Start of the term, everyone settling in. Sherlock walks down the hall, glancing through open doors as he passes them. Students adjusting to new schedules run late: doors left open in response, no great sound pollution due to distances between lecture halls. Much new, little interesting, and then the noise.
To his immediate right: between a bang and a clap.
Through the door, down the aisle and the stairs forming it. A fluid motion: a man. The class’s instructor, half-ducking, half-diving behind the desk, away from the chalkboard. The students: a number have jumped, two have shrieked, many look sharply to the noise. A dropped book, not important. Dismiss the book.
The instructor stands back up, holding something in his right hand. A cane? Why a cane? He’s walking steady. Out in front of the class, walking steady, holding the cane by the shaft rather than the handle. Why?
“Field surgery requires you to respond to your surroundings, not just your patient. If you don’t know how to duck for cover, you’ll be no help to anyone. Never bleed on your patient! Everyone write that down—it’ll be a lot less obvious when you’re being shot at.”
Posture and tone: army, ex-army. Area of expertise: surgeon. Special module instructor? Guest instructor? History of service, exposure to combat. Wounded in service? Afghanistan or Iraq? Why the cane? What colour are his eyes?
The instructor leans back against the desk and tells a student off in the third row. “Phone away! You missed proper ducking technique and I’m not going to show anyone again.” The class laughs.
The student half way up the aisle picks up her book, still struggling with an over-packed backpack on her lap. One of the late ones.
The instructor resumes his lecture precisely where he’d left off—think back, yes, exactly the same words—and now limps his way back to the blackboard.
Shame, stress, pressure, psychosomatic injury, so wounded in combat, wounded in combat how? Proud soldier, not bluster, practical distraction tactic, tone almost joking. Deflective humour. Never bleed on your patient may yet be I have bled on a patient, but what from? Bullet wound most obvious, has no signs of scarring on exposed face or hands. Could be debris or impact from explosion, car bombs always possible, but field medic would be called in for the wounded. An explosion would be past, a fire fight continuing. Yes, he was shot. Where was he shot?
Shifts weight on left leg, clenches cane with right hand, writes with left hand. Poor handwriting on the board: clearly new, unpractised. The size is nearly too small to be seen from the back. Definitely new to teaching. New to Bart’s? Not sure.
Ah, there! There! Tension in the shoulder from counterbalancing his cane hand, or injury in the left shoulder? He writes and then he stretches it out, rolling his shoulder. Oh, it pains him! Not in voice or face, but clear in his tension. Stoic soldier.
His shoulders aren’t even now. They were before. They were very even, remarkably sturdy. His posture made the presence of the cane absurd, and now it’s a part of him. Was he aware of the change? Embarrassed, professional, carrying on despite clearly being triggered. Seems more energised than upset. How?
No laughter from the class at the ducking, barely any discomfort. Most discomfort from student with phone being caught. Other students have since put away phones. Undergrads. Soldier in position of command, assumption of authority.
Watch the line of the shoulders, what do they do? Uneven when writing, uneven when putting down the chalk, tense when turning, nods when taking a question, active listening, steady when answering. Very steady. Presentation of solidity. No gesturing when he speaks. Hand on cane, hand at side. Controlled. Patient with idiotic question. Thorough answer, easily returns to prior subject. Turns back to the board. For an instant, his shoulders remain even. For an instant, as seen from behind, still steady.
Then gone, then unsteady, and that is wrong. More than wrong, it’s annoying. The unevenness needs to be smoothed. Even when called to act, when forced under pressure. Status quo neutral—read: boring—and uneven. The unevenness needs to be soothed. A hand on either shoulder, feel tension beneath. Left side raised, which side tenser? Muscle and bone beneath: not ruined, certainly functional. Reconstructed? How long since injury? Hair cut growing out, not shaggy, can’t tell from this distance. Sandy brown. Must be fairly recent. Habits holding.
What else, what else? Mid-thirties, could be early forties, could be early thirties and strain of injury and army service. Hair dark blonde, sandy brown, grey at all? Can’t tell from this distance, so many things impossible to tell from this distance. Frustrating. He needs to know.
Wait, no, stop. Focus. He sees:
Ex-army doctor, Afghanistan or Iraq, wounded in action, psychosomatic limp, must be in therapy, combat instincts in place, quick reflexes, grips cane as weapon when threatened, not a pacifist, civic-minded, driven, capable of command, functions excellently under stress, close to Sherlock’s age, below Sherlock’s height, sarcastic or morbid humour, compact, solid, authoritative in manner, unusual but not necessarily subpar dress sense, articulate, good public speaker, terrible handwriting despite use of dominant hand, cane in non-dominant hand, wears watch on dominant hand, has adjusted to life with psychosomatic limp, practical.
He cannot see:
Name, exact age. Doctor, of course. Army rank as well. An officer? Titles, not name. Ballpark figure of age is not exact. And a ring. He cannot see a ring.
He cannot stop seeing.
Mike looks up. “Sherlock!” Desk: papers, laptop, game of solitaire. Interruption: permitted. “How are you?”
Office door: enter through, close behind. “Mike, I need a name. The instructor in room one-nineteen, who is he?”
“That’s the lecture hall with the wonky overhead, isn’t it?” Mike asks. Useless. No interest in the room.
“Ex-army doctor with the cane.”
“Oh! That would be John. Old mate of mine from uni.”
John. Doctor John something. Trained at Bart’s, served in the Middle East. Within several years of Mike’s age: older than Sherlock.
“Full name, Mike.”
“John Watson.” Frown: confusion, concern. “Did something happen?”
“Yes. No. Not yet.” Hands in hair. Dizzy. Heartbeat harsh. Not good. “I need, I need to...” Pacing. Not enough space. “What do I do?”
Deepening frown: mounting concern. Eyebrows rise: recognition, realisation.
“God, is it that obvious?” Raised tone. Didn’t intend that.
Amusement and pity: confirmation. “I’ve seen this before, I’m afraid.”
“At university. Men or women?” How many falling over John Watson? How many accepted?
A kind expression. “Both, but I’ve only ever known him to date women.”
“Date. Do you mean date into a relationship or date as a means of procuring sex?”
“He was a romance man, I think, though he sounded adventurous in the supply closets. But, Sherlock--”
“No, no, I know!” Interrupt, redirect. “I’m still processing, I’m gathering data, I need more data.” Adventurous in supply closets. Adventurous in supply closets.
“Jesus, what did he say to you?” Concern again, still. Rising in degree.
“Nothing. No, nothing, we haven’t spoken yet. Should we?”
“We haven’t spoken. I saw him. It’s progressing, I can’t stop it. Tell me something horrid about him.”
“About John?” Incredulous. Because of the subject or the request? The subject. Damn.
“Yes, about John.” His name is John. “There must be something.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Respect. Admiration. Effort required to find poor qualities. “He can be a bit sarcastic sometimes. Sort of distant. The rugby lads he used to hang around with weren’t the best blokes, but John was always all right.”
“That’s all I can think of.”
Pain in mouth: biting lip. Stop that. Dizziness continuing. Sit down. “What do I do when he dislikes me?”
“What?” Frown: uncertain of what Sherlock has said.
Restate: “When he dislikes me. What do I do then?” Rearrange phrases for emphasis.
“Not fancying you isn’t the same as disliking you, Sherlock.” Borderline patronizing. Ignore.
“Irrelevant. People who hate me have fancied me. What do I do when he dislikes me?”
“Why would he dislike you?”
True. A noted exception. “Why not?”
Mike laughs. “Well, we’re friends, for a start.”
“That doesn’t follow. We’re friends because you don’t dislike me and I find you tolerable.”
Cheerful: “And I don’t dislike you because I know that’s a compliment.”
“What does John like? Besides rugby.”
“He likes a good night out. Not drunk, mind you. He doesn’t like being drunk, and he doesn’t like being around drunks. But he likes a good night out.”
Pubs, presumably. Other options, related options. Out to dinner? Take John out to dinner? Take John out to dinner.
Reverse engineer scenario:
Take John out to dinner.
Ask John out to dinner.
Speak to John.
(Be impressive prior to speaking to John, within view of John. Safer. Lower odds of rejection.)
Or perhaps another stage. Ask for something smaller. Coffee? Coffee is the norm.
So: be impressive, speak to John, be even more impressive, become liked, ask to coffee, have coffee, ask to dinner, have dinner, repeat until dating.
Obstacles: precedent, reputation, sexual orientation (possibly), prior commitment (possibly), terror.
“Does John listen to gossip?” People talk about Sherlock, they always do, but does John listen?
“I’m almost sure he doesn’t.” Hesitation. “But. Sherlock.”
“If he’s straight, I’ll leave him alone.” Cannot refrain from checking. Observe John Watson’s reactions to presence of attractive male. Happen to be attractive male. Find location with mirrors for better observation without overt staring. Locate self accordingly in path of John Watson. Amendment: find location in path of John Watson with suitable mirrors. Amendment: find path of John Watson without attracting notice or causing conflict.
Supposed scenario: John is straight.
Consider ramifications: short term withdrawal symptoms. Anger, self-directed. Avoidance of room one-nineteen and general wariness when walking within Bart’s. Impact to the work: relatively low.
Supposed scenario: John is bisexual and reciprocates.
Consider ramifications: giddiness. Symptoms of addiction. Fixation. Increased time spent at Bart’s. Impact to the work: potentially high, potentially negative over long term. Troubling.
Supposed scenario: John is bisexual and rejects him.
Consider ramifications: short term withdrawal symptoms. Anguish. Avoidance. Impact to the work: high, negative over long term. Very troubling.
“God, I hate this already.”
Mike grins. “Tends to be how it works. How long’s it been?”
“How long since what?”
A gesture, indicating Sherlock’s condition.
Check watch. “Forty-eight minutes.”
Odd expression. Marvelling? Impressed? Curious.
“What?” Sharp tone. Mike won’t mind.
“Of everyone I know, you’re the last I’d expect to fall in love at first sight.”
Roll eyes. “Infatuated.” Important distinction. Clarify: “I don’t have enough data. I’ve constructed a concept of the man, I don’t know him yet. And ‘first sight’ amounted to five minutes of staring.”
“You going to be all right?”
“No idea.” The first instance: too terrified to cope. The second instance: chose the work. Regret on both accounts. Total recovery time: unknown.
Unbidden image: John’s shoulders. Steady and even, leaning back against Sherlock’s chest. Tense and uneven, aching under his hands.
Involuntarily physical responses: too many to count. Pleasant. Painful. What will John’s face look like when Sherlock impresses him? Respect, not grudging? Practical man, practical demonstration.
“If you need any advice.”
“Yes, thank you, Mike.” Dismiss. Re-evaluate. “Thank you.” Sincere.
Go home. Realise never went to morgue. No fresh body parts. Unimportant: cannot focus.
Mrs Hudson notices.
“Oh, dear. What’s gone wrong?” Upset on his behalf. Pointless. Oddly pleasant.
Roll onto side, pull dressing gown tighter about self.
A small hand rubs his back. “Don’t worry, Sherlock. I’m sure that nice detective will drop by again soon.”
A case. Work. Yes. His body wants John, but his mind still begs for the work. Reassuring. Physically disturbing, mentally reassuring. He wants his mouth on John’s skin. Touch John’s face for the textures. Stubble, callus from helmet strap. Must be. Need to know. Not allowed to touch. Never allowed to touch prior to risk of rejection. Unfair.
Removal of hand. Relocation and return of Mrs Hudson. “Sit up, I’ve brought tea.”
They have tea.
“I have a vested interest in the happiness of a stranger. It’s annoying.”
She pats his hand. No platitudes. Lovely Mrs Hudson.
Agitation. Cannot sit still.
Lack of motivation. Sprawl.
Stand. Pace. Violin.
Sit, think, reorganize.
Not enough data to organize. Mind palace, VCR, rewind (John would not be a DVD), press play.
Stand. Laptop, sit, open, turn on, turn on, turn on faster. On. Google. PTSD. Flashbacks? Stress response. Afghanistan, Iraq. RAMC.
Oh. Involuntary reactions. Warmth. Discomfort.
Wait for normalcy.
Become intimately acquainted with current situation in Middle East.
Join support website for spouses of traumatised soldiers. Read. Process. Ignore discomfort in stomach. Ignore clenching sensation in chest.
Picture John. Stance steady, shoulders even. Chin lifted. Stubborn, proud, practical. Maintain image until discomfort turns to new pain.
Google: how to approach a man.
Google: how to approach a bisexual man.
Google: how to approach a bisexual man without frightening him.
Results: indicate question is too specific.
Shout for Mrs Hudson.
Shout for Mrs Hudson.
Check watch. Oh.
Twenty four hours since John.
Potentially ready to care for another human being.
Delete search history. Hope Mycroft hasn’t noticed.
Experiment. Solitary experiment, solitary experiment alone, no one else, experiment and work, work work work work work.
First attempt at masturbation since John: terrible. Awkward. Solitary activity, unwanted intruder.
Rephrase: wanted intruder. Unwanted? Uninvited. Uninvited intruder: redundant.
Close eyes. Focus on sensation. Mental drift.
Image of a man at a distance, cannot determine eye colour (dark, what kind of dark?) or exact facial features. Awkward intrusion, impossible to fantasise.
Sigh. Compromise. Relocate image upstairs, second bedroom. Scenario requiring silence. Cannot unnerve John through extreme interest. Surprising erotic sensation.
Success. Result: sense of terrible loneliness. Not unexpected, but disappointing.
(Safer to call it curiosity.)
Foot traffic in hall, audible tap of cane from behind.
Panic. Give away nothing. Continue attempt to gain access to x-ray equipment.
Glance up. Hospital corners and convex mirrors: a safety precaution. John?
Turn body. Back turned is forbidding, side view is open. Closer to open. Not inviting, but the best he can do. Keep talking.
Sound of cane excruciatingly close.
Body language alters, his own body. Flirtation, apparently directed toward conversational partner. Why? Conversing with a woman. Proximity to John? Likely.
Tapping decreases in frequency.
Turn head, casual glance.
John: eyes blue, not brown, gaze strolling up Sherlock’s legs. Tongue peeking between lips, unconscious motion. When caught looking, makes eye contact before continuing on.
Have tests done. A doctor would particularly appreciate that.
Test results clean. Only remaining step: approach John.
Close office door, sit. Head in hands. Groan.
“Oh, it can’t be that bad.” Reassurance, not a dismissal.
“How did you do it?”
“You’re married. At least five years, stable, happy. How?”
Long pause, thoughtful. “We sort it out as we go. I figured out early on that I’m happier when she’s happy, so that helped with compromising. She was relieved I don’t want kids—that was a big one. Similar spending habits, too. We--”
“No, before that. How did you start?”
“Is this still about John?”
“Obviously. I need to plan my initial approach.”
“Oh.” Face fallen. “Can’t help there, I’m afraid. Madhuri’s the one who started it off. Asked me to help with her computer. I had no idea how to work one, but people always think I do. I had to learn out of self-defence! It’s the glasses, I think--”
“Right. Sorry. Hm. Have you tried ‘Hello’? ‘Hello’ works.”
Twisting sensation in abdomen. Unpleasant.
“That’s all right.” Hand on his back. Very like Mrs Hudson. “Everyone gets shy sometimes. Just do what comes naturally.”
Wrong. “When I do what comes naturally, people yell at me.” Statement of fact. “I need to plan.” All Sherlock is certain of: relationships with gross disparities of attachment do poorly. John cannot be rushed. The websites were very clear on that subject. Sherlock must act with restraint.
“Right, well.” Pause for thought. “His office hours are listed on his door, and you could always drop by with a question. The students don’t do it enough. Might be a nice change of pace for him.”
“And if that goes well, ask for phone number or coffee.”
A nod. “Sounds about right.”
“I could introduce you two, if that would help.”
Tempting. “No.” If he sets precedent for outside intervention, Mycroft may try to use that. “But thank you.” He stands. Smiles.
He exits and navigates the halls to John’s office. The closest hours listed begin Tuesday at four pm. Twenty-three hours, fifteen minutes away.
It is fully possible.
It will end terribly.
Regardless, something must be done.
(Maybe John will smile at him.)
Tuesday afternoon. Plan complete.
“Yes? Come in.”