before, making the place almost completely uninhabitable. There had been a large group of American university students staying there while on a study abroad trip, and there had been an immediate scramble to find them a cheap place to stay. They'd managed to put up a chunk of the group at a local bed and breakfast whose owner had volunteered some rooms. Then, due to time and costs and a schedule to keep, they'd started finding host families. As it happened, John knew one of the girls from the trip because she was the niece of another friend.
John had been very receptive about having an unexpected guest and had assured his flatmate over and over again that it wouldn't be a problem and would only be for a couple of days at the most. Sherlock had been out when she arrived, but thus far he had to grudgingly admit that it wasn't a problem. In fact, until she'd shown up just then in the kitchen, he'd completely forgotten about her existence.
While she made no noise, the sliver of long dark curly hair and white t-shirt and black shorts caught in the side of his vision wasn't exactly conducive to his work. "Tea," he ordered.
"I…what?" the girl stared, one hand nervously resting on the neck of her shirt.
"You can't sleep. I can't work with you standing there. So the best course of action is for you to have a cup of tea and go to bed so I can resume my work." He gave her a tight-lipped smile, the best gesture he could think of to brush her off without frightening her off.
"Oh. Sorry," she said quietly, and she turned to leave.
"Kettle's on the stove," he said, pointing without looking. "Tea in the cupboard above the sink. Sugar's next to that and cream's in the refrigerator. Watch that you don't disturb the thumbs though, there's a very delicate experiment I'm running."
He half-hoped to see her jump and stare like most people did. But she merely blinked and stepped tentatively into the room. "I don't like tea, but maybe a glass of water would be smart."
Now Sherlock stared. "Is that some kind of weird American thing?"
She smiled a little for the first time. "No, just a weird picky eater thing."
He looked at her a moment longer. "You'll find glasses in the cupboard on the other side of the sink."
"Thank you." She moved timidly across the room, her arms crossed over her chest. Sherlock went back to the pipettes and vials, but he could hear every movement as she opened a cupboard and selected a glass and filled it from the tap. Then he could hear her hovering uncertainly in the background. He was reminded of a mouse or a kicked puppy.
"You may use one of the chairs," he finally said, not quite frustrated but put off by her nervousness.
"Thank you." She slowly came around and pulled out a chair across from him, sitting back from the table and carefully avoiding the various pieces of equipment he had strewn across the top. She sipped from the mug, her movements small and cautious like her voice when she suddenly asked "Is there anything I can help with?"
"No, thank you." He looked up, curious, and found her staring back at him. She looked away quickly. There was a nervous energy coursing through her, though she was trying desperately to hide it. She was partly betrayed by the hand that kept tucking and re-tucking a lock of wavy hair behind her ear. Sherlock looked at her a few moments longer before he set down the pipette once again and addressed her directly. "Graduation is supposed to be a beginning, not an end."
She looked back at him suddenly, green eyes wide in a startled face. "Did Doctor Watson…?"
"No, but it wasn't hard to deduce. You're studying abroad in a country you enjoy, going by the Union Jack print of your socks and the police box on your shirt. You aren't particularly homesick, or you would have a mobile with you, trying to get in touch with someone – it's not very late in the States yet. There's a dark shading under your eyes, and that doesn't come from a single night of sleeplessness. Something's been bothering you for a while. There's dark pencil shading on the side of your right hand, so you've been working on your homework despite the inconvenience and chaos that has been added to your trip. So a committed student then, which doesn't necessarily indicate proximity to finishing studies but does increase the likelihood. Then there's the fact that you looked over the jobs section of the paper there as you sat down. Could be you're merely looking for a summer job, but the look of desperation suggests otherwise. You don't have a solid plan. The ring on the third finger of your left hand appears real at first glance, but isn't. So not an engagement ring then, but perhaps some kind of friendship token. You're wearing no other jewelry or makeup, which makes the ring seemingly out of character. So whoever gave it to you is someone very important to you. Chances are not a relative, because you would be more likely to see a relative on some sort of regular basis. So either another graduating friend who will be at some distance, or a younger friend who will return to your university in the fall while you don't. I'm supposing the latter based on your reaction to that statement. It would also seem that your parents or other family members are of little help, and possibly even a hindrance, given the amount of reliance you seem to have placed on this friend."
The girl stared, now looking almost frightened.
Sherlock felt rather pleased with himself, though he hadn't meant to alarm the girl further. "Is there anything I missed?"
She shook her head. "Not really." She was whispering again, and looked about to cry.
The consulting detective suddenly felt completely out of his depth. The girl was clearly emotional, which he could do nothing about. He'd only brought up her situation because he found it an interesting set of contradictions. He considered waking John to deal with her, but he knew the kind of day his friend had experienced and knew that John needed the little sleep he could get before he had to go back. He cleared his throat. "University education increases salary and employability. I'm certain you'll figure it out."
"Sure." She stared at her water and looked and sounded not at all convinced.
Sherlock tried to return to his work, but the utter dejectedness about her actually bothered him. He wasn't entirely certain why, but wondered idly if it might be that she reminded him slightly of himself around her age, not able to stand the circumstances of his parents' home but with no clear plan of how to move forward, of what he could do with his life. He supposed his own set of circumstances had narrowed his options even more than the girl's, but something about the situation felt vaguely familiar. He paused, then offered, "You're clever. You'll be fine."
That got a half-smile out of her. "What makes you think I'm clever?"
"The only people who ever offer to assist in my work are either obnoxious or clever. I had forgotten you were even in the flat, so clearly you are not the former."
She smiled for real then, and he offered a smile back, as best he could.
"So. Cleverness takes care of half the problem. And technology takes care of the other half."
She looked at him, uncertain.
"I would be shocked if you managed to hide from your friends in this day and age, or them from you. Texting alone should bridge quite a bit of the gap, I imagine."
He could see the words settling in a bit, though she still had quite a mental wall up. Taking a chance that her circumstances were in fact similar to his own, he turned to face the girl and waited until she made eye contact and maintained it. "Despite the nature of their intentions," he said firmly. "Not even the people closest to you can tell you how your life is supposed to go. Some of us have to choose something completely out of ordinary and expected in order to get through life without finding it exceedingly tedious. And one does not have to plan every part of their life in advance. My proximity to crime has constantly reinforced the concept of the chaos in the universe. There are certain laws and truths, and you apply them as you go along. One day at a time. Try to force all of the universe, even your personal universe, into a perfect timeline and you're looking at worse chaos than before."
Some of the intense nervous energy seemed to be draining from her face as he spoke.
"Letting your emotions take control makes it impossible to face what you have to do. Let them run their course. Then take apart the problem piece by piece. They only ever seem impossible."
She leaned back in the chair with a silent sigh. She closed her eyes for a moment before she opened them again and made eye contact, still shy but noticeably calmer. "Okay, yeah. You're right." She paused and smiled to herself. "You're right." She rubbed her hands over face. "That makes so much sense. Thank you."
Sherlock nodded, and turned back to his work.
"I should try to get some sleep. I have class at Sissinghurst in the morning." The girl stood and went to the sink where she quickly washed and dried the mug before she returned it to the cupboard. She went towards the kitchen doorway then, where she paused for a long moment. He caught her in his periphery again.
"Thank you," she said again, deeply serious. "I needed that."
Sherlock looked up. "I know."
She nodded, another small smile playing across her face. "Doctor Watson wasn't kidding when he said you were smart. Good night." She tip-toed off.
"Good luck," Sherlock called after her, quietly.