"No, that was definitely longer than two hours of renovation! Look at the angle of the sunlight on the carpet, you idiot."

Black leaked over the TV screen in a dull flash.

"Why is it that you people always see-"

"But never observe?" finished John, sighing heavily as he clicked a few letters on the keyboard. "I don't know, Sherlock, I suppose we can't all be like you."

Sherlock sniffed haughtily and pulled his legs up onto the couch in a fast, fluid motion.

"Thank god," muttered John a few seconds later. A world full of people like his friend was enough to make him shiver in terrified anticipation. It would be complete and utter chaos, anarchy.

"What was that?" asked Sherlock.

"Nothing," replied John quickly, flipping shut his laptop with a gentle click.

"I wouldn't pin any hopes on that one, if I were you," called Sherlock as John walked into the kitchen to put on the kettle.

"What are you talking about now?" came the reply.

"The girl you were sending an email to. She's not interested in any sort of serious relationship, self-esteem problems, you know the sort… likely to have multiple boyfriends simultaneously and definitely not a fan of poetry."

John had long since given up on asking Sherlock how he deduced these things from seeing a person once out of the living room window. By now, he was pretty much used to accepting Sherlock's word as the truth, and moving on.

"I wish you wouldn't tell me stuff like that," said John, "couldn't you just have let her do the usual, it's not you, it's me excuse?"

"I was doing you a favour," replied Sherlock indignantly.

"You don't normally find this stuff interesting," remarked John, changing the subject as he pulled out a mug from the kitchen cupboard. "Why the sudden advice?"

"Bored," replied Sherlock, flipping onto his side and splaying his legs on the couch. "Although nothing would please me more than to have something slightly more interesting than your love life to think about."

"Wow, thanks, Sherlock."

"You're welcome," he replied.

John had to fight the urge to snigger quietly into his jumper at his friend's sincerity. For all Sherlock's astounding intellect and skills of deduction, sarcasm often went straight over his head. Using it on a regular basis had become John's way of feeling like there was at least something he could best Sherlock at.

The kettle hissed gently, releasing a soft cloud of fluffy steam into the stale air. It contrasted bleakly with the scraping notes of Sherlock's violin that began to soar as John reached for the tea bags. Recently, Sherlock had taken to playing nothing but a single chromatic scale, over and over, then refusing to tell anyone why. It was beginning to become supremely irritating.

"Do you really have to keep…" began John, "Argh! Sherlock!"

A hairy black creature scuttled across the tiled floor, accompanied by the smash of breaking china. Sherlock's violin screeched to a halt half way between an A and A#, the remains of the scale echoing softly through the flat.

"Sherlock, there's a spider! In my cup!"

"I am well aware," stated Sherlock contritely. "Biological experimentation, John. I was the one who put it there."

"Well, I bloody well figured that!" exclaimed John, "Mrs. Hudson would hardly go around putting ruddy spiders in teacups!" He took a deep breath. "That mug was a birthday present from my sister, she'll kill me if she finds out it's broken..."

Sherlock shrugged and returned to his scale, not picking up on the birthday reference. John's had been a week ago, and Sherlock hadn't shown the slightest inclination of remembering. He hadn't even bothered to say 'Happy Birthday'. He knew it was trivial, but John had hoped for at least some sort of acknowledgement from his friend, maybe even a gift.

"By all means, don't offer to help clean up," grumbled John, as he lowered himself stiffly to his knees and started to sweep up the brightly coloured shards. "I'm fine on my own."

But Sherlock was already gone, completely absorbed by his world of music, facts, causes and effects, a place where none could follow him.

A dull ache began to build up in John's temples as he scraped the shards from the tea cup into the bin, the noise from the violin reverberating painfully through his skull. Mentioning he had a headache would have no effect on Sherlock, so he pulled his favourite black jacket from the back of an armchair and folded it around his shoulders.

Sherlock didn't appear to notice he was leaving, he was so caught up in whatever it was he was contemplating. John sighed. He hoped Sherlock wouldn't start having a one-sided conversation with thin air while he was out. Again. He didn't want to have to bear the brunt of Sherlock's annoyance later when he discovered John 'wasn't listening,' as he liked to put it.

The air outside was freezing, but it was an almost pleasant change from the stuffy atmosphere of 221B. Glancing at his watch, John picked up his pace-he would have to walk quickly if he wanted to reach the closest department stores before they shut. They were the only places Harry really shopped, so he was confident he could find a replacement for the mug there.

He was only a few blocks away from his destination when a shiny black car pulled up next to him, the passenger door swinging open in a gust of cold air.

"Not now, Mycroft," he told the empty space. "I'm in a bit of a hurry."

Almost as if in response to the words, John felt his mobile vibrate in his pocket. A text message from an unknown number flashed up on the screen – not unusual, Mycroft was constantly changing his phone.

It's important, John. M

Reluctantly, John concluded he should probably get in the car. If Mycroft said something was important, it usually - quite literally - affected the fate of the nation. He shoved his phone back into one of his jacket pockets and climbed in wordlessly. He was surprised to find himself alone in the dimly lit back seat, the blackberry-sporting woman who usually accompanied him on such journeys conspicuously absent. Brushing it off as nothing, John shut the car door behind himself with a slam.

It was only when they locked with a resounding click that he began to suspect something wasn't right.