A piece by Bach played on his Pandora classical station, as he lied on his couch watching the white ceiling; it remained visibly unchanged when the seconds ticked by. The nicotine patches on his right arm, 8 coating the skin from his wrist to his shoulder, did nothing to speed his achingly slow mind. He scoffed at the ceiling, at its thin cracks and old water stains that made the white paint an odd whitish-green color.
They forgot to brush that corner, he thought to himself as he stared at the corner of the ceiling that remained unpainted in the color of dirty cream.
His ears perked when he heard the downstairs door open, thinking surely the sound was of his landlady returning. However, as the song ended, he lowered the volume of the new music piece so it was only a small whisper in the room. The sound of the pipes clinked occasionally but were otherwise silent as he heard strange footsteps and an odd noise, sounds definitely not attributed to Mrs. Hudson. He heard steps then an object, as if the person were pacing with something. A walking stick or cane, he supposed, after hearing its pattern amongst the footsteps. After a short while, those steps made their way up the staircase toward his flat.
A sound of knuckles tapping on the wood sounded heavier than usual, definitely not Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock concluded.
He did not move from his spot where he lied flat on the couch, save for his legs propped behind the knee on the couch arm, and itched at the crease of his forearm absently, track marks hidden beneath the patches.
He found his voice somewhere between the categories of bored and irritated as he called out, "Come in."
The man who entered the room was a stranger, but was easy enough to figure out. He held himself straight, despite the small amount of weight he shifted to his cane. Judging by the man's face, he was clearly in no immediate distress, but Sherlock could easily see the discomfort.
"Mr. Holmes?" The blond man asked, "May I sit down?"
"I won't stop you, but the more important question is why you hesitated to see me."
"What?" He asked in shock, his expression changing to a scowl at the sight of the numerous nicotine patches.
"You paced the entire length of the floor below 4 times before you ascended the stairs, I am asking why. You are not in immediate need of my help and you hesitated to even come up the stairs, what could suddenly be so inconsequential that you considered not even coming to me for help?" Sherlock did not move his body, only turned his head to the side to face the visitor.
"I wondered if you could even help me. Besides, it is not unimportant so much as it is embarrassing."
"I never understand you people, always embarrassed. There is no point."
"You normal people."
"Normal?" The stranger asked, a smile turning up the corner of one side of his mouth. "And what sets you so far apart, hm?"
"Superior intellect, for one thing," Sherlock commented, but was interrupted by Mrs. Hudson knocking on his door as she opened it.
"Oh my, I didn't know you had a visitor," she smiled. "I'm Mrs. Hudson."
"You are on the nameplate Mrs. Hudson, I'm sure he could figure out who you are." Sherlock quipped, lifting the upper half of his body up to glare at her. He despised it when she dropped in unannounced, but was more so irritated that he was so focused on the stranger he did not hear her enter downstairs.
"I'm John, John Watson," the blond man introduced, his limp stuttering off and on as he walked to shake Mrs. Hudson's hand.
"Good, now that we all know each other, Mrs. Hudson, if you would please!" Sherlock snapped, thoroughly unamused.
"Okay, okay," she put her hands up in defeat, "I know when I am unwanted."
When she left, closing the door behind her, Sherlock flopped his upper body back onto the couch, turning his head towards the supposed-John-Watson fellow. Sherlock blinked twice before John realized he was waiting for an answer as to why he was there. John's background was easy to deduce, but his reason for meeting Sherlock to discuss a possible case was unclear, so he asked for a prompt answer.
"When I was in Afghanistan, I had to send a final farewell letter to a young man's family. He asked me to dictate his last words to them before he died, and I added my condolences to the end of said letter. A few months later they sent me a pendant along with a note, the pendant to put on the headstone or in the coffin alongside him and the note for me. In the note," John handed said note to Sherlock as he summarized its contents. Sherlock only glanced at the note. "They were very grateful to me for sending them his final words, and I was wondering if you could track these people down so I could see how they're doing."
"Really?" Sherlock asked, not able to hide his disinterest. "That's child's play, why did you come to me? There are people who do this for a living, you know- finding strangers."
"I came to you because an old friend said you were brutally honest and that you were the best detective in London."
"Who said that?"
"Ah, yes, him. Well, I am both of those things, and more." Sherlock glanced over the paper, smelling it, and rubbing the paper between the pads of his fingers. "This paper is oddly well-kept considering its age."
"Well it's because-"
"Not important. However, the watermark clearly shows it's made locally, I recognize the logo. There are only 3 stationary shops that sell this brand, and luckily they are all here in London. Surely I can get names of the buyers of this type of paper. The thickness of the paper is unusual, that should narrow the list of names. I know the woman who runs the stores, she will have it all on file. I can get back to you in a few days."
"A few days?" John asked, "That quickly?"
"Unless Ms. Patterson suddenly decided that she should partake in spring cleaning, I would say no longer than three days. It's elementary detective work, you couldn't ask a private investigator to find this information for you?"
"I chose you and I will pay you, why bother asking for why?" John said defensively, arms crossing across his chest.
Sherlock spun from his lying position to face John, planting his feet firmly on the floor, "The devil is in the details, John Watson, but no matter. I will not ask again. Write down a method of contact, then leave here. I will get back to you in a few days."
"You're doing it alone?" Watson asked, curiously.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Maybe I could come along?" John asked, his arms uncrossing and his posture losing its stiffness.
"Do you not have anything better to do?" Sherlock chided.
"Not particularly." Watson replied, unfazed. "Seeing as all I could do is find a job and I find the idea of doing that again quite boring."
Sherlock sighed, then remembered the empty void that was currently his refrigerator. He'd run off the last customer by insulting them before he'd gotten paid. His eyes flickered between John and the kitchen doorway once before agreeing to bring him along.
"How much am I being paid anyhow? Usually I ask for a flat rate but seeing as I'm doing something so menial, I am willing to let you name your price." Sherlock responded, watching John's expression move with his immediate thoughts.
"How is two hundred pounds?"
"Two hundred pounds?" Sherlock asked, mildly surprised.
"Is that not enough?" Watson asked, "It's all I can spare. I can pay you in advance, if that helps."
"You're very naïve for a doctor."
"How did you-?"
"Not important. I'll take fifty pounds, depending on how things go from there I may or may not ask for the rest."
"Alright. Why fifty pounds?" Watson asked, rising to shake the man's hand.
"I am in need of groceries, and I cannot exactly eat the corpse I have in my icebox."
"You have a cadaver in there?"
"Only the head."
Watson could not find the words for a response, so he ignored the subject and took a sheet of paper from the printer and wrote his name and number. "You can text me whenever you would like to begin looking tomorrow, I can meet you here at Baker Street."
"Watson!" Sherlock called as John began to open the door.
Watson turned, "Yes? Oh, the money." He took the money from his pocket and laid it on the desk nearby. "Have a pleasant day, Mr. Holmes."
"Sherlock is fine." He added, standing and taking the money from the desk and shoving it in his dress pants pocket. Sherlock did not smile or show any sign of acknowledgement when he added, "Mr. Holmes was my father."
John nodded and left the flat, making his way outside. The last comment had reminded him of his first years in medical school as he joked to others that he only wanted to be called Mr. Watson if his older sister surpassed him in the professional sense. As he got older, and his sister squandered the family funds, the joke lost its humor. John now only preferred his name with or without the addition of Doctor and no other title.
Sherlock entered John Watson's phone number into a phone contact under Dr. John Watson before he put on his jacket and overcoat before descending the stairs. "I am going to the corner market, if anyone comes, send them away."
"Please pick up a small bag of flour for me," Mrs. Hudson smiled, slipping some money in his hand, "I'll see you in a while."
Sherlock didn't particularly like running errands of his own, let alone in anyone else's stead. However, since he was headed there already, he figured it wouldn't be too much trouble. He put Mrs. Hudson's money in his other pocket, and retrieved his phone from his coat.
To: Dr. John Watson
This is my number. I will let you know when I am leaving tomorrow.
He didn't have the chance to put his phone back in his pocket before it signaled a message was received with a three-beat vibration and a ding.
From: Dr. John Watson
Sounds good. See you then.
After the mundane task of retrieving a small basket of groceries, struggling through impatience of waiting through checkout, then the walk home with bags of groceries, he made a trek up the stairs only to be interrupted by Mrs. Hudson.
"Sher-lock!" she screeched before laughing, "Don't run off with my flour!"
Sherlock turned on his heel and went back down the stairs, handing her the flour bag and her change before heading wordlessly up the stairs again. He found Mrs. Hudson irritating at times, but today it was only misplaced anger- with the annoyingly mundane task of having to go out he had to deal with a fair range of the idiocy London had to offer:
From the old women who paid entirely in change, to the old men who complained that their expired coupons were not expired and that the poor teen working the aisle should check again for a particular brand exclusive to a separate grocers chain, and the young yuppie families who had the indecency to leave their homes with unruly, bratty, screaming children- for Sherlock, it was all too much to bear.
He turned the sound off his phone ages ago, unable to handle the default notification sounds of emails (most of which were from potential clients he was sure to delete later) so he did not know that he had received another message from Dr. John Watson until he had packed away his groceries and took his phone from his jacket pocket before putting the coat on the rack.
From: Dr. John Watson
Mr. Holmes, if I may ask, why are you taking my case? Mike told me you were a great detective but he also mentioned you are extremely selective with clients so you do not waste your time. What interests you about my case that made you accept it?
To: Dr. John Watson
Sherlock, not Mr. Holmes. I accepted your case because I have no interesting cases and you walk in with something that is at least a challenge. I also have the feeling more is going on than you are telling me, therefore, I would like to get to the bottom of it.
Sherlock was surprised a few moments later by a phone call from Dr. John Watson himself, and he answered the phone with thinly veiled surprise when John spoke first.
"What you do you mean I'm hiding something?" John asked, defensive.
"I said you were not being forthright, not necessarily hiding something. However, seeing as you jump to defend yourself on that front I suppose you are hiding something. You were lying when you came in my office earlier, your body language told me so. Frankly, you are a terrible liar." Sherlock stated, picking a chess piece from off of the board and rolling it around in his hand.
"Is that so?" John asked, his defiant smile easy to hear over the line. "Can you tell when someone is lying over the phone or just in person?"
"Hard to say," Sherlock admitted, amused at the thought of a challenge.
"If I tell you three things, could you tell which of the three is a lie?"
"I believe the real question is, what is my reward for the correct answer?"
"What reward are you aiming toward?" John asked, his voice turning serious in an instant.
"An answer to a single question." Sherlock uttered, placing the chess piece back in it's place. "That's my prize."
"Alright, deal." John answered, his voice steady and emotionless. "Number one, I considered abandoning the case because I think it's a hopeless task. Number two, Mike sent me to you despite knowing the fact you were likely going to reject my case. Number three, I want to apologize to his family for not being able to do more."
"That's an easy one," Sherlock answered, eyes locking on a particular smudge on the adjacent wall- blood, if he deduced correctly (as he usually did). "The first one is a lie because if it was a hopeless task, you would not have gone so far as to ask a colleague about what to do about it, you would have given up on it at the start. The second is also a lie because Mike Stamford does not know me well enough to make a judgement call on what I would say but I know him well enough to know, he is the type of man who offers advice like throwing trash in a bin; it's a reflex for him that he can't control. In fact, the first day I met him he suggested I take an anger management class for passive-aggressiveness despite not knowing him more than ten minutes. The third is also a lie because that is the big red flag you gave me earlier."
John was silent on the other line, but Sherlock could tell he was waiting patiently, so he did not leave him in the dark any longer.
"You want to talk to them but that is not the reason why." Sherlock concluded, "Therefore, all three are lies and you are a terrible liar, even over the phone."
There was a sharp exhale, followed by an exasperated tone in John's voice, "What is your question?"
"Wow, the feeling of success never dulls, does it?" Sherlock asked rhetorically, pleased with himself. "My question is: What are you protecting by lying to me?"
"Myself," John answered honestly, "I'm not comfortable with telling you the whole truth, since I don't know you."
"Fair enough," Sherlock muttered. "Is that all?"
"Is what all?"
"The call, is that all you wanted to talk about?"
"I suppose so," Watson answered. "Good evening, Sherlock."
"Likewise, Dr. Watson."
With that, Sherlock ended the call, headed to his fridge and opening its door, and despite it being fully stocked (by Sherlock's standards, of course- which usually amounted to a single milk jug, a loaf of bread, and a block of cheese), he found his mind too dulled to bother eating. Going into his bedroom and changing into a clean t-shirt and sweatpants he crawled into bed and picked up the book on his bedside table. And so, he began to read Treasure Island for the 2nd time that month. Sherlock slept eventually, but it took him hours after his nightly routine, and once he did sleep it was a fitful rest.
When morning came, (and in this particular instance "morning" is at 7am) Sherlock slid his bow across his violin softly, yet absently and listened to the sounds produced by the vibrations of the strings. He had been playing since only a few minutes ago, at the moment he had woken up he was compelled to play, and was soon interrupted by the sound of a light, but fervent, series of knocks.
"Yes?" Sherlock yelled, much like a teenager interrupted by a parent from whatever they had devoted their attention to.
"Sherlock, isn't it a bit early for violin?" Mrs. Hudson asked through the door.
Sherlock set the violin and bow carefully on on the desk he stood next to, striding to the door to unlock it. Opening it, he found Mrs. Hudson already dressed for the day.
"Going out?" He asked, going back to his violin.
"Actually, Sherlock, I was wondering if I may watch you play."
"Why?" Sherlock asked, in a tone that sounded nearly offended at the idea.
"I've walked in on you playing before, it seems like the only time you turn off your deductions," she uttered, then fiddled with the collar of her blouse as she tried to find the words to express her thoughts. "It's the only time you seem truly at peace."
If Sherlock was surprised, he did not express it, simply picked up this violin and bow wordlessly and began to play. Mrs. Hudson watched quietly, eyes watching the tender blankness in Sherlock's expression as he played. Her eyes drifted outside for a moment to the street below, noticing a familiar figure in the street below.
"Sherlock," she cooed quietly, not wanting to upset him. "I believe your brother is outside."