|New Sherlock Fic: "Constant Reminders" - John/Sherlock, Ensemble - R
||[Mar. 15th, 2011|01:56 am]
Title: Constant Reminders
Pairing/Characters: John/Sherlock; Scotland Yard, Mrs. Hudson, Sarah, Mycroft
Word Count: 5,000
Notes: This is for alltoseek, as she requested Sherlock fic in exchange for her awesome donation of $100 to the charity of her choice in helpbrazil2011. I'd like to thank her for her patience, as it's taken me a little while to pull myself back together in the wake of sundry illnesses/pressing RL work/etc. I'd also like to thank sc010f for the prompt that led to this story. Otherwise, I might've turned loose another depressing horror. General thanks are also due to my flist for being awesome.
Summary: Dirty laundry, crime scenes, and other disasters.
On his first appraisal of the kitchen, John had assumed that dishes would be the major point of conflict with Sherlock. John had reassured him that general clutter was anything but an issue, even though he was given to keeping his private space orderly to a fault. Books, skulls, and miscellaneous embroidered pillows fell into the category of odd, but mostly benign. Pots, bowls, and mugs containing organic matter in various states of mutation and decay fell into the category of fucking hell, get it out of here.
In one thing, at least, John had been proved wrong: the problem would not turn out to be dishes, but rather bits of human anatomy in the microwave, fridge, and even sometimes in the kettle. In just over a year of living with Sherlock, John had insisted upon replacing the kettle no fewer than four times, although he'd only actually won the argument twice. Otherwise, Sherlock did seem to understand that the damages inflicted upon their crockery and flatware were his responsibility, whether that meant washing up once a week or replacing the occasional piece too battered or toxic to withstand further use. John suspected it was because Sherlock knew, deep down, that he could only run so many experiments at once and manage to eat every so often.
But the first time John thanked him for doing the dishes, Sherlock shrugged, up to his elbows in suds you couldn't have paid John to touch without gloves, and said, "You use this kitchen, too. It's just good sense. I can't have you walking out on me."
"Keep that in mind next time you have the urge to store someone's pancreas in the freezer, and we'll be sorted," John replied, taking up a tea-towel in order to start with the drying. Perhaps it was merely wishful thinking, but life with Sherlock had grown far more agreeable after they'd survived not only the madman, but his bombs and his snipers to boot. Either that, he reflected, or they'd just grown used to each other.
"You're thinking," sighed Sherlock, handing over a plate. "It's excruciating."
"I'd never have guessed that you occasionally indulge in chores," said John.
Sherlock's brief smirk looked painful. "I understand necessity better than some."
John blinked in surprise. "Not better than most? Sincere modesty! What next?"
"Blatant sarcasm and scathing insults, clearly, if you don't knock it off."
"Right," John said. "That was a bit harsh, what when I started with thanking you."
"At least you didn't inquire as to the state of my laundry," said Sherlock.
John paused, reaching up to set the plate inside the cupboard.
"What is the state of your laundry?" he asked.
"None of your business," replied Sherlock, and handed him the sponge.
In the days to come, John would spend most of his free time coming up with a good excuse for why he was poking about in Sherlock's room, in the event he should be caught poking about in Sherlock's room, whether by said room's irritated occupant or by said room's over-solicitous owner. John tried to imagine a set of circumstances under which he and Mrs. Hudson might run into each other in Sherlock's personal space, which resulted in a snort of laughter that he didn't quite manage to swallow.
Sherlock cast him a derisive sidelong glance, as if to suggest that John should have better sense than to be blogging and chortling to himself during 10 O'Clock Live.
"I'm listening, I'm listening," John said, closing his laptop to prove it.
"Much of the humor's in their expressions," Sherlock said. "If you can call it that."
"You don't seem terribly amused," John replied. "Why do you bother watching?"
"Because in comparison to BBC News, the team have got at least half a brain, by which I mean Mitchell, and I only need to tune in once a week. What's so funny?"
"Just now. You were laughing."
"Harry forwarded me a ridiculous email. It was nothing."
"Your fabrication skills leave something to be desired," said Sherlock, abruptly turning off the television. "This is dull. I'm going to the corner shop. Do you want anything?"
"Such as? We've already eaten."
Sherlock shrugged, already halfway into his coat. "Biscuits? Shall I roll you a fag?"
"Lay off the cigarettes," John warned. "I don't care if you've been DIYing it or not."
"Text me when you've recovered your sense of adventure," said Sherlock, and left.
No time like the present, John thought. He crept upstairs as soon as he heard the front door slam. He'd have between ten minutes and half an hour, depending on how bored Sherlock truly was. He almost hoped that Sherlock did plan on having a fag or two.
Sherlock's room was hardly the disaster area he'd been anticipating, but it was far from clean. His propensity for clutter in private seemed to far exceed that which he permitted himself in public. There were books lying open at intervals on the floor beside the unmade bed, some spine-up and some spine-down. There were books lying open at intervals on the unmade bed, which outlined a vaguely Sherlock-shaped space if you could stand to squint. Dusty bookshelf. Even dustier papers. Familiar anatomical diagrams and sheaves of unfamiliar notes pinned to the walls. And in the corner, Sherlock's disintegrating wicker laundry hamper. It was filled to overflowing, and the pile of clothes on the floor beside it towered so high that it threatened to overflow into the hamper (or would have done, if only the hamper had boasted any room).
John advanced cautiously and stepped on something soft.
"Huh," he said, bending to pick it up. The sock was plain black, as most of Sherlock's seemed to be, at least when he'd caught a glimpse, deliberately or otherwise, of Sherlock's ankles. Sherlock tended to wander around the flat either completely shod or barefoot. John flipped the sock neatly onto the free-standing pile of laundry.
It was then he noticed that, if he were to make a job of it, he'd have his work cut out for him. Socks lurked everywhere in the room, it seemed: peeking out from beneath Sherlock's pillow, skulking along the lowest level of the bookshelf, and even cozying up to wantonly splayed book covers. John snagged the next nearest from the foot of the bed, sniffed at it, and promptly tossed it in the hamper. Decidedly worn, just like its predecessor. At least Sherlock defaulted to shoes when conducting experiments.
John rushed back downstairs when he heard footfalls on the pavement outside. Heard a noise, he rehearsed to himself, reaching the living room just as Sherlock entered the building. I was afraid another one of those bloody pigeons nesting on the roof got in.
He settled exactly where he'd been before Sherlock left and turned the telly back on.
"Don't get up," Sherlock said as he came in, draping his coat over the back of the chair. He dropped a plastic Tesco bag on the cushion, rummaged in it one-handed, and tossed John a packet of HobNobs. He took a seat beside John. "What did I miss?"
"A load of bollocks about Gaddafi," John said. "Kind of hilarious, actually."
"Damn," Sherlock muttered, reaching for the biscuits. "Coming from you, that means it was at least reasonably worthwhile. I'll catch it on 4oD tomorrow."
You and me both, John thought, snatching them back with a grin.
He found another sock in the hall on his way to bed.
* * *
The next morning, Sherlock trailed into the kitchen in his grey t-shirt and a pair of pyjama bottoms that John was sure he'd seen in one of the piles of laundry, barefoot and bereft of his dressing gown. John handed Sherlock his own mug and turned back to the toaster. Sherlock took a long swig without asking what was in it.
"Toast?" John asked, fetching another plate. "Jam, butter, or both?"
"None of the above," said Sherlock, his mouth full of something suspiciously crunchy.
"Biscuits and tea aren't proper breakfast."
"Whereas toast and tea are?"
"Never mind," John sighed, plucking both pieces of toast onto his plate. "I should be glad you're eating at all." He skipped the butter and put jam on one, honey on the other. It was a rare novelty to have the kitchen table both clean enough and clear enough for serving a meal, so John intended to enjoy every minute of it.
Sherlock eyed the plate as John took a seat across from him, polishing off the biscuit.
"Why didn't you mention honey was on offer?"
"I'd forgot we had some left. Hey, hands off!"
"What were you saying about proper breakfast?" Sherlock asked.
John sighed, grateful Sherlock had left him the jam. "I don't know why I even..."
"Of course you do," Sherlock said, already on his second bite. "It's about maintaining the illusion of order. You can't control my actions, but you can, in the very least, exert some measure of control over my environment. Isn't that so?"
Should've stayed out of there, John thought, threat of sentient laundry be damned.
"No, but I can try to make sure you don't break your neck or poison yourself," he said.
Sherlock finished the toast, gracing John with a rare look of amusement that wasn't tainted by mockery. If anything, the warm glint in his eyes was sheer curiosity.
"Every little helps?" he asked, idly licking a smear of honey off his knuckle.
Every tainted kettle, every sock. John stole back his tea. "Something like that."
Sherlock stared at John's mug for about five full seconds before leaving.
"Good morning to you, too," John said to the empty kitchen, and tucked into a breakfast of tea and toast accompanied by the fitful strains of Sherlock's violin.
Before settling down to check his email and watch some useless mid-morning telly, John found one sock crumpled on the sofa and the other draped across his laptop.
* * *
"Oh my God," said Donovan, for the second time, still staring at what had fallen out of John's coat pocket when Sherlock had asked him to produce the magnifier. John wasn't sure whether she was reacting to the fact that Sherlock's magnifier had migrated to John's person, the fact that a dirty sock clearly too large to be John's had just contaminated the crime scene—or one after the other, or both at once. Sod it all.
Anderson was now looking on with snide interest.
"Having a bit of fun on laundry night?" he asked, directing the question at Sherlock, who was busy shining the miniature torch on his keychain into the dead woman's eyes. Not far off, her daughter and grandson lay together in a bloody heap, having also sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the chest. John wanted to punch him.
"What?" Sherlock glanced up at him with the condescending amazement he might've reserved for a piece of talking furniture. "I wouldn't know," he said, switching off the torch, holding out his hand impatiently to John. "I don't do laundry."
"So John does it for you?" Sally asked, confused and slightly fascinated.
"No, as a matter of fact," John said, stuffing the sock back in his pocket and handing over the magnifier. "It sits in a corner of his room and rots, for all I know. I suspect he buys new clothes when he runs out. Must get dreadfully expensive."
"Hardly," Sherlock said, examining the dead woman's left palm. "I call someone around to collect it. I pay them, of course. Or Mrs. Hudson does it now and again."
"I'll bet she enjoys that," Lestrade cut in, stepping up behind Sherlock. "I need you two out of here in the next four minutes, or it's my head on a pike. Found anything?"
"One of Freak's socks, less than an inch from the body," Anderson muttered.
Lestrade shot John a questioning look.
"Which body?" John retorted.
"Yours," said Donovan, tugging the sock free of John's pocket and waving it.
Lestrade rubbed his forehead. "Sherlock, why..."
"I'll need to run some analysis on this sample down at Bart's. Oh, don't look at me like that: it's only some epithelial cells, I haven't done any significant damage. The mortuary won't even miss them. John can vouch for that if you like."
"Actually, I'd like to know how it got there, too," said John.
"In my experience," said Sherlock, as if speaking to a child, "skin cells multiply—"
"You know bloody well what I meant!" John snapped.
For an uncomfortable stretch, Lestrade, Donovan, and Anderson just stared at him.
Sherlock rose calmly, folding the neatly bagged tissue sample into his pocket. He stripped off his latex gloves and discarded them carelessly on the ground, next to the corpse's shoulder. He fixed John with a cool, but strained stare.
"You asked me to straighten up this morning," he said. "I was in a rush. It must have got stuck to one of your gloves. Surely you didn't require a genius to tell you that?"
"Get out of here," Lestrade said. "Both of you. Two minutes and counting."
"I'll text you," Sherlock said, already halfway down the stairs. John raced to catch up with him, calmly plotting Sherlock's demise. Whether the sock ending up in his pocket had been accidental or intentional, the jest had already gone too far.
They didn't speak till the cab had got them halfway home.
"Shall I buy a hamper for the living room?" asked John. "Whatever it takes, Sherlock."
"This is an isolated incident," Sherlock pointed out. "You're overreacting."
"If any more of your manky clothes turn up at a crime scene, we'll be out of work!"
"I only wear socks once before they go in the wash," said Sherlock, defensively.
"If they ever make it to the wash! Unbelievable. It's a good job you don't wear them two or three times; they'd be a regular biohazard by the time they'd sat around on your floor or behind the sofa or under the sink for a month—"
John shut his mouth quickly, hoping he hadn't given Sherlock any ideas.
"Laundry is rarely a biohazard," Sherlock said in a clipped voice. Which was true.
John felt so guilty that he avoided Sherlock for the rest of the evening.
* * *
The first thing that John noticed, still half asleep as he stepped under the hot, comforting spray, was that his washcloth, squished up in the corner against the tile where he'd left it, was decidedly too long. He opened his eyes. And too dark—
"Sherlock!" he hissed, but not loudly enough to be heard, because the last thing he wanted was Sherlock rushing into the bathroom and oh dear Christ. There were three more damp socks scattered in the bathtub, plus four hung along the top of the curtain rod. John must have knocked half of them down when he got in.
He left them in a wet pile on the bath-mat and had a decidedly unrelaxing shower.
"Sorry about the stuff you'd hung to dry," John said, still toweling his hair as he leaned tentatively into Sherlock's bedroom. "I knocked them into the tub. They got wet again, I'm afraid. I've left them on the radiator. Should be fine by this evening."
Sherlock glanced up from his reading with something like alarm.
"The stuff I'd hung—" he floundered for a second, presumably clearing his head of whatever he'd mired it in this time "—oh. Yes, of course. Apologies. I should've put them on the radiator in the first place." He looked vaguely guilty.
"So you have been known to do laundry," John said. "Don't worry, I won't tell."
Sherlock waved a hand dismissively, already beginning to read, although he seemed to have trouble focusing. His eyes kept flicking back up to John's face, his hair, and his half-buttoned shirt. Perhaps this was more of an intrusion than Sherlock deemed proper, although they had agreed early on that an open door meant fair play.
"Wait," John said. "Do you wash them out in the sink? So I know to keep it clean."
"Of course," said Sherlock, evasively. "The sink. John, if you don't mind—"
"Yes, yes, right," John said, ducking out. "Sorry. Carry on."
He blinked at the radiator as Sherlock's door slammed shut behind him, and then approached it cautiously, studying the socks. Something was, quite literally, off. He picked up one of the drier ones and gave it a sniff. He should have been disturbed by how frequently he'd done this in the past fortnight, although when he compared it to how often he and Sherlock ended up eating off each other's plates and stealing sips of each other's tea, coffee, and Coke, it seemed inconsequential by comparison.
John sniffed again and caught the faint odor of sweat and foot and Sherlock.
He gathered the socks, dumped them in the sink, and went to fetch the laundry liquid.
Just this once, he told himself, and knew he didn't really mean it.
* * *
The next incident didn't even come as a surprise, and Mrs. Hudson didn't even bother to knock. She and John spent an awkward thirty seconds alternating between staring at each other and at the black sock she had pinched between thumb and forefinger.
"Next time you see Sherlock, would you tell him to keep better track of his things?"
"I can try," John said, breaking into a grin in spite of himself.
He put down the newspaper, rose, and took the sock out of Mrs. Hudson's hand with practiced ease. If she was at all shocked by the way he wrapped it around the back of his hand, completely unconcerned, she gave no sign.
"It was on my doorknob. And it's been a long time since I've done his washing."
"You shouldn't do that anymore," John said. "For his sake and yours."
"He'd have no room up there if I didn't intervene," fretted Mrs. Hudson.
"Leave the intervention to me, all right?" John said, steering her towards the door. "I'm sorry about this. Really sorry. I'm sure Sherlock might even be sorry, too."
"He was sorry once," said Mrs. Hudson, as if the memory were a fond one.
"When was that?" John asked, closing the door partway once she was in the hall.
"When he got my husband killed, of course," she said. "Luckily, that was fine by me."
Once she had gone, John put Sherlock's sock to the sniff-test. It failed. He washed it out and added it to the neat row of dry socks still hanging on the radiator, although it had gone down by two, as Sherlock had clearly come in need of a clean pair.
Just as John got back to his newspaper, his mobile went off. Sherlock wanted early dinner somewhere in Chinatown, as he was in for a long night of research. John pointed out that they'd been eating out a bit too often recently, and Sherlock countered with the news that he'd been paid an overdue fee from two cases ago.
See you in fifteen minutes in front of Li Ko, he typed, reaching for his coat.
I don't want Japanese, Sherlock texted back. Boring.
I washed your socks, so I get to pick, John replied. They also do Korean.
Thanks, Sherlock texted back just as John was exiting Leicester Square tube.
"For what?" John asked when he finally had Sherlock face-to-face, but instead of an answer, he got running commentary on how decent the menu looked, and why on earth hadn't they come here before? John decided to keep his mouth shut.
Later that night, contrary to Sherlock's claim of having a lot of work, they ended up on the sofa watching reruns of QI XL and made a game of predicting how many times Alan Davies would induce that priceless oh-God-he's-going-to-break-it look on Stephen Fry's face whenever complicated props or valuable items got passed around.
Between episodes, Sherlock got up and made a cup of tea.
Didn't matter for whom, really: they shared it.
* * *
John should've known something was amiss by the way Sarah glanced up at him wearily by way of acknowledgment when he said hello on his way in the door. The break-up hadn't gone that poorly. In fact, John wasn't even sure they'd ever properly been dating. Sarah insisted that they really hadn't. Which was fair enough.
Just in case he hadn't been cordial enough, he backtracked and smiled at her.
"How's the docket looking today?"
"Full up," said Sarah. "You've had only one cancellation. Listen, John, you might—" she paused and stared down at her desk, as if she might find her tact there "—tidy your office a bit, all right? It looks as if one of your last patients left something. Happens often enough, but it's important to keep after them. It makes us look bad."
John closed his eyes. "I'm not sure what you mean," he lied.
"Well, let's have a look," said Sarah, rising. She caught him by the shoulder as she walked past and half-dragged him down the hall to his usual exam room, at which point she opened the door and when on earth had Sherlock done it? There was a sock dangling from the back of John's chair and another lying on the floor.
"I have no idea how those got here," said John. "I always clean up."
"I know," Sarah replied, and for a minute, she looked almost ready to laugh. "Keep him out of here unless he's genuine need of medical attention, do you understand me? Our security's been compromised. I won't mention this to the partners, but..."
You really have no idea, John thought. "Understood," he said.
Sherlock's socks (clean this time, thank God) spent the remainder of the day folded together, banished to the bottom drawer of John's desk. John's first handful of patients were comprised of paranoid minor complaints and routine prescription refills, and his day didn't exactly improve—or, rather, it would have done, if not for Sarah's decree—when Sherlock knocked on his window and mouthed Lunch?
"Not today," John said, and when Sherlock frowned at him through the gap in the curtains, John pulled out his phone and texted, Not today; I'm making up some time.
Can I come in? Sherlock texted back. I happen to know your 12:30 cancelled.
No, John replied. You will be removed on sight.
"Why?" Sherlock demanded, loudly enough to be heard.
John leaned down, removed the socks from his drawer, and held them up. This wasn't the way he would've preferred to confront Sherlock over the entire debacle, as now they'd have the awkward enforced silence of the rest of the day to deal with.
Sherlock's lips parted on what might've been a deadpan ah. He turned and left.
John thumped his desk in frustration.
Goddamn it, Sherlock, he texted. What is this?
You asked after the state of my laundry, came the immediate response.
* * *
John wasn't at all shocked to find Mycroft's car waiting for him when his shift ended.
"What'll we be discussing today?" he asked Anthea, sliding into his accustomed seat.
She tapped on her BlackBerry and graced him with a Mona Lisa smile.
"Housekeeping," she said, and resumed tapping.
"I can't wait," John replied. He sat back and hoped the ride would be brief.
Mycroft was waiting for them in an abandoned lot. John's sense of London geography, which had improved by leaps and bounds since the beginning of his association with Sherlock, told him they were somewhere between Vauxhall and Brixton.
"Very good," Mycroft said. "Before long, there'll be no point to this exercise."
"You could've just dropped by the flat," John said. "That works rather well these days."
"Not in this instance," Mycroft said. "Sherlock's there. In a right state, I might add."
"Explain," John demanded, although it was hardly necessary.
"As you will have noticed, my brother has no particular talent or predilection for traditional emotional discourse," Mycroft said, studying the handle of his umbrella. "Acting out is his favored approach, I'm afraid. It always has been."
"You don't say."
"John, don't be flippant with me; I think you'll find that I'm quite serious." Mycroft narrowed his eyes, and although John didn't doubt the veracity of his statement, it was difficult not to notice that he was struggling to hold back the ghost of a smile. "Socks," he continued, with a forced frown. "Everywhere. Am I correct?"
"Strangely, yes," John admitted. "Even in my office. Sarah wasn't amused."
"Mummy never was," said Mycroft. "You've taken it in better humor than most."
"What is it? A test? Your family ought to come with a primer. Or warning labels."
"He worries about you. Constantly. Is this beginning to sound familiar?"
"Yeah, but why would he show it by leaving socks lying about? I don't—"
"Must you take everything at face value?" Mycroft asked.
John stared at the ground. No point in feigning obtuseness, not anymore.
"I tried to ask him about it," he said. "This afternoon."
"Texting won't be of any use, even though Sherlock favors it."
"What should I do, then? Email him? Download Skype?"
"Talk to him," said Mycroft, indicating that John should get back in the car.
"Right," John sighed and did as he was told, but not before retrieving a familiar article of clothing from his seat. He stuffed it in his coat pocket and contemplated texting Sherlock, but then thought better of it. Mycroft would know, the smug bastard.
Anthea smirked and tapped the whole way to Baker Street.
* * *
"Sherlock? Sherlock, are you there?"
John paused in the middle of the living room and listened, met with silence.
"So much for your brother knowing everything," he said, taking a peek in the Tesco bag, which was still on the chair. It contained a second package of HobNobs, plus a jar of mango chutney and some clothes pins. He dropped his coat on top of these eclectic, unremarkable items and headed upstairs. He was tired, and he needed to think.
What he hadn't counted on was finding a sock on his pillow. Navy blue argyle, like the one downstairs in his coat. John peered into the hall, finding the radiator clear.
Sherlock's bedroom door was open.
"Are you sure?" asked John, swallowing hard. "It's a war zone in there."
After thirty seconds and a sharp intake of breath, Sherlock spoke.
"Nothing you haven't seen before, then."
"I don't know about that, Sherlock. You're giving me more credit than I deserve."
"Damn it, always something," said Sherlock, under his breath. "Forget any of this ever happened," he said more loudly, and the disappointment—no, dejection—in his voice was heartbreaking. "I'll want my socks back, of course. The pair in your desk and the ones you've just come by. Leave them on the radiator as and when convenient."
John stepped forward and caught Sherlock's door just as it began to close.
"You're forgetting," he said, "that I never mind a war zone as long as you're in it."
Sherlock pulled John forward with such force that they practically fell inside.
"I was starting to run out," he gasped against John's mouth, tugging him to the bed.
John panted and kissed him harder, hitting the mattress with a thump.
"Socks," said Sherlock, exasperated, breaking away to yank John's jumper up and over his head. "You'll probably find at least ten more over the next week. I even left some in the fridge and under the sink. What took you so long?"
"Where I come from, it's done with, you know, dates. Flowers. That sort of thing."
"Dates weren't working," Sherlock huffed, laughing when John finished off his buttons and skimmed down his sides. "You're allergic to pollen. I had to get creative."
"That's not true," said John, and lost his train of thought as Sherlock stripped off the garment, tossing it on the floor. "You fell back on an old stand-by, didn't you?"
"I ought to have considered fratricide sooner," Sherlock sighed, flopping onto his back.
John rolled over and stole another kiss, giddy at the feel of Sherlock under him.
"That wouldn't be terribly kind. Mycroft does have his uses."
"Yes, of course, knocking sense into you, et cetera. Why are you still half dressed?"
I could ask you the same. John reached down, pulled off his socks, and pressed them to Sherlock's chest, where Sherlock's long fingers twined around them, too. Sherlock leaned up to kiss him, skillfully working John's trousers open with his free hand.
"Keep them," John sighed, pressing into Sherlock's touch. "I have plenty."
"I was hoping you'd say that," said Sherlock, lazily smiling up at him.
Later, John thought, you're getting your first lesson in doing the laundry.