I'm not sure where else to dump this many words -- nearly 2k out of about 23k written and this is literally less than half of what I've blocked off as the first chapter. I've tweaked this so many times, it's kind of sickening. Considering more still. My latest obsessive rewrite catastrophe-of-my-own-making is the crazy internal dialog Sherlock falls into between the time they exit the dorm and they hit the sidewalk. It's driving me nuts, so I'm just going to post this WIP here and think about it later. I need to zero draft out the rest of the story, not nth draft out the opening. Sigh.
“John, did you know that a derivative of the monkshood plant is virtually undetectable as a toxin?” Sherlock asked, not looking up from his book. “I wonder if…hmm,” he murmured, thoughts trailing ahead. He was contemplating their window’s northern exposure.
Well, there was only one way to scientifically test that theory. Or any theory really. Sherlock added flower box to his mental shopping list and turned the page, fingers gliding over the long Latin names and detailed practical applications. Cosmetic, anaesthetic, accidental toxicity of course, and murders. His favourite.
Library books that John brought home were usually rudimentary at best, but this last one was a genuine medical reference. A pathology graduate student’s textbook in a sea of middle-grade rubbish. In other words, a library misorder if ever there was one. Sherlock was tempted to keep it and simply pay the fine.
“Mm,” he answered.
Or pay John back for the fine, since it was checked out under his name. Technically.
“Sherlock, I’ve been asking you for five bloody minutes if you want to get dinner. I know toxins are very important to you right now, but I’m bloody starving, yeah? Can you--” John scrubbed a hand over his face; Sherlock could hear it from the way his breathing muffled and unmuffled. Sherlock marked the page number. “I happened to spend my lunch period at the library—no idea why—loitering suspiciously around the publications again and ta very much but I’m a growing boy, let’s go.” John said it practically in a single breath.
Sherlock looked up, blinking. He glanced at the alarm clock, which glowed 7:15 in low cadmium red. He’d hardly looked up from the book since he got back from class, which was—oh. Hours ago, at this point. That explained his rather stiff neck at least. And the quality of light being darker now, grey and soft around John’s usual brightness.
Turning his attentions back to John, he surveyed the signs of recent exertion and even more recent steam on John’s skin. This morning’s clothes had carelessly been thrown back on after the very necessary shower that always followed afternoon rugby practice. Sherlock’s eyes lingered on John’s dirty blond locks, dark and curling at his temples where it clung to his skin. Still wet.
Sherlock snapped shut the book.
“Right. Fine,” Sherlock sighed, stretching the full length of the single bed like a cat. All at once, the hours that had slipped away this afternoon made themselves known in his joints. The abrupt adjustment back to the nuisance that was his needy, stiff transport was altogether inconvenient. Honestly, fuel —
“Oi, no whinging,” John warned, cutting off Sherlock’s thoughts. “Don't even start that with me, Sherlock Holmes. I could hear your stomach grumbling not three minutes ago while you had your nose buried in that monstrosity.” He pointed accusingly but his tone, at least, lacked any real heat. “Anyway, they’ve got your favourite tonight, Angelo told me.”
Right on cue, an undignified, traitorous gurgling noise filled the room, emanating from the vicinity of Sherlock’s stomach.
John burst out laughing, a sound of pure, unfiltered glee. It was a noise that offended all common decency. Sherlock made a sour face.
“I’m a growing boy, too,” he muttered, rolling off the bed.
“Don’t remind me,” John said, but he was grinning.
“Isn’t my fault I’m taller than you these days,” Sherlock said with a sniff. Feeling his mouth threaten to curve up in a smile, he ducked his head and busied himself with his shoes.
“Your fault for not keeping up,” Sherlock said reasonably before straightening up. He swept through their door, which John held open. The practised eye roll, however, really detracted from the outward appearance of politeness in Sherlock's private estimation (John was meant to be the good one).
“You forget I know your parents, you berk. Your da’s a beanpole and your mum could be a runway model. You try coming from stock like mine,” John said accusingly, voice reverberating in the cavernous stairwell. “I'll be lucky if I make 5’7” as a grownup,” he grumbled.
“You’re...hardy,” Sherlock said, choosing his words with care. And strong, he didn't add. And unlike you and your parents, I wouldn’t change a thing about you.
John rolled his eyes yet again, though his mouth was still curled up in an smile, as indulgent as it was perplexing. He stood back to let Sherlock go through the building's great front entrance first, and out they went into the spring evening.
Outside the dormitory, the first tendrils of sunset were snaking their way across the grounds. The nearest car was streets away on their sleepy campus, long drowned out by chirping insects in the grass and their private conversations.
It was, in a word, idyllic. Too much so for Sherlock. Except for the school’s modest stone buildings rising above the tree line in places, it was more scenery than civilisation out here, and he felt every bit a set piece waiting for his cue to finally start his life. The unnameable impatience pulsed here and there under his skin like an unsatisfied itch, and came more recently and stronger as of late, yet another in a long list of pubescent indignations. A list he of course didn’t keep because that would be undignified in and of itself.
Most of the time, he’d give anything to simply fast forward past this phase in his life and get on to London, the only city worth living in, its only mar being that Mycroft was already living in it. With an ache in his bones, Sherlock longed for adulthood, a career and excitement, autonomy and adventure. He felt in too many ways that he was too small for the body he was in, the life he was leading. On the verge of something that was still out of grasp. But occasionally still, the present was made bearable. He sneaked a look at John, who fairly glowed in the fading sunlight.
Yes, sometimes it was all right. The restless itch sat obediently, if not patiently, not quite so close to the surface. As if life and the city were far away (and they were), but that it would all be all right; leaving was an inevitability and they'd get there in time.
Heat rose to Sherlock’s face at the stray thought, like so much telltale smoke and evaporating abruptly in the air. They. How a pronoun could be so presumptive, downright traitorous. It betrayed a danger there, the sharp edges of uncontrolled, unfounded optimism. And it was made worse by the fact that it was a familiar wall, and yet he kept running into it.
He’d turned the idea over in his mind any number of times; the examination by now felt dull and depressing. There was still no angle from which he could broach a subject like that with John. They were thirteen, and what commitments could third formers make to one another? Puberty itself was a state of maddening flux, minds and bodies and hearts liable to change overnight, he was only too readily aware.
The idea of an amorphous, shared future in the big city (what, like a flatshare or something?) was so far very away. Tiny, useless pinpricks in the vast night sky. And while Sherlock could imagine few alternatives for himself, having no other friends in his lifelong Rolodex, John certainly had several avenues open to him — and more he was trying to crack open with every passing day. The multitude of ways in which John would finally give up on Sherlock and finally exit their friendship played out in Sherlock’s mind in a dizzying fractal of possible futures. The idea of having John choose that one future with him was terrifyingly improbable. It destabilised the very ground that Sherlock’s fantasy of his future life was built on.
Behind them, the dormitory’s old wooden door closed softly, slowly on its pneumatic hinges and Sherlock was grateful that the din of evening crickets picked up even more to help drown out his thoughts.
When they reached the stone walkway, Sherlock tuned back into the conversation to find John still whinging in ever more despairing tones. “Even Mycroft’s shot up since last time I saw him,” he was saying. Sullenly he kicked a pebble off the pavement and into the grass. Even for a thirteen year old, John was remarkably unaware of how prone to histrionics he was when hungry. It put a private smirk on Sherlock's face and a tiny tick in his mental ledger of John Watson idiosyncrasies he hadn’t yet seem to tire of. It was, as mental ledgers he kept track of went, both comforting and alarming, as most things having to do with John Watson seemed to be. “Do Holmeses just never quit growing or what? He’s graduating uni soon, isn’t he?” John was saying.
“Yes, the utter prat. And good thing he shot up in the last year too, or all that baby fat would have had nowhere to go,” Sherlock said with no small amount of smugness. “Just remembering that Christmas card you helped me put together for him last year puts a smile on my face. I’m never going to stop teasing him about it.”
“Oh god, when we cut out Chunk from the Goonies out of Harry’s magazine,” John half-groaned, as though embarrassed by his younger self, though it was only four months ago. “I’d almost forgot myself already. I still can’t believe what little pop culture you retain except when it’s useful in making fun of your brother.” John scoffed, shaking his head.
“Be fair, I know Indiana Jones, too,” Sherlock said indignantly.
“That’s because I’ve made you watch Raiders with me a hundred times.”
“That’s because it’s aces and Temple of Doom is a travesty,” Sherlock recited diligently, mock serious. He did so in his poshest, cut-glass tones, simply because it made John laugh.
“Exactly,” he giggled.
“But we’re still going to see the sequel when it comes out,” Sherlock said solemnly, as much reminder as promise. He kept his eyes on John in the corner of his vision.
He was rewarded with a wide blinding grin, boyish and rakish all the same time. “Damn right,” John said approvingly. “This summer?”
Something loosened in his chest at the sight, or the tone, or the promise, and he let himself return the smile. “This summer,” Sherlock repeated solemnly. “Oh, but imagine Mycroft having to work off the fat the hard way though,” Sherlock said with sudden glee, clapping his hands together. “Jazzercise!”
John burst out laughing, wrapping his arm around his midsection. “Buns of steel!”
“Oh god,” Sherlock groaned, wrinkling his nose. “Not when I’m just about to eat.” But he caught John’s eye and descended into giggles all the same.
“You started it!”
“Hang on.” Sherlock stopped dead in his tracks and whirled on John, who froze when Sherlock grabbed him about both arms. He was close enough for Sherlock to feel the puff of air compress abruptly between them. “Did you,” Sherlock said seriously, laughter drying up. John’s eyes widened. “Just say that Angelo’s making my favourite tonight?”
A beat passed between them before John snorted loudly and swatted him on the shoulder. He broke free of Sherlock’s hold but stayed close, torso shaking with renewed laughter. John smelled of fresh soap and summer and he smiled utterly unselfconsciously. He made it seem as though such a thing were easy. “Would I lie to you about spaghetti carbonara?”
“Excellent.” Sherlock let himself smile back, face warmer than the fading April sun really warranted. Clasping his hands together, he walked with renewed enthusiasm toward the dining hall. John jogged lightly to keep up, an oddly fond smile playing across his features. Sherlock kept it in the corner of his eye. In the warm tones of sunset, it was a very good look on him.