Rating: Light R
Warnings: Sherlock being Sherlock - i.e. some possibly disturbing thought processes. Minor mention of suicidal thoughts in the final part - it's mostly glossed over and not addressed in any depth, but... just in case. I don't think there's anything that specifically needs a warning - but if you think otherwise, just drop me a comment or PM to let me know, and I'll edit this ASAP.
Summary: Sherlock has never encountered a more interesting puzzle than Dr John Watson.
Author's Notes: This first chapter might initially seem to be a rehashing of the first episode, but give it a chance. You'll soon see some oddities. =D
This chapter has been divided into two parts, as it's too large for LJ to handle in one post. The link to the second part is at the bottom of the page.
a poor sort of memory
It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward. – Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
A drop of liquid splashes onto the petri dish almost exactly in time with the perfunctory knock on the door. Sherlock looks up as he discards the tip. Mike Stamford – affable enough man, with an unfortunate tendency to introduce people he doesn’t like to Sherlock. Lately, it’s been students, arrogant, pompous students with not an ounce of talent to back up their lofty claims of intelligence.
It’s not a student this time, though. The man who comes in with Mike is about his age, older than Sherlock. Tanned face, durable but low-quality clothes, military bearing, regulation haircut. Military man. Still serving or not? Depends.
“Bit different from my day,” the stranger comments. Ah, a military doctor, of course. Which reminds him of that case PC Downing had asked him to take on. Obvious, really, that it was the ex-army brother who did it, but then it’s Scotland Yard that looked into it, so he supposes he shouldn’t expect too much. Sherlock sets the petri dish down and moves to his chair, pulling out his phone.
No signal. Of course not. There are far too many dead zones in this building for Sherlock’s comfort. Perhaps it’s time to look into another service provider. Mike never seems to have these problems. Hm.
“Mike, can I borrow your phone?” he asks, over whatever it is Mike had been saying to the stranger. “There’s no signal on mine.”
“And what’s wrong with a landline?” Mike asks.
“I prefer to text,” Sherlock replies. Words are difficult enough as it is. Communication is a lot easier when one doesn’t have to worry about inflection and body language. Besides, it’s not like he has a lot to say to the imbeciles who make up most of the population of the world.
“Sorry,” Mike says. He doesn’t sound very sorry, but then Sherlock might be reading him wrongly. It wouldn’t be the first time. And people wonder why he prefers to text. “It’s in my coat.”
Why, Sherlock wonders, would anyone allow themselves to be separated from their phones?
“Ah, here,” the stranger says. “Use mine.”
Sherlock looks at him again. Now, that’s peculiar. Most people don’t volunteer their phones just like that. “Oh,” he says. Nice phone, too. Bit of a giving sort, then. “Thank you.” That’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to say, isn’t it?
Definitely not an over-arrogant student, or even a new colleague. Mike proves it by introducing the stranger as an old friend. John Watson. Sherlock remembers the conversation he’d had with Mike just that morning, before he’d gone down to see Molly. That explains things. Clearly, Mike thinks this is someone who might suit Sherlock as a flatmate. Of course, Mike knows nothing of Sherlock’s requirements in a flatmate, so it is entirely likely that Mike is wrong.
Sherlock takes the phone from the stranger, and catches sight of his wrist. Tan-line; not from a holiday then. Rough, work-weathered hands. Calloused? He’s holding his arm stiffly. Left-handed, but he’s been using his right hand quite easily. He’s learned to work around the injury, somewhere in his left arm. His face is tired and stressed beyond his years, with that peculiar weariness Sherlock has only ever seen develop in the faces of survivors. He’s seen some action, but where?
“Afghanistan or Iraq?” he asks, studying the phone before flipping it open. Engraving – Harry Watson, Clara, kisses. Scratches and dents on the cover – and on an expensive phone at that, not well-cared for. Clearly at odds with this John Watson’s attire, both in terms of upkeep and expense. Second-hand from a family member then. Brother, probably. Alcoholic, going by the scratch marks on the power connection.
“Afghanistan,” John finally replies. Sherlock glances up. His lips are quirked like he’s just heard a brilliant joke, and he’s trying not to laugh out loud.
“I see,” Sherlock says, and finishes up his message just as the door opens. “Ah, Molly, coffee. Thank you.” He returns the phone to its owner, takes his cup, then pauses. “What happened to the lipstick?”
“It – wasn’t working for me,” she says with a little laugh.
“Really?” Sherlock asks. Odd. It had made her look quite nice, he’d thought, so he tells her so.
“Okay,” she says. She doesn’t sound very happy. Must have gotten things wrong again, spoken too much where he should have stopped. He’ll work it out eventually. He ignores the fact that he’s been telling himself that same thing since he was a child.
The coffee’s not very good. “How do you feel about the violin?” he asks, typing in his email password.
“Depends on how well it’s played,” John replies after a moment.
A problem already. He was right; this man won’t do for a flatmate. “I think I play well,” he says. “I do play often though. It helps me think. Sometimes I don’t talk for days on end. Will that bother you?” It certainly had his past unfortunate flatmates. “Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other.”
“I might come throw a cushion at you if you decide to play an aria at four a.m.,” John says. “Otherwise, that’s fine.”
“Will you throw anything else?” Sherlock asks. William had once flung Sherlock’s experiments at him before flouncing out in a dramatic manner (and then returning sheepishly to quietly pay off his month’s rent to the landlady). It had been rather costly getting his equipment and chemicals replaced.
“Nothing damaging,” John assures him. “And honestly, I probably won’t mind as long as I don’t have to be up early the next day.”
“You don’t have a job yet,” Sherlock says. He’d hardly have had time to find one, and the probable state of his finances suggests he’s currently surviving on his pension. More to the point, perhaps Mike hadn’t made quite so terrible a choice as Sherlock had initially thought.
“No, not just yet,” John says. “But then, you know that.”
Nothing really interesting in his emails, so he logs out. Where’s his riding crop? Must have left it with the body – damn, and he’s just annoyed Molly in some way. She’s going to be snippy with him now. Sherlock shrugs his coat on. “I do, yes,” he agrees. John Watson might just be the sort of tolerant flatmate he could use. “Got my eye on a nice little place in central London,” he says. “Together, we ought to be able to afford it.”
He glances at his petri dish. No change to the liquid, so he’s right about the reaction, and the rest can wait till later. He still needs to retrieve his riding crop and then find out where one could possibly get a live alligator in the middle of London. Certainly can’t show John the place today, at any rate. If Mrs Hudson allows him to, perhaps he could move in tomorrow morning.
“We’ll meet there tomorrow evening, seven o’clock,” Sherlock says. “Sorry, got to dash. Think I left my riding crop in the mortuary.”
“And the address would be?” John asks.
“Oh, yes,” Sherlock says. “221B Baker Street. I’ll see you there.”
As the door swings shut behind him, he hears John say, “He’s always like that, isn’t he?”
Perceptive man. Sherlock smiles as he strides down the hallway.
Sherlock swings out of the taxi, watching as John Watson knocks briskly at the door to 221B. “Hello,” he calls out.
“Ah, Mr Holmes,” John says.
“Sherlock, please,” Sherlock replies.
“Well, this is a prime spot,” John says, looking around speculatively. “Must be expensive?”
“Mrs Hudson, the landlady, is giving me a special deal,” Sherlock explains, waiting expectantly for the door to open. “She owes me a favour. A few years back, her husband got himself sentenced to death in Florida.” She’d been beside herself when she’d realised he might escape on a technicality. Sherlock had helped prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the murder had been meticulously planned and carried out by the late Mr Hudson. “I was able to help out.”
“By stopping or ensuring the execution?” John asks, and there’s that little quirk of the lips again. What is it that’s tickling him so?
“Ensuring it, of course,” Sherlock says.
The door opens and there’s Mrs Hudson, arms already open in welcome. Sherlock beams at her and gives her the warm hug she’s looking for. Mrs Hudson is a rare specimen of a human being, he’s found. She tuts about his behaviour all the time, but as long as he’s not hurting himself or anyone else, she’s perfectly willing to leave him to his own devices. Just as importantly, she’s never hurt by his sporadic ill moods, and she’s accepting of his little quirks and foibles; always has been, right from the moment she’d come to him for help.
“Mrs Hudson,” he says, stepping back and gesturing at John. “Dr John Watson.”
“Hello,” she says warmly, shaking John’s hand. He seems quite taken with her too, Sherlock notes. Excellent. He does hope that John will take up a room. Sherlock’s already moved in, after all, and though he could technically afford the whole place without a flatmate, it really would ease his budget if he had one.
Then again, food isn’t exactly a necessity. He might be able to get by.
Sherlock darts up the stairs ahead of John. He’s a little surprised to find he’s eager to see John’s reaction to the rooms. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Eagerness, that’s usually a good emotion. He waits till John catches up, then opens the door.
John stops in the doorway, his body stilling. Only his head moves, turning slowly as he takes in everything. Sherlock watches his face carefully. A relaxing of the facial muscles, slight lowering of the eyelids, softening of the mouth and a slight smile – all positive signs, all signs of contentment. Good.
“This is very nice,” John murmurs, finally taking a few steps in. Sherlock glances around. He really does think so too, and on top of everything else, he’ll have Mrs Hudson as a landlady! He’s already explained his propensity for experimentation to her, so she’s unlikely to evict him the way Mr Matthews had.
“Very nice indeed,” John says, and even his voice seems relaxed and happy.
“Yes,” Sherlock says. “Yes, I think so. My thoughts precisely.” He looks over at his chemistry set. Really should finish setting up soon. He hadn’t had much time this morning.
“Went straight ahead and moved in,” Sherlock says.
“All your things, then?” John asks.
“Yes,” Sherlock says. Then he realises that he probably should have told John that before. And perhaps not left the boxes out in the middle of the common area. He heads over to the boxes and picks up a few things. “Well, obviously I can, uh, straighten things out a bit.”
He sticks a knife into the mantelpiece to hold the letters in place, then belatedly remembers that normal people don’t do that.
Oh, bollocks. This flatmate lark really isn’t for him, and John Watson is going to decide Sherlock’s not for him, and Sherlock will escort him out and thank him and that will be that.
“Does the skull have a name?” John asks instead.
Sherlock glances at it. “Robert,” he says.
“I was really expecting Yorick,” John says. “Too obvious, I suppose.”
“A little, yes,” Sherlock says. “He’s a friend of mine.” Do people say that? “Well, I say friend…”
“What do you think then, Dr Watson?” Mrs Hudson interjects. Sherlock takes off his coat. This isn’t exactly going well. Scarf off too. All for the best, really; John’s bound to be a distraction anyway. “There’s another bedroom upstairs, if you’ll be needing two bedrooms.”
No, it’s not going well at all.
“Two bedrooms would be good, yes,” John says. Sherlock chances a look back at him. Doesn’t seem offended by the implication. Of course, he doesn’t really know Sherlock yet. Then again, he hasn’t yet batted an eye at Sherlock’s abrupt manner, or even at Robert.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Mrs Hudson says. “There’s all sorts here. Mrs Turner next door’s got married ones,” she adds in a confidential whisper.
“Ah,” John says. He couldn’t possibly have missed the implications of what Mrs Hudson had been saying before, could he? “All the same. Always nice to have a space of your own, isn’t it? And I imagine Sherlock will need space to be experimenting and all that.”
Sherlock jerks upright. John’s teasing him. The left side of his lip’s quirked up just a little, and when he sees that Sherlock’s watching, the smile broadens and he winks. Teasing, definitely. But not maliciously. That’s… novel.
“That’s true enough,” Mrs Hudson agrees amiably. “My husband, God rest his soul, he could get a bit difficult at times. I’d pop over to my sister’s when I needed some air, but if we’d had an extra bedroom that would have been lovely. Especially on cold days. Oh, Sherlock, the mess you’ve made!”
Sherlock glances at her. Kitchen, chemistry kit. It’s not really that much of a mess; he hasn’t even unpacked everything. But it’s little bother – Mrs Hudson won’t often be up here anyway. He opens up his laptop and switches it on.
“I looked you up on the internet,” John mentions, leaning casually against the table. Sherlock studies his eyes. Warm and open, no sign of deception. “Found your website.”
“What did you think?” Sherlock asks. Might be interesting to see what this ex-military doctor thinks of his methods. And it is fun to demonstrate his techniques.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible,” John says candidly. “Most people couldn’t manage it. But then, of course, you’re not most people.”
Sherlock considers that. “No,” he says. “I’m not.” He peers at John. “You understand how it works, then?”
“Only theoretically,” John says. “And only in retrospect. I certainly couldn’t do what you do.”
“Oh, it’s simple observation,” Sherlock says. “Anyone could, if only they bothered to look, really look.”
“We look,” John says. “I just don’t think most of us know how to look for the right things. You get straight to that – I don’t think you even see anything irrelevant.”
“Well,” Sherlock says. His entire face feels unaccountably warm. “That’s quite untrue; I see irrelevant things all the time, but thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” John says. “Do you mind me asking – how did you figure out I’d just come back from Afghanistan?”
“Oh, that’s simple,” Sherlock says. “Your –”
“What about these suicides then, Sherlock?” Mrs Hudson interrupts absently, wandering back towards them, scanning the papers. Sherlock glances away, abruptly realising that John’s standing really rather close to him. “Thought that’d be right up your street.” He looks out the window, at the police car pulling up. Ah.
“Three exactly the same,” Mrs Hudson says in a wondering voice.
“Four,” Sherlock says. “There’s been a fourth. And there’s something different this time.”
“Four?” Mrs Hudson asks. Sherlock ignores her. The main door’s just opened and shut, and there are quick footsteps on the stairs. Lestrade heaves into view a moment later, and Sherlock immediately demands answers.
It would have to be Anderson there, of course. Anderson puts him off in the worst way. At least if it was McAlister’s team, he’d be able to concentrate. All idiots, but they’re none quite as bad as Anderson. Always so eager to prove himself, and always so very wrong.
A fourth, though. A fourth suicide, and a note! That’s brilliant. That’s truly, honestly, brilliant. He runs it through in his mind even as he tells Lestrade that he’ll follow him shortly. A note. What could it possibly say?
Lestrade leaves. Sherlock waits until he hears the door shut, then lets the delight bubble over.
“Oh, it’s Christmas!” he exclaims in glee, bouncing over to his coat and shrugging into it. John looks like he’s struggling not to laugh at Sherlock impromptu little bouncy dance. It’s better than some of the reactions he’s gotten before. He tells Mrs Hudson he’ll be back late and to have something cold waiting, barely registers her response, tells John to make himself at home, and dashes into his room. Gloves, he’s got gloves somewhere. A fourth and a note. Not a suicide, of course, none of them have been, but this is the first chance he’s got to really prove it. Poison again, perhaps, be nice to have an opinion of that right away instead of waiting for the –
Oh. Sherlock finds his gloves, tugs one on as he goes back to the living room. Mrs Hudson’s just gone down the stairs, presumably back to her own place.
John’s standing by the window, looking out and strangely… lost.
It’s not an emotion Sherlock has any data for. He files it away to consider later.
“You’re a doctor,” he says, and watches as John’s shoulders straighten. “In fact, you’re an army doctor.”
“Yes,” John says.
“Very good.” John doesn’t sound arrogant in the least. Wonderful trick, that.
“Seen a lot of injuries, then,” Sherlock says consideringly. John tilts his head slightly. Questioning, that’s what that is, surely? An invitation to continue? Even if it isn’t, Sherlock’s taking it. “Violent deaths.”
“Yes,” John admits.
“Bit of trouble too, I’d bet,” Sherlock says.
“Quite a bit,” John says, and for the first time, Sherlock sees outright anguish in John’s eyes. The stark emotion startles him, and so does the speed with which John recovers his equilibrium. “Enough for a lifetime. Enough for two.”
“Want to see some more?” Sherlock asks archly.
“Oh, god, yes,” John says.
John hesitates for a moment before entering the taxi. It’s another oddity which Sherlock can find no reason for. Perhaps it’s something to do with his military career. There must have been a reason for him to have come home, probably related to the arm injury. John does not, from Sherlock’s limited interaction with him, strike him as a man who would have quit voluntarily.
He knows the look John wears.
“So,” John says. “You were going to explain it to me.”
“Explain – oh yes,” Sherlock says, remembering. “Quite straight-forward. Your hair and your bearing tell me you’re military, but your conversation as you entered the room said you’d trained at Barts. So, army doctor. Your face is tanned.” Sherlock reaches out and takes John’s hand, pushing back his sleeve a little. There are patches of toughened skin on John’s palm and fingers. He was right; they’re calloused, and the pattern is quite suggestive. “But there’s no tan beyond the wrist. You’ve been abroad, but not sunbathing. You instinctively favour your left hand, and use it for less strenuous tasks, but there’s a stiffness about the arm that makes you turn to the right hand for anything requiring more muscle. You’re capable with the right, but it’s not yet instinct to use it, so the injury to your left arm is only a few months old at most. Your gun callouses haven’t faded, and you’re still house-hunting, so you’ve clearly only recently left the army. Army doctor, a recent injury, and then leaving the army? Wounded in action, then. Suntan, wounded in action – Afghanistan or Iraq.”
“Well,” John says after a moment. “I have to say, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Sherlock frowns. “You did ask.”
“I know,” John says. “Oh, that’s not what I meant. Anything else you can tell about me?”
Sherlock gives him a wary look. “Most people don’t want to know.”
“I’m asking,” John presses. “I won’t be bothered. Go on, then. Surely there’s more you can tell about me.”
“You have a brother you don’t get along with,” Sherlock says. “Probably either because he’s an alcoholic, or because he’s walked out on his wife.”
“And your reasons for that?” John asks, and so Sherlock explains everything he’d seen in John’s phone. There’s a brief silence once he’s done. Sherlock forces himself not to fidget.
“That,” John finally says, “was amazing.”
Ah. Not quite the response he’d expected.
“You think so?” he asks.
“Yes, of course,” John says. “Extraordinary, it was quite – extraordinary.”
John’s looking straight at him. Sherlock feels that damnable warmth slowly flooding his face again. “That’s not what people normally say,” he comments as casually as possible. Then he realises he’s still holding John’s hand, and drops it hurriedly.
“What do people normally say?” John asks as if nothing had happened.
Sherlock doesn’t need to think about it; he’s heard it far too often. “Piss off.”
John huffs out a breath of laughter, and Sherlock can’t help but smile.
As it turns out, Harry Watson is John’s sister, not brother. Sherlock’s still a little annoyed when they get to the police tape and are greeted by Sally Donovan’s dulcet tones. She does seem to think that “Freak” is an acceptable substitute for his name. She’s the only one Sherlock knows who uses the word as an actual noun.
Yesterday, he’d been careless with Molly and hurt her. Today, he knows exactly what he’s doing, and the stunned, horrified look on Donovan’s face is exactly what he’d been hoping for. He crooks a little smile at her and proceeds into the building, a quiet John on his heels.
Quiet. Oh, bother. John’s probably the sort to think that one shouldn’t air other people’s dirty laundry in public. He does seem a rather staid, morally upright sort.
Well, no matter. He should know what he’s getting himself into. Really, what’s important is the possible note.
Lestrade decides to question John’s presence as well, and Sherlock’s probably a little too snippy with him. At least Lestrade knows not to push him any further. There’s a reason why he prefers working with this particular DI, over anyone else in the Yard. He grabs some latex gloves for himself and waits while John gets suited up.
The body’s upstairs. Five letters are scratched into the floor.
It is beautiful.
When he’s done inspecting her, Sherlock points John to the body and asks for his thoughts. John’s thoughts, apparently, are that the victim asphyxiated. No, no, no, it’s poison, same as the others, but before Sherlock can say that, John points out the vomit pooled in her mouth.
“Choked on it,” he says. “Can’t tell what killed her first, honestly. Suffocated by her own vomit, or the poison itself.” He looks up at Sherlock. “You do think it’s poison, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Sherlock breathes. “Yes, it is.”
“Two minutes, I said,” Lestrade interrupts impatiently.
He wants answers; Sherlock gives them to him. He doesn’t understand, of course, so Sherlock explains them, each tedious little step at a time. Somehow, it’s far less annoying when it’s John he’s talking to. The obvious appreciation might have something to do with it. Even Lestrade’s always been more concerned with just getting the facts. There have been very few people in Sherlock’s life who have thought the speed and shape of his thoughts were something to be admired.
John does. There are things Sherlock does not understand about John, but this much is obvious.
Also obvious is that the victim had a suitcase. A suitcase which is now missing. A suitcase that couldn’t have been removed by anyone else but the murderer. He’s barely paying attention to what he says as he flies down the stairs, pausing sporadically to respond to Lestrade’s shouted questions.
And, miraculously, it’s John’s question that shoves his mind in the right direction. Of course she never got into the hotel, he’d known that from the moment he saw her, but explaining that to John, that had made him realise that of course, of course, a woman with that much fondness for that terrible shade of pink would have had a pink case, and there’s little that’s more attention-grabbing than a pink case. He’d been thinking it might be a female killer – statistically probable, given the choice of murder weapon. But no, a female killer wouldn’t have worried about being caught with a pink case. Chances are that it’s a male, then, despite the use of poison, and people tend to notice men with bright pink suitcases. He’ll be able to confirm that if he can find the case. A mistake, at last, and John’s innocent question had opened up new possibilities much sooner than they would have otherwise occurred to him.
He shouts something up at Lestrade, he’s not sure what, and then he’s out in the cold night air. There’s only so far that case could have gotten, and he’s determined to find it.
Oh, he’s positively in love; this is downright gorgeous.
Chapter One - Part Two