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  “So, today’s the big day. Let me congratulate you on being old and broken down. Cheers, mate!”

   “Doctor John Watson has the bedside manner of a hangman and should be wearing a black sack over his head if he cared at all about what the rest of us have to look at when he’s in the room.”

   “We’re in a pub, not a hospital, so bedside manner doesn’t apply. I can be as much of a prick as I want to and why not exercise my prickiness on the occasion of your bloody and noisy entry into this world?”

   “Because I’m one year closer to the grave and I don’t see a reason for party hats and sing-alongs.”

   “Pints are ok, though, right?”

  “Pints are always ok. And they dim my awareness of my impending death.”

  “Well, so long as you leap into the eternal blackness after you’ve stood half the tab, I’m good with anything.”

   “Not even covering the bill, you cheap bastard?”

   “That would be acknowledging your birthday and you’d take a baton to my head for it. Since I have to work for a living and brain damage might impair my doctoring skills, I’m going to follow your wishes to the letter. Can’t have it both ways, you know.”

   “It’s my birthday so if I want to have my cake and eat it, too, I believe I’m within my rights.”

   “You need a towel, Greg, because the hypocrisy you’re dripping is making the floor slippery.”

   “And it’s not like anyone else remembered anyway, so if I want to be a bit testy about things, that also gets filed under ‘within my rights.’ ”

   “Oh, so now we’ve found the source of your river of pain.”

   “No. Maybe. it’s stupid, but after all these years working with people and kicking in to who knows how many gift collections for birthdays or weddings or babies… would have been nice for someone at least to have paid for my damned coffee this morning.”

   “Well, at least you got a half-day off so you didn’t have to sit there and watch them ignoring your momentous occasion. And you’ve got all day tomorrow, so that’s even more time to ignore the insensitive bastards.”

   “Make light of my torment, John. Just see who you’ve not got to cry to next time Sherlock decides to test your startle reflexes by dropping a box of dishes onto the floor of your bedroom at 4:00 am.”

   “That was upsetting. I nearly shot him, too. Idiot broke all the dishes and we had to eat out of take-away cartons for a week.”

   “So, really not much change from normal.”

   “No, not really. It was the principle of the thing, though.”

   “Just what I was saying! It’s the principle of the thing… buy me a damned coffee and say Happy Birthday.”

   “We live in harsh times, my friend. But, at least I’m paying for half your pints.”

   “But I’m drinking twice as much so it all evens out.”

   “Don’t spoil my sentiment with your twisty math.”

__________

   “You’re late. And redolent of alcohol and romantic desperation. You must have been with Lestrade.”

   “God, not you too. Be nice to the man, especially since you contributed to his emotional wreckage.”

   “I have not spoken to him all day.”

   “Exactly! Not you’ve got it!”

   “I am quite sure that I have nothing. Or, if I do, by some chance, have something, I am entirely unaware of having it.”

   “And that’s what you gave him.”

   “What?”

   “Nothing!”

   “If I am supposed to be achieving greater clarity the longer you speak, then there is a breakdown in our unspoken agreement of communication.”

   “You gave him nothing and didn’t even talk to him. But then, no one else did either, so I can’t give you any special shame. I, at least, remembered once he called and asked me to come out for a birthday pint with him. Oh, that wasn’t very good on my part, was it? I’m a bad person, too, and a good bit poorer because we drank quite a lot.”

   “Birthday pint? Today is Lestrade’s birthday.”

   “You remembered!”

   “In a manner of speaking. And it went unremarked.”

   “Not one of the filthy bastards did anything for him. I’ll just take us out of that group, though, because I know for a fact we’re not filthy since we go through rather a lot of soap and shampoo.”

   “And he was upset by this fact?”

  “That we’re not filthy? I think he’s rather happy about it, actually.”

   “That his birthday did not prompt any celebration.”

   “Oh… yeah. Tough getting older and no one even remembers your birthday. You’re already staring right into the Grim Reaper’s empty eye sockets and can’t even count on someone to buy you a coffee and pat you on the back!”

   “You do realize that it is rather nonsensical to celebrate an event for which you did nothing but exit the body of another human being, not even making your departure through your own efforts.”

   “You don’t celebrate it, other people are supposed to do it for you! They celebrate that you were born! That you’re here and drinking pints with them and they’re happy about that. Especially if you’re drinking lots of pints like we did. I think I need some water.”

   “I think you need to sleep and allow the alcohol to metabolize.”

   “Water!”

   “Very well, you may have a glass of water to help with your inevitable dehydration, but then you should go to bed and, as they say, sober up.”

   “I want ice in my water.”

   “You may have ice.”

   “And water.”

   “That too.”

__________

   “Fuck off!”

   “Fuck. Off.”

   “Fuck the fuck off, you fucker!”

   “Christ… a man can’t even sleep late when he’s hung over on his off day…. DO NOT BANG ON MY DOOR AGAIN OR YOUR ARSE IS LIVING IN A JAIL CELL THE REST OF YOUR FUCKING… Sherlock? What are you doing here? And why are you breathing so loudly?”

   “I have not elevated the volume of my breathing, it is an artifact of your overconsumption of alcohol last night. John is experiencing the same difficulty with noise this morning. And light level. And motion.”

   “Good to know I’m not the only one suffering. Well, don’t stand there, come in. But do NOT drop a box of dishes on my floor or I’ll take your head off and use it as a football.”

   “I would suggest that, in the future, you curtail your ethanol intake as it enhances your naturally sour personality.”

   “Chair. Sit. Now. And keep quiet while I get the tea going.”

   “I am not here for tea.”

   “Well, that’s good, since I’m not making you any. Or toast. All for me. Nice dry, soak-up-the-bile toast.”

   “Since John has already lectured me on why it is not helpful to remind him that his infirmity is directly linked to an easily avoidable cause, I shall not engage in that discussion with you. However, I will remind you that when you include John in your unhealthy behavior it is I that must suffer his temper and that is not something I find acceptable.”

   “Fine, next time I want a night out, I’ll go alone and only disappoint myself.”

   “Very good. Now that we have settled that matter… here.”

   “What’s that?”

   “You are supposed to read it.”

   “Ok, I did. And I don’t understand.”

   “You are even more of an idiot than usual this morning.”

   “Sherlock… it’s my day of rest, now will you please tell me why you’re here so I can actually get on with the resting part of my day!”

   “You are being inexcusably tiresome, however, I will ignore it in light of my mission. That is a phone number.”

   “I did sort of get that far on my own.”

   “John chastised me for failing to remember the anniversary of your birth and though I do not see the point of such an exercise, I felt it prudent to adhere to societal norms and acknowledge it in an appropriate manner.”

   “By giving me this?”

   “By purchasing for you a card.”

   “This isn’t a card.”

   “Have you ever tried to purchase a card? There are countless options, each more nauseating than the last! All festooned with cartoonish animals or attempting to make some crass sexually-based joke or proclaiming their heartfelt message in unappealingly-large whorls of dreary cursive script! They are appalling! And you must weave between catatonic dullards who insist on blocking whole sections at a time, reading each card and replacing them in the wrong positions!”

   “Ok, I have to agree with you on that. But… thanks for trying. It’s good to know you would have bought one if it hadn’t been such an upsetting experience.”

   “And under no circumstances shall I purchase you a present after the disaster of your gift to John.”

   “You’re still mad about that?”

   “You presented him with tickets to a sporting event! One that I was forced to attend!”

   “Hey! John wanted to go to a match and I just made his birthday wish come true.”

   “I HAD TO ATTEND!”

   “Fine! Next time, I’ll go in your place!”

   “Oh… well, then I agree to your terms. But I shall not court such discord by providing you a gift.”

   “Ok, no gift. It’ll go nicely with the no card. Got some symmetry going on there. Quite lovely.”

   “Sarcasm does not suit you on days when your aroma falls on the neutral side of the agreeability scale, therefore it is completely distressing today.”

   “So back to my scrap of paper and away from my fermented smell…”

   “It serves in place of a purchased gift.”

   “Ok, I can always use a piece of notepaper, even if one side’s already been used. Thanks, lad. Now go home.”

   “Must I explain everything?”

   “You haven’t explained anything!”

   “There is little time in the day and even less when I have to waste much of it providing crutches for crippled minds.”

   “If I vomit, I am not doing you the courtesy of leaving the table first.”

  “It is Mycroft’s private phone number.”

   “Ex…excuse me? Why in the world would you give me your brother’s private number?”

   “Must I do this? Very well… my brother has absolutely no reason to present himself at any crime scene, yet he has been making sporadic, yet frequent, appearances when I am working a case with you. He has also increased his rate of visitation to our flat, and has suspiciously timed more than a few of those visits to coincide with your presence. He believes that his intentions are not visible when he makes inquiries about your welfare and has, on two separate occasions, asked about your current state of romantic entanglement, though he couched his inquiries in terms of your sad disaster of a former marriage. For your part, I have observed that you have difficulty concentrating when he is in the vicinity and spend more time looking in his direction than is to be expected if there is no foundation of personal interest. You also become quite nervous on the rare occasion you speak directly to each other and, though you are not qualified to notice, he becomes equally agitated. With John present to answer my questions about human sexual and romantic interactions, I have come to acquire sufficient knowledge to understand the basis of these behaviors and am choosing to act on my evaluation. There is his phone number. Kindly make use of it and end this ridiculous pining on both your parts.”

   “Sherlock… this is… this is absolutely loony, is what this is!”

   “Please do not affect a lack of understanding. My brother desires you and you desire him in turn, which makes me feel quite ill when I turn my mind towards those facts, so please do not raise the topic again.”

   “Look…”

   “And you are not the only one to benefit from this, because if Mycroft no longer has to present himself in locations where I may also be found, the multitudes will be happier for it.”

   “And by multitudes, you mean you.”

   “And John, for he will not have to suffer Mycroft’s arrogance, either.”

   “You mean he won’t have to suffer your tantrums because your brother is there.”

   “That may be a small factor of consideration. John is far more agreeable when he is kindly disposed towards me, than when he is not. Ultimately, it is your decision, however, if you make a poor one, my life will continue to be upheaved and that does not bode well for your own peace of mind.”

   “A birthday threat… well, that’s original.”

   “I believe it is appropriate at this time to say Happy Birthday, however, it will not be accompanied by a song.”

   “Thank heavens for that. And I’ll say thank you for the thought because… well, you actually did put some thought into this and I do appreciate it. I really do, Sherlock. I appreciate it so much I’ll even share my tea with you.”

   “Do not insult me with your uninspired concoction. You should have John instruct you on the proper method to prepare tea.”

   “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

   “Good. Now, if my obligations are completed, I will return home. I have work to accomplish and John is demanding I accompany him to choose new bed sheets, which will undoubtedly take much of day due to his indecisiveness and petty concerns about unessential features such as color or pattern.”

   “Why does John need to buy sheets, and do not tell me it’s not your fault.”

   “It is not! I may, however, have made a miscalculation as to how many sets of sheets he possessed before beginning my experiment on thread count and spread pattern of human blood.”

   “Well done… very well done. You’d better buy him lunch, too.”

   “Would that further diminish his irritation?”

   “And help with his hangover, so you’ll be tops in his book.”

   “Very well. I shall take your advice. Goodbye, Lestrade. Though it is no longer your birthday, I offer my best wishes anyway.”

   “And I accept them very gratefully. Go on, Sherlock. Go home and make John happy.”

   “My presence does substantially improve his mood.”

   “I’m feeling sick.”

   “I’m leaving now.”

__________

Lestrade stared at the piece of paper lying on the kitchen table while he forced down tea and toast. He stared at it some more as he made a few notes of his own for shopping and while clearing away his breakfast dishes. It waited for him as he showered, shaved, brushed his teeth and dressed. It happily rode in his hand to the sofa to be stared at for another long period of time while the telly blared out the normal morning nonsense. And it patiently sat on Lestrade’s knee as he punched numbers on his mobile and listened to it ring.

   “Detective Inspector Lestrade… this is quite unexpected.”

   “Yeah… I guess it is. Do you… do you have a minute?”

   “For you, I believe I have several…”