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This is the first part in my "Sherlock and John first met as children" AU - a prologue of sorts. I have a lot of bits and bobs of this universe written - they just need to be edited, First Reader'ed and beta-read.


Title: Two Little Boys: Something's Coming (Prologue)
Author: Dee Natsuko (natsuko1978)
Beta-Reader: 221b_hound
However, since I've played with it a lot since then, all problems are my fault.
Fandom: BBC Sherlock
Characters: John Watson, Mike Stamford, Sherlock Holmes, Mrs Hudson
Genre: Alternative Universe, General, Friendship
Rating: PG (I think)
Warnings: John has PTSD, some concepts of war mentioned

Summary: Nothing happens to John Watson. Back from the wars and not in the best of health, he feels as though he is always waiting for something to happen. So when a passing remark by Mike Stamford leads him back to his old friend Sherlock Holmes, is it the start of something new, or the continuation of the adventures they had when they were two little boys?

Disclaimer: The characters were created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the modern setting and take on the characters by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat for the BBC. I have used public domain quotations from William Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling. I own nothing.
Nothing happens to John.

Walking is good therapy. It is good for his Depression and PTSD and it is good for his leg, whether the chronic sciatica is caused by Conversion Disorder (or some other somatoform diagnosis) or – as John himself suspects – piriformis muscle spasm, in a lower back version of his frequent tension headaches. There is too much tension in him, too much stress: always waiting for the other shoe to drop; waiting for a call to action; waiting for an insurgent attack which never comes; waiting to tread on an IED, or to be in the blast radius when someone else does, or to witness something equally horrific.

It is not unlike being in the silence after a bomb blast, or maybe the silence his dad and grandparents used to talk about, after a V2 flying bomb’s engines stopped, before it hit. Waiting for an explosion. Waiting for the screaming to start. Waiting for something to happen. Anything.

He is used to waiting. Being on-call as a junior doctor, being on-duty in Afghanistan, waiting… but the call always came, the waiting always ended, usually in frenetic, manic action, in blood and shouts, pain and need, relief and release. The bow, pulled taut, lets go and the arrow fires. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! For Harry, England and St George!

In the dullness and regularity and loneliness and nothingness of his new life – or old life (was it like this before?) he can no longer judge – he is always waiting. So his body and his mind thrum and simmer with tension, potential energy coiling and tightening all his muscles with no release or relief. Something has to give out. Something has to happen.

Of course, it will not. Nothing happens to John. Not any longer.

So he walks. He grounds himself in his own body and lets his awareness of the pain, of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints and the nerves informing him of sense and of controlling movement become absolute. He takes all his attention and directs it inwards, hoping he can stop paying attention to everything – and everyone - that is happening in the city around him. He can focus the useless hyper-vigilance on himself rather than his surroundings.

Something is coming.

Maybe.

Something to stop John falling apart at the seams, held together by sheer will.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew/ To serve their turn long after they are gone/ And so hold on when there is nothing in you/ Except the Will which says to them “Hold on!”

What is he holding on for? Harry? Himself? The medics who stopped the bleed from his subclavian artery before he died from it; the doctors who spent hours repairing the shattered bone in his shoulder; the physiotherapists who got his arm mobile and functioning again; Ella?

What does he think will happen – can happen – to him now? The adventures he has sought out since he was just a kid? A woman? Love?

With his damaged body, this leg, his shoulder – is the palsy in his hand a sign of nerve damage? – and his mental health… issues? Yeah, right.

He is so wrapped up in his thoughts, so consumed with himself (which is at least a successful distraction from looking for snipers and suicide bombers) that Mike Stamford has to speak to him twice before he even realises that he knows the man.

The effort of small talk, the requisite questions and answers of two men who were once sort of friends but are barely acquaintances now, is almost physically painful. They buy coffees from an over-priced and over-crowded coffee bar and take them back to the park, to sit on a bench and catch up. As if there is anything John can say which can catch Mike up to the reality of his life or the dichotomy of Afghanistan and Here-and-Now. Although he is lonely, he is too far removed from Mike – from people – to make friends or be friendly here. This is no longer the London he loved. He is no longer the man who loved London. Everything has changed.

Then Mike says, “What about a flat-share?”

John laughs, briefly and bitterly, before he can stop himself, but he cannot, or will not, tell Stamford about the nightmares and the hyper-vigilance, the Depression and lethargy which afflict him. All he can say is, “Who would want me as a flat-mate?”

“You’re the second person to say that to me today,” Mike says, with a laugh.

“Who was the first?” John asks, with little interest in the answer.

“A guy in one of the labs at Bart’s was moaning about how he couldn’t get anyone to share a place he’s found.”

“I should think it’s easy enough to ask around the other students. I assume he’s a medical student.”

“Nope – I have no idea what he’s studying, actually. Or even if he is studying and not a researcher of some sort. And you don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet, or you’d know why he has problems.”

***
It is strange – weird beyond strange – being introduced to a man John first met some twenty-five years before. Sherlock looks better – a hell of a lot better – than the last time they saw each other and John knows that he looks worse. He is weather-beaten and haggard from pain, illness and not enough restful sleep. He has aged ten years in the last five.

But John is still recognisably himself. Sherlock, though, is unrecognisable as the man – creature, almost – John last saw nearly six years ago. Though still rather too pale and too thin for John’s liking, even from across the room he can see that Sherlock has lost the awful jaundiced sallowness and papery texture his skin had back then; his eyes are no longer sunken in his head, ringed with dark circles, purple as fresh bruises. His eyes, as his gaze comes to rest on John, are clear and bright – the sclera white, not bloodshot or yellowish. He is alert, almost quivering with energy, but the healthy energy of a man engaged in his enthusiasms, not the jerky, buzzy energy of a chemical high.

He is older, of course he is, but he looks years younger. John finds himself grinning.

Sherlock’s eyes widen briefly and there’s a movement of the muscles around his mouth – almost a twitch, too little to actually be a smile or a frown – micro-expressions in response to John’s name and looking up to see John’s face.

Five years out of practise with reading Sherlock, John spots them but is not sure what they mean, until Sherlock’s changeable eyes fix on him with the sort of intense gaze that should be uncomfortable. John has no idea how he could explain the Look to a third party, but he does not have to, he only has to understand. And Sherlock is saying, very clearly, “Don’t say anything!”

It is the mirror of their last official “first meeting” when it had been John reminding Sherlock – with a finger on his lips and a shake of his head – that letting on that they knew each other was also letting on that Sherlock had run away and they had both been down on the beach without adult supervision.

Sherlock’s mouth, as he breaks eye contact, demands Mike’s phone – without any of the usual pleasantries or greetings to either of them – and when he takes John’s proffered phone instead, throws out a casual, “Afghanistan or Iraq?”

“Afghanistan.” John feels his lips twitch, knowing by long association that Sherlock has noticed the tan on his face and hands and the tan-lines where he was covered by his uniform, that Sherlock knows he is a doctor and a soldier and can see that he has “been through the wars”. It is not a hard deduction to conclude he has seen active duty.

He lets himself observe while Sherlock sends a text, watching Sherlock’s steady hands and deft, delicacy of touch. The hands are less battered from rough use and pin-pricks, less stained with chemicals and nicotine, too. As a lefty John has always slightly resented the etymology of dextrous, but Sherlock is dextrous. Always was, until first the drugs and then the shakes of withdrawal got him.

Sherlock notices, of course he does, and his gaze cuts across to Stamford and back to John again with a minute tightening of his lips. A silent request (plea?) for, “Not here. Not now.”

Sherlock tells John about the flat – a two-bed in Baker Street (which sounds completely out of John’s price-range) and asks him to go and view it with him tomorrow.

John agrees. Even if he has no intention of taking a flat that might well cost him £800 a month – it might as well be £8,000, given his finances – he will be seeing Sherlock again. Maybe this time he can get him to talk.

***
John gets to Baker Street before Sherlock the next day, having left plenty of time for his gimpy, limpy walk and the tube. The flat is in one of London’s old Georgian/Victorian three-storey terraced town houses with attic and basement. It does not exactly look swank, being next to a little independent sandwich bar-cum-grocer’s-cum-newsagent place, but John knows you pay for location first, then square-footage next and kerb-appeal last in central London. (A one-bed in a new Docklands’ build – a tower block by any other name – was listed for £300k the other day.)

Sherlock arrives – in a black cab. Right. Sherlock Holmes needs a flat-mate to help with the rent, when he’s looking at a flat in a pretty prime London location – the Bakerloo, Metropolitan, Jubilee, Hammersmith & City and Circle lines all run through Baker Street station, meaning easy access to most of London, plus the NW1 postcode – and taking black cabs. Not to mention that his suit and overcoat probably cost more than John’s entire civilian wardrobe.

He voices his main worry as soon as Sherlock is close. “Sherlock, this is going to cost a bomb. I was looking online last night and there’s flats in this area going for £450 a week. I can’t even afford to go halves on that.”

“The landlady, Mrs Hudson, she’s… she’s doing me a deal. I did her a favour last year – her husband was on Death Row in the States and I… helped.”

“You prevented her husband’s execution?”

“Oh no,” Sherlock grins at him, “I ensured it.”

John snorts and shakes his head. Trust Sherlock.

When she comes to the door, Mrs Hudson is not really a surprise – Sherlock has an absolute gift (when he chooses to use it) for charming women of a certain age and making them want to mother him. He attracts motherly sorts as though he gives off vibes that tell what an ice-queen Euphrasie Holmes really was and how little mothering he has had. The surprise is that Sherlock has responded to her, that he gives her one of his rare and impetuous hugs, clumsy and affectionate as a five-year-old.

Mrs Hudson is as different from Mrs Holmes as imaginable; which is, perhaps, why Sherlock seems to like her.

It makes John smile and warms him to know that Sherlock is not absolutely alone. He knows Mycroft will be watching over his younger brother – but Mycroft is more malevolent fairy than guardian angel.

The house, when he gets inside, has not obviously been remodelled. They go up the stairs to the first floor and the room doors open off the landing without any secondary entrance. It is a little more exposed than John would like – there is no entry phone system, either, he notices.

The kitchen is small, but the living room is huge – and cluttered. Matching and mismatching furniture, boxes, papers, chemistry equipment, things of all sorts piled on every available surface… If he did not know Sherlock he would think it is being currently used as a lumber room. As it is, he ignores the stuff everywhere and looks around, taking in the two tall windows and high ceiling; the sense of airy space his grotty little bed-sit utterly lacks.

On the mantelshelf sits Arthur Rathbone, the Skull, whom Sherlock had purloined from the labs in his first term at University, though he usually passed him off as a theatrical prop when people were curious or disturbed. Sherlock gathers up a scattering of letters and envelopes from the arm of one of the chairs and transfixes them to the mantelpiece with a jack-knife. John merely shakes his head.

Mrs Hudson obviously reads something into their ease around each other and John’s tolerant affection. “There’s another bedroom upstairs, if you’ll be needing two bedrooms.”

“Yes, Mrs Hudson, we will need two.” He takes no offence at the implication; it is hardly the first time anyone has thought it, after all.

Sherlock though, looks startled and flustered. John would swear the tips of his ears even go pink. “Could you, perhaps, leave us to discuss matters, Mrs Hudson?”

“Of course, dear. I’ll be just downstairs when you’re ready to let me know.”

Sherlock watches her go and then turns on John with his gimlet stare and laser-intense focus. “John.”

“Sherlock.”

“John.” There is a world of expression in the familiar voice. A world of meaning. “I… I don’t use any longer. I’m clean. I still smoke, sometimes, occasionally, but even that… I usually use nicotine patches, that gum, sprays – I’m not polluting my lungs.”

“Or your environment. Must make life easier with the smoking ban and all, too.”

“Right – it’s impossible to keep up a smoking habit in London nowadays. So you won’t… you won’t have to put up with the smell, I know you hate that, or that passive – thing. If you were worried.” He stops speaking. Shrugs. “I… I looked for you. After. Before yesterday, I mean.”

“I doubt it was hard to find me. Mycroft must have had the details, after all.”

I found you. You were garrisoned in Alnwick. I just… I didn’t make contact. I-I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know… I thought you might—“ He gives his self-deprecating smile and a one-shouldered shrug.

John thinks about that and looks at his left hand, his weight heavy on the cane under his right hand. His hand is perfectly steady. He sees the old scar, faint and faded but still white against his tan and does not need to think any longer – their relationship was sealed years before. He smiles and holds his left hand out to Sherlock. “Idiot.” He says it fondly, as a term of endearment. “Brothers, remember?”

Sherlock touches two fingers to the scar; strokes it. It tickles and John pulls his hand back.

Sherlock looks unsure. “When we were kids, yes. But, then – I… I wasn’t a kid. And you stopped writing.”

“You never answered. Wouldn’t take my calls. And then I was deployed. I sent you birthday and Christmas cards when I could, though. Care of Mycroft’s office when I didn’t have any other address.”

“Really?” The shy, half-afraid, hope on Sherlock’s face is heart-wrenching.

“What would be the point in lying – well, trying to lie – to you?”

“None at all.” Sherlock’s grin flashes out and John cannot help but answer it with one of his own. “Mycroft has always hated you.” Unspoken, the thought lies between them that maybe Mycroft deliberately failed to pass the cards and notes on. “I thought you’d, I don’t know, forgotten me. Or moved on.”

“Daft git.”

Sherlock holds out his own left hand, smiling shyly. “Womb to tomb?”

John barks out a laugh, startled and amused. “Birth to Earth.” He clasps their hands together for a beat – two, three – squeezes and lets go.

Still smiling, he goes over to the old and comfy-looking armchair and moves a pile of bumf from the seat to the side table next to it. Slowly and stiffly he sits, settling himself into its depths, a scatter cushion wedged into the small of his back where the ache is. It fits his legs and back as though made for him and he lets out a sigh; lets out some of the tension.

Sherlock wanders around the room, weaving his way between the stacks and boxes, picking things up and putting them down again. Dispelling nervous energy. “You could have died.”

“In Afghanistan? Yes. Hundreds of British service personnel have died, in fact.”

“I would… that would…” Sherlock stares at his own shoes, clearly uncomfortable. Never good with sentiment. Whispers, “I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Me too, actually.” And he is; he finally is. Sitting here with Sherlock, he is actually glad he lived, pleased to be here. At home – with himself as well as with the place. “So, want to tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself?”

“I managed to invent a job of my own.” He smiles. “You know how much I crave brainwork and stimulation – and I suppose you remember my talents for observation and deduction. So I created a job to let me exert myself to the full. I imagine I’m the only one in the world – I’m a consulting detective.”

“Who consults you?”

“People with problems. People in trouble. They lay the facts before me and I can usually put them on the right track. The Met CID—“

“The Met! The police consult you?”

“Of course. Their detectives come when they are at fault or out of their depth – which is always – and let me see the evidence and I shed some light on the subject for them. Most of the time I don’t even have to leave the flat to do it – the solution’s there plain as day in the emails or photos on file. Other times I have to run my own investigation – it’s best when Lestrade or one of the others lets me visit the crime scene as an expert. Most SOCOs, Exhibits Managers and Scientific Services Managers working forensics in the Met and out of Scotland Yard are worse than useless.”

John laughs. “So you are still Sherlock Holmes and the rest of the world are all idiots. I don’t believe it! You’ve actually been and gone and done it – set yourself up as Hercule Poirot!”

“Yes, though I have yet to find my Captain Hastings.”

“Is there still no one? Friends? Colleagues? Girlfriends? Boyfriends?” He watches Sherlock’s expression of disdain. “So you are still The Cat Who Walks By Himself, and all creatures are alike to you?”

“I prefer to think that I am a man of ‘infinite resource and sagacity’.”

“Of course you do. Good to see some things don’t change.”

“What about you?”

“Still single – as no doubt you can observe from something. Army pension. Living in a depressing little bed-sit. Bored out of my mind – getting up at all sorts of hours, being pretty lazy, trying to stay calm. Looking for a job.”

Sherlock hesitates for a moment before glancing over with that shy, hopeful look. “Exchange the depressing bed-sit for 221b Baker Street?”

“Yes. Probably. It’s been a long time Sherlock. Bridges and water and all that – do you really think we still get along well enough to live together? Do we still know each other well enough to co-habit without driving each other nuts?”

“I still play the violin.” The confession is made rather anxiously.

John snorts. “Play the violin, or strum on it as though it were a ukulele and scratch upon it for hours on end without playing two chords together that could be called a tune?”

“Both. I promise to play to make up for the scratching, if that’s any compensation. Oh! And I still keep chemicals about and do experiments – and umm, body parts, when I can get them. That won’t annoy you, will it? Let’s see, what else? I sometimes get down in the dumps and don’t talk for days on end… have some pretty black moods. Just leave me alone when I get like that – don’t treat me like I’m sulky or ill. They pass soon enough.”

“You? Don’t talk for days?”

Sherlock shrugs. “It’s a reaction thing, I think. Maybe a companion will be able to keep me on a more even keel.”

“My own nerves—“

Sherlock interrupts him. “I know. I agree with your therapist that your limp is at least partly psychosomatic. You’re stressed and tense, but if I know you that’s because you miss being active and useful. If you stick around you’ll see a great deal of the criminal and the strange and bizarre that’s to be found in London. And you could be a great help as a comrade to me.” He rattles it off as though it is of no moment, letting his gaze dart over John – everywhere but his eyes. Finally, he allows his gaze to meet John’s. “It will make a considerable difference to me to have someone on whom I can thoroughly rely.”

“Your Hastings?” John asks with a wry smile.

“If you like.”

“Okay, let’s give it a try. I think I’d rather be your John Watson, though. That’s always worked pretty well for us in the past, hasn’t it?”

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
221b_hound
Apr. 2nd, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
Yaaay! The additions and tweaks since I saw it work really well, and the pace and flow are really good. :) I can't wait to read more.
natsuko1978
Apr. 2nd, 2013 03:45 am (UTC)
Thank you! This has been, all March, such fun to write. so many scenes and ideas!
221b_hound
Apr. 3rd, 2013 03:27 am (UTC)
I'm glad it's been fun. :) writing is such hard work that there ought to be a bit of fun involved as well.
lindentreeisle
Apr. 2nd, 2013 04:54 am (UTC)
I like this very much. I particularly enjoy the introduction and description of John's problem as being that he's waiting for an emergency that's never going to come. Also love Mycroft as a malevolent fairy. *G* The description suits him. I like how you're already salting the text with cultural references, as well as hints at John and Sherlock's previous relationship, without giving it all away up front. I'm excited to see more. :D
natsuko1978
Apr. 2nd, 2013 11:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Blue. :) I'm enjoying writing this, even if structuring it is a bit of a headache.

I'm excited by the people who want to see more of this AU. :D
a_xmasmurder
Apr. 4th, 2013 05:46 am (UTC)
Adorbs! I'm loving this so far!!!
natsuko1978
Apr. 4th, 2013 11:51 pm (UTC)
:D More will follow. It's just annoying that I've written a LOT... but not the next part. Ooops.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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