"Who'd want me as a flatmate?"
Sherlock had said that only this morning to Mike, and here he was, trailing a friend behind. It didn't take much detective work to piece the mystery together.
He was on his best behavior. He was polite, remembered to smile. He said thank you when the doctor lent him his phone. He very nicely mentioned what he was told were some of his less congenial habits so that this potential flatmate would know the worst from the beginning.
His efforts didn't seem to be paying off, though. The doctor's posture just got stiffer as he stood there, and not because of his (supposedly) bad leg, either. Sherlock could see the man's rising color and his voice was sharp when he asked, "That's it, then? We don't know anything about each other and we're going to look at a flat? I don't know where we're meeting. I don't even know your name."
Sherlock tried to summon his patience. Be friendly, he reminded himself. You need a flatmate and this is the best prospect you've got. Still, he couldn't help a certain stiffness in his own tone as he told the man exactly how much he did know about him, even down to his alcoholic brother. "That's enough to be going on with, don't you think?" he finished.
Looking at the soldier's posture and the unmoving face, Sherlock considered this prospect another lost cause. He started out the door but paused. He really did need a flatmate to cover the rent, at least for a few months, so he turned back. "The address is 221B Baker Street, and the name's Sherlock Holmes. G'day." He gave a brief wink to the doctor and a wave to Mike, and breezed out the door.
He picked up his riding crop from Molly and headed out the door. It was a fine day. No rain, not too cold. Perfect for moving. Whether Dr. Watson said yes or not, he decided, he was going to take the Baker Street flat. He would think of some way to cover the rent.
It wasn't that he didn't have enough money to cover it himself, after all. It was that he had other expenses that were more important (more interesting, at least). Chemicals for his experiments, bribes for his homeless network, cab fare. Spending most of his money just on a place to live was boring, but if he didn't find a flatmate, he'd have no choice. The thought of trying to "economize" was impossibly boring to consider.
In the meantime, with this case closed, he needed something to do to alleviate the boredom, and at least moving boxes was something to do.
He spent the night at the new flat and then spent the day starting to unpack. He knew some people found it odd that he filled his space with so many things but he found the clutter comforting. It was distracting, when he needed distractions. The odds and ends from old cases reminded him of past brilliance—and the occasional former failure. They reminded him who he was on the days when his mind threatened to tear itself apart from lack of useful activity.
By afternoon, though, he couldn't stand the flat any more. It was too quiet, and Mrs. Hudson, with no doubt the kindest intentions, kept coming to offer him tea and it was driving him mad.
He went out to prowl the streets, while headlines blared at him about the serial suicides. Why hadn't Lestrade called him in yet? Sherlock had made sure he knew he was available, so there was really no excuse, was there?
He walked for hours, checking occasionally with his homeless network to see if anyone had seen anything. It wasn't until after 6:30 that he remembered he was supposed to be meeting Dr. Watson at the flat. He hailed a cab and gave the address, then spent the ride pondering not only the suicides, but the likelihood the doctor would show up at all.
When his cab pulled up to Baker Street, Sherlock was relieved to see the man limping up the sidewalk to 221B. He hadn't scared him off after all.
Gathering what manners his mother had forced on him, he paid off the cab and then turned with a smile, cordially insisting that the doctor call him Sherlock. They talked briefly about the ideal location and he explained that he had done Mrs. Hudson a favor … though Dr. Watson looked rather shocked when he realized the favor had been ensuring Mr. Hudson's conviction.
Still, Mrs. Hudson was as warm and friendly as anyone could want. Her motherly presence seemed to reassure the doctor, and Sherlock found that oddly reassuring himself. Many people might have been put off by renting from a murderer's widow (like being squeamish about a flat where someone had died) and that wouldn't have boded well for a detective's flatmate. Hopeful, he waved a gracious arm, ushering Dr. Watson into the building.
Eager now, he bounded up the stairs, but checked at the landing as the doctor laboriously rounded the corner on his slow way up the stairs. Why the man would allow himself to be saddled by an imaginary limp, Sherlock couldn't imagine, but he waited patiently until Dr. Watson … John … had reached the door. Sherlock looked around with a surprising sense of pride. It was such an interesting space, with plenty of room for all his things. He wondered briefly how many things an invalided army doctor was likely to have to compete for all that lovely shelf space.
John seemed impressed. "Yes, this could be very nice indeed," the man said. "As soon as we straighten up this mess," just as Sherlock was confessing that he had already moved in.
Oh. Right. Sherlock took another look and realized that, yes, he supposed it did seem a bit cluttered with his boxes of belongings scattered about. He grabbed a pile of mail and stabbed it to the mantle so he could find it later.
Still on his best behavior, he started unpacking one of the boxes (show how agreeable you can be) when John said, "I looked you up on the internet last night."
Hmm. This could be good or bad. "Anything interesting?"
"I found your website. The Science of Deduction?"
Sherlock felt a swell of pride. "What did you think?"
John gave him a sideways look. "You said you can identify a software designer by his tie and an airline pilot by his left thumb?" His tone practically dripped with skepticism.
Sherlock blinked, hurt, as he should have expected to be hurt. What did this …doctor … know about deduction? No doubt he just blundered through each day, blind like everyone else. His tone was sharp when he answered. "Yes, and I can read your military training in your face and your leg, and your brother's drinking habits in your mobile phone."
Sherlock turned away to the window, fighting an unforeseen feeling of disappointment. He should have expected nothing less, he told himself, but no matter. All that mattered was that they coexist well enough to pay the rent.
Mrs. Hudson came in then, breaking into the awkward silence with her queries about the three suicides. "Four," Sherlock told her as he glimpsed the flashing lights out the window. "There's been a fourth."
Sure enough, Lestrade was hurrying up the stairs with a request for help. Sherlock couldn't help the flood of adrenalin at the thought—four serial suicides, and now one with a note? It felt just like Christmas had long ago when he was still a boy, giddy expectation tied in a big red bow. He could hardly wait to get started.
Eager now, he grabbed his coat and scarf, gave Mrs. Hudson instructions about food and then expansively told John to make himself at home. He was out the door and down the stairs in seconds, pausing only to finish pulling on his scarf. He could hear Mrs. Hudson and John upstairs … something about tea … and then John yelled, "Damn my leg!" followed by a quick apology shut off as the door closed behind him.
Sherlock hesitated on the sidewalk as an idea blossomed in a great, creative burst of connecting needs and opportunities. Lestrade had said Anderson was on forensics and, well, that would never work. They detested each other.
He needed an assistant, though. He needed someone to bounce ideas off of. He knew no-one (other than his brother) who could keep up with him, but he often thought best when he spoke aloud. Besides, he needed to show those idiots once and for all that he knew what he was doing. What better way than to have an assistant to help him prove the point?
The man upstairs was an army doctor who had surely seen worse than a simple murder scene in his time. He also had medical expertise, and, not being on the police force, he wouldn't have the same problems working with a consultant as Anderson and the others.
Not only that, but the anger in John's voice just then … John didn't seem the type to lash out for no reason, yet he had just taken Mrs. Hudson's head off for offering a cup of tea and even Sherlock had better manners than that. Sherlock was no expert in military-related trauma, but he knew better than anyone the frustrations of not being able to WORK.
If John had been any good as a doctor, then having been invalided home with nothing to do would be … difficult. The man was trying to find cheap accommodations and needed a flatshare because his brother wouldn't give him house room. Everything he had had, everything he had been that gave him a sense of self-worth had been stripped from him in that war zone so that he was left without purpose.
Sherlock considered the bitterness in John's face. It was a new addition, he was sure. The lines on his face suggested that he naturally smiled more than he frowned, but it didn't look like he had been in the habit of smiling for a long while.
So … if John needed an occupation to make use of his skills and he, Sherlock, needed an assistant at the crime scene …
He was already back through the door and up the stairs. John was sitting forward in his chair, staring at a newspaper. "You're a doctor," Sherlock said from the doorway. "In fact, you're an army doctor."
Grabbing his cane, John struggled to his feet. "Yes."
"Very good," John said, accenting the 'very' with a hint of bitterness.
Sherlock walked back into the room, pulling on his gloves, not taking his eyes from the other man's face. "Seen a lot of injuries, then. Violent deaths."
"And a bit of trouble, too, I'll bet."
A flinch. "Of course, yes. Enough for a lifetime. Far too much."
Sherlock heard the hollowness behind the words, certain now of his conclusions. "Want to see some more?
A fire lit in John's eyes. "Oh God, yes."
They hurried down the stairs, and Sherlock could not keep the joy from his face.
In the cab, he glanced over at John, hoping to see some of the same alertness in his face, but no. John looked uncomfortable, like he was having second thoughts. Sherlock ignored him as long as he could, but finally put his phone away. "Okay, you've got questions."
"Where are we going?"
"Crime scene," he snapped. Hadn't the man paid any attention at all? "Next?"
"Who are you? What do you do?"
"What do you think?" A test, that question. How observant was he?
"I'd say private detective…" John's voice trailed off.
"But?" Here it comes, thought Sherlock. There's always a 'but.'
"But the police don't use private detectives."
"I'm a consulting detective, the only one in the world. I invented the job."
"What does that mean?"
"It means when the police are out of their depth—which is always—they consult me."
John laughed. "The police don't consult amateurs."
Sherlock looked out of the window. And there it was. The scoff, the sneer, the skepticism he had met a thousand times. Why had he even thought this would be different?
Well, if he wasn't going to get an assistant out of this, there was no reason to hold back.
So he dove in with the explanations of his deductions. The limp, the war, the phone, the drinking, the lot. As always, it felt so good to say it. A perfect string of logic was a thing of beauty next to dealing with irritatingly emotional, irrational people. The look of bewildered wonderment on their faces was all the praise he ever got, and so he didn't stop himself. He rode the logic all the way to its end, even admitting to his one stretch, playing the odds that Harry was an alcoholic.
By then, he knew that the likelihood of keeping John even as a flatmate were slim, and for a moment his bitterness matched that of the doctor. "There you go, you see? You were right."
"I was right?" asked John with disbelief. "Right about what?"
"The police don't consult amateurs," Sherlock said flatly. He braced himself, ready for the rejection that was coming.
"That," John said, obviously thinking hard, "Was amazing."
"It was?" Sherlock asked in surprise.
"Yes, it was extraordinary. It was quite extraordinary."
Sherlock warmed ever so slightly at the way John's voice accented the 'quite.'
"That's not what people usually say," he told him.
"What do people usually say?
And miraculously, they shared a smile. Maybe this could work after all.
When they got out of the cab, he asked if he'd gotten anything wrong. Sherlock mentally nodded as John listed each successful deduction. Afghanistan, the therapist, all of it. He was even moderately impressed that John had followed the logic. But then … "Harry is short for Harriet."
Sherlock stopped in his tracks. Harriet? "Sister!" he exclaimed. "It's always something!" It was a reasonable assumption, he told himself, but he was still frustrated that he had missed something so obvious.
What he did not miss was the small smile on John's face at catching him in a mistake. It wasn't the sardonic, unfriendly smile he was used to getting. It was more by way of sharing a friendly joke, and he felt another surge of … hope? … as he introduced him to Donovan. ("Colleague? Since when do you get a colleague?")
Sherlock ignored the attempts to get John to stay behind. His very nerve endings were tingling with anticipation. He could hardly wait long enough for John and Lestrade to get into those ridiculous suits.
From then on, he could practically feel the synapses in his brain firing faster. He could barely slow down long enough to explain things to Lestrade. How could the man not see the damp coat collar? Or not know that the woman was missing her suitcase? And Anderson, thinking the woman was German … well, that was Anderson for you.
Having John there, though, helped in its odd way. Maybe it was because he was such an appreciative audience. He didn't observe well enough on his own (who did?), but he understood when Sherlock explained. Even better, he was impressed with the deductions, instead of sneering like the rest of Lestrade's team.
Inspired by his realization that the woman's suitcase had to be pink, he flew out of the house, mentally mapping the nearest skips where it might have been abandoned. The search so engrossed him, it wasn't until he was back at Baker Street that he remembered John. It had probably been rude to leave him behind. He sent a series of texts, calling him back to Baker Street, and then applied himself to his oh-so-intriguing three-patch problem. How could they draw out her killer? There had to be a way.
When John returned to the flat, there was something different about him. He was moving with more purpose, somehow. Refreshingly, rather than whinging about being abandoned, he went directly to the crux of the matter and asked Sherlock what he needed. (A good assistant at last!)
Sherlock wasn't altogether surprised to hear about his brother's meddling, either, though the fact that John had refused Mycroft's bribe spoke well of John. It made him feel almost like a … friend. He didn't know if John had said no out of a sense of honor or loyalty, but he had come here straight from meeting Mycroft. A straight-forward, honest man, then. Not one to shirk from a confrontation. A weaker man would have been frightened away by Mycroft's abduction, been calling to make excuses, and yet .. here John was.
Later, Sherlock couldn't help smiling when just the possibility that the outing would be dangerous was all it took to get John out the door. And when they were chasing across rooftops, John's cane long since forgotten at Angelo's, Sherlock knew he'd been right about the man's need of a purpose.
When they finally caught the cab only to find a tourist from California, he expected to hear complaints from John at the useless chase, but instead, John had laughed. Giggled, even, and Sherlock felt a smile spreading across his own face.
John looked suddenly years younger. The bitterness in his face had been left behind in some alley, blown off from the wind as he ran, swift on his own feet. And at his "Ready when you are," Sherlock had a sense of recognition that this was the man John had been before his wound, before Afghanistan.
Back at Baker Street, they stood in the hallway and giggled like schoolboys at the sheer lunacy of the evening. Sherlock couldn't resist making a joke ("You invaded Afghanistan.") and when John answered the door to find Angelo with his cane, Sherlock's face split with the widest, happiest grin he had ever had.
The next couple hours went swiftly. Lestrade's fake drug bust. The realization that Jennifer Wilson had left her password for them. (The elation of the deduction was dampened only slightly by the knowledge that John had faced death himself. He must look into that further, Sherlock thought. The limp was clearly psychosomatic, but there must be an actual wound. Somewhere.) Then there was the thrill of learning the cabbie's twisted game. The sudden rush of not-boredom as he contemplated the pill. (Of course he had picked the right one.)
And then the shock. The surprise when the shot was fired had been real, but it wasn't the brush with death that warranted the "shock" they thought he needed that ridiculous blanket for.
No, the real shock had been realizing it had been John who had fired the shot.
They had known each other a single day. Yet John had come to a crime scene, chased a cab (on two strong legs), and been actually helpful throughout the fake drugs bust. He had shared a laugh in the adrenalin rush of the chase, and then been smart enough to know when Sherlock needed the backup, and smart enough to track him. (Though Sherlock was sure he'd picked the right pill. The twitch of the cabbie's jaw when he'd pushed the bottle toward him was a clear sign. Obviously, he had not been in any danger.)
He was almost dazed as he excused himself to Lestrade ("Look, I've got a blanket!") but he got away as quickly as he could and walked over to John. "Good shot."
John blinked. "Yes," he agreed. "It must have been, through that window."
"Well you would know." Sherlock glanced to the side. "We'll get the powder burns out from under your fingernails. You probably wouldn't go to jail for this, but let's avoid the court case."
John said nothing, just cleared his throat. "Are you all right?" asked Sherlock, watching him intently. Killing another human being was not something to be shrugged off, even by an ex-army doctor. Or even especially by an ex-army doctor. John seemed perhaps too calm.
"Yes, of course I'm all right." John told him briskly, as if there could be no question.
"You have just shot a man."
"Yessss." John drew out the sibilant. "It's true." For a moment there was a flash of an almost wicked, knowing grin. No remorse in those eyes at all, thought Sherlock, briefly wondering if he had misjudged the kind of man he was. Then John's face softened. "But he wasn't a very nice man."
Watching the tension ease in his face, Sherlock relaxed, too. "No, he wasn't, was he?"
"And frankly a bloody awful cabbie."
Now they both laughed. "He was a bad cabbie," Sherlock agreed. "You should have seen the route he took to get us here." They giggled over that in a rare (for Sherlock) moment of camaraderie.
Then John asked, "You were going to take that damn pill, weren't you?"
"No, I wasn't." Sherlock answered automatically, but then realized he owed John more than that. He had just tried to save his life, after all.. "Biding my time," he added. "Knew you'd turn up."
John had stopped in his tracks, mist darkening his shoulders. "No you didn't," he said with a hint of reprimand, the army captain rising briefly to the surface. He looked up at him with a hint of a smile. "That's how you get your kicks, isn't it? You risk your life to prove you're clever."
"Why would I do that?"
"Because you're an idiot." He could tell that John felt a particular relish at being able to throw Sherlock's own words back at him, and Sherlock couldn't help but smile.
"Dinner?" he offered, almost holding his breath.
The relief Sherlock felt surprised him for a moment. He was so used to being on his own, struggling to survive in a world where nobody thought quite the way he did, where nobody understood what it was like to be in his head, to feel what he felt.
Mrs. Hudson had protested about his eagerness "not being decent," but she did not understand. It wasn't about decency. It wasn't even about the mental challenge, or the chase that he needed. What mattered to Sherlock was the endeavor. The act of doing something instead of idly standing by. The effort of making a difference instead of being passive. The importance of being alive instead of merely living.
Against all odds, he had found someone else who felt the same way he did.
Against all odds, he had found a friend.
Suddenly, he was starving.