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ghostwrote ([personal profile] ghostwrote) wrote2010-12-19 02:52 am

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Okay, tomorrow I have to get up and go do holiday stuff, so since I am beta-less and I wanted [profile] helluvalot to have it before Christmas, I'm throwing this up here warts and all. My apologies for any non-British or dated malaprops--I did some googling and 'tubing, but there's no substitute for the real thing. Woe. Be kind!



[profile] helluvalot's request was "Sherlock and John bro out", in this case by watching TV. Sherlock gets an idea of what John can do, and John gets an idea of what he's in for. Could be read as pre-slash. Spoilers for all eps. Adult language, no triggers of which I'm aware.

***

"So is this crap telly?" Sherlock asked, crunched up in his grubby wing chair with his knees flattened gargoyle-like to his chest. He stared into light very close to the color of his eyes.

"If you need to ask, it probably isn't. We've had this talk." John stood just to the side of the screen with a remote in hand. To his consternation, Sherlock had decided to stay in and watch the morning shows. "Or perhaps the crap-ness is in a new category outside the realms of your observation. You need to get a feel for it." After a moment, he roused himself from the soporific influence of a perfume advert and tossed the remote into the gather of Sherlock's coat between his knees. The heat had just come on an hour ago, with a bang and a clatter that would've covered an advancing army, but it hadn't penetrated Sherlock's perpetual chill.

Sherlock opened his knees to catch it, proving either that he'd been a lady prone to wearing full skirts in his past life or that even his reflexes were annoyingly logical. "Are you off somewhere?"

Somehow he managed to make it sound as if John had spent the last three weeks dashing about London. "I was going to write my blog."

"More nonsense," Sherlock said lugubriously, squinting at the television. John knew the marks of keen observation, among them opening his mouth and letting appalling insults float up like speech bubbles. 'Nonsense' was far kinder than he might have done.

John grabbed his laptop from a litter of papers and hovered by the mug warmer until Sherlock was well entrenched in This Morning. Then he plopped into the chair opposite and set it on his knees.

Sherlock fixed him with an unreadable look, lofted the remote, and pressed up the volume three clicks.

"What?"

"You're facing me. It's distracting."

"I won't even be looking at you!"

"I should hope not."

"Sherlock--" The show resumed, and he lost him as surely as a radio signal. Sherlock's pupils were tight against the gleam of light, his hands working on his kneecaps.

The unkind thought came to write from life, as it were: the great detective, immersed with parted lips and dappled brow in whether the guest did or didn't have a cleaner. Layering significance on her admission, deciding what it meant, fitting it into an absurd map whose one-ways and roundabouts all led to crime. What is it, Sherlock? he asked silently. Did she back over her cat in the drive and tell her husband it was the lads at the take-away? Can you tell by her rings? Can you tell why it matters?

Ten minutes passed in utter silence, save the tinny chatter of a show that soothed John against his will. The guest, a stage actress breaking into film, was witty and game and good with accents. She was expecting. John found himself playing one of his usual morning twiddles--trying to connect her to the previous guest (in this case a soap star) in the least number of steps via television programmes, public appearances and romantic liasons. Today it was easy; she'd starred in a musical where he'd been a walk-on. John went back a day (fitness expert with a line of motivational videos) and found the job much harder. At last he recalled that the expert had done choreography for the actress's ex's upstart band in nineteen ninety three. She must be older than she looked--perhaps, like Connie Prince, older than she said. He wondered if there were a candid head shot where he could get a look behind her ears.

For God's sake, it's come to this? Write your damned blog!

He opened the lid of his laptop. Sherlock glared. John ignored it, a learned skill much like wearing Kevlar when it was 48 degrees, and typed beneath his journal head, "It's been an exciting week at 221b Baker Street. Monday, someone pushed arsenic through the letterbox."

It was all true but the excitement. Sherlock hadn't been engaged. For one, he'd known immediately it was arsenic, and for another, he knew precisely why it was sent. He'd walked straight out the door, John armed behind him, and tapped the knocker of a neighbouring flat. To the short, leathery woman who opened up, he'd said, "Your husband is not attempting to kill you. As I have told you a dozen times, it is for rats. If you're concerned for your safety, you would do better to look to the left side of your pantry, three shelves up, behind the tinned peaches."

As the door banged to, John had asked, "Behind the peaches?"

He hadn't glanced at Sherlock, but he could hear the smile. "Her mother's pain patches. She's used most of them, but the rest have gone over."

"Of course," John had said as they headed back, finger uncurling from his trigger guard. He found himself smiling too.

All the same, it was no Study In Pink.

"Are you still watching this rot?" he asked Sherlock finally. It certainly looked that way. Sherlock had a way of holding himself when he was intent, all of his bones gathered up beneath the skin in an elegant sweep like a raptor's. You just knew that, in a fictional scenario where you could pick him up without having your fingers razored off, he'd be light as air.

To his surprise, Sherlock answered. That he shifted his gaze to John while doing so elevated matters into the realm of miracle. "You watch it."

"Yes, yes, I know. I'm common as dirt."

"I meant," Sherlock said thoughtfully, "that you watch it. So there must be something of value, I suppose."

John opened his mouth, then clapped it shut again. In the interim a sound like "ahh?" came out, and he hoped Sherlock wouldn't hold it against him.

"So what is it?"

It was downright odd, how many muscles went into shaping consonants. He felt like a monkey, his lips elongating into a trumpet around the first syllable. "What is what?"

A note of impatience whisked into Sherlock's voice. "What is it that you see. In this programme."

"Nothing at the moment, I'm seated to the sid--" Oh, he was an idiot, but military service had taught him hasty self-correction. "I suppose it's a comfort. It's the same format every day, with enough variety that it keeps your--" He paused, getting a hold of himself. Sherlock studied him exactly as he had studied the television, with neither scorn nor interest; those were pending upon the conclusion of his observations. There would be no drama to his deletion. This was not like a reality show. John's views on television (and perhaps a measure of Sherlock's respect) would wink out as if they'd never been. If there were ever a time to be straight, it was now. "I play games with it."

"Games."

"Yeah, games. You know, connect up the guests. Sometimes I do their ties to members of Parliament. Sometimes I do every third guest in a week, chronologically by shows they were in. Sometimes I link them by causes--you know, all the environmentalists, and then all the animal activists. By whether they use stage names, or whether they maintain dual residence here and in America." He paused. Sherlock was not yet texting for Chinese, a promising sign. "Or which ones have face lifts," he went on. "I notice scars. It's sort of a hobby. I try to figure out when they've had what done. There was a guest presenter three months ago who'd almost twisted off his thumb with what I'm pretty sure was the chain from a kiddy swing. I hadn't seen a spiral fracture on a joint that small since I treated a soldier who'd been hitching a load when his Humvee rolled, but the intervals of the break were spaced wider, of course. It didn't fit at first, he hasn't got kids, but I checked the net and he sponsors a mentoring program." he added. "At the end of the show I see if I can go back through it all in reverse--"

He didn't stop because Sherlock spoke. He'd just noted that his mouth had fallen open, and that was enough like interruption to count.

After a moment, Sherlock inhaled. John tensed. He breathed out again.

Then Sherlock looked at him.

If John thought him focused before, he was wrong. This, this was focus, the merciless accounting that had nothing to do with rank and everything with authority. What had Mycroft called it--the void in his gut, his strained shoulders, his sweating hands and liquid bowels and the prickle of his drying eyes? The battlefield.

"I," Sherlock said at last, "have let you off far, far too easy."

John felt a thrill of alarm. "They're just games, Sherlock. I worked them up to keep from going mad in my bedsit. Stupid things to pass the time!"

"This is why you've failed," Sherlock said, and he came out of his chair with the terrible jointed ramble of a mantis. John, expecting mandibles to grip his face at any moment, wondered why he didn't flinch. "Oh, never mind, it's my failing too. I missed it. I assumed you were like the others. They witness everything, but they don't observe. But it's not that, it's worse. You observe! You make the picture! And then--" Not mandibles, no, but cold, soft fingers curving round his ears. In balance, John wasn't sure which were worse. "You call it stupid."

He jerked his hands out of John's hair, spinning away with a golden strand beneath his nail. "It's all right, though. We can fix it. It's not that you're stupid, that's so much harder. It's that you willfully misapply. We can--we can--" He whipped around, fingers thrust furiously at John like they were in an old Western. His face lit up. "We can do exercises. Oh, you'll be so much more useful!"

"Better than the skull?"

"Damn the skull!" He reached for the bow of his violin, his fingers closing about it and then letting go with exaggerated care. His back was rigid with fury, his fine jacket tensed over it. "You're not some sort of accessory. Don't you understand?" His voice was magnificently disdainful, a verbal glare down the nose. "The game is up. I won't believe it any more. Give it up or--or--"

"Or what?" He found himself standing. His hands were quite steady.

"Or get out. I can abide stupidity. I cannot abide malice."

That was so patently absurd that he guffawed. "What malice!"

"Do you remember, before the bombing, that case? Before dear Jim from IT."

"Yes, yes, of course I remember!"

"When I said worry about the hostage wouldn't solve the case, blah blah blah--" his hand seesawed through the air, the bow somehow in it again-- "and you got angry with me and wouldn't help. That, John." He turned, his chin thrust out over an invisible instrument. "I thought that was idiocy, and I forgave it. But now it wouldn't be."

He was silent, working it out. He knew this pause could go on forever; Sherlock had the social graces of a search blank waiting for a prompt.

It was surprisingly easy once he let himself think. Things around Sherlock, as on the battlefield, often came slow and clear to hand. "So you're saying I've somehow been unaware my entire life that I have the potential to do what you do--"

"Don't let's be rash. Say 'be a real help'."

"--could be a real help," he corrected, his lips pressed. "So if I won't learn at your knee, that's a gun to the head of all our clients. That it?"

"Malice," Sherlock agreed. "Reasoned malice. The worst kind." John might have laughed, but he continued in a voice that did not invite it. "It's what I hate most about Mycroft. All he could do, and he plays games."

John read his sad profile, chalked in bright recessed lighting that was a relic of a better era. He saw no sign of irony, but then there rarely was.

The television burst into a demonic crackle which John's fagged mind failed at first to process as applause. To his astonishment, Sherlock jumped a little too, like a cat when your leg comes out of the bath. They each caught each other's frozen, shocked face. John hoped his was not quite the picture Sherlock's was.

"And we're back with our special guest. Now tell me a little about your news! When are the two of you expecting?"

"So this is what it's like," John said. His voice held the quiver his hand didn't, but he didn't think it was fear.

"What?"

Oh, smugness. He must've looked an ass after all. "Having a night in with you."

"It's not night."

"And to think I hesitated to be obvious earlier. So what do they entail? These--exercises to make me useful?"

Sherlock's brow raveled. In the gap, they both heard that the actress was having twins. "Haven't a clue." He tapped his hands together, thumbs in against his lips. "No matter, we'll work it out."

Which means I'll have to remind you, and I won't, John thought. Everything will be normal by teatime.

Sherlock stretched a long finger toward the screen. "Start with telling me why that woman conceived in vitro. No vulgar gossip, by observation. Go."

Or perhaps not. But then, John hadn't stayed in for normal.