Two quick notes (super-vague spoilers in the second note for the 2010 run of Sherlock), and then a fic.
NOTE ONE - as some of you may know, my darling girl_wonder is embarking on a very cool new job that will take her far, far away. fry, chiclet, please consider this little story to be my bon voyage and I know you'll kick ass gift to you (especially since I couldn't get it together to write you a birthday story this year). I hope you like it.
NOTE TWO - I've been wanting to write Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes fic for some time, and I actually have too many narratives swirling around in my head to pick one and commit. Then along came the modernized BBC version. I enjoyed "A Study in Pink" and adored Watson and Lestrade but thought Sherlock was utterly charmless. Then there was "The Blind Banker," an episode that, were it not for the STRIPEY SWEATER, would have been a complete waste of time for me. Oh, but then there was "The Great Game," and Sherlock made me eat my words, first by correcting a potential client's grammar, then by pitching a fit worthy of a five-year-old, and finally by just barely starting to understand what John meant to him.
So, this story takes place in the gap between TBB and TGG (and breaks up Sarah and John before the events of TGG). It's Sherlock, just on the cusp of figuring out what's going on in his relationship to John. So, gen-ish, not quite pre-slash, even. The lovely oxoniensis did wonderful work betaing and Britpicking this for me. 2443 words.
Harry Watson - irritatingly still just a name to him - had to be, Sherlock reflected, the cleverest woman in London. Being John's sister, the odds were that she'd be of above-average intelligence; being so intimately bound up with him (Sherlock understood that the distance he and Mycroft had cultivated was not quite usual), of course she'd know him better than most other women, who seemed to be in John's life in a mostly hit-or-miss capacity. Still, for her to have synthesized all of her hard-won knowledge and recognized that whatever fond memories she might have of her brother running around in a nappy and shrieking pre-verbally, he was in actuality a man of formidable courage, decidedly moral character, and rather handy marksmanship, was more than most siblings managed.
He knew she'd done it because she'd come up with the perfect disguise for all of it. That soft striped jumper, not much thicker than a singlet, made John look young and untried, like prey instead of predator. That it was Harry's purchase and not John's was apparent, given that John's own sartorial choices seemed limited to jumpers in unattractive shades of oatmeal and collared shirts in unflattering patterns. It clung too familiarly to John's frame to be new, but it didn't bear the markings of having been worn thin; it was evidently what John chose to wallow around in after upsetting news. It was what he wore after Sarah, in a display of logic that Sherlock considered to be frankly the most attractive thing about her, reasoned her way into breaking up with him - John liked danger (or at least the kind of danger offered by Sherlock's cases), John would find a way to get in the middle of it, anyone hanging around with John even for non-case-related and therefore stupid purposes would also get caught up in it. (He'd read a little about astronomy since John published that blasted blog post "A Study in Pink," and he could construct a metaphor about comets' tails following inevitably where the heads led, but it struck him as unnecessary.) Exit Sarah.
And enter the striped jumper. For god's sake, the man even had the cuffs pulled down over his hands, like he was a child about to set foot for the first time in the big scary world of kindergarten, wanting desperately to clutch at Mummy's skirt hem. He contemplated saying something to John, who was morosely breaking up the Weetabix drowning in his bowl, then stopped and considered. As disguises went, this one was bloody effective. Perhaps he ought to take notes.
There was a note stuck to the top of the toilet. He was willing to admit that the placement was rather clever, but as always, the content - Gone to the library. Back with dinner. - was unnecessary. It made no difference to him whether dinner was fetched or not, and surely even Anderson could deduce that a man with his arms full of plastic-wrapped books had been at the library. And yet John persisted in leaving these notes.
Sherlock knew quite well that John's favourite destination these days, now that he no longer submitted to the twin tyrannies of his mind and his cane, was the library; he liked the sense of choice engendered in him by standing in front of one of the vast shelves of hardcovers. And it was free entertainment - for a doctor living in shared digs on a very modest army pension, that was no small consideration.
Though how the books John typically brought back could be classed as "entertainment" was unclear. Nothing useful like a physics text or a medical journal, of course, appeared in a pile at Baker Street, but Sherlock had not expected the bar to be set so very low. The book on the top of the last stack had been something called Watership Down and it was apparently about rabbits. Who spoke English. Honestly. Reading it had given John's face a look like the one he assumed when he wore that striped jumper.
It made Sherlock wonder just what John would bring home next.
What John brought home was a bag full of Indian takeaway. Also a radiant face and a girl six inches shorter than he was, and dark-eyed and fine-boned into the bargain.
"Sherlock!" John called, without even bothering to look around and observe that his flatmate was curled in one of the dingy club chairs, legs over one overstuffed arm, eyes cracked open just enough for sight. "Come and meet," John started to bellow, then dropped back into a conversational pitch for the girl following him through the clutter like a stray puppy, "You'll get a kick out of him. Wait, hang on, sorry, please sit, and I'll fetch plates and glasses. I think we've still got some red wine."
Sitting up, dignity intact, was the way to handle the female's intrusion. She was small and dark and prettier than Molly, though with that same longing look in her eyes. Sherlock suppressed a sigh with difficulty; he had done nothing to deserve this.
"Ah, you're awake after all," John said, apparently trying to fill his quota of crushingly obvious statements for the day. He set the bag of food and some plates and cutlery and glasses on the coffee table, then seated himself beside her on the rather cramped sofa, smiling at her all the while.
Sherlock prickled with irritation at this empirical proof that John's grin was just as disarming even when he wasn't the intended recipient. He waved a hand to hurry John along, and John, busily forking the food out onto the plates, caught the movement out of the corner of his eye.
"Yes, sorry - Nick, this is my flatmate, Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, this is Nicola Murray." Sherlock allowed himself a moment of eyes-closed frustration at this second outcropping of what was surely the latest plague, the women in John Watson's life disguising themselves with masculine nicknames. He'd heard John mention "Nick" before, had even read from John's face that the man was toying with a dreadful pun about the faithful orderly nicking John from Death (the capital D was implied by the depth of the lines on John's forehead). He abhorred puns. And that he hadn't known that Nick was female.
Sherlock took one look at the shy smile Nick was aiming at John and realized the nickname was not a pun, but an omen. From the top of her dark head (the elfin haircut, he deduced, was less about style and more about a disinclination to bother with unnecessary grooming, but it worked with her bone structure) to the tips of her boots (close to army regulation, surely chosen for the comfort of familiarity as much as for shock absorption), she was yearning for John, looking to nick him from Sherlock.
She was hardly a worthy opponent, Sherlock thought, clasping the hand she stretched out toward him, but he was in no mood to be merciful. "If you spend hours nursing a mango lassi at Passage to India, surely your cat must get lonely in your cramped little bedsit?" he asked, dropping her hand and rising. "John, I believe you mentioned the last of our red wine?" he called from the kitchen, shooting a glance at her, observing colour drift up her cheeks. "Here we are," he said genially as he returned, brandishing the bottle he'd stashed in a cupboard.
He tried to hand the bottle off to John, but the man had his arms folded across his chest, a rather pink face, and a glare that would rattle even Sally Donovan. Abruptly, just as John reached out to wrap an arm around Nick's shoulders, Sherlock remembered that John believed that the girl had saved his life, seeing in him some last flicker of life that all the rest of the rescue squad had missed, and insisting that he be culled from all the bodies lying sprawled on the dusty desert ground, picked up and brought back to hospital. "Sorry," he gritted out, as much to John as to her, watching as one of John's eyebrows lifted in incredulity. "I've not slept well. Would you like some wine?"
There. John knew to the minute how little he slept and would be satisfied with the novelty of the apology. But the girl - he could hardly believe she'd once been a soldier, so slight and insubstantial she looked in that oversized knee-length jumper - apparently believed him to be perfectly sincere, and she smiled politely and accepted scarcely a quarter of a glass of cheap merlot.
He ignored the korma and garlic naan on his plate in favour of examining her minutely, using his own wineglass to deflect John's mightily disapproving looks. From the trembling of her hands and the steadfastly desperate way her eyes tracked John's every movement, he deduced that she was the patient of John's idiotic therapist's dreams - a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Lived alone - orphan - with a long-haired, aged cat in what was once an older sibling's - sister's - starter flat (abandoned when the sister married). Enlisted as a way to pay for the last few years of medical school. Dreams of becoming a doctor abandoned after serving as an orderly proved that she hadn't the stomach for it, though her mind was sharp enough - did well in the theoreticals but flunked the practicals. Had always carried a bit of a torch for John. Had been genuinely surprised to run into him at Passage to India, but had convinced herself that it was a sign from some higher power that apparently had nothing more pressing than her love life to worry over. She was as easy to read as one of Anderson's autopsy reports, sparse on detail or anything remotely useful. Satisfied, Sherlock took a bite of still-warm naan.
Her voice, when she finally spoke, was lovely, warm and low and with a lilting Highlands accent that John looked charmed by. She asked after Harry in vague terms - "your elder sister, you'd just gone to her wedding, I think" - that let Sherlock know she'd never met Harry either. And trust John to have remembered not only her elder sister's name, but that of her bloody cat as well. With each proof of John's attention, Nick lost a bit more of her diffidence, inching toward John with all the speed of drifting tectonic plates. Sherlock rolled his eyes and picked his naan apart into tiny hexagons, letting his attention wander to the contemplation of what fresh corpses might be awaiting him at Bart's. "Fifteen minutes, John?" he asked, politely waiting for a pause in their quiet conversation.
They shot twin startled looks his way. "Actually," John said, a smile curling just the left corner of his mouth, "I was going to walk Nick home."
Nick blushed so furiously that Sherlock found her medically interesting, but before he could communicate that, she'd said, "Yes, please," and pulled on her coat, which was shedding cat hair all over the sofa. John fetched his own jacket and they left the flat, evidently stopping for a chat with Mrs. Hudson, going by the length of time it took for them to appear on the street. Sherlock frowned as they set out at a leisurely pace and sent a text. Put her in a taxi. Bart's in fifteen minutes. SH.
He watched John frown as he read the text, look up at him through the window, and shake his head. Plenty of cabs at the next corner. SH.
No was the only response he received from John. Then his phone beeped again, and he snatched it up, only to see a message from Mycroft's abominable assistant. Even her conversation would be preferable to Nick's.
John returned an hour later, looking curiously well-rested despite the chill in the air pinking his cheeks and ears. "Well?" Sherlock drawled, dragging his bow gently across the E string, the violin braced against his thigh. "Is she as scintillating in the fresh air as she was in our flat?"
"Don't be an ass," John returned steadily, hanging his jacket on its hook.
"I am merely trying to gauge how many cases I should take on in the coming weeks. As you know, my level of boredom influences the matter a great deal, and Nick's presence or absence will in large part determine that." He swung the violin up to its proper position, ready to begin the Mahler sonata, when John stepped within the bow's range.
"I'm planning to have Nick round quite often," John said, issuing it like a challenge. "She's a lovely girl, like a kid sister to me, and she saved my life." John smiled, a sharp, belligerent expression, and Sherlock cocked his head, trying to see how John had suddenly peeled off the layers of gentility he usually insisted upon. "If you don't feel up to being decent to my friend when she's around, take your friend - that blasted skull - and talk to it in your room." Then he turned on his heel and marched up the stairs to his room, leaving the dirty dishes and empty takeaway containers still on the coffee table.
Sherlock waited until the footfalls ceased, then smiled. Nick would find excuses not to come round as soon as she realized John's fraternal feelings. He didn't feel like Mahler anymore; he lifted his bow, and began his attack on a Scarlatti sonata in earnest.
Tea, a picnic in the park, and a proper lunch in a café later (Sherlock only had to be present at the tea), and John broke out the striped jumper. "Nick gone back to Scotland?" Sherlock asked as he bundled together the crime-scene photos Lestrade had discreetly left for his perusal.
"How -" John cut himself off. "Yes." He looked more than ever like a newly hatched fledgling in that ridiculous jumper. "Did you solve it?" he asked, nodding at the photos.
"Of course," Sherlock said, pleased to see John's face light up with wonder and pride. "Let's go and let Lestrade in on it, shall we?"
John looked down at himself, suddenly self-conscious. "Let me just change first, yeah?"
"As you wish," Sherlock murmured, wondering why he felt a surge of triumph that no one else got to see John in his ridiculous sheep's clothing. When John emerged from his room two minutes later in a jumper of such exceptional ugliness that it clearly belonged with the rest of his wardrobe, Sherlock smiled, stepped out of the flat, and hailed a cab.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.