Chapter 1: Falling again
There's a radiant darkness upon us
But I don't want you to worry
- The National
John's fingers have gone tingly from the freezing wind. He sticks his hands into the pockets of his parka, and turns his head to gaze across The Thames.
They're in Hammersmith, where a homeless man has been found dead under a bridge suspension tower. John certainly cares about the homeless, especially if they become murder victims. John just doesn't get why Lestrade has decided that Sherlock should be interested in the plight of this particular one.
John has already told all the medical details he had been able to derive to Sherlock, who is still frantically poking around the corpse and their surroundings on the Hammersmith Bridge. Sherlock doesn't seem to the slightest bit put off by the icy sleet that's pelting down on them. Most officers on the scene have already retreated into their patrol cars. There's just Lestrade and John seeking shelter in a bus stop, watching Sherlock dart about the place.
Sherlock's movements are slightly uncoordinated, and he doesn't go through the scene as methodically as he usually would. He appears almost absent-minded, making monosyllabic exclamations over even stranger things that usual and every once in awhile he seems to begin animatedly arguing with himself. He seems completely oblivious to the presence of others, which isn't unusual in itself, but lately he's begun completely ignoring John as well. John has always been the exception.
Lestrade nudges John with his elbow, hands wedged into his coat pockets as well. "Look at him," he tells John, "He's been like that for weeks now. I've been meaning to ask if--- If---" he pauses, purses his lips as though having second thoughts about approaching the subject. Lestrade has known Sherlock longer than John, and has likely seen all this before.
John draws in a breath, eyes downcast. "Yeah, he's using again."
"We'll be fine," Mary had assured John when he had been preparing to leave their apartment that morning. She had run a gentle hand across her expansive belly. "Go play with Sherlock," she had urged in a light tone.
John had flashed a smile that hadn't quite reached his eyes. What Mary had said was likely just a well-meaning joke, but it had felt belittling. It had felt as though Sherlock was merely someone John met up with once a week for a game of squash and a pint out of some nostalgic obligation.
How does one go about telling the missus that every moment spent away from your best friend is fraught with a pressing sort of guilt, a crippling worry and something else, something.... selfish? A selfish desire to be somewhere else than in your comfortable home with your pregnant wife.
It was clear that Sherlock was using again. After they had taken Sherlock back to Baker Street from his short-lived flight to exile, and he'd fallen asleep in one of the dining room chairs when the cocaine high had finally evaporated, John had been sat down for what was essentially an interrogation by Mycroft. The subject line: trying to gauge when this relapse had begun. Keeping in line with the ongoing theme of interacting with the Holmes brothers, the discussion had made John feel like the greatest of idiots. An idiot who had failed to spot signs which in hindsight weren't all that subtle.
It had started on the wedding night.
Sherlock had lied to Mycroft about when he'd actually left the party - 'I stayed until the end and made sure no one nicked the wedding presents, bestman's duties'.
It only took one phone order from Mycroft to survey CCTV footage from that evening and they had their answer as to the exact moment that Sherlock turned back to old habits.
While John had been carrying his beaming bride over the threshold to the bridal suite, Sherlock had tied a tourniquet around his arm and began a slow spiral into self-desctruction.
Whenever John thought of this, a stab of guilt twisted his insides.
It wasn't his responsibility. It shouldn't be.
What could he have possibly done to prevent it? Not get married? What did his marriage even have to do with anything?
Likely just a sad coincidence.
John couldn't for the life of him understand why this was happening now. Sherlock had returned from his desperate mission in one piece and gotten his life back. They were no longer flatmates, but they still spent a considerable amount of time together. Soon there would be another Watson for Sherlock to play with and get to know. He had even seemed to bury the hatchet with Mary - surprisingly enough this feat had proven more difficult for John than for the man Mary had almost murdered. There were cases again, and the promise of a grand puzzle from Moriarty loomed in the distance. All in all, from John's perspective there was no plausible reason for him to fall back into this now.
Why now, after staying clean during times that had seemed much more trying?
John could have sympathized with Sherlock dosing himself up for just the flight - it was, after all, practically a suicide mission he was embarking on. Any sane man would have weighed the options - get killed and possibly tortured in the hands of terrorists, or make a more pleasant departure from this Earth.
Because that's what it had been, hadn't it?
This was the worst part, the part that woke John up at night in cold sweat, tormented by the sudden impulse to grab his coat and go to Sherlock.
Sherlock Holmes doesn't give up. He doesn't try to kill himself out of fear and resignation. It doesn't happen. It can't happen.
John hasn't broached this subject with Sherlock and he doubts that he ever will. He probably should, but broaching emotional subjects with Sherlock always seemed like a fool's errand. Such efforts were usually met with angry, mute refusal.
Despite the cocaine and the heroin and god only knew what else, Sherlock had seemed.... borderline alright lately. Giddy. Excited about cases. Excited about seeing John. Excited about the baby, even? The more John tries to parse the walking contradiction that Sherlock has been lately, the more confused he gets.
John is shaken out of his reverie when Sherlock walks up to them, stops in front of John and clasps his hands behind him back, practically bursting with anticipation of getting to spout out his theory.
"What have we got, then?" Lestrade asks and gets ignored, because lately this part of the show has been only for John. What used to be Sherlock's moment of victory has become a strange dance for John's attention, tinged with desperation, 'look at me, I'm here'. It tugs at John's heartstrings.
Sherlock flashes a grin that's supposed to be triumphant, but the way he's fingering the edge of his coat sleeve dilutes the effect. Sherlock has been doing that a lot lately, making John wonder if it's a nervous tick caused by the cocaine high.
'Just look at him and stop fooling yourself', the disappointment-dripping voice of Mycroft Holmes tells John in his head, 'It's a front and something is very, very wrong. '
John always worries about Sherlock when they're out on cases. The man has the self-preservation sense of an armless shark wrestler ('Who the hell would ever wrestle sharks, John? Preposterous!'). The problem isn't his tendency to hatch elaborate, reckless plans to catch the murderer of the day, but the mishaps that take place when he doesn’t stop to think at all. A good example is his habit of taking off after armed suspects like a whippet chasing a rabbit.
When something only moderately bad happens to Sherlock as a result of his recklessness, John hates how he instantly remembers so many of his prophetic speeches about being careful and leaving the pursuing and arresting to the actual police. He hates the part when he vocalizes these, and Sherlock dismisses his concerns off-hand - 'This is what we do, John, you and me! Would you rather we ran a bloody bridge club or took up golfing?'.
After Sherlock announces that there is only one plausible suspect and only one likely murder weapon, a search is conducted in the bridge suspension towers.
Sherlock turns out to be right - 'I'm always right, John, what do you take me for' - the culprit had, indeed, hidden in the observation area of the tower, posing as a tourist in order to watch the police sweep the scene.
Before John gets a chance to protest, Sherlock is running down the stairs in pursuit. He's faster than any of the NSY officers and soon gets out John's yelling range.
John curses colourfully and hurries down the stairs.
When he gets back down onto the pedestrian lane of the bridge, it takes awhile for him to spot Sherlock and the suspect. They're headed towards the end of the bridge on the Hammersmith side.
John springs back into a run. The foot traffic isn't very heavy since it's late Saturday afternoon, and Sherlock's tall figure is easy enough to keep an eye on.
After recovering from his gunshot wound and its complications, Sherlock is now as fast as he used to. John knows he can't possibly keep up, but he jogs after Sherlock anyway to keep on eye on what's happening. Behind him he can hear Lestrade barking orders to his subordinate officers.
Sherlock is gaining on the subject and is nearly within grabbing range. Suddenly there's some sort of a scuffle and John can only make out a flurry of inky blue coat.
The scene is then hidden from John's view by a gaggle of teenagers walking past. John's steps hasten as he pushes past the group.
When he gets to the spot where he last saw Sherlock, there's nobody there.
John quickly swivels his head towards where Rutland Grove meets Hammersmith Road, and he can make out the suspect running across the zebra crossing.
John turns back towards the bridge, chest heaving from the jog. He can see a couple of officers hurrying towards him. He raises his arm to point towards where he'd last seen the suspect and the officers veer off from the bridge, heading across the road.
Sherlock would probably insist John continue pursuit, but right now John has a much more pressing matter at hand.
"Sherlock!" he yells, so loud his voice breaks a bit. He gets no answer.
The railing on the part of the bridge where it connects with the Thames shore is missing a section next to where John is standing. The small parallel road next to the bridge lies about three metres below.
John stares at the missing railing, breath hitching in his throat. He steps closer and peers over the edge of the bridge.
There's a pub located right by in an old Victorian building, its parking lot at the end of the parallel road, right beneath the bridge. When John looks directly down he can see a row of bicycles parked at the edge of it at the edge of some thick bushes.
And right there, where the grass begins and three bicycles have been knocked over, lies an unmoving heap of blue coat and dark hair.
Chapter 2: Morphine
It would be the understatement of the ages to describe the reception this story has received as positive and enthusiastic. I adore this fandom.
I will be eternally grateful to the magnificent emma221b, who did an amazing job MedBritpicking chapters 2 and 3, particularly with pounding the traumatology bits into submission. Thank you. Your expertise has lifted this piece to whole new levels of medical realism. Working on these chapters together was a fantastic way to spend International Fanworks Day!
This is where many of the more brutal tags kick in. Hold onto your deerstalkers.
John charges down the slippery stone staircase, blood ringing in his ears. It takes him little time to reach the parking lot below. He leaps over a low stone fence lining the footpath to quickly get to the overgrown area at the end of it.
A part of him is still hoping that his brain had merely been playing tricks on him, wishing that when he gets to the edge of the parking lot there will be nothing there. Just of trick of the light, a figment of his imagination. Sherlock is fine, and will soon be laughing at John's deepened frown lines.
Please be fine. I can't do this again.
The universe does not grant John this wish. When he reaches the row of bicycles at the edge of the parking lot, his heartbeat leaps into a frantic staccato.
Sherlock is lying half on the grass, half on top of a toppled bicycle, unmoving. John suddenly remembers his ears registering a strange, faint ringing sound combined with a thud before realizing Sherlock was nowhere to be seen. He hadn't paid much attention to it then.
It’s frighteningly quiet until John steps closer and tentatively calls Sherlock's name. A rush of adrenaline makes his hands shake as John sees Sherlock raise a hand slightly and then let it drop back down.
John runs the last few metres between them and kneels down next to Sherlock.
Sherlock's eyes are closed and his breathing is laboured and wheezing. He's pale, sweat gleaning on his forehead.
Pain? Shock? Combination of both? His position looks wholly uncomfortable.
John pats his cheek gently. "Sherlock?"
Eyes flutter open, unfocused at first but then fixed on him. "John--" Sherlock starts, but the words invoke a bluish tint at the edge of his mouth and he begins coughing weakly but incessantly.
John nearly drops his phone, trying to dig it out of this coat. Looking up, he sees no one on the edge of the bridge, no one he could call out to. He selects one of the quick dial numbers.
Lestrade answers on the second ring. "Where the hell are you? Did Sherlock catch him?" the DI inquires with an impatient tone.
"We're under the bloody bridge, Hammersmith side, next to the pub. Get an ambulance down here, RIGHT NOW."
"DO IT!" John barks into the phone, and slips it into his coat.
John wastes no time in unbuttoning Sherlock's coat and his form-hugging dress shirt. Sherlock closes his eyes again, his rate of breathing becoming faster by the minute.
John runs his half-frozen fingers across Sherlock's ribcage on both sides, and winces at the wail that is brought on when John touches the fifth and sixth ribs on the left side. The halves of his thoracic cage are rising evenly, but there's an agonizingly tender area on the right side, as well around the lowest ribs on the left side. John hears and feels a faint crackle when he presses his fingers onto a swollen bit of skin around Sherlock's right clavicle.
Air under the skin, which almost certainly means a pneumothorax.
John tries not to give into panic, tries to remember what he's supposed to do. He knows this, this is what he spent years doing and like he had told Sherlock, he is good at it.
Airway and cervical spine, breathing, circulation, disability, exposure.
John puts his fingers on Sherlock's neck, feeling for a pulse. It's strong but frantically fast. Sherlock's hand reaches out to grabs his wrist. "John---"
"Shh, it's okay, just be still." John pushes Sherlock's hand down, alarmed at how cold and clammy the skin feels.
Peripheral circulation shutting down. Hemorrhagic shock.
Thorax, abdomen, pelvis, head, spinal column, long bones.
He slips his fingers under Sherlock's neck to feel around for anything out of the ordinary. This doesn't produce any kind of reaction from Sherlock and John breathes out in relief. "Does you neck hurt?"
"Don't think so. Let me---" Sherlock starts turning his head to the side but John stop him by placing both his palms on his cheeks. "Stop. You need to keep still."
Another fit of coughing makes his face contort in pain and he gasps for air afterwards.
"Hurts," Sherlock whispers with a grimace. Every syllable of it is carefully weighed and formed as though he’s trying to conserve energy he doesn’t have. He then coughs up a bit of frothy blood.
“I’m sorry mate, I really am.” John decides this is not the time to remind Sherlock of his past lectures on recklessness. “What’s the worst of it?” he asks while running his hands along Sherlock’s upper limbs. Right wrist looks slightly swollen but not dislocated. Sherlock barely flinches when he touches it. Likely just a sprain. The radial pulse is thready but present.
John realizes he's veered off course as to the proper order of assessing a trauma patient.
He needs to get a grip. This is Sherlock, but right now this is also his patient.
He quickly rubs his ice-cold hands together, grits his teeth and then places them onto Sherlock's abdomen. Sherlock flinches and squeezes his eyes shut tighter, his whole body beginning to shake. He doesn't, however, push John's fingers away.
There are no tender spots in the abdominal or the groin area. The pelvis doesn't seem to give way under John's hands trying to push its crests away from one another. John folds the lapels of Sherlock's coat onto his chest again, hoping to conserve some warmth.
John grimaces without even realizing when Sherlock coughs again, whining quietly in pain. His breathing is shallow and increasingly laboured.
There's still enough light for John to see the pupils when he gently pries open Sherlock's eyes. They react normally and look symmetric. They are pinpoint-small due to the heroin still coursing through his veins, but symmetric. That, and the fact that he's talking and moving point towards there being no major head injury.
Lestrade sprints to the scene and John looks up. "Ambulance, NOW!" John orders the DI, who snatches his radio from his coat pocket and barks an order into it. He must've called for one already, but depending on how busy the emergency services were it might require a bit of DI leverage to actually get one to them in minutes.
John's head snaps back towards Sherlock. He leans on his left knee to balance himself, and snakes his fingers underneath Sherlock's neck. Sherlock remains quiet while he feels every vertebrae until he can't reach any further, constricted by the collar of Sherlock's greatcoat. Even though there don't seem to be any tender spots, he can't be certain there are no fractures. "We have to get him to even ground but we need more hands for lifting."
"Dispatch says that the chopper is stuck at some pile-up in Wood Green but they'll try and get us a ground unit with a rapid response paramedic."
Sherlock's eyes flutter opens, his floating gaze narrowing as he notices Lestrade. He's begun to shiver violently.
John extends his arms to the DI. "I need your coat," he says in a tone that invites no arguments. Lestrade obeys, strips off his trench and passes in to John, who drapes it around Sherlock.
The sun is setting and the twilight is already deep enough that it's quite dark under the shadow of the bridge.
John continues his assessment. He runs his hands along Sherlock's thighs and shins and his breath hitches when his fingers come across something wet and sharp protruding through the left leg of the suit trousers Sherlock is wearing. Sherlock hisses and He lifts his fingers and Lestrade clicks on a flashlight, pointing the light at John's hand.
His fingers are coated with blood. Open fracture. John curses - he'd been so preoccupied with the obvious chest injury than he hadn't realized this was likely another significant source of bleeding. He grabs Sherlock's scarf, which has somehow ended up next to him instead of being tied around his neck - maybe Sherlock had instinctively torn it off when he'd begun having difficulty breathing? John wraps the scarf haphazardly around the leg.
Sherlock doesn't react as much as he would have expected, merely elicits a small whine. John touches Sherlock's arm since the rest of his upper body is hidden underneath Lestrade's coat. "Hey, stay awake for me, yeah?"
Sherlock lets his eyes open a sliver. His lips are tinted with blue and trembling. John looks up at Lestrade. "Where the bloody hell is that ambulance?"
Before the DI has time to reply, a blue and red light begins flashing at the end of the small lane and two officers stumble down a small mound nearby that separates the parking lot from the courtyard of the pub building.
John had probably heard the sirens approaching but he'd been so preoccupied for it to properly register.
They need to do something about Sherlock's awkward position - lying half on the metallic frame of the bicycle, half on the ground. John takes up position by his head, steadying his head and neck between his outstrecthed arms, fingers gripping like vices onto Sherlock's shoulders. Sherlock mumbles something and tries to bat off his fingers with his hand but he doesn't have the strength to pry John's grip off. As per John's directions, he and Lestrade together with the two recently arrived officers lift Sherlock onto the grass. This brings forth a new fit of coughing. Lestrade volunteers a handkerchief to wipe off some of the pink froth emerging.
John has in his life been as relieved to see a yellow spine scoop as he is when two paramedics run up to them carrying one along with a small, drop-safe oxygen canister already connected to a Ventimask.
The ambulance parks right next to them, its roof lights now banishing the darkness that has been setting in.
John stands up momentarily, straightens his spine and gives the paramedics a quick lowdown of the scene. They don't argue against the orders he then begins giving, probably having deduced that they're dealing with a doctor. It only takes the paramedics a few minutes to hook their patient up to a portable monitor.
The readings appearing on the screen merely confirm what John already knows - they need to get to a well-equipped A&E right now.
When John glances down he sees an arm reaching out from underneath Lestrade's spread coat. John clasps Sherlock's palm with his own, quickly running his thumb across Sherlock's knuckles while he kneels back down. His eyes meet Sherlock's, whose pupils are now slightly larger than before. "We're going to get a scoop under you. Should be at least more comfortable than the bike, yeah?" he tries to manufacture an encouraging smile.
Sherlock is now staring up into space but still squeezing John's hand tightly. He's being too quiet to John's liking - pain? Difficulty breathing? Head injury becoming symptomatic? Advancing hypovolemic shock? Perhaps all of it combined. John is glad that Sherlock doesn't try to fight the oxygen mask strapped onto his face by the rapid response paramedic.
The rapid response paramedic then straps a cervical collar around Sherlock's neck while his colleague starts an IV. Then the whole group teams up to maneuver the halves of the spine scoop underneath Sherlock, taking care not to alter his position any more than they absolutely must.
The paramedics lift up the scoop. John hovers by, holding the bag of saline they're running as high as he can. He has both of his arms stretched out since Sherlock's fingers have curled around his palm like a vice, not letting go while he's being carried to the waiting ambulance.
After the scoop is secured to the sliding trolley at the back of the ambulance Sherlock is slid into the vehicle. When its bright interior lighting hits his face, Sherlock's already laboured breathing hastens and his eyes fly open, unseeing and glassy. He begins mumbling in monotone and John has to lean his ear right next to his mouth to make out what he's saying.
At first it seems like a randomly generated string of numbers and letters, but something about them sounds awfully familiar. More alarming than this strange message, however, is the fact that no matter what John does or says, he can't seem to connect to Sherlock in any way.
Shock-induced delirium? Drug-induced psychosis? Some kind of dissociative state? This doesn't resemble Sherlock's usual forays into the Mind Palace, either.
Sherlock's hand has gone limp in John's hold and John lets go of it, tucking it inside the space blanket the rapid response paramedic has spread onto him.
Sherlock begins fiddling with the elastic straps of the oxygen mask, attempting to get it off.
Lestrade is standing behind the car, phone in hand. Judging by what he's saying it seems that the suspect has been apprehended. John couldn't care less.
"Ready, Dr Watson?" one of the paramedics enquire, and John nods. The back door of the car is banged shut.
John fastens the safety belt of the narrow seat he has grabbed next to the trolley while the younger paramedic slips the bag of saline into a pressurized bag to increase its infusion rate.
In the bright lighting John can now get a better look at the leg fracture. A yellowish white bone is protruding through the trouser leg, the fabric around it soaked with blood. John grabs a pair of round-ended scissor from a shelf and cuts away the fabric as high as he can. "Alfentanil?" John asks the rapid response paramedic who shakes her head.
"Morphine's the only one we carry," she explains.
"Twenty milligrams IV", John tells her while accepting a wad of gauze from her colleague.
She raises her brows. "We usually start with five to seven----" she hesitates.
John has neither time nor patience to go through Sherlock's current health issues. "He's a user. Just do it," he barks and the paramedic begins rummaging around the med kit for the drug.
John grabs a bottle of Betadine and pours it straight onto the wound before grabbing a sterile wad of gauze, ripping it open with his teeth and pressing it onto the blood-trickling wound.
Sherlock draws in a sharp breath.
"Sorry, mate," John mutters under his breath
They begin the drive to the hospital - which one, John hasn't even asked.
While gently holding the wad of gauze in place, John leans over Sherlock to see his face better. He seems to still be in a reverie, eyes closed, expression haunted and pale, lips moving to nearly silent words.
Suddenly John realizes what he had heard: it's the periodic table. 22 Ti is twenty-two for titanium, 23 V is twenty-three for Vanadium.
Is this some sort of a focusing technique to block out the pain? As eerie it is, it seems to be working.
The paramedic hands John a syringe of morphine, but before he gets a chance to insert it into the IV port, the older paramedic briskly grabs Sherlock's arm with the intention of strapping on a blood pressure cuff that has become dislodged.
Suddenly Sherlock's hand flies to her wrist, grabs it and twist it down violently. He's hyperventilating, eyes unseeing, blinking frantically and trying to sit up in vain since the straps of the spine scoop and the are preventing it. The paramedic screams in pain, trying to pry the grip off with her other hand.
John drops the syringe and practically flings himself onto Sherlock to keep him from flipping over. His hands fly up to both sides of Sherlock's head, worrying about further damage to the cervical spine. "Sherlock?" he asks in a tone he hopes is as calming as possible, "Please, Sherlock, listen, hey---"
The crushing grip on the woman's wrist finally loosens and Sherlock's gaze becomes somewhat focused. John smiles and lets out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding. "Hey. Welcome back."
He finds the syringe of morphine that has fallen into the folds of the space blanket. After he has injected the desired amount into the IV, Sherlock's breathing becomes slower and more orderly, and he seems to become slightly more interested in his surroundings. John reasons that he must've been in quite a lot of pain before and stubbornly wants to believe that it's all there is to it.
Deep down he knows, however, that what has just transpired casts a certain further shadow over his worries for Sherlock.
He has only seen Sherlock like this once, on the verge of completely losing control over his senses and reactions. It had been in Dartmoor, after Sherlock had been dosed with a paranoia-inducing hallucinogen. Was it the pain and the drugs and the shock? Or something else, something more sinister lurking behind those easy, neat explanations that John desperately wishes he could to hold on to?
Where did you go, Sherlock, and what scared you?
John forces himself to focus on the practicalities again. The rapid response paramedic, who finally gets a chance to introduce herself to John as Marie, pries of Sherlock's shoes and socks and John inches closer to the back door, not bothering to strap himself into a seat. The wad of gauze he had pressed onto the fracture has fallen to the floor in all of the commotion, and John accepts a new package from Marie.
He runs his palm to Sherlock's fingers and gets alarmed when he finds no pulse. The entire leg beneath the fracture is greyishly mottled in colour.
Marie's gaze narrows. She's seeing the same as John and likely coming to the same conclusion: circulation cut off. The fracture needs to be reduced at least a little to protect the rest of the leg.
As per John's instructions, Marie applies gentle traction to the ankle, but this doesn't seem to be doing the trick even when she increases the force with which she is pulling on the ankle. Sherlock gasps and grimaces, but the bone fragments don't seem to move.
John shakes his head. "This is going to hurt. We need to get that fracture repositioned right now," John tells Sherlock.
Sherlock makes an attempt to nod, but the cervical collar is keeping his head in place. Then he licks his lips that look dry as the desert. Hypovolemia due to bleeding seems the most likely explanation along with the fact that Sherlock hasn't probaby eaten or drank anything for at least two days.
Marie gently grabs hold of Sherlock's ankle and John sees Sherlock's eyes squeeze shut. He almost asks if there's need for more morphine and bites his tongue when he realizes that especially right this moment Sherlock is unlikely to give him a realistic estimate of the situation. John has to make that call, not his patient.
He glances at the monitors. The blood pressure is keeping somewhat stable in a lower-than-normal range but the heart rate has spiked again into perilously high numbers. Whether it be due to ongoing bleeding, pain or something else, John has no way of knowing.
Fuck it. They have naloxone if need be. John grabs the morphine syringe and adds another ten milligrams of morphine into the IV. This time the paramedics don't bat an eyelid- the younger paramedic had just started another large-bore IV, which had awarded her with a full view of the lunar landscape marked with scarred injection points in the crook of Sherlock's arm. Any paramedic worth their salt would realize that such a sight, combined with the fact that Sherlock hadn't been knocked out by the first large dose of morphine, signified substantial tolerance.
It all sounds so detached, so clinical in John's head. It sounds like something that can be carted off to rehab, given therapy, gifted with a keychain for their troubles.
What the hell kind of a rehab facility could possibly ever hold and heal Sherlock Holmes? This thought that had occurred to him numerous times during the past weeks always fills him with a bright kind of cold fear. A fear that him and Mycroft are all there is.
Sherlock may have been more amenable to help, more flexible, more malleable in his behaviour in his youth, allowing Mycroft to cart him off to some expensive clinic. John can easily imagine Sherlock accepting the treatment just for the sake of getting out, wanting to escape the boredom of such facilities. He would act, he would lie, he would obfuscate and do everything else in his repertoire to get out, and then continue living however he wanted.
John clears his throat, turns away from his best friend to face the back of the ambulance. He then nods at Marie and the other paramedic, who nod back in aknowledgement.
John grabs a pain of clean gloves from a slot on the wall, and steadies his legs by leaning them onto the railing on the floor while the ambulance makes a few sharp turns. After pouring another generous helping of Betadine onto the wound, he lays his right palms onto the sides of the open fracture. The Betadine is stinging bitterly, and Sherlock is already gasping in pain. John grits his teeth, grabs hold of the ankle above Marie's stern grip and uses his palm to push the bone inwards while pulling on the ankle. The bone cracks back into the wound. This brings forth a high-pitched scream from Sherlock that is thankfully very short.
The wound begins trickling blood again but not heavily enough to cause concern. John, assisted by the younger paramedic, begins bandaging the area while Marie keeps pulling the ankle outwards to prevent muscles pulling the fractured bones back into an unfavourable position. The younger paramedic straps a box splint onto the leg.
Once John is satisfied that he's done all he can to the leg, he tears out his now bloodstained blue nitrile gloves and turns to face Sherlock again.
Sherlock has raised his IV-attached right hand to his face and is running the side of his palm across his eyes, leaving them reddish and shining with tears of pain.
John lays a palm on his shoulder. "Sorry, had to be done."
Sherlock lets his translucently pale eyelids float down. "Morphine," he pleads, and John wonders how many times his heart could possibly break in one day.
Chapter 3: Roadmap revealed
A great debt is owed to the brilliant emma221b, who worked with me to ensure a high level of realism on the medical front.
"You make me sound like some sort of a pathetic groupie," John had pointed out once, after Sherlock's fifteenth text message of the day had interrupted John and Mary's attempt at a romantic Friday evening at home.
"No, I actually rather think he circulates you, like a bloody Moon," Mary had said plaintively before retreating from the bed and fuming off to the shower.
John breathes a sigh of relief when the ambulance pulls up to the entrance to the A&E department of St Mary's Hospital.
Unlike Hammersmith, the hospital closest to the scene of the accident, St Mary's is classed as a major trauma centre. The thought of this being classified as such a case makes John's breath hitch in his throat even though the facts that this assessment is based on are clear as day.
Once they have been rushed into an acute bay, a fiftysomething woman holding a clipboard and wearing a tabard declaring her as the Lead Nurse pulls John aside. She records both his and Sherlock's personal information and in a curt manner interrogates John about both the circumstances of the accident and the medical interventions already undertaken.
John keeps glancing at the frantic scene taking place two metres away, but the seasoned nurse keeps her occupied with further questions for a few minutes. After jotting down some more notes she thanks John and takes up position trailing after a middle-aged woman wearing the insignia of the Trauma Team Leader.
John feels out of place even though he has run these sorts of scenarios dozens and dozens of times.
He doesn't even have a coloured tabard now.
Damn the rules. He's not leaving.
No one's even asking him to, since all the attention is currently focused on Sherlock.
John takes up position next to a supply cabinet, since the area near the trolley is currently too crowded.
A radiologist has entered, carting in a portable ultrasound machine for a quick assessment. A young man wearing the Trauma Anaesthetist tabard has stepped back to give him some room - he's not currently busy since Sherlock's stats are stable and he's conscious and breathing somewhat adequately on his own. John touches the young man's arm to get his attention. "Any news?"
The man frowns, taking in John's civilian clothing and determined expression.
"Dr Watson. I was at the scene," John explains and realization dawns on his colleague's face.
"Bilateral hemothorax on the X-ray - despite those he's doing surprisingly well on the breathing front. Pneumothorax on the right. We'll need to drain both pleuras but since it's not a tension one we'll do a FAST first."
John nods, fingers twitching as he presses his palms onto his thighs, struggling not to rush in and do something, anything.
He spots Sherlock's beloved greatcoat in shreds on the floor, in the corner together with the remains of his dress shirt. The sight shakes John to the core, even though he understands why - of course they had been forced to cut them in bits so that they wouldn't have to jostle Sherlock around any more than they absolutely had to. John bites his lips so hard he draws blood. It's not important, it's just thing, stupid thing, but Sherlock loves that coat and Sherlock will be furious.
Suddenly John he hears his own name. It's impossible to pinpoint the source, and at first he thinks that it's the adrenaline playing tricks in his head. Then he hears it again, and then a third time. It's quiet, but he's now convinced it's not a stress-borne hallucination.
John circles the trauma team, stepping over the cord of the ultrasound that's still being utilized in a FAST exam, a quick scan assessing whether any intra-abdominal organs have been injured.
Then the voice returns, loud and clear.
"GetJohnGetJohnGETJOHN!" The last part of the frantic rhyme is practically a loud wail.
John practically shoves aside a woman wearing the tabard of the Anaesthesia Nurse to get to Sherlock.
Sherlock is arching his back, grimacing, trying to escape the hands holding him down.
John glances towards the end of the bed and sees a catheter being replaced with a much larger one. John can't help but wince himself, when his eyes dart to the urine bag on the floor. What should be light, clear urine is luridly red like venous blood.
Together with the bilateral hemothorax, that explains the blood loss. Kidney contusion, possibly laceration, John's brain provides helpfully. Sherlock had not fallen solely onto soft grass. Falling from a height of several metres is certainly enough to rupture a kidney, especially when landing on a bunch a bicycles.
John's hand flies up to cup Sherlock's cheek and the he opens his eyes, trying to make out who is responsible for this new assault of privacy.
"It's me, calm down," John says quietly, trying to hold Sherlock's gaze with him own, shifting so that he can let the anaesthetist squeeze past him to get to a trolley loaded with pre-warmed infusion fluid bags. These acute bays never seemed to be designed to be large enough to properly accommodate a full modern trauma team.
"Sherlock, it's me. Look at me. Look at me," John demands, trying to steal Sherlock's focus away from trying to make a hasty retreat. Not that he's in any shape to even stand up on his own.
Multicoloured irisis finally home in on him and Sherlock begins staring at him like he's the most fascinating thing in the room. Sherlock's fingers then climb up to the velcro straps of the cervical collar and begin tugging at them. John pries them away. Sherlock then determinedly begins tearing off his oxygen prongs. The anaesthetist had exchanged his oxygen mask into a set of them since Sherlock had determinedly kept pushing the mask aside.
"Get this thing off of me," Sherlock growls and John curses.
Is this how it's going to be, Sherlock fighting them every step of the way? Why?
It didn't seem like Sherlock, who in the past had usually been quite reasonable in submitting himself to medical care when the situation had proven serious. He had, after all, called himself an ambulance when John had been too fury-blind to the fact that his best friend was about to expire on the sitting room floor at 221B.
"Not just yet. You need a CT scan," John explains, deciding that information, data and science might be the way to go here. Give him something to deduce, for God's sake!
"You've got a compound fracture of the tibia, multiple rib fractures piercing the pleuras and there's blood in your urine. Tell me what else is going on. Let's figure this out," John suggests. To his own ears his tone sounds like a strange mixture of pleading and annoyingly perky.
John feels like muttering a thanks to the universe after a moment, when as much focus as thirty milligrams of recently administered morphine and a hell of a lot of circulating stress hormones permit, returns to Sherlock's gaze.
Before Sherlock manages to actually say anything, a coughing fit overcomes him, bringing up frothy blood, which a nurse promptly wipes off his lips. This seems to drain Sherlock of energy and he abandons his attempt at talking to John.
John lets his palm linger on Sherlock's shoulder while leaning away from the trolley, trying to hear what the radiologist is telling the Trauma Team Leader.
Apparently there's no sign of free blood in the abdominal cavity. The source of the blood is likely a kidney contusion that's bleeding inside the kidney capsule, then. They certainly need the larger catheter to keep flushing the bladder so that a blood clot will not completely fill it and cause an obstruction.
John lets his fingers linger on Sherlock's shoulder while observing the Trauma Team Leader quickly numb small patches of skin and subcutaneous tissue with lidocaine on both sides of Sherlock's ribcage. Her fast and purposeful movements point to the fact that this is far from her first time around doing this. John is silently grateful for the fact.
Sherlock shifts and groans when the Trauma Team Leader uses her finger to advance a finger-thick pleural drain into the left side after making a small incision between the ribs. Sherlock coughs after a hiss of air and a spurt of blood out of the tube provides evidence of its correct placement. The doctor then repeats the procedure on the opposite side.
Soon the tubes are connected into suction devices somewhat resembling enlarged versions of old music cassettes, and with each breath Sherlock takes, a gurgle of blood and air travels down the tubes.
"Better?" John asks and Sherlock attempts to nod the best he can, the cervical collar still holding his head firmly in place. His pulse oxymeter reading climbs a few notches higher to the low normal range. It should be higher, considering he's being given additional oxygen, but the reading is good enough for now.
The radiology unit's CT scan room is located right next to the acute bay.
Since no one is paying him much attention, John follows the trolley into the scan unit and then slips into its control room, wanting to to find out as soon as possible what the findings are.
Through a large window opening into the actual scanning area, he watches the trauma team nurses and the anaesthetist arranging the monitoring wires so that they won't snag when the CT trolley is moved towards the detector ring.
John turns on the tap in the control room and drinks straight from it, suddenly realizing how exhausted and thirsty he is.
The anaesthetist pops his head into the control room, looking concerned. "Dr Watson?" he enquires and John's heart creates some irregular beats before he even knows what's going on.
"Can I borrow you for a second?" the anaesthetist asks.
"Yeah?" John asks while setting out to follow the man into the scanning area.
"I was leaning over him when I noticed he was---- I don't know how to describe it exactly," the young anaesthetist tries to explain, looking confused.
John needs to see for himself, but there are still several trauma team members crowding the trolley and he can't seem to get to Sherlock.
"He's not responding to us," The anaesthetist tells John in a bewildered tone, "There's nothing indicating a head injury. We're doing a head CT with the trauma sequence just to be sure, but---"
John ignores is colleague and makes a beeline for the CT trolley, pushing past the staff.
The scene that greets him when he finally reaches Sherlock is, sadly, already familiar. Sherlock's eyes are pinched closed, his lips moving in a way that resembles silent prayer. What little John can make out in terms of sound helps him recognize that Sherlock is going through the periodic table again.
John doesn't feel all that relieved, even though he has seen this before. Still, as long as there are words, there isn't full-blown panic yet.
"Do the scan," John sternly tells the anaesthetist. It'll only take a moment, and Sherlock will likely manage to keep himself calm with whatever he is doing.
A grounding technique of some sort?
Did someone teach it to him, or is this something he has come up on his own?
Since when has he been doing this? Since when?
The anaesthetist looks sceptical, but gives a thumbs up through the control room window to the radiology tech anyway. He and John trail out of the room to avoid getting irradiated.
The Trauma Team Leader walks into the control room and takes in John's presence. "Who are you?"
"I'm his----" John swallows, frantically trying to figure out the best description that would also explain why he is trespassing into areas usually reserved for medical personnel, "His GP," he lies.
The Trauma Team Leader raises his brows but then moves his attention to the CT scan images now beginning to appear on the control room screens.
John breathes a sigh of relief when the radiologist declares that there's no trauma to the cervical or the thoracic spine. A spinous process has broken off in the lower lumber region but the structures surrounding the spinal column are intact and stable.
This means that although Sherlock's lower back will be sore for a while, there's no risk of spinal injury.
Sherlock's left kidney is swollen due to a contusion that is bleeding into the kidney's collection system, but the kidney capsule has not ruptured. This can be managed without surgery. John knows that the fact that it means extended bed rest will be a testing time for all involved. Sherlock and rest are like oil and water.
Sherlock's tibia has been broken into three separate chunks. The fibula is broken as well. Since it's an open fracture it needs to be cleaned and externally fixated in an operating theatre. There's still a risk that the kidney might rupture or the lung situation worsen, making an early-stage operation a risky maneuver. After the greatest risk period for infection has passed, there will be an operation to make a more permanent repair and to close the wound.
John wastes no time in returning to the scanning area after he's heard the gist of the results.
Sherlock seems relatively calm, eyes closed, still muttering to himself. John idly wonders how many times he's gone through the entire table already.
The team decides to take off the cervical collar and slide out the spine scoop before transferring Sherlock back onto a bed the ICU has now delivered for him.
John leans on a wall when he sees that very bed parked in the hallway outside the double doors to the scanning suite. He allows himself a moment to take a couple of breaths as he is suddenly assaulted by memories from not long ago, memories of the first time he had walked into the ICU after Sherlock had been shot.
After Mary had shot Sherlock, he always reminds himself even though it's useless and masochistic.
John had nearly lost it at the door to Sherlock's ICU room back then, the shock and the deja vu ripping his defences apart. The deja vu of Sherlock pale, lifeless form before him, and the shock of seeing him on the ventilator, unconscious.
Somehow it hadn't occurred to John that he wouldn't meet Sherlock awake and talking. As a doctor he should have realized that after an emergency thoracotomy patients were often left on the ventilator for a while to make sure they didn't rip the fresh, delicate surgical seams in their lungs by coughing and straining.
He should have known. There are some many things he should have known but they never occur to him in time. And for that, Sherlock always gets punished.
All those months ago, John had sat on the ICU bed, leaning his torso down onto Sherlock's. Feeling the steady rise and fall of his chest and the flutter of his heart underneath the ribcage under John's fingers lent him just enough strength to continue functioning.
There is also an edge to that memory than grates John, torments him, one that he dislikes thinking about even more than he hates remembering Sherlock fighting for his life. For it was during that moment that he had realized that whatever he and Sherlock had, whatever unnamed category their relationship belonged to, it was inexplicably something he could never hope to achieve with Mary.
He would never feel this much for Mary. Not ever.
And in that moment, John had realized that he had failed both of them.
It's almost a relief when John is ripped back into reality by a loud crack. He strides the last two metres separating him from the CT machine where the scene has now suddenly turned chaotic.
A portable vitals monitor lies on the floor, fractures crisscrossing its glass screen.
The radiographer and two nurses are attempting to lean Sherlock back onto the bed but he has somehow gathered enough strength to be able to strain against their arms, trying to sit up. In the process Sherlock almost cracks his head onto the detector ring, attempting to get up when the bed hadn't even been slid out from underneath it yet. He keeps clawing at the hands holding him down.
"LET GO OF HIM!" John commands with as much conviction as he can summon.
The hands holding onto Sherlock halt, hesitate and then withdraw.
Sherlock slumps against the bed, looking pale and completely spent.
For a second the only sound in the suite is the gurgling of his pleural drains.
John raises his hands in a disarming gesture and approaches the CT scan trolley. Sherlock is now breathing heavily but no longer hyperventilating. His eyes are darting around nervously before he notices John. He then watches without a word as John gently pries open the velcro straps of the cervical collar and peels it away.
Sherlock's scratches his neck where the collar has been the tightest, leaving red welts where his fingers trail along the skin.
The radiographer presses a button and the bed rolls out from underneath the CT detector ring. The anaesthesia nurses throws a blanket across Sherlock's naked torso and Sherlock twists the edge of it into his fist to keep it in place. He then grits his teeth when John together with the others lift him so that they can remove the spine scoop. This requires turning Sherlock slightly away from the side John is standing on. John reaches further under his back to get a better grip, and suddenly his fingers meet something he wasn't expecting.
There's something rough on the skin, something ridge-like. At first John thinks it's the crumpled-up edge of a sheet and tries to smooth it out. When he runs his hand further along Sherlock's back his fingers meet a further set of similar landmarks - rough edges where there ought to be smooth, soft skin.
John frowns and then addresses the rest of the team. "Help me turn him a bit more," he commands, and the Circulation nurse grabs hold of the left pleural drain so it won't get snagged under.
"John, don't," Sherlock pleads.
This only strengthens John's resolve. When he's certain the others have a firm hold of Sherlock and the four pieces of the spine scoop have been removed, John leans down to see better.
He has seen Sherlock's naked back countless times before. The sight before his eyes does not resemble his recollection of what it's supposed to look like.
There are countless scars scattered across Sherlock's back. They look like healed lacerations, varying in depth. There are also some faded, more superficial scars that resemble old rope burns. Some of the scars have wide borders, hinting at the possibility of delayed healing - perhaps infection had prolonged their closure?
An errant memory floats to the surface of John's mind again.
It's the memory of Sherlock refusing to help John dress up for the wedding, insisting that he had chores to run and that he would change into his Best Man's outfit at Baker Street. John had thought nothing of it then, but now he has a new, more ominous theory. Had Sherlock been trying to hide this from him?
Another memory occurs to him unbridled: after bringing Sherlock home from the drug den, Sherlock had taken a change of clothes into the bathroom and emerged fully dressed after his shower. Sherlock had never exhibited such modesty when they'd still been living together. Many a morning had been spent with John in his pyjama pants and a T-shirt and Sherlock in nothing but a sheet pulled from his bed.
John shakes his head to ground himself in the present again. He has stepped back without realizing, mesmerized by the unfamiliar, hostile territory he's seeing for the first time. John is supposed to be a physician unfazed by the most brutal of injuries, but he can't even bring himself to raise his fingers to touch the lunar landscape of scars.
John feels betrayed. Betrayed and lost, until he realizes that whatever he's feeling, Sherlock will have been feeling even worse if he had gone to all the trouble of hiding everything from John.
John lets his hand fall. The rest of the team have also fallen silent, sensing the delicateness of the situation. Together they lower Sherlock back down onto his back.
Without John noticing, the anaesthetist has walked back in with a syringe in hand. He appears beside John, fingering the large-bore IV port on Sherlock's arm. John frowns when he notices this, but before he manages inquire as to the contents of the syringe, the anaesthetist injects some of it into the IV.
"Ketamine," the anaesthetist explains to John when their eyes meet. The man had clearly had enough of his struggling patient, wanting to make the scene easier for everyone to manage.
John gapes and then sternly stops himself from exploding into rage right then and there. He tries to remind himself that his young colleague doesn't have the whole picture about what's going on. John also reminds himself that Ketamine is a common, standard drug for managing trauma patients without head injuries. The man is trying to help.
He's just trying to help Sherlock.
Despite knowing all of this, John can't help bracing himself. Giving a potently hallucinogenic anaesthesia drug to a trauma patient with substance abuse probems and an acute tendency to lose grip with reality seems, to John, more than a bit not good.
It does not surprise him when five minutes later, eight people are needed to wrestle their now completely unco-operative and severely injured patient back into bed.
John is able to help, able to keep his emotions in check until Sherlock begins begging, pleading and screaming in some language that sounds vaguely Eastern European.
John's composure crumbles.
He's lost, they're both lost, and he doesn't know what to do.
John steps back, stumbles out into the hallway and retreats into a nearby staff toilet with a broken lock. Inside, he fumbles for a light switch and then leans his forehead on the wall. He tries to calm himself, gulping for breath, but despite his best efforts he is soon sobbing into a creased white coat someone has left behind.
Chapter 4: Just checking in
Trauma had been John's bread and butter as an army physician. It's the very reason he had decided to seek surgical training after medical school. He loved the concrete, urgent nature of its problems - broken bones, bleeding arteries in need of clamping.
John can't really reach that mindset now as he sits in the observation area of an operating theatre. He can't resist looking up through the plexiglass window to check on Sherlock. He now looks serene enough as he lies on the operating table, an anaesthetist sitting beside him. After the ketamine had worn off he'd been put under other sedatives, and a spinal block is keeping him painless. General anaesthesia would have been risky with his lung injuries but he's under heavy sedation.
The open fracture is now to be cleaned, irrigated with an antibiotic solution and an external fixation frame fixed pinned into the broken bones to keep them in the right position while buying time for the infection risk to pass. It'll take approximately two weeks until it will be possible to switch to an internal fixation. John is most decidedly not looking forward to those two weeks, trying to somehow keep an immobile Sherlock somehow entertained enough to hold onto the flimsy level of sanity that seemed to be his life-long trademark.
No, this'll not be easy. Fixing a bone, draining blood from the pleural cavity - those will be just the beginning with Sherlock, because all of this is just a symptom of the problem John has been biting his tongue over for too long, namely Sherlock's recklessness. Sherlock's blatant self-destruction. Sherlock's... issues. Whatever those even may be at current.
Sherlock has always veen volatile, recalcitrant, capricious and obstinate to the point of ridiculous, but during the past five-odd years he'd kept it together. Kept himself together.
There's a dark undercurrent here now, one that John did not encounter when they had been living together. He wants to kick himself for not seeing it before - it's been there since Sherlock came back. Hindsight is always 20/20, and John's hindsight is now piecing together things that he had dismissed as just being Sherlock's typical, harmless quirks.
Napkin swans completely taking over their former apartment.
Sherlock disappearing mid-shopping when John had told him his and Mary's loan applications to buy a house had gone through.
All those days during which Sherlock had bombarded his phone with messages about unimportant things, things Sherlock wouldn't care about, about things he'd been doing that day, and John's polite answers seemed to just spurn him on to report more things that didn't have any relevance to cases. It was as though he'd been using John to channel some sort of Sherlockian white noise out of his head.
John digs out his phone from his pocket and thumbs through the message list.
LOW-QUALITY PLASTER LIKELY USED IN BATHROOM TILING. SH
BOUGHT A MARS BAR LAST YEAR. FORGOT TO EAT IT. STILL A VIABLE OPTION, DOCTOR'S OPINION? SH
HAVING TEA. SH
LESTRADE HAS STILL NOT PROVIDED ANYTHING NEW AND THE CASES FROM THE WEBSITE ARE PATHETIC. SH
At 02:10 on a Monday, JUST CHECKING IN. SH
'You see, but you do not observe.'
The fact is that Sherlock has not been completely himself after The Fall.
During his two-year absence Sherlock had gone through god-knows-what. John realizes that he had never really asked what had transpired during all that time. Who had John been protecting with his silence and evasion, Sherlock or himself?
How could John possibly hold on to his righteous anger over how Sherlock had cast him aside, how could he possibly justify practically abandoning Sherlock in lieu of his assassin wife, if he was forced to face the reality of what this man had been willing to go through for him?
John wonders if a part of him had known this day would come. The clouds had been gathering - even Mary must've picked up on it. She probably had her own reasons for staying silent, staying out of it, the precious distraction of what was growing in her belly not the least of them.
John had never felt comfortable dealing with the emotional side of what happened to men on the battlefield. He had tried to think it wasn't his job - as a war surgeon he patched these men up as best as he could, and the rest of it, the emotional side, was left to other professionals more suited to the task. All that could come later. Survival first, mopping up the ensuing mess later. He'd certainly tried to sweep his own under the rug. John had definitely not shied away from danger during his secondment and he had thrived in that environent, but no human mind was equipped to handle excessive amounts of that sort of stress for a long time. Getting injured, waiting for evacuation and coming to terms with the fact that he had come home a broken man had been a sucker punch that had turned a confident young physician into someone choosing a gun as his bedfellow.
John had been quite terrible at coming to terms with his own PTSD. He'd been obdurate in therapy and prone to wallowing in self-pity. It had taken the most drastic of measures - following Sherlock Holmes into a new kind of battlefield - to veer him off a road to nowhere.
John feels dreadfully ill-equipped to deal with what he is facing now - the aftermath of a potentially much more destructive set of circumstances than what had traumatized himself in Afghanistan. Sherlock, all alone, had faced an underground army lead by a madman and it was evident that he had been captured and hurt terribly at some point. The bits and pieces that John had put together from Mycroft's cryptic hints it sounded as though the situation had been so critical that Mycroft had been forced to intervene.
John can't even begin to imagine how that had felt like - being Sherlock Holmes and also aware that your wits weren't going to get you out, waiting for either death or some unlikely stroke of luck.
And after all that, Sherlock had come back, likely confided to no one, smiled like the madman he is and took on building miniature wedding reception venue models.
If Mary hadn't been there, had John understood earlier what was going on? Would he have seen past the facade of 'there is nothing wrong with me'?
Mycroft had commented on the plane that two weeks spent in solitary confinement was akin to locking Sherlock up with Moriarty. Had the memories of those two years taking down Moriarty returned with a vengeance during those two weeks in prison, during which there had been nothing for Sherlock to distract himself with?
Was it any wonder then, that the first thing he'd done after being let out of prison was to shoot up and disappear into the Mind Palace. John thought not.
There is no rehab facility that can handle a 34-year old blazingly brilliant self-acclaimed sociopath with PTSD and a hard drug habit.
John Watson is all there is.
John calls Mycroft while watching the operation. The Trauma Team Leader had let him into the theatre floor without even asking. Perhaps she'd parsed from all that had happened that John is useful to have around if Sherlock is to be kept co-operative when awake.
Mycroft is, unsurprisingly, aware that something has happened. John assures him that everything is stable and that there's likely no risk of permanent injury.
John's heart goes out to Mycroft, who doesn't sound like his usual blasé self when thanking John for the information. It had rattled him how affected Mycroft had been by Sherlock's behaviour on the plane. That, together with the fact that the older Holmes had taken up a habit of calling John more often than before, inquiring about his impression of Sherlock's wellbeing, spoke volumes of his level of worry over Sherlock's relapse.
Their discussions on the phone never went very deep in their analysis of Sherlock, and for this John feels a pang of regret on his own behalf. Mycroft had been reluctant to provide details of Sherlock's travels, likely because Sherlock would have asked him not to tell.
It hurts. It hurts that Sherlock wouldn't trust him with this. It brings out the ghosts of the days right before and after The Fall.
During every one of those phone calls, just before Mycroft would hang up, John had told him that they needed to meet up and talk, really talk at length, sooner rather than later. Mycroft had always hummed in aknowledgement in his usual politely subdued manner. This meet-up never materialized, but the calls kept happening as a sort of a ritual, a false placation that John could use to convince himself that he was taking care of things, keeping an eye on Sherlock.
John promises Mycroft to keep him informed and they end the call. John then calls Mary, feeling rather cross with himself after realizing it's been four hours since the accident and the need to inform his wife hasn't appeared in his thoughts until now. Mary sounds genuinely worried and offers to come over and bring food. John accepts, even thought he is quite certain he will throw up if he attempts to ingest anything else than water or stale hospital coffee, and he doubts that Mary's presence can offer much in terms of consolation. John just can't think of a plausible excuse to say no to his wife, who just wants to help.
John meets Mary in the family room of the ICU while waiting for Sherlock to sleep off the remains of the sedatives. The cold ham sandwiches with mustard that are usually John's favourite have very little taste today. The tea from the thermos is bland and lukewarm. John would prefer something much stronger, but for the conversation he needs to initiate soon, he will need to be at the top of his wits.
John knows how to deal with the old Sherlock. It had taken him two years to learn the ropes through trial-and-error.
After Sherlock's return from the dead he had assumed the old roadmap would still work. He now knows it won't. And that fills him with fear and helplessness.
John has no idea how to deal with this Sherlock, now.
Sherlock had saved John from himself, because Sherlock had been the strong one. Then Sherlock had saved the world and all his friends from Moriarty, while John grieved and charmed himself a nice little girlfriend.
Tables need to turn now. John needs to become the strong one.
Chapter 5: Deflection
I'm trying to control myself
So please don't stand in my way
- The Cranberries
John tells Mary an abbreviated version of what had happened at A&E. He then coldly announces that when Sherlock wakes up, John is going to see him alone at first.
Mary nods, appearing accustomed to taking things at face value when it comes to Sherlock Holmes.
Two hours later John hesitates as he lets his fingers gently perch on the door handle to the ICU room now assigned to Sherlock. Holding his breath as though taking a plunge into cold water, he presses down the handle and takes a determined step into the room.
The lights are dimmed. There's enough space for just one patient in the sparsely decorated room. The nurses' station is just outside of it, visible through the corridor window, monitor cables running from the room to the joint screens in the station erasing the need for a nurse to be present at all times. There's a window on the outer wall, too, but the Venetian blinds are shut.
The pale wraith of Sherlock on the bed flinches when John pushes the door closed with a click. Sherlock then opens his eyes, fingers clasping onto the siderails of the bed. He tries scrambling onto a sitting position but then slumps down limblessly, his face contorting in pain and his eyes squeezing shut. His slides his left hand to the right side of his ribcage and then snakes it under his lower back, fingers digging into the muscles there.
A cardiac monitor begins protesting his spiking heart rate.
John walks to the side of the bed and waits. For what, he isn't even sure.
He's walking on eggshells. Crossing unfamiliar territory. Traversing alien landscape.
Sherlock coughs, the convulsive grip of his right hand fingers on the bed railing loosening. He turns his head to the side John is standing on and opens his eyes.
"How are you feeling?" John asks because it's the expected thing to say. Sherlock hates such social conventions.
"Like having fallen off a bridge," Sherlock replies sourly.
"They fixed your leg," John offers helpfully. "Well, sort of. They can put in a permanent plate in ten to fourteen days."
"Delightful," Sherlock replies, letting his gaze roam in the room.
He looks disinterested, dismissive.
John spots a small glass vial on the nightstand and picks it up. It contains dark, twisted bits of metal, the edges of which are round as though slightly melted.
"Bullet fragments from my ankle. The scrub nurse thought I might like to keep them. She's a fan of your blog. Complained about the recent dearth of updates."
John licks his parched lips. Damned overeffective hospital air conditioning. "The bridge guy shot you?"
Confusion makes a fleeting visit on Sherlock's features until he realizes John is referring to their bridge adventure. "No, those are older. They decided to take them out since they were operating on that side anyway."
"They weren't bothering you?"
"Not significantly, no."
"Porto Alegre. Brazil. 2013."
John memorizes the words and the numbers, ridiculously grateful for even this small reveal.
Sherlock grabs the bed remote and inclines the head end upwards.
John realizes he's still holding the glass vial in his fingers. He wants to hurtle it through the corridor window.
"You were shot."
"I see your penchant for repetition hasn't abated. Yes, I have been shot in my line of work, several times in fact, and I fail to why some minor incident years ago should alarm you at all."
Sherlock is gazing around the room as though looking for a distraction, fingers aimlessly dancing on the mattress.
"Are you upset with me?" John blurts out before realizing this isn't the way to reopen a dialogue. Yes or no questions won't probably work, since they offer an easy outlet for monosyllabic replies. On the other hand, open questions might not yield much better results either.
John remembers his own words: 'I find it difficult, this sort of stuff.'
Obviously he's not the only one.
John refuses to let himself off the hook with that excuse anymore. This isn't about him anymore. This is too serious. There's no magic trick, no off switch to this bomb, no superhero plan of escape.
"Why would I be upset with you?" Sherlock asks. He doesn't sound like he'd be very interested in a reply. Considering the amount of anaesthetic drugs that have coursed through his veins during the past few hours he appears surprisingly sharp and present.
Tolerance, John reminds himself. As though trying to understand the Sherlock that came back from the dead isn't hard enough, there's the added layer of what the cocaine and the heroin have been doing to Sherlock's mental state to pierce through first.
The cocaine and the heroin and the methamphetamine and the hydromorphone and the fentanyl and the pentobarbital and the lorazepam.
John has seen the list. The list that Sherlock had theatrically ripped up on the plane.
John has seen it because Mycroft had put it back together and emailed him a photo.
Mycroft, with his resigned tone and the raw sadness in his eyes, when he had pleaded John to look after his brother.
The memory seems to gift John with an extra ounce of bravery.
He decides to jump in head-first. It's not like Sherlock can now storm out to sulk somewhere, if this approach backfires.
"Flashbacks. Being triggered. Nightmares. Loud noises startling you. Panic attacks. Not feeling in control. Sound familiar?" John asks, leaning on the railing and trying to fixate Sherlock with his gaze.
Sherlock peers at him, frowning. Then his expression turns perfunctory again. "I assume we are now discussing your PTSD. As to why, I admit I have no idea."
"Not being able to sleep alone. Being so aware of your surroundings that it wears you out. Feeling like someone's after you all the time."
Sherlock now looks calculatedly amused. "I regret to inform you that there is always someone after us. Perks of the job." He slowly shifts on the bed. The external fixation device won't allow him to turn to his side so he contends with turning just his upper body away from John.
John can make out goosebumps on his bare chest. He grabs the edge of the duvet that's been folded into half at the end of the bed and pulls it up to cover most of Sherlock.
John then grabs the bed remote, unlocks and lowers the railing on the side of Sherlock's unharmed leg and sits down on the mattress. Sherlock bend his knee so that there's more room for John, wincing as using his back muscles irritate his injured kidney.
"Moriarty," John says.
Sherlock swallows. Even though he is facing slightly away, John can spot a flicker of some unnamed emotion traveling across his features, one that John can't recognize.
Two years ago, the mere mention of Sherlock's archenemy would have lit up his face like a Christmas tree. The news of Moriarty's return had not produced the same sort of delight. Even though he had announced that he knew exactly what Moriarty - or whoever was using that name - would do next, Sherlock had spent three days post-exile as a manic, vengeful ghost who kept snapping at even John if he dared to distract him from his endless, indecipherable monologues.
When no further sign of Moriarty had appeared after the video had been taken out of circulation, John had thought that things would get better.
Despite his belittling reassurances to Mycroft, Sherlock continued to shoot up. He dashed around solving crimes as though he was a shark that would die if it stopped swimming, didn't seem to be able to get any sleep at his home and consumed less food and drink than John ever remembered him doing.
"When you went to the Palace to solve that old Bride case, was Moriarty there?" John asks.
Sherlock looks uninterested in the subject. "He's always there."
John knows there is probably volumes of information hidden in that sentence: the intonation, the things left unsaid, the tone and the expressions. Before, he would have left it at that, taking in at face value because that's what Sherlock would have wanted him to do, nodding and then abandoning the subject. He needs Sherlock to use his words now, not assume telepathy or shut John out.
"Doing anything particular?"
Sherlock flicks a sweaty lock of hair behind his ear. "You kicked him down a waterfall. I'd say that was new."
John laughs and expects Sherlock to join in. He doesn't.
Instead, he shifts onto his back, studying John's face as though looking for something. Then he glances at the automatic infusors attached to a drip stand by the bed. The names of the medications in use are slowly scrolling on their small screens.
"No morphine," Sherlock points out in an accusatory tone.
"They put in a thoracic epidural. That should help with the ribs and especially with the back pain. The catheter might be located too high to do anything about the leg, but on the other hand, they'll want to know if the pain in it gets worse because that might mean--"
"--Compartment syndrome," Sherlock concludes for him.
John decides not to mention that the epidural had been his suggestion. Putting an addict on a continuous morphine infusion would not be the brightest of ideas, especially if said addict was clever enough to figure out how to use the infusor to adjust the rate to his liking. The anaesthetist in charge of the case had agreed, and told John that a consult request had already been put in with the hospital's Addiction unit to assess the situation.
"How long until I'm allowed to get up?" Sherlock inquires.
"Not until they're convinced that the kidney capsule isn't going to rupture. Right now it's only bleeding into itself, which usually sorts itself out. If it breaks out into the abdomen, you'll need surgery."
"I didn't ask for parametres or a worst case scenario. I want a timeframe."
"They're going to do an ultrasound daily. I'd say four to five days."
Sherlock groans dramatically and lets his hand drop onto his stomach on top of the duvet.
"You're going to need some help at home after this," John points out. "You won't be able to climb the stairs with that cast, not even with crutches. Or put on trousers. Or get into the tub for a shower."
Sherlock glowers at the suggestion of him not being able to look after himself. "Mycroft will hire someone."
"Not going to happen."
"We'll have to figure the details out, but it's going to be me. And Mary. And Mrs Hudson, probably Mostly me. I'm not leaving you to sort yourself out again. Not now."
"Out of the question."
"You don't want my help?" John feigns having been insulted gravely. "Why?" he demands.
Sherlock looks taken aback. "I--- I wouldn't want to impose. You need to be preparing for the baby."
Sherlock practically gapes. It's a rare sight - Sherlock Holmes, rendered speechless.
"There's a reason. And for that same reason you've made pretty damned sure to keep yourself draped in that coat, in a jacket, afghan, wrapped up in whatever you can get hold of, so that I wouldn't see what you don't want me to see. But I have, and we need to talk about it. Right now."
"I don't need to discuss anything of the sort," Sherlock says, "And it's nothing to you anyway."
John stands up and tries to keep calm. He wants to yell, let it all out, but it's not going to help Sherlock and this time he needs to focus on something else than his own anger. "Why do you say that?" John asks, his voice pitching higher than normal but he still sounds almost composed. "Why would you say such a thing? Why wouldn't I care?"
Sherlock is evading his gaze. "It's all over and done with. I granted your wish, I'm here. Not dead. Even made sure the wife isn't going to jail. What more do you want?"
"You're not here. Not entirely. There's something missing. Something that you've been trying to patch up with the heroin and the cocaine and the cases and the goddamned wedding planning. I know you, and I know us, and things have not been like they should."
"Does this have to do with what you were trying to discuss earlier? Your PTSD coming back?"
John stares at Sherlock. Is he being unusually daft, or just blatantly evasive?
John does his best to erase all worry from his face and replace it with casual curiosity. "What happened to your back?"
Come on, Sherlock. Use your imagination. Create the best cover story ever. Fool me. Fool everyone. And look me in the eye while doing it.
It takes a long time for Sherlock to reply.
"Have you been talking to Mycroft?" is Sherlock's circumspect approach.
John shrugs. "No. Should I?"
"No. There's nothing to talk about." Sherlock is clearly trying his damnedest to sound casual. "I'm tired. Let me sleep. Isn't that what you doctors incessantly prattle on about, getting enough rest?"
John sighs. It would be nice to at least sometimes be able to counter Sherlock's steely dismissals with a precise, piercing strike. To do what Sherlock had done to him when they'd first met - charge through his defences like a sword slicing through parchment.
John refuses to be discouraged by such a feeble attempt at denial.
He will keep trying until something gives.
Because they can't go on like this anymore.
Chapter 6: Grand plans and taking stands
I would most likely have kind of mucked up many things in this chapter without invaluable input from my pro bae emma221b. Much obliged.
There's nothing much in this chapter that would warrant a content warning. Just the usual generous helping of angst, and Sherlock will probably drive you nuts. (John can relate.)
John sits with Sherlock until the early evening. He had told Mary, who had been left waiting in the family room, that she should go home and rest - there was no point in her visiting because Sherlock had mostly slept, or at least feigned doing so.
Somehow John just can't bring himself to watch the two of them together tonight. The memories of hospital days not long ago, brought on by the steady hand of Mary holding a Browning, feel gratingly raw. John is now drenched anew in the same sort of fear entangled with relief that had marred those days.
They need rest, all three of them.
John leaves the hospital around nine in the evening, and spontaneously decides to spend the night at Baker Street. For elusive reasons it feels like something he needs to do.
He calls Mary to tell her that he needs to pick up some things for Sherlock and then stay at the hospital overnight. Mary accepts this explanation wordlessly, humming an aknowledgement that men less observant and less paranoid about their wives would consider amicable. John has learned enough of his wife to know that this is not the serene acceptance it tries to emulate.
John's old vengeance flares up again - the desire to tell Mary, that after almost murdering such an important person in John's life, she didn't have the right to frown and disapprove anymore.
Mary will have to wait.
Their marriage will have to wait.
The baby is due in three months - the baby will not wait. This frightens John so much that he sternly pushes the whole thing out of his mind, telling himself that it's best that he just focuses on the moment at hand.
He will sort everything out. Eventually.
He will sort things out as soon as he gets Sherlock back on his feet.
Back at Baker Street, John wanders around the apartment. The place seems lost in time - everything is almost exactly as it was when John had still been living there.
Being there feels like slipping into an old, comfortable set of clothes - safe, familiar and right.
The kitchen cupboards turn out to be unsurprisingly empty. Sherlock's bed is neatly made, looking neglected and unslept in.
John sits in his old armchair for hours, not even bothering to switch on the lights.
After midnight he drags himself up to his old bedroom. It's been untouched since the fourth day after Sherlock jumped. After John had decided on the third day that he couldn't possibly spend another minute in their former home, Mrs Hudson had kindly packed most of his clothes and sent them to Harry's, where John had gone to spend a few weeks before he had found a small bedsit in West Ealing.
It seems that Sherlock hasn't wanted to disturb this room either.
Dust puffs up when John sits down on his old bed, creating swirly patterns in the dim light of the table lamp on his nightstand. Sherlock was always so particular about dust, reading things in its movements that others never noticed.
John wishes he could match Sherlock's pattern recognition abilities. Maybe he could have prevented much of what had happened during the past few months. Maybe he could've seen the signs.
But if the world's only consulting detective hadn't seen past the surface of Mary or his own path of destruction, John could never have had even a snowball's chance.
John lets himself flop limblessly onto the bedspread, falling asleep almost immediately.
The next morning, John wanders into Sherlock's ICU room carrying a bag containing toiletries and some clothes. In his other hand he carries a disposable cup of coffee and a Sudoku magazine.
Sherlock hates regular crosswords, since they rely on awareness of the internal culture of those puzzles and knowledge of current events and pop culture. Sudokus he tolerates and occasionally assists John in, on the pretense that it's 'mathematics instead of nonsense'.
Sherlock is sitting up in bed, looking expectant. He seems as collected as a man with two finger-thick drains snaking out through his ribcage, and a metallic contraption keeping his leg together possibly could be. His hands are resting on his lap, and he is nestled in fresh, crisp sheets. His breathing is shallow and slightly more frequent than its normal rate but some colour has returned to his cheeks. A reason for this might be the two empty red blood cell unit bags hanging from the IV stand behind the bed.
"Hey," John says. Sherlock looks up at him and his posture relaxes. He awards John with a smile, but keeps glancing at the door.
Is Sherlock expecting someone else?
Sherlock, ever the telepath: "The consultant psychiatrist of the TADS unit was supposed to come by half an hour ago."
"Right." John takes a seat, dragging the chair next to a small, wheeled table so that he can set his coffee cup down.
"I know it was you," Sherlock points out dryly. "Mycroft hasn't talked to the doctors yet as far as I know. Must've been you." Sherlock sounds resigned, not angry.
"You mean that I told them about the drugs?"
"I did, because it affects all of this. Your treatment, I mean," John hastens to add. He doesn't want to get confrontational first thing in the morning.
He needs coffee first.
"I can do this, you know. I can stop. Whenever I want to. I have. Before." Sherlock's tone is clipped and the absence of his usually verbose manner coaxes a furrow onto John's brows.
"Right. User, not an addict. I heard you," John says. He doesn't believe a word of it, of course.
If Mycroft is worried, then John has reason to worry, too.
"Your pain control needs to be planned taking both withdrawal and tolerance into account. It wouldn't be responsible for them to let you go cold-turkey while recovering from major trauma. There's all sorts of protocols and programs for these things now."
Sherlock, always a fan of rules and protocols, snorts. "I assumed I was the one calling the shots. Patient approval is still required for a treatment plan, is it not?"
"How could the medical community possibly function without your approval," John chuckles, sips his coffee and idly flips through his magazine, settling on a sudoku he had started on during his Tube ride.
Sherlock peers over the bed railing and his left chest drains gurgles. "Third row from the left. That should be a four, not a six."
It takes a moment for the middle-aged, mild-mannered psychiatrist to adjust to his sharp-tongued, scientifically educated consultation patient.
The psychiatrist had greeted both of them upon his entry, enquiring from Sherlock whether it was allright by him for John to be present. Sherlock had agreed, quite defiantly, and to John it had sounded as though he was trying to prove a point.
John can barely get a word in while Sherlock and the psychiatrist compare the merits and disadvantages of methadone and buprenorphine as pertaining to the withdrawal symptoms of different opiates.
It rattles John, the way in which Sherlock sounds as though he's discussing fine wines or holiday destinations.
When the conversation turns to Sherlock himself, his effluent prattling tones down considerably and he begins stealing wary glances at John.
"We don't generally recommend methadone for patients with a history of mood disorders or self-destructive behaviour."
"If you're referring to what happened in 2012, that was not a genuine suicide."
John sits up in his chair, listening intently.
The psychiatrist shuffles through his papers. "Your brother has provided us with your past medical records, but I found no mention of a suicide attempt."
Sherlock smiles deviously when the penny drops. "He's had the records wiped."
The psychiatrist frowns and writes something down in his pad. "What the records do show are repeated overdoses, some of which were suspect as to whether they were accidental."
Sherlock glances out of the window as though buying himself a bit of time to reply. "I am not suicidal. John here would probably describe me as reckless, but not self-destructive. Not during the time he's known me."
"Reckless bordering on completely lacking a sense of self-preservation," John quips and then feigns to be focusing on his sudoku while Sherlock bristles with the same expression he always gives Mrs Hudson when being nagged about housekeeping. He had almost protested the way in which Sherlock was putting words in his mouth but on the other hand, Sherlock might reveal something of himself while doing it, so John lets it slide.
"Anyway, since buprenorphine is less dysphoric---"
"I am not prone to 'dysphoria'," Sherlock cuts in, letting the word roll off his tongue as though tasting something vile. "Nor am I depressed, manic or psychotic."
"Have you been on methadone sometime before, Mr Holmes?"
"No, and I have no desire to even consider it. And neither will I entertain any thought of buprenorphine or naltrexone either."
"You might think differently once the withdrawal comes on."
Sherlock swallows and visibly pales, as though remembering something. He then composes himself quickly.
The psychiatrist leans forward as though preparing for a lecture. "You do understand that even though those symptoms are rarely life-threatening in healthy individuals, for someone with your current predicament we never even recommend our normal detoxification regime. In these sorts of situations we always plan an opioid maintenance regime and only after the patient is well enough physically---"
"I assume this maintenance regime entails a detailed psychiatric evaluation."
"Out of the question." Sherlock is trying to remain calm, but to John it certainly sounds like his tone has gone up in pitch.
"Buprenorphine also has the added benefit of rendering other opiates ineffective. That might help with recovery and staying clean."
"You consider me a high relapse risk." Not a question. A deduction.
"All heroin users and especially those using more than one illicit substance intravenously are in the highest risk group."
John flinches. It's easy to just vague it all up, 'Sherlock does drugs', but being reminded of the actual, physical reality of it never loses an ounce of its shock impact. Never.
"We would also prefer to avoid respiratory depression since your breathing is already compromised by the bilateral lung injuries. That's why we'd recommend buprenorphine over methadone in your case, Mr Holmes."
"Still buprenorphine, even though it might actually precipitate withdrawal symptoms with its partial antagonism of other opiates?" Sherlock now looks deviously triumphant. John is quite certain he has made up his mind already, but he never misses a chance to flaunt his knowledge base.
"Depends on the dose." The psychiatrist leans forward in the plastic chair he had brought with him from the corridor since John was occupying the only chair in the room.
"As I explained, we practically never plan a detox during acute treatment for major somatic health issues. The guidelines recommend maintenance at least until discharge, and then a community-based, structured detoxification approach with in- or outpatient rehabilitation, a personalized relapse prevention strategy, self-help groups and counseling with one of our liaison nurses. We also offer mindfullness and relaxation therapies to most our patients."
John tries to keep a straight face.
A sardonic smile is playing on Sherlock's features as well.
The psychiatrist picks up on this and looks dismayed.
"Nevertheless, detoxification will last at least four weeks and it's unlikely you will stay in this hospital for that long."
"You're not listening," Sherlock says. "I will not submit to any kind of addiction intervention. I have stopped, I will stop, on my own."
"That is highly irregular, not to mention potentially dangerous, considering the stress put on your by your injuries. "
During the conversation John had begun to worry that Sherlock would be able to walk over his colleague, and he is relieved to hear such a stern warning from the man.
"Besides, I've not yet gotten a complete medical history from you yet. To evaluate whether you are actually competent to decline the treatment offered, I'll have to have precise information of psychiatric history, all substances used, recent doses---"
Sherlock's head snaps towards John, gaze narrowed. "You. Out."
John blinks. "What?"
"Leave. Go get tea. Take a walk. Something."
"You don't like it when I don't have the patience to sugarcoat my words when I communicate with your colleagues. So leave."
"Wouldn't it be in your best interest to try and be nice, get him to see your side of the situation?" John thinks he ought to defuse he scene, but he has no idea how.
The psychiatrist coughs. "Dr Watson, perhaps what's going on here is that Sherlock is not ready to discuss such personal matters in front of---"
"Sherlock is very much ready to discuss anything that resembles a plan formulated around his informed consent," Sherlock points out venomously, "What Sherlock is not willing to tolerate is you," he says, his words clearly meant for John, "staring at me as though I'm a bloody criminal."
John stands up, confused and surprised. "I'm not---"
"It's fine," John says with a tone that says the opposite.
After leaving the room he paces the hallway until his frustration gives way to resignation. He then gets himself a sandwich from a cafe near the hospital.
His return to the ICU coincides with the psychiatrist storming out of Sherlock's room, banging the door closed after him so hard that the hinges creak.
John bites his lip when the man walks up to him.
The psychiatrist looks frustrated and surprisingly sympathetic. "He knows what he wants, I'll give him that much," he says.
"And what he doesn't want," John suggests.
"Since he was abrasive and evasive from the get-go, I'd say this can't be chalked up to just a personality clash between me and him."
"It sort of can, since there isn't a personality in existence that Sherlock isn't capable of clashing with."
"I am very worried about how this impacts his trauma recovery, but since nothing points to insufficient mental capacity and he's sternly refusing to engage, there's not much I can do."
John lets out a breath. "He told me he's not an addict, just a user."
"I think that likely just means that he hasn't even reached the pre-contemplative stage of overcoming his addiction, and is determined to acquire these substances by other means during his hospitalization."
"Not possible," John says, "He can't even get out of bed, and nobody who visits him would ever bring him anything," John explains, making a mental note to get Mycroft to get Bill Wiggins banned from visiting.
"If he knows what's facing him in terms of withdrawal symptoms, and is determined to go at it alone, without support, then I can only guess at his motivation. If he has prior experience of withdrawal without medical supervision, it seems highly unlikely that he wouldn't accept all the help he could get."
"He has a tendency to formulate reckless plans and execute them alone."
"Yet he fervently denies any self-destructive tendencies."
"He likes to prove his point. He's not really that sort of self-destructive, he's just.... Sherlock." John spreads his arms in frustration since there is no better explanation he could offer.
An addiction treatment plan is never formulated, because the consensus of the doctors involved in his treatment is that Sherlock has plenty enough capacity to decline the treatment offered to him and to understand the consequences.
No amount of convincing from Mycroft or John proves successful in changing his mind. The epidural has been working fine so far, so Sherlock also fervently declines any and all opiates for the purpose of pain control.
"What the hell are you trying to prove?" John demands. "And to whom?"
Mary asks the very same questions, when John tells her that he's taken a month's leave of absence from the clinic.
They have savings. They'll be fine.
"The definition of a fool is someone who repeats the same actions expecting varying results. I will not support this avenue of inquiry. Not now, not tomorrow, not next week, not ever. It's irrelevant and unnecessary. Respectfully back the hell off, John."
"Disrespectfully, then, back off."
Sherlock tugs at his curls in frustration. John thinks he would likely storm out or at least start pacing a trench into the floor if he wasn't confined to bed.
"You did try to explain everything when you came back, when you surprised us at the restaurant. Tried to tell me what happened during those two years. I didn't listen then. I will now."
"What I was trying to explain was my successful plan to stage a suicide. Not what came after. The less you know about those two years, the safer you are."
John drums his mug of tea with his fingers and swallows the last bits of his biscuit. "Safe? I assume that what used to be Moriarty's network is now gone. Why would hearing details of it endanger me?"
Sherlock sets down his own mug on the nightstand. He had requested coffee, but his lips never ended up touching the liquid. "You don't want technical details of that. You want to talk about ---" he snaps his mouth shut and glares at John, as though John had been trying to trick him and he had almost fallen for it.
"Will you give me permission to talk to Mycroft about it, then?"
Sherlock rolls his eyes and picks up the novel John had been reading from the nightstand, opening it randomly somewhere in the middle and pretending to be reading.
Sherlock never touches crime novels, he thinks they're never as good as the real thing.
John leans on the backrest of his chair, huffing in exasperation. "So now we're reading, hmm? Any good? Fascinating plot?"
"You should know, you're further along than me," Sherlock replies deadpan and flips to the last few pages, "Would you like me to reveal the murderer?"
John walks out of the room, flinging the door shut after him.
"Get me tea, will you!" Sherlock yells after him.
Mary comes by with a batch of fresh brownies from Mrs Hudson. To John's surprise Sherlock actually eats one.
"I broke a rib once," Mary says and Sherlock hums in aknowledgement.
"It was hell trying to sleep, I could never find a good position."
"Having five of them broken along with a contused kidney and a tibia that won't allow me to reside in any other position than this, is likely worse than anything you've gone through," Sherlock points out.
Mary leans towards John, mouthing the question 'sulking?'
John shakes his head. "Stir-crazy," he mouths back. He then snaps his newspaper back into submission, ignoring Sherlock's glare.
"This is inhumane. The least they could've done is to put me under for this period of.... sitting," Sherlock spits out the word as though it's a profanity.
Mary laughs. John finds nothing funny about this and hides his dismay behind the newspaper.
John is the one who has to try to alleviate what Sherlock has described as downright soul-sucking boredom. Mary can extricate from the scenario whenever she wants.
"Mycroft promised to come by later," John says.
"Who authorized that?"
"He hardly needs authorization."
"Isn't there some sort of a visitor list I could cross him off from?"
"I think it would be good for you, seeing him. You can yell at each other. At least it'll pass the time."
"I will crawl out of here arse-first if need be, if he decides on inconveniencing me on a regular basis", Sherlock threatens. "Throw him out if he dares to appear."
John puts down the newspapers, sighs and calmly faces the melodramatically irate Sherlock. "No."
Sherlock looks taken aback. "You don't usually say no to me. You don't dare."
"And you don't usually make such ridiculous threats."
When the older Holmes arrives, John decides he's not in the mood to listen to the verbal fencing match that is likely to ensue. He goes home for a shower and a shave.
He's watching the evening news, having a difficult time deciding between phoning the hospital and just going to bed, when his mobile comes to life with the words 'M Holmes' blinking on the screen.
Mycroft doesn't even bother with a greeting. "It's starting," he tells John and it sounds like an order.
John opens his mouth to ask what the always cryptic man is referring to this time, but Mycroft's alarmed yet regretful tone has actually given him his answer already.
"You've been through this with him before," John says, "Wouldn't he want you to--"
Mycroft cuts him off by clearing his throat. "John. What Sherlock says he wants or doesn't want, and what he actually desperately needs, are two very different things. You can reach him, when no one else can. He wouldn't die for me. He died twice for you. If you go to him now, he'll not turn you away."
John is already out the door by the time Mary tries to inquire what's going on.
Chapter 7: Into battle
Chapters 7 and 8 contain very graphic descriptions of drug withdrawal.
Emma221b has my utmost gratitude for assistance with chapters 7 and 8 (as well as several earlier chapters).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Thus begin the five days that a briefly visiting Lestrade describes as civil war on Planet Sherlock.
Sherlock doesn't ask why John returns so hastily to the hospital on the first evening, rain-drenched as if he had left in such a hurry that he didn't even think to grab an umbrella on his way out.
He doesn't accuse John of doing Mycroft's bidding, or of hovering on his own accord.
He hardly reacts, and to John it appears that he's distracted. Waiting.
John clears his throat after he gets no reply to his greeting, using the rope attachment to pull the Venetian window blinds halfway up. Outside, London looks water-distorted, lights blurred to neon blotches by the rain.
"Go away," Sherlock says. This almost monosyllabic order isn't how he usually goes about getting his way.
John turns and faces him, spine straightened. "No."
"You've made a bad habit out of that word lately," Sherlock points out and presses his right palm onto his lower back. He stretches by bending his head backward. His movements are slow, deliberate and careful. John thinks that the kidney must be giving him grief.
"You can still change your mind, you know. About not going through with this without supervized substitution or at least some sort of a sensible detox plan. Your intensivist is licenced to start you on buprenorphine right now, if need be."
Sherlock regards John with bloodshot, resigned eyes. "Much good that'll do. That charlatan of a psychiatrist refused to believe me when I told him the doses I'd been taking. Whatever they would offer, it would only marginally temper of postpone this."
John ought to be glad, really, that Sherlock has just effectively admitted to something significant - that his doses have been substancial.
He doesn't feel happy. Not at all.
He feels like he's in way over his head, but it doesn't matter. He was in way over his head nearly every day in Afghanistan, and he survived.
This is just a different battleground, John reminds himself.
Sherlock ought to be throwing him out, throwing a tantrum over John poking his head into his business despite his protests. He wonders if Mycroft has said something to Sherlock that has changed his mind and deteriorated his protests to such feeble attempts.
A faint, hopeful voice in John's head reminds him that while Sherlock had insisted on doing this on his own, he had never before explicitly banned John from being present.
Even this unsherlockianly half-hearted attempt at telling him to leave could have been borne just out of habit and not any kind of serious conviction.
Would Sherlock want him to see this? Would Sherlock at least allow him to?
He leans on the backrest of a chair, meeting Sherlock's gaze.
"I talked to your intensivist earlier. He's signed off on Britlofex, Zofran, a beta blocker and even a mild sedative if need be."
Sherlock looks unconvinced at the benefits of these offerings.
"And you have me. I'll be here. You hear me? I'll be here. Whatever you need, I'll be here."
"Go home," Sherlock says in a resigned tone, "not your problem." It again sounds more like an act of habit than an actual banishment.
John steps closer, bites his lips and then lays a gentle palm on Sherlock's shoulder while glancing at the heart monitor. There's a flinch under his fingers at first, but then pale lithe fingers crawl up to rest on top of John's hand.
Occasional extrasystolic beats are appearing on the monitor, possibly a residual effect of cocaine that had been toned down by the opiates before now.
"It's your problem, but you're my problem. Always," John says with the tracings of a smile.
Sherlock's lashes flutter in that eerily disconnected manner that they always do when something catches him off guard. Then his nervous expression melts into a slight smile to match John's.
It starts with a persistent headache that deprives Sherlock of the ability focus on anything but the waiting.
Even John eventually begins feeling antsy, because Sherlock is practically exuding anxiety.
John knows what's coming - he has seen addicts in the throes of withdrawal before, but since Sherlock never fits the parameters of normal, of what's expected or what's usual, he doesn't really know what to expect.
John requests that a television be brought into the room.
They can't just keep staring at walls. They need a distraction.
John idly flicks through the channels while Sherlock turns as much toward his opposite side as his immobilized leg allows. He closes his eyes.
An hour later, after BBC's late evening offerings no longer manage to maintain his interest, John gets up from his chair to flick on the ceiling lights. After Sherlock protests their brightness John dims them down. He then idles to the right side of the bed.
"Stop staring," Sherlock says with a shaky voice even though he hasn't opened his eyes yet. Hemust have heard John moving about the room.
"Just checking on you." Sherlock's forehead is glistening with sweat, and he's gripping the edge of the sheet covering his duvet with restless fingers.
John can spot a muscle twitching on his arm.
Sherlock opens his eyes and yawns - something that might signify withdrawal as well, or just benign exhaustion.
John checks the wall clock, and after realizing how many hours have passed, he gives Sherlock paracetamol tablet from a plastic cup on the nightstand. Sherlock downs with a grimace and the half a glass of water John gives him.
"Tastes like ash," Sherlock says and coughs for a few minutes. His most recent chest film had showed possible signs of a mild infection. He's been put on antibiotics, the evening dose of which is slowly dripping through an infusor set up by a nurse an hour earlier.
Sherlock's heart rate has been steadily but slowly climbing during the past hour and his nose has begun running.
"Did Mycroft do this with you, before?" John asks quietly.
"Do what?" Sherlock asks, rubbing his eyelids with his fingers.
"Stay with you."
Sherlock opens his eyes and starts drumming his fingers on the mattress. "When we were younger, on some occasions, yes. Ever since he's had more money than patience, his approach changed to threats of sectioning followed by a stint at some expensive country manor turned into a discreet clinic. He's never had any respect for my methods of abstinence."
"I had no idea there was an actual method to being a reckless bastard who shuns the good advice of professionals."
"When it comes to this, experience certainly trumps academic knowledge."
An image floats into John's head of Sherlock Holmes attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He would likely reduce everyone to tears with his deductions in less than five minutes and then leave, because he would judge the whole endeavour utterly useless.
"What are you laughing at?" Sherlock asks indignantly.
Kicking a combined heroin-cocaine-Lord-knows-what-else habit would have been hellish for the relatively healthy and debatably sane person that Sherlock had been before.
Detoxing with multiple injuries and, what John suspects to be some Sherlockian variety of post-traumatic stress, is nothing short of soul-crushing to witness.
For the majority of aftermath of his gunshot wound, Sherlock had been blissfully unconscious.
For this, he remains painfully awake.
The Zofran proves useless in lessening the symptoms. So does the lofexidine. So does everything else that John together with his ICU colleagues manages to come up with.
It's not just his actual injuries causing Sherlock pain now. It's every bit of his body, as his pain pathways kick into alarm when the opiate receptors are deprived of the levels of stimulation they have become accustomed to. Normal sensations of touch cease to exist - his wrecked body interprets everything as pain - burning, searing, stabbing, throbbing or electrifying, changing by the capricious whims of his brain.
The cold sweat makes Sherlock's leg around the pins itch so much that he makes screaming threats to amputate it with John's army knife.
His memory plays tricks on him - he keeps forgetting what day it is, or what he has just been told. John patiently repeats himself. He hasn't seen this in opiate withdrawal patients before, and realizes that it must be somehow related to some other group of drugs. John can't bring himself to look at the image of the list Mycroft had emailed him. The answers are there, and as a doctor he ought to know its contents by heart, but it's too much right now. They need to focus on getting through this. After realizing that it was unlikely Sherlock had shared much pertinent information with the psychiatrist - or any of his current physicians - John had suggested to Mycroft that a copy of the list be added to Sherlock's patient records. John had not asked whether Mycroft had actually done this.
The restlessness proves to be one of the most challenging issues to manage. This is not Sherlock's usual pace-around-the-room hyperactivity, but a painfully anxious, paranoid and borderline dissociative state. The cocaine has depleted his brain of its endogenous pleasure hormones, which means that mild anxiety now grows unencumbered into fully blown paranoia, and worry over in the most trivial things escalates freely into panic. At one point Sherlock becomes convinced that his brain and his Transport are attempting to separate, leaving him floating around as a ghost. When he starts telling the nurses his hands are turning transparent, he is put on a short course of antipsychotics.
This turns out to be a blessing, since it leads to Sherlock actually managing to sleep through an entire night.
John goes home that night with the hopes of getting some rest, only to lie on the sofa in the darkness, staring at the ceiling, expecting a call from the hospital any minute.
Mary hugs him in the morning, reading enough in the visage of her husband that she refrains from commenting and voicing any kind of disapproval. She just holds John until he realizes that if he doesn't disentangle from her arms and walk out the door, reality might catch up and leave him sobbing on the floor because he's so spent, more spent than in Afghanistan, more spent then after Sherlock was shot. He's completely, utterly wrung out, and he knows that he still has most of his work ahead of him.
John returns to the hospital to continue this game of just getting the minutes to pass. The minutes, then the hours. Time has never moved this slow.
The cocaine leaves in its wake a gnawing hunger, an endless appetite, which is then effectively curbed by the fact that the heroin withdrawal makes Sherlock throw up until there is nothing to bring up anymore, and retch in vain long after that.
The epidural dampens Sherlock's pain level somewhat adequately when he's resting, but during the strain that violently evacuating his stomach contents is putting on his broken ribs, it is woefully inadequate.
When he hasn't been upending his stomach, he's been rubbing his cramping leg muscles until there was no strength left in his fingers. Now his hands lay on the bedding, pale and trembling and useless.
During the third day of the ordeal, John 's worry begins escalating.
By early evening, Sherlock's breathing has become shallow and fast, his whole body coiled and taut like a spring. He's only taking in small mouthfuls of air in order to allow his ribcage to move as little as possible. The frantic rhythm of it does not allow for enough oxygen to fill the furthest nooks and crannies of his lungs, nor is it likely to properly vent out enough carbon dioxide.
Sherlock's abdominal muscles are spent from the vomiting, and he has wrapped his shaking fingers around his torso to support his broken ribs. A bluish tint has appeared on his lips as he's clearly not getting enough oxygen through his woefully inadequate breathing.
John switches on the lights despite Sherlock's protests. He grabs a stethoscope that has been left hanging from an IV stand, and makes use of it. Sherlock flinches when the cool metal touches his back. He has been sitting up for most of the day, refusing to lean back onto the mattress, because according to what he'd told John, anything that touches his irritable, oversensitized skin feels like fire.
His saturation reading has been descending slowly in the course of the afternoon. John calls in a nurse to request an arterial blood gas sample. He isn't actually Sherlock's attending doctor, but the nurses and the ICU physicians have allowed him some leeway - John being there to keep an eye on things certainly lightens their workload.
The nurse returns after a few minutes with the result strip.
Sherlock is leaning forward in bed, eyes closed, hands now gripping the railings, neck muscles straining as he tries to breathe with his accessory muscles instead of allowing his chest to expand.
John knows better than to try to get his attention by touching him.
Glassy, bloodshot eyes flutter open.
"Your arterial oxygen's tanking. You've got to breathe properly."
Sherlock draws in a small, careful breath, swallowing and grimacing - he has been complaining that his throat is painfully dry. "Hurts-- To--- Can't," he manages, having to pause to breathe between every word
The epidural has been topped up as much as possible. All the pain medications that they have in their arsenal, apart from opiates, are already in use. Not the ketamine, of course, but that's completely out of the question as far as John is concerned.
John glances at the vitals monitor. The numbers have not improved.
He curses silently, and then turns to Sherlock again. "Your call. I'd say we've got about ten minutes before they'll have to put you under and hook you up to a respirator. I can call the intensivist on call to sort this out, get you on some morphine. With your tolerance it's less of a risk for your breathing than this."
"Not-- going-- back-- to--- square one---" Sherlock gasps and then doubles over in a fit of coughing, eyes watering when the pain hits him full-force.
John grabs an oxygen mask, turns on the flow and despite Sherlock's weak protests, presses it onto Sherlock's face. Sherlock has adamantly declined it before, but now John grips it tightly, not letting Sherlock's fingers to pry it off. After a few moments, Sherlock grabs the mask himself with both hands, his eyes sliding shut as he practically drinks in the cool flow from the mask.
There's a knock on the door but before anyone actually answers, it slowly opens and Mycroft enters in his shirtsleeves, carrying his jacket.
When he sees what's going on he stops on his tracks, alarmed. "John?"
"This fucking stops now," John says sternly, and steps back from the bed, heading for the door. "Stay with him," he orders Mycroft, who drops his jacket on a chair nearby before taking up a position beside the bed.
John is about to walk out of the room, when Mycroft calls out his name again and hurries to intercept his exit.
"Are you aware Sherlock has transferred his lasting power of attorney to you?" he asks John in a low voice, likely trying to prevent Sherlock from hearing.
John halts. "What?"
Mycroft had always been the proxy, which is perfectly logical since they are family.
"When?" John demands, stealing a glance at Sherlock. At least he hasn't collapsed yet.
"After he returned home."
"If he needs to be sedated and put on a respirator, and you judge it to be in his best interests to start him on a substitution regime or put him on morphine, I will trust your judgement. I will - now what is that awful colloquial expression - have your back."
John doesn't reply. Instead he practically stumbles into the corridor with hasty steps.
Why would Sherlock do this? If he doesn't trust John with his past, why would he trust John with these sorts of decisions?
Is it because he trusts John after all, trusts him to be mindful of Sherlock's own wishes instead of bulldozing over them, like his brother tends to do?
This has to be some sort of a message. It has to be.
It's a mystery, and John needs to solve it right now.
There has to be something that'll work. Something that won't betray this trust.
Pacing frantically down the hall, John racks his brain for something, anything.
Then the solution comes to him, clear as day.
And old trick, nowadays seldomly used for some reason, but quite safe and easy to administer. It's perfect. It's glorious.
It'll work. It has to.
The chapter count keeps climbing. I doubt you'll mind.
It seems that whenever my editing motivation wanes, some lovely soul drops by to leave a bit of encouragement in the inbox. Dear readers, I love you to bits.
Chapter 8: It's the landing
Thank you once again, emma221b, for all your assistance.
I wish I could hug all my wonderful readers - it's so very lovely to hear your thoughts and to experience your enthusiasm for this series. I know what a terrible thing I did with the cliffhanger in chapter 7. I hope this chapter more than makes up for the teeth grinding X-)
It's time for Army Doctor J. Watson to put things right. And perhaps have some emotional epiphanies in the process.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
You're the best of me
I am the ghost of you
- Saint Saviour
"Didn't you learn from all that went on with Harry to just take a step back and sort out your own life first?" Mary had asked John weeks ago, when he'd worried out loud about Sherlock using again.
John had pursed his lips and marched out of the kitchen, muttering something about taking a walk. They both had known that instead of a short stroll around the block, he was likely to take the Tube to Baker Street, but somehow they still hung onto skirting around the issue.
Afterwards, John had realized that he should have told Mary that the only thing he had really ever learned from Harry's slow spiral into disaster was that the people you love, you never ever give up on.
John turns on his heels and marches to the nurses' station. The ward sister manning the nigh shift looks up from the remote monitor screen she's been watching - a remote view of the vitals monitor in Sherlock's room.
"Dr Watson? Is everything all right in there? The saturation readings are getting---"
"Is whoever is currently on call for the ICU an anaesthetist?" John interrupts.
The nurse checks a list pinned onto an overflowing notice board. "Seems to be, yes."
"I need to speak with him as soon as possible."
"I've informed him of the alarming readings about ten minutes ago, but I'm afraid he was caught up at the CCU."
"I don't care if he's having tea with the bloody queen! You are to call him again. If you need a further incentive, here!" John slams the arterial blood gas result strip onto the counter with his palm.
The nurse raises her brows, runs her fingers down the numbers and then picks up the phone without further protest.
The on-call intensivist appears after a few minutes, yawning as he walks down the corridor towards them. He takes in John's nervous fingers drumming the counter. "Dr Watson? Is there a problem with Mr Holmes?"
"He needs intercostal blocks done. Right now," John adds hastily.
"Their effect only last about eight to twelve hours at most, after which they'd have to be redone," the intensivist tells him, not sounding very excited about the prospect.
"We're trying to buy time here. If they get us 8 hours, fine; if more than that, better. Look, I've racked my brain trying to come up with something else. He's still not consenting to morphine and I'm not waiting for him to crash. If redoing the blocks is a problem them give me a vial of lidocaine and I'll bloody them myself, if need be."
The intensivist looks dismissive. "Still, they're not what we usually do---"
"He's not your usual patient, he's Sherlock bloody Holmes and unless you want to spend the next hour intubating him and sorting out the aftermath, I suggest you get on with it!"
The intensivist opens his mouth to protest, but John unrelentingly holds his gaze, fingers curled into fists, and the younger doctor snaps his mouth shut.
John then trails him to Sherlock's room. Mycroft steps back from the bed, giving the two doctors the space they need to evaluate the situation.
John bites his tongue in order not to hurry the other doctor - he knows that before such a procedure, the indications and the current status of the patient ought to be assessed. He knows that part of this almost unbearable impatience is guilt - guilt for letting this go on so long, for not coming up with a solution quicker.
As John watches the other doctor put the finishing touches to his quick, cursory exam of Sherlock, the awareness that Sherlock trusts him hits again like a tidal wave. This time it is followed by another revelation - the crushing realization that John had jumped to all the wrong conclusions as to why Sherlock had not told him the truth about his plan to stop Moriarty.
John had viewed the false suicide and those two years gone as betrayal, a deep-seated lack of trust, when it was actually anything but.
Sherlock had left him in the dark because he had trusted John to have faith in him, to not let go of hope that it was not the end of their story.
And what had John done? Instead of holding on, he had grieved like a madman, neglecting himself to the extent of nearly following Sherlock into where he'd thought his best friend had gone. Then he had slowly let go and moved on.
Even goddamned fucking Anderson had had the sense to hold on longer than him.
John wants to break something, punch his fists through a brick wall, anything that would inflict even just an ounce of the pain he knows Sherlock must've felt when he'd come back and witnessed that the person he'd relied on to believe in him, had given up.
And still, despite everything, Sherlock would still put the decision of his health and his life in John's hands.
Even if it takes John a lifetime to fix this, to be worthy of that trust----
John's train of thought is interrupted by the rumble of a portable X-ray machine being wheeled in. He steps aside to make room for the unit and the radiographer manning it.
A chest film is quickly taken, revealing collapsed lung sections as a result of the shallow, frantic breathing. The saturation readings are now hanging in the mid-seventies but not dropping any further, so the consultant intensivist announces John's plan to be feasible.
John grips the bed rails. "Sherlock?"
He receives no answer apart from the raspy breathing and the quiet sound of the oxygen flowing into the mask. "Sherlock, we're going to try something but we need to get you to sit sideways on the bed."
This time, John gets a nod.
The intensivist disappears briefly to the corridor to get a nurse and all the equipment they'll need.
"Mycroft, a hand please?" John asks. It's more of an order, really. "Glove up," John adds and the older Holmes springs into action. Mycroft rolls up his shirtsleeves, grabs a pair of disposable gloves from a wall receptacle, and takes up position next to the bed, awaiting further instructions from John.
"I need you to hold onto his ankle and the external fixation device."
John moves the vacuum device of the left pleural drain to the opposite side of the bed. He then slides an arm under Sherlock's knees and another around his waist.
As careful as Mycroft tries to be, the pinholes trickle a bit of blood onto his outstretched arms as they careflly inch Sherlock around a quarter of a circle. Mycroft doesn't seem to even notice this, and John finds a newfound respect for the man, who Sherlock has repeatedly described as a pompous office clerk.
John knows Mycroft had a hand in getting Sherlock home from Serbia. John hasn't been provided much detail, and he's been left wondering how actively Mycroft had participated in the mission.
Sherlock's good leg is now dangling from the edge of the bed, his broken one still firmly in the grip of Mycroft, a pillow now wedged between his arms and the external fixation device.
The intensivist returns with a small rolling table containing several small glass bottles of local anaesthetic, a set of short, individually packed sterile needles and a bottle of an iodine-containing solution.
Sherlock barely reacts when his back is cleaned with the cold solution.
There's nothing else for Sherlock to hold onto for support, so John takes up a standing position between his legs, allowing Sherlock to wrap his shaking arms around his shoulders.
Every broken rib requires a separate block done on the nerve running underneath it. Luckily the technique is simple and fast - the entire procedure takes mere minutes.
The blocks begin to take effect after some minutes. Sherlock lets his arms drop from John's shoulders and leans sideways against the mattress, drawing in the first proper, deep breath in hours. He then closes his eyes.
"Do you want to be on your back?" John asks.
"No," comes the quiet answer behind the oxygen mask.
John gently takes hold of the external fixation device just as Mycroft slowly lets go off it, and together with the nurse they pile up a few pillows so that the leg can be placed on top of them on the mattress. By the time they are happy with its position, Sherlock has fallen fast asleep.
During the next 36 hours, John helps the nurses change sweat-drenched sheets.
He holds the emesis basin until his arms gets so tired that they seem to cramp in unison with Sherlock's.
He discusses noradrenaline infusion rates and haloperidol doses with the intensivists. He forgets to eat and a visiting Molly drags him to the hospital cafeteria, only to be called back mid-soup by Mycroft, because Sherlock has gotten what Mycroft thinks is a flashback, and is hyperventilating on the verge of a panic attack.
He brings Sherlock countless of glasses of water and buys him bottles of a terrible-tasting sports drink from the vending machine in the corridor, in order to counter a seemingly neverending thirst. He then manages to keep calm while bearing the brunt of Sherlock's rage when he is denied further drinks, lest his sodium levels drop dangerously low.
A small blessing: Sherlock's HIV and hepatitis screens come back negative. "I'm not an idiot, you know," is Sherlock's dismissive comment on the subject.
During these five days one of the worst parts, for John, is watching Mycroft Holmes.
The man looks more haunted and tired than John has ever seen him.
Mycroft visits dutifully, spending hours in the hospital room, doing little and saying even less, but he's there all the same, quietly observing John looking after his brother.
John can imagine him reliving memories of similar days. Days when he'd been Sherlock's only support system.
Mycroft also appears relieved, somehow, perhaps for being able to transport some of these support duties onto John now.
Without witnessing Mycroft's reaction John could have just imagined that these five days are a one-off, an aberrant event, a horror they will never have to revisit, but mirrored in Mycroft's eyes is the fact that this demon will be in Sherlock's life forever, lurking just behind a corner.
All it takes is a good enough excuse.
It's late. John hasn't glanced at a clock in hours.
He splashes some water on his face and then leaves the en-suite, not bothering to switch off the lights in the small bathroom.
Sherlock's hospital room is nearly dark. The only light is the faint glow sifting in through the blinds of the corridor window - fluorescent yellowish light that makes everything look worn and mottled.
The head of the ICU bed has been raised to an almost vertical position because Sherlock is still nauseous, but so drained of energy that he can no longer maintain a sitting position without the bed keeping him upright.
His curls are disheveled and matted to the point of being almost flat. Tiny broken blood vessels have painted the skin under his eyes almost purple. His eyes are sunken from dehydration to which he'd succumbed to despite the IV fluids he'd been administered. He's shivering and a tic-like twitch is still going on in the smaller muscles of his propped-up broken leg, despite the quinine and the muscle relaxants he's been put on.
John walks to the bed and gently touches the back of his palm on Sherlock's forehead. Sherlock flinches and his hand flies up to grab John's wrist, but he lacks the energy to even grip it properly. His hand then falls back onto the mattress.
Sherlock's forehead feels warmer than it ought to be. That, together with his increasingly congested coughing, makes John realize that he needs to discuss switching to broader-spectrum antibiotics with the ICU doctors.
Suddenly Sherlock jerks forward, arms protectively wrapping around his torso, gasping. John has learned to recognize what this is, and without a word he grabs the metal bowl supplied by the nurses and holds it under Sherlock's chin.
Eyes still closed, Sherlock spits some blood-striped saliva into it and then swallows. He's been bringing up small amounts of blood - probably a small tear in the lining of his oesophagus due to the violent vomiting.
"Nothing--- coming-- up," Sherlock pants and feebly pushes away the bowl.
John reaches down next to the bed to gently put the bowl down, trying to avoid the metal making a clatter when it hits the floor. The headache caused by the withdrawal had brought with it a mild insensitivity to loud noises and bright lights.
Sherlock leans back against the raised head of the bed, unintentionally leaning so much to the left that he is forced to grab the edge of the nightstand in order to steady his position.
John leans over the bed, grips Sherlock's forearms and steadies him against the mattress. He then lowers the bed railing and sits down onto the mattress, their thighs now pressed against one another. John grabs hold of the tangled mess of monitoring wires crisscrossing the bed and lifts them over Sherlock's head to run across the other side of the bed, so that John can avoid leaning on them by accident. The ECG monitor momentarily beeps in distress when these movements cause interference in its signal.
"Talk to me," John says quietly, loosening his grip on Sherlock's arms and wrapping his own across his shoulders instead. "How is it?"
Sherlock lets his head loll sideways to lean on John's shoulder. With their height difference it shouldn't be convenient, but Sherlock is so limblessly crouched down on the bed that his head is at a convenient angle to settle against John. Sherlock then turns slightly so that he can lift his left hand to John's opposite shoulder, fingers gently curling into the fabric of John's jumper.
"Tired," Sherlock whispers through chapped lips.
"Could I get that in writing?" John jokes, smiling.
John shifts his hips so that his weight is entirely on the bed instead of being suspended half in midair. Sherlock doesn't move a muscle, simply letting John arrange their positions so that they can both lean comfortably onto the raised head of the bed.
Sherlock's fingers have begun moving gently where they rest against his shoulder, digging deeper into the soft fabric of the soft jumper - it seems like Sherlock doesn't even realize doing this.
John thinks that the movements his fingers are making resemble those he uses on the fingerboard of his violin.
"Why do you always do that?" Sherlock mutters humourlessly.
"Do what?" John whispers into his curls.
"Make such a song and dance about it when I admit to being tired, hungry or poorly. I'm not a machine. I am not a machine, John," Sherlock says quietly but pointedly.
"I know. I do know. I'm sorry."
This is not the time to remind Sherlock of his generally abysmal self-care, or the fact that he describes his body in detached and technical terms, because John realizes that this is Sherlock admitting that the face he had chosen to show to John mere hours before he jumped off that roof, had been a carefully constructed mask. A mask to conceal how hard it had been, to hide the enormity of his sacrifice.
"I wish you'd remember that more often, yourself," John says quietly.
It suddenly occurs to him that Sherlock may not have been certain at all that he would survive taking down Moriarty. Not certain at all that they would ever see one another again.
The business with Magnussen must've given Sherlock a terrible sense of deja vu: another mission for which he was forced to leave John behind, and the uncertainty of survival.
Who could possibly go through that twice without losing their mind at least a little?
Chapter 9: Walled in
Game after game we play
Our twisted snakes and ladders
Time for the rules to change
- Lauren Aquilina
On the fifth day, the withdrawal begins to fade. It's like watching the last flickering flames of a forest fire slowly turning into glowing embers, leaving in their wake a path of destruction but also a promise that things will get better, grow back greener, allow a new start.
The fact that Sherlock is still breathing after five days of such hell, incites in John an even greater admiration for his strength than before.
What does not improve, however, is Sherlock's attitude. His usual abrasiveness is back with a vengeance, and he seems to have decided to abandon all policy of honesty and openness now that he's better, as he triumphantly announces to John and Mycroft.
John had expected this. The fly in the ointment has embarrassed Sherlock again, and he likely wants nothing more than to swat it out and assert his independence.
In many ways, it feels as though those five days had never even happened.
For some reason that is unfathomable to even John, the first thing Sherlock insist on after returning to a somewhat presentable state, is being able to adjust his own epidural infusion. He demands John to tell him the code to unlock the settings of the portable infusor pump.
"There are no opiates in the infusion mixture," John reminds him.
"Of which I'm well aware - and also perfectly capable of assessing my own pain levels and making due adjustments. Give me the codes."
"What makes you think I have them?"
"The online manual says that the code is the same for all devices within the a single manufacturing batch. You must've come across this model at some point."
"Even if I had it, I wouldn't give you the code."
"You do realize I will be able to figure it out anyway and that I'm only asking you out of courtesy?"
Maybe he just wants to control something, because there's little else that he can control right now, John reasons.
He refuses to discuss the issue any further and hopes that Sherlock's interest will wane.
When John looks up from his book an hour later, Sherlock has dismantled the machine into bits using just the corner of John's Tesco Clubcard.
John rolls his eyes and wanders down to the nurses'station to request a new infusor, preferable one with a bolt lock if such a thing even exists.
When he returns to Sherlock's room, he finds his chair occupied by an unfamiliar doctor. After shaking John's hand he introduces himself as a dental surgeon tasked with formulating a treatment plan for an old, unfused fissural fracture in Sherlock's mandible.
John is taken aback. Maybe this had been mentioned at A&E or maybe it hadn't - John would have likely been been too distraught to remember it afterwards anyway. Regardless, this is another thing that Sherlock has chosen to both ignore and to hide from John.
John listens quietly, hackles raised while Sherlock and the surgeon agree to fix his jaw on an outpatient-based approach, which will transpire once Sherlock has been dicharged from hospital. The surgeon then excuses himself.
When it's just the two of them in the room again, John watches Sherlock snatch his mobile from the nightstand. He begins fiddling with it, appearing completely oblivious to the fact that John is desperate for a discussion.
"Is this why you declined every other bit of food at the wedding apart from the cake? And why you've suddenly developed a preference for soups when we go out to eat?"
Lately everything regarding Sherlock has developed a double meaning. Every gesture that the John of yesteryear would have just shrugged off as an innocent quirk, is now a clue. Is this how it is for Sherlock - the whole world a puzzle?
"It's just a crack in the bone. It'll heal."
It's just a crack.
It's just a busted lung.
It's just a bit of heroin.
It's just a concussion.
It's just my life?
John tugs at his hair, trying to regain enough control over his frustration to avoid lashing out. He hides his shaking hands in the pockets of his jeans and turns back to face Sherlock, who is regarding him suspiciously, clearly not knowing what to expect.
John is so over his head here, but that's nothing new, is it? He's been way over his head from the very first nanosecond those strange multicoloured irises had fixed on him at Barts years ago.
"That's just the thing - it hasn't healed, which means it's likely not to do so without treatment. Were you just going to ignore it?"
Sherlock has the utter gall to shrug.
"I suppose it's utterly useless to try and ask you what even happened to your jaw. You didn't think it necessary to get it fixed right after it broke?"
Sherlock looks at him in that way that John has learned to loathe - as though John's idiocy is so boundless that he's not even worthy of an explanation.
It's a defence mechanism, John reminds himself, but it doesn't dissipate nearly enough of his anger.
"Moriarty's second-in-command had an admirable right hook. I was undercover, John, I didn't have time to go around wasting time with dentists."
"Fucking brick wall, that's what you are," John says.
The next morning, when he's about to re-enter Sherlock's room after having a bite at a nearby cafe, John stops to listen to some alarming noises from inside.
He then peers in the door, and immediately ducks when a tray full of food hits the wall next to the door with a loud clatter.
John retreats back in to the hallway. After roughly ten seconds, Mycroft slips out of the room, followed by a half-full mug of tea crashing into thousand little pieces against the now closed door.
Mycroft shakes his head.
John turns on his heels and decides to go home to check on Mary.
The barrenly decorated hospital room is beginning to get too small for the two of them. Too small to run from things John doesn't want to hear and Sherlock doesn't want to discuss.
When John returns to the hospital the next morning, a familiar figure has arranged himself into a chair by the nurses' station turns, leaning on an umbrella.
"John," Mycroft greets him without even a hint of a courteous smile.
They don't go through the empty ritual of officially deciding to have a conversation.
They know the long overdue conversation is what will now happen, because it needs to.
They walk wordlessly to the hospital cafeteria.
John has a sudden idea to get Sherlock something. He buys a chocolate bar. Sherlock has declared hating the only variety they have on offer, which means that John might actually be able to have some, too. Sherlock's unreliable appetite had only one regular feature - an incurable sweet tooth and he was more likely to steal John's treats than share his own.
"I assume the withdrawal is ceasing to be an issue," Mycroft points out after they'd grabbed seats at a corner table.
Unlikely Sherlock, who has a habit of either burning his tongue or impatiently blowing on the top to cool it down, Mycroft has enough mental fortitude to wait for the tea to cool before beginning to drink it in a composed manner.
"Sherlock blames me for making you excessively concerned about his wellbeing, That's why he forbade visits during his imprisonment."
John gapes. "Excuse me?"
Mycroft purses his lips, looking inconvenienced. "I suspected he did not wish for you to witness this very issue."
John is tempted to leap up from the table, furious. "You told me he was in solitary, that visitors were not allowed! Bloody lies, Mycroft!"
"He was in solitary."
"And that was the one time you decided to honour his wishes, hmm?!" John pushes away his sandwich to the edge of the table. His hunger had disappeared. "What a convenient time to stop micromanaging his life. You let him go through this alone. What the hell is the matter with you!?"
Mycroft glances around, irritated. "Lower your voice, Dr Watson. Making a scene is not going to help him."
John is still fuming. "Maybe if I'd raised it a little earlier, your brother, who you pretend to care so dearly about, wouldn't have had to detox in a fucking prison cell!"
Mycroft puts his mug down, turning the handle so that it'll be easy to pick up again.
John hates it, hates the calculated manner in which Mycroft Holmes arranges everything.
"I assure you that he had access to all necessary comforts and high-quality healthcare. He was detained at an MI6 facility, not a regular prison."
John leans back in his chair, some of his anger abating. There's plenty still to go around, though. He wants to yell some more, but he also needs to jump to more constructive issues. "Sherlock doesn't seem to believe that I haven't already picked your brain about what happened when he was away."
"John, I must warn you - as convinced as I might be that it would benefit him, I have made a promise not to comment on that."
John plonks his mug onto the table rather more loudly than intended. "He's telling me nothing."
"I am your only hope, then, is that so? Your only chance of whipping my brother into submission, getting him to open up to you? Might I remind you that you are the man he died for, the man he changed his life for, the man he planned a wedding for," Mycroft reminds him, making wedding planning sound a crime akin to genocide. "I will readily admit he is intransigent to the extreme, but at present he cannot escape to his bedroom or walk out the door. I wonder if it is due also to some sort of reticence on your own part, that addressing his issues is proving difficult."
John exhales slowly. "Why would he explicitly ban you from saying anything? You've seen his back, I assume? You know what they did to him? Bloody hell, Mycroft, just tell me!"
Mycroft rubs the side of his nose. "I'm not exactly sure you wish to hear all he needs to say. That is the reason I am keeping the promise I made him not to divulge these details to you."
"I'm a doctor, which I hardly need to remind you of. I've heard a lot of bad stuff. I don't think what he's got to tell me will manage to shock me that much. I'm not a stranger to how those things can affect someone."
"The things that happened are not the difficult part. It's the fact that it's him that this has all happened to - and also his reasons for keeping you in the dark."
"For all your goddamned insistence in watching our every move, you're bloody useless," John says, drops his now still hall-full disposable teacup into a nearby bin, and walks to the elevators.
Over the next few days Sherlock adopts a new tactic. It's called 'the drugs made me do it', and it's driving John insane. It makes an appearance every time John makes even the gentlest inquiry into the panic attack-like, dissociative episodes John had witnessed.
"I was high, disoriented and bleeding to death. Anyone in such a state could misinterpret their surroundings and, as you so eloquently put it, 'freak out'."
"Like what happened in Dartmoor?"
Sherlock practically beams. "Exactly like in Dartmoor."
"So you were, in fact, perfectly alright in Dartmoor when you told me that you were fine and that I should leave you alone?"
"No, John, I was admittedly not alright."
"If you were bullshitting me then, why should I believe you now when you say you're fine, that there's nothing to talk about?"
"Tell me, John. Why do you insist on this sort of emotional backstabbing?"
John opens his mouth to reply, but then the door opens.
Mary slips into the room with a cup of coffee, followed by Mycroft and Sherlock looks almost relieved at this distraction.
John glances at Mary, and then decides that he's not going to drop this just because they now have audience. "You never stop to think, do you, what these stunts you pull do to the people who care about you?!" he says, louder than he had intended.
Mycroft frowns. Mary takes a seat nearby.
Sherlock is staring at the door, lips pursed, decidedly not facing John.
"You never stop to think, not for a second, what it's like for me to see my friend, my best friend, do this sort of thing!"
It discomfits John, the way in which Sherlock seems to flinch everytime he hears the word 'friend', as if it were an insult somehow.
"Back me up for God's sakes!" John tells Mary who is sitting in a carefully arranged position in the nearby chair she had commandeered. John hates the calculated manner in which Sherlock, Mycroft and Mary carry themselves. Always with the lies, the drama and the calculated front.
"No, friends don't do these sorts of things to each other," Mary says quite venomously, and her emphasis of syllable sounds off in John's ears.
John whips his head around to face Mycroft, standing by the door, looking expectant. "You tell him, then! For some reason I've yet to understand, considering how much he pretends to hate you, he listens to you. Tell him how the things he does, impacts others, too!"
Mycroft regards John with a tired look. He always seems to have shadows under his eyes, but lately they've deepened, making him appear older than he is likely to actually be.
"I have told him this," Mycroft says in his always composed manner, but it's more of a sigh than a reminder. "Oh, I certainly have."
Sherlock is still wearing that infuriating, mock-innocent expression he sometimes makes use of, when he's trying to pretend not understanding what's going on and dismissing everything as idle chitchat.
"If that's how you want to play it, then fine," he tells Sherlock.
'See if I care', John wants to add in this cloud of anger-fuelled impulsivity, but he has made a promise not to say such things to Sherlock ever again.
Chapter 10: The blame game
I want to reiterate my gratitude for my fantastic regular commenters. Your thoughts, theories and encouragement make this the best hobby in the world, and you often manage to remind me of something I need to address in later chapters.
"Let's play a game," John suggests.
Sherlock exudes scepticism. "Explain."
"I make a deduction and you tell me if I'm right."
"This is bound to become rather tedious rather quickly. You will likely get everything wrong, resulting in you getting annoyed and snappy."
"I don't get snappy."
"I would say that out of all dogs, you most resemble a terrier, John."
John spreads his arms in a gesture he hopes conveys honesty, lips quirking into a half- exasperated smile. "No snapping, promise. Just you telling me if I'm right or wrong. Unless you have a better suggestion? It was you who just announced that there's nothing on the telly."
Sherlock idly examines the back of his IV-cannulated hand. "By all means, game on then." He doesn't sound half as excited as John would have hoped, but he'll take what little he can get nowadays. This extended bed rest is proving to be one of the greatest challenges he has faced during his entire Sherlock-entertaining career.
"You're bored," John announces.
"Not a deduction, merely an observation."
"Bored is not good."
"I've told you as much. Repeatedly. When will this game start approaching fun, if ever?"
"Bear with me. Next one: people assume you use drugs because you're bored."
"There is no way for me to verify that assumption. I have no way of knowing what 'people'," Sherlock makes quotation marks with his fingers, "Are thinking in their underdeveloped brains about me. Thus I cannot verify or debunk that sentence. You should do some work on these rules, considering this game was your invention in the first place."
John is not going to engage in an arbitrary argument about rules. "The real reason you use them is that they allow you to not think about certain things."
"You shot up before that plane even left the ground," John says, looking Sherlock straight in the eye.
He sees it clearly, the moment when the sentence properly sinks in and Sherlock's anger flares like gasoline poured into a flame.
"Oh get off your high horse, John! What would you have done under those circumstances?! Said thank you, kind Sir, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to get gunned down, tortured or worse before being buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in whatever Slavic Banana Republic Her Majesty has deemed fit to send you for her amusement? No, I take it back, that's exactly what you would have done. Bloody do-gooder, war hero, took a bullet for your country. Look where it got you. Look at all the good it did." His expression begins to arrange into the classic pouty look of a proper sherlockian sulk.
John takes a deep breath.
Trying to get Sherlock to talk is a bit like playing battleships. You guess and guess and guess and after awhile, you begin getting hits in, and that will help you find the real prize.
Time to backtrack a little bit and try another angle.
"A 'yes' would've been enough, thanks," John says with a knowing smile.
John scratches the bridge of his nose and decides to go for what he hopes will be another small hit. "You were caught and tortured when you were supposed to be dead."
"You lie to me all the time about what happened during those two years."
"You keep lying to me because it keeps coming back, all of it, when you don't want it to and you can't control it, can you?"
"As in no, you can't or no, it doesn't?"
"Get out of my room!"
"Make me," John says but it's not a taunt. "If you win the game I'll leave you be."
Sherlock curls up under his duvet, but his injured leg won't allow him to coil into the full serpentine-like coil he often creates on the sofa at home. "I will call Mycroft to have you removed."
It's an idle threat and they both know it.
There's a pressing silence in the room for a few minutes, until Sherlock coughs. He then slides his hand under the duvet to tug at his left pleural drain that's snagging on something a little. Manipulating it makes him cough again.
"Stop picking at it, " John says.
Sherlock leaves the drain alone, crosses his fingers on top of the duvet and narrows his gaze. "You never explained the winning condition," he tells John in an accusing tone.
"No, because there really isn't one for you. You can't win this on your own. You can't will it to go away. We win or we lose, together."
"This is childish and ridiculous."
John takes a seat in the armchair in the corner of the room.
"Yeah, it really is," John finally replies quietly.
Sherlock doesn't reply, just grabs his phone and begins fiddling with it.
John then tries to read his book, but gives up after reading the same page six times without registering a word.
Sherlock raises his gaze the second John looks up.
John lets his book lean onto his knees and idly drums the cover with his fingers. "Honestly, you make me so tired. I wish you'd just tell me. Tell me all of it, so I can judge for myself instead of being forced to just take your skewed word for it. I wish you'd stop insulting my intelligence by saying that nothing happened to you, that you relapsed because you were bored."
"We don't do this, you and me. We don't talk about these things," Sherlock says quietly and John feels that in a way, it's his own words being rephrased back at him. It's not an accusation, merely an observation.
"I'd say talking is a pretty damned good and safe alternative to speedballing."
After what John has dubbed the brat phase is over, he finds himself almost missing the verbally effluent sulking, the tantrums and the complaints because during the next few days, Sherlock seems to accept his fate and does... nothing.
Doesn't turn on the television. Doesn't touch the newspapers or the books John brings him. Doesn't flip up the lid of his laptop to argue with the commenters of his blog.
On three occasions during their shared life at Baker Street, Sherlock had succumbed to these dark moods, and the only thing that had been capable of dragging him up from the floor - literally - were cases and Moriarty.
Now even that bait seems to be failing. When Sherlock refuses cold case files from a visiting Lestrade, John realizes he needs to intervene.
"I'm tired, John", Sherlock tells him and frighteningly enough, John now believes him.
The only thing Sherlock has a mind for these days when he's not sleeping, faking sleeping or complaining of exhaustion, is arguing for the sake of arguing.
"Why do you have to make everything so bloody difficult?" John asks after listening to Sherlock waging a war with his respiratory therapist, his assigned physical therapist and a phlebotomist during a single afternoon. At least he had accepted the respiratory therapist's gift of a beach ball he's supposed to inflate twice a day in order to help keep his lungs clear and fully inflated.
"Is there some sort of a bylaw saying that the sick are required to be civil, endlessly patient, in good spirits and co-operative?" Sherlock asks.
"No, but from the standpoint of someone who often tries to help them, it would be awfully nice."
"Being abandoned here is not nice, John."
"I know it's not, but you should stop exacting your revenge on that poor physical therapist. Not her fault. And you're hardly abandoned."
Sherlock throws his beach ball at John's head, from where it bounces onto the nightstand, knocking over a half-drunk mug of tea.
This is John's routine now: wake up, take the Tube to the hospital, stay until either he or Sherlock get stir-crazy enough to need a break from one another, or until there's a thinly veiled plea from Mary to come home.
When he's at home, he feels like he ought to be by Sherlock's side. When he's with Sherlock, he feels neglectful of his future family.
He tries not to think about it, but the clock is ticking.
The credits to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire are rolling. It is not John's favourite show by far, but it does tend to bring forth the most hilarious commentary from Sherlock. Nary an episode goes by without the world's only consulting detective loudly lamenting the state of the nation's intelligence or lack thereof. He tends to know all the answers except to questions about entertainment or sports.
Sometimes John googles the questions in secret, because it drives Sherlock to the edge of insanity, when John announces the correct answer before he does. These are the small joys of at least sometimes getting the upper hand over a genius, even if it happens with the help of a search engine.
Sherlock flips up the lid of his laptop and begins typing.
John knows he really should go home, but he's reluctant to tear himself away from this bubble in which there's just the two of them.
Despite the fact that Sherlock is certainly on the mend and the withdrawal is over and done with, John's worries over Sherlock's wellbeing have not lessened. He is particularly reluctant to leave Sherlock alone tonight, because of what had happened earlier during the day.
John had left to run some errands around noon since Sherlock had been sleeping. John was planning on returning to the hospital within an hour, but there had been a queue at the bank and running errands had taken him much longer than anticipated.
When had he returned to the ICU he had found Sherlock in his room sitting on the edge of the bed with his good leg dangling from the edge and surrounded by several worried nurses. It looked as though he'd been attempting to get out of bed. His arterial line had been torn off, and a pulsating trickle of blood was dripping to the floor from his wrist. His arm had been outstretched as though keeping the staff at bay, and his eyes were closed.
He had been ashen grey and muttering something, blood pressure skyrocketing and heart rate tachycardic - the monitors were emitting a shrill cry of alarm.
One of the nurses, a tall dark-haired young man, had called out his name, and Sherlock's eyes had snapped open. He was breathing heavily and frequently. The nurse stepped closer, and Sherlock's gaze narrowed. "Don't come near me," he snarled but then his breathing then became even more erratic and he seemed unable to focus his gaze. He let his head lean back and his eyes flutter closed, then continuing the strange mantra he'd been reciting before.
It hadn't taken long for John to recognize it.
The periodic table, again.
John had unceremoniously dropped his takeaway bags onto the floor and stepped closer. He had then gestured for the nurses to retreat and they acquiesced.
"I thought he was sleeping when I came to change his IV---" the male nurse tried to explain but John wasn't interested. He would find out what had happened later - there were other priorities to address first.
Besides, John had been able to venture a good guess about what had happened even without being told the details.
John knows what it's like to be startled by the most ridiculous things, the memories suddenly sending you hurtling down the proverbial cliff. He knows what it's like to grasp at sanity and the precious little scraps of self-control left when the memories you try to keep locked up suddenly break out and distort the boundaries of reality.
He knows this, but for Sherlock this is a much more recent enemy.
John leaned towards the wall to press the alarm break buttons on the monitors.
"Sherlock?" he had then asked quietly.
Sherlock had stopped his recital somewhere mid-halogen group and pinched his eyes even more tightly closed. "Not real," he'd gasped, "NOT REAL!" Then he'd continued from where he'd left off with the elements.
John had drawn a deep breath to calm himself down as much as he was able. He had desperately wanted to grab Sherlock's bleeding wrist, droplets from which were creating grotesque modern art on the floor linoleum but he had forced himself not to.
Instead, he had rummaged around his memory for the elements that come after Selenium and Bromine.
Soon they were reciting the table together, and slowly Sherlock's frantic words had settled into the same calm rhytm as John's. When they got to the end of the actinides, John called out Sherlock's name.
First there'd been some blinking, then Sherlock's eyes had fluttered open and he had lets his hand drop down, no longer needing it to try and keep others at bay. "John?" he had asked tentatively, as though doubting his interpretetion of what he'd been seeing.
"You're not dying, and you're not going crazy. Just breathe," John had told him, because this is what he would have loved to have heard from someone when he had still been living in that lonely bedsit. John wouldn't have believed a word of it, but he would have loved to have had someone there to say such things nevertheless.
Sherlock had then let his bewildered gaze wander around the room. He had looked surprised at the amount of staff present - as though he'd had no recollection of them even arriving.
"Your wrist is bleeding. I need to have a look. Is that okay?" John had asked. Sherlock had frowned at the sight of it but presented it to John nevertheless.
One of the nurses gave John a roll of bandage material and a package of sterile gauze squares. John had created a quick pressure dressing to keep the arterial puncture to creating a larger bleed under the skin.
After a few minutes the nurses had begun retreating from the room. The last one had quickly cleaned the floor before enquiring John if there was anything they'd need. John had told her no.
Only after they had been left alone in the room, had John addressed Sherlock again.
By then the colour had returned to Sherlock's face and instead of panicked, he had looked mostly embarrassed.
Embarrassed, and frightened in a way John had not seen before.
John remembered some of his own more severe flashbacks and nightmares - it had taken hours for the shaking to subside.
John knows that such things are to be expected.
What he had not anticipated was that Sherlock had actually wanted to talk about it.
When Sherlock had spoken he had been staring past John, eyes fixed on something John's eyes couldn't find. "I heard you all the time. When I was away. When I came back you weren't... There anymore. The drugs made it easier to keep imagining. I still kept hearing you, before Magnussen's bonfire. When it stopped, I wanted to---" He had then suddenly drawn in a deep breath and said no more.
"You told me it was for Magnussen. You told me you had a calculated relapse to lure him in. He was just your excuse, then, like Mycroft claimed?" John had asked.
Sherlock had looked confused over why John had sounded upset by this epiphany. "You have to admit it was convenient."
"Hold on. Back up to what you just said. You said you heard me?"
Sherlock had flung his unfractured leg back onto the bed and burrowed under the covers.
"You'd come home and I was right here! You're honestly saying you shot up because you wanted to--- Wanted to hear me? Some hallucination of me? I was right there, Sherlock, I hadn't gone anywehere! I was here!"
"No, you weren't," Sherlock had replied quietly, in his voice an honesty and a finality that had felt like a fist clenched around John's heart.
John hadn't been able to bring himself to protest.
"You should answer his texts", Mary had told John during their honeymoon on Lanzarote.
"They're getting stranger and stranger", John had told Mary, "he just wants attention and I'm not giving it to him because it'll only make him worse".
The day after that, Sherlock had taken over John's blog with alarming amounts of exclamation marks and passive-aggressive commentary on wedding bliss, because no other attempt at getting John to talk to him had worked.
'You weren't here.'
You weren't here when I needed you?
It's eleven p.m. when Mary appears in the now dark ICU room, her coat dampened by sleet.
She takes in John in the armchair, watching Sherlock sleeping.
"They gave him a sedative, but he's still having nightmares" John says.
Mary's hand crawls up to perch on top of the growing mound that is her stomach.
John has stopped counting whether he is spending as much time at home as he does in the hospital.
It's irrelevant. He needs to do this.
"John, it's late," Mary says.
What she's really saying is 'come home, where you belong'.
If John is going to demand that Sherlock face the truth and be honest, John has to lead the way.
The truth is that he no longer knows where he belongs.
"He's coming home with us. When he's discharged, I mean," John says quietly.
It's a miracle Sherlock hasn't woken up yet, he used to be such a light sleeper.
"John, no, we can't."
"You don't say that to me. Not after you---"
Mary's mouth is tight and her eyes are resigned. "We've been through this. You promised. You promised this wouldn't come up every damned time we had a disagreement or I insisted that your life wasn't just this," Mary says, waving his hand across Sherlock's bed.
Sherlock is not just one word.
Sherlock is not something you can flick a hand at and then ignore.
Sherlock is everything.
Feeling like this breaks people, and John should know better than to stay, but he's had enough of it all being his fault somehow.
It's nobody's fault. It's just the way things are.
"I dont think any of us are very good at keeping promises," John says, stands up and stretches, following Mary with his gaze. Then he sits back down in the ugly, uncomfortable plastic hospital chair. The chair, in which John belongs. He really does. Right now, at least.
"This is where we stand, then, is it?" Mary asks with tired eyes.
Something in her face shifts. Annoyance and insistence make way for a quiet sort of sorrow that lacks surprise.
"We need to talk, John."
Chapter 11: Not yours
This is a short-ish but very important chapter, and one that I predict will make many readers very happy.
You know me well
You show me hell when I'm looking
And here you are
- Sharon van Etten
"We'll talk at home. I'll just be a bit. He's having a nightmare," John tries to excuse, as though there is a plausible scenario in which he would need to sit vigil over the dreams of an adult man.
Even though Sherlock is now resting quite peacefully, an hour earlier John had had to intervene lest his arterial line become dislodged when he had been practically having a wrestling match with his bedding. Perhaps some of his earlier panic attack had carried over to his dreams.
John had watched him, both alarmed and fascinated, memories of the months after being sent back home from Afghanistan floating back.
They're memories of dreadful nights in a bleak bedsit, no one there to remind John what his actual reality was when he woke up disoriented from dreams of war and destruction.
Is that what I looked like? Did Sherlock ever see me like this?
The possibility is disconcerting, but John realizes that he must have. He must have. John's flashback-flavoured nightmares had ended a few months after moving into Baker Street, but before that they had manifested nearly every night.
They had stopped the night after they'd met Moriarty in person - the night John's new battlefield was truly revealed to him.
Mary shakes him out of his reverie.
"We need to have this conversation right now. With him present," she says, cocking her head towards Sherlock.
"I'm not going to wake him up," John says, determined.
"You don't need to," replies the shifting mound of bedding in the ICU bed. Sherlock grabs a glass of water from the nightstand, sips it and then squints in the darkness, trying to gauge who the third person in the room is. He raises his brows when he recognizes Mary. "What are you doing here?" he inquires. He doesn't sound angry or accusing, merely curious.
"John's telling me he can't even let you sleep on your own. That a floor full of nurses isn't enough to keep you sorted. Not that his wife or his unborn baby need such protection."
Both Sherlock and John huff out a sceptical breath.
Mary keeps her eyes fixed on John.
"I need to tell you something," Mary then says.
Her tone is mostly resigned but there's a vengeful edge to it that makes John's stomach turn.
There have been many of these moments when Mary's soft facade has slipped and John has gotten a hint of what sort of a person Mary had been trying to paint over with a nice nurse from the suburbs who knits baby socks and bakes bread - a mask of a pleasant, kind woman married to a timid GP with a fondness for soft jumpers and being as harmless as possible.
Who the fuck had they been trying to fool?
No one could fool Sherlock. Except for Mary, and this is what scared John the most about her. Always has. John isn't entirely sure if it's solely up to her abilities or the fact that Sherlock has been a little... off his game lately?
Even after Sherlock had realized his own mistake, he had tried to give John the life that they had both thought he'd want. Sherlock had done this by gracefully stepping aside and letting John succumb to normality like a rock sinking to the bottom of a lake.
That did not sound like Sherlock at all.
It was yet another sign that he had come back changed, and not for the better.
Where had all the fight gone from him? Before, he had stayed off the drugs in order to solve puzzles and crack cases. Now he was telling John he'd overdosed on six different narcotics at once to solve an imaginary, ancient case that was supposed to have something to do with Moriarty? Why hadn't he trusted himself to be clever enough to solve it with a clear head? Had he been afraid of something, something in his head that he didn't want to face? Or was he trying to keep something out?
John had lapped up this ridiculous excuse of the drugs enhancing his thought processes without a second thought.
Sherlock was right.
He was an idiot - unlike Mycroft, who had probably seen this perfect storm coming. He had tried to send John a message when they had been standing in that private plane, watching Sherlock stumble out of it like an ordinary drunkard on a Friday night - look after him.
John bites his tongue, deeply frustrated with himself for always being so far behind the Holmeses, when it came to seeing and observing and understanding and realizing.
And now Sherlock is ahead of him again, already predicting which words are about to come out of his wife's mouth.
"What she's trying to say is," Sherlock clarifies in an unemotional tone, "'Not yours'. The baby. You're not the father."
Anger towards both Sherlock and Mary flare up in John, but this time he tries to fight it - look at what happened the last time you were too angry to really notice what was going on. That time, Sherlock had nearly expired on that mold-smelling carpet of their former home when John had been too preoccupied with his acute marital issues.
"Did you know? Did you fucking know?" John demands from Sherlock, who fixes his strange-coloured irises to John's own and shakes his head.
Despite knowing what a master manipulator, what a king of liars, what an artist of subterfuge Sherlock is, John somehow knows that Sherlock is telling the truth here. John desperately hopes that after all they'd been through, after the carnage left by Sherlock's deceptive suicide, neither of them will ever again make the mistake of a grand lie again.
"I thought that since you could live with the other secrets and didn't even want to know anything, really, that this wouldn't be much of an additional burden when you look at the big picture," Mary says coldly.
John is too flabbergasted to form words.
Mary isn't done yet. "When he came back I was jealous, alright? He took up all the bloody space in the room. And I felt that if you were allowed to have this," Mary sweeps his hand across their view of Sherlock, who looks dismayed at being described in such a manner, "Then tit for tat, John. I was lonely. Someone was there for me. Simple as that."
"Would you like to know who?" Sherlock asks. "Child's play, deducing that, really."
John is not in the mood to pander to Sherlock's ego, but he's not going to treat him the same regrettable way he had, when they had all stood in the sitting room at 221B months earlier.
How was is so, that Sherlock was there every bloody time John's life got wrecked?
Every single time. Yet none of those times had exactly been all Sherlock's fault.
John suddenly realize sthat this very thought is part of the problem - him blaming Sherlock for things he'd been completely blameless for.
It was not Sherlock's fault that Moriarty had decided to destroy him just because Sherlock was the anomaly with the ability to best him.
It was not Sherlock's fault that John had moved on, and then stubbornly decided to stick to his second-best choice out of fear and petty residual anger.
Yes, he was still hurt for not being included in Sherlock's plan but he understood now, understood that Sherlock had been smart to realize that John would have been his undoing.
John had not understood this until now, because he had not understood his own feelings for this man. The depth of them.
John turns to face Sherlock, who looks nothing short of forlorn. Despite what most people would probably have assumed, Sherlock had seemed genuinely curious, hopeful and expectant when it came to the concept of John's baby.
Maybe Sherlock felt he had just lost something, too.
Sherlock had tolerated Mary, even treated her civilly despite everything she'd done, but John entertained no illusions of Sherlock ever missing Mary much if their ways parted.
"John, I'm so sorry for--" Sherlock starts, looking genuinely pitiful.
John interrupts him. "No. You'll not be sorry because you have nothing to be sorry for. Not ever. Not for anything."
It might not actually be this simple for John, but right now, it needs to be. Even just for a moment.
John turns to face Mary. "I don't want to know who, I don't want to know why, I don't want to know when. Go. Get out," John tells her.
After a moment's hesitation, she does exactly that.
When she pauses by the door on her way out, she does not look at John. Instead he turns to look at Sherlock, and likely not even a genius detective could completely decipher her expression.
John feels strangely unaffected by the fact that this is the last glimpse he will have of his wife.
After a moment, some strange impulse he can't parse makes John slip out of the room. He pauses in the hallway, peering towards both ends of the hallway.
Mary is nowhere to be seen, nor is there anyone else walking the corridors.
At the end of the hall, John can see the full Moon through a window.
He returns to Sherlock's room, feeling empty and deflated.
"The Moon is shining," he says just to abate the silence and the emptiness.
Sherlock looks up, his features betraying no emotion. "The Moon doesn't shine, John. It just reflects the light of other, brighter and warmer things."
"What a sad thought," John says.
Chapter 12: Mary
Those who are dead are not dead
They're just living in my head
And since I fell for that spell
I am living there as well
May 2012, London
"Look, I'm so sorry to spring this on you--" Dr Sarah Sawyer says, leaning over the reception counter of the small GP clinic in Lewisham she presides over.
Mary Morstan, the clinic's new receptionist of two weeks, raises her brows, smiling slightly. "Shoot."
Sarah's expression is pained and genuinely apologetic. "I need you to reschedule Dr Watson's afternoon appointments."
Mary brings up Dr Watson's schedule on the computer. "Which ones?" she enquires.
Sarah sighs. "All of them."
Mary looks puzzled. "Sure, but - -"
Sarah steals a glance around the mostly empty entrance hall to make sure they're not being overheard. "It's one of his... Days. The kinds he's been having lately, you know?" her gaze is pleading for Mary to catch her drift without further explanations.
Mary bites her lip. There are eleven patients to find new appointments for.
She likes Sarah. The woman is a good boss, and never saddles her with any extra duties that aren't absolutely necessary.
There are six doctors working in the clinic. It's not flu season yet, and the warm but not hot weather has curbed the amount of stomach flu cases they've had to handle. Patients are slowly trickling back into work after summer holidays, which means the appointment book is filling up.
Dr John Watson doesn't work full time. Mary is aware that he's had a long leave of absence lately because of some personal issues. He's an amicable, if a little short-tempered fellow, with a kind smile and according to office gossip, an eye for the ladies.
Not lately, though.
Mary has only known him as long as she's been working for the clinic, and something about him has caught her attention the minute she had met him.
A hollowness, an absence as though the spark had been there in his eyes but he'd lost it somehow. It did not resemble the sadness in those patients who suffered from depression - instead it was the brave demeanour of a man trying to hold on, trying to plough on through his days although something dreadful loomed at the edges of his composure all the time.
John Watson had the general air about him of a person who had lost something very, very important.
It has the air of the same sadness Mary knew in her own heart, after having lost her parents at a young age, being tossed from surrogate family to surrogate family all her childhood and then choosing a life less than ordinary in terms of her chosen profession.
She also suspects that there's also the same emptiness there that she feels - belonging nowhere and to no one. Because you left it all behind voluntarily, or lost it due to being a victim of circumstance.
Mary is not a victim. Never has been. She makes her own fate.
This is supposed to be a fresh start for her. New life, new friends, new occupation. Something to build a solid foundation on.
Looks like Dr Watson could use a dose of the same?
Mary purses her lips and brings up Dr Watson's appointment book.
She ought to just focus on her duties.
If Dr Sawyer considers Dr Watson fit to work, then it'snone of Mary's business to poke her nose into what's troubling the man, even if she has delusions of some sort of a connection.
It takes her the good part of an hour to sort out new schedules for all of John Watson's patients. The doctor himself does not emerge from his office.
During the course of the afternoon the rest of the staff take off one after the other, leaving only Mary to catch up with the duties she had been forced to sideline because of Sarah's request.
Now there's just Mary and Dr Watson, who has remained in his office even though the sun is beginning to set. Hasn't he got anywhere to be?
It's Mary's chore to lock up the offices. She has no idea whether the doctors have their own sets of keys, so a little before 6 pm she knocks on the door of the appointment room allocated for Dr Watson.
There's a quiet rustling of papers and then the sound of something heavy - perhaps a stapler? - falling onto the floor as though dropped by someone who'd been startled.
Why doesn't the man answer? Surely he'd heard her voice through the door?
"Dr Watson?" she asks again, a little more loudly this time.
"What is it?" comes a hoarse and a little exasperated reply from the other side of the door.
"I need to lock up. If you're done for today, that is."
Mary hears his chair squek, followed by a ragged intake of breath.
Mary decides to enter. The door turns out to be unlocked.
The dim light of sunset is pouring in through the window. Dr Watson issitting by his desk.
To Mary he looks nothing short of dreadful. His eyes are bloodshot as though he's been crying - allergies, perhaps? His clothes are clean but crumpled, his posture drawn in. Were this Mary's first encounter of the man, she would have probably suspected him of drinking on the job, but his gaze is so sharp it's somehow clear to Mary that something else is wrong with this man.
Mary's not in the business of helping people. Quite the opposite, really, until lately.
The doctor looks up when he hears the door open, expression weary and dismissive.
"Dr Watson?" Mary asks, still expecting some sort of a reaction to her suggestion that he ought to start heading home.
"John. Might as well call me John."
"Alrght, John, then." Mary stands by the door, quietly observing the man rummage around his desk drawer for his mobile, wallet and keys and then put on his coat.
They leave the office and head to the foyer where Mary switches off the hallway lights. She expects John Watson to just leave, but he lingers by the entrance as though waiting for her.
"Are you alright, John?" she finally asks. "Aren't you keen to get home?"
The man laughs a hollow laugh, regarding her with a disdainful expression. "Can't say that I am, no."
Mary rocks on her heels, hands tucked into her coat pockets, the image of her own empty apartment not appearing very enticing either.
Maybe she should just follow her gut instinct and find out more. It's either this, or louse telly for the rest of the evening and she's felt so lonely lately that she'll take a little human companionship over privacy right now.
It's hard. It's hard building a life from a blank canvas without a safety net. Without people.
Mary wonders whether she should take the bull by the horns or thread carefully when it comes to John Watson. She's not doing anything wrong here, is she? "Look, it's none of my business but - -"
"--But Sarah made you reschedule all my afternoon patients and I at least owe you an explanation for that," Dr Watson - John - suggests. He sounds defeated and a little embarrassed.
"Don't worry about it." Mary smiles but it doesn't quite reach her eyes yet.
She locks the front door behind them. She shivers a little in the chilly wind.
Dr Watson is still lingering on as though he isn't quite certain which direction to head in.
"Look, do you want to get something to eat, maybe?" Mary suggests.
John looks at her as though her offer is of a more significant kind than just a meal. Mary realizes he's probably trying to gauge her intentions. "You look like you could use some company. Get out of your head a little. Not a date sort of company, probably, but company anyway."
"I don't know what I need. I don't think I've know for a long time."
Mary chuckles a bit. "Come on. At least let's get you a nice, stiff drink. You look like you could at least use one of those, whether you need it or not."
It turns out that Mary doesn't even have to work at it, to pry further into what has happened to this man - once Watson has gotten a whisky under his belt, he needs little prompting to talk.
"Sherlock was - - You have no idea."
"That is kind of vague, John. Wait, are we talking about Sherlock Holmes?"
John swirls the rest of his whisky in his tumbler, leaning on the bar counter. "The one and only."
"I saw him in the papers," Mary suggests, leaving out the fact that the last bit she read about the man was about his suicide.
She also leaves out the bit about her previous boss declaring Holmes his archenemy. Everyone knew about it. She'd never met either of them personally - her employment under Moriarty had taken place in Southeastern Asia, but the ripples were felt all the way there.
Than Moriarty had died and Moran - Mary's contact - had disappeared.
Sitting on the balcony of the Mandarin Oriental in Shanghai, she suddenly realized that this was it - a rare chance for someone in their trade to get out. No one would notice her slipping out. No paper trail, no one besides Moran aware of her connection to Moriarty.
A new life. A new start.
She couldn't go home to Nova Scotia. Too risky. Thanks to summer spent in the old continent with relatives, she could sport a decent British accent.
London, then. Spur of the moment decision. City big enough to disappear in.
Mary remembers reading about a brilliant detective and his doctor associate in the papers, who she now realizes must be right next to him. She also remembers some of the later articles about the sleuth - who had allegedly turned out to be a fake and a criminal. Killed himself, apparently.
And it's John Watson who had been left behind to pick up the pieces.
Someone with a less trained eye than hers might be surprised to hear what sort of company this nondescript-looking GP keeps. Mary has met enough covert operatives, con men and intelligence agents to know that looks are very deceiving.
She racks her brain to remember more. "You lived together, didn't you?" she asks, keeping her tone light.
"Yeah, but we weren't - - People just kept assuming. He was my best friend," John gasps, emotion suddenly threatening to overcome him, "My best friend."
Mary suspects she should probably leave but she doesn't. Something in the eyes of John Watson gives her enough incentive to stay, at least for one more drink.
The sorrow is like a hidden trapdoor. At any step, it might suddenly plunge him down into darkness, clawing for a proverbial handhold.
God, he misses Sherlock. Every moment not spent mulling over the fact is a struggle to keep up with the rest of the world. It's as though John is functioning on a slower gear than the rest of the universe. On top of that, his unruly psyche has decided that he needs constant reminding of the black hole now in his life.
He doesn't even need to see or hear something directly related to Sherlock for the memories to surface. Sherlock is everywhere, all the time, like a shadow, and during the strangest times, even when John is trying his damnedest to concentrate on work, something can suddenly flick a switch in his head and suddenly he's fighting tears, wanting to scream at the futility of it all.
Time heals and it will get better. When. When?
He'd taken time off work until he had realized that work was the only thing that could possibly motivate him to put on his pants and eat a decent meal every once in a while.
He shouldn't be eating decent meals or putting on pants because Sherlock will never be able to do either of those things anymore.
The memories hit him when they bloody well please. Sherlock trying to make a grand exit out of Buckingham Palace in a sheet. John gasps, fingers gathering into a fist and squeezing until his fingernails leave half-moons on his palm and the chokehold around his heart lets go at least a little.
He wants to scream at his patients. How dare they complain about achy shins, heightened cholesterol or work stress, when they ought to be grateful, so bloody grateful that they haven't ever held their best friends in their arms while they bleed on the ground, eyes unseeing and glassy, the warmth slowly seeping out of them along with the last vestiges of life.
Everyone now sees him as something akin to a widow and treats him accordingly.
Sherlock is not, had not been, was not his boyfriend, his lover or his spouse. He is not gay. Sherlock is.... God knows what, or nothing. Unclassifiable.
Still, the overwhelming urge which John has wanted to follow the man into the final darkness surely couldn't be that of a mere friend?
Not a friend. Undefinable. Unclassifiable.
John still wants to follow Sherlock, wants to follow him most of all in those moments when he wakes up alone in the middle of the night and the sound of the violin isn't there anymore.
There was a lot John could have analyzed in his relationship to Sherlock Holmes. He never did. It was all useles snow, a moot point.
Sherlock is no more. There's a novelty to the thought still, a shock that always reappears, prickling on his skin.
Mary is the first new person he's gotten to know after it all happened. The first person not scared away by the isolating effect of his grief, which hangs on him like an infection.
Everyone else seems to see the ghost of Sherlock Holmes standing behind him when they talk to him - maybe John does, too, but in Mary's eyes he can define himself however he wants.
It's because Mary doesn't seem to operate in the past at all. Doesn't indulge in games of what-ifs. John marvels at her sense and grip of right now.
Who is he to her? The grieving friend of some disgraced man. The grumpy GP. The bachelor?
Maybe this is how he drags himself out of the hole - with new experiences, new people.
It still feels like betrayal. How long is John required to bury himself in the memory of Sherlock, how long until he doesn't feel guilty for moving on?
Moving on from what?
This is not a date. Mary is just a pair of ears, someone warm and empathic enough to listen to his stories, lonely enough to withstand the boredom of listening to such tales about a person she has never even met.
It feels liberating to talk about Sherlock to someone whose opinion of the man isn't tarnished by the press or weighed down by sorrow and regret.
During the course of the evening, Mary talks little about herself, claiming there's not all that much to know. Something tells John this is not true.
She does talk a bit about herself at one point, revealing that she is an orphan. There is sorrow in her, too, but to John it feels like the organized, wholesome sort of sorrow of a person who has long since come to terms with the past. It sounds like a someone who has found a permanent, peaceful residence for their grief in their lives.
For John it's not like that. It still mauls him raw every morning.
Chapter 13: Subterfuge
No time like the present. We're back at the hospital.
Is moving in slow motion
To keep the pain to a minimal
Weightless, only wait for a fall
John is grateful for Mary.
He is grateful, because during the nine days of Sherlock in solitary confinement, out of John's reach, Mary had let him be. She had said nothing about having had to reschedule all of John's patients when he had proven incapable of even changing out of his pyjamas. She had commented nothing when John had left numerous meals prepared by her uneaten, locking himself into their bedroom to yell at Mycroft on the phone because he couldn't get John access to Sherlock.
When John had lamented the fact that solitary confinement was likely to throw off Sherlock's sleep schedule which he didn't even really have to start with, and he never eats anyway, he'll hate prison food, God he's too thin to begin with---- Mary had not reminded him that it was a fully-grown and mentally competent human male they were discussing, not an infant.
Mary had even remained silent when John had left their bed the night before Sherlock's exile was due to begin, because he needed to yell and sob into a sofa cushion to prevent his facade from cracking at the airfield.
Or maybe John isn't too grateful for that one, after all. He could have used a bit of support. Just a bit.
John is grateful, but it doesn't change the fact that for him and Mary, it's over now.
It's over, because it had been lukewarm convenience and lonely desperation, deceitfully posing as actual love.
During a short and to-the-point conversation on the phone, Mycroft promises to assist Mary in relocating to an unnamed country with the proviso that she would be watched and that she could never get in touch again.
"I need to go home and pack," John tells Sherlock the next evening.
Mary has gone to a hotel for a couple of nights to allow him to do just that. To leave without having to face her.
"Don't go tonight," Sherlock says quietly.
John frowns. Sherlock had been quiet after Mary had left the room the night before. To John he seems upset, somehow, rattled even.
Does Sherlock have regrets about it all, too? Guilt over not being able to stop this mess before it ever fully developed?
Or had it been witnessing John evict Mary out of his life that had upset him? Was this a scenario Sherlock himself had feared would happen to him at some point? Is this what he had been fearing, when he'd felt the need to turn their honest, serious conversation in that bomb-rigged rail car into a cruel joke?
'Don't go tonight'.
Sherlock crosses his arms and leans back, expression clement and regal as though he's being escorted to meet the Queen. Not that Sherlock would, in actuality, rein himself in for the Queen. Not at all.
He's being carted off to radiology. It's time to see if he will continue to need both of his pleural drains.
"Why would I need you?" Sherlock had asked irritably when John had suggested that he could tag along.
John had left most of his possessions at 221B Baker Street after Sherlock had jumped off the roof. Just like he had left behind most of his life and his heart then.
"I'm going to move out of the house today," John tells Sherlock while they're having tea that evening.
"Of course," Sherlock says and clicks through the television channels restlessly, never settling on a programme. He then puts down the remote, stretches slowly, reaching his fingers towards the ceiling as far as he dares before the movement of his ribs begins causing him too much pain.
He doesn't ask the question that's practically thickening the air in the room: if John moves out of his and Mary's home, where will he go?
Sherlock runs a hand through his greasy, matter curls and makes a face. Even though the pleural drains are done, the external fixation device in his leg is still effectively preventing him from leaving the bed. Showering is thus not an option. Even if he were more mobile, he'd still likely be too weak to manage such a feat as a wash-up on his own. He has been adamant in declining bed baths. John thinks it might be part of some sherlockian scheme of trying to emotionally blackmail those around him - 'look at how badly I'm languishing here, let me go home and sort mysef out.'
What will happen when Sherlock eventually gets discharged?
John wonders how many hiding places for the drugs he might have at the flat.
"'Controlled usage is not usually fatal and abstinence is not immortality.' What on earth was that rubbish?" John suddenly finds himself asking.
Sherlock shrugs. "If you're quoting me, then regrettably I don't remember saying such a thing. I must have been rather high at that time."
"What's it like?" John asks.
Sherlock looks surprised. He touches the crook of his left arm briefly, and John wonders if this is something that he does without even realizing it, when reminded of the subject matter. Like smokers missing the feeling of holding something between their fingers?
"Everything makes sense. And then everything finally stops."
John sighs, angrily blinks away the moisture at the edges of his eyes and turns the key in the lock.
But not John's home. Not really. Not anymore.
He doesn't switch on the foyer light. He has lived here long enough to know his way around by muscle memory.
He fetches a plastic bag from underneath the kitchen sink and walks to the bathroom. He empties his shelf in the abovesink cupboard into the bag with a sweep of his palm, not even bothering to go through the contents to see if there's anything in there that would be better off thrown into the garbage bin.
Then he goes to the bedroom. He drags his suitcase from underneath the bed - why had he put it there, instead of the attic or the storage cupboard in the hall? He lifts the irritatingly neatly folded piles of his shirts from the wardrobe and drops all of it into the suitcase. Mary always insisted on organizing his laundry in such a manner, but the stacks she made were always too high, too tightly fitted in the cupboard. They always toppled when John tried to take a shirt out.
John fetches his socks from the dresser. They have been balled by Mary into tight, round, bouncy forms, all the colours swirled in together. It doesn't look anything like Sherlock's neurotically neat sock index, which he'd tried to instill into John's life as well, when they'd still been living together.
With Mary everything is like this, haphazard but sufficient to function. Like John himself, post-Sherlock.
Pieces that don't fit but are shoddily, stubbornly thrown together anyway.
John sits down on the bed and lifts Mary's pillow near his face. He can make out her perfume and the smell of her lemony shampoo. It's still familiar and comforting, whispering of cosy nights inn, cheap and cheerful restaurant meals, consoling hugs, boring dinner parties. John drops it back onto the bed.
His phone rings and he sticks his hand into his trouser pocket, fingers convulsing around the object before bringing it up and hastily pressing the 'accept call' button without even bothering to look who's calling.
It could be the hospital, so never mind the number flashing on the screen. Something could be wrong with Sherlock.
"John?" Mycroft Holmes' dry baritone inquires and John realizes he hadn't actually said anything into the microphone.
"Mycroft?" John asks, alarmed, "Is everything alright?"
"Yes, quite," the older Holmes brother says, sounding hesitant.
"Are you willing to continue our discussion after all?" John guesses, trying to keep sceticism out of his tone. Much good that'll do, you useless ponce.
"I didn't call to talk. I'm making this call so that you could listen," Mycroft says pointedly.
John opens his mouth to complain how the hour is too late and his nerves too shot for a dose of the man's usual crypticism, but then he hears a rustling and the sound of a door opening and suddenly he gets it, gets what Mycroft is trying to do.
It's a devious plan, a cunning circumvention of Mycroft's promise not to divulge Sherlock's secrets to John. It's based on petty semantics - 'I didn't tell him anything' - and Sherlock will throttle both of them if he ever finds out.
John smiles, shaking his head. He grabs hold of the phone with both his hands, straining to hear as well as he possibly can and covering the microphone, trying to keep as quiet as possible.
"Did John send you to keep an eye on me?" John can hear Sherlock asking his brother brusquely at the other end of the line. The sound comes through so well that John wonders where Mycroft had hidden his phone.
"No, Sherlock. Do you really think I wouldn't visit my injured brother on my own volition?"
"You must be so terribly busy, ruling the world."
A chair creaks and John is quite certain Mycroft has taken a seat next to the bed in the same uncomfortable, squeaky chair John himself frequents.
"How are you?" Mycroft asks, sounding moderately concerned.
"Splendid. Considering taking up permanent residence," Sherlock announces defiantly.
"Glad to hear it. And how is the good doctor Watson?"
"John? Why would that interest you?"
"It should interest you as well, if you don't want to spend your post-clinic recovery period at my house."
John imagines Sherlock glaring at the prospect.
"What on earth are you on about, Mycroft?"
"Have you shared with him your insights on Moriarty, and the plan that must already be formulating in that brain of yours?"
"No. John will know only what he needs to, and not until he needs to know it."
"It hasn't crossed your mind he might view this... Economic dispensation of facts as a sign of distrust? That it might remind him of past instances of such secrecy?"
"I don't want to burder him unduly. He has much on his mind."
"Indeed. He has you on his mind, and little else."
Sherlock scoffs. "They're divorcing, I think. I've been told that is an intense experience," he suggests.
Mycroft sighs in that world-weary manner of his. "You are convinced, then, that you can do this all on your own? Get better, beat Moriarty, put on the hat, continue sorting out the problems of the common rabble?"
"You make it sound like a waste of time."
"On the contrary," Mycroft says, and John suspects he's frowning, "The excision of Moriarty from the playing field for all eternity is very much in my interests as well. And if detective work keeps you off the proverbial sauce then I am all for it. What worries me, however, is your insistence on pushing away your greatest assets. Correction, asset. You know, of course, who I'm referring to."
"I fixed things on my own. I can fix them again. Alone."
"I am willing to believe you could. But whyever would you want to?"
Chapter 14: We go back
Many expressed skepticism at Mycroft's motives in the previous chapter. I'd certainly agree that fear of Mycroft Holmes is a sign of a sensible mind :) It's time to find out whether Mycroft is trying to bring forth destruction, or if his plan might actually benefit John.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
You’ll find me in the lake
With the death I tried to fake
My hands already blue
Holding photographs of you
- Kyla La Grange
John holds the phone closer to his ear, straining to hear Sherlock's reply, which never comes.
He decides that this silence must mean something, that Mycroft might actually be onto something.
At the other end of the line, Mycroft clears his throat. "As well as your greatest asset, John Watson is your greatest weakness. Magnussen knew it, Moriarty knows it. Alienating him would prove a great distraction, one that you cannot afford. He's got you in some sort of an emotional stranglehold, which does not bode well for any of us."
John holds his breath. This was not what he had been expecting. He hopes this is part of some elaborate conversational setup of Mycroft's. After all, the older Holmes brother has been known to employ such tactics to get Sherlock to see sense without realizing it had been Mycroft's doing.
"Every time you deny him the truth, every time you push him away it will invariably rip open the issue of you leaving him behind and making him live through the tragedy of his best friend killing himself in front of him."
John marvels at Mycroft's ability to state such terrible things so matter-of-factly. When phrased as Mycroft just has, it does make sense, but John can't help wondering if such a cruel assessment is a tad bit unfair to Sherlock, who's trying to put all of it behind him.
He's not being very successful at it, though. John can't deny the clear-as-day signs and symptoms of a neglected case PTSD right before his very eyes.
Sherlock still offers no comment.
John thinks one could probably hear a pin drop in the room.
If Sherlock is to beat Moriarty - if they are to beat Moriarty, or whoever is posing behind that title, Sherlock has to be at the top of his game.
Right now, he's merely clawing his way up from the bottom.
"That's exactly it," Sherlock finally says. "Best friend. People get over friends," Sherlock spits out the word as though it has offended him personally. "People grow apart from friends," he adds venomously, "And it's fine, that's apparently how it works."
"He didn't get over you," Mycroft points out, a slight edge of anger creeping into his voice, "He didn't have a choice - you didn't allow him such a thing. He didn't get over you, he lost you. And you keep reminding him of that, making him fear that it'll happen again."
"I dealt with this! I apologized and he accepted it. Granted, it was a bit of a charade and there was the pressing issue of an impending terrorist attack, but still."
Mycroft hums sceptically.
"That's not even what he keeps bringing up! I don't see what relevance the events during my absence have, why he would keep pressing me on about it. Morbid curiosity? People do so love a good horror story," Sherlock says bitterly.
The chair squeaks. Mycroft has probably pressed his back against it. Or leaned forward, to get a better look at his brother. "Is that what you think it was? A horror story?"
"It certainly wasn't a bloody holiday in the Bahamas!" Sherlock is now raising his voice, "But he has the wrong idea! He thinks I was traumatized. Thinks I was tortured, and now I'm something damaged, something he needs to look after because of his damned Florence Nightingale complex and his guilt and his old-fashioned notions of friendship and I can't abide it!"
"You don't think it was torture? Not even Serbia? Not Niger? Not even Hong Kong?"
Sherlock scoffs dismissively and John hears a faint thud, likely the result of Sherlock throwing himself against the pillows perched behind his back. With his bruised kidney it must've hurt.
"Torture is a matter of definition."
"According to the UN and Amnesty International, waterboarding is torture. So is having your toes broken, being deprived of sleep, being shackled hanging from the ceiling for extended periods of time and being beaten so severely that one's jaw is broken. As you said, semantics."
John gasps at the cold, calculating tone with which Mycroft is capable of discussing these things happening to his own flesh and blood. John's hands are shaking. He dries his suddenly clammy palms against his knees.
He should've been there. Whatever happened to Sherlock, it should've happened to him as well.Because he had chosen Sherlock, too, not just the other way around.
Sherlock did this for him. Because of him.
And in the meanwhile, John held a petty grudge, romanced Mary up to the point of engagement, grumbled about tedious dinner parties, went to Tesco's, bought ugly towels for their apartment and complained about the seasonal flu epidemic creating an excessive amount of patient traffic at the clinic.
There's just one more thing, one more thing, one more miracle, Sherlock, for me. Don't... be... dead.
Sherlock came back from the dead, and John turned him away.
Why would anyone be willing to do what Sherlock did?
"I don't think John will give you many more chances. If you push him away now, shut him out of what's going on, keep him in the dark, he might not find it in his heart to forgive you." Mycroft sounds resigned, and John wonders if the man truly cares, of it this is a calculated act and if yes, to what end?
"Forgive me? Forgive me? He's the one who jumped at the chance to finally swap me for some woman. I'm finally out of the picture, no longer confusing him, embarrassing him or messing up his sorry excuse of a love life! Granted, he chose her well, chose exactly in the vein of what he truly prefers deep down. "
"Hmm?" That's Mycroft, clearly feigning ignorance.
"And why do you even care?" Sherlock asks, bristling.
"I care about your happiness. Even if you refuse to tell him these things, then why won't you at least accept his help? Accept his offer of assistance when you're discharged. Yes, he did tell me of it."
John racks his brain, trying to recall such a conversation. Some of the days past feel such a blur that he's not entirely convinced one way or the other. Maybe Mycroft has deduced it. Or maybe he's simply had the hospital room bugged. John wouldn't put it past the man.
"It would likely entail scenarios in which.... " The rest of Sherlock's answer is indecipherable.
"Speak up," Mycroft orders dryly and John spares him a rare fond thought.
"Because it would likely lead to situations in which I can't trust my own discretion. My own reactions. As pertaining to him. That he'll know why----"
John both wants a more detailed explanation and doesn't want one.
He knows what this means, but he's too nervous to even think it out loud.
Still, John knows he can't run from this anymore. There's no excuse, no Mary, nothing now, to prevent him from seeing the forest from the trees.
This needs to be let out. It's the elephant in the room, the hitch in their breaths in the dark, the stolen touches that mean more than a thousand spoken words ever could, and the wool that John has kept firmly pulled in front of his eyes.
If he wants the truth from Sherlock as to why anyone would do such a thing, make such a sacrifice for him as Sherlock has, John needs to be prepared for all of it.
Even the part where John aknowledges that his best friend has probably been in love with him for years.
Four hours later, after taking his small collection of possessions to an unused storage room at work, John returns to the hospital.
The ward has quieted down for the night. Without even being asked, the ward sister brings in a fold-up bed. John doesn't open it just yet. Instead he settles into the already painfully familiar plastic chair he has been frequenting, and stares at the pages of a book, trying to calm his racing mind, trying to appear as calm as he can.
It seems to work, because it doesn't take long before he begins to nod off. He hadn't even realized how tired he is.
"Is this some sort of an exercise in penance, trying to sleep sitting up in that dreadful chair?" Sherlock asks.
John purses his lips and doesn't answer.
An hour later, Sherlock has fallen asleep and John has finished the crossword puzzle he'd continued after giving up on the book.
He leans closer to the bed and breathes a sigh of relief when his ears pick up on the sound of raspy, slightly laboured breathing. It doesn't sound normal, but it's not getting any worse either.
John remembers other nights like this, in other hospitals, listening to the steady sound of the bellows of an ICU respirator keeping Sherlock barely alive.
After Sherlock had collapsed at Baker Street after a vessel ligature in his lung had given out, the worst part of John's personal hell had begun. He no longer felt like he had Mary's support, no longer had the future he had settled his thoughts into, there was no roadmap anymore - just his best friend dying.
John had lashed out at everybody, refused to leave Sherlock's side until he had almost fainted out of exhaustion.
Six days he had watched, and waited, and hoped and prayed, begrudgingly finally accepting Mary's support when his own mental health began to crumble in the crushing loneliness of watching Sherlock fighting for his life, sedated, hooked up to a respirator.
Along with the bleed into his mediastinum there had been a tension pneumothorax and a nearly-fatal pneumonia brought on by exhaustion, extended ventilator treatment and Sherlock's abysmal self-care.
Once Sherlock had finally been well enough to be awakened and allowed to breathe on his own, he had practically jumped out of bed. Mycroft had forced him to spend a week at their parents. Sherlock had surprised everyone by inviting John and Mary along. John should have guessed that it was not just a friendly gesture.
Of course Sherlock would use his time of recuperation by drugging everyone and becoming a murderer.
This time, it's not going to work like that. John will see to it. This time he's going to get well before running himself to the ground, which he is bound to eventually attempt again because he's Sherlock.
Two hours later, John gives up trying to keep his eyes open, steals a glance at Sherlock's fitfully sleeping form, and goes to the nurses' station to ask for a blanket for his cot.
When he returns, carrying an armful of bedding, he freezes at the door.
Sherlock is sitting up in bed, arms draped around his torso. Droplets of cold sweat have formed on his forehead. At first John thinks he's in pain, but then he takes in the obvious hyperventilating, shaking and unseeing eyes.
John drops the bedding he's carrying and hurries to the side of the bed.
He reaches out a hand but doesn't dare to reach far enough to actually touch. "Sherlock?" he whispers, "Come back. It's fine. It's me."
There's no reply. John kneels by the bed.
They stay in those positions for several long minutes, John quietly whispering nonsensical things until finally the rhytm of their breaths begins to connect.
Sherlock lets out a long, shuddering breath and squeezes his eyes shuts, heavy tears slithering out from underneath his lids.
John stands up, steps closer and John pulls Sherlock against him, not caring if he gets some ridiculous wire or tube dislodged.
He's fine. They're fine.
Nothing's really wrong, yet everything is.
"I'm going to lose," Sherlock's raspy voice tells John from somewhere in the folds of the front of his jumper. "I'm going to lose because of you. But it can't be helped."
John's insides twist. Moriarty.
John's reply is to pull him even closer. He sits down onto the bed so that he can properly drape his arms around Sherlock's naked torso. He'd shed his hospital gown before, complaining that the thick duvet was too warm.
This should feel odd. It doesn't. Now John doesn't even remember how he could have ever thought it would.
Then he realizes something. "I'm hurting you, aren't I?" John asks, alarmed, and lets go of his tight hold around Sherlock. The room suddenly feels much colder than it used to.
"I don't care," Sherlock says, and lets his hands drop limp onto the duvet, studying them with a resentful gaze. "I'm a ruin, aren't I? I was no match for him then, and look at me now." Sherlock lets a hollow laugh escape. "You'd be the first one to tell me I'm messing this up, all of it."
"I don't see anything that we can't fix."
"Don't you see, John? He'll see what those two years took, and he'll know I don't have that sort of strength left anymore." He lets out a ragged breath and glances at the wall clock nervously, avoiding John's eyes.
Sherlock begins coughing, grabbing onto the side of the bed for fortification. John winces, listening to what sounds like chunks of lung coming up.
Before John is able to formulate a reasonable reply, Sherlock continues. "I needed you to forgive me, because if you weren't there when I came back there was no way I was going to survive returning."
John closes his eyes, letting the full weight of it sink in.
Months earlier, this conversation would never have transpired. Months earlier, they weren't in this precarious situation where Sherlock was practically backed up into a corner when it came to the issue of his health. They weren't in a place like this, a place where Sherlock could no longer hide it all from him.
"Ask me again," Sherlock whispers into John's shoulder.
John sighs. "I'm not playing games with you. Not anymore. If you've got something to say, say it."
"I came close to ruining your life."
John pushes Sherlock gently away from him, holding him at arm's length by his biceps so he can get a proper look at Sherlock, to somehow imbide into him the notion of how wrong that last sentence out of his mouth had been. How terribly wrong. "Sherlock, whatever you might think, meeting you is something I will never regret. Never."
"Now what?" Sherlock asks.
"Now you get better. Then we go back," John says determinedly.
"What do you mean?"
"I go back to not being a shitty friend. You go back to sober. And we go back to Baker Street."
Sherlock offers no reply. Instead he leans into John again, letting out a long breath ending with another raspy cough. He closes his eyes, letting the weight of his torso be fully suspended by John who gently wraps his arms around Sherlock again.
As tired as John himself is, it can't possibly rival how exhausted Sherlock must be. After a few minutes, a quiet snoring begins.
John leans his chin onto the black curly mop of of hair.
An idle thought floats to the surface of his consciousness when he closes his eyes: I love you.
It's been on the tip of his tongue for years, too frightening and complicated to come out.
He has denied, insisted, made excuses, worded heavy dismissals and offered alternate explanations to the leagues of others who have seen what it is, plain as day, when John himself has been comically blind to it all.
He dares to know it now, dares to feel it.
Before, it would have been just masochism - a selfish indulgency that would only have made a complicated situation worse: John. Mary. The baby. Sherlock. Four puzzle pieces that not even a proper genius could by force fit together. John would never have betrayed Mary like she had betrayed him. He would have paid the price of not getting what he wanted, never being able to say these words to the one who truly deserved them. In his anger and bitterness he had never stopped to really consider which of the two of them - him or Sherlock - had been paying the bigger price for John's choices.
He had asked Sherlock a few days back why he'd chosen such a painful manner of getting clean. Sherlock had turned his reply into a question, asking john that if given a choice, would he opt to endure a great hell for a short time, or a slightly milder one for a longer time?
John still doesn't know how to answer such a question.
He gently eases Sherlock back onto the raised end of his bed, and uses the remote to bring the bed back to an almost vertical position. Sherlock mumbles something indecipherable in his sleep, attempts to turn but flops back down onto his back when his movements are jarred by what seems like a twinge of pain.
John sits by the bed, waiting until he hears Sherlock's breathing rediscover a steady pattern again.
Then he leaves the room and takes the elevator up to the helipad on the roof.
Standing in the brisk wind, with the lights of London spreading below him, a relief begins flooding in. It's the relief of coming home after a long journey, finding something thought long lost. Strangely enough, the way he feels also feels a bit like the adrenaline-giddy sense of urgency after flirting with death during one of their cases.
There will be tears later. Tears for those parts of the life he's now lost that he had grown attached to. The promise of a son or daughter, evaporated into thin air like it had never even existed. Tears for the unfairness of it all. John had loved that child even if he never got to meet it and in some capacity, he always would. He would love that ghost, that abstract idea that never came to be. He'd mourn it like he would mourn a death.
For Mary, there would always be a bittersweet corner in his very own Mind Palace if he ever built one. It would hurt, but not in the same way as losing their child does. While he had loved Mary sincerely, that love had been born out of depression, fear and convenience and it had run its natural course now.
He had certainly wanted to be with Mary, but with Sherlock is where he belongs.
The next morning, John wakes up in the camp bed on the floor, Sherlock peering at him suspiciously and slightly amused over the railings of his bed. They exchange a courteous good morning and John gets dressed. Sherlock then busies himself with the arrival of the respiratory therapist, and John takes a walk around the block, not wanting to listen to Sherlock cursing, coughing and deducing the state of the physical therapist's love life just to vent his frustration.
They don't talk about what had happened the night before. It's too raw.
The final chapter count looks to be 20. There will be an additional chapter after the twentieth containing some assorted ramblings of mine, and a sneak peek into what I'll be posting after Lunar.
Chapter 15: On the losing side
A massive thanks to Emma221b for betaing this bit and Mr B for letting me employ his outstanding command of verbs.
It seems that Mycroft has a lot of fans after what happened in the last couple of chapters :)
Sherlock is finally opening up to John (at least a little), but John has things he needs to get off his chest, too. They've both been under a lot of pressure lately, and going back to Baker Street might bring up some dormant emotions...
When my home is defenseless
The omens relentless
The Trojan Horse
Keeps its course
The chest drains are taken out. Sherlock's surgeon is also now convinced that the kidney no longer poses a danger of calling it quits, or its capsule bursting and releasing a life-threatening amount of blood into the abdominal cavity.
Sherlock's fractured ribs are far from healed, but the pain is more bearable now.
His leg fracture is permanently fixed with a plate and a set of screws, and the limb wrapped up in a cast from his toes up to his thigh. This allows him to finally leave the confines of the bed and become a menace on crutches.
The cast will need to be in place for four weeks. The length of it makes it difficult for even such a naturally athletic man to get through many daily routines. On top of it all, Sherlock will need to inject an anticoagulant under the skin of his stomach once daily to ward off blood clots in his cast leg. This had been done by the nurses at the hospital, but at home it'll have to be either John or the patient himself who continues the treatment Sherlock tries to insist on some sort of a tablet option but John refuses, saying that if his kidney decides to start acting up, those newer tablet-form anti-clot drugs are next to impossible to counter and their long-lasting effect could also prove problematic and unpredictable with his injuries.
As a man of science Sherlock certainly understand and accepts this logic, but it doesn't keep him from complaining loudly.
Nevertheless, it's finally time to go home.
At Baker Street, Sherlock is carried up the stairs by the combined efforts of John and Lestrade who create a makeshift seat out of their interlocked hands. It takes a good fifteen minutes for the three of them to get upstairs, since they have to do it backwards to avoid Sherlock's long cast hitting a higher step.
Mrs Hudson laughs at the spectacle.
John's small collection of earthly possession are in the living room, still boxed up or shoved into plastic bags. He had somehow felt that he needed Sherlock's permission to start spreading them around.
In the end, John never gets a chance to pose such a question, because Sherlock simply grabs his toothbrush from the top of a box, sticks it in his trouser pocket, maneuvers himself into the bathroom with his crutches and deposits said toothbrush into the cabinet above the sink.
It looks as though it had never even left.
Like John had never even left.
It's a small thing, such a small gesture what Sherlock has just done, but it drives a point home so forcefully that John feels his heart constrict in his chest.
"Right," John says, desperately needing a distraction, "Tea, then?"
He finds a strange comfort in the familiar whoosh of the gas stove, the way the faucet seam leaks a little water onto the countertop like it always has, and how everything still fits his muscle memory.
Sherlock watches John put on the kettle, frowning sceptically as though he's not entirely convinced that John isn't a figment of his imagination.
John manages to find a half-eaten packet of Hobnobs that doesn't smell stale, and plonks it on the kitchen table. There'll have to be takeaway later. The fridge is empty and so are the cabinets. Either Mrs Hudson has undertaken a cleaning operation while Sherlock had been in clinic, or Sherlock had not done much grocery shopping living alone.
A few minutes later, Sherlock accepts a mug of tea from John. He closes his eyes and smells the steam rising from it. "Assam. With bergamot."
John smiles. "There was some of that Fortnum blend left that you always liked."
"You always look for comfort in familiar things," Sherlock says and it sounds like a deduction he's just made. Maybe he'd read something from John's facial expressions while watching him putter about in the kitchen.
"I remember missing proper tea in Afghanistan. You must've too, during---"
"I do not have PTSD," Sherlock interrupts him with a clipped tone.
John tries to keep his expression is neutral as he can, careful not to antagonzie Sherlock. The fact that Sherlock is bringing this up is both slightly alarming but also good, somehow. Is this what's been on his mind today?
"Idiots get PTSD. Idiots who don't realize it's nothing but a pavlovian response to a startling stimulus, stress hormones being released down oversensitized pathways. It's like ignoring a growling stomach, just an involuntary function that needs to be culled with time and some emotional fortitude. I'm certain that I can deduce a way with which to turn it off. Exactly as I turned off yours the day we met."
John makes an effort to ignore all the indirect insults this diatribe had contained, trying to focus on the gist of the matter. "You didn't turn it off. The flashbacks and the nightmares lasted for ten months after we became flatmates. It lasted until there was a new thing in my life I feared more than dying, more than war."
Sherlock, who had been about to sip from his mug, suddenly puts in on the table and pushes the handle away from himself. He sticks his hands into his trouser pockets and John wonders if this is because they might be shaking. His crutches are leaning on the kitchen counter. "What, then?" he asks quietly, and John thinks he sounds unsure whether he actually wants to hear the answer.
"Losing you to Moriarty."
"That fear isn't gone. Far from it. Seeing you like this--"
"Like what?" Sherlock demands resentfully.
"Affected," John says, gritting his teeth.
That word is a lot more difficult to deny, to counter, to dismiss than any of the more blunt ones. Usually Sherlock likes blunt things, favours the abrasive and rejoices in the brutal, but when it comes to turning the scrutiny onto the man himself John needs to thread on eggshells.
"I was traveling for two years. According to those ridiculous saccharine films you had a habit of watching with Mary, people are supposed to take long journeys in order to soul-search, to find new meanings in their lives. If that has any grounding in reality, how could I be gone for two years without getting affected?"
John bites his lip so hard he tastes coppery blood. He's terribly tempted to counter this by mentioning some detail he'd learned when he'd been eavesdropping on Mycroft's conversation with Sherlock, but this can't be a good time to admit to being a willing accomplice to such an invasion of privacy.
Sherlock must be right on the edge, if he's trying to use date movies as counterarguments.
John watches Sherlock snatch his now lukewarm mug of tea so swiftly that some of it sloshes over the top.
John has never seen anyone swallow down half a mug of tea with such hostility.
"Why does it bother you so much what I think or how I choose to describe things?" John asks.
Sherlock huffs and grabs his crutches. He stands for a moment with his back half-turned towards John, both of them expecting him to make a dramatic exit.
John sits down in one of the kitchen chairs, saying nothing but trying to convey a sense of interest in continuing with the conversation by laying his hands on the table, eyes fixed on Sherlock.
Slowly and carefully, Sherlock sets his crutches to lean against the counter again. He turns towards John but avoiding his gaze. He grabs his left wrist with the fingers of his right hand, squeezing so tightly that the skin underneath turns pale.
John says nothing, acutely aware of how fragile their situation is, how close Sherlock is to storming off in his usual fashion.
Still, he hasn't. At least not yet. There's still something bothering him, something tethering him to their discussion.
"How do you stop them?" Sherlock asks quietly, studying the floorboards. "It's like a fuse suddenly shorting, the way the flashbacks come on. How do you keep them from happening?"
John fights the urge to rise from the chair and get closer to Sherlock, who seems to be in need of some personal space right now. "There's no magic trick I could teach you. There just isn't. It takes time. Time and talking about it, sorting it out in your head. A lot more time than what you've had. You barely took a breather when you came home! Threw yourself into cases, into planning the wedding, Magnussen, everything."
Sherlock says nothing. It's clearly not the answer he'd been hoping for.
In hindsight, John should have realized, should have observed that all of it had been Sherlock desperately trying to run from something. He knows Sherlock. He knows Sherlock. John wants to drive his fist through the wall, to throw himself into some other sort of masochistic penance, feel at east an ounce of the pain Sherlock has clearly gone through, but wallowing in self-pity is not going to help Sherlock. It's self-centered and fruitless.
"Why won't you tell me anything that happened, even if I promise you it'll help?" John pleads. He's tired of repeating himself, but if there's even a snowball's chance that such nagging might yield results, he'll gladly turn into the human equivalent of a broken record.
Sherlock narrows his gaze, grabs his crutches and goes to his own bedroom.
John receives a text message an hour later.
IF I TELL YOU, IT'LL BE HARDER TO PRETEND NONE OF IT EVER HAPPENED.
Come bedtime, John ends up standing in the hallway in a fit of hesitation.
Sherlock had emerged from his bedroom an hour after his tactical retreat from the kitchen, descending on the sofa for an hour of pointless TV channel surfing. He didn't seem angry or upset anymore, and the atmopshere in the living room had felt almost pleasant.
Now the hour is so late that they face a need to discuss sleeping practicalities.
At the hospital things such as physical proximity had felt a lot less awkward. It was as though that ICU room had been a separate dimension, one in which their usual unwritten rules and boundaries did not apply. Back at Baker Street, the old doubts were returning.
Sherlock has left the bathroom door ajar while brushing his teeth. John opens it wider, feeling like an idiot for having loitered outside for so long. The bathroom door is partly made of glass. Sherlock must've noticed him standing in the hall.
John clears his throat and Sherlock glances at him with disinterest.
"Do you think that I should sleep downstairs?" John asks.
"I can text you if I require assistance," Sherlock points out after rinsing his mouth.
John swallows. "It's okay if you think--- If, if you----"
Sherlock leans against the sink, holding his crutches in his left hand. "Out with it."
"I just thought it might be more convenient."
Sherlock should ask what exactly would be more convenient, and why, but he doesn't.
Something shifts in John. He suddenly wants to laugh at the stupidity of it all, the way in which they still circle around these things. There's no one here but them. No one to judge him, to question his choices.
There's just Sherlock.
Sherlock, who clearly needs him but is even worse at saying these things out loud than John is.
The old John Watson from two and a half years ago would have given up, turned on his heels and gone upstairs, leaving behind a Sherlock who would likely have looked apprehensive and perhaps even a little bit disappointed for a moment until slamming up his defenses again.
"Fuck convenient," John says. "Do you want me to sleep in your room or not?"
John slowly inches his eyes open to adjust to the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. He feels warmer than he usually does when waking up, having gone to bed in an old pair of tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt.
He lifts his arms from under the covers and lets them flop onto the duvet.
When he turns his head, he finds Sherlock. He's on the opposite side of the bed, burrowed under the duvet, just a mop of curls peeking out from underneath. He's facing away from John.
It doesn't feel all that strange waking up in bed with Sherlock. They had shared hotel rooms and double beds in the early days of their acquaintance out of necessity. John now has the decent excuse of injury to warrant his presence in Sherlock's room.
But what does Sherlock want, exactly?
As though dictated by telepathy, Sherlock shifts under his duvet, turning to the side facing John. Sherlock's eyes flutter open and after a second of unfocused disorientation his pupils fix on John. Studying, examining, deducing, categorizing, analyzing, memorizing.
John stifles a laugh. It appears to only take about two second for the Holmes hard drive to boot up.
"How are you feeling?" John asks.
"You do know you're like a parakeet with your tendency to repeat such dull phrases over and over again?" Sherlock is trying to sound exasperated but all John can hear in his voice is dry amusement and something that isn't entirely unrelated to affection.
"Humour the doctor," John says, yawning and stretching his arms above his head. He winces when his knuckles hit the headboard with a knock.
"The mattress is old, my mouth tastes like cat piss, leg muscles kept cramping during the night and this stale air with the bloody dust is wreaking havoc with my lungs. You?" As though to drive home his point, Sherlock is suddenly seized by a throaty set of coughs which force him to wrap his arms around his much-suffered ribcage to support its broken parts.
John watches, hand hovering above Sherlock's shoulder, unsure if there's something he could do to help.
Sherlock soon gets his breathing back under control. "I still don't see the point of all these regular interrogations. Discharging a patient usually means that they can be left to their own devices. You could just deduce how I am. Don't they teach you to make visual status assessments in medical school?"
"It's easier to just ask. Remember when you used to tell me things?"
"I don't recall ever doing that," Sherlock says, smirking deviously.
John shrugs. "Worth a shot."
Sherlock turns to his back, crosses his fingers and arranges his hands on his stomach on top of the covers. "I hated the way that ICU bed kept puffing up in random spots on its own," Sherlock muses.
"The cyclic puffing up is supposed to keep you from getting bedsores."
Sherlock scoffs in a superior tone. "I don't get bedsores."
"No, just like you don't get the flu and your bones are unbreakable. And you're immortal," John says. It was meant to be a gentle jibe, but something in his tone had changed by the time he had reached the end of it.
A familiar anger is creeping in.
Sherlock clearly picks up on this, and turns his head to study John's face carefully. Under this scorching scrutiny John can't help his face contorting into a tight expression he rarely wears when lounging relaxedly in bed in the morning.
Everything is so raw now, all the pain just below the surface.
John had thought he'd be past this by now. That he would have gotten over it all.
He still has things he needs to say out loud. Not to Mary, not to the mirror when standing alone in the bathroom, but to Sherlock.
Sherlock opens his mouth to say something but John interrupts him. If he lets Sherlock wedge in he won't be able to say it. And he needs to.
"I thought you were just that. Immortal. Unbreakable. Even when drugged up to your gills and panicking you were in control, somehow. Then Moriarty breaks you. If you think I never noticed, that I didn't realize how upset you were then you're a bloody idiot, Sherlock. He broke you. I watched you completely lose it in that journalist's apartment. And that was almost scarier than watching you jump off the----" John draws in a ragged breath and doesn't even noticed the duvet sliding off him as he rises to his knees, towering over Sherlock, who is looking increasingly distraught.
"And then you died. I now why you did it, I do believe it was the only thing you could have done and I understand why you did it the way you did but it still fucking hurts."
Sherlock watches him, lips parted, mesmerized and so shocked that he's not even attempting to leave.
"I was the one who was supposed to look after you! It was my job to keep you safe! That was my job and you just gave it away! He didn't just break you, he broke us, and I hated you for letting him!"
John swallows and buried his face in his palms. "Jesus. I just wanted to protect you. Me, and no one else but you left me," he says in a shaky voice. It sounds possessive and not very sensible but it's the truth.
Sherlock is staring at him with a mixture of alarm and awe. "I came back," he whispers like it's a spell.
John raises his chin, forcing the fledgling tears to seep back down his tearducts. He tastes salt at the back of his throat. "How was I supposed to know that? All I knew was that you left me exactly the way you found me, walking wrecked out of a battlefield."
"We don't do this, John," Sherlock says, mincing up his words a little, "We don't talk about it like this."
John clambers off the bed and leans his palms on an armchair. "And look where it's gotten us," he manages to get out before a racking sobs escapes his lungs like a long-held secret.
Sherlock watches him while he cries, holding on for dear life to the worn chair.
Some part of John enjoys it, enjoys Sherlock finally seeing the consequences, seeing why it wasn't that easy to just let Sherlock waltz back into his life like a Roman emperor returning from the war.
Sherlock needs to see and understand why John could have been so angry that he let Sherlock lose himself again like this.
If John doesn't let him see this, see the truth, he has no right to demand that Sherlock reciprocate - let him see his own devastation, reveal the damage done by those two years.
They need to stop hiding from each other.
"You told me I had nothing to apologize for," Sherlock says quietly.
"Maybe I still need to hear it," John says in a broken voice. "It's pointless and it probably means I'm not a very nice person but I want to hear it." He finally looks up, forcing his breathing to even out, the tears to stop welling. He wishes he had the skills to stop with sheer force of will, like Sherlock always does. "I still need to hear it because it might mean that you're going to meet me halfway, that it's not going to be like it used to - you running off and getting yourself killed without me getting a word in."
"I'm sorry. More sorry than you will ever know," Sherlock says without a moment's hesitation, and this time it's not a joke, it's not a trick, it's not funny at all. Unlike that time in the train, this is real. "I'm sorry, John. For everything."
John looks into Sherlock's eyes, and he knows that this time, Sherlock means every syllable.
Sherlock then seems to lose his nerve, dropping his gaze to John's hands on the backrest of the chair.
John grabs one of Sherlock's ubiquitous dressing gown and puts in on. It's a little long for him, but doesn't reach the floor.
He extends his hand to Sherlock. "Breakfast?"
Sherlock stares at him as though he's seen a ghost. "What?" he stammers, clearly not expecting such a change of mood from John.
"We need breakfast. I'll give you a hand getting up." His hand is still outstretched, palm upwards.
Sherlock's eyes turn to slits and he almost seems to recoil from John's hand. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
John feels deflated but he doesn't withdraw his hand.
After a moment's hesitation Sherlock finally, tentatively grabs hold of it, using it as a support while maneuvering his long cast off the bed with his other hand.
Once he's standing next to the bed, John grabs hold of his wrist and runs his thumb along Sherlock's knucles to get his attention.
"Whatever I said, it doesn't change what's going on now, right here. It doesn't change that I want to be here."
Sherlock's expression is one that John has seldom seen: a mixture of confusion, precarious hope and disbelief that someone might genuinely like him enough to care. John remembers encountering it only twice before: when he had visited Baker Street for the first time after Sherlock's return and their subsequent row, and when he'd asked Sherlock to be his best man.
To John there's something terribly sad about it - a man completely surprised that out of all people, someone might want to choose him. The contrast to the confident front Sherlock puts up in front of others is staggering.
Sherlock makes a beeline for the hallway, but John grabs his shoulder.
"I meant what I said," John says. "Here. With you."
Shrugging off his hand, Sherlock heads to the kitchen without a word.
Chapter 16: Need
This chapter is dedicated to Emma221b, the queen of duct-tape-lock.
I'll do what I can to be a confident wreck
Can't feel this way forever, I mean
There wasn't any way for anyone to settle in
You made a slow disaster out of me
- The National
To John it seems that Sherlock has been faring surprisingly well on the rehab front after they'd returned to Baker Street. On the other hand, considering how little Sherlock has volunteered about what has been going on inside in his head about other subjects, John is well aware that there might be more going on than meets the eye.
The following Monday morning, three days after his discharge, Sherlock appears in the kitchen while John is having breakfast. John had taken care not to wake him up when he'd risen, because the night had been restless and it can't have been until the early hours of morning that Sherlock had finally fallen asleep.
"Morning," John says. He'd heard Sherlock coming down the hall. His crutches completely nullified his usual stealth.
Sherlock comes to a halt by John's armchair and straightens his spine. He looks determined and agitated.
John looks up, cup of steaming tea raised up to his lips. "Mm-hmm?"
"Just this once. I need it. Just once, then I promise it's over and done with."
John frowns, trying to keep his expression as calm as possible. He doesn't need to be told what exactly it is that Sherlock is after.
The way in which Sherlock is twiddling his fingers nervously and looking as though he's the human version of an overshaken soda bottle about to be opened, tells him enough.
John had known a moment like this might be in the making. Sherlock is in no shape to go out on his own and procure whatever his brain receptors are currently craving. John is his only chance of relieving that urge.
"I can't work. I can't catch Moriarty. There's nothing but---- This," Sherlock says, whipping his outstretched palm in a frantic arch across the view to their cluttered living room. "Nothing. There's nothing," he reiterates. "Just this once. You can pick which one, you can monitor the dose, I don't care, as long as--- "
"It doesn't work like that. You've done so well. We're not going to wreck that now, just because you're having a bad day."
Sherlock doesn't seem to appreciate this description. "No real pity for the cripple, then? You're happy to play nursemaid, go through these pointless routines, nag about vitamins, clots and talking, but when it comes to real help, you'll turn me away."
Nice try, Sherlock. At least this answers the question whether he's reaching a critical level of cravings.
Without a word, John gets up from his chair, walks to the sitting room and collects Sherlock's mobile and his laptop along with John's own computer. Then he walks downstairs, knocks on Mrs Hudson's door and when she opens it, John passes the items over.
Mrs Hudson does not look surprised - merely nods. John had made the precaution of discussing this plan with her before Sherlock had even been discharged.
This is a safety measure to keep Sherlock from being able to contact anyone else to get what he wants.
John declines Mrs Hudson's offer of tea and returns upstairs to face the storm.
In the flat, Sherlock is leaning on John's armchair, seething with rage.
"Right," John says and returns to the kitchen. "Breakfast?" he says in a light tone, opening the below-sink cupboard to find a frying pan.
He flinches when a sudden crash signifies Sherlock's crutches hitting the floor. Hard.
"I'll not have you dictating how I'm allowed to live my life!" Sherlock exclaims vehemently.
John swallows and turns to face him. "No, but I will definitely dictate the terms in which I will continue to live with you."
"I didn't ask you to do this! Any of this!"
"That's the thing about friendship. And about being a doctor. Sometimes your friends and your patients should get what they need, not what they want."
"Well it is a bit bloody late for that!" Sherlock derides and sits on the armrest of John's usual chair.
A vile smile then begins building on his face.
John braces himself.
"Tell me," Sherlock snarls, "Is it because you failed to save your addict sister, that you are so overprone to self-pity and overbearing attitudes when it comes to the life choices of others which your bourgeois morals don't agree with? You could choose to not engage, yet you still stay, like a spectator watching a train crash but not bothering to dial the emergency number?"
"It's you who never asks for help, not me." John is proud of how calm a tone he manages to muster.
John is used to staying neutral when patients behave badly due to addiction, but this is Sherlock, world champion in riling everyone up. Besides, what they have here is certainly not what one would call a standard doctor-patient relationship.
"I wonder," Sherlock drawls melodramatically, "If it might also be the result of your family history that you surround yourself with individuals whose preferences and habits make you look better, smarter, healthier and whole and normal compared to them."
"Enough?" John asks, crossing his arms.
When he watches Sherlock he's reminded of a lion circulating a heard of prey - ready to pounce at the slightest hint of weakness and rip things apart.
John isn't sure if Sherlock is even incubating any serious hopes of getting his way. This might be just a vengeful yearning to lash out.
Whatever the motivation, Sherlock is not done yet.
"You like to be needed. You thrive when people are dependent on you. Does that say more about you, or them? You exude moral superiority over their choices, and then practically relish denying them what they need. Has anyone ever told you what a sadist streak you have? It's fascinating, really. Such a harmless looking man, carefully camouflaged in dullness, yet----" Sherlock averts his eyes, clearly fighting for control over his anger.
They used to have a sort of an unspoken agreement: while Sherlock could not possibly resist poking holes in the psyches of other people and wrecking them, he would never turn that sort of searing scrutiny onto John, ever. Not unless it was necessary for survival, as it had been in the case of seeing the truth of Mary.
The old John from three years back would have reacted, would not have been able to take a step back. Now, after having a chance to vent out his own frustrations, John feels confident enough in his own skin to see past this Sherlockian volcanic eruption, to see it for what it is.
Sherlock isn't realizing that he's revealing his own hand with this. Splaying open the fact that he's so stretched to breaking point that he would lash out at even John. Sherlock, angry at the entire universe but mostly angry at himself, needs someone to remind him he can do this. That he's not weak, not at the mercy of others - just temporarily in need of assistance, on the mend, recovering. And most decidedly not alone.
At this point, soft words, empathic reassurances and doctorly concern are not going to work. Sherlock is a man of extremes, and John can be, too. He needs to hammer home the fact that he cares, that they're both in this equally deep, but also make it crystal clear that certain things are off the table.
John steps closer and crinkles his nose in the way he always does before putting his foot down. "I will get you whatever toxic shit it is you want."
Sherlock perks up.
"On one condition," John adds pointedly.
Sherlock says nothing but looks absolutely enraptured by this new and unexpected turn in the conversation.
"I do the same. I match you, milligram by fucking milligram. Every bit you take, I take the same."
Sherlock snorts. "You're bluffing. Also, you have no tolerance. Doing that would practically be suicide."
"It nearly did me in when you jumped. It kills me to watch you even consider this. Now you get to see how you like it. If you go down, we both go down."
He looks into Sherlock's eyes, trying to signal that not a single syllable of it has been a joke or an idle threat.
"No physician in their right mind would say such a thing," Sherlock points out, eyes narrowed to slits.
"As you yourself pointed out when you stood in that doorway demanding morphine from Mrs Hudson, neither of us are exactly poster boys for normality," John says, unflinchingly maintaining eye contact despite Sherlock's efforts at appearing intimidating.
This impasse of wills last for a moment, until Sherlock breaks their connection and slides down from the armrest to the seat, looking deflated. "I can't let you," he mutters.
"Well I can't let you either so here we are. If I make you an omelette will you actually eat it?"
"Sherlock? I know you've been smoking in the bathroom. I'm not daft you know, I can smell it."
The only reply John gets from Sherlock is a noncommittal hum. He doesn't look up from the violin on his lap, the bow of which he's vigorously applying rosin to.
He hasn't played a single note on the instrument since they've come home. He seems too restless - picking the violin up, setting it down, picking it up again. At first he'd clearly been too tired and too in pain to play, but John suspects that it's now more due to cravings and cabin fever grating on his attention span.
"I assume it's some well-hidden ancient emergency stash you've been making a dent in. No wonder you've been coughing more than last week. I assume I don't have to tell you what a good idea it is while your lungs are still a wreck."
John regrets his choice of words the moment they've already floated past his lips.
Sherlock lifts his chin slowly to regard John with a weary gaze. "I cough all the time anyway. As you kindly reminded me, wrecked."
He tries to lift the violin to rest between his shoulder and his chin but winces when his broken ribs begin complaining.
"Have you taken your midday pain meds?" John asks. Sherlock is on paracetamol and ibuprofen, and has told John that they've been sufficient every time he's asked.
"Fat lot of good those do," a pale Sherlock admits, setting the violin on the table, breathing in a quick and shallow pattern while waiting for the pain to lessen.
John steps closer, aware that it'll appear as though he's hovering. Again. "You're getting more active now that you've been in weeks. Only natural that your pain levels would increase. Best take it slow, yeah?"
Sherlock flicks his hand in a dismissive gesture, letting himself sag bonelessly against the sofa cushions.
"Or we could go to the clinic and I could do the same nerve blocks they did at the hospital. I know you've not been getting much sleep," John points out. He'd suspected the ribs have been keeping Sherlock up.
Sherlock shakes his head. "No need. I'll live."
A fit of coughing overcomes him. John doesn't like the sound of it - something about it is different from before. He fetches his stethoscope from the kitchen drawer we're he's taken to keeping it lately. He then sits down next to Sherlock on the sofa.
Sherlock doesn't attempt to swat away John's fingers when he tugs apart the lapels of Sherlock's blue dressing gown. He does flinch a little when the cold metal touches his chest.
"Sorry," John says sheepishly, and then focus on listening.
"Doesn't sound too bad," he announces a moment later, taking the earpieces off. "Just lay off the smokes, please."
Sherlock nods, wraps the dressing gown tightly around himself again and lets his head loll back against the backrest.
John pats his shoulder while getting up and returning to the kitchen.
A day later, minutes before midnight, John is lying in bed. His eyes are still open and he's idly watching dead cells on the surface of his cornea create alien shapes onto the velvety contours of darkness in the room.
Sherlock hasn't come to bed yet. John can hear him walking around the apartment.
John breathes out, relishing the moment. It's such a small thing, really, in the grander scheme of things - Sherlock returning home from a stint in the hospital. Still, it signifies so much.
It signifies the end of a marriage that had been based on an apparition, a trick of the light, a carefully composed play.
It signifies choosing Sherlock. Finally.
John perks up when he hears a strage ripping sound from the direction of the bathroon. Then he hears the shower turn on. John's weary mind tries to convince him that Sherlock is fine, doing normal things like a normal human being, but when his brain pops into gear he realizes Sherlock is attempting something that, with his cast and his weakened state, could be downright dangerous. Their bathroom is cramped and challenging to navigate with a cast and a set of broken ribs, and taking a shower requires standing in the bathtub.
Sherlock has not showered since the hospital, merely used a wet towel to sort himself out during his post-discharge days, adamantly refusing John's help in anything resembling personal hygiene. John wonders if it has anything to do with what Sherlock had told Mycroft during the conversation John has been allowed to eavesdrop on. The reasons he would not accept John's help with these things.
'I can't trust my own discretion. My own reactions. As pertaining to him. That he'll know why----'
John flings away his duvet, yawns and trods downstairs to knock on the frosted glass door of the bathroom. "Sherlock?"
The door is unlocked and John enters, because the fact that he doesn't get an answer might mean that there's something going on he needs to know about.
Sherlock is standing in front of the mirror, wearing only a pair of black boxers. He's holding onto the edge of the cabinet above the sink for balance since he's effectively supporting his full weight with his healthy leg. A black garbage bag covers his long cast, the open end of it carefully secured around his thigh with grey duct tape.
That explains the ripping noise. Duct tape is something Sherlock always stockpiles for his experiments. He also attempts to fix broken and malfunctioning things with it, instead of calling a proper professional to sort the issue. John still shudders when he remembers the great fuse panel incident of 2012.
Black boxers and a plastic bag are not even remotely the strangest outfit John has ever witnessed Sherlock in.
Sherlock seems to be scrutinizing himself in the mirror with a detached expression.
"Hey," John says, not wanting to startle him. Sherlock appears so mesmerized by his own reflection in the mirror that he may not even have noticed John entering.
John takes in what Sherlock is seeing.
A frighteningly pale complexion. Ribs more visible than two years prior - he had clearly lost weight during his absence, weight that he hadn't gained back. The broken jaw must've played a part in it. His back, chest and sides are a rainbow of green, blue and yellow bruises. The white of his left eye is still tinted red from the subconjunctival hemorrhage that had developed during the violent nausea of withdrawal. There are two sutured-up, crusted burrhole-like wounds from the pleural drains still visible.
Sherlock suddenly laughs, and that laugh is so broken and out-of-place that it startles John and tears at his heart.
Their eyes meet, Sherlock's gaze reflected into John's through the mirror.
"Does this look like someone who can best the world's greatest villain?" Sherlock asks with an incredulous, mocking tone.
John swallows. "Yes," he breathes out, "Yes, it does."
This earns him a smile but there's a sceptical tightness to it.
The shower above the bathtub is still running. Sherlock had probably turned it on so that the boiler would have ample time to kick in and the water to warm up properly.
John nods towards the shower. "You getting in?"
Sherlock hops a few times on his good leg so that he's facing John and the shower. "Getting in might be... problematic in practice."
John pushes aside the shower curtain. "I'll help you. Come on," he says, trying to sound encouraging.
Sherlock seems hesitant, not meeting his eyes. He does not make a more, just stands in front of the mirror wiggling his fingers as though in the throes of a nervous tick he's trying to hide.
When John is about to repeat his suggestion, Sherlock interrupts him. "Why do you mother me? Does it have to do with your Hippocratic Oath? Or guilt over what Mary did?"
Why. Why. Why. Why are you even here? Why do you care? To John this feels like a repeat of several of their earlier conversations. He doubts that verbal reiteration of his reasons would yield lasting results right now. He decides to let his actions speak for themselves.
"No, it has to do with me being a masochistic tosspot who can't get enough of being gravely insulted by mad geniuses on a daily basis. Stop trying to analyze the shit out of the entire universe and sit down on the edge before the hot water runs out. I'll help you turn around."
Sherlock bites his lip, turns around with a precarious hop so that his back is turned towards John, drop his pants and does as he's told by balancing himself on the narrow edge of the bathtub.
John reaches around Sherlock, who pushes his arms away when John is about to wrap them around his ribcage. "Right, sorry," John says, remembering the still troublesome cracked ribs.
John pauses, hesitating, until he comes up with a new plan. He slides his palms around Sherlock's waist again, but this time he grabs hold around his pelvic bones so that Sherlock can lean his elbows on John's arms for leverage. John then gently leans Sherlock backwards so that most of his weight is now supported by John.
Sherlock reaches down over John's arms and lifts his cast leg into the bath, followed by his other leg. He then stands up in the bathtub, holding onto John's shoulder for balance. When he has managed to find a somewhat steady position, he lets his hand drop, his fingers sliding slowly down John's arm.
When Sherlock's fingers reach John's palm John turns his hand around so that he can briefly brush his thumb across Sherlock's knuckles. It's a fleeting, gentle touch and there shouldn't be anything to it, really, but their guards are down and the strangled, unadulterated sort of sigh this gesture brings forth from Sherlock's lips sounds uncomfortably loud in the small room.
They both pretend that it never happened.
John gingerly spreads the shower curtain to act as a buffer between them. Unbeknownst to one another, they are both secretly smiling on the opposite sides of it.
John sits down on the closed toilet lid.
"You're staying?" Sherlock enquires.
"I have to make sure you don't faint. I'm also not going to leave you in there for the rest of the night, you'll probably need a hand to get out, too. Seriously, Sherlock, a little common sense could go a long way."
"Suit yourself", is the reply from behind the shower curtain. The words are dismissive, but the tone betrays the fact that Sherlock is not dismayed at all to have company.
While waiting for Sherlock to finish his shower routine, John busies himself with organizing the contents of the bathroom shelves.
John's possessions in the small room are not plentiful. A shaving cream, a mildly mint-scented aftershave, a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. It's Sherlock's stuff that takes up most of the storage space. John doesn't even know what half of it is used for.
For a man who uses three different moisturizers, living for two years as a fugitive must have been disconcerting.
"Some of your stuff is past its recommended date," John points out, peering at the small print on a moisturizer bottle. It must've been there before the Moriarty business, before the jump off the Barts roof.
Sherlock answers with a noncommittal grunt from behind the curtain.
John wonders if he would have recognized Sherlock during those years he was gone. According to Mycroft, John had not been the only one with a beard. For some reason he can't imagine Sherlock with one. As far as John can tell he doesn't seem to even grow a five-o-clock shadow somehow.
Maybe he shaves twice a day. John wouldn't put it past him.
Even though Sherlock had less-than-politely declined all other offers for personal hygiene assistance at the hospital, he had always insisted on being clean-shaven.
"Why am I not allowed to help you?" John asks in mock innocence, secretly wanting to catch Sherlock off guard by asking such a broad and personal question all of a sudden. There's something about the limited space in the room and the intimacy of the whole situation that encourages him to voice such a thing.
"Define 'help'," Sherlock demands. He then drops something on the bottom of the bathtub and curses under his breath.
John chooses to assume that he's spry enough to pick it up, even though his cast doesn't really allow kneeling down.
"Do you think this is awkward, what we're doing right now?" John asks.
"It is awkward because we're discussing it. You're breaking an unspoken agreement that such things do not warrant discussion."
"Why is there an agreement like that?"
Sherlock is quiet.
They both now what hangs in the balance - something so fragile it might break from the power of their words. Is it time yet for this? Is this the right moment - a scene in which John has the upper hand? Healthy, strong John wearing his pyjamas while a weak, tired Sherlock is hiding behind a shower curtain?
John realizes he has to let Sherlock off the hook. "Don't use all the hot water. And don't linger, you'll get faint. You've been up for hours," he points out and yawns.
"Yes, Doctor Watson," Sherlock replies and John hears a smile in his voice.
Sherlock turns down the shower for a moment and John wonders if it might be to let conditioner soak in. Judging by the sound Sherlock then quickly rinses it out, kills the shower but doesn't yet push the curtain open.
John doesn't stand up, just waits. For what, he isn't sure.
"Moriarty's Hong Kong cell.... Used an ambulance to kidnap me," Sherlock's hesitant voice drifts from behind the curtain. "They arranged me to get shot first, for that purpose."
John fists the fabric of his pyjama pants around his knees, trying to keep his breathing and his voice as calm as possible. "Thank you for telling me," he says and it's almost a question. How does one reply to a revelation like that?
Sherlock makes no aknowledgement of his reply. Instead he flings the shower curtain aside, sits down on the rim of the tub and manages to fling himself around quickly without John's help.
John stands up and holds a towel spread open between his separated arms. When Sherlock stands up, said towel gets wrapped around him. Leaning on John, Sherlock strips his limb of the plastic-and-duct-tape creation that had been protecting the cast from getting wet.
John then drapes his right arm around his waist and helps him get to the bedroom. Since John is carrying the crutches under his left arm, he ends up practically half-carrying Sherlock so that the weight is off his leg.
Sherlock collapses on the bed in a flurry of limbs and spreads the damp towel he'd been wrapped in on top of himself like a blanket. He's shivering and John wants to suggest getting rid of the towel but he's too tired to argue.
John grabs a duvet from the other side of the bed and covers Sherlock with it, tucking a pillow underneath his head.
"I kept hearing you," comes Sherlock's voice from underneath all the bedclothes.
John sits down at the edge of the bed after switching off the ceiling light, flicking on a smaller lamp on Sherlock's nightstand. "What do you mean?" he asks.
"I thought it had stopped after Serbia. It didn't. I kept hearing you in my head, even argued with you. I think Molly heard me do that once. Thankfully she refrained from commenting on it."
John curls his toes. Sherlock's room is draftier than the upstairs bedroom. "You mean like a hallucination?"
"I don't know how else to describe it," the mound of bedding answers.
"He always knows everything," is Sherlock's frustrated reply. He strecthes, and his toes poke out from underneath the towel and the duvet.
John shrugs. "He knows you best."
"No. He doesn't."
"He knows the person I am in the context of our childhood, our formative years and our family. What he sees is part reality, part his assumptions and outdated information. We have not lived in the same house since I was fourteen. He does not know the adult me. "
The unspoken question is, who is it then that Sherlock considers to be more well-informed than his older brother.
John thinks he knows the answer. It doesn't really need to be verbalized. "Why not tell me this before? If it was bothering you, I mean. I've been wondering about the arguments you have with yourself for years."
"I worried you'd insist on some sort of pharmacological intervention. Or that you would inform Mycroft who would worry unduly. He would have loved to have an excuse to section me, just to teach me a lesson."
"I doubt he would done anything like that." John sits down on the bed.
It shouldn't be possible for a mound of duvet to emanate scepticism so expressively. "Oh, it wouldn't have lasted long. Just long enough to remind me who pulls the strings around here."
"He would have to have gone through me," John says, and Sherlock's head appears from beneath the bedding. He looks surprised.
"Because I wouldn't have thought you'd gone mental. I would have told Mycroft that I wasn't the least bit of surprised, and that it was understandable and likely quite benign in your situation."
Sherlock is a picture of bewildernment.
John shifts his balance on the bed to slip his feet underneath his own duvet. "Everything you did for the past two years, the stress you were under, how alone you must've been, would be fertile ground for a sort of a reactive psychosis. Well not psychosis per se, but a protective sort of tendency for dissociation that would allow you to keep yourself company."
Sherlock looks amazed to the point of speechlessness.
"People who've lost someone often hear their voices or think they've seen their deceased loved ones in a crowd. Or a dead family pet walking past an open doorway, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of thing."
Sherlock mutters something indecipherable. John thinks he's heard the word 'beard'. That seems to make little sense it it's likely he's heard wrong.
"I think I---- know the feeling," Sherlock muses. "You think I kept hearing you because I was lonely?" His tone is carefully composed to the point of sounding detached.
"You dismantled Moriarty's entire network on your own without being detected. I'd say you must've been the loneliest consulting detective on the planet."
"I am the only consulting detective on the planet," Sherlock reminds him.
"My point exactly. Scoot, you're hogging all the space," John tells him, and Sherlock shifts to the other side of the bed.
Sherlock's side of the bed, John catches himself thinking.
They have been sharing a bed without properly discussing said fact. John is endlessly confounded by the fact that he doesn't feel like they even need to.
That night, John dreams of Mary.
He dreams of lying in bed with her, making love to her, while his mind is elsewhere.
'You're thinking about him,' Mary had told him once when they had been nestled into an embrace, skin glistening with sweat and warmth emanating from their bodies.
'Am I not allowed to?' John had asked her.
'You never did ask permission', Mary had teased him. Her voice had been gentle but betrayed an edge of disappointment.
He hadn't asked permission, because that permission had never been something Mary had the power to give.
Yes, he had been thinking about Sherlock. He had hated himself for it, because during such moments when any normal human being should have been thinking about the amazing woman sitting across him at a restaurant, spread under him on the bed, or standing next to him on the shores of the Thames, he had been thinking about Sherlock Holmes.
Because everyone else was just a side note. Just passers-by.
In the early hours of morning, John gets up to have a glass of water. He pauses by the bedroom door on his way back, trying to cool himself down by leaning bonelessly againt the doorframe. Sleeping on the side closest to the radiator and so close to Sherlock he now gets awfully warm at night.
Sherlock is lying on his stomach, mumbling something about enzyme degradation.
John has known about his sleeptalking for years. Sometimes he even sleepwalks, and John has had to march him back to his bedroom once or twice to prevent Sherlock from starting some experiment without even realizing it or wandering out into the street. It on occasion baffles John how the man has managed not to accidentally get himself killed in his sleep.
John yawns and stretches his arms behind his back, preparing to head back under the covers when Sherlock's vocalizations become more prominent.
Apart from getting louder, they are also no longer in English.
After their phone call conspiracy Mycroft had forwarded John a collection of MI6 files pertaining to the operation he had been forced to launch in order to extricate Sherlock from the clutches of Moriarty's last substantial criminal cell. This had been in rural Serbia.
Those files had finally given John an explanation for the strange landscape of scars on Sherlock's back.
Based on what he'd learned from the reports John is now also certain now that the alien language that Sherlock sometimes uses in his sleep is Serbian.
During the past three nights, John has come to the conclusion that when the language makes an appearance, it won't take long until the screaming starts. Which is why he needs to wake Sherlock up right now.
It's the third night in a row that this has happened.
John descends onto his knees next to Sherlock's side of the bed, grabbing a pillow to place underneath him while kneeling on the hard, drafty floor.
Sherlock has managed to bury his head under his pillow. 24 hours earlier, John had managed to rouse Sherlock without startling him by carding a hand gently through his curls. Sherlock's current position does not allow access to his head.
John decides for a bolder move. He snakes his hand under the covers and gently lays his palm between Sherlock's shoulder blades.
A moan. Some more Serbian.
John lets his hand wander down, across the rugged scar tissue. He imagines erasing it all, having the magical ability to make all signs of the last two years disappear.
He'd have to be able to make memories disappear, too.
The skin between the scars is soft, alarmingly warm and slightly sweaty. John lets his hand wander down, sliding down the spine, memorizing the contours of the tight, knotted muscles. Sherlock feels like a taut spring under his fingers.
Sherlock flinches. His head appears from under the pillow, eyes unfocused and blinking. John takes advantage of this opportunity to press his other palm on Sherlock's forehead.
"John?" the question is a sleepy slur from between parched lips.
"You're burning up," John says. "Have you been taking the antibiotics?"
Sherlock presses his ear onto the pillow so he can hone his gaze onto John and keep it there without altering the position of the rest of his body. "Like clockwork."
"And the Clexane?" John asks, referring to the low-molecular heparine solution Sherlock is supposed to inject once a day to ward off blood clots.
"It's hateful," Sherlock says.
"I did offer to do it for you," John reminds him. Sherlock is clearly not squemish about needles per se, but in John's experience surprisingly many drug addicts report being sensitive to even mild pain, complaining loudly about being IV cannulated among other things. John knows that it's not about being attention-seeking but has more to do with the fact that excessive opiate use can oversensitize the body's response to such things and even turn touch into agony. To John it has always seemed like a cruel joke - something designed to alleviate pain may actually amplify its effects.
John realizes his hand on Sherlock's back had halted the minute that curl-framed head had raised from the mattress.
John moves his hand again, letting it setted across the small of Sherlock's back.
Sherlock tenses, frowning. He looks apprehensive and alarmed.
"Sorry," John stammers even though he isn't sure what exactly he's apologizing for. It was a conscious decision on his part to do.... what exactly?
"Sensitive," Sherlock breathes out, as though this is a completely circumambient explanation.
"Those sorts of wounds will definitely cut through a lot of skin nerves. Does it hurt when you're just lying still?"
"Sometimes," Sherlock says with a dismissive flick of his hand, turning his face against the pillow again.
"There's things that could help with that."
Sherlock seems to have realized that John is determined to have this talk, right now, so he turns to his side again so that John's hand no longer reaches his back. While he makes this move he's groaning and gasping as his broken ribs shift under his weight. He takes a moment to even out his breathing before meeting John's gaze. "If youre referring to neuropathic pain medications, the answer is no. They all alter central nervous system synaptic transmission and have potential cognitive side effects."
"This coming from someone who doesn't hesitate to scramble his brain cells with street drugs."
Sherlock purses his lips in annoyance, as though John's argument is utterly ridiculous and completely unfounded, but doesn't say actually verbalize a protest.
"Pain changes those pathways, too," John says softly. "All kinds of pain."
The bit about persistent pain changing the way our nervous system processes painful sensations and even other sensations is true. The term allodynia is used when an injured and malfunctioning nervous system mistakes non-painful sensations as pain. Sometimes even the touch of bed sheets on skin can be too much for patients suffering from this phenomenon. Pain and negative emotions can affect one another, sometimes creating a vicious circle of mutual enhancement. Chronic pain is never "all in the patient's head", but it is also affecting their brains since that's where these signals are processed, and that needs to be addressed along with the more peripheral aspects of the problem.
Chapter 18: Hard truths
The dodgy dinghy of my imagination would have been very much unmoored in this chapter if it weren't for a bunch of lovely ladies who helped out. Emma221b and 7percentsolution, I'm looking at you in particular.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
To let me dangle at a cruel angle
Oh my feet don't touch the floor
Sometimes you're half in and then you're half out
But you never close the door
What kind of man loves like this?
- Florence Welch
A coward's relief. That's what it had been - the feeling coursing through John, when the private plane took off the tarmac.
Fate and Sherlock's finger on a trigger had spared John from having to make the biggest and most frightening choice of his life - a choice he had known was coming, no matter how hard he tried to smile and insist that everything was fine. He had had a lovely wife and a little one on the way, but the status quo couldn't have lasted because Sherlock Holmes is not a man who sits on the sidelines and visits only when convenient.
The world Sherlock inhabits does not respect bedtimes, office hours or common courtesy.
Sherlock Holmes is all or nothing.
John wakes up with his arms full of sleeping Sherlock.
They'd started out on the opposite sides of the bed after John had slipped back under the covers. Somehow, during the night, Sherlock had migrated across the vast expanse of sheets and ended up with his face buried somewhere between John's shoulder blades. John wonders how he could possibly be getting any air. Sherlock's arms is draped across John's hip and John's duvet covers both of them.
John is certain that he would have noticed if any of his girlfriends had performed such a wedge-in operation during the night. Mary had been a peaceful sleeper, never migrating across the bed.
The only plausible explanation John can come up with for not waking up is that he has grown accustomed to Sherlock's presence.
Sherlock has taken over all other aspects of his life like a consulting tidal wave, so conquering the bed as well shouldn't come as such a surprise. Is this the last hurdle, the last bit of dry land before hurricane Sherlock sweeps over completely?
There is one part of John, that had certainly made note of Sherlock's close proximity before he had even woken up. John closes his eyes and thanks the Heavens for the fact that Sherlock is currently behind him, thus in likelihood blissfully oblivious of the fact that John has a hard-on.
What does it mean?
That is the sort of question that Sherlock would pose with a clueless expression on his face.
Is this happening because of Sherlock, or is it just some automatic response to a warm body, any warm body in the vicinity?
John knows the answer. It's the answer he's been evading and dreading, even - at least when he had still been holding firmly onto certain notions of himself. He'd never used the word bisexual. He had not used it, because he had believed that since he might well find a normal sort of happiness with a woman, the whole point was moot.
At least that's what he had consoled himself, before Sherlock had barged into his life. Sherlock had quickly challenged all of John's notions of normality and also made John question whether he actually found as much comfort in the mundane and the common as he had thought.
John catches himself thinking that maybe he should have made use of certain previous opportunities to explore... this.
He probably should have acquired some experience. If this is something that may become part of his future, that is.
There had been Pete, who had had a crush on him during basic training. And then James, which had been... complicated. Those days in Afghanistan had not been very conducive to exploring these issues. They had been more about staying alive while bullets whistled by their ear. War makes love and lust feel like dangerous frivolities.
Nothing could have possibly prepared him for Sherlock, but John still thinks he has managed passably so far.
Who the hell even knows what Sherlock thinks of himself in this regard? Sherlock is not one to care about labels. John has no way of knowing if sex even registers on Sherlock's mind, but he rather thinks it does. And not just when Sherlock puts on a pretentious show of clicheed flirtation to get the information he wants.
John had caught him looking, once. There may have been other times, but Sherlock is likely stealthy enough to get away with such things without John ever noticing.
What does Sherlock see when he hones those strangely coloured irises on him?
It had been in Dartmoor. John had emerged from the shower in the ridiculously tiny towels with which their shared bedroom had been equipped. When he had looked up after leaning down and drying his head with another of those napkin-sized towels, Sherlock had been standing by the bed, lower lip between his teeth and utterly focused on the curve of John's arse. At least that's how it had looked like. Even more telling than his look right then and there, however, had been the manner in which he had retreated, averting his eyes with the speed of an aquarium fish darting to the safety of some rocks.
His gaze had not been lascivious, nor had it been apprehensive. It had been curious and... pleased, for lack of a better word. Appreciative.
John hadn't had any misconceptions about the state of his physique back then - his army days had been long past and a shape of a mostly indoorsy Englishman had set it. Later on, the benefits of living with Mary had included home cooking, which then had lead to Sherlock deducing that his weight had gone up. Still, Sherlock had been looking at him as though seeing something most decidedly worth looking at.
Sherlock was far from the epitome of confidence when it came to sex and relationships, and John had no knowledge at all what sorts of things he might like aesthetically. It would be intellectually lazy to assume that because he was dark, tall and restless, then that's what he would go for, too.
On the other hand, there was Moriarty and his strange dance with Sherlock that did not appear entirely business-like and platonic. Whenever that slim slice of dark, brooding and criminally insane had wandered in, John had had a sudden urge to wedge himself between the two of them, to stare that well-dressed snake of a man down. While Sherlock matched his mental prowess, John doubted he would know how to handle the innuendoes and the blatant seductive power of the man. A moth flying to a flame?
Or is such thinking just John's protective tendencies talking? Sherlock is, after all, a grown man capable of expressing his desires.
A grown man still a virgin, if Mycroft’s snide comment at Buckingham Palace is to be believed.
Sherlock does flirt, but it's more an intellectual exercise. His brain is likely his biggest erogenous zone. John wonders if that brain ever shuts down and if yes, then what exactly would that require?
Does Sherlock talk as much as he usually does when in bed with someone? John wonders, and then realizes he needs to correct his phrasing. Would Sherlock talk in bed?
This hypothetical is doing nothing to alleviate John's morning wood issue. He briefly considers extricating himself and going to the bathroom to do something about it but decides against it, since Sherlock would likely wake up and observe a little too much.
John has been looking, too. God, yes. Before, he had allowed himself to do so on the pretense that since he was very much not gay, it all must be innocent. How was he to know the extent to which other men of his orientation evaluate and memorize the contours of other members of the same sex? For a long time, John had had the excuse of such ignorance to hold onto like a life raft.
Isn't it enough for John to admit to himself now that he very much likes having Sherlock Holmes wrapped around him, warm breath making the hair in his upper back raise up? Can't he just take it from there and keep an open mind?
No. Not anymore.
John owes that much to Sherlock. He has wasted a year of of their lives with his indecisiveness and his fear.
Sherlock's arm slides off of him as he repositions himself on his back.
John holds his breath.
Sherlock doesn't seem to have woken up.
John turns over onto his other side to watch him.
Sherlock's eyes are moving quickly beneath whitish, translucent lids. His fingers are shifting on top of the duvetand his breathing is hastening. He doesn't seem distressed but not peaceful either. There's nothing that would warrant waking him up, but there are still enough warning signs to shake the last vestiges of sleep from John's mind.
The demands of John's own body quiet down when worry begins setting in. Anatomical evidence of John's... interest is now quickly waning.
Is there a nightmare? Is he in pain?
John pulls the duvet higher to cover Sherlock's bare chest that has become covered in goosebumps now it has been deprived of John's warmth. When they had still been pressed together, Sherlock hadn't felt feverish. John had changed his antibiotics to some more effective ones due to his coughing getting worse and his temperature fluctuating. Pneumonia is a considerable risk still.
Suddenly Sherlock emits a strangled sort of sound, his eyes flutter open and he sits up.
John scrambles into a sitting position as well. His palm then flies up to Sherlock's shoulder, because Sherlock now looks even paler than he did a moment ago.
"Nauseous," he tells John.
"Bin or bathroom?"
"Bathroom," Sherlock says and swallows. John slides off the bed and gives Sherlock his crutches.
"I did tell you not to take those antibiotics on an empty stomach," John reminds him. Sherlock dismisses him with a flick of his hand before employing his crutches to make his way to the bathroom.
They've been home for three days, when John sits Sherlock down in the kitchen. Sherlock calmly watches him wring his hands a bit before parking himself in a chair opposite and leaning his palms on the scratched surface of the table for fortification.
"Behind the washing machine, in your sock drawer, inside the lamp in the upstairs bedroom, in the circuit breaker box and in the cocoa tin. Anywhere else?"
"There's a bit of cannabis in the breast pocket of that hideous down winter coat you forgot in the upstairs hallway wardrobe."
John opens his mouth and then closes it again. This is new information.
"For an experiment. Also, it softens the landing from the coke. Surprised you never noticed the scent. Bravo, you have managed to find everything else."
"Sherlock Holmes, the pothead." John says this with a straight face, but he dissolves into giggles the minute Sherlock can no longer resist a fiendish grin.
"My talents are well-rounded," Sherlock points out a minute later when John is still too amused to carry on their conversation. "I gave some to Mrs Hudson."
John rolls his eyes.
"What did you think those herbal soothers were, John? Oh, the naivete of the English general practitioner. No wonder such a large percentage of street drugs originally come from legal presciptions."
"Why'd you start with all that again?" John asks out of the blue, fixing Sherlock's gaze into place with a demanding glare worthy of a army officer. "If it was to try and stop hearing the voices, then you're the greatest idiot in the Commonwealth for not realizing there was a huge risk of that going well and truly tits up."
"It worked, didn't it?" Sherlock counters defiantly.
"Coming back to London, back to your actual real life helped, not the drugs."
"I could always control it----" Sherlock starts, and John nearly stands up in fury, opening his mouth to argue but Sherlock stills him with an outstretched palm. "---If I so chose. Before I began working for the Met, I had no incentive. Admittedly it would have been harder this time, but I could have done it. Stop doing it."
"Not convinced. Why didn't you?"
"I had no reason to, did I!?" Sherlock spits out and then looks slightly embarrassed, as though this is something he had not meant to aknowledge.
John's anger abates and he leans back in his chair. Sherlock sticks his hands under the table and John thinks this is likely to hide signs of his nervousness.
"You said you overdosed to prove a point, but Mycroft made damned sure I knew that you shot up way before that plane ever left the runway. Why?"
Sherlock looks ready to bolt. John hopes he realizes that he could run to the ends of the Earth, but John would not stop asking this question until he received a proper answer. He tries not to look jugdemental and tries to hide the sinking fear this whole subject has been causing him ever since he'd laid eyes on Sherlock on the plane, completely out of it.
"What did it matter anymore if I quit or not? You were the only one who would care about it and I wasn't going to see you again. What did it matter anymore?"
John looks a little broken. "You--- Don't think your life matters without me? That is the singularly most unfair thing you've ever told me. You do realize how much weight that's putting on my shoulders?" John is not even mad, he's so shocked by Sherlock's outlandish way of thinking.
"You were safe, and you had Mary to look after you."
John makes a strange sound, a throaty whine somewhere between a sob and a frustrated grunt. Then he stands up so fast his chair nearly topples over. He runs his shaking hand through his hair. "What about you? What about what you wanted, and what you needed?"
Sherlock does not reply. He just breathes, in a strangely dissonant rhytm, not looking at John.
John lifts his jaw with his forefinger to see his face, to try and gauge what is going on in that strange, brilliant, confused, alien head of Sherlock's. "Why didn't you say something in the restaurant? Or after?"
Sherlock leans away from his touch and looks up, facing John, eyes blazing with a reckless threat. "I panicked! You weren’t exactly welcoming, were you? Why do you always demand such perfection from me, such flawless control of these situations and emotions that you know is the part that I am the worst at?! It's not like you have been the epitome of an open book about your intentions, about how you would define---" Sherlock cuts himself off from the rest of the sentence, and storms off into his bedroom as fast as his crutches allow. The bedroom door then slams so loud the hinges groan.
Just two chapters to go (plus one extra thingy filled with my strange ramblings, a soundtrack listing and a bit of info on what I'm going to do next).
Chapter 19 will be of regular length, but chapter 20 will roughly cover a whopping ten pages. Which I'm sure you won't mind all that much.
Chapter 19: The turning of the tide
This chapter betaed by the splendid Emma221b and the fabulous 7percentsolution.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"The Moon creates the tides, the flow of which can be strong enough to drown in," David Attenborough says in a nature documentary on the telly, and John believes every word.
John has a hard time deciding if Sherlock's latest episode - as Mycroft calls them - is due to some sort of residual withdrawal symptoms, boredom, their ill-fated conversation the other day, the PTSD Sherlock still dares to insist he does not really have, or all of these things combined.
Sherlock is hyperactive to the point of it being almost painful. He tries to create mental puzzles out of thin air, accidentally sweeping down his papers and other forgotten Sherlockian paraphernalia from the flat surfaces with his crutches as he paces around the living room for hours, running a tangential monologue about everything, everyone and their mothers. He tries to bully Lestrade into submission on the phone.
All in all, he's succeeding in running himself to the ground even when home-tethered. Due to his still healing lungs all continued movement still makes him gasp and wheeze. About once an hour, John grabs his wrist and forces him to sit on the sofa for a moment to catch his breath.
"Out with it, please. What is Moriarty's grand plan?" John finally asks in an exasperated manner, since he has a nagging suspicion that this is actually what's going around in circles in Sherlock's formidable brain. And if it isn't, there's still the hope that if Sherlock's running commentary managed to gain such a coherent subject matter, perhaps it would calm the man down.
"It's not Moriarty, not really," Sherlock says.
John raises his brows. "Oh?"
"It's the spirit of Moriarty. Well not a literal spirit; there are no ghosts, which you would know if you would pay attention for once in your life, John! They're using his name to cloak a whole bunch of less-than-masterminded ploys, distracting us, it's classic divide and conquer - quite brilliant, really, if you look at it, but none of them are as smart of he would have been, but there are so many of them it'll be difficult to find a decisive enough leader to prevent soloists, a bit like cutting off one Medusa head, hundreds will sprout out and all you'll have a wiggling snake in your hands. It'll be a challenge, yes, glorious even, but it's not him, if you know what I mean--"
John leans back against the Union Jack pillow. "Okay, okay," he says, rolling his eyes. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to help me destroy not Moriarty, but the idea of him. Which will be much harder to achieve than killing an actual, physical person. The upside is that destroying an idea is much less illegal than murder. "
John frowns at the abstraction of this.
"But what do you want me to do?" he asks, confused.
"Help me. In any way you can." Sherlock tries to make this sound light and encouraging - like it's something that he says every once in a while without anyone batting an eyelid.
They both know it's a considerable step forward.
Scratch that, it's a bloody revelation in John's books.
It also feels like a fumbling but genuine apology for ditching John on that day which ended with a swan dive off the roof of St Bartholomew's Hospital.
John is looking for his laptop, the likely strange location of which he is certain has something to do with Sherlock. It always does. Why use his own, when he can nick John's?
"John!" sounds an exclamation from the general direction of the livingroom.
"Demands, demands," John mutters to himself while making his way towards the kitchen.
In the living room, John finds both Sherlock - sitting on the sofa, back ramrod straight, jiggling his knees nervously, steepled fingers covering his lips - and his laptop, which Sherlock is using as a makeshift tray for a forgotten cup of coffee. It's balanced atop a sofa cushion.
"What's wrong with putting the mug on the table?" John asks, salvaging his computer. He gives said mug to Sherlock, who peers into it and grimaces. It must've gone cold already.
"Table's occupied," Sherlock says, splaying his fingers and then curling them into fists, then repeating the cycle all over again. It looks like a nervous tick.
John leans on his usual armchair. "Well I can see that. Of course it's full, because it's got your feet on it along with the usual clutter."
"It's a cast, it requires space, which I'm sure you know, being a doctor and all that rubbish."
"Oi! Don't you start about doctors. Some of them have made a grand job in making sure you don't end up - now what's that fancy word - dead."
Sherlock raises his defiant gaze to meet John's. "No, but they did abandon me to the torture of that randomly self-puffing bed for months!"
"Three and a half weeks," John corrects even though he knows it's useless. Sometimes Sherlock picks these almost-fights with him just to have a little something to do. "I'll leave you to hating doctors, then, shall I?" John asks, and turns to go.
"Distraction!" Sherlock demands, flapping his palm in a frantic gesture to stop John from leaving the room. "NOW, if you please," he grits his teeth.
John frowns. "You want a distraction? Why?"
Sherlock is wearing his 'John-is-an-idiot' -expression. It's just like old times, really. "Do I need to spell it out to you? There are no cigarettes, today's TV selection is even more cretinous than usually, I've run out of idiots at the blog, I still can't play because holding the bow feels like someone is stabbing me with a Masonic dagger and I swear there must currently be something physically gnawing on my skull, because there is no way this could just be the misguided firing of receptors which haven't had a fix," Sherlock articulates in a pointed way, then averts his eyes and lets the penny drop.
John bites his lip. Nicotine withdrawal had been bad, and this must be infinitely worse, but at least Sherlock is talking about it. With actual words.
"I wonder--" John muses and then promptly disappears up the stairs. He returns after ten minutes of rummaging around some moving boxes of his he hadn't gotten round to emptying.
John had initially left his and Mary's former apartment with only some bare necessities. It had been Mycroft who had, without even being asked, arranged for the rest of John's things to be delivered to Baker Street, neatly packed into cardboard boxes. They had been carried up the stairs to his room and the attic by a group of men who had the general air of MI5 agents.
After returning to the livingroom John unceremoniously passes Sherlock a small, flat cardboard box.
Sherlock looks at it as though it might make a meal of his fingers any minute. "Excuse me?" he asks slowly.
"It's a jigsaw puzzle," John announces triumphantly.
"I can see perfectly well what it is, thank you."
"Mary gave it to me for my birthday. Not really my cup of tea. You can have it. I have no idea if you like sailboats--" John says, pointing at the picture, "But maybe you could give it a go."
Sherlock's expression is slightly amused but mostly just incredulous. "Only you could possibly think a 750 piece puzzle could curb a cocaine craving. Also, that is not any 'sailboat', it's a brigantine, since there's a fully square rigged foremast and a square topsail with a gaff-type mainsail on the main mast."
John rolls his eyes. "Have at it, then. If it doesn't work, you can always stop and continue your project of driving me nuts."
"You can't possibly expect me to be able to concentrate on anything." Sherlock flips the box around and begins reading the text on the back stating which artist had created the maritime painting.
"I'm not asking you to invent a fusion reactor, just to put some cardboard bits together. Surely even your currently frazzled neurons can handle that much."
Sherlock scoffs, lowers his cast to the floor, sweeps the rest of the things on the table off it with the side of his palm and upends the puzzle box above it. "Ridiculous," he mutters.
"Yes, you are," John says with a smile and heads to the kitchen with his laptop.
That evening an amicable silence floats in air like dust particles. John is trying to work his way through a neglected pile of British Medical Journals, and Sherlock is pounding away on his laptop, lying on the sofa with his cast propped up on the backrest.
The puzzle had taken Sherlock three hours and afterwards, he had even managed to watch the news without fidgeting.
John has been mulling over their ealier discussion for several days. He's quite certain Sherlock's request for help mostly refers to things happening in the future, not issues of the past, but those two feel very much connected in John's head. If he's to help Sherlock, then part of that process is removing any and all obstacles that would prevent Sherlock from functioning fully. If John is to help and protect, there are things ne needs to know. Triggers, Achilles' heels, novel danger night signs. If they're to do this, together, John needs to have all the information.
Sherlock has been honest, but just honest enough so that he can still keep John at an arm's length when he so chooses.
What would be a more perfect time to address these issues than such a cosy night in? John puts away his medical journal. "Sherlock?"
Sherlock stops his typing and looks up. "Just answering blog comments. For some reason the imbecillic general public have chosen to descend upon it en masse tonight."
"Friday. Full Moon. Take your pick."
Sherlock frowns. "You tones implies that you have a question which you're certain I won't appreciate."
John puts away his magazine, narrows his gaze momentarily and then braces himself. "You always tell me you can't work without all the information."
Sherlock nods in aknowledgement but is beginning to look rather suspicious.
"I know you won't tell me about... certain things, and I'm not going to ask. All I want to know is, why not? Why not tell me what happened?"
Sherlock lets his cast drop onto the sofa cushions with a faint thump. He then maneuvers himself into a sitting position, steeples his hands, gazing at the opposite wall and John can practically hear the gears turning. The scene strikes a chord in him - he hasn't seen Sherlock like this for a long time - still enough to look contemplative. Is this what Sherlock looks like when he's sincerely trying to turn his considerable powers of observation onto himself?
Sherlock licks his lips, blinks and fixes his gaze onto the skull on the mantlepiece. He draws in a breath before speaking.
"As you are aware, I try to avoid matters of the heart and I choose not to waste too much time analyzing the emotional workings of others, unless they are directly relevant to a case. However, I am aware that if Magnussen was to name your pressure point, it would be me - just as you are mine. Because of me, you are prone to making rash decisions. Case in point, Moriarty at the pool. You offered me an escape, at the expense of your own freedom, and likely your own life . I fear you are inclined to make such rash decisions out of pity or sense of duty. Which I can't allow. If you found out things that would cloud your judgement in such a manner - vengeance, pity, wrath, take your pick - it would pose a great risk to our mission."
"For a selfish egotistical bastard you have a strange way of making everything about me. You just decided bury all this, all that's making you unwell, because you thought it might upset me?"
Sherlock is not meeting his gaze, and a fleeting anger crosses his features on the word 'unwell'. Then he settles back into a calm, collected expression.
"You were trying to build a life with a family that needed you. One that I swore to protect. You had also made it abundantly clear that I had no right to burden you with such issues after what I'd done. Because I hadn't let you in on the plan, regardless of my reasons for doing so."
"How exactly did I make that clear again?" John asks, and grits his teeth when remembering the night Sherlock had come back. He refuses to apologize for being angry, for wanting to lash out, for not caring about excuses and explanations right there and then. What he now did regret were the days after, during which John had buried the whole subject. Sherlock had coaxed a partial forgiveness out of him, a forgiveness that was completely beside the point.
Sherlock looks sheepish. "Well, not verbally, but I deduced it from the way you behaved."
Sherlock purses his lips, clearly unsure what to reply.
"So, instead you thought you'd solve it with the drugs? Take enough, often enough, and the memories will stop bothering you?" John tries to keep calm.
Sherlock grimaces. "Admittedly my control could have been better."
John runs a hand through his hair in frustration. "Jesus Christ! You didn't take into account what those would do to your... memories? How they might trigger flashbacks? For fuck's sake, Sherlock! You always pride yourself in being logical, being the scientist, how does it not occur to you what drugs do to your brain's basic chemistry?"
”That’s the whole point, John. Change the chemistry. Just look at what simple, organic adrenaline did for your own unpleasant memories - cured your limp in a single night. The same receptors, same synapses firing.”
John pinches the bridge of his nose. "Not the same, Sherlock. Besides, I'm not a genius with a perfect memory and a Mind Palace to forever store nightmares in. Why did you think drugging yourself into short term oblivion could delete memories you couldn't delete otherwise?"
Sherlock's eyes are downcast. "I am not always the logical being that I profess to be, John."
"What do you mean? No one can be rational all the time, to err is human and all that, but could you explain why that means you would choose drugs?"
There was no reply.
”Come on, Sherlock. Trust me with the truth.”
"I trust you. Against my better judgment, I trust you. You are prone to caustic reactions when it comes to me, but I trust you because all other approaches somehow seem... wrong. False. There's no tangible data to derive from, just the intuition. Sometimes I wonder if it's actually some other emotion that I misconstruct as trust. I have no way of knowing for sure."
"I trust you, too. After everything, I still trust you. I don't need evidence or proof or science to tell me why, or whether I should. I just do. Every relationship is a gamble. Every time you open your life to someone, you risk getting hurt. That's just how it works."
Sherlock idly smoothes the edge of his silk dressing gown, not meeting John's gaze.
John leans forward in his chair. "Can we try something?"
Sherlock looks even more suspicious now than he had at the start of the discussion.
"Just stop worrying about me for a second. Try to forget my reactions and just... tell me. Tell me something that happened. Something that still bothers you."
"How am I supposed to forget about your reactions? You're sitting right there."
"Then ignore me, like you always do. Talk to me the way you talk to me when I'm not even here. Just start talking. You're bloody good at that."
Sherlock leans back on the sofa, the hem of the dressing gown slipping off the edge of the sofa. "Start where?"
"Anywhere you want."
"Answering questions is easier."
"Honestly, I don't know what to ask."
"It seems we're at an impasse, then." Sherlock reaches out for his crutches.
John pleads him with his eyes and Sherlock's hand halts.
John then momentarily closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and then goes for it. "Tell me about Serbia."
"I can't start with that. I can't possibly."
John can practically see it on his face, the way he's preparing to bring up the walls. He seems so focused on evasion that he doesn't even realize he should probably ask how John could even know about Serbia.
Suddenly, something changes. Sherlock grabs his crutches, but instead of a hasty escape, the slowly makes his way to the window and turns his back to John.
John says nothing. He simply waits, because something has shifted. He can feel it in the air.
Finally, Sherlock speaks while gazing out into the street. "I thought Mycroft was a hallucination. I thought I'd died, or that they'd finally broken me. For some ridiculous reason I always expected that if anyone came, it would be you. Which is ludicrous, really---" Sherlock lets out a hollow laugh, looking out across the street.
"I'll tell you, but after that, those memories become your responsibility, too, and so do their consequences as well."
'He died twice for you.' Listening is the least John can do. The very least. And how much more he's actually prepared to do for this man scares even himself.
Sherlock takes John's silence as consent. He leans on the window sill, avoiding John's gaze while he speaks, but speak he does.
He tells John what it's like to nearly drown in the Port of Shanghai, legs and wrists bound with rope and weighed down with chunks of concrete.
He tells John of what it was like to spend six weeks in a bunker in Serbian back country - in complete darkness since they had kept his head covered, not knowing whether he'd live or die.
He shares with John the macabre truth that it's possible to be happy and grateful to just have your jaw broken instead of the sexual assault you were expecting.
"Serbia was... the worst of it," Sherlock says, voice detached and distant. "I assume you'll understand why it all makes unexpected and unwanted touches... problematic."
Sherlock describes to him what it's like to think you're going to bleed to death under a car in a warehouse somewhere in Brazil.
He tells John how much bullet wounds bleed even when they haven't hit a major artery.
John knows this, of course.
John also knows what it's like to come home from war, thinking that waltzing back into your old life will somehow erase it all, fix it, but the life you had no longer exists and everything is somehow wrong. The problems you left behind are still with you, and you don't come back the same.
What John doesn't know is what it's like to spend two years with only your demons and the imaginary voice of a friend as your only constant company. That, and the anonymous emails you send your brother from Internet cafes. Or what it's like to spend every waking hour resisting the urge to pick up a phone, select a familiar number and hear the voice you would give anything for to hear. But you can't. Because that'll be the end for the both of you.
Three hours later Sherlock finally stops, having talked his voice hoarse. He looks worried, expectant, scared, bewildered, desperate to gauge John's reaction when he finally turns and their eyes meet.
John stands up, walks over to the window and wraps his arms around him.
Then he pulls back. "Is this --- alright? Is it ---"
"You are... always welcome," Sherlock breathes out and pulls away slightly, straightening his spine and then heading to the kitchen, swaying a little on his balance as the uses the crutches to maneuver around John's chair. This is the longest he has remained upright after the accident.
"Are you alright?" John asks him. The question is silly, really, in the larger perspective, but John is sure Sherlock can deduce what he means by it.
Sherlock turns on his heels. In the dim light of the short corridor leading to his bedroom and the bathroon, John can make out that he's smiling.
"I will be," Sherlock says, and John believes him.
Just one more chapter to go until we reach the end of this story. I'm developing separation anxiety already.
Sherlock's cast doesn't fit into any of his tailored trousers. When he after five days decides to aim for a modicum of decency by not wearing just his dressing gown, John lends him a pair of track suit bottoms. Sherlock had once owned a pair, but they had been thrown away after accumulating some rather resilient stains during his adventures in the drug den John had found him in.
"You look ridiculous," John tells him. He's shorter than Sherlock, so the track bottoms stop a little above the ankle but sag from the waist where John's measurements definitely exceed Sherlock's even with the drawstrings tightened.
Sherlock huffs indignantly. "Speak for yourself and your reindeer cardigans." He then tries to focus on updating his blog, cast-ridden leg propped up on a kitchen chair. After a minute he looks up and sees John watching him, smiling. "What?" he demands with a suspicious tone.
"Just remembering something," John replies and takes over his usual chair.
It had been a case affecting a group of up-and-coming metal musicians in their early twenties - a band named The Bloodchoke. A fan had taken their death-and-gore filled lyrics a little too seriously, and had began sending them letters threatening to stage a massacre at one of their gigs. Sherlock had, naturally, decided that he and John attend the upcoming one.
Sherlock insisted that they needed to blend in so that they could observe the crowd inconspicuously. Sherlock had been indignant when John had pointed out that the baggy track bottoms he had pulled on were more suited to a rap concert than underground metal. After announcing that he had deleted teen fashion among many other useless things, Sherlock had done some online research and then dragged John to what was, according to said research, London's number one goth store. John himself had already settled on a pair regular jeans and a black T-shirt, but he had secretly enjoyed watching Sherlock being kitted out in a pair of skinny black leather trousers adorned with chains.
Or perhaps 'enjoyed' was not the right word. Mesmerized would have been more accurate. It had been the first time that he had admitted to himself that in his eyes, Sherlock looked as gorgeous as any woman he had ever seen.
At the store, John had torn himself out of his fascinated reverie only when Sherlock had started snapping fingers in front of his face.
That afternoon John had also learned that Sherlock had some moderate skill in using black eyeliner. 'Not the first time I've had to go undercover', Sherlock had told him before John had had a chance to raise any brows.
They had blended in just fine, the wannabe-murderer was caught, and the band later on dedicated one of their singles to Sherlock. John's own research into the case had lead to Sherlock complaining that John was destroying his eardrums, but it had helped with finding a suitable name for the blog post. Even Sherlock had admitted that there was a reasonable cleverness to the title "The Killing Choke". 'Very contemporary, John', Sherlock had told him and then stolen John's chocolate bar.
It's just a silly story, but it reminds John how he misses those times. Just cases, tea at Mrs Hudson's, locum days at the surgery interrupted by a text message from Sherlock demanding attention. I miss us, John thinks to himself, and steals another glance at Sherlock, who looks as though the Internet is making him lose hope in the collective intellect of the human race once again.
The next morning, John doesn't know where to put his laundry. Lately he has only visited his upstairs bedroom to find clothes and deposit washed ones back into the drawers. In function it's more akin to a walk-in-closet now, than an actual bedroom.
Maybe it would be easier to just leave some things in Sherlock's room downstairs. Socks, underwear, the sorts of things John needs a fresh pair of every day.
Sherlock's bedroom or their bedroom?
For how long?
When Sherlock gets... whatever the Sherlock Holmes version of better is, will John retreat to the safety of his own quarters again?
Does he want to?
Does Sherlock want him to?
John decides against trudging up the stairs. In what he decides to call their current bedroom he opens Sherlock's sock drawer. It's full, no room for John's things. The second drawer houses some sort of an experiment involving golf balls glued together, an Erlenmeyer flask of something that looks a little like mouldy blood, and wire hangers connecting those things. John makes a holy vow never to ask.
The bottom drawer is half empty. There are just a couple of crisp, dark blue dress shirts, still wrapped in tissue paper. John deposits a handful of his clothes at the other end of the drawer and is about to close it, when something underneath the shirts catches his attention.
A bit of pink ribbon.
He reaches in and takes out the shirts to see what's underneath.
The ribbon turns out to be holding a stack of books together, tied with a neat bow.
John pulls the stack out, takes it to the bed and sits down to have a look at it. He tilt the stack so he can read the names.
There are four books. The one on the top is 'Treasure Island' by Robert Louis Stevenson. Underneath it, a thick tome of 'Grimm's Fairy Tales'. The third John remembers reading as a child and enjoying it - 'Moonfleet', by J. Meade Falkner. It's an adventure story about smuggling. On the bottom of the stack is A. A. Milne's 'Winnie-The-Pooh'.
"I meant to get rid of them," Sherlock's baritone suddenly comments right next to John's ear.
John nearly falls off the bed, startled. He looks up at Sherlock, frowning. "What are you talking about?" John wonders how it could've been possible that Sherlock had managed to sneak in so quietly with his crutches. Maybe John had just been very distracted.
"You weren't meant to find that. I just didn't know what to do with it, now." Sherlock's tone is evasive.
Children's books. "You bought these for---"
Sherlock's gaze is downcast and he's picking at a cuticle. "I didn't buy them."
John slides the ribbon off the books and spreads them on the unmade bed.
The books are not new - quite the opposite. They look like very old editions, yellowed, bindings loose. Winnie's corner looks as though it's been gnawed at.
They look like books that have been read repeatedly. Loved.
John opens the front cover of Treasure Island. 'S. Holmes' has been scribbled on the first page, right underneath 'M. Holmes' and 'R. Holmes'.
"Shouldn't this go to someone in your family?" John asks.
"Can you picture Mycroft having children?" Sherlock asks, crossing his arms.
They share a chuckle, but there's a bitter undercurrent to it.
John doubts that Sherlock has ever considered starting a family of his own. John's daughter would likely have been the closest equivalent.
His breath hitches when he realizes all of the implications of such a notion.
Sherlock sits down next to him on the bed, setting the crutches to lean against it behind his back.
"Where'd you get the ribbon?" John asks, running a finger along the smooth pink satin.
"I bought it." Sherlock picks up 'Grimm's Fairytales' and idly leafs through it.
Sherlock bought pink ribbon.
Sherlock. Holmes. Bought. Pink. Ribbon.
Sherlock, who doesn't even celebrate his own birthday and who acts as though Christmas was invented solely to torment him, bought pink ribbon for a gift to John's daughter.
John turns his face towards the window evasively, a lump in his throat and tears prickling his eyes.
"Figures you'd like the Grimm ones. Enough murder and---" John's voice breaks a little, which he attempts to hide by coughing and standing up but Sherlock, naturally, picks up on it.
"John?" he stands up as well, alarmed.
"It's just---" John starts but he's not sure what to say.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock says and it doesn't sound rehearsed like his usual apologies and platitudes. "I'm sorry she's lost to you now."
"Not just me. Us. We lost her."
Sherlock nods, hops closer and wraps his dressing-gown clad arms around John.
John allows himself this moment, just standing there, luxuriating in the loneliness-abating effect of Sherlock's skinny arms pressing his own against his torso.
In his head, John stops himself before he starts blaming himself again for Mary and for everything else.
They need to start putting blame where it belongs.
The blame game needs to stop. They need to focus on the more important things.
John had gone to bed at around midnight after watching an action film. Sherlock had kept him company the sitting room with his laptop, over the screen of which he had been doing his usual scathing commentary on the quality of John's chosen visual entertainment. He'd lingered behind in the living room after John had turned in.
A text message tears John out from the start of a REM cycle at 01:23: CAN'T CONCENTRATE
Reply at 01:27: YOU NEED TO COME TO BED AND SLEEP, NOT CONCENTRATE
Message at 01:29: COME HERE
Reply at 01:30: WHY
Message at 01:33: PLEASE, JOHN
Five minutes later John drags himself out of bed, cross-eyed from exhaustion.
Despite being so tired, he's not annoyed. He's curious. And perhaps a little alarmed.
Sherlock is waiting for him in the kitchen, sitting at the edge of the dining table.
"What's going on?"
"John, ask me again." Sherlock's expression is a strange mix of defiance and hesitation.
"You with the bloody mind games. If you want to talk, just say so. You're even worse at this than I am."
"Arguably. Ask me."
"Ask you what?"
"Whatever comes to mind that's still confusing you. Whatever it is you've been dying to ask but can't, for some reason that I'm certain is absolutely ridiculous. I've deduced that there is a very specific conversation necessary, but the contents of it elude me. All I know is that there's a possibility that you’ve been waiting for me to start it but I don’t know how. Help me."
"Alright," John says, running his fingers through his hair to appear less.... asleep.
Better start somewhere, then. "In some things, you trust me. Such as your life and your health. In others, not at all. I would love it if you could tell me why you didn't tell me what was going on, why you'd start using again instead of coming to me."
Sherlock snorts derisively. "That's easy. James Sholto."
John is suddenly not tired at all. "What?"
"You saw fit to choose that very moment, the wedding I planned--"
"Together with Mary," John points out and Sherlock awards him with an expression that could only be translated as 'oh please'.
"---To parade him around just to hammer home the point that it was never about you or your preference for women, it was about me." Sherlock studies his face, appearing desperate to gauge John's reaction.
"I wasn't trying to send you a message. It never even occurred to me that's how you would see it. He was important to me. So are you. I wanted you to meet. If that's selfish of me, then fine!" John spreads his arms in frustration.
Sherlock is wearing his 'John is an idiot' expression now.
John hates it. He always has.
Sherlock stands up. "It wouldn't occur to you that it would feel like throwing my admittedly ridiculous, childish hopes in my face?" He grabs his crutches and makes for an exit.
John stops him with a well-placed outstretched arm. "Oh, no you don't. You don't get to start something like this at god-knows-what a.m. and storm out for a sulk."
Sherlock rolls his eyes but leans against the table again. He passes John his crutches, which are then unceremoniously dropped on the floor.
John takes a seat next to him in one of the chairs. "It was never about you. It was about me. And for the record, James is nothing next to you."
Sherlock purses his lips sceptically.
"Mary is nothing next to you."
Sherlock stares at him in disbelief. He opens his mouth to say something, but then snaps it shut and draws in a nervous breath.
John blinks. He realizes this might be his only chance. Sherlock has decided to summon him here, in the middle of the night because they both know their defences are down.
"You're not fine," John offers.
"No. Correct, I mean."
"You can't do this alone."
"Correct," Sherlock spits out.
John lets out a breath. "Sherlock, I---"
This is it. From here there's no return.
A memory of Sherlock's words suddenly floats into John's thoughts. 'From the two people who love you most in the world.'
Only one of those two had stayed. Only one of them never really left at all. Only one of them was willing to give their life and not ask for anything in return. Until now.
"You're in love with me, aren't you?" John asks breathlessly, forcing himself to meet Sherlock's gaze.
Strangely enough, apprehension and annoyance are no longer making a home in Sherlock's expression. "I think you already know. I think you've known for a long time." Sherlock fingers the edge of his dressing gown.
"Yes or no, remember?" John stands up and places a fortifying palm on the table.
"Yes," Sherlock whispers with a slowly spreading smile. He looks content, hopeful, relieved.
John had known, he had felt it, but it's still something else to hear such words spoken out loud. He realizes that Sherlock has said it before. He had said it at the wedding. He had said it with a leap off a building. He had said it so many times, just not in words. John had witnessed, but he had not observed.
John has known it for a long time, but the words still fill him with so much wonder and awe that it's suddenly hard to be still. "I think I've known since you almost died for me," John finally says.
"Oh." Sherlock frowns. "Which one of those times was it?"
"Sherlock. Bit not funny, that."
Sherlock gives him a slight eyeroll, conceding to his point.
John's smile wanes. "Why did you never say anything? Why'd you just let me go? Let me get married?"
"I assumed that you knew before I left. I thought that you'd wait for me. But you got over it, got over me. Got over us. I never did get... over you. And coming back I realized that it was selfish of me to hope that you would have been there, waiting, like some widow living with ghosts. I would never be good for you. I would never make your life better. And if I truly was as... Fond of you as I thought I was, I should let you go, let you have the life you wanted because it clearly wasn't with me. "
"That's not your decision to make! Like you always say, it's not possible to deduce anything without all the facts."
"I had all the facts. At least I thought so."
"Exactly. And you wouldn't extend me the same courtesy."
"I'm not a good man, John." It sounds like an apology.
"I'd argue that."
"Do you recall that dinner party you and Mary forced me to attend, the one with your school friends?" Sherlock suddenly asks.
John chuckles. "That was hideous. Sorry." It had been an attempt by Mary to 'integrate their social circles'. It had started out well enough with Sherlock bringing a bottle of decent red wine and keeping his mouth shut, sitting in the living room listening to John's medical school classmates reminisce about their university years. Sherlock had probably made use of the opportunity to learn certain unsavoury but amusing facts about John's history.
During dinner, someone had asked a question about Sherlock's work. That had been the start of the road to hell that always began from an exhilarated 'deduce me, then' and ended with people in tears and drinks being thrown in the face of a certain consulting detective. Sherlock had made excuses to leave a mere two hours after arriving, forcing John to apologize to several people on his behalf.
Mary had seemed strangely pleased with herself after the debacle. It had seemed as though she had proven some point. John had went to bed without a word that night.
"I wanted to kiss you then, right there at the dinner table, when Mary was passing round that dreadful gravy. I wanted to show them that you're not one of them. To claim you," Sherlock says. There's a daring glimmer of danger in his gaze now.
"I don't know if I would have let you," John points out.
Sherlock smiles that slightly crooked, triumphant smile only he knows how to pull off. "I know. But you have to admit, I was getting mixed messages from you. I still think your... Transport betrayed your sentiment for me long before that. May I ask when?"
John looks annoyed. "Irene Adler told me. I dismissed it back then. Hell, I still dismissed it two weeks ago."
"You had incentive to do so."
Neither of them says anything for a while after that.
John leans closer, letting his forehead rest on Sherlock's, their breathing slowly setting into a unified rhytm. "I think I know, now, why you did what you did before that flight. The drugs. Why you took all of it," John says, closing his eyes.
Sherlock leans to his side and lets his cheek land on John's shoulder.
John realizes he's frightened that Sherlock will actually say it out loud, confirm what John suspects. Reveal the uglier side of such an all-consuming need.
"If the mission wouldn't kill me, being alone again would certainly have," Sherlock says so matter-of-factly that something invisible constricts around John's heart, "I could not... go through that. Again," Sherlock adds tentatively, and John's breath hitches.
John gently takes hold of Sherlock's shoulders and repositions him so that they are face to face. John hates the lingering memory of defeat that he can now read on Sherlock's face.
"Why didn't you say something, then? I know I'm an idiot and I know you would never willingly plan a fucking wedding and I've bollocksed this up in so many ways I've lost count but for God's sake, you could have said!"
Sherlock observes his frustration with a strange calmness, and John realizes that while all of this is new to him, it's something that Sherlock has been living with for years. In the clicheed stages of grief he is steps ahead of John. Sherlock had let go, while John is only now coming to terms with the fact that this terrifying, electrifying, all-consuming, glorious thing even exists.
It has most likely existed in some form since the day they had first met. In the small touches, the willingness to die for each other, the sacrifices, the crap telly nights, the triumphant walks home from solved cases, the candlelight dinners that were not dates but were dates after all.
"Would you have been ready to hear it back then?" Sherlock asks.
The shame that flares up in John keeps him from formulating an answer at first. Then, another thought occurs. Namely a memory of the day he'd asked Sherlock to be his best man - the sudden stunned muteness and John's inability to defuse the situation.
They had both been such idiots.
John laughs and Sherlock frowns. "What?"
"Would you have been ready to say it to me back then?"
Sherlock flicks a dismissive hand in defeat.
"We're a mess," John offers. "A dangerous, ridiculous mess, you and I."
Sherlock shifts his leg so that he can get his cast into a less awkward position. "Don't remind me."
"Come on," John says, suddenly fed up with the drafty kitchen. He secretly revels in the fact that Sherlock selects his arm instead of the crutches as aid for making their way to the sofa.
They take seats, facing one another, still at a chaste distance.
Sherlock draws in a ragged breath, looking like he has suddenly remembered something important and relevant.
John raises his brows in what he hopes is an encouraging manner.
"The Palace is... Broken. Nothing stays where it's supposed to. Doors won't close. I've not gone in there for awhile."
"Then let it go," John says with a determined tone. Sherlock looks at him as though he's suggesting taking up golf or something equally ridiculous.
"He's everywhere," Sherlock then admits.
John is not surprised at this statement - he has always suspected that Moriarty occupies a very special spot in Sherlock's nightmares' hall of fame. "Let it go. I know you can. Let him have the old Palace."
Sherlock looks shocked.
"Abandon it. Throw away the key. Then build a new one. It's your head, your world. Your rules. He can't get to you."
"You're in there, too," Sherlock reminds him, frustrated.
"And I can be again. Leave the idiot me in the old Palace, the idiot who couldn't see what's right in front of him. The idiot who needed a goddamned suicide, a botched marriage and all the rest of it for the penny to drop. Good riddance. Let it go. Let it all go. Build a new one, and let me in again."
"How?" Sherlock asks quietly. He looks haunted, almost beside himself. He looks up as though trying to force back a trail of tears threatening to come out. "All of the memories in there are controlled by him, all of it. Everything we've done, Mary, Magnussen - it's all tainted." His voice breaks and this time he doesn't lift a finger to try and stop the tears streaming down his cheeks.
He looks so defeated it breaks John's heart.
John resolutely grabs his palms in his own. "Then we need new ones. Ones that no one can touch."
Sherlock's flooded irises meet John's and the expression on his face can not easily be defined in words. There's a healthy dose of Sherlockian ridicule and disbelief, but also curiosity and something that would roughly translate as hope.
Without a word, John shifts closer, wraps his arm around Sherlock and slides his other palm behind Sherlock's neck.
Then John kisses him.
Chastely and gently at first, but when instead of the resistence he'd been fearing, he gets an almost frightening, demanding reply of lips and arms and all the rest, John lets himself get lost in what should have happened long ago.
It's not merely a kiss of love. It's not just a kiss of passion. Not a snog, not the culmination of four years of secret longing. Nothing that simple. It could never have been that simple, because God forbid Sherlock Holmes is not that decipherable and only idiots would think John a simpleton either.
Instead, it's all of those thing combined, and so much more.
A kiss is such a small moment in the grander scheme of things, but like a wedding ring, it is a symbol. A symbol akin to the wedding ring john finally tears off his finger. A ring that is not so much a sign of marriage, but a reminder of the self-delusion and cowardice that very union had been constructed upon.
A new beginning. A clean slate.
The truth that wipes all the confusion away.
It's a kiss, but it's also a promise. A tectonic plate that shifting into place. A light to brighten the rooms of the new Mind Palace. An unbreakable chain locking them together.
It's the past and the future, all tied together.
They'll never be safe in the long run, not ever. But they're safe tonight.
It's John and Sherlock, always.
Everything else has just been a detour.
- The End -
The title of this chapter comes from the richly metaphoric greenhouse scene in The Abominable Bride, where Sherlock is effectively confronting himself about his feelings. Do I still carry a torch for John?
One interpretation of the scene can be read here.
I hope you've got a moment to take a look at chapter 21 which contains some short notes about this story (and a teaser for what I'm going to be writing next!).
Chapter 21: Author's notes
Some notes now that the end is upon us:
When I began drafting this story, I never expected to end up with a novel-length piece. It's all Mycroft's fault, honestly.
This would be a lonely road without all you lovely readers, commenters, reccers and kudos-button pounders. You cheer me on, you challenge me, you make me a better writer and I couldn't imagine a more exhilarating way of leaving my mark on this fandom than telling these stories to you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou all for traveling down this road with me. I know it was tough - like the wizard Saruman says, "You have elected the way of pain!". I hope there was catharsis at the end of it, too, and a heaped spoonful of warm fuzzy hope.
A special salute goes to my partner-in-crime-and-medicine Emma221b who was a huge help in ironing out the kinks here, 7percentsolution who skillfully helped whip my grammar into shape, and also the rest of a fantastic group of female Sherlock authors I've had the privilege of getting to know during the writing process of Lunar. You are all much beloved and appreciated.
A salutation also goes out to my friends Mr & Mrs B for putting up with my creative agony and sharing some very nice words when my own failed me.
As is my habit, I used a sturdy soundtrack for writing this story. You can find a full listing of it at the bottom of these notes, but I've also done a Youtube playlist of the highlights. If there was an end credits song to this thing, it would be this.
What I will be doing next:
In chapter 14 of Lunar Landscapes Sherlock points out that "People do so love a good horror story."
I'm hoping that he's right, because that is precisely what I'm doing next! After major angst pieces I often want to flex my writing muscles doing something completely different. There's a concept I've been wanting to explore for a while now and thus my next piece will be a johnlockian romance combining elements of gothic horror, angst and certain... classic literary influences that I'll not name just yet. It'll start posting in 1-2 weeks.
This next story of mine will be called "A Diseased Fancy", and the summary goes as follows:
It has been two years since John's marriage had fallen apart and he had moved back to Baker Street. Things between him and Sherlock are still very much undefined, and John is certain that he'll have plenty of time to figure it all out. This notion proves dangerously false: strange things are set in motion when Sherlock's long-lost “acquaintance” from university appears on their doorstep and a baffling burglary case frustrates Sherlock to no end. What is behind Sherlock's black moods and dwindling health? Where is Mycroft? Why would someone steal artefacts from the British Museum that have interested nary a soul for decades?
In the midst of this thickening fog stands John, who will soon have to take on an enemy much greater than even Moriarty.
Ps. I know I promised you a lovely bromance set in the early days of season one. That story, the working title of which is "The Desperate And The Shirtless", does already exist, but it needs a lot of work, and for this reason it will be posted after Fancy.
Full writing soundtrack listing for "Lunar Landscapes":
I'm A Ruin by Marina & The Diamonds
You Look So Fine by Garbage
You Were A Kindness by The National
Amsterdam by Coldplay
Hurricanes by Saint Saviour
Talk To Me by Lauren Aquilina
I Call This Home by Saint Saviour
Dare by Phildel
The End Is The Beginning Is The End by Smashing Pumpkins
All Is Full Of Love by Bjork
Wait For Sleep by Dream Theater
I Love You But I'm Lost by Sharon van Etten
Lithium by Evanescence
Elsewhere by Sarah McLachlan
I Know by Sharon van Etten
Spark by Amber Run
Answer by Sarah McLachlan
Heal by Tom Odell
John & Mary's themes
Space Between by Sia
The Knife by Kyla La Grange
Another Love by Tom Odell
Numb by Marina & The Diamonds
Unstoppable by Sia