It Starts Happening
"If things start happening, don't worry, don't stew, just go right along and you'll start happening too." - Dr Seuss
On the small screen of his datalet, Mycroft watched his personal assistant (Theresa this month) lead Doctor John H Watson through the corridors of his office floor. Seated across from him, Sherlock was scribbling furiously on his datalet, plotting out a number of scientific experiments that he would be able to perform with Watson as their subject. A beautiful royal blue china tea service sat between them on a silver platter, and a silver three-tiered server held an assortment of small sandwiches, scones, and fruit.
Watson had obviously put forth some sort of effort for the interview; he was wearing a tasteful, if bland, two-piece, chocolate-brown, tweed suit with a similarly coloured tie and a khaki shirt. It wasn't a brand new suit, and it had obviously never been tailored, but it had definitely not seen much wear. He might have looked a bit dapper even, if the colour scheme had been more flattering and he had looked less like a sergeant from World War II stepping out of the history pages.
Theresa directed him to a chair outside and entered the office alone. Her nude, high-heeled pumps thumping authoritatively on the carpet. Mycroft looked up at her, but Sherlock did not. "Doctor Watson is outside, Sir. Shall I send him in now or would you like to wait a few minutes?"
"Send him in," Sherlock murmured, tapping a few more times on his screen. "We're wasting valuable time that I could be using to prepare more experiments."
"For the last time, Sherlock," Mycroft poured himself a cup of tea and rubbed his temple as he stirred sugar into it. "We are hiring him as your protector, your bodyguard, and also your battlefield medic, if necessary. We will assess his abilities with those skills in mind, not his potential as a subject for experimentation. Besides, there is still the ingenuity test to consider."
"Don't be ridiculous, Mycroft. You and I both know we are going to hire him." Sherlock didn't even bother looking up from his screen. "That test has no real-world value as it is; you just like watching people scurry about in a controlled environment."
Sucking a deep breath in through his nose and letting it out through his teeth with a quiet huff, Mycroft glanced almost pleadingly at his assistant. Theresa's pink-stained lips twitched in a very unsympathetic smirk before she closed the door and went to fetch Dr Watson. She returned in moments, and both Mycroft and Sherlock could hear her almost sarcastic stage whisper of 'good luck' as the doctor strode into the room.
Both Holmes brothers watched through their lashes as Doctor Watson approached the desk, his steps as precise as a military march. The doctor stood quietly and brought his arms around his back to clasp his right fist in his left hand. The stance reminded Sherlock of the at-ease position he'd seen many of Mycroft's guards and soldiers take up.
Mycroft gave an idle tap to his datalet screen, as if he were closing a program, before looking up at the subject of their interview. Sherlock had to fight his reaction to roll his eyes at his elder brother's dramatics. Watson just tilted his head very slightly to one side and waited.
"Good afternoon, Doctor Watson. Please have a seat." Mycroft gestured to the empty chair beside Sherlock. As the doctor sat, his back and shoulders set perfectly straight, Sherlock cast his eyes over him. Mycroft drew the third tea cup towards him and asked, "Do you take sugar and milk?""Yes, Sir. Just one sugar is fine."
The cup was passed over, perfectly prepared, and Sherlock noted that John accepted and sipped from it left-handed. The brothers allowed him a few moments of quiet in which to fortify himself with tea. After a few swallows, Dr Watson placed his cup and saucer carefully onto the desk – it didn't even rattle. If he was nervous, it wasn't showing.
"I am Mycroft Holmes, Head of Defence for England's Homefront and the Military of the Afro-European Coalition. I understand that you are already, albeit briefly, acquainted with my brother, Sherlock?" Mycroft indicated Sherlock with a fluid wave of his hand. Watson nodded, but stayed quiet, his expression indicating mild interest. Mycroft continued, "Very well. You understand that you are here as an applicant for the post of Guardian for my brother?"
"If you'll forgive me," Watson's voice was courteous and apologetic, "what exactly does this post entail?"
Sherlock closed his eyes as his brother raised an elegant eyebrow disdainfully. Mycroft lifted his datalet dramatically and brought the screen back to life, pulling up his notes from the psychological report. "My brother occupies a position of our own design, wherein he is free to follow his own pursuits under the guise of consulting with the Homefront Provosts. Occasionally he also performs tasks for me, but such times are few and far between. As both of these undertakings usually involve threats to his physical well-being, I created the post of Guardian to act as his personal bodyguard. As his Guardian, you would take up lodgings within my brother's flat, and attempt to keep him safe from the various threats to his health and well-being that occur with alarming frequency during his daily life. Even when he is not on a case with the Provosts, there are still very real criminal threats to his person. You may also be required to act as a field medic depending on the situation. Finally, you would be responsible for typing up a weekly report and a case-length report of Sherlock's activities."
Watson glanced over at Sherlock, who seemed to be trying to stab his brother to death with his eyes. The younger Holmes noticed him looking and turned a questioning glance at the doctor. The left corner of Watson's mouth twitched and he stated, bluntly, "Basically I'd be your medical- and military-trained babysitter?"
Sherlock bristled. "You would be an extra pair of fists, if anything. I am fully capable of handling the so-called 'threats' from the inelegant class of petty criminals that London has to offer. Even the higher class of threats, though tedious, present little problem for me." He cast a moue of distaste at his elder brother. "As for the reports, that's just Mycroft being his usual controlling self."
"Sherlock," Mycroft snapped sharply, letting his datalet fall flat in his hand. His younger brother glared at him again. "We are on a schedule. If we could please continue the interview?" Sherlock made a flippant gesture with his expressive hands and sank back in his seat. Turning his attention back to the doctor, Mycroft lifted his datalet again. "Now then, your Curriculum Vitae is moderately impressive. You have a number honours to your name – courage, valour – and of course your marksmanship rating, which I find very agreeable. Your former superiors recommend you highly, and with a great deal of respect."
When Watson spoke no further, Mycroft tapped the corner of his datalet, "Your psychological profile mentions trust issues. Also post-traumatic stress disorder and a psychosomatic limp caused by your injuries."
"It's good to know someone's been talking to my therapist." Watson shifted his shoulders a bit and tilted his chin down as his mouth thinned in an expression of discomfort.
"Mycroft, you know as well as I do those last two conclusions are fallacious." Sherlock leaned forward in his seat, fixing the doctor with an intelligent stare. "What is your opinion of the violin?"
Both Dr Watson's and Mycroft's brows came together in confusion. Watson leaned a bit forward and asked, "I'm sorry, what?"
"The violin. I play sometimes when I'm thinking, and there are times where I do not speak for days on end. Would that bother you?"
Watson leaned a bit back in his chair, a look of puzzlement wrinkling his forehead. "Okay, now I'm confused."
"As am I," Mycroft said sharply, turning to face his brother. "I thought we were interviewing him for the position of Guardian and not for his personal opinion of you?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Mycroft. We both know he's the most qualified for the job, you've seen the marksmanship and the fitness scores as well as I have, and he has the added benefit of being scientifically interesting." Sherlock turned back to Dr Watson with a sham of a smile. "This interview is just a formality really, Mycroft enjoys keeping people in the dark until the very last moment, like every proper villain does."
"Sherlock," Mycroft snapped again. "We both agreed to see all of the candidates in personal interviews before we made our final decision. There is also the final examination to consider."
"No, you stated the idea as a fact without any sign of deference to, or questioning of, myself. Also, your ridiculous 'ingenuity test' is utterly unnecessary."
Watson cleared his throat loudly. An amused smirk had lit his face. "Should I just go?"
"No, indeed, Doctor Watson." Mycroft stated with a degree of finality. "I have a few questions which," Sherlock cut him off by putting a scone onto his datalet screen.
"Eat that, Mycroft, you're much more genial when you have a pastry or two in you. Now, Doctor, in regards to your marksmanship rating, how well can you see, exactly? What magnification is your maximum?"
"This is not the time for biologic inquiries, Sherlock!"
"It's all right, Mr Holmes," the doctor inclined his head in Mycroft's direction. Mycroft subsided, his brow wrinkling in concern as Watson turned to face Sherlock again. Sherlock's brows rose in eagerness. Dr Watson's mouth curved up slightly in one corner and his eyes narrowed in an expression of sarcastic disapproval. "I can see very well, Mr Holmes. As to the magnification, you could easily read that in my file, which I'm sure you've already done. I'm not in the habit of answering personal questions like that myself."
"Your biology isn't personal," Sherlock stated as his eyes narrowed shrewdly. "It's a matter of public record. I simply wish to ascertain your first-hand knowledge. If I wished to speak of personal matters I would enquire if you disapprove of your brother because of his drinking habits or because he recently left his wife."
Watson shifted uneasily in his chair, his expression morphing from smirking sarcasm to confused concern. "What?"
Mycroft leaned back in his chair and brought a hand to his face to rub slow circles into the tense muscle at his temple, mentally throwing up his arms in vexation. He knew the look in his younger brother's eyes, and it boded very ill for the soldier. For once, he hoped his younger brother would simply act suitably mysterious and remain silent.
That last glimmer of hope died away as Sherlock opened his unstoppable, unfiltered mouth. "Your datalet, which you graciously allowed me to use when my last Guardian finally pissed off, told me all I needed to know. Let's start with the inscription, shall we? Three x's means three kisses, so obviously it was given to 'Harry' by 'Clara' as a gift of the romantic persuasion. They must have divorced recently considering it's a model from last year and relatively unused. and seeing as Harry has given it to you. If she had broken it off he would have kept it, people are sentimental like that, so obviously he left her. Now, perhaps I should mention the scuff marks around the power connection? You never see those kind of scratches on a sober man's datalet, and you never see a drunk's without them – it's caused by his hand shaking whenever he goes to plug it in at night. You're a moral man, judging by your CV and psychological profile, so you would of course find objection to both your brother's drinking and the divorce."
Mycroft opened his eyes and gave an almost pleading look at his brother, who was studying the doctor over his clasped hands with his elbows resting on the arms of his chair. Watson blinked twice, then looked down at the pocket in which the datalet in question rested, then looked back up at Sherlock again, his forehead wrinkled in a way that might have indicated concern. Both Holmes brothers momentarily held their breath.
Watson licked his lips, one hand raising up to point a finger at the ceiling in a gesture that called to mind their father telling them both to wait. "That," he paused, pointing at Sherlock with each word, "was extraordinary."
Mycroft and Sherlock stared at the doctor for a moment, blinking, and then glanced at each other. Mycroft's face displayed a modicum of concern and a hint of confusion. Sherlock looked somewhat unsettled. At the same time, they turned to look at the doctor again and uttered, "What?"
"It was amazing. I mean, seriously, no one told you about Harry's drinking habits?"
"No," Sherlock swallowed suddenly. "There's no mention of your family except on your birth certificate and a small bit in the beginning of your CV – no names or anything.
"Jesus," Watson sat back heavily in his chair.
Mycroft quietly cast his gaze between the two men now staring at one another. Silence fell heavily in the room, and the elder Holmes cast a sidelong glance at his younger brother. He could count on perhaps one hand all the times Sherlock had ever been truly struck speechless before, but he never stayed that way for long. He held his breath when Sherlock softly cleared his throat.
Sherlock ventured, "You know, 'extraordinary' isn't what people usually say."
"What do they say?" John asked.
A nervous, blank sort of expression appeared on Sherlock's face, "Piss off."
Shock was not a strong enough word to describe the way Mycroft felt when Doctor John Watson out-and-out grinned, and Sherlock's response to said expression was an honest, shy smirk. Doctor Watson rose out of his seat and fixed his gaze on the elder Holmes brother, "There are worse jobs out there, I guess."
Both brothers looked completely taken aback. Mycroft managed to pull himself together, in the name of decorum at least, though inside he was nearly shaking with hope. No one had ever taken Sherlock's brash deductions in such stride before. He fought not to sound eager as he asked, "You can start tomorrow if that is convenient? I shall have Theresa text you the address of your new lodgings tonight."
With a nod, John reached out a hand to Sherlock, who stared at the offered appendage in confusion before shaking it firmly. The Holmes men stared at the soldier's back as he walked to the office door. Theresa came up into the doorway just as it was opened, and Watson paused in the doorway, drumming his fingers on the edge of the portal before casting a glance back at Sherlock over his shoulder.
"By the way," the doctor's voice was quietly amused, "Just so you know? Harry's a nickname."
"Of course it's a nickname," Sherlock said, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"It's short for Harriet."
Sherlock dropped his datalet onto his brother's desk with a 'thump'. His baritone voice was almost breathless, "She's your sister?"
Watson strode out the door, "See you tomorrow."
The door shut, thankfully, before Mycroft turned to fully take in the completely stunned look on his brother's face. It wouldn't do to have the rest of the office see their boss laughing as if all his Christmases had just come early. Sherlock was too busy mumbling angrily to himself to register the sound.
The concrete streets of London passed beneath Sherlock's feet without any notice from the man himself, too lost in thought as he was over the puzzle that was Doctor John H Watson. He wasn't even sure if one of Mycroft's drivers had taken him back to his flat, or if he had summoned a taxi and ridden in it to his destination. The next thing he knew he was standing inside the font door of his building staring at the stairwell.
People did not react favourably to his deductions. Not ever. Yet Dr Watson had, twice now, stared at him in honest incredulity without a hint of malice or anger, even at the mention of such an unsavoury topic as his sister's alcoholism. The doctor hadn't even insulted him, even when correcting a minor mistake (and how he did despise mistakes). Sherlock was so used to being faced with anger, rage, or smug disapproval that, when faced with acceptance, he was utterly lost.
"Welcome back, Sherlock dear." His landlady, Mrs Hudson, had appeared in the doorway of her own flat on the right of the hall, with a falsely cheery smile. She held a dish towel in her wrinkled hands and was twisting it anxiously. "How did it go?"
"I have a new Guardian. He will be arriving tomorrow."
She looked surprised and gripped the towel close to her stomach. "So soon? Didn't you have another test for him to go through?"
Sherlock snorted derisively, "Mycroft's insipid ingenuity test. It's just another excuse to watch a group of people escape a controlled environment. We're disregarding it completely."
Mrs Hudson frowned at him as he walked almost hesitantly towards the stairs. "Are you sure you're all right dear? You seem a bit," she wiggled her hand a bit back and forth, "distracted?"
Setting one foot on the bottom stair, he rested his hands on both banisters. "I deduced that he didn't like the fact that his sister drank heavily and had also walked out on her lover."
His sidelong glance showed him the soft look of commiseration that had taken up almost permanent residence on her face whenever he mentioned that he had deduced someone. She tilted her chin towards the floor as she said, "Oh Sherlock, what did he say?"
"He said," he swallowed and his voice sounded confused, "he said it was extraordinary."
Her gasp of surprise chased him up the stairs and into his chaotic flat. Really, he couldn't blame her. He was pretty sure he was surprised himself.
People did not answer his deductions with compliments. They did not correct any of his intuitive leaps offhandedly without sneering at him, nor did many of them refrain from physical retaliations depending on the emotional ramifications of his revelations. No one corrected him without throwing his mistakes in his face. And they most certainly did not do all of those things more than once.
"Sister," he mumbled to himself. "It's always something."
He glanced around at the scientific detritus that littered the flat as he tossed his suit coat over the arm of the couch. Papers littered the coffee table, and some of the floor near the couch, and several books were scattered haphazardly over the same area. There was a pile of books precariously perched on one end table, and a stack of case files on the square dining table he used as a desk. Sheet music littered the same corner of the room as the dust-disaster of a shelf with it's disorganized books and knick-knacks. The hearth mantle sported a skull, a short pile of mail impaled by a thick, short jack-knife, and several souvenirs from some of his more interesting solved cases. Every available space was littered with evidence or notes or maps, papers and books and files, until even the original architect would have had trouble telling the actual dimensions of the flat.
Striding forward, he took in the state of the kitchen as well. An entire chemical laboratory set up covered the dining table that served as an island in the kitchen. The microwave sat all by it's lonesome against one wall on its own little table, and the counter space was taken over by a toaster oven, a regular toaster, a coffee maker, an electric kettle, a spice rack, a slow cooker, and every place that might have been open space had either a box or a beaker or flask sitting in it. The refrigerator looked completely innocent, but Sherlock knew the interior boasted no less than two pieces of human anatomy, and four dead rats, at various stages of decomposition or preservation.
Very briefly he wondered if he should attempt to clean the place up. Doctor Watson was a military and medical man, after all, and was thus (probably) excessively tidy. He shook that idea away; he only needed the man to satisfy his intellectual curiosity after all. The man didn't need to be comfortable, and if Sherlock made the place inhospitable enough to annoy him then one day he could push the doctor to the brink and make him quit. The perfect plan, and then all he would have to do is devise a way to make sure another 'guardian' wasn't foisted upon him.
That settled it; the first task, as far as he was concerned, was to learn every possible limit of his new bodyguard's abilities. The second, was to make the man feel just unwelcome and uncomfortable to get the man to quit. His last task was to make sure that Mycroft got rid of the damn Guardian position and stopped bothering him.
There wasn't much he could do about the experiments besides go over his plans. Doctor Watson wouldn't be at the flat until the following day. He could start on the 'make him uncomfortable/unwelcome' part of the plan though. Lifting up his datalet again, Sherlock swiftly selected a call number and listened to it dial.
"Molly, I'm going to need you to put two pairs of lungs, ten fingers, a foot, and three livers in a cooler; and if you could find a severed head as well I'd be grateful." On the other end of the line Doctor Molly Hooper, the Medical Examiner for the Homefront Provosts, squeaked in surprise and stuttered something about protocols. Sherlock ignored her protests, "I'll be by in an hour to pick them up."
Ringing off, he set about making the biggest scientific mess he could manage with relish. His datalet read out his experiment ideas in a flatter version of his own voice – a text-to-speech engine of his own design that he could update frequently with the correct pronunciations of various scientific terms that most computer voices completely mangled. As he readied a number of various chemicals to boil, and tugged out a plethora of mix-matched containers and lids, footsteps on the stairs called a sliver of his attention.
[Kitten heels, slight hitch in the gate – favouring a leg, the left. Mrs Hudson?]
"Hoo-hoo!" Mrs Hudson's face appeared in the doorway leading from the kitchen to the landing as she knocked a fist against the jamb. "Thought I might pop up and see if you wanted me to get the second bedroom prepared? Or is he going to be camping out in the living room like the last one?"
"No need, Mrs Hudson," Sherlock waved vaguely at the stairs. "I'm quite sure he can handle it on his own. Unless of course he wants to kip on the sofa."
Cringing at the tone of her voice, Sherlock turned to see the shocked and dismayed look on his landlady's face as she took in the state of the apartment. She disappeared into the living room and he could hear her skirt rustling as she walked around. She reappeared in the opening of the sliding glass partition that separated the living room from the kitchen.
An extremely cross frown had taken over her usually cheery countenance. "The mess you've made! I mean, really?"
"Don't worry, Mrs Hudson, it's all part of the plan!"
"Which plan would that be, young man, the plan to break your neck in the middle of the night tripping over Lord-knows-what?"
"Don't be silly, I know where everything is!" A glint of silver caught his eye from among the dishes in the sink and he reached in a hand. Pulling free a pair of beaker tongs he smiled. "I've been looking for these."
Out of the corner of his eyes, Mrs Hudson threw up her hands and turned to the floor, shuffling a few papers up and placing them on the coffee table. "You're going to make a horrible impression on your nice new Guardian. You'll undo his being impressed after being on the other end of your deductions."
"He's a recently returned combat veteran, a Navy doctor. I doubt a few papers and some books strewn about are going to bother him." Sherlock strode into the living room and removed the books she had just lifted up from the floor and dropped them back down. "If you insist on doing something to make him feel at home, I will not stop you. In the meantime, I will be down here preparing some new experiments."
She graced him with a very sour look, complete with her hands fisted at her hips and her chin set in a pugnacious pout. An arthritic finger poked him in the chest, "You'd best have this mess cleaned up by the time he arrives tomorrow or I will be very cross with you. Honestly, you don't even know him yet!"
"I don't need to know him," Sherlock stated primly. "I've already deduced that he is a friendly, boring, poor individual with atrocious taste in clothing that recently returned from conflict in Afghanistan with a shoulder injury. He's also a combat medic and an exceptional marksman, and he's distastefully American though he tries to hide his accent." His nose scrunched up as if a foul smell had drifted up his nostrils. "It's still noticeable. If he weren't military trained, I doubt I'd give him a second glance. He's also genetically enhanced, instead of with cybernetics, which is intriguing enough to warrant his sticking around just long enough for me to exhaust my already long list of experiment ideas before pushing him to leave."
Mrs Hudson's brow contracted and she peered up at him. Sighing in defeat, she moved towards the stairs up to the second bedroom of the flat. Three steps later, she turned around to him, shaking her head at his sham of an encouraging smile. Tutting, she softly stated, "He also complimented you. That doesn't happen often, dear."
The smile disappeared from his face like water sponge-wiped from a granite counter. "No," he whispered to himself, "it does not."
Doctor John H Watson arrived at 221B Baker Street at nine o'clock sharp with a heavyweight sea bag, a back pack, two medium-size cardboard boxes, and no fan fare at all. Martha Hudson opened the door cautiously, not really knowing what to expect. It certainly wasn't the boyish, absolutely charming smile and bright blue eyes that she was faced with.
"Good morning, ma'am," there was a flat sharpness to his consonants and vowels that she remembered well from her time spent in the Americas, long before the last war. "I'm sorry if I've disturbed you. I'm John Watson, Sherlock's new Guardian?"
"Hello, Sir, please come in." Martha smiled politely at him. "Sherlock's just upstairs in his flat. I'm Mrs Hudson, the landlady."
Placing his boxes carefully to the side of the entrance, he dusted his hand off by wiping it against the thigh of his jeans. His handshake was warm, dry, and solid. It wasn't a test or a show of strength. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Hudson, and please, call me John."
She really does want to like him. He seems truly friendly, and the genuine smile that graces his face is just so open her heart clenches. Sherlock was going to run over the poor man like a lorry hitting a squirrel. Poor thing, she thought as she lead him up the stairs, he wasn't going to last very long.
With difficulty, she held back a groan of exasperation as she walked into Sherlock's living room. Lying on the sofa, still in the same shirt and suit pants he'd been wearing the previous day, was Sherlock himself with his hands palms-together just beneath his chin as he stared up at the ceiling. He might have looked like a marble effigy if not for the apocalyptic mess of papers and books and things all over the place. He obviously hadn't bothered listening to her advice the previous evening. At least it didn't smell horrible; it smelled sort of like someone was boiling pear drops.
She gave their newest arrival an apologetic glance, and was surprised to see him looking around the place with a mixture of confusion and intrigue. She watched him very slowly lower his boxes and bags to the ground just inside the doorway to the living room, his nose twitching as if he were trying to place the smell in the air. Sherlock didn't actually look up, but Martha could see the smirk that slowly arrived on his face.
"Well," she sighed, "this is the living room. The bathroom is down that hall at the end, and Sherlock's room is that second door there on the right. The first door is a coat closet, and that one on the left is the linen closet. There's a second bedroom upstairs if you'll be needing it."
Watson's brows drew together in confusion, "I think that will be fine, unless there's another person living here I don't know about?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock's baritone drifted over to them as the tall man dragged himself into a sitting position. "Some of my previous Guardians preferred to sleep here on the sofa. They thought it would deter me from leaving the flat at 'odd hours' of the night."
Martha rolled her eyes, "It didn't. And if you'd had any sense at all, it should have." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw John's mouth twitch in a smirk. He had a very expressive face for a military man. "Honestly, Sherlock dear, you could try harder to be a little less contrary."
Sherlock ignored her words, but she knew he couldn't ignore the accusing glare she levelled at him. He glanced at her for half a second, and then asked his new Guardian, "If you like I can have Mycroft send someone to collect the rest of your things?"
A proud little smile curved her lips as Martha gave him a tiny nod. She turned a warmer smile at her other guest when he cleared his throat. Her smile turned into a frown as he looked uncomfortably down at the bags and boxes he'd arrived with.
John cleared his throat and said flatly, "These are all my things."
A packed sea bag, a knapsack, and two medium boxes. Everything he owned in the world, and it fit in two bags and a pair of boxes. Martha's heart went out to him. She hadn't really given much thought to what Sherlock had said the night before; Sherlock wore clothes that cost more than her entire wardrobe, after all, so his view of 'poor' was a bit skewed. Glancing at Sherlock, who sat blinking at his Guardian silently, should have been able to deduce by the clothes John wore alone that 'poor' didn't begin to cover it.
John's eyes traced the dimensions of the room and Martha held her breath as she followed his line of sight to the human skull sitting on the mantle. Her heart dropped into her stomach as the Guardian raised an eyebrow. His eyes slid back to Sherlock, who's face showed a deliberate blankness.
Lips twisting into a smirk, John stated, "Nice skull. Old friend?"
Fighting to keep her jaw from dropping, Martha almost missed the tentative twitch of Sherlock's mouth as it formed an answering smirk. The baritone of her tenant's voice was wry, "That depends on your definition of friend."
A huff of laughter came from John's mouth and the Guardian bent down to retrieve his belongings. Sherlock stood up and strode over to the doorway as John turned to mount the stairs to the second bedroom. Slinging an arm around her shoulders, the tall detective steered her back towards the downstairs.
"Tea, Mrs Hudson, and biscuits.""I'm not your house keeper, dear, or your maid."
"Of course not, but you were the one who wanted to make the good impression. Come now, show bit of British hospitality to the American savage."
Paused four steps up, John leaned against the banister until it creaked, clearing his throat. He fixed a stern glare on Sherlock, who surprisingly paused, his arm still trying to steer her off the landing. "It might be for the best, Mrs Hudson. After all, judging by the smell, Sherlock's electric kettle is too busy boiling ethyl acetate to be safe for making tea."
Beside her, Sherlock's entire body stiffened. Looking up into his face, she could see the blank, almost vacant way he stared down towards the front door of the building. She couldn't stop the smile that spread over her face as she took in Sherlock frozen in surprise. He looked slowly down at her, a light of childish excitement in his eyes. Still smiling, she reached up and patted his cheek.
"I'll be back up in a minute, Sherlock. Go clear a spot on the coffee table."
Sherlock and John sat opposite each other in the armchairs before the unlit fireplace. Between them was an octagonal end table Sherlock had dragged over, on top of which sat Mrs Hudson's best tea set. Over the rim of his cup, Sherlock regarded his new Guardian with a shrewd stare.
Watson's eyes were roving the room, alighting on one or another piece of what-not that was piled about the space. His brows twitched together and apart as he took everything in. His nose twitched as he glanced behind him at the kitchen.
"How did you know about the ethyl acetate?" Sherlock asked, keeping his voice fairly low.
"When it hits the boiling point is smells like pear candy." John finally looked him in the face, a sarcastic smile gracing his lips. "I also know there's body parts in there some where. I can smell the blood."
Sherlock's smile was wolfish, "Fascinating. You wouldn't answer my questions while we were in Mycroft's office. Will you answer them now?"
Putting down his empty cup, Watson leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands over his stomach. He regarded the man across from him with a straightforward stare. It was the kind of look most people expected when a wild predator crossed their path – studied and patient, with just a hint of curiosity. Most people found it unnerving, and Sherlock was apparently no exception, judging by the way he shifted just a bit in his seat and took a moment to empty his cup.
Sighing, John opened his body language back up, leaning to his right and placing his elbow on the arm of the chair. Resting his chin in his right hand, he placed his left flat on the opposite arm. Holmes was obviously not going to make the job any easier without some form of olive branch passed between them. "Why are you so interested? I mean, I know you had access to my records, my CV. Why ask me?"
Holmes' eyes lit up as he placed his own cup back on the tray and clasped his hands in front of his chin, his elbows resting on the arms of his seat. "Paperwork can tell me many things, but I am a studier of people themselves. What's written in those files tells me what others have observed of you, but I am never satisfied by the opinions of inferior minds. I prefer to personally observe, and hear things directly from, the source."
One of John's expressive eyebrows crawled slowly up his forehead. His voice dripped with sarcasm, "So I was basically hired to satisfy your curiosity. Glad to know all my hard work amounts to nothing."
Brows lowering thunderously, Sherlock lowered his tone and raised his volume, "Don't be ridiculous. You're 'hard work' as you describe it merely helped ease my brother's insipid overbearing need to shove the most qualified brute of a spy into my life to exert as much control over me as possible. You're a pawn in his game, but at least this time I can get some scientific knowledge out of it. You don't seem nearly as inclined to try intimidating me into submission or to overlook my obviously great intellect out of mulish ignorance."
John's thin lips slowly smiled, baring canine teeth slightly larger than average. Sherlock's expression moved from smug to blankly indifferent as the reminder that Watson's bite was particularly venomous rose up in his mind. The doctor ran his tongue along the edge of his upper teeth, then said calmly, "I don't deal very well with intimidation myself."
"I can imagine."
Silence fell, and both men regarded the other with cold calculation. John had never been put off by people who were more intelligent than himself. Sherlock had never been intrigued by a person less intelligent than himself. It was a strange sense of stalemate that settled over them as they each frowned in the other's direction.
It was John who broke the silence, sensing somehow that any overtures of peacemaking would have to be made on his part alone. "I looked you up last night. Found your website – the Science of Deduction?"
Intrigued, Sherlock felt a smirk tug at the corner of his mouth, "Your thoughts?"
John's face expressed a hint of scepticism, "You said you could tell an airline pilot from his left thumb."
"I can read your military career in your gait and your appearance, and your sister's drinking habits from your datalet. Why should my being able to tell an airline pilot by his left thumb strike you as an exaggeration?"
Nodding in acceptance, John dropped his right arm to the chair and got to his feet. He stood in the middle of the room, staring at the windows and the furniture. Slowly, he began to move slowly about the room, glancing through the glass out into the street and back at the interior as he went. "Can you do that with anyone?"
"Of course," Sherlock's voice held a bit of intrigue as he watched his new Guardian tracing the confines of the living room. His brows rose suddenly and he stated, "You are testing the lines of sight between the buildings on the opposite side of the street and the flat."
An absent smirk took up residence on Watson's face, "Even a sniper without cybernetic enhancements could kill us from any where in this living room. We should invest in some shades and curtains."
"Could you kill them back?"
John snorted, "Not if we're already dead. I see the other side of the street very well though, if that's what you're asking."
"You still haven't answered my question from yesterday."
"I could spot a rabbit from a helicopter fifteen thousand feet in the air." The smirk returned, "I could also kill it with the right equipment."
It was Sherlock's turn to snort. "That's quite a distance. Though, I suppose your accuracy in shooting also depends on the usual factors?"
"Wind speed, distance, equipment, yes." John entered the kitchen then backed into the living room again, his whole face frowning. "Do you ever use the kitchen for actually making food?"
"No. Food slows me down. When I eat at all it's usually take out or something Mrs Hudson has brought up."
As Sherlock observed him, something that didn't seem to really bother Watson in the least, John mapped out the kitchen and peered into the refrigerator. He closed the door immediately, "And that would be a severed head." He leaned back, one hand still against the door, his eyebrows halfway up his forehead and his mouth twisted in grimace. "Why is there a severed head?"
"I'm measuring the coagulation of saliva after death."
"Right, of course. Why didn't I think of that?" John rolled his eyes, and shook his head, glaring doubtfully at the fridge before moving out of the kitchen again and into the hall. He paused just before the door of Sherlock's room. Turning his face back to his charge with one eyebrow raised, he asked, "Do you mind if I take a look around?"
Sherlock inclined his head in the affirmative and watched as the doctor disappeared into the bedroom. He could hear the sound of John tentatively pacing out the dimensions, and could imagine the man was comparing the dimensions with that of the attic bedroom. He knew the room was nearly spotless compared to the rest of the flat. It would be a bit of a puzzle for the doctor to wonder about.
Watson exited the bedroom and poked his way down the hall to the bathroom, disappearing inside after a quick check of the linen and coat closets. Sherlock took the opportunity to bolt up the stairs to the other bedroom. Downstairs, he heard an aborted shout and a grumble like low thunder. Ignoring it with a smirk of anticipation, Sherlock threw open the door.
Apparently, John had already made himself at home in the room, as the boxes and bags were absent from the floor. The boxes were broken down and stored beneath the bed, and the duffel- and sea bags had been folded neatly and laid on top. Beside them, nearly hiding the hospital corners of the brown bedspread, lay a black donkey jacket, a desert camouflage fatigue jacket, a black pea-coat with anchor-engraved silver buttons, and a plain green rain coat. John had shoved the bed beneath the window, and against the wall, the night-stand placed exactly where a left-handed person would find it most convenient. There was a power strip laid along the floor, into which was plugged a serviceable black desk lamp, the charging station for his datalet, and an alarm clock.
The top 2 drawers of the single, six-drawer, particle board dresser that someone or another had purchased and left there, were full of socks and under garments, all neatly folded and filed. Half full of black or white, Sherlock found a few articles in unexpected reds, greens, and bright patterns towards the back. A lower drawer boasted several pairs of colourfully patterned flannel pyjama trousers and a collection of cotton tee-shirts in solid earth tones. Pairs of jeans filled another drawer, and one had what were probably exercise shorts, tank tops, and vests.
A study in neatness, the closet boasted a group of sweatshirts, sweaters, and jumpers in bland patterns, a line of better quality tee-shirts that he didn't bother poking at, a few plaid button downs and several dress shirts in varying degrees of white, blue, or beige. On the far right, separated by three two-piece suits in navy, black, and dark brown, was a line of khaki, navy, black, and brown trousers to mix and match with the dress shirts. Against the right side wall, almost hidden, was two pairs of military fatigues, and two dress bags. A group of serviceable shoes in black or brown, four pairs of trainers in various states of newness, and two pair of military boots lined the closet floor. On the shelf above the hanger rack sat three packages of extra bedsheets, a small fire safe, a bedroll, two spare blankets that had probably seen better days, and a military-grade medical kit.
In the bottom drawer of the night-stand was a set of boxer shorts and black vest tops. The top drawer held a set of pill bottles – a prescription-grade painkiller and a muscle relaxant, a multivitamin, fibre, omega-3 gel caps. Pushed to the rear was a bottle of lube, which made Sherlock smirk to himself. But nothing could distract him for long from the real prize – the gun safe.
Which was empty. Damn it.
The foam impression told him it usually cradled a Baretta, probably an M9, and there was one clip missing from the brand new open ammo box. The clips weren't a make he was familiar with, though that could have been because he mostly focused on the weapons used by the Afro-European Union. They were the right relative size and shape for an M9, but the colour seemed off.
"It's an M9A1 actually."
Sherlock twitched violently, banging his knee on the drawer as he leapt a foot backwards and settled into a defensive stance. Watson leaned against the door jamb, his arms crossed over his chest, with an amused expression on his face. With a few jerky movements, Sherlock pulled his body back to its proper height and clasped his left hand in his right as he regarded his Guardian down the length of his nose.
"The clips are sand-resistant." John reached back to his waistband and pulled out a beautifully crafted black pistol. He ejected the magazine with a flick of his finger, the motion smooth as second-nature. "PVD coating. It reduces friction, and is designed to reduce grit accumulation in the column. It's reliable and functional even in the most averse weather conditions." Cocking his head to the side inquiringly, Watson asked, "Did you know you were talking to yourself?"
Sherlock sniffed disdainfully, "I often find that speaking aloud allows me to make better intuitive connections." His brows came together in the middle of his forehead, "When did you get up here?"
"About the same time you started poking around in my underwear." John's head ticked to the other side. "You didn't hear me?"
Waving his hand rapidly in the air in dismissal, Sherlock moved forward to grasp at the pistol. John slipped out of range, spinning the pistol languidly around his finger in the trigger guard, effectively making it impossible for Sherlock to grab the barrel. There was cold calculation in Watson's eyes as he looked Sherlock up and down, holding the gun just out of reach. He opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of footsteps on the stairs below caught both their attentions.
In seconds, Watson slid the magazine back home and the pistol was replaced in his waistband. He did it without even looking away from the doorway; a movement that must have been performed countless times to occur so smoothly. From within the stairwell, a gruff voice rose up and bounced off the walls with an echoing quality.
"Sorry, Mrs Hudson, but I don't really have any time to be wasting. This is the first time we've got anything to work with and, God help me, I need his help to get the higher ups off my bloody back!"
John took a half-step back, turning himself so he could see both the doorway and his charge. Sherlock's eyes and face had lit up with the sort of glee a hunter might have shown when a deer darted beneath his blind. The slowly growing smug smirk that overtook his mouth was anything but reassuring.
As a grey-haired, weary looking man in a charcoal tweed overcoat appeared on the landing, Sherlock moved forward and John stepped a bit further back. "Ah, Provost Marshal," Holmes said in welcome, "I take it there's been a fourth."