Hello darlings, just a quick note: Please do heed the warnings. If self harm, sub/dom or BDSM themes make you uncomfortable in any way, please seek another johnlock story. We are fortunate enough to have many talented writers in this fandom, I'm sure you can find something more to your taste.
Additionally, this story will have five chapters and hopefully will be updated very regularly, I just need to find the motivation to write the last chapter.
That said, please enjoy! Any critique on how the themes are handled, the writing style and/or the characterisation are greatly appreciated.
On Your Knees
For John, the war was over. There, everything had a chaotic sort of structure. John had had a purpose which he didn't deviate from, a set of orders to follow which dictated every sandy patch of his life, keeping him contained, sane, controlled. His need for the battlefield was a strange sort of masochism; he didn't want to die, but the danger of it was addictive, the prospect of harm what kept him alive, grounded. He knew that different people became soldiers for many different reasons, but his was simple; he needed it. Since he was a young boy he had needed it, needed his life not to be completely in his hands, for it would break in his clumsy fingers. He needed to feel the thrum of adrenaline and blood and risk like others craved security and comfort. There was no other way to explain it; he needed it. It was who he was.
The notice of his invalidation had been a numb sort of apocalypse. It was over. Not only the war; his life. Him. When he had arrived in London he had felt everything was diluted, the landscape of the city painted in watercolours, tinted a shade darker by the anxiety that curled like a poisonous snake at the pit of his stomach. The careful threads of his being were unravelling.
Here, he was afraid he would not survive. There was a sort of irony in that, but John was too tired to laugh.
John's sister, Harriet, was a force of nature. There were moments of tenuous calm, but when the storm hit, it was with brutal force. That he was living with her was a cruel joke, a transportation back to his awful, formative years. Any sanity he could hope to hang on to was destroyed by her, by her wild ways, her sudden outbursts. But without any real set of educated skills and therefore source of income, John's hands were tied. He depended on her, and that was a terrible fact. On top of that was the guilty knowledge that he had barely contacted her throughout his stay in Afghanistan, even though he knew things were not well with her. But since they were kids he had had a difficult time dealing with her; she reminded him too much of their now deceased father. Her temper. Her drinking habit.
John had gone down one path of destruction. She had taken another.
His life was now contained in the dull guestroom in her house, which she shared with her wife, Clara. Clara stood at the other end of the spectrum; a calm creature, soft spoken and overly tolerant of his sister's faults. John loved her, a love born through familiarity and a feeling of being brothers-in-arms. In fact, he often felt Clara was more of a sister to him than Harriet. Sometimes he wished she had been present in his life when his father had been alive; maybe then John would not have been so completely destroyed by him.
"How is the job search going?" Clara asked as she brought two mugs of tea into the living room, where John sat with his laptop perched on his thighs. He took the cup with a thanks and shook his head.
"I don't know what you people have been doing to the job market in my absence, but things are pretty crap out there," he replied, holding the tea until it burned his hands. Clara smiled, an apologetic tilt to her head.
"Yes, I'm sorry, I'm afraid we've bunged things up for you. Terribly inconsiderate of us," she joked, and John chuckled.
"Well, it's not exactly all your fault. I have no skills to speak of, not taking into account shooting at people, and I don't think that's in high demand in London."
"No, probably not. But don't you worry, if I ever need someone shot, you'll be the first person I call."
"I can't wait, it's been a while. Though don't make them a quick one, this damn limp isn't exactly forgiving," John joked, but regretted it as Clara looked at his leg sadly.
"How...is that, by the way? How are you, really?" She asked, her eyes soft, though not pitying. John sighed. What could he possibly say? That everything was spiralling out of control? That each day he felt a little less sane, that he was terrified that this bland, bloodless life was to be his forever, that there was no hope for more, that the wooden box hidden in his wardrobe was a more tempting option every day? That he was both haunted by and longed for the war?
"I'm fine. Really, Clara, you don't need to worry. It's all fine," he said, but the sadness in her eyes simply deepened. She, as well as Harriet, knew about his secret. After all, those types of scars are hard to hide forever. Shame and guilt burned within him at the fact. He hated them knowing, judging him for it. But he hated himself more for needing it in the first place.
As if summoned by his anxious thoughts the sound of the front door opening reached them, and then something crashing to the floor. The coat rack, no doubt. John looked incredulously at the bottom, right corner of his laptop.
"Jesus Christ, it's only noon. Wait...did she come back home at all last night?" John asked, looking at Clara, who simply bit her lip and shook her head slightly. John clenched his teeth, anger surging through him. If his sister wanted to demolish herself then it was in her right to do so, but to drag Clara along with her...it was unforgivable.
Harriet took the cue to stumble into the living room, looking exactly as if she had been drinking all night, probably having passed out in her car somewhere with a store-bought bottle after the pubs had closed. Her eyes were red and she reeked of stale booze and sweat, even from a distance.
"I...had a meeting at work," Harriet said pathetically. Clara closes her eyes, shaking her head.
"You're drunk. Again. You promised!" She said. "For God's sake, Harriet, it's twelve O'clock on a Tuesday, it's my only day off!" Clara went on, and John shut his laptop. He didn't want to be there. He wanted to be scorched under the Eastern sun, sweating below his uniform, ready to die or to kill, to not feel this...lost.
"I'm not drunk!" Harriet shouted, wobbling to the couch and crashing down on it. John and Clara shared a desperate look. There were tears in Clara's eyes.
"Harriet, you can't keep doing this," John said, and Harriet laughed.
"Who are you to lecture me? You've done worse things to yourself," she said darkly, and John winced.
The worst thing about her knowing was the way she used it as a weapon against him. John felt broken and worthless alongside her tidal wave force.
"Harriet!" Clara admonished, but Harriet just gave her a petulant look.
"What, you can judge me but not him? And I'm not drunk. I just had a few drinks and the time got away from me. I'm fine!" Harriet snarled. Clara took a deep, trembling breath.
"Why don't you go upstairs, John? I'll take care of her," Clara suggested quietly, and John shook his head.
"No, Clara, let me-"
"John, please. It's not...I can handle it." It was a lie. Nobody could handle Harriet when she was like that, but John couldn't face making things worse for Clara. He couldn't really face that kind of stress again at all. He stood up slowly, looking at Clara with empathy. He knew what it was like to live with someone who was slowly self-destructing with drink. The demolition was contagious, it ate up everything around it, including the people they loved.
"Clara...if you need anything..." John trailed off. As if someone who couldn't handle their own head could help with someone as messed up as his sister. But, for Clara's sake, he would try.
"It's fine. I'm used to it." And that fact saddened John most of all.
John stood up and left the two women, and their raised voices followed him up the stairs. He shut the door of his bedroom softly behind him and sat on the bed, his hands clenching around his knees until he could feel his nails through his thick jeans.
Wasn't it pathetic? That he could face down a war, could fight for a million strangers, for his country, but couldn't deal with his alcoholic sister? Where was the sense in that? But life didn't make sense. The weaknesses people held were not ordered and sensible, they were deep and chaotic, hiding below veneers of false strength.
And John, John couldn't help himself anymore.
He leaned his cane against his bed, his mind blank as he limped to his wardrobe, opening the doors slowly. He shifted with ease through the clothes and blankets to reach a rectangular, wooden box. He took out two small towels, and rearranged everything back, before sitting back on the edge of the bed. With an air almost of reverence, he opened the box. There was nothing outwardly attractive about it. It was simple, polished, nondescript; like him. But, like its owner, what it held inside was much darker. Held in place with black bands, like the workbox of an artist, rested a multitude of different blades, from different periods of his life. Old-fashioned shaving blades, a well kept scalpel, pieces of wood he had sharpened in his teenage years to block out the shouts of his father and his sister downstairs, a toy soldier with its bottom half melted to a point, an old tool stolen from his father's collection. A small tub of antiseptic, and another of iodine slept beside each other alongside the collection. John let out a long breath, the very sight of them calming him down, transporting him instantly to a place of control. Everything else was blurred and unpredictable. No job, no house, his friends left in a war he should be fighting in. How did people cope? He just didn't understand, how could they stand the constant stress, the unhappiness? How could they stand being so constantly surrounded by people, but feeling so alone? Didn't it make them desperate?
Was anybody happy at all?
John could be strong, he knew he had it in him, but since he was little the sheer amount if things in his life that were completely out of his control were overwhelming. A sick mother that eventually died, a drunk father, a sister whose charm attracted all around her only to be drowned by her bestial temper. John simply hadn't been able to comprehend how people developed the necessary coping skills to deal with all that. He was young, and afraid of being consumed by everything around him. Lost.
The first time he had cut himself, he had been fourteen. He couldn't remember exactly what had motivated him to do it, how he knew it would work; but it did. People seemed to think that self-harm, if one had to call it something, was a cry for attention, or a suicide attempt. That wasn't the case. For John, at least, self harm was a way to cope, to survive. When he made the first cut, the pain it caused erased everything else. All his worries, his intangible problems, they were replaced by something real, something that was actually a part of him, something which he was controlling. He watched the blood run from his thigh and he had felt relief. This is real, he had thought. This is me, right here, right now. I'm alive. I'm ok.
Of course, there was a reason why self-harm was not the poster method for coping mechanisms. Not because of the physical aspect, but because, at the end of the day, it didn't really solve anything at all. It wasn't a problem-solving method, it was an escape. And though he found comfort in the pain, in watching the scars heal and become part of him, he never really figured out how everybody else actually dealt and solved their problems without going insane. This was why the war had been such a blessing. That had been the ultimate self harm; the ultimate escape.
It had been years since John cut himself; in the war it hadn't be necessary, or even possible, really, with the amount of privacy provided, but he hadn't forgotten the sensation, the ritual. He removed the toy soldier, for the irony, and doused the tip in the antiseptic. He laid it aside and removed his trousers, folding them beside him neatly, and placed the towel on the bed before sitting on it. He grabbed the soldier again and without hesitation presses it against the already marred flesh on his inner thigh. There the skin was thin and sensitive, and John hissed out a wince as it split against the pressure in a slow line. Blood bloomed immediately, dripping slightly on the white towel. The red of it seemed to be the only real colour in the monochrome room, on his monochrome self. The pain, an old friend, washed everything out; the fight downstairs, his own despair, the memories of the war which tormented him at night, a nocturnal force that waited at the back of his mind, ready to hunt. When he lifted his hand he was panting, and the rush of neurotransmitters left him, after a moment, calm and composed.
It was the only familiar thing in his now unpredictable world.
He sat there for a few minutes, letting the tension ease from his shoulders. When he felt ready he wiped the blood away with the second towel, applying the iodine methodically, closing the cut with evenly spaced band-aids, narrow and small, a Frankensteinian mockery. He wiped clean the toy soldier carefully, feeling its grooves, its sharpness. He stood up, re-dressing, before folding the now slightly stained towel and putting everything back in its place. The click of the shut box was a comforting sound, and he went to his wardrobe, hiding the evidence away.
He could still hear Harriet and Clara downstairs, but their voices were far away, in their own world.
Everything faded. Everything was better.
But the feeling didn't last.
The air in Hyde Park, though not nearly as fresh as in Afghanistan, was as good as it got in London. John tried to breathe deeply, though his chest felt clenched and small. He had stepped out of the house, needing the space. Life with Clara and Harriet was suffocating. It had been a month since he had arrived, and already he felt desperate to leave. He was already regretting that first cut; in the back of his mind he knew that a part of him had wished that phase of his life was done with, that, once his war days were over, he would be able to function like a normal human being. But the battlefield had cured him of nothing. If anything, it had made his dependency worse. After the third time self harming in the guest bedroom he had attempted to throw away the box, wrapping it up in the stained towel as if he were abandoning his own newborn child, but he hadn't been able to. He had spotted Clara, sitting alone in the living room, Harriet once again lost to the night, and wondered if what he did was really so terrible. Everybody was dependant on something; Clara was afraid of being alone, and depended on Harriet's companionship. Harriet was haunted by their father, and depended on drink. And John, John couldn't cope with the reality of his warless life, and he needed the pain. Others in the world depended on material goods, on drugs, on people or money. He knew he was just making excuses for himself, but he couldn't face his current lifestyle, the putrid London air, his adrenaline-less existence, without at least a little respite, even if it was crimson and metallic.
"John? John Watson?" A voice said behind him, and John stopped in his tracks, startled out of his thoughts. He turned around and it took him a moment to recognise his old schoolmate, Mike Stamford. It had been many years since they had seen each other, back in university before John had dropped out from the medical degree to join the army. They had met a couple of times after that but had eventually lost touch in the way old friends often did, a gradual parting of ways.
"Mike, Mike Stamford," the man clarified, and John awkwardly turned around, all too conscious of the cane he had to lean on.
"Yes, of course. Hello, hi," John replied shortly, shaking the offered had. The last thing he wanted was to make small talk with an old colleague, who would no doubt ask about the war, about the limp, about everything. The last thing John wanted to do was talk at all.
"Yeah, I know, I got fat!" Mike chuckled self-consciously, gesturing to himself.
Yeah, that's what civilian life will do to you. "No," John replied, utterly unconvincingly. It had been a long time since he had to be social in such a context. He was used to the easy banter between soldiers, the commanding tone with underlings, the tense and ordered replies when facing a superior, but not a conversation about "old times" with some man who belonged to a life John detested.
"I heard you were abroad somewhere, getting shot at. What happened?" Mike asked, and John tried not to snap at him, as if the cane weren't blindingly obvious, a cruel representation of exactly why John was there.
"I got shot," John replied in the calmest voice he could muster, though he doubted he was very successful. Mike stuttered, blushing, and John regretted his short temper, wishing for something sharper than the head of his cane in his hand.
Reluctantly, John agreed to buying coffee in a nearby stand and sitting with Mike. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do, and anything beat going back to the house.
"Are you still at Bart's, then?" John said in a half-hearted attempt at conversation. Mike snatched it up, eager to diminish the obvious awkwardness between them, born, no doubt, from John's tense and guarded pose.
"Teaching now. Bright young things, like we used to be. God, I hate them!" He replied, and John couldn't help but laugh a little. He understood the sentiment perfectly. "What about you? Just staying in town 'til you get yourself sorted?"
"I can't afford London on an Army pension, so I'm staying with my sister," John replied with a slight wince, wishing it weren't true. Perhaps in another life he was struggling on his own, another man, free from his demons. But that wasn't the case now.
"Ah, I guess you couldn't be anywhere else, that wouldn't be the John Watson I know!"
"Yeah, I'm not the John Watson..." He started almost angrily, but cut himself off. He wasn't going to make Mike take the misdirected brunt of his frustration. That could more usefully be directed at Harriet. Or himself.
He switched the coffee from one hand to another, clenching the now unoccupied one as a tremor ran through it, a bitter reminder of the state the war had left him in, of how much everything had changed. He was useless, broken, a psychosomatic limp, a partially immobile shoulders, a shaking hand, scarred thighs, an out-of-control mind.
"Uh...What about jobs? You doing alright?" Mike went on, flailing slightly in the quickly sinking ship. John snorted.
"I'm sure there's something out there for you..."
"Come on, who would want me as an employee?" John said realistically. He would probably rot in that house until Clara finally had enough and left, and then it would be him and Harriet in a sea of booze and blood. Wasn't that a happy thought?
John turned to look at Mike as the man laughed slightly, surprised that he could find comedy in his predicament.
"What?" John asked, and Mike shrugged, his cherub face dimpling with a smile.
"Oh, nothing, it's just...that's the second time I've heard something like that today," he replied, and John didn't know if to feel worried about the scheming twinkle in Mike's eyes. John tensed slightly, a flicker of anticipation igniting within him.
He had learnt to smell danger from a mile away, and it was delicious scent indeed.
The plaque outside the wooden door read Sherlock Holmes in simple, silver lettering. Mike grinned at him slightly before stepping inside without knocking, and John limped in beside him, taking in the small, simple reception room, adored only with a pair of couches, a coat rack, and a secretary's desk, where a Mac computer rested. John's eyebrows rose as he caught sight of a young girl shoving things in a large cardboard box, tears brightening her eyes.
"Oh, Molly," Mike said, but the girl practically ran past them and out the door, sniffling quietly, her high pony-tail swinging wildly behind her before she disappeared. John looked at Mike, who shrugged sheepishly.
"If you get the job, she's the one you'll replace," he said.
"I see," was all John could really say, a tendril of trepidation uncurling within him, though the sensation wasn't completely unpleasant. On the contrary, John felt a little excitement at the prospect of meeting his new potential boss, made him want the job even more.
"Sherlock isn't the easiest guy to get along with," Mike explained.
"I see," John repeated, and followed Mike deeper into the woods. They walked through a short hallway on which bizarre pictures of body parts, retro surgical methods, and what appeared to be 18th-century murder clippings hung on the walls. They passed two closed doors and unto a third. John, expecting some kind of office, was surprised when the door opened to reveal a pristine, state-of-the-art laboratory. Two long tables ran parallel, cluttered with all sorts of beakers, microscopes, medical utensils, and a plethora of other scientific, miscellaneous items which John was unable to identify. At the end of one of those tables a man was bent over a microscope, who glanced at them for a moment before ignoring them. John took the opportunity to study who was no doubt Sherlock Holmes. He was a tall, pale man, a nest of dark curls dripping down to the nape of his neck. Despite the lab environment, he wasn't wearing a white coat, but instead was donned in an expensive looking suit.
"Mike, can I borrow your phone? There's no signal on mine," Sherlock asked, his voice low and smooth. John shifted slightly at the sound of it.
"And what's wrong with the landline?" Mike replied, sounding a little irritated
"I prefer to text."
"Sorry, it's in my coat." He lied. John, out of a sudden impulse that was difficult to name, pulled out his own phone, a cheap model he had bought not a week ago.
"Er, here. Use mine," John offered. There was a pause in which Sherlock glanced at Mike.
"Oh. Thank you," he said, walking towards John in long steps, buttoning his jacket as he went.
"That's an old friend of mine, John Watson," Mike introduced. Sherlock took the phone from John's hand and John tried not to be surprised by the odd, changeable colour of Sherlock's eyes. Sherlock looked a little disdainfully at the flimsy phone before beeping it out of its locked state.
"Afghanistan or Iraq?" Sherlock asked. For a moment, John wondered if he just imagined the question. He looked at Mike, who was smiling, but John was sure the man hadn't called in advanced to warn Sherlock that they would be arriving.
"Sorry?" John said, a little thrown.
"Afghanistan or Iraq, which on is it?"
"...Afghanistan. Sorry, how did you know?" John asked, but was completely ignored, his phone handed back to him as Sherlock strolled back to his microscope.
"How do you feel about filing?" Sherlock went on, typing away at a laptop. John looked back at Mike, who seemed to be sharing a private joke with himself.
"I...can do it?" John replied, at a loss. He hadn't exactly been to many job interviews, but the current one seemed beyond unconventional.
"How about the violin?"
"I play the violin when I'm thinking. Sometimes I don't talk for days on end, so you'll have to anticipate my needs, I won't baby you. Would that bother you? If you're going to work for me you might as well know the worst about me, I'm getting quite tired of the lawsuits," Sherlock said, and at the last words a slight smile curled around his mouth, a secret. John frowned.
"How did you know I was interested in the job? Did you call him?" He asked, turning to Mike, who simply shrugged, shaking his head,
"He didn't call me, but I mentioned I needed a new assistant and now here he is just after lunch with an old friend, clearly just home from the military service in Afghanistan. Wasn't a difficult leap," Sherlock said in a slightly bored tone, as if it should have been obvious.
"How did you know about Afghanistan?" John asked, but Sherlock smiled, brushing the question off with a wave of his hand.
"You can leave now, Stamford," Sherlock said, barely looking at the other man, who chuckled slightly, obviously used to his antics.
"John?" Mike asked, and John turned to look at him. He felt a familiar feeling, as if things were falling into place.
"Uh, yeah, I'll find my way back. Er...thanks. I think," John said, and with a smile Mike disappeared out the door. John turned to look at Sherlock once again, his shoulders tensing.
"You should also know that, though at times tedious, this job can also be quite dangerous. Are you alright with that?" Sherlock asked. That question, at least, was easy to answer.
"I can deal with danger," he replied, lifting his chin slightly.
"We might get shot at."
"I've been shot before." Sherlock looked at him with a deep, inquisitive look.
"Good, you're hired." John stared at him, incredulous.
"What...don't you want to know anything about me? How do you know I'm fit for the job?" He couldn't help but ask.
"Oh, please, There's little you could tell me about yourself that I haven't already seen written all over you."
"Is that so? Care to enlighten me?" John asked, a little irritated.
"You're invalidated from Afghanistan with a shot shoulder, a psychosomatic limp, and a slight tremor in your hand. You were barely trained as a doctor before signing off to the military, meaning you have no skills to speak of, and are desperate for work. You're frustrated with your life, have no friends, are haunted by the war, and hate your home life, which means you won't mind spending long hours here, don't have other people to distract you from the work, and will do whatever you can to keep the job. Plus, you are obviously hard working and determined, not afraid of physical labour or, as you have stated yourself, danger. Should I go on?" Sherlock said in a quick tirade. John stayed stock still, feeling sucker-punched. A flush rose on his cheeks at being so predictable.
"How could you possibly know all that?" John asked. Sherlock waved a dismissive hand in front of his face. "Tell me," he insisted. Sherlock looked at him for a moment before opening his mouth.
"I didn't know, I saw," Sherlock replied, looking straight into John's eyes. "Your haircut, the way you hold yourself says military. Your face is tanned but no tan above the wrists. You've been abroad, but not sunbathing. Your limp's really bad when you walk but you don't ask for a chair when you stand, like you've forgotten about it, so it's at least partly psychosomatic. That says the original circumstances of the injury were traumatic. Wounded in action, then. Wounded in action, suntan – Afghanistan or Iraq," He rattled off in almost one breath, nearing John with each word until he stood, looming before him. John gaped at him.
"You obviously know Stamford from his university days, he wouldn't keep in touch with anybody before that, so medically trained, but you looked at most of the apparatus here as if you had no clue what they were, so not fully trained. Your old clothing, and cheap, new phone, suggests you haven't gone shopping or socialising, which would depress any normal person, I hear, so you are obviously not content. You missed a cufflink on one sleeve, so you left your house in a hurry. Therefore not happy with your home life. Living with a family member, I would bet, a sibling, perhaps, or you would be more tolerant, who is probably going through some kind of problem, an addiction perhaps. Yes, your face- drugs? No, Alcohol. Ah. Yes, or a man in your position wouldn't be able to judge. And I say you are hard working, determined and are not afraid of manual labour for the obvious reason that you have been at war for, what, the last decade of your life? Thus, someone I would want to employ. Satisfied?"
John could only stand there, staring at the other man, his heart beating a little faster.
"That...was fantastic," he said, truly awed. If what Mike said was true, Sherlock was a difficult man to get along with, but that was a small price to pay for that kind of brilliance. Sherlock raised his eyebrows, looking surprised at the compliment.
"Do you think so?"
"Of course it was. It was extraordinary; it was quite extraordinary."
"That's not what people usually say," Sherlock mused. His face was so close to John's that his breath, smelling of tea, brushed over John's skin.
"What do people normally say?"
"'Piss off,'" Sherlock smiled. John laughed, the tension dissipating from his body.
"So, did I miss something?" Sherlock asked, turning away and walking back to his laptop.
"Yes, did I get anything wrong?" John thought it through. Yes, he had missed something, missed the scars on his legs, and probably the slight arousal at Sherlock's commanding tone.
"Well, you didn't get anything wrong," he replied elusively. Sherlock raised his eyebrows, obviously not missing the intonation, but said nothing, simply turning back to his microscope.
"You can start tomorrow. Eight O'clock. Don't be late."
And with that, John was introduced into Sherlock Holmes' life.
For a while, things seemed to get better, to normalize. John had a job, and after a long talk with Clara, Harriet seemed to have sobered up and hadn't come home drunk for more than a week. She had begun going to AA meetings, which she had never done before, so a flicker of hope grew in both Clara and John that things might actually turn around for her.
Admittedly, working for Sherlock couldn't be called "normal", but John, for the first time since he arrived in London, felt that there was some hope for him, that he could function like a normal human being without drawing blood to feel good, or sane. When Clara asked him about the job, and about his employer, he didn't know quite what to say. Things that should be insults curled up like compliments in John's mind; Sherlock was mad, manic, antisocial, mercurial, condescending, but he was brilliant. He seemed to glow like people with too much energy and life did, like they would never be able to be erased.
The first day of work, John arrived ten minutes early, stepping carefully into the empty reception room. The sound of a violin threaded through the air, and John stood for a second, captured, before following the music to its source. He knocked on the door of one of the rooms he had passed the day before on his way to the lab, and the music was cut abruptly.
"Come in," Sherlock said from inside, and John opened the door to find an office. Sherlock was facing a wide window, tenuous light casting the man's long shadow. On his left was a large desk, cluttered with stacks of papers, books, a computer, and what seemed to be an actual skull, a macabre grin on its face. In the centre of the room there was a long coffee table which was a little less covered with miscellaneous items, around which sat a large, brown, leather couch and two worn looking armchairs. The walls were lined with bookcases filled to the brim with books; textbooks, mostly, it seemed, only interrupted by a lamp and a table with a kettle, a box of tea, and below that a small fridge. The wall behind the desk was bare, except for a strange, horned skull with earphones on. John didn't ask.
"Hello," John said steadily, leaning on his cane, his leg aching from the walk there. The damp London air was murder.
"Oh, it's you," Sherlock said, turning around.
"Were you expecting someone else?"
"No, no. What time is it?"
"Ten to. Ten to eight, that is."
"Ah, you're early. Quite obedient, aren't you? Or are things not better at home?" Sherlock asked, setting his violin down against the bookshelf. John pursed his lips a little.
"Are people usually late on their first day of work?" He asked placidly. Sherlock smiled at him slightly, shrugging. He was donned in a different but no less well-tailored suit. The purple shirt he wore was tight, and the buttons strained as Sherlock moved towards him. John tried not to stare. It was difficult.
"I'll show you where you'll mostly be working," Sherlock said, walking past him and into the hallway. John followed more slowly to a room opposite the office. Sherlock opened the door and as John caught sight of the interior he stopped, stunned. The room was a mess. No, mess was too soft a word. Everything was chaos, a hoarder's storage room on PCP. Stacks of files and books, shelves in complete disarray, open file cabinets spewing their contents on the floor. One of the walls was lined from top to bottom in wooden drawers, and John could only nightmare about what they held. The air smelt like musty, badly kept books.
"Is this what you meant when you said 'filing'? Because if so, that was a little misleading," John said. He picked up one of the items on the table. It was a mummified hand. He set it back down again.
"Oh, I'm sure you've seen worse," Sherlock said offhandedly. A fly flew past John's face.
"Yeah...I wouldn't be so sure." John knew that in normal circumstances berating your new boss on the cleanliness of their workspace wasn't the best idea, but John got the sense he wasn't dealing with a normal man.
"This is where I keep the information I gather on each case," Sherlock started, but John frowned, suddenly realizing something.
"Wait, case? I've just realized I have no idea what you do," he said, a little embarrassed. Who accepts a job assisting someone who they don't even know the profession of?
"I'm a consulting detective," Sherlock replied, as if that should mean something.
"A consulting detective? So, what, the police consult you?" Sherlock snorted.
"It's not as if they don't need the help."
"But the police don't consult amateurs," John said, and Sherlock turned to look at him sharply from where he had been fiddling with some files. There was a pause.
"How is your alcoholic...sister?" He asked. John clenched his teeth. That had been a low blow, but he got the point, remembering Sherlock's deductions the day before.
"Go on," he bit out, and Sherlock smiled at him smugly. The tosser.
"As I was saying, this is where I keep the data I collect on the cases. I don't only help the police, I do some freelance work, so there is quite a variety here. I want it ordered. I will give you a very specific classification index I want you to follow. Don't mess it up," Sherlock instructed, his voice going hard.
"Yes, it would be quite a shame if all this were messed up," John said, looking at the mess again. It just shouldn't have been possible to fit so much stuff in one room.
"I'm serious, John," Sherlock said, taking a sudden step forward and grabbing the collar of John's shirt. John stilled, leaning back slightly, unprepared by the look in Sherlock's eyes. It was dark, and not just in colour. There was something more there.
"Ok. I won't mess it up," John said quietly. After a moment Sherlock smiled, smoothing down the collar, his whole demeanour changing, relaxing.
"Good," Sherlock said. "Come along, I'll show you how to deal with the incoming, freelance cases."
John followed, realizing his leg had stopped aching.
His heart was beating a little faster.