It was the better part of a dazed first week at Baker Street before John thought to really explore his surroundings- or rather, Sherlock's surroundings, since just about everything belonged to him. But for all the man's faults, John immediately found out one thing: Sherlock Holmes was not selfish with his belongings.
"Sherlock," he muttered over his shoulder one morning to the lanky detective slouched in the armchair behind him. He'd been poring over the contents of the bookshelf for almost ten minutes before Sherlock, clad in his pyjamas (even though it was almost eleven o'clock in the morning) had wandered in with a cup of tea.
This was an improvement on no response at all, which John had already learned he could count on if he interrupted Sherlock's thinking process.
"Could I... do you think I could borrow this?"
He gently tugged out a hardcover book on the Shackleton expedition- hopefully, he reflected, the expedition where everyone made it out alive after an epic sea voyage through the ice in a rowboat... and not the one where everyone died.
"Yes," Sherlock murmured. He was wrapped up in a book of his own- the Nihon Shoki. John, peering over his shoulder, wondered briefly: is he reading it in Japanese-? Oh, of course he is.
"You didn't even see what it is I want to borrow," he said. "Unless you have eyes in the back of your head."
Sherlock turned his head, looking up at him over one shoulder with those pale, almost luminous grey eyes. "Okay," he said in beleaguered tones. "What is it?"
John held it up.
"Yes." Sherlock turned back to his book.
But John, like a child given unlimited privileges in a room full of toys, did not know where to start. He tucked the Shackleton book under his arm and continued greedily taking in title after title. John owned few books, and libraries had been a bit beyond him since Afghanistan, but there were times over the past six months when he'd definitely felt he liked books more than people.
"How on earth did you collect all these?" he asked softly, almost to himself.
"Mmm?" Sherlock flipped his book down again.
"There must be thousands of books here. Where did you get them all from? Are you-"
John cut himself off just in time before the burning question tumbled out of his mouth: Are you rich?
"I collect them," Sherlock said, a little stiffly. "Some people collect sterling silver spoons, or Edgeware plates, or taxidermied animals-"
"Oh, name one person who collects taxidermied animals," John protested. "Apart from Norman Bates."
John sighed and shook his head. Sherlock gave him a confused glance, clearly wondering why the headshake.
"Anyhow," he said curtly, lifting his chin. "People collect things. And I collect books."
John swept his gaze over the shelf just above eye level, left to right, mentally making plans to borrow books from Sherlock from now until at least Christmas- one at a time, of course. His gaze finally came to rest at the end book. Much thinner and taller than the others.
Gently pulling it out of where it was snuggled between the Malleus Maleficarum and the end slat of the bookshelf, John saw that 'this' was also an old favourite of his- JM Barries' Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. Though, John reflected, his own copy was probably sitting in the attic back home and in nowhere near the pristine condition of this one. He wiped a light layer of dust off the glossy, emerald-green cover with the heel of his hand, looking at the illustration. Not the way he'd always imagined Captain Hook, but oh, well.
"Peter Pan," he said absently to himself. "Nice."
Sherlock turned again, then leapt up like a shot. "No," he snapped, leaning across the back of the chair and plucking it out of John's hands.
John felt his face start to burn. He'd been making a lot of mistakes with Sherlock Holmes already that week... never knew what was going to cause some little fit of temper or what. Add that to the fact that he was pretty certain he'd woken half of London the night before with another dream about a boy with half his face blown off, and he was only surprised Sherlock hadn't turfed him out officially yet.
"I'm sorry," John faltered. "I didn't mean to upset you-"
"Who said I'm upset? Don't be ridiculous, I couldn't be less upset," Sherlock said in an agitated staccato. "Just don't touch that one." He paused. Judging from his expression, he was thinking hard about what he'd just said. "Thank you," he finally tacked on awkwardly.
John took the Shackleton chronicle upstairs to read on his bed, leaving his flatmate slightly ruffled in the living room. He felt humiliated- and worse, he felt like he'd humiliated Sherlock. He hadn't meant to. It was only in the half a second before Sherlock had pulled the open book out of his hands that John had seen the front inscription:
Dear Sherlock, with lots of love from Mummy x