It was midnight in London. Somewhere in the darkened streets someone was whistling to the tune of the Bee Gees while someone else was thawing out blood. In another place else a woman with excellent texting skills carried a cup of tea (skim, no sugar, one half ginger biscuit on the side) into a man who was spinning a hurricane of numbers into a fine string of nothing, nothing, nothing. Somewhere else a woman smiled like power and wanting but never getting reached for a riding crop. In an impressively fortified block of flats sat a man with a bandage at his hip absently measured the flighty bird-pulse at his brother's wrist while pouring over piles of paperwork, gangs and streets and petty crimes jagging along the curve of his brain. He brother dreamed of teeth and bones and whispering white blood cells.
There was also a flat where someone stalked and muttered in front of a wall of photographs and scrawled notes bound together with red string. Just above him, on the roof, a doctor who had been turned into a child narrowed his eyes at a policeman who had lost his entire family. Their bond was like that of the survivors of an atom blast, their whole lives between one second and the next. The two of them met like this often, usually in the very early morning. Two or three times a week, enough so it was familiar, so that it worried them faintly that it was too familiar. They had conversations with the cold in their teeth and the drowsy fog of London night turning into day like a pillow fort hanging above their heads. They spoke about Afghanistan where the stars burn like magnesium. About the future where cops still drank bad coffee. About the one year at St Bart's, the summer after which John's mother died, his sister started drinking and he switched schools. John, the little soldier, the little doctor is able to speak more freely of his losses. Dimmock, the doe eyed policeman and his set boyish jaw will not tell how Grendel killed his wife, will not pull out the newspaper clipping from inside his jacket pocket, not in front of anyone. Sometimes they spoke of Moriarty, which made Dimmock bite his lip and wonder if he should tell John, and other times Dimmock would quote criminals of his own.
They were like refugees from their own better times finally returning home a regime change and half a lifetime later. They were desperate to tie themselves tight together with a thousand little words to hook into each other. And their eyes fell over the slight alterations of the streets and the billboards and the music floating up from the corners of people's windows. But underneath all of that was London, their London, their home. The neat twist of streets and the sloped back of black taxi cabs and the tucked up doorways just a skip up off the pavement to houses and flats and shops. It was home again and familiar and peaceable in their bones if they let it be and they could wander the streets and catch familiar names and known faces the way a wayward son back again would be able to say I knew your grandfather, your aunt was the prettiest girl in school. And all that had changed; all that had slipped through their fingers might not be gone. Might not be lost. Might only be a little different if they were brave enough to put their feet back in where they had been before. London would always be their home place, their belonging place. Even in their melancholy they fit into the giant city like cogs in a great clock.
When Dimmock was in a good mood he would speak of pleasant things, speak about his family and of his marriage to his own love, his Lizzie. About he was stupid and stubborn before she broke him in to a comfortable sort of shape. He was the sort of man for whom life was better with an intimate feminine hand gently guiding it. On this night they were both in good moods, both in good places, and Dimmock was telling John about himself. Sharing mate sorts of things. The things that mates should know.
"You didn't," John laughed, rubbing his mittened hands together. The mittens were a gift from Mrs. Hudson, his landlady – not his housekeeper, with a line through the back of his jacket to keep them connected. It was useful to have his mittens tied together. He would have benefited from connected mittens before when he was an adult and regularly would lose gloves while climbing around alleyways and warehouses.
Dimmock laughed back, a sound like a gate fighting rust, and passed over his thermos of exceptionally rich hot cocoa. It took the cold out of their bones since the doctor couldn't have alcohol and the policeman had an on again off again relationships with the twelve step program. Although it was mostly on again these days. "I swear- don't look at me that way John – I swear. I didn't want to tell Lizzie I'd been shot two days before, she'd been off with her mum and her ridiculous little brother doing girly spa stuff, and I was so high on pain medication I just said 'pardon me' and collapsed right over in the middle of the vows. I think into her ridiculous brother actually."
John took a small, savouring sip of the cocoa. It was like someone had found the dark secret heart of the cocoa bean and squeezed it for all it was worth. It was like down duvets and the dependability of warm skin, being under the covers in a pocket of heat on a cold morning or some sort of slow, gripping Latin dance. John temporarily forgot what they were talking about. "I'm sure he wasn't that ridiculous."
"Ho, ho ho, ho ho ho."
"Oh come off it," John grumbled good naturedly. It was hard not to be. Sitting on the roof of 221B, wedged comfortably in the midst of Victorian roofing, with a sudden expected ally who knew and understood. Two men ripped from their lives by a madman, wiped from existence and shoved back in wily-nily in younger bodies. There was a comfort in being the only ones to know each other's' terrible loss.
"There are so few times an ironic laugh is fitting, I try to use it on every such occasion. He was ,ivery ridiculous. He lived off of apple juice, rice cakes and artistic ennui. A small thinnish sort of man, he wore all black," Dimmock leaned back and closed his eyes, remembering, "Even a black cardigan and all sorts of different colour neck scarves. He took the photos for our wedding so we wouldn't have to spend for a professional. Half the pictures were of peoples' shoulders or ankles, or handbags; the other half was split between close shots of babies and Lizzie dancing."
"I was mad, of course, but Lizzie always indulged her brother. She kept sending him money when he was trying to get his studio started. Sometime in the twenties he met this massive amazon of a Russian woman. The kind that would be exceptionally hot if she wasn't so terrifying. He followed her around like an adoring puppy, thought the sun rose and set with her. She was good for him though, whipped him into shape so he actually started making real profits and stopped begging his sister for money. She was pretty nice, made pancakes the size of umbrellas. Ottomans. Table cloths."
"What size table?" John asked.
"Hmm? Small table, end or hallway." Dimmock's smile slowly slid into a sigh. He liked to talk about the good things in his life that had been, but the melancholy that it would never be again followed sharp on its heels. The realization of his loss.
He didn't like to talk about that though. John didn't know if it was years of police experience that taught him not to cry in front of the civilians, or something English that required Dimmock to keep calm and carry on. In Afghanistan John had seen people lose limbs, lose sight, lose hearing, gain constellations of shrapnel they could look forward to picking out of their skin for decades as it was slowly pushed to the surface. Some of those men and women had kept their lips like closed doors, had steeled their faces, had refused to talk about it. John had sat silently for an hour in a physiatrist's office contemplating the flooring. Maybe he wasn't terribly different.
"Back to sleep," Dimmock nudged John's shoulder, face pale and dusky from the cold and sitting on the roof, his little ears pink.
"I'm not-" John started to say and then yawned so the squared pearls of his baby teeth showed shadowy in the back.
Dimmock looked up at the crushed velvet of the London night until John was done. Dimmock didn't remember John in the way that John remembered him. He tried to think about John as an adult, and not as this slightly rolly poly child scrubbing messily at his face with one mittened hand.
"I'm off to Austria for a couple days," he said.
"Hmm," sighed John.
"I'm chasing ghosts." He shifted his head like an overly serious teddy bear. "I have reason to believe there are still members of Dr. Grendel's original team floating around. If I find them maybe they'll be able to help us do something about his ray gun."
They didn't say reverse its effects; it was too much of a hope. They could pretend they just wanted a way to destroy it for now.
"Hm," John said. "You need a kit? Anything?"
"Nah," Dimmock breathed out. "I'll be fine. I'll see you at the Yard. I'll let you know if its longer than a week."
John nodded, self-sufficient as always and held himself from the edge of the roof with the grace of a natural born climber. Dimmock leaned over to watch John hook his hands around an old laundry line and the edge of the window frame of his second floor room and lower himself onto the floor as soundlessly as a kitten. Satisfied Dimmock jumped across to 220 Baker Street and then down their fire escape. There was the sound of Sherlock moving the sofa downstairs and then apparently deciding to move it back. John changed into his pajamas and lifted himself up onto his mattress. Sherlock hadn't thought to get him a child's bed and John hadn't asked for one, it seemed too much like accepting failure. Finally the sound of something quick and soft started playing downstairs, a fervent sort of song from Sherlock violin. John curled into a bundle and went to sleep to the sound of it.
In the morning John woke up at half past ten to a knock on his door. He was awake, if not alert, instantly, scrubbing at his face and trying to get to the edge of his mattress. His bed was the perfect size for a grown man, but for an eight year old sized body it was an expanse at times. "What?" he said in the direction of the door.
"You've overslept this morning," came Sherlock's voice from the other side of the door. "You're usually up foisting toast on me by now."
John flicked the bits of sleep out of the corners of his eyes curling his toes at the pleasing warmth and weight of his duvet. He hadn't liked to sleep beneath a heavy duvet before, but there was something in the weight now that helped him rest. He shook his comfort off and swung his legs over the side, "Sorry. Must have just been tired."
There was a short silence from the other side of the door, the shadow curl of Sherlock's robe, then feet padding away. John accepted that as part and parcel of Sherlock with a shrug, reaching for his toiletries in their little sack and slid off the bed, padding to the bathroom. Sherlock appeared before John could shut the door in his slacks and probably-is-silk shirt and silky blue dressing gown. It made perfect sense to Sherlock of course to wear a designer suit and a dressing gown over the top of it. He walked past John to sit on the lid of the toilet.
"Yes?" John asked.
"I just want to watch." He didn't have anything further to add so John, after some serious thoughts on the eccentricities of flat mates, shrugged again.
"Fine I guess. It won't be very exciting."
Sherlock just folded his hands together and placed his fingertips with great care under his chin.
With a final look to his flatmate he pulled the step stool out from under the sink and stepped up so he could see himself in the mirror. He retrieved his flannel from his kit and put on the water; cool because it was only for a second anyway so why bother standing there for five minutes getting the water the perfect degree of warmth? He scrubbed his face, feeling his eyebrows go every which way and then around to the back of his neck.
"Hmm," Sherlock said just under his breath.
"What?" John said, smoothing down his eyebrows self-consciously.
"Nothing, please continue."
John was suddenly suspicious. "Did you do something to my things?"
Sherlock's head tilted, "Why would you ask that?"
"Because all of the sudden you're watching me wash my face and going hmm. Usually when someone starts watching you doing something inane and then starts going hmm it means they expect something to happen."
"You're very paranoid."
"You're watching me wash my face." This, John felt, was a valid reason for paranoia. Especially considering some of the things Sherlock had pulled in the past.
"Is it not good?" Sherlock asked carefully and John couldn't shake the feeling of being analyzed.
"I'm a person. Don't treat me like an experiment. Don't do that," he hadn't realized his hands were fisting until he squeezed the water down on his feet. He shifted uncomfortably before looking away, refusing to look down, not again. He dried his feet on the back of his pajama legs. Something shifted in Sherlock's posture; at least it looked like something shifted in Sherlock's posture from what John could see of him.
There was a Sherlock silence; like a Mycroft silence it held volumes. Unlike the twisting turning, Baroque machinations of a truly Mycroftian silence, Sherlock held the hundred possible answers his impossible brain had churned out curled up against the roof of his mouth, but like an isolated child he was unsure which one would be best received. "It is not my intention to incite a fit of paranoia. One can learn a lot about a person based on their morning routine. Did someone experiment on you to test your reactions before?"
"No," John said, which wasn't true. Sherlock had experimented on him all the time. 221B was more of a comfortable lab than a place of living, and since John was in said flat he was fair game.
"Considering your background you are really horrible at lying," Sherlock said, he had backed off his examining face and was back to his normal face. It also helped that like this John was as tall as Sherlock. "I told you I wasn't going to experiment on you again. I won't. Please continue."
John looked at him, feeling how small he was really, he felt the weight of Sherlock's hair cream, face cream, tweezers, drops, brush comb hiding behind the door of the mirror. Ballast, all ballast and proof of his existence. So many things to maintain his transport and because Sherlock was secretly vain, and Sherlock's skin was so deceptively dry (he had probably never had to struggle through acne like a normal person) but because of it, even in London, sometimes Sherlock's skin would crack and he would bleed without the advanced cream that was obscenely expensive and purchased by Mycroft for his little brother. John knew this about Sherlock, that if he wasn't mindful his heels would crack and he would bleed onto the heel of his socks even though he was much more careful with his hands. Because of experiments and because he didn't want to show a weakness.
Sherlock had weight to his existence where John was like a puff of fluff in the wind, but John knew so much about Sherlock it suddenly didn't seem fair not to share this. Not to allow Sherlock to see him carefully smooth his hair down flat, or getting out his cream handled shelter supplied toothbrush and brush his teeth carefully. Not to stand on his stool and carefully wash his hands, between his fingers, his wrists and then wash the soap away with hot water.
"What are you looking for?" he asked as he turned off the water, put everything up in his case. Hung his flannel up to dry on the towel rack.
"You," Sherlock said. "W."
"What did you see?"
He looked at John, not just at him, "You really want to know?"
"I don't get mad when you observe things about me."
Sherlock blinked at him, "I am an action hero. A brave detective. You're overwhelmed with childish admiration."
"I know you well enough."
"John, the lifestyle I lead can lead to over simplification and romanticizing. There's nothing wrong with you trying to establish your identity by trying to establish role models."
"I've already established my identity. I'm a doctor. And you've not the only person who observes," John held Sherlock's gaze.
"What did you observe then John?"
"You resent Mycroft for protecting you as a child so you reject any obvert gestures, the offers of cases, the offers of money, the offers of employment. But you admire him a great deal; you call him your greatest enemy, the greatest honour you can offer. You accept the expensive lotion, the protective measures, the food in your cupboards. If you both weren't so determined to avoid sentiment, and were an eighth as competitive, you'd probably be best friends."
John watched Sherlock storm out of the bathroom and listened to the fast heavy steps down the stairs, heard the violin. Screech, screech, screech. After that silence.
John changed from pajamas to jeans and jumper. When he was back downstairs there was milk in a glass and an egg, slightly burnt, over easy. He pushed over a chair to toast a slice of bread to go with. Sherlock was curled up with his violin balanced on his raised knees. "I'm better at people than things," John called to the living room.
"Do you like toast with your egg?"
"Yeah," John watched the toaster with his fingers tapping on the counter. "For sopping up."
"Did W tell you some of that?" John was silent. "Yes then. Tedious. That's cheating John."
"Maybe it's just using my resources." John jumped as his toast popped and plucked it up between his fingers. "What did you deduce about me?"
"That you're defensive and try to carry out personal attacks when someone threatens your credibility or identity."
John didn't apologize.
"You know I dislike Mycroft, that we have a sibling rivalry, so you attempted to spring doubt on a relationship by which you believe I define myself. I also know that you and W had family dinners. W is surprisingly conventional, which I had started to suspect from the way you treat women, your phrasing. He has placed a great deal on emphasis on eating together, which you in turn have learned. You wash your hands the same way before you treat your patients and prepare food. Someone has emphasized the importance of cleanliness and food, and you have learned to equate practicing medicine and eating with the same importance. You couldn't have learned that from your previous masters, you would have had no part in preparing food, although you would have begun to establish eating as a communal activity.
Sherlock sliced his bow, establishing his dominance again after his upset. "You've spent time in a dirty environment, high winds, sand, dirt, something similar. When you wash your face you pay especial attention to your eyes, your ears, your nose and mouth and the skin of your neck around your collar. Why? Habit. There are no such issues in London," Sherlock's eyes were sharp. Hunting eyes, looking to worry the truth with his teeth like a fox. "Most of your grooming habits are military. Quick, nondescript, neat. Your first guardians if they could be called that, wanted you to be efficient and appear ordinary. Even your time with W hasn't shaken that from you, although efficiency is an admirable trait. You've also revealed something rather important. Well two things that are the same thing. You have an obsession with fairness, deeply ingrained. When you feel you have me at a disadvantage you open up to me. The idea is of course a fallacy, but when you think you know more about me than I do about you it makes you uncomfortable. You naturally accept I have exceptional powers of observation. You trust me explicitly. Welcome my observation.
"But who has taught you sharing information is a sign of affection? Surely not the military." Swip went his violin bow. "No, you learned that from W. W who sent you to me, who showed me vital clues, who revealed himself, the great secret his existence, to me. That tells me some very important things. You are far more important than you think you are John Watson, and W has been watching me, has been observing me. And something he observed is worth you. It won't take long before discover why."
John blinked at him; it was all built around a false assumption, but other than that rather, "Brilliant."
Sherlock rolled his eyes and put his violin under his chin. "Hurry up and eat, we're going to the Science Museum, there's a very educational exhibit on venomous insects."
John, about to leave for A. Out of contact next three days, tricky terrain. Be safe.