BBC Sherlock fic: "The Broken Cup" aka "The coffee shop au"- Story two: "On Any Rainy Day" 1/2
While on one of his daily walks around London John Watson ducks into a coffee shop to avoid the rain. A coffee shop owned and run by former DS Greg Lestrade, and the home of Sherlock Holmes' 'Science of Deduction' specialty drinks.
It's not hard to say his life will never be the same. Especially once he gets hired on as the newest employee.
John slowly limped his way down the pavement, his hand wrapped tightly around the top of the cane so his mind would focus on that and not how his leg throbbed with every step. The people walking past avoided him, not meeting his eyes or even looking at him as they skirted around his slower moving figure. His therapist had told him repeatedly that the limp wasn’t real and there was no wound in his leg, just the one in his shoulder; a wound that had destroyed his career as an army doctor and shipped him back to London. But being fake never seemed to matter during his walks around London, his attempt to reacquaint himself with how the city had changed while he was gone. The walks he’d once enjoyed turned into more of an annoyance, even if it was good exercise and a reason to get out of his awful colorless bedsit.
When he was still a good ways from his bedsit the skies opened and in seconds his jacket was soaked through and water was dripping down his face. He knew he couldn’t get back to his bedsit without first getting absolutely soaked, since of course he didn’t have an umbrella.
John stopped and looked more closely around the street. There were mostly walk-up residences, and a bookstore squished between two buildings. Then, on the corner was a blue awning and crumbling darker brick. The pavement and street were scattered in shadows, but the lights inside the shop shone bright. A red sign declared the shop to be open and customers welcome.
John quickly hurried towards the beckoning light, his limp almost forgotten in his hurry to get out of the rain.
Once he was in the covered doorway to the shop John took the opportunity to shake off his jacket and run fingers through his wet hair. It didn’t help much, but it made him feel better.
Looking a little better John pulled the door open. A bell dinged lightly above him, a cheerful sound given the weather. He stepped through the doorway and onto a mat that welcomed him in large, friendly letters. As he pulled off his jacket the door closed behind him with a click.
With the sound of the rain now cut off, it was possible to hear a quiet track of music over the near silence of the cafe. The music was actually rather pleasant, and John found himself relaxing more as he took in the store.
There were no customers at the tables around the floor of the cafe, or anyone in the small space off at the far end. No one was at the long wooden counter at the other side of the room, and from his vantage point it looked like the doors to the room to the left of the counter were frosted. The counter shone under low lights from the ceiling, matching the ones hanging in alternating blues and greens in the rest of the room and the cushions on the chairs sat around the low wooden tables.
Given the sudden rain John had expected there would be at least a few other people who’d been caught in the rain and took shelter inside the cafe.
The whole place looked comfortable, and well-cared for. It was nice, and definitely warm- just the place to get out of the rain.
John walked further into the room and between the first two tables, flexing his hand on top of his cane. He put one foot in front of the other, slowly making his way past the tables and up to the counter with its two solitary stools.
Just when he was close enough to brush the edge of the counter the doors off to the left slid open with a soft ‘swish.’ John looked over to find a black woman standing just outside the doors, looking slightly surprised to see him.
A moment passed and the surprise faded to a mild ‘I will deal with you but I don’t want to because I have other things I could be doing’ expression.
“What do you want?” She asked, a faint edge to her helpful question. Her posture was just this side of defensive, one hip cocked to the side, but John put that down to how tired and exhausted she looked. Maybe they hadn’t expected any more customers given how it was pouring now.
John adjusted his stance to be more open and smiled. “I was hoping for a cup of tea; it's absolutely awful out there.”
She gave him a searching look, as if he’d asked for something more outrageous than a cup of tea. John just waited.
Finally the woman sighed and walked over to stop in front of him. “What kind would you like?” She asked, sounding faintly put upon.
John looked past her to the blackboard panel on the wall behind her. There wasn’t any detailed list of drinks and goods written out for customers to read, but there was something on the blackboard in white handwriting. It took John a moment to decipher it. “Er, what’s the ‘Science of Deduction special’?”
Her eyes widened in visible confusion for a quick second before she asked, “the what?”
Instead of repeating the ridiculous name, John merely pointed to the blackboard.
She turned around and quickly read the writing for herself. As she did her posture grew increasingly annoyed until she was nearly shaking as she cursed, “that pompous, intervening ass-”
“Boss!” She yelled in the direction of the door she’d come through, turning her head a little.
“Bit busy here, Sally!” A voice called from the other side of the door. It was a man’s voice, probably older than him, and did sound distracted. It made John wonder just what kind of man owned this store.
“The Freak’s been at it again,” she called back, sounding like she thought that would be enough to convince him.
Apparently, it was. There was a loud sound of metal hitting metal and then quick footsteps. Seconds later the door opened again with a quiet ‘swish’ and a man stepped through.
John’s suspicions had been right. The man was older than him, his hair gone completely silver and with a friendly but slightly weathered face. He was dressed simply, much like John, but in a nice way and with a blue apron tied around his waist.
The man didn’t see John; he went right to the woman then stopped next to her to take in the blackboard.
After the few seconds it took the man to read over (and probably decipher) the messy scrawl, his shoulders visibly slumped. He sighed then turned back to the woman. “Did you see him do this?”
Her reply was an expectant, “What do you think? The Freak never lets us catch him at all.” As he raised a hand to apply pressure to either side of his nose, she added, “I thought you hid the chalk so he wouldn’t.”
The silver haired man replied wryly, “And when have you ever known that to stop him?” Then he amended, “It took him less than a day to find it, Sally. And I spent a long time thinking of the perfect place. It’s impossible to hide anything from him, or not for long anyway. And you know his ridiculous mixtures and drinks are what some of our customers like most.”
“We got on just fine before he came in and added those ridiculous things he claims are drinks,” the woman, Sally, said grumpily. She went to the blackboard, picked up the eraser at hand, and started vigorously erasing the writing. “People want normal, traditional drinks. Not the weird stuff he makes.”
The man looked on as she erased, more amused than irritated. “You couldn’t live without his ‘Disdain,’ Sally; and you know it.”
The frown that had turned her mouth down was now fighting a smirk. “You mean his ‘ASB63,’ Boss.”
A short laugh. “Right.”
The man turned away from the board towards her; and caught sight of John for the first time.
“Hello,” he greeted, the warmth in his voice very different from the icy greeting from Sally. “I’m afraid you haven’t come at the best time; we’re having a bit of a... personnel issue.” His darker gaze flickered to Sally. “But Sally can get you whatever you want; I’ll just be a second.”
With that he turned away and walked back through the sliding doors, shouting “Sherlock!” as the doors closed behind him.
John blinked, staring at the frosted doors. Then he shook his head and dragged his gaze back to the woman.
“So, what can I get you then?” She asked, stepping back up to the counter. “We’ve got almost everything. Even the stranger combinations the Freak’s thought up.”
John nodded at the blackboard now with white circular smudges instead of writing. “So what was the ‘Science of Deduction’ special then?”
Her lips twisted. “You don’t want that. It’s just some awful mixture. Probably tastes awful.” Her eyes flickered sideways, thinking. “Do you want earl grey? Or chamomile? We have both.”
John was about to say he wanted something new, something different- he was tired of doing the same thing over again- when shouting from the other room grew loud enough to hear clearly.
He did try not to listen in, but it was hard not to. It was much more interesting than deciding on a drink.
“I know you find it hard to understand this, Sherlock,” the older man's voice commented just on the edge of impatience. “But you are not in charge of this store. I am the owner, and you are supposed to listen to me. You just supply drinks customers like; you’re not even an employee really. But I do keep you around, even with your attitude.”
A new voice, male but deeper and more sure of itself, spoke. “Yet it seems that my drinks are the reason why many people come to this petty store.”
The man with the silver hair laughed once. “Come off it, Sherlock. We both know you could survive off that site of yours if you bothered to try. But you haven’t, so you sell your drinks in my shop. And I let you. But we do have plenty of customers who come in for the usual drinks, and like those just fine.”
After a pause- during which the self-confident man didn’t attempt to speak- the man added, sounding like he wasn’t sure he really wanted to say this, “But if you ever do stop selling your drinks here, you know your brother would always-”
“Do not speak to me about that pompous arse,” the lofty voice snapped, completely talking over the other man. “I don’t understand why you think he’s interesting enough to be worth seeing romantically, but I do not let him rule my life. I know better.”
The voice grew louder, coming closer to the door in time with footsteps. “However, if you want to throw your life away caring for my brother, I see no point in attempting to dissuade you.”
The frosted sliding doors opened again with a soft ‘swish,’ and John couldn’t help it. For a second he found himself gaping.
The man who emerged from what must be the kitchen was unlike anyone John had ever seen. He had seen tall men, and thin men, and very handsome men, and men in very nice, expensive dress. But this man somehow was all of those and still more. He was tall, almost towering, thin, worryingly thin, and wearing- even in the kitchen doing whatever he had been doing- a full suit, of very expensive fabric that fit his frame like a glove, and a blue scarf tied neatly around his neck though he was inside.
John could only see the man from the side as he walked along behind the counter and passed Sally; but he did look very handsome with his head of dark curls and pale skin (did he spend any time outdoors?) and sharp... everything.
The man didn’t look off to the side as he quickly went to the other end of the counter. Then, as he turned and walked through to the open floor of the cafe, the man raised his head- and his eyes met John’s.
It wasn’t love, or even mutual attraction at first sight- the idea of that was ridiculous. But those eyes- pale and almost silver in the store’s light- were like spotlights.
John went completely still, not realizing he was no longer leaning on the cane, until the other man suddenly cleared his throat and spoke.
“Afghanistan or Iraq?” He asked, deep voice clear and not patronizing but... curious?
“S-Sorry?” John stumbled, slightly uncomfortable now that someone was looking at him for the first time since he’d returned to London (his therapist Ella didn’t really count).
The man rolled his eyes- a little dramatically John thought- and took another step forward. “I asked if you’ve been in Afghanistan or Iraq, since those are the only two places where a soldier could get a tan like yours. You’ve been back in London for a while, enough for your tan to fade slightly yet still be present. The cane you use would lead most to believe you suffered a leg wound, but it’s just psychosomatic. You are standing perfectly right now without any aid from that ridiculous thing. Therefore your wound, the real wound which caused you to be discharged, is somewhere else but still traumatic that you were unable to continue your career in the army.”
“Sherlock!” The silver-haired man barked just as the younger man stopped for breath in the middle of his dissection of John’s past.
Both John and the dark-haired man- Sherlock? What kind of name was that?- turned to look at the older man now standing next to the woman and not looking at all pleased.
“What did I say about using your ‘deductive skills’ on the customers?” He scolded then turned to John before ‘Sherlock’ could reply. “Sorry about that, he does that sometimes. Let me offer you a free drink, on me, to-”
“That was brilliant,” escaped John’s mouth before his brain caught up because really, that had been amazing. “How did you know all that?” He demanded of the younger man.
‘Sherlock’ turned back to him, and there was surprise in the pale eyes. Then that surprise faded away and John was being judged again for a long moment as he waited, wondering how this man could possibly know so much about his past. Finally Sherlock whipped around to demand of the silver-haired man, “Hire him.”
That man gaped at him, “What?”
“Hire him,” ‘Sherlock’ repeated, obviously not pleased about doing so. “He’s an ex-soldier, honorably discharged and only returned to London because of an injury. Otherwise he would still be overseas fighting. He’s honorable, he won’t try to steal from you and won’t slack in his work. He gets along with people, and has a fairly even temper. Once I get rid of the limp he’ll be able to easily keep up with the morning and afternoon rushes. You need someone else in the shop, Sally works too much to make up for other things, and he is the perfect choice. Hire him.”
The silver-man continued to stare at Sherlock. He glanced at John once, briefly, before replying irritably, “You’re not in charge of this shop, Sherlock! You can’t just make hiring decisions on your own; even if you do actually like someone- for once. And I’m not looking to hire anyone.”
John decided it might be a good time to speak up. “I’m not looking for anything, I just came in here for a drink and to get out of the rain.”
Sherlock glanced at him only long enough to scold, “Don’t be ridiculous,” before turning back to the silver-haired man. “You’ve been complaining for weeks about how you don’t have time to do everything that needs to be done, and take care of the store, and serve customers. Sally works as much as she can but even with her help you still can’t do everything without exhausting yourself.” A hand rose to gesture in John’s general direction. “This is the perfect solution. You would have an extra body around the shop to make you less tired and irritable. If you don’t trust him, or believe what I said- which is ridiculous, you can ask one of your former lackeys at the Yard to check on him. But he is clean and you will hire him eventually, so it would be best if you listened to me and hired him now.”
Sherlock lifted a long black coat from the back of a nearby chair and pulled it on in an overly dramatic way. “I have a new mixture I’m working on that needs to be checked on, but I’ll be back tomorrow.” Sherlock turned to fix the silver-haired man with a stern look. “Lestrade, I expect to see him in here then. Sally,” he paused, tilting his head slightly, “try not to drive off all the customers.” With that he started walking confidently to the door.
The silver-haired man- Lestrade?- came around the counter after him. “I know you know my name, don’t pretend you don’t. And you can’t just walk off, Sherlock!”
John expected Sherlock to hurry past him without acknowledging him, but the man actually stopped when he came up to John. Sherlock looked at John and John raised his chin a little to look back at him. Finally Sherlock slid his hand into one of the pockets in his coat and pulled out a white card.
He held it out to John then snatched his hand away as soon as John took it. Sherlock slid the hand back into his pocket and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” before continuing to the door.
John looked down at the card, ignoring ‘Lestrade’ and Sally’s protests at the door now swinging shut.
In plain black font in the middle of the card was the name ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ Below that was ‘Beverage Connoisseur,’ and in smaller text ‘Experimental Drinks Specialist.’ And finally, in small print, ‘221b Baker Street. London.’
‘Connoisseur’? ‘Drinks Specialist’? Who was this man?
John looked up at the sound of a cleared throat. He saw the silver-haired man- Lestrade- standing barely a yard away looking somewhat amused but more like he wanted to throttle Sherlock.
“I’m really sorry about Sherlock, he’s a pain most of the time,” he said, a kind of weary familiarity to the words as if this wasn’t the first- or last- time he’d apologized for the other man. “Thanks for not yelling at him, or attacking him, or otherwise trying to hurt him for saying rude things about you and sharing your secrets.”
John quickly shook his head. “No, it’s fine. That really was amazing.” He leaned forward, intent on learning Sherlock’s methods. “How did he know all that about me? I’ve never met him before.”
Lestrades’ laugh was a little sharp. “That doesn’t matter with him. All he needs is to watch you for a few seconds and he can tell you more about your life than even you know.” He turned a slightly thoughtful look on John. “You’re the first not to want to go for his throat for it though. Even when he first showed up here and told me everything about myself and my past without even introducing himself I wanted to throw him back out the door.” A pause then, “Well, he did leave on his own but without even any kind of explanation. Then later he showed up at a crime scene Sally was investigating and she thought he was a suspect, so she arrested him. Of course he, and his brother, quickly put us both right.”
John had a lot of questions but finally settled on: “So he helped you solve a murder using his, observation skills? You mean you caught a killer together?”
“More like Sherlock went haring off on his own and caught him while endangering his own life; then Sally and I arrived and she arrested the bastard,” Lestrade clarified, sounding oddly reminiscent. “When we met he was trying to set himself up as a kind of consulting detective; but that didn’t work out. I’d already left the Yard and opened this shop, and he turned out to have a knack for making drinks from really weird combinations that still tasted good. So we collaborate, and Sherlock and Sally try to stand each other.”
“Wow,” John commented, “that sounds... amazing.”
Lestrade’s lips twisted into a smile. “Something like that. Listen, I-” He broke off and blinked, looking startled. “Sorry, I just realized- I don’t even know your name.”
John paused, thought back, and realized that was true. “Right, sorry...” He held out his hand. “John Watson.”
The other man shook John’s hand. “Greg Lestrade.” He pulled back, adding, “I do have a first name despite what Sherlock thinks.”
“Right,” John laughed. He didn’t know exactly what he had accidentally walked in on, but this was much more exciting than his daily walks of wandering wherever his feet took him. The people in this shop were an unusual group, but John liked them for some reason. Maybe his brain had gotten warped sometime over the years, wars did change people or so it was said. But Sherlock, and Lestrade, and even Sally, had brought excitement to what had started as an ordinary, boring day.
Lestrade- Greg- cleared his throat. “Listen John. I realize we don’t really know each other, but I’m usually a good judge of character; and beyond all reason you didn’t go for Sherlock’s throat when he said all that about you, and he was pleasant with you, at least for him. So,” he continued, a little awkwardly, “I know I told Sherlock I wasn’t looking to hire anyone, but I do like you. And we actually could use an extra hand around here. Sally and I can’t handle everything on our own, and Sherlock just comes and goes as he pleases. So, if you’re interested, there is a place for you here.”
John felt like he’d been struck by lightning again that day. First he’d just happened to go into a cafe with interesting people to get out of the rain, and now the owner was offering him a job because he liked John and thought he was a good person; and because he’d gotten along with the eccentric personality of Sherlock Holmes, who had given him a mostly positive character reference. Either someone up there was laughing at him, or they were cheering him on.
“Uhm, well. I don’t really have experience with this kind of work,” John quickly explained, just so Greg knew before hiring him. “Before I went into the army I was a medical student. And in the army I was a doctor; I’ve never done any kind of customer service.”
Greg looked like he found this amusing. “But you’ve probably had to deal with stubborn patients, whining children, and some pretty awful situations as a doctor. It’s not really all that different dealing with customers who want their morning coffee and scone right this minute without any delay. We have our regulars, but some people aren’t always very nice. So I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
From his early morning experiences at cafes as a student, John knew how rude some people could be when they were in desperate need of caffeine. And Greg was right, he had plenty of stories from his time as a doctor. Maybe this could actually work, possibly.
Then Greg said, “Of course, you’ll have to talk with Mycroft first.”
John blinked. “Who’s Mycroft?”
Greg’s smile was not reassuring in the least. “Sherlock’s extremely protective older brother. Who holds a minor position in the British Government. And my... partner I suppose you’d call him.”
“Oh.” Well, that could be a problem.part two