Original Story Title: "Backwards Epiphany"
Original Story Link: http://innie-darling.livejournal.com/164237.html
Original Story Pairings, if any: none
Original Story Rating: PG
Original Story Warnings, if any: none
Remix Author: mad_maudlin
Remix Story Title: "Backwards Epiphany (The Feast of Fools Remix)"
Remix Story Pairings, if any: none
Remix Story Rating: PG-13
Remix Story Warnings, if any: just the usual amount of drugs, language and severed body parts
Remix Story Beta: vocal_bard
Remix Story Britpicker: kate_lear
"Backwards Epiphany (The Feast of Fools Remix)"
Sherlock Holmes has memorized the date of birth of nearly everyone he's ever met, along with any relevant spouses, pets and children; the payout in passwords and PINs and other symbolic numbers is more than worth the effort of looking such things up on the Internet. This does not mean he acknowledges said birth dates in the conventional fashion, of course—it's all just dates, just data, the tool of his trade, and he's perfectly happy to keep it that way. Nothing personal.
7 April 1967
Sherlock cannot remember a time when he actually liked his brother. Certainly he's been competing against him, if only in his own mind, nearly since birth; he'd followed Mycroft around as a toddler, not out of any particular affection but a frustration with not being able to see and do and know all the things Mycroft obviously did. Mycroft was a good source of information, a dextrous pair of hands and a benignly negligent baby-sitter; but Sherlock remained largely oblivious to him as a person until his late teens, by which time Mycroft was already seventeen stone and deeply enmeshed in the government. He suspects that, in turn, Mycroft largely considered him a source of annoyance and amusement roughly on par with a household pet, albeit one that could form sentences and utilize tools.
"Mycroft, come and help me!"
"Mycroft, may I play with the kitchen scissors?"
"Mycroft, what does this mean?"
The age difference, of course, was a part of it. No doubt long spans of time spent at boarding school or university played their role. But even as adults, Sherlock looks at Mycroft and sees nothing appealing, nothing to which he can relate: and strongly suspects that, for his part, Mycroft still sees the performing animal, or the scabby-kneed child, and a vague prototype of the relationship brothers stereotypically enjoy. The day Sherlock realized This man is functionally equivalent to a stranger was a revelation.
There is still the competition, though, the race in which Mycroft benefited from a seven-year head start. Sherlock is not confident of who's winning. But that's his only purpose, that and fixing the occasional ASBO or misdemeanor; and if Sherlock ever believed otherwise, he's long ago deleted it.
23 July 1974
At the age of seventeen Sherlock went to university in search of freedom and a peer group; what he found was Sebastian Wilkes. Seb's family, in his own words, had "more money than God" and "silver spoons in every major orifice," and he saw no cause for humility; he also had no trouble paying Sherlock handsomely for "tutoring," which largely meant that Sherlock wrote all Seb's papers for him and then they shared a line of cocaine.
It wasn't that Sebastian was stupid; in fact, at the time, he was the most intelligent person Sherlock had ever met who was not a genetic relative. Sebastian was, however, perfectly willing to behave stupidly—to drink too much and laugh at pointless jokes and commit various acts of petty vandalism with the vast array of idiots who made up the rest of their college—and even seemed to take pleasure in it. "Loosen up," he'd recommend to Sherlock, usually just before he passed him the mirror and the straw, but while Seb could masturbate or chatter inanely with his friends while high, Sherlock went to work, every thought magnificently focused and ideas flowing out of his fingers in glorious streams. The first time, he'd feared he'd wake up to a mass of inane gibberish, and was elated to find that (save some truly bizarre spelling errors) his work suffered no loss of quality. He could attend every inane lecture, skip the social gauntlet of meal times, and he had all the time in the world to write, to read, to research, to reason.
Sherlock used a lot of Seb's cocaine that year, and Seb passed all his classes. It was a reasonable compromise.
The second year was worse; Sherlock found it harder to invest energy in tedious tasks like socialization, and Sebastian was entirely impervious to reason--"They're my friends, you twat, and if you had any of your own you'd know what that meant."
"They have the collective IQ of a bag of hammers and this is important."
Seb had rolled his eyes. "So's the rugby. You need to live a little, Shez."
"Don't call me that," Sherlock told the empty room.
Sherlock had other things, better things, wonderful things on his mind—facts and figures, patterns and correlations, pure logic that was better than lectures, better than Seb's idiot friends. Better than the cocaine, though cocaine made it easier to get things done, made everything that much more obvious. Little by little he gave up on sleep and food and homework, his own first, Seb's shortly thereafter.
"I can't hand in this shit," Sebastian snarled, staring at the creased pages Sherlock had dug out of the bottom of his bag. "What the hell am I still paying you for?"
"Excellent question," Sherlock said, and pick-pocketed more than a gram in the process of getting thrown out of Seb's dormitory.
In the end, Sherlock dropped out of uni into a cocaine haze, and Sebastian graduated directly into some City job he'd apparently been destined for since birth. It made sense to end the arrangement when it stopped being productive, and in London Sherlock could find his own amusements, and buy his own drugs. After a while, he wasn't even lonely.
10 June 19--*
*(a lady doesn't reveal her age)
Sherlock did not mark his twenty-sixth birthday with the intention of breaking up a human trafficking ring, saving a life or condemning a man to death; these things simply happened to him sometimes, like the weather. He had been working intermittently as a shelver in a small library, an activity which had the twin perks of allowing him to read nearly anything he wanted (or could arrange an inter-library loan request for) and providing enough of a paycheck to cover basic living expenses (rent, lab equipment, utilities, cocaine, food, in roughly that order of priority) without Mycroft's assistance, which would only invite Mycroft's meddling. It was boring, degrading and menial, but he had come to accept that not even he could invert Maslow's Hierarchy by sheer force of will, and it wasn't as if he didn't have time to waste—his experiments weren't exactly on a schedule.
Then came the traffickers. He was deep into The Stranger Beside Me while re-shelving the children's section, shoving dog-eared Harry Potters into place one-handed while cursing Ann Rule for a sentimental idiot who allowed key data to be lost in the morass of pointless "human interest." (Honestly, an astrologer? Really?) Still, he was not so inattentive as to miss the small, frail-looking woman hovering at the end of the aisle, casting about as if she wasn't entirely certain where she was or, indeed, what to do with all these conglomerations of paper and glue she'd found herself among.
"The library closes in twenty minutes," Sherlock informed her, when he got closer to the end of the aisle. "Though Brian will likely start attempting to hassle you out in five."
"Maybe you can help me," the woman asked him timidly, reaching out one hand to his sleeve. Her hand was trembling a little, and age had given her skin a translucent quality, with too-prominent veins.
"That largely depends on what you're looking for," Sherlock informed her.
"I need to find out how to hire a private detective," the woman said, haltingly. "I'm afraid my husband's killed someone, you see."
Sherlock dog-eared his page and left his book on the nearest shelf.
They ate stale pastries at an all-night cafe where he knew a certain waitress with particularly low self-esteem would give him free refills for the price of a few smiles; Mrs. Hudson clucked at him over his thinness, the bags under his eyes and the inadequacy of his jumper, but there was a harried, brittle quality to it, and her eyes were moving wildly all over the room. Sherlock made certain to procure her a decaf, and he listened carefully to everything she had to say.
Three days later, with no guarantee of payment or even a return ticket to Britain, he was in Miami, trying to track down a group of Russian and Asian women who'd been trafficked through Britain, not because he had any credentials or qualifications—he didn't even have a change of underwear—but because the puzzle pieces fit together in ways not even Mrs. Hudson had suspected, and the police would simply spoil it. It was the most glorious week of his life, his wits pitted against a group of organized and experienced criminals, and the moment Joseph Hudson put his pistol to Sherlock's temple was a high far grander than anything cocaine had ever been able to evoke.
(One of the women proceeded to club Mr. Hudson with a fire extinguisher at the last second, so the shot merely grazed Sherlock's scalp, leaving an interesting scar and a fond memory behind.)
Talking to the police, and the other police, and the FBI, et cetera, was dull by comparison, of course—dull and frustrating, because they wouldn't accept his conclusions and couldn't follow his reasoning and were unduly interested in his passport and credentials and the collapsed veins in his elbows. But as it happened, Mr. Hudson had made quite a bit of completely legitimate money, and once she learned of her husband's arrest Mrs. Hudson was eager to compensate Sherlock in any way she could—whether he wanted it or not.
"Let me feed you up a bit, at least," she insisted when she met him back at Heathrow. "You'll blow away in a stiff wind, won't you? Oh, and your poor jumper—I know just the thing for it, it'll get those stains right out. Don't you own a coat, dear?"
Sherlock allowed her to manhandle him to her home, feed him extravagantly, and, yes, do a load of his laundry; the fragile, nervous thing who'd approached him in the library had shed her skin and emerged a butterfly, or some such trite transformational metaphor. He allowed her to do these things because she needed them, needed to focus on something other than her life's sudden upheaval and her newfound liberation; soon enough she would be dragged into a legal maelstrom, and she deserved her unorthodox celebration while she could get it. He allowed her to do these things because bloodstains are tricky and her soup was fantastic and her couch a significantly better alternative to his own narrow bed.
(He continued to allow these indulgences long after Mr. Hudson's final appeal, long after she spent the last of her husband's money renovating her house into flats for rent, long after he could tell himself he was indulging an elderly woman's whims. No looking a gift horse in the mouth and all that, especially one that had by long experience become difficult to spook.)
When he did go back to his own flat and the eviction notice on his door, he did so with a new sense of purpose, a feeling of cosmic certainty that was new and slightly unsettling. He settled in that night with a line of coke and a stolen internet connection, researching what sort of things he'd have to do in order to set up a career as a private detective.
And two weeks after that, a package arrived for him—at the library, though he'd been fired for disappearing to America without warning ages ago. He picked it up and opened it on the spot, pulling out a long, heavy black coat, and a card on lavender-scented stationary. That jumper simply can't be keeping you warm, dear.
He threw out the card, but kept the coat.
17 March 1963
The first person at Scotland Yard to take Sherlock seriously was Gregory Lestrade, on a damp night just after Sherlock's twenty-nineth birthday. Sherlock had by this point systematically exhausted all other avenues of approach to the police, starting with anonymous tip lines and going through desk sergeants and newspapers and letters dropped at the home addresses of select detectives. At the time, the obvious progression was to break into the car of a newly-minted Detective Inspector and ambush him on the M25.
(In hindsight, Sherlock was able to grudgingly admit, if only to himself, that perhaps the cocaine was getting to be a bit problematic at that point.)
To Lestrade's credit—though Sherlock didn't know he was Lestrade, at that point, just that he's been promoted within the past three months and this was his first major case and his marriage was on the rocks but not because of his work and his choice of cigarettes was deplorable and his choice of take-away was worse—to his credit, he didn't scream, or veer into the central reservation, or attempt to pull a weapon when Sherlock popped up between the front seats and declared, "Look in the manager's boot."
Instead he asked, tightly, with remarkable calm, "And just who the fuck are you?"
"Marjorie Priestly had only been employed for six months," Sherlock continued, having estimated precisely how long his audience would remain captive (to the next exit ramp, plus thirty to forty-five seconds to find a spot to pull over). "Why would she be trusted with sole responsibility for the nightly deposit? Carlos Enriquez is telling the truth, at least about the time he left the shop—he's trying to cover for his married lover. Aaron Busey is lying, but only because of his previous criminal record, which is the only reason you lot even detained him in the first place. The manager, Hines, did leave the shop early, but he told Priestly to wait for him to return under the pretense of offering her a lift home on his way to make the deposit. He tried to sexually assault her, knocked her out during the struggle, panicked and took her back to the shop; you'll find her hair and blood in the boot of his car, and the sealed deposit envelope, because he can't bring himself to destroy that much money but can't think of another way to get rid of it. She regained consciousness in the freezer just long enough to realize she was suffocating and try to unlock the door."
Silence reigned in the car. An exit ramp approached, and Lestrade didn't take it.
"You can't possibly know all that," he finally said.
"It's obvious," Sherlock insisted. "Everything I just told you is deducible from published news sources, Priestly's MySpace profile and a basic understanding of business practices. Well, I followed Enriquez around for two days to work out the bit about his lover, but otherwise—it's logic, it's obvious."
Their eyes met in the mirror for a moment, and Sherlock briefly entertained the notion that if he stared intensely enough, he could somehow force understanding into the inspector's brain.
Lestrade turned off the motorway at the next exit.
Sherlock threw himself down horizontally across the back seat and pulled out a cigarette—stupid, why did they all have to be so stupid, blind--"Are you smoking in my car?" Lestrade demanded.
"You do," Sherlock said, between puffs. "You probably even think your wife doesn't know about it."
Lestrade made a peculiar noise, but kept driving.
Sherlock counted down thirty seconds in his head, forty-five, puffing on his cigarette and cursing idiots and wondering why he even bothered, what was the goddamn point of talking to these slow, fumbling creatures, who might as well be another species altogether--
Fifty seconds. Sixty.
Sherlock plucked his cigarette out of his mouth and sat up.
Ninety-five seconds after the exit, Lestrade pulled up a twenty-four-hour coffee shop and stopped the car. "Now," Lestrade said, looking over his shoulder while the engine pinged. "We're going to sit in there, and you're going to run that out for me again at half speed, okay? And while you're at it, tell me who the hell you are, and how you got into my car."
"Pick-pocketed your keys," Sherlock said, still in shock.
Lestrade scowled. "My keys are right here."
"Well, obviously, I put them back."
And over tall coffees and damp sandwiches (Lestrade paid for them; Sherlock had no intention of eating but found the food disappearing under his fingers anyway) they talked. Sherlock had no illusions that Lestrade trusted him, or even particularly liked him; but like Socrates, the man knew that he knew nothing, and deferred to Sherlock accordingly. It was, as far as he was concerned, the ideal professional relationship: efficient, impersonal and mutually beneficial.
15 November 1965
By the time he was thirty Sherlock had built enough of a professional reputation that he no longer had to rely on Lestrade for work; the rest of CID had noticed the correlation between "cases Sherlock Holmes consults on" and "cases that ultimately end in convictions" and even their tiny brains had determined the directionality of causation. Most of them still wouldn't approach him directly, using Lestrade as an intermediary (to the extent he was amenable to "being [Sherlock's] fucking answerphone" on any given day), but Tobias Gregson showed up at Sherlock's flat in person one night with a stack of photographs, plonked them down on Sherlock's kitchen table and asked him, "Is this murder?"
Sherlock has sized him up—hair still naturally blond, suits a little more expensive than average and tailored to show off a body type clearly maintained with considerable effort. No nicotine stains on his fingers and caps on his teeth, which, altogether, meant this man spent a considerable fraction of his pay on his appearance. Sherlock knew vanity quite well, being a vain man himself. He looked at the pictures.
"Accident," he concluded. "She passed out while cooking. Probably sampled the rhubarb."
Gregson raised an eyebrow. "How did you know she was cooking with rhubarb?"
The question was defiant, a challenge, the kind that Sherlock relished. "Because the injuries and the pattern of blood spatter could not possibly have been made by a deliberate stabbing, no matter what your so-called experts may have suggested—the angles are entirely wrong and the quantity of blood suggests the wounds were too shallow. Also, she clearly fell facing the counter, with injuries to her front, which leaves no place for her attacker to stand unless she was murdered by a paper cut-out. She lost consciousness with the knife in her hand and fell onto it, producing just enough force to drive the blade between her ribs and cause a pneumothorax, which is what actually killed her; if she'd had a history of diabetes or some other medical condition that would've made her prone to fainting, you wouldn't need me. So, what causes an otherwise healthy woman to suddenly faint in the kitchen? Not a gas leak, your people surely would've noticed that, if only when they blew themselves up—but she was clearly baking, and not a familiar dish, given the printed-out recipe on the counter. Rhubarb having just come into season, she was likely given some by a neighbor or acquaintance who didn't think to warn her that the leaves are toxic. The victim weighed no more than fifty kilos; it wouldn't take much to incapacitate her."
Gregson looked at the photographs, frowning. "I didn't even give you a picture of the victim."
"It wasn't necessary."
Gregson smiled, slowly. "So Lestrade isn't joking about you. I'd wondered."
There was something in his intonation, something in his smile and his posture and the cut of his suit--"Of course, you'd already recovered the rhubarb and reached the conclusion on your own," Sherlock said slowly.
"Oh, I had an idea or two," he said, sliding the photographs back into the envelope. "But I wanted to see what you'd say. Nice to know you live up to your billing, Holmes. I'll be in touch."
The difference between Lestrade and Gregson—between Lestrade-types and Gregson-types, really—was this: Gregson cared about procedure for procedure's own sake. He cared about formalities, cared intensely, and it was why he'd been promoted over a year ahead of Lestrade and why the Chief Inspector favored him, actual success rates be damned. Gregson would not let Sherlock into crime scenes, only show him photographs; Gregson would not let Sherlock handle evidence. Gregson was clever, not just the base cunning of the politically adept or a copper's instincts, he was intelligent in ways that Lestrade simply wasn't. Like Sebastian, he was intelligent enough to hide himself under a bushel basket for the sake of getting along and getting ahead, and he used Sherlock as a resource but didn't really let him work, and sometimes that meant the guilty walked free.
"It's the price we pay to live in a free society," Gregson said once, breezily, when Sherlock pointed it out to him. "Besides, it's not like it matters, does it? We get paid either way—or, well, you would if you'd take the checks—where are you going?"
Sherlock did not work with Gregson after that.
23 August 1978
Sally Donovan has never, to Sherlock's knowledge, liked him. She is something of a Gregson-type—certainly her career ambitions are high, higher than those for her personal life. But she doesn't pursue procedural minutiae for their own sake, but because she has faith in the system the minutiae represented, a legacy of the stabler parts of her childhood.
They got off, as they say, on the wrong foot: in particular, the foot of Jonathan Wilder, aged 56, which Sherlock attempted to sneak out of a crime scene wrapped in a carrier bag and stuffed under his coat. It only went downhill from there. "What the hell is wrong with you?" she asked him once, after he'd neatly deconstructed a grieving mother's self-deceptions. "Why couldn't you shot your bloody gob?"
"I needed the information."
"She just lost her only daughter!"
"And by the sound of things, is well shot of her."
She didn't say it at the time; she didn't even originate the phrase, it percolated up through CID from the beat constables. But the look on her face was close enough, and after that she mostly stopped trying to make him behave. Because Sally Donovan believes in systems and institutions, and that the sheer force of her expectations can push people to meet them; and it will be some time before she fully forgives Sherlock for proving her wrong.
29 May 1970
Sherlock met Mike Stamford twice, though Stamford was largely unaware of the fact; the first time being when twenty-six-year-old Sherlock stumbled into the Minor Injuries unit at Bart's and collapsed in front of the reception desk. An ambulance had been called, to transport him to a proper A&E; and Stamford had been called, or rather drafted on his way to lunch, to monitor his condition while the MIU staff carried on as usual. Sherlock had regained consciousness briefly upon the arrival of the paramedics, just in time to note who was issuing the irritated-sounding orders about oxygen and tachycardia.
Five years, three months later, Sherlock recognized the same doctor—approximately a stone heavier and still sounding irritated by most everything around him—when he stepped into an escalating altercation between Sherlock and the medical student who had caught him pocketing lab materials.
"Police, did you say?" Stamford had asked, after dismissing the young man's rambling accusations out of hand. "Don't you have your own labs to mess about it?"
"They're unavailable at the moment," Sherlock responded, which was technically true because he'd been banned from any facility operated by Forensic Services until he paid for all the broken glassware.
"Mmm. Ah." Stamford had looked Sherlock up and down, small eyes narrowed, and then, "Well, if it's for the police...I supposed as long as you've got a chaperone..." and left the poor student (highly strung, overachiever, only child, spoilt by a single mother with a mild anxiety disorder) sputtering in a corridor.
That turned out to be the beginning of a highly profitable relationship.
Sherlock recognized almost immediately, of course, what Mike got out of it: he lived vicariously thought Sherlock's work, enjoying the pretense of having some substantive role in the danger and intrigue when they were both fully aware that his actual involvement was little more than a glorified skeleton key. He provided Sherlock access to Bart's facilities and in turn Sherlock provided him with little stories, little insights, and a sense of cosmic usefulness. It wasn't that Mike had any desire to actually take part in the work—it was clear from his expanding waistline that he enjoyed his fixed orbits of home and work and sedentary leisure. He even, in some sense, enjoyed teaching, in spite of how he bemoaned its futility; his constant baseline level of irritation served to mask an avuncular good cheer, which he only let surface with those who'd earned his respect.
Sherlock attached no particular weight to that respect, because Mike was a competent doctor and a mediocre educator and not particularly more intelligent than average. Mike also brought Sherlock coffee and tea from the staffroom rather than the hospital's canteen, nagged him vaguely about his health and offered unsolicited advice on his personal problems. Mike regarded Sherlock's methods with amusement, but never disdain. And for that, Sherlock told him stories, and resisted the impulse to pick-pocket his keys and make copies for his personal use.
2 February 1978
Sherlock had been romantically pursued by sixteen individuals between the ages of fourteen and thirty-four, discounting passing flirtations and deliberate seductions; without exception, he had managed to put an end to that sort of nonsense fairly quickly, if not though direct action then by simply being himself. Once he'd satisfied himself as to the major question of intimacy (physical: distasteful; emotional: unnecessary; intellectual: surely you're joking) he's seen no need to endure the mating rituals of the modern Briton, and given that he typically had to exert some effort not to alienate those around him, he never had any trouble repelling others' advances.
Except for, apparently, Molly Hooper.
She is not, as he initially suspected, the product of a broken home or an otherwise abusive upbringing. She has no particular predilection for masochism. He has observed her, secretly, in other settings, in front of others and she gives every appearance of being a healthy and well-adjusted woman—a bit shy, a bit low in self-esteem, but functional.
Yet she has thus far proven completely impervious to Sherlock's personality. This would be an admirable trait if it weren't so alarming.
The first words he said to her were, "I need a femur." Mike had had to explain the bit about being with the police (a polite fiction at this point, and they both knew it) and then Sherlock had had to specify yes, with the skin and musculature still intact—he'd expected the girl to run away gibbering at any moment, given how wide her eyes had gone and how shallow her breathing had become.
But she'd just stammered "I'll—I'll see what we've got," and shortly thereafter wheeled out a completely inappropriate specimen she insisted on calling Mrs. Van Dorn. This was followed by Mr. Higgs and Miss Johnson, and by the time she actually produced something Sherlock could work with he had escalated to questioning her ancestry and she was trembling like a leaf. But she was still there.
She was there offering him coffee at inconvenient times. She was there attempting to make small talk while he was concentrating. She was there, her heavy make-up making her look too old and watching him with calf-eyes and letting him into the morgue when Mike was leading rounds.
"You've offered me biscuits three times in the last eighty minutes," Sherlock pointed out to her once. "Are you truly incapable of extrapolating a pattern?"
"You looked hungry," Molly had murmured, flushing, and left the plate on the edge of the bench.
It's fascinating, in its own way, how she persists; Sherlock supposes that this is why people enjoy looking at horrible car accidents and photos of the aftermath of earthquakes. He is not exactly subtle about his lack of interest, and she is not exactly ignorant (compared to the average)--and yet. It's fascinating, what he can push her into doing. It's fascinating how much she will tolerate.
(Mike tends to laugh inappropriately when he observes them, and once makes a nonsensical comment about twilight that Sherlock is utterly unable to interpret.)
He eventually desists in the overt rejections, because she is useful, in her way; he just keeps his distance, because there's only so much he can tolerate, and because Molly Hooper is not Sally Donovan—when she realizes that Sherlock is not what she wants him to be, she will very likely simply leave.
5 October 1971
The flat at Montague Street was, in several words, small, damp, dark, overpriced, noisy, and possessed of several types of vermin and intermittent plumbing. The landlord had chronic body odor and a mistress in Hackney, but he tolerated Sherlock and Sherlock's money right up until the incident with acid bath. (Given the precarious integrity of the plumbing, Sherlock realizes perhaps he shouldn't have attempted it in the bath. Hindsight, et cetera.) It had only ever been meant as temporary quarters, anyway, part of a sequence of minimally adequate addresses he'd been working himself through, client by paying client, but being forced out with so little warning was...inconvenient.
"I've got until the end of the month," he explained to Mike as he placed his samples in the centrifuge. "I suspect he'd simply change the locks while I'm out if he thought he could get away with it, but as the rent is paid in full..."
"Hard luck, that," Mike said with appropriate sympathy, twisting his tie absently with one hand. "I'd offer you the couch for a bit, but, well, you know Stella, her nerves wouldn't take it."
"I've already found a place, as it happens," Sherlock told him, which was partly true—Mrs. Hudson was most sympathetic, but also most firm about just how much she was willing to discount the rent, and Sherlock dared not risk either negotiation or delay. Instead he was attempting to resign himself to a state of affairs that he hadn't had need to tolerate since those first years out of uni, when he'd been using and occasionally penniless, even though he was was now thirty-five and clean and working. "I simply need to find someone to split the rent."
Mike laughed, once, a dying thing that escaped before he'd quite realized Sherlock was being serious. "Oh. Oh, dear, you're looking for a flatshare?"
"Provided I can find anyone to share it with, of course." The centrifuge hummed to life, the tubes inside blurring with speed. "As you can imagine, there aren't many who'd want me for a flatmate."
Mike nodded and patted Sherlock on the arm sympathetically. "I'm off for now, but I'll keep an ear open for you, just in case. Got to be someone in London daft enough to bunk with you, right?"
The finding wasn't so much the problem, in Sherlock's mind—he could find someone not intolerable and in need of a flatmate on the street in ten minutes or less, if he put sufficient effort into it. The problem would be keeping that person, and more importantly, that person's share of the rent money, for the long term. Sherlock hated the constant self-monitoring and second-guessing, the squabbles and the compromise, the expectations...needs must, though, unless he wanted to continue the chain of appalling bolt-holes in undesirable locations, or, God help him, appeal to Mycroft. Perhaps if he were really fortunate he'd find a flatmate who traveled for business three weeks in four and just wanted the Westminster address...or who was profoundly deaf and anosmic to boot...statistically speaking, there had to be at least one somewhere in London, after all...
He had two cases on at the time—a drowning he'd picked up as a favor to one of the less obnoxious PCs at the Yard and an alleged murder he'd picked up through his website, one that might actually pay something if he could prove the injuries were inflicted post-mortem. Molly was irritating and the paint samples matched. He was about to do one final check of the lead content when he heard Mike's voice—and another, also male, slightly higher, accompanied by the syncopated thuds of a cane with a rubber shoe on the end—outside the door of the lab. Two sharp knocks, and the door opened, the stranger with the cane following Mike close behind—a man with military posture and the tan to match, a man prematurely aged by strain who stood with the perfect stillness of the very patient or the very dull.
"Bit different from my day," he said, not looking in Sherlock's direction yet, and Mike murmured a response, which Sherlock barely heard. He looked back to the reagent without really seeing it, putting the facts together.
Perhaps finding a flatmate would be easier than he thought. But first impressions were absolutely vital.
"Mike, can I borrow your phone?"
6 January 1975
The period around Christmas and New Year's was often painfully dull, with even criminals taking a holiday except for petty house-breakers and charity scammers. Lestrade offered up a bundle of cold cases in lieu of a Christmas gift, a transparent ploy to divert and distract Sherlock through the holidays; Sherlock took them up anyway, for the challenge of deducing without being able to lay hands on the evidence personally. Now it's Thursday, and he is trying to regale John with one of his solutions, before he has to trundle off to another tiresome shift at the surgery.
"The stockings, John," Sherlock explains, as he follows John through his morning routine—tea and toast, news and email, shower and shave, in roughly that order every time. "It's remarkable. The police didn't even consider the significance of silk stockings on a woman of her means--"
"Sorry," John says; he does not seem to wish to be regaled. "Just, could you--? I'm trying to read this."
Sherlock scowls, because John's email never requires that much attention, and really, this bit with the stockings is clever even for him. "Fine. Go ahead. I shan't distract you." He sips his own cup of tea, the one John prepares on autopilot whether Sherlock wants it or not; as Sherlock hasn't actually been to sleep since Tuesday, he'd prefer a coffee, but this will do. "Have you read it yet?"
"Sherlock." John glances up, partly exasperated and partly annoyed and partly—anxious? Nothing worrisome could've possibly come via email, because the only people who ever worry John communicate with him regularly by phone, except for Sherlock, who lives there. Sherlock considers which stories in the current news cycle might provoke anxiety, but typically John blusters on at length and in exhaustive detail about anything that irritates him rather than try to divert Sherlock's attention from it. "Not all of us are speed readers."
"Please. I've seen how quickly you skim your silly spy novels."
John sighs, unplugs his laptop from the charger and begins carrying it upstairs. "This isn't a spy novel, now drink your tea."
"But the stockings!" Sherlock protests, following him. "You're not listening to me."
"I will listen to you after work," John says. "Promise."
"Inadequate," Sherlock declares. "You won't be home until six-thirty."
"You'll live," John says, and shut the bathroom door in Sherlock's face.
Sherlock stomps back downstairs as loudly as he could—Mrs. Hudson left for her annual remembrance in Florida days ago, there's no one else to bother. He snatches the skull off the mantel and throws himself down on the sofa, studying it in different angles of light, thinking, Nothing in the email. Nothing on the news. He's trying to avoid me—hide something from me? Possibility. Alternative: he doesn't want to listen to me. Unlikely. John always listens to me.
He tries to catch a glimpse of the web of fine lines on the corner of the skull's jawbone—familiar detail he could find with his eyes closed—but the angle of light from the windows is wrong, entirely wrong. In irritation, Sherlock rolls onto his side, and then onto his back, resting his heels against the wall and letting the blood rush to his head. There: the marks of the old fracture. Sherlock lets the skull rest on his solar plexus and turned his attention to the web of cracks on the ceiling, scars in plaster echoing scars in bone.
John always listens to me!
It's a surprisingly distracting thought.
John comes clattering back downstairs with his laptop in one hand—closed, hibernating—and a tie loose around his collar. He looks down at Sherlock with an indulgent smile, and as he passes by the sofa to plug in the laptop he reaches out to tap him on the knee. "Happy birthday, by the way," he says.
Sherlock quickly revises his conclusions.
A few months ago, they had talked—Sherlock scarcely remembers the surrounding context, just that it had been fifteenth November and the odds of some cloying display of camaraderie for Gregson at the Yard were appallingly high. He'd tried to explain this to John, who'd looked baffled. You still won’t even say ‘happy birthday’? No one’s expecting you, of all people, to say that you’re glad he’s alive and that he’s still part of your life.
What about 'Congratulations on getting another year older; your dumb luck has allowed you to survive’?
You're an idiot sometimes, you know that? John had answered, but he'd sounded, not irritated, but fond.
This was important, Sherlock realizes as he reconstructs John's browser history. All of it.
He hears John coming home, later than usual but precisely within the appropriate window given that he'd had to pick up a cake. Said cake is in his hands when Sherlock peers down the stairs at him, and there is clearly a moment when John looks like he's going to say something absurd--cover your eyes or similar nonsense—before his back stiffens with military resolve. "Clear a space in the fridge for this, please," he says with aplomb, and shoulders past Sherlock into the flat.
Of course, Sherlock cleared out the refrigerator earlier—also mopped and hoovered, two things John had been making vague noises about needing to do while Mrs. Hudson was away. There is a symbolism in these things, a message, significant though not ostensive. John does not seem to be getting it, as he freeze midway through placing the cake on the shelf and then turned to look at Sherlock warily. "Right. What's all this about?"
Sherlock doesn't actually know how to broach the subject, but John doesn't have to know that. "What do you mean?"
John scowls, then gathers himself, making the first move with the sort of grim courage one associates with bomb squads and executioners. "Look, er, I've booked us a table--"
"I canceled it," Sherlock says swiftly. They wouldn't have made the reservation anyway, not with the traffic at this hour.
John looks bowled over. "What? Why?"
Sherlock has had all day to put the idea into words, and still hasn't come up with anything suitable. His own failure irritates him as much as John's blank stare. "It's the wrong way round," he says, and when light doesn't dawn he sighs and flings himself down on the couch, letting the dressing gown billow around him.
John follows him and perches in his chair, staring for several minutes as if Sherlock's written the correct answers on his forehead in a size-two font. "Sorry, what?" he eventually blurts.
"It's my birthday," Sherlock says, reluctantly—just then he would gladly murder all London for the temporary gift of telepathy. John still looks as though Sherlock is speaking Swahili. "What was it you say to someone on his birthday, John?"
"'Happy birthday'?" Sherlock urges him on, and there it is, the moment when John gets it—the moment Sherlock secretly enjoys, almost as much as when John calls him brilliant. It's usually a relief when other people catch up to him; with John it's a pleasure, and Sherlock is quite done for the night with introspection on the subject of John Watson. "'I'm glad you're alive and you're part of my life.' I am, you know."
"Backwards, see?" Sherlock rolls his eyes when John circles his fingers, prompting him for more. "It's not you who should be saying you're glad. It's—I'm the one who should be thanking you." For rent and patience, for canes and guns and cups of tea, for still being here nearly a year later when all mundane people would have fled and for somehow being far too fascinating to flee from. "You've kept me alive this past year," Sherlock confesses, and hopes the rest is somehow implied.
John sputters, as if this is somehow news to him, and Sherlock suspects he's going to say something inane like you saved me, you gave me a reason to live, this is an inherent property of friendship. And because Sherlock already knows all these things—though the last has yet to be proven empirically—he cuts off the incoherent stammering and into the cake.
"Thank you, John," he says, serving up two gloriously sticky slices of chocolate gateau.
John, with a blush still lingering in his ears and neck, snatches at the smaller slice and offers Sherlock a fork. "Many happy returns, you idiot," he says, and Sherlock drags his finger through a rosette of icing on John's plate in revenge.
Don't forget to leave feedback for both authors!